Conversations with Mentors: Daniel Chernault

I’ve interviewed several of the mentors who brought me to where I am today. In the upcoming weeks, you’ll see them posted here. Though none of them are in the publishing industry, the things I learned from their expertise still apply. I hope through this series, many of you will find something to take away from it, be inspired, and share so others can learn, too.

I met Dan when I was working for a car dealership a few years ago. I walked in with no prior experience in accounting and sat down with him and his assistant CFO for an interview. I was immediately drawn to Dan’s candor and sense of humor. There aren’t many people who can mix the two without one of two things happening.

A: No one takes you seriously because you’re trying to be a “comedian” or
B: No one likes you because you’re too honest and get labeled an “asshole”

The honesty was a breath of fresh air. In the course of two years, I grew to respect Dan more and more. One of the most intelligent people I had ever met, he was open to sharing his knowledge if “you weren’t an idiot”. (I may, or may not be quoting him. I plead the fifth.)

If you could handle the task, Dan gave it to you. And in the short time I worked for him, I learned an incredible amount of things. It showed me what my own potential was, it allowed me to never settle (once I learned one thing, he tossed me another), and it taught me to trust my gut. Even if I was wrong. And yes, I was wrong a lot. He never made me feel stupid when I was, but rather used it as a learning experience. See, it’s ok to be wrong if you are genuinely willing and capable of learning. Being open, and being vulnerable to being wrong is how you grow. In fact, it made me more confident. It taught me to ask questions, think critically, and never settle.

One of the things I learned from Dan which I apply to running Stitched Smile Publications is to ask: “Is this the best you can do?” If it isn’t the best work you can turn in, then don’t settle for “good enough”. (I really hate that term!)

If it’s your best, it’s your best. Own it. Learn from it. Get better.

Experiences make us who we are and if we constantly shy away from being uncomfortable or being vulnerable, if we never take a risk in life, we’re condemned to being a box of crayons: Individual colors neatly packed in cardboard. Same colors, same label, no matter how bright the outside is.


LV: Tell us a little about yourself. What your line of work is and area(s) of expertise

I’ve been in the automobile business forever.  43 years or so.  I worked as a Zone Manager for the Ford Motor Company, as a controller is some small dealerships after I left Ford, and as General Manager of a Chevy dealership.  I spent four years with the National Automobile Dealers Association as a consultant and financial management instructor.  I spent the last 24 years as Chief Financial Officer of the Russell & Smith Auto Group in Houston.  Much of what I’ve done has been accounting-related, with the rest being sales.  I’m currently Vice President of Sales for ProBilling and Funding, a company which offers receivables management products.

LV: What things motivated your “younger” self to succeed?

Probably the two summers I spent working as a construction laborer, or maybe it was my high school job at McDonalds…..  Seriously, I just never thought there was anything I couldn’t do.  I think that was our attitude when I was in college (late 60’s).  We just knew we would be successful.  It helped that big corporations were actively recruiting us, and it was not unusual for one of us to receive a number of employment offers prior to graduation.

LV: A lot of people struggle with feelings of failure. When we look at our mentors and leaders, we sometimes forget they are human and have gone through similar experiences. Can you recall a time when you felt your lowest? Tell us about it and how you got through.

Probably getting fired from what I thought was going to be my dream job in Atlanta.  I left that thinking, “I’m tired of the car business.  Maybe it’s time to find another line of work”.  I spent about a month doing nothing constructive, almost trying to avoid looking for another job.  I finally got off my ***, put my resume together, and, within a couple of months, had five job offers in hand.  It never really occurred to me, once I finally started looking,  that I might not find the type of job I was seeking, only that it might take some time.  The average time between jobs for my type of job was around four months, I think I solved it in three.  You just have to be like the “little engine that could”.

LV: You served in the military for many years and rose through the ranks through hard work. Did the military teach you that, or do you feel like people are born with a natural desire to be a leader?

 Hmmmmm…..    The military, or at least the Army, turns ordinary people into remarkable leaders, whether they want to or not.  I don’t believe you are born with the desire to be a leader, I think you become a leader when you need to be one, or when you are needed to be one.

LV: What are your biggest strengths, and weakness?

Biggest Strength:  I never give up or give in.

Biggest Weakness:  I never give up or give in.

LV: What do you do to keep yourself centered with everything you have going on in your life?

I asked my father a similar question; my step mother had a number of health issues, life wasn’t going well, and it had to be tough.  I asked him how managed everything, and he basically said “Put one foot in front of the other.  Repeat”.  The best way to remain centered is to keep doing what needs to be done.  The rest of it will take care of itself.

LV: What traits do you look for in a person prior to making the decision to invest time into teaching them? And once you’ve begun to mentor them, what are your expectations?

Not to disparage testing……but I think you just know who that person is. It’s not about education, or age, or anything actually measurable.   It doesn’t take long to figure out if a person wants to learn.  The results come fairly quickly.  My expectations are simple:  they learn what I’m teaching, show me that they’ve learned it, and then show that they’re able to go to the next learning level without being told what it is.  I value creativity, and the ability to think.

I’m often guilty of giving somewhat vague guidance.  That’s on purpose; let’s see what the person you’re mentoring can do with this.  That’s designed to drive the unwary completely crazy.    I had a Drill Sergeant in Basic Training who kept saying, “Got no time for slow learners”.  He was right, at least for what we’re discussing.

LV: I know you read a lot. What are some of your most recommended books?

This is the answer which gets rotten fruit thrown at me, but my favorite book is Atlas Shrugged.  I first read it when I was about 15, and I’ve worn out several copies.  If you have a few hours I’ll be glad to explain what it’s really about.

After that?  Anything by John LeCarre.  Anything by Charles Dickens.  The entire Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter.  I’m kind of a nut for British murder mysteries, so you can toss in Agatha Christie, and P.D. James.

I like to read books about business.  Not business books.  One of my all-time favorite books about business was called, “From Those Wonderful People Who Gave You Pearl Harbor”.  It was written by a New York advertising executive, and chronicled his life in the ad business.  Really interesting insights, along with being absolutely hilarious.  I’m sure it’s long out of print.

For business books I highly recommend Peter Drucker’s “Management”.   Some things just don’t go out of style.  Actually, any of Drucker’s books are good.

LV: One of the things I admire about you is how you can take an idea and run with it using what you’ve learned from past experiences and then adding your own touch. What is your method for deciding if something is a worth pursuing, or if you should discard it?

First, did I even understand the idea?  The best ideas are the simple ones, and the ones that take too much explanation probably aren’t the right fit.  Warren Buffet said, “I don’t invest in things I don’t understand”.  I’m with him.

Second, does it sound like us?  Any idea, whether it comes from inside or outside, has to be something that fits with our culture.  If it doesn’t, it won’t work.

Third, is it actually legal? There are some great ideas which may be legal in one state, but not another.  One of my students at NADA heard about an idea to place used vehicle for sale ads in the newspaper without identifying the dealership, only putting the phone number in the ad.  Turns out that the person who had given him the idea was from state where that type of ad was legal but, unfortunately for my student, it wasn’t legal in his state.  The state DMV suspended the dealership sales license for two weeks.

Fourth, is it going to make our lives better?  The best idea I ever heard came from a meeting that Ford put on, and made us think about what was going on in the dealership.  One of the focus items was employee morale.  What came out of that meeting was that we were going to build a lunchroom in one of the buildings which had some unused space.  We built the room, put in vending machines, microwaves, tables and chairs, and the employees absolutely loved it.

Fifth, and the really important one, is whether we can actually implement the idea and keep it implemented.  I’ve seen a lot of great ideas and programs for which the dealerships have paid lots of money die within a few months of launch.  There are always excuses and reasons why the program failed, but the biggest one is that there was no buy-in and no plan to solve that.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “yeah, we used to do that, but I guess we stopped”.  And nobody noticed or cared.  On to the next magic solution.

LV: Sales is a hard business. Whenever you begin a business, sales and marketing are its bread and butter. Without it, your business starves. Are there certain tactics that work across the board, regardless of what kind of business it is? What are they, in your opinion?

You have to show that you are different and be able to rise above the clutter of other businesses in the same line of work. I was reading today about a number of companies which have tried to become the next Facebook.  I had never heard of any of them.  I wonder why they failed to gain any large number of users?  Apparently, even Google had one, with about 500,000 supposed subscribers.  They announced this week that they were ending the service….and nobody actually noticed.  It’s one thing to start a business.  It’s quite another to prove to your public that you have a product to which they need to give the time of day.  If your business plan is to just be like the other guys, you’ll fail.

Google gained prominence by simply being better than everybody else.  They’ve become so good they’re now a verb.  We don’t search the web; we Google it.

Gallery Furniture is a furniture store in Houston.  A furniture store in a world of furniture stores.  It is owned by a gentleman called “Mattress Mack”.  He does is own television commercials.  HORRIBLE commercials.  Stuff that no self-respecting ad agency would create.  And yet……he has a huge operation, everybody knows who he is and he probably makes a ton of money doing it.  He managed to rise above the clutter.  He also promises same day delivery.  “Gallery Furniture Delivers Today”.  He’s hit that line really hard, and has billboards all over Houston which simply have the word “TODAY” on them.  Powerful stuff.  He blows the rest of the competition away.

The internet has made the process much more difficult.  I just Googled “car dealer”.  It said there were 539,000,000 results.  Tough to get noticed in all of that clutter.

LV: You retired from the military, and not too long ago you retired from another longtime career only to begin a new journey. First of all, congratulations on both achievements-but I do question your definition of “retirement”! Secondly, do you find it to be a trait in successful people to never stop working? Or do you feel it is your Achilles heel?

I think successful people never stop working, or at least never stop thinking.  It may be everybody’s dream to spend their “golden” years sitting on the beach sipping a beer….but what do you do the second week?  If you can move from a sixty hour a week job to a twenty hour a week job which still gives you the opportunity to use your talents, why not?  I retired, in large part, because I was just tired of doing the same thing every day.  It didn’t mean I wanted to quit working – it meant that I wanted to quit that job.  I now have much better control of how I spend my time, which is currently half in Houston and half in Play del Carmen, Mexico.  Much better than having to be at my desk everyday…..

