Category Archives: Short Fiction

YA Fiction… Attempt #1- Input Welcome

“What are you reading now?” That was Manny, my little brother who thought he was my older brother.

Somehow he’d got it into his head that Jersey Shore was a proper inspiration for a sixth grader. The worst part of it was that my parents didn’t seem to mind. If anything they seemed glad that at least one of their sons wasn’t constantly attached to some book or another.

“It’s hard to explain.” I pulled the book tighter against my chest. “You wouldn’t be interested, no pictures.”

He stuck his tongue out at me and made to walk down the hall to his room. I eyed his as he passed, he wasn’t one to quit so easily. Manny lunged for the book, but I jerked it out of his reach.

“What is it?” He whined.

“None of your business.” I held the book over my head.

He started to climb up onto the arm of the chair. I pushed him out of my face and moved. The layers of hair gel practically turned his bleached mop into a helmet, but he yelled like something was broken.

“You’re fine.” I tucked the book under my arm and headed to my room.

I took a quick look over my shoulder, just to make sure he wasn’t really hurt, he was my little brother after all, and saw him eyeing the kitchen while he went on with his melodrama. He repeated the cry a couple of times, but no one rushed to his aid. The joke was on him, our parents weren’t home yet. He sat up and started texting on his cellphone by the time I had made it to my bedroom.

There was a fifty-fifty chance that he was sending a text to either of our parents, or to one of his friends. Manny was many things, annoying, a snappy dresser, and a talented pianist, but he didn’t let a grudge die easily. I tucked the copy of Interview with a Vampire in the back of my pants drawer and picked up a copy of The Once and Future King, one was required reading for my AP English class and one was a hardback that I had snagged from a yardsale last week. The only reason that Manny didn’t know what book I was reading was because I had purposely lost the cover before I brought it home. Then, I covered it in a paper bag like it was from one of my classes.

I kicked off my sneakers and hopped on my bed. The Once and Future King by T.H. White was the bane of my reading experience, and I loved to read. It somehow took the legend of King Arthur and boiled it down into pages and pages of useless details and minutia. English was the only class I had that was AP, we got a bit more freedom in the course work, but we also got a longer reading list.

My cellphone vibrated. I looked at it from across the room. It shimmied along the top of my dresser in a pattern that told me it was an incoming call, not a text. That meant my folks, they didn’t text when they wanted to yell at me. I watched it for a moment longer, then closed my book without marking the page, and flipped it open. Manny had one of those new touchscreen phones capable of video chat, mine had a camera that took fuzzy pictures, it was by choice, I hated cellphones.

“Hello?”

“Is this Emilio Martin?” It wasn’t a voice I recognized.

“Yes?” I checked the caller ID, it was restricted.

“No need to worry, Mister Martin.” The voice gave a forced chuckle. “I’m calling because you recently submitted a survey through Bookshelf Horizons.”

“I don’t think you’ve got the right number.”

“Emilio Martin from Bangor Maine,” the voice paused. “You’re in Mrs. Lewis’ English class.”

“Who is this?”

“I’m Bill, from Bookshelf Horizons, we sent out a survey for student in English Classes to complete.” The forced tinge to the voice seemed to resurface as it continued. “Congratulations, you’ve been selected to be a candidate for Bookshelf Horizons new Literary Explorer Program.”

“And that would entail?”

“If you’d like I could send you the informational packet.” The voice paused. “Through you class of course, this is the only time we’ll contact you through a personal line.”

“Sure.” I shrugged. “I’ll take a look at it.”

“Great.” The voice just didn’t sound right, even that one word rung wrong in my ears. “The packet should be there tomorrow. Enjoy.”

“Yeah, thanks.” I closed the phone and looked at the doorway. “That wasn’t odd at all.”

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Distant Relatives

“Excuses me.” The tall, lithe stranger asked as he walked into the diner.

Talia looked up at the man. Even with his raven black hair he had a European vibe to him; like Dracula, but the accent wasn’t right. His clothes were nice, if a bit generic, almost like he had taken an outfit directly from a magazine. Everything was almost too clean, from his stylist shoes and jeans to the way his shirt had the top button undone. His look was like it had never been worn but the moment he walked into the diner.

