Congrats, River! I’ll be sending that out ASAP! Thanks to all who participated. Happy reading!
The time is nigh, my friends, to speak of horrors and things… unseen.
On May 1st, the anthology Dark Divinations goes live! And look at that cover – it’s pretty great, if you ask me.
Here’s the teaser which can be found on the book’s webpage:
It’s the height of Queen Victoria’s rule. Fog swirls in the gas-lit streets, while in the parlor, hands are linked. Pale and expectant faces gaze upon a woman, her eyes closed and shoulders slumped. The medium speaks, her tone hollow and inhuman. The séance has begun.
Join us as we explore fourteen frightening tales of Victorian horror, each centered around a method of divination. Can the reading of tea leaves influence the future? Can dreams keep a soldier from death in the Crimea? Can a pocket watch foretell a deadly family curse? From entrail reading and fortune-telling machines to prophetic spiders and voodoo spells, sometimes the future is better left unknown.
There’s tons of goodies for people who pre-order! Horror Addicts is giving away free tarot-inspired cards for those who take the dive and search for their Dark Divination, and you can get a sneak peak on this YouTube teaser:
And, won’t you look at that – one of the authors featured in the anthology is little ol’ H.R.R. Gorman. I wrote a short called Miss Mae’s Prayers, of which I will be releasing a snippit later… mwahaha!
You can pre-order this anthology of Victorian horror here, and you can find the Horror Addicts Patreon here. A Kindle or Amazon link will be on a later post, since those don’t come with pre-order goodies.
This story was continued from Joanne the Geek’s part 1, which you can find here or by reading just below:
One (Joanne’s Part)
One sunny afternoon Jennifer was happily walking along the footpath only to find a crowd of people suddenly run past her in abject terror. Mystified, she managed to stop one of them. They were pale and seemed terrified.
“What’s happened?” she asked him.
“This portal opened up and these creatures from another world appeared. They were huge with long tentacles and large legs like leathery tree stumps.” he exclaimed. Jennifer let him go, and he ran off in terror following the others.
“Right.” she said. Someone had to do something about this, she thought. She strode off home. She went into her bedroom closet and fished out her old battered cricket bat. “I’m going to hit those freaks for six!” She stomped out of the house.
Jennifer walked down the road until she could see a glimmering portal that pulsed with a bright light. Before it were either two or three creatures that were as tall as small office blocks. They had dark leathery skin, massive tree stump legs (as already mentioned), long protruding arms, and their heads were a mass of long writhing tentacles. Jennifer watched them, and instead of feeling scared, she felt angry. She walked towards them until she was sure she had gained their attention.
“Look I don’t know where you freaks are from, but I’m not letting monsters like you take over our world. We’re already have enough monsters here to deal with.” she told them while thinking of the current assortment of world leaders. “So be warned. I have my cricket bat!” She held her cricket bat aloft in front of them. The monsters stopped in their tracks, as if unsure with what they were dealing with.
“Ge dthrth dltyz fkywfhg sdhtu!” the one closest to Jennifer said. As it spoke, from what Jennifer assumed was it’s mouth, the ground shook around them.
“Nope. Didn’t catch a word of that! Go back through your portal now, or I will take drastic steps!” she warned them. The ground shook around her again, as they all seemed to be laughing at her now. “Well I did warn you!” She gripped the handle of her bat with both hands and began running at them. As she ran the cricket bat began to glow…
Two (H.R.R. Gorman’s Part)
The earth, which had shaken as the monster spoke, began to crack beneath her feet. Roots split and shivered as something beneath the ground pushed itself up.
Jennifer rolled to the side and held her cricket bat at the ready. The bat glowed even brighter now and tingled in her grip.
Once the earth had sufficiently broken up and the thing beneath the surface was visible, the monster pointed at it. Its tentacles writhed in a flurry as it said, “Ue kthgyn wysdht dhutyk!”
Up from the earth rose a transparent sphere glowing a faint blue. Two humanoid figures stood inside the bubble, and one flicked his fingers to cause the bubble to dissipate. The man, robed in a smooth, blue cloth and a rosy sash, raised a slim hand against the monsters. The hand glowed brightly.
“Wkusdth grnsthyk pyblsdth, shtrydk sythyd,” the monster said, somewhat morose and pleading. Some of the creepy eyes on the ends of tentacles looked to Jennifer as if begging. The monsters retreated into the portal once more, and the fantastical apparition disappeared.
A thin woman, her ears long and pointed like the man’s, stepped from the bubble she’s appeared in and put her hands in a prayerful position. She bowed to Jennifer, smiled, and said, “Chosen one, we have protected you now, for you will soon do much to save us from those creatures.”
The man stepped off after her and licked his lips. Though he possessed an otherworldly beauty, Jennifer noticed his teeth were all small and sharp. Or was she just imagining things?
“And just who do you think you are?” Jennifer asked. She still held up her bat, noticing it retained its glow…
Thanks for sticking around for this story! If you’re ready for more, I’m nominating Chelsea Owens to keep the party rolling. Will she keep the story going, or will she finish it? HAVE I BROKE IT TOO FAR!?
(If you’re not up for it, though, let me know and I’ll nominate someone else – I just seem to remember you are ok with “finish the story” things).
