Archive for the ‘Speculative Fiction’ Category

PRO-T-EN MAN @ Unlikely Stories E-zine!

April 13, 2019

 

Hey, everyone. I’m both excited and pleased to announce that my short story: “PRO-T-EN Man,” has been published by Unlikely Stories E-zine.

Check it out: http://www.unlikelystories.org/content/pro-t-en-man

Thanks for reading.

JLR.

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Equation @ Idiot Free Zone E-zine!

February 7, 2019

 

Hey, everyone! I’m excited and proud to announce that my short story: “Equation,” has been published to the eclectic and interesting Idiot Free Zone E-zine!

Check it out: https://www.idiotfreezone.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=837:equation&catid=87&Itemid=500

Thanks to everyone who continues to support my work!

JLR

Ashes & Embers @ Orcs Unlimited Games!

August 23, 2018

 

Hey, everyone! I’m proud and excited to announce that my short story: “Ashes & Embers,” has been published by Orcs Unlimited Games in their P.I. Longtail Anthology! Each story in the collection is original fiction based on characters and concepts from Orcs Unlimited’s Small Wardens Role-Playing Game.

Read an excerpt from “Ashes & Embers” below.


It was a typical Friday afternoon in Sun Place. Bright, warm, and mellow. A soft breeze blowing in from the ports. People lounging in Sun Park and on the beaches. Tourists out shopping and ducking into the bars. The docks busy with endless maritime traffic…and somewhere, trouble was brewing. I didn’t let on, but I could feel it; deep down in my belly like the rumble of a locomotive.

I was restless, sitting with my feet on my desk and the morning paper in my paws. My partner, Tracy, was so bored she’d taken to doing cartwheels across The Office. I tried to ignore her but it was difficult. Even a weather-beaten old rat like me had to admit that she was a cute little squirrel; maybe the cutest in Sun Place. Tracy was quite a partner, too. A bit reckless from time to time, but no doubt the best I’ve ever had.

Saaammm,” she groaned, leaping onto her desk chair with a deftness that both impressed and annoyed me. “Can’t we call it quits for today and go have some fun?”

I folded the paper and glanced over; trying my best to look like a disapproving uncle and probably failing. Tracy smiled, batted her long lashes. Playing me like a fiddle. Making me ignore the rumble in my belly.

“Well…I suppose we could knock off early for the weekend. Maybe go over to the docks and see what the tide brings in.”

Tracy leapt down from her chair. For a moment, I thought she was going to land in my lap and I sprang forward. “Swell!” she said, doing another cartwheel, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Maybe my gut was wrong, after all.

Nope.

Right as I stood, an acorn slid down through the mail drop. Both Tracy and I jerked toward the sound as it hit the floor and rolled to a stop near my feet. Tracy’s smile faded as she looked from the acorn to me. This could only mean one thing. Warden Command had a job for us. I shrugged, then bent down and picked it up.

“Aw, man,” Tracy said, shaking her head. “What timing.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, speaking into the acorn. “Sam Long Tail here. What’s the hubbub, Bub?”

The acorn flashed red, as always. Then an automated voice began to speak:

“Good day, Sam. Good day, Tracy. We have a mission for you both. We’ve received word that a small, traveling carnival has crept into Sun Place this morning. They’re currently setting up in Gaslight Park, presumably to peddle their wares throughout the weekend. The owner-operator of this carnival is a human male named Edwin Embers. He has quite a lengthy record, though mostly for petty crimes. We have reason to suspect that he may be up to no good, and would like you to investigate as soon as possible. Please provide a report once the investigation has concluded. Thank you, and good luck.”

With a weary sigh, I turned and tossed the glowing acorn into a dismantled cast iron sink in the far corner. Warden Command had a hilarious way of making sure their message-acorns weren’t later found by the wrong people; the acorns exploded soon after the message was spoken.

Eyes closed, paws over my ears, I turned to Tracy and waited for the small explosion to pass. The noise didn’t bother me, but the small shockwave sure didn’t help my belly any. When I opened my eyes, Tracy was looking at me with her precious dark eyes. I lowered my paws and grinned.

“The good news, kid, is that we’re going to a carnival…”

To that, Tracy squealed and put on her trusty flight cap.


Longtail P.I. is available through Amazon.com @ https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GPZTJQ2/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534898604&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=long+tail+p.i.&dpPl=1&dpID=51zeXk5EuNL&ref=plSrch

Check out Orcs Unlimited Games @ http://orcsunlimited.com/

 

PRO-T-EN Man (Spoken Word Excerpt)

April 26, 2018

Hello, everyone. Check out this spoken word excerpt from my short story: “PRO-T-EN Man.”

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share.

Thanks!

JLR

PRO-T-EN Man (Short Story Excerpt)

April 22, 2018

May 4th, 2099.

United States of America.

Southwest Quadrant, Sector Two.

2030 hours.

The night came alive with the low thrum of dueling engines. PRO-T-EN Industries Corps Savant, Gunnar Eck Rourke—Job Title: Strategic Executive, Rank: Captain—sat in the comfort of his machine; military grade, custom built, and synched to his private neural-net. Molded to his form, the soft seat reclined, keeping Gunnar low as he sped along the mapped route behind a small PRO-T-EN convoy. Though traveling by autopilot, his hands lay upon the manual controls; smooth metal spheres embedded in the armrests, the throttle-ball on his left, the steering-ball on his right. Above these controls, a multifaceted console lit up the dark interior with a sharp red glow. Through his helmet visor, Gunnar saw a green 40 holding steady on his digital speedometer.

“Non-PRO-T-EN vessels and personnel detected,” Gunnar’s neural assistant, Eos, warned in its soothing, mechanized voice. Thirty seconds before, Eos had been reciting an old poem about lost, violent souls while Gunnar relaxed. Then they’d both received an alert from one of the PRO-T-EN Corps Surveillance Savants, snapping them back to attention.

A PRO-T-EN drone had identified an incoming attack, but the Savant had been too busy to launch a counterstrike, or even perform a thorough scan.

“Analysis?” Gunnar asked with a smirk.

“Four human-persons and three civilian-grade vessels, Captain Rourke. Approaching from the west. Current speed for all vessels, approximately thirty-one meters-per-second.”

Gunnar flicked his eyes from the front viewing pane to his primary monitor. The screen projected a neon blue schematic of his surroundings. All PRO-T-EN vehicles—including his own—outlined in bright green. All non-PRO-T-EN vehicles—including these new invaders—outlined in bold crimson.

“Status?”

“Unknown, Captain Rourke. The human-persons appear to be Unemployed Civilians. No data files detected, and no neural-net activity present, viral or otherwise.”

“I see. Incompetents.”

Now Gunnar glanced at his digital power gauge. A green 90 held steady, showing his primary coils at almost full capacity; plenty of wattage for a little extra maneuvering.

“The human-persons are in violation of multiple ordinances, Captain Rourke. A state of Unemployment is a Class D Transgression in all Civilian Centers. Civilians trespassing in a Corporate Sector is a Class B Transgression. Operating a civilian vessel in a Corporate Sector is a Class B Transgression. Illicitly owning a civilian vessel is a Class C Transgression.”

Gunnar’s smirk became a lupine grin. Un-Civ Incomps; lower than the lowest criminals. Gunnar, of course, knew the PRO-T-EN Industries Corps Protocols back to front. If these Incomps worked for a competitive corporation such as e-PHEMERUS Incorporated or In-E-Ware Holdings & Securities, well, the rules of engagement would be different.

But they didn’t.

Which meant that Gunnar would have to follow strict interaction procedures.

“PRO-T-EN Corps Protocol dictates that you must initiate contact in an official and professional manner, informing the human-persons of their Transgressions.”

“Ten-four, Eos. Disengage auto-pilot.”

“Autopilot disengaged.”

Sighing, Gunnar rolled his right hand over the steering-ball, leaving the convoy behind. The incoming Incomps followed—as he knew they would.

“Breaking formation,” Gunnar said, engaging his neural-net to broadcast the transmission. “Un-Civs times three in pursuit.”

A moment passed, then a bland voice returned: “Backup, Captain?”

“Negative. Standby for update.”

“Ten-four.”

Time to be Professional, Trustworthy, and Energetic!

In tribute to its color and design—and his love of classic poetry—Gunnar called his vehicle The Raven. The PRO-T-EN machine handled with the greatest of ease; a hallmark of PRO-T-EN engineering. Sleek, jet black, and flying five feet above the desert terrain, the PRO-T-EN logo—a raised, golden T—gleamed in the moonlight on its hood. The Raven resembled a combustion engine hotrod, but far more compact, and a hell of a lot tougher. Like all PRO-T-EN Corps vehicles, it had been molded from a secret, patented alloy developed by PRO-T-EN Chemical Engineering Savants. Reinforced throughout—including its front and rear ends, making it an optimal battering ram—coated with PRO-T-EN’s patented radiation-absorbent polymer, and armor-plated, The Raven had been driven through every Corporate Sector in The United States, and had suffered little damage. Gunnar himself had seen more combat than his vehicle, and sitting there, encased in this techno-magnificent pod, he felt no apprehension about confronting the Incomps. He chose to leave the running lights off as he raced into the darkness, relying instead upon his state-of-the-art tracking system. The secondary monitor displayed a neon blue schematic of his surroundings, and Gunnar didn’t see much in the way of obstacles. He had the nerve, the weaponry, and the room to operate.

