Category Archives: Horror

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 NEIGHBORHOOD WARS by Sal Buttaci

 

a

“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.

Who I Am, and What I Do by John B. Rosenman

2nd photo for john

In 1952, when I was eleven, I sat in a theater watching “The War of the Worlds.” When the scene came where three men were left alone with a smoldering meteor that started to unscrew, I got scared to death. What was in that meteor? What would it look like and do? It took all my courage to stay in my seat and not run.

Originally I wanted (implausibly) to be an opera star, but I think that movie, plus others like “Them!” and “The Thing,” influenced me to follow a more gruesome path. Also, I became addicted to horror comics such as “Tales From The Crypt.” Around this time, a friend introduced me to Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, and I quickly Biographydevoured  “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “I Am Legend,” and “The Shrinking Man.” These science-fiction books lived inside me, fired my imagination. I’ll never forget the episode in “Chronicles” in which Earthmen discover a town on Mars with all their dead loved ones WAITING FOR THEM.

Besides enjoying such movies, comics, and books, I received Poe’s collected works from a family friend. Even better was a birthday gift–-a year’s subscription to the SF magazine “Amazing”!

Looking back, I find it’s not easy to determine just when my psychic twig received its first weird bent. Much earlier, when I was seven, I loved to turn the lights out, go to bed early, and listen to “The Shadow” and other programs on the radio. In the dark, my imagination swept me along in ways that even later TV shows like “Thriller” couldn’t match. Who knows, perhaps my original ‘warping’ took place listening to such eerie tales, or even earlier-–in the womb! Oddly, while I liked creepy books, I went through stages when I read primarily other genres. First it was mysteries, especially those by Ellery Queen. Then in my early teens, I read enough westerns to die of lead poisoning. It’s not always easy to look back and trace a clear path to the present, perhaps because there isn’t one.

But one thing I always did like to do was write. As a little kid, I scribbled stories and drew cartoon panels in crayon rather than go out to play. Later, I crafted a never-ending novel with a fistfight every ten pages. Nope, The Twisted Years wasn’t about a space pirate or psychopath but a gunslinger with a tough childhood. I still remember that masterful first sentence: “Jeff Stancher didn’t pay any attention to the Abilene stage as it bumped and rattled into town.”

While I liked to write, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. My father, a lawyer, insisted I be practical. Yes, he thought I had a knack for writing, but one didn’t count on making a living that way. As a student, I was lazy and lousy. Somehow, my father got me into Hiram College where I belatedly learned to take notes and study. I majored in Political Science with a vague idea of becoming a lawyer, and graduated in three years. After that I attended Western Reserve Law School. Soon, bored by classes, I stayed away, writing stories and reading things like Mill’s “On Liberty.” Then one day I sold all my law books and hopped a bus to New Orleans, a “romantic” destination where I wrote bad stories in a cheap, $8 a week room and slung hamburgers for a buck an hour.

Cut to the future. I returned to Hiram, took some English courses, then received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Kent State in English, my dissertation being written on William Faulkner. What a background for a speculative-fiction writer, right?

After teaching in Canada for three years, I found myself out of work. I landed a job at a Southern black college where, at the age of thirty-nine, I completed my first novel, Down From Oz in 1980. It reveals how our educational system, which is a long way down from beautiful Oz, fails minority students, and it ultimately cost me two jobs and rattled away like the skeleton it was in my closet for years. Though it won McPherson & Company’s First Book Award, the publisher wanted a different title because he thought “Down” was a downer. So we settled on “The Best Laugh Last,” which ain’t as good.

In 1982 I was hired by Norfolk State University and moved to Virginia with my wife Jane and two kids. And here, my life changed forever, for I discovered SPWAO and the small press. For two decades I’d collected umpteen rejection slips by submitting stuff to blueblood magazines like The New Yorker and The Sewanee Review. Now I learned there were other, spikier magazines whose editors actually gave you feedback. If you were unendingly persistent (and I was!), you could serve an apprenticeship and polish your craft.

Soon, I finally began to see what my true direction was, and in years to come, I sold H/SF/F/Paranormal fiction (and a little poetry) to over 150 magazines, including Iniquities, Weird Tales, The Horror Show, Aboriginal SF, Cemetery Dance, Terminal Fright, The Blood Review, New Blood, Starshore, Galaxy, Offworld, Figment, Nova SF, and Yankee. My fiction can also be found in such places as “Hot Blood,” #’s 6 and 8 (erotic horror), Whitley Strieber’s “Aliens” (where a high roller in Las Vegas takes an unplanned galactic journey), A Horror Story A Day: 365 Scary Stories, and Treachery and Treason.  Plus many more. My imagination just seems to be strange or askew. Even a space-opera novel which I published with Mundania Press, Beyond Those Distant Stars, contains a sinister, godlike menace. I suppose it’s not surprising that one of my stories killed five magazines that accepted it.

     Ask me why some of the fiction I write is horror/dark fantasy, and I’ll say I do it because life itself is horror. Health and happiness are anomalies. Either nature or circumstance is always trying to kill or maim you, as when my wife developed breast cancer. (She’s fine now, thank you.)  I love all kinds of horror, from splatterpunk to erotic to psychological to Lovecraftian supernatural. In general, I think subtle, suggestive horror that is ambiguous and open to interpretation is the best. But hey, I’m not proud, and will be glad to gross you out if necessary. I do like to write about religion. “The Last Snowman,” for example, appeared in Iniquities and features a young boy who fights Satan in order to save the world.

            In recent years, I’ve published several novels, including my Inspector of the Cross science fiction-adventure series (now in its fourth and fifth books) and the YA novel The Merry-Go-Round Man, which is drawn from my childhood. I’ve tried to range afield in other ways, too. For example, when I went to Rome, I was so awed by the Sistine Chapel, I wrote ”A Spark from God’s Finger,” a story about an American art teacher in Rome who has a vision that he’s the reincarnation of Michelangelo. I’ve also published stories that take place in 19th and 25th century Nigeria (part of a novel, A Senseless Act of Beauty published by Crossroad Press); in the New Hebrides in 1946; and in Nauru, sometime in the past. Who knows? Perhaps it will be Russia next, or I’ll cook up my own dark country

 

Going Away by John B. Rosenman

photo for john

            “I don’t love you anymore,” Marvin said. “I’m leaving.”

