by Joel M. Traylor

“There won’t be any training.”

Nobody moves, and we just stare at the commander. He’s young, promoted too quickly, clearly out of his depth. And he’s scared.

“They’re already here.” His voice quivers. “I’m sorry, but you’re on your own now.”

As his words sink in, the world lurches in a thunderous roar. People scream as debris fills the air.

I pull myself off the ground and barely keep my feet as another explosion rocks the gymnasium turned emergency shelter. Through the smoke, civilians and military swarm over each other, some rushing the exits, most not sure what to do. Tables crash to the ground, and I’m nearly knocked over by a big man pushing past me.

My backpack is on the ground, open, its contents spilled around it. I grab the military-issue rations, water packets, and flashlight. There’s also a map, some matches and a hand-crank radio I’ve managed to scavenge. All of it goes into my bag.

A pistol rests in a pile of busted drywall a couple steps away, and no one seems to see it. I snatch it up and jam it into my belt.

I haven’t encountered one up close yet, but we’ve all seen the pictures. They’re over ten feet tall with massive claws and faces full of teeth, walking nightmares come to Earth to kill us all. Their six eyes miss nothing, and they don’t hesitate. The commander told us to always run, never engage. You get close and you’re dead; it’s that simple. A pistol probably won’t do much, but it helps a little to feel it pinching against my skin.

The commander is gone, and the military personnel stand in groups busy with their own agendas. I need to find my wife, and it’s two miles to our apartment. Time to move.

I push my way past a coughing old lady and almost fall tripping over a chair. As I near the exit door, I pull my phone out and dial my wife. Fast busy, no surprise. No one has been able to get a call out since it started.

I open the emergency exit, and the light and heat almost knock me down. The Southern California sun is a spotlight, and it has to be 100 degrees. I put a hand up and step through.

“Where are you going?”

I turn. It’s the commander.

“I need to find my wife,” I respond.

“You need to stay here,” he says.

“This isn’t optional.”

“They’ll kill you.”

I shrug. “You’ve never been in love, have you?” And then I let the door close behind me.


The Pit

by Joel M. Traylor

Sir Valerus brushed his blond hair aside as he squinted down into the pit. A nasty collection of sharpened spikes stared back at him, their tips coated with a dark liquid – poison, no doubt. It was maybe thirty feet to the bottom, give or take. If one somehow survived the fall and miraculously avoided the spikes, there would be no climbing back out; the smooth walls offered no purchase. The pit extended from wall to wall, and he judged the distance across to be nearly twenty feet. A narrow beam of a bridge had been raised up on the other side, and the release lever waited nearby. It would take an incredible leap, but incredible had always been the knight’s specialty. He began peeling off his gauntlets.The Pit

“Are you mad?” Kestral the useless young mage asked over his shoulder. “It’s too far.”

“Why don’t you cast a spell to fly me across?” Valerus fired back, setting his iron helmet down on the stone floor. He unstrapped his sheathed sword next.

“I have no spell for that,” Kestral said. Valerus could hear his embarrassment.

“We’ll find another way in.” This was Horrock the thief. He had tried over a dozen times to catch the release lever with a noosed rope, and he had missed every time.

“There is no other way,” Valerus said. He stood up and handed Horrock his chest plate. “Hang onto this for me. I’ll be right back.”

“You cocky shit,” Horrock said. “You’re going to kill yourself.”


Valerus turned and walked back down the hallway. Twenty paces ought to do it. He turned and took a very deep breath.

“The kingdom needs me,” he stated. “And I shall not disappoint her.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Horrock said.

“Thank you for your kind words of support,” Valerus said and smiled. He had never backed down from a challenge, and he wasn’t going to start this day.

He ran, his boots pounding stone, lungs sucking air. And then he leapt, his muscles flexing, feet pushing off. The walls slid by, and he knew he would make it. And he did. His boot hit stone, and his momentum threw him forward.

He heard the crack, and the stone gave way. He grabbed at the eroding edge, but his hands found nothing to grip. And then he was falling back into the open air. Into the pit.



by Joel M. Traylor

The creep broke in on Tuesday close to midnight. I heard the doorknob jiggle and made my way to the living room, silent steps across the hardwoods in the dark of the apartment. Scratching and fumbling, and then the lock yielded with a hard click. I fell back into the shadows as the door opened without a creak, and the man stepped inside.

CreeperHe had been watching her for days. Many men watched her because of her beauty, but this man was persistent. I had seen him meandering up and down the block, and sometimes he loitered at the bus stop across the street. He never looked directly at our building, just quick and careful glances. But he stared at her when she walked, when she stepped into the café for a to-go tea, when she hailed a cab, when she breathed.

The man tucked his tools into his pocket, stepped inside and gently closed the door. He was impressive in his plainness, his charcoal gray button-down shirt tucked into blue jeans. He kept his brown hair trimmed and parted on the side. Glasses with round frames rested on his completely average nose. He might have been in his late thirties, not that anyone would remember him.

He inhaled slowly, no doubt tasting the scent of her that permeated the cozy space. He looked to the hallway and paused, listening. There was no sound besides passing traffic and a distant car alarm. One foot after another, he slipped down the hall without a sound until he stood in the doorway.

Over his shoulder, I could see her sleeping. She still hugged the left edge of the queen bed, the other side now empty. Her brown hair played across her cheek, her lips parted slightly. She seemed entirely at peace.

The man produced a pair of long zip-ties and stepped slowly into the room. I could not bear to watch. I would have to reveal myself soon, before it was too late. I had to protect her. She still needed me. I had to take care of this. I had to take care of her.

She moved in a blur, and something hard connected with the man’s head. He dropped to the floor. She stood over him, a wooden baseball bat in her hand.

I sighed relief, and she stared at me for the first time for months, directly at me.

“John?” she asked, her eyes wide, pleading, tears forming at the edges. “Is that you?”

The room darkened as I began to lessen. My work here was done. She would be okay. I could finally see that she could take care of herself now.


Waiting for the Guy

Our landlord said the guy would be here between 8 and 9 this morning. It’s 9:07, and he (assuming it’s a he) is still not here. Is he ever going to show up? Is he okay? Should I call someone? The coffee isn’t helping. I should probably drink less coffee. Definitely should drink less coffee.

Our apartment has stuff that needs fixing. The grout around our bathtub is disintegrating. In my mind this means the walls and tile will erode away, and the tub will eventually fall into the earth. Granted, water damage is more realistic, but I’d rather not deal with either scenario. In addition to the tub, the support mechanisms under a kitchen drawer broke a couple months ago. I fixed it by propping it up with a commemorative DVD tin of Repo Man. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say “fixed.”

Repo ManI could probably repair some of these things myself, but we rent. And I’m not good at repairing. Our landlord would rather send someone out than have me make things worse. I recently tried to unclog our bathroom drain with a stick-thing I ordered from Amazon. I’m pretty sure the stick-thing just shoved the blockage farther down the pipe and plugged the drain completely. This did not make our landlord happy.

So now I wait. I’m fine with idle time, but I’m trying to be less idle these days. I’m diving back into fiction, but it’s been a painful process so far. As we all know, a surefire way to manifest the guy would be to start trying to write something. So no fiction. This will likely derail all attempts at writing for the day because creativity can be a fickle and fragile thing.

I can’t do laundry because our laundry room elsewhere in our apartment building. What if the guy comes while I’m putting my clothes in the wash? And what could be worse than missing the guy?

I also can’t go anywhere because we have a dog. Her name is Sparkle. Sparkle HATES it when anyone comes to the door. She loses her fucking mind. UPS: “Hi, I’m a nice delivery person bringing you that cool thing you ordered from Amazon.” Sparkle: “Die, motherfucker! Die! Die! Die!” She’s all talk, though. As soon as anyone comes inside, she just wants to say hello and hang out with them.

9:17 AM

Multiple guys arrived. I explained the problem, and the guys are now working with gusto. A painter is also scheduled to come by tomorrow. Shit is happening!

I should probably work on my patience. I should probably also write.