Thursday, January 17, 2013

Excerpt from Zombie Gras

             The local news team assigned to parade coverage were reporting live from the parade route.  Perched in a bleacher barricade constructed along the street, the two news anchors, one male and one female, and the weekend weather man were all slightly pink with inebriation, which was par for the course.  What wasn't so typical, however, were the expressions of wide-eyed terror that they wore or the shaking evident in their voices as they reported on the scene around them. 
            The parade floats had stopped rolling, stalled in the street, parting the sea of carnage that stretched out as far as the eye could see.  The newly risen dead, decked in all the splendor of their colorful Mardi Gras costumes, chased parade spectators to and fro, catching and devouring them here and there.  Near the television crew, a blood soaked woman with half a face stumbled by, lighted Mardi Gras beads flashing, twinkling festively against her exposed and torn bosom.             
           The throng of dead were thick against the news team's bleacher box, pressing in around them as they nervously reported on the events around them.
            "And, over there, Barbara, I think I'm seeing a clown eating another clown." said the male anchor.
            "No, Tom, I think that clown is eating a pirate."
            "Ah, you're right.  So it is."
            "Oh, the humanity..." sobbed the weather man.
            "And, over to our left, you can just make out the remnants of a high school marching band eating their way through the crowd in front of them." Tom continued.   

First Zombie Gras cover art concept sketch above!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Living Ghost (a short story)

            The plan was for Ivy to rob the store.  Her husband and their two friends would be waiting in the car.
            It had never really struck Ivy as much of a plan, but Dan, her husband, was so sure that it was sound, and she trusted him.  So Ivy was going to go through the check-out and, when she reached the front of the line, she would hold up the grocery store cashier with the gun that Dan had bought for her.
            Dan, Dale, and Krystal would be waiting in their car outside.  Ivy and Dan had been married for about fifteen years now, and Dale had been their closest friend for most of that time.  Dan knew Krystal through his work.  He was a real estate agent, and Krystal worked as a receptionist in his office.  They had become fast friends, so he had wanted to include her in this caper.  Ivy wasn't sure why.  Maybe Dan just wanted to make her feel accepted.  Or maybe he knew that she needed cash and was trying to lend a helping hand to a sweet kid.  Maybe he even thought she was cute.  Ivy hadn't given any real thought to whether or not Krystal was pretty.  She was just a fresh-faced kid.  All Ivy could see when she looked at Krystal was her youth -- as though the girl was filled with an overabundance of life; she seemed to exude it from her pores. 
            As Ivy approached the boy at the register, her hand fumbled with the gun in her purse.  She really didn't want to do this.  But she was to blame for their current financial difficulty; she had lost her job a few months ago, and Dan was struggling to support the both of them by himself.  So this was Ivy pulling her weight.
            At the last moment, she made a decision.
            "Do you have a gun in there?" the boy asked, seeing the odd bulge of the object with which Ivy was unconsciously still toying within her purse.
            "I do, but that's not important." she said quietly.  "This isn't a hold up.  It doesn't need to be.  I've been watching you; I know you've been pocketing a lot of money.  So, give me what's in your drawer now, cover it yourself, and I'll walk away and never come back in this store again."
            After Dan had convinced her to rob the grocery, Ivy had decided to "case the joint" in order to up her odds of success at the robbery.  She had spent the past week lingering in the store, observing the store's daily routines and the varying behavior of the cashiers.
            The boy paused for a moment.  Their eyes locked.  Then he took out a small paper bag, stuffed the stack of twenty dollar bills from his drawer into it, and handed it to Ivy.
            Ivy took the bag and walked as calmly as she could out of the store.
            In the parking lot, she took a deep breath and looked around for the car.  She couldn't find it. 
            Then Dale circled and pulled up beside her.  Dan and Krystal were still nowhere to be found.
            Dale looked almost surprised to see Ivy. 
