The De Sols: Backstory

I started writing about the De Sol family on, or around, the year 1996. It started with AOL RP rooms, and I brought out a table top character I put together once: Gabrielle De Sol. Originally, she started out as my dominatrix vampire. (Hey, I said it was for fun!) She evolved … I evolved … and the story of the De Sols came to fruition. A huge family tree blossomed, I recruited more people to play characters, and eventually … the “saga” was born.

The De Sols are a noble family. Mother De Sol was the goddess of the sun, and Father De Sol was Lord of Dragons and God of the moon. A star-crossed love brought them children, happiness, death, and destruction.

Before UNDERWORLD. Before GAME OF THRONES (TV). My love for dark fantasy took root in this simple concept: A family who was hunted by those who didn’t understand the love of two souls who were never meant to come together. It is a dark story, it is a story of Shakespearean tragedy. But overall? It’s the heart of who I am, and who I became, as a writer.

Some of the influences for Gabrielle were characters like “Razor” (comic book), and of course, there would be no roleplay without my love of D&D. Dragons, Drow, Trolls, Goblins … I love them all. Creatures with an epic story to pull you in, to lose yourself for a little while, and characters who become a part of you forever-those are the stories I love.

I write horror but I always mix an element of fantasy or science fiction to it. I feel it adds color and depth to the formula. With that in mind, I’ve decided to give you the De Sol Storyline, here. In the coming weeks, you’ll see it evolve, you’ll see the changes in real time. Hopefully, you feel a part of its process and growth. Feel free to comment and offer suggestions. Even if I don’t take the suggestions, it helps more than you know.

Until then … May the light fill the darkness and show you the way.

Artwork by Dorian Cleavenger

#Mentoring #WritingTips – Make Every Word Count

Today I want to address words and how to make them count. I know I’ll get some pushback on this from the masses but remember: these are only my opinions. Use what works for you.

When I start mentoring someone new, I ask them to go through their story and remove a certain word first thing. The word, “that”. This word is what I call an empty calorie (junk food) among the serving of healthy words. It’s become overused these days because it’s common speak (street talk, as I call it).

Try it. Go through one paragraph and remove the word that if it doesn’t change the sentence. Now read it again. Does it sound more concise? Do you miss the word if it’s gone? Does it give your sentence a “gut punch” effect? Finally, does it make your words and their delivery sound more confident?

Trust me, I still have to go through and remove them from my own writing. What I’ve noticed, however, is it’s such an overused and unnecessary word, it drenches the pages. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled 6 books off the shelf to peruse the first page, how many jumped off the page at me. I couldn’t continue reading because the sheer number of “that’s” took me out of the story before it ever began.

Go through your own story in Word. Do a word search for “that” and see how many times you’ve used it. Is it 20 times? 50? More?

The next step after removing unnecessary “that’s” is to search for any word ending in -ly.

Here’s where I get challenged most often: using an -ly adverb is lazy. I know. Hearing it stings. That’s what mentoring is, though. Correcting bad habits and creating good ones.

Ok, why do we remove them?

Reason number 1: Most -ly adverbs (quickly, slowly, quietly) can be considered perspective.

Example: He backed up slowly.

How slow? If someone is backing up, are they surprised? Afraid? Dizzy?

Try using your words and make them count.

He took a few steps back. Each step was tentative, seeking the ground beneath him to keep from tripping.

Or

I raised my hand in slow motion, the room spinning around me.

Or

Unsure of where the chair was, I took one slow step back before the other followed.

See how it gives the sentences a better visual? Instead of using “slowly” I gave a better idea of what slowly looked like.

Most times, you can change the position of a few words to eliminate the -ly word and it will make the sentence sound more confident, leaving the reader with a solid description of what’s happening. Adding -ly gives a meek sound to your words and gives the impression of a week vocabulary.

Are you up for the challenge? Give this a try and let me know if it worked for you. Do you feel it made your story more confident sounding? I’d love to hear from you!


If you love these tips and want more, please comment and share!

The Guide to Handling a Bad Review

One of the things I hear a lot about or get asked about are reviews.

Let me begin by saying this: as a new author I fell into this trap and it’s a very ugly trap to be in.

Reviews are never going to be 5 star across the board. In fact, having some bad reviews mixed into the gushing and glowing reviews is a good thing. It gives you and your book credibility. If a reader sees nothing but five stars they believe the reviewers are your friends and family.

So rule number one? Embrace the negative reviews.

Embrace them? Absolutely.

Every well thought out review has validity to it. Read it. Process it. Do better. The end.

Rule number two: Do. Not. Respond.

A lot of bad reviewers are also great “trollers”. Don’t get caught up in the fodder storm. You’ll end up wearing shit even if you “win” … which you won’t. It only makes you look bad in the end.

Rule number three: see rule number one, rinse, repeat.

Trust me, I know the temptation to chime in and set people straight. Let’s pick one of my own and put it out there.

I had a “duo” pick up a free copy of my book and review it. A review which seemed to be done in Facebook messenger then copied and pasted on their “review site”.

Reading the review was torture. It felt like a text-based, Mean Girls episode. It was incredibly juvenile but the worst part was when they said I needed serious edits when they themselves could not spell. Including “LOL” in a review is the first clue to run. Anyone who uses “OMG” and “LOL” in a review meant to be taken seriously isn’t worth my time of being upset, let alone a response. And believe me, I value my time.

You’re sending out a piece of art. Art is subjective. Not everyone gets your art and not everyone should. You’re not writing a how-to book so don’t expect everyone to understand your idea.

However, if your negatives outweigh the positives it might be something you need to consider. Take it as a learning experience and move forward. If you’re too busy reading and lamenting over a review you’re not writing and working towards something new. Your readers who enjoy your work are waiting. Get over it, dust your shoulders off, dry your tears, and get to work.

If you allow a nasty reviewer to keep you from doing what you love you’re not meant to be an author. This industry is cut-throat and you are supposed to be the expert. Get back to it or get into your cage. There’s no room for weak spines in horror.

Have you received a bad review? How did you handle it? Want to share a bad review and let us critique it for a good laugh? Leave it in comments!

Remember this one important fact: You write because you love to. Who cares if a couple people don’t like it? Are they so important it’s worth you losing your passion? Let me help you with the answer. No. No they aren’t.

And if you’re a reviewer who likes being nasty and rude for kicks? Go get a hug. Internet trolls are so 1997. It’s time to grow up. And get spellcheck “LOL”.

Nuclear Solstice (Unedited, WIP)

So this story is a work in progress. Posting them here motivates me. I am trying to be more consistent and show my writing style. Most people know me as the CEO of Stitched Smile Publications but don’t know who I am as a writer. I want to change that. I’m a woman of many crowns and writing happens to be one of my passions.  Posting them unedited allows a couple of things to happen:

  1. I show the difference a well-edited work makes when going from rough stone to diamond.
  2. To practice what I preach to those who I mentor, “No one shits out gold.”
  3. Knowing people are waiting on the story helps me stay excited about it.

This work is UNEDITED, so if you are unable to read something until it has been edited, please keep scrolling along. I do welcome thoughts, insights, comments. 

Without further ado, here it is


nuclearsolstice header blog

NUCLEAR SOLSTICE

© 2018, Lisa Vasquez
Do not distribute, print, or use without prior written consent.

 

The world was blanketed in white, and quiet. The atmosphere was almost tranquil in its existence under the half-light between day and night. Sybil watched from her vantage noting how nothing shimmered under the muted rays of the long-forgotten sun. Nothing caught its filtered rays in a magical way. It was silent like a child hiding beneath the covers until the boogeyman retreated beneath the bed. All around her, the world was a perpetual mono-chromatic landscape of white, grays, and blacks. Still glancing up at the sky, Sybil observed as the clouds hung low, snuffing out the life of the sun, forever concealing the battle raging in the unseen heavens. A storm trampled above, the sound broke the dead air. She heard the thunderous growls chasing electric spears with no promise of rain anytime soon. Sybil released a slow, steady exhale then lowered her head. Reaching up with one hand she pulled back the hood of her parka, allowing the smooth, pale skin of her scalp to breathe. With her other hand, she tightened her grip on her spear which doubled as a walking stick.  

