Henry and Ed used to hang out all the time, hiking for hours to collect lava rock, trading music files, eating chocolate. Man, they loved their chocolate – Henry especially. It was a huge deal when the supply planes delivered more to Avugiak’s Store. But then, Ed started hurting. Holding his hand to the side of his face. Staying home sick. On the last day of seventh grade, one of the almonds in a Hershey bar, the first decent candy they’d eaten in weeks, sent him reeling.
Via Skype, the dentist decided on a root canal. Ed worried about it: the flight to Bethel, the sedation. Henry had always wanted to trade places with him, but never more than now. He would’ve suffered anything to escape the deadening monotony of the village, to distract Grandpa Panruk from trying so hard, too hard, after the judge had sent Dad to Fairbanks.
The day before the big appointment, as they wandered through the tundra, Ed, usually so self-assured, so cool, started crying, his face twisted up, his sobs dry and violent. Henry touched his shoulder but jumped back when he yelled, “Leave me alone, you fat pig!” After shuffling the long distance home, Henry to Grandpa’s trailer, Ed to his house, they never spoke again.
The summer passed. Hours of clear light allowed Henry amazing views of the old volcano. He even spotted a grizzly and stood painfully still, a thrilling panic causing colors to vibrate around him, until the bear lumbered off. He couldn’t enjoy any of these discoveries completely, though. Not alone.
For once, he was relieved to return to school. At least, until he saw Ed, who, since an uneasy July encounter at Avugiak’s, had not only grown taller but acquired an entourage.
Henry’s weekends seemed even lonelier after that. He spent most of them with Grandpa at the Town Hall, playing Bingo. He never won, always one mark away in every direction when another old vet would shout out victory in a reedy voice.
Tonight, he’d had enough of breathing in the hall’s citrusy-sweet cleanser. It made his eyes burn. He felt Grandpa watching as he stepped outside for a cigarette, a habit acquired over the summer to kill time. Not good, he knew. Dad started smoking at thirteen, too.
And then, Ed’s entourage wandered down the street. Unavoidable in this claustrophobic place, especially on a Friday night. The popular kids and their easy laughter. Henry had trouble swallowing when they got closer. He’d never look like them, never fit in. He wanted to hide in the shadows, but his bulk prevented that.
A girl whose mother and sisters were all former homecoming queens clutched onto Ed. “Is that a grizzly bear?” she asked in a squeak.
Ed started a little in recognition. “No,” he said, recovering. “Nothing nearly that exciting.”
Henry let them pass, accepting his place and his destiny. Both were inevitable, like lava cooling into the pitted rocks he used to collect with his best friend.
The Bear Burglar
“What is this?” asked the county policewoman, holding up a disposable container with a thin blue lid. Inside sloshed what looked like white, jellied meatballs floating in egg-drop soup. “Eye of newt and toe of frog?”
The 12-year-old girl sat with her arms crossed in the flimsy chair across the table. “Something like that.” Blonde and a few pounds chubby, the hem of her black skirt was cut deliberately ragged, and the black hood of her sweatshirt hung limp down her back.
“And this is all she had on her?” asked the male officer, surveying the strewn contents of the girl’s backpack on the table. The backpack itself, which seemed held together with safety pins, lay deflated to one side. He grabbed her pliers and held them up to the fluorescent lights.
The woman gestured to the tool. “I caught her red-handed, using those to give old Boris a root canal. She’d climbed up and was straddling his shoulder, yanking on one of his teeth.”
“Why would she want the tooth of a stuffed grizzly bear?”
“An ursine canine,” the girl specified, rolling her eyes.
“Poor Boris. It’s disrespectful.” The policewoman shook her head and its tidy ponytail. “He’s lorded over town hall since 1896.”
“And you say no signs of forced entry?”
“None. That alarm system is airtight. I checked it myself when I clocked in.”
“Hrm.” He handled the girl’s belongings like they might be infected.
Cell phone. A bundle of keys. A beat-up spiral notebook. Winter gloves. Latex gloves. A turkey baster and a full canister of salt. Four candles. A white business envelope full of brown hair.
“Jesus,” he said, wrinkling his lip. He picked up a Ziploc bag containing handful of almonds from the table and held it between pinched fingers. “And you even brought a snack?”
“High in protein, almonds,” said the girl, no cracks in her facial expression.
“We still haven’t been able to reach her parents, and she hasn’t said anything useful.”
He leaned back and crossed his legs at the ankle. “I guess we should settle in then and see if she likes spending the night at the police station as much as breaking and entering. Good thing she packed us snacks.” He poured some almonds into his palm.
“Hush now, girl.”
“Really, I wouldn’t,” the girl insisted.
