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Hush! . . . its story time.

Contributors to feoamante.com are going places!
See below!

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Long time feoamante.com contributor Mike Oliveri, busts out with his first hardcover novel.

"The horror genre has a new name to watch."

"Rife with action, sex, and carefully-crafted characters . . . a strong new voice in the horror genre,"

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feoamante.com contributor David Whitman and Weston Ochse have created a series of new legends in a book that has become one of the best selling small press Horror Collections of the century.

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feoamante.com contributor Brian Keene first short story collection is getting hot reviews:

"Brian Keene is one of the brightest young writers around. He crafts top-notch, horrifying thrillers."

"Diabolical doorways to other dimensions are opened in Brian Keene's 'The Burn Barrel' . . . a true gem."

"Keene's 'Hell At S-MART' stands out . . . Every-man horror doesn't get much more every-man than this."

"Amazing stuff . . . That Which Lingers" is simply the creepiest story I've
ever read."


My mind was warped at a very early age. I was allowed by my parents to
watch original broadcasts of the old Outer Limits series and the resulting
nightmares lasted into adulthood. At the age of 5 I read Stoker's DRACULA
in surreptitious installments, hiding underneath my grandmother's desk for
fear of being caught by the 'rents. My mother introduced me to H. P.
Lovecraft at the relatively hardened age of 8, and there was no looking
back. I am also a horror movie buff and am terminally fond of
black-and-white Saturday afternoon monster movies featuring giant insects
and floating brains. I believe reality is far more frightening than fiction
- every word in SONG OF THE GUILD is true.
- Julian


Julian French's

Copyright 2000 Julian French

They undid the shackles from her ankles. Teale lifted the headset from her ears and reached for her purse. It was break time at the Westar Horizons Office Complex.

Honest to God, you think they'd listen . . .

Down in the crowded smoking lounge Teale lit a cigarette. She felt a slight breeze to her left and found that Rhonda had plumped herself down almost at her elbow. Rhonda groped in her purse and came up with a container of lip gloss. As she smeared maroon across her face Teale was reminded of a child that had gotten into her mother's makeup.

"Do you think it's even?"
Rhonda turned her face from side to side for Teale's benefit.
Teale was careful to make her cursory inspection seem like a thoughtful critique.

"It's just fine, Rhonda."

"Dr. Nelson's coming today." Rhonda drew a brush through her thinning chestnut hair. "I want to look my best."

Dr. Nelson was the company psychiatrist. Teale had met him during her routine psychiatric profile, and he had given her a prescription for xanax.

"You look fine, Rhonda." Teale lit up her second cigarette and inhaled deeply. She hoped her indifference wasn't too obvious. It wasn't safe to keep company with gossips like Rhonda. Teale doubted Rhonda would last the year.

It started as a soft moan which swelled until it filled the smoky room. The sound grew in volume to an earsplitting screech. Startled, apprehensive faces glanced furtively around the room and at the green-suited guards stationed at the door of the smoking lounge. After a few heart-stopping seconds Teale discovered the source of the noise. It was coming from Sarah, who was standing in the corner, mouth open, her eyes wide and unseeing. The scream continued, filling the hazy air.

The guards reacted quickly. Two of them entered the lounge, siezed Sarah, and wrestled her to the floor. Her face was pinned to the gray linoleum. As soon as the cuffs were on Sarah was hauled roughly to her feet and marched out the door of the lounge. The guards were completely silent. Sarah's wail continued all the while. No one else talked; no one else could move.

Then it was over. Teale glanced around her, knowing what would show on the faces of the rest of the women, as she was sure it showed on her own -

I'm glad it wasn't me.

Gradually the tension dissipated and the light chatter resumed. Teale took another drag on her cigarette.

"That's the second time this month Sarah's lost it," Rhonda whispered to her. "Maybe she's pregnant or something, hey?"

Incidents like this were never discussed. That rule wasn't printed in the Behavioral Handbook; it was a fact of life. Teale frowned. "Rhonda, be quiet. Don't get into trouble."

