Good Beginnings: Fair Shopping

Good beginnings.

It’s something so delicious and delicate.

And dangerous.

Zipper down. Spinach-infested smiles. Eye boogers. Toilet paper stuck to… well, just stuck.

First impression failures line my history well.

Then there are those winning first shots.

Wind causes hair to blow lavishly behind face. Sunlight making eyes radiant. Body odor: good.

Point being, good beginnings can happen as random as bad ones.

And when it comes to good beginnings with stories, I have bucketloads. Trunk-novel-loads, in fact. Many still stuck in the mucus of my hippocampus.

What to do with good story beginnings? Write long epic novels, of course.

The frustrating part about these good story beginnings is that they don’t always promise a good long ending.

That’s what happened to my short story ‘Fair Shopping.’

It was supposed to be epic in length. An odyssey that stands ageless and full of action and intrigue.

Yeah… that didn’t happen past chapter four. Damn story.

It wanted to write itself into the truncated form it is now, the stubborn thing.

No! I want espionage. End-of-the-world cataclysm. Perspective of our current throes into modern potential warfare.

But the damned story kicked me out and said this is what will happen instead. It defied pantsing. It defied outlines.

So, I let it do its thing and write itself out.

What was supposed to be a brick of a novel became a short dive into horror for a young couple on their way to a town fair.

So happy the folks at Spectral Press liked this good beginning that wanted it to go as short as it wanted to.

‘Fair Shopping’ will be part of the fifth anthology of Spectral Book of Horrors, a wonderful series to be part of in my opinion.

Coming soon in the fall.

Hooray for good beginnings!

 

JLT

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A Signature

Anna was the youngest in her family.  She was now on the verge of cutting the paternal noose from the thing on the hospital bed that silenced most of her childhood into the fray of background noise.  In the room filled with mechanical instruments that gave the illusion of sustaining life, her brother stood as a meaningless pet like a stuffed furry thing forever stuck in a pose of hungry anticipation, a shadow to Anna’s right that froze in child-like fear.  She should have relished the power she now had, extinguishing the existing nepotism that brandished her elder sibling, bringing to light in the sterile air her calm voice that would comfort and command.  Such a voice was always there, but always underneath the sparkling praise her father reserved wayward toward her brother; it was her voice that always rang true even in disregard.  During her teenage years, there had been no other to have helped amplify the voice above her shyness (her mother had died two years before Anna first saw the crimson drops of her own womanhood begin).

“Miss Showalter,” the doctor said. “It’s a difficult situation, I know.”  He, too, had been a statue all this time, offering explanations that filled the air with sound.  His babbling lifted upward in the room, creating waves of sleep-inducing sentences that floated away and reverberated back to her in wet echoes.

“In a case like this, there’s still time to reach out to other members of your immediate family to-”

“It’s not a case,” Anna said.

The board-stiff doctor stiffened further.

“I didn’t mean your father is just a case Miss Showalter.”

“It’s okay.  You can stop.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  Is that an answer?”

“I mean it’s okay.  You don’t have to say anything else to me about it.”

The doctor gave a stammering smile, but Anna saw his eyes were tired and distant, a face trained to separate from the toxic fatigue within.  How many times has he made this speech? Anna wondered.

“Miss Showalter, I do have to make it clear you understand this form before I give this to you and your brother to review.  In fact, I’ll need to bring in other personnel to witness your signatures should you both wish to sign.”

“You mean this guy?”  Anna pointed at her brother.  She watched Frank Showalter flinch as she did this. He put his head down, standing there and staring at the ground.  Anna thought of that shaky war footage of a Vietcong prisoner getting executed.  It was one of those clips that her father ran often in supposed seclusion inside his private room, oblivious to the child that hid in the same room searching for entry into his mysterious world. She remembered the cowering, adolescent face of that VC prisoner pulled downward with eyes that never fully closed, waiting for the bullet to come.

Her brother surprised her, however, by fully closing his eyes, shutting himself from the rest of them in the room.

“Frank,” Anna said.

“Frank!”

His eyes clamped tighter, creating a spider web of angry wrinkles that would probably take permanent residence on his face a decade later when he would turn forty.

“No,” he whimpered.

“No what Frank?” Anna said.

“I can’t.”

The doctor took a step closer to Anna’s brother.  She thought the doctor was going to reach out and place a hand on Frank’s shoulder.  Instead, he simply faced him and said, “Mr. Showalter. As I’ve said to your sister over there, there is plenty of time to make a decision.”

“I got to go,” Frank said. He broke wind; it was a loud, sonorous, moaning sound.  Frank opened his eyes wide and bolted out of the room, holding the seat of his jeans with both hands as he ran pell-mell and bowled into a group of nurses nearby.

The doctor goggled at the splaying scrub-blue bodies that scattered on the white tile.  He then turned to look at Anna.

“Is your brother…” The doctor grimaced and looked up, pretending to search for the proper word.

“He’s an idiot,” Anna replied.

“But is he… incapacitated in anyway. Does he have any condition that would affect his judgment concerning your father’s–”

“No,” Anna said.  “He masturbated a lot in the bathroom we had to share when we were kids.  He farts all the time like that, especially when he’s nervous.  He’s probably out there right now with the beginning of a load in his pants.  He eats like a dog lapping food out of garbage cans and is probably still a virgin from the looks of his GapKids sense of style.  He’s a freaking idiot.”

Anna turned to look at the heap of old flesh that was her father, a flaked-skin man bone-thin with a mind empty of the need to survive.

“My brother’s an idiot and still earned the love of that man.”

Anna grabbed the clipboard cradled within the crook of the doctor’s left arm.  She yanked it so fast from him that it made a slapping sound from the doctor’s sleeve.

“One moment, Miss Showalter.  There is a group of people I’ll be bringing back with me to help you through this process.  You should look over the form but please do not sign anything until I return.”

Anna smiled.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked.

“There’s one attached to the clipboard.  Miss Showalter, you do understand the importance of the decision you are about to make, don’t you?”

“Go get your people,” Anna said, still smiling.

The doctor retreated with a sigh.

“I’ll be back shortly, then.”

Anna watched him leave the room.  The scramble of nurses outside were now gone and Frank was nowhere to be seen. She looked at the clipboard, studying the verbiage allowing for non-voluntary euthanasia. She imagined the countless others who had to read such a form, perhaps scanning the lines on the pages with an uncomprehending gait, stunned by tumultuous sadness as they tried to scrawl a semblance of their signature on the large open area boxed at bottom of the page.

Her father was brain-dead; he could not survive without a breathing tube. Those statements were enough for the daughter of Edward Showalter to put his last day to an end.

Anna removed the Ember Medical pen snapped within clipboard holder and twirled it in her hand.

She knew it would be easy to sign.  No last minute jitters.  No unnecessary legal consultations to further clarify the pros and cons.  No media-clad circus to cheer or jeer at her.

She went closer to her father’s bedside and looked over his face.

He looked sad, the outside of his gray brows drooping down.

She reached for his right hand, which was a mottled claw that nestled near the edge of the bed.

She was surprised at how warm his hands were.  Blood was still swirling defiantly inside of him.

His soul is gone, Anna thought, and then held his hand tighter.

She fought off the urge to look around to see if anyone could see her alone with her father.  Such a picture is completely normal in a hospital room, so there was nothing to be embarrassed about.

Anna put his frail hand on her face and unlocked her emotions.

Her heart fluttered with sadness and fresh tears came.

She leaned closer to him and hugged him.

It was their first hug.

“So this is how it goes, Dad?”  Anna said.  “This is how you finally show me you love me?”

The hand.  Her father’s hand moved.  Anna felt his grip tighten.

She shook in a combination of sobbing and giggling.

“Do you really love me, Dad?” she asked.

She felt another twitch in her hand.  She squeezed back.  He hears me, Anna marveled.

“Do you love me?”  There was no squeeze this time. Anna leaned in and embraced the husk of her father’s emaciated chest.

She gave him a soft kiss on his cheek and squeezed his hand once again.

When the doctor arrived back with both a nurse and a bereavement counselor, Anna sat up and gave them all a smile.  Her face was blotched wet with tears.

This is how it goes, Dad, Anna thought.

“I’m ready to sign.”

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

The Centurion

Thanks to folks at The Drabble for posting this!

