short stories

Halloween Free Read: Brethren

Brethren

There’s something living in my tree—in the old, half-dead sugar maple that corkscrews its way up through the forest canopy in a tortured spiral. Perhaps this thing is feeding upon the heart of the tree, a cancer killing it from within? The old maple’s beech and ash neighbors seem reluctant to get too close, keeping a respectful, if not ashamed, distance between themselves and the twisted giant. Great fissures crease the maple’s gray bark, tracing patterns among the many burls and hollows.

What manner of creature might lurk in those fissures?

I have never really seen the thing directly. It is always a doubtful shadow, teasing my wandering eye. A fox perhaps? Maybe a squirrel? But those are living things, creatures that prove solid and certain, given the proper attention. The shadow thing is noiseless and shapeless, a deep gray patch of uncertainty lurking in the corner of the eye, an elusive rip in the fabric of the real and substantial. Blink and it’s gone, and color once again bleeds into the empty space, filling the void.

* * *

This morning, a heron landed upon the old maple, all slow pendulous grace and ponderous flight above the tendrils of fog that clung to the ground below. It lit upon one of the dead branches that points like a decaying, pale finger toward the shadows of the woods beyond. The bird settled upon the tree in a rustle of feathers, the decrepit branch creaking beneath its weight. Languidly, the heron turned its gaze upon the small stream that wound its way along the edge of the rise upon which the ancient tree stood.

My gaze was held by the bird for a minute or more before it occurred to me to grab my camera in order to capture the moment. Fortunately, I spied the device sitting on the desk next to my computer. Just a step away, but a step that would take me from the window. I took a long last look at the motionless, meditating form of the bird before lunging for the camera.

I returned in a rush to the window but alas, I was too late. The heron had vanished. No bird of such size could have flown away so quickly. I was away from the window for no more than a second or two, and yet the bird was undeniably gone. It had disappeared from the twisted old maple, from the crook of a branch just beside the gaping maw of the hollow in the heart of the tree where the mysterious gray something dwelt.

* * *

The neighborhood cats are at it again. Fighting? Mating? Who can tell what strange desires stalk the haughty minds of cats? All that I knew was that it was well after midnight, and an otherworldly noise was coming from my porch, a whining growl that set my teeth on edge and the hairs on my neck on end.

Slipping into a heavy robe, I crept quietly from my bedroom to the window that opened upon the porch. Gently, I pulled back the frayed corner of the thick green curtain. Nothing. The noise was coming from beneath the long wooden bench under the window, and I could not see beneath it from my hidden vantage point. I let the curtain’s edge drop back into place and sat with my back to the wall, eyes fluttering against the creeping tide of sleep and the seductive promise of dreams despite the noise outside.

The maddening growl ended with a sudden, awful screech. 

I spun, rising and throwing aside the curtain violently, hoping to catch sight of what had made such a terrifying noise—or what had silenced it. 

There.

At the edge of the porch, at the edge of the light, it crouched, hunched and terrible, like an emaciated child with long, stick-thin limbs and eyes of the glossiest jet. A huge orange tabby cat hung limply from its jaws. 

And then it was gone. 

I shook my head. Had I really seen such a nightmare? It was no more than a momentary apparition at the edge of the light, and an insubstantial one at that. Had I mistaken my own reflection or the reflection of something in the room behind me for a creature with a cat in its jaws? Shaken, I double-checked that all of the doors were locked and bolted tight before I returned to the uncertain comforts of my bed. 

At the end of a troubled, sleepless, yet blessedly silent night, I ventured out onto the cold concrete surface of the porch. No blood, no fur. Had I imagined the whole affair after all? I returned to the house and put on a pot of coffee and made some toast but was unable to eat or drink as I stared through the kitchen window at the deep, shadowy recesses—like so many hungry mouths—lining the sides of the old maple tree.

* * *

A trap. That’s what the situation called for. Some way to lure the thing from out of the concealing night and to capture it, thus proving to my own doubting eyes that I had indeed seen the creature. But what to choose for the bait? The heron and tabby cat suggested that the thing seemed to feed on animals of a moderate size. I resolved to visit the local shelter and enact the “rescue” of an animal in need.

My fevered brain worked through the sordid details. I would leave my trusting ward out on the porch at dusk, tied firmly to a leash. Then I would wait, hidden behind curtain and blinds, with just the smallest of holes cut in the curtain through which I would track the approach of the beast. I positioned a black leather armchair beside the window and settled in for a long night’s observance.

