Cover of Darkness, May 2010… (Now Available!)

Nurses and babysitters taking care of vampires and werewolves during The Great Depression? President Herbert Hoover striking financial aid deals with monsters? Compassion for a vampire child from another era? Who came first? The monsters or the humans? The year is 1930… and Lawrence Dagstine is just one of your Feature Authors for a very weird novelette.  It all takes place in the latest issue of Sam’s Dot Publishing’s digest-sized magazine, Cover of Darkness.  Edited by Tyree Campbell.  Published semi-annually.

A Time And Place For Monsters – 1930

 

Written by Lawrence Dagstine

Weaver of the Historical Weird Tale…

COVER OF DARKNESS – MAY 2010

 

 

Order Lawrence Dagstine’s novelette in Cover of Darkness:

http://www.genremall.com/anthologiesr.htm#coverofdarkness0510

Sam’s Dot Publishing Main Homepage (updated monthly):

www.samsdotpublishing.com

Also featuring Novelette-length work by Lawrence Dagstine:

COVER OF DARKNESS – NOVEMBER 2009

 

Get both issues for a discounted postage price at The Genre Mall.

Other Authors & Poets: Mark Anthony Brennan, Tyree Campbell, Virginia Mohlere, Jonathan Wolf, Edward Cox, Ferrel D. Moore, Marc Colten, Lawrence Dagstine, W.K. Tucker, Jennifer Sparlin, Hillary Bartholomew, Eric Obame, Thom Olausson, Marge B. Simon, Peter Layton, K.S. Hardy, Cathy Buburuz, Gary Every, Ash Krafton, and finally, W.C. Roberts. 

Other New Entries: “Magazines”

FREE FICTION: “The Overrated Pro” by Lawrence Dagstine

Welcome to my first installment of what will be a continuous monthly to bimonthly project.  Free Fiction Stories.  Approaching all genres, and sometimes even serialized (the serials will most likely be novelette or novella lengthed works).  For February and March we have a brand new Extreme Horror piece — put the kiddies to bed — about a writer.  A good chilling tale about a writer quickly brings to mind the work of Mr. King and Mr. Ketchum.  One such tale that comes to mind right away is Secret Window (the movie version starred Johnny Depp).  Sometimes a good story is too good to pass up, such as is the case with Secret Window.  The picture below, which I got off the Web and am a die-hard fan of (I’m a die-hard fan of all pictures on my site, from Doctor Who to Action Figures to Whatever), I think compliments this piece well.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But it does beg to ask the question: How far would you go to become a writer?

How far would you go to become a writer?

Free Fiction Series Take 1

 

THE OVERRATED PRO

by

Lawrence Dagstine

The package fluttered as if it might fall, but it didn’t.  Carnesto preferred to take a cigarette out of the pack himself.  Despite the tremors, his fingers had facility, and he reached into the pack for a smoke.  The paper fluttered and sounded, but out came the cigarette, and it orbited to his lips.  He lit up by himself, too.  He even had this way of making cool artsy smoke rings.  The single and simple act assumed the proportion of a wannabe performance, which all watched as he sat in the back of the truck stop diner working heavily on his laptop. “Thanks, Colbert,” he said. “I promise I’ll leave you a tip next time.” He got a refill on his coffee.

“When are you writing this next bestseller?”

“As soon as one of these organizations actually recognize me,” he said.

Colbert nodded. “I guess that means never.”

“How’s your cat?”

“Dead.”

Another one.”

“It’s okay.  I’ll just go down to the Humane Society and pick me up a healthier critter.  Anyway, good luck with your manuscript.”

There was something about people on computers in diners or Starbucks or sidewalk cafes.  All were the next big thing, the next blockbuster screenwriter, the next professional anthologist, and, for the deluded, sometimes even Pulitzer Prize winner.  They always looked cool sitting there with their Compaqs and Toshibas and Hewlett-Packards.  At the end of their days they went home and popped an extra Zoloft or two, stared at themselves in their medicine cabinets, and often died of something like pancreatic cancer and very much penniless.  As a balding, middle-aged man living between Middletown USA and the UK, however, he still didn’t get it yet.  It was sort of like the meaning of life, only staring you cold right in the face.  Being a writing celebrity was the most transient fame in the world, but it was magnificent while it lasted.  Who could resist wanting to know what it was like to become as inflated as a zeppelin, even if rather hollow? Still, ego or no ego, magnificent while it lasted.

A man on the keyboard, if he had inspiration, could have more immediate impact in a couple of hours than a genre historian with a lifetime of books and no national or international exposure.  For, at the end of the day, genre is what he wrote and absolutely creamed on himself just at the thought of it.

Clicking sounds from the keys, then long emailed queries.

A curious kind of aberrant, macroscopic reputation attainable because of the nature of the exposure, and the redundancy of the work routine combined.  Much of his life revolved around two credits, and much to his pub mate editors’ likings.  An amateur might write down a few interesting metaphors or pen just as decent a story—a beginning, a middle, and an end—publish a few in some low circulation or obscure quarterlies; it might a few years later change a portion of the face of the globe, and such a figure might or might not get to be known even inside the publishing community.  Impact and creativity was fantastic.  But the genre writer was straight on your eyes, because it was a form of fantasy, page by page, as while he repeated the lines written by another; if you watched television or went to the movies, plots came free and life was a contrived and clichéd vessel.  He and the non-reading public became well acquainted, because, quite frankly, Carnesto never really wrote anything of worth.  He was beat as a child if he got less than a B, sometimes his father would hit the bottle and then creep into his room in the middle of the night and display his inebriation.  Carnesto even had a lax imagination at times to show for it.  A character like himself writing fiction was like a dead fourth brain inside the human skull.  Internet crazies with drug addictions thought he was super-important, and he might think so too.  That spelled out Web Idol.  But there was a difference between the web idol and the literary idol.  For real writers the grandeur of self-satisfaction spelled New Heroes, New Days, New Minds, New Attitudes, New Influences.  For Carnesto it often meant just another day glaring at that screen in the back of that smoky truck stop diner, full of resentment and false pride.

He’d even met an amateur one day, typing crazily and happily a few booths away.  He went over to him and said, “Are you a writer by any chance?” and he saw next to the computer a stack of black and white magazines. “You know if you are, you really shouldn’t prostitute yourself to such small publications like this.”

They talked a bit and it just so happened that this other typist was also into genre.  When he’d heard that, Carnesto felt embarrassed asking the amateur for advice; he even glanced over his shoulder to make sure Colbert and the diner regulars weren’t watching. “But these periodicals you’re in are mere fanzines,” he said. “Why do it for so little money?”

“Oh, you must be from the Old School,” the amateur writer said. “Because you only live once, and there are many other rewards and remunerations from this kind of writing.”

“No! I—I don’t understand it!” He actually clenched his hands into fists and grinded his teeth. “I—I don’t compute!”

“Well, of course you don’t.  I noticed you over there, just spacing out at your screen.  I didn’t want to say anything but it was just an observation.”

“What observation? What are you talking about?” Carnesto looked slightly heated.

“You know, progress.”

“Dear sir, I’ll have you know that I AM A PRO.” It almost sounded like he was doing a Colin Baker schtick. “I’ve appeared in these two publications and I was paid such and such a sum!”

“But look at the dungeon you’ve put yourself in.  There’s no key to the door, no crawlspace, no way to get out.  You get no satisfaction from it.  It’s sad.”

“How can I get no satisfaction when the credits exist?”

“But you obsess over something you’ll still never be.”

“Are you trying to say I’m pathetic?”

“When I look from afar, yeah, I guess.” Then the amateur went on to say how many professional writers hate their lifestyles, their jobs, their families and their miserable existences.  How it’s not as easy as it looks. “You see, I exist outside the bubble.  You are trapped inside the bubble, where there are all sorts of stigmas and silly rules.  Outside the bubble, there’s relaxation, lack of worry, so much space and area to explore.  I live life to the fullest, you obviously don’t.  Inside the bubble, you’re confined and injected with this malcontent.  Even now, instead of focusing, you probably watch other writers making it one step ahead of you and feel like a prisoner in your own skin.”

“But I have two pro credits! I have two pro credits! Two pro credits!”

“That still does not make you a professional.”

“Yes it does! Two pro credits make me a somebody!”

The amateur looked back at Carnesto’s laptop and said, “Then if you’re a somebody, why are you dilly-dallying with me at my table when you should be over there writing your third professional credit?”

Then he explained to Carnesto that: Nothing x Nothing = Nothing.

But Carnesto wouldn’t have it, no matter how much the amateur tried to break things down to him.  He stormed off insisting that he was right and the amateur was wrong.  He stormed off insisting that he was this famous thing, trained by long forgotten grandmasters and alcoholic slush pile editors.  The more Carnesto saw the cobwebs under his arms and suspected his own imposture, the exaggeration of his value, that his sublime vogue was just a façade for the crazies, the more he began to drink, cheat on the missus, and dissipated.  He almost felt like lashing out his own failures in life on somebody who wouldn’t suspect, somebody he wished to be. 

A few weeks later, in decline, reading from time to time of his own professional wane or passing, experiencing the oh-he’s-washed-up coldness of the public and the literary critics, and now, having lost his mind, having lost prestige or real value, he decided to choose his victim carefully and make that individual feel the same way.  He wanted to make somebody feel just as inwardly collapsed.  Emotionally, physically, professionally, deflated beyond recovery.

This would be his release.  He would call himself “The Winner” at times.

But there was nothing to be won.

During these days, when he went on the Internet actively seeking people he hated or wished to be, or just couldn’t stand being happy because his own life lacked joy, his wife walked about with a deep inner upset.  Carnesto, still not recuperated from his own lack of success, didn’t have the energy or desire to make love to her.  They were often quiet at the dinner table, too.

“When are you going to get off that fucking Internet! I didn’t marry a robot.  You’ve become this—this computer junkie.  I needed you yesterday!”

There Carnesto sat at his computer, in a slumped position, head straight forward and practically paying her no mind.

“Did you hear what I said? I needed you!”

“Why? Because your friend Janet’s brother is in the hospital on a respirator?”

“That poor devil was in a terrible accident.  He might not make it through another night.”

“So let them pull the plug.  It’s not as if she cared about him anyway.  They had their differences.  If I’m a computer junkie, so’s she.  Tell me, how many hours does she spend on the Web? If you ask me, she’ll probably be relieved once her parents fly back and they take the fellow off life support.  Oh, and don’t ask me to come to the funeral.”

