Short Story – Afterlife

afterlife     The white lights switched on, bathing the stage with their fluorescent glow. A man stood silhouetted in a red, sequin suit holding a microphone that was larger than it had any right to be.  He took a deep breath and stepped out toward the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s youuuurr afterlife!” The crowd went wild with applause. He smiled at them with the lopsided grin that only a man missing half his face could achieve.

A sea of corpses raised their hands in excited anticipation as a door rose from beneath the stage. All the spotlights went out and a red glow came from beneath the door’s wooden frame. “Well folks, looks like it’s time to start playing!” A rabbi in the audience collapsed half out of excitement, and half because the last sinew of muscle holding his spine together had finally snapped.

“Let’s give them a countdown,” cheered the host.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” shouted the crowd in unison. Priests who had been burned alive in the seventeenth century for heresy raised a cry of “Christian! Christian!”, while an equally macabre group of catholic missionaries yelled “Heaven’s dope, follow The Pope!”

The door flung open, spewing a white glow onto the stage. A young man stepped out through the light. The cheers died down in nervous anticipation. “Where am I?” he called out, his voice echoing off the walls. The crowd whispered with tense murmurs.

“It’s not where you are that matters kid,” said the host as he stepped out of the shadows once more.

The young man flinched back at the sight of his gruesome face.

“Oh don’t be offended by my ‘slack jaw’. You’re not so good looking yourself.” The crowd laughed and a brighter spotlight flashed onto the young man. It revealed a five-foot metal pipe that had skewered him right through the chest. To the living, it might have been a cause for vomiting, screaming, or exorcism, but to the dead it was a spectacle.

“Ouch, that’s gotta hurt,” laughed the host good-naturedly.

Large signs illuminated with the word ‘laughter’, and the crowd followed suit. An old woman wearing a lime-green robe that could have only belonged to a cult slapped her knee, and it fell off.

The young man stood in shocked silence. “It’s a lot to take in, but are you ready to play?” The host called back to his days as a used car salesman, and summoned a reassuring grin.

“Play?” asked the man, still confused. “Play what?”

“Oh it’s the game of games,” answered the host with a sweeping gesture to the crowd. “Step this way.” He grabbed the pole that the young man was impaled on with a pristine white glove, and led him to a pulpit with a microphone on it. “Alright, let’s start with the basics. What’s your name? Where you from? How’d you die?”

“I um, I’m Gary.” A sign lit up on the front of the pulpit, outlining ‘Gary’ in flashing lights.

“Great Gary, where you from?” The host looked at the audience and winked, nearly losing his eye in the process.

“I’m from Utah,” said Gary with hesitation. “Wait, did you say I’m dead?”

“Oh, Utah, nice this time of year.” A board lit up behind them displaying a picture of a red rock arch. “And, Gary from Utah how was it that you came to join us?” He looked down at the pole in Gary’s chest with an air of placation.

“I can’t really remember. I was driving a truck, and then,”

“Car accident. Bam! Pole goes right through you. Tragic story I’m sure. Wife and kids?”

“Well yeah,” Gary stammered.

“Too bad for them eh? Well I hope you had insurance.” A cameraman off-stage missing both his legs held up five fingers indicating that they were running out of time. “Alright Gary, I think we have what we need. Now audience members, it’s time to vote.” Lights splayed out over the audience as dramatic music played. A tally began ticking away on the board with percentages. There was a loud buzzer and the tally stopped.

“Alright Gary, let’s see what we’ve got. A whopping 75% said Mormon Easy answer, easy answer, but a good guess. We’ve got 15% saying Jewish, 9.7% Catholic, and a .3% saying Scientologist. Tom, was that you?” The audience laughed again, but soon fell quiet, waiting for the result.

“Well Gary, that is quite something, let me tell you. A landslide for the Mormons. It’s not every day you see that. Now there’s only one answer left that matters, and that’s yours. What religion were you before you died.”

All the lights focused on Gary. He would have been sweating, but one of the facets of death precluded him from doing so. From somewhere behind the stage, a clock began to tick loudly. “Well it’s changed now,” muttered Gary.

“Ah, ah, ah, no cheating now Gary. What was it?” The hosts friendly demeanor had been replaced with that of a principal reprimanding a problemed student.

“Well uh…” Gary faltered. “I uh… I was actually an atheist.”

The crowd uttered a collective gasp as the host ushered Gary to the side of the stage. Stunned silence turned to chants of “Boo!”

“An atheist?” The host’s decomposed complexion became even paler.

“Well yeah, there was no evidence for any…”

The host cut him off. “Well Gary, I will say that is a surprise.”

