Free Fiction Thursday – Bait

Good morning, everyone!

How about we get Free Fiction Thursday back on track this week with a zombie story? I’ve been biting my nails as this season of The Walking Dead powers toward the inevitable all-out war between Rick and The Governor. Only two episodes left! Yikes. I have a feeling those next couple of episodes are going to be intense.

So in honor of The Walking Dead, this week’s free fiction is “Bait,” a story about what happens to a mismatched group of survivors when they try to do the right thing. Enjoy!

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BAIT

Annie Reed

Copyright © 2013 Annie Reed

Sarah saw the little girl first.

“Stop the truck!  Oh, George, please stop the truck!”

George didn’t want to stop.  He was still too freaked by the run out of Reno.  Half a tank of gas was all we managed to get at the last Arco station on 395 before the locals sniffed us out.  Most of them don’t come out into the sunlight, but every gas station in Nevada has a helpful tin roof over the pumps to keep the tourists from burning their tender scalps crispy red in the high altitude desert sun.

Not that Nevada has tourists anymore.

Not that anyplace does.

Doesn’t matter that we’re not from here.  We’re survivors, not tourists.  Everyone else are locals, as George calls them.

George doesn’t like to use the Z word.  Sarah and I don’t either.  Makes it sound like we’re in the middle of some low-rent horror movie.  We’re not.  And calling them The Infected makes it sound like they’ve just got a bad case of the flu, no big deal.  Trust me when I say, it’s a Very Big Deal.  End of the world, Big Deal.  I keep expecting to see an avenging angel sweep down out of the sky, Hollywood blockbuster style, and rip us to shreds for fucking up God’s grand plan.

Not that Sarah and George and I were responsible for this whole mess.  We were never responsible for much of anything, which makes the whole last three people on earth thing kind of ironic, you know what I mean?

“George, stop the fucking truck!”

Sarah yanked on the wheel before George or I could stop her.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Actual Darkness

Happy first Thursday in 2013, everyone!

I don’t know about you, but I had a very nice, mellow New Year’s Eve. In fact, I didn’t even notice the new year had arrived until about three minutes after midnight. At least I was awake this year. My family likes to tease me about the fact that most years I’m asleep by midnight even though I try not to be.

This week free fiction returns to Thursday with a science fiction story that’s definitely on the noir side. The title for “Actual Darkness” came from my friend Marcelle Dubé, a marvelous writer. Enjoy!

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Actual Darkness

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2012 by Annie Reed

When the naked woman fell on the hood of Jefty’s cab, at first I thought she was one of them End Times partiers jumping off the top floor of The Wynn.

People can’t take it, you see. End of the world’s not just a Bible thumper story, not no more. People see that dull light in the sky that used to be the sun and they get scared. So the rich ones throw parties to make themselves feel better. The hangers-on and party girls, they show up too, and when they all get drunk enough and stoned enough they think they can fly, well, they up and step off the roof. Guess it eases the pain, but it sure makes a godawful mess for those of us trying to get by best we can.

Most times the sun’s still got enough juice left you can see those damn fools plummeting down soon enough to avoid ’em, but once it gets to be about four in the afternoon, even the headlights on the cab ain’t enough to cut through the gloom, not now that half the damn neon on The Strip’s all busted up and nobody cares to fix it.

Now, if the cab was mine, I wouldn’t be driving it all hours like Jefty does. He says driving a cab up and down The Strip’s all he knows how to do, and that even in end times people still got places to go. I guess that’s true enough, but the end times we’re living in robs people of their good sense, just like them partiers falling from the sky. Some people who get in Jefty’s cab don’t want to pay him for their ride, or they might think about taking Jefty’s cab for themselves. That’s where I come in. Me and my gun.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – The Liar

Good morning, everyone!  How’s Thursday treating you so far?

There’s a photo making the rounds on Facebook these days that’s very popular with a lot of my writer friends.  In the photo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey, Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, aka Captain America, Thor, Ironman, and the Hulk, are all pointing at the camera with very superhero-ish looks on their faces.  Someone added the caption “You Should Be Writing!” at the bottom of the photo.  See why it’s popular with writers?  I’m thinking about printing it and taping it over my computer monitor.  There’s nothing wrong with inspiration coming in eye-candy packages. *g*

This week’s story features another writer who should be writing, but isn’t.  I hope you enjoy “The Liar.”  It will be free to read for a week.

