Monday, August 30, 2010

Round 3: We've Overdosed...

That's not true, but we tried. We've definitely had the most pieces submitted and posted this round, which is pretty great.

Thanks for being a part of it, all who were, and thanks for reading all who did. Thanks also to everyone who's posting comments - that burgeoning sense of community is a very emotional thing for us editors to see. *Sniffle*

Anyone who wants to throw down some crazy shit for Round 4, email It wouldn't hurt to put "Round 4" in the subject line.

- dan

Friday, August 27, 2010

Round 3: "Crosstown Traffic" by Keith Rawson

We waited near the highway, tucked away in a stand of scrub brush and saguaro’s watching the heat shimmer off the blacktop in smoggy waves. The car’s engine was off because Mal was worried the ancient El Do’s engine block would crack from a combination of the desert heat and the fact the El Do was a raging piece of shit. No engine meant no air conditioning. It was a hundred and fucking twenty degrees out there and I was going bugshit from the heat. So I sat staring at the road chaining Pall Mall’s, guzzling water, and trying not to think about breaking Mal’s nose for not filching a new ride.

So we sat, sweating, smoking, waiting.

Two hours rolled by, Mal starts to smell. It’s hard to describe, something like sex and onions, a tang of orange or peach mixed in, which caused my stomach to roll. I didn’t want to be there, these kinds of jobs are for fuck ups. This was the kind of job a couple of eighteen year old kids pull, not a heavy hitter pushing forty and however the fuck old Mal was. But I was in deep to the wrong shit head, the kind of shithead who made sure the good scores dried up just so he could have the pleasure of watching you fight for scraps while he waited for you to fall on your ass and he can sick his dogs on you. It wasn’t going to happen to me, so I worked all the contacts in Phoenix I had until I lined up a few choice gigs. The first two squirreled, most likely because of the douche bag and all I was left with Mal’s deal.

Mal was typically the kind of guy you spent your career avoiding. He wasn’t a crook because it came naturally to him, or because he was psycho like the current crop of thugs I’d been dealing with for the past ten years. Mal was a crook because he was lazy and he was too stupid to figure any other way to make money other than ripping people off. He’d tried his hand at just about every scam out there, but no matter what he’d always take a fall. All except for strong arm work and as any good thug will tell you, it doesn’t take all that much in the brains department to stick a gun in someone’s face. This was what this score was, albeit a fairly elaborate one for a guy with so few functioning brain cells.

Mal had some how managed to hook himself up with a coyote who specialized in smuggling middle class Mexicans across the border. These weren’t your typical stand in front of home depot waiting for the gringo’s truck to come and pick them up for five dollars an hour border hoppers. The beaners this guy was trucking all lived fairly comfortable lives in Juarez or Tijuana, working jobs, owning businesses and homes, but were sick of the wholesale violence and crime that plagued their daily lives. Most of them were running, trying to get away from the cartels and their pockets were jammed full of cash, credit cards, hard assets and family heirlooms.

The guy transporting them wasn’t any different from the other scumbags totting the poor Mexicans looking for construction work, the difference being he promised to truck his clientele 200 miles past the border where there was less of chance of getting picked up by La Migra or dying from exposure and dehydration. They were lofty promises, especially with the state of Arizona getting so rough on illegal’s these days. But I guess this guy delivered on his promises and he’d walk away making mint off each run.

But the dude started getting ideas about his clients and he figured why not take these rich Mexicans entire wads after he dropped them off to fend for themselves in the great big middle of no where world of the U.S. of A. His only problem was that he was a bit of a pussy and didn’t want to start developing a reputation and start losing his main source of income, so he decided to throw in with Mal and Mal, in a rare moment of awkward intelligence, figured out he’d need more fire power, but was too greedy to put together a proper crew, so instead, he hit me up with the idea. The deal sounded good; my cut wasn’t spectacular, but it might be enough to keep the dogs from taking off a chunk of my asshole until I could put together another few jobs to take the heat off me permanently.

It seemed like we were parked under that mid-July sun for a few days when the coyote’s U-haul finally pulled to the side of the road not ten feet away from us. Mal was going spastic as a short sweaty guy sporting a green trucker’s cap and a fluffy half mustache scurried from the cab, around the back of the truck and rolled up the rear door, discharging a pack of well dressed but disheveled Mexican’s toting suitcases and heavy trunks. I kept wondering what these people thought they were getting into when they signed on to being taken across the border by this guy? Did they expect a tour bus to come and pick them up? A group of air conditioned limos to drive them to their hotel rooms? Yeah, they were a clear 150 miles away from the border, but they were still in the middle of the desert occupied by overgrown skinheads who got away with their racism because they called themselves patriots. Fuck it, I guess all suburbanites were all clueless assholes no matter what language they spoke.

As soon as the coyote jumped back into his and roared off, leaving the group scratching their heads and looking dazed, Mal slammed a ski mask and a rusted revolver into my chest. A revolver? Six shots to handle crowd control on upwards of twenty five people….Jesus….Lucky me I was already strapped with a Remington 12 gauge and my ever trusty Browning. I didn’t see much point in the ski mask either, so I ditched along with the piece.

We came out of the bushes, Mal screaming at the top of his lungs, telling everyone to hit the ground, flailing his piece around like he was trying to throw off a rabid sewer rat. I let the Remington do the talking for me, making a show of jacking a load into the chamber and then firing straight into the air. The Mexicans hit the deck double time with a chorus of squeals.

Fear has no language barrier.

As I moved around the prone bodies, the barrel of the Remington sweeping the ground waiting for hero movements and Mal scuttled about, liberating wallets, purses, suitcases, and running them back to the trunk of the el do and giggling like a loon the entire time, I was more than a little tempted to utter something witty like, ‘Welcome to America, motherfuckers.’ Or something equally retarded. But the way I figured it, I was already degrading myself enough with this job, so I didn’t see the point of making these people, who probably wouldn’t understand me anyway, feel any smaller then I was already making them feel.

* * *

Mal was going apey as I counted out the take from the wallets and purses, which wouldn’t have been a problem if he wasn’t driving on the I-10 headed back to Phoenix at a 120 miles an hour. His eyes kept darting back and forth from the road to the wad of cash passing between my fingers.

“How much now! How much now!” He kept screaming every five minutes. I’d give him a side long glance, shake my head and keep counting. I could understand his excitement; the job had turned into a hell of a score. The final count of Mexicans crammed into the back of that truck had come out to 31 with only six of them being children, so all totaled we had 25 wallets and purses and an equal number of suitcases stuffed into the canyon sized trunk of the El Do'. By the time I was done with my rough count just as we were approaching the outskirts of Phoenix, it totaled up to just short of fifty-five grand.

Hot score for the amount of work that actually went into it and that wasn’t even counting what was in the suitcases. I was going to get hosed on the cut. Mal had gone fifty-fifty with the coyote and Mal was paying me out of his end and he said we’d be going down the middle. I trusted the big dumb shit, but as I counted, I could see something around his eyes that told me he was thinking about putting a hot one my skull.

Or maybe it was just my hyper aware paranoia working over time on my already frayed nerves?

We made the rest of the drive into Phoenix in relative silence. By relative, I mean that Mal only punctuated the air with his hoots and hollers every five minutes or so and added this mantra every ten:

“Let’s go get some pussy, man! Let’s go bang the shit out of some street tail!”

I wasn’t too into whores, particularly the type you pick up along the side of Van Buren, but Mal kept insisting; kept rambling about getting his hands on some “hot tamale” Mexican trim before we met up with the coyote for the split. He was so revved up there was no way I was going to stop him.

We pulled off the I-10 onto the Central Ave., exit heading towards the desolate strip of burnt out apartment complexes and strip clubs of Van Buren Ave. where the street trade shook their asses for conventioneers and men who normal women wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. The intersection of Central and VB was a six way stop and the most dangerous intersection in the entire state. There were at least three accidents there a day and at least one fatal. People just couldn’t peg the rhythm of the lights or got impatient after a long day at the job and would attempt to whiz through, but all they would manage to do is smash up their cars and bodies. With the way Mal was driving and with where his head was at, I was pretty sure we were gonna end up as one of those twisted hunks of metal and blood.

We sat idle, waiting for the lights to go green. It was four in the afternoon, the after work crowd was in full effect, blasting their horns for no fucking reason and traveling twenty miles over the speed limit. We were stopped in the middle lane, Mal slapping the wheel, acting like he’d just won the lottery. The stupid shit had turned off the air conditioner again, fuck knows why, and I was inhaling his stink again, smelling his rotting breath. My focus went between the small bundles of cash between my feet and the beads of sweat coursing down his upper lip and cheeks.

We started to move, a crush of cars matching our speed and I swung my legs around and gave Mal’s blubbery face two hard kicks with my heels. His body hit the driver’s side door hard, popping it open and spilling the fat bastard out into oncoming traffic. I did a quick scramble into the driver’s seat, slamming the door before an oncoming car could take it off the hinges. I spotted Mal in the rearview, getting smacked around by one hybrid putter after another, at least until a big mother of an SUV splattered him across its grill.

It was him or me.

He would’ve done it after he’d blown his wad.

Remember, I saw it in his eyes.

At least that’s how I justified it, and now I was fifty-five grand richer, more than enough to call the dogs off.

Or maybe…..?

Maybe enough to leave?

I heard Albuquerque was nice?


Keith Rawson is a little known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert wastelands of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic four-year-old daughter. His stories have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Pulp Pusher,, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, Needle Magazine, and many others. He is a frequent contributor to BSCreview, a staff writer for Spinetingler Magazine and along with Cameron Ashley and Liam Jose he edits and publishes Crimefactory Magazine.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Round 3: Dolly Dagger by Eric Beetner

A fly knocked twice against the florescent tubes of a cheap desk lamp and then landed on a green blotter decorated with an abstract pattern of rings from the bottoms of countless coffee mugs.

The swatter came in quick from the east and the fly joined the collection of stains, dead center in a circle of brown. The sheriff flicked the flattened body with the edge of the swatter and the carcass flew its last flight down to the linoleum.

The sheriff turned back to Lyle, the subject at hand. He heaved out a sigh as he took a moment to remember where he was in the conversation, and the sight of Lyle’s hung low expression made a man want to sigh. “She learned from the best.”



“My wife?”


The sheriff perched on the edge of his battleship grey desk looking down on Lyle’s widening bald spot tilted toward him. Poor guy didn’t know he was married to a killer.

“And you’ve got evidence you say?”

“Lock stock and barrel. Son, she’s the real deal. Notorious is the word.”

Lyle couldn’t shake the wrinkles off his forehead. It was all too much. Not her. Not Doll. Cut a man’s throat you say? Did it for money you say? Traveled the world on a frequent murderer’s card?

His stomach flipped once and the sheriff saw the color go from Lyle’s face. With one tip of his snakeskin boot the sheriff nudged the trash can a foot closer to Lyle’s chair just in case.

“You said she...learned...?”

“From her Daddy. He was one bad mamma jamma. One of them old school contract killer types. CIA trained but then they spit him out into the real world with a hell of a set of job skills. He went with what he knew. Paid like the devil too.”

Doll had always said her Father died the year before she met Lyle. He’d left her a sizable inheritance and control of his business importing goods for use in making computer chips.

What the fuck, importing? Was he born yesterday? Lyle punched himself in the knee for being so stupid.

His eyes traced over a stack of file folders on the sheriff’s desk. Information about his wife. The collected crimes of a famous hit man...woman. Hit lady. Shit.

“Is that all about her?”

The sheriff turned and looked at the pile on his desk. He smiled.

“Shit, no. That’s just backed up bullshit from this stupid town. No, the feds came in and took everything I had on her which was diddly shit. They had a file all stored up on one of them iPads. Color pictures. Maps. I saw it over the one guy’s shoulder. They must have had ten – fifteen years worth of stuff in that file. All lookin’ for her.”

“And I found her,” said Lyle. His wrinkled had smoothed in to a slack mask. A face novocain-numb from the shock.

“Do I get to see her?”

“That’s why I come here. To take you to her if you want to go.”

Lyle sat still and thought. He spotted the fly on the ground, two wings and a thorax half squeezed of its fly guts. A lump waiting to get caught beneath someone’s shoe.

“Guess I should,” he said.

Why would you question it? You meet a girl, you hit it off, she’s pretty but not out of your league, she finds the fact that you’re smart a plus, you date, she’s vague about her past but she tells you it’s because she is trying to let the past go and start over. Her Dad just died. You’re just the thing to help her begin a new life.

You get married. All is bliss. She’s got a great job. She travels a lot and sometimes takes you with her, when you’re duties at the University allow.

Even the most cynical husband in the world would never sit and muse, while holding her naked shoulders in the evening after making love: y’know maybe when she goes to work she is actually slitting people’s throats for money.

Who thinks that way? Not Lyle.

The case that did her in was local. Local-ish. A short train ride up from Princeton and she was in Manhattan; not an unusual trip in the least. This trip took her down to little Italy. It led her to a small restaurant. Her wig was set, her makeup thick, her shoes sensible. The only stilettos for Doll were in her hands.

She saw her target, ducked inside the front door as he was exiting, slit his throat with a swift, practiced swoop of the arm.

There is always the unknown, which kind of makes it known if you know there is going to be an unknown. Lyle couldn’t understand the first layer of this mess. Even as the sheriff retold it like it was a movie he’d seen over the weekend. One he was recommending Lyle simply had to go see.

The unknown in this case came in the form of an over-eager busboy who slammed his round black drink tray into Doll from behind. It wasn’t enough to hurt her but it stopped her retreat. She pumped an elbow back into the busboy’s gut. He whuffed out air.

She turned on him, shot out a hand and spread her fingers, catching the boy on the Adam’s apple with the crescent moon spot between her thumb and forefinger. He fell back sucking for air he was sure would never come but she knew would return in about thirty-seconds.

Why not knife him? Simple. You don’t do freebies. You do one for free and the next job starts talking discount.

The extra time left a red slick of blood on the off-white tile floor and Doll’s first step became an ice-rink slide. She thrust out a hand to steady herself, caught her balance on the inside window, just below the painted-on-glass depiction of Mount Vesuvius, and unwittingly left a fingerprint found by some junior CSI team member who outdid the busboy in the over-eagerness department.

Dots were connected. Aliases were exposed. An arrest was made.

“Shall we?” asked the sheriff.

Lyle stood, his legs questioning whether that was a good idea the same way legs do if they’ve been seated at a bar for two hours waiting patiently while one whiskey turned into five.

He stepped open his legs wide to give a broad base on which to balance. His left foot found the fly and further crushed the tiny lump.

The sheriff walked down the hall with more swagger than a New Jersey man has a right too. Passing through the bull pen Lyle shrank at the rise in volume and the buzz of FBI agents and US Marshals all come to claim their tiny piece of the arrest of Dolly Dagger.

“Gonna have to get her out the back way what with all this attention.”

“You mean the press? The news is here?”

“Yep. Or will be. ‘S okay though. We can just take her out direct from the cell block right up to the courthouse. Never has to see any of that scum.”

Jail. Courthouse. Scum. These were not words in Lyle’s vocabulary.

The men wore the telltale dark suits of a government worker, the women all wore tightly controlled hair. The flair for individuality was left to the criminals they tracked. The closest Lyle had ever been to an FBI agent was the occasional Jersey Shore vacationer sporting a Female Body Inspector t-shirt.

For all their profiles and power point presentations on the litany of assassinations she was alleged to have committed, Lyle felt they didn’t know her at all. Not like he did.

The row of cells was quiet. Two floors down and the broken radio blather of the feds couldn’t be heard. It was cool. Concrete floors and walls, iron bars.

The sheriff pursed his lips at Lyle. He knew the young man must be thinking a million things at once. The sheriff raised his arm in the general direction of the row of six cells. Five empty and then her. From that point, Lyle would have to walk alone.

His blazer rustled and his loafers slapped the concrete. No matter how quiet he tried to be, some echo shouted out of him. The change in his pocket hammered with each step, his car keys ground metal on metal sounds, the thinning hair on his head howled in the wind he made as he crept closer to the final cell.

Doll was waiting for him, sitting up on her cot.


“Doll?” His eyes were unexpectedly wet. She rose and came to comfort him the way a good wife would.

“Honey...” She stroked his hair through the bars.

“I just can’t believe...”

“I’m not going to lie to you. There’s no point to that.”

“So it’’re really...?”

Doll nodded. She dared a quick glance down the hall. Seeing Lyle was alone she dropped to a whisper.

“Lyle honey, there’s money. A lot of it. I want you to have it.”

Lyle’s confusion doubled. Doll unfolded his right hand. “Give me a pen.”

Instead he gave her a blank look. She dared not say it out loud again but insisted with her eyes and an impatient waving of her fingers like she was asking for a check in a noisy restaurant. Lyle reached into his blazer pocket and removed a ball point pen.

Sweet Lyle. Sweet, lovable, nerdy Lyle. Her calculous professor hero. Always with a pen at the ready or the answer, down to the penny, for what made out an eighteen percent tip.

She started writing out bank accounts. Long sixteen digit numbers she knew by heart. “It’s the least I can do after what I’ve put you through, honey.” His brain spun. Money? What’s that? How do I use it? “It’s over two million Lyle. It’s all yours.”

