Chuck Wendig

“Bad Parents” – Chuck Wendig’s Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. TRIGGER WARNING

Just in under the deadline, here is my story for Chuck Wendig’s challenge from this past week. A story about “Bad Parents”, 1000 words or less.

This is not the story I originally intended to tell. That one I wrote, rewrote, rewrote again, and then finally deleted. I’m not ready to tell that one yet.

This one is dark, very dark. I give you fair warning now that it is about child abuse, murder, and such like things. If this is the kind of thing that upsets you, skip this one.

No one ever tells you about the smell. The movies, the shows, they make it look almost…glamorous, when you shoot someone. A bang, a puff of smoke, a bright light, a splatter of pretty crimson that paints the wall like that abstract painter guy…Jackson-something. Mom always liked his stuff. I didn’t get it. The smell is terrible. Like copper and shit and sewage. Maybe it’s different if you shoot them somewhere other than the balls and lower stomach?

Christ. I can hear him still. I wish he’d die but I don’t have the stomach or the will to shoot him again. And maybe…maybe I kind of want him to suffer, even if each groan that escapes his lips makes me feel like vomiting. Even through the door, I can hear him dragging himself across the floor croaking a strange, strangled, gurgling noise like some sort of sick frog. Disgusting. Bleeding and shitting all over the floor, no doubt. Mom is going to be so pissed off.

After all, he is…was…her husband.

I look down at the gun in my hand and I wonder how many bullets I have left. I never really learned about them. I mean, I knew the basics, but I didn’t even know how to load or reload or whatever you are supposed to do with them. I do know you point the dangerous end and you flip the safety thing and you pull the trigger. And not the button that makes the bullet-thingy fall out. I guess TV is good for something after all, huh? There’s always that ditzy girl who points the gun and presses the wrong button. Or gets reminded the safety is on. Dumb!

I wonder if I should shoot her too. Mom, I mean. Part of me screams at the idea, revolts. Another…not so much.

She let it happen, after all. She had to have known. No…she did know. I can’t make excuses for her. She knew. I told her. I told her what he was doing, how he was touching me…there. I feel sick again, just thinking about it. Have to force myself to stop. She knew, but she didn’t do anything about it. He was husband number three, after all, and she wasn’t getting any younger. She said that all the time.

So she put up with the shit. The laziness. The yelling. The name calling. The slaps, the punches, the bruises. The way he looked at me, her daughter. She listened when he lied and when he locked himself in my room she bought that the door must have “accidently” locked itself. When I would find any excuse I could to be with her, she said I was just too clingy. Seperation Anxiety? Really Mom?

I didn’t tell her at first. I was scared. Scared that he’d hurt me worse, hurt her worse. He threatened that he would. Said that if I told he would beat the shit out of her, break her, make sure no other man would ever want to be with her again. Did I want that? Huh, sweetie? You want your mom to have to earn her living lying on her back for ten dollars a pop, cause she sure as hell wouldn’t make more than that when he got finished with her.

But then one day she found me. Crying. Rocking. She took me in her arms and she rocked with me and she asked me.

“Cass, sweety? Is there something wrong?”
And I felt warm. Safe. I told her.

I still feel the sting of her hand. The bruises have faded but I still feel each punch. My hair still hurts when it remembers her dragging me through the hall, screaming and calling me a liar, a whore, a filthy little tempter. It was my fault, see. I shouldn’t dress like such a slut. She burned my makeup and my music and most of my heart that day.

“Casssss.”

What’s left of my heart plummets. He moans out again.

“Casssssss…c…c…call…..9…”

He stops, coughing. I hear something thick and wet splatter against the wood floor, and something in me snaps.

I open the door.

He’s right there. The smell is even worse now. The floor doesn’t look like a pretty painting. It looks horrible. Dark. Brownish. I gag. He looks up at me. Kind of looks like one of those monsters, zombies. I don’t know…I don’t like those shows. Too gory. He reaches out his hand.

