Saturday, September 24, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Dragons, Superheroes, Apocalypses, and Hell: Catching up with the review pile . . .

Waiting on Wednesday: Haven by Tom Deady

Thriller Review: The Obsidian Chamber by Preston and Child

Short Story: Consumption by Jesse Orr


αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

A handful of interesting review titles this week:

The Secret Sex Life of Angels: Mysteries of Isis by I J Weinstock

Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow edited by Jason Heller

Eye of the Storm by Frank Cavallo

The Ruling Mask by Neil McGarry & Daniel Ravipinto

 

No new WTF Friday titles this week, but one interesting Kindle freebie:

The Emperor's Treasure by Daniel Leston



αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.



What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dragons, Superheroes, Apocalypses, and Hell: Catching up with the review pile . . .

While I did a lot of reading this summer, I didn't get around to reviewing it all. Fortunately, I tend to take a lot of notes as I'm reading, so even if I'm a bit too removed from the reads to write an in-depth review, I can still share my thoughts.


Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters edited by by Janet E. Morris
This is a book I lingered over for quite some time, reading a few short stories at a time, as the mood grabbed me. Favorites within the collection included Legacy of the Great Dragon by S.E. Lindberg (loved the Egyptian theme), Bring Your Rage by Janet & Chris Morris (interesting use of the Amazons), Aquila of Oyos by Walter Rhein (fantastic clash of dragons), The Rhyme of the Dragon Queen by JP Wilder (great quest adventure), and The Dragon's Horde by Joe Bonadonna (nice slice of pulp fantasy). Maybe I'm a traditionalist, but the more contemporary stories were the weakest of the lot for me.


Checkmate Ever After by Lex Chase
I forget how this one landed in my lap - I think it was a promo stop or guest post that somehow fell through - but it was a fun take on superheroes (with a queer twist). It's campy and comic book inspired, with impossible feats of heroism and ridiculous powers, not to mention plenty of amusing quips and comebacks. The gay romance angle actually worked better than I expected, and was developed well, although there were some scenes that fell flat.


Freeze/Thaw by Chris Bucholz
This is a book that hooked me with a great concept, placing the Earth in peril because of a well-meaning attempt to stop global warning - that has backfired on an apocalyptic scale. It had a great hero, a quadriplegic hiker who is turned computer genius during his recovery. While exasperation with Gabe's superhuman perfection detracted somewhat from the ending (he just became too much), it was still an exciting adventure with some great ideas.


Lost Gods: A Novel by Brom
Maybe it's because Clive Barker, Paul Kane, and Tim Powers already took us there over the past year, but this descent into Hell didn't grab me the way I expected it to. Brom offers up an interesting setting and a remarkable journey, but the storyline itself was all over the place, and the characters were a little too flat to make the action come alive. Despite that, it's a story I kept returning to over the months it lingered on my pile, and one I felt compelled to finish, which definitely says something.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Haven by Tom Deady

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Haven by Tom Deady
Expected publication: October 31st 2016 by Cemetery Dance

In 1961, the small town of Haven thought they’d gotten rid of their monster.

After a series of child killings, Paul Greymore was caught carrying a wounded girl. His face, disfigured from a childhood accident, seemed to confirm he was the monster the community hoped to banish. With Paul in prison, the killings stopped.

For seventeen years, Haven was peaceful again. But Paul served his time and has now returned to Haven–the town where he grew up, and the scene of his alleged crimes. Paul insists he didn’t commit those crimes, and several townspeople believe him including the local priest, a young boy named Denny, and his best friend Billy.

Trouble is, now that Paul is back home, the bizarre killings have started again–and the patterns match the deaths from Haven’s past. If Paul isn’t the killer, who is?

Or WHAT is? An unlikely band of adventurers attempts to uncover the truth, delving into long-hidden tunnels that might actually be inhabited by a strange, predatory creature.

Haven is a compelling horror epic in the spirit of It or Summer of Night, and a stunning debut novel from a gifted author who knows that the darkest horrors lurk inside human beings, even when there is a monster on the loose.


I'll likely have to wait for the mass market release of this to give it a read, but it sounds like the perfect book to huddle up with on a stormy Halloween night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Thriller Review: The Obsidian Chamber by Preston and Child

To fully understand and appreciate the Agent Pendergast novels, you have to look at them in terms of thematic story arcs. The first four novels, ending with Still Life With Crows, were largely standalone supernatural thrillers, distinguished by their magnificently eccentric protagonist. The Diogenes trilogy began a thematic shift towards a gothic sort of family drama, and that shift became the dominant thematic arc of The Helen trilogy.

The three novels that followed were something of a throwback, returning to the series' standalone roots, but there was another significant thematic shift involved. Not only did those books drop much of the supernatural element, but they largely shifted Pendergast to the sidelines, allowing characters like Corrie Swanson and Constance Greene to take the lead.

With The Obsidian Chamber, there's less of a thematic shift and more of a thematic blending. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child once again pick up the threads of that gothic family drama, while still keeping Agent Pendergast on the sidelines for much of the story, creating a story that's still fresh after sixteen outings.

This is a hard story to talk about without getting into spoilers, so I'll keep my observations high level. While we've seen Constance take the spotlight before, it was a nice change of pace to see Proctor play the action hero here, forced into action following the disappearance of Agent Pendergast at the end of Crimson Shore. Similarly, the role of the FBI here is interesting, especially in how they acknowledge Pendergast's reputation and deal with his rather colorful history. It's a nice mix of bureaucratic scorn, hero worship, and comradeship that adds a new dimension to the tale.

