Wrote a line or two on the big W.I.P. this week. Also did the weekly flash fiction story. Amazed I did that much. Maybe the plague, the general unrest and a lot of personal crap have been contributed to a sense of personal lethargy these last few months. Oh, well. Progress is still progress.
The building dated back to the sixteen-hundreds, but my boyfriend dated back to the nineteen-nineties so it was appropriate. It was a Hotellery now, what Andrew said they called a bed-and-breakfast back in the twenty-first century, but the English countryside was still the English countryside, right down to the grazing sheep, and we had a nice week of privacy away from the things that got Andrew his nickname “Dave Danger.” But he signed the Hotellery register with his given name: Andrew David Llewellyn Ethan Piltzer.
“After putting the bags in the room, how about we take in the sights?
“’Berto,” he said with a grin,” “what sights?”
“Oh, come on!” I laughed. “There’s a clock tower from 1603 in the village, to say nothing of the ruins of the old monastery. All within walking distance.”
For a moment, he looked like he was going to sneer, then he brightened.
“Well, the glorious English countryside is still the glorious English countryside,” he said. “Be a pity not to take it all in…”
About a half-hour later we were walking down the road, Andrew lost in thought.
“We might want to pop in at the local pub for a pint,” he said. “See if they have an old-fashioned phone.”
Our savers were out of range, so I couldn’t check my messages or visit any of a dozen commentary sites I was on to say nothing of use the phone. We ordered a couple of pints in the darkened pub and I started explaining how they had to bring back wire-connected telephones in some locations due to the inaccessibility of some locations as well as excess band usage rendering some savers useless. I’d gotten into that bad habit of explaining things that happened while Andrew was in suspended animation for about a hundred-and-thirty years. Andrew found the phone and he was away for about five minutes. I ordered some crisps.
“So, what’s up?” I asked when he sat down and started helping himself to the crisps. “Anything you can talk about?”
I’d become used to the fact that there was a lot of his work he couldn’t tell me about, but when I’d been jumped by robot spiders and shadowed by a radium drone, to say nothing of finding myself working for a genuine mad scientist with a genuine death ray, I was usually pretty involved.
“Just needed to have something picked up,” he said. “Ah, these sandwiches look good!”
It was late afternoon when we walked back to our Hotellery and I saw several small vans and a copter, both unmarked and saw what looked like an armed team loading the herd of sheep into the vans. One of the sheep was swearing in perfect English.
“All the luscious grass around and those sheep didn’t give it a glance,” Andrew said. “Genetically altered agents, for one of the other sides I’m sure. Probably not after me but surely up to no good. Best to have them removed and the grounds and building scanned.” One of the armed team saw Andrew and gave him a thumbs-up.
“An ancient gesture that still means something,” Andrew said. “Now, we can get on with our vacation. This gesture means something too.”
The light of dusk was visible through the windows. The shadows seemed to creep up the stone walls of the cylinder of the great lighthouse on the coast as we set up the table on the ground floor in the middle of the room. Carl tapped the circular staircase with a finger. The metallic “Ping” echoed through the lighthouse.
“Better answer the door,” he said, grinning. “Ghosts calling!”
“Oh, will you shut up and let’s just do this,” Naomi said. She was placing the cardboard box on the table and pulling off the top which she tossed to one side on the floor. She pulled out the carved wooden board and set it on the table. She took one more item out of the box and tossed it aside. The item was a planchette.
“Looks like a guitar pick.” Carl said.
“Better be serious about this,” said the tall man standing by the table. “If this is gonna work, we better be serious.”
“We’re serious, Barrett, believe me,” Carl said.
“Turn off the flashlight and light the candles,” Naomi said.
Soon the three twenty-somethings were seated at the table, hands touching the planchette on the spirit board, candles flickering.
“We are here,” Naomi spoke into the darkness of the lighthouse, “to speak with the spirit of Captain Rolland Cross…Gone for one-hundred-forty years, since the sinking of the Macaroon a few miles from here…”
She paused. The lighthouse was full of the dark, full of the quiet. They could almost hear the candles flicker. They all knew about Captain Cross and the lost treasure of the Macaroon. The ship had sunk just off the coast, the coast they had grown up near. But in the near century-and-a-half, no one had found the ship or the treasure.