“Cass…sw…sweetie…”

There is a pop, a shockingly loud pop and a ringing in my ears before I even realize I’ve shot him. There is a strange, gurgling rattle, and then he’s quiet. The only sound is the ringing in my ears.

I close the door. I cry. I can’t help it. God, what am I going to do? I sit there, at the door. I sit there for a long time.

And then I hear it. Keys in the lock. Mom is home. I look down. How many bullets are left?

I don’t know.

Maybe just one.

My hands tremble. I am so fucked. So, so fucked. The door begins to open. For a moment, it really is just like the movies. Everything is slow, deliberate. I look at the gun and I think, yes, maybe there’s just one more bullet left.

I raise my arm. The gun is so, so heavy. Heavier than I thought it would be. The door swings wider. I sit straighter. Proper. Ladylike. She walks in all fake smiles and empty cheer and an arm full of crap. She looks at me.

“Cass, sweetie? Is there something wrong?”

I smile. I press the gun beneath my chin, and I wonder.

Will she believe me now?

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“What the Heart Seeks” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Doing The Subgenre Twist, Once Again

Another week, another interesting challenge form the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig!  This week, we had to choose two story genres at random, and mix them together into a single story of subgenre-melty-goodness in 2000 words or less. As usual, I used the random number generator/recorder at Invisible Castle to keep myself honest, and came up with an 18 and a 2 – a Noir Dystopia. Shiny!

I came two words shy of the goal with the following piece, “What the Heart Seeks.”  It was harder than I thought, inserting dystopian elements into a noir world. I ended up adding a touch of sci-fi to the mix, and shook it real hard. I hope the results tickle your tastebuds.

I knew she was trouble the moment she walked in the door. Her hair was long, loose, dark, falling over her shoulders like an avalanche of black curls. Her eyes, green as a piece of fine jade. Her lips, shockingly red and shockingly full. Her skin, lightly tanned, as if the sun had kissed her ever so gently. Her clothes so tight, I’d have sworn she was shaken up and poured into them. Every bit of her, head to toe, was a violation of the Morality Code. And frankly, I didn’t give a damn. I tossed out the garnish of taboo and drank her in like a drunk at an open bar.

“Mr. Monroe?”

I must have been staring too long, because her eyebrow raised, and she cocked a hand on one of those impossibly curvy hips. I went to speak, found my jaw was hanging slack, closed it. Rolled my head and shrugged.

“What’s it to you?” I said, trying to play disinterested, though I was sure I’d blown that hand already.

“I hear you’re a Seeker, Mr. Monroe. A good one.”

I put a toothpick into my mouth, gnawed on it. I wanted a cigarette, bad, but I was out of cards for them and though they were plentiful on the black market, getting caught sucking down on one without a ration stamp was more trouble than I wanted to get in. And no matter how tempting she looked, I didn’t know this dame. Best to play it safe.

“I have been known to find things, sure. For a price.”

“What kind of things?” she asked, sauntering closer.

“Things,” I shot back. I don’t like being interrogated.

“You ever find…people?”

I paused. My chewing stopped. I reached up and pulled the toothpick from my mouth, and spun it in my fingers. I knew what she was asking, and it could get me in a lot of trouble. Unlicensed use of meta-human abilities was punishable by…well, anything they damned well wanted to do. Still, there was something about her. I gave in.

“People are tough. Not like objects. They change too much, nothing solid to focus on. Besides, most the time, someone goes missing, it’s because they crossed the Greycoats.”

Outside, a shrill whistle sounded, followed by the sound of running, cries. Punctuated my point perfectly.

“Tough,” she said, almost a whisper as she leaned in real close, “but not impossible.”

I couldn’t help but get a whiff of her, of that sweet, unidentifiable but completely irresistible perfume. I can’t deny, it had an effect. Down below, I felt myself stir in ways both immoral and illegal. Damn…this dame was trouble. Why, oh why do I like trouble so much? Still, long as it had been, much as I may be driven by those illegal, animal desires…I don’t work for free.