As for the gothic family drama, while I thought that was largely exhausted, there are some interesting twists on the theme here, taking the story in some surprising directions. It focus does make for a slower story than we're used to, placing the emphasis on character-driven drama and mysteries of motive, but it kept me guessing. I had to really think about the ending, but as much as I felt it was clichéd to leave it so open ended, I quite appreciate the difficult sort of self-reflection that made it necessary.

The Obsidian Chamber is one of those books written for fans who already have an appreciation for the characters and the drama that's come before. It's not that it's not accessible to new readers, it's more that you need to understand the significance of events - otherwise, I'm not so sure the story stands on its own. While it's not as good as Blue Labyrinth, my favorite of the recent novels, it does serve as a nice companion piece that pulls the themes of the series together.

Hardcover, 560 pages
Expected publication: October 25th 2016 by Grand Central Publishing

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Short Story: Consumption by Jesse Orr

Something different for you today, another short story from misanthropic author, musician, and drone-enabled filmmaker, Jesse Orr. 

Consumption
by Jesse Orr

            Ashley Loggins squinted up at the sun through her window. The view was only slightly marred by the cross hatch of wire mesh embedded between two panes of glass. From here she could see across the grounds, over the fence and the cars whizzing by on the interstate off in the distance. All of the drivers of those cars were free. She hated them for it.
            Turning from the window, she surveyed her quarters, or cell, for the millionth time. A bed, bolted to the wall, across from two pieces of metal bolted to the floor to make a crude desk and chair. In the opposite corner, there was a sink toilet hybrid with mysterious controls she had taken several tries to figure out. At 7 a.m. the fluorescent lights snapped on, and at 9:30 p.m., they went out. Between those hours, Ashley was allowed one hour to go out into the yard, a square of concrete the size of a little league field and ringed with a cyclone fence and razor wire. The ward held just enough patients for each to get an hour out of their quarters, alone, in the yard. After the last patient had taken their turn in the yard, they were herded back into their quarters for the evening meal and medication. After the meal, usually something soft and requiring no utensils, heads were counted a final time. Then the lights would go out and they would be left in the sickly glow of the exit signs.
            Today would be the first in four years where she would leave her room and not be escorted straight to the yard. Today she would walk right past the door leading to the concrete enclosure and continue to the head doctor's office. There she would smile and nod, looking to be both chagrined and a model patient, which she had been, after her first week of furious rebellion. She would have returned to her the clothes she had worn on that day four years ago. The clothes would not fit, but she had a friend coming to pick her up who would be bearing fresh clothes, smokes, a bottle of whiskey and a joint of some “bomb-ass” weed. Once changed and properly lubricated, Ashley would begin where she left off, with Sam Jensen.
            Ashley had gone to school with Sam since they were both preschoolers, and ignored each other as children the opposite sex will. Once hormones kicked in, Ashley's focus narrowed to soccer goalie who was already on the varsity team at 13, an unprecedented achievement. She dreamt of him introducing her as “my girlfriend” and filled pages of her notebooks without count with hearts and “Mrs. Ashley Jensen.”
            The only catch was that, in a story of star-crossed lovers to rival Romeo and Juliet, her parents adamantly refused to entertain their daughters lovelorn fantasies. The Jensens lived in a new suburb on the other side of the township, in a luxurious McMansion. The Loggins family had been on the shores of the lake in this home for three generations, and had no liking for what they called “the new folk.” They made it clear that no boy from that side of town would be welcomed into their lives, their home, or their daughter. Their lakeside manor would remain forever off-limits to Sam Jensen and Ashley was chastised harshly for her interest. Her internet was revoked, her phone turned off, and she was forbidden to contact Sam at school.
            That didn't matter though. Now she could do as she pleased without any fear of reprisal. It had been a simple matter of sprinkling rat poison liberally in both her parents' soup one night before she brought it into the dining room for them. Their dying had been painful, judging by the sounds they made and facial contortions she observed before retiring to her room, and the sound of her parents' last moments still filtered through the walls and doors. Ashley turned on her music and cranked the volume knob on her speakers. The sound of Garbage filled the air, shutting out the ghastly sounds of rat poisoning as she stood in front of the mirror, primping.
            Her dark hair tumbled down her back and around her shoulders, matching her dark brown eyes. Her nose was sharp but not overlong and she stood nearly five feet in her sneakers. Turning to display her profile, she put her shoulders back and pulled her stomach in. Looking critically at herself, she did not immediately dislike what she saw. Once her boobs were bigger, she had thought then, he wouldn't be able to resist her. He wouldn't be allowed to.
            She had to run from her house to Sam's, no mean feat as it was over five miles away. It was raining by the time she arrived, the light was fading from the sky, and she knew she had to be quick. Trotting up the stairs she rang the doorbell, her insufficient as yet chest heaving with exertion.
            “I'll get it,” Sam said to his parents in the living room as his father began to rise. Curious as to who could be at the door at this hour, Sam hurried down the hallway and threw open the door. Ashley Loggins stood there, a wet bedraggled mess, but with a fiery light in her eyes as she stared at him.       Sam's stomach dropped. He had seen the doodles in her notebooks in class(he suspected she had left them unguarded so he could see), and observed the obsessive way she watched him in school. At first he had been flattered. They had gone on two dates, the first because he was curious, the second because he was afraid not to. She had begun to cry when he did not immediately say yes, and, hastening to dam the flood of her tears, he had accepted. It is been all wrong from the start though. They had gone for ice cream and she had sat across from him, staring with unblinking eyes and responding with monosyllabic sentences which unnerved him further.
            Since then he had avoided her as much as possible, which was not as much as he would like. She had begun popping up between classes and he started lingering in the boy's bathroom until just before the last bell. Her family driver whisked her away promptly after the last class of the day, and he was spared the awkwardness until the next morning.
            But now she had shown up at his house. At night.
            “Hi Ashley,” Sam said, closing the door a minuscule fraction against her. He hoped she didn't notice.
            “Sam!” she exclaimed, the light in her eyes blazing brighter as her face grew animated. “Sam, guess what!”
            “What?” Sam responded, looking peripherally to the corner by the door where a basket of umbrellas were stored and gauging the tensile strength of each.
            “My parents can't bother us anymore,” she burbled. “I can stay after school with you and see you whenever I want!”
