Friday 9 May 2014

Short Story Month And A Friday Read: Free Speech

Today's story offering is some sci-fi, a tale I wrote a while back...

Free Speech

The university auditorium was full.  A large crowd had turned out to listen to Professor Astor, the head of the peace group Utopia Mission and controversial scholar of socio-economic culture.  I had settled into a good spot early to hear his speech; I wanted to avoid the throng and the omnipresent security.  I was never one for being hemmed in by the crowds.
The campus, hell the whole city, had been erupting with his supporters and the opposing protesters for weeks since the announcement of his coming.  That’s why the university had spared no expense to protect the professor from the radicals and the loonies.  They had motion eyes, laser grids and several squads of campus police.  They took those death threats seriously, I guess.
A hush fell as the Professor stepped up to the podium.  I studied him; he was a short man, grey hair, frail looking.  You would never imagine the hatred he incurred.
“Welcome everyone.  I am pleased you joined with me this afternoon to discuss the flawed direction in which our civilization is headed.”
The frail little man faded, as the fire of conviction filled him.  His deep voice resonated with passion and principle.
“As you may be aware, I lead the Utopia Mission, a group dedicated to peace.  Not, as some would portray us, a group seeking to dismantle our laws, but a group committed to the advance of our society, of our future, through co-operation and an open government.  Governments that are free of hidden agendas, of corruption, governments that are honest with their people.”
“Have not our leaders abused our trust with laws that rip away our freedoms under the guise of safety?  The Militant Seizure Law has seen hundreds of innocents imprisoned under the guise of defence of country!  Some have died, others went missing, their assets confiscated by greedy officials!  The Big Brother Statute was supposed to protect us in this digital age, but was misused by your government to gather information about law-abiding citizens!”
The professor paused for a moment as applause, cheers and murmurs, as well as quite a few jeers and boos, rose from the crowd.
“It is the latest and the worst of these abuses, the Border Shield, which needs immediate action.  Are we, as a decent people, going to permit that heinous law?  A shoot to kill order for any persons -citizen or illegal- that may be perceived as a threat!  How many blameless people have been murdered simply because they questioned the border patrols?  Is it not time to voice our concerns, to voice our outrage?  We must influence change, achieve a revolution of liberty!”
A cheer rose with his words, and I looked over the crowd.  The professor was inspiring them with his speech, his captivating presence.  He had a rapt audience; even his critics were silent.  I leaned over and picked up my briefcase. It was time to begin.
I ran a hand over the synth-leather; the new upgrades had been worth the money.  The case’s smart scramblers and holographic overrides manipulated the security scans without a problem and my forged ID gave me full access to the building.  It wasn't difficult to suss out this isolated vantage point after that.
I unpacked the laser rifle from the case, connected the sections, powered it and made the target adjustments in the digital scope.  With a little patience to line up the perfect angle and a squeeze of the trigger, I took the headshot.  Professor Astor went down, lifeless, just another radical dissident removed.  I slipped out unnoticed in the panicked confusion, to meet my government contact and receive the transfer of payment for the job.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Short Story Month: Into the West

Another offering for May's short story month, a tale of treachery in the Old West...

Into the West

The squeak of the pointlessly spinning wheel echoed in the desert. Sunlight faded on the horizon, throwing shadows against the remains of the overturned stagecoach and the crumpled bodies that sprawled among its ruins. The dust of the robbers swirled in the distance, as those murdering varmints fled into the hills with their ill-gotten spoils, the payroll meant for the miners of Cedar Gulch...

Davy slurped back his whiskey. “Somethin’ happened to the stage, Roscoe. It ain't like Joe to be this late. It’s mornin’ for heaven’s sake and he was due last night.”
The bartender nodded. “I know, but it could be they just had a broken wheel or somethin’. Don’t mean there’s trouble. `Sides, the Marshall and his posse rode out to see.”
“It’ll be bad news, Roscoe, you’ll see. Bad news.”

An hour later, one of the men who rode out with Marshall Collins came back to town. Davy watched the man ride to Ed’s, the undertaker for Cedar Gulch, and he kept watching, seeing the man leave town later, accompanied by Ed, his two helpers and their large wagon.
Davy burst back into the saloon. “I knew it! It’s bad! One of the posse just came and got the undertaker! Them that was on the stage is dead!”
A burly man jumped to his feet. “Tarnation and spit! What about the payroll!”
“Now, now, simmer down Uriah, we don’t know nothin’ for sure.” Roscoe chided the man and he sat back down. “There ain't nothin’ we can do but wait and see.”
He motioned Davy over to the bar and poured him a drink.
Davy took the whiskey. “Poor Joe.”

Cedar Gulch was in an uproar by the time Marshall Collins rode back into town, two days later and empty handed. He had pursued the robbers into the hills only to find more dead bodies and no money. This lackluster homecoming had him facing angry townsfolk and frustrated miners, and a grilling at a hastily called town meeting.
“What happened, Marshall?”
“Where’s the payroll?”
“Are there killers on the loose?”
Questions bounded at him like a cold north wind and Marshall Collins shouted above the din. “Quiet down now, quiet down! I’ll tell you all what I know.”
He waited until the voices subsided and continued. “As you all have heard, the stage was robbed of the payroll a few days ago and four good men were killed. Their families have my sympathies.” He nodded solemnly at the widows.
“Me and my men chased after those rotten miscreants, four men in all by their tracks. We followed them into the hills, only to discover more dead men.”
A gasp rose from the gathering.
“It looks as though there was a falling out among the thieves that led one man gunning down his three confederates in their sleep. Near as I can figure, that last thief made off with the cash. Unfortunately we lost his trail and he’s in the wind.”
Angry cries soared from the crowd and the Marshall spent the next several minutes placating the multitude and dispersing the crowd before it turned into a mob. The citizens disbanded, shuffling slowly to their homes and businesses, but a feeling of discontent hung still over the town.

Inside his saloon, down in his basement, Roscoe patted the not so empty barrel where the stolen payroll lay hidden and smiled. He knew the Marshall would keep looking for the last robber, but he also knew that man lay buried in the desert outside town with a bullet in his head.
Served him right for trusting me.
Now Roscoe didn't have to split the money with anyone, and no one could rat him out for being the mastermind behind the stage robbery. In a few months, he’d give them all a sob story about kin back east being sick. Then he and the money would disappear, and leave Cedar Gulch behind.
He chuckled to himself and went upstairs to serve the duped townsfolk their whiskey.

Monday 5 May 2014

Short Story Month of May

The month of May is Short Story Month, so I thought I would post a few random bits of short fiction this month in honour of the short story. First up is a a story I wrote for a prompt over on Facebook, I hope you enjoy it...

House of Wyndham

Would you like to know about Wyndham House on Sycamore Drive?
It imposes a presence over the neighbourhood, doesn't it? The house is old world architecture, with its stone fa├žade and strong timbers, nestled at the far end of the street. It is tucked back from the asphalt, apart, but the house still looms in the minds of the area residents.
Why you ask? Because everyone knows its history, of course. Death seeps out of each pane, rafter and stone.
It started with the designer and builder of the house, Josiah Wyndham. He was the first to die, shot over his unfaithful wife in 1902. His murderer died next, apparently poisoned by Josiah’s wife, who confessed all in a letter before drowning herself in liquor and the bathtub.
Josiah’s oldest son inherited the house, but he died a year later at the hands of his youngest sibling, who stabbed him during a heated argument. After that, the house passed from relative to relative, all of whom died tragically. Eventually no Wyndham would go near the place and it sat abandoned for years, until it sold in 1922. And the legacy of the house continued for decades, bouncing between owners, deaths and realtors.
I've heard it said the house is cursed, that Josiah condemned it with his dying breath. Perhaps he did, but the real truth of the matter lies with the house itself. Somewhere, somehow the house is alive. Yes, alive. Not breathing, heart-beating alive, but aware nonetheless.
Don’t laugh, it’s true.
And worse, it collects people. All those poor souls that died within the walls of Wyndham House, well they never left. Their ghosts still roam the corridors and rooms, their phantom eyes still peer out the windows.
You may scoff, I wouldn't blame you. I scoffed too, before I bought the house, before I died here. I believe now, as the days turn to years and I keep wandering the house, as my spirit stays trapped and I welcome the newly dead to our ghostly ranks.
So welcome, you poor fool, to Wyndham House.

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