LV: What words of advice would you give to someone who has a dream of success but has no point of reference of where to begin?

Take risks.  Take the job nobody else wants – it might be the perfect place for you to learn.  Don’t be afraid to move on to the next job – and make sure it’s a better one than the one you’re leaving.

LV: And finally, who are the mentors and people you admire, and why?

Mentors, not so many.  At the time I started working, the idea of mentoring hadn’t made it into the business world.

People I admire?  The ones who stood up for what was right, no matter what the cost.  The ones who told the truth, however inconvenient.  We seem to have a shortage of them lately.

For Fun:

  • What’s your favorite quote?

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking about real money”.  Everett Dirksen.  It’s believed that Dirksen didn’t actually say that, but he said it sounded so good that he never denied saying it.

  • Tell me about the closest person in your life who you’re comfortable talking about. What would they say if I asked them, ‘What is the one characteristic they totally dig about you?’

No comment.

  • Name a song/artist we can listen to, to get a good feel for who you are.

“Girl from Ipanema”.  Stan Getz/Astrid Gilberto/Joao Gilberto.  Written by Antonio Carlos Jobim.  Set me on the path to love jazz and Brazilian music.

The Guide to Handling a Bad Review

One of the things I hear a lot about or get asked about are reviews.

Let me begin by saying this: as a new author I fell into this trap and it’s a very ugly trap to be in.

Reviews are never going to be 5 star across the board. In fact, having some bad reviews mixed into the gushing and glowing reviews is a good thing. It gives you and your book credibility. If a reader sees nothing but five stars they believe the reviewers are your friends and family.

So rule number one? Embrace the negative reviews.

Embrace them? Absolutely.

Every well thought out review has validity to it. Read it. Process it. Do better. The end.

Rule number two: Do. Not. Respond.

A lot of bad reviewers are also great “trollers”. Don’t get caught up in the fodder storm. You’ll end up wearing shit even if you “win” … which you won’t. It only makes you look bad in the end.

Rule number three: see rule number one, rinse, repeat.

Trust me, I know the temptation to chime in and set people straight. Let’s pick one of my own and put it out there.

I had a “duo” pick up a free copy of my book and review it. A review which seemed to be done in Facebook messenger then copied and pasted on their “review site”.

Reading the review was torture. It felt like a text-based, Mean Girls episode. It was incredibly juvenile but the worst part was when they said I needed serious edits when they themselves could not spell. Including “LOL” in a review is the first clue to run. Anyone who uses “OMG” and “LOL” in a review meant to be taken seriously isn’t worth my time of being upset, let alone a response. And believe me, I value my time.

You’re sending out a piece of art. Art is subjective. Not everyone gets your art and not everyone should. You’re not writing a how-to book so don’t expect everyone to understand your idea.

However, if your negatives outweigh the positives it might be something you need to consider. Take it as a learning experience and move forward. If you’re too busy reading and lamenting over a review you’re not writing and working towards something new. Your readers who enjoy your work are waiting. Get over it, dust your shoulders off, dry your tears, and get to work.

If you allow a nasty reviewer to keep you from doing what you love you’re not meant to be an author. This industry is cut-throat and you are supposed to be the expert. Get back to it or get into your cage. There’s no room for weak spines in horror.

Have you received a bad review? How did you handle it? Want to share a bad review and let us critique it for a good laugh? Leave it in comments!

Remember this one important fact: You write because you love to. Who cares if a couple people don’t like it? Are they so important it’s worth you losing your passion? Let me help you with the answer. No. No they aren’t.

And if you’re a reviewer who likes being nasty and rude for kicks? Go get a hug. Internet trolls are so 1997. It’s time to grow up. And get spellcheck “LOL”.

Blood and Champagne (2)

Once a week, I will post a new addition to the story. If you enjoy it, please leave a comment, share, and subscribe.

As always, everything included on my blog and posts are © Lisa Vasquez and may not be reposted or used anywhere without my written consent. 

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All image rights belong to Drew Posada

 

“Your Mistress says I may have my way with you,” Fay tucked the letter back into the envelope. Letting her eyes take in the solid frame of the man standing in front of her, she tossed her invitation onto the side table. The man stood there, unmoving, obedient and loyal. Let’s test the extent of his loyalty, she thought to herself. He towered over her by at least a foot, and the wingspan of his “V” shaped lats, tapered into aslim waist making him quite appealing.

“Turn around,” she whispered, shrugging her robe off one shoulder.

The man complied. His face gave nothing away, but she could see the subtle flare of his nostrils, taking in the scent of her. His pupils expanded, and his thousand-yard stare came into focus.

“Take me.”

His rigid, military posture crumbled, and he lunged forward until his body was pressed against hers. Scooping her up, he pulled Fay’s legs around his waist and threw her against the wall. The lamp teetered on top of the dresser next to them as they assaulted one another with unbridled lust.

Hours later, she was staring into his eyes, pupils fixed and dilated.

“It’s time for Cinderella to get ready for the ball.”

Rolling across him, she let her fingers lace with his. As she slid off the bed, she pulled him toward the edge until he fell. When his skull hit the cement floor beneath the five-star carpet, there was a crunch as the bone fractured. Fay continued to pull until she had him splayed across the plastic. Standing over him, she pressed her hands to her hips. The image of her naked body staring back at her in the mirror, she contemplated how to dispose of the body. Glancing at the watch on the messenger’s wrist, she could see she had less than five hours before she would meet up with the woman who called herself, “O”.

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Madrigals, Book 10

The door to Fay’s room opened and she hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign from the handle outside. Shutting it, she reached up and engaged the hotel lock to deter anyone from interrupting her work. She walked back to the bed and stared down at the tools set out against a black latex blanket. It was time to tune the world out and begin.

Pinching the earbud which dangled from around her neck, she placed them into her ear canals. Reaching into her belt, she pulled out her IPod and selected a piece. Thumbing her finger over the touchscreen, she raised the volume to max. When the first note began, she closed her eyes, allowing her head to tilt back. This was her safe place.

Lowering her chin, her eyes opened again. She opened up her black medical bag and removed a syringe along with a small vial. Sinking the needle into the tiny bottle, she tipped both upward and pulled on the plunger until it was full. Replacing the vial, she set the syringe on a tray. She needed to select her tools. Gloved fingers passed over each stainless steel piece until she came to the bone cutter. Lifting the twelve inch blade, she examined it for balance as she would any of her daggers or knives. They say, “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” but nothing compared to the glint of light off steel, for her.

Fay smiled.

“This will do, nicely.”

To the sound of the soprano’s gentle song in her ears, she continued to select her tools: a scalpel, toothed forceps, spinal cord remover, and scissors. She would have to work fast, now. The smell of ammonia would cause alarm in the neighboring rooms. With a flip of the exhaust fan switch, Fay slid her mask on with the 3M filters and protective eyewear.

With her tray in hand, she stood at the bathroom door and smiled at the messenger who was upside down, rigged over the shower. The incision to his jugular drained the blood from his body, and he was a beautiful shade of death. The top of his skull had already been removed, and his brain, along with several other organs, were neatly sliced. Each was individually sealed and placed into the cooler, which was sitting on the bathroom counter.

As the music carried through the earbuds, a chorus signaled it was her cue to begin:

Languisce al fin chi dalla vita parte
e di morte il dolore
l’affligge sì che in crude pene more.
Ahi, che quello son io,
dolcissimo cor mio,
che da voi parto e, per mia crudel sorte,
la vita lascio e me ne vado a morte.

Yes, she thought between the slow, melody of words, He who is departing this life now languishes. The translation of the words touched a deep part of her. Someplace buried in the halls of her psyche where empathy went to die.

Fay placed the tray next to the cooler, and faced the shower with the hanging messenger. Bending over, she popped the cap off of the ammonia bottle and picked up the sponge next to it. Tipping the bottle, she saturated the sponge and began to wipe down the body until he was clean. It was at this stage she allowed herself to envision the finale. Killing was not only a duty, it was an honor. An honor she took as serious as every art form she was forced to master. Arranging the bodies was no different to her than arranging her orchids or shaping her bonsai trees.

“The instruction shows the way and the method,” her handler would say to her, reciting an old Proverb, “The vision is the work of one who has wished to see.”

With her scalpel in hand, Fay’s vision came. With a well-trained hand, she pressed the tip of the butterfly scalpel into the skin and slid it into a downward curve, peeling a piece of the back away from the fascia.  Using only wire and twine, she attached the flap into the position of a wing and sewed it to the messenger’s arm. She moved to the other side and repeated the flaying of skin, careful to keep the same length and thickness. Symmetry needed to be achieved for this piece to be acceptable. What blood was left in the male’s body trickled down creating its own natural pattern. Beautiful chaos, she mused as her hand slid the second flap of skin into place.

Fay took a step back and tipped her head. A few steps to the left, then to the right, and she began again. This time, she brought her scalpel to the outer thigh. She needed to be more careful with this area, so the skin did not tear.

“It’s ok,” she whispered, “I’m patient.”

Sliding her other hand underneath the skin as she cut, she felt the sticky pull as it was separated. The messenger was physically fit, so part of the challenge was knowing there was only a small layer of subcutaneous fat to work with. When she worked the skin apart from the thigh, she used the twine again. The wing she created from his back, was stretched gently until she was able to fasten it to the left thigh.

“Beautiful,” she said, standing back, again.

Nuclear Solstice (Unedited, WIP)

So this story is a work in progress. Posting them here motivates me. I am trying to be more consistent and show my writing style. Most people know me as the CEO of Stitched Smile Publications but don’t know who I am as a writer. I want to change that. I’m a woman of many crowns and writing happens to be one of my passions.  Posting them unedited allows a couple of things to happen:

  1. I show the difference a well-edited work makes when going from rough stone to diamond.
  2. To practice what I preach to those who I mentor, “No one shits out gold.”
  3. Knowing people are waiting on the story helps me stay excited about it.

This work is UNEDITED, so if you are unable to read something until it has been edited, please keep scrolling along. I do welcome thoughts, insights, comments. 

