Monday, March 28, 2011

Writing Prompt #58

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm labeling it as science fiction this week, but take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

You travel back in time to warn your younger self about something.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

#FridayFlash--The Angel Express

The Angel Express
by Eric J. Krause

He staggered forward, eyes fixed on his destination. Dirt caked deep in his face, running as mud where his tears tracked down. Bright crimson streaks painted his shoulders and back, covering the leathery scabs where they'd once been.

His wings.

His throat felt raw, like ground meat. He didn't test it, but he had no doubt his voice, if it worked at all, was hoarse to the point of incomprehension. Not that it mattered. There was no one left to talk to until he reached the gates.

The wounds--his stumps--itched and stung all at once. Hopefully it was the healing process and not maggots. He fell to his knees, vomited, and fought hard not to reach back to feel for movement. Why dwell on it when there was nothing he could do?

He clenched his teeth and stumbled forward. Almost there. He dreamed they'd shower him with spirit wine, purifying both his outer and inner wounds. Sure, and maybe they'd rediscovered the secret of Ambrosia from the long lost Greek and Roman Gods while they were at it. That'd get him back in the battle in no time.

He glanced back. Had he heard someone or something coming up behind him? No, it was impossible. No one but angels could pass through this plane, and he very well could be the last one outside the Lord's realm. With good reason, too, he thought as another shiver of pain rocked through his body.

How they found him made no sense. He'd lived among mortals since they first understood how to create and use tools. He'd kept his wings hidden, not only from the mortals, who despite their flaws, he loved as if they were his own offspring, but also from the demons who stalked and hunted the Earth and all surrounding dimensions. If they couldn't sense or see his wings, they couldn't single him out. His divinity saw to that.

Another sound drew his attention behind him, and this time there was no mistaking it. Something was following him. His muddled mind couldn't piece together how it was possible, but he braced himself. Not that he'd be able to fight anything off.

A half-dozen demons got the drop on him as he left his home. That they were of the lesser persuasion ultimately saved him. He dispatched three in short order, but that didn't dissuade the others. Before he could size them up and discover the best ways to both attack and defend, one had a blade against his left wing. He screamed as it fell, landing with a hollow thud on the ground.

The agony and loss propelled him on, and he made short work of two more demons. As he turned to face the last, the one who'd disfigured him, the blade slashed again, dropping his right wing. Blood dripped down his back and pooled at his feet.

That final demon laughed and raised the blade for the kill, but even in a haze of pain, he moved too quick. The demon's sword dropped and disintegrated as the monster joined its brethren in oblivion. He thought he might follow his six enemies, but though his blood flowed free and the pain blazed through him, he managed to shift planes to the only one where he had a chance. The Angel Express. The Highway to Heaven.

He couldn't venture a guess at how long he walked, crawled, and scratched his way forward towards the pearly gates. Now that he was in metaphorical spitting distance, something moved in to finish him. Though he hoped he struck a regal pose, he had no strength left to defend himself.

He fell to his knees and wept when he saw. Wings. An angel. But how? Even if he wasn't the last on Earth, what were the odds another would follow?

Then he saw. It wasn't another coming up the Angel Express, but his wings. And propelling them forward? No. Impossible. But there they were, no doubt sent by the Lord Himself. Three holy cherubs.

No words were spoken. Could they even communicate out of His presence? The wings touched his back, and though the pain disappeared, the itching intensified. One of the tiny cherubs placed its hand on his head, and light engulfed them all. When it lifted its touch, he felt as healthy and strong as ever. If not more so. He stretched his wings and found them alive and well. Even the bloodstains streaked across his skin had vanished.

The three cherubs smiled at him, their miniscule wings working overtime to keep them afloat. He expected them to zip off, their job done. He'd already received a gift he'd never expected, but what came next brought more tears, this time of intense joy. The cherubs outstretched their tiny hands, awaiting his to join them--a once in an eternity ticket to the Realm of the Throne. He wiped his tears away and put his hand in with those of the three cherubs.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writing Prompt #57

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm labeling it as horror this week, but take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

One wrong step will drop you into a pit of deadly snakes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

#FridayFlash--Bedtime Thoughts

Bedtime Thoughts
by Eric J. Krause

This was always the hardest part. Those few moments between the light going off and exhaustion claiming his consciousness. This was when his ghosts haunted him. They may not be the supernatural ilk of campfire tales or horror movies, but that didn't make them any less frightening. It might have even given them more terrifying power over his soul.

He'd been a lousy husband, inattentive father, and an even worse human being. He'd kicked dogs, shot at cats, and even, as cliché as it sounds, stolen candy from babies. He deserved the sweet treats more than those loud balls of snot! But it haunted him. It all haunted him. He might as well have been visited by three Christmas spirits.

But he didn't have anyone, living, dead, or otherwise, to confide in, to teach him lessons. He'd chased everyone away. He wanted to make amends, but he no longer could. In fact, he didn't understand how to even if given the opportunity. He couldn't simply toss down a purse of shillings, with a few extra tucked in, to a child passing on the street to buy the biggest goose in the butcher shop.

He could, though, do other things. He could volunteer at the local homeless shelter. He could attend church more often and live by its teachings. He could simply decide to be nicer to his fellow human beings.

"Bah, humbug," he said, a crooked grin on his lips. He flicked on the light, picked up his copy of A Christmas Carol, and tossed it in the wastebasket. Better to quit reading crap that made him feel guilty before bedtime.

He pulled out his latest copy of Playboy. Yeah, looking at young, nubile nudie women would take away his depressing thoughts. Screw humanity.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Writing Prompt #56

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm labeling it as science fiction this week, but take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

Something sinister on the dark side of the moon makes itself known.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Highest Stakes

This is being posted as if it were a Friday Flash, but since it's about 2700 words, it's much too long to be considered a piece of flash fiction. Two weeks ago, Neil Colquhoun (@necol66 on Twitter) threw out a random fact that the numbers on a roulette wheel add up to 666. I tweeted back that it could make a cool story, and he answered by challenging me to write one, and he'd write one, too. We'd make it a contest to see which one readers enjoyed more. The rules were only that we had two weeks to write a story under 3000 words, and it had to relate to the numbers on a roulette wheel totaling up to 666. The two week deadline is up, so it's time to post. Here is my story, and check back later for a link to Neil's story and the poll where you can vote for your favorite. I'll update this with both links when I have them. Until then, enjoy my story. Let me know what you think!
UPDATE: Click here to view Neil's story and to vote for your favorite. Simply scroll down for his story once you're on his site.

The Highest Stakes
by Eric J. Krause

He stared down at the roulette table, unsure why he was here. Which casino was this? When did he get here? He blinked hard and shook his head to dislodge the cobwebs. But before he could figure those out, he had to discover who he was.

There was no question that he was here to play. He had 100 chips in front of him--five stacks of twenty. And he couldn't up and walk away. Some unspoken rule reminded him he'd have to play until the end.

Though he tried, he couldn't see anything around the table. He might as well be playing in someone's dark basement, and for all he knew, he was. The dealer wore a long black robe, complete with a huge hood that kept his face from sight. Three other players sat around the table, but he couldn't focus on them. He made out their features well enough to tell they were males, but no other defining characteristics popped into his mind. It was like looking at them through a mix of dense fog and plastic wrap. He couldn't even check out their hands for hints of their ethnicity or age--the chips moved out as if pushed by telepathy.

And as far as bets went, he needed to get his out there. Though it was a standard roulette board, this wasn't a normal game. He had no clue as to who briefed him on the rules, but he knew them well. One chip needed to be placed on a single number each roll of the ball--no more and no less. 13 was his lucky number. It meant something, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what. There was more leverage on the outside bets; at least one chip needed to be wagered with each spin, but there was no upper limit. He could choose odd or even, red or black, and 1 through 18 or 19 through 36 for even money. For two-to-one odds, he could choose the first twelve numbers, the second twelve, or the third twelve, as well as on of the three columns. The game was limiting, but as straight-forward as roulette could get. He tossed a chip on odd.

The dealer picked up the ivory ball with hands of polished white bone and flicked it around the wheel before motioning for no more bets. He tried to speak up, ask if anyone else saw the dealer's skeletal hand, but his voice wouldn't work. He took a deep breath and tried to push it from his mind. As strange as it was, that wasn't what mattered here.

The ball flew around the wheel, hypnotizing him. Hopefully it wouldn't land on the zero or double zero. If it hit the former, something dastardly would befall the player with the lowest amount of chips. If it hit the latter, that fate would be shared by the one with the second lowest. He was fine for the moment in either of those regards, but that didn't make him eager to discover the terrible secret.

No worries this round. The ball skittered around the wheel and settled on Red 7. The dealer set a new chip on top of his winner. As soon as that chip lay on the original, his head spun. His name was Clayton Briggs, though everyone called him Clay.

He pulled the winning chip off and stared at it. It looked no different from any of his others. He shrugged and placed it on 13, while keeping the one on odd in place. The game here was to have more chips than the other players, so conservative was the way to go. A quick glance at the three other piles showed him way ahead.

The next roll landed on Black 8, and the dealer slid both his chips away. He refilled 13 on the inner board, but changed his outer strategy by placing a chip on the third twelve and another on black. He was rewarded with a Black 33. Once the dealer paid his three new chips, his head swam, and he knew his about family.

Clay had a mom, dad, and younger brother, though Dad had been dead for twenty-five years, and Mom for close to ten. He hadn't talked to, or even heard from, his brother Jeff since shortly after her funeral. He felt something about a wife, but nothing stuck in his mind.

Before the call for no more bets, he picked up the chip on the third twelve but left the one on black alone. That decision paid off as the next number was Black 17. The new chip told him he did indeed have a wife, at least he used to. Maggie had stayed with him for eight years. Some of those had been good, but most had been miserable. For her, anyway. He'd had too many mistresses and one-night stands to count. After years of knowing without hard evidence, she finally caught him in the act and demanded a divorce. The only good to come from it all was that they didn't have any children to drag through the mess.

He kept his bets on 13 and black, but this time the tiny ball settled on Red 21. No win meant no memories. What would happen if he bet two different places outside and only hit one? Would he get a memory or not? He didn't want to chance it; now that he knew a win meant learning more about his life, memories were more precious than chips. He placed two--one of the obligatory 13, and the other on 19 through 36. This time the ball plopped down on Black 15.

A bright light exploded above the table. Black 15 had been one of the other players' numbers. Feelings of peace and tranquility trickled down, and the player to Clay's right rose into the air. He still couldn't see him clearly, but he couldn't miss the look of relief on the man's face. Plus the feelings of giddiness flooding off of him were contagious. When the player was gone, the good feelings lingered, and Clay didn't care that he'd lost his second roll in a row. He put his chips onto the same bets and waited. Before the dealer started the next round, a new player replaced the departed one. This guy had the same anonymous look, but the depleted chips turned into five stacks of twenty.

The ball this time landed on Red 18, just one away from making him a winner on his outer bet. The euphoric feelings left over from the ascension faded, but before he drifted into despair, he noticed he was still far ahead of the two players who'd been there when he arrived. In fact, one of them was down to just a few chips.

Before the dealer called for no more bets, Clay decided he needed to worry more about getting his chips closer to 100. He moved his outer bet chip to the third column and added another to red. He watched the ball spin around and gasped as it almost stuck in the slot for his lucky number 13. Instead it wound up one spot over on Red 36. Though the result wasn't as good as hitting his number, he still won both outside bets, bringing his chip total back up to 96. And, more importantly, the tingling feeling in his mind meant another incoming tidbit about his life.

Clay was an accountant for CRASH-GAP, a highly successful computer repair business that specialized in fixing both hardware and software issues. CRASH-GAP stood for Computer Repair And Software Healers-Gerald And Paul. Gerald and Paul were the founders and owners--Gerald Wilkins and Paul Marx. Clay got on well with both.

He focused back on the table and decided to continue his conservative play. He left a chip on red, but put the one on the third column back in his bank. The player across from him went all in with his few remaining chips. The ball stopped on Red 23, giving Clay another win. The guy on the other side of the table, though, hadn't been as lucky. As soon as the dealer swept away those final chips, an intense heat erupted from behind the player, eliciting a scream. It was the first sound Clay had heard since he got here, not counting the clicks of the chips and roulette wheel. The player's face went from terror to surprise, and he was pulled backwards out of his chair. No thud or crash came from him hitting the floor--he was simply gone. As soon as it all started, it was over, and a new player sat in that spot, five stacks of twenty chips in front of him.

Just as Clay was thinking there was no way he wanted to go out like that, the dealer paid him his winnings, and a new memory flooded his psyche. As the accountant for CRASH-GAP, he had Gerald and Paul's undying trust. And he abused it. Twice a year he'd siphon out a chunk of money for a trip to Las Vegas. He made sure the amount was small enough to go unnoticed without a thorough check of the books--which no one but him ever did--but big enough for him to have a good time.

He took his chip off red and moved it to odd. He contemplated playing a second outer bet, but didn't want to get too far behind the two newcomers if he lost both. The black-cloaked dealer spun the ball around the wheel and it landed on Black 4. Both players ahead of him won their outer bets, meaning he was further behind if the wheel stopped at a double zero. He needed to close that gap and get one of them below him.

He kept a chip on odd and played another on the second twelve. A good win here would push him back closer, especially if one or both of them lost the spin. No such luck. He sucked in a deep breath as Black 26 hit. The dealer's bone-white hand swept away all three of his chips.

He glanced at that double zero and replaced his three chips. He then dipped back into his bank and played two more, one on black and the other on the first column. Five chips, counting the obligatory one on lucky number 13. Something would have to hit, and hopefully a bunch of them. Then he could breathe easier.

Instead his heart beat faster and sweat formed on his brow. Red 30. He'd lost each one. He now sat at 86 chips, still well ahead of the guy with just under two stacks, but further behind the other guys who still had close to their starting allotment of 100. This was stupid. Unless he wanted to race to the bottom, he needed to get back to his conservative play. Let them make the mistakes. Besides, his focus should be on Black 13; that's where the true prize lay. He placed a chip on 1 through 18 and watched the dealer make the spin.

Success! Black 10. As the dealer set his winning chip down, his next memory infiltrated his mind. He did take money from CRASH-GAP, but if he came back a winner, he returned it all. No one, neither Gerald nor Paul nor anyone else, was any the wiser. What's more, he took money only for gambling. His plane ticket, his hotel room, his wining and dining of beautiful women--be them ones he met or rented--all came from his own pocket. He only needed the CRASH-GAP money for that bit of extra fun. He wasn't a compulsive gambler, so even when he lost, he often came back with some of what he took. That chunk always went back into the company's account.

Clay put his next chip on odd. There was no point in throwing chips away on more outside bets than was required. That 13 was all that mattered. He watched the ball go round and round and gasped as it landed on the single zero. All eyes, even the dealer's, shifted to the player sitting with the lowest chip amount. He screamed and struggled, but couldn't go anywhere.

The wheel came to a halt and emitted a shrill, high-pitched whistle. The zero glowed, and the numbers around it shifted. Black 2 moved into the neighboring square inhabited by Red 14 to form a 16. That 16 moved to Black 35 to make a 51. On the other side, Black 28 invaded Red 9 to create 37. The 37 shifted over into Black 26 to form a 63. This continued on both sides of the wheel until the growing numbers met at the double zero. Both pushed into the green square and morphed together, forming a big 666.

Flames shot out of the sides of the wheel, disintegrating it. The heat assaulted Clay, but though it was uncomfortable, it didn't burn him. He glanced over at the loser and saw it affected him for the worse. His skin singed black even though he was no closer to the fire than Clay. Pain echoed in the guy's voice, his pathetic moans. A large red hand with razor-sharp claws raised out of the void the wheel left and grabbed the loser. He only managed a few weak whimpers through his now crispy lips. In the blink of an eye, the arm yanked him down the hole. The flames settled and extinguished, and the wheel reappeared, as if nothing had happened. With a flick of his boney wrist, the dealer sent the wheel back in motion, ready for the next roll of the ball.

Clay looked around and took a deep breath. A new player had replaced the one dragged down to Hell or wherever. Though he wasn't far behind, Clay had the lowest chip amount. Either a zero or double zero meant he'd suffer the same fate he just witnessed. He contemplated throwing his conservative strategy to the curb, but it was likely his best bet to get out of this mess. Less chips spent meant more time for lucky number 13 to hit, and that was the only true exit from this. He slid a chip to odd.

He didn't want to look as the ball began its descent. This time it landed nowhere near either zero, settling on Black 31. He closed his eyes and waited for the incoming memory.

"Clay, I need a minute of your time."

"Sure." Crap. Paul Marx. When did he ever make it to the office so early? Two more minutes and the money would have been back in the CRASH-GAP account. "What can I do for you, Paul?"

"I'm not going to beat around the bush, Clay. We know you've been embezzling money from us."

"But . . ."

"Don't bother denying it. We have irrefutable proof." Paul sighed. "I'm sorry, but I've called security. They'll escort you out front to meet the police."

"No, Paul, you don't understand . . ."

That's as far as he got. A shock of pain sprang through his entire body, starting on his left side, and he blacked out, never to awaken. A massive heart attack took him hours after returning from the biggest gambling weekend of his life. He'd taken ten grand on Friday and turned it into a couple hundred by Sunday. Had Paul given him that extra two minutes, he'd have deposited half of that back into the books, more than enough to square them for all the years he'd been doing it. Too late now.

He kept his chip on odd. Was all of this really random, or was it a scripted process that was a surprise only to the individual player? He hoped the game was straight, otherwise, if the memories were to be believed, he knew which way he was headed. As the ball danced out of the dealers polished fingers and sped around the rim of the wheel, he ignored the fact that lucky number 13 could be his salvation. Instead he prayed that it landed on neither zero.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I've Been Interviewed!

I've been interviewed by G.P. Ching about my book Way Over the Line. You can check out the interview at her website, So, Write. Give it a read! I hope it inspires you to download the book!

And don't forget, you can get Way Over the Line, as well as my other two books, for free at Smashwords this week. Follow this link to head on over and pick it up!

Writing Prompt #55

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm labeling it as fantasy this week, but take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

Two knights square off for the love of a fair maiden.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Free ebooks: March 6-12

Smashwords is running a promotion for Ebook Week, and I decided to make all of my books free for it. If you haven't yet had a chance to check out my three books, now is your chance!

Way Over the Line: Eighth-grader Jessie Campbell loves baseball, but he's terrified of the ball. When he and his best friend, Ryder, are abducted by space aliens to play in the huge intergalactic baseball tournament, Jessie will need to deal with horrors such as space pirates, and, even worse, actually participating on the field. And if all of that wasn't enough pressure, Jessie may also be the fabled chosen one.

The Breath of Life and Other Stories: Twenty tales of horror, science fiction, and fantasy make up this collection of short fiction. The stories range from tales of Atlantis, video games that are a bit too real, what happens right after death, battles with vicious dragons, and much, much more.

The Friday Flash Stories of Eric J. Krause: Volume 1 (Ok, so this one is always free, but if you haven't downloaded it, why not do so this week?) : Fifty flash fiction stories. These are tales of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, as well as some bent more towards the mainstream.

Give one or all of them a shot! You can't beat the price this week. If you enjoy them, I'd love a review. Thanks! Enjoy your reading!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

#FridayFlash--A Rose From a Stranger

A Rose from a Stranger
by Eric J. Krause

Sandy sighed and looked around the club. Heidi was on the dance floor somewhere, likely rubbing up against two or thee guys she'd never seen before. Yeah, that sounded like fun. How did she always let Heidi rope her into this? God, she needed a boyfriend, and she certainly wasn't going to find one in a place like this.

The bartender walked up to Sandy and handed her a rose. She looked up and frowned. Even with this long dating drought, she wasn't about to start with women. That wasn't her.

The bartender chuckled, as if she'd read Sandy's mind. "Not from me, honey. The guy over there."

She followed the bartender's motion and saw a guy she hadn't noticed before. He was cute. Maybe there was someone here worth her attention. She shook her head. No, she wasn't this superficial. Not like Heidi.

The bartender set a card down in front of her. "Also from the gentleman," she said before walking away to service other customers.

Sandy looked at the guy. He smiled and mimed opening the card. She batted her eyelashes and sniffed the rose. What the hell was wrong with her? She never acted like this. But she had to admit that the rose and card were a good pick-up line. And the fact that he was a hunk didn't hurt, either.

The card was made of simple white stock folded in two. She opened it and found six words hastily written in blue ink. "Trust no one. You're being followed."

She looked up at him, and he put a finger to his lips and walked over to her. She glanced to the dance floor for Heidi, but still no sign of her. Was she living it up in the sea of people, or had they already gotten to her?

"Stay calm," the man said as he saddled up next to her. "Can you smile and act flirty?"

"What?" She had to struggle to utter the single syllable.

"It's your best bet. Act like you're having fun with me, and I'll get you out of here. I promise."

Sandy looked down at the rose, and then back up at him. She forced a smile and a laugh, and even managed to touch his arm in a playful manner. Her stomach clenched, and she wanted to run onto the dance floor to find Heidi, but this man, whose name she didn't even know, held her there.

He smiled back at her. "You're doing great. In a few seconds, we'll head for the back rooms. You'll be safe there. When I point, look, giggle, and nod. Got it?"

She laughed, but under her breath said, "My friend is dancing. Is she in trouble, too?"

He stroked her face, and leaned in close like he was giving her a kiss. "She should be fine. You're the only target in here tonight. Don't worry; I'll make sure she knows you're okay. Now follow my finger and don't forget to keep up the act."

Sandy looked where he pointed. There was a nondescript door at the back of the club. Almost unconsciously she nodded and giggled. She spared another quick glance to the dance floor, and she could swear she saw Heidi's hot pink hair bouncing up and down. Good. At least she was safe.

"Don't look around on our way back there. It'll look suspicious. Got it?"

She nodded and made sure her smile stayed plastered in place. With the rose and card clutched in her hands, she followed the man. Was he an undercover cop, or maybe a private eye? But who hired him? She tried to push it all out of her mind and concentrate on getting through this. She'd question him when they were alone.

He led her through the door and slammed it shut. She found herself in a large space with no furniture. There was a lone door on the other side of the room, but before she started towards it, he grabbed her upper arm in an iron grip.

"Remember when I said not to trust anyone?"

She gave a weak nod.

"That included me."

Just before the lights clicked off, dropping the room into total darkness, two huge, green, slimy monsters pushed through that other door.

Sandy couldn't even muster up a scream.