Monday, January 31, 2011

Puncher - 16

The runner looked at him, its jaws worked. He severed the spine, so it was harmless, but they didn’t die unless you destroyed the brain. He could see the hunger in its eyes, and it tried to bite him. It was disgusting, and he was disgusting.

He finished it off by smashing it’s skull with his heel. No point except that he was pissed off that the thing had tried to bite off his dick. He was wearing a cup, but it was the principle of the thing. He wiped his feet on what was left of the rug.

The room he was in had a hole cut in the wall. He looked up at the corners of the room. Cameras were tracking him. He gave one the finger. He stepped into the next room, keeping an eye out for any traps. At this point, he need to get to the damn gate, and he wasn’t keen on going through the building to do it. On the other hand, he needed to get past the runners. If the girl didn’t lead them down to the gate, they’d keep trying to get at him through the end of the building or they’d head down to the tanker. Either one was good.

He was halfway there when he hit another trap, of sorts. It wasn’t much of one, as they went. There was a door. It was the first honest to god door he come across since this happened. He opened it quickly.

Smith couldn’t tell immediately how many shamblers were there. They all looked old. Runners didn’t stay runners for very long. The virus kept their muscles and bodies working in ways that they really shouldn’t, but they didn’t heal, not really, unless they consumed a lot of human flesh.

After the first twenty four hour or so, the cumulative damage started to show, and they began to rot. They kept going, kept walking, but they got dumb and they got slow. They weren’t much of a threat, individually, but enough of them could overwhelm a puncher, and a lot of first timers ended up dead because they didn’t realize how easy it was to get surrounded.

Smith was not a first timer. He stayed in the door way, which meant that he only had them coming from direction. He planted his feet and fired off a series of punches to the first shambler. The last caused its fragile skull to pop and he stepped aside as it fell.

He grabbed the next two and slammed their heads together hard, then again and then shoved them against the other shamblers. He felt the blood sing in his arms and shoulders and he smiled. This job wasn’t all bad.

There were eight of them. More than enough to cause a problem, but these were at least a couple of months old. He beat one of them to death, or whatever passed for death for these things, with its own arm. He was on the last one when the girl stepped through the other door.

“You’re going in the wrong direction,” he said.

“You’ve got my key.”

“Is that tanker still alive?”

“The big guy? Yeah. It looks like a bomb went off by the gates. There are stacks of dead runners and shamblers. I’m beginning to respect the strategy.”

Smith looked at the torn leather on his chest.

“Yeah, me too.”

The Monday Update

What's happening here:

Puncher is complete - the last installment runs Wednesday, if I'm remembering the schedule correctly.

The Bean King will be running after that, probably through the end of the week.

Until Dawn, which needs a new name, will be the main thing updated for February.

I'm going to do a post mortem on Puncher sometime this week, probably Thursday. I always like when Stephen King talks about how stories evolved in his collections, so I'm stealing the idea from him.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Puncher - 15

He grabbed one of the runner by the throat, got his other hand on its crotch. He hefted it up and threw it at the other runners as hard as he could. They went down, but not for long. More runners were coming around the corner. He punched one of the ones he hadn’t gotten when he used the other runner as battering ramming, it went down hard and his hand was numb.

Smith jumped up, grabbed a handhold where the bricks gave way to wood. He curled his legs up just in time and two runners smashed into the wall. He put his feet on them as they rose and used them to step off. He got hand on the window ledge. A runner grabbed him by the ankle. He felt another slip off his boot, the gore preventing it from getting a hand on him.

He pulled up as hard as he could, and he was loose from the runner. He got into the window frame, getting his feet underneath him. He stood up. One of the runner leaped and got the same handhold on the window ledge. It heaved itself up and bit him in the crotch.

Smith pushed back away from it as it got a mouthful of crotch. The window had been boarded from the inside, but not recently. Smith fell through it, landing hard on his back. He felt a nail go in his back.

The runner came through the window howling and moaning. He managed to get his feet up before it got to him, and for a second it looked like he might be going to play airplane with the fucking thing. He kicked it off as hard as he could.

He was hoping to kick the thing out the window. It bounced off the side of the window and came straight back at him like a basketball on the rebound. He was halfway up and it was on him again.

It tore his leathers open even more, and almost its teeth in his chest before he got his hands on its chin and forehead. He torqued and moved, smashed its face into floor beside him. He got it in a headlock.

It tore at him with its hands, and he squeezed its head as hard as he could. He bucked as hard as he could. He strained until he heard its neck pop, and then he twisted as hard as he could. He dropped the runner to the side and lay on the floor panting.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Puncher - 14

He could hear the runners on the street, following him. That was going to be a fucking problem when he came to the halfway point. He ran, but he didn’t rush. He had the key. He just had to survive.

She was waiting on the rooftop about the main drag. She had her helmet off. She looked almost bored. She looked like she should be smoking a cigarette. She smirked.

“It took you long enough,” she said.

“I’ve got the keys, I don’t need to rush.”

“You got two?”


She held out her hand. He shook her head.


“We have a fucking deal.”

“Yeah, we do, and I still need you.”

She swung at him. He stepped inside it and drove an elbow into her jaw. She spun, she staggered, but she didn’t go down. She grabbed her helmet and swung again. He ducked it and she nearly fell as the momentum carried her around.


She caught her balance and she turned to look at him.

“Do it again, and I will crack your skull open. You’ll distract the runners just fine if you’re dead.”

“Give me my fucking key.”

“At the end.”

She put her helmet on and didn’t say a word. Smith glanced over the edge of the building at the runners. Getting across the road and up the other building was going to be a problem. He could fight off a couple, but not seventeen. He bit his lip. He turned to her.

“You take that side of the building, go halfway down. Let the runners get close enough to taste you. I’ll head over to the other side and then draw their attention.”

“How can I trust you?”

“You can’t.”

He could feel the hate through the helmet. Hate was fine. Anger was fine. Just so long as it didn’t make her sloppy before she got the job done. She went over the side. No ledges here, so she went down to the window sill. The runners slobbered and moaned. Jumped at her, fingertips leaving bloody stains on the brick, their fingernails long gone.

Smith was down the other side of the building and halfway across the street before the runners came. Not all of them, not yet. He found a handhold, something that was probably used to hold up an awning, back before the virus. He hauled himself up and it snapped. He fell back down into the runners.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Puncher - 13

Smith chopped down through the floor. He looked down through the hole. The room below him was empty. He dropped down through, trying to be quiet. The room was lit, and there were camera. All part of the plan. He wondered what other escape routes production had considered.

He stepped into the hallway and he heard them coming. He crossed the hall and closed the door behind him. He wedged a half rotted chair under the doorknob. It wouldn’t take the runners long to find him. They would smell the blood. He kicked out the plywood over the window and stepped out onto the ledge. He was only story off the ground. No problem.

He saw her waiting on the roof of the building across the street. He didn’t see any runners. The moaning and the blood meant that they were probably all in the building. That wouldn’t last. It was a straight run to the gate, but there was no way that he was going to be able to outpace that many runners.

He slid away from the window and signaled to her. A runner can snarling out of the window that he had just busted his way through. It grabbed at him, but it tumbled off of the ledge. He got lucky; it landed on its head. Well, that was one.

“Need some help?” she said.

He looked at the runners in the window, who ripping into each other trying to get to him. He slid further away from them. He thought about grabbing one and pulling it out the window, but he figured that he would end up going down with it.

“Couldn’t hurt.”

She was fast, he’d give her that. Seeing her scuttle down the building was even more impressive seeing it from over here. She was on the ground in seconds. She sprinted across the road and into the building.

She came holding what looked like a leg, or least the foot and calf. Probably Stahl.

“Hey! Hey assholes! Dinner is here.”

The runners in the window forgot about Smith and dived out the window. They hit the ground hard. That was good. She backed away, still spraying blood. Around. None of the runners that had taken a dive could still running, but that didn’t stop them from moving towards them.

They flooded out the front door, tearing at each other as they tried to get out to her. They slipped and staggered on the bodies of the runners from the second floor. She hurled the leg into the face of one of the runners and turned and ran. The runners followed.

He didn’t have long. He dropped the ax to the ground, where it landed in the back of a runner that had broken both legs jumping down. It didn’t seem to notice but Smith figured it would look good on camera.

She got about three blocks away before she climbed up what used to be a street light. She jumped from there to a second story window, catching the edge with her fingers. He thought for a moment she was going to lose it, but she pulled herself inside the building and disappeared.

One of the runners turned and sniffed the air, and then looked right at Smith. It ran.

He dropped the ax midway up the house. He tried to use it to help him climb, but it wasn’t happening and he didn’t have the time. It dropped to the ground but it didn’t hit any of the runners. Smith didn’t have time to be disappointed.

He was bleeding, and that was a problem. It meant that unless he went in the buildings again, the runners were going to follow him, and that might not be enough. Runners couldn’t think and they couldn’t really climb, but they could smell blood a long dawn way off.

He looked down at the runners. There were seventeen of them that were still mobile. He didn’t give a shit about the dumb ones that had broken their various appendages and heads going out the window. Those seventeen were the problem.

If the tanker was still alive, then there were the three of them definitely alive. He knew one of the punchers he didn’t know, Thomas, Tomlin, something, was dead on the street. Hiller and Stahl were runner chow. There were two possible other punchers left. Probably dead in the buildings, but maybe not. He had no idea if any of the other keys were running around. Too many unknowns to worry about. Fuck it.

Smith ran.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Puncher - 12

The door locked from the inside. Thoughtful, that. He took off his helmet. He needed to wipe the brains and blood off, he couldn’t half see. He sat the helmet on the floor and pulled off one of Heller’s boots. The sock was soaked in blood. He frowned and pulled off the other boot. The sock was sweaty but clean enough. He wiped off the helmet and heard the stairway door bust open.

He put the helmet on and grabbed the ax. Waited by the door. No place to run to if they got through. He could hear them scratching and throwing themselves at the door, a pounding like an erratic heartbeat, but the door was holding.

He scanned the room. There was no obvious exit. No windows. He was going to need to make his own exit, but that wasn’t necessarily a problem. First things first.

Cutting the runner open with the ax was hard work. He needed to make sure that he didn’t splatter any of the thing’s fluids into any of his open wounds. He wasn’t sure he was already infected. He wouldn’t show symptoms for twenty four hours. He had antivirals in his kit, but that was only a ten percent cure. But the less the viral load, the better his chances.

He couldn’t use the knives the runner had for hands for the same reason; no handles and he was pretty sure the beyond razor sharp blades would slide right through his gloves. He needed to dig down to the thing’s stomach with the spike on the ax in slow and steady chops.

The key, at least, was in the runner’s stomach, where he thought it would be. He pulled out the key, covered in blood and bile and what he was pretty sure were parts of Hiller. He wiped it off with the sock and unzipped a pocket and stuck it in.

Now, he needed to get the fuck of here. The pounding on the door was steady. He knew the runners could smell the blood and gore in here, and they would stop until something else distracted them. Stahl was probably dead, Hiller was extremely dead, at least for another few hours, and the girl puncher was outside. No cavalry coming. The runners would keep slamming at the door until they’d smashed themselves to pulp or the door came down.

Smith looked at the door. The door was pretty much indestructible, from the looks of it, but it was stuck in walls that had gone twenty years of Pennsylvania winters without any tending to. The runners would be in, sooner rather than later. He needed to get out.

He pried the chain that was holding the runner back considered his options. He could chop his way into the rooms on either side of him, but he was pretty sure that the next room over was going to have another key runner in it. The other side was going to be open to the runners. One option left. Smith was going down.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Puncher - 11

Smith followed the arrows to a reinforced door. It was retrofitted, and Smith turned the handle and pushed the arrow open with the ax handle. It wasn’t enough, and he threw himself against the wall to avoid the runner that was inside.

It came up short, a metal collar and heavy chain keeping it in the room. It slashed at him and opened a long shallow cut across his chest.


He slid back and out of the way. He looked at the runner, straining against the chain. Fucking producers.

The thing’s hands had been hacked off, replaced with long metal knives. That was new, and it didn’t make Smith happy. He touched his chest and his fingers came up red. Not a serious cut, but it could lead to infection if the thing had any of its own blood on it. He looked at the runner and realized where the keys were.


The runner, quite helpfully, had a big red k painted on its forehead. This was going to be tricky, even with the ax. The chain gave the runner just enough space to get into the hallway. He couldn’t easily get past it, and there wasn’t much point in doing so.

He glanced back at the stairway door, which was starting to bend in. He swore to himself and got a good grip on the ax. He tried coming in at head level with the ax, but all he managed to do was peel off a chunk of the runner’s scalp. The runner slashed at him again and he got a stab wound in the rib for it.

It didn’t feel serious, but that was dumb luck, and he wasn’t having much of it. He took the ax in one hand and step closer to the runner, it slashed at him and he batted the arm to the side. He tried to get a grip on its wrist and chop at it with the ax, but he didn’t have the leverage. He hurt the arm, but he didn’t disable it.

He choked up on the ax and charged the runner. He felt one of the knives slide beneath the skin underneath his arm pit, felt warmth spreading. He slammed the top of the ax into the runner’s face, using it like a battering ram. He felt the thing’s sinus collapse, and he pushed it back.

Smith dropped the ax and pinned both of the runner’s arms beneath his own. He stepped in close and drove his head into the runner’s. Dull crunch. He reared back and did it again, slamming his helmet into it so hard that his vision went white.

He blinked it off and he felt the runners go limp. He dropped it to the floor. He checked the wound under his arm. He was bleeding pretty good, but the wound wasn’t deep enough to kill him. At least, not directly. He could feel himself slowing down. Even with the stimulants in the mix, he was fighting fatigue.

He stepped into the room. No more runners, but he did find Hiller, or what was left of him. He’d gotten into the room and released the runner, but without the ax, well, he’d ended up a ground beef. Smith drug the runner into the room and closed the door behind him.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Puncher - 10

He drove the spike side of the ax into the brain of the first shambler he could reach, and then yanked it towards him. The momentum popped the ax free.

He planted his feet like a batter at the plate and swung as hard as he could at the next one coming, the ax singing through the air at neck level. The thing’s head bounced off the wall and landed at his feet. He kicked it as hard as he could and it actually smack into the face of a shambler down the hall. Highlight reel material, right there.

He drove the spike of the ax into the next one, but they were crowding up on him now, so he kicked one in the chest, knocking down the other two. The ax came free with a slurp as the next shambler tried to get up.

He put his foot on its chest and leaned in, pushing it down to the floor. The ax came around and the top half of its head went away. Something was gnawing on his ankle.

He turned around and the shamber with the gimp knee had belly crawled to him. He brought his heavy boot down on its head again and again. This was probably a bad idea, and he slipped in the gore. He went down to one knee, on his bad leg.

Not fatal, but the last two shamblers were up on their feet. He could hear the blind one running into the wall behind him. He grabbed the ax with both hands, brought it up over his head and through it. It was a good shot, and he split the uprights, the shamber’s face splitting in half. It dropped down face forward.

He grabbed the last shambler’s arm and broke it at the elbow. They didn’t feel pain, but a useless arm is a useless arm. It reached for him with the other one so he broke that too. He grabbed it by the head and slammed it into the wall, shoving it’s head into rotten drywall.

Smith turned and looked at the door to the stairs. The blind shambler was scratching at it. Shit. The handle would still work on this side. He walked down the hall and slammed it’s head into the door frame. Once, twice. It stopped moving and he propped it up against the door.

He didn’t rush going down the hall. He took deep breathes, getting his oxygen back. He kicked the shambler over and pulled the ax free. Not as hard as it was last time. He looked back at the fire door. It was starting to bend in as the runners started throwing themselves at it. No time to fuck around, then.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Monday Update

What's currently running here at Stately HyperPulp Manor:

Puncher - Zombies sports. No, really.

The Bean King - A man makes a hard bargain to gain a year of success.

Until Dawn - A suspiciously familiar small town is attacked by supernatural evil during a blizzard.

The Bean King and Puncher are short stories that will finish this week. Until Dawn is a novel running until I finished the damn thing which should be in and around the end of February.

Coming Up:

The Speech of Angels - Messages from alledged angels begin showing up in all forms of human communication except face to face talking, telling people about their past, present and future. This is not a good thing. Short story.

The Murder Game - The next novel after Until Dawn. This is the first in the Cassandra Group series, about a private organization that fights evil the authorities can't or won't acknowledge.

Long Time Gone - The next novel after The Murder Game. A man is brought back from the dead to solve his own murder. Involves a psychic cold war, Nazi experiments, and a supernatural whale.

(Full admission - Long Time Gone is already in progress. I've been writing it by hand in a notebook.)

All titles subject to change when I think of something better.

Puncher - 9

The ax was solid steel, heavy, and the blade looked razor sharp. He took a second to admire it before the door burst in behind him. Stahl staggered in, runners tearing at him. Smith slammed the door behind him and tried to kick the shambler’s body in the way, but it had the consistency of rotten fruit and it was like kicking mud.

He took the steps two at a time, his leg screaming with every step, and he was at the first landing before the door burst open. Runners, no sign of Stahl. The first one in slid in the shambler juice. Smith didn’t wait around to try his luck.

The arrow lead to the third floor. Smith could hear the runners coming up the stairs, that fucking screaming moan echoing up at him. He held the door open with one foot and swung the axe down hard on the handle of the door. The vibrations nearly caused him to drop the ax, even through his gloves. The handle dropped to the floor and Smith stepped through the door.

The first shambler bit his shoulder. This one was evidently fairly fresh, because it actually hurt. It didn’t penetrate, no chance of that, but it hurt. He knocked it clear with an elbow and then slammed the ax into the side of its head. He saw the weird light go out of its eyes as it slammed into the wall.

He yanked the ax, but the thing stayed on it.


He looked over his shoulder and two more shamblers were there, right within arms reach. He let go of the ax and put up his hands. Punchers punch. These were in pretty good shape, as shamblers go. They’d decayed enough that they weren’t able to muster up the kind of speed the runners could, but they were solid enough that he wasn’t going to be able to punch their heads off.

It wouldn’t be for lacking of trying.

He hit the nearest one with a hard right, and he could feel its jaw disintegrate. A hard downward kicked shattered the knee of the other one, and it lurched to the side, suddenly mechanically unstable. He swung the side of his fist into its head and it went down.

He stepped inside the first shambler’s reach and jammed his thumbs into both it’s eyes. They squished like jelly and released with a wet slurp. Another half dozen shamblers were coming down the hall behind it and he pushed that one down to the floor.

The runners were scratching and banging on the door. He wasn’t sure that the handle trick would work to begin with, and he definitely wasn’t sure how long it would hold before the sheer weight of them would knock it down.

He planted one foot on the head of the shambler he’d take out with the ax and got two hands on the ax handle. It was like pulling the ax out of a stump. He got the ax out and looked at the shamblers coming at him.

There were four cameras that he could see, in the hall. This was meant to be a showcase moment. He spun the ax in his hands and smiled. If they wanted slaughter, then he was going to give it to them.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Puncher - 8

Smith grabbed a couple of shingles, took aim and chucked them at Stahl. He missed, but Stahl looked over, stumbled briefly. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for a runner to catch up. Stahl drove an elbow into the runner’s face. It was enough to slow him down.

Smith figured that Hiller was probably still active, somewhere in the buildings. He was smart and strong, and if Smith could dodge the booby traps, then so could he. The tanker was either dead back at the gate or, much less likely, was still back there waiting. Either way, not something that needed to be considered right now. He jumped to the next roof.

They were within spitting distance of the turnaround. It’d been a hotel, at some point. The keys were in there, somewhere. They wouldn’t be hard to find. Watching people blunder around in the dark didn’t make for an exciting game.

Smith was coming down off the roof when Hiller made it to the turnaround. Smith risked a quick look back and didn’t see any runners close enough to matter. He sprinted for the turnaround.

He was two steps in the door when Stahl hit him in the face with a two by four. He went down on his back, hard. Even with the helmet, he had to shake off the stars. Stahl drove the board down hard, trying to spear Smith in the throat. Smith jerked his head just enough and the board scraped down against the side of his neck. He didn’t have time for it to hurt.

He brought arm up hard, causing the board to slide. Stahl overbalanced and stagger forward, trying to catch his balance. Smith grabbed him by the belt and heaved and Stahl went out the door, sliding forward on his chest. Smith saw runners coming as Stahl pushed himself up. Smith slammed the door shut and jammed the board underneath the remains of the door knob, kicked it until it stuck. He heard Stahl thump into the door outside. The board held. It wouldn’t hold for long.

The inside of the turn around was well lit, for once. Smith took a couple of deep breathes and looked at the floor. True to form, there was an arrow painted on the floor. Smith followed it to a fire door.

The shambler wasn’t much of a surprise. Smith punched it so hard that its head fell off. He could practically hear that at home crowd cheering over that. He wondered how damn old it had to be for that to happen. Smith had one foot on the step when he paused. Something wasn’t right.

There was a place where an ax used to be, a cubby hole in the wall. It was closed, nailed shut, but it had been painted recently. Somebody had fixed it. Spray painted the glass. Smith got a finger hold on the door and popped it open.

Beneath the helmet, Smith smiled. Christmas came early this year.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Puncher - 7

Smith looked down at the road. He could see the tournament crew waiting for them, with plenty of runners locked in cages. They looked up at them.

“They’re going to let them out as soon as we start going down,” he said.

“Fuck, well, that’s problem, isn’t.”

Smith looked down the road, over to the other set of the crew in the distance.

“We get down fast enough, I should be able to lead the runners over and down before the runners from the other side get to us,” she said.

He didn’t see much of another option. They gap was small, and he could see plenty of handholds on the building across the street. He looked at her.

“Okay, go.”

He had to give her credit; she got down the side of the building a lot faster than he could have done it. He had a strong suspicion this was how she’d survived in the QZ. If she survived all of this, he’d have to ask her.

True to form, the ground crew opened the cages on the runners. They were fast, and she had to drop a good fifteen feet from the building to the ground to stay ahead of them. She hit the ground hard and rolled, came up right to her feet. She barely had five feet between herself and the runners as she sprinted away. She disappeared around the corner and the runners followed.

Smith went over the edge as soon as the first runner went by. Runners this fresh would be so consumed with the chase that he didn’t figure they’d see him. The problem, of course, is that runners were drawn to movement, and the dozen runners from the other side would be coming right for him.

He dropped off the building like she did, but without the grace. His leg screamed and he took a limping run at the other building. That move on the hood cost him, and he was slower than he should have been. He barely got across the road before the runners were there, but he managed it.

He pulled himself over the ledge of the building, and she was waiting for him. He could feel her smirk straight through her helmet.

“Show off,” he said.

She shrugged.

“I’ve had a lot of practice.”

The second half of the roof run was trickier. They were moving outside of the business section of town and into what had been residential. The houses here were old, and that meant that they were close enough together to make the jumps from rooftop to rooftop.

The problem with that was that they were house rooftops, and that meant a couple of things. For one, they hadn’t weathered the years of neglect nearly as well as the buildings behind them had.

Smith very nearly fell off the roof of one of the houses when the old shingles proved to be attached to the house by force of habit rather than anything else. She, at least, had the decency not to laugh as he scrabbled, kicking shingles off the roof. It probably was funny, if you weren’t the person it was happening to.

Smith paused for a second on the roof to get his bearing, and heard someone running. He looked over into the street, and Stahl was running. His leathers were scratched and torn, but he was moving fast,


Friday, January 21, 2011

Puncher - 6

The other puncher pulled her helmet office. Smith was surprised. You didn’t often get female punchers. She was pretty in a rough kind of way. She didn’t look very old, maybe twenty, but weathered already. Quarantine zone refugee, almost certainly. She smiled.

“You’re welcome.”

“You’ve got the rooftop view, how’s everyone else doing?”

“Hard to say. I know that Thompson got eaten by the runners. Everyone else is somewhere in the buildings, except for the ox down by the gate. I wasn’t expecting the runners. Not so many anyway.”

“No one was. They wanted us to go through the buildings.”

“How’d that work out for you.”

“I’m out here, aren’t I?”

“I figured.”

“You’ve done the rooftop routine before.”

“Yeah. Not here. The producers don’t like it. Last time I ran right over one of the snipers.”

Smith grunted, laughed a little. He knew what she wanted. She stared at him.


“Nothing, just…you’re Skullcrusher Smith.”


“I just never thought I’d be in the same tournament as you.”

“You’re making me feel old.”

“You are old.”

That was true. Smith would be thirty seven next month. He was the oldest active puncher by at least five years. It wasn’t a profession that lent it itself to longevity.

“What do you want?” he said.

“To win.”

“Terrific. Me too.”

“We can help each other.”

“That’s not how the game works.”

“Yeah, well, maybe you should have thought about that before you climbed up here.”

He laughed at that and stood up. Stay down too long and he’d cool off, cool off and he’d slow down, slow down too much and you ended up as zombie chow. He looked over the edge of the building. The runners looked up and clawed at the wall, tried to climb. They were far enough from the tanker that he hadn’t caught their attention.

“We’re wasting time up here,” he said.

“This is a three key tournament. No reason that we can’t help each other get them.”

“The producers won’t like that.”

“Yeah, well, fuck those assholes.”

He laughed.

“All right,” he said, “what did you have in mind?”

“We take a straight roof run to the turnaround. You go in and grab the keys, and I’ll take the runners away from you. We meet back up at the gates. I’ll even let you go first.”

It was a good plan. It would probably be against the rules if this thing had any, but hey, like the girl said, fuck the producers. Smith put his helmet on. He didn’t figure the plan would survive contact with the other punchers. But it was good enough for now. Someone running distraction was always good.

The only real problem was the main roads, or what had been main roads. The gaps between houses and buildings to the turn around was usually less than ten feet, more than close enough for them to make the jump between them. But the main roads were thirty or forty feet across, at the very least.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Until Dawn - 9

Daisy kept scratching at the door, and Becky felt a lump of worry in her stomach. She looked at the little Pomeranian and cracked her knuckles. She knew that she was being ridiculous. There was no good reason for a give pound lump of fur to make her nervous, but she was. The dread felt heavy in her chest and she wondered where her husband was. Even in this, Ed shouldn’t have been gone this long.

A hundred different possibilities ran through her mind. Maybe there was something in the barn. Maybe, more likely, he’d fallen down in this crap. Ed was a big man and if he fell and reinjured his knee she was going to have a problem getting him back into the house. She wasn’t sure what she should do. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered.

Daisy kept scratching at the door.

“Hey, girl, do you see something? Is it Daddy?”

The little dog turned and bared its teeth, let a low growl that made Becky take a step back. It couldn’t be rabies. Daisy hadn’t spent more than five minutes outside since Becky had got her, and none of it was unsupervised. Plus, she’d gotten her shots. But this wasn’t Daisy and Becky didn’t know what to do about it.

Becky looked out the door. She squinted. She couldn’t see but five damn feet in the snow, but she saw Ed coming, a big shape in the darkness. She step forward to open the door and Daisy snapped at her.


The Pom took a step back and shivered. She looked up at Becky and for a second, she looked normal, or as normal as she ever did. Becky wrapped her sweater tighter around herself and opened the door.

“Is everything alright?”

