Month: October 2019

Marco Polo

Olga Savina/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on November 20, 2018.

Jeanette peers through a narrow pair of goggles at the swimming pool beside her feet. The day is quiet, the sky is clear, and the water ripples like a mirage. She pauses, eyes locked on the deep end, then takes a deep breath and dives.

The water closes in around her. The sounds of the outside world disappear, and in their stead, she hears a resonant, ever-present thrum. Opening her eyes, Jeanette kicks off, propelling herself across the length of the pool. Turning her head from left to right, she scans the bottom, and when she doesn’t find what she’s looking for, she peers back up at the surface, sparkling like diamonds beneath a bright late-afternoon sun.

Nothing. She’s sure she glimpsed it earlier, but now—

Tick.

The sound is a vibration she can feel inside her head. Jeanette stops and listens, waits for it to come again.

Tick.

There, to her left. Focusing on the sound, she closes her eyes and dives deeper.

Deeper.

Tick.

There it is again, closer now. Once more, Jeanette opens her eyes.

The bottom of the pool is no longer smooth concrete but a rocky bed of dirt covered in algae and aquatic flora. The sides are also gone, replaced by an endless expanse of dark midnight blue.

Tick.

The sound is louder now.

Like a dolphin, Jeanette sails through the depths of an uncharted ocean, letting the tick lead her closer like a game of Marco Polo.

Marco, she thinks to herself.

Tick (Polo), comes the reply.

But before she can go deeper, Jeanette’s lungs cry out for oxygen. She’s trained for long dives and has learned to hold her breath for extended periods of time, but she’s nearly reached her limit, and she knows she’ll have to go up for air soon.

Bastard.

It’s done this her entire life, flitting in and out of view, coming close enough to tease her before darting away into the endless depths of the sea.

She hesitates, considers chasing it a little longer. Then a sharp pain tears through her chest like balefire, sending her shooting to the surface.

She emerges in the middle of an open sea with no land in sight. Thick, briny waves lap over her as she sucks in breath after glorious breath. Despite her frustration, she grins. The hunt, she thinks, is almost as exhilarating as the notion that one day she might actually catch her prey.

When her lungs have drunk their fill, she places her ear to the water, hoping to hear the creature again. Sure enough…

Tick.

Jeanette submerges and the hunt continues.

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Get a Free Signed Copy of “The Stronger Half”

“The Stronger Half,” by Jeff Coleman. ©2018. All rights reserved.

Every now and then, I give out print copies of my books to promote my work on Patreon, and since The Stronger Half came out exactly one year ago this month, I’ve decided to give away free signed hardcover copies. The hardcover retails for $29.99 on Amazon (it’s $19.99 in my own store), so it’s a pretty good deal 😉

Here’s how to get yours.

Each month, I release four paid pieces of flash fiction on Patreon. My patrons pledge a specific amount per story, and in return receive cool rewards. For example, pledging $2 per story will get you free digital copies of all my books, while $5 will allow you to pick which of my blog or Patreon posts I’ll turn into a longer story.

Between today and October 28, 2019, if you pledge to my Patreon campaign at the $2 level or above, I’ll send you a free signed hardcover copy of The Stronger Half.

I’m only giving away 10 copies, so take advantage of this offer before they’re gone!

If you change your mind after you’ve received the book, you’re free to cancel your pledge, no questions asked. I believe most people are honest and won’t take advantage.

There are only four rules.

1. You have to have a shipping address in the United States to be eligible. I really want to include Canada on this, but I’m mailing these out myself from a US address and international shipping costs are prohibitively expensive 🙁

2. You must become a patron at or above the $2 level on or before Monday, October 28, 2019 at 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time.

3. You must be a new patron. Unfortunately, former patrons aren’t eligible.

4. You must be a patron in good standing at least until I mail out your signed copy of the book on Wednesday, November 6. After it goes out, if you change your mind, you’re free to cancel your pledge, no questions asked.

That’s it!

Once you become a patron, I’ll ask you for your shipping address and mail your signed book.

To become a patron and get your free signed hardcover copy of The Stronger Half, click or tap the “Become a patron” button below:

Become a Patron

P.S. Please note that Patreon pledges are recurring monthly charges. Since I post four paid pieces of flash fiction on the platform per month, a $2 pledge amounts to $8 per month.

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Quiet

tupaiterbang/Shutterstock.com

The unnatural quiet was my first clue that something was wrong.

I’d been standing outside in the middle of a hot and humid afternoon, gazing at the sky while cars raced up and down Knott Ave. like bullet trains. I’d had a rough day at work, and my silent contemplation of the clouds was a way for me to escape the endless demands of a high-stress job.

