The road was like he remembered. Red dirt fenceposted by oaks and green shrubs. He leaned forward in his seat at every bend in case it was the one. The church was familiar. He passed a wrought iron archway and slammed the brakes, reversed, and turned toward his uncle Warner’s farm.
“Well I’ll be,” Warner called out from the porch. “Tommy come here so I can get a look at you.”
They shook hands. There had never been a time when his uncle’s handshakes hadn’t made him feel miniscule.
“Opal, Tommy’s here! She’ll be out in a minute. Was the trip down alright?” His uncle smiled with that broad grin of his.
“Had a blowout near Albuquerque but triple A took care of it,” Tommy said, retrieving his battered hand.
“Stayin’ a while?”
Tommy looked down at his uncle Warner’s feet, both of which were sunk deep in the red soil. Safe here. A place that had always been waiting for him to return.
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The register dinged. A dozen eggs, jug of milk, some apples came down the conveyor belt. Robbie hustled, flipping the milk jug over, gently setting it into the open bag in front of him. Eggs to the side. Apple bag given a quick twist to secure its contents. His hands moved on their own, they knew the job better than he did.
Robert. Rob. A few times Bob. His name tag said Robert. Nobody had ever asked him but he preferred Robbie. That’s what he’d have someone call him if they ever asked but no one ever did, until Benjamin.
Circumstances were different with Benjamin. His hands were tied behind his back, for one. And he’d been in the basement for more than six hours by the time it happened. Six hours is a short shift at the grocery store. It’s a bus ride to Des Moines or a movie marathon. Six hours is barely any time at all in the grand scheme of things. Robbie’s basement was not the grand scheme of things.
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A gust of wind howled through the stairwell. Bill paused, shut the door, and savored a few seconds of warmth before pushing forward again. Outside on the street it was even worse. The wind greedily leeched the heat from Bill’s body as soon as he left the vestibule.
“That’s it Harry, I’m moving to California. Last straw.” Bill dusted his jacket like he was beating the cold away.
Harry waved him off. “Yeah, yeah. You’d be pining for New York before your luggage came off the carousel.”
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The woman is a spindly monster. She has that ruddy overdosed on the tropics look white people get after a few months in the country. A Thai in his thirties is walking up the beach with these glow lamp things attached to each other on a string. The monster woman lurches forward and snatches them from his hand.
The guy is thin. The hunger in his eyes maybe is from speed. He’s been carrying those fucking lamps up and down the beach all night. He tells the woman that they cost 50 baht.
She’s screaming at him, holding the lamps away in her other hand like a schoolyard bully. He steps back to the edge of the light and lowers himself onto his haunches, waiting.
She spins the lamps in wide arcs that are somehow out of time with the music. Her husband slouches further down in his beach chair. The lazy grin on his face might obscure a grimace. She stumbles. Everybody’s hoping she falls into the fire but no luck. Her foot slams into a big bottle of beer which makes a satisfying thunk. She hops around on one foot for a little while. The Thai man wipes sand from his face and moves his crouch a little further back.
A tourist kid is now waving 100 baht in the Thai man’s face. He’s screaming over the music and making an exaggerated marijuana pantomime with his other hand. A couple minutes later there’s a handoff.
The kid settles a few meters away. He passes the joint around to his friends. A new guy shows up and the kid points him to the Thai man. He’s doing that pantomime again.
“Bon,” the Thai man says when the guy introduces himself. The single syllable of his name is short and ends with a swallowed n. The kid chortles, repeats it back, this time making a swirling motion with his lighter hand. “Like Bong! This guy’s name is B-O-N-G!” He gives a thumbs up. His friends cheer.
The lady has dropped the lamps. Bon skirts the shadows, moving toward his property. The woman is standing upright, slumped forward like a sleeping horse. He’s close. One of the lamps flickers when he touches the string. The woman lurches to attention. Now she’s screaming at the top of her lungs, spittle is hitting Bon on the cheek. She swings the lamps above her head like a gladiator. Thock. One of the glowing bulbs bounces off Bon’s head. He smiles with his mouth only. Backs away.
The lady moves, swinging the lamps close to her husband but he passed out a while ago. The balls of light whoosh past his open mouth in long arcs. The lady laughs in these intensifying fits. She loses her balance, falls in a heap. There’s a muffled pop. She landed on one of the glow bulbs.
