beauty, love, masculinity, poetry, women

Autumnal colours

The chill bites

Bristling with fur

Grit in my eyes

Sometimes the damp shine

Of tears

Ghosts of old wounds

Healed and acute

This is the path

The mourning sun

Kisses me and the wind whispers

Through woods where monsters walk

And I, in my time, have been one,

Faithless and fated,

The dog draws maps with his nose,

And yet there is a peace found

To replace the pieces missing,

Time enough to do it all,

Time enough in nothing,

So much energy spent in avoiding the

Burden of performance

And better spent bearing it now,

Let me tell you,

How I shudder with pleasure

For the endless possibilities

And the fight to come

My book Until She Sings is out now.

Ebook:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XJRDND8If

Paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1692105566/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_4akEDb3FTWNKR

My Mailing List for announcements and news with a free short story as a thank you.

https://tinyletter.com/mbblissett

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beauty, love, masculinity, poetry, women

Autumnal colours

The chill bites

Bristling with fur

Grit in my eyes

Sometimes the damp shine

Of tears

Ghosts of old wounds

Healed and acute

This is the path

The mourning sun

Kisses me and the wind whispers

Through woods where monsters walk

And I, in my time, have been one,

Faithless and fated,

The dog draws maps with his nose,

And yet there is a peace found

To replace the pieces missing,

Time enough to do it all,

Time enough in nothing,

So much energy spent in avoiding the

Burden of performance

And better spent bearing it now,

Let me tell you,

How I shudder with pleasure

For the endless possibilities

And the fight to come

 

 

My book Until She Sings is out now.

Ebook:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XJRDND8If

Paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1692105566/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_4akEDb3FTWNKR

My Mailing List for announcements and news with a free short story as a thank you.

https://tinyletter.com/mbblissett

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books, nature, short fiction, women

Elena, In The Woods

When Mrs Parris walked into my office with her nose upturned, I allowed her a measure of disdain to hide behind. The local police and FBI had failed to find her daughter, so here she was with an envelope of unmarked bills.

She decided to stand, rather than sit down. The money leavened the insults for me.

Elena had been twenty-one years old, graceful in every way with a halo of blonde hair and alabaster skin. Her intensity had been apparent from every photo circulated about her, reflected in her politics, which was how she had ended up in Portland. A perfect rebellion against her patrician, old money family with a good helping of political disgrace dumped on top.

Six months gone. I had friends who had worked the case, dedicated and professional people who all shared a collective disbelief that she had disappeared so thoroughly.

No ransom notes.

No social media clues or posts.

No body.

Before Mrs Parris arrived, I had gone through the case and came much to the same conclusion. What would not hurt was my willingness to go over old ground.

The last possible sighting of her had been with a fledgling ecological pressure group that had been interrogated into dissolution. A single photo of her sat by a fire, singing and smiling, integrated into the group but apart from it. Some of the cash in the envelope had already been spent on camping gear and a local guide which was where I would be spending my weekend.

Deke met me at the last decent diner, and we went over the route over Greek omelettes and gallons of thick, black coffee. He accepted his cash fee with grace and tucked it away without comment.

He finished his coffee and sucked on his moustache.

‘Lot of ground to cover.’ he said.

I nodded and hid my concern that his version of what a lot of ground meant differed radically from mine.

I flexed my toes inside my gore-tex socks and hiking boots, uncomfortable with the urge to see if I could find anything to justify my fee. I finished my food, conscious that we would be subsisting on trail mix and jerky before too long.

‘So, we’re just going to wander around looking?’ Deke said.

I sat back and raised my hands in a despairing gesture.

‘That’s what I’m paying you for, Deke, charming as you are.’

Deke clapped his leathery palms together.

‘It’s your dime, ma’am.’ he said.

It was and I was keen to get started.

2.

I left my car at the diner, took Deke’s truck to the edge of the woods and started from there. We each had framed backpacks and Deke had brought a hunting rifle which was slung from his right shoulder. I had my 9mm pistol in a holster on my right hip with two clips of ammunition. It might have been a lot of precaution to take, but if you’d ever been shot, then you would learn the appeal of a good sidearm if it came down to it.

We started strong, making good time but soon we were trudging through the dense undergrowth, slapping at insects a little too late. We had run out of conversation, which suited us both, preferring to take in the absolute silence of the forest as our guide.

Nature is a mirror, a vast reflection of the inner self. For Deke, it must have been like a shortcut home, but for me, each sound held an unnerving quality, distorted by the silence and the scale of the place. People wandered out here and were absorbed into it.

I wondered if the same had happened to Elena.

Each breath I took was damp, bearing the green taste of the pine needles and the moss. My clothing teemed with moisture, but I stayed dry beneath them which was a relief.

Deke found the spot where the photograph was taken, kneeling down and rubbing the blackened soil between his fingers before nodding. We found two other similar sites, but kept moving through the woods.

His taciturn lack of conversation continued as we made camp. There was only the sounds of our eating and the crackle of the fire he had built. My ears were becoming attuned to the silence of the forest but even so, sleep was a long time in coming.

We were moving before dawn. My body ached for a soft bed, but Deke’s manner made me stash my complaints away for someone who would empathise.

He stopped and pointed out some unusual arrangements of twigs, lashed together with twine and dumped through the woods.

‘People say that squatches leave them.’

I smiled and asked him if he believed that. He smirked and shrugged his shoulders.

‘If they pay me enough, I’ll believe anything they want.’

The second day proved to be as fruitless as the first, but as we made camp, Deke was a little more talkative, which meant one syllable responses rather than silence and we had been sat there for an hour when a breeze arose and stoked the small fire into a state of rude health. Deke furrowed his forehead and I crossed my legs at the ankles, pretending that this was a normal state of affairs for me.

A second breeze followed and we both looked at one another as we heard the crack of a branch being broken underfoot. Deke got up and retrieved his rifle, checked the bolt and started to walk to the edge of our camp. He stopped and lifted his nose, took a deep breath and sighed.

‘Smells kinda odd.’ he said.

He walked into the trees. I tried to follow him but the shadows swallowed him up no more than a few feet ahead of me. I called his name, but he did not answer.

A fresh breeze arose and I tasted pollen and sap on my tongue. A crude surge of energy bubbled up within me and I spat on the ground as I looked around, willing Deke to appear before me.

Something moved in my peripheral vision and came towards me.

Not from the forest, but of it.

It loomed over me, some eight feet tall, a distorted funhouse mirror version of a human being.

Elena.

She had flowering vines falling around her distended skull. Her skin was formed from petals of peach and pink, translucent in places with the shadows of a skeleton formed from wood underneath it. Her limbs were elongated, ending in bundles of horned roots that uncurled in twitching, rapid motions.

In her empty sockets, cornflowers bloomed and when she opened her cavernous maw, I saw chips of bark inserted into gums of packed dirt.

I stood there, taking in each terrible detail that was not filtered by the shadows. There were shadows of unknown anatomies formed from earth and plant matter, pulsing beneath a skeleton made from hard wood. She moved in jagged bursts of activity, whipping her upper body back and forth as she tried to force words through vocal chords composed of vines.

‘Help me. Hurts.’

‘Elena?’ I said.

She managed a nod and gestured behind her. Deke stood there, weeping in awe with the rifle loose in his hands. He did not acknowledge me but followed the pair of us without speaking. She strode like a colossus, pushing aside branches with an inhuman strength. We walked for a while until we came to a dense crop of undergrowth and she tore it aside with a horned hand.

Her corpse, identifiable only by the matted length of white blonde hair, teeming with insects now laid there, sightless eyes staring up at me and accusing everyone for their failure to find her. I saw her expression, knotted in a perpetual mask of agony.

‘Do you know who did this to you?’ I said.

She raised and lowered her chin as petals fell from her cheeks, showing the sculptured sweep of a cheekbone formed from a knot of oak. She reached out a hand and breathed into my face. I sneezed twice before a vision began to form before me.

His handsome but insistent features. His refusal to accept her polite refusal and then growing violent with it. I knew his hands at my throat, crushing and squeezing as my breath left me. His black hair flopped in front of his eyes as he worked at me.

His face was familiar. One of the group who had been eliminated early.

‘Johnny.’ I said.

She nodded and a wrenching screech echoed as she stood upright and touched my face. It drew blood, but I did not feel it until the coppery heat trickled down my face.

She gazed into my eyes before she strode away. Deke fell to his knees, weeping with sorrow and adoration. He kept saying how beautiful she was, and I agreed with him. Perhaps she exuded something that worked with men, but I appreciated what an effect such a thing could have on someone.

Without speaking, we packed up and walked back to his truck. We were both utterly disturbed by what we had seen and we slept in the front seat before we drove back to civilisation. Deke called the tip in from a pay phone and I wrote a report that said nothing of what had happened other than that we had been able to find a body.

I stood amongst the mourners a month later, appreciating the sweet, spring afternoon and staring at the branches as they played in the breeze. Her family grieved with enough force to bring tears to my eyes and I fought the urge to tell them what I had seen.

The scent of her rose in my nostrils, a warning to keep my own counsel and I heeded it.

Another reason for my silence had been when they found Johnny Raymond’s body. He had been torn into sections, his intestines snaking down the stairs and his head rolled down the hallway in a puddle of his own blood.

The presence of thorns and petals confused the investigating officers, but they figured on an open window.

