The Blues

The Blues appeared in episode 351 of the Pseudopod Podcast. I am beyond thrilled to have made a sale to the very market that got me interested in writing short horror.
 
 
The first wave hits me as I stand on the old bridge, looking down into the green and still waters. It’s like an army of fingertips, starting in my scalp and tracing down my skin and I shudder involuntarily. Familiar fog takes shape in my mind, a cotton candy spiderweb, snaring thoughts and vibrating in time with the wind through the trees. In the distance I can hear King hollering, followed by the tinkling sounds of shattered glass, and then Leif’s laughter.

I shut them out, make my world the rusting footbridge, the warm air, and the dark water below. An untouched bubble of space that I alone inhabit. On the worn concrete abutment beneath me, someone has scrawled in white paint the words LOOK UP, and I do so, without thinking, the command bypassing conscious thought. The sky is perfectly blue, cerulean above me and cornflower in the distance. I tumble the words through my hands, adding to them: azure, cobalt, bondi, indigo, ultramarine. The blues merge and swirl, dripping through my hands leaving long streaming trails of letters.

I shake my head and laugh loud, listening to the sound travel on the warm breeze. Happy. For the first time in many months, I am free, in control. My life is my own again.

“Rog! Roger!”

I try to ignore the voice, but I know Alex is already walking down the bridge toward me. The brief surge of freedom is already starting to fade. I try to hold tight to the moment, leaning out and surveying the debris choked creek beneath. What I had taken for a filthy styrofoam beer cooler catches my eye, and I look closer and see a green and mossy haunch. A rotting human thigh, the remaining skin greenish white, the rest of the body vanishing into the algae choked water.

I feel sick, the last scraps of joy congealing, turning rancid. The fear is creeping back in. I turn to Alex, my island of calm in the half-year storm, and watch him walk towards me like a barefoot saint, his sandy hair tangled and wild. His wide and white grin lights up his face beneath dark eyes, and the fear does not vanish, but halts its approach.

“How you feeling, Roger?” He asks, his eyes twinkling.

Continue reading “The Blues”

One (Illustrated)

In the night, with only dim starlight holding back the true dark, I am alone. The day’s business is done, the traps checked and reset, water collected from the evaporation pits, the perimeter alarms set. My body uncoils, the thick ropes of aching muscles unspooling as I lay in the filthy sleeping bag. The once springy down filling is clotted with a foul smelling dampness, bunching into greasy clumps and knots. By winter I will need to strip the filling, and find something to replace it, but it will not pack down as light. By winter, I might be able to venture back into a city, and find a sporting good store. By winter, this might be all over, or I may be dead.

I drift away, the pinpricked night differing very little from the haze of sleep. When I awake and shake the gossamer film from my consciousness, I become aware of the passage of time. The spine of silken light behind the stars, the heart of the galaxy that I have become re-accustomed with in the past month, has twisted across a quarter of the sky. Small coiling tendrils of fog are coursing up the sides of the mountain. And behind the wet and living thrum of the brush, behind the shudder and shiver of the breeze, I hear the clank of glass and tin cans.

The alarms.

I cannot pick out the direction at first, so I spring from the sleeping bag already gripping the revolver, finger coiling around the trigger. I hold utterly still in a runners crouch, the pistol already slick with sweat against the walnut grip, despite the ragged cold of the night. My lungs burn with panic, but I wrestle control from my hindbrain and still the shuddering in my chest until my body is calm, still. My mind will follow.

In the stillness, the alarm rings again, a clumsy tremor of inorganic sounds against the night’s tapestry, just ahead of me now. I thrust the pistol forward, without thinking, and fire two shots, level with the horizon.

Continue reading “One (Illustrated)”

Zero

You can purchase this story here in the pages of Mad Scientist Journal.

Istanbul, Turkey
August
09:12:09 AM

I am at a small outdoor cafe just a few hundred yards from the teeming throng of a morning market, just in sight of the Bosporus. I love this city, and all its thick and violent contradictions. The rising heat of the day is already causing the linen of my suit to cling to my legs.

