FREE ON SMASHWORDS: “Overcast” by Lawrence Dagstine – a novelette

For the next three months, up until January 30th 2017, you can get my novelette Overcast for free with the following coupon code: PP49L

If you’ve never used Smashwords before, it’s simple. You can download books and stories in ePub or Mobi format, and for almost any Android device, tablet, or reader on the market today. Yes, including Kindle.

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Here’s the direct link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/277970

And, once again, the coupon code (capitalized): PP49L

Free for three months, with cover art by Bob Veon.

See just how a 1920s flying ace deals with a horrible disfigurement, the snowy mountains of Montana, and an injured little girl. And just what odds the two must overcome, in… OVERCAST.

Expires January 30th 2017.

Free Ebooks: “The Paraplegic” by Lawrence Dagstine – May/June 2013

Memorial Day weekend through June 30th 2013 is FREE vampire month.  As promised earlier this year on Facebook and Twitter, I am celebrating summer and vampires by making my novelette, THE PARAPLEGIC free to download.  Just go to Smashwords and enter coupon code: GW38Q

At checkout you will obtain it at NO CHARGE.  But ONLY for late May up until June 30th at midnight, 2013.  July 1st it goes back to 99 cents.  Simply click the picture or button at the bottom and be redirected.  Also, check out my other titles in the ebooks & Kindle section of my website or while you’re perusing Smashwords.

FREE EBOOKS

FREE VAMPIRE FICTION

MAY/JUNE 2013 ONLY

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ONLY ON SMASHWORDS

COUPON CODE: GW38Q

“Doc, I’m telling you.  I just woke up in a hole in broad daylight.  No memory!”

When Herbert was told he had amnesia, he knew things were bad.  When he couldn’t feel anything below the waist, he got scared.  When the doctor told him he’d be paralyzed for life, he got depressed and wanted to die.  After all, no one wants to be a paraplegic.  But what made him crippled so suddenly? Did somebody do this to him? And if so, why? Now in the hospital, undergoing intensive surgery, little does Herbert know that the force responsible isn’t done with him, not by a long shot! Something’s coming back.  There’s a little unfinished business to take care of, and it comes in the form of vampires.

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Free SF Serial: “Orphan’s Prey pt. 3” – Lawrence Dagstine

Science Fiction Serial Part 3

First Draft – Follow it from the beginning…

Orphan’s Prey 1: https://lawrencedagstine.com/2010/04/20/free-sf-serial-orphans-prey-pt-1-by-lawrence-dagstine/

Orphan’s Prey 2: https://lawrencedagstine.com/2010/06/10/free-sf-serials-orphans-prey-pt-2-by-lawrence-dagstine/

Who are the Vendragon?

So self-assured, she was, only hours earlier. So brave and self-confident. So virtuous and independent at the right moments, yet obviously weak during others. 

She suddenly found herself pressing her hands to the sides of her head—she’d never done something like this in front of her brother—almost sick with discomfort.  She saw the expression on the boy’s face, then her own, only in her mind’s eye, weak, scared, unprotected, and she realized once more that they were just small children, incapable of much, and just how alone they really were.

 

ORPHAN’S PREY

 by

Lawrence Dagstine

A rather large, muscular, adobe-colored lizard was awakened that same night by what sounded like distant explosions.  From behind the controls of his land scout, the startled iguana with the reddish-brown leather armor and twaddle-speaking tongue realized it was thunder reverberating among the low cumulus that was some hundreds of miles wide.  There was the pitter-patter of rain pellets on the vehicle’s front looking glass and hood.  A break in the drought? No, couldn’t be; Ragnarok should only be so lucky this time of year.  All the water in the universe couldn’t fix that recurrent problem, only toss it a band-aid.  Hence the greenhouses, pipelines, and special sprinkler system back at the city.  Fog clouds approaching? Maybe.  It was a more logical bet.  In sandy, mountainous regions like this, a heavy thunderstorm or methane-mixed hail shower could be an isolated occurrence or a signal that a new front was moving in—or yet another unwanted season.  Whichever it was, the lizard was glad he was snug inside his tracker rather than camped out in a dry marsh or deep desert valley where the storm was picking up speed and strength.  As for how bad conditions would get, he’d just have to wait and see.

“Fog billows?” asked a similar life form from a standard operating panel in the rear.  Unlike the front of the vehicle, there were no visual systems or radar maps or even a looking glass to peer out of.   Compared to his much taller partner, this reptile’s armor was grayish steel, the portions of scaly flesh that was visible a mustard tone.

The tongue-tied lizard at the wheel of the land scout looked at his weather gauge. “With precipitation like this”—when he talked his mouth didn’t always move but, rather, an electronic chest unit with a flashing orb flickered—“what else could it be?”

“The way you study natural features,” his friend remarked, “I would have thought something more exciting.  Whatever your definition of exciting is.  You know, Koral, I’m quite surprised you never applied for an Earth visa.  You show a certain kind of enthusiasm for your work.”

Their vernacular wasn’t perfect, the interpretive English and back and forth chitchat a bit skidded; but the chest units helped immensely with vocabulary and pronunciation.

“You mean neurotic?” Koral’s tongue lashed out in slight irritation.

“Mmm, that’s the word.  A human term, too.  I’d bet my green farm that Earth scientists would have adored you.”

“Funny, Bakkra,” he laughed. “I don’t know whether to pat you on the gills for your clever perceptions of me—because I am mostly used to your cynicism—or just go ahead and collect my winnings now.  Heh! And here I thought only the man-droid was able to understand me.” There was a brief pause. “Speaking of which, the synthetic one has not returned or communicated back with our lovely package.”

“He’s a robot.  Robots are late, too, you know.”

“Not this robot.  I was the one the manufacturers hunted down and finally sold to.  I was the one guiding him through the wastes.”

“You seem concerned, and tired.  Should we call off the search?”

“No.  Not yet.”

“They’re that important to you, huh?”

“Yes.  That important.” Koral leaned back in his metal chair and let the ravaging elements unfold before him, while keeping a close eye on the overhead gauges and monitor for something else.

Lightning flashed some more.  The alignment of the bolts, shooting outward from the cumulus in all directions, reminded the lizard of the storm chasing he undertook in his youth; after three hundred and sixty years, one begins to feel old but still take pleasure in the eccentricities of the past.

Thunderstorms in the wastelands of Ragnarok were forever awesome displays of limitless power, he thought, sometimes releasing energy many times greater than the atomic explosion range.  Hailstorms derived of methane were a whole other story.  Still, he knew if you were close to either one, or became trapped in the very center of a fog cloud, there was about them a personal quality.  It was dramatic and inescapable.  It was terrifying but vivid, as if every sudden flash, every strong gust of wind, and every simultaneous explosion that crackled and boomed were seeking you out; after all, it really sought no one else.  The lightning came in multitudes and blinded you.  The thunder wreaked havoc on your ears and deafened you.  The ice-cold rains came down heavily and drowned you.  And on the open plains, the sand-filled wastes, and in hanging valleys of crystal and rock, there was no place to take refuge.

The snow, which frequently becomes spot blizzards with reckless currents of air beyond gale force, could also be merciless and astonishing in its ferocity.  Large, lazy flakes drifting down at first, touching the ground and melting instantly.  But in minutes the fall becomes thicker, more rigid, and the wind-whipped mess pummels the landscape.  The temperature drops rapidly.  Marshes and gullies turn in the twinkling of an eye to great streams of half-frozen mud, which then later break apart from those very same winds and become torrents, rushing steeply downhill unintended, catching up loose rocks, Yurga bush, even boulders.  Other times, the mud is uplifted and snatched from their channels, as if by some godly hand.  Then it is flung into the air with impending force, thus turning it into hail during its whirl around the cloud formations and falling with a shrapnel effect down upon lower elevations of land.  In the midst of the mud particles, an unscented methane composite, laid bare to Ragnarok’s wrath and planetary nature to do whatever mixing and mashing it likes.  Once it falls back down again, hardened and in hail form, it wreaks of the most terrible odor, which can be inhaled up to hundreds of miles away.

Koral always remembered the cloud masses beginning somewhere in the high mountains, never the desert regions or marshlands, and in an almost tentative fashion.  Always the highest escarpments, always the greatest plateaus.  Perhaps that was what made the seasonal irregularities so peculiar, so unrelenting in their expansive devastation.  And you never expected a season to change so fast or, unintentionally, drive through one.  Not unless it was closely monitored or regarded from a distance.

From within the land scout, and up along a high altitude, the now-dozing lizard found such an effect magical.  A swirling, shifting pattern of light, eventually graying, then dulling and, finally, obscuring.  Precipitation from some disturbance in the planet’s magnetic field eventually conjured up the surrounding fog—yes, that had to be it—but he couldn’t be certain.  Neither could his people.  It was just another mystery of the planet, passed down from generation to generation, and his hypothesis was open to much conjecture.  Sometimes there was a break; usually there wasn’t.  Sometimes it revealed uncharted peaks, gorges and canyons, and the Vendragon Township far below, often untouched by the gathering clouds and coming storm.

