In a Few Words (2) . . . Blood is the Life

In a Few Words

In the second installment of “In a Few Words,” we have the premiere tale in my first short story collection, Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers, that I self-published in 2011, “Blood is the Life.” It’s a short piece that has a lot going on. I’ve also included the notes about the story at the bottom. This is one of my earliest pieces of writing.

You can buy and download the book from Amazon in Kindle format or from Smashwords in any other format. 

Blood is the Life

The boy had not eaten in days. His skin was pale, an indication of his sickness; his eyes were sunken into deep hollows, his cheekbones clearly visible beneath his stretched skin. His hair was thick and black, matted with clumps of dirt. His mouth was practically non-existent, just a thin line scythed into his face. He was just over five feet eight inches tall, though his frame was hunched over, due to his weakness. Each step he took resulted in a streak of white pain that coursed through his body like a bolt of lightning, as he dragged his frail form along. His mind no longer functioned properly, hallucinations appearing before him everywhere: one minute the street was congested with fat, sweaty people, noisy and uncouth; the next, it was entirely deserted, except for the rats that crawled along the gutters, searching for scraps of food.

Then the boy saw the Tall Man, dressed all in black, with a top hat, approaching him. The Man held a cane in hand, swinging by his side, its handle of shiny gold, which reflected the blanched light of the dim streetlights. He slowed down as he came closer to the boy. The boy looked up at the Man’s face and saw him staring right back at him. He was an old man, somewhere in his seventies; there were deep lines etched into his haggard face, but amongst all this tired and used flesh there was anger. The Man’s lips were drawn tight, dimpling his white cheeks in an evil way. The boy looked into the Man’s eyes and gasped at the viciousness within them. They were of no enchanting color, just a cold heartless black, absent of happiness, unable to conceive of compassion or love.

As the Man came closer, he began slowly lifting the cane above his head, his arm quivering because of his crippling arthritis. The air was icy-cool, steam permeating between the Man’s lips as he prepared himself for the beating. Now the boy became scared . . . he hadn’t done anything wrong.

“I d-did nothing w-wrong . . . it wasn’t m-me,” the boy cried, shivering with fright and cold; he wore only rags.

“You know it was all your fault, you retched troll!” the Man answered in a low, quiet-but clear voice that pierced the goose-pimpled skin of the boy like hot needles.

The boy began crying, tears streaming down his face, creating canals through the dirt on his cheeks; they never reached his dry mouth, but froze onto his cold flesh. The Man stopped just three feet from the boy. The cane was now high above his head. The boy watched as the Man moved his arm in the first strike.

Just as the cane was about to crunch onto the boy’s head and split his skull open, he screamed.

The apparition disappeared.

The boy looked up . . . the Man was gone. It had all been a hallucination.

The boy continued towing his body along the street. Then he heard the smash of a bottle in the alley to the left of him. He turned and hauled himself into the alleyway. There was an unidentifiable lump on the floor. It grunted at the boy kicked it; it was a useless bum. The boy looked up the alley to the right of him, it was a dead-end; to the left him, from where he’d come, it was silent, gloomy and devoid of life. The boy looked down at the dirty thing. His small hands reached out: one seized the man’s dirty greasy hair, getting a tight grip on the chunks of grime; with his other hand he seized the drunkard’s shoulder, clinging, like an eagle’s sharp talons, digging into the flesh. He pulled the shoulder and head in opposite directions, exposing the supple white throat.

The man began grunting and groaning, wondering what was happening. The boy bent down towards the hobo’s throat; he opened his mouth, brandishing two long sharp pearly-white fangs. The teeth sunk smoothly into the soft pliable flesh; blood dribbled from the two incisions. The boy began sucking noisily, his craving for blood increasing by the second, his sickness being cured, his hunger satiated, his strength regained.

Warm began returning to his body.

When the boy had finished, he let the body slip to the floor, dead; he stood tall and strong, replenished. A trail of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth, and a long lascivious tongue slithered out and licked it up before it could drip to the floor.

Notes on “Blood is the Life”

This is one of the earliest pieces I’ve written, way back in 1995 I think. I knew it was going to be a short piece, but I was looking to pack it and fill it with as much sensory detail as possible to convey a lot in a short piece of writing. I was very happy with how it turned out and continue to enjoy it as one of my earliest pieces of writing.

In A Few Words (1) . . . Loneliness is a Funny Thing

In a Few Words

Welcome to the first installment of “In a Few Words,” where readers get to read and enjoy some original writing. The writing samples used in this segment are generally pieces that were stories that were never finished, writing exercises, or just some writing pieces I’ve discovered in my archives. 

“Loneliness is a Funny Thing” is two thousand words of a short story I started but never finished. It was one of those classic cases where I started the story and then after that first session never went back to it, whether it was because I didn’t know where it was going to go next, or I didn’t get back to it soon enough, it was a story that never came to fruition. Nevertheless, what did get written I think is pretty interesting and I can see the original idea I was playing around with with these first couple thousand words. Also being the start of a story, it’s a rough first draft.