“Yes?” She tucked a stray strand of her dirty blonde hair behind her ear.

“I am needing the…” He mimed eating as his English ran out.

“Breakfast?” She offered.

“Yes.”

His smile made her knees weak. That hadn’t happened in a long time. She knew better than to flirt with customers. This was just a pit stop on to bigger things, no one stayed unless they were stuck. Plus the scars on his lips didn’t look like they had a nice story attached to them.

“Just you?”

“More will come.” He nodded certainly.

“How many?”

He wrinkled his brow as he gazed up speculatively in consideration. His head bobbed from side to side as he ticked off a few fingers on his hand. “Trea.”

“Three?” Talia held up three fingers.

He nodded.

She led him to a corner booth in her section. “Would you like to order or wait for your friends?”

“Drink?” He offered.

“Sure.” She couldn’t help but smile. “What would you like?”

“Mjöd?”

“Sorry, I don’t know what that is.”

His face scrunched up as he thought about it. He looked at the menu in her hand and motioned to it. She gave his the plastic sheet, which he examined for a moment, and then flipped over. He studied the menu intently, mostly the pictures, and then set it down on the table.

“Milk.” He pointed to the picture of a tall glass on the menu. “Eggs, bacon, and pancakes.”

“Got it.” Talia smiled and headed back to input the order.

It took her a moment to realize that his accent had practically disappeared by the time he had said the word ‘pancakes’. Maybe she had misjudged him for a tourist; he could just be some bored traveler playing tricks on her. It wouldn’t be the first time. She placed the order, grabbed a clean glass, and the pitcher of milk, and then headed back to the table. The process took less than a minute, but there were two other men at the table when she turned around. One was a larger red haired man with an impressive beard that barely fit into the booth and the other was an older man with a patch over his left eye.

They spoke a foreign language in a rapid speed. The other two had that same ‘too clean’ look to them, plus the one with the eye patch was older, but he had sort of an undeterminable age to him. There were some similar features between the large red head and older man, the same strong jawline and powerful ice blue eyes.

“Ah.” The ravenhaired customer clapped his hands as she approached.

Talia set the glass on the table and poured the milk as the three conversed. The word ‘mjöd’ was thrown around a few times, but she still had no idea what that was.

“Do you want some extra time to order?”

The older man made eye contact with her. There was something there she recognized, the shape of his cheeks, or possibly the bridge of his nose if it hadn’t been broken, looked familiar somehow. He took a deep breath and held her gaze. She jumped as something somehow shocked her tongue and ears at the same time.

“Yes.” The older man spoke now, his English was spot on. “May I have your name?”

She pointed to her nametag. “Talia.”

The raven haired customer laughed. “He means your surname.”

Talia slowly turned her head and looked at him. “You’re accent is gone.”

“Yours is horrible.” He chuckled.

“What?”

“Never you mind him.” The older man interrupted, his tone sounded exactly like her grandfather. “Your surname, please.”

“Lawsen.”

“Talia Lawsen. The first name is something of a mystery, but Lawsen is a bastardization of Lawsson.” He motioned for her to sit.

“Thank you, but I’m working.”

“True.” He leaned back against the booth and sighed. “Miss Lawsen, we are in need of your services.”

“I could tell you the specials.”

The raven haired man chuckled again.

“Maybe later.”

Talia looked at each of the three of them for a moment. “What are you implying?”

“I assure you, nothing uncouth.” The older man waved his hand dismissively. “We are, how would you say, distant relatives of yours, and are in need of your local knowledge.”

“I’m not exactly sure how I could help.” Talia crossed her arms and returned the stare. “My studio apartment isn’t exactly spacious.”

“Then let us shake hands as distant kin and part ways.” The older man extended his hand.

Talia looked at it for a moment, shrugged, and took the proffered hand. Something popped between her ears. She was no longer standing in the diner, but on a great open plain. It was the first true day of spring in what had been a long winter. The gentle breeze carried the welcoming smell of dinner along with the familiar scent of the home fire. She adjusted her shoulders, the axe strapped across her back was new, but well used. The trolls kept her in top form.

Odin let go of her hand. She rocked back on her heels, her breath came in short, ragged bursts. She knew them as she knew the stars. Odin, she looked at the older man. Thor, the large red head. Loki, the raven haired one. She curtseyed.