At times he found such atmospheric wonder indescribable.  He often used worlds populated by humans as a comparison: where Earth’s seasons changed over the course of months, the cycles on Ragnarok could change within minutes if not mere seconds.  He used these comparisons in his teachings.  The Vendragon, whose society already flourished in ways early human colonies had, achieved much knowledge and experience from it.  They took it with them wherever they went; though formally a tribal race, that and available technology became a handed down tradition.

Finally the lizard’s thoughts were interrupted by a voice on the overhead speaker. “Hey, storm chaser! Come in, chaser! What are you chasing after now? Over.”

“Apparently little boys and girls,” Bakkra hollered from the back. “Ain’t that right, Koral?”

The man-sized iguana turned and shot his mustard-colored friend a filthy glance. “Do you mind?” His chest unit flared bright red.

The speaker chimed again: “Check.  Fog clouds reach you yet? Over.”

“Affirmative,” he answered. “Unpredictable weather surrounding just about everything.  All within close proximity of the vehicle, at least, otherwise cloud-to-ground.  Too soon to tell.  Just beginning.  Over.”

“I’m sure the young ones are all right,” the speaker crooned; the voice on the other side tried to be reassuring.

“What makes you think I was worried about that? Over.”

“Have any of our friends made an appearance?” An intense silence followed.

Bakkra was about to say something smart when Koral turned and shushed him. “The man-droid has still not reported back, and no,” he said. “No activity or other signs of life in the region.  Over.”

“Oh, well, still armor yourself.  This storm system reading is immense from our side.  We’re going to catch it for good and for sure, and there’s an airstream behind it.  First snow and ice, then rain and wind, heavy at times.  Even at your elevation.”

“Trust me.  We’ve already felt the thunder.”

“Thunder is nothing.” The communicator cut off for what seemed like two, maybe three seconds, followed by unusual static. “We may lose… you if… you go any… higher,” the voice continued brokenly. “You been feeling tremors? Over.”

“Negative.” Koral flipped a few switches on the overhead panel and fixed the glitch. “Unless there’s something I don’t already know or you’re not telling me.  Over.”

“Hmm, well, we’re still sending two extra rovers your way.  Over.”

“Helpful, Ooglad, but Bakkra and I are all right.  Over.”

“Listen, Koral, I know it’s just a random search, and this cloud build-up is like all the other occasions, but let’s be honest here, you can use all the help you can get.” A brief pause, and then: “Small stuff, under four on the quake register, with sand-shocks set well outside your perimeter.  But why turn down a free assist? Over.”

“Thanks, Ooglad, but no thanks.  Out.” Koral switched off the communicator.

Bakkra was the one with the smug look now. “What did you do that for? You’d have to be mad to turn down a rescue and assist in conditions like this.”

“We don’t need it.  We’ll just stay the night.  The storm will pass, like those before it.”

“For all you know those children might already be dead! Your droid’s bleeper would have picked them up kilometers ago.  This, my friend, is just suicide!”

“Really, Bakkra? How so?” Koral leaned back in his seat once more. “Does this also mean I’m forcing you to commit suicide with me? Because I do occasionally entertain the thought.”

“I guarantee you these children are already worm food or some other kind of beast droppings!”

“I say you’re wrong.” The lizard was terribly amused. “For once in your pathetic existence, don’t be such a coward.  Part of our race’s survival depends on these two kids.  We’ve weathered fog clouds before, and knowing how Ooglad thinks, he’ll most likely still send out that extra patrol regardless of what I say.  He’s crazy and neurotic, too.”

“You’re right,” Bakkra said. “For once you are very right.  That young reptile is paranoid and foolish like you.  But I am not.” Gathering his things, he went on, “I don’t plan on staying here with you.  So, if you will not wait for the assist and accept it, then I will.  They’ll give me a ride back to the city, while you stay out in the hail to wither and die.”

He was prepared to slide open the door and exit the vehicle when Koral jumped up and stopped him. “Oh no, my friend.  You are not leaving this tracker.” The lizard made his presence felt; the air suddenly became hostile and serious. “Not while I am in charge.  I say we weather the storm, investigate these hills and cliffs, and that is final!”

“Let go of the door, Koral.  Things could get messy in a very confined space.”

Lightning flashed just outside; the crackling sound was ear-piercing.  Koral shook it off.  Then he released his massive-sized hand from the door’s grip. “Go ahead,” he said. “I’d ask you to be reasonable but I think you and I both know we are beyond that now.”

The mustard-toned reptile reconsidered. “The only reason you are being this way is because of what happened to Arim.  You’re scared you’ll have to live through a repeat.” There was a brief silence, significant, and followed by what seemed like an even more emotional reawakening. “Your puny brain might not realize it, because it’s crammed deep inside your subconscious—yes, one of your human terms—waiting for the chance to be exposed, waiting for the opportunity to be expressed, and aired in permanent relief.” Then Bakkra put his things down and took two steps back. “There is a cause to your neuroses, Koral.  I see this.  Ooglad sees this.  The whole tribe sees this! They worry about you.  They can see right through your armor, the pain you are suffering, the empty feelings you sometimes emit.  You leave the camps and city grounds to study the conditions out here, bury yourself in your research.  This is your means of escape.  But because Arim perished and you suffer does not mean others need suffer as well.”

Koral did not reply.  Instead, he returned to the front of the vehicle, strapped himself back into his metal chair, and peered silently out of the looking glass.

Bakkra went on, “I will not go.  I will return to my station.  This is a very strong storm formation we are dealing with here.  Hopefully, your instincts are right this time.  I also pray you will not be blinded by pride again.  This stubbornness needs to subside.”

Koral blocked the rest of what he had to say out and stared up at the overhead panels in dismay.  Eventually he closed his eyes and, with the ease of long practice in strange places, went immediately off to dozing again.  In a few hours he would see what effects of the storm he could find, and if the children or the man-droid had left a trail for him.  This time he was prepared.  He had a carry-along machine, lightweight with a strap, which detected alien life forms.

He continued to ignore Bakkra’s petty banter through the night.  He continued to be aware of feeling kinship with the environment and, oddly enough, with the fog clouds.  It was a feeling he found impossible to shake.  Pensively he looked back at the fateful actions that led up to the Arim tragedy.  It was so long ago, uneventful to say the least.  How could the thoughts still persist? Were they really bottled up inside of him? It was his first interspecies “coop”, as most out-colony settlers called it in those days.  The boy was too young.  Sixteen in Earth years.  For every hour the lizard was out there searching for the two orphans he probably thought of Arim and the accident that befell him twice as much, only unconsciously.

For a reptile such emotions were not like him; then again, perhaps he did not try hard enough to show emotion.  Along with his predictions in the weather, and for as long as he could remember, he had experienced premonitions instead.  If the premonition seemed genuine, his chest unit would emit a strange glow, and he would utter a warning of disaster to the rest of the tribe.  Very rarely did the Vendragon take him seriously, and very rarely did they act on it.  His forebodings were never specific, the calamity either absurd or nameless, so it was unusual that he did not speak of any premonition in the days or hours before Arim—a most treasured farmhand assisting their nascent culture in advancing agriculturally—was attacked and fell from that high cliff.  And never in his wildest dreams, he thought, could he predict that, even now, the two orphans he searched endlessly for might bring with them a terrible but ancient disaster.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Free SF Serials: “Orphan’s Prey pt. 2” by Lawrence Dagstine

Lawrence Dagstine’s Bimonthly Serial – Don’t Miss Out! Part One link below:

https://lawrencedagstine.com/2010/04/20/free-sf-serial-orphans-prey-pt-1-by-lawrence-dagstine/

“Vendragons live in the grassier regions—probably further north.  They rely on our knowledge of agriculture.  Supposedly, they thrive off it.”

“Yeah, but couldn’t we still head in that direction? I mean, somethin’ made that smoke.”

“Oh, Blake! It’s much too far.  We should wait for a scouting vessel.” She started to undo the knots in her hair. “Go back to sleep.  I’ll take first watch.  Besides, the distance of these plains are farther than you think.  And who knows what manner of beast created those rings.  For all we know it might be the same kind of creature that attacked us, burning carcasses and picking on flesh.”

The boy went scared and silent.

She hoped she spoke with conviction, but after what they’d been through, it disturbed her to know that her brother’s thoughts had been running so close to hers. 

They settled down by the fire, and before long their breathing grew slower and deeper.  After a while, Chelsea couldn’t stay up any longer.  Eyelids falling, she reached for her brother’s swollen hand.  Normally he’d have snatched it away, but he didn’t now.  A veil of mist drifted over the moons that scattered the night sky, and the children slept…

Orphan’s Prey – Part Two

by Lawrence R. Dagstine

Chelsea woke in the twin lights of dawn and reached for her brother.  He wasn’t there.  She quickly looked around her, then scrambled to her feet. “Blake? Blake! Where are you?” For a terrifying moment she thought he had set off by himself had gone on about those smoke rings and the Vendragon for a good hour.  But then she saw him, a dozen or so yards from where the fire had been, staring out across the desert.  In the faint light, with his red vest and tan khakis, he looked taller and older.

