Category Archives: Short Story

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.

A Giant Story by James L. Secor

 

 

ad

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

Down From Oz by John B. Rosenman

John down2

[I’ve always loved used bookstores. How about you? I love their towering stacks, their musty shadows, the constant hope of discovering a treasure in some hidden nook. Here’s a tale about a writer facing discouragement and endless rejections (remind you of anyone?) and his visit to a used bookstore where he finds a treasure unlike any other.]

 

DOWN FROM OZ*

That did it: yesterday’s rejection was the last straw!  Halting on the sidewalk, Jason Creed raised the sheets of paper he’d clutched almost constantly since the day before and read them again.

“Dear Mr. Creed:

Thank you for allowing us to see your novel, Down From Oz. Now, allow me to share with you my thoughts. I have never seen such a hopeless, poorly conceived plot in all my life. Cliches, inconsistencies, and clumsy dialogue abound, and if there’s a guiding purpose, I am unable to see it.”

The letter went on for two full, single-spaced pages, taking up specific scenes and passages only to rip them apart. Like a masochistic lamb to the slaughter, he let himself be led down its sentences to the final, killing blow: a suggestion that he find something more suitable to his talents.

Clenching his teeth, Jason squeezed the sheets into a tight ball and thrust them in his pocket.

          That’s it! I finally, at long last, get the point! I have no talent as a writer and I’m never going to write again!

Breathing deeply, he struggled for calm, but the heartbreak he had endured since receiving the letter yesterday let him climb no higher than a dull despair. God, it hurt!  Of all the rejections, cruel and otherwise, which he had received down through the years, this was the absolute worst. It was the critical coup de grace, the death knell of all his hopes.

Jesus, he thought, I even think in third-rate purple prose. I must stop feeling sorry for myself and find something else to do with my life!

The trouble was, there was absolutely nothing else he wanted to do as much as write. His job at the post office was a paycheck, and except for reading he had no hobbies, unless he counted writing, which he had always considered his life.

What could he do that was meaningful to fill the endless void ahead of him? Go fishing? Watch sports?

He shook his head and continued along the street, then paused when he saw a yellow brick building with ornate letters stenciled on a window: Book World.

Oh yes. His wife, knowing he was addicted to old bookstores, had mentioned there was a new one on their street. He sighed, remembering how she had tried to comfort him when she learned about the rejection letter, only to have him shut her out.

Hunching his shoulders, he walked past, determined to make things up with his wife and to have nothing to do with books and writing ever again. But after only a few steps, his pace slowed. He turned back and studied the shop.

What the hell?

Above Book World‘s door, an elaborate wood sign displayed a globe whose continents were pages filled with fancy cursive writing. Quills, suspended above the globe, dripped ink into its oceans.

God, it’s pretentious. Just another crummy hole-in-the-wall. But he found himself going back anyway, eyes fastened on the sign.

A bell tinkled quaintly as he entered. He closed the door behind him, inhaling the beloved dusty smell of old books and old wood floors. A stack of ancient tomes with moldy leather covers sat on the floor nearby, waiting for shelving. On top of them stood an imposing hourglass like the one the witch had used in The Wizard of Oz.

Well, he thought, the name might be pompous, but this place is real. It isn’t Barnes & Noble, and there ain’t a Kindle or e-book in sight.

A bald, slender man in his mid-thirties puttered behind the counter to his right, looking as used and obsolete as the wares he handled. Jason gave him a nod and headed toward the back, passing an old-style sewing press used for binding books.

He found the familiar, nicked and dented wood shelves holding tattered books packed cheek by jowl, some piled high overhead in towers that threatened to topple. Moving around a small platform ladder customers could use to reach loftier treasures, he peered at handwritten labels on the shelves. Mystery. Science Fiction. Biology. Occult.

He himself was a fantasy writer, with three unsold novels. Fantasy—it was appropriate, wasn’t it? What else was his whole life but fantasy? As a writer he was a brainless scarecrow, and the earthly Oz he had created was no more than a cheap, uninspired ripoff. He deserved that editor’s contempt for presuming to think he was anything else but a hack!

Suddenly, as he reached the back, a weird, ghostly green light flashed on. Blinded, he shielded his eyes. What the hell—?

The light faded. Lowering his hand, he blinked spots and after-glare away. Where had that damned light come from? He peered about, but could see only a cabinet before him.

It was a nice cabinet too, the kind with old, rich, polished wood and handsome, glass-paneled doors you opened with a key, though there didn’t seem to be one. He stepped close and squinted at the books displayed. On the middle shelf he saw Twain and Walter de la Mare, a copy of Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. The leather-bound volumes all looked costly and impressive. First editions, perhaps?

He checked the shelf above it, and saw other beautiful volumes. Edgar Allan Poe. Harlan Ellison. Albert Finney . . .

Looking still higher, he scrutinized the top shelf. Ah. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin. And what was that almost folio-sized one in the center? He leaned close. Let’s see. Jason Creed’s Down From . . .

He blinked, rubbed his eyes. Looked again.

Jason Creed’s Down From Oz.

He stepped back. Was he dreaming? Having an hallucination?  Surely, it couldn’t . .

He leaned closer. Down From Oz by Jason Creed. Yes, that’s what it said all right. It WAS Down From Oz, which a haughty New York editor had just crapped on at close range. He choked off a laugh, then gasped as he saw the title beside it. The Master of Marisol by Jason Creed. Christ, that was his first book, the vacuous, relentlessly spurned piece of garbage he had once foolishly thought might one day rival Lord of the Rings. And beside it, Oh Jesus, Oh My God, was The Time Merchants, his one foray into soft science fiction which fifty-two publishers, including the smallest of small presses, had unanimously used for toilet paper.

They—all three—stood right there before him, occupying the same shelf as the works of masters.

I’d better sit down, he thought. All this depression—it must have unhinged me. But that weird, blinding light . . .

Footsteps, coming his way. Dazed and confused, he peered into the gloom between the tall bookcases, half-expecting to see a row of Munchkins appear.

A crown of pure white hair materialized, accompanied by an equally white mustache. Both seemed suspended in air, but as they moved directly toward him between the stacks of books, Jason saw that they belonged to a man in a black cloak.

The man stopped a few feet away. His narrow face smiled, and he nodded at the cabinet. “Are you surprised, Mr. Creed?”

“What . . .” Jason stopped. “How do you know my name?”

The old man chuckled. “They’re your books, Mr. Creed, some of the classics that the whole world will one day read. Just a few of the things that are to come.”

Jason felt as if he had been hit by a cyclone. That weird ghostly light . . . this strange old man who spoke such impossible words and seemed to know him. He rubbed his eyes, hoping it would make the stranger vanish, but he remained right where he was.

“What are you talking about?” Jason finally managed to bring out. “Do you have a crystal ball, or have I gone mad?”

“I assure you, you’re completely sane, and what I’ve said is perfectly true,” the man said. “That’s why you must not even think of giving up writing. It would be a tragic loss to posterity.”

Jason’s head spun. Could this creature read his mind? His confused thoughts fixed on one word. “Posterity? How could you know what’s going to happen?”

“Because I come from the future!” The old man glided forward, turning Jason gently toward the cabinet. “Consider me a fan who, uh, just hasn’t been born yet. A lover of your work who doesn’t want it lost.”

Jason gazed at two large, exquisitely-bound volumes he hadn’t noticed before. Dreamfarer and The Eagle and the Sun, both by Jason Creed. Oh Christ, he thought, I haven’t even written them yet!

“T-Time travel,” he whispered. “You expect me to believe . . .”

“Do you mind if I call you Jason, Mr. Creed?” the old man interrupted. “I assure you, it would be a great honor!”

He blinked. “M-Mind? No. But . . .”

“Fine! Now . . . Jason, is time travel so hard to believe? After all,

Dreamfarer explores that very possibility. You are a master of the realms of fantasy and magical realism, not to mention some truly cosmic, mind-stretching concepts.”

“But it’s fiction. I made it up.”

“Are you sure, Jason? Remember how you felt when you wrote The Master of Marisol? The words just poured out of you and you felt like all your readers will one day—alive and filled with magic! Don’t tell me it’s just make-believe, that it’s only fiction. You have actually lived it in your mind! You have actually breathed the fragrant and magical air of Marisol, walked its myriad, labyrinthine streets!”

How does this man know that? How does he know what I’m feeling when I write? Unless—Oh my God, could it be true?

But just as he felt hope stir, Jason remembered the vicious rejection letter he had received, the letter which had been the latest of so many.

He stepped back to get some space, and as he did, his head cleared a little. He heard the floor creak, smelled the faint bite of Lysol. And the dim, looming shelves of books, however haunting, did not belong in a fantasy. They were real, he could touch them. Just as he could touch that damned letter.

He reached in his pocket, brought it out. “Look,” he said hoarsely, “I don’t know what this is all about, whether I’m confused or you are.”  He unfolded the crumpled sheets. “Whoever you are, though, you’ve got the wrong guy. This witch of an editor says—”

“I know what she says, Jason,” the man said. He raised a slender finger and smoothed his white mustache. “Your readers, those who are to come, are intimately familiar with it.”

Jason gaped. “They are?”

“Yes, because you will take care to preserve that letter. You will publish it someday as an inspiration to other writers never to give up!

Suddenly, his black cloak swirling, the man moved forward and seized Jason’s forearm in a powerful grip. “Don’t you realize it was just a slush reader, a witch on a broomstick who read Down From Oz and wrote that piece of garbage? It wasn’t the editor, just an underpaid, semi-literate fool jealous of your genius and vision. Check her letter again, Jason.”

