The Devs Must Be Crazy

Devs_EBOOK_v2In Albion’s Trial—an MMO game where players plug their brains directly into the server—members of the Rabid Squirrels Guild work together as friends to find the best loot, defeat the toughest monsters, and brave the darkest dungeons.

At the Phoenix Dive, Riseera meets her guildies at the worst possible time. During a lag spike.

To escape the lag, the Rabid Squirrels accept a quest from a nose-picking bartender.

But Riseera’s memory of the quest does not prepare her or the guild for the adventure to come.

The game has just begun.


Now available in trade paperback and e-book at many retailers. Beginning today, I’ll also make the book free to read in its entirety on Wattpad for a limited time (about a month or so).

Writing Is Not Work to be published soon

NanoBook_CoverFINALWriting Is Not Work:

On Finding Your Voice With Creative Writing

Every November, writers around the globe participate in National Novel Writing Month, the yearly challenge to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

The experience and thrill of fast paced novel writing is both amazing fun and daunting at the same time. But in the exhilarating mad dash to the finish line, it’s often easy to forget the reason for writing a novel in the first place: to tell fun stories.

How do you progress from typist to storyteller? How do you create books that are original and fun to write?

From his unique perspective and experience with National Novel Writing Month, speculative fiction writer D. Anthony Brown explains how to find your voice in fiction writing. He explains what voice is, how fears and “critical voice” can stop writers cold, and the importance of attitude in storytelling.

Fiction writing does not have to be a grind, like a day job or a chore. Writing can, and should, be fun both in November and year-round!


The book and edits are done. Cover design is finished (fingers crossed CreateSpace doesn’t reject it). Currently finalizing the interior design and final formatting issues. With luck, all the files will be uploaded to the distributors by end of the week!

The trade paperback will be $10.99, the e-book $4.99. Best of all, the entire book will be available on my blog for free, beginning September 15 until the first week of December.

That’s right… my book about finding your voice during NaNoWriMo will be available for free during NaNoWriMo. I’ll be posting a chapter a day starting September 15. Enjoy!

Cover image: Elena Vasilchenko/Dreamstime

Cover design: David Brown/Hermit Muse Publishing

Disclaimer: The contents of this book has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. “National Novel Writing Month” and “NaNoWriMo” are trademarks of the Office of Letters and Light.

Writing Is Not Work

NanoBook_Cover1Just a quick announcement for a new non-fiction book I’m currently in the middle of, Writing Is Not Work: Finding Your Voice During National Novel Writing Month. To the left is a mock-up of the cover. The final cover, of course, might look different.

I cover a lot of ground in this book. Ways to develop your creative voice, how to beat back critical voice and fears, and what kind of attitudes are important to being a professional writer. And most importantly, how to approach your writing so it’s fun.

I’ve got about 8,000 words done so far, and feels about half way, so it won’t be a long book. Hoping to have it out by end of summer or early fall. In time for NaNoWriMo.🙂

The plan so far is to post the book in its entirety here on my blog, for a limited time. That’s right, you get to read it for free. Probably beginning late September or early October, and it’ll go bye-bye around December 1.

“Beauty” on Wattpad

A Vacant Elemental Beauty is now free to read on Wattpad for a limited time. I’ll be posting a chapter a day over the next week. The story will be available on Wattpad for about or so afterwards, and then only the first chapter will remain as a free sample.

The Silent Yearning of the Bijounonc, also on Wattpad, is still free to read, too, until May 9, 2015. After that, only Chapter One will remain.

Goodbye 2014!

Lots and lots of changes in the last year. I’m both pleased and disappointed in what I’ve accomplished. I learned a lot, but had many missed opportunities to do so much more.

I feel I’ve gone from learning how to write, to learning how to be a storyteller. Huge world of difference. If you don’t know what that difference means, think of it this way:

It’s the difference between a typist and an entertainer.

