Category Archives: Fiction

Literary Racism* John B. Rosenman, Ph.D.

*Originally presented at “What Dreams May Come? Multiethnic Trends in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror,” a Literary Arts Spring Conference at Norfolk State University, April 5-6, 2001.

Traditionally, we have regarded racism as involving groups of people who are discriminated against because of one basic reason: ignorance.

However, there are also literary groups that many of us, especially academics, discriminate against every day for the exact same reason. While

African-American and women’s literature have finally, if grudgingly, been given some respectability through Norton anthologies that recognize their contributions, prejudice against other literary categories remains strong. This is especially true of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, despite the growing number of professional journals devoted to them such as Science Fiction Studies, Extrapolations, and Mythlore, and institutes such as the Center of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, founded in 1982. It is also true despite these genres’ illustrious traditions, the hundreds of well-attended conventions held throughout the world every year concerning them, and the many prestigious awards given to their best professionals. With regard to science fiction, for example, the annual Hugo and Nebula Awards have traditionally involved tremendous worldwide competition and recognized excellence in the genres of the short story, the novelette, the novella, and the novel.

Yet it has not been until recently that a science-fiction story such as Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed” has made it into The Norton Anthology of American Literature, perhaps partly because some academics have finally recognized that it explores the relationship between the sexes in a way that mainstream literature cannot. Still, such inclusion savors of “tokenism,” and we can be sure that in the hallowed halls of the Modern Language Association, the glass ceiling, though dented, remains steadfast in place.

The view that science fiction, horror, and fantasy are subliterary or simply not literature at all, is especially surprising when we consider the degree to which these genres have been represented in so-called “classical” works. From the Ghost and a corpse-laden floor in Hamlet to the man-made monster in Frankenstein, from Alice’s travels in Wonderland to Gulliver’s travels to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, there is no end of examples of genre fiction interbreeding with the blueblood mainstream. Yet, when it has, we have often tried to legitimatize the result by resorting to academic terms such as “satire” and “tragedy,” as if such labels make it all right. Still, Hamlet, among other things, remains a superb horror story, and Gulliver’s Travels, however satirical it may be, is also a timeless tale of fantasy that appeals to both children and adults.

Of the three genres, horror is especially denigrated, and authors such as Stephen King and Poppy Z. Brite often dismissed as purveyors of gross, popular entertainment. Yet as Richard Laymon, a former president of the Horror Writers Association has pointed out, “A great many” horror writers “have earned post-graduate degrees in literature and other fields” (5). What’s more, “If we remove from our literature everyone who has ever written horror, we lose (to name just a few) Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Brontes, Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Stevenson, Poe, Dostoevsky, Hawthorne, Melville, Bram Stoker, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor” and others. Indeed, as Laymon indicates, “The list could go on and on” (5).

Having established that exceptional works in the above-mentioned genres do qualify as literature, we now come to the main purpose of this paper, which is to explore and examine the reasons why bias against such achievement still prevails. Though there are complicated reasons, the main one can be found in the literary elite’s reactionary dislike of anything new, strange, different, or challenging – anything, in short, that departs either from the Officially Correct Way of Writing Great Works or the day to day reality they know. Other, related factors that cause such bias include (1) ignorance of genre classics, conventions, and contributions, (2) genre profiling based upon crude stereotypes found in popular culture such as Star Trek and Halloween, and (3) a failure to recognize the truth of Sturgeon’s Law that “90% of everything [written since the beginning of time] is junk” and that we shouldn’t “dismiss anything because of its worst representatives” (“Sturgeon’s Law,” 4).

While most people do not believe they are closed-minded or reluctant to experience new things, in general, the brave new worlds they encounter had better bear a close relationship to the ones they already know. Thus, while Octavia E. Butler’s novel, Kindred, does contain the fantasy or science-fiction element of time travel, some academics have accepted it only because it focuses on the heroine’s convincing and very real slave past. Historical verismilitude is established and maintained, and the novel has been read in universities – and labeled in bookstores — as Slave Narrative and as authentic African-American Literature. Yet if it were not for the ability of Dana’s “several times great grandfather” to summon her repeatedly from the late 20th century back to the antebellum South, the story would never have happened (28). To take one more example, Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray is regarded by some critics as genuine literature because of its prose style and moralizing. But would they be so appreciative if Wilde had brought that hideous portrait out of the nursery early on for us to look at?

What happens if the worlds portrayed differ significantly or radically from those with which most of us are familiar?  What if a different world or species is created, or a different technology that allows space travel or teleportation?  In such cases, the result is decidedly a much harder sell to those who keep the Keys to the Canon, because it is manifestly not real. Demons, dragons, alternate worlds, and future societies on distant planets?  Sorry, they never happened and never will. Even if these readers’ resistance could be broken down, and they could be convinced of the need to suspend their disbelief, they would still face another great obstacle: they would have to be willing to learn to read somewhat differently.

While this is true in fantasy and horror, with their unicorns and wizards, vampires and monsters, it is especially important in the genre of science fiction. Consider the first sentence of Octavia E. Butler’s masterpiece, Wild Seed, quoted by Orson Scott Card: “Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages” (90). Card observes that “the reader who is inexperienced in sf thinks that the author expects him to already know what a seed village is.”  Because he doesn’t, though, he is likely to be disappointed and feel that “the writer is so clumsy that she doesn’t know how to communicate well, or that this novel is so esoteric that its readers are expected to know uncommon terms that aren’t even in the dictionary” (91). A science-fiction reader, though, recognizes “the principle of abeyance.”  In other words, he “doesn’t expect to receive a complete picture of the world all at once. Rather he builds up his own picture bit by bit from clues within the text” (91). He knows that he “is expected to extrapolate, to find the implied information contained in new words” (92).

Here, many of us might object that such writing is needlessly obscure rather than profound, and that it is not reasonable to impose such new rules on the reader. But surely, we do recognize that new rules are often necessary. We do not, for example, read Joyce’s Ulysses in quite the same way we read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter or God help us, Finnegan’s Wake, with its endless thicket of interlocking puns. Moreover, in crossing T. S. Eliot’s “Wasteland,” we welcome the aid of an occasional footnote. Often this is true because of the condensed suggestiveness involved. Even one word may resonate with multiple meanings.

In science fiction, this is especially the case. As Card notes, “The sf writer is thus able to imply far more information than he actually states.” Consider the example of Robert Heinlein’s classic phrase, “The door dilated” (92). The one word “dilated” has a poetic richness, speaking volumes about the civilization that could create such a door.

In addition to accepting packed meanings that are not immediately clear, the new reader of science fiction must learn to appreciate a trait that is unique to the genre: namely, the fact that words and terms which in other works would have metaphoric meanings, in science fiction have literal ones. “The Chairman who sends out feelers” may be stretching out his (or its) pseudopods rather than subtly accessing people’s reactions to a proposal. “A happy bus,” in turn, may indeed be cheerful if it possesses an electronic brain, and a person with a “mechanical smile” is probably a robot. Similarly, in science fiction as well as in light and dark fantasy, statements that might seem hopelessly exaggerated or impossible are actually true, at least within the contexts of their worlds. In Isaac Asimov’s novel, Incredible Voyage, a crew is, in fact, shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a man’s artery in order to save him. Likewise, Alice, when she visits Wonderland, does drink a magic potion and shrink to tiny size, then become a giant.

But to readers who refuse to accept imaginative freedom, such writing will  seem debased, and they will discourage it by withholding their patronage. Indeed, for centuries, the elite literary establishment has played a harmful role in imposing its view of “high art” upon the mass audience. As Card’s essay, “Vulgar Art” points out, “In Elizabethan England, true literature, serious literature, was poetry,” whereas the “vulgar audience could only understand the theatrical stage,” which “was the artistic equivalent of bearbaiting.” But looking back, we realize now “it was the stage that produced most of the greatest works of the age” (191). The student of literature does not have to look far to find plentiful examples where popular departures from accepted literary practice have ultimately been vindicated.

Is a quintessential American play like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman a failure because it focuses on Willy Loman, a down-and-out Everyman as its tragic hero rather than on a person of high birth or worth, as traditionally required?  Hardly. Literature evolves and ceaselessly changes; otherwise it becomes fixed and stagnant.

Despite this fact, the arbiters of an age, whether it be Elizabethan England or 21st century America, usually say pretty much the same thing. Yes, they will declaim, you may be different and experimental, strange and quirky, but only in such a way and in such a style. Orson Scott Card discusses why the arbiters of taste spurned the achievement of one highly innovative writer.

Why did the serious fiction community reject her [Patricia Geary’s] works?  Because it did not repeat the old, familiar experiments. The voice was not quirky, the language was not extravagantly metaphorical, but instead brought in a technique that was strange in unexpected ways. No one knew what to do with it. Thus, just as the readers of glitzy romance accept strangeness only in landscape, never in the manner of writing or even in story line, so also the readers of serious fiction celebrate strangeness only in certain familiar areas: voice and style and that old favorite, metaphors. The very process, in fact, of noticing and decoding metaphor and symbol within fiction becomes, itself, a safe, reassuring ritual. Just like romance readers settling down to see where Judith Krantz will take them this time” (188-189).

Sadly, “In America, ‘serious’ art has lost almost all connection with the mass audience” (Card, 190). What academics often fail to realize is that “The popular audience is just as critical and just as discerning as the elite audience. They just use different standards” and have “different values” (191). Works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and yes, romances and westerns too, are not necessarily junk that should be segregated in a literary ghetto. Instead, they may be genuine literature that belongs on the same shelf as Moby Dick and Othello. To appreciate them, though, it is necessary first to acquaint oneself with the protocols and requirements of reading them. As James Gunn, Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas reminds us, poetry and prose, the essay and the article, the novel, the short story, and drama are all read somewhat differently and according to somewhat different rules (2). The same applies to genre fiction. “Science fiction,” for example, “demands a different kind of reading – a kind of interaction with the text that must be required, in other circumstances, only by the most difficult literature, Joyce’s Ulysses, say, but most SF readers believe that the pay-off of SF is greater, or, at least, more satisfying to their particular desires” (6).

Who is to say, then, that the convoluted, metaphoric, adjective-driven style of arty but often obscure masterpieces is inherently superior to the meticulous science and extrapolations of hard science fiction, or the complicated and ingenious plots of medical thrillers? Why must there be only one limited, officially sanctioned way to create great art or absorbing literature?  The answer is that there shouldn’t be, for the possibilities of the written word are infinite. Unfortunately, as Card notes, the elite literati, “by ignoring vulgar art, is losing the ability to reach a popular audience even if they tried” (193). Consequently, the two get wider and wider apart and become increasingly invisible to each other.

Much of the bias, then, against popular fiction comes from ignorance both of its distinctive nature and its unique contributions. Many of those in the current audience are no doubt familiar with the poetry of the great English Romantic poet, John Keats. But how many of them, it might be asked, are familiar with Dan Simmons’ Keats-inspired, science-fiction masterworks, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion? To read them is to glimpse the full potentiality of speculative fiction when it comes to idea, concept, and the unbridled imagination. Again, many in the audience are probably acquainted with horror classics such as Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, but can the same be said for Peter Straub’s Ghost Story or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend?  The last two novels and many more “popular” ones as well, including almost all those of Stephen King, have routinely been made into movies. If we are unwilling even to consider what such works have to offer, we run the risk of confusing the part for the whole and missing out on a lot of reading enjoyment. Perhaps even worse, for those of us who are teachers, we incur the danger of not even knowing what our own students are reading.

Black men are thugs and buffoons; blond women are airhead bimbos; Jews are big-nosed, money-grabbing sharks. These and other stereotypes have been instilled in us for decades by the media. Significantly, the same process applies to genre fiction and is another major cause of literary bigotry. Science-fiction is spaceships, bug-eyed monsters, and escapism; horror is mad serial killers, bug-eyed monsters, and sadism; fantasy is elves and dragons, wizards and witches, and any world in which you don’t have to pay your bills. Such simplistic attitudes, whether they apply to people, religion, politics, or literature, largely explain why there is so much poor thinking in the world.

People can conduct simple tests to determine the extent to which the media have colored their thinking. For example, when they think of science fiction, do shows like Star Trek come to mind? Do they think of warp speed and Captain Kirk’s command to “Beam me up, Scotty”? If so, then there is a very real chance that genre profiling has occurred, because Star Trek and all its spinoffs are limited, pedestrian science fiction at best. To equate science fiction with the Star Trek and Star Wars industries is to say that science fiction is essentially space opera, or galactic Westerns that substitute phasers for six-shooters, and that once you have seen such movies, you know basically all there is to know. It is comparable to equating African-Americans with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and believing that all black people do is play basketball. Significantly, the British have a more enlightened attitude than Americans concerning speculative fiction. Novels such as H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Time Machine, have routinely been accepted as literature for over a century. We would do well to emulate such a practice.

As for darker fiction, the situation is even worse. Today, thanks to the media, it is almost impossible not to think in stereotypes when it comes to horror and dark fantasy. Partly this is due to the grisly, garish paperbacks which feature  monsters and madmen, knives and dismemberment, and horrific visual effects achieved simply by tilting the cover. For a while, back in the 80’s, horror novels were almost as identifiable on sight as the romantic bodice-rippers we see every day on newstands. The situation has not changed that much. Recently, one writer commented that her 30-month-old granddaughter pulled out a paperback “with a raised cover of a great big knife” and hollered, “Gwenie, scary book” (Elaine).

The fact is, we are constantly bombarded by simplistic, stereotyped images of horror and dark fantasy. They include everything from stock “slasher” movies such as Scream, Halloween, and Friday the Thirteenth, to some of our favorite breakfast cereals like Count Chocola and Frankenberry. We even have a national holiday, Halloween, which is devoted to a child’s view of  horror, and a set of five stamps honoring “the five greatest monsters of all time – Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man and The Mummy” (“Classic Movie Monsters Stamps,” 1). Unfortunately, what we are missing is the subtle, moody, atmospheric style of brilliant writers like Ramsey Campbell, and the cosmic horror in the face of the unknown that can be found in H.P. Lovecraft, America’s twentieth-century version of Edgar Allen Poe.

Say the word “horror” to the average citizen, and you may see a look of disgust. Say “fantasy,” and you will probably get no response at all. Still, to most people, both words have a pejorative connotation. If “horror” is seen as gore, immorality, and Satanism, “fantasy” is viewed as impractical and out of touch with reality. “You live in a fantasy world” is a common putdown. Lord help the accused if he possesses an imagination, and be careful to discourage your children from using their imaginations too much, lest it warp their minds and keep them from getting ahead. It is no accident that perhaps the most popular TV fantasy show ever, “Fantasy Island,” was predictable, formulaic fluff. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as we have sufficient alternatives. Regrettably, we haven’t, and the consequence is that we continue to equate fantasy, as we do most genre fiction, with the worst possible examples of it.

As we have seen, literary racism is a practice that closely resembles traditional racism, and it involves the very genres that this conference addresses. It is based on ignorance of what has been written, as well as of the proper ways to read it, and it has been encouraged by an artistic elite that is strongly contemptuous of popular literature. In America especially, the media have contributed to this bias by bombarding us with simplistic images and stereotypes that reflect only the worst aspects of genre fiction.

Besides having conferences such as this one, what can we do to correct the problem? Much of the answer lies with educators, who must champion the importance of the creative imagination, even if it leads in different and unpopular directions. Educators must also discourage simplistic attitudes toward the creative process that are based on stereotypes and the exclusion of alternatives. We might remember that Richard Wright, a great African-American writer, was ostracized by classmates and his own family for daring to write a horror story titled “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre.” Concerning his schoolmates, he wrote that “The mood out of which a story was written was the most alien thing conceivable to them” (184). We must strive to see that our children grow up believing that creativity and imagination are not alien or strange but at the heart of what it means to be human, and therefore, must always be cherished.

