short stories

Death Takes the Highway by David McLain – Part 6

My apologies for this being the only post this week. I’m just recovering from a short illness. As always, you can find part 1 of this short story here. Or if you like David McLain’s style, please consider his hilarious time travel fantasy, The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum

Then, keep reading… 

They stopped for dinner in Gary, Indiana, at a place that specialized in Fried Chicken. William felt better than he had in weeks. Checking his reflection in the bathroom mirror, he noticed that his eyes were clearer looking, and that his shoulders looked a little broader. His hands were distinctly less gnarled, and his fingernails didn’t have that yellow quality that they’d had in recent years. He looked like a man of seventy, maybe sixty five. Death looked better too. They looked less like two men at the end of their lives, and more like two guys in their golden years who were enjoying life. There was no doubt about it, the car might be going forward, but the miles were rolling back.

“Where are we staying tonight?” William asked.

“We’re near the city,” Death said. “I thought we’d find someplace nice.”

They stayed in a beautiful hotel in Downtown Chicago, where their room had a giant flat screened television and a little kitchen. They had a few drinks and some dessert in the hotel restaurant before heading upstairs. A young waitress with crooked teeth took their order, and was very nice to them. William found himself in a good mood.

“You’re a good guy,” he said to Death after his second drink.

“Thanks,” Death said.

“Most people don’t like you,” he added. He probably shouldn’t have said this, but it seemed like a fairly obvious point.

“It’s never a good day when I come around,” Death said. “But that isn’t my fault.”

“Is this just what we do now?” William asked. “Drive around from place to place, having a good time?”

“No,” Death said, and he had a serious look on his face. “This is merely the journey.”

This sobered William up a little. “Then what comes next?” he asked.

“You’ll see,” Death said.

In the morning William was pleased to see that some of the hair had filled in on the top of his head. It wasn’t so much that you’d notice, or really care, but it was nice to see. Some of it, he noticed, was brown instead of gray. The veins which had seemed so close to the surface in his hands and his feet seemed more subdued.  Death was still getting younger too. They got up early, had breakfast in the hotel, and headed for downtown Chicago.

Death was clear that they didn’t have a lot of time to waste, but Chicago is a beautiful city, so they stopped and went to the art museum. William had never been there before, and he enjoyed wandering around, looking at priceless works of art. Somewhere in between an Edward Hopper painting and a Suerat, William thought of something.

“All these painters,” he whispered so that only Death could hear. “They’re all dead?”

“Yes,” Death said, “I suppose that they are.”

“So you met them all?”

“At one point or another,” Death reflected.

“How’d they take it?” William asked.

Death considered this. “Most came quietly. A few fought tooth and nail. One or two grinned at me like I was a long lost relative. I tell you one thing though- none of them seemed surprised.”

“Is that so?”

“Not even the ones I had to drag out of bars,” Death said. “Although I suppose if you spent that much time in bars, you shouldn’t be surprised.”

They spent the morning looking at paintings, then had lunch at a tapas restaurant downtown. William had never had tapas before. It was nice. After that, they headed south, toward Saint Louis.

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Death takes the Highway by David McLain – Part 4

The story continues… (You can find Part 1 here if you missed it.)

It was an Indian Casino. Not a very big one, nor very prosperous, but it was big enough to have a nice buffet restaurant attached to it, where a waitress sat William and Death down at a table in the corner, and invited them to help themselves to fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese. She didn’t seem to know or care that William was dead, or that he was being accompanied by Death itself. In fact, they seem to fit in pretty well with the casino’s clientèle. Most of the gamblers looked like they were in their late sixties and early seventies- some even looked older than William was. They ate mostly in silence. Death didn’t seem like much of a talker.

“How do you feel?” Death asked.

“Better than I have in weeks, maybe months,” William admitted.

“That’s usually the way,” Death said. “Once you get used to it, most people feel better.”

“They feel better dead?” William asked.

“I’m not saying you won’t miss things,” Death said. “There’s a lot you’re leaving behind. Usually though, at some point, most people say to themselves ‘O.K. I’ve had enough.’ That’s when it’s time to move on.

“It doesn’t feel real,” William admitted.

“It won’t,” Death said. “Not at first,” he paid the bill with a credit card. William wondered if it would be an all black Mastercard or have ‘666’ as the card number or something, but it was a perfectly ordinary bank card. So far, Death seemed almost pedestrian.

“Let’s go,” Death said.

