April 20, 2010

The Talking Dolphin and the Volcano

"Where is she? Is she back?"

Clint Sampson stormed into the underwater laboratory's control room. Bright crimson spread across his forehead and cheeks. His team knew the look well. Clint's temper burned so hot it could burn a hole through the sun. But this expression was different. This outburst was laced with worry.

Elena glanced at Darius, and then back at Clint. "We haven't heard from her."

No one but Clint could bear the burden of his daughter's disappearance. The two had fought hours earlier, and she had snuck out into the ocean alone shortly thereafter. No one was allowed out into the field alone, but Clint's daughter had managed to sneak out without anyone noticing. Clint checked his watch.

"What time did she leave?"

Dr. Arlington, the team's oceanographer and desk agent, shook his head. He had been checking the exit chamber's security camera for the last ten minutes. "At least an hour and a half, maybe longer."

Clint swore. "She's running out of air." He strode to the locker where his underwater tactical suit was located.

"You can't go after her," said Dr. Arlington. "It's not safe."

"My daughter is going to die unless we do something now!"

Clint's gray eyes could cut corregated steel. The muscles in his wide, powerful jaw flexed as determination took strides toward desperation. Head of Central Ocean Research for the Environment (or C.O.R.E.), Clint had spent his entire life investigating one of the earth's last unexplored frontiers. But the ecosystem that had made his life was in the process of ruining it.

"The volcano is still active," said Dr. Arlington, C.O.R.E.'s head of environmental impact. "It's suicide. I can't let you-"

"It's not your call," said Clint. "Open the chamber,"

Clint pushed past the doctor and headed for the transfer chamber that would give him access to the watery world outside the plastic confines of the research facility.

Darius, the bombastic, adventure-seeking technician, swore. He'd been working for Clint long enough to know that his boss was reckless enough to get himself killed. And if there was any hope of finding Tricia, Clint's daughter, it would have to be a team effort. "Wait for me, boss! You know the rules, nobody goes it alone."

Elena frowned. She approached the doctor. "We're gonna need the DCS."

"It's not ready," said the doctor.

"It's good enough."

Arlington's lips pursed, but he offered a curt nod and headed for the huge tank adjacent to their headquarters.

"DCS?" Clint asked.

"Dolphin Communication System," said Arlington.

"Dolphin...what?" asked Darius.

"Communication System," said Elena. "It's a device that interprets the electrical signals in the dolphin's brain and then communicates the results back to us."

"You're saying they can talk to us?"

"No," corrected the doctor. "The dolphin's sonar is being analyzed by a sophisticated algorithm that determines exactly what the dolphin is experiencing in real time. That data is relayed through the mainframe, which interprets the message and give us a visual and verbal confirmation."

"Right," said Darius. "So the dolphin talks...great."

Clint pulled on his underwater tactical suit, finishing with the helmet. His voice came through the lab's loudspeaker. "My daughter has fifteen minutes of air left, if that. Open the chamber. Let's go!"

Darius and Elena scrambled to get their tactical suits on as Dr. Arlington moved to the tank in search of his special dolphin.
_ _ _

Clint led Darius and Elena into the ocean's depths. The ocean's cold, black blanket wrapped itself around the rescue team as they descended toward the jagged mountain range rising out of the ocean's floor. The team's only respite from the darkness was the brilliant yellow flashes of light that pierced through the shadows every time the volcano spewed magma from its gaping fissure. A massive column of white smoke laced with deadly sulphur billowed toward the surface. Getting too close to the volcano meant instant death.

Dr. Arlington's voice came through the speaker system in each team member's tactical suit. "The seismic energy is growing! Another fissure could open at any minute! It's not to late to-" 

"I'm not turning back!" said Clint. "Where was Tricia's last location?"

"She shut off the GPS, but I know the general direction in which she was headed. It looks like she made for the cave system we discovered yesterday. I've instructed the DCS to search there first."

The razor-sharp maze of reef surrounding the mountain range loomed. Caverns, caves, and corridors littered the reef. Clint's daughter was lost somewhere in that labrynth.

"Three humans at ten meters." Came a strange, electronic voice through their headsets.

Darius nearly lost his ski as he flinched in surprise. "Who was that?"

"The DCS," said Elena. "The dophin."

A shadow glided past them as the dolphin sped toward the reef. Clint cranked up the ski's power and headed after the dolphin. Elena and Darius followed suit.

Seconds later they reached the cave system. The dolphin paused at the entrance and circled. "Cavern reached. Awaiting orders."

"I'm sending her in," said Arlington.

The dolphin completed one last circle before darting through the opening. The team followed. The narrow opening led to a long corridor that became even more confined as they continued downward. The walls began to get closer. And then, a tremor ran through the passageway. Loose debris swirled through the corridor, blinding them.

Clint cursed. "Visibility just went straight to hell."

"Seismic activity is off the charts. Something is about to happen. We need to find Tricia fast!" said Arlington. "The dolphin navigates with sonar. It'll be fine. Hurry!"

Soon, the walls were so close the team had to travel in single file.

"This is getting dicey," said Darius. "What was she doing this far in?"

Before Elena could answer the dolphin's electronically interpreted voice spoke, "Body found."

"That's her!" Arlington exclaimed. "From what I can see based on the dolphin's sonar it looks like she's pinned underneath something. She's unconscious."

Clint reached her first. A narrow part of the passage had caved in, pinning Tricia to the reef. The team jumped into action. All three put all their strength into pushing the pieces of reef off Tricia's back.

"Just a few bruises, maybe a concussion, but her oxygen is almost gone," Clint said. His voice relayed a hint of hope for the first time. "Let's get her back!"

Another severe tremor ran down the mountain range's spine. The corridor shook violently. The sand, dust, and debris thickened within the chamber. A blinding yellow light flashed from somewhere below them, shooting through the holes in the reef system. The light was so bright Darius shielded his eyes.

Elena spun. "I can't see a thing!"

