Friday, December 27, 2013

#FridayFlash - Truth or Consequences

Everyone had finally accepted that it wasn't going to work after all.

Not that it came as any surprise.

Staring at the road ahead, at mile marker 71 passing under the glow of his headlights, John remembered the day he told them—told them the truth in unambiguous terms, as a matter of fact. It wasn't going to work, no matter how much Dr. Zanthur promised it would. The crazy man was the one who had actually started the whole thing and didn't even realize it, so how could he possibly be the one to undo it? The other doctors wouldn't listen, though. Even with the calculations and empirical data on his side, they couldn't see it. Or wouldn't. Blinded by their own dreams of finding the cure and the prospect of global notoriety, they refused to listen, refused to even entertain the notion that John knew more than they did, that he actually understood how history would repeat itself, how the whole process would play out. And besides, he was only one voice against more than five hundred. With those numbers, they considered his opinion more of an outlier than a real possibility, so he needed to just shut up and sit down. The cause of science was far greater than the cry of one man.

As it turned out, their actions affected more than just one, though.

Ahead, a large road sign glowed green against the backdrop of a blackened canvas. Truth or Consequences, it announced, and a white arrow pointed toward an exit ramp. Under the large sign a smaller one labeled it as the "City of Elephant Butte." John smiled as he passed by, exchanging the interstate for Business Loop 25. As a kid, he and his friends made fun of that sign and of the city itself. Sure the U was long, but that didn't matter to a group of six graders. Why would you want to live in a place like that? they often asked with a cackle. And though the high school claimed the tiger as its mascot, to John and his friends, and to most everyone else who didn't live there, the town and the team would always be the back end of a pachyderm.

His smile faded as the business loop took him past houses and buildings left dark. Even the towering street lights now stood blank, two rows of silver ghosts illuminated only by the beams of his headlights.

"It's the cure to end the spreading disease," Dr. Zanthur proudly announced. John could still see him on the television, flanked by the President and the leaders of both the House and the Senate. "No longer will the world be held hostage to the sickness of the few. With this serum," he added, and held up a vial of orange colored liquid to emphasize his point, "the entire population will be set free."

But it didn't set anyone free. In time, just as John predicted, it had actually enslaved the masses. The blaze of a new disease flared up on the coasts and quickly spread inward. Images of crazed lunatics and street mobs, their eyes pasty white, their mouths dripping with blood, filled the television sets. From New York to St. Louis, L.A. to Denver, and all points in between, the world imploded as fathers turned against their sons, mothers against their daughters, each devouring the other until almost everyone had been infected.

There was only one salvation to the madness, and John saw it firsthand in the footage of an execution interrupted by a prison riot. With a slight nod of the head, the warden gave the signal and the medic administered the first of three injections, then the second. Finally, as the prisoner slipped into a sodium thiopental-induced coma, the medic pushed a lethal injection of potassium chloride through the IV. It was then that the door to the execution chamber flew open. Screams pierced the air as a small band of monsters entered and attacked the warden and medic. More screams as another wave of animals found entrance into the witness room. In the end, the only one left untouched was the dead prisoner. One figure actually stopped and sniffed at the corpse, as a dog might a bowl of peppers, before it turned its nose away and attacked someone else.

In the heart of the darkened city, John turned right onto East Riverside. In another mile, he reached the clinic, a veterinarian's office just off the Rio Grande. He had been there before as a kid, the time his father took him along to put down Roxy, their aged and failing Golden Retriever. His father said it was the humane thing to do. At the time, though, he didn't see anything humane about it.

In the parking lot, with the brick face of the clinic white-washed by his headlights, John put the gear in park and turned off the engine. There wouldn't be much time, he knew. Like sharks smelling blood in the waters, creatures a mile away would sense that something new had just entered town.

He reached over and shook the shoulder of his passenger.

"Wake up, Billy," he said and shook the shoulder again. "We're here."

The boy raised up and looked around. "Dad? Where are we?"

"At a town close to where I grew up. Truth or Consequences."

Billy looked out at the building. "What's this place?"

John looked at the sign on the wall: Emergency Vet Clinic. Inside, he wouldn't find any potassium chloride, but he would most certainly find enough pentobarbital and sodium thiopental. It wouldn't be pretty, but he was tired of running against a force that would eventually find them. At least this way it would be on his terms.

He took a deep breath. He could be honest with the boy, but that wouldn't make it any easier.

"Salvation," he finally said.

Friday, November 1, 2013

2013 Holiday Story Exchange

As some of you may already know, I am a card-carrying member of the Writer's Digest forum. I joined the forum almost a decade ago, looking to learn from other writers and develop my craft. Over the years, I have met many wonderful people and enjoyed the various challenges proposed by others. As my own personal contribution to the fun and games, six years ago I proposed having a Holiday Story Exchange (HSE). This is a type of writer's Secret Santa. One writer crafts a story that includes a second writer as the lead character, using a few pieces of information provided by the second writer (e.g., favorite foods, favorite movies, state of residence). The stories are posted to a invitation only site without posting the author's name. Then, once all the stories have been posted and read, the authors have the opportunity to try to guess who wrote what. In the past, as incentive for playing, we have given out gift cards ($10) to the winner.

2013 marks the seventh year of the HSE. Many of the old players are still with us, and a few new participants have joined in as well. I am making my last call to forumites this week, and thought I would post a shout out to fellow writers in the blogosphere. Here is my tentative schedule of dates for the 2013 HSE:

11/4: Completed Questionnaires Submitted

11/6: Names and questionnaires distributed

12/15: Submission deadline for completed stories

12/23: Release of stories on invitation only site

12/29 - 12/31: Guess who wrote what

1/1: Winner announced

For those of you who might be interested, you can find us out in the "Community" section on Joining the forum is free, and we enjoy the company of all newcomers. Once in the forum, you can locate the "HSE" thread under the Writer's Block Party header, where you'll find the questionnaire to complete and further instructions. We would love to have more participants.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Goodbye, Dutch...

A friend at the office and I are big fans of the FX! series, Justified, which is based upon characters created by Elmore Leonard. The primary character, Raylan Givens, first came to my attention while reading the short story, "Fire in the Hole." From there, I read more about Givens and his adventures in the novels Pronto and Riding the Rap. So it came as a surprise, not to mention a topic of discussion, when my friend informed me yesterday of Elmore's passing.

To say that Elmore Leonard is my favorite author is an understatement. I first heard about Elmore while reading Stephen King's On Writing. If a writer wants to know how to write dialogue, Stephen King said he/she needed to look no further than Elmore Leonard and his brilliant craft. From there, I began a journey of exploring Elmore's work, which has ranged from westerns to the modern crime story over the years. Not all of his stories captured my enthusiasm, but most of them did. In fact, my favorite Leonard novel, Out of Sight, has been in my hands through three complete readings.

A few years ago, I made the decision to call a Michigan bookstore and pre-order Elmore's novel Road Dogs and requested that he personally sign it for me. The book and shipping cost me more than thirty dollars, but it was money well spent in my opinion.

I'm going to miss Mr. Leonard. I loved his style. I loved his quirky characters. Truly, he was an American icon in every sense of the word.

Goodbye, Dutch.