            "Dan and Krystal went on ahead in your car." Dale explained.  "We'll meet them there."
            Ivy got in the car, and they drove away.
            She started to peel off Dale's quarter of the take from the wad of bills, but then she decided it would probably be best to wait until they were all together.  Besides, she was feeling a bit bitter; at that moment, it didn't seem quite fair to her that they were all splitting the money evenly when she had had to do all of the work and shoulder all of the risk.  But the thought was a counter-productive one, and so she pushed it aside.
            They arrived at the rendez vous point.  As a real estate agent, Dan had access to a variety of properties.  Dan had arranged for them to meet at a house that wouldn't be going up on the market for another couple of weeks and would be comfortably empty in the interim.
            Ivy and Dale entered the house, and Dale promptly excused himself to go to the restroom.  Ivy walked toward the back of the house, looking for Dan.  She paused at a closed door that led into a kitchen; she heard Dan and Krystal talking.
            "Don't worry.  The likelihood that she'll even make it out of that grocery store is remote." Dan said.  "I mean, what could be more stupid than waving a gun around in a grocery store line?  Someone will hit an alarm instantly.  And, even if she did manage to get away, that would just mean that you and I would have a little extra cash.  If she makes it back, I'll take care of her myself."
            "Oh, Dan." Krystal sighed.  " I'm just so happy that we're finally going to be able to be together all the time."
            Shocked, Ivy was not sure if she felt hurt, betrayed, scared, or just numb.  She began to back away from the door.  Not looking, she bumped into a potted plant, causing it to wobble and then clatter over loudly.
            "Shit.  What was that?" Krystal asked.
            "That might have been her.  Wait here." Dan said.
            Panicked, Ivy threw the flimsy bolt lock on the door.  The door immediately began to rattle as Dan tried to force it open.
            Ivy turned and ran back to the living room in the front of the house where she had left the gun in her purse.
            Reaching the living room, she grabbed her purse and dug out the gun.  Alarmingly, she could hear noises above her in the ceiling.
            The attic stairs fell from the ceiling, folding down into the living room, and Dan descended them, a gun at his side.  He must have bought a second one when he had purchased hers.
            "Get away from me, Dan." Ivy said, pointing her gun at him.
            Dan advanced toward her, lifting his arm to level his gun and take aim at her.
            Terrified, Ivy instinctively pulled the trigger.
            The ferocious noise of the gunshot reverberated in Ivy's ears, and Dan's head burst like an overripe pumpkin, spattering blood and semisolid hunks of gore all over the wall above the attractive leather sofa onto which Dan's now mostly headless body collapsed.
            Ivy gasped and then hunched over, letting out a ragged, drawn out sob.
            As the ringing began to subside in her ears, Ivy became aware of a noise from the back of the house.  It sounded like Krystal had managed to wrench open the door.
            As Ivy turned to face the doorway, Krystal entered the living room.   She too had a gun.
            Ivy didn't really blame Krystal.  After all, she was just a twenty-two years old kid.  Dan had been forty-five, had no doubt manipulated her, promising her the moon and filling her head with lies about his marriage.
            "Krystal, please put the gun down.  Please don't put me in a position where I have to hurt you.  I don't want to hurt anyone."  Ivy told her.
            "You killed him!" Krystal shrieked, dropping to her knees beside the sofa, next to Dan's crumpled body; the gun in her shaking hand was still pointed directly at Ivy.
            "I loved him!" Krystal wailed.
            "You don't even know what love means yet, Krystal.  Give yourself a chance to grow up.  Put the gun down."
            For a moment that felt like an eternity, the two women were locked in a stand-off, each pointing a gun at the other.
            Dale, looking bewildered, emerged from the bathroom at this moment, startling Krystal as he entered the room.
            Seeing a momentary break in the stand-off, Ivy fired her gun, hitting Krystal in the chest.  Krystal fell to the floor, her body shuddering violently.  Ivy approached her, kicking the gun away from her hand.