Jason obeyed, squinting at the signature as his mind babbled that he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Yes, the man was right. He had forgotten about that. Still . . .

“What difference does it make?” he said. “I’ve had plenty of real editors trash my work. Hell, I could wallpaper my room with rejection slips. They can’t all be wrong, can they?”

The man leaned closer. “Yes, they can. They can be just as wrong as they’ve been about so many other geniuses. Don’t you know that Dune, one of science fiction’s supreme masterpieces, was rejected over twenty times before it was accepted? That John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces was endlessly turned down before he took his life, and then it won the Pulitzer Prize? Hell, man, don’t let them beat you!  Don’t give up!”

“But . . . Herbert and Toole were great writers.”

“So are you!” The man was right in his face now, his breath hot, his expression fanatical. “In times to come, you will be recognized by many as the greatest fantasist and stylist of your age! The author of dozens of books, most of them masterpieces!” He gripped Jason’s arm harder. “Listen to me! I consider it a great, great honor for me to meet you! Your works have inspired and delighted me, and I assure you they will do the same for generations of readers. Why, the streets and towers of your Marisol chronicles alone will be as familiar to readers as those of their own neighborhoods. Marisol’s geography and terrain will be mapped and charted and labeled in separate best sellers just as the realms of Tolkien and McCaffrey are in your own time! You cannot— you must not— stop writing!”

Jason trembled in the blasts of the man’s passion. Was it possible . . . could it be?  He lurched away and found himself staring again at the books he hadn’t even written yet. Dreamfarer. The Eagle and the Sun.

“Could . . . could I look at them?” he whispered, pointing through the glass door.

The man sighed. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. If you read even a little of these works, it could affect the whole course of your career. It’s even possible that you might become so confused that some of these treasures might never be published.”

“Well, what about those books I’ve already written, like Down From Oz?”

The old man shook his head. “No, Jason, you will extensively revise those too. I’m sorry, but we simply cannot take the chance.”

“But . . . ” Jason moaned, filled by intense yearning. “Could I at least hold one of them in my hands?  Feel it?”

“I’m sorry. Even that would entail a risk.”

Swallowing, Jason ran his fingers along the cool glass of the cabinet. He wanted to smash it, reach in and seize his books, experience the wonder of actually reading his own words in such luxurious volumes. The need to feel their pages, smell their scent rose till his whole body trembled with it. Then he felt the stranger press his arm and reluctantly turned away.

“Listen,” Jason said, “I have to know. This isn’t an illusion?  It’s all actually going to come true? I’m not like Dorothy who knocked her head and only dreamed she wore magic slippers? I—I’m actually a good writer?”

The man stroked his white mustache. “Trust me, Jason Creed, and have courage. You are the best, the King of the Forest. Now, why don’t you go and start revising your old books and writing new ones so that one day, we can all read them?”

Jason straightened, the man’s words filling him like fire. His heart began pounding with excitement. Suddenly he wanted to dance, sing, but most important, write all the books this man had praised. Never before had he felt so wonderful, so inspired, so truly and completely alive! Dreamfarer, he thought, already making plans. Yes, I know exactly what I’ll do with that!

“Thank you!” he said, seizing the man’s hand and shaking it in both of his. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Laughing, shouting for joy, Jason Creed left the bookstore and ran all the way home, bursting with the need to shape new worlds.

# # #

The next day Angela Creed entered the store, beaming at her old friend.

“Isaac, can I talk to you?”

The owner glanced at browsing customers, then led her to the storeroom in back. There, Angela clapped her hands. “Isaac, it worked!”

“It did? Jason still believes? Man, for a failed actor, I did all right. I thought I was waaay over the top!”

“Well, those blank books you bound must have convinced him. Isaac, he’s never been so happy! He came home and started a new novel. And this morning he went off to work whistling! He didn’t mention you, but you must have been a wizard.”

“In a way I was. Turn ’round and close your eyes.”

When she did, he busied himself behind a curtain. “Okay,” he said.

Turning, she stared. “Isaac, is that you?”

He swirled his cloak, patted his white hair, twisted his mustache. “The Wizard of Oz, at your service!”

*Originally published in Brutarian, 1998.

 

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/

 

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/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/Writerman1

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnBRosenman?ref=hl   

Facebook Home Page: http://www.facebook.com/john.rosenman

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/John-B.-Rosenman/e/B001KMN69E

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/johnrosenman/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/938855.John_B_Rosenman

LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1zGr3oC

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/100151780540512089888/posts

Photobucket: http://s631.photobucket.com/albums/uu31/jrosenman/

INDEPENDENCE BLUE by Salvatore Buttaci

ZZ.Blue Planet

A hero had fallen. At least that’s how I regarded Spicio-Major Leonid Martinez. On Terra Rica 26, he had risked his own life saving my father’s from a spice slide. Did I hold Martinez in the highest esteem? You bet I did, but it all came crashing down with four little words.

“It ain’t our fight.”

Here we were, seven years already on Giallo Finch, and the tension between the Padronistis and the working miners honed sharply. The Padronistis, who ruled with the proverbial iron hand, had invaded the planet for its rich deposits of Independence Blue and staked a claim to what had been the natives’ for millennia. They took the land and enslaved the  wingless yellow bird-like natives who called themselves the “Xybo.” But revolution was in the air. I smelled it and thought of our own history five hundred years ago when brave men stood up and fought the good war for independence.

“It ain’t our fight, Spicio-Captain Stanton. We’re here to mine the Blue. That’s our job, remember? Don’t go soft on me, hear?”

My father, dead these past years, must have rolled in his grave to hear his old comrade bad-lip freedom. Spicio-General Tyger Stanton had died defending the home front against the Eastern Hordes. Had he known the war tolled the knell of democracy, ushering in its rhymed nemesis, plutocracy, he would’ve died a thousand deaths to prevent it. The old America of, by, and for the people was tossed into the past. Now the rich ruled. A council of seven trillionaires who controlled the galactic space trade the way a mother protects her newborn.

Time travel changed the irredeemable fate of Old America. The American astrophysicist  Gustav Brandt had discovered a formula to harness time portals, twist wormholes, create instantaneous shortcuts that shaved down millions of light years to a voyage lasting  minutes. The Earth we left was the same Earth to which we returned. Parallel worlds with its myriad strands of time channels was a myth.

Space travel was now irrelevant. Stars and planets not even telescopically visible could be reached by tapping one’s wrist to the proper spatial coordinates and the chrononauts could be landing with or without their ship on planets similar to our own Earth.

Then one of the chrononauts discovered unknown spices on these unknown worlds. Cargoed back to America, these spices attacked and killed deadly cells like cancer, the plagues, the Pyrenees Virus, and the Flux. These pernicious diseases remain gone.

Martinez and I were leaders of a spicer crew of twenty that mined Independence Blue on Giallo Finch. The same SpiceCorp mined Incardine Red on Turo Venida and Ghost White on Como Mars –– all three of which had become the new significance of Old Glory’s colors. Three color spices had replaced the valor of the old red, the purity of the white, and the justice of the blue. It had transformed America into the lucrative land of the greedy and the home of the depraved. I was glad to be light years away.

###

The fight that was not ours erupted one green-sky predawn when the Padronistis rolled out their tincan tanks into the highlands of the Xybo, firing away at anything that moved. They had already sent Padronisti assassins to SpiceCorp House, slashing the throat of Spicio-Major Martinez, then blasting away the entire spice crew in their beds.

I escaped.

###

With three Xybo eggs under my protection, I tapped my wrist in search of some faraway freedom-loving planet, far from spice mines, to start all over again.

#

 

Sal Buttaci is the author of two flash-fiction collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press and available at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Salvatore%20Buttaci

His book A Family of Sicilians… which critics called “the best book written about Sicilians” is available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/ButtaciPublishing2008
He lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.

www.salbuttaci.blogsport.com

www.twitter.com/sambpoet

www.facebook.com/salvatore.buttaci

From Here to Infinity—SciFi, Fantasy, and Beyond, Part Two

10

The Making of America: Old Country Baggage

by James L. Secor

We all know vampires suck the blood of the living to continue living, even though they are dead. The living dead. A curse.

We don’t know where vampires come from. They just suddenly appear in folklore. The most famous being European. Central Europe, to be exact. Though the Chinese had vampires, too, they did not travel to the West with their fabled RR builders and laundry entrepreneurs.

European vampires had not migrated to Britain before the 19th century, else they would surely have made their appearance at Salem, if not Jamestown or Roanoke Island, the Lost Colony. As it was, America had to wait for a later mass migration of Europeans.

George Calvin Brown and family and friends are prime examples of vampire baggage carriers. As always, the opening of the carpet bag was innocent, however traumatic. Very like Pandora’s box.

Ephemera Gladys Brown, George Calvin’s loving wife, died of tuberculosis one day. George and the children were crestfallen, as one would expect. Losing a caring, loving, thoughtful mother was not expected or wanted. While the family mausoleum was being built and readied, the family mourned. Mother Brown was en-coffined and discretely kept in a corner of the Ice House, which the Brown family owned and operated. With all but the carving of the alabaster monument completed, public mourning ensued with the requisite religious broodings and blessings.

And then life went on, albeit with Leonard Gardener Brown, the older son, coughing a wee bit more than usual. The grocery store side of the business suffered as Leonard’s coughing increased in frequency and intensity. In fact, Leonard was excluded from both the grocery and the Ice House. Left alone, his coughing and whitish pallor led to a drinking habit that wormed its way into the family’s profits. Eventually, he, too, succumbed to the wasting away disease and was laid to rest alongside his mother. Another name was chiseled into the alabaster and life more or less went on.