“No. Not impossible, Miss…”

I paused. I hadn’t even thought to get her name. It’s like she pushed every single one of my buttons, just right. I felt a flush rise to my cheeks.

“Neris. Neris Molpe, Mr. Monroe,” she said, with a smile that could melt even the black heart of a stalwart Greycoat.

“Uh, you can call me Sam.”

“Alright…Sam. So…will you take the job?”

I almost said yes. Hell, if she had asked right then, I might of walked right up to a Grey Inquisitor and pissed on his boots. But there’s one thing that drives me more than even the most primal lust.

“First, there’s a matter of cost. Seeking’s risky business, and battin’ those eyes won’t pay the rent. Or the taxman. Or bribe the Inquisitors. I need to know what you’ve got to offer before I can say one way or the other.”

Her demeanor cooled slightly.

“Of course,” she said, and the chill from her lips could have frosted over glass. Oh well. So much for that fantasy. She reached into her bag, a nice, colorful thing that would have gotten her arrested in a less questionable part of town. Color incites passion, passion incited immorality. That’s what the loudspeakers said, anyway, wasn’t it? Her hand slid in, slid out, now carrying…

My jaw dropped. My heart pounded wildly beneath my wrinkled shirt and battered overcoat. I literally had to rub my eyes, to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. I even thought about pinching myself.

“Are those…”

“Reproduction licenses, Mr. Monroe. Two of them.”

She may well have said she held the contents of the Imperial treasury in her hands. Reproduction was highly, strictly regulated. It could take a couple a dozen years or more to get a license for a single child. Many who got them found that years of chemical libido inhibition also killed their ability to have children, but by some strange lack of oversight, the licenses were open. They weren’t bound to a particular name or couple. They were transferable. And very, very pricey.

I licked my lips. Didn’t want to seem to eager but I really couldn’t deny that I was. I rubbed my jaw, felt the stubble that had grown there.
“Alright, Ms. Molpe…”

“Neris, please.”

“Yeah. Alright Neris. You have yourself a Seeker.”

***

It’d been a long night. Miss Molpe…Neris…was hesitant on the details. Couldn’t blame her for that, though. These days, anyone could be a Greycoat. Even me.

We’d evaded three patrols so far, running through dark alleys and abandoned service tunnels, following the distinctive pull my mind felt towards the object of her desire. Every once in a while, the trail would start to dim, and I’d have to ask her for another detail to freshen the imprint. Like I’d said, humans are tough. Changing. Moods shift, and something that defined a person one moment might change the next.

It’s easier, of course, if the person in question has some sort of unchanging feature; a significant scar, a great hairy blemish, a tattoo…well, a tattoo would work if they hadn’t been outlawed by Imperial edict. Even then, though, the way a person views their own attributes can sway how well they can be Sought. Where I might see an angry red scar, the bearer might see a proud badge of heroism. The devil is in the details, they say.

And the devil was poking me, hard. I fingered the stiletto hidden in the sleeve of my trench coat, then sighed.

“I need something more,” I said, sucking on my teeth as I tried to pinpoint the fleeting tug of my Seeking. Neris leaned against the alley wall, trying to catch her breath. I guess we’d been moving a bit faster than she was prepared to go; hard to say. When I start Seeking, I tend to loose myself in the pursuit. She held up a hand. I nodded.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. It was clear that she was trying to find just the right detail out, that wouldn’t expose too much information but give me enough to give her a lead. A tingle of paranoia crept up my spine like a spider up a drainpipe, but with a shiver, I dismissed it. Paranoia was the norm these days, ever since the emperor dissolved the senate and handed power directly to the Inquisitors. As much as I might distrust her, she surely distrusted me.

