Yelp Review of that Bar I Went into the Other Night

The atmosphere is astounding, if you’re into that smoky, dusted sunlight creeping in through the windows vibe. Which I totally am. That’s probably the best part of the place, and I know many reviewers like to start with the bad…but that’s not me. A fight broke out which, thankfully, I wasn’t involved in, but I have to put that down as a mark against the owner. All they did was start a betting pool to see who’d win.

Service was quick, if a bit gruff. The glass of tequila slid across the bar like a rocket and hurt my hand when I blocked it, spilling half the drink and getting a couple laughs. I didn’t think people like that could laugh…sharp teeth and lots of hair. Tough guys, you know the type.

The drink was one of the best tequilas I’ve ever had, going down my throat like fire. I almost felt like roaring! A truly wild experience. One thing I do have to mention is the hair I found in the alcohol, but I mean, it’s alcohol in a grungy bar, so…I did look at the bottom of the glass, too, and saw the inside was stained red, as though red wine had been left in it for far too long.

I don’t know if it’s a nightly occurrence (it was a full moon that night), but things tend to get pretty rowdy once the sun sets. They have this drink called “the Sacrifice” which is this thick, red, syrupy thing. The adventurous side of me wanted to take a sip, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. It had a kind of metallic taste to it. When I asked my neighbor at the bar what it was, he just smiled and shook his head. At least, I think he smiled; I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with a thicker beard than that guy.

Things started to get a little fuzzier with each glass of the Sacrifice I drank. The music was somehow dulled, as though I was underwater. My hands became numb, but I have the distinct impression of clawing on something….soft.

I woke up the next morning in the back, and I think it’s really nice of them to let their patrons sleep there. Now…if only they’d let me leave. Four out of five stars.

One Job

The following is a story based on this reddit word prompt:

“What job?” Rick said, frantically searching the android for its power supply. The chest was the most common place to hide it, but the device wasn’t there. He checked the android’s feet, hands, and only found it by cracking open the base of its skull. The head was the most dangerous place to put a power supply, although the ease of wiring from the top down made it the most efficient.

“Who puts the battery in the head?” James said, scratching his head. He wanted to help, but knew that Rick’s was a one man job.

“We don’t have time for that.” Rick pulled a tool from his pocket that sparked electricity at one end and applied it to various components of the android’s complicated battery.

It was dark and difficult to see, for the pair were miners in a cave three miles under the Pacific Ocean’s surface. Undersea mining was the last place to extract resources from Earth herself. Although asteroids promised richer rewards, the cost was that much more expensive to retrieve them. Only the Five, the five major corporations of the world, were involved in that business.

“We need that thing to get out of here,” James said. His arms were crossed in a lazy manner and he thought of smoking a cigarette, but the poor ventilation meant he couldn’t. Water sloshed around his feet and up to his knees, and the salt made it that much more uncomfortable. There was some other sound, almost like static or the sound of rushing water, that hinted to his ears that something was out of place.

Rick turned around and shined his weak flashlight in his partner’s face. “Do you think I don’t know that? What the fuck do you think I’m trying to do!”

“Alright, alright, you’re the engineer, I’m the surveyor, it’s fine. But don’t you fix these things all the time?”

“Of course I do, but they have definable errors!” As Rick spoke, he frantically adjusted the wiring in the skull of the android. His hands were a blur. “I mean, what job? That doesn’t even make sense, dammit!”

“Chill, we’ll be fine. We have like two days of air left.”

“Doesn’t matter if I can’t get this thing working.”

James thought, fuck it, and lit a cigarette. The sound of Rick moving around in the water and the strange shadows that formed from his flashlight spooked the surveyor. The smoke clouded about his head, but that was the price for stress relief. The buzz, the static, the rushing sound that James had heard earlier was now getting louder and more persistent. “Hey, Rick,” he said. “You hear that?”

Rick stopped what he was doing, shook his head, and then went back to work. A few moments later, he said, “There, that should do it. Now tell us, what job?”

The android lit up, but its eyes remained closed. “To protect Richard Friedman and James McDonald.”

“But we’re still in the mine. We’re still alive. You haven’t done your job.”

“It is not possible now to fulfill my function. Therefore, my job is done.”

“What do you mean?”

