Monday, November 12, 2018

Little Moth by Sarah Vestal


Little Moth

She found a bench in a sunny stretch of the park where children herded about in play. He followed listlessly behind, his eyes trained on the phone in his hand.
   
“Here, moth,” she said patting the bench seat.
   
The sunlight warmed her face pleasantly. She basked in the heat, stretching, and studied the park again. Her eyes hunting. His back slouched, his hand mindlessly fiddling with the phone. When her stomach rumbled, she pulled out the grease stained paper sack that held her lunch.
   
The pink meat of her sandwich had almost slipped from its place. She delicately dissected the sandwich, ensuring she didn’t lose the meat in the process, and righted the ingredients. The moist cheese stuck to her fingers and butter coated her palms. She extracted a napkin and scrubbed her hands.
   
“Have you heard from Sylvia?”
   
“Yes, in the summer,” he said not looking up from his phone.
   
“Her little girl was the sweetest.” Inspecting him, she wiped the side of his face then continued, “She left her last week and I took care of her.”
   
“Uh,” he said.
   
She wrapped her dripping sandwich and fit her mouth around a massive bite.
   
With her mouth full she continued, “We watched some loud and bright show while the oven preheated. And then,” she wiped her mouth after another bite, and pointing to a pair of boys doing jumping jacks, she said, “we did those. They’re great to get the blood pumping and the muscles working.”
   
The man didn’t reply as he dragged a thumb across his phone.
   
“Yeah, she was sweet,” she said.
   
“Yes, in the summer,” he said again. His voice monotone.
   
She groaned around a bite of meat and bread.
   
“You’re a terrible conversationalist.” Glancing at him, she groaned again and used greasy napkins to wipe away the blood that trickled down from the incision at his temple. She grabbed his chin and he did not resist as she turned his face. She inspected the other incision which looked clean. She was grateful that his hat covered most of her handiwork. Releasing him, he looked back down at the bright, colorful screen.
   
“Is your flame burning bright enough, little moth?”
   
Around this point they were all the same. A warm body to keep her company. The screen of the disconnected phone provided enough of a distraction.
   
She ran her tongue along the sweet meat of the sandwich, the juices ran down her chin.
   
“Uh,” the man sounded.
   
“Quite true,” she said drying her face with the bloody napkin.
   
So focused was she on the sandwich that she didn’t see the soccer ball careening towards them until it was too late. The ball solidly smacked the side of the man’s face. He blinked furiously a moment, until she righted his askew phone.
   
“Oh, dear,” she said.

Fishing the ball from beneath the bench, she did the best she could with the balled-up, greasy napkin to get the blood off.
   
“Hey, lady, can I get my ball back?”
   
She turned to find a plump boy staring up at her. “Aren’t you sweet?” She held out the ball. “Come here, little moth.”

-End-

Bio Sarah Vestal is a speculative fiction writer from the endless pine woods of Arkansas. Her writing is earmarked by the unease and peculiarity of the south. If you’d like to read more of her work or if you’d just like to give your eyes a break, then you can find her blog and podcast Twinbrain where she and her BFF discuss Stephen King, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and all things pop culture at: http://www.enterthetwinbrain.com/

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Monday, November 5, 2018

All Things Serve The Beam by Beau Johnson



All Things Serve The Beam

I’ve found it.  It was right where it should have been too, just a little more than halfway down the steps that led to the pantry of Al’s Diner.  In the book it’s a type of doorway used to try and stop Oswald from taking out JFK.

This will not be the case with me.

There are two reasons for this.  One is that things are different than how the Author explained: no set time limit which might reset when any given character attempts to change the past.  The walls are thin here, yes, but it’s not time travel we’re talking about.  Not in the least.
 
The second thing is this: there are other worlds than these.
 
For truth, I think I have found the gateway to stories; to where each of them originate.  It is the story, not he who tells it.  Pretty sure I’ve heard him say this many times throughout the years.  I never believed it though, not fully.  Not until now.  How could I not?  I mean, I have met the girl now, the first one I ever heard told to plug it up.  I was an extra, sure, there in the background amongst the crowd at the prom.  Fortunate for me I made it out before the pig’s blood fell and the doors began to shut.  It was tougher than I imagined too, and heartbreaking, and only because I now stood within what once I only read.

I hope I am making myself clear.  The world I believe depends upon it.

Discovering all this caused certain scenarios to enter my mind, numero uno being this: could I now affect things?  Bold, I know, but the situation itself was beyond anything I ever thought possible.  I think the Author knew this too, or knows, and might have been subconsciously leaving breadcrumbs for someone like me to find.  He needs help is what I think this means.  All told, I’d set my watch and warrant on it.
 
Me saying things like that, this is what has gotten me through.  I’m talking all of it too, every story.  Not just the thing behind the clown or what Ben Mears found in the ‘Lot.  It comes to what things always come to: the Tower.  From one book to the next it seems to be in there or just around, glowing like a buried stone.  Excavated or not, it sings like Susannah and forces me to aim with my heart and not with my hand.
 
Do you see how I have not forgotten the face of my father?
 
I had to investigate though, and I had to be sure.  Onwards I went, from world to world.  From dog to dome to plague; all of it like some mutated Deja vu which tugged at my core.  It means Mordred is in fact a-hungry and Harold Lauder will always jump.  I meet Paul Sheldon, Dinky Earnshaw, and poor Nick Andros before he figures things out.  They speak to me.  Spoke to me.  But none of them for long.  A line or two here, a description of who I think is me there.  It’s as this occurs that I realize the magnitude of what I’m to do.
 
And that Mother Abigail would be proud.
 
I had to test it though, had to be sure.  At first it didn’t work, not all the times I travelled and tried to save Gage from that semi.  The last time however, the last time something new transpired as I attempted to prove what I believe is possible.  The Author brought the child back.  He did so from the grave, yes, but my mother always said a victory was a victory no matter its size.  It also meant I was ready; that I had come into my own.

But I would not go in as Patrick Danville, not as a device placed books before an ending had yet come.  No, I would be new.  I would be fresh.   Becoming everything he required to find his way home.
 
The man in black would flee across the desert, and horn or no horn, I and the gunslinger would follow.

-End-

Bio Beau Johnson has been published before, usually on the darker side of town.  Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Shotgun Honey, Spelk, and/or Story and Grit.  Beau is also the author of A BETTER KIND OF HATE and THE BIG MACHINE EATS.  If anyone asks, he enjoys both Beckys from Roseanne equally.

