Rose talked while Ray watched the sun through her hair, which blonde and straight, seemed to glow. He smiled and the mother centered her dark brown eyes upon him, twisting a curl of hair with her finger. Doris laughed at a remark by her daughter, teeth showing careful white and fine polish. She kept her gaze upon him, smiling, always smiling.
“It is a wonderful day,” Doris said. The comment hung limp in the summer heat and Ray felt no desire to respond.
The daughter shuffled a deck of cards and began laying out a game of solitaire. Moments passed without any sound except cards and birds. Ray reclined the chair and watched, looking from mother to daughter. Doris continued to finger her curls, running painted nails through hair dark brown.
“Tell me about your book, Ray,” she said, sipping lemonade. “I’m waiting for the galley proofs to be sent. You know, publishing stuff, quite tedious if you ask me.” “I’m sure,” she said.
Rose continued playing cards, appearing to be oblivious to the conversation.
“I’m excited for the day I can see my book,” Ray said. “When will that be?” “Six months.”
Doris nodded, crossed her legs, and leaned towards him.
“What type of advance did they give you?” “Mother.” Rose grunted. “What is it now, darling?” “I told you no talk about money, ok?” “I’m just asking him. If he doesn’t want to tell me, he doesn’t have to, darling.”
Rose got up from her chair, staring for a few moments at her mother and walked towards the garden.
“Tell me when you are finished.”
Silence fell and Doris began swinging her leg, slow and steady, the red polish on her feet shining, her skin bronzed and glistening with sunblock. She ran fingers over one leg, staring out into the garden at her daughter.
“She is pretty, isn’t she?” This seemed to be more of a comment that a question. “Indeed,” Ray answered. His glass remained untouched, drops of condensation slid slowly and unnoticed onto the table.
Ray looked towards the garden, noticing how small Rose looked from a distance. He watched as she chased butterflies with a net, thin, muscular legs propelling her into the air, her skin a pearl white. She caught a butterfly in her net and laughed with joy. She swung the net in a circle, jumping and screaming.
“I’m sorry about the money talk, Ray. I want to be sure you’ll be able to take care of my daughter.”
Ray shrugged his shoulders and continued watching, not turning to face Doris. He took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and put one to his lips, lighting it without looking.
“You have to quit that filthy habit one of these days.”
He nodded and took a drag, exhaling slowly in her direction.
“You went tanning.” “Yes. One simply must have the finer things in life.”
She laughed and began telling him about her weekly beauty routine. Listening with half-interest, he concentrated on the book release.
“What was that?” He asked her, coming out of his reverie. “I said this takes money.” She extended her hand in a sweeping motion from hair to pumps. “Money can’t buy happiness,” Ray said. “Darling, money is the only thing.” She stood, ending the discussion. “Leaving?” He asked. “I have to meet someone.” She turned and without further comment, walked towards the house.
Ray shrugged and looked for Rose to see her still swinging the trapped butterfly. As she swung round, her shirt lifted, showing her stomach, flat and smooth.
Startled, she stopped her arm in mid-swing and placed the net on the ground, the butterfly still trapped. “I didn’t see you.”
He hugged her against his chest. “I wondered what you might like to do this evening.”
“Anything you want,” she said, her eyes sparkling a bright blue in the mid-afternoon summer sun. “That is what you always say. Tell me what you want to do.” “Really?” “Of course, really.”
She laughed and clapped her hands with delight.
“Let’s go to the carnival.”
He lowered his head and muttered something she didn’t hear. “Why don’t you go with your friends?”
“I want to be with you, Ray. Why can’t you hang out with them more often?”
He sighed and reached for the net, attempting to lift it from the ground.
“No, don’t,” she said. “Sorry.” “It’s ok. Just tell me you’ll spend tonight with me.” “I want to, I really do. I just don’t want to be around your friends.”
She dropped her arms to her side and stamped her foot in anger.
“Why don’t you go with your friends to the carnival and then call me later?” “Ray, you know I need to get up early tomorrow. I can’t stay up all night with you like last week.”
