Friday, February 27, 2015

Artwork © Elier, All Rights Reserved - http://snake-n-da-box.deviantart.com/
Story and Characters © Brannon Hall, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

An excerpt from The Guestbook...

A few minutes went by as Dirk and Harrold discussed the odd picture on the wall. Tom was in a full out argument—it seemed with the boar’s head. Leroy had managed to still not have a fire going though Harrold could have sworn he had seen it flickering a bit earlier. Ron was cooking in his modern day chlorine-ladened cauldron on the back deck and he was guessing Brett was running back to England.  “All right gents”, Harrold said aloud as he quaffed his beer and dropped the empty vessel on the table top. “I’m headed back into Friday to brush my teeth and crash. Some of us drove half the night and are dead tired."

Harrold pressed the last dose of tooth paste out of the travel sized tube on to his tooth brush and started brushing his pearly whites. He grinned at his reflection in the mirror above the sink as he scrubbed the front set and worked his way to the back. He tipped his head towards the sink and spit the frothy waste product of clean teeth into the bowl. As he stood, mouth cleared, he noticed that the reflection in the mirror had continued brushing. It was still foaming at the mouth like a wild dog. Harrold scowled and took a half step back from the still brushing reflection. The image never looked at him. It just kept on brushing with a mad look in its eyes. Harrold felt ice run through his veins.

BLAM BLAM, BLAM BLAM BLAM!! Gun shots from the front room jarred him from his contemplation. He dropped the tooth brush and rushed into the small hallway. The image in the mirror grinned as it watched him leave, froth running down its leering jowls.

The carnage that greeted him in the cabin’s main room rocked him to his heels. It was like time itself had shifted on its end, throwing Harrold into his own personal hell.

***

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Foolish Friday - 02-27-15
12:24 PM

Foolish Friday - 02-27-15

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


2-25-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © Lauren Souch, All Rights Reserved - http://www.blogto.com/city/2011/08/photos_of_the_2nd_annual_zombie_car_wash/
Story and Characters © Corey Blankenship, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

The darkness surrounded me, filled the garage, and swallowed the truck whole. Now any flicker of light or stray sound would be a dinner bell. I tucked my sleeping bag around me, waited, and listened. Sleep would steal me at some point, but I feared the quiet shuffle of the damned. You never knew if they would find you in the night. You certainly knew when they did.

Tonight was no different.

I heard the first scrape along the hood. A slow, mind-piercing screech. Then the side of truck dimpled with what felt like a thundering boomp. I jolted. A face slid against my window, empty nose socket trailing gore as I heard a faint wheeze. The rabid sucked air into its nasal cavity, past long-dead scent receptors. At least I hoped they were dead. As if reading my thoughts, the creature stopped and huffed at the crack in my door. It raised a stump, fresh pieces of flesh dangling from its wrist. It pawed slowly at the window sill.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

A short growl came from the other side of my cabin. I looked to the right and noticed a sparsely grassy half-dome pressed against the passenger window. It rubbed its few hairs up and down the pane, slightly vibrating the filmy glass. The short rabid looked like a cat marking its territory. I regretted eating in the car. I regretted more not going to the bathroom before dark. I eyed a large Value Cup the previous occupant had left, thinking back to college days and road trips. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

It was going to a long night.

Then Mr. Paw grunted harshly at Little Boy. Little Boy barked back. The two clawed their way around the car and started tearing into each other. High-pitched shrieks and teeth-aching growls pierced the night. A hard smack! echoed in the empty air as something smacked into the bumper. A gurgly riiiip followed by soft splatters told me that one of the two had won. I could only hope he remained content with his meal and that was the only encroachment. I tried to drown the slurping noises that drifted from the back out of my mind. It was better to endure the small ruckus than try to flee into unknown danger.

A lesson learned by a sad few.
***

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02-25-15 Writing Warm-up
3:03 PM

02-25-15 Writing Warm-up

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


2-24-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © Steve Hamilton, All Rights Reserved - http://balance-sheet.deviantart.com/
Story and Characters © John Langley, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

Sound…

audio.input.acoustic_signature(Frequency(4186Hz), Amplitude(10db), audio.traceback[Date ”2154-14-7” Time ”20:32:12”[audio_register]], …)

Sound: Doorway Bell chimes

Aroma…

Composition(Alkaloids(Trigonelline, Caffeine, …, …)

Plantae.Angiosperms.Eudicots.Asterids.Gentianales.Rubiaceae.Ixoroideae.Coffeeae.Coffea.Arabica

Smell: Roasted Arabica Coffee.

GPS…

Latitude(37.858701)Longitude(-122.244243)

Location: Echoes Coffee Shop.


Human looking eyes driven by inhuman motive assessed, compiled, and cataloged the torrent of new data. Only, there wasn’t much to catalogue. The shop offered little more than what the online reviews and data clouds already foretold. It was a quaint little shop, quite literally a nook between two larger buildings, built only to fill space and optimize the profits of some unknown landowner. The coffee, according to preliminary aromatic analysis, was no different than most other local shop’s, and consumer ratings placed it well with the 3% standard deviation of “average”. He could spy a black stamp on the burlap sacks piled up behind the bar.  “Calloway Coffee”, they read. The beans were locally grown and processed, he concluded, but commercially available and well within his means to recreate using standard domestic utensils.  Why was he here? The question was filed away as unnecessary given the context of his orders. “Why?” is only as useful as it’s ability to enable more efficiently fulfilled orders, even considering his administrators commands.

He continued his examination. The style of the shop: Art deco with an emphasis on nightlife. Jazz crackled over an antique radio. The barista wore a slim white dress and black apron, her copper hair pinned up in a Chignon. Paintings on the wall featured suited men and dressed women dancing, sitting, or smoking with stylized portrayals of brass wind music and ivory keys filling the air.  A few paintings had changed since the most recent interior scan. The Cloud was blocked here so he saved the images to be uploaded later. He reconsidered his “why?” question. It was beyond logical reason The programmed response “sentimentality” satisfied his initial asking. The question was now answered, categorized, and classified, but it was not concluded.