Displeased, Chelsea clenched her hands into fists and plodded over. “Blake Prittengayle! What are you doing?”

He didn’t move but kept staring ahead as if in a trance. “Looks like some abominable wasteland, don’t it,” he said, without looking up at her.

“Abominable?” Chelsea vested a short laugh. “I can’t believe you know what that word means.  Come on.” She led him back to the campsite.  He moved like a tiny sleepwalker, then he started to shiver.  She lowered him to the ground and cradled his head in her lap, just as their mother used to.  After a while his shivering stopped.

“Chandler told me what that word meant,” he muttered under his tongue.

“Did he now?”

“Uh-huh.  Also, the air smells funny.  The weather’s gonna change seasons again soon.  The air is salty, like there’s somethin’ big on the way.  Chandler called it pre-cip… pre-cipi…”

“Precipitation?”

“Yeah, that’s it!”

“Blake, what were you thinking of running off like that?”

He slowly got to his feet. “I don’t wanna live on Ragnarok.  We don’t belong here!” His eyes were serious, then he faced the distant mountains.  He remembered the out-colony stories he had heard at the sanctuary from those who were older, those who had gone walkabout with their siblings or cousins on foreign worlds, only to take part in alien ceremonies or have relatives sacrificed in accordance to them.  One boy, eleven, who he shared bunks with, had returned to the freighter after four months of living on nothing but insects.  A salvage team had found him naked, soiled from head to toe and huddled up in the corner of some old cave in the side of a cliff.  He came back without his twin brother or his two older sisters.  There was no trace of the adopting species, no documentation.  The only thing the boy had to remember them by was a photographic imprint locked into a small handcrafted identification bracelet.

“I don’t wanna end up like Louie,” he finally said.

“Louie?” Chelsea was silent for a moment. “Oh, yeah… Louie Peder.  The other kids used to make fun of him.  They used to call him Stinky, because he never bathed or washed.  But after he came back from that extrasolar rock, after his sisters and brother went missing, he just wasn’t right again.  He stopped talking.  Kids stopped making fun of him.  They stopped bothering with him altogether.”

“Hey, let’s go south! Back to the transmat station, where the Keeper let us down.  Plus the air’s not as salty there.”

“But the freighter is no longer above the planet,” Chelsea tried to explain.

“So, maybe it’ll come back when it finds out what happened to us.  The Keeper has rescued stranded kids before.”

“Blake, there is no way I am going back through those crystalline wastes.  And there is no way I am going to risk both our lives going back near those giant stones in the bluffs.  That’s where we first spotted those monsters.”

“Ahh, Chelsea, please!” The boy practically begged. “We have plenty of daylight to guide us, and lots of rest!”

“And what about your hand? Last I looked your knuckles were almost flattened, all black and blue.”

The boy held his hand up for her to see. “Look! All better.  I don’t even need a bandage.”

She had known it was coming, especially since the talk the night before about the smoke rings and the northern part of the planet. “That terminus could be anywhere from a couple of hundred miles to a whole thousand behind us.  We never kept track.  We were inside the vehicle the whole time.  It took almost three days to get where we are now, and using a durable transport.” A brief pause. “I know you’re not that stupid.  There’s no point in even checking our rations.  We’d surely die of hunger and thirst.”

“No nutrient packs or water?” the boy sulked.

“No nutrient packs, I’m afraid.  And not really enough water, to be honest.”

“We could die of hunger and thirst the other way, too, sis.  Or we could get the rover’s touchpad working again.  Least while it’s still sunny.”

“Idiot! You mean the navigational router? Not even the best mechanic in the Cat’s Eye could get that infernal taxi and its low-tech components to run again.  Don’t you remember what that thing did to it?”

There was a moment of significant silence as the memory flashed back.

The girl braided and unbraided her hair.  She was intelligent—so was the boy when he wanted to be, eager and far beyond his years—but her life as an orphan had done nothing to qualify her to make this sort of decision.  So why would Blake be any different? Deep down she was scared like him, only less easily at times to show it.  All she knew in this strange world was that she had to protect her brother, no matter what the cost. “Okay, suppose,” she said slowly, “we stay here one more night, find some kind of cave or shelter in the vicinity of these hills.  After all, I think I noticed some cliffsides.  We have plenty of flares.  We can find some use from all this Yurga brush.  Give your hand another day to heal, maybe collect some herbs or plantlife and make weapons out of the crystals.  If a scouting vessel doesn’t come by tomorrow morning, then we might as well head back to the transmat.  Hope that the Keeper or Koral are there waiting for us.”

Blake nodded. “Fine.”

But no rescue came.  They spent another night in the bluffs, sitting beside the fire again, waiting and hoping.  They examined the flora they had collected, separated what could be used as food or an ingredient and what could not.  Wrist encyclopedias helped them achieve this function.  As handy as the schooling devices were, there was only so much memory it could hold and only so much knowledge it could provide.  That whole day picking, and straight into the night, Chelsea was frightened the monsters would come back—out of all worries, that remained her constant—while Blake complained that the air got chillier at times and smelled saltier.  Whenever she looked down at her wrist, she tried to pull up info about the planet and its meteorological phases, its orbit, and other asymmetries.  Nothing.  No factual data relating to the worlds in the surrounding nebula.  Not even an out-of-place singularity in which she could barter for a clue.  Whenever she tried to be smarter than the device, punch in a successful tag or keyword, she got nothing.  There was absolutely zilch on the tornado creatures—she had figured as much—and nothing even remotely resourceful on the Vendragon.  With its miniature data core, it was pretty much only good for geological referencing: rocks, minerals, botany.  Blake’s was slightly bigger but malfunctioning because he wore his on the hand that got injured. 

In the early morning hours of their fourth day, toting extra satchels of herbs and shrubbery, they set out to walk to the south.  The now longed-for terminus of their dreaming which lay beyond a ridiculous amount of horizons, and an expanse of miles they could not possibly fathom, they walked.  They carried with them spears which they had carved and built by hand: part jagged-edged crystal, part disposable laser cutter.  But even with the lighted, armor-piercing weapons, from all paths the odds were still too overwhelming.  They were not stacked in their favor this day just like the rest; it was a merciful thing they didn’t realize that they had about as much chance of getting to their destination as a soldier ant crossing the cold, terra-formed wastes of New Sedna. 

In the late afternoon they arrived back at the scene of the incident, only along a much higher tract of land; the rover was just over some dry sandy hillocks.  Had they been mindlessly walking in circles? Regardless, Chelsea stood on her tippy toes to look over the rocks.  The moment she saw the monoliths her anxiety level rose again.  Blake began to set aside a couple of water canisters, some wireless provisions, and the weapons they had put together the night before.  Then they approached the edge of the nearest ridge and peeked down.  They lay quietly on their stomachs and just watched.  There were no signs of life, but Chelsea still remarked in a low voice, “We shouldn’t be backtracking let alone stopping here.  Not even briefly.  Those things live here.  I just know it.”

“Oh, come on, sis,” Blake said. “You knew we had to come back this way, and I still think we should go down there and disconnect that touchpad, otherwise look for some kind of communicator.”

“Again, what good will an inoperable router do us?”

“If we get it working it’ll lead us in the right direction.  Duh!”

“Is it worth sacrificing your life for? Oh, you can be so stubborn at times, little one.  Scared one minute yet outwardly brave the next.  No, bro, as your older sister this is where I put my foot down.” She grabbed his wrist with force and, as he pulled away, she fell backwards in the dirt.  His encyclopedia unit detached easily and was now in her hand. “Blake, get back here this instant!” He started running downward along the dust and crystal-lined ridge, handmade spear in tow.  The pulverized vehicle was less than a quarter-mile away. “Blake, please, don’t!” Hesitant to raise her voice any louder, she hurried after him.

Back at the wreckage, the boy stood quietly facing the rover.  A single tear fell from his eye; moments later more followed.  Chelsea finally caught up with him; so did the terrible memories of days past.  Together they turned their attention to the upended vehicle, the broken glass, and the headless driver, whose lanky frame was still sticking a few feet out.  Much of his synthetic tubing was shriveled up, the plastics and operating fluids dried out from prolonged exposure to the heat.  The girl wrinkled her nose, while continuously stealing glances over her shoulder.  Unlike before, the monoliths now interested her.  She wondered what had caused such tall and magnificent bricks to melt from within.

“He ought to be buried,” Blake said.

“Chandler was a machine.”

“Doesn’t matter.  He was still encoded with feelings.  That makes him just as human as us—and he was my friend!” The boy wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “He deserves a funeral.  Even in a place like this.”

