“Red Orphan” Dark Science-Fiction by Kyle Brandon Lee

"Red Orphan" Dark Science-Fiction by Kyle Brandon Lee

     As the wind harmonized through the trees, the child sang to herself. The universe made melody all around her with its instruments of nature and reality. Though no one else heard it, the child remained content to listen to the symphony.

#

     For all the disease and societal ills cured by technology and science, the one plague that continued to ravage mankind was bureaucracy. Deena Haden came back to this thought frequently, most often in the atrium where she spent her lunch breaks watching the National Administration of Scientific Endeavors and Aerospace Development campus slowly transform from spacious haven of greenery into yet another monstrous eyesore of misdirected government spending, useless acronyms and reckless reappropriation. NASEAD did well to hold out as long as it did thanks to nostalgia. Deena understood that the love of science in popular culture tended to be cyclical and much like NASA before it, NASEAD faced the inevitable decline.
    There would always be something to replace what was lost, but it didn’t ease her mind. Where science fiction promised unnatural monstrosities brought to life, it seemed political science created worse abominations of red tape. Once again, Deena would have to face one of that monstrosity’s underlings.
    Even if the hideous orange of construction signage and obstruction made visibility difficult, Deena spotted Senator Crupe’s limo as it turned off the far avenue and passed through the front gate. Deena tapped out a quick message on her watch to let those in her department know that the vultures had finished circling and were on their way to the feast.
    Deena made her way down to the spacious lobby, her echoing footsteps lost in the clomping noise made by her nervous partner. Erik Embiid dragged his heavy shoes across the speckled green floors as he paced the full length of the foyer between the security desk and the faux marble statue of a young girl in pigtails. So That the World Never Forgets its plaque read. On happier days, the foyer was a great place to hum.
    “You’re doing yourself no favors, Erik,” Deena called as she reached the last trio of steps.
    “I don’t see how you aren’t nervous,” Erik’s response, not halting his circuit. “How can you not be nervous?”
    “Not the first senator I’ve dealt with, nor will it be my last. We’ll just do the song and dance and hope it changes.”
    Erik continued to worry out loud, but Deena understood as well as he did that he would merely ramble on, unconscious of the fact that she would be distracted by the echoes of his shoes. He recognized his own propensity to go on like this just as she did, but Deena also realized her own tendency to drift in thought when she focused on ambient sounds. Though the idea remained unsaid, they knew their oddities made them good partners.
    “Here we go,” Erik said, the sound of the limo door slamming bringing him from his stream of thought. Standing between two imposing security guards in suits were the visitors in question. The more impressive of the two was a brown-haired woman in glasses meant more for fashion than function. She towered over her companion, likely a star athlete at whatever university the senator plucked her from. Deena couldn’t decide if she was fresh off of graduation or simply hadn’t seen her enthusiasm broken by the political machinations of the short and squat Senator Crupe. Deena saw enough of the senator in public media to be convinced that he had the mouth of a sour puppet and the teeth of a dusty electric piano. She wanted to give the assistant some credit to her profession, but Crupe seemed the type to hire the right out of college darlings to be either trophy staff or potential conquests, willingly ignorant of qualifications and aptitude. Deena hated to make judgements, but people like Crupe made it easy, rarely skewing from form.
    “Welcome Senator,” Erik said as the Washington tandem stepped through the automated door. He offered his hand to the senator, receiving only a half-hearted grip in reply.
    “Good to be here,” Crupe replied, his lie obvious to everyone but him. “Some building you have here.”
    “We like it,” Deena chirped, but the senator barely registered any recognition of her presence.
    “It’s very- help me out here,” the senator went on.
    “Neo art deco,” the assistant answered, not bothering to raise her eyes from whatever program she monitored on her tablet computer.
    “Architecture was never my strong suit,” he said in his overly false smile. Deena wondered if she could play Chopsticks on his incisors. “Now, I didn’t catch your name, son.”
    “Dr. Erik Embiid,” he replied to the senator who was likely his junior by a few years.
    “Good to meet you, Erik,” the senator laughed, most likely in the process of forgetting the doctor’s name. “How about we kick off that tour?”
    Crupe slapped Erik on the back, pushing him in a direction away from the two women, even if the senator hadn’t a clue as to where he was heading. Erik turned his head to Deena in protest, but she rolled her eyes and waved him on. She would gladly embarrass the sexist bastard later when she told him she was the project lead. As the two men walked away, the assistant stepped up to Deena, handing her a campaign sticker.
    “We hope we can count on your vote in the senator’s upcoming re-election campaign.”
    Deena kept her hands in her front pockets, looked at the sticker of red, white, and blue and then back to the assistant.
    “Why would I vote for anybody that’s trying to take my job away?”
    The assistant shrugged and followed after the senator and Erik. Deena let out a low breath, dreading the long afternoon. Taking a moment to center herself, she focused on the sound of her surroundings. After a lingering look at the statue of the young girl, Deena followed the echoes of three sets of feet.

#

     Never had Alina seen the trees greener in the spring and though she knew much of her life lay before her, she could remember every spring since she was five, each possessing their own character and song. Her family enjoyed nothing more than to spend their weekends in the open air, just as the other local families did, taking in the oasis in urban turmoil. The vibrant colors of April and May seemed only to exist within the walls of the park, the result of a rare effort by city planning to preserve anything of natural quality. Her brothers would often run off with the other children to play, expelling the impossibly endless energy that grows exponentially when youngsters herd. Alina’s mother and father would find a spot to lounge under one of many oak trees gifted with blessed shade and relish in birds singing and the silence of children’s laughter. Picturesque captured life in the greenspace, a word that did not extend beyond the sidewalks and brick walls.

