Where New Pulp Lives! And from Time to Time...Dies!

"...if one of you doesn't snag this thing and turn it into a mind-blowing low-budget film, you're all fucking insane." -John Skipp on a possible Bigfoot Crank Stomp film

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Coming Soon...

Well, the cover's up on Amazon so I guess it's cool to post it.  And, hey, you can pre-order it as well.

For those who were nice enough to purchase the original limited edition hard cover and paperback, just so you know, there will be some differences in the new mass market version.  Nothing major plot wise but enough to make your paper copies, hopefully, more collectible.  So, there's that.

For those waiting for the promised sequel GUARDIAN, you'll still have to wait.  But not too long.  And why not pick up the latest mass market version, get reacquainted with Mike Caldwell and the demon Semyaza, find those changes from the original, and prime your self for the eventual sequel?  Good idea, huh?

Thanks in advance.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Walking Shadows - Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty

Payday held Ben through the night.  In the morning, he dug a grave and buried his friend.  He left it unmarked.
Sitting next to it, he looked at his shoulder and wondered how much longer he had.  The wound had clotted but without treating it, infection would set in.  And if he moved just right, the bleeding would start again.
Why wait? he thought and lifted Ben’s SIG and considered pushing it into his mouth.  Eat a bullet, as Ben would say.
Out of the corner of his eye, Payday caught something moving.  He twisted and aimed.
A few feet away a jack rabbit sat staring at him.
Payday lowered the gun and smiled.  The rabbit lingered a few more moments and then hopped away.  He followed it until he couldn’t see it anymore.  Then he laughed.
Hope survives in Primm, he thought and looked at Ben’s grave.  So what do you think that means?

Payday nodded and started ripping strips from his shirt to dress his shoulder.  There was a note waiting for him, he knew, taped under the counter in a food mart in Arizona.  He wasn’t going to read it any time soon unless he got moving.


Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Payday knelt next to Ben and inspected the wounds.  Clean through the chest and back.  Massive blood loss.  Internal injuries too grim to calculate.  He was alive, barely, but there was no way he’d survive.
Christ, Payday thought and lowered his head.
“What are you moping about?” Ben said around raspy breaths.  His voice was weak and faraway.  His eyes mere slits.
Payday dropped the MP-5 and wiped tears from his eyes with his right hand.  “I’m sorry about all this.”
“You’re hit.”
“You’re hit.”
Payday looked at his left shoulder.  He felt blood running down his neck from his ear.  He was a red mess.  Somehow he’d forgotten about it until now.  He felt no pain, thanks to the adrenaline and endorphins stampeding through his system.  But that would soon change, he knew.
“I’m ok.”
“I’m not.”  Ben flashed a frail grin.
He lifted his right hand up and Payday took it in his own, squeezing tight, willing some of his life to some how pass into Ben.
“I’ve still got the Demerol,” Ben said.  “It’ll help with the pain.”
“Come on, Payday.  That shoulder is going to hurt like a son of a bitch real soon.  Same with the ear.”
“No.  This is my cross.”  Payday motioned his head toward Ben.  “Maybe you should take some.”
Ben shook his head.  “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
A few moments of silence passed between them.
“It kind of makes sense,” Ben said, barely above a whisper.
“What’s that?”
“The same guy from the sporting goods store.  Not a coincidence at all.”
“I don’t follow.”
“We were meant to stop him.  We save some lives down the road.  Don’t you think?”
“That’s a good way to look at it.”
“Yeah, I like the way that sounds.”
More silence.
“Thank you for saving my life,” Ben said.
“Thank you for-”
            The words locked up on his tongue.  He looked down at Ben’s unblinking eyes and for a moment thought his friend was just messing with him.  Then it sunk in.  As he held Ben’s lifeless hand, he wept.

Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Eight

They arrived in Primm just before sunset.  Payday pointed out the billowing smoke rising outside the town in an open area of desert.  Before heading off toward it, Ben drove around the hotels and casinos, looking for any signs of life.  They didn’t find any.
“What do you think?” Payday said.
Ben watched the sun dipping near the horizon and shrugged.  “Maybe it was bullshit.”
“There is that fire.  Someone started it and kept it going.  And there are no bodies anywhere.  So someone cleaned up.”
Yeah, Ben thought.  But he didn’t have a good feeling about the fire.  Something odd about it.  Why go through the trouble of building one in the first place?  If it was to dispose of dead bodies, wouldn’t it have been easier just to dig a big hole in the desert and bury them?  The fire required fuel and there weren’t any trees here.  Which meant whoever built it took material from the hotels.  That’s a lot of work.
“What do you think?” Ben said.
A long silence.  “Let’s go check it out and get it over with.”
Ben drove off the road toward the fire.  As he they closed, he noticed bodies on the ground, lying in rows in front of what appeared to be a stage.
“What the fuck?” he said.

*  *  *  *  *

Maynard heard the pop-pop, pause, pop-pop of a Harley Davidson engine.  His head snapped to the left, keying in on the sound.  It grew closer.
He considered his weapons but decided to leave them both where there were; holstered and slung over his shoulder.  He had delivered mercy in a civil way to those lying before him.  And all of them had seemed peaceful and at ease as they took their drink.  No one screamed.  No one ran.  Many thanked him.
Maynard, looking over his congregation now, had never seen anything so beautiful.  He could certainly deliver mercy the same way to two more.

