It’s a Holiday Hootenanny!

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It’s a Holiday Hootenanny! In this anthology, you will find Christmas stories and more. WPaD is proud to present our favorite fiction from holidays all year round, from Halloween to Arbor Day, ranging from sentimental to a bit on the dark side. An entertaining read for any season.

Now FREE or exceptionally low priced on Amazon.com

Get your copy today, read it, leave a review of any of our books and I’ll send you something nice (like a FREE poster) while supplies last.

Also NEW from WPAD: Weirder Tales.

Get the book. Be amazed at how good some of these stories are. Have fun. Get a free poster (offer applies on ALL WPaD Anthologies)

 

Weirder Tales

Weirder Tales – Now Available on Amazon and other fine online bookstores. Proceeds to to MS Research.

Happy Reading!

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Just One Kiss

Just One Kiss

A Story By Mandy White

The day her brother tore his own head off and didn’t die, was the day Johanna first suspected that all was not right with the world.

Charlie seemed to be experiencing some sort of inner struggle: muttering to himself and pacing in circles, stopping from time to time to cover his ears and shake his head vigorously. They were in the kitchen, and Johanna had just finished brewing a pot of coffee. Charlie reached toward the cupboard above, like he was going to take out a mug. Instead of opening the cupboard, he placed his hand on the back of his neck, then turned to face Johanna.“Must feed,” he said. He grabbed his head and pulled, bending his neck forward at an impossible angle. “Must… feeeed!” he grunted, twisting and pulling until Johanna swore his neck had stretched an extra six inches.

“Charlie! Stop that! What are you doing?”

“UNGH!” Charlie replied, and with a mighty tug, he pulled his head from his body. Instead of spurting blood the way a recently decapitated body should, his neck began to heal before her eyes, transforming from torn flesh into some kind of elongated sucking appendage. The ‘lips’ of the sucker smacked together toward Johanna as if blowing her a sloppy kiss, then it gurgled,

“Fleebb.”

The Charlie-thing turned its head upside down. The sucker groped around, lips opening and closing until it found the severed end of the neck. The sucker attached itself to the neck and made a sound like a Shop-Vac cleaning up vomit as it slurped the contents out of the skull. Charlie’s face sagged like a deflated balloon.

Johanna screamed.

The sucker detached from the withered head and reached toward the sound of Johanna’s voice, smacking the empty air in front of it.

“Mup. Grackle. Pleebbb. Fleeg,” the monster said, dropping the head on the floor and taking a step in Johanna’s direction.

She stumbled backward, tripping over a chair. Charlie’s body turned toward the sound, tentacle searching, lips opening and closing. Johanna fled out the front door and ran down the street without looking back.

When she finally stopped to catch her breath, she dared to look over her shoulder and saw with relief that nothing was chasing her. Panting, she leaned against a nearby fence.

Now what? Where to go?

Mom!

She needed to tell her mother what had happened. Salon La Vie, where her mother was a stylist, was about six blocks away. Johanna checked the time on her cell phone. It was 2:00. Mom was on shift for another two hours. There was plenty of time to get there and warn her, and then they could pick up her younger sister Zoe from school together. She had lost one sibling already; she intended to make sure the rest of her family was safe.

Johanna broke into a jog, grateful for the gym membership she had gotten as a Christmas gift. She covered the six blocks easily and before long she dashed through the glass doors of Salon La Vie. The neon lights, gleaming chrome and mirrors and pounding techno music – it was like entering an ammonia-scented nightclub.

Johanna looked down the long line of stylist’s stations and did not see her mother.

“Can I help y’all?” the redhead behind the counter chirped. A nametag pinned to her overstuffed leopard print blouse identified her as Trixie.

“I’m Jillian Sykes’ daughter. Is she here?”

“Oh, hi, honey! You’re Jillie’s girl! So nice to meet y’all.” Trixie flashed Johanna a too-wide grin that made her look like a horse wearing purple lip-gloss. “I’m so sorry, sweetpea, but y’all missed your Mama. She left during her lunch hour.”

“She did? I thought she was working until four.”

“Naw, not today, sugar. She booked a half-day today. Had to pick her daughter up from school early. Somethin’ ‘bout the kid havin’ a karate tournament.” Red looked up at the ceiling and batted her false, mascara-caked eyelashes. Johanna suspected this was the woman’s ‘thoughtful’ look. “Can y’all imagine that?” she mused. “A lil-ol gal like that goin’ all Jackie Chan-like?”

“Sure,” Johanna said. “Zoe enjoys it, and she’s damn good at it.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry sugar! I didn’t mean nothin’ by it! It’s just, y’know, where I come from, little girls are raised to be ladies, and let the men do the ass-kicking.”

Trixie was still muttering something about fine Southern ladies when Johanna dashed out the door.

“Thank you,” she called over her shoulder, but was pretty sure Trixie from Dixie hadn’t heard.

Eleven-year-old Zoe usually took the school bus home, but today was Friday. Zoe had a karate meet at another school. Zoe was excused for the afternoon so they’d have time to make the half-hour drive to Palsson Middle School.

She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and called her mother.

Mom answered her phone on the second ring.

“Mom?”

“Oh, there you are. I was wondering where you’d gotten to.”

“Mom, listen! Stay where you are! Whatever you do, don’t go home! Tell me where you are and I’ll come and meet you.”

“But I’m already home, silly. We just got here.”

“What? Where’s Zoe?”

“She’s right here. Is something wrong?”

“Yes! Listen, Mom, you and Zoe need to get out of there right now. Charlie is… not himself. He’s dangerous.”

“He seemed fine to me a few minutes ago. Did you two have an argument or something? Why don’t you come home and we’ll talk about it?”

Johanna hung up.

Her mother was home, and so was Zoe. What did it mean? She paced back and forth, undecided. Should she go home? Her mother had said Charlie was fine. That couldn’t be true – the horror Johanna had seen in her kitchen was no hallucination. Or was it? No! she knew what she had seen. This was no hallucination… right?

What would she find if she went home? Would Charlie behave like his normal nineteen-year-old self? If she went home, would she see what she saw on any normal day? Her mother would be checking email before making dinner and Zoe would be playing Call of Duty on her Xbox, shouting curses at her friends through her headset. Or would she walk back into the same horror show she had left, with headless Charlie waiting to suck her brains out? Maybe Charlie had already killed Mom and Zoe and then set a trap for her.

But that sounded like Mom! I was talking to Mom! Wasn’t I?

Trap or not, she had to find out for sure. Gritting her teeth, Johanna set off in the direction of home.

* * *

Johanna slipped in through the back door, listening for signs of anything unusual. The kitchen was spotless and filled with the delicious aroma of something – pork chops, or perhaps her mother? – roasting in the oven. Charlie’s head was nowhere in sight, and neither was Charlie. The chair she had knocked over when she tripped sat neatly in its place at the kitchen table. She took a step forward and the floor creaked under her feet.

“Is that you, Jo?” her mom called from the other room.

“Y-yeah, Mom. It’s me. Everything all right?”

Her mother appeared in the doorway.

“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be? Everything’s fine. Where have you been?”

“I just went for a run.”

“In that?” Her mother frowned.

Johanna looked down at herself, remembering for the first time that she was still wearing her waitress uniform. She had just finished her shift at Maddy’s Diner when the Charlie incident occurred and she hadn’t gotten around to changing clothes yet.

“I ran back to work because I forgot my phone there.” She congratulated herself silently for her quick thinking. “That’s why I called you on the way home,” Johanna added.

“Called me?”

Panic coursed through Johanna’s body.

“Yes, I called you.”

“Oh.” Her mother laughed lightly. “Of course you did. How silly of me.”

“Do you remember what we were talking about?”

“Why?” Her mother’s eyes narrowed.

“Um, just… because I wanted to continue the conversation where we left off. Do you recall where that was? There was a lot of traffic nearby, and I’m not sure I heard everything you said.”

Her mother turned her back, reaching toward the oven. “I don’t have time right now. We’ll talk later. I need to feed…”

“W-what?” Johanna began to back away.

“I need to feed you all so I have time to get ready. I have a date tonight. Be a dear and call your brother and sister for dinner.”

Johanna found Zoe in her room, submerged in the world of virtual war games. Her karate gi was tossed in a corner, orange belt crumpled on top. Zoe couldn’t hear Johanna with the headset on, so she tapped her on the shoulder.

“What?” she shouted. Zoe always shouted when she had the headset on because she had no idea how loud she sounded.

Dinnertime.”

“’Kay!”

Heart thumping, she crept down the hall toward Charlie’s bedroom. The door was slightly ajar. The eerie absence of Charlie’s music was unnerving. The family members were so used to his ear-splitting playlist that it had become a natural part of their home environment.

She could hear the sound of Charlie’s TV, which he rarely watched.

She tapped lightly on the door.

“Charlie?” she whispered.

“Yes?”

“Um… it’s time to eat.”

“Eat.” His voice sounded cold and distant, but nothing like the garbling freak-show she had run from earlier.

Johanna pushed the door open slightly, just to have a peek. Charlie was seated on the end of his bed, head intact, back straight and arms at his sides. He was just… sitting. Staring straight ahead at the TV. It looked like he was watching old black-and-white movie with a lot of sappy romantic stuff. So totally un-Charlie, yet he seemed fixated on the screen.

“Charlie?” she asked timidly.

“Yes?”

Johanna couldn’t remember Charlie ever saying, ‘yes’. It was always, ‘yeah’, or ‘yep’, or ‘what’. He was the informal type.

“What are you doing?”

“Doing,” he repeated. He seemed to think for a moment, then said, “Watching TV.”

“Right.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” he said.

“Um… okay,” she said, backing away from the door.

This was not Charlie. It looked like him. It sounded like him, but didn’t act like him. This was some kind of replica. It was as she had feared. Her brother was gone.

What about her mother? And Zoe? They seemed normal, but for how long?

Dinner was unremarkable. Baked pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy from a can. Their mother had hastily served the food before rushing off to get ready for her date. Apparently her mystery man had made dinner reservations at someplace fancy.

Charlie ate in silence, the fork in his hand transferring the food from plate to mouth with a jerky, mechanical motion, like a robot arm in a factory. His eyes never left his plate.