#

    Erik drove the four-person golf cart flawlessly in spite of their unwelcomed guest’s gift for distraction. Crupe barely gave Erik a moment to get a word in, letting up only to breathe, and even in those brief moments, the senator filled the space with exuberant body language. Not a single word pertained to the tour or their destination. Embiid found himself subjected to stories of Crupe’s college exploits and the inner workings of American government through a highly politicized point of view. Deena watched the nameless assistant, just to gauge her responses. The brunette’s glasses covered eyes never left her tablet. Deena wondered for a moment if the assistant heard it all before but soon realized what the assistant did long ago. Ignoring Crupe’s seemingly endless talking would serve her much better.
    As the cart drove along the path from the administration building to the main lab, Deena eased back, hands still in her pockets and watched the passing trees, each planted in honor of those men and women who dedicated their lives to long service with NASEAD. Though firmly rooted and looming, they’d be replaced with something metal or plastic. All that honor would be lost except in the memories of those who will be forced to move on.
    There would always be something to fill the space.

#

      The park possessed the old-world character that couldn’t be found anywhere else in the city since the reality of the times left little for things other than necessity. Yet, cracks in the streets and aging edifices meant more in Alina’s mind than just age. Things were falling apart slowly and though a twelve year old shouldn’t be burdened with such thoughts, this too was a reality. The world ripped at its own seems and where conflict ended, another would quickly take its place. It was all a discordant song.

#

 “So, this is where it’s all going,” the senator declared. His tune had decidedly
changed over the course of the tour. Where Erik pointed out innovation and the future, Crupe saw tax dollars bleeding away. To this point, he only saw generic project titles. Had he seen any descriptions, he likely moved on. If his campaign was to be believed, these funds would be better spent oversees keeping the enemies of the nation decades behind. In the space of the past hour, Deena had grown to resent the senator more than she thought possible and she despised the senator’s assistant for being an enabler.
    “You would be correct,” Deena answered, following with a pointed “for once” under her breath. For the first time that afternoon Crupe turned his attention towards her, obviously taken aback by the fact that anyone other than Erik had spoken.
    “Senator Crupe, this is Dr. Deena Haden, project lead for…” Erik began.
    “And what does it do?” the senator interrupted, waving his fingers and turning his attention towards no one in particular.
    His finger, in all its circle waving glory, pointed to the black and silver dome that loomed above. Flat finished beams crossed in regular patterns that oddly looked like a nest. The floor countered that, built on hexagonal, translucent panels of dull white materials. Crupe may have been unimpressed, but nothing would have impressed the man short of fireworks and John Phillip Souza. Science rarely equated patriotism until it could be weaponized.
    “We call it Temporal Observation and Navigation,” Deena explained with no expectation of her audience understanding. To his credit, Erik tried to rephrase.
    “Or chronological archaeology.”
    Crupe said nothing, attempting to hide his confusion. It was the assistant who saved him, chiming in to say what the senator was missing, all without looking up from her device.
    “Time travel.”
    Wide eyed, Crupe suddenly put his full focus on the magnitude of what lay presented before him. Deena couldn’t decide if the senator was terrified or excited. Neither possibility thrilled her.
    “You’ve invented time travel?” he asked. “Honest to God time travel?”
    “Not exactly,” Erik started.
    “Make up your mind, son,” the senator interrupted. “Do you have it or not?”
    “What we have, Senator Crupe, is a way to examine the past in ways we never have before,” Deena began as she wheeled in a mobile podium. With the flick of a few buttons, the nest chamber came alive. “Significant events throughout time echo rather profoundly, more so than others.”
    “Meaning?” asked Crupe, squinting at a few of the overhead lights.
    “Time gives off its own signals, somewhat like echolocation,” Erik replied. He stepped to Deena’s position, pulling from it two sets of headgear. As Erik handed a pair to the senator, Deena offered one to the assistant. Willingly oblivious, she sat in the corner.
      “So, this is not time travel?”
    “Our project works under the idea that time isn’t just a conceptual entity, it is a product of man. Because of this, time has resonance,” Erik explained, ignoring Crupe’s question. “And our chamber measures that resonance, analyzes it and reconstructs what we perceive of the past.”
    “It’s a fancy television,” the assistant called, “stuck on the history channel.”
    “Right,” the senator’s answer as he examined the headgear.
    “How’d she get stuck with him?” Erik whispered to Deena.
    “Come again?” the senator asked.
    “With the chamber, we can search temporal resonance with an approximation of a time construct, or as we call it, an echo,” Deena went on. “Just as certain dates have great resonance, so do certain places and people.”
    “You’re losing me here,” the senator grunted. “Just tell me why we’re dumping billions of dollars into this program.”
    Deena sighed.
    “Two years ago,” she resumed. “President Charles inauguration.”
    Erik and Deena slipped on their headgear. Wisely, Crupe followed suite. The hum of the chamber grew louder as the nest went dark. Multiple projections from every fixture and beam created a holographic display of Earth, leaving the four people in the room to appear as if they were standing in space, at least to those wearing headgear. The assistant saw nothing but the flashing lights in the dome. As Deena operated the computer on the podium, the scope began to sharpen.
    “Millions of people watched the telecast,” Deena explained. “And the location is easy. Better yet, thousands were there that day. Historically significant and resonant. Loved the speech. President Charles made an excellent echo for this test run.”
    Suddenly Crupe, Deena and Erik found themselves standing next to President Charles as he took his oath of office. Crupe stepped towards his oft political opponent and reached out into the holographic ether. The senator ran his fingers through the President’s face, indicative of the disrespect Crupe notoriously showed.
    “The laser light show is certainly impressive,” Crupe said. “But holograms have been on the market for decades.”
    “Do you happen to remember where you were that day, Senator Crupe?” Deena asked.
    “It was a busy day. I-”
    “Took me a while to find you, Senator,” Deena said as she navigated her way through the virtual Washington. The scene shifted rapidly, moving from one familiar D.C. landmark to another. “But there’s enough scuttlebutt even this far south. Let’s see what you were up to at the National Archives.”
    “I think you’ve proven your point,” the senator said, trying to put a stop to any further exploration. “This isn’t just replay. You can seek out other events.”
    “Exactly,” Deena smiled. “The closer we are to the echo, the stronger the resonance. The further out we move from that echo, the more difficult it is for the chamber to analyze unless we can find another strong echo.”
    “In theory, you could see any past event?” Crupe asked, finally grasping the subject.
    “Dependent on resonance, yes.”
    “What about the future?”
    “We’ve not nailed that one down,” Erik interjected. “We don’t have an echo to lock on to. If an event hasn’t occurred for us, we don’t know what to search for. Resonance is dependent on many factors.”
    “Plus every expedition we go on takes quite a bit of prep work and power,” Deena added before getting to the whole point of the tour. “And of course, funding.”
    “Even still,” the senator’s mind wandered, “the applications for this are incredible. Intelligence gathering-”
    “Would have similar problems,” Deena cautioned. “Resonance deals in hundreds of thousands to millions of people recognizing an event. Spying on a conference room of five isn’t going to work.”
    “So the National Archives…”
    “You were within the radius of the echo,” Deena answered, knowing the senator was regaining steam. “I found you by luck.”
    “You don’t blackmail very well,” Crupe said in a rare moment of vulnerability.
    “I’ll take your word for it,” Deena said. “Still, the intent of this project is not for intelligence or military purposes.”
    “Even if that would weigh considerably in your favor?”
    “Senator, I’m smart enough to realize that once Pandora opened the box, all that came out was ripe for weaponization,” Deena said, oddly resigned. “It’s the hope that is left in the box that I get to shape in order to help the world.”
    Crupe didn’t speak for a moment, the silence even rousing the assistant.
    “It’s a fair point, Doctor….”
    “Haden.”
    “Show me what you hope to do and I’ll try my best to see if that can be justified.”
    Deena smiled.
    “Are you familiar with the Red Orphan?”
    “The Red Orphan?” the senator asked, interest piqued.
    Deena nodded and stepped aside as Erik cracked his knuckles before taking her place at the podium. Reinvigorated, she approached the senator as President Charles inauguration blinked out of its holographic existence, replaced by the nest chamber of black, silver and hum.
    “We all know the story,” Deena began in a flourish of moving hands, the nest changing as Erik manipulated the controls.
    “Systems online,” Erik called. “Date and location set. Chronolocation in five. Four.”
    “Tensions in eastern Europe were at an all-time high, which if it wasn’t so disastrous, it would be impressive given the history. Yet another attempt at peace centered on Athens, Greece because, for once, it looked as if there was a legitimate chance something could be brokered, even if that belief was razor thin.”
    “Echo located,” Erik drummed. “Chronal matrix centering.”
    The nest transformed to a crowded park. Nearby, a road ran along its length, lined with throngs of people, each waving flags of peace and nationality. Crupe remained silent, suddenly standing amidst people who would see the most violent time in the world’s history. Deena took a deep breath knowing that she was about to watch and narrate something beyond difficult. History resonated more in difficult moments.