They got back in the car, heading west again. It was still colder than blazes, although William had gotten used to the stick shift. It was strange, driving such a tiny car. In another life William might have expressed concern about driving something so small on the highway, but what did it matter now? It wasn’t like being jack-knifed by an eighteen wheeler would kill him. (In fact, he wasn’t sure what it would do. Leave him like some sort of zombie maybe? He didn’t want to ask.) He drove cautiously, in the left lane, till a little after dark, when Death finally told him to pull over.

“Right here? By the side of the road?” William asked.

“No, no. At the next exit. There’s a Super 8 just off the highway. We’ll get a room. I don’t like driving at night in the winter, unless I have to.”

They pulled over and parked in front of the motel. They were somewhere near the Pennsylvania border, but where exactly William wasn’t sure. The hotel was manned by an enormous man in a polyester shirt, who looked simultaneously tired and dull, as if being forced to wear a polo with his company logo on it and having to smile at strangers was a form of brain death. They took a double room on the first floor with a window facing the dumpster of a neglected Chinese food restaurant.

“You want Chinese for dinner?” Death asked.

William thought about it. Then he did something that he thought he would never do again- he made a choice. “I saw a diner down the road a little bit. Let’s go there.”

So they did. William ordered the turkey club, and Death had a steak, extra rare. The waitress, like everyone else, didn’t seem to think there was anything strange about them, although come to think of it, she didn’t give them much of a look either. It was shortly after they ate their food that William started asking questions.

“So I’m dead?” he asked. He looked around as he said it, like he was talking about committing a crime. The diner was almost empty and the waitress didn’t seem like she would care if he lit his pants on fire. Still, it didn’t seem like the kind of thing you wanted to announce to just anyone.

“Yes,” Death said.

“I don’t feel different,” Will admitted, although on reflection, that wasn’t true. He definitely didn’t feel like he did when he was dying. That was awful.

“You won’t, at first,” Death said. “It’s a lot to take in all at once.”

“There were a lot of things I wanted to do before I died,” William said. “Things I wanted to do, and say.”

“I know,” Death said. “There always are.”

“I guess that’s the way things work,” Will said. Truth be told, he usually had a hundred different things that he wanted to on a weekend that didn’t get done, there didn’t seem to be any reason that dying wasn’t going to be any different. “It’s just hard to believe,” he added.

“I’m sure,” Death said.

“I worked hard, all my life,” Will said. “Some years were good. Some were bad. I left my daughter a little bit of money. That was good, right?”

Death said “That was good,” but he didn’t look like he felt anything about it, one way or the other.

“If my life was about work, and progress, and family,” William said. “Then what is this about?”

“Moving on,” Death said.

Death Takes the Highway by David McLain – Part One

You may recall us featuring some short stories. Here’s a quick list to where you can find them:

The Hunting Dog by Rita Monette
The Queen’s Intent by Justine Alley Dowsett
The Arranged Marriage by Justine Alley Dowsett
The Eye of the Storm by Justine Dowsett

And now, we bring you Death takes the Highway by David McLain, author of The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

-Emily Dickinson

Although no one knew it, William Hershel was going to die at three fifty-eight on January the thirteenth, at Wilson Hospital in Johnson City, New York, just after his daughter stepped out of the room for a minute to go to the bathroom and freshen up a little. The hospice nurse would tell her that this was very common. In as much as people had a choice, and it wasn’t really clear that they did, they seemed to choose to die when their relatives were out of the room, even if there had been someone with them all day, and they had only been left alone for a few seconds. It wasn’t clear why they did that, but the nurse said she had seen it time and time again.

If anyone had asked William Hershel, at say, three fifty four on that same day, why people choose to die during that one moment when they were alone, he would have been glad to tell them. It was for the same reason that you closed the door when you were going to the bathroom, or taking a shower, or making love. When we are forced to show our biological side, we prefer to be alone. Since the age of fourteen, William Hershel’s daughter had closed the door while brushing her teeth, she could hardly expect William to shuffle off his mortal coil while she watched, for goodness sake. If his wife had been there, that might have been different, but William Hershel had no wife. He’d been married once, but that had been over for almost a decade, and his ex-wife had declined to visit him, which was just as well. That left him dying, at three fifty-fifty eight on January the Thirteenth, exactly two weeks shy of his eighty-first birthday.

