TIME FRAME – Sneak Preview: Chapter 4

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time frame coverMy science fiction novel TIME FRAME is now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at http://www.neconebooks.com.

Previously on this blog I featured Chapters 1-3 of the novel.  Today the sneak preview continues with Chapter 4.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

CHAPTER 4

The bald-headed bartender, with a white towel slung over his shoulder, turned from the cash register by the whiskey bottles and approached the two strangers sitting at his bar.

“Would you like another?”  He asked.

The two strangers each had been nursing their drinks for the past half hour.  The one who did most of the talking was a heavy set stocky fellow with dark curly hair and a chubby face that looked friendly.  He had a soft somewhat high voice and nodded a lot when he spoke.  He sipped a Guinness.

His friend was the one who made Duncan uneasy.  A big man, close to 6’ 6”, an imposing figure who looked incredibly fit and strong for someone who appeared to be past his prime, perhaps in his early 40s, as his hair sported spots of gray and his face weathered lines.  It was his face that disturbed Duncan the most, and more specifically, his eyes.

The eyes were cold, a killer’s eyes.  Duncan knew the type because he’d worked at the prison once, a long time ago, and he’d seen his share of murderers.  Not all of them had this particular look, but the ones that did, he’d always kept clear of.  It was the look of a predator, a wolf, eyes that spoke out loud, that said no one they encountered could best them.  I’m the top of the food chain.  The tall man sitting at his bar had these eyes.

The man made Duncan uncomfortable, and Duncan was not spooked easily.  After all, he was the champion arm wrestler of Kilgarvan, and at six foot one inch, he was an imposing figure himself who not only owned Duncan’s Pub and tended bar but also served as resident bouncer.  Still, it was one thing to throw out a drunken lug from your establishment, and quite another to tangle with a killer.  After all, Duncan used his muscles to prevent bloodshed, not inflict it.

The man sipped his whiskey, straight, no ice.  He licked his lips, all the while keeping his eyes on Duncan.  He didn’t blink.

“No, thank you.  We’ll keep to these,” the man said.  His voice was emotionless, yet penetrating, like a gun with a silencer.

Duncan swallowed.  “Just let me know if I can get you anything.”

“Certainly.  Thank you so much,” the chubby man smiled. “You’re very thoughtful.”

“And you two are the oddest couple I’ve ever seen,” Duncan thought.

He turned away from the two men, and his eyes fell upon the welcome sight of O’Leary, one of his regulars, the regular in his opinion.  Duncan’s Pub had been open for 11 years, and Duncan remembered clearly opening for business that first day and within the first five minutes of unlocking the front door, seeing O’Leary saunter in with a big smile and saying, “Pour me a stout, why don’t ya?”  That’s how it had begun, and now 11 years later, that’s how it continued.

“Pour me a stout, why don’t ya?” O’Leary said.  He looked over at the two strangers sitting at the bar to his right.

Duncan opened the tap and poured a frothy dark one into a tall mug.  He slapped it in front O’Leary.

“Ah, I thank you,” O’Leary said, lifting the mug to his lips and drawing in a long sip of the hearty brew.

“No. Thank you,” Duncan said.

“Me?  What for?  You’re the one who’s working,” O’Leary said.

“You keep me sane.  It’s good to see you every day,” Duncan said.  His eyes roved back towards the two strangers, and O’Leary followed them.

O’Leary nodded.  “I know what you mean.”

Duncan was able to have this conversation with O’Leary, in such close proximity to the two strangers, because as usual on a weekday afternoon after work, Duncan’s Pub was packed, packed and loud.

Funny about noise, Duncan thought.  It starts off low, then grows louder as the next guy raises his voice so his friend can hear, and then the next guy does the same, and so on and so on.  You’d think it would reach the point where it would burst the eardrums, but it doesn’t.  Day after day the same thing happens.  Suddenly, it gets quiet, all by itself, and inevitably someone makes a loud off color joke, breaking the silence, allowing the cycle to begin again.

It was loud now, and though the two strangers sat close to O’Leary, separated only by Tim and Tina, two other regulars who Duncan didn’t know as well as O’Leary since they only came in once a month or so, it was easy to hold a conversation without worry that they’d be heard.

Duncan didn’t know how old O’Leary was.  He had looked to be in his 60s on that day 11 years ago when he had first come into the pub, and he still looked like he was in his 60s now.  He was thin but had a round frame, and Duncan imagined he must have been a chubby young man.  He had very fine hair and very coarse skin, no doubt from his career as a fisherman.  He was retired now.  His face could be harsh with all its weathered lines, but as soon as he smiled, all the harshness disappeared and he became as warm as everyone’s favorite grandfather.

Duncan didn’t know if 11 years ago O’Leary simply looked older than he was, or if nowadays he simply looked great for his age.  Duncan just hoped the man remained healthy and kept coming in.  Sickness in old age came on fast.  He had seen it with his dad, and now with his mother.  They go on and on in apparent good health claiming they’re going to live to 90, but when sickness comes to a 70 year-old, serious sickness, the body just doesn’t recover.  Duncan didn’t want to see O’Leary sick.

“Just how old are you, O’Leary?”  Duncan asked.

O’Leary sipped his stout and placed the mug on the bar.  “Old enough to drink as many of these as I want.”

“You watching your health?”  Duncan asked.

“Take my medicine every day,” O’Leary said, raising his glass.

Duncan laughed.  He happened to notice the clock on the wall opposite the bar.