I took the bonus, paid Deke extra from it and kept my silence. I thought about her, wandering there, amongst nature and free to roam the thousands of miles that remained untouched by man.

I wished her well wherever she was.

Whatever she was.

 

 

My book Until She Sings is out now.

Ebook:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XJRDND8If

Paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1692105566/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_4akEDb3FTWNKR

My Mailing List for announcements and news with a free short story as a thank you.

https://tinyletter.com/mbblissett

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short fiction, women

After The Crash

lightening_storm_by_kicsterash-d4765ji

CRASH

 

(https://kicsterash.deviantart.com/art/Lightening-Storm-253909134)

 

Whoever had put this gig together had money, Kelly thought. The others were drinking champagne on the private jet, when they were used to rougher exits, with a suitcase full of missile guidance chips and a buyer waiting for them when they landed. First class tickets and new identities waiting to take them to a non-extradition country.

 

Kelly watched the other guys empty the well stocked bar, as high on adrenaline and success as they were on champagne, bourbon and vodka. She didn’t touch alcohol, too many memories of what it did to her mother. She was rotting from the inside out in an apartment full of sick, malnourished cats and Kelly’s childhood kept her sober.The other guys ribbed her for it, but she shrugged it off in favour of the cautious little voice at the back of her mind. Connor stared at her with a bleak fascination before she turned away and looked back out of the window.

 

Black clouds were gathering in a mob ahead of her, flashes of lightning where they jostled and bumped into one another, restless and starving for release. Flight made Kelly nervous and the storm shot steroids into her anxieties. She felt a large hand land on her shoulder.

 

‘What’s up with you?’ Tony said.

 

Tony Rocky Horror. 300lbs of attitude, half black, half Samoan like The Rock but without his charm and consideration for other people’s property. He was the guy who brought Kelly in on this job, especially when he knew there would be a security system to consider alongside the people on the site, which had been Tony’s job along with Connor and Van Sciver, to keep them under control. Mo was the driver who had picked them up and outrran the police, and he had fallen asleep in his seat, calm as a Hindu cow.

 

‘The storm looks like it means business.’ she said.

 

Tony peered past her and grinned as he shook his head.

 

‘I’ll go check with the pilot. If he’s not worried, we don’t need to be.’ he said.

 

Kelly had watched him kill people without a change in expression, but with those he considered his peers, like her, he was affable and gentle. It was that or admit how she was frightened of him, even now.

 

She thanked him and watched him walk to the cockpit door and knock with a hand the size of a bowling ball. He had to stoop onboard but he accepted the trials of being big in a small world. The door opened and he exchanged a few words with the pilot before he closed the door and smiled.

 

‘OK, so guys, it’s going to get a little rough in here but -‘

 

The explosion made the plane lurch to the side as Tony flew and cracked his head on the back of a seat. Kelly was strapped in as she turned and shouted to the others. Through the window on the other side, she saw the glow of flames and a snake of black smoke spewing into the night sky.

 

Oxygen masks came down. Kelly put it on, taking deep, panic breaths. Connor and Van Sciver, were clinging onto their seats, shouting as they tried to buckle in. The lights went out and Kelly breathed in oxygen, sat in the dark as the plane shook like a toy in a dog’s mouth.

 

She squeezed her eyes shut and thought of her mother.

 

2.

 

She came around to find she was still strapped into her seat.

 

The seat, however, was not part of the plane. It had been wedged between two thick branches of a tree, some ten feet above the ground. Kelly’s feet were blazing with cold, and she raised her feet to see her boots had fallen off.  Kelly tried to move, and was rewarded with a sick bolus of pain across her chest. The air was bitter and she unbuckled her seatbelt, looking at the thick drifts of snow underneath and deciding everything on the simple question she lived by:

 

Move or die.

 

She fell into the snowdrift, tucking her knees into her chest and falling onto her side into the drift with a soft thump. The pain in her chest flared up and made her cry out but the pain was a motivation to get up.

 

The air was thick with the smell of fuel and burning metal, and Kelly followed the source of the smell. She had thick socks on, but each step drenched her socks and she knew hypothermia would finish off what the plane crash did not.

 

Her dad had taught her few things before he died, one of them was the three basics of survival and to get them in the right order.

 

Shelter, water, food.

 

She added footwear to her list, as the cold stabbed into the soles of her feet with each step. Kelly wept and kept moving.

 

The mid-section of the plane had taken out a few trees in its descent, like a giant metal femur torn from the sky and thrown to the ground. Kelly wondered if she was losing her mind when a shot rang out, blasting into the trunk of a tree to her left. She fell forwards, putting her hands over her head.

 

‘It’s me, you stupid fuck.’ she said.

 

Van Sciver staggered forwards, the pistol turned to one side as he clutched at his forehead. Kelly saw the blood dripping between his fingers and the dazed expression in his eyes as he looked around.

