Before I say anything else:
Right, now then, onto the story!
I tried something new this week: I rolled a bunch of dice with pictures on them. Then I sat down and wrote a short story entirely inspired/based around those pictures.
And since I like how it turned out, I think I'm going to do one of these per month. Going forward, this series will be available to all Patrons, but I'm leaving this one set to public so everyone can see how it works.
So I have this scrimshaw box (don't worry, it's imitation).
And in this box, I keep all sorts of interesting dice I've picked up over the years.
Along with some inspiration vials of BPAL.
Now, all of those dice with little pictures on them, those are Story Cubes.
Oh, and that little d6. I've had that for years and have no idea where I got it, but I guess you'd call it a Genre Die?
Technically, Story Cubes is meant to be played as a game. I've never used them that way, myself. I bought them to use for what I'm doing here: as ways to randomly generate elements of short fiction.
Here's how I'm going to do it:
Step 1) Set Up the Generator (i.e., the dice tower and tray)
Step 2) Prepare the Dice (shove all the dice into a bag)
Step 3) Select a Sample Size (pick 5 random dice from the bag)
Step 4) Agitate the Samples (aka ROLL THE DICE)
Step 5) Determine the Genus (roll the Genre Die)
Thank you for bearing with me and my silliness. Future posts will only have this final photo showing the genre and elements.
- Lighting something on fire
- Giving/receiving a gift
- Breaking something
Everything you see was produced as randomly as possible, and then I sat down and wrote a rough draft of a short story that incorporates all of these elements. (Although it turned left and went more for pure horror instead of 'weird'.)
It's a complete story in that it's got a beginning, middle, and end, but it's by no means finished. BUT. It's a whole-ass draft of something and that's what counts!
UNTITLED: A WWI STORY
Tags: trench warfare, body horror, zombies?, eye squick
For a few seconds, Donovan didn’t fully realize that the shelling had stopped. His brain couldn’t credit it. His ears, so used to the constant barrage of explosions, of screaming men and horses and the whistle of bullets, still heard them. His eyes still saw the Very lights rising up into the night. Quiet was something that just didn’t belong there at the Front.
And in any case, on the rare occasions that it did show up, it never lasted long.
Soon the noises started in No Man’s Land, the groans of wounded men and animals, the sobs of some poor bastard who was stuck up on the wire, and from a long way off, the shouts from the German trenches.
Donovan slowly unclenched stiff, painful fingers from around the barrel of his gun, and looked around cautiously. No… no, that couldn’t be right. His eyes were still adjusting to the quiet, that was all…
He blinked, and stared, and pushed his shallow helmet back and wiped the mud from his eyes, and looked again. But the sight before him did not change.
The entire line of the trench to his left had collapsed.
He gulped hard and turned, shaking, to his right, praying that he would see Billy or Ned or Major Walsh coming towards him—
There was nothing. Just wet earth and rubble and random bits of limbs still clothes in scraps of charred uniform.
Donovan dropped to his knees in the icy water and mud and heaved up what was left of his breakfast.
He was alone. He was alone in the center of a muddy hell and it was the middle of the night. There was no one coming to get him until morning, and maybe not even then. But he had to get out of this business. Had to get out of this… bowl of cream-of-man soup.
He slung his rifle over his shoulder and peered very cautiously over the top of what remained of the trench. All it would take was one sharp-eyed German sniper to be peering back at the same time, and Donovan would have all the quiet he could stomach.
But no shot came, and he was able to see by what little light the stars offered. About a hundred and fifty feet in front of him was a Red Cross ambulance, lying pitifully on its side. Some fool hero of a driver had actually gone into No Man’s Land during a lull in the shelling that morning, to try and find any survivors from yesterday’s failed push, and Donovan remembered they actually had found a few poor blighters. But then the Jerries took them out with one well-aimed shell and that had been that.
Squinting, Donovan thought there might be a chance that the ambulance wasn’t actually all that damaged from the blast. It was possible that the shock of the impact had killed the driver and the injured men inside – he’d seen that before and it wasn’t pretty – but left the van intact and, most importantly, still drivable.
Well. Only one way to find out and all that.
He fished out his gas mask and slipped it on. Leave it to the Jerries to send out a wave of chlorine gas just to finish off any survivors. Bloody Huns… He tightened the straps and clapped his helmet back on, and then scrambled out over the shredded fortification of the destroyed trench.
The French mud clung to his boots like the Stockholm tar his dad kept in the cowshed, and it was a job to half-creep, half-crawl over the churned-up ground, and keep his balance and keep his head down, but somehow, he managed.
Don’t worry about the Jerries, he told himself. Don’t think about Billy and the Major and the rest. Just get to the van. Figure out the rest later, right now, just get to the van.
Well, he got there, though Christ above only knew how, and it seemed to take ten thousand years, with every step a fight, and the eerie silence broken only by the occasional faraway groan, feeling his way with his feet and praying he didn’t hit a mine before he reached the ghostly-gray bulk of the ambulance. But he made it there intact.
He wished he could risk an electric torch. Hell, he wished he had a torch. But he had matches, and he badly wanted a cigarette. Not yet, though.
The van had been tipped onto its side by the explosion. It would be a miracle if it really was undamaged, if the jolly big shellhole next to it was anything to go by, but in any case, there was nothing Donovan could do until morning. There just wasn’t enough light, and even if he dared to light a match, it wouldn’t last. He might go back and drag some shattered wood from the bombed-out trench, or creep even further into No Man’s Land to steal a wiring post, and make wooden torches or a bonfire, but then he couldn’t possibly hope to avoid the notice of the Germans.
There was nothing for it. He would have to wait until morning. Hopefully by then, there would be reinforcements coming up the line – a medical detail – something. But until then, his only two choices were to go back to his fragment of trench and huddle there… or stay where he was.
And after all the effort he’d gone through to get there, Donovan didn’t much fancy crawling back. It wasn’t a proper fortification anymore, just another hole in the mud, and one hole in the mud was as good as any other. Besides, he had something better than a hole in the mud. He had an ambulance, with a proper roof and doors.
Maybe even, doors that locked, and if he was very lucky, there might be a bottle of brandy in among the bandages inside.
He stopped and felt around the back of the van, about where he thought the door handles ought to be. There was no lock, but the rain and the damp had rusted them shut.
To hell with the quiet. He bashed the thing in with the butt of his gun, and the door closest to the ground simply flopped open.
He looked at it, and grimaced. He was going to have to crawl inside, and pull the door up behind him. He dropped to his knees to peer inside, but it was pitch-black. Donovan swallowed the hard ball of fear that had formed in his throat, and inched into the ambulance sideways, like a crab. Thank God there was an inside handle to the door, and he was able to pull it closed without any fuss.
Then, and only then, did he light a match.
The men the driver had saved that morning were all dead now, of course. A hard shock and a sudden stop had put an end to whatever other horrors had been inflicted on them. Donovan picked his way carefully over the broken bodies to a far corner, as away from the stink of old blood and flesh just starting to rot as he could. He lit a fresh match, rummaged for and found an unbroken bottle of ‘medicinal’ brandy, and toasted his fallen fellows in thanks for the gift.
He lit a third precious match to briefly check his watch, saw that it was only twenty minutes past eleven, and then settled into his cramped corner as best he could. It was going to be a long night, and not a comfortable one, but at least it was dry, and he couldn’t complain too much about the company. After all, it was no fault of theirs that they were all thrown together like this.
Donovan thought he must have slept. In the darkness, it was hard to tell when his eyes were open and when they were shut. But he thought later that he must have been sleeping, because suddenly he was awake and on his feet, with the barrel of his rifle pointed in the direction of the ambulance door.
He had heard something.
He stood, hunched over in the cock-eyed van, and waited, and listened. He heard… he thought he heard what sounded like pigs. Pigs snuffling. Hungry, rooting little grunts. His half-rotted toes curled in his sodden boots. Rats, he thought, and he tasted bile in the back of his mouth. Corpse rats. Couldn’t be satisfied with all the juicy bits in the trenches, eh? Had to follow me all the way out here? I’ll show ‘em.
In another second or two, he might have realized how silly he sounded, thinking that rats would be able to open a locked metal door. But then the door was wrenched open, and Donovan realized that the sound he had heard was not rats.
It was not rats at all.
It was something much bigger, something on two legs, wearing heavy boots, and groping around in the dark with all the finesse of a drunken private just back from leave. It might have been another unfortunate soldier like himself, bombed out of his trench and looking for somewhere safe to wait out the night.
Might have been, and wasn’t.
Exactly how Donovan knew that, he wasn’t sure. But it strangled any sound he might have made to try and get the new man’s attention. Every instinct of self-preservation that he had acquired as a soldier was screaming at him to not move, not make a sound, not even breathe. ‘Keep your pack light and your head down,’ that was what Major Walsh had always said, and his advice had never yet steered Donovan wrong.
Then again, the Major was in pieces in the mud, all mixed up with pieces of other men, so any advice he’d offered didn’t matter a damn anymore.
He heard a dragging noise he knew well: the sound of a dead body being hauled up. Then he heard something even worse.
He heard crunching, and the grating of teeth on bone.
The horror of it exploded behind his eyes like a shell, and he reached into his pocket for a match and scrubbed it alight on the stock of his rifle. He had to know what it was before he shot at it.
The tiny flame illuminated the inside of the van, only for a second, but it was enough for Donovan to see what had come to visit him in the night – who had come – what had come, because Lord knew that thing that had gnawed the eyeballs out of that dead man’s head wasn’t Major Walsh anymore.
The scream that burst from Donovan’s chest seemed to come from somewhere outside of him, but the explosion that came when he pulled the trigger of his gun was decidedly real. He saw the bright flare, and then pain overwhelmed him, and he blacked out.
The doctors said, when they found him, that he’d never see again. The burns from the exploding breech of his rifle had completely fried his retinas. All things considered, Donovan counted himself a damned lucky fellow.