Eulogy for David Bowie, a Space Oddity Come to Earth

Pardon my absence from blogging throughout December. It was a shit month full of miserable, painful health issues. Hopefully, some of those are on the mend now with a new doctor. But it seems the new year is starting off on a rocky note too.

Today, we say good-bye to David Bowie, the Little Prince, the man who taught us there would be changes, and most perhaps importantly, taught us to love ourselves, no matter how much pressure we were under. Along with outspoken rock gods like Freddie Mercury, he helped cement my non-conformist personality, taught me to let me freak flag fly, and kept me speaking the truth no matter how uncomfortable it made others to hear.

In short, this timeline, our very reality, is diminished now that you have passed. May your greatest adventures await you across the Veil, Starman.

Nigh a decade ago or more, I “served” in Obsidian Fleet as Chief Tactical Officer aboard the USS Cerberus with a creative, fun crew of Star Trek fanfiction writers who helped spur my imagination too. They assisted me working on critical writing skills, such as dialogue, plotting, action sequences, and character development. However, we often did solo posts about our characters in their off-duty hours and such. This is one that I wrote as a tribute to David Bowie and his song “Space Oddity”, about unfortunate astronaut Major Tom, which felt appropriate Terran Thomas Jackson Lasitter, the headstrong young tactical officer I was playing at the time, who once upon a time arose to the rank of Captain with his own command. But that is another story for another day.

Today is a day to eulogize a man we all loved and respected. With this award-winning post, I paid tribute to him long ago, and I would like to share it with you now. I post it with the utmost respect to him and to any copyrights owned by others involved in this post. I do not, nor do I claim, ownership of any copyrights or lyrics associated with “Space Oddity” or “Star Trek.” I am simply a fan of both, paying tribute to them at the same time, much the same way both Gene Roddenberry and David Bowie combined science fiction and social issues with their respective media in innovative ways that changed us all forever. Thank you for that and more.

With love and respect, I humbly offer my submission to the Ziggy Stardust Society:

ON:

((Apollo Capsule. . .Command & Control. . .C.A. 1969 A.D.))

The radio blared to life. Tom’s eyes fluttered in his uneasy slumber. Someone was trying to contact him on the comm.

“Houston to Major Tom. Come on, Tom, wake up. Time to take your nourishment pills, put your helmet on, and go.”

Shaking off the artificially induced state, the young man wearing a mid-21st century Terran space suit blinked a few times and reached for the protein pack. Swallowing the gelatin-coated nourishment and washing it down with a powered orange drink, he was ready to proceed with the mission.

“Major Tom to Houston. I’m ready for Phase II at your discretion.”

“This is Houston, Tom. It’s time to leave the capsule if you dare.”

“Transmission acknowledged. . .I’m just stepping out the door.”

Several minutes passed before he had managed to maneuver outside of the capsule to the lander coupled to the underside of the slightly larger vessel. He settled into the cramped interior of the tiny craft and keyed the mike, “Houston, this is Tom. The Eagle is powered up, and I’m set to launch.”

“Houston to Major Tom. We all just want you to know that you’ve really made the grade. The newspapers want to know if you realize what kind of difference this will make for all of man.”

The young astronaut chuckled to himself. “Hey, I’m just up here floating in a tin can far above the world. I’m getting paid to look at stars as far as I can see. . .you guys are the ones dealing with the real problems back on Earth. This program is the one that has
made the difference. . .in me. Thanks for the opportunity to be here. Tell my family that I love them very much.

“They know, Tom. Check your ignition sequence, Major. . .we’re all set to go down here.”

Flipping several of the analog switches and dials to their mission ready positions, Tom joined ground control in the countdown for the release of the lunar lander from the orbiter capsule. At T minus Zero, the roughly hemispherical craft detached from the mothership and sped towards the pock-marked, desolate surface of the moon.

Moments later, the control panel of the lander flickered a few times and went dead. Tom worked furiously to reset the power, but it was a fruitless expenditure of energy. He knew that there was nothing that he could do.

“Houston to Major Tom, your circuits are dead. . .there’s something wrong. . .can you hear me, Tom. . .can you hear me, Tom. . .can you hear me, Tom. . .” the radio trailed off as the backup generator slowly died, plunging the cabin into almost total darkness.

Left floating in his tin can not far above the moon, he felt the gravity well begin to pull the ship towards the surface in an un-powered descent. Piloting the lander without the aid of the thrusters would be next to impossible, but he was determined not to crash and
burn. . .

Approaching the rough lunar landscape at not too steep of an angle, Tom would be surprised if the ship did not sheer apart on impact. Luckily, he managed to dump the volatile fuel mixture well before impact, so he should not have to worry about being consumed in a giant conflagration.

God’s love must have been with him because he lived long enough to wake up amidst the remains of his shattered vessel. Everything was ruined. . .well, almost everything. . .at least, his suit, his crash seat, and his body were intact. Tom was breathing in a most peculiar way, but he was thankful to be drawing air into his lungs at all.