“Allfather, please excuse my rudeness.” She mumbled, and then realized she was speaking Old Norse.

“Your gift will soothe my injured pride.”

Odin reached over and touched Thor with the same hand he had used to shake hers with. Thor closed his eyes for a moment and then nodded. The process was repeated once more with Loki. There was another shock on her tongue and ears, but this one wasn’t as unexpected.

“What just happened?”

“We’ve been away for a long time.” Odin sighed, he nodded quickly for a moment, the broke his silence with a clap of his hands. “Now, how about some breakfast?”

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Filed under Short Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Short Fiction: In the Forest

I crept along the forest floor, my fingers and toes propelled me along the roots and smaller plants. The scent was still fresh. This was the part of the hunt I loved. I paused and sniffed the air; the Elk had been by this way less than an hour ago. I stood, silent as a shadow, and titled my right ear up to the night sky.  The small creatures around me had fallen quiet at my passing, their instincts telling them a predator was about.

A soft shuffling of an herbivore chewing caught my attention. I turned toward the sound. The wind shifted, the intoxicating scent hit me full force. My mouth watered as I sprang forward. Hunger propelled me toward my target, my unholy gifts burned through the distance in moments.

The Elk had paused and looked up as I approached. Its eyes settled on the near-blur as I closed in. The mouth full of food forgotten, it tried to run, but I was too fast. I collided with it full force, knocking it flat. My fangs snapped into place as my mouth found the beasts neck. The Elk desperately kicked at me as we wrestled. Somewhere in its animal brain it knew this wasn’t how humans hunted. Warm, rich blood flooded my mouth. I drank three long, greedy gulps before I stood.

I looked down at the creature, it was bigger than I was, its rack was impressive, and it was still alive. One of the benefits from hunting large animals like this was that feeding rarely meant they died in the process. I knelt down and took in those wide, scared eyes.

“Shh.” I stroked the Elks neck as I made eye contact.

The Elk stopped struggling. A couple of drops of blood from my fangs closed the wound at its neck. I had escaped its sight before it was clear headed enough to stand. It shook its massive rack and took a couple of shaky steps away. I wasn’t exactly sure how hypnotism affected animals, but they seemed to recover fast enough.

I looked up at the sky, trying to place where I was in the big forest, and how to best get to my cabin. There were little markers I had placed in my usual hunting grounds, but this Elk had taken me farther than I had expected. It had taken all of the previous night to track it down. I had to sleep through the day to complete the hunt. After a moment I found the North Star and a constellation that I recognized and headed back toward my little shack.

With sunset only an hour prior I had time for the walk back to the cabin to be a leisurely pace.  I had owned this cabin for nearly twenty years now. It was one of the first properties I had ‘acquired’ when I became a vampire. Nice, remote, and with plenty of possibilities. I still hunted humans back then, but the peace was something I enjoyed. I hadn’t quite got the handle on my budding abilities so being surrounded by the living was rather loud.

I tensed as the familiar shape of the cabin came into view. The unmistakable scent of car exhaust and, more importantly, that of a human lingered in the air. I looked down at my blood soaked torso, dirt stained jeans, and bare feet. This wouldn’t end well if my visitor was still around. I circled wide around the back of the cabin, only one other person knew of this place, and she was the vampire that made me. A single dirt road led to my little wooden lodge and it was purposely in disrepair.

I found fresh tire tracks as I came around the front of the house. That and a small white envelope on the doorstep were the only signs of my mysterious visitor. I doubted that a mailman would be so dedicated to drive up a two mile dirt road in the middle of an overgrown forest. This was something special.

Just to be safe I circled the cabin once more, this time from higher up in the trees. Again, aside from the tracks and the envelope everything was the same as when I had left. As I strode up to my doorstep to examine the letter a familiar scent tickled at my memory. I held the letter up to my nose and took a deep breath.

Egyptian Goddess. It was from her. I slid a finger along the edge. A handwritten letter and a small business card fell into my hand:

My Darling Benjamin,

You have been gone too long. I need you here with me. Please, something is wrong.