To look at him was less like looking at a man, and more like staring at an empty husk. His body was broken, his bones were gnarled, his hair was gone. His teeth were rotten, and his organs were failing quickly. There were tubes coming out of every conceivable part of him, and he smelled terrible. Dignity had been the last thing to go, but when it had gone, it had left completely. All you had to do was take one look at him, and you knew it was time. He had heard his daughter making the sorts of plans that you didn’t want to here being made about yourself. He knew that she had been in touch with a funeral home, that she’d talked to the hospice nurse about what would happen next. He’d heard her say something about how he’d worked hard, so very hard, all his life.  He knew that she had her own life and she wanted to get back to it. He felt bad that he had taken up so much of her time these past few years.

In real life, last words are rarely significant in any way whatsoever. In fact, in modern medical terms, just being able to say last words often meant that you were not really ready to die just yet. The closest thing William Hershel had to last words was an unheard gurgle at roughly three fifty-five. It was indicative of a small amount of air leaving his lungs as his organs shut down.     

     ‘I’m still here,’ William thought. ‘I’m still here.’

It is, or at any rate, it should be, a great privilege to be coherent during the last few minutes of your life, and, technically, William Hershel was. He hadn’t opened his eyes for three days, but nonetheless, his thoughts were still there. When his daughter had held his hand and cried earlier that day, he’d felt it and he’d heard it and he knew what was happening. Three fifty-six came and went without as much as a flicker. That left three fifty-seven. What do you do with your penultimate minute on earth? It turned out William Hershel celebrated by feeling his heart stop beating. It was the strangest feeling, a little bit like holding your breath, only much, much worse. His daughter would be on her way back to the room in just another minute or so, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to wait that long.

William Hershel, born in San Clemente, California, died at three fifty-eight, almost exactly, but this was just the beginning.

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Join us next week, or subscribe for the rest of this short serial fiction!!

David McLain is the author of the novel Dragonbait and The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum. He grew up New York, California,  Transylvania, and France. He studied writing at The University of Massachusetts and at Purchase College, where he also directed a production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He lives in New York with a female painter and a small dog.

The Arranged Marriage – Part 6

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Unintended, Uncharted.

***

Cielle saw less and less of Branton’s hairy chest as he advanced on Larissa. His heavy black-booted feet stopped just shy of her friend’s toes and a moment later his billowy white dress shirt hit the floor beside them both. Cielle’s breath caught in her throat at the sight.

Oh crap! What am I doing here?! Cielle immediately panicked at the gravity of the situation she found herself in. I’m under the bed… if I don’t stop this… She had to stop herself from following that line of thought. No! I’ll just have to stop it before it happens! I won’t let Larissa… or me for that matter… be subjected to that… that…. man!

She returned her focus to the situation at hand just as a heavy leather belt clasp jangled and then joined the white fabric on the floor. Cielle fought back her fear and dread and forced herself to keep watching, keep listening, for Larissa’s sake.

Larissa’s toes curled and she rubbed them together. Cielle could just make out the breathy almost panicked quality of her friend’s breathing. Hold on, Larissa. I’ll get you out of this, I promise.

“Why don’t you make yourself comfortable?” Branton suggested, his thick Italian accent slurring, and even from where she lay, Cielle could smell the sour wine wafting from his breath.

Larissa’s ankles got slowly and hesitantly closer to where Cielle hid, until she was near enough that Cielle could reach out and touch her if she chose. She fought the temptation to do so. Alerting Larissa to her presence now would only frighten her more. Larissa sat so gingerly on the edge of the tall mattress that Cielle neither felt nor heard any protest from the bed frame.

“That’s better.” Cielle could hear Branton’s smile as he advanced and Cielle clenched her eyes shut, not wanting to watch the heavy boots place themselves between Larissa’s dainty legs.

It wasn’t long before she felt the oppressive weight of the oversized muscular Lord on the bed above her. This time the bedframe around her did protest and she heard the thick wood creak. Cielle withdrew within herself, horrified by what she was about to bear witness to, even if she couldn’t see it. Perhaps, hearing it from the isolation of beneath the bed was almost worse.

With every shift of the Lord’s weight the bed frame creaked and Cielle withdrew further wishing fervently that she’d never come to Welland at all, never attended Larissa’s wedding and never plotted this doomed rescue attempt. Heavy breathing above her filled the air with the sour stench of wine and she choked on the smell, knowing that however bad it was for her here, was nothing compared to how terrible it was for Larissa…

A soft choking sob broke through all the other sounds assaulting her senses. Larissa!

