Monday, March 29, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter VIII - In the Dark

Allison knew James was in trouble instantly. His back arched and he nearly lost control of the little Honda. He regained control quickly and twisted hard on the throttle. The bike shot forward. Allison tried to keep up but suddenly found that her bike was losing power. The pressure gauge on the propane gauge was quickly drifting towards zero. She tore her eyes from the gauge just in time to see the grandaddy of all wraiths shamble out into the alley in front of her. It was at least 600 pounds and four feet at the shoulder. The sword like front claws marked it as a Master. A glittering chain of metallic objects adorned its thick neck. She managed to avoid hitting it with the bike only by running into a small plastic trash can. The bike flipped end for end and she found herself tumbling through the air. She thudded into a solid wall that turned out to be the wraith. It felt like she had hit a lightly padded brick wall. Despite its bulk it moved as lightly as a house cat and pinned her to the ground ... literally. Its two right fore claws were driven all the way through her left arm and into the ground. It leaned in close to her, head tilted to one side to peer into her face. One eye was a complete ruin from a run in with a mountain lion years ago, but the other was a sparkling black obsidian, full of malevolent intelligence. Its breath was like a week old rotted corpse.

As if sensing that its hold was only as secure as the limits of the terror she could endure before ripping her own arm off to get away, it abruptly pulled its claws out of her arm. It quickly repositioned paw on her chest, claws resting on either side of her neck. There was no escape now. All it had to do was clench its two center finger toes and she would be effectively decapitated. But still she fought, she clawed and kicked and even bit at the creature. It just calmly stared down at her as she gouged its skin and tore out handfuls of the spiny hairs of its main. She grabbed at the necklace it wore in a vain attempt to strangle it, but the chain was far too weak and broke in her hands. This seemed to anger the beast and it swatted her to the other side of the alley. She was free, but only for a few seconds. By this time several lesser wraiths had closed around her. They pounced on her, piling on top of her en masse. She felt her ribs creaking under the weight. She could not breath and soon passed out.

She was surprised to wake up some time later. She had no idea where she was, only that it was completely dark and foul beyond her worst nightmares. She was covered in filth and seemed glued to the floor by a thick slime. Her conscious mind absolutely refused to speculate as to what the fuck it was and bitch slapped her subconscious every time it attempted to supply her with the answer.

She was briefly concerned about the possibility of her wounds becoming infected, but realized that it was highly unlikely she would live long enough for that to be a problem. She hoped that James had got away.

She had seriously fucked things up this time.

With great effort she was able to get one leg up and then her right arm. Twice her hands encountered irregularly shaped solid objects in the muck. She shied away from touching them. Maggots and other unidentified vermin writhed through the slime. She managed to roll herself onto her side and crawl through the darkness until she found a wall.

She had never been religious, she figured an all powerful God would have never let shit go down like this. Unless he was just a sadistic asshole. In which case she wanted absolutely nothing to do with him. But as Pastor Tom had said one of the few times her father had managed to get her to go to church, when the Devil has you beat, you're screwed seven ways to Sunday and there's nothing else to do, pray. She could not think that the situation could possibly get any worse.

A memory of her father knelt in prayer when he thought he was alone came to mind. His multiple sclerosis had been flaring up again and the optic neuritis was really causing him some agony. He said it was like he had been staring into the sun all day. His balance had been off too. She had heard a thump from the study and went in to see if he had fallen. He was kneeling in front of the book case, some books scattered at his feet. She was about to call out to him but for some reason did not. She could hear him quite clearly even though he was talking softly. The floors were tiled and the walls were concrete block, with very little in the room to absorb or muffle sounds. A year later a couple of large area rugs and some additional bookcases would be installed and perhaps she might not have heard him.

It was a private moment and she always felt guilty for not leaving immediately. But for some reason she could not tear herself away. He knelt there for quite some time and she knew he had to be hurting, but when he stood up again he seemed stronger and did not have to steady himself on his desk.