“So which of you lads can do the best British accent?”
The four young men, scruffy Texans with barely a dollar between them, squirmed in their chairs. A single lamp and a desk several decades out of style bedecked the shabby office, yet the suited Brit in front of them exuded a contrasting air of confidence and expense.
“I do a right good ‘pression of an Englishman, Mr. Epstein.” Dusty Hill cleared his throat. “I’m Dusty and I jolly good like tea and biscuits. Crumpets, scones, God save the Queen.”
“Stop! Oh, that’s terrible!” The man in the suit scribbled “George Harrison” onto his pad of paper, then ripped the sheet off and gave it to Dusty. “You be George and stay quiet. Now, for the rest of you: who’s got the best impression? Speak up, let me hear you talk.”
The remaining three lads gave each other passing glances, waiting for someone to bite. At last, Frank spoke up, “I’m doing me best English impression. Limey boys who love taxes and tea, wot wot.”
“Good enough.” Epstein, pulling back his nice sleeve wrote “Paul McCartney” on his pad, handing this to Frank. “You be Paul.”
“But I’m the drummer-“
“So’s Paul, if you ask Ringo.” The man in the suit cleared his throat. “We’ll just get you boys matching bowl cuts and suits. No one will notice the difference.”
2 MONTHS EARLIER – SEPTEMBER, 1963
“Ah, Brian Epstein.” The man pointed to a seat opposite him, then waved to the waitress to summon a tea. “It’s not every day one gets to chat over tea with an up-and-coming headhunter.”
“Not everyday I get to speak with a veteran headhunter.”
“Liar.” He tossed a card with “Bill Kehoe, Delta Promotions” emblazoned on the front. “You talk with bigwigs and veterans every day. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have got your lads as far as you have.”
The waitress delivered the teapot and two cups. Brian dropped a cube of sugar in his cup while Bill poured the tea.
Once she left, Bill blew over his tea then said, “Everyone knows you don’t have tea with Brian Epstein without a reason. What do you want?”
Epstein swallowed the hot sip of tea. “England’s a small fish when you look at the consumption of music, and I have a band that can make it in America, where the real money is. I’m sure the Yanks’ll just eat it up. But the record labels are cocking up the deal – I’ve given them five singles plus several deep cuts, and not one bloody record company can put together an album!”
“And what can I do about it?”
“You’ve got dealings across the pond. I want your advice how to get my boys over there, touring and selling music.”
“If I knew how to do that, I’d already be rich. Tell me, your boys get along?”
“Well enough. They’ll stay together if there’s money in it, I suppose.”
“Sounds like they’ll break up soon enough, which works in your favor. Here – I’m going to give you my latest strategy, but only ‘cause my band the Zombies are fighting more often than they’re singing. My band’s more likely to explode than make it big anywhere.” He took a sip of tea. “The problem is the music business in America doesn’t want to support a band without a fan base. You have to tour to get a fan base, and you have to have support before you can tour. Vicious cycle. What you have to do is break into the cycle, any way you can.”
Brian shook his head. “I can’t foot the bill-”
“But that’s the beauty of my system, see. Only bill you have to foot is a couple flights for yourself over there, then the rest of it pays for itself.” He grinned. “You go over, find a few boys that can sing and play – doesn’t matter if they’re similar to your boys – and hire them to pretend to be The Beatles. Give them your lads’ music, set up a couple gigs, and you’ll have teenage girls screaming for your English albums faster than you can make them.”
“That’s lunacy. It’ll be an obvious hoax.”
“No one over there’s seen The Beatles. No one even cares, Brian. What’s more, your real Beatles won’t know the difference. They make music here, be a good little English band, and you make the real money with a fake band.”
“Is it legal?”
Bill Kehoe shrugged. “Well, I haven’t heard it’s not illegal. Just keep your eggs in separate baskets, and you’ll be fine…”
“So John’s got fanmail. What’s to complain about?”
“The bloody cowboy hat.” Paul McCartney reached into his jacket, searching for something. “Some bird in America sent John a photo to autograph. It said ‘The Beatles’ and had our names on it, but the man depicted as ‘Paul McCartney’ was wearing a cowboy hat. I don’t wear cowboy hats.”
Brian picked up the photo Paul lay before him. Sure enough, Frank-the-Paul-impostor wore a cowboy hat over a rangy head of hair in his promo picture. What was worse, and probably the next thing Paul would complain about, someone had faked Paul’s signature on the picture. Brian chuckled and handed it back. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Some group in America has the same band name, or perhaps some bird just got confused.”
“The picture was printed with my name on it, Brian.” He shoved it back onto Epstein’s chest. “You’ve been making money off us for years, keep telling us how we’d make it big in the States if you could just get Capitol to listen. So what kind of deal did you make? What’s going on?”
Brain held up his hands in surrender, innocent. “Look, this is the first time I’ve ever seen that picture. If someone’s impersonating you in the states, I’ll find out about it. It means their record companies are screwing me over, too.”
Paul crumpled the photo. “Good. John and I are coming up with tons of stuff, and we can’t have some impersonator destroying our image.”
“No. Of course not.”
