An Original Short Story

This story was originally published in Death Throes Literary Ezine, which as far as I can tell is now defunct.  More’s the pity; they showcased some good stuff.

 

Punkin Chunkin

An Original Short Story

©2013 Michael Chambers.  All rights reserved.

 

“Mornin’, Pete,” Jake said, leaning out the window of his patrol car as he pulled up next to the contraption.  It looked like one of those catapult things, he thought as he wiped sweat from his forehead.  For October, it was pretty damned hot.

“Mornin’ Sheriff,” Pete said, tightening a bolt on what looked like an oversized garage door spring with an ancient socket wrench.  “Looks like we finally got that rain we been needin’ last night.”  Pete’s overalls, which were generally never that clean to begin with, were positively filthy.  His orange baseball cap was almost black from the bill to halfway up the sides.  To Jake, he looked a bit peaked, and he wondered if Pete’s angina had been acting up again.

“Yep, sure did.   Whatcha up to there?” Jake said, hauling his considerable mass out of the car and putting his hat on.  He was too tall to wear it in the car.  He knew darned well what Pete was up to; he was fixing to start flinging things again.  

“’Bout what it looks like, I figure,” Pete said.  He checked the bolts holding down the other three springs, giving each a final tweak.  Good Lord, Jake thought.  Four of those springs could probably send a good-sized motorcycle flying.  No wonder Albert Mullen from the hardware store had been so nervous when he called the office this morning.  He wondered idly why Albert didn’t just refuse to sell him the damned things and save everyone a headache, but Albert Mullen had never met a dollar he didn’t like.  

“Now Pete, we talked about this before,” he said, hooking his thumbs in his Sam Browne belt.  His gut, which had never really been small, was starting to hang over it more than he cared to think about lately.  “Don’t suppose you recall that.”  

“Yep, you said no more flinging towards Sheldon Eggerman’s place,” Pete said. “Well, his place is in the other direction.  And Sam Berry’s place is a good four miles away in this one.”

Damned if he didn’t have a point.  Still, he couldn’t let it be until he knew just what Pete was going to be flinging.  Last time he’d gotten up to this nonsense, he’d had half the animal rights hippies in the state yelling and screaming that he was throwing live pigs.

“Nonsense.  I’d never throw no live thing like that,” Pete had replied when asked about it, talking around the old Dr. Grabow pipe that was semi-permanently attached to his dentures.  The PETA folks had started to calm down when he finished.  “That’d be cruel.  I shot ’em all in the head first, good and proper.”  It had been as close to a riot as Big Jake Wilson ever wanted to see.

“So, whatcha throwin’ this time?” Jake asked, dreading the answer.  Knowing Pete Northrop, there was no telling.  “Not more pigs, I’m hopin’.”

“Nah,” Pete said, giving the catapult a good shake here and there to look for weak spots.  He’d damned sure built it solid this time.  Jake wondered if he needed to go count Pete’s hogs, just to be safe.  “It’s a surprise.  Ain’t nothing ‘gainst the law, though.  You got my word on it.”

Pete might have been crazy as a shithouse rat, but he wasn’t a liar.  If he gave his word, that was good enough.  “Alright then.  Just make sure whatever it is don’t end up on someone else’s property.”

“Will do, Sheriff.  Best to the missus,” Pete said, and they shook hands.  Jake left him to his business, wondering just when he would start getting the first complaints.

 

***

 

After the Sheriff was gone, Pete gave the bolts another once-over to make sure they’d hold.  He’d built a good one this time, no doubt about that.  He was a little disappointed the Sheriff didn’t notice the wheels.  He took hold of the front end, grunting as he lifted.  He side-stepped until the catapult was facing due north, just over the cliff.  

 

***

 

“Well?” Sheila asked as Jake walked back into the office, her hands on her ample hips.  She’d been the city dispatcher for longer than anyone cared to remember, and had been going through a packaged of Russell Stover chocolate every day she’d been on the job.  

“’Well’ what?” he said, easing down into his chair.  His back was acting up again, and he couldn’t get in to see the doctor for another week.

“Well, what in the world is that crazy old man up to now?  Sheldon Eggerman’s been calling here non-stop, says he can see Pete building another one of those damned catapults from off his back deck.”

“He’s right,” Jake said, gently putting his feet up on an open drawer.

“Well, you told him to knock it down, right?”

“Nope,” he said.  “He’s not breaking any laws.”

“Well then, next time Sheldon calls, you can tell him that,” she said, and went back to her own desk.  He watched as she thoughtfully selected a piece of chocolate from the box on her desk and popped it in her mouth.  He didn’t bother replying.  The street fair was going to be starting up soon, and he needed to rest up before spending the afternoon walking around the square.

***

 

“Damn but that bastard’s heavy,” Pete said out loud, straightening out his aching back.  He was getting on in years, and he figured maybe this was his last flingin’ season.  Well, it’d sure be one to remember.  It’d better be, he thought; it was costing him a damned fortune.  He gave the whole machine a once-over.  Satisfied it was solid and stable, he picked up the sledge and positioned the first stake, driving it into the ground with one good swing.  A few more, and the catapult would be sure to stay put this time.  His last trial run he hadn’t anchored it, and the damned thing had rolled right off the damned cliff.  He’d intended to time everything with the last street fair, but his catapult rolling off and crashing had set things back a bit.  He took a good look, and decided to peg it down some more.  This was the last street fair of the year, and he didn’t want to miss it.

Satisfied the catapult wasn’t going anywhere, he hopped in his truck and started backing up the livestock trailer.  

 

***

 

“Mornin’ Sheriff,” Emily Bergman said as he stepped out onto the square and placed his hat on his head.  He’d never admit it, but he felt like big Jim Arness as Matt Dillon every time he did that.

“Mornin’ Miss Emily,” he said, resisting the urge to mosey down the sidewalk.  “You entered in the Best Pie contest again this year?”

“Oh, you betcha,” she said.  “You a judge this time around?”

“Nope,” he said, patting his ever-growing gut.  “Doctor said to lay off the baked goods.”  She didn’t lose the smile, but just like that he could tell she was done with him.  He let her get on her way.  

Every year from May to October, the town held a street fair on the square the last weekend of the month.  This was the last one of the year, which meant only one thing to some folks:  the best pie contest, and it was serious business for some.  He’d been happy when the doctor told him no more pie solely because it meant he had a good excuse for not judging the contest any more.  Emily Bergman had been runner-up the last four years to Pamela Adams, and it had all the makings of a classic feud he wanted absolutely nothing to do with.  He’d happily charge headfirst into another meth camp before he tried to get in between those two.

Aside from the Pie Wars, his only real problems with the street fairs were the vendors, most of whom never bothered to sign up for permits for him to revoke.  He’d adopted a live-and-let-live attitude so long as they didn’t try to fleece anyone.  He found that being visible on the square for the afternoon took away the temptation for most of them.

He started his rounds, purposely avoiding the pie judging table as long as possible.

 

***

 

Pete worked the levers on the forklift, and his payload finally centered in the catapult arm.  He set it down and crawled out, leaning against the machine.  He pulled his old Grabow out and filled it, checking his pocket watch.  He still had a good hour before things would really be in full swing.  

Yep, this was the one to go out on.  He patted his projectile, then struck a match from his pocket against the side of the catapult.  He lit the pipe in long draws, tamping it down with a heavily scarred and calloused thumb.  

