What’s in the Closet?

Posted in Horror, Science Fiction with tags , , , on May 28, 2014 by hughmbrien

“Now lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  And if I die before I wake. .”  A quick glance over the shoulder to the closet.  “. . .my soul to take.”

George’s hand spasmed across his head and torso.  He was halfway into bed before: “George, how many times do I have to tell you?  Don’t do that, it’s not respectful.  What did your CCD teacher call it again?”

Another glance to the closet.  “The flyswatter.”

“That’s right.  Jesus is not a fly you can just swat away with a vague hand gesture.”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“Now kneel back down and do it right.”

Eyes full on the double closet doors, faux gold ball handles dimly reflected the shine of the lamp on the night stand.  “But Mommy. . .”

“No ‘buts,’ do it.”

Again the side of the bed, small knees fitted back into rounded dents in the carpet.  Very deliberately, George placed his hand to a forehead crowned with a shock of light brown hair, to his stomach, and to shoulders that looked skinny in the green XL t-shirt draped over his torso.  “In th’ name of th’ Father and th’ Son and th’ Holy Ghost.”

“Very good. . .”  And up George bounced into bed.  Mommy stood up and pulled the covers up to his chin.  Maroon invaded George’s vision as she planted a kiss on his forehead.  “Sweet dreams sweetheart.  I love you.”

“I love you too Mommy.”  She turned to leave.  George’s eyes dart to the closet again.  The crack between white double doors seemed to get a bit wider, like lips curling back from sharply invisible teeth.  “Mommy what’s vague mean?”

She turned back to her son, whose head was half under the lip of the sheet and blue comforter.  “Umm, well it means. . . .It means. . . .Well I don’t know.”

“Does Poppop know?”

“It’s time for bed,” Mommy’s face was a grimace.

“Oh.  Okay.”  Mommy turned to leave again.  Frantic.  “Mommy?”

“What George?  Mommy is very tired too and wants to go to bed.”

“Ummmm,” George’s mind raced for a thought, but still didn’t fail to notice the square bulge in Mommy’s brown pants pocket.  “Manassas smells bad.  Don’t make it smell worse.”

A sharp sigh escaped her lips, but nothing more.  She completed her path to the door.  Turning one more time with a heavy hand on the lightswitch, a quick curl of lip ends,  “Goodnight Georgie, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

The light bulbs mounted in the ceiling fan extinguished in a flash, leaving a thin beam of light from the hall through which the blades spun vigorously.  Opposite from the door, was the bed, tucked into the corner a foot from the wall.  A dark wood bureau, stained with age, leaned against the wall opposite the bed’s foot.  The black hole of a window peered through red, blue and white checked curtains down at George’s legs.  A bookshelf laid between it and the door.  George prepared himself, you can do it.  Popping out of the covers slightly, he rolled over and snapped on his night light plugged into the wall slightly below his pillow.  The corner of the room next to his bed lit up, spilling shadows across the rest of the room as he snapped his head back around, locking eyes with the closet.  The abysmal crack down the middle seemed a little wider to George’s peering eyes.

The shadows shimmered, lengthening and shrinking across the off-white walls.  They took on myriad shapes in George’s mind: witch with curling fingers and hooked nose springing from his clothes hooks, a skull with glaring red eyes imposed on his fire truck.  The images danced their way into George’s imagination and he saw them in relief against his eyelids when he blinked.  These blinks became more and more frequent so he shifted onto his stomach, keeping his head turned toward the closet.  The fresh untouched part of the pillow welcomed his cheek and his arm slid beneath its cool belly.  The cold was a relief to his body, already overheating slightly under the covers.  But George dursn’t stick his feet out from under them does he?  No he dursn’t because then it would get him.  It would snatch him by that deliciously dangling foot and drag him down.  Down, down into the dark under the bed.  And when he is under the bed, that’s when the closet would get him.  It would open wide its double jaws and swallow him whole.  And his mother would never find him.  Never ever.  She wouldn’t be able to help him, he would be unrescuable.  George’s eyes slammed shut.

###

George is standing in his backyard, the looming wooden fence casting a gloomy shadow on his left side.  Four slat steps on his right led up to the large deck with its grill and picnic table, now weathered an ugly greenish-brown.  It is only about ten feet between the bottom of the deck steps to the fence which stretches about thirty feet out from each side of the house and wraps around to meet the halfway point on the siding.  This makes it a very wide but somewhat narrow affair with bulges on both ends and very skinny in the middle.  It turns George’s vision all wonky, tunnelling to a point with fuzzy wobblies on the peripheral.  And straight ahead is a glow emitting from a hole in the bottom of the fence corner.  Feet moving, one step at a time; toes curling in the dirt layer beneath an unkempt canopy of green.  Down the yard, one foot in front of the other.  It’s a drag strip, a runway with all the running lights flashing right up to the a hole in the bottom of a fence.  Hands curl into tight balls, George wears a rictus, a death mask that screws up his small features into almost gargoyle proportions.  Dread itself seems to leak forth from the opening, sinking into his heart.  His steps falter in the grass which keeps pushing him forward, slipping out from under his soles, sliding him toward the gap.  His arms shoot out like a tight-rope walker’s; he’s basically sliding now.  And then the world tips like a dumptruck and he’s falling, falling for the hole in the fence, the edges of which curl in feral delight.  And it swallows him, like Alice’s rabbit hole in George’s story book, sliding down, down, down and he lands with a thump, sending shocks up his spine.

A small, cramped space opens up before him, roots trailing from the dirt ceiling, and the cold rock under his thighs raise goosebumps all along his skin.  In the cramped space stands a roughcut table.  George’s dining room table, with four chairs holding four figures sitting around it.  Figures with no faces.  He stares openly, slowly getting up and walking around the table.  At its head is a figure that seems to shimmer and shake, wavering in the glow that emits from the dirt and rock.  It has a masculine physique draped in clothes that iridesce in their haziness.  George can’t quite tell what he is wearing, but it might be one of those shirt types with buttons all down the front.  On his right is a definite feminine shape that sits, tilted in deference.  The clothes are solid, actually taking shape with definite colour.  A maroon blouse topping brown pants that sport a familiar square bulge, jump out at his eyes, demanding he admit the figure sitting in the chair to be his Mommy.  Across from what should be, could be, Mommy is a wizened shape with his back turned away from the male figure at the head.  George smiles a little as he recognizes Poppop’s wrinkled grey shirt and khaki slacks, feet tucked into brown loafers.  But Poppop’s face does not smile back in his usual manner.  Instead, an empty space, where his expressive, twinkling eyes should be, is looking at the final figure at the foot of the table.  This figure is short, about George’s height, in fact, exactly his height, and just as faceless as the others.  But this figure is shrouded, surrounded by a blackness except for a blood red, toothy smile that follows George as he slowly circles the table.  Looking into that face, or lack thereof, George feels the same gut-twisting fear of white-washed double doors, the abysmal crack finding a bottom in this figure’s shadowy face, teeth glistening in the surrounding glow like painted gold ball handles twinkling in the nightlight.

None of the figures have moved, but then his figure does, the already broad grin somehow getting wider.  Midnight hands clenching into fists, it gets out of its seat, faceless head full on George, who begins to panic, heart thumping against his ribcage.  His palms become slick with shining sweat as he begins to move opposite the figure’s advance around the table.  Heeeere Georgie, it keens, teeth snapping out the syllables, heeeere boy.

George shakes his head as he backs away, afraid to move his eyes, to look away, Uh uh, y-you s-stay away. . .

His searching hands reach out to each figure sitting at the table, first Mommy’s, Mommy? And Daddy’s, Daddy?  But neither of them move.  As he works his way around the table he comes to Poppop’s form.  Please, Poppop, help me.  George’s mouth makes sounds that he barely registers.  But then his fingers detect movement.  Poppop’s figure stirs itself, knocking back the chair and drawing up to its full height over the short, black shape that only looks like Georgie.  Poppop steps purposefully between George and his shadow.  Sit your fat ass down, old man, it whines.

Poppop’s head shakes implacably from side to side, his stance almost at ease as he reaches his hands back to George, making sure he is still behind.  The toothy smile becomes a snarl, Fine, I’ll get him out of here then.

With a howl, the short, midnight creature leaps across the table, leaving gashes in the wood.  In the midst of George’s scream, Poppop turns and grabs him to his chest.

And then Poppop had a face.  A face that looked down at George with twinkling eyes, beyond which the ceiling fan slowly spun.  George’s heart slowly brought itself to a walking pace while the sweat beads evaporated as he grabbed Poppop around the neck, making sobbing noises into it.  “You alright buddy?  I heard you cry.  Nasty things nightmares.”

George whimpered in agreement.  “Well it’s all over buddy.  It can’t get ya, don’t worry.”

George’s eyes flicked over to the closet.  The abysmal crack met his gaze, aggressive in its impotence.

###

“Geeeorge!”  A yell punctured George’s fitful sleep; his eyelids groaned open like a rusty garage door.  “Geeeorge!  Time to get up! It’s breakfast.”

George rolled out of bed, his adolescent cowlick waving in the air like a banner above his brown head.  “Coming Mommy!”

His shoulders hunched together, and the green XL t-shirt slipped down his body, bunching into a pool on the carpet.  The uniform of childhood (jean shorts and a solid color t-shirt) hung on the clothes hooks behind his door.  Carpeted steps masked his already light footfalls, so Mommy did not hear him until George was already in the kitchen which capped the hallway at the bottom of the staircase.  “Good morning Poppop.”

Mommy’s head turned halfway around above the stovetop, the corner of her eye taking in Poppop sitting in his spot at the kitchen table.  “Good morning Georgie-boy, what’s crackin?”  Poppop’s grin spread from cheek to cheek, but not to his eyes which gazed at George in concern, one eyebrow raised ever so slightly.  George laughed, “I’m cracking fine, Poppop.”

“Well that’s good.  What’re we having for breakfast?”

Mommy’s voice interrupted, “Biscuits and gravy.”

Poppop didn’t even look up.  “That sounds lovely.  Georgie-boy, why don’t you go tickle those ivories?  Play me that one I like so much.”

“Okay, Poppop.”  George turned around and marched through into the other room where a light brown baby grand reposed in serene dignity.  Beethoven’s “Für Elise” soon clinked delicately through the ground floor of Poppop’s house: a tastefully decorated living room to the right of the front hall, led into a dining room that housed nothing but the piano and a chandelier; the kitchen followed that that with its well-stocked pantry and cupboards, wrapping around an island counter that pointed out to the wooden, roughcut dining table where Richard Marcell sat looking at his daughter, who checked on little George’s back to make sure he was focused on the ivory keys in front of him.  Past the kitchen was a two-step dip into the family room where Poppop’s pride and joy resided on a simple Ikea television stand: a seventy-inch plasma Sony, revered by two sectional leather couches.

Evenly, “What’s wrong now, Meredith?”

Her voice barely rises above the crackling of the gravy in the pan.  “You know what’s wrong, Dad.”

“Meredith, you’re being irrational about this.  If he keeps going the way you’ve got him, he’s gonna turn into one of those repressed, weird kids who ends up in the basement playing those video games.  And the worst part is he’s going to resent you for it.”

Meredith shook her head.  “With Mark gone, I’d have thought you would bother to take on a more responsible figure for him,” her head nodded to the next room.  “I guess I was wrong.  I’d rather him resent me than have him lead the life you do Dad.”

“Well that’s unfortunate, and frankly, quite selfish of you.”

Another glance into the dining room and then an almost hiss, “Well I don’t really give a shit whether you think it’s selfish or not.  I will not have my son growing into a lecherous old man.  Have you even told the second one about the first one?”

“First off, that’s none of your business, and secondly, just because he gets away from your crazy power complex doesn’t mean he’s going end up doing meth or something on the street.”

“Für Elise” had stopped.  “What’s meth?”

Both of them froze and turned to the doorway where George stood with nervous inquisition on his face.  Meredith snapped into action first, “It’s nothing Georgie, don’t worry about it.”

“Why are you and Poppop fighting again?”

Meredith’s eyes full on Poppop: “We weren’t fighting, Poppop just has to go run errands.”

Richard sighed, “Yeah, I was just going to run some errands.”

Georgie looked up at Mommy, “Are we still having breakfast?  Or do we have to go for a walk again?”

Her eyes were still full on her father.  “Don’t worry, we’re still having breakfast.  As soon as Poppop goes and runs his errands.”

Heaving a sigh, Poppop got up and strode out into the front hall where he gathered his things; the garage door creaked open and his car hummed into the street.  George turned to his mother, a faraway look creeping into the corners of his eyes as he remembered.  “You shouldn’t fight with Poppop, he saved me.”

Mommy already headed back to the stove, “Hmm?  What do you mean Georgie?”

“Poppop, he saved me.  From the closet.”

“What are you talking about Georgie?  The closet isn’t alive.”

“But we were all at the table and nobody had faces, not even Daddy, and there was a black thing that looked like me and it tried to get me but Poppop got a face and saved me.”

At the mention of Daddy, Meredith turned around sharply.  “Georgie, why were you dreaming about Daddy?  What did he do?”

“Nothing, he just sat there and you kept looking at him.  None of you moved, except Poppop.  He stood up and helped me.  He kept me safe.”

George had sat down and began to help himself to the orange juice on the table.  Mommy did not respond, but kept her head in the pan.  The gravy rippled ever so briefly, once, twice, three times.  Splish splash with Meredith’s confusion, fear, frustration and need: need for a man taken by that amorphous governmental system that found out it was being cheated.  Governmental systems do not take kindly to being cheated.

“Don’t cry Mommy.”

A hand shot to her mouth, holding down a sob.  Meredith dropped the ladle that was stirring the gravy and ran upstairs.  A minute later, smoke began rising from the pan as it burned, setting off the smoke alarm in the hall.  It was still blaring when George stepped off the front stoop to the bus.

###

Poppop snapped off the television, the leather creaking under his body.  “Alright Georgie, time for bed.”

“Okay, Poppop.”  George jumped up and gave him a hug.  “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight Georgie-boy, don’t get anymore nightmares yeah?”

“I’ll try, Poppop.”

George stepped up into the kitchen and turned down the hallway, when Poppop’s voice followed him.  “Could you turn off the hall light on your way up Georgie?”

“Sure, Poppop.”

“Goodboy, thanks.”

George walked up to the light switch, grimaced, then pulled it and dashed up the stairs, glancing behind him at the swallowing darkness.  Down the wood-paved upstairs hall he pitter-pattered in stocking feet to his own room.  The sound of running water from the master bedroom told him Mommy would not be in for night prayer.  She always took forever in the shower.  George snapped on his room light and quickly changed into his big green t-shirt, keeping an eye on both the black empty space between his curtains, and the double closet doors, which lay dormant in the light of his ceiling fan lamp.  There were dirt stains from recess on his clothes so he went into the bathroom and stuffed them in the hamper under the counter.  Going about the business of brushing teeth and using the toilet went by too quickly, and soon George found himself confronted with his room and what lay in it.  Making sure the hall light right outside his door was on, he dashed in, flipping his own light off as he went and scrambled under the covers, immediately taking up watch on the closet, which now seemed to stare at him hungrily.

Oh no!  My nightlight!

Yessss, your nightlight.  What’re you gonna do about you little bitch?  

Shivers danced up his spine as George blinked in surprise.  Hey that’s a bad word.

Oh don’t give me that shit, Georgie-boy. You’ve heard it all before, especially when they took him away, kicking and screaming. Big old Daddy got taken away by ‘them’ and you’re never going to see him again.

No, Daddy’s coming back, Mommy said so.

I don’t care what Mommy says, she’s wrong.  You know who knows that Daddy’s never coming back?  Poppop.  He knows and he’s not telling you.  

George shook his head slowly, through the syrup in his head.  What?!  Poppop wouldn’t do that.  Poppop loves me, he saved me from you.  You’re mean, you don’t love me.  You want to hurt me. . . . . . . . . . .

 

George is in the backyard.  The hole in the bottom of the fence is still glowing, but this time it is laced with veins of pure midnight drifting through it like dust motes.  Up like a dump truck goes the yard and George is slipping, sliding down, down, back into the rabbit hole.  Into the place from which nightmares come.  Thump on the hard ground and there is the table with George’s family sitting around it.  Except the black shadow form is standing on the table over Poppop’s figure, the eyes of which still twinkle at George.  Behind the shadow, Mommy still stares at wavering Daddy.  I’ve got the liar right here Georgie, why don’t you ask him why he lied to you?

George pointed a trembling hand.  Get away from Poppop!

What?  You don’t want to know why he’s lying to you?  Everybody wants to know why they’ve been lied to.

He hasn’t lied to me.  Mommy lied to me, but that’s okay, because she needed to.

The horribly wide, toothy grin spreads across its face.  Oooooh interesting, the boy’s perceptive.  Alright.  Why don’t we give her a reason for her to not lie to you anymore?  The shadow turns around, skipping across the tabletop to stand in front of Daddy.  With a flash of blood and ivory, the horribly mouth opens wide and bites off Daddy’s head.  The shimmery form slumps behind the table.  With a disdainful kick, the shadow nudges it off the chair with its black foot.  A wail erupts from Mommy’s figure which begins to flail violently.  It easily dances around her questing arms, its mouth leering in what seemed to be a laugh.  See, she moves herself for him, but not when you were in trouble.  She couldn’t be bothered to take her eyes off him.  Well, that’s if she had any.

Poppop’s form had gotten up and stands protectively in front of George.  Mommy’s form is sobbing over Daddy’s collapsed figure.  She may be blind to you, but I’m not.  I can see you for the petty creature you are.  Now get out of George’s head or I’ll force you out.

HA!  I’d like to see you try, old man.  The mouth snickers in hideous delight.  You can’t kick me out, I belong here just as much as you and these other fools.  The shadow forks a thumb over its shoulder at Mommy and Daddy.  It’s he who doesn’t belong here.  This time the thumb points straight at George, who takes Poppop’s hand.  The shadow tilts its head slightly past its shoulder, Everybody’s got sharks in their soul. . .And sometimes the sharks need some chum.  A long purple tongue licks its sharpened choppers.

Well you can forget about this chum right here.  Poppop is the voice of defiance.

Well lets see about that, shall we?  Like lightning, the shadow lunges from the table and hits Poppop full in the chest, bowling him backwards.  Long, coal black claws rip Poppop’s chest open in a flash of splattering red, but not before Richard Marcell screams MEREDITH!  HEL. . .  The last sounds dying out as his head is efficiently removed.  The shadow looks up at George backing away.  Now there’s no one to help you Georgie-boy.  You’re mine.  Purple tongue curling, it steps out of Poppop’s corpse, advancing a step at a time.  You don’t belong here Georgie-boy, so why don’t I help you leave.  Get you out of your own head.  You’ll feel so much better, not worrying about anything.  It’ll be brilliant; you might actually make friends, who knows.  Hell, you might even get yourself a girlfriend, I don’t give a shit.  Just get out of here.

George answers by reaching down into his gut and pulling out the biggest yell he could muster through his trembling stomach and quivering lungs.  “MOMMY!  HELP!”

The cry screeches out, echoing around the underground chamber, even causing the shadow to flinch briefly, until it died out into the dirt and rock.  Ha, fat lot of good that’ll do ya.  You should have called for someone who could actually help you.

The purple tongue snakes out, caressing George’s disgusted face.  But then, George reaches out, grabbing the appendage and yanking, causing the surprised shadow to jerk backwards. . .into the arms of Mommy, whose eyes glare into its midnight face as her hands grasp its head and twist.  I will always help my son.

The shadow slumps to the ground, and Mommy steps over it, bringing George into her embrace.

When George looked up, Mommy’s concerned face was bent over his, the ceiling fan rotating behind her head.  “Are you okay Georgie?  I heard you scream in your sleep.”

He folded himself into her arms.  “It was nothing Mommy, just a nightmare.”

 

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Sisu pt. 3

Posted in Military Fiction with tags , , , , , on May 3, 2014 by hughmbrien

“Sir, the sniper team has not radioed in.  That’s the second check they’ve missed.”

“Damn he’s good!”  Khabarov pounded the hood of his personal jeep, the paper map spread across it crinkling under his fist.  Make sure all patrols have flares with them.  And I want another sniper team watching for spots overlooking the road.  He’s going to target that.”

“Yes sir.”

As his aide ran off, Khabarov bent over the map again and reached for his radio.  “Artillery?  This is Khabarov. . . .Yes. . . .I may need you guys here pretty soon, so be on standby. . . . Most probably danger close, we have a sniper infestation. . . .Good.”

Looking down the road where it disappeared into the surrounding trees, Khabarov noticed something.  He scrambled for his binoculars.  What he saw sent his breakfast churning.

###

Simo’s stomach growled angrily as he skied below the snow-laden canopy, but stopping would be a waste of daylight.  Suddenly, his scanning eyes spotted grey movement among the trunks ahead.  His ski poles dug through the snow and found hard ground, bringing him to an abrupt halt.  Unstrapping his skis he slowly unslung his rifle.  They came on in a line, four of them in long grey coats, a red star on each one of their peaked fur hats.  Simo smoothly dropped to one knee and brought his rifle to bear.  Again, checking his magazine, he controlled his breathing.  He saw it in his mind: he’d take them left to right, compensating for movement to cover after. . . two had fallen.  Simo waited until his lanes of fire were clear on all four.

He committed.  The first one’s head exploded, the second one followed as he turned toward his comrade.  Number three was headed for the dirt when the next bullet caught him in the chest.  The fourth one hit the dirt but had just enough time to fire his flare before the fourth bullet went into the top of his head.  “Paska!”  Simo exclaimed as the fiery red arc blazed a smokey trail above the treetops.  As he moved to recover his skis, a shell screamed in, exploding twenty yards away and blowing him to his knees.  He scrambled to his feet but another one shattered a nearby tree trunk, sending wooden razors flying in every direction.  Two caught him across the arm and another rammed into his helmet, sending him reeling again.  A third shell landed while he was strapping on his skis but merely added to the ringing in his ears.

Simo began to ski as fast as he could, in any direction that would get him away, slaloming around tree trunks and ducking under low hanging branches.  The next couple explosions were far enough away, but one landed close enough to knock him down.  He slid into the snow, skis snapping off against a passing stump.  Shaking his head, he clambered upright, rifle in hand.  Two more explosions rocked his ears before silence fell once more.  The harsh whine pounded on his ear drums, incessantly lancing through his head.  The silence continued and the adrenaline began to lower, leaving shaking limbs, wobbling vision and an aching pit of a stomach in its wake.  Pain began to prick at his arm, shooting up his shoulder every time he lifted it.  He stood where he was until the ringing began to fade and orientation returned.  He began to mumble.  “They know. . . .Got to leave. . . .”

A torn hem from his overcoat served to bind his arm, but his stomach still demanded attention.  Until he heard distant gunfire.  Ignoring his stomach, he looked up at the mid-morning sun to gauge his direction and headed north for the road.  He knew the Russians would be retreating along it, and he needed head them off enough to find a good hidey-hole.  After about ten minutes of trudging through knee-high snow, he began to lag.  But Simo did not stop.  At last, he was rewarded with the break in the trees along the roadside.  As soon as he caught sight of it, he went prone, near melting into the snow with his white overcoat, and began examining the bare branches lining it.  Finally, he saw what he was looking for: a figure nestled in the branch across the road.  And there was the other one, four trees over.  And a third on his own side.  He had a shot on each one, but readjusting was going to be a bitch.  Wait.  They all seemed to be focused on the woods on the opposite side of the road.  Looking around more closely, he noticed the one laying on the ground in a heap.  Matti does good work, he thought, as he settled the Mosin-Nagant into his shoulder, wincing at the pain.  He settled his iron sights on the Russian on his side, as most of his body was hidden behind the trunk.  Only the fur hat was exposed as he peered through his scope.  CRACK.  Instantly, the other two whirled around in their perches as he adjusted toward the one on the left.  CRACK CRACK.  Two bullets sounded but only one Russian fell.  Matti, you shot the same one!  was the only thing that could go through his head before CRACK and a thousand knives lanced through Simo’s cheek.  The last thing he saw before darkness took him was the fourth Russian falling from his branch, half his head missing, and his own blood staining the snow beneath him.

A flash of the brightest white blinded the bandaged man for an instant.  “His eyes opened!”

Vague shapes floated before his dazzled eyes.  Circling his view like inquisitive birds.  “He’s blinking! . . . .Half his cheek is missing!. . . . .Incredible!”

A blunt, throbbing ache shoved itself into the bandaged man’s consciousness.  He grimaced beneath the bandages.  Weariness soon followed pain and he felt himself slipping back into oblivion.  “Where?”  He whispered before unconsciousness took him once more.

“The bluffs behind the Kollaa, Simo.  We drove the Russians back.  The Kollaa holds!”

Sisu pt. 2

Posted in Military Fiction with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2014 by hughmbrien

“INCOMING!”  A second after the distant call, a deadly whine screamed over Simo Hayha’s head, exploding a spruce behind him into splintered fragments.  The top half collapsed onto the remaining stump, branches catching in the surrounding trees.  Simo snuggled into the base of his own stump a bit tighter and refocused down his iron sights.  “Incoming!” sounded down the line as several shells screamed over, disintegrating even more trees in which units of the Finnish IV Corps were nestled.  After a good minute of shelling, Simo began picking out the next wave of Russian heads poking out from the treeline across the stream.  He resumed his work.  The Finnish controlled ridges on the west side of the Kollaa River afforded him a distinct height advantage.  And Simo made full use of it, eliminating five soldiers in fifteen seconds, the well-oiled bolt on his Mosin-Nagant rifle sliding smoothly back and forth under his steady hand.  A Russian machine gun team just inside the tree line lay down covering fire that wickered around him with a hungry snaps.  Simo zoned in on the muzzle flash and it stopped almost as soon as it had begun.  One Russian slipped on the rocky stream bed.  Simo’s seven point six two millimeter bullet kept him down.

Three hundred yards up stream three Russian T-28 tanks emerged on the road and began crossing the bridge which burrowed through a furrow in the ridgeline, belching black smoke into the crisp mid-afternoon air.  A wind picked up, blowing the snow from the spruce and pine along the bluffs, creating a white haze that wafted across the Kollaa.  Their snub main guns rotated into position while two machine gun turrets bristled underneath each one, spitting fire at any Fin who dared show his face.  Many still dared, however, and the twenty-four foot tanks soon became the central focus of fire from the defenders.  Keeping the metal monsters in the corner of his eye, Simo glanced back toward his firing range.  “Paska!”  The Russians, had taken advantage of the tanks’ presence to field the stream.  Simo made that a bad decision for several of them before snaking backwards from the edge of the bluff.  Keeping his head down, he dashed to the base of another tree where he had tucked his pack and skis.  However, instead of turning right and making his way back toward the main fortifications, Simo kept to the plan and turned left.  Sentinel trees watched the back of his white overcoat vanish into the snow drifts, the Mosin-Nagant slung over his shoulder slapping the back of his knees.

Khabarov listened with pleasure as the radio chattered away.  “They’re falling back. . . . . . Retreating into the forest. . . . . .”

“Good, good.”  He patted Arkady on the shoulder and turned to the rest of the command staff.  “Let’s push them all the way to the Mannerheim Line!”

He was greeted with the hearty cheers of men just as worried about meeting the ten day deadline as their commander.  Stalin’s purges had weakened the Army enough as it was.  In his peripheral, Khabarov saw Vorontsov sitting in the corner, smiling demurely at the display, his eyes never leaving Khabarov.  The Commander of the Soviet Eighth Army strode over to Comrade Commissar Vorontsov.  “You can tell Moscow the Kollaa has been taken.  The Eighth Army will push all the way around Lake Ladoga and smash into the rear of the Mannerheim Line.  They will have their territory.”

Vorontsov smirked, “Good.”

Khabarov turned his back on the man and walked out of the room to prepare for the movement of the headquarters.

  ###

Four hours later, Simo found the ford he was looking for.  The Kollaa shallowed into a trickle through the rock bed in the dark, splashed aside by his passing boot.  Across the stream and up into the waiting woods, a dark abyss of forest in which lay the Russian bear that Simo intended to sting.  As he skied back downstream, a soft snow managed its way through the silent boughs, fluttering down in lazy drifts.  A chill wind arose in his face, whipping the fringes of his large white overcoat.  Simo’s weather-beaten face tightened against this intrusion and turned down slightly.  He had done plenty of hunting in the cold.  The snow kept up for the next two hours he traveled, until it trickled off and left the air bereft of movement.  Eventually, Simo arrived at the break in the treeline and sighted the familiar farmhouse.  A grimace spread unbidden across his face as the large wooden structure, just starting to sag, dredged foul memories of retreat and chaos.  The copper stench of blood again made itself apparent to his nostrils.  Whining aeroplanes dropping their explosive payloads, and grey red-trimmed coats advancing with terrible onslaught.  Pushing, pushing back all the way to the Kollaa where a stand was made and onslaught halted.  A shake of his small head removed such thoughts.

Scanning the field and house before him, he noticed a pair of footprints trailing around the house.  His hazel eyes narrowed and wide mouth tightened as he unstrapped his skis and tucked them in a bush with his ruck.  Mosin-Nagant nestled into his shoulder and he began to quickly shuffle across the open land toward the door.  Sidling up to the frame, he slung his rifle, drew his M1895 revolver and reached his hand for the door.  Knock-knock-knock . . .knock-knock . . . knock-knock-knock.  Immediately, a voice responded, “Fuck Stalin and all the bloody Reds!”

Simo responded, “And send ‘em all to Hell!”

A booming laugh greeted his words, “Simo, you sonofabitch! Get in here.”

The latch flipped up and Simo stepped into the bear-arms of Aku.  Next to a large roughcut table, Matti came up behind them, rifle over a shoulder.  “We were wondering if you made it out of there.”

Simo ducked out of Aku’s embrace, “I encountered no resistance whatsoever, which means they were focused on pressuring the bridge.  Has Colonel Tiainen contacted us?”

“Ei,” Matti responded, “but he shouldn’t be too much longer.”

“After all, there were only three tanks,” Aku interjected.  “The entrenchments will hold for the flankers.  Hopefully, their commander will see the sense in pulling out so we can get some of the bastards.”

“I already did.  They were swarming from the trees right in front of me.  I even warranted some machine gun fire.”

“Bah!  I managed five.”

“Well then, you are going to need about five more to catch up to me, big boy,” Simo grinned.

“Damnit!  Well, you and Matti talk strategy, I’m going to go clean Liisa.”

“No change of plan.  When the mainline sends them back this way, it’s separate and vanish.  Standard evade and harass tactics:  acceptable risk, don’t get caught, survive.”

Simo nodded.  “Understood.”  A rumble from below demanded attention denied since yesterday’s breakfast.  “Excuse me Matti, but I need to get my pack from the woods.”

“Of course.”

Simo stepped back into the snow and trudged straight to the treeline where his pack was stashed.  It was just becoming dawn and the house and snow began to soak in the new day’s still thin light.  He picked up his ruck, brushed the snow from it’s folds and bent for his skis when he heard the CRACK explode across the stillness.  Simo whirled, dropping to his knees with his rifle raised, adrenaline pounding in his ears.  Silence.  Looking back to the farmhouse, he saw Matti burst from the door, his own rifle ready, and sneak toward the corner of the house.  Getting to the ground, Matti peeked around the corner but another CRACK sent him back, his face sprayed with snow.  The man’s eyes searched the treeline till they found Simo staring back at him.  He shook his head at Simo’s inquisitive stare and then made a strafing motion to the left.  Simo nodded, turned deeper into the woods and began to slowly work his way down the treeline.  He was soon far enough to the left to have a clear view beyond the house.

About four hundred yards away from the house was a hillock topped with a bundle of small trees.  Curling around its base was the road that ran past the house and plunged into the woods heading for the Kollaa.  Simo made a nest behind a fallen log and settled in, flicking the safety off, checking his magazine and beginning breath control.  Live and loaded, he began scanning the hillock for movement, paying close attention to the base of the trees.  He glanced back to the house and saw Matti about to stick his head out again.  His eyes flicked back just in time to see where the CRACK came from, stark against the pure white snow.  Simo sighted the location and managed to discern a prone figure.  Carefully, he tightened his finger on the trigger, exhaled and squeezed.  He was rewarded with the faint splatter red on the snowy trunk above the figure.  Simo waited.  And then he saw it.  The gentle back and forth of a man crawling backwards on his belly.  He smoothly readjusted and it was the same: pressure, exhale, squeeze, more faint red stained pink by the whiteness.

More waiting.  The snow beneath him began to wrap its freezing fingers around his legs, and he could feel them beginning to stiffen.  Matti had gotten up and crouched through the door back into the house.  Simo kept his iron sights trained on the hillock until Matti came out and beckoned at the woods.  Standing up, he shook the snow from himself and picked up his pack on the way back to the house, keeping his rifle ready.  “Aku?”  He asked.

Matti shook his head.  “Through a window, the idiot.  I found the binoculars and double checked that hillock.  They’re both dead, good work.  We need to separate and go mobile now.  I’ll go destroy the radio.”

“I’ll take the south side of the road and start moving

“I’ll take the north.  Watch out for more sniper teams and good luck.”

“Thank you.”

Simo turned and made his way back to the treeline that had now begun to glisten in the rising sun to his left.  He did not see the forest as he entered it, for a vision of Aku’s large body slumped over Liisa, sticking up between his legs, now splattered with red blood and grey brain, occupied Simo’s eyes.  And on the hillock, a Red pig laughing into his scope at the sight.

 

Sisu pt. 1

Posted in Military Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on April 29, 2014 by hughmbrien

A vicious winter wind howled its way north from Lake Ladoga, freezing every Finn and Russian in its path.  Ivan Khabarov, Commander of the Soviet Eighth Army, shivered in his heavy coat even though he was inside the Finnish farmhouse which had been commandeered as a field headquarters.  It stood next to the forest through which the Finns had retreated behind the Kollaa River.  Well, more of a stream, he thought, as he wiped breakfast out of his beard.  Khabarov tromped up the groaning staircase to the radio room, the words “White Death” dancing up and down in the back of his head.  That damned near mythical Finn is picking off too many, he thought.  But the resources to get him. . . Khabarov passed his aide as he topped the stairs.  The boy was coming out of the makeshift radio room at the top of the staircase, a tray under his arm.  He growled for coffee and turned into the sizable room assigned as the communications center for the Eighth Army.

A bank of radio equipment was lined up on the opposite wall from the door.  A large wooden table scattered with divisional paperwork commanded the center.  Apparently this room had the best reception and Khabarov was not about to doubt Arkady.  The man was too valuable no matter what that political jackal Vorontsov claimed about collusion.  Arkady was the only reason the Eighth Army was even operating.  Khabarov liked to keep a close eye on his division commanders.  In that respect, he was like Vorontsov, but the Commissar always put himself where he was not wanted.  The divisional reports were not due for another five minutes, so Khabarov returned Arkady’s salute and stepped over to the large map of the Kollaa region pinned to the adjacent wall which, as luck would have it, Vorontsov was also studying.  Arkady shot a glare over the lip of his coffee cup at the thin Commissar’s back before ordering his subordinate to adjust the frequency.  Vorontsov turned, sipping his own coffee as Khabarov approached.  “Good morning, Comrade Commander.”

Khabarov stared straight at the map, “Thank you Comrade Commissar.”  He sighed, “It is a morning, da, but. . . .”

Vorontsov turned back to the map, “Ah, you’re worried about your progress.  Do you have any plans for the river?”

“Da.”

“I see.  It’s just that Moscow will be wondering.”

“They won’t when I get to the ridges behind that damned stream.”

“That damned stream indeed.  You have three more days, nyet?”

“I’m going to smash them this morning.  The tanks finally made it here.”  Khabarov’s aide finally appeared in the doorway with his coffee.  Back to the map, his units were depressingly short of their objective.  Karelia was rife with extremely difficult terrain threaded only by a few roads, like the one across the Kollaa stream, which were inevitably guarded by the damn Finns.  His tank brigade was still relatively intact, but his infantry did not have the skis the Finns did for the cross-country work necessary for the Karelian forest.  He had demanded adequate supplies of Commander Shaposhnikov, but the man was preoccupied with the damn Mannerheim Line on the south side of Lake Ladoga.  Khabarov’s aide, tugged his elbow, “Comrade Commander, the morning report.”

“Da.”  As he turned to the radio, the corner of his eye caught Vorontsov raising his eyebrows at him over his coffee cup.  “How exciting.”

Khabarov ignored him and stepped behind Arkady, who pressed a hand to the headphones as if that would clear up the crackling interference.  “The 75th Division reports all is ready. . . . .the 56th has some some cold casualties but is ready. . . . .the 164th Division. . .ready. . .the 128th Division. . .”

Arkady leaned in closer.  “They have sniper fire sir, it’s the White Death.  They’re calling for artillery.”  Khabarov paled, “Give it to them.”

 

A New Type of Story

Posted in Military Fiction with tags , , , , , , on April 29, 2014 by hughmbrien

This next story I will be putting up is something a bit different from the rest of them (hence the editorial).  It is an experiment that resulted from having to turn in a midterm for a Creative Writing class.  I’ve never done historical military fiction (the main character is real and the war is real) before, but it was a fascinating experience because, for the first time, I had to do actual research.  And in this research I came across the title: Sisu, which is a Finnish word that doesn’t quite translate into English, but it basically means taking action despite all the odds that say otherwise and displaying resilience in the face of it.

Red

Posted in Poems with tags , , , , on April 8, 2014 by hughmbrien

A poetic imitation of “Yellow” by Scott Cairns 

In the afternoon of the day, the black paved

streets run red with dying, bloody solar rays,

the last vestiges of warmth keeping the coolness

from getting foothold on those browsing the

windows. Sports cars like fire engines roar by

those walking alongside,

 

laden with the products of their extravagance:

colorful bags bearing colorful sundries

bought at prices that defy imagination. Strutting

in their plumage gaudy and red, these

high-heeled people raise their high-nosed heads,

to the setting sky. Long-necked ostriches never

had as much strut in their walk; and the vain

peacock never as much aplomb. Flood-like,

 

they disperse into the diffusing light, sated for the day

in their need for that which will set them apart

from all the rest. And as these red-flecked peacocks

flit their way back to vast gold-encrusted nests that

flash sanguine in the last residues of sunlight

refracted through air thick with their smoky issue,

they rip their parcels apart, ecstatic as children

can be with new toys. What emerges from their

varied packages, to them, individually, is something

new and exciting; but in tomorrow’s prance,

realization will dawn with the sun that, in fact,

they still look all the same.    

The Stillness of Time pt. 4

Posted in Horror, Science Fiction with tags , , on February 6, 2014 by hughmbrien

Calvin opened his eyes to the near-blinding white of the space between instances.  The Gangly Man spun to him, “Now.  Because the cosmos has inexplicably given you the ability of stopping Time, it follows that you should be able to see the instances on your own.  But you can’t so you obviously don’t have complete control over your ability.  You need that control.  Without it, you will not be able to change events.”

“Wait, why can’t we just do what we did before?  I just follow you to the right spot and follow you down.”

“That would make it easy, wouldn’t it?  That’s not how it works, unfortunately, not this time.  I can’t go down because you’re going to affect the timeline and if I’m there, I’ll be stuck.  I don’t want that and neither do you, believe me.  Let’s get to work.  I need you to concentrate on the most powerful moment of your life.  Good or bad, you need to remember the one moment that affected you the most.”

In his mind, Calvin recoiled.  Really?  I need to remember that moment?  Shit.  Not that moment.  He doesn’t mean that one.  I’ll remember when my dog died.  He was still thinking this when the Gangly Man placed his hands on Calvin’s temples.  A swirl of emotions spun through Calvin, almost sucking his breath away.  Visions of his dog laying on the vet’s table came and went.  He saw himself on his bed with his face in his hands, Mother knocking on the door entreating him to open up.   A tear trickled down his cheek between the Gangly Man’s hands.  As it coursed its way down Calvin’s smooth face, a hazy circle began to shimmer into existence right next to their feet, startling Calvin so he almost pulled free.  But the Gangly Man held him fast.  The circle began to get wider, still retaining its hazy shimmer.  It seemed to reach a certain critical mass, gave one last gleam and collapsed.  The Gangly Man jerked his hands from Calvin’s face in irritated shock.  Calvin wilted under his disaproving glare.  “Come now, Calvin, you can do better that that.”

“I-I didn’t think-”

“No you didn’t and now the opening is gone.  You’re going to have to do better if you want to bring her back.”

Calvin flinched.  “I’m sorry, I-”

“See Calvin, that’s your problem.  Do you notice a word you’re using a lot?  ‘I, I, I,’ you’re too wrapped up in your own head.  You need to stop thinking in terms of ‘I’ and start thinking in terms of ‘Her.’  Get out of your own head and face what’s going on.  You’ve made your choices now follow through.”

“I didn’t MAKE those choices!  YOU did!  YOU told me what to do and I’m trying my best, but you keep telling me I’m not good enough.”

The Gangly Man shook his thin head.  “You’re not listening Calvin.  You need to listen and stop thinking, just do.  It’s okay to just do.  Now stop this nonsense and focus on the one moment that changed your life.”

Calvin sighed, slumping into the Gangly Man’s hands.  He closed his eyes and cast his memory back.

The house was a decent size, about seventeen thousand square feet.  Good size for a good family of four.  Dad was coming home, advented by the groaning of the garage door.  Quite the event.  The kids, Calvin and Kary, scampered from the kitchen to the upstairs.  Mommy looked down into her pasta pot and continued stirring.  The door from the garage banged open, revealing Daddy himself, dressed in a business suit, come home from work at the paper place.  Calvin’s vision jostled as he scampered up the stairs on all fours.  “Come one Kay, let’s bounce on the bed.”

“Ok!”  Just as they rounded the corner at the top of the stairs, Calvin heard Daddy stride into the kitchen, “I’m home Charlotte.”

“I see. . . .”  Mommy’s voice faded as Calvin raced his sister down the hallway toward the spare room where the only bed they were allowed to bounce on lay waiting.  The familiar creak of the old frame soothed Calvin as he bounced with his sister, hands outstretched for balance.  Up and down, up and down until he was near dizzy.  In his excitement he drifted closer and closer to the edge.  And then there was a loud CRUNCH as his foot landed on the edge of the bed and the older frame collapsed under the force.  Mommy immediately looked up from the salad into which she had been studiously proportioning croutons.  A pained look on her face, she began to hasten for the stairs.  Daddy, though, put a hand up and growled, “I’ll deal with it.”  With which he reached for a long-shafted wooden spoon.

“No, let me. . . “  Another hand gesture enforced silence.  Calvin sat on his bum tears streaming down his face.  Kary had slipped off in the collapse and sat there dumbly, staring at him.  The heavy tread of Daddy feet on the stairs sounded Calvin’s death knoll.  Daddy’s imposing figure appeared in the doorway, wooden spoon in hand.  “Kary, go help your mother in the kitchen.”

“Yes, Daddy.”  Without another word, the girl slipped around her Father and scampered downstairs.  As her footsteps faded out, Father turned toward Calvin.  “Did you break the bed?”

“Y-yes.”  Calvin blubbered.

“Stand up, turn around and bend over.”  Calvin obeyed each command in turn, knowing what was coming.  Pain lanced through the child’s bottom.  As it continued, Calvin’s awareness seemed to zoom outward and beyond the room with the broken bed.  It blurred for a second and then the Gangly Man was standing in front of him again, hands on his temples.  A portal shimmered next to their feet, playing out the scenario Calvin had just left in its opening.  “Very good Calvin!  Well done, well done indeed,” the Man exclaimed as he released him.  Calvin sank to his knees, tears rolling down his cheeks, staring into the eleven year old scene.  One by one, other holes began to open up around him.  He tore his gaze away from his own and got to his feet slowly.  His face constricted into stupefaction as he gazed into the innumerable instances of Time itself.  “Judging by that look on your face, you can see them now.  Isn’t it amazing?”  The Gangly Man spread his arms, “all of Time at your disposal.  How does it feel youngin?”

“This. . . .is. . . .amazing.  This is absolutely incredible!  HAHAA THIS IS AWESOME!”

“Dandy.  Off you pop to your girl now, go on.  Just focus on the instance you want and it should come scrolling by.  Now there will be Duplicate You, so you have to make sure to stay out of his way.  That’s very bad, unbelievably bad if he sees you.  So don’t do it.”

“You’re not coming with?”

“I told you before Calvin, you have to do this.  I’ll watch from here.  You’ll do fine.”

Calvin nodded, closed his eyes and focused on when his friends were rousting him from his room for the game.  When he opened his eyes, a portal revealed the familiar grounds of his school stretching beyond his feet.  He looked the Gangly Man in the eye and said one word before he jumped through, “Thanks.”

 

Calvin landed with a thump on the sidewalk outside his dorm.  He immediately ducked behind a nearby tree and watched the entrance.  It was a lazy Saturday afternoon so very few people were wandering about.  If they did see him, they passed it off as a prank in set-up.  As he glanced around the tree, a gleam of gold in the middle distance caught his eye.  Elaine!  I have to tell her don’t go to the fields.  Taking another glance at the dorm doors, which stayed quiet, Calvin darted out of cover and began to jog toward Her.  She began eyeing him as he got closer.  A flush crept up his neck, but he continued.  He made it obvious that he was moving toward her, at which she began to slow down, looking around for any other targets of his attention.  When he got within easy earshot he stopped.  “Hey, don’t go to the fields today.”

“What?  How-how did you know I was going to. . . “

“Please just listen to me, it’ll be better if you study in your room or somewhere, anywhere but the intramural fields.  Please.”

Her mouth twitched nervously and she took several steps back, “Why are you?  How do you know?”

Calvin knew better than to follow her, but he managed to get in, “Your name is Elaine and you go watch the sports so you don’t get lost in your books.  You’re in Anatomy and you’re fascinated with the possibility of telepathy.  Well I’m telling you right now that yes, telepathy is a thing, which is how I know all that and how I also know that you should not go to the intramural fields at all costs.”

Elaine paled, “Telepathy. . . is real. . . I knew it!  Haha I knew it!  Quick, what am I thinking right now?”

Calvin took a nervous glance behind him to the dorm which still remained still.  He turned back, “Uhhh sorry, I don’t have time for that, I have to get back.  Promise me you’ll read somewhere else today?  Just today, tomorrow will be fine.”

“Well what will happen today?  Is it that bad?”

“Believe me, it’s the last thing you would want.”

She seemed to consider it a moment.  “Alright, I promise.”

“Excellent.”  Calvin began to back away.  “Well. . . uhh. . . .goodbye.”

She started after him, “Wait, no, what’s your name?  Who are you?”

“Sorry, I really gotta go.”  And with that he began to turn around.  But something happened in that instant that put an immediate feeling of dread in his soul.  As Calvin turned, he heard the door to the dormitory slam closed behind a group of boys.  And in the middle of them was himself.  Calvin immediately began to blink, but as his eyelids began to close Himself looked up and saw him.  Recognition dawned in a instant, shock and confusion intermingling.  For a single moment everything became still, highlighted in the afternoon sun.  Calvin felt a shuddering in his body even as everything broke.  Just like in his dream, cracks spiderwebbed everything in sight, except this was deeper, more ferocious.  In that single instant Calvin knew what happened.  As his eyes closed, he saw the collapse of Time itself between his lashes.

 

As the space between instances faded, the Gangly Man brought to mind the image of that dreadful hand grasping for his help.  He held it to his heart as Everything collapsed and Nothing rushed to greet him.

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