Terror Tonight

The Lady of Flies

My wife is the ruler of hell, but she thinks that I don’t know. It’s her little secret and I play along. My lovely Maria, for whom I will gladly die. We are waiting for those inside me to mature. Those dark things that she plants inside me as I sleep. Things that squirm beneath my skin if I am away from her for too long. They ache for their mother and scream for her using my mouth.


In the mornings we go our separate ways to work, she gives me a smile knowing that it will be a day of pain for me. But my pain is her pleasure, and her pleasure is my life. It will begin in my stomach, a small growling. It’s not my hunger but theirs. The things that Maria has put inside me demand to feed on the unclean. In my suit and tie, I take to the alleys at noon, hoping for something that they might enjoy. My Maria’s children have such a hunger that the moldy and dead can fill. If we are lucky, I can find the greatest of treats, a rat already bloated from the heat, or a cat crawling with life as it lays useless to anyone but the swarm and me.


After the children are fed it’s back to the cubicle for me. The little square that I fill during the day as the buzzing fills my head. I try not to scratch at them as they get loud enough to drown out the drone of my coworkers and their petty lives. They have nothing, but I am the bringer of the swarm. The ones who will feast on them all. However, sometimes the pain is too great and blood is under my fingernails before I know what I have done. I sit in in my car screaming at my laxness, hoping that I have not killed any of the tiny ones. Crying at the thought of failing in my duty. The children are all.


Today I have not failed, today I have kept my charges safe for their queen. We sing praises to the Dark Lady as I take the long freeway home. I scream hosannas in her name to quiet them. They scream through my head all wanting to be near her as always, their voices blend until no words can be found. Then as one, they silence themselves. A small voice tells me that it is time. I laugh because my Lady will be proud of her husband for giving her these fine children.


How shall I present the gift that she has waited for so long?

I shall give her the Valentine that she deserves.

She enters the house with a glow. Candles wait for her, and white wine to celebrate what she has waited for without complaint. I give her a kiss and my love as I set her at the table. She laughs at our largest bowl empty in front of her. Running my fingers through her hair, her eyes connect with mine just as they did on our first night. She smiles as I run the razor across my stomach to release her present into the china bowl.


I close my eyes from the pain, hearing nothing but the goodbyes of our young. I know my Maria is proud of me I don’t need to understand what she is saying to know of her love.


The end

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JD Hyde enjoys rocking back and forth in the shower rethinking his life decisions. Follow him on Twitter.

Android and Eve

Flash Fiction Friday is a series currently curated by Alanah Andrews. If you’d like to submit flash fiction for publication, please contact Introvert Press.

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Android and Eve

‘You know, I’m gettin’ real sick of these hunks of junk takin’ all our jobs.’

Steven glanced over his shoulder at the woman behind the bar, then looked at Roy with amusement. ‘You mean these hunks of highly intricate circuitry and flesh reproduction?’

Roy waved his hand in the air, as though fanning Steven’s words away, and took another long sip of his beer. ‘Don’t matter what pretty words ya use, Steve. We both know that they’re just flesh covered computers, walkin’ and talkin’ but you know what they ain’t doin?’

‘What’s that, Roy?’ asked Steven good-naturedly, tapping his finger lightly on the side of his own empty glass. He had heard the rants before, from others, but Roy had generally been, if not exactly an android-sympathiser, at least indifferent towards the AIs.

‘They ain’t thinkin’, Steve,’ announced Roy. ‘Not really. They just do what they’re programmed for. That one behind ya, pouring beer is prob’ly all it knows how to do. Just cogs and wheels turnin’ round tellin’ it to put the glass under the tap and pull the lever.’

‘So how’s she going to take your job?’

Roy sighed. ‘Not our jobs, Steven,’ said Roy. ‘We are artists. We are creative. Ya can’t program creativity.’ Steven thought that calling themselves artists was a bit of a stretch. Working in image manipulation for the local advertising agency was a job which required more patience than creativity.

‘How could you tell she was an AI?’ Steve asked with amusement. From their positioning at the table, the woman behind the bar looked completely human to him.

‘You can jus’ tell,’ said Roy, knowingly. ‘Plus, you can see the difference when ya look into their…’ he gestured towards his eyes. Steven nodded. It was a subtle difference, but if you knew what to look for you could tell older androids from humans by the thick ring around the pupil. Something to do with the optical zoom on older models. Newer androids, of course, with newer technology had no such flaws.

‘But if androids can only do menial tasks,’ said Steven, reasonably, ‘why are you so worried about them taking all the jobs?’

Roy drained his beer, slapping the glass down on the table with a loud clink. Then he leaned in close to Steven, one hand on his shoulder in confidence. ‘I said they can only do what they’re programmed to do.’ His voice was low. ‘Didya know there’s one in parliament now? Far out, we’ll have a robot prime minister in my lifetime if things don’t change.’

