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ON THE COVER
An Affair Of Sorcerers
By George C. Chesbro
June, 2007, 16:10

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Nightmare time. I'd have expected something to do with werewolves and goblins, but it wasn't like that at all. I was at the bottom of some desert valley in which the colors were all wrong; low, green plastic sky, gray cactus and sagebrush, purple sand and stone. I was surrounded by figures that looked like people, but weren't. As if to confirm my suspicion, one of them pulled back his lips to reveal long snake-fangs. Slowly, in ballet-unison, all of the figures lifted their arms and wriggled their fingers: suddenly the air was filled with the deadly, rustling song of rattlesnakes. Then the figures began to change into snakes. A few, unable to complete the transition, exploded soundlessly. The rest completed their metamorphosis—almost; I was ringed by rattlesnakes with human faces.

It was all too absurd to take seriously. I knew I was dreaming, and I decided to wait patiently until I woke up.

My patience became a little strained when the snakes started to crawl toward me. Dream or not, the human faces on the scaled, limbless bodies repulsed me. I didn't want to be bitten. I instinctively reached out for a rock; one of the snakes hurtled through the air and buried its fangs in my right thumb. It hurt far more than such dream-things should, and I was relieved to feel the heavy-lidded, swirling sensation of vertigo that was always my passport to consciousness. The screen inside my head went blank and I slowly became aware of my bed, my pillow, the sheet over me, the hum of the air conditioning.

I was definitely awake, but my thumb still hurt. Something was wrong.

Something was gnawing on my thumb. 

Tiny needles of fire and ice were vibrating in my flesh, grinding down to the bone. I sat bolt upright in bed and shrieked when I saw the dark, fluttering shape hanging from my thumb. I jumped out of bed and violently shook my hand, but the thing wouldn't come off. Bony, cold wings flapped against my hand, and I knew with sudden, chilling certainty what it was—and what was wrong with it.

Groaning aloud with revulsion and terror, I reached over with my left hand, wrapped my fingers around the bat and yanked it off my thumb. It took all my willpower to hang on to the writhing animal, but I knew I had to keep my head. My entire body was quaking, oozing sweat, but I managed to walk across the room, turn on the light and examine the bat. It had worked one cold, skin-covered wing free and was flapping it against me in a mindless, disease-powered frenzy. Its body kept churning, and I could feel its tiny, clawed feet scratching against my palm and wrist The maw with its tiny needle teeth was covered with froth and blood. The flesh on my right thumb where it had been chewing was shredded; blood and flecks of saliva covered my hand.

I gagged and tasted sour bile in the back of my throat. Desperately hoping that it was all a dream-within-a-dream; I screwed my eyes shut and waited to wake up. But I was awake. The tiny, muscular body squirmed; I could feel its soft, throbbing belly, wire like veins, slimy feces lubricating my hand. In a few more seconds it would wriggle its way free.

Fighting off a strong compulsion to vomit, I staggered back across the room and used my free hand to remove the pillowcase from my pillow. I dropped the bat into it, then beat the shape to death with a shoe. Groaning and whimpering like a maniac, I kept pounding the stained pillowcase long after the creature inside it was dead.

I wrapped the package in plastic, washed off my hands with alcohol and bandaged my thumb as best I could. I tried to keep my mind off what I knew was inevitably before me as I dressed, picked up the plastic bag and went down to my car. I couldn't stop shaking. With the bundle on the seat beside me, I careened through the night streets of Manhattan to the university Medical Center. I didn't want to die that way, and I tried not to think of the deadly germs coursing through my system at that very moment, being carried by my bloodstream toward my brain.

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