Saturday, October 13, 2012

Trick Or Treat Or...Oh, No, Not THAT Halloween Horror Story!

Yes, THAT one.  The story is called, "The Perfect Pumpkin."  My one and only Halloween Horror piece.  Been published a couple times.  The most common response is, "EEEEEWWWWWWWWWWW!"  So, you ready?  No more messing around.  Here's your pre-Halloween Treat...or Trick.  Matter of perception.



The Perfect Pumpkin

by John Claude Smith



     “If it wasn’t a week before Halloween, I’d be scared crazy.  But I know you well enough, Danny, to know that you like to tell stories, and I’ve already heard this one a dozen times over the last two weeks—”

     “But it’s true, Melinda.  Cutter’s farm is where old Dr. Ranier does abortions, or at least did them.  Look, it’s perfect:  it’s just far enough out of town as to be kind of anon…anonymous.  He used to be a doctor, a…a baby doctor—”


     “Yeah, yeah, an obstetrician.  And he was disbarred—”

     “That’s for a lawyer.”

     “Well, shit, Brainic!  He lost his license and moved out here, about ten, maybe twelve-years-ago, and since he’s not really a farmer, he has to have some income, so he—”

     “So he sets up office as a country abortionist—”

     “And the babies are supposed to come back to haunt anybody who trespasses—”

     “Stop!  I’ve heard enough.  He must be doing some farming now, otherwise, where’d all these pumpkins come from?” 

     “I dunno, they must grow wild.  Creepy stuff, eh?”

     “Just nightmares or rumors, made-up stories meant to scare kids from having sex, and in this case, ‘cause of the abortionist slant, getting pregnant and all that.  Kind of a gruesome safe sex message, don’t you think?  And isn’t that what all horror stories made primarily for kids are up to, anyway?  Just like in the movies, if you’re a teenager and you have sex, the boogyman’s gonna get you—ooooOOOOOoooo, I’m soooo frightened.”

     With whiplash precision, she shifted her attitude from mockingly scared to salaciously seductive, easily distracting him.  “Danny, oh, Danny, bab-eeeee...” She purred the last syllable, long and languid.  She grabbed his crotch, squeezing hard, whispering something nasty and oh-so-enticing in his ear.  As his penis turned to steel, his brain turned to mush.  

     Having gotten his attention, she let go and backed away.  “You gonna help me get a perfect pumpkin from this patch or not?”

     “What about my—”

     “Later, big boy, when we’re out of range of any sexually oppressed boogymen disguised as abortionist farmers.”

      Danny Cruise peered out at the fog-mottled field, wispy tendrils like plumes of thickening smoke eerily weaving through the pumpkins, looking like a congregation of ghosts…or a herd of monstrous beasts lashing the pumpkins with writhing tentacles; his imagination sprang back to life with a potency that unnerved him while coinciding with the deflation of his penis.  Melinda Harner, his girlfriend, folded her arms across her burgeoning bosom, trying to fend off the October chill.  She peered at him, obstinate in her quest to obtain the perfect pumpkin.  Now that she had spotted what she claimed was the most perfect pumpkin for miles around, in which she would carve the winner in the school contest, something that brought a wee bit of fame in a small town like Bloomfield, she was dead set on obtaining this pumpkin, and only this pumpkin.  No other pumpkin would suffice.     

     Danny hopped over the barbed-wire fence, ragged metal tips ripping two fingers; he winced, put the stinging fingers in his mouth, and sprinted toward the fog-embraced pumpkin patch.

     “Which one did you want?”  His voice seemed not to carry, trapped in the puffy white shroud of fog.   But it did carry, and she responded

     “There,” Melinda harrumphed, pointing to his right at the perfect pumpkin, she thought, for her to carve a masterpiece.  Her voice hit Danny with the force of a thunderclap; goosebumps tickled his flesh. 

     After having heard about the fat, perfect pumpkins in this patch, as well as the sordid recent history of the farm via whispers in the hallways at Lincoln High, anxiously retold by Danny mere minutes ago, Melinda knew she had to check it out.  Her nature was competitive and she was always looking for that special edge.  If this patch actually had the perfect pumpkin she coveted, she knew the edge would be hers.  No horror stories were going to stand in her way.  

     “Here,” he said, pointing at one of the dozen or so seemingly perfect, unblemished pumpkins in the direction she had pointed.  How could she even tell the difference?   

