Bloodbath Blues – Flash Fiction

It was one of the nicer houses on its block which is to say three or four of the windows still held glass and the yard had been mowed at some point over the past year. The front door sagged from twisted hinges over a foot-wide chasm where the porch fell away from the house. There might have been a shutter still dangling that hadn’t yet fallen into the weeds. It was a nice place.

Klein was talking to reporters out front. I nodded and ducked the yellow tape.

I managed to bridge the gap between porch and house without snapping my leg off, walked inside, and retched at a stench that might have been rotting maggots fermenting in the sun.

A broad L-shaped staircase brought me up to a second-floor hallway. There were four bedrooms here, two on each side. Filthy mattresses and greasy sleeping bags were sacked around on the floors. Bottles, cans, and cigarette butts were everywhere. Drying puddles of bodily fluids added to the ambiance.

A bathroom about the size of a teacup stood at the end of the hallway with its door open. Sweeney and McGregor were inside looking at blood spatter.

Sweeney saw me and his eyes changed. He hissed something at McGregor who waddled over and pressed a meaty palm into my chest.

“Hold up, Joe.”

I stopped.

“Sweeney thinks you should sit this one out.”

Sweeney stepped up and laid an arm around my shoulder. “Joe! How you been?”

I looked at Sweeney. Then at McGregor. I looked at Sweeney again. “What is this?”

Sweeney paused and mumbled something to the floor and I put it together.

“You don’t want me to see her.”

Sweeney tried to guide me back towards the steps. “Let’s go down, Joe. You should be sitting for this.”

“Who is she?” I asked, trying to squirm free.

Sweeney and McGregor blocked my path. “Hold up a minute,” McGregor said.

My mouth was dry. A bead of sweat slid down my back. I didn’t like my new heart rate. “Get your mitts off me. Let me see.”

Sweeney exhaled. “Joe…” He and McGregor exchanged a look. “Listen, there’s no easy way to do this. Nothing I say is going to prepare you. Maybe I should just let you see for yourself if that’s how you want to play it.”

From far away I heard myself tell him it was. My heart triple-timed. Sweeney said more but I heard it the way you hear the television as you drift off to sleep. He and McGregor stepped aside. I floated down the hall and I was in the bathroom, kneeling by the tub. The woman was young, maybe still a girl. She was sprawled on her back, bare arms dangling over the sides of the tub, blood still dripping from a fingertip.

She was clothed which struck me as unusual. Her short shorts and sleeveless t-shirt were sopped. Blood was smeared across her face and neck, smeared across her teeth. The skin that wasn’t painted bloody was a bruised yellow turquoise. Her lips were grey. Her hair, blonde at one time, was red and black and matted. I studied her face. Then, I turned to Sweeney: “So? Who am I looking at?”

Sweeney’s eyes narrowed and he furrowed his brow. “You don’t know?”

“Never seen her before.”

Sweeney looked to McGregor.

“Look again,” McGregor said.

I turned back and the girl was sitting. She shrieked at me, wild-eyed and hysterical. I shrieked back. She lunged for me and I was on my feet with my gun out. Sweeney and McGregor threw themselves at me. They took hold of my arm as the gun fired. It sounded like an atomic bomb in that little room.

They pinned my wrist to the wall above my head and held it there. They were blocking the girl. I couldn’t see the girl! Someone was screaming and screaming. I closed my mouth and the screaming went away. Sweeney’s contorted face swam in front of me. He was insistent, barking orders, trying to reach me. My ears sang.

“…a gag,” Sweeney was saying, distant and tinny. “Not real. It isn’t real…” His face was shiny and pasty. His eyes looked insane.

We stood this way for several seconds. Finally, McGregor tilted his head, squinted at me, and released my wrist. He turned to the tub. Sweeney let go and I had my arm back.

The girl was on her side in the the tub with her hands over her ears and her knees pulled up tight. She was shivering, frantic, talking to herself. Sunlight streamed in through a fresh bullet hole in the wall. My bullet couldn’t have missed her head by more than six inches.

I stumbled to the hall, found a place to slide down the wall, and sat on the floor. I laid my gun beside me. My pants were wet. Sweeney knelt by the tub and comforted the girl.

McGregor came out and sat beside me. Neither of us spoke for a long time. He picked lint off his pants. Finally, he said: “I tried to warn him, Joe, but you know how he is. I told him it was too much.” He turned, appraised me frankly, shook his head, and returned to the lint. “Great gag.”

My voice was hoarse and thin. “What happened?”

McGregor sighed at his pants. “The girl is his niece. She’s taking some acting courses at the community college. This whole thing came about when she told Sweeney her acting could fool a cop.”

I considered this for a while. “Makeup?”

McGregor nodded once. “Everybody was in on it. The reporters are actors. Sweeney wanted to get back at you for that stunt you pulled with the pizza delivery guy.”

I smiled ruefully. “Mission accomplished.”

The girl bet him $10 she could convince you she was dead,” McGregor said. “Looks like she won.”

I shook my head. “The blood didn’t smell. There was too much of it not to smell. I knew it felt wrong, I just couldn’t – I couldn’t quite…”

McGregor shook his head again. “Sweeney.”

“Let’s hope the girl isn’t in shock.”

“She’ll come around. Listen, Joe, you’re not gonna…you know…report this, are you? Sweeney and me and Klein, we could lose our badges.”

I shook my head. “What is this trash heap anyway?”

“Crack house, maybe? Smack? I dunno, ask Sweeney. I’m just here because he told me to be.”

I nodded and climbed unsteadily to my feet. I felt ninety years old.

“What are you gonna do?” McGregor asked.

“Going home for dry skivvies.”

McGregor nodded and returned his attention to the the lint on his pants. “Sweeney,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fifty – Short Story

Shoulder to shoulder the cadets stood in rigid formation beneath a joyless sky the color of galvanized steel. Shrieking winds knifed through their uniforms cold and unforgiving, their pants and sleeves snapping like flags. 

Fifty had been selected to colonize a faraway planet: twenty-five men and twenty-five women. They had been chosen with meticulous care from an extensive battery of test results. For months, they had been stabbed with needles and deprived of sleep, spun wildly in circles and interrogated under hot lights. They had been locked up in perfect darkness until they didn’t know the time of day. Or the day. Or the year.

They had been abandoned to live or die on a jungle planet turned loose with no water and no food for two weeks, a grim microcosm of Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

Together the cadets had learned by necessity to function as a single unit. Each member had demonstrated exceptional psychological stability and physical stamina as well as a high estimated capability for reproduction. 

They were the elites of the elite.

Now finally they had arrived, all their training leading them to this day. Motionless statues, their faces revealed no emotion as they stood on a vast expanse of asphalt behind the Universal Exploration and Expanse Building. Here they teetered on the precipice of history receiving last words of encouragement before embarking on this final voyage, a voyage from which none of them would ever return.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said a stern and impeccably groomed colonel as he paced back and forth before them, hands clasped behind his back. “Today your names will be added to those of the greatest explorers humankind has ever known. Pages of text will laud your courage and children will be taught of your sacrifice for centuries. This mission, YOUR mission, holds the key to unlocking secrets that the universe has held captive from the beginning of time and space.”

He stopped and regarded each of them deliberately for long ponderous moments. “It would be impossible to overstate the value of the contribution each of you is making. As your commanding officer, I am proud to have known you and I thank each of you for your exemplary selflessness and dedication.”

The cadets stared into the distance.

As one might expect at an event of this magnitude, a large crowd had gathered to watch the ceremony. Some of the spectators were family members and friends of the cadets. Some were reporters. Most were strangers growing bored with the pomp and circumstance and eager to see the launch so they could get out of the cold and on with their lives.

Amongst this latter group was a man who was decidedly insane. He shouted to the colonel, “you make it sound like they had a choice!”

The crowd gasped and murmured uneasily, whispering and shivering and fidgeting about nervously while the wind whistled and kicked up grit.

The colonel turned and cast a disapproving glare at this unexpected interloper and immediately four military policemen waded into the crowd to take him.

The lunatic, who seconds before was packed in tight, found himself standing alone in a broad circle of space as though he were the lone contestant in some otherworldly dance contest and all eyes were fixed on him.

“You’re being hustled,” he advised the cadets who stared at nothing without expression. “You’re being played for chumps. Do you think you had a choice in this?” he cried. “Did you really think you could say no?”

The crowd chattered appalled and the MP’s broke through and grabbed this rouser of rabble under his arms dragging him backwards through the crowd, his legs sprawled out behind him. He went limp and said no more and soon he was gone of no more lasting significance than a streaker at a football game.

But the disturbance had punched a hole in the festive atmosphere such as it was, and the colonel had lost his enthusiasm for the dramatic. The ceremony wound down quickly afterwards and the cadets mingled through the crowd hugging people they knew and shaking hands solemnly with those they didn’t receiving heartfelt “be safes” and “good lucks.” A few of the cadets gave brief interviews and posed for pictures until eventually, the last of them was loaded into a transport and scuttled to the launch site.