*  *  *  *  *

Payday watched the scene unfold in front of them over Ben’s shoulder.  Rows of bodies, neatly line-up, as if a platoon of soldiers had crumpled and died on command.  Only these weren’t soldiers.  There were men and women and children.  All together in formation.  A regiment of dead.
Hope and salvation, he thought.
Ben slowed as they pulled up.  He parked and grabbed the SIG before getting off the bike.  Payday followed his lead, lifting the MP-5 over his head and making sure a round was already chambered.
“What the hell happened?” Payday said.
Ben didn’t reply.  Instead, he walked between the rows, studying the dead.  Payday fell in behind him.  The bodies looked like normal enough people.  No black zigzags.  No yellow eyes.  No bullet holes.  No bite marks.  No torn clothes.
“Over here,” Ben said.
Payday hadn’t realized he’d stopped moving.  He turned.  Ben stood at the end of a row, looking at a punchbowl on a bench.

*  *  *  *  *

Maynard watched the white man with the SIG Sauer and the black man with the MP-5 walk amongst his flock.  There was something familiar about them but he couldn’t place it.  He could kill them both now, if he wanted.  But Caesar’s words kept echoing in his head.
“It’s not mercy if you don’t want to die.”
Were those the words?  He couldn’t remember for sure.  He was exhausted from this day’s work.  But they seemed right.  Maynard wanted to give them a choice.  To share with them the beauty of his mercy.

*  *  *  *  *

Ben held up a ladle which had been resting in the nearly empty punch bowl.  He swallowed hard and watched the sun touch the earth, bathing the desert in hues of orange and purple.  A small wind blew from the west.
Good Christ, he thought.  This is hope and salvation?
He wished he’d never turned the radio on.  He wished he swallowed the whole bottle of Demerol.  He wished he’d eaten the bullet long ago.
“Poison?” Payday said as he walked up.
Ben nodded.
“Like that one place?”
“Jonestown.”  Ben looked at his friend.  “I’m sorry I brought you here.”
“Why are you sorry?”
Ben spun, SIG raised and leveled at the voice.  He saw a white man walking toward him with his hands up.  A shotgun was slung over his shoulder.  A pistol in a holster rested against his ribs.
“Don’t come any closer,” Ben said.
The man stopped.  “But you have come to me.”
“We came here because we heard a radio broadcast promising hope and salvation.”
“Ah.”  The man chuckled.  “There was a man here, a preacher, who promised those things.  But he was a charlatan.  He preyed on the hopelessness of these people, convincing many that the only way to be saved was through burning alive.”  The man pointed at the bonfire.  “In there.”
“Good Christ,” Payday said behind him.
Ben didn’t have a good feeling about this guy.  Not one bit.  And there was something familiar about him.  He couldn’t place it but felt he knew the man somehow.
“What happened to the preacher?”
“I killed him.”
Ben swallowed.  “And all these people.”
“Asked for a merciful death and I delivered them.”
“Stay behind me, Payday,” Ben said.
“There is no need to hide,” the man said.  “I mean no harm.  You have a choice.”
“Like these people did?”  Where do I know this guy from?
  “All voluntary.  Every last one.”
“And you think it’s a good thing.”
“It’s why I’m here.”  His eyes narrowed, focusing on Ben.  “I am an Angel of Merciful Death.”
“Angel of what?” Payday said.
The sporting goods store, Ben thought.  It was him.
Ben’s grip on the SIG tightened and his finger started to squeeze the trigger.  “Stay behind me, Payday.”

*  *  *  *  *

Maynard noticed the man’s eyes widen and his stance stiffen.  It was barely noticeable and only a trained eye would have caught it.  In the next breath, Maynard abandoned the conversation, his right hand moving to the Beretta and drawing.

*  *  *  *  *

“Screw staying back.”  Payday stepped forward, MP-5 trained on the wacko.  He wasn’t going to wait for this guy to try and jam poison down their throats.  “Nah, Ben, this guy’s fucking crazy.”
Ben’s left arm sprang out and hit Payday’s chest and knocked him back.  The next thing Payday heard was a gun shot.  Something hot ripped through his left shoulder.  As he fell backward and hit the ground, he heard several more gunshots.

*  *  *  *  *

As Ben slapped Payday back behind him, the man reached for his pistol.  Ben had never seen someone move so fast.  The man had his gun drawn and leveled like an old school gunslinger.  Ben squeezed the trigger of the SIG and pushed Payday at the same time.  The man fired.  Ben felt the bullet zip past his head and heard it hit Payday.
No time to check on him, though.  Ben shot and missed, his body still compensating from having to shove Payday.  He jumped onto the ground and rolled sideways as three more bullets rang out, hitting the sand around him.  He managed to straighten his arm and fire rounds at the attacker.  But his aim was off and the man returned rapid fire.
Shit, shit, shit, Ben thought and risked a glance at Payday.  Still alive, his chest rising and falling in shallow bursts.
Keep moving, he thought and rolled behind the body of a fat man.

*  *  *  *  *

Maynard couldn’t see the white man from his position.  He’d rolled behind a fat man and the size of the man’s stomach provided good cover.
He cursed himself for not taking the shot sooner, when it had become clear the two were hostile to his motives.  Now he’d have to move even closer to finish the white man off.
No, I won’t, he thought.  Maynard remembered now.  The sporting goods store in L.A.  The man was a professional.  One who knew to keep moving, to advance and put rounds on his target.  So Maynard would let him.

*  *  *  *  *

Ben forced himself to take slow, deep breaths.
Now how do you get out of this? he thought.  Keep moving.  Don’t let him pin you down.
He smirked.  So what the fuck are you waiting for?
Ben jumped to his feet and ran and fired.  He shot wild and it took him a second to locate the target.  Before he could adjust his aim a sharp sting pierced his chest, rocking his stride.  He didn’t quit though.  Getting hit actually helped because the shooter now had to adjust his aim since Ben had moved sideways from the blow.
And now Ben had the man lined up in the SIG’s sites.
He squeezed the trigger and watched the attacker’s shoulders snap back and fall a split second later.  Then the world blurred and Ben felt himself falling as the pain burned from his chest into his neck and stomach.

