"By Way of Thank You"
by John Goodrich
What really killed Brian Keene wasn’t his writing, but taking a break from it.
He had been spending a lot of time in the nearly-inaccessible concrete bunker in the bowels of the defense installation he called The Compound. His home, his safe haven from the hordes of ravening FUKU, as well as semi-human zombie fanciers. Here he wrote his books and stories, and, on occasion, posted to the Internet.
He’d just finished a particularly difficult scene, and figured he deserved a bit of down time. Maybe he would go look at That Message board.
“FINALLY PUBLISHED!” was the thread’s title. With more trepidation than hope, Brian clicked.
“YeAZ BiTcHeZ!” gushed the post. “The Crapola anthology series took my story. Cost me $200 for the processing, but they really liked “Zombie Slumber Party Slaughter.” They said I could be the next Stefanie Myer with my talent. All I need is to get sdome notice, which I’ll get once Crapola hits the stands! Who’s a thought it, published on my first story!”
Brian ground his teeth. He’s typed this response so often his fingers already knew where to go as he thought about what to have for lunch.
“No. Look, kid, money flows to the author.” The words ripped across the screen like a jackrabbit with an M-80 up its tailpipe. “These assholes at Crapola are ripping you off. They aren’t distributing your story. Nobody worth anything reads Crapola. You’ve just flushed your money down a dirty but well-worn toilet.”
He clicked the “send” button, and wandered around the site to see if there was any worthwhile conversation to be had.
A few minutes later, the thread had been lengthened by a single response. He took a deep breath, readied himself for the usual ignorant rebuttal, and viewed the thread.
“Don’t be h8tr, dudzor” the message ran. “I’ve been working on this writing thing for six weeks, and you old guyz don’t like to see the new guyz coming up to kick ur assez. Yeah, I didn’t make any momney off the sale, but people can and do read the Crapola anthologies. That’s why they charge so much—they get great distribuition. In a couple of months, someone else will pick up my storey, and I’ll get a contract for a couple of books. They said I will be the horror’s next Sephanie Meyer.”
“You fucking idiot!” He didn’t type it, he screamed it at the screen. Not for the first time, he wished for a device that would let him slap sense into someone through the Internet. Since he didn’t have one, he was just going to have to school this numbskull with words that would probably bounce of his thick skull. But he had to try.
The light in the bunker flashed. That was the doorbell. He only switched it on when the wife was out… dammit. She was out shopping. Food or clothes or something. He wished he’d paid more attention to where she was going.
Nothing to do but go see who it was. He considered dropping the intruders sight unseen into the pit trap that he reserved for Jehova’s Witnesses. But it might be someone he wasn’t expecting. Someone he liked.
He looked through the peeohole. They were lawyers. They didn’t even have to open their mouths and he knew they were lawyers. They wore stereotypical pinstriped suits, with the red power ties that should have died in the ninties. Their hair was immobile, even in the November breeze.
What the did lawyers want with him? Not pushing the button to dump them into the oubliette took more willpower than had gone into his first book. Lawyers. He took a deep breath, calmed himself, and checked the loads of the weapons cache. When he was ready, he opened the door.
“Mr. Keene?” The lefthand lawyer was wearing sunglasses on an overcast November day. He clearly thought he was Mr. Smith from the Matrix. “Mr. Brian Keene?”
Brian let out a small, dejected sigh. He was about to be served.
“Yeah that’s me.”
“We are the representatives of PublishNorthAmerica, the publishers of Crapola. We understand you’ve been advising one of our authors not to pay for publication. Not to mention the slanderous ways in which you attack out client, PublishNorthAmerica, whenever they come up.”
“Wait a second. Didn’t your little trip out here cost a little bit more than you made from any of those little guys? You guys charge more by the hour than that guy paid you.”
“You have been a thorn in our side for some time, Mr. Keene. Now it is time to rectify that.”
Keene’s easy smile was confident, and the smirk on the lawyer’s face faded.
“What’s black and brown and looks good on a lawyer?” the author asked.
The lawyers exchanged glances, wasting valuable time as the Rotties charged them. A gruesome gurgling was followed by the wet crunch of bone, and then a sloppy licking sound.
As the dogs were about their work, Brian noticed the black van that was parked on the street. Even as he was wondering how much more cliché his visitors could be, the van’s side door opened, and two more men in black suits stepped out. The left one even had sunglasses.
“Fuck this.” Brian pulled a pistol off the wall and unloaded. The two went down in crumpled heaps. This was going to be a big mess.
The black van’s door opened again, and a squad of black-suited figured leaped out, this time carrying an array of assault rifles and pistols. He could almost hear the Propellerheads music as they charged, firing with all the accuracy of Hollywood Nazis.
Bullets smacked against walls, and the concrete of the Compound echoed with thunder as Brian returned fire. They were all on the ground in a few seconds, and Brian was reloading.
The van vomited more black-suited bodies, as if they’d stowed some sort of clown car in it. But their tactics were movie simple: run forward, guns blazing. Running and gunning, they were as accurate as a Dan Brown novel, cliché as an exploding car.
Wait a minute.
Brian pumped four shots into the van’s engine block.
True to form, it exploded in a fireball that would have made ten kilos of plastic explosive proud. The van vaulted backwards, nose over end, before coming to rest in a smoking, burning heap.
The quiet was sudden end eerie, the only sound the panting of the Rotties and the greasy crackle of flames devouring burning van.
Not much later, The Wife drove up. He watched her cascade of red hair as she slung the kid, then threaded her way across the corpse-strewn yard.
“Half the county heard that explosion,” she said. “And there was only one place it could come from. You’ve got quite the mess to clean up.“
Brian rolled his eyes. “Me? But this isn’t my fau—“
Her glance was so sharp he never felt the cut. Just fell to the ground, the world turning black.
“I warned you before,” she said, somewhere beyond the black cotton that smothered the world. “Never mess with the redhead.”
Today is Brian Keene Must Die day. Brian will be killed in dozens of horrifying ways in blogs across the blogosphere for a very good cause. Please consider making a donation to the Shirley Jackson Awards.
Someday I’ll be one of the cool kids and hear about these before they happen. I owe Brian for a very good headbanging that I desperately needed a few years ago. Thanks, Brian.