Authors: Todd Russell
"$$$ Knowledge and Power $$$"
- Mental Shrillness: overconfidence. Imagine a job where all day, every work day, you stare at a bank of security monitors. It's possible that someone like Albert could start believing he could predict people's actions. Of course the eyes can always deceive and being overconfident about anything in life can be a mistake.
- Mental Shrillness: deception. This is an odd curveball bonus piece. Back in the AIN era I had numerous reader requests for some twisted humor and this was one of several stories that dropped out of my head (along with "Honey, I Shrunk The In-Laws" in the DTB version). Remember, this story was written in and published several years before the tragic events of September 11, 2001. I thought about altering and updating this story but decided to leave it alone. Like "The Clock Called Fate" I'm fascinated by how time, technology and real life events can change fiction.
"Father Knows Winners Best"
- Mental Shrillness: obsession. Almost every child wants to make their parents proud, but Ricky and Jake take things beyond reasonable. This was originally posted in the Father's Day writing contest at AIN. A question worth pondering: who's the bad guy in this story? Is it one of the boys or their father? The last line in this story still gives me chills.
Overtime has ended. I hope you enjoyed Mental Shrillness and will join me for more stories in the future. If you want to leave a review at Amazon, I'd sure be grateful. Thank you for reading.
July 14, 2011
Fresh Flesh is coming September 29, 2011
Two burly guards with poker faces strapped him in the chair while a minister quoted psalms from an immaculate white Bible. Richard Templin was nineteen years old and sentenced to die on this day October 17, 1982.
The shackles tightened, tightened, snapped! on his wrists. The metal shackles were cold, perhaps colder than any one thing on earth. And, he nervously reminded himself, a wonderful conductor of electricity.
He had been calm, only one nail chewed, until they brought him into the room and put him in the chair. Then he started sweating all over. Started fighting back tears.
Oh God I'm gonna die I'm gonna die there gonna kill me oh God shit God they're gonna light me up like a fucking Christmas tree oh God
SNAP! The shackles hugged his bare ankles. They were even colder than the wrist shackles, turning his sweat to ice.
His conscience mocked him:
don't sweat Rich ol' boy! Hold on! You sweat and you'll fry a helluva lot quicker! 'Cuz you learned it in school, boy: water's one of the BEST conductors!
They brought the heavy black leather strap across his chest, tighter, tighter, tight—SNAP! He was buckled in, ready for the roller coaster ride straight down.
ready. The men had to tape his eyes, the last task, so they wouldn't pop out and scare the fifty or so "witnesses."
Ha, glad somebody gets to watch the show, munch the popcorn, and make out when the lights go down
The sound of the tape being ripped behind his head sent the hairs on the back of his neck erect. It sounded like what he imagined flesh to do when you tore it to pieces.
Oh God, footsteps! They're walking away! Getting ready to turn on the juice and give me the ultimate spark oh God its sooo dark please please God turn on the lights make it end, make it end, make it—
...fading...STOP. The heels clicked to an abrupt halt. He could almost see the expressionless guard next to the switch, ready, awaiting the cue. Standing next to him, a tired rich doctor with stethoscope like close friend dangling around his neck.
Let's get this over with
, he's probably thinking,
I have squash for two in an hour
The guard assured the doctor with a wink of an eye:
only take a minute, Doc—and a couple thousand volts! Ah-ha-ha-HA!
Hours, days, years? It seemed he balanced at the crest of the nightmare a long time before something happened.
His body was wet as someone who had just stepped out of the shower, his teeth chattered and bones quivered.
This was not at all what he'd envisioned. He'd expected it to be quick, merciful and painless. Something like a trip through a fast food drive-thru.
The ripping sound came again. Fast, powerful, driving down on his skull like a jackhammer. His head rocked, his eyes closed to even deeper darkness.
Several seconds passed. He hoped this fathomless black was not life after death. That there was a magical place where angels flocked and devils mocked. That death was not drowning, over and over, in a sea of black.
More seconds passed before he realized...
Oh God my God they didn't do it they didn't flip the switch they didn't they didn't
He wondered for a moment about that Ambrose Bierce story, the one where the guy who's about to be hanged manages to escape, races toward his sweetheart's arms, only to find that when he reaches her warm embrace he's actually dreamed it all and is back at the gallows, hanging dead as beef on a meat hook.
When Richard opened his eyes, there was a face. No tape, no black, a face. The ripping sound had been the tape. They were unshackling him!
The face was unfamiliar. An egg-shaped face with a short clipped beard. The face held the only expression he'd seen all morning.
The man looked as if he were about to smile, but decided against it, "We have something better for you."
, he thought, that has to mean something worse. Because better in prison was a) you're getting put on shit duty or b) you've been selected to get slipped up the back door. However, Richard was beyond those fears now, he only feared the electric chair. Besides, what could be worse than frying until your balls fell off?
They led a shocked, confused Richard Templin out of the execution room, the room that even his worst nightmares couldn't top. And with loving, open arms something unspeakable took his hand...