***

Thanks for reading! Check back or subscribe to this blog for next week’s finale!

The Arranged Marriage – Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. The novels: Unintended and Uncharted.

***

In the end, the Lord’s room was easy enough to find. It was the largest and highest room in the castle, except for maybe a small tower or two, there was nothing above it. Extra careful not to make too much noise in case of a stray servant or guard, Cielle let herself in through the massive double doors, and shut them softly behind her.

The room was garishly decorated in reds and golds with accents of green. She fought back a wave of nausea that was either caused by the effect of the colours on her senses or the fear caused by what she was about to do. I have to do something! Cielle affirmed silently. I know Larissa doesn’t want to be married to this old man, no matter how rich he is… The Arbors are forcing her because it’s the only way they can keep people thinking that their House is still as strong as it once was. She shouldn’t have to suffer for her family’s greed and ambition, it’s not fair!

Feeling determined now, Cielle set about setting up her plan and then slid herself underneath the gigantic four-poster bed, making sure to position herself so that she could see out a slit in the bed skirt. She managed to lay there motionless for a time, but eventually the boredom, or the long day she’d had, began to take its toll on her and she drifted off to thoughts of Larissa floating on a cloud, draped in white lace and nothing else.  

She awoke with a start to the sound of many slippered feet sweeping from the room. Peering into the now dim light of the bedroom, Cielle could just make out a billow of white fabric where it lay draped over the dressing screen and though the many pairs of slippered feet she’d heard were now gone, there was still one pair of feet in the room and those were bare.

I’d recognize those feet anywhere! Cielle’s mind jolted even more firmly awake as she saw the opportunity she’d been waiting for. She began to wriggle herself free from her hiding place when the double doors opened without warning admitting a very large, very muscular and very drunk Lord.

Cielle immediately retreated back into the dark confines of the underside of the bed, feeling her heartbeat quicken with fear and dread combined. No, no, no!

“Larissa!” The Lord slurred loudly, looking over his new bride. Cielle could just make out Branton’s upper body from her vantage point. His shirt was mostly open revealing a thick coat of dark curly hair and his arms were spread wide as if he expected Larissa to run straight into them.

“My lord husband,” Cielle heard her friend intone without much inflection and the dainty nude feet stayed exactly where they were. She’s saying that because he expects her to. Her heart went out to Larissa. She must be so scared right now.

Cielle fought her desire to run out in defence of her friend. If I expose myself now, I’ll just get kicked out and then I’ll lose the only chance I have to stop this marriage from being consummated. She gagged on the word. And I must do that at all costs!

***

Thanks for reading! Leave your thoughts below and subscribe or check back for parts 6 and 7!

The Arranged Marriage – Part 4

Find Part 1, 2, and 3 here. Or check out the novels set in the same world; Unintended and Uncharted. Otherwise, read on!

***

There was no more time to dwell on the issue of the dagger though. At that very moment, the musicians began to play the wedding march and Cielle twirled in her seat to look back at the start of the aisle. Sure enough, there was a bride there, radiantly dressed in the widest white dress Cielle had ever seen.

Cielle’s breath caught in her throat as her best friend drifted closer as if she was walking on a cloud. The white fabric billowed around her, flowing like the waves in the bay and the intricate lace of the bodice creeped upwards and gently caressed her soft curves. Cielle swallowed with some difficulty and forced herself to breathe as normally as she could.

Damn, she’s beautiful.

Her gaze followed Larissa as she made her way up the length of the aisle until she came to stand beside Lord Branton. Cielle’s expression shifted rapidly from awestruck to livid within seconds. The flush in her cheeks remained the same, though, so outwardly there was nothing to alarm Cyril or anyone else.

Halfway through the ceremony, Cielle finished solidifying her plan in her mind. It was difficult from that point onward to remain seated and to keep the determined grimace from her face.

“Whoa there,” Cyril commented sometime later, after dinner had been served. “You look like you’re going to run someone through with that fork. Are you that hungry?”

Cielle had to force herself to lower the fork slowly back to its place on the table. “Yeah, actually, I’m starved,” she lied. “They look about done now… I’m going to go see if I can find some appetizers.”

“Yeah, ok,” Cyril agreed, oblivious to her true intentions. “Grab me a few of those pastries I smelled on the way in, would you?”

She plastered the most convincing smile she could onto her face. “Sure thing, bro. Be right back!”