She knelt in the darkness and filth as she had seen him she began to pray.

"God I know I have not been what you'd call a faithful servant. I'm not even sure that I believe in you. That probably doesn't really help my case here, but I feel I really should be honest. It's kinda become obvious to me that I have made some pretty fucked up decisions. Sorry about the profanity but I tend to cuss a lot when I'm scared. I really could use some help here. Barring that, if you could just give me some reassurance that there is something waiting for me other than a ... a ... a dark and empty silence, maybe this would be a little easier. Also could you look out for Dee and Olly for me? If it's your will that I die here, could I at least have an explanation when I get to the other side? I guess Your will be done. Amen."

Feeling very little of the comfort her father sometimes seemed to draw from his prayers, she leaned back up against the filth encrusted wall and drew her knees up to her chest. Something poked her in her right tit and she jumped, afraid it might be one of the wraith bugs under her clothes. She reached in with her right hand and found a bead chain like used for an overhead light pull with a few dozen keys dangling from it. It was the necklace the wraith had been wearing. She looked about in the pitch black gloom but could not see a door or window. She began to slowly feel her way around the edge of the room. As she did so the movement made her aware of every bruised and knotted muscle in her body. She wondered what time it was but when she checked her watch she found the crystal to be cracked and the hands missing. She could have been out for a couple of hours or a couple of days.

Despite herself she let out a single high pitched scream when she encountered a severed arm in the darkness. But considering the circumstances she didn't think that even Olly would have given her any shit about it. A few inches away she found the stump that she presumed the limb had been separated from. She found several other bits and pieces of what had once been people strewn about the floor.

In the darkness her she was becoming hyper aware of sounds. There was a steady dripping that she hoped was a source of clean water, an irregular ticking noise she could not identify, an occasional grunt from somewhere close by and the sound of a rat gnawing on something. She would have almost welcomed the sight of the rat. It was at least something familiar and normal. Despite living her entire life with their ever present threat, the wraiths were still mysterious and alien. You would ever look at one and feel that they belonged anywhere but a nightmare or a Bosch painting. She always thought old Hieronymus must have been a deeply disturbed individual.

She quickly found that the room was less than eight feet across and five feet deep with a door in the one of the long walls at one end. There was a spigot set in one of the wall at the end of the room away from the door with a basin set in the floor. The drip of water was coming from that spigot but not from the inside of the pipe but condensation on outside of the cool metal pipe. The water was foul tasting, but if she was here long enough she supposed she would get desperate enough.

She tried the door and was surprised to find it unlocked. The heavy door was hinged to swing out into the hallway rather than into the room. The hallway on the other side was lit in a faint green glow from an unseen source. Rather than provide any actual illumination it merely seemed to emphasize the darkness, but it was still somewhat brighter than the filthy utility closet she was in. There was a doorway directly across from her. The door was off its hinges leaving a gaping black hole. Despite her eyes being unable to penetrate the gloom she felt that the room was occupied. A shadow rose up from one side of the door and moved directly in front of her. The wraiths massive body fully blocked the door. It was was so absolutely dark that she could not make out any features. Just a vague silhouette. Two malicious glittering spots gave the only clue that it was indeed facing her.

It did not advance on her or make any threatening moves at all. It just stood there. Aside from the one that she had collided with in the alley she had never been this close to one before. And with the one in the alley there had been no time to think. But this was completely different. Mr. Parsons had been fond of telling stories about his encounters with the wraiths and her father had even reluctantly shared his experiences with her too. One common thread that all the close encounter stories she had ever heard was the feeling of dread and fear that these could generate. It was almost supernatural. She had always assumed that it was just a tall tale or exaggeration. Now she knew first hand that it was no made up fairy tale to scare the children. She could feel her will evaporate away like film of water on hot cast iron skillet. Her knees buckled and she let the door fall closed. With a small grunt the wraith laid down at the foot of the door. She could hear its leathery hide rasping against the smooth metal of the door. She knew as sure as if the door had been walled up with brick and mortar that any possible escape route would not lie in that direction. She collapsed sobbing at the closed door.