“Yes, but how?” The body was too heavy to carry back up the trail, and the ground at the site of the accident happened to be hard. “Listen, if it makes you feel any better, I’ll make a pulley out of what’s left of the truck’s door.  Seems durable enough.” She looked up at the sky. “The suns are currently with us.  It’s that or nothing, kiddo.”

Blake gave a nod of approval.  Then he went to the vehicle to retrieve the touchpad and scavenge for items his sister might have otherwise overlooked or considered worthless.  Afterwards he had to admit reluctantly that she was right: the corpse was heavy.  Panting and straining, they heaved Chandler’s remains onto the top of the blue-tinted door.  In the end, they raised the zyranium stretcher along a ramp and atop a high flat-surfaced boulder.  So flat it resembled a slab in midair.  Once it was clear of the ground, Chelsea crossed her fingers and hoped that the strange alien creatures who walked by wind and shadow wouldn’t mistreat the rest of the body.

The boy didn’t want to chance it. “Burn it,” he said, swallowing hard.

“Are you sure?” Chelsea asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

The girl approached the boulder, leaned up against it, stood on the balls of her feet and raised the spear in her left hand.  The laser cutter at the tip of the weapon worked in conjunction with the lime crystals and ignited Chandler’s dismembered form.  Then she returned to her brother’s side, and together they watched the flames.  A few minutes later she climbed into the back of the rover again and checked the power cells.  The solar reserves were exhausted.  Looking up, however, she noticed a small bulb on one of the contorted operating panels.  A distress beacon—the silent kind.  It was glowing green.  Perhaps Chandler knew the moment they were attacked to throw it on.  Perhaps help was already on the way.  She parted a smile. 

Perhaps there was hope yet.

Outside the boy was packing the router all snug in his satchel.  He deposited its energy cubes in his vest pocket.  Hopefully it could be fixed.  Hopefully he’d be the one to mend it, and, if so, put it to good use later on in their travels.  Then he stared back up at the burning body.  He remembered Chandler’s singsong kindness: the ancient stories of wonder and the furtive bites of jerky and candy that caused intoxicating laughter.  What he did next was partly instinctive, reminiscent of his days aboard the Juniper.  He began to pray and hymn; it was the special prayer which, according to keepers and lonely orphans, would exorcise a new home or planet of its evil spirits and bad elements.  Just like the one that caused Chandler’s death. 

The girl came back and watched her brother.  She felt torn in two; as if half of her was standing dry-eyed beside a spread-open coffin intoning an Earth requiem, while the other half was dancing around gaily and celebrating life.

The boy’s harmonious devotion ebbed and flowed between the smooth cadences of what the Keeper had taught him of religion.  When they were residents of the Juniper, the children had a much simpler name for it.  They called it Faith Class.

Chelsea patted her brother on the shoulder and, giving him as much time alone as he needed, went to inspect the monoliths.  She raised her arm to the first and largest of the great green stones and punched a few buttons on her wrist encyclopedia.  When Blake had finished, he’d gotten off his knees and caught up with her. “What’s up?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing,” she replied without looking back.  Her tone was matter-of-fact.

“Looks like somethin’ to me,” the boy said nosily.

“Just surveying, really.” Chelsea remained unconcerned, but her intuition would have told another story. “See this? According to my cyclopedia this is some form of granite with an igneous outer layer but an internal heating source.” She held her wrist out for her brother to see; Blake shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve never seen anything like it in text cards or disks.”

“You mean like volcanoes?”

“Kind of, I suppose.  Also, these blocks have their own magnetic fields—small, mind you; practically dwarf-sized—but given their geological shape over time they probably act as nothing more than a wind receptor or miniature power conductor.” When she leaned in closer the key drive containing her life essence flipped out of her shirt and clung to the great stone. “See what I mean?”

“Whoa!” The boy was taken aback; he, too, felt the rope around his neck being tugged and pulled. “You think they have somethin’ to do with this planet’s crazy weather system?”

“Maybe.  Magnetic properties are very common among these types of stones: Earth, Mars, Ganymede, Titan, Upsilon, Epsilon, Centauri, Andromeda—they’re all over.  Scientists and colonies from across the stars have proclaimed they even have the ability to metaphysically heal the sick.” The girl was confident she was on to something. “But all the suns and moons in the Cat’s Eye,” she went on, “all the heat generated in Ragnarok’s core couldn’t cause melting of this magnitude.  I just know it.  No, this was a very different kind of combustion.  Or at least something along those lines.  A very powerful force from within, and that force absorbed the special properties these stones give off and used it to burst free.”

“So somethin’ lived inside this big rock, huh?” Blake looked up at the tall stone and rapped the side of it.  He counted twenty more within a few yards of where he was standing.

“Or slept,” Chelsea said. “If you want my opinion, they might even be some kind of age-old resting chamber or husk.”

“The Vendragon?”

“Nah, couldn’t be.”

“Bigger?” The boy’s eyes widened. “Worse?”

“Yes.” Chelsea went back to her wrist and ran another analysis. “And very much alive.”

After she finished scrounging around for more data, she shut the device off and flipped the top panel shut.  She stepped back from the monolith and observed it some more.  For a moment it reminded her of an extraterrestrial Stonehenge, an ancient Earth supposedly known for its magnetic and metaphysical properties.  Then she pretended it was a giant sandstone coffin; the eerie comparison caused a sudden shiver to run up her spine.  She soon realized that anything else than what she’d discovered so far was just a mystery or worthless knowledge.  

Blake was already halfway up the trail. “Come on, sis! We’ve got a lot of walking ahead of us.”

Chelsea eventually caught up. “Oh, here,” she said, going into her knapsack and tossing something his way.

“What’s this?” Blake had never seen anything like it; the interior was paper.

“When I went back I found it in Chandler’s overhead compartment,” she said. “I know how close you were to him.  Thought you might want it.  It’s a book.”

“What’s a book?”

“It’s an antiquity.  The contents are paper.  They don’t make paper anymore.  Not for centuries.”

“What’s an antiquity?”

“Old objects of worth, numbskull.” Chelsea rolled her eyes and laughed. “Books were the things used for entertainment or learning purposes long before touchpads and wrist encyclopedias became necessary.  They were meant for the imagination.”

Blake thumbed through the pages. “It has words in it.”

“So do wrist encyclopedias.”

The front cover read: Lord of the Flies

The boy grinned. “Thanks.  I’ll treasure it with my life.”

He led the way south into the dry wastes and ridges of sand, crystal, and sprinkled garnet.  He didn’t look back, but the girl glanced more than once over her shoulder at the rover and flat-surfaced boulder in the glare of the two suns.  In the hours before the double sunset they covered perhaps twenty miles.  Chelsea was happy with it.  So long as they were far away from the site of the wreckage by the time the primary sun disappeared over the horizon.  That’s all that mattered to her.

They found a good place to camp among a cluster of Yurga stalks which rose like pallid ghosts around a depression.  There, in this quiet place, other washed out trees and herbs were strewn about.  They laid out their provisions, pre-programmed a half-dozen flares and made a giant circle of flames as their fire, then each ate jerky and wuava fruit.  With twilight came the stars—millions of them, literally dotting every section of the colored sky.  Compared to the bluffs, the wastes were beautiful by moonlight—fourteen moons, upon first count—and the children were settling down contentedly in the warmth of the glowing embers.  Here and there the boy went into his satchel and fiddled with the router.  But it was obvious he could not get the touchpad working, no matter how hard he tried.  The girl, on the other hand, sat thinking about the Juniper, and how she too missed the voices of the kids now.  She could hardly believe how far they journeyed.  She could hardly believe they were going into their fifth day on this enormous planet. 

With the flames crackling in all directions, the children heard a metallic clatter in the distance and saw a light inching across the skyline.  It was some time before they realized that it was a rover coming up through the wastes. 

They also shared the most unusual feeling that they were being watched.

The girl’s voice was uncertain. “If we ran quickly, do you think we’d catch it?”

The boy said nothing at first, strangely sniffing the air.  Very carefully he kicked sand and ash over the fires, extinguishing every single glimmer of flame that surrounded them.  His behavior was very weird.  After a time the light moved on in the direction of the bluffs.  Then, finally, he nodded to his sister. “Koral?”

Chelsea, hardly seeable, shrugged her shoulders. “Can’t be sure.” There was a moment of silence as they stared past each other in the darkness. “It’s late,” she whispered. “I really don’t want to take any chances if we don’t have to.  Go ahead.  Make another fire.”

The boy smelled the air again, then ran up the rocky ridge behind him. “Salty,” he said. “I knew it.  Look!” Not one, but two immense fog clouds were moving across the desert fast.  Almost like airborne sandstorms. “Bad weather’s on the way, sis.  Pretty low-cast, too.”

“Smells like methane if you ask me,” Chelsea remarked curiously.  After a while, the stench had become so unbearable she had to pinch her nostrils.

