The Dark Beneath – Part Four

© Ilkin Guliyev | ID 91026947

By Christopher Opyr


          Sitting around pondering her next step wouldn’t do her any good. Maybe that thing had broken into her room, maybe it was still right outside that door. Either way, Lori had to be quick.

          She chewed at her lip, drumming up her courage and listening for any sound of that abomination. The room had fallen silent.

          Beverly? The thought struck Lori with a sudden wave of panic. Her eyes darted to the dark beneath the bed.

          Her fear slammed to a halt, her emotions shifting from one extreme to the next almost instantly. Lori could almost taste the adrenaline pulsing through her system, colliding with that heart-stopping relief as she saw Beverly staring up at her.

          Then Beverly began to bark once more.

          CRACK!

          That man-thing thrust itself back through the rupture in the door. It must have eased itself out when she was in the closet, but much of the splintered wood had also given away with its retreat. Now it managed to fit both arms and its head through. It would be able to climb right in.

          It gnashed its hideous, blood-stained teeth at her, the ripped flesh of its lips crusting over in another basaltic cooling, that ooze secreting, dripping, and steaming off of it. A thin stream of blood hung from the torn flesh, a drip of blood-spittle. As it bit the air, thrashing to reach her, that dog-like saliva sprayed across the wood paneling.

          Lori dashed for Beverly, thrusting her hand beneath the bed and gripping the Pomeranian by the scruff of her neck. She hauled her out and thrust her into the dog carrier, flung it over her shoulders and bolted for the window.

          Time slowed and the soft sounds of the room amplified, while the yowling of that man-thing fell away to a distorted muted scream in the background noise of Lori’s panic. Above all things, loudest of all, she heard a pin drop. No. A screw. As it bounced, another soft echo of metal against wood sounded. The sideplate. It seemed to clang against the floor for minutes that stretched into eons. Then came that final horror. The sound of the wood rending apart as the door collapsed in.

          Already swiveling her legs down to the ledge, Lori looked back to find that monstrosity bounding towards her, the door biting into its midsection, transformed from the widening maw to some hideous splintered tutu of jagged wood encircling burnt flesh. The image struck her as both hideous and absurd, and a laugh bubbled up unbidden.

          And it stopped.

          That man-thing stopped and it tilted its head at Lori as if considering her laughter. The thing’s eyes still hid away beneath the drooping flesh fusion of its forehead and cheeks, but just that askew tilt alone signaled its puzzlement with perfect clarity.

          Lori had no clue what to make of it, but she also had no time to stop to consider it. Beverly barked at the thing in the door waking Lori from her reverie. Instantly she flew into action, slipping the rest of the way out onto the ledge, nine stories up. She had planned to sidle over away from the window, but as she slipped into the cold night air outside her bedroom window she heard that thing snap back into action itself. She could feel the breeze on her back as it charged, and praying for luck, she pivoted on her right heel, swinging herself out over the nine-story gap, until she had turned a full 180 degrees, her face now pressed against the rough Art Deco exterior.

          Beverly slipped in the carrier, sliding into the side and dragging the bag off Lori’s shoulder with her weight. Quickly, Lori hooked her elbow, catching the bag and her dog before they fell to the pavement below. As she did, a blackened hand pounded into the concrete where her head had been. The exterior pebbled, spider-webbing from the impact.

          Her head knotted from the tension, Lori sidled three feet to the left, her arm still hooked around the carrier’s shoulder strap. That thing groped out with its sickening arm, searching for her, but as she lay still it could not find her. Next, it thrust its head through the opening and cast its gaze about in every which direction and still it was unable to spot her.

          Lori didn’t even dare sigh her relief. She pressed as tightly as possible to the wall and thanked everything that was holy, whether she believed in it or not, that the near drop of the carrier had startled Beverly into silence.

          Then it happened.

          That thing reached a hand to its face – a gray hand, so much char having flaked away that the skin had lightened – seized upon the melted flesh before it eyes, and yanked back tearing a bloody hunk away and casting it down towards the street. Blood oozed from the open wound in a heavy stream, but behind that crimson waterfall a cold eye stared out and spotted her.

          The thing’s motions slowed, taking on a more considered countenance. It gripped at the casing as if to to ease itself onto the ledge.

          Panic surged in a fresh wave through Lori. This had to end. She sidled as far away as she could, never removing her gaze from the intruder at the window, then stopped, unable to continue further with the carrier swinging from its tenuous grip in the crook of her elbow and pulling her off balance.

          She tried to right it, lifting her left arm, leveling it out, then raising it, all the while gripping as best she could to the concrete wall. As her arm passed level and the bag began to slide down to her shoulder, she felt her entire sense of balance spiraling.

          She lowered her arm, grabbing at a protruding lip of cement before an indented panel, and recovered her balance. She couldn’t shift the bag one-handed, and she couldn’t reach the bag with her right arm without pushing herself back from the wall, risking the nine-story drop.

          She froze.

          That blood-curtained eye remained locked on her, and the man-thing began to lift its leg out onto the ledge. This was it. Lori was dead.

          Below a siren blared to life, an emergency vehicle racing through the LA streets. Oh the music of Los Angeles. As the sirens wailed the man-thing watching her scrambled back into the apartment, its hands clawing at its ear nubs trying to rip out the loud sounds of the city.

          Lori let out a sigh of relief. Now she simply had to traverse an eight inch ledge around the bend and another twenty feet to her balcony. No problem.

          She sidled closer to the indented paneling, tightening her grip. Thank goodness for Art Deco. One hand clutching to the paneling, the other holding on precariously close to the window casing, she inched her left arm up, slowly sliding the carrier down towards her shoulder. Her legs quivered and she could feel the tremors rattling her knees as she desperately battled to maintain her footing. Bit by bit, the carrier slid down her arm, constantly shifting Lori’s center of balance. At last she could raise her arm no further without losing her grip. The carrier still had inches to go.

          Lori glanced to her right arm, still pressed so close to that open window. How long until that thing returned for her? She eased her hand closer and closer, until it tucked in right by her side. Now she just had to reach between herself and the wall so she could get a grip on the bag and right it. She slid her hand forward squeezing between her and the cement.

          As she crept her hand closer and closer to her shoulder, Lori had to press back, making room for her to gain leverage. She could sense the emptiness behind her – the open air and the long fall down. That void called for her, taunting her, and she froze. The tremors tore at her knees once more, her balance shifted, and Lori screamed. Her right foot gave, slipping into nothingness.

          She clung to the paneling with her left arm, and hurriedly reached back out with her right, pressing it back towards the casement. Her left leg struggled, the knee buckling as she threatened to fall. And with this sudden shift in weight the carrier strap slipped over her shoulder and slammed against her neck.

          Lori lost her balance.

          Still gripping the paneling, her right knee came down hard on the ledge, and her right hand slipped from the casing, down beside her knee. Pain burst in another flare clouding her vision. Her other leg shifted to the left, compensating for the quick drop and change in balance. Only her left arm remained in place, still gripping for dear life.

          Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. The words rang out like an internal mantra, repeating on an infinite loop. Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.

          Her breath came in panicked gasps, and her lungs hurt. She wasn’t getting enough air; she was hyperventilating.

          Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit – calm!

