Monday, 26 April 2010

INTERLUDE - We're taking a short break

It is with great pride that I say that in the past year or so Thrillers, Killers ‘N’ Chillers has grown from a small acorn into a huge oak tree. There have been more than 300 brand new stories posted from some of the best up and coming – as well as established - authors in the crime, noir, horror and thriller genres.


I set out with TKnC to offer a platform for authors of genre fiction, and my small idea has out-grown anything I could have imagined. TKnC is now on a lot of people’s must-read list and has led some of our submitting authors onto bigger and better things. However, as with some cute babies, they often grow into uncontrollable beasts.

I’m a full-time author with deadlines and a full publicity schedule (lucky me), but it also means that the spare time I can commit to TKnC has lessened drastically. Basically, the numbers of submissions are taking both Col Bury and I away from our day jobs, and due to the necessity for us to concentrate on our own respective lives/careers we have taken the decision to take a short break.

In brief:

WE ARE CLOSING THE DOOR TO SUBMISSIONS UNTIL 
FURTHER NOTICE.

Some of you may be saddened by the news, but don’t fret. TKnC will be back, bigger and better in a very short time, and we will again send out a call for submissions. We are looking at revamping the site, and making it more user-friendly. Stories already held in the queue will also be added, so please do keep looking back.

Don’t forget, in the archives are over 300 excellent stories. You can easily find your preferred genre, or author, by simply adding a key word or name to the search bar at the top left corner. There are many gems that you might have missed, or that deserve a second or third reading.

In the meantime, thank you from both Col and I, your support has been fantastic and very much appreciated, and we have thoroughly enjoyed reading everything sent through to us.

And don’t forget....we’ll be back again very soon.

Matt and Col

Co-editors

The Wrong Old Man by Christopher Grant

We're thrilled to welcome back respected American crime writer 'n' owner of top webzine, A Twist Of Noir, Christopher, with this crackin' slice of noir...

The Wrong Old Man

Leonard Wright and his friends had been causing me migraine headaches due to their antics. I’d told them to move on the down the road no less than a dozen times, to take their business away from my bar.

They’d park in the lot around the side of the building and open their trunk, selling their wares in plain view of anyone passing by, including the authorities. Their business was drugs and guns, both of which had raised the profile of Cheshire’s, my bar, with the cops.

Every Monday for the past month, search warrant in hand, detectives and their minions came into the bar and swept the premises, causing me to shut down, losing cash and customers in the process, and comply until they were satisfied that I had none of Leonard’s paraphernalia in my bar. As if I was an accomplice of those assholes.

“We know all about you, Deuce,” one of the dicks said to me during the second visit.

“What you know?” I asked him.

He just smiled, like he was the only one in on the joke, grabbed a handful of beer nuts and walked off.

A couple of days ago, Leonard, sure as shit, rolled into the lot and popped the trunk. He had his fucking hat turned sideways, his pants hanging down almost to his ankles, as per usual. And, as per usual, he was backed up by a couple of his deadbeat friends, who were already flagging down cars, asking if they were ‘up’ or if they needed some firepower.

I grabbed my baseball bat and pushed through the front door.

“I thought I told you motherfuckers to step the fuck off my property,” I said, my right hand white-knuckling the bat’s handle.

“Shit, old man,” Leonard said, smirking, “you gonna have a heart attack, yo. Calm the fuck down.” He reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a gangsta roll and peeled off five crisp one hundred dollar bills. He leaned forward and tried to stuff them into my shirt pocket.

I slapped his hand away, causing the bills to flutter out of his grip and catch the wind. They floated down the street and Leonard had to be quick to keep them from leaving his possession.

“Motherfucker!” he screamed as he gave chase. His boys snickered. I doubt they would have laughed if Leonard had been looking at them.

After he’d gathered the money and stuffed it back in his pocket, he pulled his nine from his waistband and swung at me, cold-cocking me, splitting my lip and loosening a couple teeth. I hit the pavement like a brick, cracked my head on the sidewalk. I saw stars.

“You gonna fuckin’ tell me what to do now, motherfucker?” He pointed the nine at my head and cocked the hammer. If he had wanted to, he could have blown holes in me and probably walked away without anyone making a fuss.

I felt like pissing my pants, felt like getting back to my feet and busting his head open, felt rage and shame reddening my face and the bat still tight in my right hand all in the span of ten seconds.

I shook my head from side to side and Leonard released the hammer, put his gun back on safety and stuffed it back into his waistband.

“Donnell, Marcus, help this gentleman back to his feet,” he said and then walked into Cheshire’s.

***

I indulged them for a couple of hours, allowed them to order whatever the fuck they wanted on the house. They took advantage of my disadvantage, ordered burgers and fries and beer and more beer and still more beer.

After the sun had sunk below the horizon, they got off their stools and swayed toward the door. Leonard let loose a mighty belch and cackled with his court jesters.

I gave them the evil eye until they left my sight.

***

When the cops found him, his face looked like ground hamburger.

It better have.

Six shots through the driver’s side window, one to shatter the glass, the other five to smash the shit out of his face. If it hadn’t been for the driver’s license in his pocket, he never would have been ID’d.

If he’d just bothered to find out a little bit more about me and my history, Leonard Wright might have found himself a different corner. He might have set up shop a couple blocks south, down where I used to sell the same shit that he used to.

Sometimes you fuck with the wrong old man.


BIO:
Christopher Grant is a crime writer, with stories in NEEDLE Magazine and at Thrillers, Killers ’N Chillers, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Powder Burn Flash, Not From Here Are You? and at A Twist Of Noir. He’s the editor and publisher at A Twist Of Noir.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT By Michael S. Collins

Practice Makes Perfect

ACTION!


And then the scene changed. The audience turned silent, in expectation, and started to shimmer out of mind’s existence, replaced by trees on either side. The sound of thunder played throughout the Hall, not from the rinky CD player in the janitors’ closet, but from the air itself. The extra to my side was no schoolchild grumbling over his one line only part and waving to his parents, but an actual servant, real dust came up from his brush. The walls were no longer painted cardboard but actual Cyclopean structure. The lighting came no longer from the lighting box, complete with strobe effects, but from the small cracks in the oak door in front of us. The smoke machine had transformed into a proper Scottish mist, choking and freezing. There was no stifling heating, with only rags to put over the normal clothes to keep warm.

And I was no child anymore. I was Brett Stamerton, and I was knocking on the door to the castle of Professor Death, for real!

KNOCK KNOCK.

The real oak door loudly echoed as the knocker hit it. The sound reverberated throughout the uneasy silence. I turned to my manservant, who muttered under his breath and shivered and held on to my suitcases.

Footsteps. Slowly. One at a time, as if walking down a large corridor. The door creaked open halfway, and I was face to face with a grotesque facsimile of a face, which appeared between the crack.

It belonged to the butler, I assumed.

“Good evening” he said, “You must be Mr Stamerton.”

“Indeed I am”, I said, “And you must be the Butler.”

“Indeed I am” he said, and shivered in the mist.

“May I come in?” I inquired.

He turned his almost decaying head inwards, as if looking for a cue, before opening the door wide, and motioned for me to come inside. I walked in. No electric central heating inside either, but at least they had a few thousand candles burning to compensate. The butler turned to my manservant.

“I’m awfully sorry, young man, but you are not to be invited in.”

The man began to close the door on the poor servant.

“Baws.” Said the Servant who continued to freeze. His one line. The door was barely closed when he screamed, and blood began to flow under the door.

“Got to be careful of the wolves in this part of Scotland, I’m afraid.” Said the Butler. “The Professor will give you compensation in the morning.”

And we walked off. The servant’s dying screams ignored. He was only an extra, after all.

We walked up a long, steep, uncomfortable flight of stairs. My character had a hereditary weak ankle; I had seen it in the explanatory notes, so it made sense to me that I now had a limp to go along with my walk, even if I had no such weaknesses beforehand. This is show business, I guess.

The butler walked down an even longer corridor, opening a smaller door at the end of it. I followed him as fast as a man can on a newly acquired limp.

The new room was vast. On every side of the room stood portraits of great men and statues of every former Prime Minister, and all of them life sized and fitting in the room. Not cardboard and paper mache, but life sized and made out of stone.

In the midst of the room stood a large dining table. Hundreds of seats lined around the table, at each seat, a sumptuous feast. Chicken pie. I never liked chicken before, but had read that the character had, so it didn’t surprise me that I suddenly had a longing for the poultry.

And at the head of the table, sat the Professor.

“Aha, Mr Stamerton, I have been expecting you” He said triumphantly.

“Scene Five” said the Butler, helpfully.

“Professor Death!” I exclaimed. “You can’t succeed!”

He smiled, and showed off his fangs. Not made up. Real fangs.

“You look most delicious, dear boy” he said. “And I can’t have you ruining my plans, so I’m afraid I’ll have to have supper now. Have you eaten?”

“No” I said.

“Good. Me neither.”

And he rose from the table and into the air. No hooks and cords. Just flying.

It suddenly came to my attention, that if this was no longer the school play, and I was really Brett Stamerton, then Professor Death was probably a real vampire.

“I shall rest at last” said the Professor, “Once I have drunk your blood!”

And he prepared to swoop.

“No!” I screamed.

And the curtain fell. At least, it would have, had we still been in the play.

The scene stayed still for a second or two.

“Uh, Professor”, I said.

“Yes, boy?”

“The scene ended there. I don’t have anything left to do.”

The vampire growled at the back of his throat.

“But this isn’t the school play anymore, you fool. This is reality.”

“The stage is the life and the life is a stage” I said.

“Something along those lines” he added. “You got into character so well, I am as alive as you and more so. “

“But the scene ended here! So did the play!” I said.

He sized me up.

“I don’t care” said the Professor. “That was only in the play. There are no cliff-hangers in real life!”

And he pounced, and presumably drunk my blood, as the Curtain rose, and the lights came up.

Everybody clapped. The audience, no longer trees, came to life with applause. The extras were on stage, smiling at their mums in the crowd. The director was on stage, taking as much pride and credit as possible.

I excused myself, to go to the bathroom. I washed my neck, and rubbed my hands around my aching ankle. Then, I checked my newly won fangs in the mirror.