“You’re here early today,” Duncan said.  “What’s the occasion?”

“The wife’s out shopping,” O’Leary said.

“You rascal,” Duncan said.

He noticed the two strangers looking around the bar, as if they were looking for someone.  He told himself to leave well enough alone, to attend to the customers at the other end of the bar, but the man with the cold eyes suddenly looked perplexed.  The expression caught Duncan’s curiosity.  Still, he wanted nothing more to do with these two men, at least not until he had finished with the customers at the other end of the bar.  Duncan was about to turn to those customers when he realized the man had caught him staring.

“Oops,” Duncan thought, and he grinned.  How to get out of this one? He decided to simply do his job, and that would take care of it.  He stepped towards the two strangers.

“You look like your wheels are turning,” Duncan said.  “Something on your mind I can help you with?”

“No one’s smoking.  A pub without cigarette smoke.  Why is that?”  The tall stranger asked.

“Welcome to the 21st century,” said Tim, who sat just to the men’s left.

The stranger turned towards Tim and glared at him with wide opened eyes.        “It’s a new law,” Duncan said.  “No more smoking in the workplace, which includes the 10,000 pubs here in Ireland.  If you want to smoke, you’ll have to go outside.”

“Ireland, the world’s healthiest place to live,” O’Leary said, lifting his beer mug.  “Damned health minister!” Tim said.

The tall man turned to his chubby friend.  “Why didn’t you know about this?”

The chubby man shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I didn’t see anything in the literature about it.”

“Don’t come down on your buddy too hard,” Duncan said.  “It’s a brand new law. I’m sure it’s not in any of the travel guides yet.  I hope you weren’t looking forward to that smoke too badly.  You gentlemen on vacation?”

“No.  Business,” said the tall man.

“I see.  What do you do?”  Duncan asked.

The man made direct eye contact with Duncan but didn’t offer an answer, at least not by speaking.  His eyes, they did the talking, and Duncan knew what they were saying, “Stop asking me questions.”

“We’re in the travel business,” said the chubby man.  “That’s why we’re a bit put out that we didn’t know about the ‘no smoking’ law.  It’s our job to know these things.”

“Travel business,” Duncan repeated.  “Are you going to write up a report on my pub?  Should I be on my best behavior?”

The chubby man chuckled.  “No, it’s not like that.  We’re more interested in the people doing the traveling than the places they travel to.  We’re sort of like the People’s Choice awards.  We don’t rate the places we visit ourselves, but we talk to the real life travelers and see what they have to say.  Do you get many travelers here, or do you serve mostly locals?”

“Locals, for sure.  Very few travelers,” Duncan answered.  “On any given month you’d be the only ones, but it must be the week for visitors.”

“You’ve had some tourists in this week?” the chubby man asked.

“One.  A man.  Pretty sure he’s an American. He talks like an American.”

“He sounds like the kind of man we’d like to talk to,” the chubby man said.

“Really?  Too bad, because you’d learn much more if you talked to one of the regulars,” Duncan said.

The chubby man smiled.  “Don’t worry.  We don’t publish negative reviews.  That’s not what we’re about.  We’re interested only in people’s experiences in foreign lands.  We’re not critics.  We’re about human interest stories.  It’s too bad we missed this guy.”

“He’s been in more than once.  Maybe he’ll come in again today,” Duncan said.  He looked at his watch.  “Around this time, too.  Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“Maybe,” the chubby man said.

Duncan noticed the chubby man’s beer mug was nearly empty.

“Are you sure I can’t get you another?  Duncan asked.

“You know, I think I will have another, thank you very much.”

“Another Guinness?”  Duncan asked, just to make sure.

“Yes.”

Duncan looked at the tall man, still nursing his whiskey.  The tall man shook his head.

“No thank you,” the man said.

Duncan moved to the tap.  “You are one creepy looking guy,” he thought.  “The sooner you’re out of here, the better!”

As he poured the beer, he thought about what the chubby man had just said, and he didn’t buy it.  Travel business.  He didn’t think so.  They didn’t look the part.  At least the tall guy didn’t.  He had killer written all over him.  Maybe to other people he didn’t look so obvious, but it was Duncan’s job to know people inside and out, and the vibes he got from this guy weren’t good.  Whether he was some sort of international agent, CIA perhaps, or hired gun or even terrorist, it didn’t matter.  Duncan wanted him out of his bar.

“Your kind is the last thing we need,” Duncan thought.  “Ireland has enough of its own problems.  We don’t need violence from the outside.”

Duncan filled the mug with a fresh Guinness.  He turned and gave the chubby man his drink.

The front door opened, and Duncan saw the American visitor.  His gut told him to keep his mouth shut, but the chubby guy had said the American was the type of person they wanted to talk to, as part of their travel business.  Maybe he’d call their bluff and see what happened.

“You gentlemen are in luck,” Duncan said.  “Our American tourist just came in for his afternoon brew.”

The two men looked over their shoulders.

The tall American, about 6’2”, and lanky, had the slim yet fit look of a runner.  He wore dark clothing, blue jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt with a hood which bunched up behind his neck.  His white running shoes helped him bounce when he walked.  His hair was jet black, wavy, and it possessed a gel shine.  He had handsome blue eyes that put people at ease.  He appeared a friendly chap.

He approached his usual table, a small circular job meant for two.  Though the pub was packed, the small table was still available.  Most of the patrons of Duncan’s Pub preferred to either stand or hang out by the bar.

Duncan and the two strangers weren’t the only ones who noticed the American come through the door.

