Saturday, 31 October 2009

TRICK OR TREAT - by Hal Kempka


Happy Halloween from debutant, Hal...

Trick or Treat

The trick or treaters had all gone home for the night and the streets were finally deserted. Jennifer stood at the door watching the shadows dance off the streetlights, and then extinguished the pumpkins’ candles on the porch. She turned off all the lights and went to bed.

She slid under the covers next to Marco, her husband, and reached for him.

“Don’t bother me, bitch,” he said, yanking his shoulder away. “I’m trying to sleep.”

“Screw you,” she replied, and curled up in a fetal position facing away from him.

An hour later, she rolled over and shook him.

“What!” he grumbled.

“I think somebody’s outside.” Marco sat up and cocked his head for a moment. “I don’t hear anything. Go back to sleep.”

“No, listen, there’s someone at the door!” Jennifer’s voice raised an octave as she grabbed his arm.

Marco lay back down. “So, go down and see who it is, for Christ sake. I’m tired.”

“Me? I’m not going down there!” Jennifer fired back. “Oh, Big man! You won’t even protect your wife, and want her to take care of it if someone’s breaking in.”

She got up and carefully made her way down to the landing. She looked out the door and through the windows. All was quiet, so she went back to bed.

As Jennifer pulled the covers over her head, she said, “There was nothing there; it must have been the wind. What a sorry excuse for a husband you are.”

A little while later, loud scratching again came from the front door. This time, the handle was being shaken like someone was trying to get in.

“All right you jerk, it’s your turn to go down and check it out!” she said.

“Oh, dammit!” Marco complained,” climbing out of bed. “Who the hell’s rude enough to bother someone in the middle of the night?”

“It’ll probably be no one, just like when I went down, brave guy,” Jennifer said, sounding spiteful.

Marco trudged down the stairs to the front door. He stepped onto the porch and looked around. He saw no one, but a strange putrid odor hung in the air, sending a shiver down his back.

He heard a sound behind him and turned. A loud “thwack” echoed across the yard as someone with a large, disfigured face brought an axe down on Marco’s forehead, splitting his head in half like firewood.

Jennifer stood at the top of the stairs, and hollered, “Honey, is everything okay?”

The man stood in the shadows, and waved his hand where she could see it.

“Yes, it’s done,” he said, “you can come down now.”

“Oh, it’s you,” she said, sounding relieved. “Thank God it’s over. I’m finally free of that no good lout.”

Jennifer descended the stairs and walked to the door. The man stepped out of the shadows, and she jumped back, putting her hand to her throat.

“Oh My GOD!” she said, “Where did you dig up that god awful mask? I’m surprised you could see well enough to pull this off.”

Marco lay by the door with blood still spurting from his head into a crimson pool.

“Wow, you did a number on him, that’s for sure,” she said. “That insurance money is going to come in real handy.”

“By the way, what’s your name again?” Jennifer asked, turning toward the door.

But, the man swung his axe like a baseball bat, and it connected with her neck just below the jaw in a clean, homerun-like swing.

“Jason,” he said, watching Jennifer’s head hit the ground and spin several times.

He examined the cashiers checks each had sent to his online Craigslist, P.O. Box, and slid them into his pocket. Then, he chuckled, and strolled out the door into the night with his axe resting on his shoulder.


BIO:
Harold ‘Hal’ Kempka is a former Marine, and Vietnam Veteran. His poetry has appeared in Leatherneck Magazine, and short stories published in Many Midnights, Black Petals, Dark and Dreary, Microhorror, Long Story Short, The Shine Journal, and the Fiction Flyer, among others. He is a member of the FlashXer flash fiction workshop, and lives in Southern California with his wife, Celeste, and son Derek.

Friday, 30 October 2009

HAPPY HALLOWEEN - by David Barber

The chillers are coming thick n fast - it must be Halloween - so from the editors (& Dave) we bid you a...

Happy Halloween


In the hallway the old grandfather clock chimed, one, two…..ten, eleven.

“Oh, there’s only one more hour ‘til the ‘witching hour’. Wooooo…”

“Oh, Geoffrey, stop it. You’re going to scare them,” giggled Veronica, wiping over the kitchen table.

“Veronica, darling, how am I going to scare them?”

Howard and Susan Johnson sat at the kitchen table, their faces ashen, their throats slit, staring blindly at the ceiling.

“It quite clearly says on the front door, sweetness, no door to door.”


BIO:
Manchester born and bred, but now living in Crieff, Scotland with wife, Lisa, and our two daughters, Imogen & Melissa. Recently inspired to write again by an old and good friend (Col Bury) and the beauty that surrounds me up here. Always reading - when not entertaining my girls and working - crime and horror…and now writing. David blogs
here.

SCUTTLE - by Lily Childs

If easily shocked, look away now!

Scuttle

Rabid fingers scrape in fear, tearing at the earth. She cannot see. She cannot hear.

It is moist in here. Wetness seeps into her shroud. She shifts, releasing muscles from their pain, and begins again. Rolling soil between bloody thumbs and flaking oak, she works at her container. There are holes. The space fills slowly with crumbling rot. It tickles her face in the airless cavity.

Carlotta Borgia cannot raise her head without it rap, rap, rapping on the solid lid. Blood, still soft is crusting. It clots in the fine hairs of her thick brows; a consequence of manic butting and smashing – when first she opened her eyes.

So long ago now. So long.

Her breath is laboured where once it screamed in blind terror. Pale silk shoes are ripped apart and tattered. Her toenails are broken and torn where kicking failed to gain escape.

In this thin, tight place, Carlotta rests momentarily, her energy lagging. In the weighty silence – a scritch, a scratch. It is next to her ear. It is inside her box.

It touches her.

The panic is unimaginable. She cannot help but flail and howl. Her limbs twist; they spasm. Her knees hit the hilt. Her face smashes against the sides of her prison.

Crack.

Dirt cascades through the shattered casket. It falls heavily onto her thighs. It covers her belly. Skin rips away from her bones as her hands tear at the splintering, wooden shards. Her mouth is open, sucking in mulch. She chokes on putrid dust. Something alive squirms against her bare cheek. She grabs at the thing, keeps grabbing at it until she wears a wound into her face. Is it still a pretty face, she wonders? Are my cheeks still rosy pink?

In desperate fear she pushes, keeps pushing, keeps going up and up and up and up and…

Out.

Carlotta scuttles across the crypt floor; new strength in every sinew. She stops at a column carved with creeping ivy and surveys her surroundings. The Borgia crest is everywhere. Her ancestors lie here by the dozen. Faded, mummified corpses in ornate coffins; pointless sepulchres.

Madness shines like twilight in her pale eyes. She stands, strips of cotton hanging from translucent flesh, hands clawed at her sides. She waits.

Not long.

Europe’s mausoleums hide the trusty and the famous. London’s ancient gothic tunnels house the guilty and the heinous, with all their bad behaviours. Living or not. This distant branch of dynastic Borgias, malevolence incarnate, fled northern Italy to settle in England’s fair lands - generation after generation excommunicated, as their demonic practises went on and on.

Once upon a time, once upon a time...

‘Carlotta’

His voice slices through the cold. Carlotta shudders in anticipation, and he is there. The grey wraith wraps around his virgin bride. Blue lips run down her wiry neck, lingering at the taut throat. Spiny fingers creep through Carlotta’s hair. She smiles. Her brother laps at her face, tastes her death. He licks the bruises of her punctured cheeks. He slips a hand between emaciated legs, and crawls up to her garden.

She flinches. A residue of human dignity, a wrack of wrong desire.

Too late. It happens so fast.

Taken.

Satiated, frothing with forbidden lust they lie upon the chill flagstone floor.

‘Is it time?’

‘Yes.’

Brother and sister, reflections of Cesare and Lucrezia stand together. The velvet of night penetrates the cell through iron-clad windows; orifices of the soul.

The locked door opens without keys, and the Borgias roam out into its darkness.

Carlotta runs a wet, pink tongue over fresh, sharp teeth. She brings her own wrist up to her ruby lips and nicks gently at the blackened vein.

‘No’

Pietro steps forward, quickly.

‘I know you hunger. I feel your craving. Come with me.’

They move towards the plagued city, into its parklands swimming with debauch. At its edge Pietro slits himself open for her. She drinks, ravenous until he must push her mouth away. He tugs at her coiled, golden hair – already thick with regrowth. She comes away with regret, orgasm playing between her legs.

Lights sprinkle in the ancient trees; subtle candles – flaming calling cards; smoky cheroots. Men and girls and boys and women; pulsing, throbbing, shaking together.

Carlotta slavers at the vision before her. Here lies her future, ripe for the plucking. She hears Pietro’s words of warning.

‘Be careful. They must not discover you.’

But the scenes of frenzied whoredom are too much. On all fours she scampers up the nearest elm, bare-footed, fingernails fully reformed – sharp, hard, pointed. She hangs from a weighty branch, watching, waiting to pounce.

Right below, Pietro is already drinking at the neck of a pulpous doxy. Her hair is red and her skin is pale and her syphilis will not touch him, pure as he is. He casts his eyes up at keen Carlotta. She shakes her head. She wants her own.

A whistle squeals in the distance. Couples or more break apart. They run, hiding from the peelers. But it’s just a warning. The fornicators soon finger and fumble their way back into the pleasure gardens.

Carlotta Borgia slips down the tree, the trunk firm between her thighs. She falls, silent to the ground and walks away, her footsteps soundless on the woodland floor.

‘Y’awright?’

A honeyed voice calls out at Carlotta’s side. Squatting, pissing furiously is the most beautiful creature she has ever seen. Carlotta laughs out loud and wipes away a spittle of desire with the back of her hand. She smells the woman’s musk; tastes the pearly dewdrops of the evening’s suitors in her aura.

‘Int’ya cold?’ the girl asks, stuffing her clothes back into place. Carlotta smiles widely for the first time in a very long while. She doesn’t speak, but nods her head and looks up under long eyelashes; eyes grey, lunar. The girl, for all her nightly trade is drawn by the strange Exotica standing before her. It would not be the first time she has lain with another woman; it will not be the last, she believes.

They come together. Without otherwise touching, their mouths meet.

Carlotta is strong now. Her hands rip at the prostitute’s dress, wanting the body beneath. Their tongues fight, their hands pour over each other. The girl starts to squirm as her lover pushes her down onto the grass. But Carlotta is sucking at her already – her mouth, her throat, her breasts. She straddles her victim, needing no second lesson from Pietro. Forcing the girl’s chin back hard, Carlotta exposes the fleshy white throat.