Without further ado, here it is


nuclearsolstice header blog

NUCLEAR SOLSTICE

© 2018, Lisa Vasquez
Do not distribute, print, or use without prior written consent.

 

The world was blanketed in white, and quiet. The atmosphere was almost tranquil in its existence under the half-light between day and night. Sybil watched from her vantage noting how nothing shimmered under the muted rays of the long-forgotten sun. Nothing caught its filtered rays in a magical way. It was silent like a child hiding beneath the covers until the boogeyman retreated beneath the bed. All around her, the world was a perpetual mono-chromatic landscape of white, grays, and blacks. Still glancing up at the sky, Sybil observed as the clouds hung low, snuffing out the life of the sun, forever concealing the battle raging in the unseen heavens. A storm trampled above, the sound broke the dead air. She heard the thunderous growls chasing electric spears with no promise of rain anytime soon. Sybil released a slow, steady exhale then lowered her head. Reaching up with one hand she pulled back the hood of her parka, allowing the smooth, pale skin of her scalp to breathe. With her other hand, she tightened her grip on her spear which doubled as a walking stick.  

Listening close, Sybil stretched her senses. Always on alert, she remained attentive. In this world of muffled noise, it was not easy to pick up sound of predators, or of a potential meal. Successful hunters used tricks from ancient civilizations learned before all the books were burned. When the last library went up in flames, the elders once said, “all hope went with it”. Now, over a hundred years later, humanity was reduced to living in caves, once more at the bottom of the food chain. Nightly stories around the campfire told of the new “man”, evolved with the help of the governments in the year 2018. DNA enhancing testosterone levels in both male and females gave them rage-like aggression. Crouching low, the warnings of her tribe’s leaders replayed in Sybil’s head as she slid her fingers through the layer of ash covering the earth.  

These new humans were the experiments of the governments who united in a ploy to create the perfect soldier, never heeding to the superiority of Nature to do her own bidding with the fate of their evolution. One cannot play God without remembering Mother Nature was a controlling bitch. She ruled the game of checks and balances. 

Looking out to the south, Sybil gripped her walking stick tighter. The Dead Lands lie between her home, and the Forbidden Place where the Evolved resided. The stories of those who died made her heart heavy and she let out a breath to relieve some of the pressure on her chest.  

Those who survived “The War” weren’t the lucky ones like they say, Sybil thought. The ones who died instantly were. Lost in a reverie which could not be her own, she saw it so clear; Seconds after the first flash blinded the world, billions of souls left the earth following the dark cloud creeping over the sky, trapped in its hell. As a child, the elders used thunder and lightning as nighttime tales aimed at scaring her and other children into behaving.  

“You must always be silent,” her mother whispered, “Always stay close. I cannot keep you from danger if you do not listen to me, Sybil.” 

“Yes, mother,” she whispered back, shrinking into her tattered blanket. Her dark eyes pulled away from her mother’s and toward the campfire. The amber flames flapped and crackled, illuminating the cave walls. It was cold and damp despite the heat emanating from the fire, and the coughs of the others in their caravan echoed from their chambers in the murky distance. Water dripped into underwater canals, and every night she fell asleep to the faint smells of Sulphur, and feces. 

No, they were not the lucky ones. When the first billion people died, others were left disfigured with burns, and later if the burns didn’t kill you, radiation would be waiting. Less than one percent of the population survived. This included diplomats and wealthy who were locked away in bunkers, and the anomalies: “Human Cockroaches”. We were given the nickname, because like the insects, we survived the nuclear war. We weren’t the elite, personally selected humans. To them, the ones who almost destroyed the world, we were insignificant. To them we were foul vermin in need of extermination. Because of this, Sybil bore witness to the horrors of watching as each night one of her caravan family disappeared. 

Year 2118, Month Unknown 

 

The family was settled in for the night and only the hushed whispers of families could be heard through the various cavern “rooms”. Meager campfires crackled and popped. The small flames stoked by the “watchers” throughout the night. The fires weren’t going for warmth, though they did offer a comforting feel to the features of those who slept around it. The main purpose of the fires was for light. Keeping them small meant little smoke would rise from exhaust holes above. Too much, and the new man, called Aethers, would find them. 

Living in caves had changed humans in addition to the effects of the chemicals of war. Lack of sunlight on the surface was nothing compared to the lack of light beneath the earth. The eyes of those beneath adapted, growing more sensitive to light. The most color any of them saw now were the brilliant fluorescent glows from algae and insects when the campfire lights went out. Having spent years in the subterranean, the changes in them became more obvious. Most of them lost pigmentation in their eyes, leaving their irises a pale variation of their former color. Their skin was smooth, almost pore-less, and translucent. A lack of high calorie food transformed them into waif-like creatures who, in the old years, resembled the fictitious race of elves. At the surface, they appeared ethereal as their skin captured the half-light and illuminated. 

Sybil was dozing off to sleep when she heard the whoosh of air pass by her. Opening her eyes, she saw the flames from the campfire bend in one direction causing her to sit up straight. Looking around, she saw the watcher facing away from her, looking into one of the tunnels leading to the next “room” of the cavern.  

“What was th—“ her whispered cut off by the motion of his hand raising up. He pressed an index finger to his lips and Sybil froze in fear. The watcher’s stealth footsteps led him to the next opening, his hand wrapped around the hilt of his makeshift dagger and listened. After a few moments of hearing nothing he seemed to relax. He turned back to face her again, and he offered a small reassuring smile. 

“It’s ok—“ his began, his eyes then bulged and his hands grasped his neck. Confused, Sybil used her hands and dug the heels of her feet into the ground, to back scoot into the shadows. When the watcher fell to the ground, a cloaked figure stood in his place staring at her until she choked out a scream. In the rush of the others waking, it disappeared, leaving Sybil in hysterics.  

“What’s happened?” One of the men called out. He came closer and stumbled over the limp body of the watcher. Whispers began to fill the room growing louder and louder. The noise traveled to the outer rooms in the cave where others began to stir and rise. Watchers from every direction ran in to see what was causing the disturbance, and like a chain reaction, the news made it to every den. 

“What was it, Sybil? Did you see anything?” Their faces began to crowd around her, suffocating her with their questions.  

“I-I don’t know,” she stammered, “Just eyes. Like a shadow.” 

One by one they turned to each other, passing the information … or what little there was. Delphi, the leader of their caravan, appeared and the crowd spread, allowing him to pass. Sybil’s eyes widened, then lowered with the bow of her head.  

When he was standing before her, he reached his hand out to lift her chin, forcing her eyes to meet his. He stared down at her with his pale amber gaze. From beneath the hood of his weather-torn robes, she could see he had kind features. Wrinkles around his eyes creased when he smiled at her, his long white beard and mustache raised with the corners of his mouth.  

“Peace, child,” he spoke, and everyone around him fell into silence. Only the deacons of their tribe were ever allowed to speak with Delphi. No one had heard his voice in years until now. Sybil’s mother watched from over his shoulder, her hands tucked into her chest in a show of her anxiety. Was her daughter in trouble? Would she be held responsible? 

Dropping his hand from her chin, Delphi crouched before Sybil and her locked gaze followed him. He reached for her hand this time and held it in his. It was large and warm in comparison to hers.  

“It’s ok, Sybil,” he said, and everyone behind him leaned in to hear him speak again, “Try to remember everything you saw. I’m here with you now, and nothing will harm you.” 

Nodding to the hypnotic tone in his voice, Sybil recounted what happened detail by detail, as she remembered it. When she was done, she realized she was trembling again, and a layer of sweat covered her brow and hairline. Inside her chest, her heart was throttling.  

“Very good, Sybil,” Delphi said with another smile. He stood, and gave her hand a squeeze before turning to the deacons behind him, “Bring her to my den. She is in my care, now.” 

Sybil’s mother’s eyes grew large before turning toward Delphi. She lowered her gaze and took the hem of his sleeve to her lips, giving him reverent thanks. Before he walked away, he brushed his hand over her head and bent to kiss it. The collective inhale of everyone in attendance filled the den as they lowered their head as a show of respect. Delphi was the closest thing to royalty in the new world. He led them to safety more times than they could count, and always seemed to be one step ahead of the (XXX) in their ploy to eradicate them from the face of the earth. Without him, their family would’ve been wiped out at the dawn of its existence.  

The deacon to Delphi’s left, Iapetus, faced Sybil and offered his hand to her. When she reached out to take it, he shifted his weight to the staff he held in his other hand and turned, guiding her to follow them. Beside Iapetus, Sybil felt smaller than she was. He seemed to be made from the stone walls, each muscle in his exposed arm appeared to be hand chiseled. The staff he gripped in his massive hand was created from a combination of the limestone, and marble found all around them. Clusters of raw crystal surrounded the tip where a repurposed piece of steel formed a spearhead. He was Delphi’s advisor, and also rumored to be his son. Looking up into his face, Sybil could see the similarities. 

“Don’t be frightened,” his rough voice whispered to her, “We will keep you safe, now.” 

Sybil offered a half smile. There was no malice in Iapetus’ mannerisms. She could feel the goodness in him right through the connection of their palms. Turning her head over her shoulder, Delphi’s other deacon, Crius, offered his hand to her mother, Dione. Dione reached out to take it, then followed her daughter and the procession out of the den. 

All around them, eyes watched and silent thoughts threatened to fill the room with overwhelming emotion. Jealousy, happiness, confusion, and anxiety collided on the surface of the unspoken question, “What happens, now?” 

As if she could hear the thoughts of all those around them the head watcher, Eos, spoke. Her soft tone was raspy like an Autumn wind through the trees, bristling against dried leaves. It was this way, they said, because she never spoke unless it was an absolute necessity-and when she did, her words were as strong as she, herself, was. 

“There is no cause for further worry,” she paused to sweep her eyes over those standing before her, “Security is increased with double watchers, and traps have been lain.” 

There was a unified sigh of relief. 

“Go now,” she continued, “Help us by staying together. Watch one another. Never go anywhere alone.” 

Like docile cattle, the crowd began to move. One followed the other until everyone was once again settled into their dens, and tucked into their blankets and furs. When the last whisper died out, the watchers lit extra candles to cast the shadows away, and stood guard this way for the rest of the week. 