 

‘Van, it’s Kelly. Stop fucking shooting at me.’ she said.

 

Van Sciver lurched around and staggered off into the woods without acknowledging her. Kelly got up and moved closer to the main section of the plane.

 

Tony had been broken apart by the impact, one half joined to the other by the pink spaghetti of his intestines. She put her hand over her mouth as she looked into his sightless eyes. He died with his boots on, so she took them, tucking her jeans inside and lacing them up as much as her cold hands allowed. They kept slipping off and she saw Mo, still strapped into his seat and sagging forwards, and muttered a prayer for his small frame. She found the guns in a duffel bag, tucked under Mo’s seat and unzipped them.

 

She picked out the shotgun, found two boxes of shells and emptied them into her pockets. She glanced at Mo’s feet and an idea came to her.

 

Like Goldilocks, his boots fitted just right and she even stole his socks, putting them on and taking her own off.

 

She did a mental inventory:

 

Tony and Mo were dead. Van Sciver had wandered off, armed and disorientated which left Connor.

 

Connor did not speak to her, he stared at her and practiced smiling in her direction. He had dispensed violence with impunity, recommended by Van Sciver and Tony as someone who would handle the nasty stuff. She decided not to follow Van Sciver, and turned around, wondered where the rest of the plane was.

 

She wondered where she was.

 

Tony knew the flight plan but hadn’t shared it with anyone. Kelly looked at Mo and Tony, envied them for a quick death and got moving in the opposite direction.

 

The snow made each step a punishment, having to lift her leg to take a step put undue stress on her hips and thighs but she needed to keep moving. The weight of the shotgun gained as she went on, but she felt comfortable knowing she was armed out here.

 

Wherever she was.

 

Time staggered past her, drunk on tragedy as she trudged through the snow, swearing to herself and guided by a will to live which kept her moving forwards.

 

The shot, when it came, made her cry out and fall backwards.

 

‘Connor?’ she said.

 

A drum roll of shots rang out, studding the trees with bullets and Kelly realised Connor had picked out the MP-5, a military grade submachine gun which he cradled like a lover.

 

‘Connor, stop fucking shooting, it’s Kelly.’ she said.

 

She heard the muted thump of footsteps as she got to her feet and put the butt of the shotgun to her shoulder and racked the slide.

 

‘There’s no mileage in this, we need to work together.’ she said.

 

‘I’ve been watching you, Kelly. You were so warm to everyone but me.’ he said.

 

His voice carried, precise and clean like a sniper’s bullet across the forest.

 

‘You fucking idiot, we’re going to die out here.’ she said.

 

Kelly started to speak when a howl ripped through the night air. It was a vibrating, lustful call of hunger and longing.

 

‘Yes we are, Kelly, but I have unfinished business with you before that happens.’ Connor said.

 

She told herself it was concussion, or post traumatic stress but her father had told her a story about a frog and a scorpion. Some men acted on their impulses to the point it would destroy them.

 

The howl sliced through the night again, closer and louder this time. Kelly ducked behind a tree, gritting her teeth at the sharp pain in her chest and kept the shotgun to arms. There was no sense in shouting to him now and the cold was slowing them both down. It was when you stopped feeling the cold that you needed to worry.

 

Connor fired again, a series of controlled bursts but Kelly thought they were being fired in a different direction. She peered around the tree, straining her eyes to see the faint outline of Connor.

 

She darted to her left, moving to keep alive as she heard Connor laughing with a deranged glee, shouting expletives as he fired around him.

 

Kelly heard the thick, muted rumbling of something big moving close by. She looked up, saw flurries of snow fall from the higher branches. She stopped as a thick, terrifying roar shook the air with its mass and emotion. An expression of inexorable hunger, unrestrained and stripped of nuance.

 

Connor bellowed and fired a sustained burst from his gun before his shouts turned to screams.

 

Wet, tearing sounds and the snap of bones being broken, driven by a bass line of pneumatic, loud snuffling. Connor’s screams faded to heaves and then silence. The feeding sounds continued as Kelly caught the metallic scent of fresh blood.

 

There were more shots. Kelly could hear how they were spaced out, considered as though whoever was firing was calculating range and distance. The rumbling of motion travelled to her and she kept moving, slow and struggling to stay warm as she saw where Connor’s open midsection steamed in the cold, night air.

 

The scent of blood was in every breath she took but the cold leached her senses with each step in the opposite direction.

 

Kelly staggered into the night, hoping to find a place to make shelter.

 

Some time passed. She was disorientated, frightened and reduced to a twitching nerve, electric with the desire to live. Her vision blurred and her limbs resisted her will when she was not focused on movement.