Brenda, Duncan’s best waitress, was already moving his way.  He had just sat down, when she leaned her attractive body against him so that her hips touched his shoulder.   She made it a point to touch all the male customers.  Duncan let her do it because it was good for business.  She had a way of doing it without coming across trashy.  She came off like a kid sister who hadn’t seen her “brothers” in months.  The men loved it, and they loved her.  They rewarded her by giving her the best tips in the house.  Duncan didn’t mind because they also stayed longer and bought more beer.

She and the American struck up a conversation, and Duncan knew Brenda would soon be approaching the bar with the man’s order, a mug of frothy ale.

“Does he always come in alone?” the tall man asked.

“Yeah,” Duncan answered.  “Always picks the same table, right there, gets himself a beer and some dinner, and has a good time.”

“You’ve never seen him with anyone else?”  The tall man asked.

“No,” Duncan said.  “Why do you ask?”

Again, the man answered with his eyes, and they were none too happy.

“We ask different questions of solo travelers compared to couples or groups,” the chubby man said.  “Just doing our homework before we go over there and talk to him.”

“I see,” Duncan said.

The tall man reached into his pocket and tossed some money onto the bar.

“Thank you for the drinks,” he said.  He stood from his seat, and his chubby friend followed.  Together they approached the American.

Duncan took the money, nodded in approval at the size of the tip, and turned to deposit the cash in the cash register.

“Is it a full moon tonight, you think?” O’Leary asked.

“Why do you ask?”  Duncan said, looking over his shoulder.

“Those two.”

“You noticed?”

Duncan closed the cash drawer and approached his friend.

“Noticed?  I felt it!”

“The only thing you feel is a hangover in the morning!” Brenda said, coming up behind O’Leary and planting a friendly kiss on the back of his ear.

O’Leary smiled upon seeing Brenda.  “I can still feel more than that, just ask my wife!  Or perhaps you’d like a demonstration?”

“I have asked your wife, and I don’t have the two hours it’ll take to get you started!”  Brenda shot back, bringing howls from the patrons on both sides of O’Leary.  “Our American friend will have his usual,” she said to Duncan.

“Thank you, Brenda,” Duncan said.  He looked into the crowd to see the two strangers approaching the American’s table.

“Travel business,” Duncan muttered, shaking his head.  His stomach suddenly felt sour.

O’Leary made another off color joke causing more hearty laughter from the crowd around the bar.  Duncan smiled and poured the ale for the American.

“Good old O’Leary,” Duncan thought.  “How can anything bad happen with him around?”

 

And that ends Chapter 4.  Once again, thanks for reading!

—Michael

TIME FRAME by Michael Arruda – Sneak Preview- Chapter 3

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time frame coverMy science fiction novel TIME FRAME is now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at http://www.neconebooks.com.

On January 21 I featured  Chapter 1 of the novel here on this blog, and on February 13 I unleashed Chapter 2.  Today the sneak preview continues with Chapter 3.  Hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

CHAPTER 3

“How is it possible?” Kathryn asked.

“It’s not,” Sandy said.

“If you don’t mind, could I — hug you?” Papa asked his daughter.

Kathryn paused to consider the request, and then she nodded and stepped towards the man who looked exactly like her deceased father.

Papa opened his arms, and gently, very gently, Kathryn allowed herself to enter the man’s grasp. Papa closed his arms around her back, drawing her close, and Adam watched as the man’s face burst into tears.

“Excuse me,” Sandy said loudly, “but am I the only one here who remembers that this man friggin died seven years ago!”

Kathryn gently broke away from her father.

“No, you’re not the only one,” Kathryn said, sobbing.

Adam grabbed a tissue from the dispenser on the end table by the couch and handed it to his mother. Kathryn thanked her son and used the tissue to wipe her eyes and nose.

“He has an explanation,” Adam said.

Papa looked directly at Kathryn. “I am your father, Kathryn, and I am your grandfather, Adam, but — I’m also not him.”

“Damn it, old man, make some sense!” Sandy said.

“I’m not trying to speak in riddles,” Papa said. “Let me tell you the whole story. Then, you’ll understand.”

When they had settled into the comfortable seats in the living room, Papa began.

“We have to go back some years, to when I used to work for the gas company, to get to the beginning of how this happened. They were always shoving different forms in front of our faces. From ‘do you want to give to this charity’ to ‘do you want to be an organ donor?” That sort of thing. I remember distinctly this one time, there was a form from a private research company. They wanted permission to take blood samples from us. I remember it because it was the only time anyone ever asked us for blood, other than the blood bank, of course. I didn’t know what they wanted it for, but I believed in the principle of helping scientists, so a few of my buddies and me filled out the forms and gave these people some of our blood. Years went by, and we never saw or heard from these people again, and I never thought about them again. I went on with my uneventful life, and as you know, eventually had that stroke, and nothing was ever the same again.”

“You got that right,” Adam thought.

The stroke had knocked his grandfather out of the real world. His heart had taken such a hit his doctors had pretty much told him his career at the gas company was over.

He had to quit smoking, which to his credit, he did, cold turkey, and he had to be on medication for the rest of his life. He wasn’t allowed to exert himself in any way, which meant little or no exercise, activity, or travel. What he could do was eat and sleep and sit and watch television all day. In short, he was through being a whole person. He was only 62.

Still, it could have been much worse. He didn’t lose any of his mental faculties. He remained sharp and alert until the end. Of course, the end was a long time coming. Because of the advances of modern medicine, Papa lived on for 18 years this way.