# # # 

 

Getting used to living with Delphi was an adjustment for Sybil. She’d never known her father, and Delphi’s watchful eye could be unsettling. It’s like he sees everything, she thought to herself while tiptoeing across the marble floor. Delphi’s den was decorated in rare furs which she found fascinating. In all the years she was alive, Sybil never saw a real animal while it was alive. Whenever the hunters returned with meat, it was already stripped of any useable hide and fur, leaving it smooth, sometimes still stained pink with blood, but most times it was gray and colorless like the world around them. 

Slipping her fingers through the dark fur hanging from the wall, she closed her eyes and exhaled. It was the softest thing she’d ever felt. The furs in the den were a sign of status, but they were coarse in texture. This was like nothing she ever knew. Tears welled in her eyes and she leaned in, pressing her cheek against it. Her chest tightened and she held in a sob. What creature must this have been, she wondered, to wear something so beautiful 

Burying her face into it, she mourned for the beast even without knowing what it was, or if it was dangerous. 

“It came from a panther,” Delphi’s airy voice broke the moment causing Sybil to jolt, “They are extinct, now.” 

Sybil’s face crumpled and pinched, holding back more tears, “You killed it?” 

“No, no, child,” Delphi chuckled and shook his head, “You think I could do such a thing?” 

“Well, I …” she paused, a sense of shame rising to the surface in her cheeks, “I just see all the animals skinned and eaten.” 

“We must eat, yes?” 

“Yes, but …” 

“What makes one creature better than another?” 

Sybil’s jaw slackened as she attempted words, but she remained silent taking his in. He could tell he was making her work out her ideas with the presentation of a new one. This pleased him. 

“I did not kill the panther,” he said, walking toward the fur. His hand caressed the black hairs with affection, something sad creeping into his eyes, “It was my friend.” 

“Your friend? I don’t understand.” 

“I saved its life, it saved mine,” Delphi looked down at her and smiled, “And then we were friends.” 

“Then, how did your friend die” Sybil asked, letting her fingers tangle in the fur she was still stroking without realizing it. 

“Protecting me, one last time from the soldiers,” his eyes looked far away as he told the memory. Behind his glassy gaze, she could tell he was seeing it all over again, whatever happened, “I wanted to keep him near me always so I brought his fur back to my den.” 

He took in a deep breath and dropped his hand. 

“I did not want to wear it like some trophy, and I did not want to walk over it. So, here it sits on my wall near the fire to keep it warm, where we can both reminisce and talk.” 

Tears fell down Sybil’s cheeks. She only had one friend, and she died from sickness many years ago. It made her sad, the memories of her friends face seemed to fade more every day. 

“Will you sit with us, this evening?” 

Sybil blinked and looked at him. 

“Come,” he motioned to the campfire, “Let’s talk about Kobalos, and the mischief he caused.” 

A smile spread across her face and Delphi mirrored it with his own. She let out a quick laugh and so did he before sitting down and nodding with his head to the place opposite him. Sybil accepted the offer and sat down. There, they laughed and talked until the small hours of the night. When she could keep her eyes open no more, her mother appeared at the door with Crius for an escort. 

“I should take her for some sleep,” Dione said, her head lowered as she took a step forward.  

Delphi pulled his gaze away from Sybil who finally gave in to sleep and turned to Dione. 

“She still doesn’t know, does she?” 

Dione flicked her eyes up once to look upon her daughter, then back down to the floor again. 

“No, she does not.” 

Standing, Delphi gave the cue for Crius to leave. The deacon seemed lost in a moment of indecisiveness but bowed and exited the den. When he was gone, Delphi moved closer to Dione and lifted her chin with the tips of his fingers. When her eyes met his, he searched for answers in them. 

“Did I dishonor you in some way, Dione?” 

The suggestion itself pried her eyes open until they were wide with shock. 

“N-no,” she whispered firmly, “I did not want her to be raised with expectation or privilege.” 

“It’s hardly a privileged life we live,” he laughed. 

“You know what I mean, Delphi. The others can be cruel.” 

The corners of his eyes turned downward in sadness and he opened his mouth to debate but her finger pressed against them. 

“You cannot change hardened hearts, and you cannot manipulate human emotion of those who will not allow joy in their lives,” she sighed and leaned in, “we are a peaceful tribe, but it is a careful, delicate balance.” 

“Am I not allowed,” he began, pulling her finger from his lips and pressing his forehead to hers, “To experience some form of balance?” 

“You must lead men and women who know no concept of such a thing. Envy is a toxin we cannot afford.” 

Delphi could only nod his head to her wisdom. Her hand still cupped within his, he brought her palm to his lips and kissed it, then turned it toward herself to lay it on her chest. 

“I love only you, Dione,” his whisper hung between the two, “And I will honor your wishes but I will protect her with my life.” 

Dione’s shoulders dropped, giving in to his wishes. With a nod, she offered him one final smile before she pulled away and moved to her daughter. Sybil stirred as she was lifted into her mother’s strong, but wiry arms. Soon, Dione would not be able to hold her this way. Moving past the fire toward the doorway, she turned mouthing the words, “I love only you,” then exited. 

 

# # # 

 

The commotion from the adjoining den woke Sybil with a start. Two weeks had passed since the incident with the shadow-man and three more had gone missing. Nightmares filled her dreams. Lying there listening to the others voice their fears, she pulled the threadbare blanket up to her chin. They are scared, she thought, closing her eyes tight. Tears threatened to form behind her lids but she managed to push them back, opening them again. After a taking in a couple deep breaths, she slid upright and twisted her body so her legs hung over the side of her bed. As quiet as she could, she pushed forward setting her feet on the floor. She heard a noise near the door and stopped, lifting her gaze to seek the source of it. The chatter continued beyond, growing louder as moments passed. Walking her fingers toward her robe, she pulled it close and clung to it. She had no way of knowing whether it was night or day from where she was until she looked at the candle flickering on the table. It was burned down. Morning, her mind answered, and her stomach confirmed with a growl.  

Tugging the robe around her, she tied it place around her waist and stood. She used her toes to fish her shoes out from under the bed before pushing her feet inside, one at a time. Behind her, something stirred again making her shoulders tighten. Sybil spun on a heel and was confronted with Crius’ form standing inside the doorway. She dropped her hands to the knot in her belt and curled the end its fabric around her finger.  

“Why are you standing there,” Sybil asked, the confidence in her voice betrayed by a nervous fidget. Her finger curled into the end of the belt, looping it around the same finger, again. 

“I heard you stirring, I came to check on you,” he answered, letting his eyes drop to the opening of her robe crossing low on her chest in a “V”.  

“It’s customary to announce yourself before entering a room of opposite gender.” 

Crius’ smile was smug and he bowed in mockery. 

“Forgive me, madame,” he said, the words purring forth from his lips like a cat toying with its prey. Sybil’s heart fluttered a little faster with the extra dose of adrenaline pumping through her veins. Her nostrils widened, flaring at the corners, allowing more oxygen to enter her lungs and she felt her legs tremble.  

Don’t show him your weakness, she chided herself. Straightening her back, she looked away and turned to pick up the candle. Glancing at him over her shoulder, she forced a smirk. 

“I’m sure it won’t happen again,” she said in a warning tone, extending the candle forward to shed light on the room a bit more. She could see Crius did not move. Rolling her eyes, she willed her feet to move and stalked past him. The more distance she could put between them, the better she felt though she could still feel his eyes on her. Sybil couldn’t figure out what it was about him but she felt immediate danger whenever he cornered her in such a way-something which became a habit in the last few weeks. His guise of being her guardian was not convincing at all. Ulterior intention loomed behind his eyes, watching from the dark like the shadow-man. 

Putting Crius behind her, she padded into the next den. It was open and large enough to fit their entire tribe. Though no one spoke in loud tones, the combined whispers grew, sounding like the rush of a waterfall. Nothing distinct could be captured unless you were close enough, but unrest was evident in the tension suffocating the air all around. Their faces turned into one another, no one seemed to notice as she walked by. At the center of the den, Delphi sat in silence. He looked worn down and tired. Scratching at his beard, he looked up before pushing to his feet. The room went silent. Delphi held onto it, letting the absence of their whispers weigh down on them. It was deafening. 

“All of you have a right to complain, and all of you are right,” he began, “We are in danger.” 

The tribe continued their silence but many of them hung their head in shame, others due to hopelessness. Sybil had never witnessed this type of behavior from them, even when food was scarce.  

Sweeping his eyes across his people, the invisible connection pulling their attention from the floor to him once again, “We knew this time would come. Some have prepared for it their whole lives and passed it down to their children.” 

Eyes widened throughout the tribe, still fixed on their leader. 

“We must go to war,” he said, “It is time to end this, once and for all. For our sake, and for our children. We will not be afraid to sleep another night.” 

The crowd responded with the tapping of two fingers against their palm, a way of applauding without creating too much sound.  

“But remember,” Delphi said, calling back order, “War comes with death … theirs and ours.”  

Letting his warning dangle in the air, he turned and nodded to Iapetus. The deacon stepped in front of Delphi and the crowd parted, leading a path to where Sybil stood alone. She could feel her eyes still large and round from the shock of the word. War? She repeated over and over in her mind, Death? She was wringing her finger into the fabric of her belt again, lost in her own world when she heard Iapetus speak in a gentle tone into her ear, “Make way, Sybil.” 

His eyes were always soft and genuine, unlike Crius’. She swallowed a breath realizing she’d been holding it. All she could do was nod and step to the side in obedience, lowering her head as Delphi was lead past. 

 

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Serious About Writing

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Having done enough conventions and literary panels this year, I wanted to address the question I seem to get most often: How do I stay on track?

Many authors, especially those are who “new” to the craft, struggle with this but it is not exclusive to them. Veteran authors have this issue, too. So how do we stay on track? Stick around! I’ll break it down for you in a couple ways which have worked for me. These aren’t guarantees, nothing works for everyone. Take what works for you and discard what doesn’t.

Comment, share, and re-post if you found something helpful!

Exercise


Physical exercise works for a lot of people but what I’m talking about right now are mental exercises. You have to write often if you’re to get acquainted with the process of writing. Oh yes, there is a process.

The writing process is complex and intricate. You have a singular idea and you must tell it in such a way your readers are able to follow. The trick-no, the skill, is to not allow your reader to be removed from the story. It involves having engaging characters who they can relate to in some way, rhythmic flow and cadence, and making every word count.

Dedication


Work ethic is imperative to becoming a serious writer. Deadlines can be crippling to some authors, and some are invigorated by them. Either way, deadlines are a real thing and a part of writing, like it or not. If you’re writing for “fun” deadlines don’t figure into the equation.

Depending on how long your story is, dedication is required to get through an entire length of story. Day in and day out, you must spend time with the characters you brought to life. It’s a relationship which doesn’t end until the story does.

A writer’s dedication is test when they go through the editing process. You may think you’re done when you type “The End” but the end is only the beginning. Refining your words is the crux of many authors who put in the time, only to go through it all over again. Repeatedly.

The biggest challenge to dedication is your own resolve. Are you committed to this? Yes? Ok, great! Now the real work begins.

Critique/Mentoring


Though these are two different things, I put them together because you must go through at least one (both preferably) to earn your quill. No one shits out gold. Everyone requires editing and critique of some form.

We know what the story is from our perspective. Now, we need to know what others get out of it. This does not mean you must write to appease everyone. If you try, you’ve failed before you’ve put a single word down. What I mean is you must understand how your words form images in other people’s minds. If you have to explain it to your mentor/critique person, you’ll more than likely have to explain it to the readers. This is my mantra and you should also take it into consideration. It’s always better to have several eyes on the story.

Read Your Work Aloud


This is an important skill to learn.

Why? Because

  1. if you’re looking to get published, you’ll face live readings.
  2. it helps you connect the words you write with the flow of natural speaking/cadence/flow

If it doesn’t sound right to you, it most likely does not sound right to readers. I think this is pretty cut and dry.

Having a timeline or outline helps, too.  More in the next post about that.

Read all the time. Read Everything.


Reading works of other authors is non-negotiable. Pull from what you read and learn from it. What works? What doesn’t? What did you love? What did you not like? How can you do better?

Some authors use the excuse, “I don’t want to be influenced by what I’ve read.”

If you’re writing fiction, read non-fiction and vice versa. There’s a way around the “influence” card. Read a shampoo bottle, read up on marketing, check out a book on “How to write” in your own genre.

And oh yeah, last but not least …

Stop Making Excuses


Write every single day. It can be 50 words, it can be 1000 words. Don’t let anyone tell you what your own goal is unless they suggest you aim to be better than you were yesterday.

Excuses are road blocks you set up for yourself. Without them you can accomplish anything.

Blood and Champagne

I’m going to try something different. I want this to be an ongoing story you get only here on my site. Keep in mind, it is pre-editor status. (What do you think you get for free! :D)

Once a week, I will post a new addition to the story. If you enjoy it, please leave a comment, share, and subscribe.

As always, everything included on my blog and posts are © Lisa Vasquez and may not be reposted or used anywhere without my written consent. 

 

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(All credit and rights  for this image belong to Drew Posada)

 


Blood and Champagne

by

Lisa Vasquez

Pleasure Principle
The sound of her breath caught up with the tempo of her heart rate. In out, in out, in-out-in-out. Closing her eyes, Fay allowed her head to fall back into the rapturous abyss, its arms around her like a lost lover. The night was black. No moonlight due to the clouds of the incoming midnight storm. It was like falling in love. Fingers splayed, the sticky fluid ran slow and freely down her arms and she let out a slow exhale like an orgasm rising from deep in her womb, up through her lungs and finally escaping from between her lips. Staring up at the blanket of space, starless and silent, tears of ecstasy fell from the corners of her eyes. A release of all the rage finally melted away until she was quivering like a virgin on prom night. This … she whispered to the voices chattering deep in her mind, mmm, this.

There were no words to describe the feeling. So she closed her eyes again and leaned forward against the cooling body of the man beside her. His eyes stared back at her, pupils dilated into large black dots against a backdrop of blue. She needed to touch him again and lifted her hand to do so. Tracing his jawline, she smiled as the rough stubble from his five o’clock shadow brushed against her fingertips. His lips were soft and full, still wet from the kisses he trailed along her neck. When her thumb brushed over his mouth, it opened, and he let out a breath, jagged and shuddering. He tried to speak but it was nothing more than a croak.

“Shh,” Fay whispered, leaning in to speak the words against his mouth, “Don’t speak. Just feel.

Sliding her hand over his chin, she pressed against it, so her tongue could easily push inside. With a low moan she trailed her hand further down his chiseled body, hard from years of dedicated military training, and finding the trail of soft hair over his naval, she continued until she found it. It was hard and stiff against her palm. Still wet from when she left it. Tightening her fingers around its girth, she pulled slowly, and he moaned deep into her mouth. Fay hissed in pleasure, pausing to savor the moment until she could hold back no longer. Adjusting her grip once more to ensure her hand wouldn’t slip, she gave a thrust and sent the hilt of the hunting knife straight back into the gaping wound it came from, forcing more blood to gush over her fingers.

The man’s body spasmed and his eyes widened with a sudden influx of life, pulling him back from the grasp of death. He still had a little fight left in him, after all. The excitement coursed through Fay’s body, tingling across her skin underneath the leather bodysuit, and her temperature rose most notably between her legs. She had wrapped them around one of his, the one jerking and trying to kick at her. Flexing the muscles between her thighs, she held onto him. His limbs tangled between hers; in her mind she transformed into an anaconda, gripping so hard he could feel his bones ache just before his knee popped. Before he could scream, Fay eyes stared into his and she gripped his tongue with her teeth, pulling until the muscle was stretched into a thin, rubbery band. Her date for the evening struggled with a renewed, fight or flight vigor, in an attempt to survive. Throwing her head to the side with a rough tug, the man’s tongue snapped and wiggled in her mouth, slippery with blood and intermingled spit. Fay released the hold she had on the man, shoving him onto his back as she rose to her feet like a steam from the earth. Tipping her head back once more, she let the piece of flesh slide down her throat with a thick swallow and tuned out his waning, gurgled screams.

With her arms outstretched, she let the cool night air rush over her, blowing her hair back from her bloodstained face and announced to the world, “This is who I am.”

I am, she declared to black sky, the voices in her head clamored with excitement, Everything you want to be, and more.

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Blood and Champagne

She walked by and the heads of every red-blooded male turned. Toxic, with her blonde hair loose like strands of fine silk and a body that would make angels weep. I kept thinking to myself how I’d like to die and come back as leather the way it clung to her hips then melting down to firm thighs all the way down her calves. She was dangerous; we all knew it. It’d be safer to try your luck kissing a pit viper than touching those red velvet lips.

She stopped to look into the glass window of the café. Her reflection was a cold mirror of the woman staring in. It all happened in slow motion yet faster than my small mind could register. Her small hand rose up to remove the dark shades that sat high on the bridge of her nose revealing the most feral blue eyes the world had ever seen. I mean, I was literally hypnotized from where I was sitting, and I was at least 40 feet from them.

I heard the screams before I could tear my eyes away from them. Glass fell like rain around her, the lights shimmering off the pieces like diamonds in the light and all I kept thinking was, “champagne “.

Time caught up with me and I ducked low with the rest of the crowd. Shots were fired and the screeching of the cars along the street drug me kicking and screaming from my reverie back to reality. The bullets came from the inside; seems I wasn’t the only one that noticed she was there. The woman barely flinched as they skimmed by her head and then, like a cat, she leaped up onto the cafe’s front window display case. She walked through the lead fire toward this fat man in the back who was scrambling toward the kitchen on his stomach, sliding in the blood all over the floor.

Her boots sounded like thunder hitting the floor in sure, steady steps. I watched as she moved like a dancer; elbow to the tall man’s groin, dropping him easily and slamming his nose into her knee. The blood exploded all over her leather and her hands left his twitching form with a soft caress along his jawline. She moved through them like nothing. The next man’s wrist was snatched from the air as it came toward her. A sick “pop” and it was dislocated before her foot thrust like a speeding car into his chest.

My heart raced and I stumbled forward as I tried to keep my eyes on her but every movement was a blur. The more men that came at her, the harder she put them down. A small Asian man came out of the back, hair slicked back like a cliché, pretty-boy gangster and almost shot her. She jumped onto the counter then slammed his face down on the bar with the force of her body when it fell into a crouch. Another spray of blood stained her face, mimicking the lash of a whip across her cheek. Her hand rose again to wipe it off then stopped, suspended in air as if time froze. Her eyes caught mine.

I felt like a deer in the headlights.

“My God, ” I thought, “She’s going to kill me”.

She smiled at me instead, then disappeared into the kitchen. I sat there stupefied among the chorus of the fat man’s horrific cries.

I heard him die.

I heard every plunge of her knife into his body. The wet slap of blood against the walls. It was gruesome and all at once…

It was beautiful

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Standing there, soaked in blood, Fay trailed her eyes along the body count until they reached the man shivering in his own piss behind the bar. Feral blues locked onto his like a machine zoning in, assessing him for threat levels. She’d already decided he was as harmful as a piece of lint before she turned and closed the distance between them.

“What did you see?” she asked when she was looking down at him. Blood was sliding down the leather and he could smell the scent of both filling his lungs.

“W-what?” he stammered, “I-I didn’t see shit!”

A blast of pain sent his world into an explosion of fireworks behind his eyes. What the fuck was that? he asked himself before her voice interrupted.

“No, you pathetic waste of flesh,” crouching in front of him, Fay’s eyes narrowed in warning, “I want you to recount what you saw happen here. Do you understand what I am saying?”

The coward stared at her in disbelief. Snatching his chin in her gloved hand she squeezed until the pain registered in his mind, dragging him out of shock.

“I ..” he gulped and closed his eyes. This was going to go one of two ways. Either he recounted it, verbatim, or he played stupid. He had a fifty-fifty chance of coming out alive if he failed, “Saw a blonde woman murder everyone.”

When he recounted the event he was witness to, Fay released her grip and shoved her palm against his face. The strength of her push sent him on his back, and he could feel the shards of glass bite through his shirt like tiny teeth. He was belly up, with his legs spread open, like a submissive dog. The smell of fear in his urine was pungent, mixing with the bullets of sweat soaking the pits of his shirt. Fay’s nose scrunched, and she looked to the door.

“Make sure they get the message, or I’m coming back to finish my work.”

The coward nodded and watched as she exited the bar. Sobbing, he rolled over to his knees and whimpered as new glass found its way into his skin. When he finally made it to his feet, he stumbled to the old phone near the cash register. His bloody, swollen hand, trembling from pain and adrenaline, picked up the receiver and he dialed. A voice came on the other end.

“What, now?”

It was the assistant.

The coward recanted the tale then listened to a long silence before the phone line went dead.

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She Walks Among Shadows

The office was dark, lit only by torches leaning out from their sconces on the brick wall. The assistant turned and faced the woman behind the desk whose facial features were concealed by shadows.

“It appears, Mistress, your plan worked.”

“Make the arrangements,” her voice was soft, echoing through the compound walls, “We’ll leave tonight.”

The assistant bowed his head and exited. When the door closed behind him, Ophelia lifted the cup of tea sitting before her and held it in both hands under her chin. The warmth of the steam caressing her face, she opened her eyes. On the desk, a dagger lay in its sheath. At any given time, the woman had an arsenal of weapons on her-but this weapon was reserved for one purpose. The death strike.

Taking a sip of her tea, Ophelia let the warm liquid relax her. She set the cup beside the dagger on the desk, then stood. This plan was in the making for years. Careful, pain-staking details put together for this one moment; She was coming. The thought of plunging the knife into her heart is what lulled this woman to bed every night and woke her in the morning. Revenge became her heart, pumping its toxic venom into her bloodstream for over ten years. Tonight, she thought, staring down at her weapon, it will bleed all over this bitch.

When the assistant knocked on the door, Ophelia slid her dagger into the harness at her lower back. She made her way through the shadows with silent footfalls and opened the door. With a final look over her shoulder at her office, she reached out for the handle and opened it.

“Transportation is waiting.”

“You have all the paperwork in case I do not come back?”

“Yes, Mistress,” he assured her, his eyes not daring to look up.

“And you sent messenger to deliver the invitation?”

“Yes, as per your original instructions,” he nodded, “In the event the woman were to reach Underboss Benitzi, a messenger should be dispatched with a black envelope to be found in the safe. He should find her, hand deliver it to the woman, then wait for further instructions.”

Ophelia waited.

“The messenger has been eliminated.”

“Excellent. Let’s go meet our esteemed guest,” Ophelia said, sliding her gloves from her belt. Pushing her fingers into place, she led them down the hall in the direction of the car. Exiting from the fortress set high in the mountains, the assistant stepped ahead to open her door. Ophelia slid into the backseat and waited. Once the assistant closed her door, she gave the driver the address to the meeting place.

The sleek, black car made the winding descent toward the base of the mountain for several minutes until Ophelia lowered the window. The scent of the fresh, pine-infused air rushed in against her face as she lifted her eyes back toward the peak, foreshadowing the night sky. As if on command, the fortress exploded. A mushroom tipping a pyre of bright red and yellow roared into the horizon, swallowing her hideaway, and the assistant, into its infernal belly.

Related image

The Messenger

Standing in the shower, Fay let the scalding water wash over her body until the water pooling around her feet was dark with blood. She closed her eyes and savored the pricking, needle-like pain against her skin, and face. With her arms crossed in front of her, between her breasts, she pushed her hands up along her face and through her hair. The bitch wasn’t there, she thought, clenching her teeth until her jaw squared, I will not stop until she pays for what she did.

Opening her eyes, Fay looked down and traced her fingers over the star-shaped scar over her heart. A constant reminder of the day she nearly died at the woman’s hand, only to wake up and learn her sister had not been so lucky. The tension in her neck returned, making her head throb. Not even the heat of the shower would work this time. Letting out a sharp exhale, she felt the pain ride down the nerves, through each vertebra, until it spread through her hands. Opening her fingers, she fought against the trembling in otherwise steady hands.

Closing her eyes, again, she took in deep, meditative breaths through her nose. Using the muscles in her stomach to blow them out in attempt to subside the pain took years of practice. Even now, it wasn’t easy.

When the pain became tolerable, she grabbed the soap and finished washing the bits of brain and flesh off, using her thumbnail to dig under the nail beds. She was still shivering when she slid into her robe and exited the shower but at least the pain went back into its dark hole.

I need to … the knock at the door put her at high alert. When she spun, she could hear the plastic she’d used to line the bathroom, rustle. No one knows I’m here. I made sure I wasn’t followed.

Fay already had her dagger in hand when she moved toward the sound of the second, soft tap against the door. Her grip on the weapon’s hilt tightened, and she leaned forward to look through the peephole. Standing outside was a man in black fatigues, holding a black envelope below his chin where she could see. One word was handwritten in gold leaf lettering.

“Fay”

Smirking, Fay unlocked the door and stood back, allowing the man to enter. She closed the door behind him, not bothering to close her robe and reached out for the envelope. Letting her eyes scan it, she couldn’t help but chuckle at its final words.

I’m sure you’re aware of the baggage which comes with leaving witnesses. The messenger is disposable. I trust you will not be late for the rendezvous I have scheduled for us. Let’s end this, once and for all.

From the shadows,
~O~

Whiskey Bullet (unedited)

Another short story, unedited, for fun.

whiskey-october07

WHISKEY BULLET BY LISA VASQUEZ

© Lisa Vasquez

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or distributed, without the prior written permission 


Saturday: Guys Night
“Get your ass in gear, Chad. We’re leaving in ten minutes,” Mark yelled up to a window facing the drive. He was standing at the rear of his old Mustang where he’d hidden a stash of beer. The inside leather was always sticky and smelled like a locker room, but it was a vehicle. What that meant was Mark got to boss them around because we all kissed his ass. It didn’t matter how beat up his car looked on the outside, or that the ripped leather on the inside was peeling away to reveal the foam of the inner cushions. In the hierarchy of teenage boy priorities, Mark was the only one with a vehicle.
Growing impatient, he mashed his hand down on the horn and leaned into it, “Let’s go ladies!”
The three of them – Mark, Chad and John — had been planning this trip since the beginning of their senior year. It was supposed to be their coming of age vacation. Coming from a small town like theirs, crossing the country line to the city was about all the excitement they’d ever had. So, when Chad’s older brother sent him a text about a bar past the California border into Mexico where the women were as cheap as the beer and there was no I.D. check, the three of them began to save up every penny.
“I’m coming!” Chad shouted down to him from his bedroom window. He didn’t know the first thing about packing. He stood there, glancing around his room where his clothes were scattered and sighed. His mother was right, it did look like a cyclone hit it. Grabbing a pair of boxers off the floor, he brought them to his nose and took a whiff.
“Clean enough.”
“You pack like a girl,” John smirked as he walked in, “I need to take a piss.”
Chad gave his friend the bird and shoved the semi-clean boxers into his bag. He had his toothbrush, a bar of soap, 5 pairs of boxers, a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of jeans. He was going through the mental checklist of things he wanted to bring with but Mark was shouting and blaring the horn out front.
“Damnit, Mark! You’re gonna get me grounded before I can leave the house!”
The toilet flushed behind him and John snagged his duffle bag off the edge of the bed, “Shotgun.”
“What? No!” Kicking the frame of his bed, Chad let out a frustrated growl. He hated riding in the back, it made him carsick. Especially when John and Mark started smoking. Brushing his fingers through his hair, he stared at the floor. Was it worth the stress? Fuck it, he thought.
Grabbing his bag from off his mattress, he flew down the stairs yelling goodbye to his mother who was still on the phone with her cousin down the street. Giving a wave of her hand, she turned and went back into the house. Chad slammed his bag onto the mattress.
“Sorry, slowpoke.” Mark teased.
The three of them gathered around the trunk and cracked open a few beers watching the sun begin to set over the flat horizon of their small Illinois town.
“To senior trips.” They said in unison, then gulped down the piss-water in a can.
The trip was mapped out throughout their fifth period study hall. Mark’s older brother had written to him about a bar he once visited in the middle of nowhere, Mexico. The women were cheaper than the beer, according to what the letter said.
Mark had was born and raised on farm at the edge of town. No one in his family had ever gone anywhere except Mark’s brother Jack who joined the army to get out of the small town life. Mark and his family hadn’t even pulled in enough money in profits from the year’s crops to go see his brother graduate from boot camp. Instead, they waited for weekly phone calls that eventually turned into monthly postcards.
The last post card was addressed only to Mark, telling him of the bar and enticing him to come out after senior year.
It didn’t take much persuading.
“You think we’ll … you know, get lucky?” John asked with a boyish grin sneaking a look into the backseat.
Chad’s face flushed, matching the color of his hair.
“For sure, dude. Chad might even get to watch!”
The two guys laughed before Chad threw a bag of chips at them.
“Oh seriously, I didn’t realize I was traveling with a troupe of comedians.”
John and Mark snickered and focused back on the road ahead of them. The windows were rolled down and the music was shaking the seats. Life was pretty darn good.

***

Sunday: Land of the Lost
“Uh…” Chad stuttered trying to remember the words, “Donde… donde estoy…”
The man with the brown skin stared at him without expression.
“C’mon Chad, for real? Four years of Spanish?”
“Shut up! I’m frickin Irish. I can’t dance. I drink like a fish. I can’t speak Spanish,” He sighed and went back to addressing the stoic face in front of him, “La…la… Shoot. Do you understand anything I’m sayin?”
The man took in a slow deep breath and when he spoke, it sounded as if he’d been drinking sand instead of whatever it was in the Styrofoam cup. The cup looked to be as old as Mark’s car.
“If I spoke Spanish, I still wouldn’t know what you were saying,” the old man said, “I’m Indian.”
Mark and John exploded into laughter from behind and Chad lifted his middle finger without looking back.
“Great. That’s awesome. Dude, can you please tell me where this highway is?” He pointed to the map and the Indian man chuckled.“You past it.”
“Past it? What? Where?”
“About 200 miles ago.”
The guys all groaned and John kicked the tire in frustration.
“I thought you said you could read a map, John!” Mark said with a shove to his shoulder.
Mark shoved him back and the two began to scuffle. Chad sighed and threw up his arms. His whole life had been watching these two work things out like this. Walking past them, Chad wandered into the old store. He ducked below the wind chimes used as a doorbell to alert the clerk who was nowhere to be found to customers coming in.
The air was hot and dry, he was sticky and irritated, and he wasn’t in the mood to deal with the two idiots rolling around swinging punches at one another. He decided to take his time and browse the shelves for something with an expiration date in the current decade. When it seemed his luck was running thin, he found his favorite candy bar and it looked brand new. Well, it had the least amount of dust on it. Chad snatched it from the shelf and headed toward the coolers when he slid on something and hit the floor.
“What the…!” he shouted.
He tried to turn to his side and get up but whatever it was he was swimming in made him look like a fish out of water.
The door shoved open and Mark was slapping dust and dirt off his clothing, “Yo, Jackass! What’s the hold up.”
Chad was still on the floor grunting and sliding trying to regain his footing when Mark came around the aisle, “Dude? What did you…”
Chad looked up at him. From the corner where he stood the shadows made it seem like he was in pitch darkness. The whole store was full of shadows and the walls were yellow from the nicotine stained fluorescent lights, and paper covered windows. Staring at one another in silence, it dawned on them that there was an awful stench, like rotten meat, coming from the back room.
“I swear to God that better not be shit I fell into,” Chad said bringing his hand up to sniff it but the look on Mark’s face caused him to freeze before bringing it to his face, “What?”
Chad finally stood up and attempted to step past him when the light above them flickered off, then on again. He looked down and could was able to make out the brownish-red stickiness that coated his arms and shirt.
“Mark?”
Mark was already heading toward the front of the store, knocking a rack of stale chips down with Chad close behind. When the two reached the car John was still trying to make sense of the map. He had a cigarette dangling from his lips, dropping it on the center when Chad threw open the door and fell against him.
“Asshat!”
“Start the car!”
“That was my last ciga—“
Mark was on top of them and slamming the door when John realized that Chad was covered in old blood and the color in both of his friends’ faces were drained.
“Drive the fuckin’ car, John!” Mark screamed.
John swatted the cigarette off his lap and threw the car into drive, peeling out of the parking lot.

***

Monday: Highway to Hell
“Turn left.” Mark said.
“No, it’s a right.” Chad argued.
“Jesus, I can’t wait to be out of the car with you two. This better be worth it. And there better be a place to shower you stink like ass-maggots, Chad!”
“Just turn right!” Chad yelled, shoving his back against the seat even further.
He thought better of it once he felt the slimy way the shirt slid across his skin. His stomach churned and made a gurgling noise letting him know it was time to find a bathroom. Soon.
It was late and the heat of the desert was getting to them. The air was dry and they were all tired, drunk and probably a little high. Out of nowhere, a buzzing sign emblazoned against the dark sky like a neon sun flashed “MOTEL” … Okay, it was missing letters and said “O – EL”. It didn’t matter. The fact that it was in the middle of nowhere, had one truck parked in the back and looked like it was from another decade didn’t matter, either. All they cared about was getting out of the car. A warm shower and a clean bed was also a nice bonus.
Mark was the first one out of the Mustang, pushing the squeaky door open with an exaggerated groan. He stretched his legs out one at a time until the impatient Chad helped him the rest of the way with a shove.
“Jesus, assmaggot!”
Great. The nickname stuck. Like his shirt.
“Whatever.”
Chad couldn’t wait to get into the shower, now. His shirt was clinging … no, it was crawling along his skin and he wanted it off. He could smell his own armpits. He was pretty sure his shoes had somehow grown attached to his feet and he didn’t want to think about what he’d contracted from the blood on the floor in the convenience store in the gas station the booked out of.
“Not that this place looks any better.” He whispered to himself and stared at the glass door.
Something ran cold inside of him but he ignored it. His grandfather always told him to listen to his inner voice but tonight he had two voices. One was telling him not to go in. The other telling him to take a shower. The one telling him to take a shower was screaming so it won and he shoved the door open and walked up to the front desk. The waiting room smelled of stale cigarettes and pine cleaner.
“Hey, there.”
The guy behind the counter was wearing a yellowed t-shirt that once upon a time was white and a pair of polyester brown shorts. My night just keeps getting better, Chad thought to himself.
“Hellooo.” Chad said again when the man didn’t answer and followed with a ding to the desktop bell.
The clerk turned and Chad almost took a step back. He had one good eye behind the thick lenses of his glasses and the other was almost completely white. Because the lenses were so thick it enhanced the creep factor ten-fold and made Chad’s flesh crawl and his throat constrict.
“The Hell you wun’t Townie?” the clerk barked.
“A r-room, please.” Chad stammered.
“Cash only,” he said before leaning over and using his one good eye to gaze past Chad to the parking lot at Mark and John wrestling outside of the Mustang, “Y’all into that boy n’ boy shit?”
“What?” Chad’s eyes grew large with surprise and the color drained from his face, “No, sir!”
“We don’t have none of that stuff goin’s on here, ya’hear me!”
The clerk was shouting at Chad and leaning over the counter pointing his nicotine stained finger at his face. He was so wired up about what he perceived as foreplay by the horsing around outside that his bushy brows rose back on his forehead forcing his creepy eyes to bulge and his toothless mouth to flap spitting whatever mush was in his bowl at Chad’s already abused shirt.
Chad’s Irish blood was boiling. He was trying with all his might to keep his calm but the color that left his face earlier was returning to his cheeks.
“Sir! Can I have my dang room?” Chad slapped his money on the counter and then shoved back from the counter.
The old clerk stopped ranting and looked down at the money and slid it off the counter, shoving it into his pocket. He pulled a key off the peg board behind him and placed it on the counter.
“Check out is at 11. Don’t be late.”
Chad stepped forward, snatched the key off the counter and left muttering under his breath as he stomped down the walkway watching the doors and the numbers in the front of them. He didn’t bother calling after the knuckleheads still playing around in the front. He was done playing babysitter for one night. This was turning into a disaster and for once, he missed that stupid town and his stupid bed he’d had since he was ten.
“Hey! Wait up!”
He was always waiting up. He was done. He was going to shower. Get some rest. Then in the morning he was going to pull out the map. He was going to find that stupid bar, have some drinks, and find him a hot woman. For once, he was going to have something go right.
Chad stopped in front of the door that said Room 1301. This was it. He put the key in the door, and went in.
The smell hit him first. What the Hell is it with the smells in this town? He thought to himself. He was so tired, he almost didn’t care but just to be sure there wasn’t some dead animal or bird locked in the room he flicked on the light.
Nothing.
From behind Tweedle-Dumb and Tweedle-Idiot tumbled in almost knocking him over, “Oh my God, dude. Ugh!”
“Did you dust the room?”
“Shut up.” Chad said, dropping his duffle bag and walking toward the bathroom.
The two shrugged and snickered, flopping into the chairs by the table that sat next to the window. Mark turned on the television and tossed a can of beer to John.
Chad turned on the shower and looked in the mirror. He was filthy. Whatever he slipped in at the convenience store was dry and crusted all over his hair, his back and his shirt. His arms were coated in it, his jeans, his shoes and he smelled. It reminded him of the year that his old Frigidaire went out just after winter and the meat they had stored up went bad. The blood was jelly and stunk the whole barn up. His dad forced him to go out there with him and Grandpop to clean up the mess and he complained until he saw the maggots. He threw up until he thought his shoes were going to come up through his butthole through his nose.
He thought he would never forget that smell but he must have until today.
Chad could feel his hands shaking and his lips trembling. He closed his eyes and he tried to drown out the laughter of his friends out in the other room. It amazed him that something as simple as a road trip changed the dynamics of a friendship. Morons, he thought with a sigh.
Reaching out with a hand, he turned on the cold water and began to wash the muck that was caked on his face. The cool water felt good against the heat beneath his skin. The sudden urge to get clean was overwhelming and he grabbed the soap and lathered up even using his nails to scratch at the scales of whatever was still clinging to him when he heard a thump.
“Damn, guys, you’re gonna get us kicked out! Keep it down!”
Chad lowered his head and washed the water off but soap got into his eye and began to burn.
“Ow, dang it!”
He reached out for the towel that was hanging next to the sink and pressed it against his face, then sat down on the toilet while the pain subsided. There was more thumping from the other room and Chad squinted enough to get an eye on the door, kicking it closed out of frustration. I just want a shower, he thought, If I get a shower, I’ll be me again.
He tossed the towel onto the sink and turned on the shower then peeled off the clothes and tossed them into the corner. His socks were soaked all the way through. As he sat waiting for the water to warm up, he stared at his shoes and sighed. He’d have to buy new ones before going anywhere tomorrow night.
The water on his hand grew nice and warm and he turned into the shower, letting the water fall over his body. Chad’s forehead pressed against the tile in front of him. He was mentally and physically exhausted from this trip. He hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours. His brain felt like it was floating in a fish bowl. He closed his eyes to enjoy the moment and came close to falling asleep standing up. If it weren’t for feeling his forehead sliding down the tile he would’ve ended up in an embarrassing situation.
Chuckling to himself, Chad pressed his palms against the wall and looked down at his feet when he noticed the water was a dark red and something was floating up from the drain.
“What the –!”
He kicked his feet and stepped back, pulling the shower curtain and rod down in a loud crash as he slipped. Tangled up in the plastic, he could feel that whatever was in the tub with him was hair and was wrapping around his leg now.
“Oh God, what ….what is that?” He yelled, still sliding and struggling to break free of the shower curtain.
“Mark! …Jesus…JOHN! Jeeesus!”
He managed to unravel the curtain and backstep far enough away from the “thing” in the drain when he heard the knocking on the door.
“Hello!” it said, “Are you alright?”
It was a female voice.
Chad was trembling as he pulled the towel around him and went to the door. He pulled it open and looked at the woman standing there. She was tiny, about 5 feet 5 inches tall, if that. She had dark hair and eyes that were a strange reddish brown color.
“You were makin’ a lot of noise. Are you okay in there?”
“Yes, sorry. I …there was something in the drain.” Chad said, trying not to sound like an idiot. It wasn’t working too well.
The girl’s face changed. Her brows went from a thin, tightly knitted brow of annoyance to a softer more appreciative gaze. She was drinking in his half nude, freshly soaked body wrapped in a white hotel towel. It didn’t leave much to the imagination. And one didn’t need much of one because the towel was also very thin and worn.
Suddenly growing very bashful, Chad closed the door in front of him a bit more to try and conceal himself. The girl found this amusing.
“So’s there’s this bar up the road we go to all the time. It ain’t much but y’know it’s the local waterin’ hole. Sometimes the jukebox works and sometimes when Billy ain’t too drunk he might play a lil somethin’ live.” She smiled wide and hopeful, “Think you might wanna come out?”
“A bar?”
He wanted to laugh like a madman. They were right there? Really?
“Well, yeah let me ask my friends if they…”
He turned to ask Mark and John and realized he was the only one there. Sonova…
“Ahh…Looks like they found it already.”
She smiled and looked like that green-fellowed character from the Dr. Seuss books.
“Meet’ya up there in a bit?”
“Sure. Just gotta put some clothes on.”
The girl let her eyes roam over his body again and then met his gaze again.
“Don’t forget. Down the road. That way.” She pointed, then waved with a little bounce in her step before she sashayed off.
Chad closed the door then cursed under his breath. Figures! Idiots left me here and didn’t say a word. Always doing dumb things, and I have to clean up the mess. Now, I have to go find them and walk down a dark road in the heat…
He stopped, took a breath and tried to get a grip. Sleep deprivation was getting to him again and he had to try and keep himself together. He forgot about the “creature” in the tub for a moment until he had looked up to find his comb.
“Well now I know what that smell was. Sorta.”
He tiptoed toward the bathroom and reached as far as he could without actually stepping in again and snatched the comb off the sink, then knelt on the ground and grabbed his shoes. They were still filthy so he used his towel to clean them as much as he could.
A quick glance in the mirror and he shrugged. It was good enough.

***

This Ain’t No Disco

The old saloon…yes saloon, not bar… looked abandoned from a mile away. Shutters hung from hinges, rusted out many years ago. There was a dirty hound flopped lazily outside and two guys that looked like the bonafide Bartles and James perched outside the door.
A faded sign swung back and forth. The weight of it against the rusted chains sang out in protest. “Whiskey And Bullets Saloon” was spelled out in faded old western lettering. What once appeared to be a local favorite, was now a ghost of its former self …. until the sun went down.
Chad’s legs were screamed in protest from the long walk but he was determined not to let his friends have fun while he took all the abuse on this trip. The music was live tonight. Just like the girl told him. Whoever Billy was, must not have been too drunk. Good, that meant more for him. Ignoring the blisters on his feet, he gave Bartles and James a nod and went in.
The stench of stale beer and smoke assaulted his senses and he laughed. It’s the best thing I’ve smelled so far.
He walked through the empty tables and squinted, trying to see in the dark. There was a pole and a strobe light that was making his tired eyes hard to keep open and even harder to keep focused as he searched for Mark and John. The amplifier was old and the humidity had gotten into it because it was scratchy and buzzing, making the music loud and distorted. In turn it made his brain feel like it was being put through shock treatment.
“This better be worth it.”
Stumbling past a few more chairs, he found a door that led to a back room, Chad held the heel of his palm to his head and decided he needed just a min to collect himself. Hoping it was quiet in there, he took a chance and went in. The good news was that there was no strobe light. The bad news was that it was much darker. There was a red light somewhere in the corner but the flashing light from the other room was still reverberating on the back of his lids.
He tried to squeeze his eyes shut for a few seconds to adjust them to the light but opening them was so much harder. After a few moments, he finally gave in.
“Just a few minutes…”
He wasn’t sure how long he was out before the sound of the shotgun went off the first time. Screaming pulled him from the depths of the unconsciousness like coming up from deep waters in the night. He had no sense of direction, no sense of where he was, and was out of his element.
With his heart pounding, he fell to the ground and sought whatever shelter he could.
Okay, Okay…where am I. he thought. This was just like when he was younger. He’d had night terrors since he was five. Sometimes he’d wake up in the next room. Sometimes he’d wake up outside. It was more frightening when he was out of the house or in the neighbor’s cornfield. As he got older, he’d learned to look to the sky and navigate which direction his house was. Tonight, the sky wasn’t there. Only blackness.
Close your eyes and listen.
More screaming. The screaming was coming from the below him. Below him?
“Help! Please! Someone help us!”
Jesus, that was Mark!
“Shut up, Townie.” A woman slurred.
There was a groan. A muffled groan and something else…something wet. Gurgling. The woman was humming now.
“Help! God, I know you hear us up there! Help me!”
“They ain’t gonna help you, idiot.” She said.
Mark began to scream again and another explosion of the shotgun went off. Chad was hiding under a dusty couch with his ear pressed to the wood floor and the force of its percussion made his ear ring with pain. For a moment he was deaf and couldn’t hear anything.
When the sound came rushing back, he could hear the footsteps coming up the stairs leading from the cellar to the room he was in. He tried to make himself as small as he could by curling into a fetal position under the dust ruffle. Even in the darkness, he was afraid of being spotted. When the woman came into the room, she was unsteady on her feet, he could make out the way her boots slid and scuffed with each step, and she drug the muzzle of the shotgun behind her.
“Ella!” She shouted, “I thought you told that other one to come, too!”
“I did!” the other girl screeched back from upstairs somewhere.
Ella must have been the dark haired girl that came to the door at the hotel. Chad was starting to put it all together as he lie there on the floor. He could feel his teeth start to chatter, so he tried to clench his jaw tighter to control it.
When the woman who was in the room came into his line of sight, Chad realized his eyes had adjusted to the darkness and the red light was coming from a lantern hanging outside. There were spaces in the planks wide enough to see in… and out. This wasn’t looking too good for him making a stealthy escape.
He looked back at the woman, trying to see where she was and saw her come around the bar. In one hand was a bottle of whiskey, and in the other was her shotgun. She had on a black, leather vest and a pair of chaps. Chad’s brows drew closer together and he squinted. Is she wearing pants underneath her chaps? What the Hell?
She was bare-ass naked, and drunk as a skunk. How did his friends get taken by this woman? She was even holding the gun upside down!
When the woman got to the door, she let out a soft curse and looked down at her bottle and the gun and seemed truly at a crossroad. Did she put down the bottle, or her weapon to open the door? Without skipping a beat, she stuck the gun between her thighs, squeezing them together to hold it in place, then pulled on the handle of the door.
To her dismay it didn’t open.
“Ellie!” she shouted up at the ceiling, again.
“What, Whiskey!”
“You locked me in again, bitch!”
The woman called “Whiskey” now tugged and pulled on the door in such a fury that her rear end jumped and twitched and her blonde hair flailed over her shoulders like a wild thing caught in a cage. She pulled so hard that she stumbled back and gave it a clumsy kick to which it opened in the correct direction.
Chad had seen enough of this and finally stood up in a slow, fluid motion from under the couch. This bitch was dumb, slow and drunk. His friends weren’t much higher on the food chain but he was getting out of here, and doing it in one piece. He tip-toed across the wood floor, careful of the loose boards like his old farmhouse and was so close behind her he could smell that high proof alcohol permeating from her skin. He crossed his arm and was about to backhand her when she turned in slow motion.
When she turned in his direction, he thought his world was turning in another. His own mind couldn’t comprehend what the fuck he was looking at. She was laughing at him. But it wasn’t her face. It was John’s face stretched over hers.
Chad started to back up and Whiskey was following him, using her shotgun like an old stick horse, “Bang, bang!” she yelled out, pointing her fingers at him.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!”
He tried to take more steps but was stopped by something behind him. He was scared to turn around so he just stood there, wide eyed and staring at Whiskey. He pressed his hands behind him and felt the flat surface, then looked up and saw Ellie wink at him before catching his neck in the loop of a rope and pulling up.
“I caught me a piggie!” she sang out, then made a squealing noise.
Whiskey danced in front of him on her stick-horse shotgun and sang from behind her John-face-mask, “Eenie, meanie, min-ee, moe, catch a Townie, by the toe, if he hollars, let him … go?” she put her hand on her hip and laughed, “Hell no!”
“You’re crazy, bitch!” Chad spit out at her.
Whiskey’s eyes narrowed to dangerous slits behind the eyeholes of her mask, “I am not a bitch.” she hissed. The words rolled off her lips and she turned grabbing the shotgun from between her legs. He ruined her game. He ruined her buzz.
Pacing in back and forth in frustration she stopped and let out a sigh before she lifted the mask of Chad’s friend’s face over her head.
“Fuck it. I guess I am.”
Whiskey took a deep breath and her face brightened again. She smiled wide and pressed the bottle of amber liquid to her lips, tilting her head way back and guzzling. The heat burned her throat and the fire curled into her chest. She let out a howl and then aimed the barrel at Chad and shot him in the face painting the walls of the Saloon with bone fragment.

***

The sun was high and the sky met the sand in a golden wave of heat. Down the road dust followed an approaching vehicle for a mile until it came to a stop in front of the saloon. The hound that was there the night before was still lying there but the two old men were long gone. In their place was a petite blonde woman with a worn cowboy hat tipped low over her face. A man stepped out of the police car taking his time and in no particular hurry. He looked around a bit, then walked over to the woman until he was standing in front of her never saying a word.
Whiskey didn’t bother to up.
After a long moment…a moment that would seem awkward to others… there was a buzzing near her ear and she lifted her hand to give a lazy swat at a mosquito.
“Mornin’ Sheriff.” The dark-skinned, Native American man said before he spit into his cup, “Got a welfare check from the townies this mornin’. Three male teenagers.”
Whiskey smiled under the brim of her hat before lifting her head and getting to her feet, “Another day in paradise, ain’t it, Chief?”