Friday, October 6, 2017

Indian Trail

Indian Trail
by
Bobby Derie

When the first settlers came to Corn Rock, there was a native living there. Not by the Rock itself, but about a mile away, though the land was so flat he could see it clear from his house. Every day he would walk before the sun, and walk in a straight line from the door of his house to the Rock. The passing of his moccasins over the years hardened the earth, and made a straight path between the standing grass.

The settlers, when they came, didn't exactly buy the land off of him; he said it wasn't his. He was old then, his hair grey-going-to-white and his face lined, back stooped with years, and he planted beans and squash and corn in a little field back behind the house, and hunted some. They called him Corn Wolf, and he asked only to be left to his place. So they did. They set up houses and stores on that path, and that became Indian Trail.

By and by, Corn Wolf died; though stories differ on the why and how. The Corn Rock ceased to be the anchor of Indian Trail, because they put a house up at one end, and the Rock was in the field in the back. Corn Wolf's house was torn down to make way for the first post office. Then there was not much there to say that there had ever been a Corn Wolf. Only the legend.

###

Friday, September 29, 2017

Van Helsing's Gun

Van Helsing's Gun
by
Bobby Derie


It ain't easy to draw on a vampire. The pants-shitting surge of adrenaline helps, and eyes wide in the dark to catch any flutter of movement, but there isn't much room to clear your gun in a crypt, and less time to do it in. A clear street at high noon, with twenty paces, is hard enough for most folks.


To her credit, Maggie Hunter had managed to at least clear the gun from the wide leather holster on her left hip before the nosferatu caught her by wrist and throat. Strong, slim, cold hands gripped her tight and twisted. Maggie gritted her teeth until she felt the bones in her wrist grate against each other, and the big pistol fell from her nerveless hand. She had time to spit half a damn before she felt herself tossed against the back wall, hard enough to knock the wind from her.


The vampire stooped down and picked up the gun. It was Maggie's first real sight of her, limned in the open doorway. A few inches short of six feet, grey hair cut short and drawn back in a man's cut. They'd buried her in a slim, tailored suit, breasts bound tight so there was barely a rise in the chest at all, the face old but the skin still tight, except for the little wrinkles around eyes and mouth that must have made her smile warm and bright in life. No jewelry, no make-up to add color to the well-manicured fingers and cold, fishy lips. The nails gleamed as they turned the pistol over and over, then cocked the hammer.


"Van Helsing's gun," the nosferatu said. The voice was cracked, as though from long disuse. "There's a poetry in this, don't you think?" she added, as she pointed the double barrels at Maggie.


Hunter breathed shallowly through her mouth, the dust in the air was driving her nostrils crazy. Her wrist throbbed, still painful, as she stared down the twin black abysses of the pistol, imaging she could almost see the .577 calibre silver slugs.


It was a howdah pistol, that Van Helsing had picked up ghost only knows where in his travels. At it's heart, it was a cut-down .577 Snider rifle, with a custom stock fitted. Maggie had pried the damned thing from Hellsing's own crypt, three nights back. Muttered apologies as she peeled away the skeletal fingers that gripped it, then almost broke the poor bastard's spine getting out the leather belt with its special holster and the sling of silver bullets. It had taken a day to clean it, make sure the action worked. Fresh black powder packed in. She hadn't fired it though - didn't want to waste the silver.


"If you're going to do it, go on and do it." Maggie spat, trying to clear some of the tomb-dust from her mouth. "It's a better way to go than anything else I'd get from you."


"Yessss..." the vampire's face drew up into a smile, all those shadowed laugh-lines spread out and deepened. "Quick. I'll do you that favor."


A flash and roar. A clatter and a scream.


After-images burned in Maggie's eye, her night vision ruined. At the entrance to the crypt, the vampire had collapsed. The right hand - the one that had held the pistol - was just gone. Everywhere on her face and chest were bursts of white flame where bits of silver shrapnel had embedded into her cold flesh, ripping through the thin cloth of the suit, which smoldered away in rings like dying celluloid. Gray flesh blackened and fell away in curling strips; one entire eye was a glowing mass of metal that sank quickly through her skull, which began to quietly collapse in on itself into a dark grey dust.


On the floor where she had dropped it was what was left of Van Helsing's gun; the breech almost cartoonishly cracked and twisted where it had ruptured. Modern powder, Maggie mused, was perhaps a bit too strong for the old gun.


###

Friday, September 22, 2017

Black Magic Theory

Black Magic Theory
by
Bobby Derie


The Rock wasn't the name of the bar, though that's what the locals called it. When the milk went sour, when the babes were born wrong, when there was a brief shower of blood at 2 PM on a Wednesday, so the Studebakers were splashing crimson puddles up onto the sidewalk, The Rock is where the flatfeet would go and turn over. The locals didn't mind;  the filth left them to their devices the rest of the time. The clientele in The Rock took it in stride as part of the cost of doing business.


