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Re: [Mar 2015] - Rogues - Submission Thread Hi everyone, here's mine for this month. Sadly, I had to cut the bicycle from the final draft as it was starting to take over the story. I guess time will tell if I was right to do so!

Heroes in the Shadow 1483 words


Spoiler for Hiden:
A fellow Bligh had once met in an opium den had quoted the assassin, Hassan-I-Sabbah, to him: ‘Nothing is real; everything is permitted.’ Clearly he never tested the theory by trying to squeeze into a incredibly flimsy pine cupboard, Bligh reflected, hooking a fingernail on the door and pulling it shut.

The timbre of the footsteps changed as they rounded the corner, heading ever-closer towards Bligh’s hiding place. The owner of the footsteps was trying to be stealthy, but failing. Bligh reached into his coat for a weapon, wincing as his elbow bumped into the panel.

The footfalls stopped.

Bligh tensed, every muscle trembling. The smell of wood dust was near-overpowering; he could taste rank spit in his mouth. He adjusted his grip on his cosh.

On the count of three, he thought. One-

He flinched as the door was yanked open and a powerful light shone into his eyes. Blinded, he made a feeble swing at his assailant, tripping over his own legs as he tried to scramble out of his bolt-hole. He tumbled onto the floor into the foetal position, waiting for the crunching impact of boot and leather cudgel into his head and back. The pause lengthened.

“You alright down there, Mr Bligh?”

Bligh looked up in annoyance at the silhouette looming behind the glare.

“Get that bloody light out of my face,” he snapped.

“Sorry,” Stubb pulled the shutter down on the dark lantern, plunging the corridor into gloom. “I wondered where you’d gotten to.”

“Never mind that. What are you doing, clomping about, lighting up the building? Do you even know the meaning of the word ‘subterfuge’?”

“No,” replied Stubb with complete honesty.

Bligh glared at him scathingly and stood up, retrieving his greasy bowler hat from the floor. “Did you see the guard?” he asked.

Stubb patted the blackjack hanging from his belt with a knowing wink that looked anything but. Bligh turned on his heels, motioning for Stubb to follow, cursing under his breath the circumstances which necessitated having Stubb for a business partner. It had been tough, adjusting to the challenges of the new industrial age, and the grave-robbing trade had been hit harder than most.

It used to be so simple. You’d dig a body up, replace the grave soil so no-one was any the wiser, and sell the cadaver to the highest-bidding surgeon, biologist or pet food manufacturer. Granted, it had gotten a bit competitive a few decades ago, with many of the resurrection men resorting to murder in an attempt to provide the supply for the demand, but surely that was how an economy was meant to work?

But laws had changed, and the demand had dried up. Most of the grave robbers went on to other work, and the talent pool had shrunk considerably. Nowadays, a gangling oaf like Stubb was the best that Bligh could hope for. And finding corpses required increasingly creative thinking, hence their location.

The corridor ended into the main hall of the College of Medicine, a huge rotunda set about with pillars and statues of venerable physicians. A vast chandelier dominated the room, its lights extinguished. They tiptoed through the oppressive gloom of the balcony floor towards the Office of Anatomical Studies. Bligh knelt down in front of the door to pick the lock.

“Mr Bligh?” whispered Stubb.

“What?” Bligh grimaced around the spare pick held between his teeth.

“I still don’t understand why we’re here.”

Bligh arched an eyebrow. “What part don’t you understand?”

Stubb’s eyes rolled into the top right corner of their sockets, as they always did when he was thinking too hard.

“We’re here to steal a body, right? Because we can’t get one anywhere else?”

Bligh nodded impatiently as he fiddled with the lock. “Not one that’s in good condition, no, and our client is paying particularly well for that detail.”

Stubb’s mouth worked like a dying fish for a moment as words queued up behind it to be blurted out.

“I thought you said the client was a lecturer here?”

Bligh nodded. “In this department, in fact.”

“So we’re basically stealing one of his own corpses?”