A typist is somebody who types words and makes pretty sentences grammarly correct. An entertainer makes up a story, puts it on the market, and then goes off to make up another story. Blunt distinction… but so true. I’ve come a long way in becoming an entertainer, but I’ve got a long long ways to go yet.

So, what did I do in the last year?

HMP_LOGO1First thing was to set up my publishing company, Hermit Muse Publishing. This is the venue through which I’m publishing all of my works. I will offer trade paperback and e-book editions of my novels, short stories, and collections.

The logo on the left will be printed on the back and spine of my paperbacks.

As far as production goes… I went in with big goals–four novels and I don’t remember how many short stories I was going to do–and failed. By my count I published six short stories, some of which under the erotica pen-name D. B. Mallory, and have three more in post-production (stories are written, now being flowed into paper). No completed novels. But I learned a ton from what I did accomplish.

I’m learning to trust my gut. If I’m dragging my way through a scene, I hit the delete key and go in a different direction. If the last 500 words were a breeze and perhaps even put a smile on my face, I keep those words. Even when I look back at them later and think they’re crap. That just means my critical voice wants to tear something down. I don’t let it.

Speaking of 500 words, I’ve learned there’s a kind of rhythm with writing. I work in half hour sessions, and generally get 400 to 600 words in that time. An hour a day gets me about 1000 words. Writing every day gets me a short story a week or a good chunk of a novel done. Next year’s goal is to hit 1,000,000 words in a year. I’ll let you do the math.

I’m getting better at recognizing my fears, and living with them. My least productive moments are generally caused by a fear. While I can never be rid of fears entirely, I can deal with them. Often, it’s a matter of sitting in my chair, setting my timer for a half hour, and getting lost in a story. All my worries and inadequacies wash away, and only the story matters in that half hour.

Because of that, I’m having more fun with writing than ever. This is, frankly, the best job I’ve ever had. I get to sit alone in a room, and make stuff up, and people get to pay me money for this.

Ball of Yarn-1My cover art and book design skills have improved as well. Being a one-man publishing show certainly has its advantages, but also comes with more learning curves. The cover on the right–“Ball of Yarn”–is a permafree story floating around out there in the interwebz. I won’t even link to it. The story is only still out there because I’m too lazy to do anything with it. If you bought Paladin & Other Weird Tales (thank you!) you have this story.

Red Sexy Lips and Nails closeup. Open Mouth. Manicure and MakeupContrast the “Ball of Yarn” cover (from 2012, I think) with my upcoming short story “On Rabbits, Holes, & Shivs”. Still have a lot of things to improve and learn, but I’m starting to play with my cover art more. Learning to use different effects, fonts, colors, etc. I’m beginning to understand the concept of branding.

I’m keeping a diary these days. What do I do each day? How many writing sessions do I have? How many words? Movies? Books read? Games played? Recording this information helps me keep track of my day and be more productive. I highly, highly recommend keeping a diary or spreadsheet to any newbie writers reading this. You will understand why once you do it.

Because of my records, I know I’m on a 16 week streak of writing. Not writing every day, but at least a few times every week, going back to the second week of September. Before that, my records are hazy at best.

I’ve been doing some education. I took a few of Dean Wesley Smith’s workshops: Openings, Cliffhangers, and Productivity. I also took some of his lectures: Lester Dent’s Plot Formula, Writer’s Block & Procrastination, Writing as Investment, Heinlein’s Rules, Practice… at least those are the ones I can think of.

Going forward into 2015? Every Sunday, beginning December 28 this year, I start the week with zero words. My goal is 20,000 words per week. I’m not making that kind of productivity yet, but that’s my goal, and it resets constantly.

Many blessings in the coming year!

Friday Fiction: The Gondolier

The rolling, rocking motion of the gondola forced Tom to grip the edge; the smooth, wet wood slippery under his white knuckled grasp. Brine and ether coated his skin, clothing, and hat. The port he had before disembarking left a pungent imprint on his tongue, and already he regretted the silver coin he had traded for the bottle.