She folded his hand back into a fist now inked with cribbed answers to a very important quiz.

They stood and talked for fifteen more minutes. She was calm, reassuring. He was mostly silent and when he did speak it was in half sentences, unfinished thoughts.

When the sheriff put a hand on his shoulder Lyle was startled, unaware that the man had approached and impressed he managed to keep those boots quiet on the reverberant floor.

“It’s time girly. Feds want you in a tighter lockup. Time to move on up to the big leagues.”

Doll smiled, her most killer weapon. “But, I kinda like it here. It’s homey.”

“Ain’t it though? You ought to see it when it’s full up with drunks.” The sheriff laughed a bit. Anyone who commits a crime and gets away with it for that long, he had a silent respect for. Still thinks she ought to get the chair, but he’ll tip his hat on her way to it. “Naw, it’s my duty to remand you to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Turn around if you don’t mind.”

He lifted the handcuffs off his belt. The grin still on her face, she turned and held her hands behind her back. The sheriff reached through the bars and gently ratcheted the cuffs down on her wrists.

Lyle’s chest sagged heavy.

The cell door swung open and Lyle felt her move the air as she stepped past him, maybe for the last time. Doll winked as she slid by.

“Best say your goodbyes now,” said the sheriff.

“We already did,” said Doll. She kissed her left palm, the same hand of his that she wrote on, and blew it to him. He let it sail wide over his head, too dumbfounded to catch it. Doll was happy about it. It’d be just like Lyle to reach for that kiss and open up his hand for the sheriff to see all those pretty blue numbers written there.

They walked down the rows of empty cells, Lyle thinking how they had most likely cleared out any other petty criminals staying there to make way for the one and only Dolly Dagger. For the first time he felt a small swell of pride for his wife.

It was quickly cut short when he saw movement.

Doll shrugged her shoulders, dropping down the pen from her sleeve where she had shoved it. Her thumb popped the cap like the pin on a hand grenade and her cuffed hands went up with the point of the pen doing a Woody Woodpecker on the sheriff’s thick neck three times.

With the wisdom of experience Doll stepped back two paces, avoiding the spray of blood. Lyle was directly in its path. It reminded him of when his brother used to trick him as a child; holding a kink in the hose until Lyle would be fool enough to look down into it only to have the hose unkinked and a cascade of spray hit him in the face.

Only this time the spray was warm.

One hand of Doll’s held tight to the sheriff’s gun hand, keeping him from reaching his only defense. The sheriff was already weak and going down. She kept her hand on his all the way to the floor. Quickly she was on him and releasing the keys from his belt, undoing her handcuffs and standing with his service revolver in hand.

She turned to Lyle.

“Daddy would say to kill you. No witness. That was a big rule of his.”

Lyle was speechless. Doll hadn’t raised the gun.

“I’m not going to,” she said. She took a step to turn, headed for the back exit. Lyle had no doubt she could make it out unseen. She turned back to him. “I hope you understand there won’t be any money left in those accounts.”

He held up his hand, opened his palm. The numbers were a sweaty swirl of blue like a Van Gogh night sky.

Doll smiled. He smiled back. She turned and ran.

Lyle held the smile after she was gone. A smell he did not recognize crept up from the floor. Fresh blood by the pint was pouring out of the sheriff.

The small glint of pride was back.

That’s my wife, Lyle thought.


Eric Beetner is the co-author (along with JB Kohl) of the crime novel One Too Many Blows To The Head as well as short stories featured in Thuglit, Needle magazine, Crimefactory, A Twist of Noir, Pulp Pusher and the print anthologies Murder In The Wind and the upcoming Harbinger *33. More stories and info at

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Round 3: 51st Anniversary by Mary Long

The cemetery had changed, but so had they.


Lid hadn’t gone to meet anyone. She’d gone to mourn. Well, faux-mourn. It’s hard to mourn when no one you know has died. But she tried anyway, feigning weak sobs while attempting to be affected by memories of her dead cat, dead mouse, dead lizard (the cat had choked on the lizard, which had choked on the mouse. In her memory, anyway, it blended into one ludicrous pet-death montage). That night, she had found the grave of one Silas Pendergrast (one of three), 1907-1989. He must’ve been a tough old shit, she imagined. What, exactly, he had had to tough through, she couldn’t quite remember; her grade in United States Historical Trivia outstanding proof of her lack of attention to such mundane details, and she couldn’t trust the movies for accuracy. In any case, she was sitting uncomfortably atop ol’ Silas’s headstone when the tremor shook her. She fell forward onto the grave, earning a mouthful of weeds in the process.

When she sat up, spitting and pulling Bermuda grass out of her teeth, a movement out of the corner of her eye whipped her head around, toward the mightily fenced-in new section of the cemetery. She hauled herself upright and started over, wondering if the earthquake had toppled any of the grotesque statuary that only the very wealthy could afford to erect over the graves that only the very wealthy could these days afford.

The “Celestial Orb Supreme” plot was a monument to the sorrow of dollars the dead had not lived to spend. A fountain in the center performed each deceased’s favorite huetunes, in glorious sentiment-scented mists. The closer Lid got, she more annoyingly she was attacked by simulated joy, regret, and passion. The fountain wasn’t so much an attraction as a repellent. Its bombardment of emotions was designed to deter even the most dedicated grave robber. It was lucky for her, then, that the emotional-leveler implant her parents had insisted upon when she was born still worked so effectively. She felt the intended feelings, just…in a refracted way: the way that an eclipse box let one see the shadow of the moon supplanting the sun, but at the same time denied the viewer the dangerous glory of that bright solar vision.

As she neared the fence, a chorus of anger stirred a spike in her blood. The melody was, if she remembered her Alcohol References in Obscure Music class, from a Murder City Devils song. Lid knew that if she were more susceptible, she’d leave right now, in search of some bar, some whiskey to calm her, some arms to embrace her or fight her. Instead, she spit on the fence, and, assured it wasn’t electrified, climbed over it.

The ground on the other side was soft. Cushy. The lawn was dense and felt nuzzleable between her bare toes. Lid realized then that her flips had fallen off on her clamber over the fence. She stood there, absorbing: the huetones that made her itch with near-feeling; the pomposity of protecting dead meat so fervently while trying to pass for honorable grace. She snorted a little. A hand burst upward from the fresh grave she was standing on.

She reached down, grabbed the flailing limb, and heaved upward. As the earth gave, softening against the body’s struggle, Lid scrolled through her mental Rolodex for information: Vampires in Film and Television, 1980-2010, had prepared her for an onslaught as soon as the fiend finished erupting from the grave. Drawing on Intermediary Mortal Kombat Moves , she dropped the hand and readied herself for an uppercut, to be immediately followed by a roundhouse. A Fatality, of course, would be out of the question for one already undead.

Another arm reached up, then a face emerged, gasping. “Hey,” it croaked, after a long series of wheezes. “This sucks. Help me out.”

Not seeing fangs, she slightly relaxed her ass-kicking pose and moved closer. “Are you going to fucking eat me? Or what? What’s your game…er…” she consulted the headstone, “Raoud Eppelfesia? Dude, that name is terrible.”

Raoud spat some dirt out. It stuck to his chin in a glob. “I know.” He spat again. The glob rolled down his neck, which was wriggling skyward like a growing plant in fast-motion video. “Yours any better?”




Raoud stopped struggling. “Are you going to help me, or not?”


“I’m not going to eat you. At least, I don’t think I am.”

“Why are you even trying to get out, then? Oh fuck,” Lid gasped, almost felt, what was it…horror? “Were you buried alive?”

Raoud shrugged. Dirt trickled out of his hair, which looked like it might be red. “I don’t know. I think I died.”

“Ah. Were you bitten by something, um, supernatural?” She felt like a shmuck. She should have paid more attention in How to Talk to the Dead and Dying.

He laughed. “You went to public school.”


“It’s cute.”

“Fuck you.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m in it up to my armpits. I died, I guess, and now I’m here talking to some chick who won’t help me out of a grave. I’d say ‘fucked’ is exactly what I already am.”

“If you try to eat me, I’ll kill you again.”

“I get it.”

“I don’t know if you do.”

“Pinky swear.”


“I pinky swear that I won’t eat you.”

Lid was skeptical. “What’s a pinky swear supposed to mean to a, a, a ghoul?”

“It’s a time-honored tradition. Just because I’m dead…or was dead…doesn’t mean I’m going to break it now.”

Lid looked him in the face. Under the layer of wet dirt, he was possibly a good-looking guy. His haircut was kind of stupid, but then again, rich kids’ always were. His eyes, done up with some pretty stellar final-viewing mascara, it looked like, were gray. “What color are your eyes?”


“Just checking.” Lid stepped forward, reached down, and pinky locked him. “Swear.”

