Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Short Fiction: A Familiar Face at Phantom Coffee

A Familiar Face at Phantom Coffee
by Void Munashii


   There were not a lot of options at half past one in the morning for a man on foot trying to escape the pouring rain in downtown Shoreside City. The Burger Bro was drive-thru only at that hour, and the Apollo Coffee that was open was full of hipsters and people on their laptops trying to write in public.

    Chris Paynter was not looking to be surrounded by people. All he wanted right then was to be someplace out of the rain. He had been having a rough evening.

    When he saw a brightly lit shop on the corner about a block down, he brightened. The sign over the window, a deep, apparently intended to be spooky, purple identified the place as “Phantom Coffee”. The bright red sign neon sign in the window identified the place as “OPEN”.

   He clutched his satchel to his chest and ran, feeling the water in his sodden socks squish between his toes with every step. He practically crashed into the door when he got to it.

    The door was fashioned from metal at least meant to look like forged iron. It made the door look like it would be more at home in a  dungeon than on a coffee shop. It swung open easily with the jingling of a bell suspended from the inside of the glass. Chris slowed long enough to stomp some of the water off of his feet on the mat.

   The inside of the coffee shop looked more like an old fashioned diner than a coffee shop. There was a long counter with stools running along its length running down one side of the customer area, and booths lining the walls along the window.

    The shop appeared to be empty aside from Chris, a man at the service counter wearing a rather smart looking charcoal suit, and the man in the deep purple apron standing behind the same counter. The badge on the man’s chest identified him as “Joe”. All of the glossy purple boothes he could see were empty, as were the counter’s glossy purple stools. There were a set of stantions with deep purple velvet ropes strung between them blocking off one end of the coffee shop; as sign on the middle stantion read, “This Section Closed,” and below that, “Thank You!”

    “Alright, De’Von, one Phantom Special’ll be forty-nine ninety-nine.

    The man in the suit, presumably De’Von, slotted his card into the reader, waiting until it buzzed to remove it and place it back into his wallet.

   “Fifty bucks?” Chris said in his head, “What the Hell is a Phantom Special?”

  “Alright, just take a seat and I’ll brew that up for you,” Joe said to De’Von, and then to Chris, “It’ll just be a couple of minutes sir; I’ll be right with you.”

    Chris looked up at the menu and saw all of the normal coffee shop items: mochas, lattes, cold brew, iced drinks, pastries, bagels. There it was: “Phantom Special Brew $49.99”. This distracted him momentarily from his bad night: first his car had broken down, and then the girl he’d been after had done something… unexpected, and he had missed his opportunity with her.  He had decided to just give up, walk home, and retrieve his car later, but when he got home he found that he had left his keys in the car and could not get into his apartment. On the walk back to his car it started to rain heavily, which led him to find shelter at a coffee shop that charged fifty dollars for… something.

    “What could be worth fifty bucks?” Chris asked in his mind.

    He watched with curiosity as the coffee jockey went to a cabinet behind the counter that was secured with a keypad. Joe blocked the keypad with his body as he entered the code.

    Joe quickly removed something from the cabinet and closed it again. When he turned, Chris could see that it appeared to be a metal cone, a pour over brewer; it seemed to glow faintly.

    Chris watched in slight astonishment as Joe went about putting a brown paper filter into the grinding what appeared to be normal coffee beans, filling the metal cone with the coffee, and placing it on a holder. The barista then proceeded to begin to pour hot water over the coffee.

    Turning to ask the man in the suit, De’Von, what is so special about the coffee, some movement caught his eye. There are people sitting in the closed section of the coffee shop; one of the booths has a man sitting on either side of it with a woman sitting between one of the men and the window.

    “How did I not see them when I came in,” he thought to himself.

    The woman looked familiar to him; the guys didn’t, but she did.  She was twirling a wrapped straw between her fingers, and gazing into the coffee cup sitting in front of her while the two guys appeared top be talking quietly. He couldn’t place her, but he knew he knew her.

    Then she looked up.

    Chris’ eyes widened with recognition. Her eyes widened as well, and a grin bloomed on her face.

    “Move, move,” the woman said excitedly, shoving the man next to her so hard that he almost fell to the floor trying to get out of the booth, “That’s the guy! Joe, that’s the guy!”

    Joe looked from where he was gently stirring the brewing coffee with a small whisk to the woman. He arched an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. The pour over brewer he was tending to was starting to looked tarnished, corroded, not that Chris had time to notice something like that.

    The woman moved quickly across the shop towards Chris. She moved past the velvet ropes without disturbing them.

    No, Chris realized, not past the ropes, through them.

    “It’s really you!” the woman said to Chris, “Oh my God, I never thought I would get to see you again.”

    “No, no,” Chris stammered, taking a step back and clutching his satchel tight to his chest, “you can’t be.”

    The woman grabbed Chris’s left arm in her right hand; it was cold, and it made his arm tingle like he was receiving a gentle electrical shock. He tried to pull free, but her grip was absolute; strong as metal.

    “This,” she said, grinning, “is the man who murdered me.”

    “Here you go, De’Von,” Joe said, placing the now finished cup of coffee down in front of the man in the suit, If Chris were not so occupied with other events, he would have observed that it looked like a perfectly normal cup of coffee, “Drink it while it’s hot, sorry about… this,” he motioned to Chris, the woman, and the two men who had moved from their table to flank Chris.

    “You keep serving these, and I’ll put up with pretty much anything,” De’Von replied, sipping his steaming, black coffee, “Good stuff, Joe. I can feel it already.”

    Joe nodded, and moved to the cash register, “Okay, Rebekka, are you sure this is the guy?”

    Rebekka grabbed the satchel in Chris’ arms with her left hand, and yanked it free, tossing it onto the counter in front of Joe, “Check the bag, you’ll see.”

    Joe picked up the satchel.

    “You can’t do that, that’s my personal property! I have rights, you kn- Aaah!” Chris yelled as Rebekka squeezed his arm.

    “Sir, your rights are the least of your worries if this bag confirms what she says.”

    Joe opened the satchel, and dumped it out onto the counter. Aside from loose change, pens, a phone charger, and a pack of gum, out fell a rolled cloth bundle. Joe dropped the emptied satchel back ont he counter and undid the ties holding the bundle together and unrolled it on the counter.

    In the roll were a series of knives, scalpels, forceps, scissors, and probes. There were also a series seven of plastic tubes secured in elastic loops. One contained cable ties, while four of them had locks of hair in them: the last one matched Rebekka’s.

    “Well this does not look very good for you, does it?” Joe asked, walking around the end of the counter. He walked over to the door and locked it with a clock that sounded deafening to Chris, and then flipped a couple of switches next to the door. One turned off the bright, red “OPEN” sign, the other caused metal shutters on all the windows to slowly lower.

    “What is this?” Chris asked.

    “This,” Joe motioned to the shop around him, “is my coffee shop, and I serve a wide variety of customers. I bet you didn’t know that ghosts like coffee just as much as the living do; it’s apparently one of the few things they can actually taste. They like it almost as much as revenge..”

    “So can we?” Rebekka asked, still grinning broadly.

    “Okay,” Joe sighs, “but don’t make a mess.”


Author's Note:
This is the product of another Clever Fiction Writing Challenge. This time it was for a premise instead of just a word prompt. The premise was this:

While waiting in line for coffee, a man sees a woman across the shop he once
knew - or thinks he knew. She's sitting between two men fidgeting with a straw.
​When she looks up to the man, her eyes widen. She almost smiles.
Then he remembers who she is.

     I had a couple of different ideas for this one, including a story set in the Xader Dax reality featuring Emily Adams (if you do not know who those characters are, check out "Dax Plays Faire" over at The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine, as well as "Dancing in the Gym", "Dax and the Hydria Manes", and "Dax Vs. The Brimstone Crippler" over at Clever Fiction, ). I decided to go with this story because the idea for Phantom Coffee has been floating around for a couple of months now since I wrote the name as a typo while talking about one thing and typing an email about something else.

     As always: if you enjoyed this story (or even if you didn't), head over to the Clever Fiction Writing Challenge page and see what the other creatives who took the challenge made out of it. You're bound to find something you enjoy.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Short Fiction: The Clockwork Ballerina

The Clockwork Ballerina
by Void Munashii
Wise~Heat~Rocks

    I was not always as I am now. I was once a mere attraction at “Aristotle Hercules’ Clockwork Circus”, although “mere” is selling myself short. The circus was a marvel, not that I understood that then. Back then I did my program every night, and then returned to my winding station to have my spring rewound. That was my world, my entire world. I knew of nothing outside the theater, and would not have been capable of wanting more even if I had known.

    I was the final act. After to acrobats, and the lions, the jugglers, the trapeze, and the clowns; a the end of all of the other acts the lights would dim, and I would slide onto the stage in a giant snowglobe. It would open, and I would leap twirl as the steam orchestra played. The audiences would cheer at the beauty of my engineering.

    And then they stopped cheering.

    One day no one came. The lights were not lit, the seats were not filled, but that didn’t stop us from performing. The theater had been closed, and we had been abandoned. The Clockwork Circus was completely automated though; we only needed humans for maintenance, so at the appointed time we took the stage and did our routine before an empty theater.

    I did this six-hundred and eighty-four times.

    By the end, I was the last one left, and even I, as well built as I was, has numerous faults that I had reported but there was no one to fix them. My programming compensated.

   The steam orchestra was the first to go, then the clowns, the lions, the juggler… one by one all of the other acts either stopped coming to the stage or became too damaged doing their routine to continue. The edges of the stage and the front rows were littered with broken metal.

    By the end, it was just the trapeze and me. Then, during one final backend gazelle, the cables on the catcher’s bar broke, and both of the acrobats crashed into the third row of the audience.

    I did another one-hundred and fourteen performances by myself. It was luck that the mechanisms to wind my springs and deliver me to the stage never broke down, even when the ceiling of the theater collapsed in a rainstorm and the first five rows flooded. I danced in silence, compensating for my own worn parts. I was not unhappy with this; I did not have the ability to be.

    One night there was someone in the audience. I could not see them out there in the darkness, and their presence meant nothing to me. I danced for them in my tattered and dirty costume by the light of the moon that shone through the hole in the roof They applauded my performance, not that I cared.

    The person, it turned out to be a man, came backstage after my performance. Normally only maintenance personnel and the owner ever came backstage, but it had been a long time since any of them had come around.

    This man took me before my spring was completely wound. He loaded me into his steam carriage, and before we arrived at our destination I wound down completely.

    The next memory I have is of being strapped to a table. All of my faults had been cleared, but things were different. I was heavier than before and could not detect my clockspring. This confused me.

    The fact I could feel confusion confused me further.

    “Hello, my little clockwork ballerina,” the man said to me, “You probably have a lot of questions, including why you have questions.”

    I tried to nod, but my head was restrained.

    “Let me try and answer some of these for you. You are noticing that your body is different: it is. Your old body, beautiful as it once was, was badly worn, and even if I repaired it, it would be too fragile for what lies in store for you. I have installed you into a new, sturdier body, but one that is otherwise exactly like your old one. You will see that you look the same, but no longer will a simple fall risk destroying you.”

    “You are wondering about your clockspring; you no longer have one. Now you are wondering how you are active with no spring in you. I have replaced it with one of these,” the man held up a fist sized rock. It was smooth and shiny and seemed to glow and put off no light at the same time, “This is a focus stone. A rock just like this now resides in your core where the spring used to be. Can you feel it?”

    I realized that I could feel it;  a heat in the center of my being. I tried to nod.

    “That stone is the reason you have a sense of wonder as well. It has given you a sense of self awareness you did not previously have. I have given you this gift, this wisdom, and in exchange you will work for me.”

    My very existence was forever changed then. After explaining more about his plans for me, and his expectations of me, he released be from his work table.

    He was true to his word: my body is identical to my old one, only heavier, stronger, and it is no longer limited by my old programming. I can do whatever I want, or at least whatever I am told to do.

    I do not know his name. He has given me nothing to call him, and why should he since my face remains a solid, expressionless mask. My mouth is nothing more than a crease of metal, I cannot speak and so cannot call him anything that he can hear.

    My lovely old costume, with its pink lace, is gone. I now wear a suit of black and brown with a hood to obscure my painted on smile and molded, metal hair. I like the ability to move among the humans on the streets and in the markets unnoticed. They are far too concerned with their own affairs to realize that one of them is not really one of them.

    I have learned many things from my master. He was a thief in his younger years, but as his wisdom has increased with age, his body has become less useful. I will be his hands now, and I am more agile and resilient than he was even at his peak.

    He has taught me how to traverse the city by rooftop, pick locks, defeat traps, work on his steam carriage, and fight with both fist and sword.

    I quite like sword fighting; it is very much like dancing.

    He has also taught me to cook and clean. I feel I am wasted in these activities, but I must do the things he directly tells me to do, just like I must not do that which I am specifically forbidden to do. I have only limited free will.

    My first task for him was an easy one. I was to rob a bank.vault. Everything went exactly as planned, up to a point.

    I entered through the roof of the building, bypassed the alarms, broke into the vault, and the specified deposit box just as I had been trained. I had my target in hand when a guard happened to wander by.

    He told me to freeze.

   I did.

    He told me to put my hands up.

    I did this as well.

    The look on his face when he grabbed my wrist to place it in shackles and found unyielding metal beneath the sleeve instead of soft, warm flesh was… interesting, but short lived. A quick punch to the jaw followed by a kick to the chest sent him sprawling on the ground. He did not get back up.

    The guard was still breathing when I left.

    I was not rewarded for my success. How would one even go about rewarding me? I do not need any more reward than the freedom I have at night when he is asleep and I can roam the city. I frequently return to my theater and retake the stage. I am now capable of appreciating the marvel and beauty of my own engineering.

    I think that I will be happy with this arrangement.

    For now.

Author's Note:

That's right: this is the second story for the same Clever Fiction Writing Challenge prompt. You get two for one this time around.

Just like "The Guardian of Farsee Mesa", this story took multiple attempts to create, and even then this is not the whole story. "The Clockwork Ballerina" was originally conceived as a character for another, longer story; this is essentially only the introduction to that story.

Maybe someday I will take another run at that story.

At least I have the intro to it done.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Short Fiction: The Guardian of Farsee Mesa

The Guardian of Farsee Mesa
by Void Munashii

Wise ~ Heat ~ Rocks

    Hey kid, get off’a that! You need’a show the Guardian Stone some respect!

    No, it ain’t just some old rock; the stories ain’t xcrete neither, an’ you better watch your mouth! Come over here, I’ll tell ya the truth.

    ‘Cause I was there, that’s how I know.

    It was hot, just like today actually, when the attack happened. They’d attacked one of our trade convoys first, and Ricky Delgado had managed to get away on his hoverbike, but not without gettin’ shot first. It was his crashin’ halfway up the switchback that got Raj Patel, he was on switchback lookout that day, to sound the alarm.

    Before he passed, he told Raj, Doc Morris, and Sheriff Rico that a mighty raider army was a’comin’. As Ricky breathed his last, we could already see the dust cloud bein’ kicked up by the marchin’ army.

    Sheriff Rico and Mayor Vargas put the standard town defense plan into action. All’a the folks too young or too old to fire a gun were sent to hide while we adults took up defensive position, just like we’d done drilled.

    Now that weren’t the first time someone’d gotten it into their fool head to try and attack Farsee Mesa, but it was a rarity. The combination a’the inability to sneak up on the mesa, and the long switchback with its barricades a’rocks n’ debris n’ such making any attackers have to make bogging shootin’ gallery targets’a themselves gettin’ up here was enough to dissuade your average desert raiders from tryin’, but this guy was wise, as far as raiders go: he knew the key was to swamp us with numbers.

    We formed up, rifles in hand, and Sarabeth, the blacksmith, donned her battle armour. T’was an amazin’ thing; war tech from the before. Sure it were missing its armoured windscreen and it belched smoke like the from the diesel engine she’d had’a replace its original power source with, but the guns could put out more shot faster’n all’a our rifles combined.

    We had’a wait until the raiders were part way up the switchback, workin’ their way back an’ forth up the lone road onto the mesa; wait ‘til they was in effective range.

    Then the shootin’ started. We had the advantage’a height an’ cover to shoot down on ‘em, while all they could do was take poorly aimed shots back at us as they advanced.

    We rained hell down on those raiders, but for every one we killed, seemed like two more came up in their place. The swarm’a  attackers ‘round the end of the switchback looked like an angry colony’a stinger ants when ya step on their nest. That’s why we have ‘splosives down there now. Things might’s gone different if we had’em then.

    Was about a minute into the shooting that Sarabeth’s twin guns roared to life. She fired short bursts to conserve her ammo. Her guns burst those bastards like blood-filled waterskins.

    The fight went on too long though, and time was our enemy. Mellow, their leader, had amassed an army like I’d never even heard’a before or since. Never know how he got his hands on so much Krimson, but those red-eyed bastards were so hopped up on the stuff that they’d’a run straight off the side’a the mesa if ordered to.

    Stay away from that stuff, kid. It’ll make you powerful, fearless, and dumb as a cow in a stampede.

    Our ammo was runnin’ low, and they was gettin’ in the occasional lucky shot. They were many an’ we were gettin’ to be fewer by the minute. I took a shot in the leg myself; s’why I limp like I do.

    The real turnin’ point was when Sarabeth caught a round in the face. I’m sure she were dead ‘fore she hit the ground, but she kept pulling the trigger as she fell; she took out at least six’a us, including Mayor Vargas an’ the lookout tower that Raj had been shootin’ from.

    The raiders swarmed up, an’ surrounded us; tol’ us to drop our weapons. They didn’t shoot anyone who obeyed. Some chose to die rather than surrender. Others took it running; got it in the back as they fled. The compliant among us, kids and old folks included, were forced to the end’a  Main Street, right over there a bit away from the stone.

    Once all’a survivors quieted down, Mellow made his appearance. He was a mountain of a mutant: seven foot tall and a cyclops. His eye was clear, no Krimson user there.

    “Who leads?” the cyclops bellowed.

    Sheriff Rico, Deputy Barnel, and the preacher, a woman called Kimmers, stepped forward.  They were shoved over to stand right in front’a the Guardian Stone. The sheriff was clutching his left arm; the sleeve’a his shirt stained with blood from where he got shot himself.

    “You don’t need to do this,” said Pastor Kimmers, “Whatever you want, we give freely.”

    “I already have what I want,” Mellow said, “I have Farsee Mesa now, soon to be Mellow Mesa. Anyone who ever tries to bog w’me again is gonna get his xcrete handed to him.”

    “Okay,” sheriff said, “let the people go, and the mesa is yours.”

    “Why would I let so much fresh meat go? Do you know how much my men eat” Mellow asked, “Of course if you wanted to get down on your knees and beg me, I might consider letting some’a the kids take their chances with the desert. Who knows, some of’em might find help before the heat takes’em.”

    Mellow stepped forward, and took the preacher’s chin in his hand. He looked down on her and asked, “What’ya say, holy woman, you gonna get on your knees?”

    “There is only one being I get on my knees for,” the preacher tol’ him, “and it ain’t you!”

    Then preacher spit in his face.

    Mellow roared, and shoved her back against the Stone. He pulled a gun from his holster, it was a rifle that had been customized to shoot like a pistol in his oversized hand, and shot her in the face. Before she had even fallen to the ground, he did the same to the sheriff and deputy; bathed the stone in their blood.

    Now I’m not ‘xactly sure what it was about their blood that did it, but ‘fore Mellow could do anythin’ else, the whole mesa began to shake; thought it were a quake at first. The stable next to Sarabeth’s forge an’ the balcony’a the Forsee Saloon collapsed in the rumblin’. Mellow stumbled back and fell on his ass.

    The ground ‘round the stone split, and the Guardian Stone started to grow, ‘cept it weren’t growin’, it were pullin’ itself out of the ground. When done, it stood towering over us; it were twenty foot tall if it were an inch. The Guardian Stone had awakened!

    It reached down with one massive stone hand and plucked Mellow up like one’a your dollies. I swear I could hear his leg bones shatter as it squeezed’em, even over Mellow’s screamin’

    The Guardian stopped Mellow’s noise-makin’ by grabbing his top half with its other hand, and rippin’im in half like you might snap a pickle, tossin’ each half in a diff’rent direction.

    It was chaos after that. Some’a the raiders tried shootin’, some ran; made little difference. The guardian took after’em, punchin’, kickin’, stompin’, crushin’ the raiders who stood their ground. It didn’t touch a single one of us though. It didn’t look like it was bein’ carefull, but it didn’t even accidentally hurt any’a us.

    When it were done killing the bravest raiders, it took off after the ones who ran. It chased them all over the mesa, killin’ them as it caught them. Hidin’ didn’t do any good; The Guardian knew where they hid, like one’a them seeker drones from the before.

    By the time the sun set, there weren’t a raider left breathing on the mesa. Then the Guardian headed down the switchback, after the ones that got away.

    We all thought that we’d never see the Guardian again after that. We set to tending the wounded, and cleanin’ up the dead. It was alotta work: folks to bury’n raiders to burn, and so many of us already injured from the battle.

    Imagine our surprise a week later when the sun came up and the stone was back in the ground right where you see it. Don’t know how it got past the lookouts, or how it buried itself back down in’a ground like it had never been disturbed. If it weren’t for the dried blood covering it, you could be excused for doubting it had ever moved.

    Yeah, scoff all you want, kid, but this is wisdom I’m givin’ to ya. I hope you never hafta see the Guardian rise up, but you can trust it’ll be here if we need it.

    Now get outta here. I think your mom’s callin’.

The End

Do you want to read more stories based on this prompt? Go to the Clever Fiction Writing Challenge page to see what other authors have made of these three words.

Author's Note:

This is the fourth or fifth run I have taken at story.

The first time was a number of years ago as an entry into one of Escape Artists' flash fiction contests. I knew then that this story needed to be longer than just a flash piece, and this prompt gave me the opportunity to expand it a little bit.

This was the first thing that came to mind when I read this Clever Fiction prompt, but it was not the only one. There may be a second story coming based on these same words (although likely after the expiration date of the prompt itself).



Monday, September 26, 2016

Ashore - A Mallvile Story

     A few years ago, I wrote a story for Clever Fiction, I think it was actually the first challenge I took part in there, called "Adrift" (go read it if you have not, it is quite short).  "Adrift" is a story set in the Mallville reality (I am going to assume that you are familiar with "Mallville - A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse", or else why would you be here?) even though it was not marked as such.

     For those unfamiliar, Clever Fiction's story prompts usually involve them giving writers three words to build a story on (although there have been plenty of other challenge types). The prompt for this challenge were the words "Sailboat", "Cove", and "Goldmine".

     Now I could write a bunch of clever attempts and being deep here about that story and the intervening time period, but that's not what you are here for, is it? Instead, let's return to our seafaring friend to see what he is up to in:

Ashore: A Mallville Story
(Sailboat ~ Cove ~ Goldmine)
By Void Munashii


    It had been thirty-two days, I think. I’d been making little scratchmarks on the wall of the sailboat’s cabin each morning, but it could be hard to keep tracks since every day surrounded by nothing but water is much like every other day surrounded by nothing but water.


    I kept better track of my food and water, which was easier because there wasn't much of it.


    I found an emergency kit with fishing supplies in it, and I was able to catch some fish, but the fuel on the boat’s stove ran out before I finished cooking my last one, and I have never been into sushi.


    My water supply was in even worse shape. I tried doing that thing with a tarp and evaporating sea water; that went poorly.


    I didn't give up. I couldn't give up. Every time I thought of sitting down and waiting to die, I’d look at Carla’s note. I had stuck it up on the wall of the cabin:


    “LIVE”


    And so I have been. I’m no sailor, and had just been lucky that there hadn't been anymore storms like the one I’d ran into before. I had no idea where I was going. I was sunburned, thirsty, tired, hungry, and completely and utterly out of my league.


    I was standing there with the wheel in my hand, holding it steady as if I had any idea what I was doing with it, wishing I hadn't been too much of a coward to save my wife, when I heard a voice.


    “Trying going to starboard.”


    I jumped, and almost fell over. I turned as I was fighting to stay upright and there she was, standing at the back of the boat.


    “Carla,” I said, dumbly.


    “Hi,” she waved as she spoke.


    “How...?”


    “You looked like you needed some help, so here I am,” she danced in a little circle, “think of me as your fairy godmother.”


    I know, in my rational mind, that Carla cannot possibly have been there. She can’t have been, but the things that happened….


    “It’s dehydration, right?” I asked.


    Carla shrugged, “Maybe. Look starboard.”


    “Huh?”


    Carla scowled a little, “Look to the right… no, the ship’s right: starboard.”


    I looked out and saw something off on the horizon; it looked pretty big.


    “I think you should check that out,” Carla said, she was right behind me then, speaking quietly in my ear, “don’t you?”


    “What is it?”


    “Dunno.  It could be anything. It could even be a boat,” she walked in front of me, as if she were trying to get a better look at the speck.


    “What if it’s hostile?”


    “Do you really have anything to lose at this point? I've seen your supplies, hon, you’re pretty well fucked if you don’t do something,” Carla was never one for cursing: it was always a good indicator that she was especially serious about something. “Did you even try evaporating sea water?”


    “Yes.”


    I steered the sailboat towards the dot, and after a lot over over-correcting back and forth, the object started to get larger. As I drew nearer, I could see that it was a small island. How far had I drifted anyway?


    “You should circle the island first,” Carla said. She looked concerned, and sounded more serious than before, “Make sure it’s safe.”


    “What happened to ‘do you have anything to lose’?”


    “You should take advice given by a hallucination with a big grain of salt, honey,” her expression softened, “Including this.”


    I figured that Carla was not only right about being a little cautious, but I also wanted to see if the island was inhabited; maybe there would be a dock I could use.


    I did not find any docks or buildings, but I did find one sign of life: a huge frigging boat! It was one of those big shipping freighters they use to send stuff from China, and it had run aground in this cove on the far side of the island. It looked like after the boat had hit the beach, the current had driven it around so that much of its right side was up against the beach. It was listing slightly towards the island.


   According to the back of the boat, it was called the Sinjin Eureka Hong Kong, and it had more shipping containers on it than I could count. There were dozens of stacks of containers that I could see piled anywhere from two to six high.


    “You have to go check that out,” Carla enthused, “It could be an absolute goldmine of supplies; maybe even water! Or... it could be thousands of laptop computers, and you with no wifi.”


    I maneuvered the boat around the freighter and into the cove, and hit the shore with enough of a jolt to almost knock me off my feet. I dropped anchor even though I was probably never going to be able to get the sailboat out of that sand again; no reason not to.


    “You need a weapon,” Carla said.


    I motioned around the deck of the boat; it felt weird to be standing on it and not have it rock under my feet, “What weapon?”


    “There has to be something.”


   Carla moved down into the boat’s small cabin. I waited, feeling a little foolish. I was about to go down into the cabin myself when Carla reappeared carrying a hammer and a large phillips head screwdriver, “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take these,” she said, sounding mostly serious.


    I took the weapons from her, although a wooden sword might have felt more imposing.


    “Don’t you want to keep one?”


   She looked at me like I was being stupid, which, to be fair, I was.


    We made our way down from the sailboat, and over to the side of the freighter. The ship looked big from the water, but it looked huge right up alongside it.


    I tried yelling up to the ship for awhile, trying to get the attention of anyone up there, but no one responded, and eventually Carla told me to stop. We would board the ship.


    “How do I get up there?” I asked, looking at the smooth side of the ship.


    “Well, there’s some stairs over here, but I think they are a little higher than you can jump,” Carla was standing below a set of stairs that ended probably fifteen or twenty feet off the ground.


    I walked up and down the length of the ship where it touched the cove’s beach looking for some other way up; maybe some emergency handholds or something. No luck. I thought of maybe swimming around the other side, but Carla said that it was a bad idea.


    “Rope,” Carla suggested, “there’s plenty of rope on the boat, right?
    
    She was right, there was quite a bit of rope on the boat. I went and got that rope. I then tied the hammer to one end, and threw it at the bottom of the stairs.


    It took a few tries, but eventually I got the hammer through the bottom step, and let the weight of it pull the rope up while the hammer dropped back down to me.


    Carla suggested tying a sort of noose on the end of the rope that the hammer had been tied to, and then feeding the other end of the rope through the noose, and pulling it tight to secure the rope around the bottom step of the ship’s stairs.


    By the time all of this was done, it was getting late into the afternoon. Carla told me to stop and eat; I was going to need as much strength as I could muster for what would come next.


    I protested, but Carla insisted I eat more than what I had been rationing for myself.


    Back at the bottom of the rope, I pointed out that on my best day the chances of my climbing up to the top of the rope were slim.


    “I can help you,” Carla said.


    “How, give me a boost?”


   “No, look at all the excess rope you have,” she pointed, and there was a good thirty or forty feet of rope lying in the sand beyond the bottom of what was hanging from the stairs, “you cut that off, throw it up threw the steps again, tie the other end around your waist, and I will help pull you up while you climb. Plus that way if you fall I can try and slow you down.”


    “But… you’re not really here. “


    She stepped forward and poked me hard in the chest, “Aren't I?”


    She hadn't been wrong yet.


    It hurt: the rope around my waist dug into what had a month earlier been my gut hard as she pulled it, but she gave me just enough help that I was able to pull myself up the side of the freighter and grab onto the bottom step.


    I clambered up the steps, and collapsed onto the ship’s deck, panting. My arms and palms burned, but not both for the same reason.


    It seemed like only seconds later when Carla appeared at the top of the steps, “See, now that wasn't so bad, was it?”


    “Yes it was.”


     “Up! It’s going to be dark soon, and you need to find the crew.”


    I made my way past stacks of shipping containers towards the ship’s control tower, I think that’s what it’s called. It was an easy target, being the only thing taller than the containers.


    I didn't actually make it to the tower before I found out what had become of the crew.


    “Look out,” Carla cried.


    I turned to see a shambling man in blue coveralls coming at me. He was too close for me to properly hit with the hammer, and Instead of bashing in his skull, I stuck it in his mouth. Then we both fell to the deck with him on top of me, trying to chew through the hammer to get to me.


    With my left hand, I worked the screwdriver free from where I had it in my pocket, and tried to stab the dead man in the side of the head with it. That did not work at all.


    “The ear,” Carla yelled, “or the eye!”


    I jammed the screwdriver in its ear hole, but it stuck. I couldn't shove it it farther or pull back out.


    “Move your hand!”


    I let go of the screwdriver’s handle, and Carla kicked it home. The man fell limp and I rolled him off me.


    It was as I was trying to pull my hammer out of the dead-again man’s mouth when we heard shambling footsteps. Two more coverall-clad flesheaters came around the corner of a container stack and started towards me.


    “Hey, assholes,” Carla called, somehow she had gotten behind them and was standing my the rail at the side of the boat, “over here!”


    The zombies went for her, and she stood there, beckoning to them. She wasn’t going to even try and run.


    “Carla, no!”


    The monsters stopped, and looked towards me again.


   “Shut up, honey,” Carla ordered,then, waving at the zombies,” Over here! Come and get it!”


    They went for her. I stood, again frozen in fear as the undead surround her, unable to help. I didn't see what exactly happened last time, whether she managed to escape or not, but I did this time.


    This time, when the zombies reached her, she simply wasn't there. The monsters hit the railing she had been standing in front of, and toppled over it, landing on the sand below with a pair of crunchy thuds.


    I broke my paralysis, and ran to the railing. One of the zombies had landed on his head, and wasn’t moving. The other one only seemed to have broke its back, and was clawing at the sand trying to drag its broken body. Later, I would finish him off by tossing heavy crap at him until I managed to hit his head.


    “That was easy,” Carla said from behind me.


    I turned to face her, “How…?”


    “Shhhh,” she said, placing a finger on my lips.


    Exploring more of the ship revealed another dozen corpses, but the dead kind, and only one more zombie. This one had been badly eaten; most of his face and upper body was gone. He went down easily with the crowbar I found near a couple of the bodies; judging by the dried blood on it, I was not the first person to use it as a weapon.


    I don’t know if anyone got off the ship alive. It looks like there are a couple of lifeboats missing though, so maybe someone is out there; maybe even on the island. I pulled the rope I used up just to protect against any unwelcome visitors..


    It was almost dark when we began breaking into shipping containers looking for food. Thank goodness for emergency flashlights. On the sixth try, we found that goldmine Carla had talked about earlier. A container full stuff from Hawaii. A lot of it has not been too useful yet, like the red salt, but there was fifty cases of water that claimed to be 100% Hawaiian.


    Carla smiled as I took a long drink from the bottle with the hula girl on it, “I guess my work here is done,” she said in a comically deep voice and her hands on her hips.


    “What?”


    “You can’t just depend on me forever; you need to figure some of this out on your own.”


    It felt like my heart imploded in my chest, “You can’t leave again.”


    “I will always be here when you need me. Right here,” she touched my forehead, “ and right here,” she touched my chest.


    She put her arms around me, hugged me tight, and kissed me softly on the lips. When I opened my eyes at the end of the kiss, I was alone under the stars.


    That was a month ago. I feel more at home on this ship. I found a rope ladder to let down the side of the boat to get on and off. I have plenty of food and drink; some of it is kind of weird stuff, like dried squid, but it beats starving. I have a bed, there are books to read, and even a small workshop where I can build… stuff. I am set for awhile at least.


   Tomorrow I climb down and start to explore the island. I cannot live on 
the Sinjin Eureka Hong Kong forever, and if there is one thing I need to do, the one thing Carla insisted I do, it’s live.
END

  Did you like it? Well head on over to Joe's Short Story Challenge page at Clever Fiction, and see what other people came up with for this prompt, leave some comments, and hey, why not spam share that to all your friends who enjoy free fiction?

Did you hate it? Click on over there anyway, and maybe you'll find a tale you like better.

See you next time, and until we meet again: don't trust the darkness.