She licks her lips, ignoring the vague squeals coming from the mouth beneath her hand. She falls on the throbbing artery above the girl’s naked shoulder.

Pistoning blood sprays into the air as Carlotta bites down hard. They are smothered. Sticky red liquid, black in the dark of night soaks them through to the skin. The outcast Borgia girl drinks her fill until the waning flow finally ebbs away.

Seeking out the young woman’s mouth with bloodstained fingers, Carlotta wipes a blooming rose of glossy crimson across her lips. Cool now, she kisses them just once more, and sucks gently on the tongue until the very last breath escapes. Carlotta quivers. She spasms as the girl dies in her mouth.

‘We must go.’

Carlotta looks up lazily at her brother. She rolls off the body, onto her side. Pietro surveys his younger sister, unsmiling.

‘You are… too powerful.’ He says. ‘Too needy. No wonder they buried you deep within the ground.’ He pulls Carlotta to her feet, and strokes her porcelain face. ‘We must leave. Find another home.’

For that night, at least, they return to their bed in the Borgia Mausoleum. Dark is the night. Cold is the night.

Pietro leads Carlotta to an alcove. A wide coffin of blackest ebony lies upon a marble slab behind a heavy door. It closes as they enter the room together.

‘Come, my love. Let us sleep.’

Carlotta lies down on the cushioned, tapestried fabric; its strange images weft with strands of gold. She watches her brother as he prays to a darker God. She waits for him to join her.

On their sides, wrapped together, slumber rapidly takes claim.

Carlotta waits again.

Quickly, Pietro’s breath stills; it almost stops. Carlotta strokes her brother’s face, runs her fingers through his sleek, black hair.

‘Thank you’ she whispers, her mouth upon his neck.

Carlotta Borgia smiles, forever.

She bites.


© Lily Childs October 2009

http://lilychildsfeardom.blogspot.com
http://micheleranger.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

THE SINS OF THE PAST By Chris Allinotte


Halloween's a-coming, so here's a horror from new-comer Chris...

The Sins of the Past

Spencer stared at the screen. He looked away, and then back. Nothing had changed. He felt as if he’d swallowed a rubber ball. The chequing account was all that was left from his time as an employee of Leonard Dallas. He’d kept the thirteen dollar balance to remind himself that no amount of money was worth sacrificing his principles for … again. Today, however, the total read $1,013.
*
After a string of disastrous wagers on horses, basketball, and football, he’d owed the bookie forty thousand dollars. Seeing there was no way he was going to be able to pay and, loathe to waste a gifted financial wizard, a deal had been struck. Spencer had laundered money for five months, using every loophole and trick at his disposal to not only get the funds clean, but to grow them substantially on the way. At no time, however, did he forget that he was the last link in the chain of money, and the first to go if the cops started sniffing around.
At the end of five months, Leonard called him into the office, and released him from his “contract.” The man was huge. At six-foot-six he was like a transport truck wrapped in Armani. He’d offered to keep Spencer on the payroll, liking the way he kept the books clean and his mouth shut, but Spencer had read enough crime novels to know that if you’re ever offered a way out, you take it. Even then, the last ten years had passed, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
*
Today it had, to the tune of one thousand dollars. Spencer reached for his coffee, and instead found himself groping the stamp-pad he’d left open.
“Shit.” Distracted with pulling handfuls of tissue out of the box, and trying to wipe his fingers off, the phone had gotten to its third ring by the time he noticed. The name on the display was “Ewing Investments.” Dallas. It was a terrible joke, but no one dared tell Leonard that. With trembling hands, Spencer snatched up the receiver, and bought a moment by spouting the script, “Good Morning, you’ve reached Wellington Investments, this is Spencer Davis speaking, how may I help you today?” Better. It was the mental equivalent of taking a deep breath; which he did next.
“Spence. How’s things?”
He winced at the uncomfortable familiarity, and shifted the now partially blue telephone under his shoulder, “Mr. Dallas?”
The voice on the other end came back brightly, “No, this is Gerard. You remember us though. I’m deeply touched. As you can see, we haven’t forgotten about you either.”
Spencer forced himself to take a moment, and sucked back half the steaming cup of coffee in one gulp. He grimaced at the heat. Gerard was not in a waiting mood, however “Spence? Still there?”
He spluttered on the dregs of his coffee, “Yes … I mean yes sir, I’m here. I had a tickle in my throat and didn’t want to cough in the phone.”
“Fine. Now, answer the question please. Did you take a look at your bank records?”
Spencer surprised himself, now that the moment he’d been quietly dreading for a decade was here, he found that he was remarkably calm. “I did. It goes without saying it was a surprise.”
“It wasn’t that hard finding your new information Spence. We wanted to re-introduce ourselves, as it were, with a gift. Something to show what we’re proposing is, at heart, mutually beneficial.
“And what’s that?”
“I’m in a car downstairs. Come down, and we’ll talk about it.” The connection ended. It hadn’t been a request.
Minutes later, Spencer was in the back of a limousine, facing the man himself. The heavy black car was leaning just perceptibly to the side which held the juggernaut. Dallas was currently smiling at him and sipping from a glass of scotch.
“Let me get to the point Spencer. You don’t like me. That’s okay. Very few people do. It won’t stop me from making you an offer. I need you to do some more work for us. One job.”
So it was exactly as he’d feared. He had to at least put up the pretense of refusal, though the bulge in Gerard’s suit coat indicated his options were far more restricted than they seemed. “Mr. Dallas, I really appreciate it, but I came so close to losing my license last time, I really couldn’t …”
“Stop right there Spencer. You can rest assured you won’t be going near our books this time.”
Before the banker could even breathe his sigh of relief however, the big man continued, “No, no, just a quick and easy homicide.”
Spencer fainted.
*
His face stung as he came awake. Gerard had been slapping him. Hard. He held up his hand, “Stop. Please.”
With the exception of the level of booze in Dallas’ glass, nothing else had changed. The boss continued.
“There now Spencer. We lost you for a minute there. I see this is a big surprise to you, but you have to know, we wouldn’t be asking you to do this if there was any other way.”
The thin young man rubbed his swelling cheek and mumbled, “I can’t kill anyone.”
In response, he now faced the unblinking eye of Gerard’s automatic. “Can’t allow you to leave then, Spence. You’ve heard us use the “m” word, after all.”
It had been made that simple then, take a life, or lose his own. When considered like that, Spencer Davis, who had succumbed to the allure of quick money at the track, who had turned to illegal means to repay his losses, who, in short, always took the easy way – the choice was no choice at all.
“Who is it you need … who’s the tar … who is it?”
Dallas produced a plain manila envelope, open at one end. He removed a picture, and handed it to Spencer. The woman was startlingly beautiful. If you took away all the gaudy jewelry, heavy eye-makeup, and kerchief, she could easily be the celebrity face of some women’s beauty product.
“Why her?” Dallas must have thought this was reasonable, because he answered.
“Fair enough Spencer, as it’s your first time. Maybe having a purpose will make it easier.”
He sat back, and continued, “Rosemary Dugati. Fortune teller. She has one of those little studios, you know the type, neon hand with an eye in it shining out of a shitty little second floor window? Ms Dugati not only overheard some sensitive business, but she also made a recording. Shame on us for using the adjoining apartment for something so important, but what’s done is done.”
Spencer was sipping a Perrier that Gerard had passed over as a low level peace-offering. He raised his eyebrows, offering no objection. Leonard continued.
“Though I reject any claim the woman may have to supernatural powers; I must admit that she has shown an infuriating knack for knowing when any of my men are near; and ensuring then, that she is not. In short, we can’t get close to her.”
Gerard pressed a nine-millimeter pistol into his hand. The gun felt heavy and foreign in Spencer’s grip. He detested the thing at once. The slender bodyguard watched his reaction and said, “It’s loaded. That little switch on the side is called a safety. Move it over before you need to fire, and remember to squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it – you’re liable to break your finger otherwise.”
Spencer swallowed, and Dallas went on. “You’re going to visit Ms Dugati as a client. Book a fortune telling. Do this yourself. If we do it, she’ll know. Go to your appointment, and let her do her thing. Then, when it’s time to pay, you take out the gun instead of your wallet, and presto; I’m happy, and you’re forty-thousand dollars to the black. That is, if things go right. If you miss this opportunity, we won’t get another, and I shall be displeased. I think it goes without saying that you don’t want me to be displeased with your performance.”
Gerard chimed in, “They’ll find your fucking head in the freezer.”
Dallas shot the man a look that could melt iron. “Gerard. A little decorum. Bear in mind that we’re asking this man to step outside his comfort zone; and I can see, by his expression, that he will be doing everything in his power to ensure things go as planned. Right Spencer?”
Spencer nodded, still looking down at the ugly black gun. A crazy notion flit through his mind then. What if he just opened fire right now? Took out both these madmen in one go? Sure, he thought, if I can figure out how to get the damned safety off before Gerard blows three holes in my skull. Instead he just kept nodding.
“Now then, the address is on the back of the photo.”
*
It was twenty minutes past eight when Spencer made his way up the yellowed stairway that smelled of age and long-dead cigarettes. The brown metal apartment door was adorned with the same hand and eye symbol he’d seen in the window. There wasn’t even a name.
The door was unlocked, but upon opening it, he found himself in a plain looking living room. There was no indication of any business being run out of this place. The result was an uncomfortable moment where he felt like he’d broken in. “Hello?”
“Sit down Mr. Davis.”
The voice came from somewhere behind a curtain of black beads. For the life of him, it made Spencer think of that old black and white movie about the Wolfman, "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a volf vhen the autumn moon is bright."
When the beads parted, however, he remembered that that was where any similarity to the old crone in the film left off. She was a petite, smoldering beauty, with huge dark eyes, and long auburn hair pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. As she drew near the table, his senses were overwhelmed by her scent. It was feminine and wild at the same time, like a dream of making love in the forest.
Still staring, Spencer took a seat. She sat across from him, and bored into him with her black eyes, “Now then, Mr. Davis, let me tell you vhy you vill not shoot me.” She smiled then, and he saw that her lips curled oddly at the corners of her mouth, as if the teeth there were just a little bigger than they should be.
Sucker punched, Spencer could do nothing but continue to stare, except now his jaw was hanging open.
In the next forty minutes, Rosemary laid out an intricate spread of tarot cards that all foretold great misfortune, and with far more details than he would have thought possible. It distilled itself to one crystal clear outcome – he was going to die. Whether or not he took this woman’s life, Gerard would put a bullet in his head at the earliest opportunity.
His eyes felt dry and red, but no tears came. His survival instincts were all used up, and he was trying to come to terms with his own mortality.
“Mr. Davis … Spencer. Vhat if I told you this outcome could be avoided? Vhat if I could give you the power to reclaim your life. Vhat if I could make you young and strong for always?” She stopped talking then, and just looked at him. There was naked lust in her eyes, and despite his looming demise, Spencer was completely aroused.
Shifting in his seat, he said, “What are you talking about?”
She smiled wider, showing canines that no human should have, “I think you know.”
“Will it hurt?”
“A lot.”
“After, can we …”
“Yes, I’d like that.” Her grin was growing longer still, pulling back and back and back. He could see all her teeth now, but focused instead on her beautiful eyes.
“Alright. I agree.”
She pounced, and she was right.
It hurt.
A lot.
*
Several hours later Spencer emerged from beside the storefront, looking much the same as he went in, except now he smelled vaguely of sex and wet dog. He wore a huge grin, and an air of confidence that he’d never had before. The night was alive with the scents of twilight, and the sounds of night birds and insects. His senses were so overwhelmed with minutiae that he never noticed Gerard stepping out in front of him, squeezing the trigger.
Spencer crumpled to the ground, clutching at wounds that burned like fire. Their sting spread quickly throughout his body. He knew what it must mean. Spitting blood, he managed to cough, “Silver bullets? Why? How?”
Gerard sneered, “We heard rumors, and these things are best not left to chance. Besides, it would explain a lot about how she knew we were coming.” He checked the clip.
“Eight left for your new girlfriend. Better get on …” he was interrupted by a thick chuffing sound from his victim. “Why in Christ’s name are you laughing?”
“Behind you. I … might be dying … but looks like … you … you’re out of a job.” Spencer’s new nose had told him the whole story.
Gerard turned in time to see the black limo start rocking violently. There was a thick, bellowing scream and blood sprayed the back window with a splat.
He gaped. “Well son of a bitch.”
“Psst. Hey Gerry.” Spencer’s voice, sounding rough and raw, coming from behind him made him snap his head around.
“Silver bullets are bullshit.”
The werewolf lunged. Strictly speaking, Spencer shouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, but this was personal, and he did.
Later, in the woods, he met up with the fortune-teller.
“It vherked.” She smiled her wolfish grin.
“I guess they never saw it coming.”
She rolled her eyes, and threw her arms around him. “That vas terrible.”
“So are we. But I like it.”
The moon came from behind a cloud, and the two new lovers went to greet her.