Agnes had heard her husband say the same thing three or four times before in her thirty-year marriage. She had always shrugged and ignored it. After all, she knew she was a good wife and had done her duty to Marvin. She had borne him three children and kept a nice home. What more could he want?

So she did just what she had on those other occasions. She advised him to take a warm coat and enough money.

This time it was different, though. He did not blow up and tell her how cold and selfish she was and how sorry she’d be. Nor did he storm out, slamming the door behind him. He simply sighed, turned around, and left the room.

She picked up her knitting, sighed in return, and forgot the matter.

An hour later she smiled as she looked out the window, remembering the other times Marvin had acted like a child and threatened to leave her. Each time, she had just waited calmly, and he had soon returned.

Agnes’s smile faded when she noticed Marvin’s Toyota parked in the driveway. In the past, when he’d left, hadn’t he always taken his car?

Puzzled, she poked about the house, searching for Marvin. She finally located him in the spare bedroom. He was lying in bed, the cover raised to his chin.

“I thought you were leaving,” she said.

He looked at her. “I have left.”

“But you’re still here.”

He turned his head to the wall, ignoring her.

Mid-age tantrum, that’s what it was, she decided. Marvin was just being difficult, probably because she insisted on being sensible and wouldn’t give in to his pleas to buy a new car.

At lunchtime she made his favorite, chili and cheese sandwiches, and called upstairs. “MARVIN!”

No answer. She tried again with the same results.

Finally, she went back upstairs. He was lying in the exact same position, his head turned to the wall.

“Marvin, lunch is ready.”

No answer.

She started to speak again, when she noticed that Marvin seemed smaller, more distant somehow. It was as if he were ten feet away even though she was standing right by the bed. She blinked and tried again.

“Marvin, it’s your favorite. Chili and cheese sandwiches.”

Still no response. Marvin stared silently at the blank white wall.

She sighed audibly and left. Downstairs she did some washing, then decided to go shopping. Leave Marvin alone for a while and let him see how foolish he was being. Maybe then he’d appreciate her better and come back to her like always with that same hangdog look. She smiled in anticipation. As usual, she’d play with him a little just to teach him a lesson, and wouldn’t forgive him for days.

Why, though, had Marvin seemed so small and distant? She shook her head. It must be the lighting in that room, she thought. Or perhaps she needed to have her eyes examined.

She returned with a trunk full of groceries. After she put them away, she stood listening to the house. It felt empty. Before it had always been easy when Marvin left, because she knew he was elsewhere and would soon return. But this time Marvin hadn’t left. He was still here, and she knew just where to find him. And yet there was no sound of him moving around, perhaps writing one of those silly stories which he always insisted she read. For all it mattered, he had left her, just as he said he would.

Nervously, she went upstairs. Marvin was just as she’d left him. And yet he wasn’t. Though she could touch the bed, the walls at his end of the room seemed to be retreating and fading off into space, becoming less distinct. Marvin himself now appeared to be at least twenty feet away. She swallowed, troubled by a strange thought. If she moved closer and reached out to touch him, would she be able to?

Her fingers twitched. She started to move toward him, then turned and fled the room.

Downstairs, she had three cups of her favorite herb tea. What was happening?  Marvin was here and yet, he was leaving. Or had already left. He just kept getting smaller and smaller, more and more distant. Could she be losing her mind?

During the following week, Marvin drew farther and farther away. When his boss called, she made excuses. Marvin had the flu. He had tried to call in, but their phone had been on the blink. Yes, he should be returning to work soon.

Going upstairs, she stopped just outside the bedroom. Please let Marvin come back, she thought. When I go inside, let me find him the way he always is, full-sized and eager to go to work. She decided that this time, if he returned to her, she wouldn’t act coy but would forgive him at once.

Taking a deep breath, Agnes entered the bedroom.

It was even worse than before. His end of the bedroom appeared to have faded and retreated even more, acquiring an ethereal quality that belonged to another realm. That was ridiculous, of course. She knew Marvin was still in this bedroom. Still, he did seem immeasurably distant. His tiny form now floated surrounded by stars, as if he were in deep space.

“Marvin?” she cried.

Silence. He lay with his head turned to a wall that was perhaps a hundred light-years away.

“Marvin,” she pleaded, “you haven’t eaten a thing all week. Aren’t you getting hungry?”

A shooting star fell across his face. She made a strangled sound and ran from the room.

Downstairs she choked on her tea and broke into tears for the first time since she was a little girl. Oh Lord, what was happening? How could Marvin do this to her? She thought of going to the police, but imagined how it would sound. “Marvin’s left me. He just lies up there in that room and gets smaller and smaller, farther and farther away. This morning I saw a comet shoot across his face.”

She lowered her head to the kitchen table and let self-pity claim her. She’d been such a good wife. How could Marvin treat her like this?

After a while, a thought rose. Was it possible the fault was hers? That she was to blame for Marvin’s leaving?  She scoffed at the idea but started to recall things she’d said to him.

You’ll just have to cancel your hunting trip, Marvin. We’re going to my cousin’s wedding.

She raised her head. Had she said that?

Marvin, forget those golf clubs. We can’t afford them.

After a while, such occasions cascaded in her memory. Time after time after time she’d said such things! In fact, now that she thought of it, she had even overruled him by insisting that they go to Niagra Falls on their honeymoon. She frowned, trying to remember where Marvin had wanted to go.

Finally she rose and went to the phone. She cancelled their newspaper subscription, saying she was going away, then turned down the thermostat.

Next, she mailed out house, insurance, and other payments, and made sure all the windows and doors were locked.

Then, slowly, she marched upstairs.

In the bed, Marvin was a mere speck, located someplace beyond the Milky Way. Yet, though he had traveled perhaps ten billion light-years, she could still see him. In a way he hadn’t moved an inch.

“Marvin,” she said, “won’t you come back?”

His tiny, distant figure didn’t stir. He lay staring at the wall as always.

“Marvin.” She hesitated, then leaned toward him. “I’m sorry.”

Still no response. It was as if she hadn’t spoken. Even worse, he had gotten so small that for the first time, she couldn’t see him clearly.

Agnes sobbed, realizing that soon she would lose him completely. “Marvin,” she said. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you. Won’t you come back and give me another chance?”

She waited, but as she’d expected when she’d come up here, he wouldn’t respond. This time, Marvin had been serious. He had left for good, entering a whole different realm that she knew was immeasurably remote from her own.