“Carnesto, what’s wrong with you?” his wife pleaded. “You were never like this!”

“I’m busy! Working!”

“On a fucking messageboard? Who are you talking to anyway?”

“This is strictly business.  Now please get the fuck out of here.”

His wife came over and threw down some drug paraphernalia.  His eyes glanced it briefly as he typed away. “And where did you get this?”

“I don’t know where you got that, but it’s definitely not mine.”

“Smoking drugs with that crack whore.  I spotted you with her the other day, chatting about.  She’s the big druggie and floozy of the neighborhood.”

“You know her?” Carnesto asked.

“Who doesn’t! What are you doing with that meth head?”

“We… We get along together.  We understand each other.” There was a brief silence. “Oh, you wouldn’t understand.  You’re not a writer, you’re not a professional.  How could you understand?”

“Carnesto, I know full well what you do.  You’re slacking off.  You’re not the man I once knew.  You talk of writing yet you haven’t written or edited a single draft in three months.”

He quickly changed the subject, talking about her inconsistencies: her manners, her mind, her language. 

“Shit,” she screamed at him, “you’re always trying to make an idiot out of me!”

“I fear it’s a lost cause,” he said to her, then swiveled around in his chair back to his computer. “Just like this poor chap…”

“I’m not a lost cause! I’m your wife!”

“Says you.  I’m giving you a difficult assignment.  Change yourself a little,”—but this had only been an excuse to get rid of her and focus on his new computer mate—“make yourself into something fine.  Learn how to cook or something.”

“I like the time I’m having with you now! If I didn’t care about you, if I didn’t care about our marriage, I wouldn’t be here begging with you, would I?”

The logic made him laugh.

Christ, she said to herself, he hasn’t fucked me in a month.  I ought to go down to the pub or get a piece somewhere else.

He sensed her thought, but he was still heavily focused on something else.

“Look, darling, I’ll be with you in a few days.  Now don’t get impatient.  This Web business will all be over soon.”

“If that crackhead came along here, you’d be able to put out,” she complained.  As she headed for the office door, she added, “And make sure you don’t do anything with her here!”

A little celibacy will be good for her, he thought to himself, grinning wickedly.  It’ll drive her wild, and besides, I’ll get what I started online finished.  They said I wasn’t a pro, I gave them helpful advice, but they just tossed me away.  Well no more!

As time went on, his dilapidation showed.  He didn’t shave, didn’t shower.  He didn’t even brush his teeth.  Lack of hygiene.  But he couldn’t and wouldn’t let it be a singular ruin, as he was bent on taking someone else down with him.  This was his therapy, because they all said and felt he wasn’t good enough.  He was bent on destroying this other person who was almost a perfect identical image to him…

…only happy with life.

He went to messageboards, review sites, emailed friends of his—if one didn’t know any better, they’d think he was a full-time stalker—wherever this individual had been last, he would be there to spy and bait.  Sometimes he even forced sleep deprivation upon himself and Googled the individual’s name as much as one hundred times in a single day.  All the while muttering to himself, “I’m a professional! I’m a professional! I’m a professional!” At other times, he would say, “Fucking amateur! Fucking amateur! Fucking amateur!” He had become so obsessed with this other person’s writing career, that not only had he almost permanently forgotten his own, but he started checking his victim’s work for logistical and grammatical errors that either did not exist or just wasn’t to his liking.

Sometimes he thought of his ex-wife—by now, she had dumped him and not only was his computer on constantly, but he always carried a whiskey bottle and a loaded revolver by his side—and his marriage to her had been his foundation to begin with, and she was the only woman he had ever loved. “I will not pose any longer as a married woman nor tell myself any longer that this is a marriage,” she had said.

The words stayed on with him, fatally, robbing him of much.  So along with the victim on his computer console, his life had spiraled downward and proceeded from one self-robbery to another, depriving him of the people and dreams he once had, though without doubt, by the nature of his current self, he had earned his defeats.  And his only friends? Well, they were crazies. 

The court awarded his ex custody of their little girl, and he must pay alimony until she remarried.  But she hadn’t done that, and the cost of maintaining her lifestyle, and the costs of his daughter, had been a drain. 

About three, four times a year he saw them.  He was entitled visitation rights with his child, but his computer life always cut in, and there were times where he didn’t pursue the privileges.  Besides, it was always unpleasant to see his wife for a few minutes or hours, only to realize he could never have her around permanently.

There came a point where his daughter had reached the age of twelve, and here he was, still latched on to his computer and his writer victim, who had started moving on to other things.  The girl had lost her childhood charm and matured into a shapely, thinned-down girl.  She had her father’s haunting features and the same bone structure as he.  Carnesto was pleased with her beauty, and he complimented his wife. “You’ve done a fine job with the girl.” He held his daughter’s hands and stared at her.

His daughter said, “I think you’re so wonderful, Daddy.  Everybody does.”

“It’s your mom who’s wonderful.  Surely you must know what everybody else knows, that I’m a big international bum.”

“It’s not true, Daddy; you’re simply fabulous.  I see all your literary works in a pile over there.”

He laughed. “I may let you head up the Carnesto Johanna Fan Society.”

“You’re so outrageous, Daddy, so simply outrageous.”

His now-ex came along. “Honey, be careful.  You might fall afoul of someone like your father and get your life garbled before it begins.”