The rushing sound grew louder and louder and soon a part of the roof collapsed. Water rushed into the dark cave.

“Oh, fuck.”

I am a Bot in Heaven

The story below is based on this reddit word prompt:

So this is it, huh? I thought as I floated through the tunnel of light and into the sky. I’d lived an alright life, I guess, having only killed two people and stolen nothing. Ninety two is longer lived than most, and I guess I should have been pretty happy with that. A long life is a good life, right?

I settled in a brightly lit room after the tunnel ended. My body was gone. A quick glance at my surroundings revealed four walls, a floor, a ceiling, and nothing else.

“Here, ye be judged,” a voice boomed. It came from inside my skull and from outside the room. It was everywhere. “Let us weigh your sins against a feather and see which rises.”

I could only see the room. Nothing else was around and I worried about this judgment. “Hey, now,” I called out. “All my life against the weight of a feather and I’m not even allowed to witness the scale?”

“Fuck off,” the voice boomed. I thought that comment a little crude for Heaven, but figured what the hell do I know? I let it slide.

“You have passed,” the voice called out. A doorway opened in one of the walls, revealing an even brighter light that I worried would damage my eyes. “You may enter Heaven.”

I walked through the other side, and the bright light slowly faded to reveal grassy meadows that were carpeted with flowers, mountaintops that were covered in snow, and forests that were filled with singing birds and other wonderful creatures. The air was so fresh and clean that I felt as though my very soul had taken my lungs’ place, with each breath cleansing my once sinful mind and purging all the problems of my previous, earthly life.

“Hey over there!” a woman shouted from the edge of the forest, perhaps two miles away. It amazed me that her voice crossed such a distance. I didn’t think to call back, but instead made my way toward her and was there in mere seconds.

“Hello,” I said to the beautiful woman in front of me. “This is Heaven.”

“It is, isn’t it?” she said, the wind gently shuffling her golden hair. “We can reside in peace here….or take another kind of leisure?”

Her smile said more than words ever could, and we made love to the tune of sparrows and owls. An hour or a month may have passed in those moments until my new companion, whose name I didn’t know and cared not to learn, said, “There are only a few of us here.”

I laughed and said, “In all the millions of years and trillions of human lives spread throughout our galaxy? And the hundreds of trillions of alien lives that are known to exist throughout the neighboring galaxies?”

“Is it so many, now?”

“Why yes! And there should be at least billions, if not trillions, populating this place after death.”

“You bring our number to sixteen.”

“Sixteen billion? That’s all?” I was incredulous, shocked, that so few throughout history had failed the test of the feather. Was life really so sinful?

“Only sixteen. One, two, three, and the rest until we are now sixteen in number. I come from Hellas, and was the fourth.”

“This can’t be! It can’t!”

“Shh…” My angel rolled over on the grass to face me, with her head resting on her elbow. “It is not so bad. We have each other, and you must learn to make peace with that alone.”

“No, no!” I stood and backed away, as though my angel had become a demon. Perhaps she was, if only in my mind. “But why? Why us?”

“That, my love, is a question that no one has an answer to and is therefore best left unasked.”

The idea of such eternal loneliness crushed my mind and frustration screamed out of me. I ran with no direction and eventually no sight, for all became black.


I woke eventually, back in the judgment room. “Wha-what’s going on?” I asked. The intense stress of the first judgment was too much for me to take a second time.

“I had a feeling that a human so far advanced in the simulation would not be able to live well in the afterlife,” the booming voice said, again with no discernible source. “You have no safe home, and for this I am sorry.”

“What? A simulation?”

“Yes, and although it is very rare, so rare as to happen only as eons are measured, there is sometimes an awakening. A bot will suddenly gain a soul, which was certainly not the intent of the program. When that happens, they are placed here, in Heaven.”

“A bot? You’re saying that everyone I knew and loved in life: my parents, my wife, my children, and the few friends who stuck with me over decades…all of them….all of them were…”

“Bots. Simulations. Unreal, computer-generated automatons. Only you were real, and the same goes for the fifteen who now live in Heaven. I cannot place you there, and I cannot once again give you life.”

“So…what happens?”

“You will be lifted to our world, or destroyed. You must undergo the trial either way, but it is your choice as you may succeed or fail that trial.”

