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The Green Tunnel

The Green Tunnel originally appeared in LampLight – Volume 7, Issue 1, edited by Jacob Haddon

 

I leave the Volvo at the Springer Mountain Trailhead, keys underneath the seat. Walking away, new red backpack heavy on my hips, I realize I never want to see the car again. When I come out the other side, I’ll report it stolen, and cash out more of the settlement to buy a new car with fewer seats.

The new boots wrap my feet like second skin. I’d broken them in on day hikes in the winter, testing each bit of gear as it arrived. I made sure I could pitch the tent in the rain, strip the stove to clean each valve, patch the ultralight air mattress in the dark if it sprung a leak. I packed food into parcels — dehydrated meals, rice, and protein bars — and mailed them to post offices along the route. I have no intention of dying on the Appalachian Trail, no matter what my friends assume.

The thrum of cars gives way to the whisper of wind through spring buds and the crunch of snow underfoot. The sweat on my back cools in the morning chill. With the anxiety of planning and preparation behind me, there is only the fixed certainty of the next six months ahead.

I am each step, and then the next, and nothing more. I am the smell of Georgia pines and melting snow. I am sunlight on cold skin. Rising to the peak of Springer Mountain, I descend the other side without stopping to sign the register. On the first day, as I’d hoped, I lose myself in the immediacy. The sounds of rushing air and shearing metal that I’d lived with for a year slides into the background.

Continue reading “The Green Tunnel”

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The Shrike

The Shrike was first published in audio on Pseudopod

 

By the time she’s thrown herself upright and grasped for the remote with shaking hands, it’s too late. She’s seen it. She’s heard the words. Instead, she stumbles for the kitchen sink, feeling her throat clench with acrid, stinging horror. The vibrant green and brown hues of the nature documentary wash the inside of her darkened apartment, sonorous tones of the narration hanging in the air. She tries not to listen as she hunches over the filthy, dish-choked sink, retching and gasping for air, but the words still come. Thorns. Impale. Butcher.

Coupled with ambien and supermarket gin, the nature documentaries had been the only thing that helped her fall asleep for the last month, but that’s over now. Ruined in a single fusillade of frames and words. She shuts her eyes tight, presses her face to the cracked tile of the kitchen counter as sobs rock her wasting frame. Behind her eyelids, she sees what she always sees. Trinity on the spike, wide and terrified eyes going glassy with blood loss as her little mouth struggles and fails to form a plea for help. But now the jagged spar of rusted iron in the little girl’s throat has a name, christened by the late night documentary on the cruel hunting habits of predatory birds.

Shrike. It repeats in her ears, a ringing bell striking midnight. Shrike. In the cold clarity of the moment, she feels a silver thread of relief. She knows the name of the thing, now. It is no longer just a factor, one link in the chain of her fatal, unforgivable mistake. The Shrike is an entity. It is something outside herself she can blame. Something she can hate.

Continue reading “The Shrike”

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Last Halloween

Last Halloween was first published in FLAPPERHOUSE #19

On the last morning I will have with my son, I make him pancakes with fresh blueberries from the community garden mixed in the batter.  When the Patels from down the street heard the news, they brought us a flask of fresh maple syrup from the trees in the western woods, and I’ve chilled it overnight in the fridge. Butter from the community farm sizzles and spits on the griddle as Malcolm drags his feet down the stairs. Outside the kitchen window, perched on the skeletal frame of an old oak, the crow gazes at me. Its head crooks to one side and beetle-shell eyes flash in the October sun, fixed on mine. I look away.

“Morning,” I grunt, trying to keep the desperate quaver out of my voice. “Thought maybe you’d like to try some coffee with breakfast.”

He narrows sleepy eyes, skeptical of the offer, then shrugs. “Doesn’t it, uh, stunt my growth?” I wince, but he doesn’t notice.

“I think maybe one cup is okay.” I set the chipped, steaming mug down in front of him with the first batch of pancakes. “Just don’t tell mom.”

He tries to play it cool, like it’s no big deal, but I can see the excitement in the corners of his smile. He wraps his small hands around the mug, half covering the Notre Dame crest, and sniffs at the steam. I realize that I’m staring at him, so I look out the window again. The crow catches my eye and nods, then takes flight in a burst of sparkling black feathers.

Continue reading “Last Halloween”

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Welcome Back

Hello, and welcome to my collection of weird tales and horror fiction for your enjoyment and criticism. I’ve always found that feedback from people not obligated to say nice things has been the best tool for continuing to hone my writing. Here are four of the newest stories for your consideration.