“Is your life so garbled?” Carnesto asked.

“I’m trying to spare her some of the things we’ve been through ourselves.  Like computer privileges?”

“Don’t spare her any of that, and don’t do me any favors.”

When his ex left the room he looked over his daughter.  She had leaping, anxious eyes, and she was crowding her father, wanting his attentions, even his arms around her. “Glad to see your mother letting you sleep over finally.” He looked around at the small flat. “It’s not much.  At least, not like on my old teacher pay.  Not like we used to have.” He grabbed hold of her and gave her an earthy kiss.  He held her tightly and his hands, from a lifetime of typing and not touching, found its way over her developing breasts.  His face flushed.  What the hell was going on?

He felt rocked.  He pulled himself away from her.  He had a frenetic look on his face, which his daughter studied but couldn’t understand.  With my own daughter, he told himself, staring at her loving face, her body full of trust and affection. What am I thinking? He wondered whether other fathers had incestuous surges toward their beautiful daughters.  He paced up and down cursing his passions. 

After his ex left and said she’d return on Sunday, he couldn’t get his daughter out of his mind, or quite out of his blood.  He started looking for the revolver.  You bastard, he said to himself, wanting to jazz his own child.  He looked at the messageboard on the computer and thought he saw a familiar name sign in. “It’s your fault, you fucking amateur!”

“Daddy, are you okay?”

The gun was nowhere to be found.  It had to be there.  Maybe in a drawer, maybe underneath the bathroom sink.  The incident preyed on him; it was a new experience, unlike writing fiction, and the thought shocked him.  He had a second moment’s agony.  How many crazies had such thoughts about their daughters, he wondered.  He knew a lot of crazies, but why did the notion persist with him? There she was, in his imagining, all fresh and full of young blood, a handsome smile on her face all the while, a touch of cherry blossom softness in her cheeks, eyes wide and curious.  He looked down and saw a bulge in his pants; he was rock-hard.  Maybe, he said to himself, it’s a case of me wanting to screw myself.  She looks like me.  Goddamit, I better stay far away.

Then, as his daughter was changing in the bathroom, getting ready to go to sleep, he found the gun sticking out from one of the higher shelves of his bookcase.  That one particular shelf had been lined with all the anthologies ever created, all the books ever produced, all the periodicals of the writer he had been victimizing all these years, and he realized, “Holy shit! I’m your number one fan.”

Glancing quickly over his shoulder, he saw flashing.  When he turned around to face the computer he saw action on the screen.  The numbers on the board lit up, and the writer, who he had lashed out his own misgivings and failings on for all those years had scored a book deal. “Oh no.  Oh no, you don’t! You fucking amateur! I’ll prove you don’t deserve this!” He started tearing his hair out and walking in circles.  Then he grabbed the computer and tried to log in and type right away, but he’d forgotten the password amongst the confusion with his daughter. “No you don’t! Stay at the bottom of the ladder, you fucking slime ball!” The gun was looped around a finger as he wrote.

“Daddy?”

“Not now.”

“Daddy, what’s wrong?”

“I said not now!”

“Daddy, please!”

“What don’t you under—”

He swiveled around in his chair and let go of the trigger.  A bullet entered the center of his daughter’s chest, ricocheted off her shoulder and lung, and exited through her back.  Carnesto fell to his knees.  The twelve-year-old girl’s mouth dropped in awe.  She was wearing one of those long pink and white Hello Kitty sleep shirts.  It began to soak red.  The floor soon matched in color. 

A few seconds later she collapsed at the side of the bed.

Carnesto rushed to her side, but she wasn’t breathing.  Sitting at the edge of the bed, he cradled her in her arms, weeping like a baby. “I’m sorry, child… I didn’t mean to, I swear…” Teary-eyed, he faced the computer and it said that the new book being released by the same author he had victimized from all those years, was a story that, deep down, most hardworking authors working the trenches for many years would be able to associate with.  But that was if Carnesto had the desire to live and add it to his collection.   

The title, according to the online publicist, was “The Winner”.

Carnesto Johanna had three simple words for that publicist and the author as he put the revolver up to his own head. “I’m a pro…”

The End

Withersin Magazine, January 2010… (Now Available!)

First, a Healthy and Happy New Year to those who follow this blog homepage.  Next, I’m starting off 2010 with the latest issue of Withersin, No. #3.3, themed: Arsenic. Published three issues per year by Misty Gersley, Withersin is a glossy, beautiful art-filled mag of horror and non-fiction relating to the paranormal and more.  You can find it in some chain bookstores, or pre-order the issue by following the link below.

WITHERSIN MAGAZINE – January 2010

Issue #3.3 – Theme: Arsenic

ORDER THE ISSUE – SUBMISSION GUIDELINES:

www.withersin.com

Other New Entries: “Magazines”

Lawrence Dagstine: “Happy Halloween 2009…”

TRICK OR TREAT

HAPPY HALLOWEEN 2009

from Lawrence Dagstine

(I love scarecrows; had to go with a scarecrow theme this year)

However, in case you love zombies, werewolves, vampires, and lizards…

Still Available from Sam’s Dot Publishing & The Genre Mall:

 

http://www.genremall.com/anthologiesr.htm#freshblood

Lawrence Dagstine: “Classroom of the Dead…”

Welcome to DAGSTINE’S HALLOWEEN! Did you ever wonder what it would be like to teach undead children? Did you ever wonder what the scientific, psychological, and moral implications of something so eerie would be like? I mean, dead kids with some thought processes still intact being taught and experimented on.  

