Desk Jockeys Rule the World!
Alternative History SCience Fiction Fantasy, 175 pages, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, August 7, 2015
The earthquake turned out to be an atomic blast.
Just a dirty little bomb, according to ConGlom’s official advertisement released later that day.
In the ad, company spokesperson and mascot, Robbie the Fun-Loving RoboRover, informed the Earth-Luna audience that the bomb was a remnant from the Takeover Skirmishes. It had been accidently triggered when a member of a ConGlom Marketing Team out doing customer satisfaction surveys in the area discovered the unexploded warhead. Mistaking it for an antique coffee maker, the worker had plugged it in to see if it still worked. “And,” Robbie said, raising his furry paws to either side of his face, “Boom!” Robbie apologized for any inconvenience the explosion might have placed upon consumers in the market. With a fuzzy frown on his brow, he finished the commercial by saying the worker responsible was no longer an employee of ConGlom.
Hightower pounded his fists upon his desk and shouted, “That bastard! He thinks he can scare me off with this . . . this old marketing gimmick?”
Andy, resting in the same chair as he had at that morning’s meeting, said, “I don’t get it. How could Robbie say there were locals in the area?”
Sitting next to Andy, Val said, “Our cover must have been blown, sir.”
“Of course it was blown! This nincompoop,” Hightower shot a thumb toward Andy, “at an exclusive spa. With you? I should have gone.”
“Too dangerous, Mister Hightower. If he knew you were there, he may have decided to detonate the bomb while we were still in the limo.”
Andy gulped. They’d driven over the exact spot as the accident? He didn’t think even executive-grade hoverlimos had enough armor to withstand an atomic blast. He gulped again.
Hightower’s face blanched. “I don’t know. Would Bubba really do that? To me?”
“Who’s Bubba?” Andy asked. “I thought Robbie said it was an accident?”
Val glanced at Andy before she turned back to Hightower. “Bhudev Bharadwaj has long desired this market, sir. Perhaps he’s grown impatient in his, ah, ripe old age?”
Bhudev Bharadwaj? ConGlom’s CEO? Why would Mister Bharadwaj want to kill Andy?
“It doesn’t smell right,” Hightower said. “Bubba’s just trying to rattle me. Seeing if I’ll slip. He might be on to us, but he doesn’t know everything.”
“You may be right, Mister Hightower.”
“Of course, I’m right. I’m always right. You don’t get to my position without having a seventh sense about these things.”
“In any case,” Val said. “we’ll have to move up the schedule. I’ll call the Alliance at once.”
“Speaking of those Abos, what in Jupiter’s name does Connors thinks he’s pulling with this contract?” Hightower picked up a stack of paper-clipped papers. “R&D will spend months—not to mention millions of my credit—to figure out this gobbledygook.”
It took Andy a moment to recall that Connors was White Cloud Connors, President of Diné-Pueblo Alliance. “It’s their native language, sir.”
Hightower glared at Andy. “I don’t care if it’s Ancient Sumerian. What were you thinking, Jones? I sent you there as a goodwill gesture. See? We at PPI have Abos in our ranks too. See? We don’t discriminate. Pluto’s piss, Jones! I didn’t send you along as our godsdamned representative.”
Val interrupted the tirade. “Mister Begay stated that only Andy could sign since he’s now legally one of their tribe.”
“We’ll, isn’t that just dandy?” A red-faced Hightower glanced at Val before returning his ire back upon Andy. “Well, Aboman. What’s it say? Huh?” He thrust the contract across the desktop, sending the loose pages tumbling off the desk edge.
Andy managed to snatch a few pages. He scanned the unreadable fine print. “I . . . I don’t know.”
“You don’t know.”
“He said their code talkers. . . .”
“What’s that, Jones? Speak up! PPI executives don’t mumble.”
“Isn’t that your henpeck there?” Hightower pointed at the contract in Andy’s hands. “Only PPI executives’ signatures are legally binding.” He threw up his hands. “Gods! We can’t back out now. We need that repository. Miss Kasperskaya?”
Val tapped her temple. “I just got off with Begay. He’s says things are progressing smoothly. They already have the last twenty cycles’ backups in hard storage. The printers we sent are working non-stop. If ConGlom decides to strike in earnest tomorrow, we’ll still come out ahead. In the long run.”