            Dread settled over Sam like a sticky blanket. He endeavored to keep it from his face. “That's great, Ashley.” He wrenched his lips into some semblance of a smile. “What changed their minds?”
            “They're dead now,” Ashley explained. “I just couldn't take being apart from you anymore, so I killed them, for us.” She smiled at him, a sweet and radiant smile, at great odds with the chill that had gripped him.
            “You...” Her smile slipped when he did not return it. The door swung forward more, an involuntary reaction on Sam's part that was not lost on Ashley this time. Her eyes narrowed.
            “What's the matter, Sam?” Her hand came out and stopped the door's progress. “You didn't know them. They didn't even like you.” She was pushing out the door now, surprising him with her strength. “You know what they called you? What they said about you? They said you were a dirty boy, who would just get me pregnant and beat me, get drunk and leave me and ruin my entire life, so I killed them! I killed them for you! I killed them for us! I love you!” Her voice had risen to a scream and she was shoving against the door with all her might.
            “What the hell--” Sam's father Henry Jensen came thundering into the hallway, still with his dinner napkin tucked into his collar. “Sam?”
            “Dad!” Sam gasped as he strained. “Help! It's Ashley Loggins and she's gone crazy, I can't hold the door!”
            Mr. Jensen rushed to the door and threw his considerable weight against it. The mad strength of Ashley Loggins could not stand against Henry's three hundred pounds slamming the door in her face.      Sam's mother popped her head into the hall. “Henry what on earth--?”
            “Shut up and call the cops!” Mr Jensen roared up the hallway. “Tell them to hurry the fuck up, there's a crazy girl trying to break into our house!”
            Mrs. Jensen was not given to stupid questions. She was halfway to her phone on the arm of the couch when Ashley threw a loose brick from the walkway through the living room window. Mrs. Jensen screamed and ran into the hallway. “Henry, the window, help, she broke the big window in the living room, she can get in!”
            Mr Jensen swore and plunged a hand into his pocket for his phone. “Shit! My phone is in the car!”
            Sam snatched his own phone from his pocket and dialed 911. “I got it, hang on!”
            “Saaaaaaam!” howled Ashley from outside. “Sammy, don't make me have to come in there!”
            “Hi, yes, there's a dangerous girl trying to break into our house, she's already killed her parents and broken our front window, help!” Sam gabbled into the phone. His parents not being privy to this last bit of information, gaped.
            “What is your address, sir? I'm sending help now,” the dispatcher said in that comforting tone.
            Sam told her. Already he could hear sirens in the distance.
            “Thank you,” the dispatcher said. “If you can safely do it, get out of the house. Help will be there any minute.”
            “Killed her parents?” sputtered Mr. Jensen.
            “Yes!” said Sam.
            “Sam!” Ashley screamed from the living room. “Sam where the fuck are you? I'm done playing games! Where are you? SAAAAAAAM!”
            “She's inside!” Sam told the dispatcher.
            “Can you leave the house, sir?”
            It occurred to Sam that Mr Jensen was still holding the door shut. “Dad!” he cried. “She's inside so we can go out! Go!”
            Mr Jensen's face of dawning comprehension gave way to one of chagrin as he unbolted the door and yanked it open. “Come on, let's go!” he barked, taking Mrs Jensen's hand and pulling her and Sam out.
            “We're outside now,” Sam informed the dispatcher. “The girl got in through a window so we're outside on the lawn.”
            “Okay, sir, the units should be there any moment, just head away from the house and watch for the police cars,” said the dispatcher, just as two white cars with blazing red and blue lights roared around the corner and headed down their street, siren screaming.
            “I see them, thanks!” shouted Sam and started waving his hands over his head. His parents started waving their arms and shouting with him. “Here! Right here!”
            The police cars ground to a halt, silencing the infernal din, and two uniformed officers piled out. “That house!” Mr Jensen yelled, pointing at the building they had just exited. “She's in there!”
            Two of the officers drew their weapons and approached the building. One looked in through the shattered front window. “She's not in here anymore,” he called to the other.
            The second officer pushed open the door and raised his gun. “Don't move!” he yelled. The first officer hurried to join him. The Jensen family craned their necks, catching a glimpse of Ashley on her knees, sobbing in their hallway, one of Sam's coats clutched to her chest. The first officer blocked their view as he took a pair of handcuffs from his belt pouch and stepped forward, saying something the family could not hear. They did hear Ashley's sobs increasing in volume.
            The officers led Ashley from the building. She struggled against them, trying to get back into the house, screaming “Sam! WHY WON'T YOU LOVE ME! I KILLED THEM FOR YOU SAM! I KILLED THEM FOR YOU!” A great lunge almost broke her from the grips of the men who held her, causing them to redouble their efforts. “SAM! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!” One of the officers groped for the door of his cruiser and managed to open it and stuff her into the backseat, still screaming. They slammed the door as she smashed herself against it, her words degenerating into hoarse screams.
            “Jesus Christ!” Mr Jensen shouted. “What the fuck is wrong with that girl?” He looked at Sam. “Why is she obsessed with you?”
            “I don't know!” Sam stammered. “We went out twice! That's it!”
            “Good evening, sir,” the first officer said to Mr Jensen, still a little out of breath. “I'm Officer Boyle, this is Sergeant Pembry. Normally I'd ask what the problem seems to be, but in this case it appears rather obvious. Would you care to fill us in on the details?”
            Now, standing in her quarters four years later, Ashley grimaced and thumped her forehead with her palm. Not her finest hour, to be sure. Very undignified. Several thousand little white pills later and here she was, deemed fit to reenter society on her 18th birthday. There was no need to be poring over her darkest moments. She was not going to make the same mistakes.
            The lock of her door buzzed and it swung open to admit a handsome attendant in immaculate whites. “Ashley Loggins, today is your day of freedom!” He grinned. “You excited?”
            “Oh yeah,” Ashley purred, teasing his well defined pectorals with a fingertip through his scrub top. “You ready to give me my exit exam with a full body cavity search, doctor?”
            “Better believe it, and I'm going to be extra thorough, just in case you try to take something out of here.” He smirked at her. “Babe, I'm almost sorry you're not crazy anymore. I'm going to miss having you around.”
            “Show me how much,” she whispered, and gathering her few personal possessions, left forever her home for the last four years.
            Later, after the last tedious but exciting tryst in a supply closet with the attendant(was his name Chris? Who cared?), after the exit interview, after squeezing into her old clothes, after walking out the front gate. She waited for her friend to arrive and whisk her away, and thought of Sam Jensen. She had thought of little else for the last four years. As she saw her friend's van and waved, a smile crossed her face. If Sam Jensen had seen that smile, he would have never slept again.