The cameraman wound his fingers, telling the host to wrap it up.

“Well Gary, as much as you seem like a perfectly fine individual, I’m afraid you’ve been disqualified.” The host mimed a crying gesture.

“Disqualified?” Gary’s eyes grew white.

“Don’t worry, we’ve still got a prize for you! Have a nice trip.” The host pulled a lever, opening a trap door beneath Gary, sending him plummeting down a long, dark chute. In a matter of seconds, his screams died down to a whisper and a large plume of fire shot up from the hole in the floor.

“Well, what a shocking turn of events,” said the host, regaining his composure. The square in the floor lit up red once again and the board went blank. “Let’s try again shall we? Give me a countdown!”

Whiteout Chapter 1

Werewolves Don’t Howl

We should have brought matches. The thought rang through Nick’s head clear as a bell, even after everything else had become a frozen blur. James sat beside him, panting on a rock. His boyish hair was slick with sweat and his parka was crusted with a fresh coat of frost. Should have brought matches and should have left the kid behind. Nick had never liked partners; more often than not, they would just slow him down or haunt him in between benders with memories of their death.

Six months prior, Nick had run into an eager undergrad who had drunkenly spouted off about cryptozoology. A few silver bullets and a modicum of training later, James had become his apprentice. Nick was still amazed that even after seeing the uglier side of the world, James managed to fight off the cynicism of it well. Despite being half-frozen in a blizzard, and likely five minutes away from a horrible fate uncomfortably similar to becoming a popsicle, James managed to keep a positive, albeit sarcastic, attitude.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

“Hold on, where were you?” Winston asked, taking a sip of his tea.

Nick, on the other hand was swilling ice around the bottom of his empty glass, wondering when the butler would be by to bring refills. “If you would wait a minute, I’ll tell you,” Nick said with slight irritation. “I’ve got plenty of other jobs that don’t involve me re-hashing painful emotional memories to old men in their parlors.” This was untrue. Even after the encounter with the yeti, very few letters had come through asking for help. While most people in the monster hunting community had heard tell of the story, they also did not believe it.

“Of course, I am so very sorry.” Winston’s words rang false, but were accompanied by the sudden reappearance of a fresh drink on the table next to Nick.

Nick looked to the glass, astonished. “How does he manage that? Let me guess, he used to be a ninja, got tired of the bloodshed and turned to butlery?” Nick took a sip of the fresh glass at his side and nearly gagged on some of the worst whisky he had ever tasted. All the money in the world, and he still drinks this piss?

“Oh yes, he’s quite good,” said Winston, avoiding the question. Nick must have made a sour face at the drink, because Winston waved his hands apologetically. “My apologies for the drink. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.” He let out a hearty laugh. “Tastes much better in tea,” he said, continuing to laugh.

Nick laughed in spite of his suspicions about the magical butler. “An efficient drinker even amidst opulence, now that I can respect.”

Winston raised his cup, and drained it. “One picks up a few tricks on their way to wealth.” His cheeks flushed a bit with the fresh drink, and he even seemed a little friendlier. “Now, I’m terribly sorry to have interrupted you. Please, continue.”

Winston’s attitude had changed significantly, and it set Nick on edge. Fortunately, the feeling did not last long as the whiskey quickly made its way into his core, warming him from the inside. All traces of misgiving were temporarily erased from his mind. “Yes, where was I?” He drained the highball glass and set it down on the table, loudly, hoping the butler would hear.

After pausing a moment and seeing no sign of him, he continued on. “We had been tracking a werewolf through the mountains for days. Supposed to be a quick job. Silver bullet, bring back the head, in and out; simple as that. But there was one big problem. The villagers lied to us; it wasn’t a damned werewolf.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

At midnight, the howling started. Nick and James had made camp in a small cave tucked into the side of the mountain. At that altitude, with the cold wind whipping through their bones, the world grew fuzzy around the edges. For the first few minutes, neither of them were sure they had actually heard howling at all. They simply sat by the glow of the flashlight, hoping that it wasn’t the day they would be sent to meet the gods that their profession so strongly opposed.

“Is that it?” James asked from the corner of the cave. Though he tried to hide it, his body shivered violently and his lips had turned slightly blue, drying out around the edges.

Should have brought matches. We could have burned our clothes. Anything to stave off this damned cold. Matches were dead useful; they started fires, created distractions, and lit his cigarettes. Unfortunately, he had stopped bringing them to avoid the continuation of his “nasty habit” (the words spoken by one of many ex-girlfriends).  Without the heat from a fire, thinking was impossible. The cold took up every ounce of Nick’s mental capacity, rendering his mind useless.

