Altitude- a Flash Fiction Tale

Quilene swirls the milky liquid in the test tube and frowns. Last night the liquid measured slightly less than one third-way up the tube. This morning, it’s past the half-way mark.

“Jack.”

“Yes, Quilene.”

“Did you happen to add any serum to batch number 413?”

“No. I haven’t added anything to any test tubes since you started working with the viruses. You know I won’t touch those nasty things.”

Quilene holds the tube up to the light and sighs.

“You’re still spooked from the virus report from headquarters last year? You know that experiment hasn’t been successfully replicated, don’t you?”

“Yes. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be. Viruses are intelligent. You said so yourself. They’re nasty and they’re mean.”

“That may be true. But that doesn’t excuse you from your duties as my research assistant. Your job is to assist me without exception.”

“Research assistant? You advertised for a personal assistant, and that’s what I am. I do scheduling, calls, correspondence- I even cook and clean. But I don’t touch viruses!”

Quilene sighs again. “Very well. I’ll hire a research assistant then. Two assistants for one scientist. Now, if it’s not too much trouble, please make my nightcap. I’ve been running tests on batch 413 all day. I’m calling it quits.”

Jack opens his mouth in protest, but quickly turns and walks out of the lab and down the hall of the mountaintop mansion.

————- 

Quilene and Jack sip their nightcaps in the lounge.

“Sorry I’m so squeamish. It’s just that I have a germ phobia. That’s why I applied for this position. I figured being a personal assistant to a scientist would be pretty much germ-free. I guess I didn’t think it through. I apologize.” Jack says, hunched over his glass.

Quilene smiles and winks. “Not a problem. It’s not like this operation is strapped for cash. Like I said, it’s my experiment, and my rules. I’ll simply hire someone to help me with the germy stuff. You won’t mind working with another person up here, do you?”

“Uh . . no. Of course not.” Jack bites his lip.

————- 

Jack tip-toes out of the bedroom in slippered feet, still sweaty from the make-up sex. He peeks over his shoulder. Quilene is snoring. He walks down the hall, down the stairs, and to the lab. At the door, he hesitates. After a full minute, he takes a deep breath and turns the latch. The overhead lights automatically switch on.

He enters the lab. He lifts the card-key off the wall hook and codes open the refrigeration unit. Batch 413. “You don’t need another assistant,” Jack mutters. “I can do it. I can do it. I can do it,” he chants, trembling. Cold sweat trickles down his face, down his chest, and down his legs. He squeezes his eyes shut hard, opens them, and reaches for batch 413. Jack lifts the tube with his thumb and index finger, holding it at arm’s length. “I can-can d-do. I can. I can do it. I-I-”

“Jack!”

Jack yelps and swings around, and batch 413 flies out of his fingers and shatters on the floor.

“Jack, what the hell are you doing? Please tell me that isn’t batch 413,” Quilene snaps.

He covers his face with his hands. “I-I . . wanted . . ” He pants as he runs for the mop bucket. “I wanted to prove I can do it. I’m sorry.” Jack swings the mop bucket around. His damp slippers kick off his feet and he slips, landing in the goo and glass shards.

Quilene screams. 

————- 

The cool mountain breeze caresses Jack’s red, swollen face. He opens his eyes. Quilene dabs more antiseptic onto his cuts, and he flinches. “What happened?”

“You had an accident. But you’re very lucky. I managed to decontaminate you, but my lab and my mansion are now biohazards. I had to move us outside into the courtyard.”

“The virus? You couldn’t clean up the virus?”

“No. I tried. But batch 413 is a mutation. I finally figured it out. It feeds off visible light- that’s its energy source. In the refrigeration unit, it was dormant. But every time it was exposed to light, it grew. You were right, Jack. Viruses are nasty things.”

Jack sits up. “Can’t you just spray it with something? Like bleach or alcohol?”

“No. You don’t understand. When I said it grew, I meant an individual virus grew. Not a colony, but a single individual. When I dragged you out of the lab, the virus was as big as a cat, and walking across the floor.”

“What? Are you kidding, Quilene? Please say you’re kidding.”

“No. I’m not. We’re in deep trouble. I called headquarters and they’ve contacted the government. They’re sending a hazmat unit. But I don’t think they can help us. That virus is growing too fast. And there’s something I didn’t tell you yet.” Quilene dabs at Jack face with a medi-cloth. “It wants you. It lapped up your blood through its feeding tubes. I had to pry it off your face with the mop handle. It didn’t go after me, though. It’s fixated on you.”

CRACK-CRACK-CRACK

Quilene jumps and looks over her shoulder. “It’s breaking the window- look!” She stands and backs away from the mansion.

The virus shoots an appendage through the window, then another, and another, and steps out into the courtyard. It spins once, then focuses on Jack. It walks toward Jack, waving its feeding tubes.

“This way, Jack- you can escape in my plane!”

He springs to his feet and runs after Quilene. They sprint to the hangar and climb in the plane as the virus trots after them, growing with each step. Quilene and Jack lift off and ascend high into the mountain clouds. Tentacles dance and wave around the plane windows. Jack turns to Quilene. “I can do this.”

He opens the plane door, grabs the door frame, and swings his legs out. The feeding tubes graze his feet.

Quilene screams.

————-

 

Thanks to Albert Berg for this flash fiction challenge!

 

Comments and suggestions are welcome.

