speculative fiction

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 3

Luckily, Will’s dad was a fan of “Early to bed, early to rise,” and packed it in right after the ten o’clock news. His mom didn’t watch the news because it gave her nightmares, but she liked to read in bed. Their light was always off by eleven, though. Another lucky thing was that Will’s room was close to the stairs, so he didn’t have to climb out the window. It was too high to jump and the downspout was too flimsy to be useful. There was no way he could drag his dad’s big ladder from the garage. So it had to be the stairs. He tested them for squeaky spots that evening, while his parents were watching TV. All okay, except for the fourth from the top and the third from the bottom.

Right after his mom kissed him goodnight and left the room, Will changed from his pjs to regular clothes and got under the covers. It felt weird to be wearing jeans and a shirt and sweater in bed, but his dad sometimes checked on him, so everything had to look normal. Then he got scared he’d fall asleep and not wake up until morning. Doof would tease him mercilessly about that. Will could almost hear him singing “Rock-a-bye baby” or some other lullaby.

Finally, the clock beside Will’s bed said 11:30. He was supposed to meet Doof at the corner of 12th and Maple at midnight. Normally it would take fifteen minutes to get there, but this wasn’t normal.

The stairs had developed a lot of fresh squeaks and creaks. Will froze after each one, a story about needing a drink of water ready on his lips. But nothing happened. Going out the back door, he realized he hadn’t thought about getting back inside. He’d have to leave the door unlocked. If a burglar came in and stole something, it would be his fault.

Thinking about what his dad would say if that happened, Will almost changed his mind. But then he thought I don’t care what he says. I’m going. He closed the door softly and crept down the driveway to the street.

Doof wasn’t at 12th and Maple. No one was. Parked cars sat there reflecting the street lights. Will stood on the sidewalk wondering how long he should wait before he gave up. He’d never been out this late before, not even on Halloween. The trees rustled quietly, as though they were telling each other secrets.

“Gotcha!” Hands grabbed Will’s shoulders from behind. He screamed.

“Quiet!” Doof clamped a palm over Will’s mouth.

Will shook him off and pushed him away, nerves jangling. “What did you do that for?”

“Just testing your reflexes, pal.” Doof giggled. “Testing, testing, one, two, three. You ready?”

“Not if you’re going to be a jerk,” said Will.

“Not me! Everything’s cool. Hey, listen!”

Music. A faraway sound, getting closer, the way a siren gets closer and louder. Except this wasn’t a siren. It was the ice cream truck’s tune, frantic and jolly.

“Let’s go!”

They ran down Maple street. The numbers on the cross streets got smaller. As they crossed 1st Street, Will noticed they weren’t on Maple anymore; the street sign said Railway Avenue. He’d never been here before. The houses were much older than in his neighbourhood, and then there were no houses, only business buildings. Ahead, train tracks gleamed silver-blue under the street lights. On the other side of them was a gas station.

The lights on the pumps were off, but a yellow light shone in the garage. A couple of cars were parked outside its open door and a few dark figures stood around. Guys. Strangers. They had bottles in their hands and talked in low voices, punctuated with bursts of laughter.

Will stopped. “Are we going over there? Where are we going, anyway?”

“Don’t be a dummy. We’re going to get us some ice cream. Come on!” Doof set off across the tracks.

“Are those guys waiting for it too?” Will asked.

Doof didn’t get a chance to answer. One of the guys by the gas station saw them and came over. He wasn’t a kid. Not even a high school kid. “What’re you kids doing here?” He didn’t sound friendly.

“What’s it to you?” Doof stuck his chin out.

“This isn’t a good place for kids—”

The ice cream truck’s music sounded really close, but they couldn’t see it.

“It’s over there! Come on!” Doof took off, running hard.

The guy from the gas station noticed Will for the first time. “That kid a friend of yours?”

Will nodded.

“You know what’s making that sound?” Will nodded again.

“Then you better keep him away from it.” The guy turned and went back to the gas station, where the light in the garage suddenly looked warm and friendly.

The music brayed and wheezed, only a couple of blocks away. The tune’s words popped into Will’s head. Lullaby and good night, soon you’ll be sleeping tight. He turned and ran after Doof, just in time to see him go around a corner two blocks away.

Will pelted down the street and around the corner. Doof was still a block ahead of him, and the ice cream truck was coming toward them. It pulled over to the kerb by a vacant lot across the street and stopped. The music faded to a growl.

Will almost ran into Doof, who had stopped by some bushes. He felt suffocated from holding his breath.

Doof stood and panted. “Maybe they’re waiting for us.” “Let’s not get too close to it,” said Will, and for once Doof didn’t argue.

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 2

“Hey, how about if you come home with me for supper?” Will thought he wouldn’t get into as much trouble for being late if he had a friend with him. And his dad had been asking if he’d made any friends yet, so bringing one home would show him.

Doof shifted from one foot to the other, twirling his baseball cap around his finger. “I dunno. Maybe your mom wouldn’t like that.”

“She won’t mind. She always cooks way too much food. Come on.” Will led the way at a brisk trot. They had followed the ice cream truck farther than he’d realized.

Will’s house was warm and full of good smells. Will showed Doof the bathroom so he could wash his hands and went to tell his mom about his guest.

Will’s dad was standing by his chair at the head of the table when the boys came into the dining room. Will carried an extra plate, glass, and cutlery for Doof. “Will, you know it’s disrespectful to be late for supper. This is the second time this week.”

“I’m sorry, Dad. This is my friend Doo—uh, Harold. Harold Duffy.” Will shifted his plate over and put the extras on the table. “This is my Dad.”

Doof and Will’s Dad stared at each other. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Todd.” Doof stuck out a hand, but Will’s dad ignored it.

“That’s Professor Todd,” he said and turned to Will, eyebrows crumpled. “This boy is joining us for the meal? Does your mother know?”

“She says it’s okay.”

Doof was backing up like he was planning to run out the door. Will pulled one of the spare chairs over and put it in place. “You can sit here. It’s okay.”

Will’s dad nodded and they all sat down.

While they ate pot roast, mashed potatoes and broccoli, Will couldn’t help noticing things about Doof that didn’t seem to matter before. His shirt had holes in the elbows and wasn’t too clean. There was a fading bruise on one of his wrists. Without his baseball cap on, you could tell he needed a haircut.

Will’s mom kept a kind of conversation going by asking Doof things like how did he like school and what sports he played and did he have any pets. Doof did okay answering her questions, didn’t even talk with his mouth full, used his napkin properly, ate up everything on his plate, and accepted seconds.

“I have a dog,” said Doof, answering the pet question. “Well, he’s not really my dog, but he’s my pal, you know.”

“It’d be cool to have a dog,” said Will.

Will’s dad cleared his throat. “We’re not getting a dog, Will. I don’t care for dogs. What does your father do, Harold?”

Doof didn’t reply right away. He lowered his glass of milk and looked like he was consulting an inner authority. “Business,” he said finally.

“What kind of business?” asked Will’s dad.

“All kinds,” said Doof. “It depends.”

“Where do you live, Harold?”

For a couple of seconds Will thought he would say, “None of your business,” but instead Doof gave a little one-sided smile and said, “Walnut Hill.”

The best neighbourhood in town, where all the rich people lived. Will was pretty sure Doof was lying, but after that Will’s dad stopped asking questions.

Dessert was apple pie and ice cream. As soon as he was finished, Doof put his folded napkin on his plate. “May I be excused?” he said. “I have to go home now. Thank you for supper, Mrs. Todd. Good night, Professor Todd.” He was out the door before anyone got up to see him out. Will ran after him, but all he saw was the pale blur of Doof’s shirt fading into the dark.

When he got back to the table, his father gave him a look. “That the only friend you managed to make at school? Can’t you do any better?”

“The boy was hungry,” said Will’s Mom. “Did you see how much he ate? I wonder if he’s getting proper meals at home. His table manners were good, though.”

“Do you really live in Walnut Hill?” Will asked Doof at recess the next day.

Doof narrowed his eyes. “What do you think?”

“I think you were lying.”

“Two points for Willy! Yeah, I lied to Professor Todd. So what? Don’t you ever lie to your dad? Or don’t you dare?”

Will shrugged, blushing. “So what kind of business does your dad do?”

“It depends,” said Doof,

“My dad said he figured it was probably funny business.”

Doof’s face turned red. “Your dad thinks he knows everything, doesn’t he?”

“Well, he is a professor.” Will paused. “But he doesn’t know about that ice cream truck.”

Doof threw a rock at a bird sitting on the schoolyard fence. The rock missed. The bird flew away. “Race you back to school.” He took off.

By the time Will caught up, Doof had a grin on his face. “I dare you,” he said.

“Dare me what?”

“Find that ice cream truck. Tonight.”

“After supper? I’m not allowed—”

“‘I’m not allowed! My daddy won’t let me!'” Doof mocked, his voice high and whining. “That’s why I’m daring you. And not just after supper. I’m talking real night time. Midnight. Are you up for it?”

“Midnight! That’s stupid. Nobody’s going to be selling ice cream then.”

“I’ll bet that ice cream truck does,” said Doof. “I’ve heard its music at night. So’ve you.”

“Yeah, but…”

“But nothing! Are you with me or not? ‘Cause I’m going anyway.”


“You bet! Big ol’ Friday night.”

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 1

This is a story in seven parts, each about 1,000 words. I’ll post one part a day from now until May 7th.

Music. A happy, merry tune, growing faint with distance and then coming back. Will Todd knew the tune, even though he couldn’t remember its name. The sound of an ice cream truck meant it was summer and everything was all right. They were still living in their old house. Will wouldn’t be going to a new school where he didn’t know anyone. It was summer and he could have ice cream for breakfast.

Then he woke up. Even in a dream he’d never be allowed to have ice cream for breakfast. His mom might say okay, but not his dad.

Leaning out his window, Will thought he could still hear the music floating through the air. He kept listening for it, but most of the time it was just a siren far away or a car stereo beating out a rhythm.

September became October and the rawness of seventh grade at a new school wore off. Late one afternoon Will heard the music again, for real. From far away, maybe four or five blocks, it came, that jolly, happy music. He stood and listened, trying to follow the tune, until moms started calling kids in for supper. Until kids knew they’d get heck if they came home late, to chilling soup and congealing gravy and stern lectures from dads.

“I heard an ice cream truck,” said Will, sitting down to meat loaf and mashed potatoes that had stopped steaming but weren’t cold. “I wanted to get a look at it, so I waited, but it went away.”

“It can’t be an ice cream truck,” Will’s dad said. “Not in October. Not this time of day. You should know better than that, son.”

“You must have heard somebody’s radio,” said his mom. “Now eat your supper.”

“But it was—”

Will’s dad looked up from the book next to his plate, held open with his knife. “You heard your mother. Eat your supper.” He was using his college professor voice. Will shut up.

But he kept the argument going in his head while he chewed meat loaf and green beans. No one played music like that on the radio, the same tune over and over, in the same tinkly, wheezy style. It had to be an ice cream truck, cruising the neighbourhoods in the dying day. But the music he’d heard wasn’t “Pop Goes the Weasel” or “Turkey in the Straw” or “Little Brown Jug.” It was something else, a familiar tune, but with something wrong about it. Will wondered what kind of ice cream the truck sold.

Doof might know. He always knew stuff. Doof was the only kid Will had managed to make friends with. He was the class weirdo, but at least he didn’t look at Will like he was a new kind of bug, the way the other kids did. If Doof was at school next day and felt like talking, Will would ask him if he’d heard the ice cream truck. Some days Doof just wouldn’t talk. When Will asked him why, Doof threatened to rearrange Will’s nose so he wouldn’t go sticking it into other people’s business.

His real name was Harold Duffy, but no one called him Harold except teachers. Doof was short for “Doofus,” and even though that wasn’t exactly a compliment, it was better than “Harold.” Everybody called him Doof, even the nice kids.

Doof was good at getting into trouble. He’d crack jokes in class and talk too loudly. Other days he was grumpy or wild, picking fights for no reason. He usually had an array of bruises, in a range of colours from purple to yellow, green, and brown. Every now and then he’d show up with a black eye.

“Got beat up by some big kids,” he said, when Will asked him where he’d gotten the shiner. “They thought I was trying to move in on their territory.”

“What territory?”

“Never mind. Let’s check out the creek.”

That was another thing about Doof. He knew all the interesting places. The creek with a knotted rope on a tree, where you could swing out over the water like Tarzan. A little house where no one lived that was stuffed full of old tires. Shortcuts to everywhere, through alleys and vacant lots.

Just before he fell asleep that night, Will thought he heard that music, faint and far away. He listened but couldn’t pick up the tune. Out in the hallway, the night light cast its dim glow. Will was glad to see that little light. Then he was asleep.

Doof wasn’t at school the next day, but on his way home, Will saw him standing on a corner looking up at the sky.

“Hey!” said Will, sneaking up behind him.

“Geez, Will! Don’t do that to a guy!”

“Looking for Santa? Too early by a couple months. What’cha doing?”

Doof wound up a punch, but stopped halfway and held up a finger. “Listen!”

A sound floated toward them. Music, coming closer.

“You know what that is?” Doof’s eyes narrowed.

“It’s that ice cream truck!” said Will.

“There it is!” Doof pointed and ran, and Will followed. I’ll be late for supper.

The ice cream truck turned onto the street two blocks ahead of them, braying its incongruously cheerful tune.

“It’s purple!” said Will. “Weird.” All the ice cream trucks he’d ever seen were painted in bright summery colours like pink or yellow. This one was a solid, dark purple, a night colour. On the roof, a lit-up plastic ice cream cone twirled bright red stripes.

“That’s not all that’s weird about it,” said Doof, puffing a bit. “Come on, hurry up!”

But they couldn’t catch it. The ice cream truck was going too fast toward downtown, its taillights glowing an intense red. Will thought he saw orange and purple sparks coming out of the tailpipe. As it went around a corner and out of sight, Will almost remembered the tune, some kind of lullaby, but played so fast it sounded anything but soothing.

“It’s a special ice cream truck,” Doof said, as the two of them stood catching their breaths. “It goes out at night. I’ll bet it’s got special ice cream and maybe other stuff. It’s only for grownups, or kids who don’t go running home to Mommy just ’cause it’s getting dark.” Doof jerked his head, flinging his mop of hair back, and grinned at Will while he put his baseball cap back on.

“My dad says there can’t be an ice cream truck. It’s getting cold, and who wants ice cream at night?”

“Why not? All kinds of things happen at night.” Doof hummed the Jaws theme. “Doo, doo, doo, doo, woo! Boogeyman gonna get ya, Willy!”

Will laughed and punched him on the arm “How do you know so much about that ice cream truck, anyway?”

“I go places you don’t and keep my eyes open while I’m there.” Doof flapped his ball cap at Will.

“Have you had any ice cream from it? What’s it like?”

“Not yet,” said Doof, “but I’m gonna find out.”

Photo-prompt Flash Fiction: Answering the Call

The seas had crept higher each year and hurricanes got stronger. Month by month, the Moon’s leering face grew larger as the highest tides of the millennium invaded the land. Rumors spoke of stirrings in the deep, of some new power that made it perilous to live near the sea.

Then came the earthquake, convulsing the entire eastern seaboard. Cities foundered, towns drowned. The oceans climbed the hills and entered every door. Streets once said to be paved with gold vanished under wave-laid ridges of sand. The deep waters touched the things of humans, left their marks and placed their claims.

People abandoned the coastlines and fled inland. Ruins remained ruins. Towers thrust empty into silent skies. Crabs frolicked in the sandy streets by day and seabirds soared above; rats hunted there at night.

The boy had journeyed far. In the turmoil of the time, watchfulness failed in the asylum he had been sent to when his gills emerged. Slipping through an unwatched door, he fled and hid. Travelling by night, he wandered eastward, tugged by an ancient impulse toward the sea. The nights flung vast arrays of stars across the sky. Before she went away, his grandmother had told him their patterns had changed since she was small. She told him he would follow her some day. He knew he had to hasten now, to reach land’s end when the time was right.

Sometimes, the lights glowing from house windows reminded him of sweet, lost things. But always the sea-longing in his blood pulled him away. And there were his gills, of course. They had grown and developed. He was able to swim a long way underwater now and had changed in other ways too. When he raised a hand to the sun, the webs between his fingers filtered the light. The few people who came close enough to get a good look at his face ran away screaming.

The metropolis was a vast labyrinth inhabited by animals grown bold and curious. The boy avoided them, exploring the empty streets by day, finding safe places to hide in at night. He knew this wasn’t where he needed to be. This wasn’t the great undersea city of his grandmother’s stories, or the brooding, ancient town where she was born.

On the night the moon ate the sun, the boy heard voices calling to him. He ran down a long street to the harbour, jumping over the ridges of sand between rows of hollow, blank-windowed buildings. The Deep Ones had arrived. “Iä! Iä!” they cried. “He sleeps no more, he dreams no more. He lives! Come to us, little one!” As the boy approached the desolate, weed-grown wharves, shapes emerged from the sea. His people. They would guide him to the portal in the deeps, where the elders would welcome him home.

Written in response to Diana’s March Speculative Fiction Prompt.

Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Image by Natan Vance from Pixabay.

The Old Remington: The Complete Story

Here’s a nifty twisty tale originally posted as a serial by Pete of Beetley. All you writers might find this especially compelling.


This is the whole twenty-part serial, in one long story. It is for those of you who prefer to read it as a complete work. A long read, of 26,570 words.

Martin had always wanted to write a novel. He imagined his name on the cover, and thought ‘Martin Harwood’ would look good, especially after the words ‘The new bestseller from…’.

He had a solid idea for the story too. It would be about the frustrations of a forty-something man from the big city, a man whose life hadn’t quite worked out as he planned it. More or less his own story of course, but he would change the name of the main character, that was a given. Still, there were a few obstacles to overcome. For one thing, he didn’t own a computer. He had thought about typing the whole thing onto his mobile phone, but he soon gave…

View original post 26,452 more words

Mr. King and I

A few weeks ago, as I began reading 11/22/63 concurrently with Dr. Sleep, I realized that I’ve had a decades-long relationship with Stephen King.

I bought a copy of Carrie in a used book store in Vancouver B.C. in (I think) 1975 and found it horribly fascinating, not so much because of Carrie’s paranormal power or the bloodbath at the end, but the stark picture of high school culture. Salem’s Lot is a true horror, but told with more subtlety than is common in that genre. The Shining is the same, only better, combining human drama with supernatural evil in a totally compelling way. Then there’s The Stand, the ultimate “what if” scenario. I was on board for just about all his books for years, but I never did get involved with the “Dark Tower” saga and eventually I began to lose touch with Mr. King. While I love big, fat books, I got tired of cataclysmic conclusions (as in Needful Things and Insomnia, for example). The Tommyknockers and It are saved (barely) by memorable characters. It also features one of King’s trademarks — a vivid portrayal of childhood and the past. I’ve read The Dead Zone, Firestarter and Christine more than once, and Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game are among my favourites. Oh, and Pet Sematary — now there’s a perfect blend of human tragedy and supernatural evil, just as good as or better than The Shining. Over the years, I’ve spent many enjoyable hours reading (and re-reading) King’s books. As immersive entertainment, the best of them are hard to equal.

Some people don’t seem to realize that Stephen King is not simply a writer of horror fiction. It’s true that his early books were squarely in that genre, and just about all of his writing includes some element of the paranormal, but many of his books could also be called psychological fiction. Their common element is not horror (meaning evil supernatural entities or powers) but people dealing with difficult, even impossible situations, some caused by evil supernatural entities, but others resulting from bad luck and human frailty. (Think of Cujo or Gerald’s Game). Most of them seem to originate with the question “What if…?” Maybe “speculative fiction” is a better label. Readers who are put off by horror may avoid King altogether, missing out on some great reads.

I was sparked into writing my first book (The Friendship of Mortals) after reading King’s On Writing. This slender book made writing seem do-able, something not beyond the capabilities of a person with a full time job. Before reading it, I had always supposed that the only way to be a writer was to write for a living, preferably after completing a degree in Creative Writing and hanging out with bohemians in some writers’ utopia. I already had an idea for a novel — to explore the personality and motivation of H.P. Lovecraft’s character Herbert West, with a librarian at Miskatonic University as narrator. King’s book got me started, and brought me to this point, writing a blog post in tribute to this versatile and wildly successful author.

