Thursday, January 23, 2014

I've moved!!

To find my new blog, please go to http://ljglover.com



http://ljglover.com

Flash Fiction Challenge 2: Jacksaw

So it's time for another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig! Instead of fitting a story to a random title, there were random elements given to write a story around this time. PLUS I got 2000 words to play with instead of 1000. I must warn you: this one is a little gory, a little gritty. Don't yell at me for that! I can't write happy stories all the time, it's just...I don't know...((BORING as FUCK)).

I had to include: a dirty cop, a celebrity, a nuclear wasteland, and stranded/left to die conflict.

JACKSAW 

As it happens, the nightmare is real. I wake up in some shithole skeleton of a building and a dozen kinds of pain. I’d been dragged from my bed, burlap sacked, drugged, transported to God knows where, and tortured. But wasn’t there a girl, too? Oh yes, there she is. She’s so dirty now she’s damn near the same color as the concrete she’s propped against. She’s my only clue, this girl who almost assuredly doesn’t deserve what she got. This is all about me.

It’s hotter than Satan’s balls in this shed, or whatever we’re in. If it was ever livable, it’s been years since, maybe decades. The windows and doors have been blown out and there’s rotten wood and other unidentifiable crap all over the dirt floor. I can’t hear anything, not even a breeze or a drip.

If I can just figure out what we have in common, I can get us out of here. Not that it has to be an us. I’m happy to just leave the bitch for dead, but she might be my ticket out of here. That’s how Sage operates: there’s always a trick. There’s always a way out if you’re smart enough.

Her left eye is purple and puffy, swollen shut. Her thousand-dollar blond weave has been torn halfway out and matted back onto her head with blood. She’s waking up, and when I see her unbashed-in side I recognize her—America’s Sweetheart—but that won’t help me. She’s looking at me with such contempt and derision, you’d think I was the one who tried to murder her. She’s scrappy, though, for a starlet—held her own against the Sage’s guy. Unbelievable as it is, I actually respect her a little. I smile at her scowl, not meaning the offense I know she takes.

“What’s so funny?” she sneers from across the room. Her hands, like mine, are tied behind her back. I’m working on the flimsy twine with a fingernail and a rock I found while she was still passed out. If the Sage wanted us to die here, he sure as shit wouldn’t have used twine.

“Nothing’s funny, sweetheart,” I say, “but you can wipe the murder-look off your face. They hurt me as bad as they hurt you, and now we’re in this together.” It’s true. I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least three fractured ribs and, well, there’s the torture burns. Those are his favorites; Sage did them himself.

“You’re one of his guys! He told me so himself,” she spits, but her voice trails off. I can tell she’s the talk-first, think-second type.

“No, I was one of his guys. Not anymore. Why do you think he beat the shit outta me, too? Guess you don’t have to be smart to be a movie star,” I say, knowing I’m pissing her off. I can’t really help it; that kinda shit just comes out my mouth sometimes. Anyway, the twine is almost completely scratched to shreds behind my back.

“So you do know who I am,” she shrieks. God, her voice is just the worst. It’s the kind that crawls in your head and sends chills down your spine like pieces of Styrofoam rubbing together.

“Never said I didn’t,” I snap, and the twine snaps, too. I show the lady my wrists and flash her another grin.

She’s pissed. Rightfully so, I suppose. She tries to wriggle out her own wrists, but ends up screaming in pain instead.

“I suppose I’ll have to help you,” I tell her, and stand up slowly, pushing against the wall with my back for support. Dried blood flakes off my hands and gets crushed into the pocked cement, but helps my grip. “I suppose I’ll have to drag your happy ass all the way out of here.”

“Believe me, my ass is not happy,” she grumbles, but I barely hear it over my own screaming fucking pain as I try to get across the shed.

It seems at least three of my left toes are crushed. Funny how your brain will prioritize pain at a time like this. After the burns, the crowbar, and the steel-toed boots did their thing, crushed toes came out at the bottom of the pain list. Who knew? “Here,” I say when I finally get to her, “roll over and I’ll untie you.”

“I’m not tied up in string, buddy-boy,” she says, and rolls over to show me. She’s right. Her hands are in a zip-tie.

“Well, fuck,” I say, “I guess you’ll just have to walk all tied up. Can you walk?”

“I think so,” she grunts, “Help me up?”

“Help me up please,” I say. It’s hard to stop playing the bad cop, no matter how long I’ve been out of the game. Even when I was straight, I was always the bad cop. I’m intimidating even at parties and barbecues. Something about my face, I guess.

Anyway, she looks at me like I can’t be serious, but I am. She needs to know I’m in charge, even if she is a temporary ally. She sighs and says, “please?”