I awoke last night with a change of heart; you are owed an explanation, and even a warning. If I do as I have planned, I and my actions will be vilified, and misunderstood. Please believe me, I am doing this for all the right reasons. You may not see it now, but in ten or twenty years, you will see a new world born. That is worth any sacrifice.

I have done my work here in Istanbul, the first of many great cities to see, and I board a plane tomorrow. Don’t bother looking for me here.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan
September
05:04:20 AM

I am in one of the oldest settlements of mankind, and her majesty overwhelms me, just as her descent saddens me. Once the jewel of Alexander’s conquest, and the capital of Tamarlane’s empire, she has fallen into disrepair and goes fallow with neglect. I must confess knowing this already, but forgive my sense of romanticism; I did want to see this place, once.

I have no work to do here; once the junction of trade lanes between East and West, Samarkand has become isolated and useless to me. But the ghosts of her history and past bring me strength and resolve. The case that I carry with me is heavy in my hand, it is my burden, but with each stop, that burden lessens.

I have allowed myself this one folly, leaving the web for a moment, but I will not linger long.

Munich, Germany
September
08:05:18 AM

The city still sleeps late into the morning on Saturday, and in many places the streets are still empty. There is a grand majesty of Munich’s remaining prewar buildings, and I remarked on its beauty to my local driver. “It was a lot nicer before the British bombed us,” he said without a hint of irony. He was at least two generations removed from the war, and did not seem, or want, to understand when I told him that London had the same problem.

Most of humanity is horrified by the specter of the war, of what happened here. They wonder how man could be so inhumane. These people know nothing of the world, or of nature, red in tooth and claw. These are the people that artificially elevate humanity above the animal kingdom, people that maintain an ephemeral barrier between our particular primate sub-grouping, and the rest of life on Earth. I never understood these people.

I deposited one more device downtown, in a massive state-of-the-art theater complex. I hid it carefully, and set the little slaved atomic clock to my own. My flight departs in a few hours, and if you are following me, you will have no luck in Germany.

London, England
October
05:09:19 AM

London shows her war wounds with flat gray office towers, and plain, blocky apartments, yet her age and history bleed through the scars as I stroll down the Thames, scarcely aware of the brackish odor of the oily waters. The trash and detritus in the river don’t sadden me, the way I imagine it would for you.

You draw some artificial line between a hamburger wrapper and the fallen leaves of a tree that I will never understand. You distinguish between nature and humanity in a way that puzzles me. We are nature, our cities, our roads, and our orbital satellites are no different than a termite colony, or a birds nest, except perhaps in scale. There is nothing unique about humanity. I know that I am all but alone in this conceit, but history and nature herself will prove me right.

The devices I planted here are in the Underground; silently waiting for the day to come when I will activate them, and they will open their ceramic filters and gently release their payload into the air. I burned the last decade of my life like a candle to forge the perfect weapon, hardened against the air, hearty and undeniably alive, burning with the will to survive.

I have chosen the stations because the first letters of each station spell my name. Consider it an artist’s signature. I wouldn’t tell you this if I wasn’t sure this would be useless information, and I doubt you have even uncovered who I am.

As always, I will be gone before you arrive.

Chicago, Illinois
November
02:15:03 PM

Chicago is the hub of a great wheel of airline traffic; along its thousand intersecting lines, millions of passengers will pass through, robbing the stale airport air of oxygen and expunging carbon dioxide. Even these sterile, atmosphere-regulated glass and steel tunnels, I still see nature, green and red with life.

I need to make a distinction. I know that what I am doing seems to be wrong, evil. However, I also understand that morality is an artificial device we used to guide tribal behavior, a useful conceit in creating harmony and growth in small populations. But there is no real weight to good and evil. Nature is beyond that. There is nothing evil about the wasp that implants her young into a living caterpillar. Our concepts of ethics are as fragile as our bodies, and just as impermanent.

A few devices in the ventilation systems will infect millions. You can search for them if you want, but there is a great deal of redundancy in my plan. You can grind yourself to the bone attempting to undo my work, but in the end, you will fail. If you are wise, you will cease pursuit and begin to prepare for the inevitable struggle ahead.

Tokyo, Japan
November
09:18:05 PM

Tokyo must be a hell to those who see nature as only forests or mountains or clean ocean waters. To me, it is a wonder of that natural world. The lights and madness of Roppongi are just as wondrous and alive as the synchronized flashing of fireflies. This is nature, and if you will allow me a moment of species-self congratulation, this is nature at its finest and most wonderful. But nature has no apex. It will only grow and learn and become more beautiful. It brings tears to my eyes.

I was asleep for so many decades, laboring in a lab for a pharmaceutical giant. (Which one is not important. It will not help you find me, especially not this late.) I wish I could tell you that there was some epiphany, some concrete lesson I could share with you to make you understand why I have chose this path for us all. The truth is sadly mundane: the influx of money from a chain of discoveries gave me the time to think, and become aware of the world and its systems, slowly and gradually. The money also gave me the resources to act once I was determined.

The world regulates itself. People ascribe some sort of special malevolence to the acts of man, unaware that we are not the first species to war, to commit genocide. Foolish. This is not unique to man. Many other species before us outstripped their habitats, and sowed the seeds of their own destruction. They simply are no longer among us to act as a warning. Evolutionary strategies either work, forever sustainable, or they do not, and the species die. This is the only rule in nature. Live for the future, or be buried in the past.

It should be clear now, to all of us, that despite our species’ meteoric growth, we have not opted for the former strategy, and it is only a matter of time before we collapse.

I will not stand for that. I am as much a part of nature as anything else, and so are my weapons. I will be the regulator. We will adapt, or die. But be brave: no matter the outcome, the world will be bettered. And I sincerely hope you will be there to see it, so that you can know that I was right.

The devices here are spread randomly, one is buried in a planter box that struck my eye as I walked the streets, another beneath the table of bustling cafe. You must know now that finding them will be impossible. Please, for your own sake, the time for pursuit and prevention is long passed. It’s time to prepare.

San Francisco, California
December
00:00:00 AM

I never imagined that I would remain uninfected, despite my precautions after so much exposure; I had elongated the viruses dormancy for just this reason, to buy myself a little more time. I have not finished my web yet, as I had originally envisioned it, but my infection models show I have done more than enough. I will rest a little now, and I will try not to regret my part in this. Not my actions of course, but my inability to see the fruits of my labor.

Humanity would have died without me. We’ve grown soft, slow, no longer a viable organism. We would have slowly, subtly altered the environment until the world itself was toxic to us, and then we would have vanished with a whimper. Those who think that Man has the ability to destroy the world labor under the same strange anthropocentrism as those who think we are somehow divorced from the rest of the kingdom of life. We could no more end the world than we could create it. We only can kill ourselves, and take a few million unstable species down with us. Is this how you want to end? Slowly poisoned or drowned by our inability to see the long term?

This is not the way, and I will not allow it.

Humanity, I am giving you a great gift, though I know you will never see it as such. I am giving you competition. You will work together, you will merge your resources and be reforged and tempered in the fires of struggle and crisis, together. Or you will die. You will blossom into something new, or you will fertilize the fields of the next competitor for space and resources. But you will change. It’s inevitable now, and it brings me pride and joy even as the lining of my lungs slough free and I drown in infected blood.

I have left you something. One last breadcrumb, woven into these letters. It may be the key to your salvation. If you find it, it will set you onto the path to the cure. You understand that I can not just hand it to you, that would defeat my whole purpose. Believe me when I say that I want you to live, but I must be strong not to undermine the grand struggle that will shape you for centuries to come.

It’s over now. If you still wish to seek me, you are only wasting your precious little time, anything that could help you, I have already sent. The rest, I have burned and erased. The triggers on the devices will release soon. Very soon.

But, if for some foolish reason, you want to see the meat and bones and fluids I will leave behind, you will know where to find me. I will be Patient Zero.

Featured

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”