Birdsong prodded me gently awake in the morning after a dreamless night. I had not slept for well over a day and had not eaten for close to forty-eight hours. The exhaustion had overwhelmed me. Scrambling fully toward consciousness, I raced outside. The frayed end of the red leash lay like an accusing question mark on the patchy lawn.

* * *

The shelter won’t let me have any more cats. The woman there was polite but obviously a little scared—possibly terrified. Her plump fingers shifted nervously from toying with the ends of her knitted wool scarf to adjusting the wire-rimmed spectacles that framed her wide eyes. She never seemed to be willing, or able, to meet my own troubled gaze. I focused instead on the pale curve of her neck where it emerged from beneath the smothering embrace of the scarf. I suppose five cats in one week would be somewhat suspicious, even to a woman whose desk was festooned with framed photos of herself posing with dozens of the creatures.

The bathroom mirror at home, spattered with toothpaste and dirty water and so long ignored, revealed a possible further cause for her suspicions. I had begun to lose weight. My gray eyes were nearly hidden in deep, dark hollows beneath a pale, greasy brow. Patches of stubble shadowed my sunken cheeks. Dull, unwashed brown hair, newly streaked with gray, stuck out in all directions, and it was a struggle to straighten my spine, prematurely bent from my constant stooping to peer through the blinds of the various windows around the house, my eyes hungry for a glimpse of the creature.

I have not changed the rumpled clothes that hang awkwardly on my increasingly spare frame, nor have I bothered to bathe of late. It is quite possible that I am the source of an increasingly unpleasant odor that permeates my house, but I cannot say that I pay it much mind. More distressingly, I have not eaten in over a week. I still feel the impulse to eat, but everything in the cupboard turns to ashes in my mouth. 

I need more cats.

* * *

I had not realized that I was so quick. I shadowed the big black tomcat that claimed dominion over the local feline clans, my movements unnaturally silent across the fallen leaves, through the bare, mossy, toothpick trees tinted green in the damp twilight. 

I crept up behind this king of cats as he crouched to drink from a small, dirty puddle, and…

Got him!

Never have I moved with such speed! In an instant I had him by the neck. Out from behind the tree I had sped on noiseless, bare feet.

And then the grabbing. The twisting.

The snapping of bones like dried twigs underfoot.

But the snapping had not come from beneath my feet. Rather, it had come from between my clenched, claw-like hands. I held the limp form of the tomcat loosely, curiously. What good was a dead cat to me? The creature would not come for a dead thing. Or would it? Why was I so certain that it would not?

I sat on a bed of damp, rotting leaves, the wet soaking through my torn and reeking jeans, and stared at the corpse of the cat. Why had I killed it? I hugged my knees to my bony chest in meditative silence, unblinking eyes focused on the dead thing lying before me. I am so hungry, so very, very hungry.

When my mouth began to water, I bolted upright and ran as quickly as I could away from the carcass.

* * *

Squirrels, foxes, cats, frogs. 

Birds, bats, lizards, mice. 

They have all been surprisingly easy to catch, yet none seem to survive the catching. I climbed down from the tree and stared at the lifeless gray form of the squirrel clutched in my pale, dirty hand. 

Useless.

I have not seen the creature for well over two weeks. I still have not eaten significantly outside of the few small morsels I manage to choke down on the rare occasions that I return to the dubious comforts of home.

Mostly I keep to the woods. My clothes are threadbare, ripped to ribbons by chases amongst the trees and grasping shrubs, through cold, rocky streams, and even into caves that I had not previously been aware of at the edge of my property. I sleep in the largest trees or in leaves hastily piled upon the cold earth as I wait, ever watchful. To what secret, shadowed corner of these woods could the beast have fled?

* * *

I think, perhaps, that I am a damned soul. I came to this sorry conclusion as I followed a child home through the woods today. One of the neighbor girls perhaps? She was a small thing with waves of loosely curled black hair, kicking at stray leaves and sticks with tiny, mud-splattered pink and white sneakers. I tracked her along the wooded path as I would a cat, or a fox, or one of my countless previous victims. To my shame and horror I thought of putting my scabbed, calloused fingers around her soft, snowy throat. Would it be so different? Could it be so easy—so terribly, terrifyingly easy?