#

     Alina looked around, wondering where the sudden hum was coming from.

#

     Crupe and Deena stood amidst the internationally flavored crowd, looking in both awe and curiosity. Erik worked behind his panel, the only piece of equipment visible in the hologram recreation of the parade crowd. The assistant seemed to be sitting on thin air as her chair faded away under the power of the nest.
    “Do you see her?” Crupe asked excitedly.
    “Resonance is off the charts,” Erik called from his instrument panel. “She should be around here.”
    “But it will be difficult in a crowd this size. Keep an eye out,” Deena went on.
    “You can’t lock on or something?” Crupe asked.
    “That would take further funding, Senator. This is, after all, a work in progress. Perhaps an extra pair of eyes would be helpful.” First Deena’s, then the eyes of Erik and Crupe fell upon the senator’s assistant. Suddenly aware of her summoning, she rolled her eyes and stood.
    “Headset?” she said, shutting off her tablet and holding out a hand. As Erik went for the headset and the others went back to looking, the assistant stepped forward into a walk, revealing the image she had previously been blocking.
    A girl in red.

#

     “Alina,” her mother called. “Alina!”
    She only heard her mother on the second call of her name, the distraction growing with every passing moment. Alina walked toward her mother who wore simple clothes but never looked anything less than wonderful to her daughter.
    “Do you hear that?” Alina asked.
    “Hear what?” the reply as her mother brushed off the grass and dirt a child will naturally collect while playing in a park.
    “The humming,” Alina said, eyes still wandering. “And the singing.”
    “You and the singing. Always with the singing.”
    “It’s different now though,” Alina added.
    “It may just be the parade,” Alina’s mother said in finality before pulling two red ribbons from her pockets. “Now, let me make your pigtails so the wind doesn’t blow hair in your eyes.”