"A fissure just opened up underneath you!" Arlington said. "You have to get out, now!"

Clint twirled his ski back around, grabbed Tricia, and started back down the corridor. "Go! Go! Go!"

"Where? I don't even know which way is up!" shouted Darius.

The dolphin snaked past them and darted through the passageway.

"Follow her!" said Arlingotn.

The team chased after the dolphin as it swam through the narrow passageways. A huge cloud of white smoke began drifting up toward them. Elena's eyes widened at the sight of the smoke. If it reached them, they could die.

Just as they were about to reach the exit the dolphin stopped. Their path was blocked by a mass of collapsed reef. The team's morale sunk as the boiling water and white smoke drifted ever closer. Bright flashes of light shone through holes in the reef. The temperature inside the caves rose.

"We're stuck!" said Darius.

The dolphin sped past him and darted into an adjacent passageway. Clint didn't wait for Arlington to tell him what to do, he kicked his ski into gear and raced after the dolphin. Another earthquake struck. The reef walls rattled. Pieces of rock toppled over all around them.

And then the dolphin disappeared.

Another exit opened was right in front of them. They burst out into the open ocean as white smoke engulfed the reef.

_ _ _

Back on the surface of the water, above the underground lab, Dr. Arlington leaned over the side of the boat to stroke the dolphin's glistening gray skin.

"Good girl!" he said. "It worked! The DCS worked brilliantly! And she performed like a champion!"

Clint nodded. He glanced sideways at Tricia and hugged her closer. "Saved my daughter's life. I owe that dolphin a drink."

"Maybe we could get a big pool? She'd make a great pet!" said Tricia. Her smile was enough to make the team breath a deep sigh of relief. If they'd found her any later she would have died. They'd barely made it out alive themselves.

"A pool? After what you pulled? How about, you're grounded! No more water for you, young lady," said Clint. Tricia gave him a hurt look, and he relented. A smile even graced his lips. "And I guess I could work on being a better father. We'll call it even."

Tricia smiled, which brought a smile to everyone else on the team.

"I still don't get how she talks," said Darius. "I mean that's pretty amazing."

"Indeed," said the doctor. "In fact, she told me she found you very ugly."

Darius' mouth dropped open until he saw the sly smile on the doctor's face. Elena chuckled, and then shoved Darius over the boat's side. He splashed into the water. Even the dolphin chortled.

"I'm just glad I've got you back," Clint said to Tricia.

The two shared a long embrace.

April 17, 2010

Saturday Special: Comic Book Prose!

I'm working on a fight sequence for the comic book Nathan and I are creating. Felt like I needed to flesh it out in prose before I took on the attempt at making panels. Here's a prose preview of The Standard: Issue #2:

The Northern Club - Las Vegas, 1938

“No! Please! Somebody help!”

I wake from disturbing dreams to the sound of some dame screaming. Rolling off of the stiff mattress, I grab my firearm off the nightstand and dash to the door. She sounds like she’s right outside my room, in the hotel’s only hallway. I yank the door open and explode into the narrow corridor.

“Here! Take it back! I was just joshin’, mister!”

A young hooker, maybe eighteen or nineteen, has her back against the hallway’s far wall. Her face is frozen in fear, contorted into an expression of pure terror, and she’s holding out a hand full of stolen twenty-dollar bills as if it’ll buy her life back.

A colossal brute of a man fills up the hallway between her and me. He’s an unnatural giant wearing only a pair of slacks and a white undershirt without sleeves. His arms ripple with muscles I didn’t know the human body had and he’s got a knife in his right hand—as if this colossus needs a blade against the petite pretty he’s got pinned to the wall.

“There a problem here?” I ask. Not that I want to. This guy could tear me in half. The dead weight of my gun feels awfully good.

The monster turns slightly to look back over his shoulder at me. His hair is a mess and his teeth are barred like a glowering gorilla. But the creepiest part, the part that sends a chill up my spine, is that his eyes are pure midnight—no whites, just black and smoldering pupils. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I know this guy. This guy’s a buddy of mine—the guy that I just rode into town with yesterday. Only now he looks like he’s possessed by the devil himself.


Something in my voice doesn’t want to believe it. I mean, the guy has grown a full foot in height, not to mention adding a hundred pounds of pure muscle. It’s crazy. I suddenly wonder if I’m still dreaming.

He takes one step forward and roars as he slices the knife through the air at my head. I duck, but I can feel the blade slide within inches of my cranium. The knife’s blade punches right through the wall and sticks. Clift bellows out in anger and swipes his left arm at me in a sweeping backhand blow. It catapults me into the air and sends me reeling. The wall comes at me like a freight train. I grunt as the wind gets knocked out of me. That’s when I feel my fingers lose their grip on the pistol.

I scramble back out of the way as he grabs the knife and yanks it out of the wall. He doesn’t recognize me. If it’s even him. I’m beginning to think someone or something has taken over his body.

“Clift! It’s me, Sam! What the–”

He hurls the knife at me. I expect my life to flash before my eyes, but I doesn’t. Instead, the world starts to slow down. The knife twirls through the air, coming at me in slow motion. I have enough time to frown and tilt my head to the side as it flies past. That’s when the ‘I’m still dreaming’ explanation starts to feel a lot more comforting. But I don’t have time to pinch myself yet. Time jumps back to normal pace as the knife clatters across the floor somewhere behind me.

Clift charges. As he gets closer it happens again. Time slows to a crawl. I duck under his haymaker punch and slide past him. That’s when I realize that it’s not time that has slowed down, it’s me. I’ve sped up.

I scramble back down the hallway toward the girl as Clift’s grotesque growl gets guttural. We both lock our eyes on my pistol. It’s halfway between the both of us. His lip snarls. His eyes are pure hate. If he gets his hands on me he’ll tear me limb from limb.

He takes a lumbering lunge forward. I use my newly acquired speed to dart for the gun. I slide underneath his diving tackle and snatch the pistol off the wood floorboards. He sails over me and slams into the ground. The hallway quivers as if an earthquake hit.

Scrambling to my feet, I lift my pistol and aim. But Clift’s back to normal size, the way he was yesterday when I saw him last. He’s on his back groaning. I take a few hesitant steps toward him as the young woman flies past me in a flurry of motion and darts downstairs.


He blinks. I can see his eyes now. They’re normal, like a human being’s eyes should be. Pupils. Whites. The whole shebang.

“What the–” he says. “How’d I–”

“It’s just a dream,” I say, even though I’m beginning not to believe it myself. I pinch my arm to be sure. I don’t wake up. “N-nothing to, ah, nothing to worry about.”

“What’s going on up here?” asks Patrick Sullivan, the local mob leader. He appears at the top of the stairs with Glenn, the third member of our little gang. Sullivan looks pissed. “Sonofa- what are you doing?”

The dreams I had last night start coming back to me. This is just the beginning. I need to get on that train. I need to meet the Prophet.

April 12, 2010

Memories of Paradise

"I remember this place."

She dipped the tip of her big toe into the placid pool and watched the concentric circles glide across the surface. Her head tilted to the side as the tiny little black fish swimming in the pool nibbled at her skin. The warm smile that appeared brought tears to my eyes. I swallowed the lump in my throat.

"I thought you'd like it," I said.

"Oh, I do!" she said. Her deep brown eyes shimmered as they turned to meet mine. "Thank you."

I fought every impulse to look away--seconds so precious would cost too much. "I-I'm sorry."

"For what?"

A tear slid down my cheek. And then another. I blinked them away. I needed to see her face. Her lips. The supple cheeks that I longed to caress. Even the rounded tip of her nose. I needed to memorize it--to keep it so close as to let it become a part of me.

"It's okay, darling."

I shook my head. "I'm not going to--I can't be okay."

Her smile softened, "But you will." She looked away. Her head fell back as she let the cool trade winds toussel her hair. The stars danced in her pupils with a thousand pinpoints of light. When her eyes found mine again my heart skipped a beat--the same way it had so many years ago when we'd first met.

We'd been so young, then. So full of life. I took a deep breath. "Don't ever leave me."

She wrapped her arms around me. Our lips pressed tightly together. I held her as though I would never lose her again.

She whispered gently in my ear. "I love you."

Her warm tears intermingled with my own as time began to fall away. The cool touch of the breeze faded out. The muted moonlight sucked the twinkling stars into an unconscious black. I held onto her as long as I could, and then even the heavenly sensation of her skin dulled.

_ _ _

When I opened my eyes only the tears were still there. Flourescent beams replaced the beautiful moonlight. Heat pumping through the airducts took the place of the island breeze. There was no pond. No fish. No trees.

"Mr. Salazar," said the nurse. "I'm sorry, but the transmission window has passed. The impulses in her brain just faded away. I need you to sit up, now. Can you do that for me?"

She helped me into a seated position and peeled back the nueral trasmitters attached to my head. I ignored the litany of other instructions and tried to remember those last moments. My wife lay peacefully in the hospital bed across the room. Pushing myself up, I shuffled to my wife's side, and took her hand in mine.

"Sir? Did the location you selected appear? Did the neural transmission generate the proper memory? Were you able to communicate with her before she passed?"

I leaned down, kissed my wife's forehead, and whispered back,

"I love you, too, my dear."

April 10, 2010

The Elephant and the Mammoth

Brief children's story inspired by Chris Samnee's topic suggestion:

The shade of the massive tree overlooking the watering hole felt cool and refreshing to Maratma's gray, wrinkled skin. Still, the two-year-old elephant soon grew restless. Peering up at her mother, she tried on her most innocent expression and pleaded, "Mom, can I go out into the water?"

Nembula, Maratma's mother, let out an exacerbated sigh. "You can't sit still, can you, Mara?" A sly smile crept onto the little elephant's face as she shook her head. Nembula did her best to giver her daughter a disapproving look, but she quickly gave up the fight. "Okay, fine, but stay close!"

Maratma ("Mara" for short) nearly jumped for joy. Thanking her mother, she sauntered out into the watering hole and began to explore the long shoreline of the massive pond. She walked, played, and sang to herself as she dipped her trunk into the water and tossed it over her back to cool off her skin. Soon, she was lost in her imaginary world. That's when things started to go wrong.

First, Mara lost track of time. Next, she lost track of her mother and her tribe. Then, she realized that she was just plain lost. She had no idea where she was. Her eyes widened and her heartbeat began to race. She'd never been lost before, and it was downright scary. She grew very quiet and listened. The thick forest surrounding the watering hole produced the strangest noises. She'd never noticed them before, and they sounded so foreign and frightening. Even the trees in this part of the forest seemed to lean farther over into the watering hole, making for long, creepy shadows that stretched out across the water.

Mara looked back the way she'd come. Nothing about the shoreline looked familiar. She called out, "Momma! Momma!" But no one answered. This part of the watering hole felt different. She backed a little farther out into the water and sat down. The water no longer felt cool and refreshing. Now it felt cold and unfriendly. Sinking lower and lower into the water, she suddenly felt very alone. And that's when she started to cry.

As the first tear slid down her cheek she heard something. Her giant ears twitched. Her heart beat even faster. Had she heard something walking through the forest close by or was it just her imagination?

"Hello? Is someone there?"

Suddenly, the foliage burst open to reveal a creature not much different than Mara. Startled, she jumped to her feet and watched as a small boy elephant with long, reddish-brown hair and short, developing tusks splashed into the watering hole. He stopped when he finally noticed that someone else was there. His eyes were almost as wide as Mara's.

"Are you crying?" he asked.

"No," Mara said. "I--You just splashed water in my eyes, that's all!"

"No I didn't!" He said indignantly.

When he shook his head the strands of hair covering his body swayed back and forth. For some reason it made Mara giggle. She didn't have any hair, but his body was covered with it!