On the ship they sat in two neat rows facing each other as they contemplated to themselves the magnitude of leaving their home planet for the last time. Hearts beat fast and breaths came shallow and mouths were dry as they clenched their hands into fists and relaxed them then clenched them into fists again. None of the cadets really saw the others, each was looking inward instead.

FIVE said the transponder in their helmets and the ship jumped to life and began to hum.

FOUR  Louder now and they began to vibrate in their seats.

THREE  Now the high whining of the propulsion drives engaging and heavy kachunking sounds as massive suction cups released the ship from the launch pad one by one.

TWO  The windows went black as anti-gravity shields slid along the side of the ship and locked securely into place.

ONE …

LIFT-OFF

**************************

Twenty years later a bright but rambunctious child was whispering across a classroom to his friend when the instructor called his name clear and loud.

“James!” he said and the boy froze.

“James, since you obviously have this course figured out and no longer need to pay attention, why don’t you tell me the story of Outbound I.”

The boy hesitated and a few of the children tittered. Uncertainly, in what was more a question than a statement he said, “it was vaporized at lift-off?”

“Good,” said the instructor. “And what was its mission to have been?”

“They were going to be the first colonists on Epsilon 7,” said James, “but the ship malfunctioned and exploded before they left the launch pad.”

“Excellent,” said the instructor. “It appears you may learn a thing or two this year in spite of yourself.”

The class laughed and James laughed with them although he didn’t get the joke.

“One more, James, and you may sit down. What were the names of the colonists on Outbound I?”

James stammered for long seconds and felt his ears go hot. Just as he was about to confess his ignorance the instructor broke into a wide grin and the class roared.

“Just kidding, James!” he laughed. Nobody could remember all those names!”

James grinned broad and sat down relieved, his interrogation complete.

“Ok class, that’s enough of that” said the instructor, “I’d like to have you turn your attention to the wall screen, please and let’s take a look at Outbound II…”

 

**************************

 

This story is a response to the one-word prompt Fifty.

 

Now try this: A Difficult Decision – Short Short Story

 

 

 

Peyote Justice – Short story

The second we hit the field, the heads started bouncing around in the trunk like shoes in a dryer. After 10 or 20 yards, it really wore my balls thin. I said, “Keep it down back there! Are you insane?”

The heads were the heads of the heads of a dangerous drug cartel. Except for one of the heads which came from a guy who may or may not have been an innocent bystander. It’s hard to say for sure when flamethrowers are involved. Things move fast in a drive-by.

Jackie said she clearly saw at least thirty-five automatic weapons trained on us when the SHTF but I think she might have miscounted. I only saw none. But you don’t take chances with serious drug lords. I torched and decapitated them, it was the only way to be certain.

Julio disposed of the charcoaled bodies for us but he couldn’t handle the heads, something about dental records. I wound up grabbing them by the hairdos and tossing them into the LeSabre. I figured they would keep while I decided where to stash them but they were so damn noisy.

I needed to get rid of them.

When the LeSabre’s transmission fell out on the Gonzales’ back 40, I knew I had to act fast.  I drop-kicked the first head as far as I could which, I was surprised to find, wasn’t very far. I heard that old familiar sound, the one you hear when you break those tiny bones in the tops of your feet and decided to throw the rest by hand.

I made it my goal to get the heads to the palm tree line since I didn’t want them found. I tossed them like a world-class discus thrower, spinning and spinning and letting them fly. One of the head’s ears came off in my hand and it didn’t fly as far as the others but I played it cool, folding the ear into my back pocket like a fifty dollar bill.

Jackie sprawled out on the hood watching clouds drift by the full moon. She tore the filter off a Virginia Slim and fired it with a wooden match.
“Should we go to Reno?” she asked lustfully.

I matched her smoldering desirability with some forbidden seduction of my own. “I hear it’s nice in Tijiuana,” I growled.

Passionately, she exhaled a bunch of sexy smoke. “The one gentleman didn’t do anything,” she said.  “He was an innocent bystander.”

“It’s too bad,” I said. “Did you see where he landed?”

“He sailed over to the left,” she said waving a casual finger in a general direction.

“I’ll find him. He can come with us,” I told her.

And I set out for the trees.

 

 

 

 

 

Rush the Stage – Short Poem

Rush the stage
And fight your way
Through tempest of the sea

This ocean
Raging, churning
Oh, how it beckons thee!

Rush the stage
In foaming waves
Look straight up to see

Close enough to touch him
You could almost wash his feet!

And every night he battles
And everyone he slays
Establishing his kingdom
All that he surveys

Til fateful day
When vice he takes
It takes him instead

Behold the king has fallen
The mighty king is dead!

Then darkness falls upon the land
As Fate reveals again

Despite their righteous powers
Rock gods are mortal men