Ever since 28 Days Later, every few years zombies have this funny way of making a comeback (perhaps too much).  From the Dawn of the Dead remake to Diary of the Dead and Land of the Dead.  From foreign masterpieces like [.REC] to hilarious films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.  It’s as if we truly are a “zombiefied” culture.  For this year’s fiction sample and Halloween story, I’ve decided to present to you one of my more widely accepted tales — mags ranging from Necrotic Tissue to Atomjack  — entitled, Classroom of the Dead.  Have a wonderful holiday and enjoy!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN 2009 – FREE FICTION

CLASSROOM OF THE DEAD

by

Lawrence R. Dagstine

The room was huge.  A cavernous, old turn-of-the-century affair, with twelve-foot-high ceilings and magnificent, large windows that looked out on absolutely nothing worth seeing: a brick wall and the smokestack of the chemical plant next door, a well-sized piece of land fenced off and secluded from outsiders—most called it a playground for the stiffs—and it was just how the government wanted it.  A hefty chunk of the room had been partitioned off with gray steel industrial shelving units, used to store the supplies of safety such a learning environment would require.  The T-shaped area that was left belonged to substitute teacher, Howard Tressy. 

Windows ran the length of the wide, long arm of the T, where the chairs and work desks were; the narrow, shorter arm of the T contained the blackboard on one wall and the titanium emergency hatch at the opposite end.  It was an adequate amount of space—he had taught in more cramped, dangerous conditions—but it was a quirky arrangement.  The blackboard was useless because it couldn’t be seen from the work area, and the children didn’t have the skills required to pay full attention to it anyway.  And short of standing like a guard at the junction of the two arms of the T, he saw that he could not monitor the hatch.  Most eccentric, and morbid, however, was the government’s decision to combine a classroom for undead children with regards to furthering their education even after their pulses stopped.

They called it HOS (short for hostile, or Homicidal Outburst Syndrome).  You know, one of those biological “Oh, shit, it’s the End of Days” diseases which turned a whole nation of little boys and girls into half brain-dead monsters, flooding them with super strength and unbelievable rage.  It was to be one of the first official self-contained classrooms in the state of Colorado for zombies, ages twelve and under, who could be instructed and mentally reared since the No Kill Act had been passed in 2018.  For Howard, walking back into a schoolroom with musty children that early September morning, having been gone from teaching almost three years, had provoked a sense of intense déjà vu.  Looking at the twenty or so decomposed faces, it seemed as if he had been away forever and yet had never left at all. 

He put down his briefcase and studied the features of each of them.  Their pale white eyes caused a shiver to run up his spine to his shoulders.  As a precautionary measure, those who were extra vicious were handcuffed to their chairs, and if they were caught escaping or attacking the teacher, an armed guard, usually a Marine, would hear an alarm go off and hurry inside, then blow the ravenous child’s head off. 

The six through eight year olds came with the kind of profile that was almost a cliché: borderline death IQ, short to almost non-existent attention span, no verbal skills beyond a grunt or a moan, overaggressive and violent behavior when in large numbers.  In his entire short career as a substitute, Howard achieved virtually nothing.  Yes, some could talk.  But most could neither read nor write, or understand even the most basic of math.

The nine through twelve year olds had succumbed to the HOS sickness quite some time ago; it was obvious in their pale, sunken cheeks.  They had spent virtually all of their dead time in confinement facilities or walking the red earth.  Their early days were horrible—a litany of bloodshed and brutality.  And while it would take more than the joy of love and learning to conquer their fateful disease, they were diagnosed as being too unstable to ever make a return to society, and had a very poor prognosis for improvement.

Nervous, Howard said, “Children, uhh, inside your desks you will find textbooks.  Open up to the chapter marked PLAGUES.” The school was required to have a certain amount of copies of the same particular book on hand, and he saw that only a select few had the capacity to pick them up. “Start reading amongst yourselves under THIS DAY IN HISTORY: 2012.  I’ll be with you all in a few moments.  Before the day is out, I’ll be testing you on this.” 

Putting his pencils out and searching himself now, he realized he hadn’t meant to be teaching again.  He’d been abroad, living between Baltimore and Bangkok, working part-time as a book translator, and he intended to return to his life in the East, to his little straw shack, his laid-back life and no worries if a zombie was going to turn a corner and jump out at him.  However, a phone call and an insurmountable pay hike from the government—and a less than enthusiastic divorce settlement—had brought him back to the States for good, and before he knew it, he was looking for an apartment outside of Denver. 

A friend of a friend in a top-secret division of the DOD had rang him one afternoon.  He’d never met the military scientist, but he’d heard of him and his breakthroughs in “awakening the mummified cerebrum” in undead adolescents, or, “we mobilize them, you instruct them”.  They had a problem of their own with a new school, it seemed, and since they had both held positions in the Pentagon, maybe they could help one another out.  One of their special education teachers had been taken ill—actually, she’d been eaten at recess—and there was only two weeks left before the beginning of the second trial school year, and they had no replacement.  They asked Howard if he would be interested in substituting. 