I stopped at the edge of the woods and scrambled up into the comforting, concealing shadows of a large pine. There I crouched, gnawing upon my cracked, yellowing nails as I watched her through narrow eyes, clinging desperately to whatever decency remained within my diseased heart. I think that perhaps she heard some tiny sound or felt the weight of my predatory gaze, because she turned, her eyes wide and darting as she scanned the woods. Then she spun and took off in a chaotic, stumbling dash for the safety of home, of mother, of cookies and hot chocolate and marshmallows. 

The hunger may be killing me.

I pray it does before it drives me to some desperate act.

* * *

I haven’t returned home in weeks. My skin has taken on an unpleasant, sallow shade and my already thin hair is falling out in clumps. What am I doing out here? I am so hungry and I can’t seem to find the creature from the old maple. Why am I succumbing to this obsession? I sleep during the day now, while the sun makes its blinding progress across the heavens, and my eyes seem to have adapted to the perpetual nocturnal gloom that clings to these woods.

* * *

I have never really enjoyed poultry. Chicken, turkey, duck—all of them too dry or too greasy for my tender palate. Perhaps the mistake all along was in cooking them. I caught a crow today, and before I could control my hunger, I was tearing at it with my teeth, a mess of feathers and warm blood clinging to my face and arms.

And by God was it good—so good that I managed to suppress the horror of what I had done. And momentarily—if only for a few brief, blessed hours—the hunger subsided. 

I wonder what squirrels taste like?

* * *

I have finally spied the creature that lurks on the boundaries of my every waking thought and haunts my clouded dreams.

I have been tracking it for three weary days and am fairly certain that it knows I am on its trail. But my new skills are all being brought to bear and it has yet to shake my dogged pursuit. We are moving deeper into the woods than I have ever been before—into a land of spectral shadows and quiet whispers. 

The ancient trees seem to watch me with scarcely concealed malice. Or perhaps something lurks within their branches, peering out with malevolent, hateful eyes? The remnants of my shirt have fallen off a sickly, skeletal frame that I scarcely recognize as my own. The jeans are made of stronger stuff, but they too will succumb eventually. I have my doubts about whether I will miss them when they are gone, if I will feel any shame prowling naked through the shadows.

The last remnant of dusk has long since faded as the creature moves into a clearing, and I follow on calloused, silent feet, sometimes dropping to all fours when the situation requires. Though the beast has always seemed a dull, empty gray to my daylight eyes, it now takes on a luminous glow in the pale light of the moon as it mounts a small hillock covered in ghostly, dying flowers. 

She turns—and I am sure it is a she—and smiles at me from beneath a tattered veil of lank black hair. Lips like thin straps of black leather part to reveal wicked rows of sharp, uneven, yellow teeth. A shuddering, keening howl erupts from all sides of the clearing and a host of gray, hunched forms detach themselves from the shadows and caper forward to greet their terrible queen.

And I too am howling in a savage, primal voice. It is a voice that does not belong to the world into which I was born, a world of sunlight and comfort and bright colors. For I am a creature of the shadows now, a skulking terror from the elemental darkness of a child’s nightmare, a hungry thing that goes bump in the depths of the unfathomable night, skittering across roofs on clawed hands and feet, scratching at windows. 

I run a pale, swollen tongue over my own jagged fangs and creep forward to join my brethren as they cavort in ragged, snaking spirals around their goblin queen. 

Countdown Deal This Week

This week only, get two ebooks for just 99¢!

My latest novel, The Pike, a cyberpunk, dystopian thriller, will be on sale this week (Monday 8/1 through Friday 8/5) for just 99¢. Not feeling the whole military SF, cyberpunk, dystopian vibe? Then that same 99¢ will let you sample some of my work in other genres with The Singles Collection, a selection of twenty one short stories and novellas ranging from interstellar SF to urban fantasy to horror. 

 
 

Don't forget: if you're a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can borrow these books, and the rest of my work, FREE from KU today! And Amazon Prime subscribers can get one book a month (including mine!) from the Kindle Lending Library. Ready to borrow or buy? Then hit the links below...

The Pike

Ben Kazmaier’s mother is in a coma, and he and his veteran father are working triple shifts at PikeCo to pay for the machines that keep her alive. When terrorists strike close to home and his mother disappears, Ben is forced to choose between his duty to his family and joining an uprising against his corporate masters. It is a decision that will tear open the wounds of the past, cause new blood to be spilled, and change life on the Pike forever. 


