D.S. Ullery’s Blog With No Name

New Flash fiction: “Byron”

Hello, one and all, and welcome to the latest entry in my blog. This week, I participated in another writing prompt, courtesy of Stitched Smile Publications. The following story is a brand new piece of flash fiction which emerged from that challenge.

So here for your reading pleasure is my all new horror tale, “Byron”.

Enjoy the story!

 

Catch you on the flip side.

 

Byron

by D. S. Ullery

“Okay Byron. You have a good night.”

Mother planted a soft kiss on her son’s forehead as she lay him down. Byron cooed, his infant mouth curling in a smile. He was in a warm bed and his mother was watching over him. All was well in his world.

She regarded the boy for a moment longer, then glided to the bedroom door. With the flip of a light switch, the warm, amber glow of the night light installed near the baseboards lit the room. Though the shine didn’t completely dispel the shadows, it allowed her to see the crib from the doorway should the need arise.

Satisfied he would be secure with or without her presence in the nursery, Mother stepped out into the adjacent hall. Closing the door quietly behind her, she considered drawing a bath. It had been a long day and a good, hot soak would be welcome.

The sound of Father moving about in the den downstairs changed her mind. It had been forever since the two of them had enjoyed some quality alone time. She’d instead go down and join him in a nightcap.

Smiling, she headed down the stairs.

* * *

It watched from its hiding place, perched high in the corner of the room, talons gripping the walls as an anchor. It had caught the scent of the human child several miles out, while in flight above the desert to the south. Past experience had taught it to wait until the more mature creature was gone. The species were a potent source of nutrition at any age, but the adults fought . They used tools. Their young put up no struggle. Plus, the meat was sweeter.

It had slipped into the nursery earlier that evening, having tracked the scent of the infant through a then-open window. It had watched in silence, keeping perfectly still as the adult entered and placed its pup in what appeared to be a human nest below. It had done this many, may times across a span of years of which it kept no account.

The night was the only world it knew. Daylight rendered the thing practically blind. Once the sun went down, it could perceive the movement of even the tiniest insect from over a mile away.

It’s other senses were equally keen- its olfactory and aural capabilities were unrivaled in the fossil record, as was its speed and strength. It was a perfect predator, able to soar on huge, leathery flaps. The razor sharp claws topping its feet more than compensated for the limited range of the crooked digits protruding from the tips of those wings.

A natural dexterity allowed the thing to contort itself into as tight a ball as necessary, a gift beneficial for both defense and feeding. With a snout full of needle-like teeth, it was a lethal beast, able to grip its still writhing prey while tearing chunks of hot, bloody flesh from the bones. Better still was its physical similarity to the primates on which it fed. Graced with a humanoid frame, its prey would often mistake it for another of their kind cloaked in the dark , not realizing their error until it was too late.

Now alone with the human child, it felt its hunger rise. The smell of this one was particularly sweet, the aroma of succulent meat more enticing than on any previous occasion. Being this close – less than a meter above the crib- the desire to feed had increased to a white hot intensity, overriding all other instincts.

Salivating, it spread its wings and released its grip on the wall, plummeting on top of the baby. It spread its feet as it fell, not wishing to pulverize the meal by landing directly on it. Steadying itself on the soft material of the mattress, it rose to its full height, wings completely spread. It’s mouth stretched, now a chasm lined with ivory daggers.

An unearthly hiss issued from its throat as it went in for the kill.

There was a flash of motion. It abruptly found itself frozen, unable to breathe. Something impossibly strong had wound itself around its neck and was throttling it.

Panicked, it made a furious attempt to flap its wings. It was to no avail. They were pinned to its sides. The beast pulled with its considerable strength, thrashing to and fro, but found itself unable to escape.

Save for a single morning eons ago when it had evaded the torment of daytime by mere minutes, the thing had never known fear. It was becoming intimately familiar with it now, the scarlet orbs of its eyes bulging in terror as it was held fast.

It stared down , unable to comprehend what was happening.

