Last Call: Complete

© Ruslan1117 | Dreamstime.com – Two shots of tequila with lime and salt on a wooden table bar on the background of bright lights of the bar

By Christopher Opyr




Author’s Note:

I will now be using Tuesdays, when I don’t have a new blog entry, to post completed versions of my stories for easier reading. We begin this week with the complete version of Last Call.



          Thick strips of bacon crisped and bubbled, popping in an ocean of grease, their smoky aroma mixing with that of the scrambled eggs and glazing the kitchen in the scents of breakfast. Teagan breathed deep, the strength of the smell forcing itself past her clogged sinuses, and sliding inside. It felt warm and comforting, then suddenly it didn’t.

          Her stomach lurched, the taste of the previous night’s pad thai and whiskey surging up, along with what tasted like tequila, though Teagan could not remember having any. She burp-vomited in her mouth, wobbled, and lost her balance as her nausea took center stage. Attempting to right herself she flailed out at last catching onto the corner of the stove.

          “Son of a whore!”

          She yanked her hand back, her index finger throbbing from the sudden heat of the gaslit burner. The room spun, a whirling kaleidoscope of sensory overload. The sizzle of the bacon. Elder meowing incessantly, planted beside the cabinet with his treats. The window fan sucking in thin wisps of cigarette smoke from the ashtray. A metal band blaring over the surround sound, mingling with the raised voices of the television.

          Teagan winced fighting back the remainder of her pad thai and struggling with the throbbing migraine playing the drums in her brainpan. How many shots did I have last night, she wondered for not the first time that morning.

          After they had left Toi she and the rest of the gang had pinged a Lyft and caught a ride to the Whiskey a Go Go. The house had been packed and they had pushed their way past the reserved tables to the back bar under the balcony, ordering the first round of shots. They began with decent standards, ordering up an 18-year Glenlivet Single Malt, followed by a round of Johnny Walker Blue. After that they had hit the floor, and explored further options between sets, gradually regressing until they were down to the house whiskey. From there the night got fuzzy.

          Usually after a night of hard drinking Milly checked in with Teagan in the morning. They had been friends since childhood and had moved out to Los Angeles together eight years prior. Now they each had their own lives, but they were still close as sisters. When things got blackout crazy, they watched out for each other.

          Teagan checked her phone. No missed calls. It was only 11 am, but Milly always rose at the ass crack of dawn. She should have called or at least texted by now. Something didn’t feel right. Teagan considered calling and reached to dial.

          Before she could, an alarm rang out! Teagan refocused, pocketing her phone. The bacon grease bubbled black, the strips shriveled and burnt. She dialed off the heat and scooted the pan onto a stack of dirty plates covering the back burner. As she scraped at the charred mess, she shouted into the living room over the cacophony of the peeling alarm, music, and TV.

          “You like your bacon charred, right?”

          Teagan received no response. She turned, but couldn’t get a good look into the living room. Her world swiveled some as she shifted for a better vantage. Sinuses, my splitting head, and a case of the dizzies, she thought. This is going to be a fun hangover.

          “Henry?” she called again. The least he could do was respond. Instead she received still more nothing beyond the hideous racket drilling into her frontal lobe – not even a single acknowledgment that she had spoken.

          “Hey, a little help here, damn it!” Her head pounded as she screamed, but Henry was starting to piss her off. When he still didn’t answer, Teagan finally dropped the spatula into the pan and charged into the living room, dizziness and spinning rooms be damned.

          “Hey, cock hat, you could at least get the smoke detector?”

          Henry shot her a pained glance from the couch, where he lay with a beer in one hand and his tablet in the other. He looked about as grisly as she felt. He tilted his headphones back to hear.

          “What was that?”

          “You dick!” She braced herself against the wall, fighting the pain of the headache, and screaming through it. Bad move, bad move, bad move, she thought, but continued anyway. “You can’t possibly be paying attention to all these screens.”

          Teagan clicked off the television.

          “Hey,” Henry shouted, then stopped and jammed his palm into his eye socket. Good, at least if she had to suffer so did he. “Not cool,” he continued more softly.

          “Get off your lazy ass and do something about the smoke detector.”

          “Why don’t you do it?”

          “Because I’m busy cooking your breakfast and trying not to die from this hangover. Where the hell did we end up last night?”

          Henry casually glanced about the apartment, his eyes squinting together with concentration, as if truly considering Teagan’s question. His scan complete, he shrugged. “Here, I guess.”

          “No shit. Before that.”

          “I don’t know.” He winced again, covering his ears, as the detector continued its warning shriek.

          “What about Milly or Aaron? Have you heard from either?”

          “Milly or Aaron?”

          “That’s what I said.”

          Henry shifted, blinking and wincing at the light as he tried to wake from his deadened state. As he did, he shifted, and his hair flopped into his face. He flicked it aside, and flashed a questioning, half-asleep look at Teagan.

          “Why would I have heard from them?”

          “Never mind.” Teagan turned to leave. “Just do something about that smoke detector.”

          Finally, Henry sat up, downing the last of his PBR as he did. “Wait… what? Did you burn the bacon?” The PBR done he slouched back into the couch.

          “Oh, I’m so done.”

          Teagan left and grabbed the broom, which was leaning against the kitchen table from the last time she had used it. Properly equipped she stormed down the hall and inspected her adversary. It continued its shrill ring, its red light flashing mockingly at her.

          She tapped at it with the broom handle, trying to find a stop button. No luck. She shouted back down the hall. She knew it would hurt, but it couldn’t be as bad as this stupid ringing alarm.

          “Where’s the off on this thing?”

          Oh hell, it was worse. Much worse. Don’t scream. Gotta stop doing that. She held her head. It hurt so bad she could almost cry. What’s more, Henry had gone back to not answering her, most likely having finished that slouch taking it to its natural conclusion and shifting back down for a nap. Faintly, she could hear voices from the TV, again, which had been turned back on. She shook her head.

          Another bark sounded from the smoke detector and another ripple of pain shot through Teagan’s skull. She tried to focus, but between the headache and the rest of the hangover, the whole world had gone muddled, soft and linty, like a worn blanket had been laid down over it. Well, soft other than the relentless din turning the apartment into a sonic hellscape. Unable to focus, Teagan decided to go with her gut.

          Whack!

          She smacked the smoke detector with the broom stick, and smiled as she heard the plastic crack. She took another go, slamming the handle once more into the interminable offender. Caught in the moment, propelled by an irresistible drive to kill that ringing before it did her in, she swung again and again, a child with a piñata, only her candy was silence.

          “What the hell, Teagan!” At last Henry had come stumbling drunkenly and bleary-eyed down the hall.

          “I couldn’t reach it.”

          The smoke detector dangled lifelessly from the ceiling as Teagan, smiling victoriously, supported herself with the broom.

          “You’re buying me a new one,” Henry said, then covered his mouth and ran to the bathroom.

          “Whatevs.”

          The alarm let off one last defiant squawk, and Teagan bashed it in retaliation, snapping it from the wire tendons that held it to the ceiling like a poorly severed limb. It clattered against the wood floor and settled at last to a silent stop.

          Teagan breathed a sigh of relief. As she did, Elder rubbed against her leg.

          “What do you want?”

          He meowed back at her, his eyes set angrily.

          “Fine, I’ll get your damn treats.” She tapped on the half-open bathroom door before heading to the kitchen. “Henry,” she said softly (she had learned her lesson on screaming). “Your cat’s a jackass.”

          “I know,” he muttered, then waved for her to walk away as he kneeled by the toilet.


***


          Elder fed, Teagan plopped into a chair in the kitchen, gulped down a glass of water, and shoveled her breakfast down, burnt bacon and all. The breakfast helped settle her roiling stomach, but did little to dissipate her headache or her worries about Milly and the night before. It nagged her, something begging for her attention, but simultaneously forgotten. She had to get rid of this hangover and focus. It had been years since she felt this terrible after a night of drinking. Well… weeks, anyway.

          Try as she might, she could only recall flashes after the last shot at the Whiskey a Go Go. After the final band had finished its set she, Henry, Milly, Aaron, Erika, and, and… oh hell, who else had been there?

          Focus.

          Whoever it was, the lot of them had hit the street. She remembered another Lyft. She could picture the signature pink mustache on the dash lit up as it had pulled to the curb, but she couldn’t picture the driver or getting in. Then another flash. She could see her, Erika, and some dude in the backseat. Those last two were doing some heavy petting and she could remember pressing herself tight against the passenger side trying to get away from the makeout session. Then a heavyset bouncer. A jukebox. Dancing. Shots. Nothing clear, just snippets.

          Teagan fumbled in her pocket and pulled out her cell, tapping over to Milly. She waited, her phone held just far enough away that she could hear it without it wailing in her ear. It rang again and again, then clicked over to voicemail. She hung up and tapped over to Aaron. She wanted to talk to Milly, and where one went the other always followed. She also figured it was best to talk to one of them before calling Erika. She didn’t know who that guy was that Erika had been groping, but she felt fairly positive it wasn’t her boyfriend.

          Aaron’s line rang unanswered as well. Teagan tapped out a quick text asking where they’d gone after the Whiskey, then slumped deep into her chair.

          “Our friends are useless,” she yelled, slipping right back into the same mistake again. She sat her head in her hands, massaging her temples. This time she cried.

          Her phone rang, Henry’s picture flashing onto the screen. In the photo he had one arm draped over a plastic statue of Scooby-Doo, while he leaned forward, mid full-rocker headbang, hair whipping every which way.

          She tapped it to speaker.

          “Yep,” Henry said, his voice soft and weak. “Completely useless. Can you grab me some water?”

          “Seriously?”

          “It hurts to yell.”

          She couldn’t say he was wrong.

          “Sure. Anything else?”

          A long pause, then Henry chimed in his voice half question, half serious.

          “A beer?”

          “You’re going to die of liver failure, you know that?”

          “Yeah, but I’ll take you with me.”

          “Well, that’s sweet.”

          “So can I get that beer?”

          Teagan clicked off the phone and reluctantly hauled herself up and over to the sink. She pushed a few discarded dishes aside, turned on the tap, and filled up a glass. Done, she drank that one, then filled it back up, grabbed a PBR from the refrigerator, and made her way down the hall past the remains of the smoke detector.

          The things I do for love.

          Teagan sniffed, trying to breathe through her clogged sinuses. It didn’t go so well, snot rolling back down into her throat. She gagged, the feeling of bile on the rise returning, and paused to resist the also returned urge to vomit.

          Finally, reaching the bathroom, she toed the door open and held out both drinks to Henry. He was hugging the toilet. The water was clear so she figured he hadn’t vomited yet, though the porcelain was covered in muck. We should probably clean that, she thought absently, then thrust the idea to the bottom of her discarded mental to-do list.

          Henry reached for the beer. That done Teagan set the water glass on the sink and perched on the edge of the tub.

          “Your allergies acting up? Mine are wreaking havoc right now.”

          “Eh…” Henry grunted.

          “Is that a yes?”

          “They ain’t great. Probably the weather change. It always does this crap.”

          Every time they shifted out of a hot spell in LA the allergens killed the both of them. Sometimes Teagan thought it was enough to drive her back to the east coast, but those were always idle daydreams. She liked the music scene here. Though New York could be fun, too. Come to think of it though, it was hot as balls out.

          Teagan squinted into her phone and opened up the weather app.

          “It’s supposed to be 94 today.”

          “I don’t know. I’m not a weatherman.” Henry shrank his head back into his neck, holding something in. “Oh God. Can I get some privacy?”

          “Yeah, no one wants to see that. Yell if you need anything.”

          She shut the door on her way out, Henry mumbling behind her.

          “I’ll call. Thanks.”

          Dumbass.

          She sniffed again. She needed some meds – something to kill the pain, and something to fix her allergies. A glass of water wouldn’t hurt either.

          She stumbled back into the cramped kitchen, almost tripping over Elder. He scattered, then assured she wasn’t going to step on him, returned and meowed pleadingly.

          “I already fed you.”

          He meowed again, unphased.

          “Damn it, Elder.” She hadn’t meant to raise her voice, but when she did the world flickered and it felt as if a searing hot poker had just stabbed through her eye.

          “Holy shit, mother, cock, ass!” She fell to her knees grabbing at her head, tears streaming and let out every obscenity she could think of, which was a long litany. She had learned from her grandfather and he’d been a swearing pro.

          She continued, muttering through a second and third verse and rocking back and forth on her knees until the pain subsided. When she opened her eyes, Elder had bristled up, tail straight and back arched. She reached out to calm him.

          “I’m sorry, buddy,” she started. “I didn’t mean to –”

          He hissed and swiped at her face. She heard the skin pop first, then felt the flesh tear and flare as he caught her upside the cheek.

          She shot back banging against the washer. Her head hit first, as she had fallen as she went back, and as it jolted into the wash the jenga set of dishes clattered to the floor. Elder dashed off down the hall.