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Mary Anne- a Flash Fiction Challenge

She’s here, on the subway train. I don’t see her yet, but I smell her. She smells like freshly mowed grass and baby powder. A fat man gets off the train and she’s right there in front of me. Mary Anne has her back to me, but I know it’s her. Her blonde hair is in pigtails. She’s talking on her cell phone. Her voice is soft, girlish, lilting. She’s wearing a pink hoodie and a white lace mini skirt with a pink sash. And ballet slippers. In high school, she always wore a pink sash over her uniform. She was the only one who got away with it, somehow.

I take a step forward and inhale deeply. My stomach tingles.

I’ve followed her from Wichita to New York City, and in one month I’ve ridden in every tunnel of the subway. And today I finally found her.

She slips her cell phone into her purse. The train is slowing. She’s about to get off.

I swallow hard and lean in. “Mary Anne?”

She looks over her shoulder. I can’t tell if she’s looking at me through her designer sunglasses.

“Mary Anne, you probably don’t remember me, but I went to high school with you- Kapaun Mount Carmel, class of 2008. I’m Charlie Kelly. I was friends with Justin Swan and Mike Springer- your prom dates.”

The train stops and she walks out the door. I run after her.

“Mary Anne, please,” I say, walking a few steps behind her. “I’m desperate. I’ll give you anything. I have an inheritance. I’ll sign a contract. I’ll be your servant- your slave- anything. I just want to be happy.”

She races up the steps to the street.

“I want to take the leap.”

She turns and faces me at the top step. “Excuse me?”

“I want to take the leap.”

“I don’t do that anymore.”

“So it’s true. I knew Justin and Mike all through high school. They were always talking about killing themselves. I did too. Then you transferred to Mount Carmel and the three of you started hanging out. They were always talking about ‘taking the leap’ in our senior year. I thought they meant literally. But after our prom, they were different. They were happy. Relaxed. Smiling all the time. They even looked different- healthier. They said they took the leap with you. And now they’re both living the good life. Three years out of high school and Justin is a successful actor in LA. Mike is a personal trainer. He opened his own chain of fitness clubs.” I press my palms to my face. “But I’m still depressed. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“So?” She turns and walks away. I follow.

“They almost dropped out of high school before they met you. I know you turned their lives around. I know you can help me. I just want a chance, Mary Anne. Let me take the leap and I’ll never bother you again. Or I’ll be your slave. Or whatever you want, I’ll give it to you. Please.”

She stops and turns. I run to her, drop to my knees, and clasp my hands in front of my face.

She sighs. “Anything?”

“Yes, anything.”

“Follow me.”

I fall in step a few paces behind her, and she leads me to a brownstone apartment with petunia flowerboxes. Inside, all the furniture is draped in white lace throws, and the walls are covered with pink velvet.

“It would help if you were drunk,” she says. “Would you like beer, wine, or a cocktail?”

“I’ll have whatever you’re having, thank you.”

“A Pink Lady it is. Have a seat.”

She disappears into her kitchen and I sit on the loveseat. Five minutes later, she returns with a Pink Lady and a satchel.

“Here. Drink up.”

“Aren’t you having one?”

“I’m having mine later.”

I take a sip, and she nods and smiles. I take another sip. “This is very good. I’ve never had a Pink Lady before, but-”

A door slams shut and I wince.

Antiseptic. Smells like antiseptic. Am I dreaming?

I open my eyes. Mary Anne sits across from me on a white lace easy chair. She lights a cigar.

“Cheers, Carly,” she toasts. She takes a sip of her Pink Lady and winks at me. I watch as she adds two large pink beads to a necklace of small pink beads. She holds the necklace up and smiles.

“It looks lopsided now, but in a few weeks, it will be a perfect match. Thank you, Carly.”

My lap feels numb. I look down. My clothes are gone and I’m wearing a hospital gown. I struggle to sit up.

“What . . happened?”

“Silly girl. You took the leap.”

“We did?”

“No, you did. You’ll probably want to stay here for a few days until you can dress yourself and walk normally again. In the meantime, I’m going on a shopping spree. Thank you for the inheritance. And help yourself to more Pink Ladies- they’re in the kitchen. You’ll probably need them when the morphine wears off. See you later!”

She turns and walks out the door. It shuts with a slam. I wince.

————-

Thanks to Chuck Wendig for this flash fiction challenge!

Got a comment? Drop it below!

Ugly Faye’s Orbs- a Flash Fiction Challenge

Thanks to Manon Eileen for this flash fiction writing challenge!

 

“Look- they’re orbs! Can you see them? Up in the sky! Look!” Faye runs ahead of the class, pointing at the sky. The students laugh.

“Don’t run ahead, Faye, stay with the class,” the teacher calls out.

Faye stops and waits. She squints at the orbs hovering and darting in the distance. Every few seconds, an orb slowly lowers to the lake surface, then shoots skyward again. Faye smiles.

“You really are stupid, you know that?” Chuck says as he passes.

Faye stands still and keeps her eyes on the orbs, slowly counting them.

“Everybody here?” the teacher calls from the shore.

“Everybody except Faye, of course,” Chuck answers. “She’s holding up the class- again.”

“Hurry up, Faye!” the teacher calls.

Faye shuffles up to the group.

“Now some people claim they’ve seen circles of light over the lake,” the teacher says. “Some say these orbs are UFOs. And there’s a PBS show on tonight that talks about UFOs. You might want to watch that.”

