Sunday, September 18, 2022

Tales of Seven Kingdoms

From the novel Tales of Seven Kingdoms by William Hammett
Copyright William Hammett 2016, 2022
All Rights Reserved


Haven Ballindor had lived in the Seventh Kingdom all of his thirty-five years. He was a tracker by trade and dressed in a green shirt and brown breeches made from double-thick cloth. His garb afforded him camouflage when looking for invaders from the Second Kingdom to the south—or from the black wolves that hunted at twilight. His blond hair tumbled from beneath a broad-brimmed hat, and many maidens from the village of Artax had tried and failed to lure him into courtship and marriage. The lives of most trackers were surrounded by a fair amount of folklore, most of it apocryphal, but Haven’s reputation had been validated on more than one occasion when he dragged a dead wolf or captive invader to the village square before turning on his heels in silence and returning to the forest.


Haven had been a member of the Veedish priesthood in his twenties, and he still maintained his vow of silence unless communication with pilgrims traveling through the woods was absolutely necessary. He had renounced the spells and magic of his brethren as too dangerous to use, and their strict regimen of prayer, chanting, meditation, and farm labor had lost its appeal. He was too independent to live an entire lifetime under the yoke of such routine, and he questioned many of the myths that formed the foundation of the priestly brotherhood eons earlier. He was a solitary man who was at home in his cabin under the giant redwood trees, and he was happiest when he puffed on his pipe in front of the hearth in the evenings after a dinner of venison and cabbage. He was mesmerized by the birch flames and often found himself in a reverie as to whether there really was an eighth kingdom, a kingdom for those who had passed from earthly existence. He wasn’t sure if such a realm existed, though if magic was real—and he knew that it was—the afterlife didn’t seem altogether unlikely.


It was on such an evening, the sun having left the forest dark except for the glowing eyes of the golden raven, when there was a knock on the rough-hewn wooden door of his home. He rarely received visitors, who were usually travelers who had lost their way because they failed to make camp when twilight had turned the sky orange and crimson. Haven rose from his hand-carved rocking chair and walked to the door.


“Who wishes admittance?” he asked.


“It is Maybeth,” a timid voice replied.


Haven unbolted the door and saw the comeliest maid from Artax standing in the darkness. The light from his hearth was sufficient to illuminate her face, painting her flawless skin gold. She was no more than twenty-two, and she wore a black robe surrounded by a red cape, its cowl pushed back below her shoulders. Her brown hair fell to the middle of her back, where it curled into beautiful ringlets. Her eyes were blue and reminded the tracker of precious gems. She was stunningly beautiful. Haven had renounced his vow of celibacy, and on more than one occasion he had considered courting Maybeth but for the fact that he cherished his solitude. Perhaps he had retained more of the priesthood’s holy rule than he liked to admit.

“May I have a word?” Maybeth repeated.


Haven stepped aside as he motioned for the maiden to enter and be seated at a chair opposite his rocker. A day or two of stubble usually adorned his cheeks and chin since he didn’t run into many people given his solitary lifestyle, but he now wished that he’d shaved that morning using his grandfather’s pearl-handled straight-edge blade. Most of the people who crossed the threshold of his cabin were other trackers or traders, scouts, and those on pilgrimage to the Holy Mountains of Tindergaard to the east. A fair maiden such as Maybeth had never entered Haven’s humble dwelling.


As Maybeth moved towards the fire, Haven noticed that a cylindrical brown tube was slung over her left shoulder and suspended by a length of thin rope. It was smooth and polished. The tracker knew that it had been made from the hide of the five-horned cattle common in the Second Kingdom.


“How long have you been journeying?” Haven inquired. “Have you come from Artax?”


“Two days and a night. I traveled to the lowlands to the south to sea my parents. They have been feverish, and I brought medicinal herbs and teas to aid in their recovery.”


Haven nodded. “Very kind of you. Speaking of tea, would you care for a cup? The water on the woodstove is still hot.”

“Yes, but I shall make it myself. In my pouch I carry the crushed leaves of the hayberry plant. It makes a most refreshing beverage.”


“As you wish,” Haven said, motioning to the corner of his cabin that he called a kitchen.


Maybeth removed her outer cloak and the tube she was carrying and laid them across another chair near the rocker. She proceeded to pour steaming water from a brightly-polished copper kettle into two clay cups after she had deposited crushed hayberry leaves in each. She stirred the tea with a wooden spoon and handed a cup to her host.


“It is sweet,” she said, “but not overly so.” Haven sipped the concoction and smiled. “It is very good. It is similar to glade root, but without the bitterness. Why have you seen fit to travel through the forest at night and knock on my cabin door? Surely not to brew me tea. You are aware, of course, that wolves and ravens are about at this hour.”


“I am unafraid of them,” she replied. “They only attack if they sense fear, and my parents and grandparents taught me how to control my emotions in most situations. Traveling with confidence and courage is as useful as traveling with a weapon.”


“Just so. Your parents taught you wisely. Fear produces a scent that attracts many predators. But you still haven’t told me why you’re here.” Haven had by now drained his cup, and his sight grew blurry. The figure before him was transforming, as if standing in a heat shimmer in the the center of a green meadow on a bright summer day.


“Who … what . . . ?” Haven stammered.


A tall brunette woman, slim and dressed in a silk white robe stood where Maybeth had been a moment earlier. “The hayberry tea had special ingredients,” she said, “which is why I insisted on preparing it.”


Haven turned his head slightly and squinted. Before him stood Simone el-Kithra—Simone of the House of Kithra, which ruled the Third Kingdom. She was also a powerful witch whose powers were legendary throughout the seven kingdoms. Her hair was raven and straight, her cheekbones high, and while she was beautiful, her beauty was severe and her gaze disarming.


“What are you doing here?” Haven queried as the fog cleared from his brain. “I have no business with you?”


“Ah, but you do,” the queen answered, pulling out a tanned parchment from the leather tube. She unrolled it and spread it across the supper table in the middle of the cabin. “Stand by my side,” she ordered the tracker, taking his arm. She could feel his strong muscular frame as she drew him close and pointed at the parchment.


“This is a battle plan for invading the Seventh Kingdom,” he said, his brow creased. “Why do you wish to break the peace that has existed between out realms for over a hundred years? The Treaty of Uthmar has held steady for ten decades, preventing much bloodshed while allowing for trade between our peoples. Such a balance was not easy to achieve and cost many men their lives in the costly battles that preceded it.”


“But it has been an uneasy peace. Many in my kingdom still believe that your land rightly belongs to the House of Kithra and have long urged my ancestors to regain tis land and restore the pride that made us great, a greatness that was unrivalled over the entire continent. Your people would be treated well if they only succumbed to our wishes. We have sent envoys for many years to seek such reunification.”


“Nonsense,” Haven said. “The kingdoms were never unified to begin with. We have as much pride as Kithrans. Our liege, King Ayelborne of the House of Silvans has rejected your claim as false for many years. We Silvans wish to create our own destiny.”