          Lori had to calm down. She had to calm down now. That thing was still inside, still waiting for her, but she couldn’t even worry about that now. One death-defying panic at a time. First she had to make sure she didn’t plummet to the street.

          Calm, calm, calm. A new mantra. A better mantra, offering sage advice rather than blind panic.

          Calm, calm, calm, she repeated, willing herself to regain control. Slowly, her breathing returned to normalcy. Her heart pounded and skipped. Skipped? Did it really skip? Calm, calm, calm.

          The racing in her breast eased. It didn’t go away – that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon – but yes it did ease. Lori let out a long, slow, exhale. She could do this.


          “Come on, Lori! You got this!”

          She could hear her softball team cheering her on as she stepped to bat. This was the moment of truth for the Badgers. She had to bring Joy home. No outs remained. She looked to Joy, and Joy waved and smiled with that perfect homecoming queen smile.

          “Go Lori! You got this!”

          But Joy had never cheered her on. None of them had. They had shunned her. They had called her a bitch and a slut and they had swooned after boys that all called her a feminazi, like wanting equality was some fascist, insane desire.

          This wasn’t how it had happened. This was how she had wished that it had happened, that they had liked her or more importantly respected and accepted her. That they had rooted for her rather than spat at her. This time she had to hit the ball home.


          Lori let out one final deep exhale and pulled herself to her feet. Her left knee strained as it took on her full weight, the veins on her wrist protruding with the effort of gripping the paneling. Her right arm scrambled for purchase, at last finding a slight crack in the cement. Her landlord would need to be notified about that. She chuckled at the thought, letting the tension wash away ever so slightly.

          A little higher now, a little more weight in that left foot… she could feel her knee threatening to pop. Just a little further. Sweat greased her palms, threatening her handhold on the indention. Just a little more.

          And…

          She was up. Her right foot found solid ground and she finally let out a sigh of relief. Beverly was properly shouldered after nearly dragging her down, Lori had her footing, and now she could begin the trek around the corner of the building. Things were looking up already.

          One step. Two steps. Three steps. Four steps.

          Not so bad. The window to her bedroom receded every so slowly, the distance between her and that thing widening.

          Six steps. Seven steps. Eight steps.

          The cool concrete felt rough against her cheek and the palms of her hands, but Lori didn’t dare push back. She had reached a relative calm, but that was the calm of someone pressed to a wall nine stories up – not a reassuring or strong calm. Definitely not one that instilled confidence.

          Ten steps. Eleven steps.

          The sweat poured from her palms. As Lori reached for another indented panel, her lead hand slipped rather than gripped. She could feel it fall into the empty space, and her heart didn’t so much sink as plummet. She slapped it back to the wall, the concrete scraping against her skin and the friction finally outweighing the sweatiness of her palms. Lori regained her handhold.

          Sweet Jesus, Lori.

          She caught her breath and chanted her internal mantra once more. Calm, calm, calm.

          Better. She only had a couple more steps to the corner. She could do this.

          Thirteen steps.

          She heard it before she saw it. The sound of the window being thrust up above the warp in the stile. It must have fallen when that thing had retreated inside. Suddenly, Beverly began to yap once more.

          “Damn it, girl, shut up!” That’d tell her.

          Her throat constricted and Lori could feel the imminent paralysis of fear threatening to take over. With deliberate and very careful attention, she turned her head.

          That burnt thing had lifted up the window and now sat there, perched just over the opening watching her. The aloe-like coating over its skin seemed to have vanished, and splotches of the dark burnt layer had flaked away revealing more gray skin beneath, this too seeming to crack like parched earth, but smoother than the previous char layer. The only large protrusions of char that remained still bubbling clung to a lump above its eyes, still drooping just down from the forehead, a scabbing around its lips, and a few tumorous protrusions encircling its waist.

          Fifteen steps.

          Lori made it to the corner, the ledge widening to accommodate a small statuary embellishment – a carving of a gargoyle. It wasn’t a full on landing, but at least here Lori could rest for a moment, resituate Beverly, and ease the tension in her shoulders and knees before traversing another twenty feet or so to her balcony.

          Standing there on the relative security of the widened corner ledge, Lori rolled her shoulders relishing with each stretch as her tension eased. All the while she stared at that man-thing. As it stared back, any release Lori had gained from the comfort of her increased footspace vanished. The shift in its appearance alone would have been enough to unnerve her, those bubbling char-scabs crusting over its most recent wounds – healing? – but her anxiety rooted less in the shift in its physical appearance and more in its change of demeanor.

          That thing hadn’t crashed through the glass of the window. It hadn’t clawed its way out to the ledge like a beast. It had opened the window. Opened it. More, as it stared at her, it didn’t thrash about hunting her with animalistic abandon. That thing watched. It was studying her, its eyes cold and calculating beneath that scabbed over brow.

          It was planning.

          Lori grabbed Beverly’s shoulder strap and lifted it from her left shoulder and over her neck to her right. Now she shouldn’t have to worry about her dog falling so easily. She leaned down and whispered to Beverly.

          “Shhh, girl. Shhh. It’s going to be okay.”

          She didn’t believe the words, but the calming tone was the trick. Beverly yapped a few more times as Lori continued to whisper in a smooth, dulcet tone. At last she cast Lori one confused glance, yapped a final time at the thing terrorizing them, then quieted in her carrier.

          Lori stood and readied herself for the final twenty feet. All the while, that thing had watched. As she took the first step around the bend she could see it still watching, its eyes locked on her – unwavering. A cold intelligence simmered in that gaze. As the char chipped away, so too did its animalistic inclinations. The rules of the hunt had changed.

Back to Part 1

Delay

          I won’t be pushing a traditional post today.

          Part Two of my Plodding, Perilous Quest for Readers blog will be updated soon. I have spent most of the past three weeks exploring a writing community, and have used my usual blogging time in delving deep into that platform. I hope to have strong enough an understanding of strategies within that service to soon add those details to the Periolous Quest blog post in a meaningful way. So, in what is a fairly long stretch now, I continue to delay this post to ensure it actually is drafted to my satisfaction. More soon.

          My Friday post, however, shall not be impacted. Part four of The Dark Beneath will post then.

          Happy Writing, All!

The Dark Beneath – Part Three

© Ilkin Guliyev | ID 91026947

By Christopher Opyr


          And she waited. The minutes passed, the hour changed, and no one came. No sirens approached, no knock at the door sounded, and no key turned the locks. No rescue arrived and neither did Dean.

          Lori glanced to the door. Was that thing still there? Had it left? She doubted she’d be that lucky, but she needed to know for sure. Waiting for help that might not come seemed just as likely to end horribly as any other option, and Lori would rather face whatever was coming with action than inaction. She would not die waiting for a white knight.

          Once more she tiptoed across the room, her slippers struggling for traction against the slick wood paneling. She tottered her arms out from her sides for balance, and assured of her footing continued towards the door.

          Wooden splinters pierced out from a crack down the center of the bottom panel, jutting out as if a grotesque underbite of some monstrous maw of needled teeth. Yet, fractured as it was that splintered door provided no glimpse into the hall beyond.

          Lori noted the bent sideplate at the top of the door with great trepidation. Her eyes flitting between that sideplate and the cracked maw of the wood, she lowered herself to the floor. Averting her gaze for as long as she dared, she stole a glance through the gap beneath the door.