The Singles Collection

Twenty-one stories. Twenty-one worlds. Some are close to our own. Others are less so. It begins on the frontier colony world of Abilene, where Jak and his band of retired Imperial marines hunt for a monster that killed one of their own. It ends in an alternate-history version of early 20th century Manhattan, where young Rory Donnelly has just been assigned to the Tesla cannon batteries that protect the walls of Gotham from an impending attack by the Kaiser’s runesingers and genetic monstrosities.

And Now, For My Next Trick…

(TL;DR version: Over the course of November, I will attempt to write and publish nine short stories, free to read online or as an ebook in early December. Want to learn more? Read on…)

The problem is never finding new story ideas. The problem is being able to ignore them long enough to write the story that’s in front of you now. Or at least that’s how it goes for me. I lose momentum on the work in progress when I get distracted by the bright and shiny object of a potential new story.

So I made a deal with myself as I was drafting The Pike (my new cyberpunk/dystopian science fiction thriller novel) these past couple of months. Every “new” idea that popped into my head was tossed into a text file on my desktop with the promise that I’d tackle them when the first draft of The Pike was complete. Tackle how? By doing a rapid-fire writing and publishing sprint with as many ideas as seemed viable in the month that followed. And do it all within the limited 2-3 hours of writing time available to me each day.

Madness? Perhaps. Glutton for punishment? Not if you enjoy writing! Besides, I’ve never done NaNoWriMo, so this seemed like an interesting twist. And I certainly didn’t want to fall into that post-drafting rut that makes the words dry up for a week or two after a first draft is complete.

Anyway, when I finally staggered across the finish line after the first pass through The Pike, I immediately dove into the Text File of Deferred Ideas. I knew it would be bad, a bloodbath even. And it was. Fully half the snippets, characters, worlds, and plots I had dumped in there held no interest for me anymore. The fire had faded. Others seemed interesting, but didn’t get me as excited as I knew I would need to be to deliver a bunch of stories quickly.

I buckled down with the remaining ideas, knowing that I would have just a little over a week to decide which stories I would be taking on. And all the while, I tried to ignore the fact that my normal short story writing process takes 1-2 weeks to advance from idea to the first draft being in the bag. Oh, and did I mention that I’ve decided that the novem root of November means that I'll be challenging myself to finish nine stories in the month?

Nine readable stories.

That means I'll need to do editorial passes and polish drafts instead of the raw word count that is de rigueur when it comes to NaNoWriMo. The stories will not be wart-free, but they’ll be as good as I can make them in a month. The end game here is to go back and rework the stories with a little distance and the help of anybody who dares to read them at this early stage of development. More refined versions of these stories will then be made available for sale in both print and ebook format in the early months of 2016.

But what if you’re brave, or curious enough, to want to see the sausage being made? Well then, pull up a chair, dear reader, November is going to be interesting.

I’ve already expanded the ideas that survived the initial purge, mashed a few together, then added structure to create story skeletons for my nine tales. I have a week’s worth of pre-planning ahead, but after that blessed extra hour of sleep on Saturday night, I’m going to disengage the emergency brake and go for broke on November 1st.

How can you follow along? You’ve got two choices, both free. If you want to watch it happen live, I’ll be publishing the stories on Wattpad, though you’ll have to register to read them (note: registration is free!). You can read the stories on the Wattpad website or on any of your phone/tablet devices using the free Wattpad app.

If you’d rather receive an early holiday gift, I’ll be distributing a free ebook containing all nine stories to my newsletter subscribers in early December. (Not a newsletter subscriber? Sign up now!)

This has the potential get ugly. If I get even a minor cold, I’ll probably crash and burn. Maybe the pre-planned stories will refuse to cooperate when I try to write them, forcing me to come up with entirely new tales on the fly. Maybe one or two of them will even try to explode into full-blown novels.

Should be fun to watch…

Preludes & Elegies Launch Announcement

Were there parts of The Dreambetween Symphony that you didn't quite understand? Were there characters you wish had gotten more time to strut their stuff upon the stage? Are you still confused about how to pronounce some of those Welsh names and words?

Good news! Preludes & Elegies, the fourth and final installment in my historical and paranormal fantasy series, The Dreambetwen Symphony, is now available from finer e-book merchants across the web. For a limited time launch window, this companion e-book to the series will retail at just 99¢ before rising to its normal sales price of $2.99.

Learn more about the book (including links to buy it!), by clicking the cover image in this post or this link. In a hurry to buy? I've got the Kindle version for you right here.

Thanks for reading!