The way Adam remembered it, the bulk of those years weren’t so bad for Papa, but the last couple had been brutal for the man. In the end, he was doing nothing for himself. Adam’s grandmother Nana could no longer take care of him. Nurses came to the house to bathe him and dress him. He even needed help going to the bathroom and cleaning up afterwards, it was horrible. As many family members remarked at the time, it was no way to live.

Eventually Papa succumbed to pneumonia and died at the age of 80.

In spite of his illness, he had always made Adam feel special, and Adam had always loved to visit him. He missed him dearly after he passed on.

“Do you know that my last memory was seeing your mother,” Papa said, looking directly at Kathryn, “in the hospital room. I was in bed. She stood over me. I told her I loved her, and we kissed each other, and she left for the night.

“Later I felt myself slipping away. It was like hanging onto a ladder and then letting go. I was so content with the knowledge that I was going to die. You can’t imagine the pain I’d been feeling for so long. I couldn’t take it anymore. It was so peaceful, drifting off, thinking of your mother, of all of you, of happy times gone by. No regrets, just peace and contentment that I had been blessed with a wonderful life. And that was it, that was the last thing I remembered, that was the end, until — .

“Until I woke up again in a different time in a different place, five hundred years from now, five hundred years in the future, give or take a few. That research company that had taken my blood all those years ago, they had frozen my DNA. Four hundred years from now another company buys my DNA. Five hundred years from now, they take my DNA, and they bring me back to life.”

Kathryn grimaced. “Why?”

“Simply put, my dear daughter, because they can,” Papa answered. “Science in that day and age has progressed so far, it’s unbelievable. Cloning there is like sex. Everyone does it. Parents sometimes even create their own children from a catalogue, like the way we pick out patterns for a room. DNA research is that advanced. Time travel is possible, which of course, is how I got here.”

“You came here in a time machine?” Sandy asked.

“Yes.”

Sandy burst out laughing.

Adam gently removed the wine glass from his wife’s hand.

“Sorry,” Adam said. “She’s had more than she’s used to.”

“It’s okay,” Papa said. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true, and the fact that I’m sitting here in this room with you now is proof that it’s true.”

“Are you a clone?” Kathryn asked.

Papa chewed over the question for a moment before answering. Adam wondered what he was thinking about. “I guess it’s cloning since this isn’t my original body, but it is exactly the same. I can’t tell any difference. Can you? And all my memories are intact, my whole life, from childhood to that last day in the hospital.” He pointed to his head. “It’s all in here. I don’t think of myself as a clone.”

“You’re not wearing your glasses,” Adam observed. “Can you see without them?”

“Yes, they made improvements,” Papa answered. “I’ve got perfect vision, even better than I had when I was a young man.”

“You look better too,” Sandy said with a hiccup. “He looks better.”

“I don’t know what to believe,” Kathryn said. “Daddy, let’s just say for the sake of the argument that everything you said is true, that you were brought back to life five hundred years from now using your frozen DNA. What are you doing here?”

“I missed my family,” Papa answered. “Who do I know five hundred years in the future? Nobody. I was homesick, and I’m not afraid to admit it.”

“Were you brought back to life as an adult or as a child?” Adam asked. “Did you have to relive your childhood all over again?”

“No, I came back as an adult,” Papa answered. “Both ways are possible. The company that resurrected me wanted me as an adult. They wanted me to tell them about my experiences in World War II. They still study history in the future. They’re fanatics about it.”

“Excuse me,” Adam said, “but it’s my understanding that clones don’t come with memories. If I were to be cloned today, my clone wouldn’t be born with my memories.”

Papa nodded. “You’re right, and that’s true of the clones today, but five hundred years from now, it’s quite the different story.”

“You’re asking me to believe that they harvested your memories from just a sample of your blood?” Adam asked. “I find that impossible to believe.”

“Not from my blood,” Papa answered. “From my atoms.”

Adam didn’t understand.

“It goes something like this,” Papa said, “and don’t expect a scientist’s explanation, because as you know, I’m not a scientist. The scientists from five hundred years in our future were able to break down my blood to an atomic level, atom by atom, and supposedly, what they’ve discovered, is at that level, memories are stored, and it’s possible to bring them back. That’s what they told me. All I know is, I have my memories.”

How could Adam argue with a science not yet invented?

“So, the people of the future. They wanted you to teach them about the past?” Adam asked.

“Yes, that was my job, to relay firsthand accounts of the war, and when I wasn’t working they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and be a part of the culture of the day. Life in the 2500s is pretty good, let me tell you, but I missed my family. You know how much I love my family.”

Kathryn nodded. “Yes, I know.”

“Anyway, I soon learned that time travel was possible, and in my spare time, I read all about it, how it was done, how much it cost, and I started to save up for it, because I asked myself, what am I doing here? The ability to go back to my family, in the past, exists. Why not take it?”

“And that’s allowed?” Adam asked. “I mean, I would think there’d be problems with it. Interfering with history, for example?”

“It’s legal. Up to a point.” Papa didn’t elaborate.

“Up to what point?” Adam asked.

“Do we have to talk about this now?” Papa said.

“Daddy, what did you do?” Kathryn said.

“Well, I — I’m not supposed to make contact with any of you.”

“Ooops!” Sandy giggled.

Thank God for wine, Adam thought. He turned to his grandfather.

“What happens if you do?” Adam asked.

Papa shrugged.