Brian clutched the telephone so tight his fingers tingled. With the cost of the trans-Atlantic phone call, he might as well have booked a flight. “What do you mean, ‘your own stuff?’”
The Texas drawl of Dusty clamored over the call, “You know, our songs. We’ve been singing your boring old Beatles stuff, but we didn’t have time to learn all of it. We had to fill in with something.”
“That wasn’t the deal. You’re being paid to be the Beatles just long enough so I can break the real band over there. It was bad enough you didn’t get the haircut and wore cowboy hats in your photos, but singing ‘your own stuff’ tears it.” He put his hand to his forehead. “Didn’t you listen to the songs I gave you to learn?”
“Yeah, but some of it just wasn’t our style, and we had to learn an awful lot in a short time. You gave us a ton of gigs, Mr. Epstein.”
Epstein pursed his lips and held back his anger for just a moment. “I’m going to cut you loose if you can’t play by my rules. You know who I got interested in your group? Ed Sullivan, that’s who. Now you’ve been good to me, boys, and all the Beatles singles are flying off the shelves. But I could take my boys, the real ones, and you’d be back on the streets. Is that what you want?”
“Now shape up. Get your hair cut, get fitted for those suits, and learn your music.” He moved to hang up, then remembered, “Oh, and George – I mean, Dusty?”
“Let Paul do all the talking.”
John sat calmly on a pillow, anger seething somewhere deep inside him, while Paul reddened and steamed.
“That’s all I ask,” Brian said. “The American market is cracking, I know it. You just have to write something tailored for them. Something with more blues influences, something more rural. You boys are good at this. You can do it.”
“But our songs are great already.”
“Your albums are great, boys, but we’ve got to start thinking of the next album. Hey, George is into that Indian mysticism and whatnot – get together, make an album with international flavor. How does that sound?”
John stood. “You can’t control our creativity. We write what we write, and you are powerless to change that.”
“And people buy what they buy, and you are powerless to stop that.” Brian pointed to each young man in turn. “Come on. You’ve got it in you. Write the songs for me, make an album.”
Paul swallowed. “We’ll see what comes out, Brian.”
John nodded in agreement. “Yeah. We’ll see.”
JULY 3, 1964
Brian read the headline of the culture section in the Daily Mail and coughed on his morning digestive. He pounded his chest with a fist to clear the blockage and, hand shaking, picked up his cup of morning tea to wash down the crumbs.
He took a key from his pocket and shoved it into a desk drawer. There, in a box sitting next to a bottle of fine Scotch and a couple glasses that needed cleaning, sat a row of business cards. Brian sorted through the cards and took out an ivory piece of cardstock. His hands shook as he took the card and closed the desk door, whiskey and glasses clinking as he did so.
His shaky fingers trailed around the rotary dial. “Please be in the office,” he begged. “Please pick up…”
The dial tone hummed twice before the line clicked and a man answered, “Bill Kehoe.”
“Oh, Bill.” Brian wiped the sweat from his brow and leaned forward. Despite the distress in his body, he kept his voice even. “I was just getting in the office, and I noticed the newspaper. Have you seen the article in the Daily Mail about my boys?”
“The Mail? Brian my boy, I’ve seen about it in the Independent. Your boys’ arrival back on English soil is everywhere in the entertainment pages. Good show, I say, good show-”
“You don’t understand-”
“I don’t? Why, it means you’ve cracked the American market and successfully toured the planet! No one’s done that, not even me.”
“Shut up, Bill. It’s you who’s got me into this mess, and it’s you who’s got to get me out.” Brian huffed, looked to the door to make sure his secretary hadn’t heard his outburst. “I made the fake band like you suggested. Problem is they sold like hotcakes, and the American public wanted their image, not the real thing. I couldn’t substitute my real band back in before the Ed Sullivan show, and then it was far beyond too late.”
Bill grumbled on the other end of the line. “You’re saying the boys in the article are the Fake Beatles.”
“Yes. They weren’t supposed to come here!”
“Do your real boys know about them?” The telephone line crackled a bit as he spoke.
“They might suspect, but I haven’t told them anything specific.”
“Oh.” Bill Kehoe coughed on the other end. “What do you plan to do?”
“I don’t know!” Brian reached for a cigarette even though he didn’t like smoking indoors. “I haven’t lost control yet. None of them get out of bed this early, after all. They might even be working on this mystical Indian nonsense, in which case I might have a day, maybe two on the outside, before they figure out the ruse.”
“Then you have a little while to come up with something.” Bill grunted on the other end of the line. “I see three options, Brian: one is to tell your boys what’s going on, then try to hold their money out of reach in order to force them to work with you.”
“It’s not their money in the first place. I’ve done all the work.”
“Will they see it that way?”
Brian paused a moment. “Their contract gives me complete control over their image and brand.”
“So they’ll complain and eat everyone’s profits away in court. You’ve got them by the small and curlies, my boy. Offer them greater royalties for writing, singing, and recording their songs, but let your American boys with their American smiles keep touring. Not a bad deal for anyone, really.”
“What’s the second option?”
“Get all the money you have in cash. Preferably American dollars or Soviet rubles. Then take all you can in a couple of briefcases, go to some third world country, and establish yourself as a king of sorts amongst the savages.”