 

A scream from behind her made her turn and look over her shoulder. She could not imagine what took down Connor and Van Sciver, but then most of her experiences with nature had been via television and trips to the zoo. She looked ahead and saw a warm light, spilling between the trees so she headed towards it.

 

She fell forwards, the shotgun slipped from her grasp as she landed on her face. Something in her chest shifted as she rolled onto her back, saw the small log cabin and wept with relief.

 

The hot blast of breath on her neck made her cry out as she looked up.

 

Its eyes were as large as saucers, pupils dilated as its square blunt maw dripped with fresh blood. Kelly screamed as it stamped a massive paw on her chest and it stared at her with curiosity before it padded past her into the open door of the cabin.

 

Kelly thought it had to be two hundred pounds at least, she had dated a guy who bred pitbulls, and he had shown her photos of the world record holder, which was 179 pounds of muscle and fury but whatever this was, made it look like a teacup dog. She rolled over and tried to get up, but the pain in her chest grew strong enough to make it difficult.

 

There was a shape in the doorway and a man strode out, swathed in a large furred parka as he came over and stared at her.

 

‘Where you hurt?’ he said.

 

His voice was deep and rough but as she looked at him, Kelly saw a kindness there.

 

‘Some big fucking dog wandered into your house. I think it killed -‘ she said.

 

As he bent down to help her, Kelly saw black flowers of unconsciousness bloom in her vision until they blotted out everything.

 

3.

 

Kelly awoke under blankets and when she breathed, there was a comforting tension which eased the pain. She looked down and saw fitted bandages across her midsection. Sitting up, she saw him stood in the doorway with a mug of hot coffee.

 

‘Glad you’re awake.’ he said.

 

Kelly had on a thick sweater and jogging pants, with grey woollen socks on her feet. She had been passed out and he had dressed her. She fought the rising concern as he stepped into the room.

 

‘What did you do to me?’ she said.

 

He shook his head.

 

‘Got those wet clothes off you, bandaged you up. Figured sleep would do the rest.’

 

Kelly sat up and took a deep breath.

 

‘Where’s the dog?’ she said.

 

He chuckled and shook his head.

 

‘Ain’t no dog, ma’am.’

 

Kelly tried to stand up but a wave of fatigue overwhelmed her and pushed her back onto the bed.

 

‘What do you mean?’ she said.

 

He stayed in the doorway, watching her over the rim of his mug. His beard was dark and full and his head been buzzed down to shadow on his scalp.

 

‘It’s why I live out here alone. I got something which makes me dangerous to some people.’ he said.

 

‘You were the fucking thing I saw, you killed two of the guys I was with.’ she said.

 

His expression remained fixed as he stared at her.

 

‘They weren’t friends of yours. I could smell it on them. I always do.’ he said.

 

He asked what had happened and Kelly started to spit out her cover story but he frowned and shook his head.

 

‘Don’t lie to me. You all had some serious hardware on your person.’ he said.

 

Kelly flinched and recoiled from his gaze.

 

‘Doesn’t mean you had to kill them.’ she said.

 

He smiled, showing white, even teeth as he leaned against the doorway.

 

‘They shot first.’ he said.

 

‘Then why didn’t you kill me?’ she said.

 

He shrugged his shoulders.

 

‘I can smell things about a person. If they’re sick, or eating the wrong foods but I can smell intention on a person.’ he said.

 

‘How did I smell?’

 

He stared at her without smiling.

 

‘Good. You do bad things for money, but you don’t like it.’ he said.

 

She nodded and looked away as her exhaustion ebbed into a kind of relief.

 

‘I don’t even know where we are.’ she said.

 

‘You’re safe. Later on, I can drive you to the nearest town. Do you have money?’ he said.

 

She wanted to tell him there was a hefty chunk of 8 million dollars waiting for her, but she decided against it.

 

‘So what happens to you when you change?’ she said.

 

He came into the room and sat on the edge of the bed.

 

‘It’s like breathing after holding it in for a long time. I know I’m dangerous, so I live out here, mind my own and go out into the woods as the need comes. Hunting season makes it tough, but otherwise I come and go as I please.’

 

‘You turn into a big fucking wolf and eat people.’ she said.

 

He chuckled and shook his head again.

 

‘You had a shotgun on your person and those guys shot first. I could smell the badness on them, and shit one of them was shooting at you too, wasn’t he?’

 

She sighed and looked away.

 

‘I know. Look, I’d appreciate a ride to town later, and we can pretend this never happened, ok?’ she said.

 

He scratched his beard and looked at her.

 

‘Where will you go?’ he said.

 

She did not know. The guidance chips were in the wreckage, and her turning up on her own would raise questions she needed to avoid.

 

‘Away. There’s plenty of places a girl like me can disappear to.’ she said.

 

He stood up and pointed to his mug.

 

‘There’s a fresh pot and I’ve got soup simmering if you’re hungry?’ he said.

