Monday, May 21, 2018

Salmon Run by Hector Duarte Jr.

Salmon Run

They’re pointing guns at me. They think I’m strapped.

“Keep your clothes on, Trey. We’re just taking you in to get better. You know the drill.”

Samantha’s talking to the new guy. I don’t know him. They’re whispering, too far away. I can’t hear what they’re saying.

I don’t know why the new guy drew his gun. I haven’t had a gun pointed at me in I don’t know how long. 

I can’t go back to the ALF. Everyone there speaks Spanish. They look at me like I’m from Asia or some shit. I’m speaking English, motherfuckers. The only good thing about that place is how easy it is to get out of there. Just take my meds with a smile, tell them it’s working, and I’m out the door. If I want to go back home, I just jump in front of a car and fuck up an ankle. Soon enough, it’s bandaged up with a phone call to mom, who comes to scoop me up because I’m her son after all. Everyone knows blood is thicker than mental illness.

Mike takes a couple steps closer after the new guy’s done talking with Sam.

She’s only ten but, God bless her, can she read through the bull shit. That’s why they’re here. I just wanted to get out of the house, take a little walk. That Miami sun is such a beautiful thing to see some days, and it makes me want to walk, walk, and walk.

Jesus did that: walked and walked, picking up people who followed him, curing diseases, turning water into wine. I just want to walk like that and get in adventures.

Mom was screaming at me to take my pill before I left. I take that thing, in thirty minutes I won’t want to walk anymore and, fuck me, it’s too pretty a day not to walk under that bulbous sun. Just look at that thing.

“Trey, just get in the car and you’ll be back soon.”

Mike’s a good guy. Always has been, but today he seems angrier. I think he’s trying to set an example for the new guy.

The way the new guy points that gun at me with his hand shaking, I know it’s not true. This time, they’re taking me in for good. I see it in the way tears run down Mom’s cheeks and Sam hangs on to the side of her leg.

I just wanted to leave. Right out the door and into that bright day. Walk the shit out of Miami. Sam was trying to help Mom out when she got in front of the door. I get it, but I just had to leave.

Sam’s so small and light, it wasn’t hard getting her out of the way. Soon as I did, though, she started crying like crazy. Mom’s screams filled the house. I knew I’d done something wrong by the way Sam cried, so I waited for the cops. I took off all my clothes, so they’d see I wasn’t strapped, and sat on the lawn. Mike looked worried when he saw me. I said I just wanted to walk. 

Everyone’s really pissed off this time. It’s because I pushed Sam. I’ve never messed with her before. It’s usually a big screaming match with mom, maybe a light shove.

The new guy won’t put the gun down and I can’t stay here. The sun is so bright, I have to get walking. Imagine being at the beach right now. I have to go. When I come back, it’ll be better.

“Don’t fucking move, man,” the new guy yells when I bend over to pick up my clothes.
Why does he have to curse around my little sister?

“Don’t yell at my sister, sir,” I say, loud enough so he can hear me over the traffic on 117th.

The new guy doesn’t like that. He doesn’t hear an older brother protecting his little sister. He hears a naked black dude sitting on the front lawn of a residential neighborhood. You know, wanting to be respected now that he’s finally in uniform.

Maybe he’s scared, so I put my hands up and walk closer to him to try and shake his hand. I don’t like that he yelled at Sam, but if we talk it out maybe he can be like Mike. I might actually get through to him and he can get to know the drill, how things work around this house. How I’m a regular call on their squawk box. Everyone on the block knows me as the guy with problems, cops are an extended family in this house.

There’s this thing salmon do when they want to spawn. It’s called magnetoception. No matter how long they’ve been away, no matter how far out they’ve ventured in the ocean, they use Earth’s magnetic field to find their way back to the river they were born. Sometimes, they migrate back to the very spot. All to swim up to shore and die. Scooped up by birds and bears so the next generation of fish can make it. No matter what, I always hone in on Sam and mom.

“Don’t fucking move, man,” the new guy shouts. 

Sweat pocks Mike’s forehead as he tells me and the new guy to calm down.

The new guy shakes like Muhammad Ali.

He’s not cut out for this. But I’m not the guy to tell him, so I walk to the car and put my hands on the roof. I’ve done this so many times before. I turn around.

Mom’s still crying. Sam’s gone inside, but I see her staring through the window at my naked self leaning against the cop car. My little sister rubs her eyes hard.

“I’ll be back, Mom. Don’t worry. Go inside and wait. Just a couple of days.”

The new guy approaches with the gun still on me. I can’t leave things like this. It isn’t right. I run back to the front door to give Sam a hug and let her know I’m sorry. 

Mom’s eyes go wide the closer I get to the door. I know she’s happy I’m trying to make things better with my little sister. Mike is screaming at me, but I need Sam to know everything will be okay.

The new guy tells me to stop running. His voice is shaky but it’s louder than the traffic.

Mike yells at him to drop the gun.

Mom closes her eyes.

Sam might not like me right now but the one thing we have in common is home. Take me as far north as possible. Lock me deep inside the scariest mental health place you’ve got, with the biggest walls possible. Like a salmon to Earth’s magnetic pull, I’ll always find my way back home.


Bio Hector Duarte, Jr. is a writer out of Miami, Florida and current co-editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. His work has appeared in Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Shotgun Honey, Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK, The Whimsical Project, Spelk Fiction, HorrorSleazeTrash, Pulp Metal Magazine, and The Rumpus. He teaches English-Language Arts to high school students and listens to, (as some friends might argue), too much Phish.

He has lectured at The Crime Fiction Here and There and Again Conference in Gdansk, Poland; the second and third Captivating Criminality Conferences in Corsham, England, and Theorizing the Popular at Liverpool’s Hope University. He has also moderated panels at Miami Book Fair and the AWP Conference in Los Angeles.

He loves his cat, Felina, very much


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Music Review: Providence Canyon by Brent Cobb

At some point or another, we’ve all heard a song that we sing non-stop but have no idea who the artist is, this was the case for Brent Cobb and myself. People kept telling me to check him out and for whatever reason or another I didn’t. One day I was looking up the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by Whiskey Myers, Mud, and the author of that particular song happened to be Brent Cobb. He’s also related to one of our favorite producers here at Story & Grit, Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Whiskey Myers, Chris Shiflett, Amanda Shires, etc). After realizing what a great lyricist he is I decided to dive into his own body of work and start exploring. It was a nice coincidence that he just so happened to be coming out with a new album which meant an opportunity for me to review Providence Canyon.

Starting with the title track, we’re treated to a mellow country rock jam. It kind of reminds me of Sweet Desert Childhood by the Flying Burrito Brothers. The pedal steel is easy on the ears and Brent expresses his sentimentalities of having a good old southern time at a really nice state park in Stewart County, Georgia. Get your friends together and have a couple of brews while this song plays in the background. You’ll get a feel for how we like to get together down south. King Of Alabama follows up the title track with some serious laid back groove. Mornin’s Gonna Come brings the rock. The backup singers in the chorus bring a soul dynamic to this already steady rocker. Come Home Soon is one of the real heavy hitters of the album. I found it personally relatable because leaving the south was a challenging thing for me to do and Brent Cobb describes the dilemma very well in this tune.

Sucker For A Good Time brings back the groove. There’s a really good jam about two and a half minutes in with guitar work the hearkens back to Gary Rossington’s work with Lynyrd Skynyrd. If I Don’t See Ya is another seriously awesome rocker this album has to offer! This song is proof that the south has a sound all its own. You can hear hints of every great southern rock band in this song but I wouldn’t call Brent Cobb’s music southern rock or say he’s trying to copy anyone. Seriously, his band kills it during this one! Lorene was one of my personal favorites on the album. It’s a nice ballad of a tune with some great guitar and pedal steel work. We hear Brent tugging on the logic of someone unsure of whether or not to chase their dream. This is a great song to listen to if you need encouragement.

Whenever I review albums I try to imagine scenarios in which that particular record would be useful. In this case, I recommend finding a back road which leads to nowhere and riding around with your friends until you all find something you’ve never seen before. You could also play this one while you’re drinking beer with your friends by the lake. However you choose to listen to Brent Cobb’s music, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. I have a feeling he’ll be around for a while turning out songs that will stand the test of time. Give it a listen and let me know what you think at!

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at

Monday, May 14, 2018

Music Review: Love Notes by Caitlin Jemma

Back in October, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I traveled back home to Georgia to attend my Nanny’s funeral. When I got back to California I was devastated because her death took us all by surprise. On the heels of that little episode, my buddy Joey Goforth asked me to be a guest on his Self Service podcast. I was delighted at the opportunity and decided to listen to the older episodes to get an idea of what the experience was going to be like. I discovered two of my new current favorite songwriters this way, Caitlin Jemma and Margo Cilker. At the end of the Caitlin Jemma episode, it played a song called, Ain’t That Something. It was a LONG wait from October to May when I finally got to hear the new Caitlin Jemma album in its entirety but it was worth every minute!

It starts out with the song I mentioned before, Ain’t That Something. We’re introduced to this album with an acoustic guitar before giving way to a horns section. You won’t be able to turn back the dial after the intro. I promise! The next irresistible thing Caitlin Jemma has to offer is her voice. I always think it’s unjust to compare artists but remember how awesome it sounded coming through the speakers the first time you heard Hank Williams yodel Long Gone Lonesome Blues? That’s how revelatory Caitlin Jemma’s crooning vocals are in this song (Is crooning even the right word? Hopefully if she reads this she won’t take it as an insult). There aren’t enough exclamation points to describe how much I enjoy the opening track to this album!

Next comes Xxoo. This song rocks (for lack of a better word)! It’s a great follow up track to the opener because it shows how versatile Caitlin’s music can be and how many different ways her band can boogie, her voice at the centerfold once again. The outro builds into an awesome train whistle-esque chant. Lean On My Love slows the train to a steady roll. There’s a lot of good vocal and trumpet interaction with the melody to this one and the lyrics are pretty awesome. Still Dreamin’ keeps the groove locked down tight. If I could ask Ms. Jemma any question in the world it would be where she comes up with the arrangements for her songs because the fact that music like this isn’t debuting at the top of the billboards is a travesty. This song seriously has it all.

The next song, Evangeline, was my personal favorite on the entire album. It’s super stripped down, the lyrics are gold, and the vocal harmonies add a texture to the song which makes it heavenly. How It Is was another compelling track because it has a wild R&B flare that’ll make it hard for you to sit still. All Night was another stand out with some risqué lyrics. Ladies, hide your man for this one because it’s hot! I’m going to leave the rest of the album for the listener’s interpretation because I don’t want a song by song analysis to ruin anyone’s expectations of what a stellar record this one is.

It’s hard for me to find albums that I can listen to from start to finish these days. I work a full-time job, I’m a gigging musician/songwriter, a Story & Grit journalist, a husband, and a father to two boys. New artists must manage to drown out the traffic in my life as well as the melodies I hear in my own head to make it into my collection (yes, I still buy music). Caitlin Jemma’s music brought me a lot of joy during a difficult time in my life and this record will stay in my collection for a long time to come. As of this review, Caitlin Jemma is touring the Pacific Northwest to support the release of Love Notes. I’ve listed her tour dates below so if you see your city go to a show, buy lots of merch, and tell all your friends in every city across the country to make this girl famous. Good music ain’t gone, it’s just underground where it shouldn’t be!

05/03 Portland, Oregon
05/04 Eugene, Oregon
05/05 Olympia, Washington
05/06 Astoria, Oregon
05/08 Port Angeles, Washington
05/09 Port Townsend, Washington
05/10 Conway, Washington
05/11 Belingham, Washington
05/12 Seattle, Washington
05/13 Willamina, Oregon
05/16 Redding, California
05/17 San Francisco, California
05/18 Folsom, California
05/19 Sebastopol, California
05/20-21 Modesto, California
05/22 San Louis Obispo, California
05/24-27 Bradley, California
05/29 Knight’s Ferry, California
05/30 Carson City, Nevada
05/31 Carnelian Bay, California
06/01 Chico, California
06/02 Talent, Oregon
06/15 Moscow, Idaho
06/16 Bozeman, Montana
06/17 Livingston, Montana
06/19 Helena, Montana
06/20 Spokane, Washington
06/22 Missoula, Montana
06/23 Sandpoint, Idaho
06/25 Enterprise, Oregon
06/26 Hood River, Oregon

Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Paul Beckman

Q. You oversee numerous New York readings at a place called the Red Room. I’m guessing it’s a bit different than the Red Room in FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY. So what can you tell us about your special playground?

A. Located on the third floor of KGB in New York City, the Red Room was once Al Capone’s speakeasy. It’s a beautifully refurbished room with an excellent sound system, comfortable seats, its own bar—a terrific Manager Lori, and always of great wait staff.

The Red Room is eclectic. It hosts the New York Writer’s Workshop, The East Coast Salon, Mistress Velvitina’s Variety Show, and NeuroNetic Institute of Poetry Monthly. My Fbomb and NY Flash Fiction readings take place the first Friday of every month. For the FBomb flash fiction series there is no cover but a two-drink minimum. We usually have between five and seven readers of either flash fiction or prose poetry.

Q. When you’re not playing around at the Red Room you write a helluva lot of flash fiction. When did you first start writing—and what attracted you to flash—besides the imaginary sex appeal I associate with this form?

A. I’ve been writing flash for well over thirty years and before I knew there was a name for it. I’ve always written short—under 2,000 words—and as I got to read more of the genre I found myself drawn to the under 1,000 word flash mark and also to the under 300 word micro mark. It’s a challenge that doesn’t allow me to go wondering with back-stories, multi-layered descriptions, and more characters than are needed for a flash or micro story. I’m basically a no BS kind of guy and so my personality and my writing are simpatico.

Q. It’s well known in certain circles you used to hang with a dubious crowd. And seein’ as how you’re talkin’ to me, some might say that you still do. But was there an event or series of events that led you to walk a different line? And assuming you aren’t currently in a witness protection program, are there any memories from your old life you might feel inclined to share?

A. Growing up on the opposite side of the tracks I hung with guys whose moors were different than mine when I first moved to the projects. Stealing a car was big time but running numbers (as I did in high school) and filching (God I love that word) apples, bread, spuds, Devil Dogs from small local groceries seemed to be okay. Also, being in a supermarket where ladies leave their pocket books open in the baby seat was akin to taking a number at the deli counter. So much was the challenge rather than the end result. Delivery trucks didn’t lock their doors to make a delivery, people didn’t lock their car doors, and I was most likely the only one of my “dubious” crowd who filched (that word again) library books or books of any kind. All that and I loved Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls and the pulps.

Q. Your stories have appeared in places like Yellow Mama and Spelk Fiction alongside many members of the Crime Writing community. Yet while you’ve written Noir and crime, your overall body of work remains diverse. What are some of the reasons you’ve shied away from a single so-called genre? 

A. I don’t think I’ve shied away from a specific genre—I write what comes into my head at any given moment. Sometimes it’ll be a few crime stories in a row and more often it’ll be dysfunctional families, which are fertile fields for me to plow. I always say I’ll stop writing about dysfunctional families when I meet a functional family. I believe I’m safe. Every family has secrets and most secrets are juicy and even juicer when I create them. Being a writer is like having a God complex or an orchestra maestro—good spots that let you control. Maybe that’s also why I could move a lot of planes when I was an Air Traffic Controller. As Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be king.”

Q. In terms of sheer numbers, you chance to be one of the “busiest” writers I’ve encountered. Your sixth flash collection KISS KISS was released in April by Truth Serum Press—and you show no signs of easing up. What compels you to write so often?

A. Fear. I always have the fear that were I to stop I couldn’t start again. Plus, I like to write and since I rarely know what my story’s going to be about until I finish it, I look forward to seeing what’s going on in my own head.

Q. Your story “All for the Love of a Good Burger”—which found a home at Yellow Mama, remains one of my favorites. So in the greater New York area, what are your top three places to grab a burger?

A. This is the toughest question. I’ll give you two: PJ Clark’s Cadillac Burger on Third Ave and The Luger Burger from Pete Luger’s steak house in Brooklyn. (Big enough to share.)

Readers hungry for flash can find Paul’s KISS KISS assortment here:  paperback  e book

You can also visit Paul on Facebook. Or find him at his website (which contains Links to his published stories that readers can sample for free).

Going to be in NYC? You can find the schedule for KGB and the Red Room here:

Interested in learning more about the Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series which was created by Denver writer Nancy Stohlman in 2013? Then here’s a good article from Smokelong Quarterly in which Paul was interviewed alongside Nancy:


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bad Ass Book Reviews: Kiss Kiss by Paul Beckman

Reading KISS KISS is like delving a box of chocolates without a cover as your guide. And Paul Beckman's latest Flash Fiction collection contains 78 crafted confections that ought to curl your toes. Sure you'll discover stories with soft, sweet centers. But some are just as jagged as biting into an almond—hidden inside white nougat—and drizzled with red icing.

Or is that icing actually blood?

So expect to pucker up—but not always for a blissful kiss. A strip poker-playing granny? Tough to banish that gal from your mind. And while the doting couple in "Honey and Darling" remain devoted to each other? Well, they sure ain't your average love birds.

One common ingredient in all of Beckman's stories is suspense. He consistently cooks up ways to keep us off balance ... coaxing us to wonder if and when he'll suddenly tug the paper rug from under our jittery noses. Like when a stranger in "Father Panik Villages" gives a homeless girl a ride and buys her empty stomach lunch. Is he a savior or a creep? Until this tale at last unravels we simply can't decide.

If humor's a flavor you savor, you'll find your share of that as well.

Sure I could say more. But I never kiss and tell. Far better to grab KISS KISS—and let Beckman's characters do the smooching.

Best be careful though. Some may try to jump your bones. Or lure you with the Kiss-of-Death.

Anyone with an urge for these Zero-calorie snacks can find Beckman's KISS KISS assortment here:  paperback  e book

You can also visit Paul on Facebook. Or find him at his website.


Jesse Rawlins


Monday, May 7, 2018

Della Goes to Hell by Samuel Edgar

Della Goes to Hell

June 6th

She sat on a cheap foldable stool hiding in the forestry overlooking the bridge. A pair of binoculars were glued to her eyes, and she held them with such tightness, blood escaped from her hands leaving bony, white remains. June sixth, it was every June sixth, she told herself. Della had been doing this for two years now, and tonight was the night to end seven hundred and thirty days of misery, of determination, of having nothing and everything all together. She’d remembered the day two years back.

Hells Gate. She’d heard of it but never really felt the need to visit during her twenty eight years on earth; the dilapidated bridge with rustic blood awnings, and a huge concrete slab that stopped cars from driving on it, a precaution of safety she was told by one old lady while she served her at the Chicken Salad Chick . She’d heard the stories, the old folk-tales of times living in Alabama—the dead couple dying on their wedding night, falling off the edge—the wet seat trick where if you looked back in your car, you’d see the patches of where somebody once resided, and of course, where the entire place earned its name; to look back and see Hell. Inevitably she’d already been there.

It was two long years of preparation, of sitting and waiting. After the first, with constant police calls, she was blacklisted as a nuisance and her reports of cultists around the area were simply ignored. Whenever police arrived at the bridge, they would be gone; scrambling into the dark whence they came, but cockroaches always came back. The heathens would always return. She knew it was every three months they’d come back. June sixth was the next date, and this time, she wasn’t going to allow them to run this time. They’d have no time, they’d have nowhere to go.

She’d prepared in advance. Every time they came, they’d light their candles, do their chants, and would begin to do sexual acts on each other, sacrificing small animals. She’d become so consumed with watching them that she felt like it was now or never, or she’d never get her life back.

They appeared slowly in her view, walking onto the bridge silently. She took off from her camp and kept to the shadows as she watched the black-hooded figures walk to the end of Hells Gate. Strapped on her back was her father’s Winchester Model 70, bolt action. Between working the monotonous, robotic routine of Salad Chick to fund this obsession and living rough, she’d spent all her time at the range practicing, making sure she’d never miss a shot when it came to it. But two years of bitterness whittled away and she’d told herself that she wanted an overkill. She snuck closer to the rusted underside of the bridge until she could hear their voices chiming together, singing something in a language she did not care to understand.

Underneath the bridge pylon out on the far end of the bridge, leading to nothing but a drop in a lake, was the thermite she’d spent months creating. She’d wrapped fusewire around it to keep the burning heat hot enough to ignite. She was under them now, hearing their footsteps creaking against the ancient wood; dust falling onto her dirty blond hair and staying there. She grabbed the coil of fuse-wire and slowly went up the side of the bridge. Each footstep was light, and she made sure to not be in view until the last second. To her left was the huge concrete slab and as she moved to it, she caught a glimpse of the hooded figures sat in a circle, three of them chanting away, unknowing. Their huge, black hoods covered each of them like blankets.

She jumped the concrete slab and slid the Winchester off. Its aim was upon the hooded figures who jumped up quickly and froze. “Don’t y’all move now,” she screamed, bitter hatred cruising in her voice.

“What is—she fixin’ to shoot us?“ said the short one on the left.

She slid back the bolt and it went loud. Silence hung in the air. For a moment the familiar sounds she’d once heard here came back to her, but she would be strong, for herself, and for Evan. She moved closer but kept her aim steady.

“Take off ya damn hoods. Now.”

The three of them proceeded to lower the black clothes and the three faces ahead of her weren’t recognizable. One of them was skinny, his face covered in acne with patchy red hair and glasses. The one on the left was an attractive girl with a shaved head and dark brown eyes. The one in the middle, however, didn’t lower the hood.

“I told y’all to lower your hood. ”

“Holds your horns, girl,” said the hooded one. He leaned toward the girl and said: “she ain’t gonna shoot us, she doesn’t know what it’s like to take a li—“

The sound of the gunshot roared out. The bullet ricocheted and hit the wood mere inches from their feet, splinters of rotting wood went up and sprayed. The three of them jumped back and the one in the middle raised his hands in defense. “Okay, okay—okay just wait, here...I’mma lower it.” The hood slipped off the man and a very tanned, bald-headed man with a grey goatee stared back at Della. He crossed his arms.

“Do you remember me? Huh?” Della raised the rifle.

“Nope. Don’t reckon I do,” replied the man. He was very cool under the circumstances. “Should I?”

She lowered the rifle a little and let out a gasp, out of exasperation, out of disbelief. “Evan. Bartlett.”

The bald-headed man smiled. “Oh, him, yeah well, of course, we remember him. He was supposed to be with us.”

“What?” Della’s eyes widened.

Baldie rubbed at his temple as he spoke. “Evan Bartlett. That must make you...Della Burton. Yeah, yeah—y’all were his lady, I remember you. Feisty bitch.”

“You don’t know me,” she said more to herself.

The bald-man took a step forward. Della aimed straight. “Move again and you’re gone, fucko.”

Baldie’s two friends were rooted to the spot, shaking and not moving an inch but he was smiling at her. He lowered his arms and sighed.

“Chunk that rifle, Della,” he said but Della remained like a pillar, aiming, unwavering. Baldie shrugged, creasing his hoody. “I guess it’s you been callin’ the feds on us then. I don’t blame you, I’d be pissed too if my boy’s innards were lookin’ like pulled pork,” he said with a sly smile. He knew what he was doing.

She lowered her aim and pulled the trigger. The gun roared. Baldie let out a yelp of pain and slammed backward onto the bridge flood with a shrill scream that clawed its way out of his lungs. He held his cloak which poured with blood, thickening but not taking any color in the light until rustic liquid dropped onto the floor beneath. Della looked at the other two. “Sit down,” she said through gritted teeth. “Don’t make me put ya all down now.”

“You crazy bitch—you crazy bit—you don’t even know, do you?” Baldie leaned on his front and screamed at her, fresh saliva dripping from his dirt-ridden face.

Della looked back to the coil which was yet to be lit and stormed over to Baldie. She swung the Winchester, held it like a bat, and swiftly smashed the butt down on his face. The deafening crack of bone was almost as loud as the bullet before and Della immediately smiled as if weights had fallen from her with every tooth she had just broken, hopefully. Baldie keeled over, holding his bloody face. He let out muffled cries as Della walked back to the coil and watched the two sitting cronies stare in disbelief. “Come on, guys, what’s a lil assault to what y’all’ve done? Huh?”

The girl’s face contorted into a grimace, one that spelled out I’m gonna kill you.  “He’s gonna come for you, Della.”

“Who? Satan? No thanks, I’ve already been in Hell.”

Acne-boy chimed in. “You think so, just cause you saw Evan’s body all over the place. Ya so stupid,” he said with his nasal voice, sending daggers through Della as she sat down and aimed the rifle lazily. Acne-boy yelled to Baldie, “Hey, hey, Lou—tell her the truth, go on.”

Lou. So that was his name. She watched as he scrambled to get up. Fresh blood poured from his mouth and nose and he got to his knees and took a deep breath before he spoke:

“Evan, ya precious boyfriend, was gonna kill you with us, whore. He was in on it.”

“You’re a liar.” Della gritted her teeth and looked towards the coiled fuse-wire. It would be soon.

“Evan Bartlett was gonna sacrifice you, we need fresh blood in order to make this work. We need to evoke Baphomet—evoke the spirits for—“

“Evan wasn’t in no cult, no brain-dead, hick-fuck cult killing people because they’re pieces of shit and watched The Exorcist too many times.”

“He was gonna,” said Lou.

“He backed out,” replied the girl with a shrug, “so we needed a yearly sacrifice. He was a prime candidate,” she added with another shrug. She dead-eyed Della who was staring in disbelief and with an impassive face she simply said: “Now we got you.”

“You think you’re comin’ near me, bitch?”

“We won’t, but he will,” the girl replied.


“You’ll see when ya look back.”

Della slowly craned her head to the left and looked back to the concrete block. The sound of padded feet on wood went out and she felt the vibration beneath her. Turning back, she shot her eyes to see the girl was up, running towards her with a shimmering curled blade high in the air. Della aimed up, fast and pulled the trigger again. The bullet whizzed, and she fell back with a drop of her arms, the blade hitting the floor. She gripped her stomach then and looked to Della, her eyes wide with confusion or shock. Tears fell from her eyes and she suddenly fell down and folded her legs up, going full fetal. “Save me, Light-One, save me,” she chanted again and again as she held her stomach; fresh crimson pouring onto her hands, onto the bridge that had already seen so much blood.

Images of Evan poured into her brain. His organs laid out, the pentagram painted in his blood. His face pale and twisted into an open scream, his eyes towards the cement block.

“That’s it,” said Della as she got to her feet and moved back to the coil. She reached into her pocket and pulled out Evan’s Zippo. With a metallic flick, the flame burst to life.

“What are you doin’?” yelled Lou over the sound of the girl’s pleas.

“Ending this place.”

“You stupid bitch! Ya don’t get it. He was gonna kill ya anyway!” Lou yelled.

“And then he didn’t,” she replied with a shrug.

She held the flame to the wire and a spark burst out, moving along rapidly, blackening along the way. Lou stared, transfixed. Acne-Boy laid down and covered his head, praying to his favorite deity Della reckoned. The girl began to claw her way towards Acne-boy. She weakly clamped her hands on him and he held onto her, their lips mashing together. Lou looked at them with pure hatred and then lunged for the boy. “IAN—CASS IS MINE.” Della pulled the bolt on her rifle –click clack— and Lou stopped dead. Beneath them was a raging amount of heat and brightness that spread out across the water. Della stepped back and climbed the concrete block. She saw Lou pounce on Ian as they all argue amongst one another.

She looked up. The sound of straining metal went out like a whale’s call. The wooden floor rumbled and the three murderers fell back and looked around as fire spread up and then everything happened fast. The bridge fell, smashing into the water with a huge splash, sending old, dirty water upwards, looking like a log flume ride. The concrete slab, with nothing to hold it back, slid down the Hells Ramp, barrelling towards the cultists which had gone silent over the sound of crashing metal. The block rolled, and suddenly a deafening scream of Ian and the girl went out, and their screams were cut short. Della moved towards the bridge, swatting away dust from the old wood which was suffocating. The sounds of straining metal could only be heard now, and the raw smell of rustic iron burning filled her nostrils as she looked to where the concrete block was half submerged in water.

She had to be sure. She had to know it was done, that this was all done before the police showed up and arrested her. She slid down the bridge which creaked loudly and put her rifle back behind her. She slid slowly, making her way to the slab. As her feet stood at an angle, she could make out two of them. Ian was quickly drowning, pinned under the water where his hands thrashed as his lower body was under the slab but Cass had suffered a quick end, half her body was in the water, half of it was under the block. Fresh blood seeped into the river. Lou.

Water sprayed her; Lou scrambled to the surface; clawed his way forward towards Della with wild, mad eyes. “I’ll kill you, you stupid bitch!”

She reached for her rifle but it was too late. He was on her. His hands clawed at her feet and his eyes were red with rage. Her legs went tight with his grip and she slid from her stance, slamming her back against the concrete block with a loud thud. Pain went up her back and she let out a gasp as Lou clawed his way on top of her and wrapped his hands around her throat. Her clenched fists slapped his face, reddening his skin but his yellowish teeth and bulging jaw seemed frozen as his fingers grew tighter around her throat. “You stupid bitch. He’s not gonna be happy when he finds you’ve killed two of his disciples. No problem. I’ll make him proud of me,” he said through gritted teeth. “Just like Evan was gonna make us proud until he got his little cold feet. Tell him I said hi.”

Hands were upon him. Darkness was clawing its way into Della’s vision, blood escaped and she wanted to shut her eyelids. Her eyes flickered but then she saw it, another hand wrapping around Lou’s neck; one that seemed to be wearing a tuxedo of some kind. Another pair of arms wearing laced white gloves. Lou let out shrill screams as the hands tore away at him and dragged him back. Della leaned to her side and watched as half of Lou’s body was already under the water. He let a final scream escape as Della watched, barely conscious, as the blurry shapes of a man in black and a woman in white thrashed and struggled to pull Lou downwards.

As air seeped back into her lungs, she focused and saw the mangled corpses of the woman, her eyeless sockets staring at her as she slipped under the water. The skeletal remains against rotting flesh of the man in the tuxedo shot through her as fresh waves of terror took over anger. She trembled. Lou was sucked under the water as if a vacuum was beneath him and then there was silence. Della coughed hard and let fresh air seep into her. Eventually, she got the energy to climb to her feet and ran up the once-working bridge of Hells Gate.

She climbed to the top, and slid, looking back to see two floating heads in the water staring at her. She climbed to the top and stumbled, crashing forward with rushing gasps of air. Her hands scratched against the gravel of the floor, but she didn’t care. She ran and then she made the mistake.

She looked back. As if all light had suddenly escaped, only a black hole seemed to be behind her, growing and engulfing the remnants of Hells Gate. Pure heat burned from it. Then she fell forward, landing on her side, air barely escaping. In front of her was the black hole, gaping and blowing the stench of rotting chicken and sulfur. As her vision cleared, the shapes came into view against a low-ember color of red. Twisted, contorted remains of things clawed their way towards her on all fours. Screams of the dead, screams of her name.

There in the dark hole toward her was Evan, tall and stretched; his torso an empty shell giving way to the deep reddish skeletal remains beneath. His jaw stretched low and with wide, hollow eyesockets he hobbled towards Della and screamed out “It should have been you, not me.”

Fire poured out, flowing with streams of contorted naked bodies which crawled across the floor. Each shape screamed out, and against the back of the hole she could see a red haze, and against it stood something tall. Its height was too tall for a human, and it was as if a cape flowed down whatever it was. It seemed to have a thin, bald head with horns poking out of its head. He’s real. Am I real?

Della let out a bloodcurdling scream as she looked towards him, approaching with a million faces of anguish behind him, and the roars of fire blowing out. She stared at the beast which looked at her silently, looking over his domain and two years melted away into a mishmash of looking through broken glass. She turned and ran, screaming wildly into the night, seeing herself run as if she wasn’t in control. She ran and ran and ran with thudded steps behind her and with each thud, she ran harder and harder, until her lungs burned and the heat behind her lessened. Blood poured from her arms and as she ran it sprayed across her.

She could feel the Beasts eyes on her until finally she fell and looked back, only to see the road behind her empty and quiet. There was nothing behind her but the road, the fields, and silence. She laid there, bloody, broken, and beaten. Tears fell from her and she couldn’t stop them. She didn’t want to move. The blaring light of a streetlamp kept her safe from whatever she’d seen.

She roared and wailed not in control anymore. Not knowing what to do except cry until she could do no more. She’d never return to that place she told herself between the wailings, and finally when she could do no more. Her manic tears gave way to laughter, and she screamed on into the night, imagining the thing staring at her; Satan. He was real, was he real? There was nothing left in her. She slammed her head to the floor, and quickly the black hole from before followed her and she remained still, frozen in fear knowing she’d hopefully cut off Hell Gates from ever coming back again. Or maybe, she thought, maybe she’d been engulfed and this was her Hell.


Bio Samuel Edgar runs a nightclub and spends his days writing. 


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gravedigger Blues by Peter DiChellis

Gravedigger Blues

Dixon saw nothing but problems with the new gravedigger. The man stood tall as a giant and looked strong as a gorilla, not like the old gravedigger, the little skinny one who put caskets in such shallow holes for so many years.

“This new fella will bury ‘em deep,” Dixon told Pervis. “And pack the dirt tight on top of ‘em.”

And that meant trouble. Because Dixon and Pervis made a living robbing graves. And it was easy here. Whenever a big storm sent rainwater streaming down the hills that surrounded the isolated graveyard, the entire cemetery would flood, and caskets floated out of the shallow graves, the loose dirt and thin sod unable to hold them.

That’s when Dixon and Pervis would sneak through the night, pop the casket lids open, and rob the bodies of jewelry and watches. And then they’d close the lids to make the caskets look proper again, drive to a distant town, and sell their loot to a shady pawnbroker they knew. It had been steady work. The cemetery served all the neighboring towns, so Dixon and Pervis could rob graves almost every rainstorm. But with this new gravedigger...

“Hell fire, we're gonna be unemployed,” Dixon continued. “Goddamn throwed out of work by a big gravedigger.”

That was depressing for both men. These were hard times to find good work. And Dixon and Pervis, friends since grade school, were built for work. Tall and stocky, big hard bellies, wide backs. Their eyes set them apart, though. Pervis wore a mean stare he’d crafted in county jail, while Dixon’s eyes shone warm as a friendly hound dog’s, a lingering reminder of his boyhood dream to become a salesman, to joke and laugh with customers, and travel to cities and towns all over the state.

Dixon mulled a recent grave robbing. With rain pounding down on them, he and Pervis had wrestled floating caskets, slipped on wet grass, and kneeled and sat in sloppy mud. Dixon had found a rich casket that night, an old burial. The woman’s hair had grown wild, bunching into a tangled gray pillow beneath her withered face. Deep crevices split her skin. Her sunken eye sockets stared upward while an earthy smell fought its way into Dixon’s nose and squatted in his throat. But the woman had a gold wedding band on her bony finger, a silver bracelet on her scrawny wrist. Payday.

“Yessir, I've worked worse jobs than snatchin' these floaters,” Dixon said. “You’re outdoors, not on your feet the whole time, and you know your workday's comin' with the weather.”

“How you like reachin’ around them dead bodies?” Pervis asked.

“Some look frightful, no denyin' it. But every line of work has drawbacks.”

Dixon and Pervis knew how to overcome drawbacks. For example, sometimes the same caskets they'd already robbed floated again. But Dixon, who remembered people, always spotted the repeaters as soon as the casket came open.

“It's that bald fella again,” he might say. “The one who used to have such a nice watch.”

What to do now?

“I gotta put food on the table,” Dixon said. “I need work.”

“We’ll rob live people,” Pervis decided. “Least we can see what they got without pullin’ off a lid.”

“Don’t make sense,” Dixon said. “Live ones fight back.”

“We’ll rob old ones, near to dead. No fight in those.”

So they drove to another town, where nobody knew them. The town was much like theirs. Grubby stores and cinderblock apartments bordered ancient factories that once hired workers, but were automated with machines now.

Dixon considered the lonesome factory buildings. “Caskets for jobs,” he said.

He and Pervis watched and waited, smoked cigarettes, and nipped whiskey from a half-pint Pervis kept in his ramshackle car. Two determined hillbillies with no work skills, dirt under their fingernails, and families to feed.

As dusk became darkness, the half-pint emptied and an old woman tottered past. A streetlight revealed her tiny frame, grandma white hair, and a ring and necklace. She wasn’t wearing a watch.

“Good as a floater,” Pervis said.

The two robbers yanked her into a filthy alley. The necklace looked like cheap crap, but the ring was worth plenty, Pervis saw.

“Gimme the ring,” he told her.

“Kiss my ass, butt face,” she screeched. “This ring belonged to my mother!”

Pervis grabbed her, covered her mouth.

“Get the damn ring,” he told Dixon. He spun the woman around and jammed her throat into the crook of his elbow, squeezing.

“It’s tight on her finger,” Dixon said. “Gonna take a minute.”

When Dixon got the ring, Pervis let go of the woman. She dropped to the ground, motionless.

“Oh Lord, is she dead?” Dixon asked.

“Ain’t staying to find out.”

They drove away to visit the shady pawnbroker. He figured the ring at about five grand, so he paid the two robbers $150 each.

“Lookit here,” Pervis cackled. He waved his share of the money at Dixon and grinned. “What’d I say about them old ones, near to dead?”

“Yessir,” Dixon said. “We got a new line of work. Though I do wonder what became of that poor old woman.”

A week later, the big gravedigger returned to a fresh gravesite, dug yesterday. The casket lay in the open grave, the dirt not shoveled in and packed down yet. The mourners had left, the sun had set.

The gravedigger raised the casket and lifted the lid. A tiny old woman with grandma white hair. Wearing her best dress, no doubt. No ring, no watch, just a crappy-looking necklace.

He took it. Better than nothing, he thought.


This story originally appeared in YELLOW MAMA (October 2013).

Bio Peter DiChellis concocts sinister tales for anthologies, ezines, and magazines. He is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and an Active (published author) member of the Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. For more, visit his site Murder and Fries at

Monday, April 16, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Hector D. Junior

Q. Welcome to Ink-Quisitions, Hector. You started your writing career with a background in Journalism. But in terms of spilling ink, you felt compelled to write fiction. What year did you enroll in Florida International University’s (FIU) MFA program? And did you make any attempts at publishing fiction prior to your enrollment?

A. I enrolled at FIU’s MFA program in 2009 and I hadn't tried to publish anything before then because I simply didn’t feel I had the talent or ability.

Q. A lot of folks with an interest in writing fiction often struggle with the decision of whether or not they should try to enroll in an MFA creative writing program. So how did your FIU experiences shape you as a writer?

A. Whatever small “career” I might have in writing at the moment is thanks to FIU. When I enrolled, I couldn’t write myself out of a paper bag. Now, I can at least recognize I’m inside the paper bag and start poking holes to find my way out. It’s made me better at recognizing the elements of plot, which helps me be a better editor.

Q. These days you teach in Miami at the high school and college levels. You also serve with Rob Pierce as co-editor of the San Francisco-based online magazine Flash Fiction Offensive (FFO), which publishes a story every week. Despite juggling these tasks, you finally and recently completed your college dissertation. Meanwhile, your saintly girlfriend Samantha and your spoiled tuxedo-cat Felina seem to enjoy living with you.

So what motivates Hector Duarte Jr.? How have you managed to give so much to your students—and still found the energy to write fiction—while completing your college requirements; and somehow living in domestic bliss?

A. I don’t know myself, Jesse, to be honest. It’s rough and my saintly girlfriend Samantha hopefully still sees it as domestic bliss when I come up to her AT LEAST once, twice a week and ask her, “Am I stretching myself too thin?” To this day, she’s of the opinion I’m pretty good at balancing it all out, but my big fear is taking on too much and having it all feel like work. It’s all about compartmentalizing, blocking specific amounts of times for each thing: writing, grading essays, petting my cat, and, most importantly, making sure the ones you love still know they are important and that you love them. So, just telling yourself, “all right, I’m going to write for an hour today.” Then, keeping that hour and not beating yourself up later because you didn’t go for ninety minutes. The key, though, make sure you take one day a week where you don’t do shit and give yourself a much-needed mental break. Otherwise, you will get overwhelmed and there goes everything, not just the writing. I never want to get to a point where writing feels like work. I want it to remain fun.

Q. Faced with these draconian time constraints, how long did you work on the novella portion of your first book, DESPERATE TIMES CALL (recently released by Shotgun Honey): which also includes a collection of your crime fiction stories?

A. I worked on that novella over a period of two years, easily. A perpetual ping-pong game of plot and line edits with my thesis advisors, Debra Dean and Lynne Barrett.

Q. You write with the premise that good fiction should give a reason why a particular event occurs. Why do you hold to this principle?

A. It’s cliché but truth is stranger than fiction. Why? Because life is chaotic and things just happen sometimes, without a reasonable explanation. This is why we write as authors and read as readers, to make sense of the world. The only way to do that is to write about the good, bad, weird, and crazy shit that happens in life, but give it meaning and purpose.

Q. You’ve shared that your book takes a look at how ordinary people sometimes feel forced to react when “pushed” by calloused folks during high-stress situations. Without giving away any plots, what kinds of circumstances do some of your characters find themselves confronting?

A. We have a father who breaks a restraining order to visit his daughters at school. A guy burned in love who decides to vent in front of a live audience. Two people who meet through a dating service and swap horror stories. That’s just to name a few. 

Q. Have you ever felt “desperation” in your own life? If so, would you care to share some of these circumstances—and how you resolved your inner conflicts?

A. Of course. Up to and including an anxiety attack back in 2010. I still have my issues but I’ve learned to see them coming, accept my vulnerability, and just slow it the fuck down. That’s the most important thing I am working on now; slowing it the hell down. Writing definitely helps but sometimes processing violence, people being wicked, and the general chaotic state of the word can be overwhelming. That’s when a day off comes in handy.

Q. Like the earlier authors in this series, you also contributed to the kickass Johnny Cash tribute collection JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE edited by Joe Clifford on behalf of Gutter Books. Your anthology story, “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” involves school bullying—and bleeds with desperation.

Is school bullying something you’ve witnessed and struggled to deal with as a teacher? Or did you draw from news events and your imagination?

A. 2018 marks my twelfth year teaching (fuck me). In that time, I have seen all types of bullying: student-student; teacher-student; student-teacher; parent-student. You get the idea. So, yeah, the story in the Cash anthology came from witnessing, in some form or another, bullying in all aspects of society. And, unfortunately, I did witness someone run over a duck just outside my home. What I write tends to have a balance of real-life and imaginative extrapolation. Like all things, I guess.

Q. Since the publication of your first book you now face the challenges of trying to promote your work. You even opened your first Twitter account. But I hope you’re not tweeting while you’re talking to me.

Are you?

Never mind. I don’t wanna know.

Getting back to self-aggrandizement, what other tools are you using to try and promote your book?

A. I only started my Facebook page to promote my writing. Then, I very reluctantly started the Twitter page when Josh Hattan at the Urban Book Club offered to have me conduct an Ask me Anything session over Twitter about my book. I asked him, “Do I have to open a Twitter account?” Josh, ever empathetic and very used to dealing with writers kindly said, “I’m afraid, it’s the only way this will work.”

He didn’t have to say much more. Social media can be a weird necessity because you have promote your work while not being annoying, pile-driving peoples’ newsfeeds, or coming across like a beggar. To answer your question, I use Facebook and Twitter and I’m barely on either of those. 

Q. Comradery within the Writing Community can certainly buoy a writer. I mentioned Joe Clifford earlier. He and Tom Pitts managed FFO before you and Rob Pierce rolled into the gutter … and descended to the throne. Steve W. Lauden recently referred to Joe as one of the most talented miscreants he’s encountered.

How did you meet this guy with all those tats—I mean Mr. Clifford? (Talk about ink.) And how has he impacted your writing life?

A. I met Joe Clifford at the FIU Alumni reading back in 2013, asked him for his business card, and emailed him that night about how best to go about getting a story on FFO. Within a month, I had something up on the site and I was hooked.

From then on in, he’s been nothing but an amazing mentor, creative shoulder to cry on and, at this point, it’s safe to say we’re buds (as closely as two guys living on opposite coasts can be). To this day he laughs because we met for lunch at AWP Seattle [Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Seattle Conference] back in 2014 and I was such a fan boy, just fawning over having lunch with him. He sensed my anxiety and at one point just turned to me and, I’ll never forget, said, “Hector, relax. I’m really not in such high demand.” That was the moment the ice broke between us and this interview is happening right now because of Joe Clifford. Whatever writing career I may carve out in the future, it is all because he opened a door and said, “Go ahead but watch your step.” I hope to serve that same role for someone else someday. In the end, that’s the goal of having any kind of push, power, influence, whatever you want to call it; use it to help someone else reach their level of push, power, and influence.

Simply put, I owe my very tiny writing career to Joe Clifford and I will never forget that.

Many of its “members” might hate to hear me say this but the crime writing community very much operates like an online hippie commune. They are all there for each other, extending handshakes, invitations, opportunities, and loads of support at the drop of a hat. It’s amazing how normal, supportive, and just down to earth these folks are. Especially considering so many of them are mondo-talented. I love it, man. I’m so glad to be a part of it. I hope I am, anyway.

Q. Before I leave you to your Twitter account: you’re assigned to craft a Pub Crawl for out-of-town miscreant writers (Mark Westmoreland chief among them). Where does your tour take them? Or do you invite them to one particular pub—and let them crawl out on their own?

A. My forever favorite bar is Titanic Brewery right across the University of Miami campus. They have good brews, awesome food, and the best part—no pretension.

Q. For anyone wishing to add some food to their otherwise liquid diet, what’s one culinary dish you believe folks oughta try when visiting Miami? And what are some good places to indulge?

A. Islas Canarias way out west—almost hitting the Everglades—has amazing Cuban food. You definitely want to try their ham croquetas. They’re the best I’ve ever had and, believe me, I’ve done extensive research. Make sure you get at least two.

Thanks for your time on S&G's rack, Hector. You've certainly just wet my appetite for more than spilling ink.

Meanwhile, anyone with an interest can swing by Pulp Metal Magazine and read Hector's story Fish Hook for free.

Folks can also buy the Anthony Award nominated anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE (which includes Hector's story “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”) here on Amazon.

Sorry to say, but presently there is no Link where folks can buy DESPERATE TIMES CALL.

Meanwhile though, you can find Hector on Facebook and Twitter at the addresses below:

@hexpubs (Twitter)


Friday, April 13, 2018

What You Know by Nick Manzolillo

What You Know

Some writer is willing to pay me to beat his face in. Now, I'm not one for wilding out unprovoked. I've never been in a bar fight where I didn't let myself get hit first. Then again, I've managed to get into more bar, concert, diner, and taxi-cab fights than anybody I know. So what if I've got a reputation, doesn't mean I feel good about hurting somebody that wasn't asking for it. Then again, this guy was asking for it, asking for it and offering me three hundred at the same time.

"Just don't use a bat or anything," he told me. I agreed with him, mostly 'cause I don't have a bat, and if I did use one, I'd probably just kill the wiry little fucker.

He told me, this writer of black books and foul shit, he told me to surprise him. He paid me up front, patted the buffalo tattoo on my shoulder like he was into me or something, and said to come at him randomly. "Not tonight, not tomorrow, not next week," he told me, and I laughed into my beer. No doubt he's a crazy motherfucker. He smelled terrible, too, but not like piss like most crazy motherfuckers; he smelled like melted plastic and buffalo sauce, yeah, like freshly cooked wings.

It's week number two after he asked me. He's probably still all amped up, expecting me and this probably isn't what he wants, but I'd for sure forget if I waited any longer. As it is, it took my honey, Gwen, asking me about the job and smacking me upside the head this afternoon while I was finishing up a good night's sleep and a long day's dream.

The writer gave me his schedule, see, he's the obsessive-compulsive sort, sticking to the same old, same old, day in, day out. He teaches books to college kids and all that pretentious shit at the big grand full-of-it university that this whole city bends over backwards for. He goes straight from work to a girl's on-campus apartment, then he goes home to his wife, then he goes to the corner pub and has a drink. I planned on getting him after his drink, but when I walked over to his old haunt of a bar, I realized it was hardly five-thirty.  Fucking Gwen, waking me up too early.

I go by the campus, don't see his prissy little charger, and so I find his little blueberry car outside his girl's apartment. It's a shame, 'cause I wanted him to be drunk enough that he wouldn't feel the hurt. He'll probably be love-drunk and that's not the kind of drunk you want to be when you get jumped-beaten and then jumped on. I feel bad and I wonder if I'm even the man for the job, the manly-man sorta badass, as the writer referred to me.

I park my car across the street and linger in the bushes. He walks out into the umbrella glow of the front door's light, pausing to light a cigarette. He sighs deeply before muttering, "for fuck's sake I see you, you big goon"

I try and crouch lower but it's no use; I leap out and maybe it's because he called me a goon, but I'm on him. He giggles, right before I hit him and drop him. I pause for a moment, because I am here for a job. I let him get to his wobbly feet. Could be he wants drama for that next bestseller of his I'll see at the grocery store, so I settle on giving him a chance.

He moans, and then seeing the laughter in my eyes, he lunges for me. I catch his arm, throw it to his side and give him a first class series of uppercuts that knock him back on his ass. I kick him in his ribs, lower myself and pop him just once, firmly, in the head. He goes down, and I believe myself to be done, till he tilts his head up and fumbles into his pocket.

I panic for a moment, thinking it's a gun, ready to jackhammer both my heels into his throat. It's just a piece of paper and a broken half-a-pencil. "Gotta write this down, bud," he says, spitting blood, and that's the moment he officially rubs me the wrong way. What, does he think I'm a fraud? An actor? Some asshole off the street? I kick that fucking notebook right out of his hands.

"Hey!" He moans and I'm on him, head butting his skull. He goes still but he's breathing, as I scoop his wallet, pluck his keys from the ground where he dropped them and then, blood simmering, next thing I know I'm driving his blueberry charger. I start to feel guilty, 'cause it's not that bad a ride. Not even for a big fellow like me. I like the way it handles, boosting to the speed limit in a near-instant. I'm aware I left my truck at the wordsmith's girl's place, but fuck it. I knew there'd be consequences, Gwen knew there'd be consequences. I bet that fucker would probably have had me arrested and then claim our altercation was a random act of violence, just so he could study the effects of due process and a court room. Hell, I like the sound of that, a random act of violence.

Writer guy like that, no matter how smart he be, he needs a fella like myself. Guy like that only writes what he knows, then it's boring shit and the like. I'm the one who taught him tonight. I've got the knowledge he'd smack himself in the head for. My spelling's off, and he may be the one who writes, but it's my story he's gonna tell, over and over, holding his aching face in one hand and a pen in the other.


Bio Nick Manzolillo's short fiction has appeared in over thirty publications including Wicked Witches: A New England Horror Writers Anthology, Thuglit, Grievous Angel, and The Tales To Terrify podcast. He recently earned an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing from Western Connecticut State University. By day he is a content operations specialist, editor, and writer for TopBuzz, a news app.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Welcome Home, Sandy by Wendy Davis

Welcome Home, Sandy

The heat shimmered off the tarmac as the plane crawled to a stop. I grabbed my bag, lowered my shades, and hustled through the airport. I chuckled to myself thinking about OJ hurdling over the gates as I reached the Hertz counter. I was running, too.

My rental car was a Dodge Challenger: it looked like an undercover cop car and started with a satisfying roar. As promised, a loaded 9 mm pistol was in the glove box. I gunned it towards the interstate, heading towards Knoxville, anxious to set eyes on my old stomping ground.

A fluttering from the overpass caught my attention and I thought I saw my name. My real name. I shook it off, looked in the rear-view mirror, and startled at my reflection. It still caught me off guard. I didn't resemble the person that left here two years ago. My once-shaved head was now covered in straight brown hair. My piercings had grown back. I wore long sleeves, even in the summer, to cover the tattoos that weren't lasered off. It was a long process, erasing the scars of my past.

And then I saw it again. My real name. And his.

Sandy, I love you. Donnie.

The sign hung from a bridge crossing the interstate. "What the fuck?" I muttered, and picked up my phone. I dialed my lifeline, Raymond.

"Raymond, what the fuck is going on? I just saw a sign with my real name. And Donnie's."

"What are you talking about?"

"Someone's leaked my…what the fuck?" I yelled, as another sign waved at me from the bridge.

Welcome home Sandy. Love, Donnie

"There's another one, Raymond. Someone knows I'm here!"

"Just keep driving. I'll find out what's going on and call you back."

I hung up the phone and studied the rearview mirror; a black truck tailed me. The driver wore a hoodie and mirrored glasses. His jaw was clenched and he sped up and passed me.

My eyes darted from the mirror to the phone. It waited in the cup holder, blank and silent. Against Raymond's advice, I exited onto Central Pike, cluttered with pawn shops and legalized loan sharks. I turned by a bricked-up drug store and pulled into the parking lot of the Magnolia Inn. The derelict motel was a two-story building with a tired beige facade. Room doors stood open and dirty children ran along the sidewalk. I parked around back and stuffed the gun into my waistband.

Nell was at the front desk looking at her phone. She was a shadow of what she once was, but the shadow had a louche allure. She shot me an indifferent look. And then she slowly looked at me again. "Holy shit girl. Come here," she said. We scurried to the back office and she closed the door.
"What in the hell are you doing here?"

"Granny's dying and I'm being relocated. I have a three-hour layover, so I was granted permission to visit her." I chewed my lip and crossed my arms.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"This sounds crazy, but when I got on the road, there were signs hanging over the interstate saying, Welcome home Sandy, love Donnie."

"What? From Donnie Rowe?" She furrowed her brow.

"I know, I know… I have no idea how anyone would know I'm here. Unless there is a rat in the program."

"Or, it is Donnie."

"I don't believe in that Donnie nonsense."

"He said he'd haunt you forever."

"Yeah, well, in some ways he's right. I'll never get past what happened. Killing that girl was the final nail in his coffin."

