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Adopting Healthier Habits

Beau brings us back to basics with this old adage:

You are what you eat.

Adopting Healthier Habits by Beau Johnson



For the second time in my life I tell my therapist it’s been difficult.  The transition into what I’ve become more challenging than I ever thought possible.  However, it’s the realization that I never once foresaw the outcome that really gets me going.

“Portion control, Mr. Richards.  This is what’s key.”  I could not disagree.

For years I blamed the Asians for my condition---what they represented to a mind bereft of clarity.  And yes, deep down, I knew it to be improper; that society viewed me as a monster.  As well, it might have been a psychosomatic sort of thing that had its hooks in me.  I am willing to entertain as much.  However, if I do, then I must also admit the link this provides to the larger problems concerning my life.  In truth, the entire reason I’d sought Dr. Bashir out.

“Do you believe you are a chronic overeater?  Perhaps a secret one as well?”  The man could certainly push buttons.  I’m not saying I liked this about Dr. Bashir, just that he did.   Before I answer, I give him my teeth, each of them small, all of them rowed.  I do this because I want to, because a man like me can“All of the above, Doctor.  As you well know.  It causes me to blame others for my faults.  The very reason I continued to believe myself hungry whenever I chose to eat Chinese.  Before them, however, it was the colored man I was addicted to, and no, dear Doctor, none of my closest friends are black.”  When he doesn’t respond, I smile again, trying my best to inform Dr. Bashir at what I was trying to attempt; if anything, I am an equal opportunist, not a racist.

“Speaking of the black man---why do you think you desired them so?”  Button Pusher.  Segue Owner.  I could not default the man in front of me these things.  His glasses halfway down a blackhead encrusted nose, I take my time, Dr. Bashir growing more uncomfortable the longer I withheld my response.  He knew what I was doing, sure, the degrees upon his wall telling me as much.   Granted, he had other things occupying his mind.  Things that might have involved me, the killing of me, and the new trajectory his life had taken.  All told, it’s how an apex predator like me spreads their wings.

“Dark meat, Doctor---it holds the highest ratio of fat content there is.  On the flipside, it’s why I’ve chosen to give it up as well.”  Don’t get me wrong---I realize the light in which I place myself by stating such things.  I could not go back though, only forwards, certain it was the only way to get to the root of what I’d let myself become.  It’s here that I asked the Doctor if he agreed.

“Yes.  But perhaps we would be better served if you explained your reasoning?”  Is it any wonder why I chose this man to be my therapist?  If I was to find balance at the end of this, more than ever I was sure it was he who would guide me there.  “Because I’m tired of second hand kills, of ordering thighs online.”  Which whether I liked it or not was probably the truest answer I had given since these sessions began.

“And acquiring things this way---this makes you feel both weak and less than what you know you’re supposed to be?”  The man was brilliant, spot-on, and I took the time to tell him so.   Stating that yes, I remembered this early part of my life quite well, a time when it was only ever about the hunt.  Once I’d given myself that first taste---well, this was the crux of it, no?  Clarity and ownership and bears oh my!


I tell him yes.  Yes.  A thousand times yes.  I am powerless over food---that my life has become unmanageable because of it.  That here, now, I was seeking professional help the only way a three hundred and twenty-seven pound man like me could.  By doing this I must embrace what we’d talked about.  Done, I tell him the plan I have come up with, something I believed he would endorse.  To start, I would be eliminating what I cherish most: the skin.  Every visible trace removed from what would become only the leanest cuts of meat.  Dr. Bashir looks up at me then, his eyes following the slope of his nose.  We stare at each other, one second, two, and for a moment I sense he might bolt.  This changes when I tell him the reasoning behind my plan.

“First is because of the white man himself; that he is in abundance.  Second brings its own logic to the table, once you really examine the options left open to someone as overweight as I.  All told, I believe it shows how committed I am to this process; that I am now willing to become the very thing I eat.”  His face is exactly as I hoped it would be.  Not too dark, nor too light---just the perfect shade of a man realizing he’d taken on more than he could chew.  As with the hunt, it is a response I have come to dream of---days of a life I am fighting to restore.