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Thursday, November 1, 2018

Changing Jobs by Bill Baber


Changing Jobs
Clarence Simms had been at it since it was light enough to see. The early afternoon heat was oppressive, the sun beating down from a flat white sky and the humidity like a wool blanket that had been dropped over him.
He removed his cap, wiped the sweat from his forehead and eyes. He could feel the dried salt on his cheeks. Looking around, he muttered a curse.
“Three goddamn days I been behind this plow. Three hot sons of bitches to boot. Reckon I ain’t half way through. “
When he kicked at the earth, dust rose from the first layer of soil. Further down was hard Georgia clay.
“Just wastin’ my time,” he said out loud. “Ain’t rained in a month and it don’t look like it’s about to.”
Picking up the plow, he urged the mare forward. After a few feet he dropped it, unharnessed the horse and headed for the house.
An electric fan futilely moved hot air around. He looked over the place. It hadn’t been the same since the flu took Lizzie back in ’18. She was pregnant when she passed and when she went all his hopes and dreams died with her. Seven years ago. He didn’t know how he had kept on.
In the kitchen, he poured a slug of shine from a mason jar. If he didn’t bring in a crop this year he would lose the farm. There had been two years of drought and he had barely held on last year. The bank had been reluctant to give him a loan.
He had another taste and made a decision. His career as a cotton farmer was over. The time had come for a new one. The time had come to get the hell out of Appling County. Shit, he thought; time to get out of goddamn Georgia.
From the back of the bedroom closet he removed an old J. C. Higgins double barrel .12 gauge. Out in the barn, he placed it in a vice and with a hacksaw, cut 30 inches off the barrel. After wrapping it in burlap, he laid it on the seat of his old Model T. He put a can containing three gallons of gasoline on the floorboard.
Back in the house, he threw a few things into a grip, including a picture taken on their wedding day at the courthouse in Baxley. She had been the prettiest girl he had ever seen and she sure deserved better he thought. Better than me, better than this broke dick farm and better than to die with a baby in her belly at twenty three.
He grabbed the jar of moonshine, walking out without closing the door.
It was fourteen miles from the farm to Baxley on a rough dirt road. A rooster tail of dust followed him like a shadow every inch of the way.
The town seemed deserted. There were only a handful of cars visible on Main Street. He pulled in front of the Farmers Trust Bank and leaving the gun concealed in the thick cloth walked inside.
Mildred Barner, a kindly old woman whom had lived her entire life in Baxley was the only teller working. Woodford Blanton, the manager sat behind a polished mahogany desk. He wore a summer suit. The only sound inside came from the whir of three overhead fans.
“Well, Clarence. What brings you to town on a hot afternoon?” Blanton said with a phony smile on his face.
“Well Woodford,” Simms said with a genuine smile followed by a chuckle. "I’m here to rob the bank.”
Blanton began to laugh until Simms pulled the burlap from the sawed off. Then the color drained from his face and he looked like his lunch disagreed with him.
“Now Clarence, “Blanton said as beads of perspiration broke out on his forehead. “ Are you sure you want to do that?”
Simms pointed the shotgun at the ceiling above Blanton’s head and pulled the trigger.
“Damn sure.”
Small chunks of plaster fell on the bank managers head .He promptly feinted dead away.
Simms turned his attention to Mildred who was looking at him disapprovingly. He had seen that look before. Mildred was a spinster who played the organ and had been his Sunday school teacher at the Baptist Church. He used to get that look when he bothered the girls instead of paying attention to scripture.
“You don’t need to do this Clarence.” He could tell she wasn’t the least bit scared.
“I’m sorry Miss Barner but I do. Give me all the cash.”
As she began to scoop bills into a bag, Simms turned to check on Blanton. He heard a roar like thunder and felt like his mare had kicked him square in the chest. He found himself sitting on the bank’s hardwood floor. Looking down, he saw blood soaking his chambray shirt. When he glanced at Mildred, she held a Colt revolver.
“Damn,” he thought as the sunlit interior of the bank began to fade, “I wasn’t much of a farmer but I guess I weren’t cut out to be no bank robber either. A thin smile crossed his face.
He was ready for whatever came next.

-End-

Bio Bill Baber's crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous anthologies. His writing has earned Derringer Prize and best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.
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Monday, October 29, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Rob Pierce

Soon after creating a Facebook account twelve months ago, writers kindly deluged me with recommended novels. As a neophyte with a huge mountain to climb and a lot of writers to learn about, I decided to spend a year reading short stories online, while also picking up a few anthologies which contained works by writers I’d heard about.

Meanwhile, I was informed last December that I needed to undergo surgery. The procedure, I was told, had a ninety-nine percent success rate, and I felt comfortable with those odds—
Until a week before the operation when the surgeon peered at me over his spectacles and said, “That means there’s a one-in-a-thousand chance you could die or experience debilitating lifelong injuries arising from complications.”

Well, gee, thanks doc. As long as I’m not unlucky number one thousand I should be fine.

Apprehension set in ….