Ray turned and faced the house. He closed his eyes and tried to think of something to say.
“Go to the carnival. I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Ok.” “Can you just do me one favor?” He asked. “What is it?” “Free the butterfly.”
He walked towards the street, not looking back or answering her demands to stop. Getting into the car, he took a last look and saw her wave. He drove in silence for a time, staring at the road ahead without expression. Miles later, he lit a cigarette and looked into the rear-view mirror.
“Goodbye,” he said.”
If you enjoyed the fiction, buy paperbacks by Stephen Moran.
FICTION NOON DAY SUN A RYAN HOLDEN STORY (ALTERNATE UNIVERSE)
Robert glanced at his watch and shook his head in irritation. He seemed to be waiting for something, although he did not know what, for indeed he thought to himself, ‘What?’ His lunch remained untouched as he looked over the balcony, located on floor two of the arcade, which gave out onto Westminster Street, affording him a view of Fleet bank. He focused his eyes and his attention on the bank. He watched two businessmen, wearing fit suits of blue and white pin stripe exit the bank chatting and putting receipts, slips and cash into pockets.
‘Them,’ he thought to himself, a grin played on his face, stretching wide upon his features, which lent him a temporary look of malice. Indeed, he possessed features which of ease lent themselves to such an impression, with deep set brown eyes, a thick broken nose that leaned slight to a side, and ugly pig shaped thick lips.
‘But not them. Not exactly, but the type, the type is right.’ He said this aloud to himself, knowing he was alone on the balcony. He observed men in suits and women in fine cut dresses of red and black enter and exit, a constant stream of commerce, veritable visible success. He eyed a blonde woman, tall and wearing a green skirt with a white blouse, her beauty smiling up at him from the street. His eyes traced over her long legs, moving with grace and surety.
‘No, she is not right at all.’ He said to himself, all the while fingering gentle short stokes upon the metal inside his waistband. He leaned over the balcony to look down upon the street, for a moment diverting his attention from the bank’s rear entrance, to watch the pedestrians and cars make mad day noise. A bright red sedan held up traffic as it waited for an elderly lady, white hair moving in the breeze, to cross the street.
Put a move on it
He hated old, couldn’t stand anything old and when three days previous he acquired the piece of metal now safe and secure lodged in his waistband, he said in an emphatic tone to a stunned clerk, “Be sure it is new.”
The clerk, a youngish man with dull features, in utter shock said, “Sir, I can assure you all of our merchandise is new and backed by a full guarantee.”
“I do not want a guarantee.” Robert said, putting an end to further conversation. “Just be sure it is new.”
“Yes…yes, sir.” The clerk stuttered. He did not like the look of this man and hesitated, but not wanting to disturb his manager, whom he feared more than this harsh featured man, he simply placed the package in a brown bag and pushed it across the counter. He felt a wave of relief when the man took the package away and without further words left the store.
During the space of those three days, between that and this, Robert wandered lost about the city, looking, searching, searching, looking for time or a place to assert itself, not knowing the first thing himself. He spent a day on the east side strolling without destination past cafes with their blinking neon lights proclaiming for all to see and read The best cup of java in town. He walked past or rather around college students dressed in summer clothes, shorts and tee shirts baring youthful flesh.
He eyed a young coed; a handsome young man no doubt completing his freshman year of math, English lessons and time spent chasing ladies on campus, wearing gray shorts, a white tank top and the seeming requisite sandals so in vogue, as the student sat drinking coffee and chatting friendly with a red head, rather cute herself with blue eyes to match rosy healthy cheeks. The woman seemed not to follow his conversation and wished to leave, her feet shifting, one to the other, her eyes roaming the street. Robert smiled and thought to himself,
‘You should have taken her down the street, young sir. They have the best java in town.’
He walked on without further comment and decided the east side, with its cafes, used cd stores, college students struggling to afford the best java in town not to be the place, not right at all. He boarded the bus and left those that would be well enough left alone.
We must consider carefully what we do
These thoughts came as the bus entered the tunnel, bound for downtown, leaving all in darkness.
He came to, or rather, focused his eyes, which indeed were and had been trained upon the bank the entire time. He observed the man, the right man he knew, rounding the corner and making straight for the bank, head cropped close and held high, hands stuffed inside his gray suit pants, a man who was somebody. He watched, in seeming slow motion, as he, the man, gray suit and all, reached his hand out and opened the door. He smiled and felt cold ice running wild in his blood, cold, cold black ice in his veins. He gripped metal, hard with his fingers to contain his excitement. The wait indeed would soon be over. “When he is done with business, he is finished,” he thought, almost daring to laugh aloud at his wittiness, but he thought better. Shaking his head all the while he mumbled under his breath, “I won’t draw attention to myself. Not yet. Not yet.”
The man in the gray suit, named Ryan, walked, quick and sure to the desk of the loan consultant, sure because he knew the way, quick because he wished the entire drama to be at an end. He had been to see the loan consultant there several times over the previous month, all attempts or rather requests for the bank to give him “a bit more’, the exact phrase he used the first day he sat sweating tense nerves and trying to convince the loan consultant to give him an extension on his car loan.
I need a bit more time to get my finances in order. He remembered saying, a memory that caused him discomfort, visible discomfort, as indeed, worry lines appeared without warning above his sky-blue eyes, his beautiful, troubled sky-blue eyes. It pained him to ask the man behind the desk, whom while he asked and begged for an extension, ‘a bit of time,’ did not look up and instead remained seated, rather on the fat side, flesh pushing over his shirt collar, as he tapped in rapid succession on the computer keyboard.
“Name?” the man asked. He still did not possess the courtesy to offer Ryan a look, a greeting or as much as a nod.
“Last name, please."
The man busied himself with the computer as Ryan stood nervous and impotent, picking at his nails.
“Hmm.” The man appeared happy at Ryan’s financial difficulties on the screen in front of him, indeed, was smiling. “Yes, you are here about the extension you requested on the phone.”
“I am. I just need a bit of time to get things in order. The last few months have been slow at work.”
“I see. Well, your request is being processed; there is nothing I can tell you today. You can stop in over the next week to check.” The fat man seemed content. One more life put under the hooks, one more number under pressure, the constant downward pressure of financial ruin.
Ryan stood there in confusion, not understanding. He thought of things to say, but his words seemed futile.
‘This man pushes papers.’ As he left a thought that recurred to him as he approached the desk for the fourth and final time.
Today, there was no sign of the fat man. He brushed a hand, one sweaty palm over his head, unable to stop the nervous display. He waited, sweat appearing and running free over his forehead, sweat under his arms and upon his palms, which he ran over his cropped hair.
‘I have to remember to dry clean this suit before I give it back to Greg.’ He thought to himself as a lady tapped his shoulder.
“Can I help you?” She asked. She smiled at him and brushed her hair, long and brown, away from her eyes with fingernails painted a glossy red. Her eyes sparkled brown and friendly and wide, which for a moment gave him respite from his nerves.
“I’m here to see Mr. Brown.” He said, struggling to remember the man’s name as he stared into her eyes. She wore a red dress, cut with black trim, which hugged tight against her hips and did little to hide her full breasts.
“Mr. Brown is at lunch. Can I take a message for you?” She asked, her voice sweet and light.
“No. He told me to be here at one o’clock. I’ll go for lunch myself and come back in an hour.”
“Okay, great.” She said. Great indeed, he thought to himself.
“Thank you.” He said, not wanting the conversation to end.
“No problem.” That voice again, sweet and light, tickled at his spine and caused his knees to weaken, and if just for a moment he no longer felt the constant worry of his finances.
He turned away and began to walk, although not so quick as before, towards the door.
‘I’d like to know her name.’ he thought. ‘I’d like to take her to lunch.’
The thought of lunch reminded him once again of his present troubles and he removed from his pocket a five-dollar bill, the last of his money until payday. He fingered the paper as he walked, thinking where he could get a lunch for five dollars.
“It will be a burger and fries, again.” he said to himself as he exited the rear doors of the bank.
Robert saw Ryan exit the bank, his blonde hair shining in the sun, his eyes shielded by a hand, which held the last of his money. Robert smiled to himself as the man stood there, as if waiting for him, motionless.
‘You shall not escape.’ Robert said to himself. He raised his gun and took aim.
Ryan waited for an opening in traffic to cross the street, the arcade being close enough to see the usual counter person in the window of his favorite burger joint.
“I have enough for two cheeseburgers,” he said as he stepped from the curb.
He heard the shot after he felt the impact against his shoulder and found himself sprawled upon the sidewalk. A woman screamed and car brakes squealed moments before a second shot smashed into the concrete next to his leg. He pressed his hand against his shoulder and felt blood oozing through his fingers. The five-dollar bill was on the ground a few feet away, fluttering in the breeze. He reached for it, but a hot white pain exploded in his thigh. He screamed, but his voice sounded thin, as if he heard himself from a distance. He looked up, blinded by the noon day sun, looked up at the very moment that Robert fired.
The short stories of Franz Kafka remain an important influence on my writing and on the collection, Stories for the Mad. Enjoy the story and please PREORDER a copy of the new book!
Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on.
“It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.”
At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says:
“If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.”
The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside.
The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper.
The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.” During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper.
Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper.
He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man.
“What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper.
“You are insatiable.”
“Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?”
The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.”
STORIES FOR THE MAD $15 INCLUDES SHIPPING
Dark literary terror and horror, mixed with dread and fear in the tradition of Poe, Kafka, Shirley Jackson and Gilman. New stories from Justin Bog, Gabriel Ricard, and many more.
Day One examines the horror of mass-shootings and the origins of that violence. Reader discretion advised.
Day One By Gabriel Ricard
Authors Note: The following piece is a work of fiction. The author does not condone this sort of thing in real life.
I'm not one of those people, who always wish to be seven years old again. Why bother? For one thing, it's totally redundant to wish for something that's already passed you by, with no chance of returning. I've never resembled those kinds of people but still, I'd like to be totally ignorant of the future like most children are. As a kid, I was never a smart enough to figure out early that my classmates and teachers were all manipulative, unrelenting monsters. I just skipped along in rain boots, shrugging off a bad day with the knowledge that tomorrow would definitely be a lot better. That sort of ignorance would be really nice to have at this point. When you realize there's no way in hell that things are going to improve. You start counting down the days until it, and I'm referring to school, will be over. Even though there's still several hundred of the bastards to go.
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Mom tells me I do that all the time. Make up my mind before anything's even happened. After all, it's only the first day, and school hasn't even started yet. Still have another three hours, since I made it a point to get up at four in the morning. I haven't been sleeping very well over the last week anyway. Nervous I guess. Ninth grade doesn't actually sound that important until it's staring you in the face. Schoolwork has no part in the worrying. It's just thrown in front of me. I do it only to avoid the stamp saying I'm one of those kids that puts their head down and goes to sleep. What bothers me, is that I won't be able to handle the other students. I'm almost a hundred percent sure. Only fifteen and I'm completely destroyed. A hefty database of past indiscretions convinces me there's truth in my assumption. I have compiled such a list, as a matter of fact, but it's only in my head.
While I couldn't hope to give a description about the rock cycle, I could easily list off every single time someone threw food at me in the cafeteria. Or, when a complete stranger would approach me in the hallway to ask if I was gay. I remember the time someone stole my notebook when I went to the bathroom. Whoever did it, they were kind enough to rip it to pieces and put it back in my locker. A personal favorite was the long-standing agreement between everyone not to use the same urinal as me. It's all in there, molded into one fresh memory.
Of course, Mom tells me I focus too much on that stuff. So does the shrink she made me visit twice in July. It took me about a half-hour to figure out their opinions were exactly the same and that I was wasting my time trying this. Actually, that's not entirely true. This guy did tell me something new. He said I brought a lot of these things on myself. I should become more self-aware of the way I act and the words coming out of my mouth.
I tried making a comment about this to Mom. She waved me off, remarking that I was still being too dismissive. Muttering "It's rude to laugh at other people's suggestions." Since I actually agree with this, I tried my best not to laugh at her moment of hypocrisy.
I didn't expect this therapy thing to change the quality of life. Mom's vague attempts at parenting are so infrequent and dull.
All the crap with that shrink did make me wish I actually had a friend. I've heard before that you should consider yourself lucky if you make even a few really good friends. Well, I'd like to make one. Nothing too selfish right? Just one. That doesn't exactly live in the realm of possibility, so no heavy worries about it.
When I was really little, and rather stupid, I thought that maybe everything was related to where I live. Like California just happened to have more than the average number of jerks and I'd be happy if I moved somewhere else. I used to bring up living somewhere else to Mom. Surprise, surprise, it didn't get me anywhere. My little theory changed with vacation I took with my Mom to see her sister in Oregon. Big, ignorant, ugly people are going to be prevalent no matter what town you're in. Deciding I was the one who had to change, a great idea came to me. While not terribly original, it's definitely worth pursuing with the right know-how.
I had no idea California is such a hot bed for school shootings. The last decade alone, there have been four major incidents. Only eight people have been killed total but dozens were wounded. I've been researching the topic and Santana is the personal favorite, the easiest to gather information on. I figure if you want to go about an act as complicated as this, you need to know what's what.
I was pretty set on doing the so called "unthinkable." I mean, anyone would in my position. I tried to tough it out. Tried to laugh when snowballs bearing sharp chunks of gravel were hurled in my direction. I tried not caring when I found my gym clothes spread out in the teachers' parking lot, each article of clothing placed on a single car. And believe me when I say that I tried shrugging off the notes that were occasionally passed to me in the fifth and sixth grade. Clever little slabs of paper that summed up my entire being in one insulting sentence. Or better yet, a drawing meant to show how ugly I was. In some artwork they paired me up with another school outcast. Those kids never last. They either move away, or manage to find themselves forgotten. In the end, it doesn't do anything.. The more I think about anything, the more it occurs to me that I'm going to fail at it.
But I am a slave to habit. I drink tea every morning and stir it for exactly thirty seconds. Sleeping on my right side is a necessity for a good night's rest. And I constantly feel like trying again with a continuous problem. Hence the frequent attempts at getting through to Mom.
So, due to stubbornness, I'm not going to give up just yet. There's going to be one last shot at fitting in. I'll even go all out, make the strongest effort I ever have. First thing, I'm going to dress with strict adherence to whatever's popular. Guy's fashion doesn't change too much around here, so I went ahead and bought some clothes.
Second, I'm going to make serious changes in the way I talk. I've often been accused of "talking too smart." To change that, I'll talk exactly like everyone else. Pick up on the latest slang words, use an accent that matches someone who apparently believes they're from the dirtiest ghettos in the country. It's not that hard really. I watch a lot of movies so I have a pretty decent grasp of pretending.
I'll ask out the first girl I talk to as well. Get all those idiots to start whispering through the hallways about me. I almost did this last year but the reasons were completely different. Carley Feathers, the girl in question, is my hopeful. It makes sense to try for someone you actually like. As I said though, first girl I strike up a conversation with. I would like it to be her.
The last thing I'll do is take up smoking. I've noticed that the kids at my school are always bumming cigarettes off each other. Everyone goes to a place outside the building where it's safe to smoke during lunch. All I have to do is make it known I'm a smoke and they'll walk up to me, and start talking.
I can't really say if all of this will work for me. I'm hardly an optimist, especially where I'm personally concerned. I'll give it my best shot and go from there.
In a small way, I don't want to succeed. I'd rather make a little history, causing the first massacre in the history of my school. That would really make a lasting impression. It probably works a hell of a lot faster than what I'm attempting instead. I'm nowhere near being scared to kill either. I just I recognize how big a step that is. There's no way you can go back after you start.
So today, it's the first real day of the rest of my life. Here goes nothing and all the like.
Just in case though, I already borrowed a couple shotguns from my grandfather's house during the latest weekend visit.
I don't know anything at all about guns. The only aspect didn't undertaken research for. I just have to pull those weapons out of their hiding place and look at them to know they're absolutely perfect.
If I don't change my life for the better, they will.
If you enjoyed this piece of short fiction, please check out Gabriel's debut novel, Bondage Night. It's an uncompromising and unflinching look at two mismatched lovers, sparing readers the tired tropes of the romance genre - a book that dares tell the whole sordid truth of what's beyond happily ever after.
THE INSPIRATION BEHIND STORIES FOR THE MAD THE TELL-TALE HEART EDGAR ALLAN POE
Edgar Allan Poe remains one of the biggest influences on my writing, especially my short fiction. The drama, terror, and ghastly endings of Poe's stories carved a place in my writer's mind that I was never able (or desired) to forget.
When I selected the fiction for Stories for the Mad, my process was simple. I read the submissions *with* Poe and Kafka stories - seeking dark fiction that would fit seamlessly with two of my most important influences. I'm confident lovers of Poe and Kafka will be thrilled with Stories for the Mad. Without further ado, I present The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. Enjoy.
THE TELL-TALE HEART
TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it—oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly—very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously—oh, so cautiously—cautiously (for the hinges creaked)—I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights—every night just at midnight—but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers—of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back—but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out—“Who’s there?”
I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;—just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief—oh, no!—it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself—“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney—it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel—although he neither saw nor heard—to feel the presence of my head within the room.
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little—a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it—you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily—until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.
It was open—wide, wide open—and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness—all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.
And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense?—now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!—do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once—once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.
I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye—not even his—could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out—no stain of any kind—no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all—ha! ha!
When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock—still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,—for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.
I smiled,—for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search—search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.
The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:—It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness—until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.
No doubt I now grew very pale;—but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased—and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath—and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly—more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men—but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now—again!—hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks! here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!”
PRE-ORDER STORIES FOR THE MAD RELEASES AUGUST 2019 $15, with Shipping Included to a US Address FREE BOOK WITH EACH PRE-ORDER SHIPMENT
There are three titles in the immediate Moran Press pipeline and I'm happy to bring you photos of the proof copies of those books. I'm very pleased with how these books printed, only a few fixes are needed.
Stories for the Mad - $15, Shipping included to a US Address Origin of a Serial Killer - $12, Shipping included to a US Address The Killers and other Stories - $10, Shipping included PREORDER ALL THREE UPCOMING RELEASES FOR $25
INDEPENDENCE DAY EXCERPT FROM ORIGIN OF A SERIAL KILLER
It was July 4th, 2004. The day started poorly with my father screaming at me to make breakfast to soothe his hangover. He drank more than usual the previous night due to having the 4th off. He seemed as if he was intent on making me suffer every minute. He consumed a copious amount of whiskey with his eggs. When I thought I couldn’t take it for another minute, he finally passed out on the couch. I got dressed and ran from the house as fast as possible before he could wake up. I wanted to see Ray. I didn’t know if he’d be working, but I had nothing else to do and nowhere to go. The heat made sweat pour down my face. When I reached the store, I mopped my forehead with my T-shirt, revealing my stomach. No, I never cared much for being modest.
Pushing my way inside, I scanned for Ray but only saw a lady I didn’t recognize behind the counter. She watched me curiously. I assumed it was because of the lack of customers.
“Is Ray working?”
“No, not today.”
I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. So much for my hopes, I muttered under my breath. Was I doomed to spend the day with Father? The lady asked if I needed anything, but I simply shook my head and left. Sitting on the bench for a while, I let the sun cook my skin. I dreaded the thought of going home. I didn’t even have enough money for an ice cream cone from the shop a block away. As I thought about what I could do other than go home, I saw Ray’s blue Firebird pull into the parking lot.
My heart leapt with joy and relief. I ran to meet him, nearly tripping on the grooved cement near the gas pumps. I skidded into the door and put my elbows on the window.
“Getting ice,” he said, opening the door. It forced me back a few feet. He seemed distant. I waited by his car while he went inside and came back out with two bags of ice in each hand. Dropping them on the pavement, he opened the trunk, pulled out a cooler, and began packing ice around the food and drink. He didn’t look at me, as if he were purposely ignoring me.
“What’s wrong?” My brows lifted.
“Nothing’s wrong. You can’t be talking to me like this. I’m not working, so we have no reason to speak.”
I suddenly understood he was afraid to get in trouble. Leaning against his car, I looked around and didn’t see a soul. Not a car or anyone walking. “Nobody is watching us, Ray. You have nothing to worry about.”
He looked around and shrugged.
“Where are you going?”
“To see my father.”
“Can I come with you?” I asked cheerfully.
His eyes finally met mine. I felt the no in his eyes, but on that day, I didn’t plan on taking no for an answer. Without permission, I walked around to the other side of the car and got into the passenger’s seat. If he wanted me out, he’d have to make a big effort. He put the driver’s seat up, eyeing me before stowing the cooler in the back seat.
“You’re going to get me in a lot of trouble,” he said.
Still, despite his objection, he got in the car, shut the door, and started the engine. I kept quiet as he pulled the car onto a highway heading south. I curled my legs under me, watching him and hoping he liked my new tan, knee-length shorts, and pink t-shirt. He turned on the radio to a rock station I like, which made me smile and content to watch him drive.
“I promise I won’t be any trouble, unless you want—” I started after some time as he exited the turnpike and navigated the twisting farm town roads of central Connecticut.
Without looking at me, he interrupted. “Enough of that talk. You’re several years too young to be going on like that in front of a man my age. Wait until you’re twenty-one.”
“I’ll be an adult at eighteen.”
“Yes, but I don’t find myself in the company of anyone that isn’t of drinking age very often. So, as I said, come back to me at twenty-one with that sort of talk.”
I considered his comment for a moment, letting the music fill the void. “Is that a promise?” “Sure,” he said.
“I’ll hold you to that, sir.”
He smiled as he eased the car to a stop outside the gates of a very large white mansion, which sprawled up and around a hill. A multitude of buildings surrounded the main structure. Shutting off the engine, he opened the door and approached the guard house attached to the gate. He pressed a button, and a voice sounded through the metal box.
“Who lives here?” I whispered. “Father,” he said.
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Happy Birthday, Franz Kafka You're In An Anthology
It's Franz Kafka's birthday, one of the biggest influences on my writing and part of the basis for the upcoming fiction anthology from Moran Press, Stories for the Mad Volume One.
My idea for the anthology was to select a group of stories that fit with the works of two big influences on my work - Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka. Dark literary terror and horror, with shades of dread and fear.
To select the stories - I read submissions sandwiched between Kafka and Poe stories. I noted the stories that fit with Poe and Kafka in some integral way. Ultimately, I wanted stories that would work in a collection with a Poe and Kafka story and placed all the submissions in a Word document and surrounded them with selections from both authors. Then I read and read the collection, pulling out those that didn't mess and adding others. And I read it some more.
The result is Stories for the Mad Volume One - the first anthology from Moran Press. I will include one story from Kafka and Poe in this volume - the singular story from each author that inspired me most in my writing.
The final roster is comprised of 10 living authors and two dead legends, approximately 50k words of fiction and 150 pages. I hope Kafka and Poe won't mind.
Step into the madness,
PRE-ORDER Stories for the Mad Volume One
Stephen Moran Franz Kafka Edgar Allan Poe Justin Bog Gabriel Ricard Agnes Bookbinder Pete Donohue Danielle McCoy Rae Theodore Richard Wall Dan Provost Brian Rouff Scott Wozniak
Stories for the Mad - $15 with Shipping included to a US address. No money to reserve a copy, pay when it ships. I will add a FREE book to each pre-order from Moran Press inventory. Reserve your copy today!
#FICTION DEAD SOULS BONUS CONTENT ORIGIN OF A SERIAL KILLER
Ana follows me beyond a guard house where we see four sentries watching the workers. We enter a row of apartment buildings, each identical to the last and capable of housing eighty workers. Construction proceeds with haste on the newest building, the population of the community swelling beyond the current capacity. The buildings are made of gray concrete, each with three stories.
Beyond the apartments we arrive at THE MATRIX, a western style bar with a dirt floor and a broken splinter of a front door. The bar teems with workers even at midday, most being in construction or some other manual labor. The men eye us warily, keeping a distance as we walk around the mini-city. Beyond the bar we see a bank and a barber shop. A man approaches us, a silver star on his chest.
“Afternoon ladies. Do you need an escort to the bar?”
“Do we need one?” Ana asks.
“It’s compulsory,” he says. Ana’s eyes go wide and the man chuckles. “It’s for your own safety, I can assure you.”
Ana’s eyes lock with mine and I feel the questions in her stare, but keep silent while we follow the man into the bar. A dusty piano occupies one corner and we take seats at one of the three small, round wooden tables in the center of the room. The men stare at us, all conversations coming to a halt. I wink at a construction worker and he drops the cigar from his mouth.
The barkeep hustles over to us, simpering a bow at me.
“What’s your poison tonight? Beer or whiskey.”
“What types of beer do you have?” Ana asks.
A few men cough in laughter and I wonder if this room is safe. Looking around, the front door seems to be the only exit and the men number twelve. I don’t know the man with the badge.
“Beer, singular,” he says, point at the bar. A solitary tap handle sticks from the bar, the side printed with the name: BEER.
Ana laughs and asks for whiskey.
The bartender rushes away without looking at me. Am I getting a drink? Is this happening? Do these men even know who I am? He returns in a flash, putting a bottle of whiskey, two glasses and two mugs of beer on the table.
“This place looks like it got stuck in a time warp from more than a hundred years ago. What’s the story here?” Ana whispers to me after he leaves. I watch the men stare and think how to phrase my answer.
“This is something of a social experiment.”
I pour whiskey and drain my shot. The heat rising to my face calms me and I begin to relax. I can see playing cards on the table closest to us, with small mounds of poker chips in front of each of the three men.
“Social experiment? You mentioned Gogol. I don’t understand.”
“I got the idea from his novel of buying ‘souls’. The homeless population in Vegas seemed a good place to start.”
One man grabs the cards and deals the next hand, keeping a hostile eye on me.
“These men were homeless…now what?” Ana says, wanting me to finish my thought.
“I bought their lives. Now they live and work here, never to leave, part of my grand experiment. These men work construction on a special project I’m building on the outskirts of the city.”
“I’m building a new city, from scratch. Each inhabitant will be invited and must swear allegiance to me. It will be a city built for and run by women.”
Ana pours another glass of whiskey and watches the men play poker. “Can I join?”
READ MORE OF THIS STORY IN THE BONUS CONTENT SECTION OF THE UPCOMING MORAN PRESS RELEASE - ORIGIN OF A SERIAL KILLER.
PRE-ORDER STORIES FOR THE MAD VOLUME ONE A MORAN PRESS ANTHOLOGY OF DARK LITERARY FICTION
Justin Bog Gabriel Ricard Agnes Bookbinder Pete Donohue Danielle McCoy Rae Theodore Richard Wall Brian Rouff Dan Provost Scott Wozniak
STORIES FOR THE MAD - Volume One from Moran Press
A collection of dark literary short stories - tales of madness, killers, deconstructions of the antihero. Be thrilled, entertained, and horrified. I do not apologize for the nightmares. See you in the pages of Stories for the Mad, Volume One.
Pre-Order by Clicking the Cover Image. The book will also be available in paperback and kindle at Amazon and other online retailers.
Stories for the Mad Volume One
Paperback Edition of
Stories for the Mad Volume One - Anthology of dark, literary fiction from Moran Press