EPISODE II – Leg of Sam

            Sam Jensen belched and tossed his beer can into the kitchen garbage as he went to the fridge for a fresh can. This would be his ninth, but who was counting? His parents were out of town for the week, he was unemployed, and he didn't have shit to do. Opening the fridge, he grabbed another Bud, noting that his supply had dwindled alarmingly. May have to make a supply run in an hour or two, he thought, and swung open the freezer. There were three frozen pizzas waiting, and he took two. They could bake while he watched the next episode of Pawn Stars. Setting them on the counter, he opened his beer and downed half of it. Setting it on the counter, he set about the process of unwrapping the pizzas and preheating the oven. He was starving.
            Killing the last half of his beer, he belched again, louder. Tossing his can to join the first, he grabbed a second beer out of his fridge before going back into the living room. Scratching his now considerable stomach, he flopped down on the suede leather sofa and resumed watching the new flatscreen his dad had installed last week. There was no doubt about it, Sam thought, seventy-four inch screens were in every way superior to the seventy-two.
            Half an hour and two beers later, Sam sat blearily on the sofa, the screen fuzzing in and out of focus. He was hungry, and the pizza was starting to smell good, but the timer informed him there was still fifteen minutes until magic time. His mouth watered as he stared at the latest episode of Pawn Stars, not really seeing the gold jewelry over which the pawn stars were dickering. He was starting to feel sick. He cursed the pizza and willed it to hurry. He needed to eat something to take the edge off these beers.
            The doorbell rang, jerking him from his slack-jawed state. His eyes went to the clock on the table beside him. It was almost ten thirty. For some reason, the doorbell and the darkness outside the windows started an alarm bell far back in a corner of his mind he was used to ignoring and shutting out. He did so now, struggling to his feet from the low couch's deep cushions. Who could that be, at this hour?
            Curious, Sam made his way from the living room down the hallway, leaning on the wall for support. Reaching the door, he straightened and squared his shoulders, smoothing the wrinkles of his shirt and trying to flatten his matted hair. He opened the door.
            Ashley Loggins stood there as the door swung open, her heart in her mouth. She hoped Sam would answer the door and she would not have to talk to any of his family, or answer any awkward questions. Instead, a fat man with greasy hair and a scruffy beard coating his double chins stood before her in dirty silver athletic shorts and sweater. Ashley blinked. Sam had been an only child and his father had looked nothing like this.
            The man held a fat hand to his mouth and appeared to burp into it. “Yeah?”
            Ashley wrinkled her nose. “Um, hi, is Sam here?”
            He seemed a little taken aback. “Uh, I d'no, I'd have t'take a look,” he said, his voice furry. From here, she could smell the beers he had drunk, all of them. “Who're you?”
            “I'm an old friend of his,” she said, stepping backward, out of range of his breath. “My name's Ashley.”
            “Ashley?” he said, and blinked. “I used t'know a girl called Ashley, she was cra--” He stopped and his eyes suddenly focused on her. He blinked again, and shook his head. “Ashley...?”
            Her jaw dropped. “Sam??”
            Sam Jensen staggered forward and vomited into the bushes on either side of the doorway, expelling great amounts of used beer and chips into the shrubbery. Ashley screamed as Sam spewed, his outburst splattering onto her shoes and pant legs. The acrid stink of bile and alcohol filled her nostrils and she swallowed hard to keep herself from following suit.
            Sam moaned, his voice rattling with phlegm as he dry heaved again. “Please do—URP don't hurt me please--”
            Ashley was filled with rage. This was what she had obsessed over for four years? She had played along with their little therapy games until she had almost gone insane, just so she could get out and come back to start her life with him. Now he was a fat smelly drunk, and he had splashed her with vomit like a common whore. She kicked him in the face, knocking him sprawling back into his family's hallway.
            “You PIG!” she screamed at him, and he started sobbing, trying to crawl back into the house as she advanced, blood joining the vomit dripping from his face. “You fat disgusting weak piece of SWINE!” Snatching one of the umbrellas from beside the doorway she hit him in the back of the head with it.
            Sam screamed, inarticulate sounds of fear and agony as she struck him again and again around the head and face with the umbrella before dropping it and slumping to the ground sobbing.
            “Do you have any idea what I went through?” she wept, burying her face in her hands and rocking back and forth. “What they did to me in there? Talking to me for days and days about how crazy I was, until I almost started to believe it! But I played along so I could come back to you and you don't even care enough to stay the same for me!”
            Sam barely heard any of this. He was trying to gain his feet and crawl at the same time down the hallway away from her. His only thought was that his phone was back by the TV, and he could call 911. He seemed to remember doing something like this some time ago, but it was hazy. Everything was hazy. He could not remember his nose hurting so bad in his entire life. It was probably broken.
