Books

Quick Read: Plague by T. Joseph Browder

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If you recall another book I actually did a Book Report on called Dark Matters, I had high praise for Mr. Browder. Based on that collection of short stories alone, I picked up Plague, which is my current Quick Read pick.

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The Dark Tower Series and My Reading Habits

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I began reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series last year. I may have mentioned this in another blog post, but I did search for one and came up empty handed. So I deliver this news to you now, along with my purpose for doing so. King’s The Dark Tower saga … epic saga … consists of seven books in the main arc of the story and an eighth book released after the saga was completed, published between the years 1982 and 2012. It pretty much incorporates all of King’s classic works into part of a larger universe, with characters being interchangeable and events in one world (say, our world) being reflected in Mid-World, where dear Roland and Company venture toward the looming Tower.

I had put off reading The Dark Tower series for years because, to be perfectly honest, I hate picking up a series that isn’t complete. When I start something, I’d prefer it be a complete work that I’ll be able to read through without having to wait a year or more in between. You always run the risk of forgetting something important in that time, and I’m one of those people who rarely go back and reread something. Needless to say, I also lump in the fact that I’m currently 4 books in to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and am angrily awaiting Patrick Rothfuss’s third book in the Kingkiller chronicles. (Darn you, Rothfuss, where’s the friggin’ book!). I’m far enough behind in Martin’s saga that I should be safe, but as for that other one …

So many years ago, I picked up The Gunslinger and breezed through it. I put it down and picked up The Drawing of the Three. I got about four or five chapters in and put it away, shaking my head. Looking back, I believe I was too young to fully understand what I was reading. That’d never happened to me with a King book before because all through my teenage years I reach his work like a starving maniac. Short story collections were my favorites. But when it came to The Dark Tower, I don’t think I was ready for that kind of fantasy/science fiction/horror/etc form just yet.

Fast forward to last year, I … shall we say, found … the complete ebook collection of The Dark Tower. I threw it on my phone and began reading again. This time I feel I was ready. The Gunslinger once again flew through my brain. As soon as I processed it, I loaded up The Drawing of the Three. It took me a little longer because I started to become bored in certain spots. The narration of the tale seemed to snag on something along the way in certain places and I found myself wanting to hurry through it and be finished. I didn’t skip anything, though, I read the book in it’s entirety.

Then came The Wastelands, book three of the series. I read all the way through the first part, and then I was done. My time was consumed by other things and I just couldn’t force myself to pick the book back up. It was purely a mental thing. I’d lost interested and nothing can make me pick back up a book once that’s happened. I went nearly an entire year without reading another thing.

Last week, I plugged up an old Kindle HD my wife had abandoned for a newer model and loaded The Wastelands onto it. I’m breezing through it again. Still not as fast as I’d like, but I’m easing my way through, making sure the burnout is over with before going the final mile. I’m enjoying it again.

I can’t say why I go through these spells, but they don’t always last the same length of time. At one point, I went years without picking up a book. That was probably in my mid-to-late 20’s. Then the whole ebook revolution hit us and I was back on the book band wagon again. I believe that if ebooks hadn’t came along, I’d still be avoiding the firmness of paperbacks like the plague. If I had to pinpoint one thing that I could blame for my loss of interest, I’d say it was the storage space required. I’m not one that likes to get rid of my books, but I’m also not one that has endless space to store them. It had come to a point that was a no-win scenario. To this day, I believe that is why I eventually lost my interest. I’d rather not read at all than have to choose what to keep and what to get rid of.

But I suppose I’ve staggered around this subject enough for tonight. So, in closing, I’d like to thank Mr. King for his epic tomes and I hope to one day finish The Dark Tower Saga and honor Mr. King’s legacy. Oh, and as for that part where I said I don’t like to reread books? There is a small lie in there. The books I have bothered to reread in my lifetime are The Stand: Complete and Uncut and The Bachman Books. These are also two books that I have the hardcover editions of right now in my closet. I bought The Stand the same year the mini series came out. The Bachman Books I’d purchased and read during my teenage years, but sold the book during the time I’d lost interest. Just a year ago I found it on eBay and bought that sucker up. I’m proud to own both of these, and I think that may just make me a book nerd.

I’m okay with that.

