Mummy Powder, Part 5

Looking up into the puckered eye socket of my guardian mummy, I watched as its hand came down in slow motion to smash against the side of my face, flipping me over to lie in a still-spreading pool of my own vomit.  A deep chuckle, filled with amusement and contempt, pulled me back to what I’d given up hope of being reality.  How could it be?  Ancient mummies walking around and Bruce dead, being sawed open and having his heart ripped out?

Bruce.  Tears burned from the corners of my eyes, just missing my ears as they ran to my jaw.  More harsh words in ancient Egyptian.  I closed my eyes and tried to close my ears so I couldn’t hear Bruce being dragged away.  He’d worked for me for almost four years.  If we weren’t friends, at least we’d understood each other, more or less.  I owed him grief, at least.

The floor boards shifted near me and a shadow fell across my face.  I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn’t see it.

“Open your eyes.”  The voice was the same, but not.  Thicker, heavier, even more suited to command, and it forced my eyelids apart so I had to look into the backlit face of Pharaoh.  Whatever his name and title in life, he could only have been royal.  I had no idea who he’d been and didn’t really care, but I could see now the perfect, living image of the face on the sarcophagus.  He gave me a slow smile and it showed his complete understanding.

Somehow, no blood stained his chest or face even though it must have fountained from Bruce’s heart as he bit or sucked or whatever he’d done to it.  Pharaoh held up a hand, a tiny brown thing between thumb and forefinger, wrinkled like a crushed soda can.  “Your slave gave his life for mine and so his name will be sung down the ages.”  The brown thing dropped and my eyes followed it as it fell through the air between us and bounced off my chest.

Bruce’s heart.

“What remains of him will feed my minions, give them strength to do my bidding.  But you.”  Pharaoh leaned forward, wrinkling his royal noise and allowing something like a sneer to grace his lips.  “You did not hold still as I bid, and would have raised my own tool against me.  This I cannot abide.  You might have been a servant of high order, perhaps even one of the heralds of the new age.  Instead, I fear I must punish you.”  English.  How was he speaking English?  I never understood that in movies or on TV.  Ancient menaces and aliens always managed to speak modern English with no more than a slight accent and sometimes not even that.

I only just found the strength for speech, wishing I could find enough to be an asshole.  “How can any punishment be worse than what you did to Bruce?”

Pharaoh smiled almost kindly.  “Ah, but slave Bruce lives on in me and his spirit rejoices in the living.  You.”  He shook his head; the eyes and smile turned cold, calculated for fear.  “I see into your soul now.  You are kin to the rapists of my kingdom’s history and heritage, and that takes you past forgiveness, I think.  Your transgressions are doubtless numerous and legendary, and so I pronounce sentence.”  He raised his voice as if speaking to a crowd, spreading his arms to lift his hands in front of his shoulders.  “You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.”  Pharaoh clapped his hands together once and a pair of mummies appeared to either side of me, hoisting me up much as they had with Bruce, but where his feet dragged, mine dangled.

I cleared my throat and spat, hoping to hit him in the face as he turned away, but the blob of phlegm and saliva flew over his shoulder.  “Screw you.”  He didn’t abandon enough dignity to acknowledge me as his two hideous minions carried me out of the hidden office and into the warehouse.

Dim as they might have been, the scattered overhead fluorescents had been turned on and while Pharaoh refreshed himself on Bruce, his undead minions had been busy.  They’d opened every crate, every sarcophagus, every box, and decorated the warehouse interior in an ancient Egyptian motif.  I couldn’t see how they’d done it all without some noise reaching into the office.  But then, I didn’t really understand how most of the last few minutes could have happened.

While it didn’t surprise me, the open sarcophagus in the middle of a clear area scared me, enough that I started to shiver.  I knew that stone coffin was my final destination.  Were they going to embalm me?  Or just seal me in to starve to death?  What had Pharaoh meant with his pronounced sentence?

At least twenty of the desiccated walking corpses wandered around the inside of the warehouse, but they all turned to focus on me as I struggled in my captors’ grip, desperate to escape the stone box.  Dark grey stone, not wood, and not inlaid with gold or anything on the outside at all.  The coffin’s top leaned lengthwise against its side.  I could see the remains of a carved face there, worn away by dozens of centuries.  Eyes, nose, and mouth were all present, but they were smooth and nearly hidden in the stone, like an old photograph faded by too much sunlight.  My adrenaline-enriched brain tried to see my own face in the carving.

Continue Reading * The Beginning

Progress Bars Ahoy!

So along with drafting the novel, I’ve decided I miss writing short fiction too, and I’m one of those people who likes to have more than one project on the go so I have a choice of things to work on. The novel (did I mention the working title is Iron Jack? Probably not the final title, but we’ll see how it works out.) I’m projecting at 120,000 words which will make it the longest thing I’ve ever written when it’s finished. On a short break at work this afternoon, I roughed out a basic plot for a fantasy short story. “Blood of Heroes” has a nice ring to it

Because I’m a geek and like data visualization toys, just for fun I went out and found a nice little progress bar, care of Svenja Liv (http://svenjaliv.blogspot.ca/ – ain’t Google neat? – and she’s also a pretty awesome artist), and I’ve put a pair of them in the side bar over to the right, one for the novel and one for the short. The bottom one will probably change fairly often. I like short fiction and miss writing it regularly. Time to fix that.

Be well.

Mummy Powder, Part 4

He smiled, one side of his mouth tipped higher and crinkles deepening next to his eyes, and there was knowledge in that smile.  Either I’d somehow broadcast my thoughts or he’d just pulled them out of my head.  I shivered, my heart back under control but the beat echoing in my ears.  Fear seemed like a permanent friend now.

He spoke, not to me but still looking at me, complicated words rolling off a tongue that had obviously seen recent use.  I didn’t catch any of them, couldn’t even decide what language they’d been in, though it seemed obvious.  My own tongue felt like lead or a dried stick, so I couldn’t answer if I’d known what to say.  A hand lashed out toward the other mummies, or maybe the door.  My eyes followed the commanding motion, and I watched as the visible mummies creaked and bowed.  The closest, who’d dragged Bruce in, grunted and growled, then stepped aside as the old pharaoh moved forward.

I registered motion beyond the door and something glittered in the darkness, barely touched by the light.  One of the mummies in the doorway turned and reached behind to grasp something and my heart started again when it passed a shining gold knife to the mummy standing over Bruce.  With a stiff bow, that one held the knife out to Pharaoh.

Finding a bit of will, I started to get up.  “No, wait.  Leave Bruce—”

Pharaoh cut me off with a slashing gesture, knife in his left hand.  One of the mummies shuffled to put itself between us.  “I do not wish to hear your voice again.  Be silent and still.  If you disturb me, your fate will be far worse than that of your minion.”

I bit back a smartass comment as my guard leaned forward, brittle fingers creaking as they flexed.  I pictured those fingers wrapped around my throat, crushing the life out of me.  Certainly just what I was supposed to think, but how do you appeal to a nightmare you never knew you had?

Another mummy stepped into the room.  With the first, it bent down and the pair of them lifted Bruce together, hauling him up by the arms.  His head fell forward, lolling, and my eyes focused on a sudden droplet of drool that fell from his lips, slowed from gravity’s grip by stretching for a moment to hang by a long strand that snapped back when the drop’s weight finally became too much for it to bear.  My eyes followed it only to the point it passed the knife in Pharaoh’s hand.

The knife that suddenly reared back and plunged into Bruce’s chest.  Blood soaked his white cotton shirt, spilling over the leather vest.  So much blood.  I thought for a moment the blow hadn’t struck anything vital, but Bruce’s head snapped up, his eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them, and his mouth opened in a soundless scream that seemed to go on forever.  He surged against his captors but might as well have been held in concrete.  Blood continued to drain from his body.  Seven or eight percent of body weight, that’s how much blood we have.  How much in someone Bruce’s size?  It just kept coming.  The whole shirt turned red and I could see darkness spreading to his pants now.  Wide blue eyes found mine, mouth still frozen wide as Pharaoh sawed the knife down through ribs and cartilage.

I jumped up, intent on grabbing the old man from behind and wringing his neck, but a stiff, cloth-wrapped arm flew out into a barrier as solid as a crowbar, catching me across chest and shoulders.  Most of the air flew from my lungs with the impact and the rest followed as I slammed to the wooden floor to lay gasping on my back.  By the time I could lift my head again, Bruce’s chin bobbed against his chest as his head rocked back and forth.  He couldn’t still be alive.

Pharaoh yanked the knife free and tossed it behind him.  The blade spun through the air, throwing tiny globs of blood in every direction.  It hit the floor with a clang and a smear of red.  The mummies holding Bruce each reached in with their opposite hands and jammed fingers into the jagged incision.  Without a grunt or any other sound, they pulled outwards and a series of wet cracks and pops sprayed gore far enough I feel tiny impacts on my cheek.  They kept pulling until Bruce’s chest hung open like a kitchen cupboard for me to see his heart and lungs and a bunch of other things I couldn’t name.  Nothing moves.  Shouldn’t I have been able to see his heart beating?  Terror speaking.  I don’t know why I thought he could still be alive.  No one could survive being ripped open like that without a horde of doctors around to keep things under control.

Damn.  I’m sorry, Bruce.

I dropped to my knees, not wanting to see what would come next, but couldn’t pull my eyes away as Pharaoh wrapped his hands around Bruce’s heart and yanked it free in a spray of brilliant red.  He raised the steaming organ over his head, blood raining down over him, and spewed a long stream of syllables before lowering it back to what I think is eye level.  After staring at it, I think, for a long moment, he pressed it to his face.

Before I could swallow, the taste of bile in my mouth became puke and I threw up all over the floor, again and again.  In between retches, a deep sucking sound absorbed anything else I might have been able to hear.

Acid dripped from my lips and my eyes slipped from the floor to my dead bodyguard to the weapon that killed him, a knife that looked to be cast from pure gold and lying no more than a foot or two out of reach to my right.  I lunged for it and my fingers closed around the hilt at the same instant a foot slammed down on the blade.

Continue Reading * The Beginning

The Next Novel

On New Year’s Day 2010, I started a mystery-fantasy story set in a city vaguely inspired by my impression of Renaissance Paris. Coded Project Stoneweaver, It was a discovery writing project, and I had an idea of what might be going on, oh, two or three chapters ahead of where I was writing, at least until I didn’t. I dragged the dead end in my plot out about another two thousand words, then stared at the story for a couple of weeks before putting it away in favour of some short fiction.

I picked Stoneweaver up again near the end of April this year, a little more than two years after putting it down, thinking maybe my eyes were fresher and I could figure out where the story might go. After all, it had worked pretty well with Ancient Runes, another stalled novel project (this one from the end of 2009) that I’d picked up in December 2011, mildly edited to get back into the story, and taken from a little over 30k to almost exactly 67 over the course of the next four months. At first blush, Stoneweaver looked like it might work as well. Much like Ancient Runes, it didn’t suck nearly as badly as I remember. Unlike Ancient Runes, I had no idea whatsoever where the story was going. Less than 10k after picking it up again, I’ve reached the end of what I know. Maybe it’s time to put it down again. Not being beholden to any publisher, I have that luxury.

Which begs the question: what do I write next?

When I was still blogging on Small Realities, I mentioned a massive Fantasy story I’d decided to allow myself to write long hand while working primarily on the editing of Graceland and Heroes Inc (I’ve also nearly finished with the editing on Skip to My Luu, so I’d better get to work publishing). I’m going to leave that as a long hand project for now because, over the course of late March to mid May, I plotted an entire novel from start to finish.

This is a new thing for me. Traditionally, I’m mostly a discovery writer. Outlines don’t, as a general rule, work very well for me. I often plot out a handful of scenes beyond where I’m working, but rarely more than that. Having put together 12,000 words of plot forming what I think is a coherent story, I’m actually eager to test out how it will work. Reading through the outline, I feel like I’ve got a fairly clear idea of what each scene will look like (there are about seventy) as well as a couple of spots where I can see a gap in a character arc.

My fingers have been getting itchy for a while, so I started on it yesterday during a break at work and carried it over through my lunch as well. 766 words for what was probably less than half an hour, encouraging me to get the story out of my skull as fast as I can type in the time I have available. I’m not talking NaNoWriMo counts, but it should be interesting to see how quickly I can draft from an outline.

Or how slowly, I suppose.

Be well.

Show and Tell: Worm Bait

Greetings, everyone!

I’ve decided that it’s show and tell day. What does that mean? Well, from a self-serving promotional standpoint, it means that I’m going to tell you about something I’ve published somewhere and what a great story it is. From a reader’s standpoint, hopefully I’m going to point you at something you’ll like.

For this first edition of show and tell, I’m picking a very recent publication, a fun little story titled “Worm Bait” included in the Dead Bait 3 collection.

With a caption of ‘reaching new depths of terror’, Dead Bait 3 is a 45,000 word Kindle book retailing on Amazon for $2.99 and published on April 30th of this year. I’m sharing the contents page with seven other authors, as follows (and my apologies to anyone whose name I’ve mispronounced in the audio):

Stumped by Cody Goodfellow

Worm Bait by Lance Schonberg (that’s me)

The Demon in the Water by Mark C. Scioneux

The Brotherhood of the Needle by S.T Gulik

Old Man and the Fish by Randal Tanabe

Sinkers by Murphy Edwards

The Fish in the Fields by C. Dennis Moore

The Old Man and the Sea of the Dead by Tim Curran

If experience is a guide, my story is probably the least disturbing of any tale in the collection, but I’m more than okay with that and thrilled just to be included. The truly disturbing and horrific isn’t my forté, anyway. When I write horror, it’s designed to make you shiver a bit and maybe look over your shoulder. “Worm Bait” is a quick and dirty tale of two cryptozoologists on the hunt for the Lagarfljót Worm, a lake monster living in a glacier fed, silt filled lake in Iceland. Legend has it the beast is at least three hundred feet long and spits poison. My kind of cryptid.

If you want to check it out, the Amazon link is attached to the cover shot below.

Be well.

Dead Bait 3 for Kindle

Sorry, the audio claims it’s yesterday. I recorded last night but didn’t do it early enough to satisfy myself being able to listen to it on enough devices. Still working on the quality, but it’s pretty clear.

Click the play button or right click the link below and choose ‘save as’ to download.

Show and Tell: Worm Bait (18 Jun 2012)

Mummy Powder, Part 3

It felt like a long time before Bruce found whoever it was.  After several soft blows, a crate fell over someplace, hopefully not damaging whatever was inside, and then the silence returned.  For the length of time the struggle took, I decided there had to be more than one.  I started to stand up, ducking back down when I heard the thud of something heavy on the wooden floor.  Not like Bruce to be careless and I thought it might be better for me to hide a little longer, maybe even until he got back, so I stayed down and kept watching the door.

I heard a footstep, heavy on the floor boards out in the warehouse.  After what seemed like a long time, there was another.  Was Bruce hurt or just carrying two people back to the treasure room?  The next footstep was closer, but the one after had an echo, almost like another footstep.  I resisted the urge to call for Bruce, demand some bit of information about what was happening, but the chilling thought ran through my head that maybe what I heard was someone else, and maybe more than one, hauling Bruce back here instead of the other way around.  That thought worried me more than anything had in years.

Mimicking Bruce’s earlier gesture, only with a hat in my hand, I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to shrink further into the shadow while still keeping my gaze firmly locked on the door.  My heart began to pound and I worried about my own safety for the first time in a long while.  The footsteps continued coming closer, each louder than the last, and I broke into a sweat.

A shadow moved just outside the light, big and broad, and I inhaled to call for Bruce to stop messing around and get back in here, but then the shadow took another step forward and the words never made it out of my brain, much less my mouth.  It lurched toward me, coming into the full light.  Bruce had been right after all.

Rags wrapped the creature, long strips of cloth in places so bonded to the ancient flesh beneath it would take surgery to determine where the boundary lay.  In other spots, the ages had worn away whatever had glued the fabric down and it hung loose, exposing the preserved leather beneath.  One side of its face lay exposed to the air, showing me a puckered eye socket and lips so receded, brown and black teeth grinned in the light.

I swallowed a scream, but then let it out when I saw the mummy—god, the mummy!—had a hand wrapped around Bruce’s foot, dragging him farther into the room with each slow step.  Behind them both, more shadows moved.  More mummies?  Wasn’t one enough?  How many could there possibly be?  I remembered the stacks of crates and sarcophagi.  Dozens.

Two more steps, and it let go of Bruce.  His leg dropped to the floor and I wondered if he were still alive.  With his arms crossed, fingertips touching opposite shoulders, I couldn’t see his chest moving, but then he groaned and one arm flopped over, knuckles cracking against the bare plank.  Relief poured through me, lessening the fear a little, but far from quenching it.  I had to wonder if he might be better off dead.  Or if I might be.

The mummy’s head turned in my direction and its jaw worked like a slow ventriloquist’s dummy.  Sounds fell from its mouth but I couldn’t tell if they were even meant to be words.  My ancient Egyptian was limited to working out hieroglyphics with a dictionary.  Egypt was mostly outside my normal stomping grounds, had been for years, but Witkinstein had been a rumour too beautiful not to chase.  King Tut big.  Now I wished I’d stayed on the other side of the Mediterranean.

A stone on stone grinding noise from the sarcophagus I cowered beside pushed me further into the corner.  God, wake up Bruce.  Wake up and save me.  Never mind that he’d already been taken down by the mummies once.  What good would being awake do?  Better he should sleep through whatever they were going to do to us.  What were they going to do to us?  Why was Bruce still alive?  Why was I still alive?  Panic started to rise in my chest again.

The grinding went on long enough I had to look at the sarcophagus to see it was opening from the inside, fingers wrapped around the closest edge of the gold-coated stone box.  They didn’t look like they’d been preserved chemically for several thousand years, or preserved at all.  A little wrinkled, a little dry, they could have belonged to anyone over seventy, or even sixty.  But since they belonged to someone pulling himself out of a stone coffin they might as well have been wrapped around my neck.

The head appeared first, wearing a headdress more or less like anything you’d see in a movie set in ancient Egypt.  But its, his, skin had a much paler tone than seemed likely for a more or less desert nation, not that I could find the voice to question that or anything else at the moment.  He lurched out of the sarcophagus wearing the stereotypical ancient Egyptian outfit, meaning not much beyond the headdress.  Naked from the waist up, and a short white, well, skirt lacking a better word, trimmed in blue and gold.  Some small part of my mind hoped he wore a loincloth underneath.  Sandals on his feet.  I’d say flip flops, but they probably had a legitimate ancient Egyptian name, especially studded with rubies.

His glance roamed over the room and I could see hints of the man whose face had been carved in gold on the cover, but much older.  A man still vital in his seventies where the face on the sarcophagus reflected, well not youth and beauty, but the height of strength and power.  His nose pushed me in the direction of belief, but the eyes, when they met mine, gave it away.  The sculptor knew those eyes so well, their shape and tilt and expression, that I couldn’t doubt it.  Somehow, the ancient pharaoh, thousands of years dead, had not only been resurrected but given a new lease on life, a body that seemed to live and breathe.  His gaze held me so well I forgot to be afraid and had to fight the urge to lean over and press my head into the floor.

Continue Reading * The Beginning

The Great Audio Experiment

I thought I might try an experiment.

I’m planning to do some podcast fiction this year. “Thorvald’s Wyrd” and “Turn the World Around”, both serialized on the old Small Realities blog and both destined to become e-books, at least, in the near future. I know I’ve said that before, but I am slowly finding time to teach myself how formatting really works. Artwork aside, there’s still at least one round of going through the stories in detail to make sure they’re as good, and as clean, as I can make them before I’m ready to publish.

I’ve done some test readings, trying to find the places in my house where I’d have to do the least noise removal if I do nothing else. I need to practice reading aloud more, too. My kids aren’t nearly as interested as they used to be and I’m a little out of practice, especially for the longer stretches I’ll need to manage to do fiction.

Either way, I have this lovely microphone I really haven’t done much with yet, so I thought I might try doing a little audio blogging. I should probably find some music first, at least. Maybe a couple of sound effects? Or maybe not. A little post-production on the fly for my regular posts will probably produce a reading in the 3-5 minute range. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

But it does have to be fun.

Be well.