The Singles Shift

The Singles Collection is getting a facelift and a shift in market strategy. While the single-volume compendium of all twenty-one short fictions is still available at all of the print and ebook outlets that my work is currently distributed through, the six individual titles are now available only on Amazon, a requirement of their being part of Kindle Unlimited.

As KU titles, the books are now free to read for subscribers to that service. But the shift to Kindle-exclusivity for these books also allows me to run special sales for non-KU members, the first of which begins today. All weekend (August 15 & 16), all six individual books in The Singles Collection are on sale for the low, low price of $0.00. This is a limited-time offer, but if you have an Amazon account, you undoubtedly have access to a device that can read Kindle ebooks (apps are available for non-Amazon phones, tablets, and personal computers of all sorts). Barrier to entry = ZERO!

All seven books (the six individual books plus the single-volume compendium of all twenty-one stories) also feature updated titles and formatting. To find out more about the books and where you can buy them (or get them free!), hit the button at the end of this post.

Thanks for reading.

The Singles Collection is Now Complete

Over the course of 2014, I've released six volumes of short stories and novellas. These have been a mixture of new stories and some of my favorites that were gathering dust in the unpublished back catalog, some for as long as a dozen years. All twenty-one of those stories are now collected for the first time in one place. The Singles Collection is available in both print (6x9" paperback) and ebook formats, and would make an excellent holiday gift for that someone special on your list who doesn't mind the science fiction getting mixed up with the fantasy on their plate.


Twenty-one stories. Twenty-one worlds. Some close to our own. Others less so… 

It begins on the frontier colony world of Abilene, where Jak and his band of retired Imperial marines hunt for a monster that killed one of their own. It ends in an alternate-history version of early 20th century Manhattan, where young Rory Donnelly has just been assigned to the Tesla cannon batteries that protect the walls of Gotham from an impending attack by the Kaiser’s runesingers and genetic monstrosities. 

In these pages, M.S. Hund spins tales of short fiction that span the speculative gamut from dark fantasy and psychological horror to dystopian science fiction. Previously available in six volumes, each focused on roughly similar themes or genres, and now gathered together in one master compendium, The Singles Collection includes… 

A Desolation of Grass, The Crow Hag’s Boy, Here There Be Monsters, Forgetting Leo, The Butterfly Jar, Yesterday’s War, Bale of Mars, The Rune Painter, Flicker, A Fragile Circle, Speaker Bryn, A Shipbuilder’s Prayer, Stork Is Not a Name I Love, The Ballad of Slaughter Rose, Letters from Paris, Songbird, Brethren, The Head Washer’s Tale, The Old Blood, The Musketeer’s Prayer, The Sack of Gotham


EBOOK

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo

PRINT

Amazon | CreateSpace

Speaker Bryn & Other Tales Now Available

The sixth and final installment in my Singles Collection of short stories and novellas is now available at finer e-booksellers. Stay tuned after the following blurb and links to buy the ebook (just 99¢!) because one of the stories in this volume, The Musketeer's Prayer, is available in its entirety at the close of this post. Admittedly, it's what's known as flash fiction (less than 1000 words) and is more about evoking mood than telling a story, but I hope it does both and that you enjoy it...


The Speaker is a safe conduit, a channel the living can use to talk to the recently dead. Or so the Church of the Holy Communicator teaches. But true Speakers pay a price for their gift, and Bryn’s past is about to demand that he pay that price in full…

The eponymous Speaker Bryn is joined in this collection by three more tales of dark fantasy and the occult: The Musketeer’s Prayer, Songbird, and The Head Washer’s Tale

==================== 

This is the sixth and final volume of M.S. Hund’s Singles Collection. Each volume’s stories are focused on roughly similar themes or genres, spanning the gamut from science fiction to fantasy to horror.


BUY NOW

Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks


The Musketeer's Prayer

(from Speaker Bryn & Other Tales)

 

Musketeer Six prayed.

“Oreon protect me when death stalks the field.”

A line of purple and gold crested the hill before him, muskets at rest on their shoulders, legs kicking high and straight. From somewhere behind them came the sound of the Imperial rune-chant, slow and sonorous. 

"Show the bullets a path around and not through."

“Odds high, evens low,” came the high voice of the Reverend General, tinny from its passage through the tubes that relayed his message from the command bunker to the front.

"Nothing shall touch this blessed flesh, this hallowed soul."

Six was an even, and evens were low. He dropped to one knee, placing his musket before him. Funnel in the barrel, powder in the funnel, remove funnel. Ball into barrel, ramrod, one and two and three. 

Firing position.

