IdeaGems Magazine presents
September - November 2011 PRICE: $8.50
We ain’t pretty but we’re good and gritty with… Crime Mystery Suspense Prison Grit WARNING: Some stories deal with strong themes using strong language. Not for the weak of heart… or bladder. Follow IdeaGems on
Dear friends, All those on a diet should stop reading now. (Believe me, I know what I'm talking about!) I'm so excited to announce my new e-book series called… A Culinary Catastrophe. I had so much fun with the concept: - one recipe - one short story - one culinary catastrophe! Each short story has exactly one recipe at the core - so you don't have to decide which cake to bake. :-) The first one is a mini-romance called The Chocolate Cake. It's about Tak who has invited the man of her life (or so she hopes) for dinner because she's an accomplished cook. However, to her dismay, she learns that he has a sweet tooth and loves chocolate cake - which is something she never tried to bake before . . . and of course, things soon spiral out of control! You can read an excerpt if you click onto this link on my website: www.happybooks.de The next installment of the series is almost done - it's called The Strawberry Mousse - I'll tell you more about it as soon as it's "up". For the third one, I'm still looking for inspiration . . . so feel free to tell me about your favorite recipe! Best, Beate
Beate Boeker lives in the north of Germany and works as a marketing manager. That’s why she knows all about the art of choosing a product that fits into the right slot in the market. It was inevitable that she should work with books sooner or later. She even has it in her name, Boeker, is the word for books in the local German dialect with her first name, Beate, straight from Latin that translates as ‘Happy’. With a name that reads ‘Happy Books’, what else could she do but write romances? To learn more about Beate and her works, go to: www.happybooks.de
Inside this Issue
Going into its 7th year now, IdeaGems Publications 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.)
Laurie E. Notch, Managing Editor In charge of stories, articles, poems To contact, email: email@example.com
A Rose for Riberto
Why You Worry?
Finding the Mean
Poetry from Prison: Dealt the Wrong Hand
Fiction in a Flash
• Friday, November 22, 1963—12:30 PM CST
• Cody’s Midnight Madness
• BLT, French Fries, and Soda
• The Starting Gate
• Perry’s Woman
• Rescue in NYC
A Crisis of Skin
Live Another Day. Part 2
Death to a Stranger
A Troubled Bridge Over Water
The Art of Writing Horror
From Us to You…
Elizabeth Wyrwicz, Graphic Artist and Layout Editor In charge of art, photography, and graphics To contact, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You asked for it and you got it! Here is the fourth in our special TOUGH LIT series, a masterful mixture of murder, mayhem, and mystery peppered with poetry that packs a punch, edgy literature, and tough travel tales. We are always pleased receive more and more submissions from talented writers and artists and are proud to offer many of them their first crack at getting published. To do this, we continually need your continued support in purchasing of our magazine in print, PDF download, or Kindle™ and in passing the good word for others to do the same. We intend on making TOUGH LIT a regular publication. If you have a story, poem, photography or artwork to contribute, please submit it to: email@example.com. As always, thanks for reading!
Mary Regan, Public Relations In charge of advertising and promotions To contact, email: firstname.lastname@example.org Special thanks to our contributing editors: Claudia Aragon Marcelline Jenny © SEPTEMBER 2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THE UNAUTHORIZED DUPLICATION OR DISTRIBUTION IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
VOL 6, ISSUE 6
-- Laurie Notch, Managing Editor
The Killer by Claudia Aragon I hit him. I couldn’t stop myself. I just kept hitting him, over and over again until he was dead. Maybe if he hadn’t been drinking and charged on me like an angry bull, he’d still be alive and I wouldn’t be sitting in jail; although if he were still alive I would have remained a prisoner of both my marriage and my fear. When did the love change to intolerance and the fear to hatred? Is there really such a thin line separating them? We had finally come to the last juncture of our marriage vows: ’Til death do us part. I never woke up thinking: Today, I’m going to kill my husband. That’s exactly what happened though. Every day for the last forty-five years, he’d drink. Not social drinking either. There was nothing social about the way he drank. He had consumed enough alcohol to open up his own liquor store. The more he drank, the more his emotions went haywire, somehow short circuiting common sense and decency. In an instant, he would go from a happy, laughing, smiling drunk, to an animal. He suffered at times from deep depression, crying non-stop for hours on end, or of course there was the dreaded verbal and physical abuse. For him, therapy was out of the question and could never be an option. I of course, would have to stand by, as the hostile, unwilling witness to it all, as I internalized all of my emotions. Was I becoming as volatile as an old stick of dynamite? The more my protective outer shell would weaken and sweat; the more I was exposed, was I at risk of exploding? If I dared give the wrong response, or the wrong look, there would be pure hell to pay. He would turn on me, yelling out derogatory comments, while grabbing me harshly, pulling me by the hair as he dragged me across the floor, being sure to hit me where it wouldn’t show. If there had only been the physical or the verbal, one without the other, it may not have ended the way it did. Each day the drinking got worse. By the time he made the ten-minute commute home, he needed a drink. Crawling into a hole of self-loathing, or self-pity depending on the day and he was usually drunk within twenty to thirty minutes. He was never satisfied with just a beer or two. He always had to have more. Numerous Buds and Sam Adams were joined by their friends: Yukon Jack, Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels. He had built up such a tolerance to the effects of alcohol. He could still be standing after twelve beers and three or four shots. He would either turn loving, philosophical, or angry, depending on the mood created by his day. Every morning as he left for work, I would pray he had a good day and no one made him angry. Either way, he needed to be justified by my undying, rapt and eager attention when he came home. My mind struggles to understand. Does one decide to become a killer from inception in the womb, born with the disposition to kill? When do you ultimately go down that one-way street leading to total annihilation and destruction? Once you start to walk down that dreary, dead-end path, can there be no turning back to achieve possible salvation? I have far too many questions. They all remain unanswered. As I sit here in my cell looking toward a possible future on death row, I ponder these questions. How did I get to this point in my life? There were so many pitfalls and stumbling blocks concerning my life’s journey. Was I just born bad? If so, why did it take so long to take the final step on this horrific detour? Am I a monster 65 years in the making? Thinking back to my unforgivable moment, I feel the deep, darkness of the void enveloping me. It’s something I can’t explain. The darkness has become ingrained within my very soul, consuming me completely. The pungent, acrid, sweetness of the smell of blood takes me over again, showering me in ecstasy, as I think back to the moment of his death. I had no will of my own. I had lost all self control. It’s almost as if my body had temporarily been possessed by a demon. Maybe I just lost my mind. Either way, the details aren’t crisp and clear. They remain fuzzy and gray. Detached from conscious thoughts, they stay hidden on the outskirts of my mind. 2
Perhaps my journey started somehow as a small child, watching as the revolving door of men abused my mother and, at times me, my brothers, or one of my younger sisters. There were twelve of us children. We all had different fathers we would never know and who would have cared less even if they had known we existed—one of the vast multitudes of downfalls and non-benefits that came from being the child of a prostitute. Men would cycle in and out of our lives. Usually nothing good would come from it. At thirteen, I was the oldest who took care of all the others. Oh, God, how I tried to protect them, and yet I couldn’t. I remember Uncle Billy, as Mom called him, coming for my seven year old brother, over and over again, while Mom, high on heroine or some other drug, stood by and allowed it to happen. Like Nazis giving candy to children before leading them into the ovens, Uncle Billy always made sure he brought lots of toys and candy before inflicting his form of torture on Buddy. In his twisted logic, he must have felt his weak and feeble gesture would somehow erase any guilt or wrongdoing. Two years later, Buddy, unable to cope with the abuse any longer, jumped off the Creek Water Bridge and fell to his death on the jagged rocks flanking the dry riverbed below. Mom was always high on something and was self-centered. She was so wrapped up in her desire to get her next fix that her drug induced state caused her to be completely unmoved by the tragedy. Now at fifteen, I did what I was afraid to do for years. I called the police and the welfare department. There were so many of us. They couldn’t possibly keep us all together. Scattered like leaves on the wind, we all were placed in different foster homes across four counties. I tried to keep in touch with everyone. After a while, the kids were moved around too much, and I lost touch. I was placed in a foster home with Reverend Thompson and his wife, Myrna. Mom never sent me to school when I got older because she wanted me to stay home to take care of the younger kids. When I moved in with the Thompsons, I had to catch up on my studies. With Myrna’s help, lots of hard work, and determination, I graduated. I would sit in the pews at the back of the church every Friday night and twice on Sundays, listening to the Reverend’s fire and brimstone sermons. I remember thinking to myself: How could a merciful, loving God have ever let this life of suffering and tragedy happen to twelve innocent children? I met Harvey just after I graduated. I was working in the drugstore behind the lunch counter. He came in with his friends and soon became a lunch-time regular. I was attracted to his good looks and self confidence. We began to date. It felt like time flew by in the blink of an eye because six months later we were married. Within three years, I had two children: Bobby and Jenna. My children were the best things that ever happened to me. I felt as though I had found true happiness and my life was finally blessed. Harvey started to drink after the kids were born, but it was mainly social, just a highball or a few beers after work. Sometimes it was drinks for happy hour with friends and neighbors before dinner. Life became a vicious downward spiral from there on. Each and every day, he drank more and more. I’ve thought about the abuse we all suffered while young and innocent. A million times over since my arrest. I repeatedly ask myself: If I never crossed the line then by taking a life to save my family, or myself, when and how did this journey truly begin? Maybe it was when I was very small. I was curious about life and had started collecting bugs to observe. Do all children experiment on insects with malicious intent? I relished the sound of the loud crunch and pop of a beetle’s skeletal shell as it was smashed with the heel of my shoe. Do other children slowly torture spiders by pulling their limbs from their small and helpless bodies? Do other children slowly torture spiders by pulling their limbs from their small and helpless bodies? I know I did. Only now as an adult am I curious as to the fear and distress this action may have caused. I can only venture a guess as to the amount of excruciation this may have inflicted, for the spider made no audible screams of pain or terror.
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To the poor, hapless spider I must have seemed like Godzilla, coming to the sanctity of its web, destroying all I touched. As I gathered up the web with a stick, until it resembled cotton candy, the spider must have looked on in horror at the devastation. Most children collect assorted insects and place them on display within the confines of a Mason jar with holes poked in the lid to allow their small captives to breathe. Other children, out of instinct, must protectively care for their small charges until they are either released or dead. Some evil little children must surely make their tiny captives wait, holding them prisoner, while they devise a more sinister end for the unwitting victims. Do natural born killers slowly graduate to bigger and bigger animals until they find the ultimate prey? I was always rescuing animals, trying to heal their injuries. Other than the insects I’ve already mentioned, I never hurt anything in my life. Sometimes I felt more like I was a wounded bird, unable to fly away to escape my captors. My mind won’t shut down. Where’s the off button? All I have now is time. Too much time to sit and think. Thinking back, replaying all the nightmares in my life. I was always a happy person. I was just unfortunate enough to have bad things happen to me. I never raised my voice or my hand. I always tried to find something good in everything, no matter how bad it seemed. That was my armor, giving me protection from all the pain. I fought hard to keep the glass of my life half full. I guess I must have always internalized my frustrations, anger, fears and pain, and then, when pushed to unbearable limits, I just snapped. Like a dry twig against gale-force winds, when it can’t take anymore, it breaks. I’ve relived the imagery of that night in my mind a thousand times. I still can’t pinpoint exactly when I snapped. I know it happened. I’m guilty as charged. The exact moment I escaped my sanity, the moment I killed him, seems to be the only memory left in my mind when I’m recounting those events. It’s like the film goes blank just moments before I kill him. I remember him coming home, drunk as usual. His verbal assault started on me as soon as he opened the front door. “Where are you, you fat cow? You’re nothing but a worthless piece of shit. You’re so pathetic! If you were a whore, the Johns would treat you like a mercy fuck.” I reached to take his lunch box and coat, just like I always did, making sure to stay quiet and keep my eyes averted. Mercy and good fortune were not to be my companions on this evening. He grabbed me by the hair and continued his barrage of verbal abuse. “Get your worthless ass in the kitchen. Did you make my dinner yet?” “Yes, your favorites: meatloaf, mashed potatoes with brown gravy and green beans with bacon. There’s homemade apple pie and biscuits too.” “Did I tell you to introduce me to my food? Get me a beer and be snappy about it, if you know what’s good for you.” I grabbed a glass from the freezer, poured him an ice cold beer, then placed it and his plate of food on the table as fast as I could. “What the hell is this slop? It looks like something the dog ate and puked back up. Make me something else.” I looked on in disbelief as he up-ended the table. Before I could say a word or make a move, he had me by the hair and dragged me through the broken shards of glass and stoneware. Knees and hands bleeding, I fought back my tears. “Clean this mess up, you bitch!” He hissed at me like a snake. I bent down to clean the mess with him rounding on me, kicking me in the side with his steel-toed work boots. The pain was sharp and severe. I fought once more to hold back the tears, but he kept coming at me verbally and physically. A harsh slap burned across the full measure of my face. It came just before he pushed me down flat into the mess on the floor. The broken remnants of the table, the plates and glassware, were everywhere, a sad and sorry reflection of my life and my future. He must have cracked one or more of my ribs. Breathing was shallow and painful. I stood with my hands full of broken stoneware and made my VOL 6, ISSUE 6
way to the trash can. He grabbed me again, this time from behind. He pulled me to the sink by my hair, bent me over, ripped off my skirt and raped me. Over the years, I had experienced many physical assaults from him, but this was the worst and the most humiliating. “Yeah, I know you liked it. Now finish cleaning up this mess, you worthless whore.” As I stood upright, he flipped me around to face him. He bent me backwards over the sink again and started to choke me. I only remember reaching for the cast-iron skillet and feeling the edge of the handle in my hand. That’s the moment everything went black. The next thing I remember, the police were there, and I was being covered up by a female officer. The paramedics treated my injuries before I was taken to the hospital and eventually to jail. When I went to trial, the prosecutor said it was a premeditated murder. I was painted as a devious predator who decided to off her husband for the insurance money. Big whoop. He had a policy that would pay off the balance of the mortgage. Fifty-thousand big ones. Nowadays that won’t even buy a new car and a tank of gas. I honestly don’t believe that’s what swayed the jury into giving a guilty verdict. It had to be the photos taken of the crime scene. The photos showed Harvey prone in a pool of his blood, bludgeoned to death, the guilty and bloody cast-iron skillet next to the pile of pulp that was head. A bowl of Jell-o has more texture than he did when I was done. The prosecutor referred to him as a bloody mass of humanity. There had been nothing humane about Harvey. Those gruesome photos were what the jury saw. They didn’t get to see his ugliness and cruelty. They didn’t see the years and years of abusive behavior. Nor could they understand the fear and abuse that kept me glued to him. Not the jury, the prosecutor, my lawyer, friends, family or neighbors. No one was capable of understanding, unless they themselves had experienced an abusive relationship first hand. It was easier to condemn me rather than understand why I had stayed so long. When you are a victim of abuse, you no longer function with a rational mindset. You become afraid to stay and are terrified to leave. When the relationship is good, it’s wonderful, but when it’s bad. it can turn deadly in a matter of moments. Harvey was always great at acting remorseful after a really abusive night. He would become loving and attentive for days after a bad episode. Then the cycle of abuse would begin again. Over the years, he had perfected his art. Everyone else thought he was the most charming man they had ever met. No one, but the children and myself, knew what he was truly capable of. The abuse became progressively worse after the children left home. He felt the children had abandoned him and it was somehow my fault they had moved away. Harvey could never accept ownership of his own actions. Growing up with their father’s hostility and seeing the impact on me as a person, the children moved as far away as they could and never came to visit anymore. They also never brought the grandchildren for visits, and we were never invited to come for holidays or birthdays, but they made sure to send lots of pictures, cards, and letters. I really can’t blame Bobby and Jenna for not wanting their children exposed to either their father’s drinking or the nastiness they grew up with. We all knew from past experience, Harvey didn’t care who you were or how old you were when he released his barrage of abuse and terror. It was better that the children were safely distanced from him. I am now resigned to my plight, and I await the verdict on my appeal for a retrial. If I am denied, I will be content with that decision. For now, I wait. Claudia Aragon is an outstanding storyteller, capturing the nuances of family life and the difficulties of a hard-scrabble existence. Her writing has appeared in The San Diego Reader, The Paper, The Sacramento News and Review, IdeaGems Magazine, and Green Prints magazine. Claudia has finished a fantasy novel and is currently working on an adaptation of Frankenstein. She is ghost writing the family history of a well known resident in her area. She loves writing poetry and is inspired to write every day.
Calling Cards by Stephen Pohl I was in the Owl Bar, off the Hotel Belvedere’s lobby, working on a prime rib French dip sandwich and fries, when Dolan walked in and scanned the room. He came to my table and took a seat without waiting for an invitation. “Glad you could join me.” I grinned, wondering why he was there. Dolan didn’t smile. He squared up to me and leaned forward over the table. It had been ten years since we worked together. He had a lean and hungry look I’d long ago traded in for a bulky and bemused facade. “Name Janice Dore mean anything to you, Moriarty?” “No,” I didn’t like his tone. “Why?” “We found one of your business cards in the glove compartment of her car. I was hoping you could shed some light on your relationship with her.” “I don’t know her. How could I have a relationship with her? Is she a suspect or a victim?” Sgt. Mike Dolan was Baltimore PD Homicide, which meant he was talking about a homicidal relationship. “She was strangled in her apartment at Charles Plaza.” “Great.” I shoved my plate away. “So, I’m a suspect. Or a PI with a murdered client I never met. Not good, no matter how you slice it.” Dolan didn’t respond. He just cocked his head and eyed me. I was glad he wasn’t a regular dinner partner. I prefer more reassuring friendships. “You have more of a relationship with your victim than me. At least you’ve met her body. But I would like to know how a dead woman got my card. I’ll check it out. Somebody may have referred her to me and she never got around to calling. I’ll give you whatever I come up with.” “Okay, but stay on your side of the fence.” He got up. “Fair enough,” I said. “Can you get me a picture? Maybe I’ll recognize her.” “I’ll e-mail a photo tomorrow,” he said and headed for the door. I paid the tab and went back to my office on the second floor. I ran Janice Dore through all the data bases I use. Not much came up other than her MVA records, which gave me her address, age, race, height, weight and what kind of car she liked or could afford. She was 5’2”, 110, white, blue eyes, brown hair, age 29, glasses or contacts, owned a Toyota. She didn’t ring a bell. The name, DOB and address gave me enough to run her through the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website. She had never been a party to any criminal or civil litigation, at least in the Maryland courts. I went through my old phone logs and appointment books to see if I had somehow forgotten her. No help there. Finally, I closed up shop and walked the two blocks to my apartment on St. Paul Street and went to bed. The next morning I got more from The Baltimore Sun than I had from Dolan the night before. Janice Dore worked as a nurse at University Hospital. Her strangled body was found in her apartment after concerned co-workers called Police when she failed to show up for work and didn’t answer phone calls. The body was in the living room on the sofa. It was a short article, not much longer than a spot in the police blotter section. I wondered what was left out. A lot, I guessed, and Dolan wasn’t going to give it up to me any more than he would to the news media. Dolan’s e-mail, with the photo of Janice Dore arrived. She was attractive, in the cute sense, looking younger than she was, with hair cut short, freckles and a pixie smile. I still didn’t recognize her. I printed a few copies of the photo and put them in a folder, then made the rounds of my corporate clients and claims adjusters, hoping one of them knew her and might have given her my card as a referral. By the end of the day, I had shown Janice Dore’s photo to a lot of people, but no one remembered giving her one of my business cards, recognized or knew her. That evening Dolan showed up at the Owl Bar again at dinnertime. “Any luck?” he asked. 4
“No. How about you? Any surprises in the autopsy results?” I saw a brief twitch of annoyance in his face before he responded. “Confirmed death by strangulation.” “Any hot prospects?” “Other than you? I wish. Help me out, Bob” “Yeah, and me too.” Two days later a death notice was in the paper giving the viewing and funeral information for Janice Dore. There was also a brief follow up article on the murder. It mentioned a father, James Dore, who had made the funeral arrangements, a deceased mother and a deceased brother. The funeral home was in Dundalk, on the east side, where the father lived and Janice had grown up. The next evening I was on the funeral home parking lot, hoping to see someone that connected me to Janice Dore. Dolan was there with his video surveillance crew, also looking for a connection. I hoped I wasn’t the only one he saw. The early crowd was blue collar, Dundalk types. Some were wearing jackets with the Longshoreman Local colors, coworkers of Jim Dore. He was a big graying man, strong, but tired in the eyes. During the first hour I struck out. I didn’t spot one person I recognized. Then the white collar shift, Janice Dore’s co-workers, arrived and I got lucky. I recognized several people, including two doctors from University Hospital. But it was two others I recognized, a married couple, Annette and Richard Clarke, who interested me. Annette Clarke was an attorney and a former client. I knew her husband, Richard, too, but only from a distance. He was an investment banker. We had never been introduced. After the last mourner had left, Dolan waved me over to his car. “See anybody you know?” he asked. “A couple of doctors from University, but I don’t think they’re suspects,” I said. “How ‘bout you?” “The same.” “You going tell me anything more about this case, or leave me in the dark?” “I thought you liked the dark,” he said, with a cold smile. I knew I wouldn’t get more out of Dolan. Hell, I might be his only suspect if he hadn’t come up with anyone else yet. I couldn’t go snooping around his crime scene or the people he was interviewing without getting myself into deep hot water. But I did have a reason to contact Annette Clarke. She had been my client, with an expectation of confidentiality and that was a good enough excuse for leaving Dolan out of the loop until I had talked with her. The next morning I called her office. She was out. I left my name and phone numbers with her secretary, asking her to call me. She called back that afternoon. I asked if she could stop by my office for five minutes on the way home that afternoon. “It’s a minor matter, but I’d prefer to discuss it in person.” She agreed to stop by about 4:45 and arrived as promised and on schedule. Six inches taller than Janice Dore, she couldn’t have looked more different, with long black hair and an aristocratic face that belied her middle class breeding. She was as attractive as a woman can be when wearing the basic gray pinstripe business suit favored by many lawyers, which makes them look like they’re in perpetual mourning. Of course, with the skirt option and a modest amount of cleavage showing, she had had it all over the old goats and young studs in pinstripes. She was very poised except for jangling her car keys as she sat in an easy chair I have my office for clients. I apologized for the inconvenience, and got down to business. “Mrs. Clarke, the police found one of my business cards in the glove compartment of Janice Dore’s car and you were at her viewing. Since I never knew or ever meet her, I’m hoping you can tell me how she got my card. You’re the only connection I’ve found between her and me.” She stiffened a little in her seat. “Janice was my room mate and best friend in college. When I hired you to check up on my husband, I didn’t want to have anything at home or in my bags that might tip him off. And I didn’t want anything that personal in my office either. So I gave Janice your card. I also gave her the reports you gave me, for safekeeping. I
TOUGH LIT. IV
dropped them off at her apartment each time after we met. But then it all came to nothing. The business card found in her car is almost certainly the one I gave her.” “So, you confided in her when you hired me?” “Actually, before. I told her of my suspicions and that I was going to hire a detective even before I called you. She thought I was crazy to suspect Richard of cheating and it turned out she was right. But I had to know and I needed to confide in someone.” “Thank you. I’m sorry to have bothered you about the matter, but it was preying on my mind.” “I understand. It’s been very upsetting to me. I can’t understand why anyone would kill Janice and there doesn’t seem to be much progress in the police investigation. It’s devastating for her father and difficult for her friends, It will be until they make an arrest. Her brother was killed in Iraq in 2004 and her mother died of cancer only a year ago. I don’t know if her father will ever recover from this. He’s lost his whole family in just a few years.” I showed Mrs. Clarke out of the office and down to the lobby. As she left I crossed the lobby to the Owl Bar for dinner. While I waited for my order I called Dolan. He was out of the office. I left messages on his office and cell phones for him to call me. The suddenly dead by violence were always making unscheduled claims on Dolan’s time and there was no shortage of them in Baltimore. He could have dinner with them. They wouldn’t find his company as irritating as I did lately. Next morning I was drinking my first cup of coffee at home, when Dolan called. “What’s your story?” “I found out who gave Janice Dore my business card.” “Yeah? Who?” “A former client. I was doing surveillance on the husband and the client didn’t want to have anything from me that might tip him. The client gave my card to Janice Dore, who was a friend and confidant. I didn’t find anything suspicious and the job was closed after two months. I don’t want to drag the client into this case for obvious reasons.” “Don’t test my patience with that confidentiality crap.” “You have patience? Then bear with me. I could have kept this to myself. I need something from you to clear up a question I have.” “What?’ “The client also gave my surveillance reports to Janice Dore for safekeeping. In the end, since I didn’t find what the client was looking for, the reports could have been tossed as worthless. If that happened, it’s no problem; but there’s no way to be sure if they were thrown. If they weren’t and you didn’t find them we may have a problem,” “I didn’t find them. Who’s your client?” “Forced entry? Was the place tossed?” “No and no. Who’s your client?” “Was anything of value taken?” “No. Who’s your client?” “Did Janice Dore have a boyfriend? Do you know his name?” “Yes. He’s Mr. X, the invisible man. Who’s your client?” “Mrs. X, I think. I have one more thing to do. Meet me at my office tomorrow at 3:00 and we’ll go see Mr. X.” I hung up and dialed Felicia Gelder’s number. I wanted her to meet Mr. X too. I wanted her to lead him around by the nose while I picked up the debris he left behind. She’s better at leading men than any woman I’ve ever known. Put her in a room with ten men and before long it looks like a conga line is following her. At 5:00 the next afternoon Dolan and I sat in a car a half bock away and across the street from the Cubana Club on Eastern Avenue, Richard Clarke’s happy hour haunt. There was a smoking bar on the sidewalk in front with a waitress taking orders for the bar and grill inside. Richard smoked his cigar outside, seated on a stool at a small round table, gabbing with the other regulars and greeting passersby. I had watched him do this almost daily for two months after his wife had hired me. He was at his favorite perch, when Felicia Gelder approached and took a seat at the table next to his. It was like watching a silent movie as we VOL 6, ISSUE 6
observed Felicia reel him in. By the time she had finished her first drink Clarke’s cigar had burned down to a stub. Felicia stood up, took Clarke by the hand, and led him inside. The waitress started clearing tables. Dolan and I ejected from the car like a couple of spent shell casings and got to Clarke’s abandoned spot just ahead of the waitress. He had Clarke’s well chewed cigar stub into an evidence bag and in his pocket faster than a magician makes a coin disappear. We left Felicia to enjoy a drink on Richard and headed back to Police Headquarters and the crime lab. “Please tell me you have some DNA to check this sample against,” I said as we drove to Headquarters. Dolan remained silent. We delivered the stub to the lab and went up to the homicide unit. He called two of his squad into his office, leaving me in the bull pen. Two minutes later the detectives left, Dolan waved me in and I took a seat. “This is going to take some time,” he said. “Clarke is all over Dore’s phone logs, but so is his wife and Clarke managed Dore’s investments. Small change by his standards, but the way the markets have been lately these guys get lots of calls from clients that need hand holding. This may still lead to a dead end. So keep your lips zipped until I get the lab results.” A month passed before he called. This time he sat in my office as he laid it out for me. “We got a match on Richard Clarke’s DNA.” “Match with what?” “His child, we got a paternity match. Janice Dore was ten weeks pregnant. Richard Clarke was the father. Janice told at least two girlfriends that she was pregnant. She hoped she could get the father, Mr. X, who nobody had met, to marry her. He was married, but had no kids. The child was the hook, she thought. Wrong. He told her to get rid of it. She refused, thought he would come around by the time the kid was born. Wrong again. When he came around, he killed her and the kid she was carrying. His phone logs since the murder show enough contacts with a criminal defense firm to indicate he’s probably retained counsel already in case we zeroed in on him. I think we’ve got him boxed.” He did have him boxed, with a strong circumstantial case. Clarke couldn’t account for his whereabouts in the timeframe of the murder. Annette wouldn’t give him an alibi. Their house was collateral for his bond. But he had wiggle room inside the box. On the trial’s opening day, Dolan grabbed me at the courtroom door and pulled me down the hall. “They’re working out a plea,” he said, swinging his head toward the State’s Attorney and Clarke’s defense counsel further down the hall. Over his shoulder I saw Jim Dore and then Annette Clarke go into the courtroom. The attorneys down the hall wrapped up their business, walked past us and into the courtroom. Dolan and I slipped in and took seats at the back of the room. A few minutes later the Honorable Robert Bender entered from his chambers behind the bench and was announced by the clerk, who then called the docket: The State of Maryland versus Richard Clarke, charged with murder in the first degree. It was all down hill from there. The State’s Attorney and Clarke’s defense counsel announced that a plea deal had been worked out in the hallway. Clarke would plead guilty to a single count of manslaughter and the State would drop the first-degree murder charge. The judge granted a thirty day postponement with Clarke’s bail extended so he could settle his affairs before sentencing. James Dore screamed at the State’s Attorney as the bailiffs hustled Clarke out a side door. Annette Clarke sat rigid in her seat in the midst of the chaos as I slipped out into the hallway behind Dolan, who kept walking and shaking his head until waved me off and disappeared into a stairwell. A week before his sentencing hearing Clarke disappeared. Annette, worried about loosing the house, notified Dolan. He struck out trying to reacquire his man. The day before the hearing date, a letter from James Dore arrived at my office. “You can find Clarke at the end of Pier One on Clinton Street. Annette shouldn’t loose the house. Thanks for fingering the bastard.” (Cont’d. on p. 23)
Frozen Stiff by Riki Vogel I hold Jackie’s little foot in my hand. The nurse comes too soon to whisk her away for a feeding. She told me at breakfast that the guide dog will arrive today and asked me if I’m ready for it. I nod my head. It’s about all I can do, now. When Mildred returns I’ll ask her to lay the photo album on my lap, and she’ll protest saying I am torturing myself looking at pictures of that last night, the last time when I laughed and drank and welcomed the future. I close my eyes, and I can hear again everyone chattering at the company meal at the conference in Orlando. I see Chip’s wife pulling out the Cool Pix camera and snapping away her candids. I recall how miffed I was that she captured me gobbling a crab cake with my mouth partially open and a string of crab dangling. I remember telling Jack later that she took that picture intentionally. Now I can hear my own voice echoing back, from a year ago. “That has got to be the best meal I’ve ever eaten!” I said as I drained the glass and turned toward Jack. “Chilean Sea Bass; isn’t it endangered?” “Jack,” said the marketing director, “You always got to dress like that? You look like you belong to another century. Lose the ascot, man, for the love of Pete, you’re outclassing us!” “Look this way, Jack. Over here!” Jack turned towards Chip’s wife and she snapped his picture and then turned the screen toward Brian’s wife who appraised the image and said, ”Debonair,” before fluttering her eyes at my husband. I pinched Jack’s chin and turned him toward me. “Don’t listen to Chip, Jakey. You look suave. And you-- the man!” I beamed at Jack and glanced over at the other three men in their Menswear House suits. Their matronly wives garbed in Chico attire stared at me from plastic faces. Two had tightened their jaw lines, pumped up their lips, and augmented their bosoms. The other one was botoxed so much her eyebrows started mid-scalp sporting the look of a perpetually surprised soul, like the fellow in Munch’s painting, The Scream. “Should we uncork another bottle of Merlot?” Jack asked the group. “Jakey’s a connoisseur,” I said. “Did you see the wine case here? Whew! From floor to ceiling! Resembles a glass space capsule!” said Chip, the biggest imbiber of our group. “We’re in Florida; NASA’s not far!” said Brian. “Jack, aren’t you from around here?” My husband shook his head. “Not Orlando.” He nudged me with his elbow. “How was the crème brulee, darling?” “The crust was hard.” “But, you are native to Florida?” Brian persisted, glaring at Jack from across the table. “How about the crab cakes? As good as T&M in Baltimore?” Jack asked me, his bride of four months. “Better!” “That’s saying something!” Jack smiled at me. I pivoted around in my chair and glanced at the dining congregants before continuing my commentary on food. “I never think of fine dining in strip malls, but Ocean Prime is out-of-this world delicious. Nothing tastes frozen! In Winter Park, The Ravished Pig…,” “What a name for a dining establishment!” Brian interrupted me. “Maddy, it’s good your Hollins buddy told us about it,” said Jack, ignoring Brian. “Jack you don’t sound like you’re from Florida,” said Brian’s wife with the Shakespearean-large, unfurled forehead. “Where exactly?” “Melbourne.” I answered for Jack. “Florida.” “Family still live there, Jack?” Chip asked as he poured himself more wine. “They’re all deceased.” My husband fondled his gold pocket watch. Discreetly, he stole a glance at it. 6
I wiped my lips. “What should we do tomorrow to kill a few hours before the plane leaves?” I asked. The group shrugged in mass. Jack patted my knee. “Whatever you want. I know it’s boring for you while I’m at meetings. You’ve been so patient.” “A trip on an airboat in the swamps?” I asked. He took the last bite of his cheesecake. “Is that wise in your condition?” “Gatorland?” suggested Brian’s wife. Her face barely moved as she spoke. “Ah, that might be better in a few years when we’ll have a child to take,” Jack answered. Brian’s wife and Chip’s wife exchanged smug glances. “I saw an ad for something called the Titanic Museum. I loved that movie when I was young. Did any of you see it with Leonardo di Caprio?” I asked. Jack’s eye twitched almost indiscernibly. “I was busy then building businesses. Honestly, it seemed so far-fetched, like a teenage movie.” “I read A Night to Remember,” interjected Rob, the quiet one. “I’m sorry,” Jack whispered studying my expression. “You married an old fuddy-duddy.” Chip’s wife cackled. I cut her a look and then gleamed up at Jack. “I’d rather be an old man’s darling than a young man’s fool!” “You’re a precocious gal!” exclaimed Chip and hiccupped. “For 19, amazingly urbane,” commented Brian. “Why, in a couple of years, Maddy will out-sophisticate you, Jack!” said Rob. Jack and I bid hasty adieux. Jack reclaimed my fur coat from the rack, and he stepped out into a wet February night in Orlando, the day before Valentines. He handed the valet the receipt for our Porsche. I’d forgotten my umbrella and retraced my steps to the umbrella stand where I’d left it. To retrieve it I had to pass by the dining room, and then I heard them. I stopped when our names became the topic of their conversation. “Jack’s such a stuffed shirt!” said Chip’s wife gulping her third margarita. “An ice cube,” commented Brian’s spouse. “She’s hot,” said Chip. “Her teeth are a bit buck,” said his wife. “Is she what they call a trophy wife?” “Jakey never mentions having been married before or kids or any family at all. He’s like a friggin’ oyster,” said Chip and he gulped down the dregs of his glass. “A friggin’ clam!” said Chip’s tipsy wife. They laughed over their analogies and summoned the sommelier for another bottle, assigned to Jack’s tab. “He’s odd all right. You ever get a look at what he has tucked in his desk drawer?” asked Brian. His wife flapped her hand downward, dismissing his question. I peered around the potted palm to look at them. “Pornography?” she asked and yawned. “Even my boring dentist has that stowed in his private bathroom.” Brian pushed back his chair and tilted it on its hind legs. “And what are you doing in our dentist’s private bathroom?” he raised one eyebrow. She rolled her eyes and chortled. “Worse than porno?” questioned Rob’s wife and she choked on her after dinner liqueur. “A gun?” asked Chip. “Pictures of choirboys?” asked Rob’s wife. Rob shot her a perplexed look. “Different,” answered Brian. “I found brochures in there on…cryogenics.” He tucked his chin in and folded his arms as if to say: “Aha! Proof positive. One weird dude!” “Freezing corpses? Pamphlets on that?” asked Chip. “Creepy,” said his wife and the skin on her arms puckered in goose bumps. “That explains it.” A light sparkled in Rob’s eyes. “That’s why Jack was reticent about telling y’all his parents’ business and where he hails from.
TOUGH LIT. IV
I saw a billboard for one of those cryogenics crypts located in Melbourne. Coincidence? He’s from there.” “Ahh…” was the collective sigh. “Mystery solved. Let’s toast our strange boss, Jack Alright the Stuffed Shirt, who not only sells insurance but is most likely the odd heir to a mess of cold crypts and frozen stiffs!” said the drunk marketing director. “And let’s raise a glass to the hottie Mrs.,” said Brian. “Can’t forget Maddy!” Chip, with the Charlie Sheen gaze, said. Chip’s blonde wife with plastic parts elbowed him and then cried out, “Or, her jewels! I’ll raise a glass to them. Did you see that antique ruby necklace? You think it’s real?” After listening to that catty remark, I bit my lip and slipped away. * * * On Valentine’s Day, Jack and I drove to International Boulevard and bought tickets for the Titanic Experience. I mulled over telling Jack about his disloyal employees and their catty wives but thought the incident so petty and our time together as a couple so precious that I decided not to spoil it with rehashing their lame ponderings about cyrogenics. At the museum, a fellow in period costume from third class called “steerage class” sold us our boarding passes. Then, an elegant red head appeared and announced her name was Madeleine Astor and she’d welcome us and the rest of the ticket holders to the Titanic and to the first class section. We all traipsed after her past a huge window where we saw the ship docked and ready for its maiden voyage. Madeleine, the trained actress, said she’d acquaint us with all the details about the trip we’d be making on this unsinkable palace, and she’d show us the verandah for first class passengers of which she was one. In addition, she’d escort us through the third class quarters; she asserted that third class on the Titanic was the same as second class on any other ship in the world. “Look at that deck chair,” I said to Jack. “The plaque says it was retrieved after the sinking. Imagine that.” Jack knitted his brows and said, “Ah yes. I remember…” His voice trailed off. Jack studied other cases containing menus and brochures from the sister ship Olympia which was outfitted the same way as the Titanic. All we tourists were given a name of a Titanic passenger and at the end of the tour we’d learn their fates- if they lived or died. “Sounds a bit macabre,” Jack said to me. “Are you sure you want to continue? Not too ghoulish for you? In your condition?” Our guide Madeleine’s voice quivered as she spoke of her husband Jake Astor, and how they were returning from a honeymoon in Europe and how she was already expecting their first child together. She was 19. Her hubby was in his forties. She trembled as she recited the events of that night. I shifted weight uneasily as I thought about the real woman named Madeleine who was my age and pregnant by an older man when she boarded the Titanic. How things happened so unfortunately for this couple on their return trip home. After perusing the artifacts, the suite replica, and the magnificent grand staircase made famous in Cameron’s movie, Jack and I, arm- in-arm proceeded out to the deck where women and children were instructed to board the life boats. It became very breezy, frigidly cold. We were the only ticket holders on the tour out there; other tourists were still back in the artifact room. The rest of our group had not entered through the door. I listened to them jabbering behind the closed door. I heard one fiddle with the door latch, but it was locked, and I supposed the talented actress, “Madeline Astor,” had secured it so that no one could encroach on her big scene. She performed her soliloquy to an audience of two- Jack and me! Tears welled up in the young thespian’s eyes as she told how her husband asked a crewman if he could perhaps accompany her since she was with child, but Astor was denied access, and she recounted how her husband had torn open a spare life vest to show her how the corks inside would keep a body afloat. He reassured her. His final words, as she had to scramble into Lifeboat 4, were: “I’ll see you in the morning.” With that VOL 6, ISSUE 6
sad statement, the tearful actress Madeleine disappeared out a different door. “Wow!” I said. “She was theatrical!” “You’re not too cold, are you?” Jack asked me as he gazed around the dark room trying to gauge the source of the chilly breeze. I rubbed my shoulders. Suddenly, the deck shook violently beneath us. We had crashed into something. Jack stumbled. “Egad,” he said. “This is realistic.” I clutched his arm to steady myself. Splinters of ice rained down on our faces, and the air became raw. “Where’s this cold air coming from?” I asked my husband whose wideeyed gaze frightened me. Jack left me and searched for the door the guide had exited through but couldn’t find it. He started feeling along the walls for a seam. “This is a fun house?” I asked him. “One with tilting floors?” Jack began pounding on the walls. “Hello?” he yelled. ”Anyone there?” I scooted over to the door, from which we had entered the deck. It was bolted shut. I put my ear to it. I heard no voices behind it. I banged on it. Suddenly the deck shifted, and we stood on a slant peering out into a calm night sky. “This is spooky,” I said. “What’s happening?” “Brace yourself against me, in case the floor moves again. It must be some malfunction. That actress will be back soon. Don’t worry. Things will be fine. Someone will rescue us.” I stared out at what seemed to be twinkling stars in a dark firmament with no moonlight. I felt a faint flutter in my stomach, my first indication of the child I carried. I thought how terrifying it must have been for Mrs. Astor on that fateful night when she too was with child. I felt uneasy and thought about drowning even though I was merely in a replica of a ship, a haunted house of sorts, in the middle of Florida, no less, miles away from the sea. And yet, I thought I smelled briny water. The floor creaked again. We started sliding down, down, down. “Jack,” I screamed and reached out my hand as my husband slipped past my outstretched fingers into a dark abyss. I rolled and rolled until… * * * Later that night a coast guard officer told me he found me afloat in a white cork jacket like the ones worn in 1910. At the hospital the doctors diagnosed me with hypothermia. Two days later they informed me they discovered and identified Jack by a gold watch with the initials J.A. In the papers brought me, the reporters said the police conjectured that we must have journeyed off shore on a jet ski, and something went wrong; he fell off, and the craft sank. They stated I received a bad concussion and cannot recall the ocean trip, only a visit the day before to an Orlando museum about the Titanic. The MRI showed a pool of blood on the right side of my brain, a radiologist affirmed. A seizure left me paralyzed on my left side and unable to speak. I could not remember what had happened; that much was true. Yet, without a doubt I recalled the dialogue between the police who stood near me on the shore after the sailors hauled me in. Their conversation I’ll remember until the day I join Jack. “I wonder how she smuggled the vest out of there?” one detective asked his partner, who scratched his head and dug with his shoe in the sand as they searched the water’s edge for more clues. “It’s a mystery,” the cop answered. “There’s nothing to be discovered here. We know what happened.” “What’s that?” The detective spied something in the sand and picked up a soaked wallet, flicked off the tiny seashell detritus, and opened it slowly. “Will you look at this? It’s a place setting card for Jake Astor on The Titanic, tucked tightly in the back of his wallet.” “Karma.” “What’s that?” “Steal from the Titanic Museum and the universe gets even. You drown in the sea.” “You’re a deep thinker, Joe.” He slapped the cop’s back and gave a little snort of a laugh. “Or maybe you watch that program, My Name is Earl.” (Cont’d. on p. 23)
A Rose for Riberto by J. E. Harris Detective Schwartz surveyed the once beautiful grounds of the rose gardens at Elizabeth Park. Where the day before the trellises had been dripping with roses of every color and variety, leaving the air rich with their scent, overnight the vandals had torn up every bush by the roots. Gaping holes and mounds of dirt scarred the land. Thorny branches lay strewn along the grass like an ironically beautiful version of barbed wire, while the petals of the flowers carpeted the lawn that would soon be a grave for the blossoms themselves. “What kind of an idiot tears up a rose garden? Spray painting an ugly cement wall, okay, I can understand that. Breaking a window in an abandoned factory—not nice, but I can understand that. But what kind of kid is so blind that he can’t see the beauty of a rose garden? Rip up a turnip patch if you have to rip something up. Who likes turnips? But everybody likes a rose garden.” Detective Schwartz shook his head in bewilderment. “It was the most beautiful part of Hartford,” his partner commented. “It will take years to grow back.” “15,000 rose bushes,” Schwartz commented. “Charles Pond had the garden created to honor his wife. Well, it’s going to be decades before this returns to its former glory.” Officer Hanuschek nodded. “It’s a crying shame,” he said, “but that’s not why we called you. If you’d follow me over to the English roses...” Detective Schwartz followed the officer. “You’re a little tight-lipped for a case of vandalism, aren’t you Hanuschek? You got something else on your mind?” Officer Hanuschek didn’t respond. He stopped in front of a mound of dirt and nodded toward the hole where the rose bush had been dug up by the vandals. “I do, sir. A body.” “Not a proper burial for anyone, even if the roses are thrown in for free,” Detective Schwartz commented, looking at the makeshift grave and the crumpled form of a man in a plaid work shirt. “Not a proper death, either. Shot through the head.” Detective Schwartz looked around him at the ruined remains of the park. “This whole place looks like a vacation resort for M.O.U.S.’s,” he quipped. “Moles of Unusual Size. Is this the only body, or do we have a convention on our hands?” “This is the only one so far. But notice the ring on his hand.” “Do you think I was born yesterday? The ring’s dirty, but it’s not that dirty.” Detective Schwartz had already noted the diamond pinky ring. Pretty flashy. The man looked to have been in his forties. Strong, tan, well-fed. Latino. And, apparently, in possession of an income that allowed for at least one luxury item, and probably more. “ID?” “Wallet was still on him. Cash, credit cards, car keys, driver’s license, cell phone—we got it all. Whatever this was, it wasn’t a theft. Name’s Riberto Rodriguez.” “A Rose for Riberto, eh? R.I.P. Rodriguez? Okay, okay. Let me know what you find out about—” “Detective! Over here!” Detective Schwartz looked around but couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. “By the Heirloom roses!” “Heirloom. My wife grows those roses. ‘Black Ice,’ she calls the dark red ones. Looks like someone around here had a heart made of the same stuff, and I don’t mean rose petals. So what’s next? One body, two, three… a baker’s dozen?” “No bodies, sir. Cash. Lots of cash.” Detective Schwartz approached the hole where the Black Ice rose bush had once grown. “Stacks of hundreds,” the officer said. “Surrounded by three layers of 8
trash bags and duct tape, placed in a homemade wooden box, wrapped in three more layers of trash bags and duct tape, and buried under the roots of the rose bush. This cash has been here a long time.” “Looks like someone thought there was more where that came from,” Detective Schwartz said, looking around. “If money is the root of all evil, then these rose bushes may be the devil’s version of Eden. Any more surprises?” “No. But if there are more to find, we will.” “Cocky kid. Confidence is good, but you know and I know that there are things both of us will miss at any crime scene. We just hope we miss the little stuff. We hope it won’t matter in the big picture. So… how about something better than surprises, like clues, or—here’s a crazy idea --how about some witnesses?” “The groundskeeper, sir. He saw a group of teenage boys digging through the garden.” “Now that’s nice to hear. What were you doing? Saving it for a Christmas present?” “No, sir, I—” “How about you just tear through the Santa Claus paper and tell me what they said. Treat me like a four year old kid who just can’t wait for Christmas morning. Treat me like I’m dancing from one foot to the other I’m so impatient. Because I am.” “These teenagers, they admitted to looking for the money, but their English wasn’t very good. We’re getting a translator now. One of them kept mumbling ‘universidad, universidad.’” “College?” “I think so, sir.” “This their financial aid package? Rose bushes that grow out of money bags?” “We’re looking into it, sir.” By the time Detective Schwartz got back to the station, Detective Miranda had already questioned the six boys who’d been taken into custody. “They’re illegal aliens, all of them,” she said. “Scared to death. The one who was so worried about college wouldn’t say a word at first, but the other one, the one wearing the gold cross around his neck, kept saying “serpiente venenosa.” “Poisonous snake?” Detective Miranda nodded, her thick mane of curly hair brushing across her shoulders as she did. “I think he was bitten when he crossed the border,” she said. “He showed me the marks, and said ‘a punto de morir.’ Seems he almost died trying to get to this country and its New England parks with their rose bushes. It’s life and death, you know, for these kids. It’s not this country or that, obey the law or don’t. It’s live or die.” “Well, somebody died, and it wasn’t because of ‘serpiente venenosa.’” “They claim he – the victim -- was a relative. A second cousin or something. They caught him digging up a package like the one we found this morning, and they followed him to see if there was more where that came from. When they saw him dig up a package at the base of a rose bush and then plant a new rose bush to cover up the hole, they followed his lead. Except they weren’t gardeners. Mr. Rodriguez was the landscaper at the park, so he knew how to plant as well as how to pull up rose bushes. The kids, they only knew how to dig. Wanted money for their college tuitions, so they say. “Universidad.” “Exactly. But Riberto must have realized they’d followed him. They worked hard, I’ll give them that. Just look at all those holes and mounds of dirt. Must have taken them all night. But Riberto, he came back with a shovel and tried to chase them away. They were running away when they heard the shot. Scared them to death. Illegal aliens get skittish after a while, so many things to be afraid of. So anyway, they turned around – which took some courage. Riberto was nowhere to be seen, so they walked back – which also took some courage. And there he was — a bullet through the forehead, dead as a doorknob.” “Which is when they lost their courage.”
TOUGH LIT. IV
“And ran. Ran like the dickens. But it wasn’t hard to round them up. They appear to be cooperating now, although one can never know for certain.” “No, one can never know just who’s naughty or nice. They may be more deserving of coal than of a bouquet of roses. Murder suspects, illegal aliens… I’d run too. Anything else?” “That’s it for now.” “Detective?” Officer Hanuschek interrupted the two detectives. “We’ve found at least a dozen more packages of money. They all seem to have been planted under the rose bushes, all packaged the same way, all filled with hundreds.” “Looks like Riberto had a green thumb, wouldn’t you say Detective Miranda?” “I’ve never been much of gardener, Detective Schwartz, but it looks as though I may have been missing out on something big.” “Bigger than Santa Claus, Detective Miranda. But how do we get to the North Pole?” “The Polar Express, obviously. But I thought it was the annoying little bit about the murder that we were supposed to concentrate on.” “Murders are so yesterday,” Detective Schwartz sighed. “Black is the new pink. But I suppose the North Pole is yesterday’s yesterday. Who do you think did it?” “Me?” Detective Miranda said. “How would I know? I’ve been sitting on my ass all day, listening to the teenage suspects who I happen to think are innocent and to you and your sad sense of humor.” “I’m an old man,” Detective Schwartz said. “Humor me and my sad sense of humor. Because sometimes being old is an advantage.” “Is that so? What’s it getting you besides hammer toes?” “An idea, Detective Miranda. An idea. ‘Dear Santa Claus, All I want for Christmas is the good news that Riberto Rodriguez owned a landscaping company.’” “Nothing but coal for you, Detective Schwartz.” “Are you serious?” “I am. But you do get the prize for first runner up. He didn’t own a landscaping company, but he worked for one.” “Let me peer into my crystal snow globe.” Detective Schwartz closed his eyes. “Hmm. Twelve years, is that it? Twelve years at the same landscaping company, getting paid under the table?” “How did you know?” “How did I know? I’ll have to write a newspaper column for you, my dear Detective Miranda. But suffice it to say that yes, Miranda, there is a Santa Claus.” “And what does that mean?” “It means it’s been twelve years since one of the greatest bank robberies in the history of the city of Hartford, and most of the money has never been found. How old were you twelve years ago? Fourteen?” “Sixteen. How do you know that robbery is connected to our Mr. Rodriguez’s death?” “Because, my dear, one of our famous criminals got away, but the rest of them—all eleven of them—were caught. And they all worked out of their home for a landscaping company. And they were particularly good with roses.” “Twelve men. That’s a lot of landscaping,” Detective Miranda said. “No, my dear, that’s a lot of dirt. Our twelve angry men dug a very long, very comfortable tunnel between their rented home and the biggest bank vault in the city. Because they came up from under, they never triggered an alarm. And because they came up from under on a weekend when no one was around, they hauled away more than three tons of non-sequential bills at their leisure. I imagine they had time for a Hoodsie cup between loads, and perhaps a little nap when they got weary. Money can be awfully heavy, after all, even if you do have a dozen men to move it along. Those sacks must have made Santa’s sack look like a sack of potatoes.” “Well, if the other eleven were caught, how is it that our Mr. Rodriguez could have escaped?” VOL 6, ISSUE 6
“Universidad, my dear. Serpiente venenosa.” “College? Poisonous snakes?” “No, no, neither of those. Those words are just the direction signs that point to the fact that like our teenagers, their relative Mr. Rodriguez was an illegal alien. The real man is—or was—off the grid, off the record, off the everything except the very nice fake ID from which we get his most likely false identity, Riberto Rodriguez.” “He worked for the park tending the roses.” “Well, we won’t want to publicize that, will we? Or we’ll be getting our friends in trouble when they can’t produce his legal documents for working in the U.S.” “But who killed him? The kids were stealing from him—if you can steal money from someone who stole all their money and hid it on public property—but I believe them when they say they didn’t kill him. There’s no evidence to the contrary.” “Officer Hanuschek, would you do me a favor? Could you pull me the police report from last night?” “Certainly sir. It’s right here.” Detective Schwartz looked it over. “Yes, yes. This looks all in order. Thank you Officer Hanuschek. You’re a good man.” “Thank you, sir. I try, sir.” “I know you do. You try very hard, Mr. Hanuschek, very hard indeed. Working hard on the job, adopting a young boy who has no home. You’re a good man. And I’m sure you want the best for the boy—Raul, it that his name? Twelve years old, am I right? Born just about the time the other eleven burglars were arrested, I think. Must have been quite a time for you. Eleven big arrests to your credit, and yet you humbly allowed the other officers to get the glory. And then a baby boy all your own. Not a lot of single men would have the chutzpa for that, I think, but you put your heart and soul into the boy. Anyone could see that, the neighbors, your mom—your mom is very proud of you, you know. But the poor kid. Never knew his real father. But you knew his biological father. You knew that his biological mother died just after he was born, did you not, Officer Hanuschek? Couldn’t quite bring yourself to bring the father of your own adopted son to trial for robbery. Quite understandable, that. But now murder, that’s another thing altogether. That man last night, he was no cousin, was he? And one of those boys, he was your boy, was he not? You made sure he saw his father taking a dip into his so-called bank account, and you had already made sure he understood how impossible it would be for a single police office to put his boy through “universidad.” And why, indeed, should all that money lie in the ground to rot, when there are boys who need educations and fathers working like the devil to make ends meet and—good heavens— food alone these days seems to require a bank heist of one scale or another.” Officer Hanuschek stood speechless. “It’s all right, son. I admire your big heart if not the choices it led you to. Don’t speak another word. We’ll get you a good lawyer, and with any luck, I will have lost my marbles. Quite likely! Making Santa Claus jokes and ridiculous references to M.O.U.S’s. Good heavens! I ought to be locked up! Let’s hope so, anyway. Otherwise, it will be you who’ll be locked up, and it won’t be fun looking at your son from behind those bars, I don’t need to tell you that. Universidad will look a lot farther away from that perspective, but roses, well, there should be plenty of roses. I imagine they’ll be dancing through you head like sugar plums for some time to come. In a way, everything’s coming up roses, although it probably won’t look that way to poor Raul, and it certainly doesn’t look that way for old Riberto. “Detective Miranda, I wouldn’t dream of asking you to get me coffee or any such thing. But is there someone around here, someone with a low salary and a willingness to do anything, who might get Mr. Hanuschek a vase of roses? They do so lift the mood of a room when there’s bad news to digest, don’t you think? There must be someone who would be willing—an illegal alien, perhaps? Not that we would have any in the department, but I’m looking the other way, I swear I am…” (See J.E. Harris’s profile on p. 22)
Why You Worry? by Kathleen K. Miller Every now and then, my mother will ask me what I actually did in the two years that I spent in South America. The scene that immediately pops into my mind is an image of me sitting in a canoe in the middle of the night in the Amazon jungle, surrounded by strange men, while our tour guide (wearing only an orange Speedo and completely inebriated) waved around a deadly poisonous snake that he had tied to a stick. So I smile and tell her that I spent a lot of time in nature reserves. I thought I loved nature. I love hiking, I love being outdoors, I love animals (especially of the cuddly variety, like puppies and baby goats – you know, petting zoo animals). I think mountains are spectacular and I love the ocean. I thought a tour in the Amazon would be beautiful. Get back to nature, spend some time outdoors, escape from the stress of modern-day living for a while, maybe try to break my addiction to Facebook for a few days. So when the smooth-talking travel agent told me that the best way to really experience the jungle was on a five-day tour, I said, “That sounds excellent!” A little pricey, perhaps, but surely it was worth it to really experience the Amazon? The stuff of National Geographic and BBC specials, up close and personal. What an experience! Bragging rights for a lifetime! I forgot one crucial, crucial detail: the Amazon is no petting zoo. The closest thing to a “cuddly” animal is a wild sloth with surprisingly sharp claws. The Amazon, while it does boast beautiful birds and river scenery, is also the home of the bird-eating tarantula, glow-in-the-dark beetles, deadly spiders, ants whose bites will leave you temporarily paralyzed while they eat your eyeballs, and hordes of dengue- and malaria- ridden mosquitoes. The climate is not particularly pleasant, either, unless you’re a fan of one hundred percent humidity and have a penchant for pit stains. I was picked up from my hostel and met a few of the other tourists who would be joining me: a Brazilian who was only on a day trip (what a weakling), an Argentina couple who were doing an overnight trip (hmmm) and two Swedish guys who were doing a four-day trip (wait a minute). That was the first ‘oh, shit’ moment: when I realized that I was the only person signed up for five days. Why was it that everyone else, including the hard-core backpackers like myself, was willing to skip out early? This became a little clearer when we arrived at the floating lodge. It was modest: a green building, indeed floating, anchored in place with ropes tied to the huge trees that lined the river. No electricity, simple accommodations, excellent for my spiritual return to nature. Our guide, Joshua, sat down with us at a wooden table that immediately reminded me of Girl Scout Day Camp, from when I was about the age of seven, and started going over how long everyone would be staying. One day, two days, four days… “And who signed up for the jungle survivor trip?” He asked. No one answered. He checked his list again. “It says it’s an American…” All eyes went to me. “Excuse me?” I said. “I have you down here for the survivor trip. Five days, right?” I searched my memory. What had the guy from the travel agency called my trip? Had he used the word “survivor” in his description? He couldn’t have, there was no way I would have been stupid enough to sign up for a “survivor tour”… or did I? I couldn’t remember the exact words, it had been so hot in that office and I had been so thirsty… I mustered some kind of incomprehensible squeak, which Joshua interpreted as an affirmative response. “Okay then! Let’s go piranha fishing.” The afternoon was pleasant: piranha fishing was interesting enough, although I was reprimanded by Joshua several times for not concentrating and failing to pay enough attention to my fishing line, as the piranhas stole all my bait and evaded my hook. I eventually managed to catch two, at which point I immediately began to feel bad for the 10
piranhas and remembered that I hated fishing. Minus one point for my return to nature. We returned to the lodge for a fish dinner with spaghetti (funny how fish and spaghetti seemed to be considered complementary menu items in Brazil), and then went on a nighttime tour of the river. The scenery was, indeed, beautiful. The water in the smaller tributaries was still, and in the dark, it looked like a black mirror reflecting the stars and shoreline. We were surrounded by silence, except for the stir of the wind on the leaves and the hiss of insects. I, however, was preoccupied for the duration of the nighttime tour: I was trying to scheme up a good excuse to leave after Day 4, when the Swedish tourists were also leaving. Bum foot? (I did have an impressivelooking ankle brace and ace bandage with me from an injury, and an authentic limp.) Family emergency? No good, how would I have found out about a family emergency in the middle of the Amazon without internet or electricity? Fear of the jungle? No, I had more pride than that. Vague and embarrassing woman disease? Not to be ruled out. I was only distracted from my brainstorming when Joshua docked the boat in a dark, swampy area surrounded by trees almost entirely submerged in water. Since it was the rainy season, the water was high: it was like being in a flood zone, with fully-formed tree trunks and branches at eye level. Joshua jumped out of the boat. “Okay,” he said with thickly accented English, “I go catch alligator. Wait here.” As the five of us exchanged looks (“Wait, did he just say he’s going to bring back an alligator?”), he shouted back, “And no talking!” Okay. No talking. We waited in the boat, all of us painfully aware of the extremely hard wooden benches uncomfortably digging into our asses. I dozed off for a bit. It was a little eerie, this swamp. Pitch black darkness, except for Joshua’s flashlight bobbing in the distance as he swam and waded through the trees. Vines hanging down, one of which I was carefully leaning away from because there was a spider hanging on it. After an eternity of forty minutes, Joshua returned: in one hand, he held a forked stick with a snake tied to it; in the other, a baby alligator. Holy shit. “Okay, okay! This snake kill many people every year. So no touch head of snake. You want to hold?” Fuck no, I don’t want to hold! And if it kills many people every year, why the fuck are you waving it around the inside of this boat? I heard Joachim, one of the Swedes, murmur from the back of the boat, “Was this included in the waiver?” Waiver, I thought frantically, did I sign a waiver? Or, more importantly, did they ask me about any health concerns or problems I may have? Does this boat even have a first-aid kit? “Joshua,” I said, throwing tact to the wind, “are the guides here trained in first aid?” “Why you worry? Everything fine. Someone get bit, I give them jungle medicine.” Oh, excellent. If I get bit by a deadly poisonous snake, a man wearing a bright orange Speedo swimsuit will give me jungle medicine. Now, as a newbie to the jungle, I learned a very important lesson that night. The best way to survive in the jungle is through a careful combination of alcohol and pharmaceuticals. I was only foolish enough to spend one sober night in the jungle: the first one. I spent the night tossing and turning in my room, sweating from the heat and waking up every half hour to spray more DEET on my skin and wishing I had gone for the 100%. At this point, I didn’t care if I had mutant children because of the carcinogens in my insect repellent: I just wanted these monstermosquitoes to leave me alone. After that first restless night, I embraced the philosophies of all our guides, who (while they claimed to love nature and their jobs) drank their weight in alcohol on a nightly basis. And it made sense: who wants to remember that they’re surrounded by all that nature all the time? Certainly not me. I definitely, absolutely and unequivocally preferred to be intoxicated as soon as the sun went down. Yes, the tarantulas and scary nights and bugs and anacondas were still there, but I didn’t give a shit if I had a few shots of cachaza. And this was how Joachim and Nicklas, the two Swedes, became my friends. We
TOUGH LIT. IV
passed the second night drinking at the lodge, downing glass after glass of cachaza and Fanta. Interestingly enough, the cachaza cost a third as much as the soda we mixed it with. It says something about an establishment when their alcohol is cheaper than their water. The following day, though it began with a rather brutal hangover (more difficult to overcome than usual – it’s hard to stay hydrated in that kind of heat), was off to a solid start. At least we had all gotten some sleep. Nicklas, Joachim, and myself were the only tourists left in our group, and we were treated to a canoe ride through some of the backwaters in the hopes of seeing some of the more elusive animals. “There,” Joshua said. “Up there. You see sloth?” The three of us stared at the incomprehensible tangle of branches and leaves. “No,” I said bluntly. “Okay okay. You wait here.” Joshua tied the boat to the tree, and before any of us could say anything, he had jumped out of the canoe and began scaling the tree. He had an extremely uncanny ability to climb trees: he seemed more monkey than human in that respect. “Jesus,” I said, as he disappeared from sight, “he’s like some kind of superhuman.” “What’s he doing?” Joachim asked, craning his head. “He’s not catching the sloth, is he?” “No way,” I said. “He wouldn’t.” “I bet he would,” Niklas countered. As we debated the matter, we heard Joshua talking – presumably to the sloth – in the trees above our heads. “Come here, baby, come here,” I heard him murmur in Portuguese. The next thing we knew, we saw Joshua lowering the sloth – which he had tied to some kind of cloth harness – down towards the canoe, as Joshua climbed back down the tree. “Oh, my God,” I said. “He didn’t.” But he had. The sloth was actually kind of cute, if you could look past its enormous claws. Or get over the fact that our guide had just captured an innocent animal that, according to Joshua, was “very, very angry.” To me, the sloth looked completely expressionless; kind of like a teddy bear. It made some kind of brief, low noise. “Sloth very angry,” Joshua said cheerfully, poking it in the head, “very angry.” “Of course it’s angry,” Niklas whispered. “We’re… we’re violating it!” The three of us were torn between guilt and an incredible photo opportunity. We settled for photos of us guiltily holding the sloth, all three of us taking turns holding it up by the harness, each with a pained expression on our face. “The title of this Facebook album is going to be ‘the violation of the sloth,’” I whispered to Nicklas and Joachim. “Poor thing’s never going to get over it,” Joachim said. “Do you think sloths can have post-traumatic stress disorder?” “How would you tell?” Nicklas asked. “Would it move an entire inch, instead of the fraction of the inch it moved when it was really pissed just now?” “It’s going to take it weeks to get back up in that tree, at the rate it’s going now,” Joachim said. We all stared at the sloth, completely immobile; it hadn’t even moved its paw from where Joshua had left it on the tree. “Okay, okay!” Joshua said, completely unperturbed by remorse, “I go catch baby monkey now.” “No!” the three of us shouted, almost simultaneously. “Joshua, no baby monkey,” I protested. “That’s just too close to human for me.” Joshua shrugged. “Okay okay. We go to bar now.” The ‘bar,’ it turned out, was a shack on the river that sold alcohol. Joshua drank what had to be the equivalent of six or seven shots of vodka, straight up. The man had a tolerance. Meanwhile, the bartender tried to speak to me, but I had trouble understanding his Portuguese. Joshua interceded, his voice slightly slurred. “He’s trying to tell you,” Joshua told me in Spanish, “that there was another blonde girl here a few weeks ago. She died, though.” VOL 6, ISSUE 6
“Oh,” I said, trying to decide if I wanted any further details. I decided that I didn’t. “What’s he saying?” Niklas asked me. “Don’t worry about it,” I said hastily. The bartender went on to explain, via Joshua’s translation, that most tourists don’t visit this particular bar. “Too hard to find,” he said. “Most tour guides get lost in the tributaries around here and can’t find their way back.” “Joshua,” I said, “do you know how to get back?” “Why you worry? This girl always worry,” he told the bartender, taking another swig of vodka. I continued to worry, twenty minutes later, as a little bit of rain turned into a torrential downpour. I could barely see a few feet in front of my face because of the rain. I huddled on the floor of the canoe, terrified of the lightning that seemed to be directly over our heads. I had very little faith in Joshua’s abilities to find his way back to the lodge when he was completely drunk, with poor visibility and a quickly-darkening sky on top of it. “Are you okay?” Joachim asked from a few feet above me, as I quaked on the floor of the canoe. “I’m fantastic,” I muttered, my voice muffled by the fact that I was hiding my face in my hands, silently uttering Hail Marys and wishing I had left more details about my whereabouts with my family. “Tell me when it’s over.” Much to my disbelief, Joshua did manage to find his way back to the lodge, and the Swedes and I retreated to another night of cachaza and Fanta. “Okay,” Joshua said the next morning. “Today we go camping in jungle. This group small, so new people will join tour.” He gestured toward the four Russians who had arrived at the lodge the day before. The Russians, it seemed, had an aversion to both sobriety and clothing. I had yet to see any of them sober (in fact, right now they were pouring vodka into their orange juice with breakfast), and as far as I could tell, the only clothing they had brought with them were Speedo swimsuits. They did seem to be having an inordinate amount of fun on their Amazon tour, though. They continued drinking and smoking pot throughout the day, as we visited a banana plantation and took off on a boat for our campsite. Our departure was delayed slightly when one of the Russians, completely inebriated, accidentally jumped from the dock and landed in the river instead of in the boat. Joshua and the other tour guide who had joined our group fished him out without incident, while the other three laughed and poured him more vodka. To their credit, the Russians were incredibly pleasant to be around. Loud, drunk, and barely clothed, they were endlessly entertaining. The Swedes and I declined their offers of alcohol and pot (“Katy,” one of them told me, in a thick accent, “If you like, you can smoke”) and amused ourselves by watching them. The Swedes and I were covered from head to foot in long-sleeved shirts and long pants as protection against the mosquitoes and venomous insects. The Russians had no such concerns; while the Swedes and I sat gingerly on tree trunks, carefully searching them for poisonous spiders first, all four Russians passed out on the ground, wearing nothing but their Speedos. At one point, one of them disappeared into the jungle for a bathroom break; after twenty minutes, we realized that he had truly disappeared. Our guides had to do a full-on search before they returned with him another twenty minutes later, warning him against wandering off and falling asleep when in a dangerous jungle. Maybe it was passing such a pleasant evening with the Swedes and watching the Russians stumble around the jungle that gave me a false sense of confidence and made me believe that I was enjoying myself. I was enjoying good company, true. I was not enjoying the monstrously huge mosquitoes, or sleeping in a hammock with no protection from whatever roamed the jungle at night, or the fear that I would be strangled by an anaconda every time I slipped off into the wilderness to pee. I was also vaguely aware that staying that last day after the Swedes’ (Cont’d. on p. 23)
Confronting Love by Michael Marino The rain that fell on the antique street outside the apartment came down like a mist, somewhere between steam and tears. The pale green bronzed lamppost right outside the front door was always the brightest on the block because it had faulty wiring and thus, the most often replaced bulb. The street offered no sound except for the occasional car horn honking in the distance or the overflow of chatter from the theater a block over. A rogue cat leapt onto a recently deposited uncovered trash can, just the beginning of tomorrow morning’s headache for one lucky tenant. For Susan Williams, her tomorrow morning headache was still angry and loud, screaming at her. The headache went by the name of Jack Ross. He had once been her high school crush, once been her college fun, and once been the man she wanted to change her name for. Now he was the furious crazy man handcuffed to her at both wrists. As far as she was concerned, the hollow metal lamppost that separated them was nowhere near the amount of distance she would have wanted at that moment. She made it a routine to survey the lamppost, the handcuffs on both of her wrists, the cat eating leftover chicken, and ultimately the street for any potential rescuers. Jack the Crazy was still screaming something about trust, infidelity, and irreparable damage and its collateral effects. He was obsessive and not forgiving in any light, particularly the wet pale light offered by the lamppost. He called it love, the way he looked at her. It wasn’t always a crazy look, but it wasn’t what she would have ever called loving. He was insecure, jealous, and at times controlling. Not the “handcuff-both-of-ustogether-to-a-lamppost” controlling—more like a “you’re-not-going-tokaraoke-with-your-lesbo-friends” kind of controlling. Tonight he had snapped. She had run, and he was not going to have any of that. But she was beyond that part of the night by now. She had done the rounds of panicking and screaming for help. She had finished with the sheer shock of his actions hours ago. Now she was just tired and wanting to somehow fall asleep while standing up in handcuffs. She wanted to try the calm approach. “Why don’t we go inside?” her voice was encouraging and honest even though it held no truth. She knew if she got out of the handcuffs, she would bolt down the street faster than any woman had ever run. The problem was that Jack knew it too. Her words only angered him. He pulled his arms tightly close to his body, jerking Susan’s face swiftly into the lamppost. The green bronze was a blur. Her vision couldn’t keep up after the impact. Her immediate memory was the mean and cruel sound of the hollow pole ringing like a bell out loud. She spat at him but only managed to get the pole. Calm Susan was out of the office at this point, “What the fuck is your problem, asshole?” Angry Jack was silent and half smiling. She hated him more than ever at that moment. A homeless man pushed a shopping cart of a variety of junk and debris collected on his neighborhood journeys. The wheels of the cart squeaked louder than they usually would in the misty rain that had teased to stop but never quite gave up in the three hours Susan had been having her involuntary talk-it-out session with persistent Jack. She saw the man slowly coming up the curved hill incline of the street behind Jack. She had seen him before and knew he wasn’t all there. She was deciding whether or not to ask for help or scream and if she would be risking another lamp to the face if she did so. The homeless man didn’t rush to her aid. He didn’t flee the scene to go get help. He didn’t walk up and punch Jack in the face. But he did make the evening all the more interesting. The squeaking cart came to a casual stop a few feet behind Jack. The
homeless man was softly singing Kenny Rogers’ Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer as he walked up behind Jack and began to rifle through his pockets. Upon the discovery of Jack’s wallet, he hit the chorus extra loud. Helpless, Jack protested and berated the man by yelling at him in a tone all-too-familiar to Susan. Meanwhile, the homeless thief was crooning away with Kim Carnes’ lines at this point. Without missing a beat, he withdrew his hands from Jack’s pockets, reached around his waist and unfastened his belt. The loudest sound on the street at that moment was Jack’s zipper being lowered by the homeless man’s dirty street soiled fingers. A few chorus lines later, Jack’s slacks hit the wet ground. The next loudest sound on the street was the creaking of the old shopping cart’s wheels as the homeless man continued his endless hunt for collectables, including a rather expensive wallet and a reversible dress belt, size 36. Jack was a pant-less fury. Susan was puzzled as to why he had worn the boxers that had the hole along the seam in the back. Jack’s ass was taking in the breeze. Susan wished for any variety of tourist, paparazzi, news reporter—anyone with a camera—to magically appear and get one for the newspapers. She quickly thought to herself: Perhaps this could be his mug shot. Toning down her comical smirk, Susan had expected the following moments to be the end of Jack’s talk time. Surely he would want to get inside and out of the rain now that his well-worn underwear was all that shielded him from the night. He was mumbling in a crazy fashion and not making much sense. Susan tried again. “Now can we go inside?” She asked with genuine appeal this time. She meant it. She wanted out of it all. She wanted out of the handcuffs, the rain. If all it took was going inside and giving him an hour of shitty relationship mush followed by a break up, she would comply just to be out of his life. Looking tired and defeated, Jack stirred for a moment, as if he had just realized his plan may not have been his brightest insight. “I don’t have the key.” He mumbled it out loud, but no one who had ever heard him mumble before would have known what he said. “What?” Susan wasn’t buying this. “The key I had brought out here was in my wallet.” He was ashamed and somehow still defiant, as if it wasn’t his fault. “So we are stuck out here? No key. No one in the building is awake, and you aren’t even wearing pants!” She was amazed she got that line out without laughing. “No… you have the second key.” Jack was really mumbling now. This was the manifestation of a defeated villain. “Where is it?” Susan was in shock for the second time that night. “In your back pocket, left side of your jeans. I slipped it in there before we went to dinner tonight.” He was ashamed to admit he had planned the whole evening that far in advance. “Okay, well, at least we have a key.” She was calm and suddenly felt in control. “Aren’t you going to get it out and unlock us and run away and call the police?” He was quiet in his misery but no longer mumbling. “No, Jack.” Her words surprised even her as they escaped her mouth. “What? Why not?” Jack was puzzled to a degree even beyond what the aftermath of the homeless man had caused. “We have been through so much tonight, and we are going to finish it.” Tears welled up in Jack’s eyes. Suddenly he felt like he had won the war. He had gotten her to come to the table, to speak softly with concern about their tender and wounded relationship, which showed that she really cared in his eyes. Surely, he thought, she must love me still. Susan couldn’t wait to nail him in the balls. Jack was smiling as he began to offer some of the most profound lines the educated crazy had ever spoken. His words flowed gently and rhythmically, with precision and dedication, every single word… His balls were hers in thirty seconds…
TOUGH LIT. IV
The poetry continued to flow from Jack. Now he was onto redemption and forgiveness, offering up motivational talk about mistakes and regrets… The balls were going down, baby… “Love is a complex thing…” He rambled between focused points and abstract bullshit… Time’s up. Balls are done. With a swift motion, she tugged solidly downward toward the ground. Jacks leaned his body weight backward to avoid hitting his forehead on the pole. Susan reached the ground and grabbed Jack’s unstable ankles. Her fingers worked through his bunched up pants that had collected at his feet and found his shoe laces. Fingers solidly in loops, she stood up, and Jack tumbled back onto his ripped boxer-covered ass. With a dedicated lunge backward with all of her weight, Jack’s groin was firmly planted against the pole. Mission accomplished. Susan was mildly disappointed the pole didn’t ring like it had against her face. All disappointment soon turned into victory as she heard the much more satisfying sounds coming from Jack and his wounded genitals. The key was found without delay and the handcuffs were off her wrists in a flash. She hadn’t planned it but was glad in a moment’s time that she had thought to lock the handcuffs to each other. Jack lay on his rear end handcuffed to the lamppost as Susan shook off the tension and pain in her wrists. Her instinct was to run and be done with the night. Her feet didn’t want to move just yet. Her mouth was a different story. It was ready to work. For the next fifteen minutes, it was Jack’s plan put into action. Susan found the power Jack always relished as she talked about betrayal and trust from her point of view. She peppered her sentences with the word “psycho”, either as a noun or a verb. The conclusion of her speech came when the sun offered its first signal that a new day would in fact happen soon. Susan spit on him a few times for good luck and walked away calmly—not into the apartment they shared where all of her belongings waited, not into her car for a rushed departure, but toward the bus station. The last sound she heard on that loud silent street was the clang of the key dropping into the pile of chicken and trash arranged by a foraging alley cat and Jack screaming “Susan! I love you!” Walking away full of wonder at her bold actions, Susan was sure a “Fuck you” or five were in there as well. Michael James Marino is a fiction writer and journalist residing in Southwest Florida. Originally from Miami, he migrated to pursue an English degree at Florida Gulf Coast University. While at FGCU he served as Staff Writer, Campus News Editor, and Front Page News Editor for the university's newspaper, The Eagle News. His work has also appeared in the 2009 edition of Edison State College's literary journal, Illuminations. He has studied under the likes of Maria Cahill and Rebecca Totaro. He is a father of two and is currently working on a full length novel. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AmazingMrMikey .
Aphorism by Hector Arrache Nothing is beautiful, nothing is ugly. It is the adjective you apply at the moment in time and place.
FINDING THE MEAN by Daniel S. Mesnik [circa 1978] A bovine with a pained countenancy which was caused by pressure internally sought a hidden place of depository to release the pressure by expellary because he suffered from timidity He spied a secluded bowery and made for it with alacrity once there, his tail moved upwardly revealing such parts of his anatomy commonly named posteriority There followed a noise of expectancy which was followed next by relievery marked by a prodigious splattery to the south, to the north, and easterly inciting the herd to inquiry He turned to his friends blushingly and said in terms quite studiously: "if you follow well the trajectory and compute the range with accuracy just divide the distance by half of three and multiply by x over z the result is the mean, pray tell it to me for it's part of the work of a Ph.D." Dan Mesnik is a writer who resides in the Washington DC area.
POETRY FROM PRISON Dealt the Wrong Hand by Vonunette Allen Inmate #922-069 If you could see the hand I was dealt, If you could feel the pain I’ve felt… I was thrown into a system when I was so naïve. It was at an age you wouldn’t believe. But I had to pay for what I had done, Thrown into a card game of life not knowing the rules weren’t fun. Right away, I started to lose. But is this really the life I choose? I sit in my cell like a caged-up animal put through hell. The officers and prison staff speak to me any old way. This is not the hand I want to play. If I cry, I would only be lost in tears. So I sit and I listen and I begin to care. I feel I’ve gambled enough in the card game. I don’t want my children to end up the same. I push back from the table, Only because today I am willing and able. So the next time you deal, please don’t deal me in Because I won’t gamble with my life again.
Hector Arrache is a retired orthopedist who is a prolific poet and painter. We featured many of Hector’s works in our Spring 2011 issue.
VOL 6, ISSUE 6
Vonunette Allen, Inmate #922-069, is a regular contributor currently incarcerated in the Patuxent Institution for Women. Author’s comment: “This poem was written while I was in isolation from everyone else, and I had time to reflect as well as re-evaluate my life.”
Can you tell a story in 500 words or less? These writers have taken the challenge to keep it short and not so sweet.
and stepped boldly into the kitchen doorway. He snapped on the light with a flourish and shouted “Hold it right there!” in his best “COPS” imitation. The two huge cockroaches stopped mid-step and looked at him… then they nonchalantly picked up their plate of leftovers and disappeared under the front of the refrigerator.
Friday, November 22, 1963—12:30 PM CST by Brianna Goins “Stop!” I cry out, but the limousine doesn’t even slow down. I’m running as fast as I can, but I’m falling behind. I know they see me. I am right beside them, but they look through me to the people who scream their name with joy, not fear. “Mr. President! Mr. President, they want to hurt you!” Over and over I scream, but they’ve all gone deaf. My throat is raw and my chest is on fire but still I scream, my voice coming out in hoarse croaks like a bullfrog. Shots ring out. One, two, three, and I know that it’s too late. People are screaming and the President is dead. I tried to warn them but they wouldn’t listen! I cough and it stains my hands red. My head is pounding. Everything goes black, and I am sure that I have fallen although I can’t feel it. Lightning strikes, and when I open my eyes I am in a white room. A woman in white stands by a door. Is this Heaven, I wonder, but it can’t be Heaven because St. Peter is missing and I can’t move my arms. “The President is dead,” I say, because what else is there to say when the President has died? “I saw him die.” She gives me a smile that says she doesn’t believe me but doesn’t want to call me a liar. “No, dear, you’ve been here for four years, never left. And the President is very much alive, giving a parade in Dallas tomorrow.” She hands me two pills, a blue and a white, which I swallow with a glass of water. Brianna Goins lives in Orlando, Florida where she is a student at the University of Central Florida. She is majoring in Creative Writing and plans to pursue a career with a publishing house upon graduation. She is passionate about reading, writing, and theatre and hopes to include all three in both her personal and professional life. She has been published in the Simpson College Sequel.
Cody’s Midnight Madness by Kathie Randolph Sucidlo Cody jolted awake, heart pounding—his breath coming in short, harsh rasps. He’d heard something…he was sure of it…but then maybe he hadn’t. He’d been asleep after all. But wait! There it was again. “It sounds like it’s coming from the kitchen” he thought. Quietly he slipped out of bed and tiptoed across the icy floors in his bare feet. When he got to the bedroom door he listened again. Yes, there was definitely someone in the house with him. Cody wondered what he should do. His parents were down the street playing bridge and this was the first time he’d been allowed to stay home without a sitter. He didn’t want to be a baby and call them unnecessarily—they might never let him stay home alone again. He decided to take a closer look. The house was pitch-black so he stealthily felt his way along the familiar hallway. As he got closer to the kitchen, the strange noises grew louder. That was odd…there were scratching sounds and someone was moving his mother’s dishes. Cody swallowed his panic and tried to think straight. Should he flee to a neighbor’s house? Should he call 911? Or should he act like a man and confront the intruder on his own? Maybe, if he surprised them they would freak out and run away. Straightening his shoulders and with all of the grit and bravado only a 12 year old could muster, Cody drew his courage around him like a cloak 14
Kathie Randolph Sucidlo is a freelance writer with diverse interests that range from health and beauty to business management, to whole brain learning. A selfproclaimed “Down East Okie”, she was born in Oklahoma City, but now calls Topsham, Maine home. She has been published in several trade magazines, is a staff writer for Salon, Inc. magazine, and has recently completed her first children’s book called Evan’s Magnificent, Magical Yard.
BLT, French Fries, and Soda by Jennifer Flemming I am not sure where it came from. My fear that if I told my dad off he would leave forever. I guess it really doesn't matter how it originated, but the fact was if I even snapped a little at my dad, I thought that would be the end of our relationship and I didn't want that. At first when my parents separated, he lived in the next town over. I hated everything about that separation because it was so weird going to his new place that never felt like home. Then after awhile, not sure if it was weeks or months, he introduced me to his girlfriend. Well, it was more of a reintroduction because she was a bartender from one of my favorite bars because of their amazing cheese popcorn. If you find it at all interesting and strangely suspicious that his girlfriend was the bartender of a bar he took me to while he was with my mother, your suspicions are correct and that is all I care to say about that. (Small FYI: We kept the bar a secret from my mother while they were married. How great is that to do to your 11 year old kid?) Then one day (after they separated), out of the blue, he was moving to Cape Cod. He had always wanted to live there. I look back on that and only now recognize how much of an abandonment that felt like. His kids were not enough for him. He had to go lead a different life. I was losing him. Years later I would look back and say that this was so much healthier for me not to have him in my life consistently, but at the time it was heart-wrenching. The only thing that helped was promises of long visits and summers on the Cape. The problem was that those visits were never about me. They just weren't. Dad never let my visit get in the way of his fun. We went to bars beginning at lunchtime. I always loved a good BLT and fries on the Cape. The problem was that dad loved to sit at a bar and chat with the bartender and the people around him. I was just secondary to this. We didn't have a lot to say to each other. The reason I do not drink soda now, except on rare occasions, is because I would have sometimes six sodas waiting for him to have his last drink. I was actually sick of soda at age 13! At night, I often had my choice if I wanted to go with him or not. Often I would go out to eat with him and his girlfriend and then have him drop me off at home. At age 13, here I am on Cape Cod with no friends, staying alone well into the night, while my dad was out partying. What kinds of visits were these? It sucked. It sucked, but I pretended to everyone else it was the coolest thing since sliced bread. The thing that always killed me was that on the last day of my visits
TOUGH LIT. IV
dad would become apologetic about all the time we didn't get to spend with each other. I always, always said it was okay, but in reality it never was. I didn't think about it too long and hard as a kid because it would have hurt too much. The time we didn't spend together and the relationship we didn't have was his choice and only his choice. I was always right there, ready and waiting. All he had to do was make the choice. The phone calls immediately following a visit would always make me the angriest. "Jen, that was too short. When are you coming down again?" As I look back on it now, just once I wish I had said, "Screw you." But I never had the guts because I was just barely hanging on to any kind of relationship with my dad at age 15, and I was not ready to tell him he was not doing his fatherly job so well. Sometimes having a relationship hanging by a thread is less terrifying than the dread of having the thread cut and being left with nothing. Jennifer Flemming is a first grade teacher in Massachusetts. Jennifer relaxes by writing and has recently begun sharing her personal stories with a wider audience through her blog at http://mymorningcoffee-l.blogspot.com Jennifer lives with her husband, 11 year old daughter, and Billy the cat.
The Starting Gate by Michael Edwin Q. Plain and simple, this is my blatant and bias attempt to lift my sister, Nancy, on high. Dad used to said, “You can always tell the winners at the starting gate.” This is an account of my sister at the starting gate – the first but not the last time I was to see her shine. I was fifteen years old, which would have made my brother, Gerard, twelve. Nancy was two years my junior. Gerard and I walked home together from school one day. As we approached our brownstone apartment building, we stopped and stood shocked to find our greatgrandmother, Angelina, sitting on the top step of the cold gray stone stoop. It was deep winter and she wore neither coat nor sweater. “Grandma, what are you doing sitting our here?” I asked. She looked up at me, sadly. Tears were forming in her eyes. Through her thick Italian accent, she whimpered to me, “I want to go home.” “But Grandma, you are home.” Again she pleaded, “I want to go home.” My brother and I tried in vain to persuade her to come inside. “Why are you doing this to me?” she sobbed. “Please, call a taxi to take me home.” It began to snow—no place for a ninety-five year old woman dressed in only a housedress and apron to be. I took off my coat and placed it over her shoulders. She looked at the coat and then up at me, “Who are you?” “Don’t you recognize me, Grandma? It’s me, Mickey. And this here’s Gerard. Don’t you remember?” She looked at both of us. She showed no sign of recognition. “Who are you? Why are you doing this to me? Call a taxi…I want to go home!” I felt frustrated, helpless, and heartbroken all at the same time. The flood of emotion left me useless. Just then, Nancy came walking up. Gerard ran to her and explained the state of affairs. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, thinking. Then she walked up the stairs and sat down. The old woman looked at her sorrowfully. Nancy took her hand and smiled. “Grandma, wasn’t that the longest taxi ride ever? I thought we’d never get home,” said Nancy. “All that riding’s made me hunger, and it’s so cold out here. Why don’t we go upstairs? There’s some leftover baked ziti. Do you like baked ziti?” “Yeah, sure…and wine…can we have some wine?” ask the old woman, a smile rising on her face. “Only a small glass, Grandma,” said my sister. “And if you’re good, we can have ice-cream later.” VOL 6, ISSUE 6
My brother and I watched in awe as the two entered the building. It was two years later that our great-grandmother passed away, and it was my sister and mother, at her bedside, helping her every step of the way. Ten years later, our mother fell ill, and it was Nancy who stayed vigilant over her till she passed. Today, she is a grown woman with a family of her own. And each day she gives of herself to the aged, sickly, and dying as a hospice worker. She honestly is one of my heroes. But then, she has always been… even at the starting gate. Michael Quagliano migrated from New York City to Dallas, Texas in the ‘70s. He worked as a songwriter and record producer for Multimedia, a small recording production company in Arlington, Texas. Six of his songs published, two of which made it onto the radio charts. Since 1996, Michael has been managing Joan Frank Productions, the oldest entertainment agency in the Southwest. Since 2001, Michael has been writing under the name MICHAEL EDWIN Q. His first book MEN ARE STUPID, WOMEN ARE CRAZY (BRIDGING THE GAP) is a self-help book on love-relationships. Michael and his wife, Constance, have promoted the book through speaking engagements at single’s organizations and churches. Between 2005 and 2007, Michael wrote monthly articles for Disc Jockey News, a national magazine directed at Disc Jockeys and the entertainment industry. He has written websites for small companies, and edited local writers, including The Witness by Josh McDowell. Recent periodicals include: Art Times Journal, The Storyteller Magazine, Adventures for the Average Woman, Mature Years Magazine, Nova Sci-Fi, Atlantic/Pacific Press, Hearts with Soul, Serving Him Monthly, and The Storyteller’s People’s Choice Award (2009, 2nd Place Fiction). A member of the Dallas Writers Guild, Michael’s happiest moments are when seated at his computer, typing out a new story with his left hand and holding a slice of pizza in his right.
Perry’s Woman by M. C. Elam Perry’s woman liked packages. He used to think the contents excited her, but watching the way she felt up the crisp edges and pointy corners changed his opinion about that. Perry watched her run expert fingers along the edges and saw the delighted smile on her puffy pink lips. Was that the tip of her tongue just touching the edge of her teeth? He wondered what that damned mother of hers had sent this time. Some screwy piece of crap to collect dust, he supposed. Bitch woman kept telling her to come home. He’d send her home if she wanted to go. Home in a box. He wished she’d open that fucking thing and let him have a look. He wondered if she’d still be smiling when she finally opened the package. Perry’s woman smiled at the damnedest things. Like yesterday when he told her to smile that gap toothed grin of hers or he’d knock he fucking head off. She smiled then all right. He was particularly fond of those smiles because he knew he’d ordered them up special at the end of his fist. Smacking his woman around made up the best fifty percent of his leisure except when she went to wailing her fool head off. Then he’d have to shut her face before some fink of a neighbor called the cops, like that time in Juarez, when they shut him in that stink hole of a jail. She’d paid for that. Oh, yes, she had. Sure as shit, she’d paid him dear for that. Perry’s woman opened the package. Maybe he’d sell the shit or put it out for trash on Thur-Perry’s woman gazed into Perry’s stone dead face and kept right on smiling. Mama always sent the bestest packages ever to her baby girl. M.C. Elam lives in a small Ohio village, but as a child, her family moved frequently. In each new place, she found secret friends who lived in a closet, under a porch, in the hollow of a tree, or beneath the cut bank of a woodland creek. Gifted with imagination, she wrote stories about the pretend worlds she created. Today she writes with no less enthusiasm. Her fiction has appeared in IdeaGems MAgazine, Pindeldyboz, Twisted Tongue, Glossololia, La Fenetre, and Absent Willow Review.
Rescue in NYC
A Crisis of Skin
by Rosalie H. Contino, PhD
by Daniel S. Mesnik
The white-haired septuagenarian walked slowly with his cane to the blue plastic seats and sat down slowly with great difficulty. "I'm not as young as I used to be. Years ago I could ride to Greenwich Village and walk around all day. Now it’s a struggle," he sighed to himself. His small, green eyes darted quickly around the West 4th Street Station, taking in and shaking his head at the paperlittered tracks and graffiti-marked poles. He noticed no one was on the platform. "Pretty quiet today," he thought and glanced at his watch. “Only 8 P.M. Usually there are NYU students rushing to class or hopping the train to go home. Hmmm." The small-framed gentleman adjusted his brown-striped bow tie, which forever fell sideways, jabbing his throat, and making him uncomfortable. He opened the blue crumpled, airmail letter and smiled as he recognized his daughter Amy's handwriting, "Dear Dad—" "Hey, Dad!" A raspy voice interrupted his reading. "What do you want from me? I have nothing." He looked up bewildered, wondering why the three Hispanic youths wearing oddshaped hats, had called him. His eyes darted nervously to and fro looking for help. "Not with that nice suit. Your money, man!" "But," he protested, "it's twenty years old..." "Cool it man!" the tall one spoke rapping his knuckles on the old man's forehead. "Stop wasting time! Frisk him!" said the middle-sized thug who spoke quickly and grabbed the man's lapel. "But I'm an old man," he began to cry, "I don't have anything." "Hey! Let's split! Trouble's coming," yelled the silent member of the trio. The three took off in a flash and flew towards the opposite end of the station, leaving their helpless victim sobbing. The old man felt a hand on his shoulder once more. "Are you alright, sir?" A voice asked gently. The old man looked up, bewildered. Three Hispanic youths surrounded him. "I have nothing." "Don't worry, sir. It’s okay. We'll protect you." The old man noticed that these three young men wore red berets. The one who addressed him had gold beads decorating his. The others just had decals on theirs. "We'll catch him," the second responded and added as he saw the quizzical look on the rescued man’s face. "We ride and protect passengers on the subway and at the stations, sir. Everything will be okay." The group heard a loud commotion from the same end of the station where, the would-be muggers fled earlier. "See! I told you!" yelled the third young man. His beret sat angled just above his right eye. "We caught them! Everything's gonna be alright." The old man sat patiently, looking unbelieving at his rescuers, with deep appreciation in his eyes.
(For Sucheta...who understands.)
Author’s note: This is a fictional account of why Curtis Silwa and the Guardian Angels are assets to the New York City subway system.
Nothing ever coheres and I am dying inside for the one conversation I most need to have.
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. 16
TOUGH LIT. IV
Evening breeze on the Silver Spring promenade people strutting, chatting, laughing as if with purpose on their way to their cars. Themselves without direction but intently so as I sit idly by aimlessly taking note scribble-headed and floppy worn. I wonder if the life I’ve led is the skeletal one if I’m the one not believing in reality, at least not this one. Trying to discern purity in myself or some Thing - what a laugh Yet it is only the pure who have hatred, nerves freedom enough to oppose this world. Whatever I do, think, be, is wrong in this world. This age grants only this mortified choice: To become one more adult or to forever remain a child. A child in crisis a crisis wanting to jump out assume other forms than the ones already borne. Maybe amnesia would do it some Alzheimer’s maybe a little multiple personality conjuring would do the trick. Maybe some brain meld would help me connect. I don’t know, how would I? It’s just that I’m tired so very tired of all the manifest thuggeries I see all about and the hypocrisies within, without unceasing, unfreeing. Even when I’m clear, I’m bored brain so tired it shouts, IT SHOUTS yet nothing of value emerges and no one really hears.
This is how I die. Alone, a life unlived A life unfulfilled. Unrequited. © July 19, 2011
Live Another Day, Part 2 by Marcelline Jenny In Part 1 of this serialized novella, Anne Forsythe is visited by turn-of-thecentury spirit, Mary Porter Gamewell, bringing Anne’s sanity into question before she ventures to China a mysterious quest.
“Oh, yes, you may call me Mary, and I shall call you Anne. Under the circumstances, as I know you would agree, there is no point in standing on ceremony. I was hoping, however, that you would not ask that question about souls. Many things are beyond my ken… Do all young ladies wear such scanty bed clothing in these days?” Mary asked, and then added immediately. “Oh, do not bother yourself to answer such a foolish question. It is not important, I am sure. But it is rather curious. Supposing there were to be a fire and there was no time to put on proper clothing, and you had to run out of doors like that? Oh, my… I suppose you could wrap a blanket about yourself, but… Are not your legs cold? I myself wore woolen stockings to bed, winter and summer. My feet were always cold. My hands, too. But it would be silly to wear leather gloves to bed. I preferred kid gloves, you see. All my gloves were leather, not cotton. No, not cotton. They were my only extravagance. Those beautiful soft white kid gloves. So dear… you say ‘expensive’ today, do you not? Then I shall be modern by saying that white kid gloves were so expensive and rather fragile. “We did not have animal environmentalists in my day. We did not think about the poor lambs that gave their lives so that we might have beautiful white gloves. I do believe kid gloves tended to collect dirt faster than cotton. One had to take special care of them. They washed very well, don’t you know. But not to bed. I did not wear gloves to bed. Of course not. Although I must say that if one wants beautiful soft hands, there is nothing so good as rubbing petroleum jelly into one’s hands and covering them with cotton gloves before one goes to bed at night. It does not do to perform this ritual during the day. First, because one needs one’s clean bare hands for so many of one’s necessary daily chores; and second, because the combination of the petroleum jelly with a long sleep is what softens one’s hands. Sleep heals, don’t you know. Frank could not say enough about the softness of my hands! Now, what was I telling you…? “Oh, yes. A good flannel nightdress helps keep the chill away. In the summer, of course, flannel can be too warming. A fine linen or thin cotton would do in the summer. But one must be chary. These fabrics are quite transparent. I was very fast at disrobing, donning my nightgown, and jumping into bed. It took practice, but I was very fast. Frank never saw me in my natural state. “That other Mary,” the tone of the Mary’s voice suddenly gave Anne a new meaning to the phrase, ‘dripping with scorn,’ “wore only flannel. Of course, she would. Daughters of bishops are always cold-blooded, don’t you know. I was most surprised when Frank married again. But is it not interesting that his second wife was also named Mary? I see it as a tribute to me. Also, it is said that those spouses who are widowed only remarry if their first marriage was successful. And ours certainly was. Not that we did not have our disagreements now and then. For example, Frank did not like it when I… Well, suffice it to say that it is I who am buried next to Frank, not that other Mary. “Now what was I saying…?” She didn’t wait for Anne to answer. “Oh, my, we were constantly sewing. My mother was an angel. Well no, not a real angel, of course. I have not yet seen any angels. Not yet. But… I have two sisters, don’t you know. Well, let me be precise. I had two sisters. I have not seen them for a very long time. We had been so close before I went to China and married. But distance does make a difference. Not that I loved them any less and of course they continued to love me. And we did write many, many long letters back and forth. Well, the Chinese VOL 6, ISSUE 6
postal service was not like that of Ohio. Sometimes mail was delivered to us more than a year after it was mailed from home. “I do not know where my sisters are now. I do not know where any of my loved ones are now. I should be sad about that, but I am not. I believe with all my heart—do I have a heart still…? Before Anne could figure out what to answer, Mary continued. “However writing letters is not the same as living everyday in each other’s company, is it? I did so miss them when I went to China. But life goes on, does it not?” She tittered. “Of course it does not go on forever, not in the same way. But now I am getting into areas too deep for our understanding. What was I talking about…? Oh yes, Mama made all of our special dresses. Even after I was married, she often made my dresses and nightgowns for me. And she was such a busy woman. She was a doctor, don’t you know. But, she always insisted on making our special dresses. For Christmas and for our birthdays. Not just at any time. She was a very busy woman, and fabric was so dear, excuse me, expensive. We were not a wealthy family, but neither were we destitute. No, no. However, sewing was a pleasant and productive labor, particularly if a lady enjoyed the company of other ladies in a sewing bee, as my mother did”. A few seconds of quiet followed this outburst. Anne was less and less frightened of the chatty ghost, but wanted her to stop the idle chatter and get back to the subject of why Anne was in danger. Now there was silence. For a moment she thought that the ghost had disappeared. But then the voice returned. ‘Well, to answer one of your questions: As I understand it, when one dies, the small soul, stays where the person dies. Not forever. I don’t believe the small soul would stay forever…” “Please try to remember why you’re talking to me. You say I’m in danger, and just leave it at that without telling me why. It’s very frustrating. You must understand that’s very, very worrisome for me, don’t you? Perhaps if you tell me about the circumstances of your death. Perhaps that will trigger a thought. For example, when did you die? How long has your small soul been here?’ Is it something to do with this house? Is this house dangerous for me, too? I looked up the history of the house. There was never a… What did you say your last name was?” “My name is Mary Porter Gamewell,” the spirit snapped. “Really, Anne, you must remain alert. And we will make no progress if you interrupt me. Furthermore, I consider it extremely poor manners to interrupt when another is speaking. That was the one principle I drummed into my little students’ heads. Yes, indeed, proper etiquette must be maintained, particularly between strangers.” Mary’s voice was ‘school-marmish,’ Anne thought that was a good word for it. She had probably been a good teacher so long as the kids were younger than teens. But Mary was right. It was rude to interrupt when another was talking. Yet, Mary was a ghost for God’s sake! And if Anne’s life or well-being was at stake, she had a right to interrupt. If she could, she’d be shaking the ghost or pulling at her hair, or anything to get her to focus and stop chattering away like a monkey. Mary was actually answering Anne’s last questions while Anne was thinking of how to attack a ghost. ‘I died in 1906, November 27, 1906 at 3:22 in the morning at the age of fifty-eight. Therefore, my small soul has been here for more than one hundred years.’ Anne waited a beat so that Mary wouldn’t accuse her of interrupting again. ‘That’s a long time.’ “Well yes, come to think of it, it is a long time, in living terms. However, in soul terms, it… is not,” Mary answered, as if for the first time coming to the realization herself. She then continued, “You see, having once been a living, and now a soul, I have experienced both, but I have not thought of time at all since I have been a soul.” “Well, then you died when this house was still a rectory. Were you the pastor’s wife…? No,” She corrected herself before Mary could answer, and then Anne said slowly as she pictured in her mind’s eye the yellowed registry she had consulted just last week at the town’s historical society. “The pastor’s name was not Gamewell…” “Tuttle’s wife. The very idea!” Mary giggled, and Anne bit her tongue
because she was about to remind Mary that it was rude to interrupt a speaker. “Reverend Tuttle was my brother-in-law. He was married to my husband’s sister, Eliza, don’t you know. I never did believe that Eliza made a wise choice, but she seemed contented enough with her life. She was a bit of a snob, you see, and this was a rather affluent town. The Tuttles had some influence in Summit. “The Gamewells, themselves, were quite the notables in the town of Hackensack, New Jersey. Have you been to Hackensack? Frank brought me to Hackensack once to visit his folks when we were on furlough. A lovely, though bustling, town. His parents were fine people. His mother baked a special cake for us and his sisters and brother… Well, never mind. I am not a gossip. Suffice it to say that they were a fine family and quite well-to-do. Frank’s papa invented the red fire alarm box that one sees on practically every corner of every town in America, even now, I believe. “Eliza, herself, was handsome and pleasant enough, although… Only the Lord knows why she had such a high opinion of herself… Oh, excuse the expletive. My husband would be so mortified! I have never quite become used to speaking in a genteel manner. Although my mother was a lady, and trained us all to be ladies. Never mind. That has nothing to do with why I am here. I wish I could remember why. I know my visit is causing you some anxiety. I would like to make it comfortable for you. I am certain that I am here because you are here. But I do not know why. I am sure the reason will certainly come to me soon. For now, to answer your question, I did die in the rectory. I was grievously ill when my husband, Frank, and I were living here. “Well, I must admit Tuttle had some fine points, even though he did tend to pomposity. He took us in, when we needed a temporary home. But he stole my book! Well, not exactly stole my book, since he spent hours sitting by my sick bed and listening to me tell him of the hard times Frank and I, and all of us westerners, experienced during the Boxer Rebellion in China. And he did put my name on it—the book, that is. “And I was far too ill to write the book myself. I did not realize he was recording everything I said. And he did write about our earlier happy experiences in China as well as the difficulties we experienced in the Boxer Rebellion. He quoted from many of my letters and notes that I wrote to the family here in the United States of America while we were serving Our Lord in China. There were many happy years in China, before the difficult times. You must not think that our years in China were all difficult. And even in those difficult times our Chinese Christians were such dears. Especially the children who were always mischievous, but so sweet. Tuttle had never been in China himself, don’t you know. “I suppose you have surmised that Frank and I were missionaries, have you not? Or did I tell you so? My memory is not what it was when I was a living. Well, what was I telling you? Oh, yes… We had come home from China, and Frank was working temporarily at the Methodist mission center in New York City because I was too ill to go back to China.” Mary suddenly chuckled. “Oh, my. I suppose I am not yet on my way to the Yellow Springs.” “Yellow Springs?’ Anne asked. “It is a lovely Chinese superstition. And, as I am now in a position to affirm it, it is a superstition, and just that.” “I’ve been immersed in Chinese studies for a while, but I never heard of it.” “Well, I shall instruct you, Miss ‘Immersed in Chinese Studies’... Listen to what this lowly old missionary can tell you. The ancient Chinese believed—perhaps some still believe—that when a person dies, he or she goes to the Yellow Springs. My understanding is that the Springs are a paradise, like Heaven.” “I’ve never heard of it.” “You have already told me that, Anne. Please do not repeat yourself. It is an irritating habit that others are forced to endure. Now listen, I am not finished. Before the dead go to the Yellow Springs, Old Woman Wang intercepts them and pours them a cup of wine to aid them on their journey. The wine is actually an elixir that allows them to forget all that went before in their lives. All memories, all people are erased from their 18
minds, even their families are erased from their memory. And they can continue on their way free and unencumbered.” “That’s both beautiful and sad,” Anne blurted out. “I have not finished my story.” “Oh, sorry,” Anne said. “Please go ahead.” “Thank you. As you say, it is beautiful, but sad that the dead leave all thoughts of their lives behind. Not for the dead, of course. They have lost all memory. But as you can imagine, it is very sad for the family and friends whom they have left. They have not forgotten their deceased loved ones, and it gives them no solace to believe that their loved ones have completely forgotten them, quite the opposite.” “Yes, of course.” “There is no need to affirm the obvious, my dear Anne. I continue: Consequently, many, many years ago the bereaved families started burying their dear ones with cups, so that they would have their own drinking vessels when they met Old Woman Wang.” Then Mary cackled. “The cups had holes in them!” Anne couldn’t help but laugh, and said, “I guess your cup was full of holes.” ‘Well, perhaps only the Chinese meet up with Old Woman Wang when they die. I have not yet met up with her. I remember everything. Not always in the order in which it occurred, and sometimes, not everything immediately comes to mind. Right now I wish I could remember why I am here with you. I certainly remember our experiences during our last days in China… but I believe you do not want to hear all that.” “Oh, but I do,” Anne insisted. A suspicion loomed large in her mind. China. Why China? Because, she decided, this was all a dream or a hallucination. She’d been feeling as if she’d been battered on every side: her fiancé walked out on her, her great-aunt who was also her hero and role model was descending into a permanent Alzheimer’s fog, her sleep deprivation, the strain of writer’s block, the renovation of the house, the traumatic move from Manhattan in spite of the hated rats and roaches, reading and grading almost seventy student term papers, all the physical work she’d been doing in the house for the past several weeks, and the recurring feeling that she was being followed that had suddenly become strong again. She was exhausted on every level. But she decided she’d go along with this newest assault on her mind and emotions. Anne decided her nerves were so thin, they were bound to snap, but she was slowly gaining control over her fear. “Let’s see just how crazy this dream gets,” she decided and said aloud, ‘But I first want to know why you’re talking to me. I mean, why me?’” “I have told you, I cannot at this moment recollect why I am here. I must tell you, however, while we are waiting for my memory to catch up with us, you cannot have a thought that I do not hear. And you are not having a lunatic dream. Furthermore, in all actuality,” Mary said, “I am not talking to you. You really must think before you speak, missy. No. Souls cannot talk. We do not have bodies, and therefore, we do not have mouths, don’t you know. Let us just say that I am communicating with you. And if you notice, you are not always talking either. Although you do tend to babble, do you not? Never mind that. Would you not say that you most often think at me, not actually talk to me?” “I babble! It isn’t I who’s the motor mouth,” Anne thought, but the sound of a siren in the distance suddenly jolted Anne back into the reality of her surroundings. ‘This isn’t happening,” she uttered, as she again strained into the dark room. “For some reason I’m hallucinating. Life’s been so hard lately. And maybe that soup I ate for dinner had turned bad, and I’m sick.” Anne heard a faint laugh, like a series of hiccups. “You are not hallucinating. The very idea! Such a thing to say!” Mary tittered. “Do you not find the horseless carriages of today terrifying? They move so fast, and with such a racket. Frank and I never owned a horseless carriage ourselves. They were brand new and so dear, er expensive. We could never have afforded a horseless carriage on Frank’s poor salary. Nobody owned a horseless carriage in China in my day. I must learn to call them by their present name: automobiles.” (Cont’d. on p. 24)
TOUGH LIT. IV
Death to a Stranger by K. C. Austin The room was packed with bodies—a sweaty mass that moved and gyrated to pulse pounding music. The laughter and fun of the party could barely puncture the vibration. People sang poorly, danced as poorly as they sang. All in honor of Katherine’s friend Jillian, who was happily born 30 years ago—an event best celebrated with copious amounts of alcohol and food. Katherine dashed from the living room to the kitchen where she had the mini-bar and snack table set up. The kitchen was large enough to accommodate the wallflowers and those who would rather fall deep into buzzed conversation than dance, but she still needed to squeeze past a dozen people in order to get to her cabinets. With the party in full swing, drinks and food needed restocking badly. “Kath! Kath! This is the best party ever!” Katherine managed to put down the bottle of vodka she was opening just in time to catch Jillian’s enormous bear hug. “Thank you so much.” “You’re very welcome.” Katherine managed when Jillian released her. “Everyone’s really having fun, don’t you think?” “Of course they are!” Jillian laughed and teetered a little from a combination of alcohol, giddiness, and ice pick thin heels. “Can you believe how many people showed up?” She swept her arm wide to indicate the room, the party, and possibly the entire world. I’m glad you’re happy.” Katherine said raising the bottle of vodka in toast to her friend. “Happy Birthday, Jill!” Everyone in the room followed Katherine’s lead by yelling “Happy Birthday” and drinking to the birthday girl. Jillian giggled in response. Raising her own drink, she gulped it down in three quick swallows slamming it down on the kitchen counter like a champion drinker. “I saw you dancing with Nick.” Jill said, wiggling her eyebrows in drunken suggestiveness as she leaned against the counter. “I know! He’s cute right?” “Of course he is!” Jill gave her a light punch on the arm. “Tall and built. With soft brown eyes. What’s not to love?” She looked a little dreamy. “I think you guys looked great together.” “Just stop right there, Jillian. You have to get that fairy tale look out of your eyes before I knock you in your hard head” “What? I just think you guys looked good. Perfect.” She giggled, “Even meant to be.” “I swear to God, Jill.” “Okay, okay, I’ll stop.” Jill’s lips moved into a little pout. “I was just thinking that it’s been awhile, and you could use a little happiness after the Jerk-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.” Katherine’s eyes darkened at the mention of the relationship gone wrong. “I don’t want to talk about him right now.” She waved it away. “He’s just horrible relationship baggage now.” “You’re totally right. Water under the bridge. Forget that I even mentioned him. We’ll pretend that he never came up and we’ll talk about adorable Nick instead.” She batted her eyes at Katherine. “Does he meet the Katherine Criteria?” Katherine indulged in a small smile. “So far, so good.” She picked up the vodka along with a few other bottles and arranged them on the table she was using for a mini-bar. “Good smile, nice body, good manners.” She said, ticking off her mental list of qualities. He was exactly what she’d been looking for. “What do you know about him?” Jillian poured herself another drink. “I don’t know a whole lot. He’s a friend of a friend of a friend.” She giggled again at her own redundancy. “Of a friend.” She laughed at herself for a moment before squealing and sprinting out of the kitchen to head off in the direction of the music as the beat changed once more to a favorite song. Katherine shook her head at Jill’s quick change. Her friend was a little flighty when sober. Add in alcohol and it was like watching an amazingly loud and giggly humming bird. But she was having fun, and the party was VOL 6, ISSUE 6
a success. Not to mention her own flirtation with an incredibly cute guy. She would have to make sure to get into contact with him after the party. She was struggling to open a jar of olives when he came up from behind her. “Need help?” His voice was smooth and shy. Katherine jumped a little. She tried to cover it with a smile, struggling not to be irritated at finding herself in such a stereotypical situation. “Sure.” She bumped her smile up in wattage and handed the jar over. She blew out a breath when he easily popped the lid off. “Well, I loosened it right?” He handed her the jar bumping his own smile up. “The party’s going great.” “Thanks. Jill seems to be enjoying it.” She nodded toward her friend, currently dancing on the coffee table. They both watched as Jill decided to try body surfing without telling anyone and landed face down on the floor. Nick turned back to Katherine when Jill popped up and kept dancing. He watched Katherine finish restocking the tables. Her movements were graceful and efficient. She danced the same way too. She was slim and built, which he liked, and she had long, soft auburn hair, which he loved. Just the type he was looking for. She was aware of his eyes on her. She prayed she wouldn’t drop anything as she re-arranged the table to accommodate the new bottles. At the same time, she struggled to be as enticing as she could. When she was done, she turned back to him. The music drifted from fast to slow. She held out her hand. “Would you like to dance?” she asked. He held her hand in his, leaned down, and brushed his lips over hers. Testing, he changed the angle, pulling her closer. She let his lips play on hers for a moment before she stepped back and smiled. Together, they walked into the living room. He pulled her to him, swaying with her around the makeshift dance floor. She liked him. She liked the kiss. She liked being held by him as they danced. She indulged herself and danced with him a little longer than she intended. Even when the slow song switched to a fast-paced, heartpounding song that got Jillian back on the table, they danced. She finally convinced herself to slip away to continue her duties as hostess. She mingled, refilled drinks, and checked to make sure no one had managed to get in rooms that were off limits to partygoers. When she caught one couple trying to sneak into the basement, she made it very clear that no one, absolutely no one, was allowed down there. They had seemed baffled, and a bit scared, at her vehemence over the issue. In the end, they left early, groping each other as they fell into a cab. Between booze and blind sex, Katherine doubted it would be a pleasant morning for either of them. Throughout the night, Katherine split her attention between fun and hostess duty. She would catch Nick intently watching her from across the room. She’d watched him dance or drink. Katherine never realized how invigorating it was to have a man be so interested in her. Most of the men she set her sights on never noticed her. This was altogether different and exciting. She danced with him a few more times, and talked with him on the patio when dancing got tiresome. As the party was winding down, she called a cab for Jillian who was one slippery step above unconscious. Katherine poured her into the car, dodging her kisses and drunken thanks. She paid the fair in advance and sent her home. Most of the guests had left by the time she found herself on her front porch and looking up at Nick. They stood in the warm glow cast by her porch light. The night was crisp and Katherine could smell winter blowing just around the corner. Everything seemed just right. Even the moon was high and bright. He smiled and leaned down. Laying a hand on her cheek, he gave her a soft whisper of a kiss. As their lips parted, a group barreled out of the door, almost knocking into them both. The group stumbled across the yard and piled into a nearby car. Nick waved to them. Turning back to Katherine, he kissed her cheek before making his own trek across the
yard to his car. The group blared their car horn as they sped off down the street and had Katherine wincing as they teetered around a curve. When she looked back for Nick, all she could see were his taillights heading down the opposite way. With everyone finally gone, she was left alone in the orange wash of her porch light. Inside, she surveyed the damage. A party was havoc—before, during, and after. She slumped on the couch, kicked off her heels, and closed her eyes. The silence pulsed in her mind almost as loud as the music had. She drank it in and drifted. Pure will had her pushing herself off the couch. She considered leaving the entire mess until morning but couldn’t ignore the little voice inside that told her that it would be far worse if she woke up to a totally wrecked house. Taking a moment or two to wrestle with her own laziness, she came to a compromise. She would pick up just the worst of it,and happily leave the rest for tomorrow. She was loading an armful of cups into a trash bag when she caught a movement on the edge of her vision. Going with instinct, she pressed her back to the wall. She only had to shift her weight to keep both back and front doors in her line of sight. She turned her attention more fully on the back door when a snap from outside broke the silence she had reveled in a few minutes earlier. The door was made mostly of glass surrounded by thick mahogany—easy to see out of. She strained to see beyond the glass into her backyard. Moonlight filtered through the leaves of the trees and caused shadows to flow and shift. She waited and listened. When nothing stirred, she began to relax. “Just tired and jumpy,” she mused. Still, she went through the house securing doors and windows. Even the basement door was inspected. Assuring herself that it was locked, and had remained so throughout the night, she went back to her chores. Cups, bottles, plates, all were piled unceremoniously into the sink or trash. When she was finished, she had an overflowing sink of dishes that she had no desire to wash and four bags of trash she had no desire to haul out to the curb. She picked them up with the intention to set them next to the back door and out of her way. Arms loaded, she turned and saw him. He was standing in the moonlight, almost pressed against the glass. “Nick?” There was no shy smile now. In its place was a malicious and almost triumphant grin. For a moment, they simply stared at each other. Her eyes were clouded with confusion, while his were filled with violent intent. He tried the doorknob and found it locked. He reared back and kicked the glass. Like lightning, cracks snaked from his point of contact. One more kick had it shattering. Adrenaline washed away her shock and left cold anger in its wake. “Do you have any idea what that’s going to cost to repair?” She dropped the bags and, in one swift move, grabbed two knives from her kitchen counter. He smirked at her attempt to defend herself. She grinned and twirled the knife in her hand. The grin, the tone, the knives, all gave him pause. His mind was set though. And who didn’t like it when they fought a little? It gave a thrill to the conquest after all. He used the anticipation of that to propel himself forward. She neatly sidestepped him and gave him a nice slice across the shoulder. He howled as the metal bit into him. When he turned towards her, his face was contorted in reflection of the fury and pain she had caused. She flipped the knife in the air and caught it with practiced ease. She cocked her head at him. “Is that all you got?” He felt the rage mix with twisted desire and sprang. She merely used his forward momentum to help ram the hilt of her knife into the bridge of his nose. Blood spurted through his fingers as he tried to staunch the flow with his hands. Katherine frowned at the mess on her kitchen floor. “You’re bleeding everywhere.” She shook her head in disgust. “I really did not want to do 20
a lot of cleaning tonight.” She could see both rage and pain war inside him. She saw, too, when he decided to take the coward’s way and run. He levered himself up on hands now soaked with blood. He tried to make a run for the door. It was too late. Katherine flipped the knife so the blade rested lightly in her fingers. Taking aim, she lifted it over her head and sent it flying into his thigh. It took him down before he reached the door. She strolled over to him and crouched beside his head as he flipped onto his back. With the knife she had kept firmly in her left hand, she pressed the blade to his throat. “Tsk, tsk, Nick.” He was grunting in pain, attempting to reach the knife in his leg without slicing his own throat. He let out a litany of curses. She only raised an eyebrow. “Now why would you want to come here and attack me? I thought we had such a lovely evening together.” She watched as the blood pooled around his leg. Her sigh was a mixture of regret and annoyance. “Oh, well.” She grabbed the knife in his thigh and twisted. His scream became a whimper as he lost consciousness. His body ached with a thousand bruises. He came to and saw the knife removed and his leg bandaged. His eyes felt as fuzzy as his mind. He struggled to orient himself. It was dark, he was cold, and he couldn’t move. It took a full minute to realize he was naked and strapped down. It took less than a second for panic to dig in. He looked around, wildly trying to find an answer to a question he couldn’t think of. The room was cold and damp. Everything seemed to be concrete: the walls, the floor, even the ceiling. Within the shadows in the far corner, he saw another man chained to the floor. He, too, was naked and filthy. He could see the man’s body was riddled with scars, wounds still healing, and fresh wounds still oozing blood. His face, like his body, was mangled from thin painful cuts and scars. He stared ahead, not looking at Nick, not looking at anything. Nick tried several times to call to him. Nothing he said could get the man’s attention. Fear took another firm hold on him as he wondered if the man was dead. When the door opened the man whipped his gaze around and stared at Katherine. She was dressed in siren red, her hair was up, and she walked into the room smiling. The sound of her heels clicking against the stone bounced around the room and made him feel as if her footsteps were everywhere. “You’re awake,” she said with a smile. “It’s so much better when they wake up on their own.” She looked down at the man chained to the floor and tossed a paper bag at his feet. He fell on it like an animal and ripped the bag to shreds. inside was a steak. The smell of the raw meat, and the sight of the man tearing into it with teeth and fingers, made Nick recoil in disgust. Katherine watched for a minute. “Don’t worry about him,” she said with a shrug. “He’s just baggage, really. I should have killed him a long time ago. I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it.” She gave the man a swift, hard, almost absent kick with the pointed heel of her shoe, then turned to Nick. “He’s old and used. You’re shiny and new.” She trailed a fingernail up his leg. “A little bruised though. Sorry about that. I had to roll you down the stairs. They usually come on their own.” She said with a wink. Panic slid into him again—a familiar partner in this nightmare. “I… I don’t understand. Why?” His voice was small and rough. He wasn’t sure it was even his. She uncovered a tray from somewhere under the table. Even in the dull light, he could see the glint of metal of the various blades. “Shh, Shh.” She laid a finger gently on his lips. “There’s no need to say anything.” Her smile was full of quiet acceptance. “We understand each other, don’t we, Nick? And it was fun, wasn’t it? Being both the predator and prey.” She watched his eyes widen as she picked up the scalpel. Katherine welcomed the shiver of anticipation when she saw his pupils dilate. “Before we begin, I just wanted to say thank you for a lovely evening.” His screams echoed off the walls as she started to cut. (See K.C. Austin’s profile on p. 22)
TOUGH LIT. IV
A Troubled Bridge Over Water by John Ottley, Jr. Mid-August: My wife Judy’s business acumen once again has left us a few pennies ahead of the tax collector. Time to splurge. Or so we think. We’ve read glowing accounts of the Bridge of Dunes, a pricey eastern North Carolina fishing lodge. The name no doubt from rolling sandy terrain near the Outer Banks. Spiffy outdoor magazines brag that the trout are so fat you can slice and serve their fins in place of country ham. A whole smoked rainbow trout will feed a family of eight for Thanksgiving… including seconds. We call for reservations. It’s come at your own risk. The river is down due to drought. Summer temperatures have been outrageously high. Fishing may be shut down. We’ll play it by ear. At the minimum we’ll enjoy the legendary dining room cuisine, impeccable service, and onshore Atlantic breezes. Little do we realize that the most hilarious moment in eight years of fishing together will center around food. We know the problem with the river. Higher water temperatures mean less dissolved oxygen. More stressful to a hooked trout. One expert believes that brown trout are most active in water less than 68 degrees Fahrenheit and rainbows at less than 67⁰ F. The ideal for both species is thought to be 65⁰ F. Water temperatures above 79⁰ F can be lethal. Low water levels jam fish together and increase the competition for food. I exchange e-mails with Reuben Macken who, we’ve read, owns the Bridge. He replies that the few persons able to fish must be on the river at 6 a.m. and off by 10 a.m., before the temperatures max out. We can do that. One summer at the Blue Damsel Lodge outside Missoula, MT, we had to be up at 4 a.m. for the same reason. On that trip, we actually were fishing before it was light enough see a dry fly on the water. We’ll chance it. Even if we don’t get to fish, we will enjoy meeting him and spending a night on the North Carolina coast. This is not Pollyannaish. The storyline on Reuben: he was an extremely successful New York investment banker whose high society divorce cleaned out almost all of his considerable wealth. Depressed, he returned to Kill Devil Hills, opted for his retirement dream early, and opened the Bridge of Dunes with the last of his savings. We email Reuben that we will arrive on a Wednesday, entertain him at dinner that evening, and hope to fish on Thursday and Friday. We knew his story as told by others. Wanted to get it firsthand. He will join our table. Our minds catch fire with anticipation. The day before we’re to leave Charlotte, I get a lengthy email from Reuben stating that he will have guide Tony Jones standing by at our cabin at 6 a.m. on Thursday in case fishing is possible. I marvel at the thoroughness of communication and attention to detail. Definitely an upscale organization worthy of its reputation. The next part, however, raises my eyebrows. There is no check-in at the Bridge of Dunes. Our cabin will be unlocked. No check-in? Visions of safari-clad hotel staff greeting us at the gatehouse flit away. No A troubled bridge over waters? No camouflage-painted golf cart to guide us to our cabin? What’s with that? Well, maybe it’s the off season. We shouldn’t have ignored these warning signs. Next, Reuben advises us to bring ice and beverages because Doro County is dry. So what? Would the lobby bar be closed? So much for our images of America’s leading fishing editors and columnists rared back in deep leather chairs while they puff cigars, sip brandy, and keep each other awake into the wee hours with Hemmingway-like angling tales. The final straw is in his last sentence. He won’t join our table in the lodge dining room because food service no longer is available at the lodge. Also, he mentions the “former” fly shop. We begin to suspect that the Bridge of Dunes may have slipped from its media-elevated perch. Is it a bridge too far gone? VOL 6, ISSUE 6
“Okay,” we temporize, “we’ll pick up a great dinner en route and entertain Reuben in our cabin. We’re adaptable, if anything.” This talent later proves invaluable. Just before we leave, another long email from Reuben. He will be in Wilmington, NC, for the week while he visits restaurants and promotes his house-brand wine. Now our guide will be Lex Brewster. Does this mean Reuben will not join us for dinner? It does. Maybe next time. We hone the grocery list together with our expectations. Do we really want to go through with this? I urge Judy to stick with the plan. Maybe we’ll get a rate concession. Maybe I’ll get that pony for Christmas this year. Loaded with fishing gear, suitcases, and a cooler stocked with food and martini ingredients, we get away Wednesday morning. We briefly consider stashing all this into my pickup truck. No, it would be unseemly to arrive at a place like the Bridge of Dunes in a Nissan Titan. We take Judy’s Lexus hybrid. As things turn out, nobody will notice if we pull up in a mule-drawn wagon. At 4 p.m. it occurs that it might be a good idea to call Lex and ask whether we will fish in the morning. The guy is steamed when he answers. Reuben told him we wanted to fish today. He was at the cabin at 6 a.m. and stayed until 10 a.m., his temperature by then well exceeding that of the outside air (90⁰ plus). No, Lex, that was wrong. He’s already booked on another trip tomorrow. We’d better call Reuben. Wait, Lex, don’t hang up. I don’t have Reuben’s cell to reach him in Wilmington. Could you possibly get us another guide? He can and does. It will be Fred (last name not given). Because it is hidden almost completely by hemlock needles, we almost miss our cabin. It’s unlocked. A good omen. It’s well-constructed and exquisitely decorated. We’ve stepped into the pages of Architectural Digest. At one time, this place had class. Two double beds, bath, and a kitchen counter with sink, oven, and a small fridge. The latter will feature prominently in this story shortly. Just down the road is the lodge. Gracious, but ominously unoccupied. So far, we haven’t seen another living human being. Oh, well. If we do get to fish, we won’t be elbow-to-elbow with other guests. After assembling our rods and unpacking, we take a brief walk along the well-worn riverside fishermen’s paths. Great access to the water. We see plenty of fish, all of good size. This is an incredibly picturesque section of the Whatkee River. High granite palisades and majestic white oaks rise on the far bank in stark contrast to the rolling sand dunes off property. As we return to our cabin, a red truck rumbles by. Poachers? We know not. I yell, “Hey!” A fellow in the passenger seat turns his head slightly, but they’ve passed before he sees me. It’s Lex. He’s brought Fred (last name still unknown) to show him where to have us fish on the morrow. They drop by after Fred’s orientation. Introductions reveal that Fred’s last name is Montreat. Rain that afternoon has raised the river level. We will fish, but it won’t be “on fire”. Having floated a good length of the Susquehanna at Glendorn Lodge in Pennsylvania without a single strike, we are not exceptionally hard to please. Both guides advise that wading boots and shorts will suffice. We’re anxious to try out our new, cleated, Vibramsoled wading boots. Supposedly they prevent the transfer of trout diseases better than the felt-soled models of yore. But, really, who needs an excuse to buy new fishing gear? Fred says we won’t have to be ready at 6 a.m. 6:45 will be fine. We’ll fish until 11 a.m. I set the alarm for 5:30 to allow time for coffee and a light breakfast. We’re lucky to be able to fish and don’t want to waste a minute of it. The two guides refuse a drink of gin and leave. We mix martinis and enjoy some hors d’oeuvres Judy has thoughtfully prepared. The A/C is cooling the cabin and the evening is mellowing by the moment. At 6:45 p.m., there’s a knock at the door. Two different gents are standing on the porch. The heftier one announces he is Bubba Wright. His sidekick is Junior. (They’re stingy about last names in these parts). Bubba wants to know who we are and what we are doing here. I say that we are here by reservation, and, before he calls the county police to turn
us in as trespassers, (a) could we at least finish our drinks and (b) would he and Junior like to have one with us? Situation defused. Bubba “takes care of the place” for Reuben, who failed to tell him we were coming. Communication looms as a major shortcoming at the Bridge of Dunes. Bubba gives us his contact numbers in case there is any trouble—such as with the “bar” he scared away while feeding the fish. The possibility of encountering a black bear pretty well nixes any idea of an after-dinner stroll. Not only that, it’s still devilishly warm outside. Bubba and Junior decline a martini and drive off. We have a delightful dinner of salad and barbecue with Oreo cookies for dessert. A bottle of wine, the aforementioned house brand, has been left in the room. We opt not to open it—especially after scanning the rate card which notes that the Bridge of Dunes is “the Pinehurst of fly fishing”. It quotes room rates and daily fishing tariff prices reminiscent of tickets to the US Open. We settle into separate beds because neither is king-sized. We can give up cuddling in tight quarters for a night of comfortable sleep. During the night, I hear a small noise. Sort of like a kid rattling a candy bag. Or, like a mouse trying to get into something. I pray, “Please don’t let Judy hear this.” That definitely will be a deal breaker. As stealthily as possible, I ease out of bed and shine a flashlight around the cabin. There is a small plastic bag on the table where we dined. Judy put the remaining crackers in it and tied off the top. Just for safekeeping, I slip it into the fridge and slither back to bed. Years of listening for small children have made Judy a light sleeper. She groggily asks what I’m doing. “Just putting the leftover crackers in the fridge, honey,” I reply. Later during the night, I hear fingertips of rain on the roof. A good sign. There will be even more water in the river by morning. Well before dawn Thursday, Judy asks the time. I stop snoring and roll over to look at the clock. It’s blinking on 7:23 a.m., a sure sign of interrupted power. I cringe at the thought of Fred’s standing patiently outside waiting for lights to show in the window. I quickly check my watch. It’s only 5:15. We hit the deck anyway. After a healthy breakfast of sliced fruit, coffee, and whole wheat toast, Judy opens the fridge and leans down to place something on the lower shelf. She screams and backs away. A mouse, almost as frightened as Judy, is on the fridge door shelf next to the coffee cream. I slam the door. She continues screaming. I try to take her in my arms. She recoils as if the mouse is on my shirt. Suddenly it dawns on me. Last night the critter already had gnawed its way into the bag of crackers before I put it into the fridge. It spent the rest of the night gorging itself to get ready for the winter which has arrived unseasonably early. Needless to say, whatever food is in there will remain. I briefly entertain the thought of snaring the invader in my fishing net, but Judy swears there will be instant divorce if I open that door. She doesn’t have to tell me twice. I fear that when the housekeeping maid checks for goodies left in the fridge, it will be her last day of employment. Fred shows up on time. Even at that early hour, the water feels pleasantly temperate against our ankles. I guess the water temp is 69⁰ F. Judy thinks 70⁰ F. None of us measured it. Fred no doubt thinks if he dips his thermometer below the surface, it will read, “No Tip”. At my invitation, Fred spends much of the morning with Judy. She catches the most fish. We never compete on the river, and if mama’s happy, everybody’s happy. We have a creditable morning. Mostly roll casting under overhanging limbs which do their best to snag our lines. This is typical on many streams in the eastern part of the Old North State. The highlight of our day: Judy nails a very nice brown on a parachute Adams dry-fly after Fred briefly abandons his nymph-and-dropper regimen. I recall our landing three trout in the 3-to-5 pound range. We release them as soon as Fred can get them into his oversized net and flip the hooks out. They slide unhesitatingly back into the current—a good sign 22
they weren’t overstressed. Two others break the line—an even better way to terminate the fight. It’s called a “conservation release”. During a break, Fred shares the latest on the Bridge of Dunes. It’s as if we’d paid for the hootchie-koochee show and, once past the barker and inside the tent, find we’re at the pie baking contest. Reuben doesn’t own the place. His dad does. He took his son in when he came home from “Gotham” virtually penniless and desperate for a place to live. Reuben talked his dad into spending a ton on building the lodge and cabins. That was 25 years ago. Maybe Reuben’s lost interest. It’s possible that even the sterling publicity could not persuade serious anglers to come to coastal North Carolina for record trout. Typically, you think of the West, New Zealand, Chile, or Alaska for giant rainbows and browns. Whatever. It’s obvious the Bridge of Dunes isn’t the place it once was. Someone has resorted to overblown blogs in a desperate reach for business. Fred says he read one Bridge blog which contended that the river was a trout-stimulating 65 ⁰ F while persons above and below the lodge were shut down with water temps ranging 75⁰ F plus. “That was the first time I realized he had a glacier on the property.” Fred laughs, knowing full well that the nearest glacier is almost 2,000 miles northwest of here near Kalispell, MT. Fred remembers another Bridge blog’s claim that all the fish are native and are never fed. He’s personally seen frequent restocking. Bubba, the caretaker, told us earlier he’d observed the bear standing in the river scooping up floating fish food as it drifted by. No need to forage for berries when they’re serving a buffet right at your feet. In the three minutes remaining before quitting time at 11 a.m., I give it the old college try. Walking downstream from Fred and Judy, I backhand a roll cast into a pool where the river slows to catch its breath before lurching over a man-made rock weir. At 10:58, a fat rainbow chomps down on a fly so tiny it is a wonder he even sees it. With a scant minute to go, he finds an opening between the rocks and plunges downstream. My line snaps and comes flying back at me. The hook on my fly is bent into a lazy “J”… but what a great closer! We tentatively explore the idea of staying over in case we can fish a second day. The look on Judy’s face when she contemplates another night in “Rodentville” quickly puts an end to that. We pack and are on the highway just before noon. Most of the way home, I try to picture the maid’s opening that fridge. Oh… as to the rate reduction? Reuben hit my card with the full rate. In his mind, the glory days never went away. John Ottley, Jr. is the retired Executive Director of the College of Diplomats of the American Board of Orthodontists (1996-98) and Southern Association of Orthodontists (1978-96). As an accomplished writer, his poetry has appeared in Arizona Literary Magazine, Bay Area Poets, California State Poetry Quarterly, Catalyst, Dan River Anthology, Georgia Journal, Gray's Sporting Journal, Howling Dog, Impetus, Manifestations, Mountaineer Times, Nectar Connection, Parnassus, Poetalk, The Old Red Kimono, The Reach of Song, The Rising Cost of Getting By, Trout, Red Mountain Rendezvous, Shout Them from the Mountaintops, Skylark, and Southern Poetry Association Presents. Mainstreet Rag Press, Charlotte, NC, released his third book of poetry, The Seventh Deadliest Fear, in August, 2010. Essays have appeared in The Officer magazine and as an op-ed piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution .To order copies of John’s books, go to: http://www.amazon.com/John-K.-Ottley-Jr./e/B001K8ZUL0. J. E. Harris’ profile (cont’d. from p. 9)
J. E. Harris is a freelance writer and editor who has written for a variety of publications including The Boston Globe, Homeopathy Today, and The Middletown Press. She has been featured in The New York Times Connecticut Section and is a lifetime Connecticut resident, where she lives with her husband and three daughters. K. C. Austin’s profile (cont’d. from p. 20)
K.C. Austin lives in Independence, Missouri with her husband and their three wonderful children. She is the Resident Lighting Designer and board member for Journeyman Theatre Company in Kansas City. All art forms are a passion of hers, but no other art thrills her more than writing and theatre.
TOUGH LIT. IV
Calling Cards (cont’d. from p. 5) On sentencing day I stood with Dolan at the end of Pier One and watched the BPD Marine Unit’s dive team at work, with Fort McHenry in the background. Bobbing for bodies, one cop called it. After about two hours a diver’s head bobbed up on the harbor surface and his hand shot up. Clinton Street ends on a spit of land named Lazaretto Point, but Clarke didn’t walk out of his watery grave. He was wrapped up by cable and weights that held him down like a buoy, but without enough slack to float on the surface. The autopsy determined he’d been thrown in alive. Jim Dore had signed up for a vacation cruise that sailed the day his letter to me was postmarked. Somewhere between Baltimore and Bermuda, Dore went overboard for a midnight swim. Annette Clarke moved out of state after she buried her husband. No exit for me. Dolan was right. It all led to a dead end. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder. Were we all set up by Annette? 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.
Frozen Stiff (cont’d. from p. 7) “Karma’s a bitch.” I couldn’t form words to contradict them. I could only listen to their wrong conclusions. Jack stole nothing. We never rented a jet ski. If they had been smarter, they would have seen by the scars on Jack’s body that they didn’t result from any modern day surgical tool. My Jack was an old soul. He’d survived a cataclysmic disaster and beat the odds—for awhile. But, the Grim Reaper eventually finds out he was cheated and stacks the deck. And then he flips a card. Game Over. Yet, my little girl was born. She was christened Carma Mae B. And I’ll tell her about her daddy someday, a pioneer in cyrogenics, a success story in cyrogenics for awhile. Now I ring my bell with my teeth to summon Mildred. Riki Vogel is the author of Secrets, Lies, and Grace which is available through Comfort Publishing. She has written numerous non-fiction narratives and now tries her hand at fiction.
Why You Worry? (cont’d. from p. 11) departure might appear to be a bad idea to some people (namely, my parents, close friends, and anyone who with a scrap of common sense). I would, after all, be the only woman in the lodge. On the other hand, my pride prevented me from leaving early, and I had already paid for my last day at the lodge. Besides, I had reluctantly decided that it was pretty peaceful hanging out on the river. And that was how I ended up on Day 5 of the Survivor Tour. The last day, it turned out, wasn’t anything particularly exciting or dangerous: my guides gave me the options of going alligator or wild boar hunting, but I declined in favor of going on another canoe ride with the new tour group. My new group consisted of John, an American graduate student, and a German-American man named Magnus who had lived in San Diego for fifty years but had the strongest German accent I’ve ever heard. This canoe ride was much less uneventful; our guide was a man named Michael who wore a camouflage T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Soldier For Jesus” on it. Michael didn’t seem inclined to catch any sloths or baby monkeys, much to my relief. We did, however, visit a beautiful jungle lodge about an hour down the river. “If you ever come back to the Amazon,” Michael said, “You should stay here.” Then we paused for a few minutes to appreciate the beauty of the competition. I took an extra moment to appreciate the irony of a jungle tour company that flat-out acknowledges their complete lack of repeat business, and goes as far as to make recommendations for future trips. VOL 6, ISSUE 6
That night, we went to a different location for the campsite. “Katy’s already seen the other campsite,” Michael explained. As if there was something to see at the campsites – once our guides had cleared an area in the dense forest, it was like being surrounded by walls of foliage. Again, not very eco-friendly, what with the deforestation and all, but perhaps this was why they didn’t anticipate any repeat visits. I have to admit, though, that I was feeling pretty bad-ass, being the only person in the tour who had ever camped in the Amazon before. Sure, there were only three of us, and sure, it had only been once the night before, but I was the veteran of the group, and I savored my authority. Or I did until our boat landed, and I was expected to help build our shelter for the evening. I thought wistfully of the Swedes, who had done all the work the previous day (the Russians had swung around on the branches like monkeys, and although they seemed to interpret this as helpful, the Swedes still did all the work). We built a rough frame to hang the hammocks on, which seemed to be a rather precarious sleeping arrangement, but Michael assured me that it would be fine. “We can swim by the waterfall,” he suggested as I wiped the sweat off my brow. “I don’t have a swimsuit.” “We just go with no clothes, then.” “When hell freezes over.” Magnus, meanwhile, was not very happy about the camping arrangements. “Vhat the hell is dis?” he said in disgust, his German accent sounding angrier than usual as he stared at the hammock arrangements. “I did not pay to sleep like crap in dis… hovel.” When Michael began protesting, Magnus held up his hand and shook his head. “Don’t vorry, don’t vorry. I vill just take some Valium.” Michael turned out to be a much more considerate tour guide than Joshua; for starters, he carved us all wooden spoons to eat our dinner with. “Let me see yours?” John said. “Hey, Michael,” John said, “how come my spoon isn’t carved with ‘Marry me my love?’” “Shut up,” I muttered, snatching my spoon back and glaring at Michael. Michael, undeterred, pulled out his guitar (or some kind of similar instrument) and began singing love songs. “I think you’re being serenaded,” John whispered, standing up. As he stood, he smacked the back of his head against one of the logs jutting out from the hammock structure. “Vatch it!” Magnus shouted. “I am trying to rest. Vhat is so hard to understand about that?” Michael ignored him and began singing a creation story, which talked about the world beginning in the jungle and people spreading across the world from the Amazon. It was a beautiful song, and I closed my eyes to listen to it. I was broken out of my reverie within moments by Magnus. “I’m sorry, my friend,” Magnus shouted from the hammock, “But that’s crap. The world didn’t begin in the Amazon. There is scientific evidence to the contrary. The human race was born in Africa.” Michael’s playing faltered briefly. “It is my story,” he said determinedly. “It is our creation.” “Nope, it’s crap,” Magnus said. “Bull crap. Not true. Fictional. Ask anyvone. Load of uneducated bull crap.” “Hey, Magnus,” I said. “Shut up.” “Maybe he’ll pass out from mixing Valium with cachaza,” John whispered hopefully. “Michael, it’s a beautiful song,” I said firmly. “Keep playing.” Michael’s eyes lit up with the praise and switched to a song about undying love. “Haha,” John laughed, “looks like you’re a sucker.” The night continued with guitar playing and the three men drinking cachaza. I politely declined, thinking that the last thing I needed was alcohol provided by my enamored tour guide. That was before I met The Spider. I excused myself to brush my teeth and take my malarial pills, and when I reached into my backpack, I felt my hand brush against something fuzzy. When I shined my headlight on my pack, what I saw made me scream bloody murder. It was a bird-
eating tarantula. Its body was the size of my fist, the whole spider the size of my face. It was monstrous. It was furry. And it was in my backpack. When I screamed, Michael, Magnus, and John came running. I stuttered incoherently, almost in tears. “Spider,” I said, “spider spider spider spider spider.” Kathleen Miller is a medical student at the University of Iowa. She has traveled extensively throughout Latin America, and is currently trying to stay in one place long enough to finish her degree.
Live Another Day, Part 2 (cont’d. from p. 18) “We usually say ‘car.’ “No, we did not have an automobile. We did have a horse and a mule, and a cart for dry, even sojourns. The terrain in China could be so difficult, don’t you know. One could never have driven a horseless carriage on some of those roads. Well, not roads exactly. Sometimes just a narrow dirt path that turned into a river of mud during the rainy season, and the road was often on the side of a steep mountain, and . . . And automobiles are so expensive! “No, we did not have much money. Just enough to subsist. Oh, more than the peasants. They considered us to be wealthy. And we were wealthy, compared to the poor Chinese peasants. But then everything was not so dear as it was in the United States. Well, as I say, our costs were not as expensive in China as they were in the United States. Why, we could buy a whole big pig for just a small handful of copper cash. Of course, one would never buy a suckling. They are just too darling for words, are they not? I am told they are delicious to eat, but I could never, ever eat a piglet. The Chinese never cooked piglets. Much too little meat. It made more sense for the peasants to feed piglets until they were grown. It did not cost very much to feed them. Pigs will eat almost anything. And adult pigs can be sold for much more money and can feed many more people. “But the peasants did not eat meat except on great holidays. Meat was too dear. They could not afford to eat it whenever they wished. The Chinese peasant hardly ever ate meat, poultry, or fish. Many of them were Buddhists, also, and Buddhists do not eat living things for religious reasons. Did you know that Buddhists believe that we live again and again? I wonder if I am going to live again. Did you know that Buddhists believe that if we are not good people we can come back in our next life as animals? That is why they do not eat meat or fish. I wonder if I would come back as an animal if I were a Buddhist. I think I would not mind coming back as an elephant. It must be pleasant to be an elephant. Do you not think so as well? But I certainly would not want to return as a rat, would you? Are you listening Anne?” “Yes. Hanging on every word. Please go on.” “’Hanging on every word’—what an interesting phraseology. I am learning something from you at last. “You know it is not easy for town people such as Frank and I to slaughter animals, even if we are hungry. We are not used to doing such things. And pigs! Adult pigs are very intelligent and can become like members of one’s household if one is not careful. Much more intelligent than dogs. How could one possibly slaughter such an animal! But what is tastier than bacon? “The Chinese had no such scruples about killing their animals. ‘When life is hard, it is difficult to be soft,’ is what Frank would say in defense of the Chinese peasant. Frank had such a way with words, did he not? Yes, he did, my dear Frank. And he learned the Chinese language more easily than I. Oh, I could say enough phrases that the church women and household help knew what needed to be done.” The question momentarily crossed Anne’s mind whether she would rather be insane or be living in a house haunted by this talkative, cranky ghost. But she asked, “Since you were a missionary, I assume you were religious. How come you’re not in Heaven or Hell? Why are you just hanging around here?” 24
“’Hanging around here’—another colorful phrase. Well, it may very well be that my Soul—that is, Soul with a capital S, don’t you know, is in Heaven. I wonder if my big Soul consorts with the angels. Oh, I should not think my Soul is in Hell. I was certainly not a perfect living being, but I tried very, very hard to do what was right. No, I do not think my Soul is in Hell. I do not think I would be allowed to communicate with you, if that were so. One of the most severe punishments of Hell is that you burn all alone without any knowledge of others burning with you. All alone for eternity. Did you know that? I do not know how I know that. I believe it is true. Do you think it is so? At any rate, my small soul is very much present. So I cannot believe that my big Soul is in Hell. No, that cannot be. You were not suggesting that, I am sure.” “No, of course not. I would never suggest that. But who’s allowing you to—I mean, who told you to communicate with me? What do you want? What are you doing here? Most important, why am I in danger?” Anne demanded. Though still a little frightened, she was becoming slightly annoyed by the chatty ghost. “No need to be snitty, dear, but the answer to your question is quite simple, and an answer that I have already told you. I do not exactly know. Well, no. I must be precise. I certainly know why I am here. I have just forgotten why for the moment. But is it not interesting that I have suddenly been able to communicate with a living being? Oh, I have to tell you something very important. I wish I could remember . . . “Oh, praise be to God! I remember! Anne, I am communicating to you because I am to tell you that you are in danger and you have a very, very important task.” Mary’s voice suddenly became deep as if weighed down by a terrible sadness. “It is a very, very important task that you must accomplish, and it will be life-threatening, I am afraid. Yes, you have the right to know that it will be very dangerous. But it must be done and it must be done by you.” Anne had just begun to relax before Mary cried she’d remembered. Now she shook off a new frisson of fear. Her mind raced again. “This is all a dream,” she insisted. “I haven’t bought a haunted house. This must be a dream,” she kept insisting to herself, but she said, “I don’t understand any of this, but go ahead. You may as well keep going. Tell me. What am I supposed to do for you? Why is it dangerous? Why me?’” ‘‘Why do you insist that you are dreaming? It is very irritating. I assure you that you are not dreaming. It is very counter-productive to think such thoughts. Do you not love that phrase: counter-productive. Yes I very much like that phrase. All of us often act in a counter-productive manner, do we not?” “For example, you’re not getting to the point.” “Oh, my! A viper’s tongue, have we? Very well, if you do not wish to be instructed. Here it is. I am very definitely here talking to you. You are not dreaming. Oh, and it is not for me you have to accomplish this task. It is for you and the living,” Mary continued, but her tone was sad and the quiver had come back. “I do not know why it is you who must do it. But you must do it. You really have no choice.” “Just a second! Hold on! I don’t remember an awful lot from my catechism classes when I was a kid at St. Vincent’s Grammar School, but I do remember that we have a free will. That’s one of the things that make us different from other animals. So I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. And why would I do something that’s dangerous? That’s not who I am. I don’t avoid confrontation when it hits me over the head, but I don’t go looking for trouble either. And I can’t be forced into doing what I don’t want to do. That’s not me, either.” “Well, that may be so. No external factor will force you to do it. However, a confluence of circumstances—Listen to that! Do you not love that phrase? I wonder if I became an intellectual after my death. I would never have used such a phrase in life. I never even knew the word, ‘confluence.’ It is a pretty word, is it not? Frank loved words. He was very fine at word games. I was far better at athletic games. Not that I was ignorant. No, I was not ignorant, but I certainly was not as well-educated as Frank, or you, for that matter. Now what was I telling you…?
TOUGH LIT. IV
“Oh, yes, I remember. Perhaps death makes one more intellectual and articulate—Was I not saying that? Yes, I remember: a confluence of circumstances, your own personality, and conscience will compel you to take on the task. It is inescapable.” “This is a dream or I’m hallucinating,” Anne insisted again. “A ghost comes in the middle of the night and tells me I have to take on a job that is vital to the human race, but dangerous. So dangerous I could die doing it?” Anne suddenly had an idea. She said, “And if I say, ‘No,’ I’ll bet I can just fall back to sleep. And that’ll be it. When I wake up in the morning, this is going to seem like a very strange dream.” “No, dear, in the morning you will be planning your trip to China,” Mary answered. * * * Hong Kong The young man stood in front of the desk, if he was nervous he didn’t show it. “Have you any message for my Master?” He asked in the Mandarin dialect. “Yes. Here it is.” The handsome older man rose from behind the desk, pulled a pistol from the desk drawer, and shot the younger man in the head. The sound from the silencer was hardly more than a pop. A woman opened the office door. She turned and motioned with her hand. Two burly men came through the door with a black body bag. “Get rid of the chair and clean up here,” the handsome man said as he strode out the door. “You come with me,” he ordered the woman. “I have some letters to dictate. They’re to go out today. Oh, and e-mail the Master and give him my message.” Even before the sky had begun to lighten Anne Forsythe was out in her back garden, on her knees, and digging next to the stump of an oak tree. ‘China!’ she grunted more than once, as she dug into the hard soil. The rubber gloves her sister, Cath, had given her when she visited last week were too large and made her hands sweat, and the plastic dish drain under her knees was uncomfortable. She kept thinking, ‘Of course it would be China that would be in my dream. I’m a Sinologist, for Heaven’s sake. So of course it would be China; it certainly wouldn’t be Bulgaria or Kenya!’ The ground was hard so it took effort to dig into the dark soil. “Mary said it was between the two big roots that point toward the street. And it wasn’t too far down because she was too ill and too weak to dig a deep hole. Well, it better not be deep. I’ll need something better than this thing.” Anne didn’t have a shovel or any gardening tools, but was chipping away at the compact dirt with a large stainless steel meat fork. She’d loosened the dirt in an area about a foot square and dug down about three inches. Some minutes later she had dug down two more inches. She’d been tamping the sides of the hole with her fingers to keep the sides neat and prevent dirt from falling in, but then she stopped. ‘OCD,’ she warned herself. ‘OCD,’ she kept repeating. ‘It doesn’t have to be neat,’ she said as she, nonetheless, tamped a small avalanche of dirt from falling back into the hole. Next, she used a big serving spoon to loosen the dirt that was becoming softer as she dug deeper. She became so wrapped up in her work. She even allowed the dirt sides to partially collapse back into the hole. The sky in the East was just turning blue. Sweat dripped off her forehead. Her underarms felt clammy and damp. She deepened the hole a bit more, then sat back on her heels. “It was a hundred years ago. There used to be a flower bed here. Somebody already found it. There’s nothing here,” Anne said to herself. “I must be going nuts to be doing this in the first place!” Anne actually felt a wave of relief that she was sane enough to make such a judgment, but was surprised that she was also slightly disappointed. “It must have been a stupid dream,” she kept insisting. But she hadn’t gone back to sleep after Mary’s voice unexpectedly faded away in the middle of a sentence last night. She had tried, but she couldn’t fall back to sleep. After Mary left, Anne had paced the bedroom for a while. She swept away the notion she was going insane, even as she realized an insane VOL 6, ISSUE 6
person would do just that. “Insanity would make the most sense,” she argued with herself. “Hearing a voice in my head. The voice talking about China. I’ve gone crazy. How sad,” Anne thought. “Thirty-ish, not badlooking, money in the bank, a new house. Poor Anne. She’d almost had it all, even a husband. And now here she is on the verge of lunacy. It’s all Eric’s fault. Not Gammy’s. She can’t help it. I’ve got to find out about my birth parents. Was one of them crazy? She said she’d help me. Oh, Gammy.” Anne decided she was working herself into a real panic, and she should stop digging and go into the house and get ready to go to school to give her last class of the semester. It was after six o’clock and the whole sky was brightening. She was going to have her usual bowl of oatmeal, and put on a pot of coffee. Doing ordinary things would clear her mind. She’d give her class and clean her office. Maybe later, if she felt like it, she’d come home and dig some more. If she found nothing, she’d fill the hole back up and try to forget everything. Maybe she’d get away for a few days. If she found something, she’d deal with it. No matter what it took. Suddenly she heard a “Hello there.” The soft voice came from behind her and to the right. She looked up. A short Asian man was standing in the yard next door watching her. It was her neighbor, John Lu. The thought flashed by her mind that she should have knocked on the Lu’s door to introduce herself weeks ago. She’d seen them now and then when she and Eric came to work on the house. They’d all smiled and waved at each other, but they never actually spoke. Anne sprang to her feet and walked over to the brick wall separating their two properties. After their introductions, John said, ‘You’re an early bird, too. Are you planting something?’ Anne could hear a hint of a foreign accent in his light voice. “Oh, yeah,” she said. Her mind raced, looking for a lie. “I’m having that ugly tree stump over there removed and I’m digging up the violets and replanting them before the workmen tear them out. I hope I can keep them alive. I’m not very good at it—keeping things alive, that is. I can’t tell you how many plants, goldfish, and guppies have died in my care. I don’t know why. And I wouldn’t dare get a dog or cat. It’s a good thing I don’t have kids!” She chattered on, feeling like an idiot. John just smiled at her. He said, “Please excuse me for interfering, but I do not believe this is the time of the year to re-plant.” “Oh, I’m utterly hopeless when it comes to gardening,” Anne held up her arms in surrender. “I’m sure you’re right. I couldn’t sleep any longer thinking about my endangered violets. I just had to come out and replant them. I’d hate to lose them. There’s only a few of them, but they make the whole backyard smell wonderful.” “My wife—her name is Georgia—works in our garden. Maybe she knows what to do. She is still sleeping. But it’s probably best to ask at a gardening store, don’t you think?” John smiled again. “I am happy to meet you. Please excuse me for rushing off. I have an early breakfast appointment in Queens and I must take my car. Traffic into New York begins so early. It was nice meeting you. And welcome to the neighborhood.” John Lu turned and walked to one of the Volkswagons in his driveway. After he drove away, Anne returned to the tree trunk and sank back down on her knees. She peered up at the sky hoping that God or her guardian angel or Mary or something would tell her what to do. She waited a moment, then looked up at the brightening sky. “Give me a sign,” she murmured, and waited again. Nothing. Then she just shrugged. “Enough!” She decided. “This is crazy. I’ve got to stop right now. She gazed into the shallow hole. “Well, maybe one last try…” Anne lunged deep into the dirt with the meat fork and suddenly struck something hard… (What mystery does Anne uncover? To be continued in our next issue…) Marcelline Jenny lives in New Hampshire where she concentrates on writing fiction. Her first two books are thrillers. The first, Live Another Day (featured here), draws on her knowledge of Chinese History, particularly the First Emperor who was the initial builder of the Great Wall of China.
Tales of horror have been with us since the dawn of time. They give us a healthy respect for danger, teach values, and help us face – even mock – death. While terror is rooted in conditions that exist in the external world, horror comes from the darkness that dwells inside us. What is it that makes us want to hear, read, watch, and write horror stories? When you have completed this course, you should be able to:
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Recognize the elements of a horror story and how it differs from other writing genre Understand why the horror genre has remained so popular down through the ages Identify the elements that make horror classics such as The Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street and Dracula so chilling Try new techniques for writing the things that scare you, eerie events, and horrible happenings Analyze the masters of horror and understand why they wrote what they did Explore the Gothic Movement and the works of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, and Bram Stoker Be familiar with the three main groups of horror: psychological, allegorical, and sociological Spin a tale that will be so gripping your readers will be afraid to venture out into the night Effectively use the essential ingredients of horror writing to create great settings and atmosphere Artfully use words that spark anxiety and panic in readers Invent creepy, twisted characters and riveting action Learn how to structure your plot so that the story flows from beginning to end Intensify story conflict, create tension, dilemma, cliffhangers, and suspense Use dialogue to reveal a character’s evil motives, set a frightening mood, create fear, and heighten suspense Break bad habits such as clichés, mixed metaphors, vague language, redundancy, and passive voice Learn basic rules for horror writing that will allow your story to be more readily translated into a screenplay Get helpful tips on submitting your stories for peer review, benefiting from critique, writing queries to publishers, and posting on blogs and horror literature sites. Gain insights on how to market, pitch, and promote your horror story
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