#

     “There, approaching the crowd from the park,” Crupe said, his excitement echoing his engagement. Deena and the assistant approached the holographic image, squinting with scrutiny.”
    “Is that really her?” the assistant asked. “She’s with a family. She’s in red but not an orphan.”
    “It’s always been suspected she was a refugee,” Deena countered. “And do not forget how many people died in the riot. Her entire family may have lost their lives.”
    “Why is she constantly looking around?” Crupe asked, oddly observant.
    “Does she know what’s coming?” the assistant added. Then almost in a panic, she asked another question.

#

     She lost several nights sleep since finding out about the procession of diplomats, something she had never seen in person, only heard about. But Alina found herself unable to focus. The humming had grown louder, and the singing shifted in beautiful but unusual ways.
    Why is she constantly looking around?
    She held her mother’s hand as the two of them walked behind her father and siblings. None of them could hear it. None of them could understand or want to.
    Does she know what’s coming?
      Never had the echoes whispered so loudly. Never had these ghostly voices been more than idle noise. Now they seemed near her, among the people. Now at the parade, they were harder to hear.
    But not impossible.

#

     “She can hear us,” the assistant said. “Can she hear us?”
    “No, she can’t,” Erik said with a confidence that started to crumble. “She shouldn’t.”
    “I thought you said this wasn’t time travel,” Crupe pointed at Deena.
    “It’s not, Senator. We are not actually there with the girl,” Deena tried to explain. “We can only see and hear her.”
    “But she can hear us,” the assistant said louder, as if that proved her point. “Look at her. Something other than the parade has her attention.”
    “I’m starting to see anomalies,” Erik called from his panel. Crupe rushed to look over the scientist’s shoulder as if he could understand what he saw.
    “Meaning what?” the senator asked.    
    “Meaning stay calm,” Deena answered before joining them at the electronic readout. “The resonance is growing incredibly.”
    “Meaning we’ve most likely reached the point we wanted to see, the point when the world dove into the biggest war since the twentieth century.”

#

     The crowd grew quicker than Alina could keep track of. People drew in tighter to see the procession, their excitement louder with every second.
    We are not actually there with the girl.
    The echo startled her, leading her to look at the adults who towered above her. She could see none of their faces as they looked to the street. In the panic, she lost her mother’s hand, but there came an opening in the crowd, ever so slight.
    Meaning stay calm.
    So, she did.
    Alina could see the street and the barrier. She would wait up front and watch the figures who passed. It wasn’t far from where the family had planned to be. She had been lost before and always found.
    We’ve most likely reached the point we wanted to see.

#

     “That’s where it starts,” Deena said, looking up from the panel of lights and anomalies.
    “Are you sure?” Crupe questioned, still more focused on the panel.
    “I’ve studied this picture endlessly, Senator,” Deena answered. “I’d recognize this spot anywhere.”    
    “We’re approaching the timeline marker. Procession in route,” Erik announced.
    “In all that crowd is someone with the gun that sets this off,” Deena resumed, as the limo of significance turned the corner. “Whoever it is takes the shot and the secret service responds. In the chaos, the agent fires.”
    “And the Red Orphan-” Crupe whispered to himself.
    “Becoming the most famous image of the last one-hundred years because that one stray bullet starts a deadly riot that almost burns Athens to the ground,” Deena continued. “Changing the world for the worse.”

#

     That’s where it starts.
    “What starts?” she wondered. The parade? The procession was on its way, and she found the sheer number of people in sunglasses and black suits fascinating. But they looked, and sadly felt, like a uniform of their own and uniforms made her weary.
    Are you sure?
    Alina was sure. But this was a moment of hope, a march towards something better. All around her optimism screamed. Still, over that she heard the echoes and singing.
    Then she felt a shift.
    Are you one-hundred percent sure she can’t hear us?
    The echoes came stronger.
    Stop worrying.
    The limo came closer.
    She can hear us.
    She nodded, thinking they’d stop arguing if she showed her agreement.
    Did you see that?
    Alina could no longer watch the procession. The echoes came too loud, even among the people around her. She tried to find their source, but swiveling around, she could find none. Only people cheering. That, and the man behind her, hands in his pockets.
    Do you see him?
    Alina certainly did, a blond man in a terrible need of a shave, a change of clothes and a happier disposition. A twelve year old should never judge but something about him-
    Something’s wrong.
    -was wrong.
    The anomalies are off the chart.
    Alina couldn’t turn away-
    Who is she staring at?
    from his face and contemptuous stare.
    Is- is that the shooter?
    “Gun?” Alina asked with a peep.
    What did she say?
    “Gun,” she said louder.
    Does she see it? I don’t-
    The man, discovered, reached into his jacket.
    She heard us! She heard us!
    “Gun!” Alina screamed louder, seeing the weapon in hand.
    The equipment isn’t responding!
    Others saw it. The people. The uniforms.
    Shut it down! Shut it down!
    The people swarmed. The uniforms swarmed.
    It’s changed! We changed it! She heard us and it changed!
    In that moment, the gun was ripped away as the would-be shooter fell under the weight of those who refused to let the peace go, suddenly unified to a cause of passion. Alina watched on before uniforms swept her to safety and her family. She never saw the gunman again and the people cheered as the uniforms rushed the man away, perhaps to never be seen again by anyone. The limo continued on, unabated.
    Oh my God! What’s happening to us?
    The song now changed, not just in tone or melody or mood or speed. Everything. The echoes pierced with wild emotion, even as their volume faded. Alina’s head spun.
    Readings are flatlined! We’ve lost everything!
    Alina heard a man crying, growing even more distant.
    What did you create, Haden? You’ve killed us!   
    Somewhere a scientist watched this moment of resonance even as her own world fell apart into the nothingness of non-existence. A single moment changed so much. There would always be war but not this war. With this one small change, millions wouldn’t meet the worst imaginable end and the reality that followed the moment the Red Orphan died would be gone, replaced by something better. Those people in Deena’s timeline would not die, rather they simply would not exist. Perhaps, they would exist in some other iteration but in a form altogether different.
    The senator, for whom Deena felt the highest resonance, the loudest song, the greatest hum she ever experienced, was born from the echo in pigtails, a product of warmongering and paranoia. Deena heard his song, a violent, discordant anti-symphony, well before the project was complete. The billions fated to the ultimate end by his song would not die, rather they simply would not exist. The world would not end by his hand for it would not be there to destroy it.
    There would always be something to replace what was lost except in that single discordant echo. Deena enjoyed her final song, one far greater than the one she always knew and the one she would ultimately know.
    Alina hugged her mother close, trying to make sense of her own song and its infinitely new patterns of resonance. The world changed in a moment, all because of an echo.