He stuffed the bottle into his knapsack, trying his best to ignore it.

Regrettable also was the gondala ride itself, costing a mere handshake and a token.

The gondolier stood at his perch, rowing ever onward, knees bent at an angle, strong arms flexing with each push. His round flat hat stayed firmly on top of his head as if glued there. He did not seem bothered by the wind, or the lick of salt water, or the cold void, even though he wore a sleeveless shirt.

Underneath his bushy moustache, a smile remained plastered in place during the entire journey.

“How much longer?” said Tom. A whip of water smacked his face, flooding his nostrils and stinging his eyes. Foulness washed over him, not from the salt. Something more elemental.

Of course he paid the gondalier to take him back. Tom dreamed of revisiting the past. Seeing old friends. Correcting his mistakes. All of that. He had not dreamed the journey through time to be so… inhospitable.

“Until what?” said the gondolier.

“Until we get there,” Tom said, not hiding the snideness nor impatience in his tone.

The gondolier shrugged his muscular shoulders and kept rowing, the smile ever present under his hairy lip. Not even the moustache could hide his pleasure, even though it tried its damnedest.

The gondola buckled, throwing Tom inches above his seat. Steam rose from the water, phosphorous green in the hazy lights of the time void. Smells of acid and vinegar filled the air.

“What was that?” Tom said, looking around him in every direction. He saw nothing, but filmy fog and misty shapes. His heart hammered in his chest. He gripped both sides of the vessel now.

The smile under the moustache disappeared for a flicker before returning. The gondolier shrugged again. He rotated his head until his neck cracked like a falling tree in an empty forest.

“Kraken,” said the gondolier.

Tom stood up straighter, popping every vertebrae in his spine.

“What do you mean kraken?”

“As in, kraken. The monster that fills the voids. Eats the unwary. That.”

“What the hell is it doing here?”

The gondolier shrugged. His habit was wearing thin on Tom. The waters buckled the gondola harsher, quicker now.

“Don’t worry, kid,” said the gondolier. “I’ve been through worse. This one is only a type four.”

“How many types are there?”


Tom wasn’t entirely sure if he should be reassured by this news. Or if type four was better or worse than type five.

The gondolier stopped rowing for a brief respite, letting the craft simply drift on the waves of time for a bit. He pointed to the distant horizon, completely obscured by fog.

“That there is your stop, kid.”

“How do you know?” said Tom.

The man smiled even wider, revealing jagged teeth, like a shark’s mouth. Each tooth was pure white, and pointed dagger-like. He rowed.

“Just remember,” he said. “The kraken don’t care where you stop at. He just wants a piece of you for the toll.”

“What!” Tom’s hands slipped from their grip as the gondola nearly capsized. He slid on his backside, catching a grip on the seat and landing face first back into the vessel.

He turned. The gondolier was still at his his post, oar in hand, smiling.

“I said,” said the gondolier.

He didn’t get to finish his statement.

A green, slime crusted tentacle wrapped around the gondola and squeezed. Red painted wooden planks snapped like pretzels, splinters and paint chips scattering to the waters.

The monster rose out of the sea little by little, like in a bad horror film. First the crest—green and red scales, bulging eyes, smooth puckering mouth. More tentacles than Tom could count followed. Each unique in some way.

Some tentacles were knobby and cracked. Others smooth and reflective like blown glass. All the tentacles had suckers on them.

Tom looked over his shoulder at the gondolier for guidance. The man, still standing straight, oar in one hand, swept off his hat and bowed to the kraken.

The monster swept the gondolier with a slimy tentacle and brought him to the puckered mouth. The man got sucked in, like a fresh oyster, oar and all.

The gondola broke away from under Tom’s grasp. He clutched a plank with all his might, but it wasn’t enough to keep him afloat. The only solid object in this dread sea was the kraken.

The plank slipped and Tom sank into the dark sea. He could not breath. He could not move. Cold, bitterness overtook him. Something snake-like wrapped around his waist. He was brought back to the surface.