Although it took him a while to untangle himself from the wreckage, he was in no hurry. After all, he was a long way from home and pick up was not only improbable but impossible.

Clear of the wreckage, the battered astronaut lumbered along the surface for the first and last time in his life. At last, he settled down on the edge of a monstrous, impassable crater and waited for the Earth to rise.

Planet Earth was blue. . .there was nothing left to do. Once the air was all but gone, Major Tom unlatched his helmet, lifted it up, and. . .

=/\=PROGRAM TERMINATED DUE TO CASUALTY.=/\=

Still clad in the space suit, Lieutenant Lasitter rose to his feet in the now empty holodeck and smiled at his creativity for holodeck programming. He just hoped that David Bowie would have been as proud of it, too.

OOC: These events occurred onboard the USS Cerberus. . .Deck
. . .Holodeck 2. . .Stardate 58248.8

OFF:

This off-the-wall tribute to “Ground control to Major Tom” brought to you by:

LT Thomas J. Lasitter (aka Jeremy Hicks)
CTO
USS Cerberus (NCC-77919)
TF-72B Black Ravens

==Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.==

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.

DevilKK_Cover_2015

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.

From the Slushpile: The Devil & Klaus Kristiansen (Part IV)

### \m/ ###

Luke’s family farm stretched along both sides of the rural highway that routed traffic through the north end of our county to the Georgia line. Laden with beer, liquor, and few other party favors, we sought to attract as little attention as possible from the roving county patrols. So we parked in front of one of the cattle gates on an unpaved farm road that led onto their property.

The waxing moon illuminated our awkward climb over the rickety steel gate. Once far enough from the highway, we switched on our flashlights and followed the winding trail through the woods toward the familiar camping site, a mainstay of our freshman and sophomore years. What had been fertile farmland in decades past was now an expanse of rock and red clay covered by an overgrown pine plantation.

Neither Klaus nor Turtle spoke as we moved toward our destination. To my knowledge, they hadn’t spoken to each other since the morning of the incident in Klaus’s apartment. But that hadn’t stopped either of the quarreling friends from using me as a sounding board and occasional go-between.

I hoped Luke would have a rational explanation for his rash decision to return to a state of nature. And if not a sensible reason, at least one fueled by his years of drug abuse rather than the supernatural.

Born and raised in these parts, I took the lead on our silent moonlit stroll. Though my eyelids were heavy, I still took the opportunity to gaze up at the pale beauty shining in the sky above us. My enjoyment was not to last, for one spider web and then another brushed my face, setting me on edge.

My unease turned to alarm when a cry broke the stillness of the night. We stopped walking and panned the beams of our flashlights around to scan our surroundings. Our resolve wavered like a stand of pine trees in the path of a twister. Another scream almost sent us into full flight.

“Is that a woman screaming?” Klaus asked as he backed down the trail.

“Probably a big cat, maybe a panther,” I replied, more concerned about becoming a meal for a hungry hunting cat than anything else.

“That’s reassuring. Glad I’m armed.”

“Armed? What the fuck do you mean you’re armed? I got drugs on me and a record haunting me. That ain’t cool, man!”

“Simmer down, convict,” Klaus quipped, referring to my brief stay in county jail over a possession charge. “I didn’t bring my Glock, so your ass cherry is safe. But I brought this baby.” He opened his leather jacket to reveal a foot long bowie knife. He pulled the blade halfway out of its sheath and gestured to its sheen.

Turtle commented, “I see you dipped it in silver like I said.”

“Yeah,” Klaus answered, “I did it like bluing a gun. Let’s just hope it worked.”

“What do you mean ‘dipped it in silver’?” I asked. “And when did you two start talking to each other again?”

“We haven’t been talking,” Turtle said. “We’ve been emailing. Making plans.”

“Making plans for what exactly?” I asked, my level of alarm rising along with my sense of dread.

“It’s probably nothing, Jay,” Klaus said, returning the knife to its sheath. He used my first name so rarely that I knew that the situation was grave. “But didn’t Boy Scouts teach you to be prepared? Isn’t that your motto: hope for the best; prepare for the worst?”

“Guys, I don’t like where this conversation is going,” I reiterated. “This is not a game; we are not smiting evil. We see where that avenue led us, nowhere fast.”

Another scream from the direction of the firelight shimmering through the trees interrupted any response to my warning. But it reinforced their position. Perhaps this had been an ill-conceived notion. Or could it have been a deliberate manipulation based on their fears, superstitions, and ulterior motives? Had my friends coaxed me here because they thought Luke possessed? Worse yet, could they be right? Was it even possible?

We crept toward the edge of the clearing that contained the camp site, but no further cries assailed us. Instead, a wet sucking sound met my ears that caused me to halt instead of pushing through the wood line.

“Sounds like a wet boot stuck in mud?” Klaus whispered.

Turtle blushed and giggled. “Or something like that.”

Could we be interrupting Luke and one of his dippy hippie girlfriends? I thought. If so, how angry would they be with us for disturbing their nocturnal, arboreal romp?