Listening close, Sybil stretched her senses. Always on alert, she remained attentive. In this world of muffled noise, it was not easy to pick up sound of predators, or of a potential meal. Successful hunters used tricks from ancient civilizations learned before all the books were burned. When the last library went up in flames, the elders once said, “all hope went with it”. Now, over a hundred years later, humanity was reduced to living in caves, once more at the bottom of the food chain. Nightly stories around the campfire told of the new “man”, evolved with the help of the governments in the year 2018. DNA enhancing testosterone levels in both male and females gave them rage-like aggression. Crouching low, the warnings of her tribe’s leaders replayed in Sybil’s head as she slid her fingers through the layer of ash covering the earth.  

These new humans were the experiments of the governments who united in a ploy to create the perfect soldier, never heeding to the superiority of Nature to do her own bidding with the fate of their evolution. One cannot play God without remembering Mother Nature was a controlling bitch. She ruled the game of checks and balances. 

Looking out to the south, Sybil gripped her walking stick tighter. The Dead Lands lie between her home, and the Forbidden Place where the Evolved resided. The stories of those who died made her heart heavy and she let out a breath to relieve some of the pressure on her chest.  

Those who survived “The War” weren’t the lucky ones like they say, Sybil thought. The ones who died instantly were. Lost in a reverie which could not be her own, she saw it so clear; Seconds after the first flash blinded the world, billions of souls left the earth following the dark cloud creeping over the sky, trapped in its hell. As a child, the elders used thunder and lightning as nighttime tales aimed at scaring her and other children into behaving.  

“You must always be silent,” her mother whispered, “Always stay close. I cannot keep you from danger if you do not listen to me, Sybil.” 

“Yes, mother,” she whispered back, shrinking into her tattered blanket. Her dark eyes pulled away from her mother’s and toward the campfire. The amber flames flapped and crackled, illuminating the cave walls. It was cold and damp despite the heat emanating from the fire, and the coughs of the others in their caravan echoed from their chambers in the murky distance. Water dripped into underwater canals, and every night she fell asleep to the faint smells of Sulphur, and feces. 

No, they were not the lucky ones. When the first billion people died, others were left disfigured with burns, and later if the burns didn’t kill you, radiation would be waiting. Less than one percent of the population survived. This included diplomats and wealthy who were locked away in bunkers, and the anomalies: “Human Cockroaches”. We were given the nickname, because like the insects, we survived the nuclear war. We weren’t the elite, personally selected humans. To them, the ones who almost destroyed the world, we were insignificant. To them we were foul vermin in need of extermination. Because of this, Sybil bore witness to the horrors of watching as each night one of her caravan family disappeared. 

Year 2118, Month Unknown 

 

The family was settled in for the night and only the hushed whispers of families could be heard through the various cavern “rooms”. Meager campfires crackled and popped. The small flames stoked by the “watchers” throughout the night. The fires weren’t going for warmth, though they did offer a comforting feel to the features of those who slept around it. The main purpose of the fires was for light. Keeping them small meant little smoke would rise from exhaust holes above. Too much, and the new man, called Aethers, would find them. 

Living in caves had changed humans in addition to the effects of the chemicals of war. Lack of sunlight on the surface was nothing compared to the lack of light beneath the earth. The eyes of those beneath adapted, growing more sensitive to light. The most color any of them saw now were the brilliant fluorescent glows from algae and insects when the campfire lights went out. Having spent years in the subterranean, the changes in them became more obvious. Most of them lost pigmentation in their eyes, leaving their irises a pale variation of their former color. Their skin was smooth, almost pore-less, and translucent. A lack of high calorie food transformed them into waif-like creatures who, in the old years, resembled the fictitious race of elves. At the surface, they appeared ethereal as their skin captured the half-light and illuminated. 

Sybil was dozing off to sleep when she heard the whoosh of air pass by her. Opening her eyes, she saw the flames from the campfire bend in one direction causing her to sit up straight. Looking around, she saw the watcher facing away from her, looking into one of the tunnels leading to the next “room” of the cavern.  

“What was th—“ her whispered cut off by the motion of his hand raising up. He pressed an index finger to his lips and Sybil froze in fear. The watcher’s stealth footsteps led him to the next opening, his hand wrapped around the hilt of his makeshift dagger and listened. After a few moments of hearing nothing he seemed to relax. He turned back to face her again, and he offered a small reassuring smile. 

“It’s ok—“ his began, his eyes then bulged and his hands grasped his neck. Confused, Sybil used her hands and dug the heels of her feet into the ground, to back scoot into the shadows. When the watcher fell to the ground, a cloaked figure stood in his place staring at her until she choked out a scream. In the rush of the others waking, it disappeared, leaving Sybil in hysterics.  

“What’s happened?” One of the men called out. He came closer and stumbled over the limp body of the watcher. Whispers began to fill the room growing louder and louder. The noise traveled to the outer rooms in the cave where others began to stir and rise. Watchers from every direction ran in to see what was causing the disturbance, and like a chain reaction, the news made it to every den. 

“What was it, Sybil? Did you see anything?” Their faces began to crowd around her, suffocating her with their questions.  

“I-I don’t know,” she stammered, “Just eyes. Like a shadow.” 

One by one they turned to each other, passing the information … or what little there was. Delphi, the leader of their caravan, appeared and the crowd spread, allowing him to pass. Sybil’s eyes widened, then lowered with the bow of her head.  

When he was standing before her, he reached his hand out to lift her chin, forcing her eyes to meet his. He stared down at her with his pale amber gaze. From beneath the hood of his weather-torn robes, she could see he had kind features. Wrinkles around his eyes creased when he smiled at her, his long white beard and mustache raised with the corners of his mouth.  

“Peace, child,” he spoke, and everyone around him fell into silence. Only the deacons of their tribe were ever allowed to speak with Delphi. No one had heard his voice in years until now. Sybil’s mother watched from over his shoulder, her hands tucked into her chest in a show of her anxiety. Was her daughter in trouble? Would she be held responsible? 

Dropping his hand from her chin, Delphi crouched before Sybil and her locked gaze followed him. He reached for her hand this time and held it in his. It was large and warm in comparison to hers.  

“It’s ok, Sybil,” he said, and everyone behind him leaned in to hear him speak again, “Try to remember everything you saw. I’m here with you now, and nothing will harm you.” 

Nodding to the hypnotic tone in his voice, Sybil recounted what happened detail by detail, as she remembered it. When she was done, she realized she was trembling again, and a layer of sweat covered her brow and hairline. Inside her chest, her heart was throttling.  

“Very good, Sybil,” Delphi said with another smile. He stood, and gave her hand a squeeze before turning to the deacons behind him, “Bring her to my den. She is in my care, now.” 

Sybil’s mother’s eyes grew large before turning toward Delphi. She lowered her gaze and took the hem of his sleeve to her lips, giving him reverent thanks. Before he walked away, he brushed his hand over her head and bent to kiss it. The collective inhale of everyone in attendance filled the den as they lowered their head as a show of respect. Delphi was the closest thing to royalty in the new world. He led them to safety more times than they could count, and always seemed to be one step ahead of the (XXX) in their ploy to eradicate them from the face of the earth. Without him, their family would’ve been wiped out at the dawn of its existence.  

The deacon to Delphi’s left, Iapetus, faced Sybil and offered his hand to her. When she reached out to take it, he shifted his weight to the staff he held in his other hand and turned, guiding her to follow them. Beside Iapetus, Sybil felt smaller than she was. He seemed to be made from the stone walls, each muscle in his exposed arm appeared to be hand chiseled. The staff he gripped in his massive hand was created from a combination of the limestone, and marble found all around them. Clusters of raw crystal surrounded the tip where a repurposed piece of steel formed a spearhead. He was Delphi’s advisor, and also rumored to be his son. Looking up into his face, Sybil could see the similarities. 

“Don’t be frightened,” his rough voice whispered to her, “We will keep you safe, now.” 

Sybil offered a half smile. There was no malice in Iapetus’ mannerisms. She could feel the goodness in him right through the connection of their palms. Turning her head over her shoulder, Delphi’s other deacon, Crius, offered his hand to her mother, Dione. Dione reached out to take it, then followed her daughter and the procession out of the den. 