Queen Simone stepped back from the table and closed her eyes for a full minute as if contemplating her answer. Haven could not help but admire the smoothness of her pale skin and comely features that charmed many but terrified others. He was unsettled by her presence in his home, but he knew that it was important for him to remain calm and keep his resolve when it came to the sovereignty of his countrymen. Simone was legendary for being able to read the temperament and body language of those in her presence. He wanted to remain resolute, but he was all too aware that Simone could cast powerful spells. It was rumored that many who were admitted to her presence had been turned to statues if they displeased her in any way.


“I admire your dedication and strength,” she said at last, “but your soldiers are no match for the many legions of troops that I command. We would rather assimilate than destroy you, but we will do what we must. In either scenario, I will need a Silvan to act as diplomat or general, whichever role is necessary for our conquest, and I choose you, Haven Ballindor.”


She looked Haven in the eye, and in that brief moment he wondered whether or not he was being bewitched. Had she claimed his soul? Compromised his free will?”


“I will also need a lover,” she declared. “I wish to have a child by someone with your intelligence, strength, and … yes, your ruggedly handsome features. Such a union would also make our assimilation of your culture far easier for the House of Kithra. Houses sealed by common offspring often create a new and lasting peace. In time, upon our marriage, you would become a prince of Kthra, the queen’s consort.”


“You have no need of a lowly tracker,” Haven stated, unpersuaded by Simone’s logic.


“Do you not think that someone as myself does not know your real identity?” she retorted. “You are a high priest in the Veedish Brotherhood. It is known by those who are familiar with your order that you are a mystic and a soothsayer, someone who can even levitate off the ground after several hours of Veedish meditation.”


Haven shook his head as he seated himself in the rocker. “You are quite mad. I have no desire to be your consort, nor do I desire your body. I will not help you attain your goal, and you may find Silvans more formidable in battle than you imagine.”


Simone crossed her arms and spread her red lips into a thin smile.


“Perhaps you may find Maybeth more to your liking. Everyone knows of your secret desire for the young woman, but she is of lowly birth and not worthy of your time or attention.”


Haven closed his eyes briefly, resenting the mention of Maybeth by the powerful witch. When he opened his eyes again, he was lying on the rough cloth enclosing his straw mattress. Sitting on the side on the trundle bed was Maybeth, who stroked his cheek lightly.


“You had a nasty fall, Mater Ballindor,” the woman said. “Shall I get a damp cloth for your forehead?”


Haven rubbed his right temple. “I must have had a bad dream. How long was I unconscious?”


“Just a few moments, my lord.”


“Excuse my clumsiness. You should probably leave now, mistress. It is getting late.”


Haven was trying to recall the strange dream of Simone el-Kithra. He didn’t remember falling, and if he had indeed been dreaming, the dream had been both lucid and specific, its images as clear as any waking reality as compared to the surrealistic images one experienced while asleep. He was about to speak when Maybeth leaned down and pressed her lips against his. Haven did not resist. He put his arms around her waist and pulled her close until she lay next to his body on the trundle bed. He stared into her soft blue eyes for several seconds. She was wearing a pleasing scent, and he could feel her breath—so sweet—upon his face.”


“I have always loved you,” he proclaimed in a whisper.


“And I you,” she said. kissing him again, this time with far greater passion. “Now give me your seed.”

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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Bikers for God (flash fiction--literary)

Originally published in Zen Fiction Review
Copyright William Hammett 2015, 2022
All Rights Reserved

There are twenty bikers in all.  They dress in black leather jackets and wear aviator sunglasses, as you would expect them to.  Beneath their World War I helmets, most have long hair pulled into ponytails that whip in the wind as they round sharp turns while riding in precise formation across America.  They utter very few words given the gravity of their mission, which is to clear streets and roads in preparation for the Apocalypse.

They ride through city and countryside, picking up trash and tending to the homeless.  They escort widows and orphans to shelters and pass out bottled water and blankets to the thirsty and the naked.  They occasionally call numbers at Knights of Columbus bingo halls and try to keep order at outdoor rock concerts.

Mostly, they move abandoned cars off streets, roads, and highways so that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will have a straight shot when they're ready to ride as thrones and dominions peel back the sky like the lid of a sardine can. 

When not on their Harleys, the bikers can usually be seen staring at the sky, waiting.

~William Hammett

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Friday, August 12, 2022

Einstein's Merry-Go-Round (science fiction--flash fiction)

Originally Published in Threepenny and Sixpence
Copyright William Hammett 2015, 2018, 2022
All Rights Reserved

Sam Palmer was seventy-six and lived on a fixed income.  He worked the merry-go-round at the local amusement park in the suburbs of Kansas City to bring in a little extra income.  He was a pleasant fellow despite having a few melancholy days on occasion.  Life had passed by so quickly.  His wife had died ten years earlier, and his two children had moved away decades ago.  In the time it took to blink, his entire life had whizzed by in a blur like the carousel he spun five days a week.

Sam liked to read books, from detective stories to weighty tomes on quantum physics.  It helped pass the time and kept his mind sharp.  He was sitting in his straight-back wooden chair one Saturday morning, having pulled the large wooden lever to set the merry-go-round in motion yet again, when he recalled Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.  Einstein's famous treatise stated that people theoretically aged more slowly as they approached the speed of light.  The faster one went, the slower one aged.  In the early days of the space race, astronauts returned to earth a few seconds younger than they normally would have been if they'd stayed on terra firma.

Sam smiled and let the carousel whirl a few extra times before he slowed the great machine by easing back on the wooden handle.  By God, he still had a mission in life.  The carousel didn't move as fast as rocket ships, but move they did.  A child seated on a painted horse was going faster than he would go if just walking or running.  Unknowingly, Sam had been helping his young patrons slow the aging process if only by a nanosecond or two.  Maybe that's all they'd need to get a leg-up in life.  Every moment, or fraction thereof, was precious.

Sam began giving out free rides when his boss wasn't looking.  And he continued to allow the carousel a few extra spins each time he set the colorful machine in motion.  Decades after he was buried, the children wouldn't look back and think that life had passed them by.  Sam would have given them a few extra blinks of the eye.

~William Hammett

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Thursday, August 11, 2022

A Prescription from the Heavens (literary--flash fiction)

Originally Published in Short Short: The Journal of Micro-Fiction
Copyright William Hammett 2012, 2015, 2022
All Rights Reserved

Norma Whitehead of Surrey, England was obsessive-compulsive.  She was compelled to touch every doorknob she passed.  She was equally compelled to wash her hands after touching each of the knobs.  She daily checked every picture in her home to make sure it was straight since passing trucks on the street had a tendency to shake the house a bit.  She couldn't pass a table without swiping her index finger along its edge to make sure that it was free of dust.  For Norma, life was comprised of an endless series of chores consisting of maintaining order, balance, and equilibrium in her universe.  Her husband Henry suggested that she take Prozac, but Norma didn't want chemicals sluicing through her veins.  Besides, she didn't mind the disorder.  She felt that more people needed to pay attention to the smaller things in life.

Norma and Henry were sitting and watching television on a Tuesday evening when her life changed forever.  The couple sat on their living room couch, which was exactly ten-feet-five-inches away from the TV screen since she'd read an article in the Guardian that claimed this was the perfect distance to avoid harmful radiation from the TV's cathode ray tube.  It was also the perfect distance to maintain proper eye health.  Sitting too close to the screen exposed the eye to far too much brightness.  Sitting too far away caused eye strain.