“What do we do now?” I asked. “Should we let him know we’re here? Don’t know about ya’ll, but I’ve got no interest in seeing hairy man ass by the pale moonlight.”

“You’re in luck then,” Klaus replied. “Luke is pretty hairless.”

I paused in mid step. “And how do you know that?”

“We’ve gone to the gym before,” Klaus explained, “to work out.”

Turtle pantomimed an obscene sexual gesture behind Klaus’s back and caused me to giggle despite the nebulous nature of our situation. The human scarecrow spun around but failed to catch our clownish friend in the act. The frustration and bewilderment on Klaus’s face caused us to share another laugh at his expense.

“Come with me if you want to see your gym buddy,” I said in a horrible mockery of California’s former Governator. I added with a squawking cry, “Get to the clearing!”

Turtle and I were still laughing at my bad impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger when we broke through the pines and into the area cleared for the family campsite. But laughter and mirth died on our lips as we surveyed the shadowy sanguine scene illumed by the flickering campfire. In the coming months, what I saw that awful night would haunt me; I couldn’t laugh or sleep from the time the moon rose until it set. After that punctuated period of insomnia passed, my memories of the silver lady remained forever tarnished by the image of our bloody friend bathed in her light.

Luke crouched over the nude body of a young woman whose chest had been ripped open. Rocking back and forth on his bare feet, he gnawed on the ruined heart clutched in his hands. As my mind reeled, it connected the dots for me. I recognized the similarities between the act of terror playing out before our eyes and the murderous scene from our dreams. The location and victim were different, but the ritualistic nature of the killing was almost identical. Klaus’s darkest dreams had become our new reality.

Luke’s black eyes sought us out across the firelight. He stared at us without blinking for what seemed like an eternity. And then he went back to the hearty meal in his hands.

“What do we do now?” I asked, truly at a loss.

“We do what we came here to do,” Klaus replied.

“And what is that exactly?”

“We end this,” Turtle said. “We send this thing back to where it came from.”

I didn’t like where this was going. “And how do we do that?”

“We kill the host with a sliver of silver in the heart and then burn the body. That should do it.”

“Are you sure, Turtle?”

“Nope.”

“Thanks, thanks a lot, guys.” Not that I meant it. “So what now, brave crusaders?”

Klaus drew his silvered bowie knife and yelled, “We charge!”

In the landscape of his mind’s eye, he saw himself as the shining noble warrior he preferred to play in our Dungeons and Dragons expeditions. But he had less training with a knife than he had experience at stabbing someone in the heart, which was to say zero, to my knowledge.

Perplexed and unarmed, I watched as disaster, born from my friend’s inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, manifested itself before my very eyes.

Luke raised his head and shrieked so shrilly that it halted Klaus’s advance. My friend staggered under the assault on his eardrums and equilibrium. As soon as he was off balance, Luke leapt. He sprung into the air and landed close enough to Klaus to force the taller man back a step.

Klaus dropped the knife as he gazed into the soulless eyes of the being inside our friend. He turned to run but never made it. Luke pounced on him like a blood-soaked Tigger and took the lanky man to the ground. Snarling, Luke clawed and snapped at him. Blood from the cannibal on his chest dribbled into Klaus’s mouth. Gagging and retching, he flopped like a fish underneath the lighter but stronger man on top of him.

Turtle rushed forward, but I put discretion before valor. No way was I facing off against some hellish thing with a sack full of beer and munchies. Looking about the campsite, my eyes settled on a shovel at the edge of the clearing. I bolted for it.

Turtle and Klaus wrestled with our possessed friend as I raced to arm myself. They punched, kicked, and elbowed him but nothing seemed to stop the assault. Turtle’s choke hold ended badly when Luke flipped our hefty friend over his shoulder. Luke tore at Klaus with his fingernails and then latched onto his forearm like a vicious pit bull.

Snatching the spade from the edge of the freshly dug latrine, I looked back toward the tussling trio of men I’d called friends before this insanity began a few weeks ago. I realized at that point I was risking my life for people who’d risked it without any concern for my safety.

Turtle had done so with his psychic parlor tricks gone awry. And then Klaus had led me to the woods tonight under false pretenses with his half-assed plan to stake a man possessed by a murderous being from another world, be it one of dreams, spirit, or fire and brimstone. By all rights, I should have fled.

But I didn’t. And when I can’t sleep at night now, I remember that that was my turning point, the moment that I sealed my fate and decided my future. I hefted the shovel like some medieval pole arm and sprinted toward the tussling trio. As I closed on them, I swung with all my might. The shovel blade rang when it made contact with the side of Luke’s head. He landed on the ground beside Klaus but kept fighting. The handle vibrated in my hands but spurred me onward. So I kept swinging.

