This is just a home for my wayward narratives, anecdotes, and whatever other missives I see fit to deposit here.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Special: Night in the Garden

The garden was overgrown and uncared for. Themosne tripped down its path, her sandaled feet catching on unsettled cobblestones that hid beneath the moon-shadowed fallen leaves.

She'd been warned not to go into the garden at night. The path alone is treacherous in the dark, the adults had warned her, and to stray from it would be unthinkably more dangerous.

But she had fallen asleep and woken in the garden after sunset. She now found herself, heedless of these warnings, moving down the uneven stone path, deeper into the garden, toward the hollow that lay at its center. Something there called to her, compelled her to delve deeper and deeper in spite of the deep fear she'd been conditioned to feel for the place.

Thick, briar-choked woods encroached on the ancient path. Despite having lost much of their foliage, the branches of the trees formed a thick canopy above. It blotted out all but the most determined of the moon's rays. Here and there, a shaft of wan yellow light shone through and hinted at the contours of the snaking garden path. Themosne stumbled from one small puddle of light to the next. Her heart began to race as she drew closer to the deepest point of the hollow.

Ahead, the way suddenly opened and the canopy receded to allow the moonlight to settle into a pool at the bottom of the hollow. Themosne cautiously but excitedly stepped into the clearing and looked around. Seven other narrow paths climbed away from the central point, back into the darkness. These uneven cobblestone lanes spilled into a courtyard of tightly knit flagstones, like rocky streams tumbling into a placid gray lake. At the center of this flagstone lake rose an island of white marble - a raised platform upon which sat eight, semicircular marble benches.

In the pale light of the autumn moon, the whole thing could have been made of bone.

Carefully, but feeling an unexpected sense of anitcipation, Themosne crept across the cold stones toward the bone-like dais. Her heart felt as if it would beat out of her chest. As she drew closer, she realized that it was higher than she'd expected, so she quickly began to move around it to find a way to the top. On the far side, she found a staircase carved out of the marble, winding up its side. She cautiously, expectantly, made her way to its top.

A woman sat there, on one of the benches. Themosne hadn't seen her from the courtyard below - she assumed it must have been a trick of the light. The woman was sitting with her back to the girl, facing toward the inside of the broken circle created by the benches. A recessed fire pit lay at the circle's center, and the woman appeared to be warming her hands over its darkened, long-dead coals. The woman's black-and-gray hair fell to the bottom of her back and was held together by a single, faded blue ribbon tied into a simple bow. Instantly, Themosne was reminded of her own mother. But her mother's hair was raven black, and the ribbon in it was of the brightest blue, bright like the sparkling sea on a summer's day.

"Mother," Themosne whispered, though she knew it could not be. The gods had willed that her mother be taken from her many seasons ago. It seemed to the young girl as if a lifetime had passed since she'd last seen her.

The woman turned. Her face was sallow, her skin wrinkled and aged. Her eyes were sunken and their color faded. Regardless, Themosne recognized in these changed features her mother's loving expression.

"My beautiful girl," the old woman said as she rose from the bench. Her movements were stiff and unsteady as she reached out for Themosne.

"Mother, you've come back!" Themosne cried as she rushed into the woman's waiting arms. She felt thin and frail beneath her simple white dress. Themosne could feel her bones and hear her breath rattle within her as she laid her head on her chest. The cold embrace was nothing like the warm, full ones Themosne remembered. But it filled her with indescribable joy, just the same. "I've missed you, mother!"

"And I, you, daughter," her mother said, her voice cracking and hollow. "I'm sorry it's been so long. I've been trying to reach you but the gods have seen fit to keep us apart."

Themosne stood with her arms wrapped around her mother's waist, as she had done so often, so many seasons ago. With her eyes tightly closed, she could almost feel the warm summer sun on their skin, the salty sea air kissing their cheeks. She was almost able to forget the pale, shadow-cloaked garden that now surrounded them.

"I don't care," Themosne said, "We're together again, and that's all that matters."

She stepped back from her mother, beaming with joy. Her gaze fell to her mother's white dress. The front of it was stained with a broad splash of wet scarlet that glistened in the weak moonlight. Her smile faltered and faded as she saw her mother's hands, drenched in the same. From her right hand, a thin-bladed dagger dripped blood into a spatter on the bone-like marble. It formed a trail behind her toward the dead fire pit. Themosne's eyes involuntarily followed the bloody path to its source. In the marble bowl at the center of the dais - and at the very center of the hollow itself - lay a small figure, its soft, pink flesh spilling warm blood into the basin.

Themosne looked at her mother in horror.

"Mother! What have you done?"

Her mother looked down at her blood-soaked hands, then back at the girl. She dropped the knife and reached for her.

"I did what I had to, Thea," she said, "So we could be together! A life for a life!"

Themosne looked around the garden - the Garden of the Ancestors - suddenly overcome with a desire to flee into the darkness. Dark gray slabs jutted up amidst the undergrowth, monuments placed there in remembrance of the dead interred beneath them. She suddenly realized that she didn't know the way out of the garden. She couldn't remember entering it, or creeping off the path and falling asleep in the briars where she'd awoken. Nor could she remember waking and walking to the path - but she had a vague sense of a struggle, of forcing her way out of choking blackness.