Fays stands outside the group and smiles.

“Everybody have a seat at the picnic tables. It’s pop quiz time.”

The class groans.

“Now come on, at least you get to be outside today. And I made this quiz super easy.”

Faye sits at a table, and the other students get up and sit at another.

The teacher passes out the quizzes. “You have ten minutes. Then it’s back on the bus.”

Faye looks down at her quiz. ‘Slavery in the Antebellum South.’ She looks out over the lake. The orbs are still there. But now there are other orbs- green and blue and silver ones. She gazes at the lake orbs . .

Maybe they’re alive . . Or maybe they’re magic . . I wonder if I could touch one. I bet if I touched one, I would-”

“Faye . . Faye . . ” the teacher says loudly.

 The class snickers.

“Time’s up. Are you done?”

“Um. No.”

“Well, time’s up anyway. Okay class, let’s get on the bus!”

She hands her blank quiz to the teacher.

————-

“Freckle-face Faye.”

“Fatty-fat Faye.”

“Freak Faye.”

“Get another F, Faye?”

She weaves through the crowd of students, arms crossed over her chest and eyes on the floor. In her classroom, she takes her seat. Yesterday’s quizzes are graded and stacked on the teacher’s desk. The teacher is still smoking the teacher’s lounge- again.

“Who all here thinks Faye is dumber than a pack of gum?” Chuck calls from the back of the class.

The class laughs.

‘Dumber’ and ‘gum’ don’t rhyme.

“Dumb and ugly. She looks like she’s been chewed up and spit out.”

“I wouldn’t want her in my mouth- I think I’m gonna throw up just thinkin’ about it!”

“I’m gonna throw up just lookin’ at her!”

“Me too, I’m gonna spew . . ”

Then do it.

Gagging and retching noises, then more laughter.

Chuck gets out of his seat, walks to the teacher’s desk, and flips through the stack of quizzes. He finds Faye’s- an F. He stabs it with his pencil and lifts it up in front of the class.

“Lookie here. Another F for Faye.”

He carries the quiz with his pencil and strolls to Faye’s desk.

“Ugly Faye couldn’t even answer the questions. Couldn’t even guess. How stupid is that?”

A couple students giggle.

You’re a loser, ugly Faye, and you’ll always be a loser. You’ll never have a boyfriend, never get good grades, and never be popular.” Chuck spits on the floor. “You’ll never get picked for a team, never go to the prom, and never do anything right.”

He stares at Faye. She stares back.

“You hear me? I said you’re ugly and stupid. Ugly, ugly, ugly ugly!”

No. Didn’t hear it.

Chuck turns his back and sticks his rear over Faye’s desk.

“I’m gonna let one rip! Here I go!”

A few more students laugh. He turns back around, leans over her desk, and looks into her eyes.

“Come on- cry, ugly Faye. Cry. Let’s see those tears. Cry, ugly Faye. Do it. Cry!”

Faye stares back at Chuck, unblinking. Chucks blinks, straightens, and flips the quiz at Faye’s face. He throws his pencil in the trashcan.

“Stupid bitch. You contaminated my pencil.”

The teacher walks through the door, and Chuck returns to his seat.

“Good morning, class. How many of you watched last night’s PBS documentary about UFOs?

Faye raises her hand.

“Ah-ha. We have one curious student. And can you tell the class what UFO stands for?”

Faye smiles. “Yes. It stands for-”

“Ugly Faye’s orbs,” Chuck says from the back row.

“What was that?” the teacher asks.

“UFO stands for ugly Faye’s orbs!” Chuck shouts.

“That’s enough, Chuck. UFO stands for ‘unidentified flying object.’” He grabs the stack of quizzes on his desk. “We’ll continue today with the Antebellum South. All of you- er, almost all of you got all the questions right. Great job, class!”

————-

Faye slips out of her house and watches the bright orbs reflect off the black water.

Beautiful Faye’s orbs.

She walks along the shore and finds a canoe. Faye paddles out and out . . After an hour she looks over her shoulder.

I’m in the middle of the lake.

She looks up. The orbs circle and swoop.

Orbs are right above me. If I stand I could touch one.

Faye stands, and the canoe wobbles. She steadies herself, and reaches up and up . .

————-

“Look- they’re orbs! Can you see them? Up in the sky! Look!” Faye runs ahead of the class, pointing at the sky. The students cheer and run after her.

“I see them!”

“Me too!”

“They’re beautiful.”

“That’s right, Faye, you’re right again,” the teacher calls out.

Chuck kicks a pebble and stares at the crowd of students on the shore. His face turns red. His nails dig into his palms. Deep in his brain, a tiny orb-shaped structure pulses and bursts.

————-

Jesus and Mohammed Get Married and Swing

source: nana10.co.il

Note: The following story is profane. Thanks to Chuck Wendig for this flash fiction challenge!

 

Seriously, it’s profane.

Blasphemous.

Last chance to turn back.

OK!

 ————-

The Virgin Mary solemnly steps up to the pulpit and opens her Bible. Pope Benedict skips down the aisle first, skirt hem flouncing, flipping pink and purple flowers at the wedding guests. Jesus and Mohammed follow, wearing pink and purple mini dresses. The wedding guests ooh and aah.  