This part of a story is in my “Out to Pasture” file, which you can basically think of as the place where writing pieces and failed stories go to die, as I have no plans to do anything else with them, but I certainly don’t want to delete them. Now at least, they get to see the light of day through Bookbanter.  

Loneliness is a Funny Thing

You don’t realize how quiet and lonely it can get until you start talking to dead people.  That’s what Jimmy Dogan’s subconscious realized once his conscious mind decided to strike up a conversation with the rotting corpse sitting next to him.

“So, it looks like it’s gonna be another scorcher today Red.  Better put some lotion on or you’re gonna burn.  But then, what the hell do you care,” he said with a chuckle.

Dogan looked down for the hundredth time at the cracked, bloody kindling of his legs; forty-eight hours ago the Saab had decided to ignore the road sign indicating a tight curve – had not even bothered to move is front axle – so the car had gone straight off the cliff, just like a cartoon car or one of those where you laugh at the car as it plunges to the bottom of the ravine, because you know it’s not real.

On the road, looking down into the ravine, Dogan had realized he was a hefty percentage over the alcoholic limit, but then as he took the slow-motion plunge – the dive that seemed to last a lifetime – he felt himself becoming more sober, until the painful crash at the end, where the honorable judge Dogan began presiding.

Each person has their own unique reaction to a perilous situation – in this case the situation was either going to kill them, or at least inflict an unconscionable amount of pain.  Dogan’s reaction was to laugh uncontrollably: tears ripped from the edges of his eyes as if tiny talons were reaching out to grab them; his voice hoarse and petering out in volume, until it was an aggravated whisper.  His passenger’s reaction was to scream continuously, as if by venting this amount of volume, a special lifting cloud would be created and escort them to safety.  Soon the two occupants of the Saab sounded like two of the three tenors at age ninety: croaking pathetically.

The landing had been especially painful, Jimmy thought.  The car had landed on its nose, crumpling but not collapsing, then falling back.  Jimmy’d had his seat-belt on, so he’d simply been pulled forward (he knew there was a red, raw band across his torso), while his feet and legs had been crushed by the forced contraction of the Saab.  There’d been a two-second period of crunching, as if he’d stepped on a pile of cornflakes, then the pain had reached up through his thighs, gripping his groin, crushing with tenacity.

Red had not been wearing his seat-belt, so upon impact, he’d shot forward like a hammer on a gun, slamming his head into the dashboard.  With him there was also crunching, though at a lower tone, as his neck was compacted and reduced to merely a thing connective tissue between his head and shoulders.  His juicy brain had taken a hard smack on the top of his skull, causing thousand of minute hemorrhages to erupt in the crevasses and wrinkles of this delicate organ.  The bruised brain had then been sent southwards at an illegal speed, plowing through what remained of the neck and plugging the hole like an expanded, oversized cork in a wine bottle.

For the first sixty minutes, Jimmy had just sat there, not moving, his lower legs a numb wreck best forgotten.  After ten of those sixty minutes, the pain had decreed that his groin had suffered enough agony and had begun migrating further higher up his body, going through his torso, reaching up higher and higher with each rib, as if the pain were using his rib-cage as a ladder to get to his head.

Jimmy’s only defense was to whimper like a baby.  Five minutes later: tears were coursing down his cheek, working against the traffic of his pain.  His only solution had been to begin counting, starting with zero, because when you worked in the computer industry, zero was just as important as the number one.

“Zero . . . One . . . Two . . . Three . . . Four,” he’d begun, speaking aloud, but this had forced muscles into action and caused his body to awake from its quiet sleep and begin working – the pain receptors also began working, so Jimmy stopped speaking, continuing to count in his head.

Five . . . Six . . . Seven . . . Eight . . . Nine.

When an hour had passed and he was at three-thousand-five-hundred-and-ninety-six, his body seemed to have settled into a numbed stasis, where the pain was still apparent (the pain was always apparent) but bearable – like when you have a nightmare where your wife dies and you spend the entire day with the dread in the back of your mind; you know she’s not going to die, but the possibility is still there and grips onto your mind, bugging, annoying, relentless.

At the beginning of the second hour Jimmy began thinking about someone other than himself and his pain for the first time.  His girlfriend was person number one: they were close, had been together for three years now – the relationship had reached a point where the two partners realized they were going to get married and spend the rest of their lives together, and it was now a case of waiting for the respective families to make the connection and therefore make the union a foreseeable event in the future.  His parents next: how long would it be before they realized something was wrong – days?  He talked to them about twice a week and visited them at least once every two weeks.  They wouldn’t suspect anything might be wrong until at least five days had passed and they’d wonder why he’d not called.  As for Lena, she would realize something wasn’t right when he didn’t come home tonight – but that was many hours away.  Jimmy looked down at his digital watch, saw the cracked glass and was unsurprised to find the LED non-functional.  On a gut feeling he looked at the clock above the radio, below the futuristic Saab logo, shocked to find it operational – nothing wrong with that LED.  The luminescent green light pointed out in stark fashion that the current time was 11:34 AM.

