Memphis Comic & Fantasy Con is This Weekend!

And yours truly will be there. Come find me at the Dark Oak Press table to purchase your signed copies of Finders Keepers and Sands of Sorrow. I’ll be selling both Cycle of Ages Saga novels at a steep convention discount. If I’m not there, I’m likely in a panel. Check the website HERE for more information on panels, guests, vendors, and more.

 

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As part of a special promotion for Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention, I’ve listed my latest Kindle release, a short story entitled “The Devil & Klaus Kristiansen”, for FREE from Thursday, November 19th to Monday, November 23rd. You can download it from Amazon by clicking HERE.

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From the Slushpile: Some Kind of Way Out of Here (Part Four)

And now for the punchline…

Alabama logo_1958

### Part Four ###

The sergeant had admitted to being a member of a tribe that had worshipped at this site in antiquity. Had they sought to placate this alien god with sacrifices? If so, had he brought us here to feed the beast, this alabaster being smiling down at us?

“Those are serious charges,” Minh said as he stepped between me and Thanh. “You better have evidence to back up these wild allegations, Corporal. Otherwise, you’ll face a court-martial.”

Taking several breaths to center myself, I steadied my voice before responding. Lien urged me to tell him everything, but relying on the word of a dead woman would make me look unhinged. Of course, I was relying on the word of one, so there might have been some truth to that characterization.

“His hat is foreign. It depicts an American sports team, I think.”

“Alabama to be exact,” Thanh admitted. He took a drag off his cigarette and then blew out a cloud of blue smoke before elaborating. “A missionary who came to my village gave it to me. He wanted me to have something to remember him by, since he taught me so much. I kept it because I like elephants.”

“Perfectly reasonable explanation,” Minh concluded. He explained, “American sports grew in popularity among the populace after their units were stationed here during the Second World War. Our radio stations rebroadcast games and matches to keep up morale. Part of my training as a political officer involves countering this type of propaganda, but I don’t normally arrest a man for his taste in sports. I’m a communist, not a fascist.”

I couldn’t argue with anything the lieutenant said. He proved an effective lawyer for the defendant. And Thanh’s story sounded plausible enough. Perhaps I was wrong after all. Maybe I was unhinged, unable to accept the awful reality that Quan had killed Hien and fled.

Tears blurred my vision as I looked from Minh to Thanh and finally to Lien. My breath caught in my throat. She looked like she had in the last moments of her life. Chunks of shrapnel had punched bloody holes in both legs and her abdomen, but it was the knife in her chest had killed her. No, not that knife, I thought. I’d stabbed Lien with my combat knife, the one still on my belt, but she had the golden kila with the fist-sized ruby pommel buried between her breasts.

“He can lie about the hat but not the dagger,” I cried. “I bet he has it!”

As the officer turned toward the sergeant, Thanh blew a cloud of smoke in Minh’s face. The lieutenant coughed once and then twice before his breath caught in his throat. I’d missed the gunshot initially, but its sharp report echoed off the cavern walls.

Minh tried to cover the wound in his throat but blood spurted everywhere. The second shot hit him in the temple. He landed face down in the clamshell-shaped pool. His blood mixed with its contents, leaving the water looking as rusty as it tasted.

Chuckling, the sergeant leveled the tiny pistol at me. His Tokarev didn’t look intimidating but proved quite lethal. We were too close to each other to reach my submachine gun. I’d be dead before I took a step toward it.

“You’re quite the troublemaker, Ba,” Thanh said. “I was sure you’d buy my story and follow me on another fool’s errand to find a way out. Then I’d dispose of you as easily as I pushed Quan over the edge and cut Hien from ear to ear.

“If I could revive Ganesha’s dark twin in the process, so be it. With the kila removed from its chest, Chaugnar Faugn’s bloodlust will return, awakening it from its dormant state. Once more, it will feed on the living instead of relying on the magic of the blood-ruby in this dagger for sustenance.

“It has slept too long. Mankind has grown arrogant and irreverent; Great Old Ones, like the one seated here, will restore the cosmic order. They will destroy the ability of humans to inflict cruelty and carry conflict to the four corners of the world. That is the provenance of the Great Old Ones, of beings like Chaugnar Faugn, not mostly hairless killer apes.”

Lien stood behind the scout sergeant. She wept tears of blood, but a smile touched her lips. She said, “Who is he to presume to tell me what I am to do with my life? He is neither follower nor supplicant, only a petty tyrant born of pain and betrayal. Whatever his original intentions were, like mankind, he has gone too far.”

Acting as her medium, I repeated her questions to Thanh directly, “What gives you the right to dictate the actions of a Great Old One, a being that predates human existence? What makes you arrogant enough to assume you’re special or chosen? You’re nothing but a mouthy feast for a mighty beast.”

