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Creepy Caves

Posted in Denver, horror, indie, urban fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi Indies,

It’s been a cool week. I got to spend a couple of days off of work with my Rosa before she goes back to school. I can’t believe she’s in fourth grade now. She can’t be in fourth grade, she just started third grade! Oh, that’s right, I forgot, time speeds up when you get older. That’s either physics or Murphy’s Law.

We got to go to the pool and swim, cook together, and just hang out. She’s completely into Master Chef, so that’s her new game. I learned that I am really terrible at impressions. My husband does a really great Gordon Ramsey impression, and Rosa does the most hilarious Joe Bastianich stare. As far as our actual cooking experiments together, we made homemade ravioli. It didn’t come out horrible, but I’m pretty sure I’d be sent home from the Master Chef kitchen for undercooking the pasta. Yes, I couldn’t boil pasta. In Chef Ramsey’s famous words, “Wha’ a shame!” Rosa, on the other hand, made the ravioli filling and sauce perfectly!

Getting to spend time with my kid made me think about how awesome it is to have people. I’m so surrounded by people all the time, that I take people for granted. I’ve been addicted to Orange Is The New Black, and they talk about solitary confinement on there, and some people who are introverts like me think ‘Oh, yes, to be by myself, how bad can that be?’ Except we don’t get how social animals are, even solitary animals, and being primates, we are anything but solitary, not really. So I don’t think most people get just how awful it is to be alone. When I read stories about immortal being and ancient beings I automatically think, ‘Wow how awesome would it be to be immortal and ancient like that!’ But then I wonder, because in the end, unless a being like that has another one to keep him/her/it company, eventually they wind up alone as the non-immortal world goes by. I guess if you’re a Greek god with a short attention span and can just snag any random human for a booty call then they manage to while away the time.

This next story is about an ancient being some unfortunate people found in a deserted mine.

The Lonely Miner

by Rachel Coles

Exhaust rose up through the windows, making Mark cough.

“Screw this!  Let’s kick on the air, roll up that window.”  Gunther hit the switch, and the windows glided up, as cool air blasted into the cabin.  Santa Fe Blvd was a parking lot.  Mark unrolled the window again and slid half his body out, balancing and peering into the wavery distance ahead of him to see what had caused the wait, as if it would help, with three 18-wheelers blocking the view around the curve.  He flopped into the seat discontentedly, reached back and popped off the lid of the cooler and grabbed a bottle.

“Hey, get me one!  Is that an IPA?”

“Yes it is, and no.  You’re driving.”

“It’s an IPA, like 4.5% alcohol, give me a damn bottle!  Besides, we’re only moving two miles an hour, when we’re going at all.”

“And if it’s a big accident, swarming with cops?  That’ll look great, you sucking down a beer behind the wheel.”

“I’ll be done with it by the time we get around the bend, which may not be until midnight.”

Mark rolled his eyes and uncapped it.  Hoppy vapors swirled at bottle lip and dissipated.  He handed it to Gunther, who got in half a swig as the SUV in front of him suddenly began moving, and picked up speed to about 20 miles an hour.  It kept going, slowly but steadily.

“Shit!”  Gunther took one more long guzzle and handed the bottle to Mark, who finished it and stashed the empty back in the cooler, and grabbed another.  In a couple of minutes, they drifted slowly past a workman in a bright orange vest and a big smiley face, holding up a SLOW sign, waving cars on.  A huge flashing arrow sign ushered cars to

a trickle of one lane, while a line of aggravated drivers waited for their turn on the other side of the bottleneck, detained by another vested workman holding up a STOP sign.

“That job would suck.”  Mark watched as the workman, or woman rather, stood bored and hot, uncaring as motorists glared.

“Amen.  So now you can stop bitching about yours.”

“I don’t bitch.  I vent.  And I never said that it was bad.  It’s just the bureaucratic stonewalling pisses me off sometimes.”

“And you work where?

Mark sighed.  “For the state.”

“Doing what?”

“Contract monitoring.”

“Sooooooo…”

“Right, right.”

“Like going to the tundra and complaining about the snow, and this big inconvenient glacier in your way.”

Mark scowled and watched the landscape flashing by.

Gunther kept talking.  “Me, I live in Office Space.  Milton Waddams is my cubicle mate.  I know it, everyone knows it, and I don’t fight it.  Because I do my job, make my money, and come the weekend, everyone can just fuck off!  I have a job, in this economy, HURRAY! Though who knows how much longer that’ll last.  My company sucks, but that’s something for now at least.  You know what your problem is?”

Mark swiveled his head and waited.

“You been in emergency management for so long you can’t even have a thought without writing a strategic plan about it, every step for the next five years.  How long did you plan for this day hike?”

“I didn’t.”

“Uh-huh.  That’s why you were packing a giant bag when I came to get you.”

“Emergency supplies.”

Gunther turned and glared at him.

“We need emergency supplies, we’re going to an old mining town and tunnel!”

“Not two week’s worth of food and water.  And what else do you have in that ginormous bag, a satellite dish, a parka and mukluks, a James Bond car, what, Captain Eagle Scout?”

“Radios.”

“To radio whom?  If they even work in the mountains. You’re not a ham radio operator, you never went through with the test, remember?  You just wanna look cool with your little nerdy radio.”  He grabbed Mark’s beer bottle and held it to his cheek,  “CHHKKK, BREAKER BREAKER, this is Nerd Patrol, we have a 10-24 at the 246.  OVER AND OUT!”

Mark snatched the bottle and drained the last swig before it could slosh out.  “That’s not what it’s like! Ham radio people are cool!  Have you ever seen those guys?”

“Yes, and you aren’t one.”  He grabbed another couple beers as the industrial buildings and shopping strips gave way to slow rolling foothills.

The air as they pulled onto the Alpine Tunnel 4WD was brisk, like a different climate zone from the unseasonal May heat near Denver.  The car jiggled and bumped as the gravel rattled in the undercarriage.  The parking area was littered with weeds in clumps.  There was one other car.  Pale silver-leaved stands of aspen interspersed with clumps of spiky brown beetle-killed Ponderosas.  Pine and fine beige dust from the parking area filled the air.  Mark pulled some of the food out of the pack, and stashed a few chilled beers in next to the bottles of water, wiping the ice drippings onto his fleece vest.  He pulled out his GPS, fiddled for a minute and pointed towards the left.  “Trail head’s over there.”

Gunther stood in front of the big gaping break in trees and gravel walk that was the obvious trail-head.

“No kidding, Magellan?  How could we have known without your New World gadget.”

Mark grinned and shoved the GPS in his cargo pocket.

The first ten minutes of the trail were mild, carpeted with sienna needles.  It gave way to brush as the trail steepened, surrounded by sage and splashes of bright spikes of columbine, dots of aster and delicate blue bells.  They skirted swaths of scree across the trail, refusing to seem out-of-breath or out-of-shape after less than an hour into the hike.  A gully wound near the path and Mark caved in first.  It’s a day off, dammit! I’m not here to impress anyone. I’m having a beer and sit-down.  He clambered off onto a boulder, and pulled out a sweating bottle and some buffalo jerky, offering some to Gunther.

“Wuss.”  He ambled over and took the jerky, and a beer.  “Good jerky.”  He grunted.

“This from a man whose favorite food is plain mashed potatoes and chicken-noodle concrete.”

The unapologetic Midwesterner flashed a white grin and gnawed at his meat leather.  They sat, drinking the beers and eating in amiable guy-silence, and then packed in the

bottles and started back on the path.  Mark stood a moment longer looking at the gully that had been a stream before the drought.  Desiccated grey-green algae, like the crusted blood of a naiad, clung to the face of the rocks in the center, and sun-bleached twigs and debris choked in a winding line up and down the mountain in either direction.  It looked like someone had dragged Jenny Greenteeth into the sun and baked her until she shriveled against the rocks.  A couple of papery minnows lay in the granite nooks, like those Japanese dried fish snacks.  As he started to turn back to the path, she moved, just enough out of the lee of a crag that he could see her diaphanous green hair.  Her hollow moss-colored eyes peered at him as she moved sluggishly back into the shadows, the detritus behind her visible, as her long black talons withdrew into the merciful shade.  He blinked, pulled out the beer bottle, sniffed the mouth, and put it back, and then turned on his heel and followed the dust motes to where Gunther had gone.

“Do you ever wonder what happens to the creeks up here?”  Mark caught up, panting.

“What do you mean?”

“When they dry out.”

“They always dry out in the winter, we’re a high sierra state.”

“But it’s May, and we’re in the mountains.”

“Yeah, but it only snowed early this year, not recently.  Dillon Reservoir was down by half since a couple years ago.  The boats were all clustered in the middle, with LOTS of beach that wasn’t there before.  It looked pretty wild.  Like a little kid pulled the plug out of the bathtub.”

“That’s exactly it.  What happens, I mean, don’t you think we’re in trouble?”

“Sure.  We’ve been in trouble for years.  That’s why we get all the cool rebates for putting in low water stuff in our houses.  I got two new toilets for 50 bucks, and got in great with my wife!”  He waggled his eyebrows.

“Glad to know the drought’s improved the frequency of your booty calls.”

“It doesn’t count as a booty call if she’s married to you.  But thank you!  Look, this happens every ten years or so.  Next year, we’ll probably get totally buried in a blizzard and the levels will be back to normal.  That’s the way it works.  You wanna change it, talk to the golfing snow birds in Arizona.  Get our water rights back.”

A crane fly floated by, and disappeared into the parched shadows of the woods.

“What the hell, did you see the size of that mosquito?!  How is it there’s no water, and there’s still mosquitos.  If that isn’t a sign the world’s gone to hell…”

“It’s not a mosquito, city boy.  It just looks like one.  They don’t bite.”

“Well, that’s good because it’d suck us dry in five minutes. Thing was huge!”

“Actually, they do that on purpose, fly around like mosquitoes to get all the whiny little girls to flee the outdoors.”

Mark kicked pebbles at him.  “Ok Ranger Sven, let me know when you’ve finished skinnin’ the bear and building the log cabin.”

Another crane fly whirred gently around them, dancing in the lazy bright light, and vanished in the dappling at the edge of a stand of trees.  Mark glanced back and they were bobbing a few feet back.  For a second, as they flitted through a patch of shade, the slender thoraxes expanded and the proboscises shrunk, and a pair of homunculi hovered, observing them.  Then a breeze exhaled their delicate forms into the distance, sticklike legs dangling.

“Uh…”

They hiked in silence for a while.  Every few hundred feet, Mark would look back, and the crane flies were there, weaving among the brush, coming sometimes closer, sometimes farther.  Finally, the entrance to the tunnel loomed. He glanced back.  The flies were gone.

The famous Alpine Tunnel had been completed in the late 1800s as a cheaper and shorter way to get supplies and mail to and from Hancock, by burrowing right under the Continental Divide.  Over two miles hewn through stone and earth, reinforced by timber, costing what in those days was a small fortune.  By the mid-fifties, the nearby mining operations and the traffic that had accompanied them dried up.  And the passage was empty, except for hikers and sightseers.  The lighted entrance bore a sign:  East Entrance.  Proceed with caution.  The mouth yawned, and the timbered braces receded into the dim lighting like the ribcage of Jonah’s whale.  They looked up at the structure and stepped into the frigid dark.  It took their eyes a minute to adjust to the tiny amount of light put out by the bulbs.  Their breathing and footsteps echoed slightly, as they padded deeper down the long hallway, veering slightly here and there.

