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Friday, May 27, 2011

Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story...


It’s Sarah’s birthday today. I need to get her something nice…something no one else could get.

It can’t be anything I could buy. What kind of boyfriend would that make me? Any idiot can buy a thing, but what happens when that thing runs dry or breaks?

I can’t make it for her. She’s spurned those attempts in the past, and rightly so; they weren’t good enough for her. Sarah deserves better and I know that. I’ve punished myself for those mistakes and won’t repeat them.

I’m waiting in the park. It’s a rare warm and sunny day and all manner of people are about. There’s a coalition of hippies gathering at the top of the hill. Everywhere they walk, a cloud of dust seems to trail along behind them. The ones already settled begin playing drums, enticing others to join them. They pound out a tribal rhythm that turns the sloping greens into a primitive hunting ground.

There is a Chinese family playing catch. The children’s coordination is no better or worse than their father’s and I imagine that not once in their lives will they be mistaken for being athletic. I commend the father for trying, but the mother seems to know it’s pointless. She lounges in the shade of a tree, watching their futility.

A group of what might be sisters troops up the hill. One of them lays out a blanket, clearly too small for the three of them to share. They argue and giggle over the lack of relaxation space, struggling to squeeze themselves onto the fabric square, as if the surrounding grass is boiling hot lava. The one I assume is the oldest adjusts her top, her breasts threatening to spill out. She sees me watching her and smiles. I turn away. I’m here for Sarah, not myself.

A young man and woman take up a wide space in the center of the hill. They remove their shirts in the blazing sun. She has a tight jogging bra clamped down over her rail thin frame. He wears nothing but his skin and a faded pair of basketball shorts. He’d been in shape once, I could tell that. His girlfriend probably pined for the days when he played high school ball, before his well-conditioned muscles began to melt, to be coated in an ever-expanding avalanche of greasy fat.

The man knows his athletic days are behind him, so he makes up for his less-than-impressive physical performance by belittling his girlfriend and reliving the past. Sure, he missed that last catch by inches, but he had made the play at the plate in the 1999 state championships. Of course he could throw it harder, but he’s afraid he’ll hurt her if he does. He could play all day, but she looks tired, so they’ll stop.

He’s not Sarah’s type.

Two young men saunter up the hill, purposely shirtless, flipping a football between them. They’re athletes, that’s easy to see; cocky, too. They look like models that have walked off a Guess billboard, and as such, are very out of place in this park, on this day. They are tanned to perfection, artfully and artificially crafted. They each possess the body I could never have, as I lack the youth, genetic predisposition and the bull-headed tolerance to pain that would be necessary to achieve it. But…what Sarah wants, Sarah gets.

I know she’d leave me for someone like this in a cold heartbeat. Luckily for me, her heart beats slower than most, if it beats at all. As long as I can keep her happy, she will keep me by her side. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The muscle men throw the ball back and forth with effortless confidence. One sends a toss seemingly out of reach, but the other dives and makes a perfect catch, coincidentally landing near the big-breasted sisters huddled on the blanket.

The girls’ eyes follow the men’s every move. The girlfriend of the past-his-prime athlete steals secret glances at them, eyeing greener pastures. The Chinese woman watches them shyly, knowing her children would have had more than a proficiency in math and computer games to look forward to if one of these men had been their father. Even the hippie drum circle seems to play to the rhythm of the men’s movements, threatening to break the restraints of civility and drive the women into an animalistic frenzy.

While the women watch the kings of the mountain, and the men flirt back with the women, none of them notice me. This is how it’s always been. I’m not one, nor the other; not either. It’s what Sarah sees in me. It’s why I can do what I do.

It’s dusk and the men are finally leaving, alone, much to the women’s collective disappointment. The sisters will go home to their boyfriends or solitary fantasies. The rail-thin girl will go back to her boyfriend’s dorm and suffer under his sweaty bulk for a blissfully short period of time. The wife will return to the suburbs and perhaps put the kids to bed early. Each of them will be picturing the handsome, well-built strangers from the park, seeing them in their lovers’ faces.

Neither of these men will make it home. It’s Sarah’s birthday after all, and I promised her a present. Both delivered at the same time, perhaps? Or should I keep one as a spare? Whichever one I chose, Sarah will be pleased; such pretty playthings. I only wish she didn’t finish with them so quickly.


Thursday, May 26, 2011


Hey folks! Welcome back to those of you who took a trip to Crazytown for the Rapture! Don't fret, I hear we have another shot at it on October 21st.
Anyhow, here are a couple quick updates:

Yesterday, I received a copy of Alexander Brown's short story/novella collection, "Traumatized". I'll be posting a review once I'm done reading it, but in the meantime, I'll let the man behind the book explain it! And check out his site here!

Today, I'm finally picking up my copy of "Dog Blood" (which you can buy by doing a clickityclick on that fancy button up there!)! For those not in the know, "Dog Blood" is the sequel to "Hater" by David Moody. I'm very excited to start this book and I'll let you know why in my upcoming review of "Hater." For all things Moody, check out his site!

A beta copy of "Indigo" is once again traveling (much like "Crawl" did) to exotic locales and dream destinations well before its author will (sad face). But, I do love the support and enthusiasm that Mr. and Mrs. Vacation are giving my work and I will continue to force them to read it until they agree to take me with them!

In editing news: I suck at editing. The. End.