Thanh took a step closer and jammed the barrel of the Tokarev under my chin. I expected to meet Lien in the afterlife, but he did not fire. Instead, he tapped the logo on the cap with his free hand. “This,” he said, “this is how I know. I am special. I am chosen. When the Americans came to my village for recruits, I went with them. I trained under a Green Beret, a straight-shooting, slow-talking good-ole-boy from Alabama.

“While I was in the jungle completing my training, Viet Cong, like you, came and killed everyone, even the children, because we cooperated with the Americans. Had I stayed behind, I’d have been killed along with my parents, my wife, and our little boy. Instead, a man bearing this elephant had come halfway around the world to train me to defeat those who would slaughter my people.

“After my village burned, I infiltrated the VC forces here and fed information to ARVN and the Americans. If it hadn’t been for me, you and your stupid whore would have played deejay, but I made sure most of the tapes were seized and your contacts at the radio station arrested before Tet. You walked right into my trap.”

Confronted by the man who’d taken Lien from me, my screams filled the cavern as my emotions boiled to the surface. I slammed a forearm into his wrist to force the pistol away. Its report deafened me, muting my screams and disorienting me. I clung to his shirt for balance, but he swept my leg out from under me.

We fell in a heap onto the back of the dead officer. His pistol disappeared into the basin of bloody water. My enemy disarmed, I reached for my knife. As the blade cleared its sheath, he bashed his forehead into my nose. While I blinked fresh tears from my eyes, the mad sergeant pulled the kila from his satchel. He raised its golden blade high, but I came in low. I stabbed him in the stomach and lungs as I sought his heart. Thanh slashed downward but missed me by more than a meter.

The distance between us tripled before I realized what was happening. When I came to comprehend what unfolded before my eyes, my sanity sank as my screams rose to a crescendo. One of Chaugnar Faugn’s tentacles had risen from the pool and wound itself around the sergeant’s torso. As I watched, the other snaked around his legs and squeezed until his bones snapped. The end of the entity’s trunk unfurled like a lotus in bloom. Row upon row of teeth lined the rim of the flowery appendage. It stretched wide like the jaws of a serpent, enveloped Thanh’s head, and shut with enough force to decapitate him.

Instead of going limp, the doomed sergeant’s body thrashed wildly. The kila dropped from his hand, bounced off the lip of the basin, and clattered to a halt at my feet. But I couldn’t tear my eyes from the horrific scene before them. The Great Old One raised the sergeant’s body above its head. With a sharp snap of its appendages, Chaugnar Faugn pulled Thanh apart before my very eyes. Blood and gore crashed like a crimson tide onto the deity’s bloated body.

“Now, Ba, it’s now or never!” Lien called. “Before I lose control, take the knife and free me from a life of bloodshed and suffering.”

Though I could no longer see her, the words she’d said in the sewers beneath Qui Nhon City rang clearer than ever. I hefted the kila and approached the deity as it bathed in the traitorous sergeant’s blood. Caught in its sanguine orgy, it did not note my presence until I stepped into the pool.

The toothy maw at the end of its trunk rushed toward my face, but it spurred me forward rather than backward. I stepped onto the dais, lunged forward, and jammed the dagger deep into the Great Old One’s bosom.

Energy rushed through my body with the force of a lightning bolt. Warmth flooded my groin as the electricity made me piss my pants. I staggered away and fell beside the basin. My body contorted and shook until I lost consciousness.

I’m not sure how long I laid there covered in blood and urine. The sun had yet to set, but the cavern grew dimmer by the moment. Once sense and sensation returned to me, I dragged myself upright.

As I struggled to regain my balance, I kept a watchful eye on the Great Old One, but it had returned to its former statuesque state. Not a drop of blood marred its richly decorated exterior.

“I wish things could have turned out differently,” Lien said. Turning toward her, I saw that she had resumed her earlier, less ghastly appearance but an eternity of sadness lingered at the corners of her smile.

“Me too. I’ll never forget you.” It was cliché, but I meant it.

“Nor I you. You have done horrible things in this war, but you are a good man. Keep that in mind on your journey, for there is only one kind of way out of here now. I don’t know if you’ll survive it. You’ve been through so much already.”

We stood less than a hand’s span apart. Her ethereal glow warmed my heart but not my body. I wanted to be with her forever. “I don’t have to go.”

“Yes, you do. Unless you want to wait here with me in the dark until gnawing hunger kills you. For some of us, that takes an eternity. For you, it’ll just feel like one.”

“Tell me then,” I pleaded. “How do I get out of here?”

“Come to me, lover, and I will show you.”

Lien spread her arms and welcomed me into her embrace. Stepping forward, I plunged through the specter of my dead lover and toppled over the edge. As I tumbled into the dark heart of the abyss, I wondered if I would see her on the other side.

THE END

This story was written by Jeremy Hicks. It is his original content and cannot be used anywhere else without his expressed written consent. However, this blog may be shared, reblogged, etc. on social media for the purposes of promoting the author, his blog, and his other creative works. 

Any resemblance to persons living or dead, events real or imagined, etc. is entirely intentional. This is a work of fiction but draws on real events and references the real world at times. Any reference, product placement, or pop culture quote is not intended to impinge on any trademark, patent, and/or copyright; rather it is flavor text for the dialogue of characters raised within the context of our pop culture.

 If you don’t like these terms of agreement, go check yourself. You’re complaining about a #FREE story.

From the Slushpile: Some Kind of Way Out of Here (Part Three)

Part Three is ready for you to read.

J. Jeremy Hicks -- Author

And here’s where it starts to get weird…

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### Part Three ###

The weak beams of their electric lanterns darted along the rough walls. The three enlisted men crossed one narrow stone bridge and then another as they explored the expansive main chamber. They signaled to us each time they located a passageway leading away from it. I signaled back with my hand-powered flashlight, while Minh plotted the archways on the map he’d started.

They’d found a total of five possible egresses from the central cavern. Wait, no, six, I reminded myself. The lieutenant had forgotten to include the stairway leading back to the surface temple, until I pointed it out to him. Based on the sketch map, I expected two more passageways to be discovered.

Here at the feet of an alien god, according to the map, we sat at the hub of a wheel of dharma. Minh would…

View original post 1,406 more words

From the Slushpile: Some Kind of Way Out of Here (Part Three)

And here’s where it starts to get weird…

chaugnar-faughn-statue-small

### Part Three ###

The weak beams of their electric lanterns darted along the rough walls. The three enlisted men crossed one narrow stone bridge and then another as they explored the expansive main chamber. They signaled to us each time they located a passageway leading away from it. I signaled back with my hand-powered flashlight, while Minh plotted the archways on the map he’d started.

They’d found a total of five possible egresses from the central cavern. Wait, no, six, I reminded myself. The lieutenant had forgotten to include the stairway leading back to the surface temple, until I pointed it out to him. Based on the sketch map, I expected two more passageways to be discovered.

Here at the feet of an alien god, according to the map, we sat at the hub of a wheel of dharma. Minh would have noticed it too, but the atheistic Communist Party cheerleader could see nothing beyond the material plane. Were we being judged? Or had our guilt been established before any of us set foot in this sacred place?

In short order, the sergeant located a collapsed corridor to the southwest, while Hien and Quan identified an archway along the western wall. A waterfall had helped to conceal it from afar. Water trickled down from the skylight in the ceiling of the cave and pooled in a shallow cistern below the drip line of the waterfall. The overflow ran through a narrow aqueduct. It fed another shallow basin in the shape of an open clamshell.

The elephant god’s dais sat in the center of this water-filled basin. Upon closer inspection, I realized its lower appendages were not legs at all. One tentacle overlaid another in a twisted approximation of the lotus position. They wound around the base of the corpulent statue like serpents before trailing downward into the water.

Four of the seven passageways turned out to be safe. Two of the remainder tapered to rubble strewn dead ends within meters, and the staircase was no kind of way out of here. Minh decided we’d rest and then seek the right path. But we all agreed not to tarry too long. No one wanted to starve, much less consider the grisly alternatives.

The waterfall feeding the pools provided fresh water, so dehydration was not an immediate threat. Despite a metallic tang, like rust on the tongue, the water seemed safe enough. It did not kill us or make us shit ourselves while exploring the meandering corridors under the mountain. As our sole water source, however, it limited our ability to travel beyond the main room for extended periods.

My dead lover manifested on a regular basis after we started trying to find our way clear of the temple complex. Though no one else seemed to see or hear Lien, I tried and failed to convince myself that she was my guilty conscience or a specter of the mind’s eye, a byproduct of shock, concussion, and exhaustion.

Wandering the winding corridors one after another, Thanh led us deeper into the heart of Hui Bah Noa. As we passed mural after mural carved into the walls, he spoke of Ganesha, Shiva, and his wife Kali. He told us how the gods of the Cham had warred with demons from the stars in a previous cycle of ages, when man existed in a state of barbarism. The victorious gods had sealed the demons in cities beneath the sea.

Lien would smile in her bemused way, like the first time I saw her slit a grown man’s throat, and shake her head. Then she would explain to me a bit more about the true gods, the Great Old Ones, and how the statue on the dais, Chaugnar Faugn, represented an entity older than the Cham and even their Hindu gods. Ganesha represented a later benevolent interpretation of this bloodthirsty being from beyond the stars.