 

Kelly had not thought about food for hours but the question fired her stomach into a rich, bubbling call for food.

 

‘What sort of soup?’ she said.

 

He chuckled and rolled his eyes.

 

‘Venison.’ he said.

 

4.

 

He helped her from the bed, handling her with the firm care a vet would handle a foal as he helped her to the small table and sat her down. He poured coffee, added liberal doses of cream and sugar, then ladled the soup into two bowls and took out a fresh loaf of bread from the oven along with a solid block of butter.

 

They ate in companionable silence before she sat back, groaning with pleasure at the meal.

 

‘Glad you enjoyed it.’ he said.

 

She studied him, surprised at how comfortable she felt, sat here with a man who had torn two people apart, a man who was more than he seemed.

 

‘I did, thank you. I didn’t get your name.’ she said.

 

John. John Morton.

 

The pain was easing off and she felt relaxed as she sat there. If she went back to Los Angeles without the chips, there would be questions asked, let alone the police attention. She had never felt at home anywhere, but the idea of a place being closed off hurt more than her injuries.

 

She had been around dangerous men all her life, but here with John, it felt different.

 

‘Kelly Harrison.’ she said.

 

He smiled at her, told her to eat as he sat back in his chair and picked up his mug of coffee.

 

‘John?’ she said.

 

He put his mug down and smiled at her.

 

‘Can I think about that ride? I’m still in quite a bit of pain, and I need to figure out what to do next.’ she said.

 

He grinned and rolled his eyes.

 

‘Sure, I’ve got a sleeping bag I can use. Take the bed for another night or two, and we’ll see how it goes, shall we?’ he said.

 

Kelly’s eyes welled up with tears. A monster’s kindness was disarming, and despite what he turned into outside, here in a companionable silence, he was just a man again. She smiled at him and nodded.

 

‘Yeah, a night or two would be lovely.’ she said.

 

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fiction, nature, short fiction, women

REACT

If you’d like to put on the headset, the presentation will begin.

The tingling sensation is natural as we’re using conductive gel to provide verisimilitude.

Now you are on the small island of St Martin as Hurricane Irma ripped through it. We used to hunker down, wait until it passed and then clear up afterwards. The costs in terms of lives, community cohesion and disaster relief used to measure in the billions but you’re here to see what changed.

Now, we’ve switched your perspective. The heads up display belong to Lieutenant Ndegeocello and the target reticules are how she will direct the drones and their payloads.

THAT’S THREE HUNDRED MILE A HOUR WINDS YOU’RE FLYING THROUGH.

If the simulation is too distressing, then you can adjust the filters with the vocal command ‘CUCUMBER’.

If you would like to direct the drones, then focus on the icon in the upper left-hand corner of your display.

They generate timed electrical pulses intending to shut Irma down.  On the ground, other REACT operatives are installing smart shelters and rescuing people. If you wish to switch viewpoints, then use the visual icons across the top of the headset to change.

Sargeant Hunniford is applying a carbon-polymer layer to the church here using the dispenser housed in the left forearm of her suit. That shimmering effect is the solar panels generating and providing heat and electricity to whoever is inside the church.  The polymers are resistant up to pressures equivalent to the Marianas Trench and generate enough heat and electricity to sustain the occupants for three months.

Yes, it is the same technology we’ve seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, our contribution to the New Nomadic movement as a gesture of goodwill. Each shelter dissolves into harmless organic compounds with a series of commands although a lot of rescue sites make use of them long after the disaster has passed.

I know I sound like a press release but there’s a lot to get your head around and it’s important to see the impact of such technology on disaster relief.

Corporal Garrett is directing cellular support. We drop cell phones connected to a private network to establish communication and co-ordinate rescue efforts. Most of the problems with immigration and population drift relate to documentation and allocation so when we arrive, it’s essential to gain solid intelligence and the phones are invaluable.

We made the specifications available for 3D fabrication although the legal action has been unpleasant and diverted attention from our real work.

The United Nations and European Union contribute materials and facilities. We’re funded through licensing deals with manufacturers and tech investments. If you want to see the FCC ruling, then a PDF is available in the documentation folder across the top of the display.

I grew up in New York when the super storms hit every winter and I used to wade through sewage up to my ankles when we went out to find food. You’re young enough to have avoided it.

Natural disasters killed less but cost more.

The impact on the economy led to political decisions and instability which were more dangerous and had a higher death toll than the original disaster itself.  Some ideologies took advantage of it without addressing the inherent flaws of disaster preparation and defence.

You’re too young to remember how resigned people were. Even a billionaire with his own island had to hunker down in a concrete wine cellar and wait it out.

It’s important to remember what powerlessness does to the powerful.

They donate to political campaigns, build thicker walls.

Sometimes though, they get an email from a fifteen-year-old in Austin with a video attachment which pulled at their insides. She’s fifteen years old, in her bedroom with wires snaking off a black box and she’s sat before it, a hi tech Pandora about to unleash goodness on the world.

You’ve seen what we have done. We save lives and we don’t check their passport or their bank balance.

We do, however check weather reports and budget committee meetings.

You spent 4.5 billion dollars on irrigating golf courses but cut storm preparedness by 10%.  Private sector solutions have been provincial and swollen with pork, and your approval rating makes you about as popular as wet fart in a space suit. I could appeal to your better nature here, but it takes too long.

Now this simulation shows an action we took part in.

You’re in a submarine and the synthetic diamond drill is delivering a precise payload of thermobaric explosive. In the air, it would burn but underneath it replicates the effect of a seismic disturbance.

The news footage is available through the icon on the right. I know your niece was there last summer. She volunteered, didn’t she?

Appealing to your better nature, like I said, takes too long.

The terms of the contract are generous and I have already got several FEMA directors taking non-executive positions on our board once we’ve got the nod from you.

Blackmail? No, it’s power, which is neither good nor bad.

Nature is indifferent, but we can’t afford to be.

You use the rhetoric of Hobbesian evolution, how brutal, ugly and short life is, like we’re supposed to lie down and let it all fall down around us whilst you’re safe in bunkers and secured fortresses.

We offer something different, even if we threaten ugly things in retaliation.

A storm is coming, Mister President, and you need an umbrella.

You have forty eight hours to respond.

It looks like a beautiful day outside, I hope you’ll join me.

.

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animals, fiction, nature, short fiction

Gull

Seagull_in_flight_by_Jiyang_Chen

(By Jiyang Chen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15507046)

Kelvin parked at the top of the cliffs and peered at the bleak, grey sky. He feared getting nothing from this trip beyond a soaking. He zipped up his coat, checked the camera and locked the car. He walked down to the beach with care, enjoying the smell of ozone and the gentle roar of the waves.

Most of his working day at Environmental Health consisted of dealing with people who had no awareness beyond their immediate gratification. He used to suffer from the need to explain but that got worn away the way a chalk mark on pavement does, endless repetitions until it had been scuffed away completely.

He was there due to the recent rise in reported attacks by gulls on people in the town centre and the market place, travelling to monitor the numbers of nested birds here and pad out a report that would meet the brick wall of the wildlife protection statutes and then get filed away somewhere. People fed them crap which made them thick and aggressive and never made the connection. Kelvin had grown up here, and even he had a run in with them, nothing especially aggressive but something to talk about over a pint or at a party.

The most recent one had disturbed him. He had been walking along Regent Road, behind a couple dragging their chubby toddler along on a set of canvas rainbow-striped reins. He knew it was their son by the tense hissed argument they were having and the looks they gave one another. Kelvin recognised the mutual resentment that came when young parents realised that they had not fucked themselves into, but out of a future.

The child had a cone of chips and was happily digging into it when Kelvin saw a flurry of white activity to his right and the muscular snap of wings as the gull launched at the child. It shrieked in triumph, reminding Kelvin that birds were descended from dinosaurs.

The child screamed in agony when the bird stabbed it’s beak into his soft, pale cheek. The father kicked it away and it flapped its wings at him, shrieking in a way that reminded Kelvin of cruel laughter.

Kelvin called the ambulance whilst the mother sobbed and held her hand to her son’s ruined cheek. The father stomped and ranted about something needing to be done, a pantomime performance to mask his inadequacy.

Every time Kelvin closed his eyes afterwards, his memory taunted him with fresh details. The tugging smack of the child’s flesh being pulled away and the triumphant, horrific light of joy in the gull’s eyes. The child’s teeth, visible through the wound that it left.

It had not really gone for the chips at all.

Kelvin walked until he was in range of the nests. He started to take photographs when he saw something in the fissure that sank back into the cliff face.

A pair of eyes, a length of pale, white flesh. A child’s forearm.

Bloody kids, Kelvin muttered and strode towards it. His chest and stomach were taut with irritation and unease as he put the lens cap back on the camera.

No wonder the gulls went for the children. They were too similar to share territory for long. Both of them indulged and cosseted until they were mutated by it. There were probably more protections for birds than children these days. Kelvin always wondered why it was the royal society that protected birds and the national one that dealt with children. As time went on, he realised that the answer was all too apparent.

It was his last thought before something hard thumped into the back of his head.

Blackness overwhelmed him and the damp beige sand rushed up to catch his fall.

The pain was awake before he was, coming at him from different places on his body. A mixture of textures and sensations hidden by the darkness of the cave. His head throbbed enough that even opening his eyes made him moan beneath his breath.

