"Intriguing and varied collection of short tales" says Helen Whistberry (review posted at Amazon)
Very intriguing collection of short tales in the spirit of Kafka and Poe, loosely related by their dark themes and sometimes ironic tone or plot.
Standouts for me were Love and Rockets, a pleasingly deadpan and strangely poetic retelling of a courtship gone disastrously awry; Journey of Loss, a folkloric musing on loss and evolution of self; A Dark Thread, a tale of (literal and figurative) alienation and madness; IEP, a too chillingly realistic sketch of a very modern-day horror; and moniker, a dreamlike meditation on transformation.
The stories are all quite varied in length, subject, and style, so I think fans of original storytelling will find their own favorites in this thought-provoking collection.
A young man sat in a late model Toyota sedan in a McDonald’s parking lot, glancing from a mobile phone mounted on an air vent to the front door. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he shifted in his seat trying to get a better view of the restaurant interior.
Come on, this is my last ride. Don’t make me cancel.
The timer on the mobile phone changed to blood red and a cancel button appeared. There was no rider in sight.
Now I have to find another ride fuck my luck.
He cancelled the ride and turned up the heat, the wintery mix was turning to freezing slush on the windshield. Jumping out of the car, the man banged the windshield wipers against the windshield a few times to shake the ice free. Before getting back into the car, he scanned the surrounding area. Ice. The roads were turning into a skating rink in mere moments it seemed to him.
A beep from the phone forced him back into the car. He managed to accept the ride request one second before the 30 second timer expired.
Please be close, please be close he repeated as the app grasped for a signal in the intensifying storm. The driver app managed to find the ride. It was at the driver’s current location but was not the rider he cancelled.
“Ella,” he said out loud looking at the screen. The profile pic was of a beautiful young blonde woman, pretty enough to be a model.
That pic fake as fuck but I don’t care it’s my last ride, come on let’s get this ride over before I die on these roads.
As if in answer to his stream of consciousness prayer, a young woman wearing a slicker yellow raincoat exited McDonald’s and approached his car, holding out her mobile phone and then checking the license plate on the car before getting into the back right passenger seat.
“Hi, I’m Ella.”
“Wow, you’re beautiful,” the driver blurted out almost against his will. “I figured that pic was fake. No worries about this ice storm, I’ll get you home safe.”
“Thanks, I guess.” She tapped at her phone a few times before catching his gaze in the rearview mirror. “Get me home safely and you will get a generous tip.”
The driver smiled and guided the car on to 146A N. He tapped the app screen to check the destination. ___ Mendon St, Uxbridge.
“Sweet. Real close. You’re my last ride.”
The blonde woman nodded indifference and kept tapping at her mobile. He watched her in the rearview, transfixed by her pale skin and perfectly straightened blonde hair. How does she keep it like that in the winter?
“You could be a model. That’s how pretty you are, I don’t mean to be a creep.”
The tires slipped in an ice patch and jerked the car to one side.
“Better keep your attention on the road then. Don’t kill us both. Just drive. I told you I’ll tip you. Cash.” The young woman pulled a thick wad of cash out of her jeans pocket and waved the wad in his direction. “Just get me home. Remember, models deserve rides too.”
“I’ll get you home safely,” he said, slowing the speed markedly. “Don’t worry, I drive full time. I can drive and still tell you that you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever had in my car. See, I’m not looking at you. Eyes on the road, but I gotta ask. How do you get your hair so unearthly straight. It’s perfect like out of a movie.”
The young woman gave no response and instead tapped a button on the mobile to place a phone call. “George, can you prepare a cocktail. The drive home is treacherous and lecherous and I’m in need of gallons of vodka. Be home in 15 minutes or so.”
“Treacherous and lecherous,” the driver repeated, smiling at her in the rearview. “Wait, does that make me the lecherous part. I didn’t say nothing bad, what are you thinking about?”
“I’m thinking about murders and executions so be careful how you speak to me. I’ve hacked men into bits for less. Still want to tell me how pretty I am? Make my day. As for my hair, if you ever learn that secret, it’ll mean your life.”