*  *  *  *  *

Maynard rolled onto his back, clutching his right shoulder.  He sat up on and tried to raise the Beretta but couldn’t move his right arm.  He shifted the gun to his left and aimed at the body.  It didn’t move.
He pushed up to his feet, grinding his teeth and the pain in his shoulder surged into his back.  He kept the gun on the body for another few moments, looking for any signs of life.
The other guy, Maynard thought.
He lingered on the white man for another moment before he felt sure he was no longer a threat.  To be safe, he fire two more rounds into the man’s back.  No movement.
Maynard turned to go check on the black man.

*  *  *  *  *

Payday heard the shots behind him.  Then the footsteps drawing closer.  He was on his left side, staring at the rifle.  He’d dropped the MP-5 when he fell and it was out of his reach.
I’m going to die here, Payday thought.
The footsteps were louder, almost on him.  His right forearm rested on his hip, his fingers dangling.  He flexed them as he tried to control his breathing.  The tips brushed something.
The Ka-bar, he thought.  He moved slow, wrapping his fingers around the hilt.  I’ll only get one chance at him.
The footsteps stopped near his head. Payday heard breathing.  Hard.
“I know you’re alive,” the man said.
“I don’t want your mercy.”  Payday’s right hand squeezed the hilt.
“You don’t have a choice anymore.”  The man kicked him in the back.  “Turnover and look at me.”
Payday didn’t move.  Keep him talking.  “Just shoot me.”
“I will.  First, I want you to look at me.”
Payday still didn’t move.  The man kicked him again.  The toe of a boot dug into his spine.  Against his will, he cried out.
“Your friend is dead.”  The man kicked again.  “If you want this to end, you will turnover and look at me.”
Payday started to roll onto his back but stopped.  “I don’t want to feel anymore pain.”
“Then turnover and look at me.”
Payday heard him kneel.  A hand clasped his shoulder.
“Turnover and behold your angel.”
Payday rolled onto his back and screamed and swung the knife and slammed it into the man.  The blade shuddered as the tip penetrated through flesh and bone.  He didn’t see where it pierced though.  Didn’t care, either.  Just needed to buy time.
The man gasped and fired.  The bullet raked the left side of Payday’s face and ripped through his ear.  He wanted to scream but kept moving, scrambling on his knees toward the MP-5.
Behind him, the man kept gasping for air.  Another shot but it hit the sand a few feet away from Payday.
Payday grasped the MP-5 and spun around and aimed and fired, sending three bursts of three rounds each.  The first couple didn’t connect, sending sand flying as they hit the desert floor.  But the next few did, punching holes into the man’s side and chest.
He stared down the barrel at the man, lying on his back, knife sunk into his chest.  Blood oozed from the fresh bullet wounds to his torso.
Payday started to walk toward him but stopped and thought, Don’t make the same mistake he did.

Payday aimed at the man’s head and fired another burst.

Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Half-way to Primm, Ben pulled over to take a leak.  When he was finished, he walked back to the bike, avoiding eye contact with Payday.  Looking at the wounds on his face caused the guilt and self-loathing to stir within and Ben wanted to avoid both for as long as possible.  At least until they made it to Primm.
“Not much further, huh?” Payday said.
“Couple hours, tops.”  Ben paused in front of the bike.  “You know I’m sorry for what I did, right?”
“Yeah, I know.”
Ben still couldn’t find the strength to look at him.  After a moment or two, he dug out his wallet and stared at the picture of Kyle.
“Don’t start getting dark thoughts again,” Payday said.
“No, I’m not.”  Ben removed the picture and held it out to Payday.  His hands weren’t trembling as much now.  Most of the Demerol and excitement in his system had dissipated.  “Would you hold on to this, please?”
When Payday didn’t reply, Ben finally looked up and saw his friend ogling the picture.  “What is it?”
“You want me to take Kyle’s picture?”
Ben nodded.  “Tuck it away somewhere or toss it.  Just don’t let me know where it’s at.”
Payday reached with a trembling hand of his own and took it.  Ben turned away and climbed on the bike.  He felt about a thousand pounds lighter.
“Let’s get going, huh?” Payday said.

“Yeah, we’re burning daylight.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Very Happy to Announce...

...this little deal.  I've been sitting on it for a while but now am officially allowed to share the news.  Below is the press release but bottom line up front, DEMON will be released as an e-book through Harper Voyager Impulse in the next few months.  Read the whole story below:

Voyager Impulse to Publish Digital Submission Winners

Great news!  We’re expanding our footprint in the digital-first publishing space with the launch of 31 Harper Voyager Impulse eBook original titles.  The books will be published starting this summer, continuing through Winter 2015, and beyond.  The novels and novellas will comprise a wide range of SFF genres and subgenres from urban fantasy and military science fiction to fairy tale remixes and horror; and from superhero fiction to epic fantasy.  These digital-first publications will be followed by short-run paperback editions, making them available everywhere eBooks are sold, as well as at bricks-and-mortar booksellers.
“It’s incredibly exciting to expand our digital-first imprint,” says Jennifer Brehl, Senior Vice President, Executive Editor, and Director of Editorial Development of William Morrow and Voyager.  “Voyager Impulse gives us the opportunity to expand our frontlist in new directions and offer a more diverse selection of imaginative fiction to readers. I for one am energized by the vast potential opened up by digital publishing.  Onward, Voyager!”
“Impulse is a chance for Voyager to establish an even more dedicated digital readership with works that should particularly appeal to that fan-base: fast-paced, action-packed, and—above all—great storytelling,” attests David Pomerico, Executive Editor of Harper Voyager. “The authors that we are launching will fit in perfectly with the vision for Voyager, while bringing unique voices to the genre. In return, they’ll have the same level of support from the marketing, publicity, and sales team as all of our titles as we look to build their audience through dedicated digital targeting as well as physical distribution.”
The vast majority of titles for the digital publishing push were acquired from our open “call” for submissions, hosted globally by Harper Voyager in 2012.  The editors received more than 4,500 submissions.
Our first U.S. acquisition from this digital call was THORN JACK by Katherine Harbour, a Florida bookseller.  The U.S. editorial director was so enthralled by this modern retelling of “Tam Lin” that it is being published in hardcover, on-sale in July 2014.
The first of our digital-first publications is THE STOLEN by Bishop O’Connell (o/s 7/22/14), a compelling urban fantasy with a strong female protagonist.  It will be quickly followed by GLORY MAINby Henry V. O’Neil (o/s 7/29/14), military science fiction set in space; and THE GOD HUNTER by Tim Lees (o/s 8/5/14), a humor-laced paranormal thriller.