But really, I'm struggling with a rewrite of "Blackwatch"
, mostly because I'm being lazy, watching a lot of Dexter and playing a lot of Fallout 3. I know, I know. I'll get back to work soon, I promise!

Which brings me to my 2nd and 3rd phases of 2011: querying and writing NEW STUFF!

Querying agents is a brutal, nerve-wracking and time-consuming task, but I feel I'm much more prepared and competent than I was with my first attempt. Live, learn and query!

Writing new stuff, however, is what I live for. Fans of "Crawl," and even those who've read "Blackwatch" and "Indigo," may be surprised by what I've (probably?) chosen for my next project. More news on that in the coming weeks!

For now, make sure you check out my summery short submission for the "Midnight Society" tomorrow morning and then have yourselves a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend!


Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rapture

Well followers, if this is the last time I get to talk to you, it's been nice blogging with you!

Word has it the world will end tomorrow. I'm okay with that. Here's hoping the Earth's crust shakes open and countless, shambling souls are released from Hell to walk among us. I'll be out there with weapon in hand, grinning like an idiot, ready to send them back.

Won't you join me?


Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story...

"What's Owed"

As soon as I walk in, I recognize the man I’m looking for, even though we’ve never met. He’s seated at the bar, elbows propped up, with one hand around a rocks glass and the other around a nearly empty bottle. His head is sunk down below his slouched shoulders. He looks like any one of a hundred desolate drunks that blow in and out of Sally’s every week; but this one is definitely my mark.

“Rough day?” I ask as I take a seat on a bar stool a couple spaces down from him. He looks at me with red eyes, bleary from crying or drinking, it’s hard to tell. He nods, finishes the glass and fills it up again with the most of the bottle’s remaining contents.

I order a bottle of something I can’t pronounce. The bartender raises an eyebrow at me and disappears for a few moments. When she comes back, she leaves a dusty glass and an equally dusty bottle of dark liquor that pours like smoke.

“To women,” I say, raising my glass in a toast. The man makes a sound between a grunt and a cough, then drinks down a portion of his liquor.

“To hell with em,” he says, topping off his glass. “Always taking, never satisfied, taking, taking, taking,” he says as the honey-colored liquor spills over the rim. “Taking til there’s nothing left.” He slams the empty bottle on the counter as if making his point. I already know his situation better than he thinks.

“Can’t live with em, I guess,” I say.

“Sure as hell can’t live without em either,” he replies. “Wouldn’t want to.” He heaves a heavy sigh and pounds his drink down again. He nudges the empty vessel towards the bartender, but she shakes her head and walks away.

“Here, allow me,” I say, taking his glass and pouring a pair of smoky shots. He’s drank enough to get flagged, but not so much that he could turn down a free drink outright. He eyes the smoking liquid suspiciously.

“The hell’s this stuff?” he asks, taking a sniff.

“You seem awfully young to be so distraught over women already,” I say, pretending not to hear his question. A stretching of the truth, that. This man is 36 years, eight months and two days old, to the minute. Long past his due.

“Mister, you don’t know the half of it,” he says. “I’ve only ever wanted one, just that perfect one. No matter how close I get, they always seem to just slip away.”

“Alas, the tenderness of youth feels the sting of heartache most acutely,” I say absentmindedly. He looks at me sideways for a moment.

“You a poet or something?” he asks, still not sure he wants the drink I’ve offered him. I’ve forgotten the language of this particular time and place. Casualty of the job.

“No, no. Just an errand boy. My boss is, something of a collector,” I say with a hint of a smile.

“My boss is something of an asshole,” the man says, laughing heartily for the first time during our conversation. I take the opportunity to raise my glass in a mock toast.

“To our bosses then!”

He raises his glass, but something in the mirror catches his attention before he drinks.

“See that girl back there, standing by the door? She looks like El, first love of my life,” he says. A chestnut-haired college girl stands near the front door of Sally’s, waiting for a table, a friend, a boyfriend. It doesn’t matter. I know it isn’t El.

“El was the one, Mister,” he continues. “You ever have the one? The one that got away?”

I grunt and nod to him, suggesting that, like any other man, of course I had.

“She was perfect, through and through. It was like someone had made her just for me, ya know? Like we each knew what the other was thinking. Made conversations great, made fights short. There is no one on this Earth quite like her,” he says, swirling the smoking contents of his glass. “And you know, I don’t mind saying it, but when she left, I really feel like she took a big piece of me with her.” And he gets to it at last.

“Surely there were others?” I ask, urging him on.

“Oh sure, sure. None of em quite like El, though. They were bits and pieces; she was the whole package. Only thing they had in common with her was they all up and left eventually.” He keeps swirling the glass. A strange grin parts his lips.

“Had some good times, all right. There was this Japanese girl, used to work a sushi bar by day and a Go-Go club at night,” he says. His grin widens as he recalls their private moments. “Then there was this bookish little thing, all shy and reserved on the outside. But turn the lights out and,” he snaps his fingers, “watch her go wild.” He leans back away from the bar, feeling better now, reliving his glory days.

“There was the pixie-haired girl I met during an airport layover; oh, and I spent a drunken night with a friend of mine from college, though both of us pretend that never happened; can’t forget my best friend’s sister either, not that he knows about it,” he says, laughing to himself. He seems to have almost forgotten that I’m even there.