Zoe was her usual boisterous self, chattering about her karate meet, her friends and the afternoon’s most memorable moments in the world of virtual war on Xbox. Charlie fixed his youngest sister with a blank look as she prattled on. Zoe asked him to pass the salt and pepper, then asked a second time and he ignored her request.

“Charlie? Hey, Earth to Charlie! Can you pass me the salt and pepper sometime this century? What’s wrong, you stoned or something?”

Johanna forced a mouthful of potatoes down, heart thudding in her throat, expecting Charlie to rip Zoe’s head off.

Charlie didn’t answer. He just continued to eat.

He must feed, Johanna thought.

“What do you think, Jo?” Zoe asked, reaching across the table to retrieve the salt and pepper herself.

“About what?”

“You think Charlie’s been smoking the wacky tobacky, or what?”

“Oh, you don’t wanna know what I think,” Johanna said truthfully.

Their mother hurried into the kitchen, high heels click-clicking on the tiles. She looked gorgeous – made up like a magazine model, in true beautician form, without a hair out of place. She wore a sexy black cocktail dress with spaghetti straps and a fringed hem that fell at an angle just past her knees.

Zoe whistled. “Whoa, Mom! Looking hot!”

“Who’s your date, Mom?” Johanna asked, relieved for the distraction from Charlie’s creepy silence.

“Mr. Kramer, Ashley’s father, remember him?”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Well anyway, he asked me out today and I simply couldn’t say no.”

“So, what… you like him?”

“Well, yes, I suppose I do. I mean, I never gave him a second look before. He just wasn’t my type. Plus, he’s divorced with partial custody, so you know what a can of worms that can be. It’s not like he’s super good looking or anything, you know… typical accountant, geek-type. Today at the karate meet he was different. He wasn’t wearing his glasses – must’ve gotten contacts or something, but wow, it was like I never really saw him before. And he’s never said more than two words to me before. But today…” she sighed and clasped her hands over her chest. “Today, he was sitting next to me and the things he said… wow. Romantic doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

“Really?” Johanna was listening now.

“Yes. Honey, he was like one of those old-time actors from those classic romantic movies, like Clark Gable or someone.”

“Old movies?” That was an odd coincidence.

“Yeah, that’s the only way I can describe the way he spoke. Men just don’t talk that way today. I wonder why his wife left him.”

“Maybe he left her.”

“Yeah,” her mother seemed to brighten at the idea. “I’ll bet that was it. It was probably her fault. Her loss for letting such a gem get away.” She peeked out the window at the sound of a vehicle. “Oh, he’s here! Gotta run!” She blew them a kiss. “Behave yourselves!”

As the door closed, Charlie called after her, “We’ll always have Paris!”

Johanna questioned herself yet again. Maybe what she thought she had seen (and was seeing) was nothing but her imagination. Perhaps the stress of working too many 5am shifts in a row with horny truckers grabbing her ass had finally gotten to her. Sleep deprivation did strange things to the mind. Maybe she would benefit from a little wacky tobacky and a nice long nap.

She reconsidered her original plan of grabbing Zoe and running. Maybe she should wait and see before doing anything rash.

* * *

The next morning, Johanna slipped out the door at 4:30 am to work her breakfast shift at Maddy’s. The house was dark and quiet when she left, and she took extra care not to wake the rest of the family. Mom had gotten home late from her date with What’s-His-Name and would no doubt be sleeping in. Zoe would probably be up early to get her fill of cereal and Saturday morning cartoons before joining her friends in another online bloodbath. Charlie… well, who knew what Charlie would do anymore, but typically he never surfaced before noon unless he had to work. Today was Saturday, so normally Charlie would be at work by the time Johanna returned home. With any luck, she wouldn’t see him at all that day.

Customers were already assembling in the parking lot, waiting for the diner to open when Johanna arrived. She brewed two pots of coffee, checked with the cook to make sure he was ready, then opened the doors a few minutes early. Mornings were their busiest time, with truck drivers making up most of the clientele. Opening those few minutes early often resulted in extra tips for Johanna; most of their customers were on tight schedules.

Tables filled and a hint of oil and diesel tickled the nostrils beneath the morning’s warm aromas of bacon and coffee. Johanna flitted from table to table, a stack of menus under one arm, coffee pot in the other and order pad in her apron pocket. She chatted and joked with the customers as she worked, most of whom were middle-aged, barrel-bellied men dressed in plaid. The customers were pleasant and polite, but as the morning wore on, Johanna couldn’t shake a niggling feeling that something wasn’t right. Something was missing.

When Tammy, the other waitress came on shift, Johanna took the opportunity for a short break before the second breakfast rush began. She poured herself a cup of coffee and leaned back against the waitress station to rest. She scanned the room, trying to pinpoint what was missing. All of the regulars were there. Joe Senior and Joe Junior, a father/son trucker team known to the diner community as Joe and Junior. There were Smitty, Billy and Fungus occupying their usual corner booth. A businessman-type Johanna didn’t recognize sat alone, reading the newspaper while he ate. Two of her least favorite customers, Merle and Ed, had positioned themselves at a table in the center of the room, in the optimal location for maximum waitress-groping, but no attempt at groping had been made yet. In fact, Merle had even attempted to recite poetry to her as she refilled his coffee cup.

Bingo!

She hadn’t been grabbed, spanked or propositioned once all morning. The off-color jokes and curse words that normally punctuated the mumble of morning chatter were absent. Johanna found the men’s uncharacteristic good behavior unsettling, to say the least.

Fungus, a.k.a. “The Growth”, vacated the corner booth when his companions left and moved to sit at the counter. His tendency to linger for hours drinking copious amounts of coffee had earned him his nickname, which he happened to like.

He often joked, “They call me Fungus because I’ll grow on you and make you sick.”

Tammy leaned over the counter, smiling and giving Fungus a nice view of the two growths inside her blouse. Tammy normally avoided the small bearded diner fixture, making no effort to hide her distaste. Watching her flirt with him was even more disturbing to Johanna than truck drivers not cussing.

Coffee break over, Johanna picked up a menu and made her way to a new customer seated in her section. He was overweight, balding and sweating profusely. He declined her offer of coffee and stared down at the table in front of him, dripping beads of sweat on the unopened menu she had placed in front of him. She wondered if he was on the verge of a heart attack or something.

“Can I get you something to drink?” she offered.

He shook his head. “No. Hungry.”

“I’ll give you a few minutes to decide, then. Our special is a three-cheese omelette.”

“Must… feed.” He groaned and held his head in his hands as if experiencing a migraine.

Johanna backed slowly away. “No. No. Not this again,” she whimpered.

She ducked behind the counter and grabbed Tammy’s arm, yanking her away from Fungus, who was spouting some bullshit about a woman like her needing to be kissed by someone who knew how.

“Sorry to interrupt your – whatever that was – but Tammy, look! Have you ever seen anything like this before?” She pointed at the sweaty guy.

“Sure. Seen it lots of times. Guy with a hangover.” She snapped her chewing gum. “What’s the big deal?”

“Just watch for a second. I think he’s going to do something… crazy.”

Tammy sighed and stood with her arms crossed, waiting for something spectacular to happen.

“He looks like he’s gonna barf,” she observed. “If he does, it’s your mess. Not my section.

Oh great! Johanna thought. That was just what she needed – a puker. Tammy was right; they saw a lot of hung over people on the morning shift. Pukers weren’t uncommon.

“FEED!” the man shouted suddenly.

To Johanna’s surprise, none of the male customers so much as blinked at the outburst.

Tammy laughed. “I’d say that’s your cue. Sounds like he’s ready to order.”

“No!” Johanna grabbed her co-worker’s arm. “Watch!”

Seeing a man remove his own head and suck out the skull was no less shocking the second time, though for Tammy it was a first. She ran and locked herself in the restroom, where she screamed and screamed.

Johanna ducked down and hid behind the counter where only Fungus could see her. He seemed unaffected by her behavior.

“Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?” he asked her. “’Cause you’re an angel.”

“Fungus, what the hell?

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine,” Fungus said.

“Are you seeing this?” Johanna pointed toward the man, who was busy draining the contents of his skull with his alien appendage.

Fungus glanced at the skull-sucker. “Oh, him?” he laughed, with a wave of dismissal. “He’s just lost his head a little. Don’t worry, he’ll pull himself together.”

“Have I gone insane?” Johanna wondered aloud. She surveyed the room. “Have you all gone insane?” she shouted. “What the fuck is going on here?”

The skull-sucker paused for a moment and reached its sucker in Johanna’s direction, probing the air with its lips and making kissing noises at her.

“Fleebie. Fleeble. Mup,” it said.

“See, Jo?” Fungus said. “He just needs a little kiss and he’ll be good as new. Better, even.” He leaned forward over the counter, eyes magnified behind his Coke-bottle glasses. “For that matter,” he added, “why don’t you lay a little sugar on me, sweetheart? Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”

“Fuck off, Fungus!” Johanna backed away from the counter, distancing herself from the creepy little man, to whom she felt inexplicably drawn all of a sudden.

The skull-sucker resumed sucking. Its loud slurping noises could be heard even over Tammy’s continued screaming.

Johanna ducked into the kitchen, where she found Maddy, the diner’s owner and namesake, making out with Kevin the cook. Maddy’s uniform was unbuttoned and her large belly protruded from the front of her dress.

“Oh! You guys! That is all kinds of wrong!” she blurted. Maddy was in her sixties; literally old enough to be twenty-year-old Kevin’s grandmother!

Johanna grabbed her purse and jacket. “Maddy, I’m leaving. Something important just came up. You might want to find Tammy a Valium or something. She may have lost a nut or two.”

“Mmmnn,” Maddy replied, not taking her lips from Kevin’s acne-pocked face.

Normally the entire scene would have made Johanna vomit in her mouth a little, but as of late, she’d seen things a lot worse. Still, something looked a bit off, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Maddy, already a plump woman, seemed… plumper than usual, as if she had suddenly gained a lot of weight. She shrugged it off as her own lack of attention to such details. After all, she had never seen Maddy nude before.

Ick. She shook her head, unable to unsee what she’d just seen.

When Johanna returned to the dining room, the skull-sucker was wearing his head once again. The tentacle-thing hung from his mouth. She watched, horrified, as the appendage retracted into his now sweat-free head, bearing an absurd resemblance to a softening penis. Johanna dashed out the door without waiting for the tentacle to finish shrinking. She had a hunch what might be causing these men to behave oddly, and wondered what happened to women who were duped into kissing them.