It would be a long time before anyone began wondering what the hell had happened to them.

Ninety minutes after the plunge, Jimmy finally faced his fear and forced his neck to creak round and look at his passenger.  Since there’d been little reaction from Red so far, Jimmy assumed he was dead.  As his eyes settled on the mighty cleaved fissure running down the center of Red’s skull he gasped and quickly turned away, the tears and pain flaring up synchronously.  But that wasn’t before he’d seen the halo of blood on his shirt, as if it had once been a healthy yellow, sitting on top of his head, but had dropped down to his chest, blood-soaked.  As for a neck, Jimmy realized that Red no longer had one.

“Oh,” Jimmy sobbed.  Best friends were not meant to see their best friends like that, not dead; if there were a God, surely he would’ve the decency to stop that incident from ever happening.  You’d think.

But now Mike’s sitting there knowing he’ll probably never be able to stand again.  He’s just made the comment about Red needing some sunscreen, and as he chuckles, he wonders where deep within him something like that came from.

It’s been almost three hours now, so the dash LED tells.  His eyes just flicker at the green light, knowing if he fully looks at the time, out of the corner of his right eye he will see Red leaned forward, head on the dash, opened up like sliced watermelon.

He takes a breath.

“I . . .”

He stops himself, wondering why he’s bothering to talk.  Who’s he talking to?  Himself?  Red?

Yes, his subconscious tells him.  You’re talking to Red.  Not because you’ve gone mad from the pain.  Not because you need someone to talk to otherwise you will go mad.  You’ve got things you want him to know.  You never told him when you were alive, so you might as well do it now.

“I . . . I’m sorry man.  Sorry for all this.  I never meant for this to happen.  Well, course I didn’t.  Who the fuck wants to end up mangled and trapped inside a car with his best friend’s brains splattered on the windshield.  But we shouldn’t’ve been drunk this morning, so earlier.  We shouldn’t’ve been drunk still from last night.  I meant to tell you.  I meant to tell you then about it all.”

Mike’s voice is shaking, wavering in the sizzling heat of approaching noon, like a man uttering his last words.  For all he knows, they are.

“I just couldn’t man.  So I was going to tell you in the car, just after we got round that long turn, I was going to tell you everything.  But we didn’t make it.  At least you didn’t.  But I’m not sure how much time I have left, anyway.”

Mike replays those crazy few minutes in his brain: approaching the curve, preparing himself, even leaning to the left a little.  But the wheel just didn’t turn.  It was stuck.  He looks at the wheel and his eyes widen when he sees his arms still extended, hands wrapped around the wheel at ten and two.  He hasn’t moved them in over three hours.  It has been quite the shocking morning so far after all.

He tries to move them, but finds stiffness and pain.  They are straight, the elbow joints locked.  They couldn’t have been like this when the car landed otherwise his arms would be broken in many places.  He must’ve kept his hands on the wheel, loose, and after landing had stretched them out for further bracing.

He begins flexing the muscles all the way up his arms, trying to move his fingers.  There’s a lot of numbness, and as he does this, more pain, but they eventually start to loosen.  Feeling drips back into his fingers and hands.  Then the elbows finally loosen and he lets go.

Mike stops himself.  He’d looked at the wheel for a reason.  He feels a coldness in the small of his back for the first time, branching up and across his shoulder blades.

Slowly, he reaches out and grasps the wheel at ten and two again, then he turns the wheel to the left trying to use his arms only.  There is still pain, a flaring burn in his crotch and below, but the wheel turns not much, because the power steering isn’t on, but it turns.

And why didn’t this happen when they went around the curve?

The coldness enfolds him, making him shiver and exploding pain from below.  He cries out, biting his tongue to hold the pain at bay.  It doesn’t.

Some time later, when he regains his breath and stamina he looks at his hands.  They look worn, not like a software developer’s hands.  But they’re also the hands that didn’t turn the wheel when they should have.  These are the hands that did nothing and let the car fly off the edge.  These are the hands that did nothing because Mike couldn’t force himself to open up and tell Red what he wanted to.  These are the hands that killed his best friend and probably doomed him to a slow and painful death.

“Well I’m going to tell you now Red.  I’m going to tell you what I should’ve told you a long time ago.  I’m going to . . .”

Red’s head lifted off the dashboard with a squelching sound as the reduced brain matter slipped back into its skull.  The head turned to look at Mike.

It wore a frozen rictus, teeth missing, but still terrifying.  One eye was completely white, the other focused on him.  The left cheek bone had been severely broken, jutting off in the direction of Red’s ear, a splinter of bone poking through the skin.

Mike’s mouth was open, a raspy sound coming from his throat.

“Whacha gonna tell Mike?  Whatsh sho damn-fucking important you’ve got to tell me even after I’m dead!”

That was when Mike fainted.