Bligh fumbled the pick with a muffled curse and turned to Stubb. “We’re professionals, Stubb. We cannot simply tell an employer ‘No, sir, we can’t get you a cadaver, there’s a shortage on’. This is just a temporary measure to keep our reputation intact, and reputation is everything in this business. Now shut up and let me concentrate. This lock’s being a bastard.”

All was silent for a few minutes, bar the scratching of Bligh’s lock picks.

“I wonder if one of those keys I took off the guard would work,” Stubb wondered aloud.

Once Bligh had stopped swearing, he took the keys from Stubb and tried them one by one in the lock. A waft of astringent stung their nostrils as they entered the laboratory. They moved along the aisle between benches towards the cold storage at the back of the office. Stubb wrenched the handle open and they looked in.

The store was empty. Wicked looking hooks gleamed along the empty rails. Bligh stood stock still, a thunderous expression on his face.

“Right, then,” he muttered. “Come on, Stubb.”

“Are we going?” asked Stubb, like a disappointed child.

“Of course we’re going!” snapped Bligh. “It’s empty. There’s nothing to take.”

“What about that one?” Stubb pointed over Bligh’s shoulder.

Slumped at one of the desks was the body of a man in a teacher’s gown and mortar-board. Bligh had missed it on the way in due to the fact that the mortar-board, and the head it was perched on, were lying on the table next to the body in a pool of congealed gore.

Not in perfect condition, thought Bligh, but hopefully good enough. His mood brightened considerably.

“Well spotted, Stubb. Now, pick up the gentleman and let’s be on our way.” He stuffed the head into an old onion sack and Stubb hoisted the body onto his shoulders.

They made their way back to the ground floor window they had entered by. Stubb was unusually quiet which, although refreshing, was rarely a good sign.

“Something on your mind, lad?” asked Bligh.

Stubb shrugged. “It doesn’t seem right,” he muttered. “They’ve got so much stuff and we’ve got nothing. I never had chandeliers or chairs. My parents and me, we shared a single bed until I was seventeen.”

Bligh quashed the many, many questions prompted by this statement. He turned to Stubb and put a hand on his arm.

“Now listen to me, Josiah Stubb. You’re a good lad. If you apply yourself, you’ll go far.” Stubb straightened proudly underneath the dead academic hefted over his shoulders.

“But you need to have a good think about where your life is going,” Bligh continued. “What are we, Stubb?”

“Grave robbers.”

“No, that’s what we do. What we are, Stubb, is heroes.”

Seeing Stubb’s habitual look of confusion grow more pronounced, Bligh elaborated.

“People in this city work their shifts, pay their taxes, worship at the nearest church and get their opinions from whichever newspaper they think relates to them the most. They live their lives according to the dictates of lawyers and gentry who wouldn’t piss on them if they were aflame. Not us though, Stubb. We are the last of the truly free; we who live on the edge and move in the shadows.”

Bligh pointed out of the window to the row of fine houses across the street.

“Every one of those folk laying a-bed right now are dreaming of swapping places with us. For all their money and finery, they’ve no spark, Stubb, no danger, no reason to live. I for one, wouldn’t give up this life for all the silver cutlery and porcelain bidets in the world!”

Stubb beamed proudly. “I never thought of it like that. I’m a hero, Mr Bligh!” He puffed his chest out.

“That you are, lad.”

The two men manhandled the body out of the window.

“What do you think happened to him?” asked Stubb, gesturing with a jerk of his chin.

“I find it rarely pays to speculate in such matters,” replied Bligh. “Suffice it to say that, as long as our employer-” He tailed off uneasily as a thought occurred, and pulled open the sack.

“Oh bloody hell!” he hissed.

“What’s wrong?”

Bligh held the head up by an ear. “It’s the client! I thought I recognized him. He must have fell foul of one of those heated academic disputes!”

“What are we going to do now?” asked Stubb despondently.

Bligh thought for a moment. “I suppose we could pretend we kidnapped him and ransom him back to his family in pieces.”

Stubb nodded happily as the two men continued through the murky streets.

“It’s nice being a hero, Mr Bligh.”

March 08, 2015, 10:47:50 AM
3
Re: [Apr 2015] - Plot Twist! Werewolf, Vampire, Goat - Submission Thread Hi, everyone, here's my story for April, and my 10th entry into the monthly writing contest. 

