weapons hot

Flash FictionThere’s no rhyme or reason to this story. I just started writing and this is what came out.

It’s weird because I’m not particularly fond of either character, and I very rarely write anything without at least one character I adore. Nevertheless, I think Harkins is kind of a mental pushover and Carter is just too high-strung. I wouldn’t want to share a cup of coffee or a glass of beer with either of them. But the the tension in their exchange was interesting to me, and that got me thinking.

In a way, there’s always an unnamed character in every story we write: the story, itself. The plot has its own personality. In this case, that’s the character I like, and the only reason I stuck with this story long enough to finish it. If I didn’t like it at all, I’d just delete it and start over. I’ve done that plenty of times.

But enough yammering. On to the story. No prompt this week. Just plain-jane flash fiction. Enjoy.

weapons hot

“He’s making this awful easy.”

Carter takes a hard pull on her cig. It hangs limp from her bottom lip, giving her the look of some kind of steampunk gunslinger. Like she’d just stepped out of the pages of a comic book. Or a nightmare.

“Congratulations, asshole. I think you just set a record.”

Harkins huffs a sigh and waves smoke out of his face. “For what?” he asks.

“Falling for the oldest trick in the book,” Carter says. She makes it a point to exhale in his direction, a fog bank of smoldering haze rolling over her lips. It’s both sensual and annoying, but Harkins will admit neither. “He wants you to think it’s easy. Hell, he wants you to walk right in through the front fucking door.”

“Seriously, Carter, do you have to be like that? You’ve got the chick-with-a-chip-on-her-shoulder thing down pat. Why don’t you give it a rest? You know, act like a human being?”

Carter rolls her eyes. “You cope your way, I’ll cope mine.”

“Fine,” he says. “Whatever.”

They’re hunkered over the blueprints. The records the city had on file, at least. Neither of them is gullible enough to believe they’re complete. You don’t survive for hundreds of years without learning how to keep a few secrets, and their current target is one of the oldest living active vampires in the world.

She flicks the butt on the ground, smashes it with her boot, and lights a new cigarette in one fluid motion. She makes it look like an angry interpretive dance, the way her fingers caress the lighter. The way she flits the cigarette to get rid of the ash. The way she exhales. Harkins makes himself focus on the mission.

“What do you suggest, then?”

She laughs. “Well, not a frontal assault, that’s for sure. The fact that it looks easy guarantees it’s not.”

“How ’bout something useful? Like a suggestion.”

She grins. He can tell this is part of the game for her. It’s her persona, yes, but it’s more than that. She knows he finds her attractive. She’s teasing him in much the same way little girls tease little boys. It’s more sophisticated, but it’s the same. If he drops his guard, she’ll either welcome his advances or laugh in his face as she pushes him away. He won’t know until he tries.

“High stakes,” he says, mostly to himself.

“They always are,” she says. Pointing to the blueprints, she continues. “Here. This window is isolated, out of sight from the street and faces east. We’ll have sunlight and no witnesses. We can break in at dawn and at least scope the place out.”

“And if he has security?” Harkins asks.

“He does. Tasers first, then guns. Weapons hot if need be.”

Harkins chuckles to himself. “You really do think you’re Annie Oakley, don’t you?”

“Nope. She died in her bed. I plan to die on my feet.”

“That’s not what I mean, you stubborn bitch.”

He hears the word coming out as he speaks it. When she looks up, he knows he’s overstepped his bounds. She can call him ‘asshole’ all day long, but he returned fire with a little too much force. Or he hit a nerve. Or she’s a fan of double standards.

It doesn’t matter. He’s pissed her off.

Faster than his eyes can register, she ditches the cigarette and steps to his side. Her hand swings around and when he looks down she’s holding a knife to his groin.

“Call me that again and I’ll make you one of the girls,” she says.

“I meant no offense,” he says.

“Some taken,” she spits. “And you made me waste a perfectly good smoke. Damn you, Harkins. You’re a real dipshit.”

“Sorry.”

“Shake it off, but don’t let it happen again. I’ll fill the commander in. We ride at dawn.”

With that, she leaves the room, sheathing her knife as she walks. Harkins stands there for a moment, still caught in the adrenaline of the last exchange. He doesn’t know what he hates himself for most. Wanting her, calling her a bitch, or getting a hard-on when she put a blade to his dick.