She backed away from the old woman, her heels hanging over the edge of the dais.

The look in her mother's eyes frightened her. Not because she'd never seen it before, but because she had - once. It was a look of utter desperation. She recalled her mother looking down upon her with that same expression, cradling her in her arms. She recalled tears streaking down her mother's cheeks and falling into Themosne's eyes. She recalled her own desperate panic at that moment, as she fought to draw a breath.

She recalled the moment that she died in her mother's arms, as the gods laid over her eyes the veil that would separate them for a lifetime.

In dawning horror, Themosne looked down at herself. A rotted shift, smeared with grave dirt and torn from the briars, hung awkwardly over her emaciated, mummified flesh. Her fingers were little more than bare bone, covered in clumped, black dirt and draped with sheaves of torn, dead skin. She raised those fingers in an effort to feel her own face, and though there was no sensation in them, she could tell that they moved over uneven dead flesh and exposed bone. And when they should have covered her eyes, which she somehow knew to be only empty sockets, she could still see clearly through them, as if they weren't there at all.

She began to tremble with terror.

"After all of these years, all of my prayers and sacrifices, the gods have finally returned you to me," her mother said as she moved forward, arms still outstretched.

Mortified, Themosne recoiled. Her foot slipped off the edge of the platform and she teetered there for a moment. Her mother's expression became one of horror as she rushed forward and tried to grab the girl, but instead helplessly watched her fall to the stones below. She landed head first with a "crack!" that echoed through the clearing.

A woman's wail filled the darkening sky above Themosne as the gods once again draped a veil over her eyes. This time, it would last not for a lifetime, but for an eternity.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: You Can Be My Wingman

About Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster
1989, New Orleans. An ancient evil is trying to free itself from its extra-dimensional prison into the revels of Mardi Gras. A heroic adventurer and his spell-slinging ally are hot on its trail. And Fed Carter, an ordinary, everyday Joe - or is he? - stumbles right into the middle of it all.  Join Fred as he descends from our reality into one of friendly witches, gator-faced demons, and ancient goddesses looking to settle scores.

. . . . .

    Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster

    Capter Five: You Can Be My Wingman

    After Jake and I had washed the last remnants from the previous night's encounter from our bodies, we left the room.

    I can't speak for him, but I felt like all eyes were on me as we headed through the motel lobby. It felt like every person present knew that we had been involved in a running gunfight with swamp monsters. then again, that group consisted of a young boy and his mother coming in with a bag of donuts, two cups of coffee, and a carton of chocolate milk, and a way-too-cheery-for-seven-in-the-morning blond girl who had replaced the sour-faced old desk clerk. None of whom even acknowledged our existence. So things probably weren;t as dire as I felt they were.

    "So," Jake said as we emerged into the sticky morning air, "Breakfast?"

    "Yeah. But we should figure out what to do with Jeanine's car first."

    We turned and headed up the street, twitching at every noise like a jacked-up Chihuahua.

    "So, Carter, what's your deal?"

    "I don't have a deal. I came down here with Jeanine - who's probably now my ex-girlfriend - hoping to score a free vacation. Technically, I'm just another tourist looking for a party."

    He snorted. "Tourists don't generally pack heavy-caliber hardware in their overnight bags."

    "The smart ones do. Besides, it's not like I showed up with a bunch of swamp monsters chasing me. What\s your deal?"

    "I've just got a nose for this shit," he replied. "That's why I get chased by it and keep coming back for more. But you - you're 'just another tourist.' Tourists usually bail when they encounter this shit."

    "See, you say 'this shit' in a way that leads me to believe that swamp monsters are just the tip of some really nasty iceberg. That's why I'm still here - I have to know what's what. Call it a character flaw."

    "Fair enough," he said, thinking. "But, it's a long story."

    "I'm stuck in Louisiana, thousands of miles from home, with a twenty-dollar bill to my name. Where am I going?"

    He stopped and looked at me, as if somehow weighing my moral fiber. Then, he nodded.

    "Let's take care of the car and go get some breakfast. I'll tell you what I know, and if you want to bail after that, I'll buy you a bus ticket home."

    I nodded, and we resumed our trek.

    We circled back to the alley where we'd stashed Jeanine's car, taking the most indirect route we could - just in case the cops had found it and staked it out. But it was quickly apparent that the car wouldn't be an issue. Where we had left an entire vehicle - or at least most of one - there now sat a metal frame propped up on cinder blocks. The urban piranha had taken care of that particular problem for us. They'd been so thorough, there wasn't even a VIN left for the cops to use to track the car's owner.

    "Man," I said, "If Jeanine were here to see this, she'd totally flip her shit."

    "Reminds me of an elephant carcass I once came across in Kenya."

    "Well, I guess that's one less thing we have to worry about. We should probably split, though. Don't want to get caught here and asked all kinds of awkward questions."

    Jake nodded and we quickly but casually exited the alley.

    "We need wheels," I said, as we traipsed back over the circuitous route we'd taken from the motel.

    "I've got a rental. I parked it a block or so from the shop where you and Jeanine - and those creatures - found me."

    "Cool. Let's just hope it hasn't been towed or stripped."