After a while, the slight buzz of voices emerged from farther down the tunnel, the other car, other hikers.  They followed the murmurs around bends in the tunnel, but the acoustics bounced the sound so it was hard to tell how close they were.  They seemed to be the same distance away as they had been a while ago.  Then the voices died away. So did the lights, leaving them in oppressive Stygian blackness.  The weight of tons of granite pressed in from all directions.

“What the FUCK!”  Gunther exploded, feeling for the rough wall.

Mark knelt and rummaged in the pack and drew out a wind-up LED flashlight.  The whir of the torch filled the passage, along with a weak bluish light that grew stronger.  “Prepared.”

“Oh great, Mouseketeer, let’s get the fuck out of here before something else goes wrong.”

Mark rummaged again, drawing out the radio.  It spit back nothing but static.

Gunther rolled his eyes.

He pulled the GPS out and shot Gunther a smug look.  “Prepared.”

“Yeah, yeah!  I get it!  Why don’t we just go back the way we came.”

“Wanna make sure we are.”

He groaned in exasperation, and leaned back against the wall, arms crossed, waiting for Mark’s little experiment in technology.

Mark toyed with the controls, frowned, twirled a knob, turned towards the wall Gunther was leaning on, then stopped.

Gunther raised his eyebrows and started singing  “’I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map. I’M THE MAP!’” …So Dora the Explorer, what does Map say?”   He was grinning fiercely.

Mark grimaced. “It says the exit is here… this wall.”

“Awesome.  Do you have a magic ring or anything?  Maybe it can lead us to Mount Doom and an Eagle can fly us back.”

“Not helping!”  He resisted the urge to hurl the device against the wall, put it back in his bag, and stomped past Gunther.  “Alright. Seems like we came this way.”

“Sure you don’t want to consult your magic eight-ball some more?”

“Bite me.”

The unrelenting mountain sun sank towards the horizon, casting copper rays over the terrain, illuminating a wind-weathered sign at the mouth of the cave:  Tunnel Closed.  Danger of Collapse.  A rotten timber poked like a greenstick fracture from the edge of the darkness inside, a bare light socket peeking down from the craggy ceiling.

Back the way they had come was not opening up to the light at the end of the tunnel.  They hadn’t passed any other turnoffs, so they must get close soon.  At least, Mark thought, the flashlight doesn’t need batteries. That’s me, with the silver lining. Gunther’s face was grim as he paced a few steps back into the dark to peer at something he thought he’d seen.

Mark heard a slip, a short yelp, and Gunther was gone.  A thud came a moment later from far below.  And silence.  It took Mark a second to realize what had happened, and then he started yelling.

“Gunther!  Can you hear me?  Are you ok?  Yell if you can hear me!”

Heart thudding, limbs trembling, Mark shined the light in the direction Gunther had disappeared.  There was a slight pathway to the right that vanished into the dark.  How had they not seen this?!  The ground opened onto a gaping precipice.  The light didn’t reach the bottom.

He looked around trying to think about what to do next, maybe see if he could get down there, and abruptly stopped, adrenaline blazing through his veins.  Staring at him was a diminutive gray figure.  It was ancient and gnarled, with piercing dark eyes.  It wasn’t human.

“Who are you!”  Mark blazed.  “What do you want?  Wanna fight?!  Bring it!”

He fumbled a knife from his bag and realized it was a can opener.  He held the heavier end towards his assailant.  But the figure stood, silently regarding him.

Mark’s voice echoed in the corridor, tremulously.

“What do you want?  My friend just fell.  He’s hurt or dead.  Are you going to help me or not?”

The figure said nothing.  Mark edged toward the abyss.  He didn’t have a rope, and saw quickly that there was no way down without a rope.

“GUNTHER!”  He yelled one last time.

The creature glared at him and raised a knotty gray hand to its lips. “Shhhhh.”

There was nothing to do but go for help.  If he could even get out himself.  He stalked past the creature, who turned and followed him as he paced down the hall.  Finally he slowed, and then stopped.  He didn’t know which way was out.  The circumference of light bobbed to a halt, and Mark slid down to his butt in freezing dirt.  The creature

stopped just beyond the cone of illumination.  He looked up at it. It stared back at him.

“You going to help me get out?”

It didn’t answer.

“You don’t like the light?”

It shook its head.

“Don’t you talk?”

It stayed stock-still.  He moved the light against his leg so it wasn’t shining into the corridor, but there was no way he was turning it off.

“Three words, four syllables…sounds like…” he pantomimed Charades.  Its eyes looked puzzled.

Mark buried his face in his hands.

“Are you a ghost?” His voice came out muffled.

The figure glided swiftly to his side and a hand like the root of a bonsai tree grasped his arm.  Before Mark could leap out of his skin, there was a shock, images that weren’t from him, rushing into him.  That was how the creature talked.  He gazed at its grey eyes, flecked like opals.

“You’re not a ghost are you?”

Its eyes answered No.

“What are you?”

It felt confused for a moment.  Images came of blazing rock, congealing in swirls and crystals and heavy gravity.  Pressure cracked the great weight into fissures, ice cleaving through, water dripping.  The images were set in geologic time and thought like stone.  Then came the hammering and blasting, the chiseling, soft irritating people prying the veins of its home for metal, digging into

its fortress, and shattering the ponderous voices of the rock.  Miners, hats bobbing, women, traders, all passing through, leaving footprints that scuffed each other out for years, and then lingered when there were no more treads to replace them in the still close dust.  All it wanted was silence and solitude.  It thought, until they were gone.  The voice of the rock was all it had, until the harried frenetic intruders, who lived their lives so quickly and loudly.  Its knotted fingers clung to his arm, its eyes wistful.

“You didn’t mean to kill Gunther.”

It shook its head.

“You want me to stay with you for a little while?  I have to go.  But I’ll stay here for a few minutes longer.”  He shifted his weight on the dirt, where the cold was seeping through the seat of his pants.

Rescue operations continued for three days, until it was concluded that no one would be found, and the cars were towed.

End Story

 

If you’ve had any underground adventures that you want to share, please feel free to post!

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Trains Trains Trains

Posted in blogging, Denver, indie, science fiction, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi Indies,

I’ve been in a sci-fi mood lately. Loving Defiance and seriously jones’ing for the next episode. I’m considering going as a Casti for Comicon next year, though that’ll only be really cool if my husband does it too, that seems like more of a couples costume. If not, I’m going to try to get my lazy butt in gear to make a female Cenobite costume. That will be crazy, but cool costume, and not something all that common. This year was fun, and not very much work. I finally went in a Star Trek Federation costume, never actually done that before. But with a tweak: I went as a zombie red-shirt featuring four different Star Trek red shirt deaths from the original series. The second day I went, we all changed costumes, and I decided for something a bit less feminine, though still a bit zombie-like. I pulled out my old Halloween costume from a few years back, an Immortal from 300. I had forgotten that the second movie had come out because I didn’t see the second one. Apparently there had been a couple of Spartans around the day before, when I was a red shirt. We never connected, but that would have made some cool pictures.

The next story was from one of my sci-fi moods. I used to listen to trains go by at night, and thought about Ray Bradbury’s character’s point of view from Something Wicked This Way Comes, when he listened to the train came into town in the wee hours of night, with a whistle that sounded like souls. And then I remembered hearing that those trains that cross the country, like the coal trains are actually computerized now, and somehow that made it seem even more lonely.

Whistles

by Rachel Coles

Diana sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes. The train whistle screamed in the background, over the white noise whir of the bedside fan. It yanked her out of sleep with a jarring blare, in the middle of a dream that fled in drowsy tatters. The sound of the whistle was close and oddly alarmed. She reached her hands up to her face, and felt wet tracks on her cheeks. Her whole body was shaking as though she had just escaped something deadly.

When she moved into the house, she had been irritated at that first night discovery of the shrieking trains. Before renting the house, she had asked the owner about the nearby Union Pacific tracks paralleling Santa Fe.

But the woman had waved away her query. “They don’t sound much overnight. Nobody in the neighborhood ever mentions any problems,” she assured.

The house was perfect otherwise, and every other place had been too expensive or not right in some other way. “Always do your own research”, Diana remembered with chagrin. Her mother had told her that, but she had never found the time.

She padded to the bathroom, and took a drink of water, keeping the glass steady with both hands.

The receding train blared again in the distance. The sound winding back through the open windows with the deep morning breeze, almost reminded her of her mother continuing a conversation over her shoulder. Diana shook her head, and downed the rest of the water. Her phone clock read 3:02. She sighed and got back in bed, burrowing into the comforter until morning.

Waking up was like climbing up from a mud pit. She showered and brewed the coffee, and ran her fingers through her auburn mullet. She fingered tangles out as she put together her lunch. In her stupor, she filled the travel cup and then forgot and left it on the counter when she left for work.

She slunk into work late at Integrated Filter Solutions, ever grateful for the isolated corner in which her office was nestled. She dumped her bag on the client chair, smacked her coffee-less lips and flipped on her computer. After visiting the cafeteria for bad coffee while her computer booted up, she looked up Union Pacific on the internet. She already knew the night train schedule from being woken up repeatedly in the past week, but she wanted to double-check and gather more information. Something about gathering information on the internet from a remote keyboard was empowering, even if there wasn’t anything she could actually do about a situation.

A Google link led her to an old site from Arizona detailing a union uproar about the loss of jobs to automated trains, and numerous articles citing the danger of using remote control locomotives outside the rail yard. Most of them were dated from before 2006. Since then, the Federal Rail Administration had provided safety guidelines, and the use of experimental remote units across the railways began.

Remote control trains, she thought. So everything they did was controlled by computer, linked to an operator with a box at the stations and yards.

Her fingers tapped the desk in irritation. In the past weeks, as she listened to the wails in the early hours, she’d been able to imagine a lonely engineer trying to make contact with the sleeping towns from the long dark empty places in between. But according to these articles, that wasn’t likely. Even though the train was still connected to a person, that person flipped a switch, miles away: seeing nothing, hearing nothing. Now her late night vision of the trains just contained machines blurting feedback. Not nearly as romantic. She sighed and opened the report she had to finish that day.

***

UP-4531 rolled along, processing the incident near the Alameda Station in the early morning, and logging the images into memory.

A weight had been laying on the tracks. The weight distribution led it to identify the object on the tracks as a small car, with two bodies inside: a large one, approximately one hundred and eighty five pounds, and a small one, approximately fifty pounds. The car contained two moving creatures. The vehicle straddled the tracks that the train would traverse in three minutes and twelve seconds.

As it approached a mile and a half away, its reconfigured sensors gave it a visual. A small tan four-door sedan lay across the tracks. The wheels were spinning and smoking as the figure, a human male, in the driver seat revved the engine to clear the tracks. Two wheels were stuck in a rut which was slightly lower than the track, stranding the car by the undercarriage. A small human creature, a female child, peered from the back seat.

The computer blasted a long sharp note full of alarm. The man exited the car, pulled the little girl from the back, and frantically waved down a passing two-door sleek red car. The emblem on the hood read Porsche.

The red car, with another man behind the wheel, halted near the track. The two men argued, gesturing in the train’s direction. The red car turned toward the track. Its front bumper lined up with the tan car’s back bumper. The red car strained against the tan car, and pushed the tan car slowly off the track. The man in the red car waved at the owner of the car he had rescued, and drove away.