          Holy hell, this is a shitty morning, she thought, then fumbled to her feet, avoiding the broken plates and glasses. Still rocking to a stop from the fall, she spotted the bottle of aspirin. At least she could do something about that headache. She tapped out two pills, paused, then tapped out three more.

          Carefully tiptoeing around the disaster that was now the kitchen, Teagan made her way to the sink and filled up another glass of water. She gulped it down, and the pills with it, then tried to sneak a look at the scratches on her cheek off the glass of the window. She couldn’t see herself. The daylight streaming in whited out everything else. It hurt her eyes, so she made her way back into the darkness of the living room.

          The TV and music were still blaring. That had to be fixed. Teagan shut both off and melted down into the couch. Half dead and her cheek now stinging in addition to her headache, she poked her hand over the end of the couch, casting about the floor until she gripped a discarded shirt. Satisfied, she pulled it up and pressed it to her bloody cheek.

          The sounds diminished, her headache eased off ever so slightly and she shut her eyes. At first a comforting blackness met her behind her closed lids, then pops of light, and finally more snippets from the previous night.

          Henry had his arm flung over her neck and was trying to cop a feel. She brushed him aside. Stupid drunk Henry was a pain.

          “But…” he muttered pathetically and motioned to their friends across the table. Erika and the mystery guest were buried in each other’s faces with way too much PDA for even the most desperate of couples, let alone two perfect strangers.

          Time lurched forward.

          People laughing. People leaving.

          Just the four of them now, Teagan and Henry, and Erika and what’s his face. More laughter. Then Milly and Aaron slam into the booth beside them, Aaron missing his seat entirely and taking a few beers down with him.

          A bartender shouting. Telling them they were cut off.

          That stranger, finally unlocked from Erika, trying to calm the man down. That pale, weird stranger. Dapper clothes and effeminate features, but something so charming. At last the bartender relented.

          “Fine. It’s last call anyway.”

          The stranger nodded to the others.

          “Take a seat. I got this round.” His voice rang with a lyrical quality and a tinge of reverb. His face skipped forward, then back, like the flicker of a film reel, or another jump of time. They really needed to stop drinking.

          Teagan opened her eyes. Last call. The words stuck with her. She tried to picture that mystery man, to get a firm grasp on his face, but it would never lock in. Just something evocative and pale, and fueled by nightmares. It didn’t make sense, and her thoughts seemed to worm around him, sloshing about in either direction unable to hold. Somewhere deep down her mind connected him to an abstraction, an idea more than a physical thing, but that had to be the alcohol talking. His face flashed one more time, a stretched and distorted nightmare pulled from the fuzzy edges of her vision.

          Last call, she thought again. She needed to reach Milly, and she needed to reach her right now.

          She checked her phone. Nothing back from Milly or Aaron. She rang again, but still they didn’t answer. At last she tapped over to Erika. As the call rang through, she snorted again, swallowing back more snot. Her head was so stuffed.

          She pulled the shirt back from her cheek revealing three small lines of blood. Not bad. She’d had worse scratches from cats before, though never like this from Elder. It wasn’t like him. The way he had puffed up —

          Erika’s voice broke through Teagan’s thoughts. “Hello?”

          “Hey, Erika. You sound like hell.”

          “Sure. The same could be said…You know.”

          “Yeah. We might should lay off for a while.”

          “Good by me.”

          “Have you heard from Milly?”

          “Not since, like, last night.”

          Damn it. One line of questioning closed. Next up…

          Teagan strained to push on. The effort of speaking, and more of listening, did her and her obvious migraine no favors. “And your mystery bae?”

          “Oh God.” Erika’s voice dripped with regret. “Don’t even go there. Like, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was so mad at Mike and then this guy, he just like…he was so there… and can we just forget he ever existed?”

          “I almost got you covered there. I can’t remember jack. All flashes after the Whiskey, then him grabbing the last round.”

          “Oh, hot hell. The tequila.”

          Teagan shut her eyes, ready to drift off, but another flash lit up. The stranger coming back with a tray of shots – tequila shots. She had had tequila. Lime chasers by each. Something else. Something pulsing. His hand so pale.

          “You get Goth boy’s number?”

          “Jerk ditched me after those last shots. All hot and, like, heavy all night, like he could just play me. I don’t even let Mike do half of… I just couldn’t… he was so… I can’t even put words to it, you know?”

          “Yeah, I do.” Every time Teagan tried to picture him his face still shifted. That thought of an abstraction returned. All she could capture were those snapshots, that smooth, icy skin. A fair image, but always blurred or jerking in and out of focus. And a sense of something primal. He had oozed with an irresistible charm. And his eyes…

          “Oh, hell.” Her head shrieked, another stab of pain slicing back through the cornea, right through the soft tissue and back to gray matter. “I can’t.”

          “Yeah,” Erika said. “We so outdid ourselves last night. It’s never been, like, this bad.” As she finished she sniffed, then sneezed.

          Alarm bells went off.

          “You don’t have allergies, Erika. Right?”

          “No. I’m just coming down with something I guess. There’s just so much pressure. It’s like it’s all swelling up behind my eyes and my nose. Just this constant pressure, you know?”

          Teagan panicked. Her heart went racing and she could feel the sweat already beading on her forehead. What exactly had happened last night? The thought held a new level of urgency.

          “Teague, are you there?” Erika’s voice drew Teagan back to the phone. “You’re cutting out.”

          Caller ID showed Henry’s headbanging profile beeping in.

          “Hold that. My lazy ass boyfriend’s calling from the bathroom.”

          “He’s what?”

          Teagan tapped over to the other call. “More water, love?”

          No response, just a sort of a throaty murmur.

          “Henry?”

          A loud pop sounded and then something sloshing in water.

          Oh hell. Here we go.

          “Henry, did you just throw up? I’ll get you some water. I’ll be right there.”

          With effort, Teagan rose, grabbed what was left of her water glass and made her way down the hall to the bathroom. She tapped back to Erika briefly.

          “Hey, Erika. I’ll have to call you back. Henry’s pretty bad off.”

          “Join the club.”

          “You good?”

          “Yeah, yeah. Call me back.”

          Teagan pocketed her phone once more, and approached the shut door.

          “Love, are you okay?”

          She toed it open, again, then everything stopped. Time. Her heart. Her breathing. She died. Everything died, and her hands loosed, the glass falling to the tile. Then everything snapped back into focus. Her breath came out in a huff, and her heart pounded and skipped like a broken record.