          She made out no more than a dense patch within the darkness. If it was again that thing shadowed within the dark of the hall, or if it was nothing more than the normal black pitch of night, Lori could not say.

          She lay still and listened. The gentle whir of her central air buffeted her and she found a moment of comfort in the cool current raining down from the ceiling vent. Then the air abated and she heard it: a low rumbling, almost as if a deep and guttural snore. Was it sleeping out there, or was that merely the tembor of its breath?

          It didn’t matter. Her exit remained blocked.

          Or did it?

          She peered back over her shoulder to the window on which she had scrawled her message for help. Below that window ran a small ledge, no more than eight inches or so wide but running the length of the building. If she were careful, she should be able to make her way to her balcony, then into the living room and a straight shot to the front door. Or perhaps even all the way to the next apartment over, if the first option proved too risky.

          Dean was late, but he could arrive at any minute. Lori had to act quickly. Sure, if Dean stumbled in and that thing killed him, his death would not be her weight to bear, but her inaction would be. Would she be able to live with herself if she did not even try to do something?

          She really didn’t need to ask that question.

          Lori eased away from the door. Step after cautious step, she inched towards the window. The backwards muted rose letters confronted her, her haggard reflection mingling with the scrawled message. She stopped short upon seeing herself there, reflected against the cityscape. The knot on her head had grown, but it was the strain and the fear etched beneath her eyes that halted her. That thing out there had done this to her. It had changed her. It was trying trying to break her.

          It would fail.

          Carefully she closed the distance to the window and grasped the rail below the catch. It had been a long time since she opened her bedroom window, and it had never opened easily. The effort would likely be a loud one.

          Lori steeled herself, one solid breath in through the nose, gripped tight, then heaved. The window raised an inch, and with a great clamor as the warped stile caught against the casing.

          Immediately the thing behind her sounded. A loud din rose up and she could hear it frantically thrashing against the battered door. She spared a momentary glance over her shoulder.

          The door rattled in its frame, the upper sideplate bending and another screw working its way out. The hinge joint would not last. The splintered maw shook and stretched jutting further out into the room, now revealing a small gap through to the hall beyond. Flurried shadows danced as that thing flailed, its breathing now ragged and turbulent, the same guttural growl quaking beneath each roaring breath.

          Lori averted her gaze. She did not have time to watch fate approach; she needed to focus on making her own. She heaved once more upon the rail. The window stuck in the frame, resisting her. She strained, never slacking. Behind her the door cracked and she heard the soft clatter of metal tinging off the wood paneling. The damn sideplate. That would be the loosened crew, she supposed, but didn’t dare look to verify.

          She stopped, catching her breath, then stuck her fingers in the small opening beneath the bottom rail. A morbid thought struck unbidden and she envisioned the window snapping down crushing her fingers against the sill. Instinctually she wanted to withdraw her fingers from that gap, but she held back against the urge. The door would be coming down. She had to open that window.

          She bent her knees, locked her elbows at her side, and hauled up. Again the resistance of the warped stile mocked her, and she scrambled to come up with a new plan; then it gave. The window slammed up past the warp in the wood.

          Relief momentarily flooding in, she took a hurried look back to the door. The top sideplate held now by only one screw and the bottom plate had begun to give as well. A fresh pounding sounded as that thing struck against the wood, and the maw yawned open.

          A charred arm struck through, a blackened tongue scraping over the splinter-fangs. That aloe layer still clung to the cracked and blackened skin, but in places that basaltic black flaked away, like healed scabs ripping from raw skin.

          Lori pounded out the screen of the window, sending it falling. She hoped someone would notice, but as she heard it hit she heard no accompanied exclamations. The street below was empty. She swung one leg over scrambling for footing on the narrow ledge. It felt so soft and for a moment she blanked, puzzled by the unexpected sensation. Then she winced, furious with herself, but with no time to dwell on it. She kicked off her slippers and tried again.

          Eight inches wasn’t a lot of space, but her footing felt firm. She swung her second leg over and prepared for the ledge walk, her heart racing, and her her stomach lurching. Just as she gripped the bottom rail and prepared to duck all the way out, she heard it. Or her.

          Beverly began to bark.

          Fuck me!

          Lori cut her eyes to a bouncing Beverly yapping from beneath the bed. Why couldn’t she have just stayed asleep?

          At the door that thing had managed to squeeze a full arm and most of its head through the maw in the shattered wood, the door teetering as it pushed through the widening rupture. Lori could see that the thing appeared very much human, though so much stronger. Yet, there was no way it could actually be human. If so it would have to be dead.

          It’s skin, under all that pulsing aloe-like layer, flaked and peeled, crisp and burnt and raw. The thing’s lips seemed fused together, only parting slightly and just off center. And yet it snapped at her, showing glistening yellowed teeth hidden within that burnt carcass of its mouth. It’s breath whined through narrow slits in the equally fused nostrils of its nose, and its eyes…

          It looked for her, though a melted mass of charred flesh drooping down from its forehead and melding with its cheeks. Only its ears seemed unblocked, though it had only nubs rather than a full pair of ears, as if the rest had sloughed away.

          As it strained to force its way in, the wooden shards of the door raked into the burnt flesh, more ashen char flaking away, and tiny trails gouging through the raw skin beneath, leaving thin streams of blood. The thing paid the pain no mind. The trails bubbled, and darkened, more of that aloe coating seeping out from the thing’s pores and the wounds knitted together, solidifying into that burnt flesh layer, as if lava cooling upon colliding with the sea.

          Lori clenched her jaw and swallowed back a lump of bile. She felt certain she was going to retch, and not so much because of the grotesque nightmare playing out before her, but more from the putrid rot that clung to it. The smell choked her, a tangible filth, almost like a thin layer of soot that stubbornly blanketed the room. Her eyes watered from the smell.

          All the while, Beverly jumped and barked from beneath the bed, and that thing, that burnt man continued to strain, squeezing through the broken door. It seemed a man, too, didn’t it? If it bore some kin to humanity, Lori had no doubt it was male.

          She knew she needed to go before it forced its way in or broke down the door completely, yet, Beverly would not quiet. Lori glared at her, and motioned for her to sit and shush, but the dog was in no mood for tricks. If that thing made it in, would it kill her?

          Lori cursed herself then hauled her legs back from the ledge and into her bedroom. She had to move fast. As she landed, the burnt thing, the man at the door, snarled and stretched open its mouth, the tiny split widening and ripping, as the fused flesh parted in a spray of spittle and blood. The crimson stained its yellowed teeth, a blood wash that clung to the gums, as if some hideous image of decay you might see tacked up in a sadistic dentist’s office.

          Lori darted for her closet, sliding across the wood floor, and crashing into the hanging clothes. She brushed them aside, rummaging through the junk cluttering the back of the closet, and yanked out a small tote dog carrier. As she turned back, heart pounding, she heard a rending noise, then a clatter from her bedroom. She sped to shut the door, only as she slid out reaching out for the handle she found a puzzling scene.

          Broken wooden shards lay strewn about the entryway to her room, but the torn maw lay open and shattered, and the door held. The thing, the burnt man, was gone.

          Where the fuck is he?

          In a frenzied hurry she scanned the room, but she did not see him. Shit, shit, shit.