She slapped herself hard across the face with her left hand. It stung but was not enough. She repeated it several times till she knew her cheek would be red and puffy. She was angry now, furious at herself in fact. She punched the door a few times, but the fear had been driven under at least for now. She took a few deep breath to calm herself down and began to think.

* * *
Dee put down the binoculars and shook her head. James Oliver was still out and was unable to verify, but her gut told her that Allison was down there. It would be suicide to go in there now without a plan. And then there was Olly to worry about. If something happened to her then he would be helpless. She headed back out Calumet as fast as she could, not slowing down till she had passed Olly's abandoned Honda.

It would never run again. The oil injector that had been added when it had been converted to propane had clogged up at some point during his escape. The engine was completely seized up. Olly was strapped in back. She was headed back to Dotty's. She would leave him at the lighthouse with her before heading back to see about retrieving Allison. With as many bug bites as he had it would be a couple days before he was even able to put two coherent words together. It would be a fight to get him to stay if he woke up, but she would tranquilize him if necessary. He would be in no condition to accompany her for a few days anyway.

She refused to give in to the temptation to indulge in self-pity or recriminations for now. She hoped that this was going to turn out to be a rescue mission rather than body recovery.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Story Post Coming Monday

I have finally finished the next chapter of the story. It is already saved on blogger to be published Monday. For some reason I had a lot of problems with this chapter, but I just finished it this morning. I will try to get back on a weekly schedule from now on.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Google This!

Like a great many people I regularly use Google. It's a great search engine. But do you ever pay attention to the autofill suggestions when typing in your search. I know that I usually don't. Not really. I scan them until I find something that looks closed to what I want but I don't really read them. These are the "Hot Searches" on Google. These represent a selection of the most searched for items that fit what you have typed so far.

There are really that many people out there interested in banging their own sister!?!?!?!?

If you are so hardup that you are looking on Google for help with your sex life, would it really be that much of a stretch for you to look outside your immediate family?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter VII - Runaways

James was roused from a fitful slumber by someone shaking him. He was not surprised to see Allison staring down at him. He glanced at his watch. Three thirty-eight. She had lasted about half an hour longer than he expected. She gestured him towards the back of the garage where there was a steel door just big enough to get the bikes through. He thought about arguing the wisdom of going out alone with her, but knew it would be pointless. As dead set as she was she would relent now only to go off alone as soon as he wasn't looking. At least this way he knew some one would have her back. They quietly rolled the bikes through the steel door. It would latch behind them. The two rotties watched them go quietly. They were trained to watch out for wraiths and other dangerous animals not two errant teens leaving on their own when they had no business doing so. Duke whined briefly at the door and then went and laid back down next to Dee.

They waited until they were well away from the quonset hut before starting up the bikes. If the sound did carry all the way back to Dee's ears they would be well away from there before she got around to going after them and there was no way the Volvo could catch up to them. James neglected to point out that Dee would know which way they were going. It would only piss Allison off to have a hole in her reasoning pointed out. Besides, he would not have been entirely comfortable leaving Dee clueless to where they were going. If he'd been given the opportunity he would have left a damn note or just skipped this ill advised endeavor altogether. Alli could be such a hothead and stubborn as a mule.

They continued out Calumet using only their night vision goggles. Even in the dark it was fairly easy to track the little microvan Dee had described. The condition of the road meant that it often had to cross muddy patches and leave tracks. No other vehicles had passed this way in years, so the tracks were obvious.

About a mile and a half down the road they came to a railroad crossing partially blocked by a train wreck. A west bound tractor trailer rig that was suddenly left unmanned had collided with a similarly staffed freight train. It had hit with enough force to knock a few boxcars off track. The remaining cars had piled up behind the others leaving a clear path almost wide enough for a small car to squeeze through. But not quite. A small car had recently come through and scraped off its passenger side mirror. The glass glittered in bright little shards on the dirty pavement. Allison looked at the shards of glass and a pair of tire tracks leading through the gap between the twisted remnants of the trailer and the box car and started through.