 

The Liar

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

The steady rise and fall of his chest against her bare back soothed her, and the champagne tickled her nose.  Or was it the bubblebath?  Marie took another drink from the crystal flute.  She never drank champagne, but she would never have another opportunity.

Candlelight softened the alabaster ceramic tile on the walls and the plain white of her tub.  Flames glinted off the crystal and made it sparkle, and warm jasmine-scented water enveloped her.  The soft guitar of a William Ackerman song drifted in from the living room.  The moment was perfect enough that she almost forgot.

Almost, but not quite.

Marie closed her eyes and leaned her head on Brian’s shoulder.  “I’m going to miss this.”

Soft lips touched her temple.  “Not much time left,” Brian said.

“I know.”  She turned her head and nuzzled his neck, eyes still closed.  “You were my favorite.”

He chuckled.  “Liar.”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Patient Z

Happy Thursday, everyone!

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead. Right now, I’m in serious withdrawal since the second season of the TV show just ended (and what an ending that was! Whew!). So I thought, what better way to ease the withdrawal pangs than with a little zombie apocalypse tale for this week’s Free Fiction Thursday story. I hope you enjoy “Patient Z.”

 

Patient Z

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

Cover art copyright 2009 by Ivan Bliznetsov at iStockphoto.com

 

The Mayans got it wrong.  So did George Romero.

The world didn’t end in 2012.  It didn’t end in 2013 either.  The beginning of the end started on a quiet summer night in September of 2014 in an unremarkable corner of suburbia miles away from the nearest shopping mall.  If Madge had known what she was about to set in motion, she would have gone dumpster diving in someone else’s trash, but when you’re homeless, a glass bottle looks like nothing more than recyclable cash, not a plague waiting to happen.

The little stoppered bottle was stuck in the corner of a trash bag in the tenth recycle bin Madge raided that night.  Every other week, city workers picked up recycles along with regular garbage.  Most people put their garbage and recycles out the night before, either too lazy or too busy to do it in the morning.  Madge used to be too busy, too.  Not anymore.  These days, Madge had all the time in the world to rummage through recycle bins like she was making a late night trip to the bank , only instead of withdrawing cash, Madge lifted aluminum cans and glass other people threw away.

Madge had her neighborhoods memorized.  She knew which houses recycled and which ones didn’t.  She knew the every other week collection schedule better than most of the residents.  Raiding the bins was her full-time nocturnal occupation.  While turning in her finds didn’t net her a lot of money, she made  enough to keep herself in beer and the occasional bottle of cheap wine, neither of which the soup kitchens provided along with their free meals and the obligatory heaping helping of save your soul for dessert.

She found the stoppered bottle in front of a two-story house surrounded by a six-foot chain link fence.  The dirty yellow recycle bin sat next to the garbage can at the base of the gated driveway.  A padlock made sure nobody messed with the gate, and the yard was guarded by a thick-necked Rottweiler.  Most things except garbage were locked up these days, but not too many people had dogs anymore.  At least not dogs they let outside at night.

The dog growled when Madge rolled her shopping cart close to the driveway.  After she got close enough for the dog to catch her scent over the pungent odor of her cartful of recycles, the dog’s growl turned into a needy whine.

Madge had made friends with the dog weeks ago by feeding it scraps through the fence.  Turns out the dog just wanted a friend.

“Some guard dog you are,” Madge muttered.  “I’d have fired you, that’s what I would have done.”

Fired him, like Madge’s last boss fired her for not doing her job.  She didn’t blame him.  She’d been drinking a lot back then, back when Eli had left her and taken the kid and told her to get her damn act together as he’d walked out the door.  What a joke.  Nobody’s act was together anymore.  All everybody did was keep their heads down and survive the best way they could.

The dog was just like she’d been.  Stuck in an unsuitable job and an unsuitable life.  On the nights when Madge’s brain wasn’t too pickled to string more than a couple of thoughts together, she wondered why the people who hid behind a locked gate and the security system the little blue sign in their flowerbeds warned about never realized that their guard dog was lonely.

“Give me a minute,” she said to the dog.  “I got something real tasty in my pocket just for you.”