He grabbed a cold beer from the truck, cracked it open, and drained half of it in one pull.  “Goin’ to be a good one,” he said, tipping his beer toward the catapult.  He took a peek inside the trailer, where the rest of his ammo sat ready to go.  He just hoped he had enough propane in the tank to run the forklift for all of them.  

Ignoring the pain in his chest, he finished his beer and cracked another before fishing his pills out of his shirt pocket and slipping one under his tongue.  He’d be damned if he was gonna miss this one.

Yep, this was turning out to be the best flinging season ever.

 

***

 

Jake gave a couple of kids skateboarding in the street a scowl that had them picking up their boards before he could say anything, and he let them go.  It’d been years since he actually had to write a ticket for anything during the street fair, and he hoped to keep it that way.  Other than the cattiness from the pie contest, the street fair was like a little break for him.  No traffic duty, no meth cooks, no domestics.  Just kids on skateboards, and he could handle that easily enough.

He walked past the pie judging table with a look of longing on his face.  He almost wanted to cry when he turned down a slice of peach pie someone offered him.  He made himself keep walking, determined to put it out of his mind and just enjoy the last fair of the year.  If he’d known that in just a few minutes all hell was going to break loose, he would’ve just had the damned pie.

 

***

 

“Damn it all to hell,” Pete said, clutching at his left arm as the pain shot through him.  “Be damned,” he said again, slipping another nitro pill under his tongue.  He was starting to think this wasn’t just his angina kicking up its heels.  Still, he had some flinging to do, and he’d be dipped in shit if he was going to miss this one.  

He looked at his watch; ten minutes to two.  Perfect.  He picked up his binoculars and took one last look at the aiming; with any luck, it should land right in the middle of that damned ugly concrete “park” in the middle of the square.  

Back in his day, parks had trees and playground equipment, not some ugly damned conglomeration of concrete.  It looked like some giant’s set of blocks, and he’d hated it since the day the plans were drawn up.  He’d pushed for a gazebo and a bandstand, but the mayor and his artsy-fartsy designer had wanted something more “modern.”  Well, what they ended up with was a modern damned eyesore.

“Let’s get to it,” he said.  After a quick glance down at the park to make sure he had an audience, he pulled the lever and sent the first one flying.

 

***

 

Jake was debating on just how much damage one slice of apple pie would really do when the first cow landed in the square.  Blood, meat, bone, and fur flew across the square in all directions, splattering windows, storefronts, and some very surprised people in gore.  Something hit him hard in the cheek, and he felt blood trickle down his face.  One window, hit by a particularly dense chunk of bone, shattered onto the sidewalk.  He saw a foot-long dagger of glass falling too late to warn the man standing under it.  He watched helplessly as it impaled him through the upper body, nearly splitting him in half.  He recognized the man as Albert Mullen from the hardware store.

The previously noisy crowd was dead silent for a moment, and then Emily Bergman, who was standing by the pie table with what looked to be a bit of intestine hanging off the front of her dress, started screaming.  He snapped to and started running for the park, hoping to head off any panic.  He climbed up onto one of the cement blocks and held up his hands.  People were starting to run in all directions, bouncing off the buildings and each other.

“Everybody settle down!” he said in his loudest crowd voice.  Most everyone froze where they stood as his voice boomed over them.  People had been known to jump almost a foot high when he decided to bellow.  “Now I want everyone to move off the square in an orderly and calm fashion.  I don’t know what’s just happened, but panicking won’t help–”

He was halfway through when the next one landed on top of him.  Later someone would comment in a very hushed tone on the irony of a man who’d always wanted to be a cowboy being killed by a flying cow.

 

***

 

“Let ‘er rip!” Pete yelled, and pulled the lever again, sending his third cow flying down toward the square.  He wished he had better binoculars; all he could see from his perch was a couple of big red smears.   He turned on the winch that pulled the catapult arm back down, watching for telltale signs of stress in the wood.  Sure enough, there were small cracks in the cross brace that stopped the arm moving forward.  Should have padded the damned thing, he thought.  He hoped it held up a bit longer.

He still had three more left, and he didn’t want to waste any of them.

 

***

 

Without Big Jake to keep the peace, people started truly panicking.  Most were trying to simply get off the square, although there was a large knot of people trying to get inside the late Albert Mullen’s hardware store.  Unfortunately for them, Pete hadn’t staked down his catapult as well as he thought, and it had drifted.  

The next cow, a large Hereford named Sally that Pete had bottle-fed as a calf, crashed through the genuine canvas awning Albert had been so proud of and crushed to death in its entirety the four-person pie contest judging panel, along with the defending champ Pamela Adams.  Buck Vanhoffer of the City Works department (and the Mayor’s nephew) would find one of Pammy’s diamond earrings in the street the next morning, with a chunk of her earlobe still attached.  This wouldn’t deter old Buck, who would drive into Springfield later that week and trade it for a new deer rifle.

So far, a little over three thousand pounds of dead cow had fallen on the square, and killed eight people.  The townspeople, usually a solid, level-headed group, now went into full on panic.  Before the crowd could find their way off the square, Tammy Baker, the reigning Homecoming Queen, let out a loud, piercing shriek.  

“Oh God, another one!” she yelled as the largest cow yet, a fourteen hundred pound Holstein named Bessy, came plummeting to Earth.  Poor Bessy hadn’t been killed by the captive-bolt gun old Pete had used in an attempt to be humane, only knocked out.  Those who were closest to where poor old Bessy landed heard her mooing in pain and confusion before she slammed into the street, cracking the blacktop and exploding like a water balloon.  

Tammy had the good sense to curl up in a ball on the sidewalk, and narrowly missed being skewered by what turned out to be a large length of splintered Bessy shinbone.  Poor Nelly Talbot, who’d run the craft and sewing store Thread-Bare for almost forty years, wasn’t so lucky; old Bessy’s shinbone speared her through the temple.  Little Tammy, who by now was virtually catatonic, was covered in a shower of liquefied Bessy from head to toe.  She would spend the next three months in a psychiatric ward in Springfield, alternating between uncontrollable sobbing and violent laughing fits.

 

***

 

“Last one,” Pete said, now barely able to move.  The pain in his chest and left arm was excruciating, and there was little doubt in his mind that he was in the midst of a full-blown heart attack.  No matter; he’d been around long enough.  “Just let me see it through, Lord,” he said.  “Holy hell, that hurts.”

It took some doing, but he managed to maneuver the last cow onto the launch arm and lower it down with one hand.  Thumbing the lid off his pill bottle, he shook several into his mouth, and climbed down off the forklift.  He struggled the three steps to the catapult, collapsing against the throwing arm.  He’d made a few changes to the design this time; the lever was close enough to kick.  He looked up at the cracked brace, and hoped it had one more good shot left in it.  The bolts holding the springs down were beginning to work their way loose.

“Let’s go, Punkin,” he said, sitting on top of the dead cow.  He closed his eyes and kicked the lever, and man and cow were thrown skyward.  The brace, which was on its last leg, broke as the throwing arm slammed into it.  The springs tore loose, and if he’d been standing where he usually stood when firing the catapult, good old Pete would have been cut in two as they broke loose.

Pete opened his eyes, and as the heart attack finally killed him, he saw the ruin of the cement park, and smiled.  

He’d finally gotten their attention, he reckoned.