Love

I read the words again. Then a third time. It was her, I could tell by her script, but it still confused me. Counting my life as a man, I was sixty-one years old, with thirty of those being human. I wasn’t nearly the oldest of her creations, and most likely I wasn’t the youngest either, but she had sent this to me. There was only one way to find out why. I looked at the address on the business card.

It looked like I was going back to civilization.

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Filed under Short Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Short Fiction 2014: Something Something

The stale humid air held the scent of long departed sunlight. Quint took that as a good sign. There was nothing like the smell of something rotting to kill the mood for exploration. That or a skeleton propped up in the corner of the room clutching at the handle of a broken weapon, that was usually a bad sign too. Quint adjusted his headlight, and scanned the room just to make sure there wasn’t such a surprise waiting for him. His light dropped to the floor, so far the only tracks in the dust were his. He then looked up to the ceiling to make sure nothing nasty was waiting there.

He waved a hand to his companions as he moved through the entrance.

His first companion, a lithe, green skinned Nortian whispered in its throating approximation of English. “Why are we here?”

Nortians were one of the first species to make contact with humans. Their physiology was compatible with the atmosphere of Earth Prime, and they looked like bipedal lizards. Contrary to first impressions, they were quite civilized and were happy to help their ape-kin to reach the stars. Once humans were no longer bound to Earth Prime, or the Milky Way, they began a long string of colonization on habitable planets. Along they way humans met a few other species; some friendly, and others not so much. The Nortians stood by their friends through it all, but that was another story for another day.

Quint smiled at his scaly friend. “This is a piece of history, Six.”

The Nortian looked around the dusty room, it flicked its tongue out to test the air.

Quint waver his friend on. “Before starships, cyborgs, and interspecies politics there was this.” He spread his hands wide out in front of him. “It’s called a mall.”

“All of what?” That was his other companion. Dregger was human, mostly.

“Not ‘all’.” Quint used air quotes. “A mall. It was a collection of shops connected under a common roof.”

Six flicked its tongue again. “That is an interesting piece of human history. I’m glad we came all the way back to EP to take a look.”

“No, no.” Quint waved his hands at the vast expanse in front of him. “See, this was a great gathering place for social growth, romance, and commerce. Lives were changed in this place.”

“I don’t get it.” Dregger shrugged.

“Come on.” Quint marched forward into the artificial cave. “History awaits.”

“Why do we follow it again?” Six looked at the cyborg.

“Him, Six. Humans are touchy about that kind of thing.”

Nortians were intersex, they changed to fit the situation, and didn’t care to be labeled as a he or she. “Why do we always follow him?”

Dregger smiled. “It beats cleaning filters at the port.”

 

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Filed under Short Fiction, Writing

Short Fiction 2014: Hmm

Russell sat up in bed and swatted a large hand at the beeping alarm clock on the small table nearby.  One mighty blow shattered the plastic device. The cheap particleboard side table valiantly tried to stay upright, but the impact was too much. It collapsed into a pile of neatly stacked slabs.

He ran a hand over the stubble on his chin as he yawned. Russell swung his feet over the edge of the bed and stood up. He picked up the folded T-shirt from the top of the dresser and attempted to pull it on over his head. Russell had lined up with the proper hole, which was stretched to its limit, but the shirt wouldn’t give. His right tusk cut jagged little line in that finally relieved the tension and his head popped out of the expanded hole. The shirt stretched taut across his muscular shoulders and broad chest, it covered to just above his navel. None of his clothes seemed to fit anymore.

His staggering steps found their way to the bathroom. Russell turned on the tap and splashed cold water on his face. The familiar face of the orc in the mirror groggily greeted him as he grabbed his toothbrush and went about the long task of cleaning his tusks; they jutted out from his lower jaw and covered his top lip when he closed his mouth. It was a common trait among orcs. As he started cleaning his right tusk he caught sight of his reflection again.

Slowly he reached up and touched his face. The olive green skin orc in the mirror matched his movement perfectly. Russell watched as strong, thick hands reached up to touch his tusks, they were real, the hands and the teeth.

“What the?” His voice was a gravelly rumble. “I’m an orc.”

That was silly for him to say. Of course he was an orc, he had always been an orc, why would he think differently? Russell shrugged and went about brushing his teeth, but the thought kept tickling the back of his brain.

He was an orc.