"What are you laughing about?"

"You!" she said. "You're all hairy!"

"Of course I am! I'm a wooly mammoth!"

"I've never seen a mammoth before," said Mara.

"Well, it's your lucky day," he said. "We don't normally come this far south, but Papa says we have to so we can eat. We've been pretty hungry lately."

"Oh, well, I'm sure you could have some of our food."

"Really? Where is it?"

Mara shrugged, and for a split second the fear of being lost returned. "Actually, I--I'm not sure. I'm lost."

"You're lost? Well... where did you come from?"

Mara glanced back over her shoulder. "That way, I think."

"I have a pretty good sense of direction," said the boy elephant. "If I help you find your way back could you give me something to eat?"

Overjoyed at the prospect of finding her mother again, Mara quickly agreed.

"My name's Pompulu," the little mammoth said. "But most people call me Pomp."

"My name's Maratma," she said. "But you can call me Mara."

So, off the two elephants went, splashing and playing in the watering hole on their way back to where Mara's tribe had been staying. It didn't take long for them to come upon the first sign of Mara's camp. Three boy elephants, all slightly older than Mara, roughhoused in the shallows of the watering hole. Mara lifted her trunk in a greeting, but when they saw her, all three boys froze.

"What's this all about?" asked Grudel, the oldest of the boys. They gathered into a tight group and glared at Pomp. "Who's he? What's he doing here?"

"He's hungry," said Mara. "His tribe is here looking for food."

"All the food around here is ours, hair ball," snarled Grudel. The other two boys raised their trunks in agreement and honked rudely. Grudel shook his head, "Go home, freak!"

"I was lost!" Mara said. "He helped me find my way back!"

"He's not welcome here," said Grudel.

"Why not?"

Pomp interrupted. "It's okay, Mara. I'll just go back-"

"Yeah he will!" said Grudel's friend, Dargan. "Back to the rest of his hairy, ape-like friends!"

Pomp's face flushed. He honked loudly, lifted his left leg, and then slapped the water with it. That made the three elephants recoil and prepare for a scuffle. Mara intervened.

"Wait! He helped me!" said Mara. "Leave him alone! Come on, Pomp, let's leave these three to their stupid games."

"You shouldn't play with him, Mara," said Grudel. "You'll grow hair all over, just like him."

Mara ignored the comment and led Pomp back into the forest and out of sight of the other boys. Pomp still seemed upset, but Mara hoped he would soon forget Grudel and his friends. "Look, you wait here and I'll go get some food for you, okay?"

"I don't know. Maybe I should just go-"

"No! You helped me and I said I'd bring you food! I'll be right back."

Pomp reluctantly agreed and Mara trotted back to her camp. There, her mother and some of the others were talking in hushed tones. Mara caught only bits and pieces of their conversation, but she knew they must be talking about the mammoths.

"...this far south?"

"...can't be good. We'd better be careful..."

"...and keep our children within sight!"

When Nembula say her daughter trot into camp she quickly broke away from the gossiping elephants and scolded Mara. "Where have you been? I was getting worried!"

"I was just-"

"It doesn't matter. Go get ready for dinner!"

"But I have to-"

"No 'buts,' Mara!" said Nembula. "Get along, now!"

Nembula moved back into her circle of friends. Mara frowned and pretended to get ready for dinner while she gathered food to take back to Pomp. When she had nestled enough vegetables in her trunk to feed Pomp, she waited until her mother wasn't looking, and then snuck off into the forest.

When she reached the area where she had left Pomp he was nowhere to be found. That's when she heard a commotion coming from somewhere deeper into the forest. Hurrying through the brush, she came upon a circular clearing and stopped.

The three boys, Grudel, Dargan, and Tribulun, had surrounded Pomp in the center of the clearing. They were taunting him and kicking dust into his thick coat of hair. Pomp looked angry and scared. Mara dropped the vegetables and was about to rush to Pomp's aid when the tree line on the other side of the clearing parted. Two massive trees toppled over as a giant wooly mammoth crashed into the clearing and announced his arrival with a loud, angry honk.

The three elephant boys quickly retreated as the mammoth lumbered over to Pomp's side. The hulking mammoth had long, intimidating tusks and its body was covered in layers of long brown hair. It raised its trunk into the air and barked at the elephant boys again.

Another deafening honk sounded to Mara's right. Humanaram the Elder and two other adult male elephants from her tribe rushing into the clearing. The three boys hid behind them as they sauntered into the clearing to face the mammoth.

"What are you doing here?" asked Humanaram. "This is our watering hole. You are not welcome here!"

The mammoth snorted. "Food grows scarce in the north."

"The food here is ours. The watering hole is ours," said Humanaram. "Go away. Do not return here again."

Mara felt sorry for the mammoths, and she felt betrayed by her own tribe. Pomp had been so helpful, and the elders were ignoring the needs of the mammoths. Frustrated, she jogged into the clearing.

"But he helped me!" she called out. All eyes turned to her, which made her feel very small. But, having already made up her mind, she continued, "I was lost and Pomp helped me find my way home!"

"Quiet young one," chided Humanaram. "You know not what you say."

"But, it's true, he-"

"Enough! They are not like us, Maratma! They do not belong here. This is our land. They must go."

The older mammoth nudged Pomp. The two put their heads down in shame and walked back to the edge of the forest. Grudel and his friends sneered, but Mara ignored them. Rushing back to where she had dropped the vegetables, she gathered them into her trunk and then raced back to where the two mammoths had disappeared. She caught up with them a short while later. The older mammoth was scolding Pomp.

"You cannot wander off like that, my son," he said. "These lands are not ours. These creatures are not like us."

"But they are like us!" said Pomp. "They just don't have any hair!"

"It is more complicated than that."

Mara honked gently to get their attention. They turned in unison. Mara didn't have anything good to say, so she just held the vegetables out. Pomp glanced up at the older mammoth, who nodded his permission. Pomp hurried forward to Mara while the older mammoth continued walking. At first, neither of them knew what to say.

