Archive for January, 2014

Cemetery Dance

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Fiction, Writing

I arrive late to my own funeral. The eulogy is well under way, making it easier to slink along the edges of the cemetery. I step into the shade of a nearby mausoleum and watch the small crowd gathered around my grave with mixed feelings. On the one hand I feel shame for leaving some of my closest friends to mourn my loss. On the other, disappointment because there had been a bigger turn-out the first time I had died. Of course the ex-wife didn’t bother showing up for either.

I don’t really have much of a plan. Just showed up to keep an eye on the funeral in hopes of spotting my killer. The weather refuses to cooperate. It should be overcast and soggy like funerals in the movies. You know, a steady downpour of rain, tears, and dark grief. But this isn’t the movies. This is real life, and real life enjoys its little ironies. My funeral is sunny, with a slight breeze cutting through the headstones. Here in the gray shadows of the mausoleum I can feel none of the heat, only the chill of the wind.

Leaning against the cool stone I watch as the service comes to a close. The preacher finishes the prayer, closes his bible, and then moves away from the head of the grave. The casket, my casket, sinks slowly into the dark earth and the mourners begin their march toward waiting cars.

As the crowd moves away I have a better view of the cemetery grounds. And there he is, Detective Pederson, standing in the shade of a nearby birch tree. A cigarette hangs from his lip, the smoke curling around his cap before being whisked away on the breeze. The tail of his coat flaps in the wind like the cape of some cartoon superhero. But this man is no hero, just another cop on the take come to make sure the job was done. I’m certain of it. The two of us had history back in my days on the force. When IA began investigating me, Pederson had been right there at my throat as well. His constant moaning had been the straw broke the board’s back. I was off the force before IA even wrapped up the investigation.

I stand a little straighter, my fists clench, and my jaw set so tight my eyes hurt. My gut’s screaming at me to stomp over and push Pederson’s teeth down his throat, but a good cop—even an ex-cop like me—knows when to ignore his instincts and let his brain work it out. If I want to catch the trigger-man I have to do the smart thing. Tailing Pederson will lead me to the guy that fired the shots. Then I could let my gut have its way.

Pederson stiffens and looks my way. His eyes squint as he struggles to penetrate the shadows. I stare right back. Let him see his shooter had fouled the job. Then he flicks the cigarette away and smiles that crooked smile of his. With a shake of his head and a tip of his cap, he turns and walks away. My mind wonders at that but my gut gets it, and this time I have to go with it.

“He didn’t do it.”

Martin, behind me. We had been partners for years before I was kicked off the force. He is my closest friend and, for a while, had been my brother-in-law. If Martin knows I’m not dead then so does Lauren.

“If you’re here then who’s in the box?” he asks.

I shrug, head for my car. I have no idea who is buried in my place. I hadn’t thought to ask. Porkpie had listened to my situation and what was needed, then handled the details himself. As long as we’ve worked together he has always come through for me. As a fixer he’s one of the best. The fact he’s mute adds to his charm.

Meanwhile, with Pederson off the list, I was back at square one. I wasn’t sure what my next move should be. There are contacts I can tap but with only vague hunches I really didn’t know the questions to ask. Snitches rarely spell it out; you got to work them, lead them where they want to be. If you don’t have the Once upon a time you’ll play hell finding the Happily ever after.

“If Pederson didn’t put the hit out, then who?” I ask aloud, mostly for my own benefit. If Martin decides to roll with it, well, so much the better.

“Have you talked to Lauren lately?”

Lauren? “No. I assume she’s okay. She hasn’t called to bust me about alimony.” I slow, letting Martin move up alongside me. “Since you’re here, you got any leads on who tried to kill me? Who’s handling the case?”

“Nobody’s handling it. It’s a cold case. You were mugged and there’s no leads,” he says. “You should’ve checked on Lauren. She’s–”

I stop, grab Martin’s arm and swing him round to face me. “Forget about Lauren! What do you mean there’s no leads?”

He snatches his arm from my grip and shoves me back. I stumble, nearly fall, but catch my balance at the last second. Martin moves in, his arms held outward, his body bowed forward. When did he draw the gun?

“Yeah, I called it in,” Martin says. “I found you dead in an alley. Two bullets in your back and your wallet gone. You don’t remember?”

“You–“

And it hits me like a punch in the chops. I grab my head, double over, as images slam through my brain; rapid-fire like a bad movie.

Drinking. Martin. The clock strikes two and we’re on the street. BAM! BAM! Two shots and I’m falling forward, to my knees, into darkness. No, not darkness; nothingness. Sights, sounds, sensations, all gone. My body lies cold on the morgue slab. Then, an eye-watering glare of light and I’m sitting up, cold and naked. Alive again.

I’m not really alive, but I’m not dead either. Let’s just say I’m hard to kill and leave it at that. But, as before, there’s always that gap of time my brain refuses to acknowledge.

The pain eases, recedes to nothing. I look down at my hands, touch my face. No feeling. No heat, no breeze, nothing but the cold. And now I know.

“You son of a bitch. You killed me.”

I lunge forward. Martin expects it and steps back enough to throw me off balance. The weight of the gun comes down against the side of my head. There’s little pain but it’s enough to send me sprawling to the grass. I look up to find Martin standing over me, his gun aiming at my head. The gun doesn’t concern me. Martin’s motive, on the other hand.

“Why, Martin?”

“Because of my sister. Lauren was crushed the first time you died. But you came back and things got better. Then, it became clear you weren’t you. Internal Affairs brought you up on charges. But Lauren pushed through it. Day by day she made it. And when, finally, you were cleared, she smiled. That smile lit up her whole face. She had made it out the other side of her grief.

“But you got canned and skipped out. Why? What gives you the right to throw all that hurt back in her face? You walked away clean, left the rest of us stained.”

“I’m sorry, Martin. Staying with Lauren after I returned had been a mistake. I wasn’t the same person,” I say. “I still don’t understand what I am. Now put the gun away. We both know it won’t do any real good.”

 “Yes, it will,” Martin says. “This time I’ve done my research. But don’t worry, it won’t hurt. You’re already dead, remember? I’m just here to finish the job.”

Martin smiles, snakes his finger through the guard, and pulls the trigger.

The iron bullet crashes into my brain. He’s wrong. It does hurt, like hellfire searing the bone beneath my flesh. But only for a second and then the sudden light returns and I’m floating free, looking down at my dead body.

Two months ago I posted submission guidelines for Freaks & Weeping Children, an anthology of dark fiction edited and self-published by me. This project is near to my heart and I’ve been lucky enough to have many talented authors working on dark tales for little more than a contributor’s copy of the finished book. More on that in a bit.

Image

Beyond the writing, I hired Matt Davis to design the cover. He did a wonderful job taking my Photoshopped rough and developing a striking piece of art that I’m happy displaying on the front of my anthology. Kudos to him. You should definitely pop over to Matt’s deviantART Gallery and take a look at more of his work.

Meanwhile, I’m busy on the layout of the interior pages. InDesign is a great help in this process but for someone who rarely uses the software it means refreshing myself on a number of skills. I’ve been reminding myself how to manage gutters and kerning and lets not forget fonts, type size, line spacing, headers, footers. . . Oh, my.

Now, remember a few paragraphs when I mentioned contributor copies? Yes, that just doesn’t sit well with me. I would love to pay the authors for their work. I believe SFWA says .06/word is the standard fair rate. If I can’t manage that I would at least like to offer an honorarium, a flat cash rate.

And then there’s my wishlist of published authors; authors I would love to invite to the anthology. I’m not sure how many would actually be interested or have the time but if the funds were available I could put the offer out there. My wishlist? Well, that’s easy: Robert J. Bennett, Karina Cooper, Delilah S. Dawson, John Hornor Jacobs, Kat Richardson, Steve Weddle, and Jaye Wells. Every one of these authors writes the kind of tales that fit right in with Freaks & Weeping Children. If you haven’t heard of any one of these writers you would do well to Google and read.

The question now seems to be, “should I crowdfund?” The obvious answer is, “Well, yeah. No shit!” So, I’m going to make an attempt. If I only receive enough to pay my contributors then I’ll be satisfied. All funds above and beyond the goal will go toward inviting other writers to the anthology.

Stay tuned. I’ll post the Pubslush link soon. This will be my first foray into crowdfunding so if anyone has tips to share I promise to listen.

About six weeks ago I posted the opening 200 words for a flash fiction challenge prompted by Chuck Wendig over on his blog, Terribleminds. The three weeks following my post other writers contributed to my initial start. I’ve finally gotten around to completing the tale. I’ve notated each contribution with the author’s name and a link to his or her site.

 Jersey City Dead

 “Casey’s Jersey City crew got careless,” Says Bossman. “Zombies flooded three sites. Two held them back but we blew the third. Horde made it up four flights and we couldn’t risk it. All told, probably lost fifty people.”

Bossman looks at me, gin blossoms reddening. The skin around his eyes draws tight, his hands, resting on the desk between us, clench, unclench. “Go find Casey. You ask him how he nearly lost three buildings. Then, once he answers, you make certain it doesn’t happen again.”

“Yes, sir,” I say.

Boss nods, quick, but the tears never leave his eyes. I turn and make for the stairs. How do I make fifty deaths count for something? These weren’t soldiers or made-men. These were men, women, and children, each under the protection of the Poverelli family. Fifty dead. And I gotta go make it fifty-one.

