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“We’re gonna get caught,” Miranda whispered. “Again.”

“Nah,” Skeeter said. He flicked his hair back from his eyes and peered down the silent corridor to their right. “I heard them say the Marines were on the other side of the ship.”

“Doesn’t that seem odd?”

“Maybe. All I know is we can get out and do something for a change. I’m tired of sitting in the cabin and listening to Dad and Mom argue about what life’s gonna be like when we get to this stupid place.”

“Mine are all happy and planning the new store,” she said. Following along with him, she edged into the corridor and they took off at a jog.

“At least that gives you something to look forward to. Dad’s making this whole thing sound like some horrible ordeal and Mom is telling him how it’s gonna be even worse. Last night I made it really bad, ‘cause I asked them if it was gonna be so bad, why did they sign up for it.”

They paused and looked both ways at a crossing hall before dashing further down the corridor.

“What did they say?”

“Dad said he did it to get away from Mom’s parents, and then Mom said it was because Dad’s a butthole. Then they started fighting and I ran off to my bunk thing.”

“Gara,” Miranda whispered. “That sucks.”

He paused, leaned against a wall, and pulled on the lapels of his long coat, sinking his body further into the leather. The black material created such a contrast with his snow white fur that Miranda could not help but smile.

“I’m used to it,” he said. His tone belied his words, but she accepted the words in the spirit he had delivered them. She placed a paw on his shoulder and looked into his eyes.

“It’ll get better,” she promised.

The fox nodded back at her and they started moving again. A voice from ahead set them on a hard right down an adjoining hall, and a choice between a dark hall and one with a flickering overhead light left them creeping down through the darkness. The journey, Skeeter had reasoned, was where the fun was to be had, and adventure would give them fond memories of the journey. Slinking down darkened hallways while avoiding the random security sweeps of the shipboard Marines was more than enough adventure for the pair.

At least he hoped they could avoid the Marines. Last time had not gone as planned, and had it not been for the ArCorp security representative that had come to their rescue, he had no idea what the musclebound Marine who caught them would have done to them, although his imagination had shown him a great number of nightmarish scenarios.

They traveled the network of corridors for a few more minutes, following the twisting halls and ducking through the iris door into a cargo hold.

As the door closed behind them the overhead lights came to life. White brilliance flooded the area and the cat and fox found themselves squinting in the sudden light. After the dim and occasionally dark hallways, the illumination was blinding and they found themselves standing and blinking in an attempt to ease the stabbing feeling of the bright light.

“Why did the lights all come on?” Miranda asked. She pushed herself closer to the fox as he looked around the area. He leaned into her as well, wrapping an arm over her in a protective gesture.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “They never did before.”

“Are we in the right place?”

He hesitated a moment, looking about for some form of identifying feature.

“Maybe we came in from the other side,” he said. The quiver in his stomach told him he had made the wrong choice coming in here, but he kept his voice calm and level. He resolved not to let any sign of fear show in front of Miranda.

“Probably,” she said. She took a slow breath. “Let’s look at this side, then.”

They stepped to their left, edging around a stacked rack of equipment crates. The tags on the ends were shiny and colorful in comparison to the drab gray containers. Yellow symbols were used to indicate categories of the crate, large red letters to identify the owners, and lines of black text beneath them. Each tag told the story of the crate contents.

This hold held little more than personal crates, and for that the pair was grateful. They had ventured into one kilometer-long bay early on the trip that had been filled with dozens of the shipping containers that held the contents of the colony to be, with house-sized boxes filled with preserved food, mining equipment, lumber, and more things that they could only guess. The infrastructure of an entire town was carried on this ship, and between Skeeter and Miranda, they had explored at least the exterior crates of most of it. The exploration took hours and they found it all incredibly dull. After that, they spent their days looking for something that might be fun. There were few Folk of their age, and none that wanted to do anything that involved sneaking off behind the backs of the security teams that were responsible for the safety of the colonists, potentially running from or tangling with shipboard Marines, and getting yelled at by the Administrators of the trip.