A voice, like a second greeting bell, chimed out from the other side of the cherry wood bar.
“Hi there, welcome to Echoes.” The barista greeted the man with a warm smile and rosy cheeks. “Be sure to check out our daily specials.”
She gestured to a blackboard hanging above the counter.

Countless servos hummed at unheard frequencies as a dry smile grew on his face. He uttered a curt and obligatory “Thank you” before glancing at the menu. His eyes locked on the curly chalked letters.

There were only a few characters. They took less than a millisecond to read but 4 seconds and counting to process.

“Why?” The question assailed him again, this time in response to the innocuous looking lettering command he read on the sign.

“Here, have a seat.” The woman interrupted his thoughts.

He paused a moment, then nodded. His hands gestured to the chalked out words. And he shot her an inquisitive look. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut short.

A finger rose to her lips and she shushed him. “House rules.”

Not without hesitation he strode to the bar, bidden by commands not entirely contradictory to his administrators. Thousands of parallel processes happened nearly simultaneously, all fruitless for resolving the conundrum posed to him. He took a seat next to another patron, a hawkish nosed man with a heavy brow. The man appraised the newcomer in turn, gazing at him with cool blue eyes. The man took a drag from a cigarette that rested between his fingers. To Joseph it was an unfashionable symbol of antiquity.

He turned back to see the barista leaning on the bar smiling at him. “What are we having tonight?”

“Black Coffee. To go please.”

“I’ll brew some fresh for ya, if you have the time. It’ll only take a few minutes.”

He nods hesitantly, then sits up straight, hands in his lap, and waits. In moments the barista has the coffee brewing in the pot and she resumes leaning against the back counter next to the radio.

“You’re looking a little stiff.” The stranger states. “May as well get comfortable while you wait.”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“I know your fine, but you’re making me tense, sitting so proper.” The stranger takes another drag from his cigarette.

Joseph shifts awkwardly in his seat before leaning over the bar, his elbows now resting on the cherrywood surface. A mimicked pose, more than a natural one.

“Now that’s a little better.” The hawk nosed man states, then leans back in the stool and crosses his arms.
“I’m Edward, you can call me Ed, and that’s Melody." The barista smiles and waves but otherwise remains lost in her music. “What’s your name, son?”

“Joseph” He recites his administrators designation for him. “But…” A delta of subroutines repurposed themselves to respond appropriately. The decree on the chalkboard as proving to be taxing on his systems. “You can call me Joe.”

“It’s a pleasure Joe. I think you’ll like the place. Very comfortable.” He gestures around the room. “It’s got an old charm to it.”

Joe see’s the opportunity to learn. “How’s that?”

Ed continues. “Check your phone. Your phone connected to The Cloud? Hear the crackle of the radio. That’s not artificial.” He gives a smirk. “It’s nostalgic. Makes the patrons feel more at ease.”

“People like this?”

“Not everyone, but the patrons here do. What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Do you like it?”

The coffee machines gurgle fills the pregnant pause. “It rates out well, and has a pleasant decor.”

Ed chuckles. “It does that. I love the place personally. No noise, no buzz of technology, good music. sweet Mel, back there.” He winks.

She rolls her eyes at him, but smiles.

“I’ve been coming here, somewhere around a year and a half now, once a month.”

“That’s not much.”

“That’s all I’ve got. Work keeps me tied up most of the time.”

“And what’s that?”

“My job? I guess you could say, I work in data entry and processing. Simple work, pays the bills. Mel’s been running the coffee shop for the past 12 years, lucky girl.”

“She has odd rules.”

“It makes people happy.” He scratches his chin. “The buzz of The Cloud, constant work, To Do lists that never end. They can come here and relax.”

“People can?”

He nods “They forget to ask ‘why?’ every now and then.” Ed smothers his cigarette in a silver tray. “and just as importantly. ‘Why not?’”

“I’ve… never thought about it.”

The man laughs again and shakes his head. He holds up his cup right as the brewer sighs a final puff of water and air… “Some to go Mel.”

She takes two foam cups from a stack, but Joseph stops her.

“No… actually. I’ll have it for here.”

“Sure thing hon. Want me to turn up the music for you?” He nods in response.

Ed smiles, then slips on his overcoat. “Enjoy the coffee Joe. I’m sure I’ll see you again.”

Joe nods and watches curiously as Ed takes his coffee and slips out the door, the chimes of the bell ringing once again. His thoughts turn to the sign. “On premises, AI computer.”

“Why not…” He muttered to himself, then took a sip of his coffee.

***

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2-24-15 Writing Warm-up
8:59 AM

2-24-15 Writing Warm-up

Monday, February 23, 2015


2-23-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © Sasha Lefebvre, All Rights Reserved - http://sachalefebvre.deviantart.com/
Story and Characters © Corey Blankenship, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

The truck drove heedlessly through bushes and ruts. Screams from the city came as a faint moaning on the wind. The driver, his face marred by grease, stared into the mirror. He almost expected hungry, blood-stained eyes to glare back. His throat tried to gulp, instead he gasped. The African heat drank greedily from his body, stealing precious water.

"Shouldn't we turn the lights on?" The shrill whisper came from the passenger seat.

The soiled driver jerked his head sideways and blinked. He had almost forgotten about his travel companion. Fear feasted on his thoughts. The shock of her voice blew the fog to the corners of his mind.

"Mara, we need to get further away. The light will attract them. You saw how they followed our flashlight!"

The woman drew her fragile-looking legs closer, as if cold in the 34 degree weather. Sweat dripped from her brow. She replied through her knees, "But, Kodzo, if we hit a tree or a wildebeest, we'll be stuck...and they will get us..."

"It's a chance we have to take," He shot back. He needed to keep his thoughts on prodding the vehicle forward. His mind threatened to scatter like flamingos from a crocodile.