"It wouldn't have been if you hadn't turned state's evidence."

"I was trying to do the right thing."

"Bullshit. You were saving your own ass. Doing the right thing means you fess up and accept the consequences. Not ratting everyone out and leaving town to start a new life."

I touched the silver scar on my inner wrist. "I know why I did it. I don't have to explain it to you."

"Fair enough. How much time do you have?"

"I'm down to two hours now."

"Well, what are we waiting for?"

"Raymond said to wait for his call."

"Fuck Raymond. Let's go," she said, and tucked a .45 into her waistband. We slipped outside and climbed into the Challenger. The engine rumbled and I peeled out, leaving the Magnolia Inn behind. We drove past country slums-tattered yards piled with wreckage and worn-out mobile homes. Mangy dogs barked at the car as we powered towards Sunny Meade Hospice. The russet brick building slumped on the hill, smothering the life from all that entered.

The frigid lobby was suffused with a lemon disinfectant. "Can I help you?" a young girl asked, chomping on a piece of gum. She wore ear buds and clicked her black fingernails on her iPhone.

"Yes, we are here to see Elizabeth Wright."

"I see. Are you family?"

"Yes. What room is she in?"

"I need to verify who you are before I…"

I lunged over the desk and snatched her earbuds. Gripping her cheeks in my hand I snarled, "Give me the room number. I don't have time to waste."

She gulped and said 207. We pushed through the lobby and ran up the stairs. Making a hard right at the corner, Nell pulled me back.

"Something's not right."

"What do you mean?"

"We're being followed. I can feel it." She frowned and touched her gun. We strode to 207 and pushed open the door.

The dim light filtered through sheers, casting a pall on my grandmother. Her withered lips pulled away from her teeth; her breath was a faint wheeze. The skin on her arms crinkled around her fragile bones. She was a 3D x-ray.

"Granny," I whispered.  Her eyes fluttered open and struggled to focus.

"Sandy, darling. Donnie told me you were coming," she said weakly.

"Granny, Donnie's dead."

 "Donnie loves you, Sandy," she whispered.

"Granny, I don't know what to say, except..."

The curtain fluttered and there was a trembling in the room. A prickle ran up my spine as I watched Granny's body slacken. I closed my eyes and hot tears spilled down my cheeks. I opened them to see her suspended in the air, her gown billowing around her gangling legs. Her grisly smile frightened me and I was blinded with a white light.  In the next instant, the light was sucked from the room and the space resumed its dull illuminance. Granny lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling with bulging fish-eyes.

I looked at Nell, watching out the window as if nothing had happened. "What's going on?" I whispered. She looked at me and then my grandmother. "At least you got to see her before she passed. We best get out of here."


The phone was rattling in the cup holder.

"Fuck, it's Raymond," I said.

"Want me to answer it?" Nell asked.

"Hand it here." She handed me the phone and I tossed it out the window. "I'm done with Raymond." I heaved a sigh. "I need a drink."

"Let's got to the Crow's Nest in the Sheraton."

"I thought our crowd was banned from there."

"Most of them are, but Percy's washing dishes there now. He vouched for me."

"Sounds good."

We purled along the highway until the half-hearted Knoxville skyline interrupted the horizon.

"You can park by the loading dock. After six, the security guard doesn't give a fuck," Nell said.

I parked by the dumpster and Nell waved at the bored guard. We ambled into the greasy alley. The heat vaporized the beer, urine, and garbage and so that it hung in the humid air. Downtown stunk.

In the lobby, a ragged clerk with eyes like billiard balls scowled at us. A crooked neck tie hung around the collar of her stained white shirt. We caught the glass elevator and peered at the city. Fluorescent rectangles glowed from the building next door; some poor chump hunched over his desk, staring at a computer screen, slowly drowning in the minutiae of his desk job.

The doors opened and we entered the lounge. Men with thickened bellies and red faces sat at the bar, watching the news and licking their fat lips. The bartender absently nodded at their dialogue. Nell caught his eye and he strutted over. "Whattaya say, Nell?" he asked in a graveled voice.

"Two Jack and Cokes, Al," she said.

He gave me a smile which I returned. Nell looked at me and said, "So, what are you going to do next?"

"I'm tired of living like this. I don't think a new identity is better than living as myself. Either way, I still worry about getting whacked."

"If you stay, Donnie's people are going to get you. They hold grudges."

"Have you seen them since the funeral?"

"Yeah, I went to the funeral. Everyone was tore up. They hate you, Sandy. Donna swore to kill you."

"I knew that already." Al set down the drinks and I fished out some cash to pay him.

"Thanks," said Nell.

"I'll never escape Donnie Rowe, will I?" I asked.

"I doubt it."

"I wish I had never met him."

"There is one thing you could try," Nell said, and gave me side look. "Annie might be able to give you some protection."

"I told you, I don't believe in all of that shit. Donnie used that black magic ruse to intimidate people, but he didn't practice it. Hell, he could barely read, much less study the dark arts."

"That stuff doesn't require a degree, Sandy. People learn it in their soul, and Donnie, his soul was black with it." The lights flickered in the bar; everyone startled.

"They're working on the AC," Al announced to the guests as the lights came back on. I sipped the whiskey and looked straight ahead.

"So, why did you leave Florida? Did you get identified? You don't look nothing like you used to."

"I didn't get identified. I got caught stealing credit card numbers from the customers at my job."

"What? What the hell, Sandy?" she cried.

"Stupid, I know."

"I thought you were given an allowance, like, I didn't know you had to work."

"I get a stipend, but I still have to be a citizen of the community. And that means I have to get a job. But the manager was a dick, he didn't know I was in the program, and was always hitting on me. I refused his proposals, but then he caught me copying the credit cards. He threatened to turn me in unless I, well, you can guess."

"So, what happened?"

"The guy ended up dead. Sliced to ribbons."

"Oh my God. Did you do it?"

"Fuck no, Nell. I don't know what happened."

"I believe you do know. Donnie Rowe happened." Nell killed her drink. "We should get to Annie's place. I don't see any other way."


Annie lived in Seymour, right outside of Knoxville. The idyllic landscape made it feel like the country, yet the place was ten minutes from downtown. The cottage was shadowed by overgrown wildflowers and a wrought iron fence bordered the yard. Yellow light spilled from the windows. We walked up to the dark porch where the sound of a New Age flute lilted from inside.

Nell knocked on the door. "Annie, it's Nell," she called softly. The door opened slightly and Annie poked out her frizzy head. Two beady eyes sized me up and she stepped back.

"Who do you have with you?" she asked.

"You know who it is. It's Sandy."

"Come in. Hurry." She ushered us inside, closed the door, and dropped the bamboo shades. The front room was covered in rugs and anchored by a futon decked with an orange and purple afghan. Large floor pillows were scattered on the floor. Sandalwood incense fogged the air.

"You're here about Donnie Rowe."

"Nell says I've got no other choice."

"She's right. But I'm not sure I can help you, either. He's still with you?"

"Things are happening that are like to the things he did. But I'm not convinced it's his ghost. I think someone who is loyal to him is trying to scare the hell out of me."

"Could be. His people hate you."

My face flushed. "I know. They have good reason."

"So, what do you want?"

Nell interrupted, "Can you give her a reading?"

"I can. It will cost you."

Nell looked at me and raised her eyebrow.

"I've got money," I said. We sat down at a table draped in a tapestry and she took out a large deck of tarot cards.  She shuffled the cards and fanned them out on the table. "Pick six and stack them in order."

I chose my cards and placed them in front of her. She laid them out in a pattern in front of me, clicking her tongue the entire time. A scowl remained on her face.

"The Fool," she said. "You are on a journey." She continued to study the next card for a minute before speaking. "The Wheel of Fortune. How this will end up depends on the next card." She revealed the card: Death's Grim Reaper bared his teeth at us.

"The death card is just representation. It doesn't mean you will die; it is only a change or transition to something else."

She continued to turn over all of the cards and study the entire display. After a few long minutes, she said, "You are being protected, but it's not by a benevolent spirit. What loves you may kill you."

"You're not telling me anything I don't know, Annie," I snapped.


We left Annie's and stopped at a convenience store to get a six-pack. When we returned to the car, the tires were slashed.

"Fuck me." I kicked the tire. I looked to see if someone was waiting to ambush us.

"I don't think that was random, Sandy," Nell said.

"Maybe it's his family," I said.

"I haven't noticed anyone following us. They would have to be quick. We were in there for less than five minutes."

I walked around the car and looked past the parking lot. Lonely cars puttered down the dark highway.

"What are we going to do about the car?" Nell asked.

"I need to ditch it anyway."

"Want me to call Harry to pick us up?"

"I think the fewer people that know I'm here, the better," I said.

"It's a little late for that, Sandy." She was right. Someone had anticipated my arrival. I was already fucked.

"Your place isn't far, let's just walk. I need to clear my head."

"Maybe you could talk to Donna. She knew what an animal her twin brother was," Nell said.

"You said yourself she hates me. I always thought she was jealous of us…"

"Well, you know twins have a strange connection."

We walked on the shoulder of the road. The sad song of crickets filled the air; fireflies blinked in the thick dark blanketing the woods. A black truck passed us and made the bend. I froze.

"That's the second time I've seen that truck." As we rounded the curve, the truck was parked on the side; the lights were off, but the motor was running.

"Fuck, what should we do?" Nell asked.

I placed my hand on the butt of the gun. "Keep walking." We approached the truck and the door swung open. A man stepped out and greeted me with a nasty smile.

"Raymond," I said.

"What the fuck are you doing, Sandy? Why haven't you called me back?"

"I lost the phone."

"Bullshit. You had no intention of coming back. You're going to get kicked out of the program."

"In case you haven't noticed, the program isn't working. Someone keeps finding me."

"Well, coming to the place where it all went down isn't helping."

"It wasn't working in Florida, either."

"Look, if you would cooperate, we'd figure out how they're finding you. It would help us and you."

"I just want my life back, Raymond."

"You can't have your life back. You have to make a new one."

"Why can't I just be me? Not another Chelsey Fisher with a story that's impossible to stick to."

"You can do that, but you won't be in the program. And you won't get an allowance. Participation is voluntary-you're free to leave at any time."

"I know."

"Get in. I'll take you somewhere safe for the night."


Raymond stopped at a liquor store and picked up some Seagram's Seven and Sprite. We drove to a three-star hotel in the center of downtown.

"The US Marshal Service must have a lenient travel budget," I said. Raymond glared at me and geared down, steering the truck into the garage.

"No one is going to look for you in a place like this."

"Thanks, Raymond. You know how to make a girl feel good," I snapped.

He grunted and cut the engine. We caught the elevator to his room, furnished with two double beds with fluffy white comforters. It smelled clean, the kind of clean that wasn't faking. I would have slept on the carpet.

We broke into the Seagram's and Sprite and watched TV. The Seagram's got the best of me and I fell asleep.


I heard a phone buzzing; confused, I jumped and realized I was in the hotel room. Nell and Raymond were asleep in the same bed; I would ask later. Raymond groggily picked up the phone. "This is Raymond." He rubbed his temple as the caller babbled into the phone.

"I'll look into it right away," he said, and ended the call. He looked at me, "It's a good thing I followed you, because I'm your alibi."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Donnie's twin sister, Donna, is dead. She was found about five miles away from your rental car. Stabbed to death. It was the same knife that slashed your tires."

"What the fuck?" I gripped my head with my hands. "Raymond, I've got to get out of here," I said.

"Sandy, if you had gotten on that plane as scheduled, we wouldn't be here now. I get to explain that to the powers that be."

"Aren't you going to tell them I went to see my dying grandmother? And then all of this other crazy shit happened."

He picked up the near-empty bottle on the nightstand and finished it off. Nell was still sleeping, softly snoring.

"I'll do what I can."


We walked to the downtown courthouse where I was to be held in custody until arrangements could be made for a safe departure. Raymond accompanied me into the cell to make sure I was comfortable.
"This OK until we get you out of here?"

I looked around at my bare cell with white walls, a sink, and a toilet. A twin bed stood in the corner.

"I'd rather be at a hotel. Can't you get me protection there?"

"It's more secure here and you know we're cheap."

"What's the story with Donna?"

"I know a little more than I did this morning. The only prints on the knife belonged to her. She was spotted leaving the Crow's Nest and followed you to Seymour. From there, she camped out and waited for you to make your next move. She probably slashed your tires so that you would be on foot. I'm guessing she was close when I picked you up."

"How did you know where I was?"

"You think I would give you a car without a tracking device on it?"

My face flushed, "No, I guess not."

"So, she probably saw me pick you up and turned around. From there, the story gets a little murky…" he hesitated.

"You're not telling me something."

Raymond pinched his lips and looked me in the eye. "The good news is investigators found signs in her trunk painted with Donnie loves Sandy. She's definitely the one who hung those up. The bad news is, her body was flayed, like Donnie's last victim. As of now, we don't know who did it."

I wrinkled my brow and whispered, "Donnie loves Sandy."


Raymond smuggled me a Xanax. I lay on the rumpled mattress, staring at the ceiling until I became lost in the blinding white wall. I swiped at the empty air and turned on my side, staring at the small rectangular window in the metal door. I was trapped on the edge of sleep and dreamed that Donnie Rowe was sliding under the crack in the door. I tried to run, but the ground melted under my feet. I was choking. I opened my eyes with a gasp. Donnie Rowe was in my face, his sharp teeth bared at me. His hands around my throat.

"Donnie," I whispered.

"Sandy. Why did you betray me? Don't you know I love you?"

"I was ashamed, Donnie. The family of that girl…"

"You didn't give a shit about that girl. Stop pretending you're better than me. I know you haven't forgotten the barn. You led those people there."

"You said you were just going to scare them. I didn't know you'd…"

"Bullshit, Sandy. You knew exactly what I would do."  He licked my face and I winced. "You're a mess without me. You're still fucking everything up and I have to come in for the rescue."

A clanging noise resounded outside the door and I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping that I'd open them and he'd be gone. He disappeared, but my neck still burned from the grip of his fingers.


The next morning, or afternoon, I couldn't tell, the chaplain came to visit me.

"I heard you had a rough night. Guards said you screamed in your sleep."

"Yeah, I was having nightmares." My voice was hoarse.

"Want to talk about it?"

I touched my throat and looked at him. "Can the dead come back and haunt us?"

He cleared his throat and sat back. "Some people believe that souls can be restless. Do you think you're being haunted?"

"Donnie Rowe has been haunting me since I was a teen. He killed himself so he could fuck with me for eternity."

"You really think his ghost is visiting you?" He wrote in a black Moleskine.

"I need some sort of exorcism or prayer to get him off my back."

"Sandy, are you sure it's a ghost and not your conscience? Sometimes guilt brings on hallucinations.
You need redemption, not a séance."

"Look at my neck. Are there marks on it?" He scooted over and examined my throat.

"Yes, did you do that?"

"Hell no! Donnie was here. He wants to control me. Just like he did when he was alive."

"Are you under psychiatric evaluation? Intense stress can cause severe anxiety with debilitating side effects."

"Fuck yeah, I'm stressed out. It's one thing to be running from people, but from a goddamned ghost? There's nowhere to hide."

I got up and paced in the cell. "They're going to relocate me, but it doesn't matter. I'll never be free."
"Few people are truly free, Sandy." He handed a me tract and said, "Read this and I'll check on you later." He signaled the guard and was escorted out. The closing door boomed in the hallway and fear pressed on my chest.


Raymond sauntered in my cell as if he hadn't a care in the world.

"Did you find out who did it?" I asked.

"No, but I've arranged for you to leave tonight."

"Where am I going?"

"The plane will land in Reno. From there, someone will give you instructions to the next destination."

"Where's that?"

"I can't tell you."

"Bullshit, Raymond. I'm going to find out soon enough."

"Quincy, California. You'll have a cabin at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. It's a little slice of heaven on earth."

"I'll never get out of the hell I'm in."

"You can try. The National Forest Service needs a clerk for the fire stations. I think your personality will blend in well there."

"What do you mean?"

"It's a quirky little town. Artsy and independent, but not a big tourist destination. It's the Plumas County seat, population is about 10,000."

"Please tell me it's not a dry town."

"Of course not. There's plenty of weed, too. But you didn't hear that from me."

"I leave tonight?"


"What about Donna?"

"I don't think she'll haunt you."

"Fuck you, Raymond. I'm losing my mind."

"Listen, kid.  Your mind is just playing tricks on you. Here are the facts. Sunny Meade Hospice identified Donna. When your Granny's health plummeted, Donna hung those signs over the interstate, assuming that you would visit, and she was right. The receptionist was buying dope from her, and she tipped her off when you arrived. From there, she followed you, slashed your tires, and met with an unfortunate end. We are still investigating that piece, but she had plenty of enemies, just like the rest of her family. You should feel safe in going to a new place. No one is going to haunt you there."


The drive from Reno took about two hours. I recited my new name, Crystal Shipley, in the car and it was rolling off my tongue like honey. The parched hills were dotted with shrubs and thorny cacti; it was like a stark planet devoid of life. The topography shifted when I entered Plumas National Forest. Fragrant ponderosa pines lined Highway 70 all the way to Quincy. Main Street was the heartbeat of town, pulsing with eateries and pubs, a theater, and New Age shops. Off the main drag, homes were planted on ample parcels of land lining the base of the Sierra Nevadas. The view was breathtaking; the town was tiny.

I passed by a natural foods store as I navigated to the address programmed in my phone. The cabin was small, but it looked solid. I hopped out of the car and breathed in the pure air and for the moment, I had an ounce of hope. I opened the door and peered inside; the low light gave the stagnant room a creepy vibe. I walked over and pushed back the dusty drapes. Clear light poured in the room and I smiled at the majestic mountain view.

I turned around and frowned as I noticed the scrawling red letters on the mirror over the mantle, "Welcome home, Sandy."


Bio Wendy Davis was raised in East Tennessee and graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She currently lives in Nashville with her husband and two boys. She enjoys reading, hiking, yoga, and attending her children’s ballgames. Her husband, John, is an accomplished musician and together they share a love for all things David Lynch. She also meditates, but is not convinced it’s working.

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