Author Archives: RuddersWriting

Unrequited Love – flash fiction short story

 

 

Unrequited Love

Vector silhouette of a woman.Lucy Brannen simply adored Tommy, and why shouldn’t she? He was a handsome fella, what with his thick, jet black hair, and eyes that could entrance the most reluctant heart.

Everyone loved Tommy; Lucy’s parents, her friends, and even complete strangers too immediately took to him. It was something Lucy understood and accepted, having fallen for Tommy’s charms more than two years before. Yes indeed, Tommy was something special, even if his demands and attention-seeking sometimes made her feel invisible. She had some sympathy now for how new mothers must feel when everyone’s attention and compliments were all directed towards the baby, like the mother wasn’t even there other than as some glorified slave … where was the appreciation and attention she deserved? Whatever her occasional misgivings though, Lucy continued to dote on him, attending to Tommy’s every whim, everything from preparing his meals right down to even trimming his nails, nothing being too much trouble for her. All she asked in return was the occasional show of love and affection, to be treated as something a little more special than his personal servant.

It wasn’t entirely true of course; Tommy did treat her to the occasional glimmer of attention, snuggling up to her when she least expected it or gazing into her eyes, enchanting her all over again. But such emotional shows were few and far between, and invariably seemed to coincide with when he wanted something, like a snack from the kitchen; as smitten as she was, Lucy was not stupid, fully aware the relationship was utterly and completely on his terms, and not hers.

The truth was, Tommy treated their home as little more than a hotel, often lounging around all day while she went out to work. The least she could have expected was for him to be there for her after a hard day’s work, but no, Tommy was a law unto himself, coming and going whenever he pleased, and at all hours of the night.

Lucy often wondered if Tommy would even notice if she just left, walked out and never came back, at least apart from the need to get himself another dogsbody? She knew she never would though; Tommy meant too much to her, and besides, what would have been the point? Tommy knew his worth and would have been sure to land on his feet elsewhere, perhaps even with that little blonde next door, the one always paying him compliments and attention.

There was one person though who wasn’t seduced by Tommy’s charms, and that was Lucy’s best friend, Clara. She treated Tommy with the same indifference he pretty much treated everyone else. When Tommy and Clara were in the same room, you could almost feel a literal drop in temperature, such was the coldness between them. It was not surprising then that whenever Clara visited, Tommy would either make himself scarce all together or at best, somewhat rudely go and feign sleep in another room.

And so it was today when Clara called, Tommy just huffed his annoyance and flounced out past them when Lucy opened the front door to her friend.

 

“Sorry about that, he’s in a bit of a mood,” Lucy apologised.

“Don’t apologise for him, he’s always in a mood,” Clara reminded her in reply. “If he wants to behave like a spoilt brat, that’s his problem.” Lucy just shrugged, her loyalties torn as they always were.

“Look, Lucy, I’ve no sympathy,” Clara bluntly told her. “I told you at the start … if you wanted slobbering affection, undying loyalty and the rest of it, you should have bought a dog … Cats are different.”

*

Tommy surveyed his kingdom from atop the mahogany bookcase, having snuck back in via the cat flap. Satisfied that all was well, he looked down on his devoted human.

Even though Clara had now left, Tommy was in no mood to jump back into Lucy’s arms. No, he would make her wait for another snippet of the attention she so desperately craved and needed from him, and why not, she was after all his slave, as all humans were to their feline owners.

Clara on the other hand, she clearly had no understanding of the honour and privilege it was to belong to some feline God or Goddess, never having shown him the deference he was entitled to, not even so much as kneeling before him to present some delicious offering. Her presence or lack thereof was therefore of little interest to him, assuming her to be one of those evil creatures that didn’t bow down to their feline masters or mistresses, or worse still, she might even be … a dog person … urghh, was all Tommy could muse to himself at the thought …

Tommy leapt down from the bookcase, landing beside Lucy on the sofa. He had kept her waiting long enough, a suitable penance he thought for giving some of her attention to another. Nonetheless, he snuggled beside her, again gazing up into her eyes, allowing the soft touch of his fur to brush against her bare skin. He even allowed her the rare privilege of stroking and caressing him.

Any thoughts of replacing Tommy with some slobbering little puppy as Clara had suggested instantly evaporated, Tommy’s mastery and ownership of her once again more assured than any cage or set of chains could ever do.

cat3

 

***

Enjoyed this story? Would like to read more? Then stay tuned for the publication of Flashbulb Moments towards the end of this year …

Azzz

 

Two opening stories from Book Three in the Creature Tales collection – Six, eight, & Many Legged Tales: A Swarming Mass of Bites and Stings.

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For a short time only until book three goes live sometime next month, here are two of the opening stories from the third and final book of The Creature Tales collection.

 

 

 

 

Mutant Mozzies! 

Mozzie3Clinging to the stem of a leaf, she watched the human from about twenty feet away. It was rare to see one out at night so deep in the woods, but there he was, nestled in position by the river for a spot of night-fishing, probably to supplement his other poaching activities, not that the minuscule hungry predator was to know that.

She flew in a little closer. The distinctive hum produced by the rapid beating of her wings and movement through the air might have alerted the human but for the orchestra of other tiny nightlife sounds that filled the woods. The bigger danger was alerting any of the other innumerable tiny predators that filled the woodland air whatever the time of day or night. Even a flight of two or three feet might expose her to the lightning strike of a reptilian tongue, an airborne attack from a dragonfly, or even being caught in the web of some equally predatory spider. Had such a rival got to her first, the unsuspecting human might have remained undisturbed but it wasn’t to be.

The one stalking the human for her next meal was of course from that deadlier than the male, blood-sucking half of the winged pests, a description that was equally true of most of the insect world, and indeed those larger creatures farther up the tree of evolution. Having avoided being eaten, squashed, or other violent death for the past month, she was a veteran of the swarming army of more than a trillion mosquitoes that patrolled practically every last inch of the planet.

The light touch of her slender elongated body and its three pairs of long hair-like legs were too light and gentle to induce the slightest flicker of response in any of the many nerve endings of her prey’s soft warm skin. It wasn’t the human’s skin she was interested in though, but the nutritious substance it housed just millimetres beneath its surface, the delicious blood she would need to grow her eggs and another generation of her kind.

She had the element of surprise; she was after all a hunter, and a creature immeasurably better adapted and more practised in day-to-day survival than any two-legged giant; humans were little more than embryonic infants on the planet compared to her own species’ two-hundred million years plus.

Once comfortably settled, her feathery antennae hover over the surface of the minute patch of skin she had landed. Although also used for other purposes, they act as the mosquito’s nose to determine the suitability of the food source. The human is a type ‘O’ blood type, and while she, the mosquito, plays no favourites in who she feeds off, type ‘O’ is the mosquitoes’ vintage of choice for nourishing their soon-to-be young. Without further hesitation, she thrusts her two serrated cutting blades to literally saw through the outer layer of the human’s epidermis while two retractors prise open a passageway for the straw-like proboscis through which she will suck out the blood she needs like a drill extracting oil from the ground. To hasten the feeding process and reduce the likelihood of the victim swatting her away or worse, splattering her into little more than an unsightly stain, a sixth and final anatomical needle spikes the skin to inject an anticoagulant to prevent the blood from clotting.

It’s all over in a matter of seconds, though before she flies off to safety, she leaves behind an unpleasant reminder of their encounter, the irritating blotch from the allergic reaction to her saliva; in this case, the human is lucky that he’s not in one of those parts of the world where that same saliva might do something far worse, like infecting him with any number of fatal diseases such as  malaria, Zika, West Nile, dengue or yellow fever. But the danger is not over yet. She is a new and far more dangerous specimen of her species than even she realises, the latest result of the white-coated humans’ meddling in things  …

*

If they’re close enough for you to hear them, then unless you’re drenched in DEET or imprisoned inside several layers of head-to-toe clothing, it’s probably too late. That all too familiar humming buzz of the mosquito is enough to have the potential human meal here in the west and in cooler climes immediately pulling down shirt sleeves, donning long trousers, or reaching for the insect spray, anything to lessen the likelihood of the blotchy red bumps, the days of maddening scratching, and hourly applications of anti-histamine lotions.

In other parts of the world, the consequences were usually a lot worse, often adding to the mosquitoes’ 700,000 annual fatalities

Someone once said that God had a lot to answer for allowing those two bloody mosquitos aboard the ark.  Quite apart from the plague of malaria, every hiker, rambler, or anyone who had ever suffered the maddening irritation of a mosquito bite would probably agree.

Nowadays of course, everyone agreed …

*

Seth Packard was making his way home after another successful night’s poaching. The nearby estate provided him with not only most of his own food needs, but quite a nice income on the side from the adjacent salmon-rich river. The estate gamekeeper and local police were more a minor inconvenience to Seth’s activities than a real obstacle. Having grown up in the countryside, Seth was at home in the woods and forest any wild-born creature, practically immune to the irritating effects of most insect bites. Nonetheless, even he was becoming concerned by the growing number of ticks and mosquitoes, a fact he was reminded of when he felt that immediately recognisable heat and tingling of the after-effects of just such a bite to the back of his neck. It surprised Seth – it wasn’t that he never got bitten or was totally immune to a histamine reaction to the insect toxins or saliva from some tiny six and or however many-legged creatures, but it was rare for him to notice their effects. Perhaps that was why he instinctively brought his hand up to scratch at the inflamed area. In the process though, he had accidentally grazed his hand on either a thorn or the sharp or broken edge of an overhanging branch.

In contrast to the inflammation following most insect bites, Seth was used to such scratches and minor cuts, an inevitable consequence of spending so much time in the wild. This time it was a tad deeper though, and probably needed a proper dressing. Still, Seth had suffered worse in his time and simply wrapped a bit of cloth around it to help clot the blood, for now, not giving it a second thought beyond that.

The makeshift bandage around Seth’s hand didn’t clot the flow of blood though, and the wound it was covering continued to trickle blood throughout the night.

Another effect of the mosquito bite was to make him sweat, but not the sweat of exertion or from being too hot … every pore and orifice of his skin and body was seeping blood, draining it like some water-filled container with multiple holes in it. When they found his body a few days later, it looked like the theatrics department had gone overboard on a Hammer Horror film set.

Despite his naturally acquired immunity and tolerance, Seth Packard’s fate had been sealed on his last night of poaching in the estate forest; he would likely as not have been unaffected by the mosquito bite, but combined with the thorn it was just a matter of time, not that he would have had long to wait.

Perhaps it was a good thing that Seth’s insect immunity and lack of irritation from the mosquito bite had dulled any sense that something might be wrong. Had it not been so, he would have suffered the fear of knowing just how he was going to die long before the full effects of the mosquito bite combined with his minor cut took their toll.

Seth Packard was the first recorded UK victim of what the Press would later call the ‘Blood Sweating’ disease … he was not to be the last.

*

Sumatra Genetics had been tasked with developing a delivery system for the World Health Organisation’s newly developed universal flu vaccine, HN247. There had been a time when conventional methods of vaccination would have done the job. But that was ten years before … things had changed.

As well as more virulent human and avian strains, they were now having to cope with a new one on the block – Rodent flu. Like its avian counterpart, this too had jumped the species barrier, and worse, it didn’t kill its rodent hosts or trouble them in any way.

China alone had suffered near on a hundred million casualties, with India close on its heels. It was only stricter quarantine regulations and more efficient rodent control measures that had lessened the impact on Europe and North America, with their death toll still limited to the low tens of millions. South America, on the other hand, was reaching close to sixty million dead.

Quite apart from the logistical nightmare of trying to vaccinate 8 billion people, and the cost, the death toll and other debilitating health effects on the estimated billion or so already infected made it a race against time. If the current pandemic wasn’t stopped in its tracks, it would soon cripple the world’s ability to react at all.

It was ironic that Sumatra Genetics should be the one the WHO should look to for help given that it was their experiments with rats that had led to Rodent flu in the first place. That little nugget of information was something only Sumatra’s most trusted staff knew about. And since those in the know had all been bought off with substantial share options, that was the way it was likely to stay. It was a further irony that this latest crisis was an opportunity for the shady genetics company to become even more successful if they came up with a solution.

Sumatra already knew there simply weren’t enough doctors, nurses, or similarly trained medical staff, let alone the facilities or resources to manually vaccinate 7 billion around the world. Clearly, a new and radical approach had to be devised, one that took no account of borders, quarantine zones, or any other obstacle to a vaccine delivery system.

They put their Microbiology department to working on the problem, and more specifically, their entomology section. The nanoparticle-based universal flu HN247 vaccine the WHO had developed made it ideal for viral delivery via almost the tiniest of nature’s multicellular life-forms, namely insects.

Unbeknown to the WHO, Sumatra were already ahead of the curve on the problem; they had several years’ worth of research into viral delivery systems, the only difference being that theirs was for weaponised agents, not life-saving ones.

Within a few months they had adapted the vaccine to be carried by insects, any and every insect in the world in fact. By infecting selective insects with a harmless virus carrying HN247, they anticipated that it would take less than a year for some 90% of the human population to be likewise infected. And they were right. Within a matter of months, half the world’s population were now immune to the Rodent flu.

It had been an unqualified success in the more rural and less developed parts of the world, where daily and multiple insect bites were more a plague than a lifesaver. In the developed world, progress was slower; the greater cleanliness of the cities and their population’s obsession with keeping their homes sterile and germ-free was less conducive to an openly thriving insect population.

The public announcements though about Rodent flu immunity being spread by harmless insect bites weren’t popular at first. Fortunately, perhaps, the increasing death toll from Rodent flu was even less popular, inducing, or rather frightening. most of the public to briefly dispense with their insect and pest repellents and take to walking bare-armed through the parks and countryside.

With the third world and countryside largely vaccinated, that left the developed world free to supplement the insect viral delivery system using more conventional methods of vaccination to spread the life-saving infection, free of the international communities’ condemnation of only looking after themselves.

Sumatra Genetics had once again come up smelling of roses to quote the old saying. Unfortunately, the roses, in this case, had nasty and unexpected thorns …

*

In the aftermath of the Rodent flu crisis, the world had breathed a collective sigh of relief at its resolution. It was probably why the first reports of a mosquito problem largely went unnoticed; compared to the death of some 400 million from the Rodent flu, no subsequent crisis seemed to warrant urgent attention.

Mosquito bites had plagued mankind since it first climbed down from the trees. Admittedly, some repellents worked better than others, and a small lucky percentage of the population seemed immune to the annoying winged pests. Still though, mosquitos were high on the list of most people’s pet hates.

Despite the drug companies’ best efforts, there as yet remained no way of preventing most people from being bitten from time to time. Worse still, it was rare to suffer only the one bite when attacked. It was just a case of having to suffer the several days of excruciating itching and inflamed red blotches that invariably followed.

Had people known what was to follow they would have been glad to put up with the maddening but temporary annoyance of a regular mosquito bite.

*

The disease had first hit the poorer parts of the world around the filthy pools of stagnant water where the mosquitos thrived. Just another tropical disease running its course in some backward part of the word nobody cared about had been the original assumption. That had changed.

Only a small number of mosquitos were carrying the new disease as far as anyone could tell given the tiny ratio of deaths to mosquito numbers. It was enough though to finally get the WHO’s attention. It wasn’t so much how many were dying but who that had prompted them to take notice, namely the inclusion now of rich westerners.

Dozens of cases were cropping up all over the world, not that the actual death toll was yet anywhere near high enough yet for the health authorities to start panicking. The public though were another matter – not since the early 80s during the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic had they been so thoroughly gripped by fear.

It was the way people died from it that really had them scared. It started with a single bite, that’s all it took; unlike most insect bites, it was one you actually felt rather being alerted to it by the post-bite irritating blotchy inflammation.

In the beginning it had been thought to be some strange form of advanced haemophilia for want of a better definition given the excessive bleeding. It didn’t take long to determine whatever it might be was being transmitted by insect bites. Narrowing it down to mosquitos had come later. It was bizarre to think the media had been the first to make the connection with their Mutant Mozzies and Sweating Blood hysteria-inducing headlines. Either way, it had come as a relief to the WHO that it had been narrowed down to one specific insect.