 

***

 

By the time Pete and Punkin made their grand entrance, most of the people had managed to escape the gore-splattered square.  Most had found their way inside the storefronts around the square, although a few had simply taken off running.  Several had climbed over the bloody mess that had been Pamela Adams, the judges, and poor Sally the cow and were watching from Albert’s barred windows when Pete and Punkin came back down to Earth.  Among them was Sheila Walters, the city dispatcher.  She was quietly sobbing as she stared at the spot where Big Jake Wilson had been standing before being crushed by a half-ton of falling cow.  The imitation mother-of-pearl grips on his Colt .45 pistol were visible, miraculously unstained amid the buckets of flesh and blood that coated everything around them.  

“Oh my God,” she said.  For the next five years, she’d swear “on a stack of Bibles” that she’d seen old Pete Northrop, the crazy old bastard, riding in on a flying cow just as it crashed into the old Civil war cannon that sat at the entrance to the park.  Never mind that Pete had flown clear of Punkin by several yards, and in fact landed several seconds later in a completely different spot; that’s what she saw, and no one was changing her mind.

The impact of Punkin the cow broke the axle of the cannon’s carriage, and the old cannon cracked as it hit the concrete.  For years, it was generally agreed that, other than Big Jake, the loss of the cannon was one of the bigger tragedies of what came to be known as the Cow Incident, at least when spoken of in public.  Privately, many people referred to the events of that unseasonably warm October afternoon as Pete’s Punkin Chunkin Party.  

Needless to say, no one ever said those words in front of Sheila Walters, who never quite got over the loss of her friend and not-so-secret unrequited love.  

 

***

 

News vans descended on the formerly quiet little town within hours.  Reporters swarmed over the carnage, interviewing anyone and everyone who could put words into sentences.  Pictures of the catapult and the ensuing carnage, heavily blurred, dominated the evening news for weeks.  Buck VanHoffer made a lively side-business of selling supposedly authentic pieces of bone from the cows that fell that day on Ebay, until the new sheriff quietly but firmly told him he knew damned well the bone he was selling was from the slaughterhouse.  

The police found papers in Pete’s house detailing his long-standing hatred of the park in the square, and outlining his plans for the Punkin Chunkin Party.  The catapult itself was dismantled and taken into evidence.  Professors from all the local universities came to study it after the State police rebuilt it for examination; all agreed it was a splendid piece of engineering, if not exactly authentic to the time period due to Pete’s use of the metal springs.  

Eventually the concrete park (which most people agreed was ugly to begin with) was torn down after it was discovered that no amount of acid power washing would remove the bloodstains.  The Sheriff Jake Wilson Memorial Gazebo was erected in its place.  The old Civil War cannon, which had been at least cosmetically repaired, was put back in its place, although everyone agreed it just wasn’t the same now that they couldn’t shoot it off on the 4th of July.  A plaque commemorating those lost in the Cow Incident was placed next to the cannon, although some louse stole it within a year.  A new one, this time more permanently attached to a concrete base, was put in the following year.

Eventually the sleepy little town returned to normal; the street fairs continued, and the pie contest was still the biggest event of the fall.  Emily Bergman won the following year, and in a move generally accepted as awful big of her dedicated her win to the memory of her friend, Pamela Adams.  

Life goes on, as they say, and so it was there, although many new citizens were heard to wonder why it was so damned hard to buy a burger in this town.

MALEVOLENT, the newest Jennifer Blake novel, is now available

MALEVOLENT, the 7th novel featuring police psychic Jennifer Blake, is now available on Amazon.

 

The past and future collide as the fledgling Team Blake comes together to face a daunting challenge.

As Jen and her new team of psychics hunt the ghost nurse, a new and daunting entity makes itself known as Ben finds himself caught up in a massive criminal operation. Jen reluctantly accepts the mantle of leadership. She begins a new project almost as terrifying as the monsters she battles, and Jake’s demons come home as they fight to survive the most terrifying enemy they’ve ever known.

Grab  your copy today!

If you haven’t met Jennifer Blake yet, you can catch up on her exploits here:

BLOOD EAGLE

FACELESS

LEGACIES

LOST CITY

NEMESIS

SINS OF THE FATHERS

And watch for HAUNTED, the 8th Jennifer Blake novel, later this year.

Best Wishes,

Michael

MALEVOLENT, the seventh Jennifer Blake novel, coming soon!

The seventh novel featuring police psychic Jennifer Blake, MALEVOLENT, releases March 31.

From the back cover:

The past and future collide as the fledgling Team Blake comes together to face a daunting challenge.

As Jen and her new team of psychics hunt the ghost nurse, a new and daunting entity makes itself known as Ben finds himself caught up in a massive criminal operation. Jen reluctantly accepts the mantle of leadership. She begins a new project almost as terrifying as the monsters she battles, and Jake’s demons come home as they fight to survive the most terrifying enemy they’ve ever known.

 

Watch for MALEVOLNT on March 31, and  HAUNTED, the eight novel in the series, later this year.

And now, an original short story

Just thought I’d share this one with  you guys.  Hope you enjoy–Michael

Mr. Ruffles

An Original Short Story by

Michael Chambers

© Copyright 2016 by Michael Chambers

“All better?” Mommy said as Josie finished her glass of water. It was her last attempt at delaying bedtime, and it was already over.
“All better,” Josie said, handing her the glass.
“Okay,” Mommy said, brushing her hair aside and giving her a kiss on the forehead. “Now, no more excuses. It’s bedtime, okay?”
“Can you leave the light on?” Josie said, and Mommy smiled, shaking her head.
“Come on, kiddo. We talked about this. You know the light tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime, and you don’t get good sleep. You’ve got your night light,” she said, pointing to the plastic Tinkerbell night light glowed in the outlet. “You’re not still scared of the dark, are you?”
“No,” Josie said, shaking her head. “Will you make sure the closet door is closed good?”
“Sure,” she said with a smile. She walked across the room and gave the knob to the closet door a good rattle. “See? Closed up tight.”
“Did you check under the bed?” Josie said. “Sometimes they hide under the bed.”
“Josie,” Mommy said, shaking her head again as she sat back down on the bed. “You know there’s no such thing as monsters under the bed, or in your closet. Remember what we said?”
“It’s just my eyes playing tricks,” Josie said, not believing it for a minute. “Can I have Mr. Ruffles?”
“Sure,” she said, grabbing the worn old teddy bear from the shelf and tucking him in under the blanket with Josie. He was covered in what Mommy called “battle scars;” sewn-up rips, a torn ear, and one missing eye. He was old, and David kept saying they should get rid of him and get her a new bear, but she refused to let him go.
Mr. Ruffles was the only one who kept the monsters away.
“Can I have another story?” Josie said, and Mommy shook her head.
“Daddy already read you a story,” she said.
“He’s not my daddy,” she said, and Mommy looked sad for a minute.
“No, but he loves you just the same,” she said. “He’s Mommy’s husband now. You know it hurts his feelings when you say that.”
“It’s true,” she said. “My Daddy’s in heaven now.”
“Yes he is,” Mommy said with a sigh. It made her sad when Josie talked about Daddy, so she tried not to do it. But David wasn’t her daddy, and she wouldn’t tell a lie just to make him happy. “Now, no more stalling,” Mommy said, touching her cheek. “It’s bed time.”
“Okay,” Josie said, hugging Mr. Ruffles tight under the covers. “Good night, Mommy. I love you.”
“I love you too, silly girl,” she said, kissing her on the forehead again. She stood up and walked to the door. Josie closed her eyes and held onto Mr. Ruffles as Mommy turned off the light and closed the door, leaving her with just the night light.
“Good night, Mr. Ruffles,” Jodie said, and kissed the bear on his missing eye. “Don’t let them get me,” she whispered as she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