“It’s in the snow that travels over the endless sands,” Blake pointed out, “and the snow falls within the fog.  Never outside it.  Chandler told me all about it.  It’s an atmospheric phe-nom…phe-nom-e…”

“Phenomenon?”

“Yeah, that’s the word!”

“You make that sound as if it’s a good thing.”

“No, it really isn’t.” The boy looked to the plains and darkened horizon. “We need to take cover fast, sis.  Real fast.” His voice was full of worry.

With the helpful glare of one or more moons, Chelsea could notice the same in his eyes. “What if there isn’t enough time? What if we can’t find a cave or some rocks quick enough?” She panicked.

So self-assured, she was, only hours earlier.  So brave and self-confident.  So virtuous and independent at the right moments, yet obviously weak during others. 

She suddenly found herself pressing her hands to the sides of her head—she’d never done something like this in front of her brother—almost sick with discomfort.  She saw the expression on the boy’s face, then her own, only in her mind’s eye, weak, scared, unprotected, and she realized once more that they were just small children, incapable of much, and just how alone they really were.

*

A rather large, muscular, adobe-colored lizard was awakened that same night by what sounded like distant explosions.  From behind the controls of his land scout, the startled iguana with the reddish-brown leather armor and twaddle-speaking tongue realized it was thunder reverberating among the low cumulus that was some hundreds of miles wide.  There was the pitter-patter of rain pellets on the vehicle’s front looking glass and hood.  A break in the drought? Nah, couldn’t be; Ragnarok should only be so lucky this time of year.  All the water in the universe couldn’t fix that recurrent problem, only toss it a band-aid.  Hence the greenhouses, pipelines, and special sprinkler system back at the city.  Fog clouds approaching? Maybe.  It was a more logical bet.  In sandy, mountainous regions like this, a heavy thunderstorm or methane-mixed hail shower could be an isolated occurrence or a signal that a new front was moving in—or yet another unwanted season.  Whichever it was, the lizard was glad he was snug inside his tracker rather than camped out in a dry marsh or deep desert valley where the storm was picking up speed and strength.  As for how bad conditions would get, he’d just have to wait and see.  

TO BE CONTINUED…

Author’s Note: First Draft

Lawrence Dagstine: “The Runaway Hack…”

DING-DING-DING! Hello and welcome, good fans.  How are you today? I’m fine, thank you.  Welcome to FREE SHORT STORY DAY!  Today I figured would be a good time to share a nice ditty.  It’s been a while since I’ve put up a work, which I often do around Halloween.  However, I decided to go this time with something a little bit absurd.  A bit of satire, if you will.  With that said, I hope you enjoy.

Alfocus-NationalLibraryWeekIntroduction539

The Runaway Hack

by

Lawrence R. Dagstine

He was moving into it all again.  It might be a few hours or a full day developing, but the mood rose in him, like compressed air in a tank.  It was a pressure that must move toward an exit.  He looked about.  He looked at the big picture: friends and peers mostly, a few fans and admirers, well-wishers who were wannabes themselves, perhaps a few enemies, and for the rest all wordsmiths.

Wordsmiths were kind of like fucksmiths.  Each had their own prominent place in this highly developed society.  Both fucked things up when the need arise.  The only difference was that the fucksmith was twofold: to have fun and to produce the works that will eventually not earn out.  They will, in turn, each have one other function: to leave the field in a little worse shape than it was or at least aspire to.  That is the history or function of each new generation: fuck it up a little bit more for the next.  Actually, wordsmiths could bleed on paper and still be criticized about the amount they donated.  In the end, they often begged for a rejection letter or a quick, painless death.

I’ve got that bit settled, Jermaine thought.

Much of his life he was looking for a kind of salvation called obscurity, which probably explained why he was always on the run from his profession.  He tended toward a gruesome and descending philosophy when he was moving into despondence.  Actually, when he wasn’t writing short stories, despondency was a chronic part of his nature.  One of the main objects of his days was to keep the subject matter of his stories concealed, for it was the very opposite of the way the world viewed him.  Off the page, audiences figured that he hadn’t a care in the world, and never did and never would have, that he lived for sensationalism alone.  He even told himself the same thing, that he had a great gift for words.  He wanted to live out of a fairy tale where, as someone had put it, there was indescribable bullshit eternally prolonged.  He said it, he tried for it.  He even sold it.  But underneath there were the ideas.  Often this showed on the page; it came out on his face, however, in a sudden set of despair.  Or, he’d fall silent a while and have nothing to say.  And the ideas drifted away from him then, fearing to cross him in all its syntactic glory.

Perhaps that was why he was looking for escape.  Perhaps that was why he was groping his way toward Something Else (and yes, with a capital S and a capital E).  Or maybe it was the repetitions of it that made it unbearable.  To be at a convention or on a panel or at a writing function, with its outer sign of sheer bragging, ostensibly even to the life of the party, and yet inside to be saying to himself that he wished he weren’t there—at all.  Not even alive.

He was alone.  For a washed-up hack, the worst kind of aloneness in the world.  It was a feeling he experienced more and more often, of late, at these special events.  People all about were close-joined, seemingly delighted, and all was well with them.  Then he would find himself on either side, but none opposite.  Renowned as he was in smaller circles, he’d be sitting there by himself, the world moving about him, and he presumably along for the ride.  The voyeuristic kind.

Here was a legion of the destined and doomed.  He spent most of his time at the bar, watching them.  Taking a sip of his brew, he stared up at a sign.  STARCON 34 in moon-streaming colors.  They should have called it NOBODY-CON.  Some would go on to become editors or work for literary agencies.  Some would start indie presses or become poster children for RPG handbooks.  Others would die horrible deaths: being unknown.  But was that such a terrible thing? He saw one poor sap at the door of the dealer’s room wearing Vulcan ears and selling some silly never-before-done novel about space stations that could create suns with smiley faces.  The ridiculous blurbs on the back went as far as to say that the book would put a smile on your face, too.

Each convention it had been like this, sellers pacing back and forth, hours of windmilling about the dealer’s area of some hall or hotel before they could get to work or the customers would arrive to spend their hard-earned dough and pick up their usual merch.  A Star Wars book here, a Limited Edition novella there.  How the devil, Jermaine wondered, could a man in a Predator outfit have such a fat wallet and so many needs and appetites? What kind of an outfit was it that drew things into it like some absorbing tentacled underwear plant? Whatever reason, that was why the writers and dealers were here, to sell books and get insights into this strange being, in whom the rest of the public was so interested.

The man was trying to lure Jermaine further inside, to the point that he’d even give away his whole collection of Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew if he purchased just one book.  It was depressing.  Jermaine wanted to smack some sense into him.  The hotel lobby was filled with about four hundred people: fanboys with lightsabers and battleaxes and sonic screwdrivers, English fangirls in Japanese schoolgirl clothing, age-old scream queens in cheap corsets with terrible boob jobs and God knows how many facelifts, and another poor sap who had starred in one of the Saw pictures.  There had been so many, Jermaine not only forgot the actor’s name but forgot which one.

Then, of course, there were the writers…  Some retired, some semi-retired (which still meant retired).  There were the Grandmasters, and in-between panels, they had to take their Geritol.  There were the editors from the Age of the Flood, and they recounted tales of American Letters that had most people scratching their heads and thinking this all intoxicated drivel.  One man in a King Arthur’s outfit drank from a chalice and read from “The Death of the Old Guard.”  Industry heads disappeared upstairs to hotel rooms for hours.  When they finally returned to the lobby, they said, “That felt great! I’ll see you next convention!”

There were also the newbies.  Some weren’t published, some had a polished hand.  They had set out once with their aspirations and their energies, like young untried actors in Hollywood, and they had a story to tell, and now here they were pitching it.  Out of the two hundred or so of these fools who attended semi-regularly, only a dozen or so would go on to be anything.  Now they were spending airfare and hotel fare to tell the ‘Holier Than Thou’ communities that they’ve constructed worlds, that they’ve created unforgettable characters, that they’ve got the ultimate trilogy! And now they were flaunting it, at agents, at publishers, who smiled and nodded respectfully: “Sounds terribly interesting.  Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

And then, Jermaine knew their secret, he knew what the whole attendance of the convention was doing that day.  It was like a giant black hole swallowing everything up into a pile of computer-generated debris.  At some point he stood stock-still and asked himself, “What the hell am I doing here?” He was doing what a few others were doing: standing or sitting apart thinking.  Perhaps he was not alone after all. “I’m thinking while these other boobs are imagining that they’ve got a future or they’re having a good time.  The only difference is I’m trying to make some sense of it.”

A significant silence followed.

Jermaine no longer asked himself what he was doing there.  He frankly didn’t know, and he didn’t care anymore either.  He swallowed his drink in one gulp.  As a poor writer traveling from place to place, from editor to editor, from small publication to small publication, he discovered the world was seen from billions of varying vantage points.  Or disadvantage points, depending upon each person and what they believed.  His moment of failure just happened to come when he halted to ask himself what he was doing walking the floors of a particular convention.