No thanks, he said immediately.  He wanted to be able to lead a zombie-free life the instant his wife cleared out.  But the woman wasn’t easily moved, and finding himself almost penniless and without a roof over his head after the lawyers caught up to him, Howard finally said, Okay, I’ll do it.

Reminiscing, he sat down at his desk, the students in the back row frowning and groaning at him.  He was staring out the gated window at the smokestack, dull and purple-gray in the late summer sunshine, when a ceiling light in back of the room went on and the hatch slid open.

“Mr. Tressy?” a female voice called.  He couldn’t see who it was from where he was sitting, so he rose.  An undead girl, deceased at maybe six or seven, was holding a torn Dora the Explorer doll.  Her head and neck was twisted and decayed, practically snapping what was left of her upper spinal alignment and sliding off her shoulder, yet she still managed to poke her head through the hatch and around the left side of the room. “Another one of your students has arrived,” the woman that followed her said. “The parents are by the side of the road.”

“What?” Howard was confused. “Are you the principal?”

“No, of course not,” she said. “There are no principals here.  I’m just a facilitator.” She walked the edge of the room carefully, so as not to rile up the students.  Almost two-dozen pairs of eyes were on her.  Finally, she reached the desk and extended a hand. “Dorothy Wilkins,” she added.  An army brat with an M-16 waited at the foot of the room for her.  He chewed on a saturated toothpick with a smug face.

“Pleasure,” Howard said. “Don’t mind me, it’s been a while.”

“Oh, really? I gather they didn’t give you the refresher course then.”

“No, they did,” he assured her. “Back in Baltimore.  It’s just that… Well, I’ve never seen an arrangement like this so far out.  It’s in the middle of nowhere.” He glanced down at the shy but mindless little girl who, like the others, had fine hair that was now brittle and streaked with gray.  Her right eye was hanging halfway out of its socket, a few tethered veins and a single optical nerve holding it in place. “And what’s your name, darling?” he knelt down and asked her, trying to break the aura of creepiness surrounding him, and blend in as best he could.

This would be Nancy,” Dorothy said, as the girl smiled wickedly through torn cheek flesh and hid behind her legs. “And if she puts what’s left of her thinking cap on, she’s good at numbers.”

“Is she now?” Howard was impressed.  Mildly.

Then Dorothy smiled herself. “Why don’t you come with me? I’ll show you around and make you feel at home in our special school.”

“But the children,” he said, pointing, “they’ll—”

“Oh, they’re going nowhere.  Think of them as well-behaved dogs when you’re out of the room.”

Howard nodded. “All right, then.”

Dorothy brought him to a much older building than the first one, part of an underground complex which looked abandoned since the late half of the 20th century.  Only it wasn’t abandoned.  Much of its interior was no longer used principally as a school.  Instead, it housed a few administrative offices and a training facility for young cadets.  The empty classrooms on the first floor were turned into an indoor shooting range—targeting practice and termination for the misbehaved or hopeless case (roughly one in every three), and to help coach newer soldiers in the art of zombie killing. 

The scientists had the second floor, to work, sleep, and eat—they even had a recreation room with pinball machines, a pool table, and a dartboard—and as Dorothy gave him a quick tour of the upstairs, he noticed a few doors marked, EXPERIMENTAL TRIALS, GROWTH CHAMBER, and BIOFEEDBACK.  The rest of the rooms were used for storage.  In fact, there were only a half-dozen real classrooms there: the one he was going to be teaching in and a few turned laboratory two floors below, in the basement.  Save for the occasional gun-toting soldier passing through, the building’s halls were hauntingly quiet on this first day of school.

Sublevel, however, he realized that the elevator system and intertwining tunnels connected with the old smoke-piping plant next door, and this interested him very much.  Every corridor they turned down there were blue steel walls, reinforced metal or concrete, low rocky ceilings, and unusual looking cameras mounted above them.  So unusual that he decided to question his tour guide on it. “Just wondering, Ms. Wilkins, but what is this place for?”

“The cameras got you?” she asked.

“Well, yes, I do find it unusual that you have this place so…so monitored…”

“One can never be too safe when it comes to a HOS casualty, Mr. Tressy.  After all, these are not ordinary children we’re dealing with.”

“But I’ve taught HOS victims in the past,” he explained, “and though the tutoring sessions and trials were costly and much to the government’s disadvantage in containing the disease, security and surroundings were still never like this.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Dorothy recalled. “They had you handing out leaflets and crayons from a fold-up table in a giant hangar, a bunch of men in gasmasks and white suits patrolling the corners and exits.” They passed an opening in the tunnel’s rock face, a small exterior shell of a room with no door to bar the outside but plenty of digital monitors and equipment on the inside. “We do things much differently here.  Have a look for yourself.”

Howard stepped inside briefly.  Two men in gray jumpsuits and donning headsets swiveled around a vast circle of television screens, wired through the rocks and pipelines above.  One man took notes in front of a microphone and recording panel, while the other wheeled back and forth mumbling things like “progress” and “stages”. 

Howard moved closer.  He turned to Dorothy and said, “Is all this for real?”

“Why, of course,” Dorothy answered.

Howard turned back and observed the two men at work.

The first man backslapped his coworker on the arm and said, “Hey, look at this.  Monitor no. 34.  We have us a live one, a thinking one.”

“Get out of here,” the second man said. “He’s scratchin’ for maggots again, I tell ya.”

“No, look!”

On-screen, at one of many different angles, a moldy looking child slowly went into his desk and pulled out a crayon and a composition notebook, studying the two objects carefully.  Searching for some kind of meaning, it was as if he wanted to know what they were for.

“That’s my class,” Howard whispered. “That’s one of my students.”

Dorothy smiled. “Yes.”

“I remember gray shelving and a closet there. You mean that’s a hidden camera?”

“One of many, Mr. Tressy.  Also, you have the key to that closet at all times.   There’s a shotgun and a first aid kit in case of an emergency.”

Howard was astonished.

Finally, the first man in front of him said, “That’s the Tarhouse brat.  He’s picking up the crayon, Harry.  Look, he’s opening the book and starting to scrawl.  He’s making circles!”

The second man couldn’t believe his eyes.  Hurrying for the panel, he said, “Holy shit, you’re right! We do have a thinker.” He brought up a school record on the screen in front of him, turned on the microphone, and started taking notes: “Student identification no. 42501236… Name: Billy Tarhouse.  Deceased: St. Louis, Missouri, 2017.  Noted age and race at time of death and reanimation, approximately eight years old and Caucasian.  Child has picked up a writing instrument without teacher present, and appears to be drawing.  At this stage, I’d say motor skills are barely level three.  But it’s a positive sign.  I repeat, there is progress.”

After he’d heard all that, Howard stepped away in disgust. “I don’t want to be here anymore,” he told Dorothy.

“Well, we could—”

“No, Ms. Wilkins.  This is too disturbing.  Take me elsewhere.”

They walked the remainder of the underground halls in silence, until they reached a secure metal door with a window in it.  With a dull expression on his face, Howard quickly peeked at what was going on inside the room.  Much to his surprise an officer, in standard military uniform, was sitting down behind a large table.  His eyes were glued to a teenage girl, tall, thirteen, maybe fourteen, standing with only half her skull visible against the far wall.  To the military official’s credit, a scientist arrived on the scene from a buzz-in door on the opposite side.  They both studied the unfortunate subject, and, while she hadn’t quite managed to shed the undead image, she’d obviously tried.  Her rank face was covered in makeup.  With the help of others, prosthetics and lengthy but seedy looking clothes had replaced the skeletal parts of her body.

“What else can she do?” the uniformed man asked.

The scientist said, “Why don’t you ask her yourself?”

“Will she cooperate this time?”

“Much of the exterior fractures and impact holes are small,” the scientist pointed out. “You’ll also notice her left temporal lobe and hypothalamus are still intact.  So, yes, I don’t see why not.”

The uniformed man took the scientist’s clipboard, then faced the girl again.  Her features, for a HOS victim, were decent; her oozing brain matter, however, was another story.  She’d clipped the cracked pieces of her skull back with large barrettes so that it would stay in place on her head.  Shocked, Howard wondered if it would be enough to convince the officer for whatever purpose his visit required.

Finally, the man nodded. “You look good,” he said. “But can you braid what’s left of your hair back or something?”

Sitting down across from him, she pulled strands of her hair around over her shoulder and began to braid it.  She never spoke.

“Are you quite well now, Tracy?” the scientist inquired when he reintroduced the military official to her. “We don’t want another incident.”

The uniformed man glanced in the scientist’s direction, a questioning expression on his face; it occurred to him that she might have little or no memory of that previous occasion.  Then he gave her a knowing look. “He means when I was last here.  You know, last semester.”

She grinned. “Yes, I remember,” she replied.

Howard was taken aback.  He wondered where this girl’s intelligence and ability to speak and think came from; even more perplexing, how had these scientists succeeded where he had failed?

Through the window, Tracy smiled in a friendly way. “I know where I saw you last,” she said. “You were laying on the ground, protecting that teacher.”

A flush of color filled the uniformed man’s face. 

And of course, there was the scientist and Howard.

“Your men all came outside at once.  You shot me.  Over and over.”

“Are you sure about that, Tracy?” The man looked up and said, “This isn’t working.  She’s still too corpselike.”

The scientist disagreed. “I beg to differ.  Here, feel her arm.  Touch it.”

“I’m not going to touch no dead girl!”

Touch it.  Feel her arm.  See? See how warm her arm is.  Dead people are cold, aren’t they? Feel how warm she is.  A part of her brain is still sending signals to other parts of her body.”

“Get her away from me!”

Suddenly, she shrieked, “It’s the dead teacher! That dead teacher is here…” She pointed toward the door with Howard staring through it. “She wants her old job back!”

“Tracy, she’s not exactly dead.  Now calm down,” the scientist ordered.

“Who’s that?” the uniformed man asked.

“He’s our new substitute,” the scientist replied. “Ms. Wilkins is giving him a go of the place.”

“No, she’s dead!” The zombie girl shouted. “I killed her.  I made the teacher go away.  Now she’ll be back!”

To say that the two men inside were looking horrified by this point was a vast understatement, Howard thought.  From the other side of the door, even his expression was more horrified than before.  The girl was frozen, unable to pull herself away from staring at him, a maniacal little smile repeatedly coming to her lips.  And though the trancelike connection was eventually broken, she seemed to confuse him for this other teacher.

Dorothy put her hand on his shoulder. “She’s a special case,” she said. “We should go.”

Howard moved away from the window.