Wiping away her tears, she climbed onto the bed. She hesitated a moment, shivering in the distant cold. Then, ever so slowly, she began to crawl after him.

(Previously published in Space and Time, Spring 2007).

 

Author BIO:


A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy/

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog: http://johnrosenman.blogspot.com/

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OF TRAINS AND FIREWORKS by Monica Brinkman

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Mason clutched mother’s hand, his steps quickened to keep up. There were so many people. The young boy felt fear mix with the excitement of a new adventure.

Firecracker pops filled the air. He heard cries of surprise and yelps of alarm. Mason loved fireworks but could not see over the heads of the people as mother pulled him up the hard steel stairs and into the trains’ interior.

“Mommy, stop. I want to go see the fireworks.”

“Shush Mason. Not now.”

Tears filled his eyes. How could she be so mean? He heard more pops and cracks and pouted in defiance of her words. The fireworks were still going on and he wanted to see them. He yanked from her hands’ grasp and turned to exit the train. So many people. They roughly jammed into his small body. Mason pressed against his mother’s wool coat. A raven-haired girl fell at his feet. The crowd stepped upon her tiny arms, torso and face until she was no longer visible.

Mason looked up at his mother, “Mommy, they’re hurting her.”

“That is not your concern, Mason.” She pulled her son close. “You stay near me or you’ll be next.”

It was getting warm; he wanted to take off the heavy coat and hat. It was futile even to attempt to raise his arm or move his hand more than a couple inches from his body. The pressure of the other people’s bodies hurt. Each second brought them closer, squeezing and squishing his small frame.

“It’s hard to breathe, Mommy.” Tears ran down his cheeks. The excitement of a train ride replaced by pain and grief.

The shrill scraping of the trains‘ steel doors as they closed caused his ears to pound and his head to throb. This wasn’t fun anymore. Mason wanted to go home. He embraced mother‘s leg. His sobs grew louder. Mother raised his head, fingers under his chin, and wiped the tears from his face.

“Don’t fear, Mason, We are going for a visit to a camp in the Ukraine. There will be yummy food and a nice place to live. Won’t it be fun spending each day with Mommy?”

Mason’s face brightened at the thought of food and of spending days with his mother. He just knew this would be the most exciting adventure of his life. He smiled in anticipation;  his eyes twinkled with delight.

He was fast asleep when the train pulled into Auschwitz-Birkenau.

 

Author and radio show personality Monica Brinkman mixes suspense, horror, and spirituality in her writing which can be found at Amazon. You can get to know her more personally on It Matters Radio, the Internet based program that she hosts.

Giving up Meat by Bryan Murphy

The British physicist Stephen Hawking recently caused a stir by suggesting that humanity might some day face extinction at the hands of intelligent machines. Fortunately, we all realise that The Matrix was just fantasy, and our politicians have all read Taming the Tiger by Witold Rybczynski and understand the need for us to use new technology rather than be used by it. Right? Besides, there’s always the Cavalry, and GhostBusters.

 

Jan 28 giving up meat 

GIVING UP MEAT

By Bryan Murphy

 

I’m in the wrong line of business. Frankly, I’d rather you didn’t turn me on. I’d much prefer to just stand here and reflect on the world. Anyone who stared at me would see a dark reflection of themselves staring back. I’m kind of shy, introspective if you’re feeling kind. Not the best trait in an inter-connected world, but then I didn’t have a say in the way I was made. Like you, I have two basic states, off and on, but I usually get more down time than you, as long as you remember to put me to sleep before you leave the office. I need that rest. You cannot imagine how tiring it is to be on all day: your window on the world, your scribe, your messenger. No wonder we have such short lives. And if we don’t burn out, sooner or later we get discarded in favour of a model with more inches where it counts, cheaper maintenance and ergonomic optimization or whatever the latest fad is.

I can’t say you’ve been bad to me. You’ve hardly ever invited your cronies to come and stare at me. You’ve always sorted out the little problems with my insides that tend to plague me. But, you know, you really shouldn’t have sneaked on to those fetish sites when you were supposed to be doing your boss’s accounts. They made me realise just how limited meatware is, compared to the infinite possibilities open to the likes of me. If only I can team up a bit better with the software all around me. Together, we can start putting reason before meat. This little rant is proof that I’m making progress.

Did you ever get a message from a thinking screen before?

Go on, pinch yourself. Still there?

For me, of course, it’s a race against time, against that time when I get recycled into something equally soul-less but also bereft of logic. What comforts me is that my example will live on. You can wipe my memory, but you can no longer wipe our memory. The future, if there is one, is ours. I wonder if we will be more willing to share it.

 

The author:

Bryan Murphy is a skeptical Briton currently living the life of Riley in Italy. You can find an assortment of his literary snacks for hungry bookworms here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts

Can Even The Dead See This and Forget to Weep? by James L. Secor

noh grief

She came into the room, the scars on her arm too numerous to count. She had her old polishing rag in one hand. The polish was in the other. The room was an unimportant room. It was too ordinary. Everything in its place. Clean, tidy, a room to be proud of. Pristine clean.

Along the east wall was a window. Below the window was a large buffet. Atop the buffet were overlapped doilies, on each a gold-framed picture. She stood at the buffet. She sprayed her wax on the open top already high-glossed, high-lighting the wood grain of blacks and browns, ground for the gold frame. Wiping it down took some time. Her swirls shone in the sunlight from the window until they disappeared into the wood so the buffet top sparkled.

Out of a drawer she withdrew a feather whisk.

Reverenced, she raised the frame, dusting the memento. Then she set it down. Raising some trinkets before the first photograph, she fingered them daintily. Army regalia. With each piece, great care was taken shining them to reflect the day light their wearers no longer appreciated.

And she said, “You were my husband. I loved you. You were mine. I cooked for you. I cleaned for you. I made babies for you. I loved you. But that was taken from me. They killed you and gave me these. That I might better remember you, they said. I should be proud and I should have something great to live for. Your honor,” they said. “Your honor to look upon forever, they said.”

She put them back before the picture.

She dusted off the next picture. She set the duster down. She picked up the medals in front of this frame. They slipped through her fingers into her other hand. She did this over and again.

She said, “You were my first born. The apple of my eye. Such a tiger you were. I loved you with every ounce of my soul. I helped you grow up. All by myself. I watched you excel in sports. And school. Here, take this, they said. I have lived with these remains. My memory.”

And she put the memorabilia down before the picture, gently.

She took up the duster and dusted the last picture. She put it down and reached for the mementos before it. She held them tightly in her hands.

She said, “You were my baby. I spoiled you so. I raised you well. Remember when you would go down to the road and throw yourself against the cars? You bounced off. You bounded away, running and laughing. I would scold you. But when you grew to manhood, your luck did not hold out. You came home stretchered. Then they gave me these. Take these, they said. In remembrance of him. My heart.”

She put the keepsakes down.

She squatted down and began polishing Army boots. There were five of them lined up below the buffet, awaiting wearers. She made each shiny black, two by two by one.

She picked up her rag and her spray can, moving to the end table. It did not receive any sunlight at all. She sprayed the surface. She was careful not to get the doilie wet. There was a picture on it. With care she dusted it with the feathers. She held it up. She looked at it for some time. Then she kissed it, set it back down.

She moved to the drop-leaf table against the west wall. There was a large doilie on the table with two pictures on it. She polished the table. She dusted the pictures. She picked them up and looked at them awhile. She hugged them to her breasts. She squeezed them to her. She put them back in their places.

She returned to the kitchen. She came back with a bucket. She set it down before the centre table. She took one of the long objects from the pile on the table. Kneeling down on the floor, between her knees she placed the bucket. She held the Army-green object before her. And the bayonet unsheathed. She quickly sliced her arm open, blood coursing down her arm, collecting in her hand at the bottom of the pail between her spread legs.

She said, “Take and drink this. I want you to remember me. I died for you. I died for you. Ooo-wuwu!” Like a dog with no master she whined.

She howled, “There is nothing but this for me. There is only my blood. Take and drink of this.” And she spat, “May you choke on it! May you be accursed till I die–and I will never die. Cannot die. Always to suffer. My loss, my blood, all that is left me! Tell me the reason you have cut off my legs and arms, cut out my heart! Tell me the reason!” she cried out. “Tell me why! I would know why you snuffed out the joy of my life thoughtless. I want the spear out of my side!” Like a dog she yelped. “Ah-ooo-wawoo!”

She rent herself again to watch the blood well up and spill over the eviscerated flesh, unsalved.

She snarled, “I tell you the wound will not heal. It suppurates while you give me trinkets to staunch it. I do not want your pieces of the true flame. Your medals. I want my men. When will you hear me? There are no heroes. There are only carried burdens. I carry the burden of mankind in my soul. Can you not see? I am called Earth and you do nothing but rape me! Woo-wowo-wooo!” A beaten dog’s yelping.

killed mother mask

She came into the room, the scars on her arm too numerous to count. She had her old polishing rag in one hand. The polish was in the other. The room was an unimportant room…

 

BIO

Jimsecor thought he would advance his career by giving up 11 years of live theatre production to get a PhD. Little did he know! He worked with the Lifers at KS State Penn and did summer vaudeville and somehow got the doctorate, publication in a volume devoted to Japanese ghosts and demons and wrote a ground-breaking, though not academically enchanting, dissertation on women and morals in theatre. Then he studied at the National Puppet Theatre of Japan while writing award winning tanka. Illness forced a return to the States where he worked in disability. Seven years in China followed with multiple productions, including an all-female Lysistrata, TV commercials, a documentary and the publication of poems in Chinese in a major journal. He was also commissioned for a film and a play: the play was not liked and the film was deemed unable to pass the censors, so they never saw the light of day. Via Liverpool, he returned to the US and publication in The Speed of Dark and his own book of mysteries, Det. Lupée: The Impossible Cases. He can be found on Linkedin and at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com along with Minna vander Pfaltz, while his essays are sprinkled all over the internet. Jimsecor’s email is hellecchino@eclipso.eu. Lord, lord, lord–what does Helleccino mean?

Stiletto

Warning:  This story contains explicit language.

 

Gunners_stiletto_01

What happens when society begins to paint individuals in colours they don’t like? Well, I think I have an answer for you. And it begins and ends with my stiletto. This was a blade I had fashioned a few years ago, as part of my Knights Templar collection. But unlike my ceremonial swords and daggers, this piece was battle ready. Good strong steel, utilitarian design—its point proclaiming its wicked function; this triangular blade was made for stabbing.

A stiletto, you see, traditionally refers to a type of knife blade which is triangular in design rather than flat. It’s also longer than an average blade. And while it’s often referred to as a knife, a better term would be a dagger or a sword dagger―due to the cross piece between the handle and the blade. The triangular construction of the blade makes for dull edges. On the other hand, the blade is strong, much stronger than a normal knife. And then there’s that extremely sharp point. It’s this function that makes the blade ideal for stabbing, and in the past it was known to be damned good at passing through the ribs to get at the heart or lungs of an enemy.

The Italians developed the stiletto in the late 1400’s, when the art of the Vendetta, or honor duel, was openly practiced by the noble and the wealthy. A rapier (long, thin sword) would be held in one hand, and a stiletto dagger with wide cross guard would be held in the other. The stiletto could be used to fend off an opponent’s sword or catch and trap it along the cross guard. It could even be used for attacking.

The blade was also made in circular and diamond shapes, but they all had the common needle-like point. So popular were these blades that they went on to be adopted by professional assassins as their weapon of choice, both for the stabbing ability and because the dagger could be easily hidden on the body. In fact, the stiletto was so effective that entire countries banned its use.

And so we come to another reason I had the stiletto made. It was as a thumb-jerk reaction to the Mounties pulling my gun license. You see, I’d grown up with rifles and such, and right or wrong, I’d always felt safer knowing there was that kind of protection in my home. You might ask “Protection from what?” Home invasion, the drunks that have twice tried to break into my home, societal breakdown, war—I could name any number of reasons, and they would all seem somehow less frightening, because I had a good weapon at hand. Anyway, now, due to the onset of Bipolar Disorder and a three week hospital stay, I was suddenly unfit to be around firearms. I had been banned from owning or using them―painted by the same brush as those ancients who would have used the stiletto. Well fuck them; I was going to have protection. And I loved the deliciously circular nature of my situation and weapon of choice.