***

She was finally asleep, and it was time to go to work.
Josie stirred as he gently eased himself out from under her arm, but she didn’t wake. He stood up on the bed and stretched, then walked across the bed and lifted up the window an inch as the dream fairy knocked on the glass. “Evening, Ruffles,” she said as she came inside. “Back at it again, huh?”
“Always,” Ruffles said, hopping off the bed. “Bastards won’t leave her alone.” The fairy sprinkled her with dream dust, and Josie smiled in her sleep.
“I gave her an extra dose,” the fairy said. “She’ll have fun dreams all night.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I’m tired of playing with these damned things. Time to kick some ass.”
“Go get em, tiger,” the fairy said, and flew out the gap in the window. He checked on Josie one more time to make sure she was out, and went to his hiding spot behind the bookshelf. He found his sword and shield, and prepared for another night of fighting the monsters that were after his girl.

***

“Come and get it, you bastards,” Ruffles said as he stood at the foot of the bed, shield up as he waited for them to charge again. One slipped out from under the bed, swiping at him with its claws. Ruffles jumped back, and the thing stood up. It was a little taller than he was, but it didn’t scare him at all. He’d been fighting monsters since Josie’s mom was his girl. He knew all their tricks.
He blocked another claw swipe with his shield, the talons scraping across the metal. The blow knocked ruffles backward, but he stayed on his feet as it started to climb the bed. Ruffles charged, cutting it across the back with his sword. The monster fell down, making a high-pitched squeal as he drove the point of the sword through its chest.
“That the best you little turds can do?” he said, banging the sword on the shield. “Come on. Let’s do this.”
Three more came out from under the bed, and Ruffles smiled as he charged, hacking and slashing at them. Clawed hands fell to the floor as they screamed and disappeared in a puff of smoke. He checked under the bed, but there had only been four of them tonight. The ones in the closet were trapped, and at any rate he was too short to reach the doorknob. He wished Josie would trust him enough to leave the door open just one night; he was getting tired of dealing with them a few at a time. Bring ’em on, he thought.
He climbed up the bed, sword and shield handy as he stood on the headboard and watched over Josie as she slept. When the sun was starting to rise, he jumped down and ran to the bookshelf, hiding his weapons before climbing back up and snuggling back in under Josie’s arm.
Four, he thought. He’d gotten four of the bastards. Not a bad night’s work for an old bear.

***

Josie woke up, yawning as she sat up in bed and stretched. She’d dreamed about riding unicorns all night. Well, almost all night; she’d dreamed Mr. Ruffles had fought the monsters for her again. She climbed out of bed and picked up the bear, carrying him back to his special place on the shelf. “Thank you, Mr. Ruffles,” she said, kissing the bear before putting him on the shelf and going to get cleaned up before breakfast.
“Hey, squirt,” David said as she came downstairs, dressed and ready. “How’d you sleep?”
“Good,” she said. “I was dreaming about unicorns.”
“Wow, that sounds like fun,” he said as he cooked her waffles. He made her waffles all the time, because they were her favorite. And not the kind that went in the toaster, either; he made them in the waffle iron. It wasn’t that she didn’t like David; he was nice to her, and to her Mommy. But he wanted her to call him Daddy, and she couldn’t, because it would be a lie. Mommy always told her that telling lies was wrong, so she couldn’t call him Daddy. Her Daddy was in heaven because his brain had broken. She didn’t know the word aneurysm, and couldn’t have pronounced it if she did, but she knew something in Daddy’s brain had broken and sent him to be with Jesus and Grandma and Grandpa. That had been when she was a baby, only four years old. She was seven now, and a big girl. She knew that people sometimes went to heaven. She wished Daddy hadn’t, but he did. Still, David was nice to her. He even made her waffles.
“Where’s Mommy?” she said as David put her plate in front of her.
“Mommy’s feeling extra tired this morning,” he said. “I figured we’d have breakfast, and then I’d take you to the park instead. Sound like fun?”
“Sure,” she said. She’d rather Mommy take her. It wasn’t because David wasn’t fun, or wasn’t nice to her. She just didn’t like being alone with him. He was always nice to her, but it gave her bad feelings.
“Maybe when we get back, Mommy will be nice and rested, and we can watch a movie,” David said. “I think there’s a new Tinkerbell movie on the computer.”
“Yay,” Josie said, smiling as she ate her waffles.
“Eat up, squirt,” he said, smiling. “Growing girl like you needs a good breakfast.”

***

“Okay,” Mommy said as the movie was over. They’d stayed at the park all day. David let her swing as much as she wanted, and even pushed her high the way she liked. Mommy had made dinner while they were gone, and after dinner there really had been a new Tinkerbell movie. But now the movie was over, the sun was gone, and she knew what was coming next. “Better go brush your teeth and get your jammies on.”
“Aww,” Josie said, but she got up from the couch and did as she was told. She’d sat on the couch between Mommy and David, snuggling into Mommy as she watched the movie. Mommy didn’t mind if she complained a little, but too much would make her mad.
She was wearing her Tinkerbell pajamas as she climbed into bed when David came in to read her a bedtime story. “What’s it going to be tonight, Squirt?” he said, looking at the bookshelf.
“Tinkerbell and the pirates,” she said quickly, and he smiled as he grabbed the book off the shelf. She listened as he read her the story, anxious to see if Tinkerbell could get the blue pixie dust away from the pirates before they caught her. She did, of course, and by the time David finished reading the story, she was yawning and rubbing her eyes.
“Good night, squirt,” he said, kissing her forehead. It seemed to take a long time, and she wasn’t sure why he needed to touch her stomach to do it. It didn’t make her feel warm and happy like Mommy’s kisses did; it made her feel yucky. But she was a good girl, and she didn’t want to be rude.
“Good night, David,” she said.
“I thought we’d agreed you’d call me Dad,” he said, giving her a little pout.
“I’m sorry,” she said. It made her feel extra yucky, but she said it to make him happy. “Good night, Daddy.”
“That’s better,” he said, touching her cheek. Why did it take him so long to touch her? It seemed like forever before he took his hand away from her cheek, and by the time he walked out into the hallway, she was shivering. Mommy came in to say goodnight.
“You need a glass of water?” she said before Josie could ask, and she nodded. She drank her water slow, hoping to put off bedtime. “Can you check the closet?” she said, just as she did every night. Mommy got up and rattled the door.
“See? Closed up tight, just like always. You’re not still scared there’s monsters in there?”
“There are,” Josie said, pulling the covers up to her chin.
“Okay,” Mommy said, sounding tired. “I can see you’re not getting over that any time soon, so let’s just find out if there are.” She started to open the door, and Josie started crying.
“No, Mommy. Please?” she said, but Mommy opened the door anyway. Josie wanted to scream as she watched a whole bunch of them run out of the closet, hiding under the bed and in her curtains. But it made Mommy upset when she screamed like that, and she didn’t like it when Mommy was upset. It made her feel like a bad girl when that happened.
“See?” Mommy said, holding the door open. A whole bunch of the monsters snarled and clicked their claws at her, and Josie whimpered. Mommy looked in the closet. “Nothing in there but your clothes and your shoes. See?” she said.
She knew Mommy couldn’t see them, and it wouldn’t help to tell her they were there. She nodded instead. Sure, it was a fib, but it was only a little one, and it made Mommy happy. “Can I have Mr. Ruffles?” she said, her voice small as she hid under the covers.
Mommy took Mr. Ruffles down from the shelf and put him in her arms, and she squeezed him tight. “You know, sweetie, Mr. Ruffles is getting old. Maybe it’s time to let him retire and get a new bear? He could go to the old bear’s home, where all his friends are.”
“No,” Josie said, holding onto the bear for dear life. “He keeps them away,” she whispered. “He has a shield and a magic sword, and he fights them when they try to get me.”
Mommy let out a deep sigh, but she nodded. “Okay,” she said. “We’ll talk about it later. Go to sleep, baby. We’ve got church in the morning, and I don’t want you yawning all the way through Sunday school like last week.”
“Okay, Mommy,” she said. Mommy bent down and gave her a kiss, and Josie hugged her neck. “I love you, Mommy.”
“Love you too, baby,” she said. Josie closed her eyes as Mommy turned off the light and closed the door. She pretended to go to sleep, because it made Mommy happy, but she was too scared to sleep. David had given her one of those long, yucky goodnight kisses, and that meant he would come to check on her later. She didn’t like it when he did that, because it meant he’d touch her again.

***

Ruffles climbed out from under Josie’s arm and opened the window so the fairy could come in. “Make sure she sleeps good,” he said.
“More of them?” she said, and Ruffles shook his head.
“Not tonight,” he said. “It’s the other one.”
“She won’t wake up,” the fairy promised, looking grim as she sprinkled a heavy dose of dream dust on the girl’s head. “You going to do it tonight?”
“It’s gone on long enough,” he said, looking angry as he retrieved his sword and shield. “I’m not about to let him hurt her.”
“You want an extra shot of the good stuff?” she asked, and he nodded grimly. She sprinkled dust on him, and he grunted. “That should do it.”
The Dream Fairy nodded and wished him luck before flying back out the window. Ruffles stretched and checked the edge of his sword; tonight was the big fight, and even the monsters under the bed and in the closet were too scared to come out. It was smart; Ruffles was in no mood to play around tonight.
“Come on, you son of a bitch,” Ruffles said, watching the door. “Let’s get it done.”

***

David lay in bed, trying to talk himself out of what he knew he was going to do. It was wrong. He knew he was sick, but he couldn’t make himself stop. She was just so perfect.
Patty lay asleep next to him, and he made himself look at her. Patty was still a beautiful woman; full figure, long blonde hair, and a face that could have been on the cover of every magazine in the world. But it had never been about her. It was Josie that had caught his attention, despite his every effort to ignore it. He considered waking Patty up and asking her for sex; maybe it would distract him. Better to make love to his wife and only think about the perfect, beautiful creature across the hall than go to her, but he didn’t. She was grouchy when he woke her, and he didn’t want to deal with it.
He’d pretended for a long time that she aroused him, and to some extent she did, mostly when she was laughing. She looked just like Josie when she laughed; they even had the same slight overbite that he adored. He’d given up on even telling himself she did it for him any more; now he thought about Josie as Patty did all the wicked things she liked to do. When she looked up at him as she took him in her mouth, it was Josie he saw. As she rode him, full breasts swaying slightly as she moved, it was Josie he pictured, sitting on his lap in her best Sunday dress.
He considered, not for the first time, just going to the closet. He kept the gun there, high up and out of Josie’s reach in an electronic safe that could only be accessed with his fingerprint. Children and guns didn’t mix, and he’d never let anything happen to Josie.
He climbed out of bed, careful not to wake Patty. She didn’t even stir; she’d had a second glass of wine after Josie had gone to bed, and she was out.
Torn between hating himself and an indescribable feeling of excitement, he padded across the hall and opened Josie’s bedroom door a crack, peeking in to see if she was asleep. She was a heavy sleeper like Patty, and so far she hadn’t woken up. She would, sooner or later, and he’d have to figure out what to do then, but for now she slept like a rock, even when he touched her.
Ashamed at the way his dick grew rock hard, he slipped into Josie’s room and closed the door behind him. She’d gone to sleep with the disgusting old teddy bear she refused to let him throw away, even after he’d offered to buy her a new, bigger one. It was ripped and threadbare in several places, and one ear dangled loosely from the last remnants of the thread that had attached it. One eye was missing, but the one remaining seemed to be staring at him as he knelt down by her bed.
“You awake, Josie?” he said quietly. She didn’t even stir. He pulled back the covers, hating and loving the thrill that went through him as he realized her pajama shirt had slipped up to show her navel. He brushed a lock of her curly blonde hair out of her face so he could see her better as he touched himself. The bear was in the way, and he picked it up, tossing it aside. With it gone, he could see the curve of her neck as it disappeared into her pajama top.
Wishing he could stop, he pulled up the bottom of her shirt, exposing the most beautiful stretch of smooth, pale skin. He traced his fingers over it as his hand slipped into his boxers. He was so distracted that he didn’t notice the movement behind him.
“Get away from her,” someone said. He froze in place, trying to think of an excuse for why he was in here.
“Patty, I was just checking on her,” he said. “She feels hot.”
“Wrong,” the voice said, and he realized it wasn’t Patty. It was too deep, too male to ever be Patty’s voice. He turned and saw that stupid bear, actually standing on the carpet. It had a toy sword and shield in its hands, and he fell backward as it took a step toward him.
“What the fuck?” he said. It was obvious what was happening; he’d finally cracked. His guilty conscience had finally driven him insane. There was simply no way that raggedy, piece of shit bear was talking to him.
“Shit,” he said, letting out a shaky breath. He walked over and reached down to pick the damned thing up, and let out a hiss as the toy sword sliced deeply into his hand.
“Ow, shit,” he said, pulling back. “What the hell?”
“You got a real problem keeping your hands to yourself, don’t you?” the bear said, stepping forward. David watched in horrified amazement as the bear stalked him, jumping from the floor to the nightstand. He held the shield up and the sword ready, standing between him and the sleeping Josie. “Stay away from her.”
“I’m losing my mind,” David said.
“No, but you touch her again, and I promise you’ll lose something,” the bear said, swinging the sword at him. David found himself actually jumping backward as the bear hopped down to the floor again and started walking toward him. No, that wasn’t right; the bear wasn’t walking. It was strutting.
“This is getting ridiculous,” he said. The bear jumped again, swinging the sword and cutting him across the thigh. David fell to the floor, trying not to scream. No doubt he was asleep next to Patty right now; this was obviously nothing but a very elaborate nightmare. His guilty conscience was just screwing with him.
The bear walked up and jumped on his lap, smacking him in the face with the shield. Son of a bitch, he thought. That actually hurt. This was turning out to be one hell of a nightmare.
“Right about now you’re probably telling yourself this isn’t real,” the bear said, planting one threadbare foot on his chest. “Trust me, Chester. I’m real.” The bear poked him in the forehead with the sword, opening up a small cut.
David grabbed the bear and tossed it across the room, standing up and holding a hand to the deep cut in his thigh. “Okay, I’m gonna wake up now. It’s been fun.”
“I’m not done with you, perv,” the bear said, standing up and retrieving his sword. He started stalking toward David, who rubbed his eyes as he saw something even more impossible than what he’d seen so far.
The bear was growing. It started out as about ten inches tall, and by the time it crossed the room to the flabbergasted David, it stood well over six foot tall. The tiny toy sword and shield were now life-sized and obviously real.
“Here’s the deal, asshole,” the bear said, pointing the very real, very sharp sword at his chest. “You’re going to turn around and walk out of this room. You’re going to pack a bag, and you’re going to disappear. You’re never going to set foot in this house again, and you’ll never come anywhere near Josie again. If you do,” he said, stepping forward and putting the edge of the sword against David’s throat. He cut him, just deep enough to make him bleed.
“If you ever come near her again, I’m going to hack you into pieces,” the bear said, growling. “I’ll start by cutting off anything that sticks out, and believe me, it’ll take a long time. You hearing me, Dave?” the bear said.
David nodded, his hands shaking. The bear stepped back, and David went for the door. He stopped in his room long enough to throw some clothes in a bag, and ran down the stairs as quietly as he could.