‘Roy,’ said Steven kindly. ‘You do realise AIs were granted citizenship before you were even born. It makes sense that some are slowly becoming represented in parliament.’

But Roy wasn’t listening. ‘It’s jus’ plain wrong,’ he said loudly, and Steve noticed with some embarrassment that the woman behind the bar was watching them. ‘They ain’t got no soul ya see. God made Adam and Eve not Android and Eve.’ Then he snorted. ‘Guess that means Mary-Anne’s gonna end up in hell with no-one there beside her.’

 Steven looked sadly at his colleague. Now it made sense. The rant, the anger. ‘She’s moved on then?’

Roy didn’t answer. Instead, he clicked his fingers at the bartender and gestured towards his glass. She nodded and started pouring another.

‘Moved on? Yeah, guess ya can call it that. I call it downgraded. Couldn’t get another living human to love her, see? So she had to go for a computer.’

‘I’m really sorry, Roy. But you have been divorced for a year. You must have been prepared for this.’

As they talked, the bartender came over with Roy’s beer and placed it on the table, collecting the empty glass. Up close, Steven could see the tell-tale ring around the android’s pupil – the clue that had tipped off Roy.  ‘Excuse me,’ said Steve suddenly to the woman. ‘I was just wondering if this is your fulltime job?’

Roy glared at Steve.

‘Oh no,’ said the bartender, smiling ruefully. ‘I’m actually studying medicine. I just work here to help pay the fees.’

Roy looked as though he was about to choke on his beer. Steven thanked the woman and turned back to Roy. ‘I guess they don’t just do what they’re programmed to do.’

Roy furiously chugged down his beer and wiped the froth off his moustache with the back of his hand. ‘It coulda at least had the decency to wear contacts,’ said Roy, gesturing towards the bartender. ‘Rather than flaunting its…’ he waved his arms around, searching for the right word.

‘Artificiality?’ suggested Steve.

‘Yeh, artificiality,’ repeated Roy. ‘Anyways, I’m gonna hit the hay. See ya at work.’

As Roy left the building, the bartender came back over to the table to pick up the empty glass.

‘Why haven’t you told him?’ she asked quietly.

Steven just shrugged. ‘I thought we lived in a world which wasn’t divided by race.’

‘We do. And you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.’ She gestured towards Steven’s face, towards the contacts that he always wore.

‘I’m not here for a lecture,’ said Steve, rising abruptly and heading towards the exit. The woman’s robotic eyes bored into his back all the way to the door.

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Alanah Andrews is an English teacher in Australia, who dreams of one day travelling the world in a bus. If you like her writing, check out her website: www.alanahandrews.com

A Life in Mexico: Being Dead

Banda music, the Latin-flavored polka music, played from the center of town.

Lupé was thinking about Maria. Maria lived down the path from Lupé. She walked by the lower part of his yard every morning about 7:00 AM. She worked at the small tortilla shop on the main block in town. Tortillas were one thing the little rancho made that could always be counted on to produce an income for those who worked there. It wasn’t a big income, but any income in this rancho was a good income. The money is why he thought of Maria. She hadn’t been going to work.

Lupé thought maybe her hours changed when he stopped seeing her walk to work. Lupé began to notice a few strangers walk from the main road down the path toward Maria’s house after a few weeks. By the time he identified the strangers as a doctor and a few family members the rumors about Maria had spread. Some said she had cancer. Others said she had fallen prey to demons. Others say a curse had been cast.

Whatever the story was about Maria’s illness, he was shocked to see the doctor and Maria’s husband help her out to the main road. She was so thin. Lupé didn’t recognize her. She’d always been a pudgy, matronly figure. Now her dress hung on her. There was a man on each of her arm directing her down the path to her husband’s truck. Finally, her husband had to pick her up and carry her the remaining distance to the truck. She placed her head against his chest and almost disappeared in his arms.

Even though he wasn’t religious, Lupé crossed himself. He heard his mother’s voice say a prayer as she too watched with concern as this shell of a woman walk down the path.

“She doesn’t look good,” Lupé said to his mother.

“She is dying,” his mother said.

“How do you know that mother?” Lupé asked.

“I just do,” she said. “Old women know these things. As you get close to death, you recognize your fellow travelers.”

“Mother,” he said. “Be quiet, you will live to be a hundred.”

“That is not far off my dear,” his mother said.

Lupé knew his mother was right about her age and time on this Earth. He shuddered at the thought of having to care for his brother alone.

“Are you scared of dying mother?” The question came as a shock to both of them. Lupé was not one to ask probing questions and his mother was not one to dwell on her own mortality, even though it consumed most of her thinking.

“I’m not scared of dying, mijo” she said with assurity. “Being dead will be good.”

“Good?” he asked with some alarm in his voice.

“Yes,” she said with simplicity. “I’m tired.”