The shocks squealed as they surged over a bank and smashed into a dry river bed. The cracked lips of the dead waterway collapsed and coughed silt into the air. The dust swirled about the vehicle, blinding them. He slammed the accelerator, and then the dash. The engine had whined in protest. The brown darkness stained the windows and blinded the mirrors. The truck would not move.

"Kodzo..." Her voice wavered on the edge of tears.

"Damn, it's stuck." He couldn't stop shaking.

Silence circled the whimpering engine of the truck.

Mara eventually offered, "Maybe you can push it out."

He glared at her as though she had suggested he walk on lava. "I'll turn on the lights. Maybe we can see better. They shouldn't see us down here."

Before she could protest, he turned the headlamps to high. White light flooded the riverbed, bounced off the swirling dust, and blinded the occupants. Both blinked and then blinked again. A shadow stood between the headlamps. A broad leaf hung from the right side, while a slender, spiky branch stuck from its left. The strange tree had smooth, dark bark, accented with dully gleaming vines. It was no tree.

It was a man.

Mara started shrieking. Kodzo put a hand on her shoulder and shook her. "It's ok! He is Masaai. We are saved!"

Kodzo leaped from the car and into the chalky riverbed. The dust had thinned and stars stabbed through the haze. Then he saw them. Shadows weaved on the edge of the lamplight. The Maasai warrior turned his head toward Kodzo's bloodless face. The driver's eyes bulged.

The warrior's mouth foamed.

***

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2-23-15 Writing Warm-up
10:21 AM

2-23-15 Writing Warm-up

Saturday, February 21, 2015


2-21-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © The Renfield Gazette
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”
(Click for Larger Version)

Want to find out what happened? Check out The Guestbook, below!

***

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2-21-15 Writing Warm-up
8:48 AM

2-21-15 Writing Warm-up

Friday, February 20, 2015


2-20-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © Felipe Sorbreiro, All Rights Reserved - http://sobreiro.deviantart.com/
Story and Characters © Corey Blankenship, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

Diesel is the magic of the new age.

Pure. Powerful. Flammable.

"The big wheels keep on turnin' / Proud Mary keep on burnin' / And we're rollin', rollin', Rollin' on..."

"Please stop singing. I'd rather pass my last moments in silence." The old man finally found some steel to put in his tone.

I cocked him a glance. "Fair enough."

Besides songs I wasn't big on words. And I wasn't too much on singin' myself. But today was the last day I'd be doing either. Poor pops, I forgot this was his last day, too, so I owed him that little respect. And more...

The freight engine gobbled rails faster than a man could chew. I had laid a fair share of my own in my time. The road and tracks had been my home since I could curl up in my father's cab. Now, I had one final route to run. I smiled. This should be fun.

The path bent around a scree flanked bend, walls of trees bristled above the white gravel. After the curve, I saw what I looked for. Metro city, aka "Meat Factory." Or, as I'd like to think today, Proud Mary. The towers would be mad hives, and the streets filled with walking corpses. She stood thick with cord wood, dried by a life sated only by blood frenzy. It made me think of my father's great-great-great-great-great grandpa. Way back when blood fury had respect. And fear. I had lived to see courage become fashionable again.

Soon I'd be amid my fore-pas, tellin' tales and swiggin' ale.

I rolled down my window, letting in a refreshing winter wind. Time to get the man-beasts attention.

SWOOOOOOOOO!!! SWOOOOOOO!!!! SWOOOOO!!!

My horn howled my rage and rang the dinner bell. The blasts leaped from rock to rock, house to house, tower to tower. In the quiet of a dead planet, I may as well split the earth or let loose thunderbolts. My smile grew bigger. Thunderbolts. That's family talk.

Suburban Hel fled behind and the spires of Proud Mary advanced. All the while, black blobs bubbled into view between buildings. Each time a gap opened I saw them. They kept getting larger and faster. I drove slow to let them keep up.

"Keep comin', trolls!" I jeered over the engines.

"You know they aren't trolls." Pops pouted, face staring ahead.

"They'll eat you like one, and they burn like trolls. They're trolls today."

"If you insist," he piped back.

"I do." I thundered.

Today I would not be cheated my glory. Especially by a broken weakling.

I pulled the freight train right to the center of the city. The engine ceased its buffet. I patted the gearbox. I hoped the last meal had sated the steel wyrm. I reached below the seat and yanked up my proud sledge. It gleamed dully in the faint sunlight. The old man stared at the steel head, and then spoke his mind. He'd gotten used to that these last few days.

"So that's your fabled hammer," he stated without enthusiasm.

I lifted it and studied my reflection in it. Beard and hair gleamed gold. Fierce blue burned in my eyes. Yes. The blood still ran true. Our pride. My glory. I stared beyond the modern exterior to the core, the real birthright of my family. There, recast in this simple sledge, a flake from Thor's own lived. It had passed to me. Last son. The first in a five hundred years to take this hammer into war. I frowned.

"I'm sorry, Rivka's father," I confessed.

He hissed air as if I had crushed his chest.

"I thank you for giving me thunder...I wish she could see this day," I offered.

He roared, "How dare you...you who used her and left her to these monsters. How dare you! Go to Hel where you belong!"

"Hel is for these beasts and weak fools who can't defend their own!" I bellowed back.

The frail elder curled against the wall. I had jumped to my feet at his curse. My hammer hovered next to my head. Damn the milk-drinker for provoking my anger on this day.

I pointed the sledge at his chest. "You curse me when I confess. Rivka was worthy of a better father."

Pops sobbed into his drawn knees. I took an iron hook and slipped it over the horn wire. The pipes challenged the damned. They would come. They always do.

I pulled out a knife and scraped a fresh cut into my shoulder. A fourth mark to match the top three. Three times I had lured the beasts. Three times I had slain them in fury and fire.

This time would have Pop's mythic Sodium.

This time would blend water and fire into thunder.

This time would be the last.

As I jumped onto the first car, the husks crawled, limped, and charged toward my train. My thunder. I raised Thor's Seed and cried my hatred. The frothing sea shrieked in a banshee chorus. A bone-thin troll managed to tumble off a platform onto the car. My sledge turned his chest into dust and he flew into the waves of hungry claws below. They tore into each other for a chew of his bones.

The valve stood on top of the tank. I swung the hammer against its blocky side. The valve turned a quarter-inch. I struck it twice more, twisting the head slowly around. Then a blood-stained skull appeared in front of me. Long black vines hung around a pointed face. She had been a beauty once. Now she leered through hollow eyes and torn lips. I split her skull with a hammer blow from my fist. These shadow-men had nothing on a son of thunder.

The first valve groaned and then steamed. I ran to the next and raged my steel weapon against its soft iron skin. I had to finish quick. The old man had said the thunder would come quick. Three husks crawled along the catwalk. I broke them with backswings as I moved the cap with blows. The second whined and whistled steam. I raced for the third and final valve.

All around the train the trolls swarmed. They bit and tore at each other until piles choked the wheels. Up they surged to face me, and down I threw them back with Thor's Seed and my fists. Their poisoned blood caked my hands and hammer. My pure blood sung in my veins. The fire in the sky burned full. The moment had come and it was glorious. Three valves spat tongues of mist. I had only moments until the thunder roared.

Two small barks rang out over the deafening roar of the horn. I turned and saw him. The old man braced against the rail as he wielded a double shotgun. Pops slid cartridges into the breech with a sure hand. Gone was the whimpering fool. It seemed threats of Hel had raised the warrior in his bones. I laughed as he blasted two more into death. He walked calmly down the catwalk. When a beefy husk charged him as he reloaded, pops grabbed the gun by its nose and smashed the brute in the head. It staggered and tumbled into the horde. I may raise a glass with him yet!

His cold grey eyes met my own. His face looked as grim as Odin and fierce in his fury. The All-Father burned in this man. Though I could not hear his words, I knew in my heart what he had said.

For Rivka.

"For Valhal!" I answered.

Then I launched from the heights, hammer in hand. I laughed. I roared. I flashed. I thundered.

Proud Mary burned.

***

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2-20-15 Writing Warm-up
10:43 AM

2-20-15 Writing Warm-up

Thursday, February 19, 2015


2-19-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © Derek Burns, All Rights Reserved - http://deviantdel.deviantart.com/
Story and Characters © Corey Blankenship, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

You always remember the day you die.

I had been on a special assignment for my college, helping at the city's civic center. "Fun for the Feudal fanatic" had been the HR rep's spin. She thought she was funny with her backhand compliment. I smiled, nodded, and imagined her taking part in ritual sepukku. It made us both part with warm feelings. I would enjoy having a chance to put my hands on real artifacts. This traveling exhibit touted itself as the largest demonstration of Edo era Samurai and Shinobi crafts. Having once studied abroad in Japan, my university's human resources department thought I was a perfect match. Archeology intern. Martial artist. Edo enthusiast. More likely, it was because I was one of three interns and had a pretty face. I again imagined the vain-minded lot sacked by dragon-masked warriors. I sighed.

It would be good to get away from the rat warren and have fun.

The exhibition hall beckoned with flanking rows of silk nobori, beautiful characters stitched onto their vibrant fields. I walked between them and entered a world outside space and time. Pagodas stood as islands amid a sea of reeds, craftsman stalls, and cultural displays. Bamboo mats carpeted the floor like light brown rivers flowing between workshops and artifacts. The dull concrete room had been transformed into Edo Japan in miniature. When a woman in an crane-embossed kimono walked up to me, I expected her to speak fluent Japanese. I almost missed that she hadn't as I admired her jade hairpin.

"Welcome. You're Alice? I am Jasmine Brown, the lead curator for the exhibit."

"Jasmine..." My brain struggled to associate a European name with her period ambiance.

"Yes. Like the tea." She smiled warmly.

I smiled back, snapping back into reality. "A real pleasure to meet you! I'm so thrilled to be here, working with you."

"We're glad to have you!" She beamed back. "Did you bring your own kimono?"

"Kimono?" I cursed in my mind. Damn HR. Details. "No, I wasn't informed that I would need anything other than business attire."

"Not a problem. We have a wardrobe for our workers. You can choose from one of ours."

"Thanks." I condemned HR to a thousand cubicle hells. No, wait. They might like it there.

Jasmine escorted me past ornate panels, smiths in original garb setting out their tools, even a few men in samurai armor. The entire operation stood in elaborate contrast to textbook lessons. When she pointed to a secluded area, where racks brimmed in a rainbow of materials, my jaw dropped. Even this wardrobe possessed the Edo charm. I was in heaven.

The curator emphasized each word as she spoke,"You can choose whatever you like. Just be sure to write down the numbers and your name in the checkout log. Most are reproductions, but a few have some historical significance."

That is to say, more expensive that a lifetime of college loans.

"I will. Thanks."

She disappeared, leaving me to inspect the wardrobe. A thoughtful organizer had separate the racks by gender and role. I thought it would be fun to try the ornate Geisha kimono, and then remembered the makeup aspect...not a fan of a hundred-pound cake job, no matter how elegant and pretty. What would be my one-weekend fantasy role in Edo Japan? I mused. Then I noticed my hand idly thumbed a beautiful, simple kimono. Gold tracery flowed over its black border, lining the ultramarine-dyed silk. I found the soft cover fit comfortably, like a gentle waterfall wrapped against my skin. I would only need to find geta that were my shoe size to wear. Though I hated posting pictures, this was portrait worthy. I could stomach a mirror shot this once.

As I looked for the best angle with their floor-length mirror, a crimson shadow hung at the corner of my vision. I glanced over and saw the most curious piece: An O-yoroi lamellar armor augmented with kusari chain-mail. I had only seen a full rokugu in display cases. The woven fusion spoke of the glory of Samurai warlords, epic conflict, and violent intrigue. I had to try it on. So I did.

Little did I know that I was putting on my burial clothes.

Seeing my pale skin, blond locks, and slate blue eyes float above the plate-and-chain armor seemed surreal. I looked like an Americanized Mulan. Of course, in Japanese, not Chinese, armor. This would make a killer photo. I found my phone awkward to manuever in the greaves. A gratifying snap told me I had succeeded. Epic photo of the day goes to me, I thought.

A shuffling outside the paper screens told me that I was about to have an intruder. I turned to see Jasmine's shadow stain the pale divider. Crap. I must have taken too long. She'll want me to take off this suit. The debatable tradition of onna-bugeisha would not be the way to start out our weekend together. The curator mumbled something as she brushed into the divider.

"Sorry for the delay. I got carried away with all these beautiful pieces you have. I'll be right out."

She grumbled something in response that I didn't make out. Instead of waiting for me to come out, she came into the room. Through the paper. She stumbled over the bamboo braces, and then I saw her face. Eyes bloodshot, her beautiful smile twisted into a snarl, and her chin dripped foam. She growled and charged, arms clawing wildly through the air. I found my instincts kick in. I spread my feet into a battle stance, bringing my arms up, greaves facing out. Her nails scraped at the stained armor, spilling her own blood from fractured nail beds. My dream world had become a nightmare.

I pushed her back and cried out, "Jasmine! What's wrong?"

She howled and dove back at me. I focused on her wrists, capturing her left and hurling her into mirror. I didn't have to be a medical student to know she was batshit crazy. Damn rabid, more like. The glass fixture fell and shattered over her thin body. I winced, thinking I had used too much force. Amazingly, she rose from the ground, a twisted spine of shards in her back. She hobble-hopped back at me, snapping her perfect teeth as she dove for my throat. I marveled at her stamina. I also realized this was mortal combat. I had to finish this before she hurt anyone else.

So much for a fun-filled weekend.

I wrestled the blood-slick woman, seeking to keep space between her fangs and my face. Too bad the room didn't have an armory. I glanced past her fevered eyes to her amazingly well-kept hair. The jade hairpin remained firmly lodged in her traditional bun. I reached past her bleeding left claw, careful not to get my exposed fingers bit, and pulled the jewelry out of her bun. She scraped uselessly at my side, the authentic chain-mail showing its worth. I gulped and did what seemed my only choice. I plunged the jade sliver into her eye, and then punched it through with the greave. The feral woman collapsed in a ruin of blood and tattered robe.

My stomach felt like I drank acid. I glanced at the shattered mirror, noting the flecks of blood on my face and armor. I found rubbing alcohol on the counter, used to help with makeup removal. I grabbed a cloth, doused it, and quickly, viciously wiped the stains away. I didn't want whatever she had infecting me. I checked for wounds. The armor and training did their job.

Reality sunk in again. I just killed a woman. A crazy woman, but a woman nonetheless. Shit. How was I going to explain this? As if in answer, more growls and moans echoed in the spacious arena. Whatever she had, she was not alone. But I was. I grabbed the helmet and dragon mask from their stand, and found some armored gloves. I'd rather not risk another exposure.

I needed to get my hands on a weapon. Fast.

I kicked down the wall, half-expecting to find another demon-possessed reenactor on the other side. The wall slapped concrete. A couple growls answered. Then I thought I should go for the more silent route. Crouching low, I followed the bamboo path in the opposite direction of the noise. A weaponsmith workshop had been around here somewhere. Thankfully, the place would have just been opening, so the only people in the room would be staff and volunteers. The thought of crazed colleagues wasn't as comforting as I hoped. Especially if some of them happened to go crazy with weapons on hand.

The weapon's shop stood as pleasant hut amid dry reed sheaves. I glanced around and didn't see the worker who had been laying out tools. A few display weapons hung on the back wall. I scanned around once more, hating how the yelps and growls echoed in an all-around way. I darted for the hut. I didn't have time to weigh and balance each piece. A wrong-sized katana would be dangerous to wield. I went for the obvious solution for keeping crazies out of arms reach. A naginata.

Just when I pulled the polearm from the wall, I heard his heavy breathing. Damn it. He was close. I spun, hands working the thick oak pole in a protective arc. The smith had been hiding in the bushes like a lion in the wild. He veered away from the blade in his charge, but I felt his hungry gaze tear into me.

"Stand back!" I called out.

He roared and charged, foam breaking against his beard. I slashed downward, striking him from shoulder to hip. He fell and howled, still trying to grab at me. I drove the sword tip through his chin and he stilled. My stomach was in full revolt now. I had no time to vomit. The others would pick up on his death throes. I gave the shelf a once over, and decided I needed some spare weapons. I hastily added a katana and wakizashi to the armor's belts. Well, fighting as a samurai in the apocalypse was certainly near the top of "Most interesting ways to die." I tried to keep the being clawed to death part out of my mind.

I had to get out of here. Screw going for my phone, i.d., anything that belonged to my life 15 minutes ago. That was deeper into the house of horrors. I had to find security, somebody, anybody still sane. Then the lights went out. Perfect timing. Murphy's a bitch. A grey dimness settled over one side of the spacious cavern. 

That must be sunlight.

I had to give it a shot.

The crazies must have noticed the change in lighting, too, because their screeches took on a wolflike tone. My skin crawled. The hunt was on. I rounded one of the exterior corners when I heard the clop of clog-wearing feet. Six pairs galloped behind me. Two pairs before me. Five audible enemies. I was surrounded. Better face death head-on than run from it. The "Bushi Way," I mused bitterly. The strange image of the HR lady sitting somewhere sipping coffee, watching this little "Hunger Games" with a smile, leaped into my mind. In the heat of the moment, I really hoped she had been eaten.

"Focus!" I hissed to myself.

Five v. One. Time for tactics.

Two armored shadows crawled into view. One had a sword sticking from his side. Apparently a duel had occurred before the other joined the madness. They passed a ronin statue in pursuit of their prey. Then the ronin did the strangest thing. It came to life, cutting off their heads. The two died without a whimper. With the two front guards down, I ran headlong for the exit. The others would hopefully pause to check their own. Or eat them. I shuddered.

The grey light beaconed hope as I mounted the stairs. No security or savages could be seen. I ran straight through the vestibule and toward the glass doors. I had made it. I was free. Then reality impaled me. I looked beyond the gateway of freedom and realized I was dead.

The world was dead.

I stood reflected on the window, a pane stained with blood. Bodies and burning cars littered the sunny streets. I had fought only a small scale battle in a greater war for survival. My mind rebelled against the truth. But there it was, a world gone mad.

I died that day, and the warrior-survivalist took my place.

***

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2-19-15 Writing Warm-up
11:36 AM

2-19-15 Writing Warm-up

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


2-18-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © David Paget, All Rights Reserved - http://happy-mutt.deviantart.com/
Story and Characters © Corey Blankenship, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

I hate crowds.

Crowds only mean trouble. I avoided grocery stores on Fridays and Sundays, knowing swarms would dogpile the aisles for the same selection that existed Monday to Sunday. I dodged town on the weekends when the nightlife clogged the roads with cars piloted by Captain Morgan. I sure as heaven owes no one a favor stayed clear of the big city on Black Friday. Funny that was the day crowds truly began to eat their own. You would think a dose of viral cannibalism would thin the crowds. The pandemic only made them less intelligent and less restrained, if that could be possible.

Which is why I hate crowds.

My hiding hole tucked amid the mountains proved blissful. I would have stayed there indefinitely, me and my faithful collie. Then a poor bastard stumbled out of the treeline, a harbinger that Rivendell would not last. Sure enough. He turned, then bit Molly. Then she turned, and my hatchet bit her. I burned the fool and buried Molly. Soon after, two more rabids crawled up the hill. I dropped them at the treeline. I almost had a hedge of bodies sticking out of countless pit traps when I decided it was time to move.

I burned the crowd of corpses and headed north.

The city loomed up before me, a crowd of huddled towers. I came only because the Arsenal was here. Having served my time in the Guard, I knew they had some pretty big guns. Maybe the magazine hadn't been wasted or demolished. The Big Man hadn't been keen on "crowd control." It's not PC to burn rabids. Nor is calling them rabids considered PC, but hey, I'm not one of those white collars hanging from the cranes outside the rabid hives they called "quarantines." No one made it out unscathed, except a few loners.

I passed a mangled helicopter, blood burnt into its shattered windscreen. The rabids had started out smart, or rather instinctively sneaky. Like a twisted fusion of Murphy's Law and a horror film, they turned at the worst moments without prior warning. They turned en masse. They turned and went straight for the jugular. That's why the military dissolved and this chinook smouldered on top of the barricade. I clambered inside to find what I expected. Ruins, weapons, and bodies.

And damn crowds.

Hefting my fireman's axe, I let the first camo-clad rabid enter true rest. I stepped over the guard's M4 and split another from scalp to sternum. Only a fool would fire a rifle around rabids. It draws crowds. Ten to twenty of them ate on each other, snarling and biting for another hank of flesh. I skirted the mob, slipping between Humvees set in defilade. The .50 cal tempted me to let out some steam on the herd, but I knew its magazines would be nearly empty. I charged toward the bunker with its surprisingly open door, upswinging to replace a third rabid's eye with my axe's spike. Thankfully the rest had fanned out of open buildings to hunt.

I'd hate to face a crowd in here.

The crypt stank of old blood and urine. I walked down the concrete stairs to more doors ajar. Apparently the initial fight went downstairs. Bodies lay everywhere, bloated and torn. I replaced my axe for my ash wood slugger. I exchanged home run shots to the melon for jabs with Sting. The machete eased up on my energy loss, though I preferred the bat's distance. A few corridors later and I found the door I needed. A brawny fellah with coal skin blocked my way. His stripes declared him a First Sergeant, while his name tape read Salem. And, as you'd imagine, he had the bloodshot eyes and foaming mouth of a rabid.

The bastard raised his massive paw and then barked out of his raspy throat. A corporal and private shuffled out from their nooks in the wall, where I presume they'd been eating on the fallen. I stifled a chuckle. Even in living death, First Sarge pulled rank. They had me at a disadvantage since I had Sting in my main hand and Ashy in my offhand. Never a good time to learn dual wielding than like the present. Well, except the past.

Private Luggin's leaped straight at me while Corpoal Half-Hand tried to flank in the narrow hallway. I swatted Private for his poor form, while Sting admonished Mrs. Nubs for chasing men with her wedding ring on. I retreated a few steps. Rabids can be as hard as opossums to take down if you don't destroy the central nervous system. I flicked Sting and slipped it reflexively into its sheath. Corporal came around first like a persistent bar girl, bone claws ready to plunge for my heart. I dropped her with a hammer swing, then shifted grip to uppercut Private Luggin's as he dove over her collapsing body. The two fell in a heap.

Then I saw the train engine of a rabid, Sgt. Salem, barreling toward me. His feint had worked and now I was going to pay. There wasn't enough tunnel to get off the tracks. My pack straps bit into my arms, and my chest burned. Great. My steam was running low while Senior NCO Feral spooled up. Tactics. Good to know a life of military training did the ol' man good.

Time for a hail Mary.

I dropped the bat and tugged Sting back out. Sgt. Salem was in my face. I dropped, presenting the carbon blade as I collapsed on my pack. The meat truck of a man fell with me. Reflexes kicked in as my pack crunched and I twisted violently, bounding with the momentum sideways. The motion led me out from under his beefy shadow and let him slap into the concrete floor. Sting glistened in the blue light of my chest lamp. The impaled soldier struggled to his hands and knees. I scrambled upright and grabbed for my axe.

First Sgt. Salem turned, my machete sawing with his labored "breaths." I still didn't know if they truly needed air. Blood bubbled from his chest wound and mouth as he tried to roar. Only a low gurgle spilled from his clenched teeth. He swiped and I swung. He broke my clipped-on tablet and I severed his high-and-tight from his shoulders. Heavy steam vented out of my collar as I wiped at my face with a rag. I had plenty of those in this mad world. I then picked Salem's pockets, and pulled out a heavy key ring. Bingo. Government thriftiness finally benefited me.

I collected my weapons and inspected my gear. I thanked the heavens I didn't crash into any spilled blood. Sting survived the fall, somehow, another miracle notched onto its legacy. When I finally found the right key, the heavy grey door swung open. Inside I saw high-stacked crates. Too bad the First Sergeant had turned before he could access the magazine.

Lurid signs with stark symbols marked each crate and canister inside the room. I selected a mask from the wall and donned it. The world shrank to twin dusky corridors. Even with the constricted vision, I noted that the arsenal had been depleted; some higher-up had been successful in an initial grab-and-go. I guessed poor Salem got the shaft of running clean-up. I pushed a rack toward the lift on the opposite side of the room, adding various pieces as I went along.

The hydraulic lift jerked and spasmed its way to ground level. I had a pretty cart of silver tubes. I crouched behind the load, axe ready. I dared not open my canteen until in the clear sky. Damn the fighting and work left me parched. No rabids lurked in the bunker. I pushed my load to the door and glanced outside. The orgy continued, and, as dusk crept in, so did more feeders. I would have plenty to test my theory. God, I hope this works, I genuinely prayed.

The sun set as forty starved-yet-glutted husks tore each other apart. They mingled strangled yelps from broken larynx with shrieks and gravelly barks. None noticed the long cylinder stained red by the sunshine as it rolled across the pavement. A light hiss whispered from its cap. Foam poured from the pack's mouths. I watched them wriggle and flop on the hard top. The spasms ceased as they stiffened. Silence pounced on their broken bodies. I felt solitude replace the frenzy.

I scanned the horizon through my fogged goggles. Heaven owes no one favors, but it can give them whenever it wants. An abandoned mosquito-fogger sat with its driver's side door ajar. I pushed my cart over to the truck. Lo and behold, the poor federal employee had the courtesy to turn and leave the key in the ignition. I dumped its tanks and filled it with nerve agent.

For the first time, I was ready to drive into town. I knelt on the concrete and rubbed my finger in an old firepit. I marked my forehead and then clambered up into the truck. It was Ash Wednesday. Perhaps I'd clear my town by Easter. I might even be able to get my cave back. I smiled at the thought.

I would give up my hatred of crowds for Lent.

***

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2-18-15 Writing Warm-up
11:33 AM

2-18-15 Writing Warm-up

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


2-17-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © Kyle 'Epic' Mendoza, All Rights Reserved - http://spazznaticshuriken.deviantart.com/
Story and Characters © Corey Blankenship, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

Moonlight is your enemy.

The lesson had been a test. Do you infiltrate under a clear sky? Moonlight opened the land like a map. For an agent of night, the land should already be contoured into the mind. This lesson, learned through the obvious disappointment of my mentor, remained branded on my soul.

Tonight, however, the heavenly Betrayer stained my shadow on the pale ground. I knew my silhouette could be seen by a watcher on his rounds, but the commanders had spoken. The elements of earth, wind, and man had aligned. The death of the Daimyo must happen tonight, or the war tomorrow would be lost. I would either have to dodge the deadly illumination or trade escape for success.

Twin tachi gleamed like moonbeams as I quietly unsheathed them. The lord knelt in his pagoda, incense burning before him. The whisper of his prayers drifted heavenward, thanking his gods for a clear and quiet night before battle. His guards stood at the courtyard gates, facing outward, dutifully scanning the pebble-and-sand commons I had crossed an hour earlier. The same thirty paces divided me from my target. His prayers had my ears, but the far tower had my eyes. I waited for one last element to join the mission. A ruddy lotus blossomed within the tower's lowest, unlit windows. My prayer incense had burned truer than the daimyo's. The missing element arrived.

Fire.

The decision came intuitively as a wolf answers its brothers' howl. I leaped from the rooftop, rolling toward the pagoda like a whisper upon the wind. My feet swept me across the final distance and into the shrine. The lord still uttered thanks for peace as my moonlit fangs sunk into his lungs and heart. He slumped onto the lap of his god as I drew his ancestral blade from the hands of his idol. Sound, like moonlight, is a shinobi's enemy. The guards turned just as the whoosh of their powder storage exploding echoed in the clear air. The guards turned to gape at the rising tongues of dragon's fire. One saw their stricken lord. Then a shadow glimmered in the corner of his vision. He didn't have time to yell or draw his weapon. His wide eyes filled with shadows as his head rolled into the gloaming.

Sorry, Father.

I still loved to hunt in moonlight. 

***

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2-17-15 Writing Warm-up
7:59 AM

2-17-15 Writing Warm-up

Monday, February 16, 2015


2-16-15 Writing Warm-up
Artwork © ????, All Rights Reserved - ???
Story and Characters © John Langley, All Rights Reserved 
Brought to you by Four Fools Press: “Crazy Good Stories”

Five minutes of terror.

This may be the beginning, but it’s really the end. The first step is the final step, because once the beast is unleashed there’s really no turning back. Around the world four dozen hackers, crackers, and script kiddies waited in silence. Like NASA mission control as the first man stepped on mars, all the coders waited together in a virtual room with bated breath. NASA’s seven minutes of terror are the seven minutes it takes for a signal to reach earth from mars. For seven minutes, mission control doesn’t know if the landing was successful or if the bold astronauts met their ultimate demise.