He stared directly into the kraken’s eyes. This was what the token and handshake had bought him. A type four kraken, whatever that truly was. Tom was no longer afraid. Death would be kind.

The puckered lips sucked him in, and all was dark. He could breath, but barely. He could move, but his movements were like molasses. The air stank like a fetid fart mixed with stomach juices. The walls were juicy and soft.

Blind, he grabbed something. Long, wooden. A staff? No… an oar.

An idea popped into Tom’s mind.

Perhaps a foolish, stupid idea. But an idea.

He had to work quickly. He opening his knapsack, feeling with cold fingers to find the port bottle. He broke it across the oar, adding wine flavor to the already abominable smells.

With the jagged bottle, he cut open the kraken’s soft tissue. He could feel the monster react and flail, though the movements were mere jiggling from the inside. The cuts he made wasn’t perfect, and for a long baited breath he was afraid the bottle wouldn’t cut deep enough.

But it was enough.

At least enough to cut back the layers of tissue and fat. Light poured in through the expanding hole. Frantic, Tom tore his way to the other side of the kraken.

And landed in a street that smelled of baking bread and dead roses. Memories became present. Tom left behind the broken bottle and oar, and started his life again.


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Friday Fiction: Beast of the Nature

“Whadya think she’s doing now?” said Murfe as he stirred the pot of beans over the campfire. The fire hissed and crackled, tongues of flame licking the blackened pot. Murfe had his ten-gallon hat strapped crooked on his head.

He belched, and the flames rose higher as if he had thrown lighter fluid into the firepit.

“Who?” said Telanes. Everywhere in his body hurt. His arm and shoulder muscles burned from fighting off the bandits (whom Murfe shot three rounds at, from horseback no less), and his legs and butt ached from the long ride.

To make matters worse, their mechanical horses lost steam earlier, and they had to abandon them at the gulch. Telanes’ feet hurt now. His shield—gifted to him by the temple fathers—had a dent he could not hammer back out.

And he lost his battle-axe in the fight against the bandits. The lone survivor had stolen it off his horse, and snuck away into the plains.

The absolute worst thing about this quest was the idiot cowboy Telanes hired. Murfe was the crudest, smelliest, most backward help Telanes could find. But he was also the least expensive and, amazingly, the only temple-sanctioned tracker in this backwater country.

“The redhead at the Juicy Loose Tavern,” Murfe swung the spoon in Telanes’ direction, flinging beans. A glop hit his chestplate. “I mean the dragon, silly.”

Telanes sighed and flicked the beans off his armor. “Our quarry is a male dragon. Orange scales. No wings. Or have you forgotten already?”

“Them dragons out here in the plains and valleys are all female,” said Murfe. “Only the boy dragons have the wings, boss.”

“Fine,” said Telanes. “I think she is sitting on our treasure hoard, waiting for us to slay her, just as the temple fathers have dictated.”

“What you say, boss,” said Murfe, dipping beans into two wooden bowls. He stopped working for a long moment, face scrunched tight. Murfe farted, the sound drifting across the rolling plains. As well as the smell.

Telanes lay down on his cot, wishing he could wear his helmet while asleep, if only so he could pull down the visor and maybe block out the offensive smell. The last thing he tasted before falling asleep was the foul odor coming from Murfe.

Once the dragon lay dead at his feet, Telanes would bring up the matter of Murfe’s sanctioning with the temple fathers.

Nothing would stop him from his holy mission.


Before the sun rose, Telanes kicked Murfe awake. The constellations pointed the rest of the way, and the knight wasn’t willing to wait out the rest of the night.

So close to the treasure! The temple fathers decreed this mission, and Telanes would see it succeed.

The cold plains air stung as he walked the rest of the way to the dragon’s den. His armor—a second skin to him—chilled and slowed him down. But not even the weight of his weapons, nor that of his fool companion, would slow his progress.