Daisy darted out the door, cutting a path through snow that was more than shoulder height to her. She hopped like a grasshopper.

“Daisy! Ed, get her.”

Beck started slipping her feet into the old ratty boots she kept by the door for when Daisy needed to go out. The little dog stopped in the snow in front of Ed.

She saw a glint of light, something reflecting red light, the way a cat’s eyes shined. She heard something like a grunt. That wasn’t Ed. She saw a pack of black shapes, low to the ground, more than a dozen.

Becky slammed the door shut as it surged forward on toward. It slammed into the door, through the door, black furred and massive, crashing onto the floor, the glass door shattering.

Becky grabbed at the knife block on the island, turned and slashed with the knife as it cleared the distance between them. She opened a deep red wound in its chest and she turned and ran. She screamed as claws slid down her back, blood splashing. She stumbled, but she was still a step ahead and she ran into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

She didn’t have time to lock it, but it didn’t matter anyway. The door went to splinters as it came through. She fell, pushed herself across the cold tile floor until she was against the washer. She held the knife out in front of her like a talisman, like a spear.

The thing stopped. It dropped into a squat and Becky’s bladder let go. She was crying. It reached out and took the knife by the blade, pulled it from her hands.

“Please, please, please.”

It bared white teeth stained red with gore. They looked like shark teeth. It looked like nothing she’d ever seen. She closed her eyes. It leaned in and when it bit her it was almost like a lover’s kiss.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Puncher - 5

Something flopped down and hit his shoulder. He risked a look up, and found that the rooftop puncher was looking down at him from three stories above. The puncher had thrown down a length of what looked like power line. Or from Smith’s position, a lifeline. He pressed his back against the wall, grabbed the line and hauled himself up. He kicked viciously at the runners.

They grabbed at him, tried to find purchase on his leathers. He put a foot on one’s head and used it to leap up the line. The line was thick and he was barely able to grab it again, but the move took him out of the runners’ range. They clawed at the wall and tried to climb, leaving red smears on the wall as their fingernails tore away.

Smith was strong, but there was no way he was going to be able to climb three stories up this line. There was also the possibility that his savior was planning on dropping him when he got high enough. It didn’t seem likely but punching wasn’t a team sport and he wasn’t inclined to trust anyone.

It was easy climbing up the building, once he got past the first level. He flopped down on the top level of the and scanned the roof. He didn’t see any zombies, and he didn’t see any cameras. The production crew would be going apeshit. They clearly hadn’t anticipated this particular course of action.

He kept his back against the ledge and pulled off his helmet, took deep gulps of cool fresh air. He tried to slow his pulse down and let the lactic acid dissipate from his arms and back. He looked at the other puncher, squatting down and watching him closely.


Note From Yer Author: I'm having some computer problems that are preventing me from writing anything of length on the computer, so short updates this week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Bean King - 3

Edward Drew was working late. He usually did, managing the inner works of a town like Holly Falls was two full time jobs, maybe more. He’d be here, on this night, regardless, and he wasn’t tired. He was working, he was always working, but what he was really doing was waiting. He glanced at his watch. Almost midnight, almost the beginning of a New Year. He had expected George Tilman to be earlier, but the man had proved to be a surprise in many respects.

Drew scratched his beard. He wasn’t nervous exactly, and he wasn’t exactly excited either. It had been years since he’d had a Bean King that didn’t follow the script, and the idea that the completion of the tradition might be in question was both horrifying and exhilarating.

He didn’t really doubt that everything would go fine, he had too many years of experience and too many redundancies to believe that, but even the idea of fear had its novelty. He checked his watch again when he saw the headlights, reflected through the snow. Just before midnight. Right on time.

Drew wasn’t sure what Tilman had planned, although he had a suspicion. He closed the ledger on his desk, but it away. Leaned back in his chair and intertwined his fingers and waited for the door to open.

And so it did, without prelude and without a knock; George Tilman stepped into the room and Edward Drew smiled. Tilman was silhouetted in snow and moonlight. He closed the door quietly behind him. He looked at Drew.

“Hello, Mr. Drew.”

“I think, Mr. Tilman, that after all this time, you can call me Edward.”

Tilman smiled at that as he pulled his gloves off.

“You don’t seem surprised to seem me, Edward.”

“Well, I’m not an easy man to surprise.”


Tilman smiled, pulled a pistol from the heavy coat, and shot Edward Drew twice in the chest.

“How about now?”

Tilman kept the gun trained on Drew who, ironically, did indeed look quite surprised. He didn’t gasp, or flop, or any of the other things that Tilman might have expected. He simply touched the wounds gently, eyes wide and staring. He looked up at Tilman, who smiled slightly and hadn’t moved.


He coughed then, nothing coming up but blood and pain, and now Drew did look hurt and afraid. Tilman stepped closer.

“Look at me. Edward, look at me.”

Drew looked up, his blue eyes fading. Tilman sat down in the chair to watch him dying, Drew’s fingers squeezing tight against the edge of his desk. He was staring hard at Tilman. Life was pouring out of him and hate was pouring into his eyes.

“Look, Edward, I know that the men you usually get for your Bean King are usually random assholes. Did any of them see it coming?”

Drew just stared at him. Tilman chuckled a little, to himself, for himself.

“Yes, I know. I know that you planned to have me come here, and that you were going to feed me a nice dinner and then you and the sick fucks you work for were going to run me across the snow. I know you were going to kill me.”

Drew didn’t say anything. Tilman thought he might be dead, but he wasn’t sure. He kept the gun pointed at him, regardless.

“I am not even going to pretend to understand. I don’t care. But I want you to understand, Edward, that I am not anybody’s fool. You want to fuck with me? Fine. But I’m going to fuck you back. Your asshole bosses will probably come after me for this. But you know what?”

Tilman stood, fairly sure that Drew was dead, but what the fuck, he was on a roll.

“Fuck them. I’m betting that fucking up your little game will throw them off. They want a sacrifice? They’re going to have to earn it.”

George Tilman stared at Edward Drew, dead probably, dying definitely, and then he stepped from the office into the snow.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Bean King - 2

George Tilman was a lucky man, although not necessarily in the way that people thought he was. As far as the world was concerned, he’d managed to revive his failing company despite his disastrous turn as CEO of his old company, going from has been and laughing stock to the comeback kid, although at age forty two and staring down the barrel of heart disease, he was no one’s kid.

Tilman was a smart man, and the last year, the year since he caught the bean, he’d developed a talent for introspection that had eluded him in a previous life. Part of that was knowing what the public didn’t. He was lucky. There was no doubt about that. But luck had nothing to do with his rebound success, to the repair of his reputation. That was all down to him being the Bean King.

He took his hand off the wheel for a second and rubbed the bean, still indistinguishable from a stone to him, secure in it’s leather ouch on a thing around his neck. Like Tilman’s status as this year’s Bean King, it was something he almost forgot about but played at the edges of his mind nearly all the time, like a song stuck in his head.

Before the Bean King, Tilman blamed his failure on everyone but himself. In the year since, he’d come to see that the only person that could be blamed for the tens of millions that had gone down the tube was Tilman. He had panicked too late and not soon enough, and he’d lost everything.

Tilman ended up with a company that vivisected by investors and creditors while he watched, a wife who took half of everything which, in what Tilman now looked at as bit of small luck, ended up being half of nothing. His house was on the auction block and the car he’d had was his until the repo man caught up.

He hadn’t really minded losing all that. They were trophies, not prize possessions. He’d made his bones in the early days in sales, and he was just as happy on a hard mattress in small room as he was in a California king at his entirely too palatial home. Tilman was happy when he was winning. Where he was winning was purely a secondary consideration.

He had time to consider what he was responsible for in the last year because he really wasn’t responsible for much in the past year. While those that were in a position to know who Tilman was and be aware of climb back to the top considered it a combination of luck and savvy, with the emphasis on luck for those who were still stung from the fall, Tilman knew that it had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with Holly Falls and Edward Drew.

The idea was simple, if you accepted the position as Bean King, then the people of Holly Falls did everything they could to make your life as ideal as possible. Considering the sheer accumulation of wealth and power in the town, the possible was considerable.

Exactly what ideal was varied from Bean King to Bean King. Tilman gathered from what Drew said an, more importantly, didn’t say, that the last King had been a homeless man who’d ended up staying in the town when winter fell. His needs had been simple, a roof over his head and some company. Tilman’s impression was maybe that the man was a bit off in the head, as well, and that the people of Holly Falls had helped take care of that, too.

The catch they told you about was that the position was only for one year, from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve. After that, you were on your own. This was, in Tilman’s estimation, a pretty big catch. As Drew explained it, the town considered it important to do this as thanks for their good fortune, but extending it for more than one year would be go against the values of hard work and self sufficiency, so the one year ‘term’ was the compromise.

Tilman had many failings, but being stupid wasn’t generally one of them. The problem wasn’t getting what you wanted; it was keeping it once you had it. If you weren’t smart enough to get it in the first place, you’d be damn lucky to be able to hold onto it. A long line of lottery winning loser had more than proved that.

So Tilman was happy to take the offer, and smart enough to understand what it meant. The Holly Falls residents had poured money into his new business, and propped up his decisions. They manipulated things behind the scenes, and to all the world it looked like Tilman was a magnificent lucky genius. He knew he wasn’t a genius, and the only luck involved was biting down on a petrified bean and nearly breaking his teeth. If you could even call that luck.

Because Tilman wasn’t stupid, he also made sure that he had plenty of other investors. He was good, maybe great, at the hustle and jive. He could sell a dream like nobody else, and with the good people of Holly Falls behind, he’d sold a lot of dreams. He’d made sure to pack some of that money away on a few nice little island with favorable laws, far away from the eyes of the IRS and the SEC. If he failed again, he wouldn’t be left with nothing again. Tilman didn’t really care about money or the trappings of, but you’d needed cash to stay in the game.

Drew didn’t say it, not outright, but he knew that as soon as his tenure as Bean King was over, the town would sell of their stocks and pull away from Tilman and all his works. His stock price would plummet, and he figured he had maybe a fifty/fifty chance of surviving it.

He’d done the best he could to shore up the company with other investors, but if they jumped ship, too, the company wasn’t stable enough to survive that. Maybe Tilman could convince them to stay on, maybe not. He grinned with anticipation, the buzz in his blood again. There wasn’t a businessman who’d ever done a damn that wasn’t a gambler in his bones.

There was another catch on becoming the Bean king, not just unspoken but hidden. Like Holly Falls was hidden. Oh, the town was easy to find, at the north end of the state in winter country. Anyone could drive through the town, and many did, in the fall, when the leaves changed and the land was rendered in Technicolor glory. But all you’d see was a town that barely qualified as town, beautiful with old style buildings and possessing the benign charm of a Norman Rockwell painting.

That was not Holly Falls. No book cited it as the wealthiest town per capita in the country, but that was what it was. Its residents didn’t appear in Forbes or Business Week, but billions or more poured through their subtle fingers. They didn’t advertise, and they had the wealth and the power to make sure that they stayed private in a world where nothing was.

But no one was invisible, not in this life, and Tilman had used the resources they gave him to push and probe. There was nothing to find, but Tilman was smart, and years of experience had shown him to look for what wasn’t there. That was how he figured the secret cost to being the Bean King, and that was why he was driving through the snow, back towards Holly Falls and Edward Drew.

George Tilman was a lucky man, and he meant to push it all the way.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Bean King - 1

It nearly broke his tooth, is what it did. Tilman swore and spit it into his hand. He probed his tooth with his tongue. It seemed to be intact, but still.

“Why is there a fucking rock in my food?”

Which brought the dinner to a sudden pause. Forks and spoons in mid air, everyone at the long table stared at him. He felt his cheeks flush and he froze. Tilman wasn’t one for getting embarrassed, but even he had his limits. Mr. Drew was the first to break the silence with a small chuckle.

Tilman grinned, and the whole table started to laugh, fifty people seated along an immense table nearly choking on their food. There had been something there between them, the walls of politeness and shyness among a group of mostly strangers. Tilman’s outburst was a release, and the laughter that followed was as much tension being released as humor.

Drew was a balding, bearded man with a smooth pink face. He could have been anywhere from forty to sixty and despite his finely tailored suit, he looked like he could do double duty as Santa Claus, his body all teddy bear plumpness. Indeed, there at the table, laughing, his belly looked like it might resemble a bowlful of jelly beneath the bespoke suit.

Which was at odds with what Tilman expected from a lawyer, who he usually pictured as slim vipers in dark suits and serious looks. As Tilman understood it, Drew took care of pretty much all the town business in Holly Falls, serving as the defacto town government. Amongst those duties was sponsoring, arrange and, for all Tilman knew, cooking, this dinner.

Holly Falls was a tiny town, barely a town at all with just over a thousand people, but prosperous for all that. The little town had one of the highest per capita incomes in the country, a town full of unassuming millionaires. Their prosperity did not fall on the ungrateful, and in addition to the town’s many charities, they also sponsored this dinner.

They didn’t advertise, but if you showed up in Holly Falls on New Year’s Day, Mr. Drew would invite you to this dinner, where all who showed were treated to the finest that the town could muster. No one was turned away, and all were welcome. Tilman was heading North anyway, chasing the work, and he figured that at the very worst, he could spend a night at a bed and breakfast, maybe drum up a few investors, even if the dinner proved to be bullshit.

It wasn’t. Tilman had wined and dined with the best of them, back in better days, and this meal was better. Different than the haute cuisine he wasted so much money, oh god SO much money on, but incredible still. The best of all was the stew, believe it or not. Or at least it had been right up until he had damn near busted his expensive dental work on what appeared to be a small black rock.

“May I?” asked Drew with a smile. He held out his thick hand, covered with a napkin for propriety and hygiene’s sake. Tilman dropped the tooth breaker into Drew’s palm. Mr. Drew looked at the thing, squinted and nodded.



“Your rock is a bean, albeit one cooked to the point of petrifaction.”


Tilman pushed the stew away. He needed all his teeth.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Tilman, you can finish your stew. There’s only one.”

“Now how exactly would you know that?”

“Because I put it there.”

“Are you trying to get sued?”

That last bit was louder than Tilman intended, and once again, all eyes were on him. Mr. Drew stood then, looking up and down the length of the table.

“Could you come with me, Mr. Tilman?”

“Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

“Please,” Drew interrupted, his jolly face gone serious.

Tilman wiped his face and followed the man into the kitchen. Drew gave a glance at the anonymous cooks, and they found another place to be.

“Look, I didn’t mean any-“

“Mr. Tilman, I have to apologize. This dinner is important to the people here. We’ve been very, very lucky, and we realize that part of maintaining that luck is to give back. The dinner is just a symbol of that.”

Drew held up the bean, pinched between his fingers.

“And so is this. Tradition is important, Mr. Tilman. Even when it’s silly, and I realize this is. But tradition keeps us together, gives us unity. The reason things have gone so well for us here is because we have never lost sight of the principles that lead to our success. Because of these traditions, we’ve never forgotten how lucky we are. The bean, silly as it maybe is an important part of that tradition.”

Drew had the decency to look away, look embarrassed about the next part.

“And so is the Bean King.”

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Mary hadn’t slept since the baby was born. She couldn’t. The room didn’t have a clock, so she wasn’t sure how long it had been, but the thing in the corner was starting to smell. Three days? She didn’t know much longer she could stay awake. Her head drooped, and she jerked back awake. Not asleep, but losing time.

The baby looked like her, but it was too early to tell if he would take after his father. Grace, her daughter, did and that obvious from the start. Gracie was playing idly with her food. Bored but not bothered.

“I don’t like it,” Gracie said, “it tastes funny.”

“You need to it, Gracie. You’ll get sick if you don’t.”

“I don’t want to.”


Gracie pouted, looking remarkably like a normal six year old, considering the situation. Mary looked at the corner and cradled her son a little closer. Gracie looked up from eating, wiped at her face but succeeded only in smearing her face pink.

“Can I have dessert?”

Mary was too tired to shudder. Almost too tired. Gracie just didn’t understand. How could she? Mary looked away, looked at the door. The dresser was still firmly in place, just enough room to jam a chair underneath the door knob. They’d tried to get in, while she was in labor. They hadn’t tried since. She didn’t hear anything, but that didn’t matter. They could be quiet for halfway to her ever. After what happened with her husband, she knew that. She looked at the corner and wished she had enough left to cry.

“Mommy, I want dessert.”

“There’s no dessert.”

“But I want it.”

“Grace Ellen!”

The little girl turned her back and pouted. She, apparently, had no problem crying. Mary looked at her golden little girl and wondered if it would ever be safe. She just had to stay awake a little longer. They needed water. Gracie seemed okay, but Mary was thirsty. When she couldn’t make milk anymore, she would have a choice. It didn’t matter if they were still out there. The baby cooed a little and moved. He seemed healthy. Not like his father.

Mary rested her head back in the chair, knowing better but unable to stop. She snapped her head at the sound, jerking back from lost time. Someone was knocking on the door. Mary bit her lip, held her breath.


Another knock at the door, urgent this time.

“Ma’am, if you can hear me, I need to respond. This is the police.”

Oh god. Oh god, oh god, oh god. She stood up, grabbed Gracie by the hand.

“I’m here.”

She was sobbing, she didn’t care.

“Ma’am we need to move the dresser and the chair and open the door. You don’t have to worry, the house is secure.”

“They’re gone?”

“Ma’am, they’re dead.”

She closed her eyes for a moment and cried. She smiled for the first time in a long time.

“Mommy, are Grandma and Grandpa okay?”

“They’re fine. We just need to move the dresser. Can you help Mommy?”

They moved the dresser together, moved the chair and opened the door. The fresh air hit Mary hard and she stumbled. The police officer, young and tall, grabbed her.

“Just come this way, Ma’am”

Mary and Gracie and the baby went out. There were two paramedics waiting for her, looking anxious. The female one moved forward.

“Easy, Mary.”

Mary stumbled again. The paramedics grabbed her.


“I’m okay. I’m okay.”

“Mary, let me take the baby. You need to sit down so we can treat you.”

Mary didn’t want to let go, but she was so tired. She slumped against the wall. Slid to the floor. The paramedics and the cops moved forward, but she was okay. Jesus, she was okay. She looked at her son, tears dropping onto his face. He squirmed a bit, but he didn’t cry. He was a good baby. He was going to be fine. He wasn’t like his father.

“Mary, I know it’s hard, but we really need to take a look at both of you.”

And for the first time since he was born, Mary’s son left his mother’s arms. The paramedic, smiled at the boy, making faces like everyone does. Mary leaned back against the wall and closer her eyes. She could sleep now, except she couldn’t sleep. She wasn’t sure if she ever would. The male paramedic said something to her, and she felt a blood pressure cuff going around her arm. She looked at the police officer, who looked incredibly young. He smiled at her, trying to look reassuring, failing but Mary didn’t care.

“What happened?”

“Your neighbors saw you taking your bags out to the car as you were going into labor. They tried calling your hospital, but nobody had seen you. They got worried and called us.”

“Karen. I’m never going to complain about her being nosy again.”

“I guess not, Ma’am. It was more than forty eight hours, so they sent someone around to check your house. We found….we found them there.”

The cop looked frightened, looked away from her. She knew exactly how he felt. The first time you saw one, saw them for what they really were, with their golden eyes. It was the eyes that you could never forget.

“They attacked us. We lost ten men, but we got them. They…they were…”

He looked over at Gracie, who was being checked out by the paramedic. She had the stethoscope in her ears, lost in her own world, trying to find the paramedic’s heart beat in his big bald head.

“They were my husband’s family.”

The cop just looked at her. He didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything to say. She smiled up at him.

“Thank you.”

She looked around, looked for her son. The female paramedic was nowhere in sight.

“Where did she go?”

“Who, Ma’am?”

“The paramedic, the woman. She took my son.”


A rush of panic filled Mary.

“Where is my son?”

Mary opened her eyes and looked down at empty arms. No. Looked up at the door, still shut, still blocked. No no no no no. Gracie looked up at her mother. She smiled, sharp little teeth licked clean. Mary looked at the small pile in front of Gracie. No.

“Thank you for dessert, Mommy.”

Gracie wiped her face with the baby’s blanket, smearing it with red. Gracie was her father’s daughter, all the way through. Mary picked up the knife, still red with her husband’s blood. She knew Gracie couldn’t help it. She knew, but she looked at the knife. Gracie looked up at her mother, tilted her head to the side, golden eyes curious.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?”

Mary dropped the knife to the floor. She looked at Grace, closed her eyes. She was so tired.


She felt sharp clawed fingers dig into her leg.

“Mommy,” Grace said, “I’m still hungry.”

Friday, January 14, 2011

Until Dawn - 8

“Would you shut that thing up?”

Becky’s so called dog was howling which, as far as Ed could recall, it had never done before. It was some kind of small puff of fur that cost them a bunch of money, more than Ed could have ever imagined spending on a damn dog. Pound for pound, the dog was probably worth more than gold.

Ed Hardesty was neither here nor there on animals in general. He’d had a dog as kid, as most kids did, and he loved it. As an adult, he’d never felt the urge to have a pet, although the farm itself did attract a fair number of cats who basically ignored Ed, who generally returned the favor. He was even nice to the cows.

He did, however, really hate that fucking dog. It wasn’t the money. Yeah, Ed had only agreed to buy it to try and placate Becky after one of their bigger go rounds and so spent a lot more than he otherwise would have. And yeah, the thing required a ridiculous amount of upkeep at the vets and the groomers, all of which was expensive.

No, Ed hated the dog because the dog hated him, and it wasn’t shy about letting him know about it. There’s a special kind of hate that only putting on your shoes to find they’re full of dog urine can bring.

The dog had started howling and scratching at the door an hour or so ago, despite all of Becky’s attempts to get it to shut up. She’d tried cooing to it, holding it and giving it treats, and the best that she’d gotten out of it was that it had actually snapped at her. The dog seemed to love Becky as much as it hated Ed, so this was pretty much unprecedented.

“You don’t have to be a jerk about it.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

The little dog thing was standing near the door, looking out the glass door. It’s hair stood and it’s tail was low. Becky walked towards it, again, and it turned and gave her a low growl. Becky stepped back.

“I think something is out there.”

Ed rubbed his face. He’d been married to Becky for twenty years, since right after high school, and he still couldn’t take that look in her eye. She was worried, and she wanted him to do something about it. Which meant that he was going to do something about it.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Just go check the barn. Make sure everything is alright so Daisy will calm down.”

Ed looked out the door. He couldn’t see the barn from here for the snow. He definitely didn’t want to go outside, especially since he was in no way convinced that Daisy had the reasoning powers to be reassured by him going out there. But it would make Becky feel better.

He pulled on his boots and his heavy jacket. Becky handed him a toboggan.

“Don’t catch cold.”

“Well, you could go out.”

“I need to stay here with Daisy, she’s scared.”

“Of course, well, I’ll just head out into the blizzard then.”

She gave him a peck on the cheek. The things he did. He grabbed the double barreled shotgun that he kept near the door, popped it open and dropped two shells in it, stuffed a couple more in his pocket. Flashlight. He looked down at Daisy. She was staring at something he couldn’t see.

She didn’t look afraid, although he wasn’t going to tell Becky that. She looked like she was waiting for something. Ed stepped outside into the snow.

He couldn’t believe how deep the snow had gotten already. It’d been a pretty dry winter up until then, so there’d been just a dusting of snow on the ground this morning. It was up past his ankles now, and he couldn’t see a damn thing through the snow falling to the ground. He was glad that he’d moved the cows into the barn for the night.

He wasn’t really a farmer. Well, yeah, he lived on a farm. He had cows and chickens and goats, in addition to Daisy. But he was a mechanic and Becky was a teacher. The farm was just a hobby, more or less, a way to keep in touch with his roots. The family farm had been the family farm for five generations of Defibaugh’s. He enjoyed having it and sometimes wished he really was a farmer.

This was not one of those times. Even with the flashlight, all he could really see was white. In the distance he could just barely make out the polelight beside the barn. Or at least, that’s what he hoped it was. In this shit, he could be walking towards town for all he knew.

He looked an awful lot like a snow man by the time he got to the barn. He slid open the door and stepped inside, shivered off some snow. The barn was warm, close with the heat of animal bodies. He flicked on the light switch.

He dropped the flashlight.

“What the fuck?”

He had twelve head of cattle. A manageable number, and their beef provided them with all the meat they could handle.

They were all dead.

The inside of the barn was painted red with blood, and Ed’s dinner rose up in his throat. He’d been in slaughterhouses before, and he didn’t mind the sight of blood and guts. But this was something else entirely. He took a step back. He heard something behind him and spun, shotgun ready.

Three dark shapes were out there in the snow. Dogs? Coyotes? He didn’t have time to tell before one of them leaped. He squeezed the trigger on the twelve gauge involuntarily and got lucky, and whatever it was flopped against him, driving him to the ground.

He fired another shot out the door and scrambled to his feet, slipping slightly in the blood of the dead thing. He slid the door shut, and took a deep breath. Fuck. Fucking fuck. He looked at what had attacked him.

And recognized it. He’d just blown his neighbor’s dog in half. He popped the shotgun open and dropped the spent shells out. Reloaded. Looked at Murray. He was a golden retriever, maybe four, five years old. He was a pretty good dog, once they’ve broken him of the habit of coming over to Ed’s and eating the chickens. He’d never attacked anybody.

His muzzle was stained read, and there was pinkish froth around his jaws. Rabies? Ed looked at the inside of the barn. He didn’t think three dogs were enough to do all this, but he didn’t know. He leaned against the door and listened. He didn’t hear anything from outside the barn, but he did hear something inside.

He took a deep breath, held it, and blew it out slowly. He picked up the flashlight and turned it back on, keeping the shotgun balanced on his forearm. There were lights in the barn, but there was still plenty of darkness, and places that he couldn’t see.

He heard a dull, wet slapping, a queasy noise that would have given him chills if he weren’t half frozen to begin with. He bit his lip and moved forward. Steam rolled off the carcasses he could see. They hadn’t been dead long. He wondered if Becky heard the shotgun. Inside a barn, inside a house, through all this. Probably not.

He saw it crouched over one of the cows. His flashlight reflected off red eyes and he had no idea what he was looking at. For the split second he could see it, he saw something big, larger than a man and dark furred. White teeth and red claws. He thought, for a second, that it might have been a bear but then it looked at him. It wasn’t a bear.

It slammed into him hard and the shotgun went sliding across the floor, the flashlight spinning. Ed grabbed at its neck, tried to keep it back. It raised a clawed hand and swiped and everything went white for Ed.

He couldn’t see. He wiped at his face and his hand came away red.

“Oh god. Oh jesus.”

His chest hurt. His stomach hurt. He felt like he was on fire. He looked down and there was nothing but ruin from the middle of his chest down. He was torn open and he started to cry. The thing was sitting on its haunches, watching him. It turned its head a bit and sniffed. Dark shapes crowded around it. It watched him.

Ed tried to move back on his elbows as the pack approached him. He recognized some of them, neighbor’s dogs. More he didn’t. Some that must have been coyotes. They spread out in a circle around him as he moved back. His legs wouldn’t move right. He screamed for Becky. He begged.

The pack surrounded him, and ate.