Books

Currently Reading: Infernal by T. Joseph Browder

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I’ve actually had this book for a few weeks, but unfortunately due to family activities and other events have just started reading. So far, I’m all in to this new adventure Mr. Browder is launching us on. More to come when I’m finished!

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Hush Money

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* With this short story, I found myself a bit out of the normal range of tales I enjoy writing. This one has no supernatural, horror or science fiction turn to it. Perhaps that’s why I was a little uncomfortable posting this one. But here it is for those that would like to give it a run through. *

Hush Money
April 12, 2015

***

The loud thumping at the door woke Stewart from his nap. Cursing, he lowered the leg rest of the recliner, pushing himself up from the thick cushioned comfort and toward the front door of his apartment. Grumbling the entire way, he ran a thick hand through the thinning strands of bangs that were hanging to his forehead, damp with sweat. Squinting an eye through the peephole, Stewart could see a hazy profile of someone outside. Male or female wasn’t very clear, but it was broad daylight outside so he unlatched the door and swung it open without much hesitation.

“Yes?” he managed without sounding too groggy from sleep.

The girl stood about 5 foot 5 inches, weighed maybe 125 pounds. Her hair was tied into a ponytail that was curled around to hang from her left shoulder. The paleness of her skin set off a stark contrast against the raven black hair and charcoal sweater that clung to her body like a second skin despite the 69-degree temperatures predicted all week. She did wear a thin pair of stretch pants, sort of like those leotards the dancers wore. In the folded crook of her left arm she held a clipboard with a pen attached by a little chain and some papers resting under the spring loaded catch. A small handbag was tucked under her other arm.

“Mister,” she glanced at her clipboard, as if studying it. “Mister Stewart Dauber?” Her eyes went to the number on the outside of his door, which he now stood beside. “228 Sherwood Court?”

She was maybe in her mid-20’s, if Stewart had to guess. Possibly a college student? He honestly wasn’t sure if a girl in her mid-20’s would even still be in college. She was pretty, though, in a pale, homely girl-next-door sort of way. He’d had worse, if he had to form a crude statement about it.

“Last time I checked,” uttered Stewart, perhaps a bit more harshly than he originally intended. He shifted uncomfortable to balance his weight on the opposite foot, his left.

The girl smiled back and wrinkled her nose, almost as if she appreciated his snarky reply. “Pleasure to meet you, Mister Dauber. I’m Anita Halbreath and I’m a volunteer with the Grace Waldron campaign committee.” She produced a button from nowhere and handed it to him politely, careful to hold it by just the edge as if to avoid contact should he reach for it. As soon as he’d pinched it between thumb and index finger, she released her own grip and returned her attention to the clipboard and paper on it.

“As I was saying, Grace Waldon’s currently campaigning for the Mayor’s office of our fine city, and we’d like to take the time to get to know some of the members of our community. To hear what you have to say and get a feel for the issues that need to be addressed, should she be elected to office. Would you have a moment to spare of your time for the benefit of Mrs. Waldron and our city’s future, Mister Dauber?” She flashed a smile that revealed a perfect set of polished white teeth, straight and untouched by nicotine or soda stain.

Stewart sniffed and ran a finger along side his nose, thinking for a moment. Then nodded his head slowly and stepped back from the doorway. “Sure. Would you like to do it here? Or you can come inside if you’d like. I’d like to have a drink myself, I can fix you one, too.”

Anita smiled and nodded. “That would be lovely. Thank you!” Anita stepped inside and passed Stewart’s wide girth.
Stewart nodded and pushed the door shut behind them both, turning to follow her into his apartment. She paused beside his television, an older floor model that still ran fine, once it was good and warm. The volume was muted, but images of a soap opera flickered across the screen. Anita seemed to take a moment of interest in the happenings then smiled and looked Stewart’s way.

“My Granny loves these shows. Her stories, she calls them,” she giggled briefly.

Stewart nodded his head and offered a quick smile. “It just happened to be on that channel when I turned it on earlier. I don’t watch them myself, don’t watch much of anything lately. Too much evil in the world to keep up with for my taste.” He turned toward the open area of his kitchen, no walls separating it from the tiny living room, just a bar that a couple of cups and a fake bowl of fruit sat on. “What’s to your liking, Miss? I have bottled water, some homemade sweet tea and diet cola. No alcohol or coffee, I’m afraid.” he glanced back at her.

“Water would be great,” Anita smiled, comfortably.

Grabbing two bottles of water from the refrigerator, Stewart crossed back to the living room and handed one to his guest. “Would you care for a seat, ma’am?” he asked, motioning to either a straight-backed cloth chair, his recliner or the love seat. “None of them are very comfortable, but they do their job.”

Anita took the tan, straight backed cloth chair and Stewart settled back into his recliner, glad she hadn’t chose it for herself. He gave her a moment to look back over her clipboard, as if she were searching for a place to begin, before he cleared his throat and took a swig from his own bottle.

“How long have you lived in the community, Mister Dauber?”

Stewart swished another swallow around in his mouth before answering. “Oh, since I was a little boy, I reckon. We moved here when I was about 8 or 9. Lotta things have changed since then, but a lot has stayed the same, too. My parents use to own a house over on Lowell Street, but once they both passed on I sold it. Times have been hard for me, I’ve done what I could to keep money in my pocket and a roof over my own head. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep the one they’d provided all those years.”

Tapping the pen on her lower lip, Anita nodded thoughtfully. “And just how old are you, Mister Dauber? Have you ever been married? Have any children?”

Another swallow and a moment of silence. “I’ll be 47 in June. Never been married, ma’am, no. Come close a time or two, but dodge both those bullets. As for children, none that I’m aware of,” he smiled real big and chuckled, absently swirling the water in the bottle.

Anita shared his laugh and jotted a note down on her pad. “How active in the community are you, or have you been? Do you vote or attend any public meetings? Have you ever petitioned the town council for any requests or problems?”

Stewart shook his head. “No, can’t say as I’ve ever been real big into politics. I sort of keep to my self. Easier that way. No one else to worry about or likely to step in my way. What with my hip and back problems, I don’t get out much anyways. Taking in what little disability I can get is pretty much my only interaction with any type of official.”

“Oh, and was that related to work injury?” she asked.

Stewart shrugged. “You could say that. I met with the wrong end of another vehicle. Broke my hip, did a number on my back. Can’t stand for very long period of time, can’t sit for very long either. Kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.”

“Oh my, I’m sorry to hear that,” whispered the girl, her eyes wide and she stared at him. She sniffed and scratched a note down onto her clipboard. “One last thing. Have you ever heard of or met mayoral candidate Grace Waldron before? Went to school with her? Worked with her anywhere? Bumped into her at the super market, anything? Do you know her and would it affect your voting decision if you were to cast a vote right now?” Anita leaned in, as if anxious for his answer.

Steward cocked his head back and took down nearly half the bottle of water in a single chug. He exhaled sharply and slowly twisted the top back on his bottle before turning to make eye contact with the little girl sitting almost across from him. He smiled a large grin and revealed a couple of empty slots where teeth should have been before belching. Then he laughed. Not a long drawn out belly laugh, just a chuckle that would set some folks on the edge of their nerves.

“Let’s cut the crap, honey. What do you really want? What does that whore boss of yours want from me this time? I already gave her some of the best shagging she could have ever dreamt of, and now here you are asking me all kinds of questions about if I know her and from where.” He didn’t even bother to move, and he was surprised that Anita Halbreath didn’t bother to move either.

“I – I’m sorry, sir? What are you -“

“I said cut the crap!” his voice raised a bit. “It’s obvious you know that I know Grace. That’s why you’re here. I knew when I saw she had thrown her hat into the mayor’s race that I’d be hearing something from that white trash tramp.”

Anita finally let her little smile fade away and she sat her clipboard down on the arm of her chair.

“Yea, I’m not stupid. I knew folks would come snooping around to keep my mouth shut. So let’s just get to the good part. How much do y’all want to offer me, and how much am I really going to take to keep my mouth shut about her whoring past?”

Anita shrugged innocently. “What past would that be, Mister Dauber? Enlighten me.”

“You -“ he shook his head. “Well, you may not know, come to think of it. Maybe she didn’t give you all the information you need. Maybe that’s why you agreed to come into my home and question me. Maybe she didn’t tell you just how bad a man I am.” He sneered, but his guest didn’t budge. “I know Grace. I knew her years back. We dated for a brief bit, but she tried to break it off. Tried to tell me we weren’t in love. She wanted to be with a higher class of people, even then working her way to sleeping to the top. She had goals, and they didn’t involve a poor old boy like myself.”

He snorted and pulled a handkerchief out of his front pocket, spitting into it. “We’d done some wild things in our short time together. Even then she didn’t think she could trust me. So her new boyfriend, some fancy attorney, sent her to have a final meeting with me, see if they could pay me off. Well, all that got her was one last fling with the king.” Stewart chuckled a deep throaty laugh before clearing his throat.