"I don't care any more." Rhonda clamped a hand on Teale's wrist and used the end of Teale's cigarette to light her own. "I don't care. They can do whatever they want to me."

"Then stay away." Teale drew her hand back as if Rhonda were a rattlesnake.

Rhonda shrugged, got up and wandered over to the vending machines in the east corner of the room. The buzzer sounded, and Teale got to her feet and lined up at the door with the others. Teale and her co-workers were escorted out to the elevator by a guard. The elevator bell rang. They all got on and were carried back to the place where they had come.

At her desk Teale glanced at the clock. 10:15 AM. They were always so precise here, not like the other places where she had worked. She remembered the chaotic scheduling at Tanner Plaze and the confusion it had caused everyone. The Support Staff Guild had been contacted, arbitration had taken place, and the working conditions had improved somewhat. Nevertheless, when the offer to work at Westar Horizons had come Teale had not hesitated. The pay was better and there were more toilet breaks.

She put on her headset and adjusted the removable ear pieces. Guild recommendations for Medical Transcription advised that earpieces be replaced every three months but Teale had made hers last for eight. She supposed she was proud of it.

Teale pressed the pedal and the dictation machine queued up the tape with a soft chunk. As she typed she tried to imagine life on the third floor, the floor directly above her own office, but no images came to mind. She sighed. It was going to be one of those days. Sometimes she couldn't think of anything to think of, no matter how hard she tried. During a time like this it was simply best to "zone out," as her Guild sponsor had told her.

Let your fingers move and your ears hear, but rest your mind.

The advice worked today. Keeping her mind focused on an imaginary beach by the ocean, Teale typed steadily until noon, only stopping to change tapes. The familiar lunchtime sound of shackles being undone sounded throughout the building, making her once again aware of her surroundings. It was a Tuesday; according to the mandatory rotation she was one of the last to be unchained. Teale extended her legs to the guard helpfully.

The temporary peace she had attained quickly dissipated as she trotted into the hallway. She hated Tuesdays. Long lines of people had already formed at the elevators. Even though there were four elevator cars Teale had to wait ten minutes of her lunch hour before securing a place in one. She had to wedge herself between two company executives, and found it hard to make small talk with them. She was relieved when the elevator doors opened in the basement and she could join the line in the cafeteria.

"I was telling her yesterday," murmured a woman directly behind Teale in the line, "I told her that this could not continue and that we'd have to take steps."

"And then what did you do?" responded her companion eagerly.

"I told her that Human Resources would have to deal with the situation. She didn't take it very well. White as a ghost, I tell you."

"But you sent her anyway."

"What was I supposed to do, give her a third piece of paper after she wasted the first two sheets? The little bitch. If she screws up again . . . "

The line moved ahead, so Teale didn't hear the end of the woman's threat. She slid her tray along the railing to the entrees. In front of her were steel tubs of mashed potatoes, baked beans, and breaded objects. None of them looked hot. Teale chose one of the breaded objects and the potatoes, and pushed her tray along the steel guide rails to the desserts. Damn it, Jell-O today, Teale thought, and then glanced guilty around her to see if anyone had noticed the rebellious expression on her face.

One of the servers, busy scooping potatoes with an ice cream scoop, paused to look at her. Teale reached for a quivering orange heap with simulated enthusiasm. There were yellow chunks suspended in the middle of the gelatin.

At one of the tables, Teale gently nudged Ruth's tray to one side to make room for her own. It was a chain reaction - Ruth's tray in turn nudged Laura's, Laura's pushed Brittany's, and so forth, through the line of support staffers down to the end of the cafeteria table. Each tray moved precisely three inches. There were a few murmurs but no one confronted her directly about her impoliteness. Teale was relieved.

Ruth was rubbing her left ankle. There was a large red mark there. Teale shot her an inquiring glance and Ruth shook her head ever so slightly. Obviously, there had been some sort of trouble with Ruth's left shackle and Ruth had complained to the manager. They had tightened the shackle in retaliation and Ruth was now suffering the consequences of her indiscretion. A finger of ice ran down Teale's spine. She herself had very nearly complained about the dim lighting in her cubicle yesterday, but had changed her mind at the last minute.

