Mug Shots was exactly the kind of bar you’d expect people like Darryl and Tony to frequent; a Godless hole with enough room between the brass bar rail and the wall for a stool and a walkway to the three tables in the back, none of which matched. The floors were mostly well swept and mopped. The corners were not, which is probably why the faint odor of mildew persisted.
The magician persisted, too, at the middle table. He was always there, but he never spoke. He sat, he played solitaire with a deck of red backed cards with crisp edges. He never touched the highball of whiskey on his left, which was always there. He wasn’t a magician, though, he just looked like one; quite a bit, in fact.
Barry wasn’t exactly the kind of bartender you’d expect at Mug Shots. He was slim and meticulous; particular and every little motion was emphatic. His boring routines looked more like rehearsed choreography. Barry the Fairy, they’d call him, but he’d smile with that scrunched kind of face that conveyed he hated the nickname but loved the attention.
“Hey,” yelled Tony, “Fairy Barry…”
“It’s Barry the Fairy,” corrected Darryl, “get it right or don’t get it.” He laughed a little too loud at himself, in that way that felt he was convincing himself he was actually quite witty.
“My beer’s gone empty. I thought I told you to stop serving beer with defecations.”
Darryl pulled off his CAT Bulldozer branded baseball cap and swatted Tony with it, “It’s defections, you idiot. Defecation means crap.”
“YOU MEANS CRAP!” Tony yelled, leaping off his stool, sending it clattering backward across the two feet of space to the wall just behind him.
Darryl, the much larger of the two, stood and loomed over him. “Sit down, you son of a bitch.” His massive ham of a fist aimed a fat finger at Tony.
Barry delicately slid Tony’s empty glass away, wiped the spot with is wet-surface-only towel with a red stripe, polished the spot with is dry-surface-only towel with a green stripe, then carefully set a full beer down in the vacancy and returned quietly to the sink.
Darryl sat back down as Tony uprighted his stool while muttering, “You’re still a piece of crap you giant sweaty pig…”
Tony clacked the stool down onto the floor, and the foot door creaked open, blinding light flooded in, silhouetting a figure standing at the door.
“Oh my God,” whispered Barry, looking to his left.
Darryl and Tony covered their eyes with their forearms, looking right, Tony peeking around Darryl’s bulk.
“Welp!” said the magician, tapping his deck of cards neatly on the table and sliding it back into the pack. He stood, slammed his drink, set the empty glass down. “It’s been real.”
The magician tucked his card pack into an inner vest pocket as he squeezed past the two at the bar. At the doorway, he shoved his shoulder into the newcomer unapologetically, and turned left, disappearing up the sidewalk.
The silhouetted figure stepped inside, followed by a golden retriever and what sounded like singing.
Tony tapped Darryl on the shoulder, looking back and fourth at him and Barry, “Do you hear that? Sounds like angels?”
“Shhhshsh,” shushed Barry.
The man wore a long white robe, flat sandals bound with thin sinews crisscrossed up to the knee, and wore his hair long and strait. The dog sat obediently by his side with his mouth closed and his eyes bright. In the blinding light at the doorway, another shadow appeared, and hopped into the bar around the man’s right side.
“Is that a kangaroo?” asked Tony, looking very confused.
“Oh my God,” whispered Barry, who was now wringing his hands absently with his dry-surface-only towel with a green stripe.
Jesus Christ, the Lord, our Father in Heaven, walked in and sat at the bar, leaving the customary one empty stool between himself and Darryl. His dog came over to the stool, trotted in a tight circle twice, then lowered himself to the floor exhaling a quick puff a air through his nose. The intense light from outside subsided as the kangaroo pulled the door slowly closed until the latch clicked, then hopped a half step to the side so as not to block the entrance.
“So,” said Tony, “Jesus and a dog and a kangaroo walk into a bar…”
Darryl swatted him again with his cap.
The Lord spake unto Barry, “What do you have on draft?”
“We have,” recited Barry, “Coors Light, Miller Light, Bud Light, Yeungling Lager, a Sam Adams seasonal, and a house bitter.”
“What’s the Sam’s seasonal?” said He unto him.
“It’s the Oktoberfest.”