Kyle says of himself: “I am a Texas born and raised writer of prose, poetry and plays.  I’ve been previously published with short stories at El Portal Literary JournalMirror DanceFiction on the Web, and Asymmetry. Soft Cartel and Backchannels have published non-fiction pieces while The Cabinet of Heed and Door is a Jar have put out some of my poetry.”


The Chamber Magazine publishes short contemporary dark fiction & poetry monthly from around the world and from all genres: mainstream, literary, science-fiction, fantasy, horror, grimdark, suspense/thriller, action-adventure, experimental, gothic, Southern gothic, neo-noir, noir, transgressive, magical realism, macabre, mystery/crime, cyberpunk, and more. We also publish interviews with many of our authors.

Now, what do I mean when I say a work should be “dark”?

The classic of Chinese Taoist philosophy, the Tao T’eh Ching, opens with (depending on the translation): “The way that can be named is not the true way,” Tao being Chinese for way, and meaning, in a broad, nebulous sense, the way of life or the way of the world or the way of the universe. To me, with my, at best, rudimentary smattering of philosophy, this means that words cannot express the Tao; it is something that one must feel and experience. One can understand it only on an intuitive level. Any attempt to express it in words is doomed to failure

This is like how I choose dark fiction and poems to include in The Chamber. The work must have a dark feel about it, though how to express that is problematic. It’s not necessarily horror. It can be noir or hard-boiled detective or sad or mystifying or any of a thousand other descriptors. It’s something that, although you can’t express it, you know it when you see it. It’s like trying to describe the taste of vodka or describing a sunny day to someone who is blind.

Jimmy Buffett once said “never try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it.” Of my ten years in the US Navy, I spent three years, one month, and one day at sea and many of my days I spent ashore, I spent looking at the sea. Jimmy was right. It’s hard to describe the ocean to someone who has never seen it, because they just can’t grasp the feelings of power, immensity, and eternity that it radiates or conceive of the indelible impression it makes when one sees it for the first time. So it is with communicating the idea of literary darkness. It is something one knows when they see it or perhaps it is better to say, it is something one knows when they feel it.

How do you discern then that your work of dark fiction or verse is dark enough for The Chamber? If you feel it’s dark, it’s dark enough. If your friends can read it without knowing what feelings it is supposed to get across, and they say, “Oh, God, this is dark!” It’s dark enough. Submit it. If I do not accept your work, use the opportunity to re-read your work dispassionately, critique it honestly and fairly, and ask yourself, “how can I improve this?” In my experience, that’s one of the best ways of learning to write well. Don’t worry about making it acceptable to me, the publisher of The Chamber. Worry about whether it expresses your ideas in the best possible way. Do the words accurately reflect your ideas? Can a complete stranger read your work and have a moment of revelation or a sense of having experienced something memorable? Does it make an intellectual and emotional connection with the reader? Will people discuss it with their friends? If you can answer yes to these questions, then your work will be acceptable in many, many places.

Also, read good literature to develop a feel for what good literature is. For me, knowing what good literature is, is also like the Tao, one can only sense it; verbal descriptions are inadequate.

Other than that, the main things I look for in dark fiction and poetry are excellent, concise, well-crafted, technically proficient, powerful writing and originality. Neither I nor the readers of The Chamber want rehashing of time-worn plots and stereotypical, two-dimensional characters.

And as you will always hear from all other publishers, before submitting read a few issues and read the guidelines. Adhering to the guidelines will make it easier for the publisher to accept your work.

New stories and poems are published in The Chamber on the first Friday of each month at 10:00 a.m. U.S. central time, which is 4:00 p.m. British Standard Time and 1:00 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time. Other material is published sporadically. Any work published in The Chamber is simultaneously published on The Chamber’s Facebook page, Twitter account, Tumblr blog, and on the publisher’s LinkedIn account.

Please like and comment as often as possible and share the stories and poems published on as many social media as you can. Our authors’ and poets’ only pay is publication, exposure, and whatever constructive criticism and compliments you provide.