 

Works Cited

Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. New York: Beacon Press. 1988.

Card, Orson Scott. How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnatti: Writer’s Digest Books. 1990.

Card, Orson Scott. “Vulgar Art.”  Nebula Awards 25. Ed. Michael Bishop. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 183-199.

Classic Movie Monsters Stamps from the United States Postal Service.

21 March, 2001. <http://www.mca.com/horror/oct97/halloween/usps.html.>.

Elaine. “Re: Literary Racism.”  7 March, 2001. Online Posting. Horror Writers Association Website. <http:// www.horror.org/private/wwwboard/messages/10140.html>.

Gunn, James. “The Protocols of Science Fiction.”  24 March, 2001. <http://falcon.cc.ukans.edu/~sfcenter/protocol.htm.>.

Laymon, Richard. “HWA President Responds.” The Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association. Ed. Kathryn Ptacek. Vol. 12, Issue 10. Feb. 2001. 4-5.

“Sturgeon’s Law.” 18 March, 2001. Fiawol and all that. <http://www. cherryh.com/www.fiawol.htm>.

Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Harper & Row. 1966.

* * *

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RacismWebsite: http://johnrosenman.com

Blogsite: http://johnrosenman.blogspot.com

 

 

 

The First American?

Flames licked the reindeer, fat dripped, and the fire flared up. Startled, Kayla turned the spit. Last year she’d been a child stampeding prey toward the hunters’ ambush. She’d peeked from behind rocks as the shaman released the spirit of each captured animal and bowed her head in gratitude as he dedicated their bodies to feed the tribe. This year she was newly a woman, and …

Don’t think about it.

She gazed around the camp saying a silent farewell to the familiar. Marc, Iro and Rog stood together, far from the fire’s warmth, their breath clouding white in the cold. She watched from the corner of her eye and matched her breathing to Marc’s.

“Daydreaming are you?” Luna took the spit from her hand.

Kayla blushed and stepped aside.

“Ola is waiting for you.” Luna’s frown revealed her jealousy.

Kayla struggled to keep her mind empty while Ola dressed her in fine skins. The old priestess was reputed to see what others were thinking, and terrible punishment awaited those who defied tribal rules.

“Don’t be fearful, Kayla. You are blessed. Tonight, when the moon is high, the shaman will take you to the sacred caves.” Ola’s words, spoken in kindness, fell like stones on Kayla’s heart.

Her father was an artist, one of the few tribesmen allowed in the caves. He’d told her about the pictures, the star map that guided travelers and the animals that beseeched the spirits for a successful hunt. He’d drawn star maps on the ground and showed her the beasts that lived in the sky, but he never spoke of the priestesses who lived there.

When Kayla was chosen, her mother had wept at the honor, but her father showed no joy. The next time they were alone, he’d told her about warm and fertile lands that lay across the great water. Many hunters had set sail, following the star maps, but few returned. The shaman had decided the trip was too perilous, and now it was forbidden.

Ola finished braiding her hair and escorted her back to the fire. Lines of tribesmen spiraled away from the warmth. Flames reflected amber on their hungry faces. Artists came first followed by toolmakers, hunters, women suckling babies, and lastly the other women. Children ate with their mothers.

Kayla took her place at the very front. Moments later, a procession moved down the hillside; the shaman had finished his fasting and prayers. He blessed the roasted reindeer then sliced the smallest with his long blade and offered the choicest part to Kayla. Only after she’d been served did the elders step forward to receive their portions. They carried their food to the sacred table, and the young women served the other member of the tribe.

Kayla ate sparingly. Marc would do the same, and he would hide food in his clothes, as would Iro, Rog and their women. When the bones had been picked clean and the rest of the tribe lay heavy with meat, they would be swift. Later, the meat they’d hidden would sustain them until they reached the great water where fish swam in shoals.

The shaman had finished eating. Ola signalled that it was time. Kayla walked toward the huts where she was to make her final preparations. As soon as she left the fire’s light, she changed direction and began running. Marc met her by the rock where she’d hidden warmer clothes. She changed quickly, and they raced to the river, where the others waited.

“Hurry.” Iro pointed toward the camp. Dots of light spread out from the fire, torches moving up the hillside and down toward the huts but not toward the river—not yet. “They’re already looking for her.”

Nila, Rog’s woman, was with child and would slow them down, but with this head start, they’d reach the boats hidden where the river’s ice became water. The river would carry them to the great water. The star map in Kayla’s head would guide them to the new land.

Eleven moons, two deaths and one birth later, two small boats entered the bay that one day would be called Chesapeake. Gentle waves rocked their boats. The motion soothed Baby Dora, who’d been howling since being removed from her mother’s breast so that Nila could pull in a net filled with fish.

“Do you want your child to be born here?” Rog said.

“Our child will be born here whether Marc approves or not.” Kayla rubbed her swollen belly. Already, it had begun to tense and release in the rhythm of birth.

They beached the boats and constructed a shelter of bent saplings and the skins they no longer needed for warmth. That night they enjoyed the plenty that this land provided. They thanked the spirits for their generosity and asked that blessings in the afterlife be bestowed upon Iro and Joa who’d disappeared when their boat capsized in icy waters. The next day, as the sun poked its first rays into the sky, Kayla gave birth to a son.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbu.

In Praise of Short Stories by Patricia Dusenbury

Reading short stories is like cruising a buffet. Try a bit of this and a bit of that, experiment with new things. If you find something you love, go back and fill your plate—i.e. read a novel by the author. Or keep nibbling on this and that, enjoying the variety.

Just as the buffet—quick and efficient with lots of choices—fits well into modern life, so do short stories. Do you ride mass transit? Look around, everyone glued to their phone is not chasing Pokémon creatures. Do you go to the gym? I’m not coordinated enough to read on a treadmill, but others are. Your colleague, reading while she grabs a quick sandwich at her desk? Could be a short story.

On the other side of the pen, a short story offers writers a chance to try something new and different, to experiment without investing the chunk of time a novel takes. My novels are about mysteries and relationships. My short stories are all over the place. Part 2 of this post is an adventure story inspired by Paleolithic cave paintings. Anthropologists argue about who the amazingly sophisticated artists were and where they went. I wondered if maybe…

Short stories are defined by length (duh) with under 750 words usually called Flash Fiction and over 15,000 words pushing novella. Perhaps the shortest story, certainly one of the saddest is, “Baby clothes for sale, never worn.”

Can you compose a story—mystery, romance, sci-fi, whatever—in ten words or less? Submit your story as a comment and you’re in a lottery to win a copy of Black Coffee, a newly-released collection of twenty-three short mysteries noir. Edited by Andrew MacCrae, Black Coffee includes my excursion into the dark side, Nor Death Will Us Part.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbury.

The Politics of Opinion

I picked this piece out of a dusty cupboard and thought to myself, this is just as pertinent as it was when I published it several years ago.
CheatingDeathlaura tomei

As a reviewer, I’m regularly approached to “analyze” specific books. Sometimes it’s the publisher asking, and sometimes it’s the author. What, exactly, are they looking for? They’re hoping I will read the book provided and write several paragraphs of glowing promotional material they can show the public as proof that an informed and independent reader likes the book well enough to suggest it’s one you want to buy. But reviewing doesn’t always work that way: there are times when I dislike certain aspects of a book and, in all fairness, will write about these dislikes. I’ve often gone so far as to slam publishers and editors when the quality of their work reduces the quality of the book being reviewed.

Which brings me to The Politics of Opinion.

Generally speaking, politics is the process by which specific groups of people arrive at a single decision. For example, an “individual opinion” is an expression of something you believe in, when you don’t also provide positive proof of what you say. Such an opinion expressed by a group (including a description of how they arrived at that decision) would be the Politics of Opinion.

So, what do I mean when I use the phrase The Politics of Opinion when I’m talking about reviewing a book?