"Quench their spark and spoil their aim, for I am the Lord Prophet’s own."

Why did none of the words of the Musketeer’s prayer invoke accuracy on his part?

"Hold, men," came the Reverend General’s disembodied voice. "Hold and put your trust in the Lord Prophet.”

"Oreon protect me when death stalks the field."

Six could see the metal grills covering the faces of the Imperial soldiers now. No eyes, no flesh visible. Their bodies entirely covered. There were some that said nothing human lurked beneath, that whatever the first volley knocked down would rise to advance before the second could be readied.

"Show the bullets a path around and not through."

Purple and gold filled the sights of his musket. Six’s sweat soaked the blue wool of his uniform. He wondered if the fresh dye, not quite blotting out the blood of the uniform’s previous wearer, would stain his flesh. When they pulled the uniforms from their bodies after the battle in order to stitch up the holes and prepare them for the next musketeer, would the skin beneath be the holy blue of the Lord Prophet? Would that guarantee Six a place in Oreon's hall?

"Nothing shall touch this blessed flesh, this hallowed soul."

"Hold," came a distant voice. Six no longer remembered who it belonged to or why he must obey it, but obey he did. Obedience was everything. Hadn't mother told him that when she entrusted him to the Lord Prophet? Hadn't the Lord Prophet’s ministers said that as they demonstrated the loading and firing of the musket?

As they drilled the prayer into his head.

As they handed him a freshly stitched and dyed uniform.

As they handed him a musket blessed by the Lord Prophet’s own hand.

“Quench their spark and spoil their aim, for I am the Lord Prophet’s own."

All in this line of blue were the Lord Prophet’s own, yet how many would survive the rain of bullets that would soon scythe through their numbers? Could the Lord Prophet protect them all from lead and fire? There were none to ask that question of, for all of those standing beside and behind Six were like him, boys entrusted to the Lord Prophet and facing their first battle in his name. None boasted the gold stripes upon their forearms that signified an engagement survived.

Six remembered the Reverend General addressing them before they marched out from the trenches. He remembered the sleeves of the great man’s uniform glowing as he held his arms aloft, more gold than blue, so bedecked in combat stripes were they. He remembered the advisors standing behind the Reverend General, their arms similarly aglow.

Six and the boys like him—the boys holding the muskets—had numbers, not stripes. They were little more than their numbers now.

What had his name been before the ministers christened him Six?

Before they gave him musket and uniform and prayer?

"Hold," came the voice of the man with the innumerable golden stripes.

"Oreon protect me when death stalks the field."

The purple and gold advance continued. They were nearly at the bottom of the hill. Soon they would be climbing toward the blue line of the Lord Prophet’s army. Six could see the sun winking off the cruel blades affixed to their muskets, could imagine with frightening clarity the cold progress of one of those blades between his ribs.

"Show the bullets a path around and not through."

The prayer said nothing of blades. Six fought to keep his trembling under control. The barrel of his gun danced, the sights wobbling before his eyes, stinging with sweat, blurred with tears. Not that it mattered. Wherever the sights swam, they were still filled with purple. It was impossible to miss.

Or to be missed.

"Nothing shall touch this blessed flesh, this hallowed soul."

He heard the others around him now. The prayer, once whispered or recited in silence, rose like the muttering of the stream behind the house he had shared with his mother and sisters. Father had been there in the dimness of his childhood. Before the war. The shadows of older brothers moved through those memories well. How many? He could not remember.

Father and brothers, all entrusted to the Lord Prophet.

How long ago?

Six could not remember, could not remember how long the war had been raging.

"Quench their spark and spoil their aim, for I am the Lord Prophet’s own."

Six could not remember the faces or names of his father and brothers. Nor could he remember when he had begun to yell, a wordless challenge echoed by the other boys in the Lord Prophet’s blue. The faceless metal masks drifted up toward him on a blurred mist of purple and gold. 

Six felt the tears streaming down his face, dimly heard the distant voice of the Reverend General telling him to fire, fire, fire, fire, fire.

"Oreon protect me when death stalks the field!" Six screamed.

He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.


 

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story. If you're not already subscribed to my newsletter, why not do so now and get yourself another free story (plus more free stories every few months)?

 

Coming Soon: The Butterfly Jar & Other Tales

Next week will see the launch of Volume 5 of The Singles Collection. This time around, the stories are loosely science fiction, though purists will probably insist that they're borderline science fantasy. Whatever the case, if your tastes run to the dystopian or post-apocalyptic portion of the genre-fiction spectrum, this group of stories will probably be right up your alley.