            Ashley looked up from her self-pity to notice Sam had almost made it to the living room. Now he was trying to leave her! Fury welled up in her again and she got to her feet, following Sam. He heard her footsteps and scrabbled harder at the floor to try and gain a little ground. She grabbed a ceramic statue which stood in the corner of the hallway and hefted it. Sam screamed.
            “ASH--”
            She brought the statue down on his head with the force of a baseball bat, cutting him off and causing his teeth to bite together with great force, taking a chunk out of his lip as he sprawled senseless to the floor. She stood over him, breathing heavily, and dropped the statue on the floor. Pushing him over on his back with a foot, she looked him over. He had gotten fat and hairy, she thought, and after a moment's thought, lifted the elastic of his shorts and looked inside. She let out an amused little bark of laughter and let the waistband go with a snap.
            Ashley pulled him up to a sitting position against the wall and looked at his face. It was caked in blood, vomit and snot. She grimaced, and went to the kitchen for a washcloth, which she dampened in warm water. Returning to the senseless blob of her dreams, she dabbed at his face with the wet cloth, removing the fluids caked on. Layer by layer the face of Sam Jensen emerged, and she studied it. Covering its lower half with the cloth, she looked at his eyes. They were definitely the same eyes, but below that the face was hairy, the cheeks were fuller, and the chins were many.
            But beneath that...
            Sam Jensen awoke in agony, the fire working its way up his legs to his waist. He was sitting, and all he could see was Ashley's head leaning over his left leg, blocking what exactly was going on down there.
            “Mmph! MMMM!” he said, finding out that he was gagged with a strip of something that felt like silk. She looked up at him and smiled, her sweet and radiant smile which he now recalled accompanying her pronouncement that she had killed her parents.
            “Hi Sam, welcome back!” she chirped. “You got really out of shape, so I'm fixing you! Then we can get back to our lives together.”
            Sam did not hear her. His eyes were riveted to his legs, which had been sliced with surgical precision so they were a fraction of their former girth. All the weight he had gained on his thighs and calves was laying in pieces on the feet of the chair in the kitchen to which he was now bound with strips of silver duct tape.
            Ashley smiled and waved a long fileting knife Sam's dad used for fishing trips. Its blade was no longer shiny silver. “This is going to be a long job, I've still got to do your belly and your face. Do you want a snack?”
            Sam's face was a mask of horror. His mind replayed her cheerful words over and over. “Still got to do your belly and your face.Your face.Your face.” Then, “do you want a snack” surfaced, and his stomach gave an involuntary rumble.
            Straightening up, Ashley stretched her back. She was holding a large chunk of meat Sam recognized as his calf muscle, and the sudden realization of what she meant by a snack came to him. He began to tremble.
            Ashley begin to hum as she moved around the kitchen, pulling a cutting board from a cupboard and dropping the chunk of meat on it. Raising the fileting knife, she began cutting strips from his calf and laying them on the cutting board in neat rows. Turning to look at him, she flashed him her sweet smile again. “What kind of veggies do you like?”
            Sam stared at her.
            She tutted and turned back to his calf, finishing her work with a few deft slashes. “Never mind, tubby, you probably don't eat many veggies anyway.” Dropping the knife, she went to the fridge and opened it, not bothering to wash his blood from her hands. Opening the crisper drawer, she pawed through it. “Dead lettuce and half-dead broccoli.” She tutted again and brought out the broccoli. “I guess this will do.”
            Soon there were slices of calf browning in a frying pan on the stove and she was cutting up the broccoli, having resuscitated it in ice water. Sam was in torment, his body in agony from the waist down and terrified of what was yet to come, but at the same time starving. It smelled really good.        She smiled at him as she poked at the meat. “There wasn't much else to read besides homemaking magazines,” she said and laughed, a high, scary sound. “I've been so looking forward to trying some of the things I read.”
            Starting another burner, Ashley heated a pot of water and added rice, stirring the frying pan occasionally. She tipped the broccoli into the pot and added some salt. Stirring it with a wood spoon, she called out “Just a few more minutes, I hope you're hungry!”
            The air was filled with the smell of soy sauce and garlic as she added seasonings and dished the rice into two bowls, covering the rice with the calf and broccoli. It looked to be exquisitely cooked to Sam as she brought him his bowl and placed it in his lap.
            “One minute, honey, let me just have some of mine first and then I'll feed you yours.”
            She ate a mouthful, chewing with a thoughtful expression. “Not bad. Next time I'll add more pepper.”
            In quick succession, she ate half her bowl, looking at Sam the whole time, smiling between mouthfuls.
            “You're so good,” she said, and wiped her mouth. Setting her fork and bowl down, she picked up Sam's dinner, and pulled the gag from his mouth.
            Sam immediately began to babble, incoherent streams of words that washed over her as though they weren't even there. She held a finger to his lips.
            “Sam, if you do not eat your dinner, I will not bother to cook it for you next time.”
            He shut his mouth, not even daring to think about next time. His stomach, not to be outdone, gave its loudest rumble yet. Ashley smiled.
            “Eat.”
            Sam ate.