“Funny thing, though,” he says, all the happiness in his expression ebbing away, “no matter how much or how little time I spent with them, I feel like each one of them took a piece of me with them, a piece I can’t get back.” His body slouches forward again and his hands curl around the smoking glass. He turns his deflated face toward me once more.

“Mister, do you think I can ever get those pieces back?” he asks. I smile my own smile at last and raise my own glass.

“To the next one,” I say. To my relief, he finally picks up his own drink.

“To the next one,” he says, barely smiling. We down our Plutonian shots. He shudders.

“Colder than I expected,” he says, smacking his lips. “Like I can feel it all-”

His eyes shock wide open. He stares at my reflection in the mirror behind the bar, at something strange that only he can see.

I change. A friend’s sister. A college companion. A traveling pixie. A bookworm. A Go-Go dancer. A chestnut-haired vision of perfection.

When he looks back at me, I’m as he saw me before, as everyone around us sees me.

“You’re spent, Larry,” I tell him, putting money down on the bar. “And even though I’ve arrived a bit late, I’m here to collect what’s owed.”

I stand. A shiver runs the length of Larry’s body. His hands are shaking. I touch his shoulder and he is calm, recognition dawning in his eyes.

“The next time you offer up your soul for the perfect woman,” I tell him, “be sure to be a little more specific. Come on, it’s time.”

I lead him away from the bar. I’ve found that reclamation is best done by leaving a bar or restaurant; no one inside expects you to return, no one outside expects you at all.

“Will it hurt?” Larry asks me as I reach for the door. It opens and reveals nothing beyond it but unbroken light. I keep my hand on his shoulder.

“Not half as much as your life has.”

I guide him through the door and we pass into a place where no man desires to go, but all men must.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Zombies Ate the CDC!

So I had originally prepared an in-depth look at the time and effort it takes to write/polish/produce a book these days, but then zombies attacked the CDC.

Or, rather, the CDC posted a disaster plan in case of the zombie apocalypse. Obviously a joke on their part to prepare people for hurricane season and generate traffic to their site. Well, the second part of that plan worked like a charm, as so many people checked out the zombie page that it crashed! Here's a snippet:

So what do you need to do before zombies…or hurricanes or pandemics for example, actually happen? First of all, you should have an emergency kit in your house. This includes things like water, food, and other supplies to get you through the first couple of days before you can locate a zombie-free refugee camp (or in the event of a natural disaster, it will buy you some time until you are able to make your way to an evacuation shelter or utility lines are restored). Below are a few items you should include in your kit, for a full list visit the CDC Emergency page.

Water (1 gallon per person per day)
Food (stock up on non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
Medications (this includes prescription and non-prescription meds)
Tools and Supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery powered radio, etc.)
Sanitation and Hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
Clothing and Bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to name a few)
First Aid supplies (although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane)

Notice they didn't mention stocking up on guns and ammo or learning how to wield melee weapons, so this is obviously tongue-in-cheek. And I appreciate their efforts to get people prepared, whether it be for the ever-present natural disaster or the impending zombie apocalypse. The CDC also takes a second to reassure us that they won't be roaming the city streets with automatic weapons, taking out shamblers and survivors alike. (That's the army's job.) But I've seen enough movies to know not to trust those brainy, courageous and oh-so-handsome scientists!*

Until the day comes when the dead walk the Earth (which might be this Saturday), it's good to know the CDC is prepared to handle the less zombified emergencies.

Tune in tomorrow morning to see this week's installment of the Midnight Society, which is devoid of the undead...more or less.


*Disclaimer: I may or may not moonlight as a microbiologist when I'm not writing...

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Divide

While watching an episode of "Dexter," I came across a bit of dialogue that really stuck with me. In the scene, the imaginary projection of Dexter's dead father, Harry, is warning him about allowing someone to get to close to him and his dark side. As with all of Harry's warnings, it came across like a fortune cookie, but a particularly good one:

"No matter how close two people are, an infinite distance separates them."

Think about that for a second.

In the show, Harry is saying that no matter how like-minded Dexter thinks his new friend is, Dexter will always be isolated, wholly and completely. I took the line a bit further, as I think it was intended to be. (It's lines of dialogue like these that make me think about the writer(s) behind them, rather than the actor who says them.) If Harry's sage advice holds true (which is debatable), then that means that no matter how close you are to someone, no matter how well you think you know them, love them, understand them, there will always always always be that uncrossable divide.

How despairing is that? I guess if you're 100% confident and self-assured, this isn't that big of a deal to you. But if you're a little bit sensitive, struggle with feelings of isolation and measure yourself through the eyes of others (in other words, if you're like me), then this could be a crippling revelation. This one line feels like it comes right out of a nihilist's guidebook. And I feel like writers (or artists in general, who tend to be more sensitive), suffer more acutely from this realization.

So I got to thinking about a few of my favorite authors and how they dealt with the overwhelmingly oppressive feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, guilt and so on. Neil Gaiman once said that "Writing is, like death, a very lonely business." Now, Gaiman isn't exactly sunshine and roses, but he isn't the "woe is me" writer type either. However, I came across a short story of his in "Fragile Things" that unnerved me a little. It's about a man being tortured by a demon in Hell; first physically, then mentally and emotionally. Here's an excerpt:

"It was like peeling an onion. This time through his life he learned about consequences. He learned the results of things he had done; things he had been blind to as he did them; the ways he had hurt the world; the damage he had done to people he had never known, or met, or encountered. It was the hardest lesson yet."