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first impression

Flash FictionI’m having a bit of fun, and you don’t even know it. Hell, I didn’t know it until after I finished last week’s story. It was actually the beginning of a series that’s peripherally related to the book I have coming out before too long.

I’m big into back story and cross-overs. In my mind, all my characters inhabit the same universe, and I really enjoy watching their paths cross. As a result, it’s not unusual for seemingly disconnected stories to end up somehow tying in to bigger projects. And here’s the really fun part. I don’t usually admit that’s what I’m doing. Most of the time, I just do it, chuckling to myself about the unknown connection and hoping that one day I’ll have a fan base that tears through archives of my stuff looking for points of intersection. 

Hey, I’m allowed to dream.

But even though this short series is related to something else you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read, it stands on its own, too. Click here to read the rest of the series. The posts will display starting with the first so you can read them in order.

first impression

The kid’s green, Carter thinks. That’s what she told the boss man when he informed her that a trainee would be joining her and Harkins for this in-and-out. Trainees tend to end up dead. She told him that, too, but he insisted.

Truth be told, Carter doesn’t care. It’s no skin off her bones if this kid gets killed. As long as she doesn’t get blamed, who cares? The whole world is going to shit anyway.

She considers her current partner to be evidence of this truth. Daniel Harkins. He was a teacher before the guild recruited him. A fucking teacher. Not at a college or even a high school. Second-fucking-grade. Jesus. It was a wonder he didn’t accidentally shoot himself the first time they put a loaded weapon in his hands.

Okay, yes, his story is sad, but who’s isn’t? Dead family? Check. Suddenly aware of the existence of all kinds of monsters? Check. Unsure what to do with his life now? Check. A desire for revenge masked in some self-righteous bullshit about protecting humanity? Check.

Somehow he made it through training, and then they assigned him to her. The CO told her it was by design. She was seen as reckless. They hoped he’d tame her a bit. She secretly wondered if the intended taming effect wasn’t meant to come about via a good dicking. It seemed every time Harkins was in her presence he was trying (and failing) to hide a hard on.

He told her his first name the day they met. She told him he’d never learn hers. After an awkward period of attempted flirting, she managed to wound his ego enough that he retreated. Since then, he feigns a lack of interest, but she knows if she told him she was good to go he’d be down. Most of the guys in the guild would be.

Of course, none of them know she’s a lesbian. Ain’t life a bitch?

The in-and-out should be easy. It would be if it was just her and Harkins. For all his whiny ways, he’s not half bad in the field. But this fucking trainee. Breaking into a vampire’s house comes with enough hassle. An inexperienced soldier will only make a high-risk situation worse.

Carter heads for the mess hall, lighting up another smoke as she walks. She knows they’re not good for her, but she can’t be bothered to care. Hunting vampires and werewolves isn’t exactly an effective health plan, either. Besides, she meant what she said to Harkins. She intends to die on her feet with a gun in her hands. When she can’t take this shitty job trying to save a shitty world any more, she’ll just start volunteering for the most dangerous missions on the books. Enlisted suicide. They’ll probably name a barracks after her.

She’s supposed to meet the trainee for an informal briefing. All these guild fuckers seem to think killing monsters will be easier or more fun if they’re all friends. She knows the CO is hoping she’ll break the ice, maybe make a human connection. She has no intention of doing so. Emotional attachment is, in her estimation, the greatest handicap a soldier can ask for.

No thank you.

She rounds the corner into the mess hall and doesn’t even bother to look for the trainee. Instead, she makes her way straight to the coffee pot and pours a cup of toxic sludge that’s probably been sitting there for entirely too long. She adds plenty of nondairy creamer and four packets of sugar. When she first joined the guild, one of the guys asked her if she like a little coffee with her sugar and cream. She jammed a stir stick up his left nostril. Everyone has pretty much left her alone since then.

Coffee in hand, she turns and scans the room. There’s only a few other people present, and only one sitting alone. Based on age and the ambitious expression, that has to be the trainee. And right then and there she knows the two of them are not going to get along.

bad-assery

Flash FictionIt’s later in the day than I’d like, and Nimue is waiting on me for dinner, so I’m going to dive right into this week’s flash fiction. After one brief comment.