    We hailed a cab and had the driver drop us at a strip joint that was in the same neighborhood as the hoo-doo shop. We got out and made like we were going into the club - until the cab had gone out of sight, at which point, we beat feet for the shop. We figured it was better to be safe than sorry, in case the cops were looking for us. There had certainly been enough witnesses to the previous night's main event to have gotten a good look at us and provided descriptions. My hope was that any such witnesses were more interested in the lizard-gator-men that were hopping on and off their cars than they were in our ugly mugs.

    We found the street where Jake had parked his car and - thankfully - found it unmolested, except for a trio of parking tickets shoved under the wiper. I guess we'd just gotten lucky, and the tow trucks had been too busy the night before to get around to towing his ride. I crumpled up the tickets and tossed them in the gutter as he unlocked the car. Jake flashed me an disapproving look.

    "What? You planning on taking up residence in this city?"

    He just shook his head, climbed in, and unlocked my door. I got in as he started the car. I'd just buckled my seat belt when he turned it off again. I looked around for danger, thinking something must be wrong. Seeing none, I turned to him. He was just sitting there, looking up the street.

    "What's the deal?" I asked.

    "I really should check on her. Make sure she's okay."

    "What? Who?"

    "My friend - the girl who runs the shop," he said, climbing out of the car.

    "What girl? You didn't mention any girl," I questioned after him, quickly unbuckling and getting out. I chased him up the street.

    He stopped in front of the shop. It was an old, two-story brick building with late Victorian accents. Its large, ground-floor windows were dark, as were those on the upper floor. Gold lettering on the left window proclaimed the place to be: "Pandora's Box." A hoo-doo shop named Pandora's Box?

    "Figures," I mumbled.


    "Nothing. Place looks dead - 'Closed' sign's in the window."

    "That's the way it was when I took off last night," Jake replied as he headed to the narrow alley beside the building and disappeared into the deep shadows.

    I followed him... reluctantly.

    The dark alley was mercifully short, and the back alley it opened onto was dappled with morning sunlight.  It was shadowy, but thankfully not as dark. I turned the corner and Jake was standing at a rusted steel door at the rear of the building, trying the handle gently. He motioned for me to be quiet. I felt like a naked babe, standing there in the shadows with no weapon in my hand. The handle turned freely and he pulled the door open without a creak. I glanced around for anything I could use as a weapon and spotted a broken piece of steel rebar. I snatched it up as he disappeared into the dark interior of the shop.

    I was just about to follow him in when I heard a "crack" from within and Jake cam staggering backwards through the doorway. He continued stumbling past me into the brick wall of the opposite building, then slid into a crumpled heap. I hefted the bar and readied myself for whatever monster was about to emerge from the yawning portal.

    What stepped out was a woman, probably late twenties, wielding a Louisville Slugger. She was slim but not sickly thin, dressed in boot-cut jeans and a long-sleeved top. Her skin was pale and it was contrasted by her long, orange hair and a pair of green eyes that were as hard as the emeralds they reminded me of. Her whole appearance, from dress to features to movements, spoke of a fierce self-confidence and internal energy.

    "I was expecting monsters, not burglars," she said in a voice that was low, but feminine, "But I can handle either."

    "Whoa!" I said, dropping the bar and holding up my hands in front of me. "Not burglars, ma'am!"

    She stepped forward, raising the bat, as she looked me up and down.

    "What, then?"

    I kept my hands up and moved - circling around the reach of the bat - to Jake's side. I lifted his head so she could see his face, which had blood trickling down it from a rapidly swelling welt on his forehead. Her expression instantly softened and the bat fell limp.

    "Oh, shit! Jake," she took a step toward him, then stopped and stiffened.

    "So who the fuck are you, tough guy?" she threatened.

    I dropped Jake's head and put both hands back up.

    "Just a guy who bumped into Jake last night and helped him out. My name's Carter. Fred Carter. Mind if I ask who you are?"

    She eyed my suspiciously for a moment, then relaxed.

    "I own this shop. I'm Lilith LeStrange," she said, easing her grip on the bat.

    "Figures," I mumbled.

    "What?" she said, her grip tightening again.

    "Nothing," I said. I nodded to Jake's unconscious form. "We should probably get sleeping beauty inside and make sure he's okay."

    She glared at me for a moment, then nodded and lowered the bat. We each grabbed an arm and pulled Jake's limp body into her shop.

    As I set foot in that shop, it was the first time in all of the weirdness that I really started to feel like I'd fallen down the rabbit hole.

    To be continued in the next chapter, Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: How Much Is That Voodoo Doll in the Window?

    Thursday, October 20, 2016

    Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: Welcome to My Nightmare

    About Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster
    1989, New Orleans. An ancient evil is trying to free itself from its extra-dimensional prison into the revels of Mardi Gras. A heroic adventurer and his spell-slinging ally are hot on its trail. And Fed Carter, an ordinary, everyday Joe - or is he? - stumbles right into the middle of it all.  Join Fred as he descends from our reality into one of friendly witches, gator-faced demons, and ancient goddesses looking to settle scores.

    . . . . .

      Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster

      Capter Four: Welcome to My Nightmare

      I don't know how I got into the hallway - Jake was zonked out against the motel room door - but there I was. I walked down the hallway, in all its Art Deco glory - it looked like something out of Kubrik's The Shining. And way better than that dump looked in the waking world. Somewhere behind me, I heard babies screaming - at least three or four of them. But I didn't look back.