"Patty told me that Mark was up for executive promotion to the third floor," Laura told Teale without preamble, leaning over Ruth as she spoke. Her breath stank of salami.

"He doesn't deserve it," remarked the woman on Teale's right. "He's such a jerk."
"I've heard that on the third floor they don't measure your toilet paper," Alice informed the listening women enviously. "That's what I heard."

"That's not the only perk up there," Marie retorted from across the table, wiping a smear of baked bean sauce off her chin. "I hear you can have all the staples you want, girl, you better believe it."

A chorus of disbelieving NO WAYs came from the group. One of the red-suited cafeteria guards shot them a warning glance. Marie blushed in embarrassment at having drawn his attention. "Well, that's what Shari told me, and her husband used to work up there," she continued in an undertone. Teale had to strain to hear her. "He worked there for 18 years, that's what Shari told me, and the benefits are fantastic!" Several heads nodded in silent agreement , and they all bent over their potatoes and beans.

Teale didn't finish her food. She hadn't much appetite recently, it seemed. She dumped the contents of the tray into the recycling bin and placed the tray neatly atop the stack. As they filed into the hallway to wait for the elevator cars she saw Ruth trying not to limp. Teale prepared her sentence carefully and kept her voice casual.

"Hey, Ruth, I hear that zinc oxide is a great beauty treatment for dry skin."

"Is it really?" Ruth smiled mechanically as she replied. Teale noticed there were dark hollows under her eyes.

"It's supposed to moisturize your skin cells," Teale continued, touching her own cheek. "Just put some on and cover it with a piece of gauze, leave it on overnight, and wash it off in the morning. I read it in Woman's Life last week."

"Thanks, Teale," Ruth replied gratefully as the elevator doors opened. "I'll try it."

Back at her work station Teale's fingers flew across the keyboard. She tried to think not about Ruth, her best friend, but about supper. Should she cook tonight, or just heat something up? There was no one else to cook for. Chicken salad? Fish sticks? Ruth had looked pretty bad. Salisbury steak? Breaded shrimp? This wasn't the first of Ruth's indiscretions. Turkey hot dogs? Maybe a package of instant noodle soup and a cheese sandwich. Teale tried to stretch it out, defer the final moment of decision which would close the subject and leave her mind empty and wandering again. Pineapple pizza? Popcorn with muffins? Ruth had been disciplined too often lately. Her days here were probably numbered already. Teale's fingers ground into the keyboard. What difference did it make what she ate? Or if she ate at all? Poor Ruth.

The frantic beeping of the overloaded keyboard buffer brought Teale to her senses. A bead of sweat ran down the bridge of her nose as the Office Manager arrived to stand over her, scowling.

"What's the trouble, Teale? Did you take a little nap, or is your machine broken?"

Teale seized on the potential explanation with relief. "Mr. Hendrick, when I try to type very quickly the keys stick. I think the keyboard needs cleaning."

Mr. Hendrick's face relaxed into an almost fatherly expression. "Oh, don't worry about that. I'll have Mr. Landis stop by during your afternoon break and replace your keyboard. That way you won't lose any production time."

"Thank you, sir." Teale watched him go. When Mr. Hendrick was out of sight her shoulders relaxed again and slid into the traditional hunched posture of the Support Staff Guild.

That was a close one, Teale, be careful, she told herself firmly. Thinking and feeling were things that didn't belong in the office.

She turned back to the keyboard and poised her fingers above the keys. The Song of the Guild rang in her ears. "Fingers fly and documents flow; we staple papers as we go," she sang under her breath, typing faster and faster, working her foot pedal furiously.

The afternoon break buzzer rang and Teale left off typing, allowing herself to be unshackled again. It didn't do to miss breaks. Teale always took hers religiously. Grabbing her purse, she pushed her way to the head of the line, where Ruth was standing. Teale noticed that she was still favoring her left leg.

