The Big Finale (with a small mystery)

The last of the October spook-lets is up, although you will discover there is no 27 October.

Was that day? Did it actually happen? I have no memory of missing a day. Did I cease existing then? Was there insufficient belief in me?

I’m going to go eat some tiny chocolate bars rather than ponder further.

Penultimate Se’nnight

That sounds a lot more impressive than “next-to-final week,” right?

A note of explanation for those reliant on alt text under the pictures; there’s an eighth image without alt text, which concerns a small icon which added itself to the final entry this week. That thing doesn’t appear in the alt text, so I’m boring you with it here rather than there.

Obedience to Authority

We’ve all, in some degree, been making decision lately about how low we bow to COVID-19 and the officially proclaimed responses to it. I, for example, have been going to work, as I’m essential (somehow), and can gad about freely in my off-time under local regs, as long as I’m not doing it with more than nine other people.

I have been sticking to the spirit of the rules and limiting my outings to “Gotta get some groceries.” My wife has asthma, after all, and we don’t really know what the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 are other than “probably not good.”

With that as context, I saw this wonderful image on a Folk Horror group on Facebook:

At Wiremill Dam, in the rural outskirts of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England.

“This sign has always freaked me out a little bit!” said the person sharing the image. In the right setting, and to the right set of mind, I completely understand that. It took about fifteen seconds for the basic story of “Self-Policing” to flash into my mind, and since I owe this site a story, I huffed my warm authorial air upon it until it had kindled into a proper item of flash fiction.

Extra BONUS Seasonal Joy

Still not a story announcement, although I am gestating something that may emerge from my brow tomorrow.

…although now that I reflect upon it, this is a story announcement, in that a story I wrote is openly available on the internet. It’s just not here.

So where, then? It’s in the current issue of Polar Borealis. For those who want to know what they’re getting into, it’s a quite short work which is like Steampunk, but instead of focusing on engineering marvels, the point of historical divergence is funeral practices.

Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Inktober 2019 – Ripe

Two days ago, it had just been a little itch. Blake had looked at the red spot on his left arm, declared it a spider bite and done his best to ignore it.

Yesterday morning, the itch was still there, but it was like the same amount of itch had been spread over his whole forearm, from wrist to elbow. It was hardly noticeable. If that same span of arm hadn’t been a sunburnt red, he could have ignored it. The colour, unlike the itch, had gotten deeper as it spread.

Yesterday afternoon, Simmonds, the line foreman, had come to him. Blake knew he’d attracted the man’s attention when he dropped the wrench, and he cursed. He’d been having trouble keeping up with the line, his left hand getting fumble-fingered as the itch became a tingle and ran out to the ends of his finger-tips, and he expected now to get a chewing out for slowing up production.

What he got was the spectacle of Simmonds stopping in his tracks, his eyes going wide. “The fuck you do with your arm, Blake?”

“Dunno.” This was true.

“You gotta get a doctor to look at that, man. That ain’t right.” Blake had a good look at his arm then, something he hadn’t really done since lunch. He saw Simmonds’s point. The redness was running toward purple, and the arm was definitely puffy, like part of an inflatable Popeye costume.

He nodded, and didn’t argue when Simmonds told him he was using some of his sick-time. “Go to your damn doctor,” the foreman had said, walking him to the locker room. Blake knew he was probably right, but he also knew that Simmonds was well aware of the complete bullshit that the company called “health coverage.” Instead of a doctor’s office, Blake went home. After a couple of hours spent with a succession of cool washcloths laid on the worrying appendage, he convinced himself that the swelling was going down, and that the tingle had disappeared entirely.

At three that morning, he woke up in the act of trying to turn onto his side. He couldn’t, and after a moment of sleepily wondering how a beachball had gotten into the bed, he screamed and scrabbled for the light.

His left forearm was three times the size of the right, and from the elbow down it was the colour of a plum. His hand had puffed as well, looking like a rubber glove someone had blown into, fingers splayed. He wept a little when he saw his fingers moving as he wanted them to, because he could not feel them at all. The swollen parts were not just numb, they were absent.