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By Jack Lee Taylor

You lie under the hot sun: A baby drying to dust.
(Because of your eyes. The shape of your mouth.)
The monster is big. He picks you up by your leg, holding you upside down. His armor rattles. A sword slaps against his thigh.
He picks up another child, much bigger than you.
You look about the desert: A sea of deformities abandoned.
Far across the horizon, life abounds.
He falls to his knees, dropping you and your kindred.
“It’s never enough,” he says wearily.
He unsheathes his sword and raises it over you.
“It shall be quick,” he says.

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Bev

“What are you going to do, old man?”

“With this? Shoot you of course.”

“You don’t have the balls.”

“Oh yes. Yes I do.”

“You don’t.  You just stand there.  You trying to look hard. Tough.”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t have it in you, do you? You never shot no one before.”

“You killed her.”

“I killed lots of people. Your woman ain’t no different.”

“She was -”

“She was a bitch in my way.”

” – going to the Quik Mart.”

“What, old man?”

“She was probably going in for an Icee.  Cherry was her favorite. God, she was –“

“She was ugly and blind to be hanging out with your dumbass.”

“- everything to me.”

“So what about this right here?  You break in my crib with your piece out. You going to pull that trigger or what? Go ahead old man.”

“Everything.”

“Why you talking? Go ahead and pop me now. Or else I pop you later.”

“How can you be this way?”

“What, fool?”

“I said how did you — what made you like this?”

“What made me like what? You know what? I’m sitting down. Tired of looking at your tired-ass.”

“You look like you should still be in high school.”

“You look like shit. Old shit.”

“You’re never going to feel sorry.”

“Sorry? For what? Sorry?  Please.  Not for you. Not for anyone.”

“Not even when you destroyed her face.”

“….”

“Not even when you looked right at her and shot her in the face. You’re not sorry about that are you?”

“I needed her car.”

“Running from the police.”

“Hey, it’s not like I banged the bitch first, pops. She shouldn’t have been there.”

“But she was.  And you got away from the cops.  You and your two friends.”

“Yeah okay. So she was there. Thank you Miss Bitch.  Thank you.”

“It’s time to teach you a lesson.”

“You trying to scare me?”

“Yes. I want you scared.”

“Nothing scares me.  See that’s the difference.  You kind of people scared all the time. Running around doing nothing but your boring shit.  Running away from the truth.  Wishing everything is okay. But us real people, the ones that feel the hurt, see the pain — we out here. We don’t know scared. We make our own truths. So I ain’t scared of nothing. Not scared of you.  Least of all scared of no bullet.”

“Then why don’t you run? Or why don’t you come at me?”

“Put the Glock down.  Find out.”

“Have you ever been shot before?”

“What is with you old man? You want to talk? Is that what you want to do all day?  Or do you want to put down that gun and settle your beef with me like a man.”

“You’re not yet a man.  I wish you were.  It would make this easier.  More meaningful.”

“Fuck you.”

“The others.  Your friends.  They told me where to find you.”

“That’s bullshit right there.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

“So? You think that’s supposed to mean something? You talking like you know my boys? You don’t know about me or them. They family, old fuck. You ain’t shit.”

“They’re dead now anyway.”

“Don’t fuck with me old man.”

“Derrick Morgan and Trevor Wayne, the other two that were with you when you robbed the Quik-Mart that day. It’s funny, I expected you to live in a cockroach-infested hole, but your house is actually very nice.  Clean. Nice area too. — NO YOU DON’T!”

“FUCK!”

“See? I’m a pretty good shot. I’ve had lots of time to practice.  I’d put a hand over that left ear to stop the bleeding. You won’t be able to hear out that ear anymore. Now get up.  You can’t run away.”

“My ear motherfucker!”

“Pain?  I know. I know pain. I shot myself in the head after Bev’s funeral, but I didn’t die. Still get headaches. Get up I said.  You try for the door again then I shoot off your balls next.”

“Don’t shoot me man.”

“Heh. I already did.”

“I just needed the car man. That’s all. She wouldn’t get out.  But I just needed the car. I had to.”

“Beverly.”

“Huh?”

“That was her name. Beverly Rose Harper.”

“Shit man, come on. I just needed the car.”