            "I'm sorry.  I didn't want to have to shoot you, Krystal." Ivy mumbled.
            Krystal replied with a long string of curses directed at Ivy, spoken haltingly because she was choking on her own frothy blood bubbles as she spoke.
            Distrustful, Dale began to back away from Ivy, inching toward the gun she had kicked across the room.
            "Dale, please let me explain.  They were planning to kill me.  I only shot in self-defense."
            He continued to slowly move toward the gun.
            "Don't make me out to be a monster.  Please, Dale.  Don't make me a monster."
            Dale lunged for the gun on the floor, and Ivy shot.
            The first shot hit him in the shoulder.  He dropped onto the blood soaked carpet, scrambling to pick up the gun.  Ivy fired again, hitting him in the stomach.  This time Dale fell flat, clutching his belly and moaning.
            "Fuck." Ivy said.
            Dale continued to moan, Krystal continued to curse, although it was becoming more incoherent, and the ringing in her ears had yet to completely recede.
            There was no going back from this.   If they lived, they were just going to identify her.
            She emptied two more shots into Dale, ending his misery.
            Then one more into Krystal.
            Standing now surrounded by carnage, her feet inches deep into blood, Ivy had gone from a loving wife and good citizen to a mass murderer in a turn of events that nobody would ever possibly understand or forgive.
            She put the gun to her head and pulled the trigger.
            Click.  Empty.
            As the ringing began to subside, it was quickly replaced by the sound of sirens. 
            Ivy's heart began to pound.  Looking around for some means of escape, she took the only avenue she saw.  She climbed the attic stairs, pulling up the stairs behind her, and hid, remaining quiet as the police entered the domicile and began to search its rooms. 
            "I guess we'd better sweep it." she heard one of the officers say unenthusiastically.
            The attic stairs squeaked loudly as they were pulled down. 
            In desperation, Ivy ran to the far end of the attic where there was a small door that appeared to sealed off; it looked as though it had been painted over many times over the years.  She managed to pry it open and then flung herself inside.  Within the tiny room, in the pitch black, she hid amid old Christmas decorations, holding the door shut with her fingernails. 
            The police officer took no notice of Ivy's storage cubby; he performed a cursory visual examination of the attic and then, obviously satisfied that nobody was there, he descended the stairs, closing up the attic behind him.
            She wondered, if she were able to avoid capture, how long she could live up in the attic.  It was fairly comfortable, as attics go.  There was a converted living space with a couch, a lamp, and even an old television, though there was no ready access to food.  At night, she could probably sneak downstairs in the dark and pilfer whatever she could find from the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets.  There was nowhere else for Ivy to go.  She would be wanted as at least "a person of interest" if not, more likely, a suspect in the three murders.  And, if the police found her, the traces of gunpowder on her hands would undoubtedly give her away immediately.  She couldn't go home or walk the streets.  She was destined now to be a ghost, living in the ceiling, the walls, the crawlspaces of this house, haunting it while still alive.
            After a few days, the crime scene was cleared away.  Realizing that they would be unable to sell a house in which such a gruesome crime had been committed, the owners resigned themselves to keeping the house and moved back into it.  Though fearful of being discovered, Ivy was grateful for their presence, for it ensured a consistent supply of food. 
            Ivy snuck around at night scrounging scraps that were unlikely to be missed.  She grew pale and hunched over from living in the attic all day.  Transformed into a gaunt, bent, and sallow creature, she had become a ghost in solid form, hiding in corners and skittering through the dark.  A living shadow, she herself soon would remember only a distant echo of who she once had been.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Random Chapter from Subliminal Debris (my current writing project)

The Maiden (random chapter from Subliminal Debris)


Susan had first noticed them in the parking lot outside of the grocery store earlier that day.  They were just vague shapes at first -- movements barely discernible out of the corner of her eye -- dark shapes flitting away each time she turned toward them.
Maybe she needed new contact lenses.
Dismissing this visual quirk, Susan went about her shopping.
She followed her list, strolling up and down the store's aisles, plucking chosen products from the shelves.
However, when Susan reached for a jug of laundry detergent, shadowy hands seemed to reach for it as well from behind the shelf, tugging at it, trying to wrestle it from her. 
"What the fuck?" she thought, recoiling. 
Maybe she needed to get more sleep.
She reached for the detergent again.  This time, she retrieved it with no problem.
Strolling down a canned goods aisle, it happened again.  Something seemed to really want that can of stewed tomatoes.  She let it have it, backing away.
Maybe this grocery store had some sort of large rodent infestation.  Or raccoons, maybe.
Now on edge, Susan hurriedly gathered her remaining shopping list items, curtailing all nonessentials, and proceeded to the check out.
"Did you find everything OK today?" the cashier inquired with a cursory smile.
"Hmmm?  Oh, yes, I did, thank you." Susan responded distractedly, brushing her shoulder length dark blonde hair away from her eyes.
She breathed an irrational little sigh of relief when she left the grocery store.
Wheeling her cart toward the parking lot, Susan resolved to leave the disturbing events of the day behind her and began to plan out the rest of her day in her mind.  Once she got home and put away the groceries, she would do some laundry and then look through her closet for something to wear to her blind date later that evening.  Susan was recently divorced, and it seemed that every single one of her friends was insisting upon setting her up with a different "perfect guy." 
She was mostly just humoring them.  She did have to admit, though, that the idea of a little bit of attention, and even companionship, was appealing to Susan.  Unfortunately, the "perfect guys" had consistently been duds so far.
Her eerie experience already pushed from her mind, Susan glanced back at the grocery store and then abruptly stopped stock-still.
Shadowy creatures seeped from between the bricks of the store's facade, oozing in and out of the wall as if they were liquid.  There were easily dozens of them.  Possibly there were many more; they moved so quickly that it was hard to tell.  Susan's mouth fell open, hanging agape as she watched the creatures slipping between the bricks and out of large cracks that she had previously failed to notice in the store's wall.  The impish creatures seemed to be entirely composed of some substance that looked like dense, almost gooey, black shadow.
Turning to run toward her car, Susan suddenly became aware of the cracks in the cement under her feet.  Looking out at the parking lot, she saw that it was covered in cracks.  Only ten yards in front of her, an enormous crack was widening, forming a chasm as she watched.
Maybe she had lost her mind.
From the widening gap, shadow creatures were pouring out in droves, climbing to the surface and beginning to hop and skip toward her. 
"Shit." she said.
The rift blocked the way to her car.
Abandoning her shopping cart, Susan turned and began to run toward the street.              
Seeing a damsel in apparent distress, the driver of a dark blue Honda Accord skidded to a stop.  How could Nick help but notice the attractive, curvaceous woman running at full speed toward his car? This modern day maiden approached, her dirty blonde curls creating a soft, bouncing halo around her face as she ran.
"Help!" she screamed.  "Help!  Please help me!  They're coming for me!"
"Get in." Nick shouted, unlocking the car's doors.
She leapt into the passenger seat, slammed the door, and gestured for him to drive. 
He pulled away.
"Did you see them? Those shadow creatures?" she panted.
"Oh," she said, looking a bit embarrassed.  "You must think I'm insane." she said apologetically, still trying to catch her breath.
"No.  I believe you."
She narrowed her eyes.  "Why the hell would you believe me?  It sounds crazy.  I wouldn't believe me."
Nick's lips broke into a little half smile.  "You wouldn't believe the things I've seen." he said
Susan momentarily found herself hoping that she hadn't just gotten into a car with a crazy person.
"So yes, I really do believe you." Nick reiterated to Susan.
"In the past twenty-four hours, I've been informed that I am sin personified by a folk singer who bore a striking resemblance to David Koresch, chased by cops for no particular reason, and told that all of reality is unraveling and I'm humanity's best chance of salvation by a talkative bird. 
So, maybe there are creepy little shadow people coming out of cracks in walls.  I wouldn't doubt it.  If reality is unraveling, it only stands to reason that things might come in through the resulting tears in its fabric."
They sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment.
"I'm probably the last person you should associate with right now, by the way." Nick said.  "Those creatures you saw, whatever they were -- well, you were probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I, on the other hand, am an outright target for all of this madness."
"Great." Susan said, smiling resignedly.
"Don't be." she assured Nick.  "You saved my ass."
"Glad to be of service, m'lady." Nick replied, tipping an imaginary hat.
Susan tried to give a mimic curtsey in response, although the confines of the car made it difficult.
Nick smiled warmly.  "Where am I taking you?" he asked.
"Home, I guess, if it's not too much trouble."
"No trouble at all." he assured her.  "I have nowhere to be at the moment.  On a Monday, I'd typically be at work -- I'm a teacher.  But I called in sick.  I seem to be at the epicenter of an impending apocalypse or I have utterly lost my mind.  Either way, I figured that I probably shouldn't involve children."
"Yeah, that's probably a good call." Susan concurred.


Susan let Nick come in with her and fixed him a light make-shift meal, silently cursing the fact that she had been forced to abandon the groceries she had purchased. 
            Over mediocre pasta, Susan asked Nick to elaborate on what was supposedly happening.
            Nick took a deep breath.
            "OK, here it goes: in addition to our individual everyday consciousnesses, there exists a collective, universal unconsciousness which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious is inherited, and it contains ancient, archaic images -- the primitive source of universal symbols found in myths, legends, poetry, and dreams -- what are known as "archetypes."
            "Sure -- or "primordial images" or "archaic remnants."   Susan added, nodding.
            "I'm a licensed social worker.  I had to take a lot of psychology courses.  I'm familiar with this stuff, at least theoretically.  But what does it have to do with squat legged malevolent shadows?"
            "Beautiful and smart." he thought.
            "That's good news." Nick said.  "Maybe you can help me wade through and make sense of this bizarre mission I seem to have involuntarily acquired.  The central problem seems to be that the collective unconsciousness is dying."
            "Oh, that's bad." Susan gasped, grasping the significance immediately. "If Jung was right, archetypes are responsible for the human quality of human beings. The preconscious psychic disposition enables man to react in a human manner."
            "That's what the bird said."


After a few hours of mutual hypothesizing, interspersed with a healthy quantity of small talk, Susan asked Nick if he would be willing to go back to the shopping center parking lot so that she could try to retrieve her car.  He acquiesced.
The proceeded with caution, but although tell-tale cracks remained, there was no sign of the shadow creatures.  There was no sign of her groceries, of course; if cackling shadow creatures hadn't delightedly torn into them, no doubt some fellow shopper had absconded with them.  More importantly, though, her car was still where she had parked it.  Nick pulled up beside it and Susan hastily jumped in and started it up, eager to flee while she could.
Nick hated to part ways with Susan.  Having a sudden, unexpected ally in this ever-more harsh and crazy world had given him a great sense of relief.  Not to mention, he thought she was incredibly cute.
Hurriedly, he scrawled his cell phone number on a scrap of paper that was sitting in his cup holder.
"In case you run into anything else otherworldly, or need help with anything, keep my number." Nick said, handing it to her.  He was pretty sure that sounded valiant and selfless, not lecherous and desperate.  He hoped that it did, anyway -- but not as much as he hoped that she would call.
"Thanks!  For everything!  I'll call you later just to make sure everything is OK.  No more talking ravens or whatnot."
Nick smiled, deeply pleased with this promise of future contact.
"I just have to get to my date first." Susan said, and then she drove away.
Suddenly Nick didn't feel so pleased.