“I don’t know. But listen, I didn’t return to change history,” Papa said. “I returned to see my family. That’s it. In the big scheme of life, I’m just a little man, and we’re just a little family in little old New Bedford, Massachusetts. What’s the worst that could happen?”

 

—-END Chapter 3—-

Okay, that’s Chapter 3.  Again, if you’d like to read the entire novel it’s now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at http://www.neconebooks.com.

Thanks!

—Michael

Sneak Peak at FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR

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For The Love Of Horror coverHere’s a sneak peak from my short story collection FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com.

In my short story “On the Rocks,” Rick has had it with his girlfriend Jill.  Things were great for a while, but now she’s pregnant, he’s about to go off to college, and he doesn’t want a baby to ruin his future.  He’s thinking some pretty sinister thoughts about her, including killing her.  It would solve all his problems.  Of course, in real life, he’d never physically harm anyone, especially someone close to him.  But the thoughts are there, in his mind, but that’s okay, because he has lots of thoughts he doesn’t act upon.  Right?

Then, one day, on the beach, on the rocks, something happens and suddenly Jill is dead—.

Here’s a preview of “On the Rocks”:

ON THE ROCKS

By             Michael Arruda

    The waves smashed the jagged rocks with a vengeance, and Rick found himself imagining the waves were his hands, and he was cracking  Jill’s head wide open on the rocks.

            But the second he saw this image, he felt sick.

He was no killer.

He hated stepping on bugs even.

Yet the fact remained he wanted to rid himself of her.  Badly.

He had even said the words to her earlier.  Said them aloud.  “I could kill you!”

He hadn’t meant it.  Not in the literal sense.  It was just one of those things people said all the time.  “I could kill you!”  That sort of thing.

Yet the very thought of inflicting pain on Jill made him sick.  He just wanted to be rid of her, that’s all.

He was very confused.  He also felt terribly guilty.

So he leaned across the beach blanket and kissed Jill on the forehead.

She pulled away.

“I’m not in the mood for kissing.”

Rick huffed and looked down at the sand.  He raised his right hand to his mouth and nibbled on his thumbnail.

There was no one else on the beach with them.  Most kids their age were swimming at Horseneck Beach.  Very few came to these small Padanaram beaches which were full of rocks and were more suited for amateur fishermen.  Besides, most were private.  The public areas were few and far between, and you had to know where they were.  Rick knew because his buddy Shawn lived here the past three summers with his father and had showed Rick the best places to hang out.

“Why did this have to happen?”  Rick asked.

“Will you stop saying that?”  Jill said.  She and Rick sat side by side on one large beach towel.  The sun had gone in behind a cloud, and both of them felt a shiver.  “It did happen.  Now we have to deal with it.”

“I don’t want to deal with it.”

“You think I do?  I’m the one with the baby inside me!”  Jill said.

“Can’t you— you know, have a—.”

“No!  I’m not having an abortion!”

Rick chewed his thumbnail off.  He nibbled on it between his front teeth.

“Are you going to help me or not?”  Jill asked.

Rick spit the severed nail into the rocky sand.  “I want to, you know that.  But I’m supposed to be going to college in two weeks.”

“Me, too.”

“Yeah, but you were supposed to—.”  His voice trailed off.

“Supposed to what?  Say it,” Jill said, but Rick wouldn’t say it.  He contorted his face into a grimace.  “I was supposed to put my diaphragm in?  Is that what you were going to say?”

“Just forget it, alright?” Rick said softly.

“I was drunk, remember?  I didn’t see you reaching for any condoms!  It’s just like you to put this on me!  You’re an ass sometimes!”

“I’m two weeks away from college.  It’s my ticket out of here,” Rick said.  “I know it’s yours, too.”  He closed his eyes for a moment.  “Can’t you see that if we have this baby, we’ll never have this chance again?  Never!”

“Well, it’s a little late for you to be thinking about that now!  You should have thought of that before!  I’m not killing this baby!”

“Then raise him alone, okay?  Because I don’t want any part of it!  I’m going to college, damn it!  I’m getting out of here!”  Rick said.  His voice was mean.

“Fine!  I’ll raise him alone!  You prick!”

“Shut up!”

“Well, you are!  You’re willing to let me ruin my life while you go off to Notre Dame and have fun.”

“Well what do you want me to do?”

“I told you!  I want you to help me.”

Rick shook his head.  “Marry you, right?  Raise a family, right?  And where am I supposed to work, McDonalds?”

“I don’t know, Rick.  I just thought you’d help me.  Why do I have to bear this alone?”

“Because you choose to, that’s why!  You can get rid of that baby like it’s nothing!”
“But it’s not nothing!  It’s a baby!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!”

“You’re a jerk.  You’re a jerk!”  Jill shouted.  She got up and walked away, onto the large rocks which jutted out towards the ocean.

Again, he thought about how he wanted to pick up one of those rocks and smash Jill over the head with it.

He just wanted her to disappear.  But why did his feelings have to be filled with so much anger and violence, he wondered?  He loved Jill, so why would he want to hurt her?

Because she never shut up, that’s why, he answered.  Never in all his life had he known anyone who talked as much as Jill and who got on his case as much as Jill.  Not even his own mother was that bad.