Mary raps on the pulpit with her ruler.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together at this most revered of holy places- the Vatican- under God, to unite Jesus Christ of Nazareth and Mohammed ibn ‘Abdullāh- peace be upon him- in the presence of the Holy Spirit, in holy matrimony. This marriage is ordained by God in Eden and confirmed in Cana of Galilee by the presence of Vatican officiate Frank N. Bottoms, and is declared by the Diocese Gay Sexton-Night to be honorable among all women, men, and transexuals. On this occasion we begin by asking God’s blessing on this marriage service. Let us pray from the Bible:

“Dear God,

‘If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.’*

“Amen.”

She slams her Bible closed.

“Now, do either of you have a problem with that?” Mary peers at the fiancés from under her cornette.

“No problem-o,” Jesus says.

“No. See, we’re both men, about to become husbands. Married to each other. No wives are involved,” Mohammed says.

Mary frowns. “I knew that.”

The crowd titters.

Mary adjusts her cornette. “If there is any person here who believes these men should not be united in holy matrimony, speak now, or forever shutty uppy.”

A murmur rolls through the crowd.

A leathery man with a long white beard stands. “Quick question.”

“Yes?”

“Are you gonna say all that ‘forsaking all others’ stuff? ‘Cause me and Jez got a standing date every Thursday night. Helps me let off steam, if y’all know what I mean.”

The crowd laughs.

“Yes, ‘forsaking all others’ is a part of the marriage vows.”

“But what about my steam?”

“Well, obviously, marriage vows are open to papacy interpretation. Make a special donation to the church, and you’ll be allowed to redefine ‘forsaking’ to whatever makes you happy.”

“We still on for Thursday’s, Jez?” the man shouts.

“Most assuredly, Moshe!” Jesus yells back.

The crowd roars with laughter.

Mary raps her ruler on the pulpit. “Anybody else?”

A pot-bellied man with a topknot and a forehead dot stands.

“Yes?”

“Hey, Hammy- we still on for Mondays?” he calls out.

“You bet, Bud!” Mohammed answers.

The crowd applauds and stomps.

“Ladies and gentlemen and trannies! Please try to control yourselves!” Mary brings down the ruler with a THWWWACK and it breaks in two.

“Lookie there. See what you made me do? Now let’s have a modicum of decency for the rest of the ceremony, shall we?”

Not a peep from the crowd.

“That’s better. Now, do you, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, take Mohammed ibn ‘Abdullāh- peace be upon him- to be your husband, to have and to hold, and promise to love, honor, cherish, protect, serve, obey, worship, and endow vigorously with your endowment, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, forsaking all others and holding only unto him to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony until death do you part?”

“I do.”

“Ditto for you, Mo?

“Ditto for me.”

“Please exchange rings as a symbol of your eternal bond to each other.”

Jesus and Mohammed slip their rings on each others’ fingers. A couple dozen paparazzi snap photos.

“I now pronounce you husband and husband. You may now man-kiss each other.”

They embrace and smooch, and the paparazzi go wild.

————-

“That was some damn good vigorous endowment of my endowables, Mo,” Jesus says, taking a long drag from his joint. “And I’m glad we could all adjust our schedules.”

“You were in top gun form yourself, there Jez,” Mohammed replies, sucking on a cigarette. “And I second you on the schedule thing.

Beard man giggles. “Yeah, Saturdays work much better for me.”

“I fourth that one!” topknot man adds.

dong-dong-dong-dong

“Ah, that’s my Blackberry,” Jesus says, grabbing his phone of the nightstand. “Hello? . . What? . . Are you sure? . . All rightie then. Good-bye.”

“I’ve got some bad news, stud muffins. That was the Virgin Mary. She called to confess her sins to Jesus- I mean, to me. She called to confess her sins to me.”

Mohammed sits up. “Huh? I thought she was without sin.”

“Well, I guess she’s not. She said she couldn’t take the guilt anymore.”

“So what are her sins?”

Jesus takes another drag. “Fornicating. And lying about fornicating. Turns out she was pregnant before she got married, and it was her fiancé who knocked her up.”

The others gasp.

“So . . you’re not the Son of God?” Mohammed asks.

“Nope.”

“Then who is the Son of God? Er . . me?”

“Nobody. She made it up. There is no Son of God.”

“But that means she’s not a saint!”

“Yep, and being a liar and a fornicator, she’s also not qualified to be a priest and perform marriages.”

“But lying, fornicating men are allowed to be priests and perform marriages all the time,” beard man says.

“You forget- women are held up to a higher standard,” topknot man replies.

“Oh yeah.”

Jesus rubs his forehead. “So I guess this means we’re not officially married, Mo.”

“Oh my God,” Mohammed gasps.

“Oh yeah, and about that . . ”

————-

*Deuteronomy 25:11

Author Spotlight- Albert Berg

Albert Berg is a mad scientist, freelance zombie apocalypse preparedness consultant, and newly debuted author.

He tweets and updates from Florida.

_____

CMStewart: First, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed your debut, “A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw.” I recommend this short story to zombie fans, dog fans, and to those wanting an unusual point of view. The unabashed dog’s perspective is refreshing, and its unconventionality encourages me in my own unconventional writing style. Thank you, Albert.

Albert Berg: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

CMS: I know your own dog helped inspire you to write “What the Dog Saw.” But I also noticed a similarity between the perspective of the dog in your story, and the perspective of the dog in the novel “Cujo,” by Stephen King. Was the novel “Cujo” also an influence for your book?

