One More Light

One More Light

by Robert J. S. T. McCartney

It happened again. The dream where trillions of stars went out in the night sky. One by one, then dozens, until finally, all that remained was the full moon that slowly faded to nothing. The icy chill of nothingness wrapped its fingers around us all. Something we, as a whole—as humans, were not accustomed to. Sharing the same fate, the same grief. The light of the universe had gone out. There was no hope left. There was only death.

As I stared around, I saw people running rampant in the streets. The only light that lit up the sky was the faint glowing of city streets and raging fires. I thought it funny in a way. All the times we spent polluting the air with fake images, adverts, lights and otherwise that masked the beauty of the universal splendor that encompassed us. We were but a drop in the ocean. Now, though, the ocean had dried up.

I was gifted with an unusual ability. The one I didn’t understand, at least at the time. Now that the sun had died and the rest of the universe had gone dark, we were probably the only place left in existence that dared defy the darkness. I thought, so very like us; to confront, challenge and try to fight against the odds. Sadly, it wouldn’t be something we could ever hope to win.

The planet was beginning to freeze, and casualties were already high. Many countries resulted just ending it all by nuclear war. A lot of people committed their last acts of sin, proclaimed their love to their significant others and families, killed themselves, murdered other people. Observing it was hard, though enduring it was as hard.

I spoke of a gift that I possessed. On the day of my death, I said goodbye to my wife and kids. I was jettisoned from my body. I traversed in spirit through a blue-white portal that took me to the realm of the living…in another universe. I opened my eyes and looked around. Indeed, I was alive. How I could not tell you.

Then there came the telltale signs of the end to which I bore witness to. I tried to reason with my family and friends. I tried telling everyone. I tried social media, blog posts, anything I possibly could. I was called a liar, a crazy person, banned from church, labeled as insane, and that I should have my children taken away from me, and my wife divorce me.

Weeks before NASA had some reports that said stars in various solar systems were dying at a rapid rate and that it was spreading fast. I had sat with my wife and kids when I watched the announcement and had a grin on my face. I had told them all the truth, but none would listen.

On the evening of when the stars went out as I had once experienced it, I told my wife and kids that I would see them again. I gave them an embrace and like before; I left my body. My physical form dropped to the ground, and I was sent to another universe.

I had stopped counting how many Earths I have visited. Each time, I felt like I was getting more and more lost with why I have such a gift. What purpose was there in my ability? What good was it if I can’t save my family, friends, let alone humanity? I don’t want to be a hero…I only want to be with my family. I don’t want to carry our problems to the next world, where it seemingly already exists. So many thoughts, hypotheticals and such flooded my racing mind as I traversed universes.

While I was lost in thought, I could have sworn I saw myself but dismissed it as a possible reflection of time, since it seemed like a mirrored hallway when I’d reach the precipice of traveling from one point to another. I shook my head and disregarded it as just a coincidence.

At last, I came to a universe where the light was still lit. Our world, however, was nothing like it was when I had left. Irradiated and in a unique stasis field, where only our solar system existed. However, humans had become disfigured and decrepit—resembling the walking dead, but with our typical wit and sense.

I noted the surrounding and how familiar it was to me.

“How did you get here?” a raspy woman’s voice inquired.

“The light in this universe hasn’t gone out yet?” I replied.

The woman shook her head. “It has. Our solar system is the only one left in the Darkness.”

“What happened then?” I asked.

The woman’s black eyes looked to the ground and then back to my eyes. “A man came from another time with a gift that could provide us with new lives,” she gestured with his hands, “this is what became of us. He, however, has been gone for some time.”

She cleared her throat and asked again where I came from.

“I come from another time. Where the Darkness, as you so call it, took place,” I said.

The woman nodded. “A lot of people died you know.”

I nodded in reply. “I know, I was there until I finally started traveling.”

The woman began to weep.

“What’s wrong,” I asked her.

She wiped away a murky tear and gave a broken smile. “We never once stopped believing you’d find us again.”

 

 

 

This was also posted on A.B.Normal Publishing and Media Group.
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The Middleton Files: Spanish Ladies

The Middleton Files: Spanish Ladies

by Robert J. S. T. McCartney

An excerpt
[Formerly a short story]

 

 

 

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Various timers went off, telling the kitchen staff to tend to the assorted foods in the kitchen. The warm smell of sauteed onions, the fresh hint of mustard and the sweet smell of ketchup wafted through the air. The tantalizing scent of newly fried french fries (lightly salted), with the aroma of freshly cooked chicken intermingled with the allure of piping hot cooked hamburgers.

The staff would bark orders to one another, while a manager would supervise and give aid when needed. Sometimes placing items in brown paper bags and handing them off to drive-through customers.

It was a quaint little shack, offering the release of the food blues. Various tables and chairs laid in unison – groups of four chairs per table in rows of two, sometimes three. The place was warm in color; a fleshy tone – nearly resembling the inner portion of a medium cooked steak or burger.

A few more people came in from the cool and sunny summer afternoon. It was lunchtime, which meant rush hour part two.

“Hey! Do you mind already?!” A rather red-faced, tall, pudgy, bald man in professional business attire behind another few people hollered.

There at the front of the line stood one man (for several minutes now). His eyes were scanning over the entire menu, debating with himself just what exactly to order.

“C’mon man, you’re making them all angry,” the young youth in excessive baggy clothing leaned inward towards the contemplative gentlemen; the brim of his hat so cockeyed and flat – the man only disregarded his knowledgeable interjection.

The man was a tall, athletic (although, the only visible remark was his toned arms due to the thin red and black checkered flannel shirt he wore). He wore a black baseball cap, sheltering his shoulder-length long dark ruffled hair. His face was rugged and worn. Both face and arms were slightly reddened, comparable to the more tanned blotches, telling the tail of his extensive time outdoors. The attendant stared patiently into the man’s bright green eyes that wandered about.

Finally, the man’s eyes stopped and fixated upon the menu. He licked his lips and with an invisible tug, his gaze fell to the restaurant attendee.

“I’ll take a…” the man started but was interrupted.

“I’ve had it with you, you, retarded fuck! You’re wasting all our goddamn time! I could have eaten and been on my way back to the goddamn office! You know, some people have to work for a living, instead of being some yuppy who leeches off the fucking government and all of our tax dollars! YOU are the reason why there’s a decline in society nowadays! People. Like. You,” the bald man lashed out.

The man closed his eyes, sighing aloud.

“Oh, I’m sorry! Did I offend you? DID I UPSET YOU?! Good! Now you can see where we all are! You thick-skulled fuck!”

“Sir, I need you to please, calm down or leave,” the attendant calmly replied.

“I am calm! Don’t tell me what the fuck to do!” the bald man snapped back. “I don’t even know why I bother coming here—”

“Look,” the silent giant began, still eying the menu, his voice deep, “All I want to do is just get my food, eat and then be on my way, exactly like you. You though—you are a spiteful person; one who’s always got to be right. Picking on others, being rude and swindling your way on everything. You, sir, are the lowest of the chain. Even maggots work harder than you. You aren’t worthy to be under my boots.”

There soon followed a brief moment of silence, to which the giant placed his order, and the attendant smiled in compliance.

“You son of a bitch,” the bald man roared. “Just you wait when you’re alone somewhere at night. You’ll get what’s coming to you,” the man finally snapped back.

“We all get what we deserve, some just get it sooner than others. You may want to stop wishing…” the lone man replied, others’ eyes looked to one another in awe.

Soon enough, the patient man’s order was ready; placed on a brown plastic tray, atop some decorative sheet of paper advertising a new quad-patty burger. The man frowned, then looked up and at all the other people that waited in line (even the angry little bald man) and at those who were already eating.

Such nonsense… that we ingest.

“What are you staring at?” the cue-ball man inquired.

The man carried his tray with his order: a spicy chicken sandwich, sweet potato fries, and a bottle of water. “Hmm,” the man stared at the beet red, wannabe goat-man, “absolutely nothing.”

He was enraged further beyond reasoning now. The angry man swatted the tray out of the giant’s hands. “How’s that for nothing, you asshole!”

The silent giant stared at the ground in dismay, sighing.

“What’s the matter?! Are you gonna cry about it, you big fucking baby!?” the man raged further into the sizable man’s eyes.

He closed his eyes; whether it was to suppress any emotion or find a way to shrug off the attacks. Something just didn’t feel right at that moment.

Without warning, the giant grabbed the scrawny bald man by the throat and lifted him off the ground. The giant’s eyes were red with an absolute fiery rage. “Little man, you dared wish for death? Allow me to grant you such a wish!”

The cue-ball flailed about and cried for help, all in vain. No one dared to challenge the colossus, except the young youth.

“Hey! Let him go!”