© Copyright Chris Allinotte, 2009

BIO:
Chris Allinotte lives in Toronto, Canada, and writes in whatever time he can manage to get. Some of his other work is online at MicroHorror, Static Movement (September), and The Oddville Press. His writing blog can be viewed at http://chrisallinotte.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

PATRON SAINT OF PAPERBOYS - by Karl Koweski

Yet another new contributor, as TKnC opens its 'loving' arms to Karl...

Patron Saint of Paperboys

First of all, I should have been rich and famous by now. At least a published novelist.

I haven’t even written the first sentence of a novel.

College is over. It ended for me halfway through the second semester of my freshman year. Doesn’t matter. It was just a community college anyway.

I’m twenty three years-old. I flip pizzas at an Italian joint within walking distance of my house. I live with my my mother.

She tends bar at a beer and shot dive out on 59th. My kid brother, nine years my junior, delivers the times so he can have pocket money.

This is because I have not made good on my promise of becoming the next Stephen King.

Days blur, differentiated by the amount of pizzas I cook. Fridays kick my ass. Mondays are tolerable. Everyday pays minimum wage. Some nights I stay over, sit at the bar. The manager makes a strong Tom Collins and I only have to pay for third or fourth drink.

Some nights I drink at Bob’s Place where my mother shags drafts for toothless degenerates between jail stretches.

She doesn’t like her job. She’s forty eight years-old. She doesn’t know where she could find another job.

When you’re twenty three shit jobs are everywhere.

Tonight, a greasy-haired son of a bitch with a cleft lip tries telling me my mother was dancing topless on top of the bar before I walked in. He repeats it three times before I realize what the hell he’s talking about. I tell him she’s my mother and he says then it should be nothing new to me. I make him repeat this a few times before I tell him to shut the fuck up if he can’t speak straight. His arms are as thick as the beer bottle he brings up to his deformed mouth. He shuts the fuck up.

Mom doesn’t make a Tom Collins. If it don’t come in a

bottle or go in a shot glass you don’t get it. She doesn’t mix drinks, she doesn’t dance topless on bars and some nights she doesn’t come home until three or four in the morning.

I keep waiting for her to meet the wrong man. Someone who will pour her last drink.

Instead the wrong man finds my brother.

Pete tells me this story:

The back half of his paper route takes him down Hoffman Avenue. The area is decrepit at best. Rats outnumber dogs fifty to one. Customers here do not pay in a timely manner. Tips are negligible.

Pete sees the man standing on the sidewalk from half a block away and knows he’s trouble. Pete coasts up on his bicycle.

The man wears rust colored polyester pants, brown Hush Puppies, and a starched white shirt. He has an unassuming haircut. A badge hangs from his belt alongside a revolver.

He asks Pete if he knows a Robert Flood. Pete tells him the sorry bastard’s a customer.

“Could you identify him?”

Pete figures what the hell. The guy’s over a month behind paying his Times bill. He owes Robert Flood no favors.

I ask if by Robert Flood he means Floyd. Pete nods his head and drinks his grape Nehi. I know the man he refers to. Small time drug dealer. He wears Pink Floyd shirts often enough to garner the nickname. He’s one of those chronic losers too stupid to realize it.

Pete says the agent never identifies himself. Pete assumes the man’s a Federal agent but has no way of knowing.

The agent leads Pete into the Flood’s dimly-lit kitchen. Another agent greets them. The agents are jovial in manner. Floyd and his fat Puerto Rican wife sit at the kitchen table. Floyd stares right through Pete.

“Son, is this Robert Flood?”

“Sure is, and you owe me eighteen dollars.”

Pete is shepherded out of the apartment by the agent who escorted him in. He hears Floyd’s steady stream of denials.

He’s never seen that kid before.

He’s not Robert Flood, AKA Floyd.

That’s some other guy.

I tell Pete he should have kept his mouth shut.

Pete drinks his grape Nehi, unperturbed.

“What’d they want him for anyway?”

“Something serious, I guess.”

“Can’t be too serious if they don’t even know what he looks like.”

“I didn’t get the chance to ask any questions.”

“My brother, the fink.”

Pete says it never would have happened if the sorry bastard had only paid what he owed.

It was not serious, whatever it was. Two weeks later Floyd’s back on the street, waiting for my brother.

He doesn’t get too physical but he lets Pete know there’s gonna come some retribution.

I know where you live.

Your mother tends bar on 59th.

Bad things happen out that way.

Pete doesn’t finish his route. He comes home sobbing, convinced this piece of shit’s gonna kill our mother.

He says he tried to apologize but the guy wouldn’t listen.

“You tried to apologize? Why? You gotta take the hard linewith this gutter trash.”

Pete doesn’t understand how it works, yet.

I don’t have time to explain it to him. I’m on my way to the pizza joint. I can already smell the tomato paste and anchovies.

I tell Pete I’ll take care of it.

“What you gonna do?”

“I’ll take care of him.”

I ask Greg, the manager of the pizzeria, where I can get a gun. Something cheap and unregistered.

Greg looks at me like I’m crazy.

One of the pachucos working the pizza ovens with me has a cousin who might be able to help once he returns from visiting some relatives.

I ask him if he has a gun I can borrow. Just for a day and I’ll probably not even use it.

He looks at me like I’m crazy.

Pete is still awake when I get home.

He just got off the phone with Mom. She’s okay.

“Go to bed, Pete. You got school tomorrow.”

“Can’t sleep.”

“There’s nothing to worry about.”

“He’s gonna be waiting for me. If not tomorrow, then some other day. He says I won’t see it coming.”

I tell Pete I’m gonna deliver his papers tomorrow. And after that the Times can deliver their own papers.

Pete lays down. I pop Taxi Driver into the VCR. I want DeNiro’s performance to inspire me. Fifteen minutes into the film, I’m asleep.

Pete doesn’t think I’m scared, the next day as he watches me wrap an eighteen inch length of pipe into a Tuesday edition. The pipe weighs the bag down. The strap bites into my shoulder.

“How do you carry this thing?”

“I put it on my bike.”

My bike-riding days ended around the same time I decided to become the next Stephen King. I don’t have a car just yet, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna ride a bike.

Mom’s sleeping off a hangover on the couch when I leave.

I don’t know Pete’s route. I throw papers indiscriminately as I approach Hoffman Avenue.

Twenty minutes of walking brings me to Floyd’s neighborhood and I’m sweating from the exertion. The sun’s scorching me like a pizza oven.

Rattletrap cars are parked in front of each ramshackle house. Broken glass sparkles everywhere. And in every other yard there’s a mean dog roped to a stake.

Floyd sits on his porch. He’s bare-chested, scrawny, wearing a pair of stained sweatpants cut off at the knees. He bounces a tennis ball, killing time the way prison taught him to.

He grins a mouthful of brown rickets.

I walk toward him, unhurried, gripping the loaded newspaper inside the bag.

“Where’s the other kid at? He quit? You look a little old-”

I bust him across the right side of his forehead. I feel his skull fracture all the way up my arm.

He wants to pitch backward. I grab his arm with my free hand, steadying him. Then I bring the pipe down again.

His eyes roll back. A slight moan escapes his lips. Blood seeps from the slash parting his hair where I busted him.

Three more shots to his shattered skull and I let him crumple to the ground.

I walk away.

No one sees anything.

Two blocks down there’s a guy sitting on his porch. He wears a Darkside of the Moon t-shirt.

BIO:
Originally from the Chicagoland area, Karl Koweski's been living in Alabama the last 13 years. Karl writes widely and his crime fiction has appeared in Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Thrilling Detective, Thuglit and A Twist of Noir. He also writes a monthly column, Observations of a Dumb Polack, at
www.zygoteinmycoffee.com

Monday, 26 October 2009

MY OLD HAUNTS - by Cormac Brown

It's great to now have Cormac joining the fray...

My Old Haunts

Oh, yeah, I love dancing. I've been dancing since I don’t know when, it seems like forever. I go to the clubs and some cats, they just leave. They know about my abilities and they split. I keep up on all the latest dances, though my clothes are falling a little behind the times, and I wish there was more I could do about that.

I like to hit my favorite old haunts and check things out. Women are a lot wilder than I remember, sometimes for the good and sometimes they bring out the prude in me. I love the hip-hugger and low rider jeans. The tight shirts, the thongs, all that, is all good.

