Read 90_Minutes_to_Live Online

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90_Minutes_to_Live (4 page)

“You coming?” Smitty calls back, voice distant through the faceplate.

I sling out across the ballroom, muscle memory taking over. I twist in the air and wheel one hand to swing my feet around and I slide past Smitty right into the cockpit.

He grins and shakes his head, muttering something too low for me to hear.

“Gunner’s back there,” I hock my thumb. “Back door only.”

Again, he gives me that grin and hauls hand over hand back to the other hatch.

“Hey Smitty,” I shout as he goes, “You thought about how to get out of here?” The doors aren’t open and I’d bet those were the first systems the nanobots shut down. Betties aren’t loaded with explosives—it was always pure ballistics, basically ball bearings at high enough speeds to melt through hull plating.

“What,” says Smitty, “Don’t the Navy teach you kids how to punch your way out of a paper bag?”

It’s obvious then what he’s going to do. I don’t need to hear the whir o
f
the turrets warming up.

The inflatable walls aren’t meant for any kind of impact; you’re expected to deflate and shut the lid when there’s trouble, rely on the plated stuff and fold up the polymer walls behind a couple of bulkheads.

Smitty rakes down the length of the wall with his first salvo. A second won’t be needed—it’s tearing open under the interior pressure. It looks like one of those slow-motion clips of bursting water balloons, with polymer strands rippling back from the slash Smi
t
t
y

s
o
p
e
n
e
d
.

Air surges forward into the vacuum and it crystallizes, hurling Linda’s body out past us into the night, and sweeping us with it in a swirling, screaming snowstorm.

I punch the engine once, hard and get us clear of the debris. Outside sounds fall away and all we’re left with is Smitty’s hollering, “Oh
hell
yeah! I
like
them apples!”

I let him whoop for a moment but now I know how Randy felt—we’re far from safe just yet.

“Ok kid, bring it back for a sec,” I say, “You see a box on the floor? Six green lights?”

“Yeah,” says Smitty. “So?”

“That’s the brains for the bots. I killed it once but found another over here, so that one grew back.”

“Can we kill them both at once?”

“That’s the idea,” I say, “But I want to get away from the other ships first.”

“There are other boxes on them?”

Smart kid, Smitty.

“Sir?” he says, “Is that the Lancer?”

“Where?”

“Forward, three-five?”

Shit, it is
. All da
r
k
s
t
i
l
l
,
a
s
h
a
d
o
w
p
a
s
s
i
n
g
b
e
f
o
r
e
t
h
e
s
t
a
r
s
,
w
i
t
h
j
u
s
t
a
h
i
n
t
o
f
a
n
i
o
n
g
l
o
w
a
t
h
e
r
t
a
i
l
.
A
n
d
s
h
e

s
m
oving towa
rds us
—exactly towards us, on an intercept course. It doesn’t make any sense, unless—

“Jaz?” I punch up the hailing frequencies. “Jaz, you in there?” Maybe she’s made it after all. Maybe she fought back the bots, retook the
Lancer
.

“Sir, if it’s not her-“

“Don’t shoot!” I snap, “Jaz, you read me? Gimme a waggle.” I shake our tail as the
Lancer
looms closer, still right on track to cross our path. “Waggle dammit-“

Smitty opens up with everything he’s got. It isn’t much, ju
s
t
b
r
i
g
h
t
l
i
t
t
l
e
b
l
i
p
s
h
u
r
l
e
d
o
u
t
along our path.

“Sorry Jaz,” I whisper.

I can see the
Lancer
shudder with the first impacts. Her nose drifts down as gasses vent somewhere forward and I pull up hard and edge over her, close enough to feel the tug of her gravity plates.

Smitty swings the guns around as we pass.

“Engines,” I shout, “Get the engines!” Shit, if these bots are flying our boats…God, I wish it were me in the gunner’s pit and Randy at the stick. I’ve made that shot a hundred times an
d
i
t

s
k
i
l
l
i
n
g
m
e
t
o
h
e
a
r
t
h
e
g
u
n
s
c
l
a
t
ter without knowing where they’re pointed.

But I see the blue arc aft, a plasma breach in at least one tube and Smitty’s shouting, “Punch it, punch it!”

I don’t need to be told. We’re already gone.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he says, “The
Hannah Lee
.”

She

s
lumbering around to follow us now too, already coming abreast of the crippled
Lancer
.

“How the hell are they following us?” I ask. The Betty’s only form of armor is her low-libido hull, which is supposed to baffle any kind of automated tracking, on the theory you can’t shoot what you can’t see. Well, forty years ago anyway.

“You said these boxes broadcast, yeah?”

Shit, of course they do. I grab my pry-bar and talk Smitty through to his.

“One, two, THREE.”

The crowbar shakes and stings my hands through my gloves as I hammer away at my box and I relish every shockwave as another tiny taste of vengeance.

“Got mine,” says Smitty.

I don’t wait to confirm, I just yank the stick around and angle my mirrors to watch the
Hannah Lee
come up behind us. She sails on by, course unchanged.

Smitty laughs.

At first, I figure it’s just nerves but he just keeps going.

“Something funny?”

“I just realized,” he says, “We beat ‘em, but we’re gonna die anyway,” he shakes his head. “I got two hours of air in here and we’re in the middle of fucking nowhere.”

He’s right.

I’ve got less air than him. Maybe ninety minutes. The nearest station is Freemason’s and that’s six days away by any reasonable burn. The only chance is… “Hey Smitty,” I say, and n
o
w I’m the one lau
g
h
i
ng like a maniac. “How you feel about eight G’s?”

It’s about as much acceleration as Betty can crank out at full throttle. I don’t know how long she can do it; I don’t think anybody knows.

“I feel like I’d pass out,” says Smitty.

He’s right. The blood
rushes down from your brain to your feet and pools there—a pressure suit does a lot to keep circulation normal but at eight G’s you have to expect you’ll cut down oxygen flow to the bra
i
n a
n
d t
h
e
n
i
t

s
g
o
o
d
n
i
g
ht for at least a while.

“I feel like I use less O2 when I’m blacked out,” he says.

Good enough. I’m already pulling the Betty’s nose around, letting her drift and correct. If I’m off by even a tenth of a degree at this distance—if there’s even a touch of
tumbl
e
on
her

we’ll miss Freemas
o
n’s by thirty-five million miles. Nobody’s going to be awake to correct the course and we don’t even have time to decelerate properly.

This will only work if the aim is perfect. We have to come in on
a
n
i
m
p
a
c
t
p
a
t
h

o
r
a
t
l
e
a
s
t
c
l
o
s
ely
e
n
o
u
g
h
t
h
e
c
o
m
p
u
t
e
r
s will flag the trajectory and somebody will come out to find us.

“Smitty,” I say, “You’re a good kid.”

I punch it.

 

THE END

2
nd
Place

 

Godforsaken

(Horror)

 

By

 

Brad Carpenter

 

Death didn't knock; He rang the doorbell. He hovered over my front porch with a scythe in one hand and a bouquet of freshly cut roses in the other. I opened the door in my skivvies, sipping a cup of coffee as black as the apparition before me. “Ronald Scanlan,” Death wailed, rattling concealed chains hidden in the depths of his robe. “You have lived far, far too long.” I emphatically agreed. He handed me the roses, I inhaled their ethereal fragrance and then, as usual, I woke up.

The pain in my hip throbbed, my arthritis-ridden joints ached, my bladder was full, my heart empty. A few days ago, I turned eighty. That's eight-zero. At this rate of decay Death was all I had left.

I live by my lonesome in the magical land of Hollywood, where anything and everything is possible; unless you're an eighty-year-old washout like me. In this city, in my line of work, I'm an ancient ruin. A fucking Mayan temple. In my former life—my life before my kids forced me into assisted living—I was a hotshot in the field of special effects. If a film needed monster makeup or any type of a
nimatronics
, my partner and I were always the first to get the call. But these crackerjacks running the industry today wanted nothing to do with the likes of me; they cared
nothing
about my work ethic, nor my expertise. To them, I was just another fossil, stuck in the tar pits of La Brea.

Never mind that I have more film credits than I have socks.

And I have a lot of socks.

I picked out a pair, got out of bed and showered. Today was election day. The year was 1984, the time of hot summers and cold wars. I called my son with the faint hope he'd give me a ride to the county courthouse. He said he had to work—but at least he answered my call. That's more than I could say for my daughter; I got the distinct impression she was ignoring me completely.
Guess you're walking today Ronald, you sorry-ass-sack-of-shit
. Luckily my hip was feeling very medicated at the moment but I knew, by the time
Charles in Charge
started at eight o'clock, it would be throbbing something awful.

I voted for Walter Mondale but Reagan would win, of course...again. Everyone knew it. If you ask me, democracy doesn't work.

I didn't even watch the results. I didn't care. Instead I took advantage of my VCR, which, by the way, was the best invention to come along since air conditioning. Tonight was some B movie starring people I've never heard of. The special effects were atrocious—something any asshole could do in their backyard—but I kept watching because the girl in it had wonderful tits. In a funny coincidence, it happened to be about Death.
Hey, stranger...I was just thinking 'bout you.

My mind wandered off then, as it so often does. I started thinking about creative ways to kill myself. Not that I'd actually do it mind you. Just a way to pass the time.
I could suffocate myself wearing a silicone monster mask,
I thought, grinning so wide the wrinkles on my forehead became folds.
Yes! A monster mask, preferably something with fangs!
I imagined my ghost floating in the rafters, watching the police find my body stretched out on my piss-yellow couch wearing the grotesque face of a gargoyle. That'd be a great way to go. It'd be like leaving behind a calling card of my work.

A scream ripped me from my daydream. The well-endowed brunette was naked, running through a very smoky graveyard. Behind her came Death: tall, lean, with bleached, boney fingers always reaching outward. I sighed deeply, trying to riddle out why Death hadn't found his way to my front porch yet. I was beginning to think he'd never find me. Then, on a sweltering hot morning in mid-August, the doorbell rang.

 

*   *   *

 

Alas, it wasn't the Grim Reaper. But it was close enough. It was a Hollywood executive who probably wanted the same thing as Death: to take whatever's left of my soul.

He wore a manicured gray suit with a gaudy red bowtie, a risky bit of fashion that would have made a less confident man look foolish but this man appeared regal, sleek and even elegant. On the other hand, I was still in my bathrobe, the one with the Tabasco stain on it. Also, my socks were mismatched: one black with a red stripe, one solid white with no stripe.

“Don't act like you aren’t happy to see me Scanlan,” said Bernie Heller. He smiled a fiendish smile, revealing a solid gold tooth. I swear it sparkled, just like in a goddamn cartoon. He didn't wait for an invitation; he waltzed into the living room, took off his coat and laid it over the couch. He paused when he saw the oval mirror on the wall; straightened his bowtie.

Bernie Heller was a Jew with a real cocky attitude—what I like to call 'Jewitude'. He had wealth, he had power and he lived to flaunt his authority. “My dad would be furious to see you rotting away in a dump like this.”

His father was my former partner. Joel Heller worked his way through the ranks, beginning as my partner in the fifties and then he dabbled in set design. Next, sometime in the mid-sixties, he moved on to producing and directing.  Then, due to his considerable wealth, he formed his own production company; by the time Bernie was born his dad had his own studio. It's no surprise his son picked up where Joel left off. The Hellers were like hot air balloons, they kept on rising and rising, until the entire world stretched below them.

“Get dressed,” he snapped his fingers at me. “Maybe take a shower. We gotta be downtown in...” he paused, glanced at his wristwatch. “
Ah
Christ-on-a-pogo-stick, we're gonna be late. Better skip the shower Scanlan, just put on a tie and let's hit the road. If ya don't have a tie you can borrow one of mine. I gotta few spares.”

I frowned, momentarily speechless. “I have a tie,” I said, stupidly.

“Well, giddyup.”

When I didn't move he placed a hand on my shoulder, looked me square in the eyes. “Jesus, are you going to make me say it? Look, we need you to give us your opinion on something.”

“A movie?” It was the last thing I expected to hear. Could it be? Was it possible, one of these young assholes valued my professional opinion?

“Yeah, some B-movie horror picture called
Godforsaken.
” Bernie scratched the stubble under his chin. “This one's got us big-shots perplexed. I mean, it's brilliant. But we don't know what to do with it. We don't have a clue how the director achieved some of these shots. The effects...well...shit...it's something we've never seen before. I mentioned your name to some of the others, showed 'em some of your work, plus I remembered you and my dad were buddy-buddy...thought you could give us some insight.”

“I'm...I'm honored.”

“Don't get all sentimental on me, Sally Field. It's just some low-budget Grind-house flick.”

“Well, I'm still honored.”

He smiled at me again. But this time the smile was genuine. For a brief moment I saw beyond the silly bowtie and gold tooth; I saw his father, the man I grew to love all those years ago.

I was about to say something reminiscent about his old man, when Bernie's face suddenly turned serious. “Scanlan, that movie...” his voice trailed away; stopped short in his throat. “That goddamn movie...I can't get it out of my head.
Godforsaken
is an apt title indeed. It's the most terrifying thing I've seen...
ever.

 

*   *   *

 

Four silhouettes gathered around a ticking projector; their shadows were faceless giants in neatly tailored suits, arguing amongst themselves, grumbling, flailing hands, flapping gums, smoking like chimneys. I had to take a step back to let my tired eyes really drink in the situation. An hour ago, I was inventing clever ways to kill myself and now, here I stood, in the presence of some of the biggest players in Hollywood—at least on the business end of things.

They hardly noticed me.

Not a one bothered to shake my hand or took the time to introduce themselves. For a good ten minutes I stood there feeling like a turd in a field of roses; until, finally, a man with gargantuan gold rings on each of his ten fingers handed me a freshly cut cigar, then gave a second one to Bernie. I don't really like to smoke, (the smell gets stuck in my mustache, I end up smelling it all day and night) but I took the cigar anyway. It tasted wonderful, made me wonder if I'd been smoking Average Joe cigars my whole life and these were some high-end, ultra-swanky cigars only available to millionaires and fascist dictators.

“Most movie directors are vain people Mr. Scanlan, as I'm sure you're aware,” said Ring Man, pacing. “So, why then do we have
no
idea who made this film?”

The other two nameless men didn't bother to turn around. Both were seated in the second row of the viewing area. The first man—a skinny fellow, built like an upside down broom with an extra-pointy nose reminding me of a pyramid—doodled on a napkin impatiently. Every few seconds he'd look at his watch and sigh. The other man was a huge, lumpy grizzly bear who puffed on a cigarette instead of a cigar. Not once did he look me in the eyes.

Bernie Heller continued where Ring Man left off. “We have absolutely nothing to go on. There's no opening credits. There's no closing credits. In fact, the only credit throughout the entire movie is the title crawl, which you will see here in just a second...it's very disturbing.”

I cleared my throat, doing my best to sound as if I actually belonged in this room. “How did you...um...how did you come across this film in the first place?”

“It was a gift...of sorts,” said Bernie. He passed a manila envelope to me, addressed to him and to three others, already ripped open. In the center, written in tiny, perfect calligraphy was a single word:
Godforsaken
. “Two weeks ago I found this on my front porch. Just lying there, pink bow and all. Little did I know each one of these cocksuckers got the same gift on their doorsteps.”

“This isn't summer camp for us, Mr. Scanlan. We don't necessarily like each other. In fact, just last year my studio about went bankrupt thanks to George,” explained Ring Man, using his cigar as a pointer. The corpulent man with his back to me waved, pleased with himself. I couldn't see his face but I could tell he was smiling.

Pyramid Nose decided now was a great time to break his vow of silence. Years of sucking tar made his voice sound more robotic than human—gruff, coarse, like a goose honking at a predator. “You fellas missed the bulls-eye on this one. The question isn't
who
made this picture, it's
how...
Now I've seen some shit in movies that falls short of actual magic but this film...this film makes my eyes want to bleed.”

Ring Man took this as his cue to start the movie. He flipped a switch on the projector, which gave a loud pop. The warm, welcoming aroma of burnt celluloid tickled my nostrils; before I'd fully prepared myself, the movie began.

Words scrolled up like in the beginning of
Star Wars:

Five people. One simple rule.

Get out of the house.

Get out of the house before the movie is over. Before THE END.

Ready? Let's begin....

Lights.

Camera.

Action....

Godforsaken.

FADES IN:
D
andelions sway back and forth; a few whiskers rip apart from their brothers and glide in the gentle breeze. A scene of serenity. Yet the music tells a different story. Bold, brass, bellicose horns foreshadow the horror to come; high-pitched violins erupt in a storm of strings. The camera pans across the field of dandelions, slowly, with no apparent rush. Buzzing flies are heard before they are seen. A large man drags a cow's carcass through the mud, leaving behind a trail of blood. The man's face is never seen, camera stays on the cow.

Eventually, the camera pans up, revealing a dilapidated two-story house complete with a wraparound porch and a slanted, brick chimney. All the windows are missing; the front door is sideways, hanging by a single hinge. In an upstairs window, screams can be heard—shouts for help....

At the bottom left corner of the screen, black numbers appear. Starts at 00:00, and begins to count up. 00:01, 00:02....

 

I took my eyes away from the screen for only a second, tapped Bernie on the shoulder. He wasn't blinking. “Those numbers,” I asked, “is that some sort of new time code you guys put in post production?”

Bernie shook his head. “No. It's part of the film. It's a countdown...to the end.”

My heart raced inside my chest and I then realized; I was terrified. “How long's the film?”

“Standard industry length,” said Bernie. “Ninety minutes.”

 

The cow is now being pulled up the front porch stairs. The head slaps each step.
Thump. Thump. Thump
. Something dressed in stained overalls sits on a rocking chair petting a cat—at first you think it is human but then you see the rat-like snout and pointed whiskers. It dangles a wooden marionette over the purring kitten. The camera moves past the creature—only showing it for half a second—it's neither explained nor seen again. In fact, a heartbeat later, the rocking chair is empty and the marionette is in crumbles on the floorboards; crows peck at the crumbs, cawing, barking, flapping.

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