He didn’t really want to hurt her.  He just wanted to be rid of her and their little problem.  He couldn’t think of any other way to be rid of her completely.  If she were dead, that was the ticket, because he was never going to say “Okay, let’s raise this child together.  Let me put off college for a while.  I’ll find a job, we’ll live together, and we’ll make this work.”  He just wasn’t going to say it, and he knew she wasn’t going to let him go. Oh, she said she’d raise the kid on her own, but he knew she wouldn’t.  She’d tell everyone they knew that he was the father, that he had abandoned her.  He’d be hated by all their friends.  But worst of all, once his parents found out, there’d be hell to pay.  They’d kill him.  Not literally, of course, but they would certainly make his life miserable.  Guilt trips, lectures, and no more money.

Even if Jill said nothing, they’d put two and two together, and they’d know.  That’s why he wanted Jill to have an abortion.  His parents couldn’t find out.  If Jill could just disappear, that would solve everything.

She stood on the rocks which jutted out towards the ocean.  One little push—.

“Stop it!”  Rick scolded himself.

He was a coward, and he knew it.  He knew he was wrong to abandon Jill.  He knew she was right.  She deserved better.

“Okay.  Just stay in the real world,” he thought.  “Killing is for the movies.  You can’t do it.  You don’t want to do it.  Maybe it’s time you grew up.  Tell her that.  Go up there and tell her you’re not going to go to college after all.  That you are going to stay and help her raise the kid.  Tell her.”

A part of him wanted to tell her this, but the very thought of the kind of life he’d be leading if he stayed made him sick to his stomach.

“You’re thinking too much,” he said.

So he stopped thinking.  For a second.  Before he wondered what it would be like if he came clean yet still went to college?  Could that be done?  Would his parents be supportive enough to support Jill and the kid financially while he studied for his degree?  He knew Jill wouldn’t go for it.  She would want him there with her.

But it was a start, wasn’t it?  If he could tell Jill today, right now, that he’d own up to his responsibility, that he’d stop asking her to have an abortion, wouldn’t that be something?  Couldn’t they compromise?  Couldn’t they still go to college even with a child?  Surely there were more answers out there.  Suddenly he felt inspired and optimistic.

He jumped to his feet and made his way towards the rocks.  Jill was standing smack in the middle of them, and on both sides of her the ocean bucked and roared.

“Jill!”  He called.  “I have something to tell you!”

She turned around, her arms folded in front of her chest.  “What?”

He was close enough to touch her now.  “There’s something I want to say to you.”

“Yeah?”

“Help me.”

It was a whisper, soft, barely audible, but they both heard it.

Rick looked around them on all sides.

“Did you just hear that?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she answered, and she looked frightened.

“That was weird,” Rick said.

There was no one around.  The two rocky beaches on both sides of them were empty.  Behind them was the road, and they didn’t see any cars anywhere, other than Rick’s Honda, which was still parked on the dirt shoulder in between the winding country road and the partially hidden beach.  Ahead of them, nothing but ocean.

“You think someone’s pulling our chain?”  Jill asked.

“Dunno,” Rick answered.

“Help— me,” came the voice again, more deliberate this time.

Again, Rick and Jill looked around, scouring both sides of the rocks, and again they saw nothing but empty beach.  A group of crying sea gulls flew overhead.

“Maybe they’ve learned how to talk,” Jill said.

Rick shook his head.  “No.  Not unless they’ve learned how to throw their voices.  The voice we heard didn’t come from up there.”

“No, it didn’t, did it?”  Jill said.

“No.  It came from—.”

Jill pointed to the ground.  “Down there.”

They looked down at their feet.  The rocks on which they stood had plenty of gaps between them, some large enough for them to stick their legs into thigh deep.

Rick dropped to his belly and peered into one of these cracks.  He acted so fast he didn’t even think about what he might see.

So when he saw the man’s face staring up at him, he screamed.

The face looked dead, with pale flesh and lifeless bloodshot eyes.  It spoke again, and this time Rick saw its lips move.

“Help me.  Please,” the face said.

Rick grimaced.

“What is it?” Jill asked.

“There’s someone down there,” Rick said.

“Under the rocks?”

Rick nodded.  “Look.”

“I don’t want to!  Is there really someone down there?”

“Yes!”

“Oh my God!”  Jill screamed.  “What are we going to do?”

“We’re going to help him,” Rick said.  He peered back into the gap.  “We’re going to help you, okay?”

“No,” the man said.  “Too late.”  He said something else too, something Rick didn’t quite make out.  Rick thought it sounded like “run.”  But that couldn’t have been it, Rick thought.  Why would he say something like that?

Rick grabbed onto one of the large rocks in between him and the man.  It was really heavy.  He tugged but it wasn’t moving, not one inch.  It was like lifting a safe.  He knew because his cousins Jon and Randy had one in their basement.  The three of them together couldn’t lift it off the ground.

Rick tried again.  He wrapped his hands around the edges of the rock and pulled.  Grunted, groaned, heaved, and his right hand slipped, sliding along a jagged corner that sliced his palm.  He cried out and pulled his hand back, shaking it, trying to ward off the sting.  A bright white scratch ran the entire length of his palm, a scratch that quickly turned red.

“Damn!”  He cried.

“Are you okay?”  Jill asked.

“No.  It’s deep!”  Rick pressed his left thumb tightly over the wound, but he couldn’t stop the flow of blood.

“What are we going to do?”  Jill asked.

“Shawn lives five minutes from here.  We can go to his house and call 911,” Rick answered.  “You’ll have to drive.”

“I can’t drive a stick!”

Rick rolled his eyes.  “I’ll drive with one hand then.”  He got back down on his knees and leaned towards the man underneath the rocks.  “A friend of mine lives real close.  We’re going to go to his house and call 911.  Hang in there, okay?”

