The Capybara and Her Pets (a #31ShortHorrors tale)

“Guys. Guys? GUYS?!” Capybara hollered at the crowd of critters mulling around her. “A little decorum, huh? Pay attention! We got a LOT to go over before the thirty-first!”

The roiling mass of nutria sat down in a semi circle, row after row after row. They looked at their leader attentively as she strolled bipedally back and forth in front of them, tapping her walking stick in one small paw.

“We have a big job ahead of us, troops!” she roared. “The entire population of New Orleans must be under our control by Halloween.” The nutria looked back and forth at each other, muttering and squeaking, then back to their leader.

“Who will be the first?” Capybara boomed. Terrified squeals swept the crowd. “Do I have to CHOOSE?” Her walking stick swept over the heads of the first row. It came to rest on the cranium of a young female nutria, Janis. Janis made eye contact with Capybara, then looked at the ground, then rose to her feet, even as the walking stick rested on her head. Janis scuttled up to stand next to Capybara in front of the colony.

“I volunteer,” Janis said, stronger than she meant. Capybara nodded, leaned down, and bit Janis on either side of her spine. The bit lasted maybe two seconds, then Capybara released her hold. As Capybara straightened, Janis collapsed in the grass.

Those nutria seated in the farther rows stood up to watch and pass information further back about Janis’ condition. Janis, for her part, felt none of the shuddering, frothing, seismic seizures her body exhibited as it changed. Finally, her brown furry body stopped flopping, and she lay on the grass, panting, unconscious.

Murmuring in the colony. Capybara waited, watchful of both Janis and her audience. Janis’ panting eased, quieted, she lifted her head. She looked around. She rolled over, found her feet, stood. Shook her fur out.

Janis squealed, rather shrieked, a sound that could only be described as dead-undead. Otherwordly, both inaudible in frequency, yet physically palpable in terms of the sheer power output of decibels. Shriek after shriek with the force of a jet plane rose forth from the Janis and the colony huddled together in terror. Capybara’s walking stick came to rest once again, gently, on Janis head.

Janis turned and bit the end off. Her face did not bleed.

Capybara bit Janis’ nose off with a snarl. Janis backed down, silent now.

“You will form two lines, then two more, and so forth. As we create you, go forth and create. Once the colony is fully inoculated, you will venture out into the city, into the sewers, the animal holding facilities, and the pet stores first. Then, the dog parks. Let us begin.”

The colony split into two groups, those multiplied by two throughout the night until every rodent in the clearing, even a couple of accidental squirrels and rabbits, were inoculated, unkillable.

The spirit of Queen Marie Laveau rolled in her grave, sat bolt upright, listened, and smiled. She resettled and resumed snoring.

The population of New Orleans swells at two predictable times of year: Halloween, and Mardi Gras. The supernatural, voodoo-loving, ghost-hunting tourists, then the party animals. A predictable cycle, the two events not entirely disconnected from one another. Halloween, Day of the Dead, when the curtain between the living world and lost world is thinnest and most easily breached. Mardi Gras, commencing the Holy month of Lent, culminating in the crowning of the world’s most famous zombie. Ghosts and zombies, spirits both, celebrated, revered, excused.

By the end of Week One, every rat and mouse in New Orleans had been turned. By the end of Week Two, all animal shelters, as well as animal testing facilities, had been infiltrated. Not only cats and dogs had been zombified, but also lab animals: guinea pigs, rabbits, beagles, hounds, Rhesus monkeys.

By Week Three’s Saturday, Tulane University’s National Primate Research Center was infected and closed. Animals who were on study as part of the Nonhuman Primates Study on AIDS were now both infected with HIV and immortal.

The humans panicked. Facilities closed. Billions of research dollars were lost, grants were defunded, the price of Fatal-Plus and Euthasol skyrocketed as research programs everywhere tried to sacrifice their subjects in an effort to stop the spread of infection.

The humans, with their human egos, hadn’t checked the traps. The ubiquitous mousetraps and rattraps set out in every corner. Empty. Unusually empty. An occasional limb was found left behind on a sticky trap, its owner in no need of it and fully functional without it. Had they checked the traps against their records, they might have noticed the downward trend in rodent capture.

The infections spread throughout Louisiana, spilled into Texas and Arkansas, Mississippi. Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio closed its doors and moved its chimpanzee population indoors for the first time ever. This ended as one might expect, with the infection spreading even more quickly in the smaller, darker, enclosed space of the facility. Workers quit the Institute en masse, afraid of being infected themselves, and unable to safely care for maniacal animals of equal and greater size than them.

The chimps raged and seethed in their cages.

The infections spread westward through the mountains, and east and north along the Mississippi River, piggybacked along the major thoroughfares populated with semi trucks loaded with food bound for all major metropolitan areas in the east.

Cincinnati fell. The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine declared a state of emergency to which all the other major Veterinary Schools replied, “Duh.” Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory University had pre-emptively closed when news got out of the fall of the Institute in San Antonio.

Ports closed and planes were grounded until inspections were complete. Naturally, money changed human hands, and not all ports closed and not all planes were grounded. In this way, this greedy, human way, the animal zombie infection zoomed and crisscrossed the planet, reaching every corner and crevice, by the eve of Halloween.

Animals aren’t dumb. Queen Marie Laveau knew this and continued to know it. She smiled in her grave as she listened to the stories of her neighbors, tombmates, and friends. How scared the humans were, how ridiculous they were in trying to balance their fear for their lives against their fear of losing money and all the various ways that fear leads to money loss. And the animals were clever, in that they had cooperatively, wisely, with great foresight, decided not to infect the humans. Not right away. Those animals passing for pets were clever enough to “pass for normal” and sleep when they were expected to, eat when they were expected to, and play when they were expected to play.

However.

And, but so.

Tomorrow.

Halloween, October 31.

When the sun went to sleepytown and the curtain between living and lost thinned to a shimmer of fog, the first pets and house vermin were set to attack.

The children fell first, in their cribs, in their beds, in their blanket forts, playpens, at their desks doing homework.

Their parents, next. Naturally, a parent will console a crying child who’s been bitten by the family pet, or worse, a sneaky rat from the alley outside her window. Naturally, a new zombie child will bite the hand that comforts it. Naturally, a parent will take her child to the doctor for treatment because this child has never had seizures or blacked out before, Little Billy had certainly never frothed at the mouse like this, is it rabies?! … and this parent’s symptoms have not yet set in.

Naturally, human infections spread like wildfire through hospitals and schools and workplaces. Wall Street was hit with an especially difficult variant of the virus that caused uncontrollable bodily excretions.

Naturally, Queen Marie Laveau giggled when she heard this.

Perhaps unnaturally, homeless shelters were among the least afflicted, as were prisons. Entire poor villages in China, the Philippines, Uganda, Madagascar, and Chile were exempt, immune?, unaffected at any rate.

Oddly, every Native American Reservation in the United States was unafflicted. The Inuit of Canada and the native peoples in the Brazilian Amazon were also safe.

Queen Marie Laveau nodded, satisfied.

She called Capybara to her crypt. Dusk had settled over New Orleans, the city was oddly quiet, mute with its illness and the hysteria around it. You have done well, child, the Queen intoned to Capybara. Capybara bowed her head in respect. Time for to re-set the world order. Free those humans in cages, free those humans in the shelters, those confined to reservations. Allow them free range. You will need their assistance, at the very least because they have opposable thumbs. Apes and monkeys do not yet know how to drive vehicles and operate most machinery, though it won’t take long for them to learn.

Capybara passed the order down her chain of command. Janis herself opened New Orleans homeless shelters, scuttling in the front doors with a pack of shelter dogs. The dogs whined and barked and jumped until the mothers took their children by the hand outside, to the darkness, to see the animals and ghosts roaming the streets freely. No traffic, just lights blinking in the muggy dusk.

The Louisiana State Penitentiary was selectively freed by those dogs who’d previously worked with trusted inmates. The dogs were led inside by a team of Rhesus from the Tulane Primate Center; each monkey swaggered, proud of his powerful keyring. As the inmates tentatively left their cells, they reunited with their dogs, high-fived the monkeys.

And so it went, and so it continues to go. Because no money can change hands, ghosts can be trusted. The ghosts and spirits of those long dead, trusted human owners, trusted human friends and neighbors and caretakers, guide the animals along the complicated network of trusted Live Humans. In this simple, incredibly complicated manner, animals regained their dignity and place in the Natural World Order.

Queen Marie Laveau was proud of herself, and proud of her friends, and satisfied. Well over a hundred years she had watched and waited for the right time, the best opportunity. She sat outside her crypt door, relaxed against it, lazily caressing a rat. Spirits roamed freely in the misty cemetery. A warm hand rested next to hers.

Marie looked to her left and smiled gently. “You really did come to save the day, old friend. Thank you. Without a body, I could only go so far.”

Andy Kaufman’s eyes were bright against the gloom. “How could I miss this? It’s the ultimate test of reality.”

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Otherwhere (a #31ShortHorrors tale)

She stared at the ceiling

And beyond it

Willed a scene into her head

And beyond it

What if, what else, what might have been

Alternate universes casually seen

Through the telescope of her mind

A door opened, and what did she find?

Her dreamworld far and wide

Rolling hills and snowcapped mountains

Jagged cliffs and fog

A man climbing a steep wet hill

Panting with his dog

She called out to him

Then the pup

But neither could give answers

She gave chase to the pair

Please wait for me right there!

They couldn’t hear her for the fog

And soundwaves can’t flow here

In the Dreamworld of her mind

Frustration, flowing tears

They vanished up the moldy hill

And she was frozen still

She spied another door cracked open

She entered into light

A beach of endless proportion

An ocean roared its might

Strung and stung, she wandered the hot sand

Only water pounding shore

Sharp seashells in her hand

A mirage down the stretch at last

She’d been walking hours

She ran towards her visiondream

The one with her same powers

She yelled his name, and called his pup

But he stared out at the ocean

I’m here, I’m here! She screamed at him

But he could only look on

His dog yanked at her leash, Let’s go!

And so he followed after

Never seeing, hearing, touching her

Out of reach, with bitter laughter

She walked into the cold bright waves

And never stopped until

She fell into a trapdoor

On a sandbar

And a whale nearby sucked krill

She landed in the barrio

A place she’d often been

She knew the alleys and the lanes

Rowhouses on the main

No grass but heat

No smell but wharf

She looked out on the harbor

She entered what seemed to be the house

The one her conscious warned of

She opened every drawer and door

She heard the creaks and groans

Footsteps overhead somewhere

Everyone is somewhere

Her memory served her well

Those wonderpets would never miss

A chance to ring her bell

She took the narrow staircase

How many landings? Five?

Eight, twelve, and she stopped counting

Realized she’s still alive

This house of death had never offered

Solace or retreat

And now familiar rustling

Hurried panicked feet

She hurled herself upward

Ready to meet her agony

Once more she prepared

Her goodbye speech

Count of three, I fall and flee

What’s this? I’ve finally reached it?

The casing at the top? No more steps

The door is locked

Por supuesto, how could it not?

Panic rising in her throat

They’re coming for her now

Up the countless steps behind her

She set her teeth for blows

She crashed into the attic dust

And slammed the door she thought

It swung closed slowly like a wind

Weakly fought the lock

A tiny greasy window looked upon alley below

And there he was, her target

With his little dog in tow

She banged the glass

She raged she stabbed she tried to break it free

As mumbling in the hall outside brought her to her knees

Please help me find me see me hear me

I’ve never been this far

I don’t know where the next door is

She searched the room

A bar

A country western bar with smoke

And beer and stench and sweat

She stood at the jukebox

Pulled the lever, made a bet

Her quarter clinked and roared to life

His voice in the next set.

She slouched against the chrome and glass

Vibrations traveled through her

Reality was everywhere

But she chose this nightmare

Night after night she opened doors

Seeking out her other self

The one who read her mind and

Kept it from splitting in half

Without her partner she had lost

Her own reality

Finding him would find her home

His roots, her sanity.

The real world disallowed her search

She functioned there no more

Making do with Otherwhere

And other, distant shores.

A boundary-less dreamworld

She was trapped unless she found him

In her mind forevermore.

The Sun and the Moon (a #31ShortHorrors tale)

 

The Sun and the Moon were at odds. They could not see each other often, and when they did, it was glorious. The rest of the time, they saw reflections of the other, or observed the effects each other had on that which came between them, the Earth.

Moon vented her frustrations with the expanse of time and space by yanking at the Earth’s tides on a regular basis and causing the women and children of Earth to behave uncooperatively, impetuously. Soon as she felt the warmth of the sun, however, her anxiety eased, and the shores of Earth were bathed in the soft consistency of gently lapping waves.

Sun, on the other hand, vented solar flares and radiation at irregular, powerful intervals when he was aggravated with their circumstances. Hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, satellite failures: these were his domain, and the aftershocks were felt for generations on Earth. On the rare occasion he did glimpse Moon, however, the Earth sighed in relief, happy to vacate Sun’s fierce focus.

And what of Earth?

Earth suffered profoundly, and reaped her rewards profoundly. However, the problem was this: the negative effects of Moon and Sun not seeing each other outweighed the positive effects of their connection, and Earth’s suffering accumulated in disproportion to her gifts. Her humans suffered Moon’s wrath and took it out on each other and Earth herself. Her atmosphere and physical features suffered and changed in reaction to Sun’s fury. The two sets of problems combined, fed on each other, and Earth found herself choked for life.

Earth decided to speak to her neighbors about the situation. Venus, to her left, had no moons, and Mars, to her right, had two moons. As Earth’s problems were primarily rooted in the interaction of her Moon and Sun, she approached Mars first.

“Mars, tell me, how do I convince Moon and Sun to not throw all their frustrations at me? I am but an innocent bystander in their path, and I am dying from their aggravation of being apart.”

Mars considered Earth’s Moon, her position relative to Sun and Earth herself. “Your moon is large, nearly a planet in her own right. She has reservoirs and mountains but little atmosphere. No wonder she craves the warmth of Sun. Perhaps you could share some more space with her,” Mars suggested.

Earth nodded thoughtfully. The seasons changed.

“However, I must warn you,” Mars whispered, “you may go cold and dead, if Moon takes too much space, light, and heat from your path. I have two moons, and not enough heat to support a living thing.”

Earth furrowed her brow. Earthquakes shook the Himalayas. “How do I prevent Moon from taking too much?” she asked.

“She can only take what you allow, as she is bound to her path by your gravity,” Mars answered. “Maintain your bond, but loosen your grip a little.”

Earth thanked Mars for his time and returned her gaze inward. She sighed, and a blizzard formed over the mountains of Peru. She approached Venus next.

Upon hearing Earth’s predicament, Venus squinted to bring Moon into better focus. “Mars has an excellent idea, however, consider this: Moon may fear the Sun’s heat once she feels the full potential, and hide behind your forever. You will end up like me, too hot and roiling to support life at all. You must consider both sides of this coin, Earth,” Venus warned. “Moon may never want to leave the path of the sun, and you will freeze. Alternatively, Moon may never want to feel his warmth again, and you will boil.”

A tear formed, and Spain found itself flooded.

“Are you quite sure what you have is a problem that needs solving?” Venus pressed on, “You’ve survived this long, and you’re in better shape than the rest of us.”

Earth explained the cumulative consequences of her Moon and Sun’s issues with each other, how instead of freezing or boiling to death quickly, she was dying, one pinprick at a time, a slow drip poison spreading through her crust. “There must be a way to fix this!” Earth wailed. Hurricanes raced through the Caribbean.

Venus tried to console her, she urged Earth to take the deep, slow breaths that she herself was no longer able to take. The green and blue marble calmed, and a light breeze wafted over Beijing, relieving it of smog. Earth thanked Venus for her advice and looked once again upon her inhabitants. She thought long and hard, meditating on what, or what not, to do.

Meanwhile, eclipse season was starting, and Moon was very excited to bask in the full warmth of Sun once again. She had adjusted her orbit to take full advantage of the star, and Earth’s tides lapped happily at Earth’s shores. Sun swelled in his anticipation, could barely contain his plasma. Earth breathed a sigh of relief, eclipse season was her favorite. Her inhabitants were fascinated with the astronomical sights, her weather was calm, pollution low as humans went outside and enjoyed that which was beyond their control.

Each solar eclipse reminded Earth of the best the Universe had to give. And so she continued to breathe deeply and wait for it, twice a year, every year. A decade passed, a generation passed, a century passed. A millennium, and another, and another went by. Each season, the Sun swelled larger with anticipation and eagerness to greet his Moon.

Knowing their fate, the planets aligned, nodded their goodbyes, and one by one, were consumed by the Sun. Mercury, Venus, gone in a puff. Still, the Moon, in love with the Sun, eager to become one with him, took her place in syzygy, offering her Mother planet one last moment of clear, cool shade, the last and only protection she could ever give.

Sun approached Moon slowly, yet suddenly. “At last,” he whispered as he enveloped her coolness.

Moon watched Sun approach at full speed, ready to join him after billions of years of separation. Even in death, he raced ahead. Even in death, he warmed her core, protected her, annihilated her.

Earth watched her beloved Moon evaporate in love, took a deep breath, gave a nod to Mars, and joined the endless flow of the Universe.

Far, far away, in the Perseus arm, a star was born.

Bile

Insanity burns in my soul

Charting a new course with no map

No roads

No vehicle save my hands and feet.

Crawling towards salvation

Re-learning how to walk on my own

How to run on my own

Reconstruct from ruins, a shattered splintered life.

Desperation is my glue, hope is the hammer I wield on the nails of determination.

My words are my machete through the tangled forest apocalypse.

And but so…

As often happens in writing, one of my #31ShortHorrors turned into a longer story, then it gobbled up some poetry, got a little weird, and is still in progress. I predict it will end up in the novella-range in terms of length.

I will post excerpts of it here for your perusal. Eventually the entire work will be posted in Smashwords (alongside currently available short pieces and poetry).

Stay tuned!