EPISODE III – Last Call

            “Mm, that was good, huh?” Ashley chirped, scraping the last bit of rice and calf into her mouth and smacking her lips.
            Sam sat there, his head spinning, stomach clenching and unclenching. The worst part was that she was right. It was damn good. He wanted more. He craved it. But he wasn't about to ask her for any more. She had made him eat the entire bowl, grinning and cooing at him all the while. His stomach knew the truth, and had not yet surrendered itself to digesting parts of its body. On top of it all, he was feeling light-headed and could honestly not remember much of the last hour. His blood kept leaking from his legs and he felt like he should do something, tell her, warn her that he was slipping away, but what if that made her mad? Please, God, he didn't want to make her mad. Besides, who gave a fuck if he did slip away? He certainly didn't.
            “I said, that was good, huh?” she repeated when he did not answer, and fear surged up in him at the tone of her voice. He forced himself to speak.
            “R-really good,” he said, and nodded. His voice was a croak and seemed to come from miles away.
            She beamed, then her wattage dimmed. Her eyes fixed on a point just below his jaw. She leaned forward and pinched his double chin between two fingers.
            “This... is... gross!” she barked, squeezing harder with each word, her nails cutting into the flab of his chin. He moaned. “How could you let this happen to yourself?” She slapped him. “You used to be so hot.”
            Indignation and righteous rage flooded through him without warning, like gasoline dropped on an ember. “THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, YOU BITCH!!” he screamed in her face, spraying her with spittle and bits of calf and broccoli. She flinched back, her hand falling away from his chin.
            “After you came in here and went fucking insane on all of us, I couldn't stop myself thinking, wondering, what did I do to make you this way? Was it somehow my fault? It was all I could think, every day and every night, and I could only think about anything else when I was drunk!”
            Having started, Sam could not seem to stop. His voice rose in volume and shrillness until he was shrieking in her face. “I lost my spot on the soccer team, the honor roll, shit, I only left the house when I was bombed as fuck so you can imagine how my classes went. I got suspended twice then they expelled me when they caught me at a football game with a fifth of Jack in one hand and a doob in the other. My parents sent me to a dozen shrinks and the only thing they ever managed to convince me of is that you're a fucking psycho! What the fuck is your problem? Why won't you go away and leave me alone? I HATE YOU, YOU CUNT!” His last sentence was so violent that he felt his vocal cords rattling. Out of breath and words, he gasped for air, stars swimming in his sparkly vision. He stared at her, chest heaving, spittle dripping from his chin.
            She had not moved during his tirade, just sat there and looked into his eyes as he screamed at her. A small smile crossed her face, which had enraged him more, causing him to scream his last few sentences. At his last word, her face grew thunderous.
            Ashley stood and tossed her bowl and fork away. “I hate that word,” she said, her voice conversational. “I really hate that word.” She picked up the gag from the counter where she had dropped it, and stuffed it back into Sam's mouth. “You're going to wish you'd never even heard that word.”
            Sam's eyes bulged as she picked up the knife from where it had lain beside the gag. He began to shake his head, feet scrabbling at the slippery linoleum attempting to push him backward. She held the knife to his throat and Sam felt the keen edge nick his throat as he struggled.
            “If you don't stop moving, I'll put this knife in your pants and see what I cut off.”
            Sam froze.
            “Although, given what you've got down there, I don't think you can afford to lose any.” She giggled. “Now hold still.”
            She grasped a chunk of his flabby throat and pulled the skin taut. Starting from the chin, she began slicing, following the jawline down the neck. Sam screamed, the gag muffling his cries as he fought, her threat against his genitals forgotten as his throat was shaved thinner, like someone whittling a block of wood around a campfire. His thrashing must have annoyed her, for she grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head backwards, stretching his neck tight. In a moment of crystal clarity, he could see her eyes as she began to cut again. They were wide, gleeful eyes, her lips pulled back from her teeth, baring them in a snarl that pierced him to the core. They were the eyes of insanity.
            “WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?” she shrieked in his ear, still cutting as he thrashed. “A beautiful girl wants to love you and all you can do is drink beer and stuff yourself! You had your chance but you fucked it up! You fucked it all up! If you can't fucking take care of yourself, I'll have to do it for you so we can stay together forever! Now HOLD STILL!” The knife cut deeper.
            Sam fainted.
            When his eyes opened again, he seemed to have grown a beard of agony. His vision was fuzzy, but when his eyes focused for the first time on his mangled legs, the spurt of adrenaline in his system jolted him wide awake. Tearing his eyes from his limbs, he looked around for the psycho bitch. She was there, coming at him with a knife...
            Sam shook his eyes. Nothing there.Just a hallucination. Wasn't that grand, he thought to himself. But, the psycho bitch was apparently out of the room, according to what he could tell by craning his neck around. That hurt his neck, or what was left of it, and he returned his gaze to forward, taking care not to look at his legs. He felt nauseous, and stared at the sink across from him, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. It wasn't helping much, but there wasn't much else he could do.
