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. 2: 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. 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, alligator-headed 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 tear 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, so 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 her 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 the cement 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 and looking 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 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 black 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 leaning down across my arm, its jaws stretching 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. It was right next to the thing's fugly head, but it was pointed in the wrong direction - up at the ceiling of the garage. 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