Ossua: Exactly What Is It?

Ossua has been around for a while now. But, what is it?

It’s had a few different guises. It’s been a message board, a WYSIWYG generated experiment, and a blog. The blog has been the longest incarnation. So, in a sense, Ossua is this domain name and it’s various servers throughout the years.

But that’s not really the answer. To explain what Ossua is, you’ll need to come back to the mid-nineties with me.

I have always been rather fond of other realities as found in books, films, and stories. I guess I’m an escapist at heart. If you have the kind of early childhood I had, I suppose it might even be inevitable. Being anywhere else starts to sound good. I don’t mean to give you the impression I had a bad family life – my parents brought me up well, and even the sibling troubles between my sister and I mended once we were about three thousand miles apart and didn’t have to share a bathroom anymore. But other kids… other kids were the worst. Add in an early and traumatic introduction to the concept of death… so… yeah. I spent a lot of time in my head and in the heads of others through reading.

In my mid teens MTV released a television show called The Maxx, created by all around amazing guy, Sam Kieth. It was based on a comic by the same name, which I also picked up issues of here and there. I loved it. For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, it’s about Maxx, a purple-suited vagrant who is trapped between two worlds. There’s the world that you and I live in (the debatably ‘real’ world), but there is another world. It’s called the Outback, and that’s where our true selves emerge for good or ill. Maxx can’t seem to control where he ends up sometimes. He slips in and out of each world unwittingly, generating a potpourri of mental illness for him. Whether or not one world is more real than the other is up for debate. Each person has their own kind of outback. Maxx and Julie (his social worker and also his Leopard Queen) share one due to a linked trauma, and they spend a lot of time in it trying to figure out their own issues, fears, and insecurities.

The Outback concept was super sticky in my mind. I could see myself running ahead of packs of Isz (one of the Outback’s many weird creatures), climbing its smoking mountains, and in general reveling in the pure weirdness of the place.

Then one night in college I finally asked myself: what does my outback look like?

And thatthat is Ossua. It’s a world in my head that I’ve been building since that lightning bolt moment at my dorm room desk. I didn’t start drawing things that day. That would come later and never to my satisfaction. But, the world germinated and started to push out little tendrils into my brain until I could see it.

The clarity and scope of it wasn’t like anything else I’d dared to dream before. I saw a land that was part the ruins of our culture on Earth, part Tolkien-esque fantasy land, part Faerie Tale, and all weird. It was populated by not only humans (some even from our world), but by benign beastmen (at least twelve tribes!), Gourd Maws (good-natured yet terrifying looking demi-humans), a long lived royal line that ruled benevolently. It was a place where nothing ever dies so much as ‘moves on’ into the East to an undiscovered sub-continent that only the departed can know. Shamans grew vegetables and honored their farm animals, gently releasing their souls and honoring them before taking their flesh. From the Grand Palace Bulb in the city of Ygg, a great and egalitarian empire was formed, where justice and happiness existed for every citizen of the Empire. Nothing had to suffer. Nothing had to fear. It was a wonderful place where everything was right.

Until it wasn’t.

I lost a great and admired friend, Erik, in the summer of 2005. And on that day, it turned out that the Great Baron of Ossua died. His sudden death – in front of me no less – sent me into a grief spiral that essentially broke my own private Outback over a series of months, shattering it into a thousand splinters of broken mirror. Ossua’s fate paralleled my own life; it became something broken, suffering catastrophic throes of pain and loss. It became as much an autobiographical work as it was a fantasy setting. A lot of stress went into it. A lot of lessons. A lot of hard times.

It didn’t die, though. Places like the Outback and Ossua have trouble laying down, even when dealt a mortal wound. It persisted. It grew shadows. Balance went off kilter, turning the landscape of my mind into strange reflections of what they once were in my bizarre world. Slowly, a story emerged from it. I’d never been able to do anything with Ossua because in a perfect land where nothing goes sideways… there aren’t a lot of gripping stories to be told. Now that Ossua was battered and mangled, I thought I might just have a story grow out of it. If I worked at it. If I believed. And if I didn’t let the trauma of 2005 drive both Ossua and myself into the ground.