Currently Reading: The Wastelands, The Dark Tower Volume 3 by Stephen King

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Finally cracking open a book about mid-way through the year. I may be a bit behind on that 2014 reading challenge over at Goodreads! But here I am, starting in on Stephen King’s third entry into The Dark Tower series, The Wastelands.

 

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Shadow Man

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The third and last piece of amateur fiction I’ve written recently. I’ll take it easy on y’all for a bit now while I work out a few more from the twisted mass of my grey matter.

Shadow Man

(Written July 26, 2012)
My fingers pry up a slat on the vinyl blind. He is there, at the end of the drive way, standing on the street and staring at me. Just like every other night for the past two weeks, He taunts me. There is a motion in the darkness, which wraps around Him like a thick blanket. A cherry red ember of light glows to life as the shadowy figure seems to take a long draw on a cigarette. The darkness clings like a suit to Him. I can’t make out any features – white, black, pale, tan, hints of age. There are no street lamps burning, no porch lights on. It’s as if, when He is present, light simply refuses to burn unless He wills it.

Returning to the tattered recliner, one of the few items my former wife left me in the divorce, my back sighs with relief as I settle down into it. The flicker of images on the television aren’t interesting enough to capture my attention again and hold it. Instead, my mind begins to wander. He does this to me. Seven nights a week my brain kicks into over drive and burns the midnight oil well into the early morning light. Can’t sleep. My performance at work was already in question because of the distraction caused by the divorce, but when I started factoring in the new-found insomnia … Well, let’s just say that 10 years of my life dedicated to their firm was no longer of any value.

Marissa was no different. Thirty-five years of marriage and two grown children later, and she runs off with a … Well, a boy, actually. The man not much older than our son, who himself is 23. Good riddance to her, I say. The children say I’ve changed, as well. Son and daughter both in colleges in different states. Never visit. Only a phone call once every few months when their checking accounts are running low or are already overdrawn. Well, the news next time they call will be that I am in the same boat.

No income. No wife. No children. Just me. And my nightly visitor at the end of the drive, shrouded in the blanket of night. He will come for me one night, I know. Soon. The drive way will become his red carpet, and in slow steady strides that my eyes won’t be able to detect, the Dark Man will come for me. His rapping on the door, the smoke wafting into the chill night air. Just me and him, finally face-to-face.

It’s just a matter of time, but I can feel my time wearing thin, dwindling down to nothing.

When daylight finally breaks and the birds chirping outside the window (actually, they started about an hour before sunrise – early birds and their worms and all). My eyelids grow heavy. Sleep takes me as a beam of sunlight splinters through a crack in the blinds. But the night will come again and so will he. Will tonight be the night?

Robert

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Hello, Dear Reader! Thank you for stopping by once again. I now present to you yet another amateur work of fiction. This is the second posting of my most recent attempts at writing. It is also, coincidently, the first of the three I wrote. I was hesitant on posting it due to some fairly graphic language that I rarely pepper stories with. So I present to you here, an edited-for-televison version that is slightly more safe for work. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome. Thanks!

Robert

(Written February 26, 2012)

Ring-a-ling-a-ding

“Robert!” The shrill cry of Granny’s voice yelling his name still sent shivers up his spine at the age of 18 just as it had when he was 8. She was in her room upstairs, bed-ridden and ringing that damn silver bell nonstop. Brandy, his older sister, had bought the damn silver bell knowing what would happen. “Rooooooobeeeert!”

All Robert wanted was a sandwich. He had been standing with the refrigerator door open, letting all that nice cool air circulate out into the kitchen, eyeing the thin sliced honey ham, roasted turkey and the three individually wrapped slices of American cheese. But now, here she was again, crying his name like he was the only grandchild she had.

Robert slammed the ‘fridge door and stomped up the stairs. He mumbled under his breath, the thick heat in the old, musty house was enough to raise one’s body temperature, but his rising blood pressure exacerbated the situation. Stomping each foot on the hardwood floor, smacking a balled up fist against the hideous puce green wallpaper, he approached the door to hell. As Robert reached for the doorknob, his appearance changed at once, a smile crossing his face and his eyes opening wide and bright, swinging the door wide and entering the sweltering bedroom.