All around them, eyes watched and silent thoughts threatened to fill the room with overwhelming emotion. Jealousy, happiness, confusion, and anxiety collided on the surface of the unspoken question, “What happens, now?” 

As if she could hear the thoughts of all those around them the head watcher, Eos, spoke. Her soft tone was raspy like an Autumn wind through the trees, bristling against dried leaves. It was this way, they said, because she never spoke unless it was an absolute necessity-and when she did, her words were as strong as she, herself, was. 

“There is no cause for further worry,” she paused to sweep her eyes over those standing before her, “Security is increased with double watchers, and traps have been lain.” 

There was a unified sigh of relief. 

“Go now,” she continued, “Help us by staying together. Watch one another. Never go anywhere alone.” 

Like docile cattle, the crowd began to move. One followed the other until everyone was once again settled into their dens, and tucked into their blankets and furs. When the last whisper died out, the watchers lit extra candles to cast the shadows away, and stood guard this way for the rest of the week. 

# # # 

 

Getting used to living with Delphi was an adjustment for Sybil. She’d never known her father, and Delphi’s watchful eye could be unsettling. It’s like he sees everything, she thought to herself while tiptoeing across the marble floor. Delphi’s den was decorated in rare furs which she found fascinating. In all the years she was alive, Sybil never saw a real animal while it was alive. Whenever the hunters returned with meat, it was already stripped of any useable hide and fur, leaving it smooth, sometimes still stained pink with blood, but most times it was gray and colorless like the world around them. 

Slipping her fingers through the dark fur hanging from the wall, she closed her eyes and exhaled. It was the softest thing she’d ever felt. The furs in the den were a sign of status, but they were coarse in texture. This was like nothing she ever knew. Tears welled in her eyes and she leaned in, pressing her cheek against it. Her chest tightened and she held in a sob. What creature must this have been, she wondered, to wear something so beautiful 

Burying her face into it, she mourned for the beast even without knowing what it was, or if it was dangerous. 

“It came from a panther,” Delphi’s airy voice broke the moment causing Sybil to jolt, “They are extinct, now.” 

Sybil’s face crumpled and pinched, holding back more tears, “You killed it?” 

“No, no, child,” Delphi chuckled and shook his head, “You think I could do such a thing?” 

“Well, I …” she paused, a sense of shame rising to the surface in her cheeks, “I just see all the animals skinned and eaten.” 

“We must eat, yes?” 

“Yes, but …” 

“What makes one creature better than another?” 

Sybil’s jaw slackened as she attempted words, but she remained silent taking his in. He could tell he was making her work out her ideas with the presentation of a new one. This pleased him. 

“I did not kill the panther,” he said, walking toward the fur. His hand caressed the black hairs with affection, something sad creeping into his eyes, “It was my friend.” 

“Your friend? I don’t understand.” 

“I saved its life, it saved mine,” Delphi looked down at her and smiled, “And then we were friends.” 

“Then, how did your friend die” Sybil asked, letting her fingers tangle in the fur she was still stroking without realizing it. 

“Protecting me, one last time from the soldiers,” his eyes looked far away as he told the memory. Behind his glassy gaze, she could tell he was seeing it all over again, whatever happened, “I wanted to keep him near me always so I brought his fur back to my den.” 

He took in a deep breath and dropped his hand. 

“I did not want to wear it like some trophy, and I did not want to walk over it. So, here it sits on my wall near the fire to keep it warm, where we can both reminisce and talk.” 

Tears fell down Sybil’s cheeks. She only had one friend, and she died from sickness many years ago. It made her sad, the memories of her friends face seemed to fade more every day. 

“Will you sit with us, this evening?” 

Sybil blinked and looked at him. 

“Come,” he motioned to the campfire, “Let’s talk about Kobalos, and the mischief he caused.” 

A smile spread across her face and Delphi mirrored it with his own. She let out a quick laugh and so did he before sitting down and nodding with his head to the place opposite him. Sybil accepted the offer and sat down. There, they laughed and talked until the small hours of the night. When she could keep her eyes open no more, her mother appeared at the door with Crius for an escort. 

“I should take her for some sleep,” Dione said, her head lowered as she took a step forward.  

Delphi pulled his gaze away from Sybil who finally gave in to sleep and turned to Dione. 

“She still doesn’t know, does she?” 

Dione flicked her eyes up once to look upon her daughter, then back down to the floor again. 

“No, she does not.” 

Standing, Delphi gave the cue for Crius to leave. The deacon seemed lost in a moment of indecisiveness but bowed and exited the den. When he was gone, Delphi moved closer to Dione and lifted her chin with the tips of his fingers. When her eyes met his, he searched for answers in them. 

“Did I dishonor you in some way, Dione?” 

The suggestion itself pried her eyes open until they were wide with shock. 

“N-no,” she whispered firmly, “I did not want her to be raised with expectation or privilege.” 

“It’s hardly a privileged life we live,” he laughed. 

“You know what I mean, Delphi. The others can be cruel.” 

The corners of his eyes turned downward in sadness and he opened his mouth to debate but her finger pressed against them. 

“You cannot change hardened hearts, and you cannot manipulate human emotion of those who will not allow joy in their lives,” she sighed and leaned in, “we are a peaceful tribe, but it is a careful, delicate balance.” 

“Am I not allowed,” he began, pulling her finger from his lips and pressing his forehead to hers, “To experience some form of balance?” 

“You must lead men and women who know no concept of such a thing. Envy is a toxin we cannot afford.” 

Delphi could only nod his head to her wisdom. Her hand still cupped within his, he brought her palm to his lips and kissed it, then turned it toward herself to lay it on her chest. 

“I love only you, Dione,” his whisper hung between the two, “And I will honor your wishes but I will protect her with my life.” 

Dione’s shoulders dropped, giving in to his wishes. With a nod, she offered him one final smile before she pulled away and moved to her daughter. Sybil stirred as she was lifted into her mother’s strong, but wiry arms. Soon, Dione would not be able to hold her this way. Moving past the fire toward the doorway, she turned mouthing the words, “I love only you,” then exited. 

 

# # # 

 

The commotion from the adjoining den woke Sybil with a start. Two weeks had passed since the incident with the shadow-man and three more had gone missing. Nightmares filled her dreams. Lying there listening to the others voice their fears, she pulled the threadbare blanket up to her chin. They are scared, she thought, closing her eyes tight. Tears threatened to form behind her lids but she managed to push them back, opening them again. After a taking in a couple deep breaths, she slid upright and twisted her body so her legs hung over the side of her bed. As quiet as she could, she pushed forward setting her feet on the floor. She heard a noise near the door and stopped, lifting her gaze to seek the source of it. The chatter continued beyond, growing louder as moments passed. Walking her fingers toward her robe, she pulled it close and clung to it. She had no way of knowing whether it was night or day from where she was until she looked at the candle flickering on the table. It was burned down. Morning, her mind answered, and her stomach confirmed with a growl.  

Tugging the robe around her, she tied it place around her waist and stood. She used her toes to fish her shoes out from under the bed before pushing her feet inside, one at a time. Behind her, something stirred again making her shoulders tighten. Sybil spun on a heel and was confronted with Crius’ form standing inside the doorway. She dropped her hands to the knot in her belt and curled the end its fabric around her finger.  

“Why are you standing there,” Sybil asked, the confidence in her voice betrayed by a nervous fidget. Her finger curled into the end of the belt, looping it around the same finger, again. 

“I heard you stirring, I came to check on you,” he answered, letting his eyes drop to the opening of her robe crossing low on her chest in a “V”.  

“It’s customary to announce yourself before entering a room of opposite gender.” 

Crius’ smile was smug and he bowed in mockery. 

“Forgive me, madame,” he said, the words purring forth from his lips like a cat toying with its prey. Sybil’s heart fluttered a little faster with the extra dose of adrenaline pumping through her veins. Her nostrils widened, flaring at the corners, allowing more oxygen to enter her lungs and she felt her legs tremble.  

