Saturday, October 29, 2011

"On the Boardwalk in the Moonlight", from D.M. Anderson's "With the Wicked."

I never found vampires particularly scary. Still, there are two vampire tales in With the Wicked. The first, “The Bottom of the Well,” was published as an e-Book by Echelon Press . The second, “On the Boardwalk in the Moonlight,” was first featured in a small magazine called Nocturnal Ecstasy in the 1990s. Being that it is a fairly benign and humorous story, I’ve used it to teach story elements to my seventh graders (albeit with some of the language revised). I guess maybe you could it an ‘anti-vampire’ story. This one is very short, and in my opinion, kind of funny.


They walked hand-in-hand on the boardwalk, just as they had every night since meeting only a week ago. Like clockwork, they stopped at the same spots to listen to the seductive swirl of ocean waves. It was as though each night was created exclusively for them.

Dimitri glanced over at Clare, who closed her eyes and let the soft sea breeze brush through her hair. She was so beautiful, so sweet. Not just another meal.

How the hell do I tell her I’m a vampire?

After a few quiet moments, they walked on, content to enjoy the silence of each other.

He loved her. She had to know that. He swore to himself to be completely forthcoming and honest, even if the consequence was losing Clare forever as she ran away in horror. After all, she had awaken feelings in him he thought were long dead. She deserved to know who he was; what he was. He owed it to her. And maybe, just maybe, she loved him enough to join him in eternal darkness, to live forever in each other’s arms.

Dimitri hadn’t prayed in centuries, but tonight he prayed to God for Clare’s unconditional love. Did God have the wisdom and compassion to forgive one who had forsaken Him so long ago? Was any god that forgiving?

At any rate, Dimitri promised both God and himself that he would not take Clare unless she wished to be taken. What was that old saying…if you love something, set it free?

Clouds above cleared, allowing the moon the smile down on the two lovers. Clare stopped again and beamed upwards.

“The night is so beautiful,” she said softly. “I wish it never had to end.” She gazed into his eyes, tightening her grip on his hand.

Dimitri smiled back, then kissed her forehead, basking in the radiating warmth of her flesh before working his way to her earlobe. “It doesn’t have to end,” he whispered.

She sighed contently as she wrapped her arms around him. Her touch made him ache with hunger.

Tell her. Tell her now! There will never be a better time.

“I love you, you know,” Dimitri breathed into into ear.

“Yes,” she replied, tightening her hold on him. “I know.” Her soft lips found his neck, parting just enough for her tongue to brush his flesh.

Dimitri swallowed hard as he prepared to test just how strong her love for him really was. He reluctantly pulled her away and stared intensely into her eyes. “There’s something you need to know, Clare. Something about me. Something you may not want to hear.”

Clare frowned, her face growing concerned. “What is it, Dimitri?” She suddenly eyeballed him suspiciously. “You aren’t married, are you?”

Despite his nervousness, he managed a chuckle. “No, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s just that…” Dimitri paused. Okay, here goes. “Clare…I’m a vampire.”

She stared back blankly for several seconds, then replied, “Excuse me, a what?”

“A vampire…you know, Bram Stoker, Christopher Lee, Team Edward…” Before she could react or reply, he added, “But please believe me that you are in absolutely no danger, dear Clare. I love you, and even though I’d love nothing more than to spend the rest of eternity in your arms, I’d never-”

Clare suddenly broke into laughter, loosening her grip on him. Dimitri frowned as as Clare giggled and snorted uncontrollably until her eyes watered. He had a few ideas on how she’d react to his revelation, but this definitely wasn’t one of them.

“Vampire, huh?” she replied, still snickering through pursed lips as she tried to reign in her laughter. “That’s okay, darling. I’m a vicious, man-eating squid.”

Dimitri frowned indignantly. “But I’m serious. I really am a vampire.”

“So am I. I really am a man-eating squid.”

Clare suddenly ballooned and exploded like an over-inflated party doll. Her fine flesh and long flowing hair ripped apart, giving-way to moist, writhing tentacles. Dimitri screamed as he stared into Clare’s real eye, a huge, snotty orb that malevolently stared back. Clare’s massive beak hungrily snapped as her tentacles gripped him. He screeched in pain, feeling suckers and claws pull and rip at his flesh.

“You’ll be tasty,” Clare gargled.

“But I loved you,” Dimitri croaked.

She hoisted him into the night air, smacking her jaws in anticipation of the meal. Dimitri’s bones crunched as she squeezed him in her slick arms, drowning out the breaking waves. His bulging eyes watched in horror and sorrow as Clare pulled him toward her hungry beak.
Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Shaken": A Novel of Mass Destruction

I'm pleased and proud to announce the release of my second young adult novel, Shaken. It will be available as an E-book in November, followed very shortly by the paperback version during the holidays. Echelon/Quake, my publisher, has just sent the cover, which I really like. It’s bleak looking, but reflects the tone of the story. I also love the tag line Karen Syed, Echelon’s CEO, added under the title…“A Novel of Mass Destruction.” I love that because it tells any potential reader know exactly what to expect (kind of like Snakes on a Plane). In fact, maybe the book should have been titled, Shaken: A Novel of Mass Destruction.

Anyway, I must hand out massive kudos to Karen, as well as Jenny (J.R. Turner, to you), who has worked extensively with me during the revising process of both of my novels. These two ladies totally rock. I don’t know if we’ll ever meet in person, but they can consider themselves hugged. When I started Shaken, I set-out to write Die Hard for kids, and with their help, I think I’ve accomplished that.

To celebrate the book’s upcoming release, presented below the opening chapter of Shaken. And, of course, your feedback and opinions are always more-than-welcome.


The lights flickered and Natalie felt like she was losing her balance. She wasn’t dizzy, though the illusion of the room spinning was similar. Her body slowly swayed back and forth as if she stood on a boat at sea. She tried to steady herself with a nearby table, but if anything, the sensation grew more intense.

The fake crystals of the cheap chandelier hanging over the dining room table tinkled. This wasn’t just in her head.

“Whoa!” Lucy cried from upstairs.

Trinkets on the shelves rattled. Another cheesy painting, this one on the dining room wall, fell off its nail and slapped face-down on the floor.

What the...

A jarring jolt under her feet, under the floor, dropped Natalie to her knees. She struggled to stand, but the floor shifted so abruptly she could barely stay on her hands and knees. The bookshelf toppled over; an avalanche of paperbacks barely missed her. The living room window imploded as the frame caved in.

Something struck her head; Natalie yelped as white dust and plaster billowed to the floor.

Oh, God, her mind panicked. She scrambled under the dining room table. The ceiling is falling!

From somewhere upstairs...a high-pitched scream. Natalie barely heard it over the roar of the trembling cabin.

“Lucy!” She crawled from under the safety of the table. Ignoring the raining plaster from above, she scooted on all fours to the nearest kitchen counter and used it to pull herself to her feet. The floor literally shook.

Dishes, glasses, pots and tumbled from the cupboards and crashed to the floor. The sink faucet snapped; water erupted from the ruptured spout and drenched the crumbling ceiling. The window over the sink exploded, showering her with glass. A shard gashed her cheek; warm blood rolled down her face.

Lucy kept screaming upstairs.

“Hang on, Lucy! I’m coming!” She barely heard herself. Natalie scrambled out from beneath the table and though she gripped the counter, she could hardly stand. How was she even going to reach the stairs, let alone climb them? She felt like she was being shaken to death.

She stared in horror as a crack appeared between her feet, ran across the floor, up the wall and onto the ceiling. There was a splintering whack! like a gunshot, and seconds later the room was split into two. Part of the upper floor collapsed, crushing the dining room table she had cowered under a minute earlier. A huge support beam snapped and dropped from overhead. Natalie dove out of the way, just as it swung like a wrecking ball and smashed the kitchen counter to pieces.

The lights went out. Natalie screamed in the dark and the world shook apart around her.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Karma's Messenger," from D.M. Anderson's "With the Wicked"

Many of the stories included in With the Wicked were previously published in various small press magazines. "Karma's Messenger," however is new, and I still may make some revisions to this one, so what you read here may not actually be the final version. I'm posting it just to see what readers think of it so far. I've never solicited feedback for a work-in-progress before, and thought doing so would be interesting. So feel free to let me know what you think.