Brian clenched his fist. “You’re no help, Bill.”
“But I got you rich-”
Epstein hung up the phone before Bill could finish.
JULY 4, 1964
Brian slammed the door behind him. Dusty and Frank roused themselves from where they slept on the Brighton hotel room’s couch.
“Mr. Epstein!” Dusty shouted, his voice still quiet and stuffed from having just awoken.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Epstein fumed. He kicked an empty can of beer out of his way and made a path to the expensive couches. “You were supposed to return to the States after you finished at Brisbane. The real band is here in England, and they weren’t supposed to find out you existed.” He tried to rouse the sleeping band members, but their eyes batted just briefly before they fell back to snoozing. “Get out. My boys will do this Brighton show.”
The closet doors opened. John, Paul, Ringo, and George stepped out. Their faces were bedraggled, their facial hair fuzzy and scraggly like that of poor-kempt young men. “You really think that will work? That anyone will be expecting us?” John asked.
Epstein stammered wordlessly. Senselessly.
“You’ve had this fake band touring for so long that not even our own countrymen recognize us,” Paul accused. “We’re not the Beatles anymore. These dumb yokels are.”
Frank smiled and Dusty nodded in agreement.
Brian clenched his fists. “So you know what’s going on.”
“With that article in the paper advertising the Beatles’ arrival back in England? Of course we knew, you fool.” Paul pointed a finger. “How much money did you steal from us?”
“Nothing. I earned every pound I made.”
“Bullshit.” Paul’s brows furrowed into deep, angry trenches. “We made the songs. We sang the recordings. These bloody yanks jumped around the world however you told them – they did more work than you.”
“Well they bungled that last trip,” Brian cried. He pointed to the Americans on the couch. “You’re fired. I don’t care if you’re popular in the States.”
Dusty and Frank chuckled on the couch. “You can’t fire us.”
“I hired you to be front men, and you’ve frustrated me since day one! I can fire you whenever I please!”
“They don’t work for you anymore,” Paul spoke up. “None of us do.”
“Your contract –”
“Making a second band in our name was illegal, Mr. Epstein,” John said. “The lawyers Mr. Kehoe hired for us back in June agree that our contract was voided as soon as you hired the impostors.”
Brian’s eyes widened. “Mr. Kehoe?”
“Our new manager.” Paul pointed to the door. “It’s you who are fired, Mr. Epstein.”
Brian gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. “That traitor! This was his plan all along – he’s the one who told me to hire the impostors! It’s his fault!”
“Get out of this room.” Paul opened the door and pointed to the exit with an angry finger. “It’s your fault we’re no longer The Beatles. You killed us, Mr. Epstein. You ruined our names and our fortunes, and I never want to see your wormy face again!”
As Epstein turned to leave, he wiped a tear welling in his eye. He stepped over the threshold into the wood-floored hallway. “You could always make a new band. Hell, I’d manage you for free, after everything that’s happened. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.”
Epstein lowered his head. Taking all his money and becoming a king in some desert island sounded better every second.
The meeting took place in Bill’s office. A beautiful secretary filed her nails at her little desk, ready with a pen and stenographer’s pad if need be. “The song’s a massive hit,” Bill explained. “Not like your Beatles stuff, but we couldn’t expect lightning to strike twice, could we?”
Paul grumbled. “Those silly fake ‘Beatles’ still make money off our songs.”
“But you’re back from the dead as ‘The Zombies.’ Better than ever and 100% genuine…”
I’ll admit, this story was written for a themed anthology about the Beatles. They were looking for speculative fiction including alternate histories, so I gave them one based on mashing together the true stories of “The Beatles” with the even weirder true story of British Invasion band “The Zombies.” Since this story wasn’t chosen for the anthology, I was like, “Wtf am I supposed to do with this now?” and thus you receive this tale. Ta-da!
As far as I’m aware, no one has claimed copyright on the photo. At least this is what it says on Wikipedia…
I flexed my fingers beneath the sealskin gloves. Tarileah, the elflord who hiked before me, didn’t have to wrangle such thick clothing, his body being made for extreme climates such as these. “Storm’s clearing, eh?” I asked, hoping to inject some cheer.
Tarileah responded with a shout just over his shoulder, “Can your human eyes see it yet?”
“See what?” I asked.
“Hurgruld Mountain.” Tarileah pointed ahead, through some mist. “I can see unnatural shapes ahead. We might approach today, perhaps tomorrow if we must camp.”
I squinted my eyes, but I saw nothing, try as I might. The dwarven mountain was surely in that direction, and I could believe Tarileah wouldn’t lie about his excellent sight, but my senses couldn’t detect the mighty, dwarven Hurgruld.
The dwarves create magnificent things and leave fantastic vistas behind them wherever they go. After they’ve strip-mined the inside of their mountains, emptied every vein of gold and gems and adamantium, they saunter out of their underground holds and take a look at how they changed the shape of their abode.
After a long silence, something that makes us human visitors and researchers nervous, one dwarf harrumphs and declares the decor gauche, last century, out of touch. Another may point out cracks in what appears to be a flawless facade, yet another determine that it doesn’t have the essence of dwarfness about it.