~ excerpt from "Other People" by Neil Gaiman in "Fragile Things"

Now, to me, this story rings of guilt, of a heavy burden shouldered by the tortured soul that is not alleviated by confession, but rather remembered fresh each time, pain laid bare like a new wound. And while the story is simply about an unnamed man, each story is, in itself, about a part of the author. What I wouldn't give to sit down with Gaiman and tease out the reasons for that guilt, to swap stories of sin, to confess under the protection of an author's honor. But even if that were to happen, I'd experience his sin in a secondhand nature, from my own side of the divide.

I feel that the more intelligent you are, the more you tend to become oversensitive to things, to the point of shutting down. In my mind, nothing exemplifies this more than the following excerpt from Daniel Keyes' short story, "Flowers for Algernon":

June 15

Dr. Strauss came to see me again. I wouldn't open the door and I told him to go away. I want to be left to myself. I have become touchy and irritable. I feel the darkness closing in. It's hard to throw off thoughts of suicide. I keep telling myself how important this introspective journal will be.

It's a strange sensation to pick up a book that you've read and enjoyed just a few months ago and discover that you don't remember it. I remembered how great I thought John Milton was, but when I picked up Paradise Lost I couldn't understand it at all. I got so angry I threw the book across the room.

I've got to try to hold on to some of it. Some of the things I've learned. Oh, God, please don't take it all away.

~excerpt from "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes

"Flowers for Algernon" was one of the most memorable things I read as a kid and I remember having a gut reaction to it, even if I didn't fully understand it at the time. The story is about a man of low IQ who submits himself to surgery that will increase his intelligence. Algernon is a lab mouse who has undergone the same operation, but soon shows signs of social, mental and physical deterioration. The test subject, Charlie Gordon, goes from one end of the IQ spectrum to the other and back, finding himself isolated for different reasons at either extreme.

Keyes could have been commenting on the advancement of science outpacing humanity's social evolution, or perhaps someone close to him struggled with a regressive memory disease. I tend to think that Keyes was expressing frustration at his own level of intelligence and the lack of understanding by the people around him. Perhaps Keyes' longed, during some moments at least, to be as dim-witted and blissfully ignorant as Charlie Gordon began.

And now, for your favorite mope and mine, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe:

"From childhood's hour, I have not been as others were. I have not seen as others saw...I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone. And all I loved, I loved alone"
~excerpt from "Alone" by Edgar Allan Poe

Oh, the questions I'd ask... Poe knew he was different from an early age and struggled with that difference up until his death. For all his many works and posthumous fame, who among us can say we truly know him, or understand him? With countless scholars devoted to studying his works, are they any closer to him than the people he kept close by in life?

Personally, I'd love to hear Poe's interpretation of this "infinite distance" between individuals. Perhaps he would slink further down his chair, tip a bit more absinthe into his mouth and lament that the void of the space without pales in comparison to the emptiness of the space within. Or, perhaps he would surprise me, as writers are wont to do, and flip the coin from dark to light.

“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”


Friday, May 13, 2011

Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Society, I Call this Story...

The Curse of Engine 49
Based on a true story*

Jerry Townsend wasn’t exactly sure how he ended up driving his Honda at 90 miles an hour headed north on Route 33. The last thing he remembered was coming home for lunch and seeing his wife’s blonde hair and long legs all tangled up with another man under the bed sheets. Then there was a lot of screaming, a lot of blood. Somewhere along the way, Jerry had gotten it in his head to run.

There were no sirens yet, but he was sure they’d find him soon. And then what would he do? He couldn’t outrun them. He had nowhere to hide, no safe house or close friends to take him in. Jerry wasn’t the criminal type; he was just a man who’d lost his cool. “Temporary insanity,” they’d call it. He wasn’t even sure if he could survive in jail while awaiting trial. So Jerry made the only choice he had left. He pushed the gas pedal to the floor and took his hands from the wheel.

The Honda stayed true to its course, but the road beneath it curved sharply left. Jerry slammed against the steering wheel as the front end of his car collided with the guard rail at over 100 miles an hour. Metal screeched on metal and the Honda broke through the barrier, spinning through the air. It landed on its side and tumbled down a hill, coming to rest in a crumpled heap at the bottom.

- - -

“She’s a beaut, huh Roy?”

Roy Alvarez and Tony Buccoti stood in the driveway in front of Station 49. Their brand new 1,000 gallon tanker truck gleamed in front of them, all fire engine red and polished steel.

“You still sure you want to let her go, Larry?” Roy asked. A bald, big bellied man was going over the details of the tanker with a rag.

“Not my decision either way, Roy. But I’m sure you boys down at 13 will give her a good home,” Larry said, looking up at the rig with a mixture of regret and relief.

“Mind if I check her out, Chief?” Tony asked, eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. Roy had barely finished nodding before the rookie had scampered up into the cab of Engine 49.

“So why are you getting rid of her? Brand new rig like this…there’s nothing wrong with her, is there?” Roy joked. Larry didn’t quite meet his eyes.

“Like I said, not my decision. We’re downsizing is all I know, and you boys can use some new equipment,” Larry explained. Roy couldn’t disagree with him there. Station 13’s current tanker had more duct tape than an HVAC convention.

“Fair enough,” Roy said. “We certainly appreciate it.”

The horn blared suddenly, making the two men jump a step back. Tony broke into a fit of laughter up in the cab.