Don’t show him your weakness, she chided herself. Straightening her back, she looked away and turned to pick up the candle. Glancing at him over her shoulder, she forced a smirk. 

“I’m sure it won’t happen again,” she said in a warning tone, extending the candle forward to shed light on the room a bit more. She could see Crius did not move. Rolling her eyes, she willed her feet to move and stalked past him. The more distance she could put between them, the better she felt though she could still feel his eyes on her. Sybil couldn’t figure out what it was about him but she felt immediate danger whenever he cornered her in such a way-something which became a habit in the last few weeks. His guise of being her guardian was not convincing at all. Ulterior intention loomed behind his eyes, watching from the dark like the shadow-man. 

Putting Crius behind her, she padded into the next den. It was open and large enough to fit their entire tribe. Though no one spoke in loud tones, the combined whispers grew, sounding like the rush of a waterfall. Nothing distinct could be captured unless you were close enough, but unrest was evident in the tension suffocating the air all around. Their faces turned into one another, no one seemed to notice as she walked by. At the center of the den, Delphi sat in silence. He looked worn down and tired. Scratching at his beard, he looked up before pushing to his feet. The room went silent. Delphi held onto it, letting the absence of their whispers weigh down on them. It was deafening. 

“All of you have a right to complain, and all of you are right,” he began, “We are in danger.” 

The tribe continued their silence but many of them hung their head in shame, others due to hopelessness. Sybil had never witnessed this type of behavior from them, even when food was scarce.  

Sweeping his eyes across his people, the invisible connection pulling their attention from the floor to him once again, “We knew this time would come. Some have prepared for it their whole lives and passed it down to their children.” 

Eyes widened throughout the tribe, still fixed on their leader. 

“We must go to war,” he said, “It is time to end this, once and for all. For our sake, and for our children. We will not be afraid to sleep another night.” 

The crowd responded with the tapping of two fingers against their palm, a way of applauding without creating too much sound.  

“But remember,” Delphi said, calling back order, “War comes with death … theirs and ours.”  

Letting his warning dangle in the air, he turned and nodded to Iapetus. The deacon stepped in front of Delphi and the crowd parted, leading a path to where Sybil stood alone. She could feel her eyes still large and round from the shock of the word. War? She repeated over and over in her mind, Death? She was wringing her finger into the fabric of her belt again, lost in her own world when she heard Iapetus speak in a gentle tone into her ear, “Make way, Sybil.” 

His eyes were always soft and genuine, unlike Crius’. She swallowed a breath realizing she’d been holding it. All she could do was nod and step to the side in obedience, lowering her head as Delphi was lead past. 

 

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whiskey Bullet (unedited)

Another short story, unedited, for fun.

whiskey-october07

WHISKEY BULLET BY LISA VASQUEZ

© Lisa Vasquez

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or distributed, without the prior written permission 


Saturday: Guys Night
“Get your ass in gear, Chad. We’re leaving in ten minutes,” Mark yelled up to a window facing the drive. He was standing at the rear of his old Mustang where he’d hidden a stash of beer. The inside leather was always sticky and smelled like a locker room, but it was a vehicle. What that meant was Mark got to boss them around because we all kissed his ass. It didn’t matter how beat up his car looked on the outside, or that the ripped leather on the inside was peeling away to reveal the foam of the inner cushions. In the hierarchy of teenage boy priorities, Mark was the only one with a vehicle.
Growing impatient, he mashed his hand down on the horn and leaned into it, “Let’s go ladies!”
The three of them – Mark, Chad and John — had been planning this trip since the beginning of their senior year. It was supposed to be their coming of age vacation. Coming from a small town like theirs, crossing the country line to the city was about all the excitement they’d ever had. So, when Chad’s older brother sent him a text about a bar past the California border into Mexico where the women were as cheap as the beer and there was no I.D. check, the three of them began to save up every penny.
“I’m coming!” Chad shouted down to him from his bedroom window. He didn’t know the first thing about packing. He stood there, glancing around his room where his clothes were scattered and sighed. His mother was right, it did look like a cyclone hit it. Grabbing a pair of boxers off the floor, he brought them to his nose and took a whiff.
“Clean enough.”
“You pack like a girl,” John smirked as he walked in, “I need to take a piss.”
Chad gave his friend the bird and shoved the semi-clean boxers into his bag. He had his toothbrush, a bar of soap, 5 pairs of boxers, a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of jeans. He was going through the mental checklist of things he wanted to bring with but Mark was shouting and blaring the horn out front.
“Damnit, Mark! You’re gonna get me grounded before I can leave the house!”
The toilet flushed behind him and John snagged his duffle bag off the edge of the bed, “Shotgun.”
“What? No!” Kicking the frame of his bed, Chad let out a frustrated growl. He hated riding in the back, it made him carsick. Especially when John and Mark started smoking. Brushing his fingers through his hair, he stared at the floor. Was it worth the stress? Fuck it, he thought.
Grabbing his bag from off his mattress, he flew down the stairs yelling goodbye to his mother who was still on the phone with her cousin down the street. Giving a wave of her hand, she turned and went back into the house. Chad slammed his bag onto the mattress.
“Sorry, slowpoke.” Mark teased.
The three of them gathered around the trunk and cracked open a few beers watching the sun begin to set over the flat horizon of their small Illinois town.
“To senior trips.” They said in unison, then gulped down the piss-water in a can.
The trip was mapped out throughout their fifth period study hall. Mark’s older brother had written to him about a bar he once visited in the middle of nowhere, Mexico. The women were cheaper than the beer, according to what the letter said.
Mark had was born and raised on farm at the edge of town. No one in his family had ever gone anywhere except Mark’s brother Jack who joined the army to get out of the small town life. Mark and his family hadn’t even pulled in enough money in profits from the year’s crops to go see his brother graduate from boot camp. Instead, they waited for weekly phone calls that eventually turned into monthly postcards.
The last post card was addressed only to Mark, telling him of the bar and enticing him to come out after senior year.
It didn’t take much persuading.
“You think we’ll … you know, get lucky?” John asked with a boyish grin sneaking a look into the backseat.
Chad’s face flushed, matching the color of his hair.
“For sure, dude. Chad might even get to watch!”
The two guys laughed before Chad threw a bag of chips at them.
“Oh seriously, I didn’t realize I was traveling with a troupe of comedians.”
John and Mark snickered and focused back on the road ahead of them. The windows were rolled down and the music was shaking the seats. Life was pretty darn good.

***

Sunday: Land of the Lost
“Uh…” Chad stuttered trying to remember the words, “Donde… donde estoy…”
The man with the brown skin stared at him without expression.
“C’mon Chad, for real? Four years of Spanish?”
“Shut up! I’m frickin Irish. I can’t dance. I drink like a fish. I can’t speak Spanish,” He sighed and went back to addressing the stoic face in front of him, “La…la… Shoot. Do you understand anything I’m sayin?”
The man took in a slow deep breath and when he spoke, it sounded as if he’d been drinking sand instead of whatever it was in the Styrofoam cup. The cup looked to be as old as Mark’s car.
“If I spoke Spanish, I still wouldn’t know what you were saying,” the old man said, “I’m Indian.”
Mark and John exploded into laughter from behind and Chad lifted his middle finger without looking back.
“Great. That’s awesome. Dude, can you please tell me where this highway is?” He pointed to the map and the Indian man chuckled.“You past it.”
“Past it? What? Where?”
“About 200 miles ago.”
The guys all groaned and John kicked the tire in frustration.
“I thought you said you could read a map, John!” Mark said with a shove to his shoulder.
Mark shoved him back and the two began to scuffle. Chad sighed and threw up his arms. His whole life had been watching these two work things out like this. Walking past them, Chad wandered into the old store. He ducked below the wind chimes used as a doorbell to alert the clerk who was nowhere to be found to customers coming in.
The air was hot and dry, he was sticky and irritated, and he wasn’t in the mood to deal with the two idiots rolling around swinging punches at one another. He decided to take his time and browse the shelves for something with an expiration date in the current decade. When it seemed his luck was running thin, he found his favorite candy bar and it looked brand new. Well, it had the least amount of dust on it. Chad snatched it from the shelf and headed toward the coolers when he slid on something and hit the floor.
“What the…!” he shouted.
He tried to turn to his side and get up but whatever it was he was swimming in made him look like a fish out of water.
The door shoved open and Mark was slapping dust and dirt off his clothing, “Yo, Jackass! What’s the hold up.”
Chad was still on the floor grunting and sliding trying to regain his footing when Mark came around the aisle, “Dude? What did you…”
Chad looked up at him. From the corner where he stood the shadows made it seem like he was in pitch darkness. The whole store was full of shadows and the walls were yellow from the nicotine stained fluorescent lights, and paper covered windows. Staring at one another in silence, it dawned on them that there was an awful stench, like rotten meat, coming from the back room.
“I swear to God that better not be shit I fell into,” Chad said bringing his hand up to sniff it but the look on Mark’s face caused him to freeze before bringing it to his face, “What?”
Chad finally stood up and attempted to step past him when the light above them flickered off, then on again. He looked down and could was able to make out the brownish-red stickiness that coated his arms and shirt.
“Mark?”
Mark was already heading toward the front of the store, knocking a rack of stale chips down with Chad close behind. When the two reached the car John was still trying to make sense of the map. He had a cigarette dangling from his lips, dropping it on the center when Chad threw open the door and fell against him.
“Asshat!”
“Start the car!”
“That was my last ciga—“
Mark was on top of them and slamming the door when John realized that Chad was covered in old blood and the color in both of his friends’ faces were drained.
“Drive the fuckin’ car, John!” Mark screamed.
John swatted the cigarette off his lap and threw the car into drive, peeling out of the parking lot.