          Henry was dead. He lay, his head hanging into the toilet, only you couldn’t rightly call it a head anymore. The skull, his skull had cracked right open, his scalp and face scattered, and hanging, and torn, and floating like chunks of viscera in the bloody water, now not so clear. And there were things floating there, things, bits of brain, and bone, and ….

          “FUUUUCCCCCKKKKK!” She screamed, dragging the word out, and living it, and feeling it in a way she never had before, but completely lost in it – in the hurt of it, the pain and the frustration, and every emotion roiling together and bubbling like the grease in the pan.

          “What the holy hell!”

          And the tears flowed now, they streamed an epic river, dripped and splattered mixing with the snot now oozing from her nose, and all mingling in a slime-salt cocktail that she sucked down as every emotion tore for attention.

          She couldn’t believe he was dead, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t see what had happened. As if…

          Elder hissed and yowled from the bedroom, giving her something, anything other than this sick shitshow on which to focus. Teagan fumbled back and peered into the room, holding onto the doorframe lest her legs give out. There stood Elder puffed up as before, hissing and panicked on the top of the headboard.

          “Hey, buddy…” She attempted a calming voice, but she lost it mid-way through. Her body spasmed with a wracking sob.

          Henry’s dead. He’s so fucking dead.

          They had been together for four years. They were supposed to be together. Always together. Henry and Teagan, just like Milly and Aaron. The names were one, they didn’t exist without the other. She was strong, and she had never needed him – it wasn’t that urgent I can’t breathe without you love – but the concept, the idea… they belonged together. Like milk and cereal. Rock and roll. Fucking chutes and ladders. None of it made sense.

          Try as she did, Teagan couldn’t hold her thoughts together. They sped off in every direction, bounced out and snapped back. And then Elder yowled again, and she zeroed back in on the cat.

          His ears were pressed back and his head pointed down, following something on the floor – something between the bed and the nightstand. As Teagan tried to catch a glimpse of what had cornered Elder, she noticed a wet trail on the bedroom carpet. Blood, and water, and muck, tracked in, leading all the way back — Teagan turned — to the bathroom.

          “Oh no. No, no, no.”

          Teagan backed out of the room, as Elder hissed and yowled some more, angry and desperate for help.

          I can’t.

          She continued to back up, bracing against the wall as her head began to throb. Oh, it hurt so bad. Her hand slipped into open air as she reached the hallway, and she fell with a resounding thwack against the wood floor, but she didn’t notice the pain of it. No all of the pain surged from her head, from her sinuses and her stupid, drumming, wailing brainpan.

          She slid back then, spider-walking down the hall, unable to turn her gaze from the direction of that room and moreover from that thing, whatever it was, that had dragged itself across the floor and currently had Elder in a panic. Focused back as she was, she didn’t notice how far down the hall she had fled until her right hand brushed against the broken plastic of the smoke detector.

          Oh, hadn’t that been a better time, smacking her silence piñata? Those were the days, right? She and Henry had been happy then. Him ignoring her and running off to vomit, and her reveling in her victory over the evil beeping detector of doom. She missed those days.

          Elder yowled once more and Teagan stopped. Elder belonged to Henry. Henry’s cat. Teagan and Henry’s cat. He was a part of them, and whatever that thing was, it had killed Henry. It had splattered his head open and it had gone after Elder, and she’d be damned if she was going to lose that bastard of a cat, too.

          Her hand gripped on the broken plastic and one of those light bulb moments went off like a bomb. Oh it was no grand plan, not even a fraction of one, but she knew what she had to do. Teagan reached out and found the broom still leaning against the wall. She gripped it and she stood, and she headed right back to that bedroom.

          As she passed the bathroom she averted her eyes. She couldn’t stand to see Henry that way again. Her migraine pounded, but she plowed on, wielding that broomstick in front of her like a knight’s sword. Her Excaliber. Hell, her Gibson Les Paul and nothing would stop her from crashing it down on that obscenity.

          She turned the corner into the bedroom. Elder had backed to the far edge of the headboard, but on the other end, it waited. IT. That thing.

          Teagan vomited, blood and pad thai, and way too much liquor finally flooding out of her. She wiped her mouth, vomited again, then forced herself upright. She would see IT, look at IT and know IT – that thing that had killed her Henry.

          IT slithered up the bedpost, a wet mass of tumorous lopsided nightmares, with protuberances jutting from every which spot wriggling and gripping, as if a knot of a thousand tiny legs tied and glued together and bound by some viscous muck. Jaws snapped out at random, from that mass, between legs and on legs and as legs, teeth clacking together, in some macabre unfathomable design that had no right to exist.

          Yet IT did, and IT hauled itself up that bedpost, an eyeless, shapeless, abomination trying to kill their cat. She tottered forward, weakly. Her foot pressed down onto the muck IT had dragged into their room. Her bare foot. On that trail. That IT trail. That Henry trail. That mix of blood and gore and whatever IT was.

          That’s when Teagan snapped. She could feel Henry’s blood on her skin, soaking into her foot, and that burning ooze that IT had left behind, mixed with the toilet water, and something spongy and organic, something she could not stop to think about. She snapped and she charged. The broomstick smashed down repeatedly, hitting into that soft tissue and IT fell to the floor between the bed and the nightstand.

          Still Teagan hammered home whacking at that thing. ITs teeth clattered and those mouths let forth a screeching, vile, hurt yowl, and IT dragged itself under the bed.

          “No.”

          Teagan dropped down and reached under and yanked IT out. Those teeth, those many-mouthed teeth – or many-teethed mouths, or was it both – bit down, as ITs stubby legs-things wriggled against her and she flung IT across the room, as her skin bubbled and blistered around each bite. IT screeched again as IT hit the wall with a wet smack.

          Then, sensing some innate fight or flight necessity, IT hurled itself at Teagan. She barely had time to think. She just reacted. She pulled back and cleaved that thing in two, the broom handle meeting with IT and pinning the monstrosity to the wall as her momentum continued to carry through and that tumor burst and split.

          The cleaved halves fell to the floor, and even inside IT existed a further tangle of teeth and mouths and wriggling, now dying protuberances. No logic could explain IT, as if IT was inside and out, wholly this mass looping in on itself in some Escher-like insanity.

          Teagan vomited again, then forced herself to look one last time upon the dead thing. One last protuberance danced then went still.

          Teagan shut her eyes, and a final vision of the previous night burst into being like pyrotechnics bursting above a stage.

          The stranger held out the tray of tequila shots.