I can’t appreciate, however, the piercings and the tattoos just right above their butts...I can’t handle that. Then the clubs? Everywhere I go, it seems like they’re playing music from another planet. I can hardly keep up and most of it doesn’t sound like anything I was listening to, just yesterday.

The ladies love me, though. I don’t come there to hit on them or to drink: it’s strictly dancing with me. They don’t have to listen to a bunch of lines or nonsense. We get down on the dance floor and it’s cool.

And when we dance? I can’t even describe it, but I’ll try anyway. It’s kin-etic, it’s elec-tric, it’s as close to sex as we can get. Sometimes it gets a little freaky, but we keep our clothes on...for the most part. And when I touch them? The ladies shiver...they always shiver. I got that effect on them.

So I always wind it up at the Beat Box, because all that has changed over the years with clubbing, a few people still know of me there. It’s almost closing time and I’m still going strong, the ladies dig that.

Like this one tonight? She’s been going on about how she likes my “retro” threads, whatever that means. I don’t know, it’s like sometimes we’re talking another language altogether, but whatever keeps the party going, you know?

She feels good during the slow dances, almost too good, you dig? But when the music picks up? She complains that she was working hard today and she wants to rest. That ain’t cool. So I know that there’s just one more dance to go before last call and she just turns her back on me. Not cool, I’m not dancing with that chick again.

“I’ll have a Seven and Seven.”

“I’m sorry, Lady. The last call is in two minutes and quite frankly, I think you’ve had a few too many already.”

“I’ve had only one drink all night.”

“Right, whatever. I still can’t serve you alcohol.”

“Well, let me have some mineral water and give the dancing fool whatever he wants.”

“Who?”

“The guy.”

“Who? What guy?”

“The guy I’ve been dancing with for the past thirty minutes.”

“Lady, you’ve been dancing with yourself all night long.”

“No, I was with a guy. He had retro clothes and old school hair. He looked like one of those disco guys.”

“Oh...Pierre, I think we’ve got another one.”

“Are you sure? Who?”

“This lady, right here.”

“What do you mean, “we got another one?”

“Did you dance with a guy in a blue polyester outfit and platform shoes? Did he have big, permed hair out to there?”

“Yes.”

“That was-“

When things get odd, it's my cue to split.

I wait outside and she keeps me waiting thirty minutes...I guess, I’m not sure, because I don’t have a watch. Pierre is walking with her and I don’t know why. It’s not like I’m scared of him or that I have any problem just walking right up to her and touching her on the shoulder, right in front of...

“Ohhhh, shit!”

C’mon Pierre, be a man this time.

This is ridiculous.

Look at them running away; you’d thought that they had seen a ghost.

Pussies.

Well, like I said. Oh, yeah, I love dancing. And I lovvve to hit my favorite old haunts.

BIO:
“Cormac Brown” is my pen name. I’m an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis and I’m following in the footsteps of Hammett…minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. Some of my stories have appeared at Powder Burn Flash, Six Sentences, Flash Fire 500, Clarity of Night, Astonishing Adventures Magazine, and Crooked Magazine. You can find me at
cormacwrites.blogspot.com

Sunday, 25 October 2009

UNINHABITED - by Diana Harrison

TKnC loves welcoming new contributors...

Uninhabited

Mark was an exemplar model for a house agent.

He set great store by providing a good service to both sellers and vendors and making a decent profit from both.

And it was with this in mind that Mark accepted a request to value an apartment in a recently erected building on the north side of the city.

Mark was surprised, it had been the last one to be sold in the building and, now it seemed it would be the first one to be resold.

He’d hesitated initially, an anxious knot in his gut, but he shrugged the feelings away. He could get someone else to go later but Mark picked up on the seller’s anxiety to move so he suggested immediately that he might have a buyer on his books, at the ‘right’ price.

From the seller’s reaction Mark knew that he could buy the property himself, put it in a fictitious name, and sell it on at a handsome profit.

He tried to keep the note of pure pleasure from his voice as he metaphorically rubbed his hands with glee.

Mark hadn’t been near the site of the apartment for years. His business was on the south side of the city. And that’s where his sales came from because he portrayed himself as ‘the man who had local knowledge’, although he knew every house, and its value, that came on the market.

The place he was travelling to was formerly an old factory site, next to the canal, in the centre of town which, before being designated as ‘brown field’ land, had become the haunt of drug pushers, alkies and general ‘down and outs’.

Then the horrific murder of a young girl in a derelict warehouse, her body left undiscovered from the winter to the spring, hidden under a pile of bricks. That is until kids playing football found her remains.

It caused an outcry from the public, and a call for the area to be cleaned up.

Twenty years later the landscape had changed completely and it had become an up-market address.

It was late in the day when he arrived. The seller would be out but had made arrangements for Mark to pick up the key from the Concierge.

He liked what he saw and to the few who knew him, his smile depicted greedy anticipation. A killing to be made here, he thought.

The apartment was on the ground floor, which, although not to Mark’s taste, he had a detached house in the suburbs, it would appeal to many.

Mark stopped at the unmanned reception and collected the key, which had been left in a small brown envelope with his name on, and he frowned at the lackadaisical security but then just shrugged his shoulders and made his way to the underground car park.

He locked his car and walked to the lift. He thought he heard soft footsteps behind him but shook the feelings of foreboding away. A cold, damp, nasty place he decided, and made a mental note not to bring any vendors down here until he’d sold the apartment to them.

The lights in the corridor flickered and Mark grumbled that he understood why the seller wanted to move. The service was dreadful. He’d ‘kick butt’ if he bought the place he muttered to the shadows.

He wasn’t superstitious, he turned the key in the door of number thirteen with hardly a second thought, but as he went inside he started to feel uneasy.

His breath came in short bursts as he felt for the light switch then laughed with relief as light flooded the room deciding it was the time of year when the night creeps up, then overwhelms, as it plunges day into night.

Mark walked into the main living room and deposited his briefcase on the coffee table. The apartment was definitely minimalist he thought as he snapped the metal clasps open and extracted pencil, paper and laser measure from inside the case.

Had he not spoken to the seller, Mark would’ve thought the apartment was empty. Not a sign of a living being was apparent. Either the seller used the place like a hotel or had an excellent cleaner. It was probably owned by a professional person, who worked in the city, and went home at weekends, Mark decided.

In every room he had to switch on the lights, which was odd, because contrary to his earlier belief, the papery winter sun was still shining outside.

‘Ideal summer aspect’ he noted on the paper, rather than, as he suspected, an unpleasant north east situation whatever the season.

And it was cold. The same as it had been in the underground car park and the corridor.

Mark checked the central heating boiler. It purred softly. Then he looked at the thermostat. It was set at twenty one degrees Celsius. Perfect.

He fastened the buttons of his double breasted, blue pinstripe tailor made suit and continued to measure the rooms.

The laser measure shot red points, like splatters of blood, across the cream carpeted room and Mark trembled and cursed as he dropped the knife, no, the laser measure, on the floor.

Mark’s earlier, sick-in-the-stomach feeling had returned and he decided the sooner he got out of here, the better. His throat dry, he got a glass from the stainless steel kitchen and turned on the tap. He dropped the glass as a viscous glop of blood dripped from it. Then as he watched the liquid cleared and fresh water washed the red stains away.

He knew he was being foolish. Even new buildings occasionally suffered the odd discolouration in water pipes. But he decided not to have a drink.

He finished looking at the two bedrooms, sitting room, and kitchen and decided that it wasn’t such a bad place when he noticed another door off the hall. It was a laundry room, study or maybe storage. Whatever, he murmured to himself, he’d have to open it.

Mark found himself looking down at a set of stone stairs.

Odd, he thought, as he turned to go.

Then he hesitated.

He’d never seen a basement in an apartment.

Mark couldn’t see further than a few steps down because, like the rest of the apartment, it was dark. He moved downwards to feel along the bare brick wall for a switch. As he let go of the door it slammed behind him. His body prickled with fear but he told himself not to be a ‘drama queen’. The phrase made him think of his teenage daughter’s tantrums. She wanted to grow up too quickly.

He tried to hum and whistle as his fingers got covered with cobwebs and tiny creatures skittered over his hands, but he could do neither. He suffered from shortness of breath; an affliction bought on by the good life of too much food, whisky and cigarettes.

Then his feet touched level solid ground and he breathed a sigh of relief. He stood still trying to get used to the half light which was coming from a small high window at the opposite end of the room.

A feeling of relief flooded through him. It was only an empty room. He almost laughed out loud. He was ‘a big girl’s blouse’. That’s what his father called him if he ever showed any emotion.

Mark climbed back up the stairs to open the door.

It wouldn’t budge.

He cursed these new, badly built apartments fashioned with unseasoned cheap wood. It would have been better to have converted the old factory rather than knock it down. A building made to last.

But it hadn’t lasted because people wanted to wipe out the memories.

As that thought trickled into the pathways of Mark’s mind perspiration trickled over his body.

Mark knew he shouldn’t have come here. He shouldn’t have let greed override caution and skew the sense of preservation that had helped to keep the demons away for twenty years.

He banged his fists and kicked his feet on the door until the futility of his actions registered on him.

He sat on the top step and cried with frustration until he felt embarrassed at his actions and felt in his pocket for a handkerchief. There, to his relief, was his mobile phone. Immediately he felt so relieved. If only mobile phones had been around all those years ago. He’d have phoned for help. He’d never have left her to die, although the little tart, with her mini skirt, asked for all she got. He didn’t mean cut her, just frighten her a bit, although she’d struggled and he’d panicked. The newspapers at the time said she’d slowly bled to death.

He didn’t know she was only thirteen did he?

Mark used the speed dial on his phone to contact the office.

There was no signal.

As he cursed he missed his footing on the steps and fell, the phone torn from his hand, and heard the sickening sound of smashed bone as he hit the floor.

A moment, a minute, an hour later, Mark opened his eyes, unsure of where he was, and with a nasty metallic taste in his mouth. He slowly, painfully, pushed himself to sitting position, and looked around. Then he remembered falling down the stairs.

The door and steps had disappeared and he looked around and realised that he was in an old warehouse; like the one he’d taken the girl to, twenty years ago.

He’d been drunk and had a row with his girlfriend. He walked home alone and met this girl. She’d wanted it. Why else was she out alone in this area? She’d resisted and he’d called her a tease.

Then Mark’s broken legs throbbed as he again recalled the reports in the newspaper about the runaway. A teenager who’d had a row with her dad.