Reality and performance, it’s a very thin line, I think you’ll find.

So, until tomorrow, I’m off to practice.

THE DATE By Liza Larregui

The Date

The champagne colored sedan drove up to my house as I ran down my front steps to meet it. I saw my reflection in the passenger window as I approached and was pleased at how well my hair appeared. I pulled on the door handle and was met with resistance. I knocked on the window and motioned for Jim to unlock the door. I waited for the click, and tried again.


“Hey, thanks for picking me up.” I said as I pecked his cheek with my lips.

“No problem. Say hi to Kevin.” He said as he pointed to the back seat.

“Kevin, hi. I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize you were there. Nice to meet you.” I pulled down the visor in front of me and slid open the mirror to see who I was speaking to.

“Hey, Danielle! It’s great to finally meet you, too. I’ve heard so much about you.” I wondered if he really did hear about me or if he was just saying it out of kindness. I didn’t have to wonder for too long before Jim interjected.

“Not really. I haven’t said much about you, to be honest. This is still new, you know? We’re just dating.” My face turned red, more from anger than embarrassment.

“Right.” I said, trying to hide my annoyance. With my right foot tapping loudly on the floor of the car, I began to wonder why I was even there. I had been with Jim for three months and only then was I meeting his best friend. Something was wrong.

We finally arrived to the bowling alley in what seemed like the longest, most awkward car ride in the history of car rides. Kevin jumped out of the back seat and opened my car door. Jim looked on with confusion, as if he didn’t understand why anyone would open a car door for another person.

“Hey, Dan, come here.” He asked, patting his hands on his thighs the way you would to an animal.

“You know I hate when you call me Dan.” I stood there, arms crossed, not ready to move.

“I was going to ask if you like Dan or Danielle, too. Ha.” Kevin said. His brown curly hair barely moved in the ever so slight breeze that circulated the parking area. My feelings for Kevin, though new and most likely unfounded, started to grow at a rate I was unfamiliar with. It normally took me weeks to feel comfortable with someone and for some unknown reason, I was falling hard for him, fast.

“I hate Dan. Thanks for wanting to know, though. Your friend here never even asked me. Even after the thirtieth time I told him, he still calls me Dan.” I sighed loudly enough to make my point, though I wasn’t sure I cared anymore what Jim thought.

“Let’s go. The lanes will all be booked by the time you guys decide to start walking.” Jim said with a jealous tone. I enjoyed it.

After waiting an hour for a lane to open, we settled into our spots and changed into our bowling shoes.

“Hey, Danielle, would you like a soda?” Kevin offered. Shouldn’t Jim be asking, I thought.

“I’m good. Thanks. Jim?” Without even looking my way, Jim just shook his head no. Kevin walked over to the snack bar and waited on line.

“Do you like him?” Jim asked. His voice was strained.

“He’s great. I haven’t really talked to him that much yet, but he seems very cool.”

“No!” Jim yelled. “Do you like him like you like me? Do you even like me anymore?”

“Where did that come from?” I finished tying my shoes and looked up, puzzled.

“Just asking. You guys seem to be hitting it off.” Jim’s face was redder than a rose, but not quite as delicate. He pulled the laces on his shoes tighter as he continued. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you liked him. It’s happened before. Why do you think it took me so long to introduce you two? I knew you would prefer him and I see it already.”

“You’re acting crazy. I’m with you, remember? We’re in a relationship--”

“Woah, hang on there. We are not in a relationship. We’re just dating. Let’s get that straight now.”

I felt my blood boil as I tried understanding his logic. “If we are not in a committed relationship, then why do you care so much about me and Kevin? Not that there is a me and Kevin, but even so. I don’t understand.”

Jim looked at me with blank, soulless eyes. “We’ll talk later. Kevin’s on his way back.”

I sulked in the hardback chair attached to our lane. I felt heat radiating off my face so I grabbed the score card to fan myself.

“Hey guys! I know you said you didn’t want any soda but I got a pitcher and three cups. Just in case.” Kevin smiled as I began to relax and grabbed a cup to pour myself some soda. “Who’s going first?”

“I am.” Jim declared as he grabbed a yellow ball and threw it venomously down the lane. As it veered toward the gutter, my heart sank as I knew this night would only get worse. “DAMNIT!” Jim’s voice echoed throughout the place as a ZERO blinked on the screen above us.

“You still have another shot, and it’s only the first round. Relax.” I said as he waited for the pins to reset. Kevin watched with no comments.

Jim twisted his body to release the ball exactly in the center of the lane and managed to knock down two pins in the right corner.

“Great first round. This is just warm up anyway.” I cheered Jim on and raised my hand for an unmet high-five.

It was my turn and as I approached the lane, a hard smack landed on my ass. I turned around to see Jim smiling obscenely. “Really uncalled for and unnecessary. I’m going to ask that you don’t do that again. Thanks!” I said as I dropped the ball, not caring where it landed. The only thing I could think about was the comfort of my bed, away from Jim and away from the world.

“What? You wanted to be in a relationship, right? Well, if I’m your boyfriend, I could do that stuff.”

“No, actually, that’s not how it works. What’s going on? What’s wrong?” I asked as the sting from the smack began to numb.

“Nothing is wrong. You want to be in a relationship with me. Well, that’s how I roll.” He grabbed my arm and dragged me to the ball waiting for me.

“Stop it! You’re hurting me.” I screeched.

“Danielle said to stop. I think you should stop.” Kevin chimed in at the perfect time.

“What are you going to do about it? It’s not like you haven’t stolen my girlfriends in the past? Why would I think this time would be any different?”

Kevin stepped back from where he was standing and straightened his spine. Within seconds, he was no longer Kevin. His body was now consumed with grey hair that lined his entire frame. His mouth contorted into a twisted shape as his teeth grew to an disproportionate size. If the other bowlers had not noticed the transformation, they were made well aware when Kevin opened his mouth to release a frightening growl.

Jim, completely thrown off by his friend, fell over the ball return trying to make his escape. I sat back, completely in awe of what I was seeing. The screams from the other bowlers were being drowned out by Jim’s cries.

My face glittered with happiness as I realized I was not the lone wolf in this town anymore. I had finally met my match.

Friday, 23 April 2010

THE CLEANSING By Theresa Newbill

The Cleansing

Alicia awoke, feeling her teeth grinding together in increasing tension, her jaw aching with the pressure. Her forehead was cold with perspiration and her body throbbed with adrenalin. Just a couple of hours before, the setting sun had drawn the mosquitoes and the lightening bugs to the surrounding perimeter of the house but now there seemed to be a sudden intrusion of danger that left a silvery stillness in the air. The temperature was falling and Alicia shivered as the tape recorder clicked at her feet. She sat on the floor by the foot of her bed while her fingers drummed over the rewind, stop and play buttons. Beyond the normal auditory range, a group of voices whispered. Alicia had a disguise of calm as she tried to make out the words, which started off softly then got louder.

Nos Es Hic!
Nos Es Hic!
Nos Es Hic!

We Are Here!

On the whitewashed wall, the scorching shadowed figure of a man darkly haloed by a mark of fire appeared along with the sounds of rattling coins on the corrugated roof of the house. There was a smell of sulfur in the atmosphere and bright red blood slowly leaked from the ceiling. Alicia left the equipment where it lay and retreated from her bedroom into the living room. Picking up the telephone from its ornate table, she started to dial for assistance. The glass in the living room window shattered and a smoky effect poured in from a line of threatening clouds in the horizon. With telephone in hand Alicia gripped the wooden frame of the window and it powdered in her hand filling it with old flaked paint. The corridors creaked with heavy steps, and swift purposeful voices; the murmur of conversations.

"Pick up, please pick up!" Alicia said as the phone rang off the hook eventually giving off a busy signal.

Cold water-

She ran to the bathroom, scrubbed her hands clean, and then splashed some cold water on her face.

Staring down at her clothing, hanging in creases and folds she was reminded that she had not showered or changed since her husband Billy passed away unexpectedly five days ago. The moonlight filtered through the mosquito screen of the open bathroom window. Her stress grew as streams of light invaded the large space.

Bending forward she felt nauseous and dizzy over the lid of the toilet. She felt her panic rising but that soon turned into something that approximated anger. Alicia deliberately flushed the toilet numerous times realizing that the sound noisily drowned out the hurrying voices.

Regaining her composure and expelling the nerves of annoyance Alicia ran to the linen closet and retrieved a box full of ritual candles, sage, oils, powder, graveyard dirt and matches.

She placed the box on the bathroom floor and took out the 7 Knob Ritual Candles normally used for ridding oneself of evil influences, hexes and revenge spells, arranging each one in a circular position before anointing them with black arts oil, powder, and graveyard dirt.

With a manic and painful eye-watering anxiety she lit the candles and burned sage.

"Red is for love, passion, energy, and courage!"

"Orange is for strength, authority, attraction, success, and joy!"

"Yellow is for learning, mind, and communication!"

"Green is for healing, money, prosperity, luck, and fertility!"

"Blue is for meditation, tranquility, and forgiveness!"

"I have not sinned!"

"I have not sinned! I HAVE NOT SINNED!"

"Black is for absorption & destruction of negative energy."

"Billy?"

Her heart palpitated with every thudding noise and whisper.

"Alicia...."

Thick smoke was billowing in the rays of light coming in from a police helicopter.

"Alicia...."

"No! No! Stop! I didn't kill you Billy! I didn't kill you! I didn't burn you! I burned the demon! The demon inside you, Billy! He said he would take your soul! And now he wants mine! Help me. Help me."

The charred remains of Billy's body lay inside the claw foot bathtub.

Alicia crawled on her hands and knees over to the windowsill. She removed the screen and thrust herself over the edge, clinging to it as her feet dangled searching for stability against the brick wall before dropping eight to ten feet.

A dark, purple haze kept the animals and creatures at bay as the helicopter flashed over a strand of pines and disappeared.

Bio:

Theresa C. Newbill is a self described free spirit and former elementary school teacher turned writer. Her work has been widely published in various print and online magazines and she has received numerous awards for her writing.

2.03 CHECK-IN By Chuck Heintzelman

2:03am Check-in

"It's only 1:30, you're not scheduled for check-in until 2:03am."

Martin gaped, slack-jawed at the woman, a petite blond. He didn't understand her meaning. A large, marble countertop separated him from the woman. On it, a brass bell with a little plaque, "Ring for Service."

Aware his mouth hung open, he closed it.

The woman spoke in a monotone, but Martin detected annoyance in her voice. "I cannot process you for another thirty-three minutes."

Hundreds of silver keys dangled from hooks on the pegboard behind her.

"Sir, if you could wait in the lobby."

Martin didn't respond. His mind reeled. Why am I at a hotel? How did I get here? Did I have a blackout or something? This isn't amnesia, I know who I am, but why can't I remember how I got here?

"The lobby is over there." She pointed past him.

Martin looked where she indicated: sofas and chairs arranged in a rectangle, surrounded by large potted plants, and an elevator off to one side. The place was almost empty. An elderly man and a sickly looking woman were the only occupants. He looked back at the check-in woman and for an instant he thought he saw flames. Orange and yellow, flickering and then gone.

He blinked. No flames, just the blond woman standing there. She still pointed with one arm, the other arm on the countertop, fingertips clicking impatiently against the marble surface.

"Uh, thanks." He started towards the lobby and his neck prickled. He glanced back at the woman. She rolled her eyes. He shuddered and continued to the lobby.

Maybe this is what it's like to have a blackout. You find yourself in a situation with no clue how you got there. His last clear memory was the Sullivan Mansion.

Martin collided with an old woman using a walker. She crashed to the lobby floor. Her walker perched over her like a giant aluminum spider.

"Sorry," he said, helping her up.

"Thought you'd take me for a tumble, eh?" Her toothless grin widened as she said this.

"God no. Sorry. You okay?"

The woman raised and lowered her eyebrows several times.

She's flirting with me. Creepy. He turned away, headed across the lobby and slumped into a chair. The woman with the walker hobbled off around a corner. Martin looked back at the check-in area. Large brass letters above the counter spelled "Welcome to Lettum Island."

This makes no sense. How the hell did I get here? I've never even heard of Lettum Island.

On the couch across from Martin sat the old man. He had two piles of luggage stacked high on either side of him. Several seats away from the man a frail-looking woman sat with her legs pulled up and arms around them. She rocked back and forth, panting like a dog.

Martin's head throbbed with a burgeoning headache. He rubbed his forehead. I'm losing it.

His watch read 1:40am. Another 23 minutes. Someone's gotta know something. He stood and walked over to the woman.

"Excuse me," Martin said. "I'm a bit confused. Where exactly am I?"

The woman stopped rocking. Her sunken eyes widened as she stared at him. She didn't utter a word but instead hummed a song which Martin recognized as Hotel California.

He backed away from the woman and decided to try the old man instead.

"Excuse me, sir, but where are we?"

"End of the line, bub," said the man. He cackled and then said "Ding. Last stop."

Is everyone here crazy?

What happened? I was at the Sullivan Mansion. I remember worrying about the alarm code, but Gary gave me the correct code ... for a change. I went to the den. The safe was behind the portrait of the fat lady. I worked on the safe. And then ... Shit, that's all. Next, I'm here at hotel loony tunes.

Martin consulted his watch. There's no time gap. Twenty minutes ago I was cracking the safe, and now I'm here.

He needed some air and left the lobby, heading out the hotel's entrance. Outside, he shielded his eyes from the sun's blaze and looked around. A sign at hotel's entrance read "Lettum Inn."

Wait a second. He checked his watch again: 1:43am. It should be dark outside.

He staggered--vertigo--barely staying on his feet.

Calm down. There's a rational explanation for this. But what? And why a 2:03am check-in? It seems peculiarly arbitrary.

Ocean waves lapped at the beach thirty yards away from him. A dock, with no boats tied to it, extended into the ocean for as far as the eye could see. No streets. No cars. Just a small sandy beach separating the hotel from the ocean.

Martin jogged to the dock and turned to look at the hotel.

Damn, this is a tiny island. Just barely large enough for the hotel. And the hotel's tiny. It's--shit, it's only one story high. Where's the guest rooms?

Martin took several steps backwards on the dock.

It's too small. Only big enough for the lobby and check-in counter.

He turned and sprinted down the dock, away from the hotel. His shoes made rhythmic sounds as he ran, almost like a heartbeat. Slap-slap. Slap-slap.

No rooms? You can't have a hotel without any rooms. It makes no sense. Why all those keys?

He glanced behind him as he ran. The hotel grew smaller in the distance.

2:03am check-in my ass. I'm not checking into no hotel that doesn't even have rooms. Wow, can I run. It's like I'm not even tired. Adrenaline's great.

Out in the distance, Martin could see something. An island with a building. He ran on, each step carrying him closer to the building.

Sweat stung his eyes. Without breaking his stride, he wiped them. His hands came away bloody.

What the ...?

Martin came to a full stop and used the front of his shirt to wipe the moisture from his face. It was blood.

His knees buckled. What the hell is happening?

He put his hands on his head, gripping his hair, and felt something strange--a hole. He touched it gingerly with a finger.

Memories flooded back to him. He remembered working the safe at the Sullivan Mansion when the lights came on. He had turned and discovered a man in a bathrobe holding a revolver on him. The pistol wavered in the man's shaky hands. Martin turned to flee and ... and the next thing he remembered was the check-in counter.

This can't be.

He recognized the building in the distance in front of him--the same hotel on the same island he had ran from. How did it get in front of me? No way I turned around.

Even though Martin had stopped running, he kept moving towards the hotel, sliding on his knees, pulled forward by an unseen force. He slid along the dock, onto the sandy beach and to the hotel entrance. The doors opened automatically. He slid across the hotel floor, stopping at the check-in counter.

The check-in woman looked down at him. "It's 2:03am, sir, I'll check you in now."


BIO:

Chuck Heintzelman calls himself an "Amateur of Words," a phrase he freely admits he warped from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Each day he juggles his passion of writing with his love of computer programming, a full-time job as a software engineer, his school-age children, and the inevitable curve ball life likes to throw. He lives north of Spokane, WA. You can find out more information about Chuck at http://chuckheintzelman.com/

I CAN FLY by Pixie J. King


I Can Fly


Connor walked up the pathway of his house to the side gate. He looked underneath the plant pot and found the key to the garage. He unlocked the side door and stepped inside, flicked on the light. He smiled as he took off his blood smeared school tie, hung it on the handle of the lawn mower.

He breathed in deeply, taking in the musky smells of wood and dust, the damp of the concrete. He could smell oil and paint stripper and he grinned. He was home. Safe. No bully in the world could touch him here.

That happy feeling soon disappeared as he looked into the mirror and sighed. He didn’t fancy telling his mother how he got a shiner on his eye, blood on his shirt and bruises on his ribs, and he didn’t want to. It was hard enough trying to convince his mother that he could fly, let alone a group of bullies.

He shook his head, turned around and pulled off the blanket of what looked like a wooden go kart and threw it on the floor. He looked down at the kart and moved over to his work bench and took a paint brush and paint, then painted the wood of the kart flame red.

‘Connor, your dinner’s ready,’ his mother said, standing in the doorway of the garage, arms crossed.

Connor looked at the time. He sighed, forgot to put new batteries in the clock. ‘Yeah, sure mama just gotta wash my hands.’ He looked at his kart. He would test it out after dinner.

Connor moved inside and washed his hands and dried them, then sat down to dinner.

‘Connor darling, whatever happened to your eye?’ his mother asked, concerned. ‘And you have blood down your shirt, have you been in a fight?’

Connor didn’t look at his mother, played with his food. ‘Yes mama, I was in a fight.’

His mother sighed. ‘Connor baby, whatever happened?’

‘Some kids punched and kicked me, it’s nothing mama, don’t worry about me. Look, can I go?’

‘Go where? You’ve barely touched your food. Aren’t you hungry?’

Connor shook his head. ‘No mama, I’m not. I’m sorry, excuse me.’ He stood and moved into the kitchen and stepped outside, down the side and out the side gate. He opened the garage door and moved his go kart outside onto the drive.

His mother hurried out the door, panicking. ‘Connor what are you doing?’

Connor faced his mother. ‘I’m gunna fly mama, I’m gunna show them and I’m gunna fly.’ He moved back inside and grabbed his helmet and goggles.

‘But Connor, please, listen to me,’ she pleaded. ‘You can’t fly, you’re not able to and that...that thing of yours won’t allow you to!’

Connor dumped his stuff into the kart and moved over to his mother. He took hold of her hands. ‘Listen to me mama, I need to do this, and I need to prove it to you, to them, to everyone. I will fly mama.’ He kissed her on the cheek. ‘Wish me luck.’

He moved over to his kart and started pushing it down the road.

His mother stood there, horrified, unable to go after him. ‘Connor come back! Please, Connor, please.’

Connor waved goodbye to his mother as he pushed the kart down the road and towards the seafront.

***

It was sunset by the time Connor had finally pushed his go kart to the top of the cliff. He could feel the sea breeze; taste the salt on his tongue. He heard the waves as they crashed against the rocks below and smiled. He loved that sound.

He put on his helmet and gloves and then slipped the goggles on over his helmet. He pushed the go kart back down the hill, to allow the run up and pulled out the wings on the kart.

He sat inside, pulled down the goggles and began to peddle fast, the kart moving, the wings battering against the ground. He gathered speed, the swiftly approaching the edge of the cliff. The sun was now low in the sky, bringing with it dark purples and blues.

Connor grinned; convinced he was going to fly. He reached the edge of the cliff at a fast pace.

He felt the kart go up slightly, and he pedalled as hard as he could to carry on flying. He felt the kart move downwards, felt a rush of the wind against his face as gravity clawed at his body. His fingers tightened around the steering wheel, knuckles white. The world around him turned in a colourful blur, and he became disorientated.

Vocal cords opened and he screamed as the blackness punched a hole though his senses. He didn’t feel anything as the kart smashed against the rocks.

***

‘A dog walker spotted the wreck on the beach this morning at low tide,’ the police sergeant said to Mrs Potts. ‘All they could find was these goggles. Are they your son’s?’

Mrs Potts burst into tears. ‘That’s my boy’s....my boy...is he dead?’

The sergeant nodded. ‘I’m afraid so. The coast guard is out there looking for his body now. We’re sorry for the loss of your eight year old son, Mrs Potts.’



BIO:
Pixie is a student who is new to the writing world, and writes when she can, where she can. Her work is mainly flash fiction and poems with the occasional short story. She is now however embarking on the mammoth task of writing a novel, and is finding it very daunting.
Pixie’s work can be found at
http://theworksofpixiejking.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

FEAR by A. J. Humpage


Fear


Fear. That oppressive clamp around the heart and mind, invading the empty spaces with loathing and spreading like a disease through every cell.

Their fear started to grind every nerve ending, and it clung to the floor like a pervading creeping fog, an invisible vapour that coiled around ankles and chilled the flesh, despite the rising heat.

Evan shifted nervously in his seat, looked up.

Two dark skinned men stared back at him, their eyes moving in silent communication with each other. They had boarded the train two stops ago, shoulders heavy with rucksacks, their expressions deeply coloured and guarded. They grew nervous as more people boarded the train at the next stop.

The train quickly filled up, leaving many people with no choice but to stand in the aisles or take up empty spaces in the corridor by the toilets.

Evan glanced to his right and exchanged tense looks with the two men huddled by the window. He could see dread in their eyes, as though a dark maroon stain had clouded them all. One of them turned away quickly, stared at his reflection in the window.

The countryside flashed by in a green-yellow blur. The air remained oppressive, and it crackled with an imaginary hiss, enough for Evan to hear it above the whispers.

The heavily pregnant woman sitting opposite Evan rubbed her swollen stomach. Her smile was fragile, feigned. Nerves pulsed beneath her pale skin. She’d seen the two men acting suspiciously by the doorway, too.

Evan smiled back, but it was an empty gesture. Movement made him look up.

One of the dark skinned men scratched his beard, whispered to his friend.

Evan watched intently. His eyes narrowed as the constricting rush of fear trickled through his veins. They looked Arab, he decided. Muslim, for sure. And every flick of their eyes smeared Evan’s perceptions with an impenetrable dark cloud, and he was sure that any second now the Muslim would press a button or pull a chord and send the insides of the train catapulting through the grey cloud outside.

Beads of perspiration teetered on his brow. Brain cells gurgled with unbearable pressure.

The two men whispered, looked around anxiously.

Evan’s mind vibrated with imaginary voices and words. Lip reading had never been his forte, but even he could see they were not speaking English.

One of the men moved from the doorway and walked towards the next carriage.

Evan craned is neck to see, but the man quickly disappeared into the throng.

The pregnant woman saw Evan’s face tauten. She sat up.

The young Muslim stared at Evan, his expression cold and hard as though hewn from stone. His eyes were dark, almost black beneath lowered brows. Veiled. He viewed Evan with as much suspicion as Evan cast the young man.

Staring at each other had become a game.

Whispers floated into the strained atmosphere. Evan turned in his seat, heard people talking, their voices lowered. Some pointed at the young Muslim man. It was like a ripple; more pointing, more whispers, more strange looks, all flowing out and coating the inside of the carriage with a layer of thick distrust.

Evan’s heart stuttered within his ribcage. Something dribbled down his face. He wiped his brow, saw perspiration glistening on his fingertips, but in his fevered mind, he imagined blood on his hands.

He blinked, slowly found the young man’s face.

The young Muslim’s features had changed. Something else now squatted in his expression, and he fiddled nervously with the chord dangling from his rucksack, as though it had caught in the zip.

Evan’s gaze focused on the chord.

‘No more stops...’

The sound of her voice brought him to. He looked at the pregnant woman, the soft deep lines in his forehead creasing into a frown.

‘No more stops now until we get into Euston,’ she whispered.

Ample time to blow the packed train to shreds.

A breath caught in Evan’s throat. He swallowed hard, waited a moment for the anxious swill to settle.

The woman looked up at the emergency button on the panelling above them. Pressing it would stop the train, but it wouldn’t stop the men from detonating their bombs.

‘They’ve been acting very nervously since they got on,’ Evan whispered. He glanced at his watch. ‘Almost eleven o’clock. Maybe they’re waiting for the right time.’ He looked at the man sitting beside him. ‘We can take him down, overpower him. There are two of them and dozens of us.’

The man shifted nervously beside Evan, looked away.

‘What’s the matter? You’d rather die than do something about it?’

The man ignored Evan, stared out of the window.

An incredulous cloud descended. ‘Oh I get it...you don’t want to get involved, you’d rather turn a blind eye. Being a selfish coward is better than being a dead hero, right?’ He turned around, looked at the people sitting around him. ‘What’s the matter with you people?’

The cloud dusted their minds with guilt before dissipating, but the carriage remained silent.

The young Muslim heard Evan and stepped back from the growing venom.

Evan saw him, leaned into the aisle, watched as the dark skinned man edged towards the next carriage. He glanced over his shoulder at Evan, eyes clouded.

Evan peered at the others sitting beside him, fear icing their expressions with an arctic hue. They were all cowards. Dead cowards.

He got up, edged his way past those standing in the aisle.

The Muslim saw him. His fingers tightened around the chord.

Evan felt his insides chill, ice crystals frosting up his veins with dread as he moved forward.

The Muslim slapped the button on the compartment door and it slid open. He stepped in, hurried through the carriage as the door closed behind him. Evan watched him through the glass panel. The man looked back briefly.

Evan pressed the button to open the door, followed him.

The young man exited the carriage, moved into the next one, heading towards the busiest, crowded part of the train.

Another kind of fear lodged in Evan’s stomach then and it made him move faster, pushing people aside as he broke into a trot.

Ahead lay the toilets. The young man made for the compartment door.

Evan couldn’t let him get to the crammed front carriages. ‘Stop him!’ He scrambled over people and piles of bags stacked in the narrow aisle. ‘Stop the son of a bitch. He’s got a bomb!’

These words. Like a blunt needle into the skin, delivering a cold poison.

Evan’s face flooded with heat as the carriage erupted into cries and shouts. He pointed. ‘He’s got a bomb, stop him!’

Confusion and terror began to congeal within the confined carriage, studding the atmosphere with a strange electrical charge that surged through the train like a sound wave.

The young man ran into the corridor by the toilets. The people who had been sitting on the floor scattered like frightened animals to escape the melee.

Evan raced forward, but then stopped suddenly. He looked down to his right, saw a child cowering in her mother’s arms. On the table in front of her, he saw a pile of magazines and a pair of scissors that she’d used to cut out pictures.

The strange look on the child’s face made his insides shudder. She seemed afraid of him.

He grabbed the scissors, quickly followed the Muslim towards the corridor.

The compartment door closed and the ticket inspector stood by the door, saw Evan running towards him. ‘Hold it there...what the hell is going on?’

Evan grabbed the man by the collar and threw him in the corner. ‘Out of the damn way!’ He punched the button, almost physically pulled the doors open.

The young man stood by the compartment doors, cornered. Dread poured from his skin, streaked his face. He faced Evan, chest heaving, one hand outstretched and the other tightly gripping the chord.

Evan inched forward, fingers tight around the scissors. ‘Don’t you dare pull it, you bastard.’

The young man’s brow furrowed slightly. He spoke softly in Arabic, shook his head.

Evan had no idea what the man was saying. He pointed. ‘Put the bag down.’

Faces in the carriage compartment either side of them pressed against the glass door panels, watched them.

The young man muttered something else, kept on shaking his head.

Evan stepped forward. ‘Let go of the chord!’

The man kept repeating the same words over and over. He stooped as though his legs had given way.

‘Let go of the fucking chord!’

The air hissed and cracked around them. The sounds seemed loud in Evan’s brain, like cracks of thunder. He slapped his hand against the emergency stop button, and a moment later the train stuttered. The sound of grinding metal rumbled and reverberated beneath them.

The young man’s knuckles whitened as he gripped the chord. But his eyes frightened Evan, wide, full with intent. Or was it fear?

Evan knew any second now the man would pull the tiny chord dangling from the rucksack, and they, the carriage, and everything he ever knew would be ripped apart by the blast, leaving the skin of the train peeled open and spilling its guts onto the rails. He thought then of the pregnant woman, her unborn baby ripped from her womb, the little girl in her mother’s arms, both stripped of flesh by the force of shockwave. Their imagined screams tormented him, clawed at his senses, shredded his nerves

and...

the whispers urged him to end this. End it. Stop the bomb.

Evan blinked against the salty fluid dribbling into his eyes. His heartbeat felt like a tin drum.

The young Muslim looked down at the chord in his hand.

A split second. That’s all Evan had, all it took, as he threw himself forward.

The scissors sank into the man’s neck. Instantly he let go of the chord, screamed and stumbled back before slumping to the floor.

Evan bent down and withdrew the scissor blade. Blood bubbled and spilled from the wound.

The Muslim gurgled, fingers scrambled to find the chord.

Evan stabbed him in the chest, plunged the scissor blade as deep as it would go, then again, heard the metal scrape against one of the ribs.

The young man’s wide eyes locked onto Evan’s face, the veins in his eyeballs swelling with blood. A mixture of fear and disbelief etched across the man’s contorted face.

The sweat from Evan’s brow splashed onto the young man’s skin, spread like a stain.

The grimace on the young man’s face slowly faded until eventually he slumped back, still.

The train finally came to a stop.

Evan looked down at the dark coloured chord poking from the rucksack. He reached over, carefully unzipped the bag and peered inside. There were several books, all in Arabic, and at the bottom of the bag, he saw a rectangular instrument. Curiosity made him reach in and pick it up.

His heart juddered. Silence crowded him.

Faces pressed against the glass.

He held up the box, read the letters across the top of it: PERSONAL ATTACK ALARM.

He stared for a long time, as though wresting the letters from the surface of the box, but somehow his brain wouldn’t translate, numbed instead into open-mouthed disbelief.

The door opened. The ticket inspector stood in the doorway, saw Evan sitting astride the dead man, holding a box in one hand and a pair of opened scissors in the other.

Evan looked up. ‘I...I thought he had a bomb...I thought he was going to blow up the train.’ He looked around at the faces staring back at him. Their silence thundered through his senses. ‘I thought he was going to kill us...I was sure...’ He looked down at the Muslim’s blood smeared across his hands, thick, and still warm.

‘I was so sure...’

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

http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com/

Monday, 19 April 2010

LOOKING FOR JOEY By Vela Damon

Here's a gentle nudge into the week with some flash from Vela...

Looking for Joey

Amy rolled her eyes so far back it gave her a headache; she cursed at the computer screen, then at her brother. As usual, Troy had timed his entrance perfectly and the distraction had cost Amy her last life in Zombie Action Heroes. And she'd been so close to defeating the crypt commander!

"Thanks a lot, Troy, now I gotta start all over."

"I've got more important stuff to worry about than some stupid computer game. I guess it's too much to ask for you to get off your butt and help me?"

"Don't get on my case 'cause you're suddenly obsessed with finding some old stuffed animal. What's so important about a singing kangaroo anyway?"

"It's not the kangaroo that's important, it's the joey."

"Who's Joey?"

"A joey is a baby kangaroo. You know, the cute little guy in the pouch? Duh."

"And this joey's so great because?"

"Because Grandma's last words were 'find the joey'. Any of that ring a bell?"

Amy shrugged. "I just thought she was delirious, remembering some old boyfriend or something."

She turned back to the computer and restarted her game as Troy began rummaging through the hall closet, pulling out boxes, dumping the contents on the floor. Where is it? Come on, Grandma, help me out here. I know that's where you hid the rest of the diamonds. It has to be, the cops ransacked everything else...

"Troy, you're not listening to me."

"Grandma?" Troy said, looking around wildly.

"No, idiot," Amy said. "You think she's speaking to you from the other side or something? What is it with you lately? I miss her, too, but dang... anyway, I remembered where I saw your precious kangaroo."

"Where?"

"Remember how Grandma harped at me for months about cleaning out the shed and I finally did it right before...."

"Yeah, yeah, so where is it?"

"I gave it to Goodwill with all the other stuff, like Grandma told me to."

BIO:

Vela Damon has been writing forever, but only recently started trying to "do something with it". When she's not writing, reading or daydreaming about making the bestseller lists, she's all out of time to do anything else. Lack of food and sleep will do her in eventually, but posthumous fame is still fame, right?

Sunday, 18 April 2010

SILENT SCREAM By Harris Whitman and Theresa Newbill

TKnc Welcomes both Harris and Theresa with this eerie tale of terror...

Silent Scream

In the stillness of her studio, she studies the stranger so she can capture his essence. He has put forth a projection, the perfect portrait of the person plaguing her dreams, turning them into nightmares. He has come to her in the shadows of night, hauntingly summoning her in a dance of death.

The solitary skylight projects radiant beams of moonlight as it hits the mirror, magnified by a lone flickering candle illuminating the canvas. She is safe there, her sanctuary from the outside world. The sights and sounds do not penetrate the protective walls of her accomplice workspace.

She has selected the tools of her trade, the oil based paints that will bring forth life, where once there was nothingness, the abyss. Sky blue shimmers as cerulean saunters in, shifting the shadows with shades of light and life; a burst of fresh air sweeping across the canvas. His silhouette starts to take shape; gentle brush strokes of titanium white blend with brilliant yellow and a hint of cinnabar, slowly manifesting his being, captured on canvas.

Trees in all their magnificent colors with leaves of emerald, sap, deep viridian green, take shape; burnt umber, burnt sienna bark; the taproot giving them life. A solitary cardinal, terra rosa belly, venetian red wings with transparent maroon highlights; give depth, movement, honing in on a cherry tree. Done for the day, she will add more color and details in the morning.

Rising up from her slumber, sunlight hitting her face, she wakes up drenched in sweat with the sheets kicked back, the duvet strewn from the bed. Immediately she walks to her painting, ready to get back to work, lifting the muslin sheet draped over her work. She gasps, dropping her easel and the draping cloth.

Where once there were bright blue skies there is now a dark purplish blue-black atmosphere. The beautiful blazing bright orange sun has been transformed into a Payne’s gray moon with raw umber craters and a pock marked face. An ominous black hawk with piercing eyes swoops down, talons outstretched towards the lifeless gray brown tree with barren branches.

The radiant figure has been replaced with a hideously deformed blue gray representation with skeletal features; hollowed out sunken furrows with blood red crimson eyes, black slits piercing back at her, human heart dripping life’s fluid in his right hand, a sickle in his outstretched left hand, droplets of blood trickling down from the finely honed shimmering steel gray blade. With an evil smile, he looks right through her, not back at her, as she runs from the room.

With every few strides she stops frozen in place by the sheer terror. Her nightgown soaked with sweat, stained with paint, flowing down her arms with wet sleeves; her whole world, changing overnight into something totally unknown. For years she has seen angels in the faces of little children, sketched out the innocence of common sea gulls ledged on a hillside rock, rooted there by wind and sea then choreographed into flight by her own hand, yet today she is shielded by darkness, her thoughts half shadow half light.

It all started two days ago while on the subway along the elevated tracks. It was cool and the Hudson River seemed to gleam surrounded by a possessed mist that circled then dispensed in waves into the night air. The car sufficiently isolated or so she thought, except for a mother and child. The child had a relentless and uncompromising force in his eyes that captivated her very essence. He looked primitive, like an abstraction void of youthful freshness, and she felt as if she was viewing him through fixed glass.

He glared at her with piercing eyes, devoid of life, transfixed, as if in a trance, clutching a well-worn Ouija board. Through her peripheral vision she noticed him occasionally coughing up blood as the frequency of vibration on the train increased slowly sinking then rising with speed and forward momentum. It was as if a centrifugal energy was pulling her away from the center. At that moment she could think of nothing but colors, colors that projected intuitive sympathy.

When she regained composure, she could see a fully packed subway car filled with suits heading home from a hard day at work. This caused her no distress, in fact she was relieved. Sometimes her artistic visions took on the illusion of singularity; it helped her focus, concentrate on a particular object for creative representation although it was the first time she had spent what seemed like hours transfixed by the scenery of this particular mother and child.

Every now and then she rested her eyelids by closing them, taking in small glances, a still photograph of the images in front of her. That was when she saw him, the handsome man who looked directly into her eyes with a pleasantly exhausted demeanor. He had a symmetrical pattern to his face, an eagerness and yearning even through the jettison waves of brooding conformist that she found so alluring. She straightened her shoulders and smiled at him, dreaming him into a different background in her mind’s eye, one where light and life flourished beneath a lone cherry tree.

There was a gray invisibility abound the folded paper he carried tucked under his arm, and around his briefcase. She was in a somnambulist kind of state when she heard a voice say, “Fuck my job! Fuck everybody”, followed by a loud boom, which propelled her into the air spinning, pinning her against molten strap handles, bars and steel.“No no no no no! She said, as rapid eye movements maneuvered through absolute darkness, the accoutrements of metal drowning out her cries.

In her nightgown at home she remembers in fragments, a tingling sensation surging through her chest upward into her throat. Startled, she walks back to the painting determined to understand what is going on with her body, with her brain. She is conscious, ALIVE, despite the overwhelming presence of death. The frame has been bent but she quickly shapes it back to normality. With frantic strokes of her paintbrush, she begins to restore the painting, but her left arm becomes weak, her lips turn blue, she tries to call out for help, silently screams, her lungs tighten, vocal chords paralyze, unable to speak.

She is in the painting with him! Bonded to him by one split second when the g-force maximized her into a bloody, dirty clump of teeth and gums.The oil painting falls on top of her white linen gown, the painting outlining her body on the hardwood floor, her earthen body fading away, leaving a relief where her physical form once was, her pained mirror image now captured on canvas embraced by the dark ominous stranger. The panel dripping, dripping with…

blood, blood...

“Whose blood is that?" the nurse asks the little boy in a frantic high pitched shriek, alarmed by the sight of deep, thick, sticky crimson spreading out across the floor."

Four months in a sanitarium had him recuperating from the events of that faithful day. Physically he was better, but mentally, emotionally he was silent, his speech taken from him in an instant, indelibly etched, forever present in his young mind. He has the ability to talk but refuses to do so. Instead he chooses to communicate a different way. He paints.

“Whose blood is that?” the nurse asks once again.

The little boy points to the Ouija board, as the lady and the stranger appear in lightening reflexes, harbored by an abstraction that steals your days, breaks your spirit, demands your soul yet he struggles with language, with the images raked and rounded on a portrait, as he stutters saying…

“I thought I was going to die, but I didn’t, and she, she did.”

Bio:

Theresa C. Newbill is a self described free spirit and former elementary school teacher turned writer. Her work has been widely published in various print and online magazines and she has received numerous awards for her writing.

PILLOW FIGHT By James C. Clar

Pillow Fight

“You know, Jake,” Ray Kanahele said to his partner as the two pulled up in front of the Royal Palms Senior Living Facility on Kahala Avenue, “I've been teaching Maile to shoot?”


HPD Detective Jake Higa put the car in park and shut off the engine. He turned his head to the right and, as was his wont, looked at the stocky man in the passenger seat in silence. It was an old technique. Nature abhors a vacuum and Higa knew that, sooner or later, the person with him would feel compelled to fill the gap with words.

Water from the sprinklers on the nearby Waialae Country Club shone with the distinctive iridescent colors of a prism in the warm morning sunlight. Joggers and Kamaaina walking their dogs negotiated the footbridge that spanned the drainage channel leading to the beach park two hundred yards or so to the south. The waters of the Pacific were blue enough to hurt your eyes.

“Seriously, we've gone out a few times and I've had her fire my service revolver. She’s pretty good. Thing is, I've told her that if it ever comes to it, I want her to put a round behind my ear before I ever end up in a place like this. I don't care how upscale it is, I'd rather make.”

“You think that’s a good idea?” Higa inquired with a deadpan expression. “I mean this is Maile you're talking about!”

Kanahele hesitated a moment and then chuckled. His long-suffering wife of nearly twenty years was known for many things. Patience with her husband was not at the top of the list.

“Good point. The last few times I haven't made it home for dinner, she’s given me the stink eye; like, hey, I could shoot you now and get it over with.”

Higa didn’t respond. There was nothing more to say. Truth be told, both men had an aversion to nursing homes and anything even remotely resembling them. It was personal, to be sure, but cultural as well. Hawaiians and Japanese honored and took care of their elders. These kinds of places were for Haoles … and for folks whose children refused to live up to their filial obligations.

“Seriously, Jake,” Kanahele said as the two men walked up the white coral sidewalk between rows of towering royal palms, “Maile really appreciates you coming out here with me today. She’s been pestering me for a week now. Says this old lady won't eat until she sees a policeman. What was I supposed to do? You know what she’s like when she gets something in her head. There’s not a nurse in the place who cares more about the patients … that’s ‘residents’, for God’s sake, make sure you call them ‘residents’.”

Higa smiled archly. “And you put a loaded gun in her hands?”

They were met at the front entrance by a petite woman with olive skin, a pretty round face and shiny black, shoulder-length hair parted neatly in the middle. Higa always marveled when he saw Maile Kanahele. The contrast between husband and wife could not have been more striking. And the differences went beyond mere body type.

Ray was short, heavyset almost to the point of lumbering. When roused he was a force with which to be reckoned but, generally speaking, he was the most laid back, ‘hang loose’ kind of guy Higa had ever met. And that was saying a lot in a place where “hanging loose” had been raised to an art form.

Maile, on the other hand, was lithe and very attractive. Her features, a typical island blend of Japanese, Filipino and Polynesian with some Northern European thrown in for good measure, worked together in a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing way. But she was passionate, fiery even, and Higa knew well who really ran the show in the Kanahele household.

“Hello, Jake,” Maile Kanahele said as she bowed toward the diminutive detective. The two embraced warmly. “Good to see you. It’s been a while. We need to get you back over for dinner. Ray can show off the Imu he dug and lined in the backyard. It only took him five years!”

Maile turned and kissed her husband. Before pulling away, she pointed to his tie.

“That spot’s fresh. You guys ate breakfast over at the Rainbow Drive-In, didn't you? C’mon, Ray, you know what the doctor said about laying off the eggs!”

Jake Higa smiled inwardly. He also fought down a twinge of envy. It was years since anyone – let alone a woman – paid any attention to his appearance or was concerned about his health.

“I know you two have to start your shift in a little while, so I take you right in to see Mrs. Apana. I'm sure its nothing but she’s been very upset for the past week or so. It all began back when Adelaide Martin died.”

Maile led them across the carpeted foyer and into a large commons area that was landscaped to look like a lush tropical rainforest. There were large ferns, exotic plants and the usual local mélange of ginger, plumeria, hibiscus and bird-of-paradise. Threading its way throughout was a stream dotted with miniature waterfalls and deeper pools stocked with multi-colored koi. Here and there were tables and chairs as well as a fair number of residents chatting animatedly, reading or just quietly enjoying the restful atmosphere. The whole scene was more “five-star” resort than old folks’ home.

Higa and Kanahele exchanged glances. Jake could read his longtime partner’s expression – better you than me, brah.

“It might be helpful, Maile,” Higa suggested, “If you start at the beginning.”

“OK, sure,” Maile responded with just a trace of irritation. “Our population here is predominantly female. Even in Hawaii, women outlive men nearly two to one. About a month ago, a man named Leonard Verni arrived. It caused quite a stir. All the women were vying for his attention. He’s a handsome gentleman, and quite spry for someone his age. The buzz seemed to be that he looked like Errol Flynn or David Niven.”

Higa and Kanahele could identify most of Oahu’s more notorious mokes, but Flynn and Niven were just names from the Golden Age of Hollywood to them.

“Anyhow, Mr. Verni began spending most of his time with Adelaide Martin. The two were nearly inseparable. I probably don't have to tell you that more than a few of the other female residents became jealous. Then one morning last week, Mrs. Martin didn't show up for breakfast. We found her in bed. She had passed quietly during the night. Everyone was upset, but Mr. Verni was disconsolate. This is a small, tight-knit community. Besides, in a place where just putting their shoes on or trying to go the bathroom reminds the residents of their mortality, a death is really unsettling.”

“What does this have to do with, ah, Mrs. Apana?” Higa asked looking down at his notebook.

“Well, it sounds strange but I guess Mrs. Apana was really carrying a torch for Mr. Verni. Since Mrs. Martin’s death, he’s become withdrawn and hardly ever comes out of his room. The only person he seems interested in seeing is Adelaide Martin’s best friend, Mary Hinau. At the same time, Mrs. Apana has been very agitated. She sobs, talks to herself and keeps asking to speak with a policeman. Since she knows that I'm married to a detective, she’s been pleading with me to send Ray to see her. I thought, well, you know? That you guys might be able to pacify her somehow. Ray tells me all the time that I shouldn't worry about him … that three-quarters of your job is public relations. Go for it.”

“Geez, thanks Honey!” Kanahele said to his wife with a wink, “Like we need the practice.”

They stopped at a small, shaded alcove-like area occupied by a prim woman wearing a tropical print blouse. Predictably she had gray hair. Her eyes, however, were a clear and lively blue. Higa estimated her age to be in the late 70’s or early 80’s. After brief introductions, Maile Kanahele left to attend to her duties. The two detectives sat on comfortable chairs arrayed around a glass and wrought-iron table where Helen Apana was working the Advertiser crossword puzzle.

“Thank God you're here,” she said. And then, with lowered voice, “I want to report a crime.”

Higa powered up his most disarming smile. He set his notebook on the table. Might as well make this look good he thought. “You want to report a crime?”

“Yes,” Apana answered. “It was a week or so ago, I don't remember exactly. My memory isn't what it used to be young man. Age is the great thief, you know?”

“I’m sure,” Higa replied and then was quiet.

“It was late, probably around 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. I walked up the two floors to Adelaide’s room. I avoided the elevator. They have cameras in them now. At least they do on C.S.I. Anyhow, I opened the door to her room … we never lock our doors here, there’s no need. I took a beautiful embroidered pillow off her couch. I think her daughter had given it to her last year for Mother’s Day. The rest was easy.”

“Are you confessing to killing Adelaide Martin? Higa asked with, what for him, might qualify as shock. “Is that the crime you want to report?”

“”Yes’ to the former, detective,” Helen Apana said with no change in inflection, “and ‘no’ to the latter. There was no ‘crime’ involved in Helen’s death. The woman had emphysema, after all. Breathing was often a struggle. I just relieved her of the burden.” The gentle tinkling of a waterfall punctuated Helen Apana’s words. Somewhere a zebra dove cooed.

Higa gestured to Kanahele.

“I'm on it,” the large Hawaiian mouthed. He moved off, cell phone in hand. He had no idea what had become of Adelaide Martin’s body. An old lady like that, they probably hadn't even done a post-mortem. If her remains were still available, death by suffocation would be easy to determine.

Higa was not entirely certain he understood what the little old woman in front of him was saying, but she had his full attention now, that was for sure.

“Ms. Apana, you need to clarify something for me. If it’s not your, um, role in the death of Adelaide Martin, what exactly is the nature of the ‘crime’ you want to report?”

“Isn't it obvious, Detective Higa? Didn’t that pretty Maile tell you? The crime was committed by Leonard Verni. He’s responsible for everything that has happened. The man’s a total cad. Once dear Adelaide was gone, mine was the shoulder he was supposed to cry on. Instead, he’s taken up with Mary Hinau. Can you believe it? The man simply must be punished. I'd do it myself, but he’s far too strong. I'm not even sure he has extra pillows in his room. Besides, he lives way up on the tenth floor! That’s why I needed to talk to the police.”

***

Two hours or so later, Higa and Kanahele left the grounds of the Royal Palms. They had no idea what would be done with Helen Apana. The F.B.I., the public defender’s office, the state health authorities and an officious young woman psychologist had been called in. It was a real mess. Thank God it was, ultimately, someone else’s problem. For once they had dodged a really weird one.

“You know what, Jake?” Kanahele remarked as they got back in their car and turned the AC on high. “Teaching Maile to shoot might actually be for the best. Unless she goes out and buys a gun, I'll at least have some control.” Taking a page from his partner’s playbook, he paused for dramatic effect. “I'm thinking that what I really need to do is go home and trash all the pillows before she gets an even better idea.”

BIO:


James C. Clar has published fiction in print as well as on the Internet. Recently, his stories have cropped up in places like Apollo's Lyre, A Twist of Noir, The New Flesh Magazine, Residential Aliens, Static Movement and Powder Burn Flash. He's a little concerned since, lately, his wife has begun collecting large, over-stuffed pillows!

Friday, 16 April 2010

CUSTARD PIE By Vallon Jackson

Part six in the ongoing endeavours of our feckless and anonymous Wile E. Coyote killer's attempts at ending the days of his nemesis (to read the previous slices type PIE in the search bar)...

CUSTARD PIE



The times I’ve wanted to smash the sanctimonious prick over the head with the heaviest thing to come to hand...

But, the problem is, I know that Robert will swat me like a fly, so I always bite my lip, let it go, then continue plotting to do away with the wife-dabbling son of a bitch in a more elaborate scheme than indenting his skull with my laptop. All my previous attempts had failed, but how long could it go on?

Derailing a train, smashing a delivery truck through a building, cutting the ropes on a sandbag, pushing him off a cliff, tampering with his parachute during a charity jump...all had failed miserably to kill him. Mind you, I hadn’t enough fingers or toes to count on to tally up the others that had died. Good job I worked at an accountancy firm, where the spreadsheets allowed me to keep up.

I’d made my own Pie Chart to record my failures. Jeez, it was a big pie, with not a sliver missing where I’d had any success. I’d need an awful lot of custard to serve that beast up with, but I supposed I’d enough of the yellow stuff trickling through my veins to do the trick.

I had to stop being so cowardly. I had to man-up to Robert The Red, tell him what I knew – that he’d been dipping his dongle into my wife’s input slot – and that I was going to kill him for it. Of course, doing that would also mean manning up to everything that I’d done in the meantime. I wouldn’t get another chance at him if I was locked up in prison for mass murder.

There’s always a get-out isn’t there? That’s what I told myself. I couldn’t have at him the way I wanted to, because then I’d have to own up to killing my wife, as well as all the others. So...I wasn’t a coward; just being a pragmatist.

I once told Robert that.

Hey, Robert, I’d said, are you a pragmatist like I am?

Dunno about that, he’d replied. Me...I’m more the grabmoretits type.

He had that right, the arsehole.

Lately he’d been pawing the breasts of the latest temp, a skinny little thing with silicone–augmented assets and she seemed taken with the fiery-haired Lothario. She was sensible enough to recognise him for the creep he was, but also dumb enough to think it would get her a permanent position. The only permanent things that Becky would get from a dalliance with Robert were a tick on his conquest list and a dose of Chlamydia.

I thought about warning her, but knew that she’d mention it to Robert. If he thought I’d spoiled his fun he’d likely kick my butt from one end of the office to the other. So I let it go. Decided instead to try something different. I’d tried all the inventively-violent ways of killing him I could come up with, now for something a little more...not cowardly... sneaky. My Pie Chart had got me thinking. That afternoon I Googled certain sites, making sure that all trace of my surfing was hidden just in case anyone pried later. It’s surprising what you can purchase over the internet. Seems the buyers market extends somewhat to those who wish someone dead.

My stuff came in an anonymous package to an anonymous PO Box I’d set up. Mr Anonymous, that’s me.

The next day I put my scheme in place.

Robert was bent over Becky, supposedly checking her work for the purposes of a job appraisal, but I could see his gaze was down her top, and there was a lot of injudicious guiding of her hand on the mouse going on. The old elbow-titting trick Robert had perfected over the years. Sick perverted git that he was.

The delivery bloke walked right into the office.

Package for someone called Robert, he called out.

The red-headed stud perked up. That’ll be me, he announced, Robert with the huge package. He smirked at the looks we all gave him, then eyed the package like maybe the guy was delivering a decree nici and Robert had been named as co-respondent.

You’ve a secret admirer, mate, said the delivery bloke, handing over the beautifully-packaged custard tart I’d slaved over.

You got that right, matey, Robert said with a wink towards Becky. Becky flushed red, but didn’t deny it. I hid my shark’s smile behind my palm as I ducked down to my own work. One thing I did know: almost as much as he liked filling wives’ holes, he also had a penchant for stuffing his own pie hole. He bragged to the girls that his huge muscles required the sustenance, as did his stamina. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Greedy git would eat the lot and not offer a slice around.

I left the office on my lunch hour, grinning like a maniac, knowing full well that Robert wouldn’t be there when I returned.

True enough, when I got back there were a few white faces, and a hush over the office. It was a bit like the reaction that seeped through our work-place when poor Jim Bunk jumped from the plane with his chute strings undone. They were a sensitive lot at our firm.

What’s happened? I asked.

Ben Butler – who Robert called Ben Butt-wipe to his face – leaned over from his desk to whisper conspiratorially. Looks like there’s been a little problem for our pal, Robert, he said.

Oh? I hope he’s OK, I said, feigning concern.

You know that pie that was delivered...?

Yes. YES. YES.

Ben said: Well, Robert has this nut allergy, you see.

Shit...I hadn’t known that.

What about it? I demanded.

Well, Ben whispered, Robert said it smelled like almonds and wouldn’t touch it. He gave it to Becky, said she needed to get her strength back after they spent an hour in the stationery cupboard.

He gave it to her...

Yeah, apparently she was gagging for it, Ben leered.

Not that! The pie?

Yeah. Ben shook his head sadly. But Becky must’ve had a nut allergy as well. Or she was severely Bulimic or something. We could hear her puking all the way out here! By the time Rob got an ambulance here it was too late for her. Poor girl was dead.

How is Robert? I kept the expectation out of my voice. But I already knew: my wonderful pie scheme had failed to kill him ‘cause it friggin’ smelled like almonds. That’s the downside of arsenic, the internet had warned.

He’s fine, Ben said. He didn’t touch a crumb, remember. In fact, he followed Becky to hospital ‘cause he got his eye on a pretty paramedic. Knowing him, he’ll come back with another story for the boys, eh?

Yeah, and we’d have to listen to it. Over and over and over...till I went even more nuts.

BIO:
 
Vallon Jackson is the alter-ego of a published thriller author who sometimes also goes nuts and comes up with another entry in his PIE saga.

ROSES ARE DEAD By Liza Larregui

TKnC welcomes Liza with this chiller...

Roses Are Dead

The copper taste in my mouth offended my stomach as I slowly gained awareness to my situation. My eyes, weak and blurry, found the window in my bedroom. Its white curtains blew from the October breeze that captured New York every fall. I tried to focus on the curtains as they were a delightful distraction to the gnawing pain that resonated throughout my body. The soft delicate flowers that were perfectly sewn into them brought me back to my childhood; playing in the meadow behind our house, ripping the newly bud flowers out from its roots and sniffing the beauty that was their scent. I could still hear my mother calling me, ‘Rosey Posey Soft and Cozy, it’s time for dinner.’ My face was warm just in remembering the blistering sun that gleamed so bright.


“Ro, I’m so sorry. Ro, are you okay?” Jackson winced as he pulled my aching body off our bedroom floor. His once stunning wavy blonde hair was now blood stained and sloppy. My husbands handsome face was now replaced with an irrational one, full of rage, insanity and sorrow.

Jackson placed me on our bed which sent ripples of pain to every nerve ending. “You know I didn’t mean it, right? I love you so much. Please don’t die on me, Ro. I need you!” He cried as bent down to my level and fingered the wounds that were sprinkled about my body.

His words filled my ears but never made it to my brain. His voice, the one that I fell in love with many years ago, was now just noise. Incomprehensible noise.

As the pain in my body intensified and the blood loss increased, the minutes of life I had left began to evaporate like water on a hot day. Slowly but definitely.

***

“What would you like for dinner, my love?” I asked yelling into the living room from the kitchen. Jackson sat on the couch, changing the channels faster than they could appear on screen, and ignored my question. I walked over to him, wiping my soapy hands on a dry towel, and asked again. “Jack, honey. What would you like for dinner?”

Still holding the remote tightly in his grip, he turned his head toward me with dark eyes that seemed to twitch every few seconds. “Honey, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong. Could you just leave me alone? God, I hate when you nag and nag and nag.” His chiseled face looked hard, cold and angry.

“But I--”

“LEAVE ME ALONE!” He growled. I recoiled as one single tear fled my eye and made its way down my cheek. My lips quivered as I stood there in shock. Who was this man? “Ro, I’m sorry.” He leaped off the couch and ran to my shaking body. His strong hands grabbed mine as he brought them to his lips. “I don’t know what happened there. I’m so sorry.” I looked deep into his eyes and saw nothing. It was as if he had no soul. His baby blue eyes showed tints of yellow I had only seen once before. As I turned to walk away he pulled me back to him, his strength overbearing.

“You said you would never yell at me, like that, again. This is how it starts, you know? First the outburst, then the apology and then--”

“Look, I said I’m sorry. I can’t control it all the time. Maybe if I go out back and just relax for a few minutes, I’ll calm myself down.” His eyes, back to pure blue, pleaded with my own sad eyes. “I love you, Ro. I just can’t control it.

“Take all the time you need, okay? I’ll be upstairs in a bath. I love you, too.” I said as I kissed him on the cheek.

***

Jackson slapped my face until my eyes fluttered. “Ro, come on. Wake up, Ro.” When my eyes finally and painfully opened, they met Jacksons whose eyes had turned completely yellow. “I need to talk to you, Ro. Can you hear me?” He said frantically.

“Jack.” I mustered. Moving my lips meant breathing which caused more pain than it was worth.

“Listen to me, Ro.” He began. “I’m going to have to finish this, okay? I didn’t mean to start it but now I have to end it. I can’t bring you to a hospital, you know? I can’t explain my condition or why I did this. They’ll throw me in a crazy house, you know that!”

His deep and gravely voice grew further into the distance as my hearing slowly diminished. The hair on his face peeked in as his arms enlarged and enraptured me. He was no longer my husband but an animal. His white razor sharp teeth shone in the full moonlight as his mouth widened to devour me.

Within seconds, I was in a meadow running, almost flying, through the wild flowers that had sprung. My extended hands brushed them all as I kept moving, never stopping.

BIO:

Liza's work can be seen every Friday at http://www.flashesinthedark.com/ . She currently lives in NYC with her husband and her MacBook. Liza can be reached at lizalarregui@gmail.com .

Thursday, 15 April 2010

THE UNDERGROUND by Michael S. Collins



The Underground


The Clockwork Orange is one of the greatest metro systems in the world. It seriously is. I use it frequently to get from my house to the West End of Glasgow, to the City Centre, to Ibrox Stadium, to my mums, to anywhere. It really is fantastically useful.

Ticket prices go up. Ticket prices always go up. It's an unfortunate element of going by train. Just when you get used to what the ticket prices used to be, suddenly they go up, and you are out of pocket yet again. It's a terrible fact of life, but unfortunately, it's one we have to cope with.

So there was a lot of people in the queue moaning about the prices. I took my ticket. I needed to go. It was important. I had to go and see my family in town.

It was early morning. It was a rainy day. An unpleasant day, but then again, this is Glasgow. I took my ticket, I went through the barrier, and I went down to the platform.

“Passengers keep all your belongings at your side at all times.”

A friendly warning. The screen tells me that the train will be coming in seven minutes. Just sitting, watching the screen, looking at the people around me. Oh, there's the mothers, kids, they're late for school you know. There's... shouldn't he have a job to go to? Doesn't look like he's got one. Typical. There's some students. I can tell they're students. They look studenty, scruffy, drunk, hungover even.

Everyone is waiting for the train. When is the train coming? Five minutes. It always takes forever. That's the longest time in the world, watching that screen count down to the next train. Waiting for the train to come in the underground.

The trains on the other platform are running faster. This always happens. One just passed and there will be another one in three minutes. I don't like it when this happens. Why does the train always have to come faster at that end? It's blooming ridiculous. Nothing less than ridiculous. And if I was going that way, it would happen at this side.

It's like the universal fates are conspiring against me. I... it's a nuisance, its nothing less than a nuisance. Another trains gone past that way, can you believe it? It was full as well. Full! How many people are going that way into town? How can it be full? What is going on with the world today?

The platform is milling with folk. A load of people from the nearby Stadium. A load of people from the nearby job centre. A load of people from the nearby hostel. A load of people from the nearby school. All kinds of folk, waiting for the train to come.

That was a long minute. Waiting. For the train. When will it come?

Keeping away from the edge. Away from the edge. Further. You can never be too careful. You might fall. I've heard of people falling onto the tracks. The tracks might be electric and even if you survive that the train might get you. Best stay away from the edge. Best stay up against the wall. Best place for you.

Still two minutes to go. I'm sure another minutes passed since my last look. What's going on? What's happening here? What's going on? I want my train. This platform is very crowded. There's another train going the other way. What's going on?

I don't know. What's going on? I don't know. What? What? Whhhhaaaat? I'm confused. I'm confused. I'm lost. I have no sense of direction at all. I'm underground, I'm undersea, I'm claustrophobic, dead. I need to breathe. I need to breathe. I need to breathe.

I am breathing. It's OK! It's fine! Everything is fine, everything is OK, everything is secure. One minute to go. Another minute to go. Just a minute to go. I can hear it. I can hear the train in the tunnel. I can hear it coming. I can hear it. I can hear it roaring. I can hear it thundering like a tune in the night. Thundering, thundering, through the tunnels. Coming.

Closer. Coming closer. Closer. Coming. I can hear it. Approaching, approaching. I can see it on the screen. Train Approaching! It's coming! It's coming for me, it's coming at last. Oh thank god!

Message.

“This next train will not be stopping for passengers at this stop. We apologise for this delay.”

What? No, no, no. Not for me? Got to stop. Stop. This is my train. My train. This isn't right. What's up? Come.

Come back, come back for me. No, this isn't right! No!

The train slowly slunk into the station. The red light was up. It had to stop. The driver looked shadowy and secret as he sunk into the dark of his cabin. The lights were off in the front and final carriages. Only the middle carriage was lit.

That carriage was a sea of desolation. Seats ripped up. Muddy foot prints on the ground. Broken bottles. A gas mask lying, discarded, ripped. Murky green glowing light, gaseous. A red dripping from the walls. The far platform was seen through a luminescent sticky red substance bathed across the entire of the far windows of the carriage.

The train started to move. Into the tunnel. As the last carriage went by, two pairs of red piercing eyes stared back at me. From the darkened carriage. The last car. It moved into the tunnel.

I turned to the nearest person next to me. A business type. Worried. The usual type. We stared at each other for a second. Sharing a moment.

I took the bus that day. And many days afterwards.


BIO:
Michael S Collins is a member of GSFWC (the Glasgow Strange-Fiction Writers Circle). and has been published in several countries (including Literature E-zine websites, ad writing for Bob Furnell). Michael writes book reviews for magazines such as The Fortean Times and his short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Aesthetica, Clockwise Cat, The Short Humour Site, MicroHorror, TBD, and was included in the DemonMinds anthology in 2008.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

PENNIES FOR ADAM By Sean Michael Smith

PENNIES FOR ADAM



I arrived at the funeral parlor as the mourners were beginning to shuffle out. I kept my head low, hidden behind black sunglasses. I snuck through the crowd to the back of the room where the funeral director’s young assistant stood with his hands solemnly crossed.

“There are a lot of people here tonight,” I said.

“Yes, there were quite a few testimonies. Are you a relative?”

“I’m her adopted son.”

He looked over to Ryan. “Your brother will want to know…”

“Please don’t tell him I’m here,” I asked. “I haven’t seen my family in years. I don’t want to make a scene.”

He glanced at me curiously. “Mr. Connor never mentioned any siblings.”

“Like I said, we haven’t been close in recent years.” I retrieved a flask brimming with Jim Beam from my coat pocket and took a swig.

“Your brother doesn’t seem the type to approve of your drinking.”

“My brother doesn’t approve of a lot of things. Kind of a pain in the ass, isn’t he?”

He grinned despite himself.

“Would you like a drink?”

“I really shouldn’t. Somebody might see.”

I slipped him the flask. “Just keep it cupped in your hand and drink quickly. Everyone is too busy saying their goodbyes to pay attention to a couple of guys in the back of the room. Besides, I’m sure it’s been a long night for you.”

He gulped it down like a teenager sneaking a drink at the prom. His cheeks flushed immediately.

“I guess my brother will have some time alone with her before the casket is closed?”

“Yes, we always allow the immediate family fifteen minutes alone to say goodbye.”

He took another furtive gulp.

“Can you keep your boss from barging in on us long enough for my brother and me to hash some things out? For our mom’s sake, ya know? All we need is an extra ten minutes or so.”

He handed me back the half-empty flask. “Sure, the director usually retires to the office to do paperwork and leaves the wrap up to me anyway.”

#

I hid in the men’s room until my accomplice knocked on the door, and then crept into the main room. Ryan flinched. He was kneeling in front of the casket with his back towards me. I could tell by the way his posture stiffened he knew it was I. “Shouldn’t you be in New Orleans? Or did you move again?” he said.

“Glad to see you too, little brother.”

He stood up straight and smoothed out the wrinkles in his black suit. “Who told you?”

“I have friends,” I said. “My friends have friends. You should have called me.”

He whipped around.

“Fuck you Adam! Fuck you for not having the decency to mourn the woman who took you in off the streets, fuck you for always running, and fuck you for everything else you never did for her.”

“I’m not here to fight with you.”

He ran his fingers through his hair. “Then why are you here?”

I held out my flask to him. “You might want a drink first.”

“I’ll pass.”

I emptied the flask as he watched. His still-boyish cheeks flushed with anger as he glared at me with wide brown eyes. He looked just as petulant as when we were kids. I hoped he wasn’t still as stubborn too.

“Well?” he said.

“I’ve learned a lot of things while I’ve been away,” I said. “Things you can’t even imagine…”

“First you were Atheist, then a Buddhist, now what? Voodoo?”

I took off my glasses and met his glare. “Something like that.”

“Get out of here,” he said. “You’re just as fucked up now as ever. All these years you’ve been off finding yourself, I was the one who watched mom cry when months and months went by between your late night phone calls”

“I know. That’s why it’s so important that I get to talk to her now.”

“She’s dead you asshole.”

I fished two copper pennies with precisely inscribed Voodoo symbols out of my pocket and held them up for him to see. “I had these blessed by an old Voodoo woman. The real kind, not one of those tourist trappers. These vévés have power Ryan. They’re connected to the Voodoo gods – the loa. They’ll let me make contact with her.”

He slapped the pennies out of my hand. “I told you to leave. I don’t want you here.” Tears flowed down his cheeks. Suddenly, I realized what he must think of me; how far removed from their lives I had really become.

“Please,” I said fighting back tears of my own. “Don’t you think I know I’m a shit? I’m not so heartless I forgot everything she did for me. The only home I ever had was with you two. I never got the chance to tell her that. I owe her an apology.”

Silence. My heart thumped in my chest.

Ryan walked across the room and picked the pennies up off the floor. He placed them in my hand, holding it for a second. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you apologize for anything you’ve done wrong.”

“Before she took me in, I never counted on anyone but myself. Maybe I’m a selfish prick, but I couldn’t handle the attachment.”

He dropped his gaze, staring at the inscriptions on the pennies. “Remember that winter you talked me into following you across Gordy Pond and I fell in? This is a much dumber idea.”

“Probably,” I said flashing my best grin. “But I’ve got to try.”

“You always do,” he said.

Ryan looked back at me as he opened the door. “Hopefully I’ll see you back at the house later?”

“I’m not leaving any time soon.”

As soon as he was gone, I got to work.

#

“Damballah,” I whispered as I stood in front of the coffin. “Please help me.”

I laid the pennies over her eyes and kissed her powdered cheek. Then I knelt in front of the coffin while I clutched her frail, icy hand. All the memories I buried over the years came flooding back to me. They hit me like a kaleidoscope of impressions …the flowery smell of her perfume, the three nights a week spaghetti dinners when money was lean, our weekend camping trips, and her tears of joy the day my adoption was finalized. I remembered everything, good and bad. The laughter, the tears, the arguments and the overpowering feeling of loss we both felt the day I left.

Suddenly, I heard her voice whispering in my head, “Adam…Adam…where are you?”

My back hit the floor. A cacophony of shrill voices. Wailing. Crying. They were overlapping hers; my mother’s voice was getting lost in the din, fading further and further into the background.

“Adammmmm?”

God, the smell! It was like meat left on the counter for days, piles and piles of decomposing meat. Everyone was screaming; thousands of overlapping hands tugging me in all directions. I couldn’t fight them. I covered my ears with my hands to block out the shrill wailing. Blood poured out of my nose. I couldn’t concentrate. There were too many voices. I couldn’t hear her anymore.

Trembling, I remembered the old voodoo woman’s harsh whisper as she handed me the pennies. “Your connection must be strong. Very strong. There are too many angry dead folk out there. If your bond in life was irrevocably shattered, it may not be powerful enough to draw her spirit to you for protection.”

I was too late. All the years I wasted had created too wide a gulf between us.

A thousand hands tore through me at once; ripping my clothes, my veins…peeling layers of flesh off my body like onionskin. One hand splintered my chest, another yanked out my heart. I could just barely hear its thump-thump-thumping fade away over the cackle of angry spirits. I fell backwards in a pool of my own blood screaming, “Mom I’m sorry!”

Then, there was only darkness.

#

I woke up some place softer. Satin pressed against my skin. My body was completely rigid. I couldn’t open my eyes. I had no idea how much time had passed.

Ryan’s tears fell on my cheek.

“You never listened to anyone but yourself. You always tried everything at least once.”

Cool metal pressed against my eyelids.

“I never understood you,” he said. “But I always wanted to.”

I wanted to scream. No! Please Ryan, let me go. Don’t try to follow me now…



BIO:

Sean Michael Smith has published stories online with Flashes in the Dark, Dark Fire Fiction, Tales from the Moonlit Path and Microhorror. He’s too lazy to set up a web page, but you can email him at smswrites@gmail.com.