            Andy felt the front tire explode before he actually heard it.
            “What the fuck, Hanks?” Sovereign screeched from the backseat, eyes suddenly huge and white.
            If they weren’t doing 90, Andy probably would have been able to guide the car to a stop. Instead, the dusty black Charger swerved to the shoulder, struck a small mound and became airborne. Helpless, he released the wheel, wrapped his arms around his head and braced for impact. In the backseat, Sovereign and McPherson screamed. The car seemed to fly through the air forever before Andy felt the nose dip back toward Earth…
            This is gonna be bad.
            And it was. The Charger’s front end struck the ground, immediately crumbling. The air-bag exploded from the steering wheel, shoving Andy backward and breaking his nose. The windshield shattered. The shriek of tearing metal drowned out everything else. Gravity shifted. Andy was suddenly upside-down, then right-side-up again; being pinned to the seat by the airbag was the only thing which kept him from bouncing all over.
            Then, sudden stillness. Andy sat with his eyes squeezed shut as desert dust filled his nostrils. The ringing in his ears slowly gave-way to eerie quiet; aside from the dying hiss from the mangled Hemi-powered engine, and his rapid breathing, he heard nothing.
            He slowly fluttered his eyes open; the blood-stained white airbag rapidly deflated. Empty Arizona desert stared back. Before engine smoke stung his eyes closed again, a tiny prairie dog scurried across the sand, ducking behind a cactus.
            He looked into what was left of the rearview mirror. McPherson was dead, face frozen in eternal torment.
            Good riddance. The man was a fucking psycho, anyway.
            But Sovereign was nowhere to be seen.
            Pain settled into Andy’s face and chest. Both throbbed from the force of the airbag. Blood poured from his busted nose, but at least he was able to move and breathe, meaning he didn’t break any ribs.
            Could have been a lot worse, he told himself as he hurriedly unbuckled the seatbelt. He knew he had to get out of the car quick and get the hell out of there. Cops could be descending on them that very moment.
            He froze, thinking he heard a distant siren, then exhaled in relief when, upon closer listen, it was obviously a hawk or vulture flying overhead. But his relief was short-lived. He knew unless he got off his ass right now, the next sound he heard really could be sirens.
            Where the hell did Sovereign go, anyway? Did he ditch us?
            Andy yanked the door handle. Initially, nothing happened. Bracing himself, he threw his shoulder into the door, wincing in pain. With another shriek of bending metal, it popped open easily. He climbed out, squinting up at the desert sun. Heat blasted his face,  like he’d just opened an oven. This time of day, it must have been 110 degrees. He regarded the wreckage of the Charger. Once a pretty nice set of wheels, the car was now a steaming, mangled heap of junk, almost unrecognizable. Too bad; this was the best getaway car anyone had ever provided him with.
            A hundred feet behind the wreckage was the highway - wow, we really flew some distance, didn’t we? To his relief, the road was empty, meaning nobody saw the crash. Thank God.
            Then, turning back to the wrecked car, he spotted what was left of Sovereign, lying in a heap several feet in front of the car. His pastel shirt and Bermuda shorts were ripped and bloody; his face was sliced up, almost unrecognizable. His neck looked broken The man must have flown through the windshield on impact. Too bad. Andy didn’t know the guy too well, but he seemed okay. At least Sovereign wasn’t blasting clerks and security guards on the way out the door.
            Incredibly, Sovereign’s left hand still clutched the briefcase. The case itself had popped open; hundreds of shiny stones dotted the desert sand around it, sparkling in the sun.
            Not good, he thought as he checked his watch. We still got a buyer waiting for this shit in Phoenix.
            Dropping to his knees, Andy started scooping handfuls of diamond-encrusted sand back into the case. The sand was scolding hot, his bare knees burned, but he ignored the heat. He had to get as many rocks as possible before-
            Andy’s palms suddenly tickled. Several hairy black legs popped from the sand in his hands, kicking a few diamonds back to the ground. He gasped and dropped it, backing away a couple of steps. A large tarantula scurried from the discarded pile and scampered around in a quick circle.
            “Jesus Christ!” Andy cried, eyes bulging. He watched the confused spider in revulsion before swallowing hard, stepping forward and stomping it flat. There was a sickening pop as its innards squirted out from beneath Andy’s tennis shoe. “Fucking little monster.”
            Despite his urgency, Andy took a minute to regain his composure, feeling a bit stupid at his reaction to such a tiny critter. But he couldn’t help it…as far back as he could remember, he always hated spiders.
            The beating sun remind him of another problem, of far more concern than the spider under his heel, or getting to Phoenix in time for the exchange…
            How long can I stay out in this heat? And I must be miles from the nearest town…
            Still quaking from his encounter with the tarantula, Andy gingerly hunkered  down, closed the case and pried the handle from Sovereign’s dead hand. There were probably a lot more stones lying around in the sand, and he plucked up the few he saw, stuffing them in his shorts, but time seemed to be a growing issue. He had to get out of there, away from the wreckage, away from the bodies and away from that smashed fucking thing under his foot.
            The guys in Phoenix would just have to settle for what they got.
            He spotted Sovereign’s gun, the ivory handle protruding from the man’s Bermudas. Being a wheelman, Andy had no use for guns and never carried one himself on a job. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he even fired one. But things were different today. Thanks to fucking McPherson, who laughed as he blew away at least three people during the getaway, the cops weren’t just looking for thieves. They were looking for killers.
            Just in case, Andy took the revolver, tucked it into his own shorts and lumbered toward the highway, clutching the briefcase.
            He heard the sound of an approaching car, maybe a half-mile away. Just by the sound of the engine, he could tell this was no cop. Cop cars never rattled or pinged. This engine had at least 100,000 miles on it. But it would be enough to get him where he was going.
            Andy bolted to the side of the highway and ducked behind some sagebrush. He peered through the thickets; waves of heat billowed from the black pavement. A white sedan - it looked like an old Ford Taurus - approached from the north at a leisurely pace. Compared to the Charger he just destroyed, it wasn’t the sexiest getaway car in the world, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
            He felt butterflies; confrontation wasn’t really his forte, nor was car-jacking.           
            Just calm down, man. You’ve got the gun, for Chrissakes. Flag them down and take the car.
            Andy was just about to step out onto the highway when, less than a hundred feet away, the Taurus slowly pulled off to the shoulder and stopped.
            Oh shit, did they see me? Or the wreckage? What if they’re calling 9-1-1 right now?
            The driver-side door cracked open. A white-bearded old man, donned in thick eye-glasses and an Arizona Diamondbacks ball cap, slowly climbed out. Decked-out in black boots, white shorts and a sweaty Megadeth T-Shirt, he was certainly odd looking. He squinted at the sun, then yanked a handkerchief from his rear pocket to dab his neck. Then he casually reached back into his car and pulled out a small plastic box and yellow gloves. If he had seen Andy or the crashed Charger, he sure was being casual about it.
            Andy kept crouched and rigid, ready to attack if the old fart reach for a cell. Instead, the man shut his door, crossed the highway and marched out into the desert, snapping on the gloves like a doctor prepping for surgery.
            What the…was the guy going off to take a leak or something? With gloves? Must be OCD or something.
            Who cared? What matter was that he left his car behind, ripe for the picking. And it looked like he wouldn’t need to use the gun after all. After waiting a few more seconds, Andy sprang from the sagebrush and bolted to the Taurus.
            His heart sank when he tried to open the driver-side door. Locked.
            Shit, that means he’s got the goddamn keys with him!
            If he had his kit, he’d have this old beater jimmied and hot-wired in less time than it would take for that old man to drain his dragon. But out here, in the middle of nowhere? Andy nervously glanced across the highway, squinting into the desert. Nothing but cactus waved back. The old man was nowhere in sight. Andy quickly paced back and forth before kicking the front tire in frustration.
            Think, dammit!
            Stopping to stare at his bloody-nosed reflection in the driver-side window, he supposed he could smash out the window and hot-wire the car the old-fashioned way, but that would be loud, and take precious time he probably didn’t have.
            “What the hell are you doing out here in this heat, young man?” barked a voice behind him.
            Andy’s heart leaped into his throat as he whipped around, hand on the gun butt sticking out the back of his shorts. The old man stood across the road, clutching the plastic box with both gloved hands. Behind those thick lenses, his eyes stared back curiously before his face contorted into a wince.
            “Geez, buddy, you okay? What happened to your face? Have an accident or something?”
            Andy released his grip on the pistol, slowly exhaling, and brought a hand to his busted nose. Despite his throbbing pain, relief swam over him; the old fart seemed harmless enough. “Yeah, you could say that.”
            The man frowned, looking around. “Where’s your car?”
            Andy cocked a thumb back to the wreckage.
            The man’s eyes grew large. He shook his head and whistled. “Damn, look at that mess. Haven’t seen a wreck like that since the Daytona 500. You okay? Anyone with you?”
            “No, just me. I think I blew a tire.”
            “I think you’re lucky to be alive. I also think you’re lucky I came along. Not too many folks travel this road anymore, not since they finished the freeway. In this heat, your goose might have been cooked.”  He crossed the highway and extended his hand. “Name’s Jackson, Art Jackson. You want me to get on my cell and call for-”
            “No, no,” Andy quickly replied before returning the handshake. “I’m not that badly hurt. Maybe if you just give me a ride or something, that‘d be great.”
            Art Jackson frowned, stroking his fuzzy chin. “Hmm…well, I’m sorta working right now and it’s a long way back to town. I mean, if you wanna wait ‘till I‘m done, I guess I could give you a ride. Got bottled water in the trunk if you need to clean up your face and cool off.”
            Andy clenched his jaw impatiently. He did he best to sound congenial. “How long are you gonna be out here?”
            Art shrugged. “Dunno. I’m about half-done…maybe an hour or two.”
            Andy shook his head. “I can’t wait that long.”
            The old man stretched a glove off with his teeth and dug into his pocket, tugging out a cell phone. “Well, then, let me go ahead an call-”
            “I don’t think so, Mr. Jackson.” Andy set down his briefcase, pulled out the gun and aimed it right at Art’s chest, doing his best to sound calm and cool, like he did this all the time. The truth was, he had never actually aimed a gun at anybody. “Drop the phone and give me your keys.”
            Art backed away a couple of steps. “But-”
            Andy cocked the hammer. “Now!”
            Startled, the old man opened his fingers; the phone dropped and clattered on the pavement. He never took his eyes off the gun barrel.
            “Now drop the box, toss me your keys and get on your knees.”
            Again, Art complied. He let go of the box - it popped open as it hit the road - then reach into his other pocket. His lower lip trembled as he tossed the keys.
            Andy caught them in mid-air. “Now, Mr. Jackson…on your knees.”
            Tears started to roll down Art’s face and he slowly dropped to the road. “You’re gonna kill me now, aren’t you?”
            “Not if you do what I say.” While outwardly remaining cold and hard, his heart sort-of went out to the old dude, being so terrified. Andy would never kill anyone, but Art Jackson didn’t know that. “I just need your wheels, Mr. Jackson.”
            Art blinked. “You…you’re gonna leave me out here? In the middle of the desert? I‘ll die out here.”
            “Want me to shoot you instead?” Andy replied. But the man was right…about two things. First, hardly anyone used this old highway anymore; that’s why Andy chose it for their escape route in the first place. Second, how long could an old man last in this blazing sun and scorching heat in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest town?
            But I can’t bring him along with me. Isn’t that kind of like taking a hostage?
            He leaned down and snatched up the phone. “We can’t be more than an hour from Phoenix. I’ll call 9-1-1 once I’m there and-”
            Sharp pain suddenly struck just above his right ankle, so intense that Andy almost lost his footing. He cried out and looked down. Attached to his foot was a big brown tarantula, fangs buried in his flesh. Andy flailed and kicked wildly, dancing in agony on the pavement until the spider finally let go. It flew threw a few feet through the air before plopping to the road between Andy and Art.
            “Son of a BITCH!
            The old man fell from his knees to his butt, clutching the empty plastic box and reclosing the lid.
            Andy gawked down at his rapidly-swelling ankle; two tiny rivulets of blood snaked from the puncture wounds into his shoe. The skin around the wound became pasty-white. And it hurt like a motherfucker. Gasping hot desert air, he spotted his attacker, eight legs fluttering as it scurried toward the old man.
            Before he realized what he was doing, Andy limped over, trained the gun right down at the spider and fired.
            The shot was deafening.
            The recoil jerked his arm back.
            The spider disintegrated.
            The bullet ricocheted off the pavement…
            …and buried itself in Art Jackson’s brain.
            The old man’s head flew back, a perfect hole between his surprised blue eyes. They stared straight up at the hot afternoon sky, the last thing they would ever see.
            “Oh, shit,” Andy gasped, watching the old man drop to the ground, left leg kicking a couple of times before he ceased moving altogether. Momentarily forgetting his own wounds, Andy stared dumbstruck at the dead body, still reeling from what just happened.
            The last echoes of the gunshot finally dissipated in the distant desert hills.
            Jesus Christ, I just killed a man. I just killed a man for no reason. Just like McPherson.
            Andy shot a panicked glance in each direction, seeing nothing but heat billowing  from the road. Not another car was in sight, thank God. He tucked the gun away, grabbed the old man by both arms and dragged him behind some nearby bushes.
            After dropping Art’s lifeless arms, Andy checked the highway again, his stomach doing summersaults. Sweat plopped into his eye, stinging it shut. He squished a finger in his socket to clear it out, then regarded the body at his feet.
            I’m not longer just a wheelman, he lamented. I’m a murderer. I’m no longer looking at doing time if I’m caught. I’m looking at a needle in my arm.
            The thought made him wretch; Andy leaned over and hurled. Vomit splattered the sand. His leg pounded painfully; the bite wound had ballooned to the size of a gold ball. Blood still seeped into his shoe. As he reached down and rubbed around the wound, which only made it hurt worse, another thought crossed Andy’s mind…fuck, how poisonous are tarantulas anyway?
            Goddammit, worry about that later! Get your ass outta here first, or the state of Arizona’s gonna stick something in your skin a hell of a lot worse than spider venom!
            Andy limped to the old Taurus, stopping to pick up the briefcase. Because his hand was trembling, he missed the lock a few times before finally being able to stick the key in and open the door. He tossed the case into the passenger seat and jumped in, wasting no time before starting the car and hitting the gas. The rear tires kicked-up sand and gravel. The rear-end fishtailed as Andy cranked the wheel, climbing off the shoulder onto solid pavement.
            Within a few seconds, Andy Hanks was once again speeding down the road, picking up where he left off. The further he got away from the dead body of Art Jackson, the better he started to feel.
            Sweat oozed from every pore in his body. Whether it was from the heat, the bite or his own anxiety, Andy wasn’t sure, but he countered it by cranking the AC. Cool air blasted from the dashboard, bringing relief as it began to dry the sweat on his skin.
            Ignoring the nagging sting of his ankle, he pinned the gas pedal to the floor. The speedometer shot from 70 to 90; the sudden acceleration caused some of Jackson’s junk to slip off the top of the dash, empty water bottles, wadded napkins, a few CD cases and a lot of stray paper. Some of it dropped on the passenger seat, some onto the floor. A single yellow business card fluttered into his lap. Keeping the wheel steady with one hand, Andy  snatched it up, eyes darting back and forth from the open out the windshield to red-embossed font on the card:

Tarantulas, Scorpions, Small Reptiles
Supplying pet stores throughout the Southwest for over 40 years.
Arthur T. Jackson, Owner

            Andy frowned, tossing the card to the floor. Tarantulas? He suddenly remembered the plastic box Jackson was carrying, the one which popped open when he dropped it.
            Geez, is that what the old fart was doing out here? Collecting spiders? Was that what…
            Renewed pain pumped beneath the skin of Andy’s ankle. Somehow, knowing it was one of Art’s captured spiders made his leg hurt worse. He tried reaching down to  massage his open wound and keep the steering wheel straight at the same time. Bad idea. At this speed, the Taurus veered onto the shoulder; gravel pelted the undercarriage, brown dust spewed from the tires. Something loudly bounced around in the back seat. Andy sat back up straight, slapping both hands back on the wheel before guiding the car back onto the road. He let off the gas a bit; maybe doing 90 wasn’t such a great idea anymore.
            Regaining control, he craned his head to see what was making all the noise in back. He frowned, then took a quick look forward to make sure he stayed on the road. Glancing back again, fear struck him. On the seat was a large cardboard box. It was tipped over, and inside were several smaller plastic containers, just like the one Old Man Jackson was holding.
            There must have been a few dozen of them, in the box, spilt on the floor, strewn  all over the backseat. Most of the lids had popped open, probably from being tossed around so violently.
            Panicked, he faced the road again. He spotted the business card on the floor. Something big and black scurried across it. He remembered some of Jackson’s last words before a bullet ended his life: I’m about half-done…
            Andy’s skinned crawled.  Half done? A spider wrangler? That means-
            His neck tickled, then instantly erupted in fiery pain. Andy yelped, slapping at his neck, his hand striking something thick and hairy; it wiggled under his palm, then bit again. Another stab of agony.
            The car careened onto the shoulder again.
            Andy roared, squeezing his fist closed and crushing the spider in his grip. Pulling his hand down, he looked down at his clenched hand in horror. Fuzzy black legs poked between his fingers, still twitching.
            His foot inadvertently punched the gas pedal to the floor.
            “Jesus!” Andy screeched, frantically shaking his hand. Spider pieces flew everywhere; a single leg stuck to the windshield.
            Another bite, this time to his left thigh. Andy screeched and released the wheel altogether, using both hands to swat the spider that had crawled up the seat to join him.
            Out of control, the old Ford Taurus slid sideways. It skidded loudly along the road, tires shrieking. One of them finally exploded; sparks erupted from the naked rim before it dug into the pavement, flipping the car over.            
            For the second time that day, Andy bounced around in the driver’s seat, arms flailing. Boxes, bottles, business cards, loose diamonds, his gun, as well as dozens of huge black tarantulas, sailed all around him as the car rolled over and over.
            After what seemed like an eternity, all movement ceased. The Taurus came to rest in the middle of the highway, upside-down. Smoke and dust filled the car. Lying on the interior roof, Andy coughed and wheezed. His left leg was in agony; he managed to lift his head to check it out, wincing in horror at the bloody shin bone that had punched through the skin.
            God, I’m a mess, he thought crazily.
            Something dropped onto Andy’s chest…another frisky tarantula, courtesy of Creepy Critters, Inc. This one seemed to be staring right at him. Andy tried to raise a broken arm to squash it, only to be greeted by more unbelievable pain. The spider scampered forward, towards his face.
            Another one dropped from the floor above him, landing on his groin.
            Movement from the corner of his eye. Andy turned his head. Another spider raised up, waiving its front legs defensively before leaping forward to bury its fangs into his forehead.
            More fangs chomped the hand on his broken arm. Another spider crawled up the left leg of his shorts to bite him in the ass.
            Andy wailed in torment. Collective venom coursed through his veins, slowly shutting down organs one-by-one. His limbs, both in-tact and broken, convulsed uncontrollably as more and more of Old Man Jackson’s captured spiders joined in on the kill.

Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The Man in the Fluffy Bunny Suit", from D.M. Anderson's "With the Wicked"

I originally wrote this in the early 90s, before I had kids. Now that I have two daughters of my own, revisiting this one was kind of hard. Still, it was one of my earliest published stories, first appearng in The Unknown Writer in 1998, and will also be included in my With the Wicked collection.


Roger Peterson, the man in the fluffy bunny suit, hopped purposefully down the sidewalk, a permanent holiday grin etched upon his papier-mâché head. Under his mask, he felt sweat trickling down his face, occasionally stinging his eyes and obscuring his vision, which was already regulated to what lay directly before him through the black wire mesh of the bunny’s mouth.

It was unusually warm for an Easter morning, and inside the stuffy suit summer had arrived early, bathing Roger in musky sweat mere moments after he put it on. However, he was in too-fine a mood to let it bother him. If one of those awe-struck children could see the man behind the rabbit, they’d have seen an even bigger grin than the one plastered outside, the genuine smile of a man who felt like the luckiest guy on Earth.

Inside the rabbit’s head, Roger’s breathing was heavy and labored, drowning out the sounds of the neighborhood. He barely heard the occasional passing car, the angry protests of birds perched in maple trees, or the squealing of excited kids running over to receive one of his special hand-painted eggs. His basket was heavy, making hopping difficult. With each jump, the eggs rattled and clacked together. But he was confident they wouldn’t break until the time was right, and with each approaching child, the basket became lighter. It wouldn’t be much longer until he was finished.

He’d brought twenty eggs in total, including one for himself, which he had taken great care to paint last night. Roger was no artist; it took him seven hours and a fifth of Yukon Jack to finish the job. The effort was well worth it, though, for they were beautiful eggs, brightly adorned with stripes and polka-dots of all sorts of different colors. They were much nicer than the ones his mother made when he…

…was a boy, before he was even in school, Roger would awaken on Easter morning in anticipation of the hunt in the backyard of their trailer home. The sun would barely be awake, and wasn’t quite warm enough yet to shake the dew off the lawn. His mother, knowing her son always woke up early on Easter, would be out in the yard even sooner, strategically stashing eggs. There were the usual hiding places, of course, like the old wine barrel where mom tried to grow tomatoes each year, or the Dr. Pepper thermometer that leaned against the side of the trailer. The thermometer used to hang on the front porch of the house they once shared with his father.

Roger grew to know Mom’s Easter routine, but he played along anyway, milking the event for all it was worth. He always started in the middle of the yard where Elvis, their friendly old basset hound, was tied up. Roger knew no eggs would be there because that was Elvis’ territory and everything in that ten-foot radius was his. He and his mother learned that a few Easters ago when the dog chowed down on nearly all of the eggs within his reach. Eggs, it turned out, didn’t agree with the dog’s digestive system and he farted all night, stinking up the whole trailer. But it wouldn’t be Easter if Roger didn’t start the hunt in the middle of the yard, skillfully dodging Elvis’ droppings - ‘doggy mines’, mom called them.

Most kids loved Christmas, but Roger loved Easter most. It was the holiday when his mom always smiled, laughed and took snapshots of him with her boxy little Kodak camera. Roger didn’t like Christmas, because Mom would shuffle sadly around the house in her bathrobe, spending most of the day staring at the television with a drink in her hand. Sometimes she cried, holding her only child in her arms and apologizing for not being able to afford a tree, for having nothing more to give him to unwrap than a cheap trinket from a second-hand store. Roger felt sorry for her, yet would get angry at her display of self-pity. It wasn’t the mom he knew and loved during the rest of the year.

But on Easter, she was happy. She was beautiful. She’d always throw on the yellow dress she once eloped in and fix her hair the way loving TV moms always did, then spend the entire day with him. After the great egg hunt, he’d eat a couple of eggs, then the two of them would plant themselves on the sofa and catch the Bugs Bunny cartoon marathon channel 12 showed every Easter. Roger absolutely loved Bugs Bunny, and would often mimic the famous rabbit whenever he said…

“…what’s up, doc!” Roger greeted in his well-honed Brooklyn bunny voice as he handed one of his eggs to a little red-headed kid. The boy giggled and tried to snatch a second egg from the basket, but Roger playfully side-stepped him, raising the remaining painted treasures out of reach.

“Sorry, doc,” he said. The papier-mâché head made Roger sound as though he were talking into a bucket. “Only one per customer. Gotta have enough to go ‘round, ya know.”

“It’s for my sister!” the boy cried defensively.

“Where is she, doc? Don’t she wanna meet the Easter Bunny?”

The boy pointed across the street. Roger had to turn most of his body in order to see where he was pointing. A little blonde girl, no more than four or five years old, stood in the middle of her front yard, staring back wide-eyed and open-jawed.

“She’s scared of you, Easter Bunny,” the boy added seriously.

Roger’s sudden laughter bounced around inside his rabbit head. “Afraid of me? I’m just a rabbit. Why, I wouldn’t hurt a single hair on her pretty little scalp.”

“She’s scared of Santa, too. Had a cow when my mom took us to meet him at the mall last Christmas.”

“Can’t say I blame her, there, doc.” Roger knelt beside the boy and placed a fluffy paw on his shoulder. “Tell ya what…you go tell your sister that, if she comes over, I’ll give her the best egg I got…one I’ve been saving for myself.”

The boy obediently nodded and darted back toward his house, checking the road for traffic before crossing.

Roger peeped into his basket and counted four remaining eggs, including his own. He heard muffled laughter behind him, and he turned to spot three kids scampering up the sidewalk ahead of their mother to greet him. This was turning out perfect.

He smiled behind his costume, then looked back across the street at the boy and her sister. She glanced over at Roger, then uncertainly back to her brother. After she slowly nodded, her brother encouragingly nudged her in Roger’s direction, ushering her the same way…

…his father ushered him into the back seat of the car and slammed the door shut. Roger shook rain from his hair and looked out the window at the grassy hill where Mom would spend eternity. He had hoped she would go to Heaven, but his Dad set him straight the night before. “Dead is dead,” he bluntly said.

Roger pulled a Hot Wheels race car from his pocket - the last thing Mom ever bought him - and mindless flicked the wheels as his dad’s new wife hurried into the front passenger seat and clicked on the radio. Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun” drifted from the car speakers. Mom always loved that song.

“Dammit,” Dad’s wife hissed, checking her watch. “I think we missed the lucky number drawing.” She pulled the rearview mirror in her direction and produced a compact from her purse to fix her face, which was wet with rain.

Roger’s father climbed into the car, soaking and angry. “Why the hell couldn’t the funeral be indoors,” he groused, bringing the engine to life. “especially since I paid for the fucking thing.”

Roger felt tears threaten to sting his eyes, and he fought hard to beat them back. Dad hated seeing him cry. At mom’s eulogy, a single tear escaped his eye. A handkerchief was thrust in his face. He looked up to see his father staring into him, a single brow raised in disapproval.

“Wipe your face, son,” he quietly insisted. “You’re acting like a girl.”

There were only five people at the funeral, although Marcie, Dad’s new wife, didn’t really count. She had never even met his mother. Still, Roger was grateful she came because, even though he didn’t like her much, she usually managed to keep Dad’s temper in check. He hated to think what Dad would be like today if Marcie hadn’t come along.

The car rolled down the road leading out of the cemetery; Roger took at long last look out the back window. Through the rain, he could see two groundskeepers in heavy raincoats shoveling dirt into his mother’s grave.

I wish there was a Heaven, he thought gloomily.

Once again, he fought the urge to cry. Once again, he was victorious.

Dead is dead. Stop acting like a girl.

“Turn around, Roger,” his dad said. “Let Mom fix your hair.”

Tucking the race car back into his pocket, he silently obeyed as Marcie turned around with a comb in her hand, sitting on her knees and leaning forward to reach his head. His father playfully took one hand off the wheel to pinch her rear.

“Stop it!” she playfully giggled, swatting at him if he were a fly.