Lena Mercy Brown, the sister, was so distraught and beside herself and so very fearful of the future, specifically her future, that she became a frequent visitor to the grave site. Early in the morning just before dawn and well past the waning moon, Lena Mercy could be found at the cemetery. So regular and spectral was she, she was spoken of as a ghost. Lena Mercy haunted the graveyard with an unhealthy obsession. So said the town doctor. But Lena Mercy would not desist, even as her pallor paled and her eyes reddened. And then she died. She told her father, one day, that she didn’t feel so good, coughed once into her white, white hands and died.

The doctor said that Lena Mercy Brown also died of tuberculosis, no history of coughing notwithstanding.

What kind of curse was this laid upon the Browns?

Surely, some townies said, this was the result of a prior life-sin. Others pooh-poohed such a superstition. Still others believed that the family was particularly susceptible to invasion by minute, even unseen animalcules. Animalcules being animalcules, this was difficult to deny. Invisible things forever manifest themselves into life. People breathe air, don’t they? And they dig in the dirt. And wash and bathe in the water. Everyone does. Some few were more susceptible than others to invasion by animalcules.

11

George sold the grocery business. People were wary of infection. As long as he ceased operating the Ice House, he was able to hold onto it. The income was enough to keep him and his youngest, Edwin Prentiss. They could find no one to help around the house, though.

But tragedy again struck.

This new wrinkle to the family horror came via the cemetery grounds-keeper. This elderly gentleman began seeing the ghost of Lena Mercy wandering through the cemetery to end up hovering around the family vault, raising her hands and looking upward as if mourning her mother’s and her brother’s and her own demise or calling upon God. All in utter silence, of course, as ghosts make no noise, though their mouth holes be open. The old guy also reported the silence of the cemetery. That is, no scurryings of night denizens and no owl hootings. Not that owls tended to be very communicative to begin with or while hunting. The oldster’s repetitive sightings brought out the ghost hunters, ghost busters and ghost curious. The crowding of the cemetery brought about less Lena Mercy walking. This phenomenon led to a generalized exodus but for the curious, who tend to be quite persevering. Their nightly vigils paid off. Sightings were reported and substantiated. Though not by an outside, objective, uninterested individual.

Much to the discomfiture of the remainder of the Brown family, this ghostly appearance of Lena Mercy became a hot topic in the district. Curiosity seekers began visiting the Brown house. The worst of the lot were the various newspapermen. Rude and invasive, if they got no story they made one up. Eventually, George and Edwin shut themselves up in their house. Groceries and sundries were delivered, ordered by messenger. Eventually, interest flagged somewhat. At which time the true tragedy struck.

It was here that the European old world baggage was opened and spilled out its contents all over the ground. The soil was fertile. The horror grew like kudzu, choking the hell out of reason.

How could this happen?

The mind’s job, as it were, is to make sense of things. Make sense of the world. Make sense of chaos. Make sense of the senseless. For this purpose, pre-laid pathways in the neural network of the brain are activated, for your brain forgets nothing. This is how we can remember how to walk without thinking about it. The baggage that sometimes ought not to be carried with us is opened like this; that is, habit of mind. We are creatures of habit. Habit helps us cope with the world. Habit helps us find meaning. Some of these habits are deep-seated and enduring, enduring like fairy tales, folktales, folklore.

How the mind does this is by putting various happenings together and coming up with an answer. It is this solution that is most often influenced by deep cultural memories. Memories of explication. Memories that are connected to an answer and a solution. Habits of mind. Short cuts for thinking.

First were the deaths of the Brown family. Three out of five.

Second was the ghostly sightings by all and sundry of Lena Mercy.

Third was the haunting of George by Lena Mercy. She became a nightly occurrence, dancing around George in bed, George at the kitchen table. Lena Mercy was insistent. According to George, she harassed him. Eventually night and day.

Fourth was Edwin Prentiss’s illness. The same as his mother’s and his brother’s and his sister’s, though Lena Mercy had not suffered the coughing. Edwin began his coughing and increasingly wan coloring within two weeks of Lena Mercy’s haunting the house.

Surely there was a connection here.

Ghosts are not known to be benevolent.

George sought solace, sought answers with consultations of the town elders, the doctor, the various ministers and the travelling Chautauqua professors. Though not all were in agreement, those obsessed with their old baggage, those in the majority, convinced George that Lena Mercy’s hauntings and Edwin Prentiss’s advancing illness were connected. That is, Lena Mercy was responsible.

Something needed to be done. Proof was needed.

So it was that the Brown family tomb was opened. Of the three coffined bodies, only Lena Mercy’s was not decomposed.

A great cry rose up and it was decided Lena Mercy was a vampire.

What other reason could there be? Only vampires feed on the living. Edwin was declining while Lena Mercy was not. Not dying. So?

There could be but one conclusion.

The townies cut out Lena Mercy’s heart. They burned it, cringing somewhat as it sizzled. They made Edwin drink a concoction of ash of heart and red wine.

All was well. No more hauntings. No more coughing.

Edwin Prentiss died in silence two weeks later.

How could this be? Lena Mercy the vampire had been appropriately done in. Maybe Edwin Prentiss was too far gone by then. Maybe more needed to be done.

So, Edwin Prentiss’s heart had a Palo Santo wood stake hammered through it. Both the heart and the stake were burned. The remains were buried. Holy water was cast upon the ground.

Everyone waited, fretting. For lifetimes they fretted and worried.

Would it ever, really end?

Vigilance could not be relaxed.

And so it was.

 

Author BIO:
Jim Secor began his adult writing career as a social activist playwright utilizing absurdism and, later, after his studies in Japanese theatre and training at the National Puppet Theatre in Osaka, alternative alternative styles. Along the way, he learned how to write bad poetry except for tanka and haiku. Short stories, longer stories and the frustrating and emotional draining novels. He has published variously. He taught English, writing and drama in China and Japan. He is over-educated and might be considered an overachiever as he was told at age 16 that he was too stupid to graduate with a BA.

 

 

12

Thin Places

by Delinda McCann

There are thin places where distance between realms collapses. –Celtic Folklore

This morning, I picked five hundred daffodils before coming inside to rest my back on the sofa.  My eyes closed as I mentally reviewed my latest manuscript.

A rap on my sliding glass doors brought me upright.  The man beyond the glass looked familiar.  He smiled and dimples appeared in each cheek.  My heart lurched as I stared.  His bright blue eyes contrasted with his mocha skin and curly hair.  Feeling dizzy and disoriented, I slid open the door and whispered, “Jake?”

He nodded. “Celia sent me.”

Excitement vibrated through me as I threw myself into his arms.  “My sister, how is my twin?”

Jake kissed me on top of my head.  His accent sounded just as I’d always imagined. “She is well and eager to see you.”

“Why are you here?  How?”  I refrained from reminding him he was only a character in my stories and my sister had been dead since birth.  Jake felt real enough to my arms.

Jake held up his hand to show me a collection of forks wrapped in a napkin.  “Celia thought these might be yours.  When we discovered how they came to us, we thought we must try to see you.”

I nodded, dumbly taking the forks.  They matched my set, and I’d been missing some.  I absently set the forks on a table and motioned for Jake to sit.  As I moved my laptop off of the sofa, I felt my heart race.  “Jake, where in your story are you?  Are you still president?”

He nodded. “Celia thought you might know our future.  I must flee the country if Papadakos is elected.”

“You must flee before the inauguration.  Carter-Bowles is a traitor.  He will try to arrest and kill you.”

Jake shook his head, “No.  He is Mariah’s cousin.  He will win then, you think?”

Knowing the events occurring in the rough draft of my next novel, I nodded. “What does Leroy say about him?”

Jake snorted, “Leroy says he became a prosecutor in order to send that cheating scum to prison someday.”

“Trust Leroy.  He knows his cousin.  Mariah is too trusting.  Can you escape to Celia’s home?”

Jake drew his head back as he looked at me.  “I think you do not quite understand. Celia’s home is still within the reach of my enemies.”

“Oh, of course, I forgot.  You won’t be safe where you are known.” I paused then added, “In time, Peter will become president then Ruben, but your country still needs you.”

Jake ran his hands through his hair.  The lines at the corners of his eyes seemed to droop. “I’m old and tired.”  He took a deep breath and looked toward the forest.  “I will flee and let the young men have their turn at glory.”  He snorted as his voice filled with sarcasm on his last word.

I felt disconnected as I watched the familiar face I’d seen only in my imagination.

Jake sighed and admitted, “Peter and Leroy agree with you that I must flee somewhere beyond the reach of the oligarchs.  Celia longs to see you.  It has been a lifetime since she was able to touch you.”

My eyes filled with tears at the thought of holding my sister.

“Can we come here?  We are real in your world.  When the troubles are over perhaps we can go home.  I hope so.  I long to watch the sun go down from my ridge.”  Jake’s eyes focused on the wall behind me.

I suspected Jake was watching a sunset in another land.  “Of course you can come.” I bit my lip.  “I don’t know much about these things.  Can Celia come through and be okay?”

“The two of you seem to have an extraordinary bond.  As far as we know, she will be fine because she is alive at home and in your books.”

We made plans until Jake looked at his watch and pushed himself to his feet.  “It’s time for me to go.  We will leave before the inauguration.” His shoulders sagged as he moved like an old man toward the door.

“How do you get home from here?”

Jake’s forehead puckered.  “Where you do your martial arts.  I saw you there when I was exercising.”

