“Miscue” Dark Fiction by Steve Wilcenski

Almost every evening I sat in the park on the edge of the campus.  Usually got there around dusk.  So people didn’t notice me.  After janitoring all day, cleaning up other people’s messes, it was nice.  Especially after supper by myself.  Always by myself.  Walking made it like I was alive outside that ratty apartment.

One evening I saw this really good-looking woman. From a distance, you know?  Still, I could tell she was better looking than the other women I’d seen there.  She left the big brick building, turned, and headed down the street.  I wanted real bad to catch up to her. You know, to make conversation or something.  I’ve tried that with women before.  Usually doesn’t turn out good. I don’t know. It’s not like I’m ugly or something.

Saw her again the next evening.  And the next.  Most evenings.  She was regular. After I saw her the first time, I made sure to walk to the park every evening. Looking at her made my walks something to look forward to, you know?  I wanted bad to come out of the park to talk with her, but I knew how that would turn out.  I have a problem with women.  No courage, I guess.

One evening, there was a man with her. A big man.  Really big.

They were arguing. Then the guy started slapping her around.  Hit her hard twice.  I wanted to run over and stop him. But he was really big you know?  He hit her again.  I don’t know how she stood it. The guy wasn’t yelling or anything, just hit her. Then he let her go inside. He left.

Good thing too.  I might have got up the nerve. Boy! I wanted to show him!

It bothered me but I walked there the next evening.  That bastard beat on the woman, sure, but I couldn’t let him mess with my life, keep me from going about my business.  It was nearly dark because I was late.  Hard to see good. She walked into the building. He followed her inside. I started for the building.  I just reached the street when he came out, turned, and walked away.  If I’d only had a baseball bat or something or was a fighter.  Someone should teach that bastard not to beat on women.  Especially that woman.

That night, I got my father’s gun from the footlocker. All I ever got from him.  There were bullets.  I figured out how to load it.  Took it with me the next evening.

She wasn’t there. He was.  The bastard!  Coming from the walkway, across the street toward the park. I watched him walk past the park entrance. From where I was in the bushes, I yelled at him,

“Hey you!” I thought to yell something more, like,

“Come and get what you deserve!”

But my courage was slipping, you know?  He turned, looked my direction, then looked left and right. Don’t think he actually saw me. He entered the little patch of overgrown bushes. When he was all the way inside, I knew he could see me. I pointed the gun at him and said,

“This is what happens to bullies who beat up women!”

It was easier than I thought.  Pulling the trigger.  The gun wasn’t loud like I expected.  The bastard grabbed his chest, opened his mouth all surprised. That would teach him!  He fell to his knees, then fell on his face.

I thought to go roll him over.  See if he was dead.  I wouldn’t know.  I never seen a dead body.  Maybe I’d have to shoot him again.  I don’t know much about guns.  Well, if he wasn’t dead and he recovered, that would be a real lesson for him.  If he was dead, well, he wouldn’t beat on pretty women no more.

People were gathering in the street. Figuring where the noise came from.  They yelled things like,

“What was that?”
“Was that a gunshot?”

“Where’d it come from?”

“Over there, by the park benches!”

“Somebody call the police!”

I got scared.  I don’t know why. Dropped the gun.  Couldn’t leave the way I’d come in. 

Turned to run out the back way.  Hadn’t got hardly two steps. Was almost out of the bushes so I could really run.  I had to stop. Two cops.  Right there.  Both of them pointed guns at my face. One of them yelled,

“Stop!  Don’t move!  Put your hands over your head and turn around!”

I did what the cop said. Turned around. Except I forgot the ‘hands over your head’ thing.  One of the cops yelled,

“Don’t move!”  Hands up! Do it now!

About the time it sunk in and I started to put my hands up, something grabbed my left arm.  Bent it back.  Felt something on my wrist.  Then something grabbed my other arm and I felt something again.  Cold and hard.   

At the police station, I explained all over.  Cops weren’t impressed.  Guess in court, it wouldn’t have made no sense to say I wasn’t guilty. I’m not smart, but I’m not stupid.  I didn’t pay no attention to all the hoop-de-do in court.  No trial and all, it was quick. Never got to tell the judge how I’d done good, rid the city of a monster.  Probably wouldn’t have helped, you know?  Figure though, I made it so one bully wouldn’t beat on women no more.

Today I got newspaper privileges here in the prison library.  Reading back issues. Why not? Nothing else to do.  Read where they buried a almost famous actor a while ago.  Seems he was shot dead by some nobody guy off the streets.  That’s a shame. What’s the world coming to? Went on to say they canceled the play he was gonna be in.  Said he was shot just after rehearsing a fight scene.  There was a picture of the woman in the play, too. Almost as pretty as the one I saw from the park.

© spwilcen 2022

Retired from fifty-three years as an IT engineer, SP Wilcenski now goes about life much as everyone else, managing to squeeze free a few hours each day to write. Except for The Chamber Magazine (February 2021), his blog spwilcenwrites, and on theProse, he is unpublished.