She made her way to the hors d’oeuvres table before she banked sharply to the right and scooted into the kitchen. Weaving between bustling servants preparing to haul the feast out to hungry guests, Cielle made quick work of crossing unfamiliar territory until she found herself in a silent hallway. Whew… She allowed herself a moment to catch her breath as she looked first down one long hallway and then another. I should have thought to ask someone where the Lord’s bedchamber was! She cursed her lack of foresight. But then I might have raised suspicion… No, better to find it on my own. Besides, I should have plenty of time before the Lord and his new Lady ‘retire’ for the evening.

The thought of Lord Branton Wilkes putting his hands on Larissa was almost enough to make her gag. He won’t touch her! Cielle avowed. Not if I have anything to do with it!

***

As usual, please leave your thoughts and comments below and subscribe or check back for parts 5 through 7!

The Arranged Marriage – Part 3

Find Parts 1 and 2. Or check out the novels set in this same world; Unintended and Uncharted. Otherwise, keep reading!

***

Cielle fought back the urge to punch her twin brother as their boat came to rest alongside the port. Using the disembarking of the ship as her chance to fade back into anonymity again, Cielle ducked behind Cyril in the crowd and hoped for one that the similarities in their appearance would cause people to think her brother had been the one to make a fool of himself instead of her.

They’d cut it close. With the risk of storms on the bay so late into the season, their boat had only made it across on the day of the wedding. By the time Cyril and Cielle reached the port, Lord Branton was already lost in a crowd of well-wishers and being whisked back to his castle on the north coast of the small peninsula. Cielle let out her breath in relief. At least I don’t have to face him… yet.

Cyril tugged her by the arm and made her keep pace with the throng. “Come on, we don’t want to be late!”

But her mind was not on current events or her surroundings. She ignored the sights and sounds of Wilkesport and was distantly grateful for her brother’s sure grip on her arm as he led her through the city. Internally, Cielle was furiously plotting. Lord Branton not being the lazy fat man I was expecting is going to make things a lot more difficult, she reasoned.

Between one thought and the next, Cielle reached out and pilfered her brother’s dagger. She’s always been quick with her hands and Cyril didn’t even notice the blade’s loss. Cielle grimaced at herself as she tucked the sheathed blade between her breasts before Cyril thought to glance back at her. With luck, he won’t realize it’s gone. And if he does, he’ll think someone on the boat or in the crowd took it. Well, that’s true enough, anyways. I was on the boat and in the crowd.

Their seats were far enough away from the front that Cielle felt safe enough that Lord Branton wouldn’t spot her and identify her from the boat, but she also felt kind of insulted at the distance. I know I’m not a member of her family, but I’m still one of the few people here in support of the bride! Cielle silently fumed. Other than Larissa’s immediate family, the rest of these people are all snooty Wellish nobles. What gives them the right to sit closer to Larissa on her big day than me?

“This is really hard on you, isn’t it?” Cyril questioned, noticing the pout that was forming on her face.

Cielle wanted to retort, but she sensed that her twin was being genuine this time. “Well, you’d be just as pissed if you were stuck at the back of Garron’s wedding, wouldn’t you?”

“Touche,” Cyril murmured in response, absently reaching for his belt and the dagger that was no longer there.

Shit! I shouldn’t have brought up Garron D’Arbonne! The dagger that’s been making me uncomfortable for the last hour was a present from him and Cyril never goes anywhere without it!

Cyril’s hand fumbled around his belt a moment before his expression became alarmed. “Cielle, have you seen my dagger?”

Cielle winced guiltily, but she’d come too far now to admit her crimes. “Who brings a dagger to a wedding anyways…?” She said by way of a diversion and then immediately felt terrible for making Cyril worry that he’d lost his prized possession. The clever explanation she’d come up with fizzled on her tongue. “Are you sure you brought it? Maybe you left it at home, or forgot it on the boat?”

“Maybe…” Cyril answered, unconvinced.

***

Thanks for reading! As always, leave your thoughts and comments below and subscribe or check back next week for parts 4 through 7!

The Arranged Marriage – Part 1

If you haven’t read my first serial fiction, you can find The Eye of the Storm, here.  Whereas The Eye of the Storm was a science-fiction/horror, The Arranged Marriage is fantasy/romance story told in seven parts and set in the world of Ismera, like my novels Unintended and Uncharted. 