The color diminished from Hightower’s cheeks, but he still glared at Andy as if he was deciding whether to eat Andy for a late-night snack. “Damn it, Jones! If Bubba finds out a piss-ant like you signed for PPI, he’ll laugh his saggy ass off.”
“Then make sure he doesn’t,” Val said.
“Do like you said, Mister Hightower.” Val glanced at Andy and grinned. “Promote him. Make Mister Jones here a PPI executive.”
Three Brothers: The Firewater Saga Edda One
Young adult fantasy series, 245 pages, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, April 9, 2015.
The suitcase was heavier than it looked.
Ryan thought the small case would be easy to drag out from beneath the bed, but after he grabbed it by the handle and gave it a light tug, he realized his mistake. It felt as if there were rocks inside. Big rocks. Rocks too big to even fit inside such a tiny case. He gave the bag another tug, harder this time, and it toppled over onto his head with a thud.
“Oomph!” Easing out from under it, he tugged again, giving himself extra room in case the suitcase had any other tricks in store. It only budged two inches. He glared over his shoulder and spied two pair of feet. Emily’s were the bare ones. The troll’s were the ones in the pointy leather boots. “What’cha got in here anyway, rocks?”
“One or two,” the troll answered. “Maybe a few more. Among other things. Odds and ends. Things I’ve picked up along the way.”
Ryan gave another tug and the suitcase moved an additional two inches.
“Please be careful,” the troll said. “I would not want anything to happen to my treasures.”
“Be careful,” Ryan muttered. The next time he pulled, the handle ripped off of the suitcase. His elbow slammed into the bed frame. He yelped in pain. When Emily giggled, he told her to be quiet, although not in such a nice way.
“Oh dear,” the troll said. “Are you all right, young man? Is everything okay? I do hope this is no problem.”
“The handle’s busted,” Ryan yelled. “I’m gonna have to crawl behind it and use my feet to push it out.”
“Splendid. Splendid. Whatever works, I always say.”
Ryan wormed his way around the suitcase, keeping his head low so his hair wouldn’t get caught in any of the bedsprings. But as he got closer to the back wall, and nearer to the hole the troll—Adam—had come through, Ryan’s curiosity got the better of him. When he raised his head to get a better look at the hole, a few strands of hair snagged in a coil.
Adam mumbled a question and then Emily said something about rabid dust bunnies, but Ryan couldn’t clearly make out their words. The two sounded distant, as if Emily and Adam were farther away than they really were. Ryan, on the other hand, was a lot closer to the opening. It gaped before him, a hole where wall and baseboard should be, shimmering the way the sky does on a very cold night. A draft of cool air brushed his face. He shivered. The air smelled of outdoors, of autumn, of the October night it was: a mixture of burnt leaves, frost-covered lawns, and something else . . . a strange tinge, an aroma he couldn’t pinpoint. The fragrance tugged at him like a long-forgotten memory or a dream interrupted.
Pearls of Sunlight: haiku & senryu
Collection of haiku and senryu, 90 pages, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, December 3, 2014.
Reviews: Pearls of Sunlight is a fun book of crystalline vignettes and ideas put into haiku. The author Pat Steiner has an interesting way of looking at life and an incredible range and detail. I had the book in three days upon ordering it from Amazon. The book itself is beautifully crafted and a pleasure to read. The writer is an artist. This was an easy five stars! Buy it! I Liketh Reading
Encroach upon the window
Frame a wintry scene
To fall from such heights
So slow and graceful and pure
Cleanse this world in white
The laughter of crows
Mocks the frigid winter morn
Hah! You call this cold?
Short story (3000 words), horror/science fiction, Qualia Nous, Written Backwards, September 1, 2014, Michael Bailey, editor.
(snipped) When I last left off with Pat R. Steiner, he had me disturbed, saddened and horrified. In other words, I had read his “The Shoe Tree” in CHIRAL MAD. The same qualities popped up in his “Kilroy Wasn’t There” but were encased in a very different style, showing off his versatility. C. Vale
Surprising and unique….such creative authours! Larrainne Kemper
Kilroy was here.
What do you think? You like it?
I had to use that slop you call food for pigment. I was gonna use blood, but I thought you might take that as another sign of self-mutilation so I went with the green-glop. I guess I could have used my shit too, but I’m not a feces-smearing monkey, no matter what Darwin may have declared so very long ago.
[Breathing. More humming sounds.]
A bit phallic, don’t you think? The big nose and all.
But it’s not that bad if I do say so myself.
I was always lousy at art, you know. Couldn’t tell my birds from my bees. But take my word for it–this is classic human. For the ages and all that.
Yeah. This is real nice.
Not as nice as that big logo on your chest though, is it my favorite tin-man?
You got lucky, you know? When you caught me.
I bet Poppa Unit doesn’t believe in luck, though does he?
Does not compute.
But it was. Luck. Bad luck for me.
You’d think after all that time. All the terrible shit I’d seen. Living moment to moment in fear. Surviving moment to moment. You’d think I’d know better.
I should have let her die out there. Didn’t. Couldn’t.
Now, if you had been me, Chappy. . . .
But you’re not, are you?
Should have realized it was a trap.
Deep down I think I knew it was.
I saw the fearful symmetry, but couldn’t stop myself. Knew I couldn’t save her. Just another corpse waiting to die. Had to try though.
Just you wait and see, Chappy. I evaded your brothers for months before you captured me. And I’ll find a way to escape from you too. Just you wait and see if I don’t.
wyrd: a novella
Novella (75 pages), young adult/paranormal/urban fantasy, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, August 26, 2014.
The moment the words leave my lips, I know it’s a mistake. “She’s different, not weird.”
Wexler looks at me sideways and cracks up. “Oh, she’s different all right. Who else you know has blue hair?”
I almost blurt out the hair in question isn’t any ordinary shade of blue but more of a lapis lazuli when Wexler answers his own question.
“I mean besides Old Lady Johnson with her cotton-candy buffoon.”
We jog side-by-side, Wexler and me, our gym sneakers slapping the track surface in tandem. The topic of our conversation runs ahead of us moving into the final turn. Fay Somethingorother—a Greek sounding name I’ve yet to hear properly. Spiky, blue-haired Fay. The new girl at school. The person with whom I’m madly in love.
“That’s bouffant,” I say. “You’re the buffoon.”
For the millionth time in my seventeen long years, I wonder how Matt Wexler has ever become my friend, let alone my best friend.
“Well, lah-dee-dah, Mister Smarty Pants,” he says. “Don’t you know everything.”
I know enough to keep my mouth shut. If Wexler finds out about my secret crush, I’ll never hear the end of it. I’ve probably already said too much.
He says, “I heard her mom got killed in a motorcycle accident. That she was decapitated.” He nudges me in the side with an elbow. “That means her head was chopped off.”
I grunt, but otherwise let him finish. I’ve heard the story too.
“Her dad was the driver. I guess they were coming home late from a play or something. City-folk stuff. Most likely call it thee-aat-ter.”
I’ve never known anyone who can out-talk Wexler when he gets going.
“Real stick up the butt, you know. And by-the-way, whoever heard of city folks riding Harleys? Midlife crisis, no doubt. So anyways, all-of-a-sudden this truck crosses over the centerline and plows into them. The bike and driver get a minor crunch job but the rider attains flight status. She makes like birdie until a metal detour sign gives her an instant tracheotomy.”
Two magenta flowers have bloomed upon Wexler’s cheeks. They look like roses. I don’t mention this to him—he isn’t very secure with his masculinity. I say, “Real nice.”
“But that’s not all, buddy boy. This is the best part.”
We round the last turn. The rest of the gym class is already gathered around Ms. Carmichael. Their Moraine High shorts and t-shirts form a gray sea awash with red—blood red. Among the waves, I search for and spot a splash of lapis lazuli.
“You see, Paulie Boy,” Wexler says still calling me by the nickname he gave me when we were both seven. “When the cops showed, they found Weirdo’s dad clutching his dead wife’s body.”
I haven’t heard this detail. “So?”
“So, he’s found the head and put it back atop the body.” He pauses as this image comes to life in my mind and then adds, “As if.”
We reach the group and stop. Ms. Carmichael frowns and says, “Glad you gentlemen decided to join us.”
A few snickers float up into the humid June air.
I shrug and join the others sitting cross-legged on the warm track.
Wexler though, he being Wexler and all, he hunches forward and scratches under his armpits, then shuffle-hops over to Bambie Sorenson and begins to comb through her long blonde hair as if he’s finding fleas or cooties or something. He even pretends to eat them, all the while ooh-oohing and aahing like the primitive ape he is.
Bambie’s not happy. She screams and punches at him until Ms. Carmichael says, “That’s enough, Matthew.”
Grinning ear to ear, he plops down next to me.
Everyone is staring, even Fay. She catches my eye and I shrug.
Real cool. The King of Shrugs.
Fay turns around, and I stare at the back of her head while Ms. Carmichael launches into the rules of tag football. The sunlight makes Fay’s ears translucent. I can see the blood coursing within.
I’m thinking about how bad I would feel if my mother was killed in such a terrible accident when Wexler leans over and whispers, “Who’s the buffoon now?”
Baboon, I think. You mean, baboon.
Novelette (10,000 words), weird/dark fantasy, Black Apples: 18 New Fairy Tales, Belladonna Publishing, April 2014, Camilla Bruce and Liv Lingborn, editors.
Carolyn Rosenbaum came across Bunny’s Lucky Slipper while on her lunch break. The anonymously written book looked smaller than she remembered. Resting easily in her palm, its cloth board cover pulled away from the stitched pages. Half the cover’s spine was missing. She rubbed her fingers against the scratchy hardened glue that bound the pages together and the few loose tickly-threads sticking out then brought the book up to her nose and sniffed.
She had to have it, damaged or not.
Without a thought, she slipped Bunny into her coat pocket. Retracing her steps down the thriftstore’s dim aisle, she approached the elderly man behind the counter, nodded her head as he smiled at her and walked out the door while an old-fashioned bell rang above her head.
She wouldn’t think of the book again until later that evening.
Short story (8000 words), horror/dark fantasy, Eric Flint’s Grantville Gazette, volume 53, May 2014, Paula Goodlette and Sam Hidaka, editors.
“Tabitha Lynn,” Mama called from the kitchen. “Go and wake your Gammy McHenry. Dinner’s ’bout ready.”
One door down, in the bathroom, I tried on another smile for the mirror—my hand holding my chin in a contemplative pose. But my reflection couldn’t hide the crooked teeth or the giant zit that poked up from behind my fingers like Mount Vesuvius. My freshman photo in St. Pius X’s annual yearbook was going to be a total train-wreck shot.
“I know you hear me, birthday girl,” Mama shouted. “Hurry up now, or no cake for you later.”
Laughter danced in Mama’s voice.
“Yes, Mama,” I yelled back before I looked a final time to the mirror. Yep, a definite train wreck of catastrophic proportions. There was no way any boy would ask me to the Homecoming Dance. Unless, I thought, he was blind. Then I took in the zit again and changed my mind about that theory. Blind boy feels that whopper, he’s gonna think you got two noses, Tabby.
Somehow, I thought when I woke that morning—my fourteenth birthday—I’d be different, changed . . . for the better. But no, it was still the same me staring back at me.
Read the rest at Grantville Gazette.
Flash story (1000 words), mainstream/humor, Every Day Fiction, April 2014.
The apartment wall vibrated with Vanessa’s pent-up anger.
“I know you’re here, you little snot.”
She turned and locked the door’s deadbolt, letting her school backpack slip from her shoulders to the carpet. It landed with a thud, her first day’s homework forgotten inside. From far down the shadowed hallway came the muffled sounds of Great Auntie’s TV. Vanessa glanced into the much closer kitchenette, and heard her empty stomach grumble. She would take care of her hunger later, for now she had other matters to deal with.
“Come on out, Dearest Bro-bro. Darling Percy. I got something for you.”
She lied. She hadn’t yet settled on her gift for her four-year-old kid brother’s latest outrage. But he wouldn’t know that.
She’d known he’d been up to something that morning, just knew it — his booger-eating grin should’ve been a dead giveaway — but she’d been late for the bus and had snatched the paper bag off the table and jammed it into her backpack without a second glance. She hadn’t noticed the glistening green finger streak marks that he’d used to autograph the bag until lunch hour.
Read the rest at Every Day Fiction.
Enlarge Your Tentacles Overnight!
Short Novel (250 pages), dark fantasy/horror, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, February 2014.
The intricate characters weren’t in any alphabet he recognized. Yet the longer he stared at them—his gaze jumping from one figure to the next—the more sense they seemed to make, as if the undulating runes? pictograms? tutored him, whispering their eldritch meaning directly to his brain. In point of fact, the squigglings brought to mind the creatures from the paperback, the twin monsters with their stretching tentacles, reaching, not for the unknown, but for—
An icy finger caressed the back of his neck, and August yelped. He spun about as he did, positive someone had sneaked into the bathroom with him.
One of them.
Heart fluttering madly inside his chest, he scanned the cramped space, but even with the billowing mist, he saw he was alone. Although the running water sounded louder.
Like distant waves.
“Get a grip on yourself,” he said.
Another cold embrace touched him—this time a nibble to an earlobe. Not letting himself get spooked, he cocked his head upward. Condensation had formed on the bathroom ceiling vent. The imagined finger (tentacle) had been a drop of cold water.
“Ha! Nothing to be scared about.”
When he looked down, he saw he still held the paper. Grown heavy with water vapor, it now sagged in his grip. It looked ready to tear apart at the slightest movement. And the dark characters? They had bled into the fiber turning the paper a mottled grey. Any secret message they might have held was lost.
The Shoe Tree (reprint)
Short story (5000 words), psychological horror, Chiral Mad: an Anthology of Psychological Horror, Written Backwards, October 11th, 2012, Michael Bailey, editor.
Reviews: (snipped) there is a quartet of superb tales which really stand out: “Some Pictures in an Album” by Gary Mc Mahon is a superb story based on a bunch of odd, disturbing photographs collected in an old family album; “Not the Child” by Julie Stipes is a marvelous piece where a pregnant woman fights to save her unborn child from a deadly fairy; “Amid the Walking Wounded” by Jack Ketchum is an enticing tale where a medical emergency brings about more unsettling events; and “The Shoe Tree” by Pat R Steiner is a very dark, sinister story, blending crime and horror, about missing little girls in a small town community. Mario Guslandi for SFRevu
Anthologies are a mixed bag. When they are good, they can open you up to so many fantastic authors both familiar and new. When they are bad, they are awful. Chiral Mad is a success story in the anthology department! There are so many great authors here, both established and up and coming. This is horror the way I like it… violence only when necessary. Fear builds from inside the mind, not from gut-ripping gore. This is a collection you must read with the lights on! A few of my favorites:
Gord Rollo: Lost in a Field of Paper Flowers
Chris Hertz: There are Embers
Gary Braunbeck: Need
Patrick O’Neill: Alderway
P. Gardner Goldsmith: Sigil
Jon Michael Kelley: The Persistence of Vision
Pat R. Steiner: The Shoe Tree Book Lover
Novelette (8400 words), dark fantasy–a different type of vampire story: one that takes place in Australia’s inner desert), Cover of Darkness, Sam’s Dot Publishing, January 2012, Tyree Campbell, Editor.
PAUL SENSED THE DESERT sunrise in his bones. A stirring in the marrow, the feeling started at his numb feet and worked its way upward. Teeth all a-chatter, he stamped his boots against the hard-packed sands and wrapped his arms about his chest.
He’d never felt so cold in his life.
A gust of warm air tousled his hair. The sudden heat after the long night made his eyes tear. Soon, he knew, the eastern sky would brighten, and then . . . the sun.
It wouldn’t be long now.
He avoided looking at the dark form bound near his feet. Instead, he took in again the night sky, the Southern Cross . . . the Pointers. The twin stars glared at him, accused him of breaking the scared laws of the Dreaming.
Near to his feet came a low moan, a cough, followed by a hair-raising predator’s snarl. Stepping backward, he looked down, not wanting to, but unable to stop himself. In the darkness, he heard–more than saw–the prone form thrash against the rope.
He could still leave. Walk away and forget the last few days existed. He glanced over his shoulder. At the horizon, a black serpentine body touched the Milky Way. Very soon now, the sun would set the ancient stone’s top-most sands ablaze.
Sun. Red sand. Blood.
She’d tempted him all night. Tried to work her magic. Her charms. When he resisted, refused to free her, she turned to curses, cajoling him, telling him she never loved him, had manipulated him and used him. He was a fool just like every other man. When she freed herself, she would destroy him. Later on, she hurt herself (if that was possible) slamming her body against rock and sand. Eventually, she sobbed, pleaded with him, begged. How could he do this? Didn’t she mean anything to him? Then she’d grown still.
The silence had been worse.
As if reading his mind, her frantic movements stopped. “Please, Paul.” Her voice sounded dry, brittle, as if she already felt the sun’s searing touch. “You don’t have to do this.”
Novella (106 pages), historical folklore/rural fantasy, (railroad/lumbermen) MuseItUp Publishing, published November 18, 2011, Nancy Bell, editor, Greta Gunselman, line editor, Delilah K. Stephans, cover artist.
PA WAS A GOD FEARING MAN; rest his soul, although I never did see him enter church excepting for Easter Sunday service and on Christmas morn. He said people had their gods since there were people. In his opinion, this was well and good for them, but personally, he didn’t need no minister telling him how he ought to live. He knew right from wrong, and he believed with a rigid certainty it would be outright foolish for him to lay his immortal soul into the hands of a man who had never done an honest day’s work with those very same hands. He’d seen too much in his life to bet the farm, so-to-speak, on any one faith or denomination. “Kristoffer,” he’d say to me, “there’s just too much mystery in this world for any one religion to cover.” I agree.
He was a large man, my pa, literally, a giant among men. He was so tall and so broad in the shoulders when he entered a room he needed to duck his head and turn sideways just to keep from crack’n his egg or getting his self stuck between the doorjambs. Bred from strong stock he liked to say—a mixture of Scandinavian and Irish blood. He possessed many of the features you see on those who claim Viking heritage: the blond hair, the chiseled chin and sharp cheekbones, and those icy blue eyes. That’s what I remember most. Even after the illness stole away everything else, his eyes still shone—the bluest of blue skies on a frozen January day.
But you don’t want to hear about death. It is Christmastime, you say. The birth of the Savior, Christós, the Anointed One, and Santa Claus, that jolly old elf, Kris Kringle, bringing all them presents for the little tikes, eh? Merry Christmas and God bless us every one. Well, this is the story of a different Kris, although he pronounced it more like Kree-st, as in the frown lines you see between a woman’s eyebrows when you dunn live up to her expectations. This Kris was my pa, the man I’m named after. And though I’m no savior, except’n to those want’n a drink and a friendly ear, I suppose you could say I’m the baby Christ in the story because I show up near the end. Now if’n my birth was miraculous or not, I’ll leave that up for you to decide. Let me warn you ahead of time, too, there will be deaths in this here tale, because like it as not, as Pa used to tell me, “It’s not all of life to live.”
First though, you gotta hear how Pa met his best friend in life, Red Kearney.
Sometimes I wonder why Pa never named this here place The Red Fox instead of The White Hart, but you’ll see—everything fits together in the end. Not all neat and tidy and crystal clear like you read in them books and see on them movies and on the TV and such, but kinda messy instead, and not more than a little bit cloudy. But heck, that’s life fer ya, too, ain’t it?
Reviews: Extraordinary! A master writer. Rarely do I complete a book in one day, but this one had me hooked long into the night until the last page. Bravo! unicorngirl
Novelette (15,000 words), dark fantasy (character driven zombie apocalypse tale), one of four stories in the anthology Four in the Hole, May December Publications, Cover art by Shaun Conn http://atomicdeadguy.com/portfolio/, published September 2011, T.W. Brown, editor.
“Road Kill Counting Book” is the trophy story in this book, in my opinion. I will keep this book in my collection on the merits of this story. Gregory Hadley
I enjoyed the colourful characterization and Steiner’s descriptive style (the zombie scenes were gruesomely gory) Chantal Boudreau
TOMMY MCGUIRE UNCLASPED a sweat-stuck hand from the truck’s steering wheel and used it to rub his temple. Blue and white lightning flashed across the windshield threatening to shatter the glass. Just beyond the hood, the twisting county road disappeared, in its place a white field of pain. The pickup swerved.
The hand leapt back to its former position at ten-o’clock and the endless blacktop reappeared. Tommy, feeling as if he’d been caught jerking off and not massaging the walnut-sized canker of twisted nerves, which had been slowly eroding the left side of his skull for the past…God knew how long it’d been, glanced sideways at Gail and murmured, “Yeah?”
“You okay?” She’d been asleep. Her ripe pregnant form leaned against the passenger door. A motel pillow rested between her head and the window glass.
“Right as rain.”
“You want me to drive?”
“Naw, I’m good for awhile yet. Go back to sleep.”