“What was that?” Skeeter asked aloud, jerking to a halt and doubling back a step. He peered down the alley between two sets of shelves.

“What?”

“I thought I saw someone.”

“Don’t do that,” Miranda whispered.

“I’m not,” he said, knowing she thought he was playing a trick or trying to scare her. “Go back.”

The two of them sprinted for the door, but it cycled open before they got close and they darted down an alley of crates instead, pressing themselves against the closest boxes to disguise their presence.

“Why are the lights already on?” asked a voice. A second later, it boomed in volume.

“Who’s in here?” the voice demanded.

“Go,” Skeeter said in a low tone, gesturing down the aisle. He and Miranda ran hard, trying their best not to make sound on the metal flooring. They broke left at the first intersection, ran some more, and then shot up through another alley of crates, turning right and then left again as they ran. They could hear multiple sets of booted feet ringing on the floor as someone chased them.

They twisted left as they passed a series of low, wide crates, and ducked down low as they ran, trying to hide themselves behind the equipment. A few more steps and the pair found themselves facing an exit door, just down two more sections. They redoubled their efforts.

A dog clad in a long coat bearing some form of insignia stepped out in front of them. Dull rank pins gleamed on his collar, but Skeeter had no idea what they represented. All he knew was they had been caught for certain. There was something about the dog that terrified Skeeter, a feeling of dread that even overpowered his fear of being caught. His feet skidded on the deck as he tried to backpedal, grabbing at Miranda’s shoulder to help pull her along. His heartbeat became a steady flood of sound in his ears as he realized they were trapped. Moving with a long, slow stride, the dog was now in the section of crates with them, blocking their access to the intersection. He crouched low, shielding Miranda with his own body, and as the dog took another step, Skeeter squinted his eyes. The wall was visible through the Folk that stood before him. Skeeter gasped, feeling a cold sensation grasp at his innards.

The dog opened its mouth and a low, mournful sound drifted from it. Skeeter felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise and a chill ran down his spine at the sound. Miranda whimpered aloud.

“Gann’s balls!” called the voice that had demanded to know who was in the hold. “It’s the ghost! The ghost of Shen Qi!”

“Where?” shouted another voice.

The dog looked down at Skeeter and Miranda as the pair huddled on the plating. His paw raised and he tapped it to his mouth in a gesture calling for silence. Pivoting, he moved from their position and out of the alley. It was only after he left that they realized he made no sound as he walked.

The thunder of booted feet ran down the adjoining alley.

“There! I see him!” shouted the second voice.

“He’s real!” called the next.

The dog stepped in front of the exit door that Skeeter could see and grinned at the two youths, lips rolling back from around long, sharp teeth. Extending an arm toward the door, he passed through it as if it was not there. His body seemed to shimmer as he joined with the metal, and a second later he was just gone.

Two Folk in ship’s security uniforms darted through the door a second later, stopping only long enough to open it. Neither looked at the two juvenile Folk shivering in the floor, so intent were they upon catching their prey.

The door closed behind them and Skeeter and Miranda found themselves alone in the cargo bay. It felt infinitely colder than it had when they arrived, and both of them were overcome with a strong desire to be somewhere else. Anywhere, it seemed, would do, so long as they were out of the cargo bay.

Three minutes of running led them back to the door by which they had entered and then they were running through the corridors of the ship, paw in paw. Doors and intersections flashed by as they worked their way back to the housing area.

They ran straight up to the ocelot wearing the sand camouflage shirt of the ArCorp security team. The trim female glared at their approach.

“Where have you two been?” she demanded.

“We went to the galley,” Miranda said, her voice high and firm. It was not a place that was off limits, and many of the settlers went there for a change of pace from the makeshift eatery set up in their area. “They had cookies.”

“Did you bring me a cookie?” asked the ocelot, mouth wide in a grin.