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“12 Items or Less” Dark Fiction by Kay Summers

The killer walked in the grocery store, grabbed a shopping basket, and headed for the bread aisle. He was out of sandwich bread; when he went to make a grilled cheese for lunch, the last pieces had been one moldy slice and the bottom heel. It was with some irritation that he entered the store; he was a man of routines, and he always made one trip a week to the grocery store, on Wednesday nights.

He picked Wednesday evenings because there were no weekend shoppers—no nine to fivers picking up a week’s worth of milk, cereal, and hamburger meat with one kid sitting in the cart and another trotting alongside, dressed for a soccer practice either imminent or just concluded. Those people always moved slowly, balancing requests from whiny kids for corn syrup-laden snacks against their own desire to shop in the same leisurely way they once had, before they defied all reason and self-preservation and procreated.

He came late enough on Wednesday evenings to miss the after-work emergency shoppers—the people who received panicked phone calls from their spouses on the way from work to home telling them that there was no milk for tomorrow’s breakfast, or the kids used the last roll of toilet paper yesterday and didn’t think to tell anyone. Those people moved too erratically, running from the front door to aisle seven or nine and stopping short when they almost ran into people who were taking the more standard progression in strict numerical order. Even now, knowing exactly what he needed and where it was, the killer took each aisle in turn, steadily.

He shopped early enough on Wednesday evenings to miss the post-church crowd, those Baptists and Methodists who had just sat through a mid-week prayer service while their teens hung out with their friends and called it fellowship even as they made weekend plans for parties their parents wouldn’t approve of and gossiped about who was dating whom and how far they were going. The adults always had a vaguely pious air about them. They knew they had done the right thing by stopping midweek to reflect and praise God, as the preacher always admonished them to do, so that they wouldn’t stumble off the righteous path in the treacherous evenings leading up to Sunday morning.

In fact, if he hit his Wednesday evening window just right, everyone else in south Alabama was either sitting down to dinner at home or sitting down in the church fellowship hall.

But this wasn’t Wednesday evening. It was Monday afternoon, an entirely unfamiliar time to shop for groceries.

The midday light coming in through the front windows was glaring; the clerks were different. In the middle of the day, you got the older grocery clerks, the people who had made a career of checking out other folks’ food, running one item at a time over the scanner that beeped the same beep as all the other scanners. The killer often wondered how they knew which beep was theirs. He believed that a lot of items ran over the scanner unscanned, as the clerks heard a beep and assumed it was theirs. It was a system he felt sure supported an unacceptable level of chaos.

The different faces and quality of light didn’t sit well with him. He felt his vigilance activate, the watchfulness that informed his professional life and had kept him alive as a hired killer for nearly three years now. He told himself to calm down; professionals don’t lose their shit because they happen to find themselves in Publix on Monday at 2 instead of Wednesday at 6:45. But he knew he wouldn’t feel right until he had checked out.

He swung through the produce section, rounding the corner where deli changed to fish market. He heard a familiar voice from behind the counter; his brother greeted him. He groaned inwardly; he had forgotten that Jonah would be there, working his 9-5 shift as usual.

“Hey, Toad, man, what’s up? Good to see you. You ain’t been around much. Momma wants to know when you’re gonna come by the house. She mentioned cooking this Sunday. You free?”

His brother had just said more words in ten seconds than the killer had said over the past two days.

The killer’s name wasn’t Toad. That was a nickname his oldest brother, Garret, had pinned on him before he was old enough to talk, hit, or defend himself in any way.

The killer’s given name was Tod. Like Todd, but with only one D. He was the youngest of five brothers. Jonah was number two.

Tod didn’t know why his parents left off the customary second D from his name. He suspected it was a symptom of the creeping nonchalance that greeted children who arrived after the first few. He hadn’t been able to articulate this thought until Zak, a similarly short-named platoon buddy of his, had put his finger on it.

Zak, who was one of four brothers, said it succinctly: “Every kid after number two, they basically start raising each other.”

Parents can’t provide the same level of care and attention to all their kids when they have more than one. People know this, of course—there’s a reason folks indulgently talk about first-time parents and their obsessions with first teeth and first steps and other developmental milestones, checking each one off in a memory book that really only serves to provoke anxiety or relief in the parents, depending on how quickly their offspring hit the goalposts. People say, “Just wait ‘til they have another one; they’ll stop being so silly.”

But most people don’t have more than two kids, or three, max. They don’t know about the diminishing returns, the built-in Darwinism, the Lord of the Flies existence of siblings who come in sets of four or greater.