The giant’s wrathful glare fell upon the young man and with his free hand, grabbed him by the skull and tossed him out through the cafe window, only to be run over by a car via the drive-through. His hat crumpled underneath the tires, along with his popped skull; unlaced sneakers underneath the driver’s side of the car. A small grin scrawled across his face. He turned his anger back upon the bald weasel.

People began to flee in terror, but he wouldn’t be having that. No, there will be no survivors today.

“There will be none!” the man bellowed as he began to flail around the scrawny man, swatting people left and right. Smashing them together: men, women, children, young, old; it didn’t matter who—only whoever was in his range of wrath.

“Do you see what you have brought upon everyone, by speaking for everyone?! Everyone shares the same fate!” he screamed as he smashed the man repetitively against the floor, to the wall, and atop the counter-top.

An alarm blurred, moans and screams. Blood sprayed and dripped everywhere; what was once a white and vibrant tile – was soaked with the lives of numerous victims. The giant discarded the now bloodied pulp of a man to the floor. He walked over and picked up his chicken sandwich, a bottle of water and sweet potato fries; slowly walking out the window towards the alleyway that laid behind the fast food diner: whistling and humming to himself, “Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies…”

*  *  *

Shortly after, the police had arrived at the burger joint. The only survivors were the female attendant who had waited on the man and a majority of the kitchen staff. The man nearly eradicated the entire restaurant. The driver of the car, who ran over the young man, had also come back; save for probably being identified and hunted down by police. He had claimed that was the fastest he’d ever run from anything in his life.

New Boston Police Department scoured the scene, having been short lately due to cutbacks; the police chief requested the aid of some close colleagues down in Middleton. Namely, two detectives whom the chief considered to be the best in all of New England.

“Where the hell are Detectives Dana Deupree and Walter Conway?” the captain inquired over the dispatch radio.

[Title is from the short story when it was originally penned. Release title will differ. Originally published on Abnormalpublishing.com

The Scientist and The End of All Things

The Scientist and The End of All Things

By Robert J. S. T. McCartney

He sat in the chair for a while now. He hadn’t moved much since he was told the news. He didn’t want to believe it. He couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t much of a surprise, so to speak. The nightmares had been increasing lately. The pain of loss was too real, and he didn’t—he couldn’t handle that now.

He was so close. So close to being able to correct the neurological damage that had been done to his daughter years ago, a taxing result from the car crash. The seizures were relentless and had been unforgiving. It wouldn’t matter now, though. Still, all he wanted…was to watch his little girl walk and to hear her tell him she loved him. Now? Now he felt he never would.

“Mr. Colley, I am afraid I need to have you clear the room. We are experiencing an abnormal increase in trauma situations and are in need of grievance rooms. I do apologize for asking,” said the male doctor.

Mr. Colley nodded and sighed heavily, running his fingers through his black hair. He sniffled and wiped his eyes occasionally. It still hurt.

“You’ll want to get her affairs in order. It…it won’t be long now,” the doctor said sympathetically.

The doctor’s words cut him to his very soul, and such, as he walked out into the hallway, he collapsed onto the ice cold tile. Hospital personnel and people rushed around him. He felt alone. So alone in the eye of the hurricane.

“You need to get a grip, John. You need to be strong. Not for you, but for them. So what if they said she’ll die soon. If it were you, what would you do?”

I’d go out swinging. I wouldn’t roll over and go quietly to my grave. 

”Then find your balls, John. Dig deep and find your fucking balls, get up, and get back to the lab. Finish it. Who cares anymore?”

You’re right.

John got up off the floor and with purpose, left the hospital in haste.

John worked tirelessly in his lab. He had phoned his wife, letting her know of his sudden departure from the hospital.

He had a purpose. He needed to be vigilant. He knew no one else would exactly understand. His methods were unorthodox; a controversy in the States. Stem Cells. These, though, were engineered through biological manipulation and engineered with nanomachines to help speed up the brain’s recovery; and accelerate the development of new healthy cells. They repaired damaged tissues, reconstruct damaged nerves. A dream made a reality.

No testing had been done though. At least, not in humans.

John gathered up the syringes and made his way back to the hospital. His daughter would be administered the doses at the safety of the hospital. Just in case. After all, he had signed all the waivers and disclaimers.

“There’s a high probability that this won’t work, John,” warned the woman doctor.

“At least I’m giving her a fighting chance,” snapped John.

The doctor sighed. “Sometimes it’s better just to let go.”

“Not yet. Not until she’s old and had a chance to live.” John replied sternly.

“What about those that die young? What of them?”

John’s eyes were fixated with purpose as he administered the first dosage. “They were not in my hands. I cannot fight for everyone.”

After several weeks, the administering of the treatment was a success. The Occupational and Physical Therapists and her parents watched her walk on her own. Cognitive function dramatically improved. She had become much more independent and self-sufficient. John was beside himself.

The world and the universe, though, saw otherwise. War was on the horizon. Tensions were rising and meeting an unthinkable end was beginning to become more of a reality. No peaceful resolution could be reached. No side could give way to diplomacy. Civil war would begin to break out. A revolution would begin. The people had had enough.

As John watched the news with his family he knew the end would come, sooner or later. That, even in the marvel of science, he had only prolonged time.

Borrowed time…

John worked tirelessly in the nights. He had fancied quantum physics, space and time for a long time. He had an idea. It might prolong the inevitable but at least, at least he could spend whatever time that this device, this idea could grant.

Time stop isolation. At first, he thought just to his home. Then he thought his town. Then he decided the world. If it as all going to go to hell, he’d at least let some of the other families have extra moments.

On the Day of the End, John gathered his wife and children.

“I love you,” he told them all and hugged them tightly.

“I love you, daddy,” his kids told him.

He cried tears of joy. Ever since having heard the words for the first time from his oldest. He never wanted to take them for granted, let alone be her last. She had made so much progress. So much to live for. Now, now it was the end of all things, all things humankind.

The bombs were fired, dropped, set to explode. John pushed the little red button, initiating the time stasis field all over Earth.

The bombs never went off. Time and the Earth stood still.

Eventually, the universe had begun to collapse. A long passage of time went by. The ultimate end came and went in the blink of an eye. A beautiful and merciful death of humankind in the light of a glorious dawn. The contagion, contained and isolated, just like he wanted.

The End

The Inferno

The phone alarm went off, startling James awake as if some natural disaster siren was going off, signaling the end of times. As he rubbed his heavy eyes, in his head, the moving pictures of people: men, women, and children; they all panicked as they fled in horror in every direction. Some, if not most, streaked through the streets in a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, and oranges that burned brilliantly, even during the day.

James sighed as the vision had been burned into his retinas, forever imprinted as a reminder of that day. Slowly he got out of bed and went to the broken window. Peering out through the remnants of broken glass, he watched as the dark clouds danced off in the far distance with the wind. Below them, the inferno still raged. Still, it consumed.

He looked down at the small sleeping bag that cradled his daughter. James smiled to himself. Though he was miles apart from his wife, he knew that in the end, everything would be alright. At least, that’s what he kept telling himself. James crept slowly to his makeshift bed and sat down. Beside him, on the floor was a dusty and slightly singed diary. A gift that his wife had given him before she left overseas for work.

He opened it up to where she had written a note to him: I will always be with you. I love you, James. — Mary

Thumbing through the pages, he stopped on a specific journal entry. The day when he had said goodbye to her. He had just picked up his daughter from school when it became “Hell on Earth…” at least the West Coast did. It slowly spread to the east, and towards Mexico and Canada. Most of California was no more, just ashen ruins. Quick sketches and descriptions of how the fire spread, scorching LA, Silicon Valley, Wine Country, everything. There were reports that it was a series of napalm bombs set off during the worst drought the US had ever have. Others claimed that it was the result of a nuke going off. While others grasped at concepts of it being an act of God, aliens, or some other absurdities.

James sighed as he flipped through more pages. One where on another day he and his daughter went to a cemetery that overlooked the land below that blazed. Taking a break from their eastern trip, they sat and watched the plumes add their brushstrokes to the sky; dampening the azure to a dark gray in swift strokes. He had found some ceremonial wine in the abandoned church. Taking one of the paper cups he had saved, he sipped and watched on. His daughter ran and laughed; making sure to visit the graves and apologizing if she stepped on those that were hardly visible.

Part of him was glad it had all happened. Another part of him felt for the families that were displaced, and for the innocence that was snuffed out. He only knew, though that he need to be alive because they needed him.

A few streams of tears rolled down his cheeks. It had been a few days since he had last talked to his wife. Every time they would attempt to communicate, it’d be hard to understand one another. He looked through the last few messages his wife had sent him. Some were from Mary’s business trip in Tokyo when the cherry blossoms were blooming; another was from Paris at night. The most recent were about her coming back to the States and them being together again.

He stared at the contact photo. He ran his right index finger over the photo.

“I miss you…so much,” he whispered, struggling not to cry outright.