Mark rubbed his head to push the memories away. And he decided he’d taken a bump to the head to imagine that he was back in that awful place. He was down the basement of the apartment and he only had to pull himself back up the stairs and wait by the door for the seller to come back.

He crawled across the floor and then relief flooded through him and his laughter rang out manically as he discovered a change in floor level.

He’d found the stairs again.

But as he tried to move to standing position, the bricks gave way and they tumbled over him.

So Mark, in the darkness, waited like the girl, broken, bruised, bleeding and covered in bricks, for someone to find him.

A few months later the apartment was sold by another house agent who remarked that he’d never found a place so bright, warm and peaceful.

BIO:
After taking early retirement Diana has devoted time to writing, forming 'Worcester Wordsmiths' with some friends, and has had short stories published in The Lady and My Weekly, plus 3rd place in a Writers Mag' comp' & twice being short listed. Best achievement: a Western to be published by Robert Hale, July 2010.

Friday, 23 October 2009

A SPECK OF DUST - by David Barber


A Speck Of Dust

A mahogany table sat in the middle of the small room, coffee stains and scratches adorned the once polished surface. There was a chair on either side and I was seated in the one near the window, my rucksack on the floor by my feet. The one near the door was empty but would soon be filled by ‘Stilts’ the loan shark. His real name was Kelvin West, not a likeable character. He wasn’t a hard man either, but he was a nasty fucker and whatever he wanted doing got done by his two henchmen, ‘Shorty’ and ‘Titch’. You see though, and here’s the ironic part, ‘Shorty’ was six feet five and eighteen stone of pure muscle and ‘Titch’ was six feet three and twenty stone with fists like sledgehammers.

The door opened, a huge hand holding the tarnished brass door handle. The ugly, oversized head of Titch peered round the door.

“Stilts is on his way.” The door closed.

Wish he’d fucking hurry up, I thought to myself. The room stunk. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the smell was but it wasn’t pleasant.

The door opened again and closed shut. A shuffling of feet accompanied the top of the head I could see on the other side of the table. You guessed it, Stilts or Kelvin, was a midget. He climbed onto the chair opposite me, standing on it with his hands on the table and leaning forward. His suit was immaculate, Armani or Hugo Boss or something like that. The only good thing about sitting across from him was the welcome break from the stench in the room that his cologne masked.

“So, let’s get names out of the way. I’m Kelvin, more commonly known as Stilts.” His voice made me think of the times when I’d been at parties and sucked the helium out of the balloons on the tables.

“Erm, yeah I know, your reputation precedes you. I’m Dave, Dave Preston.”

“Ok Dave, now that’s out of the way. What can I do for you?”

“I was hoping to borrow ten grand for a bit of business I’ve got coming my way.”

“What business?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Ok, ok,” Stilts said, waving his stubby hands in the air, “None of my business, I know, I know. Well I don’t know you and you’ve never had money from me before so here’s the deal. Ten grand, forty eight hour turn around and I get eleven back. If it’s business then you’ll be making a tidy profit yourself, Dave.”

“What if I can’t have it back for you in that time, it may take a few more days than that. Can’t you just give it me and I’ll have it back for you in a week or so. The deal’s not fully sorted yet.”

“Well that’s not my fucking problem is it you lanky bastard. Don’t fuck me around, Dave. Ten grand, two days I’ve said and that’s final!” Pointing a little stubby finger at me he continued, “You’re nothing to me. See that,” he pointed down at the table, “A speck of dust, you’re nothing but a speck of dust and I could have you wiped away as easy as that.” Stilts brushed his hand across the table then looked back at me, a smirk on his ugly face.

I stared at his oversized head sticking out of the starched, white shirt collar. How the fuck did he get away with all this bravado. I could kill the little shit with both arms tied behind my back, if it wasn’t for the two ‘apes’ outside the closed door behind him.

“Look, Stilts, you’ll just have to put some extra interest on what I lend off you.”

“Don’t tell me what I’ll have to fucking do. You want this money or not? It aint my problem that your ‘deal’ aint ready yet. I loan you, I want it back. I always get my money back, but when I don’t, I get little pieces of you until you pay up.”

Stilts opened the drawer on his side of the table and pulled out five wads of notes and a small box. He looked at me and then took the lid off the box and emptied the contents onto the table. Fingers fell onto the surface, one of which, I noticed, left a bloody mark as it bounced.

“Ok, Ok,” I said, “I’ll take the deal,” I leant down and picked up my rucksack, moving stuff around inside it.

“That’s better Dave. It makes sense to stay on my good side. I don’t want to have to hurt you: you seem a decent chap ‘n’ all. Let’s just get this sort…..”

I cut him short with the Glock I had in my hand.

“Don’t even think about shouting your gorillas. You know Kelvin, you are one piece of shit and you’ve threatened the wrong person. I guess it’s you who’s ‘a speck of dust’ now.”

Stilts put his hands up just as I pulled the trigger. The bullet went though his right hand and straight into his face. The back of his head exploded onto the door behind him, a fraction before the force of the shot threw him backwards off the chair. The door flew open, pushing Stilts dead body like it was a little rag doll, and I fired off two shots, hitting Titch in the chest with both. His enormous frame fell backwards into the hallway. I heard the sound of running and ran to the door just in time to get another three rounds out of the gun, hitting Shorty in the back of the head, blood and skull exploding forwards as he fell to the ground.

“All bravado, ‘n’ no balls.”

I walked back into the room and picked up the money and the bloodied finger from the table. I put the money in the rucksack: Stilts wouldn’t be needing that any more.

“Nobody fucks with my family,” I said, putting my uncle’s finger in my pocket.

BIO:
Manchester born and bred, but now living in Crieff, Scotland with wife, Lisa, and our two daughters, Imogen & Melissa. Recently inspired to write again by an old and good friend (Col Bury) and the beauty that surrounds me up here. Always reading - when not entertaining my girls and working - crime and horror…and now writing. David blogs here.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

DOPPELGANGER By J.R. Lindermuth


Halloween's coming, and here's a great chiller to get you in the mood...

DOPPELGANGER


The old man they had dubbed “the priest” sat in the shadows on the edge of the circle, sipping chocolate, listening to the conversation, but not participating.

The old man fired Harry Stryker’s curiosity and his reporter’s instinct made him want to draw the man out.

Most of the afternoon, their talk had focused on the supernatural. They sat through the gloomy hours before the fireplace, drinking mugs of hot chocolate or toddies, smoking and confessing tales each had previously kept locked in the private closet of mind and heart.

Perhaps it was the weather, gray and dreary with periods of heavy rain that melted the last of the snow and kept them inside and apart from the pursuit for which they had come to the lodge, that turned, first their minds, then their conversation, to a consideration of this morbid subject matter.

They had come to ski and now, frustrated by the vagaries of nature, their talk conformed with the circumstance and unfolded the gloom and depression they felt; the unspeakable was made vocal and drew them to probe the darkness of their souls and tell what each had witnessed, or heard, or supposed.

Stryker, more widely traveled than the others and, thus, with more to say, held the floor longer than the rest, recounting his experiences with the strange in Asia and Mexico; there was more he could have said if he’d wanted to retain the spotlight. But he didn’t. He wanted the “priest” to speak. He was intrigued by this old man who seemed so out of place in these surroundings. Who came to a ski lodge in a three-piece suit? The man was as pale as snow, white-haired and frail. Definitely not a skier. So what was he doing here?

Stryker recalled the old man had been garrulous at dinner the night before but he hadn’t really told them anything about himself. Not even his name.

The reporter sensed another story.

Each of the group had his turn until a period of silence prevailed and it appeared the stock of stories had been used up. Bored, or in search of a drink, their companions filed off until only Stryker and the “priest” were left.

Stryker rose from his armchair and sidled up to the old man. “How about you?”

“Hmph?” The man raised his head and his clear blue eyes bore straight into Stryker’s.

“I said, what about you? We didn’t hear a spook story from you.”

The old man raised a thin white hand and shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s been very interesting, but I have nothing to add.”

“Oh, everybody has a story,” Stryker coaxed.

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

Stryker remained hovering over the old man, his mind still riveted on the subject, though at any other time he might have been as game for a drink as the others.

“Sit down, Harry,” the old man said, “you’re making me nervous.”

Stryker slid onto the chair next to him, lit a cigarette and blew smoke. “So we’re alone now. Are you gonna indulge me or what?”

“I’d rather not,” the old man said, waving smoke away with one hand.

“Bother you?”

“It’s not good for anybody.”

Harry leaned toward him, holding the cigarette so the smoke curled up between them. “I’ll put it out if you’ll talk.”

The old man shook his head and smiled. “You wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Angrily, Stryker turned on him. “How do you know? I didn’t challenge the others, did I?”

“No, you didn’t. But you didn’t believe them either.”

“So, maybe you’ll have a better story.”

The man gave him a thin smile, but said nothing. With a long white finger he flicked a speck of lint from his sleeve.

“You’re a reticent cuss, aren’t you? I don’t think you even told us your name last night.”

Rain drummed against the roof and ran in a steady stream off the eaves. Down the hall they heard the jukebox kick on in the bar. The music thumped in an unintelligible rhythmic vibration along the far wall.

“You may call me Nick.”

“So what’s your story, Nick?”

The man smiled again, gazing at him wistfully. “I was much like you once,” he said.

“What? You were a reporter?”

Nick chuckled. “No. I meant ambitious, curious and brash.”

“It goes with the territory,” Stryker said with a shrug. “I wouldn’t be much of a journalist otherwise.” A hint of perfume from one of the women still hung in the room mingled with the stale scent of his cigarette but Stryker was surprised as he shifted closer to Nick the pithy medicinal dry flesh odor he associated with the elderly was missing. Instead he could have sworn he smelled the sharp tang of ozone.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Nick was saying. “As I said, I was much the same. I was a lawyer. I didn’t believe a thing unless the facts were there to back it up.”

Stryker nodded. He snuffed his cigarette, sensing that the old man finally was leading up to a story and not wanting to annoy him by continuing to smoke.

“Facts are very important to you, too, aren’t they, Harry?”

“Sure.”

“That’s why you listened politely to their stories, though you didn’t believe them. Even when you presented your own tales you went to great lengths to seek logical answers for what happened.”

“Right.”

“But sometimes there is no logical explanation.”

Stryker shook his head. “There’s always…”

“No, there isn’t. I felt the same until I met a man who showed me there are no facts, only possibilities.”

“Ahah,” Stryker said, sitting up and slapping his thigh. “So there is a story.”

Nick’s eyes, dilated but with a queer yearning in them, turned on him. The old man sighed and folded his hands over his breast.