“You raped her?” Anita asked.

Waving his hand absently, Stewart sneered. “Rape. Not what she called it all the other times. Either way, I should have killed her right then and there.”

“But you didn’t.”

“But I didn’t,” confirmed Stewart.

“That’s how she was able to climb across into the front seat of her car and run you down, breaking your hip and damaging your spine. Not paralyzing you, but hurting you enough to keep you down.”

Stewart had a grim look come across his face as he remembered the night. “They paid to keep me quiet then. Paid for my operations, had my disability approved so I’d never have to work again.” he nodded to himself more than anyone. “But not anymore. I think it’s time I got a little more compensation for my time and suffering. After all, that’s was near 20 years ago. I’m due a new judgement.”

Anita stood up. “Funny you should say that. And, for the record, it was 25 years ago. That was the night I was conceived. Born of a hateful act of jealousy and rage between my mother and a man that would overshadow her entire career all my life.”

Stewart sat stunned for a moment. He didn’t utter a word as he slowly slid to the edge of the recliner. “I can see her in your eyes,” he whispered to no one in particular.

“I’m sure you can. However, I wasn’t sent here to renegotiate a new contract with you.” She reached into the small handbag and withdrew a handgun. “I’m actually here to terminate the current one.”

Stewart burst into a deep gutted laugh and threw his head back at the site of this little girl holding a gun on him. “I’m sure you did, sweetie. I’m sure that is what you thought you were going to do.”

Anita cocked her head to one side then pulled the trigger. The muffled shot made them both jump, but it was the look of shock on Stewart’s face at the growing stain of red blood forming beneath his t-shirt that captured both their attention. She looked up and managed to force her own mouth closed, meeting his gaze. His large form started to move, despite the wound. Anita lifted her arm again and put a hole in his forehead. He fell back into the recliner, the springs creaking under the force of the weight.

She glanced around the small apartment and saw nothing of interest. Nothing to show the man that lay bleeding and dead before her was anything but a twisted ball of hate. The apartment, much like his life, was empty. Devoid of any one thing or object of affection. Some people lived only to serve as obstacles to others in the world. Forcing themselves upon people that no longer wanted or needed them. Standing in their way when they tried to move ahead. This man, this stranger – her father – had been nothing but one obstacle after another for as long as she could remember. A cause of pain and agony in her mother from his past indiscretions. And he’d willingly taken money to keep his mouth shut for all those years. Now, even upon discovering he’d had a daughter with the woman he supposedly loved, all he could think about was money. Just like mother had said.

Anita dialed her mother up and waiting until she picked up on the other line. “Yes. Yes, just like you said. I know, I’m sorry, too. It’s okay, mama. Yes. Just give me 15 minutes and then they can come in behind me to clean up. Okay, love you, too. I’ll see you tonight. Bye.”

In Dreams #1: A Stitch

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Someone once asked me if I dreamed in color. That was an odd question at the time because I assumed everyone did. As it turns out, most people dream in black and white. Interesting, right? Some people can remember their dreams vividly, able to retell them detail by detail days or months after they have happened. Others will forget them upon waking up, only to have a deja vu feeling sometime later.

That right there. That’s what I’m interested in. Have you ever had that creepy feeling that you’ve done something before it happens? That you’ve been in a place before even though you just walked in the door? Me too. In fact, I started investigating this phenomena when I was a teenager because it happened to me a lot. Turns out there’s more information on the subject out there than what you might expect. One just needs to know where to look, and how deep to dig when looking.

For me it was the old used bookstore down on the corner of Main and Lowry. I’d never been in there before, but I’d ridden my bike by it hundreds of times. Turns out I’d been missing out on a lot of things in my young life by not stepping inside. Mister Corwin, the store owner and operator, was a treasure trove of information, and he knew exactly what I was looking for when I finally – weeks later – got the nerve to ask. It was the twinkle in his eye and the sly grin on his face that should have warned me there was no turning back. Sometimes, I wish I’d listened to that look. Maybe then I’d still be living a normal life, married, kids of my own, working a boring second shift job at some factory.

But no.

One: A Stitch

“Let it go, Charlie, you’ll never get in.” Susie just twirled her hair and continued to chomp on the gob of Bubblicious like a cow chewing cud. She ignored the irritated Shushing that came from the shadows and sighed heavily to express her dismay at their after hours activity. “Come on, I have to be home in thirty minutes or my parents are going to kill you and ground me.”

Charles Dwight Grodder fumbled with the lock one last time before turning sharply on his date. “Would you shut up for two seconds?!” he harshly whispered in the darkness of the back deck they stood huddled on. “I’ve almost got it.”

Susie sighed heavily once again as Charlie turned back to trying to jimmy open the back door of the house. She knew he meant well, what with her fetish and all, but she really was tired from her previous date with Jeremy Shroud. That had been a lunch date and he’d taken her to the new Mexican restaurant the next town over. At the thought, she stifled a burp and cut her eyes to the darkened form of Charlie, then giggled to herself.

A sharp curse and thump of something falling hard to the wooden deck suddenly had the flood lights coming on in the backyard of the strangers house they were trying to break in to. Charlie froze, twirling around to slightly to meet Susie’s eyes that were just as big as his. Inside the house they could hear shouting and the stomping of feet and both noises grew louder the closer it got to the back door.

“Run, Susie!” Charlie shouted and they both started to bolt toward the steps of the deck, heading for the protective shadows of the back fence row and the hedges lining it.

No sooner had the words escaped Charlie’s mouth than the back door exploded open and a large shadow filled the doorway and then some. He – it had to have been a he – raised a shotgun and fired in their direction. The slow motion sound of the rifle pumping and then a second shot scattered the night air. A third pump.

Charlie wasn’t sure if it was the second or first shot that hit Susie. She was just ahead of him but he saw her pitch forward and heard the most disgusting squishing sounds right before she grunted and huffed loudly upon hitting the soft earth. It was definitely the third round, he was very sure, that caught him. It was a stinging sensation, penetrating just below his neck, hitting the right shoulder and arm in two or three places and lodging a couple of flecks of shot into his back.

Charlie hadn’t even hit the ground before he blacked out and knew he was dead. There was no bright white light, no symphony of angels, no dead relatives to greet him. It was just him, in near darkness, yet he felt there was also something else. He was no longer in the backyard of a disgruntled and frightened home owner who was thought to be out of town. Instead, he was somewhere else. Somewhere that wasn’t anywhere. At least, that’s how his mind interpreted the situation.

That was when he felt a long stroke of smooth flesh across the back of his neck. It sent a shiver down his spine, but he was unable to move. He tried to turn his head but it was frozen in place. In fear? He even tried to speak, but nothing came out, not even a groan or a whine. He did, however, feel the warmth of urine soak his jeans as the warm breath of air brushing his left ear and began to speak.

“Hello, Charles,” the smooth, relaxed and monotone voice greeted in the darkness. “I’m so very pleased you’ve finally made it. We’ve been expecting you for some time. It took awhile, but you finally got our message and made it to just the right door.”

He wasn’t sure, but it almost looked like something moved in front of him, and when the voice spoke again, it was in his right ear. Oh, God, where am I. Susie?! he thought to himself.

“Oh no, Charles. Neither one of them are here. Susie, I’m afraid, is still – shall we say, kicking. As for Him, well, he’s never been one to step foot this far into my domain. Call it an ego trip, call it vanity, call it what you will – just don’t call it late for dinner. You’re ours now, and we’re going to have so much fun together.”

Suddenly the light appeared. It was a tiny speck and Charlie couldn’t be sure if it was the fabled tunnel he was looking at or perhaps a train, but it grew closer. No, definitely not a train because of the speed, but also because of the swagger that carried it from side to side. Whatever it was, the unseen form surrounding him seemed to shiver itself for a moment before drawing itself tighter around his body.

“This one is ours, you’re too late!” the voice spoke loud and fierce.

The light simply waved back and forth as if to say, No, No.

“I thought we had a deal.” The voice wasn’t angelic or mysterious. Just a regular old voice, to Charlie’s ears.

“We don’t make deals here,” the Darkness hissed.

“Well then we have a problem. You’re in my territory and I’ve already made it perfectly clear that you’re to keep your talons off everyone under my protection.” the approaching light explained in a calm, rational tone. “You have failed to comply, therefore consequences must be faced.”

Charlie felt his body grow taunt as if something suddenly grabbed his entire form and pulled it from head and feet at the same time. “I’ll rip him in two if you take another step. I’ll -“

“Oh, now it’s I. What happens to all the we’s when the pressure is on? Huh? Let him go and get out of here you jack wagon. Don’t make me get my book.” The light was finally bright enough to illuminate Charlie and the new arrival. It was just a regular guy in jeans and a Dungeons & Dragon’s t-shirt. He shined the light directly at Charlie and smirked a little. “Have you seen this guy?” he asked Charlie, gazing into his eyes.