The argument inside his head would start all over again. Of course he was an orc, he had always been an orc, why would he think differently? It was a sound platform. Perfectly logical, and the evidence was stacked in support.

Except that most of his clothes were too small for him these days.

His eyes flicked to the calendar. He had today off, and that gave him time to do some research. Russell flipped open his laptop and pressed the power button. He had to do it quickly; otherwise he’d accidentally jump into the setup menu. Compact keyboards like the one on his laptop were the bane of his big hands.

Why would he have a laptop with such a small keyboard if he had such a hard time using it?

“It was on sale?” He answered himself aloud.

And one of those ergonomic keyboards would have cost so much?

“You’re not helping.” He closed his eyes tight.

His large hand covered the attached mouse. He opened up his pictures folder and began to flip through the photos from the past few years. The answer was right there, he had always been an orc. There he was at the park with Sabrina; he would never know what such a beautiful elf like her had seen in him. Not that it mattered now. Even then his clothes didn’t seem to quite fit him right.

“Hmm.” He scrolled through some other photos just to make sure.

In every photo he was an orc. He wasn’t even sure what he was supposed to be looking for otherwise. He closed the pictures file with a sigh, and opened up his web browser. Typing with his pinkies in a hunt-and-peck method he was able to log in to his favored social networking site. He scrolled down through the various updates.  He paused every now and then to read a joke, or to catch up on the news of the few people he actually cared about.

One post finally caught his eye. It was a picture of a group of his high school friends. The caption below it read: Russell, can you believe we’re thirty?

He read it again, and then a third time. Something in his brain didn’t like that sentence, but he couldn’t quite suss out why. He had just turned thirty last month. Sabrina had left the week before and the festivities hadn’t exactly been pleasant.  He had a rather low tolerance to alcohol for an orc his size, and apparently he really liked to talk when he was drunk.

“Orcs don’t live that long.” He spoke the words, but didn’t actually feel like he said them.

It was common knowledge that an orc lived maybe thirty-five years, and that was really old. Except his dad had just turned sixty-two earlier that year, and he was still going strong. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember ever meeting an elf that was over the age of ninety, and they were supposed to live for thousands of years.

Something wasn’t right.

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Short Fiction 2014: Conversing

Warning: This post contains a lot strong language. Mostly fuck. I’m trying to work on some techniques. Enjoy.

 

 

Hugh flopped down on the soft grass and looked up at the night sky. He looked over at his friends and couldn’t help but laugh.

“Why are you laughing?” Aleta growled as she pulled the unconscious form of Darcy along.

“This.” He waved a hand at the glowing lights in the distance. “You.”

“You could help.” She let their friend down on the ground as gently as her sore arms would allow.

“You could take a break.”

“Fine.” She huffed. Aleta collapsed next to the pile that was Darcy and looked out at the horizon. “How much farther?”

Hugh shrugged.

“Great.”

“Is she okay?”

Aleta checked her pulse just to be sure. “She’ll be fine in the morning.”

“What about now?” His gaze turned from the stars to her.

She held his gaze for a moment, then shrugged.

“Is that your professional opinion?”

“I’m just a student.” She shook her head. “I was. Fuck, what am I now?”

“What are any of us?”

“You’re still a pain in the ass.”

Hugh laughed. “It’ll take more than the end of the world to change that.”

The words hung in the air.

“Do you really think that, this…” She waved a hand at the flickering lights in the distance.

“It could be.” He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of the grass against the back of his neck. “I think I’m in shock. It’s like I know that I should be freaking out, but my brain is just shut off. Is that normal?”

A small giggle started in her throat and then exploded as full laughter. Hugh opened his eyes and looked over at her.

“I don’t fucking know.” She giggled. “I was going to be a veterinarian.”

Hugh looked at her for a moment. Something deep inside him told him this was wrong. She shouldn’t be laughing, this wasn’t the appropriate reaction. He should be scared, crying, in the fetal position, or something like that. Laughter wasn’t the right reaction, she was going crazy. He felt himself chuckle. Well shit, now he was going crazy.

“We are so fucked.” He choked out between giggles.

“Do you know what it feels like to freeze to death?” Her voice had an unnerving echo to it.

“Is this a veterinarian thing?” He wiped a tear drop from his eye.