Soon after, I found myself with the opportunity to register two domain names. One of them was this one: ossua.com. It’s been with me, waiting for it’s true purpose. For about thirteen years now I’ve been refining it in my head. Populating it with all sorts of beings great and small, fair and foul. And it’s meant to be for the young and old alike.

And I’m going to write it. Finally, I am going to write it. Because my niece and nephew aren’t getting any younger. And Uncle Maurice has so many stories to tell them. Also, It’s a story Erik’s widow and his daughter deserve to hear too. HIs daughter is already twelve. I’ve wasted so much time.

I want you to see it too. You should get to travel the River Proteus, see the fantastic shores of Delphome, climb Night’s Peak, and maybe even see beyond The Drop in the East to peek into the Misted Vale where the spirits live.

So come with me. Keep an eye out. I think it’s time to start setting the history of Ossua down on paper. Because, an untold story doesn’t do anyone any favors.

 

Another Terribleminds Joint – SWAT

As noted last week, Chuck Wendig provides good writing prompts. This week I drew an interesting in his combination of X vs. Y. I really don’t want to spoil what’s in it, so read for yourself and find out who’s fighting who in this week’s mashup.

As a note, this contains a little bit of alternative history – particularly around the tragedy of the raid on the Branch Davidian Cult back in the nineties. If that kind of thing might make you feel uncomfortable or angry, perhaps this isn’t for you.

Personally, I think there’s a great long-format story waiting to be expanded in here. I hope you agree.


When Mitch arrived on the scene of the standoff there were already bodies piled up. The whole thing reminded him of Waco again. He’d been a young agent on that raid though. He hadn’t been toughened yet, was too green for the truth of what had been going on inside the Branch Davidian Cult.

He approached the scene and flashed his badge at one of the staties tasked to help keep the whole circus in order. The uniformed man nodded and lifted the yellow crime scene tape. It didn’t take Mitch long to find the people in charge.

One of them was a tall guy who looked like a scarecrow that had half its straw missing, leaving nothing but sticks and partially filled clothes. He was saying something about formations and casualties.

“Evening folks,” Mitch said. He approached the huddle with his typical Texas drawl and good old boy posture. “So, what have you got for me?”

The scarecrow looked up. “Excuse me, we’re kinda in the middle of something here.”

“I know, I know, and that’s great. Why don’t you just stop what you’re doing and tell me how you lost your men?”

Now the entire group looked up. Scarecrow looked to be the kind of guy that Mitch was used to dealing with: territorial, self-assured, and one hundred percent out of his depth.

“You got a badge, peckerwood?” said Scarecrow. Big words for a guy who looked like he was on the tail end of chemo, Mitch thought.

Mitch flashed his fed badge again, but before he could put it back in his jacket the gangly man pulled it out of his hand.

“Federal Department of … okay, what the fuck is this? Arrest this man. Get him the fuck out of here before I -“

Scarecrow’s phone rang and his fellow agents hesitated. Mitch waited patiently for the man to answer his mobile.

“Norwood here, look I…” Scarecrow’s voice seemed to strangle itself in his throat. “No, sir, but I…” his face went pale. “Are you… alright. Okay. If you say so.”

Scarecrow’s phone went back in its pocket and he straightened. “Okay. I’ve been directed to follow your lead, Mr…?”

“What, didn’t read it the first time? Name is Whatley. Mitch Whatley. And this is now a Federal Department of Xenoarcana operation.”

-

“So we sent in a first unit with body cams attached. We’re still trying to puzzle out what exactly the guys inside did to them. It was a five man squad. Four are dead now, and the lone survivor came out screaming like a lunatic. He’s missing most of his right arm, and minus a few fingers on his left hand.”

Mitch scratched his chin. “You got footage from the team handy ?”

The analyst swiveled on his chair in the surveillance truck and brought up a series of monitors. In them, Mitch watched the team’s entry. They managed to get to the front door, ram it open, then gain entry. About ten seconds in, a man stepped into the end of the entrance hallway. From what Mitch could see the guy was unarmed. Then, there was some shouting and the man in the hall raised his hand. There was a single shot from one of the agents, then a flash of light. All the cameras went out at once.

“We’re thinking EMP,” the Analyst said. “But, the people we pulled out had all sorts of other electronics on them, all fine. Watches kept ticking, walkies were good.”

“You’re right, it’s not EMP.” Mitch said. “That gesture, see that?” he pointed to the monitor containing a grainy, green-white image of the man in the hall. “That’s a spell meant to occult the caster from sight. As for what killed those men, I’d have to say they used another spell that causes its victim’s flesh to necrotize. Probably a standard withering spell.”

The analyst looked at him with a clear look of disbelief.

“You don’t have cultists, son. You’ve got Cultists. Capital C.”

Mitch pulled out his cell phone and speed dialed a number. He didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s official. Bring in SWAT.”

 -

The black van arrived thirty minutes after his call. Mitch looked at the moon. It was gibbous, pregnant with its culminating phase. Thank god for small favors.

The van door slid open and five people stepped out. They were a mixed group. Short, tall, fat, thin, male, female. The only common thing between them was their attire. Their suits were form fitting black tights. All were barefoot and bare handed. Mitch walked up to one of them, a middle aged guy with a physique going to fat. Mitch reached his hand out.

“Bancroft. Goddamn, when they move you out here?”

“Two years ago. You know, after that whole Detroit heroin raid?” The man didn’t seem entirely comfortable.

“Oh yeah, that FBI loan out. Sorry that went south on you man. I heard you took a hell of a hit.”

“You have no idea.”

“I got a notion.” Mitch looked to the rest of the group. “These your folks?”

“Yeah, they’re… they’re my family now.”

“You the big dog?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Well, good, you make sure they follow your lead.”

“I know. I remember Waco.”

“I’m sure you do, Bancroft. I’ll have an agent over here in a second to brief you on the situation.”

Mitch turned from Bancroft and went to the new huddle of shot callers. Scarecrow was still there – Mitch didn’t give a flying fart what his actual name was – as well as a pair of FBI agents, an ATF woman, and a liaison from FDX.

Mitch cleared his throat and started giving orders.

“Okay, our SWAT team is here. You,” he pointed at Scarecrow, “I need you over there with SWAT to give them a basic overview of who you think is in there. How many, how they’re conventionally armed, any kind of training they have, shoe size, voting history, whatever you got.”

Scarecrow looked at the swat team with contempt. “You mean, they’re… that’s the SWAT team?”

Mitch looked at Scarecrow, irked to be interrupted. “Yeah, you got a problem, slim?”

“This is un-fucking-believable.” Scarecrow looked at his feet and shook his head. “Okay, so you’re some kind of special fed division, I get that. I don’t like it, but I get it. But we have four dead agents. One that probably isn’t going to make it through mentally, even if his body does. We’ve got cameras here now, watching,” Scarecrow pointed to the flashing blue and red lights that kept a small but growing number of media staff a good two hundred meters away. “And you’re going to send in a bunch of… I don’t know who the fuck in, unarmed?”

Mitch looked over his shoulder to the SWAT team. Bancroft was talking to a six-foot five woman with a neutral expression who was barely contained in her skin tight uniform. The other three were scratching themselves almost uncontrollably and looking at the moon.

“Trust me, they’re specialists. And they can hear you too. Sharp as bloodhounds those folks are, so you mind your fucking P’s and Q’s, you read me, good buddy? I wouldn’t piss those fellas off.”

One of the SWAT team members stopped itching long enough to shoot a salute at Scarecrow as Mitch stopped speaking.

“So, go on, git,” Mitch said, fighting the urge to kick Scarecrow in the ass on his way out. “The rest of the sdults got work to do.”

He turned to the others as Scarecrow sulked away.