Her face freezes in confusion. Time comes to a halt. The confusion turns to horror. Her face is twisted but no noise has yet escaped. The potheads nearly beat her to the punch, erupting into a chorus of guffaws right as she starts screaming. Now everybody’s looking. The guys that have been hanging out on that big driftwood log are staring in silence. They had happy shakes earlier and are trying to figure out if this is all a dream.
The husband is awake now. He’s at his wife’s side. Three of the beach boys from behind the bar are approaching. Everybody around the woman is moving in little jerks. Too much speed. You can almost hear their teeth grinding.
And she’s up.
A wide streak of blood and sand runs down her leg from just under the ass. She’s blubbering, gingerly brushing against the cut, trying to get a better look without falling over. The beach boys are helping her to the parking lot.
Bon stretches like a cat. He takes a few glances across the crowd. They’re busy retelling the scene, sculpting the memory. One of the lamps is still on. He winds the string, pulls out a new bulb and goes to work. When he’s done he kicks sand over the broken glass before giving the repaired globes a little test drive. The stoners applaud.
A few minutes later he walks up the beach to see if anybody else wants to dance with the glowing lights.
Back in New York! This will be a quick update since I spent a full day this week on a plane.
- Pieced Together a new patrons-only short. This one is a western horror story. Enjoy my rad patrons, enjoy.
No new blog non-fic this week.
What I’m Reading
Just finished A Deepness In The Sky by Vernor Vinge. Wow. If you like sci fi, I would recommend this heavily. Tremendously imaginative and concept-wise it is A+.
Some of the prose is clumsy but that’s about the only criticism I can level at the book. This is truly an economist’s novel as well—it explores free market and command economies, slavery, and labor rights in an extremely satisfying way.
There are several fun literary tricks that Vinge uses but I don’t want to give any spoilers so go ahead and read the damned thing.
Dust blew into Bethany Wilson’s eyes. She blinked the grit away. Her sewing kit bounced across the floorboards of the wagon. Jed came out of the ruts again, Lord love him. At this rate he’d shake the damned wheels off before they got to Bluff City. Ezra tapped Bethany on the shoulder.
This is my last week in Thailand. Excited about going home but going to miss this little chunk of paradise. I’ve been busy again this week:
- A new Behind The Story post, this one explores the background for “Carrizo Springs”
- My AWESOME patrons have a new story as well, “To Wake In Your Arms”. Like the last two, this one is set in the world of Petifleur and The Colored City.
Speaking of Miss Petifleur, I think I will write a post about her and her world soon. I’m deep into novel the rewrite now and super happy with where it’s heading.
What I’m Reading
I finished Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge. Great book. One of the most innovative things about it was how many of the characters are “group” beings. Think packs of wolves acting as a single organism. Tricky move, executed well.
The book was written in 1992 which feels right since many of the interstellar communications feel like old Usenet posts. Great world-building and deft handling of sticky topics like faster-than-light travel.
I’m onto the next volume in the series which is exciting because I’ve heard it’s even better.
That’s about it! Thanks for reading :)
Her first breath came in like razors. Fear of pain made Catherine hold onto it as long as she could. She let go all at once, coughing and sputtering. The wetness on her face, was that blood–?
The short Carrizo Springs was inspired in part by a town of the same name in south Texas.
Nearly twenty five years ago I packed my shit and drove from Salt Lake City to Carrizo Springs, Texas with my best friend. The motivation wasn't much different than Sam's—some guy I knew from back in Alaska called me to say there was work.
Lots going on this week. Hope you’ve been reading some great stuff. Let me get you up to date on the new developments:
- I started a new non-fiction series called Behind The Story to peek into the inspiration for my fiction
- The first BHS post is Behind The Story “Finding Yourself”
I ALSO wrote a new short for my patrons called “Heresies In Babel”. Become a patron to read it. You can do that by visiting Patreon and clicking the button marked Become a Patron
Oh I almost forgot to mention: the amazing new speculative fiction magazine Spectacle accepted my story “Non Disclosure” and will be publishing it in an upcoming issue. In print. With a beautiful illustration. Woop! Go ye hence and subscribe!
What I’m reading
- I just cracked Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge for some good old singularity sci-fi. (If memory serves, he invented the term.)
- Stumbled upon a GREAT list of literary horror over at Unbound Worlds.
- Also, I just discovered Unbound Worlds. Cool.
Feel free to reply with anything great that you’ve been reading or anything you’d like to see more of from me.
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