On another topic, why do I call it “The Chamber”? The words “The Chamber” invokes images of a alchemist’s or sorcerer’s chamber deep within the bowels of a castle or of a wizard’s study where ancient manuscripts containing arcane knowledge of the Black Arts lie waiting to be used for nefarious purposes.  The perfect place to store, discuss, and develop terrifying philosophies and works of horror and other dark matters.

On a final note, be warned that stories published in The Chamber may contain adult language and situations and may not be suitable for people under the age of 18. And as always these days, be alert for trigger words and phrases that may crop up unexpectedly. This is not a magazine for children.

Thank you for your time and have a wonderful rest of your day.

Expanded Introduction to The Chamber

The Chamber Magazine publishes short contemporary dark fiction & poetry monthly from around the world and from all genres: mainstream, literary, science-fiction, fantasy, horror, grimdark, suspense/thriller, action-adventure, experimental, gothic, Southern gothic, neo-noir, noir, transgressive, magical realism, macabre, mystery/crime, cyberpunk, and more. We also publish interviews with many of our authors.

Now, what do I mean when I say a work should be “dark”?

The classic of Chinese Taoist philosophy, the Tao T’eh Ching, opens with (depending on the translation): “The way that can be named is not the true way,” Tao being Chinese for way, and meaning, in a broad, nebulous sense, the way of life or the way of the world or the way of the universe. To me, with my, at best, rudimentary smattering of philosophy, this means that words cannot express the Tao; it is something that one must feel and experience. One can understand it only on an intuitive level. Any attempt to express it in words is doomed to failure

This is like how I choose dark fiction and poems to include in The Chamber. The work must have a dark feel about it, though how to express that is problematic. It’s not necessarily horror. It can be noir or hard-boiled detective or sad or mystifying or any of a thousand other descriptors. It’s something that, although you can’t express it, you know it when you see it. It’s like trying to describe the taste of vodka or describing a sunny day to someone who is blind.

Jimmy Buffett once said “never try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it.” Of my ten years in the US Navy, I spent three years, one month, and one day at sea and many of my days I spent ashore, I spent looking at the sea. Jimmy was right. It’s hard to describe the ocean to someone who has never seen it, because they just can’t grasp the feelings of power, immensity, and eternity that it radiates or conceive of the indelible impression it makes when one sees it for the first time. So it is with communicating the idea of literary darkness. It is something one knows when they see it or perhaps it is better to say, it is something one knows when they feel it.

How do you discern then that your work of dark fiction or verse is dark enough for The Chamber? If you feel it’s dark, it’s dark enough. If your friends can read it without knowing what feelings it is supposed to get across, and they say, “Oh, God, this is dark!” It’s dark enough. Submit it. If I do not accept your work, use the opportunity to re-read your work dispassionately, critique it honestly and fairly, and ask yourself, “how can I improve this?” In my experience, that’s one of the best ways of learning to write well. Don’t worry about making it acceptable to me, the publisher of The Chamber. Worry about whether it expresses your ideas in the best possible way. Do the words accurately reflect your ideas? Can a complete stranger read your work and have a moment of revelation or a sense of having experienced something memorable? Does it make an intellectual and emotional connection with the reader? Will people discuss it with their friends? If you can answer yes to these questions, then your work will be acceptable in many, many places.

Also, read good literature to develop a feel for what good literature is. For me, knowing what good literature is, is also like the Tao, one can only sense it; verbal descriptions are inadequate.

Other than that, the main things I look for in dark fiction and poetry are excellent, concise, well-crafted, technically proficient, powerful writing and originality. Neither I nor the readers of The Chamber want rehashing of time-worn plots and stereotypical, two-dimensional characters.

And as you will always hear from all other publishers, before submitting read a few issues and read the guidelines. Adhering to the guidelines will make it easier for the publisher to accept your work.

New stories and poems are published in The Chamber on the first Friday of each month at 10:00 a.m. U.S. central time, which is 4:00 p.m. British Standard Time and 1:00 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time. Other material is published sporadically. Any work published in The Chamber is simultaneously published on The Chamber’s Facebook page, Twitter account, Tumblr blog, and on the publisher’s LinkedIn account.

Please like and comment as often as possible and share the stories and poems published on as many social media as you can. Our authors’ and poets’ only pay is publication, exposure, and whatever constructive criticism and compliments you provide.

On another topic, why do I call it “The Chamber”? The words “The Chamber” invokes images of a alchemist’s or sorcerer’s chamber deep within the bowels of a castle or of a wizard’s study where ancient manuscripts containing arcane knowledge of the Black Arts lie waiting to be used for nefarious purposes.  The perfect place to store, discuss, and develop terrifying philosophies and works of horror and other dark matters.

On a final note, be warned that stories published in The Chamber may contain adult language and situations and may not be suitable for people under the age of 18. And as always these days, be alert for trigger words and phrases that may crop up unexpectedly. This is not a magazine for children.

Thank you for your time and have a wonderful rest of your day.

“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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The Chamber Magazine: Contemporary Dark Fiction and Poetry

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The Chamber Magazine: Contemporary Dark Fiction and Poetry

WordPress apparently had some issues with some of the updates I have recently made (even though they are part of the WordPress system). As a result, some glitches arose that I have been ironing out. However, one glitch was that the number of followers noted under the subscribe block in the sidebar suddenly dropped from 1,022 to 322. If you following (or subscribing), please check your status. You might have to re-follow/subscribe.

Please Check that You are Still Following The Chamber

The Chamber Magazine: Contemporary Dark Fiction and Poetry

WordPress apparently had some issues with some of the updates I have recently made (even though they are part of the WordPress system). As a result, some glitches arose that I have been ironing out. However, one glitch was that the number of followers noted under the subscribe block in the sidebar suddenly dropped from 1,022 to 322. If you following (or subscribing), please check your status. You might have to re-follow/subscribe.