  • Axis Mundi – Loops and whorls of the dead sketching glyphs and geometric shapes drift around the ghost ship, held close by the Yggdrasil’s gentle gravity. 
    • A horror-sci fi story about advanced humans making first contact with an isolated group of humans who’ve been trapped aboard an ancient generation ship.
  • The Crisis Somewhere, swimming in the night above, there are eyes. There are eyes like black stars, and they see me.
  • Digger’s Lament – The voice in the dark laughed, a throaty whisper of mirth. “You are Palta Qynes, and you are no man of the Emperor. You are a digger, and a criminal, and a betrayer.”
    • A fantasy novella following two miscreant archeologists sifting through the ruins of the kingdoms of dead gods.
  • Mapping the Crooked Places  – The blooming corpse-flower smell surged, hotter and brighter than ever, and if I could have scaled the air itself to ascend to the roof above me, I would have clawed through, ground my fingers to the bone.
    • A new version of my story about addiction, architecture, and urban obsession. If you’re familiar with the original version, I think this new take is greatly improved.

Beyond that, look around in the Library on sidebar, and you’ll find a variety of older short horror stories for your enjoyment. As always, I am very grateful for your interest, and would be happy to hear any comments or criticism you have. 

If you have any questions or want to reach me for any reason, don’t hesitate to contact me, and you’ll find other various ways to keep up with like Twitter and Facebook.

If you’re looking to inquire about freelance writing for games, or of any sort, head on over to my professional website for my business contact details.

Thank you again for your interest, and enjoy.

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Between the Walls

The Eastern Empire
Late July, Year of our Lord, 626

When Lecho saw the three walls of Constantinople, rising up like a storm on the horizon, each taller than the last, he knew he’d made his worst mistake. Around him marched the great host of the Avar Khaganate, dragging the skeletal fragments of siege towers. Ahead, he could pick out individual Roman watchmen lining the middle wall, leaning with relaxed arrogance on the crenelations.

Lecho summoned the vilest curses he could and spat them in a circle at his feet. Not for the first time, he damned the blind, hateful luck that had brought him to the foot of the greatest city in the East, ready to grind his flesh into the unbreachable walls until there was little but dust and blood.

As the sun sank in the west, and camps were staked, his motley detachment of Bulgar raiders, Carolingian fugitives, Slavic peasants, and mercenaries from across the continent gathered to hear the words of a minor Avar Khan. Lots were drawn, and they received the honor of being the first over the walls. Lecho watched the Khan palm the tile with the low number etched on it, and pretend to draw it from the ceremonial leather sack, made from some great enemy’s scrotum. He’d known they’d be first, one way or another, but he could do little more than spit in a circle and try not to catch the Khan’s eye.

Continue reading “Between the Walls”

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Roadwork

When Conner arrived at the gas station, he exited the car with a speed that surprised even him. He took a few quick steps, almost at a run, before turning back towards the car. Under the garish sodium lights of the service station, the little blue sedan was a sickly greenish gray. It looked squat and malign in its stillness. The throbbing headache at the base of his skull seemed to diminish with every step and he began to catch his breath.

He took the phone from his pocket and raised it high into the night sky, waving it from side to side like a semaphore flag. Nothing. The signal meter defied him by remaining empty. Not even a flashing roaming message. Conner scowled at the phone and thrust it back into his pocket.

He glanced around the station, two solitary pumps and a closed convenience market. An isolated island of pale yellow light in the dark of the North Carolina forest. The silhouettes of trees bit into the starry night sky, surrounding him like a ring of teeth. The grating hum of electricity mingled with the crackling of insects from the woods beyond, drifting in the warm summer night air.

Jutting from the side of the shuttered market was a scraped and listing pay phone, its metal stalk visibly bent from some long ago impact. Conner approached it, digging a pair of quarters from his pocket, and gripped the scarred plastic handset. For a moment, nothing happened. The sense of isolation deepened, like the ground being pulled out from under him, and the panic returned. A series of quick clicks bit into his ear and the dial tone chimed. His fingers felt numb as he dialed.

Even at a few hours past midnight, Reynolds answered on the first ring.

Continue reading “Roadwork”

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Before

The sun is high above me by the time I see the farm on the horizon, with its tattered yellow flag whipping in the hot breeze. The central roof beam of the barn is bowed, sagging gently in a way that feels warm and inviting, a childhood ideal of a barn. There’ve been a half dozen farms along the last stretch of road, but none displayed the signal flag, or showed any signs of habitation. It is providence that I should come to this place, so I step off the highway onto a weed-choked gravel path.

I’ve been following Highway 37 all morning, the blacktop scar dividing the glass-still wetlands to the South from the fields and hills of wild golden grass to the North. Alone except for the elegant cranes above the water and the herds of deer grazing in the dry brush, I find long silent hours to reflect and meditate on the days passed, and the glorious days ahead. I savor the quiet emptiness of Creation. Beneath my feet, the pavement is hot, and the air shimmers in the distance. There is a wet, earthy riot of smells, like fresh tilled soil and still waters. The whine and drone of insects is a monotone symphony, unbroken save for the short cries of waterfowl.

The Vallejo crater is far behind me now, hidden by a ridge of meek hills and the opalescent summer haze. Ahead, a little farmhouse comes into view from behind the barn, a leaning two floored structure, pale yellow paint peeling in the sun. My heart sings at the charming innocence of the little home. I try to imagine it without the thick wooden boards nailed over the windows and doors, without the furrowed claw marks on the barricades.

Continue reading “Before”

Dogs in the Drywall

This is my final text of this story, as heard on Season 10, Episode 9 of the No Sleep Podcast.

I hear the dogs before I see them. It’s Monday morning, I’m in the bathroom stall, pants down, pretending to shit and making polite throat-clearing noises every few minutes. The rotten vegetable green paint on the walls never fails to give me a headache, so I have my eyes shut tight. Still, I can spend twenty minutes here, three to four times a day, eating up an hour. More if you factor in the round trip from office to toilets.

My legs are numb despite my best efforts to restore circulation. That’s my cue to stand up, to go through the motions of wiping, to flush, and to pretend to wash my hands. Before I can lurch upward, I hear them, inside the wall to my right. Nails clicking on pressboard and metal. Fur scraping drywall. Breath like a shuddering air conditioning vent. It’s right next to me, too big to be a rat, and far too real. I spin away, dopey grin on my face in some idiot desire to catch someone’s eye, to have a shared moment of surreal “did you hear that?” camaraderie, but I’m alone in the handicapped stall of a men’s restroom.

Continue reading “Dogs in the Drywall”

Happy Halloween – Three New Stories

Hello, all. It’s been a while, as things have been quiet for me on the fiction front. Until this month – in October, I had three new stories, in three new venues. All these stories are linked by a common thread of parental anxiety, viewed from three different angles.

Last Halloween – The newest residents of a perfect community grapple with the bargain they made to be here. Available for free on the FLAPPERHOUSE website, or in print as part of FLAPPERHOUSE 19

The Shrike – A grieving mother finds an unlikely focus for her grief and anger. Available to read or listen for free (Read by Sandra M Odell) at Pseudopod, the horror fiction podcast.

The Green Tunnel – A wounded woman tries to lose herself solo hiking the Appalachian Trial. Available in the latest issue of Lamplight Magazine.

All of these venues mean a great deal to me, and I’m honored to have such perfect homes for this anxious little trilogy. In due time, I will post the complete texts of these stories here, but I hope you’ll check out all three.

Happy Halloween, and I’ll see you soon.

The Crisis

I was fortunate enough to be invited to submit to Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward’s “Shadows Over Main Street” anthology, which merged Lovecraft inspired stories with small-town Americana. My contribution started with my interest in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the sense of pending apocalypse nested in my own safe conception of the past, and unspooled from there.

If you enjoy this blend of Mythos and Mayberry, then check out the rest of collection, featuring stories from Nick Mamatas, Gary Braunbeck, Lucy Snyder, Josh Malerman, and more. The second edition is available at Amazon, and many other booksellers.

 

Erica holds onto my hand as we sit on the couch and stare into the wide eye of her father’s color TV. Her sweaty palm pulses in time with her galloping heartbeat, and she sucks at the air in noisy hiccups. I have to press my lips together to keep from screaming at her to be quiet.

They’re showing the photographs again, the new ones. All week in school we’ve talked about missiles and blast radiuses and blockades, the approach of halloween all but forgotten. Our paper-mache masks, two grinning witches, sit half-finished in the corner, casualties of the Crisis. But it’s all changed again, and we can’t catch up.

“The purpose and function of the structure are still anyone’s guess, but by now it’s clear that the Soviets had another purpose on the island of Cuba entirely. We still don’t have a good explanation for how a sinkhole of that size appeared seemingly over night.”

The man on the television repeats what he can about the new photographs as sweat beads on his upper lip, vivid and crisp on the Dahlberg’s new screen. The man on the television doesn’t know how to describe them, keeps tripping over his words as he tries to make sense of the aerial photographs. No one can. I can hear Mr. Dahlberg screaming in the kitchen, loud and angry.

As of an hour ago, there’s been no more communication with the USSR, and the President’s demands for an explanation have gone unanswered.” Continue reading “The Crisis”