      I kept moving forward, across the red carpet, down the crimson Damasc-clad hallway. At the end was a red velvet rope strung between a pair of brass stanchions. Beyond this barrier there was only darkness.

      Jeanine stood next to the barrier, sporting a ravishing black evening gown and lipstick and eye shadow to match. None of it fit very well with short, spiked copper hair. I stopped and she handed me a pamphlet.

      "Happy birthday, Freddie," she said - in my late mom's voice.

      I nodded and proceeded through, looking at the pamphlet as I descended the wide staircase that had suddenly appeared on the other side. I couldn't read it or make out the pictures - I never can, in my dreams - but I know it said "Find Your Damnation in the Lord!" It gave me the creeps. You know, that feeling you get when a normal dream starts to go sideways and you just know it's going to turn into a real horror show? That's the feeling I had as I stepped off the stairs into a massive ballroom and into a swirling mass of beautiful revelers.

      I had the sudden thought that I hadn't dressed for this occasion and I looked down in a panic, half-expecting to find myself buck naked. (Now that's a dream I know all too well.) I was pleasantly surprised to find myself decked out in a really amazing tux. I passed a mirror and couldn't help but give myself a thumbs ups and a wink as I walked by.

      "Lookin' good."

      Despite looking marvelous, I still had an unsettled feeling in the base of my spine. I worked my way toward the center of the giant room, dodging impossibly handsome men and gorgeous women as I did so. They swirled and swayed to some music I couldn't hear. The only sound was of their gentle, gliding footfalls and the "swish-swish-swish" of fabric.

      Every now and then, I'd catch a reveler's eye and they'd nod and wink at me.

      "Lookin' good," they all said.

      At first, it felt good - almost good enough to make me forget the skin crawling up my back. But the more this happened, the less enjoyable it became. Each time, something was wrong with their tone or their expression. And it happened more and more frequently as I began to reach what I somehow knew to be the center of the room. The swish-swish-swishing also grew in intensity.

      I was looking at the latest admirer - whose gaze lingered far too long to be anything but disturbing - when I accidentally bumped into something. I stopped and faced front, and found myself face to face with the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life.

      She stood just a few inches taller than me. Her alabaster flesh was offset by a shock of long, curly black hair that was bound into locks by golden ribbons, those locks bound into a pony tail by more of the same. Her sultry red lips were full and formed a perfect Cupid's bow, and her dark eyes blazed with an intensity I've never seen in a human expression. This lovely and striking vision was completed by an unbelievable hour glass figure that was partially hidden under a sheer, lime green evening gown that clung tightly to her body, all the way down to her feet.

      She was super hot. And she scared the living Hell out of me.

      I took a step back, involuntarily. I realized then that the dance had stopped, and that all of the revelers had closed around us in a tight circle. A wall of beautiful flesh.

      The beauty smiled, revealing perfect teeth. She curtsied ever so slightly.

      "Welcome, Mr. Carter. We are so glad you could attend," she said graciously, with an accent that sounded vaguely Middle Eastern or Mediterranean.

      Her eyes lingered, her gaze moving from my head to my feet, then up again. I could feel the eyes of the revelers do the same.

      "Yeah," I said, "I really can't stay. I was just putting in an appearance."

      I threw a halfhearted smirk and chuckled. It echoed hollowly through the hall.

      "Oh, but you must stay for the feast," she said, her smile fading. Her eyes narrowed. "My children and I... insist."

      She laughed, lightly, and the swish-swish-swishing sound again rose around me. Except I knew then that it wasn't swishing - it was hissing. I glanced around and saw that all of the revelers had begun hiss-hiss-hissing, as forked tongues darted in and out of their mouths. Their eyes had become yellow with black vertical slits - like a snake's eyes.

      I turned back to the beauty, and she, too, had begun hissing. I realized then that what I'd mistaken for a clinging green gown was her own flesh. The upper half of her body was that of a woman, but her lower half was of an iridescent green snake. Her torso melded into a tail that was coiled behind her, and she rose up on it until she towered over the crowd. Her hissing laugh became a gale that drowned out the wall of now-snake-faced revelers that were the only thing preventing me from running, full-tilt, from the hall.

      She looked down at me and her mouth opened. The bottom jaw unhinged and she descended, preparing to swallow me whole.

      "Looking good," she hissed, her forked tongue licking her peeled-back lips.

      Suddenly, my right hand and arm began to tingle - like it had after the Auto Mag exploded in my hand. But this time, the tingling spread upward, through my body, and instead of numbness, it engulfed me in a warm sensation. I felt powerful.

      As the snake-woman's head came down, I curled the fingers of my right hand tightly, pulled back, and unleashed a powerful, tight-fisted punch. A burst of energy exploded between my fist and her face, and I was blown across the room by it, blasting a path through the revelers.

      A roar went up from the crowd and was almost instantly drowned out by the roar from the snake-woman.

      As I crawled to my feet at the bottom of the stairs, I saw - through the path my body had cleared in the wall of flesh - that I'd knocked her flat with the blow. She was rising again, but what arose from that heap of flesh wasn't a beautiful woman atop the body of a snake. It was something I can't completely describe.
      My eyes seemed unable to completely focus on it - you know, like when you see two contrasting colors next to each other and they make your eyeballs wobble? It was like that. The thing had a shape, but I can't describe it. It was solid, but it seemed like I could see through it. It had color, but there's nothing in our world that I can compare it to.

