Friday, November 7, 2014

Good stuff in small packages

I entered this contest, a "micro fiction" contest, that this online magazine was sponsoring for Halloween. I entered five times, in fact, one micro-story for each of their 5 categories: Science experiments gone amok, sea monsters, banshees, demons and hellhounds. Of course I didn't win, nor did I expect to. But c'mon, they were just 250 words apiece. That's less than a page. It's not like it took me months of hard typing. And I'd planned all along to publish the stories myself, here and on my Facebook page, after the contest ended. Which it has. Thus I am.

Here, in no particular order, are my 5 submissions. Short but sweet. At least I think they are sweet. Well, maybe sweet isn't the right word. But I'm pretty happy with the way they turned out, anyway. Hope you like 'em.


            Otto did not fear death half so much as he feared the Hund.
            He, like all soldiers in those days of the Great War, had seen enough death to become inured to it. He laid there in the darkness, in the mud, rain spattering his face. He didn’t know how many bullets he’d caught. Enough.
           God, let me die before it finds me!
            The beast prowled the barren fields between the trenches, feeding on dead and living alike, summoned from Hell by thundering artillery, the screams of dying men, the stench of fly-blown corpses. Otto had seen it—big as a horse, blacker than the inside of a coffin, jaws drooling bloody froth, belching smoke from mouth and nostrils with each breath. The Hound of Hell, they called it. Helhund. He’d heard the screams of the men, wounded but alive, when it found them. Heard their screams, then the crunching of their bones.
            Please, God, let me die!
            Smoke hung like fog over the field, the rain unable to disperse it. Through the fog, Otto saw two lamps, burning, growing larger, brighter, hot and red.
            The eyes of the Hund.
            No! Not yet!
            It trotted towards him, enormous paws splashing in the mud. The growl that rumbled up from its chest mimicked the angry thunder.
            Otto feared the Hund more than death. For the Hund, like War, devoured not only men’s flesh, but their souls.
            The Hund would eat well tonight.
The Banshee of Killarney House
           It had become a game to the local teens.
           “Let’s go annoy the crazy lady!”
           Everyone said Killarney House was haunted. Since their coming to America, since they’d constructed the house, every member of the O’Hurlahee family had died there, their deaths foretold by the wailing Banshee that had followed them from their native Ireland. The all heard the Banshee before they died, so the story went.
           In the ten years since she’d bought the house, Frances hadn’t seen—or heard—any ghost.
           She had seen plenty of annoying teenagers, though.
           She’d chase them away; they’d come back. She’d turn the garden hose on them; they filmed her with their cellphones.
           “You’re making it worse,” friends told her. “Putting on a show for them.”
           “Horseshit!” Frances always replied.
           Tonight a carload of the brats sat parked across the street, honking their horn to torment her, calling her name. Frances tried to ignore it but at last her nerves gave out. She seized a frying pan from its peg on the wall and charged out the front door. She’d show them.
           “Here she comes!”
           “Get out of here!” Frances charged into the street.
            Then she heard it. Her bone marrow turned to ice. The screech of the Banshee.
             It sounded just like the squealing of tires.
            “Look out!” the brats shouted, too late.
            Frances didn’t feel the impact.
            The Banshee had announced another death at Killarney House.
Dead Men Leave No Carbon Footprints
                                                                     (Or, The Eater)
            All the world knew about the creations—many called them abominations—of Amman Natarajan. The first to release the genie from its test tube, they said, Natarajan had battered down the doors of collective argument and taboo (moral, legal, practical) against manipulation of human/animal DNA, with those doors never again becoming fixed to their hinges. Natarajan had been first, and generator of the expectant publicity. But there were others.
            Others, with pure motives (all the world agreed that Natarajan had gone insane, and this madness had fueled his motivations), were for the most part ignored by the journalists and masses. Benign intentions = boring = 0% public interest. Thus no one paid attention when the team of scientists announced the creation of the slime mold engineered to consume carbon in gaseous and solid form. An organism, intelligent as any human, a “Pollution Eater” to deploy on the ocean floor to swallow seeping methane and crude, to line the interiors of smokestacks, to float atop rivers, to spread like carpet atop skyscraper rooftops. A good thing, a benefit, and welcome in the world.
            No one bothered to ask the Eater how it felt about things.
            Turns out, it didn’t like the idea of being humanity’s servant.
            Turns out, those scientists neglected to engineer the Eater with any weaknesses: not fire, not cold, not radiation, nada.
            Turns out, human beings are composed of carbon, too.
            In 1997, at 50 degrees S Latitude, 100 degrees W Longitude in the Pacific Ocean, two U.S. Navy sonar recorders, stationed 3000 miles apart, registered a sound. For both pieces of equipment to have detected this sound at such distance from each other, the sound would have to have been very, very loud.
            Scientists determined the sound, dubbed (with little imagination on their parts) “the Bloop,” constituted something biological in origin. Problem is, they also estimated that any animal capable of producing such a racket would have to be many times larger than a Blue Whale, the world’s largest animal. There is nothing in the oceans big enough to have produced that sound.
            Nothing known, that is.
            Beneath the waves—gentle, tranquil, cerulean blue and jade green; or roiling, bruise-black, pelted by rain and strafed by hurricane winds into mountainous waves; warm at the tropics; frigid, capped by ice at the poles; polluted; in a few places clean; and teeming with a billion billion lives—down beneath all of that, slept Jormungandr, the Midgard Serpent, coiled twice around the world, tail in mouth, sleeping but aware, waiting, listening. For what? Some signal, some unspoken, intangible prompting, telling it the time drew near, Ragnarok and final battle at hand.
            In 1997, Jormungandr heard that call. It opened its eyes. It opened its jaws, jaws wide enough to swallow the moon, in response.
            “Bloop!” it said.
            We are fire, the Djinn had said to the Creator. They are clay. To them we will never bow. Thus God cursed the Djinn. You are outcast, He decreed. Perhaps, as you share in Man’s suffering, you will find kinship.
            As Az’rl listened to the man’s howls of pain echoing over the honeycombed hills, through the bowels of the caves, the Djinn had to confess it did feel empathy. But only because Az’rl itself had so recently suffered.
            The other men were Bedouin. Their captive, bound by his wrists, stretched into a Y between two posts, bore lighter skin, hair, eyes. A foreigner. Is that why they are torturing him? Az’rl wondered. Or did he, like me, offer insult?
             Az’rl had offended Ibliss, greatest of Djinn, whom men called Satan, by whose order the hordes had swarmed on Az’rl, sought to destroy it. Az’rl had scarce escaped, and not without injury.
            The others were still hunting Az’rl.
            The pale man succumbed at last.
            “Leave him for the vultures!” one said.
            No, Az’rl thought. This clay will serve a higher purpose.
            A whirlwind skipped across the sands; in its midst suspended two flaming eyes. Wind became smoke, and entered the nostrils and mouth of the corpse.
            A perfect place to hide, Az’rl thought to itself.
            Snapping the ropes that bound it, the Djinn started off upon the Bedouins’ trail.
            No one must know, Az’rl mused. No one.
 I'm not sure which one is my favorite. Maybe "The Eater." Anywhoo, they were fun to write (and the prize that e-zine was offering tweren't no great shakes, anyway). So no regrets.