The poor Incomps behind him didn’t stand a chance.

Gunnar’s assignment had been a simple one from the start: provide an armed escort for three PRO-T-EN transports from the manufacturing plant in Sector One, Civilian Center B—once known as Los, then New Angeles, California—to a PRO-T-EN Distribution Center in Sector Two, Civilian Center A—once known as Phoenix, Arizona. Classified freight; property of PRO-T-EN Industries, the greatest corporation in the world. It wouldn’t be a typical food and supplies run, but still, it seemed like a banal assignment. Captain Rourke needed banality in his life, and volunteered on the condition of approval for an Extended Consensual Absence. PRO-T-EN Health and Reproductive Services had already approved both applications to co-parent a child. He and his wife, Melisma—Department: Medical Services, Job Title: Executive Pharmacologist—had submitted their tissue samples sixteen months ago. It took nine months to get the approval, then seven more to secure an appointment with their PRO-T-EN Reproductive Services Provider. Not that Gunnar complained; he loved PRO-T-EN Industries, and revered his Savant Status with an ardor unmatched.

But he hadn’t been home, or seen Melisma, in a good long while.

Thus, banal or not, Gunnar saw this assignment as a golden opportunity. The trip had been uneventful until they’d reached fifty kilometers south of Civilian Center A’s perimeter. That’s when the Incomps appeared, two on Omnert Enterprises hover cycles, and two in an e-PHEMERUS mini-shuttle which had to be at least twenty years old; a real clunker which didn’t even have retractable solar charging panels. And they wanted the PRO-T-EN cargo.

Which meant dealing with Gunnar Rourke.

“Decrease speed to three, zero, M-P-S.”

“Decreasing speed,” Eos advised.

The Raven downshifted, its engine thrumming beneath the hood. Its internal magnetic field disruptor plowed the sand below, billowing dust in its wake. A black blur against the black night. Heading nowhere, seeking destruction.

“Hold current speed.”

“Current speed held, Captain Rourke.”

Another smirk as Gunnar watched the Incomps close in on the schematic. In seconds, a hover cycle appeared on either side. Although similar to their earlier century counterparts, their front forks attached not to tires, but flat metal discs. The Incomp riders leant forward, hands and forearms resting in slots inside their steering consoles. They wore dark helmets with ancient logos, and tattered white clothing; the attire of scavengers. The mini-shuttle, larger than The Raven but nowhere near as durable, stuck close to Gunnar’s tail.

Four dead Incomps, too dense to know they are doomed.

Content to indulge in this joyride for a few moments, Gunnar held his controls steady, and it neither surprised nor concerned him when he heard a sharp thunk! on the portside viewing pane.

“Physical attack detected,” Eos advised. “Zero percent structural damage. The human-person is in violation. Damaging PRO-T-EN property and endangering the well-being of an on-duty PRO-T-EN Savant are both Class A Transgressions. Lethal force is now permitted.”

Gunnar shook his head. This non-employable scum thought he could smash his way in with a roto-hammer while piloting a hover cycle at thirty meters-per-second! Typical. Gunnar had dealt with their kind many times before. He despised them and their rabid, illogical unwillingness to join the Civilian Centers and contribute to society. And these particular Incomps had to be insane if they thought they could engage a PRO-T-EN Corps convoy and stand even the remotest chance of success.

Thunk!

“Physical attack detected. Starboard side. Zero percent structural damage. The human-person has committed the same Class A Transgressions. Lethal force is advised.”

Gunnar glanced to his right as the other Incomp started in with a roto-hammer, too. Through the viewing pane, he saw the brand-new Iron Steed ’99 Series hover cycle, with its marbled crimson bodywork, and felt a pang of regret.

What a shame; having to destroy such a beautiful machine. Perhaps one day, Omnert Enterprises would see the light and sell their stock to PRO-T-EN Industries.

“Would you like me to execute an offensive maneuver, Captain Rourke?” Eos asked with an eager lilt.

“Negative. Hold manual settings.”

“Very well. Remember that safety is a PRO-T-EN virtue.”

“Ten-four, Eos.”

The Incomps kept hammering—

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

—and the mini-shuttle rammed The Raven’s rear bumper—

Crunch!

“Vehicular impact detected. Aft end. Two percent structural damage. All human-persons present have committed multiple Transgressions. Lethal force is now encouraged.”

The Raven wavered, but Gunnar held his course. He had these Incomps right where he wanted them, far from the PRO-T-EN cargo, and disposing of them wouldn’t be hard.

Time to dispense some PRO-T-EN justice!


If you enjoyed this excerpt, please like, subscribe, and share!

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thanks for reading!

JLR

Death’s Avenger Volume 1 Complete!

February 8, 2018

 

I’m happy to announce that I’ve completed Volume 1 of my serialized story: “Death’s Avenger.” “Death’s Avenger” is the story of Blaine Myers, a man chosen to be an avatar of Death Itself. With no choice but to kill, Myers decides to use his dark powers to fight crime.

Volume 1 chronicles Blaine’s descent into near madness as Death invades his life. It’s comprised of a prologue, and seventeen episodes.

Below is a preview of The “Death’s Avenger” Prologue.


PROLOGUE: SKELETON MAN

January 28th, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

1:01 a.m.

Here I stand on the vaunted Stark City archway, looking down on Stark Boulevard. The street has grown dark and quiet; few cars, and even fewer pedestrians. From my perch I can see the edge of Bartholomew Park, where no doubt there are drug deals and illicit sex taking place. I should be there, but I’m taking my time.

What can I say? I’m still pretty new at this.

The sky above is a dark, swirling gray. A light drizzle gives everything an oily sheen. The winter wind bites deep, but I hardly feel it. There’s a coldness inside me that no earthly wind could ever touch. That means no shivering, no chattering teeth as I lurk on the concrete arch. All I’m wearing is a cheap skeleton man Halloween costume, with a matching skeleton mask, skeleton gloves, and black sneakers. I look ridiculous. I feel ridiculous. But it’s partly what I’ve chosen to do, and partly what I’ve been ordained to do.

I’m not caped, and I’m not a crusader. All I really am is a harbinger of Death, trying my damnedest to be a hero at the same time.

If that’s even possible.

All I know is that, up until New Year’s Eve, I was just an ordinary guy named Blaine Gregory Myers. An I.T. associate at Fortress Engineering and Structural Design. Thirty years old. No kids, but living with my longtime girlfriend, Joan. A nobody, really. Nobody special.

Try as I might, even after all that’s happened, I still can’t understand why Death chose me.

Me, of all people…

Ah, well. Doesn’t matter anymore. At this point, nothing matters except what I have to do—which feels about as safe as juggling chainsaws while blindfolded and doing a tap-dance. I’m somehow supposed to unleash Death in my own discriminate manner and save my soul at the same time. Even now, I can feel my humanity slipping away. Morbid thoughts creeping in. Urges I’ve never felt before rising in my heart. I feel utter contempt for the living; driven to murder, to kill. The same way a junkie craves his junk, I guess.

But I won’t let Death turn me into a total monster. I’ll fight it ’til the bitter, bloody end.

Still, I have to admit, this power isn’t all bad. I should be freezing my ass off, but I’m not. I used to fear the darkness; now I welcome it, wrap it around me like a blanket. I can do…things…that no one else can. I don’t even know my limitations yet. And the strength! I’ve never felt so strong before; like nothing can stop me.

Maybe that’s not true, but that’s how I feel.

And tonight, I’m looking for trouble.

The drizzle fades as the breeze strengthens. I look around, gazing through my skeleton mask at the dark, dirty street and the bright traffic lights at each intersection. Will I kill tonight? Will I again bring terror to Stark City? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

In the distance, I hear a loud, thrumming engine. Looking north, I see a pair of headlights racing down Stark Boulevard. Much too fast for this street. Behind the mask, I smile. What could it be? Someone in need of help? Punks out for a joyride?

Or maybe, just maybe, trouble has come looking for me.

Silent as a shadow, I glide across the archway and descend the stone steps on the west side of Stark Boulevard. The car begins to slow, and my instincts guide me into a nearby alleyway. Waiting. Watching. Hoping the night has brought me something tasty.

I stand motionless—not even breathing, I think—as the car coasts to a stop before the alleyway. It’s a compact, four-door car, the color of coagulated blood. I hear the thumping of club music and it fills me with hope. The rear passenger door swings open with a burst of laughter behind it. A young man lurches out with bulging eyes. Clutching the door and the frame, he vomits violently onto the sidewalk. A hand clutches the back of his coat, preventing him from falling forward.