“Can we rest a moment more?” she asked, opening her astonishingly jade eyes and batting her lashes. Those things had to be a mile long. I grunted, gave a nod. But something was nagging me, and I had to ask.

“Who are we tracking, Neris? Boyfriend? Relative?”

Her cheeks flushed the color of a cheap wine.

“No…nothing like that. He’s just…someone who…has something of mine.”

“A thief?”

She shrugged, looking away from my eyes. My jaw tightened, eyes narrowed.

And then she looked up at me again. Those eyes, those impossible eyes, gazed at me like she was drilling a hole in my soul and looking to strike gold. And damn if she didn’t.

“Please, Mr. Monroe…I can’t. I can’t talk about it more than that. Is it enough that he has something of mine? Can we work with that for now?”

I concentrated, felt the return of that familiar tug. Yes…that would work. I nodded, and we were off again, chasing the ghost of her little thief. Whoever he was.

***

We hunted most the night, when we finally came upon the end of the line. The tugging within me, the feeling I’d followed all night, released. Tension fled from me like water from a sieve. I felt my muscles loosen, relax.

“He’s here,” I told her, nodding towards the abandoned storage buildings across from us. “He’s inside one of them – sorry I can’t be more accurate, but this is as close as I can get with people.”

Neris nodded, and started to walk briskly towards the buildings, when that wave of paranoia hit me again. I reached out, stopped her.

“Wait. Something’s wrong.”

My eyes narrowed, searching, not Seeking. It was quiet. Too quiet. No sounds of whistles, no barking dogs. No signs that an Imperial patrol had been through here, no sign that they were coming. And where there are no signs of Imperials, there are almost always signs of crime. This place was clean. I pulled Neris back behind me, reached into my jacket, pulled my unlicensed revolver.

“It’s a trap,” I growled.

“I know,” she said, and I felt the cold, round touch of a barrel against the back of my neck. Every bit of me cringed. I’d been had. Hard.

“Your gun. Drop it.”

I considered, briefly, resisting. I’m no slouch when it comes to using a gat, and my impression thus far was that this dame wasn’t used to getting her hands dirty. Not this way at least. And then, the Greycoats came. A whole squad, swarming out from the storage buildings. I may have been able to take her, but my gun was at least a dozen rounds shy of taking the rest.

“Excellent work, Mrs. Molpe,” the lead Greycoat said. “We’ve been after this Seeker for some time now, but he has always proven too slippery a fish.”

Mrs. Molpe? Fuck me.

“Stop, Donovan,” she said, her voice cracking in what almost sounded like sorrow.

He slapped her, hard.

“That’s Captain Donovan, you dirty little Enticer.”

An Enticer? They sent an Enticer? It all began to make sense. The loose details, the feelings of paranoia, the way I set aside my usual distrust so easily. I looked at Donovan. Shit. He was the one I was Seeking the entire time.

I looked over my shoulder at the apparently married Neris Molpe, and sneered.

“Don’t,” she pleaded, “Don’t hate me, Sam. They have my husband. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Everyone has a choice, Neris.”

“Not true,” Donovan said pointing his gun at me menacingly, “You are out of them, Mr. Monroe.”

I smirked. Couldn’t help it. I  had a choice.

I lunged, and as I did, pulled the stiletto from my coat sleeve. Donovan’s eyes widened; guess he’d never had anyone resist before. He tried to bring his gun to bear, but I was on him to quick. I buried my blade in his throat. He gurgled, gasped, fell backwards.

I felt the first shot that hit me, but I didn’t feel the rest. My body became suddenly heavy, and I slipped to the ground. I heard Neris scream, and a moment later, felt her arms wrap around me, cradling my head.

“Sam! Oh, Sam…I’m sorry Sam!” she said, sobs wracking her body. I tried to move, couldn’t. Hurt.

“S’ok, dame. I made my choice.”