And I decided I should try and read one crime novel before possibly kicking my bucket out of this earthly realm. I chose WITH THE RIGHT ENEMIES by Oakland writer and editor Rob Pierce without hesitation. Rob was the first writer on Facebook to send me a Friend Request. And you always remember your firsts—

Unless they give you the clap or the crabs. And, I’m happy to say that Rob gave me neither. I’d shared news about my December surgery with Rob … as well as my growing anxieties … and asked if he’d be willing to sign a copy of ENEMIES. Besides proving amenable, the venerable Mr. Pierce also told me: “Well, you know what they say—dead women tell no tales.”

Fucking Rob. Mr. Sensitivity.

Obvious why I lined him up for an Ink-Quistion here at Story and Grit!

Finally time to spill some ink folks. And, by the way, WITH THE RIGHT ENEMIES kicks ass—just what the doctor ordered.

Jesse Rawlins


Q. Between writing and editing crime fiction, you’ve been immersed in the World of Words for some time. When was your first story published? And how did your writing life evolve?

A. Depends on what you mean by published. I had stories up on websites I liked quite a few years ago, but the good stuff started with Swill Magazine, which I founded and edited starting around 2006, and ending after eight issues. My best stories from that are in The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet.
My first story published elsewhere was “Dead Soldiers,” with Flash Fiction Offensive in 2012. Swill was still active then, and editing other people’s writing had a lot to do with improving my own. Seeing the mistakes other people make, things that bug me as a reader.

Funny thing is, “Dead Soldiers” was published when Joe Clifford was the editor at FFO. I’d rejected Joe’s submissions to Swill a couple of times, but they were near misses. On one of them, and this is the first time I’d ever emailed Joe, never having met him, I said that his story read “like it was ratfucked by academia.” Meaning that it felt like too many people who’d seen the story had been allowed to alter his voice in the telling. Thuglit wound up publishing that story, and Todd Robinson knows what he’s doing. Joe and I are friends now, but there’s no way I would have typed that phrase if I didn’t think he could really write. He says it’s the best rejection he ever got; it’s more detailed than just that line.

As to my writing life evolving, it’s all about continuing to write. When I was first getting published it was just short stories. I had also written a futuristic adventure novel that was a bit of a cartoon as far as plot/realism goes. But I love the show Firefly and comic book movies are popular so I thought it might be a viable sale. Friends including published authors agreed, but when I sent it to agents no one saw the market.

I write, so that didn’t shut me up. One day after work I was having a beer at a restaurant down the street when I saw a guy I used to work with walking by on the sidewalk. I called out to him, “Hey Mike, come in and have a beer.” He said, “I don’t have any money.” I said, “I didn’t ask that. Come in and have a beer.”

Mike came in and at some point told me how when he was a kid his mom was dating a bank robber who would leave a suitcase full of money unlocked in a closet. Mike took a 20 once in a while and bought comic books or whatever. Until he got caught. That was the exegesis for Uncle Dust.
When I wrote Dust, he was always just a guy doing a job. And he loved his work. All my characters, they just work for a living. It’s only that some are more sympathetic than others. But they all do horrible shit.

Q. Besides publishing a collection of short crime stories, a novella, and two novels—UNCLE DUST and WITH THE RIGHT ENEMIES—your work has also appeared in numerous anthologies. According to Amazon, one of these anthologies includes the book, CRIME FACTORY, Issue 19 (Volume 2), released in October 2016. The listed price for the lone available used copy is $899.99. Is this a fucking typo—or some truly serious stuff? Just the price alone sounds rather criminal to me.

A. Crime Factory may have gone under. So hard copies may be down to whoever bought one. Check with Andrew Nette on that. I have a .pdf and it’s a great issue. My story in that is one of my best so I hope it resurfaces. I have a few stories out this year, one in Switchblade, one in Shotgun Honey’s tribute to Bill Wallace, and one in the Lou Reed anthology from Down & Out Books, but I don’t have enough material yet for another short story collection.

Q. Since we’re talking costs, female characters like Olivia and Theresa in WITH THE RIGHT ENEMIES suffer immensely. Is their suffering driven solely by plot—merely the consequence of having violent criminal men in their lives? Or do you also believe women tend to fare poorly in American society?