***

Ruffles shrank back down to his normal size; it took a lot of magic to grow like that, and he couldn’t hold it for long. He stood in the window and laughed as he watched David scramble to his car and drive away. He’d gotten the message. He hoped he had, anyway; he’d meant every word of what he said. Josie was his girl, just like her mother had been, and it was his job to protect her from monsters.
“Speaking of,” he said, hopping down from the window ledge to the bed, and then to the floor. He walked around to the foot of the bed and banged on the shield with his sword. “Come on out, you sorry sons of bitches. I know you’re in there.”
The monsters crawled out from under the bed; he counted eight of them altogether. “I hope you boys brought your A game,” Ruffles said as they snarled and clacked their claws at him. “I got all worked up and no payoff.”
He waded into them, bashing with the shield and cutting them down with the sword. The last two stood at the foot of the bed, looking between him and the closet door, which stood ajar.
“Go ahead, make a run for it,” Ruffle said, smiling. “It’ll be fun.”
He cut them both down, watching as they disappeared in a puff of black smoke. Satisfied they’d had enough for one night, he put his weapons away and pushed the closet door closed before climbing back up onto the bed and snuggling in under Josie’s arm. “Sleep tight, kiddo,” he said, kissing her cheek. Josie stirred in her sleep and pulled him closer. His ear, which had been hanging on for dear life for months, finally fell off and landed on the pillow. He didn’t mind; she was safe now.
Josie was his girl, and it was his job to protect her from all sorts of monsters.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Just thought I’d drop a little note to let y’all know what’s coming up in 2017.

First, the last Blood Lines novel, BLOOD BORNE, drops January 1st.  You can preorder your copy here.

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OTHER TITLES SLATED FOR RELEASE IN 2017

The Beast Within–A lone werewolf on the trail of revenge finds himself saddled with an obnoxious teenage girl and the woman he left behind.

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ARES–A gifted young genius, a horrible accident, and the ground-breaking surgical procedure he designed come together in a cautionary tale about the price of knowledge

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The Burning–A supernatural tale of revenge, and love lost.

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Sunset Ranch–The lone survivor of a horrible mass murder returns to the scene to film a documentary, only to discover that the events of that night are not as buried as she’d hoped.

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The Things We Leave Behind–A new collection of short stories, featuring zombies, a haunted apartment building, a woman tormented by a devoted stalker, and much more.

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That’s everything slated for release in 2017 so far, although I may have another installment in the Jennifer Blake series ready later in the year.

Regards,

Michael

I PROBABLY SHOULDN’T DO THIS…BUT HERE’S AN ORIGINAL SHORT

I say I shouldn’t do this, not because I have a problem sharing free work.  I say I shouldn’t do this because I never had any intention of sharing this piece, but here we go.

The following is a short story written mostly as a descriptive exercise.  If you are adverse to low humor, I won’t hold it against you if you simply decide to skip this.

 

 

LOVE AND ENCHILADAS

An original short by

Michael Chambers

“Babe?” Shelly said as I double over in pain. A cramp that had decided I was having too much fun tore through my battered gut, clawing me up inside as my stomach let out an unearthly rumble. “You feeling okay?”

I grunted as my poor colon spasmed, and an aggressively loud fart rumbled out of my sphincter like the A-train out of a tunnel. I groaned in embarrassment as I waited for the stench to hit. Shelly paused for a minute, and I waited for the couch to open up and eat me alive as the putrid air first punched her in the face.

“Oh my—wow,” she said, trying to remain polite and diplomatic as the fart continued to turd-fuck her nose. The pungent fumes continued to swirl around me as I curled up in a ball with my head in her lap. I braced myself and clutched my stomach as another cramp hit, followed of course by another noxious blast of death from my now-quivering nether regions.

“I’m sorry,” I whimpered, near tears as I waited for the inevitable; no doubt she’d jump up and run screaming away from the house, horrified at the satanic winds erupting from my cavernous bowels. “It’s the—ow, damn it—it’s the enchiladas,” I whispered, scared to speak their name for fear of further incurring their wrath.

“Baby, don’t take this the wrong way,” she said, trying desperately to breathe through her mouth as my ass blast threatened to melt her face off. “But when was the last time you had a movement?” She wanted to know when the last time was that I’d taken a dump.

“It’s been a few days,” I admitted as the cramp let go for a moment. Actually it had been more like a week, which was why I’d stopped at Enrique’s for a plate of enchiladas. “Oh shit,” I whispered as my stomach rumbled.

“Maybe you should–Oh God. Up, let me up,” she said, frantically trying to get up as the beast that lurked inside me finally reared its ugly head and roared, making my ass cheeks actually flap as I moaned. The pressure let up a little for the moment, and it was almost worth the rotting flesh stench that quickly filled the air. “Oh my—holy shit, that’s horrible,” she said, standing in the middle of the living room and trying desperately to fan the odor away with her hands.

“Maybe you should go try,” she said, her voice muffled by the hand over her mouth. I hated crapping with her in the house, and she knew it. Then again, it couldn’t be any more embarrassing than the poisonous air biscuits I kept floating at her. The plan for the night had been Netflix and chill, but instead it was duck and cover as my butt continued to yell at her.

Groaning in pain, I duck-walked my way down the hall to the bathroom like a man struggling to reach an oasis in the middle of the desert. The grim struggle to reach the toilet seemed never-ending as the beast continued to try and claw its way out, blasting more noxious fumes into the air with every step.

I smelled like death’s outhouse, my stomach was twisted into a knot worthy of a cat’s ball of yarn, and I could feel a mass moving slowly through my lower intestine, the pressure mounting on my beleaguered asshole with every movement. Shelly stood at the end of the hall, trying not to breathe and watching in horror as I hit my knees with another cramp, followed by the sound of a large motorcycle revving coming from my ass. I actually screamed like a little girl as I crawled the last few feet to the bathroom.

“You need anything, baby?” Shelly said, trying to be supportive but obviously wanting nothing to do with the horror show that was playing before her eyes. She still held her hand over her mouth and nose against the lingering stank. “Magazine, or anything?”

“No thanks,” I grunted in between horrified sounds as the titanic land mass stuck in my bowels moved again. It felt like someone was dragging a softball through me slowly, and I cried softly as it neared my frightened anus.