Luke’s skull gave way before my arms did, but the mangled body kept fighting me long after its face was no longer recognizable as our friend. Finally, Klaus stumbled forward and jammed the silver knife deep into the possessed man’s chest. The effect was instantaneous. Luke seized and then collapsed backward. He lay there unmoving, smoke rising from the wound. I couldn’t tell if it was the flesh smoldering or the silver boiling.

The smoke from the body of our murdered friend rose up around us. It grew so thick, so fast that it obscured Klaus for a moment. The noxious cloud dissipated quickly, and then it was gone. We were left in the clearing with an injured friend, a dead one, and the ravaged body of a total stranger.

### Stay Tuned. The Final Installment is coming soon ###

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.

Also, if I’ve let you read this story in the past, please do not post spoilers in the comments here or on any of my social media.

Thanks!

From the Slushpile: The Devil & Klaus Kristiansen (Part III)

Author’s Note: In the interest of timeliness, I have compressed my serialization to five parts. I want you to read all of this before Halloween. 3:)

### \m/ ###

My eyes tried to focus on the unearthly visage of the beast, but my brain either failed or refused to fully comprehend its features. The inky mass moved rapidly. Tucking the heart in close to its own rotten excuse for one, it sprung toward the far wall. The shadow thing reminded me of a running back on the move and the open window appeared its end zone.

I rushed to the windowsill but moved too slowly to intercept the shadow. To this day, I’m not sure what I’d have done had I caught the tiger by the tail. Truth be told, I was woefully unprepared for the challenge, mind, body, and soul.

The shadowy devil leapt from the second story of the plantation house. It landed on its feet in the dense foliage below the window and fled into the forest. Stuck in a mind bound by conventional physics, I didn’t see how I could follow without injuring myself.

So I gave chase with my mind’s eye. Turtle took my hand there in the dimly lit bedroom. He had entered quietly; ignoring the dying girl, he’d moved to my side. As he took my hand, my metaphysical self flowed forth like a river, pursuing my prey.

Through the eyes of the beast, I saw the twisted foliage and dense woods beyond the edge of the college property. The shadow fled through all of it with ease, even grace, pulling our senses along with its own. As its malevolent thoughts intruded upon my own, I realized I’d come to share more than its senses. I shared its mind and accessed its awful alien thoughts. But as I peered into its abyssal depths, it looked back.

I had no sooner locked eyes with this devil, when I was suddenly pulled back into Klaus’s living room. Across from me, Turtle convulsed, frothed at the mouth, and then flopped onto his rounded back. As our flailing friend let go of our hands, Klaus flew backwards as if he’d been struck.

Feeling as if I’d French-kissed an open circuit, I slumped back on the overstuffed couch, exhausted yet exhilarated by the whole strange experience. The universe would never look the same to me again. And I knew my courage and curiosity would always see me through the trials and tribulations to come.

However, my fear returned in full force as our friend continued to convulse on Klaus’s carpet. The bewildered dreamer and I removed any items and furniture from harm’s way but knew enough not to interfere with Turtle’s seizure. Klaus was on the phone dialing emergency services when the spasms ceased abruptly.

Turtle sat bolt upright in the floor.  His head turned to Klaus stiffly.  And he said, “No police. No ambulance. I’m fine.”

Klaus looked at me instead of Turtle. I shrugged. After all, who was I to tell Turtle how he was supposed to feel after dragging all three of us into some dream hell created by Klaus’s diseased mind. Reluctantly, he set the phone back into the cradle.

“Are you sure, man?” Klaus asked.

“Yesss…” Turtle hissed, exhaling deeply. As he did so, his breath misted as it would outside on a cold winter’s morning. And with that he fainted dead away.

Goosebumps raced down my arms as frosty breath escaped from my pursed lips. Across the room, Klaus the human skeleton shook like an anorexic in the arctic, but at least he was conscious. Unable to process the reality of the situation around me, I hauled my ass over to where Turtle snoozed on the carpet. He slept so soundly that he snored.

“Holy shit! What the hell just happened?” Klaus cried, springing from the couch with renewed vigor. “Did we get dosed or something at the party?”

“Dosed?  I doubt it.” And I did. Ritually or recreationally, I’d ingested acid, absinthe, peyote, psilocybin, and, on occasion, mescaline; but none of those had ever produced such a pronounced effect. The immersive three-dimensional mass hallucination we’d experienced had appealed to all five senses. The only real life equivalent involved acute mental illnesses, for the technological equivalent required bulky hardware and expensive equipment to create so-called virtual reality. And the best on the market couldn’t fool all of our senses. So the scene played out like fiction, bad horror fiction.

“Gotta hit the head, boys,” Klaus said as he leapt from barefoot to barefoot. “Whatever it was caused me to damn near piss myself. Thanks, Turtle.”

“Yeah,” I added, “he nearly got me with that act too.”

As Klaus passed through the single bedroom into the solitary bathroom, Turtle leaned toward me and grinned. “It’s no act, boy-o. It’s all real.”