As a teaser and to whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from the lead story in The Butterfly Jar & Other Tales...

__________

Excerpt from The Butterfly Jar

 

Dana burst from the tall grass, a whirlwind of pale, awkward limbs and a pink plastic net. She leapt, arms raised high above her head, her teeth bared in a savage smile as she brought the net crashing down on a patch of violet wildflowers.

She crept forward—keeping the pink net pressed firmly against the ground—and an exultant smile began to spread across her face. Her prey, its blue wings so pale they might have been white, fluttered beneath the mesh. Carefully, Dana twisted the netting around the frame, her eyes never leaving the trapped butterfly. She stared at it for a long time before standing to pick her way back through the grasping claws of half-dead shrubs to where her bicycle lay abandoned by the side of the desolate highway.

Dana knelt beside the scratched and dented frame of the old bike and rummaged blindly through her bag with one hand, keeping her eyes fixed on the butterfly. Her fingers brushed against the cool glass of a Mason jar and she pulled it free. Wedging it between her knees, she twisted the dull silver cap off and bunched the netting around the butterfly, transferring her prey to its new home.

She screwed the cap into place and held the jar up to catch the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun. It was a beautiful specimen. The wings held the light, glowing as they flapped slowly within the glass prison. Dana watched the butterfly for a long time as the shadows lengthened across the quiet, windless plain.  

Finally, she set the jar down and pulled a ragged road map from a bag so covered in a motley of butterfly patches that its original yellow barely peeked through. She traced the thick yellow line of the highway toward Springfield—toward Grandma Sylvie’s house. Then she stuffed both map and jar back into the bag with a rueful sigh as the butterfly disappeared from view. 

Sliding the bag up onto her back, Dana tightened the frayed straps and walked the ancient bicycle out to the center of the bare expanse of cracked, gray asphalt. She paused, aligning the bike with the fading yellow lines that ran down the center of the road, and then she was off, pedaling down the empty highway toward a low line of dark hills in the distance. A piece of plastic fixed to the bicycle’s frame thwack, thwack, thwacked a lonely staccato against the spokes in a vain attempt to drive back the surrounding silence.   

Weeds pierced the cracks in the road and grew up around the rusted hulks scattered along the berm, mostly obscuring them, hiding any bodies that might be entombed within. Dana ignored the dead vehicles and kept her eyes locked on the far-off hills as she began to drift back and forth across the yellow lines that marked the way to her grandmother’s house. 

Back and forth, back and forth, Dana wove her way into the dusk, her mind wandering into the past.

*

The lawnmower was acting up again, its guidance program crashing hard. The flattened orange cylinder darted erratically about the tiny emerald patch of lawn as the housebot loped along in pursuit. One of the housebot’s glossy black limbs shot out and upended the little mower, leaving it to spiral wildly on its back, an orange plastic turtle desperately trying to right itself as its blades whirled and gnashed at the sky above. Finally, a small puff of black smoke billowed from the mower’s underbelly and the blades spun to a halt. The housebot reached it in two long strides and gave it a kick.  

Dana’s laughter ended in a fit of coughing. Her throat burned as she pulled the covers tighter around her, staring out the window at the squabbling robots in the front yard. Three days on the couch and she was still sick and miserable. Her eyes shifted to the driveway, where her parents were saying their goodbyes. It was Dad’s turn to stay home with her today, and she watched him give a slight wave as her mom disappeared into the sleek silver car crouched at the curb.

She sank further into the pile of blankets and called up a display from the house computer, deciding to skip yesterday’s math lesson for now. Mr. Muncy’s droning monotone would just put her to sleep again. Dana brushed at the icons suspended in the air before her, navigating away from the familiar confines of grade six mathematics and scrolling up toward the great unknown of high school. She had noticed a lecture on butterflies in an advanced biology class during a series of bored searches yesterday. Finding the class directory, she retrieved the lecture from the archive, and a female teacher’s voice, high and marvelously accented, filled her earphones, enveloping her in an aural cocoon.  

Dana smiled weakly at her father as he came back into the house accompanied by the housebot, the forlorn little orange mower cradled in its arms. Her father pantomimed to her that he was going to make breakfast, and she nodded as giant holographic butterflies began to flutter around the couch. After a minute or so, she nudged the volume down to a background hum and just watched the panoply of wings flapping about her. One by one, the insects were frozen and expanded as distinctive wing markings were highlighted and identified. Her head nodded and she drifted off to the droning buzz of the lecture.