     “No, there,” she bellowed, the volume almost knocking him over again.  It was cold and he was tired and if he didn’t really love her, he’d already be anywhere but here with a space heater melting his icy flesh and thawing out his freezing blood. 

     Without speaking, he pointed, and she shook her head, yes--thank God!  He pulled out his switchblade and cut the coarse vine, trying to disengage the pumpkin.  After a brief struggle, he was victorious, but noticed that he’d smeared blood all over the ragged stem.  He assumed it was from his still bleeding fingers, not inclined to inspect it any further. 

     He plucked it from its roost, amazed by its weight.  It was about as big as a slightly super-sized basketball, not huge, but its heft made his arms ache.  She better be really appreciative for this, he thought, and ran back to the fence.  He handed the pumpkin to her so he could hop over the fence again.  

     “Careful, it’s heavy,” he said, as he put it in her eager hands.  She grunted and agreed.

     “Damn!  For its size, that’s gotta be the heaviest pumpkin I’ve ever felt.”

     Danny braced himself and leaped, this time with even less grace, catching his foot and plopping down hard on his butt.  Melinda laughed at his awkward predicament.  He frowned at her.

     “What?  I do this favor for you and you laugh at me now, ‘cause I’m cold and tired and...”

     She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead as he brushed the weeds out of his hair and clothes.

     “Carry this, would’ya?”  More insistent than requesting, already handing him the pumpkin.

     “I’m just your slave—”

     “Slave to my beguiling charms.”  She put on the act, puppy dog eyes and pouting lips on full display. 

     They started the two-mile trek back into town, their pace brisk, trying to keep warm.

     “It’s probably cursed, probably why I tripped up going over the fence.”

     “You’re just clumsy.  There’s no curse for takin’ a pumpkin.  No dead babies gonna haunt you.  I’m just gonna carve a winner out of this one.”

     “That stuff is true.  I mean, all that about Dr. Ranier doing abortions and stuff.”  He put his fingers in his mouth again, balancing the pumpkin against his chest.  Apparently the cuts were deeper than he’d thought, and continued to bleed profusely. 

     They both fell silent for a handful of minutes, purposeful strides taking over as the night grew even colder.  The overcast skies portended rain and they just wanted to make it home before it started. 

     And then Danny stumbled, dropping the pumpkin.  Not hard, catching it before it really hit the ground, but enough to have it land with a leaden thump on the dirt.

     “Damn it, klutz!  Do you need walking lessons or what?”  Melinda was beside herself with anger, squatting to inspect the pumpkin.  All this for naught, she thought; all this for naught.

     “Shit, Melinda.  It’s not like I meant to—”

     “You bleedin’ on it?”

     “Yeah, cut my finger on the fence, bled on the stem…”

     Melinda scooted away from the pumpkin, inexplicably alarmed.  “How can that be?  The pumpkin’s got blood comin’ from inside.”

     They both watched as a thin line of blood trickled from a miniscule crack towards the bottom, where it had hit the ground.  The red liquid pooled in the dirt.

     “T-That’s impossible,” she said.  “Can’t be any blood comin’ from inside a pumpkin, only pumpkin, seeds and all.  You must have bled a lot more than you thought,” she said, forcing a smile, obviously in denial of what she was witnessing.  More blood seeped from the crack. 

     Danny pulled out his switchblade and approached the pumpkin.  He knelt before it, not really sure what he was going to do, but feeling safer with the knife in his hand. 


     With suddenness, curiosity took over, and he plunged the knife into the thick hide of the pumpkin.  Blood gushed out, mixed with another unknown fluid that diluted the crimson tide, along with stringy pumpkin guts and pumpkin seeds, spattering the dirt and his shoes.  He pried with the knife and his fingers, pulling the pumpkin apart. 

     “Oh, Christ!”  He moaned in revulsion at what he saw. 

     Melinda squealed, “What is it, Danny? What is it?

     The pumpkin had split wide open like a cracked egg.  Danny jumped to his feet, hands dripping wet.  An intolerable stench was belched from within the split pumpkin, forcing him to cover his face with his sleeve, while Melinda openly retched, dry and empty.  She was on her feet as well, fingers digging crescents into Danny’s arms.  He didn’t feel a thing.  They both just stared in horror and disgust.