“I was going to, but Skeeter ate it,” Miranda said, pointing at her friend and making a face.

“Oh, I see! That’s how it is, is it?” she asked. She reached out and ruffled the fox’s carefully-coiffed hair, chuckling at the offended expression on his face.

Minutes later, they were back inside the confines of the section of the ship where the settlers had been based. They were both shaking with a combination of fear and excitement at their experience. They kept moving, hiding from the sight of others until they reached one of their usual places. Perched side by side on a bench in the common area, the two of them took deep breaths of the recycled air. They were still holding paws, and neither seemed in a hurry to stop.

“What was that?” Miranda asked. Her voice was husky now, edged with the fear brought about by her memories of what had occurred.

“Can spaceships be haunted?” Skeeter asked at the same time.

“We could ask Diem.”

After he had rescued the pair from the clutches of the enormous Marine, the leopard named Diem had become a favorite adult of theirs. Still, Skeeter had his doubts.

“And tell him we went to the cargo bay?” he asked.

“No,” she said, flapping a paw. “We just ask if it could happen. I’ll tell him you were telling me a ghost story and trying to scare me.”

“That might work.”

Miranda squeezed his paw. “After that, we go talk to someone from the ship. Tell them we overheard someone talking about a ghost. Play both sides.”

Nodding, he pulled the cat in for a quick hug. They got up and ran from the bench, heading for the lounge to see if Diem was there.

Behind them, a shimmering canine face materialized, pushing free from a bulkhead wall. It looked at the area filled with colonists and grinned before disappearing into the metal once again.

 

<<END>>

I have a new short story in the latest issue of Protodimension Magazine.

Devoted to gaming aids for horror and dark science fiction roleplaying games, Protodimension has been a favorite for some time now. They publish scenarios, item descriptions, new monsters, settings, and fiction for games, just as a start. Y’all know I like to throw a story out from time to time, right? Well, now so do they! Anthill Morning: the Shooter is in the newest issue, available for free download at their site, Protodimension.com, and I’m thrilled to be in there!

One of the games they support is a wonderful piece of work from years back that has seen a couple of resurgences, called Dark Conspiracy. I started playing DC a few months after Game Designers Workshop released it back in 1991. It was a great premise, with an incredible amount of work poured into the system and the background. Through the years I’ve traded or sold a few RPG’s here and there, but my DC books stayed on the shelf (and they’re still there!). Many a character in one story or another of mine was rendered as a playable character for the system, giving me a concrete idea of their capabilities that I could wrap details around. If you’ve read some of the short fiction pieces on this site, you may have met some of those characters.  Thank You Very Much is based on the hunt for a telepathic monster and involves one of my sweep teams, including Abraham Tallcloud, a frequent “playtester” of mine for scenes in my stories. He can also be found in An Evening with Abe, a short story fragment about the aftermath of a demonic invasion.

The fine folks over at Protodimension Magazine — Tad Kelson, Lee Williams, and Norm Fenlason — are great guys and avid gamers. They have a game publishing company of their own, 3Hombres Games, and are publishing the new version of this great game, with Book 1 titled Conspiracy Rules. You can browse all their content on DriveThruRPG HERE.

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Anthill Morning is still in further development, and The Shooter is merely the first chapter of the story. Hopefully I’ll have plenty more to offer in future issues of Protodimension. I’m looking forward to it.

Fiction Fridays – Walls

A Note: This week is not so much fiction as exorcism. Please bear with me.

 

Walls

 

Pale tan things, their flat and sterile surfaces broken by power points, oxygen inlets, and racks of equipment. A silent television hangs from the ceiling, its empty black gaze a counterpoint to the autumn scene on the painting that lurks beside the shelf of boxed gloves. Brilliant oranges and reds add a splash of color between the blue nitrile gloves and the matte grey of the electronic eye.