      Simply put: it was something that didn't belong in our universe, and none of what we know as reality could be used to describe it. It filled me with a terror I'd never felt before. It was an existential horror. A sense of utter helplessness and despair that went beyond traditional fear..

      "Carter!" its warbling voice yelled at me. "Carter!"

      That's when I awoke to Jake shaking me.

      "Carter!" he said. "For fuck's sake, wake up man!"

      I sat up - and froze as pain coursed through my body, making every muscle seem to spasm and seize.

      "Fuck!" I yelled, doubling over. The physical activities of the previous night, coupled with sleeping in a cheap desk chair, had set me up for a deluge of pain upon waking. I let out a long groan.

      "Here, try this," Jake said, handing me a hip flask. A smell like lighter fluid wafted up from it. "Sounded like you were having a heck of a nightmare."

      I took it with a grunt and gladly gulped down its burning contents. It only took a few moments for the burning in my throat to transform into a warmth that spread across my aching body and through my stiff limbs.


      "You have no idea."

      I stood and stretched, forcing the muscles to quit their bitching. The morning light slipped in through the blinds next to me, and I took a moment to let my body gather energy from the warm rays.

      "How's Jeanine -"

      I stopped when I turned and saw that the bed was empty. A glance to the bathroom showed that the door was open, the light off. I flashed a quizzical, concerned look at Jake.

      "Bus station," he said. "She bailed at first light. She was totally freaked. Said she didn't get paid enough for this shit. Quote, unquote."

      I was deflated.

      "Well, shit," was all I could manage.

      "Yeah. Can't blame her though. You gotta admit, it's all kinda crazy."

      "Crazy doesn't touch this with a ten-foot pole," I said, stripping off my clothes - stained and reeking of stagnant water - and fetching clean ones from my bag.

      "You gonna bail, to?"

      "Not me," I said, heading to the bathroom. "I'm going to shower, then I'm going to find a place that serves gator for breakfast and eat the lot. And you're going to tell me what the fuck is going on."

      To be continued in Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: You Can Be My Wingman
      . . . . .

      Wednesday, October 19, 2016

      Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Gator

      About Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster
      1989, New Orleans. An ancient evil is trying to free itself from its extra-dimensional prison into the revels of Mardi Gras. A heroic adventurer and his spell-slinging ally are hot on its trail. And Fed Carter, an ordinary, everyday Joe - or is he? - stumbles right into the middle of it all.  Join Fred as he descends from our reality into one of friendly witches, gator-faced demons, and ancient goddesses looking to settle scores.

      . . . . .

        Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster

        Chapter Three: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Gator

        I thought for sure I was done for as the lizard-gator-man-thing prepared to clamp its massive, tooth-filled maw over my head.

        Then, just as the thing was about to bite my head off, a machete seemed to appear out of nowhere and embed itself deep in its neck. A gout of black, brackish blood spewed upward and splashed across the bare fluorescent bulbs above. The beast reared back, a gurgling hiss issuing from its mouth. It let go of me as it started flailing at the blade. Its head rolled to one side, as half of the muscles that held it in place had just been cleanly severed.

        I rolled away, and realized that the machete was attached to a man: the bruised and battered archaeologist dude.

        As the creature frantically attempted to simultaneously halt the spray of blood that had begun spurting from its neck and keep its head from flopping to the side, the dude worked the massive blade loose and brought it down, again. This time, the thing's head fell right off. It stood there for a couple of seconds, flailing at the stump, then dropped to its knees and fell in front of me - spraying me again with the dark ichor that passed for its blood.

        I stared at it for a moment, then heaved a heavy sigh of relief, as I realized that was the last of the monsters. As if in response, the headless body lurched up, and a massive, scaly skinned arm reached out for me. Its hand curled around my leg, and the corpse jerked forward as if to pull itself on top of me. I beat it with my fists and kicked it with my free leg, but it held tight.

        The dude jumped on the thing's back and brought the heavy blade of the machete down on it again and again and again, chopping its hands from its arms. Then, its arms from its body. Finally, he up-ended the blade and drove it straight down between its shoulder blades.

        The corpse twitched twice, then lay still. Its severed hand was still tightly wrapped around my calf.

        "A little help here," I said to the dude as I tried to force the  disembodied hand to release my leg. He knelt down and the two of us began removing the hand, one broken finger at a time. Fortunately, there were only three of them.

        "Colorado Jake," he said, helping me to my feet.

        "Carter. Fred."

        Jake looked around, found his brown fedora. I looked around, found Jeanine. She was sitting - dazed - against the side of the Honda, where she'd fallen when she tripped. I helped her up.

        "You okay-"

        "Look what you did to my car!" she snapped. She pulled herself away from me and punched me in the chest. "You wrecked it!"

        "In my defense, we were being chased by swamp monsters," I said, not that I thought it would help much.

        She didn't seem to care - she stood looking at her car, her back to me. She shook her head.

        "I just made the second payment," she said. "Now look at my baby."

        "You must be Jeanine," Jake said, extending his hand.

        "This is as much your fault as it is his!" she barked, slapping his hand away. "If I hadn't come looking for your missing ass, none of this would have happened."

        She turned and went to the beast she'd capped. She kicked it in anger and turned again to face us.

        "And what the Hell are these things? Huh? Frickin' swamp creatures? What's up with that?"

        Suddenly, her expression changed, as her brain switched gears - from stress-induced anger to sudden realization of what had just happened. Then, her eyelids fluttered and her eyes rolled back into her head. Jake and I caught her as she wilted to the pavement.

        "She's a real piece," he said.

        "And then some." I rolled my eyes at him. "We'd better get out of here. I don't imagine it'll be very long before the cops show up and start asking us hard questions."

        "Agreed," Jake said. He nodded toward the mangled Honda. "You suppose that thing will run?"

        I shrugged.

        "Good enough for me," he said.

        We carried Jeanine to the car and put her in the backseat.

        "I think she'll be more comfortable back there than I was," Jake said.

        "Just keep an eye on her," I told him as we got in. "I don't need her waking up and going all harpy on me while we're trying to make a getaway. It's hard to drive when someone's behind you, trying to gouge your eyes out with Lee Press On Nails."

        He nodded.

        I said a quick prayer to any deities that might be listening, then gently pumped the gas as I turned the key in the ignition. The car sputtered once. Then again. Then one more time and rumbled to life. The alternator belt squealed as I gently put it in reverse. Mercifully, it began to back out of the garage.

        "What do you think the cops will say when they see those bodies?" I asked.

        "Um... I don't think that's going to be a problem," Jake answered.

        Curious at his meaning, I stopped looking over my shoulder long enough to glance at the corpses. Or where they had been. All that was left of the bodies were several piles of tarry goop.

        "Ew," I said.

        "Definitely, ew," Jake replied.

        I backed the car onto the sidewalk, then turned it and went into the garage through the unblocked exit. Okay, it wasn't totally unblocked, but compared to the cement pylon, the wooden barricade that was there didn't present much of a challenge. And given the damage already done to her car, Jeanine wouldn't even be able to notice the new damage done when I forced it out of our way.

        We sped through the garage and exited on the opposite side, onto a street the was closed to vehicular traffic. This was a boon, as it made fleeing the scene much easier, save having to dodge the occasional slow reveler or two. Then, we were on a relatively quiet side street. Then another, and another, and so on - until we'd snaked our way back to the motel.

        Jake and I sat in silence the entire time, our senses on high alert for any sign of pursuit - human or otherwise. But aside from the always-distant sound of sirens, none presented itself.

        When we were near the motel, I pulled the car into an alley and parked it between a pair of dumpsters. I'll say this for that car: it was conveniently easy to conceal. I'd have had a trick of it trying to pull that stunt with a deuce-and-a-half.

        I stripped off my gore-encrusted windbreaker and tee shirt and wiped as much of the blood from my face and hands as I could. I then wadded up the ruined clothes and deposited them deep within one of the dumpsters. Sadly - I loved that windbreaker, and the tee was my favorite Boris print. While I was doing that, I discovered several dozen necklaces of beads, which I pulled out.

        I draped a handful of the necklaces around my neck and tossed a bunch to Jake, who did the same. I then pulled Jeanine, who was still mostly out of it but lucid enough to stumble - with help - from the car. I flopped the rest of the necklaces over her head. Jake pulled his canvas bag from the back seat, grabbed Jeanine\s other arm, and we quickly made our way out of the alley.

        We'd just barely made it onto the street when a police cruiser came around the corner, obviously doing a slow sweep of the streets. It crawled by as we staggered to the front door of the motel and we held our collective breath - except for Jeanine, who was now mumbling something about people defiling her "baby." The cruiser slowed as it reached us, and we turned to head into the motel.

        I almost had a stroke when the cruiser's siren went off right behind me, but instead of screeching to a halt, the car's tires squealed and it sped away. I leaned back and watched it go several blocks down and turn out of sight.

        I heaved a sigh of relief.

        "That was close," Jake whispered.

        "We're not in the clear yet," I said as we approached the front desk.

        Behind the desk - and a half-inch of filthy plexi - sat an inordinately angry-looking elderly woman. She eyed us suspiciously as we approached and turned to go down the hall to our room. I saw her looking and flashed a dumb grin.

        "One Hell of a party out there," I said, doing my best to slur my words.

        "One Helluva partay! Woo! Woo!" Jeanine shouted, slurring her words with zero difficulty.

        The desk woman pinched her face up in disapproval and went back to reading her Readers' Digest. We stumbled off down the hall and into our room.

        I dropped Jeanine on the bed as Jake bolted and chained the door. He stood listening at it as I crossed to the window that overlooked the parking lot and closed the blinds. I then cracked them open a bit and watched for any sign of... well, anything I didn't like the looks of. Jeanine just laid on the bed and giggled.

        We continued doing this for about a half-hour.

        Finally, we relaxed, Exhaustion set in and we each slowly slipped off to sleep - Jake slumped against the door, and me in the desk chair by the window. Jeanine intermittently giggled and whimpered throughout the night.

        Sometime during the night, I felt like I woke up. But I was standing in the middle of the room, over everybody - including myself. I looked around at the sleeping figures, then made my way to the door, then into the hall - and into one of the worst nightmares I've ever had, before or since.

        To be continued in Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: Welcome to My Nightmare

        . . . . .

        Wednesday, October 12, 2016

        Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: Start the Engine!

        About Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster
        It's 1989 and an ancient evil is trying to free itself from its extra-dimensional prison into the revels of Mardi Gras. A heroic adventurer and his spell-slinging ally are hot on its trail. And Fed Carter, an ordinary, everyday Joe - or is he? - stumbles right into the middle of it all.  Join Fred as he descends from our reality into one of friendly witches, gator-faced demons, and ancient goddesses looking to settle scores.

        . . . . .

        Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster

        Chapter Two: Start the Engine!

        I just sat for a moment as my brain tried to process the scene before me.

        Jeanine, however, had gone into full-on journalist mode. Meaning she'd lost all situational awareness as her camera flash went off like a strobe light as she snapped photo after photo... and walked straight into the path of the now-blinded dude and his linebacker-looking pursuers.

        I saw this and my first thought was to get her out of the way. Unfortunately, as I tried to open the car door, I discovered that she'd parked within inches of the hydrant, effectively locking me in. All I could do was yell for her to:

        "Look the fuck out, Jeanine!"

        She must have heard me, because she left the zone and lowered the camera. She glanced over her shoulder at me, then at the oncoming wall of flesh. She dove out of the way just as one of the thugs caught up to the dude - stumbling and half-blinded, thanks to Jeanine's camera flash - and hooked his leg. It sent his large frame spinning though the air like a G.I. Joe.

        Jeanine barely ducked under the flying man, diving to the pavement in front of the car. A taxi jerked to a stop - thankfully having been slowed by the traffic - just short of her head. The dude hit the hood of the Civic with a "crunch," and bounced off. He landed on the pavement right next to Jeanine.

        I watched, helpless, as the costumed thugs stopped. Two of them were rubbing their eyes - a bizarre sight to see - as the third stepped to the curb and glared down at Jeanine and the stunned dude. Then, he looked around, as if searching for something. I was just beginning to wonder what he was looking for when he moved to the passenger side of the car, knelt down, and hooked his hands under it.

        That's when I understood that what he was looking for was something big to crush the dude and Jeanine with. And I just happened to be sitting in that something.

        I expected for a moment that this would end with the thug in the costume blowing out his knees or shoulders and me having a good laugh. But that laugh died in my throat when I felt the car rise swiftly off the ground. I fumbled in the dark, looking for the window controls, but only succeeded in moving the side-view mirror around. As the car continued to rise, I knew I was going to have to do something that was going to make Jeanine very, very angry. But at least she'd be alive to chew me a new one.

        So I pulled the Auto Mag from under my left arm, laid back across the front seats, and fired a single shot through the window, point blank into the thug's chest.

        Now, the gunshot was pretty deafening in the confined space of the car's cabin, and the car fell pretty fast and there was a lot of noise when it hit the asphalt, but I could swear that the big guy in the costume hissed at me when the round struck him. And that sound, aside from a small hole in the chest of his costume, was the only thing that seemed to indicate I'd even hit him.

        Oh, and his having dropped the car, or course. Which felt like it'd been hit by a Brinks truck when it connected with solid ground again. That was fine with me, though, because that got the adrenalin flowing and the heart pumping. I didn't waste a second: as soon as the car was on terra firma, I rolled out the driver side and came up shooting - and yelling for Jeanine to get her ass up and get in the car.

        I hadn't ordered her to drag the dude along with her, but she did so anyway. As I kept the costumed creeps hopping and ducking, she helped his dazed butt up and shoved him into the "back seat." (Ever seen the back seat of a Civic CRX? Calling it that is giving it way too much credit.) She managed to cram him in, then crawled through to the passenger side.

        "Get in and drive!" she commanded.

        Given that my slide had just locked open, I had already begun complying with the first half of that order. I slid behind the wheel, cranked the engine over - which went on the first try, thank whatever deity was watching over us that night - and forced my way into traffic.

        And got about thirty feet before hitting the gridlock.

        I looked in the rear-view and saw that the costumed goons were emerging from the cover I'd sent them diving for. I looked frantically for a way out, and quickly realized that the repeated shots from my hand cannon had sent all the pedestrians running for cover. The sidewalk, as far as the eye could see, was clear.

        "Hold onto your butts!" I yelled, as I yanked the wheel hard to the left and gunned it.

        The car's front wheels spun as they tried to find purchase. When they did, the car jerked into the oncoming lane. I kept the pedal down, forcing it - with the sound of steel being ripped from the passenger-side door - between a pair of large sedans. I got it up on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and tore along it - against the flow of traffic on the street next to us - dodging newsstands, street vendors' tables, and any pedestrians that were too slow or dumb to have taken cover when they'd heard the gunshots. I tried to gauge the location of the goons, but somehow the rear-view mirror had fallen to the floor and the passenger's side-view mirror had gotten pointed at the sky.

        "Where are they? Are they following?"

        Jeanine hooked a hand out the window onto the roof and leaned out to look behind us. I swerved to dodge a tree that almost took her head off.

        "I don't see-- wait, there they are. Oh, sweet Jesus," she said.

        I took a chance and glanced over my shoulder at the street behind us. The trio were loping and leaping between, onto, and over the stopped cars. And, thanks to the sidewalk not being conducive to vehicular traffic, they were gaining on us.

        "Shit!" I grunted. "Okay, get your head in here. And buckle up!"

        Up ahead, I saw my move: a neon sign flashing the words "EZ Park." Behind me, the dude had pulled himself upright. Bad timing.

        Jeanine had just finished snapping in when I hit the breaks and cranked the wheel. The tires screamed as the car went sideways and I punched the gas, sending us tearing into the parking garage - and right into a cement pylon with a black and yellow "No entrance" sign on it.

        The car did exactly what the person who had put that pylon there intended cars to do: it stopped. Suddenly.

        As I'd neglected to buckle my own seat belt, my forehead bounced off the steering wheel. Jeanine was jolted forward, but her seat belt kept he from hitting anything too solid. But the dude... Well, first, he'd been slammed into the rear side window when I'd made the turn. Then, he'd bounced back just in time to be ejected straight through the car's windshield when it stopped. He went sailing over the pylon and landed in a crumpled heap about fifteen feet in front of the car.

        My immediate thought was to get out of the vehicle and get my pistol reloaded so I'd be ready when the goons caught up. My brain was surprisingly clear given the blow I'd just taken. Unfortunately, it wasn't communicating with my body so well. I shoved the door open as I pulled a fresh clip, but when my feet hit the pavement they did so unevenly, and when I tried to stand my jelly-filled legs just wobbled beneath me. For about half a second. Then, I fell over sideways.

        The spare clip popped out of my hand. I watched it fly into the air and land just beyond my fingertips. Right at the Gorn-like feet of one of the feet of the costumed thug I'd popped in the chest. I looked up as the brute's hulking frame blotted out the parking garage lights overhead. His massive, greenish-gray and scaly arms reached out for me,

        I distinctly remember thinking to myself: This is gonna totally suck.

        I wasn't wrong. The thug lifted me up off my feet with ease. I dangled there for a moment, looking into his black eyes as he hissed - I knew I'd heard him hiss! - at me. I think that's when my brain finally accepted the fact that these things weren't goons in suits. These things were monsters.

        "Fuck, you're ugly," was about all my befuddled brain could muster. And: "What happened? Someone feed you after midnight?"

        The thing held me out and reeled it's head back, its toothy maw widening. It reeked of swamp and decay, but the horrid smell was the least of my concerns, as it looked like the thing had plans to bite my head off. I struggled, kicking and trying to head butt its face, but I was helpless.

        That's when I heard the sound of a clip being slammed into my pistol and the slide dropping closed. Swamp breath and I both turned our heads and looked down. There stood Jeanine, her tiny hands wrapped around the grip of the Auto Mag, the barrel of which was just a few inches from the beast's face.

        "Eat this," she said, sounding like a pint-sized Dirty Harry.

        She squeezed the trigger and the pistol barked, and three things happened simultaneously: the creature dropped me like a hot potato; it went tumbling away and fell; and Jeanine yelped and tripped backward as the pistol bucked upwards and out of her hands. All three of us hit the pavement at about the same time, the lizard-gator-man-thing doing so with a wet "splock!"

        I'd fallen to my hands and knees, and saw the pistol just a few feet away. I clambered and dove for it as another shadow fell over me, and I was suddenly lifted and sent flying through the air. I hit what turned out to be the side of the attendant's booth, then fell to the curb below. I covered my head as the glass from the windows I'd broken showered down over me. When the debris stopped falling, I sat up and looked around. Although the world had gone a little fuzzy, I saw the first creature, laying in a pool of its own blood and brains, and the third one just now coming into the garage, but there was no sign of the one that had tossed me around.

        Then, I realized: it was standing right behind me. Damn, these things were freaking fast!

        I tried to roll away, but the thing caught my right arm and cranked it around, up and over my head. I  turned and could just see the thing, its jaws cranking open to take a bite out of my noggin.

        That's when I realized that something was in my right hand: my Auto Mag! I'd managed to grab it after all. I squeezed the trigger a few times, knowing it wouldn't hit the creature - and hoping that Jeanine was still on the ground so a stray round wouldn't hit her.

        The thing hissed and reeled as the muzzle flash burned its... snout, I guess?  It loosened its grip and I pulled free, spun, and leveled the pistol and squeezed the trigger - just as its jaws clamped down on my right hand. The pistol took most of the force, which saved my hand. But its powerful jaws must've crushed the barrel, because the pistol exploded in the thing's mouth, blowing blood, teeth, and gobbets of smelly meat all over the place - and all over me.

        I tumbled away from the carcass, my hand and lower arm buzzing, like I'd just grabbed an electric fence. I almost panicked, thinking I'd lost fingers in the explosion. But I quickly counted and they were all there - I just couldn't feel them. As I crawled backwards, I bumped into something and stopped. I looked up, and found the last of the trio standing over me. Drool or swamp water - I couldn't tell which, but it smelled just as bad, either way - dribbled into my blood-soaked face. It leaned down and grabbed me by the upper arms, pinning me to the ground, as it prepared to do what its friends had tried and failed to do: remove my head with its teeth.

        I tried to move, but I couldn't do more than wiggle my toes as the thing moved in for the kill.

        To be continued in Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Gator