Confounded by another collapsed corridor, we backtracked to the main chamber and set up camp. The sun had passed overhead hours ago, and the wan light of late afternoon filtered down from the domed ceiling. It draped the bloated statue in long shadows, giving it an even more sinister appearance.

I slept but did not rest. My fever dreams became nightmares. Lien and I wandered alone along the corridors. She led me through dark passages by one ice cold hand, but we ended up back to the main chamber. Even in the dreamscape, I could not escape the Temple of Chaugnar Faugn.

Lien danced for me here, slow and sensual, before making love to me in the pool at the base of the statue. As I neared climax, she transformed into the being on the dais and wrapped her tentacles around me. Her lips and tongue became the engorged trunk of the beast. The monster forced itself inside my mouth before I could scream. I felt the end of the invasive appendage uncoiling, expanding in my throat. And then I came.

I awoke crying and shaking, ashamed of the sticky mess in my trousers. Crawling to the base of the pool, I lapped at the brackish water before realizing what I was doing. I sputtered and fell back on my haunches.

The statue loomed over me, bathed in the early light of dawn. It appeared to be smiling broader than before, but something else seemed different. As my vision cleared, I could see that someone had removed the dagger with the ruby pommel from its chest. Apparently, the thief had pilfered the smaller blood rubies too. All that remained was a star-shaped scar on a bare white bosom.

I tried to stand but lost my balance when my hand hit something sticky yet slippery on the floor. I landed on one of my comrades and sputtered an apology. When no one responded, I rolled over to find out who I’d disturbed.

I came face to face with dead-eyed Hien. His throat had been slit with the precision of a surgeon; blood had covered his chest before pooling on the floor around him. Judging by his warmth, he hadn’t been dead long.

My screams brought Thanh and Minh to my side, but I saw no sign of Quan or his gear. I forced myself not to be sick as the implications became clear. When one looked beneath the surface, they were dire indeed.

“Looks like Mr. Tough Guy filled his pockets,” Thanh explained. “Too bad Clown Shoes woke up and had to be silenced. Guess Quan didn’t want to leave any witnesses.”

The lieutenant nodded in agreement. But Lien stood behind Thanh, shaking her head again. I had to agree; the sergeant’s story stunk worse than a fish market on a hot day. To an outsider, his neat explanation made sense. But I knew both of those men. And they knew each other.

“That’s plausible enough,” I said, “unless you know they’d been neighbors most of their lives. Or that Hien had married Quan’s sister last year. If greed had blinded Quan enough to kill his brother-in-law, why would he leave us alive? One burst from his rifle, and there are no loose ends.”

Thanh didn’t answer. Instead, he stared at the statue, rolling a cigarette from a battered tin of tobacco. My tired eyes tracked from lingering Lien to the statue to the scout sergeant. His trench lighter flared brightly when he lit his cigarette. The glow of the firelight danced across the embroidered elephant logo.

What my mind had not been able to correlate before came together with the clarity of a puzzle missing a few key pieces. Between Lien and Thanh, they would provide them. I’d make sure of it or die trying. I’d had enough of lies.

“Ask him about his hat,” Lien whispered. “He’ll lie.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” I muttered. “I know he’s a liar. I don’t need to know about his hat to know he’s been leading us in circles for days, until we’re too weak to do anything about it.” I shouted, “But what is it? Answer me, goddammit! Are we supposed to be sacrifices to that thing? Did you sacrifice Hien? Quan too?”

All eyes were on me then. Everyone stared at the ranting lunatic, the corporal who’d been speaking with the unquiet dead. But I hadn’t cracked; I had come to a conclusion. The man who’d led us here had a sinister hidden agenda. And I was right.

### To Be Continued ###

This story was written by Jeremy Hicks. It is his original content and cannot be used anywhere else without his expressed written consent. However, this blog may be shared, reblogged, etc. on social media for the purposes of promoting the author, his blog, and his other creative works. 

Any resemblance to persons living or dead, events real or imagined, etc. is entirely intentional. This is a work of fiction but draws on real events and references the real world at times. Any reference, product placement, or pop culture quote is not intended to impinge on any trademark, patent, and/or copyright; rather it is flavor text for the dialogue of characters raised within the context of our pop culture.

 If you don’t like these terms of agreement, go check yourself. You’re complaining about a #FREE story.

Who Is Minimizing You In Your Own Head?

This well-written, thought-provoking article speaks to the heart of the problem with most writers’ insecurities, other people. It encourages all of us to shut down those nagging, naysaying voices of others that we carry with us long after those people are no longer in our presence. Read it. Meditate on it. And join the fight against your own inner demons by acknowledging the negative people in your life and minimizing their influence on your happiness, security, and creativity.

Source: Who Is Minimizing You In Your Own Head?