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Invisible Coyotes

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Invisible Coyotes is a brief tale of horror that first appeared November, 2019 in The Guilded Pen – 2019, an anthology published by the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild. Invisible Coyotes by Erik C. Martin copyright 2019.

Invisible Coyotes

by Erik C. Martin

His co-workers tried to discourage him from walking.

“It’s too cold,” one said. Jerry chuckled. It was almost sixty degrees.

“It’s raining,” protested another. But the rain had stopped. The only moisture falling now was that which was dripping from the tree branches.

“It’s dark,” his boss said. “We walk around the parking lot at night. Management thinks it’s dangerous. Renee saw a coyote last month.”

Jerry laughed outright.

“I can take care of myself. I’m not scared of coyotes. Animals avoid people.”

Jerry walked during all of his breaks. Just because he was working a night shift for once was no reason to forgo exercise.  

His route was a half mile out, turn, and then a half mile back; a straight but hilly shot past the neighboring businesses.

Jerry took a deep breath. He smelled fall. The rain had stirred up the odor of decaying leaves, eliciting scents rare in Southern California. Jerry never missed Ohio winters, but he missed fall. He walked next to the dark street, down the hill, away from work. He closed his eyes and pretended that he was back in Cleveland where fall was a firm statement, not a mere hint.

He was making good time. The cool weather helped. He loved how desolate and quiet the street was at night. His head on a swivel, Jerry drank it all in: the faint mist rising off of the ground; the lights of the distant freeway; his shadows projected on the front of a white-faced building; trees swaying in the push and pull of the evening breeze. If he was lucky he’d see some of those animals his co-workers were so afraid of.

He plodded ahead.

Something nagged at him.

Shadows?

He had two shadows.

A lone light from the Otis Elevator Company across the street was the only illumination. Clouds blocked the starlight. The moon was new. One light source meant one shadow.

He looked at a tree ahead. One shadow.

Jerry glanced right. Two shadows.

Weird. I must be missing a light.   

Jerry walked on. For a moment, he thought he heard footsteps behind him.  He stopped and turned.

Nothing was there.

Of course not; I’m alone.

He glanced at the nearest building. Two shadows.

One started at his feet. The second shadow was about a yard behind and didn’t quite meet his feet. Jerry raised one arm. Both shadows raised an arm.

Was the second one slower? No, that was crazy.

Jerry’s heart pounded. He walked faster.

Again, he heard footsteps out of sync with his own. An echo?

He glanced at the shadows. The rear shadow was still there, following at the same distance.  Was the second a little taller and thicker than the first?  

He heard a low chuckle. He began to speed walk.

“Get a grip. You’re imagining things.

The lamp post that marked his turn around spot loomed closer. Jerry’s breathing came heavy. From behind was a faint but unmistakable scrape, like a sick dog’s dry pad on the sidewalk.

The darkness was thick here. To his right was a canyon wall overgrown with sharp, scrub foliage.  Across the road to his left were empty businesses.

He had to make a choice. Would he turn and start back when he reached the turn around?

His eyes said nothing was behind him. His brain said he was being stupid. His pride made him think of the people who had told him to stay in the parking lot. But his gut said to keep going, to run. Maybe a cleaning crew was working late in one of the buildings across the street…

He reached the lamp post.

Jerry stopped.

He turned around.

The light was coming from almost directly above; the shadows were minimal. But there were definitely two, his and the other, three or four feet away. Both were completely still.

A sickening odor of mildew hit him like a punch.

He heard the deep chuckle again, more like a growl.

His knees felt like soup, but he took a step forward as rationalization and ingrained behavior overrode the survival instinct.

Nothing is there. Nothing is there. Nothing is there.

The second shadow didn’t move.

Jerry stopped right before it. He heard raspy, amused breathing. He smelled mildew and carrion. What was it? What was it waiting for?

Jerry barely registered a light growing brighter down the road. He choked on a fetid wave of hot breath. Something cold and rubbery touched his hand and the back of his head gently, as if to embrace him.

And then it showed itself, perhaps as consolation to prey that had played the game and lost. Jerry looked up into big nocturnal eyes and a grinning mouth that was wide and full of saws.

“No!” he screamed.

Energized by fear, Jerry pushed against it. The teeth cut his face and sought his neck. The thing was too strong.

The headlamps of a car cast the growing light. The beams shined in the monster’s pale, saucer eyes. The creature winced and Jerry was suddenly free. He stumbled into the road as the car arrived. The driver stomped the brake pedal. Tires squealed on the wet pavement and the car began to slide. Jerry felt the impact as the car hit him. Then there was only blackness.

He was in an out of consciousness when the ambulance came and took him to the hospital. Jerry’s legs were broken, among other things. But he was alive.

The distraught driver told the responding police officer that she had seen something attacking Jerry just before he run into the road.

“It was big and white, like a hairless polar bear.”

“We don’t see many polar bears in San Diego, hairless or otherwise,” the officer deadpanned. “Maybe you saw a coyote.”

Later, loathe to report what had actually happened, Jerry confirmed that he had indeed been attacked by a coyote. This led to a dozen of the wild canines being shot and tested for rabies.

Jerry spent over a week in the hospital. Many of his co-workers came to see him. Everyone was sympathetic. No one gloated or said, “I told you so.”

When he went home, his insurance paid for a physical therapist to come by daily, and for an aide to help with meals and such.

On the third day, he heard the door open. He had left it unlocked because it was hard for him to get up, but they had knocked before. He glanced at the clock. They were twenty minutes early.

“Hello?” he called.

Jerry heard scraping footsteps in the hall. He smelled mildew and death.

Storm Crows is now available

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My latest book, Storm Crows, was published and became available on Amazon and Kindle this week!

This book is an adventure for Middle-Grade readers featuring the adventure of Cawnor, a young crow forced from his home by the oppressive flock-leader. Cawnor and his small band of friends go to the sea in the hope of finding a new home. They befriend the various other birds they meet. Before they can win their home, they have to overcome natural disasters, their former flock leader’s desire for revenge, and a hawk who preys on those weaker than they are, which is pretty much anyone.

Storm Crows can be found here.

$8.99 paperback and $2.99 e-book. Purchase the paperback and get the e-book for free.

 

Favorite Books for Writers

Writing a story is a craft that can be learned. Essential elements lie beneath the surface, often invisible. When they are absent they are missed by the reader; the story suffers. Writers should study and practice their craft. Read with a critical eye for what works and ask why it works. Take classes. Join critique groups–Meetup and local writers’ organizations are two places to find them. And study story structure, grammar, and the invisible elements integral to every story.

I have a number of books about writing that I go back to over and over. Here are a few of my favorites and why I like them.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – In The Writer’s Journey, Vogler builds on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Vogler lays out the Hero’s Journey story structure in an engaging manner using modern examples to demonstrate Campbell’s Monomyth. Vogler explores the archetypes that inhabit all of our characters and creates one of the most valuable guides for a writer on structuring a story that will speak to readers, editors, and filmmakers alike.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – Save the Cat is an alternative take on story structure, specifically laying bare the three act structure that dominates screenplays. STC is an invaluable book for any writer. Besides basic structure, the book looks at the ten basic types of story, and is full of tips of writing interesting and concise material. There is also Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, but the original remains the best regardless of what you write.

Dynamic Story Creation in Plain English by Maxwell Alexander Drake (or simply Drake) – Dynamic Story Creation is the best book I’ve read on theme or what the story is actually about. Drake separates the visible layer (plot) from the invisible (theme) and tells you in certain terms why your theme better be strong. Drake does not pull punches, gives no participation awards, but offers honest and very valuable insight into writing and story creation.

Happy New Year and a look back at what was

The new year is a good time to assess recent accomplishments and set goals for the coming year. For me, I’m proud that my most recent novel Storm Crows was published. Additionally, one of my short stories, Preying for the Homeless will appear in the Coffin Bell Journal this summer! I completed several other short works and finished the rough draft on my next novel that I hope will be available in 2019!

Looking ahead, I’m editing my current work, a Middle-Grade book tentatively called Dotty Morgan and the Case of the French Fry Phantom. I’ve begun to outline the second Dotty Morgan book, have a rough draft of a YA fantasy novel ready to edit, and a number of shorter works that I’m either editing or shopping. Later this month, I intend to reprint my short story, June Gloom and Golden Sand originally published in 2011 in A Year in Ink IV. Look for it here!

So let’s hear about how your art progressed in 2018 and what you hope to accomplish in 2019!

Review – Lumberjanes “The Infernal Compass”

 

Lumberjanes is one of the most entertaining, fun, and well-written comic books going. The latest offering from the title, a stand-alone graphic novel, The Infernal Compass, written by Lilah Sturges with art by Polterink, is true to the name and is well worth the purchase price.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Lumberjanes, it is about the young ladies who attend Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types. The camp is situated in a forest inhabited by hipster yetis, selkies, a bear-woman, unicorns, gorgons, and so much more.

While most of the Lumberjane scouts want to have a relatively normal camp experience, the members of Roanoke cabin always seem to be involved when anything unusual or downright bizarre occurs. These five are Jo – the scientist, and the only one who got to pick her own name; April – small, but with super-April strength; Ripley – the youngest Roanoke, possessed with nigh unlimited enthusiasm; and Mal and Molly, whose romantic relationship forms the theme of Infernal Compass as well as the plot.

At the story’s start, Mal and Molly are alone in the cabin, reading from the same book together in bed. Subtle cues in the art, such as a faint blush, show how much these two like each other. The girls and their cabinmates are brought together by Jen, their counselor, who introduces them to an orienteering exercise. Everyone gets a compass, except Molly’s points in a different direction. Out in the woods, various automatons kidnap Jen and the girls until only Molly remains. She learns that her compass, directed by fears that her relationship with Mal, might distance them from their other friends, is responsible. Molly is left to figure out a way to reconcile her insecurities and reunite with Mal and her friends.

BTW there is NO hint that the other Roanokes don’t find Mal and Molly adorable. One of the cutest scenes of the book is when they are thinking of a relationship name – I thought Malolly was a given, but apparently they like MalMol.