His eyes held my gaze levelly, soberly. If he was lying, Turtle had one helluva poker face. But the biting cold, the vivid vision, and the scream echoing from the bathroom lent credence to his dire assertion. One half of the door knob thunked to the carpeted floor. Someone, something clawed, then beat on the bathroom door. Klaus’s screams continued until he shattered the doorframe and burst into the bedroom.

“What the hell’s wrong with you, man?” I asked as I stood beside Turtle in the open doorway.

Klaus rose from the floor. He shivered all over, his coal black eyes riveted on the dark interior of the bathroom. The crotch of his black denim jeans was soaked through with what, judging by its pungent odor, could only be piss.

“It, it tried to get, get me,” he stuttered.

“Told you, dude,” Turtle said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Knock it off!” I shouted. “You’re not making this any easier.”

“No, he’s right,” Klaus said as he advanced on Turtle. Grabbing him by his collar, my enraged friend shook the grinning fool. “What did you turn loose in my apartment, you stupid sonuva–”

Stepping in between them, I wrenched Klaus’s hands out from around Turtle’s fat neck. “Knock it off. He’s screwing with you.”

Both men fell back as I filled the space between them. They huffed, puffed, and glared at each other. Klaus had berated Turtle before but looked ready to throttle him at a moment’s notice. But I couldn’t ignore the pain in my own bladder any longer, especially with the smell of urine permeating the stale air around me.

Drawn toward the bathroom, I said, “Big bad or no big bad, I’ve gotta piss.”

“Don’t go in there!” Both men cautioned.

“At least ya’ll agree on something.”

My smartass comment hung in the air, like the foul reminder of Klaus’s piddle party in the potty, as I entered the freezing confines of the tiny bathroom. My breath turned to frost before me; the cold caused my bloated bladder to cramp tighter. Ignoring the mirror over the sink, I stood over the urine-soaked toilet and shook my head.

I sighed with relief as the hot stream burst forth and splattered against the inside of the porcelain bowl. As release turned to relief, I groaned and closed my eyes.

“How do you ever expect to pleasure a woman with that wee little piggy, piggy?” An eerily familiar voice asked before chuckling at my expense.

Startled, I flinched and felt warm liquid coat my fingers, crotch, and inner thigh. Looking around, I saw no one but me and my reflection.

“Were you sick bastards watching me pee?” I called out to my friends.

Before either of them could answer, my image in the looking glass replied, “Nope. That was all me, piggy.” And then it waggled its tongue and a single pinkie.

I’d made faces in the mirror before but never with piss dribbling down my leg. As I backed toward the door, I restored my modesty to its damp shelter. But I didn’t dare divert my eyes from my doppelganger. Though the image didn’t say anything else, it stood stock still until I lost sight of it upon egress from the noxious bathroom.

Klaus said, “Not so easy to piss while taunting yourself is it?”

Shaking my head, I mumbled, “Felt like gym class.”

“Whatever it is, we have to get rid of this thing.”

“Get rid of it? Let’s get the hell out of here?”

“We could always call Ghostbusters?” Turtle interjected.

“Shut it, Turtle.” Klaus snapped. Turning to me, he added, “I don’t have the luxury of leaving; I live here.”

“Pull back and nuke the site from orbit. Only way to be sure.”

“Stop quoting movies, Turtle,” Klaus fumed. “You did this. Now fix it.”

“Me? I didn’t do anything. I merely facilitated. That thing was in your dreams already; you were carrying it around with you before you met either of us. For all I know, you were born with it. Or maybe it was Maybelline.”

“You think this is funny!” Klaus snatched Turtle by the collar of his work shirt and shook him. “You unleash some pissed off demon in my house and it’s my fault.”

“Better pissed off than pissed on,” Turtle quipped.

“Enough!” I shouted. First one and then the other squabbling man-child fell silent. “We’re going to my house, getting my pipe, and coming back to kick some spiritual ass.”

“Dude, now is not the time to get high.”

I slapped Klaus then. Hard. He stared at me, mouth agape for a long moment. I thought he might swing on me, but shock and slight damage had silenced him.

“What’d you do that for?” Klaus stammered as he held his jaw. From the way his bottom lip jutted out from its companion, you’d think I’d punched him in the mouth.

“Clearly, you were hysterical. Don’t let me ever hear you say that anything like that again. It’s always the right time to get high. But I wasn’t talking about that kind of pipe. Come with me, I’ll explain later.”

The trip over curvy country roads through the north end of the county passed in silence. I left the Turtle and Klaus in my silver, rust, and primer Hell Camino as I went inside the century old farmhouse atop the hill. Returning minutes later clad in a fresh pair of jeans, I placed the bulky doe skin medicine bundle in the trunk of the pickup car.

“What’s that?” Klaus asked as I crowded in beside him.

“A spiritual hammer,” Turtle answered for me.

“Let’s hope it’s big enough for the big bad,” I said, slinging gravel behind us.

I broke down the plan for them on the way back to town. In the process, I revealed some of my past, including my spiritual upbringing. Parts of my life I’d kept locked away from my college friends. I told them about my summers on the reservation, visiting distant relatives, and reconnecting with my roots through my medicine father, a close friend of my Lakota family.