Coldness swept over me. My sight began to fail. I looked at her, at those impossibly green eyes, and smiled. Imagine that. Me, in the arms of a beautiful dame, her eyes heavy with tears for a cagey old Seeker. I tried to laugh, coughed blood instead.

There were worse ways to go.

“Rum Punch” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Cocktail Is Your Title

This week from the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig comes a challenge to use the name of a randomly generated cocktail as the title of a story.

Using the dice roller at Invisible Castle, I came up with #12: Rum Punch.  Chuck gave us a limit of 1500 words, but the kind of story that came to mind needed a lot less, kind of like the protagonist. So here, weighing in at 690 words, is “Rum Punch.”

I saw him as soon as I walked in, standing behind the bar, polishing the table with an old rag. His knuckles looked slightly bruised, and I knew why. It’s why I’d come. I looked around, briefly. The place was dead. Good. I walked up to the bar.

“What’ll it be?” he asked.

“Rum punch,” I growled.

He looked up, took me in, a look of confusion on his face. Six-two, two-hundred forty pounds of heavy muscle. Long dark hair, goatee. Dark glasses. Motorcycle boots. Leather. That was me, and probably not the kind of guy who’d normally order that kind of drink. Not something a shithole dive like this would be prepared to make any way. He smirked. Thought it was a joke.

“Rum I’ve got,” he said, placing a half-empty bottle of swill on the counter, “The punch, you’ll have to provide yourself.”

Thought he’d never ask.

My fist connected with his nose in a blur of meat and fury. I felt the bones beneath my blow bend, give, break, till his face felt a bit like jelly beneath the pressure of my fist. He reeled back, tumbling against the back counter, arms flailing. I cleared the front one in a leap, grabbing the bottle of swill as I cleared it. I brought that down on his head, hard.

A bottle of rum, even the cheap shit, is tougher than it looks. It’s not like it is in the movies. It doesn’t break when you look at it funny. I clocked him with it. Clocked him again. A third time. When it was clear he wasn’t going to move, I flung it to the side, towards the concrete floor. That’s when it shattered.

I breathed in, deep and heavy, and looked down at my work. He was a mess, that was for sure. I nudged him with my boot. He groaned. Good. Wasn’t dead. I snatched the rag from where he left it on the counter, and wiped his blood from my knuckles. I grabbed another bottle of swill twisted the top, and poured it over his bloody form until he started screaming from the burn, and then I reached down, grabbed him by the shirt, and hauled him up to the counter.

He whimpered, covered his face with his hands.

“Don’t feel too good, does it Tony?” I barked. He winced. I slapped him.

“This is a message, Tony. Jimmy don’t like guys who beat up girls. Especially not girls under his protection.”

His face paled more from the mention of my boss’s name than it did from my beating. Jimmy “The Gent” Alvarez was a hard, low man, but he’d earned his nickname for his civility towards the opposite sex. Since he’d taken over this side of town, decided to make it clear that certain actions would no longer be tolerated.

That’s where I came in.

You see, I’d been out of the game a long time. I’d taken my bruises, given back more. But Jimmy was an old friend, and I knew that, unlike some of the shit stains who took up turf in this town, Jimmy wanted order. Profitable order, sure, but order. And it was clear the cops weren’t ever gonna provide it. So he came to me.

“Pinky Black,” he’d said, strolling into my garage, “Been too long. I’ve got some work for you.”

He made me an offer. I countered. No women, no kids, no one who wasn’t a dirt bag. I wouldn’t be shaking down storeowners or the like. The Gent liked that.

“It’s more profitable to protect than to threaten,” the Gent said.

So here I was. I made a brief search behind the bar, tucked the hand cannon I found there into my waistband. No sense catching a bullet on my way out. I turned back to Tony, who still sat trembling on the bar back.

“This was your warning, Tony. You only get one.”

I turned, walked out. I flipped the sign on the door to “Closed” as I passed. A handful of roughnecks paused as I did.

“He’s closed,” I said. “Ran out of rum.”