The walls watch as he struggles to breathe, as the machine bound to his face whines along with his labored inhalations. They see the pain flash across his face as he coughs yet again, a thick, wet sound that echoes through the cavity of his chest. It is the sound of gelatin sucking free of the mold, and it rips at him as he fights to spit the filth from his red-tinged mouth. They smell the hint of corruption, overlaid by the scents of disinfectant and nervous sweat.

The walls watch as the machines spring to life, gauging his blood pressure and graphing the beats of his heart – a heart that holds love for his family and has thundered through war and peace. They see the drops that slither through the tube, drained away from inside him to gather in scarlet columns within the suctioning machine that feeds from him as if a vampire has been mechanized and emplaced beside his bed.

The walls see the uneaten meal on its tray, his body too weak to stay awake long enough to spoon food between the cracked and bloody lips. They see him as he tries to rest, while machines suck poisons from his body and pump air into tortured lungs. They hear the wheezing and the beeping, the organic and the electronic blending into a twisted symphony.

The clock ticks away the seconds, each one stacking atop the ones that have come before it to remind the walls that they may be static, but time marches on, and their steadfast nature will prove no defense.

They see the staff – nurses, technicians, therapists, doctors, and even those who slip stealthily into the room bearing food or drink and empty cans of trash. They see the sudden bustle of activity as he requires additional care, and they witness the selfless response from those who do not even know him, but still treat him as if he were their own.

The walls look on in silence as friends and family move into and out of the room, eyes and spirits haunted by exhaustion on par with his own, but still smiling and joking with those present to avoid confrontation with their own madness. The walls know the jokes. This is far from their first exposure to them.

The walls hear the begging and the prayers, the wishes whispered and the promises made to anyone who will listen. They see the tears and the gritted teeth, the hanging heads and the worried glances. They smell the fear.

Through it all they bear witness to lives changed forever by those who take up space within their confines. They do not judge. They merely watch. The walls have seen everything. Do not envy their visions, nor their memories. The walls have borne witness to countless scenes such as these, and they know that there are many more to come.

<<<END>>>

 

 

*Dedicated to the staff of floor 2, Oklahoma Heart Hospital. Thank you.

 

Fiction Fridays – (Changes)

 

Zeke

Zeke’s memories of the war were filled with blood and fire, and there was so much of it that plagued his mind on any of the long nights. Oh, there had been camaraderie, of course, but those happy moments were small in comparison to the horrors that had come from the ratholes and the slippery, stinking close combat that had come to dominate his dreams.

His claws, wet and dripping with blood and ichor that he did not want to remember. Ears pounding with the continued gunfire. Fur stained a deep brown up both of his arms from the quantity of blood he had spilled.

He looked at the papers and took another long drink of his coffee. The writing was small but his eyesight was still keen. He knew what he was doing. It just felt strange, going back into the world that had spawned his nightmares.

“It will be different this time,” he said aloud. His lies echoed in the apartment.

There was little to slow the sound. He sat in a simple chair beside a small table. A vidscreen was on the wall but had never been turned on in the whole time he had occupied the space since arriving on this planet. The kitchen was where he spent most of his active time, cooking and eating at the short stone-topped bar, and then cleaning in preparation for the next meal. Beyond that he had a latrine and a shower, and a bed that was far too comfortable for an old campaigner. His clothes took up nearly no space in the large chest of drawers inside the bedroom.

“Fuck it,” he said, giving up the fight for excuses. The pen made thick black lines as he scribbled his name in the blocks.

Seven signatures and nineteen sets of initials later, and he was through. He picked up the comm and dialed the preset.

“Zeke Sharn,” he said in a flat tone when the other end of the call opened. “Come and get it. I signed.”

He closed the comm, cutting off the honeyed words that spilled from the other party. He drained the rest of the coffee and headed for the bathroom, dropping his clothes on the floor on the way in. Brilliant white LEDs lit his muscled form in automatic response to his entry. Scars formed a roadmap of bitter memories across his exposed flesh, and they stood out in stark relief against his grey fur. He had long since stopped seeing them as anything more than decoration, nothing greater or lesser than the colorful tattoos that had faded through the years.

