A Naughty Little Tease

This is the first excerpt from Crossing Mother’s Grave. This is taken from the Prologue and it takes place just before Popalia and her group are arrested in The Wrong Way Down. It is a tightly written scene that wraps up a small loose end within the first book. This excerpt reacquaints us with antagonist Katia, and offers a fair bit of foreshadowing.  (The Wrong Way Down was always intended as a set up for this book and the next one. Although book one had dark highlights, this book shows my love for the art of writing horror.) Please, enjoy the sample.

The release date is set for September 1st, 2012.

Katia rubbed the top of her head, disliking the feel of her coarse hair. Like the slaver’s tattoo scarring her face, her hair was another part of Athania that would never go away. Beyond the window’s reflection, more motion caught her eye. Adjusting her focus though the glass and into the general store, she saw Gregor’s partner, Ucilius, paying for baths as well as the food for the next leg of their journey.

Outside the wagon and to her left, she heard a muffled voice calling, “Kat, are you here? Kat?”

To her surprise, she recognized the caller and quietly called back, “I’m only purring if you’re petting, my dear.”

The rugged-looking caller came into view. He wore a black vest over a long-sleeved white shirt that was stained with three days’ worth of dust. His shoulders were thick, and the dirty white shirt seemed creased by the muscles concealed beneath. Blandly, his black hair shined oily with long sideburns joining his mustache. Dark eyes preluded a deep meanness.

Awaiting his approach, she calmly asked, “Stileur, what are you doing here?”

“Know that Darren is watching out for you,” he said quickly. “I didn’t expect to catch up with you here, but Darren said that if I found you to tell you we’ve got you covered. Just complete your assignment.”

“What is going on?”

Still staggered by the death of his friends in Capitol City, Stileur blurted out, “Trevex is dead. It is too long and weird to tell you the whole story right now. That priestess you ditched in the woods? She hired a couple of heavies, and they’re looking for you. I passed them somewhere on the road, but don’t worry, Darren’s gotta good plan to stop ‘em right here.”

The door behind Stileur opened, and Ucilius stepped outside. Katia tilted her head in the merchant’s direction, giving Stileur a fair warning as her tone changed, “Well, it looks like we are leaving now; it was nice talking to you.”

Turning, Stileur peered at the richly dressed, thirty-something merchant. He was wearing a brocade jerkin of olive green with gold threading, and there were elegant, lace ruffles wrapping his wrists. As Stileur saw it, such a show of wealth was a promise of easy prey. Stileur looked down at the merchant’s scrawny little legs—like string beans in skin-tight, avocado pantaloons. By drastic contrast, it appeared as if the little guy had tucked a small melon under his shirt.

Stileur gave the shorter merchant a menacing stare before slinking away from the wagon. Katia stifled a grin, watching Ucilius jump from the unexpected display of hostility. Katia read the startled expression crossing his face as he advanced.

“Friend of yours?” he stated nervously. His hair had been cut near the scalp from the tops of his ears down. Up top, brown bangs remained long and had been greased back and parted on the right. A shallow nose accompanied by closely set eyes gave an impression the young man had been punched hard, and his face had never depressed.

What a pussycat, she thought mockingly before replying with an ice-coated tongue, “He looks at you dirty, and you think he’s my friend? What does that say about us, Ucilius? I’m deeply hurt. I thought you and I were nearly in bed together?”

Stammering, Ucilius replied, “Errr, ummm. I’m married. Ummm, my wife and love…”

“Easy, easy. No worries,” she interrupted. “Look, that soldier…he was off-duty and lookin’ for love. I shot him down like you just shot me.” She pursed her expression to make a dejected and wanton face.

Offering a nervous chuckle, “Well, then—I guess that explains it.”

Observing the merchant’s tight lips, Katia knew that Gregor must want something. The Third could never ask for himself. Ucilius looked deep inside himself, and not finding the courage or tact to tell her, he finally blurted out, “Gregor is concerned that if we have problems on the road, you won’t do your part.”

She thought, I should slap the stupid right off your face. Instead, she replied by saying calmly, “I don’t understand what you are implying. I’ve paid a very generous amount to ride in the back of this wagon all the way to the Portown. Has there been some problem with spending the gold I paid for my ride?”

“No, no, no. Not that.” Verbally, he scampered backward. “Gregor is concerned that if bandits attack, you won’t help fight.”

She snorted. “Is your wife going to fight? How about the bookkeeper? Will she fight?” Ucilius held his hands up in surrender, reminding her that he is only the messenger.

Katia nodded slowly while easing into the cushioned rocker, “Well, you tell Gregor I’ll do what I got to do. Nothing more, nothing less. I paid for this ride; do I look like a slave?” She paused before adding, “I dare you to answer that.”

Ucilius stammered, and Katia stated resolutely, “I owe him nothing. He can give my money back and pay me some on top if he thinks I’m here to protect His Highness. You hear me, Ucilius?”

“It’s okay. Don’t get so upset.” He kept his hands up while saying, “I’ll tell him what you said. I’ll tell him you’ll do what you have to do. He’ll just have to accept that as a yes.”