“I swear!”

“You’re not going to eat me. Oh, or molest me, or kill me in some other way.”

“I’m not going to do any of those things.”

“I’ll kick your ass.”

“I know. I just met you, and I already know that. Though, I guess met isn’t exactly right.”


“Lid? Pleasure.”

Lid grabbed his hand and pulled with all her Tug o’ War for Beginners might. Raoud scrabbled hard, struggling upward, until finally he collapsed forward and Lid fell backward, panting. He righted himself, took a halting step forward, and reached down to help her up. After he’d tugged her to her feet, he leaned forward and chomped down on her shoulder.

Lid spun away, kicked him in the solar plexus, and he fell into the huetunes fountain, disrupting a gurgly version of “Between the Bars.” A horrendous martini-glass sculpture a few graves down made abrupt sense. While Raoud gasped with laughter, Lid prepared to put him back in his grave.

“You zombie fuck!”

“It was a joke!”

“You fucking bit me! I’m gonna bust your teeth in!”

“I barely bit you! I didn’t even break the skin. Look. Look, Lid.”
Lid looked. Felt. While slightly sore, her shoulder didn’t resemble Snow White’s apple. It was just smeared with dirt. “You ruined my shirt, asshole.”

“Are you going to let me get up?”

“You fucked up that fountain.” The fountain picked back up with something Lid didn’t recognize. It must’ve been new.

“Lid. Let’s get out of here.”

“And go where? You look like a goddamned dug up corpse.”

“I don’t know. Your place?”

Either his grin or the huetune was getting to her. “I’ll have to sneak you in.”

His grin got grinnier. “Even better.”


Sneaking Raoud in consisted of entering her detached apartment through the back alley gate instead of through the main house’s front yard. After a car ride in near silence due to Lid’s firm and imposing grasp on her Taser (which she wasn’t sure would work on a dead dude, but it helped to hold it), she wasn’t ready for much more excitement. After getting into her place, she led Raoud straight to the bathroom. “Bathe,” she demanded, pointing at the shower. “You’re getting dirt everywhere.”


“Just get in.”

“Want to come with me?” Raoud winked. At least she thought he winked. His features were still a little difficult to make out.

“I think I’ll let you examine your damage yourself. I’ll get you something to wear.”

“Oh.” Raoud said. “Right. He looked down at his chest, then back up at Lid. “You’re still gonna be here when I get out?”

“I came this far.”

He nodded, and shut the bathroom door.

When the water started running, Lid paced around her place. She had class in the morning, but she could skip it. Shit, what was this guy? Why didn’t he stay dead? Why had he died? Why, most importantly, had she brought him home with her? She didn’t even bring guys or girls home from the bar. She went into the kitchen, poured herself some wine and gulped it. She sat on the couch, got up, sat down, remembered to go get some clothes for the naked dead guy in her shower, got up. She dug into her Exes’ drawer and came up with some purple pants with an ice cream cone printed on the crotch, and a green t-shirt that looked like maybe it would fit Raoud. She was walking toward the bathroom to leave them on a chair in the short hallway when he opened the door a crack. “Lid?”

“Yeah?” Her voice squeaked to make up for the silent door hinges.


“Right here.” She reached them forward.

“Thanks.” He shut the door. “These pants are ridiculous”

“This whole situation is.”

“The shirt fits.”

“Well, there you go.”

“The pants are too tight in the ice cream cone.”

Lid laughed. “I thought maybe they autopsied that part off.” She stopped laughing, in case it was true.

“I guess I didn’t get autopsied. No slice and dice scars.”

He opened the door. They looked at each other. His hair was red. So were his eyebrows. He raised one. “Got a glass of red for me?” He pointed at her wine.

“Sure. Kitchen’s this way.” She led him in, poured him up with a glass only a smidge less full than hers had been. “Here,” she offered. She noticed his hands. “Oh. Fuck.” They were mangled. She hadn’t seen it before, through the dirt. “I…shit. We need to bandage you up.”

“They hurt like hell.”

“C’mon.” Lid led him back to the bathroom. “Sit.” He lowered the toilet lid, sat. Lid dug a roll of gauze and a tube of antiseptic ointment of out a bathroom drawer. She dabbed the ointment on, aware of his winces. “You want to talk about it?”

“Getting out? You were there. Thank you. I don’t think I said it yet. Thank you, a lot. I don’t know if I could have managed that last bit on my own.”

“What do you remember? Why were you there? I don’t know what the hell to make of this.”
She finished winding his fingers in gauze, and held out his glass of wine. “Can you hold this okay? Do you want a straw or something?”

“I’ll manage,” Raoud grinned. He looked tired. “Can we get outta the bathroom now?”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure.” She walked back into the living area, sat cross-legged on the sofa. She patted the cushion next to her. “I won’t bite if you won’t.”

He sat next to her, took a sip of wine, grimaced. “This isn’t very good.”

“I’m on a budget.”

“No worries. I’ll drink it.”

“Just more for me if you don’t.” She paused, touched the scratches on his face. “These are okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. Just weirded out.”

“You and me both.”

They were silent, drinking the not very good wine. Raoud tugged the hair at the back of his head. “I was reading.”


“I was reading this book: Lethem’s As She Climbed Across the Table. This woman falls in love with a kind of tear in the Universe, and her boyfriend, in order to not lose her, goes into the tear and becomes it? I was reading, in my bed, and I felt so fucking sad. I’d never felt sad like that. Never felt like that. I don’t know what it was about that book; I’ve read tons of others. Tragedies, even. But they left me the same as always: vaguely affected. And that’s all I remember, really. Reading, feeling, then…like, lightning, in my head. Like a migraine, but it was all in one burst, and then, then, I woke up.” He cleared his throat; swallowed. “In the coffin. My folks must’ve chintzed on it, because I managed to bust out it. I guess taking Advanced Mortal Kombat Moves paid off.”

“I took that class! Well, Intermediary.”

“Heh. I didn’t know they offered that at State.”

“It was new.”

Lid took a drink. Had a thought. “Raoud, how old are you?”


“Me too. You know, the year I was born, the Leveler implants were released.”

“Yeah. I have one.”

“They recalled them the same year, what with all the infant deaths.”

“I know. There aren’t many of us that survived them.”

“What are the odds?

“Of two of us survivors meeting each other the same night one returned from the dead? I wouldn’t have put any money on that.”

Lid was searching, going through Anatomy, Psych, and Science Fiction course memories. “You say you felt intensely sad? When you read that book?”

“Yeah. For a moment, it was incredible. It was like nothing I’d experienced before.”

“I’ve never felt like that.”

“The implant is supposed to prevent it. We were supposed to save the world or at least the United States by not getting swept up in all that unhealthy raw emotion. Some idea. I barely made it through college.”

“I’m still going. I’m on the extended plan. The work-until-I-can-afford-more-classes plan.”

“That’s dedication.”

“I don’t have anything better to do.”

“Me neither. I’ve been loafing pretty consistently for the last couple years, to my rich parents’ dismay.”

Lid drank. Reached out, touched Raoud’s purple-clad knee. “I wonder if your implant failed.”

“And that’s what killed me?”

“I don’t know if you died. You’re breathing, drinking, conversing. You’re not eating my brains, and you’re wounds haven’t healed spontaneously. How’s the rest of your body?”
Raoud raised an eyebrow. “Beat up. But functioning.”

“God, I’m an idiot. I should have taken you to the hospital, instead of plying you with alcohol. You could keel back over at any minute. Shit. Shit!” she shook her head, stood. “Let’s go. I can’t be responsible for you dying again, or being dead, or whatever the fuck is going on. I don’t know! Get up, please. Or, wait, should I call an ambulance? Should I—”
Raoud pulled her down next to him, put his bandaged arms awkwardly around her. “Calm down. I’m where I want to be. We’ll go, but give me a minute. I want to enjoy this.”

“Enjoy what? Being a, a, a fucking miracle or something? What if it’s a time-based defect? What if I’m going to keel over at any moment because this fucking implant decides so? What if—” Raoud kissed her. After a couple of seconds, she kissed him back, then pulled away.

“I’m fucked.”

“I’m not sure if I can.”

“I hate it."

“You hated kissing me?”

“I hate being so…meh. I can’t even use the word ‘hate’, really. I barely disturb the surface.”

“Why don’t you get it removed?”

“I missed the recall deadline. My parents were believers, even in the face of the mortality rate. It’s elective, now, and I’ve never had the money. And the risk is so high.”

“It could kill you.”

She giggled a little, kissed him hard, and sighed.


Lid wrapped Raoud’s arm around her shoulders as they leaned against a new wall of ashes. “I could still kick your ass, you know.”

“I never forget.”

“Where’s my gift for putting in all this time with you?”

