Flash Fiction: Ted and the Form

I did a quick writing exercise today that turned into a little Siegel City story. It’s raw and unedited, but still, I thought I’d share it here.

Ted didn’t know where the money was, only that it wasn’t back in the cab where he left it. He’d gotten out of the car and closed the door, walking only three steps before realizing the hefty envelope had fallen out of his pocket. He spun on his heels and jumped almost directly in front of the car, stopping the driver before he could pull away from the curb.

“Hey, you crazy man?” The driver barked from his window. “I could have killed you!”

“I’m sorry, I just… I forgot something in the back seat,” Ted said. The driver glowered at him, but popped the door lock and let him in. He crawled across the seat, looking where he’d been sitting, looking down at the floor, shoving his hands between the cushions. Nothing.

“Hurry up, pal, I’ve got a business to run,” the driver said.

“It’s not here,” Ted hissed to himself. “It’s not here.” It didn’t make any sense. He knew he’d had the envelope with him when he got into the cab. Jason had handed it to him outside of the office and he was still holding it when he climbed in. He had been in the back seat of the cab when he stuffed it into his coat pocket. It was no longer in his coat pocket, therefore it had to be somewhere inside the cab.

And yet it wasn’t.

Not on the floor, not on the seat. He couldn’t even accuse the driver of having taken it because Ted had been in the back seat the entire time and he’d had no opportunity to get out and hide it.

“Are you sure you didn’t leave it somewhere else, buddy?” the driver asked. “I can’t wait around all day.”

Ted didn’t say anything. Instead, his mind was rushing through all of the things that were going to happen if he didn’t get that money back. He thought about the his boss noticing that it had gone missing in the first place. He thought about being fired and tossed out on the street. Worse, he thought about his boss’s enforcers coming after him. Working for Cary Buchvalt wasn’t on the level of being the henchman of a full-blown supervillain like Dr. Mayhem or Herr Sinister, but in a place like Siegel City even the low-level bosses could afford to place a couple of masks on the payroll. He imagined himself being hunted down by the Tracker or strangled in his sleep when the Form – who could honestly be anywhere around him even now and he wouldn’t know it – suddenly slithered under his bedroom door and carried out the boss’s orders.

“Enough is enough, pal,” the driver snapped. “Get out of the cab or I’m gonna call the cops.”

Cops? Ted didn’t have any fear of the cops, not with the alternative being visit by one of Buchvalt’s goons. How did this happen? How did he get here? He’d come out to Siegel back in ’56, fresh out of college, hoping to get a job at one of the larger firms. Instead he found himself doing the books for a mobster whose claim to fame was that he’d managed to escape Nightshadow on two separate occasions before being locked up for a nickel.

The driver was turned around now, staring him down. “Am I going to have to get physical?”

What about his ma? Would Buchvalt get physical with her? She’d met him once when she came to town for a visit, talked about what a nice gentleman his boss was. Would she say the same when her postman melted away, revealing the Form himself, ready to stuff his pliable fist down her throat and suffocate her with his own flesh?

“That’s enough, buddy.” He hadn’t seen the driver get out of the car, but he felt a pair of meaty hands grab him by the back of the coat, yanking him free and hurling him to the sidewalk. “I don’t know what you’re missing, pal, but I ain’t got all day!”

“The envelope!” Ted shrieked. “I need the envelope!”

“You need your head examined!”

The cabby turned and slid behind the wheel again. It was a smooth, fluid motion, during which he never lost contact with the car, and it was fast enough that the door was already slammed shut before Teddy could pull himself to his feet. He fell on the door, pounding the glass and shrieking. The driver just stared at him.

“Please, I need that envelope.”

“Last chance, pal.”

“Let me back in!”

The driver shrugged. “Your funeral, bucko.”

The door handle suddenly popped out of the frame, swinging back like a switchblade. Ted didn’t feel the pain until he looked down and realized it had sharpened like a blade too, opening his shirt and then his flesh as easily as slicing off a piece of Ma’s shrimp mould. The blade settled in his stomach, then he felt it dart into him, coming out of his back and sending blood spattering against the lining of his coat.

The blade retracted and turned back into the door handle and Ted, horrified, fell back onto the sidewalk as the cab drove away. It was past midnight, there was no one on the street, no one to see the dark pool spreading around his body, no one to jump in the phone booth and call for help.

Right now, Ted couldn’t help but think, he’d even be okay if Nightshadow showed up.

As the cab rounded a corner and rolled out of his sight, the frame of the car began to contract. It shifted, driver and all, turning into a rolling, slate-colored ball before gliding to a stop near a pay phone. The ball straightened up, taking on a humanoid shape. The bulky, blobby man picked up the phone, then produced a coin from somewhere within the folded putty and dropped it in the slot.

“It’s me, boss,” he said. “Yeah, I got the envelope. What do you mean ‘where,’ somewhere around my pancreas, I don’t know. Nah, he didn’t feel me take it, but he noticed it after he got out, so I had to take care of things. Yeah, that way. No, I guess I don’t need to visit his ma now. He learned his lesson pretty good.”

He hung the phone up and his form shifted again. It became smaller now, and his flesh took on a normal tone while a blue uniform sprung up around his body. He was pretty sure Ted was no one’s problem anymore, but the boss was right. Better safe than sorry. “Officer Henreid” would just take a little stroll down the block and make sure things were taken care of for good.

A Christmas Gift: Daisy’s Tree

daisys-tree-1As people who have been with me for a long time know, each year I write a new Christmas short story as a little gift for those who’ve stayed with me this long. This year’s tale came to me as I was on my way to a little Christmas Tree farm in Mississippi with my wife and my sister’s family. It’s about a little girl and  different kind of tree. And as of right now (Christmas Eve) it’s totally free for five days! Roll over to Amazon.com and get this year’s story for your Kindle or Kindle app.

Daisy’s Tree on Amazon.com

Merry Christmas!

NaNoWriMo Kicks Off at Midnight…

Longtime readers of mine know that I’m a big fan of NaNoWriMo, alias National Novel Writing Month, which is held every November. The challenge, for those who choose to accept it, is to write an entire 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30. I have participated many times, and all but once I made the 50K mark in time. Unfortunately, several of those attempts fizzled out after the 50K mark and the stories never wrapped, but you can still see some of my November efforts in print. My novels The Pyrite War and Opening Night of the Dead, as well as the title story in my holiday anthology A Long November and Other Tales of Christmas all began life as NaNoWriMo projects.

I know some people — some writers whom I have great admiration for — are very down on the concept of NaNoWriMo. They see it as a crutch, and they think people truly dedicated to the craft of writing should do so without it. While I respect their opinions, I must disagree. I’ve always found NaNoWriMo to be an excellent motivator, a chance to force yourself to action, secure in the knowledge that thousands of others are doing the same. To me, that somehow removes a little of the existential terror that comes with staring at the blank page. Just knowing you aren’t alone makes it better.

This year, however, I have a confession to make. I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo in the traditional sense. While I still believe in it, this year I find myself without a new project ready to work on. I don’t have any ideas fully formed enough to begin work at the stroke of midnight, as I have done so many times. What’s more, I’ve got several other projects in various stages of completion, and it seems almost unfaithful of me to start something new while these other things flounder.

So while I will not be kicking off a new project at 12 a.m., I will be using November to write. Actually, I’ll be using it to edit at first. Tomorrow I’m going to dive into the novel I began last year for NaNoWriMo, a work that I was immensely proud of, but that fell by the wayside as I did rewrites for my play The 3-D Radio Show (and special bonus cool points for those of you who saw those performances last spring) and that I never got around to finishing. And seeing as how that book is intended as the first in a trilogy, it really seems to me that I should get off my ass and get back to it.

Those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo this year, more power to you. I’ll be sending out all the moral support I can. As for me, I’ll be diving back into the adventures of Jenna, Ellie, Reggie, Colm, and their many-limbed friend as they try desperately to find something that belongs to them anyway. It’s an interesting story. It’s surprised me several times so far.

I hope I get to share it with you soon.