Without further ado:

Larissa,

How dare they! Her letter began. I’ll never forgive your family for this! You know, I have half a mind to write to the D’Arbonne House to see if they will intercede on your behalf. It’s not right what the Arbors are doing and I won’t stand for it and neither should you! This is an outrage! It’s practically criminal!

Cielle continued in the same vein for a few paragraphs, making sure she got her point across. Eventually she ran out of ways to say she was angry about the arranged marriage and subsequently she felt her anger fade until only sadness remained in its place.

It’s just… It’s just not fair, that’s all. Marrying this stuffy Lord means you’re going to be all the way in Welland! I know what you’re going to say; ‘It’s just across the bay.” But that’s not the point! I’m sure once you’re married and tucked away in ‘Lord Branton’s’ castle that we’ll hardly ever see each other anymore. It’s not like you’ll be able to join your family when they come this way, you’ll be stuck in Wilkesport fulfilling your duty as ‘Lady Wilkes’… whatever that means!

I hate this! She admitted finally. You’re worth so much more than that fat man’s gold. (I bet he’s fat. You just know those rich lazy lords are all fat. Probably drinks too much Wellish Red too.) He doesn’t deserve you and your family should know better than to sell you off. If you were a Doucet, or even a D’Arbonne, this would never have happened.

I miss you already and I’m angry and sad enough that I’m not even able to look forward to coming to your wedding in a couple of weeks. Cielle paused, pouting. She knew how to put on a good pout when the mood struck her.

Either way, I’ll still be there. She avowed. And when I do, we’ll need to put our heads together and see if we can’t find a way for you to escape this! It’s just got to be possible!

Your Friend Forever,

Cielle Doucet.

Cielle fought back tears as she folded the thick parchment and sealed it with her family’s crest. I mean it, she added silently promising her best friend. I’m coming for you and we will find a way out of this… together.

****

Check back next week or subscribe for parts 2 through 7!  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think of the story so far!

 

Eye of the Storm – Part 3

“Nice to meet you, Summer,” Victor echoed my words from earlier, then turned back toward the bar. “Hey, Howe!” He called out, raising his head and his glass in search of the bartender. “Can I get another one of these?”

Curiously, ‘Howe’ was nowhere to be seen. I shrugged, about to use this opportunity to escape my new ‘friend’ and head back to where Debbie and Paul stood to either side of the jukebox trying to choose the next song, when the power went out. Without lighting or sound, the dilapidated old bar was just that. It was pitch black thanks to the shitty weather and the fact that the streetlamp outside the front window had also gone dark. Guess this isn’t just Howe blowing a fuse.

I could hear voices and shuffling even if I couldn’t make anyone out. It wasn’t crowded by any means, this being a Tuesday night, but it wasn’t a big place. Somebody must have bumped into Debbie because she squealed, “Paul, that better have been you!”

“Uhh…” I heard Paul reply.

“Power’s out across the street too,” somebody called, presumably looking out a window, “but it seems to have stopped raining, so there’s that.”

But my attention wasn’t on the bar patrons, it was on Victor. From the sounds of his stool scraping back, he’d stood and if the darker shadow over the bar was any indication, he seemed to be trying to clamber over it. “Howe?” He called out again from somewhere ahead and above me.

I heard a thunk as Victor landed heavily behind the bar, followed by rustling noises. In the background someone said, “Hey, a power outage doesn’t have to ruin the night, I brought my guitar!”

Despite my better judgement, I started forward, feeling for Victor’s stool. I found it with little trouble. It was still warm. Without thinking too hard about what I was about to do, I put my drink down, hoisted myself up onto the still-warm leather seat of the stool, and stood, stepping onto the bar. My foot hit what I presumed to be Victor’s drink. I made a point to avoid it as I let myself down the other side.

“Aha!” Victor proclaimed seconds before a match flared to life in his hands and our eyes met for the briefest of seconds in the sudden illumination. He seemed surprised to see me there. I was simply glad the ruddy light of the single flickering match didn’t allow Victor to make out the embarrassed flush of my cheeks.

“Here,” he shoved the pack of matches in my hands before grabbing another and starting past me. By the time I got a match of my own lit, he was halfway around the inside corner of the L-shaped bar and moving quickly. I hurried to follow.

A door I hadn’t noticed before now was open slightly. Pulling it wider, Victor disappeared into the opening, his body cutting off all view of the match in his hands. Rounding the corner myself, I almost bumped into him where he had stopped on a set of stairs headed downwards. In retrospect, wearing black was a poor choice, Victor, I silently admonished him.

I became aware of a strange sound coming from the darkness below. Halfway between a hum and a rumbly growl, I couldn’t identify it, but the sound unsettled me in way I couldn’t explain. “Howe?” Victor called again, more tentatively this time, I thought.

Silence greeted his call. I mean real silence; whatever that grumbly sound was, it stopped the moment Victor spoke. Against my better judgement, Victor started forward again, lighting a fresh match and raising it high above his head. I made it two steps before my own match burned my fingers, forcing me to shake my hand forcefully to put the fire out. I stuck my fingers in my mouth and looked down, less than eager to face the prospect of burning myself on another match.

My fingers in my mouth were the only thing that kept me from screaming. There on the ground, in a pool of his own blood mingling with the juice from a smashed jar of pickles was the bartender, Howe. His pale green shirt was bloodied and torn, and the gut I’d noticed earlier was missing entirely, having been replaced by a gaping maw, resembling nothing more than a fleshy crater. From that crater rose a field of spikes, like an over-sized porcupine had taken up residence inside the portly man.

“Holy shit!” Victor cursed and flailed wildly, causing his match to go out.

I fought the urge to vomit as he quickly struck another. The initial flare of light glinted off large yellow eyes and as the light settled to its dim brightness I became aware of what I was staring at. Well, not what it was, exactly, only that I was staring at it.

It, was the source of that strange rumbling growl from before and now the sound returned. A warning, low and guttural, it informed me on an instinctual level that I was in danger. Even with shock numbing my mental faculties, I didn’t need the warning. I fled, Victor’s heavy footfalls on the stairs proclaiming that he was trailing after me. Only two steps were needed to take me out of the basement, but they felt like twenty. I cleared the threshold of the door and quickly realized I was trapped by the L-shaped bar I didn’t know my way around.

Victor however, did. He made straight past me for the exit. I started after him, but a blur of motion crossing my vision stopped me.

The creature’s leap was silent. It’s landing wasn’t. Bottles crashed and the wood of the bar groaned as the massive cat-like thing landed on it. Soft guitar music was replaced by a cacophony of screams and curses from the bar patrons as the thing swung its head around, sniffing the air.

I felt a hand grab mine, warm in the darkness. I gasped, but it was only Victor, pulling me away from the scene and toward the back door of the bar. I stumbled along after him and we broke out into the cool, wet night air.

The rain had stopped, but the sky still looked dangerous.

*** Missed Part One, find it here. Part Two is here. If you’d like to read more of this serial, like this post, subscribe and/or leave me a comment!***

 

Introducing our new imprint… Adventure Worlds Press!

Yes, you read that right, we’re expanding! As you know, we specialize in escapism fiction for all ages in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, adventure, and romance. But what about those genres and types of books we don’t publish, but are still escapism fiction? Like horror, hard science-fiction, short stories, graphic novels, and stuff on the fringe? Well, that’s where Adventure Worlds Press comes in.

We’ve partnered with two up and coming Windsor-based authors, Christian Laforet and Ben Van Dongen. Christian is the author of a collection of horror short stories, The Space Between Houses and together, he and Ben collaborated to put together a collection of science fiction stories in their most recent release, No Light Tomorrow. Since successfully self-publishing their two books, Ben and Christian have been collecting short stories for their blog, Adventure Worlds, with the intent of one day turning that blog into something more, specifically a press. AWP cropped logo

So, here we are! As an imprint, Adventure Worlds Press will be run under the sole direction of Christian Laforet and Ben Van Dongen, in partnership with those of us at Mirror World Publishing. They’ll be looking for science fiction, horror, and fringe manuscripts for novels, novellas, graphic novels and short story collections. No word yet on when they might be opening submissions, but subscribe to this blog, or go over to Adventure Worlds Press to check them out and subscribe to them for more information. In the meantime, they’ve got a whole host of stories you can read or you can always pick up a copy of The Space Between Houses by Christian Laforet or No Light Tomorrow by Christian Laforet and Ben Van Dongen.

These books and any future releases from Adventure Worlds Press will be coming to our store soon, and will be available as a part of our Membership Program. (To learn more about how to get unlimited books with our membership program, click here.)

And, best of all, we’ll be holding an event to celebrate this partnership and also to celebrate the launch of our 2016 Fall releases. More info to follow, so don’t forget to subscribe or check back often.