Finally, Mara sighed, "I'm really sorry."

"It's okay."

"I don't understand."

"Neither do I."

"But, they should not have treated you like that, even if you are hairy," she said. Pomp just shrugged. Mara continued, "Well, I'll never treat you that way. None of you. As far as I'm concerned we're in the same tribe."

Pomp seemed to brighten up a bit. "I like that."

"So, we can still be friends?" asked Mara. "Even if we never see each other again?"

Pomp looked back at where the older mammoth had vanished, and then looked back at Mara. He smiled broadly and nodded. "I'd like that."

"Then it's settled. We're friends. Thanks for helping me get back home."

The two talked for another minute before the older mammoth barked for Pomp to catch up. Rolling his eyes, Pomp said goodbye and trotted back into the forest. Mara hesitated before heading back to her tribe. The way they had treated Pomp had upset her. Snorting in disgust, she made a promise to herself that no matter how different another creature was, she would still respect them and help them however she could.

April 09, 2010

Outlaws and Hot Rods

Scene inspired by Bill Hoge:

The sun's heat cooked the two lane highway like a stovetop frying a strip of bacon. On either side of the gray asphalt, orange sand broken by an occasional rock or shrub stretched out for hundreds of miles. Both ends of the highway vanished into the shimmering haze radiating off the ground. The only thing in sight was the rundown, rusty, raucous bar that sat off the highway. The Back Road.

"Aaron, please!" Bonny pleaded with me. Her big, clear baby blue eyes usually put my temper on ice. Not this time. "Don't do this! It's crazy! Nothing happened between us!"

I brushed the long strands of blonde hair out of my face. "You think I can let him get away with saying that?"

"He didn't mean anything by it. It was just a joke! Nothing happened!"

"Dones't matter. He's gonna pay for it," I said. My lip curled up into a junkyard dog's snarl. "I'm doin' this for you."

The sympathy in her baby blues froze. Her pupils became as cold as a glacier. "You're doin' this for yourself, Aaron."

"I'm doin' this because I love you."

"If you love me, you'll get out of the car and drop this."

For a split second my fury backed down to a low boil. Her eyes, her words, and the set of black bangs that curled over her forehead were almost enough for me to call it off. But, before the pride in me fully quit, Dave burst through the Back Road's front door and waltzed out into the parking lot. The others loitering in front of the bar snapped to attention.

"Lookie here, fellas! Two little ladies all dolled up and ready for a party!" shouted Dave.

That's all it took. My mouth clamped shut. Bonny knew I'd made my choice. She backed away from the window. I could see tears in her eyes as she retreated, but I didn't care. This was between Dave and I, and he was about to get what was coming to him.

"You ready?" I shouted across the lot.

Dave's eyebrows jumped up above his brow. "You hear that, boys? This little darlin' has her panties in a bunch!"


He cut his chuckle short and sneered. "I'm an Outlaw, kid. I'm always ready. The question is--are you?"

I pinned my 1946 Ford Coupe's accelerator to the floor and shoved the stick into first gear. The smell of asphalt grating rubber to shreds filled my nostrils as my car squealed into a U-turn and shot down the highway. When I reached my spot I pulled the e-brake and spun back around.

As Dave slid behind the wheel of his hot rod I caught the lettering on his leather jacket. "Outlaws" was emblazoned in bright orange and yellow flame across the top. I spit out the window. We had given the same oath. Brothers 'til the end. That end was coming quick for Dave.

Dave's Chevy, coated in bright cherry red and gleaming chrome, came to life. The roar of the engine and a cloud of white smoke signalled he was ready. He charged into position--down the highway in the opposite lane. Our cars were lined up like horses about to propel their riders into the joust.

I ran my hand over the shotgun lying next to me to make sure it was within comfortable reach, and then I adjusted the hood-mounted 50-caliber machinegun. Taking a deep breath, I searched for Bonny. Dozens of guys were filtering out of the bar and into the midday sun. Nobody wanted to miss this--except Bonny. I spotted her just before she disappeared into the Back Road.

"Not even gonna watch," I muttered. "She doesn't understand."

Dave's engine revved. I snickered and gunned mine. My hand sat on the skull head shift nob. My fingers twitched. The battle would be brief. One or two passes. My goal was to take out the gattling gun that sat on his roof just above his driver's side door. That would give me the upper hand on the second pass--

I didn't have time to finish the thought. He dropped his Chevy into gear. I swore and did the same. Our cars hurtled down the two lane highway at one another.

First gear. Second. Third. Fourth.

His gattling gun started to twirl. I grimaced and grabbed the controls for my own machinegun. BRRAATTTAATATATATAT!!! Bullets pelted the front of my car. I returned fire. CLAKAKAKAKAKA!!! I squinted as black smoke from my engine buffeted my windshield, momentarily blinding me.

He sped by me. We both hit our e-brakes and screeched into a J-turn. I pulled the tigger again. Nothing. My machinegun was toast. He'd managed to take it out. I took a quick glance back at Dave's car. His gat was busted. That put us on equal footing. I lifted my shotgun off the passenger seat and set it on the sill of my driver's side window.
His car roared again and sprinted toward me. I kicked my Ford into gear and charged. Dave leaned out the window and aimed a .45 revolver at me. Ping! Ping! Crash! His third shot punctured the windshield and took my right ear clean off. Blood splattered all over the back seat. I bit the side of my cheek, let out a menacing scream, and forced myself to stay focused.

The seconds grew longer as our hot rods barreled down on one another. My finger graced the trigger. I waited. Our cars passed. His window flashed past mine. I yanked the trigger back. Both barrels of my shotgun unloaded right into his driver's side window. Slamming on the brakes, I grabbed a handful of extra shells and waited for my car to stop before hopping out.

My head throbbed and my thoughts grew muddled. I felt warm liquid drip from where my ear used to be to my shoulder. A wave of dizziness swept over me.