Here, there’s only 5 minutes of terror. Five minutes to link the worldwide botnet. Five minutes to exploit a zero day hack, and five minutes to fundamentally change the code of the guardian AI that would inevitably discover said hack. If, in that five minutes, their bot had done its job, they would receive a message from the guardian AI, and they would become the wealthiest scrubs the world had ever seen. If not… well, Canadian wilderness is supposed to be great this time of year.

In truth they had no idea how long they really had. Statistically five minutes seemed like the longest time. Less useful zero day hacks were used to probe the reaction time of the AI, known as Sun WuKong for the Monkey King of Chinese legend. The had concluded a very liberal estimate of five minutes. If they hadn’t gotten a response in five minutes, it was time to destroy their hard drives and run. They could already have already been discovered.

Their code could already have been cross checked by the massive archives kept deep into the crust that recorded of all internet traffic of the world, then back traced through the low earth orbiting satellites that provided the worlds internet. In minutes they could be found out. In hours they could have police breaking down their doors, and if they managed to escape, they would still have managed to get on the bad side of one of China’s largest corporations.

Min-Jun Go grit his teeth in a PC Bang in South Korea. He had always wanted to be a small time nobody, and owner of local computer lounge, but once his dream was fulfilled he realized how badly he longed for challenge and adventure. Now, the otherwise friendly man wore a wide jawed scowl severe enough to send most of his usual customers far from the front bar and to any of the other multiple computer desks hidden away in the nooks and crannies of his establishment. He stood behind the counter, lock kneed and lock jawed, staring intently at his screen.

Leaning over the bar, and looking over his shoulder was Do-Hyun An. A homeless man by any official reckoning, and definitely looking the part. He was unshaven, disheveled, and a heavy belly from pilfering the snack machine one too many times. He looked more like a basement dweller than a racketeer for a criminal empire. Heavy bags weighed down his eyes, and a slack jawed look was on his face. In reality the man lived at the computer cafe. Despite being brilliant and very capable he despised the idea of becoming a regular salary man. The low hourly rent for a cubicle at the PC bang lead to his living there.

It was fortune that had brought this unlikely duo together. It was fortune that had carried them so far in their cooperation with this illegal enterprise. It was fortune that lead to their becoming two of the chief most members of this endeavor. Now they waited for four minutes to see if that fortune would hold out just a little longer.

Elov Frisk knocked back another hit of Heavy Water. “GAaaahhh. Swedish Vodka’s…” He stated openly in the chatroom to no one in particular. His voice was deep and rolled like the sound of an old diesel engine “Temperance movement’s making it harder to get a hold of.” The man stared into the glass bottle with piercing blue eyes and swirled the clear liquid around. Driven by his heavy hand the bottle clanked back onto to his desk.

Elov was not a small man, but he was very skinny. He had the build of a man who was huge by nature, but gaunt by choice. Such was a life lived exclusively in a cluttered room lined with Swedish flags and a jolly rogers. He offered a physical server, as well as being responsible for the bulk of the operating power for their bot network. Such was the power of torrenting pirated files around the world. If you gain a reputation for reliable, virus free movies or programs, no one gives you a second look when you slip a small innocuous line of code into a pdf, or e-book. He originally started off giving the finger to corporate lobbyists. He delighted in their cries of silly little notions like “intellectual property” and “Terms of Use.” He let out a rolling chuckle at the thought. Humble beginnings to quite an unforeseen end.
“Maybe,” He started, “Maybe I’ll be getting you all some real drinks once we are rich in three minutes.”

“I’ll take you up on that offer once we are rich” retorted Frank Diltzon in a pinched and airy voice. The older man from a bygone era of the internet sat arms crossed in a cracked leather chair in a NewYork apartment. Stacked around him were books, newspapers, a few playboys. Before him was an antique roll top desk, but the beast behind the wooden plated screen was one of the most powerful supercomputers privately owned. Just as unassuming as the desk was the man himself. The brain of this rotund balding man was more computer than human.

He was the awkward sort of man that wore a tie and white collared shirt black socks and whitie tighties with no pants while sitting at his desk, the sort that people distance themselves from when sitting in a cafe or restaurant.  He wasn’t a hostile man, or even unkind, he was just a criminal mastermind responsible for the coding of one of the most dangerous botnets and partnering viruses ever seen in the 22nd century. He creaked back in the high back swiveling chair and whined.

“We should have heard something by now… I know my code… I know my code… I know…”
“Hey!” Ujin Walker interrupted him. “Chill, We all know the estimated response time. We’ve still got two minutes.” With unsteady hands he knocked back a shot of whisky. “Besides I don’t want to hear your whiny mantra as your brain implodes on itself.” Ujin, perhaps, had the most to lose of them all. This failed up and coming video game star already had the ire of his FBI father for his unconventional career choice. His mom was a bit more supportive, she just--

“…wonder when you’ll go back to school. Even if I’m not on the board anymore, I’m still friends with the dean back in Korea… You could go to school and take care of your gram for the family at the same time. You know she only lives a mile from the university.”

Ujin shuddered as the memory played through his mind once again. She had said it so many times there was little doubt his choice in the matter was quickly dwindling. He took a moment to wonder how his strange upbringing had resulted in him orchestrating one of the most complex cyber attacks the world had yet seen. Perhaps his dads work in intelligence community gave him a taste for the clandestine, or his mothers work in education motivated him to do something great. Whatever the case, he now coordinated the work efforts of the most unlikely international team of Experts, shills, and CIS experts all while sitting in a government subsidized apartment in Amarillo Texas, land of open fields, flat horizons, and big hats.

The team watched in silence as the clock continued to tick down with still no response from WuKong… one minute, zero seconds… thirty seconds. If the chatroom could have processed unspoken tension it would have crashed a long time ago. They all watched in silence as the clock rolled down. Five-four-three-two-one-zero. The string of goose eggs sat heavily on their screens.

“Shit…” Ujin stated. “Dad’s gonna kill me.”

***

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02-16-15 Writing Warm-up
10:04 AM

02-16-15 Writing Warm-up