Short Story: Feeding the Muse

"Some days, Simon, I really loathe you," Mariel said, with just a hint of genuine venom.

She dropped the Writers Digest on the table, its cover and front pages folded back to reveal a page mostly consumed by a photo of Simon at his writing desk. The image was full of deep shadows, moody, and deliberately included the dark, heavy bookshelves that surrounded him, their worn hardwood planks supporting hundreds of hardback classics, sheaves of loose papers, and the occasional occult or funerary artifact - a human skull here, a hand of glory there. Block letters above it pronounced Simon to be the "Modern Master of Horror and the Macabre."

Simon sipped his espresso double-shot latte and produced a wry smile. "It's not my fault if you can't keep up."

She twisted her mouth into a sarcastic kiss and pretended to fix her lipstick with her middle finger.

"Some of us just refuse to sell our artistic integrity on the open market," she said.


Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster, Ch. 4: 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 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 -"

     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 doesn'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 kinds of 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
    . . . . .