Lupé ignored the response.

The truck with Maria and her husband sputtered to life. He heard it complain as it chugged uphill the two blocks until he could turn left and descend the long road down the mountain.

“We will not see Maria again,” his mother said.

“How do you know that?” Lupé snapped.

“She told me,” his mother said matter-of-factly.

“When did she tell you this?” he said slowly, watching his mother at the stove.

“Just now,” she said.

The hair on Lupé’s arms tingled. “What do you mean, ‘just now’?”

“Just now on the way down the road. In the truck,” she said softly.

Lupé didn’t know what to say.

“Being dead isn’t the end, mijo,” she said. “She’s free now. She’s home.”

“But how do you know?” Lupé asked a bit at a loss for words.

“My dear boy,” his mother said, still stirring the beans and lard. “I am near that occasion myself, and as you get closer you see things and hear things from beyond the veil.”

Lupé stood there consuming what his mother had said.

The banda music in town stopped, almost as if to give him time to digest what his mother had said. The silence rang through the streets in the absence of the music. The wind came down from the mountain, warm and humid. His mother turned her head into the breeze.

“Adios, Maria…mi amiga. Vaya con Dios,” his mother whispered to the wind.

Redneck Blues

Short Story Sunday is a series of works by contributors to Introvert Press.

Folks ‘round here call me Jake. Ain’t short fer nuthin’, just Jake. I live in Chase, OK. Chase ain’t got nuthin but a bar and a church. We used to have a school but now them kids get bussed to Herbertville. Everyone goes to Herbertville fer everythin’, ‘cept drinkin’ and preachin’. There’s two things folks in Chase are loyal ‘bout: brews and pews.

I work at Clancy’s Auto Parts on Route 19, just south of Herbertville, OK. I can tell ya just about any part that goes to any car, ‘cept maybe if it’s European. We don’t do Yer-A-Peein’ shit. All we get in here is Fords, GMs and Chryslers.

Oh, right, that sweet little Megan Kisslooper out on Route 211 got a European car, a VW Beetle. Her dad spoils her rotten. Sweet Sixteen come around and she gets that little foreign job for her birthday. Her dad so proud of her. Makes me kinda laugh cause while she got that little foreign job everyone know she giving out her own kinda jobs inside her little foreign job. No joke. She give out more blow jobs than a tornado in a trailer park. Still though, I wisht she came into here for something, sometime. She’s ‘bout the prettiest thing ya ever saw.

“Jake,” I hear bellowed out from back in inventory. It’s my boss, Crud. His name ain’t really Crud, it’s Crudemeier, Ross Crudemeier but ever since fourth grade he been called Crud. We the same age, but he still my boss. He gets three dollars more an hour just cuz he went right to work outta high school instead of me dickin’ around at the Community College for two years. I got an Associate’s Degree in Agro-economy. I know all the special genetically engineered crops of sunflower, but Crud still gets three dollars more an hour than I do.

“Yeah boss,” I holler back.

“Got Mrs. Breckenridge on the line needs a head gasket”

“OK,” I holler back again and pick up the receiver out front by the register.

“Yes ma’am,” I say into the phone. I hear her coughing up a lung and pull the phone away from my ear a bit. Three bouts of cancer, an oxygen tank at her side and she still manages to smoke three packs of Pall Malls a day. She always asks for me and she always is coughing into the phone when I pick up.

“Jake?” she sputters. “That you?”

“Yes ma’am,” I say.

“Sorry about that honey, must be allergies.”

‘Allergies to non-filtered tobacco,’ I think to myself

“No problem ma’am,” I answer.

“Georgie says I need a new head gasket,” she says catching her breath again. Georgie is her son. He works in Herbertville at a hair salon. That’s right. A hair salon. Georgie’s about the biggest bone smuggler you ever t’meet. I mean that. Georgie played fullback in high school on the line with me, but I was just a half back. Georgie was a good four inches taller and forty pounds heavier than me. Georgie didn’t tell nobody in high school he was a ring raider, but I’ll be damned if the minute he didn’t git out of high school he started driving out to Charlesville where they had a gay bar. He was only eighteen, but he looked like he belonged in the NFL. I imagine those boys in Charlesville didn’t mind letting him into their bar. Aint no wonder he ended up in Miss Gloria’s School of Cosmetology. That’s just what donut punchers did ‘round these parts. He became a hairdresser, a big-ass hair dresser.

“Ok ma’am,” I answer, “Georgie mention if ya need a Fel Pro, Edelbrock or a Victor Reinz?”

“Oh now honey I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout that.”

“What car is it for ma’am?”

“The Buick.”

“Ok ma’am,” I answer. “I gotcha. I’ll have a Fel Pro waiting. Georgie gonna pick it up after work?”

“I’ll let him know shuga,” she said. “Georgie will be glad to see ya Jake.”

“Yup,” I said. “Nice to see him too.”