* * * * *
* * * * *
, the strange-looking, salt-and-pepper bearded man in tattered clothes thought, fighting his way through the damp, dripping ravine to meet the morning tide. Last night, while the forces of Mother Nature descended upon the helpless island like blood-thirsty vampires, and ear-piercing screams echoed in the night, he dreamt of something fresh. Something fresh, he was certain, awaited him on the naked beach.
He made it to the clearing, his feet bleeding through rotted tennis shoes, his heart pumping. He turned and fixed on the setting behind him, sweat cascading down his bony cheeks, believing that there was someone or something there. But there was nothing. Nothing but his own trembling shadow in the creeping sun.
At last he turned, prepared to see what he'd only seen last night as a blur, a smoky haze, a shape entirely formless.
, he thought, not knowing if he was trembling in fear or anticipation.
At first he only saw the tide's usual disappointments: tree limbs blown into the water from the other side of the island, seaweed wrenched from the ocean floor, pebbles and tiny and larger rocks of innumerable configurations. And then he saw something else.
Something new and different.
Lying face-down in the sand, among a score of torn, soggy driftwood, was the body of a woman.
He tore across the beach with sand irritating the exposed flesh in his rotted tennis shoes trying to slow his progress. Nothing could stop him.
He reached the woman and flung the driftwood aside. He picked her up in his arms, turned her, cleared the sand away from her face and felt for a pulse.
He felt her beating heart.
The strange man looked up at the scorching sun and smiled for the first time in ages. It didn't occur to him that the last time he'd smiled he had a full set of shimmering pearly whites, where now he held a mouth full of black rot and decay. Nevertheless, he smiled, and soon began to weep.
Five minutes later he carried the woman away as carefully as a five-foot, six-inch fragile mirror.
At the same time he vanished into the trees, something else washed ashore.
A severed hairy arm with a smashed, paper-thin hand, complete with five twisted digits.
* * *
The pictures in her mind never completely blacked out. She saw bits and pieces of her past strike out from a cold dark tunnel. Those memories had long skeletal-like fingers which grabbed and tried to wash her spinning body down the tunnel. But they let go. Somehow, as the black became an obvious destiny, the skeletal fingers let go.
And she kept floating and spinning.
Through the crest of violent, hungry waves, and bullet-hard raindrops fired from justice above. She floated.
Until, at last, she landed—or dreamed she had.
A place where dawn rose calmly and the lights were brighter than a million connected floodlights. And the heinous skeletal fingers, that had once held her, slithered away like individual serpents, down the frigid tunnel. Her eyes never opened, she never once regained consciousness, yet she knew it was over.
Or just beginning.
Then there was gray. An image to let her know she was still on the boundary between reality, fantasy, life and death. The storm was not over.
A different set of fingers grasped her, warm fingers from this bright place. She imagined hearing the soft melodic strum of a twelve-string guitar playing somewhere deep in the blinding white.
A day passed.
And it was on the third day that the gray metamorphosed into shape, definition and color.
The third day that her eyes opened and she took a first glimpse of her unfortunate surroundings.
"You...made...it," a nervous voice said. "I thought...thought I was going to lose you."
She dreamed the voice she heard was a doctor's, but her eyes—open with toothpicks holding the lids—saw differently. The man hovering over her was no doctor. He was as scraggly as a common bum, a vagabond, a total loser who survived on rat-like behavior. He had the unpleasant odor of dead fish, a salty, dank scent. He had a beard (if that's what it was) which looked as if it had never been shaven. His eyes were as worn and bloodshot as the town drunk's. His skin color wasn't even normal. It was gross, pale and thin. It bordered on translucent. She saw herself waking from a deep sleep to a dying, disgusting, useless bum.
"I...I can't believe you made it." He held out hands which were as worn as his eyes.
"Who...?" she forced through sun blistered lips, her voice box not allowing anymore. She tried to turn away from the man's anxious gaze, but her neck wouldn't cooperate.
"Please," he whispered, bringing something to her mouth. "Please drink. You need fluids. You almost...didn't make it."
She drank without objection. She doubted that she had the strength to object.. A warm, milky substance slid down her parched throat.
She compared the taste to her memory banks.
Yes, coconut milk.
The man pulled the coconut away from her lips. "Are you hungry? You must be starved."
"I..." she began, the jaws, this time, not cooperating. He gave her another drink and she drained the coconut dry.
The man took the coconut away again. He broke off a piece of it and offered it to her. "Hungry?" he repeated, as if she didn't understand English.
She shook her head.
"Okay." He put the coconut on the ground beside her. "But I must know how you feel. Please, if you feel feverish or sick or cold—I must know. How do you feel?"
Her first sentence came, along with a loud discordant cough. "You...are a—" COUGH! "—doctor?"
"No," the man replied, lowering his head. "No, wish I was. You wouldn't have scared me like you did if I was."
"How?" she coughed again, rubbing her throat raw.
"For now, let me ask the questions. I don't think you should talk too much right away. You had a terribly high temperature, it might have been pneumonia. That's why I need to know how you feel?"
"Alive." she answered, for the moment not so gratified by that fact.
"Do you feel nauseated?"
"Shitty," she replied.