Name’s Blaylock, but everybody calls me Block. The name suits me. I’m muscle for the Family. It’s my job to make sure none of these mooks foul up and let the dead run riot over our rooftop paradise.

Here, it ain’t the zombies on the streets you gotta worry about. It’s the guy beside ya still breathing.1

I only knock once ’cause I’m a little pissed. I’m standing just outside the door to Casey’s office, gun in hand. Behind me there’s a little crowd of civilians gathering. They’re all lookin’ mean at me—probably because they’re a little fed up with the administration at this point. They’re all quiet-like though, ’cause I was sent by Bossman himself and they knew it.

It took a while to get to Casey’s place, what with the big, still-smoking ruins of the building he lost in the way. Before the screw-up I coulda walked straight over. The buildings had been like a row of teeth, albeit crooked and rotting. But, one of ‘em had got knocked out, so I had to schlep it ‘cross the gap on the ground, which was dangerous.

That was a stressful trip. I am stressed.

So, I only knock once. Then I open the door, see Casey still getting’ out of his chair, and say to him, “Casey.”

“I… I can explain,” he says, but his face says he can’t, so I shoot him before he can bullshit me. His head pops like a soda can that somebody shook up and dropped.

I turn around and hear one of the civvies, actually a soldier I guess, since he’s pointing a gun at me, say, “We’re sick of the Family’s shit.”

I see that they’re all pointing guns at me and frown. I musta underestimated how angry they were.2 

Here’s the thing about Jersey City that some folks forget.

Jersey City folks, they’re used to some gunfire ruining a nice, quiet evening.

Jersey City zombies, well, they ain’t so kind.

There’s a reason my gun’s got a silencer. It’s not that whisper-quiet pchew, pchew bullshit you’d get in the movies, but it’s a damn sight more quiet than, say, a bunch of pissed-off civvies with poorly-maintained firearms.

I duck ’round the corner into Casey’s place when they start unloading. I ain’t gonna lie, being outgunned by just about anybody is pretty scary, and I’m a little scared as I hunker down behind Casey’s davenport. But I got two things going for me.

One, the mob’s more scared than I am, so they hesitate rather than rushing me.

Two, guns without silencers are loud as balls.

“Why don’t you come on out, Block?” It’s the soldier again. Gotta be the leader. “Stop hiding and face death like a man.”

I spot the fire escape outside of the bedroom window, a room and a half away. I’ll never make it with them watching.

Then the zombies start breaking down the door downstairs.

The civvies panic. I make a break for it.3

I throw a glance into the hall as I duck across the doorway and head for Casey’s bedroom. Most of the civvies are headed up the stairs to the roof. Idiots. A few are heading down to try and stem the tide. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. This place is lost now. The soldier was staring down the staircase, trying to decide his best course of action, but he must have heard me scuttle behind him, cause I caught a last glimpse of him whirling around.

I’m through the door and I slam it closed. I leap the bed and carefully stick an eye over the window sill. Zombies ain’t too graceful in any case, and no way they’d be able to pull down the bottom section.

I’m half way over the sill, staying low, when the bedroom door slams against the wall and a shot breaks the glass over my head. It’s the soldier, of course.

“Put that thing away,” I hiss at him, “and we might get out of this alive.”

The hate he’s throwing my way is hotter than the lead from his cannon.4

With a sigh he stows the weapon and hurries to the window. I climb through to the landing, mindful of the glass falling from the shattered panel. I’d laugh to my dying breath if an opened artery was the way I went. Outside, the stench of rancid meat nearly gags me. Five stories up and the dead still stink. On the street below the wave of bodies crashes against the walls, flooding every opening. Hundreds of zombies. A tide a few handguns won’t stop.

“We gotta move.” I grab the soldier and shove him toward the ladder. He launches himself upward. I hurry after.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Kent.”

“Am I right in assuming this is your fuck-up, Kent?”

He disappears onto the roof. I’m up and over and he’s standing there with his pistol aimed at me. I’m sure he thinks the surprise on my face is for him. Asshole.

“Yeah,” he says. “This is an upris–

I pivot and push away. Shots ring out and Kent screams. I don’t look back, just run faster toward the edge and leap hard and far. Time slows as I move over the gap below me and away from the zombies behind me. In my mind I see the cause and effect. Kent approaches Casey, makes an offer, a threat. Buildings are lost. Citizens are scared. Kent talks them down. More buildings. Kent urges the people against Bossman. Damn, I almost feel bad about Casey. Almost.

With a painful thud, time catches up, throws me across the gravel-strewn surface of the neighboring building. Wincing, I sit up and look across the way. No survivors. Nothing but the mindless horde milling from edge to edge. Kent should’ve check his position before putting his back to the roof door. The building was already lost.

I also contributed words to two other stories. You can see how those concluded here and here.