          “Go on,” he said in that lilting, melodic oddly reverbing voice, and they all did. All except for him. Five shot glasses and they each grabbed one: Aaron and Milly, Erika, and Henry and Teagan. Two each to the pairs. Erika eyed it oddly. They all did. Something wriggled in the bottom of the shot, something pale, and knotted. A tiny fleck twisting in the alcohol. Whatever it was, it was abhorrent, and Teagan had gagged, reaching to set the glass back.

          “It’s only a tequila worm,” the stranger said.

          You don’t drink the worm, Teagan thought. And isn’t that for mezcal, not tequila? That’s not something one actually does, right? Yet even as she questioned him, she found herself irresistibly raising the glass to her lips. They all did. She couldn’t understand how or why this man was making them do this, but she knew that he was.

          She looked at him, and his face did its usual lurch, a flash of pale skin, a gleam of an eye, his smooth features. Never all at once. Just a face. Faces? Mouths? An idea? An abstraction… His face solidified – like a Picasso, or some GWAR nightmare, everything at impossible angles, duplicates where they shouldn’t be and absences where something should be. Then he blurred once more and his face was once again that of the beautiful, mysterious stranger.

          “Down the hatch,” he said, and they all downed their shots.

          Teagan opened her eyes. She wanted to scream again. To yell more obscenities, but it didn’t matter now. She sniffed, and winced, and reached out to pet Elder. He shrank back from her. She would not be allowed that kindness.

          She thought about who she should call or what she should say, but she couldn’t imagine the words. Nothing she might say would explain it, nor would it provide her or anyone else any closure. It would just be torture.

          She tiptoed to the bathroom, stepping over Henry’s body, and looked in the mirror. Her face had reddened. She could see trace amounts of swelling around her eyes and her nose. Her cheek had puffed up around the claw marks from Elder. The cuts jiggled a little and another stabbing pain bore through her skull.

          Teagan didn’t have long now. She could feel her throat constricting as another mass grew inside her sinuses, some strange protuberance beginning to encroach on her airway. Milly and Aaron were already gone. That was clear now. Only she and Erika remained. She wanted to call and warn her, but in the end it was better if Erika didn’t know. Maybe she’d lie down and take a nap. Maybe she wouldn’t feel it happening.

          IT slithered now, those protuberances encompassing her throat. She couldn’t breathe, and she couldn’t speak even if she had anything to say. This must have been what it felt like for Henry, when he made that last call. He had tried to tell her, but IT didn’t let him.

          Teagan closed her eyes. She didn’t want to see anymore. She felt the pressure building in her head as that mass expanded and knew she had only seconds. She pictured Henry, smiling and headbanging, hanging off that cartoon statue. She pictured him lying on the couch, listening to his tablet, the cacophony of so many screens blaring around him. She pictured Elder meowing at her feet. She wanted all of them, so she focused further back. The three of them lying in bed, smiling and watching cartoons. Elder had curled up between them. Henry was scritching his head, and Elder purred. A small sliver of sunshine warmed the blanket and Teagan nuzzled up to her family, happy and safe in their embrace. Henry and Teagan. And even that ass, Elder.

          She smiled and the pressure burst.

The Silence of Alium – Chapter 3

ID 36883161 © Andrey Armyagov | Dreamstime

By Chris Hutton

3 – Divergent Paths

          There had been no communication between Lacroix and the Galactic Coalition for over a year. No messages could be received nor transmitted by the research post. As such, Dr. Jiya Kapoor had not spoken with anyone off-base since her father had first communicated that her mother had contracted Huang Gao’s disease. By best estimates her mother maybe had a month left now, if she wasn’t already dead, and Jiya had no way to speak with her, let alone reach her.

          As such, Jiya had been in a miserable state for some time. She attempted to focus on her studies as best as she could, researching the biology of the bentari and other potentially related pseudo-fauna, but as time dragged on it became harder and harder for her to focus on the task at hand. Of course she’d be a liar if she didn’t admit that it wasn’t just the crisis with her family that had disrupted her focus. The state of the research colony had been in rapid disintegration for months even before communication had been lost.

          Something was amiss on Alium, and whether it was a natural migratory shift, or the sign of something far more catastrophic, Jiya could not say with any level of certainty. The Coalition’s research into the planet was too new, with barely a decade and a half of data collected and only by the marginal population of less than a hundred inhabitants, themselves a mix of researchers and necessary station crew with less scientific backgrounds. There just wasn’t enough historical or long-term studies to provide conclusive answers.

          Nonetheless, Jiya feared for the worst.

          Like many mornings over the preceding weeks, she found herself cresting over a hillock just south of Lacroix, well within the quarantine perimeter, and approaching upon Haruka Lake. She enjoyed the walk and it eased the tensions that usually plagued her. A few purple pinwheels twirled their helicopter-like wings and rose up over the thin layer of fog that drifted across the placid surface of the water. A garon mating call rasped from within a small patch of sapphire bentai, or fictusherba sapphyrus, a potential link between the evolutionary trees of the bentari, fictusherba primus, and the squid trees, fictus abora. This potential link was a major hypothesis of one of her three primary research projects, in which Jiya postulated a common ancestor between these three pseudo-fauna, and their own branch on the evolutionary tree above the split with, and separated from, the other primary pseudo-fauna of the Hiawatha savanna.

          This morning, however, she pushed her research aside to simply enjoy the moment at hand, and to take solace in the peace that Haruka Lake provided her. The reed-like bodies of the bentai swayed with a light wind, their blades still spooled tight shielding against the morning dew. The scene reminded her of the bamboo plants piercing the waters of Lake Armstrong by her childhood home, and of early spring mornings as her mother and she waded up to the ankles along the shore collecting Freyan freshwater sand crabs, giggling as the crabs’ legs tickled against their palms. Often, as they bent down to scoop up their prize from beneath the soil of the shore, they had braced themselves against the shoots of bamboo.

          Jiya ran the tips of her fingers up along the spooled blade of the closest bentai. The stalk-like appendage felt feathery to the touch, but also pulsing with life. The bentai jolted, then spooled its blade tighter to protect itself from any potential predators. The tighter it wound and the denser its blade became, the greater threat it posed, it’s reed-like blade honing to a deadly point.

          Jiya let her fingertips fall aside, then toed away a thick clump of Hiawatha moss. It was the closest life form to an earth plant on the planet, and one of the only photosynthesizing life-forms that had a permanent rooted structure, lacking any form of mobility. The soft, blue pseudo-fauna offered a comfortable cushion, but it was also highly toxic to humans, so the fewer spores she picked up on her clothes, the better. She set upon the loose dirt revealed beneath the moss, and stared out across the lake, thinking of home and of her mother.

