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A Hopeless Mess

Revenge can be the most satisfying dish a man can serve. 

But here in the Gutter our palate likes a little culinary creativity. 

A Hopeless Mess by Zach Wilhide

Mark gripped a lead pipe as he watched the evening security guard saunter out of the back door for a cigarette. Above the door, a small but bright sign proclaimed “Nexus Pharmaceuticals.”  There was a small spark. Mark watched the smoke curl upward past the single light on the top floor. He closed his eyes and tried to control his rage. Nexus were the only ones who held the patent on the cancer drug that would have saved his wife.  It’d been six months since Elizabeth had been lowered into the ground.  Six months of an arrested grief cycle stuck on anger.  Six months of research and planning.

The security guard turned his gaze down the dark alleyway, distracted by some rodents fighting for food.  Mark slipped behind him.  There was a faint thunk as Mark smashed the pipe across the back of the guard’s skull.  The guard slunk to the ground and Mark stripped him of his uniform and sidearm. Aside from the sleeves being a bit too long, the uniform was a good fit; though, he had almost torn the pants dragging the unconscious body into the shadows behind the dumpster.   As he scanned the stolen ID badge and stepped inside the building, he hoped the guard wouldn’t get into too much trouble.  Guy was just doing his job.

Inside, the night lights reflected off the clean glass and sleek metal.  Must be a fucking nightmare to clean, he thought.  Cleaning was something Mark knew; he’d been a high school janitor until several weeks ago. He snorted at the memory.  Fifteen god damn years of wiping up dirt and vomit for $25K a year and a pitiful insurance package. When it mattered it was all for nothing.  Their valuables sold, their credit stretched taut, they’d still failed to come up with the cash to cover the treatments.

He had grown sullen after Elizabeth died. The school was considerate at first, but their understanding quickly came to an end as the dirt began to pile up in the hallways and the alcohol wafting from his pores became more pungent. 

The elevators were in front of him.  Once again, the ID badge provided access.  The hollow ding of the elevator doors opening echoed in the empty building. Mark pushed the button for the top floor executive suite.  A muzak version of “Mandy” played above him. Elizabeth had liked Barry Manilow.  Mark pictured her dancing in the kitchen to his greatest hits, her smile bright and cheerful, and her eyes full of laughter. The cancer had crushed her liveliness. For a year he’d watched her wither away. Every day her existence was slowly replaced by the monotone of machines beeping.

The elevator lurched to a stop and the doors opened to reveal a large reception area choked with more glass and steel.  Mark walked past the empty receptionist’s desk straight into the office of Nathaniel Dillahunt, the CEO of Nexus Pharmaceuticals and the man whose name was on the final letter denying charity for Elizabeth. 

Seated behind an expensive-looking desk, he was a slim man in his mid-fifties.  A tumbler of brandy sat on top of a leather blotter.  He sensed Mark’s presence and looked up.  “You’re not Gerald.”  Dillahunt reached for his phone.  Mark pulled the gun out of his pocket and Dillahunt stopped moving. 

“Alright, can I help you?” Dillahunt asked, leaning back in his chair and forming a small steeple with his fingers.

“This is a nice office.  Pretty expensive, I guess.”

“It wasn’t cheap.  Are you an aspiring interior decorator?”

Mark’s eyes narrowed and Dillahunt self-consciously reached for the brandy.

“My wife is dead.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s your fault.”

“How’s that?  I don’t recall killing anyone recently.”

“All of this killed her,” Mark said, waving his hands around in the large office. “Your profit margin killed her. Christ, who charges that much money for a drug that can save people?”

Dillahunt’s lips curled into a patronizing smile.  “I understand your perspective, but you’re not taking into account all of the people involved with a discovery like that.  They don’t provide their services for free. ”  

“How much do you make?” Mark asked, beginning to pace in front of Dillahunt’s desk.

“Personally or as a corporation?”


“I don’t like to discuss numbers, it’s impolite, but I’ll say I’m well compensated.”

“How much did you make by denying charity for my wife?” Mark threw the crumpled denial letter in front of the executive.  Dillahunt sighed and smoothed out the paper.  He took a minute to read it.  

“I’m sorry, but I don’t remember this.”

Knuckles whitened as Mark tightened his grip on the gun. He raised it level with Dillahunt’s forehead.  The executive met Mark’s unblinking gaze and leaned back in his chair.

“I commend you for this.  You must have loved her,” Dillahunt paused to choose his next words carefully.  “This doesn’t end with me.  You know that, right?  I have ten junior executives who would slice their mother’s throats to have this job.  Kill me and none of those bastards will have any heartburn over condemning countless people to the same fate as your late wife. Of course, I doubt much of this will matter to you; you’ll be dodging dicks in prison while you wait for the needle to take you to her.”  
Dillahunt sighed.  “In the end, you’re really only hurting yourself.”