First, when I write a review, I’m not trying to change the opinion of a “group.” I’m providing information and beliefs regarding a specific book I have read, so that you, “the individual,” have some idea or reference point from whence you can move forward to make up your own mind regarding the book in question. Sometimes I provide proof for my beliefs, oftentimes I don’t. They key here is that if you respect my opinion, I may influence your decision to read said book.

Now, when an individual or individuals or organization (a reviewing company, publisher, etc) attack my reviews, my abilities, even my character, using our comments section, they’re trying to change not only my opinion but the opinions of all my readers. Our public clash puts us in the arena of The Politics of Opinion. You see, you the reader (as a group) are being offered all kinds of extra information and insights into the book being discussed, a glimpse of the reviewing process, and even a more complete idea of who I am. Good things, all. But, you’re also being asked to make a “group” decision: to ignore me.

So, when I say a book borders on pornography, someone challenges that opinion and I, hoping to offer further insights for you, provide proof and/or additional information to help you make your reading decision, The Politics of Opinion are in full force.

Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s my (generous) definition of pornography: if the format in which the book appears doesn’t or can’t stand on its own with the erotica removed (erotica is writing designed to sexually arouse the reader), then you’re looking at a piece of pornography. Using this definition, I felt Cheating Death by Annie Alvarez came very close to being pornography. Bloody Passion by Laura Tolomei, without it’s many erotic scenes, still stands up as a short story… but I’m paying for a novel! So, I ask you, my reader, if 3/4 of what I’m paying for (as fiction) ends up being erotica, doesn’t that suggest pornography to you?

Looking forward to your comments.

Clayton Bye is a professional writer and publisher with well over 50 books to his credit. He has also worked as an editor, proof writer, ghostwriter and public speaker. Clayton lives in a small town in northwestern Ontario in Canada. He refers to it as “God’s Country.”

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye

 

The Encounter By Cynthia B Ainsworthe

portrait of a beautiful brown-haired woman in a flower wreath sitting in the autumn forest close to the harp

John Drake drove down the dirt road, scarcely wide enough to allow for two passing cars. He slowed down at every sign, hoping he would find the name of the turn located on the tattered, coffee-stained road map. After stopping for the fourth time, he pulled over to what once was a rest stop for would-be campers.

His eye caught the glimpse of something fleeing not far in the woods. A young woman, twentyish, wearing a flowing gown, with a ring of flowers on her head, and a light blue ribbon tied around her neck. Her fingers grazed lazily over the autumn leaves on a nearby tree limb above her head. She stopped and looked at him. Her eyes grew intense and seemed to communicate a sad, beckoning message. John swallowed hard. He sat straighter, and ran his finger between his turtleneck collar and his throat.

Why is she staring at me? Is she lost? There are no spring flowers now. Why does she have flowers in her hair?

As compelling as the image was, he forced himself to check the map again. When he looked up in her direction, she was still there, only deeper into the forest.

His hand shook as he grabbed the keys and got out of the car. He stood a moment, watching her, and then walked around the car to the edge of the gravel, where it met an overgrown path. She didn’t move, but seemed to study his form for a few seconds, before she turned and darted into the forest. His steps grew faster and faster till he was at a slow run.

She disappeared out of sight behind a clump of thick-trunked trees.

John stopped and turned in a complete circle. There was no sight of her. Which way had she gone? It had to be that way. Instinct took over as he trudged through the growth of trees and fallen dead tree trunks hosting clusters of mushrooms crossing his path. Still, no sight of her.
Is she in danger? Does she want me to help her in some way?

A small clearing came into view with an old cabin standing in the center. As he drew closer, John saw it was missing some of the planks used to make the walls, and had no door. The hole that must have held a window revealed that the damaged roof allowed a stream of sunlight to fill its interior.

I wonder if she’s in there? Why is she hiding from me?

John hurried to the cabin, then slowed his pace, suddenly apprehensive. He toured the perimeter, careful where he stepped for fear of finding a hole, or some abandoned well. Coming back around to the front, he noticed a pale blue ribbon on the step to the rickety porch. He bent down, picked it up, and rubbed the satin fabric between his fingers. She is real. This ribbon proves it. He peered cautiously into the cabin. Empty. He looked around again, squinting to sharpen his focus. He could see no sign of this mysterious woman. He stashed the souvenir in his pocket. Her image haunted him. He returned to the car and continued to his destination, hoping to find the peace and quiet he sought for his weekend retreat. Dust kicked up as he picked up speed.

Crossroads came into view, with what appeared to be an old general store on one corner. An old brown pickup truck stood under the shade of an enormous oak tree. John pulled into the makeshift parking lot of packed dirt, and grabbed his map before getting out of the car. He stepped onto the old porch and noted a hand-honed wooden rocker. The sound of creaking wood under each footstep announced his arrival before he opened the door.

John stood a moment, searching for someone to assist him. He spotted an older woman behind a rough-hewn wood counter. He noticed a thin gold wedding band on her finger.

“Hi, Ma’am. I’m new in town and need some directions.” He laid the map on the counter, and pointed to his desired target.

The woman leaned over the counter and studied the map. “Nice to meet you,” she said with a slow drawl. “I’m Mabel. My husband, Henry, is in the back.” She pointed over her shoulder. She took a pencil from the gray bun at the back of her head and made an X on the map. “You are here. You go down this road till you get to a Y. Take the right fork, and the next left will take you to the campsite. You should be able to find your way from there. There’s a sign. You can’t miss it.”

A stooped man with a weathered face came from the back and stood next to her. “Don’t drive too fast in these parts. We don’t fancy road kill ‘round here. Critters got a right to live, and we only kill for what we eat. No huntin’ for city sport—not fair to the animals.”
John shifted his weight. He picked up the map. “No chance of that. I’m here for some rest. I only brought a sketch pad and pens.”

“You’re a painter?” the man whom he assumed was Henry, stroked his chin.

“Yes.” John smiled. “Though I only do that for fun. I’m an investment broker.”

Mabel’s jaw set. “One of them that makes money from others—skinnin’ them alive and they don’t feel it until they’re near dirt poor.”

They’re not very friendly here. I better get moving before it’s dark.

He paused at the doorway, and turned back to the older couple. “Do you know of a young woman in her twenties around here? I saw her in the woods—thought she might need help so I stopped the car and tried to find her, but she vanished.”

The couple exchanged knowing glances.

After a moment, Henry stiffened his posture. “Nope. Don’t know of any person like that. Sure you aren’t seein’ things from lack of sleep? Been drivin’ too long?”

“I know what I saw.”

Maybe he’s right. Stress at work and the long hours driving could’ve played tricks with my eyes.

* * *

The stranger left far quicker than he arrived.

Mabel looked up at Henry. “You think he’ll get to where he needs to be?”

“Don’t know. City slickers can be a bit disbelievin’ with all their book learnin’.” He started stocking the fresh shipment of canned green beans from the cardboard box onto the shelf behind them. “We might not see him again. Might end up like the rest.”

Her brow furrowed, accentuating the look of worry. “I hope not. All-in-all, he seemed like a nice young man.” She gazed out the window. “He might be back for some fixin’s. Might need some spray for all those bugs in the cabin.”

“Don’t go fussin’.” Henry tossed the empty box to the others in the corner. “What’s meant to be will be. Nothin’ no one can do. If we see him again, then we will. If not, it’s nobody’s business.”

“You’re right.” She patted his hand on the counter. “I fret too much over things that’s none of my concern.”

* * *

John hadn’t slept well. He tossed and turned and couldn’t make out if he slept with one dream blending into the next, of it he spent his entire night looking at the shadows and images formed by the moonlight. The vision of the girl in the woods tormented him.

I know she is real. Why can’t I stop thinking about her? Why did that couple at the store act so odd when I mentioned what I saw?

He slung his legs over the edge of the bed, stood up and gave an expansive stretch and yawn. A well-worn coffeemaker stood on the small dresser along with Styrofoam cups, packets of instant coffee, sugar, and powdered creamer. He filled the coffeepot with water from the bathroom sink then poured the contents into the reservoir. He pressed the “on” button to boil the water.

Nothing happened.