It was "the bar beneath the bar" - there were three other drinking establishments on the block, and every one had a small door and a set of stairs at the far back, near the restrooms; the three doors each led to a long, arched chamber like an abandoned subway station, recessed lighting and white tile walls, and about sixty feet of polished redwood with a brass rail in front of it. The dozen or so tables were wrought iron and fixed in place by screws, like park equipment. No music, though the tramp of feet and scuff of chairs overhead tended to filter down to a quiet, constant level of noise, good to cover a whispered conversation in the dark.


Clinton behind the bar had been in the war; although the stories varied about which side. Lean and tall, with greying hair always meticulously parted, perpetually sad eyes that would listen to a man's fingers being broken without shedding a tear. His bar was as close as he had to a religion, and he enforced the rules with all the quiet passion of Torquemada. Regulars could have a tab, if they paid every week. Regulars could get their mail there, slotted into the wooden cubbyholes of a converted wine rack behind the bar, provided they picked it up every week. Everyone else paid cash. No serious business.


Jack came down the central stair alone, badge on a chain around his neck. A professional courtesy: Clinton would see him coming, even if he hadn't known the detective was en route from the bar above. No sneaky business. The forty-something detective cracked an ugly smile, exposing healthy pink gums and yellowed teeth. He favored a black trenchcoat and brown pinstripe suits, with black shirts and dark brown ties that matched his eyes. The overall effect was somber, and nobody's idea of fashion, but it hid stains well. Time to turn the Rock over once again, and see what was crawling underneath...


"Clinton," he rasped, as he stood up to the bar, staring up at the grey-haired, sad-eyed man in his letter red vest and long white sleeves. The pale blue hint of tattoos peaked out at wrist and collar, vibrant against the ashy skin. The bar was empty; officially wouldn't open for a few more hours.


"How's business?"


"We get by, Detective. The usual?"


They went through the ritual. The long, tapered fingers tapped a dash of dark red bitters into the glass, gave it a little spin to coat it, and then added the gin. The lemon appeared by a little touch of sleight-of-hand, and was set before him on a napkin without a flourish. Jack laid down a bill, and sipped the drink.


"We could start you a tab." the sad-eyed man pulled the bill towards him.


"Appearances," Jack smacked his lips and set the glass down. He turned an eye towards the wine rack which held the mail. "Lot of mail lately."


Clinton said nothing, but poured a shot of tonic and set it in front of Jack, which he dutifully sipped.


"Are you holding for Bill Smalley?" he asked. Clinton didn't even raise an eyebrow, the sad eyes staring into the detective's own.


"He gets his mail here. Picks it up Saturday, or it goes in the furnace."


"Bill Smalley's been fitted for a toe tag." A finger doodled in the condensation on the bar. "Not an accident. An unnatural death."


Clinton had a hell of a poker face, although if that was one of his vices, Jack had never been able to find out.


"Smalley had some gifts, in a small way. Got in too deep with the wrong crowd, maybe. I never did figure what drove a man into black magic..." the detective began. Then Clinton gave one of those rare, small smiles, all sadness. "But you have a theory."


"That's right. The Black Magic Theory. The world has systems. You go through life, you get processed through them. Birth certificate. Baptism. School. Catechism. Work. Processes that shape you, that try to define you, that stick labels on you and decide where you go. Credit scores. Intelligence quotients. Percentiles. Age groups. Most people, they slide through those systems like grits through a colon. When they finally cross that final threshold, what's left has been masticated, processed, ready to digest by whatever there is afterwards. Most people, I'm sure, go down easy. Some people though, they fall out. Then they find out there are other systems. Alternatives to the prevailing system. Parallel processes. Kind of thing that makes you into something different." He tapped the glass, and Clinton obliged with a bit more tonic. "To people in the normal system, that looks like black magic. They can't understand how folks can end up in those states, can't see how to get there from whereever they're at. But these...other processes. Not easy. Mortification of the spirit and flesh."


"There are some that enjoy that." Clinton turned away from him, to fiddle with something behind the bar. For the first time, Jack saw the pale blue eye tattooed on the back of the bartender's neck, right above the collar. "Of course, part of the reason there is a...as you put it...'prevailing system'...is because there are agents that work to impede and halt some of the 'parallel processes.' And of course, there are places and persons which facilitate the interaction between systems. They might be wary about working with such agents."


"They found what's left of three missing kids in Bill Smalley's stomach, Clinton." Jack's voice took a hard tone. "Kids are serious business."


Clinton turned around, sad eyes staring into Jack's own. "Yes, I would agree." He laid a few envelopes tied together with a rubber band on the bar. "Do see that Mr. Smalley's next of kin get his mail, won't you?"


Jack laid a hand on the envelopes. "Thanks for the drink, Clinton. I'll try not to be back too soon."


"Good luck, detective." Clinton said, and Jack felt those sad eyes on him as he left the Rock, back up the long steps towards daylight.


###



Friday, September 15, 2017

Scavenger Logic

Scavenger Logic
by
Bobby Derie

"These things are predators, see." One latex-gloved finger slipped inside the corpse's mouth, and he peeled back the lip to expose black gums, jagged yellowing fangs with gaps in between them. "Ghouls don't normally go after living humans. Only the older, sicklier ones, the loners on the verge of starvation. They hunt and scavenge in packs; the weak get forced out, fight for scraps, then left behind to die. That's when they get dangerous."

Detective Jack Bastard stepped around the body, letting the technician continue chalking it. Behind him, the flash of a camera briefly back-lit him again the chunk of meat in the wheelchair, which occupied the middle of the small, cramped bedroom. He turned slowly to look at the pair of pale legs sticking out of the tattered gingham dress, which ended rather abruptly shortly above the waist in a bloody ruin. They still hadn't found the top half.

"They don't look for a fight. Go after the young, the old, the sick, the lame, the ones that aren't protected. Stragglers of the herd. That's scavenger logic. Nursing homes are prime spots for a lone ghoul. They sleep a lot, and dream often of death. The stench of dying things hangs around these places. Can't really defend themselves."

The detective stepped out of the way again, took a wider view of the scene. The victim on the ground was nude, with the lean, quivvering flesh of a chihuahua, skin loose over small, taut muscles. Hairless except for a fine down, which was white. The white line of scars were visible on the flesh, especially around the arms - like a stray cat. Digits ended in pale, arched claws, bits of meat still stuck under the nails. It's throat was a gaping wound, blood gone black and sticky. The head was wrong; jaw too prominent, muscles on the side overdeveloped, pointing forward. A biter.

"They do fight, if cornered. Like rats. Adrenaline response; they'll escape if they can, but if they're boxed in - and human buildings are just a nest of boxes - then they can scrap it out. That's what happened here." He pointed at lines of fresh scratches on the face. "Not a mated pair; they would have shared. This was somebody caught be surprise. Overlapping territory. Two of them came in. Fought to the death over scraps, this one lost. The other..."

He tapped his canine teeth together, jaw chattering briefly in gibberish Morse code.

"...they took the meat, what they could carry, anyway. Ghouls like dead meat; want it to ferment for a while. Alligators do the same, pull the prey under, drag them somewhere to soften before they start to tear pieces off. The winner has a lair, or at least a larder. That's where the rest of grandma is. Stronger and tougher than the old boy here, but not strong enough to haul all of her in one trip - runt of the litter, maybe."

He clicked his teeth again. "The other one left his opponent behind, though. Must have been surprised; lone ghouls tend to be cunning, out of necessity. They know they're vulnerable, away from the pack. Don't like to leave traces. They don't feed on each other, though." The detective gave a back-throat chuckle. "That would be cannibalism."

###

Friday, September 8, 2017

Right Off

Right Off
by
Bobby Derie


"There was blood on the toilet seat," she said out loud "a smell of burnt popcorn pervaded throughout; the alarm wailed its desolate banshee howl through now-empty cubicles. The grass was wet, the air smelled of French fries and stale cigarettes; a dozen little chimneys in their huddle against the wind. The sun, which had not yet shone its face, drew the veil tighter as the fat wet drops began to fall." She turned her face away. "This day can fuck right off."

###

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book-Coal

Book-Coal
by
Bobby Derie

They bought the old paperbacks by the bag, from the landfill-miners. Hauled them all the way back to the forge. The covers would be stripped off, and the glue scraped off, the dusty, crumbling pages tied tight in blocks with twine. There was a screw-press there that took both of them to operate, and when they pushed and pulled they could squeeze six hundred pages down until it was a centimeter thick. Six of those together made a block, and the block went in the barrel - slowly, carefully, heat and pressure would turn the block into coal. The coal they would take to the smith, and the ash they would spread in the garden. Sometimes the spade would turn up a blackened leaf, with the shadow of a letter glittering on it, but not often. They had learned their craft well.

###

Friday, August 25, 2017

Straight Talk

Straight Talk
by
Bobby Derie



The writer met her fan at the bar. They ordered separately. The fan allowed themselves a slight smiles as the cocktail arrived. Just like in the books.



"You don't owe me," the writer said, taking a first sip. "And I don't owe you. That isn't how this works."



The fan quietly tasted her how drink.



"I write, and you read. You get what you pay for. That's the extant that either of us owe each other. I can't promise more than that in this kind of relationship. Do you understand?"



The fan smiled, and nodded. Then finished her drink. She slid a book across the bar, and the writer signed it. The fan left. The writer held up a finger to the bartender, and took out a pencil. The tip had broken off in her purse.

"A writer casts blood into the abyss. Whatever she wants to communicate, whatever intent she has, must go out all at once, or it is lost." She sharpened the pencil with the care of Van Helsing whittling a stake. "And the readers for their part are no blank slates; they bring themselves to the story, with all the baggage of their experiences. It is what makes each reading unique."


She blew off a curl of lead-tinged wood. "You can't prepare the readers, you see. You have to take them as they are." The writer looked at him suddenly. "Do you think she heard me? Do you think she understood?" The bartender didn't meet her eyes.



"Fans read what they want to read. They bring their own understanding. Writers can't control that."



The writer knocked the second cocktail back. "Something harder, next time."



###