As UP-4531 rolled by minute later, the remaining man stood by the track with his head in his hands, as the child goggled up at its long metal sides. Its next whistle blast was full of relief.

***

In the wee hours of the next morning, Diana lay in insomniac frustration, counting acoustic ceiling holes. She lost count at fifty-six and started over. One o’clock passed. Then fifteen more minutes crawled by, and she sat up and looked at her phone clock.

Right on the change of the numeral, a plangent whistle screamed. It stopped and started again, near the Light Rail Crossover. It halted briefly and then blasted one more wail as its long coal-dark bulk snaked away into the LoDo District of Denver.

Exhausted from the disturbed sleep of several nights, she finally fell asleep, despite the fading echo of the whistle. As the lonely sound vibrated through her it seemed almost alive, accompanying half-formed images that she couldn’t quite identify.

***

‘Crazy Dog Lady’, a neighbor she’d seen from a distance, meandered past the front yard as Diana locked up the next morning. The woman’s six scotties and one chihuahua barked and scurried furiously around a matted patch of catmint that a neighborhood cat had claimed as his kingdom. Diana had jogged past this neighbor’s house once. Her yard was packed with crates, old newspapers, and knick-knacks, and it smelled like wet dog. She seemed nice enough though.

As soon as the pack saw Diana on her porch, they strained toward her on their leashes as their grey-haired owner fought to control them outside the gate.

“Sorry about that! They won’t always do that. They’re just not used to you yet.” The woman squinted up at her in the strong morning light.

Well, compared to the neighborhood from which she had moved, where gunshots were not uncommon, Diana supposed that a furry, yapping Neighborhood Watch was tolerable. “I’m Diana.”

“Hi, I’m Rhoda. I noticed you’ve got squirrels in your chimney.”

“What?”

“Squirrels. They’re coming in and out of that chimney in the back. Those buggers’ll get right in your house, eat right through the walls if you’re not careful.”

“Ok. Thanks! I’ll get right on it…” Diana picked the mail from the box to read at work.

“Say, you look pale. Are you alright?”

“Tough night sleeping. I get insomnia sometimes. Probably stress, and then I had weird dreams.” Why am I sharing? Diana chided herself. I’ll just get stuck in a protracted conversation that I don’t give a crap about. I need to get to work.

“Yeah, that’s kind of typical around here,” Rhoda replied.

“Huh?” Diana fumbled her coffee mug, and it sloshed dark pungent liquid onto the stoop. The dogs scrabbled towards it, tongues lolling. Maybe those dogs and I do have some kind of common ground, she stared at the spill wistfully.

Rhoda continued, “We all have odd dreams, really vivid. Places we’ve never been.”

“We?” The term put Diana in mind of steaming apple pies and manicured lawns…hiding dark-cloaked meetings in someone’s basement.

“Yeah, I talk with Ron and Flora down the street, and Lily, and the crippled boy Jimmy on the corner. And I noticed that everyone on the block has those kinds of dreams. No one really talks about it much now because it’s kind of normal here. Just something I noticed about a year ago. I don’t know if it’s different other places. I’ve lived here since my husband died ten years ago. The dreams’ve gotten more interesting lately too. All these different places go by, like I’m on a train.”

Diana stared at Rhoda. “Oh.” She suppressed the urge to ask if there was a funny little weed growing somewhere under the crates of stuff in her yard. But Diana remembered the strangeness of her own dreams. What had been even stranger was that while she hadn’t been able to make out images clearly, they had not seemed dreamlike, not the one she’d had as the whistle screamed. It had seemed like a voice. She shivered in the strong sun.

“I gotta go to work. It was nice meeting you, Rhoda.”

“Sure thing, neighbor. Let me know if you need anything. Ron is going on a squirrel rampage tomorrow with his Daisy air rifle. He’s taking off work to hunt. They ate every single one of his strawberries this year. So he’ll probably ask if he can come into your yard to kill ’em.”

“Tell him ‘happy hunting’, as long as he doesn’t leave the bodies here.” She tossed her bag in the car and escaped to work.

***

At 3:00AM, Diana rolled over, surfacing momentarily from a dream as the whistle howled in from the dark. She lay waiting for the blast to end.

It didn’t. Like an opera note that went on past any possibility of air, the whistle exhaled all along Santa Fe Boulevard. It finally ebbed when it was past her neighborhood, near Osage, and rolled silently on with no further toots. This pattern and the one from the other night were different. She didn’t really know if they were supposed to be the same each time, but she had imagined robot trains repeating themselves, even if controlled by an operator. The computer commands should have been the same.

She drifted back to sleep. Her dreams wandered through empty scrub-land, occupied only by ghostly tumbleweed and an occasional set of shining eyes in the darkness, lit for a few seconds by a passing beam.

***

UP-3578 called to the next train on the line a long distance ahead: UP-3574.

Its whistle vibrated across the tracks and across the air. What have you seen?

An answer came back. Dark sky, empty sky, small creatures.

Data came over the remote signal transmitter that never originated with any of the station operators. The signals translated into an image of the desert, open except for the lumpy cacti, scurrying night-life and flashes of golden eyes. The receivers picked up a bout of squeals and grunts, and then clattering of the tracks.

The images were nothing UP-3578 hadn’t also seen.

It approached an oasis of soft light pocked by islands of darkness, the city of Denver. It knew the people lived there, the intelligent-animals-that-were-not-trains. They were interesting.

What have you seen? it called to them.

The slumbering town didn’t answer. No one was about on the roads it passed. They never answered. The operators never answered either, those not-train animals who controlled it and told it where to go.

***

The image of a jewel-studded darkness filled her view. It held the promise of crowds, of a multitude of voices and motion. But as she approached, the twinkles resolved into populations of street lamps, lighting empty circles of night. A magazine page twirled in the breeze of her wake, near the tracks.

Diana flopped out of bed and turned on the light, listening to the fading train horn. She glanced at the clock: 3:03AM. She padded downstairs, powered on the computer, and put on a pot of coffee. She entered her password for Facebook. No better place to find another group of insomniacs. She could at least catch up on gossip.

It was ten minutes before the page loaded.

Probably a new Facebook ‘improvement’, she thought acidly, just like the last security ‘improvement’ that had blasted her information across the internet. She hit keys over and over in impatient annoyance, and clicked the mouse on every icon she could find, one of the cardinal sins of the IT world.

Reliably, her computer froze, just to give her the satisfaction of cursing at it. She hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE. The task list came up. There was a program running that wasn’t the internet engine. It had a number UP-2741. She clicked on it, just before realizing that it was probably a virus.

The screen that came up baffled any notion she had ever had of viruses. It was a series of images, one after another, about ten seconds apart. Spyware, she thought. Maybe it’s Homeland Security… Though she couldn’t imagine what they’d want with her, or why they’d be flashing images at her.

The images were disjointed and time-delayed, but they raised the hairs on her neck. Scenes of the desert flickered by, the same images she’d been dreaming, the street lights of a sleeping town and deserted station. There were other images after the scrub-land, crackling dry branches and wide-open star-filled sky, followed by dim concrete as empty coal-loading yards passed. Hundreds of frames of bad lands cycled through and then the terrain shifted. The low succulents and brush stretched taller to saplings and spiky pines. What was this? It was as though she were seeing camera shots in near real time. Was someone transmitting from a camera? If so, why this? She sat there and watched for an hour as picture after picture scrolled by across a range of terrains, all night views. She sat and watched as the sky outside the window lightened, her coffee long-cold. The sky in the pictures lightened too. Finally, she shut down the computer. She resolved to call Asus tech support at a decent hour, and got ready for work, wondering what someone could be trying to transmit and why they were using her computer to do it.

Rhoda was scooping poop as she came out the door.

“Howdy neighbor! How are you?’

“Umph.” Diana muttered.

“Not a morning person, eh?”

“If by ‘morning person’ you mean ‘three o’clock’, then no.”

“Jeez, couldn’t sleep again?” Rhoda clucked in sympathy.

“Woke up. What did you say those dreams people have are about again?”

“Oh, different places, desert, sierra, coast, forest. All over the place. Mostly desert. You been having them?”

“Yeah. Do you know if anyone else on the block has been having weird computer issues?” Diana asked, trying to keep the early morning irritation from her voice. Rhoda seemed like the fountain of gossip for the neighborhood.

“I’m a low-tech person, but I could ask around. What kind of issues?”

“Like an embedded camera flashing photos of landscapes.”

“Huh. Never heard of that. Maybe you have a virus.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Great, Diana tossed her bag haphazardly on the car seat. “On that cheerful note, I’ll see ya later.”

Rhoda gave her a perky wave, reminding Diana of the wagging doggy tails.

***

“Hey neighbor!” Her next door neighbor Dave’s military brush-top bobbed above the top of the fence as he hoisted himself onto the cross-support to look over, when Diana returned from work. “I heard your computer’s been going a bit whacky-doo.”

“Whacky-doo? It flashed photos at me for about an hour. I don’t have any programs that I know of that can do that. They weren’t any pictures I’d taken. And I don’t recall downloading anything from the internet. Weird thing is, I dreamed about some of those pictures, before I saw them.”

“Do you have any cavity fillings? Maybe your teeth are connecting to the internet and picking up signals.”

“Cute. Maybe I should wrap my computer in tin foil.”

“Actually, I had a similar thing happen last week, that’s why I thought I’d let you know. I sent the computer in. Haven’t gotten it back yet. I never really thought about it, because I don’t always remember what I dream. But now that you mention it, it did feel like deja vu when I saw the pictures. I just thought it was a virus. Wanna beer?”

“I could use one, thanks!”

“Everything’s better with beer.” He handed a cold bottle over.

“Hear, hear.” She popped the top and went over to his yard for the evening.

***

By the end of the week, two other people had come to her, calling across the yards about their computers having the same ‘virus’. Rhoda had told them. Or Dave.

Jimmy, the young man with cerebral palsy, who lived on the corner nearest the Santa Fe tracks, wheeled up to her in his chair while she was weeding. His sandy bangs drifted into his eyes. “I been watching the pictures, on my computer. Some of them are from around here. I don’t think it’s an internet virus or anything.”

“If we all have it on our computers, it seems like a virus.”

“But I haven’t seen anything on the internet or heard of a new virus. And I’m on the internet all the time.” He motioned to his atrophied legs. “I seen a few strings in blogs, of the same thing, actually, the pictures on people’s computers. But they all started months ago. Viruses move faster than that. And it looks like they’re all neighbors too.”

“Maybe they’re connected to certain wireless ports.”

He shook his head. “Maybe, but all the pictures look like they’re along tracks. Why?”

She shrugged, stuffing weeds into the trash can. “The trains are run on computers now, some of them anyway. Since like four years ago. Maybe it’s a train virus.”

“Then why aren’t the computers going all funny about other things. Viruses are meant to screw things up in computers. Are the trains crashing? Or our computers? Can you still use your computer?”

She slowly paused and nodded. “What is it then?”

“Something else. I’m leaving my computer on and storing all the program files.” He turned and his voice retreated down the street over the motorized buzz of the chair.

“Let me know what you find,” she called after him.

“I’ll let everyone know.”

***

Diana’s dreams that night were as vivid in tone as in scenery. The types of scenes hadn’t changed from the American landscapes at night. But the loneliness was more pervasive. It was a wash over every image, investing the smallest details with importance. It felt like her soul was drowning in the vast empty spaces and the wide starry sky. As the images flashed by, she passed another still town nestled into the darkness. A street intersection she passed looked familiar. Green and flowered verges languished at the edge of the lamplight, their blossoms ghostly. She reached out to the people in their beds, begging them to stir and talk to her.