The man screamed.

It was an incredibly loud scream, high-pitched, the way Rick’s little brother Russ sounded when he fell off his bike and split his head open when he was 7.  It was almost a squeal.

It knocked Rick back onto his butt, and he felt his lips curl into a grimace.  Jill let out a shriek and jumped backwards.

The man squealed again, and this second cry was worse, worse than anything Rick had ever heard.  It was full of pain, and Rick knew that whatever was happening to this man it had to be bad.  No one sounded like that unless they were being dismembered or gutted or— Rick covered his mouth with his hands, and he could taste his own blood.

And then just like that the man’s screaming stopped.  Cut short as if he were gagged.  Jill continued to sob, and Rick remained sitting, too frightened to move.

Until the stink came up.

Like rotten eggs.  He cried out and keeled over on his side.

“That smell!  Christ!”

On his hands and knees coughing, Rick couldn’t expunge the odor from his being fast enough.   Jill started coughing too.

Over their coughing Rick became aware of another sound, a flip flop flip flop, like a fish flailing on a boat deck.  He looked up to see large tentacles, four of them, each longer than he and Jill were tall, reaching out from the cracks underneath the rocks, in effect surrounding them.  Before he could do anything, one of the dark green almost black tentacles whipped towards them and snagged Jill by the ankle.  She screamed.

Rick reached for her but suddenly she wasn’t there. The tentacle had yanked her feet out from under her.  She crashed face first on the rocks with a nauseating thud, and then the thing dragged her backwards away from Rick.

By the time Rick had jumped to his feet, a mere two seconds, a second tentacle had wrapped itself around Jill.  She wasn’t fighting back.  While the tentacles squeezed and pulled her this way and that, she lay limp, as if already dead.

.           Rick scrambled towards her.  He grabbed the tentacle wrapped around her waist.  It was cold, freezing, and although shiny was not slimy in the least but hard and thick like leather.  He grabbed it and pulled it, trying with all his might to wrench it from Jill’s body.

She opened her eyes.  A moment later she realized.

“Help me!”

“Oh Jesus!” Rick cried, still tugging on the tentacle and having about as much success as if he were pulling a tree out of the ground.  “Hold on, Jill!  I’m trying!  I’m trying!”

“Please!”

He felt something grab his ankle and looked down to see a tentacle wrapping itself around his foot.

“Get off me!” he shouted, kicking at the serpent-like appendage.

Another one shot at his face, as if it were going to grab him by the throat.  He let go of the limb around Jill and jumped backwards.  He lost his balance and fell off the rocks, landing hard on the rocky sand below.

He heard Jill shriek, and he clenched his eyes shut and screamed, begging for the horror to go away.  He opened his eyes and jumped to his feet and ran for the rocks.  He leapt to the top of the rock wall without using his hands, and he landed on his feet.

Jill had been pulled down into one of the cracks.  From the waist down her body was hidden.

She was still conscious.  Her eyes met Rick’s, and she screamed, “Oh Rick!  Please help me!  Help me!

Rick tried to run to her, but the tentacles were everywhere.  There were at least eight of them now.  If he got any closer, he’d be grabbed, too.  It would be suicide.

A large thick one the width of a python wrapped itself around Jill’s throat and began to constrict.  Her face went red as she gagged for air.

Tears poured down both their faces.

“Jill!  I can’t get to you!”

Her mouth was wide, in disbelief that she was going to die.  And then it was over.  Her eyes rolled, her tongue hung low beneath her lips, and the huge thick limb around her throat let go just as whatever was holding her legs pulled her down below, and just like that, she wasn’t there anymore.

“Jill!”  Rick shrieked.

The remaining tentacles swung and swooped, blindly reaching for more prey, until, as if satisfied with their recent prize, they retreated into their holes, like snakes slithering into the ground.

Then all was quiet.

Other than the sounds of Rick’s sobs and a buoy bell clanging from somewhere off in the ocean.

***

The fist slammed the table, and Rick jumped.

“What did you do to your girlfriend?”  Detective Orin asked.  It was the fifth time he had asked the question.

“I told you,” Rick said, swallowing, a dry lump caught in his throat, exhausted, looking up at the detective with swollen, crying eyes.  “I didn’t do anything to her.”

Rick sat on a tiny wooden chair behind a tiny wooden table in the police interrogation room.  Orin stood over him and leaned into his face.

“Bullshit!  We read all about it in your diary, Rick, how you wanted to get rid of her, how you wanted to kill her!  You even wrote down some of the ways you could do it, like throwing her off a cliff into the ocean.  How about that!”

“No, that’s not what happened.”

“Look, I know how things are,” the gray haired detective said, taking on a friendlier tone. “I’m a guy.  I was a teenager once.  No teenage guy wants his girl to get pregnant.  Yeah, that was in your diary, too.  I mean, you have your whole life ahead of you, right?  She didn’t want to have an abortion, and that was going to ruin your life, so you killed her, didn’t you, Rick?”

“No.  I didn’t kill her!  I told you, it was the squid thing!”

“The squid thing.  Yeah, right.  Maybe I should give fucking Ray Harryhausen a call to see if one of his creatures has come to life.  You know who Ray Harryhausen is?”

“No.”

“He used to make movies with lots of giant monsters in them.  Real fun but not very real.  Just like your story, Rick.  It’s not very real.”

“Look, if I was going to make up a story, would I make up something this stupid?” Rick asked.