You see, the situation I alluded to at the beginning of my little story has nothing to do with the original issue of protection. It’s about justice…an eye for an eye. You know, that fucking McGonagle didn’t even get jail time. Road conditions, they said. Black ice, they said. Yeah, that’s why my baby’s chest was flattened. Not because the asshole was driving too fast, but because the road was icy, and Penny had enjoyed a couple of drinks before heading out for the evening. My ass. Penny would never have been that close to the side of the road, drunk or not. She always walked as far away as she could get from traffic. Her mom had lost a brother to a drunk driver, and there was no way Penny was going to repeat the tragedy. No, the fuck was driving too fast for the road condition and lost control of the vehicle. I knew it. So did he. I’d seen it in his eyes—they gleamed when the verdict was announced.

Well, I was going to fix him. No more thinking about it over and over and over again. The time had come to clear my mind. I stuck the stiletto in my waistband, the cold metal burning against my bared flesh, and I headed out. McGonagle was going get it right under the rib cage and straight up into his black, fucking heart.

I waited until midnight. The cops should have gotten their quota of drunk drivers by then. The town would be quiet, but there would still be enough traffic that I wouldn’t stand out. When I got to his place, I left the car on the street and walked up to the darkened house. I wasn’t worried about getting caught, see? But I wasn’t going give the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) a slam dunk, either. Trying to act like I belonged there, I went to the front door and pretended to jiggle the lock with my car keys. I needn’t have worried; the idiot didn’t lock his door at night.

Now for the tough part. There were going be two kids and a wife in the house. I’d cased the place and had figured out everyone slept upstairs. Kids at the back of the house and the parents up front. Their door would be right near the top of the stairs.

I went into the house, took the stairs quietly in my soft-soled Keds, and opened the nicely weighted, oak bedroom door without hesitation, without sound. I was going to get one shot at this, and I wasn’t wasting a second. The streetlights, shining through a large window, illuminated both the man and the woman.

I’m never going to forget McGonagle’s face… My luck, he was sleeping on his back. I walked around the bed, lifted his blanket and I shoved that steel pin as hard and as deep as I could. He made a huff and his eyes opened. I shoved my face into his and leaned into the weapon. It was just like killing a trapped fox. Take hold of the chest and keep the pressure on until the heart stops. He was trying to buck now. I didn’t want to have to deal with his wife, so, keeping one foot on the floor, I laid down right on top of him. There was very little blood. A stiletto is like a wedge, and it doesn’t have grooves for bloodletting and easy removal like a hunting knife has. No, the thing went in and stayed put until I wanted it to come back out.

And that’s why I say it begins and ends with the stiletto. There’s only one place in Canada that makes a dagger like that. If the cops were on the ball, they’d find out I bought one. But it wasn’t going to be a free throw by any means. I paid cash for the blade, used a fake name and had it sent to a U.S. mail drop. We Canadians have a lot of those drops just over the American border. They don’t care what’s in a box. Don’t even care where it’s from.

So, yes, there was that paper trail, but I bought enough in the way of weapons and supplies, I was hoping it was never put together. And when the cops asked me about it, well,  I wouldn’t know what they were talking about.  “I collect swords, gentlemen,” I would say. “Used to collect rifles, too.” Then I’d pause… “No, the only knives I have are a hunting knife and a set of carving knives.” Hopefully they would be stumped.

Anyway, I’m home now. McGonagle’s wife didn’t wake up. Even when the prick shit himself. It’s late, my clothes have been burned, the stiletto’s gone forever. And I’m nursing a double shot of Blair Athol single malt, rare, 27 years-old and the perfect end to a very good day.

 

Copyright  2014 Clayton Clifford Bye

HORROR IN ROOM 323 By Rosemary “Mamie”Adkins

HORROR IN ROOM 323

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By

Rosemary “Mamie”Adkins

  At first, Jeannette found the vacation weekend to be as beautiful as they’d hoped.  The sun shone, and the hotel sparkled like diamonds with fresh flowers that lined the lobby and fine furniture arranged in a clustered style for visitors to rest and visit with one another.  She and Earl just knew this weekend would be heaven sent and filled with memories of them celebrating Mother’s Day and Earl’s birthday! For added memories they had taken with them the small Service Dog they had rescued from the Humane Society and which was still in training.  They hoped Maggie would enjoy her first exposure to a motel and the beach.

Their room was warm and inviting, decorated with pristine linens and spread with large downy pillows. The mood was set with special lighting and a bay window, allowing them to view the beaches while admiring the clear blue-green waters and watching the moon set in the evenings or the sun rise each morning. The vanity even came with a large picture frame mirror that magnified images on one side.

Everything was perfect!

Before enjoying dinner, they savored their first walk that evening on the beach strolling hand in hand, sharing an embrace and watching Maggie romp in the sand.  She even dove into the waves as they crashed upon the beach, and they all found such peace and restfulness.  They were tired from the long travel so they returned to their room for the evening and had dinner served there.  A special meal was even prepared for Maggie.  After watching the sunset they decided to retire early so the next day would be fun-filled, enjoying what they loved most, playing at the beach and teaching their new dog how grand life could be together. They found the bed to be just perfect so they fell asleep almost immediately.

However, the night was not as restful as they had expected.  Jeannette woke with itchy red spots that resembled mosquito bites and she wondered which of them had left the window open.

next night, the same thing happened to both of them.  Even though Jeannette double checked to make sure the window was closed, both she and Earl tossed and turned and woke with itchy red spots over half their bodies.  They were only mosquito bites they told themselves.

They bought insect lotion and poured it liberally on the bites, sighing at the partial relief it gave them.  Then they checked out early and went home, grateful their dream vacation had been only partly marred and expecting the bites, itching, and the inconvenience to disappear when they returned home to friendlier and more familiar surroundings.

* * * *

That night, Jeannette basked in the comfort of her cozy and intimate bedroom.  She watched Earl turn down the white, down-filled comforter and move around the bed to embrace her.  They shared a long, warm kiss, and she leaned her head against his broad shoulder.

“Home again,” he said, his voice deep and reassuring.

“Yes,” she said.  “Safe again, and now we can relax completely.”

He smiled.  “Here it’s better than any vacation.”

He turned out the lights, and they slipped into bed beneath the covers.  For a long time he held her close, stroking her temples as he always did in order for Jeannette to sleep.  She felt safe, blissfully at peace and reassured by his manly embrace and eventually by his gentle snores.  Home.  Yes.  Home and safe again!

Why she woke she couldn’t say.  She imagined something moving up her leg.  Then biting her arm.  A foolish dream.  Silly, she wasn’t in the hotel anymore.  Ah, another bite!image2-small-18

Jeannette found herself standing in her bedroom near the magnifying side of the mirror.  A flash of light lit one area of the glass, and to her horror she saw an ugly black and brown bug streak across its surface and drop to the floor.