He whistled and for a moment became silent. The car passed Uxbridge High School and the driver maintained a very low speed as there were no other cars on the road.
“The fact you had to say all that instead of just telling me no means you’re interested. I like when girls play hard to get. Makes the getting all the sweeter.”
The car stopped at the 146A merge with 122. The Uxbridge Courthouse parking lot was almost completely empty. Court was finished for the day, closed early for the storm. Taking a left onto 122 N, the driver guided the car carefully over the thickening ice.
“More treacherous than lecherous so far if you ask me.” The driver slowed the speed to less than 25 mph. The only other vehicles to be seen were plows and town trucks sanding the roads.
The blonde woman laughed and placed her mobile in her lap. “You are quite persistent. If I told you I was a serial killer would you still want to fuck me?”
The driver pondered her question and approached the stoplight to RT 16.
“Are you a serial killer?”
“I am,” she responded immediately.
The driver whistled and turned onto RT 16, glancing at the app on his phone. Less than half a mile to Ella’s house.
“I don’t care. You can be anything you want to be with me. If you want to identify as a serial killer, have at it.”
Ella sighed and leaned forward, “Look for the driveway after the fire hydrant. No, not that one. The next.”
The driver pulled to a skidding stop in the driveway, tires slipping dangerously on the ice. “We made it.”
Ella peeled several bills from the cash wad and extended the money over the seat to the driver. “A serial killer keeps her promises.”
“Wow,” the driver said, quickly counting the money. “You gave me five hundred dollars. This makes my year.”
“I want something for my money. Pretend you never took this ride. You never saw me. You’ll never speak about it.”
The driver shrugged and stuffed the money into a pocket. “It’s going to be hard not to mention the tip and a rider telling me she’s a serial killer, but it’s your ride. Thanks for the tip, serial killer. You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever had in my car. Oh the things I’d do to you.”
Ella signed once more, closing her eyes.
“Do me a favor. Google my name. Ella Thomas.”
The driver tapped at his mobile and waited for the internet to return an answer. His face grew pale and he looked at Ella in the rear view.
“I…hope you have a n…nice night,” he stammered as he swiped at the app screen to end the ride.
“Don’t you want to come inside. I’ll tell you every detail about my hair routine. I promise it’s to die for…” Ella’s voiced trailed off into a smile.
The driver gulped for air and wiped at sweat collecting on his forehead. “The roads are getting bad; I better get going. Maybe…another time…”
He didn’t finish, voice fading into nothingness.
“Come inside. You only live once; every day could be your last ride.”
The driver attempted to speak but failed, his face getting paler, eyes wide staring at Ella in the rear view. “Call me Donald,” he finally answered.
“Do you mind if I light a cigarette, Donald. It’s been one hell of a stressful day.”
He nodded his consent even though he never let riders smoke in the car. But a serial killer that tipped $500? The smell of smoke filled the car before Ella cracked open the window.
“Don’t worry about the roads. If it’s too bad later, you can stay with me. You’ll be safe, I swear. Come inside for vodka martinis.”
“I…” Donald stammered again.
Ella opened the door and flicked the cigarette into the snowbank. Lifting the hood of her coat to block the wind and sleet, she stepped into the winter weather. “Come inside. We can get drunk and make a book together. I’ll make you famous.”
Donald remained silent and still behind the steering wheel. He gave no indication he heard Ella speak. She sighed and shuffled carefully around to the driver’s door. Pulling at the handle, she opened the door. Ella offered her hand to Donald and waited for him to speak or move or somehow answer.
“Don’t be afraid, you only die once,” she whispered into his ear. A chill ran down his spine and goosebumps popped on his arms and the back of his neck. Donald put his hand into hers.
“Ok, but I’m not really into books. I just want to show you I’m not afraid. I’m not. I will…”
Ella placed a finger on his lips, stopping him.
“Don’t make promises you won’t keep. Don’t tell me you’ll make me forget my name or I’ll get dick owned or any of the other shit you men say. Just don’t.”