***

Monday: Highway to Hell
“Turn left.” Mark said.
“No, it’s a right.” Chad argued.
“Jesus, I can’t wait to be out of the car with you two. This better be worth it. And there better be a place to shower you stink like ass-maggots, Chad!”
“Just turn right!” Chad yelled, shoving his back against the seat even further.
He thought better of it once he felt the slimy way the shirt slid across his skin. His stomach churned and made a gurgling noise letting him know it was time to find a bathroom. Soon.
It was late and the heat of the desert was getting to them. The air was dry and they were all tired, drunk and probably a little high. Out of nowhere, a buzzing sign emblazoned against the dark sky like a neon sun flashed “MOTEL” … Okay, it was missing letters and said “O – EL”. It didn’t matter. The fact that it was in the middle of nowhere, had one truck parked in the back and looked like it was from another decade didn’t matter, either. All they cared about was getting out of the car. A warm shower and a clean bed was also a nice bonus.
Mark was the first one out of the Mustang, pushing the squeaky door open with an exaggerated groan. He stretched his legs out one at a time until the impatient Chad helped him the rest of the way with a shove.
“Jesus, assmaggot!”
Great. The nickname stuck. Like his shirt.
“Whatever.”
Chad couldn’t wait to get into the shower, now. His shirt was clinging … no, it was crawling along his skin and he wanted it off. He could smell his own armpits. He was pretty sure his shoes had somehow grown attached to his feet and he didn’t want to think about what he’d contracted from the blood on the floor in the convenience store in the gas station the booked out of.
“Not that this place looks any better.” He whispered to himself and stared at the glass door.
Something ran cold inside of him but he ignored it. His grandfather always told him to listen to his inner voice but tonight he had two voices. One was telling him not to go in. The other telling him to take a shower. The one telling him to take a shower was screaming so it won and he shoved the door open and walked up to the front desk. The waiting room smelled of stale cigarettes and pine cleaner.
“Hey, there.”
The guy behind the counter was wearing a yellowed t-shirt that once upon a time was white and a pair of polyester brown shorts. My night just keeps getting better, Chad thought to himself.
“Hellooo.” Chad said again when the man didn’t answer and followed with a ding to the desktop bell.
The clerk turned and Chad almost took a step back. He had one good eye behind the thick lenses of his glasses and the other was almost completely white. Because the lenses were so thick it enhanced the creep factor ten-fold and made Chad’s flesh crawl and his throat constrict.
“The Hell you wun’t Townie?” the clerk barked.
“A r-room, please.” Chad stammered.
“Cash only,” he said before leaning over and using his one good eye to gaze past Chad to the parking lot at Mark and John wrestling outside of the Mustang, “Y’all into that boy n’ boy shit?”
“What?” Chad’s eyes grew large with surprise and the color drained from his face, “No, sir!”
“We don’t have none of that stuff goin’s on here, ya’hear me!”
The clerk was shouting at Chad and leaning over the counter pointing his nicotine stained finger at his face. He was so wired up about what he perceived as foreplay by the horsing around outside that his bushy brows rose back on his forehead forcing his creepy eyes to bulge and his toothless mouth to flap spitting whatever mush was in his bowl at Chad’s already abused shirt.
Chad’s Irish blood was boiling. He was trying with all his might to keep his calm but the color that left his face earlier was returning to his cheeks.
“Sir! Can I have my dang room?” Chad slapped his money on the counter and then shoved back from the counter.
The old clerk stopped ranting and looked down at the money and slid it off the counter, shoving it into his pocket. He pulled a key off the peg board behind him and placed it on the counter.
“Check out is at 11. Don’t be late.”
Chad stepped forward, snatched the key off the counter and left muttering under his breath as he stomped down the walkway watching the doors and the numbers in the front of them. He didn’t bother calling after the knuckleheads still playing around in the front. He was done playing babysitter for one night. This was turning into a disaster and for once, he missed that stupid town and his stupid bed he’d had since he was ten.
“Hey! Wait up!”
He was always waiting up. He was done. He was going to shower. Get some rest. Then in the morning he was going to pull out the map. He was going to find that stupid bar, have some drinks, and find him a hot woman. For once, he was going to have something go right.
Chad stopped in front of the door that said Room 1301. This was it. He put the key in the door, and went in.
The smell hit him first. What the Hell is it with the smells in this town? He thought to himself. He was so tired, he almost didn’t care but just to be sure there wasn’t some dead animal or bird locked in the room he flicked on the light.
Nothing.
From behind Tweedle-Dumb and Tweedle-Idiot tumbled in almost knocking him over, “Oh my God, dude. Ugh!”
“Did you dust the room?”
“Shut up.” Chad said, dropping his duffle bag and walking toward the bathroom.
The two shrugged and snickered, flopping into the chairs by the table that sat next to the window. Mark turned on the television and tossed a can of beer to John.
Chad turned on the shower and looked in the mirror. He was filthy. Whatever he slipped in at the convenience store was dry and crusted all over his hair, his back and his shirt. His arms were coated in it, his jeans, his shoes and he smelled. It reminded him of the year that his old Frigidaire went out just after winter and the meat they had stored up went bad. The blood was jelly and stunk the whole barn up. His dad forced him to go out there with him and Grandpop to clean up the mess and he complained until he saw the maggots. He threw up until he thought his shoes were going to come up through his butthole through his nose.
He thought he would never forget that smell but he must have until today.
Chad could feel his hands shaking and his lips trembling. He closed his eyes and he tried to drown out the laughter of his friends out in the other room. It amazed him that something as simple as a road trip changed the dynamics of a friendship. Morons, he thought with a sigh.
Reaching out with a hand, he turned on the cold water and began to wash the muck that was caked on his face. The cool water felt good against the heat beneath his skin. The sudden urge to get clean was overwhelming and he grabbed the soap and lathered up even using his nails to scratch at the scales of whatever was still clinging to him when he heard a thump.
“Damn, guys, you’re gonna get us kicked out! Keep it down!”
Chad lowered his head and washed the water off but soap got into his eye and began to burn.
“Ow, dang it!”
He reached out for the towel that was hanging next to the sink and pressed it against his face, then sat down on the toilet while the pain subsided. There was more thumping from the other room and Chad squinted enough to get an eye on the door, kicking it closed out of frustration. I just want a shower, he thought, If I get a shower, I’ll be me again.
He tossed the towel onto the sink and turned on the shower then peeled off the clothes and tossed them into the corner. His socks were soaked all the way through. As he sat waiting for the water to warm up, he stared at his shoes and sighed. He’d have to buy new ones before going anywhere tomorrow night.
The water on his hand grew nice and warm and he turned into the shower, letting the water fall over his body. Chad’s forehead pressed against the tile in front of him. He was mentally and physically exhausted from this trip. He hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours. His brain felt like it was floating in a fish bowl. He closed his eyes to enjoy the moment and came close to falling asleep standing up. If it weren’t for feeling his forehead sliding down the tile he would’ve ended up in an embarrassing situation.
Chuckling to himself, Chad pressed his palms against the wall and looked down at his feet when he noticed the water was a dark red and something was floating up from the drain.
“What the –!”
He kicked his feet and stepped back, pulling the shower curtain and rod down in a loud crash as he slipped. Tangled up in the plastic, he could feel that whatever was in the tub with him was hair and was wrapping around his leg now.
“Oh God, what ….what is that?” He yelled, still sliding and struggling to break free of the shower curtain.
“Mark! …Jesus…JOHN! Jeeesus!”
He managed to unravel the curtain and backstep far enough away from the “thing” in the drain when he heard the knocking on the door.
“Hello!” it said, “Are you alright?”
It was a female voice.
Chad was trembling as he pulled the towel around him and went to the door. He pulled it open and looked at the woman standing there. She was tiny, about 5 feet 5 inches tall, if that. She had dark hair and eyes that were a strange reddish brown color.
“You were makin’ a lot of noise. Are you okay in there?”
“Yes, sorry. I …there was something in the drain.” Chad said, trying not to sound like an idiot. It wasn’t working too well.
The girl’s face changed. Her brows went from a thin, tightly knitted brow of annoyance to a softer more appreciative gaze. She was drinking in his half nude, freshly soaked body wrapped in a white hotel towel. It didn’t leave much to the imagination. And one didn’t need much of one because the towel was also very thin and worn.
Suddenly growing very bashful, Chad closed the door in front of him a bit more to try and conceal himself. The girl found this amusing.
“So’s there’s this bar up the road we go to all the time. It ain’t much but y’know it’s the local waterin’ hole. Sometimes the jukebox works and sometimes when Billy ain’t too drunk he might play a lil somethin’ live.” She smiled wide and hopeful, “Think you might wanna come out?”
“A bar?”
He wanted to laugh like a madman. They were right there? Really?
“Well, yeah let me ask my friends if they…”
He turned to ask Mark and John and realized he was the only one there. Sonova…
“Ahh…Looks like they found it already.”
She smiled and looked like that green-fellowed character from the Dr. Seuss books.
“Meet’ya up there in a bit?”
“Sure. Just gotta put some clothes on.”
The girl let her eyes roam over his body again and then met his gaze again.
“Don’t forget. Down the road. That way.” She pointed, then waved with a little bounce in her step before she sashayed off.
Chad closed the door then cursed under his breath. Figures! Idiots left me here and didn’t say a word. Always doing dumb things, and I have to clean up the mess. Now, I have to go find them and walk down a dark road in the heat…
He stopped, took a breath and tried to get a grip. Sleep deprivation was getting to him again and he had to try and keep himself together. He forgot about the “creature” in the tub for a moment until he had looked up to find his comb.
“Well now I know what that smell was. Sorta.”
He tiptoed toward the bathroom and reached as far as he could without actually stepping in again and snatched the comb off the sink, then knelt on the ground and grabbed his shoes. They were still filthy so he used his towel to clean them as much as he could.
A quick glance in the mirror and he shrugged. It was good enough.

***

This Ain’t No Disco

The old saloon…yes saloon, not bar… looked abandoned from a mile away. Shutters hung from hinges, rusted out many years ago. There was a dirty hound flopped lazily outside and two guys that looked like the bonafide Bartles and James perched outside the door.
A faded sign swung back and forth. The weight of it against the rusted chains sang out in protest. “Whiskey And Bullets Saloon” was spelled out in faded old western lettering. What once appeared to be a local favorite, was now a ghost of its former self …. until the sun went down.
Chad’s legs were screamed in protest from the long walk but he was determined not to let his friends have fun while he took all the abuse on this trip. The music was live tonight. Just like the girl told him. Whoever Billy was, must not have been too drunk. Good, that meant more for him. Ignoring the blisters on his feet, he gave Bartles and James a nod and went in.
The stench of stale beer and smoke assaulted his senses and he laughed. It’s the best thing I’ve smelled so far.
He walked through the empty tables and squinted, trying to see in the dark. There was a pole and a strobe light that was making his tired eyes hard to keep open and even harder to keep focused as he searched for Mark and John. The amplifier was old and the humidity had gotten into it because it was scratchy and buzzing, making the music loud and distorted. In turn it made his brain feel like it was being put through shock treatment.
“This better be worth it.”
Stumbling past a few more chairs, he found a door that led to a back room, Chad held the heel of his palm to his head and decided he needed just a min to collect himself. Hoping it was quiet in there, he took a chance and went in. The good news was that there was no strobe light. The bad news was that it was much darker. There was a red light somewhere in the corner but the flashing light from the other room was still reverberating on the back of his lids.
He tried to squeeze his eyes shut for a few seconds to adjust them to the light but opening them was so much harder. After a few moments, he finally gave in.
“Just a few minutes…”
He wasn’t sure how long he was out before the sound of the shotgun went off the first time. Screaming pulled him from the depths of the unconsciousness like coming up from deep waters in the night. He had no sense of direction, no sense of where he was, and was out of his element.
With his heart pounding, he fell to the ground and sought whatever shelter he could.
Okay, Okay…where am I. he thought. This was just like when he was younger. He’d had night terrors since he was five. Sometimes he’d wake up in the next room. Sometimes he’d wake up outside. It was more frightening when he was out of the house or in the neighbor’s cornfield. As he got older, he’d learned to look to the sky and navigate which direction his house was. Tonight, the sky wasn’t there. Only blackness.
Close your eyes and listen.
More screaming. The screaming was coming from the below him. Below him?
“Help! Please! Someone help us!”
Jesus, that was Mark!
“Shut up, Townie.” A woman slurred.
There was a groan. A muffled groan and something else…something wet. Gurgling. The woman was humming now.
“Help! God, I know you hear us up there! Help me!”
“They ain’t gonna help you, idiot.” She said.
Mark began to scream again and another explosion of the shotgun went off. Chad was hiding under a dusty couch with his ear pressed to the wood floor and the force of its percussion made his ear ring with pain. For a moment he was deaf and couldn’t hear anything.
When the sound came rushing back, he could hear the footsteps coming up the stairs leading from the cellar to the room he was in. He tried to make himself as small as he could by curling into a fetal position under the dust ruffle. Even in the darkness, he was afraid of being spotted. When the woman came into the room, she was unsteady on her feet, he could make out the way her boots slid and scuffed with each step, and she drug the muzzle of the shotgun behind her.
“Ella!” She shouted, “I thought you told that other one to come, too!”
“I did!” the other girl screeched back from upstairs somewhere.
Ella must have been the dark haired girl that came to the door at the hotel. Chad was starting to put it all together as he lie there on the floor. He could feel his teeth start to chatter, so he tried to clench his jaw tighter to control it.
When the woman who was in the room came into his line of sight, Chad realized his eyes had adjusted to the darkness and the red light was coming from a lantern hanging outside. There were spaces in the planks wide enough to see in… and out. This wasn’t looking too good for him making a stealthy escape.
He looked back at the woman, trying to see where she was and saw her come around the bar. In one hand was a bottle of whiskey, and in the other was her shotgun. She had on a black, leather vest and a pair of chaps. Chad’s brows drew closer together and he squinted. Is she wearing pants underneath her chaps? What the Hell?
She was bare-ass naked, and drunk as a skunk. How did his friends get taken by this woman? She was even holding the gun upside down!
When the woman got to the door, she let out a soft curse and looked down at her bottle and the gun and seemed truly at a crossroad. Did she put down the bottle, or her weapon to open the door? Without skipping a beat, she stuck the gun between her thighs, squeezing them together to hold it in place, then pulled on the handle of the door.
To her dismay it didn’t open.
“Ellie!” she shouted up at the ceiling, again.
“What, Whiskey!”
“You locked me in again, bitch!”
The woman called “Whiskey” now tugged and pulled on the door in such a fury that her rear end jumped and twitched and her blonde hair flailed over her shoulders like a wild thing caught in a cage. She pulled so hard that she stumbled back and gave it a clumsy kick to which it opened in the correct direction.
Chad had seen enough of this and finally stood up in a slow, fluid motion from under the couch. This bitch was dumb, slow and drunk. His friends weren’t much higher on the food chain but he was getting out of here, and doing it in one piece. He tip-toed across the wood floor, careful of the loose boards like his old farmhouse and was so close behind her he could smell that high proof alcohol permeating from her skin. He crossed his arm and was about to backhand her when she turned in slow motion.
When she turned in his direction, he thought his world was turning in another. His own mind couldn’t comprehend what the fuck he was looking at. She was laughing at him. But it wasn’t her face. It was John’s face stretched over hers.
Chad started to back up and Whiskey was following him, using her shotgun like an old stick horse, “Bang, bang!” she yelled out, pointing her fingers at him.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!”
He tried to take more steps but was stopped by something behind him. He was scared to turn around so he just stood there, wide eyed and staring at Whiskey. He pressed his hands behind him and felt the flat surface, then looked up and saw Ellie wink at him before catching his neck in the loop of a rope and pulling up.
“I caught me a piggie!” she sang out, then made a squealing noise.
Whiskey danced in front of him on her stick-horse shotgun and sang from behind her John-face-mask, “Eenie, meanie, min-ee, moe, catch a Townie, by the toe, if he hollars, let him … go?” she put her hand on her hip and laughed, “Hell no!”
“You’re crazy, bitch!” Chad spit out at her.
Whiskey’s eyes narrowed to dangerous slits behind the eyeholes of her mask, “I am not a bitch.” she hissed. The words rolled off her lips and she turned grabbing the shotgun from between her legs. He ruined her game. He ruined her buzz.
Pacing in back and forth in frustration she stopped and let out a sigh before she lifted the mask of Chad’s friend’s face over her head.
“Fuck it. I guess I am.”
Whiskey took a deep breath and her face brightened again. She smiled wide and pressed the bottle of amber liquid to her lips, tilting her head way back and guzzling. The heat burned her throat and the fire curled into her chest. She let out a howl and then aimed the barrel at Chad and shot him in the face painting the walls of the Saloon with bone fragment.