Roger didn’t know how much longer he could battle the tears.

“Look sharp, Roger,” Marcie said with a smile that never reached her eyes. “You father made reservations at the Doubletree for Easter brunch.”

“Yeah,” Dad snickered, his anger subsiding. “I’m so damned hungry I could eat a whole rabbit.”

Marcie slapped his shoulder and laughed. “You’re awful! You…

“…can’t eat these eggs,” whined the youngest of the three kids who had run up to him. Their mother, standing about ten feet behind them, was busy taking snapshots with her camera.

“Course not,” said Roger, staring down at the kids. “These eggs are special. The kind you keep with you forever.”

The oldest of the three, maybe seven or eight years old, examined hers methodically. “Is there candy in them?”

“Better than Candy. If these were real eggs, once you eat ‘em, Easter’s over. If there was candy in ‘em, once the candy’s gone, Easter’s over. With these eggs, it’ll always be Easter. It can be Easter forever, for however long that is.”

“I wish it was Christmas forever instead,” the youngest pouted.

“Christmas? Christmas is the sad time. That’s the time to watch TV, the time to cry, the time to wish your father dead-”

“Come on kids,” the mother interrupted, staring uneasily at the rabbit’s fake blank eyes. She grabbed the youngest by the hand and pulled him away. “We’ll be late for church.”

“Church?” Roger piped with concern. “Who died?”

The woman didn’t answer as she hurried her three kids away, all of them clutching their new Easter gifts.

Just then, Roger felt something tugging his fluffy cotton tail. He whipped around, ready to fire, then breathed a sigh of relief to see it was just the red-headed boy, who had returned with his little sister in-tow. She stared ominously up at him with huge unblinking eyes, her thumb crammed securely in her mouth.

“Hi, doctress,” he chirped, kneeling until his eyes her level with hers.

The girl stood rigid, too terrified to move. Her older brother giggled.

“Doc here tells me you’re scared of the Easter Bunny.”

She nodded, backing away a step.

“That’s okay. There’s no need to be afraid, but I do know how you feel. I was afraid once, too.”

The boy was suddenly incredulous as he scoffed, “The Easter Bunny afraid? What could the Easter Bunny be afraid of?”

Roger chuckled. “Doc, everybody gets afraid sometimes.”

“Not me!” Then the boy ran off to do a summersault in the nearest lawn.

Roger pulled his last egg from the basket and showed it to her. Of all the eggs he worked so hard on last night, this was his favorite; fluorescent orange with navy blue stripes. Painted in yellow on one side was ‘I’M A BAAAAD MUTHAFUCKA!’, and on the other side, ‘DEAD IS DEAD.’

“I do not want you to fear me,” he said. “I just want to help.” He held up the egg in one paw. “This egg is special. It takes away the fear. It takes away sadness. I was going to save it for myself, but I’d like you to have it. Would you like that?”

The girl nodded and took her thumb from her mouth.

“What’s your name?”

“Megan,” she replied quietly, lips curling into a tiny smile.

“Well, Megan, I’m done being scared. You don’t want to be scared anymore, do you?”

She shook her head. “No, Mr. Bunny.”

“Then give me a hug.”

Megan went to him. He welcomed her into his fuzzy yellow arms and pulled her close. For the first time in years, Roger felt tears awakening, but not in sorrow this time. His father wasn’t around anymore, so he welcomed them.

Suddenly, a few hundred feet away, in the direction the woman took her children, an explosion…

…rocked the hills to the south. Roger’s heart leaped into his throat. He whipped around, clutching his rifle, ready to fire.

“Calm down, Bugs,” Rico said, putting a hand on Roger’s trembling shoulder. “Fight’s over. That’s just our air support mopping up.”

As if on cue, a low flying jet roared over them, disappearing over some trees to the north.

“Come on, Bugs. Let’s torch this place and get the hell outta here.”

Roger looked beyond his friend to see other guys in his unit ushering locals out of the village, prodding stragglers with their gun muzzles. “Why do we gotta burn it down?”

Rico lit a cigarette, then held his lighter to the grass roof of the nearest hut. “Keep yer pants on, we’ll get humpin’ soon enough. Then we’ll get shitfaced and whore around ‘till morning. We earned it, I’d say.”

The fire spread rapidly. Within minutes the whole hut was in flames. Thick black smoke snaked into the sky.

“Beautiful,” Rico sighed, gazing upward.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Roger quipped, still darting his head around nervously. It was always the quiet times that scared him most. “There’s nothing beautiful about this.”

Rico gave a here-we-go-again roll of the eyes. “Don’t start up again, Bugs.”

“Rico, there’s nothing here. It’s a farm village.”

“Yeah, a farm village of American-hating murderers.” He searched the ground around him. “Where’s my fuckin’ helmet?”

Roger‘s jaw dropped. He loved Rico and would die for him, but sometimes his buddy could be so damned ignorant. “Village of murderers? I just watched Jennings blow a lady’s head off in front of her own kids. Who are the murderers here?”

Rico flicked his smoke away and stared hard at him. “Look, Bugs, we’re all scared shitless. I get an hour of sleep a night. I can’t take a shit most of the time, and when I do, it comes out like Niagara fucking Falls. You know why? Cause these motherfuckers don’t play Monopoly the same way we do. I don’t know if the next slant comin’ my way is a farmer or a walking bomb. I saw an old bitch cut a buddy in half with a fucking machine gun hidden under her poncho. So, if a guy like Jennings is a little overzealous, so what? Good riddance, I say.”

Roger heard Rico’s flag-waving kill-or-be-killed tirade before, and Rico was probably right. It was guys like Rico who survived shit like this; it was guys like Rico who kept guys like Roger Peterson alive.

“If you’re smart, Bugs, you’ll stop pumpin’ piss for these assholes and look out for number one, or you ain’t gonna live to see another cartoon.” Rico continued the search for his helmet while Roger watched him in silence. The only sounds were distant booming in the hills and the crackle of burning huts.

“Sorry, Rico. I didn’t mean-”

“Forget it, Bugs. Stop being sorry all the time. You can’t help what you feel.”

Roger tried to ignore the sick pang in his stomach. He hated making Rico mad, and always worried that the day may come when Rico would get sick of putting up with him. Roger knew he wouldn’t have lasted very long in this place without Rico. It was Rico who befriended him when the rest of the unit thought he was just dead weight. It was Rico who got him laid for the first time by a local hooker. At first, he thought his buddy would join the others by teasing his virginity. Instead, he set Roger up with the best girl in the brothel, even paid for it. Those were the best two minutes of Roger’s life, and he had Rico to thank for it.

Maybe Roger was sort of a pet project for Rico, who educated him in a way teachers never could, and watched over him after his father gave up. And he always displayed a level of patience for Roger that no one had since Mom died. The only time Rico ever got angry was when Roger started showing compassion for these people, especially the children.

Rico grinned when he finally found his helmet, lying upside-down in the mud next to a rusty water barrel. He had developed an almost superstitious attachment to that helmet. It was adorned with beer bottle labels and clever Ricoisms, such as ‘I’M A BAAAAAD MUTHAFUCKA!’ and ‘HAVE SOME HELL.’

Roger snorted, slinging his rifle over his shoulder. “Happy now?”

“Happy as a cat in a fish house…or is that a fish in a cathouse?” Rico cackled wickedly.

Roger smiled and shook his head. “What the hell does that even mean, man?”

Just then, they heard a rustling sound from behind. They wheeled around, unslinging their rifles. Out of some nearby bushes, two young girls came shambling toward them. Their clothes hung off their brittle bodies like tattered rags on a scarecrow. They had no shoes; mud squished between their toes as they ran.

“My God,” Roger gasped. “They look like they haven’t eaten in days. Parents are probably dead.”

“Easy, bugs.”

“Give it a rest, Rico. We probably killed their folks.”

One girl ran to Roger, the other to Rico. Roger looked down at the child - she couldn’t have been more than five or six - his heart breaking as she clutched his leg. She smiled a toothless grin while tears carved rivers in the grime on her face.

“I’m sorry, kid,” moaned Roger, willing himself not to cry. He didn’t want Rico to see him acting like a girl. “I’m so very s-”

“Bugs!” Rico screamed. “They’re fucking wired!”

He turned to see Rico rolling around in the mud, trying to pull the child off his leg. Roger looked down at the girl hugging him. Only then did he notice the hand grenade fastened to her thigh. The pin had been pulled.

“Buuugs!” Rico roared, eyes threatening to burst from his skull as his helmet fell back off.

Then he exploded. The force of the blast threw Roger to the ground. Blood, mud and meat showered around him.

“Nooooo!” he screamed. “Nooooo!” Why did everyone he loved have to die?