He nodded yes and Ella led him from the car.
“I want you to know it’s whatever I decide. What you want has nothing to do with it. Be happy and quiet. You’re just a bag of pleasantly arranged flesh and bones to me.”
Ella approached the kitchen door along the side of the house. The door swung open, but Donald couldn’t see anyone in the kitchen when he followed Ella inside.
“George,” Ella said to the empty room, shedding her coat and boots and kitted scarf onto the island table in the middle of the room. “Two martinis followed by dinner service.”
“Who are you talking to?” Donald asked, confused.
“My butler.” Ella stripped the rest of her wet clothes and stood naked in the kitchen, spinning in a slow circle to give Donald a show.
At that moment an elderly gentleman wearing a tuxedo and carrying a drink tray with two martinis entered the room. He served the drinks and with a bow, made a prompt exit. But he wasn’t gone for more than thirty seconds; he returned with a robe that he placed around Ella’s shoulders.
“Will the gentleman be needing accommodations tonight? I’ll ready the guest room. It’s quite the storm out there.” George waited for Ella to answer, but she was busy with the martini. “If there’s anything else you require, Ella, do let me know.”
With another bow, George took his leave.
“I can’t believe you have a butler.”
Ella clucked her tongue at him, wagging a finger. “You just saw me naked and you’re caught up with the butler? Tsk tsk, Donald.”
She sat on one of the high back stools lining the island in the kitchen. Patting a seat next to her, she motioned for him to join her.
“Tell me about yourself. How old are you for starters?”
Ella spit martini onto the table and shook her head. “No, no, that won’t due. You said 35, right? Right??? I don’t have sex with children younger than me.”
“I’m not a child.”
“25 years old is the first year a man starts being a man. So, yes, you’re a child. Don’t argue with me. It’s not good for your health.”
Donald finished his martini and before he could ask, George whisked into the room and served two more martinis.
“I could get used to butler service. How much do you pay him?”
Ella placed an index finger against Donald’s lips again. “Never ask about money. Stop minding George and start minding me.”
She pulled her robe to the side to give Donald a better view of her legs.
“You promised you’re aren’t scared. Why haven’t you fucked me yet? We’ve been inside almost twenty minutes. Most men would be smashing me for the second time already.”
“I don’t want to die.”
Ella sipped her martini and tapped at her phone. Mozart filled the air, violins dancing in the space his comment left in the room.
“Even if you never truly live, you will still die. Would you be hesitating if I didn’t tell you? Weren’t you all but promising to fuck me…and well at that?”
Donald nodded but turned his eyes from her. Fear made his hands shake and he placed the martini on the granite island countertop to keep from dropping it.
“Tell me the truth. Do any men leave here alive?”
Ella tilted her head as if trying to remember. “In Uxbridge? In the house where I killed my father? I don’t know…”
Donald closed his eyes, his body shaking visibly. Ella placed a hand on his thigh, and he jumped on the bar stool.
“You’re scared like a schoolgirl. Is this your first time? Are you a virgin, Donald?”
He shook his head in the negative but didn’t speak or look at her.
“Not to tell you how this is done, but you have to put hands on me. Are you too scared to do this?”
Ella leaned into his body and placed the palm of his hand on her knee. Dragging his hand higher, she pushed under the robe, pressing his fingers into her thighs as if giving him instructions by touch.
“I don’t want to die,” he repeated.
She sighed and finished her second martini. Pulling the robe open a little more, she inched closer to him. “Are you guilty?”
“Guilty?” he asked, eyes finally locking on to hers. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Would the women that have known you say that?”
He stammered an answer she couldn’t understand, blurting out a string of words that didn’t combine coherently into sentences.
Ella began to repeat her question, but George entered the room and took a spot against the wall.
“What is it, George?”
“Your guest passed the FBI background check. He’s got a clean record. Almost Boy Scout clean. No priors, no pending cases.” George readied another round of martinis as if the information he’d just given was of no consequence.