The child was gone. In his place lay a squirming, foul demon. Colorless black eyes sunken in reptilian, slime-slicked flesh glared back. Wriggling tentacles stretched from the creature’s body, winding around the flying beast’s neck and torso, holding it suspended in air above the bed.

Beneath those soulless eyes , the putrid flesh split apart, revealing a pointed beak. This protrusion clacked repeatedly, snapping at air as it slowly pulled its captive ever closer.

It took a bite. Then another. Then another. It happened so quickly, the beast had no time to scream.

One bloody piece at a time, it sliced up the bat-like intruder, until only tattered remnants of its wings and a single, broken talon remained. Noting this, it slid its slithering appendages across the gore-soaked pile, absorbing the blood through its suckers and shoving the last pieces into that deadly beak.

It fell still, sitting quietly in the crib, stomach bloated as it digested the meal.

The feast was appreciated. What seemed like ages had elapsed since it had sensed another night creature in such close proximity. It hadn’t wanted to miss the opportunity for a fresh meal. The demon noted – with some regret – this would be the last kill it would make using this boy. As the host it had entered matured, so did the young mind within begin to challenge the demon’s presence for control. Eventually, the natural consciousness would win out. It knew it would have to leave, to find another.

After a time, the low growl of expelled gas drifted out of it as it finished with the food. This was followed by a high pitched giggle. The ebony marbles it used for eyes rolled back, revealing the bright blue Mother held so dear. The slimy green skin peeled away, rolling over and wrapping his bones with the traditional soft pink as Byron’s human appearance reasserted itself. Tentacles dwindled into chubby arms, culminating in five tiny digits.

From behind the boy’s eyes, it assessed the body one last time. Even the beige pajamas he was clothed in had been restored.

Not a hair out of place, it thought wistfully. Despite being a thing of the pit, the demon felt a twinge of regret. It had grown to like Byron. Ah, well. Such was the fate of the damned.

It slipped out, for now content as it fled into the night, searching for the next vessel.

Back in his crib, Byron curled up on his pillow and fell into a deep, contented sleep.

Later that night, when Mother looked in on him, she saw her son sleeping peacefully in the comforting glow of the night light.

Such a happy baby.

D. S Ullery’s Blog With No Name

Book Review: Reaper by Briana Robertson.

 

In my inaugural blog last week, I mentioned that – from time to time- reviews of both written and visual media would be part of the content readers will find here. I also pointed out that horror would be a fairly persistent thread winding through this blog.

In that spirit, I’ve written a review of a book I finished earlier this week. So without further adieu, here we go:

The Target: Reaper

The Creative: Briana Robertson

The collective responsible for anyone being able to read this: Stitched Smile Publications

The year it was unleashed upon the populace: 2017

Briana Robertson’s single author collection Reaper gathers five dark tales offering a variety of perspectives on humanity’s greatest fear – death- from a distinctly feminine perspective.

Powered by the author’s remarkable gift for prose, the stories are engaging and the book was a breeze to devour.  One of the very real pleasures in reading this tome was witnessing how Robertson uses her technical skills, painting a vivid emotional portrait of what’s happening on the page as well as a physical one. The stories are populated with characters possessed of immediately recognizable human weaknesses – and strengths- making them easy to relate to.

However, not all narratives are created equal and , as is usually the case with collections, not every story worked to the same degree for me. I’ll be touching on that in more detail below.

 

So here’s my  breakdown by story, in order of their sequence in the book:

 

Reaper: The titular tale and the one definitively supernatural selection of the bunch. The cliff notes version is this is a look at a day in the life of the Grim Reaper, here presented as a woman who isn’t particularly fond of her job. I thought this got off to a somewhat rocky start, but quickly found its bearings and delivered a fascinating  take on how workplace sexual politics might manifest on the other side of death. This one produces some unexpectedly heart-wrenching moments , leading to  a starkly effecting conclusion. It’s a good note on which to begin the collection.

Capitulation: Both chilling and sad, this is a devastating story, told from the perspective of a woman who has given up hope.  The writing here is so rich and descriptive, it really puts the reader inside her head. Robertson consistently demonstrates an uncanny knack for making us feel what her characters are experiencing throughout the entire collection and that gift is on full display in this story. This is a tale that’s meant to leave bruises. Mission accomplished.