I wasn’t lyin. I don’t have no problem with Georgie bein’ fancy. He was a damned good full back, and my Mom says he is the best colorist in the whole county. I don’t quite know what a colorist is, but what the hell. If that keister kisser was happy choppin’ locks all day, more power to him.

I set the receiver down and ran the sale on her account. I went back to running all the facebook and email orders that came through and looked at the clock, ‘bout a half hour to go.

“Jake!”. It was Crud again.

“Yeah boss,” I hollered back. I don’t know why he couldn’t pick up the receiver and press Front Desk.

“Oil’s here.”

“Got it.” Freight Access truck just started pulling into the parking lot delivering our orders of motor oil and filters. We’s having a sale this Saturday and Sunday and this was the stock.

I picked up the receiver and pressed Garage

“Yeah,” came Cal’s thick drawl.

“Hey Cal, oil and filters just pulled up, can you grab a dolly and help him unload.

:Yeah,” came Cal’s thick drawl once again. I know he knew more words than that, I just don’t think I’d ever heard him say more than that.

I finished up the email and FB orders and looked at the clock again, fifteen minutes left and then the weekend was here. I had weekends off, finally. Took me six years of working weekends to finally get ‘em off. I was eager for this weekend to get here because Herbertville was having a gun show at the high school this weekend. Rumor had it they had a few Hatsan 125 Sniper C Vortex Air Rifle Combos. I’d been after one of them for a year or so.

I was just thinking about the weekend when Candy walked in.

‘Fuck,’ I thought to myself. Nothing good happened when Candy came through that door. Candy was Crud’s wife. She never set foot in the store except when she was about to cause a ruckus. The door jingles and then her heels clacked on the tile floor as she balanced herself on those damned four inch heels she always wore. What self-respecting Oklahoma wife walked around in those things instead of a pair of sure footed cowboy boots.

“Howdy Candy.” I said as she dumped a leather purse large enough to smuggle a spring pig in onto the counter knocking over the pen cup and stack of auto-parts magazines. Candy was what you’d call a handsome woman, sturdy across the bow. Her eyebrows were dark brown and perched halfway up her forehead. My thought was that Candy could benefit from seein’ ol Georgie boy at work.

“Hi John” she said hardly  breaking pace as she walked around the counter back into Crud’s office in the inventory. I’d been John to her for about three years. She knew my name was Jake. It was stitched right onto my damned shirt. Yeah, she was that much of a bitch.

Macy, the cute eighteen year old who ran parts, rolled her eyes at me when I looked over at her.

And then it began.

“I don’t care if you got a sale this weekend, we’re going out to Mothers!”

Inaudible on Crud’s part.

“You got eight employees who can run the damned sale. It’s Mother’s birthday!”

Inaudible.

“She’s seventy-two for Christ’s sake, she won’t be around forever!”

Inaudible.

“End of mother fucking story Ross!”

Crud’s door opened back up and Candy, with a self-satisfied look on her face, and exited. Flipping her hair back over her shoulders, she picked up her purse with a hand sporting long red talons, clacked her way across the store and left through the jingly front door.

“Jake!” I heard Crud call out. I already knew what was coming.

“Yeah boss.” I said looking at Macy.

She and I both mouthed the words as he said them, “I need ya to work the weekend.”

Candy never came through the door without someone’s weekend getting shot ta hell.

“Yeah I figured as much.”

Ya did?” he asked. “Why?”

“Oh just a hunch.”

My rifle could wait another weekend until Hermiton had their gun show. Macy walked behind me, patted me hard on the shoulder in condolence and then went out the side door to the garage to help Cal with the filters.

I was just settin’ to shut down the front computers as it was three minutes before six on Friday when the door jangled again. The glass door was nearly covered in full as Georgie walked into the shop.

“Jake!” Georgie barked as he made his way across the store to the counter. “Did Mom get to you in time?”

“She sure did.” I said.

“Great,” he answered.  “I’m gonna head over there and see if I can get it on before it gets dark.”

I stepped back from the desk and found the box with Georgie’s name on it and pulled the head gasket out. “Here it is bro.”

“Thanks man.” He reached out and took it with the biggest manicured hand ya ever saw. “How’s life treating you?”

“Oh just fine I suppose.” I answered, “You?”

“Me?” he said, “I couldn’t be better! I’m gettin’ married!”

“Married?” I said with surprise. “Tuh who? Anyone I know?” I asked trying to sound like this was no big deal.

Georgie smiled wide. “Yeah,” he said, “You know him.”

“Well who big guy?” I said

“To Cleat.” he said.

“Cleat?” I said with surprise obviously written across my face. “Hutch Cleater?”