     Within the womb of the pumpkin, entwined within a network of ripped veins, a ruptured clear sac, and pumpkin guts and seeds, two large yellow eyes, like jaundiced moons and devoid of pupils, attempted to blindly seek out the source of intrusion.  It probably did not see them, thought Danny, as his stomach roiled like a fist-sized hurricane, battering his insides. 

     It was a fetus, a mutation of inconceivable ugliness borne of nightmares and rumors and curses made real. 

     “Oh my God, Danny…Danny!  Melinda cringed, teetering on hysterical.

     The obscenity, skin stained with blood but otherwise as orange as a healthy pumpkin, turned itself in the direction of Melinda’s voice, the tiny holes where ears should be steering it in her direction, their direction.  Gurgling noises emanated from its throat, wet sounds and orange spittle passing by its lipless slit of a mouth. 

     “We need to go--now!”  Melinda, beside herself, doing a nervous dance of desperation: she wanted away from here posthaste…or sooner!       

     “Wait,” Danny said.  “I think it’s trying to…say something.”

     Melinda pulled harder on Danny’s arm, afraid to leave without him, the night and clouds and vast darkened landscape uninviting despite her urgency to run as far away from here as possible.   

     C’mon! Let’s go!

     The sound that rose from the baby’s mouth unhinged the muscles in Danny’s legs.  He slumped to the ground, transfixed by the fetal abomination squirming and convulsing and hideously alive within the pumpkin.  Melinda tumbled with him, but not for long.  He scrambled to his feet and dragged her to hers, his feet pounding the dirt like a chorus of hammers, matching the freight train rhythm of his heart; his swiftness almost lifted Melinda into the air as one would a kite.   The utterance, repeated again and again, insistent, scarred the night with its cawing message, resonant and haunting, cursing both of their ears forever. 

     One word, only one, but Danny and Melinda would remember it until the day they died. 

     “Daddy,” it screeched, it begged.



Yeah, perhaps I do have problems, hahahaha...

Saw this photo posted recently on FB, a pretty good fit for the story, eh?












Monday, October 8, 2012

Look. If You're Going To Do Zombie Fiction... it right, do something original or at least with a bit of inspiration behind it besides eating brains. Use your brain, shake it up!

You all know I could give a flying squirrel about zombies in general, but...but...occasionally, I go slumming and something like this happens.


This is the beginning of a long piece on the backburner while I deal with the Weird stuff in progress--probably about four stories down the line, though new stuff can shuffle that around, as well as needs some editing, proofreading, tweaking, so bear with me--but I can see completing this one sooner than later, because where it's headed is shocking and unexpected. That's actually why I decided to start writing it, because the ending--oh dear!  The tentative title is Aftermath, though The Reawakening is in the running, too.