“Grandmother. Kindergarten teacher.  Wife.”

“It was a long time ago man.”

“It was eleven months ago. I spent six of those months recuperating, learning to talk and walk and pee and poop again. Best of all, learning to shoot again.  Here.  Tell me how this one feels.”

“No!”

“Sounds like it didn’t hurt bad enough. Not enough for you?  How’s this one feel then?”

“NO!  Please.  No more. No more…”

“Do your legs hurt now?”

“Please! PLEASE!”

“Your pictures on the wall.  That one over there. The perfect white family.  A Republican’s wet dream shot. Maybe your parents even helped you with that Mercedes out front. I’m sure Mommy, Daddy, and your little sister wouldn’t appreciate knowing you killed a helpless woman.  Stole her car.  A dusty Buick not even worth the tailpipe on that Merc you have outside.”

Please don’t.  No more.”

“Ronald and Mary Austen.  And little Phyllis.  Oh come on, don’t look at me like that.  I had months to brood over you Andrew. Or Double-A as you’re called.  That’s a stupid name, by the way.  You couldn’t come up with something better?”

“Don’t.  Don’t hurt them.”

“So you DO have morals.  I expected you to beg for your own life, but not for your actual family.”

“I wasn’t the one that pulled the trigger.”

“No need for all that. Derrick the Dinky. T-Ballz.  They already did the finger-pointing game. It doesn’t matter. You just happened to be last on my list.”

“I swear it man. I swear it wasn’t me that shot her.”

“So I asked you earlier but you never answered. I’m just curious. Your gang. Your swagger.  How did you get this way?”

“….”

“I didn’t hear?  I just want to understand about the pain. The suffering of real people.”

“….”

“See that’s just it.  You aren’t real. No more real than the image you conjured up for yourself.  You marvel over the dangerous animal of street-life.  Isn’t that it?  You romanticize it.”

“My legs, man.  It hurts.”

“It’s not the same thing Andrew.  This isn’t South Central. This isn’t even LA. Your life is a lie. I’ll show you what real is.”

“Please… man. Please.”

“Don’t move your head or my gun will go off.”

“I can’t breathe.  Can’t breathe.”

“That’s why they call it a choke hold.”

“Stop. Please, please, please, please… please… ple….”

“Aw.  Actually, I have to say.  You look like a little boy taking a nap.  You even snore like one.  I don’t know if I should wait till you wake up or shoot you now. I wonder if sleeping people even feel gunshots.  Let’s see…  Nope. Still asleep.  Your shins are going to hurt really bad though when you wake up. Your legs look a mess.  Must be hell on whatever you’re dreaming right now.  I remember thinking I was stabbed once while I was dreaming.  Woke up with the worst stomach ache I ever had.  I think I’ll just take a seat over there.  Do you mind?  Nice neighborhood like this, someone’s bound to call the police by now. You still in there, Andrew? I think so. Somewhere deep inside your head there’s a part that still listening to me. How about this?  I’ll tell you all about my Bev.  The day we first met.  The good stuff.  Hey maybe if I get done gabbin’ before the cops get here, I’ll give you a chance.  Let you heal.  Grow a few years and come back at me.  I want it to take time. I want it to go as long as it possibly can.  You staying alive.  You know what I’m hoping? I hope you get that monogamous inkling and try to marry some rich whore your daddy would approve of after he helps reform you back into society.  I show up on your wedding day.  Watch you limp about if your legs do heal right.  I show up.  Cause discordance.  I leave.  You then have kids later on. I show up on their birthdays.  Scare the bastards.  I leave.  Eventually, I’ll have to stop the madness the older I get.  Put an end to everything and everyone.  You, your whore, your kids.  But it sounds like a lot of fun coming your way.  Okay, so how do I start?  Oh yeah. Let me tell you about my Bev. Of all places, I met the love of my life in Bowling Green at a post office. I was looking for a pen because I forgot to write down the zip code to my uncle Ned’s place on the package I was sending out.  I was supposed to ship him this ugly candle-thingy my mom went through the trouble of buying at Woolworth’s. This was – what — about thirty years ago.  Anyway there she was… God she was so beautiful and it’s like she didn’t even need me to say anything but had her hand out with this Bic knowing that’s exactly what I needed.  Smiling so warm and sweet.  So I took the pen and said my name was Ned. Only it wasn’t Ned because my name is Robert. It was my uncle, the guy I was shipping that God-awful box to. That was his name.

I was such an idiot back then.

Most young people are.”

 

THE END

 

 

 

JLT

©2008

Sidewalk Magic

He tried to explain the pain of disenchantment to her.

She had her hands cupped over her ears.

Honestly.

The billowing stench of sewage smoke coming from the metal grates protruding unevenly on the sidewalk. The ear-chafing cacophony of traffic honking into her ears. This was not the perfect place to talk.

He was breaking up with her. She knew this. The sex the night before was staged, unlike the other times that left her in a near vertiginous state of euphoria.

“Love is supposed to be magic,” he said. “And we both know there ain’t no such thing as magic.”

Stop that. Biting her lower lip only reminded her how overly plump it was, captured in uneven smiles in pictures.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” she said. Her sandals vibrated. She looked past him to see the scrawny construction worker twenty yards away wrestling with the paint-chipped jackhammer upon crumbled asphalt. Her legs hummed, and she waited curiously for the sensation to rise up to her thighs. Perhaps even higher. What a lovely distraction.

“You don’t understand,” he yelled over the thrum of the jackhammer. Over the prattle of the city. “There’s no such thing as magic. There’s no such thing as us. You. Me. This.” He thumped his chest. “There’s nothing in here but meat, blood and bones. Just like there.” He pointed at the spot below her where her legs joined.

A warm raindrop pelted the raw crown of her scalp. She smiled because it was the only thing that made sense right now.

She said, “I get it.”

He shook his head. “No. You really don’t. You –“

A woman’s hand upraised has many powers. Magical powers. He stood there silent, staring at her smirking face.

She took a deep breath, breathing in the atoms of those long dead, perhaps seeping from the white steam fuming through the metal grates. She looked down at his feet and saw that he stood dead center upon one of the grates. How long of a drop before he’d lay crumpled and broken after a fall? She stomped the metal grate and felt it jar hard against her heels, unyielding. She laughed.

“I know what magic is,” she said. “It’s the only thing making me not want to kill you right now. See that policeman over there?” She pointed through the space to his right.

He turned to see the man garbed in dark blue at the intersection behind him. She stepped in closer and breathed into her ex-lover’s ear.

“I’m going to sleep with him tonight,” she whispered. “I’ve never fired a gun before, but I’m sure I could learn. And I’m sure he could teach me. How’s that for magic?”

She walked past him and headed toward the policeman. The rain pattered between them, the drops warm and sulfuric.

She turned and gave her ex the finger as the magic ritual of breaking up demanded. He licked his lips and then ran toward her. Past her.

Toward the policeman.

 

JLT

Weirdbook Magazine #32

My parents did not play the guitar.

Nor can anyone in my immediate family make it gently weep (not yet, at least… I’ll be waiting on one of my youngins’ to grapple the six-string-relay baton from my cold dead hands one day and speed forth).

Yet, progeny aside, it’s interesting to see other parents out there validate the “born-not-made” principle, a debate I really don’t pay much cause to. But still…

Case in point.

Currently reading the new Joe Hill novel, The Fireman.

I’m a fan of his since the 20th Century Ghost days, before I even knew who his father was. And now that I know, it begs the question: Do the parents pass the ‘awesome-sick-talent’ gene along? Don’t know — but I guess it doesn’t really matter. What’s in my reading hands right now is well worth the read. That’s point enough for me. Regardless of how you were made, even with test tubes and Bunsen burners, you alone make you happen. And this boy Hillstrom did just that. Bang on!

But strange that I think of this now because I’m thinking about the latest short story I did that recently hit the public along with writers-greater-than-me. My little daughter asked to read it. I declined. Not that the content is sexually perverse or gore-ensued, but I just want her to find her own way right now and not be manipulated by my fledgling efforts. So far as eight-year-olds go, she’s well on her way without my interference.

Interesting side note to Clay Baby, which is the name of this particular tale released in Weirdbook Magazine #32.

I follow Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com.  Why? Just because he digitally yells a lot and uses a lot of colorful metaphors that Spock would approve. Also, he’s a great writer (and screw you Aftermath haters).

Mr. Wendig challenged his crew with a writing prompt. I’m not a jump-right-in type whenever it comes to writing prompts. I often scoot my chair back and say, “Maybe not right now.” Yet I jumped in on this one several months back. The prompt was: Take a random picture posted by other fellow writers and come up with a string of words on your own.

I scanned through several pictures. Many were dark and disturbing, showing shadows and hidden etches of life well left hidden. Others were enchanting, showing picturesque moments of nature or florid captures of flowery lands.

Then there was this one picture posted by the talented writer, Diedra Black. It was a strange picture of some clay happy thing on a table.

I immediately thought: Okay, crazy psycho kidnaps family and this clay thing will somehow save their lives. But that didn’t work. So how about a kid comes home from school and sees this thing on the table, and it comes to life like a Smurf — zip-a-dee-do-dah. That sucked. I went over and over, trying to come up with something remotely worth writing. Couldn’t plan it. Couldn’t plot it.

In the end, I just let the words come out, and the result pleased me as much as it pleased the folks at Wildside Press. Glad to have it aboard (especially on a mag that Joe Hill’s father might remember back in the early 80’s).

It’s a short piece, though above the threshold of flash fiction.

If you’re into weird, speculative fiction, you may check it out at:
WEIRDBOOK MAGAZINE #32

Special thanks to Ms. Black for her picture contribution!

Love you guys!

weirdbook-32

Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies!

Ever feel like you are in on a secret after reading a story?

You proudly walk around knowing how a book ends, what happened to this character and that one and all of those silly plot twists here and there. If there’s a movie or TV series out there based on the story, you would gladly cite the differences (maybe with pride or arrogance). And, ultimately, you hold power over those not in the know.

There’s a wonderful and dangerous drug in writing where the writer may hide (or lie about) a story morsel and then later reveal as things start unraveling. Whether it’s from ironclad outlining or plucked blindly from Never-Ether-Land, those well-placed story bullets can literaturally blow a reader’s mind.

Then it comes down to the payoff. It’s the writer’s promise to the reader. It’s your reward, or lack thereof, as a reader for following the bread crumbs to the last word of the story.

So why the hell would something so heinous as a spoiler t-shirt exist on our home world? You! Take that off now!

There is no such thing as statutes of limitation on spoilers. Let our children find out for themselves who the hell Rosebud was. Let them find out if the top of Roland’s Dark Tower is empty or not. Let them understand why M Night Shyamalan could only yell Surprise! for so long. And yeah, it’s common knowledge — perhaps taught in kindergarten– who Luke’s father was, but at least I showed the movie first to my kids before blabbing about it.

These spoiler t-shirts should be abolished, especially those homemade ones spun together like less-than-stellar meth Walter White would mock (yes, there are people out there who don’t know what happened to Mr. White).

Okay, there are more damaging things a person can do in life to others. We do live in a world where random acts of violence occur almost non-randomly. Spoiling a story for others is definitely not the same as shooting someone.

But it is about spoiler-folks being assholes.

It’s about them bastardizing a writer’s work and stealing away the magic of the story. The spoiler-folks laugh it off because the concept is so simple; it takes trivial effort to share spoilers with others with merely a quip, some keystrokes or wearing a stupid t-shirt. You don’t even have to have read the story. Just pass along the ruination to others, weakening the power of the story until it is dead. Only assholes would do this.

Spoiler-folks use public toilets and they piss on the seats. They walk around in the summertime saying ‘How about this heat.’

At least spoiler-folks are limited to what they know (Lisbeth Salander is safe for a while).

If you of the non-spoiler types see these mongrels, perhaps at a book signing, wearing their spoiler t-shirts stating ‘[Character name] Dies,’ stay away from these people. Maybe if you ignore them, they will go away completely. They are not cute. They are not cool because they know something you don’t. They do not impress the author with their sense of boldness or originality. They are there just to piss you off.

With great power comes great responsibility. If someone hands you apparel that can spoil 100 books at once, please, I beg you, put it away. Hide it from the children of our future. In the meantime, continue to read what you want to know about. Watch what you’ve been waiting to see. Only then will you take away the power of the spoiler-people.