Hutch went to school with us, but a year ahead. He was the soccer star of the school and was Prom King his Sophomore, Junior and Senior year. Since our school was so small, back then we still went to school in Chase, everyone in the school was eligible for Prom King and Queen. The girls used to swoon over Cleat. His thick black hair and pond blue eyes and athletic body from all that soccer made him the school stud. Yet with all that cred to his name, the girls just fawned over him because he was always such a gentlemen…..ooooooh. It finally dawned on me how he could remain such a gentleman.

“Yeah, Cleat.” Georgie laughed.

“Well shit,” I said reaching my hand out to shake his. “Congratulations.”

He met my hand and crushed it in his legendary fist-crushing greetings.

“Thanks man,” he said.

“You married?” Georgie asked.

“Nope.’I said, “still chasing after the girls who were always chasing after you and Cleat!”

He laughed aloud, and so did Macy from a few aisles over.

“Well, you should come to the wedding,” he said. “It’s going to be a spectacle.”

“Sounds like a hoot.”

“Alright then,” Georgie said, “gotta go fix Mom’s land cruiser.”

“Alrighty then,’ I said.

I laughed to myself as his size fourteen cowboy boots somehow made it across the floor in a more ladylike fashion than Candy’s stilettos.

I turned the CLOSED sign over as Georgie left the shop. I walked back behind the counter and began counting out the register. I’d be back in eleven hours because Crud had no backbone and Macy didn’t know how to update the promo codes in the computer. Georgie and Cleat would be at home making wedding plans. Megan Kisslooper was probably at home getting ready to go out. But hell, at least I wasn’t at home fighting with Candy.

Small victories.  

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Josh Jones

A Life in Mexico: Signs

Mom was in the doorway. It was Sunday. It was her big outing. Auntie Pia was coming to collect her to go to Sunday services. The church was only three blocks away, but the stones and the uphill path was too much for her old feet and bones. Pia was younger by twenty years and drove a blue pickup truck. During the week Pia hauled bananas and other fruit she grew to the markets nearby.

Mom always stood in the doorway a good hour before Pia arrived. She wore her almost white dress. It used to be white, but years and years of washing had faded it to more ivory. I never asked her why she stood so early in the doorway. Was she so eager to get out of the house? I wouldn’t blame her. All she did was cook for me and care for my brother who was plagued by the devil. All my brother did was lay twisted on his bed all day. His arms were contorted into odd angles and his left leg was stiff too, toes pointed and all. I thought it was ironic that his name was Angél. Mom’s life wasn’t a very good life, but that was what life was like for a poor, old lady in this part of the world: caretaker.

I’d gambled the money away Mom gave me to get eggs and potatoes so breakfast was beans, tortillas, and jalapeños- again.

I heard Pia’s truck pull up outside. She and Mom started talking loudly, Pia through her car window and Mom at the doorway. They would continue talking the entire trip to the church. They had known each other a lifetime yet still chatted as though they were school girls.

I heard their car doors slam shut, waited for the truck to pull away, and picked up my satchel. I left just a few minutes after mom and began walking down the central pathway of the rancho. The old adobe homes were painted all the colors of Easter. Some were newly painted, other were scarred with time and erosion. Skinny, feral dogs ran through the street in packs. From this vantage point, Lupé could see the Pacific Ocean. It was a good 10 km away, but it might as well be 1000 km for all the times he had gone to it.

Once he got to the edge of the rancho Lupé held back the jungle and walked down a small path. His machéte hacked at the encroaching foliage as he made his way down the path. It wasn’t long before he was wet with sweat from the humid air and physical activity. It took him an hour or so but he finally arrived at the Rio El Corte. It was summer so it was running full fueled by the regular monsoon rains they experienced every other day or so.

He had heard the rush of the river long before his eyes saw the river. He loved that sound.

Finally, he broke out of the jungle and his eyes took in the power of El Corte, water rushed dangerously from the mountain system behind him on its way to the Pacific. The river didn’t have beaches; rather, large boulders formed the banks. There was a large flat rock that he sat upon whenever he made the trek down to the river. He reached into his satchel and removed the home rolled joint and searched for the lighter with his other hand. His felt along the bottom of the satchel and searched again. He pulled his hand out and let his head drop. He’d forgotten his lighter. After a pause,  he thought he left it sitting on the concrete block beside his bed.

He swore under his breath.

He swore under his breath again.

He put his hands behind him, propping up his body. His fingers felt the rock below him and he turned to look at the engravings that covered most of the rocks. No one knew where the engravings came from, they’d been there longer than his town had been there, and that was a long time. Every once in awhile gringos would come to their rancho with new clothes and shiny cars. They’d pay someone in town to lead them to the engravings. Those were good days. They would sometimes pay 200 pesos, an entire days’ wage for the hour walk down to the river.

He looked at the carvings and wondered where they came from or what they meant. The gringos would talk about the carvings being called “hieroglyphs”. That was a word 

He looked at the carvings and wondered where they came from or what they meant. The gringos would talk about them being something called “hieroglyphs”. That was a word he’d heard and largely forgotten. To him, and the people in the rancho, they were just signs. The old people, higher up in the mountains, who called themselves The Cora, had said from time to time the carvings were signs.