For example, Tod knew that parents stop caring about names after they pick out a few. They labor over that first name—should it be Garret Andrew or Andrew Garret? Should we use your grandfather’s name as a middle name? How will his initials look? By the second kid, they pick a name they’ve always liked. For the third, they pick a name of someone they knew in high school who didn’t turn out to be a complete jerk. By number four, they are likely to pick the same name as the local TV meteorologist who has nice ties. Number five? You get three letters, tops. Better hope they remember to include a vowel.

In Tod’s case, it wasn’t until he joined the Army that he learned that his abbreviated name actually means “death” in German. Zak told him; he said it was pretty badass that his parents had given him such a metal name.

Tod nods back to Jonah at the counter, a “’sup” glance meant to convey affection, from a distance. He says, “I’ll catch you later, bro, I’m on the move right now,” with a smile and keeps walking.

Tod had joined the Army after 9/11, along with what seemed like every other guy under 30. It was a lucky break for him; standards then were really flexible. The Army recruiter, with his quota to make every month, had been happy to work around Tod’s weed busts from high school. Also, the Army recruiter had seemed slightly less psycho than the Marine recruiter. That guy was wound super tight. He was all “professional opportunities and free college” with the parents and then all “in the Marines, you’ll get to whoop ass and kill some ragheads” with the boys he was pursuing.

Tod went Airborne because it sounded fun. He enlisted right after high school graduation in June 2002. He was recycled once in basic training because he got a stress fracture in his foot on the first go round. He finished training just in time for Iraq.

Jonah had joined up, too; three of Tod’s four brothers did. Jonah and Garret had both been bumping around aimlessly for a few years after high school, still living at home. They had gone Marines because they said it was the most badass. Both of them came back from boot camp super thin and so mind-controlled that they wouldn’t sit all the way back in a chair. Tod’s fourth oldest brother, Ken (named after the local meteorologist who did the “Locals Turning 100” segment each week), had gone Navy just to be contrary.

Ken was using the GI Bill to go to college like they all said they would. He was in his third year of college now; going to get a nursing degree from Auburn. Tod thought Ken would make it, too; he had always been the most organized and motivated of the brothers.

Their middle brother, Adam (named after a guy his dad had known in high school), was the oddball. He had done well in school, gone to University of Alabama on a scholarship, and gotten a job in Atlanta as a graphic designer. He rarely visited.

Jonah and Garret returned home after their four-year stints. Both of them picked up where they left off; Jonah started back at the fish counter, and Garret resumed a string of dead-end jobs at various restaurants and pizza joints near the beach. Garret put on 100 pounds within a year of his return but still used his post-boot camp photo on social media, where he looked lean and mean.

Tod had been fine in Iraq. He didn’t mind the assignments too much. When he finished his four-year enlistment, he thought about re-upping but discarded the idea quickly. He was tired of the uniforms and constant ass-kissing required in the military.

He considered a contractor job with a group like Halliburton. But that, too, would have required an unacceptable level of obsequiousness.

In the end, his choice had been easy. Zak reached out to him. He had gotten hooked up, he said, with a great gig that was limited in time requirements and well-compensated. And Tod wouldn’t need to move.

The guy Tod would come to know as Whippet had put together a network of former military willing to put their US government-provided killing skills to use for profit. He had a site on the dark web with a number of ways in for people who were looking to rid themselves of problems.

When Whippet was first building his organization, he assumed he would need people who were willing to work mostly in cities, dealing with drug dealers and lowlifes. He was quickly disabused of this notion when it became apparent that the market for offing people was not exclusively urban. The small-town boys who gravitated to the service and were left at loose ends at the end of four-year enlistments had built-in markets in their hometowns. There was, it seemed, always someone looking to knock off Uncle Elmer or their no-good cousin Billy or that jerk from high school who now worked in the cubicle next to them at the insurance agency.

The thing that separated Whippet’s agency—the defining difference that allowed them to stand apart in a crowded market, as he put it—was his insistence on a motive. He required that all clients of his agency spell out in very clear terms why they wanted someone put down.

The reason was two-fold. First, it provided a type of insurance that protected them from their client getting a guilty conscience. It was a lot less likely that, say, Betty from choir practice would wake up feeling remorseful, call the police, implicate the agency, and try to plead temporary insanity if her hired killers had her on record saying that the specific reason Alice had to die was because she had, for 20 years now, insisted on bringing “her” special butterscotch brownies to church socials when it was, in fact, a recipe that she had borrowed from Betty back in 1985 and claimed as her own. Betty would sound cold-blooded and very, very sane on such a recording, and she knew it. So, Betty needed to be damn sure she wanted to do this and not think about growing a conscience later.

The other reason was equally practical: if the killers knew the reason, they could avoid any adjacency to that activity in the execution of their duties, no pun intended.

What the client got in return for this information was an assurance that the killing would be as painless as possible and would, to the extent feasible, not appear to be murder.

