QSFer Mark All has a new dark horror/fantasy out (lesbian character): The Story Generator.
When an antique device is donated to the Miskatoosa University Library, John Dixon believes it will solve his writer’s block.
The machine generates plot developments for a novel—but its suggestions begin to come true, weaving a dark story of its own and piercing the veil between this world and a universe of horror.
John and his critique partner Gretchen must destroy the device—but it doesn’t want to die. It wants to finish its story.
Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia
Etienne Holmes could hear them scratching at the windows, scrabbling at the doors, clawing their way up the sides of his rustic mountain estate home. Looking for a way in.
He did not have long.
The five black candles on the desk before him guttered and he faltered in his incantation. His gaze drifted from the ancient book to the object just beyond it within the circle of candles. A container the size of a large shoebox, intricately constructed of wood, iron, and brass. Light reflected dully off the dials and switches, the crank, and the small glass window.
The damnable story generator.
Fighting a burgeoning panic, he began again, stumbling over the nearly unpronounceable ancient words.
He had made it only halfway through the ritual when two of the creatures crashed through the window behind him in an explosion of shattering glass. One of the grotesque monstrosities landed on his right shoulder, the other tumbled onto the desk. The candles’ flickering light flashed off the scaly armor of what looked like a cross between an armadillo and a gargoyle.
The creature on his shoulder slashed through his shirt and flesh. Screaming, he swept his arm across the desk, driving the other one off. He leaped to his feet, knocking the chair to the floor.
The one on the desk flung itself at his face and he batted it away. The abomination on his shoulder reached around for his throat. As its claws tore at him, he tucked his chin to his chest to protect his carotid. Hot blood seeped from the wound, but not the gush he’d feared.
The other beast came at him again. It leaped onto his leg and its razor-sharp teeth and claws penetrated his thigh.
He’d prepared in advance for the eventuality, perhaps the inevitability, that the incantation, his only remaining option, would fail. The gas can sat on the floor behind him, the cap already removed. He held the creature away from his neck but fell to his knees under the things’ weight, landing on scattered shards of glass. Claws raked his face, blood flowed from the wounds in his leg and throat, but he managed to grasp the handle of the can and carry it to the desk.
He tipped the can and gasoline drenched the device, seeping into the crevices of its intricate housing, sloshing across the desk, down the sides, and onto the floor.
The acrid fumes seared his nostrils. Why wouldn’t the candles ignite them?
The monster on his neck worked a claw under his chin and slashed. Blood spattered from his throat and mixed with the gas on the desk.
As his vision dimmed and became a narrowing tunnel, he stretched a shaking hand toward the nearest candle. Too far away. Its light glinted on the desktop lighter closer to him, but just out of reach. His fingers slipped on the lighter. It wobbled, almost toppled, but its wide base kept it upright. He flicked the wheel, too slowly. The serrated steel wheel ground against flint, not rapidly enough to spark.
With a hideous screech and another rain of broken glass, a third creature pounced onto his back, claws clinging in his shoulders.
It was far too late to redeem himself, to atone for his sin, but he must end this, here and now.
He got a slippery grip on the lighter again. He had only enough strength for a last desperate attempt. He pressed his thumb on the wheel and flicked it.
The gas fumes ignited with a concussive sound and he experienced the most excruciating pain of his life. But he’d stopped it, he hoped, although he’d never know for sure.
Around him, the house burned.
But not everything in it.
Miskatoosa University Library, Special Collections
Townsend, Georgia, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains
When John Dixon found the story generator, he knew it was the solution to the problem that had stalled him out in life at age twenty-three. In fact, the device was custom made for the job.
It arrived in a box of donations to Miskatoosa University’s Special Collections Library. John was perusing a yellowed, crumbling science fiction magazine from a stack of 1950s pulps when Ellen Blackwood, his supervisor, entered his gloomy office. On her heels, a student worker rolled in a cart stacked with boxes. She parked it beside John’s desk and scooted out the door before Ellen could conscript her into helping unload them.
Ellen pushed her glasses up on top of her head. “Think you can tear yourself from the visions of future past there? I may have some real treasures for you.”
“Great!” John dropped the magazine. Busted reading on the job. Again. Ellen recognized that reading among library staff was inevitable though, and didn’t mind as long as he met an imprecise quota of clearing the donations. His work in Special Collections consisted primarily of filing, providing access to materials for researchers, and wading through the ever-growing piles of “donations,” most of which should have been carted off to the landfill.
An odd odor emanated from the boxes on the cart, more pungent than the musty smell of cartons and suitcases that had moldered in the late donors’ attics for years. The scent had a tangy, bitter edge. Smokey. Like burned wood.
“What have we got?” he asked.
“Familiar with Etienne Holmes?”
“You can’t escape American Lit classes here without reading at least one of his books.” Holmes was a Miskatoosa alumnus and a lauded “New Southern Writer.” His novels were thick and fatalistic, a combination of Faulkner, Joyce Carol Oates, and Joseph Conrad, with incongruous elements of magical realism thrown in.
“He died,” Ellen said. “In a fire.”
“Oh. The smell.”
“Fortunately, this stuff survived.”
AUTHMark All is the author of The Story Generator, a Dark Contemporary Fantasy / Cosmic Horror novel, as well as science fiction horror novel Derelict and Death Metal, a Rock ‘n’ Roll horror novel, based on his experiences as a rock musician and set in Athens, GA. His paranormal thrillers The Spellcaster’s Grimoire and Mystic Witch are published by BelleBooks/ImaJinn. He has won two international writing awards and contributed to Computer Legends, Lies, & Lore.
Before a career as an instructional systems designer, Mark worked as a rock guitarist, FM radio announcer, and gravedigger. Mark earned a Master’s degree in Computer-Based Education and a Bachelor of Music cum laude.