Donald put a hand over his chest, as if to still the rapid beating of his heart. He watched Ella jump from her stool and tie the robe around her waist, the clock ticking and ticking. Blood pounded his temples, a drumbeat almost matching time with the grandfather clock. Ella extended a hand towards him, a simple invitation; to what he knew not.
Putting one shoe on the floor, he managed to stand despite waves of fear and nausea sweeping over his body. He drained the martini in one gulp and took a confident first step in Ella’s direction.
“What did you say? You only die once?’
Ella glanced at him over her shoulder. “Just the once.”
Donald followed her into the bedroom, the hallway floorboards creaking and under his weight. The moment he crossed the threshold, Ella slammed the door, plunging them both into darkness.
TO BE CONTINUED
For those paying attention, I'll gift a homemade chapbook to the first TWO people to notice this and email or message Stephen Moran. StephenJohnMoran@gmail.com or @smoran26 on Twitter
MORAN PRESS PRESENTS THE HARMONICA TREE BY L. M. BRYSKI COMPLETELY REBUILT FROM SCRATCH
Moran Press is pleased to announce that the completely rebuilt from scratch paperback and kindle editions of The Harmonica Tree are now available at Amazon and Moran Press.
The original edition of the paperback didn't print as expected and after several failed attempts to fix, L. M. Bryski and I decided on a complete rebuild of the book. We spend a lot of hours going page by page applying fixes to ensure the second edition prints satisfactorily.
I'm proud of the work L. M. Bryski and I did to rebuilt this book and I'm happy that *finally* readers are able to enjoy this wonderful and charming kid's book.
Moran Press presents, The Harmonica Tree.
Winnifred loves playing the harmonica! But her parents want peace and quiet. The neighbors are covering their ears. Even the birds fly away! Can Winnifred help everyone get along without hitting a sour note?
Click the cover image to purchase a paperback edition at Moran Press or
Rain pelts the windows of the coffee shop, a constant drumming sound that distracts me. I've been sitting here most of the morning, trapped in my anger and unable to write so much as a line of my story. Recent news floods my mind and I can't concentrate.
Alabama bans women's rights.
It's hard to think of anything else with this fucking newspaper staring at me, taunting me. I close my eyes and attempt to force my brain back to the story.
White men in Alabama cancel women's rights.
I need more coffee to deal with this hell. I open my eyes and notice a young man staring at me. No.
"What are you writing?" He flips a mass of blond hair away from pale blue eyes.
He lets out a low whistle. "Why you have to be like that? Is it that time of the month?"
Pushing my chair back enough to stand, I walk past him towards the counter. I know he's following me, close enough I can smell his cheap pine scented aftershave. Sigh. I glance at him over my shoulder.
"I know what you want and I'm telling you no. I can't be clearer with you. No. I came here to write, not to get dick."
He lifts palms into the air as if surrendering to police and takes a step back from me. "It's like a sin nowadays if a man talks to a woman in public. It's too bad, you sound bitter and angry. You could use some dick in your life."
"Next," the barista says, and I step to the front of the line.
I'm trying to breathe, trying to calm the rage. Don't stab him in the coffee shop. Don't stab him in the coffee shop. I order my drink and step to the side, waiting and counting in my mind.
"I'll make you forget your own name," he whispers in my ear.
The barista places my coffee on the counter. "Is he bothering you?"
I shake my head and return to my table with coffee. The blond boy follows like a puppy and sits without an invitation. He grabs the newspaper and scans the headlines.
"I support this. It's about time they stopped women from killing babies."
No. Just no no no. I close my notebook and stuff it inside my backpack. "Men are all talk. Are you ready right now, right this minute?"
He smiles and nods. I sling the backpack over my shoulder and walk towards the door. Without turning, I say, "Are you coming or not?"
He follows me to the car and jumps into the passenger's seat of my Firebird, slamming the door shut to escape the rain. "Cool fucking car. I can't believe the hottest chick in town drives a sports car."
"You'd be surprised at the things women like if you just listen. Some of us even like to fuck." I gun the accelerator and the tires squeal as I turn onto RT 16. His eyes are on me and I wonder what’s going on in that pea sized brain.
