Road Trip — Epilogue

The end of the end, isn’t that what he said?  And he was right, of course.  The end of the end begins after the beginning, which is birth.  Every moment following that is the end of everything, on an individual level, on a global level—it’s all a matter of scale.

And this was the end of the end in its most universal sense.  Billions of years of evolution turned to corpses and rotting flesh.  In eleven days, the population of the world—humans and animals—had been all but eliminated.  A few stragglers survived, owing more to luck than preparation.  But who could have prepared for this, the world becoming a global feed lot?  The creatures, those perfect killing machines, weren’t the true invaders.  They were like predatory sheep, fattened for an otherworld market.

In a few days, full of humanity, the beasts would be harvested and slaughtered to feed the hungry masses aboard an interstellar convoy headed for a destination a million years distant.  Along the way countless planets would be colonized and harvested to feed the vision of an alien Moses.  Nothing else mattered to them but the vision, not the populations destroyed, not the evolution interrupted, nothing—but the end of the end.

And here, on this tiny insignificant planet, lost among all the other planets and stars that make up all the galaxies and solar systems and universes that are, life will undoubtedly continue—although greatly altered.  No doubt a few humans will survive.  If they are lucky, they may even procreate.  Chances of this are mathematically unlikely, because the world is a big place with many dangers.

And while some of the traditional terrestrial predators may be enjoying extinction, a new predator—the harvest was sure to leave a few behind—roams the earth with impunity.  It is highly likely that, just as man evolves, so will they.

This is not to say that this story is without hope.  The post-apocalyptic Bronx or Los Angeles or Miami may turn out to be the new Eden.  From it may arise a new race with new myths and legends and heroes.  And no doubt they will eventually ascribe the events of today with some greater purpose, such as the prescribed purification of humanity, attributed to the very will of God himself.  Well, God did say that he would never drown the world again.  He didn’t say a thing about predators from outer space.

***
Happy Halloween.  Sure, you can say that the story is derivative, as the theme has been written about by many more talented than I.  But it was short.  And written quickly.  And it was for a blog, for heaven’s sake.   But I hope you enjoyed it.

Now go out there and score some candy!

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Road Trip, Chapter 2

Death is not an easy thing, I think, and I know a few things about death, don’t I?  But this, this horror is beyond the pale.

I find you beside the interstate, still clutching the wheel, as if somehow even in death you would keep going.  But there is no ‘keep going’.  For you there is nothing.  Deathly gray, covered by oozing lesions, and sweat soaked with our own blood and urine, you sit there still and google-eyed.

In the passenger seat is evidence of another rider, a woman, perhaps your wife.  She is, no doubt, one of those who insists on being made-up, even on the road.  And there is evidence of it on the cup.  Behind her are two child car seats and related flotsam strewn throughout the car.  But the wife and kiddies are missing.  They have, no doubt, run off to escape this terrible thing.  They may have even left you to face your last minutes of life alone, abandoned except for the terrible thing growing inside you.

And what is growing inside you, I could see it almost as clearly as my own reflection in the mirror.  It has yet to burrow through to the surface, but it won’t be long.  I wonder if I should wait to greet it as a fellow death-bringer, or take the wiser course, which would be to leave before I, too, became infected.

I think I might wait, just a while, to see what happens.  After all, it isn’t often I have the opportunity to see that which might mean the end of all, birthed.  And by the end, I mean the end of the end.  How fortunate it would be to see this first hand.

But how could I be so fortunate?  I would have never expected it.  After all, although I am very good at what I do, I can’t say that it has brought any particular praise from the public sector.  I admit that there are those who have voiced a certain admiration for the planning and surgical precision of my work, but if I had earned some special affection in the hearts of my admirers, how is it that I am walking along the interstate with only the clothes on my back and a few dollars to my name?

Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it?  We are where we land and we’d best make the best of it.  And where I’ve landed there is—oh, what’s that coming.  In the distance, a police car, so I think I’ll just move off the road for a bit.  I’ll let him deal with it.  That should be fun to watch.