I knew the place he meant.  I’d exercised there because I liked the feel of the energy.  I thought the trees made the energy.  Maybe they do, or maybe the energy comes from something physics cannot yet explain.  I walked Jake to the circle of trees at the edge of the woods.

Jake put out his hand to stop me.  “I’ll go from here.  Remember, we will come when we can.”  Jake flashed his dimples at me again, turned, and in a flash of red light disappeared around a corner into a quantum collapse.

Alone in my house, I collapsed on the sofa feeling drained.  I rested my head on a pillow and closed my eyes.

I awoke, smiling.  I felt peaceful and thought, “What a haunting dream.”  I had dreamed about my twin before and even wrote a life for her in my books, but the dream about actually seeing her touched my soul.

Hubby came in before dinnertime, kissed me, and asked, “How was your day?”

“I got all my flowers picked then took a nap.  I had the sweetest dream.”

He paused and frowned at the table.  “What are all these forks doing here?  They look like the ones we’re missing.”

I stared at the forks in my husband’s hand as he unwrapped them from their napkin.

Clearly stitched in one corner of the napkin, I saw the state seal from Jake’s country.

 

Author BIO:
Delinda McCann lives on a small farm near Seattle, WA where she raised her daughters and now runs a small organic flower business.  She enjoys singing with her church choir and playing the piano—poorly. A brush with cancer made her realize that she needed to slow down, so she turned to writing fiction inspired by her behind-the-scenes experiences of advocating for and loving the people who are just a little bit different.

 

 

13

 ETERNITY

by Bryan Murphy

You, too, eh? Yeah, you do look a bit fragile. As you can see, I’m strong and healthy myself, but, in my line of business, that doesn’t necessarily keep you alive for very long. It’s an advantage, though, with what we’re signing up for. I mean, you’re going to snuff it in that clapped-out body – hey, no offence – but when I get the bullet they’ll bring me back in my fine physique for the duration, the very long duration, right? Don’t look like that, you don’t have much choice, do you? Better than that ancient Welshman’s long night. Just imagine if they brought that body back!

Yeah, man of letters, me. Not just a thug. Philosopher, too. Don’t laugh. Moral philosophy, ethics, religion. You ever thought about the ethics of what we’re getting involved in? I mean, at the moment, it’s only those who signed up for cryo, in the dark ages, when people laughed at them because nobody thought it would ever be possible. The first ones didn’t really have the last laugh, though, did they, what with the agony of re-birth, and the brevity of their second lifespan? Glad they got that bit sorted out. Anyway, I can take a bit of agony, how about you?

The point is, who gets to decide who else can have the treatment? Can you bring back someone who hasn’t asked for it? Now, I’m a man of religion, and if you can’t trust the Church on ethics, who can you trust? It’s just that sometimes they’re a bit technophobic, you know, and it doesn’t always do us that much good. I mean we’ve been haemorrhaging members like San Gennaro ever since that ridiculous Church of the Second Coming started up. Yeah, born in Brazil and now it’s everywhere. Even here in Turin, where we keep the Holy Shroud that they based their hologram on. Some idiot digitalised it and put it on the Goo, where anyone could copy it. How come you don’t know all this?

Out of towner, okay, but don’t you drink the news? Anyway, you know the real Church is going through a real crisis, especially since the despicable murder of Francis II. We’ll avenge that for them, don’t you worry! But every crisis is an opportunity, like they say in Sicily. And now’s the time for the Vatican to listen to us faithful and bring back Padre Pio, I mean Saint Pio, as Pope. Pius XIII, he’ll be. The greatest and last leader of the Church, couldn’t be otherwise! But they say it isn’t ethical. Like, he’s with God now, which is obviously better than being Pope in this world. Even so, I think he knows where his duty lies.

Just imagine all the things he could tell us! None of the others have said a word, have they? I guess they were in Limbo, where there wasn’t much to report on. Or the agony of rebirth wiped out their memories. Or they took a vow of silence. I can understand that! But a saint … what a story he’ll have to tell!

Anyway, trust the Church on ethics, not me. My lot, our thing is not strictly ethical by definition. I mean, we cleared the mafias out of this part of Italy, but only to fill the vacuum ourselves, which some people might find objectionable. Stop twitching, will you? I’ve never hurt a fly, myself. My task is to see how this resurrection business can guarantee my people an eternal cashflow. Hey, your number’s come up. Go sign on the dotted line. I’ll tell you how it pans out next time we meet. You’re lucky: it’ll be a long story.

14

Author BIO:
Bryan Murphy is a British author of speculative fiction. You can find his work here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts and at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other major retailers. His first full-length novel, Revolution Number One, is due out this year.

 

 

15

Black Hole

by Cody Wagner

 

They say someone on the outside of a black hole can’t see another person getting sucked in. Light can’t break free. And what isn’t lit isn’t visible. And so the victim seems to freeze there, at the point light no longer escapes. He will appear to stay there, existing in that single moment, until the end of time. While his soul is gone, his face will live on. And on. And on.

That moment for me is when he stood at the door, dust floating in the sun around his head like a halo.

“So I’m gonna go,” he said, a bag filled with essentials – sonic toothbrush, toothpaste, hair gel, and an ancient copy of The Road – at his feet.

A red hover car parked in the drive revved its engine.

I ignored it and reached to his face.

He flinched.

I didn’t care, and stroked his beard for the last time.

That. That was my moment. The image etched forever in my memory.

They say that, in a black hole, time speeds up as you reach the center. The part of your body closer to that center moves faster. So your head travels faster than your feet. You’re literally stretched beyond your limits. Like toothpaste from the tube.

That happened when the messages stopped. No communication. Before that, every key was hope. Hope that I’d say just the right thing. His responses took seconds. Mine took hours. I slaved over every word.

Until I received this:

Soooooo, this will be my last e-mail. I just think, you know, our time in the sun is over. No use dragging it out, right?

Each word stretched me beyond my limits. His response so casual. And no more hope. I typed the following:

Four years is the longest sunset I’ve ever witnessed.

Plucking out the nine words, I remembered sitting with him in an old-timey boat on Lake Powell. The waves gently rocked us as we watched the sun falling. We saw images in clouds. Only there were no clouds. We were just making up invisible shapes, laughing and drinking Merlot. It was the perfect evening. Part of me hoped he’d get the reference in my message.

But I never sent it.

They say that, in a black hole, everything tries to fit into what’s called the singularity. It’s a dot or point sitting in the middle. Everything is sucked toward that point. The pressure there is so monumental, matter is squeezed and smashed to fit inside. That’s why black holes are so dense. So much pressed into so little. And that dot is so tiny, it’s one-dimensional. Three dimensions flattened into one.

My heart lives in that singularity. Crushed into an unimaginably small, one-dimensional space.

It happened when I saw the wedding announcement.

Can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else, it read.

The envelope contained a picture of the two of them. They were sitting on Lake Powell. In an old-timey boat. Holding each other as the sun set.

 

Author BIO:
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Cody dealt with bullying as a teen and wanted to provide a fun escape for all the underdogs out there.  He’s also handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

 

 

16

Angels Unaware

 by Micki Peluso 

Hebrews 13: 2

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby many have entertained angels unawares.”

More than a year had passed since we’d visited the cemetery holding the remains of 14-year-old Noelle, the daughter whose comedic, endearing antics had woven the thread that held our family together. We couldn’t bear the grotesquely beautiful tombstones and mausoleums, the quietude — the finality of death. Since I had designed the headstone — a dove in flight, holding a rose that dripped a single tear –- the caretakers called me to announce that it was ready for my inspection.

I took my three daughters with me and drove up the steep, winding narrow road to the top of the mountain to confirm that the stone was acceptable. The sunny autumn afternoon was much like the day she’d lost her life. We searched everywhere but couldn’t find where the tombstone lay. Just as we were about to give up and go home, we noticed a middle-aged man walking his dog along the side of the road. I slowed the car and called out to him. As he walked over to us a smile lit up his face, an unearthly beatific smile that mesmerized us.

“You must be looking for Noelle,” he said, in a voice that was lilting, expressing great happiness. Before I could answer, he said, ‘‘She’s right over there under the large oak tree,” pointing to an area we had passed by several times. He smiled that incredible smile and continued on his way.

The grave site was no more than 50 feet from us. The headstone was lovely, a tribute to an amazing life but none of us took comfort from its setting, nestled among trees and hills that stretched for miles. We cried. We could not remain here, did not see the beauty surrounding us, only the loss — Noelle’s spirit was not in this place. We climbed back into the car, unable to speak.

Driving down the mountainside, I asked my oldest daughter, Kim, “Who was that man? He seemed to know us.”

“Mom, I never saw him before. I thought you knew him,” she said.

“Kelly, have you seen him before, while jogging in the cemetery?”

“No, Mom, I never run this far up.”

“Well,” 11-year-old Nicole stated firmly, “I know I never saw that man in my whole life.”

“Hmm, that’s odd. He seemed to know us and Noelle. Did you ever see a smile like that?”

We rode in silence down the one-way road through the huge cemetery. The sun was setting, casting shadows across this place which held only emptiness, bleakness, and sorrow. We should have passed the man going down. We didn’t. He disappeared as strangely as he’d appeared. We sensed we’d seen an “Angel unaware” — and it would be the first of many times.

The next angel sightings began when my grandsons were born. Several of them, only the boys, either saw angels or heard and saw Noelle, usually in times of distress. The three most open to these sightings and hearings usually stopped experiencing them when they went to grade school. So many natural things are ‘taught’ out of children and this gift was one of them.