AB: You know, I’ve never read Cujo. I consider myself a fan of Stephen King’s but not so much that I’ve gone back and dug up all his work. The book that I’ve read recently that really reminded me of my own writing in What the Dog Saw, was Room by Emma Donoghue. In that story the narrator’s voice really played an important part of telling who the character was, and there’s also the same kind of contrast between innocence and evil. I read Room after I wrote What the Dog Saw, and it was one of those, “Oh crap, my story has been ruined” moments for me. That is, until I realized that Room didn’t have any zombies, and then it was okay.

CMS: What genre(s) do you like to read?

AB: Generally if a story fits neatly into any genre I don’t read it. For instance I love the Discworld books which could be classified as fantasy, but there’s also a very strong deconstructionist/humor element there. I don’t get into fantasy, mystery, romance, whatever unless there’s something more there, some twist there that makes me sit up and say, “I’ve never read anything quite like this before.”

CMS: Who are your favorite authors?

AB: Well, I’ve already mentioned Stephen King, and Terry Pratchett. To those two I’d add Lisa Lutz and the amazing zaniness that is The Spellman Files books, and Jasper Fforde for just being generally awesome. I hold Jasper Fforde in very high regard as a man who is able to come up with the weirdest stories and somehow convince his publisher to print them. I’d also tack on Mark Z. Danielewski and Douglas Adams. Not necessarily in that order mind you.

CMS: Do you focus on one genre in your writing?

AB: Yes and no. Like I said, I tend not to like stories that can be easily shoehorned into one box or another. However, my stories lately tend to be horror of one flavour or another, mostly because I like to tug on people emotional strings and horror really seems to delve into the heart of all kinds of emotions.

CMS: When did you first know you wanted to be an author, and what were the circumstances?

AB: It was a process really. I’ve been a reader for most of my life, so of course I had those moments where I said to myself, “I can do better than this.” I even sat down to try on one occasion or another, but nothing ever came of it. It wasn’t until I met a woman at my job who was writing rather good Harry Potter fan-fiction that I realized, “If she can write, so can I.”

So I sat down and gave it a go. The first few attempts didn’t go anywhere because I didn’t understand how to make a story work. I didn’t plan, didn’t outline, so of course they meandered around until they came to a dead end that I couldn’t figure my way out of and I’d have to give up and start over. But eventually I got the hang of it. The first full book I wrote was called Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption. I wrote most of it while sitting in the library at college during breaks in between classes.

It still wasn’t all that great. In fact, if you’re interested in seeing how an author changes over time, that story is available for free from ManyBooks.net.

But somewhere in all of that I got hooked, and now I can’t stop.

CMS: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors in general?

AB: If I could get just one thing in beginning writers’ heads it would be this: get the idea that published writers are different than you out of your mind. Think of your favourite author, and then tell yourself, “I can be that good.” They don’t have anything you don’t have, except experience. And experience comes through doing. And doing and doing and doing.

CMS: Do you have any advice specifically for aspiring self-published authors?

AB: It’s not a money tree. And I’m not just talking about my own experiences. One self-pub author I know named Joseph Devon has written these incredible stories about a group of supernatural beings called the Testers. I mean I love these stories. In my mind they’re on par with some of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. And yet, from what I can gather, he’s not getting rich off of them. You’d be lucky to meet someone who has even heard of him. Put the same guy in print in bookstores everywhere with the support of a major publisher behind him, and in my opinion he could be a bestseller. But in the self-pub world he’s a pure voice being drowned out by the chorus of croakers all around him.

Also, it’s hard work. You’ve got to get out there, push your book, tweet about it, do blog posts, tell your friends, do interviews, thank people for their support, the list just goes on and on. Don’t get the idea, that I’m whining, but there are only so many hours in a day, and when you’re pushing a book you find that quite few of those hours have been taken up with self-promotion. And somewhere in all of that you’ve got to find time to write another one.

CMS: Are you shopping around for an agent and a publishing house?

AB: I don’t currently have any work that I think an agent would be interested in. Many publishers have minimum wordcount requirements for fiction that none of my recent stories meet. What the Dog Saw was 20,000 words and The Mulch Pile is 40,000 words, both well below standard acceptable limits.

I’ve written longer works mainly in the fantasy genre, but they have all been turned down by every agent I sent them to.

To be honest, that’s part of the reason I decided to go the self-pub route. All those rejections…they weigh on you after a while. I wanted to see for myself what my work could do on its own merit. Maybe I’m a coward for taking the “easy” route. And maybe all I’m doing is proving them right. Maybe after all this time I’m still not ready. Only time will tell.

CMS: It’s my opinion that in general, self-published authors are braver than traditionally published authors. And of course the book marketplace is changing now more than ever before. But moving on, what are your long-term goals or ambitions as a career author?

AB: I want to be able to support myself and my wife comfortably telling the stories that I want to tell. Getting rich would be nice, but I’d settle for having the bills paid with a little left over each month. As it stands now, I’m working full time at Wal-Mart trying to find time to write and do all the other things that need doing.

CMS: What’s next for Albert Berg?

AB: Short term, I’ll be releasing a few short stories on Amazon over the next few months to grow my inventory. I’ve heard that having multiple stories out there is a good way to boost sales. The next one in the queue is called “The Thing in the Shed.” Further out, I’m looking to release my NaNoWriMo novel from two years back called, The Mulch Pile which is a story about a garden mulch pile that comes to life to terrorize a fractured family and test the bonds of brotherhood to their breaking point. If all goes well, you can look for that one sometime around August.

CMS: Around where I live, I’ve seen mulch piles spontaneously combust. So I’d be particularly interested in a mulch pile that actually comes to life! But I digress . . What’s something your fans don’t know about you?

AB: I don’t make a big deal about it on my blog, but my faith actually means quite a bit to me. I read the Bible nearly every day, and I do my best to live according to its precepts. I suppose that sounds strange coming from the guy who’s writing zombie fiction, but it’s true nonetheless.

CMS: Any final comments?

AB: I’d like to say thank you. Both to you and all the others who have in one way or another joined me in helping to promote my book. One thing you don’t realize until you do something like this is how eager the community at large is to support your success. For me the best part of putting this work out there is the chance to see how unselfishly people help to spread the word. So again, to all of you who have helped to contribute to my small venture here, thank you. I look forward to being able to return the favour someday soon.

Leave a comment and be entered into a drawing for a free digital copy of “Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw”! Drawing deadline May 18.

UPDATE: True Random Number Generator Min: 1 Max: 5 Result: 1 Powered by RANDOM.ORG
Ellie wins a free copy of “A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw”!
Thanks to all who left a comment; the book is available at Amazon.

Big Rain- a Flash Fiction Tale

 

Canis Bonum (part 2 of 3)

Am I awake? I think my eyes are open. But I can’t see a thing. So I must be dreaming. Now I see the faintest image of . . a twig? Right in front of my nose . .

Cripes! I remember. It’s nighttime. I’m not dreaming. My arms are backwards-clamped to a tree on the edge of Skitty Coot swamp bed, and there’s a stalk growing out of my chest. That Stank Hen must’ve planted a seed in my solar plexus after she went crazy on my chest. And my bird-dog Bonum, bless her heart, ripped a chunk out of my neck when she saw my predicament. She’s such a good dog. I hope she made it home alright, back to our safe, cozy cabin and my love. And I hope my love and my Bonum aren’t too sad about me being dead . .

No-no-no I’m not dead yet. As long as I can still make thoughts in my mind I know I’m not dead. I learned that in high school biology. Ms. Guthrie talked about how the brain is the last thing to go when somebody’s dying. Smart lady. And I seem to recall the time she talked about stalks . .

A-ha! I know what this thing is growing from my chest.

Ant fungus. Except it must’ve evolved- mutated. Now it can grow in a person. When things get too hot or too dry, that’s when the creepy-crawlies mutate to survive. I just might be the first person to have this mutant fungus growing out of me. Ms. Guthrie said ant fungus spores will latch on to an ant as it crawls across the ground. The fungus works itself into the ant and reproduces, then takes over the brain. Turns the ant into a zombie ant. Then when the fungus is ready to make more spores, it tells the ant to crawl up a plant and latch on, and then the fungus fuses the joints of the ant. That’s why I’m still latched onto this tree- my arm joints are paralyzed. Then the ant dies and the fungus grows a stalk from the ant’s head. Now I have a fungus stalk growing out of my solar plexus. But I’m not dead. I guess it takes a zombie person longer to die than a zombie ant.

I can see the stalk better now. It’s getting light out. And just like Ms. Guthrie said, there’s a fruiting body on the end of the stalk. Soon it will burst and release its spores. I sure hope my love and my Bonum don’t come looking for me. I can’t bear the thought of them turning into paralyzed, stalk-afflicted zombies.

“The swamp bed is up ahead. I can see it. We’ll set it up right in the middle and then fire it off.”

Cripes! People! Go away, go away, go away . . please . . Cripes. I can’t warn them. I can’t speak or even blink. All I can do is look at this fruiting body in front of my nose and think.

“What in tarnation? Hello? Uh . . you okay? Holy Beejeebus, Jim, look at this! Some poor guy strapped to a tree and stabbed with a twig . . or something . . ”

“Don’t touch it, Bob! It might have fingerprints on it. The police will need it as evidence. Is the guy still alive?”

“I don’t think so. Look- something took a bite out of the guy’s neck. And . . I guess there’s no straps after all. Maybe the poor shmuck was nailed up, but I don’t see any blood anywhere beside around the twig . . or whatever that thing is.”

I’m alive! And you guys are doomed if you don’t high-tail it outta here! The fruiting body’s gonna blow any minute- I can feel it. Please oh please leave . .

“You call the police. I’ll go ahead and set up the cloud seeder. Poor shmuck. But time’s a-wastin’, and if we don’t get a big rain this week, the Stank Hens will disappear. And when the Stank Hens disappear, so will the tourism.”

“Let’s at least get the poor guy down off that tree first. I think it’s the respectful thing to do.”

“You’re right. You take one arm and I’ll take the other. And be careful of that twig thing.”

Please don’t. The slightest vibration will pop open the fruiting body. Spores will go everywhere. You’ll be zombies. Please don’t.

CR-CRACK-ACK

WHUMP

“Jumpin’ Jehovah, they just snapped off! I didn’t pull that hard, did you?”

“No! The arm just kinda broke off. Like a dried twig.”

Great. Now I’m face down on the ground and the spores are released. But at least they’re trapped between my body and the forest floor. Now please, guys, just get a bulldozer and scoop up me and the ground below and incinerate the whole mess, and everything will be alright.

“I guess we made a mistake.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Would anybody believe us if we told them we didn’t mean to break this guy’s arms off?”

“Probably not.”

“How about we not call the police, and instead, carry the body and the arms out to the middle of the swamp bed, shoot the cloud seeder, then high-tail it outta here?”

“Works for me.”

Spores. Clouds. Rain. Cripes.

They flip me over and spores go flying.

“What’s all this black dust in the air?”

“Beats me. Let’s just do this and get outta here.”

————-

“Good evening. Top story tonight- exactly one year after the biggest rain Skitty Coot has seen in over a century, the Stank Hen population has made an astounding comeback, and Stank Hens now number in the hundreds. In other news, two Department of Parks and Recreation employees- Jim Moore and Bob Meier- are still missing, details after the break.”

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Thanks to Dan O’Shea for this flash fiction writing challenge to help fund “the Red Cross to help out those folks who got nailed by the tornados”!

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Do you have constructive criticism or a comment? I’d love to see!

Canis Bonum- a Flash Fiction Tale

original source: Amy Lawson (AKA “Arlawson,” a Wikipedia.org contributor)

 Stank Hen (part 1 of 3)

Sun’s hot. Day’s long. Good.

Time to heal.

Damn bird nearly killed me. And all I wanted to do was have a look. No harm in that, right? I didn’t want to cause trouble- I’m just a peaceful bird-watcher. Unarmed, even. That hen charged me for no reason, other than she’s just evil. My bird-dog Bonum is sitting by my side on the edge of Skitty Coot swamp bed, faithfully guarding me in case the devil hen returns. She’s such a good dog.

I lie on my back, and now and then gently tap my crusted-over solar plexus. The blood and dog saliva goop has dried. Bonum knew just what to do after that Stank Hen went stab-crazy with her beak on my chest. They say a dog’s spit is dirty, but I say a dog’s spit has healing powers. Special microbes and antibodies that fight germs. That’s why you always see a dog licking her wounds after a skirmish. Dogs have good instincts- especially my Bonum.

At high noon, I scoot on my back to my backpack and get rations for Bonum. She eats and drinks, then licks my hand. I’m not really hungry or thirsty myself. I doze a little here and there . . just passing the time and resting until we head back home. I don’t want to make the trek in the heat of the day. Come nighttime, when it’s cooled off a bit, I’ll have the strength to get out of Gallinule Forest, back to my cabin and my dinner and beer and soft cozy bed and my love . .

I open my eyes and the sun has dipped behind the trees. Time to rise and get my backpack and my dog and get out of this place. I slowly push myself up to sit, and-

grrrr . . grrrr . .

I look over my shoulder and it’s Bonum. If I didn’t know better I’d say those growls are meant for me. She must see that Stank Hen’s come back for round two. I look over my other shoulder and- nothing. I look back at Bonum and-

grrrr . . grrrr . .

Her teeth are bared and her lips are quivering. She’s hunkered down and her fur’s all up-ended.

Looks like she could charge any second.

My chest gets tight and tingly. My solar plexus throbs. I look down. Cripes. Right smack dab in the middle it’s swollen up like a purple golf ball.

It pulses, I touch it- YEOW not gonna do that again. Bonum takes off. She’s never heard me scream that loud before, poor thing. I look back down at the purple ball jutting from my chest . . a black point pushes out of the surface. A tiny stalk. I stagger to my feet and stumble to the nearest tree and slump forward and grab the trunk. If I could just catch my breath . . I could figure out what to do. After a few minutes panting and hanging on to the tree I straighten up, turn around, and lean back. My legs are all wobbly, my knees give out, and I reach up and back and grab the trunk.

My arms are still strong. Surprisingly strong. The rest of me is turnin’ to puddin’. My guts cramp up and I wet myself and the ground below.

My head pitches forward. Now my chin rests against my chest. Through watering eyes I see the tiny stalk grow, like it’s reaching for my nose. I watch it, unable to close my eyes or turn my head away . . it lengthens to almost four inches . . or maybe five . . hard to tell at this angle.

If there was any way I could let go of this tree I would and rip that damn stalk outta my chest, even if it killed me. But my arms are steadfast and tight and solid around the trunk. The bones of my wrists and elbows and shoulders are fused.

I can’t move or speak or even roll my eyes around to look for Bonum. Only she can save me now. She’ll get help . . or maybe bite that thing off my chest, or pull me off this tree somehow. She’ll know what to do.

The sun is nearly set and I hear a creeping across the grass. Then I see she’s come up to my side. She’s such a good dog. She sniffs the air, like she’s not sure what to make of my predicament, poor thing. Now she’s sniffing around my feet, and whining. She knows it’s me from the wet stink. She’s such a smart dog.

Bonum raises up on trembling hind legs, and braces one paw against the tree trunk-

sniff-sniff-sniff-snurk-urr-hurr-yulp

She’s trying to tell me something. I’ve never heard her make those noises before. She shivers and she shakes her head, then drops back down to the ground and backs up just out of sight and-

WHUMP

teeth dig into my neck and dig and dig and she hangs off my neck her jaw clamped tight shaking and twisting

RI-RI-RIP

 . . I’m still holding on to this tree. Peaceful. Light-headed. Warm.

My blood drains, falls, I fall . .

. . Into my soft cozy bed with my love.

I stared down that Stank Hen, my love. That bird was mean and nasty, but Bonum saved me in the end. She knew what to do. She’s got good instincts.

She’s such a good dog.

Big Rain (part 3 of 3)

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Thanks to Chuck Wendig and his eternal good dog Yaga for this flash fiction writing challenge!

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As with all my flash fiction, I welcome constructive criticism and comments!

Stank Hen- a Flash Fiction Tale

source: JJ Harrison (AKA “Noodle snacks,” a Wikipedia.org contributor)

Stank Hens by the hundreds used to hang out in Skitty Coot swamp years ago, when the swamp was waterlogged and lush and full of algae and lily pads and reeds. But the swamp dried up in 2006, and now the Stank Hens only number in the dozens. Some say these are the only Stank Hens left in the world.

Some say the best time to go Stank Hen-sighting is in the fall. Fall is breeding season, and the Stank Hens are bolder when they’re randy. I say the best time to go Stank Henning is in springtime, after the 7-month gestation, right before they lay. See, in the fall, when a Stank Hen is bold and randy, it moves fast. Come May, the hens are slow ‘cause they’re full of eggs or nesting. They don’t wanna move, so if you sneak up on them, you can get a good look.

The trick is to get a good look without getting pierced. That’s what they do when they get mad. They charge you and pierce your solar plexus with their beaks. Nobody knows why they go for the solar plexus. It might be because it’s smack dab in the middle, and aiming for the middle gives them a good shot, like aiming for the center of a bullseye.

Now the reason everybody around these parts is so keen on looking a Stank Hen in the eye- Stank Hens have a magical quality. Some call it superstition. Skitty Coot natives know the hens are whorish and trashy-looking, and it’s said that any single person who can look one in the eye for ten seconds will be blessed with a faithful, respectable husband or wife. Kinda like yin and yang. Staring down a Stank Hen is like staring down the basest, most despicable temptation of married life. If you’re already married and look one in the eye, you get a similar benefit, just not as much.

Now I’ve been single for quite some time, but I’ve got my eye on somebody who makes me get all hot and bothered. But I hear rumors about my love. Bar-hopppin’. Street-walkin’. I don’t know if these rumors are true, but I’d rather play it safe and look a Stank Hen in the eye before I declare my love and get all emotionally attached and messy.

So that’s what I’m doing with my bird-dog Bonum in Gallinule Forest at the edge of Skitty Coot swamp bed. We have a backpack full of rations to last us a couple days. Just before dusk, me and Bonum bed down for the night, make ourselves quiet and still, and blend in with the dried grass and brush. I figure by morning, any Stank Hens that saw us move in will have forgotten about us.

The stars are bright, and the air is alive with all manner of cheepers and peepers, but we eventually doze off . .

I open my eyes and the sun is on the opposite side, behind the trees. Bonum is still snoozing- I hear her softly snore. Early morning is feeding time for the hens, so I’m just about to rise and-

grrarrarrarr-stish-stish-grrarrrarrrarr-stish-stish

That’s the sound a hen makes- vertebrae-grinding and tail-twitching- I dare not move my head to see just yet . . out of the corner of my eye I see Bonum, and she’s awake with ears pricked, but not making a sound . . such a good dog. She’s got good instincts.

grrarrarrarr-stish-stish-grrarrrarrrarr-stish-stish

The hen is closer . . I keep my head still and dart my eyes side-to-side . . where is she? I can even smell her stankiness and . . she must be right above my head. Cripes.

No choice now if I expect to look her in the eye- I slowly roll my eyes up and back and tilt my head back and back and . .

I see her. Upside-down. She’s crouched down and jutting one leg out to the side, wobbling it round and round. That’s what they do just before they charge. Like a wind-up. I fix on her blood-red eye and she gives me the most evil, hateful look you or me or anybody ever did see and if I could just focus on her eye for ten seconds-

GRRARRARRARR

I shoot upright as she charges me and I take a leap forward and catch my foot on a vine and do a flying somersault and land on my back again and-

GRRARRARRARR

The devil Stank Hen is on my face and her talons dig into my cheeks and I press my arms tight over my eyes and she dives into my solar plexus with her beak, stab-stab-stab-stab-stab

Muddy, stinky brown feathers are flying everywhere and I scream and Bonum got scared off but now she’s back and barking like crazy and . . now the Stank Hen is gone, thanks to Bonum. She’s such a good dog.

I don’t know if I looked that Stank Hen in the eye for ten seconds. It felt like ten minutes, but you know how people lose track of time when they’re about to be gored by a bird.

My cheeks are pierced, but not really bleeding. But my solar plexus is bleeding. Gushing. That hen went deep.

The only thing that can save me now is Bonum. She’ll know what to do. She’s got good instincts.

She slinks up to me, gives a whimper, then a bark. She licks my gaping chest wound with her big, sloppy tongue. She hasn’t had any water from our rations since last night, and now her saliva is thick and mucousy. It’s stopping the flow of blood. I just need to lie still and wait for the goop to coagulate. Now that Bonum knows she can scare off a Stank Hen, we’re all set. I’ll rest here on the edge of the swamp bed while the sun is out. Tonight Bonum and I will make the journey home.

Damn bird.

Canis Bonum (part 2 of 3)

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Thanks to Chuck Wendig for this FlashFictionFriday.com-hosted flash fiction writing challenge!

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As with all my flash fiction, constructive criticism and comments are welcome.