The mixed blood Oglala man had taught me the rites and rituals associated with the chanupa wakan, the Sacred Pipe. Though most of them involved prayers of gratitude and offerings to the universe’s mysteries, both great and small, one of them involved a ceremony designed to cleanse people, places, and objects of corrupting energies. But would it cleanse a home of an unwanted intruder from my friend’s dreamscape? Time would tell, but I didn’t tell that to either of my companions. I needed them to believe not doubt the efficacy of the ceremony.

We reentered the apartment cautiously. Holding a smoldering sage wand aloft, I lead the way into the occupied dwelling. Though I could not see it, I felt it watching us, waiting for us.

I inhaled the sweet aroma of the burning leaves. My native forefathers believed sage repelled negative energy, especially spirits. As it turned out, it agitated them as well.

The door slammed shut behind us. As we turned toward the sound, the doors of the kitchen cabinets opened wide and then shut hard enough to rattle the dishes inside. Drawers shot out into the floor and scattered silverware, dish towels, and drug paraphernalia all over the linoleum.

Undeterred by the spiritual tantrum, we cleared the coffee table from the center of the room.  I sat on the floor in the north after placing Klaus and the Turtle in the east and south respectively. The position in the west remained open until I filled it with a seashell.

Ignoring the cacophony in the kitchen, I used the sage wand to light a braid of sweet grass, another herb known to affect spiritual beings. Then I left the wand to burn in the shell alongside the sweet grass. Reaching into my medicine bundle, I took out another smaller bundle, this one wrapped in the soft silver-and-black pelt of a wolf.

I unraveled the fur and revealed a chanupa wakan in two segments, stone bowl and wooden stem. Murmuring my thanks to Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery at the center of all things, as well as to Father Sky and Mother Earth, I joined the pieces of the pipe together. Once secured to the stem, I filled the blood red catlinite bowl with a smoking mixture of tobacco and other herbs known collectively as kinnikinnick and then touched a lit match to it. Inhaling the acrid mix, calm and tranquility fell over me despite the storm encircling me. But my peace was not to last.

As soon as I involved the others, the ceremony went awry. I’m not sure what happened, or who to blame for that matter, but the pipe made one pass and went out. I tried time and again to light it but failed. Disassembling the pipe and clearing it with a straightened coat hanger didn’t help the situation either.

The room felt different, however. The temperature had risen. And the cabinets had ceased to clatter. But the relative stillness lulled us into a false sense of security, for the unmistakable feeling of being stared at by something other than my friends remained.

“Do you think it worked?” Klaus asked.

“I dunno, man,” I answered, shaking my head in bewilderment. “But I can tell you one thing. I can see light through this pipe stem and it won’t draw air. What the hell?”

Turtle dispelled any hope that the cleansing had been successful when he said, “It’s still here. And it’s not happy. I think it might be sulking, like an angry, hurt child.”

As if in response to his warning, the door to the closet in the bedroom slammed shut with enough force to rattle its frame. Something thudded, thrashed, and then thundered inside the tiny space. But soon enough it stopped and left the apartment quiet.

We crept into the bedroom as a group. Something wet and dark covered the carpet near the closet. At first, I mistook it for urine that had run out of the tile floor of the bathroom to puddle onto the carpet. As Klaus switched on the overhead light, the single bulb revealed the fluid to be thick and viscous with the color and consistency of plasma.

As we watched in mute horror, the sanguine substance seeped from under the door of the closet. The illusion held us until I grabbed its handle and flung it open. The bloody imagery vanished, replaced by a biting cold and foul smell that wafted forth from the possessed space. The door closed in my face with enough force to rattle my teeth.

“Told you,” Turtle said with a smug expression on his fat face.

“Stop it!” Klaus cried. “Ya’ll are making it worse. And I’m stuck living here.”

“My advice is move,” Turtle replied, “for your sake, for your soul’s sake.”

“I’ll second that,” I added. “It’s a crummy college apartment in a town filled with crummy college apartments. Pick up and move ASAP.”

“Are you kidding me?” Klaus said. “Can’t we get a priest or something?”

“How many clergymen are we gonna find in Alabama who know how to perform an exorcism, much less who’ll perform one for a Satanist, a Gypsy, and an Indian?”

“Jay’s got a point there,” Turtle replied. “And they’ll blame it on us anyway.”

“You’re right,” Klaus said, “especially since it’s your fault.”

Turtle glowered at him and finally snapped, “Don’t blame me for the demons you carry around inside your head! I might have facilitated its escape. But you’re the conduit. It’s your darkness, not mine!”

Klaus huffed and puffed but did not speak. He looked crestfallen as he struggled to accept the maddening reality of our situation, a situation created by the hobgoblins haunting his mind. Sadly, neither Turtle nor I could do anything other than help him pack. So my friend moved that very night.