She’d fished rib bones out of somebody’s trash a couple of blocks over.  It was a good find on the nights she knew she’d encounter the occasional dog.  Or coyote.  The summer had been hot, the land baked dry beneath clear, rainless skies.  The  coyotes had nothing left to hunt in the foothills and were hungry enough to come down into the suburbs and scavenge in the garbage like Madge did.  The threat of coyotes kept other trash thieves out of the neighborhoods on Madge’s route.

Madge wasn’t scared of coyotes.  That was the good thing about hitting rock bottom.  She didn’t have much left to be frightened of.

The people in this big house never recycled beer cans, but they went through soda like it was going out of style.  The trash bags in their recycle bin were always full of cans already flattened.  Why people just gave away shit like this when they could make money taking it to the recyclers themselves, Madge didn’t know.  She picked up tonight’s bag to put in her cart, and that’s when she noticed the glass bottle at the bottom.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – The Liar

Good morning, Internets! It’s Thursday, so that means it’s time for a brand new free story.

Today’s story is THE LIAR. My short story website informed me it’s the 28th post, which means THE LIAR is the 28th short story I’ve posted in as many weeks. That’s over half a year’s worth of free fiction, with more to come. *g* Cool beans! I hope you guys are having as much fun reading as I am writing.

The Liar

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

 

The steady rise and fall of his chest against her bare back soothed her, and the champagne tickled her nose.  Or was it the bubblebath?  Marie took another drink from the crystal flute.  She never drank champagne, but she would never have another opportunity.

Candlelight softened the alabaster ceramic tile on the walls and the plain white of her tub.  Flames glinted off the crystal and made it sparkle, and warm jasmine-scented water enveloped her.  The soft guitar of a William Ackerman song drifted in from the living room.  The moment was perfect enough that she almost forgot.

Almost, but not quite.

Marie closed her eyes and leaned her head on Brian’s shoulder.  “I’m going to miss this.”

Soft lips touched her temple.  “Not much time left,” Brian said.

“I know.”  She turned her head and nuzzled his neck, eyes still closed.  “You were my favorite.”

He chuckled.  “Liar.”

Yes, she was a liar.

She sighed and put the glass down on the cold bathroom floor and rose from the empty tub.

***

Her bedroom was dark, the shades drawn against the afternoon sun.  Marie clicked on the bedside lamp.  Michael moved underneath the comforter, his eyes still bleary and unfocused from sleep.

“Why don’t you crawl in?” he asked, holding the covers up for her.

She finished rubbing her bath-wet hair and let the damp towel drop to the carpet.  “It’s tempting,” she said.  She pulled a sweater over her head and sat on the edge of the bed to put on her jeans.

Michael dropped the covers. “I hate goodbyes,” he said.  “It is goodbye, isn’t it?”

She concentrated on her shoes and socks.  “Yes,” she said. She could feel his eyes on her.  Michael’s hazel eyes, soft and expressive.  She closed her own, remembering.  Imagining.

“Time is running out.”  He swept damp hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear, his touch gentle.  “I wish I could stop it.”

She wanted more champagne, yearned for alcohol and oblivion.

“You were my favorite,” she whispered.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Bait

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Since I’ve had a cold for the last week and for the most part have felt like death warmed over, how about a little zombie apocalypse story to celebrate this day before Friday?

Bait

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

Cover art copyright 2010 by Ivan Bliznetsov at iStockphoto.com

 

Sarah saw the little girl first.

“Stop the truck!  Oh, George, please stop the truck!”

George didn’t want to stop.  He was still too freaked by the run out of Reno.  Half a tank of gas was all we managed to get at the last Arco station on 395 before the locals sniffed us out.  Most of them don’t come out into the sunlight, but every gas station in Nevada has a helpful tin roof over the pumps to keep the tourists from burning their tender scalps crispy red in the high altitude desert sun.

Not that Nevada has tourists anymore.

Not that anyplace does.

Doesn’t matter that we’re not from here.  We’re survivors, not tourists.  Everyone else are locals, as George calls them.