He stepped into the shower and turned it on as hot as he could stand. He was toweling himself dry when the door chimed. He wrapped a black-and-grey patterned kilt around his hips and walked to the front. The portal opened to reveal a dun-colored dog in a business suit and a tall, lanky cheetah wearing some kind of jumpsuit. He had a holstered pistol at his waist, but these days that wasn’t unusual. It was the beret on the big cat’s head that caught Zeke’s eye, and a moment later a grin stretched his lips up over the rows of sharp teeth.

“Long time, badger-boy,” the cheetah said. Zeke chuckled and nodded, and then stepped back to wave the pair into the apartment.

“Papers are on the table,” he said. The suit went to collect them, and Zeke turned back to the cat. The two slapped a tight grip that turned into a brief hug with emphatic back-slapping.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” he said. “Hell, I didn’t expect to see you anywhere.”

“I got out too,” the cheetah said. He looked around the room, shaking his head. “Love what you’ve done with the place.”

“You know I’m not much for decoration.”

“Not even a picture, and I’ll wager there’s dust on top of the vid.”

“Not so much,” Zeke said with another grin. “There would be but I keep it clean.”

“Old habits, eh, Sergeant?”

“It’s just Zeke.”

“Not once you sign in under me.”

“You’ve got that kind of pull? I thought this was a corporate gig.”

“It is, and no, I don’t have any stroke. I am, however, gonna tell the big brass that you’re crazier than a gutted weasel and that if you aren’t on my team you’ll cause no end of trouble for them.”

“And they’re going to believe you why?”

“He can sell it,” rumbled the dog. He was approaching the pair once again, tucking Zeke’s paperwork into a leather valise. He extended a paw and Zeke took it.

“Zeke Sharn.” When the dog answered, his words came in a string that had little space between them and tumbled forth at high speed.

“Cyrus. Cyrus Love. Don’t make fun of the name. Welcome to ArCorp. I’m your liaison. I’ll be helping you acclimate to the company. I figured I’d play it cool while you two reunited. Captain VonHogan tells me you saved his life a few times.”

“Angry squirrels.”

Zeke and the cheetah erupted into laughter at a shared memory. After a minute, Zeke shook off the mirth.

“Sorry. I’m a shitty host. Would either of you like some coffee? Water? Or…well, that’s about it.”

“We’re good,” VonHogan said.

“All right, Captain,” he said, emphasizing the title. “That’s gonna take some getting used to. Not just Tarlen any more. Last time I saw you they had you fast tracked for a Sergeant’s slot.”

“A lot happened while you were gone.” The tone was no longer jovial. Now it spoke of horrible memories, the kind with which Zeke was all too familiar, and Zeke hurried to change the subject.

“So when do I start?”

“You are employed as of now, Mister Sharn,” Cyrus explained. “We will take you back to the headquarters building where you will meet with our personnel department for processing. You’ll receive your identification card and your salary and benefits package will be discussed with you at that time.”

Zeke looked at the smirk on the face of the tall cheetah. “What are you hiding?”

“Me? Nothing. Well, mostly nothing. Once you get finished running around and being told how welcome you are in ArCorp, I’m gonna run you down to the armory and get you properly outfitted for training. We’ve got liftoff in thirty days.”

“Liftoff? To where?”

“Metatropic shithole they call Z262. Colony ships are going in and we’re gonna be part of their security.”

“What are they expecting?” Zeke asked. Cyrus stood beside the pair, completely blocked out by both of the warriors.

“Initial data shows some indigenous life similar to dinosaurs, if smaller. Reptilian and amphib, lots of spikes and teeth. That ain’t the good part, though.”

“What is?”

“The colonists are miners. This Z262 place is apparently rich in industrial grade gems. Diamonds and rubies. Emeralds. Sapphires.”