“It’s May?” the Lord did inquire.
“It’s a little old,” whispered Barry, and winked at Jesus, hoping the favor would result in some sort of religious credit down the road.
“The bitter, please,” the Lord spake unto Barry.
“Right away, sir,” Barry’s voice was steady and sure, but his palms began to go clammy. Some days aren’t what you’d expect at Mug Shots.
Barry checked the glass for spots and other stray matter, then pulled the beverage carefully, tilting it just so under the tap. He delivered it to Jesus, just behind one quick swipe of the dry-surface-only towel with a green stripe.
“It’s cellar temperature,” he explained, as he always did serving the house bitter, but then grew suddenly nervous, hoping there would be no embarrassing associations with any experience in tombs.
The Lord picked up on the nature of Barry’s discomfort, having seen it in his eyes, and chuckled, “It’s alright, my son, you do good work.”
“So…” stumbled Barry, “….so do you.” His skin went hot and tight with embarrassment. ‘You met Jesus in your bar? What did you tell him?’ went the imaginary conversation in Barry’s head with Barry’s imaginary friends, ‘Oh I told him he does good work. Gah. So stupid.’
The Lord sipped at his drink and set it down. He raised his eyebrows at Barry, “Refreshing!” spoketh He to him.
Barry smiled and felt suddenly at ease.
“You’re God, right?” yelled Tony, from the other side of Darryl.
Darryl swatted him again with his cap, “He’s Jesus, you idiot. God’s his dad.”
The kangaroo bobbed nervously on it’s back paws, glancing between the men anxiously.
Jesus was mid-sip when the inquiry came, and, being left-handed, it took Him a moment to set His mug carefully down to the bar. Without effort, Christ the Lord extended His left fist sidelong, and, miraculously, spanned the distance over the empty barstool and punched Darryl with a solid strike.
Darryl rag dolled to the floor, confused and dizzy. His chest heaved as he breathed belabored.
“I don’t like how he picks on you, Tony. You’re doing your best.”
“Wow, Jesus, that’s just. Wow. Thank you. Folks don’t usually stand up for me.”
“It’s alright. You just keep doing your best. Maybe try a little harder sometimes?” Jesus titled his head slightly at Barry.
Tony looked at Barry, then back at the Lord. “Yeah.” Then he said to Barry, “Hey, I’m sorry and all, you know.”
Barry said, “Thank you. I know.”
Jesus lifted his drink again and drained the glass.
“You hit me!” slurred the heap of Darryl, from the floor.
“You’re lucky. I have laser eyes too,” Christ the Lord then did cast His precision gaze upon the cap of the fallen man’s head. Light red as blood and thin as a camel’s hair did burn through the stitches which heldeth together the cap, and falleth it asunder then into its constituent panels of fabric.
The Lord placed one shekel onto the bar, and slapped His thigh, whistling one loud note across his lower lip. As He left, the dog followed obediently. The kangaroo opened the door, and bobbed as they left. It hopped after them, latching the door behind.
Mars’ entire surface was red, except for a 10-foot green rock.
Princess ninja elf astronauts from Zorg stole the rock and took it to their galaxy.
Martians went ballistic. They sent a message to Zorg’s Emperor: “Your astronauts kidnapped out Goddess! Return Her immediately! Our churches are in chaos!”
The Emperor answered: “That ugly rock’s your goddess? How dumb! You idiots should worship our Sun like everybody else.”
Mars fired 100,000 missiles at Zorg’s sun.
CNN reported, “A sun exploded in another galaxy. Here’s an important announcement from Zorg’s Emperor: ‘All worship services are canceled for the next billion years.'”
Michael A. Kechula’s flash and micro-fiction tales have been published by 150 magazines and 50 anthologies in 8 countries. He’s won 1st prize in 12 writing contests and 2nd prize in 8 others. He’s authored 5 books of flash and micro-fiction tales, including a book that teaches how to write flash fiction. See his publisher’s site at: http://www.booksforabuck.com/ to read a free story or chapter in all of his books.
I remember the cold on my eyeballs. The smell of it. So clean.
It didn’t take us long to file into the nearby cave for warmth. The wreckage was barely smoking in the snow. The rumpled plane was as wintry as the landscape.
No implements with which to start a fire inside. Just shivering survivors warmed only by proximity and the friction from our quaking shoulders. We numbered five.
At three days lost in the tundra, Carmike fashioned a cave door from a section of airplane. It stopped the wind.
At four days we had eaten everything we found, including bits of leather and chewing gum. Sierra began eating her hair.
At three weeks, surviving only on melted snow, sour bush berries, and a skinny rabbit we quartered and shared and ate raw, Carmike and I began making eyes at each other; scheming without words. Baumer dropped dead that evening. He had been the eldest. The ground too frozen to even hope to bury him, we crunched him into a corner; face covered, and prayed he wouldn’t spoil.
What could spoil in this ice? We might have eaten him if he weren’t so stiff and green. His age-wrinkled skin appeared unappetizing even to we wretched hungry.
I was relieving myself on day twenty-three, steadying my weak corpus by holding fast to a tree, when Carmike startled me with his hand abruptly on my shoulder. I finished and turned to him.
“We’re the strongest, Reeves. And Sierra has the most fat. Richards will protest, but I can take him out,” he said.
“What are you suggesting?” I asked. I hated myself for wasting the breath to pretend. “…It’ll be messy,” I added.
“The quicker we eat her, the warmer her blood will be.”
My conscience was as numb as my swollen, frost-nipped toes.
“I’ll yawn as a cue,” Carmike said. “With my arms wide. Like so,” he added, spreading his limbs like Christ.
I made a single nod.
Later Carmike performed his pantomime, like the world’s worst actor. I hesitated, but grabbed Sierra by her shoulders before the sluggish minds surrounding us could catch wise. Richards’s objection came when he stood swiftly onto unsure feet, but just as summarily, Carmike clocked him with the butt of our flashlight.
We were upon Sierra then, men no more. And her blood was warm in a way the skinny rabbit had only very sadly mocked. And it was messy and when it was over our stomachs did strange things.
We collapsed onto our backs, the macabre pair of us. When Richards had fallen, he’d pulled back the blanket hiding Baumer’s dead face so that the departed was staring at me, his features contorted in accusatory disgust.
This may have bothered me had the sharp pain in my belly not assaulted all my faculties. Carmike likewise writhed, bumping the cave door opened with his knee. It was sunset and I had a view from the ground, past my protruding ribs and the toes of my shoes to witness his combustion.
That’s right, the fading shard of sunlight shot through the snowy trees and in through the crack in the door to make Carmike catch fire. He was screaming so. And to stop the sound I inched along the floor and reached to pull the door to. The back of my hand was burned in the process.
The cave fell silent, but was saturated with a smell like brimstone. When the pain in my stomach waned I questioned what I’d just witnessed. Was this madness? Hell perhaps? A place where sunlight kills.
Time passed before I finally lifted myself and scooted over to Carmike’s char-black body. Whereas I now felt strong and nourished, Carmike, who had grown long fangs, which hung down from his opened mouth, was rigid and blank. When I traced my own finger across my teeth I discovered the same sharp canines.
In fact, what remained of his coal ears were pointed –bat-like. Mine were the same.
A truth invaded my brain. The cold, the live human blood mingling with my stomach acid; somehow these parts forged me into a monster.
It was night and I left the cave to enjoy my new found liveliness and invulnerability. I noted that the cold on my eyeballs was perceived, but was so much less affecting than before.
I found a moonlit pool and dipped my head to view my reflection. I marveled that it was mine. My skin was chalky and my hair the color of star shine. I reached to disturb the pool and use its contents to wash free Sierra’s blood from my mouth. Since making a meal of the woman, I no longer thirsted for water.
I tried to eat animals. I tried to eat sour berries. Neither would do.
I felt badly toying with Richards for several consecutive nights after he came to, unnecessarily elongating the hunt, but I was so bored and help was never going to come. As for my own escape, I could only walk so far in any given direction before daybreak.
I tried to end it. Leapt clean off the face of a very high cliff. I never lost consciousness. I just waited where I landed for the dull menace of my broken bones, a sensation as neutered as the cold on my eyes, to ease and mend, then sat up in the snow. I used both hands instinctively to realign my neck.
I’d always heard that hell was other people, but without any to feed from I found myself in purgatory.
Richards was my last victim. I emptied the cave after, and thanks to my incredible strength, buried in the frozen earth those who had survived the crash with me. Why leave the evidence?
I hibernated in the cave, finding a kind of unnatural suspended animation. I daydreamed, contemplating the things I missed the most, like coffee and suspense films, a woman reapplying her lipstick. I did this until the spring thaw. And a hiker came.
Sasha Janel McBrayer is an author of short speculative fiction from Savannah, Georgia. Her fantasy, science fiction and horror stories can be found at Silverthought, Title Goes Here, Infective Ink and in Future Imperfect: Best of Wily Writers, Vol.2. Visit her blog at http://storybysasha.blogspot.com/.
Gilbert spat out words like he had a mouthful of marbles. “Shay, you better not freakin’ screw this up.”
Shay looked back to the coffin-like stasis pods, which glowed green and hummed just as they had the entire trip—the first manned expedition to Mars. He knew his three crewmates were asleep, but that didn’t stop the voices.
Something had gone wrong. He was awoken three months out—way too early—a long time to be conscious and alone. Earth comm was iffy at best and mostly fouled up with solar static for the moment. If it wasn’t for the voices, he might have gone insane.
Dayson whimpered. “I don’t trust him, man. He’ll crash for sure.”
Shay shrugged. “Shut the hell up. I need to concentrate.” The crew never answered him, but it made him feel better to vent.
Fran said, “Give the guy a break. He’ll be fine.”
Shay liked Fran. He thought he might be falling in love with her. Every once in a while he sat astride her pod, gazing at her long, wavy blonde hair and those pouty lips. The clear gel made everything look fresh.
The console beeped a warning. Shay scanned the readouts. A graphic displayed his trajectory—the final approach. He sank into his seat, rubbing his palms against his legs. All he had to do was to watch.
A curved blue line grew closer to an orange one. Orbit entry was seconds away. He bit into a breakfast munchy, and reached up to brighten the display. Of a sudden, he heard a ping followed by a deafening claxon. The screen went blank.
“What was that?” said Gilbert.
Dayson screamed, “We’re doomed!”
Shay felt the blood drain from his face. The crumbly remains of the munchy floated out over the console. It was a breach. Air was escaping. He reached for his helmet, but the clamp held nothing.
“Goddamn. Damn it. Damn it.”
He unbuckled and floated out over the pods, glancing down at each as he bumped his way to the rear.
“You’ll get us all killed.”
Gilbert was so damn negative.
Hissing erupted from a far corner of the pod bay, where his helmet twittered in place. It was trying to plug the escaping air. A closer look revealed a shattered face shield. Whatever skewered the ship left him without a working helmet.
He pushed off and headed back. Each pod had a suit perched over it, complete with a custom made helmet. Breathing became a shore, and Shay thought he might be turning purple. His suit had a two-hour air supply, but it was useless without a helmet.
“Not mine, you don’t,” said Gilbert.
Dayson was next.
“Son-of-a-bitch. Are you trying to kill me?”
A perfect fit.
“Put it back, you self-centered ass!”
Shay felt a bit heady as he filled his lungs. Those two always had something to jaw about. When he drifted over Fran’s pod, her face stared up at him, placid and unperturbed. Her eyes were open. He grabbed hold of a crossbeam and looked again. Her eyes were closed. Lack of oxygen could play tricks.
The ship had turned off the air supply the moment the breach occurred—a great example of engineering by committee. Obviously someone forgot to bring up a damaged helmet in the discussion.
Shay turned off the muted alarm and the monitor flickered back on. He focused on the blue line now intersecting the orange. The impact had delayed the automated entry and the window for orbit insertion had passed. Shay fiddled with the controls. That’s when he remembered the other hole—a hole about the size of a dime gaped down at him. It went through the heart of the computer system. The blue line rotated to an alarming angle. They were headed to the surface.
“Freakin’ dumbass at the controls. We’re screwed,” said Gilbert.
Shay fired off a series of small attitude rockets, and turned the ship’s stern toward the descent. The screen went dark red. The Sun’s penumbra covered half the display. Beyond the shadow lay a curved horizon, brick red and streaked with blue meteoritic ejecta. His fingers hovered over the retro control. Deciding when and how long to fire that rocket was like being in a falling elevator and trying to jump up just before crashing
“You fool! Look what you’ve done. We’re all going to die.”
Gilbert and his frantic squeals only added fuel to the mounting chaos inside Shay’s head.
“You’ll be fine, Shay. I trust you,” said Fran.
“Thanks, Fran. Whatever happens, know that I love you.”
He surprised himself with that.
With eyes glued to the altimeter, he punched the retro controls. His body whipped back into his seat. The Martian horizon spun. The ship spiraled and at once his stomach rose up against his throat. His outstretched hand wavered over the console. A fingertip caught the chute deployment toggle just before he retched.
He felt the lurch. Wet munchy chunks stuck to his visor, obscuring his view of the console. He closed his eyes trying to ignore the stench, and held his breath.
“Now you’ve done it. Puked all over yourself. You’re a disgrace.”
He could always count on Gilbert.
The landing came too soon. Shay flew out of his seat and smashed into a wall. His last waking thought centered on the screams of tearing metal and popping rivets.
* * *
When Shay awoke, he lay on the floor. His arms and legs were still attached. A pink glow suffused the cockpit. He turned to find its source—the rocky terrain of Mars greeted him through jagged edges of torn metal. The ship was a wreck, cracked in half, but he had landed and he was alive.
“Hey. Everybody okay?”
“Gilbert, you cranky asshole. How do you like that landing, heh? What about you, Dayson? Still worried?”
He walked back into the shadows. The pods were split open. Gel had turned into bubbling foam. Gilbert and Dayson, what was left of them, were splayed across the pod bay. His eyes darted to Fran’s pod.
“I knew you could do it.”
Fran sat atop a fallen crossbeam. She wore only a tee and shorts, the same as she wore the whole trip.
She raised a finger to her lips. “I guess I’m just lucky. We’re both lucky.”
Shay felt the weight of cold air against his back. “But, but you don’t have a suit on. You’ll freeze. And how can you breathe?”
“As you can see, the air here is fine.” Fran turned to look out onto the shimmering landscape. “Isn’t it beautiful? Shay, won’t you take that awful helmet off and join me for a stroll?”
The half-light illumined her rosy cheeks which dimpled as she threw him another smile. First man and first woman on Mars, that’s what they were. Thank God she survived.
Fran paused at the opening. “Shall we?”
He thought about what he could say—something the folks back on Earth would repeat forever afterwards—but then, who would hear his words?
“I would, honey.”
What seemed like an impossible decision evaporated with those words. Shay beamed at her and unscrewed his helmet.
As a scientist, I have written and published over 100 scientific articles and several book chapters. My novel, Algorithm, won a 2010 Royal Palm Literary Award and will be published in 2014. I’ve also published a number of short stories, many of which have been named Finalists in the Royal Palm Literary Competitions. Several recently garnered Honorable Mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. Harry and Harry and P’sall Senji placed first in the 2012 and 2013 Preditors & Editors Readers Poll of best science fiction and fantasy short stories.
Publsihed in Deep Space Terror in 2010.
Paz walked down the ramp leading to the purple planet. Inhaling, she took a deep breath of air and gagged.
“Use the damned breathing tube, stupid!” The group leader barked. “Are you crazy, trying to breathe fresh air?” He looked at the crewman still at the top of the gangway and snarled, “Civilians!”
Chagrinned, Paz quickly used the tube and hoped the other 200 colonists thought she was red from choking.
After they all settled into the quarters left behind by the scouting crew. Paz gazed around at the planet someone had named Lavender. It was breathtaking, both literally as she had just discovered, and figuratively. Everything was a shade of purple.
She couldn’t wait to spy the inhabitants of this world. She’d read about them in the reports: friendly, pet-like, primitive creatures resembling large dogs, but more intelligent. They had a language of sorts and lived wild without shelter, or weapons, or even tools even though they were physically capable of making them. The original hundred men and women who had lived here for four months had fondly named them Lavis.
She studied the purple landscape and remembered the horror when she learned how the entire scouting crew died as their ship veered off course into an asteroid field. Those brave people stayed here, established the rights to colonize and harvest the planet, and died on the way home. She didn’t approve what they did for a living, choosing planets to rape and pollute, but she felt sad that they perished.
Paz was on a mission herself, a mission to end the gravy train of human domination throughout the cosmos. She, and many others like her, felt mankind had destroyed civilization after civilization in the name of colonization as they sweep through the cosmos polluting and depleting every planet they found. She was proud to be a spy for an underground organization. She was going to make sure the inhabitants of Lavender kept their culture.
The second day after the colonists landed, the Lavis came out of the deep purple forest. Paz couldn’t believe how beautiful they were; long pale lilac fur, huge soulful eyes, a doglike snout, and big bushy tails that wagged when they saw the people. The lead Lavi walked up to Paz on six legs and spoke an unintelligible language. She smiled and fumbled for her translator, then realized she didn’t need it because the creature smiled back and licked her cheek.
“Are you crazy!” the human group leader snarled and pushed Paz away. “Hello,” he said solemnly to the Lavi leader. “I am Morgan, Group Commander of Colonization Party Lav001.” Then he held out his hand.
The alien smiled and licked the commander’s hand.
That night the group leader called Paz into his office. “Look, Scientist 2876, we are here to settle and harvest any valuable minerals for the Republic. I don’t need you constantly taking foolish chances. Just do your job and stay close to the camp. I saw you trying to breathe pure air and now you interfered with our contact with the locals. Woman, if you don’t watch out, you are going to end up a casualty.”
Paz wanted to scream, I am doing my job, my real job, to stop you. But she kept her mouth shut and left.
Everyone quickly settled into routine. The Lavis seemed overjoyed to have people back on their planet and said so repeatedly, “Love humans, miss humans, happy humans are back.”
They even moved into the camp. It seemed like each person had been adopted by a Lavi. The group leader hadn’t been happy at first, but even he was won over by an adoring creature that lay by his side at night, and licked his hands.
Paz sought out what seemed to be the leader and through her communicator tried to talk to him, but he just wanted to be with her and lick her hands until the rough tongue rubbed her skin raw.
Finally, one night Paz whispered, “Take me to your home.”
The Lavi studied her with his big, liquid eyes and nodded. He led her deep into the woods and down into a network of underground caverns until they came to a huge room with a conveyer belt and a huge machine.
Paz gasped. “So you aren’t so primitive after all. I came to warn you. People are bad. They will destroy your way of life. They will make you slaves to their ways.”
The leader smiled, and chanted, “Love humans, love humans, love humans.” Other Lavis appeared from the shadows and joined in.
Paz thought she’d explode with frustration. “Don’t you understand!”
The leader smiled and nipped Paz’s hand with his tiny, sharp teeth. “Love humans.”
“Ouch,” Paz yelped as she grasped at the tiny pinpricks of blood. Before she could say another word, her legs gave out and she sank to the floor. “Why…” she started to say, but her tongue didn’t work right and her throat felt like it was closing.
The creatures lifted her onto the conveyer belt. She struggled to take in air. Face down on the conveyer she rolled along. Fighting to keep her vision in focus she stared at the marks on the belt and recognized the insignia of the marine space corps right next to her face. Cold flooded through her as she realized she was staring at a tattoo.
She was riding on the skins of people! The first party, she wondered with fading consciousness. But they had taken off, hadn’t they? She forced words out…”p-p-p-people skin?”
The chanting continued, “Love Humans, love humans, love humans.”
And she understood. These simple creatures weren’t going to be enslaved by humans. No, they were farming humans. No wonder that ship went off course, she thought with her fading strength, it had been empty!
She couldn’t breath anymore. Blackness closed in on her world and just before it all went dark, she heard the chant change. “Love humans, love humans, love humans with gravy.”
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has been writing for more than 20 years and has sold almost 200 short stories and has two published books, Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and Elements Of The Short Story, How to Write a Selling Story. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as the second president of the Garden State Horror Writers and is also a past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. When not writing, she is a director of a municipal senior citizen center. She lives with her husband, sometimes her sons and of course her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens in Southern New Jersey (home of the Jersey Devil). You can visit her at dinaleacock.com