Years before, as Noelle lay paralyzed and dying, I promised her that the world would remember who she was and her vehicular homicide by a drunk driver would be known. Life issues stepped in and it was 25 years before I was able to keep my promise by writing a memoir of her life and death. It was meant to be and throughout those last six months of actually writing it, there were many paranormal occurrences.

My first book signing was quite an adventure and I was scared to death. I had just recovered from the flu and wasn’t feeling too perky; the mall was crowded and hot, filled with hordes of people intent on finding Valentine sales. The bookstore ran a sale on every best seller, offering half price, buy one, get one free –- so even I would have preferred not to buy my more expensive first book. Still, as suggested by my publisher, I set up my table, looked pleasantly classy, and had great promo stuff set up –- along with a gorgeous poster of my book on an easel, standing outside the bookstore in the actual mall. Many passed by, admiring the poster, asking if it was for sale –- few stopped to buy the book. The bargain hunters, dressed in less than their finest, seemed harried and hungry –- proven by the way they sneaked valentine chocolate hearts from my crystal bowl as they dashed past my table. The candy was free, but it entailed listening to my book sales pitch for a book they didn’t seem inclined to buy.

After an hour I was getting dejected. This was not fun. Root canal was more fun. I forced family and friends to suffer through it with me but it still did not even border upon fun. I signed and sold about a half dozen books and was getting tired and bored, when someone ran up to me, all smiles and excited. I could not tell if it was a boy, adult or teen. He introduced himself as John, still smiling that amazing smile on his elfin face. “I loved your book,” he repeated over and over. “I cried and cried and cried.”

He didn’t have his book with him so I signed a book plate for him and gave him a bookmark and a chocolate heart. He leaned over to me, with both arms stretched out to me. I reached out and hugged him, something I would never do to a stranger in a Mall.

“Don’t you dare stop writing books!  You can’t not write books. You’re a good writer and you must keep on writing books!” I wondered how he knew that this was my first book and I didn’t plan on another.

“I’ll think about it,” I said, smiling at that wonderful face of his. I glanced away for just a second and when I looked back he was gone. He seemed to disappear as strangely as he’d appeared. I turned to my daughter and asked, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” She nodded. It was not the first time we had encountered an “angel unaware” concerning my book and the story it relates. There was no way to explain those beatific smiling faces both times. I had a feeling this would not be the last either. From the moment he left, my energy returned, all pain left and I was able to continue signing books for another hour and a half and sell all my books. I hope my angelic being shows up at all my future book signings. I want to tell John that I have started my next book — but somehow I think he knows.

 

Author BIO:
I began writing after a personal tragedy as a catharsis for my grief. This led to a first-time-out publication in Victimology: An International Magazine and a 25-year career in journalism. I’ve freelanced and been a staff writer for one major newspaper and written for two more. I have published short fiction and non-fiction, as well as slice-of-life stories in college and other magazines and in e-zine editions. My first book was published in 2012; it’s a funny family memoir of love, loss and survival, called . . . AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG which won the Nesta CBC silver award for writing that makes a change in the world. Two of my short horror stories have been published in an anthology called The Speed of Dark. I am presently working on a collection of short fiction, slice-of-life stories and essays in a book called DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK.

Bow Tie Judge by Kenny Wilson

b

“All rise,” the bailiff bellowed.  “On this day of our Lord, August 4, 1997, face the flag of our country, recognizing the principles for which it stands; one nation under one God.  The District Court for the great State of Alabama, for the County of Cher-o-kee, Department One, the Honorable Beauregard T. Callahan, Judge presidin’, is now in session.  Be seated.”

I noticed that fat little judge walkin’ through a door ‘hind the bench while the bailiff did his hollorin’.  A red bow-tie was peekin’ out ‘a top of his shiny black robe.  It looked like a jewel on some fancy Hollywood lady’s neck.  Lord, I knowed this was trouble.  Pappy tol’ me: “Never trust no man wearin’ a bow-tie”.

There I was.  Wearin’ stripes an’ feelin’ weak from only eatin’ hot baloney and gravy top a’ slice a’ Wonder Bread.  Least Sundays they throw on an egg.  My head was throbbin’.  My hands was shaky too.  Not a drop a’ alcohol since bein’ jailed last week.  I weren’t in no mood for some bow-tied judge.

Junior Patton, sittin’ side me sweatin’ an’ stinkin’ like year ol’ possum grease, was the other prisoner in court.  We was walked ‘cross the lawn ‘tween the jail an’ courthouse chained like cat-fish strung on a line.  Deputy Atkins kept a twelve gauge at our backs.  You’d think we was murderers.

“Call the case of The People vs. Silas Fenstermacher, 0-7-3-1-9-9-7,” that sour ol’ clerk yelled.  An’ sho’ nuff, that clerk was wearin’ a yellar bow-tie.  ‘Least the re’ porter weren’t.  She was a nice lookin’ gal with legs comin’ out ‘neath a’ pink dress.  But I weren’t in no mood.

“You be Silas Fenstermacher,” the Judge asked, his jowls jigglin’ while his bug-eyes narrowed-in on me.  A fan on the wall ‘hind ‘em was on blowin’ a draft down his back.

“Yes, Sir,” I said, ‘fore the bailiff jerked me up by the collar.

“Stand up when addressin’ the Court,” he shouted in my ear.  “It’s ya’ ‘onor, not sir, inmate.”

“But y’all tol’ me to sit down,” I said.

I looked at that re’ porter to catch if I was right.  She kept on plukin’ on that machine ‘a hers.   Didn’t pay me no mind.

“My, my, ya’ ‘onor.  Looks like we got r’ selves a smart boy here,” the bailiff grinned, fixin’ to bash my skull with his stick.

I tried standin’ full-up but them wrist chains were so short I was yankin-up Junior’s hands.  Junior didn’t help none neither.  I was haulin’ up his lazy arms the whole time I was in front ‘a that judge.

“I’m only goin’ repeat myself once, Mr. Fenstermacher.  Are you Silas Fenstermacher?”

“Sorry sir, ah, I mean judge, ‘er, I mean ya’’onor.  That’s me all right.”

“You been charged with a violation of Alabama Code Section 13A-6-68, Indecent Public Exposure, a Class A misdemeanor.  How do you plead?”

“But ya’ ‘onor, I was only peein’ ‘hind Smitty’s bar.”

“Mr. Fenstermacher, you got cotton in your ears?  How do you plead?”

“I don’t rightly know.”

Mr. Fenstermacher, you plead guilty or not guilty. Otherwise, I’ll lock you up another week to think on it. Now what’s your plea?

 

##

 

I heard tell ‘bout Beauregard becomin’ a judge.  He went to law school but worked as a disc-jockey ‘til Judge Curley, the one ‘lected ‘fore him, threw Leonard, Beauregard’s cousin, in jail.

Leonard was ‘cused a’ mo-lestin’ a Curley relation livin’ outside a’ town.  A feud ‘rose ‘tween the Curleys an’ Callahans.  The town was split even ‘bout whether Leonard did it.  Beauregard decided to run against Curley in the next ‘lection an’ won by three votes.

Anyways, I learned ‘bout mo-lestin’ sittin’ in jail.  Ol’ Junior was a real criminal, not a drunk like me.  He’d been sentenced to five years for rape a’ his fourteen year ol’ step-daughter.  At least she weren’t blood.   He was also facin’ charges in the federal court down in Birmingham for sellin’ illegal firearms.

I didn’t have no lawyer, but Junior did.  His name was Bobby Davis, a real smooth talker.  No one called him Lawyer Davis.  He was jus’ Bobby ‘cause a’ that baby face a’ his.  Bobby won last year’s bass tournament.  It don’t count for much though ‘cause  a’ his ad-vantage havin’ the best damn bass boat in North Alabama.  Cherokee County a-signed Junior’s case to Bobby.

Sound echoes off them jailhouse walls.  I could hear Junior an’ Bobby talkin’ a day ‘fore we was sent to court.

“Listen, Junior, I need help.  I’ve gotta’ tell Judge Callahan something good.  Give me anything.”

“Why shit, Bobby, I was drunk, passed out, don’t remember nuthin’.”

“Anything Junior.  We’ve got to change that sentence.  Did she entice you, come at you with her tits showing?”

“Listen Bobby, y’all know how it is.  Hot-blooded fourteen-year-olds is all hormoned-up an’ stuff.  She’s Elmira’s kid.  Growed-up jus’ like her Mama too.  Never saw a dick she wouldn’t suck.”

“Look, Junior, I’m trying to get your time put together with the federal sentence so you won’t serve two terms on top of each other.”

Hearin’ Junior and Bobby talk got me thinkin’; why don’t they ‘gimmie some silver-tongue like Bobby?   

Then a loud commotion on the second floor made it so I couldn’t hear ‘em anymore’.  A deputy was arguin’ with a’ colored inmate.  Us white boys was kept on the first floor ‘cause it’s cooler.  Course, even downstairs was scorchin’ hot in the summer.

Layin’ on my bunk I wiped sweat outta’ my eyes tryin’ to catch a nap.  It was too damn hot for sleepin’.  ‘Fore’ long though, I could hear ‘em talkin’ again.

“Listen, Junior.  There’s no statute of limitations on those federal charges.  The Feds want you to serve time with the state.  Then they’ll re-file the gun charges so you serve both terms in a row.”

“So soon as I finish in the state pen I’ll start all over again?  It ain’t fair, Bobby.  It jus’ ain’t fair!  That weren’t the deal when I plead.”

“That’s what I’m telling Judge Callahan tomorrow.  Now give me a little help.”