Stryker waited, his heart beating anxiously.

“Not much of one,” Nick said in a muted voice. “Just an experience. Since you insist, I’ll relate it.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Do you know the German term doppelganger?”

“Sure. A double. A look-alike.”

“Not exactly. More accurately, one who walks in our place.”

“Whatever.”

“They exist. They come out of nowhere and suck up your life like the rain melting the snow on the slopes. They take everything—family and friends, possessions, your very existence—leaving you with nothing.”

He said it so profoundly, Stryker could only grin.

“Oh, I know you don’t believe me,” Nick said. “I said you wouldn’t. But it’s true.”

“I guess you’re gonna tell me it happened to you.”

The music vibrated between them, an invisible curtain of sound.

“Indeed,” Nick said, solemnly.

“You saw yourself?”

“No. I met a man who became me.”

Stryker laughed. “So now there are two of you?”

The old man scowled and Stryker struggled to presume a serious interest in the tale. “Go on,” he said. “Please.”

Nick gazed at him, steadily, but with something akin to compassion reflected in his pale eyes. “I know. You’re a skeptic. I was, too,” he said, calmly. “But that was before.

“Before he came to my office, I’d probably passed by him a dozen times or more on the street without giving him notice. But he had been observing me. He knew all about me.

“That day, when he came to my office, I assumed he was just another potential client. I didn’t fear him. In fact, I probably looked down on him. I was the great lawyer. He was nobody. Oh, if I had only known!”

Stryker leaned forward, intrigued by the old man’s sudden burst of passion. “Who was he?”

“Who he was is not important. Then he was nobody. Later, he became me.”

“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”

Nick sneered, giving him a sidelong glance. “Understand? Of course you don’t understand. We never do, do we? Not until it’s too late.”

Suddenly, Stryker shuddered. He had a sense of regret for goading the old man to talk. The poor old guy was crazy and here he was encouraging his paranoia.

“You don’t understand, but you will,” Nick said.

Stryker shuddered again. He craved another cigarette, but even more he wanted to get away from this crazy old man.

Nick leaned down and untied his shoes. He pulled one off, rubbed his foot. “Do you mind?” he asked. “My feet are swollen.” Smiling, he stretched out his hand and laid it on Stryker’s knee. “You don’t know what it’s like to get old.”

Stryker jerked his leg away, repulsed.

As though he hadn’t noticed, the old man reclined in his seat, legs stretched out before him, hands laced together over his stomach. “It was all really my own fault,” he said in a voice barely audible. “I see that now. I took for granted what I had. I was vain and arrogant. I took advantage of those I considered beneath me. He knew all that. He came to make me better.”

Stryker squirmed in his seat.

Then Nick turned and looked at him again and he felt an icy chill as those blue eyes focused on him. He jerked convulsively. The old man laughed. It was more a raspy bark than a derisive crow.

Nick reached out and touched him once more with just the tips of his fingers.

Stryker bolted from his chair. “I’m sorry,” he sputtered, “I’ve just remembered something important I have to do.”

“Of course,” Nick said, smiling.

Stryker felt as though he had fallen into a pit of snakes. He felt queer, unclean. Hurrying down the hall to join the others, he wanted nothing so much as a drink. But as he came abreast of the restrooms, another need summoned. He wanted to cleanse himself, to wash away the old man’s touch.

The hot water seared his flesh and Stryker didn’t care. He scrubbed and scrubbed until he thought the skin would peel away. Then, satisfied at last, he shut off the tap and shook water from his hands. The music from the juke box throbbed behind him and, for a moment, the mirror was obscured by rising steam from the sink.

As the steam cleared and Stryker reached for a paper towel, he glanced into the mirror.

“No!” The word came without thought as he beheld the sight before him. Gazing into the glass he saw not his own face but that of the old man.
BIO:
John Lindermuth is a published author. See below for more info
Watch The Hour (April 2009), Whiskey Creek Press
Corruption's Child (June 2008), Whiskey Creek Press
http://www.jrlindermuth.com/

TRAVELING INCOGNITO by George W. Morrow


TknC welcomes George with this little thriller...


TRAVELING INCOGNITO



Marcia relaxed in her green wicker chair. She treasured the time she spent in her garden; when she exchanged her business suit for blue jeans, white long-sleeved shirt, clogs and pink braid wide-brimmed hat. The soil felt good on her hands, and made her feel she accomplished something by physical labor. A soft, morning breeze swept through her blonde hair. The tall, willowy thirty-five year old lawyer tried to set aside the personal problems which plagued her in recent days. Her garden provided a respite from the world, a place where she forgot the husband who did not love her and married her for her money.
Marcia spent five years developing her rectangular garden. The garden measured thirty-eight feet by twenty-two. An eight foot grey, concrete wall encircled it. Marcia planted pear, Japanese maple, apple and Italian cypress trees along the wall to make sure no one peered over the wall into the garden. Entrance to the garden came by a wrought iron gate. Marcia planted an island bed of irises just inside the gate. She constructed a fish pond stocked with flashing fish and water lilies next to the island bed. A bluestone pathway leads to the interior patio. Marcia stocked the garden with larkspur, love-in-mist, foxglove and poppies. Smiling polystone garden cherubs peeked out from behind purple sage and held out chubby, little fingers filled with lemon gem marigolds. The delicious scent of golden honeysuckle permeated the garden.
This kaleidoscope of colors earned Marcia’s garden a review in a prominent national gardening magazine. Her estranged husband, Matt, read it while he vacationed in Florida. He wrote congratulation.
“Great article, Marcia. You’ve done a first class job on that garden. How about coming down here and we’ll talk things over?”
She flew down the next morning. They spent their time visiting Disneyworld, the zoo and walking the beach.
“Can we start again ,Matt ?’ she asked him. “I’ve made mistakes, but I feel we could make a go of it if we both tried.”
“Marcia, we’ve been over this a hundred times. I don’t want to be tied down.”
“Is that your final answer?”
“Yes, it is.”
“I’ll never forgive you as long as I live. Don’t count on my generosity. I’ll fight you with everything I have.”
She left on the first plane without taking her belongings. Several days later he sent them to her along with a note.
“I think we both lost our temper and we need time to think about it. P.S. I’m sending you a gift you can use in your garden. Hope you enjoy it.”
That gift arrived this very morning. A postal letter carrier rang her door bell while she slept. Matt sent his surprise in a box three feet by two feet. The box carried the warning: LIVE PLANTS. The letter carrier helped Marcia carry it into the garden. To her delight, the box contained a Florida sunflower ready for transplant to her Oregon garden. The plant came encased in the loamy soil and debris of Florida. Its yellow petals added another dimension to her garden.
Marcia’s black Turkish Angora cat, Dominic, jumped into her lap.
“What have you got, Dominic?”
The cat held a red garter snake in its mouth. Marcia knocked the snake out of the cat’s mouth.
“If there is anything I hate, its snakes.” She tossed the snake into the shrubs.
A few minutes later, she noticed Dominic playing with something else. She saw movement underneath the sunflower, the ground opened up and a snake popped its head from among the soil debris. This reptile differed from an ordinary garter snake. This snake had a cylindrical body and appeared to be about three feet long. The most striking feature about the snake was the alternating bands of yellow, black and red that encircled its body.
“If I didn’t know better, I would say this is a coral snake, like the one I saw at the Florida zoo. But, coral snakes don’t inhabit Oregon.”
When Patrick and Marcia visited the zoo, they went to the serpentarium to see the poisonous snakes indigenous to Florida. The eastern coral snake fascinated Marcia with its brilliant yellow, black and red bands.
“It’s so beautiful, yet so deadly,” she said. The printed information on the snake cage justified her trepidation.
Species: Micrurus Fulvius. Its venom: a neurotoxin which paralyzes the breathing muscles. Fatality rate: very high. Victim dies from suffocation. Coral snakes have short fangs; therefore, they must chew into their victims, and it takes longer for them to inject their venom. They often hang on to the victim after the bite is delivered.
“Many people get bitten when they are gardening,” said Patrick. “The snakes bite them in the soft spot between their fingers. Lucky you aren’t gardening in Florida.”
The zoo information ended with the warning that coral snakes are often confused with non-venomous snakes having similar body markings- with fatal consequences for humans. The information contained a couplet:
“Red on black, friend of jack.
Red on yellow, kill a fellow.”
Marcia examined the snake at her feet. Yellow, black and red bands encircled the snake’s body. If a red band abutted a black band, a human would be safe. If a red band abutted a yellow band, the human stood in peril of their life.
Marcia asked herself. Did red and yellow bands touch? They did. She asked herself two more questions. First, why did the snake not bite her when she worked on the sunflower? She wore her cowhide gloves which probably protected her. Second, and more perplexing, how did the snake get to Oregon from Florida? It arrived inside the box delivered by the letter carrier. It traveled incognito under the cover of soil and debris. How did the snake get into the box? If a florist prepared the plant for shipment, certain the snake would be discovered. The snake must be put into the box on purpose. Patrick sent her the box. The conclusion: Patrick put the snake in the box.
“No need to ask why. So, he would kill me. I didn’t believe he would go that far. I’ll call the police in Florida and…”
She did not finish. The snake moved toward her. She recalled reading of the coral snake’s docile disposition, but some human mistreated this snake, with the clear intention of antagonizing it and making it ready to bite the first human it encountered. The snake fascinated her now as at the zoo. Its beautiful coloration enchanted her. The only ugly feature of the reptile came from its flat, bulbous head with the yellow stripe encircling it. The round black pupils surveyed her, its adversary. For one instant, when the eyes of reptile and human met, each realized that one of them must die. Each sensed the other’s fear.
Marcia knew the best way to handle a poisonous snake would be to freeze, allow the snake to withdraw then step away. Marcia froze, but when the snake remained still, she panicked and kicked at it. It moved toward her in sidelong, jerky movements. She threw a planting trowel at the snake and hit it. The snake writhed in pain, but slithered into a bed of poppies to recover and conceal itself. It turned to look at her, hissing as if to vow revenge. Marcia must watch every move she made because the snake might charge out from the flower cover. It held the advantage of surprise. Marcia figured she could kill the snake, if she could see it before it saw her. The colorful snake blended so naturally with the garden colors that searching it out and killing it would be too dangerous. She had to get out of the garden. She reached into her pocket for her cell phone, but remembered she’d left it inside her house. The garden entrance gate stood about twenty feet away. She started walking the bluestone path toward the gate when the snake emerged from foxglove flowers onto the pathway in front of her. The snake flattened its body to make itself appear larger. Marcia froze with fear, unable to move. The snake prepared to strike, but Dominic ran between Marcia and the snake and knocked it off the pathway. The snake’s fury turned upon the cat. It struck at the cat, but Dominic escaped into the bushes unharmed.
Now, Marcia unleashed her rage.
“I hate you, you dirty, creepy thing!” She picked up a handful of bluestone pebbles and threw it at the snake. The snake slithered into a hydrangea shrub located near the pond, again concealing itself. She picked up another handful of pebbles and walked toward the gate. As she passed the pond, she saw the flashing fish jumping out of the water. She knew the reason why they did. She came within six feet of the gate when a snake crossed her path. Her heart skipped its beats, but it proved to be a harmless garter snake, possibly the one that Dominic found earlier. The coral snake came from out of a bed of lavender lace, grabbed the garter snake and devoured it. Marcia did not wait. She ran to the gate. The mail truck passed by her home and she yelled “Help!”, but the driver did not hear her. She tried to open the gate, but found the lock jammed. She took off her left-hand glove to get a firmer grip on the gate lock, and this time succeeded in opening the gate.
“I’ve done it!”
She took one step and remembered her glove. A good gardener does not forget a glove. She looked around for the discarded glove and found it in the iris bed. She reached down for it with her right hand, and when she lifted it up, she found the coral snake chewing on the forefinger of the glove. She squeezed the snake’s head in an attempt to loosen its grip, but the soil on her fingers made it difficult to obtain a firm hold. She could feel the snake gnawing at her glove finger, and knew that a bite would occur within moments. She screamed for help. She squeezed harder on the snake’s head and it gnawed faster. She heard footsteps. Someone was walking on her sidewalk.
“Help! I’m in here. A poisonous snake is attacking me! Hurry!”
“Miss Gilmore, are you all right? This is Kevin, your mail carrier.”
“I’m being attacked by a coral snake. Help me!”
The mail carrier grabbed a nearby shovel and knocked the snake off Marcia’s arm.
Later, emergency medical technicians confirmed that Marcia did not suffer a bite. Animal control caught the snake and removed it.
“It’s a female,” they told Marcia. “She just about chewed into your glove. Another minute and you would have had a nasty bite.”
“Why did you come back here, Kevin?” Marcia asked her carrier.
“That package I delivered to you this morning was a registered mail and it needed to be signed for by you. I forgot to get your signature when I was here before. Lucky I remembered it.”
“You can expect a nice tip for Christmas.”
Marcia went back to the garden patio to retrieve her hat. She saw Dominic playing around the Florida sunflower, and felt safe once more in her garden. Marcia went inside to a hot bath. She did not see the new toys Dominic found. The five capsule-shaped eggs lay amidst the garden leaves. The coral snake had given birth in Marcia’s garden.

DARK WATER - by A J Humpage

Pour yourself a drink and enjoy this absolute cracker from AJ...

DARK WATER

An eye stared at her through the murk - a black orb glimpsed in torchlight - then it was gone.

The frenzy stopped. Bits of flesh slowly floated down from the surface like snow. Pink snow. Clouds of blood spread quickly from torn limbs, leaving spiralling, inky trails.

She knew Ben was dead. The shark had taken both legs and most of his arm. Gnawed lumps of sinew dangled in the water – tasty morsels for scavenging fish. Fading sunlight broke through the water and silhouetted his broken body with a dappled halo.

She choked back her emotion. She wanted to vomit, but couldn’t. Somewhere in this darkness lurked the sleek, thick-skinned monster that had attacked her fiancĂ©. Blood in the water would bring more. And she dared not leave the sanctuary of the rocks.

But there was only 20 minutes air left in the tank.

She had to do something, otherwise she would die. She could die quickly; let herself drown. Or she could die slowly, painfully, ripped open by the shark.

Movement in the water made her heart jolt.

A thin snouted barracuda swept by. She cursed herself for letting Ben talk her into doing a late afternoon dive. Although an accomplished diver, she had never felt at ease whenever the sun dipped below the horizon. In daylight, it was easy to see what was lurking in the water behind her, but the blackness of the evening was different. With only a flashlight, it was almost impossible to know what was behind her, until it was too late. She would see nothing and she would hear nothing. She would only hear her own muffled screams clogging the blackness.

She sank further into the coral-encrusted crevice, and slowly swept the torchlight through the darkness. She half expected a sharp row of teeth to emerge from the gloom in a sudden attack, but there was nothing; just her own thudding heartbeat loud in her ears.

She glanced up. The rounded belly of the boat was just visible, but still a distance away. She could swim for it, but she knew the shark would sense her, smell her, and make a move. She would have to ascend quickly; making sure that the beast was within range so that she could see it approach, and she could defend herself.

The light was fading fast. She wouldn’t be able to see the boat much longer.

She swallowed the knot in her throat, felt the approaching darkness squeeze around her. The claustrophobic grip pinched at her nerves, and she shivered. She was vulnerable.

Alone.

Something brushed past her and she spun, saw only a flutter of bubbles. The urge to scream was strong, but doing so would mean panic, and the noise would bring the shark. Not only that, the regulator would drop from her mouth and there was risk she would drown through her terror.

Another bump against her thigh.

She swung her torch through the black soup. The rocky outcrop protecting her came into view and disappeared back into the undulating maw. She shone the torch at her feet. Nothing. Just shapes moving at the bottom; brightly coloured tropical fish flitted from her light.

She shone the torch above. Beams of fading light reached down and dappled the blackness. A large shadow briefly darkened her view and then disappeared. Her heart quickened; blood began frosting her veins.

The shark. He was circling her.

Every cell in her body swelled with anxiety. Bubbles from her regulator flooded into the darkness, rising swiftly...alerting the beast to her hiding place.

She saw a shape fill her vision, almost upon her.

She tried to wedge herself further into the rocks, but the passage was too narrow. She looked up, desperate not to scream, saw a flash of teeth. She jerked around, frantically trying to hide, but she felt something jolt her with tremendous force, dragging her from the crevice.

Her body bounced along the rocks. Pain shot into her left leg like an electric current. She screamed, lost the regulator from her mouth. Water rushed in, flooded her lungs, and she gagged, frantically grasping for the regulator, spewing out excess water, then holding her breath.

The pulling sensation stopped abruptly.

Senses swiftly came back into focus as she slowly descended into the darkness.

She remained calm as she fumbled for the regulator. She slipped it back into her mouth, but before she could regain her direction, she felt another shove into her ribs. It spun her, disorienting her in the thick blackness. She flashed the torch; saw the familiar shape of the shark blending into the background as it swam away from her. She tried to keep it in her sight, but it was far too fast, and she lost him.

She swung the torch into the dark chasm beneath her feet. The rocks had vanished; her only sanctuary was gone.

She was screaming; the noise loud in her mind, but silent in the ocean. She was descending again, sinking into the cold, sinister depths. She quickly unclipped her weight belt and it dropped away from her. She glanced at her air gauge: ten minutes left; 56 feet down.

She had no choice.

She kicked hard, scrambling for the surface somewhere through the dark haze. She couldn’t stop the panic creeping through her veins like a virus; couldn’t stop thinking about the sinister blackness, the cold deathly silence of an infinite ocean. It felt so long, swimming those 56 feet, and the fear was now soaking up the oxygen and making her feel woozy.

The surface swelled, invited her.

She felt something tug at her left leg, almost wrenching the flipper from her foot. She was breathing hard, fast, sucking up the oxygen and burning the adrenaline in equal quantities. She used her arms, stretched as though reaching out to an invisible hand...

Another tug wrenched her down.

She kicked hard again. It felt as though the flipper had come off.

She thrashed, reaching up once again for the twinkling ripples on the surface, kicking against the current until she finally broke the water. She spat out the regulator, gasped, before sucking in the warm, sultry Caribbean evening.

Water bubbled from her lungs and throat and she coughed hard; phlegm oozed from her nose and mouth as she caught her breath.

She turned; saw the edge of the blood red disc dip below the horizon.

West. Sunset. The boat was facing East. She turned, searched the calm water.

A shape bobbed on the water in the far distance. The boat.

I can make it, she thought. I can do this.

A splash forced water over her, and something latched onto her legs, dragging her back beneath the ocean. A curtain of bubbles veiled her view momentarily, but then, through the maw, she saw the water quickly turn deep crimson.

Another jolt, another direction.

She twisted in the water, saw teeth, then an eye. He was larger than she thought, stronger, and he whipped his tail fin as he jerked away, slamming it in her face. She recoiled, turned in the water, and the torch slipped from her grasp. Water began seeping through the fracture in her goggles.

She pulled at the cracked visor, blinded by the rush of saltwater, and managed to remove it. Now she couldn’t see anything, and the salt stung her eyes.

Her heartbeat thundered through the watery silence. A scream began forming in her throat, but a dull pain in her left leg brought her to. She knew she was badly injured; she was thankful she couldn’t see through the murk, but the heavy sensation down her leg made her realise her left foot was gone.

She sensed the shark nearby. The claustrophobic grip of the darkness frightened her; senses became like sharp needles pressing into her brain. Unable to see, unable to hear through the muffled depths, she knew she was about to die, not unless she started swimming for the surface...air....

She broke the surface once again, gasped, tasted blood in her mouth.

The sky was darker, the boat drifting further away.

No, please, Christ...

She quickly detached the oxygen tank, slipped it off her back. She could swim faster without it. She let go of it, and something clunked against it, startling her. The water swelled as the shark pulled the tank down. Instantly she began swimming for the boat, panic bubbling in her lungs like acid, the sound of her voice bouncing from the rippling surface. She knew he was right behind her, effortlessly gliding through the dark water, following the trail of blood oozing from her wound.

The shape of the boat came into view; safety beckoned. The adrenaline made her swim faster than she thought possible, despite her severed limb, but in those few long minutes, nothing came at her, no attack, even though she knew the shark was lurking in the water beneath her.

She reached the side of the boat, swum aft to the platform. Tears quickly washed the salt from her eyes; relief swept through her. At last, she was safe, she could radio for help, escape this nightmare.

She grabbed the rail, lifted her uninjured leg and kneeled on the platform to remove the flipper. She pulled it off and flung it into the water. She turned; saw the jagged flesh of her ripped calf, the space where her left foot should have been. Her stomach contracted; she balked. She had to get help, fast, otherwise she would bleed to death.

She stared at the water, shuddered. Reflections from the surface glittered coldly in her eyes. ‘I beat you, you son of a bitch! I beat you.’

She turned. Crying, nauseous, she reached up for the top rail.

The waves rose up behind her; swirled with malice. She didn’t see it.

There was no sound. No splash. No scream.

The water fizzed with movement, eddies danced on the surface before becoming calm once more.

Tiny beads of blood dribbled down the wooden rail. The water near the platform quickly turned dark red, before eventually fading.

Darkness swiftly gilded the ocean. Unmanned, the boat drifted silently into the darkness.


BIO:
AJ works full time for a local authority, but in her spare time she write articles for local business magazines, short stories and poetry, and has just completed her first novel.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

RINGSIDE By Matthew Quinn Martin

TKnC welcomes Matthew with his little noir tale...

Ringside

“Hey Maurice! Little help over here.” Stick whistled across the dank basement, the sound ringing hollow off the dingy cinderblock walls as he crushed the life out of Todd’s nuts. Kid couldn’t have been more than twenty-two, but I’d say at this point any shot at fatherhood was pretty much gone.
“Maurice?” I asked the three-hundred pound slag heap that usually worked the door at Stick’s club but today was pulling double duty as an extra set of meathooks. “I thought your name was Boiler?”
“Some people call me Maurice,” he rumbled in that Barry White baritone of his. “Because I speak of the pompatus of love.”
Fair enough, I nodded from my perch on the cellars splintery tool bench, letting my legs dangle off the edge like a kid in a high chair as I toyed with a pair of needle-nose pliers.
“I need a break.” Stick cracked his knuckles and stepped aside, allowing his muscle to take over. Watching Boiler go to work, it occurred to me that whatever the pompatus of love might be, it probably didn’t have much to do with this. But hey, this was what passed for entertainment down here.
I’d been practically living at Stick’s club for the past five days. I’d needed to lay low after the Vey-has deal had gone so far south it ended up in Antartica, and Stick owed me. Now I know crashing at a strip club for close to a week might sound like a wet dream come true––but trust me, five days of drugs, booze, and titties and anyone but the densest hocky-haircut, sweatpants sporting, trailer monkey is bound to get bored.
“You gonna’ need these?” I asked, holding up the pliers.
Stick waved me off with a, “Maybe in a minute.” This was just work for him. Business as usual. He didn’t need any temp help from a short-con grifter like me. I hated it. Maybe he was just being hospitable, but I really was beginning to feel about as useless as a set of handlebars on a unicycle.
“Look-ayeEE!…stneEEd…alitlemoret…iIIme!” Todd spit out the almost words between broken teeth and bleeding hamburger lips. Pain didn’t even begin to describe what this kid was in. I caught a glimpse of the tips of his shoes as they struggled to find footing, half-scraping tiny crescents on the grimy concrete. Boiler held him just out of reach of the floor with one of his massive hands. An improbably marvel of evolution those hands; they looked like a couple of char-broiled hams.
Stick had given me the 411 on this conference as we hopped down the rickety iron steps that led to the club’s basement. Todd, one of his street pushers had stepped out of line. They were like sled dogs, he explained. They pulled the weight, but were still just dogs and sometimes had to be disciplined or put down.
Come to the show, he’d said with a wink. Ringside seat.
“Alitlemoret…iIIme! Plee––”
“Take it up with my accountant,” Stick said and on cue Boiler hoisted Todd up another five inches. No scraping now. Just spastic scissors kicks that made the kid’s vocal chords clamp down, pinching his screams to a thin wail.
God this was getting boring. The least they could do was break something on him, a wrist maybe. I twiddled what might have been an awl between my thumb and forefinger. “How about this?” I asked, holding it up. “Do you need this?”
“If you really wanted to help you could have filled up the that can of gas I loaned you.” Stick narrowed his glassy primeval gaze at Todd. “It might have come in handy here.”
“Funny, Stick. That was four years ago––ouch!” I looked down. Seems my carefree handling of the mystery implement had gone netted me a nice puncture wound. I shoved the bleeding digit into my mouth. “Eww ounnidt mappn––” And just as quickly yanked it back out. “Sorry, you wouldn’t happen to have some band-aid brand bandages down here, registered trademark?”
Stick ignored me. “That was a lot of drugs Todd. Where’d it go?”
“AhmaAAgh! FaaghAAm Ma-AA!”
Stick shook his head, then tapped his former NFL linebacker of an enforcer on the shoulder. I could hear Todd practically suck half the air out of the chamber and into his chest as Boiler set him down. I watched the tears stream from the kid’s eyes as oxygen rich blood flooded back into his most prized vascular structure.
“You know this could get infected,” I said to Stick, holding up my thumb, and trying not to let any of the blood drip on to my new Diesel jeans. That poker thing looked rusty too; last thing I needed was a damn tetanus shot. “I wouldn’t want to have to hit you with a law suit, Stick.”
“I said…That was a lot of drugs, Todd! Where’d it go?”
CRACK!
I swear I heard a couple of Todd’s fillings sing like communion bells as Stick laid a heavily ringed backhand to the side of his face.
“I lost it.” Todd’s voice was starting to sound like someone had sent his vocal chords through the Cuisinart. “It was the cops.”
“Really? Which one?” Stick leaned in as Boiler leaned back. “You lost it? Or was it the cops.
“You know I’m getting blood on your tools here,” I said. And in another minute or two that would be true.
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Stick said flicking me a glance, then turning his full attention to Todd. “Well?”
“I los--it was the…I lost it…I lost it.”
“Yeah, I bet you lost it.” Stick tilted Todd’s head back to get a good look at what was left of the kid’s septum. “I think I know where it went to too. Hand me that ice pick. Maybe I can scrape some back out.”
“An ice pick…that’s what it is.” I could have hit myself. “I thought it might be some sort of leather working--”
“Please…I’m begging you.”
Although I’d never worked in recreational pharmaceutical distribution myself, I knew the drill. Street dealers like Todd worked on commission. Stick would front them the goods, and they’d sell it in smaller amounts at a higher price overall. The smart ones paid for it up front. Then again, the smart ones didn’t dip into their supply either. I could see this kid hadn’t started off full-blown, but it’s easy to forget you’re not a junkie with eight ounces of coke or meth burning a hole in your pocket, or your nose.
Or your brain.
“You took something from me Todd, and you have to pay for it,” Stick said rising to his full height, arms outstretched to the wet cinderblock walls. “There has to be a reckoning.”
Todd shivered. I watched a dark patch spread across his crotch and down his pant leg. An acrid stench hit me square in the nose. The kid pissed himself. Not that it mattered, he’d have done it after he was dead. Just another part of the business. I knew there was a reason for that drain under his feet, and for the garden hose coiled on the wall behind him. For this and for the blood.
I felt a smile creep across my face. I smile a lot, usually just a hyena-rictus, though––a counterfeit reflex there to keep the jack-holes at bay. It’s not often that I’m blessed with the unconscious grace of a true grin. It was as rare a thing as a good hard-on, and I could sense the beginnings of that too.
It’s the way I’m wired, I guess. Sometimes I just need to see someone get hurt. It’s not like I’m alone. That bloodlusty part of the human equation––the one that likes to watch, the one responsible for Roman gladiatoral games and reality TV, for Alabama lynchings and the guillotine––it’s in all of us. For most of civilized society it lurks around at the back of the audience. But make no mistake, it’s never really going to leave. It’s bought its ticket and it wants to see the show.
“Please don’t kill me.”
“Relax, numbnuts. Nobody’s gonna’ kill you,” Stick answered, his voice low, a lullaby lilt. “If we killed you, where would I get my money from?” He turned to me. “Hand me them garden shears, will ya’?”
“Righty dokey,” I said rooting around the scattered tools. I was glad to finally be of some help, be able to shake the feeling of being nothing but a barnacle on Stick’s hull. “These ones?” I asked, holding up a pair of heavy duty pruning shears.
“Yeah, those.”
I ran my thumb across the edge of one blade, dull from over use. It left a red-brown streak. “They look a little rusty.”
“That’s not rust. It’s blood.”
“Oh, yeah. Look at that.” I knew what it was. I’d seen enough dried blood in my day. “Here you go.” I tossed them to Stick who caught them with barely a glance in my direction.
He snapped them open, snipping the air around Todd’s face. “Which hand?”
snip snip snip
You could tell by the glassy look in his eyes that Todd had heard rumors about this. About Stick and his collection. Sometimes it was teeth, occasionally an eye or something a bit more valuable. But his favorite seemed to be fingers.
snip snip snip
“Please, Stick. Don’t do this…please!”
“Which hand do you jerk off with?”
snip snip…snippity snip snip
“Please--”
“I told you! There has to be a reckoning. Now stop being a pussy and pick a fucking hand. Right or left?”
“…”
“Excuse me?” Stick cupped his ear.
“…”
“What was that? Both? I think he said both. Boiler––”
“No wait…” Todd started to crumble into himself, all the air leaving his lungs as he answered, “Left.”
“Right it is then. Maurice, the hand please.”
The kid let loose with a fresh volley of screaming negations and negotiations as Boiler shoved his massive fingers in between Todd’s, splaying them out.
Starting with the pinky and tapping each tip with the shears Stick intoned, “Eany meany miney…” and so on.
I watched Todd’s eyes skipping from finger to finger, trying to out count Stick, hoping to figure out which little piggy was going to get to run screaming all the way to his new home on the dirty cement floor right next to the rusty drain cover.
I was rooting for the thumb.
“…catch a tiger by his toe. Wait, maybe I should I say finger? Nah...toe, toe. Catch a tiger by his toe. Eany meany miney moe.” The point of the shears came to rest on Todd’s right pinky. Stick took a deep breath and, “...my mother told me to--I’m just kiddin.’”
snip
That was it. Pinky on the floor. Todd screeching and clutching his diminished hand as a fresh flow of blood streamed down his forearm.
“Now hit the bricks,” Stick said with an ushering wave. “You got two weeks to get me that money. Two weeks, got it? Or that’ll be your prick on the floor.”
Todd nodded as he grit his teeth to keep from wailing. I watched as his eyes landed on his severed finger lying in the dirt and urine. He shifted on his front foot a couple of times before lurching forward to pick it up.
“Leave it,” Stick commanded. Todd obeyed and beat his retreat up the stairs as Stick retrieved the digit, tossing it to Boiler. “Put that in the jar with the others.”
And I felt that smile take hold again. Five days was what it took to get bored with the naked girlies and the blow. But this…
This was probably good for at least a week or two.

BIO:
Matthew Quinn Martin is an author and screen/play writer and has seen his work published at the Oddsville Press, MFA/MFYou, A Twist of Noir, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Eastern Standard Crime, Thuglit and JMWW.
MQM also collaborates with Libby Cudmore.
http://www.matthewquinnmartin.com/