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. 5: 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 how I left it 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, dressed in boot-cut jeans and a long-sleeved top. Her skin was pale and it was complemented by her long, white 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 fierce self-confidence and internal energy.

    I couldn't help but notice that the bat had some sort of weird symbols etched into it, apparently with a wood-burning pen.

    "I was expecting monsters, not burglars," she said in a voice that was low, but feminine, "But that's fine, 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 outside the reach of the bat - to Jake's side. I lifted his head so she could see his face, which had blood streaming down it from a gash atop 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. She swung the rune-bat back into a menacing position.

    "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, lowering the bat.

    "Figures," I mumbled without thinking.

    "What?" she said, raising the bat again.

    "Nothing," I said. I nodded to Jake's unconscious form. "We should probably get sleeping beauty inside and make sure he's not dain bramaged."

    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. She was strong for her size, and I couldn't help but notice, as her white hair fell to her side, the edge of some sort of weird symbol tattooed in black ink on the back of her neck.

    As I set foot in that shop, it was the first time in all of this 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?