He understood that writers were a sea at sea.  This convention was a wave on the surface, and only the best of the best—thinkers, wordsmiths, folks with MFAs and top degrees—or those with the right connections managed to get down under a few feet.  He tried to go under from time to time, but he didn’t see or feel much.  More often than not he found himself drowning.  He watched them at their work, for they were working at being productive and making money.  Most were actually having a good time, and that might be sufficient, for they were toiling for the maws of a great beast called legacy.

He sought the opposite now.

Jermaine was suddenly alone at the bar, lost in his reflections.  Those who had gathered about, talking with him, all at once received no answers. “I am just a mere hack,” he said, looking away shamefully, “you don’t want to know me.” After that, they sensed that the poor fellow was in deep thought, and they moved away.

Then a writer-editor he’d talked to on occasion approached. “So which is it this time?” he asked. “Science fiction, fantasy, horror, or that paranormal romance junk?”

Still looking down, Jermaine said, “I dabble.”

The writer-editor felt sorry for him. “What’s really bothering you, Jermaine?”

“Do I look distressed?”

“I’d say so.”

“I am.  I have the feeling the gift is leaving me, the inspiration and gusto just dwindling away.” He smiled, knowing that such a verbal crime would provoke other writer-editors into a fury. “The thing is I kind of like the idea.”

“I don’t get it.  Why, because of deadlines or you’re under strain?”

“Heh! What deadlines?” Jermaine laughed. “When I was a kid genre magazines used to do a lot for me.  I’d buy handfuls of them.  The moment a new issue hit the stands, I was there.  I bought them so often that the act of reading short stories had some kind of impact on me.  It comes back to me from time to time, of its own volition, when I’ve got writer’s block or I’m diddling my own asshole for a forty-dollar check.  Sometimes, late at night I tell myself I don’t want to be famous and I put the computer away.  Sometimes there’s no reason for this at all.  That I can understand.  Go figure.”

“Interesting.”

“That’s not the only thing,” he continued. “I thought it easy and satisfying work, for one thing.  Lately I’ve got a feeling of monotony out of it.  When my fingers grow tired of typing, I am seized with a great discomfort.  I want to hurry outside and do other much livelier things.  When the job is finished and the words THE END stamped, it often seems to me that my hands are still held out though.  I could still feel the puppeteer looking down at me, face contorted and strings being pulled.”

“All writers get those urges from time to time, Jermaine.  We call it the Need, or the Fix.  There are many names, but no faces.  We finish one story, we tackle the next.”

“Well, I’ve refused to go through it again! I’ve had a bitter argument with my conscience, and I’ve seen the light.  Years and years of putting myself through this.  At critical moments, the re-reflection of this pseudo-literary image of myself, typing out a manuscript, watching yet another zombie or vampire story unfold before my eyes.  Sooner or later, the depression comes back.  I saw myself staring at the genre as its prostrate enlarged.  I saw my fingers curving, away from the keyboard over and around to the back door.  And as I prepared to open it, I always felt the heaviness.”

“What’s the point?”

“The point is that the same heaviness is over me now, a fatigue with the critical process.  As if the last yarn is spun.  The artform comes back to me every now and then, but it is blurred, hasty, and it’s a jarring impression.” Jermaine hesitated, then: “With time I have begun to understand what each piece of the story, from page to page, means in my own life.  It has become a twist from fear to stress, fear to stress, round and round.  After each story I write, sometimes before the story, the prostrate gets bigger and the puppeteer laughs harder.  Now I have the same feeling of monotony and pointlessness that pressed on me before the writing is done.”

“It’s an unpleasant image,” the writer-editor remarked with a consoling nod.

“It’s the key to me, my good man, it’s the key!”

“Perhaps.”

“The genre is getting very big now.”

Bloated would be a better word, but when you’ve worked in this business for as long as I have, what can you do?” The writer-editor reflected for a moment. “You know, now that I think about it, I don’t really know anything else either.”

They drank for a time.  They were silent as they knocked down rounds.  They were thoughtful.  Then the writer-editor asked, “What I can’t understand is why you keep working and seem so anxious to get to work.  I should think you’d be a little weary of the grind.  Puppeteers and prostrates aside, do you know why you’re still writing?”

Jermaine gave him a look that concealed what he really thought.  He thought, Real writers are not smart.  Real writers are so goddamned blind and ignorant, it’s a fucking blessing.  But he said, “It’s weird.  I have to write.  If I didn’t write it would all end at once.  Writing is the root of a tree, and if you take away the root the thing on top will fall over.  I’d fall over.  So I write because I write.  Whether I need the money or not.  There is a thing we hacks call Keeping Afloat (and yes, with a capital K and a capital A).  And you do it.  You keep afloat.  I keep afloat with the short stories; the short form is a bladder that holds me up.  Maybe the only time I feel alive and dead is when I write.”

Some of it was true.  The writing ruddered Jermaine, kept him afloat in the sea which shook more and more heavily these days.  Writing was the stabilizer.  He knew it, and like a twenty dollar a day drug addiction, he even escaped from himself when he wrote.  But how long could he keep on at it.  It was not salvation.  And that was what he sought.

“So where do you go from here?” the writer-editor asked. “What now?”

“Peace of mind,” Jermaine answered.

“Ahh, now that’s impossible in this game.  You and I both know that.”

“I don’t think so.  I’ve been yearning for obscurity for quite some time now.”

“But what for?” The writer-editor was confused. “After your death you have the chance to be anthologized.”

“No, I don’t.”

“But your fiction will be archived.”

“No, it won’t.”

“But your work exists, and therefore it is.”

“No, it isn’t.”

The writer-editor was astonished. “Don’t let the Literary Police find out.”

“I could give a damn about Grammar Nazis!” Jermaine shouted.

The whole bar turned around; one Grandmaster spit up his drink.

“Sorry.” Jermaine began again. “I need to walk away from these writing organizations a new man.  I need to turn my back on the politics and step down from these panels once and for all.”

“But how?”

“Through fiction, how else?” He snapped his fingers as if it were that easy. “Fiction got me into this mess, and it’ll get me out.”

“You must be some storyteller then.  You know what’ll happen afterwards, don’t you?”

“Yes, I am fully aware of the consequences.”

The writer-editor shook his head worriedly. “Is this so-called salvation— Let me rephrase that, is this permanent anonymity really worth that much to you?”

“Where sanity is concerned, yes.  It could also mean new growth!”

“But you yourself even said that if you didn’t write the thing on top of the tree would come plunging down!”

“And the moment I leave this convention, my good friend, I snap my fingers and reverse the polarity of my thoughts.  Hopefully, it changes for the better.  If it doesn’t, at least I tried.”

The writer-editor felt overly sentimental.  He shook Jermaine’s hand and patted him on the back. “I wish you good luck in your new life.  I only wish I had the balls to join you.  But I’ve been in this field for over two decades.  I don’t have anything else.  I just have my words.  Flinging myself into obscurity for some kind of deliverance would be too much of a risk on my well being.” He smiled. “I guess I lack the courage of a hack.  At least let me buy you one for the road.”

Jermaine accepted.

When he finished the drink, the author said his goodbyes and headed for the hotel’s automatic sliding doors.  He closed his eyes and inhaled a deep breath.  He looked behind him very briefly… at the boys and girls wielding lightsabers and sonic screwdrivers… at the jolly attendees dressed in Vulcan ears and Viking’s armor… at the Grandmasters and Industry heads immersed in their readings.

Outside he whistled for a cab.  A taxi pulled up directly in front of the building.  He hopped inside.  The cabbie grinned at Jermaine’s reflection in the mirror. “You look like a Jedi Knight in that blanket.  A regular Obi Wan Kenobi.”

“I’ll give you an extra five bucks not to make any comments.”

The cabbie reset the meter. “So where to, old man?”

“Someplace far away.”

The taxi didn’t move. “Where exactly? You’re the author of this tale.”

Jermaine stared out the passenger side window and into the hotel lobby.  All the big writers danced outside the convention hall: wonder and uncertainty, progress and decline.  The bewitcheries of status, ambition, success and poverty rose from their voices.  The goods and evils of the human competition, the demonology of lives spent, misspent, the mystique of literature’s disorder and hope.  Fear of the new, dread of the old.  They were like witches celebrating a Sabbath of chopped-up modern catechisms.

Finally the hack turned around.  He was beaming, his big handsome smile, the one that had won the hearts of amateurs everywhere. “A place called obscurity.  Now step on it.”

The End

Lawrence Dagstine: Hardcore Halloween Story Bash…

HARDCORE HALLOWEEN Story Bash…

HORROR STORY: “Victimizer”

by Lawrence R. Dagstine

Suggested Rating: 18 and Older, for sexual & extreme content.

[“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones” ]

                                                                       -Stephen King

“VICTIMIZER” by Lawrence R. Dagstine

 

If someone were to ask me if my life has changed dramatically, I’d have to say that it has in only one way, and it came years after my victims requested it.  If they were to ask me what I do for a living, I’d tell them that my job entailed a certain obsession of mine, and I treat my work with great enthusiasm, immersing myself in it.