“We’d better hit the road before that kid drives me up a wall,” Roy said, shaking Larry’s hand. Larry’s grip lingered a second too long. His eyes met Roy’s for the first time.

“Just be careful with her. She’s got some…gremlins, from time to time. Ya know?” he said, all too serious. Roy laughed it off and placated the old timer.

“Of course, we’ll take good care of her.”

Roy joined Tony up in the cab of Engine 49. With a roar of the engine turning over and a final blast of the horn, the two were off to Station 13. Roy caught one last glimpse of Larry in the side mirror, a look of concern still plain as day upon the old man's face.

- - -

Jerry braced his feet against the driver’s side door of his ruined Honda and pushed. The warped metal budged only an inch before digging into the earth of the hillside. How he had survived nearly unscathed, Jerry had no clue. Launching off of the highway at that speed should have killed him; that had been his plan anyway. He hadn’t expected the hillside to slow his descent or the sprawling vineyards of a small winery to cushion his fall. Now, people had noticed the apparent accident and were trying to help. That meant the authorities would be arriving soon.

He hauled himself out of the broken window and dragged himself onto the dirt by his elbows. It was a long climb back to the highway, away from the eyes of the good Samaritans closing in on him. If they found him, tried to keep him there, tried to help him, it wouldn’t be long before the authorities had him in custody. So Jerry climbed.

- - -

“You know, you’re lucky you’re not driving one of the old rigs. I learned how to drive stick on an engine with a double clutch transmission parked halfway up Harker’s Hill. My chief told me that I had two choices: learn how to drive the rig or burn out the clutch, collect my things and leave the station. Guess which one I did?”

“I know, I know, Roy. You’ve told me this story a hundred times,” Tony said with a smile. “Didn’t you have to hand crank the thing to get it to start, too?”

“I’m not that old, smartass. You kids today, don’t know how easy you have it,” Roy said with a fatherly smile. Truth was, the modern technological marvel they were riding around in made things a lot easier. Especially for his back. He wasn’t complaining.

“Man, Cookie’s gonna flip when he sees this thing. I’m sure I’ll hear all his old stories again, too. He likes to talk even more than you do,” said Tony.

“Let him talk. It’s what us old timers do,” said Roy.

“As long as he’s got a pot of chili ready for us, he can talk all he wants,” Tony replied. Roy didn’t answer. He was looking at something across the road in the northbound lane.

“Looks like someone went off the road up – watch out!”

A man stepped out in front of the rig and exploded on impact. Blood and brain matter spattered against the windshield. Tony stomped both feet on the heavy brakes. Engine 49 came skidding to a halt in the middle of the highway, but the damage was already done.

“What the fuck?” was all Tony could say. His face had gone clammy and gray. “Didn’t see him,” he muttered. He switched on the wipers out of habit, smearing the man’s remains across the glass in gory streaks. Roy took a deep breath, leaned over and switched the wipers off.

“Just pull off to the side of the road there,” he said, barely able to keep his stomach calm. Tony rolled the rig into the grass just before opening the door and vomiting onto the ground. Roy kept his composure until he came around to the front of the rig. At the sight of the blood spattered grill with chunks of flesh and guts stuck to the radiator screen, Roy’s knees went out from under him and everything went dark.

- - -

Cookie let out a long whistle. He surveyed the front of the new tanker as it pulled into the garage.

“Musta been a big one. Ten-pointer at least, I’d say,” he said. Roy and Tony stepped out of the rig on rickety legs. “The matter with you boys? Long ride get to ya? It’s nearly dark, what took ya so long?”

“We’ll tell you later,” Roy said. “Is there chili on?”

“Course there’s chili on,” Cookie said, wringing his big hands. “But Rookie can’t eat until he hoses all that deer meat out of the grill.”

Tony burped and ran off to the bathroom. Cookie cocked a bushy eyebrow after him as he ran.

“The hell’s his problem?” he asked.

“Later, Cookie. Lay off the kid for now,” Roy answered, already moving toward the dining hall.

- - -

“No shit. Well I’ve never heard of anything like that before. Bad bit of luck, that. What’d they reckon his problem was? Touched in the head?” Cookie asked.

Roy thought over the conversations he had earlier with the cops and the people at the winery who’d seen the whole incident. Tony picked over his chili, not eager to eat the bowl full of blood-red ground beef.

“Had some sort of domestic incident at home and just took off runnin’,” Roy answered. “Folk at the winery said he crashed through the guardrail, damn near took half the vineyard with him, then just up and ran across the highway until-” He smacked one fist into his open palm. Tony dropped his spoon in the bowl of chili and pushed it away.

“That is a damned shame,” said Cookie. “But it doesn’t let you off the hook, Rookie.”

Tony looked up at the old veteran with heavy lidded eyes.

“Bringing a new rig into the station is bad enough mojo without a dead man’s parts all splattered across it,” Cookie said. Tony looked like he was going to be sick for the third time that day. Cookie continued unperturbed.

“Anyone knows that when you bring a new engine in, you gotta wash it with the water from one of the other tankers. Then you gotta slap all new decals on her while she’s still outside. Then, once all that’s good and done, we roll her in here by hand, no engine runnin’. Don’t do it and you’re just begging for trouble.”

Tony stood on wobbly legs, used to doing whatever the older guys told him to do. Roy put a steady hand on his shoulder and guided him down into the chair.

“Enough, Cookie. It can wait until tomorrow,” Roy said. He turned to Tony. “Why don’t you head up and get some rest, kid? If there’s a call, we’re gonna need you sharp.”

Tony nodded and made unsteady progress up to his bunk. Not to be put in his place by a man with less time in the gear, Cookie grabbed up a decal from a drawer, walked over to the new engine and slapped the big 13 logo over the old 49. It hung crooked, but stuck fast.

“I guess I’ll be turnin’ in too. No tellin’ what we can expect tonight, bringin’ all this bad voodoo under our roof,” Cookie mumbled as he followed Tony up to the bunks. Roy joined them a few minutes later, cutting the lights on the mess hall and the twin bays where the old and new engines sat side by side.

- - -

In all his thirty years of service, Cookie never once forgot to turn the stove off after a meal was prepared. In all the excitement of Engine 49’s delivery and the macabre story that accompanied it, the burners had been left on long after the men had gone to bed. A window left ajar allowed a breeze to stir a roll of paper towels in the kitchen. As it touched the red hot metal of the stove top, the entire roll began to burn.

Then the holder. Then the countertop. Then the cabinets. Then the baseboards, walls and floors. Before long, the entire kitchen was engulfed in flame. The fire burned through the wall and began to consume the dining hall, the garage bay, the closets full of gear. Some of the batteries in the smoke detectors chose that particular moment to die. Flames kissed the old engine, climbed its tires and melted its headlights, crept down the lengths of hose like living dragons. By the time a smoke alarm finally sounded, waking Roy, Tony and Cookie to their worst nightmare, the whole station was beyond saving.

The three firefighters stood in the street, waiting to hear the familiar wail of sirens that meant help was on the way. For the moment they weren’t concerned with the years of jokes they’d have to suffer at having their own station house go up in smoke. They were busy watching as the flames licked up and down all sides of the building, black smoke thick as coal billowing out through the openings, listening to muffled pops of exploding glass. They didn’t see the fire crawl across the floor of the garage, following an inexplicably precise line of spilled oil that led to the wheel chocks under Engine 49.

As the triangular bits of wood burned away, the new engine slowly began to roll itself backwards. It was almost as if someone was pushing it from the front, getting it clear of the raging inferno. The trio of firefighters watched the ghostly engine coast to a stop in the relative safety of the front driveway.

“Told you it was evil, bringin’ that thing in here. Bad blood, she’s full of it,” Cookie said, spitting onto the pavement.

“There’s not a mark on her,” Roy said.

As the station burned and onlookers gathered around, as sirens grew louder from approaching engines from other departments, Tony watched as the Station 13 decal caught fire. It started as a little ember around the edge, turning black and curling back on itself. It looked for all the world as if an invisible hand was peeling it away. It fell to the ground and burned, turning to a lump of ash. Still clinging to the door, neat and clean as the day it was put on and untouched as the rest of the rig, was the decal bearing the logo of Engine 49.


*As creative as I am, I can't take credit for the first half of this story. The domestic dispute, the crash, the winery, the transporting of a new fire engine from one station to the other, and the incident that ended the man's life are all true. Names and details were changed, of course, but I felt I had to document this "crazier than fiction" story.

As for the rest of the tale, I originally planned on having the fireman burn in their own station house, owing to the cursed engine. The last image was meant to be of a pristine engine rolling itself out of the garage while the building burned.

But I couldn't in good conscience do that, even to fictional firefighters. I have friends and family who have served and continue to serve as both paid and volunteer firemen. Also, rather than pretend I know anything about fighting fires, I left out some battles of blazes I had planned, complete with the cursed engine making things harder for our heroes. This short story got long enough on me without adding that in!

And I have one person to thank for some insider info on firefighting. Check out his firefighting blog here and be sure to look at his incredible photos!

A Blog Pox!

As some of you may know, Blogger got a case of the "Friday the 13ths" and gobbled up a bunch of people's posts. So, while I wait for the original post to be restored, here's a summary of what you should have seen yesterday:

- I came across a familiar name in the daily publishing newsletter, Publishers Lunch. The line read, "Meagan Spooner's THE IRON WOOD, a "magicpunk" trilogy, to auction." The reason this is so cool is that, last fall, Ms. Spooner and I entered a pitch contest at Adventures in Children's Publishing. Her snippet of THE IRON WOOD took first place (and most deservedly so), but was so impressive to me that I sent her a congratulatory email and wished her luck with publication.

Well 3 months after that, Ms. Spooner got herself an agent. Six months after that and her trilogy is going to auction! AWESOME! It's cool enough to see debut authors get book deals, but even cooler when you share blogs/forums/comments with them! So, you should probably check out her webpage so that when THE IRON WOOD is a mega-franchise, you can say you'd been there from the beginning(ish)!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Author David Moody Calls Me a "Very Sick Person"

And I take that as a compliment! If you don't understand why, then you're not familiar with the man's work. Aside from his zombie series "Autumn," Moody's most notable works are found in the "Hater" trilogy.

After having read the first in the series, I immediately wanted to pick up the sequel and continue reading. Though not a zombie story, the familiar elements of mass hysteria, mob mentality and the progressive collapse of society perfectly complement the plot of "Hater". The closest thing I can compare it to would be "28 Days Later," but with a twist so refreshing that it really stands on its own. It was so different in fact that Guillermo del Toro picked up the movie rights. So hurry up and read "Hater" so you can go out and buy the sequel, "Dog Blood," which just hit US shelves in paperback this week!

While you're at it, hit up Mr. Moody on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. And check out his personal website here.

And if you're still wondering why he called me a "very sick person," it's not only because it's true, but because he happened to enjoy my undead Easter short, Zombunny. Us sickos have to stick together!


PS: Check back soon for a review both of "Hater" and "Dog Blood," once I get my hands on a copy!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story...


Patience is a virtue.

Without patience, I never would have made it through med school. Without patience, I wouldn’t have survived the long and difficult years as the coroner’s deputy. Without patience, I couldn’t sit here night after night, waiting for the man that ruined my life to show his face just one more time.

It’s just after midnight and I’m parked less than two blocks from our old apartment. It’s a moonless night, but the darkness is cut by the lights of a twenty-four-hour dry cleaners and a dingy corner bar. Far from illuminating the street, the light casts shadows across men’s faces and darkens the alleys where they lurk. A group of black teenagers argue on one corner while an old, white, homeless man picks through trash in a dumpster. I haven’t seen the bald man with a cross tattooed on his neck. Not yet.

It was over a year ago, 413 days to be precise. A long time to plan, to let old wounds fester. I’ve talked to the local streetwalkers, drug dealers and shop owners. They may have seen the man I’m looking for, might even know his habits. They may be the ones who saw what happened that night and stood by idly, ignoring her screams and letting her sudden silence go unreported. For the moment, they are not my concern. I have been patient.

A clean set of prints and a DNA sample from the rape kit was enough to ID the suspect. The man, known on the streets as Smilin’ Jack, apparently earned his moniker from his good looks and reputation as a ladies man. I sat back and waited patiently while the proper authorities took him through the long months of due process; all the while my insides were boiling. The evidence was more than enough for a trial, but not enough for a conviction. The prosecution highlighted a lab error that rendered the evidence inadmissible. A thief, rapist and murderer let go on a technicality. I watched him walk out the door. How patient I’ve been.

It’s after one in the morning. Smilin’ Jack steps off a city bus and his bald head gleams in the streetlight. Its glow contrasts the black cross inked into the corded muscles of his neck. My patience has paid off.

I watch as he walks by my car, close enough that I could reach out and touch him. But not here; not yet.

Smilin’ Jack continues down the street, heading for familiar ground. I check my bag of supplies and get out of the car to follow him. I know where he’s going. I’ve been there every day for more than a year. I know it better than he does now.

He turns into an alley that serves as a shortcut behind our old apartment complex. She used to use it on her way home from work. Smilin’ Jack used it as his hunting grounds. Tonight the hunter has become the hunted.

He’s built like a boxer in his prime; a chloroform-soaked rag more than levels the playing field. Though he’s a burden to drag into the ground level apartment, my 413 days of pent up rage and frustration give me plenty of strength. I’m glad I kept our old apartment after all this time. It will give me peace and quiet while I repay Smilin’ Jack in kind.


His body stirs and he opens his eyes groggily, owing to the chloroform. Smilin’ Jack wakes to find that his hands and arms are bound. He lies naked on his back, limbs outstretched, pulling his body into a taut x-shape. Plastic zip ties are cinched far too tightly around his wrists and ankles to allow blood to flow freely. His hands and feet are ghostly shades of flesh, giving him the appearance of wearing pale pink gloves and socks. Smilin’ Jack tries to cry out and finds that he cannot make a sound.

“That won’t do you any good,” I tell him, holding a bloody scalpel high for him to see. “I’ve nicked your vocal cords. A little trick I learned from a veterinarian friend of mine.”

Smilin’ Jack bucks at his restraints but they are as unforgiving as my blade. I hold up a bloody swatch of skin with a black cross inked into it.

“I also took your tattoo, I hope you don’t mind,” I say, dropping the piece of flesh into a ziplock bag. “People like you don’t deserve to bear the cross.”

He flaps his mouth open and closed, trying to shout every expletive he knows at me, but no sound comes out. His face reddens from the strain and blood leaks through a rectangular hole in his neck. I return to my work.

“Do you know the Code of Hammurabi?” I ask him. His eyes scream with the rage that his severed voice can’t muster. “I bet you do. ‘Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth?’ Heard of that?”

I set about probing the skin around his ankles with my scalpel. It’s pale and bloodless. It cuts away like dead skin over a blister. Beneath the translucent layer of flesh lies a network of veins and arteries, ligaments and tendons, muscle and fat. I cut it all away. Smilin’ Jack screams in silent agony.

“A good rule to follow, Hammurabi’s Code, but a bit archaic for my tastes. I feel that a punishment should be worse than the crime.”

I sever the final connections, sliding the fleshy parts of his foot off the bone like a grotesque slipper. I move on to the other foot and repeat the process, collecting the parts in a specimen bag. Smilin’ Jack writhes in pain, his frayed nerve endings scream in protest. His feet are stripped down to greasy bone, clacking up and down without any control. The sight puts a terrible laughter in my heart.

“Well, now you won’t be sneaking up on anyone again. But you can still do damage with your hands,” I tell him. “Those awful hands of yours will simply have to go.”

Smilin’ Jack thrashes about more than ever, but my restraints hold. His forearms flex and twitch, trying to get his unresponsive hands to assist in the fight. They’re as useless as his flayed feet. I perform the same surgery on his hands, taking care to sever each individual tendon, delighting as they spring apart once relieved from their life of tension.

“These hands have done terrible things, Mr. Jack.” I say, moving onto his remaining one. “And these hands of yours were what got you caught to begin with, leaving little prints everywhere.” I drop the second fleshy glove into the collection bag. “Well, you won’t have to worry about that any more. But you had another filthy habit that got you in trouble, didn’t you, Mr. Jack?”

I position my blade above his midsection and let the scalpel drop onto his manhood. If Smilin’ Jack thought he was in pain before, then this was torture derived from Hell itself.

“You see, I didn’t want to numb this area,” I say as I begin cutting. I don’t take the care to make precise cuts here. I want the man to bleed and I want him to feel every slice. “Do you even remember her name? Or were you too busy going through her possessions after you raped and murdered her that you couldn’t stop to learn her fucking name?”

The months of frustration begin to boil over now. Strips of flesh still connect his manhood to his abdomen, but I yank the whole sorry mess free and stuff it into my collection bag. Smilin’ Jack’s eyes roll up into his head. I slap his face to bring him back around.

“Almost done, Jacko. Just one thing left. That handsome face of yours.”

I make an incision along his hairline, tracing down one side of his jaw and up the other. His eyes dart frantically from side to side as I cut the fat and muscle away from his cheeks and forehead.

“You know how I found out about her, about what you had done to her? She ended up on my autopsy table, plain as the way you left her,” I say, puncturing his face with intentional slips of the scalpel. It starts to come away like a gory Halloween mask. “A man should never have to see his wife like that. It does things to the mind. Crazy things, Jack.”

I lift his face off and hold it up to the lamp to admire it. Specks of light filter in through the slits made by my scalpel. All in all, it’s a handsome face with a peculiar smile still frozen into it. Smilin’ Jack, however, is in worse shape: useless bony hands and feet, a greasy grinning skull and his manhood oozing lifeblood. I sever the bonds holding him up and he crashes to the floor.

“You’ll die soon, Jack. That’s for sure,” I tell him as I move toward the door. “But not soon enough. You’ll try to get out of here first. Hell, maybe you’ll even succeed. But sooner or later, you’ll end up on my table. I wanted to be sure I’ll recognize you when you do.”

I open the door and hold Jack’s face up in front of mine for his lidless eyes to see one last time. He crawls awkwardly toward me on knees and elbows, grinning his lipless smile. Before I lock him in our old apartment, I leave him with a few last words.

“Her name was Patience, Jack. If you can bring her back, then come and see me some time,” I say, holding his bloody face aloft. “Maybe I’ll give you your smile back.”


Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Case of the Flying Time

Do you people realize that it's May? MAY! Like almost-halfway-through-2011-already-May! I honestly don't know where the time goes. (Well, I do know where 8 hours of it a day goes, but I do ever so like a paycheck so I can't complain too much.)

But where do the other 128 hours a week go? I sure don't feel like I get a lot of sleep, but let's say I get the recommended 8 hours a night (ha!). That should still leave me with 72 hours to get stuff done. Oh, there's the problem...stuff!

Too much stuff! Bliggity blogs, Faceyspaces and Tweetypages. Not to mention TV...

Wouldn't you just love to control time itself? Stop it when you need a break (now I want a Kit-Kat), or fast-forward it when you're stuck in a meeting. Or maybe you think bigger than that. Maybe you want to zoom ahead to the future to make sure we're still around after December 21st, 2012. Or perhaps you'd rather zip into the past and take a look at dinosaurs or Pilgrims or ancient Egyptians or anything!

I've always been fascinated with time travel. I've also, coincidentally, always been flummoxed by time itself. So it's no surprise that my interest/confoundedness in time and time travel has translated into a story. Maybe you've heard me talk about "Blackwatch" before? (How weird is it that I broke down my free time in that post too?? That was completely unplanned and it makes me worry about myself...)

Anyway! Now that "Indigo" is in the hands of my beta readers, it's time for me to dedicate the merry month of May to "Blackwatch." I've got big BIG edits in store for Lamarr and Tinka. They're going to have their work cut out for them this time around! So, if any of you solve the riddle of time travel between now and then, please travel from THEN to NOW and let me in on your secret, pretty please.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meet Vincent Kale...Wait, That's Me!

Recently, I did a short interview with Michael Wilson, editor of ReadHorror about my background and my debut horror-novel, Crawl. I figured it would be a nice chance to get some exposure, market the book and broaden my support base. What I didn't expect was to learn a few things! What did I learn, you ask?

- There are some awesome horror authors out there, like Eric S. Brown
and Dave Jeffrey, among others. Check them out!

- I really need to invest some money in a cover the next time around, maybe even for a re-release of Crawl. While Lulu's basic templates are okay for beta copies, they're a bit too generic to grab a reader's attention. Check out Bigfoot War and The Viking Dead. While it might not be everyone's cup o' tea, those covers show you what you're in for!

- If I want to be a horror writer, I should probably get a scarier picture. I mean, look at that mug! Who's going to be afraid of that? I should have a picture that makes old ladies clutch at their MedAlert buttons when they see it!

Well, while I'm busy getting to work on the above topics, go check out my interview and others at ReadHorror! Then, you should probably 'like' the Facebook page and follow them on Twitter, because that's what you do in this day and age.