He tossed a nut into his mouth. A split second later, his uniform was empty, draped flat on the chair. His hat hit the linoleum with a thwack.
“What the—” The other officer’s hand flew to the butt of her gun. “Jim?”
“Here!” came a tiny squeak. The pants moved. A Barbie-sized cop climbed out of the tangle of fabric, naked.
“What did you do to him?!”
The girl sighed. “I told him not to.”
“Hey… hey!” yelped the tiny cop.
“Calm down,” said the girl. “In my experience, it wears off in, like, five minutes. Tops.” She leaned back and crossed her legs at the ankle.
Speed Dating in Montana
In a candlelit room full of batting eyes and coy smiles, one couldn’t help but notice Larry. He sat stiffly upright in his father’s 1970’s fringed-leather leisure suit, still donning his nametag from work:
Large Mammal Endodonsist
Big Horn County”
His shifting eyes made the other Speed Daters uncomfortable. They were dull brown, thin, and wrinkled like unwanted almonds in a bag of trail mix. He yearned for his mother’s help that night, but she had been dead for four months now.
Date six of six walked across the room and plunked down in the chair across from him.
“Hey, so you’re, uh, Larry?” she said, squinting through her purple horn-rims at his nametag.
She wore pink streaks in her hair to distract from the lazy eye. Larry found this endearing.
“Maggie Marsh, Avian Ophthalmologist for Rosebud County. I’m totally into birds- love ‘em! Have you ever looked into a birds eye? Really close? Windows to the soul, I tell ya.”
Larry’s heart swelled. His breath escaped, and it was suddenly difficult to take another one. His narrow eyes widened.
“So, you like animals?” Larry managed to squeak.
“Oh, yeah! Well, birds anyway.”
“Me, too. In fact, I recently landed a contract for Mayor Poole’s horses’ biannual dental care!” Larry said a bit louder, a bit prouder. His heart raced.
“That’s nothing! I was hired to get all those blind swans out of the town hall basement last year!”
“I didn’t hear about that,” Larry said.
“Really? It was wild! See the trick is, you have to come at a visually-impaired swan from the side, not the back!” Maggie jumped up, reenacting the scene, using Larry and his surrounding daters as the birds, shooing and squawking at them.
The other daters were horrified, mouths agape. Larry was exhilarated.
“Oh, yeah? Well, have you ever had your hand in a grizzly’s mouth?” He asked, grinning.
Maggie turned back to the table, intrigued.
“Remember that old bear found gnawing at the Johnson’s gazebo? He just had a toothache. I took care of it for him. The first documented root canal in an Ursus arctos horribilis! It was in all the papers.”
“No way!” she gasped, leaning forward with her hands straddling the table.
“I kept him, you know. Jerry. Lives in my garage.”
“Oh. Oh wow! Could I? Do ya… think I could meet him?” she asked.
Larry inhaled sharply. His mother always told him to jump for love when he found it, so he did.
“Let’s go.” He grabbed Maggie by her tattooed arm, and they ran out the door.
They shared a breathless glance on the way to his car and smiled.
He imagined his mother waiting proudly at home to meet his date. It really was a shame that Jerry mauled her to death. Should he tell Maggie about that? No, that could probably wait until the third date…if she lived that long.
I hate dentists. If they were the last people on earth, I’d still avoid them. And going to see one when you’re on vacation would be the furthest thing from my mind. All I was doing was sitting watching a movie, munching on some nuts. When I bit down on that miserable almond, the pain shot up through my jaw and just wouldn’t stop. I had to finally surrender and go and see a dentist. But in this strange town, where did I look? The motel manager was unfriendly, the local information centre was closed, and the motley collection of buildings gave no clues. I mumbled my query to the guy behind the cash register at the beach kiosk, as I held my face to ease the ache. “Hey, man,” he grinned devilishly. “Find the Town Hall over there,” and he waved his arm vaguely in the direction of the only service station. “The dentist is in the white building next door.” I stumbled away, the structures in front of me blurred by my ever-increasing pain. When I finally got into the dentist’s room, I sat staring up into a light so bright my eyes began to water. I had my mouth open so far I thought my head would split in two. The dentist loomed over me with a diabolical instrument clenched in his paw. He was dark, huge and menacing. He looked like a grizzly bear. The pain in my jaw intensified and the instrument descended with electrifying force through my saliva. Then things got even worse. “Ah aah,” said the Grizzly Bear. “I’m afraid you’ll need a root canal.” I told you I hated dentists!
Meryl stood at Jem’s bedroom door. He was a new born the last time she felt this helpless as a mother.
She could hear the weird music. He was watching those old horror sci-fi movies again. It wasn’t a good sign. The eerie wailing had worried her when she’d heard it first, but she eventually recognised the sound of a Theremin; falsifying an atmosphere of mystery and impending doom
It didn’t need falsifying today.