“Pussy can’t hold his liquor!” a deep, jovial voice calls from within, followed by another burst of laughter.

My smile fades. Just kids; not really worth the effort. They are, however, probably underage, and driving drunk. Either way, I should probably put a scare into them.

Might be the only thrill I get tonight.

Concentrating, I extend my malefic aura; the inner entropy which seems to seep from my pores. I don’t disable the engine, but it dies just the same. I hear a confused murmur as I glide toward the sick young man.

“What the fuck?” the driver yells.

“Start it back up, dumbass!” the passenger says.

Click! Click! Click!

Nothing.

I don’t want the car to start, therefore it doesn’t.

“Aren’t you boys out a little late?” I say, emerging into the dismal light.

The sick young man looks up, shakes his head as if trying to clear it.

“Who the hell are you?” the young man holding his friend’s collar asks.

“Me?” I reply, drawing closer. “I’m just a ghost.”

The two young men in the front are squinting through the side window at me. I look at them, resisting all sorts of nasty ideas.

“Hey, Halloween’s over, jackass,” Driver says with a condescending smirk.

“You seen any hookers around tonight, man?” Passenger asks, chuckling. “It’s our friend’s birthday, and he really needs to get laid. But I guess the rain drove ’em all away…”

For a moment, I say nothing. I was just like these guys during my college days. I don’t want to hurt them, but at the same time, I do.

“Just take me home!” Drunk Kid mutters, collapsing back inside the car.

Click! Click! Click!

“Fuckin’ thing won’t start!” Driver says.

“But the headlights are still on!” Passenger replies.

Drunk Kid reaches for the door, and I grab it as he pulls.

“Hey, man! What the—?”

Ker-thunk!

Relishing my newfound strength, I rip the car door free as easily as if it was made of paper. The old Blaine Myers would’ve been hard-pressed to even lift a severed car door, but I, Death’s Avenger, press it over my head without strain.

“HOLY SHIT!” Drunk Kid screams.

“Fuck!” Driver screams.

“Start the car!” Passenger screams.

“I’m trying, I’m trying!”

All four faces look panicked and afraid as I retract my aura. The engine comes alive with a loud vroom!, and I toss the metal door onto the car’s roof—

Clunk!

I chuckle as the car speeds off, spinning out and burning rubber as the drunken kids make their escape. Kind of a petty thing to do, I think, stepping off the curb. But maybe they’ll go home and sober up. Maybe they’ll think twice about boozing it up next weekend.

At least now they have an inkling of how dangerous life can be.

With a swift, casual motion, I snatch the car door up and toss it into the dark alleyway. The street is dead, so I begin strolling south down Stark Boulevard, walking the solid yellow line. The wind still blows and I still don’t feel it. Passing dark building after dark building, ennui begins to set in, and I begin to ponder going home. There’s always later tonight if my bloodlust isn’t satiated.

Another block drifts past and I find myself standing before the Stark City Mall. Three stories of puerile consumerism. Clothing shops, jewelry shops, and, of course, the food court. Never in my life have I questioned the existence of such a place. I’ve always just taken it for granted that humans have material needs, America is capitalist, and business is business. But now, imbued as I am with Death, I can’t help but feel contempt for that which seems so unnecessary. I visualize all of the humanity—of which I used to belong—streaming in and out and through this place on a daily basis, and I see nothing but waste.

Wasted money.

Wasted time.

Wasted energy.

An insect colony with no hierarchy, no purpose; accomplishing nothing. They deserve what they’ll get in the end, I think. They deserve Death. They deserve me.

But, no. I must not believe that.

It isn’t true. Of course. It’s just the dark force within, driving my thoughts into a deathly spiral.

Yeah…time to go home.

I turn, intent on leaving downtown, but a faint whimper catches my attention. I turn back to the mall, and from the courtyard I hear scuffling footsteps coming toward me. Intrigued, I wait and watch as a woman emerges from the shadows behind one of the large concrete columns. A streetwalker, wearing a faded pink hoodie, black leggings, and black high-heels. Hunched against the icy wind. Hair hidden by the pink hood. Hands thrust into her pockets. A black purse dangles at her side, the strap draped crosswise around her chest and shoulder.

“Hey, mister!” she calls, hurrying toward me. As she nears, I see that she has a black eye.

Probably in her early thirties, but she’s lived a hard life, and looks fifty. Her bottom lip is also swollen; grotesque as she smiles suggestively.

“Yes?” I reply, as if a man in a cheap Halloween costume, standing in the middle of the street, in the dead of night was completely normal.

“You just leave a costume party or somethin’?” Then, before I can answer, “You lookin’ for a date? Maybe a little company?”

“What are you doing down here?” I ask, ignoring her questions.

Her smile fades. “Look, I got in a fight with my friend, and he left me stranded down here. I’m cold, mister. I need a place to stay for the night, ya know?”

Eager, shivering, she stops at the edge of the curb, and I walk toward her, smiling behind my mask.

“Been a rough night for a poor girl like me.”

Looking into her eyes, I know that she’s lying. The old Blaine wouldn’t have known, but I do. In fact, I have no idea what the old Blaine would’ve done in this situation. He certainly wouldn’t have wanted to kill her. He wouldn’t have known that she was anxious because her pimp had beaten her up, and because she needed a fix that only he could provide. He wouldn’t have known that her pimp was actually in a car one block over, waiting for her to pick up a John. And he wouldn’t have known that the unlucky John would’ve gotten a hell of a blowjob, but also would’ve awoken to having everything of value in his place stolen, including his wallet.

But I know, simply by drinking in the fear coursing through her gaze.

“So how ’bout it? Promise I’ll make it worth your while…”

Without a word, I seize the hooker by her pockmarked throat and squeeze. Her eyes bulge with surprise, then anger, then fear as she feels the weight of my grip. My skinny arm shouldn’t feel like an iron vise, but it does. Choking, crumpling, she slaps and pounds at my face and outstretched arm; all just a waste of time.

“Call him!” I command. “Call your loser pimp!”

Left hand clutching my wrist, she fumbles for her purse with her right. I ease my grip and allow her to breathe as she finally unbuckles her purse and reaches inside. Her mortified eyes never leave mine as she raises her phone and presses the screen.

“Wh-what do ya want me to say?”

“Just tell him the truth as you see it,” I reply, giving her throat another squeeze.

She gags, then jerks as a voice streams through: “This better be good news, bitch.”

“Help,” she utters. “I need help, Stevie. Some freak’s got me and he won’t let me go…”

At this, I can’t help but chuckle.

“What?” Stevie says. “You in trouble? Be right there!”

The phone blinks, and I see a photo of a young girl in pigtails on the screen. Must be the hooker’s daughter. The wind rises as I stare at her, contemplating breaking her worthless neck.

“I called him, mister! Now please lemme go! Stevie’s gonna be pissed! You better run—NOW!”

A rather convincing speech, but I refuse to let go. She begins to panic, again beating at my face and arm, forcing me to apply my strength. She stiffens. Her knees buckle. Her eyes look hurt and confused as she sinks to the cold ground. An engine roars. Tires squeal as a big sedan takes a sharp right turn onto Stark Boulevard.

I turn, still gripping the hooker’s throat, and watch as the sedan lurches to a stop next to the curb. The door flies open, and a large man in a heavy coat slides out.

“What the fuck’s goin’ on here, Nilah?”

The man shuffles around the front end and steps onto the curb with a giant stride. His hair is slicked down, and a large overcoat hides what I assume is a rather portly frame. His scowl becomes an expression of shock when he sees me, then he rushes forward, right finger thrust out like a gaudy hood ornament.

“Hey! Let her go, jackoff! Or I’ll bust your kneecaps!”

Laughing, I shake my head.

After a short sprint, Stevie halts; stalling as he catches his breath. Out of shape bastard. His eyes reflect rage and frustration as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a large switchblade—

Snick!

The blade shimmers beneath a nearby streetlight, and I begin to imagine all of the places I’d like to stab this flabby pimp; blood pulsing from each slick wound.

“Ya know, you’re more trouble than you’re worth!” Stevie says, pointing the switchblade at Nilah. Then, turning to me, he smiles, waves the knife like a magician with a magic wand. “And what’re you supposed to be, buddy? Some kinda cosplayer? Think you’re a superhero or somethin’?”
Staring into Stevie’s hard gaze, I shake my head. What he doesn’t know is about to get him killed.

“Watch out, Stevie!” Nilah says, lips quivering. “He’s stronger than he look—”

My grip tightens, strangling her final word.

“Shut up, bitch,” Stevie says. His smile melts back into the hard scowl which is probably his usual expression. “Now listen, asshole. You let her go right now and I’ll just smack ya ’round a little. If not, I’m gonna carve ya into little pieces for the cops to find come daylight. Understand?”

Another laugh as I shake my head.