Please Check that You are Still Following The Chamber

The Chamber Magazine: Contemporary Dark Fiction and Poetry

WordPress apparently had some issues with some of the updates I have recently made (even though they are part of the WordPress system). As a result, some glitches arose that I have been ironing out. However, one glitch was that the number of followers noted under the subscribe block in the sidebar suddenly dropped from 1,022 to 322. If you following (or subscribing), please check your status. You might have to re-follow/subscribe.

“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

Publisher

“Dramatic Short Story” A Film by Aleksandar Tomov

This is a touching, dramatic, and dark work that is well worth anyone’s time.


Alexandar Tomov Jr. is a Bulgarian freelance writer and film director who wants to expand his presence abroad. He is seeking film agents, directors, and people from the film industry from the West to evaluate his art, help with publicity, and distribute his movies abroad. He makes surreal and mystical cinema, expressing his ideas through symbolism. His films delve deep into the human subconscious, exploring hidden desires and feelings, solutions, and the strange ways by which they guide life. He also examines these themes in his short stories. He would also like to expand into advertising. He has unique and outstanding ideas on how to utilize promotion to result in increasing sales.


Appearing in The Chamber October 1

Cover 10012021

New issues appear Fridays at 10:00 a.m. CDT/ 4:00 p.m. BST/ 8:30 p.m. IST/ 1:00 a.m. AEST (Saturdays).

“Incense and White Wine” Dark Poetry by Joseph A. Farina

Joseph A Farina is a retired lawyer and award winning poet, in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. His  poems have appeared in Philadelphia Poets, Tower Poetry, The Windsor Review, and Tamaracks: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century. He has two books of poetry published ,The Cancer Chronicles and The Ghosts of Water Street.

Interview with Author John Ryland

John Ryland has published work in Eldritch Journal, Otherwise Engaged, The Writer’s Magazine, Birmingham Arts Journal, Subterranean Blue, and others. His collection Southern Gothic and novel Souls Harbor are currently available on all major markets. His upcoming novel The Man with No Eyes, will be published by Moonshine Cove Press in March 2022.

“Fair Trade” Dark Fantasy by Ella Gale

Ella Gale is a writer and comedian in Los Angeles who has published mostly humor in places like McSweeney’s and the Hard Times.

“Corn-Fed Baby and Gravy” Horror by Chris Riley

Chris Riley lives near Sacramento, California, vowing one day to move back to the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, he teaches special education, writes cool stories, and hides from the blasting heat for six months of the year. He has had over 100 short stories published in various magazines and anthologies, and across various genres. His debut novel, one of literary suspense, titled The Sinking of the Angie Piper, was published in 2017; and his debut short story collection is forthcoming, with Mount Abraxas Press. For more information, go to www.chrisrileyauthor.com.  

“Little Black Dress” A Grimdark Thriller by Mick Benderoth

Mick Benderoth was a Hollywood screenwriter now back home in New York City writing fiction prose.

“Little Darling” Dark Supernatural Fiction by James Hanna

James Hanna is a retired probation officer and a former fiction editor. Due to his background, the criminal element figures strongly in much of his writing. James’ stories have appeared in over thirty journals, including Sixfold, Crack the Spine, and The Literary Review. His books, all of which have won awards, are available on Amazon

Next Issue: October 8

Appearing in The Chamber September 24

New issues appear Fridays at 10:00 a.m. CDT/ 4:00 p.m. BST/ 8:30 p.m. IST/ 1:00 a.m. AEST (Saturdays).

“Laci Peterson Addresses Her Son Conner in the Courtroom” Dark Poetry by Paul David Adkins

Paul David Adkins lives in Northern NY. He served in the US Army from 1991-2013. Recently, he earned a MA in Writing and The Oral Tradition from The Graduate Institute, Bethany, CT. He spends his days either counseling soldiers or teaching college students in a NY state correctional facility.

“Robert, Howard, and The Devil” Dark Supernatural Horror by Thomas White

Thomas White has a triple identity: speculative fiction writer, poet, and essayist. His poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print literary journals and magazines in Australia, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He is also a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author who has contributed essays to various nonliterary journals on topics ranging from atheism, the meaning of Evil, Elon Musk, Plato, The Matrix, and reality as a computer simulation. In addition, he has presented three of his essays to the West Chester University Poetry Conference (West Chester, Pennsylvania), as well as read his poetry on Australian radio.

“I Dream of Hitler” Dark Psychological Fiction by Paul Negri

Paul Negri is the former president and publisher of Dover Publications, Inc. He has edited several anthologies of poetry and fiction published by that firm. His stories have appeared in The Penn Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Cabinet of Heed, Ligeia Magazine, and more than 50 other publications. He lives in Clifton, New Jersey.

Interview with Author and Filmmaker Julian Grant

Julian Grant is a filmmaker, educator, and author of strange short stories, outlaw poetry, full-length novels/ non-fiction texts and outsider comix. A tenured Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago, his work has been published by Dark Fire UK, Quail Bell, Avalon Literary Review, Crepe & Penn, Alternative History Magazine, The Chamber Magazine, Clever Magazine, Peeking Cat Literary Journal, Danse Macabre, Fiction on the Web, CafeLit, Horla, Bond Street Review, Free Bundle, Filth Magazine, Horror Sleaze Trash & The Adelaide Literary Magazine.  Find out more about him at juliangrant.com

“A Short Dramatic Story” A Dark Film by Aleksandar Tomov

Film director and writer. Post – apocalyptic, alternative, speculative fiction and fantasy writer.