This story is written in third person, but from the point of view of Carter, one of the lead characters. It’s meant to sound like it would sound if she were telling the story. As a result, there are turns of phrase used that I, the writer, would not use were I speaking for myself. But I’m not speaking for myself. I’m speaking for her.

It should go without saying, but fiction writers frequently convey thoughts, beliefs, prejudices, and biases that we don’t hold, ourselves. I’ve written things I find offensive. That’s part of the gig. My stories are character driven, and they would be lame in the extreme if every character were like me.

While there’s nothing wildly offensive in this story, there are a couple of times when Carter’s perspective comes through loud and clear. If that rubs you the wrong way, good. I doubt I’d enjoy a conversation with Carter, myself. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I consider her point of view an appropriate one.

Like I said, that should go without saying, but I’ve said it. Twice. Whatcha gonna do?

This is the third installment in a short series I’m currently working on. When done, it will likely be one long short story. (Yes, I hear the contradiction. No need for clever comments.) Click here to read the rest of the series. The posts will display starting with the first so you can read them in order.

bad-assery

There’s a reason no one Carter works with knows she prefers the ladies. Well, a few reasons, but they can all be traced back to one simple fact. She believes people shouldn’t fuck where they eat or shit. Her current job sustains her and sometimes leaves her feeling like she’s been defecated on, so it’s a bit of both. Long story short, there’s no way in hell she would ever bed anyone in the guild.

She knows she’s attractive. She doesn’t flaunt it, but neither is she one of those whiny bitches who complains about how hard it is to be taken seriously because they’re so pretty. Others know she’s attractive, too. Keeping the guys at bay is easy. All she has to do is be herself. She’s been called ‘abrasive’, and that’s as good a term as any. Her particular brand of acridity is hard on the male ego. She thinks of it as cock repellent. If she could bottle it and sell it, she’d be one rich bitch.

Women, on the other hand, are different. They aren’t as wrapped up in ego, so the same tactics won’t drive one away. Women are also more perceptive than men. She doesn’t think she’s God’s gift to lesbians, but if word gets out there could easily be social complications. She can’t have that, so she employs a dead simple strategy with women. She’s wildly tactless toward them.

Standing in the doorway of the mess hall, she looks across the way at the girl she’s meant to babysit. She can’t be much older than 18, and she’s quite attractive. Not model-gorgeous, but certainly a great deal easier on the eyes than Harkins. She has the look of an angel warrior.

Her babydoll face is framed by dark brown hair that falls just past her shoulders. Her expression is one of fierce determination. She’s not one of the posers. Not someone here for an adrenaline high or purely out of a sense of obligation. That much is plain. No, she’s ready to kill. She may or may not have the skills to pull it off, but her heart is in it. There’s no doubt about that.

And that makes her someone Carter simply cannot get close to. If she could get a hard on, right about now she’d be doing an alarmingly good imitation of Harkins.

She begins her approach and the girl immediately makes eye contact, opening her mouth to speak when Carter is within 10 feet. Carter beats her to it.

“Speak only when spoken to,” she begins.

The girl closes her mouth without protest.

“My name is Carter. As far as you’re concerned, I don’t have a first name. Don’t bother telling me your name, first or last. I don’t care. For the time being, you’ll answer to ‘trainee’ or ‘noob’ or whatever other shit I feel like calling you. Got it?”

The girl’s mouth forms a tight, flat line. She nods once.

Carter eyes her for a bit.

“Or is it ‘Yes Sir’?” the girl asks.

“What did I just tell you? Speak only when spoken to.”

“Yeah, I’m not so keen on rules. I know that doesn’t jive with your oh-so-impressive bad-assery, but that’s the way it is. Call me whatever names you want, but I’m not playing the quiet girl in the corner for anyone. If you’ve got a problem with that, take it up with command.”

Carter adjusts her previous mental note. She doesn’t like this girl. Like isn’t a strong enough word. Rather, she might be in love with her.

“Look, noob, all I care is that you don’t get me killed. Mouth off all you like here at the base. In the field you better hold that tongue or I’ll cut it out, I swear to God.”