Upset, the man shifts, left leg now over his right.  Good.  As today’s agenda had been twofold.  Lowering my octave, I inform Dr. Bashir that I wish to speak openly to him now.  What I convey is that I mean him no harm; that he is safe from me and how I live.  “Besides, Indian food and I have never really agreed all that much anyway.” 

It’s when his throat gives an audible click that I choose to go on.

I speak of the nutritionist he’d set me up with, remarking on how dissimilar he was from the personal trainer from a few weeks back---far more tender-looking.  Getting up to leave, I reiterate that it is as he suggested: that change is a process, not an event.  It’s as we make our way to the door that I reinforce what I must, adding that even though we’d already come to terms in regards to doctor/patient confidentiality he still resembled a man who may or may not love his family as much as he thought he did.


Not the most subtle of performances, no, but then again, I’m a man attempting to change. 


In Canada, with his wife and three boys, Beau Johnson lives, writes and breathes. He has been published before, on the darker side of town. Such places might include Underground Voices, the Molotov Cocktail, and Shotgun Honey. He would like it to be known that it is an honor to be here, down in the Gutter

The Suicide by Mark SaFranko

ORDER FROM AMAZON
By David Noone

Mark SaFranko’s eighth novel, The Suicide, revolves around Detective Brian Vincenti, a man haunted by the past and battling with the present, a lost man searching for a lost truth. This is a cliché simply put, but where most writers (and critics) would pretentiously wave this off as unimportant, it is in fact an integral part of SaFranko’s book. The singer Nick Cave once stated he was a purveyor of clichés, i.e., that he sang love songs and laments. What Cave and SaFranko both know is that the cliché is not the problem. It is what many the world round have screamed: it’s what you do with it that counts. The cliché is what makes you aware of the innovation, what makes you aware of what a writer or a good writer can show you through a form beaten into the ground by a million (including some bestselling) hacks.

Vincenti is indeed searching for a lost truth, and that’s exactly how this truth remains: lost. The truth is that Vincenti is an escapist, and the thing that he is trying to escape is exactly what haunts him. He takes up an apparent suicide case, that of a Gail Kenmore, to get lost in while ignoring a more pressing rape case that he merely shrugs off. He follows every possible lead concerning the suicide and interviews a single man about the rape. See what I mean?

Of course like all escapists he is contemptuous of others who are the same as him. These include his ex-partner who’s had a sex change, his adulterous wife (let me not neglect to mention Vincenti is an adulterer himself) and anyone else he believes is avoiding reality as he interprets it, priests, doctors, and what have you. He follows his path nonetheless blindly ignorant of what lies in front of him; dead end leads don’t deter him, nor do orders from his boss. He continues to keep moving further and further away from that which he wrongly feels is persecuting him. It is this misinterpretation that soon threatens to drive him into the ground. He begins to neglect everything, everything but his son, who remains throughout the novel the only stabilizing force in his life, but what of it? Can’t we see this man jumping out the same window as Gail Kenmore did? It seems inevitable. So much so that as you go on reading you have to wonder if someone else will take up the case -- but who would run around like a madman to investigate the suicide of a disillusioned cop? Only the man splattered on the pavement.

SaFranko is best known for his confessional novels featuring Max Zajack (Hating Olivia, Lounge Lizard, God Bless America, Dirty Work) but in this writer’s opinion it is his crime fiction that displays his best writing. The Favor, Hopler’s Statement, No Strings (soon to be re-published by Thomas & Mercer ) and The Suicide show a far greater versatility than his not-to-be-dismissed Zajack work. The troubles of life and death are dealt with in a far greater and more inclusive manner than when he writes outside the crime genre.

For most writers, working within the specific limitations of a formula would be a constraint, for SaFranko it’s a release.

Sucker Punch of the Gods

Two of the best ways to get in the Gutter? Have characters named after our editors (except that one dude who said he was going to kill me; that was a little creepy), and litter your story with pop culture references from the coolest movies.

Check. Check. Welcome back to hell, Mr. Viharo. Heres your fedora and Rat Pack 8-track. We’ve been expecting you.

Sucker Punch of the Gods by Will Viharo




“God damn, this heat sucks harder than a toothless whore with asthma,” Joe said as they walked down University Way, eyeballing the co-eds from UDub.

“It’ll be over soon,” Tom said, subtlety adjusting his jeans so his boner wasn’t as obvious as an open switchblade on a passenger plane. “This is Seattle. Me, I love the sun. But I can’t get used to it. Just when I start to enjoy it, it’ll be over. Like a half hour massage. Without a happy ending.”

“I came to Seattle to get away from this shit,” Joe said. “And it followed me. This is fucking tiki drink weather. Tiki drinks are for sissies.”

“That’s how the past is,” Tom said. “You can’t outrun your own past. It always catches up. Like a fast zombie. God, I hate fuckin’ fast zombies. Makes no fuckin’ sense. I mean, they’re corpses, so how the hell can they run? Like Romero himself said, their ankles would break from the riga mortis.”

“Rigor mortis.”

“Whatever!”

“I’m not having this stupid conversation again,” Joe said.

“You’re just dodging my colorful metaphor because it contains bullets of truth, my pussy-ass friend.”

“Fuck slow-ass zombies, and fuck the past,” Joe said. “I’m just talking about the weather.”

“You’re talking about California, man. I know exactly what you’re talkin’ about, even if you don’t. Or just deny it. Hey, look at those titties! Bobbin’ around like apples in a barrel! I just wanna take a quick bite, think she’d mind?”

“Dude, keep your voice down. Jesus.”

“I’m not raping them, man, chill out. Not even mentally. Just checking out the local merch. Like in a grocery store. Comparing items. Everything seems to be out of my price range, though. Maybe it’s time to shop someplace else.”

“You are a serious misogynist.”

“I resent that. There’s nothing serious about me.”

“I’m as lonely and horny as you, man, but I don’t wear my cock on my sleeve.”

Tom flailed his right arm about. “I’m wearing a T-shirt, idiot. That’s my arm, not my dick. Though I can understand the confusion.”

Joe and Tom turned down 45th Street and ducked into a comic book shop to cool off.

“Didn’t Bogart complain about that in Casablanca”? Tom asked Joe, who was idly leafing through an issue of Batman.

“Complain about what? His pussy problems? Dude got laid, man. And I don’t mean the French dude. I mean that fine Swedish piece of ass. What’s her name again?”

“No, I mean, didn’t he say something about coming to Casablanca for health reasons, for the water, but he was misinformed, since he was actually in a desert?”

“Yea, so?”

“Well, that’s you.”

“I remind you of Bogey? Thanks. Maybe this is the end of a beautiful friendship. . .”

“Just that one line. The rest, no way. Like you said, that dude got laid.”

Joe and Tom left the comic book store, the Batman comic book rolled up and tucked in Joe’s back pocket.

“Hey, you didn’t pay for that,” Tom said.

“Only suckers pay for comic books,” Joe said. “I’ve been stealing them since I was a kid.”

“I didn’t know they had comic books back then.”

“Ha fuckin’ ha.”

Joe and Tom turned right on Roosevelt and finally walked into Scarecrow Video.

“God fuckin’ hates me,” Joe said.

“I don’t think He knows you even exist,” Tom said.

“But He made me,” Joe said.

“Face it: He shat you out in this toilet called Earth, but didn’t even bother to check His stool before he flushed.”

“Wow. You are one cynical bastard.”

“Only on the surface. Beneath this dry, cracked façade I’m just another forgotten soft turd. Like you. C’mon, it’s showtime.”

Joe and Tom reached into their crotches and pulled out their ski masks, which they’d purchased at a sporting goods store in University Village, and put them on while hiding behind one of the fully stocked shelves of DVDs.

Then they reached into their ass cracks and pulled out their snub nose handguns.

“Everybody freeze, this is a robbery!” Tom yelled.

Joe added, “Just hand over the cash, geeks!”

The fifty-something gray-haired hippie male clerk and the twenty-something pink-haired punker chick clerk just stared back, nonplussed.

“We mean it, dorks, do it!” Tom yelled. “Or you’ll be fuckin’ dead, but not fuckin’ grateful!”

“Is Tarantino behind this gag?” asked the male clerk.

“Shut the fuck up and hand it over!” Tom yelled, only somewhat disguising his voice. “We know this place is famous, you gotta be loaded, let’s have it or I’ll shove a late fee right up your fat ass!”

“Yeah!” Joe added, just to remind everyone of his presence.

The few customers in the store had already quietly left. The Japanese girl behind the coffee counter was ducking out of sight.

Finally, the rather unfazed punk chick clerk popped open all the registers, removed the cash and coins, and put it all in the sack Tom handed her.

Then Joe and Tom ran out and up Roosevelt, running hard, stopping somewhere off the Burke-Gilman trail.

Sitting against trees while they caught their collective breath, Tom counted the money while Joe closed his eyes and dreamed of rain.

“Fuck!” Tom spat. “Son of a bitch!”

“What now?” Joe asked wearily, without even opening his eyes, lost in dark, fanciful clouds.

“There’s like two hundred fucking dollars here!”

“What did you expect? It’s a fucking video store, man. Might as well have robbed that comic book shop.”

“But it’s the most famous video store in the country, man. Roger Ebert said so!”

Joe shrugged and said simply, “Netflix.”

Tom began to sob. “But this place was supposed to be special.”

“I guess you were misinformed,” Joe said, eyes still closed. “Welcome to the club.”


Will Viharo is the author of several novels including A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, Freaks That Carry Your Luggage up to the Room, Chumpy Walnut, Lavender Blonde, Down a Dark Alley, It Came from Hangar 18 (with Scott Fulks), and the “Vic Valentine, Private Eye” series, the first of which, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, is in development as a film by Christian Slater and was recently reissued by Gutter Books. www.thrillville.net

The Play

All the world's a stage and the people merely players, 

or, perhaps in this case, victims

The Play by Benjamin Welton



“Goodnight! Such sweet and soft lips. Death is a negro slave dining on raven guts...”

The homeless man with the pockmarked face was shouting across the mostly empty room. His eyes were watery with the unfocused sentimentality of an alcoholic. His hands, although clenched tight for dramatic effect, looked weak. He was on his back, letting the microscopic bugs bite him throughout his nightly oratory.

Fran, his long-suffering wife and a sometime prostitute, had grown accustomed to these performances. Her husband had once been a famous poet, she told the young drifter that the couple had picked up at the Catholic shelter. She knew he didn’t believe her, but she kept listing off his accomplishments because it was her routine.

“He used to live in Greenwich Village after war. Everyone knew that he was the best poet there. He practically invented the whole Bohemian fad. He and his friend Herman started a publishing house, you know? They got big. The Times wrote about them, and Scott Fitzgerald apparently used them in The Great Gatsby.”


How much of this was true, she didn’t know for sure. Fran had met him on the way down, so she could only take his word for it. And he was a liar, that was the problem. He lied to landlords and he lied to the sisters at the shelter. No, I’ve given up the demon liquor, he’d tell them, I’ve decided to live the godly life. Some fib. He had never known a sober day in all their married years.

To make matters worse, he had a hot pocket and couldn’t keep money cool. Fran would always tell him to save up for food or milk, but he’d just go right out to Judge Meyer’s bookstore and buy more poetry books than he could afford. Meyer was a sap, so he kept lending him credit. Then, after coming to his senses about wasting all the money, he’d go on a bender in the Village and cry for hours about the 1920s and all the good things that could’ve been better. Fran would wait three days then come and get him.

“Gee, I don’t get it. How come a pretty young thing like you stays with an old drunk like him?”

The strange kid from the shelter talked like he was from the Bronx but had the boyish charm of a Midwesterner. Fran found him exhilarating, even if his flattery was a bit much. Fran was forty-five, so she was far from young. Still, despite the rough years, she looked fine and did her best to maintain some semblance of a figure. After all, johns don’t like them too fat or too skinny. It’s best to stay in the middle for the bigger green.

Fran figured the kid for a virgin with a little money saved up for lunch. At best she was likely to score $25. That wasn’t much, but worth a play, and after tapping twice on the rotten floorboards with her ruined sandals, she started to take her clothes off.

As expected, the kid didn’t know what the hell he was doing. He pumped with an irregular beat, while his attempts at tenderness were as awkward as a crucifix hung above a toilet. Fran stayed stoic and let the young beast sweat on her. Throughout the whole ordeal they could both her him reciting lines on the next cot.

Of course the point was to drown out his motions. The years of alcohol abuse made his hands and feet hard to control, but he found over the years that his voice could mask any accidental slips or involuntary kick outs. Tonight he didn’t have to do too much masking, for Fran had left the knife in his jacket after the last job. All he had to do was get his fingers on the handle, get the thing out in the open, line up, then close his eyes.

He got to stage four before everything went haywire. After years of running the gig successfully, a trip-up was bound to happen. He was old, drunk, and useless. Hands fumble and good ideas blur. The tongue loosens sometimes, and that makes the wrong people get wise.

“Hey, watchit. What the hell are you doing with that thing?”

“Traveller be warned: not all nights are safe for rest! Wicked ones and bad ones come....wicked ones and bad ones come and fall, they do.”

“C’mon, grandpa. She asked for it. Put that cutter away and go back to bed.”

“Sacrifice is what is needed. You can get up now, Fran. I do believe this young man is as good as ours.”

“The fuck you think.”


The young boy shoved the bleary-eyed poet backwards. The force was enough to take the man off of his feet. The knife went to the floor to the right. The young man picked it up with the type of fingers that were used to weapons, and after adjusting his grip, he took after the old man’s throat. He died tried to gurgle out something he had written in 1922.

Fran, who was in the middle of trying to get her blouse on, took the same knife in her shoulder. It was not a killing blow, but it wounded her enough to set her on her knees. From there, the young man dragged the somewhat dull blade across her windpipe.

He left the apartment without cleaning up. He dropped the knife on the stairway that lead to the street. He first went to a diner for coffee and pie (he got $1.25 from Fran’s purse), then he went to the nearest police station. He told the desk sergeant that he had killed a bunch of Communists, and that the city should give him a ribbon and a chance to talk to President Eisenhower.


They booked him later that night. In the morning, a short, fat detective asked him about similar slayings from two years prior. 

The product of northern West Virginia's identity complex, Benjamin Welton has been a student in such far-flung places as Romania, The Czech Republic, Texas, and Vermont. Mr. Welton currently works as a freelance journalist and music critic who often dabbles in short fiction and poetry. His work his appeared in Vantage Point, Schlock!, Ravenous Monster, Crime Magazine, Aberration Labyrinth, and Seven Days. His first book - "Hands Dabbled in Blood" - is currently available from Thought Catalog. He lives in Burlington, Vermont.

Blood Rites

We have a few sayings here in the Gutter. Our favorite, No good deed goes unpunished. Followed a close second by ... some doors aren't meant to be open.

You can add a third to that mix: Maybe Tipper Gore was right.

Blood Rites by Mark Slade




Rita stood in her backyard in the pouring rain as Officer Davenport tried to jimmy the lock from the shed. He was on his knees, in the mud, in his new uniform pants. She didn’t like the language he used when the lock wouldn’t open. Rita would cringe every time Davenport blurted an obscenity. This was shed number three he had to break into after a call he received about some bones washed up in a neighbor’s yard earlier in the morning. There was nothing unusual in the other two sheds. Unless power tools and junk from a previous garage sale are considered suspicious. Davenport chuckled to himself when he relayed that to his sergeant. The sergeant didn’t find it humorous and quickly suggested Davenport was trying to get out of finishing the search because he was a lazy son of a bitch. He was ordered to check out the last shed. Why couldn’t a bolt cutter be in either one? It was getting late and Davenport wanted to get home and have five or six beers.

“I’m real sorry, ma’am. Usually my partner, Meredith, is on time with this sort of thing,” he said, wiping rainwater from his already drenched face. “And the bastard has my cutters too. Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. Excuse the language.”

Rita just flashed a quick smile and nodded. Her expression soured when Davenport cursed again. “I’m not too sure what was in this one. Henry never let me in this one. He was a very hard worker most of his life, so I never questioned his privacy.” She pulled her plastic rain bonnet closer to her forehead.

“Maybe he had a tall redhead stashed away—oh, sorry, ma’am. I didn’t think before.”

“That’s alright, Officer. I knew you were making a joke.”

“How long had your husband passed, ma’am?”

“Six months.” Rita struggled to say the words.

“It must be hard, ma’am. Being alone now … after all these years.”

“Yes.” Rita bit her lip and lowered her eyes. “It has been difficult to manage things lately. Our neighbor’s son, Rodney, helps me out. Of course he used to help Henry quite a bit. They were very close.”

“Are you sure you don’t have the key to this thing?” Davenport removed his hat and poured out the rain that had gathered around the brim.

“No, I’m afraid Henry was the only one that had the key,” Rita said.

“This lock is awful rusted. My God, when was this thing made? 1924?”

“He did say it was old.”

Davenport jiggled the thin file in the lock, heard something snap. The file itself had broken off. He held the bottom piece between his thumb and forefinger, examined it. “Motherfucker!”

Davenport smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, ma’am.” He stood and sighed, then looked up at the sky. “I don’t think it’s going to let up. I don’t know where the hell Meredith is. He has my bolt cutters.”

“Maybe we should go inside and dry off.” Rita patted Davenport’s arm.

“It’s getting pretty late, ma’am, and the sergeant wants me to wrap this up. You know most of the force is at that school shooting that happened at Wilcox West High this morning. The suspect is still at large. So everyone is tied up. Weird how all this happened on the same time. I guess I’m going to have to take the door off the hinges.” Davenport reached in his coat pocket and produced a screwdriver.

“All right, Officer. You do that and I’ll get us a cup of hot coca.”

Davenport went to work on the door and in no time had the hinges off. He placed the screws in his wet trouser pockets and the hinges in his coat pocket so as not to get them mixed up. He stepped inside the shed, flicked the switch on and a light flashed a few times before burning the low level bulb. A pungent smell filled the shed. Davenport covered his nose and mouth.

Candles sat on a table dressed in a white tablecloth decorated with symbols Davenport thought he’d seen once on a CD cover for a heavy metal band. On the wall behind the table was a blood-smeared quote in a language he didn’t recognize. In between those candles was a large, gold-plated book. It was open to a page that had passages handwritten by what looked like a quill. Again, it was in a language that Davenport hadn’t seen before, did not understand, except one word.

Ragnarök

“Oh shit,” Davenport said. “We’re dealing with a cult here.” He took a step and heard a crunching sound. He looked down and saw the floor was made of bones. Human and animal. Beside his left shoe, he saw a badge and the name on it. He gasped.

Meredith.

Something splashed behind him. Davenport turned and saw a teenage boy steadying a .45. The boy fired two shots before Davenport could even draw his weapon. Both bullets caught the cop in the chest. He fell on his back in the shed, the bones underneath him rattling.

Rita appeared and stood beside the boy. She handed him a cup.

“Would you like some cocoa, Rodney?”

“Thank you.” Rodney accepted the cup.

Officer Meredith stepped from behind the shed, and came to stand beside Rodney and Rita.

He glared down at Davenport.

“So the end begins.” 


Mark Slade’s work has appeared in Flash Fiction Offensive, Dark Fairy Tales, We Walk Invisible, Demonic Tales 1 – 3, and other publications. Horrified Books published A Six Gun and The Queen of Light in 2013, and Death Throes published Hellspeak earlier this year. He lives in Williamsburg, VA, with his wife and daughter.