"Where are we going?"
"Somewhere private." I turn off the main road towards one of the public dams. "Nobody comes out here on rainy days, I can tell you that much."
I park and stomp the emergency brake into place. The rain increases in intensity and I wait, but the boy remains silent and staring. Another one that needs fucking training wheel help.
"Well, I'm waiting for you to make me forget my name. When's that gonna start." "Ahh..." he stammers and tries pawing at my chest.
I sigh and motion for him to get into the back seat. "And take off all your clothes."
He does as I command with haste and in moments is naked on his back, knees bent trying to fit his tall body in the confines of my car. A rather mediocre cock salutes me and again I sigh before joining him.
'This isn't going to make me forget anything." I open my backpack and remove the items I require. I tie a rubber band around the base of his testicles, smiling when he yelps in pain.
"What are you doing?" he asks as I blindfold him.
"Do I have to explain everything? Are you a virgin?" I stroke him with my hands and wait for him to answer. He tries to respond, but only manages to shake his head in the negative. Men. "Well, did you bring a condom?"
"No, aren't you on the pill?"
A wave of anger passes over me and I squeeze until he screams. "Are you kidding? You're against abortion and don't have a condom?"
Grunting noises escape his lips as I continue to pull and twist his cock. Sweat forms on his temples and he grips the seat, knuckles turning white from the effort. I finally release him and smile when he groans in relief. "Looks like I have to take care of everything."
I retrieve my knife and place the blade flat against his testicles.
"That's cold. Is it ice? You're a dirty..." he says, but I don't let him finish. I can't listen to another word escape his ignorant mouth.
I slice through his testicles with one quick cut, laughing as blood gushes from the gaping wound. Screams of agony and the stench of fear tickles my black heart. I smile as he thrashes in pain.
He presses both hands against the wound to stop the blood flow, but it's futile. Blood spurts through his fingers, his screams getting weaker as his life splashes onto the seats.
Leaning towards him, I press my lips against his ear. "You shouldn't have worn that shirt. You were asking for it."
If you enjoyed this Ella fiction, buy the novel! ELLA, the #serialkiller of Uxbridge, Ma. Coffee, with Vasectomy is also available via free PDF download - yours FREE.
The wait is finally over, Stories for the Mad - Volume One, the debut fiction anthology from Moran Press is ready for orders! An official post will drop Sunday afternoon with all the details, but you can order a copy of STORIES FOR THE MAD now in the Moran Press store. Click HERE.
To celebrate the release, eight Moran Press titles are on sale in Ebook for 99 cents and many of the paperbacks are heavily discounted as well.
And the reason for the season. Release weekend for Stories for the Mad. Get a paperback copy for $15 SHIPPING INCLUDED to a US Address. Each purchase gets a FREE homemade chapbook OR FREE EBOOK of choice added to the order.
STORIES FOR THE MAD THE DEBUT FICTION ANTHOLOGY FROM MORAN PRESS
FICTION IAN'S VIKING FUNERAL DREAMS BY GABRIEL RICARD
Ian sat up, head screaming like a history of haunted house movies, confirmed that he was indeed inside a boat, and felt briefly pleased that his guess from a few minutes ago had turned out to be true. Waking up from a dream often meant a shaky transition into reality, which also meant having to accept that reality wasn’t what it was cracking up to be moments earlier. Sometimes, that was a shame.
He thought about this for a second, which ushered him towards realizing that he was inside a fucking boat. “And it’s on fire.” He said this to see how the words would feel in the open air. The hangover was immediate. A migraine was cramming an entire Black Flag concert into his skull, and the line to get into the broom closet venue was trailing around the block that made up his neck and spine.
He was pretty sure a small piece of vomit was stuck in his teeth. Saying again out loud that the boat was on fire gave him the energy he needed to quite possibly ruin his body by getting up. It wasn’t the most realistic plan of all time. The migraine didn’t need the strength of ten urban legend lumberjacks to knock him into what turned out to be shallow water.