“I’m gonna need a secondary squad to follow up on the primary SWAT team to handle anyone who surrenders or to retrieve hostages. Just hang by the entrance and remember: no matter how weird things get, just stay clear of the primary squad…”

-

Mitch saw the whole operation play out from the exterior surveillance footage routed into the van. It was all over within three minutes. It tended to go this way once FDX’s SWAT teams were deployed in Mitch’s experience. The only questions were how many bodies ended up on the books and from which side.

Within twenty seconds of SWAT’s insertion, the gunshots started. This disconcerted some of the usual FBI and ATF guys – they lived in an age of body cameras and thermal imaging. Hot shit toys and by the book tactics fed them intel they’d learned to use as a crutch. Mitch had waved all of that aside. “Don’t need ‘em,” he’d said. Some of it might have helped provided the Cultists didn’t cast any more wards, but magic was costly. Mitch knew that. But, he’d take the SWAT team as they were over another whole van full of high-tech gear.

At thirty seconds in, there was even more gunfire, and then an uncanny noise. It was low at first, but raised in intensity over the next few seconds. Then, the howls became clear. Mitch saw the panic ripple through the folks working in the other agencies. Fed, ATF, fucking Navy SEAL, it doesn’t matter, he thought. You hear that noise, you know someone’s gonna die. Mitch put his hand on the surveillance analyst’s shoulder. The kid almost jumped out of his skin.

“S’okay, kid. Almost over.”

Sixty seconds in, one of the walls from the compound’s main building buckled. From the camer’s view, it seemed as if a wrecking ball got a shot from inside the structure somehow. Dust puffed out and several cinderblocks fell, but the wall held. There was a brief spat of panic fire from agents at the perimeter but it was quickly halted by a squad commander somewhere.

Ninety seconds in, the glow started. The main room of the compound had high windows all around it’s bulk, and green, searing light came pouring out of them. A few folks wearing light amplifying goggles were forced to turn away, and a wave of pure chaos seemed to overtake everyone in sight. Some agents fell to their knees and wept, others shouted, and another touched herself. At least one agent turned his gun on the agent next to him and shot him.

Mitch hated that part the most – Cult magic just made people standing around batshit crazy. It was usually the buttoned-up, upstanding, really with-it types that buckled too. The more strange or open-minded you were, the less the magic could hurt you, but even a little magic went a long way. It ate order and shit madness.

The inter departmental shooting caused a ripple of panic along the line as the madness took hold. Before things could get any more out of hand, Mitch saw the FDX liaison make a kind of strange gesture and the riotous units went slack jawed and complacent. Mitch hadn’t figured the agency had hired on Deep Ones yet, but… he hadn’t seen anyone else command that kind of power. He’d have words about that back at headquarters after all of this was over.

At two minutes, the wall that had buckled earlier burst out and two forms could be seen.

The first was a Cultist, crackling with eldritch flux. His skin was emitting a baleful green glow, and his flesh was starting to burn and crackle. His eyes glowed even brighter, and his mouth was releasing torrents of malign energy toward his assailant.

The assailant was easily eight-and-a-half feet tall. Clad in all black, its clothes beginning to tatter, was profuse with hair and fang and claw. It’s wolf-like head used powerful jaws to snap of the Cultist’s arm. A gout of ooze and green fire erupted from it, scalding the wolf thing’s muzzle. The beast spat out the limb and bit again, this time seizing the Cultist by the torso, then shook him until there was a crack that could be heard audibly even above the howling and the chanting booming from inside the main building. The Cultist went limp and his inner glow died. The wolfen figure released it’s bite and batted away the corpse, howling in triumph.

Agents who still had their wits about them on the line fled. Mitch kept his hand on the analyst’s shoulder. The poor guy was weeping and gibbering now. Par for the course. Mitch was made of sterner stuff.

At minute two, second forty-two, there was a single howl of triumph and then Cultists and hostages poured out from inside. The liaison made another hand gesture and suddenly the enrapt units came to, and their training took hold. They had the fleeing men and women on the ground and started to make their arrests and rescues.

In all of the confusion, the five semi-naked swat team members came out, not a scratch on them, and went to Mitch for debriefing.

-

Scarecrow was not doing well. Last Mitch saw him, he was being carted off in an ambulance, catatonic and drooling. Mitch had that figured that would happen from the get go. He had little remorse for him or guys like him: too straightlaced for the true nature of the world.

The rest of the agents on the line had some fuzzy recall of the entire event.

The man who’d been shot didn’t even remember who had done it to him; it was easy in the post-op to write it off as cultist panic fire (cultist of course being written with a small ‘c’ in the ‘official’ paperwork). The guy who shot him didn’t even remember doing it. A fortunate side effect of the kinds of chaos Cultist magic wrought was that it almost always was forgotten. Those who didn’t forget could be made to, or turned out to be great FDX recruits.

The folks running the show on state and federal levels, they had some questions though. They always did. But, with a little magic ‘push’ and some help from the almost full moon, Mitch had taken care of it with as much grace and care as he could. He didn’t like using magic himself, but sometimes, he had to. It was the only way to keep the gears moving and humanity alive.

And the press? Shit, the press was easy. FDX had infiltrated them years ago. Most of the folks running the media knew what side their bread was buttered on. Anyone reporting the truth got lumped in with conspiracy theorists and Fox News.

As the whole scene began to deconstruct, Mitch made it a point to go to the van and talk to the team.

“I gotta hand it to you, Bancroft, you’re doing a hell of a job in Scrying, Werewolves, and Thaumaturgy.”

“It ain’t easy,” Bancroft said. He wiped a prodigious amount of sweat from his forehead. “I don’t think I ever handled a pack this big. Three was my upper limit before but these guys are good.”

“I knew you had it in you,” Mitch said. “And besides, there’s nothing you can’t do with the moon behind you.”

“Yeah, the moon gave just enough kick to negate the worst of the Cultist mojo. Coulda stood for a full one though. Hard to alpha that one.” Bancroft pointed to the giant SWAT woman who no longer had a shirt or any apparent trace of modesty as she tried to smear blood off her chest. “She’s a toughie. I’ll recommend her for special training for pack ops. She rates her own pack after taking out their Magus.”

“I’ll see to it.”

Mitch put out his hand. Bancroft took it with some hesitation and shook it.

“We’re seeing more of this, you know,” Bancroft said. “It used to be I’d get a raid like this once every two or three years. But now… I’m getting them every three or four months. It’s happening isn’t it? That’s what Koresh said back at Waco. ‘The stars are right.’ You heard anything?”

“No. That kinda thing is probably beyond both of our clearances and pay grades. Best to not ask.”

“Yeah,” Bancroft said. “Maybe so.”

“You watch yourself, alright?”

“Sure,” Bancroft said and walked back to the van. The pack followed him in, and they drove away.

Mitch spat in the grass as the op began to shut down. He looked at the stars.

No matter how hard he looked, they didn’t seem right to him yet.


For curious readers, the assignment was ‘Cultists Vs. Werewolves.’ 

Beasties: A Terribleminds Flash Fic Challenge

Beasties and creep crawlies abound…

You might have heard of a guy by the name of Chuck Wendig. He’s had a series of fantastic books featuring his trailer-punk death psychic, Miriam Black. My personal favorites though are the many sourcebooks he wrote or co-wrote for White Wolf (now Onyx Path Publishing or O.P.P. if you know them) for the World of Darkness, and also for a book I don’t think gets as much credit as is due: The Blue Blazes.

But, apart from the free advertising here for Chuck (which hell yes, I support; buy his books), he also has a blog at http://www.terribleminds.com. On said blog, he’ll put out a challenge or two fairly regularly.

The most recent challenge was to take two random genres to mash up and then let them have at each other until you have 1,500 words, approximately. I got:

Space Opera and Splatter Punk.

So… this is going to get fucking disgusting pretty goddamned quick. I’m temporarily calling this one ‘Beasties.’ Maybe I rename it, maybe I don’t. Either way, enjoy – provided you can hold down your lunch. You’ve been warned.


 

The drop craft’s landing was much smoother than its orbital entry. It’s captain, Narthan, was irked at having to walk through one of his newer grunt’s vomit on his way out. According to the pilot, they were only minutes away from the last known location of the prospectors. When he found them, he would put his boot up their collective asses for dragging him down to the surface of… whatever the fuck this shitty planet was called. As the Fury’s Executive Officer, he resented going mudside in some ancient drop craft that his syndicate wouldn’t even retrofit. The smell of defoliant only made him more insufferable.

He gulped a lungfull of air from his rebreather and shouted at his crew.

“All right. You all know the reason we’re here. Get to the prospecting team’s transponder and bring back information on what happened to their party. This planet is property of the Noborov Syndicate now, and we’re to bring back anything useful concerning the missing prospectors as well as any survey data. Faster it’s done, the faster we can get our cut of everything valuable on this festering shithole. Fucking get to it.”

The crew split up into pairs to begin investigating while Narthan went back to the craft. He ducked his head into its access point and spoke to the pilot.

“We have a reliable linkup back to the Fury?”

“It’s thready, but it’s here. Even our amped up transponder relay gear is having trouble in this magnetosphere though. Cap’n ain’t gonna be happy, but… nothin’ to be done, XO.”

A scream came out from the jungle. Narthan was on the comm channel immediately.

“What in the fuck is going on? report in!”

“XO, you’re gonna wanna see this,” came a staticky voice. The channel’s signal was poor, but Narthan could make out the voice of Darby, one of the grunts.

“Locked on to your signal. I’m coming to you,” Narthan said, grabbing his gun.

The corpse was all but broken down into a twitching, bloody pile by the local wildlife. A small swarm of tiny, five-legged, eyeless creatures no bigger than a child’s finger were feasting on it, their mandibles clicking and clacking as they shoved gristle into their conical maws. They’d taken out the softest parts of the prospector first – the genitals, the meat near the armpits, spaces between digits on hands and feet. The skin was almost entirely devoured. It could barely be identified as human. Ropes of veins and nerves stood out in sharp relief against ravaged muscle. Bones could be seen in a few places, mostly around the ribs. The limbs looked deflated and withered.

Narthan did his best to look unfazed.

“Where’s his fucking head?” he said to Darby.

“No clue.” Darby’s voice was dull. Narthan recognized him as one of the crew’s only combat veterans.

“Any other bodies?”

“Not yet. If the scavs on this one are any indication, any of the other prospector corpses might be gone by now. These bastards are good little eaters.”

“You sure these things aren’t what did ‘em in?”

“If they were predators, I think they’d have started eating us by now.”

“Probably. But, never trust an alien ecology to be like ours.”

Narthan turned to look at the other crew mates. “All right. I want a standard sterilization here against known insect-like life. Hose this whole place down in a hundred meter radius from the landing craft. Hop to it!”

The men scattered to comply. As they did, the XO began to take count. The crew’s math didn’t add up.

He checked his roster in his ocular implant’s heads up display. One, two, three…

He counted nine men deployed in his line of sight.

Ten was a standard drop, plus a pilot.

“Son of a bitch,” he said, lifting his rebreather to spit. “Where the hell is Finch?”

The transponder became more finicky as Narthan trudged through the fetid jungle growth. Based on the Pilot’s earlier comment, he had no reason to believe that Finch might actually be dead – it was probably a transponder problem causing his reported ‘death.’ They’d seen it happen before on planets with strong magnetospheres. They’d barely touched down on the planet for fifteen minutes, how much trouble could a fuck up like Finch get into? Regardless, Narthan took Darby with him to look into the missing crewman’s last location.

Narthan figured the greedy little shit probably saw something that he thought might make him rich. Bizarre lifeforms fetched a good price in certain quarters of settled space, and Narthan was seeing all sorts of it that might qualify… if you were stupid enough to leave your post on an uncharted backwater planet.

He swatted at a stinging creature at his neck. His hand came away red and yellow with goop. Darby had a few critters on him too, but he didn’t seem to mind while they supped on his blood.

“For fuck’s sake, log this into our report, Darby – more insecticide next time.”

“Aye, XO.”