“Same place it always is,” he said, running a finger over the scar at the base of her neck.
She rubbed his nearly identical one in return. “This place gets uglier every year.”

“Good thing we aren’t going to end up here.”

She bit him in the arm and laughed.


Mary Long is an Assistant Professor at the College of Pop Culture Science, Research and Practical Application (The CPSRPA) where textbooks are mostly illustrations and guest speakers have included Sam Rami, Jim Davis and Blanka. She enjoys looking around and thinking, "Jinkies, of all the things all these people could be doing - they're doing this?"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Round 3: Night Bird Flying by Jimmy Callaway

When asked why he loved skydiving so much, what he got out of it, Pete would reply, “I feel free up there in that high blue sky. Nobody can tell you what to do. You just have to please yourself up there.” Then he would look skyward and say, “Free.” The effect really wasn’t what he intended, but y’know.

But then there was that time he panicked and didn’t pull his ripcord and hit the ground like a piano, only less in tune. Then Pete would reply, “I wanna go to the zoo instead, Harry. It’s fun.”

But Harry was too busy cavorting with Suzy at the lakefront, tripping lightly through the alewives. Suzy was sexy in the way auto parts calendars are sexy. Y’know, something’s gotta take up that space on the auto shop wall, so it may as well be Suzy.

Suzy didn’t make much of a counterpoint to Beth, whose real name was Kevin for some reason, and who waited dutifully at home for Harry. Beth had a pretty face and wore the requisite Jackie O. hair-do. But she had a thing for baggy jumpsuits that made her look like the Michelin Man. But when Pete would show up wanting to go diving, he would say to her, “Beth. You get prettier every day.” Beth was beside herself when Pete played his final game of Ker Plunk! and lost. She ran to his side and held what was left of his head to her lumpy chest. You could say Beth reacted that way because Pete looked a lot like Harry, like he was his little brother. But you’d probably be reading too much into it.

Then Frankie shows up. Frankie also likes to cavort with Suzy, squishing the gritty sand and fish guts between their toes. So Frankie rides his hog out to the airstrip and he and Harry have a big fight scene, which is kinda gay all around. Y’know, like those ads for UFC action figures they’ve been running in all the comics lately. There is one pretty neat part where Harry bings Frankie in the face with a propeller. But other than that, it’s Hello, Studio City.

After the man from the FAA lets Harry open his sport parachuting business again, and they scoop the rest of Pete up with a snow shovel, Joe Moss shows up. Joe’s real name is Joseph, but they call him Joe because he really likes coffee. Also, he only grows on the north side of trees. Even though he and Joe were in the 11th Airborne together, Harry sees Joe as a rival for Beth’s affections. And rightfully so, as Joe really gets a boner for corporate mascots with the heads of First Ladies.

Joe tries to make out with Beth, but she’s in love with Harry. Also, Joe has the personality of a refrigerator magnet. But he respects her wishes and keeps his tongue to himself. Harry still gets all hot under the collar when Joe takes Beth’s arm and helps her out of the car. Harry’s about to start a rumble, when some of the cooler heads of the other skydivers prevail, and they all go have some hot coffee.

Didn’t really matter though, because Suzy bangs the pharmacist for some acid. She and Frankie both hate Harry—Frankie, because Harry fired him and made him look really gay in that fight scene; Suzy, because she’s used to getting things by applying her feminine wiles (just ask the pharmacist). So they dress all in black and sneak into the hangar while everybody is twisting the night away to the surf-rock stylings of Jimmy Bryant and his Night Jumpers. Then it’s time for the big night jump, and Harry pulls his ripcord and next thing he knows, he’s playing a game of checkers with Pete.

“What’s the matter, kid?” Harry asks him, “You get tired of living?”

“Well, I dunno,” Pete says, “No, I don’t think so. I probably could have done without that dramatic death scene. But then again, you spend all your time on solid ground, then that’s where all the bad things happen. Good things happen, too, I suppose. But only good things happen in mid-air. Nothing bad.” Pete shrugs. “It’s fun.”

“What about your last jump, Pete? That wasn’t so good.”

“I didn’t die in mid-air, Harry. That was on solid ground.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, “That’s true.”

Pete does a quintuple jump on Harry. “King me.”

Ker Plunk!

Just to wrap things up really quick, an armed posse hunts Frankie and Suzy down that very night and shot them in the street like rabid dogs.

Then silently, dismally, the credits roll.


Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA. Please visit for more information on the industrial arts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Round 3: Hey Joe by Sarah Martin

The first shot was for Marty down at the car wash. The bullet clipped her left shoulder, and bits of blood-colored plastic sprayed the white wall behind her. Joe gripped the gun and closed his eyes while the burnt gunpowder became the smoke from Marty’s cheap cigar. It vaguely wafted through his nose, just as it had the day he found Marty’s signature bandana in the back of Maria’s car.

The second shot was for Ray, the bartender at the new pool hall. She tried turning away, so as the bullet ripped through the wire tendons in her calf, Joe felt an odd mixture of delight and pity, watching her rubbery mouth wince in mimicked pain. He tried imagining what his own mouth must have looked like the time he overheard the boys down at the station call him a sad bastard.

The third shot was for his best friend, Miles. Joe felt his stomach contract the way it had that day when he found their cars parked at a cheap motel. So, he took aim at her stomach and watched as a red carnation bloomed in the center of her standard issue white smock.

While he watched her plastic hands drop to the floor, Joe noticed the ruby polish that adorned her fingernails—the same color Maria had been wearing in the sample photo he gave them. Then, he moved his gaze to her eyes. Though made of glass, the brown irises were a dead ringer for Maria’s. He remembered something Maria had said to him once: “When I die, I want to feel like a feather, floating softly toward the sea.” His ears stung. He wondered how many others she had said that to, and for that, he shot her in the heart.


Once the light outside Joe’s chamber turned red, the janitor made his way in with a mop and towels. While taking in the copious amount of synthetic blood and globs of plastic flesh, the janitor let out a whistle slow and low between his teeth.

Helping Joe out of his plastic suit, the janitor quipped: “Guess it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than therapy, eh, Sarge?”

After putting his gun in its case, Joe dumped the soiled towels into the marked bin by the exit. He looked up at the janitor, trying to focus on what he just said.

“Yeah, I guess.” Joe managed a grimace, averted his eyes quickly, and headed home.


By the time Joe rounded the corner of his block, dusk had fallen. He took the steps to his apartment two at a time, suddenly aware of the cold air filling his lungs. Before he could get his key out of his pocket, Maria opened the door, curiosity scrawled all over her face.

“Why didn’t you call?” Maria’s voice was whiny.

Joe searched into her brown eyes for a moment. Not finding his answer, he shifted them toward the kitchen. He walked past her and went in search for a beer.

“I’m talking to you!” Maria’s voice was agitated.

He mumbled a curt “sorry” from inside the refrigerator.

“Well, you’ve been avoiding me for days now. Are we gonna talk about this or what?” Maria’s voice was anxious, for once.

“Not tonight, Maria. I’ve had a long day.”

Her soft facial features hardened. She brushed past him, careful to make sure her breasts softly glided against his back as she returned to her spot on the couch and began filing her fingernails.

Joe swilled the rest of the beer, allowing the cool liquid to move from his throat to his stomach in one fluid motion. The empty bottle made a thud as it hit the counter, causing Maria to flinch, though she didn’t look up from her manicure.

He went into the bedroom and began to undress. Once he removed his badge and empty holster, he set them down on the corner desk, cautious not to let his gaze linger on the medals for bravery and other honors he had accrued in his ten years on the force.

Joe sat down on the bed. He took his gun out of its case and began to clean it.


Sarah Martin is an Eskimo parade organizer. I think. Sarah Martin is a super hero costume tailor. It's possible. Sarah Martin keeps animals - in her house! Maybe. Sarah Martin is, and this I know for sure, a fun-haver and a story writer. Applause!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Round 3: The Valleys of Neptune by AJ Hayes

I hit the water hard. Rather, the two-hundred-fifty pound concrete block I was attached to hit the water hard. I was just along for the ride. Down and down and down we went, me and the block. I didn't resist, just made my body as limp and loose as I could. Down and down and down, until at two-hundred and fifty feet, the block and me hit the bottom of the ocean with a muffled thump. The pressure was squeezing my chest flat, but for a moment I had a clear view of an infinite sandy plain, dimly lit by ghost-blue phosphorescence. I looked out over the vast distance with Jimi's voice murmuring in my ear . . . The valley of sunsets green and blue . . .The ocean swaying me . . . Washing away all my pain . . . Valleys of Neptune is a'risin . . . Rising, yeah, rising. My hand found the small cold steel cylinder and cranked the valve open. I got the mouthpiece in and took a short breath. Not too much, I thought as the
air cleared my brain, Not too much. You got a job to do.


It was a quiet night and the channel was calm. A slight swell rocked the old boat and made her mutter to herself in creaks and groans. I lit a cigar and watched Micky slap him awake. When he came around, I waited for him to quit whuffing and huffing and trying to get free of the iron manacle clamped around his ankle. I took a long pull off the Havana Grande and stepped out of the shadow of the cabin. His piggy little eyes found me and got wide, real wide.
"Hello, Johnny," I said.

"The fuck? What the fuck? You? How did--" I held up my hand to stop him before he started frothing and drooling.

"Seal," I said. "Told you that when we teamed up, you and me. Remember?"

He shook his head wildly, spraying the deck with sweat and Old Spice.

He remembered, all right.

I squatted down beside him and tilted his head up gently with my fingertips. He tensed then went quiet. I laughed, soft. "Relax, Johnny, relax. Nothing bad going to happen here. No knife. No gun." I smiled into his eyes. In fact I'm going to tell you exactly how I did what I did. No tricks. I'm going to tell you how to get through this. Alive."

He got a look on his puss I knew well. I'd seen it many times over the years we'd been partnered up. It's the one he'd use when he wanted the mark to go gently into the long, long night. It said, None of this has to happen if we all stay calm. I called it the "let's make a deal" look. It was always followed by a bullet or a blade. Surprise.

"Now why would you do that?" he said. "Especially after . . ."

He inclined his head toward the dark water. His eyes had gone as flat black as a shark's.
"I'm giving you the same break you gave me. I mean, you did give me that small air tank, after all." He barked a laugh.

"C'mon. You know why I gave you that, right? So--"

"Yeah, I know what you had in mind. Me, standing on the bottom of the ocean, sipping a tiny breath at a time. Thinking about why you'd put me there. Thinking I shouldn't have taken Katie away from you." I kept my eyes on his, level and steady. "Believe it or not, I did stand there for a minute or two thinking if I just let go and took a really deep breath of salt water . . . well, maybe I'd feel better dead than I do alive."

I shook my head hard, clearing away the memory of the water and Jimi singing and that ghostly,
phosphorescent plain. "And, that's what almost killed me. Wasted air. You only gave me five minutes of gas in the bottle. I shouldn't have wasted what was in my lungs. I should have started in right off with the hard part and
then gone for the air."

"Okay," he said. "Save air, I got it. What's the hard part?" The shark eyes were like obsidian in the moonlight.

"I know you're not a diver, so I'll keep it simple." I jerked my thumb at the sea. "It's not summer, so the water's going to be cold. Very cold when you first hit it and freezing at the bottom. That's not a bad thing, 'cause it'll come in handy later." He nodded. "With two-hundred-fifty pounds taking you down it'll be like you're falling off a cliff. Your
eardrums will be screaming from the sudden pressure changes. Just ignore them, if they blow you can get them fixed later." I pointed at him. "I mean it. Keep your body limp as a rag. If you try to fight a two-hundred-fifty pound rock snatching you to the bottom of the ocean, you'll use up every bit of air in your lungs and all your strength to boot."

"Got it. Stay loose. Don't fight."

I nodded.

"Okay, when you hit the bottom the pressure will be raising hell with your chest. At two-hundred-fifty feet you're gonna have about seven and a half atmospheres of pressure sitting on your head. You can take it, but you gotta work fast."

His ringleted, greasy hair swung from side to side as the deck rocked under us.

"I take it this is where the hard part starts," he said.

"Yeah, it is," I said.

I pointed at him again. "I know you look like just another fat-ass Mafia gumball, but we both know you're not. So pay attention and don't interrupt." I watched him for a moment. He was stock still, head cocked to one side. Hearing everything, remembering everything. His shark eyes planning, planning, planning.

"Okay, you're there. You'll probably have a bit of luminescence from the silt and algae the concrete stirred up, so you'll be able to see. First you're going to have to shatter your ankle, probably twice. Micky here will show you how."

His head had snapped up when I said "shatter." He watched Micky approach and shifted his position subtly. The double click of my forty-five cocking spun his head back around to me.

"Nah, Johnny," I said, grinning. "He'd snap your neck like a stick and you don't want to take this ride dead, now do ya?"

He relaxed and didn't resist when Micky showed him how to make the quick, sharp motions that
would pulverize his ankle.

"How is the pain gonna be?" He asked.

"The water temp will help dull most of it," I said. "The cold'll also help keep blood loss down while you get the tourniquet in place."

He opened his mouth once, then closed it.


"Yeah," I said. "See, even with your ankle gone--what with your heel and all-- you still won't be able to get your foot through the manacle. So . . ." I put a thoughtful look on. "You do have your own teeth, don't you?" I said.

He bobbed his head "yes".

"Good. Then it shouldn't be problem for you to chew through your Achilles tendon and pull your
foot off. Then you hit the air bottle. Push the purge button," I held the mouthpiece up so he could see me when I tapped the small button in the center. "Hold this all the way in, shove it into your mouth, and suck hard. Fill your lungs and that'll give you time to get the airline from the bottle wrapped good and tight around your stump. From there on it gets easy."

He stiffened all over.

"You want me to gnaw my foot off?"

"Why not," I said, pulling up my jeans so he could see my carbon fiber leg. "It's what I had to do." I glanced at the luminous face of my dive watch. "Anything you want to say?"

"Nah. Well . . . thanks for the advice."

He looked down at the water and back at me.

"Maybe I'll come see you sometime."

"Good luck, partner," I said and nodded at Micky.

The step dropped with a rattle of chains.

The last of him I saw were his obsidian eyes burning into mine.


I was draped over an orange and pink striped beach chair watching a volleyball game and wondering if the tall girl's bikini top was going to stay in place for the whole match. Probably not, I decided.

"You're kinda hard to find, Master Chief," somebody behind me growled.

I didn't need to look around to tell who the owner of that voice was.

"That's either Sam Elliot or Micky Cooper," I said. "And Sam knows better than to sneak up on

I swung around and slapped him on the shoulder.

"How are you, Coop?"

He puffed out a breath through his walrus mustache.

"Been better," he said. "Picked a couple nails last month. Some little guy in a big shit pile tenement got a little lucky with his AK, 'fore I aced him." He tugged his Padres cap lower over his eyes. "I do so hate Somalia," he said. "Food sucks, women are too short and everybody's got a fucking machine gun."

There was a commotion of whoops, wolf-whistles and applause behind us. Cooper pushed his brim
up a bit and squinted down the beach.

"The tall girl?" I asked.

"Nope. Short redhead." Cooper said. "Let's grab a brew. Got some news you might not have."

We walked over to the thatch-roof, sand-floored bar and slid onto a couple of stools. A short, brown man in a polar-white jacket brought us our beers, took our money and got busy washing glasses at the far end of the bar.

I clinked my long-neck bottle against his.

"Absent friends," I said.

"Fuck the Army," he said.

"That's a fine thing to hear from an Army Ranger," I said.

"Hooah," he grinned.

"What you got, Coop?"

He took a sip of beer. "Got word from one of my guys that L.A.P.D found what was left of a big fat guy on the beach few months ago."


"Yeah. Coroner's Office drew a blank. Sharks had him pretty good. Ripped his chest out. Took his lungs and ribcage. No way to ID the body."

I sipped some Dos Equis. It went down cold and good.

"Found him, when . . . last January, maybe?"

"That's right. Coroner figured he hadn't been in the water that long; maybe one or two days."

"Be about right, way the current runs out there." I said.

"Funny thing 'bout that corpse," Cooper said. "A footnote on the Coroner's report states: Subject's left ankle severely shattered and left foot is missing completely. No evidence of shark bite. The foot seems to have been torn or ripped off, though body is in advanced decomposition making these findings inconclusive."

He downed his beer and signaled the bar-man for two more.

"So," he said, "Looks like you can quit lookin' over your shoulder."

I smiled.

"Never was, buddy. I just came down here to sort some things out in my head."

His eyes found mine. Puzzled expression on his face.

"Seems to me you told him what to do and he did it. You must have worried a little that he if he did everything you told him to . . ."

"No. In fact I was counting on him being tough enough to do everything I told him, exactly the way I told him to do it."

I took a long pull on the beer.

"He shouldn't have killed Katie. Not the way he did. Not like that. They needed dental records to find out who she was. He needed killin' for that." I took a deep breath. Let it out slow.

"So I only lied to him about one thing. Just one little thing."

I was lost for a moment. Jimi singing in my ears and the Valleys of Neptune glowing into infinity. And a pair of blue eyes and red hair and a scatter-smatter of freckles across the bridge of an upturned nose, waiting for me there.

The big Ranger waited silently for me to go on.

"Been only me and him, that might'a been just business. But Katie?" I shrugged. "That's why I filled the air tank with cyanide gas." He looked at me for a long time with no expression. Then he picked up his beer and clinked the neck of the bottle against mine.

"Hooah," he said softly.


AJ Hayes lives in a small town, near San Diego where nothing ever happens. So he makes up
stuff that should. Big thanks to Jimmy Callaway and Josh Converse for their good advice on how to make the story better.

And for sending you our way!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Round 3: Lullaby for the Summer by Brian S. Roe

His mother had often said “You have an angel’s name.” She said this whenever things went bad or he was sad and overwhelmed. She said it with a weight and seriousness that always made Michael look at her. When his eyes found her’s she would smile and whatever grief or sadness he had would wash away like dirt from skin. She had such big power, his momma. When she said it was all right, it was all right.

She had been gone for a little over a year. Some sickness that couldn’t be treated fast enough to keep her alive. She had good insurance through her job at the hospital and she was loved by the staff and doctors. But whatever she had been sick with took her over almost before the doctors could name it.

Michael remembered the taste of little chocolate chip cookies that he would feed to her on those days that he spent sitting at the hospital. They watched TV together and didn’t speak much. No words were needed nor could they convey her love or his fear. To have a woman so strong, big, loving, and calming suddenly ripped from his life had left a ragged hole that had only slightly started to fill. But what it would be filled with still remained to be seen.

Now he sat in his cousin’s small apartment. Watching TV and listening to his cousin’s baby mewl and gibber. Michael listened to the layers of sound in the apartment. Topmost was the TV. The baby competed with the junky box fan in front of Michael. Next was the mad whir of cicadas. Finally the mellow rumble of traffic on 30th Street. The sounds mixed and flowed over each other so that sometimes the traffic seemed to come from the TV or the baby made the mechanical humming-buzz of the cicadas.

The light was out in the refrigerator but it was still cold inside. Michael took out two little plastic bottles shaped like barrels. Each bottle was filled with colored sugar water and capped with a foil disc. His favorite flavor was orange but he liked cherry and blue sometimes. Lately the flavors in the mixed packs had gotten strange. Mango, kiwi, and other musky flavors that reminded him of the scent cans that his cousin put under the front seat of her car. He stood in front of the refrigerator enjoying its coolness.

The baby started crying.

Michael walked into the living room and smelled shit. He put down his drinks and went about the task of changing the baby. Oddly for someone his age he did this task with gentleness and efficiency. Unpleasant biology didn’t bother him overly much and he didn’t find it funny unless he was goofing with his friends at school. His mom had always told him that when he was old enough he could get a job at the hospital. A good job she’d said, drawing out the word “good” so that it felt satisfying and definite. He wondered if he could still try to get a job there, a “gooood” job. But it would be five more years before he could try.

He put the diaper in a plastic shopping bag and tied it tightly. He walked to the dumpster at the back of the projects and threw it on top of a sprawling mountain of trash. Huge flies buzzed around the dumpster and Michael was glad that his cousin lived towards the front of the complex. As he walked back to the apartment he looked over to his school. It was mostly empty and it made him sad. The huge asphalt playground in the back was totally deserted, its black surface too hot to play on. A few cars sat in the parking lot and he suddenly wondered if they would let him in. He’d take the baby and sit in the coolness of the library until his cousin got home. But he remembered that the library was closed until Fall and only the office staff was there. Maybe he could go talk to them.

When he got back to the apartment the baby was asleep. Michael sat on the couch and stared at the TV. He thumb-mashed the remote and cycled through all of the stations. He stopped for a while on a music video, all leering men shouting at the camera and women sticking their asses out, but turned it. The women made him feel strange and the men made him angry. the faces that they made reminded him of his male cousins when they got drunk. Or his daddy the last time he’d been to see momma.

For a few months after his mother’s death Michael had been taken to see his father at the work release center on New York Street. His cousin would drive him there and always stayed in the car while Michael spent an hour with his father. He had asked his cousin why she didn’t come in one time and she had glared at him and said something about his daddy never getting near to her again.

These hours with his father were spent playing Connect Four on a chipped and dirty rack that was as old as Michael. It was the only game that they could play together since his dad didn’t know chess and Michael didn’t like checkers. And the routine of filling up the rack with checkers only to have them vomit out from the bottom served okay in place of actual conversation. His father always made a point of buying Michael a grape soda and animal crackers.

The baby was crying.

Michael stood over the baby and watched him cry. The small face was crushed by the wailing that poured from it. The eyes clamped shut and the mouth as open as it could go. Michael knew that he should be calming the baby, finding out what was wrong. But instead he watched him cry. It was an oddly satisfying feeling to watch something smaller than him suffer. Finally he made the baby a bottle and fed him. Michael stood over the baby and held the bottle like someone would feed a goat. The only contact between them was when he picked him up to burp him. He put the baby back in the bed and the baby went to sleep.

Michael stood staring at the baby. The soft brown features were calm and passive in sleep. The little hands would occasionally bunch up into fists as the baby burped or farted. His arms and legs sometimes moved in a slow motion version of a sleeping dog chasing rabbits. Michael thought about his world and the baby’s world. They lived in a small apartment that reeked of mold and stale cigarettes. They lived next to a playground that was too hot to use when they actually weren’t in school. They lived in a world where huge black flies burrowed into dirty diapers, a world of fruit flavored sugar water, a world of dead mothers and wicked fathers. They lived in a stifling, stinking, shitty world.

His hand over the baby’s face was large and its skin darker than the baby’s. The hand descended like a storm cloud to cover the mouth and nose and to hide the eyes. Michael suddenly knew what his hand was doing and the only thing right now that could stop him would be to see the baby’s eyes open. While he was asleep the transition wouldn’t seem so extraordinary. Baby’s died in their sleep all the time.

He felt the wetness of the lips and nose, felt a slight sucking feeling as his hand sealed over the holes. The baby shook slightly. There was no great struggle, no flailing of infant arms trying to force him away. Only a mild shudder and then calm stillness.

Michael didn’t remember turning off the TV but he couldn’t hear it anymore. The only thing he could hear was the blood roaring in his ears and the whirring of the cicadas. The roar and whir built and built in his head. His cousin would come home and find the dead baby and scream. The rest of his family would wear black and scream. Everyone would point their fingers at Michael and scream. The screaming would build and build until it broke away his memories of his momma. This last thought brought up one massive sob from Michael as he dropped to his knees on the stained carpet. He cried, he sobbed, he roared, and finally he screamed.

Momma, what have I done?

There was a long clean wail that cut through Michael's crying like the bright note of a trumpet or a spotlight at night. It was a note that held strong and demanded attention like the explosion of fireworks in late Summer. It was the cry of a baby.

Michael peered over the edge of the baby’s bed with puffy, moist eyes. The baby was screaming and rocking itself back and forth like it wanted to roll over and stand up. His fists swung at the air as his legs pumped into the bedding. The baby was alive. And the baby wanted the whole mother fucking world to know that he was alive. Suddenly the roles had been reversed on Michael. He had become powerless in the presence of this child. The baby knew more about life than he did. Perhaps because he was still so close to its beginning. Michael smiled and wept and smiled. He lifted the baby and comforted him. The baby calmed and opened his eyes to Michael. Michael felt a rush of love that almost hurt, a love that throbbed in his gut. It was as strong as his love for his mother but somehow more fierce, more immediate. It was a pure love of life and of being.

The cicadas had gone quiet.

Michael and the baby were sitting together and watching TV when his cousin got home.


Brian S. Roe is the co-creator of "Noir: The Film Noir Roleplaying Game" and the boardgame "Zombie Plague". He is a graphic designer, writer, and stalwart geek who can still whip the whole lot of ya! Most of his time is spent coloring comic books like Atomic Robo and Clone Wars with the lovely and talented Ronda Pattison under the banner of RSquared Studios. He lives in Indianapolis but is not quite sure why.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Round Three: "Wait Until Tomorrow" by Katie Memmel

Parasites. Ingrates. Wretched fruit of my loins. They have invaded my home, buzzing around like flies on a piece of rotting meat. They have violated my precious peace of mind by spreading noise and discord and the absurd drama of children who evidently never grew up. They are putting Post-it notes marked with their names underneath pieces of furniture and behind artwork, and gathering priceless knick-knacks onto tables categorized as Trash Junk, Sellable Junk, and Keepers.

Arguing at one moment and cooperating the next, they are making quick work of organizing my estate. Lists are being drawn up, photos taken, paperwork signed, and I’m sitting in the thick of it all, in my favorite chair, with no one so much as offering me a beverage. I’m not dead, not yet, but I’m close.

The condition I’ve suffered with for years has taken a turn for the worse, and according to my doctor, men of my advanced age usually don’t have the strength to fight. He’s the one who told my family, who didn’t listen to my reasonable request that they be kept the hell out of my business. According to him, I can’t face this alone. Clearly he hasn’t met my family.


In my dining room, there is a solid mahogany table that a wealthy merchant once bought as a wedding present for his daughter. He had it delivered to the future home of the couple, who would move in once they were married. As was family tradition, the bride slept in the marriage bed the night before the wedding for good luck. But in the middle of the night, raiding soldiers from the North plundered the house, killing the merchant’s daughter and ravaging everything that was too big to steal—except, oddly enough, the table. It is a Civil War relic and worth so much more than just the high price it would fetch at auction if it possessed any sort of authentication. Underneath it is a tag bearing the name of my granddaughter, a divorced mother of four young boys who needs a new table because her children destroyed the last one. I told everyone in my family the story of the merchant’s daughter, which had been passed down, along with the table, through generations on my father’s side—yet no one objected to my granddaughter’s request.

Hanging in the master bedroom above the reading chair in the alcove is a portrait of my great-grandmother. It was painted in her late twenties, when her beauty was at its peak and her utter satisfaction with life shone through her smile like the dawn breaking over the desert. My great-grandfather commissioned the portrait to commemorate his recent success in business and to serve as a token of gratitude to his wife for suffering through years of financial strife. His many, and often risky ventures finally paid off, to such a degree that they ensured the affluence of most of his descendants. In addition to being firmly rooted in my family’s history, the portrait is a reminder of my beloved late mother, for the two women were nearly identical. Stuck behind the frame is the name of my son, who plans to give it to his third wife for her 25th birthday because “she’s into old stuff”. He and my mother were never close, and he couldn’t even recall her first name when I recently asked.

Resting on a velvet cushion in an old curio is a brass compass that my father gave me the day I graduated from college. He was never an affectionate man, and rarely gave praise even when plainly deserved. For most of my childhood, I doubted that he loved me or cared what I did with my life, and although I tried to look up to him, I never felt a strong connection until the day I graduated and he slipped the compass in my hand. “You never needed my guidance,” he said, “because in most ways you are a far better man than I ever aspired to be.” He wanted the compass to remind me that no matter what direction I took in life, he knew, and I knew, it would always be for the best. Three months later he took to bed with pneumonia and died before I could get back from my new job to see him. I wore the compass in my vest pocket every day from graduation to retirement, and later moved it to the curio for safekeeping. Just moments ago, my daughter tossed it in a pile with ashtrays and figurines and porcelain tea cups without matching saucers, on a table labeled Sellable Junk.


I know you can’t take it with you. I know that I could fall asleep tonight for the last time and it wouldn’t matter what became of my possessions. But I can’t imagine resting in peace knowing that the significance of these precious heirlooms will be lost forever in the hands of those myopic fools, those greedy tactless vultures scavenging through my home and treating me as if I were already dead.

So I have a plan.

The first thing my family doesn’t know is that I cashed out all my bank accounts, stocks and bonds weeks ago. I gave half to my favorite charities, and half to the volunteer firefighters.

The second thing they don’t know is that my house is rigged to the hilt with explosives, compliments of an old friend from the army who’s still spry enough to get around attics and stairs.

And the third thing they don’t know is that I have no intention of prolonging the inevitable. I’m old. I’m sick. I have nothing better to do than sit around and wait until tomorrow.

So in less than twenty-four hours, as I sit here in my favorite chair, among my favorite things, it’ll all get blown to kingdom come—the house, the furniture, the artwork and everything.

That way, no one will get anything.



Katie Memmel is the Editor-in-Chief of Prime magazine, a steel industry publication. While she's absolutely riveted by price fluctuations, merger activity, and international trade legislation, she'd rather stay home and write stories all day. And she should... as often as economically feasible.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Round 3: All Along the Watchtower by Alexander Kraft

Some people think I'm a monster. That I enjoy killing. That I'm an enthusiastic participant of an organization that kills for pleasure or power. Like some primordial swimming creature with innumerable arms and no brain, animated by hostility, its cognition distributed holographically across all of its primitive cells so that each arm, each piece, contains the entirety of its hateful motivation. I am one of these arms, so this mindset contends; when I shoot those who try to scale the wall it is because I relish it, and by extension the state relishes it: each of the millions of people employed by the state champing at the bit to kill, oppress, and hurt.

There are others who pity me, albeit in an equally shallow sort of way. They see me as a dupe or as a victim myself. They construct my relationship with the state as a form of the old you-or-them dilemma - I wake up and a bandit has tied up my family, or five innocent strangers, or something equally unlikely. He tells me to kill them or he will kill me. In this view, when I kill “refugees” who are trying to “escape” to the capitalist west, it is only because I am too stupid or weak to resist this coercion: to figure out a third way, or to martyr myself refusing to participate. How flattering.

It was last Wednesday, a man with grey eyes, his jaw set firm, determination carving out his face. An explosion half a block south. I look north, of course. The grey eyes following the trace of an improvised hook over the top of the wall. Huge hands, roughened by labor, gripping a line stolen from a factory, hoisting himself up with the strength and speed of a lifetime of work. Halfway up, our eyes meet. He's been in my sights since he threw the line. There's a puff of red and he falls, the crimson arc that follows him down like the arc of rope that followed the hook up.

Last night my investigations bore fruit, and I learned his name. This morning at the beginning of my shift I carefully inscribed it at the base of my tower. Nicholas Kravitz. It is the forty-seventh name, all of them neatly blocked in a long line to the left of the door.

Of course both views are simplistic and ultimately inaccurate. Of course there are bloodthirsty murderers out there. Sometimes they even achieve positions of power. But millions? Everyone with a government job, to a man? It's ridiculous. I take no joy in taking a life. The names on the watchtower aren't trophies, mementos, heads on stakes to warn people of my ruthlessness. Every day that I walk past those names, they chill me as deeply, sober me at thoroughly, as they do any of the peasants who gape horrified at them.

But they aren't epitaphs, either. I do not mourn these men and women. I never woke up with a gun to my head; I wasn't ordered to take this job. To think of me a victim, bamboozled into this position, ignores a lifetime of context surrounding my situation. I didn't blink into existence at the top of a watchtower with a rifle. I signed up, I trained, I moved through the ranks, I climb the stairs every day. I could be peeling potatoes instead if I wanted to, but this work is too important. Those people need to die. I need to kill them. And I do not record their names out of grief or pity.

The hardest it ever was to pull the trigger was last June, a family. Who would take their seven year old daughter on a suicide mission? Her parents had the fierce, defiant look of former aristocracy fueled by righteous indignation and astonishment at the audacity of we peasants to keep up this ruse of a nation. But the little girl broke my heart. Her face was full of pleading and terror. Tears rolled down my face as I painted her name alongside those of her parents. It tore my heart that she was my enemy.

Each of those names is a life story. When I walk into work, I read each of them, and I know them. I've spent countless days getting to know each of them. Where they worked. Where they lived. Their families. The songs they sung, the books they loved. Their smiles, their tears. When did they betray their fellows? When did the siren song of Coca-Cola and rock and roll and mansions and yachts become irresistible? Every worker who leaves us weakens us. Every new worker who joins the capitalists strengthens them. And it is not a proportional relationship. We provide our workers with food, shelter, clothing, medicine, education, entertainment. But the capitalists needn't spend so much. They reduce people to figures: how much would it cost to provide for a person's needs? Give them a wage that's a little less than that. Need to cut expenses? Pay a little less yet. If the workers can't make ends meet, tell them it is their own fault for not working hard enough. It costs less there to hire a worker than to keep a slave. Quite a bargain.

In this way, on the balance, giving the capitalists one more worker is the equivalent of killing a hundred of ours. And in all likelihood, that is precisely what it will lead to, anyway. We all know that the west will not rest until we have been fully destroyed, ground into the dust. Every one of those names I've written is the name of one who aspired to be a mass-murderer. Even without understanding, simply by living there and working. One who would sell his kinsmen and countrymen for the glitter of a false promise.

As I walk to my post with a heavy heart, I read those names along the watchtower. I remember killing every one of them. I think of who they were, men and women like me. My friends. Drinking and laughing and loving. I read those names and I know how easy it is for any one to become the bitterest enemy of humanity, without even knowing it. I mourn for the death of my friends - not when I shot them, for then they were my enemies. My friends died little by little as they were dazzled by the lights to the west. I must be ever vigilant: it could happen to anyone. I read those names every morning and I am steeled for what I must do.


Wonderful! Another aggressively varied addition to this Title Fights legacy! Alexander Kraft was born into the aristocracy of very cheesy pasta, but bowed out to lead labor unions and invent electric cars. I think. Little is known. Much is suspected.