Zeke’s lips peeled back across his sharp teeth again. “Which the rats would love to get hold of for their laser program.”

VonHogan started bouncing on his feet like a child at a party. He mimed a dance. “And that means squirrels. When they show up we’ll be waiting. See why I wanted you?”

Zeke raked a set of claws across his scalp, scratching at the tips of his ears. “What makes you think I want to play again, Tarlen?”

The cheetah laughed and turned to look at the suited dog. “You know, Cyrus, in this universe you can change a magazine, a diaper, or even a river’s course if you want. But the one thing nobody can change is the fact that Zeke Sharn hates squirrels. This time, he just gets paid better for killing them.”

“Z262 is thick with gems,” Cyrus repeated. “It is probable that there will be an incursion of some kind once the mine is established.”

Zeke shook his head. He knew he would soon be plunged back into the depths of the same fighting that haunted his dreams. He had known it from the moment he spoke with the ArCorp recruiter. VonHogan was right, though. Given half a chance, Zeke would go after squirrels even if he wasn’t being paid. He excused himself and ducked into the bedroom. He grabbed the only things there that mattered. The beret that matched the one VonHogan was wearing went up onto the top of his angular, striped head and the knife that had been his constant companion for years went into the waist of the kilt. Everything else he simply abandoned, walking away from this parody of a life with no regard for it whatsoever.

 

 

Skeeter

Crystals of ice were forming on the crates stacked in the cargo bay. By the time touchdown occurred, much of the contents would be rimed with frost, although that would vanish in a puff of steam within seconds, if the rumors were to be trusted.

It was said that Z262 was a hot place. Word had come down to be prepared for oven-like conditions in what would eventually be called the summer. Much of what was known was due to scientific surveys, but the sweep teams had already been down there. Their reports, in between descriptions of this or that indigenous life form that they had happily shot to clear the landing zone, told of ninety-plus temps.

Skeeter hated the idea of going to Z262. A planet that didn’t deserve a name, he felt, didn’t deserve colonization. It wasn’t his choice, though, and so here he sat, leaning on a crate in the cargo bay, which was the only place no one would bother him. Beneath him he could feel the subtle vibration of the craft as it passed through space at a speed he could not imagine. The crew had explained how it worked, but Skeeter was worse at math than he was with girls. They could as easily have told him it was magic and he would have nodded and smiled with the same blank expression he had shown in the trip brief.

Maybe if he got better at math, he thought, he could get off the rotten colony sooner. Maybe get picked up by a supply ship in a couple years. He chuckled at the thought of learning math to get out of what most people considered an adventure.

“Hi,” said a tentative voice. Skeeter jumped to his feet. The voice belonged to a feline girl maybe two years his junior who stood about ten feet away in the aisle between boxes. Her eyes were big and green, and her fur was a light shade of grey. Nowhere near as white as his own, but then few of the Folk had his coloration.

“Umm, hi,” he said.

“What ya doing?”

Thinking about becoming a physicist so I can bail on the fam, he thought. His words were more kind, if delivered as though he had swallowed a mouthful of acid spiders. “Well, I was, you know, just maybe a little, ummm kind of just sitting.”

“Would you mind if I sat, too? I mean, if you’re, like, hiding or something I’ll go somewhere else…”

“No. Don’t do that. Just have, you know. Have a seat.”

He moved over, showing her the small stepstool he had been sitting on. It kept his butt from freezing on the floor. When she took it, he whipped off his overcoat and dropped it to the floor as a makeshift chair.

“Now you’re gonna get cold,” she said. He shook his head.

“I don’t get cold,” he assured her. “Never have. None of my kind do. I wear the coat ’cause I like the way it looks on me.”

“It does look good,” she said, ducking her head a little bit and smiling.

“You think so?”

“I saw you earlier. I thought you looked pretty smooth.”

Skeeter felt a shiver run down his spine. He wondered if that was the way things were supposed to feel when she said things like that.

“I’m Skeeter,” he said, extending a hand. She reached up and touched his cool fingers with her own.

“Miranda.”

“Looking forward to the landing?” he asked a moment later, trying to think of something other than the electric sensation that passed through him at her touch. His feet shuffled on the deck.

She shrugged and an ear flicked. “Not really. I mean, they can’t even name the planet. What’s the point of going there?”

Skeeter smiled. “That’s what I said, too.”

“Great minds,” Miranda said.

He dropped into a cross-legged position on top of the coat. “I didn’t want to be a colony person.”

“Colonist,” she corrected with a wink. “And neither did I.”

He leaned against the crate, tilting his head up toward the roof that hovered so far above them. He relished the cool feel of the wood pressed to his back. He had been dreading every second of the colonization, and fearing that he would be alone. Meeting Miranda changed that. It was a feeling of closeness, a connection, that he had never felt before. Like he could just be himself.

“It’s gonna suck, isn’t it?” she asked.

Not as much now, said the little voice in his brain.

“We’ll make it work,” he said, and for the first time since they had told him to pack a bag, he believed it.

After some time, Jericho Sims has returned!

The Chickasaw have a legend that stalks the woods and punishes the careless. When an artifact that keeps the monster from rampaging is removed from sacred ground, Jericho is caught up in the quest to return this beast back to its slumber before it destroys him.

kindle

 

There will be more stories forthcoming from our Mr. Sims in the near future. The short stories are fun to write and they keep me prepped to add to the novel that is in the works.

Feel free to comment or send me a message and let me know what you thought of it.

David Bowie was playing on the stereo when I killed Amanda Welsh. “The Jean Genie”. I felt my head bobbing and swaying from side to side in time with the music as I held the garotte. It was kind of irritating that her feet were out of synch when they flopped and thumped on the floor.  That didn’t last, though.
Some time after her last twitch I peeled the wire from where it had sunk in to her flesh. trapped air escaped in a huff and I leaned in quick to suck it into my lungs. Nothing like that last dying breath. It’s that connection with death that only certain people know well. It’s almost like breathing in their memories. The last of everything they were is in there.

One thing I do hate about urban kills, though, is the noise factor. So much easier to crack the skull with a bonesaw, but they seem to draw attention with the sound they make. They’re like a minigun winding up before it starts thundering. So no power tools tonight. This is old school. That’s why I have the toolbox.

It doesn’t take nearly as long as it used to. Back seventy or forty or even twenty bodies ago and it would have been a lot of work and time. I’ve got it pretty worked out now. Pop the skull cap, dig in with a blade. I make a little triangle pattern around it and just hoist out a chunk. Bingo. One pineal gland from a nineteen year old Caucasian female.  That leaves me eighteen more to go.

The younger it gets, the easier it is. Finding the women for ages ninety through one hundred was probably the hardest. Those that are alive at that age are usually under some kind of care. Eighty to ninety was a little easier. Mid-sixties up to the eighty mark? Gravy. No one remembers them much, and by the time someone checks on them I’m long gone. Down to about fifty was easy to find, but I had a few fighters. From fifty through the mid-thirties they all fought. After that I chose more carefully. I had a large pool to pick from. The one with the fresh cast on her arm. The one back from the rather painful ski mishap. Amanda had one of those inflatable boot things on her right foot. What’s she going to do? Run away?

Back at home the gland in its bath of oils and unguents goes into place with the other eighty-one of them in the safe. Miles away, Amanda Welsh’s home is turning into ash around her remains. All that is left of her now floats in a baby-food-sized jar. I can feel it staring at me as I close the door.

It’s a pain in the ass having to take this many glands, but the books are quite precise on what I need. All the non-perishable ingredients have been assembled. The basement floor has all the circles and shapes as written. Cut and polished by hand, two years work. Every groove filled with molten silver. Everything so precise. Nothing to chance.

Eighteen more glands. Eighteen and I will have the key to open the gate.

END