A. It’s the story. Dust put people he loved, or whatever his version of that is, in harm’s way. Dust is responsible, but he’s a man who evades responsibility. It’s also about Olivia’s and Theresa’s attractions to the excitement of his life. You don’t get that clean. You want to be with a man who does shit, some of it’s gonna hit you. They were attracted to danger and they bought a whole lot more than they wanted.

Not to say that women fair well in society. Just to say that I wasn’t tackling that issue.

Q. You’ve been noted as saying you live and will likely die in Oakland, California. Much of WITH THE RIGHT ENEMIES is set in Oakland and its drivable environs. But what surprised me about the book was the absence of notable landmarks: no famous bridges, bars, or restaurants. And no detailed “demographics.” Instead you focus on details that give us a feel for neighborhoods—and the attitudes of folks who live in them.

For example, “Dogs in Berkeley weren’t so easy to find, but Oakland? Everyone had a fucking dog. Lotta pits behind fences, thick iron, cheap tin, whatever, wooden slatted shit that looked ready to fall down.” What influenced your writing style in penning such settings and “landscapes?” Did you take a similar approach in UNCLE DUST—and with your forthcoming novel, TOMMY SHAKES?

A. I write scenes. My characters aren’t going to anywhere famous. But I can tell you about blocks. There’s some of that in Tommy Shakes too. No one’s setting up a crime anywhere popular. And Oakland is block-to-block. Tommy Shakes has a good quick bit about that. What I know from living in Oakland and having lived in other places is the individuality of this city. It’s often an ugly individuality, but there’s a beauty to the resilience of some of its residents. It’s like child abuse; some people are forever ruined by it, others work their way through it, but with an awareness of evil.
The whole idea of there being an approach to Uncle Dust is laughable. I just wrote that motherfucker. Then I spent two years shaving it. Also, Dust isn’t set in Oakland. It’s down the coast somewhere, a fictional town about where Santa Cruz is (an hour south) but with little Oakland all over it.

Q. You’ve described yourself as someone who writes “love stories.” Your short story collection bears the title, THE THINGS I LOVE WILL KILL ME YET. Since you write about some hard-core criminals, such as Vollmer in ENEMIES—a man who holds allegiance to no one other than himself—what role or function does “love” typically have in your works?

A. I think the reason Uncle Dust sold as well as it did is its crossover appeal—Dust meets Theresa and her son Jeremy and tries to be bank robber husband and dad. It’s a domestic drama with criminal elements. And Dust is terrible at domesticity, although he has his moments. His terrible childhood influences him to try and help Jeremy, and in some ways he does.

Then, Vern in the Heat is about Vern and his ex-girlfriend Deria, them getting back together while gangsters are after him and how that changes both what they are together and what she becomes.
The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet is a collection of stories that includes a lot of self-destructive people doing what they can to survive. The title doesn’t apply to every story, of course; it was something that partially describes many of my characters and partially describes me.

As to With The Right Enemies—this is the detritus of Dust’s various loves running headlong into the detritus of Vollmer loving the hooker Yula. These are love affairs where basically everything goes wrong in the end but began with something resembling genuine love, as much as these men could give it.

Q. These days you’re now the co-editor at Flash Fiction Offensive alongside Hector D. Jr.—and if I understand correctly, you’re also an editorial consultant for All Due Respect Books. Editing’s an activity that takes time away from writing. So what keeps you involved with editing—which can prove a tedious task? For example, if I understood one of your Facebook posts correctly, editing works was one of the things that delayed the completion of Tommy Shakes—and prevented that particular book from being published this year.

You’ve also mentioned to me about beta-reading books by Marietta Miles and Greg Barth. What appeals to you about their works?