“Okay, kid,” I say and pull her up, even though she can’t be more than ten years younger than me. She’s not a tween star or anything like that, just a flash-in-the-pan starlet soon to be forgotten. Unless she has some sort of bizarre death, I guess.

Her left leg is weak and it takes a minute for her to find her feet, but besides the smashed part of her face she doesn’t look all that bad. “Alright,” I say, “now that we know we’re both in walking shape, let’s get the fuck out of here.” I lean fully on the wall and push myself to the doorway to scan for clues.

“Where are we, anyway?” she asks. “Somewhere in the desert?”

Obviously.

“In my professional opinion, we’re at the site of the Jalisco Bombing,” I answer.

“In Mexico?” she shrieks, and her voice is so irritating I want to rip out her vocal cords.

I wince and say, “yeah. In Mexico. Site of the failed fusion reactor. Nine hundred deaths. Hotbed for radioactivity. So we gotta go before you start growing tentacles or something, buttercup.”

“How?” she whines and I really am starting to wish I could knock her back to unconsciousness. It’s mostly because she is absolutely the last person I’d want to be stuck with when Sage finally came for me, but that shrill voice isn’t doing her any favors. I knew he would come one of these days, but I was hoping he’d do me the solid of letting me go it alone. After how I left? Stupid, wishful thinking. It’s always harder when you have baggage, let alone high-profile, deadweight baggage with a voice like a dying cat. I swear, they fix her voice for the movies.

“Well since there isn’t a limo outside, we’re going to have to walk, but keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.  This is all a very elaborate, very bloody game, but he leaves clues. If we make it out of here, we win. If not, he wins, and he almost always wins.”

“A game?!? This is a fucking game?” she asks, but I only nod. I don’t have time to explain it to her. Like I said: elaborate.

I’m looking around the cement shed for some type of sign, but then I remember I’m talking to the first one. 

“Say, did you ever get in trouble with the law, possibly financially? Tax evasion, embezzlement, you know, that sort of thing?”

Her good eye narrows at me and she says, “noooo. Why?”

“Because. When there’s someone innocent there’s always a connection to the person he’s trying to punish. I’m assuming you are innocent, and I was a corporate financial investigator for a while before I worked for Sage,” I say.

“Of course I’m innocent! Whoever did this is gonna—“

“What? Pay? Be sorry? No, he won’t. If we do make it out alive, you’ll never say a word, princess. He’ll guarantee that,” I chuckle, and stumble out of the shed into a filthy fucking wasteland.

“I’m not a princess,” she grumbles, and I can’t really refute it, given the way she fought back before they knocked her out. She follows me outside and helps me look on the walls. In the light I can see how green she is, which is no surprise. She gags and says, “did you ever—“

“Wait,” I say. I hear something. It’s a buzzing sound, low and constant. Something that would need electricity. “Come on,” I say and gesture with my head toward the noise. Within hearing distance there’s nothing but a bunch of decrepit, unusable furniture and three more blown-out sheds, which I guess are actually houses people died in; one is in the wrong direction so I only have two places to check. The rest of it’s a craphole desert where everything left is dead and angled away from the blast site. Yep, Jalisco.

We limp toward the next house, and it takes forever to even move ten feet. I tell you I’ve never hurt so bad in my life, the devil’s breath against strips of raw burns on my left side, evenly spaced rectangles of open, festering woundflesh caked with dirt. She’s not doing better. The wound on her head looks to be swelling, and either that or dehydration is making her sway back and forth stupidly as she walks.

I roll my eyes and go back to help her stand upright even though it kills my ribs. “What were you going to ask me?”

“Did…did you ever do any homicide investigations?” she says, just louder than a whisper, and then starts to nod off.

As a matter of fact, I did, and I shake her back awake to look in her eyes. “Yes. Why? Can you hear me? Were you involved in a case?” She nods, wincing in pain, but doesn’t say anything because she’s gagging again. I flip her over just in time for her to retch away from my face.

“My…my dad,” she manages to get out after the first round of dry heaves.

I pull her back close and start dragging her toward the buzzing sound. “Keep going,” I say.

“My brother,” she says, trying to make her feet useful—and failing.

“Well which was it? Your dad or your brother?” She starts heaving again, but I know nothing’s coming so I keep dragging her along.

“Both,” she says. “My brother killed my dad before I was born.” I think back over my career, straight and criminal phases, and I can’t remember working a case like that. Meanwhile, the first house is empty. I’m dragging her to the next one when she mumbles something like, “jacksaw.”