Stevie’s scowl falters for a split second. He’s obviously not used to having his bluff called, and though he doesn’t care at all about Nilah, I know he’d rather die than lose face in front of her.

And Stevie’s about to get his wish.

“Alright, dude. If that’s the way ya want it…”

The big man steps forward, hunched, ready to slice me to ribbons with his beautiful switchblade. I don’t move, just apply more pressure to Nilah’s throat as he circles and draws near. Lips pulled back, yellowish teeth grit, Stevie executes a half-ass football shuffle and rears back. But before he can swing, a sound stops him up short.

Another engine, roaring in the distance.

“Fuck!” Stevie hisses, drawing back. Turning to the street as he warns, “You better hope it’s the cops, asshole…”

Enjoying Stevie’s predicament, still choking Nilah as she flails and fights, I wait for the swelling engine’s approach. I know it isn’t the cops because there’s no siren. But it’s definitely someone in a hurry.

Let’s see what else this night can bring.

I turn as the approaching car screeches to a halt. Heading north, it crosses into the southbound lane and roars toward the curb. Its rear end collides with Stevie’s sedan’s rear end—

Boom!

—and Stevie jerks in surprise.

“Hey, shithead! What the fuck are ya doin’?”

Indeed. What is he doing? I wonder as I gaze toward the street. It’s the same car I’d encountered near the archway, but now only the driver and the passenger remain. Drunk Kid and his friend are safe in some warm apartment somewhere, I figure, while these two morons decided to come back for revenge.

Should be entertaining!

Both front end doors swing open as Stevie sprints toward the collision.

“There he is, man!” Driver says, jumping out.

“Yeah, that’s him!” Passenger replies.

“GET HIM!”

Right, I think as Nilah goes limp in my grasp. Come and get me.

“What’s your problem, Bozo?”

Driver’s eyes widen as Stevie rushes him, waving the switchblade. “Hold up!” he says, raising his hands. “We got no beef with you!”

“Fuck you!” Stevie replies, swiping at him.

Driver stumbles back into the open car door, which shuts behind him—

Thunk!

Stevie now has Driver pinned against the running car, and both are wrestling for control of the knife. “Hey!” Passenger screams, and by the glare of the headlights I see him scramble over the hood and onto Stevie’s back.

“Fuck ya both!” Stevie yells. “Cocksuckers!”

The sounds of huffing, grunting, and scuffling fill the cold night air as I look down at Nilah. Not quite dead, but unconscious. Pitiful, I decide, but the thought of the little girl’s face on her phone keeps me from breaking her neck.

A girl needs her mother, even if her mother is a pitiful hooker.

Fuck it.

I drop Nilah and turn toward the fray. Between the curb and the cars, Driver and Passenger have all but subdued Stevie. The big man is flailing, but the younger men have him in their grip, punching indiscriminately out of fear. His nose is bloody. Screaming, Driver rips the switchblade free and tosses it in my direction—

Clack!

Idiot.

“Fuckin’ punks!” Stevie blurts, his words slurry and garbled.

“Crazy fucker!” Driver yells, stepping back.

“Get outta here, man!” Passenger demands. “We came for the weirdo!”

Said weirdo smiles as I pass the car, again willing it to die. This time, for fun, I cause the seal around the oil filter to crack, and thick black goop begins to leak from under the hood.

“Guy in the suit?” Stevie asks, panting and staggering.

“Yeah!” Driver says. “He ripped off our car doo—”

Clutching the switchblade in my left fist, I backhand Passenger with my right hand as I pass him—

Thwack!

Stevie and Driver jerk toward me as I thrust the glimmering steel deep into Stevie’s potbelly—

Thuck!

Driver screams. Stevie gasps. Shock and pain contorts his bloody face as more blood begins to seep through his coat. I extract the knife as Stevie rushes me. Shoving him off, I spin, and the big man goes stumbling into Driver, knocking him to the ground.

“Hi, there, boys,” I say, driving the blade into Stevie’s left flank, just below his ribcage. Again, Stevie gasps, stiffening, falling forward onto Driver’s car. Driver scrambles to his feet, and before he can decide which way to run, I’ve got him by the throat. Just like Nilah. Except I lift him up, defying the size difference between us, and gravity itself.

“ACK!” Driver manages, eyes bulging.

Eyes which draw me in like swirling pools of crystalline water…

Seeing into him. Seeing everything. Driver’s name is Brent Hardwick. Last year, he raped a seventeen-year-old girl at a house party in Hinckley. He’d spiked her drink, and when she’d awoken the next day, she didn’t even know she’d been raped. Certainly had no proof. Brent had been gentle, using a condom and lubricant, cleaning her up once he’d finished. He’d enjoyed it…and planned to do it again with another girl as soon as he could…

Vile scum.

“STOP!” Passenger screams, slamming into me from behind. I stumble forward, tossing Brent down like a rag doll—

Thump!

“GET OFF HIM!”

Annoyed, I turn as Passenger connects with a sloppy punch to my gut. It hurts, but only in a dull, concussive way. Real pain—sharp, biting, pain—no longer exists for me. Still, I hunch forward, expecting a stiff uppercut. Instead, Passenger launches into a hysterical volley of punches and slaps, driving me backward toward Brent. I hear Passenger sniffing and gasping between punches. Obviously hurt and afraid, but pissed to the point of ineffectiveness.

Too bad.

On my left, I hear a deep groan. From the corner of my eye, I see Stevie yank the knife from his side as he collapses to his knees. The big man is all wet with blood, which gives me a perverse thrill.

Meanwhile, Passenger’s blows are beginning to lose their snap. I straighten, allowing him one clean shot to the face—

Thwack!

before I shove him onto the curb with my right hand—

Thump!

Wasting no time, I lunge to my left and plant a hard kick into Stevie’s left side—

Thwop!

Hearing and feeling his ribs crack beneath my shin is a perfect reward. Stevie groans in pain and flips onto his back, eyes shut, jaw clenched. Hands clasped over his stomach. Knees in the air, trembling.

“What in God’s name are you?” Brent says behind me, struggling to his feet. His voice sounds thick, pained; wavering with dread.

“You shouldn’t have come back,” I reply, turning. “Rapist.”

Massaging his throat, Brent jerks. His eyes, wide and bloodshot, radiate pure terror. It washes over me like a refreshing breeze; pulling me like a moth to a flame.

“What?”

I shake my masked head at the dumb kid. “Last September. You drugged and raped her, and told her nothing happened the next morning. She didn’t believe you, but she had no proof. That’s why she didn’t go to the cops.”

“Liar!” Brent screams.

“You liked it very much…”

“LIAR!”

“And you want to do it again.”

“YOU EVIL FUCK! I’LL KILL YOU!”

Brent’s right. I am an evil fuck. But he won’t kill me. He can’t.

“Try it. Please.”

But the tears on Brent’s face belies his hollow threat. I, on the other hand, intend to carry out that very threat, immediately.

Stepping forward, I reach out. Screaming, Brent turns to run, then jump as he realizes he’s trapped between rear ends. But before his young, muscular legs can propel him upward, I snatch a handful of his thin blonde hair, and yank him back onto his heels. Screaming, he begins to flail as I reach around his face and cup his chin with my left hand.

“STOOOOP!”

With Brent firmly in my grasp, despite his pointless flailing, it’s a simple matter to jerk my hands in a short circular motion, thereby breaking the young man’s neck—

Crack!

You’ll never rape again, I think as Brent goes limp and crumples to the cold, wet, blacktop.

Dead as dead can be.

This is the fourth life I have taken in the last three weeks. With each one came a feeling of elation, of sheer, primordial power coursing through my bones.

Horrid, yet undeniable.

I can only describe it as…rejuvenation.

Shaking from this surge of energy, I turn toward Stevie and Passenger. Stevie still lies on his back, curled in agony. Passenger has rolled to his hands and knees, gasping for air. He looks like a kid who’s just been hit really hard for the first time. Shocked, and confused.

I turn to Stevie, and smile. His face is swarthy, grizzled, and, like Nilah, looks much older than he really is. The bloody knife lies on the ground beside him, and I grab it as I kneel down. The steel feels so light and balanced in my hand. I want to use it. I have to use it. On the other hand, I want Stevie the pimp to die a slow, tormented death.

I also want to leave a calling card for the rest of this damned city. A sign that dark justice awaits in the shadows…

When it’s done, Stevie lies on his right side, clutching his face. Blood, and a thick, milky fluid drips from between his fingers. He’s howling in pain, which is music to my jaded ears—mainly because I know how much it hurts to howl with his broken ribs.

Now…time to deal with Passenger. The pained young man is still on his hands and knees, crying and quivering. No doubt he’s heard everything that’s gone on behind him, and he’s too scared to even move. He looks like a Hinckley kid; blessed with rich parents. But he could be from Dibert—hell, even Proebstel for all I know. Doesn’t matter, though. Rich or not, I won’t kill him. Like Nilah, he’s more just a victim of circumstance than an actual criminal.

At least, that’s what I tell myself as I walk over to him.

“Go on home, kid,” I say, nudging him with my sneaker. “And try to stay outta trouble…”

Passenger takes a deep, wet breath, and begins to say something which I’m sure will be pathetic and infuriating. So I cut him off by throwing the souvenir in my hand down to the ground in front of his face—

Plop!

Other than a sick hallucination, I’ve never seen a severed eyeball before, and I’m betting neither has Passenger. It doesn’t roll, but sticks to the damp pavement like a glob of jelly. The pupil has contracted to a pinhole. The iris shines a bright blue. Scarlet streaks have stained the white around the iris.

“JESUS, FUCK!”

Screaming, Passenger springs forward, running on all fours like a dog, and collapses several feet away. Struggling to regain his feet, the poor young man vomits like Drunk Kid earlier.
Relishing Stevie’s agonized mewls and Passenger’s guttural moans, I turn and leap onto the hood of Brent’s car, arms held in a V. The night has been rewarding, and already I’m looking forward to the next murderous adventure.

Another leap and I’m standing on the roof, waiting. Smiling behind my ridiculous mask as the wind rises. But not just any wind. A dark, powerful wind from the center of the earth. Again, I leap, into the primordial vortex which bears me aloft like a black spear into the sky.

Into the swirling shadows of oblivion.

Into the very heart of darkness.

***

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A Messy Divorce (Short Story Excerpt)

January 18, 2017

1.

Happy birthday to me, James Jefferson Ruddock—“J.J.” to his friends, “Jimmy” to his family, and “James” to his soon-to-be-ex-wife—hummed to himself, setting a small cake on his kitchen table. Happy birthday to me—

Scowling, J.J. let out an awful belch.

Haaappy biiirthday, dear J.J….

Another pause, this time to let out a long, mournful sigh. J.J.’s wide chest rose and fell with the effort. His shoulders twitched. His chin drooped. He stood there, all alone. A great big bear of a man, half drunk, feeling every wretched moment of his age, trying like hell to find one thing—just one—to feel happy about. Anything at all.

Happy birthday…to meee!

“Alright,” J.J. grumbled, clapping his large, calloused hands. He reached for his half-full—or half-empty, in J.J.’s current state of mind—bottle of Wild Turkey, swallowed a good-sized knock, and belched again.

“Another year older, J.J., ol’ buddy! An all by yourself on your birthday. How fantastic is that?”

Quivering with rage, J.J. cast his eyes to the dark ceiling and ran his free hand through his thick, black, forelocks. He wore his hair long, and at the end of its swoop J.J.’s hand closed around the rear length and tossed it from his shoulders. That felt better. Not much, but less disheveled. The wayward hand then swung around and smoothed the front of his beard. He kept that long, too. Long, but well-manicured. Not bushy. J.J. couldn’t stand the sight of wild facial hair.

Huh! Call me an animal, after all I did for her!

J.J.’s left hand tightened around the bottle. His right hand curled into a white-knuckled fist. His jaw clenched. His lips twisted into a feral moue. At that moment he would’ve given anything to have his soon-to-be-ex-wife there with him, bound and gagged, just within arm’s length.

Sneering at his own pain, J.J. grunted. “Damn you, Brenda.”

Sighing, the bitter celebrant lowered his chin, took another swig of whiskey, and paused to admire his dessert. A plain, round, German chocolate cake, frosted with coconut. He’d bought it at the grocery store along with a pack of blood-red birthday candles, then arranged the candles to show his age. It had taken eight of them to form the 3, and another eight to form the 9. With the lights out, the flickering flames spelled out the exact number of years he’d been alive to the shadows and anyone else who cared to know:

39

And beside that glowing cake sat a plain business envelope, addressed to James Ruddock, with the words:

OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

stamped in red ink across its face.

J.J looked from the cake to the envelope, then back again. “Some birthday present,” he muttered, raising the bottle to his lips. The whiskey stung the tip of his tongue, creating a shaft of pleasant heat which ran from the top of his gullet to the depths of his large belly. He took in half a mouthful, but didn’t swallow. Relishing the flavor. The sting. The heat. The approaching stupor.

Damn that woman, anyway…

Standing there, swaying on his feet, J.J. stared into the candles on his birthday cake. Their hypnotic glow soothed him almost as much as the whiskey, leaving him oblivious to the surrounding shadows. Beneath his beard, a grin formed. The urge to spit that cheekful of Wild Turkey at the flames came on strong, and in his mind he pictured a majestic fireball erupting from the wanton act.

But, no; that wouldn’t do anything except ruin the moment and the cake.

Flicking his eyes back to that loathsome envelope, J.J. felt another wild urge. Why not just snatch the damned thing up and hold it over the candles until it caught fire? Why not just stand there and watch his troubles go up in smoke?

But, no; that wouldn’t do anything except delay the inevitable.

Pondering those sad facts, J.J.’s eyes began to glisten. From the whiskey, of course. Not the searing heartbreak. Not the dull pain in his uncompromising heart. Not that.

No way.

Screw it! J.J. thought, throwing his head back and gulping the whiskey into his stomach. “An screw her!” he finished aloud, slamming the bottle down beside the envelope—

Thunk!

J.J. grimaced from the knock, then leant forward, planting his rough palms on each end of the small fold-up table. The ring on his left hand glimmered in the candlelight.

Whoo-eee! Strong stuff!”

It took a moment for J.J.’s mind to clear. Eyes shut, face bunched, he shook his head, causing hair and beard to splay as if hit by a sudden gust of wind, then belched again, causing the miniature flames to dance as if hit by the same gust. “Now,” he said with all seriousness, his glassy eyes open and alert and fixed upon the blazing 39…

“What should I wish for?”

J.J. lived in a doublewide trailer home, parked in a shabby trailer court. He’d lived there since dropping out of college due to a severe meniscus tear. Up to that point, from the age of six, football had been his entire life. He’d played all through elementary, middle, and high school. How he’d loved slamming his shoulder pads into the wannabe tough guys at every high school in the state. And he’d found it even more satisfying on the college level. The rush of adrenaline, the roar of the crowd, the thrill of victory after battering everything in his path; it all made him feel like a winner. A gladiator. A true beast among men.

Then, on one cold autumn night many years ago, another beast had slammed into him at a bad angle, causing him to fall the wrong way. And with all that weight toppling down…

“Son,” Dr. Tolbert said after the surgery, “you’ll be able to play again, but you won’t be as fast. And another injury to that same knee might leave you with permanent damage. Get me?”

Yeah. J.J. got him, alright. When a man’s forced to swallow all his pride in one gulp he’s always afraid he might choke. But J.J., in true bestial fashion, chewed his up real well before turning in his helmet and cleats. And there went his football scholarship, too. Still, he couldn’t complain. The construction business had been good to him over the years. He owned his trailer free and clear, owned his truck, and felt comfortable knowing that he had no debts.

Except one.

Brenda Rose Galway. He owed her a broken heart.

So. The time had come at last. What the hell should he wish for?

Still leaning over the small table, still staring into the ornate row of hot, orange-yellow tongues lapping the air, J.J. sighed, trying to focus his beer—and whiskey—addled mind. Brow furrowed, lips pursed, his cold blue eyes took on an odd gleam; catlike; reflecting a fire within, and the fire below. He looked deep into those tiny flames, past them, and into the murky haze of his dying marriage…

J.J. remembered the moment he first met Brenda Galway; walking into the Quickie-Mart near downtown to buy a six-pack and fill up his truck. She’d worked there as a cashier, and smiled as he came in. How young and sweet and innocent she’d seemed back then…

J.J remembered one night in the throes of passion when, quite to his surprise, Brenda had made a strange and unnerving request. “Bite me, lover!” she’d whispered, clutching his thick neck with both arms and burying his mouth into her shoulder. “Bite me hard!” At first, he’d been reluctant…but her insistence overcame his timidity. So he’d bitten her. Just hard enough to leave marks in her pale flesh for a day or so. And from then on that strange act became a semi-regular part of their lovemaking.

An what a sucker I was for not bitin’ her throat out when I had the chance!

Shaking his head, J.J. remembered the day when it all began to unravel. The day he’d found out what Brenda had been doing behind his back. The day he’d found those pills in her purse and confronted her in the very kitchen in which he now stood. Oh, God, that long, miserable, contentious day when he’d found out what a lying, conniving, heartless, woman he’d married all those years ago—

“Yeah, I found out, alright. Found out a lotta things. I found out what you really are. An I found out what I really am, too. Nothin’ but a big goddamn dummy.”

The bear grunted, bared his sharp shiny teeth at the birthday cake.

“Yeah, Brenda, why don’tcha come on over now? I’ll be more than happy to clamp my jaws on your…warm…throat…”
J.J. paused, letting his words drift off like the smoke trails from the candles below. A moment passed, gravid with possibility, then he grinned.

“That’s it! That’s my wish!”

Then he laughed. Long, loud, and hearty. A cruel, vengeful, satisfied sound which shook his massive frame and brought tears of a different sort to his eyes. The culmination of eight years’ rage and regret. And when the last chuckle and snort passed over his lips, J.J. Ruddock closed his wet eyes and made his thirty-ninth birthday wish:

“Hey, uh, God? It’s me, J.J. I prayed to you a lot as a boy. I prayed before every game, remember? But seein’ as how it’s my birthday an my wish ain’t too holy, an seein as how it’s Halloween an all…well, I guess I better direct this prayer to the other guy. The guy with the horns an the pitchfork, ya know…

“Please forgive me. Just this once…”

An now, here’s goes nothin’.

“So, uh, anyway. Devil, can ya hear me? I’m callin’ out to you tonight, an it ain’t the whiskey talkin’, neither! I’m aimin’ to get your evil, undivided attention. You hear? It’s your night, ain’t it? Halloween? Spooks an ghosts an witches an vampires, an who knows what all roamin’ around?

“Well, it’s my night, too, goddamnit! My birthday! An I want my wish!

“Do ya hear me, son? I WANT MY WISH!”

Coughing, shaking from the fury in his words, J.J. squeezed his eyelids as tight as he could, afraid that if he opened them even for a second the feeling would be lost and the spell would be broken.

“Alright, Devil. I’m sure ya got my point so I’ll get on with it. What I want, what I need, is to somehow get Brenda back in my clutches…so I can bite her one last time. So I can sink my teeth deep into her fleshy ass an chew it up to my heart’s content. Raw an bloody, just like that steak I ate tonight—”

Again, this bear of a man laughed. Again, he belched. And with each exhalation the flickering flames danced ever higher, as if reaching for J.J.’s breath; as if wanting to be extinguished so his wish could be fulfilled.

“So let it be written, so let it be done! Be it known that on this day, October thirty-first, All Hallows Eve, my birthday, The Year Of Our Lord, Two Thousand an Thirteen, beneath a full moon, I, James Jefferson Ruddock, do hereby wish for vicious, awful, blood-drenched vengeance upon my soon-to-be-ex-wife, Brenda Rose Galway-Ruddock!”

Another pause, but no laughter, no belch. Just silence. Solemn. Dreadful. The sound of judgment passed; of verdict given; after the gavel falls but before it strikes the pad.

“Amen,” J.J. finished. “Amen.”

And with that, this great big bear huffed, and puffed, and blew his whiskey-breath over the cake, over the shimmering 39, flexing his belly, straining his lungs, trying with all his heart to extinguish every last flame in one symbolic act.

But J.J. needn’t have worried or strained. The candles went out with ease, one by one, as if they wanted to die. As if their deaths had been ordained by some higher—or lower—force.

And…as the last candle shuddered out, a single tear fell from J.J.’s left eye.

2.

With the candles extinguished, J.J. found himself in darkness. Not total, unrelenting darkness, but shadowy, phantasmal darkness. The glow of a streetlamp bled through the kitchen window, and pale moonlight shone through the cracks in the blinds in the living room. Just enough radiance to make out shapes of things around him, yet just enough to play endless tricks on his whiskey-burdened mind.

But darkness didn’t scare J.J.

Never had, never would.

Still leaning over the table, the big bear shook his head as if he’d just been whacked on the jaw. Gotta be the booze, he decided, blinking the sudden grogginess away.

That, an gettin’ myself all worked up…

Thin tendrils of smoke wafted up from the spent candles. J.J. coughed, then straightened to his full, monstrous height. In silhouette he looked like a great, hairy ogre standing in the kitchen of an ordinary man’s house. Indeed, the top of his head almost touched the ceiling.

“Well,” J.J. grumbled, snatching his Wild Turkey from the table, “here’s to gettin’ all worked up!”

He took a slug from the bottle and grinned as sweet flames lit up his throat.

“Goddamn, that’s good! An now, nothin’ left to do but cut the—”

Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump!

J.J. jerked and jumped at the jolting sound. He wheeled around, swaying on his bare feet, and faced the living room. Whiskey sloshed in the bottle at his side. His hand tightened around the neck.

“WHAT THE—?”

Thump-thump-thump!

And then he understood. Halloween night. A tiny fist knocking at his abode. A tiny fist attached to a tiny boy or girl craving something sweet and good to eat. Trick-or-treaters! J.J. realized, grinning a more satisfied—and malicious—grin than when he’d cursed his soon-to-be-ex-wife…and began creeping toward the front door.

3.

Ugh!” Colin Ryerson sighed, knocking for the second time—

Thump-thump-thump!

—and suppressing a yawn. How had he, of all the rotten luck, gotten stuck chaperoning his younger sister and even younger cousin? Easy. Lame parents. Lame parents who insisted he come along to visit his grandparents at their ghetto trailer court, and, oh, gosh, wouldn’t it be great if he’d take the girls around while the grownups sat around yapping about nothing?

Yeah, great. I could be home right now, making out with Audrey “B.J Queen” Lang and actually enjoying life. But nooo. Mom’s gotta have a shit-fit over the girls’ costumes and go see Nanny and Poppy.

“Maybe no one’s home,” Nina Ryerson said, turning to her brother. She’d dressed up as an 80s glam-rocker; frizzy pink wig, big yellow Elton John sunglasses, a neon blue leotard, and to complete the ensemble, a plastic guitar; hot pink, hanging from her shoulder by a rainbow strap.

“Duh!” Colin answered. “That’s a good bet since the lights are off, geekazoid.”

“Well, you don’t hafta be mean about it! You’re just mad cuz you couldn’t stay home and play kissy-face with you’re bimbo girlfr—”

“Audrey ain’t my girlfriend, dork.”

“God! I swear, you think you’re sooo cool just cause you’re fourteen.”

Colin shook his head. “Aw, shut up. Let’s go.”

Gertie Torino, Colin and Nina’s seven year old cousin, frowned at them. Why did they have to fight so much? The little girl had worn a tutu and dancing shoes, her soft auburn hair in pigtails, and at that moment looked like the saddest ballerina in the world.

“Come on, guys. Stop arguing. There’s only one more house left on this row, anyways.”
Nina turned to her cousin and smiled. Both girls clutched orange plastic bags decorated with cartoonish vampire bats, and looked forward to sharing their bounty once they got back home.

“Okay, Gertie. Let’s go.”

“Great idea.” Colin stepped between them, left hand falling upon Nina’s left shoulder, right hand upon Gertie’s right shoulder. “Now move it.”

But just as they turned to leave, the front door swung inward and something leapt from the darkness onto the porch—

RAAAHHHWRRR!

Perched on the bottom step, all three children flinched, screamed, and fell backward. Going down, the girls flung their precious bags into the night and wrapped themselves around Colin. The boy hugged them close, still thinking of their safety despite his own panic, and tried to cushion the fall for all of them—

Thud!

The startled children landed in a heap. Colin felt the impact on his tailbone, both girls scraped their elbows, but nothing serious. The resultant cacophony of squeals, shrieks, and yells echoed down the dark street.

“Jesus, girls! Run!”

Nina and Gertie scrambled to their feet, both now bawling in terror. Poor little Gertie had almost wet herself from the shock. That growl hadn’t sounded human! So bestial, so sinister; something like the buzz of a chainsaw crossed with a lion’s roar. Enough to send two small girls scampering for their very lives.

Holy shit!

Eyes wide, heart hammering, Colin rolled to his knees, scuffing up his designer jeans. He saw the shape on the porch, outlined in shadow, standing very still. A man, after all. A big man. Either wearing a wig or possessing quite a mane of hair. Getting to his feet, the boy’s temper exploded:

“Hey! Just what is wrong with you, mister? You just scared the crap outta my sister and cousin!”

“An you, too, I bet,” the giant shadow replied in a deep, truculent voice. Then it began to laugh. A big, satisfied, belly-laugh; too loud; too long; the guffaw of a dumb redneck who’s had way too much whiskey.

Maddening to the indignant boy’s ears.

“Yeah, real funny, jerk! I oughtta call the cops on your retarded ass right now!”

“Jerk?” the ominous shadow repeated, snorting more laughter. “Cops? You really need to get a sense of humor, kid…”

Okay, moron.

Smirking, Colin reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone. He had two numbers on speed-dial: Audrey “B.J. Queen” Lang, and 911. “Oh, I got your sense of humor…right…here…”

But the threat—which he’d meant to enforce—never left Colin’s mouth. Because the man had just stepped forward into the light, exposing a face Colin wished he’d never seen.

Oh, shit!

“That’s right, kid. Just what I thought. Now get on home before I jerk you up by the throat an spank your narrow ass. Hear me? An tell your ol’ man he better not come a-knockin’ or else I’ll do the same to him, only ten times worse.”
Then the savage man smiled. An awful, demonic smile which Colin never forgot.

“Trick-or-treat, huh, kid? Whaddya say?”

Oh, screw this!

With an odd exhalation—not quite a groan, not quite a whimper—Colin Ryerson forgot about calling the cops and started running. What he’d just seen had frightened him to the marrow and he couldn’t get away fast enough. Away from that crazed, evil-looking man who liked to scare little kids. Whose eyes had glittered like yellow diamonds in the moonlight; like a feral cat he’d once seen in his backyard. Whose teeth had looked like razor sharp fangs; not fake vampire teeth, either. And whose hands looked more like claws, capable of cleaving him in two with one swat.

4.

Aw, hell! J.J. thought, feeling a sudden pang of regret at his cruel prank. Poor little girls lost all their hard-earned candy…

Nice move, jerk.

The big man had taken one step down his porch when it began. His bare right foot emerged from shadow, looking very much like a mastiff’s paw; twice as much hair as before. But J.J. didn’t notice his foot—or the extra hair which had sprouted on his forearms—because he’d begun to itch all over. A deep, burning itch, far beneath the skin. J.J. wanted to scratch, to tear, at his own flesh as a sudden dizziness came over him.

“What the…?”

J.J. groaned, staggered, and caught himself in the doorway. In his newfound agony he also didn’t notice the extra length of his fingernails.

“Christ!”

Now a fever set in to compliment the burning itch, as if J.J.’s internal temperature had shot up into the danger zone. Much hotter than he’d ever felt before. Like being roasted from the inside out.

“What…what’s happening?”

The bear took a deep breath, felt his stomach clench as if rejecting the crisp night air. He grunted, falling to his butt in the threshold of the doorway. For a moment J.J. thought—and hoped—he’d puke up whatever had caused the pain.

I’m screwed here! Royally! Gonna need an ambulance!

But screwed didn’t quite do J.J.’s situation justice. Every bone in his body ached. The muscles in his arms and legs burned. He itched from head to toe. Pain stabbed at his eyes. His teeth throbbed. His tongue felt thick and useless. Every inch of the big man suffered in some way; steeped in misery, right down to his very soul.

Oh, for Christ’s sake! What in God’s name is…?

But the thought died away, replaced by a dreadful certainty. J.J knew what had happened, and why. After all, he’d called out to the darkness—

Do you hear me, son? I WANT MY WISH!

—he’dmade that vengeful plea—

Raw an bloody, just like that steak I had tonight.

—and he’d blown out the candles, sealing his own fate.

“Oh, no! No, no, no! I’m crazy but I ain’t that cra—”

Again, J.J.’s stomach clenched, cutting off his useless appeal for mercy and making him scream.

“JESUS! Please stop this! I-I cant take no mo—”

Another spasm. Another scream. Another worthless prayer.

“Naw! This ain’t how I meant it! This ain’t even—

GRRRAAAHHH!

This time, J.J. rocked back, falling into the shadowy recesses of his home. Snarling. Whimpering. Tearing at his clothes and writhing like a rabid dog. But before he collapsed, J.J. saw the last thing he’d see with human eyes on this soon-to-be-gory evening:

The moon.

Full and bright, peering at him from the darkness like some lidless, alien eye. Silent. Stoic. Not passing judgment, yet working the malignant will of hell.


“A Messy Divorce” is part of the collection: Living The Nightmare.

Available for digital download @ https://books2read.com/u/4NR629

Available in paperback through Amazon.com @ https://www.amazon.com/dp/1986415325

Thank you for reading!

JLR

Delirium Tremens (Short Story Excerpt)

December 20, 2016

author-3January 4th, 2017
Stark City, Oregon.
5:53 a.m.

“JESUS CHRIST!” Daniel Jax screamed as four large security guards began strapping him to a hospital gurney. Lightning cracked the air above him, and black spiders swarmed beneath his dirty clothes. Each of the guards had seized a limb, applying hard rubber cuffs for Daniel’s—and the nurse’s—own safety. “I HAVE TO SAVE ZOEY!”

“Easy, sir,” the guard securing Daniel’s right arm said. “We’ll be done in a second.”

“IT’S GONNA EAT HER SOUL!”

Daniel convulsed, turned to the guard with bulging, bloodshot eyes. He wanted to scream, I’m not crazy! but couldn’t find the words. He wanted to tell him about his family, about the beautiful Cape Cod home he’d bought by becoming one of the top insurance salesmen in northern California.

But most of all, Daniel wanted to tell him about the lightning.

“Man, he stinks!” The guard securing Daniel’s left ankle shook his head. “Gotta be wearin’ at least three layers!”

“Okay,” a tired, gray-haired nurse said. “What’s the story here, guys?”

“Looks homeless,” the guard securing Daniel’s right ankle said. “Medics found him in an alley downtown, screaming about demons. Seems very dehydrated.”

“Uh-huh. Name and age?”

“I.D. says, Jax, Daniel. Forty-three years old.”

“Daniel.” The nurse laid her gloved hand on his shoulder. “My name’s Blanche. There’s no demons. You’re having a psychotic episode brought on by severe alcohol withdrawal.”

Having screamed himself hoarse, Daniel turned his bulging eyes to Blanche. The guards had finished strapping him down and he felt helpless. Unable to sit up. Unable to reach out. Unable to do anything but gape and shudder beneath the pale overhead light.

“I know it hurts, but I need you to hold still while I insert your I.V.”
With a sad groan, Daniel shut his eyes, still squirming as thousands of spider legs pricked his flesh. “It took her!” he whispered. “I saw it!”

Nodding, Blanche slid the needle into Daniel’s arm. Daniel hissed, looked up with fear and pain etched into his face.

Another whisper: “I have to save Zoey!”

Blanche shook her head. “Alright, Daniel. Now it’s fluids, fluids, fluids. I’m gonna order a Thiamine boost, and a heavy dose of Diaxepam to help you sleep.”

Fists clenched, Daniel strained to sit up. “I have to save her!”

“You’re gonna be here for awhile, so just lie back and ride it out. Once these DTs pass, we’ll get you evaluated and outta here. I’ll do everything I can to help you, but right now I’ve gotta go check on my other patients.”

Daniel flinched from another crack of lightning as Blanche left, shut off the light, and closed the door. They’d put him in one of the rooms reserved for psychotic patients. No T.V., no sink; nothing which could excite or harm him. A beam of light shone through the observation window onto his face. Already, the shadows in the corners had begun to writhe and swirl. But they didn’t know. Medics, security guards, nurses; normal people. They couldn’t see the true horrors which lived in darkness. Daniel knew because he used to be like them—used to be normal. Then the lightning came, shattering every bit of normalcy he’d ever known.

“I’ll find her, goddamnit! Before it sucks the life out of her forever!”

Still squirming, Daniel took deep breaths. It didn’t help. The lightning still cracked. The spiders still swarmed. And he craved alcohol as never before; like a cramp in the center of his being. If not for this mission, Daniel would’ve killed with his bare hands for a sip of beer. But he couldn’t save Zoey drunk. To save her, he had to bear this agony.

The agony of Delirium Tremens.

“Great news!” Blanche said, pushing through the door. “Got your meds. How are you feeling?”

Gasping, Daniel looked at Blanche. How long had she been gone? A minute? An hour? Daniel had no clue.

“Still riding it out, I see. Well, this’ll help…”

As Blanche injected the Thiamine and Diaxepam into Daniel’s I.V., Daniel again closed his eyes. The Thiamine didn’t matter, but the Diaxepam would be his savior.

God’s mercy, coursing through his veins.

“Alright, Daniel. Nothing left to do but lie back and try to rest.”

As Blanche left, Daniel twisted in his restraints. Lie back and rest? No way. Not when he had a life to save. A life more important than his own.

I’m coming, Zoey! Just hold on a little longer…

Propelled by his racing pulse, the Diaxepam slammed into Daniel’s brain with locomotive force. All at once he ceased writhing and his eyelids began to flutter. His sharp exhalations dulled, becoming deep, almost contemplative sighs.

Hold on…Zo…ey...

One last sigh, then Daniel went slack. Head turned, eyes closed, lips parted. Not quite snoring. Several minutes of blessed nothing passed before Daniel began to dream. The same dream he’d had for the last twelve years: rummaging around his attic on a muggy March evening. His daughter, Caroline, has found a large black widow spider in her room, and he’s vowed to cleanse the house of all insects. Outside, the sky has darkened and the wind has risen; very apropos for the impending holocaust. Bug spray in hand, he’s found a small infestation of creepy crawlers in a dusty corner. As he advances upon the large, silken web, Daniel hears a clap of thunder. A storm, he thinks, taking aim. And as he pushes the spray button, a bolt of lightning strikes the roof above his head. So fast, so sudden, Daniel doesn’t feel the jolt, but collapses beneath the dry explosion—

BOOM!

“Shit!”

Daniel’s eyes snapped open. Leaving his sleeping form behind, the homeless drunk’s ethereal self sat up and slid off the gurney. He always felt the same after the dream; anxious, drained…and in serious danger of slipping into the bad place. The realm of spirits, shadows, and demons.

But this time, he wanted to go.

God help me.


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Thank you for reading!

JLR

Equation (Short Story Excerpt)

May 2, 2016

 

The great machine approached the dead planet with reverence, descending to the edge of its ionosphere. There it hovered with infinite patience. Searching. Recording temperatures, atmospheric conditions, radiation levels, and orbital speed. Scanning for any and all signs of life or sentience.

Just as it had been programmed to do.

In its current state, the machine appeared to be a long, trapezoidal bar; dark, metallic, and smooth. Light from the nearest star reflected off its surface, making it look aglow with energy. It waited until the planet completed one full rotation, then collated its data:

There had been life.

Once, but no more.

Noiseless, the machine began to mutate. Slats appeared along its massive length, and from its center both ends pushed outward…growing…curling…until its ends met and fused, forming a perfect circle with no end and no beginning.

Then it descended ever further, forming a ring around the dead, ring-less planet.

Again, the machine waited; every molecule vibrating from a constant stream of information. Inside its artificial imagination, the machine soared through the planet’s sky, burrowed into the crust, and immersed itself in bodies of liquid. Learning. Knowing. Understanding. It saw how the planet formed—nothing new to its memory function—and how life first appeared; also not new, but very rare. It saw how the microscopic plant and animal life became macroscopic, forming a symbiotic relationship between them. It saw great beasts rise up in a harsh, predatory world. Then, disaster. Gigantic mineral formations slamming down. Falling temperatures, crystallizing the liquid. It saw mass extinction, then rebirth. New life began. Smaller this time; less bestial but just as savage. A dominant species emerged; warm blooded, capable of thought and learning. Hence, this species evolved. In time, they began to build. They began to create. They began to change their world.

But always, their habit of enslaving and destroying each other remained.

A strange species, the machine decided. Capable of astounding visual and written works, yet capable of atrocious violence—against both themselves and the myriad species around them. Their technology focused on communication, but failed to overcome their natural divisions. Strange deities of their own design presided over them, influencing them. Even their growing knowledge of the universe didn’t help. Belief in what the machine understood as non-corporeal, non-quantifiable, and nonsensical ideas fueled this species, and somehow couldn’t be shed. In the end, they overpopulated and polluted themselves into extinction.

The cycle of this planet they in their various languages had called: Earth.

Now, having absorbed all it could, the machine had a question to answer:

Are they worth restoration?


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Thank you for reading!

JLR

Epicenter (Short Story Excerpt)

January 19, 2016

author-1

September 1st, 2016.
Stark City, Oregon.
7:09 a.m.
On his way to the bus stop, Martin Jericho decided to have breakfast at The Stark City Cafe. The tired old man knew he’d been under constant surveillance since the last incident—which resulted in several broken windows—but refused to live his life like a hunted animal. Besides, it had been almost two years.
Just a quick bite before I go home, damnit. In public. Like a normal person.
Of course, the P.O.P. team in the van across the street wouldn’t be too thrilled, but Martin didn’t care. They could always deduct the cost of his meal from his next isolation check.
“Miss?” Martin asked for the third time, prompting the teenage hostess to raise her finger like a disapproving schoolmarm.
“We’re full right now. It’ll be at least a ten minute wait.”
Would it be asking too much for you to look up from your phone tablet or whatever it is while we talk?
“Alright.”
“Name and number of people in your party?”
“Jericho. Party of one.”
“Jericho, okay. You can wait over by the door.”
“Thank you.”
Sighing, Martin turned and walked to the waiting area. Two wooden benches faced the restaurant, both already taken by customers. Martin smiled. No one smiled back as Martin leant against the wall. Feeling self conscious, he reached into the front pocket of his gray parka and extracted a small book of classical poetry. Soothing, comforting; just what he needed.
Good old Longfellow…
All in all, Martin had a pretty good life. Not a life he’d ever envisioned for himself, but a decent one, nonetheless. He worked for the government as a nightwatchman downtown. He had his own office in an empty building surrounded by a chain-link, barbwire-topped fence. The place didn’t need a guard, which made it ideal for Martin. He didn’t even have to patrol the floors, though he often did for the exercise. From eleven at night to seven in the morning, Monday through Friday, Martin sat in his cozy office, reading or watching T.V. The P.O.P. paid him well for this and gave him premium insurance. At first, they’d insisted on giving Martin an armed escort to and from work each night. But after eighteen disaster-free months, Martin had begged for the autonomy to ride the bus like a grown, free man. Wanting to keep Martin content, the P.O.P. acquiesced. He’d earned it, they felt, and Martin agreed.
“Jericho, party of one. Table’s ready.”
Martin looked up, smiled, and walked toward the hostess.
“Hey, wait a minute!” a young woman called. “We’ve been waiting longer than that guy!”
Finger raised, the hostess looked past Martin. “Sorry, but this guy’s by himself. You have three people in your party, and a two-seater just opened up.”
“Well, give us the table and grab another chair from somewhere! It’s not rocket science!”
The hostess gave Martin a weary look. Embarrassed, Martin looked down.
“Just hold on. I’m sure a three-seater will be ready soon.”
The angry young woman snickered. “This is bullshit!”
“You don’t like it,” the hostess replied, “go to McDonald’s.” Then, to Martin, “Come on.”
“Thank you, miss,” Martin muttered, following the hostess through a maze of tables. Behind him, the young woman cussed and argued with her friends about whether or not to leave. But Martin hadn’t meant to cause any trouble, and wished the hostess would’ve given them the table instead.
Too late now, I guess.
Before this decent yet isolated life, Martin had lived an ideal one. He’d met and married his high school sweetheart, Alma Rankin, in Eugene, then moved to Stark City after Alma got hired as a librarian for the Stark County School District. Martin also worked for the school district as a bus driver. He and Alma loved children, and had two of their own. Dennis and Dianna, who both married in their twenties and blessed them with grandchildren. They’d lived in a beautiful brick house in the Dibert District, the children and grandchildren visited often, and their golden years had indeed seemed golden. Then Alma got sick, and the luster began to fade.
“Here ya go,” the hostess said, gesturing at a table in the middle of the restaurant.
“Thank you.”
The hostess didn’t reply as she plopped a menu down and walked away. Sighing, Martin peeled off his parka, draped it over the chair, and sat facing the entrance. Waiters and waitresses bustled around him. To his left sat a married couple; she heavyset and fussing with their three children, he sullen and cowed. One of the kids had smeared grape jelly all over her face, one had begun banging a fork on the table, and the third screamed for no apparent reason. Resisting the urge to smile at the parents, Martin looked away. He knew how they felt, but they didn’t seem too agreeable at the moment. To his right sat a couple in their thirties; both slender, well dressed, and somehow detached from their surroundings. The din of rattling silverware, idle banter, and smacking lips filled the cafe.
“Good morning. What’ll it be?”
Martin looked up to see a thin young man standing beside him. Flushed. Out of sorts. Pen and notebook in hand. Picking up the menu, Martin smiled.
“Hello. How are you this morning?”
“Busy.”
Martin’s smile faded. “Oh. I see. Well, I’ll start with coffee, please.”
“And for breakfast?”
“I just sat down, sir. I’ll need a minute.”
“Right.” Rolling his eyes, the waiter left.
Guess I’ll just order the special, whatever it is.
Feeling somewhat guilty, Martin set his menu aside and moved his cup to the edge of the table. Trying to make this harried young waiter’s life a little easier, whether he appreciated it or not. Ahead of Martin sat two large bearded men wearing dirty overalls. They looked like farmhands; mean and hungry in the soft light. Martin looked down, reached into his coat pocket.
“Okay, coffee…”
Martin smiled as the waiter began to pour. “Thank you, sir. I’ll have the breakfast special.”
“Sure.” The waiter didn’t make eye contact as he walked away.
Martin frowned at the table. This was a mistake, he decided, pulling a small, framed photo from the pocket. I should’ve just went home and made my own damn breakfast. Or sent the P.O.P guys to get me something. It’s not like they’d ever say no…
Martin stood the photo against the condiment rack. In it, Alma smiled, frozen in time at age thirty-one. Her hair hung in dark blonde curls, her blue eyes sparkled with delight. Remembering, Martin’s frown became a grin. Whenever he felt stressed or anxious, Martin either read poetry or gazed at Alma. It always helped, just as his doctors had assured him.
Good old Alma. Always there for me...
Gazing at his late wife, Martin warmed his hands around the steaming cup.
The world is so cold nowadays, Alma. People are too damn busy with their gizmos to just sit and talk anymore. And they can be so rude. It’s like they’ve forgotten how to be decent to each other...


If you enjoyed this excerpt, please subscribe, like, and share.

A revised version of “Epicenter” was featured in Empty Sink Publishing, Issue #18.

Read it here: http://emptysinkpublishing.com/fiction/epicenter/


“Epicenter” was reprinted by The Rye Whiskey Review @ http://ryethewhiskeyreview.blogspot.com/2018/06/epicenter-by-jesse-lynn-rucilez.html


Thank you for reading!

JLR


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