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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Morning Before a Murder

A while back, late last summer I think it was, Kaye George and I tried creating a Miss Marple type character. Mildred Morning's background is a bit sketchy. Kaye's story ran here for a while. Now I'm putting up mine. I invite anyone who reads these to contribute his or her own story about Mildred. Keep it around 1,000 words. Send it to me at jacktheauthor@gmail.com

The heroine is Mildred Morning.
The stories take place between 1935-1945, making her 60-70.
Mildred was born in 1875. By 1940, she was an on set tutor to child actors. Let's
imagine her as a tenacious, hardened Betty White.
Her fiancé disappeared after the 1895 invasion of Panama. She was 20, he was 23.
Name: Martin Adler. Navy.
She lives alone in a West Hollywood bungalow surrounded by aspiring stars.


The crazy red head was at it again.

Mildred Morning, the consummate nosy neighbor, was also at it again. Sitting  off to the side of the  window that looked out on the red head’s bungalow, Mildred cupped her Pall Mall inside her hand and listened to the leggy dancer go at it with her latest date. She was going to be the next Myrna Loy, the gal had told Mildred.  That was a summer ago. A year later, she was still entertaining midlevel studio execs.
If what she did was entertaining.

“Harry, don’t. Not that.”

Mildred laughed. There she went being the innocent ingénue. ‘Don’t’ wasn’t in that gal’s vocabulary. Mildred knew. Sometimes from her bungalow’s upstairs bedroom she could look down into the red head’s bedroom window and see all the things she said ‘don’t’ to but did do anyhow.

Mildred took a final drag on her cigarette. She flicked the butt out the window. The clock on the mantle chimed nine. It was just about time for Jack Benny on the radio.

 She passed the mantle to the stairs, stopping to pick up the La Brea Tar Pits ashtray she kept there.  The glass dish sat between the nautical chime clock from Santa Monica and the Carlsbad Caverns paper weight. They were her personal treasures given to her by Marty. When she looked at the knick knacks she remembered him in his parade uniform, shipping out with those other brave boys to go to the far away land of Panama. Marty never came back. The trinkets were all she had to remember him by.  To anyone else the souvenirs were tchotsky, odds and ends not worth locking her doors to protect.

Mildred went upstairs to her bedroom where she settled down on her mattress. She put her teeth on a glass of water on the nightstand and lifted the La Brea Tar Pits ash tray onto her stomach. She lit a cigarette and settled down for the Benny show.  An hour later she slept peacefully, the lit cigarette burning safely on the face of a woolly mammoth.

The slamming of car doors and the wail of sirens startled her awake. The world wasn’t its normal, peaceful self. Why?  Fire. She remembered lighting a cigarette. Had she fallen asleep smoking again?
She sat up in bed knocking the ashtray to the oval hook rug. Ash spilled. Mildred got out of bed and ground the cooled ash into the carpet. She’d heard ash was good for the carpet. Her heel twisted back and forth. She yawned, not feeling like she’d slept at all.  It took her a moment to realize it was still dark outside, that her house wasn't on fire, and that all the commotion was coming from that crazy red head’s house next door.

Mildred grabbed her housecoat from the back of a chair near the bedroom window. Below her uniformed police officers stood on the sidewalk and the concrete steps cut into the neighbor’s raised lawn. Detectives in trench coats moved in and out of the house.  The red head’s blonde roommate, also a studio dancer but with lower expectations than the red head’s, sat on the porch swing having a cigarette and crying.  A handsome, younger detective sat next to her, a Fedora tipped back on his head. Evert few moments his hand went to the blonde’s knee.  Mildred leaned over the sill of the open window. It was too difficult hear from the loft.

Mildred went back downstairs to her rocker. Skipping the cigarette for the moment, she pulled the chair closer to the window and strained her ears to pick up the conversation.

“She wanted the place to herself tonight,” the blonde was saying.

“Where were you?” the detective asked.

“I was out.”

“It would help if you told me where. And if you were with anyone.”
“Is that important?”

“It would establish your alibi and eliminate you as a suspect.”

“You think I did that to Lulu?”

“No. Of course not.”

She couldn’t see it, but Mildred was certain the detective’s hand was back on the blonde’s knee. Maybe it was on her hand now. Mildred wanted to look but it was best she stayed where she was, unseen, and out of the attention zone.

 ‘Alibi my ass,’ Mildred thought. That young dick was crafty. Most murders weren’t as random as people would believe. Mildred knew that from reading Detective Magazine.  It wasn’t like a well thought out Agatha Christie. Most of the time murders were spur of the moment, crimes of passion.

Maybe Blondie came home to find Red and her date having a go at it and the guy—what was his name? Mildred searched for it. Harry. Maybe Harry was Blondie’s sawhorse. Maybe she didn’t like the idea of her Harry sharing his pine with that dirty Red. Harry beats a path and the two gals go at it like kittens over a saucer of milk.

That detective knew what he was doing, all right.

“When you say out,” the detective said “were you with anyone else?”

“A bunch of girls went over to the Trocadero. We had just wrapped one of those water dance scenes for Mr. Berkley’s latest project.”

“So there were other people who witnessed you at the Trocadero.”

“Yeah. There’s Shelly Martin and Sylvie Abbott and Henrietta Barrymore. Oh, she’s not related to the Barrymores. She just has the same last name.”

“That’s good. Did you all have fun?”

“Who doesn't have fun at Café Trocadero?”

“Well, I wouldn't really know. I've never been.”

Smooth, Mildred thought.

“How long have you lived in Los Angeles?” Blondie asked.

“Born here,” the detective said.

“And you never been?”

The conversation had taken a decidedly boring turn for Mildred. The red head was dead. The blonde had found her. And some time in between when Mildred went upstairs to fall asleep to Jack Benny and the blonde had come home, red had been murdered and Harry had skipped out.

The clock on her mantle chimed. Mildred squinted at its dial in the dark. A little light spilled in from the porch light next store. She walked over to check the time.  It was only a little after eleven. Benny had been on at nine. That meant the crime scene was less than two hours old. Harry could be anywhere.

Only Harry hadn’t gone anywhere at all. It took her a moment to realize someone stood in the alcove between her front door and mantle.  Harry stepped out of the shadows and cupped a hand over Mildred’s mouth.

“Don’t say anything, lady,” Harry said. “You gotta help me.”

Mildred didn't move.

“You gotta understand, it was an accident. That Lulu, she liked it rough. Everyone said she did. It was just playing. I gave her a push. She fell against the mantle. Hit her head. That’s all. You believe me, don’t you?”
Mildred shook her head. Harry got a little rougher with her.

“What do you know?”

Mildred put a hand on his wrist to pull his hand away. He pushed harder.  Even in the dark she could see the anger in his eyes. Outside the window the blonde laughed at something the young detective said. Both she and Harry looked at the drift of the curtains as a breeze wafted through. When she looked back at him, Harry was glaring at her.

“You heard it all, didn’t ya, you old crow?” He clamped a hand against her throat.  “Look, you gotta understand me. I’m not real good with broads. Everyone in the mailroom says I want to get my cherry popped, all I gotta do is tell Lulu Barel I’m some hotshot junior movie executive.  What do I know about how to make movies? I’m just a Joe looking for a job and a dame, right?”

Mildred shrugged. What did she know, after all? To her, it was just a typical Saturday night for the red head. Harry pleaded his case.

“So Lulu, she keeps asking me questions. What’s my next project? Who’s going to be in it? Do I think there’s a part for her? All these questions and me, hell, I just want to get down to the real business. I try giving her answers but I don’t know what to say. Lulu catches on and she wants me to leave but I ain’t leaving till I get what I came for. All she had to do was go along with it and I would have left.”
Harry’s voice cracked. The gravity of what he’d done weighed on him.

Mildred reached to the mantle. The clock was too heavy for her to use but the paper weight was just right. It fit comfortably in her hand. At first she thought about hitting him in the temple with it but then she had a better idea.  She summoned her will to survive and heaved the globe at the window. Her plan had been to toss it through the opening but her aim was off and it shattered through the raised panes of glass.
A uniformed officer stuck his head in the window and shined a flashlight across the room. It lit up Harry and Mildred.

“Detective, in here!” the officer said.

Harry shoved Mildred backwards. Years of teaching primary school before becoming an on set tutor had given her legs of steel. She barely moved. Harry broke for the door. Mildred raised a foot and snagged his ankle. Harry tumbled forward and fell face first into the diamond shaped glass doorknob. When he tried to get up, she crowned him with her fireplace poker.

The front door flew open. The young detective and another uniformed officer stood inside the alcove, their guns trained on a dazed and moaning Harry.

“Ma’am, are you all right?” the young detective asked.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Mildred said. “But I think the next date this poor bastard has is with a chair at San Quentin.” 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mildred Morning: Swinging on a Star

Way back in June, I posted a challenge to the members of an online writing group of which I am a member. I'd watched a series of noir films on TMC and was taking notice of the great performances put in my the ancillary character actors. The idea occurred to me to take one of these background plot-advancers and move him or her to the front.

So I created Mildred Morning, a sixty-something spinster with a somewhat nefarious past. I tried to keep her as simple as possible so anyone who wanted to contribute could add to Miss Morning's development. The basic idea was Miss Marple meets Sam Spade.

Fellow collaborator Kaye George took a stab at it. Below is her contribution. Give it a read. I think you'll enjoy!

 by Kaye George

I was swinging on a star in the summer of 1948. I was in Hollywood, greatest city on the planet. I was engaged to Tyrone Rivers, the handsomest rising star of the silver screen there ever was. And we had an appointment in a few days to look at a little bungalow we might want to rent after we got hitched.  His father was a politico in Washington and his mother made the keenest paintings. She gave them away to other politician's families. I hoped I'd get one some day.

The next afternoon, that world caved in on me.

As soon as I got off work at the drug store, I hurried to the set to watch Tyrone do his scenes. The place looked dead. Mike, the new camera man drooped beside his dolly and the director's chair was empty.

"What's buzzin' cousin," said Mike. He was an easy guy to talk to.

"I was about to ask you the same thing," I said. "Where's everybody? Where's Tyrone?"

"He didn't show up, doll. We were scheduled to shoot his big scenes today. Acton only called a couple other actors in. We haven't done much anything. If your lover boy shows up, he'd better duck when he sees Acton coming." For some reason, Mike didn't seem to like Ty very much.

One actor stood on the set, a mock up of a swanky hotel room. He must have just finished a scene. He was a tall, thin, distinguished gentleman with a dark pencil mustache. The man walked off the set wiping greasepaint from his face with a towel.

"What's eating you, dollface?" he said.

"Aw gee, Uncle Connie. Tyrone hasn't shown up today. Something must be wrong. We're supposed to go dancing tonight at the Palladium. Ty would never miss that." My words sounded confident, but inside, I wasn't so cocky. Every day I expected him to leave me for swell dame, someone richer and better looking. Every broad around carried a torch for him. I honestly didn't know why he stayed with me. He was a hep cat. But we did have that date to look at the bungalow. Had that been too much? Had I scared him off?

No, he wouldn't miss his shoot just to dump me. Something was very wrong.

"Will you come with me to his place, Connie?"

"You think something happened to him? I figure he was hung over again." Uncle Connie didn't care for Ty, but hadn't told me to stop seeing him outright.

"He hasn't been hitting the sauce nearly so regular lately."

Connie nodded. "You're right. We should check on him. Give me a chance to get changed and I'll come with you."

I sat in the director's chair while he went to his dressing room, to the rear of the set. Behind me, I could hear the drone of three children reciting the grammar rule, "I before E, except after C, or when sounded as A as in neighbor or weigh."

Mildred Morning was drilling two of the children of the film company workers, and one child star, Dora Darling. Dora was an impossibly cute, smart, curly-headed moppet who could sing and tap dance and act. She was hotsy-totsy this year. She had starred in three hit films so far, and was making another one. Mildred was hired by the studio to tutor the kids that missed school when they were the set.

Mildred was also Connie's latest girlfriend. I hadn't gotten to know her very well yet, but liked her.

Connie didn't really like me to call him Connie, and especially not Uncle Connie. His name was Conrad Edgington III, and it suited him, but I didn't like to use it. Too formal. When my parents both died in the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Connie took me in. I was a young teen-ager and I guess it might have seemed odd to some people. Luckily, we were then in Hollywood, where Connie settled after the tragedy.

My parents and Conrad had been on the stage together for years. They toured with their three-person routine ten months out of twelve. I used to be one of those kids getting my schooling at studios wherever we were. Connie got into films soon after their death. He told me he couldn't work closely on the stage with anyone else. Besides, he wanted to settle down in Hollywood so I would have a stable place to live. Uncle Connie was the best.

Acton, the director, appeared from the shadows and stalked toward me. I didn't realize, until he was within a few feet of me, that his scowl was because I was in his chair. I jumped up and greeted him. He ignored me and dusted off the seat before he sat. What a flat tire!

I knew Tyrone hated working with the greeby guy, but there was almost no one left. The last three directors, and two of the best cameramen, had gotten fired when their names were turned into the House Un-America Activities Committee. Who could have guess there were so many Commies in Hollywood?

Tyrone never got upset about any of them, but I knew that Jimmy, the last cameraman, was a good guy through and through, no matter what anyone said about him. I'd tried to explain to Tyrone that I thought they were all getting a bum rap, but he thought they all got what they deserved.

Acton, the fat head, had always given me the heebie-jeebies. I wanted to tell him not to snap his cap, but he got up and started to scuttle off before I could screw up the courage to open my mouth.

"Hey, hang on!" I yelled.

He turned, looking at the floor in front of my size sixes.

"Have you heard from Tyrone?" I asked.

His eyes widened in…fear? Just for a second. "He never called. Never showed up."

"Are you taking him off the film?"

Another frightened expression ran across his face, fast as a single frame on the movie reel. "Of course not. We need him on this picture."

"Well, that settles it. I'm gonna go to his place and roust him. He'll be here tomorrow."

Connie emerged, dressed in his street clothes and scrubbed free of grease paint. We skedaddled.

It was starting to get dark out. You could tell because the lights blazed brighter at night on the strip. We drove with the windows cranked down in Connie's Hudson Commodore. That was one swanky car. The air was sweet and soft. Summer was winding down and we'd have to ride with the windows up soon. I trailed my hand out the window and let my palm ride the wind.

I saw something and jerked my head around. "Stop," I said.

Connie obliged and pulled to the curb. "What's the matter? Are you sick?"

I shoved the door open and ran back to the middle of the block. A derelict with a shock of carrot-red hair huddled in the doorway of a closed tobacco shop. His head rested on his drawn-up knees and his right hand clutched an empty pint bottle. I reached down and touched his shoulder. I recognized that hair.

"My God." Connie had come up behind me. "It's Jimmy, isn't it?"

I nodded.

The odor of hooch about knocked me over. Jimmy raised his bleary-eyed face and squinted, trying to focus on us. "Applesauce," he mumbled, and dropped his head back to his knees.

Connie took my hand and led me away. "There's nothing you can do for him, sweetie."

"This happened because he lost his job. He was the best. Can you talk to Acton, try to get him his job back?"

"He's blacklisted. He's a Commie. What could I do?"

"As Jimmy said, applesauce! If he's a Commie, where's his cell? Aren't they supposed to be Socialists? All take care of each other?"

"Let's go see what's happened to Tyrone. I'm worried about him."

I hated to leave Jimmy in that condition, but I was worried about Ty. We piled into the Commodore and drove to Tyrone's apartment. He lived on the second floor. Connie and I hurried up the outside staircase to find his door open.

Ty, strangely still, lay on the floor. His head was an odd shape.

I stood paralyzed for a few seconds, my body prickling all over.

Then I noticed the dark, red liquid pool beneath his head and the frying pan lying next to him on the floor, bits of hair and…something else… sticking to it. I dropped to my knees beside him. "Ty? Ty?" I whispered his name again and again, but didn't dare touch him.

Connie raised me up by my armpits and sat me on the sofa, then went to Tyrone's telephone to dial the police.

The next day, I couldn't work, but Connie had to finish some shooting. Acton said he wouldn't delay the schedule for the death of one two-bit, replaceable actor. So I sat huddled on an extra chair in the studio, watching people parade through scenes, acting, moving, talking, without really seeing any of it. I knew it was too good to be true. A dame like me, hitched to a swell guy like Tyrone. The fates hadn't liked the arrangement.

Mildred Morning, who had been putting the kids through their paces, released them and came to sit beside me.

"What do they know about Tyrone's death?" she asked, her voice gentle and her crinkly blue eyes kind.

"The cops told Connie, I mean Conrad, that Ty was bumped off, but they don't know who did it. Who would kill Tyrone? Everybody loved him." I was going to start blubbering again.

"Not everyone, dear."

"I guess you're right. Not the person who killed him. But why? Why would someone dislike him?"

"I can think of a few reasons," she said, looking away, into the shadows of the unlit parts of the huge studio cavern.

That stopped me. "You can?" I blinked. "Like what?"

"Do you know how many people in this studio have been blackballed since Tyrone Rivers started working here?"

I knotted up my forehead and thought. "A lot have been blackballed everywhere."

"But none here, until Mr. Rivers showed up."

"Golly. I wonder why…." Tyrone's father was a Washington big wig and had been at the forefront of the HUAC hearings when they started up last year. I never thought anything about it until Mildred put two and two together. "You think Ty had something to do with the blacklist?"

She gave me a sideways glance and pressed her lips together. Uncle Connie called over to us. "Done for the day. Can I take my two favorite dames out tonight?" He looked so buoyant right then.

Tyrone's killer was never found. Connie dated Mildred until he had his heart attack, ten years later. After his funeral, Mildred invited me out for coffee. I told my husband to go home to relieve the babysitter and I'd be home in an hour or so. I'd gotten to know the woman much better in the last decade.

"I'm so glad Conrad had you to take care of him, Mildred. He was a lucky guy."

"We were such a good fit for each other. I'll sure miss that man."

We sipped our coffee in silence for a few moments.

"Are you happy with your husband?" she asked me. "Your children are so beautiful."

"Yes, delirious."

"Do you ever miss Tyrone Rivers?"

I hadn't thought about him in years. "I guess not."

"Good. We did the right thing then."

I wondered what she meant by that.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Flash Jab 13: Wayne Zurl

Summer is always busy for me. Back in July (maybe June) I put out a request for flash fiction centering around baseball. Fellow Mind Wings author Wayne Zurl responded.  I finally got around to checking for replies. Sorry for the delay, Wayne!

By Wayne Zurl
On September 24, 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field and I was there. Well, not exactly there—I watched the game on TV. I was eleven and had sprained my ankle the day before in gym. My mother kept me home from school.
Junior Gilliam had just hit a high fly ball to shallow right field when I heard what I thought was a muffled backfire sound off close to our house. I looked out the window, but didn’t see a car running. Then a man about thirty or forty—as a kid, I had a hard time telling—slammed the side door at Mrs. Campbell’s house. It wasn’t Mr. Campbell. He jumped into a two-tone brown ’48 Chevy, one just like my father’s, and drove away. I went back to finish watching the game.
The cameras panned the small crowd of people scattered around the stadium. The announcer said only 6,700—a drop in the bucket. The game ended when Pirates’ outfielder Bob Skinner grounded to short and Don Zimmer scooped it up and fired a bullet to Gil Hodges at first. End of an era. The Dodgers won the five-hitter two zip, but no one in Brooklyn looked happy.
My mother was preparing a meatloaf when I pushed the curtains aside and saw two marked police cars parked in front of the Campbell’s house. As I peered out the window, a black ’55 Ford pulled into the driveway and an overweight guy in a gray suit and fedora stepped out.
I called to my mother, “Hey, Ma, what’s going on next door?”
She didn’t know.
Another dark four-door pulled up and two more suits got out. One carried a big Graphic Reflex camera and the other, a big tool box.
My mother stepped up behind me and looked over my shoulder.
“I’m going out there,” she said.
“Me, too.”
“You shouldn’t walk.’
“Sure I should.”
I hobbled after her and reached the sidewalk in front of Campbell’s house just as a Nassau County patrolman approached his car. He looked short for a cop. His orange oval patch and powder blue tie contrasted sharply with the navy blue uniform.
“What happened?” my mother asked.
“Woman got killed.”
“She get shot?” I asked.
He looked at me for the first time and frowned. “Yeah, why?”
“I’ll bet I know who did it,” I said.
My mother stared at me like I was a Martian.
The cop smiled and shook his head. “Sure you do, kid.” He got into his car and drove away.
“What are you talking about?” Mom asked.
“I saw a guy run out of the house before.”
She grabbed my hand. “Come with me.”
The Campbell’s front door stood slightly ajar. Mr. Campbell sat on the sofa hanging his head. Mom knocked on the jam and the overweight guy opened the door. A gold shield hung from a leather fob on his jacket pocket.
“My son has something to tell you.”
He stepped outside and closed the door.
“This guy,” I said, “came out the side door and jumped into a car.”
“What guy?”
“I don’t know. Some guy. I never saw him before.”
“What time?”
“Not sure. Third inning?”
The detective looked confused.
I shrugged. “I was watching the Dodger game.”
“Oh.” He rolled his eyes.
“Was she shot?” I asked.
I must have seemed overly enthused. He scowled.
“Look, son, we’re pretty busy here. I hope you’re not fooling around.”
 He wouldn’t do that.” Mom always stuck up for me.
“What’s his name?”
  I spoke for myself. “I’m Sam Jenkins. We live next door.”
"How old are you, kid?”
“Eleven and a half.”
“You look pretty big for eleven.” He pointed to the Ace bandage around my foot. “What happened?”
 I told him, and then described the man I saw and his car.
 “Okay, thanks. I’ll look into it.” The squad dick turned to leave.
 “Hey, wait,” I said. “You want his plate number?”

If you want to read more about Wayne or check out his Sam Jenkins series, just follow the link: http://www.waynezurlbooks.net/

Monday, July 9, 2012

Flash Jab Challenge 13

Well, here it is July and the holidays are over. Tonight's the MLB home run derby so in honor of baseball, that's the topic for this month's Flash Jab Challenge. Make it about baseball.
The stipulations are:
1) 750 word max
2) Must be original
3) Embed it in an email and shoot it to me at jacktheauthor@gmail.com

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Below is my response to Patti Abbott's 'drabble' challenge. A drabble, I was surprised to learn, is a story that is exactly 100 words long. 


The red letters fade.  
No one will say who wrote the name Ichabod over the front door.  The glory had left that country church long before the graffiti ever appeared. Eternal whispers persist in a congregation as parted as the Red Sea.
“Is it true?”
“I don’t want to believe it.”
“He the preacher.”
“And she. Married. Those poor children.”
Sunday potlucks sour. Suspicion walks the road whenever people drive pass.  
And then the bodies, arranged upon the altar. Pastor J____ and Mrs. K___.  Naked as Adam and Eve. Sinful.
The artist reminds:  Ichabod gets a new coat of paint. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Flash Jab 12

This month's Flash Jab Challenge comes to us from my follow anthologist Seana Graham. It's a little longer than requested, but sometimes that's all right. 

Warning by Seana Graham 

Trig couldn’t be sure, but damn it if it wasn’t the same sign that greeted
him as he walked up to the fence surrounding the property. Faded, yes. Of
course it was. But the words could still be made out, though they were now
more a paler shade of pink than red:
No trespassing.
Violators will be shot.

The fence wasn’t as formidable as he remembered. Of course, he’d been a
kid then, and he’d seen it from a kid’s perspective. He hadn’t had wire
clippers back then, either. Back then, he and Sally had to scooch underneath the
bottom strand of the barbed wire. He would have liked to cut through the
fence completely now instead of just that one middle strand, it would have
felt like an end to something. But that might distract him from the main

 “What is your main mission?” the career guy had asked them over and over
in prison, during the Life Outside class that he took whenever it was
offered. “What do you hope to accomplish in this life?” Trig knew what he
hoped to accomplish, but he wasn’t telling.

There was a road through the property, and Trig followed it loosely. He
remembered now that this was what he’d hoped to do back then, too. Sally
had liked cutting through the tall grasses even more than he had.
He’d never made it to the end of that road, though. Part of his main
mission now was to find out what was there. To find out who.

He hadn’t been a bad kid back then, even if he might be a bad man now. All
he’d wanted that day was to get away--go somewhere no one could find him,
smoke a little weed. School sucked. Home sucked. Was it really so much to
ask to find one place on earth that didn’t suck, just for awhile?

True, the sign had probably been a provocation. Provocation. He’d learned
that word in the Self-Evaluation Session that he and the other violent
offenders had had to go to every week. Provocation: what caused you to
react. Overreact, the counselors said, but that wasn’t fair. It wasn’t
always overreaction. Sometimes it was the just and appropriate response.
But yeah, there were other places he could have gone that day. For sure.
He could make it out now, just barely. The place where the road petered
out. A house, he thought. Some kind of human dwelling, anyway.
Though human might be overstating the case.

He hadn’t been high that day, not yet. Later, sure, he was a methhead,
boozer, cokefreak. He’d own all of it, whatever they wanted to throw at
him. But not then. That day he had only wanted to smoke a little grass, be
in nature, hang out with his black lab. Sally—his personal savior, the
only creature that cared about him in the entire freaking world.

The bullet had caught her clean, there was that small mercy at least. He
hadn’t had to finish her off himself. One minute she was bounding over the
field, the next she was dead. He was glad now that after the one moment of
total panic and fear, he’d gone to her and seen this. In prison, he’d
sometimes dreamed she was alive, but suffering. He would have slit his
wrists by now if he hadn’t witnessed with his own eyes that this wasn’t

It was just a small cabin, no more than a lean-to, really. An old man was
working out in the garden as he came up. Frail. Feeble. Fuck. Trig had
delayed this too damn long.

“You’re trespassing,” the old guy said without turning.

“Yeah? What’re you going to do about it, old man?”


“Yeah? You ever killed anyone on this place?” Trig knew it had to be him,
but on another level, he was unsure.

“I killed a dog once.”

“What kind of dog?” Trig asked.

“I don’t know what kind of dog. Black. That’s all I know.”

“My dog.”

“I figured.”


“So? So I regret it. I regretted it in the moment I did it. It was a

“Damn right it was a mistake,” Trig said. Inside, though, all he could
think was shit, shit, shit.

“I had a clear shot at the kid, though. I saw him go running off… I saw
him come back. You were that kid?”


“I could have killed you that day, you know. I would’ve been within my

“I could kill you right now just as easy.”

“I’m sure. I hope you won’t, but I would understand the reason.”

“What happened to her?”

“What happened? I buried her.”

Trig felt an easing up. Years had gone by with him picturing her bones
picked clean by crows and other carrion birds. Not that it made much
difference that it was worms. “Where?”

“Here, of course.”

“Where here?”

“I’ll show you.”

They walked around the back of the house, Trig thinking all the time that
it was some kind of set up, the guy was just too calm, but sure enough
there was the grave, complete with a small, primitive headstone. It read,
“To the Unknown Dog”. Trig wondered if this wasn’t maybe some dark joke.

“Sally,” Trig said. “Her name was Sally.”

“I’ll change it. I didn’t know.”

“It doesn’t excuse anything,” Trig said.

“Of course not,” the man said. He wasn’t afraid of Trig anymore, and Trig
knew it.

“You wrecked my life,” Trig said.

“I wrecked my own that day, if it’s any consolation.”

Trig thought about it. “It is and it isn’t,” he said.

“Come inside?” the man asked.

Trig shook his head. “You smoke dope?”

The man looked at him. “I could.”

“Because that would be the right thing,” Trig said.

He brought the bag of weed out of his pocket, but they both just stood
looking at the grave for awhile before they did anything else at all.

(c) 2012 Seana Graham

Seana Graham works at an independent bookstore in Santa Cruz, California.
Her latest published story, “Gato”, appears in Grimm Tales, edited by John
Kenyon. She also has stories in The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud
Wristlet, and the second volume of Carpathian Shadows, edited by Lia
Schizas. More recently, she’s been writing daily prompts for Short Story
Month at her blog Story Dump, which led to her writing this story.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Flash Jab Challenge 11

Lost Connections

This month’s response comes to us from the talented Katt Dunsmore. It’s a bit of a haunting tale that zeroes in on the zombie trend. Thanks, Katt, for a disturbingly entertaining tale!

Zombie Walk

by Katt Dunsmore

We forced the four of them to walk to the old Peters place at top speed, which, being zombie speed, is pretty slow. When they fell, we stopped to give them a chance to get up. When they wouldn’t, we’d grab them and snatch them back to their feet or else drag them along. It’s not like we were exactly concerned for their comfort or anything.

“Gah!” one of the females gave an inarticulate cry as she fell again in the front yard of the Peters’ place.

“Get up,” Travis kicked her in the leg.

Marty stepped in between Travis and the female. “Travis…stop. Wait til we…get around back. Plenty of…play time…then,” he said breathlessly. It had been a long walk herding the prisoners, and we were all tired. We would have to take a break before the festivities began.

Marty leaned down and grabbed the female’s arm and pulled her to her feet.

“Leh me gah,” the female croaked. One of her eyes was swollen almost shut from the beating we had put on all of them to get them into the ropes.

“Let’s go.” Travis pushed the female forward.

It took us about ten minutes to walk around to the back of the Peters place – zombies are so slow – and walk the prisoners over to a platform built around an old, unconnected power pole. We had to drag them the last twenty feet or so once they saw what was waiting for them.

It was the type of power pole that looked like it had two sets of arms hanging out from it, the lower one with shorter arms. Four nooses hang down, one from the end of each arm. Travis, Marty, David, and I had set everything up to save time once we made it here tonight.

Travis dropped a noose over the head of the female that had fallen and tightened it. She started to struggle, trying to get away from the noose, and Travis grabbed her shoulders.

“Stand still….sweetheart,” his face was inches from hers. “You wouldn’t want…to fall again…not yet, anyway.”

We got the other three in place and the nooses on them, and then stepped off the platform. Marty looked at me and nodded. I put my hand on the lever and looked up at our prisoners, then over to Marty.

“Go for it,” he said, an odd grimace on his face.

I pulled the lever back, and the platform fell away. The prisoners fell several feet, an audible cracking noise coming from three of them. The other one, a male, didn’t die immediately, but instead hung there, struggling to breathe as the rope cut into his neck. It took him awhile to strangle. We waited until he stopped moving before we walked away.

At zombie speed. We would be long gone when the humans found their friends.

© Copyright 2012 Tonya D Dunsmore. All rights reserved.


Tonya "Katt" Dunsmore is an American short story writer and illustrator. Her stories and essays have appeared in Crime and Suspense Magazine, Flashing in the Gutters, Flashshots, Mouth Full of Bullets, Associated Content, Microhorror, Silver Moon Magazine, Bewildering Stories, and Flash Jab Fiction, and in the anthologies, The EX-Factor: Justified Endings to Bad Exes (Koboca Publishing, 2006) Daily Bites of Flesh 2011 (Pill Hill Press, 2011), Daily Flash 2012 (Pill Hill Press, 2012), and Daily Frights 2012 (Pill Hill Press, 2012). Her illustrations and graphics have appeared in several publications and on the internet. Katt is married to her beloved husband, Dinny, and they have three children: Kitra, John, and Thomas. They make their home in northern South Carolina with their Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix, Briscoe, and their feline companion, Sixx.

Here are the protocols:
1) Use the photo on the site: http://flashjab.blogspot.com/
2) 750 words or less
3) Please don't plagiarize
4) Get it back to me within the next two weeks or sooner
5) With the authors' permission, stories get posted at Flash Jab Fiction
6) This is a writer's exercise done for fun; no fees, no pay. You get a byline and you keep the all rights. (Please notify me if you sell it so I can yank it from the blog.)
7) Embed the story in an email and shoot it to me at jacktheauthor@gmail.com

(Bloody Knuckles reserves the right to post or not to post a story.)

Flash Jab Fiction, Bloody Knuckles, and The Hard Nosed Sleuth reserve the right not to post submissions. This is an adult fiction site but there are limitations to what I can run. No bigotry, pornography, or anything featuring the exploitation of children will be considered.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Flash Jab Challenge 10

(Photo credit: (c) Megan Abbott 2012)

A big thanks to Megan Abbott for the use of her photograph. Also, a big thanks to AJ Hayes and Graham Smith, frequent contributors, for their spins to this months Flash Jab. Both stories are posted below.


Graham Smith

It started out as a daft conversation in the pub. Could a fish tank be used as a boat and if you sat in it would it float free of the beach before the tide washed into it?

As it was December and the water was bloody freezing, I decided to get someone else to be my guinea pig. I chose the cow from accounts that continually halved my expenses claims as my test pilot so to speak. I’d thought about balance and stability for the improvised boat and had all my calculations worked out. All I needed now was a way to persuade the bitch from accounts to get in.

I waited until the Christmas party, when she was drunk and trying unsuccessfully to hook up with any single man present. Steeling myself to the task I made small talk until we ended up playing tonsil hockey. A few colleagues saw us together and I knew they’d rip the piss outta me but that was all part of my plan.

She agreed to meet up with me a few days later. I took her for a walk along the shore. When she spied the four foot fish tank I’d deposited on the deserted sands the night before, she walked over to it commenting about flaming fly tippers.

Bending down I lifted a fist sized stone which I slammed into her temple. Her eyes rolled back in perfect synchronisation with her buckling knees.

I could see her chest rising and falling as she lay at my feet so I knew I’d only knocked her unconscious rather than killing her.

Leaving her be, I went over to the fish tank, which I then dragged to with six feet of the incoming tide. Using my jumper as a towel I dried the inside of the tank and then went to drag the bitch nearer. When I had her laid beside the tank I stripped off first her coat, then her boots and the thick tights she was wearing.

I then fed her limp body into the tank and lifted each leg in turn to apply a full tube of Superglue beneath each knee. I repeated the process with her arms. Now if she came to before the tide came in she wouldn’t be able to escape.

What would happen to her? Would she float away or drown?

From my vantage point ten yards back, I watched as the tide came in. First small waves eddied up against the tank. Then there was an inch of water around the base.

Five long minutes passed before the water around the glass coffin rose to a depth of six inches. The waves were lapping against the side of the tank but had another foot to go before they breached the top and flooded down onto her.

The incoming tide had pushed me back some twenty yards but I could still see the tank start to lift at the end her feet stuck out from. There was a definite lifting of that end, and as the depth increased I could see the waves pivoting the tank on the still grounded end where her upper body and head were. The water was only three inches from the top when the whole tank started to drift.

Just as I was cursing my luck, a slightly larger wave came in and as it neared, I could see it rising and forming into a breaker. I watched open mouthed as it collided with the tank, cascaded over the lip causing the tank to sink back onto the sands.

Subsequent waves washed into the tank and just over an hour after I’d adhered the bitch into place, the waves hid her watery tomb.

Shame she never came around. I would have enjoyed watching the terror in her eyes as she drowned. Still I would have my fun with filling in the next expense form. Four tubes of Superglue from Homebase – £6.60 Fish tank from EBay - £87 Getting that bitch out of my life – priceless!

(c) 2012 Graham Smith

And now, from Mr. Hayes:

Rapture of the Deep

AJ Hayes

After he set the record for the deepest dive they called him The Kraken. He never told them at the bottom of that plunge he met a girl with high turned breasts and eyes of gray-green splendor. She held him close and breathed for him while he made love to her. When he rose to the light of the world above she waved sad farewell and sank from view.

Now, old and too short of breath to swim, each day by the sea he fills a tub with water and listens for her song and weeps.

(c) AJ Hayes 2012