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. 3: 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.

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    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 gator-man 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 slumped 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 puddless 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 jacket and tee shirt and wiped as much of the blood from my face and hands and jacket as I could with the clean side of the shirt. I then wadded it up and deposited it deep within one of the dumpsters. Sadly - I loved that shirt.

    While I was doing that, I discovered several dozen necklaces of brightly colored 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 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

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