“Yes, Granny?” he smiled widely.

Granny eyed him suspiciously, as she did everyone. “Wipe that ridiculous grin off your face, Bobby,” she said with no hesitation. “Get my pan and the toilet paper, I feel a movement coming on.”

Robert held back a disgusting shudder. “Do you want me to help you to the bathroom, Granny?”

“Did I say ‘help me to the bathroom’?” asked the icy old woman. “No, I didn’t. I said get my damn bedpan and the toilet paper. I don’t feel like getting up.”

Without a word, hiding the emotions he truly felt, Robert did the job expected of him. With regret, he didn’t pretend to trip and spill it on her even though he would like to. All that would result in was him having to give her a bath. Heaven knew that if he had to run a sponge over the old heifer’s sagging and wrinkled body today he would probably just drown her in her own bathwater.

After he was done disposing of the waste, tucking Granny back into bed and preparing to leave, he turned quickly at the door. “Anything else I can get for you, Granny?” He smiled.

Narrowing her eyes at him with cold disregard, she sucked at her teeth for a moment. “No. Shut the door on your way out, it’s getting drafty in here.”

He shut the door and made his way back downstairs. His sister would pay for this one. She was suppose to be here this weekend while Robert enjoyed his Summer break. Supposedly dear Brandy had to work, but Robert had his doubts about the truthfulness of that.

Pushing it out of his thoughts, Robert tugged the refrigerator door back open and reached for the Meat drawer that contained the ham, turkey and cheese.

Ring-a-ling-a-ding. “Rooooooberrrrrtt!”

“WHAT?!” he shouted without even knowing he was going to. “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” he continued, a vein on his forehead bulging as his Adam’s Apple pushed thick against his throat. “IF I HAVE TO WALK UP THERE ONE MORE TIME, I SWEAR TO GOD I’LL PUT A PILLOW OVER YOUR FACE AND ….” He was panting, his chest hurt and he realized his hands were shaking furiously. He was also a little scared.

He waited.

No other sound came from upstairs, not even a chime of the damn silver bell. Crap! he thought silently. It took a minute before he realized he wasn’t even breathing, listening intently for even the slightest shuffling. Crap, crap, crap!

The rev of an engine came pulling up into the driveway. A second later it shut off and the slamming of a car door was heard. Gravel crunched as someone walked up to the back porch and then the kitchen door swung open as Robert turned to stare at his sister walking in.

A large pink bubble puffed from her mouth briefly, popped, and then was sucked back in as she chewed it furiously. “What’s up douche,” she greeted him, brushing past to look inside the refrigerator herself. She grabbed a bottle of water and twisted the top off as she turned to look at her brother. “Granny being a pain today?”

“What do you think?” snapped Robert. He suddenly realized she was dressed in extremely short, cut-off shorts, a low-cut, thin white t-shirt that clearly revealed she wasn’t wearing a bra. Her blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she had light red lipstick on, which was smeared a little on the tip of the water bottle as she pulled it away. “What is this?” he gestured. “I thought you were working?”

She smiled. “False alarm. Turns out they didn’t need me, so I spent the day at the mall with Brad.” Turning, she started into the family room, gasping in surprise as her arm was jerked roughly back. “Hey, jerk! Get your hands off me!”

Robert was nose to nose with her, staring down and straight into her eyes. “You left me here with that demented old hag so you could go screw around with that that retard of a boyfriend of yours? I’m not the babysitter that you call whenever you want to go out. I don’t get paid for this! I’m suppose to be on vacation, out with my friends. You are the one that wanted to help out this Summer. It’s something you volunteered for, I was just being nice and trying to help you out.”

“Get over it,” Brandy hissed, rubbing at her arm. “It’s none of your business where I was or who I am with.”

Without thinking, Robert drew back and slapped his sister across the face.

Maybe he was stronger than he thought, or maybe it was just the angle he came in at. Either way, the result was a bit over exaggerated from what he was expecting. Brandy’s neck flew back, her ponytail swinging around and smacking her in the face. The water bottle went flying across the room as her arms flayed about, her balance lost as she turned and tried to steady herself. Brandy let out a quick cry as a small wooden chair from the writing desk by the door, leading into the living room, smacked into her eye and Robert heard a sickening popping sound, followed by a crunch.