Lupé wondered for a few seconds about what kind of signs these carvings were. Did they mean their town would be given gold from the gods? Did it mean they would be lifted up into the sky with aliens? Lupé laughed to himself and thought ‘maybe they could tell him where his fucking lighter was.’

__________________________________________

René Moreno, State of Nayarit, Mexico

The Upper Twenty Percent

Short Story Sunday Series

By Michael Recto

When Vilfredo Pareto once observed that 20 percent of the peapods in his garden produced 80 percent of the peas, he painted a tangible picture of how the world truly works.

Equality is an illusion. No amount of idealism can produce equilibrium. A man’s effort can bring him to the pinnacle of success but he can only shift the distribution, not the balance of power. 80 percent of the effects are always brought about by 20 percent of the causes. The movers, the shakers, and the trailblazers, there can only be a handful. Only the upper 20% can move the world.

This is the law of the vital few.

This is the Pareto Principle.

“Cool lecture Doc Gray!” said a massive man with a bony structure and a holstered M16. “So HQ sent us out to a God-forsaken warzone because….?”

“Because we’re the society’s upper 20 percent Branigan. We’re the best of the best!” commented a bespectacled man in an Army uniform who laid a tray of coffee cups near the bonfire.

‘Just the four of us?” asked a red-haired woman in her mid-30’s who sat with them around the bonfire. “It’s not a convincing 20 percent compared to the cowards in the army.” She turned to the bespectacled man and held out a hand. “No offense Doc Gray.”

“None taken Yllana. And you’re right, they are cowards.” Doc Gray reached for a pair of binoculars and stood up to walk a few inches away from the bonfire. He trained the binoculars at a far horizon where masses of tanks, missile turrets, and Armored APV’s lined the shoreline. “As unfair as it might sound, I wager that they’ll launch the coup’ de grace as soon as we incapacitate our target. They’ll take the glory for themselves, and we go back into the shadows.” He trained his binoculars toward the mouth of the volcano, a few miles from the volcano’s base where they set up camp. He watched the flock of ravens which he ordered to perch at the mouth.

“Poor ravens,” said a young man in his early teens who was curled up near the bonfire. “How can they take the heat while perched at the volcano’s mouth?”

“They can’t young one. The ravens are laying down their lives for us so that we can stay safe.” answered Yllana. “Doc Gray ordered them to stay there. If they fly away, it’s an indicator that the monster is about to come out.”

“But they’re dying up there. What’s the use of killing them if we’re supposed to save everyone in the city?”

“Geez Damien. Get a grip!” Branigan lumbered over to the young man and placed a huge hand on his head “Better the ravens than killing people right?”

Damien swiped Branigan’s hand away and stood up. “I’m not a child. You lay a hand on me and I’ll turn your hand into glass.”

“Take it easy Damien, he was just trying to comfort you, in his own clumsy way I guess.” Yllana chuckled while glancing at Branigan who got perturbed at the young man’s stubbornness.

“Fucking emo kid! Now’s not the time to be sorry for fucking ravens when you need to stay fucking alive!”

“You kiss your mother with that mouth Branigan? I left my kids back home because thank God, I’m tired of babysitting and I want to kick some monster butt” Yllana stood up and held a jungle knife at the flabbergasted Branigan. “I’m itching for a target practice so don’t, make me!”

“Why scold me?! He’s the one who’s acting like a brat here!” Branigan scowled at Damien who took a few steps back away from the bonfire.

Doc Gray approached Damien from behind and landed a slap on his back. “He’s just nervous team, isn’t that right young one?” Doc Gray smiled at Damien who shot back with a glare.

“I said I’m not a…”

‘Yes, Damien. You’re a man! And you became a man by coming with us, facing your fear.” Doc Gray smiled at Damien while beating the young man’s chest with a light, open fist. “You’re part of the 20%, the strongest among the mortals out there. This operation will not succeed without you and your powers.”

“That’s right Damien. You are a responsible with us. We have a city to protect and we thank you,” said Yllana as she returned to her spot near the bonfire.

“Y-you’re welcome. I’ll…do my best.” Damien kept his eyes low to hide his bewilderment at the endearment that the two were showing him.

Branigan smirked while poking at the bonfire to keep it lit with its measly charcoal. “Heh! Don’t get cocky now kid. It’s not a successful mission until we get home alive.”

“I think that’s better,” Damien commented while taking back his seat. “I’d rather die here. There’s nothing to for me in the city to go back to.”

“Motherf…” Branigan stopped when Yllana glared at him. Branigan wiped away the terrified expression on his face and faced Damien. “Don’t jinx it kid! Not like you, I have a life to go back to!”