He pulled on his sweatpants one-handed, and after stuffing his feet into shoes he drove himself to the emergency room. He had to roll the car window down and let the puffed arm stick out, because otherwise he couldn’t see around it.

He was weeping again as he walked into the ER. Panic was chewing at him, as was awareness that he had left all his insurance papers behind, but also, there was pain at last. The jostling of running the first few steps had done something to his elbow, and he had slowed, cradling his huge arm as well as he could with other.

Part of him, an observing element that soared above the panic, commented on the strange weight of the arm. Ballooned up like that, there was an expectation of lightness, but it was not light. Nor was is as heavy as something so full of meat or water should be.

The nurse at the triage desk looked up when the doors opened. There was a moment before she registered any more than the fact of someone arriving, then she leapt up, her expression almost exactly the wide-eyed amazement worn by Simmonds the day before. She rushed to meet Blake, and reached to help support his bulging arm.

Blake wondered, as the moment spun out, if she had been too gentle, or if the nitrile gloves had somehow been too slick, or if he had let go too soon. The pain in his elbow, never more than a dull ache, merely loud because there was no other sensation around it, reached a mild crescendo. It was the noise of the skin parting that made him shout when his engorged arm fell away.

He watched it drop, shying back from it as it went, and when it landed it seemed to balance for a moment on the splayed purple hand before slowly tipping over. A few drops of something far darker than blood fell from beside the bright knob of bone sticking out the end as it rolled to and fro, trying to find a place to settle in its asymmetry. It was the sight of that bone, the realization that it was his, that started him shouting, “No! No! No!” in a chant that soon became inarticulate howls.

Later, in a bed, his stump wrapped, Blake rode on the sedatives that had helped him stop screaming. It was all very far away and seemed to have happened to someone else, a sensation he was pleased with and hoped would persist. He hardly realized he was doing anything when he reached with his right hand to scratch his right leg, just above the knee. Just a little itch.

“Inktober 2019 – Ripe” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Catch

It had been built up as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, thanks to that damn TV show. Ray gripped a stanchion as the boat rode up another swell, watching the pile of recovered traps shifting nervously in their stowage, and nodded. It sure wasn’t easy.

The seas were calmer than they had been when the traps were being set. That had been… unpleasant. Ray smiled. You can get used to a lot, and he was used to walking around on what most people would think was a nightmare roller-coaster. Fair enough. His throat closed up at the thought of spending all his days in an office job, doing whatever the hell people did there day after endless day until they got fired a week before the pension. Different strokes, and that was fine with Ray.

The winch was lugging a little as the last of the traps came up. Ray glanced at the machine, saw that Sonny was right there, keeping an eye on it, no sign of worry on his craggy old face. That meant the winch wasn’t about to let go, it was just struggling to bring up the trap. Good news for the crew, delivered in an unknown language of chugs and screeches. It wasn’t as if this trip hadn’t already put a lot of crab in the hold, but one more trap stuffed with the things was a fine bonus.

“Here she comes,” said Jake, closest to the rail, and Ray moved a little closer to his station. Sonny would mind his business, and Ray had to pay attention to his own.

The winch gave one last grunt. The burden which had given it so much labour was atop the trap rather than in it, a thing shaped for life in the abyssal depths, all spikes and teeth. A single obsidian eye set high on its vast head swept across the men on deck, before a multitude of chitinous arms lashed out.

Ray dropped to the deck, felt his coat go the shreds as one arm passed over him. He saw Jake caught by two of them, snatching him into the air before he could start screaming. Sonny threw up his own arm to protect his face as he tried to shelter behind the winch controls, and howled when that limb was wrenched away.

A moment later, the rigging of the crane groaned as the thing rolled off the trap, the splash a sudden punctuation to Jake’s cries. As Ray crawled along the deck, desperate to keep below the side of the boat, the only sound was Sonny’s sobbing. Whatever it had been, that segmented awfulness that crouched on their fishing tackle, it had snatched up its victims and vanished into mystery.

“Inktober 2019 – Catch” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Injured

When Dave saw the wound, his first question was the obvious one. “When was she outside the compound?”

Mike and Dorinda looked at each other. It was Dorinda that answered. “She wasn’t. Hasn’t been since she got here.”

Dave nodded. Jean had arrived at the gates alone, in such a blank-eyed state of despair that the guards had almost thought she was one of the lurching dead.  It had taken weeks to get her back into the society of people. She wasn’t the only one who had been a mess when they arrived, and some of the others had gone out on patrol avidly, enacting a kind of vengeance in the course of keeping the space around the community clear of the shambling menace, but Jean had hid in a closet for a day when the idea was suggested.

“She was okay when she left us last night,” Mike offered. “I finally had the makings for a nice quiche, and we asked her to join us.”

“Well, damn it, this is a problem. We can’t have a lurcher in here with us.” Dave crouched close to the bed, and spoke quietly into Jean’s ear.  “Jean, this is important. How’d that happen?”

She stirred, weakly. Her eyes turned toward Dave, and she smiled. “It was so beautiful. My Johnny. My Johnny.”

“That’s as much as we can get out of her,” Dorinda said. She gestured to Dave that he should follow, then walked out of the bedroom. He looked at the sledgehammer Mike held, nodded to the man, then went out to the living room.

“Dave, we’ve seen a lot of attacks since this whole thing began.” Dorinda spoke low, as if worried about being overheard. When Dave nodded, she went on. “Have you ever seen a bite like that? Because I haven’t?”

Dave wasn’t following her, and it showed on his face. “When one of those zombies bites you, it always takes a big chunk, right?” He nodded agreement. “And anyone with just one bite, it’s always on an arm or leg, and they were able to pull free. Right?”

“Yeah. I get it.” Dave kept his own voice down. “If one of them got in here, bit her on the neck, it would have kept going.”

“Yeah.” Dorinda’s voices dropped again. “And the bites never look like that. They’re always all gross, all full of pus and poison.”

Dave glanced toward the bedroom, as if he could see the bite from where he was. Memory, only minutes old, was clear enough. Jean’s neck showed the football-outline of a human bite, the skin only just broken, the skin underneath slightly livid but not the mess of corruption that even so slight a penetration by a zombie would leave. He squinted as a connection formed.

“Dor, did that look like a hickey to you?”

At first, she recoiled, a slight sneer suggesting offence, then she saw the earnestness on his face. He wasn’t kidding, and because he was serious she took the suggestion seriously. Her expression shifted to confusion as she said, “Yeah… it does.”

“Well, damn it,” Dave said, after a long digesting pause. “I wish Father Montalban was still with us.”

“Seriously?”

“Look, when the first dead started showing up, no one treated it seriously until it was too late. Now the world is full of them.” As he spoke, he showed a bleak smile. “With the world the way it is now, Ockham’s Razor might as well be ‘the worst thing is true even if it’s impossible’ so if zombies, then why not a vampire?” He sighed, as one with far too much on the plate already. “Let’s try rounding up some garlic, and we’ll see if anyone thinks they know how to bless some crosses.”

“Inktober 2019 – Injured” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Ride

The irony here is that I got this bike to get into shape. About a month ago, I took the stairs at work instead of the elevator, and stood huffing like an old man after going from twelve to fourteen. Ridiculous at my age. So, the bike, and a resolve to get my wind back before the football season got properly started.

Well, I’m wheezing again. I sure wish I could stop. I wish I was more of a bastard. I could have headed toward that playground instead of away from it. Then maybe it would have started chasing someone else.

Jesus, doesn’t this dog ever get tired? That’s like, ten blocks now, both of us flat out. He’s showing no signs of slowing down. I guess rabies doesn’t affect endurance.

Light ahead. Please don’t change. Please don’t change.

Shit.

OK, dog. Chances are that one of us is going to get hit by a car in about ten seconds. No hard feelings, but I sort of hope it’s you.

“Inktober 2019 – Ride” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.