“How do you keep them so calm?” he asked. “A girl as challenged as that one should have attacked the door the moment she spotted me.”

“Every morning we prep them with mega-dosages of tranquilizers,” Dorothy said. “Their parents must sign confidentiality agreements and permission forms before the administering begins.  And even then, we have a special selection process as to who gets into one of our classes.  Naturally, those we feel are most gifted are bumped up to the top of the list.”

They took the elevator back to the first floor, and it was here, on their way back to the other building, that Howard stopped to gather his thoughts. “Ms. Wilkins, I never signed up for this,” he said. “I realize not all HOS victims are unique, and all cases can’t be alike, but—”

Dorothy shushed him. “Mr. Tressy, did you know that a child’s brain grows until age twenty? After that, adult brains become atrophic and shrink.  A young person’s brain, however, produces a certain amount of cells and neurotransmitters, and often well through college.  Even in death, these kids sometimes maintain serotonin levels equal to living people.” 

“Listen, I’ve taught zombies before, but never within a factory or military science installation.  What could a child, dead or alive, possibly learn in an environment where purple smog and constant monitoring is the everyday norm?”

“Ah, I knew you’d question that,” she said, “and it turned three other teachers off by the position.  The reason we keep this school next to a chemical mill is not by accident.  The discolored remnants you see coming out of that smokestack, the smog as you call it, isn’t just some industrial pollution.  The science team is releasing a mile-wide toxin that gives parents their wishes and children a second chance at life.  We’re giving mothers and fathers peace of mind, and kids the opportunity of learning and adapting to society.  The toxin tries to tap into a dormant cell in young people.  This cell has the potential of multiplying into millions more just like it, only at a slower pace than the living.  A thinking cell.  It doesn’t work for all of them, naturally.  It’s all behavioral when you observe these youngsters together in one room, and you get to look beyond their musty features.  Speech, logic, reason—in the right-fueled environment, undead children can be host once again to these traits, and many more they picked up whilst among the living.  So yes, in a way, they are like guinea pigs.  But we’re trying to help these guinea pigs, because we feel they deserve an education.”

She reached forward and gave his hand a quick, clammy shake for good luck.  Howard was glancing around nervously, but he still regarded the facilitator’s words.  While his take on the school by now was not precisely negative, neither was it positive.  Once more he studied the environment with the kind of unabashed scrutiny not usually tolerated among substitutes.  Every muscle in his body was taut, and when the woman opened the hatch for him, a strange silence followed.  It was almost as if he didn’t know what to do once he stepped back inside the room.

“You’ll be fine,” she said, urging him forward. “You won’t know unless you try.”

The door sealed behind him and, like an hour earlier, he found himself alone with his new class.

The girl with the twisted head and neck, Nancy, walked over to him.  She seemed the most sedate of the bunch. “What should we do, Mr. Teacher?” she asked, looking up and tugging at his pant leg.

He smiled down at her. “Ah, a genuine talker.  Let’s just leave things and get acquainted for today,” he told her, his mind still gazing off. “Perhaps we’ll feel more like learning tomorrow.” After that, he told the students—the ones that could understand, and the ones that couldn’t—that they could put their textbooks away.

He had an idea.

As had long been his custom in special classes, he opened the day with “story time”.  Story time required a book, which he searched the wall in back for; stories traditionally explored areas that persistently got the children thinking, or took them on brave new adventures—an escape from their horrible disfigurements, their cause and effect behaviors, lack of feelings and moral understanding.  The period was not used for problem solving or problem making, but relaxation and fun. 

He was creating a comfort zone and, once at ease, finally realized that he could make a difference in these young people’s lives, no matter what their ailments.  So much that their grunts and moans were replaced by laughs and smiles.

The End

Other New Entries: “Fiction Sample”

The Horror Fiction Review: June 2009… (Now Posted!)

THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW is now up.  Horror author and book reviewer, Nick Cato (Novello Publishers), has now put up the book reviews for June 2009.  It’s a delightful little site and I highly recommend checking them out.  If you scroll down, you’ll find a positive review of my debut collection FRESH BLOOD in-between authors Jack Kilborn and Louise Bohmer.  The site also has an interview with Robert Dunbar.

THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW – June 2009 edition

The Horror Fiction Review

The Horror Fiction Review

MAIN SITE: http://www.freewebs.com/hfrzine/

JUNE 2009 REVIEWS: http://www.freewebs.com/hfrzine/june09reviews.htm

Other New Entries: “Author Resources” 

Midnight Times, Summer 2009… (coming soon!)

I’ll be coming with my 3rd appearance to one of the longest-running horror webzines out there, Midnight Times.  In the meantime, check out their free archive.  The current story will take place in July 2009 in what I believe to be a special “zombie-themed” edition.  

MIDNIGHT TIMES – SUMMER 2009

midnight times

CLICK HERE: www.midnighttimes.com

I must confess… with the upcoming signings and reviews, book fairs, bookings and new opportunities which have recently been tossed in my lap, I have not had the time to update this webpage as much as I’d like.  I must also confess I’m now behind by roughly twenty blog entries and twenty fiction pieces which, due to having a personal life besides writing, I will not entirely catch up to anytime soon.  So if you see the blog entries few and far in-between, that’s a good sign.  In the meantime, let’s embrace the digital era (take note of the new eBooks & Kindle link above – things are coming).

Other New Entries: “Magazines”