Lilah Sturges does a nice job creating the atmosphere of a Lumberjanes story and in a short time giving even a new reader a feel for the five Roanoakes. Commendable as, I believe this is Ms. Sturges’ first time writing for Lumberjanes.

As a bonus, the first issue of Lumberjanes is reprinted at the end of Infernal Compass!

Lumberjanes, The Infernal Compass, BOOM! Box, October 2018 $14.99 US

 

Jodie Whittaker is Doctor Who, whether you like it or not

Last month’s Doctor Who Christmas special saw the end of Peter Capaldi’s run as the 12th Doctor as he regenerated into the 13th incarnation of the iconic character. Many of you already know that the 13th Doctor will be played by Jodie Whittaker, marking the first time that a woman has been given the opportunity to take on the 50 plus year old character.

I’m rather excited about it. In a positive way, I should add.

I say that because, as many of you know, a lot of people are getting very excited about this in a negative way. In the last couple of weeks I have made the mistake of reading several threads of online comments posted on various social media sites. Each one reads exactly the same and none of them go anywhere, even though they will run on for hundreds of comments or more per thread.

Most of the critics seem to argue that casting Jodie Whittaker to play a time traveling alien who can regenerate into different people somehow is part of a larger PC War on  Men Conspiracy. Sometimes they will specify white men. In the threads I mentioned Whittaker’s detractors will list all of the characters on the show that have been played by women or actors of color as if this somehow lessens them, presumably as men or white people. A similar cry went up when a black actress was cast to play Hermione Granger in the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The argument sounds a lot like that offered by many Conservatives lately in the US to combat any attempt by women or POC to be treated with fairness and equality. Any such attempt, they claim, constitutes a war on white men and because it is war and they are being attacked, said white men are justified in lashing out. In many cases, the lashing is done with words, anonymously on the internet, where they can say things that they would not have the courage to say to someone’s face unless backed up by a mob.

To you sad, little people, I’ll say this. It is not about you. Not even a little bit. The casting of Jodie Whittaker is not a salvo in the ongoing war taking place in your head. Fans of the show will know that all new Doctors are met with trepidation. We all have out favorites (in my case T. Baker, Pertwee, and Tennent) and those that we aren’t as fond of (C. Baker, Davidson). But even those of you that hate the choice can be reassured by one thing: no Doctor is forever. She is the 13th Doctor. There will be a 14th.

The show is bigger than its pieces.

Jodie, good luck. I am eager to see you take on my favorite role.

 

Dexter is on Channillo and what to look forward to in the new year

Every new year, we tend to look back from where we came, take stock, and make hopeful plans for the year to come. In my case, last year was not great. In many ways it was downright awful. That leaves me very optimistic that the new year may surpass 2017 in every meaningful way.

One thing that I am excited about it that Dexter of Pozzelby is being serialized on Channillo.com. The first installment was released on 01/01/2018, with a new installment every Monday until it is finished. If this goes well, I am looking to release a collection of short stories and a shorter novel, The Storm Crows, via Channillo as well.

In 2018, I have many stories for which to find homes, and even more needing to be finished or written. It is a year of great possibility!

Welcome to the New Flesh…blog I mean

Welcome! I’m glad you are here. This site is slowly coming together, replacing the blog that I maintained off and on for years, and the defunct website that was once found at this same address.

Here, you’ll find updates about my work, about writing, movies, comic books, RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons; in short, everything I like.

Up and running are two static pages dedicated to my two fantasy novels, Miralee: A Shadow Knights Tale and Dexter of Pozzelby. I published these through my In A Bind Books imprint and both are available in print and electronically on Amazon. I also have a number of short stories for sale on Amazon. Most are in the KDP Select program through December. When their run there is up, I am planning to pull most of them from Amazon and have them available here as free content. Currently, you can read my short story, Judgment Hill, here on the site. Take a look, give it a read and enjoy.

In a Bind Books – an origin story

18 years ago, the new millennium was only a few weeks away. I had recently fallen off of a forty foot cliff and had been forced to take a pause. The experience caused me to want to make some changes in my life. In a few weeks, I would start dating the person that I would eventually marry. Neither of us felt very happy in our current jobs. We decided to become business partners and work for ourselves.

We hadn’t yet decided what type of business to open. Toni was leaning toward a coffee shop or little café. I wanted a book store. In Cleveland, Ohio in 2000 Borders was pretty new, and Starbucks stranglehold was not yet complete. However, we did not have the opening capital for a coffee shop. And so, In a Bind Books was born.

We thought we were pretty cool, in our late 20’s owning our business in the ‘edgy’ Madison Village area of Lakewood, Ohio. We had a nice collection of small press, underground comics, new and used books with an emphasis on anything outside of the mainstream, and a wall of periodicals dedicated to art, literature, LGBTQ interests, holistic medicine, etc.

Unfortunately, it turns out you can’t pay the bills with cool.

While  it was a great experience, sales weren’t sufficient to keep it going. In a Bind Books  closed as a book seller after two years.

But it was not dead.

More than a decade later, In a Bind Books was resurrected as my imprint. So far two novels have been published under the In a Bind Books name. Look for more to come!