The girl gives her a shit eating grin. “Golly gee, such a warm welcome. I bet you’re very popular with the guys.”

Carter rolls her eyes. “Maybe I’ll just cut it out now.”

“Give it your best shot,” the girl says with a shrug. Harkins could learn a thing or two about courage from this chick.

Carter lets her hand rest on the hilt of her knife for a moment, but they both know it’s an empty threat and the girl isn’t unnerved by it in the least. Not one to avoid calling a spade a spade, Carter admits inwardly that the girl won the first round. Not that she’d concede as much out loud. Never that.

Instead, she simply says, “Follow me, smart ass,” and turns from the table. They need to find Harkins and prep for the mission. And she needs to find a cold shower.

mish-prep

Flash FictionIt’s raining right now. There’s even thunder. The house is already semi-decorated for Halloween, and I get to pound away on my keyboard to the delightful sounds of rumbling and the occasional flash of light. This is a great day to be a writer.

I don’t require ambiance to write, but I never turn it down.

I’m liking how this series is developing. This is the fourth part, and I’ve only just now realized that the entire series will only include two points of view. Initially I thought there would be more, but this story belongs to Harkins and Carter. Sort of. They aren’t the only important players, but it makes sense to keep it in their voices.

I’m still not crazy about them, but I’m coming to understand them better. What makes them the kind of people they are. I think that’s important. I can focus on characters I don’t like as long as I can at least understand some element of what makes them tick. In the case of these two nuts, that’s led to a certain degree of sympathy. Neither of them are particularly happy people, and both are doing their damnedest to hide that simple fact.

Of course, they do kill for a living. One wouldn’t expect them to be particularly well balanced.

That said, this story is a part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning. The posts will display in order, starting with the first, so you can enjoy them in order.

mish-prep

Harkins is in Mish-Prep 2. That’s what he and the other scrubs call it. The sign on the door reads “Conference Room Riviera”, but no one calls it that. More than once he’s wanted to yank the cheap plastic placard off the wall. It reminds him of the sanity he used to know, and that only makes him sad.

As far as the outside world is concerned, this is still an office building. It looks like one from the street. Even the official front entrance gives nothing away. There’s a receptionist and everything. A cute little twig of a girl who plays on her phone and shews away cold-calling salespeople.

On the books, he’s a consultant. Like every other operative in the guild, he lives in close proximity to several other members. Even when he’s off, he’s on. Their quarry is no respecter of PTO. Every routine in his life changed when he joined. He can’t travel. That’s too dangerous. He can’t go to bars. It would make him an easy mark. He can’t even go to the fucking grocery store unless he does so in tandem with someone else, and then the two of them have to act like strangers, tailing each other up and down the aisle to make sure no one else is following.

It’s like being a pre-teen super-spy. He even has a curfew.

He envies Carter’s undiluted hatred. Somehow she manages to funnel her pain into a laser beam of enmity. When he acknowledges his own suffering, it turns immediately to sorrow, like bad meat left in the sun. He knows his partner can sense that about him, and he knows she perceives it as weakness. That’s part of what he finds so damn attractive about her. God, there’s something about a strong woman, he thinks.

That’s his pattern. His cycle. Something reminds him of the shit storm his life has become, and that gets him down. Then he thinks of Carter, always fixated first and foremost on her fortitude. But that doesn’t last long. Soon, he’s fantasizing about being with her, and then he hears her voice in his head. She’s mocking him, and he feels foolish enough to turn red, which reminds him of the shit storm his life has become.

One of the CO’s walks in, sipping on Red Bull. He’s the young one. Jefferies. The wonder boy. Harkins fucking hates him, but Jefferies’ presence brings him back to the moment.

The blueprints to the vamp’s house hang on the wall in front of him. He’s already marked the entry point Carter indicated. The window is at a corner, allowing for minimal exposure internally while facilitating a number of escape routes away from the house. She’s right. It’s the place to break in.

“A quick in and out?” Jefferies asks.

“Yeah,” Harkins says. They aren’t a military organization, in spite of all the lingo. He’s an employee, not an enlisted man. He doesn’t owe Jefferies a salute or a ‘yes sir’, and he doesn’t intend to give the man either.

“What’s the objective?”

“Intel,” Harkins says. “Maybe a kill. Depends on what we find.”

“Are we certain the resident is a vamp?”

“One of the surveillance teams tailed him three nights in a row. He never leaves during daylight, and he’s always back by dawn.”

Jefferies laughs, tossing his empty can into the trash from the far side of the room. The bastard makes the shot. Nothing but metaphorical net.

“Every night owl isn’t a vampire,” he says. “If you and the cowgirl get pinned with a B&E charge, you’re on your own.”

Carter is talking as she enters. “I have a name, Jeffy.”

“It’s ‘Jefferies‘, Operative Carter.”

“And we have more than his coming and going,” she continues. “He makes eye-contact with surveillance every night, just before ditching them. It’s a game to him. He knows we’re watching, and he’s dared us to come and get him.”

There’s a girl on Carter’s heels. She must be the trainee. If she’s nervous, she doesn’t show it. He makes it a point to look away quickly.

“Aren’t you concerned it could be a trap?” Jefferies asks.

Now it’s Carter’s turn to laugh. “He’s a vamp. He’s cocky and most likely bored. Plus, he probably thinks the surveillance team is just trying to document his existence or feeding patterns. He has no idea a strike team is on his ass.”

Jefferies nods. He looks out of place without something in his hand. “Just don’t get the trainee killed,” he says.

“Like you don’t have 20 more where this came from,” Carter jokes. They both laugh. Neither Harkins nor the trainee so much as crack a smile.

cornered

Flash FictionOkay, I’m on a slow-ass public WiFi network and ready to put this puppy to bed.

But please don’t take my brevity here to mean anything negative about this installment, though. I like it. A lot. I like how it flows, and while there’s little in it that’s ‘essential’ to the plot, I think it contributes greatly to a better picture of Harkins and the overall cadence of the story.

Yeah, I’m bragging on myself. Sometimes I write cool shit.

This story is a part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning. The posts will display in order, starting with the first, so you can enjoy them in order.

cornered

He thinks about Twinkies.

In the time before, he had a fried Twinkie once. It was batter-dipped, crispy on the outside and oozy-warm on the inside. He didn’t think he’d like it–Twinkies had never really been a snack food of choice–but he found it to be a completely different experience from eating one straight out of the wrapper. Both the texture and taste changed when kissed by canola. He liked it so much, he actually recommended the fried variation to friends.

But, cliché as it sounds, that was a simpler time. Deep-fried pastry was conversation-worthy. That kind of innocence is gone, and while he knows better than to admit it to his current peers, he misses it enough to bring tears to his eyes. If he thinks about it, that is. With effort, but brings his mind back to the present moment.

He’s sitting in the back of a windowless van with the AC off. It isn’t a particularly hot morning, but it’s warm enough to make the small space feel stuffy, especially with four bodies crammed in there, all generating heat.

They’re outside the vamp’s house. They arrived about an hour earlier under the cover of darkness. The surveillance team had lost the target (for the fourth night in a row), but he’s most likely still on the prowl. If he sticks to his previous MO, he will arrive home just before the first rays of dawn break across the horizon. He has 20 minutes at most.

Harkins has to piss, and it annoys him. It annoys him because there’s no privacy in the back of the van. He can turn toward a corner, but that’s as secluded as he can make things. Carter and the trainee and Masters, their driver, will all be right fucking there. He gets pee shy, so it will take him a few minutes to relax his bladder and let the liquid flow. The whole time he knows they’ll be watching, if not with their eyes then with their ears. Even if they don’t care, it will feel embarrassing for reasons he can’t quite articulate.

He should be able to piss, anytime, anywhere. It’s like an assault to his manhood that it takes effort.

Carter probably knows it’s coming. He always has to piss before a raid. Even if he hits the john on the way out the door, even if there’s not a stake-out before they go in, even then his bladder will pitch a shit-fit in the minutes leading up to the all clear. He’s never told anyone, but he’s legitimately afraid that if he doesn’t void his bladder one last time, he’ll wet his pants in the middle of the operation. No amount of heroism will spare Carter’s mockery then. He simply can’t bear the thought.

He clears his throat and asks for an empty water bottle. Carter always has one on her. He thinks it’s because the ritual entertains her.

“Told you,” she says to Masters as she hands it over. “Never fails.”

The trainee watches the bottle change hands, the plastic picking up the blues, reds and greens of the mobile display panel. Harkins wants her to look away, to grant him this small mercy, but like a kid she just stares. Of course, that’s what she is. A kid. Why wouldn’t she stare? She doesn’t know any better.

He takes the bottle and turns toward the corner of the van, squatting and unzipping his fly. His dick feels cool in his hand, and he’s painfully aware of shrinkage. He thanks God no one can see.

Now comes the hard part. He has to divorce his mind from the situation. If he thinks about his audience, he’ll be kneeling in the corner of the van, his dick in his hand, until his legs cramp. He has to forget anyone’s watching, forget that he’s even trying to piss. Then and only then the muscles will release their titan hold and he’ll find some relief from the dull ache spreading out over his lower abdomen.

He stares at a spot on the van’s interior wall. There’s a long scratch in the flat white paint. He imagines he can still see flecks of blood in it. He remembers the night, not quite two months ago, when he and Carter and a different trainee scrambled into the back of the very same van, a werewolf hot on their tails. The trainee was all kinds of ambitious. Ignoring their instructions, he turned just before hopping in, thinking he could get off a quick shot and take the lycan down before it reach him.

Dumb kid. He didn’t know how fast those fucking wolves are.

The werewolf was on top of him before he’d even brought his rifle level. Claws flew in a frenzy, and the trainee’s body unraveled before their eyes. Just before Carter told Masters to gun it and get the fuck out of there, half the kid’s skull popped off and skid across the van’s wall. Blood and gray matter sprayed Harkin’s face, and the bone left a deep gouge in the paint.

He can still remember the taste.

He feels the warmth as the piss begins to flow. He can smell it, and he hopes the scent doesn’t carry, but he’s sure it does. Behind him, someone mutters something, but he can’t make out the words.

Fuck ’em, he thinks. Any one of us could be dead in the next hour, and I have to piss.

gun, fun and sun

Flash FictionHey, look at that. I kept my word two weeks in a row. I delivered my annual Black Friday story last week, and this week we’re back to my current series-in-progress, The Guild.

I wondered if it would be tough to slip back into these characters. It’s been a few weeks since I wrote about them, and you may recall me telling you that they’re in a rare category for me. I’m enjoying writing about them in spite of the fact that I neither love nor hate them. Those extremes are easier to tap into. Generally, when I develop a character who I simply don’t like, I leave ’em in the dust. These guys are different, I think because I understand their significance.

You don’t. You couldn’t. This is basically backstory, and you don’t know the fuller tale this serves as prequel to.

Regardless, I do hope you’re enjoying the series. It’s a little on the dour side compared to most of my stuff, but there are moments of darkness and light. Enough, I’d like to think, that it’s got the potential to pull the reader in. If only there were some way for you guys to let me know if you’re reading it. Some way to deliver…notes? Feedback? Observations? I’d love to hear your comments, so to speak.

Yeah, I went there, passive aggressive guilt trip and all. If you’re reading my stuff, even if you hate it, speak up every now and then. I see the stats. I know folks are at least landing on the page. Throw me a bone from time to time. Think of it as the price of admission. 

BOOM!

Or, you know, don’t. I won’t ban you from the site or anything. I’ll just subject you to increasingly desperate pleas for affirmation. Fun for all ages.

Speaking of fun, we have a story to get to. But first, the usual series-related spiel. This story is a part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning. The posts will display in order, starting with the first, so you can enjoy them in order.

gun, fun and sun

Carter feels a twinge of sympathy. Barely anything, but there it is, a pale green blimp on her emotional radar. It’s not enough to keep her from making catty comments or laughing with Masters. That would take a lot. Still, there’s something desperately sad about watching Harkins squat in the corner, in full view of herself, Masters and the goddamn trainee, pissing into a water bottle.

He doesn’t spill a drop, and Carter considers that for a moment. The lip of the bottle isn’t wide. Most guys would experience at least a little splash, if not a brief moment of complete failure, urine spraying all over the place. Not Harkins. Everything goes into that bottle.

Jesus, how many times has he done this? she thinks.

His training partner had warned her about the ritual, more to save Harkins embarrassment than anything else. His entire cadet class seemed okay with the idea of a guy who very nearly pisses himself immediately before charging into a hostile situation. Bunch of pussies. In one of her crasser moments, she’d asked Harkins if he missed it.

“Do I miss what?” he asked.

“Those nights with your training class,” she said with a straight face. “You know, when you guys took turn giving each other blow jobs.”

Don’t be misled. She’s not the battle-worn equivalent of the hooker with a heart of gold. If Harkins goes down this very day, she’s not going to shed a single tear. She might take a shot in his honor, assuming it’s Bombay Sapphire, but that’s as far as her mourning ritual would go. She truly doesn’t care about his well-being. Her sympathy has more to do with the statement men like Harkins represent about the world.

There are monsters. They’re everywhere. Most of the world’s population turns a blind eye even though there’s evidence all over the fucking place. But there are a few people, people like her and Harkins, who fight. Not because they’re noble, and not for the sake of mankind, but because the monsters pissed them off. Or hurt them, in Harkins’ case.

This is the world. Bloodsuckers and beasts lurk in the shadows, the average civvy ignores them, and the men who take up the mantle of war don’t even have enough internal fortitude to hold their bladders. Harkins is the posterboy of the new world order, and he’s holding a bottle of his own warm piss.

What a world.

Masters clears his throat, point down the road. Carter forgets all about her evaluation of humanity and follows the line of his finger. There, slinking across the road no more than 50 meters away, is their target. The vampire, Hugh Delany. He moves with grace, light on his feet, no doubt energized from a recent feeding.

Looking at him, Carter doesn’t feel any sense of hatred. She’s beyond the pale. It no longer matters that one of his kind permanently altered the trajectory of her life. She’s not here for vengeance or closure. She’s not even here because of the paycheck. She’s here because this is what she does. It’s mindless for her, the way some people drive home from work every day by the same route and pull into their driveways one evening only to realize they remember nothing about the entire commute.

She’ll do what she’s done dozens of times before. She’ll slit his throat first, more a psychological attack than anything else. She’s yet to meet the blood sucker who doesn’t instinctively react as though the wound were mortal. Then she’ll hit him with the stake. In the movies, that’s all it takes, but she knows better. Next, she’ll take the head. That’s the hard part. They’re usually still kicking, and if you don’t have a fucking executioner’s axe you have to work the blade a fair bit to slip it between the vertebrae and severe the spinal cord. She’ll stuff his mouth with the host (not holy water) and hand the head off the the trainee. Then she and Harkins will lug the body out into the backyard with the trainee following behind. They’ll set it all in the sun and watch it smolder until it turns black and crispy. Then they’ll bag it, call Masters, and bring the charred remains back to HQ for full disposal.

Gun, fun and sun. That’s what she calls it, even though it’s something of a misnomer. If things go smoothly, there won’t be any gun fire, and she can’t even remember the last time she regarded any activity as ‘fun’ and actually meant it. There will be sun, though. At least that part is true.

They wait until the mark is in his house, and then they wait a bit longer. The tension builds, yada, yada, yada. Carter has her hand on the sliding door, ready to get down to business, when the trainee speaks.

The fucking trainee. Her words serve a twin purpose. They piss Carter off. That’s the first. The second is this. They make all three of the van’s other occupants pause and consider the very nature of their mission.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

half right

Flash FictionI have a dilemma.

Last week I asked for feedback on this series. To date, only one reader has responded to that request. (No biggie. I know everyone’s busy.) The evaluation was not positive. Mostly, it had to do with the tone of the stories and the focus of the characters. Both Harkins and Carter can be quite crude. That was part of it, but point-of-view was also an issue in this reader’s assessment.

While I’m writing from specific characters’ perspectives, the narrative is all third person limited. I tend to like that approach. The downside, however, is that in cases like this it can be a bit harder to separate my voice from the character’s voice. My test reader felt like perhaps I have taken on an angrier, crasser style, especially given the kinds of things on which Carter and Harkins tend to focus.

That makes sense. Even though the narrative isn’t in first person, I would say I’m speaking on behalf of the character from whose point of view I’m writing. If the exposition is rough around the edges or even offensive, it’s because the characters, themselves, are. I don’t particularly like Carter or Harkins, and I don’t expect the reader to, either.

