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Special Issue

August-September 2010

Crime Mystery Suspense Prison Grit WARNING: Some stories deal with strong themes using strong language. Not for the weak of heart‌ or bladder. PRICE: $8.50


FEATURED AUTHOR – JAMES P. MOORE In our April 2010 issue, we ran one of Mr. Moore’s flash fiction tales, A Real Pal. Now, we are proud to promote his riveting true crime and thriller suspense novels. James P. Moore graduated from the University of Maine and served with the U.S. Army in Korea. After "a few years wasted at dull jobs," he says, he joined ATF— the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms -- where he spent twenty-five years tracking gunmen and gunrunners, Klansmen and neo-Nazis, hired killers and Mafia assassins—men, he understates, "who were interesting, but not very nice." During a two-year assignment to the U.S. Justice Department’s Organized Crime & Racketeering Strike Force, he coordinated federal investigations across seven Midwestern states. A two-year assignment to INTERPOL, saw him directing international investigations of robbery, rape, murder and terrorism. Ultimately, he retired in Portland as ATF's agent in charge for Maine and New Hampshire, got a P.I. license ("that business was a real drag") and began writing freelance for several periodicals, including Newsweek. He is a past member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and other professional law enforcement organizations, and a current member of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. His social organizations have included the Sigma Nu Fraternity and Mensa. Moore’s first book, Official Secrets, is a suspense novel about an Interpol Treasury agent thrust into a probe of IRA gunrunning in Maine. Sparks fly with the arrival of a very sexy and assertive female investigator. The agents soon develop a mutual respect, and romance blooms as they unearth the evidence to reveal the plot. Steve Steinbock of the Maine Sunday Telegram writes: “Official Secrets works as a thriller, a love story, and a commentary on law and morality. The emotional entanglements are profound and convincing.” His second book is Very Special Agents: The Inside Story of America’s Most Controversial Law Enforcements Agency—The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Tom Elliott of The Mensa Bulletin writes: “If it were a novel, it would be promoted as an ‘actionpacked thriller,’ but it’s real life, folks. Here you’ll find the scoop on the agency’s triumphs and failures, as well as its war with the FBI, NRA, and government red tape.” A great read for anyone interested in the inner workings of the powerful federal crime fighting agency. By far the most significant work to date is Moore’s true crime account, Human Sacrifice: The true story of a murdered girl; one treacherous lawyer; an honest attorney with lots of guts, one brave wife and mother who wouldn't give up on her friend, an 2

innocent man serving life imprisonment; and the ruthless prosecutors who railroaded him, still hiding the truth via official cover-ups. And yet, even more appalling, official police reports indicate that the cops could have saved that little girl's life . . . but they didn't! This book motivated the Maine State Legislature to order that the state’s attorney general open his previously “confidential” file on this case with evidence concealed by the state. Tess Gerritsen, NY Times Best Selling author, states: "This is an important book, and it will trouble you, enrage you, even scare you because, unlike any mere novel, it is drawn from a real case. . . this book will force you to take a closer look at our justice system..." Moore’s non-fiction “chaser” book, State Secrets, addresses the critical question of a man serving a life sentence for murder when all of the scientific evidence points elsewhere.. James P. Moore’s riveting reads can be found on Amazon.com, Borders.com, University of Illinois Press (www.press.uillinois.edu), and www.TrialandErrorDennis.org. FEATURED AUTHOR – PATRICIA MARTINELLI Patricia A. Martinelli is a South Jersey native who has been a professional writer since 1978, when her first freelance article was published by The Press of Atlantic City. She then spent more than ten years in the newspaper/magazine business, writing and editing for publications such as The Daily Journal, The Bridgeton Evening News and Atlantic City magazine. In 2004, she co-authored Haunted New Jersey: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Garden State with Dr. Charles A. Stansfield, Jr., a professor of cultural geography at Rowan University. Martinelli’s first solo effort, titled Haunted Delaware: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the First State (2006). Since then, she has written True Crime: New Jersey (2007), True Crime: Pennsylvania (2008), Rain of Bullets (2010), and True Crime: Ohio, which will be released in 2011. She was a contributing writer to The Colossal Reader: Super-size Stories & Irresistible Information, published in 2008 by West Side Publishing. However, she decided earlier in 2010 to return to writing fiction. This “Alice-in-Wonderland” tale for women features Julia D’Angelo, a smart, successful businesswoman who has not been feeling comfortable in her own skin lately. When her husband announces one night that he is tired of being married, she flies to New Orleans with the hope of catching her emotional breath. On a visit to a historic plantation, she steps through to an alternate reality where she discovers that her only way home is to follow the Rim Road, which runs everywhere through this strange land. However, what Julia doesn’t know is that she has been to this reality before and not everyone she meets is happy about her return. Rim Road: Book I–The Lost and Found is currently available on www.SmashWords.com.

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


IIn nssiid de e tth hiiss IIssssu ue e

For the past 5 years, Adventures for the Average Woman has been a stepping stone for writers on the arduous climb up the steep path to publication. It has been our honor and privilege to be the first opportunity for many writers to get their start as well as to help promote the books of up-and-coming writers. Although we are but a small piece in the publishing puzzle, we have contributed to the careers of dozens of writers to date. We’re always looking for stories, articles, poetry, and artwork for upcoming issues. So send us your submissions now and get published very soon! (For guidelines, go to www.IdeaGems.com.)

Book Look

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From Victim to Victimizer to Victorious

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Hot Ice

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See Jane Run

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The Storm

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Nothing but the Best

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Heirs of Justice

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Mismanaged Love

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The Fall

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Alysse

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Road to Pasadena

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A Bad Day at the Office

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Rain, Rain, Go Away

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Code

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On Subbing

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OUR STAFF

From Us to You‌ Laurie E. Notch, Managing Editor In charge of stories, articles, poems To contact, email: ideagems@aol.com

Elizabeth Wyrwicz, Graphic Artist and Layout Editor In charge of art, photography, and graphics To contact, email: glowcatstudio@gmail.com

Mary Regan, Public Relations In charge of advertising and promotions To contact, email: meregan4@gmail.com

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We are proud to bring you this SPECIAL ISSUE devoted to true crime, crime drama, political suspense, stories from prison, edgy literature, with a couple of nice poems tossed in to soften this brassy mix. Every day we receive more and more submissions from talented writers and artists striking out on their grand adventure of getting published. We offer many of them their first chance. To do this, we continually need your support through the purchase of our literary product and passing the good word for others to do the same. We hope to continue producing our special issues with more focused and recurring themes. TOUGH LIT is an example of our experimentation. Our regular quarterly publication will of course continue with our upcoming Fall Issue featuring all things eerie, ghostly, and paranormal. If you have a chiller of a tale to contribute, please submit it to: ideagems@aol.com. As always, thanks for reading! -- Laurie Notch, Managing Editor

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From Victim to Victimizer to Victorious!

The personal essay of Ms. Vonunette Allen, Inmate #922-069

October 25, 1993 was the most tragic day of my life. That’s the day that my life went from being normal to a life of turmoil. As I watched my brother slowly die right before my eyes, one of the links in my family’s chain had been broken. Nothing anyone can say or do would ever heal the pain and void that I was feeling. My brother was no longer a human being but became a statistic in Baltimore City’s homicide rate. He was no longer Tarik El. Now he was victim number 278. The person who committed this senseless act of violence never took time out to think how our family was going to suffer due to my brother’s death. Due to the injustice that was done, I went from a victim to a victimizer. I did not know how to handle my grief or where to begin with it. The State Attorney’s office offered grief counseling; however, they had no funds for that which left my family in despair. As victims, we have rights, yet they were ignored and treated unfairly. I remember the doctor coming to the waiting room telling us that they had done all that they could do in order to save him. The doctor’s exact words were that he had expired like he was a carton of milk that had been sitting in the refrigerator past the due date labeled on it. A few days after my brother died, I remember someone saying, “I know how you feel.” That’s a bunch of crap. People didn’t know how I felt. I was rationalizing it and thinking, Why did God allow this to happen? My brother was only 16 years old! To lose my brother was to lose a part of my life. At night, I used to dream of seeing my brother lying in the hospital bed like he was still asleep. When I went to touch him, his body temperature went from warm to cold. I started stealing checks to try to fill that void in my life. It was never about getting away with anything or being exempt. I was trying to mask the feelings of guilt because I felt that I had not protected my brother. I felt a gut-wrenching pain that no one could ever imagine. I wanted people to hurt the way that I was hurting and feel the pain that I was feeling. I didn’t know how to express the emotions that I was feeling. The more I did it, I did not feel any better. After going deeper, I saw that because of my own actions, a lot of people suffered because I did not seek the help that I desperately needed. Due to my ‘I-don’t-give-a-flying-frig’ attitude, the people (whose accounts I unlawfully used) suffered. Banks also suffered due to the fraudulent checks they had to cover which made their fees increase. Consumers suffered due to the bad checks due to retail prices increasing in order to balance out the money stores had lost. My family suffered because of the bad decisions I made that landed me in prison so many times. Above all, the months and years that I spent in prison was time I lost raising my children. After going deeper, I saw the things I had been battling with for over 14 years. As hard as I tried to be this tough woman, I was still hurting and angry. I realized how this affected my relationship with others. I 4

realized that I didn’t have to carry this hurt and anger around with me any longer. None of my family would ever want me to be that way again. I realized how having designer clothes, shoes, and purses could never replace my brother. That expensive bag on my shoulder may have looked impressive; however, it held a lot of junk—the secret pain and private hurts. Some of those aches have gone on for a long time. As I began to acknowledge my emotions, the grieving process began. As I began to change, I was growing and healing. I understood the stages. The process unfolded naturally. At one point, I felt as if my choice was taken away and that I was not in control. I was hurt and I wanted to hurt everyone back; however, I couldn’t. I could no longer be afraid to face the facts. The fear I had sometimes turned into denial. I was denying the things I did wrong and why I did them. Once I began to accept the death of my brother and take responsibilities for my own actions and forgive the person that did this, I became willing to heal and grow. Now, I am drawing closer to God and building a relationship with Him. Due to my new-found relationship with God, I can face change with an open mind and heart. Several years ago, a judge told me before he sentenced me that the answers I was seeking were not in jail. Now I can say that I’ve found the answers I was seeking. I have my high school diploma which I didn’t have before. I have completed cosmetology which was another goal that I accomplished. I have learned how to express the emotions that I’ve been feeling. I know I don’t have to hold them in any longer. I have become a writer that has had several of my poems published in a magazine. Since I have opened up my heart and mind, I can accept the things that took place in my past as well as forgive them also. I am more ready to receive what God has in store for me. I am more equipped to handle the blessings that I know I am worthy of. During this time of incarceration, I have found myself asking God questions like, “Why do I keep doing this?” I was told to go deep within to reflect on my life, address and heal what needed to be healed and forgive everyone for any and all trespass. Only then would I experience freedom. My lockdown experience has been on a mental, emotional, and physical level. I stole precious time from myself. I killed self-acceptance, focusing instead on my past. I raped my mind of the God-given creativity it held. I harbored illusions of what I could not do. Yes, God’s compassion was shown to me. It wasn’t until I stopped looking at the external situation and circumstances and went within that I was able to hear and rely on the gentle voice of God for guidance. I have learned that when I am feeling myself holding in my emotions, I need to turn to my family, boyfriend, and friends. I now realize that I can turn to them without them being judgmental or opinionated about my situation. I have come a long way from being a victim to a victimizer to being victorious. Vonunette Allen is a poet and writer in Jessup, Maryland.

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


by Patricia Hubschman

“You’re about to lose your job?” Mason shouted. “How can they do this to you? You’ve got fifteen years of faithful service in to that store. How are we supposed to pay our mortgage?” He slapped the palm of his hand against his forehead. Christine didn’t interrupt. It wasn’t her fault that she was losing her job and she knew Mason wasn’t blaming her. It had just come as a surprise. The store where she was a jewelry and diamond buyer had always seemed to do so well, but Triumph was going out of business, closing its doors forever. Who would have thought that would happen? “I’m not the only one,” she tried to reason it off. “Everyone else is getting canned and none of us have pensions or are getting severance pay.” He glared at her. “But you’re not some sales clerk from the bridal boutique or makeup counter or whatever. You’re management, you, sis at a desk.” She was tempted to correct him, make that past tense, but it wasn’t necessary. “It’s sad that a great store like Triumph is going under and none of us employees knew about it.” Mason pressed his lips tightly together. “Yeah, and I wonder why.” She knew what he was thinking. The economy was crazy right then and the press blamed it on irresponsible company heads. “And whose pocket is the money going into because of Triumph’s downfall?” She stared at him disapprovingly and shook her head. “I’ve got to start cleaning out my desk tomorrow. I have until the end of the week.” “Then what?” he tossed at her, his anger at the situation building, his fear of what would happen to their livelihood spilling over. Everything was so expensive and his job alone wouldn’t cover it. “Then I start looking for another job.” She put both hands out to the sides, palms up, in answer to his questioning glance. “I don’t know, but whatever it turns out to be has to be better than not having a job or bringing in a paycheck.” She had a point and could see Mason’s eyes soften, though he didn’t verbally comment on it. “Why do you think they’re doing this to us?” asked Elizabeth Breaks, leaning on the front of Christine’s desk. Liz was the head buyer for Sportswear. She had been with Triumph almost as long as Christine. The two women were friends. Christine sighed wearily, putting down a stack of magazines she had taken out of her drawer. She hadn’t slept well the previous night. A combination of worry about the future and over her husband’s tirade, which she still wasn’t sure who it was, directed it. All she wanted to do now was clean out her desk as she was expected to do and organize things for the close down in the days ahead. “My guess is they hired too many people to do too many different things and bit off more than they could chew. That’s generally how it goes,” Christine said matter-of-factly. Liz shook her head vigorously, disagreeing. “You wouldn’t have been able to buy sportswear for the store anymore than I would VOL 5, ISSUE 5

have been able to buy jewelry. We each have our own specialty.” Christine would concede to that, but what was the point of rehashing it? What was done was done. “My husband had a fit last night over this,” Liz added. Christine gave a small smile. “Mine too. I wouldn’t take it personally. Our salaries are needed at home and our husband’s are worried things are going to become very tight.” “Aren’t you?” Liz fired. Christine rolled her eyes. “We’ll get other jobs. Something will turn up. Triumph isn’t where the road ends.” Liz wasn’t appeased by what Christine had said. Frowning, she turned on her heel. “You always were too much of a goody two shoes,” she spat and walked out of the office. If Christine hadn’t been so drained, she would have burst into laughter, and she could have used a good pick-me-up right then. Alone in the office, Christine stared at her computer screen, poring over a job want-ad website, having no idea what she was looking for. What kind of job could a person with previous experiencing in diamond and jewelry buying do? Beside for the same type of work, she couldn’t think of anything. “It’s nice to see at least one of our employees still hard at work,” Jane Spencer, one of the upstairs secretaries, said. Christine looked up. Only recently had Jane been promoted to Oscar Thompson’s executive secretary. That made even less sense. Christine smiled. “It beats sitting here staring into space, makes the day go faster too.” But maybe her continuing to work under the present circumstances was disloyal to her co-workers, who were basically out on the floor picketing. What was that going to accomplish? They were losing their jobs because Triumph was going under, not lobbying for higher wages or better conditions. In fact, to date, Triumph had treated them all very well. “What brings you away from the boss’s office?” Christine asked more sarcastically than she had intended. Flinching, the pretty, young blonde jumped back as if she’d been slapped. A surge of guilt passed through Christine. She hadn’t meant for it to sound like an accusation, but that’s the way it came out and the way it had been taken. Unfairly, it did seem the pretty ones always got the good jobs. “Mr. Thompson wants to see you in his office ASAP,” Jane was all business now. “He stressed that it’s confidential, so don’t tell everyone you’re on your way up to see him.” Even Jane was curious about the message she’d just delivered from the boss. Christine was confused. In all her years at Triumph she had never even met Oscar Thompson, she wasn’t sure what his title or company connection was, except the boss. She squinted at Jane. “Yes, of course. I have nothing on the agenda at the moment that’ll keep me.” Opening her bottom desk drawer, she dropped her handbag into it and rose to follow Jane out of the office. Jane said nothing on the elevator on the way up, not did Christine. The other few employees on the elevator with them tried to remain elusive, but kept sneaking stares at Christine. It

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was like being called to the principal’s office. She had no idea why she was going there and wasn’t nervous, but everyone else was ready to point a finger at her because – what other reason could there be? They assumed she’d been a bad girl. Outside the boss’s office, Jane tapped lightly and was told to bring Miss Crisp in. Jane gave Christine a small smile, turned the knob and beckoned Christine in, then closed the door behind her. The office was big and dark, all the furniture was leather. Thompson got right to the point, which Christine appreciated. “Miss Crisp, you’ve always been a valued employee at Triumph’s.” Christine nodded, wondering what he was leading up to. Maybe he was going to give her a juicy goodbye check. Mason would love that. Her fingers were crossed on her lap. “Thank you for noticing. I’ve always tried my best, sir.” Christine wanted to kick herself. That had sounded so rehearsed. He didn’t seem to notice it. “And for that we’d like to show our gratitude. . .” Her fists were clenched tightly, pressing down hard on her knees till it hurt. This was it. He opened a drawer in front of him. “So for being loyal and devoted to us and our sadness at having to close our doors and say goodbye to Triumph’s people.” He pulled out a box and pushed it across the desk. She stared at it dumbly. It was a velvet jewelers box, square, but not flat. It couldn’t be a pen and pencil set, maybe a watch. She wanted to scream. That wouldn’t pay the bills. “Please take it on behalf of myself and our directors.” Christine forced a smile and reached for the box, her hand on top, ready to open it, but his hand came out and shot over hers. “Not here, please. It would be best for you to do that on your own time, at home perhaps.” She squinted, not understanding. “Oh, I, yes, of course,” she muttered, pulling the box over to her, onto her lap, where it sat like a heavy paperweight. “Oh, and, please do not mention this to the other employees. We don’t want them to think we’re playing favorites here and have them jealous.” Only if it was money would anyone downstairs be jealous. The fact that she got a store bought gift would have most of them laughing in the aisles. “Of course,” she said, rising to her feet and dropping the box into the pocket of her suit jacket. The meeting with the boss was over. She left the office. When she got back to her desk, she shoved the box into her handbag and forgot about it until she got home. Mason was at the kitchen table calmly leafing through the newspaper When Christine got home. Plopping down at the table, she snatched up a section of the newspaper and began slamming the pages over. “Something wrong?” he asked unperturbed. She glared at him. “What could be wrong? I just lost my job and even more humiliating – do you want to hear this?” she snapped. He couldn’t have gotten out of it if he wanted to, but he was intrigued. It wasn’t in her nature to be in the kind of mood she was in. “By all means.” He waved his hand, urging her on. “The boss called me into his office. I haven’t a clue what it’s about ahead of time. He tells me I’m a valued employee, but instead of a check, he gives me this.” Reaching into her bag, she pulled out the box. “What is that?” he asked.

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She snorted. “Probably a leftover from last year’s Christmas party.” “Have you opened it?” She shook her head as tears sprung to her eyes. “Then do it. Let’s see how valued an employee old Oscar feels you are.” Sniffling, she lifts the lid, her breath caught and she stared dumbly at it. “Holy cow!” Mason squealed, jumping up and coming around behind her. “Is that real? Rock-a-my baby.” She looked at him out of one eye. “What does this mean? Why would Mr. Thompson give me a valuable diamond from the store’s collection?” He stared at her eagerly, a question in his eyes. Christine sighed. “Yes, Mason, it’s real. I bought it a couple of years ago and it’s been in the vault. I guess they were holding it till they found the right buyer.” “Or the right person to give it to as a severance gift?” he posed. She shook her head. “I can’t accept this. It’s worth a lot.” “So are you,” he shot back. “Maybe the old guy does feel some compassion for booting you.” He took the box from her, snapped it shut and began leaving the room. “Where are you going?” she asked hurriedly. “To put this on eBay, see how much it can pull in,” he replied. She jumped up. “Are you crazy? If we suddenly have too much money how is that going to look – gift or not?” She still couldn’t grasp any of it. “Hmmm,” he murmured. “You’ve got a point. I won’t sell if for anywhere near its worth, maybe half a mil or something like that.” She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. She felt delirious and dizzy. She plopped back down into the chair. Mason left the room humming. The diamond sold quickly for a fairly decent price. To Mason it was a windfall, even if it was nowhere near what the stone was worth. “Easy street, away we go. Let’s go have some fun.” They went out for a pizza. One night, two weeks later, Mason came through the front door with a brand new laptop computer under his arm. “What is that?” Christine snapped, not letting Mason answer. “Mason, you’ve got to stop spending money. It’s going to your head.” He placed the computer down on the table next to Christine. “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life. Everyone’s entitled to treat themselves to something special now and then. You, Chris,” he said while wagging his finger at her, “are a party pooper.” She was and she didn’t know why. Something about being given that precious diamond and selling it didn’t sit right with her. She considered talking to Mr. Thompson about it or someone else at the store, but it had already closed its doors and something stopped her from trying to contact anyone. “It just doesn’t seem right. I can’t explain why.” Half a second later, she did know why. Mason did too. He noticed the headline in the newspaper over her shoulder and got behind her to read the article. “Diamond Stolen from Closing Store’s Vault. No Suspects at Present.” Mason whistled. “Do you think that’s our diamond?” She turned frightened eyes up at him. “I didn’t steal it. Thompson gave it to me as a gift.” “I know that, you know that, so does Thompson.” “We have to go to the police,” she blurted. He shook his head. “No good. First of all, it’s your word against (cont’d on p 23)

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


By Craig Sodaro “C’mon! C’mon!” Jane urged the Nissan, which sputtered another hundred, maybe two hundred feet. “We’re almost—” The engine shuddered and stopped. Only the windshield wipers’ squeak broke the silence slapping the wet snow this way, then that. “You should have got some gas,” Trevor announced. Jane looked at her seven year old toe-headed son and sighed. He was right, of course. She’d passed an open station fifty miles back. But if she’d taken the time to stop, they might not have made it this far. “C’mon! We’ll have to walk,” she said with a quick glance to see if any lights shone in her rearview mirror. Trevor scowled. “It’s snowing!” “Zip up! We’ve got to hurry.” While Trevor struggled with his coat, Jane tried the car once more. The engine burst to life, gulping the final fuel vapors. “Hey!” Trevor cheered, “It works!” “Get out!” she told her son. “But mommy!” Jane pushed Trevor to the door. Looking like a frightened puppy, he snapped it open. “Get out!” Jane ordered, and the boy slipped into the night leaving the door ajar. Jane stepped on the gas, spun out across the highway and into a small turnout. The wheels squealed as the Nissan slid off the edge of the turnout into a ditch, disappearing from Trevor’s sight. “Mommy! Mommy!” Trevor ran in the snowy darkness across the street, his sudden tears mingling with wet snowflakes. By the time he reached the edge of the ditch, Jane was crawling to the top. “I’m okay, honey. I’m okay. Trevor grabbed onto Jane as if she were a life preserver. But a sound alerted Jane, and she shoved Trevor down to the ground. She dropped next to him and clutched him closely to her side, wrapping him in her open coat. The lights of an approaching car brightened; the speeding wheels hissed on the wet pavement. Mercifully, it didn’t even slow down but sped on into the darkness. “It wasn’t him,” Trevor announced comfortingly. Jane helped her son up and smiled. “No,” she said. “Is our car broke?” Trevor asked. Jane nodded with the faintest smile. “With any luck, it’ll get covered with snow and he won’t ever find it.” Then she led Trevor into the darkness beyond the ditch, far from the road, into a tangle of trees. “When are we gonna get to Cappy’s cabin?” Trevor asked a short while later. Jane knew his little legs were already tired and VOL 5, ISSUE 5

cold from digging into the wet snow that was getting deeper and deeper by the minute. “I think it’s just a little way up here. See that dark ridge of trees?” Trevor stopped and squinted. “It’s too dark to see anything, Mommy.” But Jane could faintly make out or, perhaps more realistically, sense a ridge of pines that formed a fortress around the cabin. As a child, she’d always loved the sense of security it gave her knowing those pines stood strong and tall against any intruder no matter how persistent or powerful he might be. Maybe that’s why she’d come here now. Cappy’s cabin had always been her haven, even when she couldn’t physically seek its refuge, just knowing it was there provided the comfort of knowing, yes, there’s someplace that’s safe. And there it was. As if by magic, the snow quieted and a sliver of moon appeared, splashing the roof with glitter. Dusted with snow, the log walls looked like a zebra’s stripes, the windows two black eyes, and the red door a jovial nose. Trevor ran to the cabin with Jane not far behind. It would be warm inside once she built a fire, and they could rest. With any luck there would be some canned food and bottled water even though there was a deep, unused well near the cabin. Cappy always said he left provisions for an emergency, and if ever there was an emergency, this was it. Jane found the key under a loose porch floorboard and opened the door. She and Trevor stepped carefully into the musty, cold room. There was no electricity, but if her memory served her correctly, a kerosene lamp always stood on the table in the center of the cabin. A loud bang broke the silence, a pan hitting the wooden floor. “Mommy! He’s here!” Trevor whispered in terror. Before Jane could respond, a clack, clack, clack drew closer and then scurried past Trevor out the door and into the night. Trevor screamed, but the noise was cut off as Jane grabbed his mouth. Her voice held back a laugh. “It was a raccoon—just a raccoon!” Trevor’s thundering heartbeat slowed, and he pushed Jane’s hand away to laugh, partly at being so close to an animal, partly in embarrassment. By the time he stopped laughing, Jane had lit the lamp. The warm, yellow glow reflected off the varnished log walls but left deep shadows in the four corners of the single room. Trevor could see chairs ringing the table, two beds at one end, kitchen cabinets and a small sink at the other end of the cabin. A

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wood stove stood in the center against the wall opposite the door. Several winter coats hung from pegs, as did snowshoes and crosscountry skis, fishing poles, nets, a tackle box, and extra lanterns. Before long, Jane had used kindling and wood stacked up near the stove to start a roaring blaze. And once the room had begun to warm, she and Trevor crawled into the bed closest to the fire and curled up under the blankets. “Sleep, my little man,” Jane whispered after lightly kissing Trevor’s forehead. “I won’t let anyone harm you.” But in her dreams, she saw him again. She was picking Trevor up at school. That’s how the nightmare always began. Mrs. Danklin, Trevor’s teacher, stood in the doorway of her classroom wearing the scowl that had etched lines crisscrossing her face. Her yellow teeth showed slightly through thin, cracked lips. She glared at Trevor as he muttered goodbye and backed down the hall, keeping his eyes on her until he was a safe distance away. And then he broke into a run. Mr. Taggert, the principal, grabbed Trevor and with a booming voice admonished him. “We don’t run in the halls, young man! Not in my school we don’t!” Trevor wiggled himself free, Mrs. Danklin cackling with glee. “Oh, we’ll get him!” she chuckled, “We’ll get him!” A man stepped from the janitor’s closet near Mr. Taggert. He wore a uniform, a blue jumpsuit with a name embroidered above the left breast pocket. His unkempt red hair exploded from the top of his head. Beneath the lion’s mane, his eyes were the icy blue of a predator whose sole goal was to bring down prey. Mr. Taggert handed the man a letter and then, without reading it, this strange figure who inspired both fear and loathing, stalked Trevor, getting closer and closer, his hands reaching out— But never quite touching… …her son. Jane awoke to the slate gray of dawn. She slipped out of the covers without disturbing Trevor and lit a fire. She watched the flames lick the bark, catch and grow. She pulled the letter from her pocket and glanced at the letterhead. Wainright School District No. 5, it read. She didn’t open the letter all the way because she didn’t want to read it again. Once had been enough. She slid the letter into the crackling fire and watched until the flames had completely devoured the paper. Evidence destroyed, Jane thought, gently closing the stove door. By the time Trevor awoke, Jane had opened a can of tomato soup and, mixing it with bottled water, heated it up on the stove. “Soup for breakfast?” Trevor asked curiously. Jane smiled. “It’s warm. Go ahead. Life here won’t exactly be like it was back home.” Trevor wrinkled his nose. “How long will we be here, mommy?” Jane shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe a long time.” Trevor looked around the room. Jane could tell what he was thinking. Is this all? Where’s the TV? Where are the video games? Where are my bike and toys? Her eyes fell on a bookshelf. Weathered volumes stood in neat rows. “There’s nothing to do here,” he said weakly. “We’ll find something,” Jane smiled. “There’s a lake close by. And lots of places to hide. If I remember right, just out back if you go down the ridge, you’ll find a fort we built when we were little.”

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Trevor’s eyes brightened. “A fort?” “We used to play ‘Treasure Island’ there.” “Is that like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’?” Trevor asked, a bit confused. Jane nodded. “Absolutely.” She picked up a stick from the wood box. “And this can be your sword, Jack Sparrow!” Trevor, mollified for now, swung the stick about daringly, skewering imaginary demons as snow began to fall again. Jane was glad for the snow. It would not only cover the car, but their tracks as well. It would make any effort to find them so much more difficult, if not impossible. After all, who knew that Jane’s father’s boss happened to have a cabin this far north that she used to visit as a child? They couldn’t be that desperate that they’d make the connection. Her confidence grew as the hours turned to days. She and Trevor ate two cans of soup a day, and at that rate with the provisions Cappy had stored in, they could stay in the cabin for three weeks or more. By then, perhaps, Jane would feel safe enough to venture out to get more supplies. Money would be a problem. She’d need to find an ATM, and they could trace her transaction, but would they really bother? Wouldn’t they realize after three or four weeks that she and Trevor wouldn’t be coming back? They could remove him from the rolls and then just forget about him, couldn’t they? Wouldn’t that be the sane thing to do? But when each day ended, the darkness brought a fear that permeated the very walls of the cabin. The nightmares didn’t diminish and the notion of sanity operating within the vast bureaucracy that tormented Jane seemed less and less possible. Waiting for sleep, Jane would hold Trevor tightly, a tingle of fear knotting her stomach. What can I do? Where can I go? If I try to leave the country, I’ll be stopped at the border. But how long can we stay here? She had no friends or family who had been willing to help. It was simply too dangerous because they all had their own kids to worry about. Gradually the snow deepened and the days shortened. Jane pulled book after book from the shelf, sat on the bed and read to herself, sometimes curling up under the covers. Trevor would inevitably force his way under the covers with her. “What’re you doing?” he’d ask. “I’m reading,” Jane would whisper. “Want to listen?” Trevor would nod and stare at the pages of the book to imitate Jane, but eventually he would become bored and jump off the bed and resume his swordplay. But one day, he asked Jane, “What does that say?” And Jane read, “In some villages, large painted boards were fixed up: warning all persons who begged within the district that they would be sent to jail. This frightened Oliver very much, and made him glad to get out of those villages.” When she stopped, Trevor urged, “Read more. What happens?” Jane continued and for the next few hours, she and Trevor shared Oliver Twist’s adventures in long ago London. Mrs. Danklin had said Trevor couldn’t sit still when she read a story. He had no interest. He couldn’t pay attention. And Jane had found that true at home. When she had tried to read even picture books, Trevor had squirmed and fought and slipped off her lap in search of something more entertaining. It’s a stage, a phase, Jane had convinced herself. (cont’d on p 25)

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


by Gillian Scott

Lightning flashed and the sky lit up like a fourth of July celebration. I counted "One! Two! Three!" And then it came - the resounding clap of thunder. Bella, my Scottish terrier, whimpered and leapt up next to me on the sofa. A squall lashed at the house as if in punishment for some wrongdoing. It howled beneath the rafters like a living, breathing fiend. The lights in the den flickered off and on. An involuntary shiver went down my spine. I listened to the window shutters flap to and fro banging against the outer wall, seemingly in applause of Mother Nature's petulance. The beach house was located on Cape Cod Bay, surrounded by miles of beach and numerous ponds. It was a wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle and much ado of everyday life and had been a summer home to my parents and my grandparents before them. The weather forecast had predicted a storm rolling in from the Atlantic, and by lunch time ominous clouds had begun to overcast the sky. Pulling my legs beneath me, I snuggled down in the soft throw blanket I kept over the back of the sofa for such dark and gloomy days. The rains (when they came) battered and pounded the coastline all afternoon and evening. The house creaked and shuddered in disapproval. The electricity flickered off and on one last time before finally giving out. My flashlight and cigarettes were next to me on the coffee table, and I reached across with jellylike hands pulling a 'ciggy' from the pack and lit up. Inhaling deeply, I watched the embers glow in the dark. The nicotine succeeded in working its usual 'magic' slowly calming the tension in my body. I had always been afraid of storms and being alone in the house was proving to be unnervingly creepy. The sound of thunder reminded me of childhood and scary ghost stories. I subconsciously drew the blanket tighter about me. The only sound to be heard other than the fury of the wind and rain outside, was the unremitting tick of the grandfather clock in the hallway… tick, tick, tick. It had startled me more than once. When it chimed the hour, its loud, clanging bell causing me to almost jump out of my skin! I huddled under my blanket and listened to the anger of the storm and watched the eerie shadows that danced on the walls of the den. A tapping at the window made my heart momentarily stop and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end! It turned out to be nothing more than a palm frond, half broken off from the tree planted three summers ago. Eventually my stomach, growling with hunger (sounding like a noisy pot of bubbling stew) forced me from my hibernating position. With flashlight in hand, I made my way along the hallway to the kitchen. The flashlight cast a luminous glow over the kitchen appliances, making everything appear a little spooky and somewhat threatening! Having arrived a few days earlier, I had stocked up on provisions. Opening the refrigerator door I was happy to see an ample amount of various goodies that were fortunately still nice and cold. I quickly fixed a turkey sandwich, grabbed a coke and made a hasty retreat back along the hallway. It was a short while later that I heard the sound of the front door knocker… rat-a-tattat. Listening intently, my senses heightened by nervous tension VOL 5, ISSUE 5

from fear of storms, I sat up… The knocking came again. I was expecting no one. The house was three miles from town, and my nearest neighbor was an elderly woman who lived alone with her dog approximately a mile further down the beach. Notwithstanding of the fact that no one knew I was here, anyone venturing out in this crappy weather would have to be crazy! Uncurling my legs from my fetal position, I eased myself off the sofa and gingerly walked back into the hallway not wanting to alert this uninvited guest or guests that there was anyone home until I had decided if I would open the door. I switched off my flashlight and hid in the alcove off the hallway. From here I had a view of the glassed front door. I could see a shape—a silhouette illuminated by the half-moon. My gut feeling was to stay put and hope that the visitor would assume no one was home and leave. The knocking went on for a couple of minutes then suddenly stopped. Whoever it was, disappearing from view. I listened… Complete silence except for the ceaseless ticking of the grandfather clock and the driving rain outside. I didn't realize that I had been holding my breath until the knocking stopped and I slowly exhaled… A lightning bolt illuminated the hallway, and I hurried back to the den. I was alarmed and scared. Who was this person? And more to the point, where were they now? Had they gone away? Or where they still lurking in the shadows somewhere outside? Picking up the phone, I checked for a dial tone… Nothing. The lines were still down and my cell phone had no reception. Needing to calm myself, I took several deep breaths. I was getting panicky. There had to be a rational reason why a stranger (or perhaps there was more than one) was out on the beach in the middle of nowhere during such a horrendous storm and more to the point, was pounding on my door! It was probably just a traveler passing through that had somehow gotten lost. That couldn't be right. I hadn't seen head lights or heard a car engine! Perhaps the car had broken down further up the road? Oh, for God's sake—get a grip! My mind went into overdrive. I peered through the window into the dark night. An empty void stared back. I briefly pondered if perhaps I should have answered the door. It was then the sound of breaking glass penetrated the silence. Oh, my God! Momentarily rooted to where I stood I could hear a muffled sound coming from the kitchen. An inherent instinct for survival propelled me into action. Looking for a place to hide, I crept as quietly as I could to the far side of the room. I found a small space between the antique credenza and mahogany sideboard which would conceal me unless the intruder came completely into the room. Scrunching myself between the two, I pressed back against the wall and prayed for obscurity! What sounded like footsteps followed by an unusual dragging sound echoed from the hallway. I didn't peek out from my hiding place. My heart pounding, my hands cold and clammy, I waited with bated breath! A warm sensation from my lower regions betrayed my vulnerability and tears stung my eyes. Hopefully, they won't notice the puddle on the floor! The footsteps stopped in the

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doorway. I held my breath. The heavy footfall and the strange dragging sound (like something being pulled across the floor) continued into the room! The shape was standing no more than a couple of feet from me—so close that I could actually hear its intake of breath. I squeezed my eyes shut hoping that if I couldn't see them, they wouldn't see me. A sharp crack of lightning set the sky ablaze and was quickly followed by the deafening roar of thunder. I opened my eyes. There before me stood the most terrifying THING I had ever seen! I heard a shrill, piercing scream before my world was cloaked in darkness. The cry had come from me! Totally traumatized, I had apparently blacked out. I awoke to find the grotesque creature watching me with an intent gaze. Beady eyes traversed the length of my body as I lay wedged between the credenza and sideboard. My first thought was to look for an escape. There was none. I was trapped in my hideaway, with no way out. Words could not describe my fear. My ability to function became completely suspended. Visions of this freakish ogre ripping me apart limb by limb or perhaps devouring me whole crept into my brain and ran amok. Momentarily mesmerized by its piercing stare, I felt almost trancelike, somewhere between sleeping and waking. I watched it move towards me before I erupted with a penetrating shriek. In a flash, its claw like appendages reached out and grasped my quivering body. As I lost consciousness, I could only imagine that this was a scene straight from a horror movie. I rolled over in my comfortable queen sized bed and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Sunlight filtered into the room and I squinted at its dazzling brilliance. Bella licked my face nuzzling into me. The heavy rains from the previous evening had passed. A few remaining drops trickled down the window pane. I lay beneath the covers feeling incredibly lazy. Why not? I was on vacation after all. I had nothing to do and nothing planned. A bemused smile crossed my face, WOW! What a night! At least Bella and I had weathered the storm. My bedcovers were tangled, tossed, and turned from my restless sleep. Running my hands through my hair, I vaguely recalled some strange ridiculous dream! There must have been something wrong with the turkey, I reasoned. I didn't normally suffer from such outlandish nightmares. I snuggled with Bella for a few minutes longer before throwing back the covers. My left foot felt tender as I stood up and put my weight on it. Looking down, I noticed a couple of deep scratch marks running from just below my ankle to my toes. How on earth did that happen? I mumbled to myself as I hobbled to the bathroom. Applying some antibiotic cream to my wounds, I concentrated on my usual morning bathroom ritual before slipping into my bathrobe and cautiously limping downstairs. Entering the kitchen doorway, I stopped dead in my tracks. Oh, my God! The room lay in total disarray and broken glass covered the floor! I was too afraid to enter the den… Gillian Scott was born in the United Kingdom and emigrated to the United States in 1981. She currently resides in Tamarac, South Florida where she is married to local attorney Richard Entin. She has one daughter Farrah who currently attends University majoring in Criminal Justice. Gillian’s book, Island People can be found here:http://www.publishamerica.net/product91624.html

10

Nothing But the Best By Rosalie H. Contino, PHD I looked up. He looked down. I was looking at the latest HP printers. He was staring at me. Those beautiful crystal-blue eyes were so watery and sad, His unusually smooth face was now deeply lined, Was it the age or a deeply, stressed life. What went wrong? He always bragged. “It’s nothing, nothing but the best.” Did the best go wrong along the way? Why? “Hey, young lady. Whatcha lookin’ at? Startled, I giggled, “Looking for the perfect ultimate printer. And you?” “Buying whatever product makes the job faster and easier.” “That’s usually life, itself, isn’t it? The ultimate blaster?” “Hmmm, so poetic. I guess you’re a writer now from what you just said.” “Yup. Writing and busy, as busy can be.” “Retired now and you found your niche.” “Absolutely! What about you? What brings you here today?” “An almost done deal to help future masters” “Is that why those unruly strands of grey stick out from your woolen cap?” “More so than that,” he sighed, “I must say.” “Oh, what happened to ‘nothing but the best man’?” He shook his head. “A case of overindulgence in nothing but the best!” I looked up surprised and mumbled, “Oh, I hope I haven’t offended you.” “No, no you used to look at me, laugh, and say, ‘Such philosophy!’” “Well, we all want the best, but very few will announce it loud and clear.” “Still playing tennis or running around the golf course?” “No, writing deadlines and hosting writing workshops, take up time.” “Wow! Big decisions! “And you?” “Golf because it is the executive’s quest for the perfect job and benefits.” “That couldn’t have been too bad for a family man - no?” “No,” he said sadly, “the family man became a must miss and you?” “Being responsible for others was not my quest, just sharing my talents were.” “You were more honest than I.” “Life is a risk, remember?” “My word, how long has it been since we’ve seen each other?” “Counting the times, we whisked by each other and waved in our cars, or spoke?” “Does it make a difference? Could we start anew?” Those blues eyes looked down at me. “Sure. Where to?” “Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts? I know Starbucks, right?” “Natch. Where else to plop down for a latte and right away.” Way back when, it was his place or mine Now it was a latte at Starbucks. We paid for our purchases at Staples and off we went for another era of re-working of ‘nothing but the best.’

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


by Rosalie H. Contino, PhD Part I The overhead camera moved slowly around the room and surveyed the non-descript types one saw in this courtroom today. Although the room was filled with people, the room gave the appearance of a barren and cold look. The calendar said, “Springtime” for outside weather, but not in the courtroom. Spring meant new growth, a new beginning, a refreshing new season. The men and women sat here with stoic expressions on their faces that did not reveal any freshness. Thanks to the unique talent of the cameraman, the camera resembled roving reporters who peeked in at this trial or any others, and recorded other slices of life. In this case, it was a slice of death and its consequences. The camera perceived the audience as grey pieces of matter staring straight ahead. An usual assortment of humanities were present today? Who were they, exactly? Curious bystanders, visitors, spectators, anxious or concerned relatives, pre-law students or "let's wait and see" professional agitators? The camera focused slowly on the defendant, a young man of twenty-one, Mark Stephano—who tried his best to look calm but was obviously distraught. His lawyer, Sue Megan, a young woman in her late twenties professionally garbed in a grey suit, sat by his side. She saw his anxiety and patted his arm to reassure him. The camera surveyed the jury—an eclectic gathering of volunteers—all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors. Suddenly, a loud, muffled sneeze was heard, the camera moved swiftly to avoid getting sprayed by the sneezer, then zeroed in on an embarrassed, young, black male who’s fumbling for a handkerchief. The elderly lady next to him, handed him a tissue as she said, "God bless you." He mumbled a grateful inaudible, "Thank you." The human sneeze relieved the tension in the room temporarily as everyone laughed at the discomfort of the sneezer. The camera turned to follow Claudine Meyers when she arrived at the courthouse, primly and neatly dressed, without a hair out of place. She walked towards the front of the courtroom, and sat down behind Ned Jeffreys, her lawyer, trying not to call attention to herself. She reminded herself that must not cause any outburst and disrupt the court proceedings if Jeffreys was to win her case. She remembered when bedlam broke out in the courtroom involving cases similar to this one when she sat on as a juror. Today, Claudine sat there with bated breath looking at the alleged criminal. What a laugh, she thought, this word “alleged”. That’s how he was described by the media. They knew Mark did it. How could they say alleged? She sighed and also realized that everyone was guaranteed a fair trial regardless of the circumstances. Regardless, she thought, of what? This was crazy! She always gave a donation to MADD without a thought as she did to many charities, such as cancer or diabetes. Who would have thought that she would be part of the organization that MADD mothers formed to educate people to save lives? Today was truly a different case. The jury must decide whether this was a case of murder or manslaughter. As far as she was concerned, it was a case of depraved indifference to a human life that caused the death of VOL 5, ISSUE 5

her only child Kevin. She took a deep breath again. Claudine waited and wanted to hear the evidence stacked against Mark. "Please proceed counselor, let's hear the evidence," an authoritative voice commanded. The camera switched to Judge Manero, as he spoke, and was in the process of swatting a fly on the edge of his tortoise shell half-glasses. He peered over them to listen to the court proceedings. His expression on his face was that of a stage director, waiting for a perfectly, run rehearsal—for that A-one moment that each director wants to hear—a moment of truth. He listened as he stacked the papers each lawyer gave him to read for the past two days. The prosecuting attorney, a well-dressed and well-built man in his early fifties, Ned Jeffreys, was well known in this community. Word was that he belonged to the same country club as both families on trial. The judge noted to himself, that it was going to be a challenge and difficult to prosecute and come up with a fair conviction when everyone in this town was practically an extended family member. Ned's a good man, thought the judge. He's knew what he had to do. He didn’t know Sue Megan. She was new to the town. The camera swung back to Jeffreys addressing the jury. "Remember, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that this young man, Mark Stephano, was known for his chronic drinking problems, was responsible for the life of another young man,” Jeffreys began in a clear baritone voice, “A childhood friend no less. There can be no doubt as to who was driving? Kevin, an innocent victim, was found dead on arrival. It took the fire department two hours to cut him out of the mangled car.” Jeffreys turned on the TV monitor. “Look at these pictures, ladies and gentlemen of the jury! They tell you how fast he was going! Look at the pictures of the victim before the accident and when he was found. The face is so badly battered and twisted like clay, almost beyond recognition. Cause of death, multiple face and head injuries, when the car hit the tree and slid into a ravine off the side of the road. The seatbelt didn't save him because the jolt of the impact was too severe. The air bags seemed to have missed their mark to save him. Kevin was dead at the scene and not on arrival at the hospital, the very place he worked every summer for three years because he wanted to be a doctor.” Mark sat there with no expression on his face. “Kevin was a young man who had great plans for his future,” Jeffreys continued, “a young man who wanted to work with the impoverished people in our country, was a young man who was also willing to give up time in his life to work in an underprivileged country to help those less fortunate than himself. Instead, Kevin’s future was cut down by an uncaring monster, a fiend on the road, the worse kind you can find, especially when the person who has ended, your life just happens to be your best friend." Jeffreys was slightly shaken when he finished his speech because he realized what happened to these two young men could also happen to his own son. However, he erased the thought from his mind, closed the TV, composed himself, and sat down giving the floor to his opponent. The accused stoically sat there

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with his head down. His lawyer, Sue Megan, faced her client and said nothing. She stood up with great confidence, and looked at the jury in a state of shock. “What the Prosecuting Attorney has stated is an affront to my client, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. He’s accused my client of causing the death of this young man. How could that be? Kevin had alcohol in his system too. What if Kevin grabbed the wheel from my client's hands, while he was intoxicated too, and forced him to lose control of the car. Why wasn’t Kevin’s seat belt on when they found him? He wouldn’t have died so quickly, or did he have a death wish on himself? We don't know this or why, do we? Mr. Jeffreys said the evidence spoke for itself. There were many inconsistencies in this case, ladies and gentlemen. A major cause for reasonable doubt! Look at my client.” Megan turns on a TV screen. “Look, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, look Mark was severely injured, too. Broken legs, ribs, and ruptured spleen, scratches on his face. He doesn't know whether he can walk properly again. He still gets throbbing headaches whereby he has to lie down and rests for hours. If this is the case, where will he be able to find employment to allow him to rest? No employer wants to nurse an employee. Think of it ladies and gentlemen. Think of this poor young man sitting here waiting to see justice done." Claudine sat there stunned! What was that? She’s accusing Kevin, the victim of grabbing the wheel and causing his own demise? Kevin had a death wish on himself? What is this young fool thinking? Kevin always had his seat belt on. She knew he made a point of that especially if was going to be a doctor. He didn’t want to have scars on his face if he was in a crash. Kevin told her of the facial scars because people weren’t wearing seat belts. He saw so many cases in the Emergency Ward especially involving young children that he was considering reconstructive facial surgery for children. A cause for reasonable doubt? He was good, this lawyer. Really good! I don’t believe it! Claudine was a high school drama teacher and this was like a speech from Julius Caesar, you know, “I come to bury Caesar not to praise him.” What nerve! Making dirt out of her son’s reputation. She couldn't breathe momentarily, even though the courtroom was bare and cold despite the number of spectators or well-wishers or whatever you want, sat next to her, and in back of her. They listened for whatever it was worth to them. She heard enough and didn't want to sit anymore on the well-worn, wooden bench. It was a relic no doubt like everything else in this room including this trial. To those who sat there, it was just another vehicular homicide. She recognized no one. Jeffreys assured her that none of them were ex-students or the parents of ex-students. Claudine saw, too, by the bored looks on the spectators faces that this was not an interesting trial—run of the mill—you know the ones they tell on the six o'clock news by some well-meaning, quasi-serious newscaster—usually in great detail so that by the eleven o'clock news the story became a mish-mash news events thrown in with the other incidentals that happened since the earlier edition treating the event like the colors of the newly, bloomed tulips at the local Botanical Gardens. The speech choked her. She was devoid of feelings. They should interview these people to find out why they were here. She imagined herself to be hapless shape sitting there trying to be calm as the lawyers presented the opening argument against and for the tragedy. What a show, a rehearsal no, an audition, she 12

thought as she took in another deep breath. Still Claudine felt as if someone gripped her throat and wouldn’t let go. Maybe it was the pollen of the spring flowers. Maybe it was the body language of the judge, sitting there on the podium. He had a blissful look on his face. Was he humming a symphony, or an etude? Definitely, not tuned in to this trial. He looked like a Mozart freak. Probably Chopin or Verdi? God, she thought, why am I so being so jaded still? The last thing she needed was to have the camera surveying this room for she observed the apathetic looks on the jurors' faces and scanned their each of their faces for an answer. What would the verdict be? Silly girl, she thought, how could there be? The evidence was still being expounded. What a wonderful word, this word expounded! It seems as though her son’s reputation was being exploited. During the day, Claudine mused that the lawyers jumped in with their pros and cons with finely and carefully executed movements and gestures—like in a play by Molière. Which interpretation would win the jury over and bring the case to its fruition? She was glad she was on a sabbatical this semester. It would be an impossible feat—teaching and preparing her students for the New York State Regents in English and attending this trial. Instead, she was developing a literary program for underachievers using drama, music and dance, and, of course, a creative writing program. These daily experiences were going to be food fodder by the time the trial was over. She could feel it. They were up her alley along with the lessons. What fun her students could have if they had a chance to view the tactics of the lawyers but now to face the daily grind of a classroom would be too much. Claudine placed her trust in Jeffreys. His opening statements were impressive as they were in his previous trials. She had no choice. She was a single mother for the past five years. Her husband Dan, a well-established electrical engineer, had died suddenly of a heart attack. She tried to make up for the lost of a parent and being a double one. She thought, she hadn’t tried had enough. Maybe she shouldn’t have agreed with Kevin of having a party for friends only and no relatives. His own graduation party. At first she said no. She insisted that he take advantage of having everyone come because once he started medical school, he would have no time. Then they made a deal: friends only. What stupid decision! All my fault! Her family admonished her for making such foolish comments. They assured her that sometimes, it was time to let go. She did! Now, she sat here as a grieving mother as well. This jury, of course, couldn't care less what the hell was happening. To them it was a few days away from the old grind. She remembered the last court case she sat on, an easy one, because she made sure of that. All the jury had to do was to decide on the amount of money for an accident settlement case. Claudine left the courthouse when it was over because her conscience was clear. She didn’t spend sleepless nights wondering whether or not she made the right decision and whether all the evidence was presented. Today was a Rod Sterling's Twilight Zone nightmare! How easily she planned Kevin’s graduation party—a simple picnic in Westchester—no relatives, just friends. He wanted to feel free and celebrate—no more pencils, no more books and no stuffy, ornate restaurants. He just wanted to yell, play Frisbee, touch football, whatever mood hit him. Maybe she shouldn’t have given in to him so easily. She didn't understand what happened that (cont’d on p 27) TOUGH LIT. AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


Mismanaged

by Bill Finnegan

It was a balmy evening in June 2077. Brad E-1432 was the only passenger in an electric taxi heading uptown on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Both he and the driver were wearing Government-issue survival suits consisting of a jumpsuit, combat boots, gloves, and plastic globe helmets. Their names and bar codes were etched on the helmets just below mouth level. Brad had seen no one on the streets since the cab picked him up, and was looking for lights or other signs of occupancy in the buildings they passed. He recalled that a million and a half people once lived in the city and he imagined crowds of them walking the streets without survival suits, their bare faces exposed to one another. “A great time to be living,” he thought. Nostalgia was not normally Brad’s thing, but this was a special day in his life. The driver, an exceptionally ugly man, interrupted his reverie. “Hey officer, I never carry a Mountie before.” A patch on Brad’s navy blue jumpsuit read “Department of Homeland Security Mounted Police.” “Well don’t think that entitles you to speed or run lights,” Brad said with mock severity. The driver laughed. “But why you takin’ a cab? Your scooter broke?” “No. I’m off-duty. On my way to meet the mother of my childto-be.” “Repro duty! Congratulations Man. First time?” “Yep.” “Mind my askin’ how old you are?” “Twenty-six.” “Whoa! Sounds like there’s a woman shortage. I was eighteen when I had my first woman and have had four more since.” “A different one each time? I’ll want the same one every time. The Repro Division says you can do this if both partners want to.” “Don’t believe everything you hear, man. I wanted that too.” “Maybe the women…maybe the women wanted variety.” “Ha! You wouldn’t say that if you saw me naked. But, hey, you’re finally gettin’ your shot so I better dodge the potholes so we don’t damage your equipment.” The cab dropped Brad at a handsome residential hotel adjacent to Central Park. There being no doorman he showed himself into the elegant lobby and looked around. There were fresh flowers on the reception desk with a sign reading, “Welcome Carla B-9094 and Brad E-1432,” but there was no one behind the desk or anywhere else in sight. A sign near the elevator said it was out of service so he walked up eight floors. The stairwell and eighth floor corridor were empty and quiet. The door to Suite 82 led into a standard air shower stall. Brad closed the door, flipped the switch, and stood still while the shower did its work. A recording prompted him to bend his right leg to expose the bottom of his boot to the air spray and then to do the same with his left. When the shower stopped and the suction vacuum ran its course he opened the inner door and stepped into the apartment. No sign of Carla, but this was not surprising since he was thirty minutes early. VOL 5, ISSUE 5

He removed his helmet and explored the apartment. He found it consisted of a small kitchen, a combination living room-dining room with a balcony overlooking Central Park, a bedroom with king size bed, and a bathroom containing a large sunken tub surrounded by unlit candles. On the kitchen counter he found two half-gallon jugs of water and six RTEs—ready-to-eat vegetarian meals, each labeled with either his name or Carla’s. Two of the meals were in blue packaging, two in yellow, and two in green, designating dinner, breakfast and lunch. There was also a letter from Harvey J-5643, Secretary of Health and Human Services saying they would be picked up the next afternoon and taken to a house on the New Jersey shore for a one-week honeymoon. Brad walked back to the living room, plopped on the sofa, and switched on the TV. He surfed the channels and was happy to see that the Reproduction Channel was available. It had been unblocked on his home set the day he received email notification of the repro assignment. The Channel offered clinical lectures on reproduction, instruction on the art of lovemaking, and romantic scenes from old movies that he had never heard of, which he enjoyed and watched repeatedly. He wanted to be a sensitive and effective lover for Carla and hoped she felt the same way about him. He surfed past the Repro Channel, feeling it would be indelicate to have it on when Carla walked in, and settled on the History Channel which was showing a documentary about the chaos that ensued when the deadly pathogen known as the “Armageddon Bug” was unleashed against America. Then hearing the air shower start up, he switched off the TV, and stood facing the door expectantly. All he knew about Carla was her name. The Government said it was better if the repro couple handled their own introductions and that photos were not furnished because they could be misleading. The interior shower door opened and Carla stepped into the apartment. She was wearing a white jumpsuit, which indicated she worked in the medical field. “Hello, Carla. I’m Brad.” “Yes. How do you do Brad?” Her helmet’s amplification system made her voice sound emotionless and metallic. Brad could only faintly make out her face through the UV coating on the helmet. And because survival suits were loose fitting he had no idea of her figure, although it was safe to assume she was slender like everyone else living on RTEs. Brad, who had never been in the presence of a woman whose face was exposed, was eager for Carla to remove her helmet. She could do this because couples in repro were exempted from the requirement that complete survival suits be worn whenever in the presence of others. “So are you going to take off your helmet and stay a while?” he asked with a smile. “Oh sure,” she said, and hurriedly removed it. They stood motionless and stared intently at one another for full half a minute, during which each of these ordinary looking

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young people privately pronounced the other beautiful. Because face-to-face encounters between the sexes were precluded by the survival suit law, repro sessions were always intense Adam-meetsEve experiences. Glancing at Brad’s navy blue jumpsuit, Carla nervously tossed a conversational gambit. “So you work for Homeland Security?” “Yeah, I’m in the Mounted Police. A Mountie,” he said pointing to the patch on his arm and feeling silly as he did it. “Does that white outfit mean you’re a doctor?” “No. A pharmacist. I help plan and supervise the inclusion of additives in MREs, you know vitamins, special nutritional supplements, medication.” He nodded. “But what I really need to tell you Brad is that I’m very sorry but I’m not going to repro. I’m going to report my decision now and leave.” Brad was stunned. “We’ve been assigned to each other. You don’t like me?” “No! I don’t even know you, and you look fine. It’s the repro program that I don’t like. If we lived under the old ways I would definitely want to marry and become a mother, but not like this.” “Like this?” “You’ve got to compare it the way people lived before the Bug— the way it’s described in the novels.” “It’s illegal to read that stuff.” “No it isn’t,” she snapped. “Only reprinting or copying them because that would use scarce national resources. As a cop you should know that.” He blushed and stammered, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean….” She regretted having embarrassed him and said soothingly, “It’s okay. Most people think novels are illegal because they are so hard to come by. And I know you Mounties have more important things to worry about than whether people are Xeroxing Jane Austin. Anyway, please understand that my decision has nothing at all to do with you.” “Then why didn’t you report it right away and not wait until you saw me?” “I did but they insisted that I meet you before making a final decision. I guess they figured I was nervous and might change my mind.” Agitated and needing to vent, Brad walked across the room and back. “I don’t like to say this Carla, but I don’t understand how you can be so damn self-centered and unpatriotic. If every woman refused repro we would die out.” She struggled to restrain a smile. “That’s true, but the fact is that they don’t and if it came to that I might reconsider. But maybe if enough of us say ‘no’ to repro the Government will improve the system. Like in that Greek play, ‘Lysistrata,’ where the women deny the men sex until they end a stupid war.” Well, I don’t know anything about Greek plays, but I think repro works just fine.” “So you approve of couples having to part as soon as there’s pregnancy and of mothers having to surrender their newborns?” “The parents are needed back at work and have to separate to minimize the risk of infection. And they get unlimited visitation with the child.”

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“Yeah, but visitation ends when the kid reaches twelve and then the three of them have to be put on antidepressants while they adjust. Don’t kid yourself, Brad. The Government could improve things if it wanted to.” Resigned to his fate, Brad asked, “So what’s going to happen now?” “I’ll email my decision from here and return to my apartment. I’ll be questioned and possibly demoted, but they’ll leave me alone after that. Fortunately, boycotting repro isn’t a crime, at least not yet.” “What about me?” he asked. “You’ll be assigned another partner and in the meantime they’ll put you back on Nilid.” “Nilid?” “You know… the sex-urge suppressant.” “They put that in my food?” Carla bit her tongue. She had just disclosed classified medical information, and to a cop no less. She realized acting guilty was the worse thing she could do and decided to put Brad on the defensive again. “Sure. I thought you would know all about that, being in law enforcement and all. Every sexually mature adult who’s not in repro gets Nilid. That’s why we have no sex crimes. But of course this is closely held information, not meant for the general public and apparently not for all policemen either.” “Do they add other things, besides vitamins and antibiotics and things like that?” “Sedatives sometimes to help you get a good night’s sleep if you’ve been showing signs of stress and mild intoxicants to help you enjoy holidays. But, as the Government says, it’s for our own good. Living alone is difficult for most people so they help us cope. That’s why they tint our helmets and have the helmet amp systems distort our voices. It prevents emotional involvement at the workplace.” “No, the helmet tinting is for UV ray blocking.” “Yes but it’s darker than it has to be. It’s hard to become attached to someone whose face is barely visible and whose voice sounds like everyone else’s. Makes it easier for us to spend most of our lives in virtual solitary confinement, which the Government says we have to do as long as the Bug’s around.” Brad mulled it over. “Thanks for telling me about this, Carla. I’ll keep everything you said to myself.” She looked relieved and smiled gratefully. “Now will you do one small favor for me?” he asked. “Stay just a little while longer…to talk…that’s all. This is my first time face-toface with a woman, and it must be the same for you with men.” Her eyes were sympathetic but she shook her head. “Have you ever seen the Ocean?” he asked. “No.” “Neither have I. They’ve got a week’s vacation at the sea shore planned for us starting tomorrow. What do we say we take it? There’d be no repro, only, uh, uh….” “Companionship?” “Yeah, companionship,” he agreed, although he was not sure what the word meant. “We could erect some kind of a ‘Wall of Jericho’ between us on the bed, like in that movie.” (cont’d on p 28)

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


The Fall

by E. E. Symolon

From the balcony the city looked sullen. Attic apartments, oddly majestic despite their dowdiness, issued above the low clouds with hardly a sign of life. A few cars whisked over wet pavement. The occasional military van chased defiant strollers from the street into doorways. Fear and desolation infested the rapidly encroaching evening, and Paris withdrew into itself. Across the Seine another arrondissement shook from an explosion; the sky exploded with light. For several seconds the outline of the city appeared, like an overexposed photograph, and then faded to black. Fanny inhaled the damp air. The atmosphere was heavy with pollen-like residue that emanated from the ground below. She bent over the railing, straining for some sign of life -- any comforting noise or movement that would confirm the existence of life. "Come away from the balcony. It's dangerous to linger like that. They might be watching." It was clear whom Claudia meant by "they." In the market you couldn't exchange local gossip with your closest neighbor because "they" might be listening. You pulled your shades down in the middle of the day and turned out your lights at night because, if you didn't, "they" would notice. Better to be faceless, voiceless, and soulless than noticed. Once you were noticed there was little anyone could do to reverse the potentially fatal sequence of events that would follow. One night their cousin Jacques was pulled off the street in front of his girlfriend's house because he looked guilty. Poor Jacques. The authorities didn't know that he had just spotted his wife across the street. She alone of the family expressed no remorse during his two month sequester following the arrest. Jacques was lucky; not everyone falsely seized saw daylight again. The incident was still distinct in Fanny's memory, yet it didn't deter her from doing as she pleased. She tried to make her sister understand that one might as well be dead as denied movement and speech. It was not a new argument, she knew. Alain and Luke tossed it over the table at Le Petit Appui long before the National Resistance Council adopted it as one of their unifying themes. Alain and Luke always seemed to be ahead of the coming wave, whether it be artistic or political. Fanny worried about the idealism that drove men into the streets. What good did it do them? Many returned from their battles so mentally or physically crippled as to make them unbearable companions, let alone lovers, husbands, and fathers. Maybe Claudia's attitude wasn't so bad after all; perhaps one was better off sitting back and letting events take their course without the well-intentioned but misguided intervention of zealots. Fanny closed the doors and stepped down into the parlor. Her sister was on the divan, legs stretched out in front of her. Lifting a brush, she tossed back her head and began smoothing out her long auburn hair. The nearby radio emitted an unpleasant blend of accordion music and high frequency static. "How can you bear that noise?" Claudia chuckled ironically. "The noise is the least of it." Fanny sat on the ottoman and tried to suppress her restlessness. It was going on five weeks now since they had been out of the apartment at night. They were used to frequenting the cafés and VOL 5, ISSUE 5

clubs off Saint-Germain, accustomed to Alain, Stephan, Luke and the others coming round for them shortly after five and staying on until God knows what hour. Would they ever get used to the absence of male company and nightlife? Claudia, as if psychic, suddenly interjected, “We should consider ourselves lucky. At least we're safe. As long as we stay in line nobody's looking to get us. So what if we're cooped up in here? We can get used to it.” “You think so?” Her sister's complacency ignited something in her. She grabbed her jacket off of the coat rack as she made her way to the door. “Are you crazy? What are you doing? Fanny!” She was half way down the second flight of stairs by the time Claudia caught up with her. "You're frightening me, Fanny. Come back upstairs. If you get caught wandering through the streets they'll arrest you.” "What do I care?" Claudia hung back. “Go ahead then. I'll take care of Alain after you're dead, you won't have to worry.” Fanny's descent slackened. “He won't miss you for long, I promise you. In a year's time he won't even recall what it was like to kiss you.” At the bottom of the landing, hand on banister, Fanny stopped and looked back. “You're lucky Stephan can't hear you -- carrying his child, yet.” “We don't know that for a fact, do we?” Finger on bottom lip, she coyly attempted a basic mental calculation. “How many weeks ago was it? Just around the time Alain was here for the weekend.” Fanny turned and shot down the last flight of stairs. Claudia, realizing she had gone too far, cried out, “I didn't mean it.” Fanny's steps reverberated through the street. She looked around cautiously and slowed her pace. From the apartment the block hadn't appeared so dark. She kept close to the damp stone buildings and gradually became aware of the cold penetrating her short tweed jacket. Rounding the corner she sensed someone behind her. She pulled back into a doorway and listened. The footsteps grew nearer, but tentative: a step forward, a step back. A second later her sister came into view. As she walked past the doorway Fanny reached out for her arm. It was a stupid move; Claudia's screams could have brought the entire German outpost lumbering down at their heels. She shook Claudia soundly as she drew her into her arms. "Shut up, you silly cow. Where are you going?' "Don't ever take off like that. How could you leave me alone? Let's face it, Alain and Stephan are gone for good. They're probably cold dead right now." "Is that what you want?" Claudia reconsidered. She gathered her collar close to her neck, shivering. Fanny stepped out of the doorway. "I'm going to Sandra's to see if there's any word about Alain. Go home and wait there." "I won't. I'll go with you." "Are you really afraid to be alone?"

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"Yes," replied Claudia, without compunction. "I'm going to Sandra's with you." Sandra Morrow's husband belonged to the FFI, but they were both ardent members of the Resistance, and activists met in their basement every Thursday evening for support and strategy. As Alain was in the forefront of the regional consortium, Fanny had found herself becoming an almost regular participant at the meetings. Apart from her belief in the cause, she liked and respected Sandra's courage and her ability to handle political affairs in her husband's absence. Reaching in ten minutes what normally took less than three to walk, Fanny stopped in front of the Morrow home and considered how best to summon Sandra without frightening her or calling attention to the building. Through the thin material of her sister's coat she could feel Claudia trembling. "Why didn't you put on a heavier coat? Do you want to catch cold?" "Yes!" Claudia shot back, confounded. "That's just what I want." She yanked her arm free and added, defiantly: "I didn't exactly expect we'd be walking the streets of Paris during curfew, with patrol cars and tanks at every turn." She stood perilously close to the rim of light shed by the corner streetlamp. Fanny rapped lightly on the third window from the back of the house. The dim light that had eked through the bottom of the window shade suddenly went out. She waited a moment and then rapped lightly again. "Fanny?" She looked up and saw Gilles Ducroix's head at an upstairs window. "Gilles! I'm here with Claudia. Let us in." The Morrow living room was modestly furnished and the dim light from the solitary floor lamp in one corner barely illuminated half of the room. A bookcase lined one wall. The only apparent titles were a row of annotated plays by Shakespeare and a volume of Proust. In all the months Fanny had been coming to this house set back off Rue Mazarine, she had only seen the cellar in which the meetings took place. She had expected the Morrows, whom she knew to be quite wealthy, to be surrounded by slightly more ostentation. She had once heard, and now firmly believed, that most of their money went towards helping Jews escape to the Free Zone. Sandra emerged from the kitchen and embraced Fanny. "I haven't seen you in weeks. I wondered if you were still in Paris." "Since Alain was away..." "You saw no point in coming? All the more reason you should attend our meetings. We have a common goal, don't we?" "How is your husband?" "He's been ill for some weeks, but he's getting better," Sandra answered, distractedly. She lifted a silver tray off of the coffee table. "Sit down and have some tea. I'll bring out some more sweet cakes." Claudia examined a photograph that was propped up on the mantelpiece. It showed a young man in a duffle coat leaning over an iron banister. "Is this your husband?" "Yes, that's Bertrand." "He's quite good-looking." Gilles strolled over to Claudia and leaned his elbow on the mantelpiece. "I didn't know the lovely Fanny had a lovely sister." Claudia slapped the photograph back down and moved away. Fanny followed Sandra into the kitchen. 16

"It's good to see Gilles looking so well; I heard that he had been ill." Sandra pushed the door shut before she responded. "He hasn't recovered completely. One minute he's talkative and laughing; the next he's withdrawn and nervous. This war has been going on for too long, making everyone anxious." She opened a tin box, removed a few cakes and arranged them on the plate she had given Fanny to hold. "But," she added, "he's a good fellow. Brave and reliable." They returned to the living room and found Gilles and Claudia standing by the bookcase, talking quietly. "You'll have to be leaving soon, Gilles, if you want to make it to Calais before daylight." "It's still early." "It is nice here," Claudia mused. "I haven't been out of our apartment at night in so long. It's lovely to have a place to visit." Gilles turned to Fanny, a trace of anxiety in his voice. "Have you heard from Alain? Is he still in Calais?" "No. Why? Should he be?" Obviously regretting his words, Gilles looked helplessly to Sandra, who immediately adopted a casual air. "Who told you Alain was in Calais, Gilles?" She turned to Fanny. "He probably misunderstood. Sometimes place names sound so similar." Fanny was not mollified. "Did someone see him in Calais?" Gilles shrugged, trying to dismiss the issue. "Jacques mentioned it to me. He said he thought he saw someone like Alain being driven into the fortress outside of the town. I'm very sorry . . . I wouldn't have mentioned it except . . . I thought you knew." Fanny said nothing. "You're right, Sandra, it is late,” said Gilles suddenly. “I’ve got to leave." "Do you think you'll make it out of the city?" "I have clearance papers." He reached inside his shirt and produced a brown card folded in half. "It's a professional job. I've gotten by twice with this. They can't tell it from the real thing." "Take me with you." "Don't be foolish, Fanny," said Sandra, handing Gilles his coat. "What good do think you're going to do?" "I've got to do something to help Alain. I've been going crazy just sitting around every night, wondering where he is, what he's doing— if he's even alive." "You're not going out there," Claudia insisted. "You aren't seriously thinking of taking her with you," Sandra protested. "Sandra, we've been trying for weeks to get someone into Calais. I happen to know for a fact that the Germans have ... girlfriends … slipped in there a few times a week --" "My sister will not pass as a whore!" Claudia said shrilly. Gilles looked from Claudia to Fanny to Sandra, helpless. "Fanny can't just stroll into that place as she likes," Sandra reasoned. "I know Madame Pechaise very well. She supplies girls from her house. The Nazis won't suspect a thing." Gilles slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. "Damn! It's the best way to reach someone in the prison. We should have thought of it sooner." Sandra was appalled. "You know very well once those girls go in there there's very little chance they will come out again." (cont’d on p 31) TOUGH LIT. AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


Alysse

by David Keith

Warning: Strong language and content! “I think I need a man,” she said, her voice getting lower, almost sultry. “I want to feel a man’s cock in my pussy. I need to taste a man, drink his semen.” “You know, this is stupid,” I said. “You’re stupid. So you’re horny, so fucking what? Go ‘way.” She shot me a look that, had I cared, would have turned Medusa herself, the silly bitch, to stone. “Fuck you, Harry. I’m offering you the best pussy you’ve ever had but, no, you’re just too good for it. You’re a holier-than-thou fuck, you fuckin’ fuck! I hope you die, you fuck!” Spittle flew from her mouth and her face turned beet red. I started to laugh, but then something really strange happened. I saw tears at the corners of her eyes. At first, I thought they were anger, but I’d never seen her cry out of anger before. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cry at all—ever. I looked more closely as tears began to leak from her eyes. The leak became a shower which became a storm which became a torrent that grew into a flood, an ocean of anger and loneliness and sadness and unbearable loss. The only sound she made was a low moan. No sobbing or choking or wailing. God, how I hate a woman who wails and screams (unless I happen to be having sex her at the time, of course)! This woman, she only moaned—like a pup that had been beat near to death. Now, what the fuck’d I do? Why’s she cryin’ like that for? What’s wrong with her? I didn’t hit her or nothin’. I sat there, just looking at her, while my thoughts and confusion—and, I’ll admit, worry—roiled. As I said, she had always been so cool no matter how people treated her or what they’d say to her. She had always been oblivious to their ridicule—or so I’d thought. This new her confused the hell out of me and made me feel things I’d never felt for her before. Things like maybe I’d gone too far this time, maybe I’d actually gotten through her tough exterior and had actually hurt her. Thing is, I didn’t like it that I might have hurt her. Piss her off, sure. Irritate her, always. Tease her or make her laugh—especially when she’d be drinking something and would wind up blowing the liquid out her nose—whenever I could. But to see her cry like this? And, worse, to know I’d caused it? That floored me, and I learned I didn’t like it. I realized I didn’t think too highly of myself just then. So, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I put my arms around her shoulders and pulled her to me. Now, I’d done that lots of times before, but never for this reason—never to comfort her, mostly because she’d never needed comforting before far as I could tell. “Fuck you, Harry, you worthless shit. Get the fuck away from me,” she said through her tears and shrugged me off. She then stood up and, still crying, headed to the door and out, closing it softly behind her. I heard her boots clumping on the stairs as she went down. Women! I thought as I reached for the last of the Clan MacGregor. VOL 5, ISSUE 5

I didn’t see Alysse for four or five months after that. You know how it goes: days go by and you realize you haven’t set foot out of the apartment once. You wake up and only want to go back to sleep because your dream world is infinitely better than the real one so you get up, piss, maybe drink some more uisge na béatha (whisky)and then crawl back under the covers. You don’t even bother eating, assuming you even have anything in the apartment to eat, but are content to follow your dream paths and get pissed when that particular dream never comes back. Or, if you do go out, it’s just down to the liquor store for more uisge. You’re glad your pension check is automatically deposited— at least you ASSUME it is because Danny at The Booze Hut keeps on taking your debit card—so you don’t have to hassle with that. Finally, though, hunger eats its way through your apathy. You look in the fridge, but all you see is the same old shit you saw the last time…and it’s still as appetizing. You have this passing thought that you should probably clean the fucker out, but it’s just too much trouble right now; besides, you’re hungry. So, it’s down to KFC or something like that. Anyway, it was on one of these food-gathering expeditions that I saw her. I’d just come out of Joe’s Burger Shack and turned toward my apartment building. It was a four-block walk and I wanted the food to be at least sort o’ still warm when I finally got back, so I was walking fast, weaving around the bums, whores, and other losers along Main Street. I was stopped by the light at Eighth and looked down that way when I saw her limp—she’d gotten that, she said, when she was a kid and living with her aunt and uncle and had fallen out of a tree and broken her leg. Those two had started taking care of her when her parents were killed in a car wreck when she was a baby. Her aunt and uncle only saw her as a way to get money from the state, so they hadn’t bothered taking her to the doctor when she fell out of the tree. She healed, but would always limp because the leg hadn’t been set properly. Anyway, she was wearing that multi-colored coat she’d found at Goodwill two years ago and one of them French berets—both looked even rattier than usual, as did her black boots with the rundown heels. I noticed right off that she’d changed her hair color from its usual blonde to a sort of real deep red—auburn, I think they call it. I had to say it looked real good on her, too. Her being short like that and thin, her shoulder-length hair made her look sophisticated, like she belonged in the Plaza and not down here in Bum City. She was looking the other way and stepped out into the street about half-way down the block, intending to cross the street, I guess. That would be just like her—cross in the middle of the block instead of going to the corner like civilized folk are supposed to. Always did have an independent streak to her, y’know? A Yellow Cab crossed the intersection there at Eighth and Main heading dead toward Alysse. The driver was yakking on his cell

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phone and not paying any attention at all to where he was going. The cab was empty except for him. She kept on walking across the street, turning to look toward me and the cab just as she crossed the center line. The cab was almost right on top of her. Everything must have slowed down then because I started to yell at her to look out but my voice seemed to not want to work right. I yelled—I know I did—but nothing came out but a croak. The cabbie must have seen her right then because he dynamited his brakes, but it was way too late. Alysse took the hit on her right hip, or so it seemed. As I said, time was crawling, so I had plenty of opportunity to see everything that happened to her. The cab’s headlight rim hit her square on her hip and its momentum carried it onward, pushing her. Her right leg reached out toward the cab’s tire and she fell sideways, slamming into the street. I saw her head bounce once as it hit the pavement. Meanwhile, her leg—the one that was hit— went under the cab’s tire and out the other side. The cab finally stopped with its tire between her legs as if it was trying to decide which part of her to run over next. I found myself running toward her as a crowd began to surround her. Somehow I’d lost the bag of burgers, but I didn’t care. All I could think of was to get to Alysse and to tell her I was sorry for not coming to see her after that last time. The cab driver got out of his car just as I reached it. I guess I went a little crazy then because I slammed my hands into his chest and knocked him back into the seat and then slammed the door— hard. It hit his shins with a ‘thunk’ and bounced back open. He screamed, so I slammed the door again as I sidestepped around it and to Alysse. A teenaged boy was just starting to bend over to her, but I kicked him in the chest so he’d get out of the way. He grunted and fell away, clutching his chest. I knelt down by Alysse. Her right leg was bent outwards and I could see the bone sticking out. Blood was starting to soak into her prized coat that she’d bought at Goodwill. More blood was soaking through from her hip and a puddle of it was slowly spreading out around her head. She was still breathing, though, and her eyes were open, so I guess that was a good sign. She looked at me and a tiny smile started to brighten her face. She coughed, though, and a trickle of blood ran down her chin from her mouth. “Harry,” she whispered, “I was coming to see you. I wanted to show you my new hair color and see if you like it. I’ve really fucked up this time, haven’t I?” She reached up and wiped her hair from her face with her right hand. A bruise had formed under her left cheek where it lay on the street. I noticed her eyes were wet from crying—the second time she’d cried in front of me. I held her right hand and patted her face. I could feel my own face getting wet from tears, but I didn’t give a shit. “Hey, ‘Leese, I like your hair. You always said you’d like to be a redhead, but I gotta tell you this is a really shitty way to go about getting that way, y’know?” My voice cracked, but I tried to smile at her. I guess she saw the humor because she chuckled, then her face scrunched up as something inside twisted. She then coughed and more blood ran out of her mouth. She was so pale. I’d never seen

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her this pale before—not even that time we’d gone skinny-dipping in the river in the middle of January. “I-I’m sorry, Harry. I m-m-missed you.” Her voice was more a sigh than a whisper. She opened her mouth in silent pain and then her eyes sort of rolled back into her head and she slumped over. I frantically felt her neck for a pulse and found it, but it was so weak and fluttery, like a bird’s. The next thing I knew, hands were pulling me away from her and men in blue uniforms were bending over her, one reaching for her neck and the other with those crooked scissors that the ambulance guys use in his hand. No, her hand—the one with the scissors was a woman. For some reason, that made me feel better—that it was a woman. Alysse shouldn’t have her clothes cut away from her by a man. It just wasn’t right that she did. “It’s okay, sir, we’ve got her. I’ll need you to stand back so I can do my job for her, okay?” The medic’s voice was young, almost too young, and soft—maybe young, but it was ancient with compassion. I could tell she really cared. Somehow that comforted me, and I didn’t say a word, but just stepped back a couple of feet. Another hand touched my arm, this one also in a blue shirt— only this time there was a badge pinned to the chest and an ugly semi-auto pistol nested on a black leather belt at the guy’s waist. I looked at the cop and felt myself tensing, ready for another hassle by the pigs. This time, though, I really wasn’t in any kind of mood for it. I could feel the anger and violence—the killing violence I kept so firmly bottled up so deep inside me that most people aren’t even aware it exists—rising up, fighting to get free. I mean, this was Alysse lying all bloody and still on the filthy city street. Her beautiful red hair was now matted with a deeper, stickier red liquid, the multi-colored coat she loved more than just about anything now nothing but a soaking red rag. I had to protect her, didn’t I? I had to find some way to make her wake up and to be all right again, to smile at me with that mischievous grin of hers. Hell, even to tell me to go fuck myself. But I knew I couldn’t help her, not this time, maybe not ever again. I could never tell her what I just now realized: that I loved her. I’d loved her for so long and so completely that neither of us ever realized it. We were just buddies, ‘Leese and me, right… RIGHT? Two more losers lost in the city with no way out and no hope. What right did we have to love anybody… right? I looked at the cop. It must have been raining because it was like I was looking through water. My fists clenched, ready to beat the fuck out of him or anybody who tried to keep me from Alysse. I could feel the jungle killer I had been so long ago charging out, free again. Noises I hadn’t heard since Alysse’s head thumped off the pavement suddenly came pouring into my ears: police radios, all kinds of people squawking like a bunch of demented geese, other people giving orders, someone screaming, vehicle engines, and a low, ominous snarling like a wolf makes just before it attacks. The cop’s mouth moved but no sound came out. If I’d been thinking, I’d have thought that was really strange, but now it just didn’t mean anything. Just another part of a fucked-up life. “…sir. Please try to calm down and let’s talk, okay?” Now words were associated with the cop’s mouth. His voice was gentle, (cont’d on p 34)

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


ROAD TO PASADENA Los Angeles is not a city. It is an urban planet. It is the infinite recession of grid-work development radiating to all horizons. Even in the landscape one detects the founders' intentions: that, unlike the east coast cities that exploded around trading posts, Los Angeles was designed to become a major city, even in its infancy. It was a particularly American idea: that a community could not only accommodate congestion, but would actually invite it. There cars are not in lanes, but in swarms. It is infrastructure cubed and squared its major artery, the I-5 corridor, is one of the few human structures which, when illuminated, is visible to satellites. A first experience with the LA Freeway is unlikely to ever be forgotten, unless one finds an effective hypnotist. Yet, even the most accomplished mind cleanser will be unable to eradicate the memory if your first view of this mythical thoroughfare occurred when you were driving on it. I'll preface this by explaining that I was part of an educator's program sponsored by the government - a clever scheme which allowed us astronomy educators a free Mecca-like pilgrimage to the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Pasadena where we could cavort with the coven of hyper developed minds milling about like cerebrum-encumbered army ants. (Yes, they would consider this description flattering.) I arrived at LAX to join a cheerful group of other chosen astronomy people who had gathered at one of the airport's 5000 gates to wait for our hosts. Initially, they promised to shuttle us from LAX to Pasadena, but this was merely a ruse. Instead, they sent a few cars to transport us. We assumed, of course, that our hosts would drive. I based this unreasonable expectation on the fact that, unlike us, they actually knew the directions. It didn't quite work out that way. We were divided according to appearance quotient (LA has its own standards) and I hurried gleefully into a silver Prius accompanied by a 500 pound woman who was fired from a circus, a hairy fellow who rings bells in Parisian cathedrals, and a greentinted, protuberant-chested prison guard from the bog world of Vindemiatrix Six. We buckled and waited as our "driver" jotted some words on a clipboard before he closed the driver's side door and addressed us. He was a charming, wild-eyed specimen of towering hair and a constant giggle that was more digestive regurgitation than a laugh. (I know now how some extras make pocket money between horror movie gigs.) Instead of the conventional "hello," he greeted us with: "Hey, guess what, children?! Bwah-ha-ha-haaaa....One of you yokels is driving.... bwah-ha- ha.. We didn't say this before, but we got this thing we do, you see, bwah-ha, to make the biggest hick get behind the wheel on the LA freeway. Highlight of my year. My favorite part is when they cry. Ha-bwah-haaa..." He then stared hard at me through the rear view mirror. "Where you from?' Gently nudging my cardiovascular system back in place, I replied, "Skyscraper Valley." "What state's that in?" VOL 5, ISSUE 5

by Edward Gleason

I answered. "Speak louder, banjo!" "Um, Maine, actually....." His irises became incandescent. "MAINE?! Yeah, that's the ticket. You must be a hayseed." "Well, to be honest, I'm in the Phylum Chordata, subphyllum Vertebrata..." "Yeah, yeah," he snapped, flailing out of the door. "Front and center, primate..." I would have corrected him by saying that the steering wheel was front and left had I not been so preoccupied with sudden incontinence. With the poise and resignation of a guillotine victim, I slowly eased my way into the front seat. I distinctly remember the scorching heat of seat vinyl against my legs and the quaint little nametag our host draped around my neck. "They'll need that for the autopsy… bwah-ha-ha-haaa…” He climbed in the back seat, cackled and slammed the door with tectonic fury. "Now, then, you okay?" I coughed out my uvula. "Good. Now drive into that tunnel and stop so I can give you directions. Zombie-like, I drove into the tunnel and stopped the car—my first 300 yards driving in Los Angeles. Manhood achieved. Being submerged in the darkness was soothing, until Igor leaned forward so that his breath gushed like white water rapids into my ear. "After the airport exit, take the Sepulveda Bl South Enter freeway onto Imperial Highway West, 5 East, toward Norwalk. That's where the screaming begins, Hayseed. Drive on 105 East and the exit left onto 100 North. Take Golden State Freeway Five, continue on 5 North. Exit onto Glendale Freeway number two. Go north and then Exit onto 210 East toward Pasadena. Exit at Berkshire Drive and then at the bottom of the freeway ramp, hang a left toward Oak Grove Drive, go left at the T intersection and JPL is right in front of ya. Got that, ‘cause I'm not saying it again!" "Is that you, Mother?" "Rah, ha, ha..Good enough. Step on it!" With nothing else for it, I stepped on the accelerator like an old lady and bolted ahead. With Igor's helpful nudgings, "Left, damn it! Right, damn it! Don't they have English road signs in Canada?!" (all his laughter will be hereafter assumed and not included in the dialogue), I managed to navigate our way out of the sprawling LAX complex and onto the actual 72 lane street. The other car occupants remained curiously silent. I later learned that they were hastily mumbling confessions. The advantage of driving on the LA Freeway for the first time is that your mind doesn't allow you to realize what you're doing. For most of us Americans, the LA Freeway has assumed a mythological aura and when one is actually on it, the mind shuts down. It was larger than life and therefore surreal. Mind-lapse notwithstanding, one does get a subtle hint of the car culture. When driving on rural streets, one enjoys the comforting delusion of significance. When on the LA Freeway, one becomes molecular: a negligible speck in a flowing stream. "Flowing,'

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incidentally, is a relative term. It doesn't flow as much as it roars, jolts, hollers, threatens, and swallows. It is not the sun glistening, palm tree line thoroughfare of promise and new beginnings; it is noise and speed. Even that is pleasant compared to the on-ramps, where one feels like a bullet in a cocked weapon. I would learn through Igor's inquisition-like rib prodding that this was no place for timidity. "Everybody's a daredevil in this here avenue, hayseed!" (That accent, by the way, was totally faked.) Getting onto the freeway was surprisingly non-lethal. Like a stream bending around the contours of a rock, the traffic shifts and contorts to accommodate you, provided, of course that you're moving. "Faster, you backwater (censored)! Hey, how big was the town where you're from?! Pay attention to the traffic!" His advice was prudent for I was suddenly engulfed by cars— miles of them behind and ahead of me countless lanes to the left—for I had managed to maneuver our car into the second lane over from the right. After my hyperventilation subsided I found that the driving was, well, not terrible. Provided I maintained a constant speed, I kept pace with the other cars. It was fine. As every middle-school teacher knows on their first day, "The fear is always worse than the reality." "Hey, I'm doing it!" I proudly said, looking with lolling tongue at the generously proportioned prison guard in the passenger seat. Her look of appalled disgust belied her admiration of my sudden urbanity. A few minutes (could have been two years) elapsed as I kept driving. I was feeling so good, I looked back at Igor and said, "I'm going to roll down the window and listen to the Beach Boys." "Don't roll down the window!" Igor demanded. "And, don't touch the radio. Your music choices suck!" "Beach Boys suck? But this is California." "Do you like every episode of Hee Haw?" (Gee, I couldn't argue with that logic.) After a few more minutes, I found myself one more lane over and was brimming with self confidence until... "Okay, you're going to need to take a ramp soon." "What? Why?!?!" "Well, to get where we're trying to go, genius! Remember those directions I gave you?" "Not a word." "What a shock. Now, here's the trick. When I say, you click on the blinker and move. Don't hesitate, don't stop, and don't panic!" My confidence a vague memory, I confessed. "I can't do it!" "I know you can't do it." "What do I do?!" "You tell me when you see darkness." "What do you mean?! It's a completely sunny da— Help! Help! Help!" It became totally dark. I went to slam on the... "For God's sake, don't slam on the brake!" I then tried to let go of the... "And don't let go of steering wheel!!" "It's dark. I can't see!!"

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"Keep driving! If you stop, we'll be in a 20 car pile-up and die!" "I can't see!" "That means the blindfold's working, bwah-ha-ha." (Including laughter there seemed appropriate.) "Why am I wearing a blindfold?!" "Because I put it on you, stupid! Now, pay attention and whatever you do, don't let go of the steering wheel, don't slam on the brake. Just try to relax." Relaxing at the precise moment when you suddenly know the full definition of terror is a bit of a challenge. It was quite a treat to be on LA freeway with Igor, Quasimodo, a buxom alien and a circus attraction while wearing a blindfold. I've never complained about boring days since. "You need to listen, primate! Keep driving at the same speed. You're fine, and every driver around us is fine. Lots of cell phone cameras are pointing at you now. Smile!" I dangled my mandible for the benefit of the on-lookers. "Now, just keep driving at the same speed. Can you hear me?" "Ga… ga… ga....." "I'll take that as a yes. Now, I put the blindfold on you so you would do exactly what I say without stopping because you won't do what I say if you see all these cars. You seem to have a nerve disorder or some sort. Now, when I count to five, you turn on your blinker and you move to your right... smoothly and without stopping. That's the way it works here in civilization. Get it?" I sniffed. "Good." "Ready?" "Wha....." "Five....four...three....two...one....blinker on and go!" Without thinking and without sensation, I flicked on the blinker, gulped down my entire esophagus and moved to the right. Despite my anticipation of immediate catastrophe, the motion was smooth and uninterrupted, as Igor assured me it would be. "Okay, we're almost at the exit... Keep going....You're doing fine..." Amazingly, having no visual was helpful. I didn't see what I was doing and it was turning out well. We were all going to live. I couldn't tell you how relieved I was. And then Igor screamed. And because Igor screamed, the other passengers screamed. And, to be a conformist, I screamed. I tell you, these weren't just screams. They were bellows. They were banshee shrieks. They were the desperate wails of every damned soul in hell's lower chambers, assailing my ears like the final judgment. The only coherent sound I could discern was, "Go left! Go left!" I went left. I tried to take the blindfold off, but was restrained. "Don't you dare let go of the steering wheel! No, too far! Go right!!" I went right. "Oh, (censored), now speed up!" I accelerated. "Too fast!" I decelerated. But, such was my abject horror—that I couldn't even feel the car moving anymore. Mentally, I felt as though I was in air— inert but mobile; active but stagnant. It was the strangest (cont’d on p 35)

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


A Bad Day at the Office The last thing he felt was his hand on the gun as he grabbed it from the nightstand. He didn’t feel the bullet that crashed through the side of his skull a fraction of a second later. * * * My office is on the second floor of the Belvedere Hotel in midtown Baltimore. It’s only a two-block walk from my apartment on St. Paul Street and I get free off street parking in the garage. I like to spend my Saturday mornings there, hoping for walk-in trade. You’d be surprised how many golf widows show up on a Saturday morning when they think the husband is out trying to sink a hole in one with a girlfriend. The office is modest, but I keep it cozy with a big easy chair. The chair has a calming effect on prospective clients, who usually arrive agitated. And it’s a lot more comfortable than the old oak desk chair that I inherited from my father, especially when business is slow and I’m spending a lot of hours in the office, waiting for walk ins. Most of my domestic business, usually divorce work, comes from women. Some times, after working for one, I wonder why the husband hadn’t paid any price a long time before to escape the shrew he couldn’t tame. Other times, I wonder why the husband would ever want to go anywhere without the goddess. Then there are the women who wear trouble like a silk dress with static cling, which poses a dangerously appealing set of problems when they want you to get them out of it. I like women with loose skirts, but the clingy kind search me out like negatives seek a positive charge. And, as soon as I reach out to help, I always get a nasty little shock. So, when Felicia Gelder came through the door that Saturday, I wished I had gone on vacation. I knew she was Bill Johnson’s girl. Johnson was related, once removed, to every punk and piece of action in midtown. He ran B J Rents All, tooling up the construction trades—and the discriminating criminal craftsman. Bill was a subject best watched at a safe distance, though on occasion he and I had traded favors in the form of information. We never got chummy. And, in the course of other business, I’d spent more than a few hours watching him and his customers, waiting for a certain someone to show up. Willowy and fragile looking, like the kind of long thin blade that could slide between your ribs and through your heart before breaking against the back of your breastbone, Felicia crossed the room toward where I sat in my easy chair meditating on the mysteries of life. She moved quickly. Just as I go to my feet her heel caught on a tear in the carpet; she pitched forward and hit me below the waist with her head, knocking me back into my seat. She landed at my feet on her knees, with her head in my lap. A perfect tackle. “I need protection,” she said from down near my groin. VOL 5, ISSUE 5

by Stephen Pohl

“Me too,” I groaned as I pushed her back and doubled. I knew I should have gone on vacation. When we’d both recovered enough to stand, I surrendered the easy chair to her and retreated behind my desk. “You’re Bill Johnson’s’ girl. Seems that would be all the protection you’d need.” “Not when he’s dead.” “Dead?” “Yeah, dead. In my bed.” “What a way to go.” “I wasn’t there when it happened, smart aleck. It was bullet in the brain, not a good time in the bed that killed him.” “Could have been both.” “I figure everybody else will see it that way too. That’s why I need protection.” “What do the police say?” “They don’t know yet. It happened about 5:30 this morning. I walked to the corner for pack of cigarettes. When I got back I found him shot. I didn’t call the cops. I just grabbed my getaway cash and got out. I drove around for an hour, then I sat in Penn Station, close to the security guards, trying to figure this out, but I can’t.” “And I can’t protect you from the police. I have to report this.” “Cops aren’t my biggest worry. That’s what lawyers are for. I need you for the other boys, and to find out who did this in case the cops get lazy and try to pin it on me.” “Why trust me? “I’ve got to trust a man too poor to afford a new rug instead of this ragged piece of trash. I’m surprised no one’s been found dead in your office with a broken neck. Besides, I know you and Bill did business at least once before. You are Bob Moriarty, aren’t you? That’s your name on the door isn’t it?” I confessed my identity with a nod. Felicia had a “history.” Men loved her and she loved them, for what they could do for her. Between her round heels and their curled up toes, every pairing was a match made in a mattress factory—until the guy ended up sleeping in a cell or a box. “Unlucky in love,” she said. No one ever asked her if she was talking about herself or her men. I got the particulars from her, then picked up the phone and called Detective Mike Dolan at BPD Homicide. I had to leave a message, but he called back within five minutes. “What’s up?” he said. “There’s a body that needs you attention on Tyson Street, 1215, second floor front bedroom. Take the lab boys with you. It’s Bill Johnson. He’s about six hours’ cold,” I said. “How’d you come by this?” asked Dolan. “I’ve got his girl in my office. She went out last night to the Mount Royal Diner for cigarettes and when she came back twenty (cont’d on p 31)

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21


by Gaye Buzzo Dunn

Her face, taut with anger and body tense, she walked the twig strewn trail. She couldn’t get out of her head Jay’s stubborn denial of her feelings. The harsh words outside the tent last night were whispered through clenched teeth in an attempt to keep Cleo and Eddie from overhearing. “Jay this is ridiculous. Sleeping in a soggy tent in the woods is not a vacation. What is the matter with you? Let’s pack up and go home.” “No Carla, we aren’t going home. Stop being such a pampered baby and give it a chance, for crying out loud.” “This is it Jay. I’m not going on another camping trip. The beach Jay, we’re going on a cruise to the Bahamas.” “Not me, I’m not going.” Jay turned and stomped away. Carla watched as the car’s tires spewed mud over the side of the tent as he headed for the general store. Where else could he go in this God-forsaken place? The blasted rain would never end. Carla Brigg’s camping vacation in New York’s Adirondack Mountains resembled an endurance contest. It rained the first day they arrived and continued for three days. Sopping wet, she ached from digging trenches around the tent to drain the water. Dampness and fusty smells clung to their stuff. She knocked mud off her sneakers, annoyed that she had to sweep muddy footprints every time their friends, Cleo and Eddie, went in or out. She wearied of car rides to warm up and dry out with endless trips to the local general store. When the heavy rain subsided, a light mist dripped from the tall pines coating her already chilled skin. No sign of the sun. A few rays of sun filtered through the pine tops—it had to be over. Carla spotted a wooden sign tacked to a tree with an arrow pointing to a trail. She shouted to her husband, Jay, and their camping buddies “Let’s take a walk and shake off some of this gloom.” Carla grabbed her raincoat and forged ahead—they’d catch up. As she trudged along the trail memories of how they met flooded back. Out with friends clubbing at a night spot two years ago she spotted him sitting at the bar with a beer in a ring-less left hand. Greenish-blue eyes under a head of dark brown hair smiled at her as she drank white wine at a table just a few feet away. Fair game—he was too good to pass up. Today, lost in thought she no longer noticed the tree markers. Her mother was not pleased when their engagement picture appeared in the morning paper. Carla pooh-poohed her mother’s sniping remarks about their different backgrounds but hated to admit that she may have a point. She hadn’t paid attention to the advantages her family’s wealth provided—great vacations, private schools, and shopping trips to New York’s trendy, exclusive shops. Not that Jay was deprived by any means. The handcrafted sideboard-cabinet in their dining room evidenced his exceptional woodworking talent. A member in good standing in the Carpenters Union, people sought his work. But, as her mother 22

liked to remind her, she was a Briggs, and Jay was just Jay Danker, a working stiff. A rustling sound broke her reverie. She turned expecting to see Jay, Cleo, and Eddie catching up behind her. But no one was there. Carla headed back looking for the marker and didn’t see one. It had to be here somewhere. Calm down Carla. Don’t panic. Just turn around and go back. The raincoat pulled tight around her, Carla backtracked and tried to find her way. The rain started again pelting down harder plastering her hair to her head in wet strings. A sliver of fear crept up her neck. It was getting dark. Half out of her mind with uncontrollable terror, she screamed “Help, Help, can anyone hear me? Jay, Cleo, Eddie—are you back there?” The heavy pounding of the rain served as the only answer. Once the sun set, the forest blackened like pitch. Shaking with cold Carla found a tree with large branches and crouched under it. Where was Mr. Boy Scout when she needed him? She walked around the other side of the tree, grabbed a tissue out of her back pocket, dropped her jeans and peed. Gross, but she had no choice. She was so tired but she had to stay awake. The darkness loomed with a light mist falling. The quarter moon cast just enough light to see shadows, but no way would she move from this tree. She sat still even when bats flew around. Panic coursed through her but she couldn’t scream —all kinds of animals scampered about. One of the locals told Jay that brown bears were congregating at the garbage dump not far from the campground. A low whimpering escaped Carla. She pulled the raincoat over her head and tried to think pleasant thoughts, like their wedding day. They had such a good time—dancing and laughing with friends and relatives then spending their honeymoon at Ft. Lauderdale beach in Florida. Jay loved her. Although he was angry with her, he’d be worried sick when it got dark and she hadn’t returned to camp. Carla prayed to get out. Please Lord she prayed, get me out of here and I promise I’ll never ask for anything again. The next morning light woke her, stiff and grubby. She raised her tired body up and remembered that Jay said streams usually come out near populated areas. She thought she had heard water close by and began walking again. “HELP! HELP!” she shouted as she walked, her cries swallowed by the surrounding trees. Rushing water gurgled. A deer drunk on the other side. The deer darted away as Carla bent to clean her face and hands. She drank water from a cellophane wrapper found in her pocket hoping it wouldn’t make her sick. She kept sinking in the mud and her right sneaker fell apart. She moved on, walking on the stream bank was tough but she plugged along sure she’d come out of the woods soon. Hunger pangs made her sick to her stomach. She wondered if she and Jay could overcome the differences. She loved the guy but had grown weary of butting heads and angry words. The sun sank below the horizon and she had yet to see a cabin or road. Nothing but woods. (cont’d on p 35) TOUGH LIT. AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


Hot Ice (cont’d from p 6) his. If you open your mouth, he’ll definitely tell a different story. Second,” he said, tapping two fingers on her shoulder, “we don’t have the diamond anymore, nor do we have anywhere near the funds to pay for it.” Christine slumped down in the chair depleted. “What are we going to do? I didn’t do anything dishonest, but I feel like I have.” “Let’s not jump the gun, okay? Nobody’s mentioned you so far and maybe – no, probably – they won’t. My guess is they’ll put a claim into the insurance company and they’ll be paid the value of the goods. Nothing is lost, nobody is hurt and everybody is happy.” Her eyes widened, then narrowed. Things were starting to look a little clearer. Had her boss used her as a pawn to hide or protect the diamond and him as well? What if he wanted it back after the insurance company paid up? But that was fraud and theft and she didn’t know what else. “Don’t worry, Chris, you’re not going to jail,” Mason assured her. “Are you sure?” she whispered. He nodded, smiled, then turned to leave. “But to be on the safe side, maybe you should find out what the statute of limitation is on grand theft.” Picking up the newspaper, she rolled it up and threw it at him. “Would you go stay lost till you figure out how to get us out of this mess?” He did. “What if the police start asking questions?” Christine asked matter-of-factly, plopping down on the sofa beside Mason. “They will,” he replied, aiming the TV remote at the set and zapping back to the John Wayne movie. When a commercial came on he switched back to the football game. “That’s their job. The insurance company can’t just hand out lump sums of money without police investigations being done first.” Nervously, she clutched his arm. “What are we going to do then?” Mason sighed and, for the first time, pulled his gaze from the TV set to look at her. “Let me handle it, okay? If the police show up on our doorstep, I’ll answer their questions. You say nothing.” “But they’ll want to talk to me. I was the employee of Triumph’s and the diamond buyer, no less.” “Just do what I say,” he demanded. “You can’t lie,” she protested, realizing that she probably insulted him. He shook his head. “Who said anything about lying? I might curb the truth a bit, but. . .” He shrugged. “At this point, we don’t know what actually is going on, do we?” He stared at her long and hard. Finally, she shook her head. “So, we won’t be lying.” He turned back to the TV and engrossed himself. Christine got up, trying to decide what to do. She didn’t like having to leave her fate in someone else’s hands, even Mason’s. She had to do something, her own research, her own investigation, ask questions. She plopped down beside Mason again. He muttered at the encroachment. “Mason, do you remember who bought the diamond off you on eBay?” Her tone was casual. Suspiciously, Mason turned one eye to look at her. “Why?” VOL 5, ISSUE 5

“Just curious.” She smiled, tempted to explain her idea to him, but didn’t for reasons she wasn’t sure of, maybe because he wasn’t really paying attention to her. “Now, try to remember. Do you?” He shook his head. “Nope, the transaction was through PayPal and to a PO Box. I probably did have a name, but at this point nothing comes up.” “Man or woman?” she fired at him. Mason thought hard. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?” he asked. She shook her head. “What’s your theory?” “I don’t know yet, but I’m going to do a little snooping around on my own. Now, was the buyer a man or woman?” “Woman, I think. Now can I go back to my shows?” Christine got up and left the room. She knew what she was looking for: the name of the mystery woman who bought the diamond from Mason. She wasn’t sure what she would do with the information once she got it, but it was a piece of the puzzle. A theory was starting to take shape in her head. Could the eBay buyer be a total stranger to any of this and just bought the diamond because she liked diamonds? Or could this person be an employee of Triumph’s or even a former employee from way back? She wasn’t sure why that idea stood out in her head, but it seemed to fit somehow. Mr. Thompson gave her the diamond for what reason – to safeguard, as pretense of being a gift because he knew she would sell it on eBay? That would have been taking a big risk, but maybe it was the only thing he could come up with - because he trusted her or didn’t trust her. Christine typed something into the computer and came up with Mason’s PayPal account. She scrolled down it looking for recent transactions and there it was: the diamond deal and the name of the purchaser, Jane Spencer. Christine’s breath caught in her throat. But why did that surprise her? Why wouldn’t it? Where would a secretary, the boss’s or not, get that kind of money? Mason sold the diamond for a steal, nonetheless, it was still more than Jane Spencer should have had just sitting around in a bank account – unless she bought it for someone else or rather, that someone else bought the diamond through Jane. It all pointed back to Oscar Thompson. Could she prove any of this? Probably not. It was speculation and she couldn’t go to the police with speculation because the finger would land up pointing at her – as Mason had said. She also might be putting herself in danger by doing this digging, but by not, the same might be true. Her head was spinning. She tapped her fingernail on the desk in front of her. What should she do? She had to find out more. Facts would be the best bet, but she’d settle for some juicy rumors too. Thompson was married and had about thirty years on his pretty blonde secretary. That didn’t mean they weren’t having an affair. Oh, boy. This was getting tangled. She had to think. Who at Triumph’s was close to Jane Spencer? Probably nobody. Jane was up there in the lion’s lair, untouchable by any other employee. But there was one person who knew everything about everyone in the store and happened to be a good friend of Christine’s and that was Elizabeth Breaks. Christine reached for the phone. “Oh, yeah,” Liz said excitedly. Gossip was her favorite topic. (cont’d on p 24)

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Hot Ice (cont’d) “You didn’t know? Jane and Old Oscar were definitely a couple. Why do you think she got that promotion? I hear she was in love with him and wanted him to leave his wife, probably still does.” “Do you think he will?” Christine asked intrigued. “No, of course not! He’s only playing. Jane’s much too young and not in his social circle, if you know what I mean?” Christine replaced the receiver and let this new information run through her mind. Had Jane bought the diamond under her own name for Oscar with the idea that the more she pleased him the better chance she had of becoming the – what number was Thompson up to now – fourth wife? What would happen when she found out that he didn’t mean business? Would she turn him, blow the whistle? Christine was speculating too much again. She had to go to Plan B, whenever she would figure out what it was. A couple of hours later, after careful consideration, a cup of coffee, a cheese Danish and going through every room in the house, Christine had organized her thoughts. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, she picked up the phone on the nightstand and dialed the local police station, her fingers crossed. “I’d like to speak to Lieutenant Midler regarding the Triumph diamond theft. I’m Elizabeth Breaks.” They sat side by side on the sofa, watching the local news. Oscar Thompson was being led out of Jane Spencer’s apartment in handcuffs. Jane stood in the open doorway behind him, her hair tousles, wearing a short robe, tears streaming down her face. The newscaster was talking. “Oscar Thompson, former president of Triumph department store is being charged with grand theft and insurance fraud. The missing million-dollar diamond was discovered by police at Thompson’s girlfriend’s apartment.” Christine slapped her hands against her smiling mouth. This was juicy and this dirty linen had saved her. “How do you know Thompson won’t implicate you?” Mason asked easily. She giggled. “Who’d believe him? He was just caught with his pants down. His reputation is dirt. Mine, on the other hand, is sparkling.” “That’s pretty smart, Nancy Drew. You wouldn’t happen to want to go into the private eye business full time? We still have the issue of you being jobless and we didn’t get enough money for the Hope Diamond from Jane to have us living like royalty forever.” She slapped her forehead. “I forgot to tell you. The supermarket where I shop called earlier and offered me a job. I’m considering taking it – a career change, you might say.” He rolled his eyes. “Minimum wage?” he shouted. “Would you consider stealing another diamond? I’ll put a higher reserve price on eBay.” Patricia Hubschman has had short stories published online and in print magazines. Recently, she has written a children's talking animal book and two young adult books about a time travel and a teenage girl who is psychic. Patricia is multiply handicapped: legally blind, hearing impaired, and physically challenged. She has a cochlear implant and wears leg braces. Most of what she has published is handicapped-related. Regaining My Sight appeared in True Confessions Magazine with Between Two Worlds in The Storyteller Magazine a year ago. Patricia lives on Long Island, New York and has been with Romance Writers of America for 12 years, though she doesn't really write romance anymore. She loves writing short stories and shorter fiction.

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Code by Carre Gardner

Code: Medicine/Medical; a directive or alert to a hospital team assigned to emergency resuscitation of patients. (Dictionary.com) The night your heart stopped beating, I had the curious sense that you were standing with me at your own bedside. If you were, you probably noted the flash of shock across my face when I looked down at you and said aloud, “He’s not breathing.” I wonder if that was the moment you first realized it yourself. Until then, you may have been floating somewhere around the top of the IV pole, thinking Who is that man in my bed? So still, so yellowed and waxy... Why doesn’t he move? I wonder if, realizing it, you felt the same horrified thrill I did, and when I shouted, “Get me a crash cart in here!” if you thought, Yes, and make it snappy! You may have been hovering there, just over my left shoulder, watching as I fitted the soft, plastic-smelling mask over your mouth and nose and emptied my lungs into yours. How strange, you may have thought, in your detached, spirit way. How odd and fruitless to try to force me back into my body like this, as if the life spark were only a matter of oxygen in the lungs, and a pulse in the veins. But then, this is something the dead must understand better than the living, and I suspect you were becoming more used to your new existence by the moment. Did you think me unfeeling when I called out to the student nurses, huddled wide-eyed and uncertain in the doorway, “Come here and take over for me?” And to the nurse compressing your chest, one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-five, “Let one of the students do that; they might as well have the experience.”? Were you outraged at the cavalier way I delegated such sacred events, or did you admire my coolness, and presence of mind? Maybe, hanging there, just under the ceiling light, you approved of my decision, and thought, Yes, let the students practice. What do I have to lose anyway? How long did you stay around, after it was all over, and the detritus of battle was cleared away? Long enough to watch us cover your face with a clean sheet? Or did you perhaps trail along after me, to settle on a corner of the desk while I typed up my report of the moments after your last moments? When I called your wife, did you reflexively reach for the phone? Did you shake your head at the futility of a stranger holding out comfort down a hard, cold fiber-optic line? Did you regret that, at the end, I was the one who said “good-bye” to her, instead of you? You may have escorted me as far as the time clock, then courteously held the elevator door for me on my way down: your way of saying, Thanks for trying, anyway. If that’s how it was, if you stayed that long with me, you will know how white and drawn my face appeared, reflected in the glass exit doors, how hot the living tears were on my cheeks. But you’ll remember that the parking lot was windy that morning. The tears dried quickly, so it’s possible you didn’t see them after all. Carre Armstrong Gardner is a registered nurse and freelance writer. She lives in southern Russia with her husband, three children and dog Kopek. When she is in the States, her home is the Portland, Maine area.

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


See Jane Run (cont’d from p 8) “He had a bad day!” But now the phase had passed, and Trevor began to recognize The man shook his head. “He took ‘em twice. You know the words in the books that kept repeating over and over. What a state insists on that in case of failures. Accountability is important, funny boy, she thought to herself. If we’re here much longer, he’ll but they don’t want to make a mistake. And there’s no mistaking be reading ‘War and Peace’ by himself. your little Johnny is—” And Tolstoy’s masterpiece was the last book on the bottom “Trevor! His name’s Trevor!” shelf. “Your little Trevor couldn’t read or do even the most basic On the morning of the fifteenth day in Cappy’s cabin, Trevor computation problems. And his knowledge of—“ ventured outside to find the fort. It was a brilliant day, the sun “He can read now!” Jane said, trying to control the desperation gleaming on the snow, the blue sky dotted only here and there she felt. with cotton ball clouds. Jane had made sure Trevor was dressed The man laughed. “You can’t believe how many times I hear warmly and had given him the lat of a package of cookies to eat on that! But the fact is, ma’am, that in order to keep the schools his adventure. properly funded, certain…units…must be screened out and given “Keep the smoke from our chimney in sight, okay?” she warned an alternative education.” him. “Certain units? My son’s a unit?” Jane had heard it before, but Five minutes after Trevor disappeared down the ridge behind now, so close, the word caused her hands to tremble, her heart to the cabin, a knock came at the door. weaken. Standing in the kitchen, she was behind the man and For a second, Jane thought nothing of it. Then dread crept over staring at the log Trevor had been using as a sword. her like a disease killing hope, dreams, life. The knock came again, “Well, Ma’am,” the man said soothingly, “the alternative more insistent this time. Jane’s instinct was to run, but there was education is really what’s best for your…son.” nowhere to run to. Her trembling hand reached out to the door “My unit, you mean!” handle, but before she could grasp it, the door burst open. The The man almost turned, but at the last second, decided he man from her nightmare entered. couldn’t look another mother in the face. He was well-paid for his He pulled off a woolen hat. Red hair exploded from his head. job. It enabled him to own a large home, a boat, and two The jump suit was covered by a heavy parka, but Jane knew he oversized vehicles. But it was moments like this that he hated. was wearing it. They always did. And those eyes: they betrayed “I know what his alternative education will be!” Jane’s tears the satisfaction of having cornered the next meal. came freely now. “He’ll be in an institution that won’t be any “Nice place you got here,” he said, looking around. better than a prison. He’ll be in a cell with three other boys, “What do you want?” Jane asked stupidly but she didn’t older boys who’ll pick on him.” know what else to say. “It’s not a cell, ma’am. It’s a room with—” He sighed, and for a second looked “It’s a cell! He won’t be taught very, very tired. “You know.” anything because he can’t learn “Get out of here!” Jane shouted. anyway!” She thought perhaps her shouts “He will! He’ll be taught manual would alert Trevor and keep him labor skills, and, if he shows away from the cabin. promise in that, he’ll be released “A law’s a law, Ma’am,” the man on his eighteenth birthday.” said evenly, no tension in his voice. “What if he doesn’t?” Jane had heard that before. It was The man shook his head. “He will. It’s a frightening excuse for what he was rare when society has to terminate a unit. about to do. That’s only for a hopeless individual who shows The man drew a paper from his pocket. “I have no aptitude or skill in any area or who’s basically anti-social. Not here an order from your local school board….” your little Johnny, I can tell you. Have some faith in your son.” Jane grabbed the paper. The man tried to snatch it back, but Jane smiled bitterly. “I’ve got lots of faith in him!” Jane tore it and tore it and tore it until it was nothing but confetti She brought the log down so hard on the man’s head that the fluttering to the floor. log cracked in two. Without uttering a sound, the intruder fell “It doesn’t matter how much paperwork you destroy, ma’am. from his chair, and when Jane saw his hand twitch, she hit him An order is an order. The state gives your local school board the again and again. Blood stained the log, and a small pool formed at right—” the base of the man’s red hair lying on the floor. “You will not take my son!” Jane opened the door, and with her strength at fever pitch, she The man laughed, shook his head, and sat at the table. “Mind if I grabbed the man under the arms and dragged him out onto the sit down? It was a hell of a long drive up here.” porch. She closed the door so the cabin wouldn’t cool off, and “Get out of here!” then picked the man up once more to drag him out into the snow. “I’m just doing my job, lady. You know that.” At first she thought of burying him under a bank of snow, but Jane looked around the room. Somehow, someway… then her eyes fell on the well—the deep, unused well. The man toyed with the brim of his hat. “If your son had done Trevor came home an hour later. (cont’d on p 26) better on the tests, then we could have avoided all this… unpleasantness. But the fact is, ma’am, he didn’t pass one. Not one.” VOL 5, ISSUE 5 WWW.IDEAGEMS.COM 25


See Jane Run (cont’d)

On Subbing

“I found the fort, Mommy! I had a lot of fun, but have you seen my sword? I want to take it to the fort so I can fight the bad buys!” Jane, her face drawn and somehow older now, shook her head. “We’re leaving, Trevor. We’ve got to go!” For the first time, Trevor noticed the Land Rover sitting in front of the cabin. “Where’d you get that?” he asked. Jane didn’t reply. She closed the door of the cabin and took Trevor by the hand. She secured him in the passenger seat, then she took her place behind the wheel. If this thing got in here, she thought, it’ll make it back to the highway. “Where are we going now?” Trevor asked. Jane’s eyes filled with tears. “I…I’m not sure. But we’ll be together. You can count on that.” She started the Land Rover. As it jostled them down the long road to the highway, Trevor picked up a book that was lying on the front seat. He opened it. “Gosh, this is old-fashioned,” he said. Jane veered to avoid hitting a fox that darted out from a snow bank. “What is it?” she asked. “See Dick. See Dick run,” Trevor read haltingly. “Hey, that’s pretty good!” Jane tried to sound cheerful. “You’re in here, too!” Trevor giggled and then continued reading, “See Jane. See Jane run.” The Land Rover picked up speed and disappeared in a cloud of snow.

by Julie Skiddell

A pen clicks incessantly in his hand. A hand smacks against a fist. A foot bounces nervously against a chair. A bottle taps relentlessly on the desk. Gum cracks crudely, while a whistle shrieks shrilly to a tune hummed endlessly and a song sung tunelessly. Paper crumples angrily, chairs fall,

Chicago-born playwright Craig Sodaro began writing plays in grade school and continued creating unusual dramatic pieces (The Dismembered Pencil) in high school. While attending Marquette University in Milwaukee, he studied playwriting and had several shows produced by the university theater company, the Marquette Players. With a degree in journalism and English, Sodaro began a teaching career that would last thirty-three years. During that time he continued to write plays, often for schools or theatrical groups with which he worked. This led to his first published play, Forlorn at the Fort in Plays magazine, a melodrama written for the Wyoming-based Frontier Outlaw Troupe which he directed for thirteen years. In 1976 his first full-length play, Tea and Arsenic, appeared, and since that time he has had over one hundred fifty plays published by various play publishers throughout the country. His plays Hush, Little Baby and Second Hand Kid were performed in New York and Los Angeles, and his works have been produced around the world. Recently, his plays have recently been translated into the Dutch and German. Sodaro now writes full time and lives in Phoenix with his wife Sue.

roll is called, sirens wail, and the system fails. Written: Jan. 12, 2010

Get noticed! Publicize your work with:

Julie Skiddell lived with her husband and three children in northern Israel for 14 years where she taught EFL at a regional high school. She returned to the US in 2006 and sought work as an ESL teacher. Substitute teaching paid the bills until she was hired by one school to be part of their ESL staff a year later. While subbing, she was struck by the lack of respect for the substitute teacher and difficulty in engaging the students in any type of learning experience. She wrote this poem on a 15 minute break after a particularly trying class. Julie has a BFA from Temple U and a M.Ed. in the foreign languages department from Oranim College of Education in Israel. She is principal of a supplemental Hebrew school in addition to teaching ESL. Julie loves teaching.

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TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


Heirs of Justice (cont’d from p 12) eventful night. The camera focused on Mark’s face as he shifted his position. His broken legs and five broken ribs must feel uncomfortable and ache. Guess they didn’t heal yet, thought Claudine. At least, he was alive! Claudine saw the camera as she walked in and wondered if the camera caught their expressions when Mark eyes locked with Claudine. Mark knew by her expression, she lopped his off his head as instant gratification for her son's death. Her angry, piercing eyes demanded an answer. Why did you let him die? God! Why did he get himself into this mess—the charge of murder? When questioned by the police, Mark insisted the uneventful night was a blur in his mind. Maybe he needed hypnosis to bring it back. He wasn't sure he wanted that. He remembered the preaccident night totally and clearly. They were thoroughly enjoying themselves. The last hurrah for many of them before getting a full time job, getting married or continuing on for a master’s degree or medical school or law school. It was the accident he could not recall. Maybe he thought someone slipped him a Mickey Finn or changed bodies and switched Kevin's with his. His mind raced, raced out of control every day since his recovery. He stopped thinking suddenly. Tears stung his eyes and his face twisted in pain. His body ached with every deep breath he took. He shifted his weight. Mark wondered if he would be considered a sissy if he dare ask for a pillow to sit on for the afternoon. He was not used to sitting anywhere for longer than an hour. His mother's presence behind him weighed him down and troubled him even more. What a disappointment he was to her. Mark was surprised she showed up. I guess one of his parents had to save face, he thought, like the Chinese do. How many times did she tell him over and over…? “You have a prolific way of talking your way out of any situation. You should write and copyright an infinite set of excuses to be used at any given moment. Someday it's going to catch up to you. Wait and see! You never apply yourself to the positive, only the negative.” The guilt-ridden young man sighed and concluded that you can't cry over spilt milk. What is is, and what’s done is done. They were friends since they were born. He often wondered if their parents slept in the same room they were conceived because they were born a week apart. How could two women who were childhood friends themselves, have children a week apart? How could the two sons become close friends as their mothers were? As quickly as the thought came into his head, it flew out. The thought of his parents having sex was a naughty idea to him, a no-no. Mark had enough problems without branding himself as a peeping Tom. He thought of his parents, Anthony and Sherri Stephano. His mother said nothing for weeks prior to this trial. She couldn’t bring herself to talk to Claudine and extend her condolences. How could she? Her son was sitting in front of her and Claudine’s son was a vision of what had been. Sherri was so happy that she finally gave up smoking. Now, the tension was too great for Sherri and she resumed smoking—first one or two now he knew she was up to more than two packs a day. Mark counted the butts in the kitchen ashtray each morning. As often as he tried to apologize, the words wouldn't come out. He VOL 5, ISSUE 5

shook his head sadly and thought of his father who disassociated himself from this incident. Mark couldn't blame him. He bailed him out of the county jail four times—malicious mischief, driving underage, ramming a neighbor's brick wall and driving while intoxicated. I didn’t know this would happen. Same old story, he thought. I am now twenty-one years old and it's all over. As usual, Mark blocked out the past, looked up at the judge and wondered what he thought. Claudine‘s eyes filled with heartache as she looked at her son’s childhood friend. This is what she saw on Law and Order or Matlock but not about him, Mark Stephano. She glanced at Sherri who stared straight ahead. There was no communication between them. Claudine knew someone with an unlisted number called each day and hung up. She assumed it was Sherri who couldn’t bring her to talk to her about their losses. In a way Claudine was happy because she was not in a position to give an opinion, just asked for justice to be done, or in her mind revenge. The judge called for a lunch break. Jeffreys turned to Claudine without saying a word. “Have no fear. It’s going to be okay.” Claudine acknowledged his expression and left as quietly as she came in, walking straight ahead with no reason to stop and smile to catch up on the latest news. Today, that wasn’t her calling but rather to maintain a calm demeanor. She walked quickly a few blocks away to avoid speaking to anyone for more condolences. That wasn’t going to help. Justice only would be the only answer. After lunch, the jury sat down quietly, looking at the faces of Claudine, Sherri, and Mark. The jury seemed more complacent this afternoon. Claudine couldn’t figure out whether they made up their mind on how to judge the case or whether they found a good place to eat. Claudine smirked to herself that a good meal is helpful when judging an accident case. It helps the medicine go down and you could handle the gruesome news, if need be. She wondered if she will be able to get a copy of this case after it was over just as a matter of curiosity. “We should like to call the first witness, Jerry Watson, a resident of the town of Sunnyvilles.” Jeffreys spoke clearly and distinctly to the jury. Watson walked to the witness box. “Raise your right hand Mr. Watson. Do you promise to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?” “I do.” “Fine, please sit down and tell us how you happened to be there the night of this horrific crash.” PART II OF OUR DRAMATIC COURTROOM STORY COMING SOON IN OUR NEXT SPECIAL ISSUE! Dr. Rosalie H. Contino is a second generation Italian-America who resides in Brooklyn, New York. She received a BS degree in Elementary Education from Fordham University and PhD in Educational Theater from New York University. In addition to teaching elementary and junior high school as well as serving as a teaching fellow for the Program in Educational Theater at New York University, Dr. Contino is a costume designer, consultant, and lecturer for multiple productions and events. Her plays Transitions in Taking Care of Daddy, Twixt ‘n Teen, and Lights Out! received honorable mention from the Writers Digest Playwriting Contest. .Lights Out! made quarter finalist from Writers Online. Rosalie’s memoir, Born to Create is available on Amazon.com.

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Mismanaged Love (cont’d from p 14) “It Happened One Night.” Brad faked a shocked expression. “Wait a second. Don’t tell me that Carla the conscientious objector has been watching the Repro channel,” he said in mock outrage “Only the old romantic movies,” she said giggling. “I swear it.” He laughed. “Well how about it then? A week of companionship at the seashore?” She slowly shook her head. “I’m really sorry Brad. I just don’t want to make this harder than it already is. But trust me. The next woman they send will be overjoyed she is paired with you. You really are a very nice guy and not bad looking either.” She sent her email, they solemnly shook hands, and she left. Brad watched sadly from the balcony as she walked away from the hotel and out of his life. * * * Back at his apartment, Brad received email notification that he would start a new repro assignment in a week and should return to work until then. His repro partner was to be Kelli R-7729. Because of the new assignment, Brad’s meals continued to be Nilid-free, and he soon started having erotic dreams involving Carla, which made him feel like he was cheating on Kelli even though he had never met her. So he began volunteering for overtime shifts in the hope that fatigue would lead to dreamless sleep. The principal function of Homeland Security Mounties was to arrest “roamers”—people who leave their dwellings without authorization. All citizens had micro transponders implanted on their skulls so their whereabouts could be tracked by a geostationary satellite called “The Eye of Liberty.” Data from the Eye was transmitted to Homeland Security Department computers that checked it against a database containing the times every citizen was authorized to leave his or her home for work or other authorized purpose. When roamers were detected, Mounties from the nearest precinct were dispatched to take them into custody, using tranquilizer darts if necessary. It was the day before Brad’s scheduled rendezvous with Kelli and he was on the late night shift patrolling lower Manhattan on his scooter. His radio suddenly crackled an order to back-up a wounded Mountie who had happened upon citizens burglarizing the west side RTE warehouse. “Why would anyone steal food that was distributed free to everyone?” he wondered. The government occasionally reported inventory shortfalls at the warehouses but always attributed them to bookkeeping errors. Galvanized by the situation, he raced to the warehouse with his siren wailing. There he found a Mountie, hands and face covered with blood, sitting on the ground near a scooter with a shredded front tire. “I’m okay. You follow them until backup comes. They went down Ninth. Two of them, and they have a shotgun,” he said. Brad sped off in pursuit and, five blocks down, spotted two men walking at a fast pace on the sidewalk to his right. They saw him and turned the corner at 47th Street. Realizing he would have to follow them on foot if they went into one of the narrow alleys off of 47th, he stopped, removed his tranquilizer rifle from its scabbard, and slung it crossways over his back. Resuming pursuit, he rounded the corner at full throttle and found the men waiting for him in the middle of the street. In a single instant, he saw a 28

flash, heard a loud blast, felt stinging in his legs and abdomen, and found himself flying off the scooter. * * * Brad awoke half an hour later on a stretcher in a hospital emergency room. The attending doctor told him that, although he had sustained only a mild concussion and superficial wounds, he would be kept in hospital for the full duration of the Armageddon Bug’s incubation period because his helmet had shattered and he had been exposed to unfiltered air. Brad looked terrified, and the doctor quickly added that emergency responders had covered his face with a breathing mask within minutes of the crash so it was unlikely he was infected. Two things of note happened during Brad’s confinement: his repro assignment with Kelli was cancelled and he was awarded the Presidential Medal for Bravery. He learned about the medal on his second day in hospital while eating dinner. The intercom clicked and his nurse said, “Brad, turn your TV to Channel 2. Your picture was just on. The President said you and the other wounded Mountie are going to get medals for risking your lives to protect the food supply.” He switched to Channel 2 and there was President Clem P-0001 sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office concluding a speech. He was dressed in a modest gray jumpsuit, and his helmet was beside him on the desk. “Our war against extinction is now entering a new and even more dangerous phase in which we are pitted against an organization of anarchistic deviants who want to upset the delicate equilibrium that is critical to our survival. Their potential to wreak havoc is very great. They are ruthless and well-armed and have a sophisticated technical capability that enables them to avoid detection by the Eye of Liberty System. So I depend on every American to take this threat seriously, to be vigilant, and to report any suspicious behavior or remarks by fellow citizens. I know that together as a Nation we will overcome this threat and mercilessly grind these deviants into the dust. God bless America.” Brad liked President Clem because he seemed to be a regular guy who was just trying to do his job like everyone else. His grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Hopper, formerly Speaker of the House, became President when President Rush and Vice President Carlson succumbed to the Bug within two months of each other. Before dying of natural causes many years later, Hopper signed an executive order making the Presidency a hereditary office until the State of Emergency ended and elections could be resumed. So Clem was America’s first hereditary President, and his son Luke would likely be the second. * * * Back at work ten weeks later, Brad was assigned to light desk duty while he regained his strength. During the assignment he spent most of his idle time thinking about Carla despite being back on Nilid, an obsession that led him to perform an unauthorized database search that yielded her address and other personal information. When he returned to patrol duty Brad would drive past Carla’s apartment building every chance he got in the hope that he would encounter her on her way to or from work and they would exchange a few words. Late one afternoon as he approached her building he saw (cont’d on p 29)

TOUGH LIT.

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Mismanaged Love (cont’d) someone emerge and quickly head downtown. Based on body size and the color of the jumpsuit he was certain it was Carla. Curious about her destination he dismounted from his scooter and followed her on foot, rolling the scooter close to the buildings on the same side of the street she was on. There was no one else in sight. Ten blocks down she went in the front door of a public library, which should have been locked. Brad removed his tranquilizer rifle from its scabbard and followed. As he opened the door he heard a faint buzz indicating the presence of an alarm system. He flipped off the rifle’s safety switch and followed the sound of footsteps coming from a stairwell to his left. The footsteps stopped and a door slammed overhead just as he reached the stairs, but he could not tell what floor the sound came from. He searched the second floor and found nothing, but on the third he saw light coming from under a door midway down the corridor. He approached slowly, rifle at the ready, and opened it. The room was brightly lit and contained a large conference table and a dozen helmetless people looking in his direction. They were covering the lower halves of their faces with sheets of paper or scarves worn bandit style, and were seated around the table, except for a man standing in a corner pointing a double-barreled shotgun at him. At the head of the table sat a wrinkled old woman who had her white hair cut pageboy style and was wearing glasses with thick blue rims. “Come on in, officer,” she said with a gravely voice. “Don’t worry about the shotgun. We don’t intend to hurt you. We just don’t want you to arrest us.” “Who are you?” “Well I’m the Librarian.” This made no sense. All the libraries had been shut down and there were no librarians. “Suppose you tell me what’s going on?” he said “Certainly. This is a meeting of the Heritage Preservation Book Club. You’ve not heard of us? Well we’re a national organization that has been teaching the humanities—literature, philosophy, the fine arts—to our members for over three generations. The Federal Department of Education does a fine job with mathematics and science but it is understandably unwilling to expose the populace to anything that might make them unhappy with the status quo. So we try to keep the lamp of knowledge burning against the day when normalcy returns. We’re always looking for new members. Perhaps you’d like to join.” “You need a special authorization to be here. I assume you don’t have one.” “As a matter of fact we do. It’s called the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” “That was suspended by the State of Emergency.” “But the emergency is over. The A Bug was gone before you were born.” “That’s ridiculous.” “Well here my colleagues and I sit bare headed in close proximity to one another in a building without filtered air or air showers.” “Maybe you’re suicidal.” VOL 5, ISSUE 5

“What about the President, his cabinet, and the other officials in Washington? None of them wear survival suits when they’re not on television, and all of them live with their families and eat meat, poultry, and fresh vegetables.” “I don’t believe you.” “We can show you pictures.” “They could be doctored.” “We could get you inside the Beltway, and you could see for yourself.” “You could avoid the Eye?” “We could take care of that, yes, but on second thought, I’m wondering whether it would be worth the trouble in your case. Maybe you’re too indoctrinated to do your own thinking.” Brad bridled at the put-down.“ Look, Miss whatever-your-nameis, the Government protects us and provides us with food, shelter, jobs, and medical care. There is little crime and life expectancies keep rising. Everyone, except you people, is content. What more is there for me to know? And anyway why would the Government lie to us about the Bug?” “Well, for sure, they started with justification and good intentions. But once they had total control of us, it was hard to let go. Among themselves, I expect they justify the deception as being necessary to maintain the control and regimentation they need to grow the population up to some optimal level.” “There you go. What’s wrong with that?” “If you were to join us you would be able to answer your own question.” “Why would I ever want to become an anarchistic deviant? That’s what you are, isn’t it?” “The President is calling us that, but we’re not the dangerous revolutionaries he claims.” “But you have weapons. You wounded me and another Mountie.” “We have the one shotgun and… and… yes, we wounded you and your colleague because it was the only way to protect ourselves. Being transported to the farms is the equivalent of a death sentence to us.” “What about stealing MREs?” “As you may know, the Blue MREs are adulterated with Nilid and emotion-controlling drugs. So we steal yellows and greens and substitute them for the blues as often as we can. Any other questions? No? Well then I’m afraid we’re going to have to tie you up now so you won’t follow us when we leave.” “That could be tricky,” said one of the men. “Those tranquilizer darts cause paralysis for about twelve hours unless an antidote is administered. We don’t have it and he probably doesn’t either.” “No need to tie him up,” Carla said as she lowered the large envelope that was concealing the lower half of her face. “He’ll take me home. He knows who I am. I’m sure he followed me here. We were paired for repro a few months ago and I opted out.” There was a collective gasp, and the old woman waved Carla over. The two of them had a whispered conversation and when it became animated they left the room. After five minutes they returned and Carla, looking pale, said, “Brad would you please take me home? It’s that or they’ll have to try to shoot the dart gun out of your hand without killing you.” (cont’d on p 30)

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Mismanaged Love (cont’d.) He nodded his assent and lowered his gun, and they walked together in silence through the library to the street. When they reached the scooter Brad mounted and Carla climbed on behind him. Distracted by the pressure of her body against his, he did not think to radio for backup, and they headed uptown. * * * When they arrived at her building Carla said, “Please come up Brad. We have things we have to talk about.” He nodded sullenly and followed her up the stairs. She used the air shower first and went into the apartment. Brad stepped into the vacated stall and, when the shower and air vacuum had run their course, removed his helmet and went inside. He found Carla waiting for him wearing shorts and a T-shirt. She looked vulnerable, and he was overwhelmed by a feeling of tenderness. But seduction was the last thing on Carla’s mind. She had absentmindedly removed her jumpsuit when she left the air shower because she was sweating from fear. “You followed me, right?” she asked accusingly. “Yes.” “Why?” “I think about you a lot. I know it’s not healthy and I don’t like it. But I can’t help it.” “He loves me,” she thought, and her fear and anger evaporated in an instant. “The Librarian was trying to get you to join us back there,” she said gently.” If you did that we could meet whenever we wanted. We could read the same books and talk about them. You could come over and listen to me play the piano.” “Is it true what the Librarian said about non-violence?” “Oh yes! We want to help people, to educate them, not to harm them. But that’s not to say there aren’t some members who are, well, less non-violent than others. But they’re a minority.” Brad wanted to believe her. “You’d be able teach me how to dodge the Eye so we could spend time together?” “No, not teach. There’d be a procedure performed on your transponder by a doctor and a technician. It would be done in your apartment. The Librarian would arrange it.” Brad groaned. “If you’ve tampered with your transponders you’re all sitting ducks. It’s only a matter of time before Homeland Security starts checking them.” “They won’t be able to tell. Trust me. We know what we’re doing.” “You can’t out-tech the Government. One way or another they’ll eventually identify and capture all of you. Destroying you has become a priority, part of the war against extinction.” “That won’t happen, Brad. It was only by accident you found us, and we’ll be more careful now. If we stay out of the news they’ll forget about us.” He mournfully shook his head in disagreement. “No, they’ll find you through your jerry-rigged transponders. It’ll be easy for them.” He saw he was frightening her and added gently, “But don’t worry, Carla. Whatever happens, I’ll protect you. You’re going to be okay.” “But you’re thinking of reporting the others, right? You only saw part of their faces but you’re trained to remember details. You’ll be able to identify some of them just from their eyes and 30

hair, and they’ll be arrested and questioned and forced to tell everything they know. Then all of us will be arrested and sent to the farms for the rest of our lives. Please, don’t make that happen, Brad. Join us, please.” There were tears in her eyes. He looked away. He was confused and wanted to be alone so he could sort things out. “I have to get back to the station or they’ll come looking for me. They’re probably trying to reach me on the scooter’s radio.” “But we haven’t finished. Couldn’t you call and make up an excuse? Get another half hour? Please, Brad.” She was crying now. “No, I can’t do that. But don’t worry Carla. I’ll think about everything you said before doing anything. I really will. But now I have to go.” Tears streamed down Carla’s face as she watched him leave. When the door closed she moaned “Oh, God,” and began sobbing. Then she walked across the apartment to its only window and looked down at a man with a shotgun standing in a doorway across the street. Seeing her, he extended a hand with palm up inquiringly, and she responded by emphatically closing the blind. But after a moment she gasped, “I can’t do this to him,” and started for the door. Brad wrestled with his dilemma as he descended the two flights of stairs. He knew identifying the Librarian would be easy and the right thing to do. Problem was she would be forced to identify the other club members, and Carla would be arrested and sent away for life. Then he thought of a way to protect her. He could tell the Department that she was an informer who led him to the group after hearing the President’s speech. Because she cooperated she would be punished very lightly, if at all, for joining in the first place. And, if they both asked for it, they would be paired for repro duty again as a reward for their role in eliminating the anarchists. They could be partners for life. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs he knew his plan would not work. Carla had too much integrity and pride to pretend to be an informer to save her neck. So he would just have to do his duty and hope his next repro partner would make him forget her. But that was no good either. She was the only woman for him. As he turned and started back up the stairs he heard a door crash open overhead and Carla shout his name frantically. “I’m coming, Carla,” he answered. “I’ll do what you want.” Bill Finnegan is a lawyer and an avid reader of all manner of novels who is trying his hand at writing fiction. Four of his stories have been published in the U.S. and two in Australia, and a novel is in the works. He lives in Hamilton, New Jersey.

TOUGH LIT.

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A Bad Day at the Office (cont’d from p 21) minutes later he had a hole in his head that wasn’t there before. She split. She showed up here about twenty minutes ago.” “How do you know she didn’t do it?” “I don’t, but she seems scared, of whoever killed him and the cops. She figures you’ll both have it in for her.” “Well, she’s right about us. She’s a suspect until she’s cleared. So don’t let her leave or you’re down for obstructing. I’ll call you after I’ve secured the scene. By the way, she’s a klutz. Don’t ever let her try to pour you a cup of coffee while you’re sitting down. Might as well be a flame thrower aimed at you lap.” “That’s not the only hazard,” I said. “But how would you know, anyway?” “Just keep her there,” he said, hanging up. I brewed coffee. I poured. We settled down to wait for Dolan. Felicia curled up in the chair. In an hour the phone rang. It was Dolan. “I’m on my way. Johnson’s stretched out on the bed, shot, just like she told you. No shells or gun. I’ll let the lab finish up here.” He hung up. “Dolan should be here in ten minutes,” I said. “In that case, I want to use the ladies room before he gets here. Where is it?” said Felicia. She pulled herself out of the chair and picked up her pocketbook. “Last door on the right at the end of the hallway,” I said. I walked her to the office door, leaving it open so I could see anyone passing by, including Felicia trying to skip. Then I sat behind my desk and poured myself another cup of coffee. The next person through the door wasn't Dolan or Felicia, but a big guy who looked like he spent all his time at the gym lifting things heavier than me. The revolver in his hand made him look even bigger. It’s hard to outdraw a man who already has a gun aimed at you. I was going to have to grin this bear to death. “Remember me?” he said. “No,” I said. “Sorry.” “Johnson set me up on a warehouse job five years ago. He tipped you. You tipped your cop buddy and I spent the last five years at Hagerstown. Johnson used you to clear the road to Felicia. She was with me until then.” “Sorry, I didn’t know, but I think this visit is a parole violation. I guess you’re steamed she didn’t visit while you were away.” “Where is the witch?” “You just missed her—again. You two really need to synchronize your watches.” “After I stop your clock,” he said moving toward me. I could feel my Timex winding down to the last tick when Felicia appeared in the doorway, saw the situation, then backed out of sight. I didn’t blame her. Maybe she’d live long enough to finger the guy for finishing Bill and me. Five seconds later she came through the door again, blazing away with a snub-nose .38, arm extended lunging like a fencer on the attack, closing fast for the final thrust. She got off two shots before I hit the deck, and she kept pulling the trigger ‘til all five chambers were empty. At that range you almost always win the stuffed animal. The bear went down with two to the torso, one in the back and the second in the front as he turned to see what had hit him. Felicia’s face was the last thing he saw. When I picked myself up from the floor I saw her last three shots had taken out my stereo, my Mr. Coffee and a beautiful painting of a Chesapeake screw-pile lighthouse hung behind my desk. She slapped Bill Johnson’s empty piece down on my desk and stepped back. “And I’m paying you to protect me? You need a partner—and a decorator. This place is a mess,” she said slumping into the easy chair. My lizard brain stem started having a chemical reaction that scared the hell out of my cerebral cortex. Felicia was the kind of woman my mother

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never imagined, let alone warned me about. She had the kind of heat I wanted to warm my hands at, even if it was a blast furnace. Dolan’s arrival, five minutes later, was anti-climactic. He and the lab rats took hours wrapping things up. Felicia wasn’t going back to her place, so I took her to mine. Strictly a temporary arrangement you understand. Besides, she had nowhere else to go, I was feeling grateful and I wanted to get warm. Stephen Pohl is former Baltimore cop with a degree in Theater Arts, who currently works as an insurance claims adjuster. He lives in Baltimore with his wife. His articles, stories and poetry have appeared in national and regional print venues and on the web. He blogs irregularly at http://pohlaxed.blogspot.com/.

The Fall (cont’d from p 16)

"I can handle myself," Fanny shot back. "Fanny is not qualified to infiltrate" Sandra insisted. Claudia murmured, "You're not even married to Alain. Why does he matter more to you than me?" "I don't need anyone's blessing. I'm going with Gilles." Claudia grew pale. Fanny whispered to Sandra, "If you can, do one thing for me: try and be a friend to Claudia. Hopefully her nerves will outlast the occupation." As they left the apartment, Claudia clutched her stomach and yelled out, in one last desperate attempt to restrain her sister, "I think I'm having a miscarriage!" Gilles' car was parked down the street. They proceeded cautiously, and then held back until a patrol van passed. Once it disappeared around the corner they hastily threw open the vehicle doors and climbed in. Gilles tried twice before the engine finally ignited with an abrupt "pop" and then churned noisily. "We're bound to be stopped." "If we are I have my papers handy. I'll say you're my wife." "And if it doesn't work?" "It's me they'll want to haul in. You're the one we need to get to the fortress anyway. Find out as much as you can: how many Germans are guarding the place, the layout of the rooms -- that sort of thing. What more can be done?" He pulled the little round knob on the dashboard that turned the headlights on, and eased the car down the deserted street. They drove slowly, stopping at every corner and looking up and down before proceeding. A pair of lights flashed in the distance. Gilles switched off the headlights and waited for what turned out to be an autobus to pass. Once the car was moving again he groped for a pack of Gauloises lying on the dashboard. Contorted between his fingertips and the windscreen, it sprung up into the air and then dropped to the floor. Fanny reached after it. "Don't bother, I've got it." Noticing his hands were shaking, she removed a cigarette from the crumpled packet, placed it between Gilles' lips and lit it for him. "Your sister is very fond of you." "Claudia's in love with Claudia." "And you? Who are you in love with?" "You know the answer to that." He took his eyes off the road and looked at her. The car veered over a sharp object on the pavement and almost immediately the front left tire erupted. Gilles banged the steering wheel with his fist. "There's a flashlight on the floor behind the driver's seat; get it while I pull out the spare." (cont’d on p 32) WWW.IDEAGEMS.COM 31


The Fall (cont’d) As they drove through the night Fanny could feel the officer's eyes on her. Just before the car stopped, some blocks later, she felt his hand on hers. It dawned on her that she wasn't wearing a wedding band. She shot a glance at him but his face betrayed no emotion. Then, just as she was about to move toward the door, he raised his fingers to the brim of his hat and waved an almost imperceptible salute. "Quickly, let's go inside," said Gilles, tugging her sleeve. Entering the house, they first noticed the odd, mauve colored walls and drapes. It was a stark and depressing decor—far from the cheap but seductive atmosphere they had expected. The only reference to the activity going on behind the row of closed doors was one massive painting that greeted, or rather overwhelmed, the visitor upon entering the main parlor. It showed a man and woman, both nude, on the edge of a bed. The man sat with one arm behind the woman and his other hand over her breast. The man looked preoccupied; the woman, bored. Gilles and Fanny looked at the painting, their heads cocked at opposite angles. "They must be married," Fanny declared. Gilles agreed. "I don't run a hotel here." A tall, stout woman with blonde hair tied up in a bun at the back of her head walked into the room, her violet cloak flowing behind her and, in its trail, a lumbering German officer who shed his jacket and let it drop to the floor. "We supply the women; you're not supposed to bring your own," she bellowed as she walked past them and into an adjoining room. "That," Gilles said, "was Madame Pechaise." A moment later she returned, refusing to be dissuaded from concluding her argument. "You may not find what you like or what you're accustomed to here, but during times of war one just has to make do. You understand me?" In response to her raised eyebrows, Giles replied: "We’ve just come to talk." “I’m a busy woman. Tell me what you've come to say and let me get back to my business." "My friend here wants to get into the prison outside Calais." "What do you want to do once you get in there?" "My fiancé, Alain Gamont, is a prisoner." "And you think you can get him out?" She laughed raucously. "She can get us the information we need.” "Do you realize the men you're dealing with? They're savages." "I know what they're capable of doing," Fanny replied. "And your knowing it hasn't stopped you from sleeping with them." "I don't sleep with them. And the only girls I let them have are ones with social diseases. You see,” she added with pride, “each of us contributes to the war effort in our own way." "Then you'll help me to fight in mine. Just get me into the fortress with your girls and I'll manage the rest." "Oh, yes, I'm certain," she nodded with conviction. "You'll manage your way right into the nearest bedroom. What will your dear Alain think of you after that? You've wasted enough of my time. I have to check on my clients." "But Lolly—" "And you, Gilles… you ought to have more sense. Are you only trying to kill this young woman? I know her type—they're used to attention. As mere observer, the war bores them. Suddenly comes a chance to break the monotony; to be heroic, no less—” (cont’d on p 33) TOUGH LIT. AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE

A siren sounded not far away. One car tore by them, then another. Both vehicles stopped at the corner. A man yelled out in Italian but his cries were silenced by two quick gun shots. Gilles and Fanny inched out from behind the car in time to see a man's body being dragged along the street. One of the men in uniform lifted him off of the ground and threw him into the back of one of the cars, leaving a trail of blood along the brick pavement. Gilles emitted a low groan and drew back. "Are you all right?" He straightened and grabbed the flashlight from her hand. The glow was dim, making it hard for him to see, and he leapt at every sound from the street. As he began to remove the wheel bolts his hands shook so violently that he repeatedly dropped the tools. "It's no good," he said bitterly. "What is it? Did you see who they killed? Was it someone you knew? How far are we from Madame Pechaise's?" "Too far to walk." "We've got to try just the same." "What's the use?" "You know what will happen to us if we stay here." She slid her arm under his shoulder and helped pull him to his feet. "We have this flashlight. We'll be able to make our way. What's the address?" Gilles reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a tiny diary. He flipped through the ink stained book, stopping at a page with an address scribbled diagonally across it. He held it out for her to see. "There. You see. A good seven blocks away." As they walked down the street arm-in-arm she felt him grow heavy against her side. The paleness of his face alarmed her. "We turn right at the next corner." An engine roared behind them. Fanny switched off the flashlight. A dark sedan passed. At first she thought they were safe, but the car suddenly halted and went into reverse. Travelling backward, it passed them again. This time the headlights picked out their forms. A strong light hit them full on, forcing them to turn away. A harsh, accented voice shot at them from behind the light: "What are you doing there?" Fanny shielded her eyes with her hand and replied, "My husband is ill. We're just trying to make it home." There was a long silence. After a moment they heard the car door open and close. "Who are you?" The face that came into view was a handsome one. He was a soldier—an officer from the look of his coat. "My name is Fanny Ducroix. This is my husband, Gilles." He studied their faces in silence. "As you can see, my husband is quite ill." But it was Lucille he examined. His eyes scanned her from her soiled black shoes to the paisley scarf on her head. He suddenly reached out and gently pulled the scarf back off her hair. Gilles began to cough laboriously. "Where do you live?" Panic swept over her. The only address that came to mind, outside of her own, was the one just been presented to her. "14 Rue Feraud." "Come." The officer took Gilles' free arm and helped him into the sedan. 32


The Fall (cont’d.) "You're right," Gilles asserted, taking Fanny by the arm and walking towards the front door. "We won't take up any more of your time. You'd better get back to your work. I think I hear one of your clients yelling now." As he flung open the door a barrage of shots rattled the air. Fanny spun around and saw Gilles' clothes being ripped apart by a spray of bullets. She felt herself being pulled backward against her will as she instinctively reached for him. "Fools!" Madame Pechaise cried, managing at last to secure Fanny inside the entrance. She slammed the door behind them. "Now, do you see? Not only has Gilles gotten himself killed but he's placed my house in jeopardy as well. How am I going to explain this to the authorities?” "I don't care about your lousy house or your safety." She pulled the door open and ran into the dark street, nearly tripping over Gilles' body still sprawled over the bottom steps. She ran blindly, her mind racing, until she ran directly into the arms of a German soldier standing by a patrol car across the street, knocking him back against the vehicle. The soldier pushed her away and slapped her face. She quickly collected herself and raised her hand to slap him back. A large, gloved hand encompassed hers, stopping it in mid-air. The officer who had accompanied them to the house stood beside her. He released her hand and waved the soldier away. "You!" she said, brutally. "Why didn't you just kill us when you had us in your car? "I didn't want to kill either of you. My mother was French, born in a small village not eighty kilometers from here. I don’t like what is happening to this country right now. But life is complicated; nothing is all good or all bad. I can't make my actions comprehensible to you. At any rate, I don't think you want to understand." A car horn sounded. He looked away. "When I saw you earlier tonight I admired you," he whispered. "I admired your courage." He extended his hand to her. She looked at him, perplexed. "Come. I'll take you home." He dropped his hand and shrugged. "You can either drive back with me, whom you know, or chance walking back in the dark and being shot at by someone you don't know." The next weeks passed almost without event. The days stretched out cumbersomely, punctuated by sporadic violence, domestic and political. The evenings, once again, were spent with Claudia, bickering because of their forced entrapment together, but also vaguely aware of their mutual dependency. Then, almost anticlimactically, because of the endless waiting and having grown accustomed to waiting, it was August 25, and Paris was liberated. The following week Stephan returned, heavier and more boisterous— more like he had been away to camp rather than to war. A week later came Jacques, and the two Gérard brothers from next door. After an interval of several days, Alain appeared at their door. He was more nervous, less self-assured than he had been before he had left. He told Fanny that she, too, had changed. They clung together because such was expected of lovers who had been parted by the war. But their motions were mechanical, like strangers having to learn their way again. To Fanny, the war seemed horrible; but even, in one respect at least— ridiculous, because she had come to discover that Gilles had been mistaken. Alain had never been taken to Calais; had never, in fact, been inside a prison for a single moment during the war. She felt how foolhardy and chance-ridden life was. A war could be won or lost on a few misunderstood names or directives. A man could die needlessly; but then again, when did anyone need to die?

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Most disturbing to Fanny, she kept seeing Lucien's face before her; kept recalling that ambiguous little salute, and feeling his warm hand over hers. She never spoke to anyone about him, and when Alain questioned her about her remoteness, she merely laughed and shrugged it off. That November they were married. The following year, Mirella was born. Fanny's days became filled with the cares of her infant and husband. A new routine was established. The days fell away. Then, one fall afternoon in 1950, after dropping Mirella off to visit Alain's parents, Fanny gave in to a sudden desire to visit the Louvre. Standing at a corner waiting for the traffic light to change, she picked a face out of the mass of people across the boulevard. He was a tall man. His dark, full hair was tussled by the wind and moistened by the recent, transient sun shower. His face, after six years, had grown thinner. He wore grey trousers and a black, woolen jacket, with a scarf tucked neatly beneath the lapels. He looked, in those clothes and in the late afternoon sun, not in the least like a soldier of war, but ageless and free of cares and responsibility. The light changed and they proceeded toward one another. Their eyes met and remained connected as bodies passed them peripherally and automobiles swished past them to their left and to their right. The sounds and smells of the city swelled up around them, confirming their common ground. But, as quickly as the moment came, it was gone. He had passed her by and she was once again alone in the crowd. Having no other choice, and no longer any clear destination, she continued walking. She followed the steps of the young girls before her, just keeping ahead of the old man behind her on her left. Her pace slackened and she submitted herself to the old feeling of ennui and desolation. At that same instant she felt someone come up from behind and brush against her arm. She looked up and saw Lucien's face. He slid his right arm around her shoulders, tilted back her head, and kissed her. Instead of everything outside them dissolving, it intensified. She heard the sounds of the traffic, the conversations, the music pouring from a record store, more acutely. And, with her eyes tightly shut, she could see the texture of the coat worn by the man in a beret who meandered along behind her. The girls skipping rope still loomed before her, but now they turned back to watch as did the patrons from the sidewalk café. She was strangely conscious of being both specter and audience. Across town her daughter was playing contentedly with her grandparents, and in yet another quarter Alain was laying print at the news office. Then, just as these people and places appeared, they just as abruptly disappeared to be replaced by memories of the dead and dying, and buildings smoldering in the fading light of day. Fanny looked at Lucien. "I'm only in Paris for the day." She glared at him, seized by an emotion much different from what she had been feeling just seconds ago. “How many people did you kill in the war? How many Frenchmen? How many Jews? How many homosexuals?” He appeared stunned. She felt his arm—that strong, solid arm that had felt so good around her cold body -- fall away. She turned and left him, forcing herself to concentrate on different people, different things. She hurriedly walked into the crowd -- deep into the thickening crowd as the night descended. Only when she had reached home nearly an hour later did she dare think about him, and then she never thought about him again. Ethel Symolon has written for stage and screen and has been the recipient of literary awards as well as a Hollywood Discovery fellowship for her screenplay The Mephisto Chamber. Her novel, The Two of Them, explores the attachments people make with places and how those attachments influence their relationships and inform their decisions. Ethel is also a contributing writer to Demand Studios.

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Alysse (cont’d from p 18) calm—no orders, no Nazi bullshit, just gentle words. Huh! Must be something wrong with him. Why’s he bein’ so nice to me? What the fuck’s goin’ on, anyway? Is ‘Leese…? Then I looked at the cop’s eyes. He was an older guy, maybe even pushin’ 50, and not one of these new, young Hitler Youth who are so fuckin’ baaaaad, especially to us bums and losers and winos. I realized that, like the girl medic, this guy actually gave a shit. And that was enough to make the killer part of me stop and back down. Not all the way, but I guess he got curious about this and wanted to find out what would happen next. So, the killer relaxed, and I could feel my fists loosen up. I noticed the snarling had stopped, also. Good thing, because I could remember that snarl and feared what would come next. I’d been the one snarling; or, rather, the jungle killer inside me had. I guess the cop noticed me relaxing because he smiled and asked me if I’d tell him what I saw. I looked around and saw other cops talking to other people—asking them what they saw, I guess. I told him. Told him just what went down, even the part about my slamming the taxi door into the guy’s legs and kicking the kid in the chest. I wasn’t afraid of being arrested for that—hell, I’d already been arrested so many times they had my name engraved on a plate on one of the cells at the jail—so didn’t see any point in not telling it. I figured he’d Mirandize me and haul me in for aggravated assault. At least I’d get a cot and a hot meal for the night—no uisge, of course, but we all gotta make some sacrifices, y’know? The cop surprised me and totally blew the jungle killer’s mind. He didn’t read me any rights, didn’t even look at me weird or nothin’. He just listened quietly, asked a few questions to clarify something, and wrote in his notebook. When he asked me my name, I didn’t even bother trying to lie to him. I just couldn’t see the point this time. I mean, the guy was only trying to do his job, right? He was an older guy like me, maybe even a brother vet—he had a few miles on him, saw and lived through a few heartbreaks. And he was kind to me. It was the least I could do to tell him the truth and nothin’ but. So I did. By this time, the medics had loaded ‘Leese into the ambulance and driven off with her. I’d noticed that she looked awfully pale— what little I could see of her, what with her having all those tubes and wires and bandages and stuff wrapped around her or hanging off her. I even noticed the girl medic had carried the IV bag in her mouth, just like that old paramedic show on TV. The ambulance driver hit the siren to clear his way, then headed off. I was pretty sure they’d take her to Truman—that was where they took all the street people. That was okay, because I also knew that the docs and nurses at Truman had seen it all and, if Alysse had any kind of chance at all of staying alive, they’d save her. I thought toward her that I’d be down to see her soon as I could get there. I guess the taxi driver and kid had also been taken to hospitals because I didn’t see them anywhere. I didn’t care about them, except I did feel sorry I’d kicked the kid. The asshole driver had deserved what he got and then some. The fuck could curl up and die, far as I was concerned. Fuck him. Anyway, the cop asked me a few more questions, then did 34

something I’d never expected, not from any cop: he asked me if he could give me a ride to Truman so I could be with Alysse. I think my lips flapped like some catfish just yanked out of the river. Man, this just can’t be no cop, I thought. No matter, though, ‘cause I took him up on his offer. I was right about the hospital. They’d taken her to Truman, just like they should have done. When I got there, some boy doctor came out and led me back to one of the rooms. Alysse was inside, still hooked up to all kinds of tubes and wires and stuff. Her clothes were gone, of course—I never did find out what they did with her coat—and someone had washed the blood off her, but she still looked so pale and was still unconscious. Several doctors and nurses were doing different things to her, but they were going about it as quietly as they could. You know how on TV and in the movies the doctors and nurses and everybody in hospital emergency rooms are always yelling and screaming at each other? Well, they don’t do that in real life. They just talk to each other, just like normal people do, only with more urgency in their voices sometimes. They leave all the yelling and screaming and howling and stuff to the patients or family members. Me, I’d seen enough blood and dying and killing and pain and stuff when I was in the Army and during my days as a cop, so I pretty much just stood there and watched. Yeah, and if you believe that one, let me tell you about this bridge I just happen to have for sale. Oh, I didn’t yell or nothin’, but I could feel the tears runnin’ down my cheeks and I was having a hard time catching my breath—fucker kept hanging up, y’know? But I didn’t lose it—not then. I’d lose it later, when I was back in my apartment and had good ol’ Clan MacGregor to help ease my pain. I was there when they took her up to surgery. The boy doctor must have appointed himself as my personal guide because he hung around and told me what was going on with her the whole time. He said her leg had been crushed but they thought they could save it. “She’ll probably walk with a limp, though,” he said and I laughed out loud and told him she already did that, only with her other leg, so maybe this new limp would cancel the other one out and she’d walk like normal. He grinned at that one, but told me she’d need to be hospitalized for a while and would need close care for a long time afterwards. I assured him she’d certainly get the best care she could have, ‘cause I’d see to it personal. He must not have had much to do in the ER, ‘cause he even took me down to the cafeteria so I could get something to eat and then up to the surgery waiting room. He even made a point of telling the nurse there who I was and that I was with Alysse. Then he looked at me and said something I’ll never forget. “Alysse is a lucky woman,” he said. “She’s got a friend like you, who’ll stick by her.” Yeah, stick by her. Fat lot of good that did. When some older doctor wearin’ one of those puke-green scrub suits they do in surgery came out and said she needed a blood transfusion right now and could I help, I couldn’t. Oh, I wanted to, okay, but it turned out that our blood types didn’t match. It also turned out that she had a rare blood type and the blood bank didn’t have any (cont’d on p 35)

TOUGH LIT.

AFTAW SPECIAL ISSUE


Alysse (cont’d)

Road to Pasadena (cont’d from p 20)

in stock, so they had to send out an emergency request to the Red Cross and other blood banks in a four-state area. Didn’t do any good. Her type was so rare that nobody had any. They tried using O-negative and that helped some, but it just wasn’t enough. Not near good enough for my Alysse. They tried their best, they really did. But now here I stand at her grave, crying and blubbering like a baby and wishing I could have died instead of her. I should have been the one that fucking cab hit, not Alysse. She was so beautiful with her new red hair. If only I hadn’t made her cry that day. If only I had gone to see her sooner to apologize. If only. It’s cold here. Winter’s coming on. Time for all the bums and winos and other losers to hole up until spring. Time for me to crawl deep inside my bottle of Clan MacGregor and find a way to drink myself to her, to Alysse. Like we used to say in the jungle, “Fuck it. It just don’t matter.”

sensation I had ever experienced. "Too slow!" And then Igor and I had one of those Lincoln-Douglas type exchanges. "(Censored: Bleepity-bleep-bleep-bleep!) Left again! Damn, hayseed, it's a good thing you can't see this!” And, if I had been able to see, I would have observed something beyond shocking. "Hayseed, you're going to kill us!!!" "What do I do?!" "Go right again!" I turned the steering wheel to the right. Every nerve in my body sparked. I trembled, cranium to ankle. My hands were white knuckled on the steering wheel as I envisioned our car dodging and weaving through the traffic. I was seconds from a crushing death. Igor put his face against my ear and was flailing his arms while the passengers looked in shocked-and-bemused silence. "Left again!" I followed the instructions, muttering every ardent prayer that I remembered. And, then, the steering wheel locked. It was the end. I was helpless and at the mercy of the LA Freeway. I had no control over the car, but couldn't stop or speed up. Since I couldn't control the steering wheel anyway, I took the blindfold off out of sheer desperation and saw… "The airport tunnel?!" Have you ever heard laughter that sounded as though it was being fired out of a machine gun?! That was the sound Igor made as I surveyed my surroundings and read the words on the windshield: "Thank you for accessing NASA's 'Road to Pasadena' Simulation Program.' The program has ended. We appreciate your participation." That "tunnel" we had entered was a complete, 360-degree, full sensation simulation chamber. That was why we went into that dark tunnel earlier...to engage the program… unbeknownst to us, of course. That was why I couldn't roll down the window. I grabbed the door handle and poured myself onto the ground: I was a sweat-soaked, wobbly-kneed, moist-eyed mess of shivers, convulsions and death gasps. Igor lumbered out of the back, his hands pressed against his aching abdomen. I had never seen anybody laugh so hard for so long. We must have looked like a work of art: a gyrating lump curled up in a fetal position next to a bent over hunchback literally roaring with laughter. It was when I was slowly being absorbed by the asphalt that Igor finally spoke, "Did you really think I would have a hayseed like you drive on the LA Freeway?!" "I grew up next to the ocean! I have never seen hay!" Five minutes of insane cackling later, I managed to prop my molten remains into a recumbent position. "What the (censored) were you playing at?!" "Well, when you go back to the prairie, one of your ankle-biters will talk about space program simulators. One of them will ask you, 'Hey, Dr. Einstein, how real did it feel?' And, after having this experience, what will you say?!" "Janie, it was as real as the LA County jail cell where I spent my first night in California."

David Keith is a professional writer, editor, and photographer. He lives on the eastern border of South Dakota with two phenomenal females, his wife Elizabeth and a collie named Belle. Samples of his photography can be seen at www.flickr.com/photos/EarthImages. To learn more about his editorial services, visit his LinkedIn page at www.linkedin.com/in/DavidKeithEditing.

Rain, Rain, Go Away (cont’d from p 22) Carla shivered not knowing where to go. She hobbled away from the stream bank and plopped under a big pine. The right sneaker fell off earlier and the sock on her right foot was torn. She spent the night mulling over her role in the quarrel with Jay. She had been selfish and petty; never liked Cleo and Eddie, Jay’s friends. Then again, she never gave them a chance. Mom was a snob and Carla was determined not to be one. Dad’s a gem, but he spoiled her rotten. What if she never saw them again? Tears rolled down Carla’s dirty face. Fearing she was going to die alone, vowing to stay awake but failing in the effort. When the light filtered through the pines, she got up and headed back toward the stream, hobbling with one shoe off, one shoe on. Struggling to keep her balance, she fell into the reeds up to her knees. As she was struggling to pull herself from the muck she thought she heard a shout. It sounded like someone shouted “Carla Briggs.” She stood still afraid to get her hopes up. Then she heard a wavering echo, “Hello, Carla Briggs, Hello.” “I’m over here. I’m over here.” Carla screamed as loud as she could. “Don’t move. Stay Put. We’ll come to you.” “Okay, I’m by the stream bank.” Two men in flannel shirts emerged through the trees. Tears of relief flowed down her streaked face. “I can’t walk very well. My legs are sore; I lost my sneak and I fell and cut my foot.” “Don’t worry. We’re here now. We have a helicopter waiting at the field search site. They’ll airlift you to the nearest medical clinic at Racquette Lake.” We’ll get you back to the site; the medical techs will check you out. John and Barry propped her between them and half walked, half carried her to the field site. As they moved along, John told her how the dogs lost her scent in the rain soaked terrain; they found her over four miles from the campsite. Relieved, Carla wolfed down the offered candy bar then bummed a cigarette. Jay was always ragging at her to quit. She was trying but this cigarette was the best she ever smoked. Relief at the rescue quarreled with the anxiety of meeting Jay. They needed to talk. They were not out of the woods by a long shot. She smiled to herself at her choice of words. Gaye Buzzo Dunn is a retired Director of Human Resources and business management professional previously employed by large and small, public and private corporations. She is an alumnus of The College of St. Rose located in Albany, New York. A free-lance writer, mother of three, grandmother of seven, she resides in upstate New York and winters in South Florida. Her web site is pending.

VOL 5, ISSUE 5

Edward Gleason holds a degree in Astronomy and is the Manager of the Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, ME. His e-column, The Daily Astronomer, along with the planetarium's events can be found at http://usm.maine.edu/planet/.

For graphic design, go to www.glowcat.net

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Jackie has been reading and teaching for 23 years, is a spiritual counselor, and has a global Medical Intuitive practice. She offers a variety of divination, including aura and past-life review that serve as energy libraries, reflecting your current path and life opportunities. She teaches meditation programs for both private groups and corporations. These classes are a series of guided meditations promoting a healthy understanding of boundaries and manifesting through focused attention. Private readings are scheduled 1-2 days in advance. Readings last 1-2 hours. Rates are sliding scale from $75.00 to $150.00. (You decide what is best for you.) Call or email to schedule: jackie_major@hotmail.com 415-310-4389

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TOUGH LIT.