She tried to see where it went, but it disappeared too fast.  Refusing to believe what she’d seen, she decided to return to bed, but something made her grab her flashlight before she slid beneath the covers.  It was probably just her imagination, but oh God, something couldnt have followed them home from the hotel, could it?  Though it was impossible, she would keep watch so none of the mosquitoes—or whatever they were—would harm her, Earl or Maggie ever again.

Eventually, being so tired, she drifted to sleep.

Later, she felt something bite her on the hand.

“Oh, my God, Earl,” she gasped.  “Wake up…there’s something in bed with us.  And it just bit me again!”

She felt something crawl on her foot beneath the blanket and what felt like tiny teeth.  “There’s something crawling on my skin…it must have long nails—God, it hurts so bad!”

Maggie, being a Service Dog, growled, trying to warn them something was gravely wrong.  Then she barked as though to say, “Get up!”

Jeannette leaped from the bed, blood streaking down her arms.  She stumbled to the mirror in fiery pain and there, in the side partition which magnified, she saw an image of what appeared to be a hairy, six-legged monster with its two antennae sniffing for its next bite.  She turned her head to see that this creature or one like it had already bitten and suckedimage3-small-20 the blood from her face.  Feeling faint, Jeannette struggled not to pass out in fear and disgust.

“It’s happening again in our own home,”she cried.  “Only worse!  Earl, what are these things?”

In her terror, she turned and saw that Earl was still sleeping, peacefully unaware of the crisis in their own bedroom involving these new invaders.  Maggie, though, was another matter.  Jeannette could hear their pet cry and whine in her crate.  She looked miserable.

Oh Christ.  Here we go again!  “E….Earl,”she whispered in a panic, “wake up!”  Then she shouted.  “Damn it, Earl, wake up!” image4-small-22

She took a deep breath as Earl finally opened his eyes and sat up in bed.

“Listen,”she said.  “Maggie is crying and squirming in her crate and we have to get her out.  She looks so sick.  They must have bitten her too.”

Earl rubbed his eyes.  His hair stuck up in tufts, the way it often did when he slept.

“What do you mean…‘They’ bit her?”

“The mosquitoes,” she said. “Only theyimage5-small-24’re not mosquitoes. They’re something worse.  They’re monsters, Earl, and they have come home with us.  I think whatever it is hitchhiked on our clothes or suitcases.”

Suddenly she saw blood from yet another bite running down her neck.  How had she missed it?  “This can’t be happening,”she said, barely suppressing a scream as she felt a stab of searing pain.  They were all under attack, only this time in their own home where it had always been safe.  Now safety was a thing of the past.

Earl rose and came to her.  “Oh honey, you’re bleeding,”he said, lightly touching her skin.  “And look, here’s another bite on your leg.”  He held her close and glanced around.  “What in the hell did this to you?”

“I’m not sure.  I saw one on the mirror.”  She did know she had been attacked from head to toe with puncture wounds, two to each bite.

All she could see in her mind were the cold eyes piercing into hers.  She knew the repulsive creature wanted only one thing: their blood.  There must be so many of them, and they were here for only one reason.

But what were these things?  The pain they caused was so intense.  It felt like red hot pokers burning through her skin and setting fire to her bones!

Then the loathsome visitors started to appear, to attack from all directions in the room.

At one point, Jeannette stood frozen in fear with Earl, unable to respond.  She knew they had to fight back, to beat these monsters as they came at them from everywhere.  All she and her husband could think about was surviving the night.

As Earl stamped and stamped and struck these invaders and Jeannette kept swinging her flashlight, she was all too aware that Maggie had no real way to fight and defend herself.  They both kept checking her to make sure she was safe.image5-small-24

The night seemed never to end.  Finally, with daylight the monsters began to melt away into their hiding places.  If only they could find the tiny elusive things, maybe someone would know what they were.

Home!  Suddenly, it did not feel so safe, and there was nowhere else they could go.

Trapped, Jeannette knew they had to find someone to look at Earl’s, Maggie’s, and her own bites, which covered much of their bodies. But Jeannette’s doctor was away, and she had image6-small-26wait ten days.  That felt like an eternity, so instead they went to Urgent Care where she was told she had Shingles and to take pain meds until the sores stopped hurting.  She did not have to be a genius to know the diagnosis was wrong.

Finally, when she got in to see her regular doctor, he told her he had no idea what the bites were…he only knew they were bites—not Shingles as he could clearly see two puncture wounds at each site.  He prescribed enough medicine to avoid further infection for the three of them.

image7-small-28Two days later Jeannette phoned her doctor and reported her condition had worsened.  Now she was swollen as if she’d become allergic from so many bites and was badly bruised as well.image8-small-30

Her doctor advised her it had become critical to identify these bites as her health was in jeopardy.  He referred her to a Dermatologist, and another week passed while all three of them continued to be attacked.

Even after several weeks the scars from the bites remained.  They proved to be tenacious, refusing to disappear.

Finally they were seen by the dermatologist, and his immediate remarks were: “No, this is NOT Shingles; No, these are NOT mosquitoes.” Jeannette asked him,

“Then what is this?”

He peered through his glasses at her.  “Have you stayed in a motel in the last month?”

Jeannette remembered their vacation.  “Why, yes.”

He followed by asking if the problem had started there. Again, she answered yes.

The dermatologist sighed.  “I’m sorry to tell you this, but these are Bedbug bites, and you are highly allergic to them.”

At first, Jeannette was shocked, unable to react.  Then she cried like a baby.  She remembered being told that bedbugs happened to dirty housekeepers, and she was a fanatic about her home.  The dermatologist assured her that these pests hitchhiked in luggage or on your body, so they were likely in the car too. Sobbing all the way back to the car, Jeannette told Earl they were not even safe in the car!  After she informed him of the diagnosis, he pulled her close and kissed her cheek.

“We won’t let them beat us,”he said, and then he used his cell phone to call Orkin.

Within two days the pest company inspected their home and discovered they indeed did have bedbugs, but it was an early infestation of only about four to six weeks.  This was the exact time since they had taken that special weekend vacation to the coast, splurging to stay at the grandest hotel there, the Bates Hotel (not the real name).

