Monday, October 25, 2010


My latest sci-fi story, "Frogsong," is due out in the anthology Farspace 2 (available any day now through this link). Here's a teaser:


By J. David Bell

The delivery truck rumbled along the muddy road above the swamp. In the cab, eyes fighting fatigue and the gathering dark, Todd Stuckey guided the rig up a steep grade. He could feel his rear tires slaloming in the slop until with a rattle and cough of gears they caught hold. He kept the window cracked just an inch, taking in rich whiffs of diesel to clear his head of the swamp stench, rank and stifling as a latrine. The lush green of overhanging trees faded to a blur in the twilight as luminescent bugs started to dance over the marsh like sparklers. And behind it all, as ever, the song: a drone, a peal, a whine. An endless, senseless cacophony of throats crying carols across the swamp.

In low gear, Stuckey inched down a grade that levelled at the swamp’s edge. One more bend and the compound rose in his headlights: a paved loading dock, prefab trailers, the broad squat gable of the mess hall. On the flagpole, the Stars and Stripes drooped in the sultry air. Beside the dock a halo of sulphur light revealed a solitary figure slumped in his booth, head lowered on crossed arms. Stuckey wheeled around the drive, backed her in, and hopped from the cab. His boots met the pavement with a familiar liquid smack. He circled his truck, unlatched the gate, and sent it rattling to roost. Then he approached the clerk.

The man had shown no awareness of the truck’s arrival; he remained prone, head buried in his arms, cap hiding his face and hair. Close up, Stuckey could see his shoulders rising and falling, hear his snores. They seemed to keep time with the rhythmic pulse of the swamp.

“Delivery,” Stuckey said. His voice came out loud and ringing against the background buzz. “Where do you want it?”

The clerk muttered, raised his head, and squinted. Stuckey saw then he was only a kid, maybe twenty-two, red-haired and freckled, red-eyed and raw cheeked. New guy. He removed his cap, ran a hand through unruly hair, and yawned.

“What you hauling, Joe?” They called the delivery guys “Joes”--as in “Regular Joe.” Stuckey’d have preferred to be called a Regular, but it was the Joe part that had stuck.

He shrugged. “Laminate, drywall, the usual. It’s in the manifest,” he said, shoving his clipboard at the kid’s face. “We got an unloading crew?”

The kid scratched his head as if he’d never heard such a question. “Ease up, Joe,” he said. “Just take it easy.”

“Look,” Stuckey began, but the kid had roused himself from his stool and gotten his legs out the door. “I’ll make the call,” he said, and yawned again. Then he sat there stupidly, hands in his lap, staring at his open palms.

Stuckey left the clipboard and returned to his truck. Last run of the day, he reminded himself. A tepid shower, a frozen dinner, a lukewarm beer, a rerun or sportscast in the rec room. Anything to dream the place away, drown out the sound and smell for a moment. Then bed. Then the same thing the next day.

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