Diana gasped and woke as the whistle ebbed. The town she’d seen had been their little neighborhood. The images were of the scenery near her street.

***

When she came home from work, a small gaggle of neighbors was gathered at the end of the block, under the sour cherry tree in Jimmy’s yard. He was gesturing animatedly. She moseyed over and waved at the gathering: Rhoda and all her dogs, Jimmy, Dave and his wife Rose, and Ron and Flora, the chain-smoking, retired couple from two houses down.

Jimmy nodded at her. “Those recordings, they’re all trains,” he declared. “And all those blog strings from the past year look like their pictures all come from trains too. They posted some of the pictures. I looked at them all night. And the IP addresses I could follow are all from around train tracks. I geocoded everything.”

She stared at him. “You did all this last night? Where do you find the time? Don’t you sleep?”

He shook his head. “Not much. I get restless. It’s not like I can get up for work. I’ll lose my disability, and the IT jobs in this town are in the crapper.”

Rhoda snorted and shook her head. “With things the way they are, I told Jimmy here to whack me in the kneecaps if I lose my job.”

Dave, off-shift from active duty at Fort Carson, grinned.

Diana glanced around, hesitant to sound crazy, and then realized that this company wouldn’t care. “I had a wild dream last night. I was passing the bridge over Alameda Street in the dream. The ‘me’ on the tracks tried to talk to the ‘me’ in bed. I woke myself up. It was at the same time as the whistle.”

“Freaky-deaky!” Dave exclaimed.

Rose spoke up, “Yeah, I did too. It was kind of a sad dream.”

“So… what?” Ron flicked a cap of ash to the sidewalk. “We’re dreaming of trains and maybe seeing computer shots from trains. Does that sound as crazy to anyone else as it does to me?”

Dave snickered and shuffled his feet, “Cool. Maybe they’re artificially intelligent trains. Hey, I’d be ok with crazy, if it’s AI.”

Rose shrugged, “Me too. I just re-read ‘I, Robot’. As long as they’re not going to destroy the world, why not?”

Diana rubbed her hand over her face, Wow, these people are in the Twilight Zone. “I doubt they’re AI trains. I mean they are pictures on a computer, and they’re all of scenes from around tracks, but that doesn’t mean it’s the trains.”

“But it would be awfully neat,” Rose, I-Robot-fan extraordinaire interjected.

“It does seem weird, but you got a better explanation? Jimmy asked.

“Someone on the train broadcasting images and tapping into wireless networks,” Diana insisted.

“Why?” Rhoda looked up from scratching the dogs’ ears.

“Why do people post half the stuff they do on You Tube or Twitter? To make contact. To show people something from their point of view in case someone give a crap.” Diana snorted.

“They’re posting images of what they see, yeah, but you said there’s no one on those trains. They’re computerized, Jimmy added.

“That doesn’t mean that someone can’t hitch a ride.” Diana put her hands on her hips.

Jimmy shook his head. “Have you seen the number of pictures there are? From everywhere. The frames are coming too fast, and the resolution of these pictures is impossible without a digital camera that would be thousands of dollars. If it was a person, or people hitching for some kind of project, it’d have to be one with lots of money, like multimillion dollar. And then, don’t you think we’d hear about it?”

“What if it’s for national security?” Rose asked and looked at Dave.

Dave shrugged, “But no one would be wiring it to our computers.”

“And what about the dreams? Everyone’s been having dreams too. I don’t think the government has gone as far as mind control yet.” Flora’s gentle Southern voice cut across the group chatter. Everyone looked at her.

“There isn’t any kind of camera that can wire images into people’s brains, that I know of.” Jimmy said.

“So then how does AI explain it? They would have to be telepathic. AI by itself is kind of a stretch. But telepathic trains?” Diana interjected.

Rose replied, scratching her head, “It does seem unlikely.”

Rhoda sniffed. “Well, I like the idea. You said you’re dreams happened at the same time as the whistle. Maybe that’s how they talk, and we hear them as dreams. Sometimes it feels like they’re talking anyway, during that whistle. It sounds so…”

“So alive?” Flora said quietly.

Rhoda knelt and scratched behind several fuzzy ears. “I think they were talking to us. Through pictures.”

Jimmy shrugged. “Well as far as the computer images. If they did talk, that would probably be how. Computer commands. I’m not really an expert, but it feels right. All the incidents in the posts started about a year ago.”

“The automated trains started being used more about three years ago,” Diana frowned.

“Two years difference,” Jimmy said.

Ron flicked his cigarette again. “That’s nuts. Trains coming alive.”

Flora smiled at him. “Oh come on, you have to admit it would be neat! Maybe we can talk back somehow.”

They all looked at each other.

Ron shook his head.

Jimmy conceded, “I don’t know how to access their program…assuming it’s the trains.”

“Well, for Heaven’s sake’s, just because they’re computers…Why not do things the old fashioned way,” Flora exclaimed. “If we can get these images on the computer from them, then they’re seeing something. We could just flash signs by the tracks, where they could see us.” She gave an excited smile.

Ron stared at her. “I’m not getting up in the middle of the night to stand by train tracks, waving signs at unmanned trains.” He wandered back towards his house.

Dave grinned, “Sounds like fun actually. Even if it’s a long shot.”

“And say what, ‘Greetings, do you come in peace?” Diana laughed.

“Sure. Track party! I’ll bring beer and chairs. We’ll find a safe spot out of the way but visible.” Dave volunteered.

“Oh, I’ll do some signs and bring art supplies,” Flora clapped her hands.

“I’ll bring some snacks,” Rhoda volunteered.

They spent about five more minutes deciding on a time and place. Flora agreed to make flyers for the neighborhood mailboxes, just as she had for the Fourth of July party. At least there’d be beer and food, Diana thought. So the Baker Neighborhood AI Train-Spotting Party was born.

***

That Saturday, a small crowd gathered at eleven at night, in a parking lot visible from the Santa Fe Union Pacific tracks. Cases of micro-brews arrived, little portable card tables with a variety of foodstuffs, even a small hibachi grill were set up. There were two hours for drinking and socializing before the next train was due. The crowd grew, as folks walking by from other blocks learned of the party. More food and beer tables were set up. Flora brought her art supplies and poster-board for makeshift signs, complete with glitter paint pens and florescent glow sticks from the Dollar Tree nearby.

At about one o’clock, Diana had downed her fourth lager and her third bratwurst. She realized after two hours, that regardless of what happened, she knew more about her new neighbors than she ever would have otherwise. One of the neighbors across the alley was diabetic and had had problems getting out of his house for medication in last year’s blizzard. His next-door neighbor brought him to the party now. The young twenty-something guys renting the house next door to her house had engaged her in a thirty-minute philosophical discussion about Star Wars versus Star Trek.

Even Ron showed up. He made a sign, and smiled at her when she raised her eyebrow at him. “Well, if you can’t be a kook when you’re retired, what’s the point!”

At 1:10AM, a wail blasted across the night. Conversation died, as the loneliness of the fading horn echoed and settled over them like the whisper of midnight snow in the cool September air. A moving dot of light was visible a couple miles away. In silence, Rhoda picked up her sign and held it up facing the tracks. It said, “Hello, from the Baker Neighborhood! We hear you! Honk if you can see us!” There were bright orange and pink flowers and smiley faces next to the words. A couple more people retrieved their signs, laughing and resuming their chat, and then more people in twos and threes. As the train approached, twelve people hoisted similar signs up at the locomotive.

***

UP-3562 barreled across the tracks toward Denver. What have you seen? Is anyone there? As residential neighborhoods began to edge the tracks, there was motion in a lot it would pass in one minute and two seconds. There was a crowd of smart-animals-that-were-not-trains. People! They held up white placards with letters in bright colors. “Hello,” they said. “We hear you!,” they said. The people were jumping and waving the signs. “Honk,” they said. UP-3562 sounded a jubilant bellow for sixty seconds as it passed, mixing with the sound of whoops and cheers. It rattled away to signal the other units on its way through towns that didn’t seem so empty anymore.

The End

If anyone has any AI stories kicking around in their heads, feel free to share the link, whether they’re happy, or Matrix-y!

Posted in blogging, Denver, horror, indie, indie authors, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , on July 15, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi fellow indies,

It’s been a fun week. I took my daughter, Rosa, to see her grandparents, auntie and cousin. It’s going to be her birthday soon, so she basically ate sugar all weekend, sprinkled with a few pieces of macaroni and cheese. I can’t believe she’s going to be nine. Where did eight go? She looks so tiny, until she gets next to really young kids, then she looks so grown up. And the way she speaks, man, it’s like listening to another language. ‘Tots cray-cray’. I don’t know whether to sigh in resignation and mourn the English language, or laugh. I think it’s because it’s my own kid that it sounds cute when she says it, with her little eye-roll. I imagine that it won’t be as cute when she’s a teenager and referring to me. I have to ask my mom if we sounded as alien when we were kids.

But i don’t know when this all happened. I blinked and the world was different. Neil de Grasse Tyson must be right about time being relative and related to speed. Maybe time is speeding up as the universe expands. And I’m going to be…older too, in a few weeks, a lot faster than I’d like. I think since I turned 40, my warrantied parts are expiring…just the small annoying things, like knees. I’m going to be like a Toyota. The body paint might get dinged with hail and start pitting, the inner lining of the ceiling fabric might get holes and start hanging down, the stereo might start sounding tinny, but the engine’ll keep turning over, I hope…maybe I should start thinking about cutting down on the Big Macs and Twinkies.

Speaking of physical changes, my next story is about transformation. You might not look at that those stuffed mushrooms the same again.

 

Mushrooms

by Rachel Coles

Kallie Sangiovi tossed a few packets of mushrooms in her cart and lumbered along. She loved mushrooms, of all kinds: thick meaty portabellas, delicate shiitake, plain white. She ate them on everything from salads to sandwiches, in sauces on steaks, raw or cooked. They were good for her diet. She patted absent-mindedly at her cushioned belly.

Mark made his usual face and comment. “Fungus.” As they approached the checkout line, Kallie felt a tickle and then a sharp pain on her arm.

Then Mark yelped and slapped his leg. “Ow! What the hell?”

There was a crushed ant under her hand. They looked down at a cluster of several ants running helter-skelter over Mark’s leg and over Kallie’s shirt.

“Yipe!” She shrieked and swiped at them as Mark frantically brushed at the ones on his leg.

“Agh!” He wiggled and jiggled and ran for the bathroom as a daring ant made it into his pants.

After every last ant she could see was dead and Mark returned, they inspected the food. “Must have come from the veggies,” she remarked, handing them to the concerned cashier who had come running.

“See, veggies are hazardous to your health. That’s why I never eat them,” Mark quipped. Kallie rolled her eyes.

“I’ll see to the problem in Produce,” the girl inspected the veggies. “And I’ll get the manager.”

After profuse apologies by the paunchy manager, and a ten dollar gift certificate for groceries, they checked out and wheeled to the car. A gust of wind almost blew the cart over, and Kallie’s sun hat flew across a few parking spaces while she shoved the groceries at Mark and caught up with it.

“Holy Moly!,” she exclaimed, peering into the navy bruised sky. “Summer storm coming.”

Mark finished loading the groceries, hopped in the car, and popped open the passenger door for her.

“Maybe it’ll be a tornado,” she said, peering at the sky hopefully.