The smell, which had apparently been all rosebuds and cinnamon up to this point, came tearing into the world like an angry bear, slashing and snarling at every particle of oxygen in sight. Breathing, which had been dangerous up to this point, became nearly impossible as the combined odors of fecal matter and despair filled the space.

I closed my eyes against the burning and pushed down on my stomach, praying for it to end. Either I’d birth this massive food baby, or I’d split open and die slowly on the shitter; either had to be better than what I was going through now. I whispered one last prayerful promise to eat a salad once in a while if I could just live through this, took a deep breath, and pushed as hard as I could.

“Urrrgh!” I shouted through my strained grunting, knees drawn to my chest as my eyeballs threatened to jump out of my sockets and run away to somewhere safer. “Gaaawwwwghwhaa!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, screaming like a Viking in the midst of battle as my sphincter, which by now was seriously considering divorce, began to stretch to accommodate the grapefruit currently trying to exit my body.

“Sweetie?” I heard Shelly say from the hallway. Her voice was small and timid, full of fear as she knocked gently on the door. “Hon, should I call someone?”

“Gragggnughaaaa!” I yelled, by now more tortured animal incapable of speech than a man as my insides threatened to just give up and quit. I kept pushing, growling like a savage beast as I felt victory on the horizon. “Come…on…you..son of a BITCH!” I shouted as the turd crested my battered asshole. It was so close; if the cramping hadn’t all but paralyzed me by then, I would have happily reached down and grabbed the fucking thing. Any sense of pride or civility I had was currently hiding in the corner, sobbing quietly and asking for a cookie. I wasn’t even me any more; just some savage, stinking, grunting caveman imitation of me. My girl, my Shelly, was currently on the other side of the bathroom door, wondering if I was dead yet.

“Grrrrngg,” I said quietly, embracing the pain and the terror as I gave one last Herculean push. The butt nugget churned along slowly, creeping little by little toward its date with destiny as I sweated and tried to breathe.

BAM! The colon rocket shot out like a bullet, bouncing around the inside of the toilet like a BB in a fishtank. My poor, distended sphincter, stretched beyond the imagination of the most twisted prison movie director, immediately slammed shut like the gates of Hell as I screamed in pain and confusion. Eventually the magic missile came to a stop, and I relaxed.

I breathed a sigh of relief, relishing the ease with which the rapid-fire series of farts escaped me. Slowly my faculties returned as Shelly tried knocking on the door again.

“Baby, are you okay in there? I thought I heard something fall.”

“I’m okay,” I said, slumped against the back of the toilet. The feeling was slowly returning to my legs, and eventually I knew I had to get up. Shelly left a bag of baby wipes here for when she brought her daughter; no big deal to me. I liked the little snot machine. Now I was more grateful than ever to her, because the thought of further abusing myself with the cheap toilet paper I bought was sheer hell.

I was almost afraid to look, but the same part of me that stops and stares at auto accidents just hoping to see a body made me glance down into the toilet.

At first I thought someone had played a horrible, sick joke on me; it looked like someone had dropped a brown cantaloupe in the shitter when I wasn’t watching. “I’ll be out in a—oh fucking shit!” I yelled as I felt it coming.

This was no slow-moving behemoth, slouching its way to Bethlehem to be born. No, this was a herd of stampeding buffalo tearing its way through the prairie, a runaway freight train threatening to destroy anything in its path as it barreled down the tracks at breakneck speed. I frantically threw myself backward, hoping against hope that I was at least over the toilet before it arrived.

I landed on the bowl with a thud as the dam burst. Having finally cleared the log jam, my poor stomach was finally able to evacuate itself, and so it began. The stomach cramps returned with a vengeance as a terrible rain of filth and sadness erupted from me, showering the toilet seat and the back wall with the last remains of my dignity as I screamed in horror. Just when I thought it was over, another wave came shooting out of me; it felt as if Satan himself had hooked up an infernal shit firehose inside me, and he was slowly opening the valve bit by bit. Each wave was worst than the last, and I found myself wishing for the peaceful embrace of sweet death as my soul poured itself out of my ass.

“Um, should I go?” Shelly said from behind the door. “I mean, if you’re not feeling well, I don’t want to bug you.”

“I’m okay,” I panted, wiping the sweat from my forehead. I was about to tell her I’d be out in a minute when the next wave hit, and along with it came the smell.

My dear God, had I thought the smell was bad before? Did I really think it couldn’t get worse?

The smell, which had been bad before, decided it was done playing nicely. The air soon became filled with the stench of rotten sewage and spicy enchilada sauce, and I wondered briefly I was going to actually die on the toilet.

You hear about it sometimes; someone, usually someone healthy, just up and kicks it on the shitter. Would Shelly find me? Or maybe my roommate Jake, who’d politely scrammed it for the evening so we could hang out alone? It was in the middle of my musings on my own death that the horrible aftermath truly began.

I hadn’t just had the enchiladas; I’d ordered the four star, ultra-spicy death enchiladas, sprinkled liberally with cayenne hot sauce and the tears of Enrique’s enemies. Not to be outdone, the fiery hell that was his patented hot sauce came for its pound of flesh.

The burning began slowly, then immediately went from a four to an eight thousand. My ass felt like I’d shoved a burning propane torch up there; I began to sweat profusely. Of course, it immediately ran down my ass crack, where it ignited the burning with even more fervor. I let out a sound somewhere between a whimper and the death wail of a banshee as my ass melted in a nuclear inferno.

“Hon, I’m—Oh come on,” I heard Shelly exclaim as the aroma seeped out of the bathroom into the hallway. “Seriously? Jesus Christ, Dan. Is that even real?”

Unable to actually speak, I just whimpered as I rocked on the throne, my scorching butt squirting out liquid evil with every movement forward. Just when I thought all hope was lost, the tide finally slowed to a trickle, and when my tired body finally stopped leaking sewage, I was actually scared to believe it could be over.

“Dan?” Shelly said. “Are you okay?”

No, I’m not okay, I thought. I just gave birth to Enrique’s food baby, and he brought the Devil with him. “I’m good,” I said, genuinely relieved. I felt better, despite the fact that my entire apartment now smelled like the cesspit of a slaughterhouse, I was covered in my own liquid feces, and I was pretty sure my girlfriend was crying on the other side of the bathroom door.

“Just gonna clean up a bit,” I said, aware of the way my buttcheeks kept making sticky-tape noises every time I moved. Unable to think clearly after the trauma I’d just endured, I reached behind me out of habit and hit the flush handle.

Big mistake; the canteloupe-sized turd, which was still in the bowl, promptly blocked the toilet drain, and exactly one point three liters of efficient water immediately flooded my toilet and caused a tidal wave of liquid shit that would rival the Biblical flood. The offending tsunami flowed around my legs, filling my jeans and spilling out onto the floor as the toilet finally stopped running water.

“What just—EWW!” Shelly yelled, stepping away from the door as the liquid sin flowed through the crack under the door and threatened to eat her Nikes.

“Sorry,” I said, sobbing quietly as I sat there, covered in shit from the waist down, thoroughly exhausted, and seriously considering trauma counseling. “I’m sorry.”

“I’ll get a mop,” Shelly said with the resigned practicality of a mother. Good old Shelly, I thought. Always reliable, always caring. “God almighty, Dan. I think you should go see a doctor first thing Monday morning.”

“A doctor,” I said, resisting the urge to laugh as I continued to sit there, frozen in terror at the sight of my utterly devastated bathroom, covered in the remains of my pride and my lunch.

Eventually I stood up, not bothering to be remotely careful any more as I stripped out of my ruined clothes. Naturally, as I was pulling my leg out of the soaked clothing, I slipped and fell, landing on my back with a splash in the pit of terror that was my bathroom floor. I lay there for a moment, alternately sobbing and laughing like a madman as I squelched in the shit.

“Hey,” I heard a familiar voice from the other room. “Don’t mind me, I just forgot my lap—Jesus Christ,” Jake said loudly. “The fuck is that?”

“Hey, buddy,” I called out, still lying in my own filth and contemplating jumping right out the fucking window. “Not a good time, bro.”

“Damn, dude,” I heard Jake say. “Is he in the shitter?”

“You probably don’t want to go in there,” I heard Shelly say, which sent me into a maniacal laughing fit.

Looking back, it’s amazing Jake didn’t immediately call and have me committed as soon as he walked into the bathroom. There I was, lying naked in my own foul soup of despair and laughing like a madman at every squelch and splatter.

“God damn, dude,” he said again. “You know, I generally don’t like to pass judgment. But if you’re into some weird kinky shit, maybe you should look for a different roommate.”

“It’s all good,” I said, managing to sit up. He looked doubtful, but all it took was one word to convince him everything was fine. “Enrique’s.”

“That’d do it,” he said, looking around at the carnival of fecal carnage. “Extra spicy, huh?”

Unable to speak any further, I simply nodded. Jake shook his head and walked carefully past the overflow in the hallway to his room. He came back a moment later with his backpack. “Just grabbing my laptop. You good?”

“I’m good,” I managed, breathing heavily as I heard the first bits of laughter from the living room. I knew that sound; it meant that Shelly was about to lose it.

“I’ll be back by midnight,” he said. “Try and have it cleaned up by then, okay?”

I agreed I would as Shelly finally erupted, howling with laughter as the tension of the night finally got to her. I sat there for a minute, listening to her frantic laughter as she rolled on the carpet. Jake simply stepped over her and left us to it.

***

Eventually Shelly recovered enough to help me finish cleaning. I hadn’t bothered with a shower until the floor was clean, and was currently lying on the couch in nothing but a pair of boxers and a t-shirt. Shelly was curled up next to me, still giggling occasionally. Even I laughed a little, the way a traumatized soldier will occasionally laugh at something gruesome.

“Promise me something,” she said, trailing one finger down my arm. “No more enchiladas?”

“Not a problem,” I said. I was utterly convinced that no power on Earth or in Heaven or Hell could ever again convince me to let a single morsel of Enrique’s enchiladas pass my lips. I’d choose death first.

“There,” she said. “I’m happy we’re past that. I don’t think anyone’s ever had it that bad before.”

“Does seem unlikely,” I said.

“At least it’s nothing contagious,” she said, wiggling slightly and wincing as she put a hand to her stomach. We both looked at each other at the same time, too frightened to speak until she relaxed. “Just those kinds of cramps,” she said finally. I was finally able to relax; she wasn’t remotely into period sex, and I was entirely too traumatized to think about it.

The movie was forgettable, but the company was worth it as we snuggled on the couch. The credits were rolling when she sat up, her hands on my chest as she looked into my eyes. “Babe?” she said quietly.

“Yeah?” I said, wondering what sort of philosophical land mine she was about to drop on me. She was good at that; hitting me out of nowhere with questions I couldn’t begin to understand. I wasn’t worried until I saw the tears forming in her eyes.

Oh God, I thought. Here it comes; she’s dumping me.

“I’m sorry,” she said, crying softly. I waited for the bomb to drop, and when it did, it couldn’t have been worse.

“I’m so sorry,” she said again, and I sat there, trapped under her luscious body as a long, wet fart began to slowly seep from her perfect backside.

 

Well, there you have it.  Hope it made you at least giggle a little.

Regards,

Michael

On the short story…

The following is the introduction to my next collection of short stories, currently in production.  I thought I’d share it with you all now.

 

Why do authors write short stories?

For years, they were considered a loss; most publishers wouldn’t accept an anthology of short stories unless you were one of the big names. The magazine market, once a welcome home for short fiction, all but dried up and blew away over the years, replaced by fluff pieces on the latest celebrity gossip and countless articles on the ever-popular search for the G-spot. Time spent working on short stories was almost considered wasted. It was infinitely easier to sell a novel than a short story, or even a collection of them. Considering the difficulty in selling a first novel, that’s saying something.

But authors continue to crank them out. I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t have a stack of them, all polished up with nowhere to go. One author I know has a backlog of at least a hundred different shorts that will most likely never see the light of day. Knowing how talented the author is, I consider this one of the world’s great tragedies. Some writers use them as writing exercises, meant to do nothing more than keep the gears oiled, so to speak. Others write them simply because they need to write something, but need a break in between novels. And others still, too afraid to tackle the admittedly Herculean task of writing a novel, stick to the short story, perfecting their craft and learning the ropes. In this, the short story shines; I don’t know of a single author who didn’t cut their teeth on short stories.

Myself, I use them as a diversion. If a novel can be likened to waging a war (and I certainly believe it can) then the short story is one of those rare periods of inactivity in between the battles. Such breaks are always a welcome diversion, like a pickup game of baseball in between artillery shellings.

While the novel is a complicated machine, full of inter-connected cogs and gears all turning together in an elaborate dance, the short story is a simple mechanism. One big wheel, turning slowly as the author works the crank. The various cogs and wheels of the novel each have different purposes; one might be the setting, another the backstory. All of the characters have their own mechanisms, and all of them work together to turn the main shaft of the story. The action of the mechanism produces many byproducts, including themes, allegory, and messages. But the short story is a different animal.

There’s only one moving part to the short story, and it exists solely to fulfill one function. It’s sole purpose is to tell the story. The author turns the crank, and the story rolls out onto the paper. And since (or maybe because) it only does one thing, it tends to do it very well. I dare you to find a single novel, from any author, that can sustain the tension and impact that pervades W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” or even comes close to equaling the juxtaposition of the mundane and the horrific in Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” or “The Mangler.” To this day, I’ve never found any novel that can hold a candle to the suspense in Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Then again, Poe is one of those authors whose work shines best when it is short, brutal, and to the point.

For years, authors have continued to crank out short stories, despite the seeming lack of a viable market for them. But today, that’s all changing. The advent of independent e-books has brought the short story out of the dark, dusted it off, and presented it to the world. It let it get away from the kid’s table and allowed it to sit with the grown-ups, so to speak. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.

Of course, the same rules that govern the world of novels also apply to the short story collection; for every Stephen King’s Night Shift or Robert Bloch’s prodigious bibliography of short story collections comes a plethora of real stinkers. Still, the avid reader doesn’t seem deterred by the odds; they happily wade through pile after pile of utter garbage, hoping to find that one rare gem.

With this collection, I’m hoping I’ve done something more than add to the garbage pile. So, for your amusement (or just to give you another reason to call me a hack) here is the latest collection of my own diversions.

Michael Chambers

Springfield, MO

September, 2016

The Things We Leave Behind is currently in production.  I’ll have a cover and release date for you guys soon.

Until then, you can pre-order SINS OF THE FATHERS, the latest Jennifer Blake novel.

Best Wishes,

Michael