Upon their departure, it had been a beautiful, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The unfortunate thing about the mountains was that it only took a moment or two for things to quickly turn sideways. What had been a distant glimmer of fog atop the mighty mountain had turned into a full blown blizzard in less than an hour.

After a few moments of silent processing, a thought broke through the icy curtain around Nick’s mind. James’s question had revealed the true nature of their predicament. “Werewolves don’t howl.” Movies and TV might portray it otherwise, but in the wild, it never happens. Werewolves are apex predators and lone hunters. There’s no need for them to communicate. They don’t reproduce, they don’t have families; they just hunt. When they want to create more werewolves, they go and bite another villager. It’s almost elegant in its simplicity.

“Werewolves don’t howl.” The statement floated through the air lazily, allowing both Nick and James to get a better look at it. Nick glanced over at James, hunkered against the side of the cave wall, and cursed himself again for forgetting the matches. Filthy habit it may be, but I’m never leaving without them again. Had it been the day trip Nick had been billed for, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but when clients flat-out lied, things tended to get a bit dicey.

“We’re not hunting a werewolf, are we?” James mumbled from deep within his parka.

Nick wished they were. Werewolves were so easy to track; big feet, lots of fur, and a swath of blood laid out behind them. “Not anymore,” he said, and was drowned out by another ear-splitting howl. It was long and mournful, shaking the walls of the cave with its intensity. Nick’s already chilled blood dropped a full degree cooler as the howl trailed off.

The animals that could have made such a noise were few. Nick pulled out a leather-bound tome from his satchel, bearing the scratches and scrapes of every journey he had ever been on. An old friend had given it to him as he was just starting up, and Nick never left without it.

Mostly, it was filled with crude drawings of various hell-bound creatures that the author had tried to seduce (he had been a bit of a drunk, and a lecher, and coke-addled, but a damned good hunter when it came down to it). Nick flipped through the pages, hoping that somewhere between poetry about the dismembered head of a warg and amateur comic strips detailing the mating habits of Romanian banshees, there would be useful information.

The sound came again; like a wolf, only longer, lower, and far louder. To be heard over the fury of a snowstorm was no easy feat. Even in the cave, they could hear the roaring of the wind outside battering the mountain in nature’s best attempt to bring it down. He continued to shuffle through the book until he happened upon the page he was looking for. Most people at the time thought that the upper slopes of the Himalayas were barren and uninhabited. Most people were wrong.

Chadpocalypse 1:3

 This is the third chapter of my newest short story, Chadpocalypse. Parts 1-2 can be found here.

1:3

“Oh great, thanks Marvin, you’ve let the Jehovahs in again,” Chad yelled. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for various religious figures to come knocking at the doors of the apartment building, but the trick was to play dead, and not let them waltz in like they owned the place. It was much harder to be converted if a conversation was never had. “The fire’s new though. How do you get enough donations to buy the horse eh?” Chad would’ve chased him off with a baseball bat, but he felt if he stood, he would surely vomit.

“I am not a Jehovah’s witness, and this isn’t your apartment. I thought we had already covered that,” said the demon through clenched teeth, trying to keep anger from his voice.

“Fine, seventh day, scientologist, whatever. Either way, you’ve got a blank check for recruiting,” he said with a loose gesture to the horse, the horns, and the polo shirt. Oddly enough, Chad didn’t think the pool of flame at the figure’s feet to be all that impressive. Anyone can get a few bright lights and a smoke machine for a few bucks.

“I am one of the four horsemen, insolent cur!” The figure swept his hands through the air and produced white hot flames.

“Ooh, and a close-up magician,” said Chad, genuinely excited. He always preferred magic when he was towards the bottom of a bottle. “Do you have a deck of cards?”

The demon wrung his hands together, producing a series of unsettling cracks in his knuckles. A red glow had begun to run through his curved horns. “Yes, I do, but I’m going to need a volunteer from the audience.” He was using the voice of a used car salesman, but just below the surface was the gnashing hunger of a predator.

“Oh, alright then,” said Chad stumbling to his feet. The world spun maddeningly around him, and the mix of liquor and chili fries in his stomach threatened to come back up, but he held it down. Puking on a magician would just be rude. He might have been in someone else’s apartment, sleeping off a hangover he had stolen, but Chad still thought himself a man of standards.

The demon extended a gnarled hand to Chad, and gave him a winning grin. “Take my hand, and think of a lucky number.”