A. Actually I haven’t worked with FFO in a while. I did a solid year and even flash pieces cut into my time too much. I gave Hector plenty of notice; he just hasn’t had my name taken off the credits. I edited regularly at All Due Respect until sometime during the writing of With The Right Enemies. I told Chris Rhatigan I needed to stop editing until I finished Enemies. I was almost done writing the book when Chris asked if I wanted to edit the next book in Greg Barth’s Serena series. Of course I said yes. I love editing Greg and his writing is a lot cleaner than when I worked on his earlier books in the series. He says that was my influence. It would be hard to get a better compliment than that.
These days my editing is almost exclusively confined to freelance work for writers I particularly enjoy working with. My all-stars: Greg, Marietta, Tom Pitts, Paul Heatley. Greg and Tom have referred some good writers my way as well.

I rarely find editing tedious. It is, however, time consuming, and I’ve had little time of late. So if someone sends me something, the first question I ask is, “When do you need it?” So long as it’s something I want to work on, I meet deadlines.

As to the appeal of the writers you asked about, it’s the quality of the writing. Marietta and Greg are both southerners, but have pretty much nothing in common as writers. Marietta writes in more of a traditional gothic crime style, while Greg writes fast paced hardboiled bloody fiction. Tom Pitts and Paul Heatley also write hardboiled stories, Tom writing of seedy drug-related crimes, Paul of badass Brits. One thing they all have in common—their characters hook me. The stories are personal. I need plot, and they all provide that, but I wouldn’t care if I didn’t care about the characters.

Q. Without giving away any major plot points, what can you tell us about your forthcoming novel TOMMY SHAKES? What’s Tommy’s psychological make up? And do you envision TOMMY as the first in another trilogy—or as a stand-alone book?

Tommy is a career criminal, not a particularly successful one, who’s trying to salvage his marriage and relationship with his teenage son by pulling one big job. He thinks it’s about the money, regardless of how often his wife tells him that’s not the problem.

Tommy’s a former heroin addict who’s turned to drink. He’s prone to a lot of throwing up and shitting but he gets a shot at a big job and figures if he pulls that off he can work out everything. This all takes place in my East Bay world, and a major character in this book will have a major role in the one I’m writing now, but this won’t be a trilogy.

Actually, I haven’t written a trilogy thus far. If that reference is to Uncle Dust, Vern in the Heat, and With The Right Enemies, Tommy Shakes could be considered the fourth in that series, with the book I’m writing now the fifth.

Pulling these last two questions together—editing other people’s writing slowed down my own to some degree, but there was a greater cause, an emotional one. I wrote Tommy knowing that my wife of many years was moving out of the house soon. With us it was planned, but that didn’t make it easy for me. At the same time, I was writing about Tommy trying to salvage his marriage. There were parallels, difficult to write but necessary.

Because All Due Respect is now an imprint of Down & Out Books, by the time I got Tommy Shakes to ADR there was a line ahead of me in terms of when it would be published. Thing is, I’m always slow to get words on the page. I need to get the right words on the page. If it doesn’t tear me apart, how’s it going to tear apart the reader?

Q. You mentioned having a drink with a pal in a bar earlier. What are three of your favorite places in Oakland to buy a friend a drink?

A. I like Telegraph in Oakland. It’s near downtown, has a great whiskey selection, outdoor seating, and a burger that’s half beef, half bacon. Beer too, usually a good selection. Also, it’s close to home.

The bar I go to most often is the Parkway Lounge, a couple doors down from the Parkway Theater, where Will Viharo used to host the midnight movies. Main reason I go is it’s the bar closest to home.

The Kerry House pours a pretty good Guinness and they’re right down the street from a good theater. For when you need that post-film pint. Near a pretty good bookstore too.

That said, the place I go most often when I go out for a drink is Triple Rock in Berkeley. It’s a block from work, brew pub with a large selection, and regulars I like. Mostly I drink at home, but if a post-work drink or two is required, that’s my place 90+ percent of the time.

But to fully answer the question—if they’re really my friend, they should be buying me a drink.

Foks can visit Rob on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rob.pierce.503

And they can find his books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Rob-Pierce/e/B00TGTGQRC/
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