"Don't," she whispered to Ruth as the elevator bell chimed.

"I can't help it," Ruth mouthed silently back at her, and the elevator doors closed upon them and hurtled them down to the smoking lounge in the basement with breakneck speed.

"Printer down!" came the cry from the front desk. Other cubicles picked up the cry and echoed it through the maze of little offices. "Printer down! Save and Log Off! Save and Log Off!"

Teale automatically obeyed, not feeling her fingers touch the mouse as it raced to Save and Log Off. A succession of different-colored screens flashed in front of her as the computer Saved and Logged Off. The reflection of the Cerulean Blue Default screen color on her face flattered her complexion. She reached surreptitiously for her purse, intending to brush on a little more blusher. As she held the brush poised, another cry went up.

"All Clear! All Clear! Log Back On! Log Back On!"

Teale put her blusher back in her purse and Logged Back On. She typed again for a while, singing under her breath. No one seemed to notice.

A sound penetrated her self-induced reverie. Not the break buzzer or the toilet call, it was another, harsher sound. Teale knew that sound from experience, although it was hardly ever heard in this particular building - the Call to a Public Execution.

Attendance was mandatory. Teale waited until the guard came to unshackle her, and whispered a question. This was permitted. The guard, being underpaid and overworked, did not answer her. She was left to guess who the unlucky victim might be as she shot downward to the basement with the rest of the staff.

She entered the Hall of Meetings and stood with the others in the Phalanx of Disapproval as a man in a gray business suit was hauled struggling up to the podium in front. The air in the room was electric. The man was dishevelled; his modestly pinstriped tie was askew and he was panting audibly. One of the guards untied the blindfold from his face. It was no one she knew. Teale felt relief welling up inside her. The President of the Company mounted the podium and put a paternal arm around the bewildered man.

"The charges have been made and are understood by the guilty party," announced the President, patting the trembling businessman on the back gently. "This man's corporate philosophy is not in line with our own. We find that this man's continued employment with us will not promote the growth and development of this corporation."

A low moan came from the doomed executive as he realized what was happening. An answering collective sigh rose up from the waiting crowd of personnel before him. Then a hush fell over the Hall.

Teale felt suddenly faint. The Hall of Meetings had become stifling. The President withdrew his arm from the man's shoulder; a bland mask descended over the President's face and left it expressionless, blank. She could hear the groaning of the businessman as he was forced to kneel. There was one crack of the pistol - only one, and it was done. The crowd was still. The people filed out into the hallway and back onto the elevators without a single whispered word exchanged among them.

Teale glanced at Ruth, but Ruth turned her head away. Teale understood.

Back at her desk, Teale took out the Sign of the Guild, her carpal tunnel brace. She put it on even though she didn't need it today; it made her feel somehow better. She adjusted her headset and stared out the large bay window (shared with the cubicle just adjacent to hers) at the roof of a neighboring office building. Her fingers went on typing of their own accord, the electrical impulses feeding directly from her ears into her fingers while bypassing her conscious brain. Theresa, her Guild sponsor, would have been proud of her today.

The blue-suited guards on the roof of the neighboring building were changing. She could see one salute the other and then disappear through the service door down into unknown regions. The replacement had black hair and, she imagined, must also have startling blue eyes. Doubtless those eyes would crinkle pleasingly whenever he smiled. His face was deeply tanned.

Teale willed her consciousness onto that roof. She imagined that she went up to the guard, smiling, wordless, slowly peeling off first her white silk blouse, then her skirt, the guard astonished at first and then eager, helping her undress, laying her down on the rough surfacing gravel of the rooftop . . .

The toilet call buzzer went off and her heart almost stopped from the shock. Momentarily paralyzed, she could not reply as the guard who unchained her asked her if she needed a glass of water. Unsteadily she walked to the restroom and found she was unable to choose which stall to use. The sound of rushing water distracted her. Teale went back to her desk and sat in her chair. There came a light tap on her shoulder; it was Karen, her immediate supervisor.

"Are you OK, Teale? You look like you've seen a ghost. First Public Execution?"

Teale nodded; this saved her the trouble of an explanation. Karen stood over her, clucking. Teale willed her telepathically to leave; nothing happened.

"Poor thing. You'll get used to it. We don't have many around here. We used to, when Ms. Taylor was in Management. Now it isn't so bad. We average about two per year, I think. Just take a deep breath and start typing - you'll be OK. Want some water or something? An aspirin?"

Teale shook her head. "I'll be OK," she repeated, smiling up at Karen. "I'll be fine."

"If you need anything, just press your call bell and I'll be right in." Karen rested a hand on Teale's shoulder for a moment, then pulled herself away as a guard approached them. The guard (why did they all seem faceless?) turned away, disappointed, Teale thought. No trouble here.

Stapling always cheered her up. Her right hand reached out to grip a stack of papers and her left one groped for the heavy black stapler - she touched it, lifted it, and was brought up short by the chain. Since the staple gun fight at the courthouse last year it had been mandated that all office staplers, both manual and automatic, be attached to the nearest wall by a thin chain, "no less than 5 inches but no greater than 10," according to Workplace Act Number 37. Teale was within the 10 inches, but somehow the sight of the chain seemed to take her breath away. She wondered if she were coming down with a cold - everything seemed unreal today. She put down the stapler, lined the loose papers up neatly and put the stack carefully back in her Out Basket.

Looking for something else to stabilize and control her feelings, Teale gazed down at her hands. My hands. What do they want? She had never asked them that before, but it felt like the proper thing. Teale addressed them directly: "Hands, what would you rather do?" They looked up at her, mute, it seemed, with distress. Terminal distress, she thought, glancing at her screen. Her shoulders shook with silent laughter.

What did they want, those hands? To pick roses in a garden and arrange them in vases? To hold a man's hand? To caress a baby's cheek? To play concert piano? To labor among the poor in Guatemala?

It came to her suddenly, as if the slender implements had really spoken - they didn't know. They didn't know. They would never know. And having no answer was worse, Teale realized, than any answer she could have devised.

Shaken, she turned back to her machine. Instead of the comforting gray of the active word processing program the entire screen was blank. It had turned Cerulean Blue Default. There was a single message embedded in the center:



UNIT T47-06-6682

A bead of perspiration appeared on her forehead, hung a long moment, and then fell onto the keyboard. The worst had happened. Her workstation had caught her not working and had turned her in.

Her computer was a very sophisticated and sensitive device. From the little plastic card which all Support Staff were required to carry and produce upon demand, her tracking information had been routinely loaded into her workstation computer on her first day at Westar Horizons. The machine knew all about her output, her comings and goings, her physical characteristics and distinguishing marks. Her machine knew almost everything about her there was to know. Perhaps the machine even knew about her sexual fantasies. Teale grinned faintly at the screen.

A distant buzzer sounded in the hallway. There was the sound of running feet. Ruth's haggard face rose up in front of her. Teale stood up and faced the window. The neighboring building blurred and vanished from her sight. She had never realized how large the sky was from her window. It seemed to fill the whole of her vision until she could see nothing but blue. Suddenly Teale wanted to reach that blue, be in that blue, more than anything she had ever wanted in her life. There was a weight tugging at her ankle, but it didn't stop her. Something gave way and Teale reached the window, really reached it for the first time, pressing her face against the cool pane and straining toward the sky until she could hear the crack of the intervening glass. Her chin was wet, but things like that weren't important any more.

Then she was free and flying, up into the Cerulean Blue Default sky, not hearing the snap of the undone holster behind her, simply hearing the Song of the Wind in her ears as she floated up into the Cerulean Blue world which, she realized, she was already a part of, now and forever.

The End

SONG OF THE GUILD is Copyright 2000 by Julian French and is published at feoamante.com and Feo Amante's Story Time with the author's permission.

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