Despite assurances from Sumatra Genetics to the contrary, the WHO had originally feared it might be a delayed side-effect of the insect carried viral delivery of the HN247 flu vaccine. Had that been the case and all insects had been carriers of the new disease it5 truly would have been the end of mankind. Nonetheless, they were still investigating along those lines … and so too was Sumatra Genetics.

Something unique in one of the Mosquito’s fourteen thousand different genes had combined with the HN2247 nanoparticle-based vaccine, boosting the naturally occurring anti-coagulant in the mosquitoes’ salivary glands. Instead of the usual maddening but non-fatal effects, victims were dying. It wasn’t that the anti-coagulant was any more effective, it was simply longer-lasting; whereas a normal mosquito bite would only disable the regular clotting ability of the blood for a few minutes in the immediate area of the bite while the mosquito fed, these others were causing the effects of the anticoagulant to spread throughout the body for up to twelve hours.

In the young and elderly, it was even longer. Any significant injury during the active phase of the mosquito bite would see the victim sweating blood from every pore of their body – even a simple cut or a bruise could be fatal for the less robust victim.

“Well, we’ve identified the problem. We just don’t have a solution … or know if there even is one?” Dr Natalie Martins was telling the board.

It wasn’t often any of Sumatra’s research staff were quite so blunt with their bosses. But then of course, it wasn’t often the company’s survival or keeping the Sumatra board of directors from a prison cell depended on one of them either.

“You are aware of the urgency of the matter, aren’t you Dr Martins?” Simon Cadwell asked, one of Sumatra’s vice-presidents.

“I’m aware of the urgency, yes. A lot of lives depend on our coming up with a way of either neutralising whatever it is causing the disease or fighting its effects.” Natalie knew very well the ‘urgency’ being referred to had nothing to do with saving lives.

“We’re all aware of that, Dr Martins. But we also have to provide answers for the medical enquiry board.”

“Probably best I don’t waste any more time here then. I’ll be able to answer your questions a lot quicker if I’m allowed to get on with looking for the answers.” 

Simon Cadwell didn’t bother to reply, instead simply looking down to make a few notes in his sheaf of papers … I’ll remember you, Dr Martins, when this is all over, the Sumatra VP thought to himself, annoyed some little jumpstart of an employee should be in a position to speak to a member of the board in such an insolent manner.

In their desperation to eliminate themselves from any blame for the new disease, the Sumatra Genetics investigatory board had finally allowed Dr Natalie Martins access to their sealed files on their previous failed efforts to find a way of eradicating Malaria.

With the new though still classified information in her hands, she discovered Sumatra’s previous efforts to splice a modified gene into the malaria transmitting Anopheles mosquito, one that would neutralise the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.

She was not impressed by the shoddy science and shortcuts they had taken in their efforts. Like most of Sumatra’s projects, their eye had been on quick profits rather than being prepared for years of painstaking research and trial to verify their results.

Not only had it not worked, instead of neutralising the malaria-causing parasite it was originally meant to, but this new modified gene had also now found a more compatible receptor in the nanoparticles of the HN247 vaccine. It was now snugly nestled between the same anti-coagulant producing gene in the mosquito salivary gland and another responsible for the mosquito’s tolerance for changes in temperature. This tiny realignment of its DNA was making successive generations of its host mosquitos better able to survive the cooler conditions of the Northern hemisphere.

Once she had reported her findings, Dr Martins was given the task of heading the team Sumatra formed to eradicate the mutated Anopheles mosquito. Of course, every Anopheles mosquito now carried the mutant gene but it was a simple matter for Sumatra to breed and release a variant into the wild with the mutant gene removed. Given that the modified gene was essentially a foreign body in the mosquitos’ DNS, nature was quick to accept the new variant, and the rate at which all insects bred, it quickly became dominant. But nothing was ever quite that simple when it came to meddling in the very building blocks of life. While the gene responsible for the mosquitos’ anti-coagulant had returned to normal, the exposure of all the new generations of mosquitos had migrated north had permanently adapted them to its cooler temperatures. The malaria carrying Anopheles mosquito was there to stay … the wealthy industrialised north had swapped one disease for another, and with a

*

It was Dr Martins’ work that had stopped what the media had coined the ‘Blood Sweating’ disease. Unsurprisingly it was Sumatra Genetics that took the credit. Again, the relief at having averted the latest of the pandemics the world seemed to be lurching between had shielded Sumatra from public condemnation, allowing it once again to bask in the glory of being its saviour.

Yet again, one of Sumatra’s lines of research had almost spelt disaster for the entire human race. The dodgy genetics company had destroyed many of its research archives in response to investigations into their activities over the years. They had so many rogue scientists and laboratories working under the radar, they weren’t even sure themselves just how many ticking time-bombs were waiting to blow up in their face.

In the meantime, the WHO continued their close monitoring of the increasing occurrence of more virulent strains of malaria across the northern hemisphere …

Dr Martins wasn’t the only one to suspect their problems were only just beginning …

***

Night of the Bed Bugs

BdEver since many of the genetically modified crops and insects had started to mutate in ways their god-playing creators had never imagined, instead of adapting the environment as it had always done, mankind was instead having to insulate itself against it.

Mosquitoes the size of small birds, ant colonies so colossal that they thought nothing of descending on human towns and cities, and a host of new and fatal diseases carried by pesticide-resistant insects had made even a stroll in the countryside a dangerous thing of the past in many parts of the world.

*

Rachael Mills had never felt comfortable venturing beyond the city limits, much preferring the hum of an air-conditioning unit to the sound of the wind, and the feel of carpet or wooden flooring beneath her feet rather than insect-ridden grass or earth. Perhaps it was the spider and cockroach-infested slum she had grown up in that had led to her irrational fear of them, and in turn, of what she thought of as the insect-infested countryside; it wasn’t agoraphobia in the strictest sense, more a fear of nature itself. To her, the growing insect problem was a confirmation of all her views, that the buzzing, stinging creatures of the wild were nothing more than a living disease that crept and crawled.

Even in the relative safety of her sterile city apartment, Rachael had all manner of insect repellent devices humming away, periodically releasing bug killing toxins into the air. The smell of DEET clung to every inch of flooring, furniture, and the walls. In her own room, such was her fear that as a last defence against the insect enemy, Rachael slept under the sort of fine-meshed mosquito net more usually found in the tropics, again drenched in extra-strength DEET.

Mozzie2Little Peter Mills was all of six years old, and not nearly as afraid of monsters as he used to be. He was a big boy now, and while he still enjoyed the magical imagination of a child, he was starting to feel more grown-up every day. But that wasn’t to say he didn’t welcome the reassurance of having his mum tuck him up in bed, safe and sound, telling him not to let the bed bugs bite. So why were they biting?

At first it was a just a slight irritation that had Peter tossing and turning in his bed. To anyone looking in, they would have probably just put it down to restless fidgeting or having a bad dream. But the irritation was getting worse; not enough to wake him, not yet, but the pinprick like sensations sweeping over most of his body were turning his bad dream into a nightmare.

The little lad was thrashing about now, so badly that the tucked in ends of the bed covers had come loose and been thrown to the floor. Just for a moment the irritation stopped, only for it to return with a vengeance as Peter’s tiny but entire body become immersed in it. It was no longer just the increasingly painful nipping away at his skin, every inch of his body now felt like it was on fire. Until then he had been shielded from the worst of the pain by the anaesthetising effect of still being in a half sleep-like state, but the continuous assault on his nerve endings was too much …

Earlier in the day, Peter wished they hadn’t squished so many of the little bugs when his mum had taken him to one of the designer parks, enclosed bio-domes professionally designed for maximum aesthetic appeal.

Though a good imitation of the outside and natural world, to anyone who had grown up before the need for such bio-domes, they were more like a landscape painting, but with all the colour, life and imagination sucked out of it first. But never having been to a real park let alone run wild in the countryside, Peter thought it was just great, with birds flying high above, and little squirrels popping out of nowhere to look up and investigate visitors to their enclosed domain. And to maintain such a good imitation of such natural beauty, a computer-generated optimum number of non-modified insects too had been added to encourage more natural behaviours of the equally optimum numbers of birds and mammals.

His mum had led him to the grass verge beside the artificial wild-life pond for them to enjoy their picnic. The sandwiches and sugary goodies she had packed soon attracted ants and other assorted flying bugs to join them too, and so she immediately gave the flying ones a blast with the super-strength insect repellent spray most citizens now carried with them. She also took hold of a napkin and started brushing the ants away, squashing the ones that were crawling about the grass near where they had placed their picnic food and drinks. She encouraged Peter to brush them away too. He had been reluctant at first, fascinated by the animated movements of the creepy-crawly creatures, happy too to peer at them more closely as he held up an ant-covered hand before his eyes, entranced by their scurrying movements up and down his fingers. His mother was having none of it though, Peter’s hand suddenly finding itself engulfed by a squirt of super-strength insect repellent.

Peter thought it cruel to kill them that way, but his mum had made a game of it, laughing and joking as she went about her crushing of the loathsome little creatures …

“There’s another … and another. Gotya!”

Again and again she would bring her hand down on the tiny helpless ants.

Not wanting to upset his mum or make her think he wasn’t happy she had brought him out, Peter half-heartedly joined in the ant-squishing slaughter …

Peter’s mind exploded into consciousness. The almost instantaneous awareness of the pain he was in sent his body into spasms. He tried to scream but no sound escaped his throat and nor would his body respond to the instinctive urge to move away from whatever it was attacking him. Something in the bites must have paralysed his muscles. He had to lie there, unable to fight the pain while thousands of tiny insect mandibles tore away at his flesh, boring under his toe and fingernails, crawling inside his ears and mouth, eating away from the insides, and lastly the eyes.

It was a small mercy that the same mind that amplified his pain with its awakening was now shutting down, separating what little was left of the boy’s sanity from the reality of what was happening.

The following morning, his mother screamed at the sight of her little boy, a half-eaten body with what little remained covered in vicious swollen red blotches from the thousands of tiny bites of the clearly visible huge bed bugs, still feeding on what was left …

“I don’t understand,” she was sobbing over and over.

“I thought we’d be safe here in one of the population concentrates, away from the country and open ground. Is nowhere safe now?” she asked again and again.

The police officers exchanged worried glances with the security detail attached to them while the white-coated medical staff took samples, sealing them in small vials, and the bedding in toxic bio-hazard bags. Having attended at least a dozen more in the past few months, it wasn’t the first insect-related death the police and white-coated investigators had been called to, but it was the first one in a typically sterile domestic home setting, the smell of DEET and other insect repellents hanging thick in the air.

Until now it had mainly been attacks on stray cats and dogs and other relatively small animals such as the city rat and urban fox populations, though in a city of more than five million, these minor incidents had gone relatively unnoticed, even when they increased in frequency. It wasn’t until the victims became bigger, when street patrols started finding the lifeless remains of the city’s homeless that the authorities started to pay more attention. Some had been stung to death in the way one might expect from a swarm of bees, while others had literally had the flesh stripped from their bones, the only clue to their fate being a few dead insect specimens of the victims’ attackers.

Rachael watched as the authorities carried her son out on a stretcher. She had wanted to accompany them to wherever they were going, but she had been politely but firmly restrained from doing so.

It was neither the morgue nor the hospital they were taking Peter’s body, but a government facility set up to investigate the growing insect problem.

Given Rachael’s naturally distraught and hysterical state, they had also insisted on calling an ambulance to take her to hospital to be treated for shock and grief, but more importantly, to also keep news of the latest incident becoming public knowledge while they tried to convince her of some other believable explanation for her son’s death. They hoped that would be possible, otherwise, she faced becoming another statistic in the missing person figures. 

*

In a nearby apartment to Rachael’s, innumerable tiny eyes watched the two giant residents’ return from their Centre-Parks holiday, a bio-dome resort much like the one Rachael and Peter had visited the week before, only bigger.

To the residents’ uninvited guests, it meant they would once again be vulnerable to attack from the death delivering bug sprays their larger enemies drenched them in at the mere sight or sound of anything that crawled or buzzed.

Though once indifferent to the humans’ presence other than as a source to occasionally snack on small quantities of their blood, the watching eyes now regarded them as a dangerous enemy, one to either be avoided at all costs or attacked without mercy rather than merely tolerated for the sugary foods the tiny creatures were so greatly fond of and which the human giants provided in such abundance.

There was a time when they would simply have moved on to a less hazardous feeding environment, but though tiny in comparison, the bugs were getting bigger too. When a million bugs double in size and number in the space of a single generation, so too does their appetite; blood alone was no longer enough to satisfy their nutritional needs, and the sugary treats the humans unwittingly left for them were hardly an adequate substitute – they had acquired a taste and need for protein-rich flesh to satisfy their growing size and numbers, particularly that of a food source that wasn’t protected by fur, scales, or able to retreat to an environment hostile to the tiny predators.

The human residents’ return had been aptly timed for them; the bugs were hungry with a million more young to feed. They were smart though and didn’t attack immediately, waiting instead till it became dark and their intended food sources retired to their nice warm beds, the same beds the bugs were also partial too.

It was almost a week before the human couple’s absence had been noticed, more than long enough for the bed bugs to finish their meal before the police and white-coated investigators discovered the two human skeletons.

The sight that greeted them was a less ghastly one than on their first visit to the bed bug-ridden apartment block, the bugs having had time to feed uninterested this time. They might have been discovered sooner but similar reports had come in, not just about residents of Rachael’s apartment block, but other throughout the city – the skeleton couple’s discovery was just one among thousands in the coming days following what the press was calling the night of the bed bugs.

Bigger, stronger, and in greater numbers, the bees, the ants, the mosquitoes, and as many different types of insects as you could think of, they all needed to feed … there would be many more such nights of a million other species in the future …

*** 

If you enjoyed these two stories, then stay tuned for next month’s publication of Six, Eight, & Many Legged Tales: A Swarming Mass of Bites and Stings, the third and final book in The Creature Tales collection … in the meantime, Books 1 & 2 are also available …

Coming soon …

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Guest short story reblog … A Killer in the Mist by Tom Benson …

As regular readers of my blog will know, many of my flash fiction and regular short stories have karma and retribution themes to them. Another author who also writes some of the best revenge/retribution you could ever hope to read is multi-genre writer/author, Tom Benson.

Tom’s first book of such short stories, Smoke & Mirrors, is a real classic of the retribution genre … At around the 750-word mark, Killer in the Mist falls into the longer end of the Flash Fiction category, but like all good flash fiction, it packs in way more entertainment and content than it’s relatively short length would suggest.

Am delighted to say, Killer in the Mist will be appearing as a ‘guest’ story in my Flashbulb Moments F/fiction collection later in the year

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A Killer in the Mist

 

picAThe evening fog was getting heavier, so Philip flicked his headlights down to dipped beam. Unknown, unlit countryside and the earlier incident had been bad enough.

“You agree, don’t you?” Philip glanced at his passenger. “We couldn’t have done anything else.”

“Whatever ….” Lauren said, not looking at her married lover.

“What do you mean, whatever? If I’d stopped, there would have been questions, and names would be required.”

“I’ve got nothing to hide.” The teenager peered into the illuminated grey mass ahead.

Click HERE for Tom Benson’s original post and full story …

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THEM – Horror book review

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THEM6James Watts is a US/Alabama based horror writer and author.THEM7 In addition to his debut novel, THEM, he has had short stories appear in several horror anthologies while writing for the horror publisher, HellBound Books.

When not writing himself, he is also an Administrator for the highly active and successful horror promotion and discussion group, Realms of The Damned Horror Society, helping to discover and promote new writers, news, and events in the genre. 

Following the success of THEM, James Watts is busy working on his next book, Beast of Sorrows … 

To keep up with and follow the author, see below for his social media:

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Twitter: @James2go34

Author website: www.james2go33.wixsite.com

Facebook page: @Southernhorrorwriter

Goodreads: James Watts

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THEM

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A great debut horror novel that would sit comfortably among the works of Stephen King & James Herbert …

THEM2With ancient malevolent forces occupying human bodies, innocent looking creatures morphing into hungry life-draining parasites, and a history of evil dating back millennia, these ingredients alone are a recipe for an intriguing horror tale. Added to the mix though are family secrets and rivalries, murder, and an emerging horror triggered by the main character’s return to his childhood home and town to attend his mother’s funeral.

I liked the dramatic start to this book i.e. the events and horror that prelude the opening scenes of Ray Sanders’ return and his mother’s funeral as already mentioned. Having said that, once past the dramatic opening, the book adopts a slower pace while it lays the groundwork for the wider story that follows; James Watts does an excellent job of setting the scene, creating the characters and relationships of a small town, and of relating old rivalries, friendships, and family secrets. Even before events start to take a more sinister turn, the author’s impressive descriptive skills have already conjured up the perfect setting and surroundings in which they unfold … one can almost hear the sound of banjos playing on a southern porch while picturing the image of cabins in the woods, and a character out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre lurking behind every corner, though there are horrors here far worse than any human monster

Apart from a well-constructed story and a rich array of characters, the nitty gritty of the writing was also first class, not shying away from explicit and graphic language at times, but not over-doing it either. Although set in the present, in some ways, ‘THEM’ reads much like old-style horror – not in a dated or old-fashioned way, but in the tradition of, say, Dennis Wheatley or H.P. Lovecraft, though with a healthy resemblance to the blood and gore of some classic 70s/80s’ horror too – in terms of more modern writers, ‘THEM’ would sit quite comfortably nestled among the works of Stephen King and James Herbert … a great debut novel and addition to the horror genre, and hints too of more to come …

***

Video trailer for THEM

 

Click HERE for James M. Watts’ Amazon author page:

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Cell Bitch – Flash fiction short story

Another little taster from my up-coming under 1000 word flash fiction stories, Flashbulb Moments …

 

Cell Bitch

 

Luke Thompson was as nice a young man as you could ever hope to meet, the sort of boy parents hoped their daughter would bring home to meet them. In Luke’s case though, it was correctional officer Vince Zackery introducing Luke to his parents. It was okay though; Vince’s parents took to Luke the moment they met him. And likewise, when Luke introduced Vince to his own family, they were delighted Luke had found himself a boyfriend who obviously adored him, and given Vince’s 6’3” height and build, one they knew he’d be in safe hands with.

It was an unlikely pairing; they’d met and fell in love during Luke’s monthly visits to his older brother serving a seventy-five-year sentence for armed robbery at the penitentiary where Vince was an officer.

 

Luke was attending a staff Christmas dinner and dance night. He had thought about not going what with Vince working nights, but Vince had told him to go and enjoy himself, and besides, Luke would have felt guilty letting Kathryn down. Being a popular guy, Luke had no shortage of girls happy to dance with him, which was more than could be said for Nathan Morrison. Nathan was your stereotypical homophobic racist, and a jealous one to boot, given that the girl he fancied, Kathryn, was more interested in limp-wristed Luke, as Nathan called him. Luke and Kathryn were best friends in a brother and sister sort of way. All night the girl whose knickers Nathan wanted to get into had spurned him, preferring to chat and dance … with some nancy boy … instead. Afterwards, Luke and Kathryn left together, Luke insisting on walking her the half-mile to her house.

cell7Along with two of his knuckle-dragging mates, Nathan followed at a discreet distance before taking a shortcut in readiness to confront the pair …

 

“So, what’s girly little Luke got that I ain’t?” Nathan demanded to know as he stepped out from the shadows.

“Maybe she’s a dyke and reckons on Luke providing some girl on girl action,” one of the other Neanderthals suggested. Had it just been Nathan on his own, Luke would have taken his chances and struck out at him, but he had Kathryn to consider, and was fearful of what they might do to her if he angered them in any way? In that respect, he needn’t have worried; the three Neanderthals had no intention of raping or hurting Kathryn, knowing full-well what the consequences of that might be. But Luke was another matter – they figured he’d be too ashamed to complain given just what they had in mind for him, and even if he did, they’d say he tried to touch one of them up, that they were fearful of his homosexual advances … sadly, it was a defence that was often successful in some of the ‘less than liberal’ states of America.

Nathan and another of the trio slammed Luke up against the wall, unbuckling his pants at the same time, while the third one kept hold of Kathryn, making her watch. Nathan then produced a bicycle pump he’d stolen from a bike while following them.

“I bet this is what you want, I mean, a hole’s a hole, and you want it, don’t ya?” Nathan whispered, “and if ya scream out, ya little girlfriend here will be getting the real thing from all three of us,” he added, knowing Luke wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise Kathryn’s safety.

 

Nathan had been right in assuming they wouldn’t report the assault, though not because Luke was ashamed. Luke was worried what the others might do to Kathryn if Nathan went to prison. Nonetheless, Kathryn pleaded with Luke to go to the police, but ultimately, she respected his wishes not to.

*

cell2.jpgA month later, Nathan was convicted of a similar assault against a young girl. Hearing the news, Kathryn finally told her father, who just happened to be the judge trying Nathan’s case, what had happened. She also told Luke’s partner, correctional officer, Vince Zackery … 

Nathan Morrison entered the three-man cell somewhat nervously to begin the first day of his ten-year prison sentence for sexual assault. He nodded to the two man-mountain sized figures looking across at him from their bunks, one from a single bed, and the other the lower one of a set of bunk beds.

 

cell5“What’s ya name, boy?” asked one of them while the other returned to flipping the pages of his porn mag.

“It’s Na … Nathan … Nathan Morrison,” he finally managed to blurt out.

“Well young … Nathan … your pit will be on the top bunk above me, though most of the time you’ll down here keeping me happy … oh, and it’ll be me on top.”

“Don’t be greedy, Jim, there’s more ‘n’ enough of that sweet little ass ta go around.” The two cellmates both laughed. Unsurprisingly, Nathan didn’t see the funny side of the crude interjection.

“Too sweet an ass t’be called ‘Nathan,’ that’s for sure … I think we’ll call him Natalie instead.”

“Look guys, I mean …” Nathan began, “I’m … I’m not gay or anything, not that I got owt against anyone who is or anything …”

“Neither are we, but unless you’re hiding a pair of tits and a pussy under that jumpsuit, you’re all we’ve got … and besides, what was it you said … A hole’s a hole?” Nathan didn’t know what to say, too terrified to even notice the flow of urine soaking the front of his prisoner jumpsuit.

cell3“Luke Thompson’s my kid brother … and if you’re thinking of yelling out to the guards, ya know that mean looking muthafucka of an officer that’s in charge of out wing, his name’s Vince,” Jim revealed, brandishing an officer’s nightstick in a somewhat obscene manner before adding: “… and he’s Luke’s partner.”

It was going to be a long ten years was all Nathan could think … that’s if he even survived the night?

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***

 

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read many more like it, please stay tuned for my up-coming anthology later this year, with guest stories from an additional six authors (3 more still to be confirmed)

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A double-bill book Review – The Spider’s Web & Carnival of Death, by Tom Johnson

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Tom Johnson spent twenty years in the military, and after retirement, he and his wife, Ginger, went into small press publishing for the next 22 years. Tom continues to write and Ginger edits and proofs his work. They also review books from numerous publishers.

Following the author’s social media links immediately below, it is my great pleasure to provide my reviews of just two of Tom Johnson’s extensive library of books … 

Click on links below for Tom Johnson’s social media:

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Author website:  Tom Johnson: author

Blog:  The Pulp Hermit

Blog/Books:  Fading Shadows Books

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The Spider’s Web

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 A fun-filled, action-packed, masked-avenger tale

– A must-read for pulp-fiction fans!!!

TJ1zThis is a super novella-length story from the pulp-fiction author, Tom Johnson. A straightforward ‘good vs bad, hero vs villain,’ type story, one where the reader just sits back, suspends disbelief and enjoys the fun.

For first-time readers of Tom Johnson, this a fine introduction to his stories and style of writing, and indeed to the genre as a whole. What we have in The Spider’s Web is a tale of masked avengers and vigilante-style crime-fighting heroes and villains; yes there’s lots violence, killings etc, but the author doesn’t dwell on explicit descriptive detail in that respect, preferring instead to concentrate on writing more of a gasp out loud roller-coaster of entertainment.

Although of novella length, content-wise there’s as much going on here as in many a longer book; Tom Johnson constructs the background of the ninja-like ‘Spider’ character extremely well and succinctly, wasting no time in incorporating it into the wider story. The other main character here, the mysterious crime-fighting ‘Black Ghost,’ is one that features elsewhere in many of the author’s earlier books so there is less explanation of his origins and character, at least not initially though still enough detail to make for  a satisfying stand-alone story; having said that, if you already enjoy this style of writing/genre it might be worth scrolling back through the author’s previous books for a more chronology-based decision as to which one to read first. Related to what I’ve just said, there is a bonus story/material, The Black Widows, at the end that expands on the Black Ghost’s character and youthful origins and background. I must say too say, the bonus story has a somewhat darker feel and tone to it, but every bit as enjoyable and complementary to the first story.

I’ve not read much in this genre and style of writing before, or rather not since I was a boy, so it’s hard to make comparisons with current authors. If I were to make a film or tv analogy, think along the lines of a modern-day Fu-Manchu or Bruse Lee’s Kato character in the Green Hornet for atmosphere and overall feel, though there are several others I could quote too … older readers will know exactly what I mean.

For anyone looking for gritty realism, lashings of sex and/or gratuitous violence, or the sort of plot complexity to rival the De Vinci Code, this certainly won’t fit the bill. For those readers though looking for a romping good read, good fun-filled and escapist storytelling, and where you don’t have to scratch your head every five minutes wondering what’s going on, The Spider’s Web provides exactly that.

*** 

Carnival of Death

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A worthy tribute to the pulp-fiction and comic book style genre – absolutley loved it!

TJ2zWhat a cracker of a wee tale this is – a body count not seen the time of the Black Death, masked crime fighters, ninja assassins, British secret agents, rogue ex-military, and an equally dynamic supporting cast to complete the package. It’s a novella length story, but one that packs in way more content than its 82 pages would suggest. This could easily have filled the pages of a full novel, but Tom Johnson has stripped away every superfluous word or bit of character background building. There is a prequel to Carnival of Death, The Spider’s Web, featuring the same characters and set-up, which is probably why the author allows the story to hit the ground running so to speak; having said that, although this is a sequel to a previous story, it reads surprisingly well as a stand-alone story too, though it will inevitably leave the reader curious to know more about the characters. The ending does leave open the likelihood of further stories in the series I’m pleased to say.

Without spoiling or giving too much away, it’s basically a story of vigilante crime-fighting justice, but more in the style of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Zorro rather than Michael Winner’s ‘Deathwish’ character. As the author himself says, the main character here, The Black Ghost, is his homage to such characters and the pulp fiction magazines of the 30s and 40s. Another comparison I would add to the author’s own references is to Warren Murphy’s Remo series in which the main crime-fighting character, though not super-human, seemingly borders on it. Unlike those of his literary heroes though, Tom Johnson has set his story in a modern-day setting, combining that pulp-fiction feel with just the right blend of high-tech and reference to the present.

Whilst I would say one has to suspend disbelief to some degree, it’s a fast-paced and action-packed story, one that takes me back to the sort of comic book style stories I enjoyed reading as a boy, but which I once again find myself enjoying as an adult. Overall, a fun, entertaining, and escapist tale of good guys versus bad. Will I be reading more from this author? Absolutely yes!

***

See HERE for Tom Johnson’s Amazon author page and his fascinating and extensive back-catalogue of books.

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More about the author …

TJ5Born July 26, 1940, in Seymour, Texas, located in West Texas, US veteran Tom Johnson has been a voracious reader since childhood, beginning with the Golden Age comic books to classic literature. Exciting adventure stories entertained him until he discovered science fiction and hardboiled detective mysteries. By his early twenties, he discovered The Shadow and Doc Savage pulp reprints in paperbacks and was hooked on the fast-paced action novel. This led to collecting and research, which eventually interested him in writing. Today, he still loves an exciting action novel over movies and television. Tom and his wife, Ginger, have received numerous awards in the field for their work in keeping the old stories in the spotlight for new readers seeking escape in a thrilling adventure novel.

Please click HERE for the author’s full biography and writing history/links …

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Look out too for Tom’s latest workNEW PULP HEROES 

Click  HERE  for Amazon US purchase link 

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Double Book Review – The Nick Borman thrillers …

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Prior to writing, Robert Lalonde studied Real Estate Appraisal and Real Property Assessment through UBC. Following this, he worked as a Commercial Property Tax Consultant in Toronto, Canada, representing owners of hotels, office buildings, and shopping malls before various tax appeal tribunals. 

Robert Lalonde began his writing career with two non-fiction books based about health and well-being based on research he carried out to lose weight and regain his health after a battle with cancer.  Since then he has moved onto writing hard-hitting thrillers, having written the first two books of the Nick Borman thriller series.

See below for the author’s website and social media links …

Author Website: www.robertlalonde.com

Twitter: @RobertLalonde

Facebook author page: @Robert Lalonde

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The Borman Factor:

A Nick Borman Thriller

5starssgs (1) A well-crafted thriller that hits the ground running!

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A cracking debut thriller. I particularly liked the way the author preceded the main story with a dramatic event. The main protagonist, Nick Borman, is a private investigator in the murky world of high-tech big business and industrial espionage. Highly skilled at what he does, and able to handle himself too, Nick makes for a formidable character. 

Nick Borman is asked to investigate the death of an investigative reporter, Terry Reyolds.  It’s a little out of his usual line of work and comfort zone, but out of family and professional loyalty, he reluctantly agrees. He soon discovers there’s a lot more to Terry’s death than the official police report would suggest. 

This is quite a complex story involving political and police corruption aligned with shady property deals which put Nick up against some serious and nasty characters, including a particularly ruthless professional killer. Despite its complexity though, the author makes the unfolding story surprisingly easy to follow and keep up with.

Overall, a good solid page-turning thriller. The action is fast-paced with excellent use of realistic dialogue, has just the right level of violence without over-doing it, and the author keeps things relatively simple without trying to impress or step into the realms of high-brow literature. It’s not an easy trick to pull off and not always a popular one,  but I liked too the way the author switched the points of view between the main character and the overall one. I’ll definitely be reading Book Two in this Nick Borman series.

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Jinxed: A Nick Borman Novel

5starssgs (1)A suspense-filled blend of politics, high-tech, and murder!

Nick8Robert Lalonde effortless blends political intrigue, high-tech industrial espionage, and an ever-lengthening line of victims along the way. Nick Borman, the main protagonist, once again excels as a private investigator in the shady worlds of high-tech industrial espionage and big business. Called in by Sheldon Montgomery to investigate the unexplained deaths of several of his employees, Nick Borman has to call on all his experience and resources to get to the truth. This time though his investigations take him into the even darker realms of ‘Black ops’ and the highest echelons of political office and ambition. 

The dialogue and narrative are skillfully handled with no pretence of trying to be anything more than a fast-paced and action-packed thriller, both of which Jinxed succeeds at. There are a variety of bad guys and other characters – some clever and manipulative, others plain and violently ruthless, and a few that are simply out of their depth in the bigger picture. 

There are several red herrings that initially hamper Nick’s investigations: is there a personal motive such as revenge or jealousy behind the killings, maybe an attempt to stall Sheldon’s political ambitions, or something to do with the revolutionary new products his tech company is developing, or lastly, another level of intrigue that Nick’s missing altogether? 

Although book two in the Nick Borman thriller series, Jinxed reads perfectly well as a stand-alone story. The ending is unexpected and abrupt, revealing that if necessary, Nick Borman can be every bit as ruthless as any of his adversaries.  Having said that, it does leave a few loose ends and the reader pondering if they’re going to be explored in further sequels? For entertainment and quality of writing, this is an easy five stars for me, but for the reasons just mentioned, in a more precise rating method I would rate this around a 4.8. Will I be reading book three? Hell yes!

***

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Click HERE for Robert Lalonde’s Amazon author page …

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Two Different Specimens – ‘Rat Tales’ short story

Two Different Specimens

rat1RS2179 had been given its final injection. Perhaps this would be the one to bring it the peace it craved. It hoped so.

It was a cold and clinical reference for a living creature. That was the intention – experience had shown such impersonal referencing to be an effective means of helping insulate the laboratory staff from any guilt. Many a brutal dictator had used similar victim classification systems as part of their extermination processes, mainly when they were short on the sort of person who enjoyed such work.

The tiny creature was number two thousand, one hundred and seventy-nine in the extensive list of rat specimens used in the secret 101 faculty’s nasty experiments. ‘Secret’ was a good description of the place in more ways than one. It was not listed in any public domain. It was purposely hidden away from peer scrutiny, its very existence kept secret from all but the shadowy upper echelons of its parent company. Given what went on there, it was as much a dirty little secret as it was a location.

The little creature sensed it was coming to the end of its relatively short existence. But that was okay. It had not been a good life and RS2179 would be glad to see it over. From the moment of RS2179’s birth, the only world it had ever known was the chilly sterile one of the laboratory it had been allocated to. It was never to experience the feel of grass under its feet. The joy of finding some tasty morsel for its next meal was unknown to it. All it knew was the hard-smooth Perspex floor and the dry and tasteless mixture the white-coated laboratory technicians would leave in a tiny bowl at the end of its foot-long cage. The only sounds it heard were the deep thunderous voices of the two-legged giants and the hum of the air conditioning unit that kept the experimental environment at a distressingly low temperature. The lack of any other external stimuli seemed to amplify whatever distress the lifeless prison inflicted on those creatures unfortunate to find themselves there.

Within hours of RS2179’s arrival a few months before, the experiments had begun. It was a rare day when it hadn’t been roughly manhandled from its cage for some new horror at the sharp end of the shiny spikes they would plunge into its body. It had tried struggling and even biting its handlers, but the clothing they wore was too thick to penetrate. The shiny spikes though, they were razor sharp, far more so than its own teeth. And oh, how they hurt. It was a blessing when the rat would sometimes be sent into sleeping darkness less than a minute after one of them pierced its skin. Each time it had hoped not to awaken, only to face disappointment when consciousness returned.

Depositphotos_10948446_dsThe last few times that had been the worse. Usually, the skin piercing spikes would be stabbed into some rear part of its body. The latest ones though had been directed towards the areas around its forehead. For some reason, it wasn’t so frightening when the entry point was out of sight, but seeing the sharp, gleaming tip coming into focus distressed RS2179 so much more.

Unbeknown to RS2179, the laboratory staff had been pumping all sorts of cognitive enhancers into its brain, And, equally unbeknown to the laboratory staff, they were working immeasurably better than their maze running tests would suggest. The microscopic chemical and electrical information exchanges between the synapses were now jumping across time and space, reaching farther out with each new injection.

For now, that wasn’t much of a consolation to RS2179. Its use was at an end other than what details might be gleaned from a post-mortem of their effects on its general physiology. That would have been fine were the rat actually dead.

Just as lethal injections were far from being a failsafe procedure with humans, they were even less so with rats. There had been no check on the complete absence of brain activity in the rat, just a rudimentary investigation of its heartbeat and non-response to being gently stabbed at with a pencil. Most of the life had indeed slipped from its body, but deep inside the rat’s brain and mind there was still a dying flicker of life, enough to make it aware of everything going on. It had been robbed of its ability to struggle or resist but sadly, not its feeling and consciousness. It was aware of being lifted and placed in the dissecting tray. Then the cold feel of the Nitrile gloved fingers moving about its body, poking and pulling, feeling about its abdomen and head, contorting its limbs into unnatural positions.

Its enhanced awareness helped limit the confusion and emotional distress it might otherwise have felt, but it was a double-edged sword – it now had a rudimentary understanding of the various instruments it could see in its limited field of vision, and even some of the human sounds they were making. Glad though it was, knowing it would soon be dead, the suffering it was likely to endure beforehand was ample reason to be afraid.

dissecting_tools“I’m ready to proceed,” Lance Nelson told his colleagues. They had already prepared the equipment he would need: a dissecting tray and board, scissors, a scalpel, a variety of probes, and several pins.

RS2179 was again manhandled from the dissecting tray to being placed on its back on a wooden board. Its limbs were stretched out in a spread-eagled position and pins inserted, one through the palms of each of its tiny feet, and three more along its tail. The pins were super sharp and thin, and so the pain of their entry was quite momentary. Still, the rat wished for the darkness and death to overcome it, watching the white-coated two-legged giant reach for a scalpel. Lance hesitated for a moment, imagining he saw a flicker of recognition in the creature’s eyes. He dismissed it as a trick of the light and proceeded to cut along the surface skin and tissue of the abdomen. No sound emerged from its mouth, but inside its head, RS2179 was screaming, its short-lived enhanced awareness now given over to overwhelming fear and blind panic. Another perpendicular slice of the scalpel, this time a fraction deeper, sent its pain receptors into over-drive, flooding its mind with sensations no creature, sentient or otherwise should ever have to purposely endure. A probe was used to prod at its internal organs, moving them this way and that to check for inflammation and discolouring …

“Everything looks normal. Respiratory, heart and other organs all look intact. Now moving onto the muscle and fatty tissues,” the voice was saying. RS2179 didn’t understand the words but realised what was about to happen, watching the scalpel move towards one of its limbs. It was all too much for the suffering creature to willingly endure. Its mind was beginning to shut down, severing itself from the torrent of impulses attacking its pain receptors. The pain was still unimaginable, but it was mostly starting to subside. The end was mercifully close, but there was one more ordeal to come, and the worst.

The scalpel disappeared out of sight. The suffering creature soon became aware of its new location though when it felt the pain inflicting instrument slicing through the back of its skull. Its mind filled with an explosion of light and colour as its brain was literally cut in two. Such trauma came as a blessing. There was no more pain, just the dying of its brain cells and the last remnants of its tortured mind. The last flicker of life passed into darkness.

“Nothing much to be learnt here,” Lance said, “might as well clean up. Dispose of it will you?”

*

Three months later

Lance Nelson felt a buzzing about his head as he got into the car. He wasn’t particularly alarmed by it. There was all manner of wildlife about given the proximity to the nearby extensive forest. The high walls and other barriers kept most of it at bay, but even the faculty’s state of the art security and remote location wasn’t going to keep out the bugs and insects.

TLS1, the first two-legs human specimen of its kind was laid out on the rocky surface of the cave floor. It had amused the rats to choose a classification mocking that of their human counterparts.

TLS1’s mind was now stirring as it returned to consciousness. The first things it saw and felt were the various insects and spiders crawling about its body, biting, and feeding off him – it was a far cry from the clean and gleaming sterile environment of the lab but more than adequate to serve the same purpose. The human specimen was in pain too. That was the first realisation that everything about him was horribly real and not the nightmare he had thought, and indeed hoped it might be. There was a thumping in his head, worse than any hangover he’d ever had, and he was sure of a couple of cracked ribs too. He could just about roll his eyes to look down and along his body; he was bruised and scratched. Another worry was being naked as he was. How had that come about? Had he been kidnapped? Something to do with his work at the lab he speculated. His mind began to clear. He could see rats, lots of them darting back and forth, just out of reach had he indeed been able to move.

Those same creatures he had once experimented on and cut into pieces now inspired in him the same sort of fear they must have felt.

He was briefly reminded of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and the Room 101 scene where people would be confronted with their own worst fears. The central character’s overwhelming fear had been rats. It dawned on him why the research centre where he worked was often referred to as the 101 Faculty. Someone’s idea of a sick joke?  Whatever the reasoning, it was hardly amusing given his present circumstances.

The insects and other crawling things were minute in comparison, and so the rats were content to allow them some tiny share of their spoils. It would have been ungracious not to, especially given the help they had been in delivering the specimen – rats weren’t the only creatures being experimented on in that place.

Lance wanted to scream, to struggle, to swat and brush them away just like he would if seeing a fly or a spider buzzing or crawling about his home. None of that was an option now. Not a sound escaped his lips, and except for the occasional involuntary shudder, his body made no response to any mental commands to move. He tried thinking back on how it came to be there. The last thing TLS1 remembered was getting into his car. Something had stung or bitten him. It hadn’t been painful, but enough to get his attention. He remembered thinking at the time of being glad he hadn’t been driving and paid it no consideration other than to reopen his car door to shoo whatever it was out of the car. After that he’d set off for home, confident that whatever it was had flown off into the night air. And then … nothing.

Like those laboratory victims, this human one had also been rendered incapable of movement or resistance, though not by the same means. The rats had no access to or even the means or understanding yet to administer muscle relaxants or anaesthetising drugs, not that it mattered. They would not have been inclined to using them regardless if they had. They had other means for now, albeit cruder and somewhat less ‘humane.’

While still unconscious, several of the rats had nibbled deep into TLS1’s naked flesh, not to feed but merely sever vital nerves, paralysing its movement. It was unfortunate for the specimen they hadn’t miscalculated and severed more vital ones, either killing or at least neutralising its pain carrying nerve endings too. They had done neither. The specimen remained conscious and aware of the slightest touch to its skin, right up to the gentle breeze of a nearby mosquito fluttering its wings.

The rats’ purpose in bringing the specimen there was two-fold. Firstly, they wanted to know just how much tissue loss and damage a human could sustain before death quickly followed, and anything else they could learn. The other reason was a more basic one – revenge; they not only knew of RS2179’s ordeal before it died, but they had also felt it too, living every moment of their little cousin’s pain and fear, powerless to help. Their minds had been connected, and along with all the pain they had shared, they had also taken on its cognitive enhancements and had their own synapses super-charged. The new-found intelligence it gave them was as much a curse as it was a gift, or so it seemed at the time. It was an experience that would stay with the thousand plus numbered mischief of rats for as long as they lived. It seemed only fair to share that experience with their current specimen …

A lone rat, the dominant one of the mischief, crawled up onto its abdomen. It started to nibble away just above the belly button. Its teeth and claws were more than sufficient to tear away a few inches of skin and subcutaneous tissue beneath. More of them approached, hesitantly at first. The dominant looked round to them with a nod of acknowledgement. After that, they approached more confidently. The specimen silently shrieked as one it hadn’t seen started to crawl up the back of its head and over the face. Claws scraped along its eyes. It tried to close them, the eyelids being the only part of its body other than the eyes themselves that still responded. It was no use. Another rat had joined it, using its claws to pull back the other eyelid while a third used its teeth to literally slice at the eyeball itself. There are no words to adequately describe the sense of panic and revulsion going through the specimen’s mind at that moment. And that was just the beginning … it was about to get worse … much worse.

Depositphotos_8609426_dsThe slow and meticulous way the rats tore away at the flesh and internal organs had been calculated to cause the most amount of pain for the maximum amount of time. All the time the specimen clung to life, its blood remained warm and tastier to its insect and arachnid feeders. The rats too were feeding off the extremities, but only in small tiny rat-sized bites. They paid particular attention to its genital area, knowing from its mind the additional psychological impact of that.

*

The rats learnt a lot from TLS1: rates of blood loss, pain tolerances, and even some insight into the working of its mind from their synaptic connection – that last aspect hadn’t been as intense or well-defined as with their little cousin, RS2179, but enough for them all to revel in the hated two-legs’ suffering.

Despite their giant size and, for now, superior intelligence, the two-legs were not so nearly adept at coping with the sort of procedures the rats and other creatures had had to contend with for as long as any of them could remember. The two-legs feared death and would fight its inevitability in any way they could.

They would need more such specimens, different ages, sexes, and the like if they were to learn more. They would also need a more efficient means of getting them too; relying on their insect allies stinging them into darkness was not ideal. The one they had just dissected might well have died in the car crash, and it had been no easy task dragging its body back to their underground cave. As it was, it was already bruised and damaged when they got it. The rats still had much to learn in trapping live prey like the two-legs did, but they would learn from them, adapting their methods to suit their own smaller size and different skill sets.

Still, there remained over a hundred more of the two-legs working at the 101 faculty. There would be plenty of time and opportunity for the rats to improve their skills.

rat2Lance Nelson had taken three days to die. It was a death no creature, sentient or otherwise should ever deliberately have to suffer.

That rats had thought otherwise. Not bad for a first specimen, they congratulated themselves. They could, and would do better … Next time.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more rat-related tales, they can all be found in Book One of my Creature Tales collection …

Click title below for universal amazon link …

Rat Tales: A Mischief of Little horrors

A0

 

Book Review – Hell’s Beginning

JohnTM5

 

John T.M. Herres is a fiction writer and in his own words … 

JohnTM4‘ … A creator of larger-than-life heroes of ages gone by;
Great wizards tainted, and those who resist them;

War between interstellar travellers, both on this planet and far away;
Alien races intent on the annihilation of any being not their own,
and weaker ones in need of a saviour- as well as the One who becomes their saviour.

Clashes with bad people and dangerous places, where only one can survive …’

When you get to my writing, sit back, hold on, and enjoy the ride!

In addition to this, his first full-length thriller, John T.M. Herres has had many of his short stories featured in numerous multi-author anthologies, details of which can be found via his Amazon author page featured at the end of this blog post.

***

Hell’s Beginning

5starssgs (1)

Brutal & sadistic – A great story but definitely not for the squeamish!!!

JohnTM5a

 

Hard and extreme don’t even begin to describe this novel. Let me say from the start, this isn’t a book for the squeamish; the violence is brutal, explicit, and sadistic. For those that prefer their blood and gore left to the imagination, this probably isn’t the book for them, but otherwise, it’s as blood and gore filled as any horror fan could ever want or hope for.

 

A chance encounter and unthinking comment in a bar lead to a woman’s death, followed by several others, innocent people who just happen to get caught up in the madman’s psychopathic killing spree. As a big and powerful man, the killer’s victims rarely give him any trouble, though obviously, some do try to fight back. It’s this ‘fighting back’ that initially suggests someone might indeed have succeeded in putting an end to the killer, only for the author to spring an unexpected and diabolical twist into the story that ensures the slaughter continues. 

The main protagonist is as thoroughly vile and nasty as you could ever want or expect in a serial killer, sadistic to the extreme, and his contempt for women equally so. As a character, he’s absolutely loathsome, and yet, perfectly suited to the story.  

Although horribly graphic at times, the writing and dialogue are convincing, and the story moves forward at breakneck speed. I liked too the author’s clever use of perspective, alternating between a third person view of the unfolding story, and then retelling it from the killer’s perspective.

The degree of torture and mutilation here isn’t the level I would normally seek out in a book, but I found it to be in context and appropriate to the killer’s character rather than merely gratuitous. Nonetheless, this is a graphically violent story that won’t appeal to everyone, but those who enjoy some graphic torture and mutilation in their reading will find it in abundance here, and more importantly, aligned to a well-crafted story. Well worth a look for fans of the more extreme end of the horror spectrum.

***

For John T. M. Herres’s social media links, click below …

Twitter: @iamyeehaw

Facebook: @AuthorJohnTMHerres

Goodreads: @JohnT.M.Herres

Bookbub: @JohnTMHerres

Blog: www.johntmherres.com

&

Click HERE for the author’s Amazon author page …

JohnTM3

Book Review – Embrace The Darkness

PJ2

pj3Peter lives with his wife and four children in a small town in Sussex, England. As well as being a keen cook and wine enthusiast, Peter has been writing poetry and short stories for almost twenty years. It had always been an ambition to complete a novel and, after the success of his debut, The Broken Doll, it has been fantastic to have the opportunity to turn a hobby into a new career. Since the release of The Broken Doll in February 2017, Peter has released the follow-up novel, Shattered Pieces, as well as three collections of short horror stories, and a children’s book. Peter has had work published in a number of anthologies, is the Editor-in-Chief of Indie Writers Review, and is the co-founder of Red Cape Publishing.

***

Embrace The Darkness

5starssgs (1)

Dark, full of suspense, and highly original … a great collection of little horrors!

PJ5

 

I’d seen a few reviews of this author’s work, and a couple of mentions on the social media horror circuit so thought I’d give him a try. From the very first story, I knew I was in for a dark treat with the other five stories. Most follow the traditional ‘twist in the tale’ format, but really, they’re more like deadly stings from a scorpion tail … don’t be expecting any nice ‘happy ever after’ endings here!

I loved the dark originality and diversity of all these stories; they do draw on some traditional horror themes such as witchcraft, medical horror, and dreamlike states for their subject matter but were nonetheless, unlike most others I’ve ever read. Although quite brutal and horrific at times, the author manages to create such horror without the need to resort to excessive blood and gore, relying more on suspense and atmosphere. Will definitely be reading/reviewing more of this author’s work in the future … a well-deserved 5-stars!

***

P.J. Blakey-Novis’s social media … 

Website: www.redcapepublishing.com

Twitter:  @pjbn_author

Facebook: @pjbnauthor

Email:   –   pjblakey-novis@outlook.com

&

Click HERE for the author’s full catalogue of work & Amazon author page …

pj4

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