“Mind reading?” Chad stuck out his hand and grasped that of the demon. It was hot to the touch, but not enough to burn him. “Not as good as a card—“

Chad was cut off as the demon pulled him close, ran a long finger down the tasteless, flowered wallpaper, opening a portal to Hell.

“What the shit man?” asked Chad, exasperated. “I’m going to have to pay for that!”

“For the last time, this isn’t your apartment,” said the demon, and unceremoniously shoved chad’s head through the portal.

The Ghost Writer

 This is another one-off I wrote at about the same time as Diary of a Dead Man. It’s a little darker, hope you enjoy.

Sitting with his back to the faded, old window, it almost felt like he was alive. Outside the evening air was stale, held stagnant by a bitter chill. Red drapes hung on either side, not doing much to stop light from coming in, but mostly serving to give the room the feeling of heavy despair. For the fiftieth time, he reached for the pen, and tried to pick it up between his fingers, and for the fiftieth time, it fell through them, causing nothing but frustration.

On the brown, wooden desk before him was an empty yellow legal pad. To Lee, it looked like a window, held open for him to gaze through, but guarded by heavy iron bars. A pale yellow light shimmering from beneath a piece of curved green glass shone on the paper illuminating its lines like tiny railroad tracks.

Lee could put nothing on the page, and it was not for lack of wanting or ideas. His head buzzed with a million of them, trapped, and making desperate breaks to get out. He could even speak them aloud, but the simple act of grabbing the pen was an impossibility. Even when he did manage to lift it, even for a second, it would slip through his fingers and clatter to the table.

Hot rage burned in Lee’s mind, and he even wished he could manifest it physically. A headache, something that could tell him that the pain he was feeling was real. The room around him remained bland and impassive to his existence. He thought back on the last words he had been able to write, and regretted the neglect with which he had penned them. It was too much to bear, but these days, he didn’t have much of a choice. For better or worse, he was condemned to existence.

An image of his wife standing in a bathrobe and dropping her coffee cup shot through him like a bullet, blocking out the room before him. He looked down in his hand and saw the words that he had thought to be crafted painstakingly. Instead he found a hollow tune that provided no more answers than it did questions. Lee’s problems were no closer to being resolved, and in his attempts he had created a set of new ones.

The paper was back in front of him, shouting at him, taunting him to put something down on the page. “He lived just as he had died,” Lee said, letting the words take flight through the room, and letting an angry tremor creep into his voice. A bookshelf caught them and swallowed their prose greedily, adding it to its collection. Every author on the shelf was dead, held captive by last words that they were probably also unsatisfied with.

“The only true shame is that I was unable to see it before I too encountered the very same folly,” Lee once again thought aloud. “For it was my fate to join the ranks of those I thought to be gone from this world too soon.” By the end of the sentence, he was shouting. Memories bandied across the room like they were sprung from a projector.

It was the same dingy hotel room in the French Quarter that he had come to for years. Legends of it being haunted stoked his creative flames, and gave his wife something to speculate about while he remained a dullard. All that was interesting about Lee was tossed into endless pages that were eaten up by the American public for pennies on the neuron. What had initially been content in this lifestyle, had turned sour faster than the leaves turn to autumn.

That night, he had come to the hotel with one thought: end it all, go out on the highest of notes. Hours had passed as he crafted the suicide note. His wife did not bother to look over his shoulder, figuring that she could read it once the paperback came out. After three revisions, he had thought it ready and sent his wife out for a massage. From a secretive drawer in the desk he had pulled a rope, hung it from the ceiling fan, and stood with it around his neck.

Many thoughts had crossed his mind at the moment, but above all else was You’re making a big mistake. He had been about to step down when a voice from behind him shouted “No!”, and in a startled jitter, he fell forward, his neck snapping instantly. The last view he was afforded was of the words he had written on a yellow legal pad sitting on the table.

Diary of a Dead Man

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Prologue

 

It started simply with two individuals sitting in a coffee shop. One was Brian, a young, not-all-too-handsome man, with a slender frame. The other was a woman, dark, also slender, but with a shrewd look about her. Brian gazed down at the freshly wiped glass of the table as his coffee cup leaked new stains onto its surface.

“Come on; tell me what you’ve got. It’s been months and you haven’t shown me a single page.”

“I’m nervous,” said Brian, taking a diplomatic sip from his coffee. “This could be it; this could be the one that finally takes me out of this shithole. No offense.” The woman moved her arms in a placating gesture.

“None taken. It’s rough out here, I know. I used to be here, and I’m doing my best to help take you out, but you’ve got to give me something to go on.”