Hail to the King, 1491 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
The convention of the Thames Valley Doomsday Preppers was in full swing when Russell got there. He and Amanda had gotten lost on the forest track to the campsite and arrived an hour late, to discover that nearly everyone else had driven there. The main group had made a campfire, while the rest hovered self-consciously about.

Talk had moved onto potential apocalypse scenarios and, inevitably, the conversation had jokingly turned to zombies.

“I’d probably base myself rurally, if it was Zee’s, you know?” said Tim. “There’s less people, and therefore less Zee’s.” The gang around the campfire nodded and murmured sagely.

It’s ‘Zeds’, you dickhead, thought Russell.

“Also,” continued Tim, “you gotta think in terms of potential danger from other survivors, you know? I mean, Zee’s are slow, right? But someone with a knife can kill you just as easily. You’ve gotta make yourself a hard target.” He indicated Russell’s bright red fleece jacket. “Stuff like that will just get you killed, mate. You need to go tactical.” He pointed at his own expensive camo-pattern paintballing jacket.

“Hang on, Tim,” Russell interjected. “What if it isn’t ‘Walking Dead’ zombies? What if it’s ‘28 Days Later’ zombies?”

“What difference does it make?”

“Well, they’re a lot faster, for one. There’s a lot of open space in the countryside for them to run after you.”

Tim nodded. “Granted, Russell. But that doesn’t automatically make living in the city preferable to the countryside.” A few sycophants around the fire made noises of agreement. “Where would you go?”

Russell’s mind raced as he tried to think of a suitable answer. “The sewers,” he finally managed.

The group exploded with laughter.

“The sewers?!” sneered Tim.

Russell felt his face grow hot. “Well, not the sewers, necessarily, but underground. A bunker, or a safe room or something.”

Tim laughed derisively. “Oh, yeah, you can’t move for bunkers round here! They’re like Starbucks!”

The group howled even louder.

“Oh, piss off, Tim,” muttered Russell, stomping away from the group and grabbing a cider from the bag. He noticed Alan staring at him, working up the courage to speak. Russell’s mood darkened. The outcasts had noticed his expulsion from the main group, it seemed, and were taking him for one of their own.

 A slap on the backside distracted him.

“Alright, ninja turtle?” asked Amanda. Russell let his expression reply for him. He cringed as Tim’s group whispered behind him.

“Are you okay?” asked Amanda. “We can go home, if you like. Oh no, wait, we walked here, didn’t we?”

Russell became aware of Alan creeping nervously closer in his peripheral vision, as though about to defuse a pipe-bomb. He swung around on him.

“Yes, Alan?” he snapped.

Alan flinched nervously. “I’ve got a safe room,” he stammered shyly. “I’ll show you if you want to see it.”

Another giggle from the campfire made up Russell’s mind for him.

“Let’s just go.”

————————————————

Amanda hadn’t been drinking, so she drove Alan’s car while he rode shotgun. Russell sat cramped, barely containing his annoyance at Tim’s presence, who had been getting a cider from the bag when Alan made his revelation, and had insisted on coming.

They drove into the city, passing busy restaurants and pubs. There was more movement on the streets than usual, and an ugly charge to the air that made Russell glad he was in a car and not on foot. As they drove past a bar, they saw a man fighting two huge doormen, thrashing against them furiously. As they lifted him into the air, he twisted like a cat and sank his teeth into the cheek of one of them.

“Oh my God!” gasped Amanda. “Did you see that?”

“Just drive on,” said Tim. “The police will deal with it.” Russell had been amused to hear the nervousness in his voice.

Amanda drove them out the other side of the city and into the industrial district.

———————————

Alan told Amanda to park outside a building and they got out of the car.

“This is it?” asked Tim, underwhelmed. For once, Russell agreed. It was a self-storage unit.

Alan nodded. The squat, yellow, corrugated-metal building before them did not scream ‘safe house’.

“It’s a Lok-n-Store,” said Amanda.

Alan nodded again, as if that were, indeed, obvious.

“I think we were all expecting something a little more…” Tim tailed off. “Safe?”

“You can’t get much safer than that,” Alan said. “And I work here, so we’ll have no problem getting in here when there’s Zeds everywhere.”

“Zee's,” corrected Tim, although Alan had already endeared himself to Russell, who put an arm around him.

“Tell you what, mate, why don’t you show us around? Are you coming?” he asked Amanda, pointedly ignoring Tim. She smiled and shook her head.

Looking faintly proud, Alan swiped his card in the door, and he and Russell entered the building.

————————————

They were in the basement.

“So, here, we’ll keep chainsaws and stuff,” Alan was saying, pointing to a locked storage closet. “And here I keep tinned food.” Alan was far less shy when he was discussing the zombie apocalypse.

Russell was starting to regret humouring him. “Look, mate, this place is great, in principle, and I’m really happy you’re enjoying prepping, but there’s a lot more to it than fantasist zombie crap.”

Alan looked at him in vague alarm. “Like what?”

“Well, what if the World Economy collapsed? What if an electromagnetic pulse event took out all the world’s power grids? What if fossil fuels run dry? These are the sort of things preppers should be planning for.” He sighed at Alan’s uncomprehending expression. “Look, I know you probably haven’t seen many preppers yet except for delusional wankers like Tim-” Alan giggled guiltily, “-but Doomsday Preparation is a mature responsibility to ourselves and our families.”

Alan smiled sadly. “I just wanted to be part of a group…”

Russell felt bad for the little man. “You’re part of the group, Alan, and you’re my friend. Now, why don’t we get outside before Tim converts your car into a Mad Max roadster?” They both laughed and headed for the stairs.

————————————

“So how did you get into prepping?” Tim asked Amanda.

She shrugged. “Russell likes it. It’s something we do together.”

 Tim nodded. “My girlfriend used to do it, too, but she reckoned I was too into it so we split up.” He looked around, scanning their surroundings.

“Wow, you’re really… keen,” frowned Amanda.

Tim caught her tone, and shrugged. “When I was in my first year at University, I got beaten up by some guys. One punched me to the floor and his buddies kicked me until my ribs broke and punctured a lung. I was in hospital for seven weeks and I had to retake my first year. I couldn’t leave the house, you see?”

Amanda didn’t know what to say.

“When you’ve seen what people are really like,” murmured Tim, “once you really know; you can’t do anything else with your life other than be ready for the next time.”

Amanda turned to face him. “Tim, I’m sorry…”

He wasn’t listening. A man was at the end of the road, lurching drunkenly under the sodium lights, too far away to make out individual details.

Suddenly, he spotted them, and began to run towards them in a frantic sprint.

“God,” said Amanda, “he’s running really fast.”

“Amanda,” said Tim in a flat, terrified voice. “Get inside.”

——————————————

Russell had his hand on the door-handle when Amanda came crashing through in a state of blind panic. His first thought was that Tim had attacked her, but then Tim came through himself and slammed the door behind him.

“Lock the door!” Tim screamed, pressing his back against it. Russell just stood blankly. Amanda threw herself against it to lend her weight to his. A howling screech came from outside and the door shook under a tremendous impact, almost knocking Tim and Amanda back.

“Help us, you stupid bastard!” shouted Tim. Russell snapped from his daze and leaned his weight against the door.

“What the hell is going on?” he cried.

“He’s dead,” stammered Amanda. “I saw his insides hanging out.”

“What!?”

“She’s right,” said Tim. “No-one like that could be alive.”

The door shook again, jolting the three of them. Russell cursed. “Alan, help!”

Alan had disappeared.

The next impact cracked the wood, straight down its centre. The door folded like a curtain, and the zombie thrashed its way into the corridor in a frenzy, loops of intestine dangling from it’s yawning stomach cavity. It caught sight of Amanda and hissed, crouching ready to spring.

With a boom, it’s head exploded like a pumpkin, spattering brain matter and blood across the corridor. The three turned to see Alan behind them, holding a shotgun.

Screeching came from the street outside. Russell could hear distant sirens.

“Do you know, Alan, we may need your safe room after all,” he said.


April 22, 2015, 10:12:00 PM
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