Now I remember. I was only in high school when it happened, but I remember the case because my partner wanted to reopen it when I was a rookie. Some nutjob kid had tied up his dad in a garage and tortured the guy until he died, then fled into obscurity. He was never found, but he carved jacksaw into a chunk of the guy’s beer gut and left it like a front doormat for the police. The buzzing’s getting louder, and I think I know what it is.

By the time we get to the last little house, the girl is unconscious again, and I drop her into the dirt outside the doorway. In the center of the one-roomer is a table with an array of knives and saws, including a hacksaw. Carved into one corner of the table are the words “you know what to do.”

I do. I walk over to the girl and pull up her shirt. In that purple surgeon’s ink there’s a dotted line in the shape of an oval, and inside it are dotted letters that spell out JACKSAW.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Blackbirds, By Chuck Wendig

I've noticed this thing gets more hits the more I post, so I'm adding book reviews! I want hits. Lots of hits. I want this thing to be a bloody, knotty, busted-up mess. You know, figuratively.

So for fun, I'm going to start with Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, which I finished a few months ago and helped inspired my second novel manuscript. So, spoiler: I like the book. I actually LOVE the book and tried to force it on all my friends who, like me, don't take kindly to that forcing thing. I own the other two books in the series, and am about to start on #2, Mockingbird.


Blackbirds is the story of Miriam Black, a cussing, drinking, homeless superbitch on the run from life in general. Why? Miriam happens to be cursed with the unique ability to foresee the death (when, where, how) of anybody she touches. Think about it. That would totally fuck you up, too.


The story doesn't get very far before Miriam hitches a ride with Louis, a big ol' teddy bear of a truck driver with secrets of his own. He's a genuinely good guy, though, and when she touches him she is shocked to realize that she will be present at his death in the very near future. Despite her litany of flaws, Miriam is actually a moral person and wants only to get away from him for good, to have no part in his death. So she runs. She's given up trying to save them; it doesn't work.


The vision--and they're always right--haunts her. It haunts her in the form of Louis reentering her life, along with a number of other unsavory but well-written characters, as she tries only to escape the truth of her existence. Miriam chain-smokes, drinks, fights, and runs through this gory but gripping adventure tale set in the Eastern United States.


Wendig is criticized by some readers for creating a female character who, put simply, is too masculine. Miriam says things like "suck my dick" and "fuck you" at seemingly inappropriate times, spits, smokes, drinks, and doesn't care about being pretty. I reject this notion probably because I'm so, so sick of Sookie Stackhouses and Bella Fucking Swans every time I open a book. I'm sick of speshul snowflake Mary Sue/Marty Stus (Robert Langdon) with only faux-flaws (or real flaws that are not intended by the author to be seen that way but smart readers still find them HA). God, I hate that. But I digress. I cannot be the only (FEMINIST) woman on earth who says "suck my dick," because in a way, that's what feminism is all about.


The other major criticism for this book is that it's too gory, which is legit. If you don't like gore or can't handle it, that's cool and I get it. You should NOT read this book if that's you. But if I catch you watching Breaking Bad or some Quentin Tarantino joint after you say it I will slap your lying face. (In fact, I want this book to be a movie and I want Tarantino to direct it, which is an impossible pipe dream if you know about QT's methods).


Also don't read it if you don't like books; not everybody does, and that's okay. The great Kanye West once said, "sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy...I would never want a book's autograph. I'm a proud non-reader of books." Right on, Kanye.


Conclusion: This book has good writing, and you will read it faster than you read most books. It's fast paced, supernatural but not overly so, and has a solid plot. Oh, and it's character-driven. Well-written characters. It's full of gore, cursing, and some sex (but not like sexy sex). My favorite element, though, was Wendig's knack for filthy, apt description ("piss-yellow light," "Each [step] a troubled birth, an expelled kidney stone, a black widow's bite," etc.).


My esteemed boyfriend has a term he likes to use: "You know what they say about death metal and _________. It's not for everybody." I'd fill in that blank with Blackbirds, but as in death metal, those whom it is for? They fall pretty hard in love.


Next book review will be Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole...some time next week. Damn, I wish I had a spiffy pen name like that.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Midnight Earth, Chapter 1

Post Two! I officially have a multi-post blog. Weird. Anyway, I'm working on the next flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig, but I'm also working seriously hard on that novel-baby of mine. I thought I'd share the first chapter, which is still under construction, but totally in beta phase! I've decided to name my chapters, but this first one is just named the date and place it occurs on, for now. I always think of titles last. Hence the confusing blog title. Enjoy!


1. Morrison, Colorado: Saturday, May 17

      It was an ordinary night, nothing more sinister in the air than a cool breeze. A spindly man in his late fifties ambled down a red dirt path just outside of town, cigarette in hand. He had a slight limp in his gait, somewhat balanced by the heavy binoculars slung over his right shoulder on a thin leather strap. He was two hours into his nightly walk when the sun approached the horizon, and he knew just where to watch it go down.
The sprawling public space he now inhabited was settled in the foothills just west of Denver, and was the site of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, alive in the distance with all the joy and bustle of a rock concert. When he was close enough, he left the path and hiked up a hill behind the theater so he could people-watch during the sunset.
     Situated a hundred yards or so behind the venue was a flattop boulder near a fir tree that he used often. He made it just in time to catch the oranges and pinks in the height of their brilliance, smiling at the perfect view before sitting. He took in one last drag of his cigarette and smashed it into the grass with his good foot, the right one, and settled in to watch the day fade.
     He’d moved to the area nearly five years earlier, shortly after a workplace accident in Denver resulted in the partial loss of his foot; a settlement thereafter produced enough money to live on, albeit modestly. He knew exactly where he wanted to live out the rest of his life in quiet solitude, just a stone's throw from this very park. It was a tourist trap, sure, and a little more populated than he cared for, but there was plenty of solace to be found. He loved this place, never got tired of it.
     He thought of it as one of earth’s great seams, the site where the Great Plains met the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Red Rocks Park was also a site of a phenomenon known as the Great Unconformity, where two rock formations existed side by side, formed 1.4 billion years apart, such that there was no geological record of the time in between. Two crusts of the earth had been sewn together at this site, forged over billions of years and bringing together two separate ecosystems; the amphitheater was just an acoustically perfect side effect. He wasn’t a college-educated man, but he was smart enough to appreciate this.
Looking from where he sat, he often imagined a super-colossal angel had fallen from the sky and landed face-first in the rocky terrain, dying and then petrifying there at the unconformity. Now she was grotesquely and beautifully frozen in time, red and dusty, looking over the city below as concertgoers sat on her back, enjoying the superb acoustics of her solidified remains. Massive wings still stabbed upward from the ground unevenly, half-buried by time, straddling the seating area. Her ginger hair was forever flying in the wind, unmoving behind the stage in a leftward splay.
     Henry lit up another cigarette and watched the crowd sway as darkness met the fir's shadow and engulfed him in secrecy. From this spot he could hear the music reasonably well, but was invisible to anyone with human vision. That’s where the binoculars came in handy—he loved the feeling of seeing while unseen.
A million yellow dots had outlined the sprawling suburbia in the distance and twilight was nearly over when the first band finished and the crowd began to swirl. Between him and seating area was a back patio where people went to smoke or make phone calls away from the noise; Henry focused his binoculars on a squabbling couple there, imagining what they might be fighting about.
     They were drunk of course, especially the young lady, and she fell backward into an unsuspecting man behind her. He was leaning over the ledge and dropped his cell phone below. Henry’s heart leapt a little as he watched the phone disappear in the darkness. The man panicked and spent some time frantically reaching for it before jumping the barrier, only to slide down the steep hill behind the venue and fade into the shadows himself. Someone started talking onstage, and the remainder of the concertgoers evacuated the back patio to watch; the drunk couple and anyone else who’d seen him jump were already gone. Henry briefly wondered if he shouldn't go help the young man, but his thoughts were interrupted by quite the terrifying sight.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Inaugural Post: Flash Fiction Challenge

I've resisted short fiction for a long time. I told myself I don't need it; I only have long, complicated novel ideas anyway and why force something I've no inspiration for? The fact is that when inspiration runs short for my long, complicated ideas, I need to get myself on another track to refresh my brain. Genius novelist/other things Chuck Wendig has a great site chock-full of jumpoffs. Let's see if I can't squeeze something out of one of his flash fiction challenges. The prompt I used is here and the random title I got is Lovestruck Palace, which sucks, but that's sort of the point. With no further ado, ladies and gents...

Lovestruck Palace

Jimmy "Fingers" Sartori smiled coyly at his companion as he rolled a silver dollar over the knuckles in his right hand. The fat old man across from him shifted his weight but kept a calm, expressionless face. "So what you're telling me, Jack, is that you think my house is haunted? I got this right?"

"Something like that," Jack Reed mumbled, looking around Jimmy's garish office. He'd refused to meet at the home. "Not exactly haunted. Echanted."

Jimmy took a sip of his martini and furrowed his brow. "What’s the difference?”

Haunted implies that spirits are inhabiting your home, willfully or otherwise. I think there’s been a spell placed on your property,” Jack answered, but he was distracted by the familiar d├ęcor. It was a replica of something, a movie set, maybe.

Jimmy Fingers smiled, revealing a golden molar. He thought he’d indulge the fat, sweaty mess across from him, but if he were being honest, he was disgusted. “What kind of a spell, Jack?” Why couldn’t people just take care of themselves? Especially men; it’s easier for men.

“A…uh, a love spell,” said the red-faced man, very aware of how ridiculous it sounded. But it was true.

“So what’s wrong with that?” Jimmy Fingers asked lightly. He particularly enjoyed this little song and dance; he didn’t get to do it often.

“I can’t tell you,” Jack said, looking around the office again. Everything was black trimmed in gold, from the walls to the furniture to the linens.

Jimmy Fingers stood and pivoted to look out the doorway behind his desk, fingering the rim of his glass. The greenbelt had just been watered, and the droplets on the grass sparkled in the moonlight. Obviously, Jimmy Fingers knew about his house. It was his job to protect it, keep it in the family.

Jack wasn’t playing anymore; he just stared silently at the man gazing wistfully out the door’s glass until he turned around again.

Jimmy Fingers smiled again and said, “okay, so you want to—what? Exorcise it or somethin? Unspell it?”

“Ah, no,” Jack said, refocusing. “That’s not exactly protocol. I want to find out who enchanted it, and when. A warlock’s magic can only be undone by his own bloodline.”

“Oh, so warlocks have a protocol, do they? Interesting,” Jimmy said, then casually threw back the rest of his martini.

Jack was fed up with Jimmy’s attitude. “Look, Mr. Sartori, I’m not here to waste your time. I just need to find out who lived here before you. I have reason to believe the county records have been tampered with and—“

Jimmy sighed and rolled his eyes, then popped the vodka-soaked olive into his mouth.  “Do you know who else follows a protocol, Mr. Reed?”

Jack looked at him impatiently. He could tell Jimmy Fingers needed to run the show. Needed to think he was running the show, anyway.

“The mafia follows a protocol; gangs follow a protocol,” Jimmy Fingers continued. “You owe loyalty to the family and if you betray the family, protocol is you die. Someone threatens the family, they die. Someone hurts the family, their family dies and then they die. Catch my drift?”

“No one is threatening any family, Mr. Sartori. I’m not going to hurt anybody, except maybe a witch or two. You’re not one, are you?”

“Of course not,” Jimmy Fingers said with a warm chuckle. He wasn’t going to start teasing the man. He was tired, and wanted to go home. “Are you a warlock?”

“No, I’m a witch hunter,” Jack said, which wasn’t exactly a lie. “We have protocols, too, and your house is well-known among us. We call it Lovestruck Palace.”

“Such a whimsical name. I like it, but I’m tired and it’s nearly dinnertime. I’m sorry, Mr. Reed, I’ve no information to give you. I’m not allowed to disclose the seller of my home. I suppose he must have known someone would come asking. It’s all in writing; I can email you a copy of the agreement if you’d like to show the uh, witch hunters’ guild, or whatever,” Jimmy Fingers sighed and began packing up his briefcase.

“That would be much appreciated,” Jack said with a big, fake smile. “At least then I can get my boss off my case, you know?”

“Sure, sure. Been there,” Jimmy Fingers said and pushed a button on his desk. “Marta, escort Mr. Reed to the door and call me a car, will you?”

“Yes, Mr. Sartori,” said a woman’s voice, and a few seconds later the office door opened to the young, attractive woman.

“Just one more question, on a personal note,” Jack said, gathering his jacket.

“What's that?”

“This office. I’ve seen it before somewhere.”

Jimmy Fingers smiled and nodded. “Scarface,” he said.

“That’s right. Very well done,” he said, keeping the bumbling, submissive smile on his face.

“Thank you. I’ve got your contact information. Have a good evening, Mr. Reed,” Jimmy Fingers said. He was in a hurry to get back to his palace; the women would be waiting, probably agonizing over his whereabouts. Owning the house was not just a privilege—it was a huge responsibility. Truth be told, he’d get rid of it if he could, trade it all for the love of one good woman, but like he told Jack: there’s a protocol to follow.

Jack hurried to his ten-year-old Camry and peeled away from the office as fast as he could. When he was far enough away, he called his boss.

“Yes?” the Grandmaster answered.

“Good news and bad news,” Jack said as his flabby, red skin evaporated, revealing a handsome, younger man with black hair and crystal blue eyes. He cracked his neck side to side and checked to make sure he was left with just the one, chiseled chin. “Bad news is he knows. Good news is I got the bug in,” Jack answered, speeding back to headquarters.


“Well then, everything else will fall into place. Lovestruck Palace will be ours again, Jack. Never fear.”