Take Mrs. Balder, for example. Tod just now nodded civilly to her as they passed on the soup aisle, but he felt himself inadvertently cringe away slightly. Mrs. Balder had hired Whippet’s agency to kill her husband of 35 years, Mr. Balder, because he had developed an online gambling problem and was eating through their retirement savings. Knowing this motive allowed Whippet, and by extension, Tod, to avoid any connection to gambling that might have tipped off law enforcement that there was foul play.

Instead, the plan had been simple: Mrs. Balder went to visit her sister up in Luverne for two weeks, as she did every spring. Tod planned the killing for a Tuesday evening when he knew Mr. Balder would be home gambling because he always gambled on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, after he got home from prayer service, he always felt too guilty to gamble, but Tuesdays, it was on. Tod used the key he was given by Mrs. Balder, snuck in at 3 a.m., and placed a pillow over Mr. Balder’s face. The sleeping pill Mr. Balder always took kept him docile, and his heart condition did the rest. The police, faced with elderly, unhealthy corpse, were quick to assign blame to an apparent heart attack in an old man with heart problems. There wasn’t even an autopsy. Mrs. Balder was able to live comfortably off their retirement, life insurance, and Social Security.

Tod’s regular day job was with a landscaping company, keeping all the hotel grounds down by the beach in resort shape. He lived a quiet life, using his semi-regular windfalls from Whippet’s jobs in ways that were invisible to his family, who were never invited over to his small house to see the variety of electronic toys and metal-working tools he accumulated and enjoyed.

Tod’s mother, a chaos-Muppet-type woman with a head of crazy gray and brown curls, was a nurse at the local hospital. She was a practical nurse, not a registered nurse, a fact that she never failed to blame on Garret, who had the misfortune to be conceived before Mom finished college. She had worked constantly changing shifts throughout their childhoods.

Mom was kind but clueless, the kind of mother who arrived at your school play late, came right down to the front row, asked someone else to move over so that she and Dad could get seats together, and then cheered too loudly when her progeny emerged for their walk-on roles as trees, or townspeople, or rocks.

Mom also spent money like she could print her own, which she unfortunately could not. This was the main source of friction between her and Dad, a high school English teacher and massively frustrated writer who ate his feelings for 30 years or so and now weighed 300 pounds.

Dad had bad sleep apnea, and he snored so loudly that friends of Tod’s had sometimes mistaken the sound for a motorcycle on the highway just on the other side of their front yard. He slept in every weekend, saying that he was exhausted after a week of training young minds. Dad’s favorite movie was Dead Poet’s Society; he fancied himself the type of life-changing teacher who would live in his students’ memories for the rest of their lives. The truth was that the smartest of his students found him to be a bit of a blowhard.

Why Mom and Dad had five kids was a question that had troubled Tod for many years. As the youngest, he had seen how the diminishing set of resources—financial, emotional, mental—played out to the fullest degree. His dad was Catholic; Tod supposed the Catholic thing, which his dad played up or down depending on his mood, was the reason given for both the quickie marriage and the large family. But he suspected it had more to do with Dad’s idea of himself as a real character, someone larger than life, a patriarch. Like Don Corleone or the dad from Cheaper by the Dozen or Barbara Stanwyck in The Big Valley.

As Tod headed down the bread aisle, finally, he found himself face to face with Fern Davis, who had been in Ken’s class in school.

Fern smiled and said, “Hey, there, stranger. Ain’t seen you in a dog’s age.”

Tod smiled back—he had always liked Fern—and replied, “Keepin’ busy, Fern. Just ran in for some loaf bread.”

She paused in the aisle. Tod tried not to look impatient.

“Guess you heard about Albie, huh?”

“Yeah, Fern, I was real sorry to hear about him. How’s your mama takin’ it?”

“Well, you know, she’s tore up. But I think it was probably for the best. I know that sounds terrible. But he gave her a rough few years. At least now, she can get some peace.”

Tod nodded. “Yep, it’s good to have some peace about it. Albie was a good guy back in the day. I’ll remember him like that.”

Fern looked like she might cry, then straightened up and forced a smile. “Well, it’s good to see you, Tod. Don’t be a stranger, ok?”

“Sure thing, Fern. You take care.”

Tod kept walking toward the bread. Fern had paid Whippet’s agency ten grand to take out her brother. Albie had been a druggie for years, but the final straw was when he broke into their mama’s house and stole some of her jewelry. He was picked up trying to pawn it, but their mama had refused to press charges; said Albie had her permission to take the jewelry.

Tod had done the job; made it look like an overdose, which wasn’t that big of a stretch. Fern, of course, never knew it was him.

As Tod made his way through the check-out line, he nodded to Jimmy Knott, who had paid Whippet’s agency to get rid of the man who was screwing his wife. That one had been messier than Tod liked, but a car accident was the most believable way to go for a healthy man in his early 40s.

He was taking his two bags to his truck when his phone vibrated. He glanced at it and saw a secure message from Whippet. He passed Bart Northam, who was working as a bag boy while finishing up high school. His grandma had paid for a suicide; she was living in a nursing home and had advanced Parkinson’s. She didn’t want all her savings going to the nursing home people; she wanted it for Bart so he could go to the university in Tuscaloosa. Tod had taken care of that for her and made sure it didn’t hurt at all.

When he got back to the house, he put away his groceries and went to his comms station in the dining room. Whippet had a satellite set-up that guaranteed untraceable calls; Tod logged on now and signaled Whippet that he was available.

Whippet’s reedy voice came on immediately.

“What’s up, man?” Tod hadn’t spoken directly to Whippet in months.

“Got a bit of a situation I need you to weigh in on.”

Well, now, this was unusual. Tod had never been asked for his opinion before.

“Job came in. Little unusual.”

“Yeah, how’s that?”

“Well, Tod…”

It was very unlike Whippet to sound so uncertain. He sounded, if Tod was honest, almost sad.

Whippet continued. “Job is on someone you know. One of your brothers. Garret.”

Tod knew his oldest brother was an asshole. But he was surprised that someone would spend money to take out such a useless individual.

“The thing is, Tod, man, the client is…” Whippet cleared his throat. “It’s your mom, man.”

Tod said nothing.

Whippet rushed ahead. “Ordinarily, as you know, a job’s a job, man, but you’ve been a good guy, you know, and it’s your family, man, and I just wanted to run this one by you…” He trailed off again.

Tod finally spoke. “Can I hear it?” They required all their clients to record the motive.

“Sure, man.” Tod could hear Whippet fumbling on the other end. He had never been so discombobulated in Tod’s experience.

Tod’s mother’s voice came on. She had a high voice, like Minnie Mouse, with a light Alabama lilt.

“The other morning, I came in after working the overnight shift at the hospital. Garret was asleep in his room. The door was open, and I could see clothes and dirty dishes all over the room. I had done some laundry the day before and left it out on the sofa in the living room for someone to fold and put away. It had all been dumped on the floor and scattered everywhere, like someone was rooting through for a particular item and couldn’t be bothered to neaten up once they found it.

“He was snoring just like his daddy. I knew he was going to keep me awake. I went in there and said his name a couple of times, as nice as I could. He said, ‘what the hell, Mom? I got in late and just got to sleep a couple hours ago’. I said did you work late? And he said no, he had just been out with Justin and what business was it of mine. I told him it was time for him to get up and fold that laundry.

“He cursed at me. Me, his momma, who dropped out of college to stay home and wipe his butt and who is still washing his dirty drawers thirty-some-odd years later. And I had just had it. It’s beyond time for that boy to grow up, but he won’t. If I don’t do something, I’ll be waiting on him until I’m in the grave. It’s him or me. This time, I’m going with me.”

There was a pause as Whippet stopped the recording. He came back on the line and said, “So, Tod, man, here’s the deal. If you want me to, I’ll turn down the job. It’s not unheard of. I can do that. I can’t promise she won’t find someone else—hell, she found me—but at least you’ll know it wasn’t us.”

Tod thought about his oldest brother. Thought about him coining the name Toad, always tripping him when he walked by, stealing his toys and breaking them even when Garret was way too old for them. Thought about him talking about his time in Iraq with a gleam in his eyes. Thought about his fat ass taking up space in the house whenever Tod decided to visit Mom.

Tod finally answered. “It’s o.k., man. Just get Zak to do it. And keep it painless.”

“Always, man. You know that’s our thing.”

“Listen, Whippet, I appreciate your stretching your own professional code and reaching out to me. It’s a nice thing.”

“No problem, Tod; like I said, you’re a valuable person to the organization and a good guy. You take care.”

Tod hung up and went into the kitchen. He finally made his grilled cheese and sat down to eat it with a Coke while he started a new book. After a few pages, he gave up and put down the book. He stared out the window for a few minutes, and finally shook his head. As he rinsed off his plate, he thought, whatever else happens, I’m never going grocery shopping on Monday afternoon again, that’s for damn sure. Messes up the whole week.

Kay Summers is an emerging fiction author with a 20+ year career in communications. She’s written on behalf of others for so long that she started writing fiction to make sure she still had a voice. She does. 

“The Exhibition” Dark Fiction by Ervin Brown

An animal lay on its right flank, black and blue wounds crawling in a line up its back. Jack, only eight years of age, had never seen such a sight. He stepped in closer and gripped his hands tightly around the bars, cradling his chin between them. Two men, muscular and dressed in all black, appeared suddenly. They dragged the animal out of its cage.

“Are they going to help it?” he whispered.

Mr. Schmidt turned over his shoulder to find his son staring deeply into the habitat. Jack was startled by the firm grasp of his forearm.

“Get it together, Jack. It’s not safe to be doing that.” Mr. Schmidt bundled himself tightly in his fur coat, the strong February breeze jabbing at him like a crystal blade.

Jack trailed slowly behind as his mind wandered, his older brother, Finn, complaining about which flavor to buy at the ice cream stand.

“Do you think this concerns me?” Mr. Schmidt asked, throwing his protests to a halt. Mr. Schmidt crossed his hands and traipsed off the pedestrian walkway. “Shut up the both of you. You’ll get the flavor I choose for you. Like you always do.”

“I don’t even like ice cream,” Finn said. Jack’s older brother, who was tall and skinny, was downtrodden. His teenage face was smeared with grease like a frying pan. He took his hands out of his jacket pockets and rubbed them briskly together, blowing warm air onto them from his lips.

“We’ll take three cups of vanilla,” Mr. Schmidt grumbled, stroking the light stubble on his jawline. He wore a grin of false enthusiasm creeping from his mouth to his forced-up cheekbones.

The Schmidts walked away filled with edginess and fatigue.

“That’s the last food you’ll be getting until breakfast,” Mr. Schmidt said.

Jack didn’t say a word. “Give me that cup!” Finn shouted at Jack.

Mr. Schmidt ripped the cups out of their hands and tossed them directly into the pavement. Jack and Finn watched as the last of their ice creams’ melty remains drained through the sewage bars.

“Good riddance,” Mr. Schmidt said.

The Schmidts sat in a cobblestone circle around a sizable, empty stage. People quit shuffling about and found their places in resin chairs. They faced the platform against the backdrop of a low-hanging curtain. The voice of the crowd softened to a low whisper.

Mr. Schmidt yelled, “When’s the show going to start?” He rolled up his sleeves to feel the fresh air. With his bare skin exposed to the cold, tousled hair stood like a stiff flag from his arms. Lights of bright colors flashed from projector heads into the sky where a vermillion-violet sunset was quickly fading.

“Silence everyone! Let the show begin!” The slow and bone-weary clapping of the audience in their huddled stances was muddled by their mittens. The master of ceremonies was revealed in a man looking to be over six feet wearing striped red and white slacks and a long-sleeved shirt of the same distinction. “I am Mr. Williams, foreseer of many truths and daredevil of courage and adventure! We’d like to start tonight’s show by asking for someone to accompany us on stage!”

Hands were raised from a few of those seated. Mr. Williams searched acutely among the crowd’s faces, faded by a screen of their vaporous breaths, and found Jack whose size and age stood out from the rest. Stepping from the platform into the seating area, Mr. Williams knelt by Jack’s side like a giant coming down from the clouds. He asked, “Will you be my volunteer?”

Jack merely stared at the man.

“Go on then,” Finn whispered. “Don’t be a chicken.”

Jack was near speechless, he gave a quick look to Mr. Williams and slightly nodded his head, keeping his mouth shut. Mr. Williams offered Jack his hand, wrapped in a silk glove, and they walked together back to the stage. The center was marked with an “x” by two pieces of duct tape.

“Do you know how to hold one of these, son?” Jack looked from Mr. Williams to the pistol he was holding. He had seen this kind of gun before in an old Western.

“Yes, sir,” Jack said as he took the weapon, placing his tiny index finger on the trigger.

“Woah, there!” Mr. Williams cried. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

He turned to face the crowd. “What you are about to see is a live slaughter, performed by this brave, young man. In a moment, an animal will be brought out for us. And the boy will be permitted to fire the weapon.”

Jack stared at the spot on the stage before him, marked by that “x” in fear of what was to be released there. Jack was near petrified. Two of Mr. Williams’ assistants, muscular and dressed in all black, walked behind the curtain to get the animal.

Upon their return, they brought with them a creature about the same height, weight, and age as Jack. Two arms, two legs with a boyish face. His skin looked as though it could crumble like chalk. His hair was spotted and raggy with a dirt tint covering his bloody torso. His hands and feet were shackled with rusty manacles and thick metal chains drew down his bare chest.

The assistants gripped the boy tightly around his shoulders as he floundered and punted at the men’s shins. They threw him directly onto the “x”.

“I hope you don’t mind, dear boy. We thought it not right to have this animal killed by someone much stronger or larger than itself.”

Jack raised the weapon to aim. He looked at the boy across from him, waving the tip of the pistol narrowly in his direction. It was now that the shackled boy had lifted his chin, exposing his face to the crowd in their wave of diluted whispers. The boy had luminous green eyes that shined clear across the squalls of swirling sleet.

Jack wrapped his hand around the pistol and locked his eyes shut.

“Now, boy! Do it now!”

Jack stood still with fear, his wintry gumboots clinging to the floor. He quivered from the consternation, the trepidation.

“Come on, what are you waiting for? Fire!”

And then, Jack pulled. Taken aback with full force, shock waves rippled through him.

The shackled boy had not yet realized the bullet had passed through his skull. He touched his finger to his forehead and witnessed as a drop of blood strolled down his finger. Eyes wide open, he fell lifeless to the floor. Those rosy pink cheeks faded forthwith to an ash gray.