He sniffled and tried to maintain his composure. He had thoughts, thoughts that they would meet again, be a family once more, that they would be happy. That they would meet at the airport and see each other at the baggage claim and finally, hold one another. He silently laughed at the thought, believing it to be such a movie script ending.

A beep came over the phone, drawing his attention. I am leaving for Boston today. I’ll try to get a closer flight over from there. I love you and miss you.

He swiped on the screen, replying “I love you and miss you too.”

The phone then got tucked into his pants pocket. He stood up and wrangled on his fireman’s jacket, a relic he kept from “Old California.” He retrieved some canned food from a gym bag and prepared to heat it over a fire outside.

He knelt down and stirred his daughter from her sleep. She smiled at her father and said: “thank you.” He gave her a pat on the head. Together the pair ate in silence, except where in the distance aircraft could be heard flying. They still attempted to put it out. He believed it was a farce and that nature would win in the end. The inferno was something not natural, though, but not anything he had ever encountered. Water had little effect, the fire retardants had no effect, the dirt barriers were ineffective. Everything that they could use to hinder it, stop it, whatever, was useless.

Once they had finished eating, the father and daughter set off to continue their journey. As they walked, he listened to the hand crank radio. There was still no exact cause of the fire, and it was not suspected to be terrorism; though many voiced otherwise. They had no exact method to combat the fire, the death toll was in the millions, and the West Coast was an inhabitable zone and now known as Hades.

Some people voiced concern that this was a stunt for the newly elected president, but things had gotten out of control, and now they had no hopes of containing their mess. Conspiracies from the left and right flew across the airwaves, while cries for help and emergency broadcasts would crackle in and out.

***

Night had come, drowning out the sun. The father and daughter made a small fire near the Oaktree that sheltered them. As he made dinner for the pair, he looked off into the distance at the moon that peered through some of the trees. It nearly resembled a man with crooked teeth smiling back. He chuckled to himself silently.

James dialed his wife’s phone number and talked with her briefly, giving her an update on the day’s travels. He looked to his daughter.

“Heather, do you want to talk to your mom?” James asked, moving the phone away from his ear.

His daughter gave a big nod and set off to taking the phone and talking to Mary, who tried not to cry on the other line. All flights were grounded for now, as the inferno had helped produce some wicked weather that now spread to other parts of the world. It was foretold that we would become trapped on earth, with the sun blocked out by the haze. Fiery Tornadoes were made and observed. There was even a typhoon that carried the part of the inferno across the Pacific. The ocean was soon becoming a sea of fire. All hope that anyone had was now diminishing, fast.

He turned the radio off, and took the phone from his daughter, having said goodnight to her mother.

“Hey…”

“I am sorry I’m not there,” Mary said.

“It’s OK. It’s not your fault,” James said.

“I know, but I just really want to be home with you two,” Mary choked out. “I don’t even know if they’re going to let flights even take off anymore with all the stuff they’re saying in the news.”

“Don’t listen to them. We’ll find a way. If anything, you could try to take a boat,” James said calmly.

“Yeah, yeah I guess,” Mary said, trying not to cry.

 “We’ll be alright. Everything will be alright.” He said, hoping his words would encourage her, though he contemplated them otherwise.

“I hope so,” she said exhaling. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Get some sleep. I’ll call tomorrow,” Mary said.

They both stayed on the line. James held the phone close to his chest, knowing that Mary couldn’t sleep. He stayed awake for a while before hanging up, figuring she had fallen asleep.

He whispered, “I love you,” before disconnecting the call.

James took the hand crank charger and plugged it in the phone. He cranked until his arms tired and he slowly fell asleep. The last sight was the man with the crooked teeth waving him goodnight with the gentle breeze.

***

When morning came, there was the sound of crackling and the familiar smell of wood burning. James scrambled to his feet and searched for Heather. The flames were abnormally close. He looked to the sky that was dark gray, a storm had come and had helped fan the flames eastward, hot on their heels. He dashed over and woke his daughter and together, they gathered their things and set off in a rush.

As they wandered eastbound, James noticed there was a message from Mary. I found a charter that will take me across the Atlantic. I’ll see you soon. Stay safe. I love you.

The message was from several hours ago. James smiled to himself. Even amidst the chaos, he still clung to some hope. He, like many others, had prayed for rain, but it didn’t matter. The fire kept going strong, and by the news reports on the radio, there were very few places that were untouched. The supposed safe zones were around the various mountain ranges. Still, James kept this hope; not only for himself and his family but for others…for humanity.

They came across a road that was quiet. It probably hadn’t been traveled on for a while now. Few vehicles littered the sides. He was more familiar with the highway being lit up, with the passing cars mimicking beacons. James wagered he could perhaps get one of them to work, and they could drive the rest of the way versus walking.

One by one, he tried the automobiles and trucks. None of them had life remaining, and he was ill-equipped even to service any of them. At the very least, they could offer shelter from the fast approaching storm.

“Parts of the Midwest are now gone. With firefighters trying different strategies to keep the fire from spreading past the Rockies. The western coast of Canada has been scorched and is now part of Hades. The cold temperatures seem to have some effect on the fire, leading some scientists to propose using liquid nitrogen to help combat the fire. The first field test will take place tomorrow morning as the coming severe storm system is giving the fire great strength in spreading.” The man reported over the radio broadcast.

The voice changed to a more determined tone, “For those still trying to escape eastward, there is still hope. We are still fighting. Don’t give up.”

James turned the radio off and looked in the rearview mirror to his now sleeping daughter. He glanced out the driver side window, noting the streaks of gray, black, and intermingling white. Off in the distance, he could see the orange glow of the pursuing inferno.

***

James awoke some time later to the light of a passing car. He attempted to get their attention by flashing the high beams on the car. The car slowed down and reversed in his direction. He conversed with the driver who was taking his family of four. There was little room, but they could spare a little room and take him and his daughter to the nearest refuge center.

He picked up his sleeping daughter and sat in the back cargo area with her. He reached for the phone in his pocket to send his wife a text message. We got a ride from a family to the evacuation camp in Colorado. Denver is still taking flights. I’m going to sleep for a little while. I love you.

James tucked the phone back in his coat and closed his eyes. Thankful for the chance of being able to ride instead of walking. His chest swelled with hope. Maybe…

***

The van arrived at the evacuation center. Guards asked for IDs from the man driving and from anyone else that was present in the vehicle. Once cleared, they were instructed to park at a designated mass pool, where it resembled a junkyard almost more than anything.

There were crowds of people. Some worked at the medicinal tent, while others worked at the food center, and others worked at servicing vehicles. People were helping people; this is what he was used to. It was something he was familiar with, being part of a unit.

A military personnel approached him. “Excuse me, sir, but are you a firefighter?”

“Yes, sir, I am, LAFD,” James replied.

“Great. We need more volunteers, and especially those with firefighting experience. Can you come with me, please?” asked the militant.

“Sure, but what about my daughter?” James asked.

“She will be watched by one of our matrons. Don’t worry; you’re not being deployed…yet.”

James nodded and gave a look over his shoulder, Heather still slept.

***

The center’s firefighting unit was massive, some thousands of people all lined up in rows. All poised and ready to take back from nature.

A well-dressed and medal heavy colonel stood and addressed the masses. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are going to be taking part of the field test of Defense of the Rockies tomorrow morning.”

A lot of chatter erupted, with some saying they didn’t sign up to be shipped out so soon, while others cheered. The man raised his hands, “I thank you for your service, as does your country…as does the world. We are hoping that the liquid nitrogen bombs, coupled by your fire suppressants, will be enough to weaken or extinguish the flames.”

The colonel stepped down from the podium and continued his address. “We are the last line of defense for the East. Other countries are taking extreme countermeasures; some even going as bold as nuking affected areas. While those are effective, to a degree, we are not going to throw away lives callously.”

He paused as he looked at the crowd. “I believe we will win the war against this…Inferno, that we are the snowball chance in Hell. It is in these dark times, where we are our strongest, putting aside all differences and striving for the greater good.”

Some members of the crowd chanted back, “the greater good.”

“Tomorrow, we will stand victorious. I wish you all well. Dismissed!” the colonel said, following up with a salute.

***

Back at his assigned tent, James spoke to Heather. “I am going to go tomorrow, to fight the Inferno, to help beat it.”

“Are you going to kill it finally?” she asked cuddling with her stuffed teddy bear.

“I hope so,” he said with a smile.

“When will you be back?” she asked.

“Hopefully tomorrow, unless the test fails,” he replied.

“What about Mama?”

“I will talk to her and find out,” he said patting her on the head. “For now, get some sleep. I need you to be strong, alright, sweetie?”

“I will,” she said.

He gave a kiss on her forehead, and tucked her in, “I love you, sweetheart.”

“I love you too, daddy.”