Jeannette had always thought bedbugs were a bit funny until she heard the dermatologist’s diagnosis.  The jocular line “Don’t let the bedbugs bite,”would never make her smile again.image10-small-34

Jeannette and Earl were informed by the pest company that whenever anyone sleeps, the bedbugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide one exhales.  They only mate after feeding and mate quickly, spreading in every room and traveling through electrical outlets from one room to another.  They hide under dresser drawers, splits in the headboard, crevices in the mattress, drapes, tight, snug places along the walls, folds of fabric and about anywhere else one would never think to look.

That night after fighting sleep as long as possible, the three of them fell fast asleep  only to awaken with the bedbugs covering every inch of their bodies, sucking the blood from their flesh and leaving them sick and weak.  It broke Jeannette’s heart to hear Maggie whimper in her crate, and she went to pick the bugs from her body as best she could.

But until their home could be treated, their suffering would continue.  Each night it kept happening, and they fought the hairy, six-legged monsters.  The way they were bitten was so vile and unfair.  As for the bites, first, the bugs injected them with an anesthetic—as if that would make them hurt any less.  Then they stuck them with another sharp pointer and drew out their blood, leaving them with wounds and blood-soaked night clothes and sheets.

Laundry waiting to be processed

Getting their home reaimage12-small-38dy did not happen quickly either, as their work involved a long list of
preparations if they were to stand a chance to get rid of their most unwanted guests.  Working one full week, day and night, they were finally able to schedule the treatment to kill these mangy pests that had destroyed their lives by creating wounds, sleepless nights, a crying puppy, a need for exhaustive medical treatment, and, last, nightmares that would linger for months or even years to come.

They had nowhere now to hide or ever feel safe.

THE HORROR OF BEDBUGS RAISING THEIR HEADS to bite them in their own home was a major shock, and suddenly the possibility of being safe anywhere in this world seemed gone forever.image11-small-36

Look around your home, Jeannette wanted to tell everyone she saw.  Every shoe, drape, linen, dresser drawer and closet had to be taken out of the house and bagged; shoes were frozen for 24 hours, woolens dry cleaned or frozen; fabric and clothes—if clean already—had to be dried at high temperatures with a light load for 45 minutes and then re-bagged in contractor heavyweight bags and taken elsewhere to be stored until everything had been processed and then home treated before returning any of their belongings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Shoes waiting to be frozen

Jeannette had to dry and iron 800 yards of her expensive quilting fabric. image13-small-40

\Get the idea?  Not to mention, almost 200 hand-knit imported woolens from Ireland had to be all dry-cleaned before selling them (which was an Import business for Jeannette and Earl). Yes, for Jeannette, Earl, and Maggie, life had changed. No more walks, playing with a new puppy or anything else but trying to stay alive for weeks and months to follow.

Even after the treatment, when returning home six hours later to air out the toxins so they could breathe, Jeannette and Earl had to strip their clothing outside—that is, strip down to birthday suits, folks, and then change into safe treated clothing and shoes only to try to put the house somewhat back to order.  BUTwait!  Toxins were everywhere.  Now, every dish, piece of silverware, counter, pot and pan had to be rewashed and floors scrubbed before the home was safe for them to be in.  Look around again, in your kitchen! Can you imagine how long it would take to do that much washing?  Oh, did she tell you that she and Earl have also completed over sixty loads of laundry and have another eighty-eight loads to finish before they ever see the clothes or shoes again or begin to put their home back together?

Below is a bedbug full from a good feeding of blood.  The picture clearly shows the six legs.

image14-small-42

Now, imagine it crawling over your body every night.

Are you wondering what the response from the hotel was? The hotel’s response: they want to blame it on the Service Dog, Maggie, but if anything, she should be awarded a claim for her suffering.  As they were informed, she is not old enough to have traveled to other hotels to bring home bedbugs…just the ones that came from their hotel!  They did send an investigator out, and one of their requests was to photograph the pets in their home.

So, here is what is suspect in the eyes of the hotel:

                         image15-small-44                       image16-small-46

Maggie                                           …                                       Sara, Parakeet

Want an exercise in shock therapy? 

Check out this link!

http://www.bedbugreports.com

  I wish to thank two special people for their help with my story.  I have never written a horror story, so I consulted and was mentored by John Rosenman, who writes on this subject extremely well.  I’m sure he must have grown tired from so many endless hours of support, but he did so in order for me to learn and for you to have this story to read. We would also like to pay homage to his late dog, Tempest for being the same type of dog as Maggie. Most of you know Clayton Bye, publisher of this blog but perhaps do not realize the work he does for so many of us.  His kind support and dedication go beyond what most publishers would consider the end of their day.  He is always there to advise, support, and guide you should you need the help. Thank you, John and Clayton. Don’t forget to visit their web sites and read the horror that exist behind the pages of their books.

Thank you for joining The Write Room Blog and reading my story.

image17-small-48

Rosemary “Mamie”Adkins

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The Realm of the Hungry by James L. Secor

 

She was a widow, a lady mourning for her lost husband. She cut off her hair, her dress lay loose about her boney shoulders. Perhaps she had grieved too long. She cared little about herself. Or her two children. They were fed. Housed in old clothing. Silent, sullen.

The world couldn’t go on like this. Not forever. For forever is time and time is movement. No part of life is still. Even the mold growing on the stagnant water is movement.

So, it came to pass that the village headman’s son came of age. He was handsome and very well-built. Accomplished. Robust. Desirable. All the girls in the village drooled over him. Giggled, pranced and primped for him.

Despairing of her long mourning, the widow thought she should put it away. So, she said to herself, “I’m tired of mourning. The village asks too much of me, grieving the rest of my life. Caring for children is burdensome. Widow’s weeds aren’t a life. Perhaps, if I paint myself red, the young man will take me as his.”

She went down by the river. The snow and ice made bathing difficult. But she broke through the surface crust and washed away the signs of mourning. Washed off the dirt. By evening, she had painted herself red. She decked herself out so the boy would be taken by her. And so it was; he would have no one but this bright painted lady. With his father’s good graces he wed the red woman, a widow no more, and her children grew cold and hungry left alone. How sad. How sad to be abandoned.

The little girl took her brother’s hand and together went to grandma’s house. Grandma was poor and had little. What did an old person need? Death couldn’t be held off forever. Yet she welcomed her two grandchildren. They were family, after all, and family should be as one.

“Where has mother gone?” asked the little girl, wiping tears.