Dave's car had skidded off the road. Rust colored dust shrouded his car. I shoved two shells into my shotgun, I trudged toward his Chevy. When the dust cleared, Dave fell out of the front seat. His left arm was a bloody stump cut off above the elbow. I'd timed my shotgun blast well. His eyes went wide when he saw me coming for him. Holding up his remaining arm, he shouted, "All right! All right! We can work this out!"

"Yeah," I said. "I'm about to."

* * *

I entered the bar and basked in the cheers. As Outlaws, we never mourned the dead, we just drank to them. I couldn't manage to wipe the huge grin from my face as my fellow gangmembers clapped me on the back and shoved pints of beer into my hands.

I'd gotten what I'd wanted. Respect. My eyes scanned the room for Bonny. I figured she'd respect me now, too. But she was nowhere to be seen. My brow furrowed. I stode up to the bar. The bartender instantly slid a bottle up to me.

"Nice work, kid."

"Thanks," I said. "Where's Bonny?"

He didn't answer. He just held out a slip of paper. I took it from him and read it while the room around me started another cheer on my behalf.

Aaron, I'm leaving. I can't have Dave's or your death on my hands. This was never about me. This was about you. You're not the man I thought you were. You really are one of them, and I guess I'm not. Goodbye. I did love you.

- Bonny

April 06, 2010

Hunting Yeti

Another short story/scene:

Dusk lurked on the other side of the Himalayan mountain's peak. The chilled wind taunted us as we navigated the long shadows. Our ragtag band of rugged explorers trudged along the narrow trail in a silent, single file march.

"Clearing!" shouted our local guide. "Rest?"

I nodded and signaled for for a break. The guide led us out onto a ten foot by ten foot stone ledge that jutted out of the steep slope. I stepped to the edge of the rock, swung my pack off, and knelt to search for my water bottle. As it graced my parched lips, Thompson hollered. His shout cut in and out as the wind stole the words and whisked them away, but I got the gist. He'd found something.

Abandoning my quest for water, I jumped to my feet and pushed through the others to get to Thompson, who stood over a deep crevice in the mountainside. The entrance to a cave. Thompson, my wide shouldered, brute of a friend, beamed.

"He's in there, boss!" Thompson said, his baritone hoarse from sucking in the cold air. "I can smell him."

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I had a hunch, too. I took a step forward and felt a hard tug on my backpack's strap. Turning, I met the disapproving glare of Talia, my wife, whose icy gaze made me freeze.

"Not so fast," she said. Her hands rested on her hips. She meant business. "Head lamps, maybe?"

"Everybody light up!" I shouted. I flashed her a smile. "Course, sweetheart."

One by one we lit out head lamps, careful to block the wind so that the wind didn't snuff the candle out before we even set foot inside. I entered the cave first and heard Steve's call from over my shoulder.

"The guide's spooked. Says he'll wait out here."

"By himself?" my wife asked. "That's crazy!"

"Leave him," I said. "Everybody stay close and be on your toes!"

We descended into the crevice. My wife came behind me, then Steve, and then Thompson. A cool draft of cold mountain air snaked through the underground tunnels. Compared to the buffeting wind, it felt refreshing. The slim passageway soon opened up into a massive room. I stopped dead in my tracks.

"What is it?" asked Talia.

I pointed. A dung heap. Not a goat's. Certainly not any other creature that would venture this high into the Himalayas. Talia's eyebrows shot up. A professor of biology at Yale, she knew a thing or two about animals. This wasn't something she'd ever seen before.

"Pretty fresh," Steve commented.

"Look alive! This may be it."

I took another step. Stopped. Thompson swung around. "You hear that?"

"Sounded like it came from deeper into the tunnels," said Talia.

"Wasn't human," Steve said.

We paused in the dense darkness and stretched our ears. Only the momentary drip of water off the cave walls could be heard. I grimaced and waved us onward.

"I don't hear it anymo-"

Thompson shut his mouth as a shadow passed through the black recesses of the cave. Steve cursed and grabbed at his satchel for a pistol. Mine was already drawn.

"Back's to each other!" I hissed. "Be quick about it!"

We backed into a four-pointed star and stared into the black that surrounded us. Doubts started to set in. Had we really seen the shadow or was it just our minds playing a trick on us? Where had it gone? Where was it now?

"I hear something," said Steve. He broke the four-pointed star configuration and took two steps forward. "It was right over here."

He took another. Then two more.

"Careful, Steve," said Talia.

She had barely uttered the words when a cacophonous bellow boomed throughout the cave. Steve's eyes went wide. The hulking figure of a beast covered in white fur flashed out of the darkness and into the light cast from Steve's head lamp. Steve's cry and the light from his head lamp cut out simultaneously.

Silence followed.

Stunned, I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Steve? Steve! Where are you?"

Thompson let forth a guttural groan. "It killed him! The bloody thing snapped his neck! Where are you, you sonofa-"

Another bellow. The beast appeared right in front of Thompson. Easily twelve feet tall with dingy, white fur covering its entire body, the creature appeared unearthly. Yellow fangs barred in defiance as it threw its arms up in a crazed fury. Thompson brandished his knife, and then charged. Talia and I cried out as one, but to no avail. The monster swept one arm across its chest and swatted Thompson to the other side of the room. I heard a thump, a sickening crack, and then nothing. Thompson was unconscious, or worse.

My hand trembled as I aimed my gun at the beast. It snarled and took a step closer. Talia frantically pulled at her backpack. I pulled the revolver's trigger back. The flare from the pistol lit up the room. The monster took the shot in the chest and screamed in pain, but the bullet only seemed to make it angrier.

Talia finally found what she was looking for. Pulling out a kerosene lantern, she hurled it onto the cave floor. The lantern shattered, sending a splash of kerosene between us and the creature. She pulled a match next and tried to strike it. I fired again. The creature snarled this time and barred its teeth. The bullets only provoked it. It spread its arms and growled defiantly.