          Only a moment passed as she sat level with the surface fog, condensation clinging to her hair, before a thunderclap sounded above. Another, and another, and another rung out in rapid succession. The precision of the sound was distinct; man-made. Multiple flying objects had broken the sound barrier. That could mean only one thing; the Coalition had sent a crew to investigate the silence of Alium.

          Jiya looked up. The camouflage of the holographic dome worked in both directions, so at first she saw nothing but a lightly clouded sky. Then the first descent capsule burst into existence, popping through the dome. Immediately, the largest swarm of pinwheels she had ever seen rose up from the northern campus and flocked to the capsule, drawn by its heat. The swarm pushed in upon it crowding into every potential entry, and as the pinwheels landed she knew they would be sinking in their tiny rhizora siphoning heat from the vehicle. With enough force, they would obliterate the capsule.

          A second capsule glided through the dome, and the scene repeated itself. Now smoke billowed from the first, and Jiya could see small fires breaking out as the pinwheels wound themselves between the aft heat shield and the capsule itself, piercing through the seal interface gap. As a third capsule broke through the dome, two smoke trails billowed up from the damaged landers that had preceded it. Only this time as the swarm approached a billow of ash, water vapor, and smoke released while the capsule jettisoned its heat shield. The burnt metal alloy arced away, crashing like a meteor onto a distant stretch of plain, and the retrorockets that had hidden beneath its shielding roared to life, slowing the trajectory of the capsule.

          The swarm had fled from the conglomerate cloud momentarily, not yet clasping to the outer shell of the capsule. Then as the fires flared to life from the rockets, the swarm had charged forward again, only this time drawn to the heat of the flames. Hundreds of burnt pinwheels fluttered and fell from the sky consumed by the heat they so desired. Yet a new problem threatened the third capsule. As its descent slowed its parachute slackened threatening to fall upon the capsule, likely catching itself on fire as the cloth tangled against the rockets. Before this could happen, the retrorockets ceased firing and the capsule dropped like a stone, until the parachute fully expanded again sending the whole configuration into a wild spin.

          The third capsule fought back to some semblance of equilibrium, steadying out, and Jiya watched it shift back into a gentle arc. It descended, its chute billowing above, and for a minute she thought it just might land safely. Just as she let out a sigh of relief, convinced the worst had been averted, an explosion sounded and the first of the capsules disintegrated into slivers of shrapnel scattering destruction across the grasslands. The force of the blast blew the remaining two capsules off course, propelling them in opposite directions, the second of the capsules arcing in giant ball of fire, a man-made meteor hurtling towards the surface of Alium.

          The remnants of the three swarms fluttered in the open skies, then merged into one massive swarm and descended upon a new target as the fourth capsule crashed through the camouflaged dome. The pinwheels were hungrier and in greater numbers than Jiya had ever observed, and the chances of any of the Coalition crews surviving were rapidly diminishing. Jiya had to get help.

          As she ran back to Lacroix in search of aid, Jiya just caught sight of a safety tether snapping on the third capsule’s parachute. Yes, they’re going to need help, she thought. If they survive the impact.

Back to Chapter 1

The Silence of Alium – Chapter 2

ID 36883161 © Andrey Armyagov | Dreamstime

By Chris Hutton

Author’s Note:

My schedule remains off and for that I apologize. In lieu of the finale to The Dark Beneath, I will be posting the second chapter of the Silence of Alium. This work has taken a lot of my focus lately as I plan out the long game for the novel / novelette (still up in the air)


2 – Trajectories

          Sergeant Robles held fast to the grip above his head. He’d tightened his safety harness as tight as he could manage, and though he couldn’t be certain, he felt fairly confident he’d cut the circulation to his left leg. Well, maybe not quite, but close enough. The strap bit in against his upper thigh like a tourniquet. It felt painful and numb at the same time, and though his rational mind begged him to loosen the strap, he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

          He didn’t know how he’d ever made Sergeant. Born Rafael Roberto Robles, Rafael had always had an anxious temperament. He’d inherited it from his father, a relapsing alcoholic that had committed suicide when Rafael was only eleven. His mother always told Rafael that his father had been haunted by personal demons that he could not conquer and that he had died from an illness, no different than pneumonia or Huang Gao’s Disease. Rafael understood, but much like his current predicament with the straps, he’d been unable to reconcile his rational understanding with his emotional turmoil.

          He’d joined the army still battling both anger and grief over his father. Anger, because his father had been too afraid to face living, and grief in that his father had been compelled by his anxieties and depression to believe that death was his only option. When he’d signed on, Rafael determined that he would face down death, and that he would not be defined by his father. Now, sweating as the descent capsule Cerebus tugged against its primary parachute and clutching the safety handle for dear life, he could only speculate that his promotions came down to nothing more than attrition. He’d survived his engagements where others had not, even if by blind luck. Courage had nothing to do with it.

          “Sergeant Robles!”

          Staff Sergeant Simmons, jaw set, locked eyes with Rafael. This was his third engagement with Simmons, but he still couldn’t look the man in the eye without freezing like a deer in headlights.

          “Yes, sir.”

          “I need you focused.”

          Great, focused. That’s nice. We’re in a free fall, our fate in the hands of 100 yards of fabric and a tiny web of rope, and not a damn piloted system to control, but I better stay focused. You know, in case there’s an emergency for me to gape at. All of this ran through his head, but Rafael didn’t dare speak it out loud. Simmons scared the Holy Bejesus out of him. It was his eyes. They were black as midnight, and he swore they didn’t shine with even a hint of life. Never had such a man existed with eyes deader than those of Staff Sergeant Simmons. He was a devil made flesh.

          “Yes, sir. I’m focused, sir.”

          “Good. Stay sharp.”

          Sharp. Yeah, I can do that. Rafael lessened his grip on the safety handle relaxing into the soft comfort of the crash couch. That’s when the good doctor burst in from the peanut gallery.

          “Was that the chute?”

          Sergeant Lance daned to open her eyes. “Relax, doctor. It’s nothing.”

          Nothing? Why was the man asking about the parachute? That didn’t sound like nothing.

          Rafael managed a glimpse up through one of the three upper portholes. He didn’t want to look. The very thought of what he might find petrified him. At the same time, he knew that he had to look. If death was coming today, he’d face it, scared shitless, but knowing its inevitability. Directly above the porthole he saw it – a rip in the primary shoot.

          “Well, hell, looks like today’s the day,” he muttered – just barely audible. He hadn’t meant to say it out loud. It just slipped out.

          “Don’t be such a fatalist, Tre.” Private Second Class Walcott. Walcott and Rafael had come up in basic together. She had called him Tre ever since she had spotted his triple R initials embroidered on one of his kerchiefs. Some of the others in basic had taken to calling him Snotrag due to that same kerchief, so Rafael had always felt it best to leave well enough alone and give Walcott Tre. If Rafael was honest with himself, she deserved the command more than he did, but bureaucracy is bureaucracy, and the politics of the moment placed him in charge of team Baker.

          “Don’t be a fatalist? The f’ing chute just ripped.”

          “Keep yourself in check, Sergeant Robles. You have a team to command.” Simmons again.

          “Yes, sir.”

          Rafael held his tongue on any further commentary. The chute had ripped and the winds and the descent sent Cerebus twisting and turning in an awful spin, even as the pull of gravity tugged ever harder, but he’d keep calm for his unit. Shit ton of good it’ll do them, he thought, when we crash into Alium and flatten like a pancake.

          Walcott continued, ignoring Staff Sergeant Simmons. “Today’s not the day. Don’t forget the backup.” Walcott may have been the only one that knew about Rafael’s obsession with death; he’d made the mistake of opening up after one too many drinks on the eve of his promotion to Sergeant. Ever since she had been there to walk him down.

          As if on queue, the backup chute deployed and the entire capsule snapped back yanked upwards from its rapid descent. Cerebus rocked and twisted, rolling in all directions from the abrupt deployment.

          Across the way, Dr. Offredi clung to his armrests for dear life. Private Park had closed his book and sat calmly through the whole affair. Lance, Ruegger, and Simmons did likewise. Karzai smirked, enjoying a private joke, or at least that is what it looked like to Rafael. That left Bills, Varma, and Walcott.

          To his left, Walcott, having succeeded in calming him, now grinned from ear to ear hooting and hollering with each swing of the capsule. Varma, that tank of a man, hollered right back, laughing and swearing and having the time of his life. Varma and Walcott always took an insane level of pleasure from atmospheric entry.

          Bills on the other hand, Bills was new. He had his face plastered into his barf bag, and appeared to be hyperventilating. Lance cocked him a one-eyed glance, muttered under her breath, then stirred to deal with it. Bills was part of Alpha team, and thus her responsibility.

          Rafael didn’t bother listening to their conversation. He closed his eyes and prayed. The backup chute had opened, but if it ripped as well, there were no further lifelines.

          He lowered his head, closed his eyes, and gestured the sign of the cross, as he began his prayer, soft and just barely audible.

          “In nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” He finished the gesture, but remained bowed in prayer.

          “Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”

          Finished, Rafael signed the cross again, then eased against his crash couch, a calm slowly warming through him. The insane rocking of the capsule had eased and the rocky entry had at last abated, beginning the slow and gentle descent, buoyed by the backup chute.

          Walcott, no longer competing with Varma to out macho the other in riding out the frantic bucking of Cerebus, cast Rafael a concerned glance. She was up to something.

          “I’m fine. Really.”

          “Uh-huh.” Walcott didn’t buy it. She glanced about, grasping at the beginning of an idea. As she did, a gentle whir sounded, and two large sections of wall shifted, retracting on a track to reveal two curved windows running along the top of the crash couches, each opening upon an outstanding panoramic view of Alium.

          “I spy.”

          “Really, Walcott,” said Rafael. “I spy? We’re not twelve you know.”

          “It’s a long way down. Just shut up and humor me.” Walcott turned her attention towards the view outside the window. As she did, so to did Rafael.

          Below the Hiawatha Savannah stretched out from horizon to horizon, a sea of purples, dotted with copses of electric blue, all beneath thin wisps of cloud. Rafael knew it wasn’t really a savannah – not a grassland at all. There was no grass on Alium. Evolution had taken a different path here. Yet, the purple mass of the bentari swayed below in a striking resemblance to the grasslands of Earth broken in clusters by groves of aboras, known to most as squid trees or squidders. Much like the bentari were not actually grasses, the squid trees were not trees. Instead they existed somewhere between animal and plant, slow, massive beasts with tentacle-like trunks that rooted and uprooted at will, and blue, scale-like hairs that acted like leaves, generating energy from sunlight.

          Yet in the infinite stretch of falsehoods below, Rafael knew that even this image was in itself a lie, a camouflage of the world as it should be. Alium’s Lacroix outpost existed somewhere beneath that veil, named in honor of the first colonist to discover extraterrestrial life, the famous architect of Enhet Basen at the beginning of man’s conquest of the stars. Considering the troubled history of Enhet Basen, Rafael could not discern if the honorarium bode well or for ill, but his gut assured him that nothing good could come of it.

          Walcott pushed forward with her distraction. “I spy something blue.”

          “A fucking grove of squidders,” said Varma. “Come on, Walcott.”

          “Fine, you go.”

          “Nah, let’s give the new blood a try. Bills?”

          Bills wiped at his mouth securing his vomit bag. “What?”

          “Your turn.”

          “My turn for what?”

          Varma shook his head. “I can’t work with this.”

          Walcott nodded at Private Bills. “Just a game of I spy. It keeps your mind off the descent. What do you see?”

          “Fine, fine,” said Bills. “I spy with my little eye something white and fluffy.”

          Karzai jumped in, unable to sit by while a private on her team disgraced himself. “A cloud? That’s the best you got? You’re descending on an alien planet, an inhabited planet with one of the most unique ecosystems in the galaxy and you pick a damn cloud? You’ve got to give it more than that, Bills.”

          As the two continued to bicker, Rafael searched the skies for the other squads. The Hecate capsule should be somewhere above them, likely just opening its chute based upon the launch sequence, but Chimera and Ladon had to be well on their way.

          Meanwhile Private Bills, still barely holding to what remained of his lunch, gave in, waving off Karzai’s assault. “Fine,” he said. “I spy with my little eye something purple.”

          “The bentari? The f’ing bentari. This is just an embarrassment. You represent Able team, damn it. Hell, you represent Cerebus.”

There it was. Rafael caught site of Ladon, its orange and white parachute stretched out in its wake. “Gotcha,” he muttered just under his breath.

          As he watched it descend towards the vast sea of purple, the capsule blinked out of existence. It had vanished beneath Lacroix’s camouflaged dome, a holographic illusion generated along the perimeter of the base to hide its presence from the local fauna. The system functioned in an arc, requiring two points for each beam of the hologram, much like the old interlacing of televisions. A line of singular nodes ran in 180 degrees around Lacroix, before the second nodes began, each pairing with their opposite node 180 degrees away – the total effect of which was the complete concealment of the base, and anything passing within that barrier.

          Though Rafael could not find the Chimera capsule, he assumed that it too had already descended beyond visual confirmation. Still he searched, seeking any signs to the contrary, but before he could finish a complete scan, a raucous shout from Bills broke Rafael’s focus.

          “Well, I didn’t see one but I got a damn rhino right here.” Bills groped lewdly at himself, emphasizing his point. “But if you don’t want to see that, go ahead and take your own turn.”

          Karzai shook her head. “I spy with my little eye, something tiny struggling to compensate.”

          “Oooh, oooh!” Private Ruegger chimed in. “Private Bills. Am I right?”

          Rafael shook off the distraction and resumed his scan of the skies. The descent was routine, save for the reliance on the backup chute, but even so he was in charge of half of the squad. He owed it to them to be alert, for whatever good it might do. Death was not coming today. It had been forsworn.

          “Bingo.” Karzai waved in a mock display of showmanship. “Give the man a prize.”

          “Up yours, Ruegger.” Bills had decided the entire game was bullshit. “And you, too, Karzai.”

          “Not on your life.” Karzai smiled. She liked having the upper hand.

          Off to his right Rafael spotted it. Then again to his left just above where Ladon had vanished. Death was coming after all.

          “Everyone, shut up.”

          Simmons leaned in. “Sergeant Robles?”

          “My three and eight, sir.”

          Simmons scanned the horizon. Everyone did, and as they did a hush took over the capsule. Two pillars of smoke rose out of nothing, as if appearing in thin air. They billowed up from beneath the veil and that could mean only one thing – Ladon and Chimera were burning. With every passing second Cerebus sped closer to the holographic surface and closer to whatever fate had befallen the other squads.

          Simmons took command. “Sergeant Robles, call up Ladon and Chimera. Lance, Hecate.”

          “Yes, sir,” they responded in unison, Lance rousing into action for the first time.

          Rafael dialed in to Ladon’s frequency, even as he knew that he should be calling the platoon leader. Soon they would be within the camouflage boundary, suffering from whatever fate had befallen their comrades. Calling them was a waste. A warning needed to go through. Yet Simmons had never led them wrong, and the chain of command was the chain of command.

          “Ladon, this is Cerebus. Do you copy? Over.”

          Nothing. The line didn’t connect. Although he knew that if Ladon was gone, there was little chance of reaching Chimera, Rafael dialed over to their frequency.

          “Chimera, this is Cerebus. Do you copy? Over.”

          The same silence greeted him.

          Across the way Lance shouted directions to Hecate above, alerting them to the smoke trails.

          Simmons turned to Rafael.

          “Robles, platoon leader.”

          “Yes, sir.”

          He dialed in, but it was too late. Cerebus descended beneath the barrier and all communication lines went down. Rafael dropped the dialing mechanism and turned his attention out to the panorama below. Swarms of violet engulfed both Ladon and Chimera as flocks of pinwheels, distant cousins of the bentari, enveloped themselves around the capsules as tongues of flame and plumes of smoke trailed behind. Could that many pinwheels feed off the heat of one capsule? Was it even possible? Something unnatural was happening and there were only seconds to respond.

          As that thought flashed through Rafael’s mind, Chimera’s parachute shredded beneath another swarm.

          Simmons shouted at Robles in the background but his voice had muted. Rafael tuned out all distractions. He had a mission.

          “Well, hell,” he said as he unbuckled his safety harness. “Looks like today’s the day.”

          As the last buckle unclasped, he shot from the security of the crash couch and leapt towards the retro rocket panel, tucked between the two panoramic windows. He slammed his hand against the jettison button, just as a swarm of madly twirling pinwheels, part of Alium’s unique flora-fauna hybrids, crashed against the windows. On its own, a singular pinwheel was nothing to worry about – merely a leafy, bug-like flier no bigger than a dragon fly. In swarms pinwheels could wreak havoc on machinery, feeding off heat, clogging electrical systems, and if gathered in enough numbers they could tear a parachute to pieces. Of course until today, that had all been hypothetical. Pinwheels existed in the roots of the food chain, their population tightly limited by predators. Obviously those constraints had lifted.

          The heat shield ejected from Cerebus, plummeting to Alium, and sending forth a great cloud of steam and smoke. The pitter patter of the pinwheels leaf forms’ battering into the windows rose to a cacophonous din and Rafael could feel the seconds stretch for hours, every movement slow beyond measure. As the smoke of the jettison procedure wrapped around Cerebus he could see the pinwheels retreat, but soon that vapor would wisp away and the flock would return. Today Rafael would face death, but he would not join her.

          The shield gone, landing procedures could be initiated. Of course Cerebus was nowhere near ready to land, but one problem at a time. Rafael hit the ignition on the retro rockets, their engines sparking to life. A great upward force exerted on the capsule slowing Cerebus’ descent. More importantly, the pinwheels turned mid-flight shifting and reorienting – descending like moths to flame and burning in the fires of the rockets.

          So far, so good. Rafael signed the cross then looked above through the upper portholes as a great shadow descended upon the capsule. They hadn’t detached from the parachute and with the rockets going full blast, a collision was imminent. Rafael slammed a full stop on the rockets as the chute tangled with the capsule. With the sudden loss of upward momentum, the capsule dropped, yanking at the ropes of the parachute and sending Cerebus into an uncontrolled spin.

          With no belt securing him, Rafael continued along the trajectory of the previous upward momentum even as the capsule rapidly descended. He didn’t even have time to shield himself. He thought of his father and what it would be like to meet him, then Rafael crashed headfirst into the ceiling of Cerebus, his world exploded, and then there was nothing.

Back to Chapter 1

August 2017 Status Update

August has arrived and here is where I stand.

 

  • Horror Stories Underway: I began The Dark Beneath with the intent of keeping it to 2 parts. In fact the story is now looking to conclude in its fifth installment this Friday. My second story underway is looking to be 5 parts (~10,000 words) and has been delayed while I work on a few additional story ideas.
  • New Sci-Fi Story Underway: I began The Silence of Alium with a five-part short story in mind. Upon delving into a writing community and thinking about my sci-fi work I am considering changing course to a novel or at the very least a novelette. The second chapter is underway now.
  • Delving into Wattpad: Story submissions continue to Wattpad, where you can engage directly with my stories 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: Calling Mr. Nelson Pugh, still has final edits underway. My hope is to have it published by late 2017 and available as an e-book, though I will be soon submitting it to a new group of Beta readers for additional feedback.
  • Short Story Horror Anthology: I am still planning to publish 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 have passed my 70,000 word minimum goal. 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!