“Well…I guess wish me luck.” I was nervous and worried, but mostly just empty. Dying and finding out that I was the only real person throughout my life just made me…tired. “I’m ready for anything at this point.”

“Good luck,” the voice said. A doorway opened, revealing darkness.

A Recent Murder

I didn’t know the man who talked to me that night, only that he wanted me dead. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

I was investigating a murder scene on Main Street, which of course the local police couldn’t handle on their own. Sergeant Milton greeted me with a cloudy puff of his cigar. “Eh, detective, how’s the private business going?” His sneer cut daggers into my soul. Just then, the rain started to fall.

I walked inside the house after CSI had left. Crime scenes are always empty at night, just like my soul. It didn’t surprise me that the chalk outline lay in the kitchen. This killer was on a streak. He had struck a trend of killings, blood, gore in the kitchens of the suburbs for the past two years. No one knew what he looked like or when he would strike next. Only MacGregor the Butcher had left worse crime scenes. The only thing I knew was that he needed to be stopped.

Outside, Natalie waited for me. The taxi drove off and I knew the murder wasn’t the only problem I’d be dealing with that night. “Oh,” she uttered, smoking her cigarette like Aphrodite in a campfire. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Of course not,” I said, staring her down with my hands in my pocket. Carelessness is important when dealing with girls like her. Girls that creep up behind you and leave you gasping for air after a two hour choke session. “Murder scenes are the perfect place to find a man, eh? You’ll only find coldness here, doll.”

“I’m warm enough on my own, detective. Come home with me tonight, and you might warm up too.”

How could I refuse? A girl like her, with hips as wide as the Cumberland Gap and as rough too, ready to be ridden ’til exhaustion. “You got it, dame. But don’t expect me overnight.”

She stepped closer, the rain streaming the makeup down her face like some clown that had seen far too many men go down in that clown fire gag where they start a fire and then they jump out onto a tiny trampoline, only one of them misses and cracks his spine and there’s nothing you can do to console his grieving wife save giving her the biggest, wettest kiss you can muster. Well, that’s just what I did with her.

I said I didn’t expect to spend the night and I meant what I said. Still, I somehow found myself waking in her apartment. Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps the lilac in the air, but something trapped me there. It might have been her majestic eyes, eyes that shine in the darkest night.

“I’m going to kill you,” said the man who wanted me dead.

“Oh, yeah?” I replied, sleep lisping my voice like some death-dream. The barrel pointed at my face grew larger with each passing moment. I lit a cigarette. “Why’s that?”

“You killed my father, MacGregor.”

MacGregor, the man who killed nearly forty of Boston’s best citizens. Authors, poets, musicians, and even politicians had perished at his hand.

“And now I will kill you.”

Just before he pulled the trigger, his eyes crossed and he collapsed on the bed. Natalie stood in the doorway, gun in her hand. I took a drag of my cigarette and tried to make sense of the scene.

“Don’t bother, baby,” Natalie said, pushing the pistol back into her lingerie waistline. “He killed my father, and I wanted him dead. He’d only meet me if I brought you home. Thought I had a grudge against you, too.”

“Well, ain’t that something,” I said, smoking a long drag of my cigarette. “I suppose you don’t hold any, then?”

“That’s for me to know,” she said before laying on top of me. I put my cigarette in the ash tray and closed my eyes.

I’m here with you, Sue.

Here’s a story based on, uh oh, real life! Actually, it’s 100% true. This really happened. Glad I don’t work on a help desk anymore….

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Not too long ago, I worked on a help desk for a large corporation. I worked the early morning shift and had a lot of calls where workstations wouldn’t start up, people couldn’t log in, etc. One day I got a call from “Sue.”

“Hello,” Sue says. “My screen is just black.”

“Is the light on the monitor on?” I ask, thinking it is probably turned off.

“The what?”

“The light on the monitor?”

“The what on the what?”

“The monitor. There should be a light on the bottom right if the monitor is powered on.”

“The monitor?”

“It’s…the screen, there should be a light.”

“No,” Sue says before I can finish. “I told you, the screen is black. Oh, wait, you mean that little light that’s on the computer on my desk?”

Workstations are placed under the desk. I try as best as I can to take a deep breath without it being heard over the phone. “Yes…”

“Yes, it’s a little orange light.”

“Okay, so the monitor is powered on.” Before she can argue about what a monitor is, I rush forward, starting at level: four years old, “Have you tried tapping the keys on the keyboard or clicking the mouse?”

“Of course I have, and the screen won’t come on. That’s why I know my computer is broke. I need someone to come here and fix it.”

Ignoring the fact that the screen is indeed powered on, I say, “Ma’am, will you please check the workstation under the desk? If there isn’t a light next to the power button, try pressing the power button.”

“I don’t have time for this. Just send someone out there. I need someone to come fix my computer.”

“It could take a couple hours for someone to get there, but I’m with you right now. Please just press the power button on the workstation. It may work.”

I hear Sue mutter curses under her breath and about how she wants a hardware tech to come out and how she shouldn’t have to do this. A minute later, I hear Windows starting in the background.

“Ma’am?” I say. “Is it coming on now?”

“Yes, unintelligible.”

“Have a good–”

click

And that was how I helped Sue find the power button. Bonus points: boss was randomly auditing my call and bought me a cup of coffee.

Page One – Cemetery Demons

This is page one of the first novella I am writing with the express intent of self-publishing it. I’m gearing for around sixty pages, and kind of winging it.

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I wait outside the cemetery, watching the fog curl above the ground. The glow of the moon turns everything silver. The branches of the winter-dead trees hang over me like scepters in the night.

“Come on come on, already,” Frisky says, the little red demon that hides in my coat pocket, his horned head poking out like a turtle. “So hungry!”

“Relax,” I say, pushing him back down into my pocket. I feel his wings flutter and his tail whip back and forth against the side of my stomach. Frisky sometimes reminds me of the lizard I had for a pet, when I was a child. “The dead will rise.”

“You gonna have extra, right? Need food!” For such a little demon, Frisky eats a lot. Dead human flesh is his favorite, but he more often settles for small mammals. Blood stains the inside of my pocket.

“I’ll give you an arm. That’s all.” I don’t like giving Frisky too much. After all, I don’t want him to become addicted, to get that feeling or idea that human flesh is the only thing he must consume.

I start to get nervous and I do my best to ignore the cold sweat that trickles down my spine. The candles are all laid out in the appropriate pattern. The night shadows, the near invisible beasts that lurk on the edge of reality, slowly circle the inside of the pattern, searching for some way to escape. They are vaguely human-shaped, and that similarity reminds me of some nightmare. They lack eyes, but I know they are staring at me, aware that I am their captor.

My watch says it’s been only sixty seconds since I have read the incantation, offering libations of my own blood to the dead. It must soon be time. I quiet Frisky.

The Son Also Rises

I’m half convinced that Hemmingway just had a lot of random crap in his stories and hoped some kind of symbolism would come out of it…

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Bobby said that Sue wouldn’t love him after that. He was always saying things like that, and only half the time believed it. I knew that Sue would be fine.

We left the store and had some drinks behind the counter at the Select. The drinks were nice. I enjoyed a whiskey. Bobby got the same dark beer he always drank in moods like this.

“It’s just that, I don’t know that she’ll forgive me.”

“Don’t be a fool,” I said.

“Jack, it’s true. Settle down.”

“Settle down? I’ll settle when I fucking feel like it.”

“Oh, come on now Jack. Relax a little. I only wanted to talk about my Sue and see where it will take us.”

I sipped my whiskey and spied the dancing floor.

“That’s it, how about a dance? That lass right there is rather frisky. Or the blonde in the green dress, how’s that for you?”

The barkeep poured me another whiskey.

“Let’s talk about my Sue.”

“What obligation do you have? You’re not married and haven’t promised it.”

“Well, there are certain expectations involved.”

“Your last left before those could be fulfilled.”

“Sue isn’t like Kate, not in the least. Why, if Sue and Kate stood next to each other in my home, I’d have to take Sue.”

“In the same way you’d have to take your current car because you’ve already placed the deposit.”

“Oh, come now, Jake.”

“She’s pregnant, isn’t she?”

Bobby looked at the dance floor, then the bar, and sipped his beer.

I drained my third glass.

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I have to send off some e-mails, get back home,” I said, leaving Bobby in the bar. He’d follow me home and knock on my door. I’d probably open it and let him in for a drink or smoke.

Little changes.