"Talia! Run!" I shouted. "Go! Save yourself!"

"You're coming with me!" she shouted.

The match suddenly caught fire. She flung it onto the ground just as the monster charged. The flames leapt into the air as the creature passed through them. It shrieked and writhed as its coat caught fire. Flailing wildly, it jumped back and glared back at us with hate-filled eyes.

"Come on!" Talia shouted. "Let's go!"

We ran. Our legs burned from the high altitude. We made two turns. The exit was so close. The pain-filled moans of the beast grew distant. I almost breathed a sigh of relief when Talia suddenly stopped.

"No!" she cried. "No, this can't be!"

"What? What is it?"

Her fists pounded into the cave wall. Realization set in. A dead end. We'd taken the wrong path. Tears slid down Talia's cheeks. I swore. And then we both shut up. A sound traveled down the length of the corridor. A horrible, vile noise. The kind that nightmares are made of. Unmistakable, but unthinkable...

The yeti was chuckling.

April 05, 2010

A Table, 52 Bicycles, and Two Deaths

Another short story for the week. I'm on a bit of a roll...:

The cigarette smoke makes my eyes start to burn. Sweat beads up along my brow. I wipe a strand of long, blonde hair off my forehead. I've got too much riding on this game. Far too much.

"Call or fold, lady," says the dealer. He's already pissed off that I'm even in the game. I begged him, and when that didn't work, I bribed him.

"Call," I say. It's my last hope. I can't fold. If I do I've barely got enough money for the next ante. This pot's big enough to get me the cash that I need, but my cards probably aren't. Two eights.

"You sure about that, darlin'?" asks the man across the table, the only one still left in this game. John Rider, our town's gambler, womanizer, and scumbag. His father owned half the herds in the region, but his son was never a rancher. Now he just drinks and gambles, a sleeps with prostitutes, and then drinks some more. "You'd better be."

All eyes turn to me. "I'm sure, Mr. Rider."

His eyes narrow. He chews at the end of his cigarette. The dealer frowns and barks at me, "Throw 'em down! Let's see what y'all have."

I lay my cards down first. John gives me the ugliest smile I've ever seen, leans forward, and slips his hand underneath the table. Then, in dramatic fashion, he slaps his cards onto the table.

A ten. An eight. A three. Two Jacks.

"Sorry, Ma'am," his sneer lingers as he pulls all the chips in.

Panic siezes my chest. Without that money my son will die, just like his father did. The nearest doctor is too far. My final attempt at trying to get enough cash to take him to Dallas has failed. He'll die. I have to resign myself to the fact that he'll die.

Unless... "Wait!" I shout. I jump out of my chair. It careens backward and falls over. Everyone in the saloon freezes. Heads snap to see what's going on. Rider's sneer turns south. I muster all the courage I've got. "You're a cheater."

"I'm sorry-" Rider starts.

"You cheated!" I yell, even louder this time.

"Darlin', you'd better sit back down and-"

"No! Admit it! Admit you cheated! Give me my money!"

"Easy missus," says the dealer. "You don't really mean that, do you?"

"I do. He's a dirty rotten no-good cheater."

Rider jumps out of his chair. His hand flashes to his side. The barrel of a pistol comes back up at the end of my nose.

"Shut yer trap, woman."

"All right, John," says the dealer. "Put the gun down. We know you ain't a cheat. Ma'am, that's a serious accusation. Tests a man's honor."

"He ain't got any!" I say. It's my last hope.

The dealer nods to a man nearby, who asks Rider to take off his coat. He does, slowly. They check it. Nothing. My heart starts to beat faster. Rider's snarling sneer makes my stomach turn.

"Well, I'm sorry, ma'am, but it doesn't seem like-" starts the dealer.

"No! It's true!" I say. They're starting to lose their patience. "Check under the table!"

The dealer's frown deepens but he nods. Rider balks, "You serious? You checked my coat! That's enough! I'm clean!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Rider. Has to be done."

Rider pulls his gun again. "Like hell it does. Back off!"

"He's a cheat and he knows it!" I shout.

That's breaks the camel's back. He swings the gun back around at me. A shot rings out. I close my eyes, but the bullet ever hits. Instead, it's the dealer's gun that's smoking. Rider's eyes are wide. The bullet is lodged squarely in his chest. He spins, falls back, and fires. The dealer catches the bullet in the forehead.

In the mayhem that follows, I grab enough money from the table to get my son to Dallas. I leave before they can hang me.

April 04, 2010

Conversations at a Bar

This came to me, so I thought I'd write it out. I may even submit it somewhere. Let me know what you think:

Thin threads of smoke drift up out of ashtrays where dormant cigarettes rest for the night. The background noise fills the empty space around our corner table. Sports news, hushed conversations, and course laughter--how else would a dive like this sound an hour before closing on a Tuesday night?

It's just the two of us, now. Been that way for thirty minutes or so, and in that time we haven't said a word to each other. We've just sat with the silence of the background noise and smell of old, musty wood and dark places.

"You're no good for me," I say.

"You don't speak for a half an hour and that's the first thing out of your mouth?"

"I've been thinkin' it for that long."

"Nice of you to finally come out and say it."

I clench my teeth and try not to think too much. It doesn't become me. At least, that's what my wife used to say. She's the one that drove me to this whole affair. And when you look at it that way, it makes it even worse.

"I don't want to do this anymore. I can't do this anymore."

"Do what?"

"This," I say, waving my hand around the bar. The movement makes me dizzy, but I collect myself. "All this. It's a Tuesday night. What time is it?"

"Time for you to get another drink and shut the hell up."

A wave of anger washes over me. "Me? This is all your fault! All of it! First my wife, then the house, and now my job! If somebody should shut up it should be you!"

"Please. You're a big boy. You made all your own choices. Don't try to blame me now. It's a little late for that, isn't it, genius?"

"It's over. This is the last time."

"That's what you said last night. And the night before that. And last week. But you just can't get enough, can you?"