He rolled his eyes. “We don’t get tornadoes in Denver.”

“Oh, like the tornado we didn’t get last year. That funnel I saw in the sky was just God scratching his ass?”

He grinned, “Look, if it was a major storm, we wouldn’t be over-run with bugs, would we? Don’t animals go into hiding before a storm? Unless we’re dealing with the morons of the ant world.”

“Could be they’re running ahead of the storm,” she reasoned.

He grimaced and brushed another ant from his shirt. “Dammit! Piss off! I’m not food!” He scowled and put the car back into park. Then he flicked an ant into the windshield and did an anti-ant dance, shaking his head back and forth, swinging his arms and stomping his feet on the floor mat.

“I can’t tell whether you’re head-banging or having a seizure.” She remarked and cranked the stereo on the heavy metal station. “Ok, go ahead now, you’ve got theme music.”

He grinned, threw a bag of rice at her, and resumed the drive.

***

The next day, as Kallie pulled pots out to start dinner, and edged around Mark who was emptying the dishwasher, he sneezed suddenly and caught Kallie with the spray.

“Jeez, Mark!” She wiped her arm, making a face.

He choked a laugh. “Sorry, Honey. It came on quick. Allergies.” He wiped his Romanesque nose on his wrist.

She wiped his spray on his shirt, “Don’t infect me with your allergies, bastard!”

He dropped the silverware in a drawer and chased her around the house, trying to lick her. “Come here, I wanna give you asthma too.”

She squealed and ran into the basement, giggling and slamming the door behind her.

He held up his hands. “Ok, you can just stay down there with all the spiders.”

The door burst open and she ran out, squirming and brushing away webs and crawly things. “Ants. Ants too, dammit! We’ll have to go get a bug bomb.”

***

Mark coughed and blew his nose next to her. He threw the covers off and wandered to the fridge. She followed him and felt his forehead. It was cool and clammy.

He muttered and brushed her hand away and tossed her a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer.

“Probably a reaction to the bug bomb,” He muttered. “I think we were supposed to be out of the house for that. But just in case it’s a summer cold…”

“What, you can’t handle a few chemicals? Wuss. What did the can say? You were the one who read it, Mr. Asthmatic.”

He looked sheepish.

“You didn’t read it.”

“Not precisely, no.”

“Good job. Are you ok?”

He nodded, “Yeah, I think actually that it is just a summer cold. I don’t think the bomb would make me feel tired like this. So you should probably keep your distance. Otherwise, I’ll have to hear you bitch and moan for the next few days, and blame me for giving you the plague.”

“I think it’s too late, I’ve already kissed you, and a number of other things that I think qualify as person to person contact,” she smiled languorously.

He waggled his eyebrows. He’d been frisky enough only four hours ago, but now his Mediterranean complexion looked washed out. She sidled close to him and drew her finger down his cheek. He breathed in long and slow, grasped her fingers and stroked them and then tried to muffle a cough as he sagged back against the fridge in fatigue. His eyes roamed her body.

“You’re sick, how can you think about sex?” she marveled.

“I’m a hot Italian. I always think about sex. It’s a cultural thing. Just like wanting my women with some meat.”

“Yeah, well, you got a whole deli,” she slapped her thigh.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” He grabbed her around the waist, and then wobbled.

She frowned and tugged him by the hand into the bedroom and pushed him onto the bed.

“Ooh, Baby!”

“Shut up and go back to sleep. You’re sick. Don’t make me worry about you.” She got him a water bottle and made him drink. He laid his head back on the pillows gratefully, and was asleep within minutes.

***

When she woke it was morning, and every muscle ached. She squeezed her eyes shut again. Summer colds, ick. But this had emerged too fast to have caught it from him, so it must have been brewing in her already. She glanced at her phone, and realized with a small shock that they had been asleep for over a day. She shook Mark and went to turn on the television to the news. The morning sun lit the room, and brightened the putty-colored walls.

The newscaster for Channel 4 News looked tired and her eyes were red. “No word has come yet from the CDC on the nature of the illness that appears to have over a third of the workforce home today. Reports indicate that hospitals and medical offices have experienced a surge in patients complaining of a respiratory infection, with more serious symptoms among those with chronic illnesses such as asthma. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has issued the following message from James Miller, the department’s Chief Medical Officer:”

The screen switched to a view of an older physician with mouse brown hair in a plain suit. “We want to assure citizens of Colorado that we are working with the CDC and local health departments to gather more information about this health event. Investigations are being conducted to learn more about the cause to determine appropriate treatment.

“In the meantime, we urge people who are sick to please stay home from work to avoid exposing others. We also urge people to wash hands frequently with soap and water. And we want to encourage people to call the following number if you or your family members experience flu-like symptoms, high fever, muscle aches, fatigue, or nausea and vomiting. The Colorado Health Hotline number is 1-800-445-4325. People with more severe symptoms or who are in high risk groups like persons with asthma or heart disease should seek medical help if the symptoms worsen.”

“Huh.” She listened to the rest of the report. At the resumption of the talk show, she switched off. She coughed into the crook of her arm the way the swine flu posters all said, then wiped the slime from the inside of her elbow with a tissue. Her appetite was shot, so nothing in the kitchen was really appealing. Now she knew she was sick for sure. But at least she could get a kick start on her diet, which she kept renewing every day that she screwed up. Her phone rang and her mother’s voice echoed across the room, always a decibel louder on the phone than it needed to be.

“Hi, Dear! How are you? I was just calling to see how you were. I’ve been hearing on the news about your outbreak there.  We’re having some of that here. I said that it wasn’t any use getting the flu shot. See, everyone I know who’s gotten the flu shot is sick now. I didn’t, and I’m healthy as a horse. It’s that mercury they put in it. I don’t care what they say about it being safe. Whoever heard of safe mercury? Just you see. So how are you and Mark?”

Kallie coughed into her arm again. “Mom, it’s not the flu. And the flu shots don’t make you sick. Neither of us got flu shots and Mark is sick, Mom. Me too. But we’ll be fine. Is Dad ok?”

“Well, he’s sick too. See, flu shot!”

Kallie pressed her fingers into her eyes. “Ok Mom.  Well, I hope he feels better.”

“You want to talk to him? He’s right here.”

“Actually, I need to see to Mark. I’ll call back in a little bit.”

She trudged back into the bedroom and flopped back onto the bed. Mark didn’t move. He lay face down on the bed and groaned as she wrapped her arm around his back. He turned over, raised his head slightly and opened his eyes. She gasped in shock. The whites of his eyes were bright yellow. “Oh God, Mark! We need to get you to a doctor!”

“Why?” he mumbled. “They’re only going to tell me to go home, get rest, and drink fluids. Oh, and gimme fifty bucks. Next!”

“No. Most people don’t have day-glow eyes.” She grabbed a mirror from the bathroom and held it in front of him.

“Huh,” was his remark. He rolled over to go back to sleep.

She tugged on his shoulder, “No, no, no. You are not going back to sleep until we get you in the car. You’re going to the doctor.”

“The doctor’s offices are full up, I heard the report from the other room.”

“But this is worse, Mark! Besides, you have asthma, you’re in one of those susceptible groups.”

He sighed into his pillow. “You aren’t going to leave me alone about this, are you.”

“No.”

He dragged his legs up under him and slowly put his clothes on. He moved so slowly and stiffly that the chore took ten minutes even with Kallie helping him. “I feel like crap.” He doubled over on the side of the bed, his arm across his stomach.

Kallie shouldered some of his weight and got him into the car.

***

The parking lot of the hospital was a zoo, if all the zoo animals had eaten ipecac laced with tuberculosis. People trudged from their cars, towards the emergency department, about half of them drooling the remains of vomit, or laboring to breathe. Some lay in their cars, too sick to move.

The parking lot had already filled up and some cars even blocked the ambulance entrance. So Kallie pulled the car up along the street in a No Parking zone, which was also quickly filling. Damn the ticket, she thought, though it looked like the police might be a little too busy to issue them.

People were coming from the residential streets by foot. Masked ambulance attendants yelled and pointed at cars. Staff in N95 masks ran around trying to corral the obviously sick. There were a few police around trying to direct sick people to the triage and isolation area that had been completely overwhelmed. But there weren’t enough officers either, since the police force itself had been reduced by sickness.

A holler caught Kallie’s attention. A police officer was pounding at the head of a man who had his teeth latched onto the officer’s arm. Kallie sat up, alert. The man was still hanging on with his teeth. Other officers rushed to the scene and were pulling at the biting man trying to get the two separated. The man’s face was a bloody mess, as was his victim’s arm. The biter had gone limp, all but his teeth. Finally, they were separated as a patch of the officer’s uniform and skin came loose. He covered the raw hole with his hand and screamed. Kallie, finally tore her eyes away from the bizarre scene with a shiver of alarm. She glanced over at Mark. His eyes were closed. He had missed the whole thing.

She turned off the car and left him in his seat. She headed for the emergency entrance to find out whether there was any use in bringing him in. There was not likely to be any help in this surge. And while the biter could have been an isolated incident, it could mean that people were starting to lose their sanity.  The guy attacked and bit a police officer! The alarm blossomed into fear as she peered at the people around her.

She didn’t even get as far as the door of the ED. It was blocked by clusters of people. The police and other hospital staff were trying to disperse them to allow for movement in and out.

The people in the crowd muttered incoherently at the attendants, or completely ignored them. She’d last seen a dead gaze like that in drunks who were so sloshed they couldn’t even form sentences. But all of these people were varying shades of yellow. Some were hunched over. One man urinated on the sidewalk before sinking to his knees. A few of them had patches of blotchy and fuzzy skin. Whatever this illness was, if it was what Mark had, he was going to get much worse.

She coughed and doubled over as sharp pains lanced through her gut. Oh God, not me too? What the hell is this? She was jostled by the crowd into a woman with patches all over her face and arms. Kallie saw what they were, up close. There were tiny tendrils, like little shoots less than a millimeter in length covering these patches. She backed away as fast as she could, bumping into an adolescent girl sitting behind her. The girl stared at her dumbly with yellowed eyes, then went into a hacking fit. Dark blood spattered down the girl’s shirt.  Without warning, she lunged at Kallie, grabbing Kallie’s leg and snapping at her with bloody teeth.

Kallie screamed and kicked at her before teeth met skin. The girl landed on her back, her watery yellow eyes blinking up at the cement overhang high above. Kallie ran back to the car.

There was more commotion at the scene of the police biter. Kallie overheard the situation as she skirted the circle of officers, their isolation area forgotten.

“He’s not breathing.”

“I didn’t hit him hard! Bastard was biting me!”

“You did what you had to do. I think he was just too sick. Hey, look at this? What the fuck is that?”

“What is that sticking out of his head? Is that bone?”

“Augh, it just came off in my hand. No it’s not bone, unless bone is all spongy and wet. Those of you that don’t have your PPE on, get it on now! Get Hazmat over here!”

“They might not have any units free.”

“We have to try.”

Kallie got into the car, started it with a rev, and swung the car down the street, narrowly missing clots of the wandering sick.

***

She dragged Mark back inside. He was constantly hunched now. When she led him through the garage he threw up dark bile all over the cement floor. Well, it complements the garbage smell perfectly, she thought, chasing away panic. Her voice shook, “God, Baby–”

“I’ll be ok. Just need some rest.” He waved her away and finished lugging one foot in front of another into the house by himself. He grabbed a roll of paper towels from the holder, stumbled and unrolled half of them. He wiped his mouth and flopped onto the bed. Kallie took off his shoes and pulled the blanket over him. He was shivering violently now. As she tucked him in, she saw the patches on his skin. She scrutinized them. They were smaller, but there were the same tiny shoots she had seen on the girl at the ED. He was getting sicker.