The den, however, wasn’t exactly as he expected.

“This can’t be it,” said Telanes.

“What you say, boss.”

“Stop saying that, idiot. That doesn’t even make grammatical sense.”

The “den” was an outcropping of the tallest hill in the desolate plains. Not even a proper cave. Telanes had to duck his head to go underneath. Moss and floppy upside-down mushrooms hung from the ceiling.

He lit a torch and threw it on the ground. In the center of the den was a pit filled with hay and wild grass. Telanes squatted down, and moved the nesting to one side.


“This is not treasure,” said Telanes.

“One man’s junk…” started Murfe.

“No! I came here for gold. For gems. For diamonds bigger than a man’s fist!”

“But you got eggs, boss. Told ya this one’s a female.”

“And you!” Telanes drew his sword and pointed the silver tip at Murfe’s throat. “How did you get to be a sanctioned tracker?”

The cowboy shrugged. “I’m real good at finding lost cattle. Especially when they get abducted by them-there dragons.”

Telanes lowered his sword. “You aren’t worth killing. My strength granted by the gods is better put to use in other ways.”

“Like how?”

“By slaying dragons!”

Telanes turned and walked out of the den.

“How you figure on finding a dragon without me?”

“The gods will guide my path.” Telanes turned about-face and knelt on one knee at the edge of the den. He planted the tip of his sword-blade into the rocky soil, and bent his head forward in silent prayer.

“I can give the gods a little nudge, boss,” said Murfe.

“I don’t want your…”

Telanes looked up just in time to see Murfe chucking an egg in his direction.

Crack! Plop!

Egg yolk and bits of shell dripped down his visor and into his cuirass. The slimy residue oozed down the inside of his armor, soaking his cotton lining. The egg tasted faintly of honey and mackerel.

A curse sat on Telanes’ tongue, but it never got uttered.

The ground shook, and split apart. A dragon, orange scaled, popped its head out of the dirt, spraying rocks and debris at Telanes.

The beast of nature demons! And he—she?—was covered in treasure. Gold earrings studded her ears. Necklaces of precious gems cinched the serpentine body. The dragon roared in outrage. The creature’s fangs glittered like diamonds.

If Telanes wasn’t mistaken, the teeth were diamonds!

The knight rose to his full height, hitting the top of his helmet against the den ceiling. He recovered quickly, and strategically backed out of the den as the dragon lashed at him with fangs and tail.

Out in the open, he raised his shield to parry. The dragon bit into the steel, crumpled it like tinfoil, and ripped it from his arm.

He switched the sword to his other arm, and drew his mace. Telanes swung wildly at his foe. The sword’s blade bent on the scales. The mace broke in half.

The gods demanded a dragon’s death. And Telanes would not disappoint, even if he were weaponless.

He planted his steel boots hard in the ground, preparing himself mentally and spiritually to charge the beast head on.

A lasso wrapped around the dragon’s neck.

“Woo hoo!” yelled Murfe as he leaped onto the thing’s back, waving his hat in the air. “Thanks for the distraction, boss!”

The knight stood there, dumbfounded, as the cowboy rode off into the sunrise on dragonback.


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Friday Fiction: The Peanut Thieves

Day 1

We set up camp in the parlor, under the big tree. Cold drafts came in from all directions, including the hole we came through, making the air frigid and hostile. Luckily, a layer of velvet fabric lined the bottom of the tree, acting as a gigantic blanket for us.

Jupe noticed the cat first. A fat lazy thing with a scruffy mantle and bells on its collar. I told everyone to hide, while I braved the cold and instant death to scout.

The monster noticed me, staring me down with mismatched eyes. It lifted a paw, as if in greeting, to beckon forward and play with it. I didn’t fall for the trap.

I scurried back to camp, and we spent an uneasy night under the tree. The bells kept waking us up, though we took turns at watch.

Day 2

Packed up camp and took our supplies with us. Pete pushed the wagon of rations, while I pulled the blankets and tents on a sled behind me. Jupe and Bob ran ahead of his, scouting.

We got halfway across the parlor when the front door slammed and a set of clunky heeled boots came our way. Pete and I dropped the supplies and ran for cover underneath a floral patterned sofa. Not sure where Bob went. Jupe apparently froze.

A high pitched scream peeled the silence. Clanking bells followed. The boots ran down the hall, fast.

Jupe joined us right as the cat peered under the sofa, green and blue eyes in the dark. The fat thing plunked down and swiped a paw at us, claws extended. The eyes closed, and light snores came out of the monster’s nose.

No sign of Bob. Rescue is impossible tonight, and we cannot recover our lost supplies with the cat still outside our makeshift camp. Went hungry and cold tonight.

Day 3

Cursed! This expedition cannot be more unlucky.

We awoke today, luckily the monster had gotten bored. Pete last spotted it at the window seat, head in its paws, but the ears twitching and pointed upright.

But one bit of good fortune cannot come without a setback. Our supplies are gone, as if some hand from above reached down and wrested away our wagon and sled.

Still no sign of Bob.

The three of us ran fast as we could to get out of the parlor. Made significantly more progress, oddly thanks to our now light load.

This looks like a dining room. Plenty of crumbs on the carpet for us to munch on. Rations would’ve been preferable to this drek, but our empty stomachs got some temporary relief.

A plant in a wicker basket stands in one corner of this room. We managed to climb in and rest. The leaves and flowers on the plant were terrible and impossible to chew.

No sign of the boots from yesterday. But the cat found us again. This time it perched on top of the table to stare down at us. I think the blasted thing is taunting us. Its whiskers twitch every time it snores.

I did everything I could to calm Pete and Jupe, but they lay awake chattering as I tried to doze off. I got little sleep.

Day 4

Today started blessedly warm. Made our progress even faster. We darted under rugs and around corners to avoid the boots. Noticed the shiny silver buckle this time, and the long legs attached to the boots.

Warmth turned to blazing heat, slowing our journey again.

Found Bob under the dinette table. He died young and innocent, this being his first reconnaissance mission. No amount of briefing or simulations can properly relay the horror of the cheese trap.

His death was quick. I doubt he even knew what killed him.

I held an impromptu service for him. Pete and Jupe stood at attention and saluted at the proper moment. The service was cut short when the cat pounced us, surprising all of us. We scurried under a credenza, and huddled together.

When we regained our senses, we found stale peanuts in our hiding hole. Not gourmet food like Aunt Millie makes, but sufficient.

Set up camp here under the credenza. The air cooled off eventually. Other than odd noises and human laughter coming from the next room, we had a peaceful night. The first for awhile.

Day 5

Finally, the air was neither hot nor cold. But the boots woke us up early. After the stomping ended, we ventured out of hiding.

Entered the kitchen in the morning. The cat lay high above us, near the window. It had turned on the faucet and lapped up water when we discovered it.

We ran for our lives. Pete and I found a vent to hide in. Jupe was too slow and got caught in the open. The lazy cat decided it was bored taunting us and leaped off the counter. Its angle was off, which allowed Jupe to escape narrowly.

He ran to the corner back near the credenza, and leapt into a squat box on the floor. I cringed. The cat’s ugly eyes darted to Jupe.

I yelled for him to get out. He must not have understood the danger he was in. The box was the cat’s territory, and it did not take kindly to Jupe’s invasion.

Unlike Bob, Jupe’s end was not quick. The cat forgot its laziness and toyed with him relentlessly. But he was doomed. No escape.

I pulled Pete by the scruff, deeper into the vent. I calmed him best I could. No one should ever witness a friend die by a cat’s paw. I led a prayer for Jupe, and Pete saluted at the right moment.

We rested tonight in the vents. I allowed Pete to sleep off his sorrow, and I stayed awake all night.

Day 6

Found insects to snack on as we travelled through the vents. Nothing eventful.

Until we reached a terminal and came to the living room. By then it was night. Boots was asleep on the couch, her lips twitching much like the damned cat’s. The noise and picture box was turned on. The show playing featured a man in a gypsy hat who pressed an envelope to his forehead.

The cat lay snuggled against Boots’ torso, eyes half closed. Boots’ hand rested on the cat, every finger painted purple and filled with rings.

I spotted a large bowl on the coffee table. The jackpot.

Pete and I climbed table’s legs, but only after a pep talk from me. He followed behind, but he gave the cat two quick glances for step he took.

At the summit, I instructed him to hide behind the bowl while I climbed in. Sure enough, food was inside. Peanuts. Lots of them.

I started throwing peanuts over the side. Pete collected them one by one. He managed to find little torn foil bags and put the food inside. Perfect for carrying.

He filled two such bags and I had just reached the bowl’s rim when the cat pounced.

Boots screamed and held back the monster, which resisted her restraint with claws and fangs and hissing.

Pete and I ran, even though the bags were awkward to carry. We lost precious peanuts on the way back to the vent.

Boots lost control of the cat, bells jingling behind us like a death toll, just before we made it to sanctuary. Pete dropped his bag and lightening fast flew into the open vent.

I picked up his bag, two in my mouth now. A claw slammed down on my tail. Life flashed before me. Fangs wide, blue and green eyes scrunched, the cat snarled.

Purple tipped fingers snatched the cat’s collar and I was free. With renewed effort I grabbed the peanuts and hurried to the vent.

Pete pulled me in.

Day 7

We escaped the cursed house under the cover of darkness. Our initial supplies gone, we set up camp in a tree.

Spent the morning resting, munching on salty peanuts.

By midday, a psychopathic squirrel kicked us out of the tree. Pete and I made haste back to headquarters.


I tell lies for fun and profit. If you enjoyed this story, please feel free to leave me a tip.

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Friday Fiction: Beyond the Storage Hall Door

The old battered door on the second floor stood guard to the unused storage hall rooms for years. The white paint chips fell off one by one until many holiday seasons worth lay in piles on the scrappy orange carpet. No one who currently worked in the store knew what lay beyond. The few who ventured back there, either never returned or came back raving mad.

Haunted, they’d say.

Cursed, said others.

The managers tried to keep a lid on the rumors, but the stories spread like wildfire in the break room. How Tommy went in looking for sign holders and returned with warts. How Melissa had dared Tina on a whim, and when the latter didn’t return, the former suffered from nightmares for the rest of her life.

Mike and Chelsey were at the door, catty-corner to luggage and directly behind housewares. The permanent vacuum cleaner bag smell permeated the entire back hall. Dust motes fell in swarms from the water stained ceiling tiles.

He turned the knob and kicked the door open with his foot, the rusted metal hinges creaked slowly. He shone a flashlight into the eldritch depths.

“I think there’s snakes in there,” he said.

“Could be rodents of unusual size,” she said.

“Or goblins.”

“Goblins would be kind of cool.”

“Yeah, until they chewed your arm off with their sharp, pointy teeth.”

They stood in the doorway for a long silent moment, she slightly behind him, an empty flatbed trolley parked behind them.

“We should get the glass cubes and get out of here,” she said.

“Why?” he said. “You want to go first?”

“I think you should.”

“Big baby. Wedge the trolly in the door when you decide to follow.”

She did so, blocking a quick escape, but at least the door was open and granular light illuminated the first few feet of the storage hall.

Machinery somewhere beyond clicked and clanged rhythmically, like some clumsy giant robot dancing in the darkness.

He whipped the flashlight this way and that; revealing dummy heads, mannequins, and display tables stacked to the ceiling. Something with claws on its feet skittered away from the light and back into hiding. A life-like plastic head with a woman’s short-brimmed hat stared directly at her, face to face.

“I’m losing circulation in my arm,” he said, pointing the flashlight just below her eyes.

“What?” she said, squinting. “What’s happening.”

“You’re hanging on too tight is what’s happening. Please let go.”

She looked down. Sure enough, she held his arm in a death-lock. She hadn’t even realized.

“Sorry,” she said as she let go. The muscles in her arms strained from exertion of holding on, and she had to shake her wrists to get her own circulation going again.

“Let’s go,” he said. “We just need cubes for the shirt wall. Tomorrow we can quit with our last paychecks in hand.”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll buy you a beer then.”

“I was about to make the same offer.” He nudged her elbow.

She smiled up at him, feeling color return to her cheeks. A rosy sensation, even more pleasant in the haunting darkness.

They plunged deeper into the storage hall. Past the metal frame display towers, the stacks of plexiglass shelves, the wall full of spare parts and hardware.

The skittering feet ran past them, right under Chelsey’s skirt, taking a swipe at her nylon leggings on the way. She yelped as the fabric ripped, the thing’s claw digging gouging her skin. Blood trickled down her ankle and into the sole of her high heeled shoe.

“What happened?” Mike swung the flashlight to and fro.

“Got me,” she said, gasping, clinging to his shirt. He wore a smooth sateen oxford, slippery under her fingers. “Get the cubes and just run.”

“We can do this.” He slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her deeper into the hall. His flashlight arcs frantic and erratic now.

The Christmas decorations came into view. Wreaths, trees, three foot tall plastic Santas with crooked grins and pinched eyes.

“Wait,” said Chelsey. “Point the light that way. I have an idea.”

Sure enough, an outlet was luckily placed near one of the trees that happened to be still decorated. Chelsey bent over and plugged it in. The hall blinked in shifting shades of red, green, and blue.

“Not bad,” she said, giving him a tight lipped smile. “Maybe that will scare off the goblin.”

He smiled back. “How’s your leg?”

“I don’t know. I feel light headed, but I can walk.”

“Okay. Say something if you need me to help you.”

His arm back around her waist, she leaned a little more into him, head resting on his shoulder this time.

“Jackpot,” he said, pointing the light at a stack of fingerprint laden glass cubes. “We need what? Ten? Think you can carry five of these suckers? They’re heavy.”

“Might kill me,” she said. “But we need to get out of here. Now.”

He loaded her arms with a small pyramid of glass cubes. Sure enough, she thought her arms would fall off before getting back to the trolley. She didn’t wait for him, just headed toward the light from the door. Praying the whole time she wouldn’t trip over the damned goblin, or whatever it was.

Mike wasn’t far behind. Somehow he had gotten the flashlight wedged in between two of his cubes.

Past the lit Christmas tree, the stacked tables, the mannequins. The door was so very close. Maybe this room wasn’t really cursed, just poorly lit and junky. Maybe what scratched her leg was only a rat.

Her arms not only ached, but screamed in agony as she slid her cubes onto the trolley. A relief. Now to help Mike set his down.

“Hey!” he said. “Son of a…”

In the blue, red, and green darkness, he nearly dropped his pyramid of cubes.

“Mike? You okay, there?”

She picked up his cubes two at a time and laid them on the cart.

“Something bit me. Right behind the ear.” He had two more cubes in his arms.

She snatched the flashlight and one of the last cubes. On a whim, she pointed the light back into the hall. A pair of red eyes appeared. The thing snarled. A mouthful of razor sharp yellow teeth appeared.

Chelsey snapped off the flashlight, bopping the trolley with her backside. She grabbed Mike by the shirt collar and yanked him out of the storage hall. The door slammed shut behind him.

Later that night, after a few too many rounds of beer, Chelsey decided Mike was a handsome man. She liked the way his hair grew over his ears, as well as his cleft chin, and even the way his skin had turned fire engine red over the last hour. She could get over the two horns poking out from his hairline.

But she especially liked the way his blood thumped along his smooth throat. She tried to ignore how her canine teeth were suddenly in the way as she knocked back her beer.


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