Without arguing, the bearded folk take up a pickaxe or a shovel (some humans claim there is sexual differentiation in tool preference, but those humans have not studied statistics and would claim wrong) and leave everything without qualm.
It astounds me how quickly human and elven pilferers descend upon the mountain en masse and take out anything valuable and many things that aren’t. Hurgruld was, by rumor, recently abandoned, and I hoped to find it mostly intact. My nanothropology work for the University of Attenhold would be phenomenally enhanced by the presence of an entire dwarf city, complete with all the holdings thereof.
I chewed on some of the hard tack from my bag and longed for the strip of jerky I’d have with my supper. Tarileah’s pace didn’t slow, nor did the column of Attenhold students and technical workers that followed. Scarcely an hour of walking passed before the squirming excitement of the young elves (of which Tarileah most certainly was not a member) became audible, and chatter amongst the studentry in general flared up.
The slope beneath our feet pointed upward, and as the altitude climbed the fog soon cleared. Through the mist, at last, I could see the outline of a giant’s shoulders. The masculine figure (or feminine? with dwarves it’s hard to tell) held down a dragon by the nape of the neck. The immense mountain statue was carved exquisitely to reveal a chill marble finish. Snow capped the frozen threshold and smoothed the edges of the magnificent sculpture.
“By the ghost of Amathea,” I heard Tarileah mutter, “It’s amazing.”
I wasn’t about to swear by my own god and risk damnation, but certainly the mountain’s appearance was grand beyond belief. A human would have risked life and limb to retain this magnificent fortress, this astounding representation of one’s own form – and here it was, empty.
Not even my students, young and spry, responded as quickly as I. I hurried to the mouth of the (comparatively) small dragon, as I noted rightly that a stone door was lodged in the throat of the unrealistically proportioned dragon. As a good sign that the quarry within remain untouched, several inches of ice held the door shut and a crack of glassy frost sealed the two doors together.
Tarileah caught up with me easily. “It seems we’ve arrived prior to the robbers.” He placed his slender hand on the bas relief under snow, then brushed away some of the flakes to examine the intricate carvings underneath.
I removed a small pick and hammer from my own bag, then chipped away at the ice. Students, all of them aware of the work and prepared to do what was necessary, set up a camp outside the cave and immediately set to removing the scads of ice that kept the dwarven city alone and empty.
My breath, which turned into fog and eventually withdrew from the air, became heavy and wheezing by the time the winter sun began to set. The human students filled the lanterns with a little whale oil and the elves cast their spells so as to keep the area lively throughout the evening hours.
It was as dark as pitch by the time I sat down next to the campfire and pulled my hood from around my head. I hadn’t noticed how cold my fingers had gotten, not with the excitement of this find, not as hard as I had been working. I warmed them near the fire then reached to my bag in search of a little piece of dried beef, which in combination with the hard tack I’d already consumed should sustain me for the next day. Before I could get the morsel into my mouth, one of Tarileah’s students put a hand on my shoulder. “Professor,” the young human said, “We’re about to get the door open.”
I dropped the jerky back into its paper sack and shoved that into my leather bag. Supper could wait for this magnificent discovery.
The students had chipped and carried away the ice to reveal a smooth mosaic stone beneath the foot of the door. The tile seemed to creep underneath more ice that led up to the entry, but it wouldn’t be worth investigating until summer. Clever lines had been pushed beneath the doors to help pull them open, and the human students had contrived of a wire device to pop open the dwarven lock without breaking it.
I shuffled up beside Tarileah. “I hope this is as complete as we dreamed.”
“The omens are in our favor.”
“Heave!” someone shouted. A small team of students took to the ropes and tugged, pulled with all their might to get one of the massive doorways to budge. Without our having built scaffolds to remove the ice at the top of the door, the massive structure bent slightly before dislodging – thankfully in one, safe piece. Some of the taller humans placed tools between the open door and the closed one, helping to open the door with their levers.
Tarileah held an orb of magic in his hand as I lifted my torch. “Shall we tempt ourselves tonight by looking at what we must wait until tomorrow to search?”
“Oh, without doubt,” I answered. “It would be a right pity to leave this crypt dark after all this walking and work. Besides, we may be able to move camp inside.”
The students held off, many of them with jealous faces, as Tarileah and I shuffled into the doorway. The inside of the dragon’s throat was lined with glassy tile. Blues and tins swirled into marvelous garnets and flagstone chips, each placed with remarkable precision in a grout that nearly out-whited marble. “This mosaic is an impeccable example of what Dr. Stonington described in her thesis on the Nanopic Renaissance period – I never dreamed to witness so perfect an example!”
Tarileah nodded quietly, but his elven features betrayed an excitement rare amongst his people. This love of knowledge, adventure, success – oh, how grand to share something like this with another! How lucky was I that the stoic elves could share human love of study! His own joy rubbed off into mine, further spurring my own response.
We came to the end of the tunnel. Our frail lights failed to light the massive cavern in its entirety, but I was astounded at the reflective properties of the materials that lined the causeway. I suspected the spire that rose through the middle of the mountain was of diamond and anthracite – a magnificent piece of contrasting darkness and light, forged with methods unknown to man or elf. After checking my footing, I realized that traversing such a monumentally large cavern would be unwise without additional light.