          Don’t panic, she thought, only it was the perfect time to panic. In the history of the whole damn universe, this was the time to panic. Henceforth, if one were to look up panic, this would be listed as the epitome of the appropriate moment to go bat shit crazy with it. There was no doubt in Lori’s mind.

          Only if she panicked, she died.

          She threw back her head, in a silent, frustrated laugh. She couldn’t see that thing, and that was so much worse than seeing it. Especially, as she could still smell it. Its rot still hung over the room. It hadn’t left.

Back to Part 1

The Silence of Alium – Chapter 1

ID 36883161 © Andrey Armyagov | Dreamstime

By Chris Hutton

Author’s Note:

Yes, today is supposed to be a writing blog, but I have a story itching to get out and I couldn’t shut it up until I wrote it. So I hope you enjoy the beginning of The Silence of Alium. I will return to the blog soon.


1 – The Burning Sky

          The stars shined through the black of space, tiny pinpricks of light, distant beacons sending out messages from the past. How they shined! Their light did not twinkle, but rather, with no atmosphere to refract that light, shone true and steady. No matter how many times he witnessed their brilliance in the unimpeded vacuum of space, Dr. Carlo Offredi never ceased to be amazed by their majesty.

          How many of those distant systems had already blinked out of existence, he wondered as he stared out through one of three small porthole-like windows. They were positioned in a circle in the upper portion of the descent capsule, three skylights to the universe beyond. As the faintest tug of gravity settled him into his seat, the doctor continued to ponder the view.

          How many billions of Earth analogs had formed, their own ecosystems evolving and collapsing and their species never escaping their individual geocentric understanding of the heavens? Then again, how many of those systems spawned life at all, let alone life that freed itself from the constraints of its birth planet and fled out into the stars?

          He liked to think that the number was beyond measure, but Carlo had grown to doubt the probability of intelligent life. The numbers were in its favor, but centuries of interstellar exploration had turned up hundreds of habitable Earth analogs, a good five percent of which supported native life, but none of which showed signs of intelligence or civilization. Each such life-bearing planet had been quarantined, allowing only for the presence of a minimal research crew, which had to operate under the strictest of procedures. Abiding by the Centauri Mandates was a must, along with the ELP provisions of the Space Settlement Act of 2069 and all subsequent Amendments. Essentially where there was life there was bureaucracy to oversee it – and Dr. Carlo Offredi was part of that machine.

          “Doc, you secure?” Staff Sergeant Simmons locked his ever vigilant gaze on Dr. Offredi.

          “Yes, Simmons. Not my first rodeo.” Carlo gave his safety harness a firm tug, visual confirmation that he was secure.

          A safety light glinted off of Simmons’ bald pate providing a halo effect around him as he stared down the doctor. He cast a striking silhouette, his dark features lost in the resulting shadow. Carlo thought the man looked like an angel, a solid, immovable angel that he sure as hell didn’t want to cross.

          “Good.” Simmons nodded, then turned to his second-in-command.

          “Sergeant Robles, call platoon leader and confirm package Omega is secure.”

          “Yes, sir.” Robles, strapped in so tight it was a wonder the harness wasn’t cutting off circulation, tapped an earpiece and began barking up the chain of command. Carlo tuned him out.

          He tried to revert his gaze to the stars, but their uninterrupted brilliance had abated, the characteristic twinkle of atmospheric interference just beginning.

          Bang!

          The pop of the metal reverberated throughout the capsule.

          Bang!

          Bang!

          Directly across from Carlo, a young soldier, eighteen at most and baby-faced as they came, jumped in his seat. He rose balloon-like, floating and slowly drifting under the minimal gravity. At his apex he grabbed at his unfastened safety harness, pulling himself into his seat as the continued shaking of the descent capsule jostled him from side to side. The newest member of the squad, Private Bills worked clumsily at his harness attempting to secure the straps but fumbling his grip with each bang. The whole capsule shook.

          “It’s like a train wreck,” Private Bills said. “Nah, nah, it’s like a train wreck followed by a train wreck, followed by ten more train wrecks.” At last he buckled the first strap of the five-point harness, and smiled as if he had just won a marksmanship award, or whatever it was soldiers did. Dr. Offredi was along for the ride, but he wasn’t military.

          Private Second Class Varma chimed in. He looked old for a private, maybe just a few years shy of Carlo, but he also looked more seasoned than even the sergeants. Varma was a bulwark of a man, a literal human shield. He hadn’t even bothered to strap in but was standing aloft, or more accurately swaying as gravity slowly increased, and holding a safety handle above his seat as he rode through the turbulence. “You been in many train wrecks, Bills?”

          Bills grinned, a cocky smirk. He hadn’t learned the pecking order yet. “Does your mom count?”

          Before Varma could respond, Bills doubled over. “Oh holy balls, I’m going to throw up.”

          “First drop?” Carlo asked.

          Bills’ team sergeant spoke up, Sergeant Lance. She exuded calm. “Yeah. New blood,” she said, taking no notice of the loud fireworks popping and banging at the tin can protecting them from what would otherwise mean certain death. “We’re poppin’ his cherry.”

          “No,” Bills chimed in. “I thought I made it clear. Varma’s momma already took care of that.”

          “Stow it, Private.”

          Yet another private piped up. They had a full house. The squad was divided into two four-man teams, Able and Baker, each commanded by a Sergeant and both under the command of Staff Sergeant Simmons. With Dr. Offredi included, the capsule held ten passengers in close quarters. As the pull of gravity increased, Carlo could tell his sense of smell was returning. Based on the cramped conditions, and the adrenaline-fueled descent complete with macho posturing and rather rank body odors, he wished that his sinuses had stayed clogged.

          “Lock that in your V-containment or I’m going to pummel you when we land, Bills.” Private First Class Ruegger. Thin, spectacled, he looked the part of a young commissioned officer or a specialist. How he’d wound his way into the rank and file of the enlisted, Carlo couldn’t even hazard a guess.

          “Just say barf bag you pretentious fuck.” Private Second Class Waller, Walker. Ah hell, Carlo couldn’t keep track.

          “Say, again?”

          “You heard me.”

          The two continued to bicker. Across the way Bills clicked together the last buckle of his harness, while Varma continued to ride the turbulence. Sergeant Lance had shut her eyes and tuned everyone out, and Sergeant Robles was still barking into his ear piece. The last two privates were strapped in just to Carlo’s left. One, a young Korean man, leafed through the pages of a creased, dime store paperback. Carlo didn’t know his name, but he did know the woman sitting just beyond him. Private Karzai. She stared out at the stars, watching as Offredi had moments earlier, oblivious to the bickering. Catching his gaze she smiled at Carlo.

          “Enjoying the view, doctor?”

          Is she talking about the stars or something else? Carlo assumed it had been the stars. The good doctor knew his place in the colonial order. A military woman like Karzai would eat him alive.

          “Doctor?”

          “Yes, very much so.”

          Bills interrupted. “Come on, doc. You can’t be telling me this don’t feel like a shit ton of train wrecks to you, can ya?”

          Bang!

          Bang!

          Bang!

          The capsule continued to shake as it plunged into the atmosphere, the violence of the descent increasing exponentially.

          “As I said, not my first rodeo.” He was posturing, playing along with the enlisted. That wasn’t like Offredi. He feared he might be trying to impress Private Karzai.

          “Anyone else feel like they’re in a train wreck?” Lance. She didn’t even open her eyes as she spoke, her voice smooth and serene – at complete peace.

          “Hell no, sir,” Walker/Waller grunted. All officers were called sir, regardless of gender. “She rides like a beaut.”

          Varma, still riding out the bucking and popping of the descent, agreed. “Best damn roller coaster at the fair.”

          Karzai tapped Carlo on the shoulder, then pointed up to the windows. “You’re about to miss the best part.”

          Carlo gripped the sides of his seat, using every ounce of self control that he had to not white knuckle his chair as the capsule listed side to side while the atmosphere outside buffeted at its thin metal shell. “No. Not for the world.”

          With great control, and far less nonchalance than he had hoped, Dr. Offredi turned his head up to the three upper portholes. The sky beyond burned, flames licking at the windows, and the deep blue of Alium’s atmosphere tinting a cherry red, darkening to a burnt umber, and at last to black as the windows’ protective layer crisped in the fireball of atmospheric entry. As even the black began to flake away Carlo could see wisps of ablative shielding shriveled like burning paper, disintegrating into charred curly-cues before peeling completely away and being consumed in the flames.

          BANG!

          The entire capsule shook, slamming in every which direction as the atmospheric friction battered it on all sides. Varma held tight to the grip handle, but his muscles bulged and his veins distended under the strain as gravity slowly took greater and greater hold.

          “Buckle up, Private.” Sergeant Lance opened one drowsy eye as she spoke, watching to see that she was obeyed. The soldiers knew their place. Orders were not to be tested.

          “Yes, sir.” Varma waited until the capsule listed just right, then lurched into his chair using the momentum and the renewed gravity to propel himself into the safety of the crash couch.

          He deftly maneuvered his straps buckling and securing the five-point harness with practiced ease. “Tight as a bug in a rug, sir.”

          Carlo closed his eyes and settled his head back into the contours of his cushioned headrest. His skull sank into the soft security of its safety, minimizing the painful jolts of the violent entry, but the crash couch could do little to minimize the strain as gravity tugged him down towards Alium and returned weight to his atrophied limbs. He could feel the heaviness of his boots anchoring his feet to the aluminum-lithium alloy flooring, and even his hands felt like lead weights pinning down his arms.

          “Focus on your breathing, or the slow whistle of winds returning. Anything but your weight.”

          The voice came from his left. Carlo didn’t need to open his eyes to know it had been Private Karzai. His stomach tingled, a lightness erupting in it that he hadn’t felt since he was a teenager. Hell, Carlo. Get a grip. You’re a grown man. A professional. Not some daft kid.

          The effort was futile. He couldn’t will the emotion aside. Even as he cursed himself for his crush and swore it off, he simultaneously felt mortified that Karzai had witnessed him in a moment of weakness.

          At last he did as she said, focusing on the in and out of his breath. Still gravity yanked him down, the growing awareness of weight a sucker punch to his gut. So much for that.

          He shifted his attention to the increasing cacophony that engulfed the capsule. The descent vehicle bucked against the external pressures, the metal continuing to pop.

          Bang.

          BANG!

          He had become accustomed to this sound, although Private Bills still appeared to be struggling to remain in his seat, his every instinct screaming for him to run. And why shouldn’t that be his instinct? What rational mind thought it was sane to hurtle towards a planet trapped in a tin can engulfed in flames relying on a couple parachutes and a few retro rockets to hopefully slow your momentum just enough that you weren’t obliterated on impact? In what universe did that qualify as an acceptable method of travel?

          His eyes still shut, Carlo focused as a high whistle joined the loud banging. Slowly the whistle eased off to an even keel of high winds howling just beyond the windows. He opened his eyes. The protective layer on the windows had all but burnt away and the blue of Alium’s atmosphere once more dominated Carlo’s line of sight. It rushed by the last of the flames dying off, and Carlo gave up all attempt at grandstanding. He white knuckled his chair, fully aware of what came next. There was was no manual override and the backup was subpar at best. The automated system would kick in or it wouldn’t. In the history of planetary colonization and manned atmospheric entries, this next stage was the critical phase – the one most likely to result in a catastrophic failure. If their descent were to fail this would be the point where it all fell apart.

          Private Bills faked a cool smile, as if his shaken grin could cover for the rivers of sweat drowning his uniform. “Hell, that wasn’t so bad.”

          He had no idea.

          The chute opened and the descent capsule yanked back with incredible ferocity. The world blurred as the capsule swayed in all directions. The sudden and violent shift made the popping of atmospheric entry seem like an evening stroll. The wind screamed, their descent rapidly slowing even as the capsule rocked back and forth with an increasingly erratic intensity.

          That’s when Carlo heard it. Amidst the howls of the wind came the unmistakable sound of ripping cloth. The parachute had torn.

The Dark Beneath – Part Two

© © Ilkin Guliyev | ID 91026947

By Christopher Opyr


          Thirty minutes passed with Lori staring out the window, considering her options. She didn’t open it. She knew once she did she’d have to be prepared for anything. If It heard the window being forced open she might not have much time to react. So instead, she stared out through the dirty panes of glass into the grey of the Los Angeles night. Lights blinked to life in the nearby buildings and cars sped by below, but she had seen no one close enough for her to ask for help without being heard by that thing in the hallway.

          As she stared, hoping for some answer to miraculously appear, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the glass. A nesty welt rose just below her hairline, scrapes and minor cuts covered her arms, and bruises loomed everywhere. Every inch of her ached, her side and the fractured rib most of all.

          She hugged herself tight, that beast right outside her door, and let herself slip away.


***


          The Badgers were down by one in the bottom of the seventh to the Coyotes. They already had two outs and as she stepped to the plate, Lori was very aware that any chance at staying in the game rested on her turn at bat. Ready, her bat raised and her eye on the pitcher, Lori prayed she didn’t screw this up. The other girls on the team weren’t fond of her. She didn’t buy into their shit, and hadn’t bothered to try to endear herself to them. If the loss fell on her, she’d never hear the end of it. Lori glanced to Joy Stevens. The barbie doll blonde danced on third base. One decent hit from Lori and the Badgers could at the least tie up the match.

          Whack!

          The pitch came in hard and fast, right as Lori glanced to Joy, but it was off. Lori felt the pain burst in her eye as the ball connected right in her face. Her head whipped back and Joy fell into the dust behind home plate. As she winced and the fairy lights in the black that clouded her vision, she could hear Coach Edwards telling her not to move. She could feel his calloused hands on her neck and cheek as he examined her face.

          At the same time, she could feel the blood from her busted brow dripping down towards her. She could taste it as the blood trickled from her nose and back down her throat. She opened her good eye and she could see the pitcher smirk. That jerk had meant to hit her. She’d done it on purpose.

          “Lori, how many fingers?”

          The coach waved his hand stupidly in front of her, but she didn’t have time for this shit. She could feel a rage building up inside her and before she knew what she was doing she was on her feet, pushing past her coach and through her teammates. They had crowded to see the blood, surely, because not a one gave two craps what happened to her.

          “Lori!” Coach Edwards again. He said something else after, but Lori was already two thirds of the way to the pitcher’s mound and didn’t have time for his nonsense.

          “Hey, that looks like it hurt.” The Coyotes’ pitcher stood a good six inches taller than Lori and absolutely confident in her upper hand. “Maybe you should go put some ice on that.”

          Lori had thought about saying something witty – all the cool action stars did – but she was pretty certain she’d just screw it up. Best just to let her actions speak for her.

          She feinted for the pitcher’s face then sucker-punched her gut. As she doubled over she kneed her in the face.


***


          Lori smiled at the memory of it. She’d been kicked off the team for that stunt, but she’d never liked those girls anyway. Now, looking at her battered reflection, she realized she hadn’t had a broken bone since that ball fractured her eye-socket. It had hurt like nothing had since, not even the fracture in her rib, and she had stood her ground. She could do so again.

          Outside the door she could hear the gurgled breathing of that man-thing. In her final flight into the room it had been obvious it was almost human, like a walking corpse covered in third degree burns or even worse. It’s skin felt crisp beneath the wet of that outer layer, like aloe spread over a blackened char. The breathe continued slow and steady and wet. It was waiting.


***


          Lori hadn’t tamed with age, not really. She had perhaps grown less physical, but had become quite prone to focal confrontations. Much like with her fellow Badgers, this trait had done little to endear her with coworkers or employers. She’d held a slew of jobs since graduating summa cum laude, most well below her skill level.

          Currently she was on her third year as a project manager with an entertainment marketing firm, Spotlight 15. They were small time, mainly working in the digital space, though the firm had grabbed an Emmy campaign for a streaming startup last year. That had been their biggest campaign yet. Her employer hadn’t let her anywhere near it. Instead she’d been stuck on the marketing campaign for a direct to video sequel for some aged action star nearing his seventies. They were all the same to her, and though she’d felt the campaign was beneath her, she’d played her part.

          And when Teddy from accounts tried to steal her copywriter two days before deadline to help with that Emmy campaign, Lori had flipped her shit. There was no way in hell she was going to miss her deadline because Teddy wanted to start prep two months before the client needed copy approval. Hell with that.

          Teddy lit red when she refused to let him take her writer. He’d been ready to have her fired. Then this junior, this account manager in training, steps in trying to persuade Lori to calm down. He tries to tell her that they only need the copywriter for a day and that he can get back on her campaign before deadline. Yeah, right. Because accounts always got shit done on time. No, she lit in him, too.

          He’d fought right back. Dean had a much stronger backbone than Eddie. She had started dating him three months later. And he never did get that copywriter.


***


          Crap, she thought. Dean!

          Lori glanced to the clock on her nightstand. Dean was supposed to arrive in fifteen minutes. She had to act now.

          For not the first time, Lori cursed herself for having set her phone in the organizer in the foyer. She couldn’t call to warn Dean, and her computer was in her home office so she couldn’t login and message him either. Being nine floors up, she didn’t suspect anyone in the street would pay her any mind, and she couldn’t yell to them without drawing that thing’s attention. She could try to get someone a message though. All her paper was in her home office, along with her pens and markers, but there had to be something that she could do.

          She looked giving her room a once-over and at first saw nothing of use. Then, her gaze fixed on the master bath. She had an idea.

          Roughly ten feet stood between her and the bathroom, and its door was catty-corner to the bedroom entrance, and the thing on the other side of that threshold. She’d have to approach as quietly as possible.

          Sticking out from under the bed she could see the soft, fluffy heels of her bedroom slippers. She inched over as quietly as she could and slipped them on. As she did, she knelt and glanced under the bed. Beverly had crammed herself all the way back against the wall just beneath the headboard and buttressed by a nightstand. The dog was sound asleep. How long had she been trapped in the apartment with this thing? How exhausted did that dog have to be to have fallen asleep with It right outside the door?

          No matter the answer, Lori decided it was for the best. If Beverly stayed asleep, stayed quiet, she should be safe until Lori could get help.

          Lori rose and tip-toed in her slippered feet towards the master bath. The cushion of the slippers dulled the noise of her footsteps, and yet she thought she could make a change in the breathing beyond the bedroom door. Was she imagining it, or was it growing faster, almost as if it were anticipating her approach. She could still hear the wet gurgle caught in each breath, but even that had lessened, the exhalations now taking on a more raspy quality. She paused three feet from the door. There was something else besides the breathing, something fast, almost like running water. No, that wasn’t right – not running water, but boiling water.

          Lori lost traction beneath her slipper, tumbling to the floor with a loud thud. Immediately the bedroom door bulged, straining at its hinges as that thing outside slammed against again.

          Wham!

          The door bulged again. Lori fixated on the hinges, watching as they shifted. One of three screws on the top hinge seemed to be loosening and the side plate was prying loose from the frame.

          Wham!

          It hit again, and this time the door splintered. Lori didn’t dare move. She waited for the next battering, for that thing to break the door completely. As she waited, her gaze shifted between the loosening plate of the hinge and the ragged crack in the center of the door. Too many points of weakness.

          A minute passed and then another, yet it did not attack the door again. Slowly its breathing settled and she could hear its footfalls as it retreated elsewhere into the dark of the apartment. This was her moment.

          Careful to regain her balance, Lori rose to her feet and tiptoed the rest of the way to the master bath. Her overhead lights and the exhaust were connected so she didn’t flick the switch. If that thing came back, if any sound drew it, she doubted the door would last. As quietly as she could she slid open her makeup drawer, rummaged in, and pulled out a tube of lipstick. Muted rose. It would have to do.

          Two drawn out minutes later and she had returned to the bedroom window without alerting that thing, whatever it was. She opened the tube of lipstick and carefully scrawled a message on the window so that would be legible from outside.

Intruder. Call 911. Apt. 905

          That done, she examined her handiwork. The letters could have been larger and the color didn’t pop as much as she would have liked, but the message was direct and impossible to misinterpret. With the light on in her bedroom the message should be readable. She only had to hope that someone, anyone, would see it and call for help.

          With nothing left to be done, she settled to the floor, her back to the wall. On her nightstand the clock continued to while away the minutes. Dean was due in five. She hoped he’d be late, and though she didn’t believe in a higher power, she prayed nonetheless. She prayed that someone would call for help before Dean also stumbled in on this nightmare. She prayed and she waited.

Back to Part 1

Quick Update

          Just a quick update today.

          I am currently out of town for a conference and unfortunately time is not on my side. I have most of Part Two of my Plodding, Perilous Quest for Readers blog finished, but I want to be sure to give the piece the time, research, and dedication that it deserves. With that being the case, rather than scramble together a subpar end to the post, I am dedicating myself to one more week of research and revisions to ensure my best quality work.

          I apologize for the delay, but I can discuss at least one recent finding from this research: a site called Wattpad. The site is the platform for a pretty amazing online writing community, with an easy interface, a mobile friendly app, and an engagement model that seems to be of the highest quality. I’ve only begun my exploration of it, but you can find me there at @ChristopherOpyr. Please check it out. If you like to write it seems to be a great place to build an audience. You can vote on other stories, comment directly paragraph by paragraph to other author’s work, enter competitions, etc. I’m already finding myself gravitating to a small set of authors and a spirit of collaboration seems to be building. It’s a thriving community and well worth at least a look to see if it is for you.

          More next week. In the meantime I’ll have the second part of The Dark Beneath live on Friday.

          Happy Writing, All!