Who am I? Well, I could be any one of millions of people with occupations just like you, living in any small town or city around the country.  I could be the janitor in your child’s elementary school, the guy who drives the ice cream truck at your neighborhood playground, the man behind the counter at your local video store, or the 7-11 clerk who works the Slurpee machine.  I could even be a police officer retiring soon with a nice pension.  I might have a family that I come home to and love just as much as you—we’re all animals or creatures with carnal desires when you look at the big picture—which kind of makes us no different.  And, walking down any ordinary street, I could be brushing up against your sleeve at this very moment. 

I’m the kind of guy who talks your daughter into taking off her clothes for me before her sweet sixteen and spreads her wide open, just so she’ll be ripe and experienced for her real boyfriend.  I’m the kind of stain on humanity that tells little boys to bend over for me, or push women into dark alleys or doorways late at night.  If society only knew how much I enjoy what I do, they’d throw the book at me.

I’m a swarthy male with a strong, tall, virile frame that causes adult heads to turn and children’s faces to smile whenever I walk by, which makes my work all the easier.  A healthy, muscular body that is the envy of all the male eyes that stare at it just as much as the female ones, and a pinpoint of forbidden desire and mystery to those who welcome it.  During the night, however, I prowl the streets and nightclubs, looking for someone to break up the monotony of wanting something I cannot have.  And if I don’t look for it in the club scene by night, then I hunt for it in the schoolyards by day.

I remember that cool spring evening a few months ago, thinking I might just yet find it.  But all I found were lonely people searching for the same thing, and me, I’m rather picky.  There had been plenty of overtures for sex from both males and females, but I had concluded that I was more or less impotent for the evening.  I was positive that any sexual contact after Rebecca would be anti-climactic, so I almost ignored all attempts to catch a new victim’s attention.

Ah yes, thirteen-year-old Rebecca Wenderschmidt.  The little after-school Lolita with the perfect puberescent tits and ass.  She rocked my world, and always for a piece of candy; talk about innocence lost.  The only time I had really lived was when I was fucking her.  And that had been more than once and only for hours.  Hours out of years of not living, and yet those minutes far outweighed the years before her.  They were far heavier, far greater.  More seductive.  And I still had trouble shaking her from my head. 

Rebecca had never been in complete command of my brain until I killed her and chopped her up into little pieces.  I drove out to the wilderness and dumped her body parts in the swamp.  I had to.  She said she was going to tell her mother in detail about all the things we had done together.  Soon afterwards, I started thinking about her all the time, and whenever I saw other girls her age, suddenly her ghost was there.  That perfect image, grinning back at me.

Rebecca had been a study of passion every time I got a hotel room with her: wide-eyed and openmouthed, her young lips searching for mine, her tongue acting as if it had a mind of its own.  She tickled and licked me in all the spots I knew were arousal zones, and a few others a girl her age should not have known about until she finally touched and found them out.

She always insisted on undressing me, tugging at my clothes with a fury until she managed the T-shirt off my back.  But no apologies ever came and instead, she wrapped her skinny arms around my chest and explored my muscles with her lips and tongue, biting me around the nipples and neck as we toppled backwards on the bed. 

Always holding on to me with one arm, she slipped the other between our bodies and undid my belt and pants so she could push her small hand all the way in; sometimes I thought she was more of a predator than me.  Her fingers tickled my throbbing penis and gently caressed it with the touch of talented experience—that was the part that got me.  Gently, tenderly, yet sensually, they ran up and down my shaft, causing it to bulge against my clothes.  Bulge and throb until it was about to burst through them.  Then she’d let go and ease off me, and I’d tear at her Catholic school outfit while I slipped out of my pants and boxers. 

I really thought things would never be the same after Rebecca, until I spotted the woman in the trendy restaurant.  She wasn’t thirteen, or eighteen, or even twenty-one.  Perhaps thirty-five, but she looked like the kind of female I could connect with.  Small, tanned, and almost frail looking.  With finely-honed muscle power hidden in her long legs and slender but shapely body, she stimulated urges in me.  Urges that I assumed had died in that swamp with Rebecca.  Desires that had been ripped apart and burned in a turpentine-filled garage.  It wasn’t that she resembled Rebecca, though she did, but what turned me on was the vengeful “fuck me hard” look that glittered out of her dark eyes.  Rebecca had had that same appealing radiance.  That “I’m ready for what you are” type of attitude.  So I moved in.

Later, back at the hotel I had used for the hundreds just like her, she told me her name was Sally, and that she was a nymphomaniac. “Sally,” I said, playing with the name softly between my lips. “I like that.  I like that you’re a sex addict, too.” Smiling back at me, her long legs curled seductively as she wiggled to get comfortable on the bed.  She had been an enjoyable partner during dinner, a perfect drinking buddy afterwards and now, staring at her, I admitted I liked the way she coiled on the bed, making her slim but supple body fit the contours of the mattress and pillows. 

I liked the way her medium breasts hung and wriggled when she laughed, and I loved the way she undressed me with her eyes as if I was her victim.  The same, dark eyes that were now glued on me as I dropped ice cubes into a glass and washed them down with scotch.  Swirling the cubes in the glass, I felt her eyes slowly creep up and down my body, exploring the muscles and bulges just as Rebecca had.  Her eyes had a way of caressing a man’s frame, lighting the fire that burned until it was extinguished by an orgasm. 

Without looking back, I switched off the light.  Streaks of soft moonlight played in her hair and around the curves of her body so that even the shadows seemed to beckon me, call me to the bed.  Begging for satisfaction as well as demanding the right to give satisfaction. 

Unbuckling my belt with one hand, I watched as she placed her empty glass on the nightstand and settled back against the pillows.  I wondered when I had last seen such perfect tits.  There were so many victims, it was hard to tell between pairs.  But Sally, no.  Hers were soft and alluring, not too spongy for her age.  They hung like half-inflated balloons.  Large but not so big that they swayed back and forth like pendulous parodies.  Full, lush breasts that were white, matching her white buttocks, and presenting a stark contrast to the rest of her tanned body.  Then I remembered.  Rebecca had had breasts like that.  Proportioned for her body and age.  The image of Rebecca settled in my stomach like cold fire again, and I tried to shake the memory with several quick swallows of alcohol that burned my throat and watered my eyes, as I finally stepped out of my pants and shorts.

By the time I wriggled next to Sally, Rebecca was in possession of my every thought.  The woman wrapped her arms around me, pressing her wet, warm lips against mine; it was Rebecca who I was embracing and kissing.  It was Rebecca’s tits I fondled.  And it was Rebecca whom I was soon going to melt into as I shared a few moments of my existence.  Shared them with a ghost.

When it came to my prey, I was never much of a kisser.  I always tried to avoid a victim’s lips, so it was awkward trying to kiss her back.  However, I surrendered to the images of Rebecca flitting in and out of my mind.  She wouldn’t stay dead and the vibrant, moaning woman became that little girl to me all over again.  She offered me everything I had eliminated a few months before.

My tongue found hers and my fingertips glided over her body, pinching and tickling at the right spots until she groaned deeply in her throat and frantically searched for my cock.  Finding it, she wriggled out of my grasp and slid down so her lips could explore my bulging shaft.  Flicking the head back and forth, she murmured something incoherent.  She stopped licking to suck all of it into her throat; even the way she blew me was reminiscent of Rebecca. 

As my penis slid between those lush lips, I couldn’t hold back a single moan of pleasure.  Squirming and twisting the woman, I moved her around so I could match her sucking and begin playing with her clitoris between my tongue.  She quivered several times and raked her nails over my backside.  She sucked me in deeper and deeper until I thought there was no end to the depth of her mouth.  Several more eternities of oral stimulation continued with each groaning in the moonlight.

Then, as if on cue, I stopped.  I swung her around to kiss her face and lips, squeezing her so hard that her breath rasped out in tiny but happy jerks.  As I squeezed, she worked her hand in between them.  When her fingertips touched my penis again, she grabbed it and slowly jerked it back and forth, signaling me to back away slightly.  Enough so she could guide me in.

Grabbing her shoulders, I buried my face in the soft hollow of her neck and began pumping furiously.  She kept in tune and timed her movements to mine.  When she caught onto the rhythm, we moved in perfect unison and became one entity.  One being intent on experiencing the too-short shimmer of the orgasm.  The shimmer that began suddenly at the base of our spines. 

Moving her on her back, I felt her legs tighten around my waist; the strength of the woman was amazing.  Her scissors grip actually hurt, but again, it was an exquisite pain that just made me want more.  And I got more as I pumped harder.  Harder.  And harder.  Until I was ramming into Sally as viciously as I could. 