After a few more minutes they found a gobbet of flesh about the size of an apple in the leafy ground.

“Fuck,” said Narthan. “Is that…?”

Darby began scanning the area visually. His implants kicked in, giving his eye a shine like a cat’s.

“Yeah. That’s his heart,” said the grunt. “Personnel transponder is weaved in it day one with the syndicate. We’re right on top of the signal.”

Narthan sent an alert through the comm. “All right everyone. Pack it in. We’ve got hostile local life here not indicated by the initial sat survey. We’re getting the fuck out of here. Dust off in ten standards.”

He shut off the comm and looked into the jungle. That was when he saw Finch staring at him from behind a thicket of leafy growth.

“What the…” he said.

Many things happened almost at once.

First, Narthan heard distant gunfire. Several lights went off in his HUD display implanted in his left eye noting that two of the crew were now dead or dying. Then, that same eye was skewered by a flying lance of bone, sending vitreous humor and chunks of nerve into the blanket of dead leaves around his feet. He screamed and fell to his knees as another sliver of bone flew into his throat. His wet screams were utterly feral.

Narthan tried to rip the bloody dart from his eye socket with one hand and to offer futile panic fire with the other. The thing wearing Finch staggered out of the brush. It was much like the other five-legged insects they’d been shooing away, but larger, standing almost three feet tall and draped in what Narthan had to assume was the remains of Finch. Where the creature’s main body should be was now protected by Finch’s severed head from the jaw up. Bits of trachea, brain, and tongue dripped from its crude armor’s base. Fresh human bones – Finch’s femurs, a humerus, a tibia, and several vertebrae – seemed to cover its segmented legs like extra armor. It seemed to be nibbling on finger bones in it’s mouth, whirling and sharpening them down into darts.

Darby’s autorifle roared. The first hit to the thing knocked off the top of Finch’s skull, exposing the softer, pulsating shell of the beast beneath. The second shot sent a spray of yellow-brown ichor spurting across vines and roots as the thing fell.

The last thing Narthan would ever see, was the squirming of tiny, five-legged things crawling over his remaining good eye and beginning to devour it as his HUD flickered out and died with him.

Darby made it to the drop craft only to find the pilot dead. His head was similarly missing, his body practically rippling with burrowing horrors. He tossed the body out, then gave the craft the command to return to base on autopilot. He found more of the smaller beasts, and killed as many of the squirming things as he could under his boots until he could find no more.

Thirty seconds before docking with the Fury, he hit the airlock controls and voided the craft with an override. He left the airlock open until his skin went icy and cracked, until he felt like his eyes would freeze solid. When he finally managed to close the airlock, he knew he’d be in infirmary for weeks if he survived, laid up with voidbite. So long as the critters were dead, he could live with that.

When he finally felt the dock clamps hit home, the Fury’s alarm klaxons were active with orange quarantine lights. It was then he realized that the death of almost all his crew would trigger a lockdown request after going to an uncharted world.

Darby gave out a wheezing laugh, then lit a cigarette. As he did, a larval creature crawled up his hand. He took one big inhalation of smoke, then shoved the cigarette’s glowing ember into its soft chitin, searing his own flesh in the process.

Then the dock was filled with heat and flame to rival a small sun.

“Fuckin’ figures,” he said as he felt the heat rise, then saw a mass of writing creatures begin to poor out from behind bulkheads and drop cradles.

Then there was only fire.

Site Update – The Challenges

You might notice that the writing challenges from 2015 have gone the way of the dodo. This is intentional. The Site Update is upon us.

You may remember back in 2016, before my life became much more complicated, I had intended to start editing and working towards publication. That time has come. I’ve taken down the (wretchedly) rough stories from the blog, and I’m now actively going through a review process… and looking for publishers!

I have about three stories that I feel are fit to print as of right now. I’ll be working these through the various publisher options I’m digging up and feeling out the landscape. Keep an ear to the ground for more information as it comes.

For the folks who really liked the stories, fret not – there hopefully will be buying options soon!

Blog, Fiction, Columns and Art of Maurice Hopkins