Other forthcoming Harper Voyager eBook originals include:
  • THE CHARMING TALES by Jack Heckel – fairytale/comedic fantasy
  • DEMON by Erik Williams – supernatural thriller/horror
  • SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS by Lexie Dunne – urban fantasy
  • ON STONEHILL DOWNS by Sarah Remy – epic fantasy
  • THE DROWNING GOD by James Kendley – paranormal mystery/horror
  • THE SAND SIFTERS by Kelley Grant – epic fantasy
The editorial team is also excited to see two special additions to Harper Voyager’s digital publishing program, including a new epic fantasy by Auston Habershaw (THE OLDEST TRICK), who just won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.  Also, Jocelynn Drake continues her popular Asylum Tales series with three new urban fantasy tales: DEMON’S FURYDEMON’S VOW, and INNER DEMON.
More titles will be released digitally every month.  Pomerico is excited by the opportunities that lie ahead for the imprint: “One of the exciting opportunities for authors who publish through Impulse is our ability to provide the same suite of services any Voyager title would receive, and a speedy production process, meaning readers will be able to have the books on their devices not long after we announce them.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Six

“You’re not allowed on the stage,” the man in the gray suit said, bull horn at his side.
Maynard scaled the steps.  “You have no authority over me.”
“Everyone answers to someone and this is my stage and I say step off.”
“I answer to no one.”  Maynard pumped the round of rock salt out of the shotgun.  “I would never allow such a thing.”
The man’s eyes widened as they settled on the Mossberg.  “Now hold on right there, friend.”
Maynard raised the Mossberg.
The man extended a hand as if to stop Maynard.  His voice rose and filled with panic.  “Please, don’t--”
Maynard fired.  The round of buckshot tore through the man’s chest, staining the gray suit with blood and flesh.  He flew through the air and landed several feet away on the other side of the stage.
Lowering the Mossberg, Maynard squatted and picked-up the bull horn and turned to the crowd, their dull vacant expressions replaced with looks of fear and shock.
“Burning alive is no way to die,” Maynard said into the bull horn.  “It does not save you.  It does not purify your soul.  All it does is incinerate you.  It unleashes pain you can scarcely imagine.  And this man...” Maynard pointed the shotgun and the dead man in the gray suit.  “...was manipulating you for his own entertainment.”
Maynard paced the length of the stage, glancing at the fire behind him for a moment, before turning back to the crowd.  “He was right about one thing: you cannot rebuild what has been destroyed.  Hope and salvation are not alive, though.  You can accept that fact now or you can continue wandering through this wasteland searching for something which doesn’t exist anymore.
“As the man said, you have a choice.  But know that I am here for you.  I am the fire.  I do not burn with heat, though.  Rather, I am aflame with mercy and compassion.  And I have been sent here to deliver you into eternal slumber.”
Maynard shifted his gaze from one depressed and sunken face to another.  Some cried.  Others just stared, dumbfounded.
Then one spoke up.  A woman from somewhere in the mass said, “No pain?”
            Maynard nodded and thought, Providence.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Five

“You ready?” Ben said as he mounted the Harley.
“Yeah.  Give me a second.”  Payday turned to Sally, standing on the side of the road.  He walked to her and extended his hand.
She took it and said, “Why in God’s name are you doing this?”
“Because God is love.”  He squeezed her hand gently.  “And like I said before, I’m loyal.”
Sally shook her head and looked away.  “The one decent guy probably left in the world and you’re going to run off with an asshole and leave me behind.”
“You could come.”
“I’m telling you, something’s rotten in Primm.”
“Maybe.  If there is, I’ll come back.”
“And if it is salvation?”
“I’ll come back.”
“I might not be here.”
Payday nodded.  “Leave a note for me.  Tape it under the counter where no one else will find it.  Tell me where I can find you.  Ok?”
“Fair enough.”
She released his hand.  Payday stuck it in his pocket and turned away and headed toward the bike.  An overwhelming sense of regret already tore at his guts.
Stay loyal, he thought.  And don’t look over your shoulder or you’ll fucking change your mind and ditch Ben.
“Keep your head down and stay low,” Sally said.
Payday smiled but didn’t turn.  “Will do.”
He swung his leg over the bike and held on to Ben.
“Ready now?” Ben said.
            “Yeah.  Let’s go.”

Friday, May 2, 2014

Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Four

Maynard saw the smoke five miles short of the Nevada border.  It rose in black plumes into a windless blue sky.  He pulled over and removed a small pair of binoculars from his bag and glassed the area ahead.
Primm, Nevada, an exit sign read.  A couple of casinos.  The smoke, though, didn’t come from any structure.  Instead, a few thousand yards away from any building, a giant bonfire roared.  And all around it people stood, watching the flames and smoke lick the sky.
Maynard lowered the binos and wondered what they were burning.  Probably dead bodies.  It made sense a group of survivors would eventually band together and start to clean up in hopes of rebuilding a community.  What didn’t make sense was the location.  Nothing but desert surrounded the little stateline shithole.  Why gather here?  Why not further north near Henderson and Lake Meade?  Fresh water instead of sand.  Didn’t make sense.
Rather than ponder it too much, Maynard decided to drive down and check it out.  There were people down there, after all.  People who required mercy.
It took about ten minutes to reach Primm.  Once there, he parked the ATV near an abandoned RV and walked into the camp.  The Mossberg, slung over his shoulder.  The Beretta, in its holster.
He estimated about a hundred and fifty people, maybe two hundred, stood around the bonfire.  Well, not really around it.  As he approached, he realized they all gathered on one side of it before a stage.  The fire was a couple hundred feet away from them.
The crackle and pop of fuel in the fire cut the furnace-like air around him.  He also heard the rattle of a two-stroke diesel generator.  And a voice.  A man’s voice speaking into a bullhorn.
“It takes strength,” the voice said in loud, booming voice.  “It takes honesty.  It takes true repentance to find forgiveness.  Only then will your souls be redeemed.”
Maynard stood at the back of the crowd now, watching a tall, skinny man in a gray suit pace back and forth on the stage.  As hot as it was, no sweat stains marked his clothes, as if he was at home in the infernal heat.
“You all have been asking yourselves ever since it happened, why?  Right?  Why did this happen?  Why am I still alive?  Well, I tell you why isn’t as important as how.  As in, how are you going to save your soul?  Because that’s the answer to why.  You’re still here because your soul needs fixing.”
Some in the crowd applauded.  Maynard, however, crossed his arms, listening.  Whoever this man was, he had these people entranced.
“And let me tell you to something else.  You’re not going to save your soul by rebuilding society.  No, sir.  Why’s that?  Because you’d just be rebuilding the same damned abomination that ruined you in the first place.  No, no, no.  The only thing that’s going to save your soul now is purification.”
The man shifted on his feet and lowered the bull horn and stared at the roaring fire behind him for a minute.  Maynard wondered what he saw in the flames.
Then the man turned back to the crowd and lifted the bull horn.  “You see, God hasn’t judged us.  He hasn’t abandoned us.  He’s done what he’s always done.  He’s given us a choice.  He doesn’t judge us.  We judge ourselves.  Are we strong enough to face our own judgment?  Are we brave enough to choose the hard road to redemption over the easy path of what is familiar?
“You see, hope and salvation does not dwell in the buildings over there.  It doesn’t reside in track housing or shopping malls.  It doesn’t wait at a power station to be rediscovered.  No, that’s where damnation lives.  That’s where damnation has always lived.  And your easy lives and carefree attitudes of the past is why you’re all damned.
“But you don’t have to remain damned.  You have a choice.  You can save your soul.  Hope and salvation survive, friends.”
The man swung around and pointed a crooked finger at the fire.  “In there!  Choose the path to redemption!  In the flames you’ll find hope and salvation!  And your soul will be purified in the inferno of deliverance!”
Maynard’s hands dropped to his sides.  Was this man serious?  Before he could question it further, a man and a woman holding hands sprinted into the fire.  Their screams could have slice marble.
What kind of resolve did it take to voluntarily burn oneself alive?  Maynard remembered Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire in Vietnam in protest.  Hearing the screams, he wondered how anyone could follow.  Yet more did.  All because the man in the gray suit told them to.
He focused on the man in the gray suit.  A look of content had taken over his face.  As if this were all normal and expected.
An old man walked into the fire.  Then a woman carrying an infant.  Maynard observed the crowd around him.  None seemed shocked or appalled.
A few more went into the fire before the voluntary immolation ceased.  The man in the gray suit nodded to himself, satisfied with what had occurred, and paced the length of the stage for a few minutes.  The crowd remained silent, trancelike.
“You see, those brave souls are now saved.  How many more do you all need to witness before you find your courage?  Before you find your strength to save yours?”
This is insanity, Maynard thought.  He shook his head, offended by the whole scene.  This was not merciful and painless.  This man, this preacher, took pleasure in watching those people burn.
Burned alive, he thought.  No one should die that way.
            Maynard unslung the Mossberg and moved toward the stage.

Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Three

“How are you feeling?” Sally said.
Payday pressed the ice-filled Ziploc against the left side of his face and shrugged.  “Bout as well as a piece of meat loaf, I guess.”
Sally laughed.  She’d been nice enough to power up the generator and run the ice machine to fill a bucket for the swelling.  First, though, she’d cleaned the wounds with peroxide and bandaged the splits and cuts.  The whole time she cracked one liners to cheer him up.  Silly shit a seven-year-old might say:
“What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs in a pile of leaves?  Rustle.
“What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs in a hot dog bun?  Frank.
“What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs lying on the front porch?  Matt.”
After about the tenth joke, while she was cleaning a cut above his eyebrow with a Q-tip, he finally laughed.  Once he had, everything felt better.  Not great and definitely not forgotten but better.  He could deal with the pain now.
Sally opened a fresh Dr. Pepper and took a swig.  “What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs hanging on the wall?”
“You know these are stupid, right?”
“What do you call him?”
“I don’t know.  What?”
Payday chuckled.  “Damn, that’s lame.”
“What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs in a pot?”
Payday waved her off.  “No more.  My ears are gonna start bleeding.”
“I can always tell some black jokes.”
“Don’t go there.”
“I know a bunch.”
“I bet you do, you white cracker.”
They both laughed.
“So now what?” Sally said.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I don’t know.  What now between you and your crazy ass travelling companion?  What the hell do you think I mean?”
Payday had avoided thinking about Ben, even as Sally cleaned the wounds he’d inflicted.  What was the point?  The man wasn’t in his right mind.  He was beat up and hurt on the inside like no other person he’d ever encountered.  Ben had lost his wife to his own son.  And then killed his son the day before.  To deal with the hurt, he’d turned to the pain killer Payday had handed over to him.  Who could blame him?  Payday had tried but even when Ben pounded on his face, he realized the mistake he’d made.  Rather than talk to the man, to empathize with him, he’d seen the drug use as an insult to his own addiction.
How many times have you turned to the needle to deal with your shitty life? Payday thought.  Too many.  Standing in judgment of another wasn’t a wise career move.
“I don’t know what now,” Payday finally said.  “The guy might already be dead.  He tried to kill himself yesterday.  I managed to stop him then.  Maybe he pulled it off this time.”
“And if he didn’t?”
“Then I keep trying to help him out.”
“He saved my life and I saved his.  You don’t just quit on someone after sharing those experiences.”
Sally drank from her Dr. Pepper.  “What about finding a house in the middle of nowhere?  Hole up for a while?”
“Maybe I can talk him into it.”
“I won’t go anywhere he’s going.”
Payday started to reply but the word stuck in his throat.  “You were planning on going?”
Sally shrugged.
“What about all the food and gas?”
“You seem like a good guy, Payday.  A guy I can trust.  You’d have my back if we got in some shit together.  But your friend Ben is another story.  You can’t trust him.  And when you can’t trust someone you end up watching your own back.  Besides, I’d rather pump a load of buckshot into his ass than share a place with him.”
“You just don’t know him.”
“First impressions are everything where I come from.”
“The man saved my life and then I saved his.  That means something where I come from.
“You already said that.  Besides, sounds like you’re square to me.”
Payday smirked.  Sure, we’re square as far as saving lives go, he thought.  But it wasn’t just about saving lives.  Not to him.  They’d been through some real shit together.  Not to mention the end of the world.  That meant Ben was his brother now.  And Payday wouldn’t abandon his brother.
“You’re right, in a way,” Payday said.  “But I can’t give up on him, even if he gives up on himself.”
Sally crinkled the empty Dr. Pepper in her hand and tossed it in a trash can behind the counter.  “I guess you’re a better person than me.”
“Nah, just more stubborn.”
“That I won’t argue with.”  Sally moved around the counter.  “I don’t have much for the pain but some Advil.”
Payday raised his hand for her to stop.  “No drugs.”
“It’s just Advil.”
“I appreciate it but no.” 
“You’re that hardcore, huh?”
How do I explain it? Payday thought.  So many years of poison, his career gone, and his family dead.  Not that the horse led to the death of Shawna and little Tyrone.  No, it only led to him being passed out in a drug haze while Shawna ate her son.  He wouldn’t allow himself to become that numb and detached again, even if it meant avoiding something as simple as Advil.
“You ever heard of people who survive airplane crashes?” Payday said.  “They become fearless, a lot of them.  Will try things they never did before because they made it through an almost impossible situation to endure.  But a lot of them, even though they’ll try cliff diving or bungee jumping or race car driving will never step foot on a plane again.”
“I appreciate your understanding.”
“I don’t necessarily understand it completely.  But we’ve all got our reasons for shit, right?  Who’s to say you’re wrong?”
“Well, I appreciate it all the same.”
“No problem.”
A few moments of silence passed.  Sally opened a bottle of water.  Payday licked his raw and swollen lips and considered what might happen next.  It all seemed to boil down to how Ben was.  If he was alive, Payday would try to convince him to find somewhere isolated to hole up.  If he was dead by his own hand, well, Payday would probably move on with Sally.
But first you have to check and see if he’s still alive, Payday thought.
He looked out the window at the motel.  Are you still alive, Ben?  Or did you finally eat that bullet you’ve been craving?
Only one way to find out.  And he wasn’t ready to walk over there and open the door and find out.  Not yet, at least.
After another couple of minutes, though, Payday received the answer without moving an inch.  Sally saw him first, jogging across the road, and instinctively lifted the shotgun from the counter.  Payday raised his hand to calm her down and pushed off toward the door.
“If he lays another hand on you, I’m blowing him away,” she said.
“Fine.  Just make sure I’m not in the way first.”  Payday opened the door and held up the same calming hand toward Ben.  “Easy, there.”
Ben didn’t stop moving.  “I’m sorry for what I did, Payday but I’ve got to tell you something.”
“I’m just saying slow down so Miss Sally doesn’t put a round of buckshot in you.”
That snatched Ben’s attention long enough to slow the jog to a brisk walk.  “I don’t mean to scare anyone.”
“It’s not about scaring.  I think she wants to make sure you don’t beat the shit out of me again.”
Ben stopped a few feet from the door.  “Oh, yeah.  I feel pretty horrible about that.  No excuse for what I did.  I am sorry, though.”
“I know.”  Payday repositioned himself in the doorway so that Ben could pass by.  “Come on in.”
Ben moved slowly into the mart, patting Payday gently on the shoulder as he did.  Payday followed behind him to the counter, where Sally stood with the shotgun still in her hands.  Ben didn’t seem to notice or care.  Which meant he was either in a full on dope haze or actually had something to tell them.  And since Ben was new to pain killers and Payday doubted he could function too well on them, he figured the latter to be the case.
“So what is it?” Payday said.
“Sally, you said you have a radio, right?” Ben said.
“Yeah.”  Sally’s grip on the shotgun never slacked, as if she expected Ben to make a move at her at any moment.
“Turn it on and tune it to 1500 AM.”
“Please, just do it.”
Ben’s tone was quick and almost frantic.  Payday leaned in toward him, and observed nervous ticks in his hands and rapid blinking.  Not the kind of thing normally seen in someone coming down from a Demerol high.  This was excitement combined with fear, not withdrawal.
Sally set the shotgun down and grabbed the radio from behind the counter and fired it up.  She scrolled through nothing but white noise to 1500 and a clear voice broke through the fog of static.  The suddenness of it startled Payday.  It seemed to have had the same effect on Sally because she bobbled the radio before clenching it to keep it from dropping from her hands.
“Hope and salvation survives in Primm, Nevada.  Hope and salvation survives in Primm, Nevada.”
Over and over.  An eternal loop.  Where the hell was Primm?
“When did you find this?” Payday said.
“Couple of hours ago.”
“Hours ago?”
“I passed out from the drugs.”  Ben made no attempt to look Payday in the eyes.
“This can’t be real?” Sally said.
“Why?” Ben said.
“Primm?  Isn’t it just a couple of casinos on the California-Nevada border?  Why the hell would hope and salvation survive there?”
“Why wouldn’t it?” Ben said.  “About as weird as us hanging out in a gas station food mart on the Arizona border after the world’s ended.”
Sally didn’t offer a rebuttal, instead choosing to chew her bottom lip and stare at the radio.  After a few moments, she said, “I don’t know.  Just doesn’t sound trustworthy.”
Ben laughed.  “Only one way to find out.”
Payday shifted from the radio to Ben.  “What do you mean?”
“We’re going to Primm.”
            For some reason, Payday’s stomach flipped.

Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Two

Ben sat on the edge of the bed, drifting in and out of consciousness.  His head felt heavy and dizzy.  His mouth, dry.  His eyes, flat.
The SIG lay on the dresser across from him, blurry, a thin sliver of light passing across the barrel and trigger guard.  Staring at it, he wondered what he was waiting for.  Why hadn’t he jammed it in his mouth and fired the fatal round as soon as he got back in the room?  Why hadn’t he just done it in the street?
Because you’re still a chicken shit, he thought.  And because you need to make sure Payday was ok.
But Payday had Sally looking after him.  So what conceivable reason was there to hang around any longer?  Ben didn’t know yet hang around he did, shifting away from the SIG and grabbing his backpack and dragging it across the bed to him.  It seemed like it weighed a ton.  He opened it up and pulled out the wind-up radio.
The last time they’d used the radio, they’d heard the voice saying there was help in Arizona.  And look what that got them.  Some part of Ben, though, told him to give it one more chance, to see if there was help out there broadcasting.  He needed to know once and for all if the world was ended or there was still some hope out there.  If he tried it and heard nothing, it would be the last nail in his coffin.  If he did hear something, however, well...
It took Ben a few seconds to pinch the crank between is thumb and forefinger after missing it a few times.  He wound the radio.  After a few seconds, white noise blasted through the small speaker.  He released the crank and started scrolling slowly through the stations, left to right, on AM.
The white noise remained constant.  Not even a blip of interference.  Only a steady stream of static.
“ Primm, Nevada.”
Fuck, Ben thought, freezing the dial and reversing.  He hadn’t expected to hear anything but white noise as he edged closer to the end of the dial.  Had he imagined it?  Some drug induced auditory hallucination?  He was already considering the bullet when the male voice burst over the speaker.  Now he scrolled backward slowly, hoping to pick it up again.
“...Nevada.”  Ben exhaled and rubbed his mouth, thankful he found it again.  “Hope and salvation survives in Primm, Nevada.  Hope and salvation survives in Primm, Nevada.”
Over and over the message repeated.
Primm, Ben thought.  Where the hell was Primm?  It sounded familiar, too familiar, yet his memory wouldn’t yield the answer.  It was right there, on the tip of his tongue-
“Stateline,” he said.  That’s where it was.  On the border with California right off Interstate 15.  Anyone heading to Vegas from L.A. passed it on the way in.  The town consisted of three hotel-casinos and a couple of gas stations in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  Why the hell would hope and salvation survive there?
Ben chuckled at the ridiculousness of it all.  The world had ended under a swarm of humans-turned-psychotic zombies.  Only the monsters had died less than a day later, leaving a world of few humans and nothing else.  At least, nothing else that Ben had seen.  No dogs or cats or snakes or birds.  Just a few humans, all in piss poor shape.
And now hope and salvation waited at the border casinos in Nevada.  Sure.  Why not?
He giggled now and set the radio down.  He went to stand but the world swirled around him.  The Demerol weighed heavy on his head.

Need a nap first, Ben thought and lay back on the bed and closed his eyes.  Nap and then tell Payday he was sorry and that all their problems would be solved in Primm, Nevada.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Green Lantern really sucked

My hatred for the Green Lantern flick is legendary but fake movie producer Sam Strange takes it to a whole new level.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Walking Shadows - Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-One

Patrick pointed out the man sitting on the hood of a burgundy Jeep on the outskirts of Baker, home of the world’s tallest thermometer.  Maynard had been driving on the shoulder of Interstate 15, heading toward Vegas, when the boy poked him and showed him his discovery.  As a result, he slowed to a stop behind and to the right of the Jeep which sat in the number one lane.
The lanes had been pretty clear between Barstow and Baker.  More tractor trailers than personal vehicles, spread out about every couple hundred feet or so.  After several days in the blistering sun of the Mojave Desert, most of the bodies they passed were pretty well desiccated.  All except this guy, sitting on the hood of the Jeep, staring down into the desert valley and Baker.  He didn’t move, even when the ATV rolled up, as if he were deaf to the world around him.  Hell, maybe he was.
Maynard eased off the ATV and help Patrick down.  He held his hand up and then pointed where they stood, indicating to stay put.  Patrick nodded.  Shifting his attention back to the man, Maynard eased the Beretta from the holster.  Then he moved toward him.
If the man heard him, he showed no sign of it.  Maynard approached, gun raised, slowly but not as quietly as he normally would stalk.
“Excuse me,” Maynard said.
The man twitched and turned his head.  Middle-aged, by Maynard’s calculation, with salt and pepper eyebrows and a bald head.  Sweat covered his face like a sheet.
“Oh,” the man said.  “Hello.  I didn’t hear you pull up.”  The man looked further over his shoulder at Patrick.  “That your boy?”
“Yes.”  Maynard was surprised the man showed no fear of his weapon.  “Why are you sitting on the hood in this sun?”
“I ran out of gas.”  The man turned back to his view of Baker.  “Thought I had enough to make it down there.”  He chuckled.  “Guess it doesn’t really matter.”
“Why’s that?”
“Because I have no idea where the hell I would go if I did make it down and fill up.  That’s what I’ve been pondering.  What’s the point?”
“I see.”  Maynard lowered the Beretta and moved to the left fender of the Jeep.  “So you’re giving up?”
“I suppose.  I ended up killing my wife the other day, when it all started.  Ran a few others over racing out of my neighborhood.  Thought I’d find help by now.  You know, police or something.  But there isn’t any.  You two are the first survivors I’ve seen besides my reflection in the rearview.  Even if I found others, we’d have to rebuild.  Form new communities.  Kick-start civilization all over again.  Fuck that.”
“I can help you.”
“No, no.”  The man waved his hands as if to shoo Maynard away.  “I’m not going anywhere.  You and your boy can venture on but I’m staying put.  I got beer in the back.  Figured I’ll have a few and die right here.”
“I meant I can help you die.”
The man turned his attention away from the view.  His eyes fastened on Maynard, probing.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I have helped others on the road.  Others who wanted no more of this farce of a world.  And I’ve done it with mercy and compassion.”
The man chewed on his bottom lip for a while.  Finally, he said, “Mercy and compassion?”
More chewing.  “No pain?”
“No pain.”
A few seconds of silence passed.  Maynard looked away, off toward Baker.  The abandoned buildings appeared ancient in the sweltering sun.
“Ok,” the man said. 
Maynard turned back to him.  “I’m going to need you to get off the hood.”
“The hood.  Please get off it.  It’s too high.”
“Oh.”  The man pushed off onto his feet.  He was short.  No more the five and a half feet.  “Good now?”
Maynard eyed his height and looked over to Patrick.  No, still to tall for the boy.
“Would you mind sitting down?  It’ll make it easier.  You know, so you don’t fall and such.”
The man lowered onto his ass and folded his legs Indian-style.  “Better?”
“So, how will you do it?”
“It’s better if you don’t know.  That way, you’re not anticipating it.  If you are, it my not be painless.  Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
“Good.  Now close your eyes.  I’ll be right back.  Just need to step over to my ATV for a moment.”
“Are you going to do it in front of your boy?”
“He’s seen it before.”  Maynard walked over to Patrick and leaned into his ear and whispered, “Do you still want to hold the gun?”
Patrick nodded.  “Why’s that man sitting on the road?”
“He wants to die.”
“Because he doesn’t have a reason to live.  So, we’re going to help him.”
“What do you mean?”
“Remember when I said I could help you see your parents again?”
“Well, we’re going to help him see his wife again.”
“Oh.”  Patrick nodded.  Then he shook his head.  “How?”
Maynard extended the Beretta toward Patrick, grip first.  “Take this gun.  Walk over to him, point it at the back of his head, and pull the trigger.”
“But that’ll kill him.”
“Yes.  That’s what he wants.”
“But killing’s wrong.”
“Not if he’s ok with it.  Do you understand?”
“I think so.”  Patrick took the grip of the gun in both hands and slipped his right index finger between the guard and the trigger.  “Is that all?”
“That’s all.”
“What’s taking so long?” the man said, hidden behind the front of his Jeep.
“You can’t rush this, Sir.” Maynard said.  He leaned back into Patrick’s ear.  “Do you see?  He’s waiting for you.”
Maynard patted his shoulder.  “Now go.”
Patrick moved away slowly toward the Jeep.  Maynard followed close behind, staying within a few feet.  As they approached, he noticed the gun remained steady in Patrick’s hands, even though he knew the weight of it was a bit much for the boy.  A small part of him bloomed with pride, even though he didn’t know why.
They passed the front fender of the Jeep.  When he was within a couple of feet, Patrick stopped and raised the gun and pointed it at the back of the man’s head.  Maynard held his breath, expecting at any moment for the Beretta to recoil and a spray of pink mist to pop out of the man’s forehead.
But it didn’t happen.
The gun now started to tremble in Patrick’s hands.  Maynard looked from the barrel up the boy’s arms to a face now staring at him with tear-riddled eyes.  He mouthed the words, “I can’t.”
“What’s going on?” the man said.
Before he could say anymore, Maynard stepped forward, snatched the Beretta from Patrick’s weak hands, aimed, and fired a round through the back of the man’s head.  As the pink mist sprayed and the body fell forward, Patrick screamed.
He screamed.
And everything changed for Maynard.  He shifted from the lifeless body to the boy, standing next to him, crying and shaking.  The boy he had thought he had been given as a pupil.
This isn’t Providence, he thought.  This is satire.
“I couldn’t do it,” Patrick said around loud wails.  “I couldn’t.”
Maynard gritted his teeth, feeling like a damn fool.  How had he been conned into this?  How had he let his reason fail him so?
“And you call yourself my son,” Maynard said.
Patrick’s wails ceased and he hiccupped and his wet eyes fell on Maynard.  “But I’m not your son.”
“That’s right.”
Maynard raised the Beretta and shot Patrick in the forehead.  The boy dropped to the ground, eyes still open and wet.  They appeared to still search for an answer to all the craziness in the world.  And at the same time, a giant weight lifted from Maynard’s chest.  He could breath normally again.
            “Goodbye,” he said and walked back to the ATV.