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In the Land of the Free

(I’d entered this one in a ‘flash-fiction’ contest a while ago. It is hard to tell a story in less than 1000-words, this one does it in less than 750. It didn’t win. This afternoon I fixed it better than what was sent, but I’m not going to try entering it for another contest. I’m giving it to you for free.)

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In the Land of the Free

A nine millimeter diameter is a perfect circle. Perfection’s length is explained in inches, and four of them if measured exactly. The beginning of a perfect plan is incased by blued steel.  At the back-end is a hammer locked into place and ready to strike, but the open end is pressing hard against perspiring flesh, the focal point of what will be the execution of a perfected plan.

With one hand curled around rough rubber grips, Anthony Williams presses the pistol’s barrel against the Pakistani’s sweat-saturated head. One-half of the Pakistani’s smock was colored a dark yellow – a sickly urine-yellow – like the smell creeping up over the counter and assaulting Anthony’s nose. Gripping the other half of the clerk’s smock with his free hand – the light yellow half – just beneath where a badge reads, ‘Shop EZ.’

Anthony bellows into the ear of his captive, “Just gimmie a pack’a Newport’s! I gotta get back!”

Fumbling with the key in the register’s drawer, the clerk mumbles, pleading, begging, “Just don’t kill me, please! Have all of it!” His accent is thick, his English raw.

Anthony yells again, menacingly stabbing into the clerk’s head with his gun, “No punk! I don’t want yer god-damn money!  Gimmie the Newport’s!”   He stares directly into the security camera, spreading his lips with practiced smile. They’d know it was him.

Six months ago, Anthony ‘Tony’ Williams turned twenty-eight in Beau Sterritt State Correctional Facility, the ninth consecutive birthday passed in prison. Ten days later he was released on good behavior. More than a third of his life sheared away for selling someone else’s rock. Back then, peddling crack gave him an edge, made him look tough. He knew the streets were hard, but prison had taught him meaner – rehabilitated is what the system calls it.

Breakfast at seven, lunch at noon, dinner at five, lights out at nine, and then repeat. That was a perfect life; not freedom – just life. Freedom was for people who didn’t need structure. Tony would never admit needing someone to tell him ‘when to’ or ‘what for.’ By the standard measure of success in the land of the free, Anthony proved a complete failure.

It mattered no more. He was going back where he understood. Inside that world, he’d earned his rights, and his respects. He smiled one more time for the camera as the clerk  yanked a pack of menthol cigarettes out of the overhead rack, spilling three more cool-green packs across the counter. Releasing his temporary prisoner, Anthony grabbed another pack of smokes and turned towards the door.

He smiled with glee. When the police see the security film, they will know it was he who robbed this store. Reaching out towards the door before him, his head buzzed euphoric.  By the end of the week he’d be home with his armed guards protecting him from all these confusing liberties.  Life again would have definition, and Anthony would again have order. Everything balances by its own perfection.

Light travels faster than sound. Pushing upon the door to get out, a flash of lightning reflected across the pane of well-polished glass before exploding outward over the sidewalk like diamond cubes.  The pain first spread across his back like a bad sunburn, followed shortly thereafter by the sensation of muscle being torn into meat ribbons. From the waist down he feels nothing – absolutely nothing. Jello could have served a better foundation than his legs. The sound of thunder follows the lightning.

Dropping his cigarettes and gun he attempts to soften his fall. The pistol clatters across the sidewalk, scattering glass-cubes while continuing over the curb and bouncing out into the parking lot.  Falling through the shattered doorway and across the ‘Shop EZ’ welcome mat, blood spurts unchecked from a peppering of leaking holes.

Buckshot – the double-ought size shell – was several steel balls of nine-millimeter perfection delivered swiftly from a 12-guage shotgun.

The world began to wash like waves pulling sand across the beach. Slowly filling the grooves of the welcome mat, blood and safety glass mixed in the trenches.  “Why?” Tony croaked, sensing the clerk standing over him. A coppery flavor coated his tongue as he forced out the words, “My gun was empty.”  A crimson smear tainted the cellophane covering over the tobacco.  He remembered believing the day he was released, “I am free!” The pain fades into nothing, as goes the prison called the free world.

(If you liked this one – remember, my best work is for sale, the links are on the left.)

Sin City’s Social Reject

[This is the first story I’d written about the Devil. It isn’t the last, and eventually, it might get redesigned and sold just like the others. But for now, it is free to read.]

Sin City’s Social Reject

Mickey Boushan smiled, speculating there must be a full moon tonight.  Las Vegas on a good night was strange, but the gamblers frequenting his table had all been freaks, and his night was only beginning.

A grim looking Goth girl was the first gambler to sit at his table. With nearly cute little piggy snorts of laughter, every time the King of Hearts showed, she would gleefully giggle “Suicide!”  Pasty white with black lipstick and nail-polish, Mickey secretly nicknamed her ‘Dead Girl.’