One cloud formation in particular had just captured my attention—an obelisk that seemed to rise from a city of smoke and ash—when an audible silence descended over the world. I looked down, and that’s when I saw that the street was empty, that the sidewalk was abandoned.

For a moment I felt disconnected, as if whatever cord that tethered me to the fabric of reality had been severed. I blinked, looked around, looked around again.

“That’s not right,” I said, not entirely sure who I was talking to.

It occurred to me that the entire day might have been a dream. A cliche, I know, but there are rare moments when the conscious and the subconscious meet in a celestial conjunction of the mind, usually seconds before waking, and during such extraordinary events, one’s first thought is always inevitably, “This must be a dream.”

That’s how I felt in that instant, like I might wake at any moment to ponder the tail end of an already forgotten dream before drifting off once more. But this new and silent world refused to yield and instead remained fixed before my eyes.

“This isn’t right.”

I shambled forward like a sleepwalker, too dazed and incredulous to feel anxious or afraid. I walked. On and on, I walked. And as the seconds merged into minutes and the minutes into hours, I only grew more steadfast in my belief that this all must be a dream, for with each step, the world changed.

The road narrowed, the asphalt giving way to gravel and dirt, and the buildings thinned as if I were emerging from a forest of concrete and iron instead of trees. The only constants were the brightness of the sky and the heat of the sun against my skin, seemingly untouched by the hours.

At one point, I pulled my cell phone from my pocket to check the time. That’s when the first real tendrils of fear began to squirm through my midsection. The device had powered itself off, though it’d been fully charged that morning and should have lasted the rest of the day, and when I pressed the power button to turn it back on, it was unresponsive.

I pressed the button once, twice, three times. I opened the back to confirm the battery was properly seated, then checked the position of the SIM card in its slot.

That’s when I heard the voices.

At first they were quiet, just thin, vaporous whispers riding the coattails of a breeze. But in the otherworldly silence that birthed them, my ears picked them out at once. I had no idea what they were saying, but I didn’t have to. Those malicious tones touched a primal region of my brain that had no use for language, and all at once, the nascent fear inside of me burst into bright orange flames.

I ran, following the increasingly narrow road as the world around me blurred. All the while, those voices called out, growing fiercer, louder, closer.

Soon, the world dissolved and the ground fell away beneath my feet, leaving only the silent endless dark of empty space. But I never stopped running. Those terrifying voices were coming,  and if I stopped to rest even for a moment, I was certain they’d catch up and fall upon me as one.

One voice, in particular, stood out from all the rest. This one was calm, collected, even sympathetic, and the more I listened, the more I understood its meaning.

You aren’t supposed to be here. Why have you come?

“I don’t know.”

Go back before my brethren consume you whole.

“I don’t know how.”

Follow my voice. I’ll lead you to safety.

And because there was nothing else I could do, I did.

The others jeered, uttering incomprehensible commands as they closed in for the kill. But that singular voice continued to speak over them like a high school coach intent on winning the homecoming game.

This way, it said, and I turned to follow it’s call through one invisible path after another.

Gradually, the world came back into focus. The sun and the sky were the first to emerge, followed by a dirt road that eventually became a street.

Hurry. I can’t hold them back much longer.

My lungs screamed for air, but I didn’t dare slow down. I could feel those malevolent beings gaining on me. I was almost home, I could feel it. I only had to go a little further.

Just before I crossed over, the air turned cold like a bitter Alaskan wind. I felt those hateful beings scratch at my back with appendages that might have been claws while the one who’d helped me shouted, GO!

Then a terrible pressure mounted in my ears. A high pitched whine nearly knocked me to my knees, and all the while I could feel those awful voices drilling into my head, trying to pull me back.

Finally I pushed through. There was an audible pop, and then the silence that had settled over the world burst like a pricked bubble. The street once more teemed with cars and the sidewalk with pedestrians. The sounds of a world in motion seemed deafening in the wake of so much quiet, and I whirled, disoriented, still expecting those evil creatures to break through and pull me be back.

That was eleven years ago, and I still can’t stand the sound of silence. I never leave the house without a pair of headphones in my ears, even though they’ve gotten me in trouble, both at work and at home. Nobody understands, and I don’t blame them. How could they? They haven’t heard the horrors that await them in that silent world.

Metallica and Iron Maiden are my go-to artists, and their strident cries follow me wherever I go, even into the nebulous depths of sleep. Only I know it’s not enough, that all I’m doing is delaying the inevitable. Sooner or later, we all descend into the silent dark, and when that day comes, all I can do is pray to God those voices won’t be waiting to finish what they started.

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