“Get everyone in. We’ll grid this thing up, start cataloging tomorrow,” I said.
“We’ll need horses,” Tarileah announced. “Someone will have to return to town and get a telegram to Attenhold requesting money for the excavation and shipments.”
I smiled. That was of no matter. At last, scientific process had prevailed. Mount Hulgruld would be carefully excavated and its treasures brought to the University of Attenhold. No one would be allowed to rob this hoard!
This was written for D. Peach’s new challenge. I read the fantastic entry Glass Mountain by Robbie Cheadle and thought the photo was a magnificent choice for something to write about. Since then I’ve read other entries that have shown up on D. Peach’s blog, and wow – amazing!
recently, h.r.r. gorman wrote a story about me and how i was cracked out of my eternal prison. igor, my little imp assistant, went behind my back and asked for help acquiring blood for his old master. that’s how i got an account on this blog.
first off, i’m looking for some blood. i hear that teenage girls like giving out free blood to vampires, and i can guarantee you i am the best. look no further if you want to donate your blood to the grandest, most magically gifted vampire of all time. you will be in the ranks of queens and the like (or kings since im pretty).
if you are also a vampire and know of great ways to acquire blood in this modern world, please let me know. igor says the internet is best, but i don’t like this human activity of mashing buttons to make lights blink on and off in specific patterns. it’s worse than books.
it takes so long to type with claws, so please respond in the comments if you’d like to donate to a good cause.
Count Vlad Dracula Tepes was invited against H.R.R. Gorman’s best interest, but he swears that anti-vampire racism will one day come back to literally bite us all. Not one to rock the boat, H.R.R. Gorman set Dracula up with this limited WordPress blogging account.
Dracula doesn’t like typing, looking at computer screens, or garlic. He enjoys dark sunsets, nights out on the town, and type O+.
Whether it was the god’s fault or not, the weather became beastly cold and worked to freeze their hands and feet. The truck driver had burst open some of her cargo and took out the goods destined for a big-box store, outfitting both of them well. The god’s winter would have to try harder to freeze them.
Eventually they reached the top of the mountain, huddled against the wind and snow. Even in the daylight, the thickness of the storm prevented them from seeing very far.
“Where’s the cavern?” the trucker asked. She held onto the hitchhiker’s arm to make sure they didn’t get separated in the storm.
He held tight to her as well. “I don’t know. This could be a trick as far as we know.”
“How?” she asked. “You saw it just like I did. The vision.”
“Could be falsified.” He fell to his knees and huddled. “There’s got to be a way to call it.”
The trucker crouched beside him and put a hand to the top of the canvas rucksack. She held his chin with the other hand. “We have bait.”
“That’s too big a risk.”
“Is there another option?”
The hitchhiker gripped the straps of his sack in his gloved hands. He looked to the sky and cried out, “I have it! Show yourself, and I can work out a deal. I’ll trade you the Apple if you will grant us our freedom!”
He put his hand to the clip and undid it, showing the contents of the bag to the sky.
The snow stopped falling in an instant, the sun shone from the lap of the god, and then –
“You… You shot me?”
Thank goodness she’d checked my bag. Thank goodness she’d stolen my magnum and hidden it in her coat pocket where the god didn’t look. Thank goodness she’d eaten the Apple and had the free will to pull the trigger.
I shared his heart with the truck driver, and we both relished in his power. The god no longer determined our fates, no longer directed our paths or altered our present. The pesky narrator would have no power over me.
I lifted my hand, the power of the all-knowing, narrating god coursing through my veins, and returned my friends and family to their natural state: alive, well, and home.
She grasped my shoulder. “Can we even go back?” she asked. “We’re not as we were.”
I hugged her. “What else can we do?”
“We can’t control people’s fates. We can’t take away free will just like the god we killed.” A tear went down her cheeks. “Is this goodbye, then?” she asked.
I nodded my head. “I’ll see you around. Invite you to birthday parties, get trashed sometime when it’s a bit more convenient.”
“I’d like that.” She patted me on the back, pulled me tight, and used her newly gained power to vanish somewhere else. “By the way, my name is Evelyn.”
I ran up to where she had stood. “And my name is-”
But she was gone, and I had a new goddess to chase.
The driver coughed a little bit. “I tried it while you slept.”
The hitchhiker stirred from a quick nap, still tired in the middle of the night. “Tried what?”
“The thing in your bag. The thing your pagan god wants.”
“I… I suppose that was the safest thing for you to do, really.” He clutched his bag tighter. “You do realize that your fate is tied to mine now, right?”
She drove without speaking, her lip trembling as if she couldn’t say anything worthwhile. “I realize your pagan god is watching. I know why it wants that thing in your bag.” She pressed the pedal harder, accelerating on the empty road. “We passed through Denver about thirty minutes ago. Do you know where you’re going?”
The hitchhiker squirmed in his seat. “You don’t?” He lifted a brow and clutched the bag closer. “If you took a bite, you know what I’m doing. You know where we’re going.”
“I know the road,” she said. “I know where to park, where we have to get out and continue on foot. But that’s it – that’s as far as my knowledge goes.” She gulped. “It seems I’m still a trucker, just hauling things more important than me.”