     I woke to screams… 
     Harsh light made my eyelids repeatedly blink; the mere recognition of light as harsh stumbling through my brain.  Along with the waking and screaming, two things I had not registered in I don’t remember how long.
     My breath hitched, as if caught in my throat, as if imprisoned and now paroled, finally allowed to leave, to escape into the stale air, and die.
     I coughed, the abhorrent smells and steamroller crush of all-around input knocking me for a loop. 
     Everything around me felt as if it was being experienced for the first time in too long. 
     The dawn seemed too new, too fresh, too unreal, its brightness ravenous, as if I had not witnessed a sunrise or the morning itself in, again, too long.
     Everything around me pummeled me with input that I understood but felt as though it was more something understood from my past, and not from any time recent; like reacquainting oneself with an old friend.  It made no sense--these perceptions--and the fact that it made no sense and I recognized this thought as it took shape in my head, clearly, and with conviction, made it even more confusing.
     What is going on?  That is the next thought, not linear, no, the thoughts and sensations were ricocheting about in my head, and it was too much, too much--
     Another breath, this one controlled, take it in, feel the lungs expand, feel it, hold it in, hold it--release.  Sigh, crinkle the nose, focus the eyes--the light had startled me, the way it seemed to sizzle on the orbs, acid burning a hole to the pit of a truth I did not understand.  This thought was not understood, but it stepped aside quickly as another thought swaggered into formation, and another, more, congealing without design--
     Deep breath this time.  Hold it longer, gain control, sense if the adrenaline will simmer, see if it’s possible to think one thought, then the next, work it, control the influx; control was the key. 
     The rush had whittled away my reserves, as if I had reserves, it whittled away the calloused armor that my existence for some undisclosed amount of time had demanded as protection, as necessity, in a world gone…simply gone
     Not knowing the circumstances of my present situation, not understanding anything as it unraveled before me, and the fresh-peeled quality to my senses, I was at a loss as to what to make of any of it.  
     From somewhere back in the recesses of a reality I used to know, the reality that was my life, the memories slammed into me, memories that signaled direction, from whence I came:
     Jenna on the sofa, smiling; Brianna in her pink Winnie the Pooh one piece, crawling across the floor, nonsensical noises coming from her throat, happy noises as well.
     I’m strumming my pitch black with red trim Ibanez guitar, fingers loosened for the show a couple hours later.
     I am happy as well, smiling as I slide my fingers up the fretboard; I’m ready.  All we are doing is waiting for the sitter, Jenna’s cousin, Elise, who is also Jenna’s best friend, but she’s not into concerts, the crowd, the noise, and is always glad to watch Brianna and veg out with a couple rental movies while hanging out with Brianna.
     I glance up to take in this good life, to see my wife and daughter, and the look on Jenna’s face signals something is shifting, something in this reality, this good life, as she watches the news, yelling in my direction (more a stepped-on puppy yelp), “Michael,” and that was all, pointing, for the first time since I had known her she was mute in observance, no words to convey her shock as she watched the local news.
     On the TV, a newscaster flailed at a disheveled person grabbing at him, his jacket tearing in the grasp of this person---intruder--the female sportscaster to his left shrieking, “Somebody.  What’s happening?  What’s--” and is cut off as another person, this one not so disheveled, this one also in a sports coat and tie, pinstripes thin and thick, and he grabbed a hank of her hair and pulled her toward his mouth, as if--
     He bit into her face, the camera shook, bodies flowed toward the front of the lens, and we watched as blood spattered and screams clipped and something was very wrong, this was not the movie channel, this was real, more real than any reality TV could ever imagine being, and Jenna put her hand to her mouth, covering it, wanting to scream
     I set the guitar down, sensing the vibe of something tangible flow through me, like an airborne rash, like many mosquitoes landing stinger first on my flesh, turned to the window as I heard metal on metal crunching, more than once, a destructive rhythm like what one might hear in an industrial song.
     Accordion crunched cars line the streets.
     “Michael,” Jenna says, her voice now a shattered mirror (reflecting what?), picking up Brianna, something clunky about her physicality, but I assume it’s because something has slipped out of sync, this moment, and the moments that follow.  I take in the atrocity as it unfolds, first on the TV, and now on the streets below us, two floors down, people are climbing out of the wreckage and attacking each other, not out of anger, but something more vile and incomprehensible: they are attempting to eat each other--and succeeding.
     But already the screaming has stopped, there’s something different in motion.  As if a wave of desensitizing mist has washed over them all, and the screams that would normally be emitted  are now somehow caught in the throat and rendered unnecessary
     I turn, slight angle toward the TV, not sure what to say.  The camera on the TV is laying on the studio floor, sideways glimpse of the frenzy drenched in blood and more, viscera thick and steaming, piled on the floor, disemboweled and re-inserted into mouths slobbering as festering wounds.
     And I sense it again, the rash flushing over and within me, a momentary flux of something, my throat constricting and then a desire--
     --and then back to myself, me, Michael Varanolle, watching as I turn all the way to see my wife, Jenna, mouth caked in blood and flesh and Brianna laid open and--
     --I sense, momentarily again, the flux of something primal and it scrubs any thought from my head, not cleanly, I still have seconds within the transformation, this sinister metamorphosis, but it scrubs the humanity from me and the last thing I remember until this moment, right now, is tearing my daughter, Brianna, from the frothing, masticating frenzy that is my wife’s mouth, and sinking my teeth into the ruptured body.
     And joy.
     And blank. Nothing.
     Until now.
     I roll over, not even standing yet, and heave.  It pours out of me, the memories and pain and knowledge that something deep and abysmal had taken over my soul, all of our souls, and somehow, cruelly and with no mercy and with blunt force certainty, that something had finished with its stay in this body, my body, and maybe more like me, and had not deleted the memories that mattered, the memories that sting and drive me to heave again, the floor spattered with more of whatever I had digested last, chunks of meat and blood and I heave one more time, teeter and fall to the side, my body hitching, the act of vomiting burning my esophagus, my throat, my brain for the inspiration.
     Tears follow, the knowledge too much to comprehend, none of this makes sense: this day, this moment; my life.
     I cry because I know how to and it is unstoppable. 
     Because I am human--again--and not whatever creeps through my thoughts as the grim messenger of what has transpired.  A grim messenger whose message is encrypted, a code beyond breaking.  Perhaps, perhaps not, but right now--right now--I heave again and it’s dry as dust, but my stomach still begs catharsis. 
     I don’t know what has happened, but I do sense that something is again in transition and--
     My tears for the loss and the madness, eclipsed by the pain, the physical veracity of being human--again?--of feeling again, it seems, and I hurt, Christ (Christ?  Where for art thou, Christ?), the pain ratchets up to a never imagined level, and I open my moist eyes to see me, actually see me and my surroundings, and take in the sounds and smells and sensations for the first time in I don’t know how fucking long.
     The screams surround me, everywhere, pain dominates, it is the God that remains.  And it is not just screams, it is death that is being expressed, realized, and experienced. 
     I hurt, I see on my flesh the tattoos of a battle not remembered.  I have scabs and gashes, wounds long ago healed still leaving their impression; wounds more recently acquired, it seems, still caked in filth and blood. 
     Breathing hurts as well.  It’s been so long (I think; I think).
     Seeing is a torment that fills me with such dread as to make me wish for blindness again but I expect it--whatever it was--was not blindness.  It was the empty pages between the last memory and now, written in invisible ink, thankfully, but the question demands asking.
     What has happened?
     What has happened to our lives, our world?
     I want to crawl into myself and cry, let out all the emotions within, the unconfirmed but obvious knowledge that everything I have known up to…that point, those undefined few days, weeks, months, years back, everything…is gone.
     Brianna (What did I do?).
     My life.  Our life.  All gone.
     I remember a quote from an old Science Fiction movie, something about memories being lost like tears in rain, but it’s obvious, as I take in the world around me, the sounds and sights and smells, that any memories I had have not been lost like tears in rain, more like tears in blood.  Gallons and oceans of blood.
     I stand, legs wobbly, feeling like a baby again--how do I do this?--but the function is by rote, and I stand and it takes control again, and I shuffle toward the window of the thrift store it seems I am in--everything broken, everything--and I stare out on to the street, and it is an abattoir.
     There are bodies everywhere, death and dying and--
     A hand yanks at my pant leg.
     “Help me,” says the mouth attached to the body attached to the hand that is below me, the body only a torso, the lower half a red slug trail only a few feet in length.
     He has just awakened as well.
     “Hel--”  But the word dies, as he spasms and vomits on my bare feet, and the warmth is as much a shock as the mere watching him die right there at my feet.
     And the smell.  The vomit seems something inhuman, and yet there is every evidence that the acidic pool at my feet, on my feet, is most probably the digested remains of something that was once human.
     Was once human, I think.
     The shock of my expulsion, of the similar smells then, emphasized by the smell, now.  The smell is gamey; I choke and gasp; I wobble but keep my balance.
     I shuffle again, this time away from him, tearing his fingers from my pant leg--his grip had grown vice-like in death--and step on some of the broken glass from the shattered window.
     I scream a little, “Ouch, fuck,” and hearing my voice, this thing that reminds me of what a desert would sound like if it was given voice.  It causes me to pause, stop everything, stop, please stop.
     I am alive, and that which signifies living has taken control of my senses again, and the control overwhelms as the senses come back into focus, and my body is filled with pain and understanding that no man should ever feel or know, and I drop to the floor and dry heave, knowing what I have done for some time now, what I have subsisted on, and I buckle and dance as a flame-lit ant as nothing pours out of me.  I already am empty.  I want it all to pour out, but nothing comes but more tears.
     Nothing is the same. 
     Nothing can ever be the same.
     Why can I sense this, all of this, again? 
     Why allow me to understand again when there will be no making sense of any of this, no matter the understanding?
     Jenna.  Brianna.

Fun, eh?  Not your average zombie fiction...?

Shameless Self Promotion:
If you haven't yet, perhaps you should check out my collection, The Dark Is Light Enough For Me.  No zombies--well, okay, that one story veers in their direction a bit--but dark, horrific fiction well worth your attention.  Here's the Amazon link, check the reviews, buy one for yourself, one for your friends, Romans and countrymen and, er...Enjoy!

As for a photo?  Yeah, Zombie Uncle Sam works just fine for me in this politically charged season.