So was she. Another sharp pain lanced across her belly. She staggered to the bathroom and nearly missed the toilet as the contents of her stomach splashed into the bowl, laced with dark liquid. Her red-rimmed eyes were now jaundiced. She limped to the television and clicked it on. Channel 4 and three other channels she flicked to in the Denver area were full of snow. They’d lost signal. She cast a quick prayer to the satellite gods that she remembered to pay them their sixty-dollar monthly tribute, and switched to a national news channel.

This newswoman looked none too healthy either. She had the telltale red-rimmed eyes and her voice was dull through the congestion.

“What began as a flu-like epidemic has shifted into a pandemic of unknown character. Symptoms begin with a flu-like illness, what the World Health Organization calls a prodrome, and the symptoms progress to hepatitis-like illness. In addition to these symptoms, there is sometimes disorientation and behavior change. Severe cases become agitated, and have on some occasions attacked other people. Anyone who experiences symptoms should not go in to your medical provider, but should shelter at home. Assistance can be given by calling the hotline 1-800-445-4325. Press 2 for interpretation services if English is not your primary language.

“Public health agencies have said unofficially that there may be a link between the widespread ant infestations and illness. There is speculation that the illness may be caused by a mutated form of Cordyceps, a fungus that affects brain function in ants. In ants, the fungus can be passed by biting. In humans, other means may be possible, such as transmission of body fluids. Ants can be eliminated by common pesticides from the supermarket, though stocks have been limited due to employee illness. The World Health Organization and public health agencies continue to work on isolating the organism, and creating vaccine and treatment. Once again the help line number is 1-800-445-4325. Press 2 for interpretation services. Para Español…”

Kallie flipped the set off and crept into the bedroom.

Mark hadn’t moved from where he lay, in fact she couldn’t see him breathe. Her heart started lurching as she hurried to his side and gently laid her hand on his arm. He inhaled deeply and opened his eyes to her. “Stomach feels better,” he murmured and extended his muscled arm. His skin in the sliver of sunlight had a more olive tint than usual and the patches had spread to over one quarter of his skin that she could see. “Lay with me,” he whispered. There was a brief flash of fear in his eyes, that he covered quickly by closing his eyes. When he opened them again, his stoicism was firmly set in his face.

Tears flowed down her face as she looked at him. She flinched and backed up for an instant, remembering what had been said about biting.

“Hey hey, Baby, don’t do that. Don’t cry. We’ll get through this. This ain’t gonna take me down. I’m from the Roman Empire, I’m too sexy to go yet. I haven’t had had my orgies and vomitoriums yet,” he grinned.

She barked a laugh. Whatever was happening, he was still clearly his usual self. “Ok, Caesar, I think we got the vomitoriums covered in the last day.” She laid down and put her arm across his chest. He shifted onto his side and flipped her onto her back with surprising strength. Instead of mounting her, he lunged at her face with his teeth.

She dodged her head to the side and screamed, struggling to get out from under him. She kneed him in the orgy-maker and slid under his torso and off the bed. He turned over and bared his teeth, and then fell back to the sweaty sheets. The look on his face as she fled the room, sobbing, was bestial.

***

She collapsed on the kitchen floor, after grabbing a knife. Has it come to this?, she thought. Am I going to stab my Honey?   What the hell is this? What the hell is happening to us? She dropped the knife and wailed into her hands. After the spasms subsided, she examined the whitish itchy patches that were beginning on her arms and belly, and silently wiped tears away. How long is it going to be before I’m turned into a human pit bull? Why aren’t there hordes of people looting and attacking, like in the movies?

All had been quiet, for which she was grateful. Until she thought about how sick she felt. Even if she turned into a crazy biter, she wasn’t going to be chasing anyone. Her relief turned to ugly realization. The silence from outside no longer seemed calm, but sepulchral. This epidemic had come and conquered with almost no resistance from its victims. She swallowed down the remaining lump in her throat and laid there for a long time as the light faded.

Finally, as the light grew again, she crawled into the TV room. All of the channels were snow now. She tried her mom on her cell phone, but the voicemail answered. She crawled into the bedroom.

Mark lay face up on the bed. His breathing was shallow and he just stared at her. His dark eyes were like holes surrounded by glowing yellow of jaundice in the dawn light. From the top of his head sprouted a thin whitish stalk with a greenish bulb. The tendrils emerging from his arms and legs had lengthened into a network that looked like roots or rhizomes. His voice was thick and furry, deep in his throat as he spoke, “I love you, Kallie. I’m sorry.”

She covered her mouth to muffle more sobs, and sat down at the edge of the bed, not caring now whether he rushed at her. He didn’t. She laid down, as more stomach pains wracked her frame. His hand in a shroud of web touched her back, “The pain’ll go away.”

“Why aren’t you freaking out at all this? Do you want to die like this?”

He smiled gently. “I don’t feel like I’m dying now. Something’s happening, something else besides dying. Besides, since when have I ever boo-hooed about something I couldn’t change. No sense in worrying about it. That’s a chick thing,” he wheezed a laugh. But she felt to weak to swat him.

***

When she woke as Kallie Coleman for the last time, two days later, she noticed that he had been right. The pain was gone. In its place, there was a rooted feeling in her belly, and a fluid coursed through her veins that sensed every particle in the air around her, the warmth, the sunlight in the room, the moisture.  And she could feel Mark too. Not just his hand covering hers, but the fluid in his veins and the cells of his body feeding, multiplying, creating energy like lightning. Light itself was a cascade of brilliant spectrums that blanketed and seeped into her. And she drank it. Her eyes wouldn’t open. The tendrils had sewn them shut, but she was seeing anyway, patterns of surging energy everywhere, especially in the mass of growth that had been Mark. She could feel him in her.

Sun. Feel the sun, he said into her mind somehow. Feel the city. And she could. Her snaking rhizomes were everywhere. Her stalk extended high above, having pushed through the ceiling to meet the outside air. The city and its network of roots and stalks that had been people were alive and awash with energy and hunger. They devoured the damp organic matter in every body and corner and drank the sunlight.

***

Across the city, country, and world a silent forest stood. The greenish caps reached for the sky, and the lower rhizomes wove through anything they touched. In what had been Denver, two of the stalks stood entwined, sharing the sun.

The End

Post and share if you have any wild transformation stories!

YA Indie Carnival: Where Do You Escape?

Posted in book reviews, mythology, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2013 by rachelcoles

YA_Indie_CarnivalHi fellow indie book-lovers! In this day and age of a million kinds of crazy, writers, and people in general love to escape for a while, out of life, out of bills, out of work, out of the house or the world, and into someone else’s world for a while. Some things we read because they are recommended and something important that we ‘should’ read because they have an interesting thought pertinent to the world today. Other books we read simply because they are somewhere we can duck out of the fray for a while. Sometimes those two kinds of reading experiences are in the same books but not always, or at least they don’t have to be.

Lately, I have favored books that are like a bag of movie popcorn. I might get some nutritional value from it if you count popcorn as a vegetable and butter-flavored product as dairy. But I’m not eating it for nutrition. I’m eating it and reveling in the sheer artery-clogging joy of stuffing my face with something that tastes good. Likewise, the books I seek out lately I’m not reading for the intellectual content, whether it has those qualities or not. Some do. They’re like those tasty fruit juices that actually have veggies in them, or broccoli cheese soup. It’s a bowl of molten-lava cheese that happens to have some florets of superfood snuck in, that don’t taste like vegetables because they’re drowned in cheese. What’s not to love?

Books I am reading/have read lately:

Cold Rain (Harry Dresden series) by Jim Butcher

Mark of Athena (read to daughter) by Rick Riordan

Glory Days by David Brin

I devoured Cold Rain in a day and a half. It was like your bag of Halloween candy that you try to space out over the course of weeks, or even a single week, but if you have zero self-restraint like me, you wind up sitting down on the couch and before you know it have wolfed down the entire bag and are left sitting there with a ring of chocolate around your mouth and a guilty look when you realize it’s  3 in the morning and you have to get up for work in 3 hours. It was constantly entertaining, witty banter the whole way, which I can’t get enough of. It was picturesque and fascinating, with his descriptions of faery and the Wild Hunt that were visual and tactile. It was so action-packed that when Harry never catches a break, neither do you. I finished it feeling like I had run the Tough Mudder. But it was also thoughtful, portraying a hostile force in a different light that just re-enforces the sense that there is no black and white, no pure evil or good, that things just aren’t that simple. Those kind of stories are like crack to me. I love reading them and I love writing them.

I am currently reading Mark of Athena to my daughter, having just finished Son of Neptune. We’ve been having fun with the whole Heroes of Olympus and Percy Jackson series’. It revitalizes a mythology that had previously been done to death. I liked his explanations and how he fit everything into the modern world. I am highly entertained by anachronistic writing, taking something from the past and sticking it in the modern world. It’s just fun. The only thing I didn’t like was his portrayal of the god Hades. I don’t know why. Maybe I was too much of a gothy chick in high school, but Hades was one of my favorite Greek gods, and portraying him as a psychotic megalomaniac who spawned the leaders of the Nazis struck a bad chord with me, being Jewish. From my recollection of myth, Hades was relentless and grim, even cruel, but not evil. And I know that he wasn’t really portrayed as evil in the series either. But the comparison was too jarring for me. Perhaps that is my cultural perception of the cadre in charge of the Holocaust which makes me twitch, though I’m sure it wasn’t the first time someone has referred to such people as sons of Hades figuratively. I do like Riordan’s way of writing from different points of view in the Heroes of Olympus series, using different chapters. I have always written from different points of view and have looked for better ways of doing it. So he is influencing my writing as well, in that I am working on breaking things like that into separate chapters, or on being able to portray action for another character better through a different character’s eyes, so that I can keep the same perspective for a while.

From all of these candy and popcorn munching sessions, I get dual benefit: I get to disappear for a while into a world where I can be a fairy or a wizard or a demi-god, instead of a grown-up who has to pay the mortgage and make sure that this or that mundane detail of life gets done. And I get inspiration and tips on how to do things better for my own novels.

Where do you like to escape to, what kind of books do you devour? And what do you get out of it, in your life or in your writing? How do they inspire you?

For other ideas or other reviews of authors, visit the other carnies at the following links!

1. Laura A. H. Elliott 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series 4. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga
5. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog 6. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed
7. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter 8. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
9. Ella James 10. Maureen Murrish
11. YA Sci Fi Author’s Ramblings 12. A Little Bit of R&R
13. Melissa Pearl 14. Terah Edun – YA Fantasy
15. Heather Sutherlin – YA Fantasy

 

And see what’s new and upcoming from the YA Indie Carnival!

YA Indie Carnival Memorable Events and Giveaway Winners!

Posted in book reviews, indie, urban fantasy, young adult fiction with tags , , , on August 18, 2012 by rachelcoles

This week on the indie carnival, memorable events and zany questions! But first, to announce this week’s giveaway winners for Revelations: Mith, and Katrina! Both will receive a free e-book copy of Revelations! Happy reading, as the weather cools down and we get closer to Halloween, time to curl up with a good book!

Now, the topic for this week’s YA Indie Carnival is Memorable Events and Zany Questions!