The state patrol vehicle pulls up behind your car.  The man is big, tall and probably pushing two-fifty.  With all his gear on he looks even heavier.  He approaches your door.  He taps on the window, then looks more closely.  He steps back and I can clearly see the look of horror and disgust on his face.  I wonder, have the police been warned that people are dying from this? That would be awkward.  If so, it doesn’t appear that word got down to this man, because he walks around to the passenger door to peer inside.

If he had just backed off, gone to his car to call dispatch, and report what he had seen, things might have gone differently.  Instead, he climbs into the passenger side to look the guy over and maybe get some an idea of who might have been with him.  That’s all it takes to lure the thing out.  It is still growing and it is hungry.

I watch intently, even moving a little closer to get a better look.  I know that this is unwise, because if I was identified, my knife would be no match for his pistol.  But I’m not concerned.  I don’t think that this officer will be any threat to me.  Not today.  Not ever.

The man screams—a delightful and terrible scream.  No, it not just a scream, a horrible gurgling fear-filled shriek.  The car shakes as the officer tries to pull loose, to escape, but it is too late.  The thing, the fellow death-bringer, has burst forth from with you, tearing through your abdomen and chest.  It burrows deep into the officer’s chest.  Blood covers the windows, making it impossible to see.

After a few minutes, the car no longer shakes.  It is feeding, gathering its strength.  I move even closer, for a better look.  I think to myself, hardly an efficient way to kill.  I can empathize with the violence, but it is far too messy and wasteful.  On the other hand, it is only just born.

I am now standing beside the passenger door watching it as it feasts on the officer’s bones.  I recognize it at once, it is like a child—small naked and hairless.  But the eyes, the eyes betray a noble intent.  The teeth are like razors and the hands like claws.

Oh, I think, you are a darling demon.  You are what has been promised to me, what I’ve been waiting for.  We shall make a wonderful team, you and I.  It is no threat to me now.  Its hunger is sated, for the moment.  And there is a whole world to know the pleasure of pain in.  And you, my little one, will I teach to be the great hunter.  And together we shall usher in the end of the end, together.

Glorious, how glorious!  But there is a greater revelation yet to come!  The beast stares upwards into the sky and I realize that he is but the first.  For from the sky like a cloud, bursting with rain come tiny parachutes, lighter than air, much like a dandelion’s plumed seed.    From the cloud above floats down new life—and death.  By the hundreds of thousands they come, enough to blot out the sun.

I open my arms and cry, welcome!  I have taken so many lives, I think, but nothing like this.  I offer my flesh to these, the rightful inheritors of the world of men.  I only ask that I may live to join the terrible crusade against the horror that is man!

And I look into the first one’s eyes and understand, that the end of the end is now.

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Any Tomorrow Complete Lives!

My first series, compiled in a single e-volume, Any Tomorrow Complete, is selling again!  That makes me feel good.  It might not make me a millionaire (and from what I’ve seen of millionaires I’m not sure I’d even want to go there), but I’m stoked that a few valiant souls have decided to commit to the adventure.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, I’m sure you’ll understand that writing a first novel is something akin to riding a wildcat on crack.  To see your characters come alive in a form that you can share with others is both exhilarating and exhausting, and never to be taken lightly.  The genesis of every word, every situation, every birth, and every death is the author’s own experience.  And despite what the author may say or how far fetched it may seem in the context of the story line, everything written is revelatory.

So to those intrepid souls who have purchased Any Tomorrow Complete, thank you.  And to those looking for a good story for their summer reading, look no further than Any Tomorrow Complete.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Everyday Horror

Horror isn’t always about monsters or a psychopath with a chainsaw. Horror is the simple things. Like walking across a parking lot and realizing that the car whipping into the parking spot you’re standing in isn’t going to stop. And you can plainly see the driver’s face, a woman in her mid-50’s giving you ‘stink eye’ because she fears that your tattoos might mar the finish.
© Copyright 2015 by Kevin Fraleigh.

The Last Pope of Antioch

Here’s something I hope you’ll like and will comment on, an excerpt from a novel I’m working on called The Last Pope of Antioch. Be sure to let me know what you think of it.  Thanks!