She seemed to hang there, suspended by the pointed tip of the chair back, her spine bowed in and her feet motionless on the floor, heels up, making her look like a freakish human hammock. Then her neck crooked and her limp body drug the chair to the floor to lay splayed upon the carpet.

A couple of seconds passed in confused and horrified silence.

“Brandy?” Robert called quietly. “Bran?”

From upstairs, “Roooobbert?” Ring-a-ling-a-ding.

He looked upstairs, then back down at the floor. The plush blue carpet was starting to darken. It was growing outward from where Brandy’s face lay buried against the floor. Reaching down, Robert shook her shoulder lightly. He tugged at her shoulder and rolled her back.

Where her left eye had made contact with the corner of the writing desks chair, there was now only a dark, bloody hole. The popping sound had evidently been her eyeball. He didn’t see any signs it had actually burst, but he didn’t see any sign of it either. Blood flowed out around the wound. The section around the eye, where the bone normally shaped the brow, nose and around the cheek was pushed in – the crunching sound.

Shaking himself back to a dazed reality, he saw her chest rise and fall, her breathing ragged. He called her name lightly, a hushed whisper, but she didn’t respond. Unconscious? Certainly not dead, though he figured she might be better off. He certainly would be better off if she were. This kind of thing wasn’t going to go over well. He jumped up and began pacing, evaluating the scene.

The desk chair – the damned writing desk chair – an old hand crafted, splintered wood chair. The really old fashioned kind that had the pointed, cone-shaped ends on either side at the top. A slat was missing across the back, but it was just as old as the writing desk with the little roll-top that was permanently stuck in the up position. A handful of bills, some envelopes and a small cup of pens and pencils sat on the warped desktop. But the chair. Robert noticed there was blood on the tip of the cone. He stared, transfixed by it for a few moments.

Then Brandy moaned. More of a gurgle, really, what with blood filling her throat he supposed. Robert sat on the arm of the couch, an old ratty cloth couch with springs that had worn out and sagged when you sat on it. He kneaded the thread bare edge of one of the cushions as his eyes darted to the bloody face of his sister. His tormentor for the majority of his youth. And even now, as an adult coming into his own, she still found ways to make him miserable while running around living her own wild lifestyle.

He hadn’t even realized the couch cushion was now in both hands, though as he went down on one knee, he was only able to watch helplessly as he shoved the cushion over Brandy’s face, holding it tight and pushing so hard that his balled up fists nearly touched the carpet on either side of her head.

Muffled cries, wether of pain or surprise he wasn’t sure. Her feet began kicking, legs flailing about. A metal urn near the desk was kicked against the wall then sent clattering to its side where it rolled noisily around on the hardwood section near the kitchen door. Robert pushed harder, trying to drive his fists through the floor as long as she would shut up and stop struggling.

He was actually doing her a favor. After all, who would want to date a girl with only one eye? Well, Brad might, after all it would be another hole he could fill when the others were worn out. Robert chuckled lightly at the thought. He was lost in his work when suddenly he realized his sister was no longer moving. She was silent and still, two traits he loved most in a person. Even the urn had stopped rocking back and forth on its rim, coming to rest at last to silence.

In a single motion, Robert stood, slung the cushion back to the couch and reached for his sisters ankles. He lifted them up and started to drag her across the floor. He had made it to the bottom of the stairs when there was a rusty squeak from above.

And there was another sound, now. A shuffling and creaking of floor boards. From upstairs, Granny was up and moving. Evidently, while unable to wipe her own behind, she was still able to butt her nose into what was going on out of her sight.

Robert quickly rushed the stairs as he heard her bedroom door swing open. “Everything’s fine, Granny!” he cried out, taking the steps two at a time.

The old heifer was quick. By the time he reached the top, she was already there, craning her head around his shoulder to see below.

“What was that noise? I heard yelling. Brandy?” she called downstairs. “Brandy is that you, sweetie?”

“No, Granny, must have been the television. I turned it up too loud,” Robert laughed nervously.

Granny eyed him with squinted, milky orbs. She started to say something, then stopped, her eyes growing large as she saw something at the bottom of the steps. Robert followed her gaze and saw his sisters bloody face from where she lay on the floor.