Prey: A woman is violated and then seeks revenge on her tormentor. That’s about all the plot I can give, because Robertson does some interesting things here . The story – which I believe is the longest in the collection- is extremely well written. The subject matter is uncomfortable and the author dives headlong into it , never holding back nor apologizing as she masterfully exposes the physical and psychological horrors of rape, as well as the often callous response to such crimes by men. What makes this tale terrifying – and all the more effective- is the plausibility of the plot for the majority of the work.

And that’s also why this was the only selection I ultimately had criticisms of. In the latter part of “Prey” , the plot swerves into the matter of  revenge .  I don’t want to divulge spoilers, but what the protagonist comes up with requires the human monster who’s the focus of her rage to believe her on a level I wasn’t able to accept. In the earlier part of the story, he’s definitely fleshed out as a psychopath, but how he goes about committing his crimes in these early passages suggests someone too intelligent to just accept what she says to him on face value later on. This in turn sets up the ending, which I also had issues with. Again, avoiding spoilers, there is a decision made by a character that closes out the tale, indicating a dark, new direction for their life. I was uncertain if readers were supposed to accept this individual as an avenger or a lunatic. If I’m being completely honest,  while I really wanted to think the first, it felt more like the latter.  Consequently, I walked away from this story unsatisfied with how it concluded.

Now, having made those points, it’s a distinct possibility other readers will be a lot more taken with “Prey” than I was. It is powerful stuff and the prose is top notch.   This isn’t by any stretch a bad story. I just didn’t think it came together as well as the others. Particularly the next in line…..

Lucy.

 Holy shit. This is a fucking masterpiece. With “Lucy”, Briana Robertson has accomplished something no author has been able to do in roughly a decade. For the first time in years, I actually cried while reading a story.

I absolutely refuse to divulge any substantial details; Going in as blind as possible is the best way to experience this one. All you’ll get from me is that it’s about a mother who faces a parent’s worst nightmare. Robertson pulls you in , holds you at rapt attention, rips your heart out of your chest and then hits you with a grand slam whammy of a conclusion that had this reader’s jaw scraping the floor. This was such an exquisitely crafted piece, I would favorably compare it to the best works of Shirley Jackson. Not only does this stand as the high watermark  of the collection, this is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read, period. End of discussion. “Lucy” absolutely blindsided me.

 

 Phobia: I had a huge, twisted grin stretched across my face by the time I finished this final tale. For the closing story, Robertson delivers a shocker designed to terrify readers and send goose-flesh rippling across every inch of skin on their bones. About two thirds of the way through this, I recognized this as a clear instance of an author having an absolute blast in creeping out her audience. Easily the most frightening story in the book and guaranteed to make even the most stoic readers squirm, I won’t soon forget this nasty little gem.

 

The Bottom Line: Crafted in gorgeous prose by an artist exceptionally skilled at populating her stories with three dimensional  characters, Reaper was an intense, incredibly entertaining read. My comments regarding the latter part of “Prey” aside,  I highly recommend this one to fans of dark fiction. Briana Robertson is an author you should be reading.

****1/2 out of ***** stars. A must read.

Thanks for reading!

Catch you on the flip side.

D.S. Ullery  2/9/19

 

 

 

D.S. Ullery’s Blog With No Name.

Let the show begin!

Hello and welcome to the first ever installment of my first ever blog in my first ever attempt to do something on social media that doesn’t involve posting memes about fuck you claps, leaving diatribes about car horn abuse as a status update or ranting on Twitter about people who spend all day ranting on Twitter.

You’ll notice the title of this blog. That isn’t me trying to be clever, but rather an acknowledgment of what to expect from what will be – for now – a weekly endeavor. The content will change as I write. Some weeks, I’ll have a pieces of flash fiction on here. Others I’ll post a rant. On different occasions, I’ll write a review of a book or a film I’ve enjoyed or hated.

There may also be times when I discuss more personal matters or address something tragic that’s made the news. Perhaps I’ll just be in a playful mood and start making fun of hamsters, because why the hell not?

The point is, there’s no reason to come up with a terrifically clever title for this blog because A) all  the really clever names have been taken and B) there’s never going to be one specific theme here.

Save for one. The horror genre. I absolutely love it. Horror is, in all its twisted glory, the grand summary of all the other genres. It has action, drama, sometimes comedy, often romance  and it can scare the hell out of you while making you think. There’s no greater genre. There’s also no better creative community to be a part of.

And part of it I am. I write horror. I’m a published author of horror fiction, a member in good standing of the Horror Writer’s Association and – although I hold a day job to pay my bills  – writing dark, creepy tales is where my head and heart are at ( unlike the little thug who egged my apartment last Halloween, whose head and heart have since been dipped in bronze and mounted on my mantle as a reminder that sometimes life has its victories. I’m kidding of course. The little bastard was way too fast that night, even with the bola. Now I have nets installed. But that’s another blog post).

I’m also a film buff of the highest order. So Horror is a theme you’ll likely see winding through here on a fairly consistent basis.

To confirm this (And to wrap up: It’s getting late and I have to be up for work early in the morning), I’ve decided to kick this new adventure off with a short piece I recently wrote as part of a writing challenge over on the Stitched Smile Publications Groupies Facebook page.

The prompt on this occasion had been a striking image of a woman who was , apparently, part lizard demon. As you’ve likely guessed, the idea was to write  an orignal piece  (no longer than 2,000 words) based on the picture.

The version presented here has been edited and fleshed out a bit. It is not the original edition, which clocked in at a little over 1,700 words. I wasn’t happy with my final edit on that one and, as this was never written for profit, I thought it’d be fun to tweak it and post it as my first blog.

So here we go, horror fans.  If you’ve made it this far without furiously clicking away and blocking this page (or falling asleep), I invite you to partake of the dark delights found within my tale  “A Welcome Sound”.

Oh and check out my book , Beyond Where the Sky Ends , available at Amazon. That’s my shameless plug for the day.

Catch you on the flip side. Enjoy the story!

D. S. Ullery

2/6/19

 

 A Welcome Sound

 by D. S. Ullery

“I think this is the same guy. The eyes are burned out of the sockets, just like on the ones we found at the last couple of places.”

Officer Douglas agreed, though the wave of nausea currently washing over him prevented him from replying to the man in the room above. He clapped a clammy palm over his mouth, a desperate attempt to keep out the taste of rot poisoning the air in the basement

It was dank and dark, the sort of subterranean space people usually only entered if they wanted to store worthless belongings somewhere they’d never be seen. Only it seemed it wasn’t old board games or outdated furniture this particular homeowner was keeping below. An evil smell, emanating from the recesses to the policeman’s left, suggested something far worse

Douglas was standing on the bottom step of a narrow flight of stairs. The steps lead back to an open trap door above. The two officers had discovered the concealed passage quite by accident. Upon entering the premises minutes earlier, they’d discovered a corpse laid out in the living room. It appeared to be a teenage boy. He’d been dumped at the base of an entertainment center, sticky pools of congealed blood pooling underneath him on the hardwood floor. Someone had taken a blade to the body and melted this eyeballs in their sockets.

While walking about the room searching for any evidence of who might have committed the murder, his partner had unintentionally scuffed the corner of a throw rug with the toe of his shoe, flipping up one of the corners. Both men had immediately noticed the perfectly angled crack where the horizontal door separated from the rest of the floor.

Looking at the hidden space now, Douglas saw a solidly packed dirt floor to his right. This area represented the majority of the basement space and resembled a large, black square of flat, packed soil. It was populated by three evenly spaced holes, running north to south. Douglas shuddered when he saw these individual pits.

They looked like freshly dug graves. It appeared someone was planning a mass burial.

To his left, three cubicles of equal width and height lined the opposite wall. All three spaces had been designed without doors. A thick, concrete foundation was divided by four cement walls of equal height, width and length. Each space looked to be at least six feet wide.

Stepping off the stairs , Douglas withdrew the magnesium flashlight dangling from a metal loop on his belt, bringing it blazing to life with a quick punch of his thumb. He aimed the powerful beam toward the closest cubicle, stepping slowly in that direction.

He reached the space and peered inside cautiously, scanning the interior. His gag reflex was tested as the decomposed remains of a badly mutilated woman flashed briefly in the bright circle of light. He flinched, taking a reflexive step back.

Taking a deep breath, Douglas composed himself. It wasn’t easy: The stench was much worse this close (the body was clearly the source of the terrible odor) and the environment as a whole gave him the creeps. When he felt he had steadied himself, he entered the cubicle.

Keeping the light centered, he examined the corpse. She was upright, back pressed against a load bearing wall. Her arms were elevated, suspended at the wrists by thick, iron manacles, connected to the wall behind her by steel chains. Duct tape had been wrapped around her head, covering her mouth, several times over. From the state of the body, he guessed she’d been dead for weeks . Despite the deterioration of the woman’s flesh, it was apparent she’d suffered deep lacerations all over her body. Someone had cut her limbs, stomach and face with a knife , then left her here to bleed out.

Her eyes were ruined, having been reduced to scorched blobs.

A deep anger surged within Douglas as he mentally cataloged this last detail. That was the clincher. The whole ballgame, as his father used to say. His partner had been correct: This was the work of the same sick individual. The same man who had left similar death depositories beneath several homes across the city. Almost certainly the person responsible for the corpse upstairs.

Law enforcement believed the suspect to be a local land owner. Records showed the man had purchased this property, as well as several others where victims had been found, all in the same grisly state. Douglas and his partner had responded to a complaint called in by a neighbor earlier that day. The woman had reported screams issuing from underneath this house.

 When the address showed registered on the list of properties owned by the prime suspect in what had been officially declared serial killings, the officers had entered prepared to make an arrest.

But, so far, the man was nowhere to be found. Only more victims.

Douglas found himself hoping the bastard was crouched down here, quaking in his shoes. He prayed the man would try to attack him if that were the case. Shooting the miserable prick would be one of the most rewarding moments of his entire life.

He moved to the next cubicle. Here he discovered a similarly grim scene. Another body, manacled as well, also bearing deep cuts and with the eyes burned out. The only noticeable difference was the degree of decomposition. From the look of it, Douglas estimated this unfortunate soul had been dead maybe a week.

So their killer had murdered the first girl, then kept this captive down in this hellhole while her unfortunate neighbor had rotted away. He tried to process what it must have been like for her to have to live with that smell, knowing what it represented was her fate as well. he couldn’t. It was more than cruel, it was unholy. The rush of hate powering through Douglas at that moment was so strong, he felt his face begin to burn.

They were dealing with a real life monster. It was that simple. That horrifying.

He decided to head back upstairs and collect his partner before checking the final cubicle. It was likely to contain another body and he didn’t want to face that alone. This was too much, even after having spent a decade on the force.

A sound caught his attention. It originated from the other side of the wall separating him from last cubicle. It was the noise of someone moving. It was a welcome sound, indicating to him one of two possibilities: There was a survivor, or he was about to have his desire satisfied and capture ( or kill) the lunatic responsible for this atrocity.

Douglas slid his hand toward his service revolver, popping the strap on the holster. He held the flashlight up, level with his shoulder, keeping the beam trained directly in front of him as he walked.

He turned the corner quickly, facing down whoever might be on the other side

A lithe figure was crouched against the far wall. Naked, pulsating flesh glistened beneath the light. Above the shape , a single wrist hung trapped inside a single shackle. Next to it, the other empty manacle hung empty.

Dark lines wove along the limbs of the creature, spiraling along its sleek form, culminating in a row of spiny, pointed protrusions which cascaded down its spine. These tapered to a black spike of a tail, which wound on itself like that of some impossible lizard. The thing had the unmistakable form of a human being. It exuded a distinctly feminine quality, yet in the same moment seemed overwhelmingly reptilian in nature.