Her explanation settled him, allowed him to relax. “You scared me for a minute. I was afraid the god was using you.” He wiped his eyes and laughed. “Before I found it, I was what you’d call a damn dirty hippie. Used to be a ski bum at some of the slopes around here, at least until I wore down the funds mom and pop gave me. I only know where I’m going because I’ve climbed the peak before.”
“Then we’re suited for each other. I’ll help you – you showed me freedom, after all.” She cleared her throat. “Why me, though? Why share with me?”
He shrugged. “Honestly, I would have shared with anyone if I’d thought they’d take me where I needed to go. The god has left me with nothing. Everyone I’ve ever known has had their history erased, gone as if they’d never existed. I only have the one, too, so I had to be careful when I used it. I think you were a good choice.”
“We’re going to kill your god. I assume it knows?”
“It knows. I can’t imagine it doesn’t.” He grunted. “The walk will take most of the day. How long’s the drive?”
“An hour, hour and a half if we get unlucky.”
“The god will make sure of that.”
He awoke because his body grew chilled. An eyelid fluttered open, and his breath condensed in the winter air. The Greyhound bus was sitting at a stop, engine off, but there were no other passengers. There was no driver.
He grunted and pulled his pack closer to him, feeling his heart slow and his nerves calm when he checked inside. Whatever was after him didn’t know what the bag contained, and it desperately wanted to find out. He zipped the bag closed, ensuring that anyone or anything watching wouldn’t find out.
He put the tips of his mitten gloves over the chilled ends of his fingers and walked up the aisle of the bus. He bent down to look out the front window, finding that the bus was parked at a rest stop along the route. It was possible everyone had just stepped out for a stretch break, but that wasn’t likely. Not with whatever was after him.
The rest stop was mostly empty this time of night, only a few trucks with napping drivers and minivans with tired moms and dads switching who slept and who drove. In the distance he spotted looming mountains rising out of nowhere just past Denver.
After refilling a few water bottles, he clenched a fist and approached a trucker climbing into her cab. “Excuse me,” he hailed, waving his hands. “Excuse me, but are you headed into Denver? Maybe further?”
“I don’t take hitchhikers.”
He gulped, let his bag slide down his shoulder just a little, and nodded. “Well, that’ll probably work out better for you anyway.”
She grumped and shut the driver’s side door but rolled down the window. “Why’s that? You an axe murderer?”
He shook his head. “No. I just think I’m cursed.”
He looked to either side, then up to the sky. “Some god, or goddess, has it in for me. It started when they burned down my house and killed my dog, but then they took all my friends and acquaintances a couple weeks ago. Shoot, they made everyone on my bus disappear entirely, and I’d only known their faces for all of four hours.” He pulled tight on the rucksack. “If I got to know you, I’m sure you’d disappear too.”
She shook her head and cranked up her truck. “You sound like a nutter. ‘Sides, why’d you want to get me stolen by this pagan god of yours, assuming it’s real?”
“I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” he said. He took off his rucksack and fiddled with the plastic clip. “The god can’t see inside my backpack, but I think it knows and wants what’s inside. I think what’s inside can kill it, and that’s why it’s so scared. If I show you, you become more valuable to the god alive than dead.”
She rolled the window up a couple inches.
“I’m pretty desperate,” the man said. “I haven’t shown anyone else what’s in my bag, and you’d be the first.”
She wrinkled her nose, but took her hand off the window crank. “Fine. If I like what I see, you can hitch a ride.”
He unhitched the bag and stepped on her truck’s runners, giving her just a peek at the contents.
Her eyes widened and he clicked the bag shut before the curious god could sneak its view into the burlap.
“Get in,” she said. The truck’s doors unlocked at the push of a button.
He jumped off her runner and hurried around the front of her truck, then clambered into the passenger’s seat.
The man on the phone wanted me to walk away while Angel Dust Dan took another hit – or two or three – of cocaine. I didn’t know how much was too much, but the man on the phone had been clear I was to leave with Dan’s phone.
I crossed the railroad tracks and turned to the north as the phone man had asked. My eyes flit to either side of San Pablo, looking through the hordes of homeless people and ordinary pedestrians. The man on the phone had said to look for a blind person. Would I know when I found them? I had the feeling the man on the phone wouldn’t let me miss the target.
I shook my head. Even if Angel Dust Dan weren’t dead, he may as well be. The economy was garbage, the war would never end, and he’d just flushed his wallet by snorting coke that… did I do that to him? Was it my fault?
I shook my head. Dan’s fate had already been sealed. The man on the phone had made me a thousand dollars from nothing, so how bad could he be?
I went several blocks before I saw a guy with an injury on his forehead. He sat just outside a building, shaking a can aimlessly. He held a cane in his hand, white with a red section on the bottom. I hung back for a moment, watching to make sure this guy was blind, both hoping for and dreading the phone call.
Dan’s phone vibrated in my pocket, so I jumped in the brief moments before it rang. I shuffled in my pockets and put it to my ear. “What… what do I do?”
“Go up to the blind person. Offer him a job.”
I raised a brow. “I don’t even have a job. How about you get me some income instead?”
“You’re doing your job right now. Go up to the beggar and offer a job. Get on the bus down to the lighthouse and find the man working at the mill. Take his deal.” The man on the phone hung up, and I clicked the new touchscreen off.
The blind man shook his cup. I puffed my chest; if the beggar were blind, whatever the man on the phone was planning couldn’t be worse than his current situation, even if it killed him. Steeling myself, I walked up to him and grunted.
The man didn’t look up to me, not really, but his head turned at my approach. “Donations?” the blind man asked.
I bit my lip before I said, “I’ve got a lead on a job you could do. Want it?”
He raised a brow and pulled his cup tightly to his chest. “Nobody’s got jobs now. What’s the catch?”
I shrugged. “It’s down at the lighthouse.” I reached down and took his hand. “Come on. It’ll be perfect for you, and you won’t have to beg anymore.”
My tug met some resistance, but after a moment, he gave in. “I don’t have a bus ticket. I can’t get there with you.”
“I’ll buy it.” I managed to get the blind man to stand without much more effort, and he whipped the cane out in front of us to raster.
He took my elbow. “Now, what kind of work do you have? What kind of pay does it give?” His cane hit a bike rack, so he sidestepped a little. “I don’t want one of those jobs where they pay you 10 cents an hour.”
I chuckled. “Ten cents an hour is illegal.”
“Ever hear of the subminimum wage?”
I chuckled. Subminimum wage? Was this guy off his rocker? “I wouldn’t worry about that.” I urged him forward, finding that the bus had pulled up to the stop just in time. “My guy’s got a job you can do. Sure, I could find a guy who’s not blind and all, but why do that? The economy will pick up eventually, and that guy will be fine. You? You’re the better pick.”
The bus ride took a while since we had to cross the bay, but it passed uneventfully. Plenty of people couldn’t afford this nowadays. We went past Alcatraz, watched where they were surveying to build a new bridge, and continued on to the lighthouse.
We got out of the bus, me leading the blind man with my elbow. “You doing ok?” I asked.
“I hope this is as good as you say.” He knocked his cane about.
A woman with a clipboard and a briefcase came out from behind a building. She looked to her phone – a nice, new touchscreen – and came forward as if she knew who I was and what I was doing. She put away her phone and stood primly with an extended hand. “Ms. Thorpe.”
I shook the hand. “James Shanahan.” Not my name, but my insurance agent’s.
“I’m a recruiter for a shelter for the blind. We pay a wage to give our workers petty cash for their own needs and provide additional, in-kind payment in the form of home-cooked meals and housing.” She opened the briefcase. “For you, I offer a finders fee, part of the take from my own recruiting gigs. Companies don’t get better deals than what I offer.”
The blind man hit her calf with the end of his cane. “Petty cash? How much are we talking?”
I gulped and nodded. “Yeah… how much are we talking? I don’t want to just drop him off at something that won’t help him out.”
“That’s inconsequential. We can guarantee food, shelter, and safety. Can your beggar’s cup do that?” She yanked the can of change from the man’s hands and shook it. “No.” With a gruff shove, she looked to me instead. “You’re the guardian, right? Just sign these papers, take your cash, and we’ll finish the rest.”
The blind man yanked on my arm. “It’s one of those deals like the backpack place – it’s slavery! I’ll get 10 cents an hour if I’m lucky, and I’m not going to do that. You lied to me, mister! Get me back across the bay!”
Ms. Thorpe removed a pen from her clipboard and offered the paper to me. She pointed to a dotted line, and I took the ballpoint with my right hand. A false signature on the line, and she handed me the briefcase full of cash. “Thank you, Mr. Shanahan.”
I looked down at the briefcase. Was… no, this was right. He was going to be fed and housed. Better than what he’d have otherwise.
She reached to the man, took his cane, and broke it across her knee. “You don’t need that where we’re going.” After peeling his grasp off my arm, she led him away to a car, stuffed him in the backseat, and they were gone.
The phone rang. Reluctantly, I placed my hand in the lapel and pulled it out. It was the guy – I knew it had to be. I answered with a push of a button and put the speaker up to my ear. “What do you want?”
“Write down everything that’s happened and what I’m about to tell you. Take that money. Buy a ticket to Vegas. Put a bet on-”
“No,” I ordered. “Who are you? I just… I think I just sold a guy into slavery! What the hell are you? Are you… are you me from the future? Is that why I’m writing this crap down?”
A pause. “You’re going to buy a ticket to Vegas. Go to Caesar’s Palace, find a poker table. You’ll find-”
“Are you the devil?”
A chuckle. “You’ll find a poker table with a lady dealer. She’ll have big boobs, the kind you like, and brilliant blue eyes. Play $100 on five hands, then -”
“No,” I said, listening to the voice. “No… you’re… you’re making me destroy people’s lives.”
“You’ve already ruined plenty. The economy’s in the toilet, and it was the fault of people like you. What’s a few more lives down the to? Besides, I think I’ve proven my usefulness. Now… play $100 on five hands, then $1,000 on the sixth.” He laughed. “You’ll do what I say. You are the devil.”
And he hung up.
I pointed myself to the subway and made my way to the airport.