He checked the wall socket and re-plugged the appliance. Still nothing—not even the faint sound of gurgling water. Damn it! Now I have to go back to that store and find out where people eat around here. Maybe I can buy a new coffeemaker.

John dressed quickly. He checked his pocket and pulled out the ribbon with his keys. He looked at it briefly then stuffed it into his shirt pocket.

The morning sun nearly blinded him, and he grabbed his sunglasses from the glove compartment. The drive seemed much shorter than he recalled yesterday. He didn’t need a map this time. He drove back to the general store as if he had driven this road numerous times before. I was so lost yesterday. Why do I know these roads so well now? Am I still dreaming?

This is weird.

John pulled into the same parking area. He got out and checked the money in his wallet, and hoped he had enough. He wondered if the older couple would accept credit cards.

He opened the door and walked straight to the counter. Mabel swept off dust with an old rag that must have seen better days.

He cleared his throat. “Ma’am, I was here yesterday asking for directions.”

Mabel gave no indication that he was there, nor that she heard him.

Henry came from the back with a large barrel of pickles supported on a hand truck, and un-packed them toward the entry. “I haven’t seen that young broker man—the one askin’ for directions,” he said.

John stepped toward Henry. “Are you blind? I’m standing right here in front of you.”

“Yup,” Mabel replied. “Guess he’s gone for good. Hope he finds out where he’s supposed to be.”

She brushed away a lock of gray hair from her forehead and secured it with a bobby pin from her apron pocket. “Hate to think he’ll get lost.”

John turned to the woman. “Why are you ignoring me? I am here, right in front of you,” He almost yelled, panic rising in his throat.

“Henry, do you think he really saw her in the woods?” Mabel placed her hands on hips.

“Don’t know. Might have.” He chuckled. “It’s not like he had proof—a picture or somethin’.”

John reached into his pocket and retrieved the blue ribbon. He waved it in the air. “Yes, I do have proof! Here it is. Right in my hand.”

Mabel and Henry took no notice.

What is wrong with these people? Are they purposely being rude? I’m from the big city—that means I don’t exist?

In exasperation, John slammed the ribbon down on the counter. It was his only proof that he had seen her and that she was real, but he didn’t care. What he saw and experienced the day before fell back to second place. He felt a new urgency to be somewhere, but didn’t know where that place was located. He headed for his car.

At the door he paused at the sound of Mabel’s voice, and turned around.

“That man was here. Look, Henry. Here’s the ribbon.” She took it from the counter and handed it to her husband.

“I’ll take care of it. Put it with the others.” He shuffled to a box under the far end of the counter.

“I wonder what he thought when we didn’t say a word to him when he was here.”

“I didn’t know he was here—not until that ribbon. Didn’t even feel a breeze.” A small smile curled at her lips. “Guess he hasn’t learned that skill yet.” She watched Henry carefully place the ribbon in the container. “When do you think they’ll find the body?”

“All depends how well that girl hid it.”

John’s mouth gaped open. They are totally nuts. I’ve entered some kind of twilight zone.

His car was gone.

In its place was the young woman in a flowing nightgown with a blue satin ribbon around her neck. Her arm reached out to him.

© 2016 Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Cynthia has longed to be a writer. Life’s circumstances put her dream on hold for most of her life. In 2006, she ventured to write her first novel, Front Row Center, which won the prestigious IPPY Award (Independent Publisher), as well as garnering numerous 5-star reviews, one from known Midwest Book Review. Front Row Center is the first book in the Forbidden Series.

This novel is now being adapted to screen. A script is in development by her and notable Hollywood screenwriter, producer, and director, Scott C. Brown. Remember?, and Forbidden Footsteps are books two and three in the Forbidden Series. She also contributed to the award-winning anthology, The Speed of Dark, compiled by Clayton C. Bye, published by Chase Enterprises Publishing. Cynthia enjoys retirement in Florida caring for her husband and their five poodle-children.
https://www.amazon.com/Cynthia-B.-Ainsworthe/e/B00KYRE1Q8
https://www.cynthiabainsworthe.com

A Giant Story by James L. Secor

 

 

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Every weekend the story teller came to our neighborhood. And we all gathered, excited well beyond our little children’s bodies, to hear what new tale she had to tell. Her well of stories was so deep as to be bottomless. The water of her voice washed over us and carried us along through he shallows, along the lazy shores, bounding over the rapids and right over the falls that left us screaming and breathless and then splashed us into the deep, clear pool at the bottom–only to spill over into a new river. . .for net week’s carriage. How is it she could work such magic? And why is it she is gone? She and all of her kind. How much of life are we missing because of her passing? The weekends hold no magic for me–for anyone any more. Just another day; life is so boring. Today. I’m older. The world is older. But have we grown up? We are, to my way of thinking, bereft of what it is got us here: our culture, or life. For the stories of our history, the stories of our passage are lost to our sons and daughters. Even foreigners know more of our history and folk wisdom than we do. Shameful!

Out of all the stories that filled my life, the story of the giant remains. Bear with me as I recreate this long lost world that is, mysteriously, the going concern of the day, today. If you don’t know where you came from, if you don’t know what it is made you. . .who are you? Who are you, really?

How pedantic, you say. It is true, too, that I am. . .different from those others around me. I’m an odd ball. I live alone in an old house that takes up space and, truly, gives me more than the modern man possesses. It is my very own little yamen. I have nature about me and after-thought modernity to keep me up to date–though I must admit my solar water heater occasionally belies its name. . .I’m to suffer through cold showers. And, unlike every other home I’ve been in, my walls are books. Floor to ceiling. Some ask me if they might fall in on me. Some ask me if I’ve actually read all those books and, if yes, why I keep them around.

Well! It is at such times this story of the giant comes to mind and I tell it.

You know, sometimes the children in the neighborhood tease me, the oldest man in the world, to tell them a story. They laugh, of course, but their cynicism, their teasing turns into cheers and applause by the time I’ve finished by recitation. I wonder sometimes. . .does anyone talk, talk to these kids? Sometimes they ask for the giant story. Some of them over and over again. Well! In case it be lost with my passing, here it is; for I am interested in staying alive even after I’m gone. Though, in truth, it is the old, itinerant storyteller I am memorializing.

Disappearing tales
Like magicians’ sleight hands
Are here and then not
And we are left wondering
What has happened to the truth.

In a cave in the mountain there lived a giant. He was a big giant. He was so big that if you tried to look p to the top of him, you’d fall over–ad still never see the top of his head, only the clouds that gathered about. Oh, yeah! He was a real giant. There isn’t anyone left alive who’s as big as this giant. Why . . . he had hand so big he could hold three bags of rice and still close his fingers. He was slim waisted but, still, it would take 10 people stretched arm to arm to go round him. His shoulders were so wide it took an eagle a week to sail around him. And his legs were like oak trees–maybe even two or three oak trees lining the downtown street around. Oh, yeah–he was big! Each foot was as great as Xihu.

Oh, yeah. He was one big mother!

It was no wonder, then, that eh was proud of himself. Proud of being the biggest, tallest, strongest, most powerful thing around. However, no one came to worship or even wonder at his bigness and power and so he figured, in his pride and self-worship, that perhaps no one knew of him. Strange as that may seem, people being kind of drawn to great thing. Yet–there it was. But, you know, he lived way up a high mountain in a cave, so high a mountain that the atmosphere was too rarified for people and so no one came to visit and wonder at his greatness; though he could not understand why no one had herd of him. After all, a herd of mountain goats was but an afternoon snack for him. . .and stories, he knew, had a way of spreading wider than the greatest of lakes in their attempt to contain all of life. Indeed, stories had a way of growing the farther they travelled and the more tongues they tripped over. People ad a way with words, so much a way that if they bothered to measure their depth, this particular giant would be no more than a dwarf wandering in a field of weeds.