Tears carved moist paths down Mark’s cheeks.  His hand shook with rage.  The gun lowered.  Dillahunt was right.  It was hopeless.  He’d reached rock bottom on the top floor of a Fortune 500 company’s headquarters.  Dillahunt’s fingers began dialing the cops. 



“How are you with a mop?”

Dillahunt paused, the phone dangling midway between ear and cradle.


With a wry smile, Mark put the gun to his temple and blew his brains out, all over the expensive furniture. 

Zach Wilhide has had stories published in Shotgun Honey and Near to the Knuckle. To contact him simply follow the sounds of heavy metal, foul language and weight plates slamming on the ground—he answers to the name of “Whyte Devil.”

Review: Fool Me Once, by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben is one of the guilty pleasures I have in my reading life. I think of him as a guilty pleasure because I tend to stick to darker, more noirish stories that are published by small presses because their books don’t cater to the masses. Books that end up on the bestseller lists often seem clichéd and formulaic. However, when Coben publishes a new book, I grab a copy and give myself a few days to enjoy the new world he has created.

Fool Me Once is typical Coben fare. Tightly plotted, well-developed characters, and enough plot twists to keep you on your toes.  Themes tend to run strong in Coben novels and the theme of family and family secrets are evident throughout this book.

Maya, a former military pilot, is a witness to her husband’s murder. As police look for answers in his death, Maya is forced to relive painful parts of her own past and begins to question her own recollection of events and ultimately her own sanity.  As she races against the clock to find answers, she must determine who is an ally, who is an enemy, and if she may be mistaken people who are close to her for one when they are really the other.

Coben’s strengths as a writer is the manner in which he buries clues, juggles multiple plot lines, and ties everything up with a dénouement that both leaves you breathless and leaves you replaying the clues you found throughout the book to ensure they all fit. True to Coben’s nature, they all fit in this one and as you piece them all together, you recognize the genius that is Coben.

This book is a blast to read and lets all Coben fans know he is still at the top of his game. While most readers of this site would agree that dark noir is king of the genres, everyone should be able to find enjoyment in this one.

Highly Recommended.

Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

The Spot

Carl Robinette stops by with his latest entry in his Baby Idiot series. In case you are not up to speed with the series, allow me to surmise.

People are (baby) idiots.

The Spot by Carl Robinette

The thing is, sometimes most people just don’t get it most of the time. 

Like when you have to work almost a whole shift taking tickets at the movie theatre and all you want to do is go home. But the other thing is, when you live someplace like an unpermitted studio apartment above a medical marijuana dispensary, you don’t always get what you want. 

Parking especially. 

And just when you think the whole world is the biggest bummer on earth, it gets to be an even bigger bummer because someone parked their wicked new convertible in your spot. 

The fact that the car is basically the baddest ride you’ve ever seen and only several decades newer than your crappy moped doesn’t stir up any feelings of resentment at all. You just want to park in your own spot, but you can’t expect some guy who drives a convertible to get that. 

Just like you can’t expect movie theatre customers and managers not to be full on dickheads. Those people just don’t get it. 

But the thing is, as soon as you see this convertible sitting there silent but deadly in your spot, you know it’s up to you to help the driver—help him get it. 


Sometimes when you see some schmo with really good dope and he’s younger and richer and has more beautiful features about him than you, you’re like, Whoa. That guy rules. 

Other times you just think he’s basically a dumb baby idiot. 

And when he comes galloping out of the shop to his convertible, he swings his hips like he lords over every parking spot ever. 

So you go, Hey fart knocker, you’re in my spot. 

And he’s like, Oh, I didn’t realize. I thought it was the store’s spot. 


So you go, Sign says no unauthorized vehicles, bozoid. Or are you too stupid to read? 

And he’s all, I thought the shop hung that sign for patients. My bad. I’m leaving now, okay friend? 

All you say is, I aint your friend, Amigo. 

Because sometimes it’s about more than a parking spot. It’s about taking back what was taken from you. 

And if you don’t stand up to spot thieves, nobody will. 

Plus, with a ride like that there’s no question this guy is a big time drug kingpin or a guerilla terrorist, so you start taking pictures of his license plate. And you’re almost pretty positive you’ll get beaucoup bucks in FBI reward money for bringing down a crime lord. 

Also, have you ever wondered why they don’t make everyday protective wear for stomachs? 

I have.


The thing is that sometimes strong, young men are good at blocking attacks and counter-punching, and if you have allergies they can coincidentally flare up and make your eyes start watering at the exact moment a young man sucker punches you in the stomach. And sometimes you come down with a twenty-four-second flu immediately after that and you vomit in the bushes. 

Which isn’t even embarrassing. 

But you pants the guy anyways. 

And push him, because your spot is your spot. 

The thing is when you push a guy and he has his pants down around his ankles and there’s a bit of a curb behind him, the guy is probably-slash-definitely going to suffer a bit of an accident. 

 Experts say that when a man trips and falls outdoors in an urban setting he has a strong likelihood of brutally smashing his head and face into a brick wall. So far, field tests uphold this to be true. 

Later when your grandma or someone looks at you like you’re some moron because you told her about what happened, you’re like, How do you know that there’s no way in heck the FBI will respond to any of my emails, Grandma? 

And the other thing is sometimes you get tired of explaining how you aren’t going to admit to misdemeanor jack-crap if you didn’t do anything wrong. And how pantsing someone doesn’t make it a sex crime.

You just have to keep repeating yourself: This is a cut and dried case of parking spot self-defense.

But some people, like lawyers from the county, want to keep reminding you that the jury won’t necessarily see it that way.

Carl Robinette is a journalist and author bent on saving the world from people who don’t agree with him. His fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Shotgun Honey. When he is not writing fiction he poses as a reporter for The Star News and several other San Diego publications.

The Doorman

The darkness we feel when the world presses in can be quite terrifying.

But in the Gutter, that darkness comes from within.

The Doorman by Matt Mattila

Wake up and the room’s all dark again. Streetlight creeping through the blinds. This is your last night here. This is the end of everything.

Count down the minutes.  You started a day ago when the bank cancelled your Target purchase. You couldn’t afford the sandwich meat. That was the first alarm.

You don’t want to walk out on the check. Doesn’t matter. You’ll have to. Keep counting that time.  Go run out at dawn. It’s a second floor room, sure, but you can bag out quick. That side door leads straight outside.

It’s cold outside. Wet too, by the sound of all that rain tapping away like bullets at the window and the long shadows left across the carpet.

You know this is your last night. You know there’ll never be a roof over your head again. You haven’t even left and already you want to come back forever.

The dread is coming.

You have no one here. Nobody to turn to. You will be alone out on the sidewalks. The police will do nothing to help you. The college kids who campaign for you at their meetings will spit at you at the corners. The commuters who sneer and clutch their thousand dollar purses a little closer and walk past a little faster.  You were never that good looking to begin with, and now? After this? God, you’re gonna fucking break mirrors.

They’ll all ignore you. They’ll all chase you away.  The other walkers won’t help you. They won’t like newcomers. They’ll throw you out of a camp fast and hard that you spent all day trying to find chasing rumors.

Luck’s the only thing getting you out of this. Nothing you learned in school could help you here. It was the only thing you were ever good at. Outside those doors is a different world that only teaches you once. Get it or don’t. Learn or die.  

All your friends tried hard back in college. You did too. You might’ve been good at pretending in class. That was fake. This is real shit. It ain’t gonna help you now. I don’t think you’re getting outta here. You know you ain’t either.

Too much thinking. Too much darkness. Too much silence. Get outta bed. Go turn a light on. Brush the film off your teeth. Watch a movie. Read on your phone. Cruise Instagram.
Do something. Anything. Just live one more minute before you die tomorrow.

Walk out that door with a rolling suitcase and the clothes on your back and you will instantly lose the rest of your humanity. You’re already a street kid. A dweller. A door hugger.  They’ll call you a drug addict, a drunk. It doesn’t matter if you drank twice this year and never smoked a cigarette.

No point in defending yourself when they talk like that. Every word you say is a lie. There’s no real help. They will ignore you. They’ll let you sleep under the lit storefront with your piss in a bottle and your life savings in a paper bag. Or they could rob you. Either way.
You’ve never prepared for this. Just admit it now. You got no idea what it’s like out there. 

Really, you don’t.

Don’t look at that clock. It’s still dark out. You got some time left. Turn on that TV. 

Something funny. Laugh a little while you still can.

Smile pure one last time.

Lord knows the second you hit that sidewalk you’ll never really smile again.

Good luck out there, sugar. Hope you’ll remember everything. The past is all you got out there.

Ain’t no such thing as a future no more.

Matt Mattila was published in a number of e-magazines (The Gutter greatest among them, of course) by the time he turned twenty years old. You can find him on the wrong side of a Connecticut shoreline city if you're careful enough, on Facebook, and his blog:

The Smile

Love is a game of give and take. Or is it hide and seek? I get those two confused.

Either way, you best run like hell to be sure.

The Smile by Scott Douglas

I watched the woman in green tread along the side of the road in the pouring rain. I put the picture in the glove compartment. Fuck it. I smiled. Why not a second? The night’s still young.

I pulled the car up beside her. “Alright, luv. Fancy a lift?”

She held an army jacket over her head. Her dark eyes moved between me and the road behind us.

“Was that your car back there?”

Her eyes studied me from under the jacket.

“Look, luv, it’s absolutely bucketin’ it tonight. And, I don’t mean to scare ya, but this isn’t the safest road for a girl to be walking, so ... y’know …” I opened the door.

Her eyes narrowed, “Alright. Thanks.”

She got in and we drove off. Not one car in sight. She took the jacket off and brushed thick the black hair from her damp face. Her bee-stung lips caught my eye, as did the swirling blue pattern that ran down between her breasts. Paki? Indian? Tingles ran down my spine.

“Your car breakdown?”

“No.” She rubbed her knees.

I nodded. “Is anyone waiting for ya?”

Her face reddened, “Why?”

“Well, you’re walkin’ about in the pouring rain, thought maybe you went for help or something. Is someone waiting for ya back there?”

“No one is waiting for me.”

I smiled. “That’s too bad.”

She twirled fingers on her lap.

I turned the bend and drove down the decrepit road. Her head darted round the scenery like dog. My hands started sweating.

“Wh-Where are we going?”

I stopped the car, leaned over her and opened the door. “You have thirty seconds.” My blood warmed.

“What are you talking about?” Her face turned ashen.

“You have a thirty-second head start, then I’m gonna come and get ya! And when I find ya …” A smile forced itself across my face.

Her damp eyes stared at me as the realization kicked in. She turned round and whipped the seatbelt off. She pushed the door open and ran into the woods.

The seconds of my watch ticked away like minutes. I gripped the wheel until my knuckles turned white. At last, the hand struck 30.

I ripped the seatbelt off and jumped out of the car. I galloped through the woods. The tree branches whipped my face, but they couldn’t stop me. Nothing could. I was alive again. For the second time tonight, I was alive.

I stopped. The trees stood silent. They were on her side. They were always on their side. No matter. Owls made their presence known as did the stars and the moon. My eyes darted through the darkness. Where was she hiding? A twig snapped behind me. I turned. Nothing. I cut further into the woods, calling out to her.

I spotted a green shoe on the ground. I picked it up and sniffed it. My body become steel. I was ready now.

I raced through the woods like a wolf, drooling and snarling in the moonlit night. Goosebumps crawled along my flesh, filling me with promises that only her body would deliver.

And there she was. Standing there like a lighthouse, her eyes moving around her like a beam of light. They stopped on me. I froze. Can she see me? I calmed my nerves. Her eyes continued moving along the woods. I smiled.

I held my breath and got low. I slid along the ground like a snake. Each step took me closer to my prize. I reached for her. She turned. Her mouth flew open. I grabbed it and held it shut. I threw her to the ground and went at her like a car crash.

 The screams of ripping metal and screeching tires filed the night. Steaming oil splattered against my clothes, but the crash continued until the car was a wreck. And silence filled the air.

I placed her next to the car and walked round to the trunk. My hands shook as I straightened my shirt. I wiped the sweat from my brow. It must’ve taken more out of me than I thought. I held my nose and opened the trunk. The shovel lay next to the corpse in the plastic bags. I reached for it, but my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. My heart smacked in to my chest. I clenched my hands into fists but they wouldn’t stop shaking.

Fire shot through my stomach and liquefied my insides. I held onto the car. My dick burned like a sausage on a frying pan. I looked down. Blood spread from my crouch.

“Fuck me!”

I yanked my zipper open and threw my trousers down. Blood drained from my face.

“Oh shit!”

Blood oozed from my dick like pus from a spot.

“Bloody hell.”

My fingers trembled as I followed the thick black veins that ran along the blackened shaft and up my abdomen.

Hammers smashed my brain as my blood boiled me alive. I fell to the floor, filling the night with screams. My bowels forced themselves out from my stomach. The stench hit me like a slap.

The trunk slammed.

The woman in green stood there. A smile scratched across her face bruised and bloodied face.

“Wh-What did you do? What the fuck did you—”

Blood poured out from my mouth, my eyes smelted in my head as blood rushed from my nose.

She stepped towards me, smiling. Her big black eyes fixated on me. I tried to crawl away, but my guts exploded in my stomach.

Her footsteps closed in on me. She kicked my hands away. I turned round. She stepped over me and plopped herself down on my chest. The smile. The smile was still there.

“Two in one night,” she said. Her oily tongue ran along the edges of her jagged teeth. “I knew I could do it!” She smiled.

Scott Douglas the UK, but has been living in South Korea for the seven years. He works as an English teacher at a university there. Scott has written a few short stories over the years, but has recently started taking writing more seriously. He is now looking to develop his writing and hopes to publish more stories in the future.