No, he wasn’t. Sure. About anything. The world had basically ended overnight. As his kid brother Cody used to say, all bets were off. Used to. Cody—always the hero—one of those in the first wave to volunteer. Cody, whose hunting cabin Tommy and his passenger now headed toward unsure of what the next day might bring.
He glanced again at Gail. A stranger, really. Another survivor trying to escape the inevitable. He’d picked her up two days earlier. She and her father had been hitchhiking along the interstate. Two days ago—back when the four-lanes were still safe to drive.
She’d fallen back to sleep, her face aglow in the afternoon sunlight.
“Yeah,” he muttered. “I’m sure.
Short story (5000 words), horror, Potter’s Field #4, Sam’s Dot Publishing, published August 2011, Greg Miller & Katie Hartlove, editors.
TWO DARK HOODED FIGURES STOOD straddling bicycles under what Darren realized was the shoe tree.
The bad news on the television and Connie’s concern about him leaving her alone had worked its way under his skin. His defenses went up.
The path was dark along this stretch of the park.
“Stay close, pal.”
He chuckled at his lack of originality, but the name sure as hell fit.
Back in May, if Elton had chosen a different tree for shit detail, Darren might not have even noticed the shoes. Most likely, he wouldn’t have; he’d been distracted even before the pup came into his and Connie’s life. Waiting for Elton to finish up, he happened to glance up and saw the pair hanging from one of the branches.
He recognized the brand immediately. A pair of faded and worn-out Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars, their laces tied together, one shoe’s sole split apart from its body.
Closing in on the tree Darren contemplated turning around or veering off through the grass, giving the tree a wide berth, but in the end, he kept to the path. What did he have to fear? From the bikes, these were obviously kids.
Probably a pair of teenagers hanging out.
Summer was winding down. Schools would be opening their doors in a matter of days. These must be summer’s children wringing out every last second of vacation time. Darren remembered the associated feelings well, the empty gnawing ache, wondering where all those precious days had gone.
Get used to it, he thought. It ain’t gonna get any better from here on out.
The Noble Experiment
Short story (5000 words), light fantasy–mobsters, moonshiners and ray guns, ResAliens #5, Cover art: Jungle Statue (c) 2009 Jason Zampol, http://www.zampolart.com/ , published January 2011, Lyn Perry, editor.
“The Noble Experiment” by Pat R. Steiner had me thinking about my own childhood. Although my grandpa’s stories and my explorations of abandoned homes weren’t nearly as exciting. Simply Junebug
This story has a very poetic style of writing with beautiful descriptions. It does a good job of keeping the reader guessing, clear up to the end. It uses an interesting technique of alternating past and present, but it works, nonetheless. Donna Watson
“(snipped) a beautifully written tale of a summertime story shared between Grandson and Grandfather, and even features an appearance by the infamous Al Capone! Angie Lofthouse
I KNOW I’M IN FOR A WHOPPER when Grandpa Avram taps the ashes from his pipe onto the fence rail.
“Sure, I know of that place,” he says as he reaches into his back pocket where he keeps his tobacco pouch. “My best friend in life, Douglas Noble’s family used to live there. But listen to me young Gil.” He pauses to raise an eyebrow. It looks like a fuzzy brown caterpillar crossing his forehead. “I’d stay clear of that place if I was you.”
When he fills the pipe bowl, the rich dark aroma of blended tobacco seeps into the sun-drenched August air where it mingles with the clean tang of cut grass. From the nearby motionless maple heads, cicadas sing. Their song mimics the distant drone of a neighbor’s lawnmower.
I glance back at the gate where I’ve left Blue Thunder lying on his side. His back wheel counts the seconds since I’ve abandoned him. I nibble. “Why not?”
Using a thumb, Grandpa Avram expertly packs the fragrant mixture. Then, taking a match from his breast pocket, he points its red eye at me and says, “You best not let your grandma hear you even know the Noble Place exists.” He shakes his head, the pipe clenched between his teeth. “No, she wouldn’t like that one bit.”
I take a bigger bite. I’m not yet hooked, but I may as well be flopping around in the boat bottom. “For Pete’s sake, Gramps!” I say. “Why not? What happened there? Did somebody get killed?”
A second caterpillar joins the first. “Something worse.”
What is worse than being killed? Kissing a girl? My stomach flutters from disgust and something else. I ask him what’s worse.
“Well,” he says, lighting the match with a thumbnail. “There’s killing and then there’s murder.”