No one was even sure what the treasure was, although most people speculated gold. Captain Cross had taken that secret down with him. It was long speculated that he had sunk his own ship in the storm to protect whatever it was.
“Captain Cross,” Naomi said. “If you are there, please speak to us.”
Barrett bit his lip, so as not to yell. The planchette under their fingers was moving. From one letter to the next.
“A,” whispered Naomi, following the revelation of the letters. “J.” “A. A again. A again.” The planchette lay there, seemingly inert.
“Ajaaa,” Carl said. “What’s that?”
“Ajaaa,” Naomi said. “Ajaaa. What does that mean, Captain Cross?”
The planchette moved swiftly under their fingers, first pointing to Naomi, then to Carl and then swiftly, maddeningly it flew out from under their fingers and pointed at Barrett.
“What the hell?” Carl said.
“It…it popped out from our fingers,” Barrett said. “We were pressing down so hard.”
“It means something,” Carl said. “What?”
“That word, the one it spelled out,” Naomi said. Maybe we all are supposed to say it?”
The three of them looked at each other and began to recite.
“Ajaaa. Ajaaa. Ajaaa. Ajaaa.”
There was a bright light from the top of the lighthouse. Their voices drifted off as the light began to pulse in time with their chanting. They stared at each other; the light had been removed decades ago when the new beacon had been installed across the bay.
The lighthouse became cold. The blazing, pulsing light began to spiral downward. The shadows began to dance.
Worked on the Queer Sci-Fi column (about Joanna Russ) last week. Right before deadline. But the last-minute additions only helped, and I got a nice comment on Facebook from a writer who had taken a class from Joanna Russ!
Haven’t written anything in the last few days (working on getting the roof replaced!) but I have started reading Ivanhoe! Never read any Sir Walter Scott.
It’s always nice to have a famous author living in your hometown. Bryan Dietrich lives here in Wichita and teaches at my alma Mater, Newman University. He’s published several books of poetry and has been nominated for a number of awards (including the Pulitzer!) He and Marge Simon have published “The Demeter Diaries,” a collection of poetry telling the story of Dracula and Mina Harker (from Bram Stoker’s novel) in their own words. Appropriately, the collection was a nominee for the Bram Stoker Award. I’ve met Bryan on a couple of occasions and he was kind enough to sign my copy (through the mail, not in person!) Marge Simon (who I have not met!) is likewise no slouch as a writer of prose and poetry; she has a Rhysling Award to her credit!)
The book is a dark delight! I highly recommend its blend of romance and dread. (“Demeter,” by the was, is a reference to the ship in Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” a ship you would not want to book passage on as it has some very dark cargo and a very grim passenger.)
I must have been about two or three when my Grandmother started telling me the story.
“I was a little girl, like you,” she said. “When the big ship came down from the sky. It almost landed in the rice fields and my Grandmother was furious. The people stepped out of the ship and declared that they were gods.”
Grandmother snorted. “Well, in my village, we knew the Gods and these people weren’t the Gods. Still, we waited to see what they had to offer. It was my Grandfather who went up to speak to them. They were a little taller than he was and wore metal masks, but they were men.”
“Well, the men from the ship told my Grandfather that they needed something to make the Star Bird (as they called it) move. My Grandfather said; ‘Oh, you mean fuel, like for an Ox.’ The men told him what they needed, and after a few moments, my Grandfather realized what it was they were describing, and set out to make a bargain.”
“A bargain for what, Grandma?” I asked.
“Coffee beans,” Grandma said. “Can you imagine? Well, yes you can, you’ve heard your Grandfather after his morning coffee. Anyhow, my Grandmother knew that if they realized how common it was we would get nothing. So the deal was made, the beans procured and the men and their silver ship left.”
And Grandmother smiled and hugged me.
“And someday I will show you and your brother what Grandfather gave me; the gift from the strange men in the Star-Bird.”
Author’s Note: The draws for September’s Flash Fiction Draw story were a Young Adult story, set in a warehouse, involving a single shoe or boot. Here’s the result.
There Was an Old Woman Who Lived In a Shoe
By Jeff Baker
It was Labor Day Weekend and the Warehouse was closed. All of the Old Town area surrounding it seemed deserted. Scotty and Linc brought the beer, Jo and Laura brought the soda. Chris brought his Dad’s key to the warehouse. Scotty and Laura were making out in the office when they heard the siren. Scotty fumbled for his phone and couldn’t find it. He saw the old clock radio on the desk in the moonlight and switched it on.
The voice crackled from the small speaker.
“Again, we are urging everyone in the city to seek shelter indoors and above all, stay away from animals, including pets. If you’re just joining us, shortly after sunset, packs of roving animals, believed to be feral dogs and cats, began attacking people. Partiers celebrating the holiday were the first targets. The mayor is urging calm…”
“Hey, guys!” Scotty yelled.
“Whaddya want?” Linc’s voice came from the darkened next room.
“You’d better come here and listen to this!” Scotty said.
“Is there a tornado?” Jo’s voice drifted in from the hallway.
“Don’t think so…get back here and listen,” came Linc’s voice.
“It’s something on the news,” Laura said. “Something about roving packs of wild dogs.”
“Hey, where’s Chris?” Scotty asked.
“Probably finishing the last of the beer.” Linc said.
“You guys hear something?” Laura asked.
Scotty heard the scream this time. He jumped up, falling over the wastebasket. In the outer hallway he nearly ran into Jo and Linc, as they rushed out to the main dock of the warehouse.
The four story brick building dated back to 1917 and the old loading dock still had the big wooden door which opened out onto the railroad tracks. Chris’ father remembered unloading crates of produce from trains when he was a kid. Now the tracks trailed into nothing, having been ripped out years ago and the crates were brought in on trucks. Jo and Linc ran up to the big dock door and looked out as the screams started up again. There was a five foot drop to the ground below. Outside in the moonlight they saw Chris cowering against the gate to the parking lot, brandishing a can of beer like a weapon. In the dark pool of shadow in front of Chris the others could see movement. Not quite dogs or cats, but something moved and growled and hissed.
“Chris!” Scotty yelled. Chris turned, his face a mask of pure terror.
Back on the dock, Linc looked around. Jo ran back into the darkness of the warehouse. A moment later she ran back, carrying a tan package of turkey wrapped in plastic.
“Here, open this!” she said. “I found it in the cooler!” A chub of honey-glazed turkey. Scotty’s nail clipper cut open the plastic and Linc grabbed it.
“Here boy! Fetch!” Linc said as he hurled the turkey into the shadow. There was a ravenous tearing sound. Linc jumped down and pulled the terrified Chris over to the dock and pushed him up into the warehouse. He jumped and managed to scramble onto the dock as the snarling and growling became louder. Linc rolled across the concrete floor as Scotty, Laura and Jo slammed and barred the door, just as the ravenous sounds reached the other side.
“You guys okay?” Jo asked.
“Yeah,” Chris managed. “I was sittin’ on the edge of the dock with my beer, trying to get some rock out of my boot and I dropped it down there. I went to pick it up and, and…” he shuddered.
“We’ll grab your other boot later,” Laura said, eying the dock door. “Hey, are the other doors locked? Tight?”
“Yes,” Chris said, calming down but still shaky.
Scotty had ducked back into the office and returned with his cellphone. “Look at what I found,” he said. He started reading from the screen. “Horror on the streets. Vicious creatures prowl cities. Beginning at dusk, East Coast cities were swarmed with creatures attacking men, women and children in the dark. Unconfirmed reports say these are feral animals which have gone berserk for some unknown reason. Speculation puts disease as the cause…” Scotty looked up. “Want me to go on?”
“This started at sunset,” Jo said. “About an hour before sunset in Wichita and it started here. Maybe it will end at sunrise.”
“Maybe,” Chris said. “Maybe not.”
“Let’s stay here for the night,” Linc said. “And when your Dad and the warehouse guys show up in the morning, we’ve got a good explanation for being here…” He grinned. “Sort of.”
“If they show up,” Jo said.
Chris pulled off his remaining boot and stared into it.
“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,” Chris murmured.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is actually a prequel to a story I have synopsized somewhere and need to write. The warehouse was a real place I worked out of in the early 1990s. I think it’s a disco now. (Do they still call them discos?) —–jsb.