A functional section of his brain told him this was probably the lake behind Michele’s grandparents’ rarely-used summer home. Swallowing too much water brought on some heaves, but his stomach had nothing to offer in the way of sacrifice.
Someone screamed what the fuck, and he realized after a moment that it was him.
That sounded like Campbell.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
And that sounded like Anna.
“Is someone gonna help him?”
“Eh, he’s got it.”
That sounded like Dominique, probably lighting a cigarette as she spoke, for effect. He finally turned around to confirm all of those suspicions. Everyone else looked uncomfortable with the idea of expressing themselves. They had not foreseen this development. “What the fuck,” he continued spitting out drops of water, “What the fuck?” His Frankenstein Monster legs carried him the few feet he needed to travel to get to dry land. That was all they were going to do for him. “What the shit?”
“Well,” Casper started, “We thought you were dead.”
He remained on his knees. Everyone was just shy of arms reach, and no one made an effort to change that. The pieces of last night, of the entire weekend, were not only pieces of the smallest, most useless quality. They may as well have been travel videos from eons ago. “What does that even mean?”
“It was a Viking funeral,” Dominique replied, almost in the form of a question.
There was no reason why this had to qualify as a mystery. He thought about getting up, but the early morning oxygen was somehow cleaner, more medicinal, when it was closer to the ground. Maybe it was the light fog, or the way it kept him away from Dominique’s cigarette. “I don’t,” his gag reflex jerked the words away, and he looked up. “I don’t understand what that means.”
“You’re always saying how you want a Viking funeral.”
For the five years in which he had known him, Campbell had always liked to tell people outside of their social circle that he was the voice of reason for said social circle. “I have never, never, ever, never,” he coughed, “Ever said that.”
“You’ve been saying that for years,” Campbell retorted.
To be fair, it was possible. Their routine habits formed routine evenings, and those were numbering in the four-figure range at this point. “You set the boat on fire…” He realized he had not completely caught up with reality yet. Those words could have been used to describe the plot of a movie, and they would have sounded exactly the same.
Bill coughed, looking back at the house several times. “It seemed easier than calling the cops.”
“Why would you call the cops?” Good. Whole sentences.
“You drank half a bottle of Everclear,” Anna explained, in a tone that was trying to break the tension with understanding and low volumes.
“And we’re twenty miles from anything,” Casper reminded him, “Let alone a hospital.”
“Viking funeral just seemed like the easiest way to go,” Campbell said.
“It didn’t occur to you…” It was a perilous call to make, but his knees couldn’t take digging into the small rocks and twigs that made up the landscape. He shifted his body to put the balance of his universe on knee. He couldn’t choose between the various things they could have done instead. “What about a shower?” Anna of all people helped him finish the journey to becoming upright. She held onto him. “Doesn’t anybody,” he stopped to let heavy breathing do what it could, “Induce vomiting anymore?”
Dominique dropped and stomped out her cigarette. “We’re still kind of drunk,” she reasoned. “And well…”
“We kind of felt bad about your birthday last month.”
The last two or three minutes had been spent trying to create a memory of this latest reenactment of the first weekend they had ever gotten together, the one that had put them close to bragging rights with immortality. The half-clear images he could pull from this weekend needed to keep their shape for more than a minute, and also be capable of standing up to scrutiny. So far, nothing. He couldn’t even remember things like his birthday last month. Everything was severe and violent enough to feel like it was all happening for the very first time. Thirteen years old, hanging out with that kid, what was his name, he had kept plastic sheets under the bed. “I see,” he finally said, taking Anna’s hands away from him. Now or never.
“You’ve been so depressed the last few months,” Carly added, finally finding the courage to speak. “What with the last seven years of your life culminating in what you realized was complete failure at everything you’ve ever hoped to achieve.”
The temples continued to try to push whatever was trying to massacre his brain right through the actual skull. “I wouldn’t go that far…” But at least it was a little easier to breath. His hands dug through his pockets for cigarettes, ibuprofen, or the miracle of both.