“It is deceased!” cried Mr. Williams, and the crowd turned into a frenzy.

Jack and his brother stared incredulously at each other from across the circle. And their father who was never impressed was mildly impressed, something the boy rarely saw. On Jack’s face, a tear fell to which he immediately lifted the cuff of his shirt. He wiped his face clean to see the joy and excitement of those that surrounded him.

Everything was calm as if a glowing golden light had shined down upon him in the gorgeous winter’s night. Snowflakes began to fall from the rimy clouds landing on the shoulders of a boy who was now a killer. Jack looked at his father’s approval and was at peace.

Ervin Brown is a writer from Southern California. His other works can be found in Art Block Zine, The Dillydoun Review, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Grime Prophet Mag, Aurtistic Zine, and Drunk Monkeys.

The December 3 Issue Will Be Delayed

Due to unexpected family issues, the December 3 issue of The Chamber will be postponed until December 5. Don’t worry everyone is safe and healthy and in good spirits. I had to take an expected trip out of state for almost two (busy) weeks. Consequently, I have not been able to dedicate myself to the magazine as I normally do. Everything should be back of normal for the December 10 issue.

Phil Slattery


10 Speculative Fiction Magazines Accepting Submissions NOW – Paying Markets – by Erica Verrillo… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

on Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity: Here are ten literary magazines currently open to submissions of speculative fiction and poetry. They are seeking a wide variety of subgenres: Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Dark Fantasy, Horror, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Myth, Folklore, Surrealism, Slipstream, and Weird Fiction. All of these are paying markets. Some accept reprints. None […]

10 Speculative Fiction Magazines Accepting Submissions NOW – Paying Markets – by Erica Verrillo… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

OPEN Call for SUBMISSIONS: The Sirens Call – Halloween 2021 – issue 55 | #Horror #DarkFiction #eZine #OpenCall #Reprints #fiction #stories #flash #poetry @Sirens_Call — The Sirens Song

#SUBMISSIONS ARE OPEN: for the 55th issue of The Sirens Call eZine. We accept short #stories, #flash and micro #fiction, #drabbles, and #poetry that fit the #horror or #dark #fiction genre. Plus, this is the Halloween Issue, so let’s keep it creepy! #darkfic #flashfic #microfic visit sirenscallpub.com for details.

OPEN Call for SUBMISSIONS: The Sirens Call – Halloween 2021 – issue 55 | #Horror #DarkFiction #eZine #OpenCall #Reprints #fiction #stories #flash #poetry @Sirens_Call — The Sirens Song

Interview with Author Niles Reddick

Niles Reddick
Niles Reddick at Parnassus


I was born in Southern Georgia to a working-class poor family. I started working when I was 12, mowing grass. I was a custodian and then worked in hotels through high school and college. I worked for the Air Force as a civilian, worked as a counselor, and landed in higher education where I taught and then became an administrator. While I wrote in high school and college, it wasn’t until I was teaching that I had my first publication. Married with two teens, we live in Western Tennessee.

What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?

I would say that my greatest accomplishment was having a story published in The Saturday Evening Post, and then being named among the best new fiction by The Saturday Evening Post in 2019. However, the accolades from some of my published books have also been very nice.

Why do you write?

I think writing evolves as does the reason one writes. When I began, I wrote about feelings, frustrations, etc. It was a limited and maybe egocentric form of writing, but eventually, I wrote about things that happened in life, injustices, humorous stories, and much more. I think one can’t stifle creativity. It’s a very natural way of being in the world.

What is your writing process? (Any favorite places to write? Any interesting quirks, traditions, or rituals you may have? How many times might you revise something before being satisfied with it? Besides you, does anyone else edit your work? Etc.)

I think I have a very “normal” process. I typically compose on my computer and I write early in the morning (I get up at 4am without a clock and always have). I typically go back two or three times to edit, but I usually read most things out loud to my wife. Generally, I catch more errors that way. She also likes to offer her comments. By the way, she doesn’t always like my stories and I’m okay with that.  I then rewrite a couple of other times before I send pieces off for consideration. Sometimes, I have had acceptances the same day, but while those are truly rewarding moments, they have been few and far between. I have had thousands of rejections, but I have also had stories published that were often rejected. I’ve come to know that “fit” is an important part of the writing process that most of us don’t understand even if we know the editor, the magazine, and the requirements. I can even read published pieces in a magazine and still not know “fit” and I’ve read pieces in magazines and couldn’t believe the editor selected or published it. There’s something about the process that is ambiguous and maybe always will be.

Do you have anyone (friends, relatives, etc.) review your works before you publish them?

No, early in my career when I was really trying to get published, I had friends who were faculty members review and offer feedback, and I have had other published writers read drafts and offer feedback (such as Lee Smith, Janice Daugharty, Inman Majors, and others), but other than my reading stories out loud to my wife (to mostly catch errors and get any opinion she might have), I don’t ask anyone and I find it a bit awkward when someone asks me to offer a blurb or review or even feedback on a draft. I’m becoming even more shy about that.