James did not know why he grabbed her jacket collar, it was just pure instinct. The little Honda continued on through the gap as Allison slid off the seat. Alli was protesting up until the point the wraith hit it from the side. The bike clattered to the pavement under the 300+ pounds of the beast. James was already firing. His first two shots missed, but the next three caught it full in the chest. This only succeeded in alerting it to his presence and making it angry. Although, truth be told, no one had ever seen a non-angry wraith before. Their lives were violent from conception to death.

The wraith stopped mauling the dirtbike and bounded towards them, its head down. The massive skull could be quite effective as a battering ram but the mouth parts were delicate and needed protection. By this time Alli had her Glock ready and began firing. It took another two shots to the skull to stun it long enough for James to put a bullet through the magic spot at the base of the skull to finally kill it. And it was a lesser wraith. They carefully peered out past the wreckage of the train to see if there were others but no significant heat traces could be seen.

They quickly inspected the Alli's bike. The only obvious damage was the smashed mirrors and broken plastic fairing on the left side. The bike started on the first kick and they continued on.

The trail was easy to follow. The little car had continued straight on Calumet heading into Valders. It had blown a tire on chunk of pavement. No attempt had been made to change it. From the look of the tracks it was a rear tire. James was beginning to feel faint sense of foreboding the further they went. It was too easy, he was making no effort to conceal his tracks. When they briefly lost the tracks where a small residential street he tried to voice this to Allison, but she refused to listen.

A faded and tattered banner hung from a light pole reading V-A-L-D, the rest being lost to the elements. Frayed nylon threads fluttered in the cool breeze. Neither one of them were very familiar with the area, they had never been further south than Kewaunee before this trip. Mr. Parsons had usually taken them north, where the colder weather made hunting and travelling safer. Even on the wraith hunts they had usually just gone west. James wanted to consult a map, again Allison was too impatient.

They had only gone maybe two and a half miles and the sun was already coming up. Light was glinting off a nearby water tower. The sun slowly hauled itself above the eastern horizon as they argued the matter in a parking lot. James could just make out the name Valders from the faded and flaking paint and rust of the water tower.

The town was dead silent. One would think that in a city devoid of people that would be the case. But in every empty abandoned town he had ever been in there was some life, some furtive little sounds. Cats would go about their business of hunting local rats, raccoons would be foraging in the undergrowth, moose and deer would be grazing in the grasses growing up through the crumbled pavement. Birds would be singing or fluttering about. But there was none of that here. James paused in his attempts to dissuade Allison from going further and took a good look around. Eventually even Allison noticed. She got back on her bike and started it up. To James unsurprised horror, she continued on into town. Left with the choice of abandoning her or following her, he did the only thing his conscience would allow. He too headed into town on what was beginning to look more and more to him like a fools errand, if not an outright suicide mission.

* * *

Dee locked up the quonset hut and headed out. She knew she could not hope to catch up to them in the Volvo as long as they were moving, but they would have to stop to eat or rest sometime. Bo and Duke rather sheepishly climbed into the front of the Volvo. The scolding she had unleashed upon them for not letting her know of the twins departure was still fresh in their minds.

* * *

The stench was almost overwhelming, even from the fourth floor window of the apartment building. Neither one of them had even heard of a wraith colony this big before. They had completely overrun the Valders High School building. There were only a few in sight but they were nocturnal creatures. Excrement and other waste was piled up under the windows and coated the walls. Tiny red dots dusted the waste piles. It was only after a few moments watching that they realized that these little red dots were moving that they realized what they were.

A crude pen constructed from broken furniture, dead branches and other junk confined about two dozen assorted deer, moose and cattle. Most had distended bellies indicating the impending birth of new wraiths.

As they watched a large bull began to bellow in pain. Several wraiths poured out of the main doors of the school. They swarmed over the walls of the pen and gathered around the doomed bull. As first they thought the wraiths were going to take down the bull in a feeding frenzy, but they just squatted there in a rough circle, each clutching a wad of wet dripping matter in one clawed fore paw. It looked to be crudely butchered meat from some unfortunate creature. The bellowing of the poor bull became more desperate as its birth pangs increased. Some large mass began to writhe about under the skin on its side. Suddenly a pair of blood drenched claws burst through the thick hide of the bull, it was soon free and clear of its fleshy prison and rapidly followed by five others. One was obviously smaller and weaker than the others. It was quickly set upon by the other five. James expected the adults to intervene on its behalf, but that was merely the hardwired human reaction to protect one's offspring and expect others to react in the same manner, but they just stood back and let the other juveniles tear apart the helpless runt. It was only a matter of twenty brief seconds before it was completely devoured and they turned their attention to the dead bull. All that was left when they were done were the skull and bones too large for them to swallow whole. And they were still hungry. That was when they started to turn against one another. It was only then that the adults interfered. Two of them waded into the fighting juveniles, clubbing them with their tails, head butting and kicking them with their balled up paws. It looked to be quite brutal, but was actually calculated to do very little actual damage. But they were effectively separated. The other adults approached the little abominations with the still dripping hunks of meat and began feeding them. They would fling the football sized hunks of meat at the newborns. The infants would open their mouths wide enough for an adult man's head and the meat would disappear. It was both fascinating and repelling. When they had gorged themselves so thoroughly they could barely move the adults bent down, mouths opening wider than James would have believed possible and scooped the infants up. Carried in such a way,only their snouts were visible. After this grim display the entire assembly trooped back into the school building. Little red dots were already congregating on the bull's carcass.

Allison tapped his shoulder and pointed. It took him a few seconds to see what she was pointing at. In the faculty parking lot there were several cars. This was to be expected, school had been in session when the Disappearance had occurred. But one vehicle stood out. A little Ford microvan with a ragged remnant of a blown rear tire and far too clean to have been sitting exposed to the elements for several years. They had found him, but now what?

It was standard procedure to torch wraith nests, but this one was huge and better organized than anything ever seen before. They would never be able to get close enough to set it ablaze even if they had enough gasoline to do so. It was clear that the rules of the game had changed.

The only option now was to go back and report what they had seen.

The two of them quietly crept downstairs. On they way up they had not noticed any wraithbugs but by the time they reached the third floor landing there were dozens on the stairs. They simply sidestepped them careful that none dropped on them from above.

At the second floor there were hundreds and they were spraying the steps ahead of them with the bottles of Windex they had picked in a Dollar General this morning. Anytime the Windex touched one of the black and red bugs it started flailing about or running in circles trying to get away from the deadly poison. But it was rapidly becoming clear that they would run out of Windex before they ran out of wraithbugs. And more were appearing.

They decided to just abandon the notion of shooting their way out and just run. Fortunately they both had good boots and gloves. They squashed countless bugs under their heels going down the stairs. So many that their boots were getting slick and putting them at risk of falling. Their gloved hands slid along the rails, knocking bugs off by the dozens. They burst from the stairwell and raced for the big glass front doors. They realized before they got there that the lobby was empty, completely devoid of black and red bugs. They paused there in the lobby for a moment wondering what had happened to them. When no wraiths rushed in from the adjoining corridors Allison pushed open the door and the rushed to the alley where they had parked the bikes.

The wraiths attacked as they approached the bikes. They were completely blocking one end of the alley and more were coming, they were dropping down from the fire escape and roof. There was a fence at the other end of the alley, but the gate was off its hinges leaving just enough room for a bike to get through. Ally fired off several shots into the mass of wraiths approaching as he started his bike. Then he emptied a clip while she got her started. When he was sure that she had hers running he headed for the gate. He dared not even look back to see how she was doing, the alley was too full of the monsters. One leaped out from behind a dumpster as he approached the gate, but he managed to get past it. He heard one round fire from Ally's gun and risked a glance back after he cleared the gate. He saw her toss the gun away to get better control of the bike and zip clear of the gate just half a second after him.