“You said it like seven times yesterday morning.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t seven, Carly.” he replied, dimly wondering if they were getting too far off topic. After barely swallowing seven ibuprofens, he lit a cigarette. It was then he realized he didn’t have shoes or socks.
“It was seven,” confirmed Dominique.
“We were just trying to help,” Anna said.
“It was just kind of a why-not-kill-two-birds-with-one-stone thing that no one wanted to drive you to the hospital.”
“And I mean, your birthday,” Casper started, “All we did was take mushrooms and go to Six Flags.”
“Which we were gonna do anyway,” Campbell said. “And we just kinda felt bad about that.”
“And it’s not like your life is going to get any better,” Casper continued.
“Boom,” Dominique said, holding up her hands, “Viking funeral.”
He suddenly remembered a conversation with Kieran from a month ago. Condescending was his natural language, the natural language of older siblings, and he had always felt that people who kept anything or anyone around for more than five years was clinging to the past. Ian couldn’t wait for Kieran’s fifth wedding anniversary, which was less than a year away. “I don’t get it,” he said, trying to claw his way back into the present. “I don’t understand.”
Campbell and Casper both came forward, but Campbell was the one who put an arm around him. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get inside, have a beer and some of those toquitos, and we’ll try to explain everything again.”
Ian let Campbell move him along. Each step meant crushing twigs and small rocks under his feet. It wasn’t something he could ever see himself getting used to.
“We’re glad you’re alive,” Anna told him.
“History’s important,” Dominique concurred.
Kieran didn’t have a very high opinion of these people. Ian had made the mistake of asking him about things like ruts and the value of consistency in a friendship. The argument that quickly took over the conversation focused a lot of its time and energy on the shitty people who were making it easy to make it to 30, and have nothing to show for it. Ian could remember now that he had argued that they were still his friends, that history was important, and that he was a long ways off from 30 anyway. Kieran dismissed those reasons, and then apologized later without actually saying anything that someone would normally include in an apology.
Campbell sat him down on a stool at the kitchen’s island. He brought him a beer and a plate of toquitos a moment later. Anna sat at the stool next to him, and everyone broke off into watching TV, dicking around with their phones, or fixing drinks. Dominique announced she was going to bed, and disappeared up the stairs.
He could remember the drive up here now. Sitting in the back, listening to Anna and Dominique argue about whether or not Casper was doing coke again. His headphones had stopped working again, so their banter was the only thing available to pass the long drive, deeper and deeper into the kind of middle of nowhere that some people were spiritual about. The house was located in a small gated community, and the best part about the long drive over was how the trees became bigger, older, more frightening in the arrangement of their branches. And the longer the drive went on, the more of them there were.
He could remember thinking about that when they were heading up this way, as he always did, but almost everything after that was still a stack of shredded abstract paintings. No point, he thought, washing down a toquitos with a small sip of beer, about half of the original migraine gone, in getting frustrated. Nothing was going to change for now. It was best to just stay calm and feel better.
Casper wondered aloud how many more days they were going to stick around.
Campbell wanted to put in a couple more days, but he added that he wanted to wait until Dominique got up from her nap. Then they would put it to a vote.
I hope you enjoyed the fiction. Get books by Gabriel Ricard. Bondage Night, a romance that dares to tell the whole sordid truth about happily ever after, and Love and Quarters, because the world is a badly run 1890's-style asylum, but at least there's a lot of good stuff on TV.
Art/Coloring Page for Homemade Chapbook Proceeds to Benefit Mom's Demand Action
Gun violence is front and center in the news with recent tragedies in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH
Moran Press joins with the vast majority of Americans asking for representatives to take action and pass sensible gun control. Enough is enough.
The artist, Anne Segal (creator of the Cloudy Days, Still Nights and Second Civil War cover art) made this cover art to help my kids color covers for the Mom's Demand Action homemade chapbooks. $5 will be donated to Mom's Demand for each chapbook purchased.
What you get
A homemade chapbook with a generous sampling of Moran Press fiction and poetry as well as special spotlight author angels that donate their words to this charity printing.
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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.