George doesn’t like to use the Z word.  Sarah and I don’t either.  Makes it sound like we’re in the middle of some low-rent horror movie.  We’re not.  And calling them The Infected makes it sound like they’ve just got a bad case of the flu, no big deal.  Trust me when I say, it’s a Very Big Deal.  End of the world, Big Deal.  I keep expecting to see an avenging angel sweep down out of the sky, Hollywood blockbuster style, and rip us to shreds for fucking up God’s grand plan.

Not that Sarah and George and I were responsible for this whole mess.  We were never responsible for much of anything, which makes the whole last three people on earth thing kind of ironic, you know what I mean?

“George, stop the fucking truck!”

Sarah yanked on the wheel before George or I could stop her.

The truck swerved toward the shoulder of the four-lane highway.  George managed to work the brakes to keep us from rolling into the ditch off the side of the road, but I got bounced around in the back seat.  If I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt, I might have found myself thrown up front with my face kissing the dashboard.

We’d found the king-cab pickup a half block from where our last car ran out of gas.  The keys were still in it, along with a gun under the front seat and a box of ammo in the glove box.  Gotta love redneck cowboys.  The guy who’d slapped an NRA pry my cold dead fingers bumper sticker on the back of the truck was nowhere to be found.  I guess he was either dead meat or a shambling local.  I pocketed his gun along with a bunch of the ammo.  George drove, and Sarah rode shotgun.  The arrangement had worked fine up till now.

“Sarah! What. The. Fuck?”

George looked like he wanted to slap her.  He was a wiry little shit, black hair thinning on top.  He wore wire rim glasses that never did stay up on his nose like they were supposed to, so he was always pushing them up.  He had mean eyes behind those glasses, and thin lips that practically disappeared when his mouth pressed together in a tight, angry line.  He got mad at Sarah a lot, but she let him fuck her, and that must have counted for something because I never saw him hit her.

George was the one who wanted the truck — probably trying to make up for a lack of other equipment, not that I had any desire to ever find out.  He made a move on me once, just once.  I’d discouraged him — I’m good at that — and that had been before I got the gun.  He never made a move on me again.  If he thought he could survive on his own, he’d probably dump me, but in this fucked up new world, there’s strength in numbers.  That’s what makes the locals so deadly. There are just so damn many of them.

Sarah cringed away from George and turned scared eyes on me.  “There’s a girl out there, Holly.  I saw her.  Just a little girl!”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – One Sun, No Waiting

Happy Thursday from snowy Roseburg, Oregon! I’m on the road to a workshop and did not expect to wake up to big, fat, fluffy snowflakes this morning.

In honor of the cold weather, this week’s free story is about a world where the sun is dimming a little more every day, and one old motel owner’s struggle for normalcy in a world that’s anything but.

One Sun, No Waiting

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 Annie Reed

An old motel man like me, I appreciate good tenants. The ones who don’t steal my towels, don’t bust up the television or spill beer on the bed, who don’t burn holes in the carpet and don’t forget to turn the lights off when they leave — they’re welcome at The Forty Winks any time. I always have room for ’em.

Better make it soon, though. I’m hoping differently, but I don’t expect I’ll be around much longer. I don’t expect many of us will be around.

See, as it turns out, celestial bodies have tenants too. Who would have thought the sun was hollow and something lived inside? Sounds like a bunch of hooey, don’t it? I might have said the same thing just a couple months ago, but these days it’s pretty damn real.

Scientists concocted a fancy-pants name for it, but as far as I’m concerned all it means is that the sun turned out to be just temporary living space for folks on their way to someplace else, just like my motel. The last tenants in our neck of the universe pulled a damn good trick on us. Turned out the lights when they left. Just switched the sun off, like it was the Lord’s own light bulb.

The good news — if there is any — is that the sun’s on a dimmer switch. Scientists have a fancy-pants explanation for that, too, but I don’t care much about scientific stuff. All it means to me is that the sun loses a little more light every day until pretty soon I guess there won’t be any light left at all.

Right now my watch says it’s eleven in the morning, but outside it looks like it’s twilight. I used to think twilight was the prettiest time of day here in the Nevada desert. Everything painted a cool lavender-blue, the heat of the day just starting to bleed off into the night air, the sharp tang of sagebrush and the dry dirt smell of dusty sand tickling my nose.

It’s not so pretty when it’s twilight all the time, not when you know pretty soon the night won’t ever go away.

“The damnedest thing, Jimmy,” Maude tells me every day. “Ain’t it just the damnedest thing.”

I suppose I should be grateful Maude’s still here, still cleaning rooms and changing beds. A lot of people just took off, figured it was the end of the world and nothing much mattered anymore. Not Maude. She’s worked for me for nearly twenty years. She’s a good woman — not a looker, but she’s sturdy and strong-bodied with gentle, faded-blue eyes and a quick smile. She puts up with my cigar smoke with only an occasional sour expression, and she has never once teased me about my receding hairline or my increasing waistline.

Folks used to say one day I’d marry Maude. Maybe I should have, but I guess I turned out not to be the marrying kind. Don’t seem to me it matters much. We’ve been together longer than most people who walk down the aisle, and that should count for something.

“Ever wonder what we’re still doing here?” I ask her.

Maude’s hanging laundry out to dry. I rigged a clothesline for her in the little patch of fenced-in backyard out behind the motel office. We still have electricity, but brownouts are more frequent these days, so Maude decided to dry sheets the old-fashioned way, like her Momma did.

I grab one end of a clean sheet and tack it up on the line with a clothespin. Maude fastens the other end, then adds a couple of clothespins in the middle.

“Where else should we be?” She nods her head toward the motel, a U-shaped building with twelve units, half of them full. “Like these fools? Running when there ain’t no place to run to?” She snorts as she picks up another sheet.

“I heard a couple people say they were headed out to Yucca Mountain. Another one’s going to the Lehman Caves. Going underground might not be such a bad idea.”

It’s already getting colder, even out here in the desert. When the sun goes out for good, I imagine it’s gonna get seriously cold real fast. Being underground might be a little bit warmer.

“Like the government’s going to let just anybody into Yucca Mountain. I don’t hear anything about the President going to Yucca Mountain. That guy who ran against him — he’s probably going to Yucca Mountain.” Maude makes rude noise and takes a clothespin out of her jeans pocket. “You really want to live down there where they want to put all that nuclear waste?”

No, I don’t. I never did trust the government’s plan to bury the nation’s nuclear garbage practically in my back yard. Seemed rude somehow, considering no one ever asked me how I felt about it.

“I heard the Lehman Caves have bats,” Maude says. Maude don’t like bats, calls ’em rats with wings.

Together Maude and I pin another sheet on the line.

“You don’t seem altogether too upset about this,” I say after a minute.

“Wouldn’t do me any good if I was. Can’t do anything about it.” Maude shoots me a look. “You getting maudlin on me, Jimmy?”

Maybe I am, just a little bit, but I tell her no anyway.

Our conversation’s interrupted by the sound of a car pulling off the highway. The Forty Winks sits seventy-five miles northeast of Las Vegas on a lonely stretch of State Route 93, a two-lane highway that don’t see much traffic these days. The post office calls our stretch of road Greenville, Nevada, but the town’s no more than a couple of double-wide trailers, a combination gas station/mini-mart, my motel, and a diner, the old-fashioned soda jerk kind with an eight-stool counter and three tables crowded against the front windows. Even with Las Vegas just an hour away, Greenville’s businesses manage to make just enough money to stay open. People always seem to need someplace to stop, gas up, eat, or get a few hours sleep.

My new tenant’s a thirty-something man, looks like a business executive, maybe a banker. Thin without being skinny, just a little shorter than my five foot ten. High forehead. Brown hair, thin on top; wire-rimmed glasses, not too thick. He’s dressed in khaki pants, a nice golf shirt, and the gold watch on his wrist looks like it cost more than I made in the last six months.

Probably not a good idea to flash that watch around. It’d be a powerful temptation to some. So far most of the end of the world lawlessness has been confined to the cities. I keep my daddy’s shotgun loaded and behind the counter, though, just in case. I expect that sooner or later I’m going to have to use it.

“I need a room,” the man says. His eyes meet mine briefly, then slide away.

“Just you?”

“Myself and my son. He’s five. He’s out in the car.”

The car parked in front of the office is an Audi, maybe a couple of years old. Could be silver, could be light blue. In this new twilight, it’s hard to tell. The car’s windows are tinted. I can’t see inside.

“Okay,” I say.

His eyes do the sliding away thing again. He’s looking everywhere around the office. Everywhere but at me.

Read the rest of the story here.