They whipped around the corner and were home clear, or so he thought. That was when he felt twin barbs of searing pain in his neck and back. He had not noticed the bugs fall down the back of his jacket. He fought against the pain, it was all he could do to keep his focus on the road ahead and the bike under him. He did not stop until he realized that he had just passed a red blur that had to be Dee heading into town in the Volvo. She turned around and came back to him just as he dropped the bike. He staggered to his feet and stumbled towards the oncoming truck. His vision was constricting to a narrow point and he was barely aware of the Volvo screeching to a halt directly in front of him and Dee jumping out. She was shouting something in his face and shaking him painfully. He made out the word Allison and pointed back the way he had come, only then realizing that she was nowhere to be seen. He had lost her. His vision finally constricted down to a bright white dot, like an old CRT television as it died, and slowly faded out leaving him alone in the dark.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Another Rant - Soda Tax

Was listening to the radio this morning and they were talking about a proposed tax on soda. Many communities already have a tax on soda in place and more are considering this. Philadelphia mayor Michaal Nutter has proposed a 2 cent per ounce tax on the sugary beverages and California Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez has introduced a bill to tax them. As the obesity epidemic gains more press and more communities become desperate for tax revenues I expect this will become a popular trend. After all it's for the public good right?

Wrong. The FDA already regulates what is and is not safe to eat, but now the government will tax us on consuming that they deem to be unhealthy too? And who decides what is and is not healthy? Today it is pop, but there are already proposals to tax pizza or other fast foods. Do we want some militant vegan PETA freak trying to get a tax on meat, fish, poultry and dairy? Do we want allergy sufferers proposing a tax on wheat, shellfish and peanut butter? Should the lactose intolerant force a tax on milkshakes next?

And none of this addresses the real issues of dietary economics. People living near or below the poverty line can scarcely afford a healthy diet rich in fresh fruit, vegetables and unprocessed foods. They are sometimes doing good to just put food any on the tables. Pasta is cheap and filling, but is often just empty carbohydrates, canned vegetables keep well and are inexpensive and convenient but are often lacking the nutrient values of their fresh counterparts. Processed meats also keep well and are less expensive than fresh meat but are often full of preservatives, MSG and sulfites. All of these things could be considered "bad for you" so should we tax them and make it even harder for people living in near poverty just so we can feel like we are helping people stay healthy or fill the town coffers?

Instead of taxing the consumer for buying "unhealthy" food maybe we should concentrate doing things that will lower the cost of healthy foods, penalize food producers that manufacture crap food, and educate consumers on making healthy choices.

But that will never happen as long as the American consumer is willing to be lead like sheep to an early grave in a super sized coffin, or taxed into starvation.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Story Update and Brief Rant

I will be posting a new chapter in my story soon. Been rather hectic here. And I have to admit that I have recently become addicted to FaceBook. But I just purchaced a little Asus EeePC. It's a tiny little netbook about the size of a highschool text book. I could get online with it if I set it up, but I have intentionally not done so. It will be perfect for writing, no distractions.

And now for the rant. I am holding in my hand a letter from the US Dept of Commerce, US Census Bureau. The letter is to inform me that in about a week I will be receiving a letter from the US Dept of Commerce, US Census Bureau containing the Census forms. So it's a letter telling us to expect a letter. Our tax dollars at work. It even has messages in 5 different languages at the bottom. Yeah, these should read "If you're reading this because you can't read English, Go the Fuck Home!" But I am often accused of politically incorrect.

But to the story update. I am going to try to get a few posts ready. If I can make a point to sit down with my new toy and type up at least a couple of pages a day I should not have any problems. Fewer distraction more focus. At least from my computer. My son just threw up in my lap about half an hour ago while I was trying to write this post. Of course the only way the new computer could have helped with that is if I were to use it as a shield. I will be trying to get another scanner soon so I can resume the typecasts as well.