Could you give us an idea of your upcoming works without spoiling anything?

Well, I have a flash fiction collection titled For the Cheesecake (title is from one of the stories published in Forth Magazine in L.A.), a novella-in-flash titled A Blessing and a Curse, and about thirty unpublished stories I’m constantly submitting for consideration. While I certainly don’t have expectations of anything happening, I do have an agent in CA who is pitching two films and a series for me.

Do you have any writing events coming up? For example: something being published/released? A reading of one of your works? Interviews? Any speeches or talks?

I am teaching a flash fiction workshop through the Pat Conroy Literary Center in South Carolina and am excited about that, and I’m judging a flash fiction prompt for Vancouver Flash Fiction in British Columbia this month. The above submitted works will hopefully get picked up this year. I have several stories forthcoming in multiple journals and magazines like The Hong Kong Review.

What do you hope to achieve as a writer?

Some of my work has been meaningful with nominations and I think they speak to quality, but I don’t know if they will survive the test of time like other writers may have historically. Plus, I think what survives is changing rapidly. There are lots of writers out there, many publishers, and a lot of magazines that come and go. This has never been about money for me. I have a career. I often joke that I couldn’t pay one month’s house payment with what I have earned in royalties through the years, but to be recognized by peers has been meaningful to me. This year, The Citron Review took a story titled “Keeping Time” and then nominated it for a Best Microfiction award, The Boston Literary Magazine took a piece titled “Mean Boys” and nominated it for a Best Microfiction award, and other magazine in New York, Big City Lit nominated my story “Rotarian on Vacation” for a Pushcart Prize, my third Pushcart nomination. Ultimately, I should be satisfied with what I have done—a novel, two collections, and a novella (plus the ones coming)—and the recognition. I never expected any of it and if I dropped dead tomorrow, I would leave this world very appreciative.

What do you think of bad reviews? Are they helpful or harmful to you?

Most of them that are bad typically say something good, so I’m not sure they are actually bad. I think they bring attention, and like the news on a nightly basis, I’m not sure it’s the good or bad that matters. It’s the attention, and actually, I’m not sure I think that’s how it should be, but it’s reality, and what’s even sadder to me is that I don’t think anyone really reads them and I don’t even think a lot of people read in general.

What advice do you have for novice writers?

Don’t give up. Keep it up, keep going, trying. It’ll happen eventually, but you might want to ask yourself starting out, what do you want out of this? If it’s money, you might want to stick with your day job and do this as a hobby. I don’t mean that to be discouraging. On the contrary, I mean for it to be a wake-up call and to be realistic.

What do you feel are the most important resources a writer can use?

I think social networking and social media are GREAT and have been important to me in my writing/publishing. I actually went to New York City to read with a group of writers I’d met via social media. I really didn’t know any of them and interestingly, some of them thought I was British because of my name—Niles Reddick. When I got on stage to read and this deep Southern accent came out, they were stunned. I thought it was hilarious.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing? (websites, social media, etc.)

Website: http://nilesreddick.com/

Twitter: @niles_reddick

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/niles.reddick.9

Instagram: nilesreddick@memphisedu

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/niles-reddick-0759b09b/

Somebody to Drink With: Anacreon’s Epitaph and Some Poems — SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

Greek Anthology 7.26, Antipater of Sidon “Stranger passing by the humble grave of Anakreon, If my books were of any use to you, Pour some wine on my ashes, pour it out in drops So that my bones can smile, refreshed a bit by wine, so I, who loved the shouting raves of Dionysus, so…

Somebody to Drink With: Anacreon’s Epitaph and Some Poems — SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

Most Anticipated Adult Books of 2021 —

I have talked about my most anticipated adult romances of 2021, but now I want to highlight all the other adult novels releasing in 2021 that I am excited for. There are so many and I could break them into more categories, but that would be too many posts! I realize that there is a […]

Most Anticipated Adult Books of 2021 —

10 of the Best Monsters in Literature — Interesting Literature

From Greek mythology to modern horror and fantasy, literature is full of fantastic beasts and terrifying monsters. What makes a great fictional monster? Terror, unpredictability, and perhaps an unsettling commingling of the familiar with the unfamiliar? These qualities can all help to create a truly scary monster which haunts our dreams, even though we know […]

10 of the Best Monsters in Literature — Interesting Literature

#SpookyPlannerParty Week-Long Event — HorrorAddicts.net

**DON’T FORGET** Only 3 more days to join us as we celebrate the release of the Spooky Writer’s Planner In honor of the release of our Spooky Writer’s Planner, we’ll be having a fun event in our group from Dec 20th-December 25th. Join the group and answer questions to be entered into prize drawings!

#SpookyPlannerParty Week-Long Event — HorrorAddicts.net