The event sounded like a small explosion.  There was smoke and debris, and Norma and Henry climbed from the floor to see a gaping hole above them.  A small meteorite had slammed through the roof and ceiling and knocked Norma unconscious for a full minute.  She seemed perfectly fine, however, when the neighbors showed up at the front door to see what all the fuss was about.

"It's nothing," Norma explained as she picked up broken objects from the living room floor.  "Just a meteorite."

Henry was perplexed.  Norma was handling the debris--there was a lot of powder and dirt on the floor--without worrying about getting her hands dirty.  From that night on, she lived a life free of OCD.  A doctor subsequently told her that the knock on her noggin had changed the electrical currents in her brain, which had, for all intents and purposes, been cosmically rewired.  The meteorite had been a prescription from heaven.

Norma also had a changed mindset.  If one couldn't guard against something as dramatic as being hit by a meteorite--what were the odds?--there wasn't much reason to worry about things a lot less important, like whether pictures are plumb or tables are free of dust.  "Life just has to happen," Norma told a local reporter.  "You've got to go with the flow.  As Hamlet said, there's providence in the fall of a sparrow.  Or a meteorite."

~William Hammett

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Yellow Number Two Computer (literary--flash fiction)

Copyright William Hammett 2015, 2022
All Rights Reserved

Wally was thrown out of his suburban home by his wife, who thought he was too opinionated.  In Wally's defense, it should be noted that she was addicted to amphetamines and was usually on edge.  He'd also lost his job as a developer of food additives, a job that had been outsourced to China.

Wally retreated to the woods and decided to write his memoir.  He lived in a shed and ate wild onions, berries, and dandelion greens.  He felt great.  He wrote most of the day and used a number two yellow pencil.  His life was therefore rendered in graphite on a yellow legal pad.

At peace with his humble surroundings and duties, he realized that he had the best computer in the world: his pencil.  It didn't need updates and was immune to viruses and hackers.  Mistakes were corrected with an eraser at the end of the pencil.  And it required no maintenance other than an occasional sharpening.  Best of all, it was compact and cheap.  He was able to buy a new one whenever one of his yellow number twos got too short.

That's when Wally had a brainstorm.  He sold his yellow pencils on a TV shopping channel, advertising them as the most efficient computers in the world.  He made twenty million dollars in six months.  It was more than a novelty item.  It worked.

Wally is now working on his next big product rollout, which is the finest toy ever made: a cardboard box.  Not a kid in the world can resist crawling into a large cardboard box and claiming himself, like Hamlet, to be king of infinite space.  The boxes are safe, inexpensive, and foster the imaginations of young children.  He has advance orders for fifty million units.

Wally still lives in the woods, where there are no distractions.  He claims that his modest lifestyle gives him a competitive entrepreneurial edge.  For Wally, life is grand.  Now a successful businessman, Wally sold his memoir for a five-million-dollar advance.  As for his wife, she married a tractor salesman with no opinions.

~William Hammett

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Friday, August 5, 2022

The Flying Carpet Underground (flash fiction--fantasy)

Copyright William Hammett 2015, 2022

As you might expect, the grandmother's name is Nana. She lives in an old Victorian home in need of repair, a ramshackle house with wings and porches and chimneys jutting this way and that like an uneven deck of cards. In the basement, Nana weaves throw rugs on her antiquated loom. She makes them with prayer and humility.

Across the meadow from her home is a modern town, on the edge of which sits a factory filled with dirty orphans working oily machines from dawn to dusk. The factory produces metal gizmos, although no one in town knows what they're used for.  They're shipped by rail to parts unknown. 

The orphans live in a large brick building near Nana's home. It's dreary and looks like a prison, and in some ways it is. Sometimes Nana sneaks into the orphans' dormitory and gives them extra food and a rug to place next to their beds so that their feet will be warm on cold winter mornings. But the rugs are imbued with Nana's boundless love of all creatures. She doesn't know it, but the rugs are magic carpets. One by one, the orphans are escaping, floating away in the night to families who welcome them with open arms.

The factory manager thinks the missing children are just runaways. With each passing month, the factory produces fewer and fewer gizmos. Nana's flying carpet underground is slowly shutting down the factory with a little prayer and humility. Not bad work when you can get it.

~William Hammett

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Permanent Record of Jude Wells (flash fiction--literary)

First published in Micro-Fiction Monthly
Copyright William Hammett 2015, 2022
All Rights Reserved

It's not like Jude Wells, electrical engineer and upstanding citizen of Carbondale, Illinois, hadn't been forewarned. Like everyone in the United States, he'd been told by his teachers that everything he did would follow him for the rest of his life.

Jude was stopped on a dark Monday evening by the Carbondale police for running a red light. Jude firmly believed that the light had been yellow when the tail of his Ford Taurus cleared the intersection, but Officer Warren Faulkner disagreed. Jude received a ticket.

At traffic court three weeks later, Jude pleaded not guilty, but Judge Clyde Muggers threw the book at him after the bailiff handed His Honor a file while whispering in his ear.

"You can't evade the consequences of your actions any longer, Mr. Wells," declared the judge. "I'm looking at your permanent record, and I don't think we can risk any further missteps on your part."


"It says here," continued the judge, "that you were punished in third grade for talking in class. You also failed a math test in sixth grade, a test on fractions. You being an engineer, I don't have to impress upon you the importance of fractions. And then there was your suspension from the varsity track team in high school, as well as your first set of ACT scores."

"How do you know all this?" Jude asked, perplexed.

The judge merely held up Jude's file, his permanent record, which had been housed in an underground warehouse in Wyoming for thirty-eight years.  It's right next to the warehouse where everyone's IQ scores are kept.

Jude Wells was sentenced to twenty years of intense personal reflection at the state penitentiary. His permanent record had finally caught up with him.

~William Hammett

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Monday, August 1, 2022

The Court of Public Opinion (flash fiction--literary)

Originally published in The Best of Short Short Fiction 2014
Copyright William Hammett 2012, 2014, 2022
All Rights Reserved

Frustrated, Oliver Bloom quit his job at a prestigious New York investment firm.  He was tired of trading in pork futures and managing hedge funds, which enabled clients to bet against their own investments in case of a market downturn. Oliver felt that all was not right between himself and God. He gave all his money to the poor.

Not wishing to be a burden on anyone, he pocketed a few seed packets from a local plant nursery on Long Island, fully intending to return the two dollars and ninety-eight cents as soon as possible. He wanted to find a small parcel of public land and grow vegetables so as not to be a burden on taxpaying citizens. Unfortunately, the clerk caught Oliver shoplifting the seeds and called the local police.

Oliver was arrested and stood before a local judge the next day. The judge wasn't sure what to do with the defendant standing before him.  Oliver was a well-intentioned man who was trying to live an honest life. The judge had lost a lot of money in pork futures and admired Oliver's mindset and rugged individualism. He decided that he couldn't render a verdict.  He turned the case over to the Court of Public Opinion.

It took a couple of weeks to get the attention of people across the world, but thanks to social media, the earth's seven billion people focused on the Town of Nassau vs. Oliver Bloom. The verdict was unanimous, which was remarkable given that the jury was comprised of seven billion people. It was decided that Oliver had indeed committed a crime, but not a really bad one. He was sentenced to plant several acres of vegetables for poor people.

The Supreme Court of the United States overturned the verdict, claiming that Wall Street had been made to look bad during the proceedings of the trial. Most of the justices had investments in hedge funds. The Court of Popular Opinion overturned the Supreme Court, however, and the justices were sentenced to planting vegetables for poor people.

~William Hammett

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Friday, July 29, 2022


 Welcome to William Hammett's Fiction Blog. I'm an author under my own name as well as a ghostwriter. Two of the more frequent questions I'm asked is "What kind of style do you use?" and "May I see a writing sample?" Actually, I use the style that fits the project for any given client. Any professional ghostwriter who cannot vary style to fit a client's needs or the genre or project at hand is in the wrong business.

All of the writing samples on this site were written by me and reflect the many genres that I've been interested in over the years as well as a diversity of styles I've used. I have always enjoyed trying out new things when it comes to writing, which is one the qualities I possess that I believe makes me a great ghostwriter.

Please browse the writing samples by using the Site Map to guide you to the index of all samples. These samples are, for the most part, excerpts from novels I have written, and all are formally copyrighted according to copyright law as codified by the U. S. Copyright Office. No sample may be used or reproduced in any medium without my express written permission.

Some of the samples are complete short stories, and others are flash fiction. These too are copyrighted under my own name even if they have previously appeared in literary journals, which is the case for several.

Many of the books in which these excerpts appear (or appeared) are on Amazon while others are out of print. Some are currently under consideration by literary agents or publishing houses. All are copyrighted.

If you're looking for a ghostwriter, I hope you'll find this site useful. But remember that the style I use for a client may be totally unique and not represented here.

Thanks for stopping by!

~William Hammett

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Flash Fiction

Many of the samples on this site are flash fiction, but what exactly is "flash fiction"? Flash fiction is a very short story that may run 250 words to 1,000 words, although most of these short works average 500 words. They may be about anything and represent both literary fiction as well as other genres of fiction, such as romance, horror, science fiction, western, romance, thriller, suspense, and more.

Writing flash fiction can be challenging since an entire plot must be condensed to fit this unique format. That having been said, flash fiction may only hint at thematic elements, and it is the reader's task to infer larger meanings from the piece. In that sense, it is not unlike poetry, the defining characteristic of which is brevity (in most cases) and a compression of ideas. In essence, a work of flash fiction is a vignette, a brief narrative that seeks to convey a maximum amount of information in as short a space as possible.

Many consider Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology and its sequel, Across Spoon River, to be a collection of flash fiction pieces given that the hundreds of entries in these works are very brief prose poems that tell the stories of characters that, when taken together, comprise a complete picture of a small town. It is a highly experimental and innovative work that deserves more attention than it gets.

Some of the more notable writers of flash fiction are Joyce Carol Oates, David Barthelme, and Amy Hempel. Looking back at literary greats, however, the list is much longer. Some of the more famous practitioners of the "short short story" are O. Henry, Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Garrison Keillor, Philip K. Dick, Walt Whitman, Ambrose Bierce, Kate Chopin, and H.P. Lovecraft. While flash fiction is not published as widely as novels and regular-length short stories, most literary journals and magazines with a literary bent, such as the New Yorker, publish the format.

One of my favorite flash fiction writers is Richard Brautigan, and a majority of my own flash fiction work resembles the flavor of Brautigan's short tales in that they are humorous and at times surrealistic.

Several examples of my flash fiction are exhibited on this site (and more will be featured in the future). I hope you will take the time to explore this very rewarding literary format.

~William Hammett

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Monday, July 25, 2022

The Queen of Jarvis Avenue (Horror)

Chapter One


She was the Queen of Jarvis Avenue, though no one outside of the warehouse district would have mistaken her for royalty.  She was a light-skinned African in her fifties, tattered black and yellow veils trailing behind her as she pulled her rusty wagon along the deserted street.   The other residents of the district simply called her Queen.  No one in this area, in fact, used his or her real name.  This was a no man’s land where even cop cruisers didn’t patrol.  No one here was a real person as far as society was concerned.


            Society didn’t exist within these borders, at least not in the conventional sense of the term.  Society lay somewhere beyond the ten square blocks of dilapidated buildings and abandoned warehouses where signs announced their faded presences like weary, crucified ghosts: Columbian Coffee Imports; Riverside Wire and Cable; Louisiana Paper; Jarvis Street Welding.  Society was what inhabitants of the area left behind when they took up residence in the alleys and weed-strewn lots and vacant office buildings.

            The Badlands, as the area was known, was a place for broken souls and ruined lives, a place where the needle was very much alive, and dreams—how ludicrous!—were dead or dying.

            Queen pulled her wagon slowly, wheels complaining, past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a sagging edifice that God himself had vacated many years before when local businesses began to relocate to suburban New Orleans.  Irish immigrants erected the church in 1858 and worshipped in the cathedral for several decades while they dug an intricate canal system throughout New Orleans, thousands of workers dying of malaria and cholera because of the mosquito-infested swamps they worked in.  St. Patrick’s was said to have more than its fair share of ghosts seeking a wee nip of altar wine.  By 1970, most of the church’s stained glass windows were shattered, pigeons cooing peculiar hymns near the vaulted ceiling.

            The wagon squeaked and clattered over the broken concrete sidewalk, knee-high weeds claiming the cracks, as Queen walked up Jarvis Avenue.  Her old Red Flyer held the instruments of her divinations, for she was priestess and soothsayer and teller of tales.  Her mother had been a practitioner of voodoo; her aunt had been a Catholic nun.  Her father had been a magician, and his most outstanding trick was the way he disappeared every evening in order to buy cheap whiskey.  When Queen was fifteen, he performed his greatest trick of all: he vanished when his wife announced that she was expecting their eighth child.

            Queen hardly noticed her father’s absence.  The dreams started, the ones in which she found herself conversing with slaves who’d died on Louisiana plantations in the nineteenth century.  The dream slaves instructed her in spiritual matters, told her stories, showed her how to become an eagle, a fox, a snake.  They taught her how to mix powders and fashion amulets.  They instructed her in the sexual arts, teaching her how two women could make each other pregnant by commingling their menstrual blood when making love.

            Queen wandered away one day—no one in her large family noticed—in order to learn even greater secrets from Papa Devereaux, a voodoo priest whose ancestors came from Haiti.  Papa was the one who showed her how to mimic death, to slow both heartbeat and respiration to produce the creature known as a zombie.

            As an adult, she lived in a small apartment in the French Quarter, making her living by helping barren women to conceive.  Even Caucasian women consulted her after spending thousands of dollars on fertility clinics.  Queen’s prices were more reasonable—a few dollars for rent and groceries—and her methods more successful, if somewhat unorthodox.  Some of her potions had unexpected side-effects, however.  One of her more desperate patients gave birth to a child who was robust and healthy, if not altogether human.  There had been many inquiries from the staff of the neighborhood clinic, and even some of her friends began avoiding her.

            Queen drifted to the Badlands, where she was free of nosy neighbors and knocks on the door at midnight by people seeking love potions, people who’d heard from a friend of a friend that she possessed special powers.  She was free to live in what Papa Devereaux called “the circle,” which was a frame of mind, a way of life in which destiny and free will were allies rather than opposites.

            She was in the circle on this very afternoon, as a matter of fact, when the wind stirred her hair.  She stopped, sniffed.  A cloud scudded across the sky before becoming impaled on a chain link fence that protected the empty New Orleans Transit Yard, once home to a hundred buses.

            Something was most certainly in the air.  Queen could always tell when something unusual was going to happen.  She could tell when the Devil’s Children were going to come out of hiding.  She could sense when a tourist, dressed in khaki shorts, was going to accidentally stray into the Badlands while studying a map, a tourist who rarely made it back to his or her hotel.

            But this wasn’t a tourist she was sensing.  This was something—someone—that was very unique.

            She looked around at the battered neighborhood.  No one else was on the street.

            She bent over, taking a handful of polished stones from the Red Flyer.  Breathing deeply, she knelt down on the sidewalk, passing the stones from one hand to the other, mumbling “tell me sky and tell me wind—tell me of salvation from the father’s sin.”

            She threw the stones onto the ground, where they tumbled in a random pattern.


            Not to Queen.  She drew back suddenly, her eyes wide with surprise or fascination or some combination of both.

            “Come, little bird,” she whispered, her voice low and full of anticipation, like the first autumn wind.  “Come." 

            Queen’s upper torso spiraled, her hands outstretched, her eyes closed in a trance.  She hummed, circling some inner vision, some picture that could only be recognized by a soothsayer and teller of tales.

            The cloud impaled on the chain link fence moved on, no longer a prisoner of the Badlands.  Queen straightened up and smiled.

            The little bird—the one she’d seen in her death dream years before—was finally coming into the circle.

            A sound like thunder rumbled across the Badlands even though the sky was clear.  No storm menaced the deserted streets, but the air was nevertheless electric as the evening air turned crimson and violet.

            Another rumble echoed across Jarvis Avenue.  Queen turned to the Columbian Coffee Imports warehouse.  She wasn’t sure what the sound was.  It was too early in the month for the Devil’s Children to make their appearance, although lately she’d seen a few of the filthy urchins lurking in shadows and doorways, and that was causing Queen some concern.  Perhaps a beam inside the warehouse had become dislodged and fallen.  Perhaps a large storage drum had rolled across the warehouse floor.


            Queen resumed her journey, the Red Flyer’s wheels singing a song understood only by the blue jays perched on the chain link fence.

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Friday, July 22, 2022

It Doesn't Have to Rain at Funerals (Literary Flash Fiction)

The man stood among the mourners, looking somber and serious while dozens of black-clad figures huddled beneath dozens of black umbrellas as a steady downpour seemed to echo the sentiments of the occasion.  The deceased was being lowered into the ground.  People were sad.  Death had won again, and the sky was shedding copious tears.

Unable to hear the words of the presiding minister any longer, the man looked about, a mourner-turned-sociologist.  He felt like he was in a Hollywood movie, which almost always depicted funerals as events that occurred under glowering skies heavy with raindrops.  Movie funerals, he realized, were stereotypes, and he, for one, didn't intent to become a stereotype.  It was only raining, he reasoned, because people had expected it to rain.  Stereotypes can burrow into people's brains like worms into wood.

The man closed his umbrella and smiled.  The rain let up a bit, and a few more umbrellas were folded.  The rain slacked off even more, and that's when crowd mentality took over.  The umbrella mourners didn't want to look foolish, so they followed the non-umbrella mourners in closing up their bumbershoots as they stood reverently by the graveside.  The dark clouds and rain had all been a big misunderstanding. 

The sun came out, and everyone smiled as the minister finished ministering.  Rain and death and dark clouds, the man thought, were just a frame of mind.

"It doesn't have to rain at funerals," he proclaimed.

The mourners apparently agreed.  They all shook the man's hand after offering their condolences to the family members of the deceased.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Day of Offering (Science Fiction)

From the novel The Sky Father's Web by William Hammett
Copyright William Hammett 2018, 2022
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One


Bobby McAllister stood facing the semicircle of adults gathered on the fringe of the green town square. Behind him was the black iron statue of Lemuel Blackwood Tucker, founder of Tucker’s Ridge, Tennessee. A white cloud obscured the sun, although it was a pleasant enough August morning and a few sparrows observed from the century-old oak tree that some said looked like a blacksmith hammering a forge when the sun struck it at just the right angle in the late afternoon. A slight breeze stirred the bangs from Bobby’s forehead. He was eleven but short for his height, and the hand-me-down overalls were a size too big for him.

            “That a boy, Bobby,” a few people mumbled.

            “You can do it.”

            “Don’t be afraid. Just walk right in, and we’ll pray that you’re one of the ones who come out.”

            “God’s always with you when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” Minister Perkins intoned in a nasal voice from the edge of the crowd, five deep. He wore a black suit and held a black leather-bound Bible cracked at the binding from decades of baptizing and delivering sermons and burying townsfolk and offering comfort to lonely widows.

            I suspect you’ll be needing this,” said Ben Crick, handing Bobby a brand new claw hammer. The thin eighty-year-old man owned the brick hardware store on Main Street which ran horizontally directly behind the square. Crick was wiry, all elbows and knees draped with a red and black checkered shirt, and people said he looked like a scarecrow who’d up and left his pole out in the cornfield just to show the farmers of Tucker’s Ridge who was boss. He was gruff and liked to scowl at little children.  On the Day of Offering, however, he was more subdued, and his croaky voice, scraped raw by unfiltered cigarettes, didn’t convey its usual mean-spiritedness.

            Bobby accepted the hammer in his right hand, his left already clutching a loaf of banana nut bread.

            Hill Richardson, the postmaster, flicked his wrist, motioning for Bobby to turn around and commence his duty.

            Bobby’s heart beat quickly as he faced the opposite direction by moving his feet in small half-steps, swallowing hard as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down like a cork being tugged by a Trout in the stream that ran behind the mill a mile away. Bobby’s mother Samantha raised her smart phone and snapped a picture of her son, but his father, Dom Ray McAllister, pushed her hand down harshly, a clear indication that the event was not one that should be memorialized. She’d just wanted to get a shot of Bobby being brave . . . and just in case there would be no more photographs.

            Aye, that was the rub. Some children never came back again from the ceremony in that . . . thing up ahead.  A few did, and they usually had vacant looks in their eyes, as if they’d been hypnotized or stared too long at the spinning disks and wavy mirrors at a traveling carnival. These unfortunate kids were sometimes sent to Dr. Merwin Childress, a retired psychiatrist who lived in a large, ramshackle Victorian house half a mile from the end of Main Street. Childress wore a brown suit, red bow tie, and thick glasses that magnified his pale blue eyes, and he scared children and adults alike with his long, probing stares, as if mining for information from the depth of the souls he encountered when he retrieved mail from his Post Office box or did some shopping on Main Street. But did he help the children with vacant stares, known to the town as the Lost Souls? No, those unfortunate beings were usually sent to Bleak House, a nickname given by Charles McAllister, Bobby’s Father, to the gray, four-story, stone building that housed troubled or runaway kids from three adjoining counties. It’s Dickensian character was merited, for it was a facade of masonry that was like a black hole, a building from which no sounds emanated, and no one, neither child nor adult, was seen walking about the grounds of the three acres surrounding the facility.

            And there it was, shiny on its underside and black on top, a circular spacecraft that had silently fell from the sky with no more drama than a fall leaf floating to the ground. That had been in early May, and the alien ship had been on the green behind the statue of Lemuel Tucker ever since.

            Bobby McAllister bravely took a step forward, and then another. Then two more. After thirty seconds, he was dead even with the statue. He glanced left and frowned at the metallic likeness, which he regarded as a sham. Tucker had allegedly been an Army hero lost in World War One while fighting the Battle of the Marne in France. He’d never returned, not even as a dead body in a coffin, and rumors had been spread over the years that Tucker was a myth, a figment of the collective imagination of Tucker’s Ridge, a man who gave pride and purpose to a small town not far from a ridge that overlooked a green valley that rolled for miles. The town librarian and archivist said that she couldn’t find any birth certificate for Tucker or, for that matter, any records at all for a family named Tucker within a hundred miles of Main Street or the square or the flagpole near the bandstand, it’s rope and metal hooks clanging against the steel pole when a winter wind whipped through the town. Bobby had written as much in the essay writing contest a year earlier, and the principal of his school had wadded the paper into a ball and thrown it into the corner trashcan of his classroom, telling him that it was wrong, unpatriotic, disgraceful to shame his town, his roots, his heritage. Lemuel Blackwood Tucker was a hero. Mr. and Mrs. McAllister had promised the principal that Bobby would be more respectful in the future.

            “You’re nothing but crap,” Bobby muttered, talking to the statue as his legs carried him an extra step before craning his head to look at the expectant, nervous, watchful faces of the crowd behind him. There were, of course, no children present. No one under fourteen ever attended the Day of Offering unless it was his turn, girls being excluded from the ritual. But Bobby saw them in his mind’s eye nevertheless, the tall ones and the bold ones and those who could cut the wind like a knife when they played sports or catch or just horsed around in the schoolyard.

            Go away, runt!

            Still wearing your older brother’s overalls?

            Look! It’s the kid with two left feet.

            Bobby was never picked for any of the teams when Tom Windhoven and Carl Buck chose their baseball teams on Saturday afternoons at the sandlot behind the feed store. “he can’t throw or bat or catch,” Tom claimed. “At least not very well.” Bobby was only chosen if somebody was sick or had a broken leg, and he was always put into right field where he couldn’t do too much damage unless the left-handed Carl Buck hit a long fly ball. Sometimes Bobby caught it, but more often than not he dropped it since he was forced to use his big brother’s oversized glove.

            He turned around and stared harshly at the citizens, their nervous, hopeful eyes fixed on him, a boy, who was being asked to do a man’s job. He was always picked on, so why did he draw such an assignment? Why not let Eddy Bricker or Andy Pine, two hulking boys who played varsity football for Tucker High, bring the alien what it wanted. Both boys—and many more—were as solid as telephone poles or tree stumps.

            He faced forward again, angry. The alien had communicated with townspeople telepathically ever since the ship had landed. It said that its craft had been damaged upon entering earth’s atmosphere but that it couldn’t leave its ship, a detail that it obviously didn’t wish to explain. It had asked for various bits of hardware from Crick’s value Hardware and electronics from Will Payne’s electronics store, which sold smart phones, computers, and all things digital. The parts were allegedly to help the extraterrestrial repair its ship.

            There had been no military invasion of the town—no men in Black or CIA or Air Force brass to investigate the visitor—since the unseen being in the saucer had obviously used its telepathic powers to block anyone from entering Tucker’s Ridge. Cars pulled up to point five miles out of town on State Highway 12 and stopped, passengers getting out, scratching their heads, and muttering, “No, I think we should turn around. We must have taken a wrong turn. We certainly don’t want to go through that Godforsaken town.” Some claimed to have heard warnings about a medical quarantine of the town or a deadly chemical leak from a rail car passing on the tracks skirting the north end of the hamlet.

            The alien’s mental powers could also cause electronic havoc since no radio, cell phone, or television signal could get in or out of the town. It was as if Tucker’s Ridge existed in dead air space. Many people had stood on their green, manicured front lawns, looking skywards, but they saw no enclosure or dome such as the one in the story written by that fella in Maine who wrote the long books. No, the alien had severed contact with the rest of the world using the same telepathic powers—and who knows what other kind of alien mojo—that enabled him to place his thoughts, always in the form of demands and warnings, into the minds of Tucker’s Ridge inhabitants. The requests weren’t frequent, and were reminders that children should bring it the parts to repair the parts as well as food. No adults need apply, and that had become obvious when Sheriff Vernon Gimble had tried to enter the craft, not that he’d had the courage or moxie to get put down his donuts, get off his ass, and walk up to the craft and take a look-see at the craft. The mayor and townspeople had insisted that he act like a sheriff for once in his life since he mostly functioned as the school crossing guard in a town that hadn’t seen a crime committed since someone stole a few chickens from Mrs. Watson’s henhouse sixteen years earlier. Vernon had been thrust backwards on his derriere by . . . well, he didn’t know what had thrown him unceremoniously backwards fifteen feet when he’d climbed the sloping ramp that led into the ship. He foolishly said it had been an atomic ray, but that was Hollywood B movie parlance, and nobody believed it. What they did accept was that adults weren’t welcome and that something powerful and kept Vernon from trying to enter the spaceship.

            The statue to a man who probably never existed, Vernon Gimble’s cowardice and lies, the bullying from classmates—all of these things made Bobby mad, mad as hell. He breathed fast as he turned one last time to look at the faces of people sending a boy to do a man’s job—to hell with the alien’s demand. He was ready to shoot fire from his eyes and thunder obscenities if he’d had a louder voice, but the voice within was loud and he decided he didn’t give a lousy damn what or who was inside the ship. If he never came out, that would be fine by him. Whatever was inside, even if it tortured kids, couldn’t be worse than living in Tucker’s Ridge.

            Bobby turned one last time to look at the faces of the people sending David to face Goliath, a group of people huddled together and gawking as if the terrible event was almost recreation, a reprieve from the daily routine of their lives that was purgatory since living in a small town in the digital age had left people restless and unfulfilled and longing for bright lights, big city. He saw Joe Nighthawk, the Native American, standing on the edge of the crowd, playing cat’s cradle with Seamus, the town drunk. Joe had told a group of children huddled around a campfire one summer’s night that the earth and the planets and stars—everything, in fact—were just specks of dust caught in the Sky Father’s web, like flies caught in the intricate filaments spun by arachnids. He said that this was his tribe’s model of creation, and that the reason he constantly played cat’s cradle was because the string—flexed and angled and crisscrossing between two sets of hands—reminded him of a spider’s web.

            Joe paused, looked at Bobby, then smiled and nodded.