"This time I mean it," I say. The anger's gone, but the shame has set in. "This time I mean it."

"Sure you do."

The scales tip. "I hate you! You know that? I hate the sight of you! I can't stand your smell! You're a filthy, good-for-nothing whore and I hate that I'm here with you right now! You ruined my life!"

"You ruined your own life."

And that's the truth of it. I can't place the blame somewhere else. It'd be easier if I could. Real simple. But the fact is Guilt's the thing staring me in the face. It is my fault. All of it is my fault.

"Yeah. You're right."

I push my chair back away from the table and stand.

"Where do you think you're going?"

I don't bother to respond. Instead, I turn around and start walking toward the door.

"Hey! You just gonna leave me here? That's it? You're a coward! You are a worthless piece of flesh that nobody wants and nobody ever will! You'll be back! You hear me? You'll be back just like all the others!"

I don't bother to look back. It's over. It has to be. This time for real. I'll do whatever I have to. I'm not coming back to this place. I refuse to let it take hold again. I refuse to pick her up again.

It's not who I am meant to be.

April 02, 2010

Sunday Afternoon - Sci-fi, Comic Style

Since I haven't done much writing for this blog lately, I thought I'd use it for random samples of fiction that pop into my head. Here's one now:

A bright, sunny, beautiful Sunday afternoon spreads out across the massive, rolling foothills. The state park, a gorgeous, untouched piece of God's creation seems pristine, the kind of place that you're supposed to go on a Sunday afternoon following the morning service at church. My three kids are pouring out of the back seat before I even turn the engine off. Justin and Michael flop into the long, green grass and the wrestling match begins. Miranda, my oldest child and only daughter, rolls her eyes and shakes her head. My wife, Julie, frowns and quickly exits the car to get after them.

"Sheesh, Dad, who'd you let raise those two?" Miranda asks sarcastically.

"Between you, me, and your mother," I say, "I wouldn't give them much of a chance. Total monkeys, those two."

She just rolls her eyes again. I guess fathers aren't funny to thirteen-year-old daughters. I'll live, though. My wife still appreciates the humor. Sometimes, anyway.

We load everything out of the car, trek up the nearest hill, and set everything down on the gentle slope. The boys immediately dive back into nature and let their momentum carry them down to the bottom of the hill. Without hesitation, they rush back up only to roll down again. Miranda pulls out her iPod and tunes the rest of us out while swinging her foot to the sounds of some music group I'd never listen to. Julie grabs her book, lays back, gives me one last smile, and then begins to read.

I take a moment, gazing out at the contrasting colors. Baby blue sky. Green hills. White clouds. Some yellow and purple flowers mixed in on the hillsides. It's the perfect beginning to the week, and nothing like the rush-hour traffic I'll be in tomorrow morning. I take one last deep breath and savor every second.

"Did you feel that?" Julie asks suddenly.

"Feel what?"

Her face bears a puzzled look. "I don't know. Felt like something was moving underneath me."

"You're probably just laying on an anthill," I say and offer a smile.

She shakes her head before burying it back in her book. Maybe she doesn't think I'm funny after all. I guess I can live with that, too. At least I think I'm funny.

"Hey, Dad!" shouts Justin. Michael mimics his brother seconds later. "Hey, Dad!"

"What is it, boys?"

"Look!" They're pointing up at the sky with their little heads tilted back in wonder. My gaze follows their outstretched fingers. Above us, a wide trail of smoke billows across the sky like the massive wake of an airplane, only twenty times as thick. Whatever's leaving the trail can't be seen, as if it's too far out of sight or invisible.

Before I say anything Julie tosses the book aside and turns over onto all fours. This time Miranda also notices what her mother does. "What was that?"

"I don't know!" says Julie. "It's like there's something below us. Something under the surface here!"

I'm about to scoff when the rumble they felt becomes a shuddering tremble. Justin and Michael cry out in terror and take off at full run back to where we are.

"Nothing to worry about!" I yell. "It's just an earthquake!"

But it isn't just an earthquake. The huge column of smoke overhead changes course. It's earthbound now, and coming fast.

I take off at a run in order to get to my boys. As a take my first few strides, all hell breaks lose. The ground between myself and my boys separates. A huge rectangle of grass-covered earth begins to rise into the air. I skid to a stop and fall back. My kids, now terrified, scream in terror and run the other direction.

I notice that the ground is still shaking as I push myself back up onto my feet. I look back up and realize that some massive door is opening right in front of me. I try to circular arch around it to reach my boys. As I pass by the entrance I stop short. I'm not expecting to see what's standing right in front of me.

A gigantic robot, easily three to four times my own size, stands on a platform that's rising up out of the earth. It's eyes change from dull gray to bright red. A tremor runs through its frame as though it's moving for the first time in many years. The enormous steel frame looks like something out of a science fiction movie. I stumble backwards as it roars to life. My boys are running wildly away from it, but another doorway is opening not far from them. In fact, the entire set of foothills is opening up. Over thousands of hatches are opening up. Some of the huge, mechanical beings are already making their way into the sunlight.

I take off at a full run. Above me, the smoke gets closer and closer. The robots that are already out of their chambers are staring up into the sky.

I reach Michael first. My arm wraps around him and lifts him off the ground. Justin is just a little farther ahead, but another hatch, a smaller one, opens up right in front of him. It's not a robot coming out of this hatch, though, it's a missile array. I dive and grab Justin's foot. We hit the ground as the first missiles launch out of the array right in front of us. The heat from the missiles sears my back as they arch into the sky. I gather my boys to me and glance back up at the sky.

The thickset, armored robots also launch into the sky. Giant jet packs attached to their backs propel them into the graying atmosphere where the pillar of smoke is close enough for me to finally see what has created it. A muscled man wearing a brightly colored outfit and cape appears out of the cloud.

The missiles explode on the superhero first. He waves off the damage as if the missiles are just pesky flies. When the robots reach him, the real battle begins. The sky collapses into orange, red, and gray.