He tried to move and gagged at the sudden rush of agony that came from his arms and legs. His eyes adjusted to the dark and he saw the slick raw meat of his arms and legs, the skin pecked away and then torn to allow his muscles to be available, like stabbing the skin from an orange. He started to cry and a chorus of shrieks went up, loud enough to make him cry out in shock. The flinching made his wounds open and bleed again, sending a jolt of agony that made him nauseous. He saw eyes watching him, single points of wet black hatred set into white skulls that peered over curved, yellow beaks The dimensions were larger than any gull he had ever seen, and the necks were shorter and thicker. When one of them walked around, and he saw how the wings were set on the back, and that it had extended long, thick arms and fingers tapered into claws that he started to scream.

A hand shot over his mouth and scratched down his cheeks to gain purchase. A blast of fetid, warm breath caressed his scalp. Kelvin vomited. The hand remained clamped to his face and Kelvin caught some of it in his sinuses, which stung and burned.

He saw the others come forward, cawing and ready to sink their claws and beaks into him. The one that held him came forward and Kelvin stared at its razor sharp massive beak where its lips and teeth would have been on a human face. What finally broke Kelvin was not the alien, inhuman nature of such a combination of avian and human, but the intelligence that danced in its eyes and its partner, unrelenting hatred.

Kelvin had come to help them, he wanted to say. He had hoped to find a solution.

The gull stabbed its beak down, using the thick muscles in its neck to punch the blade into Kelvin temple with the force of a sledgehammer.

As the lights died in his brain, Kelvin realised that someone had come up with a solution after all.

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beauty, love, lust, short fiction, women

A Brisk Walk To Clear The Head

image (1).png

https://skitterphoto.com/photos/1149/red-sun-and-fog

Bette took off from the house at a brisk pace, headphones on and trying not to force herself to go back and see what was up with Kelly, trusting that Dave could handle things for the time it took her to get her walk in.

The woods invited her in and she came to them. Her heart pounded with excitement. She looked over her shoulder, trusting that there was enough light to guide her. She knew the way by heart, but she did not want to risk twisting an ankle or falling over.

Not that it would hurt for long.

She slipped off her headphones and switched off her phone. The air still held the bite of winter so she bit back a shiver as she undid her jacket. She knelt down, raking the leaves with her fingers to uncover the holdall, lined with clear plastic that she kept there. She undressed quickly, wishing she were not quite so pale before she zipped it up and slid it back into place.

She looked around, giddy with the thrill of being naked out here. In nature, she felt seen by everything and nothing. They had conceived Kelly on a camping trip, which Dave put down to neither of them looking at their phones and the fact that he’d been taking a zinc supplement, but Bette knew the truth of herself.

She dropped to a squat and raised her head to the purple sky and the red sun. It began as a shiver, like the onset of a delicious flu. Her sense of self went askew, then righted herself as she began to change.

She clawed at her skin. It came away, ragged and bloody, revealing the furred muscle beneath as her bones knitted themselves into new shapes. Her fingers split open, the razored claws pushing like the alleviation of a deep cramp as she arched her back.

Dislocating her jaw was the worst part. Relinquishing the woman she was had taken a small measure of courage, but she had found a deeper pleasure in these times where she could be who she truly was. The unspoken parts of her that had accommodations made.

Her jaw hung open and she pushed with the last vestiges of her conscious mind.

She let the animal within her take over.

Your lungs are furnaces. Every muscle and nerve in your body sings with the pleasure of strength and use. The woods blaze by you as you gallop, inhaling all the colours of this other world that you inhabit.

A short run from your other life.

You sense the rabbit, turning your nose to breathe deep of it’s spiced, greasy fur. You charge after it, catch it between your teeth and tear into it. The explosion of blood and fur slides down your throat and you keep going, burning it for fuel as you charge forward.

You’ve killed larger prey too. You’ve been selective about it. The guy who lived in the woods and kept exposing himself to the kids at the elementary school. He might have made some questionable life choices, but he tasted pretty good, right?

They blamed it on a bear; you read.

Here you have the throat of the world beneath your paw, and you piss on anything that gets in the way of that.

You are alive. You are the terrible beauty of the animal that knows itself and does not apologise for it. There are predators and prey. You know who you are.

Your instinct for survival is such that you return to where you changed. The skin has turned to pale greasy flakes that are tossed around by the breeze. You dig your claws into the skin between your breasts and start to pull.

Bette shuddered her way through the ritual of dressing. It returned her to herself, stopped her growling at people or wanting to smell Kelly’s head, lose herself in the heightened olfactory bond, where your offspring became your drug.

She wondered about Kelly. Dave had no idea, but her condition was known to her and she wanted to know if it had passed to her daughter before she did. Still, the time had granted her a measure of serenity again. She could deal with anything so long as she allowed herself these walks.

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