It initially took no notice of the policeman staring at it. It was concentrating on the fresh meat into was shoving into its gullet, swallowing with quick, dips of its head. Douglas followed its movements, swerving the beam down and exposing the tattered remnants of a human body at her feet.

He stepped closer, staring at the remains. Whoever it was had been thoroughly savaged. One arm had been torn from its socket and the stomach rent asunder, emptied of the vital organs. There, under the glow of the light, he watched as the creature dipped one claw-like hand into the wound, tearing away something brown and bloody. It plopped the tissue into its mouth with a sickening slurp, its head again making that quick dip as the meat slid down.

Aghast, Douglas began to draw his pistol, when he noticed something telling about the remains.

There, dangling from what was left of a belt strap circling the mid-section. It was a large key ring, hooked to a belt loop on the opposite side of the body from where the creature crouched. The keys were just far enough from the captive to be out of its reach. Douglas noted they were large and made of metal.

The very type of keys one would likely use to open shackles.

This was their man. He could feel it in his gut.

A surprised grunt floated to him from the darkness above the gruesome scene and he shifted the light back up. He was startled to discover a young girl (no more than eighteen, he suspected) staring at him. She hopped back, gripping the chain connecting the manacle to the concrete as if her life depended on it.

Gone were the bizarre markings. The protrusions he’d seen emerging from her back had also disappeared. The only remaining indications what he had witnessed had been real were her nakedness – her clothes were torn to pieces, scattered across the floor of the cubicle- and the blood staining her mouth from where she’d swallowed pieces of the body.

The reptilian quality she’d possessed had been replaced by a terrified innocence, silently conveyed through emerald green eyes that now pleaded for help.

Douglas slowly moved his hand away from his gun. He drew closer, signaling for her to stay still. He unzipped a small satchel connected to his belt and withdrew a pair of latex gloves stored inside. Quickly donning these, he reached out and unhooked the keys from the dead man’s belt.

It took several tries, but he finally found the correct one, managing to undo the shackle with a satisfying click. As he released the girl, Douglas could only imagine what had happened. In his mind’s eye, the recently deceased maniac had captured the wrong victim, unaware of what she really was. He must have unlocked one of the manacles in an attempt to have his way with her, only to find himself confronted by her true nature, unleashed in all its fury. He’d likely been reduced from tormentor to food in the blink of a eye.

At least, that’s what Douglas hoped. It gave him no small measure of  satisfaction to think this man would end the day being something she’d eventually shit out.

The sound of his partner calling to him broke him out of his reverie. Alarmed, he began to scan the area for any possible places the girl could hide. He had no desire to take her into custody, nor did he particularly believe he’d be able to if he tried.

The girl tapped his shoulder, frantically pointing across the basement, beyond the three graves. She waved for Douglas to follow her, leading him out of the cubicle. They crossed the dirt floor, arriving at a small, square door located at the base of the opposite wall. The passage was cloaked in shadow and he’d missed it upon entering earlier.

The girl pushed at the door, causing it to swing inward. She scurried through, beckoning for him to have a look. He shone the light inside, greeted by the sight of a narrow, vertical tunnel, equipped with a small ladder. The ladder ascended to an opening, through which dim afternoon light now shone. An escape route, likely put in place by the murderer in the event he faced being captured.

She moved to the ladder, then paused, turning back to Douglas. The fear in her eyes was gone. What shone back was gratitude- and a question, one he understood without effort.

Why?

“I have a daughter, about your age,” he answered softly, smiling at her. He nodded toward the ladder. “Go. My partner will be down here shortly. You’d better be gone by then.”

She returned his smile, then disappeared up the ladder, a wraith vanishing as if she’d never been. She moved fast.

Faster than a human being, he thought with absolute certainty.

Douglas stared after her for a moment, wondering what she was and where she’d come from. It was a fleeting bout of inquisitiveness. It didn’t matter. The girl could be a demon from the depths of Hell itself. After what she’d been through today, she deserved to be free. Besides, he was of the opinion she’d done the world a service.

Behind him, the sound of his partner’s footsteps grew louder on the stairs, echoing as the he descended into the basement.

Closing the door of the passage, Douglas began to think up a cover story.