I was reminded of this the other day when I commented on a thread on FB how the Original Outer Limits left a big impression on my wee, warped mind, remembering afterwards an episode with sentient tumbleweeds or some such thing, and how I am sure something from way back then influenced the tale that is the focus of this blog post.
Is it just blog or is it post or blog post? Ahhhh, thinking out loud.
Anyway, I was also reminded of the title story to my new collection, Autumn in the Abyss, and how it goes surreal toward the end, what with an appearance by Jack Kerouac and, well, you'll have to see. If there's such a thing as Extreme Surrealism, it might qualify, haha...
Anyway, for your reading pleasure or amusement or brow-furrowing WTF was that, John Claude?, I give you "Tumbleweeds." Originally published in the Small Bites anthology from around 2005, I believe. An oldie but not bad, not bad at all.
500 words and...
By John Claude Smith
The red mottled diaper rash that had spread down Tommy’s thighs inspired cacophonous vocal complaints from the baby.
“Darrin, he needs his ointment and a change. What are we going to do?”
They both froze as the feverish wind continued to howl and lash, tumbleweeds bounding like stray beach balls across the strange, full-moon bathed luminescence of the desert. But the howling that most perturbed them had nothing to do with the wind. It seemed there was a pack of coyotes prowling the perimeter of the tiny ramshackle shack.
A pack of coyotes whose presence remained a mystery.
The car had broken down twenty yards from the shack. Lacking a cell phone connection, Darrin and Carrie, with baby Tommy in tow, had made a dash to the shack for the slim possibility it would have a phone or, at the very least, that it would provide a more comfortable shelter. They were wrong on both counts. There was no electricity in the abandoned shack and the one glassless window permitted the wind’s turbulent trespass as it rustled dust and debris within the cramped confines. They even had to prop a wooden chair against the door to keep it shut.
Now, with the desperate, forlorn howl of the coyotes resonating all around them, any trek back to the car to retrieve the diaper bag, idiotically forgotten in their haste, seemed unlikely. And yet, as Darrin peered out the lone window, all he saw were loping tumbleweeds.
Tommy increased his volume, drowning out the coyotes’ chorus. Or had they retreated? Minutes passed in which only Tommy’s harried screech and the whining shriek of the wind battled unsuccessfully for dominance. Darrin’s squint-eyed perusal out the window still revealed no sign of coyotes. He had yet to see any, having only heard their agitated wails.
“I’m going to chance a run to the car.”
Carrie hugged the bawling baby. “Are you sure?”
“I think the coast is clear.”
Without hesitation, Darrin moved the chair and darted out. Carrie yelled, “Be safe,” and re-propped the chair against the doorknob, all the while feebly attempting to pacify Thomas.
Instantly, the coyotes commenced with a caterwauling racket, accentuated by Darrin’s anguished, stunned cries. Carrie gasped, clutching Tommy tighter. She heard meaty ripping sounds, distraught yelps from Darrin, and finally, silence. Even from Tommy.
It seemed the wind even paused, before brusquely shaking the shack some more.
There was a dull knocking at the door.
She glanced out the window—no coyotes—and swiftly, anxiously pushed aside the chair, prepared to drag Darrin in with her free arm if necessary. The wind shoved the door open. She did not see him.
A tumbleweed struggled against her ankles. “Help me,” it pleaded, in Darrin’s voice.
“Oh…my…” she whispered, dumbfounded.
Looking out at the tumbleweed cluttered landscape, she noticed with shock and bewilderment that none of the tumbleweeds were tumbling to the wind’s relentless caress anymore.
They were slowly, steadily pacing towards the open door.
Creepy, eh? Surreal, for sure. I like what that does even now. I can't say that about all of my older fiction, but this one brings a smile.
A new blog/post/blog post/dear god(s) what do we call it? will be up soon; sooner than this one. I am thinking a Horror Book Recommendations list and/or/and one for catching up on the reviews for Autumn in the Abyss (here's the latest Goodreads review; great stuff, eh?) and I really need to catch up on publications, stories just out and upcoming...and even poetry. So, a lot waiting in the wings, but for now they will glide above us awaiting my next blog/post/blog post/help, please help...
Here's a house under attack via those nasty tumbleweeds. I told you they're sentient...