“A life of booze, strippers, and gambling I infer,” said Doc Gray while adjusting his glasses.

“Hey Doc, it’s a life! A darn good one! Once the Institute pays up, I’ll be painting the town red, baby! You should join me sometime Doc! Too bad you’re not old enough to drink Damien!”

“No thank you, and don’t drag the young one into your, um, decadent lifestyle Branigan. We don’t need to contaminate our youth further with the dregs of society like you,” said Doc Gray. A cold air hung between the four as they remained silent. Branigan stared at the stoic Doc Gray until little by little, he shook into laughter.

“Good one Doc! Good one!” Branigan slapped his thighs while laughing and the tension around the group melted away.

“Damien, isn’t your family waiting for you?” asked Yllana.

“I don’t have a family,” Damien answered and the group fell silent. He took a deep breath while ignoring the curious eyes on him.

“I…I never knew my parents when the institute took me in. What I know is that they gave me a made-up identity so, I’m not even sure if Damien Shields is my real name.” Damien kept his eyes on the dancing embers of the bonfire. “That city doesn’t know me so why bother protecting it. But I just…want to make her happy. She loves this city, so I’ll protect it for her.”

“Her?” Branigan asked.

‘Well she’s…”

“A friend of yours?” Doc Gray also asked.

“She is but…”

“Your girlfriend?” Yllana’s lips started curling into a smile.

“F-forget I said anything. It’s…” Damien’s cheeks flushed and he tried to break eye contact with the group. Everyone, other than Damien, started chuckling at the flustered young man.

“Ah, love is a worthy reason to protect the city. There’s no need to be embarrassed about it,” said Doc Gray.

“She’s one lucky girl isn’t she?” commented Yllana while smiling at Damien.

“Well fuck me! Somebody here just hit puberty! Come here lover boy!” Branigan wrapped one enormous arm around Damien’s neck and pulled him in to ruffle his hair. Damien tried to pry Branigan’s arms off him while the rest of the group laughed. “Don’t worry kid. I’ll give you pointers. They always work, First you…”

The ground rumbled and the group fell silent. Branigan let go of Damien and followed Doc Grays’s gaze to the top of the volcano. The ravens perched at the mouth flew away and a couple of them tried to escape with burning wings until they plummeted to the nearby sea. A giant reptilian paw with claws that glinted like silver emerged from the mouth. It held on to one side of the opening and created a small crevice that released a thin river of oozing lava. Another gigantic paw rose from the opposite side of the mouth and clamped down on the rock with its sword-like claws. The two paws pushed downward, ripping away a sizeable portion of the volcano’s upper cone, inundating the volcano’s side with a wave of lava, a few meters away from where the four stood. A colossal head of a horned lizard soon emerged from the fiery lake. It shook off the lava that doused its horn and let out a garish roar to the heavens. The group felt the air vibrate as if they were a mere few feet away from an explosion. If it weren’t for Branigan who had the good sense to stand in the way of the shockwave, Yllana, Damien, and Doc Gray would have been blown away.

“Lady and Gentlemen, behold the Basilisk.” Doc Gray walked in front of the group and stood before the Basilisk as if introducing a beautiful wife to his friends.

“W-we’re taking down that thing?” Damien stared at the monster with terrified eyes.

“With a little help from the Army, right?” asked Yllana.

“I’m afraid not, my dear,” answered Doc Gray. “And yes Damien, we are taking it down. The missiles and tanks along the shoreline are for back-up, albeit useless.”

“Sounds fun Doc. So we can kill that thing?” asked Branigan.

“The Institute wants it alive but they are all fools anyway. We kill it if it becomes a threat.” Answered Doc Gray.

“That’s easier for us,” said Yllana.

The Basilisk crawled out of the lava and started to move toward the sea. It kicked splashes of fiery liquid upon every step, hurtling some of them toward the group. Yllana stepped forward and drew her hand across in a diagonal line. An invisible force cut through the blob that sped toward them and it split into two, clearing it away to keep the group safe from being doused with lava.

“I’ll stay around to protect Damien! Branigan! Doc! Keep that thing distracted!” Yllana slashed her hands across her again to cut a clump of rocks that was crashing toward them.

“I don’t like taking orders missy but I’m on it!” Branigan squatted with his muscled legs and jumped with enormous force, creating a small crater of igneous rock from where he once stood. He

“Damien! I need 10 spears. Just use the rocks around you. Just holler if you’re done. Alright, sweety?”

“R-right!” Damien confirmed. He ran to a nearby clump of rocks and held one on each hand. He summoned an invisible force that sent currents of electricity toward the rocks until they glowed. When he was certain that the current was enough, he slammed the two rocks together until they melded into a silver slush. He held the viscous material and pulled it apart like it was clay. The silvery goo crystallized until it took the form of a blade with strings of electricity running around its glimmering edges.