The other girl still clung to his leg. She bawled as she tightened her grip. Before he could comprehend what he was doing, Roger ripped his Bowie knife from its sheath. Grabbing a fistful black, tangled hair, he yanked the girl’s head back and plunged the blade into her throat. Blood shot at him like a fountain. He twisted the knife, pushing it in further, until the tip busted out the back of her neck. The girl’s arms loosened their grip as life poured out of her. Roger let go of the knife, snatched up the tiny body and hurled it as hard as he could. She landed on her back, splashing into a puddle about ten feet away. Roger dove the opposite way and hit the ground, shielding his head to await the explosion.

Several seconds passed. It should have gone off by new. Roger cautiously raised his head. The girl lay lifelessly in the mud, staring vacantly into the smoky sky.

A dud, he realized in horror. Grenade’s a dud.

Gorge roared up his throat. He sat up, leaned over and spewed his rations onto the ground.

“I murdered her!” he wheezed. “Oh, sweet Jesus Christ, I killed her!” Wiping his mouth, he remained rigid on his hands and knees. He gawked open-mouth at the girl, then started sobbing out loud. He didn’t care who heard him.

The girl’s head flopped over to face him, the left half disappearing into the muddy water. Her dead, glassy right eye remained open, staring back accusingly.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” he slurred, strings of spit and vomit flying off his lips.

She didn’t reply. That dead right eye bored into him.

“Stop it.” Roger slowly stood, ignoring the mud that dripped from his fatigues. He unslung his rifle and clicked off the safety. “Stop looking at me!”

Blood from the girl’s neck turned the puddle purple. The eye continued to stare him down.

“Stopitstopitstopitstopit!” He fired away, pumping round after round into the dead girl. Her body jumped and jerked wildly as Roger…

…picked Megan up, cradling her in his paws. Screams filled the neighborhood as another grenade exploded a block away.

“What’s that?” Megan’s brother cried.

“Oblivion, doc,” Roger said calmly. “Sweet oblivion, where fear can’t follow. Life is pain, doc. Life is fear. But dead…well, dead is just plain fucking dead.”

Megan began to cry, squirming in his paws as another explosion vibrated the sidewalk beneath them. Roger rocked her gently, making soft shushing sounds as she bawled. “It’s okay, honey. I’m here. I’m here.”

He heard distant sirens as he plopped his butt on the sidewalk, keeping a tight hold of Megan. Her brother bolted away, screaming for his dad.

“I wanna go home,” Megan whimpered as she trembled in his arms.

“So do I, little one,” Roger said. “So do I. We’re gonna go home together, the way we should have before.”

Roger Peterson, the man in the fluffy bunny suit, shook the paw off his left hand, then off his right, making sure not to lose his grip on Megan. Her sobs grew louder, as did the approaching sirens. He stroked her hair gently, clearing it from her face.

“You and me, Megan…we’re gonna make things right.”

He held the grenade before her eyes, the sweat from his hand smearing the paint.

“Remember this trick?” he whispered before pulling the pin.

A police car roared around the corner and screeched to a halt. Roger clutched Megan tighter as two cops leaped from the car, guns drawn and leveled at his head.

“Dead is dead,” Roger said.

The egg exploded.

Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson

Friday, October 14, 2011


With the popularity of ebooks increasing almost exponentially, so does the number of online outlets where they can be purchased and downloaded.

A particularly cool site is ebooks-4-cheap ( I like it because it provides links to purchasing books (all $5.00 or less) from a variety of genres and publishers. There are a lot of great books out there which simply do not get a lot of exposure, and this site provides detailed summaries and purchasing info about selected books you may never have known about otherwise. And, if you’re at all like me, the best thing about ebooks is the lower price, and I’m a lot more willing to take a chance on trying out a new author if it doesn’t cost me much. And ebooks-4-cheap only features books which cost less than your average movie rental.

And sometimes it costs nothing…what I really like is the site’s Free Friday feature, which presents titles which can be download for no cost at all. This particular week offered several recipe books available for your Kindle. Gotta love anything that’s absolutely free, huh?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"The Shortest Straw," a Short Story from D.M. Anderson's "With the Wicked"


Beck stared solemnly through the portal; countless stars winked back. They used to be his friends, his inspiration. Now they giggled as they twinkled, mocking the only dream he ever had.

In the window’s dirty reflection he watched his haggard crew file into the briefing room like prisoners being led to an execution. They looked just like he felt: hopeless, defeated, betrayed. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. He and his crew were supposed to be high-fiving and relishing their new roles as returning heroes, basking in the glory of a ticker-tape parade through the streets of New York as millions of people cheered their safe return from the first mission to the outer reaches of the solar system. A successful mission would have assured Captain Damien Beck carte blanche at NASA; the world would have been his.

Instead, because some dumbass at United Aerospace fucked up the math, the crew of the Megellan were now forced to play Russian Roulette. It was hard to be a hero with people like that in the world.

Megellan’s massive engines made the deck hum beneath his feet. He scarcely notice them most of the time, but today was different. Today those engines were carrying him to a place few people were ever forced to go.

His stomach rumbled.

With a heavy sigh, Beck turned away from the teasing stars and faced his crew. They’d all taken their usual spots at the table, leaving Blackmore’s chair empty. His heart panged with remorse, though not because he missed Blackmore, who died during a spacewalk a month ago. The man was actually quite a pain in the ass. But if Damien could have foreseen subsequent events, he’d have the stowed the man’s body rather than commit it to the stars.

Beck took his place at the head of the table and regarded his four remaining crew members; none of them looked like they wanted to be here any more than he did. Staring down, he feigned clearing his throat.

“Gentlemen,” he began, doing his best to avoid their sunken eyes. “I want to start by saying if there was any other way out of this situation, believe me, I would have chosen it. We’ve all gone well-above the call of duty in service of our country…our planet, and-”

“Why don’t you save the fucking speech for a camera that cares,” spat Ryan Claypool, the ship’s engineer. “This is all bullshit and you know it. Who gave you permission to play God? Your daddy, the senator? Well, gee, he’s back home in Oregon and we’re up here in-”

“What’s your alternative, Claypool?” Dr. Emerson shot back. “That we should all die? We’re still 48 days from Earth. This ain’t the commander’s fault. He’s just dealing with it.”

Claypool snorted. “Yeah? You gonna feel that way if you lose?”

Beck glared at Claypool with cold eyes, who uncomfortably crossed his arms and slumped in his chair. As usual, the engineer talked big, but was easily beaten down with a stern look. Claypool was always such a fucking little monkey.

“As I was saying,” Beck continued. “whatever happens today, you’ll all be regarded as heroes back home. And remember, we all agreed that whomever is selected today will have died in the line of duty, and given a burial in space. A hero’s burial, just like Blackmore.”

“Oh, sure,” Claypool uttered with a bitter smirk. “The Megellan’s dirty little secret. Don’t wanna tarnish your Roger Ramjet image, do we, Captain?”

The two other crew members, Steinman and Peart, shifted nervously in their chairs.

Beck resisted the urge to lunge across the table and grab Claypool by the throat. The little shitstain just didn’t get it. This wasn’t just about the crew of the Megellan; NASA couldn’t afford another screw-up. If word ever got out about this it would spell the end of the whole space program, as well as Beck’s career, and this whole mission would have been for nothing.

“Jesus Christ, Claypool,” Emerson retorted. “the captain could just as easily be the one. Grow some balls and stop making this harder than it already is.”

The table became silent, each man’s eye shifting warily, almost suspiciously, from one crewmate to another. Beck stuffed a hand into his pocket and pulled out the straws, one clipped considerably shorter than the others. He regarded them thoughtfully, then glanced over at Emerson. “I don’t see anyone objecting to you holding the straws, Doc. Of course, that means you’ll have to draw last.”

Emerson nonchalantly shrugged. “Don’t mean shit to me, Captain. Let’s just get this over with.”

Beck handed Emerson the straws, who took a few seconds to make certain they all appeared to be the same length when clenched in his fist. The doctor then held them before Peart; the navigator squeezed his eyes shut as he selected. He paused a few seconds, tightly clutching his catch before glancing down at it.

Wasting no time, Emerson leaned past the navigator to where Steinman nervously waited.

Beck eyeballed Claypool, noticing a single stream of sweat rolling down the engineer’s pasty cheek as the event unfolded. Damien smiled inside; watching the smarmy little crybaby provided a brief moment of guilty pleasure.

Steinman drew his straw, cupping it in both hands as though he’d caught a butterfly.

Emerson grunted as he reached across the table, pushing the fistful of remaining straws in Claypool’s direction. The engineer winced, then scowled at his captain. Beck could have sworn he saw tears welling up in the man’s eyes.

“You can’t do this, Captain,” Claypool pleaded. “You can’t decide the fate of another human being with a handful of plastic.” He crossed his arms and pouted. “You can’t make me draw.”

Damien was prepared for this. Without a word, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a pistol. Originally his great-grandfather’s, it had been handed down from father-to-son for generations, sort of a good-luck charm in the Beck family. Bringing a gun onto a spacecraft wasn’t exactly within NASA regulations, but he’d be damned if he was going to fly without it. He was aware of everyone’s shock at seeing the gun, but it wasn’t like none of them snuck their own contraband onto this flight.

Beck leveled it at the engineer’s head. What remaining color Claypool had in his face quickly washed away as he stared wide-eyed into the end of the barrel. “You’ll draw, Claypool, or we’ll end this little lottery right now.”

The last of Claypool’s resolve bled dry; with a trembling hand, he slowly reached up and humbly plucked a straw from Emerson’s hand.

Sorry excuse for a man, Beck thought with contempt as the two remaining straws were held up for his choosing. Without looking away from his fidgeting engineer, Damien lowered the pistol and drew a straw.

And he could tell, just by the way it felt in his hand, it was the short one.

Blood pounded behind his face as he watched Claypool leap from his chair. The engineer grabbed Peart’s wrist and held their straws together, letting out a triumphant squeal when they turned out to be the same length.

Beck looked out the portal once again; the stars, once his friends, giggled back even louder this time at the irony of the whole thing.

He’d played out this scenario a dozen times in his head since making the decision; not once did it turn out his way. He was supposed to return to Earth a hero, exactly the kind of symbol NASA needed right now for the public to rally around. Not some sniveling and selfish pussy like Ryan Claypool.

This wouldn’t do at all.

Without hesitation, Beck raised his gun and fired.

There was an ear-shattering crack.

A perfect black hole suddenly appeared in Claypool’s forehead, instantly silencing his victory cheers. The engineer’s eyes crossed before he dropped to the deck like a sack of meat.

Beck eyeballed his crew, one-by-one. They stared back in dumb shock. Several seconds passed while they watched smoke drift lazily from the gun barrel. His ears still ringing, he stared back at Emerson, who mouthed, Jesus Christ.

“What’s done is done,” Beck stated calmly. “Nothing can change that. Our food problem is solved…that’s the bottom line.” Absently pointing his pistol in Peart’s direction, he applied his best, most-practiced look of authority. “You and Steinman take the body to the galley and get it prepared. There’s a world-wide reception awaiting us when we finally reach home. A hero‘s welcome.”

Never taking their eyes off the gun in their captain’s fist, Peart and Steinmen obediently stood up and complied, struggling to get a good grip on Claypool’s corpse.

“And remember…” Beck added as they dragged the engineer away. “…medium rare.”

He was vaguely aware he was salivating.
Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson

“The Shortest Straw” was inspired by my all-time favorite short story, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” While I cannot ever aspire to achieve the perfection of that tale, I think this particular story (first publish by Burning Sky magazine) offers a blackly humorous take on the same idea. This will also be included in my With the Wicked collection.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Collection, a Short Story from D.M. Anderson's "With the Wicked"

Before I turned to writing young adult novels, I wrote a lot of short stories, mostly horror and very black humor. Several of them ended up being published in various small press magazines around the country (most of which are not around anymore). I kind of stopped after awhile, partially because I had to focus on my teaching career, but also because I learned to enjoy the young adult genre enough to try my hand at writing it.

But during an extended illness last year, I had a lot of spare time on my hands, and started digging up some of those old stories. A lot of them were garbage, but some of them, in my humble opinion, are still pretty good. In fact, I recently revised one, “The Bottom of the Well,” which is published as an e-book short by Echelon Press earlier this year.

So, even though I’ve mostly committed my writing career to the young adult genre (still revising my third novel, The Dark Ride), it seems a shame to have these stories just sitting in a desk drawer, so I’ve been rewriting and revising them as a book, tentatively titled, With the Wicked, which I hope to submit to my publisher in a few months. But, unlike Killer Cows and Shaken, these are definitely NOT young adult tales. Most of the stories are dark, twisted and really violent, so much so that I may try to get them published under a pseudonym.

But until them, I thought I’d post some on this blog from time to time, starting with this one, titled “The Collection,” originally published by a magazine called 69 Flavors of Paranoia, once a great 'zine, now a great website ). Hope you enjoy the story. Feedback is welcome.


Just as Clay settled into his old recliner for the evening and popped open a Budweiser, the doorbell startled him. Who in the hell would be coming by at this time of night? With an irritated sigh, he took his remote and hit the mute button, silencing Letterman’s monologue. He sucked the foam from the top of the beer can, set it on the end-table, then struggled back out of the chair.

This better be Angelina Jolie all gift-wrapped with a bow on her head, he thought as he retied his bathrobe and shuffled to the front door.

The bell impatiently rang again, just as Clay was about to unlatch the door. He paused with a frown, moving his hand away from the latch. His heart nervously sped up. Perhaps it would be smarter to see just who was interrupting his nightly routine, especially this late. He flicked on the porch light and peered through the peephole in his door.

Staring back was the face of a man he’d never seen before. The fish-eyed glass of the peephole made his nose look disproportionately huge. He sported a short, easy-to-maintain haircut, neatly parted on the side; it was much like Clay’s own hairstyle, only a but darker. The man has a pleasant smile on his face as he looked back at Clay; he obviously knew he was being studied. He was smartly dressed in a casual gray suit, not unlike the kind Clay wore to work everyday. A black tie completed the look, which the man stepped back to straighten, as if he knew Clay was paying attention to his attire. After finishing the gesture, he stepped forward toward the peephole again, still grinning.

Guess he’s not here with bad news, and nobody dresses like that to rob houses. Must have car trouble and his cell phone ain’t working.

Chuckling at his brief paranoia, Clay unhooked the chain, opened the door and looked the stranger up and down, pausing to admire the man’s shoes, impeccably-polished loafers which reflected the porch light.

The man continued to smile pleasantly.

“Can I help you?” Clay asked.

“Boy, I sure hope so,” the man replied with a toothy grin. “Are you Clayton Walker?”

Clay frowned, fumbling with the belt of his robe and eyeballing him curiously. The man obviously didn’t need to use the phone. Perhaps he was here to deliver some bad news after all.

“Uh…yes.” Clay nervously balled his fists. “Is there something wrong?”

The man continued as though he didn’t hear the question. “The same Clayton Walker who manages the escrow department at Fidelity Title?”

“Yeah, that’s me. What’s this all about? Who are you?”

The man clapped his hands together and exhaled a long, slow sigh. “Hot dog! I’ve had a devil of a time finding you.”

With lightning-speed, the man drove a fist into Clay’s face, breaking his nose. Blood squirted from both nostrils as Clay yelped and flew backward. He landed on his butt and grabbed his gushing face with both hands. His eyes filled with water, so he couldn’t quite see the stranger invite himself inside, shut the door behind him and rehooked the chain.

Jesus Christ!” Clay cried, spittle spraying from his bloody lips. His entire face throbbed, like it was pumped full of air. After the tears drained from his eyes, he looked up at the still-pleasantly smiling man standing over him. “What the fu-”

“You shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” he said, calmly donning a pair of black leather gloves.

Clay pulled his hands from his rapidly-inflating nose and scooted backwards across the carpet, just as Letterman was delivering the night’s Top 10 List. The man watched with amusement as he reached into his jacket, pulled out a gun and leveled it at Clay’s head. Clay felt his crotch become warm and wet as his bladder emptied.

“Stop right there, please,” the man said, briefly looking over to the television. He chuckled good-naturedly. “That Letterman. I do find him amusing, except when he uses the word ‘ass’ too much.”

What do you want?” Clay screeched, eyes fixed on the open maw of the gun barrel trained on his forehead. “Please! Take whatever you want! I gotta safe in my office! Just don’t hurt me!”

The man turn back to face Clay, raising a surprised eyebrow. “You mean that broken nose you’re sporting didn’t hurt? Gee, I hope I’m not losing my touch.” He pointed the gun at Clay’s bare foot and fired. The blast was deafening; Clay’s toes disintegrated in a spray of blood.

If Clay’s eardrums weren’t suddenly clogged from the gun blast, he’d have heard himself screeching at octave levels he didn’t know his voice could reach. He gawked at his mangled foot in horror, his lungs sucking-in air for another scream.

The man snapped his fingers and frowned. “Darn it…I forgot to use the silencer.” His voice sounded hollow and distant as he smiled down at Clay and reached back into his pocket. “Guess I really am losing my touch.” He pulled out his silencer and quickly screwed it onto the end of the gun. “Oh, well. That ringing will go away in a few seconds. Sure does wreak havoc on the ol’ eardrums though, doesn’t it?”

While Clay rocked back and forth on the living room floor, wailing in agony, the man peeped through the blinds of the front window. “Good thing you don’t have any neighbors close by. If I’m not more careful, one of these days I won’t be so lucky.”

Clay really heard none of this. He continued to scream, squirm and gush blood as he stared in horror at the man’s smoking gun barrel.

“Pleeeze!” he screeched, reaching up to the man with a dripping hand. “Don’t kill me! I got money! I got lots of stuff…all yours! J-j-just…don’t kill me! Oh my God!”

The man calmly raised his hand and warned, “Please, my good man, stop screaming or you will lose your other foot. I’m just here to collect what belongs to my client and I’ll be on my way. And, please…do not take the Lord’s name in vain again.”

Clay bit hard on his lower lip to quell his cries. Bloody snot whistled out his puffy snout while his lungs continued working overtime. His throbbing, distorted foot made him forget the pain in his face. It took all the energy he had left to stop screaming.

After the man patiently allowed him to regain some composure, he knelt by Clay’s face and smiled again. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Foster, Robert Foster, but my friends call me Bobby. Collecting debts and stolen property is my profession.”

Clay’s swollen, blackened eyes grew as wide as the could under the circumstances. Debts? Stolen property? What the hell is he talking about? I don’t owe anyone money, and I’ve never stolen a thing in my life!

“S-sir,” Clay slurred, pausing to hawk a wad of blood on the floor. “Y-you must have me confused with someone else. I don’t mix-in with that kid of crowd.”

“Ah, yes.” Foster chuckled. “I’ve heard that very same thing many times before. Trust me, sir, a guy in my profession an ill-afford to be wrong. You are the man I’m looking for.”

“W-what are y-you talking about?” Clay cried. “I don’t owe-”

He was silenced as Bobby Foster aimed the gun back at his face. “Please, we are in the same room. No need to shout. I represent the interests of one Richard T. Owens. Does that ring a bell?”

Clay frowned, raising his eyebrows. “Richard Owens? Who the hell is that?”

“Watch the language, sir. Don’t remember Mr. Owens, huh? Fear not, my good man. I will refresh your memory.” Foster stood up, strolled over to Clay’s old recliner and eased himself in, crossing his legs. He spotted the open beer on the end table and smiled. “Nothing like a good, cold brewski to cap off an evening, eh, Mr. Walker?”

Clay laid motionless, too terrified to do anything but stare at his attacker as the man picked up the can an took a long, slow tug. After swallowing hard and smacking his lips, Foster looked back down at him. “Richard Owens was an employee at a local Safeway store. He hired me fifteen years ago to get back what you stole from him. Obviously, it took me awhile to find you, but I always get my man.”

This is insane, Clay thought crazily. Fifteen years ago? This must be some awful fucking nightmare. Any second now I’m gonna wake up in my recliner in a cold sweat with my foot still intact.

“Now,” Bobby Foster continued. “You seem like a nice enough fellow. If you’ll kindly return what you have stolen from my client, I may forget I ever found you.”

“For Chri-” Clay spat, then checked his tongue. “-for Pete’s sake, uh, Bobby, I seriously don’t know what you are talking about. I’ve never stolen anything in my life, and I don’t know this Richard Owens you’re talking about.”

Bobby Foster smiled and stood once again. “Sir, I believe I told you my friends call me Bobby. You may call me Mr. Foster.”

Bewildered, terrified and throbbing, Clay lost control of himself. He started sobbing again, never taking his eyes off the barrel of Foster’s gun.

“Tell you what,” Foster offered congenially. “I understand that you can’t just hop up and retrieve it yourself, now that you‘re slightly incapacitated. Why don’t you just tell me where it is, I’ll go get it, and we can enjoy the rest of Letterman together. Should be a good one tonight. I understand Bruce Willis is one of the guests. I always did love his Die Hard movies…except for all the f-words.”

“Please, Mr. Foster,” Clay blubbered, a string of pink drool hanging off his lower lip. “You gotta believe me, I don’t know what-”

He was suddenly cut-off when Foster quietly popped a bullet into the other foot. Clay writhed and twisted around on the floor, gawking deliriously at his newly-missing toes.

“How ‘bout this,” Foster suggested over the screaming. “I’ll start checking each room of your house, one by one. For each room I don’t find it, I’ll comeback in here and shoot another body part. Deal?”

Clay gurgled and wailed, eyes threatening to burst out of his skull.

“I’ll take that as a yes, my good man.”

Foster reholstered his gun and strolled past Clay into the kitchen. Seconds later, Clay managed to control his crying long enough to hear the man rummaging through drawers.

He looked at the expanding dark red patch of carpet he lied on. He never realized how much blood could spew from one’s own feet.

This can’t be happening to me!

Just as he was about to bemoan his fate with more wails of self-pity, his eye caught the golden gleam of the knob on his front door. Then he glanced in the direction of the kitchen; Foster’s shadow has hunched over what must have been the microwave cabinet. What the hell was he looking for?

Clay didn’t hesitate. Clenching his jaws hard to stifle any more screams, he rolled onto his stomach and turned himself to face the door. With all the strength he had left, he used his arms to drag himself across the floor, raising his mangled feet so they wouldn’t drag on the carpet. Crimson snot blew out his nose from the effort, but he didn’t dare open his mouth, knowing damn well he’d unleashed another scream from the agony of moving.

He stopped briefly, catching his breath and raising his head to check his progress. That’s when it hit him…

Foster had rehooked the chain on the door.

Clay stared hopelessly at the chain, at least two feet higher than the knob he thought he could reach by just getting on his knees; it might as well have been twenty miles away. To reach it could mean standing on the two nubs that were once his feet. He didn’t think he could do it without screaming bloody murder.

But I’m surely a dead man if I don’t at least try.

Clay shot a look back at the kitchen - Foster’s shadow was no longer visible - then at the floor behind him. Judging by the slug-like trail he left, he was losing an alarming amount of blood. He had to get out now and just pray Foster didn’t hear him. Still, despite his overwhelming fear, he began to feel cold and just a little bit sleepy.

Shaking cobwebs from his brain, he gritted his teeth as tight as he could and shuffled the remaining distance on his elbows. Dropping his feet, lightning bolts of pain shot up his legs when his bloody stubs struck the floor. He successfully stifled a cry; his teeth drawing blood as they bit into his lip. Pawing up the front door with sticky hands, leaving streaks of bloodstained prints across the stained wood, Clay managed to get to his knees. Gravity increased the blood flow from his wounds, making the open nerves pound in protest. To slow the flow, he carefully raised his feet off the floor and balanced on his knees.

At least he didn’t feel tired at the moment. Nothing like a heaping helping of pain to jolt a man back to reality. He wasted no time, knowing enough about first aid that, as he lost more and more blood, the sleepy urge would soon come back to try and suck him away. He extended his right hand up and desperately clawed at the chain. After stretching his torso as much as he could, Clay managed to clamp the chain between two trembling fingers. He grinned triumphantly. Thank God he did end up having to try and stand.

Then the hand exploded.

Clay fell away from the door and dropped back to the floor. He clamped his good hand over the spurting wrist, squealing helplessly. He rolled and screeched on the spongy wet carpet, eyes gigantic as Foster slowly strode over to him and squatted.

“Where on Earth are you going, Mr. Walker?” he asked innocently. “And just how far did you think you were gonna get on those feet?”

Clay was well-beyond any ability to reply coherently. All he could do was roar in agony and wait for this stranger to put an end to this madness. He stared into the steady, smoking barrel of the gun in Foster’s hand and prayed for a quick death.

Instead, Foster holstered the gun and grinned.

“Cheer up, my good man,” he happily piped. “I found what I’m looking for, so I’ll be leaving now.” He held the prize before Clay’s eyes, a cheap white ball-point pen, with a yellowed strip of scotch tape wrapped around a crack in the plastic. The words on the barrel read, Safeway Food & Drug - Ingredients for Life. Clay had seen it before, lying around in the kitchen junk drawer with old batteries, receipts and matchbooks.

Foster neatly slipped the pen into his inside pocket and stood. “Mr. Owens will be happy to get this back,” he said, pretending to brush lint off his sleeve. “Take some friendly advice, my good man. Next time you borrow someone’s pen to write a check, make sure you give it back.”

With that, Foster gave him a friendly nod, unlocked the door and strode out.

Moaning and shivering uncontrollably, Clay stared out the door in shock, watching his assailant disappear into the night. For several minutes, he didn’t move, content to lie on the floor and bleed while his mind tried to comprehend what had just happened to him. Who the hell is Richard Owens? What is the big deal about a cheap old pen? And after fifteen years?

Pain quickly shoved away all of those questions. They weren’t important right now. What really mattered is that he was alive, and if he wished to remain so, he needed to get to his phone and call 911 before he bled to death.

He craned his head back into the living room. There was his cell, sitting next to the beer on the end table. With his remaining hand, Clay yanked the terrycloth belt from the loops of his robe and clumsily wrapped it several times around his gushing wrist, hoping to slow the flow of blood.

Suddenly, he heard a shuffling sound from outside. He quickly looked back to see Bobby Foster charging back at him from the night, a toothy grin plastered on his face. He leaped up the steps of the porch and drew his gun once again, leveling it at Clay’s head.

“Good thing I checked out this pen when I got back to my car, My. Walker,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s all out of ink.”

Before he had a chance to scream, Clay was silenced by a bullet to his brain.
Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson