Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sci-Fi Short Story excerpt: CHEMS

 Here's a little excerpt just for fun, and because I like this story. One of my favorite reviews said:

 "Not another zombie rip-off, this would make a kick-ass movie! Sequel, please."

©Ann Swann 

            I found him in our shed.  His silvery-blue skin was mottled with healing burns, and a few strips of charred flesh still hung in tatters from his elbows and forearms.  He was curled up like a comma in a pile of old feed sacks.  I was raising chickens for my 4-H project, and those old sacks came in handy for cleaning the bottoms of my shoes each morning before school.

            The year was 1974 and I was in the eighth grade.  I was in a hurry, running late as usual, and I had just opened the hen house to let my flock out for the day when I looked across the packed-earth yard and noticed the toolshed door wasn’t completely closed.  I was the one responsible for shutting things up in the evening, so I knew that door was closed and latched the night before.
            I tiptoed up and tried to see inside through the crack—had my eye pressed to it just like that Tell-Tale Heart guy we’d read about in English—but I couldn’t see anything except that pile of old sacks.
            Then they moved. 
            My heart stuttered.  Just an animal, that’s all.  A ‘possum or ‘coon after the scent of feed—I must not have latched it after all.  I squared my shoulders and opened the door wide.  My eyes took a moment to adjust to the gloom, but right away I could see that the thing wasn’t a ‘possum or a ‘coon—nor even a skunk.  In fact, it wasn’t any kind of animal, it was . . . well, it looked like a zombie.
            And it was blue.
            “The light,” it rasped, one hand shading its eyes.
            I pulled the door partially shut.  The shed sported one dusty, flyblown window half-hidden behind a rack of hanging tools.  My gaze flickered to the garden hoe.  Could I reach it without getting too close?
            “Water?”  The ratchety voice cracked on the second syllable.
            Behind the shed was a faucet with a short length of hose that dripped continuously into the chicken’s water trough.  Reaching into the cobwebbed corner above my head, my hand found the old dipper that had hung there since Adam was still clay.  I held it up so the thing (he?) could see what I was doing.
            When his eyes slid past the dipper toward mine, I shivered inside my windbreaker and backed out the way I’d come in.  My better instincts kept telling me to drop the dipper and run, but he must have sensed something for all of a sudden the rough voice coughed:  “Hurry.  Please.”
            Glancing toward the house to make sure my father wasn’t coming, I yanked the hose out of the metal watering trough and filled the bowl of the dipper as full as possible.  I made sure to put the hose back into its guiding clamp to keep it from crimping, then I walked quickly back to the shed.
            Squeezing though the gap again, I glanced into the corner. 
            It was empty.
            “Hey . . .” My voice chirped like one of the chicks on its first day out of the nest.
            A hand shot out of the gloom behind me and clutched the dipper greedily, spilling half the water onto the hard-packed dirt floor.  Slurping sounds belied his position in the opposite corner of the dark shed. 
            Now what? 
            “More.”  He sounded a little better, not quite as raspy.
            I took the dipper by its handle, and for a second I saw his hand.  The fingers were burnt and blistered.
            “What happened to you?”  Once again, my curiosity outweighed my good sense.
            He cleared his throat painfully, as if the tissue inside was as raw as the skin outside.  “Fire.”
            I backed out of the shed and filled the dipper at the trough again.  This time, when I reentered, I leaned right into the corner and handed it to him.  “I have to go to school,” I said.  He didn’t spill it this time.  “But the water faucet is around back, you can’t miss it.  Just be sure to put the hose back into the holder so it drips into the trough—” I felt like a fool telling him all this, as if he were a guest or something.  “My Dad will leave for the factory in a few minutes, and my mom will go to work, too.  She’s a hairdresser in town.  After that you can get your own water without being se—”
            Was that the bus?
            I willed myself to stop talking and start walking.  “Umm, hey, mister . . . sir, whatever you are, please, no matter how hungry you get, please don’t eat my chickens!”  I dashed to the front of the house, grabbed my lunch off the porch, and made it just as the bus came to a screeching stop.
            I’d barely crashed into my seat when I saw my dad exit the house.  He waved once from the front porch as he adjusted his windbreaker and picked up his lunch box.  I thought I saw the kitchen curtain twitch as if Mom might be waving, but I wasn’t positive.  I kept watching though, even after we’d passed the next house and the next and the next.  And I kept right on watching until I could see nothing more than the flash of sunlight reflecting off the tin roof of the old toolshed.
            As soon as I got there, I couldn’t wait for school to be over.  I think I aced the math test; I almost always did.  But I couldn’t tell you what Mom had packed in my lunch.  I just remember being surprised when I looked up and all that was left was a half-gnawed apple core.
            “S’wrong with you, man?”  Kenny Coruth sat across from me in the cafeteria. Usually we were cuttin’ up and creatin’ havoc, but that day all I could think about was what might or might not be waiting for me in the shed when I got home.  I guess I’m a bit slow because it wasn’t until we were done eating that the thought hit me like a sledge hammer to the temple: zombies eat people!  Here I’d been worried about it (him) getting after my chickens when what I should have been worried about was how I’d given him water and then left him alone with my mom.  I’d seen Dad come out on the porch, so I was pretty sure he’d gotten out safely.  But Mom . . . what had I done?  I’d even told the thing she was in there alone.

 continued ...

Afterthought: If you like the beginning, I'm pretty sure you will like the middle, and the ending.  It's available on Amazon for 99 cents. Or FREE if you're a member of Kindle Prime. 

UK: http://tinyurl.com/c8g7h28

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