            Taking inventory of his person, Sam noticed that the duct tape had loosened its grasp on his right hand, thanks to the blood and sweat he had provided. Sam pulled, giving a cursory glance around for the psycho bitch. Not that it mattered, he thought, she had already made him eat his own leg. The thought made him retch and he lost a moment to breathing evenly, willing himself not to vomit. That was one meal he didn't want to see again.
            A little more pulling and his right hand was free. The left by contrast had somehow twisted inside the tape which held it and as a result was more tightly bound than ever. That was okay though, he had one hand. The chair was small, easy to carry on his back. He stood up.
            Nuclear explosions of agony ripped through both of his legs as stress was put on muscles which no longer existed. Sam and the chair crashed to the ground, only supreme effort keeping his teeth grit tightly together as he screamed inside his chest, mindful even in this extreme that the psycho bitch was still lurking somewhere. Maybe even watching right now as he huddled on the floor, a chair taped to his ass, tears weeping from closed eyelids as he fought not to scream aloud.
            Once the pain had receded a millimeter, Sam forced his eyes open and grabbed at the linoleum before him with his free hand, dragging himself toward the kitchen sink. His fingers, slippery with blood, scrabbled for purchase on the smooth tile, leaving undeniable marks which he would think of later. His only thought, his only priority, was the tiny glimmer of an idea which had sparked in his head at the sight of the kitchen sink. More specifically, the cupboard beneath it.
            Sam reached the cupboard and hauled it open, pawing through the cleaning supplies and spare sponges which he had never found cause to use. This was the housekeeper's domain, but he remembered from an early age, playing with the pretty colored bottles and liquids in this cupboard. His mother had swooped down and whisked him away, admonishing him to never, never, never play in there because there's poisons that can kill rats down there! Sam had giggled at the face she had made and promised never to play down there again, a promise which he had kept. It wasn't that exciting of a spot to hang out anyway.
            But now, he thought as his fingers closed on a yellow bottle with a cartoon dead rat on its front, this cupboard of poison may be my salvation.
            Ashley flushed a second time, spraying the room with air freshener. A fine time for an upset stomach, right in the middle of amateur surgery. She giggled at that and fastened her jeans. Amateur surgery, just for fun, not for money. She hummed as she washed her hands and stepped out of the bathroom. Little Sammy was probably still passed out.
            But he wasn't. He was sitting in his chair, looking as though he had run a marathon. Her eyes darted from his ripped and bloodied face to his heaving chest and then traveled down his savaged body and across the floor where his crawling path was clearly visible.
            “And just what have we been doing?” Ashley asked, her tone high and girlish. “The chair has moved and you look like you just ran ten miles. Did you just mop the floor with yourself?” She gestured at the smears to the sink and back. “Answer me before I get mad.”
            Sam's voice was thick with blood and pitiful. “The chair tipped over and I had to crawl over to the cupboard to push myself back up.”
            Ashley eyed him with suspicion. “Then why are you sitting where I left you instead of by the sink?”
            As much as someone so butchered can, Sam tried to look penitent. “I wanted to be where you left me when you got back.” He went all in. “I'm sorry I've been so difficult. I love you.”
            Ashley's hands clasped each other and her eyes misted over. “Sam...” She came to him and embraced him. With great effort he managed not to recoil or scream. “I love you too.”
            Sam bit his tongue until she released him, beaming. He returned her smile and said “I'm starving. I hate to ask, but...”
            A sly look came over her face and she grinned at him. It was the smile of a demon. He wanted to shriek. “You want some more, don't you?” she asked in a singsong voice.
            He nodded, looking sheepish and eager at the same time. “I can't help it, the smell is so good. You're a great cook.”
            She twittered and gave him a peck on the forehead, one of the only places which did not hurt, though her kiss burned like acid. “I have just a little broccoli left.” She shot him her demon's grin again. “There's plenty of meat.”
            He grinned back as she picked up the strip of calf she had not yet used from the grease-spattered counter and began slicing it into strips. “That's great,” he said. “You were right, I don't really like veggies much.”
            She flashed him the smile and dropped them into the frying pan, firing the heat beneath it. While they cooked, she picked up the chunks of his face from the floor and held them up. “Want to try some of your chinny-chin-chin?” she asked, and gave a horrible peal of laughter devoid of any semblance of sanity. Sam laughed along, praying she wouldn't drop any into the frying pan, and heaving a sigh of relief when she tossed it all into the garbage, along with the rest of his scraps. Returning to the pan, she tossed it and added seasonings.
            “Almost done!” she said. “I cut them smaller so they'd cook faster. We've still got a lot of work ahead of us, darling.” The smile she gave now was one of such soppiness it would have made a kitten sick.
            “Great,” he said, and this time, felt nothing. A man can only take so much, he thought.
            Tossing the meat into a dirty bowl, she dangled a piece from her fingers over his mouth. He ate it. In that manner together he consumed the bowl of meat, which was about half of his left calf. Sam smiled and licked the grease from Ashley's fingers and she cooed and blushed, just as she had always fantasized.