“What have you done,” Granny whispered softly. “What have you done to my previous Brandy.” Her tone was rising, the anger noticeable. “You worthless son of a bitch, what have you done to my precious granddaughter?!”

“Precious?” Robert snapped. “Precious?” Spittle flew from his mouth and Granny wiped it, disgusted, from her face. “That precious whore of a granddaughter that couldn’t stay home and take care of you? You’re asking about her? The girl that gets around town more in a weekend than a porn star does their entire life?” His face was burning red, he could see steam rising from his skin. “THAT PRECIOUS SLUTTY GRANDDAUGHTER?” he laughed maniacally. “WHY, I THINK SHE’S DEAD, GRANNY!”

Mouth wide open, Granny started to push him aside and head downstairs. Robert grabbed her arm roughly, as he had done to his sister just minutes before. Before he realized it, he was releasing it with a twist and a push, sending Granny flying down the 26 steps to the floor below.

When she landed, her neck was at an odd angle from the rest of her body. Robert cocked his head to one side and stared down at it. He stood there, frozen, and after a few moments, it was as if he was suddenly looking down on himself looking down the steps at the two silent, still bodies below.

***

Someone else was in control of Robert’s body over the next two hours. He was simply an observer as he watch the events following the chaos take place.

Granny and Brandy’s bodies were drug upstairs with amazing little effort. Strength that was previously untapped surged through Robert’s body as he lifted, drug, shoved and pulled the bodies up the stairs, across the hardwood floor and into Granny’s bedroom. He placed Granny on the bed, putting a thick pillow beneath her floppy head and closing her eyes. He cleaned a few trickles of blood from her forehead where the skin was cracked and bleeding a bit.

Brandy sat peacefully in a chair beside the bed. She looked like someone that had fallen asleep while watching over their poor, sick grandmother. So tired from all the hard work that comes with the job of caretaker for an elderly family member. Her one good eye was closed but there wasn’t much that could be done to the empty hole on the left side. Robert – or whoever was in control of his body at that time – stuffed a large wad of Kleenex into the socket to absorb any more blood.

He stepped back and stared at the scene, Granny resting peacefully in her bed with her bloody, one-eyed granddaughter resting beside her. Picture perfect! Robert smiled and nodded his head at his handy work. He dusted off his hands and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

* *

Robert lay out his ingredients. A fluffy slice of white bread, three slices of honey-baked ham, three slices of oven-roasted turkey and a slice of cheese. He squeezed a wavy line of mustard down the center and then laid another piece of bread on top. He pulled a bag of nacho cheese Doritos from a cabinet and poured a handful onto his plate. Going to the refrigerator, Robert reached into the freezer and pulled four ice cubes out of the tray and dropped them into a glass with a clink-clink-clink-clink. The 2-liter bottle of Doctor Pepper hissed, popped and fizzed as he poured half a glass full.

Gathering up his lunch, Robert retreated to the family room, careful to step around the soggy, dark spot on the carpet. Settling into the over-stuffed Lay-Z-Boy recliner he began to eat. At last, it was quiet. No arguing, no one calling his name. No damn silver bell. Peace.

Robert took a big bite out of his sandwich and reached for the remote control. As soon as the television flickered to life, he saw an important news broadcast was in progress. Evidently, he wasn’t the only one experiencing something exciting today! He glanced at the controller and thumbed the volume button, breaking the peace and quiet with the smooth calm tone of the news anchor.

“We repeat, the military has declared martial law all across the United States. What had initially started in the southern states has now been confirmed as spreading all across the nation and into other countries as well.”

A map appeared behind and to the left of the man, an animated graphic showing small sections of red slowly growing, overlapping and spreading across the map image of the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“Please stay near your television or radio for further updates as news breaks. To repeat, the recently deceased have started to rise again. Violent and dangerous and reports say much stronger than a normal person should be. I repeat, the dead are reportedly returning to life. Stay in your homes and await further instruction. Military and National Guard units are being dispatched as you hear this.”

Robert had stopped chewing his food at some point, a Dorito was resting between his thumb and forefinger, midway to his mouth. His brain processed what he had just heard.

And then there was a creak on the floorboards above.

Ring-a-ling-a-ding