“Had a guy once who told me his wife thought she was Supergirl and that’s how she ended up in bits and pieces on the park lawn.  She jumped out of the twin engine plane on her own because she thought she could fly,” Orin said.  He sat on the edge of the wooden table.  “I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, Rick.  You hear a lot of things, some of them even stupid.”

Rick sniffled.  “I’m the guy who called the police.  If I killed Jill, why would I do that?”

“No one’s calling you a serial killer, Rick.  Sometimes people just snap and in the heat of the moment do things they regret later.  Believe me, many guilty people call the police.”

“I’m not guilty!  I—I want a lawyer!”

“If you’re not guilty, what do you need a lawyer for?”  Orin asked.

“Because I’m entitled to one.  I don’t want to talk to you anymore unless I have a lawyer!  Or my parents!”

“I dunno, Rick,” Orin said.  He stood again.  “Asking for a lawyer.  You sure sound like someone who’s guilty.  But that’s okay.  We can play it that way if you want.  It’s just that, once you get a lawyer, then I can’t help you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you tell me the truth now, that you lost control of your emotions, and you let your anger get the better of you, in short, you admit to killing Jill, the judge will go easy on you.  You call a lawyer, he’s going to advise you not to cooperate, and then the judge isn’t going to go so easy. I’m going to prove you murdered her, Rick.  I’m giving you the chance now to cooperate and get a lighter sentence.”

“I didn’t kill her, damn it!”

“Diaries don’t lie, Rick!  It’s right there in black and white, in your own handwriting!”

“Yes!  I wrote it, okay?  I write lots of things in my diary!  It’s a diary, for Christ’s sake!”

“Watch your mouth!”

“I wrote I was a secret agent too, but I’m not!  It doesn’t mean anything!”

“It means a whole lot to me, Rick.  It tells me you wanted that girl dead!”

“Yes, I did but—.
“What did you do with the body, Rick?

“Nothing!  I didn’t do anything with it!  I didn’t kill Jill!”

Orin shoved his face into Rick’s.

“Her blood is all over those rocks!  It’s on your clothes!”

I didn’t kill her!

            “Yes you did!  And I’m going to prove it!  I’m going to find her body or a piece of her clothing or maybe a broken fingernail, but goddamn it, I’m going to find something, and then you’re going to be sorry you didn’t confess right here and now, you snot nosed little bastard!”

************

To read the rest of this story, check out FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR at www.neconebooks.com.  My short story collection features 15 short stories, 7 reprints and 8 original stories, plus a wraparound story that ties everything together.

Thanks!

—Michael

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD – The Quintessential Ray Harryhausen Movie

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7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD posterIn memory of Ray Harryhausen, here’s a reprint of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), one of Harryhausen’s best and my personal favorite.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

Forgive me for never having grown up.

I love movie monsters.  From the classics to the films of today, I can’t get enough of them.

In horror movie history, one name stands above the rest when it comes to making movie monsters, Ray Harryhausen.  In a career that spanned 30 years, from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen provided us with some of the best stop-motion animated special effects ever put on film, and while there have been many classics thanks to Harryhausen, the quintessential Harryhausen movie has to be THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is a beautiful production shot in Technicolor with picture perfect pizzazz by director Nathan Juran, who also directed Ray Harryhausen’s 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), as well as other genre films such as THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

In THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) must travel to the far ends of the earth to the Island of Colossus on a mission to save his beloved princess (Kathryn Grant).  The princess is doing her best “incredible shrinking woman” impression, shrunk down in size by the evil magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher).  Along the way, Sinbad must square off against giant birds, a dragon, a sword wielding skeleton, and more than one giant Cyclops.

While there are many enduring images from this movie, there’s probably none stronger than Harryhausen’s creation of the giant Cyclops.  Once seen, you will not forget it.  From its muscular body, cloven hands and feet, and grotesque face, for the horror fan, he’s a keeper!  (“Hey, mom, look who I brought home!”).

The script by Kenneth Kolb is OK, not memorable by any means, but it does its job in setting up a rip-roaring adventure that is fun to watch.  The acting is also OK, with Torin Thatcher leading the way, delivering by far the best performance in the movie as Sokurah, the evil magician.  Thatcher, who died in 1981, is most memorable here because he’s the one player in this movie who makes you forget about Harryhausen’s creatures while he’s on screen, and that’s saying something.  His Sokurah is one of my favorite genre movie villains.

Bernard Herrmann wrote the memorable music score, one of his best other than PSYCHO (1960).  It’s a rousing piece of film music that you’ll be humming to yourself long after you’ve seen the movie.

But the true star of THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is Ray Harryhausen.  His creatures here look fantastic, and we are treated to all sorts of spectacular scenes, including an exciting battle between one of the Cyclops and the giant dragon.  There’s also a memorable duel between Sinbad and a sword wielding skeleton, a scene improved upon five years later by Harryhausen in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), where the choreographed fight involved a bunch of skeletons.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD boasts some of the best stop-motion animated special effects in motion picture history, and is right up there with the work of Willis O’Brien in the all-time best, KING KONG (1933).  It’s also among the best of the Sinbad movies, though it’s hard to crown it king because Harryhausen struck gold again nearly twenty years later with his follow-up feature, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) which is every bit as good as THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

So, this summer, go ahead and be a kid again, and enjoy THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.  Just don’t let me catch you playing with that Cyclops toy you picked up on eBay last month!

(July 2008)

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You can read all my SPOOKLIGHT columns in the IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook now available from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com.

—Michael