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Yesterday I found I’ve been tagged by Michelle Proulx in a blog hop about the writing process. Many thanks to Michelle for an enthusiastic endorsement of my novel The Friendship of Mortals.

But yikes! What’s a blog hop? What do I need to do? (Is it like a chain letter? If I don’t carry it on, does my blog get nuked?) On the other hand, writing process is an interesting and vital topic to writers. Every writer has one, whether they know it or not.

So here goes —

1) What are you working on?

After a few years (yes, years!) of no major new writing projects, I feel that one of my idea-seeds is about to sprout. (After all, it’s spring, and all kinds of seeds are sprouting in my garden). A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post called “I Need to Move to Another Planet,” when I was in a state of annoyance with the world as it is. Then I wrote a story set in what I envisioned as a better world, about a young man trying to create a blue rose. These threads twisted themselves together in my imagination, but nothing much else happened until a few weeks ago, when I found myself writing notes about plot details and characters. Then I actually wrote an outline for a 24 chapter, 72,000 word novel. Now all I have to do is write it.

That’s the only project that’s even come close to taking shape so far. Another that remains in the idea-seed stage is a spin-off from my now-concluded Herbert West Series, combining Egyptology and a bit of magic. Trouble is, I have to read The Egyptian Book of the Dead first, to charge up my imagination. That might take a while.

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?

Well, this one’s easy, because my work doesn’t fit into a well-defined genre. Mostly I describe it in terms of what it’s not: not horror, not fantasy, not science fiction or historical or paranormal, but with elements of all of these, rolled into a thing that might be described as “supernatural literary speculative fiction.” Lumpy, but there it is. The Herbert West Series is rooted in a horror story by H.P. Lovecraft, but I was more interested in the characters and their personal monsters than in discrete evil entities.

3) Why do you write what you write?

My first answer — I have no idea. After thinking about it, though, I suspect it’s an effort to create situations in which individuals find a way to access magic. I have been fascinated by alchemy since I read Mircea Eliade’s writings about it in university, and more recently discovered Carl Jung’s Alchemical Studies and Psychology and Alchemy. When I felt compelled to expand upon H.P. Lovecraft’s amoral, corpse-animating doctor, Herbert West, I decided he had to undergo a series of transformations such as those in alchemy, to create excellence from base matter.

4) How does your writing process work?

Well, it starts with one of those idea-seeds. I know it’s viable once I find my brain working on it in the background, throwing out little ideas that I must write down immediately. Those ideas are pretty fleeting, and if I don’t nail them down right away they depart forever. Eventually I start thinking in terms of scenes or chapters and once there are enough of those, if I’m lucky I actually sit down and write something. All my first drafts so far have been in longhand — pen on paper. When I come back to the work, the first thing I see is the spot where I left off, not the beginning. I like watching the pile of manuscript pages fatten up as the days pass, and because my scribble is harder to read than the mercilessly legible text of a Word document, I’m not tempted to fiddle with what I’ve already put down, but  press on to the end. Once I reach it, I transcribe the whole thing into Word, editing on the fly. After that, I add stuff, delete stuff and move stuff around until I feel the work is ready to be seen by my critique group. beta readers, etc.

OK, that’s it. Now for tagging four other bloggers who will (I hope) be delighted to talk about their writing process just because I thought they might.

Edeana Malcolm is a member of my novelists’ critique group. She has read all my novels and suggested improvements. She has published a quartet of novels herself, based on the history of her family. Her blog is called My Writing Eden.

Sever Bronny is a fellow Victorian. He is about to release his debut fantasy-adventure novel and has created an awesomely thorough marketing plan.

Cole Davidson is one of the best WordPress bloggers I know. (He’s been Freshly Pressed!) His posts display strong opinions eloquently expressed and more often than not contain links to music, with lyrics appended. I’m pretty sure he did Nanowrimo last year, so he must have a fiction writing process.

Christian Tanner is a writer of short stories worth reading. (How could I ignore a blog called Weird Short Stories by Christian, with the motto “Stay weird”?)