It had been 3 days since she’d seen him. He hadn’t come out of his room to eat or use the bathroom, or if he did she wasn’t aware. The only reason his dad hadn’t broken the door down is that eventually, Jem would answer their pleas for response with a grunt to be left alone.
Meryl knew he was drowning in guilt; she was devastated for him and felt powerless to help him.
It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Jem & Carl often spent their time exploring old Jennings’ farm. They’d learned to fish in his river, he let them pick apples in his orchard. Every so often he’d pay them to paint or clear the yard. He was a bit of a loner but the boys never caused him any trouble and he liked them.
But it had all gone wrong when the boys did the one thing he’d asked them never to do. They couldn’t see his truck in the yard and thought he was out. So they climbed the frame of the dilapidated wooden water tower. When Jennings saw them from a distance it never occurred to him that it was Jem and Carl. He got his shotgun and started firing in their direction. He didn’t want to hit them; he just wanted to scare them to get them down.
It worked. Carl got such a fright he almost let go. Jem grabbed him and pulled him up.
“Thanks buddy, we better get outta here.”
As they went to move, the beam that Carl was leaning against gave way and Jem watched him fall to the ground.
At Carl’s funeral Jem read a goodbye letter to his best friend. It was a heart wrenching elegy of friendship, regret, anger and guilt. Jem had not spoken a word since that day.
That was 2 weeks ago and now he was locked away in his room.
Meryl was about to walk away again but a voice somewhere inside stopped her.
“Meryl, you are his mother! You are his mother and he is your child. If you can’t get through to him no one can. You can save him, you can help him. You ARE strong enough.”
She was filled with determination and strength. Power surged through her veins as she knocked at the door.
“Jem, it’s Mom. Please open this door – right now.”
Meryl stood in her new found power; the power of a broken-hearted mother
Jem heard it in her voice. He stood up and walked to the door.
Dani J Caile
That damn theremin of his, why does he always have to bring it out every time we have guests? I’d like to shove that little talent cup trophy right down the throat of those judges who voted him ‘best act’ at the local community centre all those years ago when we first came to the area. Just like his father before him, always getting it out and doing the wavy muso bit looking so pompous and self-important! And why does he have to play those pieces which are so bleak and mournful? Always so depressing like some turgid elegy. Oh, thank God, he’s finished! Now’s my chance.
“Darling, don’t you think it’s time our guests moved onto the terrace now, have a few drinks in the cool evening air?”
“Oh but Daphne, I haven’t played my masterpiece yet, my pièce de résistance.”
No, please, not that one, I’ve heard it almost every night for the past forty-seven years! Why did I marry this man?
“Oh, Daphne, yes. Please let us listen, we’re dying to hear George’s masterpiece.”
I’ll die if I have to hear that dross one more time!
“Yes, please, Daphne. And can I have another cucumber sandwich? They’re rather delicious, I think.”
If only I had a super power or something to stop this scourge! Turn invisible and disappear, able to run away from the role of devoted and loving wife. Be able to turn back time and stop his father from buying the damn RCA in the first place. Or have super human strength and bring down that old wooden water tower at the end of the block, causing a massive deluge which would flow down the street and everyone’ll need to evacuate! Perhaps the water would even damage the thing and he wouldn’t be able to play it ever again! But no, I am the loyal and good-natured housewife, I have superhuman endurance to suffer the blows and misfortunes a husband can give, I am his most endured host and trusted love. I have the power to withstand all he can deliver. What? Is he finished? Is it finally over?
“Bravo, dear boy, that was excellent, bravissimo!”
Polite applause this time. Better get some drinks ready for the terrace.
“And now, for my finale, I will play a brand new piece, never played before!”
What! Now hang on a minute!
“Darling, don’t you think it’s time for drinks? On the terrace?”
“No, no, I must show our guests my new jewel, my new…”
“But darling…” Damn wires! They’re all over the place…whoops.
“Oh dear me!”
The ambulance came as quick as it could, considering the congestion on the main highway. One of our guests tried resuscitation after clearing his body from the equipment with a broom, but there wasn’t any real chance of saving him. I guess you shouldn’t mix semi-sparkling rosé wine with electricity. It’ll be quiet without him, though of course, the theremin will hold a central place on the mantelpiece.
Here’s a random fact for you. You ever see the movie ‘Forbidden Planet’? An old schlocky sci-fi show. It has Leslie Neilsen in it before he decided to become the head honcho of goofiness. Well, that soundtrack? Contrary to popular belief, it didn’t use a Theremin. At this point, you’re likely quirking an eyebrow and wondering what the hell this idiot is wittering on about. Said idiot being me.
Did you ever wish that you had a super power? I did, constantly. I ruined more of my parents’ bedsheets prancing around pretending to be Superman than they were really comfortable with. It turns out that the phrase ‘Be careful what you wish for’ isn’t just a plot device for teen drama. I got my wish. It just turned out to be a little more different than I would have liked. My super power is useless trivia.
I can hear you now, “That’s not a super power.” And I’d be inclined to agree with you, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve yet to get a question wrong on a quiz show. This also seems to have an interesting side effect on others, in that it is incredibly irritating. If the quiz in question happens to be in a bar, well… Let’s just say that alcohol and irritation can lead to some less-than-savoury experiences.
You see, it turns out that another phrase, “Nobody likes a smart-ass” is also very relevant. It was never intentional, honest. Thing is, when these so-called facts want to come out, they do. They are like a body dumped into one of those old wooden water towers; they float to the surface and explode in a socially-awkward jumble. That, and everyone around me thinks there is something off about it. They spill forth, the words tripping each other up as they force themselves into existence.
This brings on a crushing isolation. People just want to avoid spending time with the guy who’ll tell them that their favourite TV character is actually a rip-off of an obscure Scandanavian character. They all just walk away, leaving me more familiar with people’s backs than their faces. Honest to goodness, I can tell gender, ethnicity and age from a brief glance at someone from behind. And all this because of a wish. It turns out that your hope has power, more than you could possibly imagine. Like any power, it can be devastating.
No, I don’t know how it happened. I just woke up one morning and was able to rhyme off information. Maybe I spent too much time reading Wikipedia. All I know is that now I know too much. So long story short, this is my elegy. I’m no Coleridge, but I do what I can. This is the lament of my life. Not the physicality. Not the soul. The social.
One last thing, trivia is also Latin for ‘where three roads meet’. Bet you didn’t know that.
The Day Phantom Bigfoot Stood Still
Phantom Bigfoot skipped across the mating glade with three of his Bigfoot Babes squealing and snorting behind him. They entered the great forest of their ancestors and trudged to Little Beaver River. There they all used the strange invigorating properties of the mating water. Phantom Bigfoot had a dream many moons ago where a tall blond pale one told him the water was special – he called it a simple super power – whatever that was. So long as it continued to get him horny, Phantom Bigfoot didn’t give a ffffff what it was called. It sure tasted good, but not as good as happy juice. Phantom Bigfoot sighed as images of all three of his Bigfoot Babes wild on happy juice pleased him so many times his thruster was red raw for three suns.
At the mating glade, heavy with the scent of honeysuckle, Phantom Bigfoot urged his Bigfoot Babes to the special place. The special place was a derelict settler’s home from so many moons past, Phantom Bigfoot decided not to waste precious mating time on it. As the sun caressed the ridge of gentle sloping foothills, its weakened rays slicing between the remnants of a stone chimney stack and a dilapidated wooden water tower now covered with ivy, Phantom Bigfoot got down to the serious business of the mating ritual.
“Wooowoooowooooo,” bleated all three Bigfoot Babes, swishing their hips to some internal rhythm of nature’s design. Well not really as Bigfoot Babes love to salsa shown to them by their friendly pale one, Doooane.
“Woooeeeeeoooooeeeeeeoooooo,” howled Phantom Bigfoot in reply to the mating call. As all three Bigfoot Babes hunkered down with hindquarters raised a most peculiar sound interrupted the proceedings. Phantom Bigfoot was most put out at this untimely interference. He let out a ferocious snarl, “Eeeeaaaaaarrrrraaaaarrrrrr!” To Phantom Bigfoot’s utter dismay, all three Bigfoot Babes stood rock still, mewling pathetically and pointing skyward.
As Phantom Bigfoot’s thruster lost its desire. He stood still looking at the source to see a strange doughnut-shaped object hovering above them. Attached underneath the silver doughnut were two shiny prongs, quivering with unearthly power. The object drifted almost to the grass level, swirling the green blades into a flattened circle. A silver footpath extended from the doughnut. A massive steel creature stomped forth. It stopped and looked all around with shining eyes. Another creature emerged, this pale one was old and bent with white hair. He walked up to a terrified Phantom Bigfoot and bowed.
The old man introduced himself in a language that Phantom Bigfoot could understand, “Do not fear Gort. I am Leon come to make music with you on Theremin.” Leon detached the device from the doughnut and ran his hands over it creating a sad elegy of electronic whines.
By now Phantom Bigfoot and his Bigfoot Babes had quite enough of this crap and ran away with hands to ears, squealing.
Leon Theremin sighed, shrugged and stepped back into his steel home, “That used to knock them dead, Gort?”
Challenge 14 is a little different than previous challenges. Last February, Victoria Dougherty invited me, along with 5 other authors, to participate on her blog by writing a 500 word flash fiction piece, consisting of 4 elements. She gave us 6 weeks to write the story and the 500 word limitation was more or less a guideline.
From that invitation, The Iron Writer was born. As Victoria was posting her stories over a six week period (one per week), I asked her if I could post those stories here, as a challenge, when her blog tour was finished. After receiving permission from each of the other authors, she agreed. So here they are.
In the large pool at the center of the Luxembourg Gardens, white triangles chased one another in the Parisian breeze, some with reckless disregard for maritime rules, and some bent on revenge.
Outside the Gardens, Pierre LaFontaine rushed across the street, carrying a brown paper bag. The side of his knee grazed the bumper of an odd looking black limousine. Annoyed, Pierre kept walking. He did not want to keep his mother waiting. The thin gold hands on his Patek Philippe showed ten minutes after 1:00pm.
Pierre was 32 years old, 5’ 10” and slightly built. When he reached his bench he lifted the edges of his grey worsted wool trousers and sat down. He placed the bag beside him and took out the coffee cup. Steam fumed from the sharp plastic edges of the spout.
“Walking with a cup,” he thought. “So American.”
Before Pierre had bumped into the limousine, its passenger was already watching him from the back seat of the 1959 Zil-III. The Russians originally built a few of these for their leaders, first making the cabin bulletproof, bombproof, and flip proof and then fastening on the chassis, engine and wheels. In the ‘90s they auctioned them off.
The passenger’s hair was grey, his skin sallow. He bore the marks of more years than he had actually lived. When he saw Pierre go through the gates, the man raised the revolver like an index finger. He drew a small circle in the air. Around again.
Pierre watched the children sail their boats. He thought of Frederick, nine months old, threatening to crawl.
“We will sail boats here, Freddie,” he murmured. “We will.”
Pierre heard the leaves rustle in the dense shrubs behind him. The smell of sour skin, pine needles, garlic, bourbon and beer, reached him before he saw her.
“Madame, bonjour,” Pierre called. Over his shoulder, a short mound moved in the bushes. She wore layers of brown fabric, and on her head grew a long and tangled nest. The whites of her eyes were startling clean patches at the center of her muddy, creased face. She looked unsteadily at Pierre, then lifted a jug to her lips. Pierre stared off through a wrought iron gate in the garden wall. As he watched, a rectangular black limousine rolled by.
The gypsy retreated, but left her strong scent.
Pierre slid his hand into his coat pocket and cupped the folded envelope into his palm. Concealing it against the cup, he put both in the paper bag, and left that on the bench. Then he walked back to the bank where younger men would bring him real espresso in white porcelain.
From behind the leaves, the dirty woman watched him go.
Days later, Pierre strolled to the same bench at ten minutes after one. An ambulance was parked on the maintenance path near the shrubs.
“Dead gypsy,” said the man with thin blue latex gloves over his wrists. “Usually it’s the drink. Pardonnez-moi, sir.”
Pierre watched him lay the body on the stretcher. He saw at her elbows, now drawn out flat, the fabric’s original bright streaks of blue, red and yellow paisley prints. Then the sheet covered her.
Pierre turned away, his Italian leather shoes crunching shards of the ceramic jug. “Au revoir, maman,” he whispered.
That was when he noticed the brown paper bag under the bench. It was the same one he had left for her, but now it bulged.
Pierre unrolled the top and reached in. He felt something soft.
That night when the elevator opened into the foyer of Pierre’s apartment, he heard laughter in the nursery.
“Watch this,” Maria said when she saw her husband at the door.
Once Pierre had won, as a joke award from the bank, “Sidney the largemouth swordfish.” It was a fake fish mounted on a piece of wood which would open its mouth and slap its tail when someone clapped.
Maria did so, and the fish obliged. Freddie tipped his head back with peals of laughter and tried to bring his little chubby palms together too.
Pierre bent down to get close to Freddie’s beautiful face. He touched his boy’s little earlobe, where a fluke of birth had put a cleft in it.
“I have something for you,” he said, holding out a small stuffed bear. It was thirty years old and its nose was gone.
Freddie clapped for it, which made Sidney slap and gawp, which sent the boy into fits. Laughing, Pierre stood up and kissed his wife.
Freddie started to cry.
“He wants the bear,” said Maria.
Pierre nodded, but kept the bear in his hands. Turning his back to the boy, he grasped the bear’s head and ripped it clean off. Slowly, he stuck his fingers deep into the stuffing. When he pulled out his fist, Maria saw three large diamonds, and a ruby. Pierre blew the stuffing off them, and walked over to Sidney.
“Clap Freddie!” he said. When his son made the fish open its mouth, Pierre dropped the jewels inside. They rattled when they landed on the pile.
The passenger put his revolver flat on the back seat of the ZiL. His hands trembled as he opened the folded envelope, stained by coffee and filthy fingerprints, and extracted a photograph. It was of a nine month old boy.
As the ZIL drove on, tears leaked from the passenger’s eyes. One found the edge of his nose and dripped over his lip. The other slipped from the outer edge of his eye. It slid along his cheekbone and down to his earlobe, where a fluke of birth had put a cleft in it.
A Cold Forest Night
B Y Rogers
c. 2013 all rights reserved
Demyan waited in the back seat of his chauffeured 1959 ZiL-III, strumming his fingers on the arm rest. It was cold, the wind was howling outside the armored vehicle and he was tired. But his time in the field was measured, or so he believed. Soon, he hoped he would spend his days at the Politburo and his nights wherever he chose.
He couldn’t see the hamlet hidden in the trees. But the agent knew the safe house was secure, having spent many a night like a great many agents before him, seducing an endless stream of Bond girl wannabes. He smiled at the memory of the stuffed swordfish mounted on the wall above the bed. It has always been a source of inspiration.
But those days were long past for him. This assignment was different. This mission involved an unarmed American with a proclivity for large breasted women; hence the use of the sanctuary that was scheduled to be consumed in an accidental forest fire in the spring.
It was time. If the gypsy woman had done her job by now, the American would be turned. He would have no other choice. He stepped out of the car, closing the door quietly. His driver knew his job. The car eased itself silently down the dirt road to wait. Demyan turned his collar up and followed the short path into the forest.
A hundred yards away, he opened the door and peeked in. The lamp on the night stand was on, but what he saw was alarming. A jug of moonshine lay broken on the floor, its contents, tainted with hallucinogens intended for the American, was still draining between the floor boards. His agent, a gypsy from Belarus, was naked on the bed with the upper jaw of the swordfish completely buried between her ample breasts. The swordfish’s fin nearly touched the ceiling. He went to the girl but there was nothing he could do for her. Sensing danger, he backed out of the room and walked down the path, triggering the transistor radio in his pocket.
Half a mile away, his driver was on the ground, the last of his blood soaking the grass beneath his face. A light blinked on the dashboard inside the car. A gloved hand put the transmission into drive.
Demyan watched his ZiL approach. He lit a cigarette, as much for warmth as to signal the driver it was safe. When he noticed the car window was down, his head screamed for him to run to safety. He pulled his weapon, emptying the magazine toward the car as he ran as he ran up the trail.
Out of breath, he plunged into the cabin, slamming the door behind him. He spun around, knowing he had to turn the lamp off before his assailant arrived. Then he saw the American laying on the bed, the swordfish pinning him to the mattress. The gypsy was gone.
c. 2013 All Rights Reserved
Shielding rheumy eyes from sea-reflected morning sun, Old Pavel strained to see what had snagged his line. For as long as he had fished off the long-abandoned pier he couldn’t recall the water so low. Impatient, Pavel yanked too hard and his ancient pole snapped in two.
Cursing, he traced his ruined gear to a thin cylinder gleaming just above the surface. An antenna, of all things! Dropping the butt end of his useless rod, Old Pavel hopped over rotting planks to the tobacconist’s where there existed a functioning telephone. Now that no one was a communist anymore he wasn’t so afraid to call the police.
Victor Maravich, Krinitsa’s police chief and a week from retirement, thought he had seen everything, but his shoulders sagged upon recognizing the muck-covered Soviet-era ZIL armored limousine that the crane sucked from the seabed. He had no need or desire to look inside the rusted wreckage, but to make it official he did. After, he trudged through the drowsy resort town and up the hill toward Sergei’s tree-shrouded dacha with its commanding view of the beach, hoping he would die first.
General Sergei Borshevsky awaited him at the door. Still tall and powerful, tufts of gray curls escaped his armpits and the collar of his white T-shirt. Red suspenders held up baggy, wool pants.
“Come and sit, Victor,” he said.
The table was bare but for the dusty jug of Kentucky moonshine that Castro had laughingly bestowed upon Borshevsky as a parting gift. As an emissary sent personally by Chairman Khrushchev, the general had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Castro to stare down the trigger-happy Kennedy who threatened to blow up the world. By the time of his recent retirement, the medals pinned to Borshevsky’s chest would buckle a weaker man’s knees.
He poured two glasses.
“We started this jug in ’62 and now we empty it, together,” Borshevsky said. His mouth smiled but his eyes remained sad.
Maravich, studying the incomplete eight-foot-long fish, iridescent blue and silver, mounted over the fireplace, ignored the glass and the comment.
“I always wondered why that swordfish had no sword,” he said.
After some time a buzzing fly punctuated the silence.
Borshevsky drained his glass.
“I risked my life, my country, the whole world. And what do I find the night I return from Havana? My wife in my bed with a gypsy.”
Maravich gestured sympathetically.
“Neither of them saw me—they were copulating like dogs. I broke off the fish’s bill and skewered the pair of them, together, piled them in the limousine and drove to the pier. Lights off, in neutral. I pushed them over the edge. The sea was much deeper then. The next day I declared the pier off limits.”
“We heard rumors that Tanya absconded with someone and your limo, but we never found a trace.”
“Never listen to rumors, Victor.”
“You started them, Sergei. But…wouldn’t it have been easier to just shoot them?”
“And dishonor my pistol?”
The afternoon sun grew uncomfortably hot.
“So, what are you going to do, Victor?”
“It’s not my decision. It’s yours. As is your pistol. Good-bye, Sergei.”
Grandpa Got Run Over by a Swordfish
Jeff Cohen c. 2013 All Rights Reserved
The gypsy was dead. Luckily, it was a gypsy moth, and nobody cares about those.
The rest of the scene wasn’t quite as easy to take, though: lying on the floor was a swordfish mounted on a supposedly wooden board. If you touched the bottom of the plaque, the fish would appear to sing “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” which made no sense at all. Why would a fish sing that?
Next to the mounted fish, which had one corner that was now covered in blood, was a jug of Moonshine, the latest in a weird line of cleaning products meant to look “down home,” manufactured by Smyth and Weston, a huge conglomerate which would be starting a search for a new CEO. Ronald Smyth (pronounced “Smythe”) was lying on the rug with a very large hole in the back of his head where someone had hit him with the singing fish.
“You just found him like this?” asked Detective Regina Levitton, a tall, imposing woman carrying a notebook and a gun (notebook in her hand, gun, thankfully, in her shoulder holster).
“Yeah,” I told her. “I came by to see Hannah, his granddaughter, to return her screwdriver. I live next door.”
“Was there anyone else here?” Levitton asked, not an expression on her face.
“Not that I saw, although there was a 1959 ZIL-III Soviet-made armoured limousine parked in the driveway when I walked over.” Levitton stared at me a moment. “What? I’m a buff, okay?” Some people don’t understand hobbies.
“A buff.” Levitton’s interrogation style seemed to consist of looking skeptical. It wasn’t doing much for me, but I’m an amateur. “The uniformed officers on the scene didn’t report a 1959 armoured limousine in the driveway.”
I shrugged. “I guess whoever drove it here left before the cops arrived.”
“Do you know anyone who owns a vehicle like that?” the detective asked.
I shook my head. “Never seen one like it before. I figured it was here because he—”—I pointed at Smyth on the floor—“was a big wheel in business.”
These days, anyone can be a detective as long as they have an iPhone. Levitton was furiously punching away at hers. “There is one in this state, registered to a Harcourt T. Weston.”
“The dead man’s partner,” I noted.
Beat, two, three… “The man most likely to benefit from Smyth’s death,” the policewoman said. Geez, Sherlock! Ya think?
“Maybe,” I said. “I was just returning a screwdriver.”
But Levitton was already thinking three steps ahead; her eyes were practically spinning in their sockets. “You can go,” she said. “Thanks for your help.” It’s always that way.
I stole another glance at Smyth, dead on the floor, his head pooled in blood. I shook my head. The waste.
That’ll teach you and your partner to put cleaning products in moonshine jugs! My father would still be alive today if not for you and your partner—I hope he rots in jail.
c. 2013 All Rights Reserved
Day 952: Captured.
Day 945: The torture begins.
Day 942:They tell me that they have caught my brother Raul as well. I don’t believe them.
Day 941: They bring me the ring my brother always wore. His finger is still in it.
Day 930: Maybe they’ve forgotten about me. I sit in my cell with other men and wait.
Day 900: The others are being taken away. The guards say they are being sent to the United States. I don’t believe it. I stay in the cell.
Day 505: They take me to a small room and handcuff me to a metal table. A captain from intelligence comes in carrying a thick file. He shows me the name on it. It is my real name, not the one I gave to my interrogators. I’m fucked. He tells me that they have a plan for me. If I cooperate, they will set me and my brother free. I tell him to fuck off. He does.
Day 500: The captain comes back. He explains the plan. I tell him I’m in. To save my brother. To avenge the fuck up at Playa Girón.
Day 307: The doctors work on me for months, and soon I’m healthy enough to leave the hospital. They take me to a camp in the mountains where I begin training. They know I can shoot, but after a year in prison I need to knock the rust off. The instructors are Russian, of course. The others in my squad are from the invasion. I wonder what they were promised, but never ask.
Day 275: We practice different shots with different rifles. Long shots at a stationary target, shorter ones at a walking target.
Day 252: Today they began to train us in explosives, but we know that’s a waste of time. No way we get close enough for that. At night they bring us a jug of moonshine. We sit around a fire, drink and talk.
Day 173: Today we practiced shots at a moving car, a Russian limousine with the top cut off. They put a dummy in the back seat, but I take a shot at the driver. I felt good when I saw the splatter of blood on the windshield. The trainers were pissed, but what could they do? The driver was some gypsy they’d pulled out of prison. Who the hell else was going to drive the car?
Day 15: My turn. We hide the rifle inside a mounted swordfish – what else? – and I fly to Mexico City. The captain who recruited me meets me there. They’ve got someone set up to take the fall.
Day 11: I spend an eternity in the hotel, waiting, waiting, waiting. I take out the gun and clean it. The swordfish looks at me as if it’s my fault he’s been nailed to a board and had a rifle stuck up his ass.
Day 4: I cross the border. No problem.
Day 2: Dallas.
Day 0: Bingo.
Sheila Webster Boneham
c. 2013 all rights reserved
Someone is out to get Alberta Shofelter. They’ve egged her new SUV and sprayed “crazy cat lady” across her garage door. The diminutive calico she took in three weeks ago has been missing since last night, and Alberta is sure “they” have escalated to catnapping. I shove my cell into my pocket and watch Jay try to comfort Alberta. She isn’t quite weeping, but the little noises she makes are heart-rending.
“If anyone can find her, Jay can,” says Alberta, leaning over to press her forehead into the top of the dog’s muzzle. “You have to find Gy….” Alberta chokes on her cat’s name, turns wide, wet eyes my way. “She’s pregnant, you know.” I did not. Jay and I follow Alberta to her car without speaking.
Half an hour later we’re at Alberta’s house. Jay gets a good noseful of Gypsy’s favorite spot on the couch while I try not to stare at the ginormous swordfish hanging askew over the mantle.
Alberta leans her hip into an antique sideboard and asks if I’d like a drink. It’s not yet noon and I think she means water. I remind her that I swigged half a bottle on the drive over. She shrugs, says “Suit yourself,” and wraps her hands around a half-gallon mason jar that I assume is decor until she lifts it to her lips. She swallows twice, squeezes her eyes closed, smacks her lips. “Tennessee hooch,” she says. “Gift from a friend.” We head out.
Jay hits the ground pulling and we angle across the front lawn, the one next door, the next. Alberta struggles to keep up with me, and I struggle to keep up with Jay as he shoulders into his harness, nose to the ground. I have to trust that he’s on the right trail.
“Gypsy never goes out anymore! Someone must have come in and kidnapped her,” says Alberta between gasps. “They hate, me, you know, because I feed the poor strays that live behind the club house.”
I shorten the line linking me to Jay as we approach the street. Alberta bumps into me at the curb, clutches my arm.
“Who hates you?” I ask.
“But how can they hurt an animal?”
“Who?” I ask.
“Golfers. They claim the cats leave dead things on the greens.” She snorts. “It’s their damn kids out there with BB guns do the killing, and they know I know it, too!” She coughs. “They shoot the cats, too.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I say. “Gypsy may have just slipped out. You said you had a plumber there this morning, right?”
Alberta looks past me and the distress painted across her face changes to anger. As I turn to watch a big black car roll by, Jay starts to bark.
“That’s them,” Alberta says.
“That’s the ugliest car I’ve ever seen.” Anxiety is tight in my gut and I almost laugh for relief. “Looks like one of those clunky things Khrushchev used to ride around in.”
“What have you done with my cat?” Alberta screams at the car. It picks up speed.
Jay dances around, whining. We cross the street. He pulls me up a driveway and across a cushy back lawn, head up. He’s no longer tracking, but he might have a scent on the air. We’re running now, and Alberta can’t keep up. Jay goes into a sniffing-whining frenzy at the door to a shed and pushes against it. I reach for the latch, expect it to be locked. It swings open.
The interior is dim and dusty. An old armchair leans into the back wall, a cat stretched across the upholstered seat, her back to us, tail hanging limp off the edge of the chair. I signal Jay to lie down, hold my breath, step to the chair.
“Oh no!” I turn just as Alberta slides down the doorframe. I can barely hear her whisper, “Is she dead?”
I lean over the chair. Breathe. Gypsy squints at me and opens her mouth in a silent meow.
“She’s fine.” I run the back of my finger along a tiny black back, then the tabby, then the calico. I touch Gypsy’s cheek. “But we’re going to need a carrier to get them all home, Grandma.”