Maddy! Wait – never mind Maddy. What about Mom? Did she kiss that guy last night?

Johanna raced home to find out.

* * *

Dr Renee Garcia sat in her office, poring over a stack of patients’ files, searching for a commonality between all of them. Besides the obvious one, that was. All of the patients were female, and all of them were pregnant. That in itself wasn’t unusual, given that Dr. Garcia was a gynecologist. Nor was the fact that the pregnancies were unexpected; those things happened all the time. It was the fact that all of the patients in the files on her desk should not, could not possibly be pregnant. This went beyond the failure of birth control methods; these women were physically incapable of conceiving, and yet they had. Some were far too old; others lacked the physical means, having had hysterectomies. Some of those surgeries Dr. Garcia had performed herself, so there was no doubt in her mind that the procedures had indeed been performed.

Some were married; some were not. A couple of them were lesbians who had never been intimate with a man.

So, how?

Something her last patient had said stuck in her mind. She hadn’t dated anyone in more than a year, then a man had asked her out, sweeping her off her feet with romantic talk.

Dr. Garcia had heard similar things from other patients. Husbands transformed overnight from drunken sports nuts to sweet-talking Casanovas. Shy men who had never so much as spoken to a woman were suddenly wooing and charming the female sex like Hollywood movie stars.

This case was just like the others. A woman, pregnant, with no logical explanation as to why. Her 46-year-old patient and long time friend had undergone a hysterectomy nine years earlier, after experiencing complications following the birth of her third child. She swore that she hadn’t been intimate with a man in more than a year. As a doctor, Renee had heard that line many times, from pregnant teens still in denial, from married women unwilling to admit that their due dates did not fall within a credible range.

But this patient was different. She had known Jillian since high school and delivered all three of her children. Jill had no reason to lie to her.

Renee studied the ultrasound images she had received that day. Some were from patients in those same files. In all cases, the technicians had been baffled at what they found. The woman looked visibly pregnant – belly distended as if in the second or third trimester, but the ultrasound produced no image. Just an opaque black mass where the uterus should have been. But in many of the cases, no uterus had been present to begin with.

She picked up the phone and pressed the button to connect to her partner’s extension. Maybe Dr. Gupta was still in her office. She was curious as to whether she had noticed anything unusual in her patients.

While she waited for her to pick up, someone knocked on her office door.

“You in there, Renee?”

“Yes. Come in Lila.”

“I was wondering if you’d like to grab some lunch,” Lila said.

“I was just trying to call you, actually.”

“Great minds think alike.”

“No, it wasn’t about that. I wanted to ask you about something.

“And?” Lila queried, sidling up to Renee’s desk to see what she was looking at.

“I was wondering if you’d come across anything unusual lately. With your patients.”

“Like what?”

“Umm. Pregnancies. Where there shouldn’t be any. Unusual ultrasound results.”

“Nothing comes to mind.” She paused to think for a moment, then shook her head. “Everything ok?”

“Sure. Just thinking out loud. Thanks. As a matter of fact, I could use a bite to eat.”

The bell jingled in the reception area.

“That’s odd,” Lila said. “I could’ve sworn Doris locked the front doors.”

The clinic was closed from eleven to twelve for lunch, and their receptionist, Doris, had already left.

“I’ll check it out,” Lila said. She left the room and returned moments later escorted by two burly men in black suits. They held her at gunpoint.

Renee held up her hands. “We don’t have much cash on the premises, but it’s all yours. Please don’t hurt us. We don’t have any drugs here.”

“Dr. Garcia, Dr. Gupta, you’ll need to come with us. Please do not discuss with anyone anything you may have seen, or we’ll be forced to kill you.”

“What?” Renee quavered. “Who are you people?”

“Homeland Security.”

“Renee, I think we’d better go with them.”

“You don’t have a choice, Dr. Gupta.”

Renee and Lila led the way out of the clinic. A long, glossy black vehicle resembling an armored truck was parked at the curb.

“Can I lock up?” Renee asked.

“That won’t be necessary. Get in. And remember. No talking to anyone.”

A door swung open on the side of the vehicle and one of the black-suited goons helped them inside while the other made his way to the driver’s side and took a seat behind the wheel.

Large tinted windows covered the sides and back of the vehicle. Renee realized they were one-way glass; she could see out, but hadn’t been able to see inside the bus. They were on a bus. Rows of seats held other men and women, most of whom they recognized. Doctors, lab technicians, nurses, all of them medical staff to some degree. Even Doris, their receptionist, sat alone in a seat, wide-eyed and terrified.

Goon #2 spoke into his headset. “All sealed up back here. Move out and detonate.”

A loud boom shook the vehicle as it drove away. Renee knew even before she saw the flames and cloud of debris hurtling skyward that her clinic was no more.

* * *

Johanna arrived home to find the house empty. Her mother had to work that day, but not until noon. Johanna’s breakfast shift ended at eleven on weekends – plenty of time for her to take over care of Zoe while her mother worked. It was only 9am, so where were Mom and Zoe? Charlie was presumably at work by now, but Johanna really had no desire to see her brother now that he had transformed into one of those skull-sucking freaks, whatever they were.

On the kitchen table, she found a note from her mother:

Jo,

I had to go to the doctor, and this was the only time Renee could see me. Zoe is at Arlene’s. If you get home before I do, could you please pick her up?

A doctor appointment? On a Saturday morning? Johanna knew the clinic was open Saturdays, but her mother usually made appointments on her days off. She worked afternoons at the salon to coordinate her schedule with Johanna’s.

Was her mother sick? A cold chill gripped Johanna’s guts. Was Mom hiding something from her?

She went next door and rang Arlene’s doorbell. Zoe answered.

“’Bout frickin’ time! Spring me outta this hellhole. It’s boring as shit in here. No Xbox, no internet. She just watches those stupid reality shows all day.

“Zoe! Language!” Johanna scolded.

“Pfft. Like you care. I learned it from you.”

“Thanks Arlene!” Johanna called.

“Anytime, sweetie,” Arlene rasped, a cloud of cigarette smoke billowing around her head. She remained glued to her usual spot on the couch, the cushion of which had probably formed a permanent impression of her ample butt.

“I don’t know why Mom made me stay with her. I can take care of myself just fine. Doesn’t she know cigarette smoke is bad for kids?”

“I guess she had no other choice. Her appointment was before I got home.”

“So? I coulda’ stayed home with Charlie.”

Johanna grabbed Zoe’s arm just before she reached the front door of their house. “What? Charlie’s home?”

“Yeah.”

“But I thought he had to work today. He always works on Saturday.”

“Well, he ain’t working today. Look, his car’s still there.”

Charlie’s green Honda Accord sat in the driveway. Johanna had parked in the alley and gone in the back door, so she hadn’t seen it until now.

“Zoe, have you noticed anything… strange about Charlie lately?”

“Not really. I mean, he’s always been kind of a weirdo, right?”

“I’m not talking about Goth music or facial piercings. I mean, he’s been acting weirder than usual. Like, quiet and polite or something.”

Zoe shrugged. “I dunno, maybe. What’s the big deal?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Whatevs. Can I go play Black Ops now?”

“Sure.”

Zoe ran inside and made a beeline for her bedroom. Johanna cringed when Zoe’s door whammed shut, shaking the entire house.

Johanna tiptoed down the hall to Charlie’s room. The door was ajar. She peeked in. The room was empty.

She searched the rest of the house, room by room. She even checked the basement, attic and closets, but Charlie was nowhere to be found. It appeared Charlie had gone out, presumably to work, and left his car at home. Maybe it had broken down and he’d gotten a ride from someone.

Now that Charlie was part of the tentacle brigade, Johanna half hoped he’d never return. At least not until this mess, whatever it was, was sorted out.

She poured a glass of orange juice and sat down at the kitchen table. She needed to have a long talk with her mother – about Charlie, the men at work, her mother’s date – and she wanted to know the reason for the impromptu doctor appointment.

Johanna’s cell phone buzzed. She picked it up. It was a text message from her mom:

I’m going 2 b late. Renee sent me to the hosp for an ultrasound.

Mom, are u ok?

Yes I’m fine. Just a routine checkup. I’m going to work right after.

You sure?

Yes!

I’m home and got Zoe with me.

Off work early?

Yep.

Problem?

Yes and no. I’ll xplain l8er.

Ok.

Johanna contemplated how she was going to explain to her mother the things she had seen. Men did inexplicable things all the time, but tearing their own heads off and making kissy faces with tentacle-lips was definitely a new one.

A piercing scream from Zoe’s room jolted her out of her reverie.

Johanna jumped up and bolted toward Zoe’s closed door.

“Get off me you fucking freak! What the hell’s wrong with you?” Zoe yelled. A thud followed, then Zoe’s door opened and she burst out of the room, crashing into Johanna.

“What’s wrong?”

Zoe pointed back toward her room. “That fucktard was hiding in my closet! And then he tried to kiss me! Ewwwww!”

Charlie lay sprawled on the floor of Zoe’s room.

“What happened to him?”

“I kicked his ass, that’s what. And he deserved it, that creep!”

“Thank god for karate,” Johanna said, grabbing Zoe’s hand. “Come on, we’re getting out of here.” She pulled her sister out the back door and together they ran to Johanna’s car.

“Where we goin’?”

“I don’t know. I think we need to find Mom.”

“Where’s she?”

“She said she was going to the hospital for some tests. She has to go to work after that, so let’s meet her there. We can hang out in the mall until the salon opens.”

“Can I go to the arcade?”

“Sure. Just don’t kiss any strange men.”

“Don’t be a sicko!” Zoe made a gagging noise.

* * *

Jill drove down the winding road, looking at the sleepy little town below. Like many hospitals, theirs was situated on high ground, atop what in this case, was the only hill in an otherwise flat landscape. Over the years it had become known as ‘Hospital Hill’. Her brow furrowed as she replayed in her mind what the ultrasound technician had told her.

“Your last period was when?”

“2005. Sorry, but I can’t remember the exact month, not that it matters.”

“Yes. Hysterectomy. That’s what it says here.”

The technician turned away to rattle some notes into her keyboard, then continued with the scan, muttering, “Same as before. Strange.” She laid the scanner on her instrument tray and handed Jill a box of tissues to clean the gel from her abdomen.

“Am I done?”

“Yes. You can get dressed now.”

“Is everything okay?”

“I’m not allowed to discuss it with you. You’ll have to see your doctor, but what I can tell you is that she may send you back for another scan. Our equipment has been malfunctioning lately, and I wasn’t able to get the images she wanted.”

Jill was pretty sure it was her own equipment that was malfunctioning, not the hospital’s. It was impossible, yet she had all the symptoms of pregnancy. Judging from the size of her belly, which had literally grown overnight, she appeared six to seven months along.

Having no uterus to support the pregnancy theory, there had to be another explanation, and all of the possibilities terrified Jill. Visions of tumors, massive blood clots, liver disease, kidney failure and other horrors swam in her mind. She needed to talk to Renee, and wondered if her friend and physician was still at the clinic.

A bright flash lit up the sky over the town. The unmistakable mushroom cloud of a large explosion rose directly above the area in which Renee’s clinic was located.

Jill slammed on the brakes. No. It couldn’t be. It had to be a different street. She found the white spire of the church, then counted the streets from there to the explosion site. One. Two. Three. Magnolia Street, where the clinic was located, was three blocks from the church in the direction of the main road leading out of town.

She fished her phone out of her purse and called the clinic. No answer. She tried Renee’s cell phone and got no answer there either. She had to know. She put the car in gear and made her way down the slope toward the cloud of smoke. As she drew nearer the clinic, bits of debris littered the street and she stopped the car to avoid losing a tire to broken glass and twisted metal. She walked the final block feeling as though the shards of glass crunching beneath her shoes were actually eggshells that needed to be delicately tread upon to maintain the illusion that everything was all right. When she reached the site of the explosion, her worst fears were confirmed. Where Renee’s clinic had been not more than an hour ago was a smoking black hole, with dirty red flames licking around the edges.

“No! No, no, no,” she whispered, shaking her head.

Maybe Renee wasn’t there… maybe she had gone to lunch early. Then Jill saw her friend’s car, still parked in her reserved space in front of the clinic. What had been a shiny silver Lexus an hour ago was now a blackened hulk sitting on four flaming tires.

A sob caught in her throat at the realization that her friend was gone. “Renee…”

She needed to go home.

She needed to collect her children and make sure all were accounted for, then gather them close until they found out what was going on. Was it a terrorist attack? An act of war?

She texted Johanna:

I’m coming home. R u there yet?

NO! Whatever you do, don’t go home!

Why?

Zoe and I are at the mall waiting for you. Just get over here and I’ll explain. Do NOT go home!

What about Charlie?

Fuck Charlie. Just get here ASAP!

Jill took a last tearful look at the burning clinic before rushing to her car. Sirens rose around her as she sped away toward the mall, passing the first of the fire trucks to reach the scene.

* * *

Johanna had never been so relieved to see her mother. She gave her a huge hug.

“You didn’t go home, did you?”

“No, I came straight here, like you said. Where’s Zoe?”

Johanna nodded toward the arcade. “About halfway through a roll of quarters, I’d guess.” Her mother looked shaken up. “Are you ok? What’s with the hospital stuff?”

“I-I don’t know. I just don’t know what’s going on.” Jill burst into tears. She opened her jacket to reveal her swollen belly.

Johanna gaped. “Mom, are you… pregnant?”

“Of course not!”

“Then what did the doctor say? Surely Renee has some explanation for… whatever this is.”

“No, that’s what I’m afraid of. Not that I’m sick, or… something. Jo, Renee is dead. Her clinic just blew up. I saw it from Hospital Hill.”

“What? Who blows up a clinic?” Johanna asked, although she knew. Anti-abortionists blew up clinics all the time. Overzealous drug addicts, looking to loot the place, but underestimating the power of a fertilizer bomb was another likely possibility, given the clinic’s rural setting.

Johanna pulled Jill into her arms and let her sob into her shoulder. Mascara smeared all over the shoulder of her pink waitress uniform, but Jo didn’t care. She was about 90% certain she would not be going back to work at Maddy’s again after what she’d witnessed that morning. She led her mother to a bench and sat down with her, wondering how in the blue hell she was going to tell her about Charlie, and the other men.

An explosion rocked the building, accompanied by the sound of shattering glass and the screech of metal on metal.

Terrorist attack! Was the first thought to flash through Johanna’s mind and from the look of alarm on her mother’s face, she could tell that she was thinking the same thing.

“Zoe!” Jill shouted, bolting for the arcade to protect her youngest daughter.

Johanna moved tentatively in the direction of the blast. When she rounded the corner, she saw with relief that it hadn’t been an explosion at all, just an automobile crash. A large shiny black vehicle was wedged into a secondary mall entrance, near the food court. It was stuck tight, like the driver had tried to drive into the mall, then only managed to fit the cab of the vehicle through the opening.

The passenger door opened and a soldier jumped out. Her fatigues were splattered with blood.

Johanna ran to her. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she said, “but he’s had better days.” She nodded toward the truck. Through the open door Johanna could see the silhouette of the driver, slumped against the steering wheel.

“What happened?”

“Sonofabitch tried to kiss me, so I blew his brains out.”

“What the fuck?”

“I’ll explain later. Right now I need to get these passengers out.”

The woman slid underneath the vehicle and unlocked something. “Help me with this, will you?”

Johanna crawled on her hands and knees, then flipped onto her back and scooted over to where the soldier was struggling to open a sliding panel.

“Wedge your feet here and push, on three.”

Johanna did as she was told and together they managed to force the panel open. The soldier drew her sidearm and aimed it into the opening.

“Stand down, Agent Stone. It’s Sergeant Wells. I’m entering the rear of the bus now. Everyone okay in there?”

Several voices murmured the affirmative.

“Sergeant Josie Wells, U.S. Army. Please move away from the emergency door. I’m coming in now.”

The soldier stood, then crawled up into the back of what appeared to be a large bus, from Johanna’s point of view.

“Any injuries?” Josie inquired. More murmurs. “Ok, we are going to exit through this panel in an orderly fashion. We have had to make an emergency stop, but you are safe and have nothing to fear. Who’s going first?”

Johanna slid out from under the bus to make way for the passengers. She heard a ripping sound and felt her uniform tear away from one shoulder.

“Shitballs!” she muttered. Maddy made her waitresses pay a deposit for their uniforms, which was as good as gone now that this one was damaged. Then she remembered that she probably wouldn’t be working at the diner anymore, so it didn’t matter.

The men and women emerged from beneath the bus. Johanna offered a hand to help any who looked like they needed it. Most were familiar faces; in a small town like Esther, Oklahoma it was next to impossible not to have seen each resident at least once.

Her mother arrived, dragging Zoe, who looked none too pleased at having been kidnapped from the arcade. When she saw the bus, her eyes widened and she stopped resisting.

“Wow! Cool! How many casualties? Are there like dead bodies and guts everywhere in there?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but no. Just one. The driver.”

“Oh my! Should we get help for him?” Jill asked.

Johanna shook her head. “He’s beyond help. He came down with a bad case of bullet through the head.”

“Whoa…” Zoe stared in awe, leaning toward the bus in hopes of getting a glimpse of the driver.

A scuffle could be heard inside the bus, then Sergeant Wells spoke again, in a sharp, commanding tone.

“Agent Stone, I need you to stand down now! Step away from the woman! Sir! Stop!”

Three shots rang out in rapid succession, followed by screams from inside the bus and more from the group gathered outside.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Calm down! Please exit the bus one at a time. Do not panic. Move in an orderly fashion!”

The rest of the passengers emerged more quickly than the first group. Sergeant Wells brought up the rear. Johanna noticed more blood on her uniform than before. Some of the passengers had blood on them as well.

Jill let out a small scream, dropping Zoe’s hand to run into the final group of passengers. She threw her arms around a blood-splattered woman.

“Oh my God, Renee! Are you all right? Are you hurt? Jill sobbed, dabbing at her face with the sleeve of her blouse.

Johanna hadn’t even recognized Dr. Garcia underneath the red mess covering her face.

“I’m fine,” Renee said, hugging Jill back. “I’m not injured. It’s not my blood, it’s…” she choked back a sob, unable to finish the sentence.

“I thought you were dead. I thought I saw your clinic blow up.”

“It did.”

“But how?”

Renee shook her head, glancing over at Sergeant Wells. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

Johanna marched over to the fountain, where Wells was washing the blood from her face.

“What’s going on? What is all this?”

“It’s top secret.”

“Really.” Johanna crossed her arms defiantly. “Does your secret have anything to do with men eating their own heads?”

Wells sighed. “I guess it doesn’t matter at this point. The mission has been compromised and I’ve just killed two superiors.”

“Let me guess. They tried to get kissy-face?”

“Affirmative.”

“Don’t these people deserve an explanation?”

“And how do you suppose we do that without creating panic?”

“I think we’re long past panic, Sergeant.”

“I guess so.”

A small crowd had begun to form and questions rose around them like the humming of insects. Wells held her hand up, silencing the crowd.

“I’ll tell you what I know, but you must agree to remain calm regardless of what you may hear or see in the next few hours.”

People slumped on benches, leaned against mall furnishings or slid to the floor as Josie began to speak.

* * *

Nobody knew exactly when or where it began, and its origin was still unclear. It was believed to be an alien pathogen, although biological terrorism hadn’t been ruled out yet. Only men were affected, and the method of transmission was also unclear. The only thing certain was what happened afterward.

An estimated 72 hours after coming in contact with the pathogen, the victim would begin to exhibit strange behavior, namely removing his own head and consuming the contents. A tentacle-like appendage grew in place of the head. After the head was empty it was worn as a helmet of sorts, concealing the alien’s identity and allowing it to blend into the population.

The thing was, the aliens didn’t know enough about human civilization to assimilate effectively. To gain information about their enemy, they resorted to humankind’s foremost source of entertainment: movies.

Their mission: To invade Earth.

Their means of invasion: Eliminate the men, who they saw as the primary threat, then take their places and impregnate the females with their own kind. Impregnation was accomplished by implanting an egg in the female’s abdomen, via the tentacle.

A single kiss was all it took.

The aliens mimicked what they saw in movies, quoting Bogart and Gable and other classic leading men in a cheesy attempt to woo the women into relinquishing a kiss and sealing the fate of humankind.