A few weeks later, our friend Luke moved into the possessed place despite our warning. A spiritualist like me, he prided himself on his connection to the natural world as well as the unseen world around us. But most of his occult knowledge had been distorted, along with his sense of reality, by a steady regimen of hallucinogens and psychedelics. For Luke, the prospect of a haunted apartment appealed to his esoteric, eccentric nature.

Our friend lasted less than two weeks before he fled in the middle of the night too. He refused to return to the apartment and moved into a tent in the dense woods behind his parent’s farm. We resolved to visit him, to hear the whole story, but that set in motion a chain of events that damned us all.

In our case, our road to hell was paved with good intentions.

### TO BE CONTINUED — Part IV Coming Next Week ###

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.

Also, if I’ve let you read this story in the past, please do not post spoilers in the comments here or on any of my social media. Thanks!

From the Slushpile: The Devil & Klaus Kristiansen (Part 2)

Author’s Note: I will post all six parts before Halloween weekend. So stay tuned for one helluva horror story.

Part Two

### \m/ ###

As it turned out, the Hell portrayed in Turtle’s dreams looked like the byproduct of a collegiate man-child steeped in pop culture, rock music, and a lot of hallucinogens. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” blared from the speakers of an unseen jukebox as we strode through the grandiose double doors of the antebellum home turned satanic frat house. Thick tendrils of smoke or fog curled around our feet as we moved through the riotous throng packed into the entry hall.  Over the doors, a tooled wood sign read:  Abandon All Inhibitions Ye Who Enter Here.

Faces of friends and enemies mixed with those of fiends. Together they capered wildly, spastically to the power chords of rock ‘n roll’s finest. I felt overwhelmed, my senses assaulted by the cacophony.

I turned back toward the doors, but there was nowhere to go. No moon, no stars shined in the night sky. The mist covered the parking lot like a blanket. The strange orange hue of the street lights obscured all but the house and its adjacent grounds.

“What the hell, Turtle?” Klaus demanded, seizing our friend by the collar of his faded Wolverine tee and wresting my attention from the dreamscape outside the house.

“Exactly!” Turtle answered. “What version of hell is this? Mine? Or one of yours? Because I didn’t have this nightmare until after I’d met both of you. And each of you is in the dream. But whose hell is this? Because you’re both there every time it happens.”

“Every time what happens?” I inquired, my sense of dread growing.

“You’ll see.” Turtle’s mercurial smile made me want to smash his remaining teeth out of his skull. “There’s still time yet. Until then enjoy the party.”

The Turtle danced, if you could call it that, his way through the crowd of raucous revelers. Klaus and I stuck close to our friend unsure what would happen if we became separated in his deranged dreamscape. A thousand vices and temptations surrounded us at every turn. I saw the things we normally enjoyed, but also mirrors piled high with white powder, stripped and ready pain-sluts of the barely legal variety, and a hundred other deviances ranging from the laughable to the unforgiveable.

Either Turtle the Video Game Virgin knew how to party harder than anyone had suspected or he’d tapped into some primal part of our brains…but which one of us. Perhaps he’d perceived repressed kinks, vices, and other socially unacceptable behaviors present in one or even both of us.  That possibility disturbed me, but little of what I saw scared the hell out of me. I did have a slight problem with the horned thing corn-holing our school mascot over the side of a sofa. And the sight of a sadistic bastard licking blood from the blade he’d used to slice spirals into the tender flesh of a pretty co-ed sickened me to the core.

Surely, none of this could be real. Even if it was a collective dream, some twisted, hedonistic manifestation of the universal unconsciousness, it was still a dream. I comforted myself with that fiction, ignorant of how wrong I was about our situation.

Turtle glanced behind him to make sure we were close on his heels and then mounted the grand staircase that dominated the entrance hallway to the mansion. A throng of partiers clustered on the winding stairs enjoying a wide array of pleasures. As I passed a diminutive woman bent over the sturdy railing, one of the two men penetrating her stopped long enough to ask me to join their public perversion.

Blushing crimson, I declined and hurried after Klaus and Turtle. As a virginal teenager, I felt overwhelmed by the sensational sins being committed all around me. My brain ached inside my skull, and my manhood throbbed in the confines of my jeans. I retreated inside myself as I tried to deal with all of the conflicting emotions in between.

Was this place hell? Or was it Turtle’s version of a wet dream? Or worse yet, one of mine or Klaus’s somnolent fantasies?

Although everything I’d seen at the party appeared deviant when compared to conventional social mores of the day, little of it seemed dangerous. Unless our creator considered anything visceral and enjoyable to be a sin. And I didn’t subscribe to that narrow-minded, puritanical view then…or now for that matter. I’d yet to see anything nefarious, much less hellish…unless one counted the pounding, repetitive electronica that had replaced legends of hard rock and heavy metal to become our new soundtrack.

The festivities on the second floor felt more like a rave than the festivities enjoyed by the Goth/Metal crowd on the ground level of the unnamed fraternity house. So in my mind, the party became annoying instead of more infernal, despite the horned humanoids twirling glow-sticks about their scaly bodies. If you’ve seen one dancing Sleestak with a glow-stick, you’ve seen them all. And raving demons were not my idea of hell; they were my idea of a bad pun.

“This has to be the lamest layer of all the hells in the multiverse,” I commented.

“Agreed,” Klaus seconded. “Hard drugs, kinky sex, and canned music doesn’t make it hell. It makes it a college party. The textbook definition of one as a matter of fact. I’ve seen scarier stuff at a Senate hearing on CSPAN.”

Klaus and I chuckled, but Turtle didn’t appear amused. Instead he looked at us as if we were stupid. But we weren’t; we were ignorant, cocky know-it-alls, like so many narcissistic nineteen-year-old nerds. In fact, without our narcissistic, nerdy traits, Klaus and I would have become enemies long before the events to come made it so.

Concern coloring his chiseled face, Turtle told us, “Dreams, like anything, exist according to certain rules. And one of those is the interconnectedness of all things, all places, all times. Dreams are the nexuses, the cruxes upon which the entire fabric of creation is built.

“After all, what are we but a collective realization of a universal dream. Somewhere, someplace, sometime, everything around us was dreamed into being by someone or something. As surely as we see this dream now, our creator pictured the dream that became our waking universe in its mind’s eye.

“And if dreams can show us a version of heaven that a sleeper can craft into reality upon awakening, a nightmare can become a living hell. That’s what I’m about to show you, the difference between dreams and nightmares, between heaven and hell.”

We turned down another corridor, and the scene around us shifted for the third time. As we entered this wing of the house, the furniture and the décor took on a style incongruent with the rest of the interior. I turned to pass my observation on to Klaus, but he’d fallen behind. In fact, he stood transfixed, his hollow eyes riveted on the lone door at the end of the long hallway.

“Are you okay?” I asked, knowing the answer already. My friend had grown as pale as a Hollywood vampire. Tears touched the corners of his eyes, a sight none of us had seen before…or since.

“But it can’t be,” Klaus muttered.

“What can’t it be?” Turtle inquired, joining us in the middle of the empty hall.

“I’ve seen this before,” Klaus replied. “All of it. I didn’t remember until I saw that door. That damn door and the horror that lurks beyond it have haunted me for years. But it can’t be. It’s just a dream.”

“Yes,” Turtle said, tapping Klaus in the center of his forehead. “It’s all here. Or we’re all there rather. Thanks to a little family tradition passed down through my mom’s side of the family. My gypsy blood produces a fair number of psychics, mediums, touch telepaths, and empaths.”

“And here I thought gypsies were alcoholics and kleptomaniacs,” Klaus joked.

“You forgot con artists,” I added, knowing in my heart what Turtle said to be true. But I wasn’t ready to accept it then. It took the unnatural shocks that came after for me to accept the paranormal as my new norm.

“I never thought I’d live long enough to admit it,” Klaus said, wiping his eyes, “but Turtle might be right. I’ve seen this house before; I’ve opened that door before. Countless times. And it never ends well.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t end well?” I asked, dreading the response.

Locking eyes with me, Klaus pleaded, “I wanna go home now. I don’t wanna live through this nightmare again. This might not be your idea of hell, but there’s a devil behind that door. A devil and a dead girl.”

“A dead girl?” I asked, bewildered by Klaus’s revelation. Glancing at my other friend, I saw that Turtle appeared calm, cool, and collected, the exact opposite of his waking demeanor.

“Well, she’s not dead yet…” Turtle said, “…not this go round anyway.”

A shrill squeal pierced the door, echoing down the hall. The cry of a damsel in distress, even a dream one, called out to my primal, protective nature. I charged the door while Klaus beat feet toward the stairs. Turtle lingered in between, unsure who to follow.

The locked door didn’t stop me long. Throwing my considerable girth against it, I overpowered the frame itself. As it separated from the wall with a sickening CRACK, I backed away and kicked outward. My big boot finished the work my sore shoulder started. The defeated door hung ajar from its ruined frame, orange light spilling into the hall from around its seams.

Shadows flitted in and out of the light in the room beyond the door. Throwing caution to an ill wind, I rushed through the doorway and into a blood-splattered bedroom. The room’s white interior had turned to crimson thanks to its two maddening occupants.

A shadowy figure perched on the center of a brass canopy bed; in its sizeable paws, the beast held the still beating heart of its victim, the nearly dead girl. The angel in alabaster lay sprawled on the mattress, wearing the remnants of a lacy summer dress. In the wan light cast by the street lights, her auburn curls took on the same shade as the gory fluids oozing from her savaged bosom. Only one perfect pale breast remained intact; its twin destroyed when the devil had ripped out her heart. The dying girl whimpered as yet unaware of her own demise. When her emerald eyes locked on her stolen heart, she wept a final tear.

*** Part 3 Coming Soon ***

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.

Also, if I’ve let you read this story in the past, please do not post spoilers in the comments here or on any of my social media. Thanks!