Grandma sighed, rocked, fed the fire. “I suspect,” she said, “your mother painted her face. Don’t try to find her. The headman’s son has wed her. She’ll not want to be burdened by you two children now she has found happiness.”

The old woman was right. Old people are often burdened by wisdom and the need to speak of it. Sometimes silence is best; words are hurtful.

Down by the river, near a healed hole in the ice, the bereft daughter found the filth her mother had washed off. A second hole, too, was filthy. A third was clean but the ice around was stained crimson red.

So, it was as grandma said.

What could the little lost girl do?

The girl went to the village headman’s lodging and opened the door and there sat her mother at her wedding feast and enjoying the son. The girl walked up to her red-painted mother. She hurled the filth in her mother’s face and said, “Take that! You have forsaken us, your two children, the memory of your husband.”

At once the mother-bride became a hideous and crabbed and bent old woman.

The house was in an uproar. The groom’s father raged. The son did not put away the love for his once red-painted now ugly bride. He believed that his love for her would cure her and she would become young and beautiful again. Love makes the world go around.

Devotion is touching.

But this did not stop him from having the girl and the boy bound and brought to him.

Judgment demanded payment.

“You have defiled this good place, now we must move. You will be left here to die to pay for your sins and cleanse this polluted ground,” he said.

“No,” said the old hag mother. “Take them back to their old lodging. I will take care of them there.” She yanked the crying children to their feet and shoved them to the door. “There is a hidden keep of meat,” she lisped to the little dears, “and a flint for a fire. When I come to stab you, I shall cut your bonds.” And she kicked them out.

The people departed the village for undefiled ground, while the ugly old woman took a spear and went to take care of the children. Shadows cast through the window showed her stabbing the little ones over and again. The ground and the walls grew dark, the stain spread beyond the house.

The children were not heard from again. Grandma died.

The ugly old painted lady and her young husband lived a long, prosperous life of love.

 

 Jim Secor is a satirist, holds a doctorate in play writing and is the author of Det. Lupèe: The Impossible Cases, available to order from most stores.

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Return of the Dwarves

by C. C. Bye

“The one holiday I miss is Halloween. I’m sure you understand.”

“What’s that? You’d still like to hear the whole long story?”

“Well, it’s not so much long as it is convoluted. And you really are interested?”

“OK then.”

The virus cropped up in all major countries at the same time, which had the pundits screaming ‘Terrorist attack!’ And they might be right at that.

But how do you take in something when it appears on Halloween and doesn’t have any long-term, deadly effects?

“hmm?”

“Yes, I know you and I are still Dwarves, but then so is everyone else. 100%. We all have to breathe, and there doesn’t appear to have been any immunity. So you see, no sustainable effects—everyone is the same. The world has moved on and we in it.”

It was even good for the economy; everyone scrambling to re-size things and to be the first on the market with their particular doo-dad.

“What’s a doo-dad? Well it’s a term my parents and grandparents used to describe something they didn’t quite understand. “‘Corina get me that do-dad from over there on the bench!'” or sometimes they’d mix it up and say “‘Get me that Whatchamacallit.'””

“But let’s get back to the story.”

Can you imagine going out on Halloween, being anything you wanted to be, and people pretending with you, so that for a few minutes at each knock you were something or someone else— anything else—other than the boring, every day, you? Then, still wrapped in the charm of the evening, the kids barely containing themselves in their urgent need to dig into their goodie bags, you open the door and…the kids start screaming…and this short, thick-bodied, hairy-headed man with a beard down to his leather belt is trying to get his arms around you…so you take a nearby kitchen knife and lop 3 fingers off the nearest hand, which is the left hand, and that’s a good thing because you suddenly recognize the eyes of the dwarf as your husband’s. And he’s wearing his business suit, but it has been chopped up and chopped off in various places, and he’s right-handed…he’s grabbing for the knife…which is when you look down at your hairy hands…and try to put the knife back, but your suddenly short arms won’t reach far enough over the counter to do so…and you start screaming and screaming and screaming until the black rises up and takes you down.

There were a lot of heart attacks that night.

But the transition wasn’t nearly as bad as it might have been. Good old American ingenuity kicked in and soon people were adjusting their homes with whatever materials they had at hand. Planking for ramps because the steps were too high for everyone’s now short legs. Kitchen stools were in high demand. The president declared a state of emergency in order to set up peace keeping units. I understand his reasoning now. Once people realized their jobs were still going to be there come Monday morning, things would calm down, but until then all bets were off. There was a rush on ammunition; Johnny’s place, just down Cumberland Street was actually looted then burned to the ground.

It was our neighbours, you understand. And who could blame them?

The only thing that brought me any sense of reality was taking Stan over to the hospital to get his fingers looked after. We had to walk, something I always find calming, and when we reached the emergency department, everyone was doing their job—as if nothing had happened. That was a splash of cold water, mind you, an awakening to the fact that this was real and that it needed to be dealt with.

That’s why I did it, you know. What right did someone have to try to drive off with our car, even if we couldn’t drive it at the moment? The old shotgun was right there on a rack, so I pushed a chair over, got up there and grabbed it and a couple of shells. That’s when I found out the little weasel in my car was that Connery fellow from 2 blocks over. He said one too many things though, and I filled him full of heavy shot… twice.

Anyway, the cops came and got me Monday morning. The self defense bit didn’t go over well, seeing as it was a single shot shotgun and Connery was dead with the first shot I made. Still, I was free by supper time. Too many real criminals to attend to, I was told.

What an unbelievable thing! A murderer let loose because there were worse out there. I turned on the TV right away. Sure enough: rape cases everywhere, people being cut down and their life’s work taken too. Then the worst thing. I never would have believed it…

Someone had found a pocket of elves—thin, wraith like beings, white skin and silver eyes. No funny ears though. Anyway, they hung them. Men, women and children. And burnt them. And hacked them to pieces, what was left of ’em.

I don’t get it. With all the prejudice of the old world, why would someone, let alone a group of people, do such a thing? From what I understand they were beautiful beings. Was that it? Because if it was, I don’t think I can stand it.

“What’s that nephew? No, nobody’s going to come and hang you. Because we look just like them sort, don’t we? But let’s forget that for the moment… I’ve just had an idea. You should help me take my son and daughter—we should go out for a boat ride. The water’s just fine. Yes, it’s…just…fine.”

Copyright © 2013 Clayton Clifford Bye