* * *

The small crowd was silent for several minutes after Josie finished speaking.

Finally, Renee spoke.

“Am I to understand that only men are vulnerable to… whatever this is, and women are immune?”

“Provided they don’t kiss any of the men, yes.”

“And so those pregnancies I’ve seen… the unexplained ones. They are a result of that?”

Jill covered her mouth and stifled a sob, tears spilling out of her eyes. Johanna put an arm around her.

“Yes, Doctor.”

Renee waved an arm toward the wrecked bus. “And what is the purpose of this?”

“Homeland Security’s feeble attempt to keep the situation secret. Too many doctors were seeing strange pregnancies and starting to ask questions. They’ve sent out teams to round up medical personnel and destroy medical records.”

“By blowing up clinics? That’s insane!”

“That’s America.” The soldier shrugged. “Other teams are out there right now, collecting all women who are visibly pregnant.” She glanced at Jill. “Once impregnated, the egg, or whatever it is, grows rapidly, becoming visible overnight.”

“What happens when it… hatches?” Jill asked.

Josie looked down at her boots and shook her head.

“No!” Johanna shouted.

“I’m sorry. They have been trying to study it, to find some kind of antidote, but so far none of the female subjects have survived.”

“What about the men?” Johanna asked.

“We are under orders to eliminate any men who exhibit romantic behavior.”

A nervous laugh rippled through the males in the group.

“So guys, what that means is, be sure to act like men and don’t try to get romantic with any women or you might get shot. Sorry.”

* * *

SIX MONTHS LATER

Sentry duty was long and tedious, much like her previous job at Maddy’s Diner. Johanna paced to stave off the numbness creeping into her toes. It wasn’t easy finding footwear that fit anymore, since all the stores had been looted long ago. She’d had to resort to a pair of mismatched high-heeled boots from a display window because they were the only ones left in her size. On the run from a particularly tenacious Fleeb doing a poor imitation of Pepe Le Pew at the time, she’d had no time to shop around. The irony of a shoe shortage in a world ruled by women never escaped her for a moment.

A lot had changed in the past few months, though it seemed like years had passed since the day she witnessed her brother’s self-decapitation in the kitchen. She was still working at Maddy’s, but her job description these days was different, as was the diner itself.

Maddy was long gone, having exploded giving birth to an alien embryo after being impregnated by Kevin the fry cook. On the day Johanna lost her mother in likewise fashion, she swore revenge on the invaders.

Armed with assault rifles, Johanna and Zoe went on a grief-stricken rampage, shooting every man in sight, infected or not. Johanna had to admit, the kid was a good shot. All those hours spent playing Call of Duty had paid off. Zoe was well-equipped to survive in the world in which she would grow up.

A surge of female warriors rose, following Johanna’s lead. An unlikely army of women from all walks of life – bank tellers, beauticians, school teachers and more – history’s most fashionably dressed infantry waged war on mankind. At first they were met with considerable resistance from the real military, but as more women took up arms and more men morphed into kiss-crazy babbling Fleebs, a global shift of power took place.

Maddy’s diner was now an outpost, due to its location on the interstate at the edge of town. The sign inviting travelers to come in and eat lay in a heap of rubble after being blown up with a grenade launched at a fuel truck driven by a Fleeb. ‘Fleeb’ was what they called the infected men, after the sound they made through their proboscis.

Pockets of resistance still remained. The men had gone underground, and for good reason, because males were shot on sight, Fleeb or not. The object was, blast all men, take no prisoners. However, some women were still suckers for… suckers, and pregnancies still occurred from time to time. Some of the men tried cross-dressing as a disguise, but most did a lousy job of it and were easy to pick out. Nonetheless, all who entered Estrogenesis, Oklahoma had to check in at one of the outposts, where they would be transported to the hospital for blood work and a doctor’s examination to confirm their gender.

What would become of the human species once all men were eliminated? That was the question on many minds. Sperm banks held a possible solution. Once the threat was contained, women could become pregnant again in hopes of repopulating the species.

Would male children born into the new world be immune to the Fleeb pathogen, or would they, too become infected? Nobody knew. If the Fleeb was there to stay, the only solution was to eliminate the male offspring and keep the females. As an Amazonian society, humankind’s time on Earth was destined to expire once the last sperm was gone.

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

This story is featured in the WPaD Anthology Goin’ Extinct. 

Coming Soon...

Who can come up with a dozen different ways to end the world? We can!
This apocalyptic collection of short stories explores numerous ways in which life as we know it could end. From the traditional nuclear apocalypse to cosmic events, zombies, mysterious alien substances, evil corporations and even… coffee. These stories will shock, entertain and tug at your heart strings. For your post-apocalyptic reading list, ‘Goin’ Extinct’ is a must-have.

Including stories and poetry from: Mandy White (Author), David W. Stone (Author), Diana Garcia (Author), Marla Todd (Author), Nathan Tackett (Author), J. Harrison Kemp (Author), David Hunter (Author), Michael Haberfelner (Author), Jade M. Phillips (Author), Gina McKnight (Author), Mike Cooley (Author), , Chris Da Cruz (Author), S.E. Springle (Author)

Table of Contents

  • Existence is No Longer Profitable ~ David Hunter
  • Zoila’s Zombie ~ Jade M. Phillips
  • Battle of the Bean ~ Mandy White
  • ~ His Beating Heart ~ Poetry by Marla Todd
  • Zombie Days ~ Marla Todd
  • Skeet Beecham’s Confessions from the End of the World ~ J. Harrison Kemp
  • ~ The Quell ~ Poetry by Diana Garcia
  • Quietus ~ Diana Garcia
  • Purple ~ David W. Stone
  • It’s All Over on Elm Street ~ David Hunter
  • Dead Matter ~ Mike Cooley
  • ~ Electrical Chaos ~ Poetry by Sara Jane
  • Survival of the Fittest ~ Michael Haberfelner
  • The Last Summer Storm ~ Val Fox
  • Captain Sandy and the Airship at the End of the World ~ Marla Todd
  • Insectisorium ~ David W. Stone
  • ~ Untitled poetry by S.E. Springle
  • Finding Tennesee ~ Gina McKnight
  • Never Mind the Humans, Here’s the Rodents ~ Michael Haberfelner
  • Lullaby ~ Nathan Tackett
  • ~ The Great Flood ~ Poetry by Chris Da Cruz
  • Just One Kiss ~ Mandy White

Enough of the official description…

The first time I read this book I laughed out loud – not because it was funny but because it is SO GOOD.

WPaD is the acronym for Writers, Poets and Deviants. We are a diverse group of writers who came together on the Internet to support and encourage each other.Our collaborative works are charity fundraisers, with a percentage of royalties being donated to Multiple Sclerosis in support of members of our group who live with MS.

WPaD books are available worldwide in paperback and ebook editions.

Find WPaD Publications on Facebook for updates on our upcoming projects Or follow us on Twitter: @wpadpublication

Cover art by Jason Kemp.

To purchase on Amazon CLICK HERE.

To purchase on B&N CLICK HERE.

 

Weirder Tales

Coming later this month from WPaD (Writers, Poets, and Deviants) Weirder Tales – an Omnibus of Odd Ditties.Weirder Tales

Featuring weird tales from: Benedict, Cooley, Daniels, Fletcher, Garcia, Guettler, Haberfelner, Hunter, Kemp, Kings, Lamb, Merline, Nocera, Roland, Todd, Turley, and White.

There is still time to get your own coveted Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe poster while supplies last. Click here for more information.

23380279_1713491618723614_6826392464386100411_n

WPaD is the acronym for Writers, Poets and Deviants. We are a diverse group of writers who came together on the Internet to support and encourage each other.

Our collaborative works are charity fundraisers, with a percentage of royalties being donated to Multiple Sclerosis in support of members of our group who live with MS. WPaD books are available worldwide in paperback and ebook. For more information, please visit our website: http//wpad.weebly.com

To see more of Jason’s art at (J Harrison Kemp, Tenkara Studios) and contact information go to:

https://www.facebook.com/tenkarastudios/

https://tenkarastudios.weebly.com

 

~ Juliette Kings aka Vampire Maman
and Marla Todd aka Regular Mom

Short Story Sunday: Hollow Heads

Hollow Heads

A Science Fiction Story by Marla Todd

Sure we all volunteered with a capitol V but we didn’t know we’d be stuck a billion miles from home with a bunch of assholes.

Our plan was to stop at Planet 2387 before we made communication with our target planet. 2387 is an uninhabited wasteland. There might have been the rudiments of life there at one time but that ship had come and gone.

So we land at what was left of the Emile Hanson Memorial Outpost, otherwise known as Hanson’s Hole. I looked up Hanson’s name before we left home. He’d been the captain of the third Mars mission. You know, the one whose head exploded when he ran into a couple of guys from Europa, but that was a long time ago. That was almost three hundred years ago, long before I was born.

On the wall of the main building of Hanson’s Hole the words, “Welcome to Hell” were scrawled in what looked like blood.

Junior Potemkin, the communications officer, if you could call him that, started to hyperventilate. I slapped him in the back and told him to stop it. Captain John Finch our leader, rolled his eyes, and told us start testing for signs of life. I called my lead science officer and went exploring.

We’d only heard of this place. Nobody was sure even who’d been here in the past, or exactly what their mission was. We were looking at a ghost. And while the rest of the crew stood shaking in their gravity boots I started to explore. I didn’t travel twenty light years away from home to pee my pants over some extraterrestrial graffiti.

I’ll tell you, when I signed up for this gig, last minute of course, I found myself with the lamest group of space travelers ever assembled. Sure they were all smart and looked good on paper. Everyone had advanced degrees and shit loads of experience. But the experience was in the lab and on paper. Nobody had field experience or people experience aside from the Captain or me.

Potemkin was an expert in written communications but couldn’t carry on a conversation if his life depended on it. Our lead engineer Thomas K. Morgan was one of those insidious geeks who corrected everyone on every single word they said. Morgan’s favorite line in any conversation was, “actually” fill in the blank with his expert opinion, which was usually bullshit or worthless trivia. After we were out of the solar system Captain Finch told Morgan that he’d throw him out into space without a suit if he didn’t cut it out.

The rest of the group included a guy called Boof who thought he was channeling Flash Gordon, an antisocial hermit of a physicist who asked to be called X, and a pair of identical twins I called Satan’s Daughters. The twins, Vera and Meera, were sneaky little shits who talked at the same time and were never seen away from each other. They were brought on as some sort of geology experts, you know, dirt and rocks as they liked to remind everyone as they cackled like witches as if that was funny. They were dirt and rocks as far as I was concerned. The rest of the crew was bland, mean spirited, and aside from the Captain had no imagination what so ever.

So I’m looking at the writing on the wall and wondering what in the world, and who in the world had written it. I felt someone rub my shoulder and looked over to see Boof standing there expecting me to be Dale Arden to his Flash Gordon. Give me a break. He looks good but no. Absolutely no.

“Boof,” I said looking up at the leafy blue green canopy of plants (I assume they were maybe once plants) around the building. “Let’s take a look inside.”

He gave me a great big blinding white smile and knocked the door open with his foot. Boof wasn’t carrying a ray gun, but it wasn’t because we’re a couple of scientists with seven degrees between the two of us. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t like scientists or people with degrees can’t be badass. We just didn’t have any weapons with us.

The interior was dark. Not like no lights, because there was a skylight, but because obviously the interior decorator of this forgotten outpost either had a stack of 1980’s Architectural Digest Magazines handy for inspiration, or he was into all things Gothic.

“Looks like vampires live here,” said Boof.

I gave an uncomfortable laugh and tried to be serious, that is until the music started to play. I couldn’t figure out where the music was coming from. The sound was sort of like it was coming out of a metal tunnel. A man was singing in sort of a strange high voice, but it sounded kind of nice.

 

You’re just a little bit of sunshine when it’s raining,

You’re just a little bit of gladness when I’m blue,

You’re just a little bit of love light that keeps shining,

And when it’s cloudy, you’re a silver lining.

 

“Radio Franks. You’re Just A Little Bit of Everything I Love,” said Boof.

I looked straight ahead at a slowly moving shadow. “How do you know that Boof?”

“I like early 20th Century music,” he answered, his eyes also on the shadow.

“Sing me something from the late 21st Century. You know the one, about the alien romance, ruby skin.”

Boof started to sing quietly in a surprisingly beautiful tenor.

 

Your DNA plays around,

Like a silken ghost,

Worlds apart are we.

 

Flying higher

Flying higher

Flying higher

Reach the stars

 

Ruby skin, emerald eyes,

Heaven between

Hot alien thighs.

 

Flying higher

Flying higher

Flying higher

Reach the stars

 

“I hate that song,” I said taking a slow step forward. “You changed the lyrics.”

“Yes, I did change the lyrics, and yes I hate it too. Do you sing?”

“Only in the shower.”

“Can I join you?”

“Only in your dreams.”

“Let’s sleep then, shall we,” Boof said in almost a whisper as we slowly walked towards the shadow.

 

The shadow moved, in what looked like the shape of a human hand, then stupidity happened. A tremendous scraping sound, sent us turning backwards to see Garland Holbright, one the Earth’s most famous journalists, come along to document our journey for the ages. Every living Earthling knew who the man was, and Garland never let us forget.

Garland had opened the door in the wrong direction, throwing it off of it’s tracks.

“Find anything yet?” Garland called out loudly as he propped the door up against a wall.

The shadow vanished.

“God Damn you Holbright. You’re such an asshole,” said Boof, as I grabbed him by his jacket and held him back.

Garland Holbright was what we (not me, everyone else) called a Frank, short for Frankenstein. He was one of those kids who’s parents had custom ordered him from a cocktail of perfect DNA so he’d be brilliant and exceptionally good looking. Sure his IQ was off the charts and he was good at taking tests. Sure on a scale of one to ten in looks Garland was a seventeen, but where he excelled in trivia and Prince Charming handsomeness he lacked in creativity and personality. The guy was an insufferable bore with an ego the size of Jupiter.

Sure we’d all had genetic modifications for long term space travel. Our respiratory systems, muscular growth, and bone density had all been tweaked. A few of us, including me, had a few personal tweaks as well. My eyes are now a little brighter shade of hazel, and my hair is finally grows model perfect. That said, I’d like to think that you always get better babies with natural random DNA selection.

Boof and Garland had gotten into it the night before. Garland had convinced a friend to hack into the personnel logs and found out that Boof was created by a couple of teenagers one hot summer night in the back seat of a self driving solar convertible.

“Silence,” I said in one of those loud mom-like whispers. “Both of you. Garland, we are not alone.”

Garland formed an O with his mouth in surprise. I knew the guy was deathly afraid of aliens. Go figure. He goes on a space mission but he is afraid of anything that isn’t human, or maybe a dog.

While I was getting ready to rip Garland a new one Boof grabbed my arm.

“Timothy Leary is not dead,” he said right in my ear, so close I could feel his hot breath. I shook my head to get him away from me.

I wondered why Boof was making a reference to the 20th Century Philosopher. Thank goodness he didn’t start singing that song. What was that group? Moody Crew? No, I think it was Moody Blues. I’d been spending way too much time with Boof. I swore between Boof and Garland I felt like my head was going to explode.

Then I turned around and there before us stood Pilot Tim Leary from the Space Explorer 23 Dog Star Mission. According to records, and Wikipedia, he’d died years ago, before I was even born. When I was a kid he was one of my idols.

Leary held out his arms in a welcoming gesture and with a wide grin said, “Welcome to Hanson’s Hole!”

“Captain Leary?” I asked, stepping forward to introduce my team and myself. “Chief Officer Gwendolyn Ward of the Research Ship the DeGrasse Tyson. These gentlemen are Science Specialist First Class Boof Errikson, and Garland Holbright, a journalist for International Geographic.

“An award winning journalist,” said Garland holding out his hand to Leary.

I kicked Boof in the ankle to prevent him from doing anything stupid. I let Garland have his bit of ego masturbation before I found out what was going on with Leary.

Leary took me by the arm as he walked and talked me into a much larger room that resembled an intergalactic art museum with comfortable seating. “I see your ship was named after the 48th President of the United States. A good omen there. My ship was called “The Dog Star.” I like dogs and all, I have a couple around here somewhere, but, I’ll tell you, it was a dog of a ship. Holy space shit, that thing was as bad as 2213 GM Sasquatch. Remember those? Do you like to be called Gwendolyn or Gwen?”

“Gwendolyn please. You’re alive.”

“Yes, very much so,” he said with a dashing smile as he patted my arm.

“But your body was found. DNA matched yours. There was no mistake. There is a huge memorial in Washington D.C.”

“And I’m honored at the thought, but obviously I’m still alive. I am indeed Commander Timothy Leary of the Dog Star.”

“But…” I started

“Do you know much about clones Gwen, Gentlemen?”

“Holbrook is a clone,” said Boof.

“I am not a clone,” said Garland.

“Gentlemen…” I hissed at them.

“You’re a freak Holbrook,” said Boof.

Garland threw his shoulders back. “You’re nothing but degenerate pod shelter trash.”

I’d had enough. “Boof, Garland, NOW.” I turned back to our host, “Captain Leary, the time line wouldn’t make sense. All of your bodies were found and brought back to earth. How do you explain that?”

Leary smiled again. “None of us wanted to go back so we cloned ourselves.”

“If you cloned yourselves, wait, your bodies were found a month after you landed here. It would have taken at least twelve years to have a fully grown human body.”

Leary motioned to the plush red chairs in the room. “Sit and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll tell you all about it.” We sat, and Leary told us an extraordinary story. “Once we had the Time Machine it seemed like we could steal anything we needed. Where do you think all of this art came from? Anyway, we stole an advanced cloning lab from the Dingus V Planet Chain. Nobody there has had fertile sex in centuries. They can’t, so they clone. Sad story, but shit happens.

Listen, none of us wanted to go back to our mission or Earth. We also didn’t want anyone looking for us. With the technology from Dingus V we were able to clone fully formed human bodies in thirty-six Earth hours. Thirty-six fucking hours. Unheard of. We programmed our clones to be without working brains. We called them the hollow heads. Once our clones were grown we smashed their empty heads in and called it a day. No brains, no souls, just lab grown flesh.”

“Wait,” said Garland. “You had a time machine?”

Leary smiled and shook his head in a definite yes. “I knew you’d ask. It is an amazing machine that jumps both time and space.”

“Space portal travel I can believe, but Time Travel is illegal universally, said Garland.

“That doesn’t mean it I can’t do it. I went forward because I don’t like the people I was with. I’m only here at Hanson’s Hole because I needed an additional respite from, well, everything. What are you doing here? Space Jumping I assume, but what is your mission. Nobody stops at Hanson’s Hole.”

I explained our mission as Leary listened intently.

Holbrook held up a finger and gave an artificially inquisitive look. “Why does it say Welcome to Hell in blood on the door of the compound?”

Leary shrugged. “I have no idea. It was there when I got here a few weeks ago. I just haven’t had the time or the paint to fix it.”

After more discussions about Leary’s adventures we returned to our own ship. I knew exactly what Leary was talking about when he said he was tired of annoying people.

Vera and Meera, the evil twins, came giggling and snorting into my office.

I motioned for them to sit. They both sat down and crossed their bony legs in unison. “Do you have the updated geology reports?”

Vera was the first to respond. “The soil acidity has doubled from the last time measurements were taken fifty years ago.”

“Fifty years ago,” said Meera.

Vera continued. “We also detected new volcanic activity. Are you having sex with Boof?”

Meera then spoke again, right on the tail of her sister. “Are you having sex with Boof? Was it good? Positively volcanic?”

“Volcanic. We know you are,” said Vera.

Meera started to laugh, a high pitched crow like cackle, then she started to snort. Then Vera joined in.

“Insubordination is not to be tolerated on this ship. If you ladies continue your immature behavior I will make sure you’re dropped off at the next supply station. You will receive no letters of recommendation, and I guarantee you will have to find your own way home, at your own expense. Capiche?”

“Yes, of course,” they said in unison. It almost sounded like they had an echo to their words.

“Thank you for the report. I’ll review it thoroughly.” I said motioning with my hand for them to leave.

After they’d Holbrook put his head in the door. “Do you want to have dinner later? This isn’t romantic, of course…”

I cut him off. “No.”

“Is there something going on between you and Boof?”

“No. Jesus, Garland, I’m having dinner with Caption Finch. A working dinner.”

As soon as he left a message came on the screen from Boof.

Hey Baby, do you want to see stars tonight?

I deleted the message.

The entire trip had been like the set-up from a bad bodice ripper romance, but without any sex or bodice ripping. You know the story. The heroine is caught between two potential lovers. One is dark haired, gorgeous, with impeccable breeding, and insanely rich. The other is blond, gorgeous, insanely smart, and grew up more or less a street urchin in a block of government run shelter pods. Who should our heroine choose? One will eventually betray her as the other one rescues her, but she won’t know until it happens. Screw that. I didn’t have time for it.

I took the clip out of my hair and shook out letting it fall to my shoulders. Thank goodness for planets with normal gravity. I remember reading about the days when the idea of women being in space seemed ridiculous. The excuse was always something about hair, periods, sex, temptations, strength and peeing. Seriously, one does not need a penis, or a hairy chest to travel in space. Thank goodness for Nichelle Nichols. I was so glad to see her on the one-dollar coin last year. I remember reading the emails of my great-great-grandmother telling my father about when she met Sally Ride. I can’t even imagine.

Over the next few days Captain Finch and I tasked our crew with collecting data, and ship maintenance. Our engineer Morgan questioned everything we asked him to do. He claimed inspections were not necessary. He went on about how his qualifications were better than anyone on the ship, and bragged about his superior intelligence whenever I requested a progress report.

Our physics team, headed up by a guy named Dex Harland, who insisted on being called just “X” decided that we were all going to be eaten by mutant aliens and refused to leave the ship. They spread the word through the crew that Timothy Leary was going to drug them and feed them to giant spiders or some sort of shit along those lines. It was as if the entire crew had gone insane.

I asked one of our two our medical officers about it and he told me that he was writing a screenplay about a murder on a space barge couldn’t give a rat’s ass about our mission. His name was Dr. Charles Young. He only took the job to get out of paying child support for four different women and six kids on three planets. Our sane medical crew member, Dr. Sashie Vern, took my arm and asked if I wanted to get coffee. In the empty crew lounge she begged me to keep Dr. Jay away from her due to his incompetence and creepiness.

On our last supply stop, Hawk Donaldson, a popular member of our Engineering group had a one night stand with a Trasidain female. Trasidian’s are beautiful human like creatures with iridescent pink skin, and several more pleasure seeking orifices than Earthlings. Unfortunately Trasidains also have horrible parasites, which there is no cure for except the death of the host.

Hawk contracted a large number of the parasites and was in excruciating pain as the bugs ate him from the inside out. On his request Dr. Sashie put him into a medically induced coma until his death thirty four hours later. His body, along with the bugs, was cremated and blasted into space.

After Hawk’s death Dr. Sashie wondered why most of the crew members refused to see her for regular check ups or even acknowledge her existence. I should have guessed what Dr. Sashie told me. Dr. Jay had told everyone that Dr. Sashie was incompetent and had caused Hawk’s death.

I went back to confront Dr. Jay and he just smirked.

“I’m entitled to my opinion,” he said with a shit eating grin. I wrote him up for spreading false information and confined him to his room when he was not on duty. The following day rumors spread that I was sleeping with Captain Finch, which was odd considering Finch is gay. I knew it was Dr. Jay.

As I made my rounds that day I realized that our crew, due to the nasty mix of passive aggressive cockroaches and over inflated egos was completely shutting down as a functional team.

The Engineering Group all shaved their heads and wore goggles because they decided that they did not want Garland Holbrook writing about them. Their reasoning was that if they all looked alike then Holbrook would get confused and leave them alone.

Poor Junior Potemkin, our painfully shy communications officer was being bullied by a Data Wrangler named Bambi Von Grob. She would sit next to Potemkin and make snorting noises, suck up snot in her nose, cough, loudly chew crunchy food hours on end, pound on her work station. In retaliation to his complaints she innocently told everyone on board that she was a victim of Junior Potemkin’s bullying.

I could go on for hours about the adolescent behavior of the crew. It seemed that most of my day was spent listening to complaints, breaking up fights, and telling crew members to act like adults.

With six months into our mission, and five years to go, I didn’t know how Captain Finch and I were going to handle this. I loved my job. I loved exploration. I loved the science, but I hated almost everyone on board of our ship.

Boof and I continued to visit Tim Leary. He told us a lot of tall tales but was stingy with any technical information. He said he’d always been more of a manager rather than a scientist. He’d joke that he should have been a stand-up-comic, even thought he didn’t really say anything funny.

One night at dinner, with a nice view of the three aligned moons of the planet, the Captain vented for about an hour about the crew. Boof, Garland, and Dr. Sashie Vern had joined us as the highest ranking crewmembers.

Captain Finch had an announcement for us. “I’ve done some research and come to a realization that we were given a crew of rejects of the highest order.”

“You think?” Boof said with a disgusted look.

“Our mission is longer than usual with extensive isolated periods and difficult Space Jumps. I asked for an experienced crew of individuals with solid science experience, and technical expertise. What I ended up with was a crew of people that nobody else wanted,” said Finch.

I added to his thoughts, “We asked for the best of the best, and in turn, present company aside, we got the worst of the worst. Come to think of it, Boof, Sashi and I were the only three you personally interviewed.”

“Sad but true,” said Finch.”But we’re stuck with what we have. We’ll make the best of it.” I noticed Captain Finch looked unusually tired and sad, as if someone had died.

“Now what? Behavior modification or bull shit team building at the next supply spot isn’t going to fix anything,” said Sashie.

Garland Holbrook poured another glass of wine and smiled. “Clone most of the crew and leave them there. Then we can have a perfect crew. They have the facilities right here for high speed clone creation.”

“How would that work?” Asked Dr. Sashie.

“Leary and his crew stole the technology from the Glanidians who use semi-brainless clones for off planet mining and prostitution. It’s cheaper than robots, and biological clones are more reliable,” said Garland.

“But you have to feed them,” said Boof. “How can that be more reliable?”

Garland smiled. “No, they eat themselves. They don’t even know it. You know, Clone Nuggets.”

“That is horrible,” said Sashie.

“Yes it is but it isn’t what Leary and his crew did,” said Garland. “Not Clone Nuggets, but clones. They made clones of themselves. We could make clones of our crew.”

 “Eventually we’d have to land somewhere and we’d be found out,” said Captain Finch.

“You don’t get it. We will clone the crew, but tweak the genetic codes so that they’ll have more pleasant personalities. We’ll make them brilliant but downright sweet, and completely bland. I know Gwendolyn and Boof could do it,” said Garland. “You both have studied genetics and personality modifications for violent and anti social prisoners on off planet penal colonies.”

I had to speak up. “It will take an extra week depending on how many clones we’re going to make. I spoke with the Evil Twins today and they estimated a major volcanic explosion within the next month. If it blows it will take out all life within five hundred miles of Leary’s clubhouse.”

Then we all sat, nobody asking the questions we all wanted the answer for.

There was a knock on the door. Tim Leary stood there in a black tuxedo, holding three bottles of wine in his arms.  “Your mission reminds me of a story my Great Great Grammy used to tell me. A long time ago when she was a little girl there used to be a huge store called Ickyah. People would flock to it to be unassembled furniture because it felt good if you built stuff yourself. The buyer would get home with instructions that said it would take two hours to build your bed frame and nightstand. Fifty hours later maybe the bed would be done and the nightstand drawer assembled. Another twenty hours everything would be complete with the help of additional duck tape and a lot of swearing.”

“Leary,” I said. “What does that have to do with your mission?”

“That’s what it is like living here. Everything was supposed to be easy. Self contained they said.  But it wasn’t. Fortunately I have a lot of duck tape. I still have that fast acting cloning machine. I’ll let you use it.”

“That is out of the question. We all took ethics oaths to protect our crew,” said Captain Finch.

“I didn’t,” said Holbrook.

 

We spend the rest of the night bitching about the rest of the crew. After everyone realized that we had more shit-for-brains stories than we could tell in one night. My brain was so agitated that there was no way I could get any sleep so I took a stroll under the three moons of Planet 2387.

“You need a real name,” I said aloud as I scanned the horizon.

“It has a name. Atropos.” I turned to see Garland Holbrook standing next to me. I didn’t even hear him coming. “She was one of the three Fates. Atropos was the one who would decide how long one’s life line was. She’d also choose how one died,”

“Why’d you come on this mission? You could have any job you wanted,” I said.

“Captain Finch is the best. None of us could have predicted the bait and switch with the crew. Think about it. If we had the original crew this would be a perfect science mission.”

This was new to me. “Original crew? Garland, what are you talking about?”

“You don’t know do you? They were finishing up in Florida on their last mission. This was before you and Boof were interviewed.”

I was almost in shock. My entire body went numb. Over a thousand souls were lost in a terrorist attack at the National Space Science Research compound. Religious fundamentalists fire bombed the place. No wonder Captain Finch took whatever crew was assigned him. The man must have been in deep mourning. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t I figure it out?”

“Garland, could we get Tim Leary to go back in time and…”

“You know it doesn’t work that way. When you go back in time you can change whatever you want but it won’t change the future. Your changes spin off into an alternate thread of time that eventually fades away.”

“Sure, I forgot. I knew some of the people who died. I had no idea they were signed up with Finch’s next mission. No idea.”

I turned and headed off towards the Welcome to Hell door. I wanted to talk to Leary.

As I took my first step Garland grabbed my hand, twirled me around and kissed me. If I thought my head was spinning before, it was spinning even more now.

“I know you’re attracted to me. I know you’re attracted to Boof. May the best man win, and you know I’m the best man,” said Garland as he kissed me again.

“Let’s go talk to Leary,” I said as I tried to catch my breath for the second time .

 

Three weeks later we left Planet 2387. Leary took off in his time machine a week before we blasted off. From our ship we watched (at a great distance) the massive volcano blow up a good portion of the planet’s crust.

Junior Potemkin came into my office and thanked me for helping him out. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.

“Everyone is so nice now,” he said slowly choosing the words. “It is as if they were all replaced with clones, or something.” Then he laughed uncomfortably. “That would have been weird.”

I smiled and told him that I was glad he was happy now. I truly was.

~ end

This story is featured in the WPAD Science Fiction Anthology – Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe. 

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Short Story Sunday: Captain Sandy and the Airship at the End of the World

Captain Sandy and the Airship at the End of the World

(Published as author Marla Todd)

The end of the world had come and gone a long time ago. Of course I wouldn’t dare remind Captain Sandy of that extraordinary fact. He stood in the basket of the airship, hands on the control, the tails of his jacket blowing in the wind.

When the end of the world came the evil and the damned were gathered up and taken down to Hell. The pure and righteous were led up to Heaven in a golden white light.

That left the artists and writers, along with a lot of musicians, wine makers, computer programmers and antiques dealers. Of course there were others, but nobody that lacked a certain amount of creative or innovative spirit. One must have spirit and imagination to survive when the world ends without you.

It worked for me. Well, at least most of the time.

I honestly have to say, the world had become way too serious. I adjusted my goggles and scarf as I looked down on the tire fire that had been burning for the past 100 years. Adjusting the leather hood on my cat, I took him out of his basket to take a look. My five year old son Aaron stood on his toes to get a look as I held tight to the back of his jacket. I must have been a sight, boy in one hand, cat in the other.

Life was an adventure to be savored and enjoyed. It was a destroyed world being built up by those of us with visions of beauty and wonder. Captain Sandy always said this was Heaven. Of course I never told him otherwise. It was Heaven to be in the arms of my husband at night and feel the touch of his skin on mine, that is until I’d run my hand over the deep scars on his back. I called him my fallen angel. He would just laugh and kiss me as only an angel could kiss. Maybe it was Heaven for him since he was now dead, but I will never know unless I die too and find him there.

Once when I was younger my brother and I found some old movies in where everyone at the end of the world were driving big trucks and dune buggies as they shot anyone they came across. There were zombies and crazy fucks of all sorts fighting for the last clean water. It seemed they had unlimited amounts of fuel and bullets. No word of steam, solar and silent airships.

My brother and I laughed at the stupidity of it all. That was not our world. Ours was a world to create without hesitation or critical review. Our poets were considered as important as our politicians. Our sense of style always outweighed our sense of practicality. At least we kept telling ourselves that – all of us did as we banded together trying to give off an air of hope and strength. We created our own world going back to a time that didn’t really exist, where all things were possible and the modern world was still a beautiful dream.

Captain Sandy asked me what I was thinking that could have me looking so serious.

I told him and he just shook his head.

“Life isn’t a theater play like you make it out to be my dear. There are dangerous things out in dark areas of stench and smoke that would enslave us and make us into meals if they could. You’ve been protected in your leather and velvet bustle dresses and fanciful thoughts. It’s a good thing to be ignorant of the world but it is dangerous in ways you can’t imagine.”

“Captain,” I said, “you forget that the shadows took my husband. I take flights of fancy so I won’t fall out of the sky and die of sorrow.”

He turned and gave me a quick smile. Despite the dark pattern of scars on the left side of his face the Captain was still a handsome man with a dazzling smile. All the women were quick to notice him.

“Why are you alone Captain?”

“I’m not.”

“No wife or children?”

“I had a wife. She vanished when the world ended. I never knew if she went up or down or just vanished to dust. Who knows. The bitch could still be around somewhere.”

“So you’re alone,” I said.

“Just free of my wife.” He said nothing else then took off his hat and tied his long prematurely silver hair back with a ribbon he’d pulled from his coat pocket. “So, did you like movies back in the time before?”

I nodded. Of course I liked movies. Most of them were gone now. Rare stashes of films could be found and if we were lucky we’d find something to play them on.

Captain Sandy smiled a rare smile at me. “Sometimes I’m floating along above this all, all of this and I start thinking about Blade Runner and then my mind goes to Casablanca or off to Princess Bride then to In the Heat of the Night. I can run them all in my head, every line, every scene, every music score.”

I told him I did the same. We tend not to talk a lot about the time before the end of the world, but occasionally it comes out. We can’t deny our past. We just can’t help it.

“What did you do before, you know, the end of the world?” I asked the Captain point blank.

“I was a high school physics teacher. Physics and engineering to be exact. What did you do?”

“I produced reality TV shows. The last one was for MTV. Did you ever see Love Bytes?”

He laughed. “That was you? All of my students watched that show. Geeks and romance. A lot of them wanted to be on the show.”

The sky gradually started to turn dark. In the distance we could see lightning strike and the silhouettes of other airships.

I hugged my child and put a blanket around his shoulders. Aaron put his head on my lap and fell asleep. Captain Sandy sang softly a song that we both knew so long ago.

It seemed we’d been here for centuries, only the children aging and growing up.

As a rule we didn’t speak much of what we missed or how much. It was always there in the back of our minds. I missed skinny jeans and sweaters. I missed short tight dresses and yoga at the gym. I missed the music. I missed my friends and family. I missed my job. I even missed the orange trees in my back yard and the sound of the garbage truck at 6:45 am on Thursday mornings. I missed it all.

Captain Sandy turned suddenly and looked at me as if he could read my mind. “Don’t think of how things used to be. Don’t think of why we’re here.”

We both knew why we were here. Nobody wanted us. There was no place for us in Heaven but nobody in Hell wanted us either.

“You’ve got to admit,” the Captain continued, “we’re in a unique position. No matter how bad it looks, this is our world. I spent 18 years teaching kids to understand the building blocks of the universe. I thought I was contributing to the future of our young people so that they would make the world a better place.”

“Now it doesn’t matter,” I said in a rare show of depression over the events that brought us here.

“No. Now it matters more than ever. This is our world. Despite the shadows and ghouls, this is our world now, free and clear. We can still use the building blocks of science and art to make it the place we want it to be. Finally we can do it right.”

“You’re always such an optimist Captain Sandy but do you really believe that?”

“Of course I do. What other choice do I have?”

“You have a point,” I said, noticing the spark in his eyes.

He noticed that I’d noticed. “Look at this as the ultimate reality TV show.”

“If that is the case then who, Captain Sandy, gets the hot girl at the end?”

He smiled. “That depends on you.” Then he turned his face away from me to where I could only see the moon lit reflection of the scars that traced his jawline.

The crew of the airship came up on deck to view the stars and take in the night air. It was good to see them laugh and talk freely of the destination ahead. My son raised his sleepy head and laughed too. Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all. Maybe Captain Sandy would win the game and get the girl. I had a pretty good feeling he would.

Tangled Tales

This story was featured in the WPaD Anthology: Goin’ Extinct – Tales from the Edge of Oblivion. Available on Amazon B&N and with other fine online book sellers. Proceeds of all WPaD go to MS Research.

Coming Soon...

Who can come up with a dozen different ways to end the world? We can!
This apocalyptic collection of short stories explores numerous ways in which life as we know it could end. From the traditional nuclear apocalypse to cosmic events, zombies, mysterious alien substances, evil corporations and even… coffee. These stories will shock, entertain and tug at your heart strings. For your post-apocalyptic reading list, ‘Goin’ Extinct’ is a must-have.

Including stories and poetry from: Mandy White (Author), David W. Stone (Author), Diana Garcia (Author), Marla Todd (Author), Nathan Tackett (Author), J. Harrison Kemp (Author), David Hunter (Author), Michael Haberfelner (Author), Jade M. Phillips (Author), Gina McKnight (Author), Mike Cooley (Author), , Chris Da Cruz (Author), S.E. Springle (Author)

WPaD is the acronym for Writers, Poets and Deviants. We are a diverse group of writers who came together on the Internet to support and encourage each other.Our collaborative works are charity fundraisers, with a percentage of royalties being donated to Multiple Sclerosis in support of members of our group who live with MS.

 

Books by WPaD:

  • Nocturnal Desires: Erotic Tales for the Sensual Soul
  • Creepies: Twisted Tales From Beneath the Bed
  • Passion’s Prisms: Tales of Love and Romance
  • Dragons and Dreams: A Fantasy Anthology
  • Tinsel Tales: A Holiday Treasury
  • Silk She Is: Poetry of Daniel E. Tanzo
  • Goin’ Extinct: Tales From the Edge of Oblivion
  •  Creepies 2: Things That Go Bump in the Closet
  • Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe (Science Fiction)
  • Coming soon: WPaD Weird Tales, plus Creepies 3 and Tinsel Tales 2

WPaD books are available worldwide in paperback and ebook editions.

 

Add Goin’ Extinct to your summer reading list today. You’ll thank me for it later. Also check out the other books from the WPaD group.

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LT240EA/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_t2_LfZjybD530NJK

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Unseen

Vampire Maman

I met my brother Val for breakfast. Not Vampire breakfast. Real food breakfast. We went to a place with great eggs, bacon, omelets and the like. Cheese too. We have to have cheese.

I didn’t think much about what I wore. Gray tee, jeans, navy sweat shirt, silver jewelry. The jewelry is the key. Without the jewelry I’d be invisible. Once I became a mom I was invisible, that is unless I had a cute child with me. I didn’t wear any makeup. I didn’t do anything with my straight chestnut brown hair that just hangs straight around my face. I’m not ugly. I’m pretty enough. I just don’t get noticed most of the time, which is fine by me. I don’t want attention. Usually. I usually don’t want attention.

Val showed up. Every woman in the place was looking at the handsome well dressed man. He glows with a look-at-me vibe. That’s ok. He can turn it off just as easily as he turns it on.

I told him about the book I’m working on. He told me about some homeless tweekers who’d camped out on the sidewalk in front of his downtown Victorian.

The food was good. The waitress was lovely. Nobody else really noticed us. Just a couple of urban Vampires having breakfast on a Wednesday morning.

On the other hand if you know anyone who is invisible, but not by choice, please, check in on them. Give them a call. Send them a card. Make sure they are ok. Be it a young adult on their own and trying to make it in the world, an elderly person who feels nobody cares anymore, or a middle aged person who might need a perk. Even if you want to be invisible you might want some company doing it.

That’s all for today. Just random thoughts.

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

And yes, you need to check out the WPaD (Writers, Poets, and Deviants) short story anthologies – available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine online booksellers. Don’t forget that these books are inexpensive, well written, insanely entertaining, and proceeds go to MS research. Look it up – there is everything from Romance, to Fantasy, to Horror, to Science Fiction, to Erotica, and more. There is something for everyone.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/invisible/

 

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