The line I’m trying to walk is a tough one. I don’t want to lose readers because the characters and/or narrative hold no appeal, but I don’t want to pull a bait-and-switch, either. These are not good people. That’s part of the point. How do I convey that, showcasing their flaws without apology, without pushing the reader away?

I’m open to feedback, either to the general question or in regard to this series, specifically. If you’re reading it, as I know some are, and you don’t like it, tell me. Tell me it’s awful. Tell me it lacks heart. Tell me you’re offended, put off, or just plain bored. Give me your candid opinion. Just do me a favor and also tell me why you feel that way. If the story is broken, I want to fix it, but I can only do that if I know the nature of the malfunction.

Click here if you’d like to read this series from the beginning. The posts will display in order, starting with the first, so you can enjoy them in order. And if you have any feedback, lay it on me in the comments.

half right

“Am I really the only one who smells a set-up?”

She looks to Carter first. She’d pegged her as the smarter of the two. If either is likely to agree, it’s her. It’s hard to tell–the woman has a grade-A poker face–but it looks like she sees the distinct possibility. Then the trainee turns to Harkins. He looks positively scared. Good. They both get it.

“Doesn’t matter,” Carter says. “We have orders, as do you. Keep your mouth shut and stay out of the way.”

Unbelievable.

“She has a point,” Harkins says.

Carter rolls her eyes. “We’re not discussing this. We’re doing it.”

“Hold up.” It’s Masters. He’s eyeing the trainee in the rearview mirror. “The kid may be on to something. And no, I’m not saying we should bail. I’m just saying it bears consideration.”

Carter looks smug, but she takes her hand off the door handle and settles back into her seat. “It’s been considered. Like I told Jefferies, the vamp is just toying with us. He’s arrogant. Cocky. They all are.”

“I get that,” Masters says. “And you’re right. Blood suckers tend to be pretty full of themselves. But you have to admit he’s being fairly brazen, even for one of them. I mean, there’s an alley behind his house. Why come and go through the front door? He’s making a show of it.”

Carter shrugs. “We discussed all of this during mish-prep. It’s not a factor. We have a solid entry point, and we can easily retreat if we run into trouble. The sun is more than enough cover. All three of us are armed. Even if he has friends in there–which is doubtful as the surveillance team never saw anyone else enter or exit–we’ll be fine.”

“So, the surveillance team was watching both entrances?” the trainee asks. All three of the veterans turn toward her. “The front and back doors. They weren’t lulled into a lazy approach by his showmanship? There’s no chance he was intentionally creating a distraction?”

“Huh.” Masters is chewing on that.

“I don’t like this,” Harkins says.

“For fuck’s sake, you never like it, Harkins. We’re going in. I’m not running back to Jefferies with my tail tucked between my legs because our trainee has a paranoid theory.”

“There’s precedent,” Harkins says. “It’s well within protocol to postpone an operation if we acquire new intel.”

Carter twists in her seat, her eyes on fire. She lays into Harkins. “We don’t have new intel! We have an imaginative trainee who doesn’t know how to keep her fucking mouth shut! We already knew everything she’s pointed out. She was in the room when we talked to Jefferies about it. It’s not like she’s even coming up with original stuff. She’s just throwing a wrench in the works, and why wouldn’t she? This is her first mission. She’s probably scared shitless. We’re not putting off the mission because she’s got cold feet.”

The trainee looks at Carter. When she speaks, there’s not a hint of anger or fear in her voice. Quite the opposite. “I’m not scared. I’ve seen worse than you. I can hold my own. I am, however, questioning the logic of knowingly walking into a trap. You keep saying vamps are cocky. With all due respect, which frankly isn’t much, you’re the one who seems to think she’s unstoppable. ‘Pride goeth before destruction,’ Operative Carter.”

Carter’s nostrils flare.

“I’m going in,” she says. “Come with me or answer for insubordination. That goes for you, too, Harkins.” With that, Carter opens the van’s door and steps outside.

If the trainee is nervous, she doesn’t show it. She merely shrugs and follows. Harkins is a little slower, but he joins, as well. They make their way across the asphalt, rounding the side of the house and coming up on their entry point.

“A quick in and out” Jefferies had called it back in mish-prep. He was half right.

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