The Dark Beneath – Part One

© © Ilkin Guliyev | ID 91026947

By Christopher Opyr


          Lori huddled, arms clasped around her knees, in the furthest, darkest corner of the closet, her eyes fixated on the open door. A clump of blouses and dresses swayed, rocking back and forth on their hangers like silk pendulums, partially eclipsing her view as they reached the zenith of their movement. Her breath slowed into deep but rhythmic exhalations, even as her grasp on her knees tightened, and the clothes gently eased to rest, the wake of her hurried flight into the closet now little more than a splintered memory.

          She closed her eyes and focused on her breathing until it too at last softened, evening out. No longer feeling as though she would hyperventilate at any moment, Lori struggled to envision the thing in her kitchen. She had never caught more than a vague impression of it, each glimpse either a dim, peripheral rorschach or a kaleidoscopic flurry too disjointed to take form.


***


          She had just emptied her pockets into the wall organizer in the foyer, her keys clattering softly against the other discarded keys in the storage cube. She had been making her way around the threshold into the kitchen to grab a snack when she first spotted the flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye.

          Lori lived alone, and the only other person with a key was her boyfriend, Dean. They had plans for the evening, but he wasn’t supposed to be off work for another hour yet, and even if he had cut out early, he wouldn’t have sulked around her kitchen in the dark.

          Lori knew it wasn’t him in her apartment. She knew it deep down, and yet that nagging doubt, that inescapable voice of reason, assured her it must be him in her home. She couldn’t help herself. Instinctually she called out. Lori spoke her mind. Always had.

          “Who’s there? Dean, if that’s you, I’m going to kick your –”

          She never finished speaking. She didn’t see it, but she heard the clatter of dishes shattering and silverware falling as that thing leapt to life. What had at first appeared as an amorphous shadow, a darker discoloration within an already darkened room, burst forward with a rapidity that bordered on the absurd. Instantly the thing darted out of the kitchen nook and blasted into the foyer smashing into her. Lori shot back against the door and slumped to the floor, a spasm shooting up her back. She gasped in pain and it was once again upon her. Legs and arms pumping in fevered fragments – broken images piercing the dark but never coalescing. Before she could even focus on it, the thing ripped her from the floor and hurtled her down the hall and deeper into the apartment.

          She had landed with a sharp impact against the hall bench, her head drumming from the blow. Her vision swam, bursts of light salting the dark, and she dropped motionless, unable to get her bearings. Before she could even cry out, the world had gone black.


***


          When she came to, silence reigned. Silence and darkness.

          That had been the first thing Lori noticed. Then came the pain, her head throbbing. Her teeth clenched, gritting against the pulsing and a sudden wave of nausea. Finally, it clicked.

          Nausea and pain. She was still breathing – sore and spinning and struggling with an urge to retch, but breathing. Whatever it was in her apartment, it could have easily ripped her apart while she lay unconscious on the floor. Instead it had left her there.

          It.

          At that moment she had realized that she was convinced that it was just that: an it. Lori was not a believer in the paranormal; she wasn’t some New Age adherent fond of crystals and the healing power of positivity, nor religious by any means, traditional or otherwise. She believed in science, in hard evidence. Still she knew what she had seen was not definable by pre-existing means. And where did that leave her? Her worldview tilted askew and collapsed. She could almost hear it shatter.

          Another breath and the image of that shadow form flooded over her. As she had turned the bend from the foyer asking Dean to reveal himself and just before the flurry of movement, she had seen a tall shadow climbing the wall, cast by the dim twilight easing through the window. The shadow had shifted with her entrance, contorted and reversed, and on its edge, as it twisted back, lept a glimmer of the thing, the substance casting that shadow. It stood tall yet also hunched over and primal, a deep pocket of darker black within black.

          Still, she could have believed it no more than a simple intruder (was there such a thing as a simple intruder?) had it not been for its skin. She had caught just a momentary look upon its face as it propelled itself forward and those last words stuck in her throat. It’s skin had rippled and bubbled, almost as if burnt and liquified, melted back to reveal muscle and bone. Yet rather than dripping, the river of skin clung to its shape, shifting and sculpting into a living form.

          That’s when she had noticed the smell as well, as if food had been left in the drain to mold and rot. The stench latched on and she found herself once more fighting back a deep urge to vomit.


***


          Even there in the closet Lori could smell it, although not so much it, as the memory of it, as if just thinking about the thing summoned forth that putrid rot. She pulled up her blouse, covering her nose to block out the smell, but it had little impact – the stench called out by memory more than actuality. Yet as she shifted the blouse up, she noticed the gentle spray of blood on her hands.


***


          As she came to, the memory of that thing disrupting the delicate balance of Lori’s perception of the universe, her first instinct had been to dash back the way she had come and out the front door, yelling for help. Instead, she had held back.

          It had left her alone. Quiet and still, unconscious on the floor, the thing had lost its interest in her. Lori didn’t know if was the lack of movement or the lack of sound, but she felt confident whatever it was in her apartment, it wasn’t tracking her by simple sight or smell. As best she could tell, it either hunted by movement or noise. Of course that left a dilemma. There was no safe way to determine how it hunted and come up with a plan. She could make a sound and see if it came back, or she could walk quietly and hope it didn’t see movement.

          Actually, come to think of it, while she couldn’t test her theory without risk, there was only one good course of action – besides laying still on the floor and hoping help comes. No way Lori was waiting. Lori acted. That’s who she was, and this thing wouldn’t rob that from her. It had already silenced her. That was more than enough.

          She’d have to try to slip out silently and hope it tracked by sound, not movement. The only other option was to make a sound and see what happened, which only had one of two endings: one, it didn’t hear her and Lori would continue laying motionless on the floor; or two it did hear her and it came back to finish the job. Not satisfied with either possibility, Lori mentally prepared to make a slow, silent break for the door.

          Before she could, however, she heard a quiet whimper from beneath the couch: Beverly, her Pomeranian. Lori had no idea how long Beverly had been hiding there, but she saw her master now, and those eyes looked up at her with a mix of excitement and anxiety, begging for her help.

          Lori fought back the protective impulse to charge for her precious dog, to scoop her up and run her to safety. Instead she merely glanced at her to see that she was okay, then glanced away. If she looked at Beverly too much, the dog would bound right over and Lori couldn’t risk that. She lay motionless struggling to form a new plan. Beverly watched from under the couch. The twilight creeping through the window grew dimmer and vanished. Still nothing seized upon Lori. No demon of the dark tore her from her prone position. Lori just lay there, holding her breath, awaiting the inevitable, stuck trying to find any way to reach Beverly and not get killed.

          At that moment, a footstep sounded from behind her, sloshing against the wood paneling. Then another, and another. Each footfall came slow and steady, each wet and slick. At last she caught sight of a bare foot halfway between her and the couch or what should have been a foot. Here too the skin pulsed, blackened and veined in red, like cracks in a parched landscape, only a layer of water and puss gelled over the burnt surface of the skin.

          Lori didn’t dare move or make a sound. She lay motionless as the thing inched further into the living room. From her position on the floor she could make out no more than its feet in the growing dark, approaching ever closer to Beverly. The Pomeranian had shrunk further back beneath the couch, a trail of urine streaking back towards it. Lori desperately wanted to help her, and in that instant, Beverly locked eyes with her master and yelped.

          The thing leapt forth and flung the couch aside as if tossing a ball. The sofa crashed back with brute force cracking open the drywall and smashing to the ground. As it did, Beverly yelped once more and skittered across the wood floor searching for cover. Lori could see those blackened feet dashing after her baby, and without thinking she rose and screamed.

          Immediately the thing pivoted, and she felt the impact of its wet fist slamming her across her midsection. She doubled over and shot through the air slamming into a large, potted ficus, and fell to the floor in a tangle of branches, leaves, and potting mix.

          Sound. It definitely tracked by sound.

          Lori lay still, motionless and more importantly quiet as possible. Her body ached all over, bruises forming over bruises, and with each breath she could feel a stabbing sensation. Lori was not accustomed to injury, but she felt certain she had fractured a rib.
Laying there as motionless as possible she felt that rib, what she assumed was her rib, pressing in, pain rippling up from the break, and from the movement of bone against bone. If she could just shift, maybe the pain would ease.

          Then beneath all the pain she felt a broken branch lodged beneath her, the splinters of wood digging into her shirt and scratching at the skin of her back. She tried to focus on anything but the pain, but that left her instead focusing on that deep itch and the increasingly irresistible urge to scratch it. A shift just an inch to the right and maybe, just maybe, she could relieve the pain, but if not, she could at least shift off that damned branch.

          She tensed her abs and locked her elbows. Time to move. On three, she thought. One. It would feel so good to just not have that branch under her. Two. Of course, chances were her rib would hurt like hell. Would she scream? Three. She didn’t move. How could she? That thing was still here somewhere.

          What a coward. She rolled her eyes at herself. Or rational-thinking adult not interested in being mauled to death. Yeah, that too. Of course, in that moment she was back at square one – prone on the floor waiting without a plan.

          In a moment bordering on deja-vu Beverly yapped again, this time from down the hall towards the bedroom. Again Lori heard the rapid charge of It, of the thing in her apartment. Beneath its heavy footfalls she could just make out the scampering pitter-patter of Beverly’s paws on the wood.

          Lori braved a look. At the end of the hallway, she saw once again that hunched, primal shadow, that flickering discoloration in the black. She couldn’t see Beverly clearly, but she could sense movement along the floor line, and assumed that was her, cornered and skittering in circles. In the opposite direction, she saw the front door, nothing between her and escape. All she had to do was get on her feet and make a mad dash. Maybe fifteen feet or so, and she could be out of this nightmare.

          She looked back to the dark, where Beverly barked at the thing that had invaded her apartment. How did it even get here? What was it? She needed answers, but more than anything she needed to act. Lori acted. That’s what she did. For too long that night she had felt herself benched.

          She shifted her hand ever so slightly, tightening it around the broken branch beneath her back. Her fingers traced a slow path along its contours until finding its tip. She felt a needle of pain as she pressed down. The branch was plenty sharp.
Lori stood, careful to make as little noise as possible, and shuffled forward inch by inch. Ten feet between her and Beverly. Nine feet. Eight feet. Seven feet.
The shadow at the end of the hall stopped, and so did she. Lori held her breath, lest the slightest noise tip that thing off. A smaller shadow continued darting across the floor, but before it could escape, the larger hunched back down and swiped at it. Wood paneling cracked and ripped from the floor, but the dog remained unscathed.

          Six feet. Five feet.

          Spotting Lori, Beverly made a dash for her owner, but the intruder pivoted into the dog’s path. Desperate and cornered, the Pomerania bit into the thing’s ankle. A guttural, gurgling howl broke through the night and that thing reared back. Lori took her moment.

          Four feet. Three feet. Two.

          She stabbed down with the splintered branch as hard as she could thrusting deep into the base of the creature’s neck. It jerked away, flailing frantically, a thin spray of arterial blood misting out. Instinctually, Lori raised her hands to shield her face.


***


          Lori let out another deep and silent breath, then lowered her hands. As the beast squirmed and pulled at the branch sticking from its neck, Lori had been caught with her retreat blocked. With no choice she had opened the bedroom and fled inside. She shut the door gently, hoping the distracted beast would not notice nor hear, then propped a desk chair beneath the handle. She considered pushing her dresser over and barricading herself in, but was fairly sure the thing would have heard her and rushed in.

          Moments later, afraid to test her temporary security, Lori had fled into the closet, while Beverly hid far back under the bed. It was best that way. If her dog could see her, if they were hiding together, Lori doubted she would have stayed silent.

          Of course, once more Lori found herself motionless and hiding. Her heart pounded in her chest, sweat drenched her clothes, and her side ached more than ever. Another stabbing pain coursed over her and Lori wondered how long she could go without seeing a doctor. How long could she last without treatment?

          She didn’t even notice she had risen to her feet until she came to staring out her window. Her apartment was nine floors up, looking out onto downtown Los Angeles. She didn’t have a balcony off her bedroom but a ledge about six inches wide ran the perimeter of the building, just a foot below the windows. One bend around the building corner, and another ten feet and she’d be at the living room balcony. It would be a short dash from the living room to the front door, but if that thing was still waiting outside her bedroom, then it just might be possible. Fifteen feet total stood between her and escape.

          Of course, she had to be certain. She scanned a nearby nightstand, grabbed an empty tic-tac container, and threw it at the door. A great clawing lashed at the door and it shook upon its hinges, but the chair beneath the handle did not budge. Yes, It was still out there.

July 2017 Status Update

Continuing the new format on this one. Short and sweet. Not much has changed from June to July, but here’s where I am.

 

  • Two New Horror Stories Underway: The first story is another true short story for once, per requests from my first poll. It will post in 2 parts. The second story is looking to be 5 parts (~10,000 words) and has been delayed to meet the poll requests. I will continue to work on it and post when you’re ready for a longer story.
  • New Sci-Fi Story Underway: I don’t know how long this one will be, but I have a more action-packed sci-fi short story in mind for once. Progress on part one is underway and I will determine posting based on results of engagement with you, my readers.
  • Joined Wattpad: I am now also submitting stories to Wattpad, where you can engage directly with them paragraph by paragraph.
  • Arcas nearing completion: Art is nearly done and I’m working on a few revisions, polishing the script.
  • Novelette by late 2017: I have a horror novelette, Calling Mr. Nelson Pugh, with final edits underway. My hope is to have it published by late 2017 and available as an e-book.
  • Short Story Horror Anthology: I am cementing plans for publishing an anthology of horror shorts. This would include material from this site (but having been vetted through additional edits), and previously unpublished material, with close to a 50/50 new to reprinted ratio. I am about 5,000 words shy of a 70,000 word minimum goal, which I foresee crossing soon. Edits will likely take six months to a year depending on availability of editors, and some additional connective tissue is being drafted. With that being the case, I expect a late 2018 publication.
  • Horror Novel underway: I am about 35,000 words into my first full length horror novel. It is too early to predict a completion date, but I am considering posting chapters to this site as I get further along. I would love to know if there is interest in reading it chapter by chapter as I push through the first draft. Feel free to sound off in the comments.
  • Co-written Sci-fi Comic: Finally I am also collaborating as a co-writer and creator for an additional science-fiction comic. My writing partner and I are in the early stages of this project, but I hope to have more updates soon.

There is probably a little I missed, but that’s enough for now. If anything in there strikes your interest, chime in. I’d be happy to discuss. Bye for now.

Happy Writing, All!