A crash from the kitchen woke her suddenly, and Dana twisted her head around to see her father’s back, his spine rigid. A shattered plate and cracked ceramic mug lay on the tile at his feet and she could see that he was staring intently at the speaker embedded in the face of the small silver oven. He raised a tentative hand toward it and then lowered it again, leaning in toward whatever he was listening to. The scene stretched and twisted before her.

Then, as suddenly as it had come, the stillness was broken.

Her father scrambled to the back door and looked out at the horizon, then turned and grabbed the house phone from the counter, his fingers stabbing the buttons as he hurried back toward Dana. The look in his eyes was frightening, and her hands shook as she pulled out her earphones. He muttered under his breath as he strode into the swirling mass of butterflies that surrounded the couch, the telephone pressed firmly to his ear, his forehead creased. Standing over her, he paused for a long moment before tossing the phone aside with a hissed curse.

“Dana honey, can you walk?”

His voice came out high and thin, and his face was ashen.  She nodded and struggled to her feet as he turned to the housebot.

“Power up the shelter and gather as many fruits and vegetables as you can carry.”

The bot’s face flashed green in acknowledgment, then it spun and sped off to its tasks.

Dana took a few faltering steps on slippered feet before she collapsed. But her father was there to catch her, and she could feel his heart beating rapidly beneath the thin fabric of his white cotton undershirt as he lifted her. They were barely through the back door when the phone began to ring behind them. Her father stopped suddenly and whispered, “Laura.” The housebot dodged past them, heavy canvas bags full of produce draped over its thin arms.  It paused, face flashing yellow in confusion as her father grabbed its plastic shoulder.

The sky was gray and cloudy behind her father’s face as he placed her gently in the mechanical arms of the housebot. The smell of ripening fruit drifted up to her from the bags it carried. Again the phone chimed faintly from within the house.  

“That might be your mother,” he said, and gave her a stubbly smile, tussling her short hair before ordering the housebot to get her to the shelter and keep her safe.

Then he was gone, racing back into the house in search of the telephone.

---end excerpt---

__________

The Butterfly Jar & Other Tales will be available in electronic format for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and iBooks. If you don't want to miss the launch next week, your best bet is to subscribe to my newsletter. Email not your thing? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or watch this space...

Paranoia, Predators & Human Sacrifice, Oh My!

A Fragile Circle & Other Tales, the fourth volume of my Singles Collection of short stories and novellas, is now available on the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo stores (links below) for 99¢. iBooks, as always, will follow in a few weeks when Apple gets around to "approving" the book.

How about a peak at the blurb and the cover?

Five short tales of dark fantasy & psychological horror from M.S. Hund, featuring… 
* A Fragile Circle. Bobby Mendes is gifted with rare intelligence and a talent for reading auras, but those abilities only serve to attract the unwelcome attention of Greg Mason and his pack of bully friends. When Bobby gets put in a “special” class at school, he learns that his new classmates have a way of protecting themselves from their tormentors. But their methods carry a cost. 
…and four other stories (Flicker, Brethren, Here There Be Monsters, and The Old Blood) that range from predators on the boardwalk to ancient rituals on backwater islands in the North Atlantic to the dubious fruits of the paranoid mind. 
 

 

A Fragile Circle & Other Tales

Now Available At

Amazon (Kindle)

Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Kobo

 

Long Weekend = More Time to Read

The third installment of my Singles Collection series, The Sack of Gotham & Letters From Paris, is now available for 99¢ on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Apple, taking their sweet approval time as always, will have it up on iBooks sometime in the next century.

Sigh...

On with the blurb!

* * *

Two of the world’s greatest cities serve as the stage for two tales of alternate-historical fantasy… 

* The Sack of Gotham. It’s the early 20th century, and the Kaiser is coming! By Unterseeboot and by zeppelin, with twisted biology and the rune-songs of the Hexenmeister on their side, the German Imperial Army and Navy cross the Atlantic to invade America after their conquest of Europe. But the walls of mighty Gotham are protected by the miracle machines of American technomancy, including the devastating Tesla Cannon. 

* Letters from Paris. 1765. Paris. Stephen Cooper has run away from his family home in Massachusetts to apprentice with the famed magician and explorer Doctor Marlowe. But not everyone has the talent to perform magic, and there are many who fear and distrust magicians. And their apprentices… 

 
 

BUY NOW

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo