Good Beginnings: Fair Shopping

Good beginnings.

It’s something so delicious and delicate.

And dangerous.

Zipper down. Spinach-infested smiles. Eye boogers. Toilet paper stuck to… well, just stuck.

First impression failures line my history well.

Then there are those winning first shots.

Wind causes hair to blow lavishly behind face. Sunlight making eyes radiant. Body odor: good.

Point being, good beginnings can happen as random as bad ones.

And when it comes to good beginnings with stories, I have bucketloads. Trunk-novel-loads, in fact. Many still stuck in the mucus of my hippocampus.

What to do with good story beginnings? Write long epic novels, of course.

The frustrating part about these good story beginnings is that they don’t always promise a good long ending.

That’s what happened to my short story ‘Fair Shopping.’

It was supposed to be epic in length. An odyssey that stands ageless and full of action and intrigue.

Yeah… that didn’t happen past chapter four. Damn story.

It wanted to write itself into the truncated form it is now, the stubborn thing.

No! I want espionage. End-of-the-world cataclysm. Perspective of our current throes into modern potential warfare.

But the damned story kicked me out and said this is what will happen instead. It defied pantsing. It defied outlines.

So, I let it do its thing and write itself out.

What was supposed to be a brick of a novel became a short dive into horror for a young couple on their way to a town fair.

So happy the folks at Spectral Press liked this good beginning that wanted it to go as short as it wanted to.

‘Fair Shopping’ will be part of the fifth anthology of Spectral Book of Horrors, a wonderful series to be part of in my opinion.

Coming soon in the fall.

Hooray for good beginnings!

 

JLT

Bedtime

Child: When are we safe?

Mother: Here and now. In my arms.

Child: But your arms are soft and warm. They can’t stop monsters.

Mother: No. They can’t.

Child: So when are we safe?

Mother: Here and now. In my arms.

Child: You already said that. So, we’re never safe.

Mother: We’re together.

Child: Not all the time. Besides, that doesn’t mean we’re safe.

Mother: But I’m here now to protect you.

Child: Well how can you protect me when you’re not around?

Mother: I’ll stop the monsters now so you won’t ever have to worry about them ever again.

Child: But you’ll die if you do that.

Mother: I only want to keep you safe.

Child: I’ll be alone.

Mother: You’ll never be alone.

Child: You know, you really are starting to annoy me.

Mother: Why do you say that?

Child: Well, first of all, you come off as kind of weird every night with this ‘I’m-the-mom-everything-is-okay’ stuff that goes on and on, over and over. But it doesn’t really help me.

Mother: So you’re saying I annoy you.

Child: Yeah. Kind of. I mean if you stop to think about what you’re saying to me, it’s pretty meaningless. I’m telling you about the blood-sucking monsters that are outside my bedroom window, and you’re going on about this ‘here-and-now’ crap.

Mother: Child!

Child: And the stuff about being in your arms. Do you know how sweaty I get when you hug up on me? It makes my head itch, too.

Mother: Well then, if you find me annoying and don’t like my hugs, then you can deal with the monsters yourself.

Child: Mom? Oh come on, Babe. You don’t have to leave now. Mom?

Child: Mom?

Monster: Hey kid.

Child: Which one are you?

Monster: The choker.

Child: No. Not you. Aw, I hate it when you show up.

Monster: Hey, at least I’m not the bloodsucker. Besides, you haven’t been choked in a while. A good choking is just the thing for you.

Child: Yeah, but it hurts.

Monster: Not if I kill you. Then you won’t feel a thing.

Child: Dammit. Do you really have to choke me tonight?

Monster: I’m afraid so. Don’t struggle.

Child: MOM!

Monster: shhhh….

Child: MOM! The choking monster is in here! He’s going to choke me, Mom!

Monster: Just relax, kid.

Child: MO-gurgh–

Monster: That’s it. Turning blue. Turning blue. Baal loves you. Turning blue.

Child: gggrrruuuggghh

Monster: Turning blue. Turning-

Mother: That’s enough of that.

Monster: OW!

Child: Uu…uh. Mom… Mommy.

Mother: Honestly, you have way too many fathers that love to torment you.

Child: Mommy?

Monster: Did you really have to kick me in the nuts, Hon? I mean, geez, I have a job to do.

Mother: Et daemonium exisse.

Monster: Oh, you rotten strumpet. I hate you, you bi–

Child: It’s gone?

Mother: He’s gone.

Child: Mommy?

Mother: What?

Child: When are we safe?

Mother: Shut up and go to sleep.

 

 

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

 

 

 

Fair Shopping

 

It starts when Nora and I see the black-and-white flyer on one of Ember’s Grocery tack boards by aisle 7.

24th ANNUAL EMBER COMMERCE STREET FAIR

SATURDAY JUNE 28

FOOD CRAFT MUSIC FUN!

We turn on aisle 8 and I stiffen, rubbing the back of my neck.

“Why do you keep doing that?” Nora says. My wife looks at me, her eyes luminous and accusing.

“Do what?” I reply.

“This.” Nora stoops forward in the cold air of the grocery store and rubs the back of her neck briskly with her left hand, her arm bracelets jangling. “Always when we get to the baby aisle.”

“I’m just walking, Nora,” I say, knowing where this is heading.

I see her let several weeks of pent up frustration go as she slap both hands to the sides of her white summer dress. She studies my face and then says, “Stop pretending, Alan. It’s not just the damn grocery store anymore. It’s everything. You go all stiff and start rubbing your neck like that. It drives me crazy!”

“What are you talking about?” I say and see a grocery stock boy walk by us, eyeing us briefly to catch our little soap-opera. I stare back at his preadolescent face and he looks away, walking past the rows of stacked Huggies.

I take a patient breath. “Do you really want to do this here?”

“Why not?” she says. “Why do you think I cut through here all the time?”

I close my eyes, letting out a long tired sigh. I then look at her and try to smile a degree below patronizing.

“Nora, all I want to do is pay for our stuff and get out of here. We’re going to the street fair. Right?”

She stares at me for a moment and then says in a gritted hiss, “Just take me home.” She drops the grocery basket full of comestibles we planned on smuggling into the town fair and storms off, tucking her purse hard to her side. I watch her leave, her thin dress flowing wildly behind her.

The miscarriage was three months ago and ended Nora’s chance of ever carrying again. After her surgery, my attempts to support seemed hollow and pretentious to her, angering instead of comforting. So I left her to herself and waited for the normality of our three years together to resume. I’m still waiting.

I run after Nora, catching her near the exit. People stare when I turn her around and hug her tight. She goes rigid and then shudders. I raise her head to look at me, seeing tears fall on her pleading eyes and knowing what we both want. We want the pain to go away.

Nora smiles slightly and skirts her eyes to see our audience. She then looks at me and crunches her brows together as if in pain.

“What is it?” I say. She goes slack, dropping her purse. Her eyes become chalky stones in their sockets. I hold her tighter in my panic when I see her mouth droop open to an impossible length, her howls of pain cut short when the lower half of her face suddenly falls off and splatters to the ground. I hear my own screaming when I see the rest of her fold inward, her skin becoming diaphanous, revealing the dark meat inside. Her bones crackle and her coppery smell ripens the air. She becomes slippery in my grasp, like a giant gleaming internal organ. She squirts out of my arms and drops to the ground in a splash and I stare in horror at the bloody dress and the clump of flesh on the tile floor, a ruined mass looking nothing like Nora or anything remotely human.

I move my head up slowly, my wide eyes searching through a haze of blood-pounding shock.

Someone has to come to me.

Touch me.

Move me.

No one does. I walk slowly in a mindless stupor. When I bump into an ice bin near the wall, I come to and see the other bodies. Bloody messes spot the grocery store like droppings from some large animal. I see the crimson-drenched garments on the floor in loose piles and I reconstruct the image of their former wearers: an overweight man in jeans, a young girl in a Hello Kitty shirt, a cashier lady in a beige Ember’s Grocery work shirt. All of them reduced to what looks like slabs of mangled butcher meat.

A car crashes through the face of the store. Brilliant shards of glass scatter. The sound of it brings me above the numbing cotton of disbelief and I start to run. The car, a pearl-like Cadillac, plows into rows of check-out counters, catapulting candy bars and magazine stands toward me. I watch the car teeter to stillness and can see through the gloom of the passenger window the writhing things that splatter dark-red into the windshield.  Outside air rushes through the gaping hole in the wall the car left in its path. Several dead birds line the sidewalk leading to the parking lot.

I run around the car and head back toward the exit where Nora is. There are sounds of collision and destruction outside; a chorus of car alarms screech endlessly in the distance. I look through the automatic sliding doors, pulled instinctively to exit this place. I pause to look back down at Nora’s ruined remains. I kneel down, feeling the loss of her strike cold and hard inside my chest.

I pick up Nora and cradle her slick form into my chest, holding her like a baby. Like our baby, the child that defied us its life and struck Nora barren before it died. I whisper the song. Hush little baby…

The car alarms continue their crying outside, blocking out my toneless singing. Nora begins to stick to me, the glistening coat of blood of her gluing against my forearms and neck.

The pain is slow, a kindling heat deep in my stomach. I cough the foaming blood up from my mouth, letting it spew onto Nora.

My eyes go dark, dissolving into mucus-like tears down my cheeks. The unseen takes me. Consumes me.

One trickling afterimage.

A parting thought.

Aisle 8.

 

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

aisle8

Head

A smattering of saliva

wetting salty lips

stale with memories.

Protruding tongue

licking the taste of regret.

Eyes darkening,

denying sunlight.

Lifted by his hair.

Weightless and draining.

Fist opens.

The falling ball.

The rolling melon.

Colony of grit

on the stump of his neck.

Eventual rest.

Face down.

On sand.

Licking.

Licking.

Licking.

 

 

 

JLT

Morton

Holly liked his biscuits and gravy. That would be her reward this morning, Morton thought, peering through his kitchen window where the morning sun bathed his backyard more white than yellow. In the distance past his privacy fence, he could see the top of his neighbor’s bald head bobbing to the beat of a loud, blustering push mower.

Morton frowned. The morning would otherwise be serene were it not for the rackety noise his neighbor was making. Oh well, Morton thought, rubbing his index fingers against his thumbs, a gesture he would do before preparing fine cuisine. Why not? Holly deserved the best. She was eating for two now, after all these years of trying. Soon, Morton’s family would be complete — something he’s wanted his whole life. Family.

A booming series of knocks jarred across the hallway behind Morton. Now what?

Morton wheeled around and jutted his head forward, as if to lengthen his vision and hearing. Another jolt of thudding knocks filled the house, and Morton could actually see the front door across the hallway shudder with each pounding knock.

A man’s voice growled from the other side, though the speech was muffled, undecipherable. Except, no. Part of it was clear. Morton’s name.

“MORTON!” the man yelled. “MORTON CHILDRESS!”

A door creaked opened in the hallway, and long, rippling hair flowed out. Holly’s eyes sparkled between the strands of her dark hair as she stared at Morton.

“Who is that?” she hissed and then stiffened as the front door banged again with more knocks.

Morton marched down the hall, agitated. Whoever the asshole outside was, he had not only woken up Morton’s pregnant wife, but had managed to upset her with all that belligerent knocking.

Holly stepped back into the bedroom as Morton approached her. She straightened in her nightgown, the swell of her round belly stretching the floral print at her midsection.  “He sounds angry,” she whispered, cocking her head as if remembering some long forgotten song. “Who is he?”

Morton shrugged. “He’s someone who’s about to get his ass kicked,” he said. “Go lie back down. I’ll get rid of him.” He kissed the softness of her right cheek while placing his hands gently over her belly. As she retreated back into the bedroom, Morton closed the door, hoping she would be able to go back to bed after he’d send this jerk on his way.

“CHILDRESS!”

“I’m coming!” Morton yelled.

He stomped toward the front door, meaning to yank it open, but then tendrils of uncertainty cooled his blood. He peered through the brass peephole and saw the fish-eyed view of an old man’s reddened, pinched face glaring back at him. Who the hell was this? Morton wondered, but then there began a tickle of recognition, something about the shape of the old man’s raging eyes.

“I see you now, you son-of-a-bitch,” the old man said and raised a hand holding a gleaming, rectangular object. It was a small LCD screen, displaying a blotchy green image of two black lines. The black lines shifted as Morton shifted and he instinctively looked down at his bare feet. A small, black snake head poked from the bottom of the door between his feet. Morton looked back up through the peephole, seeing the black lines move as he moved his legs.

What the hell is this? Morton tried to say, but before his words could come out, the door shook loud; a small mouth splintered opened from the door’s center.

Morton fell, only it didn’t feel like falling. It felt like the ground rose up to meet him. Three more gaping holes exploded from the door, letting in shafts of morning brilliance.

The smell of spent bullets and the dust of chalky drywall filled the room. Morton tried to scramble backward with his legs, meaning to crabwalk away. Nothing. No feeling down there. He looked at the dark red drenching the lower half of his t-shirt, almost tasting the iron and meaty aroma of blood. It was then that he registered the burning pain in his stomach.

I’m shot, he realized and then thought with incredulity not that he was shot in broad daylight but on a Saturday morning.

Morton’s wife was crying. He could hear Holly’s weeping over the buzz of his neighbor’s lawn mower.

He twisted to fall flat on his stomach, meaning to crawl away from the door with his arms, but the excruciating ache in his navel forced his arms to curl into his chest.

More shots fired into the door. Morton could hear the whipping of bullets slap the carpet fabric near his right ear. He craned his neck up, ignoring the searing pain inside him. A portion of Holly’s tear-streaked face peeked out at Morton from the bedroom door. She was eye-level, low to the ground like he was. Did the bastard shoot her, too? Did he hurt my family?

“Get back in the bedroom, Holly,” he cried. “Lock the door.”

And call for help? No phones in the bedroom. No phones in the house at all.

Holly gave a small nod and pulled back out of sight. Was she smiling? The bedroom door slammed shut.

From behind Morton came the cracking of faux wood as the center of the front door caved in from a long, booted leg. This set Morton tadpoleing fast on the ground, digging his elbows in as he dragged himself forward. Get to the kitchen.

Another gunshot cracked from behind. Morton heard a sickening, wet plop as the bullet entered somewhere below in the part of his flesh that he’d never feel again. He plowed forward across the hallway, his pace quickening with his grunting breaths.

A flood of outdoor light invaded the house, the front door no longer holding the old man at bay.

Morton could no longer hear the sound of his neighbor’s groaning mower. And as he hoisted to a sitting position using the lip of the kitchen counter to pull himself up, he heard the mewling cry of sirens coming from far away.

He fumbled at a drawer with a hand, entering a code on a nearby keypad. Hearing a lock unlatch, he fished blindly inside the drawer for the large shark-tooth shaped knife he was fond of. Pain throbbed below his chest and he could smell the foulness of his innards coming through the bullet wound in his stomach.

The old man kneeled in the hallway, embracing Morton’s pregnant wife. There was a squabble of bass and treble as the two voices spoke over one another with urgency.

The large revolver dangled low in the old man’s hand, next to Holly’s hip.

Guns. Morton hated guns. He only understood knives, their quiet play he had learned early on as a child. But not guns. A gun threatened only from its black eye, while a good knife gave nuances of fear to every inch of its blade.

The old man stood up from Morton’s sobbing wife, and a question formed in Morton’s mind. How long has it been since Holly had last seen her father? Three, four, maybe even five years?

As the sirens grew louder, the old man walked slowly toward Morton.

“You don’t deserve a trial, you kidnapping son-of-a-bitch,” Holly’s father said. The old man pulled the trigger.

Morton smiled, grateful for the hollow click of the gun. His searching hand settled for a serrated steak knife in the drawer above him. He pulled it out and sat back against the kitchen counter, his resting hand over his stomach. He pointed the knife out at the old man.

“I took care of her,” Morton said, but then a pang overcame him as he looked deep into the old man’s hateful eyes — those eyes the same as those of Morton’s sweet wife. It had to be her, Morton wanted to plead. He didn’t want to trick her and steal her away all those years ago, but it had to be her. Out of all those that he had followed and shadowed, she was the one he chose to make his perfect family for him.

And now, seeing the disappointment on the old man’s face – the disapproving eyes of a parent — did Morton truly understand. The old man had become part of his family, too. Morton had put them all together: father, wife, child, and Morton.

Morton never had a father. But he could claim the old man just like he claimed Holly. Was it really that simple? Yes. It was.

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Morton said and felt the pain ease inside him.

The old man’s thick brows furrowed in puzzlement, joining into a white caterpillar above his hardened eyes.

“I love you, Dad,” Morton said. “Holly…”

Sirens stopped and tires screeched outside.

Morton raked the blade of the steak knife gently over his neck, scrubbing the serrated edges until he hit the life artery underneath. He choked and coughed for a moment, catching glimpse of the gout of blood that poured out.

He smiled.

He was with his family.

What better way to die?

 

THE END

 

Jack Lee Taylor © 2016

Weirdbook Magazine #32

My parents did not play the guitar.

Nor can anyone in my immediate family make it gently weep (not yet, at least… I’ll be waiting on one of my youngins’ to grapple the six-string-relay baton from my cold dead hands one day and speed forth).

Yet, progeny aside, it’s interesting to see other parents out there validate the “born-not-made” principle, a debate I really don’t pay much cause to. But still…

Case in point.

Currently reading the new Joe Hill novel, The Fireman.

I’m a fan of his since the 20th Century Ghost days, before I even knew who his father was. And now that I know, it begs the question: Do the parents pass the ‘awesome-sick-talent’ gene along? Don’t know — but I guess it doesn’t really matter. What’s in my reading hands right now is well worth the read. That’s point enough for me. Regardless of how you were made, even with test tubes and Bunsen burners, you alone make you happen. And this boy Hillstrom did just that. Bang on!

But strange that I think of this now because I’m thinking about the latest short story I did that recently hit the public along with writers-greater-than-me. My little daughter asked to read it. I declined. Not that the content is sexually perverse or gore-ensued, but I just want her to find her own way right now and not be manipulated by my fledgling efforts. So far as eight-year-olds go, she’s well on her way without my interference.

Interesting side note to Clay Baby, which is the name of this particular tale released in Weirdbook Magazine #32.

I follow Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com.  Why? Just because he digitally yells a lot and uses a lot of colorful metaphors that Spock would approve. Also, he’s a great writer (and screw you Aftermath haters).

Mr. Wendig challenged his crew with a writing prompt. I’m not a jump-right-in type whenever it comes to writing prompts. I often scoot my chair back and say, “Maybe not right now.” Yet I jumped in on this one several months back. The prompt was: Take a random picture posted by other fellow writers and come up with a string of words on your own.

I scanned through several pictures. Many were dark and disturbing, showing shadows and hidden etches of life well left hidden. Others were enchanting, showing picturesque moments of nature or florid captures of flowery lands.

Then there was this one picture posted by the talented writer, Diedra Black. It was a strange picture of some clay happy thing on a table.

I immediately thought: Okay, crazy psycho kidnaps family and this clay thing will somehow save their lives. But that didn’t work. So how about a kid comes home from school and sees this thing on the table, and it comes to life like a Smurf — zip-a-dee-do-dah. That sucked. I went over and over, trying to come up with something remotely worth writing. Couldn’t plan it. Couldn’t plot it.

In the end, I just let the words come out, and the result pleased me as much as it pleased the folks at Wildside Press. Glad to have it aboard (especially on a mag that Joe Hill’s father might remember back in the early 80’s).

It’s a short piece, though above the threshold of flash fiction.

If you’re into weird, speculative fiction, you may check it out at:
WEIRDBOOK MAGAZINE #32

Special thanks to Ms. Black for her picture contribution!

Love you guys!

weirdbook-32

Pigtails Released in CCQ #2

Independent courier.

The job sounded menial, almost mundane. Prerequisite skills were mainly having a clean driving record, being able to lift from feather-light to backbreaking weighted parcel, being on call from dawn till next dawn, and — most important — having your own set of wheels to tow all that crap around.

Many years back, while strapped for cash in my last get-me-the-hell-out-of-here year of college, I took on the job as an independent courier, with my mighty Chevy S10 pickup and Home Depot dolly.

Immediately, I learned the harsh reality of the job. Paychecks were shaved down painfully by gas and maintenance expenses. ‘On-call’ meant forget any free time to live, let alone survive. Delivery miles were grueling, whether in cramped city infrastructure or through long stretches of freeway. Residential deliveries past midnight were always odd and unsettling. And I learned how to ignore the contents of what it was I was delivering, be it a body part or horse semen (and, yes, I’ve delivered both).

There were perks during the long travels, though. You got to see much of outside. You drove through beautiful roads you’d never seen before and would probably never see again, taking you sometimes through breathtaking scenic lands where tranquility resided. Those moments of travel offset the nasty, grinding fight through heavy, human-congested traffic.

In my reverie, I like to remember those times where the beauty of nature allowed the pass of a quaint, country road.

But then some of those roads began to lie to me. They made me feel safe for a spell and then opened up their true faces. They made me feel like I had crossed over into a strange place where I was not welcomed. The placid scenery around me transmogrified into an eerie space of unkempt fields full of crowding, decaying trees. Sometimes when driving on this road where it seemed no human should dwell, I’d pass by a lone figure standing on the side, perched still like a mile marker and looking back at me with wary, mistrustful eyes.

On these roads you never want to break down. Despite our advanced navigation systems, some of these roads still remain uncharted, hidden curving and snakelike underneath the guise of the mountains and countryside that shroud them and their strange secrets.

This is what inspired the short story: Pigtails.

EMP Publishing just released Creepy Campfire Quarterly #2, and I’m thankful this story got to be a part of a wonderful collection of stories from other great writers.

If you like strange horror, please go check it out through the link below (and if you like it, please leave a review).

CCQ #2

Thanks as usual. Love to you all.

JLT

creepycampfire