            “Well,” Ashley said, holding up the last strip of meat. “This is the last of it. Ashes to ashes, Sam to Sam.” She held it over his mouth.
            He leaned his head back. He was stuffed. He could almost feel greasy meat coming out his ears, with too much salt. Dumb bitch doesn't even know how to season a steak, he thought. Ah well, probably for the best.
            Ashley dropped the last sliver of calf into his mouth and licked her fingers. “I should have made more, now I'm hungry.”
            Eyes closed, Sam said, “Well, when I'm gone, you can eat as much as you like.” His stomach tied itself in a knot and twisted hard. He winced and grinned at the same time.
            She paused in the act of fellating her fingers. “Gone? Where do you think you're going?”
            Through a grimace of pain, Sam nodded at the kitchen sink. “I'll be dead soon. I drank enough of the shit under the sink to kill an elephant.”
            She dropped her hand and gaped at him. “You did what?”
            “Go look. I'll wait,” he said, and laughed at his own wit even as his stomach tied a double knot and lit it on fire. His head was swimming and it was getting hard to breathe but even that was funny.
            Ashley crashed to her knees before the kitchen cupboard and flung it open. She screamed at the sight of all the bottles of liquid scattered around the bottom of the cupboard, ranging from bone dry to just a few ounces left.
            “WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” she screamed at him as the world grew darker and his stomach hurt more. He hoped he stopped breathing soon or something to put an end to the whole business.
            She leaped across the room and forced his mouth open, sawing her fingers in and out of his throat. His stomach convulsed, bringing up his calf, but the chemicals he had drunk were far past his stomach by now. She stared at him from the other end of a tunnel, her face wild and unbelieving as she slapped him in the face. “Wake up!” she shrieked. “Don't you fucking dare die!”
            A sparkling black velvet curtain was covering him, growing slowly less and less transparent. He didn't hurt anymore. He didn't even need to breathe. He was beyond breathing.
            How long Ashley was screaming at a dead body she did not know. When she finally came back to herself, she saw her hand was streaked with blood, and that in the course of slapping Sam to keep him awake, she had opened several new wounds. She wiped the hand on her jeans and looked at what had been Sam Jensen in numb disbelief.
            He couldn't be dead. Their love was eternal. He had even said “I love you” to her. That made it real. Ashley felt like crying. She just wanted him to be as he had been that day four years ago.
            “I love you, Sam,” she whispered, and turned away.
            “I love you too,” Sam said.
            She screamed and spun back to face him. “Sam!”
            He sat there, mute, immobile, and stared at the ceiling with dead eyes.
            “...Sam?”
            The corpse said nothing.
            “Should have known it wouldn't be you,” she said, and turned away again.
            “It'll always be me,” said Sam, sounding hurt. “I'll always be there for you.”
            This time Ashley did not turn back. “Sam, is that you?”
            “Of course,” said Sam. “I'm here, my darling, my one true love. Never leave me, for I will never leave you.”
            Ashley walked up to Sam's body and looked him in the eye. “Sam, I love you.”
            The corpse said nothing.
            Ashley turned around, facing the wall. “Sam, I love you.”
            “I love you too, forever and always, Mrs Ashley Jensen,” Sam promised, his voice solemn.
            Ashley pushed Sam into the living room and returned to the kitchen. “Can you still hear me, Sam?”
            “Loud and clear, my angel,” Sam replied from the other room.
            Ashley felt a chill of delighted pleasure. She darted into the living room and snapped the TV on. With her back to Sam, she asked, “What would you like to watch?”
            “Anything your heart desires, darling,” Sam assured her.
            Setting the TV to the cartoon channel, Ashley returned to the kitchen and began to tidy up, humming to herself and chatting with Sam. As she sponged his blood from the tile, she told him what she wanted to name their children, a boy and a girl. She told him she had always wanted to go to Paris but had never been able to travel, as she washed the dinner dishes. Sam promised to take her.
            After the kitchen was spic and span, Ashley dragged Sam into the master bedroom, separated him from the chair, undressed him, and tucked him into one side of the king sized bed.
            Taking off her clothes and turning out the light, she got into bed beside Sam and slid her leg over him.
            Afterward, she fell asleep with his arm, now growing stiff, wrapped around her.

            She slept harder than she had slept in her entire life, and was not awakened until Sam's parents returned home. 


αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

About the Author

Jesse Orr was born and raised in Alaska and has no idea, nor do his parents, when or how he began reading and writing; as is the case with so many things, they just are. Moving to Seattle in 2007, he settled down to a life of recording and performing music as well as writing and filming with a drone whatever caught his fancy. He has a dog named Mr Dog and lives in West Seattle.




αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

About the Book


Curled around her in the morning light, stroking her decaying flesh, he whispered his secrets to her as the bugs crawled inside her and began laying their eggs, he kissed her as the eggs began to hatch, and when she finally began to fall apart, he cried.

The Corpse Flower