“No.” Aleta looked up at the night sky. “Last year, I had this work study job, I was a lab assistant. No matter what, I had to rotate these samples every four hours. I was the new kid so I caught the graveyard shift. It was winter, I had to wake up and trudge over to the lab every four hours. The first night, I nearly froze to death.” She sighed. “There was this stretch where I had to walk between the buildings, maybe a quarter of a mile. I had three layers on, I was bundled up so only my eyes were exposed, and I thought I was prepared. I rushed out and kept chugging. It was cold at first, but halfway there I was used to it. I slowed down to a normal walk, you know, I thought that I was fine. I opened up the door on the other side and got inside, that was when it hit me; the cold. Damn, I didn’t get used to it, I just stopped feeling it. My ears, my cheeks, my jaw.” She shrugged. “I just couldn’t feel it.” She stretched a hand out to the sky. “It feels like that again.”

“So when do we feel it?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, but it will hurt when we do.”

Hugh stood up and walked over to where the other two had come to rest. “I’ll spot you for a spell.”

Aleta stood, brushed herself off, and nodded. “Do we have a plan?”

“Stay away from the places that are burning.”

“Good plan.”

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Day 14: Short Fiction 2014 – Survive

Day 1 – Early Morning

There was grit behind my eyes as they blinked open. Something pressed heavily on my chest. The world around me was an alien lush green that I had only seen in pictures. A square patch of city sanctioned farmland was the closest thing I had seen to wild vegetation. My wrist was turned an awkward angle. I looked down to see a tan pack tumble from my chest as I took a deep breath.  The lovechild of a leather bracer and an mp3 player was strapped to my left wrist. A small square in the upper right of the screen showed my heartbeat.

“Good morning, sunshine.” The message scrawled across the screen. “You have one hour before the zombies are released. Have fun.” The message was replaced with a map.

The word jogged my memory. Ten years ago the world ended. The dead didn’t exactly walk, but a mutant strain of rabies turned everyday people into homicidal machines that lived to spread the virus. Luckily, the resulting fever also cooked the majority of their survival instincts out of their brains. They didn’t have the sense to come out from the cold, or to stop when they had multiple gunshot wounds in the chest. After the first year the zombies weren’t much of a threat, three years in a new world was born. I had been thirteen when the first zombies started running around. I had lived, but I wasn’t one of the blessed few who didn’t have to worry about little things like eating and surviving the winter. There was one way anyone had a chance at living the dream, and that was entertainment.

One island full of zombies, four days, and thirty contestants.

Whoever survived got the prize. Each time it was something different, but one thing stayed the same. If you were the last one standing, you didn’t have to share.

I had a better chance at a good life in these next four days than I did if I spent the rest of my days as another pair of hands, or a strong back. The screen on my wrist was connected to a general server that my handler would use to feed me important information. It was a one-way connection, but if I won, they got a bonus.

The funny thing about the end of the old world was that after a couple years of the pilgrim way of life the technology came back in force with handheld computers, subdermal cellphones, and television screens as thin as paper that could stretch across an entire wall. Everything and everyone was online. Credits replaced cash in the end. Even the guys begging for change on the corner had a biometrically locked credstick. Wonderful things could be accomplished without labor laws and an unending sea of people desperate for credits.

I hadn’t ever been so bad off as to sign a contract with a tech company. Sure, it came with a room and a meal card but that fine print spelled out six eighteen hour days a week hunched over a table assembling gadgets.

Flying cars still weren’t a reality just yet and it was a lot cheaper to have some moron with a wrench changing tires than have it fully automated. I had been one of those morons, last year the entire crew chipped in and watched the big game in the shops lounge. Four days of struggle turned into a six hour block of edge of the seat action. We didn’t buy the pregame, that was just a string of sob stories and a training montage to get people invested. That was before the shop closed.

I wonder if the guys are watching now.

I sat up and opened the pack. It looked like something a kid would wear on the first day of school and was partially filled with basic survival gear: a knife, a pack of gauze with a small suture gun, an empty water bottle, and one fire starter that looked like a stick of shiny gravel. The knife was only sharp on one side and the blade was maybe three inches long. I needed to get to a supply point quick, or I’d be zombie chow.

The readout on my wrist showed three nearby points of interest, but only one was marked for weapons. I slipped the pack on as I stood. It pinched under my arms and made me feel like an idiot, but it wouldn’t slow me down just yet. The closest drop was off to the east. A few taps on my readout and I had a GPS point locked in on. My handler was on the ball.

My left foot slipped as a rushed forward. I righted myself before I tumbled arse over teakettle, but it was a noticeable gaff. The ground was covered in a thick moss and punctuated by a tangle of roots. Hopefully that wouldn’t be on the highlights for the day. There were cameras everywhere on the island, not to mention a couple of satellites trained on our little spot of paradise to capture everything worth watching, but the game wasn’t beamed out live. It was edited for content, meaning they removed the boring stuff in post.

Four days could lead to a lot of shots of huddled contestants as they slowly starved. Or, if the contestants screwed up, it could be one action packed day of thirty people failing to fight off a swarm of zombies. It was tragic, but the prizes rolled over when there wasn’t a winner. Last year had ended in a Mexican Standoff that no one walked away from, which meant that the pot this year was twenty million credits instead of the usual ten.

I checked my readout as I ran and grinned, a green arrow pointed straight ahead. As I ducked through a tangle of branches I wondered if the handlers last year had gotten paid. I pushed onward, the flat top of a cement shack pushed energy through my drug addled brain. They sedated the contestants before placement, that wasn’t part of the pregame that got any airtime.

It wasn’t something a sane person would do, but I dove through the final cluster of bushes. I had to make up for the slip earlier and if they were going to show something of my first day I wanted to look good. Stuff like that wouldn’t help you survive until the end, but if you did people would remember you.

I rolled as I dove, and came to a rest in a runners starting position. As I looked up I become instantly aware that I wasn’t alone. A startled man stood by the door to the squat cement shed. His closely cropped black hair was going white in the temples and he had a scar along the right side of his jaw. He was a good four inches taller than me, but I had at least ten pounds on him. It took me a moment to realize he wore the same faux-fatigues that I had on, they must have dressed us all the same to even the field.

“Woah, there.” He held out his hands in placation. “The first day ain’t one for bloodshed. I just want some supplies.”

He has the same pack as I do, not worth a ruckus.

“Okay.” I nod. “Open the door and let’s see what’s inside.”

I crossed my arms and waited.

“I’m Ross.” He tugged the door open.

“Isaiah.”

“That’s a good name.”

“Thanks.” I stepped forward. “What do we have?”

Ross pulled out a thin green container shaped like a home plate. He unsnapped the top and pulled out a collapsible shovel.

“I think it’s called an entrenching tool.” Ross held it out to me.

“A shovel.” I took it from his grasp and looked into the shed.

There were stacks of MREs, a few bottles of water, and bigger pack piled in the center of the shack. The shovel clacked into place as I extended it. Ross furrowed his eyebrows as he eyed the shovel in my hands. The serrated edge could easily saw through flesh and bone instead of wood. I shrugged and put it down by the door.

“I’ll take your little pack if you want that one.”

“That’s fair.”

Something metallic hit the floor as I pulled the backpack out from the pile. Ross and I looked down at the gun at the same time.

He lunged for it.

My foot flashed out and caught his shoulder. He stuttered back, but recovered quicker than I had expected. I couldn’t get to the gun without going through him. He was closer that I was, all I could do is keep him away from it.

In an inspired moment, I grabbed for the shovel. I gave a wild, one handed swipe. Impact sent an electric shock up my arm as the homerun swing stopped short. My eyes caught up with my arm a moment later. The shovel blade was lodged in the right side of his head just below his eye.

His left eye widened in shock as he started to speak gibberish.

“You could’ve survived this.” I yanked hard as gravity pulled him down.

I tasted bile in my mouth as the shovel came free of his skull. He twitched as I wiped the blade on his shirt. Something inside me switched off as I used the serrated edge to cut the straps to his bag free and transferred the contents to my small pack. I ignored the noise of him slowly dying as I loaded the supplies into the bigger pack. It fit nicely on my back, I kept the shovel out just in case I needed it again, but the gun came with a holster that clipped on my belt.

Ross had stopped making noises as I walked away. Once I was beyond the treeline I stopped to throw up.

29 contestant. Damn.

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