“That’s one.” Daniel whispered under his breath and then dropped the electrified blade behind him.

“Good work son. Such a fine blade.” Doc Gray smiled at Damien and then took off his eye glasses. “Will you hold this for me?” asked Doc Gray while handing over his glasses to Damien.

Damien took the glasses and his eyes went wide when looked up. Doc Gray’s eyes turned lacquer black and jet black feathers started protruding around his body. Three avian claws burst out from each of his feet and blankets of black feathers grew from under his arms. The man’s body expanded until his clothes laid tattered beneath him. The painful transformation continued until a giant red beak shot out of what was once Doc Gray’s old face. A 5-story high raven stood before Damien, ruffling its feathers to shed some of the cloth that clung in between the spaces of its wings.

“All that pain for the liberating feeling of flight. It’s worth it,” boomed Doc Gray’s groaning voice from above. “Branigan needs help. Stay alive young one. Your girl and your city need you.”

“Doc! Wait!” Damian shouted when Doc Gray was about to turn to take flight. Doc Gray eyed Damien with pearl black eyes, his head doing the small, jerky, twitching that was characteristic of a bird.

“Doc! Why are we here?” asked Damien “Why of all people, we…”

“Why of all people, we are the ones who are burdened with these, talents, you mean?” Doc Gray interrupted. Damien nodded and waited for an answer.

“Because of the Pareto Principle young one. Nature has dictated that we are the upper 20%,” answered Doc Gray. He lowered his head until Damien saw his own reflection on the giant raven’s eyes. “It’s not a law but more of an observation. As much as Man strives to make everything equal, Nature will always see to it that the distribution is uneven. Man’s existence on Earth is a contamination as long as he delves deeper into the secrets of the Universe with his knowledge and technology.”

“But I didn’t want this. No one can protect her so I’m forced to do this! I’m here because no one can!” shouted Damien.

“And that is your answer young one. As part of the upper 20 percent, your duty is to serve the remaining 80 percent. The Law of the vital few. Nature needs it but humans keep disrupting it. I am here to teach the fools we are protecting that Nature will always conquer us. Nature is the perpetual 20 percent. Man’s persistence to lord over Nature will bring about disease and destruction to us all but they will learn their errors, long before we’re gone.”

Doc Gray raised his head and began flapping his immense wings. “You and I are among the gifted Damien. Thus, we are no longer human. Nature has invited us to be part of her, among the upper 20 percent who need to decide the fate of the remaining 80 percent. She is just after all. She still lets us handle our own fates.”

The air around Damien and Yllana swirled as Doc Gray lifted himself up with the current. He glided toward the rampaging Basilisk who was locked into a battle with Branigan. The Basilisk squirmed around the lava as it desperately tried to catch Branigan who was jumping from one side to another, sending haymakers at each of its legs and pounding its fists on the beasts head. Doc Gray, as a giant raven, buried its enormous claws on the Basilisk back, sending the beast writhing in pain. Damien and Yllana watched the battle from the distance as they prepared 10 spears to act as sharp missiles for the monster.

When he was done with his 8th spear, Damien glanced over at the horizon where the mass of tanks and missile launchers lined the shore. “Cowards, all of them. They’re not worth protecting,” he whispered. “I don’t trust them. Once this is over, I’ll follow Nature’s law. I’ll finish them all.”

Contest Announcements

This months contest had 52 submissions. The top ten are listed below:

WINNER

Rob Burton — The Storyteller: A man who walks the Earth in perpetuity chronicling the lifetimes of those he touches. Rob was born in Birmingham, UK and currently lives in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China. Rob’s story will be published in IP’s Annual Anthology of Thought, along with the other monthly contest winners. Congratulations Rob!

RUNNERS-UP

These authors will have their stories featured in our quarterly e-Zine MOTIF.

Deanna Mc Neil — The Sexual History of America: an exquisite poem about the genetic history of the world.

H.J. Ross — Jazzie: The story of children of different races dealing with the signs of racial prejudice in their neighborhood.

Becky Kapjon — The Circle of Love: A family experiencing the phenomenon of birth and adoption, and all that goes with it emotionally.

Lance Corbett Feyh — Old Folks Home: A grandson visiting his grandfather in an old folks home finds love while his grandfather has a curious relationship of his own.

Steve Pool — Old Tommy: A man in a retirement home reminisces with an old friend about wartime and their life in their twilight years.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

These authors will have their stories published in our Sunday Short Story blog series.

Michael Recto — The Upper Twenty Percent: Four humanoids contemplate their role as the Upper Twenty Percent charged with protecting humanity.

Laura DiNovis — Hunting: A young girl, being trained to hunt, contemplates her feelings and the animals she hunts.

Megan Russ — Light to Lead: A woman, trapped in her depressive world, finds a reason for her light to shine once again.

J.B. Talyor — A Dragon Unbound: