Wednesday, November 28, 2007
by Sandra Seamans
Widmore Cemetery. I can feel the chilling thoughts of the dead creeping out of their graves and into the frigid air of a full moon midnight. You know the kind of night -- frost on the pumpkins, cold shimmering off granite headstones and ice in the blood.
While I was being released from prison this afternoon, they buried my childhood friend, Arnie Tate, somewhere in all this bleakness. Missing the funeral services didn’t bother me none. Arnie killed our friendship years ago.
I've managed to hang onto a few good memories. Me and Arnie riding our bikes out to Skidder's Pond, skinny dipping with the Anderson twins, sampling our first taste of a girl's body. Those were the growing up days. Days full of sunshine and wonderment. Good memories that I pushed aside to nurse the bruise of memories Arnie smashed into my skull. Arnie, my friend, whose appetite for sampling shredded my life.
For twenty years, I fondled those fetid memories, savoring the hatred knocking about in my brain. Prison years, spent honing my revenge on those Polaroid moments of my wife, in bed with my best friend. Arnie, screaming "sorry" as I shouldered the shotgun. Arnie, tripping as he tried to pull on his jeans. Arnie, running out of the house as I pulled the trigger. Arnie, leaving me alone to watch Cora Sue’s blood splatter across the soiled sheets.
Never once during my trial did I point a finger in Arnie's direction. My silence convicting me. What else could I do? Arnie was married to my kid sister, Emmy. I couldn't destroy Arnie without killing my sister’s happiness. Family is all the truth a man can count on in this world. Family is what roots a man, gives him hope, keeps him steady when he’s facing the storms of life.
Arnie never understood that the only reason he wasn't dead, was Emmy. I couldn't believe it when he came traipsing up to the prison, trying to beg my forgiveness. Telling me, he'd found Jesus. Jesus. Hell, every convict in a prison cell finds Jesus. He's the patron saint of parole board hearings. I held my temper, something prison life has taught me well, along with patience. I told Arnie that if he'd really found Jesus, he ought to be begging Emmy's forgiveness, not mine.
Arnie's grave ain't hard to find. The glare of the moonlight shining the way to a pile of hard scrabble dirt hidden by a crazy quilt of wilted florist's flowers. I ain't the only one who's come out for a midnight stroll in this cold bit of hell. Emmy's here, waiting for me, knowing I’d come when no one else was around. I wrap her in my arms, trying to warm us both.
“What Arnie did was wrong, Jesse,” said Emmy, breaking the silence that hung between us.
“You think I don’t know that?”
“You should have told me.”
“Yeah, right, Emmy. You were pregnant with Billy. Was I supposed to risk your baby just to even things up with Arnie?”
“No, I guess not. You know, I put up with Arnie’s skirting around for twenty years, Jesse. Him bedding every woman in the county, me forgiving him. When he got down on his knees and confessed that he'd slept with Cora Sue, well, I just couldn’t find it in me to forgive him anymore.”
“I guess it’s good he’s dead then.”
“I suppose so. I do find it comforting though, that Arnie found Jesus before he won that hunting trip. At least God could forgive him, even if we couldn’t," said Emmy. "Do you remember your friend, Carl, the prison guard who almost got killed in the prison riot? He came to the funeral today. Such a kind man, paying to have Arnie’s body shipped home. I tried to thank him, but he just shrugged it off. Said he owed you one, for saving his life."
Emmy took my hand as we walked toward the cemetery gate. “Don’t you find it strange that a friend of yours owned the hunting lodge where Arnie was killed?”
“Life’s pretty strange, all on its own, without trying to make sense of how the pieces fall together. There's just no way of knowing up front, how the twists in your life are gonna play out.”
BIO: Sandra's stories can be found in "The Ex Factor Anthology", Mouth Full of Bullets, and Crime and Suspense.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
He stepped over empty milk bottles onto the welcome mat.
A woman opened the door. Blonde curls spiraled down her white T-shirt and spools held rolls of hair against her head. Smoke scattered off the tip of her cigarette into the wind.
“Good afternoon!” He brushed a hat from his scalp. “Is your husband home?”
“Not yet. Can I help you?”
“My name’s Wallace. And I’m going around the neighborhood to show families how they can save hours every day with a simple little gizmo from the Midwestern Machine Company. Want to see a free demonstration?”
She backed away from the door. Reaching behind her head to pull out a curler, she said, “Why not?”
Inside, an oatmeal davenport faced the picture window. Pewter lampshades stood on glass end tables. A cream sideboard sat against an empty stucco walls.
He unrobed the vacuum from its canvas bag, found an electrical outlet, then plugged it in. She stood beside him, removing her last curlers.
When he stomped on the button, the vacuum gave a loud, buzzing whine.
She jolted and grabbed his arm.
“Sorry.” He shouted. “The contraption’s a little loud, but that’s because of all the sucking power. I should have warned you.”
Nodding, she unclenched her grip on him. Then smiled.
He pulled the vacuum back and forth a couple times then turned it off. “See? It’s all right. Now, say you got a real mess on the floor?”
“In my hand I’ve got a can of coffee grounds and if it’s okay, I’m going to sprinkle a little on your carpet?”
“You’ll see: the Midwestern Machine Company vacuum takes it all away. You have the company guarantee on that.”
He cast a cloud of black grains onto the carpet. After it settled, he turned on the vacuum and ran it over the dark shape. Each sweep with the vacuum left a clean swath. “Good as new.”
She nodded. “I see that.”
“You like to give it a try?”
She shook her head. “No thanks.”
He smiled. “No, go on. It’s easy.”
When she held the handle, he saw her wedding ring. Its diamond looked like a square drop of water clung between metal pins.
“Okay?” He tapped the power button with his toe and when she jumped from the noise, he touched her arm and smiled.
She stretched her arm out and flexed back, drawing the vacuum over a patch of carpet.
“There you go,” he said, giving her shoulder a light squeeze with his hand then resting it there. “You got it.”
He watched her push and pull the vacuum again, his hand on her shoulder. She drew the vacuum upright and stood still. His toe tapped the vacuum off.
“Can I get you a drink?” She nodded to the sideboard.
“I’d love one.”
She walked to the sideboard and she stirred together two mai tais. Tropical juices seeped into rum, melting the ice cubes in the glass. Handing one to him she said, “Please. Call me Myrna. “
“Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.” He took a sip and winced.
“Where you from? Skokie? Cedar Rapids?” she asked, sitting beside him and touching his arm.
“Midwestern Machine Company. Don’t really have a home if the closest thing is my car or the nearest general delivery window.”
“Oh, you must be lonely.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “A little.”
He reached over and hugged her. He smelled her soap and talcum powder scents.
Rubbing his cheek against hers, his lips brushed hers. Her lips pressed back.
“Do you want to go somewhere more comfortable?”
She took his hand and lead him down the hall to the bedroom. Once inside, she took his head in her hands and kissed him hard. Then she pulled his jacket off and started unbuttoning his shirt.
He pulled at her T-shirt, untucking it and lifting it away.
They were still undressing when they slid onto the bed.
Later, they rested in a snarl of blankets.
She rolled over, curving her spine to bend away from him and wrapping her arms and legs against her stomach.
“I’m a whore.”
“Please. Don’t say that.”
She flinched when he put his hand on her shoulder.
When she started to cry silently, the bed shook. The room was quiet except for her panting breath. “I was just so lonely, I took you in here.”
She stopped crying. Then she uncurled and snuggled up to him. “I’m sorry.”
“Where’s your husband?”
“Do you have kids?”
“She’s at Girl Scout camp.” She let him comb her hair with his fingers and dot her face with his kisses. “I should be cleaning the house while it’s empty. Instead, I want to just hold onto you.”
He touched her neck. A strawberry-speckled mark slashed her skin. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I’d leave a mark.”
She giggled. “Just like teenagers.”
“Will makeup hide it? Or maybe, could you cover it up with a bandage and say you cut yourself?”
“Don’t worry. Who’s going to notice?” She reached for her cigarette case and matches, then lit up. The match dropped into a teacup on the carpet. The cup was filled with blackheaded matchsticks. “What are you looking at?”
He smiled. “You.”
Rolling her eyes, she shook her head,
She covered her eyes with a hand. “No, I’m not.”
“Your skin, it’s so beautiful.”
He reached out to touch her cheek, but she knocked his hand away.
“Stop,” she said then rolled over, turning her back to him. “This can’t be the first time you’ve done this. I’m not anything special to you.”
He looked out the bedroom window. Flowers wilted in the backyard garden and socks hung pinned halfway across a clothesline.
“When does your husband get home?”
“Tomorrow, probably late.”
“Tomorrow? Where is he?”
She bunched the sheet tightly around herself. “Working. He’s a traveling salesman.”
BIO: Last year, Adam was a judge for the PWA's Shamus award for best short story. This year, he was a panelist at Bouchercon. He eats, drinks, and is merry in the Twin Cities. Check out his website at www.adammcfarlane.com
Monday, November 12, 2007
Greetings all.Over the past year I have recieved many submissions that were longer than the guideline for my flash fiction site - Powder Burn Flash.
So, after much thought I decided to open an additional venue for writers wishing to explore their stories more indepth. Tonight I have opened Darkest Before the Dawn. This site is open to short story submissions up 10,000 words in length.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Picture night was Tuesday. In a nissen hut left over from the war, price fourpence. It was run by a middle-aged bloke with some dreary girl supposed to be his daughter, though our gang leader Frank Blunt swore she was really his tart. This bloke drove around all the local villages with projector and reels bunged in the back of an old van. He always wore a penguin suit and bow tie. "Keeping up standards," he said when Frank Blunt once asked him why; we had no idea what he meant.The daughter-tart would try to flog us chocolate bars and crisps. Most of us brought our own, or had run out of pocket-money by Tuesday, and she had no sex-appeal by which to lure us, so her sales never amounted to much. The same stuff probably went round the villages week after week. I once lashed out on a bag of broken crisps; they tasted like fried sawdust.
The programme never varied. First, a newsreel, Movietone or Pathé, usually months old, showing some Royal opening a factory or Britain stunning the world with a new invention or the latest daring Paris fashions. We talked and jeered through them, except when there was a football or cricket clip. Then a stupid Disney cartoon. After that, a short Western with Tom Mix or Bill Boyd sorting out the villains, though they were too tame: nobody was ever killed in them. But at least they beat the ones with the singing cowboys, Gene Autry or Tex Ritter or Roy Rogers and Trigger the effing wonder Horse as Frank Blunt shouted out under the cover of darkness.
Between the Western and the big picture, there came the most popular item: the serial. The bloke was crafty. He knew we wouldn't miss an episode, so we'd be there every week even if we weren't bothered about the main film. The one I'll never forget was called The Scorpion. It was named after the villain, who for unknown reasons always went around in a black cape and mask with his left hand and arm held across his face. He never actually did much, except kidnap some millionaire's daughter for ransom or threaten to blow up half London if his latest demands were not met. He was regularly outwitted by a posh-talking hero with hair-oil and a cravat, helped by some twat of a boy assistant whom we always heckled.
After months and months, we were all there for the last episode. I'd had to steal the fourpence from my mother's purse. By now, it was clear to the thickest that the Scorpion was in fact the smiling know-it-all doctor to whom the hero always turned for help with bullet wounds or antidotes to poisons. When his picture was flashed up with the others in the opening credits, the other kids booed loudly, drowning out Frank Blunt's attempt at a rival cheer.
The Scorpion was finally cornered and unmasked on a roof-top somewhere in London - a lot of the serial seemed to take place on roof-tops there, very exotic to most of the audience who had never been to London, or on many roof-tops either. Right to the end, he had the arm and hand over his face. Just before this, he had captured the boy assistant and was about to order his associates to throw him off the roof, something I wish we'd have seen, if the hero didn't move back. But they got the arm down and the mask off, and the evil doctor got a final round of boos when carted away by some bobbies who'd materialised out of nowhere.
Not much of an ending, really. Frank Blunt swore there was a special adult version which showed the Scorpion being hung in his full outfit, and he would get his dad to buy a print and show it us. Nobody had much faith in this, especially since the Scorpion had never bumped anyone off. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't hope it was true, but of course no such special version ever appeared.
Anyway, Frank Blunt had been scooped. When the lights came on for the usual reel change between serial and big picture, a figure dashed through the hall got up to look like the Scorpion. We gave the bloke a good cheer for this gimmick. Except that it wasn't the bloke at all, since they found him dead in the projection room. The girl was soon arrested and in the dock for murder. From what the newspapers and the village bobby let on, he'd been knocked out and suffocated by the bow-tie stuck down his throat. Most sensationally, they'd found his wedding-tackle cut off and left on the projector.
It turned out that the girl was both his daughter and his tart, and she'd had enough. This was her lawyer's defence. We'd once heard a grown-up reckon she was this, but that sort of idea was too advanced for even Frank Blunt to take in. In those days, though, that didn't cut the ice the way it would now, and the judge was keen on the black wig and the "...Hanged by the neck until you are dead" speech, so the girl was sentenced to an eight am date with Albert Pierpoint the executioner. Along with Frank Blunt's speculations about what she wore on the gallows, there was a bit of sympathy for her in the gang hut, not a lot, since that was the end of our Tuesday pictures.
Monday, November 5, 2007
"This Christmas is mine," said Mary Caster in a Don't Argue voice. "I deserve it, pregnant right through the hottest summer ever and looking like hell in those maternity tents. So, clothes, clothes, clothes, now the kid is off the tit and I've got a figure again."
"Yes, dear," replied Joe, his mock meekness concealing the real thing.
"Personally I'd settle for a roll in the hay. It's been a long time between drinks..."
"We'll see." Mary's tone implied that they wouldn't.
Joe thought he must be the first husband in history whose wife had gone straight from honeymoon hysterics through pregnancy panicking to post-partum blues.
The limousine stopped outside the Casters' house, an Eighties conversion from some old stables. Without turning his head, the driver said, "I was wondering if you'd be taking a cab back after? That way, I could get off home. I've got three brothers in from the East and..."
"Forget it," grunted his employer from the back. "Getting a cab on Christmas Eve is a mega-hassle. Call your brothers on the car phone. You'll be okay here, it's not a cold night."
The driver might have argued, but his employer had already switched targets. "Have you got the damn presents, Liz?" He was still churning over the bum who'd almost forced his way into the limo, whining for change. "Look, fella," he'd said, resisting the urge to signal the driver to show him the gun that was always ready, "We've just been to a hundred buck plate charity raiser for guys like you. What more do you want?"
"Yes, Gabe. Rolex for him, fancy perfume for her."
"Nothing for the damn kid?"Her laugh was partly genuine. "Damn kid? And you the President of Toys For Tots! No, of course not. He's only a tiny baby. He doesn't know it's Christmas. Mary won't be expecting us to bring him anything."
"Well, I hope you're right. From what Joe says, she's absolutely stuck on the little sucker."
"Joe has to say that."
They penetrated what was now the Casters' family room. The driver had been left in the car, the snowboots in the hall. Presents were exchanged to contrapuntal Oh, You Shouldn't Haves.
"Smell this perfume, Joe."
"Great. That'll cover a multitude. See this watch. Real gold, Gabe?"
"The best plastic can buy. Help you start getting to the office on time."
Gabe looked at Mary and Joe's other presents. "Jeez, you guys did well. Got the goods on Santa, or what?"
"No, she's got the goods on me. It's mostly hers. Still, I'll say it before she does. She deserves it, after the year she's had."
"Yeah, well, people deserve to get what they deserve."
"That reminds me, where is the little monster?"
"Isn't that him over there?" Gabe's tone would have sounded almost wistful to anyone who had been listening.
Finger over mouth, Mary led them to where a blue bundle lay supine in an otherwise empty playpen.
"See, he's fine. Now come and have a drink, or the food'll be ready before we are. Christmas, who invented it?" Mary glanced at the bundle whose chubby hands were now exploring a red bow tied around its neck.
"I tell you, we're only doing this for its sake."
"What's Christmas without children?" Three of the four knew that it was actually Gabe's child; none of them were sure if the fourth did.
"That's right," said Liz, who had discreetly aborted Joe's child on the very day blue bundle was born, "that's what it's all about. Come on, Mother Mary, where's that drink?"
When the driver burst into the room with gun in hand, just as the local churches were starting to ring out midnight, mad as hell and not going to take it any more, he wasn't sure if he was glad or sorry to find the job already done for him, thanks to the punch which had been lethally spiked by that fourth person.