Friday has rolled around again, so it’s time for a little flash fiction to celebrate the weekend! This week I am going to begin a small experiment. Recently I’ve read about a resurgence in popularity of serialized fiction, and how eBooks are making that increasingly possible. As a kid, I loved serials, especially that old television show Cliffhangers from the late 1970′s (which featured, incidentally, Dracula in one of the stories, and aliens in the other). With the ever-increasing demands on our time and attention, it can be difficult to carve out a half hour or more to settle in with a lengthy short story or novel (although eReaders are vastly increasing the portability and accessibility of stories for readers).
Serialized fiction such as that featured in pulp magazines, dime novels, and the penny dreadfuls was once extremely popular. The concept of serials is enticing; it allows for stories to be told in manageable portions while retaining continuity, sets the stage for cliffhangers, and perhaps most importantly, leaves the reader wanting more, leaves them hungering to find out what happens next. Forcing that delay of gratification leads to an eager anticipation of the next episode. In that spirit, I would like to share my first serialized short story, The 50 Minute Hour. Please let me know your thoughts as readers and writers about serialized fiction, and in the meantime, enjoy!
Part One: The Hollow Men
Greg Farrier swung from his heels; the Ping graphite and steel driver he was gripping connected solidly with the side of the thing’s head. It exploded in a macabre confetti of brackish blood, brain matter, decaying skin, and thin fragments of skull. The thing collapsed at his feet. He had only seconds to survey his handiwork before another one shambled around the corner of the Walgreens they’d taken refuge in the day before. Greg allowed it to approach, listening to it hiss and moan as it stumbled forward, and dispatched it with a single swing of the golf club.
Until now, the closest to golf he’d ever come was playing putt-putt with his twin sons. All that had changed two weeks ago. Greg was still trying to figure out how to manage the mess his world had become. He was a therapist, a clinical psychologist, not a killer and certainly not a gun-toting survivalist. His sons had been students at Franklin College, one with a dual major in journalism and theater, the other in political science.
Purgatory, he thought, this is a trip through purgatory, and we’ve all been invited along for the ride. He wondered if his ex-wife was still alive. Things could only be more hellish if she was, he decided, and swung the club at a corpse that had clawed its way across the parking lot, missing its legs, intestines trailing behind it in filthy grey streamers.
“Dad! Up here!” his son Aiden called. Greg looked up to see Aiden and his brother Andrew on the roof of the Shell service station across the street. The walking dead milled about below them, circling the fuel pumps ceaselessly. Andrew carried a Mossberg pump-action shotgun. Andy held a muddy aluminum softball bat in his left hand and a scoped rifle in his right. Both wore identical expressions of exhaustion and concern. The time for fear had passed; now Greg and his sons were concerned only with the most pragmatic aspects of survival. They had left the drug store in search of a more defensible location, but had not gotten far before the undead had converged on the gas station across the street, forcing them to take shelter on the roof. As far as Greg could tell, the dead had only gross motor skills and basic locomotion. They staggered around with an insatiable determination, but it appeared that more complex physical tasks such as climbing ladders or trees was beyond their ability.
“There’s a ladder around back. Follow the alley. We’ll cover you Dad,” Andrew shouted. Greg watched Aiden cross the roof and reconnoiter the area behind the store.
“Clear,” Aiden shouted. Greg didn’t hesitate. He sprinted across the parking lot toward the gas station on a diagonal, dodging a pair of dead women sitting in the middle of Jefferson Street who were consuming, with a ferocious intensity, the remains of an older man in a Vietnam-era army jacket, hair tied back in a graying ponytail with a piece of leather. Greg tried not to look too closely; he knew the man. He knew most of the dead who now walked the town, and he knew many of the corpses who littered the streets, bones stripped clean of flesh, unable to rise, unable to walk, unable to join the army of the living dead that now populated the city.
Attracted to his movement, a large group of dead detached themselves from the mass stalking the fuel area and stumbled toward him. Greg ran harder, heart pounding in his chest. His backpack shifted awkwardly on his shoulders with every stride, throwing him off balance, slowing him down. He considered ditching it, but it held a bounty of supplies from the drug store, and he was reluctant to give it up so easily. Rounding the corner, he lunged down the alley and spotted a pair of dumpsters and a ladder extending halfway to the ground from the roof of the store. Greg was so focused on the ladder that he only half heard the crack of a rifle, but he sensed something thud to the ground several feet behind him. Another shot rang out as he watched Andrew lean over the roof with one hand extended.
“Throw me your pack,” he shouted. Greg didn’t hesitate. He slipped the backpack from his shoulders and heaved it up toward his son with all his strength, feeling something give in his right upper shoulder and lower back in the process. That can’t be good. Something brushed the back of his head and tangled in his hair as he scrambled on top of one of the dumpsters. He balanced on the rim like a tightrope walker, putting as little weight as possible on the plastic cover. A snarl emanated from inside the dumpster. Greg Farrier lunged for the ladder and closed his fingers around it in a sweaty but death tight grip. He felt a tug on his boot. Dead fingers sought purchase around his ankle. The reek of decay from something unspeakable filled his lungs and he choked back bile as shook free of the thing’s grasp and frantically pulled himself up the ladder.
“Dammit,” he heard Andrew shout. “Ade, shoot that fucker!” Greg heaved himself over the edge of the roof and stared up at the cloudless blue sky, feeling the warm sunshine on his face as his son put a bullet through the head of what had once been a person, but was now nothing more than a reanimated hollow shell.