So, he figured it would be a good idea to go down the mountain and let people see him so they’d know how great he was. Otherwise, no one would continue to pay him no attention. And he was right. If there’s no one else around, if there’s no one to compare yourself to, who are you? What kind of identity do you have? Existence without others is no existence at all. It is no more than free falling. . .and wondering when the bottom’s going to come up to say hello in a kind of finale. No encore. Indeed, who are we without the other? No one, least of all a giant among men, can live alone, without relation to. That is, how did the giant know he was a giant among men if there were no men to acknowledge his giantness? Other people are a confirmation of self. Thus, it was necessary for him to descend from the heights to the earth below. So, of course, he did so. He was not, after all, stupid, despite his size.

So. . .

On the day he left for his journey amongst mankind, the giant looked in his mirror. His hair was pomaded. Is clothes were in order. This was a great full-length mirror, so it was no wonder that he said, upon beholding himself, “What a big man I am! I am the greatest! Look at how handsome I am! Ha-ha! Everyone will love me.”

Oh, yes! He was full of himself. Sop full of himself that no one else mattered. How could they possibly measure up to him? It didn’t matter that his experience of the world was limited, that the only thing he knew was himself and his cave-world, his mountain world. All he knew was his own praises, his own applause for himself. Just like Liu Ye who so loved himself he married himself.

Well, this egoism, this Narcissism–for he was in love with himself and, therefore, all he saw was himself–was a kind of short-sightedness, a short-sighted view of the world, to say the least. When you see the world centred upon yourself and the world in comparison to your great self as wanting, there is not much in the way of option: either other s are less than you, the giant, are for you will make them so. For there can be noting or no one greater than the giant that you are. In order to be the greatest, everyone else must be the least. It is a law of nature. And the giant believed it fervently, though he had no supporting evidence: the greatest survive.

And so it was in this posture that the giant, thick as a brick, strode down the mountainside to seek proof that he was great as he thought he was, proof he was sure he would find. Alas–because he was in love with himself, he was, despite his great size, short-s0ghted. That is, he couldn’t really see very well. But not being aware of his short-comings, he did not know better. No indeed. He couldn’t see beyond the tip of his nose and his nose was not exactly long or high. And it is true that the giant occasionally bumped into things. . .tables, chairs, walls, boulders. It was, of course, always their fault that they got in his way. Greatness being beyond compare.

Well, this fact, the giant’s short-sightedness, was to be particularly troublesome for humans who were, it must be admitted, difficult to see, being so small. Indeed, to the giant they were no more than dots, tiny little dots down around his ten league boots. And he was a high strider, so he really missed, like a harried taxi driver, the life around him. And so it is little wonder that he didn’t pay attention to much of what was around him once he was down off his mountain. The bright sunlight didn’t help his vision either, so used to cave life had he become.

As he strode down the mountain he heavy step loosened rocks and boulders that went careening down the mountainside, crashing and pounding and smashing the trees and bashing the houses of the horrified villages at the foot of the mountain. They wondered, as the common folk will do, what it was they did to so anger the mountain that their homes and livestock and fields would be flattened, as well as members of their families. Streets and lanes and alleys were filled with rubble, trouble and death. As the boulders came flying down upon them from the sky, some wondered if the sky were not indeed falling and set up a wailing and caterwauling to waken the dead. The giant, though, did not see this or hear this. He could not see his own feet and his ears were not so acutely tuned to such high frequencies as human voices.

When he got to the flatland, he paused and looked around him. Greens and browns everywhere mixed with stilted patches of blue and red. He smiled. This was more color than up on his mountain and it pleased him. His passing, however, did not please the people. His huge, heavy feet rumbled through the earth and opened up gaping chasms and defiles into which people and animals and homes fell precipitously. People ran around frenziedly shouting, “Earthquake! Earthquake!” What’s more, people and animals and houses were mercilessly crushed beneath the giant’s boots. They were so small and insignificant that he did not feel his destructiveness. Fences and walls crashed to the ground or were ground down under his boot heels. The roads were filled up with rubble, people and his massive footwear. Indeed, in the lowlands, his footprints created inland lakes so quickly and, as it were, out of thin air, that many people drowned, homes were flooded. Wells filled with rubble as they collapsed in on themselves or were trodden under foot. Fields of plenty became flattened, barren, empty deserts. Forests were crushed like toothpicks. But the giant knew none of this.

No. The giant was having a good time walking about in the open air, basking in the sunshine, breathing in the clean air. It was so good to be free! So liberating! He smiled and shouted his glee–only to cause further destruction as the wind from his lungs rushed through the countryside knocking over buildings and trees, blowing away fences and walls and carrying people away in great swirls to be haphazardly cast to the earth in crumpled heaps. And the giant, unaware of his own passing, continued on his merry way, leaving death and destruction in his wake. What a wonderful time he was having!

He came to a wide river, easy enough for him to step over but he was dry and dusty so he stepped into its channel and sloshed downstream. Great waves rose up and flooded the land either side and picked up and flung boats and fishermen before him on down to the mouth of the river, if they made it that far. Most people were drowned and then, as the giant passed by, their bodies smushed into the mud. To assuage his thirst, the giant bent down and scooped up a handful of water. Water and fish and fishermen all went down his throat. He smacked his lips at the fresh taste. He liked this new water so much, he took another drink. And another.

At the mouth of the river, a wide, marshy delta, the giant’s boots created crater lakes and spread the floodplain much, much farther afield, again drowning all life in its path. And then he was into the sea. His bulk caused the water level to rise and, once again, his passing flooded the land, creating a new coastline. There wasn’t much anyone could do. Not even the air force, for their flying machines were no more than irritating mosquitoes that the giant cleanly swatted away.

When he had has his fill of bathing and floating in the sea, the giant returned the way he had come. Of course, he saw nothing of what he’d caused to happen, so short-sighted was he, so high off the ground and so tiny were the victims of his passing. And he climbed back up the mountain to sit and reminisce about the wonders of the world he’d seen and his joy at being out in the open. His only regret was not finding any of his own kind. Well, you couldn’t have everything and, of course, he was sure there was nobody as wonderful as he, so it didn’t matter. Not really. And he thought that perhaps he would do this another day, going in a different direction, so full of his own passion was he. Maybe, one day, he would walk to the ends of the earth.

Being a giant, he knew it was well within his ability.

 

Bio:- There is an element of the absurd in this story, harking back to my adult beginnings in social activist theatre where absurdity ran free and easy, in the theatre and in the street. In one way or antoher, I’ve remained an activist but my writing is not always colored with the absurd. I think sometimes I am absurd. I have lived in Japan, China, Scotland, England and, for short periods of time, Russia and Malaysia; and now I live in the foreign country of Kansas where the idealogue of a governor has ruined the state and actually has given up his dream of running for President of the US to become Chancellor of Kansas State University, which he will run into the ground as he has the state. It just never ends, does it?

You can see more at https://talesofthefloatingworld.wordpress.com
Or find something edifying at https://branded.me/james-secor
Otherwise, you’re stuck with Linkedin

THE NEIGHBORHOOD WARS by Sal Buttaci

 

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“Not anymore,” Giosif said. “Remember? It’s 2212. Nobody needs no permit to fire one of these.”

The old man shook his gray head as the boy tapped his thumb on the hammer of the gun.

“We gotta defend Dartmouth Street, Gramps. Ain’t no other way.”

“Don’t go out there. It ain’t safe,” he said, but even as he spoke the words, he knew warning him was a waste of time.

Great-grandpa Alowishis remembered when he was even younger than the boy. Porch-chair afternoons found his ears glued to the stories his own great-grandfather recounted of Old America when the national pastimes were baseball, football, hockey. It was a happy time when spectators in sweating shirts came in droves to cheer their teams.

Now the pastime was fear, a wave of quaking civilians cowering indoors behind their conviction that life was a brief candle. Still, the unwritten gang law of “Tutum Domi,” (safe at home) declared them untouchable. It was only a matter of time before home became a cell and death by escape seemed preferable to life by containment. A step outside meant leathered delinquents on the streets would snuff out that flickering flame.