James walked outside the tent and searched for his phone buried in his coat pocket. He took it out and dialed his wife’s number, with it going to voicemail.

“Hey, honey. I wanted to call you and let you know that I am going to the field test to help fight the fire. The military said they’ll watch over Heather via matron and other volunteers. I’ll let you know when I get back. I love you and hope you got over safely.” He ended the phone call and sighed.

James put on his earbuds and listened to the news. He stopped on the headline where a ship had sunk in the Atlantic recently, due to a crack in the hull. James’ heart immediately sank to his stomach. He frantically called his wife’s phone, only to hear it go to voicemail. There was nothing he could do. He had already felt far away from her as it were, with these last few months being in chaos. Thousands of miles in between them, events kept them separated. It seemed to be the will of someone or something wanting to drive the wedge in deeper and deeper. He could handle walking, hell, even crawling to her, but the distance now…it was so much farther than ever before. The only thought he could muster was that he needed her close, and now. But, it was all for naught.

James went to sleep that night crying silently. With the images, he had of their trips, family photos, voice recordings to help keep his sanity. He still had a job to do, and a life to live. Not for him, but for her.

***

Men and women of various ages stood shoulder to shoulder with James. They all were equipped with oxygen tanks, masks, hoses, shovels, and so on. They dug a trench that was miles long and cleared brush and materials that would help fuel the blaze. Overhead, planes flew, circling, ready to release the payload on the ordered mark.

One by one, the firefighters retreated to the alleged safe distance and watched as the bombs fell from the sky. It sounded like glass shattering and soda pop fizzle. Ash and dirt were kicked up and mixed with the dust. They peered through their masks, all that hope that swelled. The fire was no more. Cheers erupted from the crowds. The word was out; victory was at hand.

Hours passed, and the news around the globe was that the fire was being combated, pushed back to extinction. It would take a few days, but the job would be done, and humanity would stand as the victor. James felt happy that he had been part of the solution and in combating the inferno. Also, though, he was sad because of the gnawing loss that still ate at him.  He couldn’t bear to bring the news to his daughter and constantly deflected the notion. He would have to come to terms…

***

Back in his tent, Heather asked the question he had wanted to avoid so much. “Daddy, when is mommy coming home?”

“Honey, mommy…mommy isn’t coming home,” he said with tears falling.

“What do you mean?” Where’s mommy? What happened to mommy?” she asked, the millions of questions he knew she would be asking.

He hugged his daughter tight, “I’m so sorry, sweetie.” He struggled to keep composure as he told her the story of the ship going down in the ocean.

The pair cried together, while the crowd cheered and congratulated one another on the job well done.

***

A day had passed, and there was not much left of the Inferno. Efforts were tripled, and soon, the West Coast had been reclaimed, and countries around the world began rebuilding. Plans for memorials and finding out the exact composition of the Inferno, and how it came to be were put in motion.

James and Heather remained at the evacuation center for a short time. There was a rumor he heard from some military personnel that there were some survivors of the sunken vessel. One, in particular, happened to be making their way to the Denver airport.

After some hours of conversing and negotiating, James was able to arrange transportation to the airport. Together the father and daughter ventured, clinging to hope. Once arriving at the airport, they thanked the soldiers for the ride and set off for the perhaps finding the alleged survivor.

Hours passed, the day turned to night. His daughter fell asleep, with her head in his lap. James’ eyes were heavy, but the thought of seeing his wife fueled him to stay awake. A woman’s voice came over the intercom, declaring the flight from Boston had arrived. He continued to sit and wait, hoping.

All the passengers had departed, but none of them looked like her. Hope seemed to leave him. Reality slowly began to set in. She was gone.

As James slowly reached his feet, cradling Heather, and began to walk away, one more person got off the plane.

“James?”

That voice, he knew it belonged to only one person. He turned around and saw Mary. They ran to each other and embraced; a family reunited at last. They hugged one another tightly and cried. Some people in the airport clapped and cheered. They were whole again, and everything was going to be alright.

*Inspired by the music of Death Cab for Cutie
A.B.Normal Publishing and Media Group with quill logo

Future Titles and Works

Hello, everyone!

A short while back I stated that you would see fewer posts of short stories posted on a consistent basis…like say how some that have been published days in a row and so on. While I am getting the Kickstarter campaign for Lilah’s Guide to Hoyle finalized (and it’s very near) and getting pre-orders ready as well, I thought I would share what is a taste of things to come.

I have numerous titles upcoming, of course, these all range from short stories, novels, novella, and so on. Some things I will be focusing on are as follows:

  • Publishing and release of a prequel to Lilah’s Guide to Hoyle (more information coming soon).
  • Continuing of The Diary of the Wasteland Bear God (with the possible introduction of artwork) on A.B.Normal Publishing.
  • Continuing of The Chronicles of Bob: The Chronic Suicidal (with the possible introduction of artwork) on A.B.Normal Publishing.
  • The introduction of a new entertainment series on A.B.Normal Publishing.
  • Several short stories that will be stand alone stories. These include my Dana and Walter Files: The Untold Stories of New Boston and Middleton.
  • The introduction of (my so dubbed title placeholder) Sinclair Gets His Rolex. This particular story is my take on a superhero through unorthodox means.

These will be but a few of the many planned items I have. To give you a gist they are:

  • A Chucky Origins tale. Yes, that very exact Chucky.
  • Pandemic Tales, which is a small collection of a few stories.
  • A romantic comedy that pushes the boundaries of the absurd.
  • A nightmare and dream short story collection.
  • A (so far) 600+ page epic post-apocalyptic fantasy science fiction story.
  • Several other post-apocalyptic stories.
  • The next short story “chapter” of The Lodestone Files.
  • The next chapters of The Mysterious Stranger.
  • And more…

So as you can see there is quite the list of things to do, and this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg (it’s OK if you want to scream “This isn’t even my final form!”). While I am hoping for a successful campaign and launch of Lilah’s Guide to Hoyle, I know I am only eager to please everyone and make something out of nothing, where I must remember that I wanted to do this for myself…no one else. While some may think of that as selfish, it is, but that was my initial goal, and I feel I must keep that; setting high goals is good, however, surpassing them and meeting your personal ones first is a lot better…gives you room for failure.

I hope you all enjoyed this “sneak peak,” if you will, of what’s to come and a glimmer of what I have to offer. I wish everyone a well weekend and to stay safe.

RJM

The Crucifixion of Edward Croix

Pirate Orange Cells via Image After

“There are worse things in life than death.” It’s true, at least for me anyway. I don’t even know how long it’s been. I’ve lost count of the days and stopped caring really. There’s no hope of leaving this place; truth be told, alive or dead, and in all honesty, I’d rather the latter.

My name is Edward Croix. I used to be a pawn in the vast game called Wall Street. I was married, had kids, had a nice house with a white picket fence…I can almost barely remember my past life before being taken. All I know is I had it all, I wanted more, and that led to me being here.

There is little to no light in here. I can’t see my hands, hell, I can’t even tell if my eyes are open. All around me, the darkness plays its tricks on me, but the shadows are my only company. I have no real clothing on, save for my underwear…if there was much of that left. It’s probably more like a loin cloth now, I guess. There’s no nearby lakes, bodies of water. No railways, highways, or other things to distinguish exactly where the hell I am. It’s just cold and dark.

Certainly, I’d rather be elsewhere, anywhere in fact, but here even in a grave. You may be wondering where I am? What kind of predicament am I in? I honestly haven’t an answer that could make sense; other than that I believe Hell could be a lot more of a lovely retreat than where I am. There are screams all around me from people. I can hear kids crying, screaming. There’s blood dripping off the equipment they use to torture folks. They even have animals; dogs, cats, and only God knows what else to fuel their sick, demented wheel of torment.

At times, I suppose it’d be night? Well, at night time, they gather up the ‘lucky few’—as they call them—and moments later you can hear this heinous and atrocious whirling sound—like a blender, or a grinder. I’d press my face up against the cold metal door, trying to peek in the small sliver of a crack, down the hall at the ever-so-warm light at the end of the corridor. For a moment, you hear them all clamoring, screaming, begging for their lives, and then a few seconds later—nothing. Nothing but soggy meat sloshing around. To which, I suppose that’s probably what they feed us. Typically, I can hear someone whistling a tune while he makes the makeshift meatloaf. It’s catchy really. Sometimes I feel tempted to whistle along with, but I guess that would be bad practice.

I have no cellmate. No one to converse with over our shared fate. They like us weak. In fact, they like to break our ankles, our feet, our knee caps—and for good measure, cut our Achilles’ tendon. You eventually become accustomed to crawling around. Once, someone tried to strangle one of the guys when they brought food. Props to them…they killed one of the bastards, but they got a one-way ticket to the chef’s choice platter. From what I could hear, they strung the guy up; limb by limb gave him a saline bag and started dismembering him piece by piece. Each time, they’d cauterize the wounds. The guy had a hell of a will to live, I’ll say.