Two Dark Poems by Edilson Ferreira

Mr. Ferreira, 77 years, is a Brazilian poet who writes in English rather than in Portuguese. Widely published in selected international literary journals, he began writing at age 67, after his retirement as a bank employee. Nominated for The Pushcart Prize 2017, his first Poetry Collection, Lonely Sailor, One Hundred Poems, was launched in London, in November of 2018. He is always updating his works at www.edilsonmeloferreira.com

Next Issue: October 1

Appearing in The Chamber September 17

New issues appear Fridays at 10:00 a.m. CDT/ 4:00 p.m. BST/ 8:30 p.m. IST/ 1:00 a.m. AEST (Saturdays).

Three Dark Poems by Kate Garrett

Kate Garrett lives in England and has a significant folklore, history, and horror obsession. Her writing is widely published – most recently in The Spectre Review, Green Ink Poetry, and Feral – and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize. Find her at www.kategarrettwrites.co.uk or on Instagram @thefolklorefaery

“Who Are You Talking To?” Psychological Horror by Harold Hoss

Harold Hoss is a former entertainment attorney who enjoys reading horror, watching horror, and writing horror – always with a cup of coffee in his hands. When he isn’t reading, watching, or writing he can be found running with his dog Margot. 

“The Devil Prefers Darjeeling” Gothic Fiction by T.L. Bleeding

T.L. Beeding is a single mother from Kansas City. She is co-editor of Crow’s Feet Journal and Paramour Ink, and is a featured author for Black Ink Fiction. When she is not writing, T.L. works at a busy orthopedic hospital, mending broken bones. She can be found on Twitter at @tlbeeding.

“The Power of You” Dark, Supernatural Fiction by Rayfox East

Rayfox East was born in Bangor, Wales, and lives in London, trading a sea breeze for city smog. He is not as well-travelled as his stories, which have been published in four continents, but plans to catch up before the next pandemic hits. He works as a website manager for a UK charity.

“Robot Shell” Cyberpunk Horror by Jeff Bagato

A multi-media artist living near Washington, DC, Jeff Bagato produces poetry and prose as well as electronic music and glitch video. His published books include Cthulhu Limericks (poetry), The Toothpick Fairy (fiction), and Computing Angels (fiction). A blog about his writing and publishing efforts can be found at http://jeffbagato.wordpress.com.

“Do Not Resuscitate” Dark Fiction by Hayden Sidun

Hayden Sidun is a high school student whose short fiction has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Literary Yard, Button Eye Review, The Chamber Magazine, and Potato Soup Journal. Outside of school and work, he is involved in local politics and often finds himself surfing the Internet in the middle of the night. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, of which he is a proud native.

Interview with Author Mehreen Ahmed

Mehreen Ahmed is widely published and critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine, The Wild Atlantic Book Club to name a few. Her short stories are a winner in The Waterloo Short Story Competition, Shortlisted in Cogito Literary Journal Contest, a Finalist in the Fourth Adelaide Literary Award Contest, winner in The Cabinet of Heed stream-of-consciousness challenge. Her works are three-time nominated for The Best of the Net Awards, nominated for the Pushcart Prize Award. Her book is an announced Drunken Druid’s Editor’s Choice.

Next Issue: September 24

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

Poll: Changing The Chamber’s Logo

I am considering changing The Chamber’s logo from this one, whom I call Orly (picked by a random name generator) for ease of reference:

Orly

to this one, which I am calling Damnatia until I come up with something better:

Damnatia

Though I have always liked Orly for her stare, mysterious look, simple composition, and the unusual element of her hand as she leans against an unseen wall (which I cropped out). I can imagine that many viewers are perplexed by the hand and may not be able to see all the details that are obscured by the dark composition. Another reason is that I am acquiring business cards for The Chamber and to have Orly on them might confuse people, not having seen me, might think she is me or my daughter or wife or mistress or something. Whereas, it is fairly obvious that Damnatia is not an actual person (at least in this dimension). So, if I retain Orly for the face of The Chamber, I will use one of my own photos on the business cards.

Therefore, I am thinking of replacing Orly with Damnatia (though this image will be cropped a little), all of whose details can be seen and which has a more horrifying appearance, though the image itself is beautiful.

The final logo will appear on all Chamber publications and announcements

However, before I switch them, I want to hear what you, my readers, have to say. Let me know your thoughts. I am also taking this opportunity to experiment with the polling feature of WordPress. If you would like to share your thoughts or suggest someone else, use the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the page.

I prefer to use the image of a person looking at the viewer as I feel it is more attention-gabbing than the standard logo design consisting of inanimate objects or letters. I think that a person’s face is also more memorable than the image of an object as (so I have heard) the human brain has evolved to notice and remember faces and also to capture their details. Besides, which would you prefer to view, some letters and designs as in the Amazon or Nike logos, or a person’s face?

If you think the picture of another figure on this site would be more suitable, please let me know which one.

Werewolf in Action (theoretically)

I came across this video while surfing Twitter today. Dare to say this is the closest you will ever come to seeing an actual werewolf in action. Now you can understand why the people of the 16th-17th centuries were terrified of the thought of werewolves.

Interview with Author Niles Reddick

Niles Reddick
Niles Reddick at Parnassus

Biography

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