***

The sun was high and the sky met the sand in a golden wave of heat. Down the road dust followed an approaching vehicle for a mile until it came to a stop in front of the saloon. The hound that was there the night before was still lying there but the two old men were long gone. In their place was a petite blonde woman with a worn cowboy hat tipped low over her face. A man stepped out of the police car taking his time and in no particular hurry. He looked around a bit, then walked over to the woman until he was standing in front of her never saying a word.
Whiskey didn’t bother to up.
After a long moment…a moment that would seem awkward to others… there was a buzzing near her ear and she lifted her hand to give a lazy swat at a mosquito.
“Mornin’ Sheriff.” The dark-skinned, Native American man said before he spit into his cup, “Got a welfare check from the townies this mornin’. Three male teenagers.”
Whiskey smiled under the brim of her hat before lifting her head and getting to her feet, “Another day in paradise, ain’t it, Chief?”

Bunny and Clyde (Short Story)

The following short story was featured in Collected Easter Horror Shorts. If you want to read more twisted tales, please click on the book and follow the link!

Easter_Final_Revised 3.22.17

Bunny and Clyde
By Lisa Vasquez

 

©Lisa Vasquez
All Rights Reserved
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or distributed, without the prior written permission.

Clyde was sitting very still on his bed, staring at the basket in the center of his floor. Mother had left it for him, like she did every year, for Easter. And every year, the baskets became a little more different. When he was younger, the baskets were dressed up in beautiful pastel colors. Plastic grass would cascade over the sides, topped with chocolate candy, a myriad of simple toys, and dyed eggs all arranged happily within its cellophane wrapping. At the very top she would tie a giant bow.

After his younger sister died, Clyde saw a change in his mother, too.

The change was mirrored by the appearance of the black woven basket sitting before him, filled with dirt. Not just any dirt. Dirt from his sister’s grave.

It was still dark outside, and the half-light from the windows behind him, caused long shadows to appear along the walls. Clyde could feel the fear rising within him, as his heart kicked up the pace, bouncing around his ribcage, like a hummingbird.

Clyyyyyde.”

The whisper preceded the screech of nails on glass. Her silhouette loomed, filling the window frame and darkening the room.

“Not again,” he whispered. “Please? Not again.”

Play with me.”

A chill trickled down the young boy’s spine, like ice water sliding over each vertebra, one at a time.

“Go away!” Clyde shouted over his shoulder.

“Get up, sleepy head,” his mother whispered from the door. “It’s Easter. Get up, and come down for breakfast.”

Clyde jerked with a start, and looked over at his mother. Her dark hair hung like curtains, on either side of her slender face. The absence of glowing warmth, where the sun had once kissed her cheeks, was replaced by pasty alabaster skin. Once, her eyes were bright and loving, but now they were ringed in dark, bruise-colored circles. The contrast in color made them appear more menacing, and she was staring right through him, as if he wasn’t there.

When she turned away, he climbed out of bed and tiptoed to the door. He watched his mother disappear down the hall and into the kitchen,  before continuing to follow. He could smell the coffee brewing and hear her rummaging for a spoon in the silverware drawer. Turning back toward his room, he saw black fingers curling around the door jamb, and strands of matted hair, before the dark, oily shine of his sister’s eye locked on him.

Clyde’s lungs froze, and he backed up too quickly, bumping into the table of family pictures. The one of his sister fell over.

Play with me Clyde,” she called softly to him, again. He could hear her faint and warbled voice, as if she was still under water.

Backing away, he shook his head before running into his mother’s room. The curtains were still closed, leaving the room drenched in darkness. Even at eight-years-old, Clyde was still afraid of the dark … especially now that he knew what lingered in it. He just wanted to be away from her.  Running for the bathroom, he opened the linen closet, and climbed in behind the laundry basket, making himself as small as he could.

Closing his eyes, Clyde tried to control his breathing. It was coming in loud, frightened gasps, and his lungs worked overtime to bring oxygen to his brain.

Unable to find his own voice to call for her, he stayed frozen by fear, in the cramped fetal position. Every year that passed, his sister seemed to grow stronger. Her ability to manifest changed from a ghostly apparition and whispers, to appearing on the physical plane. There were even nights he woke to her sitting on his chest, with her long, dark hair tickling his cheeks. The smell of chlorine would be strong on her breath, and the feel of her skin was bitter cold; so cold it made him shiver.

When he tried to cry for his mother, nothing came out. Just like now.

***

After what seemed like a few hours, Clyde jerked awake. He had no way of telling how much time had passed, but the absence of light coming from beyond the closet door told him it must be night. He pushed the basket away with care, trying not to make a sound, then went to his knees, wrapping his fingers around the doorknob. Rotating it slowly, he cracked it open an inch and peered out.

There was no sound coming out of the darkness.

Pushing the door open wider, he emerged and crawled on all fours to the doorway leading to his mother’s attached bedroom. With the help of the dimly lit lamp on her bedside table, he could see she was asleep. Lying there with such a peaceful look on her face, her chest rose and fell below the blankets. It made him sad to think he could not remember the last time he saw her this way.

Rising to his feet, he tiptoed to her bed and stared down at her, hoping to extend the moment. He reached out to touch her, but pulled back, afraid that it might wake her. Let her sleep, he thought, She’s been through so much.

As he took a step back, his mother’s eyes shot open and she sat upright. She looked around the room and then straight at him, but it was as if she could not see him. Looking straight through him, she called out in a voice still lost in a dream, “Who’s there?”

“Momma it’s ok, it’s me.”

Clyde reached out for her, but his mother’s eyes drifted shut again and she sank back onto her pillow. The corners of his mouth turned down and he did his best to hold back his tears. When he turned to leave, he saw the bottles of pills lined up neatly on the bedside table.

“You didn’t open … your basket,” she whispered from her pill-induced coma.

“Sorry, momma,” he whimpered. “I’ll go right now and do it. I promise.”