Eventually, they severed his genitals and his tongue…and well…had fun with his orifices using said items. I’d like to think he passed before then, but I don’t know. They probably had fun further defecating, desecrating and fornicating with the poor saps dismembered body.

You’d think that being kept in the dark; you’d not be able to picture things so vividly. However, you hear things, smell things—God, do you smell things, taste things…and you can see clear in the night; the things that go more than bump in the night. You never see their faces. You never see anyone’s face—not even your own. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. There was a guy named Keith, good guy, I guess. Well, he had a bad run in with one of the guys. Apparently, there was an exchange of some sexual favors and well…one of the supers caught wind of things and didn’t like the idea of one of the guys spoiling the goods for The Boss. Seeing as he liked his keep fresh, and somewhat clean—least of STDs. Well, old Keith and the one guy had a face swap. The Doc, as he was called, came in and had a field day. He took a box cutter and made Keith’s face come off, and swapped it with the one guy’s. It was a good several hours of screaming. I didn’t get sleep that night. Last I remembered, they wanted to have some more fun with their bodies, but The Boss got tired of it all and ordered them to be tossed into the burn pit.

The women were treated the worst here. Most were slaves: either for sex, ‘housework’, more sex, entertainment [did I mention sex?], and the cruel bearing of The Boss’ bastard children. It didn’t matter to them if they were fat, skinny, big titted, big assed, small and tight, tiny, tall. They were all meat…for pleasure and nourishment. Rape was, of course, standard. They’d have massive orgies in The Boss’ lair, dinner parties…I’m using ‘dinner’ lightly here. They’d have wrestling matches, stripteases, and other typical outside events; just with a slight twist where the loser would be devoured by either animals, ghouls—which was a horrendous fate in itself, or be dragged to the chef to do as he pleased.

The children…Mother of God…the things they’d make the children do, participate in, brainwash them to become…I get so furious! If there were anything worthwhile in here for me to do, it’d be to slay all these bastards, and at the very least, free the kids. They make them perform heinous acts, lewd and crude. They rape them. They make brothers and sisters copulate against their will, and join them. If I ever can get out of here, I will make them all pay!

What’s the use? All the anger I possess, all the seething hatred I have for this place and the last small sliver of the will to live I possess is nothing. I am nothing. I should just kill myself. No…no, I can’t do that. I’ve tried a few times, but they always have a way to revive you. I guess I just wasn’t trying hard enough.

Days pass like water, and still here I am. Locked up. Hungry. Alone. Furious. Depressed. Hellbent. Murderous. I’ve had some dreams as of late. Ones where I walk again, fleet-footed in fact. I tear open and spill the blood of my captors, and free the oppressed. It’s a glorious dream. Sometimes, I have dreams of my past life: kids, wife, all of the good times. I miss my kids. I miss my wife. I don’t even know if they’re alive anymore. Once, they had tried to break me by torturing and killing a woman, and two kids in front of me. I knew it wasn’t them. I knew they were coaxed into screaming my name, and saying “Daddy!” I am anything but stupid. Though, still I felt sorry for the women and children, and their broken family. However, I wasn’t going to be broken. It had been some time since then. I forget how much time had passed. I think it was six months or a year now. I’ll admit I cried for them, but not the way they wanted me to, but because of the loss of innocence.

Someone’s coming! Heavy footsteps…It’s The Boss! The Boss was a giant of a man, at least, his shadow was. It’s always so dark…so, so very dark. His voice was deep and raspy; sounded like he was from the Deep South. I could faintly see his Cheshire smile, “Let’s get you out, stretch your legs a bit.”

I looked about and saw two shadows of men come into my cell and motion for me. I just sat there. I didn’t care. However, I was intrigued as to what my fate would become. They drug me down the corridor, towards that lovely glow…and here I was beginning to think it was my end. Voices whispered, heavy breathing from rooms here and there. Some cried, some laughed. It was a mad house.

They brought me to a stone room where a large wrought iron brazier flickered wildly in the center. The fluorescent lights from above hurt my eyes something fierce. The sat me down on a wooden bench. Comfortable, I thought. There were stretching boards, makeshift crosses, bloody barrels, an iron maiden, and countless other torture paraphernalia. On a solid oak bloodstained table, there was a bone saw, pliers, crowbar, baseball bat, drills, needles, a handgun. A handgun! I couldn’t take my eyes off that instrument of salvation. I glanced at it only momentarily, noting its presence, and my brilliant mind began imagining the way to break free.

The Boss was an older white fellow, long black matted hair, and goatee. He was relatively fit, at least in the arms. He had a big gut that protruded under his dingy white t-shirt. He wiped his hands on his bloodstained blue jeans, further adding to the makeshift paint job. He knelt down before me, peering at me with his icy blue eyes—the flames flickering fiercely to match his crazy. “Do you know why you’re here?”

I cocked my head slightly, pondering, and seemingly being the smart ass I was. “No, sir, but it’s something that I’ve always wanted to know since you placed me in this hell hole. Would you mind enlightening me?”

The Boss smiled an ice cream smile. “You got a smart mouth there, boy. You know what’ll happen if you run it too much, right?”

I shrugged, “Well, shucks, Boss, ya got me there! I reckon you’d string me up and fuck me in the ass with a two-by-four, and then throw me on the fire rack, or some shit!”

The Boss and the guys had a laugh. I’ll admit it; I did too. “Well, well, you’re still quite the firecracker, even after all this time. I’ll tell you what. You can keep your tongue…” The Boss motioned towards me, reaching behind and pulling out a Bowie knife. “But I am going to take one of your fingers. Do you know what I am going to do with that finger?”

“Guessing shove it up your ass, and either force feed it to me, or shove it up my ass, or some dosey doe, Cotton-eyed Joe.” I instantly followed up. I didn’t care. There was nothing they could do to me that could break me. Not anymore.

“Ha ha, hmm. Yes, sir, you’re a tough one.” The Boss sneered, “I wonder, though, if you’ll be so tough,” he stood up and motioned for his lackeys, “when I start your fire.”

One of the guys handed The Boss a gas can. He doused me with the entire contents and then struck a match. “Any last words, boy?”

I smiled, proudly, profoundly. “I’ll see you in Hell, you son of a bitch.”

“Fair enough,” he replied.

At that moment, as that match fell to meet with me, igniting my fiery fate. I knew whatever strength I possessed left, whatever will there was…I had to make this chance, this final attack count. I had to make good on my premise. The gun was still within reach, and though my legs were crippled and mangled, I had grown accustomed to being nimble on them. I sprung from the bench made my move—going for the handgun. The match fell and ignited the bench; with the trail of fire leaping in hot pursuit. The guys slowly motioned to interrupt my efforts, as did The Boss. In fact, he was able to get a good stab in my side, but that wasn’t good enough to save him…any of them. I grabbed my instrument of retribution, and fired several shots at the guys and The Boss; each had three in the gut, and a lovely hole between the eyes.

The flames had caught up by now. Burnt flesh smells horrible as does burnt hair. Albeit, I’d rather the smell any day than the incredible amount of pain it sent me into. There was one thing I was always thankful for; I always had a plan. You see, when I came into the room, I spotted a trough with water. They guys liked to do the whole…waterboarding, CIA type thing, dunk people, etc. In a fiery bolt, I dashed and plummeted into that vat of relief. It still hurt like hell (putting it mildly), but it was better than still being on fire. When I got out of the trough, the pain had remained consistent, but adrenaline was fueling the fire within. There was still work to be done.

I began by gathering scraps of clothing that were littered all around the room and soaked them in the water before wrapping my body diligently. Granted, some of the guys had wandered their way down to the chamber to see what the fuss was about because firing a firearm does that…and it sucks when you don’t have a suppressor. I was no MacGyver, by any means. I was just proficient…in eradicating my tormentors, and hopefully getting the hell out of this place. So a pair of the guys came in, and I did the only thing I could think of to make sure I didn’t miss; play possum. It is surprising how many goons fall for that trick. I mean, I always thought it was hilarious in movies; or where you’re sitting there watching, and you’re like ‘Don’t move! Play dead! Go for the surprise!’ kind of deal. I also suppose it’s a bit sad for those lunkheads. In a way but to Hell with them. They asked for it by all the monstrosities and atrocities they had committed. I laid sprawled on the floor, the gun under my leg. That’s it, take a few more steps you dumb thick fu—. A few shots and they both went down. I’ll admit, I laughed and was amazed at myself and also the artistry of the way they both landed; one’s head in the other’s crotch. I felt the need to say something witty, but I had slightly more pressing matters to tend to.

As I ‘walked’ to the exit of the room, armed to the teeth with all my captor’s weapons of choice, I thought of how I was going to go about fleeing. Do I unlock all the cells and free the people now? Do I kill everyone that dares attack me? Do I flee and get help from the authorities? There were so many scenarios and problematic instances with each one…my head began to ache. I figured, ‘let’s just play it by ear.’

After some more thought, I figured “let’s let the bulls run.” I began opening the locks with haste. I could hear footsteps; they were rushing down the stairs from the crucible above. The people screamed…oh, did the scream! Such cries for bloody vengeance. A few of them darted for the torture room to arm themselves, while others fled to the stairs. It was there, where the guys met the tidal wave of retribution. The now-freed-captives butchered their captors; smashing their heads against the stone stairs, the stoned walls, each other. Hell, some of the people even tore their tormentor’s throats out; either with their bare hands, or teeth. The sight didn’t disturb me as I watched on wielding the flashlight. In fact, I smiled at their disfiguring and dismembering.

I roamed down the corridor, stepping over the bodies of the fallen captors. Some even pleaded for help! Ha! The folks would take care of those left behind, or let them die their just deserved slow and painful death. Soon I’d finally find my way to the arena….and boy oh boy, was it in sheer chaos. It was glorious! Doors and pens for the dogs, pigs, and other animals burst open. Dogs turned on their masters, tearing out their throats, clawing out their eyes, tearing their limbs off. Pigs swarmed the Herder, trampling and devouring him. Rats swarmed their master, Timmy Dementia; gnawing on his face, eyes, nose, ears, and body. Crows flocked and swarmed their former masters; pecking out their eyes, tongues, and lips. The lions, tigers, and bears roared fiercely as they saluted, and slaughtered The Pink Brothers. There were people everywhere. It was an arena jammed full of people spilling each other’s blood. It was absolute chaos, anarchy…revenge. It was…beautiful.

As I made my way across the crucible, there came a man’s boisterous voice over the PA system. “Spoiled little children! I give you a home, food, water, and a place to sleep—and this is how you repay me? No, no, there will be none of this! No more, I say! Those of you that return to your cells may be forgiven, but if you do not. . .if you do not obey your lord, and master—” the voice trailed off, to the sound of a series of mechanical whirls that filled the arena. Time seemed to slow down, to me at least. The arena erupted into a horrendous growl of gunfire. Bullets ripped through people and beasts alike. I ‘ran’ as fast as I was able to. Screams, horrifying cries, and blood filled the crucible. I did not know who this…lord and master were. Maybe someone had assumed the mantle over The Boss? Maybe there was already a coup d’état in place, and I just fouled things up? Whatever the case, I was royally fucked, and hiding under a dead black bear. I watched women, children, man, and beast get torn to pieces with the explosive onslaught. After about a minute, the gunfire stopped.

The arena erupted into a horrendous growl of gunfire. Bullets ripped through people and beasts alike. I ‘ran’ as fast as I was able to. Screams, horrifying cries, and blood filled the crucible. I did not know who this…lord and master were. Maybe someone had assumed the mantle over The Boss? Maybe there was already a coup d’état in place, and I just fouled things up? Whatever the case, I was royally fucked, and hiding under a dead black bear. I watched women, children, man, and beast get torn to pieces with the explosive onslaught. After about a minute, the gunfire stopped.

The voice then spoke again over the PA system. “Disobedient children…look at what you’ve made me do?!” The voice then sighed, “No matter. You are all forgiven. As I am a loving, kind, and gentle lord, and master. However, it will take some time to rebuild—” the voice then seemed to go off on a distant and not-all-there, kind of rant.

The man was old. Really old. I looked around the crucible to see if I could find out where they were; the thought of perhaps dispatching them from afar came to mind. I didn’t see any of the guys around. I also hoped that maybe some folk either still lived downstairs, or had already pressed on; escaping this hellish prison. As I wondered and pondered, there came the voice next to me…my opportunity, my wish granted!

“And you, dear child, you are the catalyst in this rebellion?” Spoke the very old, frail man. He was bald, with pure white tufts of hair that peppered the back of his scalp, and formed his beard. His eyes blue; rich and pure, like a fresh, clear spring day. He was dressed in a golden robe and worn sandals. He held his weight on a solid brown oak staff. I was awestruck, that such an old man was so malevolent and cruel.

“I never wanted to be taken. I am only trying to go home—to find my wife and kids.” I replied, pushing the bear’s dead body off me.

The old man nodded. “None of us are ever asked to be taken, my dear boy. We are all the same as we come in, and the same when we leave. Nothing more, nothing less.”
I was puzzled by the old man’s way with words. “What do you mean?”

He turned and took a few steps, kneeling beside the barely breathing bear. “You see this beast?” I nodded. “His name was Johan. He has been born several thousand times, and soon will be again.” He patted the bear’s head, “Rest, my child, rest.” The bear then took its final breath. The old man stood once again, straight and true. “I could name all of these animals and people…even you, Edward.”

“I…I don’t understand. You are talking madness!”

“Yes, yes, I suppose. However, I ask you this. You have no memories of being taken, do you not?”

“I…it’s all a blur. I can’t really.” I shook my head. It began to ache tremendously.

“What you remember, are the bits and pieces.” The old man smiled. “You see, when we are taken, we lose fragments of our mind…our memories. Only when we are free, do we see everything clearly; the whole picture comes into focus, the movie played without the intermissions.” He grunted as he sat down before me.

I began to weep. “All the pain…all of the suffering. What did you have them do to us?!”

Still did the old man smile. “I had them do nothing that life hadn’t prepared for you already. These people died needlessly…however, they didn’t die needlessly.”

“Why do you speak in riddles?! You are making no sense,” I yelled at him as I collapsed to my knees.

“You claim Hell would offer much respite, and yet, you claimed to suffer tremendously here; feeling the suffering of others—their hate, anger, sadness, despair—such emotions and actions that you shared with both victim, and murderer. You’ve created this world. You alone. You. Are. Alone.”

As the words seemed to ring like a thunderous gong, the people and beasts disappeared. Everything faded until it was just the old man and me under the warm, vibrant sunlight, on a tall grassy hill. “I understand now.”

The old man smiled brightly. “You needn’t hang on anymore, Edward. You are free to go home whenever you want. You needn’t build a prison to confine yourself to. You can stay and fight, and perhaps…perhaps awaken. Awaken to another fight. Or you can make peace with yourself. Let the guilt, the pain, and end your suffering that you’ve endured for all these years.”

I remembered it all…I was in a car accident some time ago with my wife and kids—the kids were killed by a drunk driver, while I remained in a coma…for how long, I don’t know. My wife would come to visit time to time…but she took her life at my bedside. My eyes were always open to the truth, but it hurt so bad that I eventually had closed them after that because the world outside could no longer offer me comfort.

“Home…” I had long since forgotten the meaning. I cried a little bit. “You know me all too well, stranger, but I haven’t the foggiest of who you are.”

The old man smiled brilliantly, “Death knows no strangers, my boy.”

I looked up to the sun, its warmth so inviting. I knew it was a lie, but I knew where I was going. “I’d like to go home then.”

The old man nodded and sat there. “Soon you shall.”

I closed my eyes, as a gentle breeze wafted over my body. A perplexed kaleidoscope of memories of mine own, and those of my past existences came to one; the beginning, and now the end…at least this time around. As it came to a close—the encroaching darkness that would be only for a minute—there I saw the three faces I could only ever know. For I would soon be home.

In the outside world, the machines that helped sustain life beeped maniacally; sounding the alarm at the races—known as life. Doctors, nurses, and other hospital personnel rushed to save the male adult named Edward Croix. He died on a Monday, at 3:18 pm. He was 46.

 

Robert J. S. T. McCartney
A.B.Normal Publishing and Media Group

The Mysterious Stranger: The Blood Orange

"Lunar Eclipse of 10/27/04" Photo by Peter Gustafson. Peter Gustafson has no affiliation with me or A.B.Normal Publishing Media Group, nor do they support my work and/or practices.

Photo by Peter Gustafson. Peter Gustafson has no affiliation with me or A.B.Normal Publishing Media Group, nor do they support my work and/or practices.

It was here—here where the stranger stood atop the mossy hilltop. He looked down at the village that laid nestled below in the sprawling green fields. Gray puffs of smoke rose from chimneys and dispersed into the kaleidoscopic swirls of magenta, orange, and the pale green horizon. The stars had begun their celestial occupation for those beneath its heavenly virtues. The warmth of the day had been scattered to the four winds of the night. The sun’s eye had made its way to bed, while the blood moon crept over the mountainside’s shoulder; continuing its scientific observation of the world below. The clamor of livestock and the harvest festival celebration overtook this small village. The drought never came to pass, and the village had been spared from certain doom.

Next to the stranger, there sprawled a sizable patch of dirt with a small flower. The man gathered his ragged brown cloak around him and knelt before this little flower. His hazel eyes looked over the seemingly fresh tilled patch. He closed his eyes: a scent of oranges filled his nostrils. It filled him with such strange emotions for such a small thing.

A soft voice echoed from within. Stay. Listen. Stay and listen to my woe, stranger. Hear the tale of my beloved that was taken from me.

The stranger opened his eyes and gave a slight nod to the unknown voice. Before him, the flower bloomed—an orange blossom. The orange, plump, ripe and juicy—was sliced into five equal parts. The earth rippled like a puddle of mud as if a portal from beneath the simple orange. A brown hand emerged slowly from the dirt—creaking, cracking—with it and took up the five orange slices before the mysterious stranger. Each piece seemed to bleed crimson intravenously with the hand. Above him, the sky began to weep, for it already knew of the tale.

Eat. Be shown the truth.

The stranger reached for the slices and ate them, one by one. Slowly, the world was peeled back—reality distorted; the layers of time reverted, days of light and darkness flash in a strobe effect.

An ancient world came to focus. Azure stretched on all throughout the heavens, while streaks of white flowed sporadically in nature’s creation. The sun hung high, projecting its warmth to those below. Here, there laid a loving couple—a hunter and his huntress—beneath an old orange tree. Their hands clasped together, with their eyes fixated upon one another. Love was heavy with each one of their breaths.

An erratic image flashed before the stranger like lightning. In the night, there was a dark figure of a man with an ax that chopped vigorously at a tree in a heavy downpour. Each strike met with the crash of lightning and roar of thunder. The rainwater thrashed off the chipped and cut bark, and off the ax with each blow against the mighty tree. The rain sloshed and splashed against the ground, the figure’s face and hands. Nearby blood mixed with the dirt from the freshly slain body that laid next to the tree.

As the tree fell and began to rot, here the figure knelt next to the body, resting its hand upon it. “Here you will lay, forever you shall stay. A vow you had made, your life for your wife; your village spurned you, your head on a spade. Her body shall be mine, one I will enjoy like a fine wine. Your “child” will be deformed, one that will be born…to my magics and ways.”

The body bubbled and began to melt into the ground with the fallen tree. The blood flowed with the leftover orange until all that remained was an unsightly blackened patch of dirt. The man let loose a malevolent grin.

As the figure left the hilltop, a soft voice escaped. “In life, you may have stopped me, but in death, I will not be so easy. I will return.”

The stranger focused his thoughts and searched for reasoning. The voice came to him again from within. Will you help avenge me, stranger?

The cloaked man nodded silently.

Then let us begin…

The Mysterious Stranger: The Blood Orange is an ongoing short story by Robert J. S. T. McCartney.

Slow Down, Speed Up

So it begins…

What I mean is that the short stories are going to be at a slower output, since I will be prioritizing the novels to get done. Although, there is one that I want to get done before too much time passes. In any case, you’ll be seeing fewer posts of short stories and maybe more posts on updates, Lilah’s Guide to Hoyle, and some other titles.

There will also be the posting of the Kickstarter for Lilah’s Guide to Hoyle along with the rewards for each tier. I’d like to make it a bit unique and sentimental, so I am trying to add something else I am quite partial to.

I’m happy to have it done. However, I need to go through a round of editing and then get in touch with a designer for the hardcover edition…since I want that one to be special. I will be unveiling the paperback cover real soon. It was a project that I enjoyed writing and producing, and I can’t wait to bring more stories to the hands of people all around the world. I know I can’t please everyone, and that’s fine, I expect it. There are quirks with something and about something every day that goes on, and books, along with movies, music, etc. are no stranger to the daily shenanigans of criticism.

I enjoyed writing it and doing it, that in itself, is good enough for me. Honestly, I never thought I’d get it ready for publication, let alone have the desire to share a story with the world. I hope folks enjoy it for what it is and look for the clues, references, friendship, and everything put into it.

Spoilers: it’s not the first in the series, and it won’t be the last. So, if people are to be disappointed, then by all means, be so. If they’re excited now that there will be a continuation…great!

When the time comes, I’d gladly take requests of what people think of certain characters, implementations and all the fun, great fan service. Just to get a feel of what people are craving. 😉

Honestly, though, I’ve had the book play out as a movie in my mind for several years now…and that is something I’d love to see come to fruition. To which, all I can do is try and apply. You can’t quit on your dreams, and you certainly can’t quit on the chance of inspiring others.

That’s about all for now, folks. There’s writing to be done! Until next time.

RJM

My Suicide

"Watching a blank screen" Photo by Kenneth Lu. Kenneth Lu has no affiliation with me or A.B.Normal Publishing Media Group, nor do they support my work and/or practices.

Photo by Kenneth Lu. Kenneth Lu has no affiliation with me or A.B.Normal Publishing Media Group, nor do they support my work and/or practices.

Screams of horror and terror filled the darkened room. So many faces were contorted, twisted into obscene ways, questioning the origin of such inspiration.

“Hey, I’ll be right back.” The man leaned over and whispered into the ear of his skittish love.

“Aw, but it’s getting to the good part. You’ll miss it.” She whispered back while she cautiously munched on another handful of popcorn.

The man sighed and muttered, “I know.”

The man got up from his seat and made his way down the aisle and left the theater room.

He stepped out of the room, and turned back, watching the door slowly close; muffling the screams in the hallway. The air seemed to swirl and prance with the scent of freshly popped corn, and other various foods offered at the concession stand. The neon lights that decked the lobby and paraded attractions in big letters, ‘COMING SOON!’

The young man grunted, turning his attention to the matter at hand—his full bladder. He made his way to the restroom, with the original intent of quickly returning to the screening. Having finished, the man went over to the sink and washed his hands. After drying them off, he pressed his palms on the countertop and gazed hard into the mirror at his reflection.

The man was tall, slender and relatively built. He already had slight wrinkles and scars, which showed his experience in life’s early challenges. He dampened his fingers with some more water to part his dark blonde hair. The lighting in the bathroom brought justice to the hue of white of the man. Oblivious to the sun that rained down its typical ‘friend or foe’ alignment. He adjusted his glasses, and then his wedding ring—smiling. He became lost in his thoughts, reminiscing about the year coming to pass. He was married to the most beautiful women he had ever come to know, and the new little addition they both welcomed.

Then his smile slowly fell to a frown as he thought of his pressing matters that loomed above. His need to find a new job, and the need to relocate their homestead. The persistent doubt of himself. He sighed. His eyes dropped to the floor, then rose back to the mirror. He could feel the anger that slept, which, so far was undisturbed for the day. He wondered when it would awaken and what it would bring with it. He stood up straight and rolled his shoulders and head. He started to walk to the door, ready to leave his humble rest stop.

As he reached for the handle, he felt a particular rush of energy. The rush disturbed him so much that he tried to open the door in a panic. However, a force unbeknownst to him kept him barred and captive in the restroom. It became ironic, to him, that a bathroom could become a room of a such a face, and a spiteful thrash; quite the contrary to what it was meant for. For several moments, he struggled with the door: kicking, punching, pushing, yelling for help, whatever method he felt could make the door open. He took his phone out to see if he could call for help, but it was of no use—no service. Typical.

He felt the rage begin to swell and boil to the surface. He faced the mirror and in a fit, he struck a mighty blow against it—shattering it. The red haze took over—anger was awake now—the emotion he tried too long to suppress was now lashing out on his insides, his arms, his chest…his wrists. He had succumbed to his rage. During this fit, he grabbed the door handle and flung the door open.

He became mystified by what now laid beyond the door. He gazed out into his newfound environment, his sight playing him for a fool. All that he could see was absolute darkness and could feel the frigid air pass through him. The slight illumination from the restroom stopped only a few feet from where the door was. He peered around for anything that offered familiarity before he came into the bathroom. He took a few more steps from his sanctuary [and prison] he had become accustomed to. He kept looking back at the restroom as he pressed onward into the swarming darkness. The invisible arms of the darkness embraced the man, and pulled him closer away from the restroom, farther from the light. Slowly the light became swallowed up wholly in the black hole. Here he saw nothing, only pure darkness that blinded him, and hindered his movement. He collapsed in fear and desperation—waiting, wondering, angry.

The man had begun to press onward, to reach whatever destiny awaited him. What more punishment, judgment or salvation was there in store? The more he questioned if this was a dream or some prank, the more real it seemed it was. He would notice ripples and waves of darkness. As strange as it was he thought, he only wanted to reach the end and reunited with his love. His gut instinct made him press on, hard, and fast, while his mind told him to proceed cautiously. As he slowly wandered in the darkness, he began to hear whispers—low tone voices—from down the hall.

“Hello,” he shouted out into the abysmal darkness…there was no reply.

Since his discovery, he had begun to rush further into the darkness. Occasionally, he checked behind him for anything that lurked. The more he seemed to plunge into, the more the whispers grew. He wasn’t able to understand what the voices muttered, of who…or what about him. He only focused on if there was perhaps, maybe, someone around, and that they would know what the hell was going on, and where he was.

After swimming, as it seemed, through the darkness, he fished his way to the end. He came upon a great door that beneath its bottom emanated a soft white glow. He could see a figure’s shadow, passing left to right. He reached out to push the door, only to feel a burning sensation. He retracted his hand and looked at it in the darkness. The warmth of his blood fueled him to try kicking instead.

After several attacks, the door finally gave in. The darkness lifted to the spectacle of several candles around the interior room. A pale light from above showered on a single figure in the center of the chamber. The sight was strange to him since there were no surrounding windows, but this lone person.

He looked down at his hand, noting marks that ran along his wrist, and few marks on his hand. He considered it a fictitious wound, deployed to deceive those who would enter. He looked back at the long dark corridor from which he came from and looked at what he had left behind. The frigid air poured in, causing the candle’s flame to dance in the makeshift twilight.

The young man closed the door, a single whisper escaped to his ears—madness. He turned around, and faced the enlightened figure, noting that his gaze was jumping from each corner of the room to the next. The figure’s head turned in fashionable means, but to what, and to whom. . .the young man did not know. As he took steps towards the figure, the young man noticed several empty pews—dust inches thick, bibles scattered about, and books of hymns stacked in a strict manner, skeletons only remained.

The young man tread cautiously towards the figure. He knew where he was, how, though, he did not know. He felt the priest could answer his questions.

As the young man slowly drew the distance to a closure, he observed the well of light that bathed the priest, to him it seemed that there was no source. He followed the blind eyes of the time warped face that was peppered with liver spots and freckles and its bright white beard. His eyeglasses idle on the tip of his nose. Adorning this old figure, was a great fashionable bishop crown bearing the holy cross. It seemed that only time affected this man and room. His attire, however, was untouched by any means. The blaze of light that swarmed him, and projected only but a few feet from which he stood. His speech was weak, incoherent—mumbling.

The young man stood close to the father, watching as the he turned his head to the spectral audience that had sat still—and was in oblivion. He found a place at the front to sit down, and the man took a seat. The sermon came to a halt.

In the silence, the man was overcome by a sudden chill. He could feel the eyes of the past, present, and future upon him.

The priest then uttered words he was not expecting. “It seems we have a visitor in our service. Rise, my child, come forth and tell me what troubles your young soul.”

The young stranger silently rose, looking about at all the long-forgotten faces, before approaching the father.

He knelt down before the priest. “Excuse me, Father, for my intrusion. I am lost…and I do not know how I came upon your clergy. I ask you…can you, please help me find my way home?”

The old man’s face—much like the light that enshrouded him—beamed. He smiled, and said to the young man, placing a hand upon his shoulder, “My dear boy, you are home. Let go your feelings of dark. Sever your pain. Give up your anger…and let it all go.”

The young man became startled as he could feel a stirring deep within himself. All the pain, anger, hatred, loss, and love he had experienced so far in his life. Vivid memories flashed on his mind’s camera before him—the feelings associated came and went. All that was ill ridden, and chained him down, now left his body and coagulated into a pool.

The priest began to continue with his sermon.

The young man watched as the pool began to boil over, and take shape into a figure before him. Slowly, the figure finished its delicate touches of detail, down to the very cells. He peered at himself, just as if it were a mirror. He stood up and gazed upon the negative manifestation of himself.

The priest then spoke his last words, “Lest, we are all forgiven for our actions.”

The old priest’s voice began to drown out as the light dimmed with the resurgence of darkness. The young man was not afraid, nor was he scared, or he was angry. As the moment passed, he thought of what he valued most—his wife, family, and friends—all that he took for granted in life.

He pushed the mirror image away and watched it slowly fall and shatter to pieces. Screams, horrendous sounds, and pain flooded the room.

As the priest continued with his sermon, he slowly faded with the light—becoming one, whereas then, a new light focused on the redeemed man. He smiled as he gazed up into the warm light that bathed him. Then uncertainty hit him when the light fully engulfed him, blinding his sight and consciousness.

He heard a soft whisper, “Not yet.”

He awoke several moments later, to a face he was well accustomed to, and to those that he knew well, all surrounding him. He glanced down at his hand where an IV line had been implemented, and where cuts were made—bound with bandages. The lights from above overwhelmed him, as those around him drew closer. He knew he was indeed ‘home’, and that he would make the best of the hand he was dealt.

Robert J. S. T. McCartney
A.B.Normal Publishing and Media Group

The End’s Messenger

"Fire Place Angel" Photo by Scott Robinson. Scott Robinson has no affiliation with me or A.B.Normal Publishing Media Group, nor do they support my work and/or practices.

Photo by Scott Robinson. Scott Robinson has no affiliation with me or A.B.Normal Publishing Media Group, nor do they support my work and/or practices.

To say, “It was a dark and stormy night,” like how so many stories had begun, would be considered an understatement. This particular night was truly a testament of nature’s wrath…and beauty. The inked sky was full of irregular crackling javelins of light that blazed across the darkened heavens. In its wake was an absolute drenching rain that could soak down to the marrow of man. The winds—rabid and vicious—roared and clawed at all that would dare stand in its path. Thunder bellowed its horn of war, resonating as it rolled throughout the mortal world. Yes, my friend, this, this was truly the storm of the century.

In my ignorance, I shrugged it off as a typical phenomenon. I walked away from the large picture window, to retire to the rosewood leather chair by the fireplace (having been satisfied with my gaze out into the bewildering twilight). I lit the cigar I had retrieved earlier, happenstance upon the weather’s dastardly interruption. I crossed my legs; the silk pajamas lightly ruffled in the elegance and comfort. Here, I sat alone in the dim study. The flicker of the flames bathed the room in a soft orange intravenously with a yellow contrast. The crimson walls were now richer in their hue, as the flames’ light made the shadows dance upon the walls. Warmth radiated from the resurging power of the fire in the study. I observed the flames that danced the most tribal of nature while others feasted upon the wood’s carcass. The room flooded with the constant contest of fire and wind, it all overwhelmed my ears.

As I fixated further upon the flames, I could hear the howls of the wind and the roar of the fire become as fluent as any spoken word. Where then the flames soon took on a form: a face, a slender, and curvaceous body slowly. Here…before me now was there ever such beauty and grace! I remained seated, paralyzed…speechless. Whether it was fear or curiosity that struck my fancy, the enchantress with an elegant face flickered, as it withheld its splendor.

A soft enticing whisper echoed in my mind beckoning me nearer. “Servant of life and flesh, heed the call. War is upon the world! The end of days is to come to pass!”

The pure marbled yellow-orange-white glossed with intent—such fixated—she stared deep into my eyes, like a lioness’s gaze upon her prey. My eyes swelled with disbelief; I was dumbstruck. I turned my gaze away, having become lost in thoughts that raced, where I was led into the depths of my mind—I scrambled and sought the doors for answers, all of which were empty.

I turned to face the fatal attraction. I knelt close to the siren, and she revealed visions that flooded my mind of what would soon come to pass. The whisper, now disembodied, echoed once more.

“Man’s life is to come to an end. True retribution is at hand. The time. . .is nigh. It is the time that all mortals fear of—the end. However, all is not lost, for the world will be reborn. Fire shall cleanse the impurities. The scarring that evil has left upon the face of the earth shall be purified. The pure shall be soothed and reconciled, from which they shed from. The judgment on high has been passed. The cogs of the new future have begun to turn. To advise the ushering of the forthcoming age: selection, devotion, and truth, must endure. For on the first day—fire—purges the impure. Upon the second day, lightning will clash, tempering, and reshaping. On the third, the wind—strengthens and seals. On the final day, water shall cleanse and further purify. A new day will then emerge, marking the era of a true beginning. It is on this day. The chosen are relinquished of slumber and returned. Where then upon the next, those that committed such aggravated acts against the name of life will sprout and also begin anew.”

These events were told, bold and genuine. The wind rang soft and pure in my ears. As I stood erect before the unknown enchanting messenger, enthralled, blinded, I nodded in acknowledgment of my task.

Slowly the life-giving inferno soothes its rage and dies. The once sultry temptress now turned to ash before me. The soft glowing embers wriggle, writhe, and squirm, before erupting wildly into a hint of a new spark of life.

A smile crossed my face while a tear fell. I retired to my chair to finish my cigar while the blaze around me consumes the world, and I. I am soon greeted and embraced by a long lost love. My eyes close as I am relinquished of all wrong.

Lightning continues to play its concerto while fire and the wind elegantly waltz while the rain riddled the somber ash with its pure tears—the embers laying dormant.

The end had come…just as it was foretold…by the tempest temptress messenger.

Robert J. S. T. McCartney
A.B.Normal Publishing and Media Group