“Alright, here goes.” Brian cleared his throat. “I look into the mirror with tired eyes, soft, bleary, and full of regret. The years have been kind to me and yet I have not. I have no right to feel this way. The world was handed to me on a silver platter, but still I stand, watching myself decay, slowly, but surely passing into the abyss. How many days more will I stand here? 5,000? Or 5? It haunts me to know that the years of my youth are now passed and I stand on the threshold of making a new life. One step out of the door lies disgrace, or greatness. If only I had the wanderer’s feet to move.

They sat in silence, sipping their coffees. She stroked her long brown hair, staring out the window for a moment at the stream of cars racing by. Brian could not tell if she was impressed, bewildered, or perhaps both. For the most part, he had worried that his writing would come off as a bit too depressing. “Come on Shannon, give it to me straight. Is it any good?”

“It’s morbid, for sure, but I think you’re on to something. I want the first ten pages in my inbox this afternoon. None of that waiting three days shit. I think I’ve got a whole load of middle-aged mothers just unsatisfied enough to read it.” She reached for her wallet.

“No, please, let me,” he said in an attempt to be polite. In reality, the coffees would have just about broken his nearly empty wallet.

“Hey, you might be a big shot soon. Then you can buy the coffees.” She left ten dollars on the table and started to leave. “Listen. If any of that’s real, you might want to see someone. I can’t be losing my clients to ‘emotional outbursts’, if you catch my drift.” It was all too well known in her industry that writers have a tendency to overindulge in spirits and cozy up to the deceptive friendship offered by the barrel of a shotgun.

“No problem! I’ll e-mail it to you right now.” He looked genuinely excited. Someone liked his work; it was the beginning of a new life for him. People were going to notice him and hear his words. He hopped up from the table and bounded into the street, where he was promptly obliterated by a semi-truck.

A Scientific Martyr

Years later, Brian stood at the back of a crowded auditorium, watching in silence as Dr. Coulton’s prominent scientific career ground to a halt.

The white haired man standing behind the pulpit had no idea how close he was to committing academic suicide. “I have dedicated my life’s work to the field of quantum mechanics, but tonight I want to talk to you about something of a more fantastic nature. For eons, the human race has wondered what happens after death. Our final journey is both a mysterious and terrifying one.”

“What if death is not the end? What if there is a world beyond this one where we can live on if we so choose? Where ghosts are no longer a thing of mythology and fear, but rather a reality, and one that we must learn to accept, study, and live in peace with. Poltergeists and possessions should not be topics of fear, but of debate and scientific inquiry.”

The shocked looks of the academics in the audience brought a grimace to Brian’s face. The dark corner cast a sinister shadow over him, but he could not risk sitting out in the open. His attire was not suitable for a symposium. Holes and dirt adorned his long-faded jeans, and while his jacket may have at one point been fashionable, it was now torn and frayed beyond recognition. He shouldn’t have been in the theatre at all, but he had waited for this speech for a long time.

Brian fumed. Why couldn’t the community see how close to the truth Dr. Coulton’s theory was? Like many great minds before him, Coulton’s ideas were not met with applause, but with pitchforks. Brian scanned the audience. A few of them were still paying attention, but most looked as though they were sharpening their criticisms in the dark. Dr. Coulton was sweating profusely and fumbling with his notecards. His glorious opening was meant to be met with awe and wonderment, and instead there was only muted sniggering from the back rows.

“As we are all no doubt aware, the effects of quantum observers have long been debated. Can the mere act of observing an object or action change the outcome or meaning of said action? More simply: Does standing next to a falling tree affect the sound it makes? Through my research, I have come to believe that the world of the recently deceased operates on a similar principle.” Several of the chief university funders walked out of the lecture hall shaking their heads; Dr. Coulton was determined to continue.

“The existence of ghosts or specters is only possible through our own enabling. The mythos and energy we have created around death allows us to continue on afterward.” That was the turning point where Nobel Prize laureate Alex Coulton took a risk and found himself cast out. Ideas that may have seemed profound at the time of their conception, instead turned into tick marks on a pink slip.

He made it on stage for a full twenty minutes before the crowd began to boo. Brian was the only one who kept his eyes on Dr. Coulton the whole time, but unfortunately, the opinions of the deceased don’t count for much. In the end, the crowd erupted into a tempest of criticism, and Brian could no longer bear to watch. Maybe the next one will get it right. Everyone was so busy shouting and throwing bits of paper that none of them noticed the temporal disturbance at the back of the theatre as Brian faded from view, the theatre disappearing as he stepped back into the world between worlds.

Diary of a Dead man is available in full, on Amazon, in Abberant Literature Short Fiction Collection Volume 3!