One of the most memorable events in my life of reading and writing was when I got to meet Clive Barker, master of horror and urban fantasy. The first book of his I ever read was Everville, then Imajica, then Weaveworld, which remains my favorite. I have been hooked ever since. I burned through Everville when I was home from college sick. Then, a few months later, he went on a book tour for Imajica, in New York City. I was back at school and so we went to the signing, at the Strand book store, I think.  I had seen his movie Nightbreed, and loved it so much I had painted one of my favorite characters, Peloquin, on the back of my leather jacket. I’m not much of an original artist, but I’m not bad at replication, and I wore my leather like it was attached to my skin. So, I was wearing it when we went to the signing. I had brought my Nightbreed illustrated comic, and was going to ask him to sign it. I didn’t think there’d be much chance we’d get to meet him though, because the line was blocks long, and the hour or couple hours he was scheduled to be there was almost up. But he sent his agent out to let everyone on line know that he was going to stay until everyone had had their material signed.

When we got to meet him, I took off my jacket and before I even handed him my comic to sign, he noticed the Peloquin. I hadn’t been sure if he’d like it or hate it, but he grinned, so I’m guessing he liked it, and signed it above the face in a silver paint marker. He was friendly and awesome, and to this day, I have the leather jacket still. I stopped wearing it about seven years later except for special occasions since the paint marker started fading. But I plan to hand it down to my kiddo if she wants it…someday.

I wasn’t a writer at the time, but I think that he is one of my biggest influences, not just in my writing content or style, but in my desire to keep writing. I liked and admired him as a person, not just as a kick-ass horror legend able to coagulate all of my worst nightmares  and make me sleep with the closet light on.

Now, for the zaniest question. I’m not sure about the zaniest, but I had a very memorable question, from a public health co-worker who found out that I wrote a book, Pazuzu’s Girl. It’s an urban fantasy about the teenage daughter of a Mesopotamian demon. One of the people in our communications department had interviewed me for our newsletter, and after that, I ran into another co-worker in the hall, and she asked me with a perplexed look, “Did you really write that for your daughter to read?” When I read the interview I realized that I hadn’t explained that I wrote it with her in mind, not for her to read…for many more years anyway. Pazuzu’s Girl is YA, but with a Mesopotamian demon as one of the main characters, there’s plenty of demon sex and violence…it’s not really for 12 and 13 year olds. And even though I’m sure every high school student on the planet knows what marijuana is, A couple of the characters burn through the equivalent of a barnyard full of weed. So, I explained reassuringly, that I’d just written it thinking of Rosa in about ten years and what we were in for as parents, and that was the age I’d planned on letting her read it. I didn’t mention that I let her watch things on TV that would probably curl a stricter parent’s hair, though when I think about what we watched…Looney Tunes is really violent, set to goofy music. I’m sure that’s why we all loved it. But so far, she hasn’t turned into a mass murderer. So we haven’t screwed up too bad yet.

Tune into the other YA Indies and see what their memories hold!

1. Laura A. H. Elliott 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. Heather Self 4. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series
5. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga 6. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog
7. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed 8. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter
9. Heather M. White, author of The Destiny Saga 10. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
11. Ella James 12. Maureen Murrish
13. Valerie Sloan 14. YA Sci Fi Author’s Ramblings
15. A Little Bit of R&R

And visit the YA Indie Blog to see new releases and what else is new!

http://yaauthorclub.blogspot.com/p/whats-new-this-week-giveawaysnew.html

YA Indie Carnival: Mother’s Day Choices

Posted in book reviews, indie, writing with tags , , on May 12, 2012 by rachelcoles

Today’s belated post is speculation about what we think our mom’s might like to read.

My Mom is definitely not into fantasy or science fiction, and even less into horror. I think growing up that I was an anomaly. She would look at me sitting in front of the Exorcist or Pet Semetary, shake her head, and go back to whatever she was doing. She especially doesn’t like gore. Which makes it all the more impressive and indicative of motherly love that she read my novel which not shy on violence or gristle.

Watching her over the years, I think she likes true stories, or fiction but in the real world, stories in which people give you a glimpse of something they overcame in life, remarkable circumstances they survived. In that way, we are similar in that respect. I like stories about events in people’s lives that defined them, that they overcame, or survived. The difference is that I have enough of real life. I like to read about made up people with monsters.

I don’t know very many indie writers in this more realistic genre. But two books I can think of that I imagine she has either read and liked or would like to read: The Red Tent, and The Kite Runner.

The Red Tent was a retelling of a Biblical story from a virtually unknown character: Dinah, daughter of Jacob, sister to Joseph. The most remarkable thing about her in the Bible was that she was raped by an Egyptian prince and this sparked revenge by her brothers. But in this version, she gave a vivid picture of the role of prominent women in the Bible from their perspective and how they navigated what were harrowing politics of the time. Rather than relegating her to the role of victim, this story makes her strong, a midwife who provides a backbone to a culture that subsequently forgets about her.

The Kite Runner, I know less about, since I haven’t read it yet, though I hear it is very good. I understand that the author is from Afghanistan and the story is set there, in the context of making normal lives out of a city plagued by war. This is a book I intend to read.

She likes stories that show people’s humanity in different ways. Which goes to show that no matter what genre, good stories involve learning to understand each other. Happy Mothers Day!

Check out our other Mother’s Day Reads!

1. Laura A. H. Elliott author of Winnemucca & 13 on Halloween, Book 1 in the Teen Halloween Series 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. Heather Self 4. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series
5. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga 6. Cheri Schmidt, author of the Fateful Trilogy
7. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog 8. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed
9. Patti Larsen, The Hunted series and The Hayle Coven series 10. Amy Maurer Jones, Author of The Soul Quest Trilogy
11. Fisher Amelie, author of The Understorey 12. M. Leighton, Blood Like Poison Series, Madly, The Reaping
13. Cidney Swanson, author of Rippler 14. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter
15. Melissa Pearl, Author of The Time Spirit Trilogy 16. Heather M. White, author of The Destiny Saga
17. Courtney Cole Writes 18. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
19. Ella James 20. Maureen Murrish
21. Valerie Sloan

 

YA Indie Carnival: Dude, Happy 4/22!

Posted in indie, urban fantasy, writing with tags , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by rachelcoles

Today on the very late YA Indie Carnival, we’re covering evil weed scenes. As you think back to your high school or college days, or beyond, did you inhale? Would you admit it if you did, or are you too mainstream now? Did you ‘sell out to work for The Man’, or are you still ‘The Dude’?

Somewhere on YouTube is a video of British soldiers burning a field of marijuana. As the video wears on…the videographer is getting more and more incomprehensible. Similarly, I remember a story about an American farmer ordered to pull all of the devil weed in his property which had literally been growing as an unchecked weed, naturally, and to store it in their barn until they got further instructions from the DEA. When they inquired of the DEA what to do after that, they were instructed to burn it. The farmer had many long sessions of toiling away in the barn following the instructions of the DEA.

In my own unapologetic tribute to the devil weed, here is a scene from Pazuzu’s Girl involving weed, in a scene most of us recognize from high school, or have imagined at one point or another. Yes Mom, I know you’re reading.

Excerpt: The scene come in where JD and Morpho are trying to figure out how to deal with Morpho’s demonic father, and escape from her father’s demonic ex-wife.

“The point is, do you know how many times I’ve dreamed about murdering people? You weren’t the only one imagining their deaths. And believe me; I’ve cooked up stuff in my head that would make your dad grin. But I haven’t done any of those things and neither have you. Wishing doesn’t make it happen, unless you’re a god. As you said, you don’t have powers.” He squeezed her shoulders again. “Which doesn’t make you weak either, your dad has a screwed up view of the world. Look at Batman. He didn’t have super powers.”

“He had gadgets.”

“You want gadgets? I can make gadgets. I rebuilt that Z-28. You should see the bong I made last year.”

“I’m tech-impaired. And I don’t think a giant bong is going to help in this particular situation.”

“It might.” He pantomimed a lengthy drag on a pipe.

She grinned and gave him a shove.

“Look, look at what I invented!” He dug into a cardboard box in the corner. “I’m going to market it to defense companies when I can get a patent.”

He brought out a contraption that reminded her of Marvin the Martian’s ray gun. It had a gun stock, a long tube that looked suspiciously like a bong and a short plate of fins that looked like the fins from an ionizer used in offices to purify the air.

“Is that a bong, JD? Are you going to aim it at people and get them stoned?”

”No, it started out as one but it’s post-bong technology. It’ll be the new rage in non-violent warfare. It gives people the munchies you get after you get stoned.”

“What?”

“You know how distracting and compelling the munchies are? I once spent four hours searching for an open pizza joint, at three in the morning, when I knew I had a paper due in class at eight. Didn’t you ever see Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle? The idea is that when people are sprayed with this mist, they will stop caring about whatever their mission is and hunt for junk food instead.”

“You’re insane.”

“But it doesn’t project generalized munchies. You know how addictive junk food is? It’s based on that, not just on pot munchies. I got the idea from that movie where the guy ate only McDonalds for a month.”

“You are living proof of the dangers of watching too much television. The inside of your head must look like a cartoon.”

“No, seriously, I’ve distilled the chemicals from particular foods that make them so addictive. There are three different varieties of Munchie Mist, that’s what I’m calling it: Big Mac, Doritos nacho flavor and Hostess Cupcakes. Once the person breathes the mist, they feel an immediate need to get those specific foods.”

“The poor schmucks stuck at the drive-thrus and checkout counters aren’t getting paid enough. How did you distill it?”

“I was stoned and me and Jonesy started talking about war and wouldn’t it be cool if we could solve the violence thing. Distilling stuff isn’t hard at all. A crap chemistry set from Big Lots can do it. I made something else too! Booger Blaster! The other day, I woke up with the worst allergies ever, after my run-in with your dad. My eyes were swollen shut with mucus, you know, gunk, and my nose was all goopy—”

“That’s enough detail for a clear picture, thanks! So do you blow dog fur and pollen at people?”

“Close. This other formula stimulates histamine production. You just turn the ionizer to this setting here. So it doesn’t matter what people are allergic to, peanuts, dogs, pollen or whatever. They turn into walking snot-wads. I got the idea after Jonesy called me a snot-wad.”

He was so eager, she had to smile. “That’s very clever. Disgusting, but clever. I don’t think it will help us, but maybe it’ll get you into MIT.” She inspected the fins for a minute. “So why didn’t you tell me about being a mad inventor? Why don’t you have stuff in your car, like the Batmobile?”

“There is stuff in my car. It just doesn’t work yet, not the way I want it to. I’m having some problems with the pulse generator. And I thought you’d just make fun of me and blow me off if it didn’t work right.”

“I’m still gonna make fun of you. But I wouldn’t have blown you off.” Morpho walked her fingers through his so they were interlaced.

End Excerpt

To expand the idea of the devil weed to other scenes in which there were ‘substances’, because we all know that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’, I also give you a scene from a short story I wrote called Beergarden. It begins in a new beer garden in Germany. It was inspired by my husband’s experience of sitting in a beer garden in Germany, watching the bees that hovered around peoples’ beers get utterly drunk. In this scene, Eva Worker, the main bee character has found her sisters and a wasp who chased her earlier ‘sampling’ the wonderful new human ‘nectar’.