He felt sorry for the twelve-year-old. The boy had lost his parents in the Neighborhood War. They had ventured from home onto Dartmouth Street, claiming some false sense of courage compelled them. The old man knew better; he called it reckless bravado, an agreed-upon pact to take that final walk.

Giosif’s father made light of the gunfire deafeningly flashing overhead. “We’ll pretend it’s a rainbow,” he joked. And Giosif’s surrogate-mother added, “Or an arch of flowers above us as we walk.” The two held hands but the old man could detect, even with fading eyesight, both their hands trembling.

They never came back.

Giosif and the old man. Prisoners in their stone house, nibbling rationed morsels unfit for rodents. How much longer? he wondered.

Suddenly, the stars and stripes of Old Glory waved proudly in the old man’s memory. He bit his lip to dispel it. He remembered placing his hand on his chest like school children of old who for so long recited allegiance to one nation, this nation, this home of the free and the brave and now the center of siege. Foreign oppressors he could have predicted, even in his youth. They stormed the skies, bombed the cities, planted their dark flags as they burned ours, but instead of freedom fighters banding together to save the nation, street gangs grew in numbers and strength. Their objective?  Retake the cities for themselves.

“Life’s different now,” Giosif said without looking up from the green Spetzer in his hand. Hypnotically he ran the chamois up and down the green triple barrel. “We gotta show them.” Show them what? the old man thought. That we could possibly put a stop to this? To these neighborhood terrorists? Even the Radical Armies are afraid to march down our streets!

“Ain’t a crime no more.

Then the boy walked towards the door, released the deadbolt, yanked down the chains, and stepped into the light of machinegun fire. He raised the shiny Spetzer, aimed it with a cool hand and fired at Clara somebody from Arbor Lane, Jacksonville Jack’s woman who co-led the Z-Ford bikers up and down city-block streets. Clara fell, her bike spinning where she lay.

“Stay your ass on K Street,” Giosif shouted at the dead woman.

Alowishis gasped and called to him. “Cold-blooded murder.” But the boy laughed, reloading for Jacksonville Jack. He’d take no chances. He vowed he would never make the mistake his close friend Daveed did. Turning his back on the street, heading back into his Dartmouth Street home, Daveed was shot dead by a survivor from a Harris Road family he was so sure he had wiped off the asphalt face of their street

Giosif walked backwards into the dark house. He shut the door, chained it, threw the deadbolt, and puffed his thin lips into a full-of-pride smile. Then someone knocked on the door. The only sound Giosif offered was the click of his Spetzer’s hammer.

“It’s me, Giosif. Your neighbor here on Dartmouth. Margie. Margie Pederson. You knew my dead husband Sam. Please let me in.”

His inner voice said No, let her die out there; that ain’t Sam’s widow, but tough boy with gun was still boy with a heart full of street honor. He unchained the door. Slid the deadbolt free. Expected Margie to dash inside quickly enough for him to slam the door behind her.

Instead, he saw Jack. Margie was gone. Armed with a Thompson-Abdul M9, Jack forced his way inside.

Straight off, he sprayed the peeling walls, then shot the boy. Giosef lay crumpled and bloody on the faded green living-room carpet, his unfired Spetzer clenched tightly in his hand, blue unblinking eyes locked open as though in rapt attention to what Jack had to say.

Alowishis furrowed his stubbled face into waves of wrinkled skin. Jack had set down his machinegun, then removed from his leather jacket a Ruger pistol, plunking the barrel hard against the old man’s temple

Giosif lay dead at his feet. Through the still-open door Alowishis could see the sun, so many years a stranger, sting his eyes. He shut them. Filled his mind with happier times. The Independence Day Parade up and down Dartmouth Street. The neighbors from every street and avenue marching proudly to patriotic tunes. Ice cream cones and blue cotton candy. Mayor Billy Quince shouting to visitors, “Welcome, neighbors! Welcome! Welcome!” Old Glory filled with the promise to wave forever.

The old man sighed at the volley of first fireworks.

Jack squeezed the trigger.

  * * *

Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer whose work has appeared widelyHe was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award.

His short-short fiction collections, published by All Things That Matter Press, are available at Amazon.com:

Flashing My Shortshttp://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci/dp/0984259473

200 Shorts: http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci/dp/0984639241/ref=sr_1_1?Ss=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1314991699&sr=1-1

A Family of Sicilians, his book portraying a true image of what it means to be Sicilian, is available at https://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=A+FAMILY+OF+SICILIANS&type=

Sal Buttaci lives in Princeton, West Virginia, with his loving and much loved wife Sharon.

The Gathering by Monica Brinkman

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The night was approaching and with it growing excitement for what was to come. Maurice had heard about the gatherings which took place on this very special day. His dream was to one day be part of the exclusive group. They only selected the most perfect to partake in the festivities, and here he found himself, amid the flawless beauty of the others.

He knew Sheila would be picked, with her round curves and broad smile. She was second to be chosen. He could see why with a face that lit up the night with its brightness and warm glow. He’d secretly had a crush on her, yet would never let on, for she had her heart set on Louis.

Suppose if you were to measure excellence in form and face, Louis would win by a landslide. Somehow the crooked leering grin and arched eyes drew the crowd. He’d come in first place with the judges who selected those who would be part of the celebration. Maurice was tiring of the relentless reminder of superiority Louis exuded. Still, it was worth putting up with his boastful nature to be within this exclusive assembly.

Darkness now engulfed the night, which only accentuated the glow emitted from the windows behind them. So proud were they, for they had been carefully chosen from hundreds, maybe even thousands to bring in the season. And now they sat on the porch, he on the bannister, Sheila on the stool and Louis on the front step.

Though he realized he did not have the firm, broad form of Louis, or the curvy elegance of Sheila, he had something special indeed. He was the tallest and leanest of them all and he wore a devilish grin, accented by the wink of an eye. It somehow captured the heart of the people, and he was delighted!

So, they did what only the winners of the gathering were meant to do. They shined their beauty upon the world, and people stopped and looked and laughed and smiled. It felt so good to bring such joy to others, especially the children, who delighted in their excellence.

The night grew longer and soon the people were far and few and a chill set in, forming ice spots on his lids and mouth. He noticed Louis and Sheila were experiencing the same discomfort. Wasn’t it time to go inside the house and warm their cold at the fire? Why wasn’t anyone coming for them?

The light from the windows disappeared and they were in total darkness, apart from the glow of the candles, which were melting at rapid speed. He could feel the flicks of melted soy against his skin. Now it was becoming unbearable. Icy cold around his form and extreme heat within his body. He heard Sheila gasp and Louis groan.

What was such glory, had now turned into the worst nightmare. Where were the judges? Why had they abandoned them? Winners should be protected.

Wait. He heard footsteps and the sound of rustling leaves. They had not forgotten them. Maurice sighed with relief, his spirit perked. Two young boys approached, one tiptoed onto the porch and seized Sheila, tossing her hat to the floor, while the other raised Louis off the step and lifted him high into the air, and, no, Maurice could not believe his eyes, the young man threw Louis to the ground with such force it broke his body into pieces. The once magnificent Louis lay crumbled and dying.

Maurice heard the thud and saw his once lovely Sheila split in two.

The last thing Maurice heard was the taller boy state, “What a mess this will be for old man Phillips when he wakes up tomorrow.”

As Maurice lay broken on the porch, his insides leaking out onto the tattered floorboards, he realized this was not a great reward to be chosen as the best of pumpkins. In fact, it was the ultimate punishment.

***

Monica M Brinkman believes in ‘giving it forward’; reflected by her writing and radio show. A firm believer open communication is the most powerful tool to make positive change in the world; she expresses this in her books, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel, The Wheels Final Turn and in her weekly broadcast of It Matters Radio.

An avid writer, who has been proclaimed a true storyteller, she has been published in several anthologies and wrote a weekly column for over two years at Authorsinfo. Her works can be found at various sites throughout the internet. Visit her blog @ http://itmattersradio.wix.com/on-the-brink

Monica resides in the Midwest with her husband, two dogs and five cats.

Searching for More by Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Road to dead city

Carla ambled on the smooth black asphalt over to Richard, who sat on the gray concrete bench. Color had been absent in her life from birth. Not because of any hereditary defect, but due to the world she inhabited. She accepted this fact, as did the others. She had been taught not to question the leaders, and she knew Richard had the same upbringing. She gazed up at the gray towering buildings—the cityscape that made up her world.

He didn’t look up as she sat down. He kept his eyes straight ahead with a vacant stare. “In a couple of hours we’ll have to return to our quarters. I don’t want to be quarantined for missing curfew.”

“I know.” Carla sat down beside him. She studied the tattooed numbers on the inside of his arm. “I see you’re an odd. I’m an even.”

“Too bad.” Richard turned and looked at her. “We won’t be allowed to couple. They are strict about enforcing those things.”

“My roommate told me that when I first moved out of the children’s home.” She twirled a strand of her long brown hair. “Odds go with odds, and evens go with evens. I wonder if it was always this way—rules governing everything—even the way we’re supposed to think.”

He looked up at the blue sky. “There was a time, eons before us, before the Global Federation, when life was very different—full of plants, trees, flowers, people wearing colors for clothing instead of our gray protective suits. There was entertainment. People moved to music, known as dancing. Eating food that came from trees and the soil, and not the nutrient cakes with water we are served. They were allowed to choose their mates. There were places to which people could travel, too.”

“How do you know all these things?” I hope he’s not a subversive. If he is, I could be punished for talking with him. “Have you been snooping in the forbidden library vaults? You could be banished to the outland and never heard from again.”

“I have the elders’ trust.” A grimace thinned his lips. “I’m not about to start a revolution …. Have you ever wondered why we all look the same? Same color skin, eyes, hair, body type?”

“No. I just thought it was always the way it is now.” Her fingers lightly touched the top of Richard’s hand resting on his knee. “Don’t tell me more if it will get you into trouble.”

“From what I could tell from the archives, there were a series of massive wars between countries, all fighting for power and global control of resources as the population grew and food and water became more precious. Great scientific advances were made and would have benefited mankind if there wasn’t one last battle that ended most of life—plants, animals, and man. The few that survived were able to pull together and create what we have now.”

“Is what we have now really that terrible?” She lifted his chin to look into his almond eyes. “All you’re doing is creating a want inside yourself. That can’t be good. Certainly not good for the commune.”

“I’m thinking of how it might have turned out for us now if the actions of others, all those eons ago, were different.” He sighed, noticing the shadow elongate on the sidewalk from the setting sun. “I might have different features, skin color, or talent for something, instead of working at the same task every day.”

“What’s the use of thinking this way? I learned in school that the old leaders forced people of different races to mate until there was only one skin color—that was the goal—to stop prejudice.” What is he getting at? There’s no way to change things. “Remembering all those old history facts have nothing to do with us now. The elder leaders know what is best. We get a televised notice every morning in the common room.”

“But, we don’t know if that leader is real. All we see is an image on a screen. We never have the opportunity to ask questions—never allowed to ask questions.” He paused as his eyes roamed over her face. “Don’t you ever wonder what will happen to you when you can no longer breed? Wonder where you are shipped off to?”

“I believe what I’m told—a better place where I can relax and not worry about tasks.” Were the elders lying to us? “To have the freedom to talk with others as much as I want, instead of only a few hours each day.”

Richard sighed with a heaviness as if he held a deep dark secret and dare not reveal it for fear of an unknown retribution. “We’d better head to our quarters. We don’t want unnecessary punishment.” He offered his hand to Carla as he stood. “If you want to believe the others end up in a better place after they’re shipped out—go ahead. Nothing will change, unless …”

© 2016 Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Cynthia has longed to be a writer. Life’s circumstances put her dream on hold for most of her life. In 2006, she ventured to write her first novel, Front Row Center, which won the prestigious IPPY Award (Independent Publisher), as well as garnering numerous 5-star reviews, one from known Midwest Book Review. Front Row Center is the first book in the Forbidden Series.

This novel is now being adapted to screen. A script is in development by her and notable Hollywood screenwriter, producer, and director, Scott C. Brown. Remember?, and Forbidden Footsteps are books two and three in the Forbidden Series. She also contributed to the award-winning anthology, The Speed of Dark, compiled by Clayton C. Bye, published by Chase Enterprises Publishing. Cynthia enjoys retirement in Florida caring for her husband and their five poodle-children.

https://www.amazon.com/Cynthia-B.-Ainsworthe/e/B00KYRE1Q8

https://www.cynthiabainsworthe.com

THE STING by Bryan Murphy

photo

Photo by Awersowy – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5930841

Portugal in the 1970s. Ed Scripps, a young expatriate English businessman, has lost his wife, his business and his money. Now an evil cult, which calls itself Pangaia, has sucked his best friend, Mark, into its clutches in order to get its hands on Mark’s newly acquired wealth. Ed is determined to rescue Mark, and enlists the help of Mark’s wife Simone, and other friends, to try to do so.

Ed took a dark Sagres beer from the fridge for inspiration. He had acclimatised so thoroughly that he now drank his beer cold, even in winter: the chill at the back of his throat added to the impact of that first swig. With the night’s third bottle, inspiration started to arrive. By the time the fifth empty bottle clinked into the waste bin, he had a plan.

In the cold light of day, Ed still thought his plan was a good one. He summoned the group to a meeting that evening and laid it before them. They thought it risky, but feasible. They would do it.

The next morning, Simone went to the bank and wired a significant sum of money from a joint account to the bank’s branch in Vila Abade, for Mark to pick up in person. One of the group, Luís, then phoned Pangaia, declared himself to be a senior clerk from the bank, and asked to speak to Mark. They told him Mark was unavailable but he could leave a message. Luís explained the transfer and said that Mark could collect his money the following day.

Early the next morning, Ed, Simone and Gabriela drove up to Vila Abade in a hired car. They parked near the police station in the small town and walked towards the bank, hurrying to keep out the winter chill as well as to get in position before the bank opened. They took up their places, in sight of each other, but with only one of them visible to the guard outside the bank, should he care to look in that direction.

They were counting on Jorge being keen to get his hands on Mark’s money as fast as possible, and they were not disappointed. Minutes after the bank opened, Ed saw Mark approach it, accompanied by three heavies. Ed pulled his borrowed hat down and hurried towards the bank, taking care to disguise his limp. He was the first customer to enter the bank, and he engaged the sole clerk already on duty in a discussion of how he might open an account there, spinning out the misunderstandings by making his Portuguese more rudimentary than it had been for years. The Pangaia group came in after him and had to wait. If Mark recognised Ed, he did not show it.

A blast of cold air came in as the door opened. Gabriela strode in, looking flustered and anxious. She asked who was last in the queue and started complaining loudly about bank staff always being late for work. The guard raised his eyebrows and closed the door on them. Mark’s escorts glared daggers at the foreigner separating them from Mark’s money. When Ed could spin out his request no further, and gave it up with many thanks to the bored clerk, the Pangaia group moved forward to take his place, but Gabriela brushed past them to the counter.

“Excuse me, I’m sorry, I just can’t wait! Show a little gallantry, gentlemen!”

“Hey! Who do you think you are!”

“Get out of the way, bitch!”

“We’re next! Not you, you stupid cow!”

They did not notice Simone enter. Mark did. He rushed to embrace her. As he did so, Ed started to yell.

“Help! It’s a robbery! Help!!”

Gabriela began to scream. The clerk pressed the alarm button. The guard ran in, gun in hand, and saw the heaviest of Pangaia’s disciples with his thick arms around Mark’s neck. The guard felled him with a blow from the barrel of the gun, then pointed it at the other two heavies who scrambled to tend to their fallen companion.

“Stop where you are! You’re all under arrest!”

The above is an extract from Revolution Number One, the forthcoming novel by British author Bryan Murphy. Bryan welcomes visitors to his website at http://www.bryanmurphy.eu You can find a selection of his e-books here: viewAuthor.at/BryMu