“Shit, Bobby, I don’t know nuthin’.”

“Common, Junior, there must be something.”

“Bobby, jus’ tell that judge it was her fault.  She’d been askin’ for it.  I’d been resistin’ temptation for months but the Devil got me drunk.  I been prayin’ to Jesus ever since.”

“Shit, Junior!  Judge Callahan won’t believe a word of that.”

“Then ‘least tell ‘em my soft county-cut was gentle on her insides.”

“I’d be careful with that one.  It’ll remind the judge about the trauma Dr. Mary reported.”

“That bitch!  If she was any kind of doctor she’d a’ knowed it was on account a’ my big dick.”

“Junior, the last thing the Judge wants to hear about is the size a’ your dick.

 

##

 

“Your plea, Mr. Fenstermacher, your plea,” the judge said, still waitin’ on me.

Just then Bobby walked in with Attorney Dunsmere, the D.A.  Dunsmere always wore the same ol’ seersucker suit.    It had tobacco stains on front a’ the jacket an’ shit stains on back a’ the trousers.

“Ya’ ‘onor,” I said.  “How come I don’t have a lawyer?  I want Bobby to be my lawyer jus’ like Junior.”

The judge smiled, real big.  “Very well,” Mr. Fenstermacher.  “You’re hereby re-manded to the Cherokee County jail for e-valuation of your eligibility for a lawyer pro-vided by the county.  See y’all in a week.”

Everyone was grinnin’, even the re-porter.  At least I got to sit back down.

The bailiff whispered behind me: “you stupid drunk, he’d a’ given you time served for pleadin’ guilty.  Besides, only special criminals get free lawyers, an’ you ain’t special.”

That bow-tie judge never let on ‘bout time served an’ free lawyer rules.

“Calling the case of The People vs. Junior Patton, Case number 0-4-4-1-9-9-7,” the clerk yelled.

Bobby an’ Lawyer Dunsmere stood up.  Junior didn’t have to budge off his butt.

“Permission to approach, your Honor,” Bobby said.

The attorneys walked up to the judge all friendly like.  The clerk was shufflin’ papers an’ the re’ porter put her notebook on a table an’ went outside for a smoke.

The bailiff kept eyein’ me while he poured water in the glasses on the lawyer table usin’ a pitcher with a broke handle.  He wiped his forehead on his sleeve then went ‘hind the bench an’ ad-justed the fan to blow down on the lawyers too.

The lawyers was huddled in front a’ that bench yackin’ up a storm.  That bow-tied wearin’ judge’s face got redder than a baboon’s ass.  He slammed his fist on the bench.  “Junior is pre-vert’,” he said, “but he’s a son of Alabama!  The Feds are playin’ with us.  I hereby commute Junior’s sentence to time served.”

Then it was over.  The bailiff unchained that pre-vert sentenced to five years an’ lookin’ at gun charges to boot.  Bobby put his arm ‘round Junior an’ walked him right outta’ that courtroom.

Deputy Atkins walked me back to the jailhouse in chains, for a pissin’crime.

Jus’ my luck.

a

Kenny Wilson is an attorney who writes to clear his head. His work is seldom published, but we can report that one of his stories is included in the Chase Entertainment’s soon to be released anthology The Nettle Tree.

 

My Cretaceous Birthday by Michael Ajax

CBday1

Normally, I hated rolling out of bed. Getting up for school really isn’t my thing and waking up early on the weekend never happens. Ever. Except today.

For my birthday, my mom somehow snagged a family pass to the hottest ticket in town—Cretaceous Park. One website she showed me said the park was sold out for the next two years. I was psyched! I couldn’t believe this day had finally arrived.

At first, however, I felt a bit skeptical about the whole thing. Weren’t dinosaurs extinct? But the photos on their website were incredible. Amazing even.

My mother, dressed in a bright yellow top, led us to the car. Hours later, we followed a rough road into a shady looking place with old boards propped up against leaning fences. Faded circus trailers were parked in a row. A bad feeling came over me when I saw a misspelling on the main sign—Cretaceouss Park. It had an extra ‘S’ on the end.

Two guys in red and green clown suits, wearing enormous blue shoes, showed us where to park.

“This is going to be special,” my mom said.

My dad’s eyes twinkled. “A day to remember.”

With spooky clowns around, I wouldn’t be able to forget it.

As we walked toward the main gate, I heard a loud roar. It sounded just like the T-rex I had heard in a movie. Goosebumps ran up and down my arms.

“This way to our Cretaceous experience,” one clown said. “The Welcome Center is straight ahead.”

The employees there were unusually dressed. Some sported blue tights with long, maroon feathers. Our guide wore a cherry red coat and white pants. On his head sat a black top hat. He introduced himself as Ralph.

Our tour was the second group to be called. They showed us to a nice room with pale blue walls. Paper plates and plastic sporks sat next to a table with a huge salad bowl in the middle.

“To begin your experience,” Ralph waited for the others to stop speaking, “we first ask that you get a taste for the plants of the Cretaceous time. Countless new varieties grew during this period. Some were toxic while others spicy. Combining the good with the delicious, our chefs created a feast to fuel your appetite. So while we wait for departure, please enjoy a salad, and some punch, on us.”

“A salad?” My stomach dropped. “I never eat greens.”

“Enjoy the full experience,” my mom suggested.

“Only if they have Brontosaur burgers with Hadrosaur hash browns on the side.”

My dad nudged me forward. “It’s healthy. Try some.”

Dread filled me as I picked up a plate. Eating some exotic plants from the Mesozoic Era probably won’t kill me. As I stepped closer to the salad bowl, all I saw was iceberg lettuce mixed with onions and green peppers. I took a small portion. A little monkey in a tiny hat offered me some luminescent red punch. I passed.

Crunching their salad, my parents went on and on about how delicious the stuff was. They guzzled down cup after cup of punch.

After the salad, Ralph led us to the petting zoo. My excitement started again. Some kids might think they are too old to enjoy petting a dinosaur, but not me. I was ready.

After sanitizing our hands, the nice people dressed in full-bodied, pink tights told us to gently pet the dinosaurs. The first tank had three big land turtles. Although they seemed healthy, they moved pretty slow. In the second tank, a bearded lady in a tight leather jumper held a bearded dragon. In the third tank, a fat woman pointed to a sleepy iguana. Reaching the final tank, I found a bunch of skinks with blue tails. My heart sank. Am I the only one who knows that turtles and lizards aren’t dinosaurs?

I turned to my dad. “Do you notice something missing here?”

“Didn’t you like Dreadnought the Dragon?”

“He was cool. But dad. Dinosaurs are what we came to see. Remember?”

“Not to worry, Matt. Mr. Ralph told me these were just a warm up to the big safari. They can’t let people really touch dinosaurs. Lots of laws prohibit it.”

Really? Although I was disappointed, following the rules made sense. I nodded.

Ralph called for everyone to follow him. He led us to some oversized blue and white jeeps. “These luxurious vehicles will take us on a safari deep into Cretaceous Park. Sit back and enjoy the time travel ride of your life.”

I walked up to Mr. Ralph. “Wait. You said time travel? For real?”

He smiled. “These fine vehicles will take us on a special safari to see creatures that have not walked the earth for millions of years.” He offered me a cup. “Here have some punch. It takes the edge off the trip.”

My excited grew. Perhaps time travel was their special secret to getting dinosaurs. They must have discovered a wormhole to the past. Tossing out the punch, I climbed into the jeep.

The wheels rolled. I held tight and waited for the time shift to occur. Tall gates appeared in front of us. As we approached, they swung inward. Entering a dark tunnel, blinding lights flashed all around. Loud screeching pierced my ears. As we drove out of the tunnel, everyone, including me, clapped.

Sitting next to the driver, Ralph smiled. “Thank the heavens we all made the time jump safely. Look around. We have reached the Mesozoic Era—the time of the dinosaurs. Due to the delicate nature of being here, we can only remain for a limited time. And never leave the vehicle because dangerous creatures sometimes lurk. Now, on to our first attraction.”

Carefully checking our surroundings, I noticed the plants and trees looked suspiciously like the ones we just left. Did we even time travel?

“Ahead, we have some of the oldest known dinosaurs that began in the Triassic Period,” Ralph continued. “Dangerous and deadly, these creatures are always a crowd favorite.” The jeep stopped beside a fenced section of grass. “Behold the mighty Desmatosuchus. But our staff lovingly refers to them as ‘Legless Lizards’.”

The others in the vehicle cheered. Some high-fived each other. They all snapped pictures.

Remaining unimpressed, I poked my dad. “Those aren’t legless lizard—they’re snakes.”

My dad appeared puzzled. The jeep rolled on.

Approaching the next attraction, with high red and white fences, Ralph turned to face us. “From here, we travel forward to the Jurrassic Period. This is when super-sized dinosaurs walked the earth.”

I leaned forward in anticipation. I couldn’t miss this exhibit.

Ralph’s face gleamed. “We are pleased to present you . . . our own special giant . . . Gladius . . . the last of the brachiosaurs.”

Each passenger pushed to the right side of the vehicle to get a glimpse of Gladius. Cameras were poised to shoot. The jeep eased closer, barley moving as the wide barriers blocked our view. The suspense was palatable.

Finally, we could see. Yet inside the large fenced area only green grass grew. Other than that, the pen was empty.

Ralph’s smile disappeared. He called out. “Our customers expect Gladius. Show us Gladius.”