He waited for a response, but she was already gone from consciousness, once again. Wiping away his tears, Clyde left her there, and crept toward his room. The hallway seemed to grow longer, as he came nearer to the doorway where he’d last seen his sister appear. Plopping down in front of the basket, he let the tears fall freely onto his cheeks, stinging his skin with their salty heat. He wiped his sleeve under his nose, and reached for the basket. His eyes widened, as he watched water begin rising and spilling out of it.

Shoving himself back, his mouth dropped opened as a hand rose from where the water saturated the dirt, turning it to mud. The hand, whose fingers were balled into a fist, opened one finger at a time, stretching into the air. Inch by inch, it pulled itself up until the arm became an elbow and then, like a baby being pushed into the world, the head began to crown.

There was a gushing of water, and he watched on in horror, witnessing the basket fold open and his sister’s shoulders begin to emerge. With one hand free, she pulled herself up from whatever Hell she came from. Her blackened fingers scratched and clawed at the floorboards. The same scratching noise he always heard before she appeared.

“Go away!” he shouted at her, huddling tighter to the wall behind him, “You’re dead. Stay dead!”

The more his sister emerged, the more the water from the basket crept closer toward him. Her body turned, and she flopped onto her back like a breaching fish. Wet, black strands of hair covered her entire face except for the one, cloudy black eye always watching him. Her blue skin expanded and contracted in time with the opening of her mouth. Was she trying to breathe? Her body erected itself, and she stared down at her estranged sibling, before she collapsed. Her body flopped to the other side with a loud thud, pulling her other arm out. With both arms free, she used them to escape from the invisible grasp on her.

Reaching out to Clyde, she opened her mouth.  Dirty water, soiled with algae, leaves and knots of her hair came spilling out. She was trying to speak. Her little lips moved and he expected to hear his sister’s voice. Instead, the voice that came out was monstrous and sent chills through his already trembling body.

Clyde. Please… help.”

Shaking his head, he shut his eyes tight and cried. Fear wore him down. He could no longer bring himself to run and hide.

“Bunny, I can’t. You’re …” his words hitched in his throat and he choked out a sob before he could finish the sentence, “You’re dead.”

Bunny rolled onto her stomach and pressed her face against the floor, her nose and mouth submerged by the water. Clyde crawled toward his sister, unable to fight against all the warnings screaming in his head. When he was close enough, she reached out and took hold of his wrist. He smiled for a split second, feeling the touch of his sister’s hand. It was real. As frightening as her appearance was, he never equated with the monster being her. But when her fingers tightened on his wrist, his smile melted into a grimace. He could feel the flow of blood stop and the sensation of pins and needles creeping through his fingers.

“Bunny, you’re hurting me! Let go!”

With a sharp pull, Clyde’s body slid against the floor, his pajama bottoms soaking up the water as she began to drag him toward her. Panic swelling within his chest, he thrashed against the unnatural strength of her grip. Bubbles appeared around her face, which was tilted slightly so she could stare at him, like always, through the part in her hair, as she continued to draw him closer.

Letting out a scream, Clyde used his free hand to strike at his sister, filling him with guilt with each blow he landed against the back of her head. After the fourth or fifth one, her grip released and he bolted out of the room. He ran as fast as he could until he crashed into the wall next to the sliding glass door. Wanting to put as much distance between his sister and him, he slid it open and ran out. He could still feel her breath tracing against the exposed skin of his neck.

Clyde turned his head to look behind him, and tripped when his foot was caught by the leg of one of the patio chairs. He watched the sky pass overhead as he fell into the pool, neglected since the day Bunny drowned in it.

When his body hit the water, his head slammed against the concrete deck, sending lightning bolts of pain throughout his skull and forcing his mouth to open wide. Bubbles of air escaped and rolled to the surface. Looking up, he saw Bunny standing there, silhouetted by the porch light behind her.

With a mouthful of water, and blood seeping from his cut, Clyde tried to swim up for air but his clothes were too loose and tangled around him, making it hard to move. He felt something hook onto his foot and looked down to see it was Bunny. Her fingers hooked into his pant leg and she began to pull him toward the bottom of the pool with her.

His lungs burned and his oxygen was depleted; he was going to die. Clyde kicked at his sister’s hand with wild abandon, but her hold was too strong. Unable to hold his breath any longer, he released it and felt the cool intake of water rush in.

Lucy smiled as she listened to her two children at play, running through the yard and chasing one another. She peeked out the window and saw Bunny was bouncing through the grass, a blue ribbon on her dress floating on the wind behind her. Following her was Clyde, reaching out for the end of it in his best Sunday suit.

“Don’t get dirty!” she called out, with a laugh, “We have church in thirty minutes!”

“OK, momma!” Clyde called back, amidst the fit of giggles.

The breakfast dishes were washed and dried, and she was putting them away, when the phone rang. She looked out the window  one more time before she picked it up.

“Hello?”

Hey, Lucy. It’s me,” her husband said on the other end.

Lucy’s smile dropped, along with the color in her face, and her eyes welled with tears, “Bill?”

With the static on the other end, she could barely hear him speak. Pressing the phone into her ear, she used her finger to plug the other, hoping it would help.

“Bill, I—I can’t hear you,” her voice was shaking, as she leaned into the receiver, “C—can you speak up, Bill? Where are you?”

The other end of the line seemed to go dead. Lucy covered her mouth, as she pressed her back against the wall and slid down. Unable to hold back, she let out a sob, and tried to blink away her tears. Behind them, the world seemed to be under water and blurry. When the tears would not clear, and she could not breathe, she clawed at her eyes and throat with one hand, while still gripping the phone in the other. The static on the line grew louder, followed by a sudden, high pitched screech. The noise was so loud, Lucy pulled the receiver away from her ear.

Dropping it on the floor, she felt instant relief as air filled rapidly into her lungs, and then used it to scream out, “Bill!”

An angry dial tone chopped through the small speaker of the earpiece. Lucy reached for it again then froze at the voice on the line.

Lucy! The children! Save the children!”

She let out a scream, and scrambled to her feet, realizing she had not heard Bunny and Clyde’s laughter the entire time she’d been on the phone. When she got to the sliding glass door, she threw it open and looked around. She couldn’t see either one of them.

Lucy’s stomach dropped, and her lungs constricted so they felt like they were squeezing her heart toward her throat. The pressure against the pounding muscle caused her chest to ache and her head to swim. Adrenaline jolted through her veins flicking on the switch turning “helpless” into “action”, and she ran toward the pool. When she looked down she could see the cover of the pool had fallen in.

“No!” she screamed, falling to her knees. Leaning closer, she peered into the murky water and saw a shadow.“Clyde? Oh my God, Clyde! Give me your hand!”

She reached out toward him, drawing herself nearer, until she could see his face. His big, brown eyes were open, but the light was gone from them. He was floating there, still and serene, as if suspended in time. For a moment, she felt like he was cradled in a state of serenity, waiting for her to save him.

“It’s OK, baby. Give me your hand,” she sobbed, “Momma’s here…Give me your hand, Clyde!”

There was a sudden jerk of his body, and a split second of awareness, before his final breath left his body, forcing a trail of bubbles toward her. When his body went limp again, he floated down, lost to the black-green depths, out of range to the sounds of her screams, echoing above.

The scream from the dream was dragged out along with Lucy and into the darkness of the room where she was sleeping. It had been three years since she lost her children. They kept telling her it would get easier, but it didn’t. It only got harder.

After her husband died, and left her with two small children, and then to lose them three years later, she could only fall asleep with the aid of the medicine her doctor prescribed. It didn’t stop the reoccurring nightmares, which were progressing, and becoming more real. She focused on her breathing, a technique used to calm her down, when she felt a chill creep across her arm. Looking down, she could see by the light of the lamp on her bedside table, the fine hairs standing straight up. Her skin had dimpled to the drop in the air’s temperature.

Though she was afraid to look, she forced her head to turn. She could see them. They were real. A set of dirty footprints. By the size of them she could tell they were from a small child, and they lead into her room from the hallway, where her children’s room remained untouched.

Leaning over, Lucy looked down. The footsteps ended next to her bed.

The End