Part One: The Red Convertible

1
The red convertible flew down the dusty, empty road like flame seeking something to ignite. The driver concentrated on his task. Seeing far beyond his horizon, far past his destination, he stared out through the waves of heat reflected from the road surface, sunglasses wrapped around his face seeming to form themselves to the contour of it. His face was angular, giving the impression of sharpness. Although it had been days since he had shaved, his pockmarked skin, possibly an artifact of the ravages of youth, showed no sign of stubble. The truth of it was that he had never developed a beard, so common in other men, and he counted himself lucky to be spared the razor, that dragging of sharp steel across unprotected flesh.

It may have been a reflection of light off the red convertible, complete with a red interior, but his skin had also taken on an unnatural redness. It was redness from more than just exposure or windburn. The redness stayed with him and was part of him. Contrasting with the redness was a gold ring that complimented his left ear and a dark, flat, wide-brim hat turned low in the front to shade his eyes.

He drove on through the wasted land, never turning, never stopping, never caring for what or who might either be by or in the road. Had there been a what or who, he would have simply gone around or through, never slowing, never losing his fix on that which his sight, not his eyes, showed him. His eyes sometimes failed him, but his sight was perfect. With his sight he saw the city, but before the city was—

2
The small town, it’s stick buildings little more than a flashpoint in the sun, stood as the last habitation before the hundreds of miles of borderland that separated the wastelands from the city. The wastelands were death. No one enters the wastelands and no one ever leaves was the old adage. The borderlands offered at least the possibility of life. And yet there he was, about to leave the wastelands, the cloud of dust generated by his flight still drifting across the scorched earth.

He brought the red convertible to a halt in front of what, in another life, may have been a hotel or saloon, but now it was a little more than a façade, a former shadow of itself. Despite its appearance, it seemed to offer respite from the glare of the hardpan and the suggestion that there might be drink. He sensed that there was life here, the smell of it was undeniable. If there was life, then there had to be water, or even better, hard drink. And if it was here, he would have it.

He was right about the life, of course, within the building were people―old, gray, frighteningly thin―dressed in rags, remnants of a time even before their remembering. Shadows within shadows, their existence was survival. Each breath was their work, every drop of sweat a cost. Trapped by their circumstances, they hid within their prison, terrified of the light. Their prison had been their home, a boarding house in the beforetime, now it was their coffin.

At his coming, the tremor of his engine brought them to the windows, disbelieving their own senses. And suddenly it was there and the very sight of it filled them with trepidation. Bright red body, chrome wheels, immaculate tires, it was something so alien to the people, so foreign, even to the concept of it, that they dared not even consider approaching it. So they stayed inside, hidden back against the shadows until he emerged from it. It was upon his emergence that the people turned from awe to trembling.

Had there been one still, or for that matter had there been one ever, one might say that he was dressed for Florida. But of course, there was no Florida, and not to anyone’s knowledge had there ever been. There was only the here and now, the hot dry hardpan of the wasteland. Yet there he was, with his leather deck shoes without socks, white khaki slacks, and a brightly flowered shirt, loose and airy. All these were clothes foreign to this where and when, a rash display of color foreign to this drab world of dust and dirt.

In a moment he was standing in the boarding house doorway. With the open door, light and heat burst in from the street, temporarily incinerating the shadow. He walked through the door, staring into the shadow, and squinted his dark green eyes together in an attempt to focus. As the door closed, the shadow regained its dominion.

Around him was noise, at first almost imperceptible, then it rose to a shuffling and the unmistakable sound of several someones trying far too hard to be quiet. Those sounds were followed by animated mumbling, but he could make out a few words. There was the word “stranger”, the word “red”, and the word “dangerous”. He didn’t like that at all. He didn’t come here to make trouble, just to get what he needed and leave.

The room he entered had, perhaps, been intended as a foyer with a sort of welcome desk facing the front door, but now there were several dusty tables with chairs between the desk and the door. This suggested to him that at some point in time the tables had been necessary to accommodate an overflow beyond the normal capacity of the dining room. The extra tables and chairs certainly weren’t needed now as the entire population of this town, including him, could probably be seated at two tables.

He picked a table in the center of the room and, after blowing the dust away from the seat, sat down.

“Barkeep!” he shouted to the shadows. “Whiskey for me and my friends. And water for my pony.” He spoke with a gritty brogue.