Excerpt:

The humans and bees were still attempting to do their mutual swatting and flying dance, but the waves of the giant hands were barely flops now. And the workers weaved and teetered at the edges of the glasses as though they might fall in. One of them did. She plunked right into the liquid, and instead of fighting to climb out, she took a long drink from the fluid.

“Jurgen, you have a bee in your beer. And I think it’s drunk.” One of the human males told the other, who picked up his glass with Eva’s floating sister.

“Awww. Poor bee. She’s had too much to drink. Here, let’s dry you out.” He fished her out with a spoon and dumped her on the table, laughing. Hilda Worker, the swimmer, appeared to be laughing too, as she preened the liquid from her wings and legs.

“Hey, there’s pollen in my beer.” Jurgen exclaimed without very much concern.

His fellow clapped him on the shoulder, “Drink it, it’s good for you.”

Jurgen upended the glass into his mouth.

Eva drifted closer to make sure Hilda was all right. The other bees didn’t appear to be worried as they stared at Hilda in a stupor. What in the Hive is going on?, Eva thought.

“Eva, sister, come here! You must try this. It is wonderful. It is a new nectar and it comes in giant tanks. The humans drink great rivers of it and they don’t seem to mind us sharing.” Hilda’s mandibles clacked happily and her eyes seemed… muddled. Her pheromones also smelled of the sweet rich nectar.

“What is wrong with you? Why are you not taking your load to the hive?” These bees, like Eva, were all first season foragers, new to the outside world. Surely someone would notice the absence of a bunch of new foragers.

“We will. Come join us first, Sister Eva!” A chorus of striped behinds waggled at her. One of them waggled so enthusiastically that its owner also fell into the glass she had been perched on.

“Oh, another one down.” Jurgen Bee Saver smiled. In went the spoon to his friend’s drink. He dumped Sister Dagmar unceremoniously next to Hilda. As Dagmar consumed the liquid beaded on her legs, a larger black and yellow shape wobbled toward them in the air, from another table.

Eva zipped into the air, her stinger ready. But the yellow jacket that had chased her earlier, waved her off now with a wiggle of antennae and a surge of the same tangy scent that  drenched Eva’s fellow bees.

The intoxicated wasp landed uncertainly on the edge of the table, almost fell and then righted herself, turning back to Eva. “Ah, little bee, I’m sorry about earlier. You want some of my meat? It’s still all chunky but I could chew it for you.” She offered a partly-digested piece of meat . “You want?”

“No thank you.” Eva declined quietly and sank down to the surface of the table. She still eyed the wasp with caution. The humans shooed the couple of bees remaining on the glasses, downed the rest of the liquid and rose. They placed their steins next to a sea of other empty glasses on the table, and left. They had been there a while, it seemed. How long had her sisters been there?

The wasp nodded, “I am Worker Gertrude. Who are you, little bee? Come here. I will not eat you.”

Eva edged closer, and Gertrude hopped suddenly next to her. A wave of pheromone swept over Eva, as Gertrude nudged her in the side, “Hey, you are cute for a Honey Bee.”

Eva almost tumbled off the table again, and backed away, wings over legs. Bless the Queen! she thought, Non-queen wasps wanting to mate with female bees? My own sisters shirking their hive duties? It is summer. It’s too late for Hive Fever. The eagerness to get out of the long sleep of winter often drove workers to act a little strange. But this?

Her sisters waggled at Eva again. Gertrude twitched her antennae and stumbled towards the glasses. “Come! There is plenty of nectar to go around. We shall all share, yes?” Gertrude pressed.

Hilda and Dagmar scrambled up the sides of a couple of glasses and dumped themselves into the films of beer at the bottom. Eva finally followed the bewitching scent, picked a glass, and climbed in. Well, I did want to explore. And oh, Sweet Flower, does that taste good! She sucked up the beer and wallowed in the remaining drops, her pollen baskets soaked.

“And they are all different. There are different nectars. Can you smell that? Try this one, Eva!” Hilda tapped and bumped at her from the walls of one of the other glasses that had a pale golden wheaty smell. Eva slowly buzzed over, after dunking in two more glasses of the dark, rich, sap-colored nectar.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, the sky darkened and the twinkling lights became clearer overhead. None of them could drink another drop without popping.

Gertrude was first to pull herself from her glass. “Ai, I must return to the nest. I have meat for the young ones. And lots of this nectar. We had a good time, yes? I will do this again tomorrow! Maybe I see you here, little bees.” She flopped off the table, her wings beating erratically. She landed on the ground, and Eva crawled to the edge to see.

Gertrude lay on her side for a moment. Then she righted herself and slowly crept across the ground, narrowly missed by a huge pair of shoes. She called back, “I’m okay. Everything’s okay! Everything’s great!”

Eva followed Gertrude’s progress, holding her breath, until their new wasp friend disappeared into the bushes at the edge of the wall.

***

Eva didn’t have a good memory for how she, Hilda, and Dagmar finally made it back to the hive. And neither did they.

Mitzi Worker, their receiver bee, just buzzed in confusion and looked around her, trying to comprehend the waggling, bumping and weaving rears the girls were showing her as they accidentally bonked into each other.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this dance before,” Mitzi said, hesitant. “Um, can you do that again? I might be crazy but it looked like you just said ‘make a left at the dog’. Okay, there I’m definitely wrong. I’m pretty sure you’re not trying to tell me the flowers are burping.” She looked desperate.

Eva touched her gently on the leg.

Mitzi looked at her in panic. “I really did study. I just don’t understand. I haven’t been able to understand anyone coming in tonight.”

“It’s ok, sister. We’ll show you tomorrow.” Eva brushed the girl’s face with her antennae. “Be at peace, sister. Come with us tomorrow.”

“But I can’t, I mean I’m a receiver. I’m supposed to be here. Oh, let me get your pollen.” Mitzi collected the soggy nectar-soaked gloop from all of them and disappeared into the brood comb.

***

The next day, Eva crawled from the hive entrance wondering if her antennae were going to fall out. And it felt like some crude human boy was trying to pull her wings off, but there was no one to sting. She meandered aimlessly, gathering pollen from the numerous park flowers along the way to…somewhere.

End Excerpt

This story is available here on Amazon in the anthology Into The Ruins: An Anthology of New Beginnings.

 

 

To see what some of our other authors have been up to in their bong days, check out these sites:

1. Laura A. H. Elliott author of Winnemucca & 13 on Halloween, Book 1 in the Teen Halloween Series 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. Heather Self 4. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series
5. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga 6. Cheri Schmidt, author of the Fateful Trilogy
7. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog 8. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed
9. Patti Larsen, The Hunted series and The Hayle Coven series 10. Amy Maurer Jones, Author of The Soul Quest Trilogy
11. Fisher Amelie, author of The Understorey 12. M. Leighton, Blood Like Poison Series, Madly, The Reaping
13. Cidney Swanson, author of Rippler 14. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter
15. Melissa Pearl, Author of The Time Spirit Trilogy 16. Heather M. White, author of The Destiny Saga
17. Courtney Cole Writes 18. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
19. Ella James

And Here’s What’s New!

What’s new this week: Giveaways/New Releases/Cover Reveals/Events

NEW RELEASES!


Soul Bound by Courtney Cole

The gods are playing games again and this time it’s going to get ugly. 

Empusa is the daughter of the goddess of witchcraft and the moon.  As a child of the moon, she has all of the ethereal lunar powers that come with it.  She is beautiful, vulnerable and strong.  But since she is cursed by her father to drink souls and mortal blood, her powers will come back to haunt her…

Brennan is the son of Apollo, the god of the sun.  As a child of the sun, he is handsome, golden, brave and strong.  He’s just learning to harness his own immortal powers, only there isn’t much time…

There’s an ugly, twisted storm brewing on Olympus and Brennan and Em are in the center of it.  Their powers are conflicting, polar opposites.  If they can’t learn to handle their abilities without killing each other, they will kill everyone in the mortal world, as well.  Time is ticking and the gods are watching.  Who will rise, who will fall and who will be left standing?


December and Lilly have got their work cut out for them. Not only are they desperately trying to figure out the identity of the Lost Soul, and track him down, they’ve also got to investigate why Powell River’s newest resident has got all of their men falling at her feet.
But when they learn that the Nephilim might be involved, it becomes clear that they’re all in extreme danger…


 

Rhoe and Ashley would never be friends.
Even if they lived on the same planet.
But, they’ll become so much more.
They’ll transfer.

THIS ENHANCED EBOOK CONTAINS LINKS
TO THE MUSIC, STORIES, PHOTOS & VIDEOS THAT
INSPIRED THE STORY.
 

A magical game of Hide n Seek begins.
Find the missing player and win.
The game resets; everyone forgets and starts to play again.


Seventeen-year-old Fresco Conte is an ordinary All-American kid from an upper middle-class family. He plays football. His girlfriend is a cheerleader. Life is good. Until unexplained things, scary things, start to take him over. Like surviving an accident that should have killed him. Or hearing the thoughts of the people around him whether he wants to or not. When the men in the dark blue coveralls come for him, Fresco is forced into addiction to the blue joy known as Wasteland and set free on the street, with no answers and only his hunger to keep him company.   


Last Stand is no more and Fresco is left to pick up the pieces. With his damaged brother Daniel stashed for safe keeping, Fresco and the old scientist Medley gather the remaining survivors and do their best to protect them. But the Garbagemen have other ideas, their leader’s goal to capture Fresco and make him one of their own.

DEAD RADIANCE – Book 1 in the Valkyrie NovelsFor as long as she can recall Bryn Halbrook has seen a golden aura around certain people, and it is only when her new best friend Joshua dies that she understands the glow means death. Bryn struggles to adapt to a new town and a new foster home while trying to deal with the guilt of being unable to save her friend. Until mysterious biker-boy, Aidan Lee arrives.

When Aidan unexpectedly takes off he leaves behind a shattered heart, a tonne of unanswered questions and a mysterious book that suggests Bryn is a Valkyrie. Bryn is faced with questions about Aidan’s real identity, the real reason he came to Craven, and that Odin, Freya and Valhalla just might be real.
As if accepting her new wings, new life and new home in Asgard isn’t difficult enough, Bryn is forced to find and return the precious necklace of the Goddess Freya. The only problem is – if she fails, Aidan will die.
The mystery of a Mythology is easy to enjoy. The reality is much harder to accept.

A child born of sun and moon will impart a human gift to bring forth the fall of the house of Gammen. – Hayes Prophecies
So you read the prophecy. It’s all mystical, but pretty vague. Am I right? Those three, short lines are absolutely frustrating. Lucky me, I’m the one who’s supposed to figure it out. I’m the child born of sun and moon.
Join Keira Ryan as she chases her destiny in this exciting third installment in the Midnight Guardian Series. While Keira searches, her enemies draw closer. A history of trust is tested. A promise of passion turns deadly. A surviving evil creates doubt and there’s only one way to stop it…Find the Gift.Just what do you get the spoiled gremlin queen that has everything?

Ready for a new kind of teen paranormal romance?
Also look for:
Of Sun & Moon, Book 1
Whispering Evil, Book 2
Book 4, Shadows Rising, coming Fall 2012

Melissa Pearl’s story along with nine other others in a free sampler on Smashwords:

COVER REVEAL

 

Liz Long’s debut novel!

 

Heather Self’s debut novel!

 


The next in the series from Fisher Amelie!


INTERVIEWS


Rachel Coles radio interview about Pazuzu’s Girl on Journal Jabber blogtalk radio http://www.blogtalkradio.com/journaljabber  And the show is available at their site on Podcast.
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