Tuesday, February 19, 2008


The Mushroom Man
by Keith Giles

This week's "Elephant Words" burst fiction.
See image"

After years of running the diamond smuggling cartels throughout Africa, the mysterious Nicolai managed to operate completely through only two men, and of those only one had ever seen him face to face. One man was Alphonse Meridian, a short barrel-chested assassin who only received orders from Nicolai via telephone, and the other was Randolph Siegel, Nicolai's accountant.

The closest Interpol got to him was an undercover agent who entered Nicolai's operation on the ground in Nigeria as a gun-runner. After two solid years proving himself worthy Siegel promoted him to an overseer in their diamond smuggling operation as a pilot. The agent, David Camp, was perfect for the job. His experience flying helicopters into combat zones in Korea proved invaluable to Nicolai's operation and his fame soon spread throughout the organization.

Five years later the agent was installed as Siegel's personal bodyguard and he occasionally flew a private jet to high-level negotiations throughout Europe and Asia.

Interpol nearly threw the switch to take down Siegel and the exposed portion of the operation, but Camp assured them he was only months away from a face-to-face opportunity with Nicolai, and he was right.

Siegel confided in the agent one night that Nicolai was fearful of being identified by the authorities and had scheduled a surgery to change his facial appearance and forever disappear. This meant that, once the operation was complete, Nicolai would become invisible, even to Siegel. Camp knew their time was running out. If they ever hoped to catch Nicolai he time was ripe to act.

Under orders from his superiors Camp assisted in the abduction of Siegel's wife who lived in a large private estate in southern Spain. A small team of five black ops agents hit the water one mile off the coast of his private villa and snorkled onto the beach two hours before dawn. From there they made their way through the forest behind the house and took her and a twelve year old daughter out at gunpoint.

Siegel received the news of the abduction when Camp revealed his identity and demanded to know where Nicolai's surgery was scheduled to occur. Siegel held up brilliantly, even under torture, and only relented when his wife's middle finger was presented to him in a bloody newspaper.

When Camp arrived at the private doctor's office where Nicolai's surgery was scheduled he found a room splattered with blood and two dead bodies, one being the plastic surgeon and the other, presumably, Nicolai. But Interpol could never be sure if the body was indeed that of Nicolai or some other man's dead body planted there to throw them off the trail.

Soon the news of Nicolai's death spread throughout Europe and the power vacuum inspired a bloody internal power struggle. Siegel served only five years in minimum security prison due to his willingness to share a few names and details of Nicolai's operation, although he never divulged the location of Nicolai's massive wealth, claiming that only the now deceased kingpin knew the actual bank account numbers and passwords.

Camp received a commendation and was put on a desk job, which he never liked, and eventually he retired from the business and took a flat in central London.

One day, roughly fourteen years after the biggest undercover assignment of his life, Camp was out on the street, enjoying the rare moment of sunshine and he saw Siegel. He was sitting at a local farmer's market behind a booth selling homegrown mushrooms.

Camp stood across the street staring intently until he was sure it was really Siegel. He studied the mannerisms, the way the old man held his cigarette. The way he brushed his hair away from his eyes. The way he coughed and spat. Finally he placed his hands in his pockets and walked slowly across the street towards his old nemesis.

"Hello Siegel," he said calmly. The man looked at him through old, tired eyes and it took him a moment to connect the face and the voice. Siegel said nothing at first, only nodded slowly and looked away, flicking ash off his imported cigarette with his middle finger and watching the specks float to the sidewalk like isolated flakes of snow.

Slowly Siegel looked back and this time he was smiling. His teeth were yellowed from years of nicotine. They had the color of an old bruise against his weathered lips. He coughed and spat and then looked back up at Camp. "Would you like to know something funny," he said.

"After what we've both seen, I think a good laugh would be in order," Camp said.

"After you abducted my wife and daughter she left me for another man," he said. "She said she could never trust me after finding out that I had allowed you to find her and our child. I can't say I blame her, of course."

Camp waited for the punchline. "I thought you were going to tell me something funny," he said.

Siegel took a last drag on his cigarette and dropped it on the concrete, crushing it out with a few pivots of his boot toe. He looked off into the sky, over Camp's shoulder at the skyline. "Looks like rain again," he said to know one in particular. Then he refocused his weathered eyes on Camp's face and smiled. "I suppose it's funny depending on your perspective," Siegel said. "My wife, she was Greek. Her maiden name was Nicolai."

Camp stood there staring at Siegel's mushrooms.

"In the end," Siegel said, "I think it's funny that Nicolai gave you the finger."

Camp found it hard to laugh as Siegel's cough erupted into a mocking hack.

"At least you got the finger," he said again through his uncontrollable cough and cackle.

Camp could only stand there with his hands in his pockets as the first few cold drops of rain began to patter against his shoulders.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Oppression by Keith Giles

Short fiction for this week's image over at
Elephant Words


Oppression by Keith Giles

This is how it always starts. First it's one sign. Company policy. Nothing I can do about it, M'am. And then, before you know it, sooner than you'd expect, the martial law orders come down in the middle of the night and policemen in riot gear are riding through the streets firing tear gas at college students and pummelling the innocent in unison.

No one ever takes responsibility for these things. The media blames the government, the politicians blame the media, and the average joe suffers. People like you and me, we're only necessary to keep the machine pumping. Our muscles operate the conveyor belts of progress and our lusts fuel the economy built on the consumption of taxable vice.

The angel spoke to me again last night. Couldn't sleep at all. My damn tooth again. I could put pressure on that side of my head and feel the hot infection spread beneath the skin, radiating over my skull.

I was in the bathroom dabbing the last of the Ambusol on the molar when she began to sing to me. Just like last time only louder. "Send them to me," she sang. The colors of the vision were liquid joy. They spun in the air between the mirror and my head, just out of reach. I wanted to close my eyes and sleep to the heavenly music, but I couldn't bear to shut out the colors.

It only lasted ten, maybe fifteen minutes but when it was over my eyes were full of tears. I blinked them away, letting them run like hot rivers down my swollen cheeks.

Donnie had given me a pound of dynamite last year, before he jumped off the bank building, before Janet left him for that guitarist. I found it under my bed, wrapped in an old U2 t-shirt. It smelled like a pair of old boots my dad used to make me shine for him every Saturday afternoon.

"Send them to me," the angel sang. I couldn’t get that music out of my head. All night long it resonated, echoing in my mind like a song you hate but cannot keep humming once you've heard it playing over the radio.

I shoved the old dynamite, still bundled in the t-shirt, into my backpack and zipped it shut along with a picture of me and Donnie from his birthday party last winter and a letter I had written for my Mother but never mailed.

The next day, at the DMV, I went into the bathroom and unspooled the lump, held together with two orbits of duct tape, and lit the lead fuse with my dad's old Zippo. I always loved the "Clicht" and "Snicht" of the chrome cover as it opened and closed. I felt like a Soviet spy purging the world of capitalism and mindless oppression.

As I watched the fuse sizzle down I heard the angel sing to me again. It was faint at first, but soon I could hear her soft whisper, "The poison in my veins sang like jaded copper bees, the blood it spilled rain down in drops, rained down my arms, filled up my sleeves…"

Tiny sparks were popping intermittently out of the fuse. Tiny tendrils of smoke spun off of each flashing ember and faded slowly into the air above my head like silver daydreams.

I unlocked the bathroom door and tossed the lump high into the air, underhanded like tossing a grapefruit to a friend across the room. Before it hit the ground it erupted into a shower of force and light. Kaleidoscope of color and fury set to the sound of angels in joyous release.

"Here they come," I said to the angels, just before all of the lights went out.


Richard Kadrey - Master of Burst Sci-Fi

Richard Kadrey is the master of what I call "Burst Sci-Fi" which is the art of writing short stories that fit onto a single page yet are more intriguing and beguiling than any novel-length story you've ever read.

Kadrey manages to pack more great ideas, with exquisite language, into a small space than anyone I've ever known.

Proof? Here it is:

MUDROSTI (the burning satellite re-entry)

And this:
DOG BOYS (the pre-"Desolation Jones" short):

And this:
SURFING THE KHUMBU (mega-cool sci/fi spy girl action):

Go. Read. Marvel.

Kadrey is a master.


Friday, February 8, 2008


By Keith Giles

The damn machine sputtered and shook violently before it back-fired and died with a slow belch of black smoke. I sat back and let the great yellow beast roll a few more feet before it finally ground itself to a stop. The sound of the gravel crunching beneath the knobby black tires was like the hot sizzle of grease in a hot skillet.

I closed my eyes and for a moment I imagined I wasn't covered in dirt and sweat. I was at home, my family was alive and this damn war had never happened.

My hand strayed absently to the raised scar across my stomach. It was still tender. The Jackals had inserted their toxic sacks into my abdomen before I could escape. The rest of my family hadn't been so lucky. Their bodies were already providing nutrients to the genetic embryos growing inside them. In a few weeks they'd be cut open to harvest the biological weapons inside and discarded into the pit behind the barn.

When I opened my eyes reality snapped back into place. There were only two rounds in the pistol and my canteen was mostly condensation. The last bite of food I'd had was days ago. Almost on cue I could hear the sound of distant gunfire. Getting closer? It didn’t matter. I had to move.

I dropped out of the cockpit and pulled my backpack down from the cab in one single motion. The sun would be down soon and I needed to find cover before dark.

My feet started to hurt immediately and I remembered why I'd stolen the dump truck in the first place. Either way I had to keep moving. The Jackals would certainly have missed their vehicle by now, and even if they were mostly ass-backwards religious nut-jobs, they were also well-known for their creative forms of torture. No turning the other cheek for them, no sir.

My pistol was digging into my hip as I ran so I had to pull it out to keep my pace. It felt good in my hand. The weight of it was seductive and it gave me the illusion of power. For a moment there I really felt like I could make it another day without a fight, and then I heard the approaching sound of the helicopters. I didn't need to look up to know the gleaming hornets were headed straight for me. I decided to drop the backpack and run hard for the treeline.

Those were Government air patrols. I'd run into them before. They swept the countryside looking for people dumb enough to venture outside in the daylight. People like me.

I'd rather face the Jackals than be gunned down in my tracks by fifty-millimeter canons. The tree line was thirty yards away. I could tell without looking that the helicopters were probably a half mile behind. Almost within range to squeeze off a few shots at me. My lungs were on fire as I sprinted for the trees.

Suddenly I felt a hot ripping in my stomach and at first I thought they must have shot me, but looking down I could see my wound had re-opened. Bright red blood was pouring out of the gash as I ran, but I couldn’t stop. I had to reach the treeline.

The sound of the helicopter was impossibly loud now. The blades were chopping the air into chunks and I couldn't hear myself breathe. Any minute now the bullets would come and I would never hear a thing.

Closer now. Were they toying with me? Why else would they wait so long to cut me in half with their guns?

Suddenly the air around me filled with swirling dirt which caked onto my skin and filled my eyes with sand. I had to stop and cover my eyes as the copter hit the ground just twenty yards away. My hand went up to aim the pistol and I realized the helicopter was white, not black. There was a large red cross against the fuselage.

I lowered my weapon and a young woman dropped from the passenger side to jog over to my side.

"My name is Soreena," she said into my ear as the rotor blades wound slowly down. "Congratulations, Sir."

I cocked my head and licked my lips. The smell of her hair was like honeysuckle. Her green eyes were flecked with yellow and her skin was clean. She had recently bathed and was wearing clean clothes and new shoes. I hadn't seen anything like this since before the war which was years ago.

"Who the hell are you?" I asked.

"I'm with the network. You've won, sir. Our viewing audience has selected you as our grand prize winner. How do you feel sir?"

I looked down at her slender hands and realized she was holding a wireless microphone. Over her shoulder I could see a camera man and a lighting engineer. They were wearing new clothes too.

I shot her once in the forehead and as she fell forward I shot the cameraman who was also, apparently, the pilot.

The lighting engineer dropped his parabolic lamp and raised both hands into the air. I couldn't hear what he was saying but I didn't really care.

The pilot’s seat was still warm when I slid into the cockpit. The fuel gauge read full. I wound up the rotors and as I pulled back on the stick and cut into the skyline the sun was setting just behind the hills.

It was good to be alive.