Her nails and teeth dug into me in a number of places too numerous to count and too pleasurable to care; she kept struggling for more sites to leave her mark as the ultimate pain hit us both at the same time.  The ultimate pain of being on the edge of cumming.  On the rim but not yet there.  Though it was only a few seconds until we exploded through both of our bodies, it seemed like hours as we pulled and pumped, tugged and kissed, moaned and squirmed. 

Finally, we were swallowed by the pleasure of our mutual climax.  We both drifted off in a dreamy, blissful release—floating, until we settled back to our slice of earth and time, relaxing and tasting the sweet sweat of our ecstasies speckling both our bodies.  Me and Rebecca’s old proxy.

We remained locked together, listening to each other’s hearts pounding away.  I became scared that my heavy bulk might be too much for her slightly built frame.  I reluctantly broke free.  She sighed when I pulled out.  Still half-hard, I whispered, “That was fantastic.  Again.”

Chuckling, I tried to penetrate her a second time; my half-erect penis slid in without any trouble.  As soon as our pubic areas intermingled, she began gyrating in a slow circle, working her hips in perfect timing.  She nipped at my neck and stimulated me all over again.  My once-quelled emotions were soon back to full erection, pumping back with violent rammings of my own.  This time the climax took longer but it was as sweet and soothing as the first one.  Still, it was exciting enough where I’d lost control of my biting, stopping only when she yelped in pain.

I began to act more sadistic towards her, giving her a slap here and a smack there, and she seemed to enjoy it.  Just like Rebecca used to.  However, the only difference was Sally seemed uncomfortable with me inside her while doing it.  When I pulled out she didn’t object.

Standing, I was pleased to see her legs quivering.  I went to the room’s wobbly-legged servicing table.  She skipped into the bathroom while I made more drinks.  When she came out, she looked as refreshed as when I had first spotted her in the restaurant.  Cool, placid, pleased with herself and aflame with the desire to try anything.

She took the drink I offered and put it down, then curled up next to me on the bed, like Rebecca used to, making me decide that I’d never be able to get enough of her supple body moving effortlessly into any position she wanted.  Never.  She took two cigarettes out of her purse on the nightstand and, lighting both, placed one between my lips.  I took a deep drag and, removing it, let the smoke dribble out of my mouth while I stroked her shoulder with my lips.  Her long, auburn hair tickled the back of my neck.

“She must have been one hell of a girl,” she finally said in a hushed voice.

“Huh?” I almost choked on my saliva.

“The girl you just made love to.”

“You mean fucked.”

“No, I mean loved.”

I frowned as if I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she just laughed at my efforts, the moonlight making her features even more fragile, but also questionable.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “I’m with you.”

“Don’t play stupid,” she laughed. “I’ve been around long enough to know when a man is screwing me or some other girl.  I can feel that connection, and I know when things are off.  Either a younger lady from his past or one he hasn’t found yet.  There’s a subtle difference but most experienced women can tell.”

Her pert features grew more serious as she added, “I figure you don’t just dream about that certain someone and so you went out and found that love, like some predator.  And then you fucked up.  You let your obsessions get in the way, and you lost her.”

I sipped my scotch nervously and said, “Look, I had a wonderful time.  But I’m sorry, I have no idea—”

“Shh.  Don’t apologize,” she interrupted, hushing me with a delicate finger placed against my lips. “Don’t ever be sorry you found what most people frantically search for all their lives, and don’t ever make excuses.  No matter what kind of girl she was, or how old she was, be grateful you had some playtime with her.  Even if it was only one time, that’s one time more than the majority of the human race has to offer.”

Stunned by her empathy, and the way she read me and knew me so well, I stared at her and she smiled back.  For a quick moment it crossed my mind that she might have been a cop, or she might have known what I did in my off time.  My sickness, my fetish; call it what you will.  She might have very well known I had spent the last twenty years raping, sodomizing, molesting, and victimizing my own fears away on countless others.  Then again, she could have been just like me.  Only more striking, more ambiguous. 

Looking away from her, I said, “Yeah, well, when I picked you up, I wasn’t looking for a lifetime partner.  Just an evening of fun and pleasure.  Just something to control these urges.”

“When you picked me up?” she asked. “I thought I had picked you up.” She shook her head and laughed. “Good old male chauvinistic bullshit at work again.  No man picks up a woman unless she wants him to.  And I wanted you to.”

“That’s hilarious!” Then I chuckled and asked, “Even if it was to be a substitute for a shadow from my past?”

For some reason that seemed to hurt her and, at the time, I wanted to reach out and snatch back my feeble attempt to be amusing—like I said, at the time—but her words had already registered in her mind and I was helpless to do anything about them, as a pained expression flitted across her face.  The hurt look soon faded and was replaced with the glint of enjoying each other’s company.  Not minding having to take it as it came.  She kissed my shoulder in the moonlight and began massaging my testicles while we both agreed silently to forget everything. 

“Tell me about her,” she finally said.

“Why?”

“Just curious,” she remarked casually, that hurt skidding in and out of her eyes in a blink again.  However, the tone was slightly more inquisitive. 

At first, I did not want to tell her about Rebecca.  I had wanted to keep my statutory love and what it had meant to me inside my head, and selfishly hoard it from the world.  Even from one other person.  Even if she was dead and I couldn’t get over the fact that I was the one who killed her. 

I found myself babbling; I also found myself unusually drowsy. “Her name was Rebecca Wenderschmidt,” I began and she giggled.

“Really?” She began to tighten her hold around my nuts.

“Really,” I insisted, not really irked at her laughing at Rebecca’s name. “She was a…” I stopped and stared at Sally for a brief moment before I continued, “I could explain her to you, I guess, but unless you’re the kind of person I am and really felt it for yourself, you wouldn’t understand why it hurts so much.”

That sad look blinked alive again, and I realized what I was seeing in her expression.  She wasn’t angry or jealous.  She was empathic because she, too, had been envisioning an image of someone close to her.  Someone she had loved.  Someone she had lost. 

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” she asked suddenly.

“What?”

“What I mean is—” She began again. “Well, it’s just that you don’t impress me as the type of man who would let a girl you loved so much walk away from you.  And you’re too habitual to waste that kind of love.  So, she has to be dead.”

But her last remark didn’t ring true to me, and I began seeing through her little act with great suspicion. “You’re in a questionable mood,” I said.

“Is she dead?” she asked again, squeezing my balls harder.

“Why is that so important?” I knew the answer but refused to tell her.

“I want to know.  Is my daughter dead?”

Staring at her half-visible form in the soft moonlight, my mouth dropped in complete awe. “You mean, you’re…you’re…”

“Rebecca’s mother? Yeah, I’m Sally Wenderschmidt.  And I’ve been looking for my little girl for an awfully long time.  My baby still hasn’t come home.”

My eyes suddenly closed and I fell backwards off the bed.  I hit the hotel room floor with a great thud, as the strange drowsiness from moments earlier took full control of my body. “Wh… What did you do to me?” I muttered incoherently. 

I couldn’t get up for the life of me.  My vision was blurry, and I could only see a shapely female silhouette, slowly rising from the bed to put on her bra and panties. 

“I drugged your glass when we first checked in,” Sally said.

“What the fuck! You drugged me?” I heard her going into her purse.

“Yeah, I drugged you.  I picked you up, I screwed you, and now I’m going to find out the truth.  Only the truth will set you free.”

“But how? How did you know all those moves in bed? How did you relate to me so well?”

“Because my daughter told me about you.  She told me what you did to her.  She told me what you liked having done to you.  And she told me what kind of a sick monster you really are.” Sally laughed as she came around the bed and knelt over me with a sharp glimmering object. “Just another sexual deviant who can’t get enough.  So easy to victimize others, but oh so scared when they find themselves on the receiving end.”

“Please, don’t kill me,” I pleaded.

“I’m not going to kill you.  I just want to know… Is my daughter dead?”

Before I could answer her, the swirling blackness from whatever she had drugged me with had taken over.  But then she probably already knew the answer.

After that, the next time I awoke the sun was shining down upon me through rectangular slits in the room’s windows, and I was wearily tossing on the floor.  I sucked in a double lungful of air and found myself alone, staring up at the ceiling.  The blank, empty, white ceiling that resembled my life and that symbolized my existence pre-Rebecca and now post-Sally.

Like I said, the only time I had really lived was when I was fucking the woman’s daughter.  And that had been more than once and only for hours.  Hours out of years of not living, and yet those minutes far outweighed the years before her.  They were far heavier, far greater.  More seductive.  And to this very day, I still have trouble shaking both of them from my head. 

I got up and walked over to the mirror and blinked tears out of my eyes and wondered why I was so emotional.  That night, with Sally, I didn’t want to think of Rebecca or any of my past victims.  Not once.  I was hoping the scar tissue would heal the wound her death had left upon me, and the wound her mother had left.

So if somebody were to ask me if my life has changed dramatically, I would have to say it has in only one way.  Then I’d pull down my pants and tell them to look at where my privates used to be, and I’d say that they disappeared because one of my victim’s parents requested it…

 

The End 

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