CBday2

From the far side of the attraction, a man in a blue jumpsuit ran out. He whispered in Ralph’s ear then handed him a large envelope. Turning to us, Ralph held up a picture of a huge brachiosaurs. Gladius was printed across the bottom. “I am the bearer of tragic, tragic, news. As of a few moments ago, Gladius is no longer with us. Our old friend has passed on. Could we all observe a moment of silence?”

The heavy woman with two girls in front of me wept. Someone else blew their nose. I too was touched by the untimely loss. My heart felt miserable.

Ralph, his cheeks somber, turned to us. He handed out pictures of Gladius. “With this terrible turn of events, we must sadly cut today’s safari short. If it is agreeable, we will make one final stop before returning to our current time.”

The jeep’s motor roared as the driver sped forward. I heard the two girls repeat the name Gladius over and over between their sobs.

The vehicle slowed as we reached a small enclosure that resembled an above ground pool. Something swam inside.

Ralph leaned close. “Our last attraction is exceptional . . . and dangerous. Although not true dinosaurs, these aquatic monsters nevertheless grew to exceptional sizes. Some fossils have been measured at over thirty meters long. These creatures remain the undisputed Kings-of-the Sea. I give you—Megalodon!”

CBday3

Two small creatures, with fins on their backs, swam past us. Cameras flashed. People clapped and giggled.

Somehow I had expected bigger creatures. These two were puny. Runts, even. I called to Ralph. “Aren’t they a little small for Megalodons?”

He flashed me a crooked grin. “These two are micro-Megalodons. Quite rare, actually. We’re lucky to have them.”

The others buzzed with excitement, yet I did not. Gazing at my parents, I shook my head. “They’re not micro anything, they’re just baby sharks. This whole safari’s a scam.”

My mother frowned. “No, Matt, this time travel is incredible. Soak it all up before these creatures have forever vanished. Like Gladius.”

My dad held up the picture. “Yes. Poor, old Gladius. Extinct forever.”

We reached the dark tunnel a few minutes later. While the others poured over their sightings on the safari, I sat back, depressed. Was I the only one who believed these guys were fakers?

Entering the time tunnel to return, lights flashed as deafening guitars sounded. On the other side, everyone unloaded. I was glad to be done with the safari.

Ralph pointed. “After time traveling, you may feel disoriented or woozy. Please don’t drive for at least an hour. And while waiting for your head to clear, please stop by our gift shop and donate to the Gladius memorial fund.”

As the others walked away, I stared at Ralph.

“So what was your favorite attraction?” he asked. “Let me guess—the micro-Megalodons?”

“No.” I glared at him. “Your safari sucked.”

“So you didn’t drink any punch? Too bad, you would have loved our park.”

“How can you tell I didn’t have any?”

He nodded. “I have loads of experience with young men like you. But what you’re actually upset about is Gladius’s death. Your passionate words show it. Realizing that we are all players in this circle of life is the first step to acceptance. Go in good health.”

Had he just dismissed my heartfelt comment with an old circle-of-life cliché? I was stunned. My clueless parents thanked him for his considerate nature then walked to the gift shop.

But I wasn’t finished. “This whole place is a hoax. And you’re a liar. There were never any dinosaurs.”

Ralph’s friendly smile faded. “We delivered just what our name says.”

His words confused me. “But it is Cretaceous Park, right?”

“We started off as a struggling circus, but that all changed when my wife wanted to open an amusement park. So we did and nearly lost our shirts. Nobody wanted to see old, fat, circus animals. But after we changed the park’s name, and started passing out free punch, everything blossomed. People wanted dinosaurs, so that’s what we gave ‘em—but with our own special twist. Just like our name promises.”

Ralph pointed to the overhead sign. “My wife’s middle name is Cretaceous so we call our place—Cretaceous’s Park.”

Feeling low, with tears welling in my eyes, I headed to the gift shop. My fifth birthday, my Cretaceous birthday, was a total bust. Perhaps next year, when I reached the first grade, this could be one of those stories I look back on and laugh about.

 

***

 

Michael’s novel, Tomb of the Triceratops, follows three high school friends to the Badlands of Montana where they search for a paleontologist that claimed to have discovered a portal to another dimension were dinosaurs escaped to. What’s your favorite dinosaur?

Check out Michael’s website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops

What would you do if he knocked on your door? By Bonnie Hearn Hill

lucas“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.” 

His name wasn’t Lucas, the way it is in my novel, Goodbye Forever. His name, he said, was Joshua. I can tell you that because it turned out to be a lie.

He stopped by my house one spring morning as I picked up the newspaper from my front lawn and asked if I knew where the elementary school was. I told him I did.

“Could you give me a ride?” he asked. “I’m late.”

I’m a sucker for little kids, and I live in one of the safest neighborhoods in our Central California community. Without thinking about it, I said, “Sure. Get in,” and we drove the two blocks to his school.

He asked about the make of my car. I told him.

“That’s nice,” he replied in a soft voice.

I took a second look at him. An impeccably put-together little guy, right down to his dark, carefully gelled hair, he smiled back at me.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Joshua. What’s yours?”

“Bonnie. How old are you?”

“Ten. I’m in the fifth grade.” I pulled in front of the school. “It’s Friday,” he said. “Snack bar. Could you loan me a dollar?”

He had already spotted the one in my change tray. I handed it to him.

As he headed toward the school, my phone rang, and my best friend asked why I wasn’t at home so that we could go to the gym as planned.

“I was driving a little boy to school,” I said.

“Are you out of your mind?” she shouted. “He could have an older brother. He could be setting you up for something. What were you thinking?”

I’m not sure what I was thinking.

That Saturday, when I spoke to a local writing group, I told them my story. I was trying to make the point that plots aren’t as important as what the writer brings to them.

“So,” I said, “if this were your story, how would you finish it?”

They made my point by coming up with answers as different as they were.

“He disappears, and the last person he was seen with was a woman driving a car like yours.”

“He gets out, and you realize you have driven into a Twilight Zone 1950s small town with no way out.”

“He was a figment of your imagination. You were trying to heal from some kind of crisis and invented this kid to help you do that.”

“It’s a horror novel. He’s bait to bring home dinner, and you’re it.”

They proved my point. Everyone took the initial event and made it their own story. They also warned me to be careful with my own real-life story.

“Next time, he’ll ask for five dollars,” one of them said.

“Or fifty,” added another.

The following Monday was so fragrant with spring air that I opened my front door and let the breeze drift through my security screen. As I worked in my study, someone knocked on the screen door.

“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.

I walked to the door, and there stood Joshua.

“I’m late for school again,” he said.

“Does your mom know you’re here?”

“Sure.” His grin grew wider. “It’s fine with her if you drive me.”

“Then let’s just call her, shall we? Just to be sure.”

“Never mind.” He began to back up. “That’s OK.”

“Because you didn’t talk to your mom.” I opened the door and raised my voice. “Did you?”

“No.” He turned and began to run.

What if he had knocked on the wrong door? I asked myself. He could be in danger, and I couldn’t forget this until I saw it through. Because I had no choice, I called his school. When I described what happened, the school secretary said, “I know the kid you’re talking about.” She emailed me his photo, and a little boy with enormous eyes and carefully gelled hair smiled up at me.

“That’s Joshua,” I said.

“It’s not his real name,” she told me, “but he is in fifth grade. He’s been stealing food and money from other kids, although his family is well off. This is the first time we heard of him knocking on doors in the neighborhood.” She paused and added, “He just walked in. The counselor’s taking him to the principal’s office right now.”

That was the last I heard of Joshua. After two years, I haven’t seen him again, although one Halloween I did hear a knock on my door and a soft voice saying, “It’s me.”

Did I invent the sound out of the many voices of children in my neighborhood that night? Was it another kid trying to coax me out of one more treat? Was it Joshua?

What would you do if he knocked on your door?

I wrote a book.

The kids in that book—a novel—didn’t get the help they needed. I hope Joshua did.

* * *

Bonnie Hearn Hill writes suspense tied to social issues. GOODBYE FOREVER is the second in the Kit Doyle series. It’s about a Sacramento, CA crime blogger who goes underground as a runaway teen.

The Corpsman by Kenneth Weene

a

They called him Doc. It wasn’t his title or even his nickname, but it was what they called him. He knew if he were ever hit, killed, air-vacced out, they’d call the next guy Doc, too. Doc was better than the other name, “Medic, Medic.” That was what they called when somebody was hit, hit bad, bad enough to need him. Some nights it still woke him—in his dreams, them yelling, “Medic, Medic.” Him paralyzed, unable to help.

He is a bright guy. Career Navy, he’d worked his way up from corpsman to officer, gone to school—college. For all that education, he still didn’t have any insight, no self-awareness. Self-awareness isn’t something that comes easy with PTSD. Too busy reliving, too busy trying to keep his shit together .

Retired, going a bit to gray and pot, he and his wife were on a trip; they were staying at the same Bed and Breakfast as my wife and I.  The ladies had gone to bed; so there we were: just two guys sitting in a comfortable living room in small town Arizona.

He starts out telling me that he doesn’t much like being with people, being part of a group, doesn’t really join in, stays to himself. Then he spends the evening talking. Talking and sharing and talking some more. Guess what he really doesn’t like is listening. If the other guy is talking, how can he be back there, back then, reliving?

He starts by telling me about PTSD. I don’t interrupt—to tell him that I’m a shrink—not until he finishes telling me about what a Navy psychiatrist had explained to him—how if you take a cat, nice little cat, and put him in a back yard and start shooting at him and blowing shit up around him and then you take him back into the house, why that cat will be changed and that was how post traumatic stress worked.