            Bobby was still mad—mad at the town and mad at life—but he thought Joe Nighthawk knew a thing or two about life, and Joe often talked to the boy when things weren’t going so well. Bobby could sit and listen to Native American wisdom for hours, knowledge passed to Joe by the elders of the Cherokee and Chickasaw.

            Bobby walked forward confidently, his heart no longer hammering against his ribs like a blacksmith’s hammer. The silver ramp of the craft slid forward from its belly as a door slid upwards, a black, ominous rectangle beyond.

            Clutching the hammer and bread, Bobby entered the ship. He walked down a corridor for ten yards—the craft seemed so much larger on the inside than he thought possible, leading him to think that the n three dimensions were somehow being stretched inside the round ship—and came to a round chamber with the creature sitting in a well at its center. It was a monstrous, gelatinous eye, ten feet tall, and it sat on the brown, rubbery body from which extended a dozen tentacles, thirty feet in length, that played along the sides of the craft, working its controls and causing thousands of lights to blink. The eye was periodically covered, bottom to top, by two large transparent membranes. Its black pupil rotated this way and that, dilating and shrinking as it surveyed its surroundings, but only a few seconds passed before it focused on Bobby McAllister.

            Put the hammer and loaf of bread at your feet.

            The words appeared magically in Bobby’s mind, and this was the first time that he personally had been in communication with the giant alien eye or octopus or whatever it was. The voice, the words were like the clashing of symbols, waves breaking on a shore, the echo in a large auditorium. So loud! But the words were intelligible, and Bobby knew exactly what was being asked of him. He placed the banana bread on the floor, and within seconds a tentacle snaked over a railing protecting the ship’s inhabitant and snatched the food and brought it to a slit in its brown body, where the loaf disappeared immediately.

            I don’t like the taste of human flesh. I’ve tried it. It’s nasty and doesn’t nourish me. Now give me the hammer.

            “Why does an advanced alien need hardware and electronics from twenty-first century earth. It’s not to repair your stupid ship!” Bobby spit out the words as he flipped the finger to the awful, dreadful, monstrously large eye. “No, I won’t give you the hammer, you . . . freak!”

            The tentacles began whipping about in a frenzy, Bobby ducking on rolling on the titanium deck plate, at times rolling forwards as if he were maneuvering a modern obstacle course. One tentacle slipped around his ankle, pulling him off his feet, but Bobby, adrenaline flowing like a river at crest through his bloodstream, tore the soft, fleshy skin of the limb with the claw of the hammer. A sound like a full orchestra—pain—exploded in the boy’s head. Another tentacle chased him, and six smaller tentacles, like fingers, grew from its parent groping and groping for the wrist of the elusive, stubborn human.

            It was during one of Bobby’s tumbles that his eyes aimed at the dome of the ship, glowing like a fluorescent dish turned upside down. His eyes widened, but he drove away the terror with sheer willpower as he beheld twenty of the town’s youth, stuck to the dome as if magnetized. Their forms were plastered against the glowing surface, arms and limbs and heads contorted in grotesque poses. The looks on their twisted features spoke of pain, fear, consternation. The boys, many of whom had been merciless as they mocked Bobby McAllister, looked like flies stuck to flypaper, their eyes, bulging and white, pleading with the boy below to do something—anything—to free them from the hell of being trapped inside the alien spacecraft. And yet no words were uttered by the captives, not even a grunt or a groan, their hair spilling over their ears and foreheads. The creature was muting the speech centers in their brains by whatever mental powers enabled it to do all it did while its craft was parked on the town square of the backwater known as Tucker’s Ridge.

            But the creature also needed to keep the boys alive, and Bobby noted that one of its tentacles was dedicated solely to feeding morsels of bread and vials of water to its captives high in the air.

            Bobby had an epiphany. His senses were razor-sharp, his mind working faster than a computer. In an instant, he knew that the creature needed some form of sustenance, and hence the bread and vegetables and fruit pies the children brought it, like offerings to a god, but it couldn’t digest meat or flesh and blood and bone, not animal, not human. What offered it the most sustenance was fear—pure, full-out, terror and fear. If it could send out thought vibrations, then it apparently could receive them as well, and in the case of the gigantic, all-seeing eye, it wanted the vibrations of horror and fright. It thrived on them and drew strength for whatever alien physiology it possessed. Bobby grinned, squeezed his eyes tightly, and sent waves and waves of contempt of hatred to the being, and it responded by thrashing its tentacles more wildly than ever. It didn’t like hate or courage or cunning—no, not in the least—and the eye spun rapidly, like a roulette wheel, its ugly eye blinking and blinking in confusion, its tentacles reaching for the young human on the circular deckplate in vain, missing by feet and even yards with each swipe and swoosh.

            “What’s wrong you stupid bastard?” Bobby called. “Don’t like what I’m feeding you? Are you choking? Am I impossible to digest?” he broke into laughter, which enraged the creature all the more.

            Stop! Now! I command you!

            Waves and cymbals and tubas and trombones and rocks tumbling down in a landslide. The sounds Bobby heard were these and others for which he had nno comparison, but they filled his mind as he continued to dart from one place to another, weaving in and out of the wild, swaying tentacles.

            The membrane no longer blinked over the eye, which was fully dilated. The entire round, jelly-like orb pulsed, nd Bobby felt or heard—he didn’t know which—a heartbeat.

            “I guess I’m raising your blood pressure,” Bobby cried out scornfully, brandishing the hammer like a sword. “Well, good! Do you hear me? I want to kill you, you bastard!”

            Bobby glanced at the dome? Was that hope he saw in the eyes above him, in the eyes of jack Smith, who regularly shoved him to the dirt in the schoolyard? In the eyes of Bill Rooter, who called him booger head at lunch?

            “Ah well, now, the shoe’s on the other foot now, mates! But I’ll make a pack with ya. If I defeat this bug-eyed son of a bitch, you’ll treat me better, now won’t you?”

            Bobby intended to do battle either way, but thinking now at the speed of light, he thought he would leverage the situation to his advantage. He would kill two birds with one stone. He would be king of the hill, Bobby the dragon slayer.

            While he’d been lost in his fantasy of ruling the schoolyard, of slaying the hideous strength before him, a tentacle, puffing out to twice its normal size was whistling through the air, aiming straight for his head. Bobby ducked and let the appendage fly over his scalp like the blade of a fan.

            He was on the mound, and it was the bottom of the ninth. The bases were loaded, but if he struck out the batter, then the visiting team would be crushed, defeated. Bobby cocked his right arm, fingers curled around the rubber grip at the bottom of the shiny steel shaft of what was now a weapon. Eyes squinting, he raised his left leg, inhaled, and brought his right arm forward with all the strength he could muster. He released the hammer, which went tumbling end over end, a blur, straight at the creature.


            The hammer struck the eye dead center with a swishing, gurgling sound as the orb began to hemorrhage. The entire ship vibrated as, one by one, children began falling from the dome to the deck, dazed and crumpled. The tentacles vibrated, as if the monster were having a seizure, and shards of the dome fell to next to Bobby’s feet. They looked like glass but were as heavy as iron or steel. Their jagged sides were sharp, like the blades on his father’s safety razor, and Bobby acted instinctively, knowing without premeditation exactly what he wanted—what he needed—to do. He bent over and clutched a piece of the broken dome and sliced the end of the nearest tentacle with a horizontal motion, his arm wheeling through the air again and again until he’d cut the ends of half a dozen appendages, all of which oozed green and yellow liquids.

             Death. I’m dying. No, Not death. Light years only to die? No . . . no . . . no. Come back, children. I die.

            Boys stumbled and staggered to their feet, dazed and unsteady on their feet, watching Bobby swing his terrible swift sword like a ninja or a knight in battle. For a few brief moments, the boy bullied by the youth of an entire town witnessed a killing machine as Bobby’s anger, pent up and raw and vengeful, attacked the creature that had kept Tucker’s Ridge as hostage.

            Bobby was nearly spent as he saw Odie Huff fall from the dome, land, and stand up, staring at his liberator. Odie was the one boy, ten years old and four inches taller than Bobby, who hung around the young McAllister and admired him for his intelligence and ability to mput up with so many butt holes, as he termed it.

            “Pretty amazing,” Odie mouthed silently. “Awesome. Thanks.”

            Smiling, Bobby looked at the collapsing eye as its vitreous humor oozed in all directions. The pupil had collapsed to a pinpoint, and its membrane—Bobby presumed it was an eyelid of sorts—peeled away like the petal of an orchid bending over in decay. The eye was shriveling, growing smaller by the minute, its inner crescendo of a voice now mute. The alien was dead.

            Bobby surveyed the interior of the spacious craft and knew exactly what he would do in the coming minutes. He would do it for himself, he would do it for the town. And he would do it for his persecutors, all of whom had been unjustly imprisoned. He threw down his makeshift blade and picked up a chunk of tentacle three feet long. It was soft but not slimy, as he expected it would be. Tiny pores littered its surface, and whether these had allowed the creature to breathe or were the places where its small fingers had grown was not something Bobby could discern, nor did he really care. That was for someone else to figure out. Maybe Professor Truebridge at the small city down the road could figure it out.

            “Come on, boys!” Bobby cried. “Follow me!”

            The young hero, swelled with deserved pride, led the band of ragtag boys from the saucer as he held the severed appendage, not a sickly gray color, high above his head. He marched triumphantly, and no other boy dared break ranks or run ahead of his leader.

The semicircle of townspeople at first drew back in apprehension, not sure of what they were witnessing. Was it an illusion? What was the young McAllister lad holding in his upraised hands? And were the children following him really their own, or were they ghostly apparitions, for, in truth, most parents had given up their young for dead. A collective gasp escaped their throats as they carefully edged forward again, realizing that these were indeed the lost citizens of Tucker’s Ridge.

As Bobby and his smiling, freckled brigade passed the statue of Lemuel Blackwood Tucker, he spoke in a loud voice. “The alien is dead.” He paused for dramatic effect. “I killed it.”

The crowd of adults parted as the procession drew closer, allowing Bobby to throw his trophy from battle down on the green grass. It was as if the Red Sea had parted, an entire nation having been freed from the oppression of Pharaoh. And then the jubilation could be contained no longer as children and parents rushed at each other, producing tears and embraces and cries of joy and surprise. Mothers fell to their knees, holding the cheeks of their sons in their hands, looking into their eyes as if to say, “It’s really you! It really is!”

As the reality sank in that the nightmare was over, that there would be no more days of offering, that children would not be sent to Dr. Childress or Bleak House, at least not because their town had been chosen as prey by an alien invader, their attention turned to Bobby McAllister, who stood tall, his mother and father flanking him, hands on his shoulders.

“That a boy, Bobby,” said someone in the rear of the assembly.

“Nice job, son.”

“Always said that boy would amount to something.”

“That’s what I call bravery. Yesiree.”

Bobby looked back at the craft. He now felt more sober about his accomplishment. He was proud—yes—but he could have been killed. He had acted nonetheless. He suspected his peers would give him more respect now—that was almost a given—but even if they didn’t, he knew how to hold his own, how to act, how to stand up for himself.

Parents and children cheered and whooped and hollered and applauded, and Bobby knew that it was for the town’s newfound freedom as much as it was for him. That was okay. He’d done his job and risen to the occasion, and then some.

He turned and looked over his shoulder at the craft. Already, in the absence of telepathic powers or some invisible shield around the town, Army jeeps were roaring into town circling the saucer, military men I dark green jumping out and forming a perimeter around the craft. Unmarked cars followed, with men in dark suits and short hair mingling among the townsfolk, taking names and interviewing them about events of the past months. In the hours and days ahead, everyone would be interviewed—debriefed, in military terms—and then interviewed again by people without names, people who scribbled in pads or typed on phones or took photographs. Cell phones would be collected and wiped clean of any pictures of the craft that had dominated life in Tucker’s Ridge. And there would be warnings to tell no one what happened. Indeed, the town would be quarantined for three months and supplies would be brought in by the military while tests were run. Soil samples would be taken, and people’s blood would be drawn, and men with electronic equipment far more sophisticated than that sold by Ben Crick would check for radioactivity and God knew what. There would be no media, no film crews. As the men in dark suits, the event had never happened.

But these events would unfold in their fullness in the days ahead. At present, Bobby examined the jeeps and men in military fatigues and knew that they would want to speak with him first and foremost since he’s the one who had slain Goliath with a slingshot and a rock, a claw hammer and a little pluck.

The town square and Main Street were emptying quickly as people returned home for a celebratory supper and welcome home parties and general relief or jubilation. The children had been lost but were now found, had been dead but were now alive, and live was now good again. Life would be normal, and farmers could harvest while people would gossip on the loading dock of Tuckers Seed and Feed. People would get haircuts and go to school and mail letters.

Bobby saw that the Wicked Woman, dressed in red as she always was, stood stock-still, as if hypnotized, gazing from the spacecraft to Bobby and back to the spacecraft. She’d been in town as long as he could recall, but people shunned her for reasons he didn’t understand. He supposed it had something to do with sex, which Odie had explained to him two years earlier.

Ben Crick had turned away, muttering “Bunch of foolishness is all it was. Nothing more, nothing less.” His gangly arms and legs made their way across Main Street like a spider extending its legs here and there to move across a surface. As he did so, Hill Richardson ran Old Glory up the flagpole, something he sometimes forgot to do on the days of offering. Minister Perkins leaned against a sycamore tree fifty yards away and sipped from a silver flask before returning to his parsonage.

The play was over, the curtain had come down, and Bobby had not taken a bow after his initial victory march from the craft. People had shaken his hand and rubbed his hair as if to say “Way to go,” but that was over now.

Lemuel Blackwood Tucker, of course, had seen it all, the way he saw everything that went on in town. He stood motionless, a piece of black metal that looked dispassionately at everyone and everything. Whoever he was, whoever he had been—if, indeed, he had been anyone at all—he was always there, watching, watching.

Bobby, with his parents, started walking home under the afternoon sun. From the corner of his eye, the boy spied two figures at the edge of the square. Joe Nighthawk and Seamus were still playing cat’s cradle.

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Tales of Seven Kingdoms

From the novel Tales of Seven Kingdoms by William Hammett Copyright William Hammett 2016, 2022 All Rights Reserved   Haven Ballindor ha...