Pest Control, Part 1

Everybody thinks vampires sleep in lavish mansions, wear fine silk clothes and live the life of a frickin’ beer commercial or TV show.

Lemme tell you something, that ain’t nothing like the truth.

Vampires ain’t people. That’s the first thing you gotta know. They ain’t human, so they ain’t people at all. They’re not even animals, really. Not if you think about it. They don’t have babies, and don’t really breed at all. So, not really animals. You know?

Think of vampires more like…like germs, sorta. Parasites or viruses. They take a living body and just kinda…take over. Once they have it — the body, I mean — there’s none that person left. Only the vampire. Just like when a virus kills someone, it’s the only thing left. The virus, I mean. That’s how vampires are. They kill the someone and only the vampire’s left.

If they were zombies from a George Romero movie, no one would be confused by it. The only question would be what to do about killing ‘em. You know, head shots or some voodoo ritual or whatnot.

But TV and movies and books and shit made vampires sexy and attractive and oh-so-stylish, so most folks ain’t ready for the real thing. It’s a shock to ‘em.
That’s why I’m down here. I’m an exterminator, sort of.

This is what I do.

I’m AT THE BIJOU Today!

The gracious and lovely Absolutely*Kate from the wonderfully diverse AT THE BIJOU has honored me by featuring my fiction in her amazing little theater today!

She’s done it up right with great pictures and fancy formatting, and included the bio my loving wife wrote for me.

Please, amble over to AT THE BIJOU and give a shout-out to Absolutely*Kate and let me know what you thought of my story (if you haven’t already read it — I had to send her one I published here for my #fridayflash entry back in November of ’09).

All of my gratitude go to A*K and THE BIJOU for selecting me to take a moment in the spotlight. I’m humbled.

-JDT-

#FridayFlash: The Crisp Man

He shifted on the soft, padded seat. It was very comfortable but he still felt … uncomfortable. He didn’t know why though.

“S-see, it’s j-j-just that m-my w-wife is the w-w-one who usually–”

“We understand, Joe.”

The tall man looked like a magazine ad. One for clothes maybe; those fine, fancy clothes from one of those shops where soft violin or piano music drips from the ceiling and walls. He wore crisp, dark, neat clothes. His tie had no flawed edges, no stray wrinkles. His hair was gray around the ears and jet black on top, and every strand, every piece, sat in its place, perfect, a plastic statue, movie star hair. The rugged lines in his face drew Joe’s eyes.

Joe swallowed hard. It was just spit but it went down like he’d swallowed a tire. He almost gagged. “Y-you … You do?”

The Crisp Man nodded. “Of course we do. We know all about you, Joe.”

Joe listened whenever the Crisp Man talked. He couldn’t help it. His smooth, rich voice was hot maple syrup on a cold winter morning. Joe felt better when he heard that voice. He wanted a voice like that.

Joe shifted again. He didn’t like the idea of someone he’d never seen before knowing all about him. He didn’t care for the thought of someone who knew all about him. It felt like someone went through his underwear drawer, or found his dad’s dirty magazines under his mattress.

“B-but I d-don’t know who y-you–”

“It’s all right, Joe. Really. We understand you can’t read the agreement.”

Joe’s blood chilled. They knew him all right. Knew that much, at least. He never told anyone, but they knew. He couldn’t go anyplace where he’d have to write his name, or his address. He couldn’t visit libraries and no one ever saw him with a newspaper in his hand. It’s a small town. People talk. Everyone probably knew. Still, an icy hand gripped his heart when the Crisp Man spoke his secret shame.

Joe shuddered and stared at the paper. The jumble of letters and words seemed alien and threatening. He glanced at the Crisp Man with narrowed eyes, and tried to muster all the fight he had into his words.

“And all I have t-to d-do is m-make my m-mark on this paper? And y-you’ll g-g-give m-me m-money?”

The Crisp Man smiled again and his perfect, TV-star teeth shined at Joe. “That’s all. And take the medicine, of course.”

“Right. The m-medicine. W-what’s it f-for again?”

“It’s for many things, Joe. It will make you everything you want to be. Strong. Smart. And it will take away your stutter.”

“All that?”

“And more.”

“J-just for t-taking the m-medicine?”

“And making a mark in your own hand on the paper, yes.”

Joe looked down again. The letters seemed to shift and crawl over the paper. He stared at the gold pen gleaming on the table, reflecting from the glossy varnish, and the paper next to it. Then he focused on his own reflection in the table. His wild hair, his ragged clothes, his scruffy beard, his hollow eyes, all stared back and urged him to pick up the pen, make the mark.

“We know you don’t have a wife, Joe. You lost her years ago in the fire.”

Joe shuddered again when a chill twisted up his spine. He wiped the sweat from his palms onto his dirty overall legs and put them back on the table. How could the Crisp Man know he was about to lie again, say his wife usually does all the reading and signing for him? But he knew. Somehow, the Crisp Man knew. He could read Joe’s mind, maybe. Like some folks read books and magazines, the Crisp Man saw into Joe’s skull and picked his thoughts out. He couldn’t hide anything from the Crisp Man.

Joe licked his lips. His heart pounded. The Crisp Man reached out and nudged the pen toward him with trimmed, clean nails which glinted under the recessed lights above. The room felt hidden to Joe, dark and mysterious beyond the circles of light from above. The warm carpet and rich table didn’t make the room cozy or friendly. Joe felt very alone, very defenseless, and very watched.

“N-nothin’ bad’ll happen to me from the m-medicine you said, right?”

“That’s right, Joe. Nothing bad.”

“And this p-paper s-says y-you gotta p-pay me t-t-to t-take the m-medicine, right?”

“That’s right. More money than you’ve ever made before. Just for making your mark on the agreement and taking the medicine.”

Joe drew a deep breath and seized the pen, found the line at the bottom of the paper and made a large, clear X on it. He dropped the pen and sat back in the embrace of the soft chair and folded his arms over his chest.

“Very good, Joe. You won’t regret this. Now I’ll have someone drive you home and your first pills will arrive later. We’ll call you and let you know when you need to come back for tests. We’ll send a car when it’s time. Do you understand, Joe?”

Joe nodded. He couldn’t speak. He felt bad, like he’d done something wrong.

“Don’t worry, Joe,” the Crisp Man soothed. “We know all about you, and we’re going to take care of you.”

He watched the Crisp Man get up from his seat and vanish through a door he couldn’t see somewhere beyond the ring of lights. Joe thought, no matter what the Crisp Man said, he might’ve made a big mistake.

A big one.

~fin~

All original content © J. Dane Tyler 2010
All rights reserved

#FridayFlash: Work in the Daylight

Gotta get as much done in daylight as possible.

Most folks take to cellars at night, or underground vaults if they got ‘em. If they don’t they hole up best they can and try to wait it out. But wooden shutters ain’t much.

In the morning we come out and take stock. Did we lose livestock? We hope so, otherwise we might’ve lost people. How many? Anyone lose a door? Window? God forbid, a wall? Gotta get that fixed quick. While some of us do that others get to work, try and conduct business, like we’re normal. Still need money, food, supplies. When traders come through we might make serious money on the rocks. Other times we just do what we can.

Getting supplies is tricky. We tell ‘em to make their delivery drivers stay outside town until sun-up. We only do business during daylight. No, there’s no inn to stay at. No, there ain’t a hotel. No, the saloon don’t rent rooms. All drivers have to stay over in Creigsville for the night and get here quick as they can at first light. We do all we can during the day, then they need to get back to Creigsville by sundown.

Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, well….

Some comp’nies won’t do business with us anymore. Their drivers get spooked or don’t come back, horse teams get lost … it just ain’t worth it to ‘em. So we only work with a handful of comp’nies for supplies.

Some raw materials we can bring in. We got some woods just outside town a bit. Send a couple men out to cut down a few trees, or drag back deadfalls. During the day, of course. We mill those ourselves, no need to send that out.

We raise livestock like I said. It’s just not easy keeping all of them alive through the night.

Some farms produce. It’s just hard to farm under these conditions.

Other stuff we need. Like clothes or textiles, flour, sugar.

Winters are hard.

First thing a traveler might notice is how heavy we build things here. Barns are strong. Thicker than normal. Houses too. We need the strength, but wood ain’t the best barrier. Way back, some folks dug cellars and vaults. Lined ‘em with concrete, when you could still get it. Those are best. Folks can snug up safe and sound in concrete, and if it’s built right, they don’t even hear what happens after dark.

You can tell the ones who do hear by their eyes. Haunted. Gaunt, drawn faces. Paler than others. Yeah, those are the ones that heard. Sleep’s a demon for them. It’s not pleasant when it comes.

Evenings are spent stocking up. Making sure everything and everyone’s where it oughta be. Inside, locked down, by sundown. Everyone.

Sometimes I shudder when I remember times someone didn’t make it, or had one last thing to do. I try not to remember their faces, their screams.

I’m haunted by their screams.

Copyright J. Dane Tyler 2010, All rights reserved

#FridayFlash: The future’s not bright

The Future’s not Bright

Sometimes I wonder what it was like before.

I sit and stare, and my mind will drift. I can paint greenery over the skeletal trees, fill them in with leaves. My mind’s canvas plasters a rich jade color over the dry yellow straw in the fields. The sky’s the hardest. There are so many different pictures to choose from. Some are cerulean, others a more cadet blue. Wispy clouds drifting on gentle zephyrs cast shadows over children on their backs forming imaginary animals and shapes from their amorphous forms.

Sometimes I wonder.

For the most part though, I don’t participate in those flights of fancy. Instead I pace along the transparent wall, and watch them when they come. I know the pus-buckets can’t see through the mirrored surface outside — and I wonder how many lives it took to install — but it’s still unnerving when they put their faces so close.

Faces … ha! That’s a laugh. Those pus-riddled, worm-infested compost piles they stare out of make me sick. It’s even more disgusting when they open their mouths and show those white pustules oozing yellow slime and filled with rotted, broken brown teeth and black flesh when they bite at their reflections. Nauseating. I remember eating in here once, leaning on the glass, when one of them slammed into the window, saw its reflection, and tried to bite. I got a good look at the inside of the mouth and vomited, right on the rich, hunter green carpet.

It’s not bad here. Pretty nice, really. The building is a squat dome connected to identical domes by arched causeways. It’s concrete and steel, but spacious and airy inside. The sleeping quarters … well, they’re for sleeping. An eight by five cubby hole situated with lots of other cubicles at the western end of the hive. You have about four feet of head room. You don’t spend time there unless you’re lying down. It always surprises me when someone leaves the hatch open and reads in there, or has a bunch of pictures hung over the bunk with gum tack. The piss-poor lights buzz and flicker too much for anything but finding the bunk. If I want to read or write a letter or stare at pictures, I’ll find a sitting area or a privacy booth.

Communication with other hives is sporadic at best. Most broadcasts run on a closed loop and play the same things until the machinery transmitting it fails. As fewer and fewer people know how to take care of these things, as fewer and fewer people are educated, learn how things work … well, the future’s not a bright place.

The smoke-choked sky gets to people after a while. Fires smoldering everywhere make the sky black and orange at night, a shade of dingy gray in the day. We’re too close to the ruins of a city for clean air, so it’s either wear SCOBA or stay inside. The suits are good for about three hours of air. Nobody knows how long it keeps the rads off. But that’s long enough to clear the zone and breathe air if you want. Of course, it’s a one-way trip if you do that. Once you’re past the desolation zone, the DZ, vegetation and maybe even some wildlife begin to appear, but you’d have no air left to make it back to the compound.

And who knows how many pus-buckets have found their way beyond the DZ.

Pus-buckets aren’t fast enough to catch animals. They might get an occasional rat or something, but that’s not their primary food source. We think — and it’s only a theory — they stick close to compounds like ours or to urban areas, where survivors might hide. They don’t have enough brains left to make traps or plan ambushes. Still, sheer numbers play in their favor. And they eat frickin’ anything — garbage, mostly, but stragglers too.

Nobody knew when the satellites started firing lasers the consequences would be so catastrophic. Anyone near a target could kiss it goodbye. The radiation cooked surface brain parts and left anyone not disintegrated a twitching blob of flesh.

Until the biologicals launched.

Microbes from the biologicals mutated. Laser radiation did something. Before anyone knew it we had a mess. A walking mess, made of those blobs of flesh reanimated and infecting people as they attacked.

That’s what Stella says anyway. She says her mom was there. I think it was more like her grandmother, but what do I know?

Water’s precious, and not easy to come by. We have a pump system connected to a big reservoir not far from here. It’s covered and underground so there’s no danger of contaminants, but the supply has to last … well, forever, I guess. We could filter water from a lake or something but it’d have to be a damned big one. Oh, and people would have to know how to connect our pump system to that lake, and how to operate and maintain the system. Good luck with that.

Not to mention going outside, in the DZ, to do the work. Amid the hiding, starving pus-buckets.

But last I heard water’s low. Real low. That reservoir’s been our only supply for … well, ever. Since Stella’s mom and that original crew managed to finish construction and come inside, seal the pus-buckets out. I guess they started the compound when they saw it coming, before the lasers went off. They didn’t know the compound would be in a hot bed for pus-buckets later. I guess they thought they were far enough from the city. Damned lasers, stronger than anyone guessed. Even the guys who built them.

Anyway, someone has to figure out how to get more water soon. We figure we have a year — maybe less — left.

No, the future’s not a bright place. Not a bright place at all.

-end-

 

All original content copyright 2010 J. Dane Tyler
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED