Blurring the Lines

Blurring the Lines

by Brad Center

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Overview

Blurring the Lines is a collection of 15 stories that twist and re-shape reality - a reality that is not quite ours, but exists in the land of "What If". These stories lead to some thought-provoking questions and even provide an answer or two for consideration. Here you'll find a mix of speculative fiction and horror blended together in the cauldron of imagination.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781546268895
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 12/07/2018
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)

About the Author

Brad Center lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Valerie and his two sons, Jeremy and Peter. When not in Northern Virginia, you can find Brad and Valerie relaxing in Ocean City New Jersey. They are protected by Maxie the Wonder Dog and kept on their toes by their cats Zebulon and Loki who have come to earth from a strange alien planet. Brad has worked as a Legislative Assistant on Capitol Hill, as a consultant, and as an elected official in Fairfax County. This is Brad's second book and his first foray into the world of speculative fiction. Brad's first book, God is an Elephant in Orthopedic Shoes, is a collection of stories from his life interspersed with some fiction, poetry, and miscellaneous ramblings. It is available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from Authorhouse publishing.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Revelation No. 2 – In the Ending ...

The alarm goes off. A reminder of sorts — signaling the time to decide. All things come to an end, really, they do. I've given things plenty of time to play out down there. Should I pull the plug on the entire thing? No, I think I will hit the snooze button and think on it for a few.

Book I: Killing Time Before the Apocalypse

"For Pete's sake, would you deal the damn cards!" exclaimed Death.

"OK, OK, hold your horses, I'm dealing," answered Pestilence.

"Is that supposed to be funny?" replied Death.

Pestilence looked at Death for a second, a small smile creeping across his face, and then dealt the cards. Five card draw was Pestilence's favorite game and so he dealt five cards each to Death, War, Famine and himself.

The Four Horsemen were seated around the card table playing a seemingly never-ending game of poker. Pestilence was drinking a glass of milk. He didn't drink alcohol. War had a glass of Merlot by his side. Famine was drinking coffee and Death had a glass of Chardonnay in his hand. They liked to stay in character at all times, and the symbolism represented by the color of each beverage suited them.

They sat in what appeared to be an old west saloon from America circa the 1840s. It was a complete mental fabrication created by Death from his memories of that era. Before that, they had been in a European styled parlor — one of Famine's creations. Before that it had been a Roman market and before that, well who could remember for sure? They had been playing cards, or a similar game, for eons. They were biding their time, waiting to be called.

It was Famine's turn to deal. He paused and waited for everyone's attention. Famine tended to be overly dramatic. Perhaps it was because he was dressed in all black. It was a striking look, everyone said so. Finally, he said, "I think the time draws near."

"Stop being so melodramatic!" responded War. "I think the time draws near," he continued, mocking Famine's more formal speech pattern.

Famine replied, "I am not being dramatic. I am simply stating my belief. You may take a contrary point of view if you so desire, but I have stated my opinion for the record."

Pestilence glared at both of them. "Can we focus on the game please? I've been cleaning up the entire century, and you guys just can't stand it."

"The century is less than 20 years old my friend. I wouldn't get too comfortable just yet," replied Death. "I have a feeling I'm about to get lucky."

Famine dealt the cards for a new game of seven card stud. As Famine dealt, he repeated his statement and asked if anyone agreed with him.

Death considered the question, and eventually said, "I suppose it could be the end. But we've been through this before. Remember the Spanish Flu that infected nearly a third of the world's population and killed about 50 million people? Or what about the Cuban Missile Crisis? That could have done it as well, if someone had gotten an itchy trigger finger!"

"By the way, hats off to you guys," Death continued, pointing at War and Pestilence for their most recent efforts. "If I were a betting man, and it seems that I am, given our current poker game, then I would have bet we were on the verge of getting called to our posts on either of those occasions. But here we remain."

As the rest of the Four Horseman considered Death's words, Death quietly won the hand. "I told you not to get your hopes up Pesty, I knew I was about to get hot."

"Yeah, yeah," said Pestilence. "And you know how I hate it when you call me Pesty!" Death just smiled.

Looking directly at Death, Pestilence said, "I suppose Famine could be right though, I mean the Americans just elected "Mr. Reality TV" as their President. If you were looking for a sign, that seems like a good one to me, but hey, I'm just one of the Four Horseman, what do I know?"

"Kind of fits the whole false prophet thing if you ask me," added War. Setting down his glass of wine, he continued, "But no real sense in debating it boys, when we get called, we get called. For now, let's play some cards."

There was general agreement around the room to that. Death continued his winning streak, but War won a few hands as well. Famine and Pestilence were definitely on a run of bad luck. At some point, Pestilence turned to Death, "By the way, there's something I've always wanted to ask you."

"What's that?"

"Well, here we are, all pretty fearsome and all, so what I want to know is why you get to be Death."

Famine jumped in before Death could answer. "I agree" he said. "After all, I am decked out in all black. It would seem only natural that I should represent death. As you may know, the Greeks believed that your spirit went to the Underworld where all is darkness and black. And let's not forget the Romans, who started the custom of wearing all black at funerals. I could go on, but I believe the point is made."

Death shot them both a look appropriate to his name and character. "I will have you know, that in many non-western cultures, including many Asian and African cultures, white, or in my case, a pale coloring is the traditional color associated with death. However, in truth, none of what the humans say or do matters all that much. Our fates were decided by another, and I think you know who I mean. Do any of you feel like making a formal complaint?"

"I was just asking," said Pestilence. "No need to get all huffy."

They played on. Hours, weeks, and months may have passed as the cards were dealt and the chips changed hands. Time worked in a different sort of way for the Four Horseman. They took little notice.

It was War's turned to deal. War tended to call some very silly card games, like seven card stud, with One-Eyed Jacks and the Suicide King wild. He could be a tad juvenile when it pleased him. Just look at the Hundred Years' War! If you are going to name something the Hundred Years' War, you would think it would last a hundred years, but War helped drag it on an additional 16 years just for kicks.

War was, at heart, a restless soul. Thoughts churned inside him like a cement mixer, tossing and turning inside his brain, waiting to pour out when needed. So, without much thought or concern where the conversation might lead, he turned to the other Horsemen and asked, "Why do humans continue to do such stupid shit?"

"You're going to need to be more specific," replied Pestilence. "That's a pretty general condemnation, and yes, they do a lot of stupid shit."

War nodded and then explained. "Granted there are a lot of stupid things they do, but it's their need," he paused for a moment to consider that thought, "no, change that, it's their compulsion to be right about everything that I think drives so much of their heartache — at least that is how it seems to me. Remember, they spend a lot of time killing each other in war, so I get to spend a lot of time down there. Anyway, there is not a human down on that silly planet who doesn't feel the absolute desire to be right about every stupid-ass thing they say or do. When you think about it, it seems to be the cause of just about every other problem they suffer from."

"I see what you are saying," said Famine. "They wander around down there seeking some type of purpose to their little lives and to make their short existence palatable, they need to feel important, different, unique. So, they fight to the death to defend anything they say or do. Every utterance, every action is all they have."

"Yes, I think that is a fairly good summary," said War.

"So, what do you suggest," asked Pestilence, "that we provide some type of global psycho-therapy session for all humanity?"

"Not my circus and they are certainly not my monkeys," War replied, repeating the old adage with a smile.

"So, it's not your job?" asked Pestilence.

War nodded his head, "Exactly."

"And that, my friends, is the real answer," replied Death.

"Come again?" queried War.

"Well, consider the four of us. We know our role. We know our purpose. There is no ambiguity with us. We don't need to justify all we say and do because we know who and what we are. If our human friends had more defined roles or understood their collective role a little better, then maybe they would be better off. They would stop trying to validate their own existence every moment. If they understood this simple fact, they would stop trying to be right every second and hurt each other a lot less."

"You think it's that simple?" asked War.

"Yes, I do," said Death.

The conversation ended just that simply. During this conversation, the card game never halted. They played on without commenting on the game easily enough. A few more games passed, when War once again jump-started the conversation.

"Gentlemen, I've been wondering. We all have a pretty good idea what will happen to the humans down there when we hop on our horses and start riding, but I wonder what exactly will happen to us when our work is done. I mean the Book seems to be a little skimpy on that. It might be the end for us, you know."

"That's an interesting and thoughtful question," said Pestilence. "I'm surprised you came up with it."

"Fuck off," said War.

"Now let's keep things clean and professional," said Famine. "I hate it when you use guttural language," he said, staring at War.

"Never mind the language. He could've used Aramaic or Etruscan for all I care. The fact is, his point is well taken," declared Death.

"We really don't know what happens to us after we ride our way into apocalyptic history," said War.

"So, what do you think happens?" asked Famine as he looked at each of the Horsemen.

After a while Death said, "I guess there are a myriad of possibilities. Remember, as we just discussed, we were created to serve a purpose but consider this: there are many worlds in this universe and while we currently associate ourselves with the humans on planet Earth, there is no reason to conclude that we would not also be needed on other planets at some point. We aren't human per se, we represent specific concepts. I think Death, War, Pestilence, and Famine are universal ideas. These ideas, and therefore we ourselves are not applicable only to Earth."

He paused as the Horsemen nodded in agreement. This was one of the longer speeches Death had ever made and the others took note. Then Death continued, clearly on a roll. "Let's also consider the possibility of multiple universes. I think we all remember when Schrödinger first postulated the concept back in the 1950s. Quite a good lecture as I recall. I think we were all there except War who was off overseeing events in Korea at the time."

"Hey, I had a job to do!" interjected War.

"No issues, my good friend, we all understood," responded Death. He then continued, "Anyway, I think the science is pretty strong in favor of a multiverse as I see it. All in all, I think our prospects are quite promising."

After a while, the card game began again, and things settled down. Everything was quiet for a time. Eventually, mindless chatter once again entered their interactions and everything was back to normal for the Horsemen.

Then, suddenly Death's phone rang. The phone was just as much a mental fabrication as the saloon was, but Death liked to keep up with the times and so he had contrived the device should "The Call" come during this time period. As Death took the phone from his pocket, the old west saloon faded out of existence. The other Horsemen stood at attention. They knew what this meant, and they waited for Death to respond to the call.

Slowly he put the phone to his ear. The others could hear Death as he spoke to their creator. "Yes," he said, "We are all here. Is it time?" He nodded to the voice. "Really, so that's how it ends! Wow, I never would have guessed. Really, never. I can't wait to tell Pestilence; I think he will be amused. We will saddle right up. Thank you."

Death paused, still holding the phone to his ear, "Ah, may I ask a question of you?" He waited for a response, "Oh, you were listening to our conversation? I should have guessed. What's that? We do have more work to do after this is over? Oh, that is very good to hear, thank you. We are pleased to be of service."

Death turned off the phone, "Well boys, you heard it. Time to ride." The other Horsemen stood motionless. They were ready, but still they did not move. Death turned to them, "Well?"

Eventually it was Pestilence who spoke, "What did you mean when you said that you were surprised how it ends, and that I would be amused?"

Death replied, "Oh that. Well, it seems that our creator does work in mysterious ways after all, and as I am sure you know, has a flair for the dramatic. You'll never guess what's going on down on earth right now while we have been playing cards."

War responded, "No we can't guess. Tell us!"

"It's a virus, and it has taken over the planet. It's prion-based and seems to mimic (in many ways) those silly zombie films and books that are so prevalent these days. Well, maybe not so silly in retrospect. I didn't get a ton of specifics on the phone but if there really are zombies down there, I have got to see that for myself. The humans are freaking out and so we better get a move on."

"I told you,' he said looking at Pestilence, "that you would love it."

Pestilence smiled, knowing it was his gift that started the end. Certainly, war and famine would accompany a zombie styled plague, and of course death always followed, but it was nice to know his special gift had been what the creator had used to begin the apocalypse. It was good to know your work was appreciated.

Death turned to his fellow Horsemen, "Let's do what we must, and as I think you heard, job security is not going to be an issue."

Book II: An Organizational Manifesto for the Recently Undead

I'm a fucking zombie. It sucks. I don't care what anyone tells you — walking around all day and eating human flesh is a shitty way to spend your after-life, or after-death in my case. There is never time to rest, to talk (not that we can talk now), or even take a bath. God, I want a bath. I smell like death warmed over — literally.

I guess I should start at the beginning and bring you up to speed. I was a manager at FedEx and pretty damned good at my job. Of course, that was before all hell broke loose. I oversaw our Beltsville Maryland hub. It was my job to make sure packages were delivered safely and efficiently to our customers and to make sure our personnel were safe and effective in their jobs.

Now I am a zombie, and I meander aimlessly looking for my next meal of human flesh. Not exactly a promotion! What's the point? Instinct drives me onward despite my internal loathing of my current circumstances.

I guess it was about three months ago that the epidemic struck. I was never really into science. Logistics was more my thing, so I really didn't understand too much of what I was reading in the papers. Of course, eventually the newspapers and TV disappeared without so much as a test pattern or final edition. Before they disappeared, I remembered reading something about a new virus strain and something to do with prions — whatever the fuck they are. Anyway, the infection spread like wildfire and soon people were turning into zombies all over the world. It would have been funny if it weren't so horrible, because it was just like Hollywood had imagined. Zombies were roaming around on pure instinct trying to eat non-infected people. It was right out of a B movie. At least that is how it looked as a human.

Now, of course, it looks quite different being one of the undead. Contrary to popular belief, we are not without the capability of higher thought. But, once you are infected, you are possessed by Zombie Instinct. Zombie Instinct seems to operate at some super heightened level. When it kicks in — when you smell the uninfected — you are simply compelled to move and then to eat. It's disgusting, I know, but there you have it. But, all of that is happening on the outside. On the inside, at least in my head, things are quite different. Inside, I feel pretty much the same as I did when I was human. Until I smell the living that is. Then, I admit things get a little foggy.

Life as a zombie is repetitious and exhausting. I have been undead for a while now, and I have seen things that would make you laugh, vomit, or shock the shit of you — sometimes all at the same time. One of these moments happened not long after I turned. I was walking outside Washington, D.C., and I bumped into the Vice President of the United States. He was one of us — a zombie VIP. I guess technically he might still be considered the Vice President, though I'm pretty sure the Constitution never included any provisions for the undead in succession planning. Anyway, the Veep was a zombie now. I have no idea how he succumbed to his fate, perhaps the Secret Service had their hands full and figured the Vice President was just a tad expendable. I can't be sure.

Anyway, we were jostling down Massachusetts Avenue in D.C. when we ran into what looked like a full army battalion. There were about 300 soldiers, and once they saw us, they opened fire. I am not sure how many of us were there on the street, but we started dropping like flies. However, we outnumbered them and instinct drove us on into the line of fire. While hundreds of us fell, we eventually reached the army's front line. As soon as that happened, it was all over for them. We fell on them. Those that were not completely devoured (I will spare you the gross parts), were immediately turned into more zombies. If only the army had such recruiting prowess!

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Blurring the Lines"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Brad Center.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note, 1,
Acknowledgements, 3,
Revelation No. 2 – In the Ending, 7,
Shift Change, 23,
He Doesn't Have a Prayer, 33,
Moving on From Nowhere, 37,
What's On the Menu?, 55,
Shadowman, 81,
Shards of Reality, 103,
Viral Awakening, 111,
A Gift That Must Be Given, 115,
Countdown, 127,
The Permanence of Things, 143,
Offense Taken, 155,
Self Portrait, 161,
Balancing the Equation, 169,
DreamLife Inc., 185,
Epilogue, 193,

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