The shuffling and murmuring in the shadows grew more pronounced. He drummed his fingers on the table, not impatiently, but as if keeping time with a tune only he could hear. No, he was not impatient. He knew they would come to him eventually. They had to. They always did.

From the murmuring, from the shadows, came the first to be drawn. A tremulous, barely audible voice.

“Ain’t no whiskey nor water,” said the voice. “None since the beforetime.”

The beforetime. A quaint reference to the mythical time before this and all the worlds changed, he thought. And the thought brought him a tenuous grin. It was all myth to them and it would remain so. Their miserable lives were full of myths, like whiskey, ice cream, and God. When you have nothing else, myths fill the dark, empty, scary places in the lives of the lost.

“You may not have whiskey, but you must have water,” he said. “If you are alive, you must have water.”
The voices murmured were again punctuated by shuffling feet.

“Ain’t enuf ta share,” said the voice. “Ya bitter go now for the dark come.”

“Good advice,” he replied, “but I must still have water. Haven’t you heard that man cannot live by bread alone, he must also have water?”

More murmuring, more shuffling feet.

“God,” said the voice. This time he spoke more confidently. “Must have God.”

“God?” he asked, and then followed with, “No God, just water.”

“No water,” said the voice

“No whiskey. No water. No God,” he said flatly. “Are you ghosts that you have nothing, want nothing?”

“Not ghosts, alive all,” said the voice defensively.

He smiled now, as genuinely as he was able, disarmingly so.

“Then show me you are alive. I have not seen anyone in weeks,” he said. “Would you not share yourselves with a stranger?”

There was more murmuring and in the murmuring was fear. Their fear was palpable. He could feel it like a buzz in the air surrounding him, and he was glad for it. The fear made him strong and them weak. Fear opened the empty places so he could fill them with—

3
Darkness, more darkness than Kef Haener had ever experienced. And cold, even amid the one hundred and ten degree heat, he was chilled. He stood among them, suddenly struggling for breath with a thousand times his weight pulling him downward, down into a dark chasm within himself, down into the dark and the cold. In his terror he cried out.

“Stop! It hurts!” Kef screamed. “The dark. The cold. The…” He stopped screaming suddenly, because there was something else in there with him. He stopped screaming just short of naming it. His cries turned to pleas. “Make it stop. Oh, God, please make it stop.”

“No God,” the stranger said affectlessly. “No god can stop it, only I can. But you need to be emptied before you can be filled.”

Kef had fallen backwards violently, as if pushed, back into the small cluster of men and women in the shadows. In falling he knocked over a table and several chairs, creating a general tumult that scared the others and filled them with fear that the same thing would happen to them. They pulled back from Kef, not understanding what was happening. They could not comprehend his terror, could not conceive how the stranger was responsible, but were sure that he was. They shrank even farther back into the shadows while Kef began to gather himself. He stood, wobbly at first, but stood unaided, and then slowly, deliberately walked forward towards the stranger.

“Kef,” said the stranger, “if you would look behind the desk, I believe that there is a closet. In the back of the closet there is a panel that, once pressed, will open to reveal a trove of little treasures. And a bottle of whiskey. If you would bring me the bottle of whiskey with some water, I would be extremely grateful.”

Kef didn’t know why, but he was no longer afraid of the stranger, in fact he wanted to please the man. When the stranger requested the whiskey and water, he had no other thought than to comply. He found the bottle of whiskey and from a jug hidden behind the desk he poured a glass of water. He poured the precious liquid without thinking, without considering that it was all they had. One partially filled jug of water for all of them to share. The others, still afraid to show themselves, watched with horror as what little they had was presented to the stranger. Their horror turned to an impotent rage as Kef set the glass and bottle down.

“Leave the whiskey with me,” said the stranger, “but the water goes to my pony.”
“Pardon?” Kef looked confused.

“My little red pony.” The stranger made a waving motion towards the convertible. “The radiator must need water by now. Just check it and fill up the radiator if it’s low.”

Having never seen a convertible, much less a radiator, Kef stood there dumbfounded, unable to express his confusion.

“Hmmm,” mulled the stranger, “I can see where you might have a problem with that.” He stood up. “Grab the jug of water and come with me.” He motioned for Kef to follow him as he walked towards the door, whiskey bottle in hand. Kef followed obediently, although still not completely understanding why.

Outside in the terrible glare of the sun, the stranger unlatched the hood and explained to Kef about an automobile. The reservoir for the radiator was low and the stranger instructed Kef how to fill it. As Kef poured the water into the reservoir, angry, confused faces watched from the shadows through dust crusted windows.

Kef lowered the hood and was about to go back inside the boarding house when the stranger motioned for him to wait.

“You don’t need to go back in there,” he said. “Their destiny is no longer yours.” Kef didn’t understand what the stranger meant by that, but had no desire to question it. He turned and walked obediently back to the car.

The stranger stood for a moment staring at the boarding house. He shrugged his shoulders as if whatever he was contemplating had concluded without real resolution. Still holding the whiskey bottle, he screwed off the lid and held it up to his lips, taking a deep draught. He turned to Kef to offer him a drink, but then pulled it back as if thinking better of it. Next, he removed a rag that was lying on the dashboard of the convertible and tore off a strip which he soaked with whiskey. He shoved the whiskey soaked rag down the neck of the bottle. Taking a match, one perhaps saved for this specific purpose, from his pocket, he struck it and set the rag on fire. He watched the fire burn for a moment, then with an overhand pitch threw the bottle in a perfect arc, smashing it into and through the open door of the boarding house.

Immediately the dry timber building was an inferno. There was barely enough time for those left inside to realize they were dead, no time for anguish or prayers. Within minutes there was only ash and ember.

Kef’s reaction of horror was real, if delayed. He had known that others would die. He had known that from the moment the stranger walked into the boarding house. The others were different, somehow lesser, like bit players that existed only to keep him occupied until the stranger arrived. It was the suddenness of their deaths that shocked Kef, the sheer suddenness. And now he was alone with the stranger.

And now they were in the convertible, flying towards the borderlands at what Kef believed to be an unimaginable speed. The vehicle, the red pony as the stranger called it, moving almost soundlessly on the road, was something totally foreign to Kef. Yes, there were those that talked about such things, about how things like that existed in the beforetime, long ago before the world changed. As foreign as the concept of the red convertible was to him, one might have well described a moon landing, ice cream, or God.
© Copyright 2014 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Four Stories for Free!

If you haven’t done so already, why not  zip over to wattpad.com and enjoy some great sci-fi and horror?  I’ve published four of my short stories on the site and can’t wait to hear what you think of them.  Jump to the stories here.

Four_stories
© Copyright 2014 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Two Stories Make One

In my files somewhere I have the beginnings of a story about a man trapped in a dead-end job doing meaningless work who sees the walls of his office melt, revealing another world beyond. I wasn’t terribly satisfied with what I developed because it seemed to be turning into another one of those quest novels without a stronger storyline. So I put it away.

Also in my files was the concept for a story about a writer whose tales of a world destroyed by a mysterious plague come closer and closer to his world until he is consumed by the plague he described. This story begs the question of whether his idea for the plague was prescient or whether his fictional reality somehow became his―and his world’s―true reality. Struggling with this conundrum is a jaded, rough around the edges, cynical veteran cop who has to find the answer before the plague becomes pandemic.  I put this one away, also.

Until now.

Neither of these concepts seemed to work by themselves, so I wondered what would happen if I combined them.

________________________

Deep in the bowels of the ninety-story Heschimer Building, in the third basement, is an office. In the office is a man. The man is surrounded by stacks of paper. These are paper files, some dating back thirty years or more. Shanton Wheezer is the chief archivist of the corporation. He is also the only archivist of the corporation. His job, his sole purpose, is to catalog files, assign a reference number to each file― and sub-reference number for each element in each file―then transfer the files to a storage facility where the files are stored away in case they are ever needed.

Shanton is also responsible for retrieving a file, if anyone would ever request it. In the thirty-five years that Shanton has worked in the office―yes, the very same office―no one has ever requested a file. In fact, not a single person from the corporation, including the cleaning staff, has ever ventured to the third basement. Files are delivered to him, either in envelopes or boxes, via dumbwaiter. Since the dumbwaiter is outside his office, in the main storage area, Shanton receives an automated email to notify him that something has been delivered to his area.

Day after day Shanton sits in his office cataloging files, never bothering to read the contents or attempting to assess whether the files delivered to him should be retained or not. His job is to catalog the files and send them off to storage, nothing more. Cataloging and shipping the files efficiently is important because efficiency generates numbers and numbers look good on a spreadsheet. This being a corporation, there is―of course―a daily production report, which is a spreadsheet. And Shanton’s report always looks good.

But that’s not all there is to Shanton, of course. His real passion is writing―not just reports, but fiction, and maybe even literature. During his self-imposed breaks at work, he sketches out ideas for stories. He immerses himself in his stories and sometimes they actually take him away. It may be to a tropical island or to a strange new world, but he is there. What he doesn’t count on though, is that it’s possible for the stories in his head to become so real that they initiate the process instead of him.

The walls in his office melt away. He hasn’t shut his eyes. He hasn’t ignored the files on his desk. He just looked up and it is happening. And he’s is a world that―

Oh, my God, no! he pleads, but God isn’t there to answer. This world is ravaged by violence and disease and he stands in the middle of it. Worse yet, there is no way out, no returning.

When he fails to file his daily reports, answer his emails, and submit his timecard, Shanton is fired in absentia. His firing brings his position under the scrutiny of corporate management who judge it to be redundant. The third basement is closed until a CEO with the latest vision for the corporation orders a full physical audit of the corporate resources.

After three years, the third basement is opened and workers discover a grisly surprise.

The forensics investigators on the team led by Detective Frank Castaletti are stumped. Shanton hasn’t been seen or heard from for three years, yet he is found in his office in a locked room, an emaciated disease ridden corpse that appears to have been dead less than twenty-four hours.

To make matters worse, the medical examiner suspects that what killed Shanton is a previously unknown strain of virulent plague for which there is no cure. Castaletti has only hours to determine what happened to Shanton, but he may already have a clue if he can figure out what it means.

During the initial investigation, Shanton’s hand closed on Castaletti’s―Through the glove, right through the goddamned glove! ―triggering a terrible vision of a world lost to violence and disease.

Will Castaletti discover the secret that is hidden in Shanton’s life and writing in time to save the world?

________________________

What do you think? Was combining the two stories a good idea? Is this worth pursuing? Most importantly, do you want to know more about Shanton Wheezer, Frank Castaletti, and the fate of mankind?

I encourage you to leave comments or suggestions for my posts. I’d love to hear from you.
© Copyright 2014 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Read My Stories For Free!

I’ve been looking for a new outlet for my longer, full length stories so I thought I’d give wattpad.com a try. If you haven’t been there, wattpad bills itself as a world of unlimited stories. For the reader, wattpad is a place to discover new authors and read some really exciting work.

For the writer, the site is easy to use and well organized. Posting a story is quick, as is notifying the wattpad community that you’ve posted new material. You maintain complete control over your content and can update/edit at any time. You can even build the story while the community follows along, providing comments and suggestions.

And it’s free to join, read, and publish.

Wattpad is a social platform that encourages conversations about writing.  The idea is that by reading and commenting on other people’s stories, they’ll reciprocate by reading and commenting on yours. The comments generate buzz and buzz gets more people to read your stuff.  This will be the most difficult for me as I have very limited time to be on-line either reading or commenting.

Nonetheless, earlier this week I posted “Grayson’s Mountain” (originally published in eFiction, November 2011) just to see how it was received. In the near future I will post a few more previously unpublished stories. Hopefully I will get some constructive criticism, and maybe even some compliments.

If you are a writer, and in it for the money, there is something to keep in mind before posting to wattpad, or even to your blog. Some magazines will consider those posted stories as previously published and will not consider them for publication.  Consider this carefully before posting. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

On the other hand, if your main goal is to get your work out there to share with the world, then you might consider posting to wattpad. It seems like a great community to be involved in. Publish and be heard. The stories don’t do anyone any good sitting in your virtual trunk!

Are there other writer and reader friendly sites that are similar to wattpad? If you know of any, why not share? We can all benefit from the opportunity to start conversations about writers and the stories they create.

One last thing―don’t forget to jump to wattpad and read “Grayson’s Mountain”.  And be sure to let me know what you thought of it.  Thanks!
© Copyright 2014 by Kevin Fraleigh.