The next guest Mickey nicknamed ‘Tex.’ Similar to Chuck Norris, this was what a Texas Ranger should look like. Wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, accessorized with a wide brimmed hat, the man refused to remove his aviator glasses. Tex must have sat a little too close to Dead Girl since she gathered her small stack of chips and left with a sneer.

Mickey found humor in someone as obsessed with death having problems with a man who lit one cigar off the butt of his last. It seemed to Mickey here was a man actively seeking his death rather than just wearing black and pretending.

Tex never spoke.  A cloud of obnoxiously dense smoke perpetually shrouded Tex’s head as he played Blackjack with only hand gestures.  He’d scratch for a card, wave to stop, and if he won, he’d occasionally toss a chip in Mickey’s direction, but never a word. Not even so much as a ‘thank you, what’s up, howdy, g’day,” no words – no nothing.

Mickey was just getting used to the silence and the stink of cheap cigars when Mr. Bigteeth rolled up and took a seat. Not only did he wear a cape with his 1920’s era tuxedo, but  his mustache and beard had been waxed to sharp points, curling almost comically. The pins in the lapel of his tuxedo were little golden dice with two single dots facing – snake eyes. Offering a wide smile, his mustache and beard parted to shine a flawless grill.

Mr. Bigteeth had the best tan in Vegas. With black hair slicked back with styling grease, the cunning twinkle in his dark eyes had been enhanced. His view darted from Mickey’s name tag to Tex’s hand, which was holding a Jack of Diamonds paired with a Seven of Clubs. He coached against the rules, “You should hit.”

Tex blew out a choking amount of smoke, polluting the airspace even further. Tex waved his hand over his cards and Mickey revealed a Nine of Clubs tucked underneath the Seven of Spades. House rules required him to hit on sixteen. Mickey pulled a Four of Hearts from out of the card-shoe before collecting Tex’s chips, pulling them towards him.

Mr. Bigteeth spoke, barely moving his lips, “So Mickey, how about a little wager?” He whipped his cape, creating a rippling sound before extending his hand, “Please, allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of great wealth and taste. I’m known to many as Mr. Mephistopheles, but you can just call me Uncle Lou.” He kept grinning.

Mickey matched the grin, only his looked forced and chiseled on, “This is Las Vegas, we do wager here.” Quickly deciding he didn’t like this guy, Mickey’s instincts nagged there was something very wrong with Mr. Smiles. Mickey set both his thumbs on the table with all his fingers underneath. The cameras above him showed this signal to the security room, readying them for trouble.

A noticeable new smell penetrated through the initial cloak of cigar stench, something stinking like sulfur or gunpowder. Mickey nodded, “Okay, well… Mr. Lou, the game is Blackjack. Ten dollars is the minimum bet.”

Mister Bigteeth shook his head but kept right on grinning, “How does this sound? We play one hand of cards and if you win, I’ll give you one million dollars, but if I win, you will deed your soul to me.” Lou winked.

Speechless Tex rolled his head to get a good long look at the new gambler. Mickey never wavered in his professional courtesy, and asked, “Have you tried across the street at The Wynn for such wagers?  They are a bit more daring than us at Treasure Island.” Inconspicuously, he pressed a hidden button under the outer rim of the table.

Twisting the left point of his mustache, Lou commented, “Steve didn’t want to play, and he just traded straight across.” Pointing at Mickey, like his finger was a gun, he repeated his offer, “Wha’da’ya say? One round of cards? Be it one soul or one million smack-a-roos?”

Mickey shook his head just as the first of two large goons materialized out of seemingly nowhere, the second man appearing within a second after the first.  Both men wore expensive gray suits which barely concealed bulging muscles beneath. With hands big enough to curl a basketball, each man held one of Lou’s shoulders. Lou looked up at one of the Cro-Magnon giants, “Hey, hey, we were just about to wager!”

Goon Number Two stated, “Not here you’re not.” His voice sounded like skin across asphalt.  Neither man waited for ‘Uncle Lou’s’ reply. They lifted Mr. Mephistopheles about a foot off the ground and rushed him quickly towards the door. Being dragged through the casino, Mickey heard Lou protesting, “You can’t do this… I built this city…”

A small bead of sweat dripped from Mickey’s scalp behind his ear, tickling his neck as it rolled down to his collar.  He exhaled sharply and pulled the next card for Tex, face up, Ace of Spades.  Tex pulled his third cigar out of his pocket and clipped the end as Mickey dealt. Just before lighting his cigar, Tex broke his vow of silence, “Must be a full moon, the freaks are out tonight.”

(I wrote this one as an assignment in a flash-fiction class. I enjoyed this one more than anyone else in the class, so I never sought publication with it. I still like this one a lot, and hopefully some of you will find it worthy of at least a genuine grin. This is free to be enjoyed, but I’d suggest against stealing this one; the $50 you’ll make will not be worth the thousands you’ll get sued for. Also on the topic of suing, please Mr. Wynn, have a sense of humor, we both know you have a lot more influence in this city that the devil ever could– and that is why the joke is funny.)