Charlie found he could shake his head now. In fact, whatever was behind him had almost completely loosened it’s grip.

“Eh, you aren’t missing much. Now,” he addressed the form behind Charlie. “I’m not going to tell you again. Deliver the message and stay out of this zone. Next time, I won’t be so polite.”

Charlie was suddenly on the back lawn of the house he’d been trying to break in to with Susie. Except she was nowhere to be found. He panicked and turned to run, but ran smack into his savior.

The stranger smiled and cocked his head to one side. “Well, hello, Charlie. You okay?” He chuckled as Charlie shook his head absently. “Good, good. Well I guess I’ll let you go then. Oh, and don’t worry about the other fellow, he won’t bother you anymore. They rarely do. At least not for years later.”

“Wha- What happened? What’s happening?” Charlie stammered, realizing nothing was moving around them. The back deck light was off, there were no cops, there was no rifle being fired, and most importantly, Julie was gone and he wasn’t dead from being shot. “Where’s Susie?!”

The stranger brushed back a stray strand of dark hair. “Well, you’re dreaming, obviously. As for the old smooth talker back there in The Nether, he’s all, well, talk. They answer to higher beings, but every once in awhile they’ll travel out and try to act on their own. You know, for fun. Kinda like breaking into people’s houses when they aren’t home to have sex with your kinky girlfriend. Everyone has their thing.”

Charlie realized he was shaking profusely. And he stammered as he tried to talk. “B-b-but if this is a dream …”

“Look,” the stranger sighed. “It’s a slow night and I don’t usually get too deep with this stuff, but you look like it’s changed your life for the better. Am I right?” Charlie nodded yes. “No, see, that’s a lie you’re telling me. When you wake up you won’t remember this after about a minute. It’ll all fade away and you’ll go about your life. So let me fill you in on some very important information, my friend.” The stranger looked around before leaning in secretively to Charlie. “Dreams are real, Charlie. They’re other worlds brought to life by our imaginations and all the magical workings of the Universe and everything in it. All the other beings together form this ethereal consciousness.

“There are billions of worlds and lifeforms that dream around the clock. Those dreams are doorways to these other worlds. But like anything, there’s a downside to that. There are also beings that feed off these dreams. That can enter them and pass between them. That’s usually when you have a nightmare. Kinda like that cartoon with the monsters that make kids scream to power their city and stuff. Well, sorta, but not exactly. You see, these monsters, these beings, they don’t eat your screams, they just sort of devour your soul. They suck it right out while you sleep and dream in this realm. Kinda like a soul dream vampire thing.

“That’s where guys like me come in. We’re from all over, too. Where these guys take your dream and tear their way in to it to make it a nightmare, we come along and stitch it back up, kick them out and … well, if we’re lucky, send you back on your merry way.”

Charlie just stood there shivering for a moment. The stranger opened his mouth to say something else, and then Charlie was gone.

The stranger closed his mouth and shook his head as the house, night sky and ground beneath him slowly faded away. He looked at his watch and sighed. “Alarm clock,” he muttered. “Always interrupts the good parts.” He closed his eyes and rolled his head back for a moment and exhaled sharply, slowly fading away himself until there was nothing but an empty darkness.

Micro Fiction

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When I get the urge to write, it’s usually in short little bursts. Recently I’ve been having a couple of those little bursts and have decided to call it Micro Fiction. I’m sharing this because I’ll be posting them randomly on the blog ever so often.

In fact, you could sort of think of it as serialized fiction, if I were any good at it, that is.

So stay tuned! You know, if you want to.

Currently Reading: Caverns & Creatures by Robert Belvan

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When I say I’m currently reading Caverns & Creatures, I mean that I’m currently reading the entire series as I can read it. Caverns & Creatures is the name of the series, not the name of each individual tale. In all, there are three main novels (so far) that advance the story of our … um … heroes. The remaining tales are a series of short stories where our main group goes off on some wild quest for one reason or another.

Bevan is great at delivering the laughs and crafting a story around them. The jokes are crude and the language pretty harsh at times. But that’s honestly part of the appeal. If you are a gamer – especially of the D&D variety, you should at least give the main trilogy a try. They are quick reads and fun throughout.

The only caveat I offer is this: No matter how much you like the series, I would not recommend following Mr. Bevan on Twitter. He will spam your timeline to the high Heavens and back again all day and night. If you still want to show your support, though, follow him and then mute his posts. Hate to be rude, but it works and was necessary for me.