Then I told him about my background; I mentioned there was usually something else about Post Traumatic Stress—something that cats couldn’t figure—not just the being scared but the guilt that somehow you should have changed things.

That’s when he talked about the ambush. He was supposed to go out with this patrol. They were going to do a sweep and set up an ambush, a standard night operation in Vietnam.

Bunch of kids; oldest, the corporal leading it, wasn’t any older than nineteen—kids, just kids. So this corporal tells me, “Doc, you ain’t coming with us.”

“Of course I am.  You got to have a corpsman.”

“You ain’t coming,” he says again.

“Yeah, I am.”

They go back and forth a bit before the corporal tells him that the patrol isn’t going anywhere, that they’re just too damned tired so they’re going to get a little way out of camp, and hunker down for the night. Just call in like they’re really out on patrol. Get a night’s sleep before they fall apart.

Well, he isn’t happy about not doing his job; so he decides that the least he can do is take a radio shift back at HQ, do something instead of taking the night off. At two, he takes over the C.P. radio. Everything’s quiet. The corporal calls in, his scheduled contact. Everything’s fine. A few seconds later, he hears hell breaking loose over that radio. First there’s a single shot. Then that patrol, the one he was supposed to be on, is screaming for help. Over the radio he hears the firing. Deep shit!

He’s one of the team that goes out for the rescue. Four medics, couple of officers, a bunch of riflemen. By the time they get to where this platoon is hunkered, every last one of those Marines has been hit. But everything is quiet, quiet as death.

“Where the hell are they?”

“Sneaky bastards”

Then they figure it out. The corporal had called in at two, just like he was supposed to. Then he decided to check his men, make sure nothing was wrong. Damn kid forgot to put on his helmet. In Marine world after dark and no helmet, you’re the enemy. Shoot to kill. That first shot he’d heard over the radio.

Well, that shot and the other Marines had jumped up – still no helmets. More fucking shooting.

All those guys hit; all by their own friendly fire.

Friendly fire. Jesus, who could have thought. Too damned tired to know what they were…

His eyes clouded. He was someplace else.

I should have been there. Never could figure out why I wasn’t. I should have been out there with those guys, but … but I wasn’t. Why? … Why?

The thing was, he was serious. He didn’t understand why the corporal had told him to stay in camp.

“You were too valuable to waste,” I offered.

What do you mean?

“They knew they weren’t going to be fighting so why waste a corpsman’s time? Just like if they needed to dig a hole or some other grunt work, you’re not the guy to hand the shovel. Medics were too valuable to squander that way. Why have you waste your energy when you might need it to save one of them some time?”

Shit, I must have asked a dozen doctors why; and nobody ever… He sat—quiet, nodding his head from time to time.

Thing is I came back. I was never even wounded.

“That was damn lucky. Corpsmen, you guys—only ones more likely to get it were Second Lieutenants.” I hadn’t served, but I wanted him to know that I understood.

Yeah, butter-bars. You see a Lieutenant with a map and you knew you were in shit. Fresh from training and not knowing a thing about what they was doing.

I laughed. He smiled wanly.

When I was fresh in the field, you know maybe six weeks in, I noticed something strange. There was this snapping noise. I’d be working on a guy and suddenly I’d hear this snapping. I’d look around, but there wasn’t anything breaking—no sticks or anything – just that sound. I asked this Gunnery Sergeant, “Gunny,” I asked, “There’s something I want to ask you.”

“So ask, Doc.”

“When I’m out there and I’m working on a guy, I hear this noise, this snapping, any idea what it is?”

“Sure, Doc, that’s bullets. Those sons-of-bitches are shooting at you. When a bullet gets close enough it snaps. Most of the time you hear a whine, but when it gets close enough.”

“After that, when I was working on a guy, I’d kind of dart around.”

He acted it out, reaching for something quickly, changing direction, moving suddenly in another direction.

He stopped moving, sat still and looked at me.

“It sounds awful,” I said to break the silence.

Nothing.

Some, a lot didn’t make it. Some I didn’t think would, but they did. Worst one, one I saved but I didn’t think he’d make it—there was this kid. We were on patrol and all hell breaks out. I’m working on some other guy, nothing too bad, when one of the Marines comes up, says, ‘Doc, you got to come.’

“I’m working on this guy,” I say.

He grabs me; pulls me right away, right down to his buddy.

This grunt is leaning against a tree. His arm is broken in two; he’s holding it up, and it’s just hanging down from here.

He gestures to show that the bottom two thirds of the guy’s left forearm is hanging down like everything inside it is broken, like it’s held on by skin.

And his right leg is gone right to here.” He indicates the hip. “I could see his hip joint. The leg is a couple of yards away, lying on the ground like it’s waiting for him. And blood. Shit, you ain’t seen a femoral until you’ve seen a femoral A femoral and a radial and both going at once.

He jerked his hands in different directions like they were supposed to be the spurting blood.

First thing I need is a tourniquet. I dump my pack right there on the ground, but I don’t have another one. None of the guys have one either; we’ve just used them all. So I think about it, and we’re wearing these new uniforms, not the cammies, those hadn’t come in yet, but these green nylon uniforms. At least we were out of the cottons—sweat to death in nylon, but they dried faster. These new uni-s, they got pockets on the legs, and there are these cords sewn in to tie those pockets tight so your shit doesn’t jiggle around in there. I never put anything in those pockets, but I grab the cord from my left leg and pull until it rips free.

Again his hands are flying around.

I use the strap to tie up that stump of his. Use some stump pads and there’s all this jungle shit right in the wound, but I got it tied off … and the arm, and I say, “Call a dust off; we got to get him out of here.”

That’s when this guy—his leg gone, his arm gone—he says, “Hey, Doc, you looked down there.”

I nod yeah.

“So is it all there. Do I still got what I need?”

“Yeah,” I tell him and that son-of-a-bitch smiles back at me like there’s not a damn thing wrong in the world.

Course we’ve got that chopper all ready coming in; and he starts coming down, but then he pulls away.

“What the fuck?” I ask.

“Taking fire, can’t land,” the sergeant explains.

So we load this guy on a poncho and his leg and we carry him down to an LZ not too far off. But the chopper still can’t land. Sarge says, “They’ll lower the basket. We put him in fast, and they get the hell out of here.”

So they get about a hundred feet above us and they lower this drogue, and it starts rotating like a crazy-ass pendulum, but then that pilot—damn he’s good—he gets it under control and sets it down gentle. Somebody yells, “Get him in.”

b

We get that guy and his leg into the bucket and the copter takes off.

“Shit,” I yell, “We didn’t get him tied in.”

That basket is swinging around again, and we watch it gyrating as the copter pulls up and meanwhile I guess they’re pulling him in, too; but for a minute I expected to see that guy flying out of that bucket and…

Couple of months later, we get back from patrol and the shirt whose in charge of our platoon calls a meeting. “We got a letter,” he says, “from Clere. You guys remember him?”

Well, most of us—except the new guys—say yeah, and he reads the letter. How this guy’s back in the states and learning to use a prosthetic arm, one of those things that go across the back and you can move them around with your other shoulder and you can open and close these hooks.

He illustrated hunching his shoulders and clawing with two fingers of his own hand.

“They can’t do anything about a leg, too much of that was gone. But I’ll be going home and that’s what counts. So, I just wanted to let you guys know I made it out okay.”

The shirt gives us a piece of paper and a pen and tells us we should all write something back to this guy. Being I’m Navy, you know a corpsman and not a Marine, I get that piece of paper last and there isn’t much room; so I just write how most of us would give an arm and a leg to get out of Nam.

He nodded in appreciation of his own little joke. I tried to smile in response.

Didn’t hear from that guy for years. Then the VFW puts together a list of all of us members all over the country. Computers you know; they’re great. And each of us has written down his information. Forty bucks and you got a great big book to tell you where all your buddies are. It was brand new; my copy hadn’t come yet, but I was looking forward to it, maybe looking up a few of the guys.

Meanwhile, it was first day of deer hunting season and I’d spent it out in the swamps, wandering around and not seeing a single animal. I get home tired, hungry, out of sorts. Last thing I want is to talk to anyone. Just as my ass is finding my favorite chair, the phone rings.

I don’t answer; but it keeps ringing, and my wife can’t stand it so she answers: You know a woman, can’t leave a crying baby or a ringing phone.

“Tell them we don’t want any.”  He says it while making a cutting sign across his neck.

Don’t you hate those telemarketers? I figured nobody else would be bothering with us.

Anyway, my wife gets to talking, and I tell her again, “We don’t want any.”

Then she hands me the phone. “It’s for you.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know. Ask him.

So I kind of shout into the phone, “Who is this?”

And this deep, rough voice says, “Did you use to be in the Navy?”

“Yeah. And I still am. Who…?”

“A corpsman?”

“Yeah. But…”

“And you served in Vietnam?”

Now he was getting into some painful water, “Look, I don’t know what you’re selling, but who the hell are you?”

“Shit, Doc, now that ain’t any way to talk to a guy who gave an arm and leg to get out of Nam.”

“Clere, is that you? You know I never could find you, find out … How the hell are you? Wondered a lot of time, but couldn’t find you in any reports.”

He laughs. “That’s ‘cause my name’s not Clere, it’s Lehr.”

“So where are you? What are you doing?”

“We still live in Missouri. I work for the I.R.S.”

“Shit, I saved your life so you could go to work for the I.R.S.? What the fuck?”

He looked at me and shook his head like something worried at him but that nothing mattered.

We sat quiet for a while. We both knew there were no answers, no reasons, just the randomness of war. But on that night, that one night: yeah, there had been a reason.