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New Jersey Devil Albert Tucher: A Decade of Murder & Mayhem (including Corpses dropped in FFO's gutters)


The road to hell is likely paved with crime writers and their manuscripts. Some of us survive ... at least for a season, while others scuttle about for decades and miraculously manage to see some lights shining through life's tunnels.

As the New Kid on the Chopping Block, I'm pleased to have spent some time with NJ crime writer Albert Tucher—one of the first writers to appear at The Flash Fiction Offensive back in 2009. With Thanksgiving hovering on the horizon, this trip down Memory Lane will mark the end of FFO's 11th Anniversary Celebration.

Cheers y'all,

Jesse "Heels" Rawlins


Hi Albert, thanks for taking the time to chat. You live and write in New Jersey—a state that seems to spawn more than its share of crime writers given the Garden State’s small size. You think the cause is something in the water? Or possibly NJ’s proximity to New York City—and the mob’s reputation for dumping stiffs in New Jersey’s swampy eastern Meadowlands?

Thanks for having me, Jesse!

I wish I could blame it on the water. That would kinda let us off the hook, even though we choose to live here. The Mafia heritage also has something to do with it, but I think that’s traceable to New Jersey’s early urbanization compared to other states. Newark, for instance, is one of the oldest cities in the country.

But New Jersey is more than its cities. There’s been a lot of crime fiction set at the Jersey shore. That’s “downashore,” if you speak Jersey. And if you’re a native, it comes out as a single syllable—roughly, “dowsh.” Works like BIG SHOES by Jack Getze and MISSING YOU IN ATLANTIC CITY by Jane Kelly readily come to mind.

In terms of rural noir, I have wondered why certain parts of New Jersey haven’t been featured. Go down to Salem or Cumberland County in July and look at the ancient buses parked off the road and the migrant farm workers stooping in the fields. You’ll think you’re in rural Alabama.

Of course, the uniquely New Jersey contribution to rural noir has to be the region known as the Pine Barrens. Jen Conley, author of CANNIBALS—and Jeff Markowitz, author of DEATH IN WHITE DIAMONDS—I’m looking at you two!

Your story “Sleaze Factor” holds a distinction as one of the earliest known tales published when The Flash Fiction Offensive launched in late 2008, under the leadership of its first editor Rey A. Gonzalez.

This tale features prostitute Diana Andrews and NJ homicide detective Tillotson. When Mr. Gonzalez pubished “Sleaze Factor” in January 2009, your bio notes more than twenty Diana Andrews stories had kindly been published in various places. And also that you’d hammered out four unpublished novels involving Ms. Andrews.

So here we are a full decade later, Albert. How many Diana Andrews stories have now been published? And how many novels as well? Are any of those original four still collecting dust at your place—or have they all found good homes?

Damn, Jesse, that was a while ago. I’m up over 100 published short stories now, and most of them feature Diana. Kevin Burton Smith did me a solid some months ago when he put up a list on the THRILLING DETECTIVE website—which celebrated its 21st birthday on April 1, 2019:


I write Diana in real time, and the novels cover the period 1997-2002. At this point they’re practically historical fiction.

Since FFO’s early days I’ve inserted one novel at the beginning of Diana’s main story arc. It’s called THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, and Untreed Reads published it in 2013.

Five of my finished novels involving Diana are still unpublished: DO OVERS, TENTACLES, THE HOMICIDE SISTERS, THE SENATRIX, and THE GOOD PLACE.

In TENTACLES, however, I send Diana to the Big Island of Hawaii with a dangerous client. She meets some detectives and uniformed officers of the Hawaii County Police—and in recent years I’ve spun them off in their own series.

So the four additional novels that I’m happy to have seen published are THE PLACE OF REFUGE (2017), THE HOLLOW VESSEL (2018), and THE HONORARY JERSEY GIRL (2019), all from Shotgun Honey, an imprint of Down & Out Books.

Eric Campbell and Lance Wright at Down & Out—and Ron Earl Phillips at Shotgun Honey have been great to me, by the way.

I also have some short stories featuring these characters, and one of them, called “J.D.L.R.,” will be my debut story in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I’m also working on another novel called BLOOD LIKE RAIN that involves Detective Coutinho.

Wow. Congrats on all your achievements over the last … ummm … decade, Albert. Since you’ve tortured yourself as a writer for this long, I’m curious as to how changes in Social Media may have impacted you and how you interact with other writers.

For example, The Flash Fiction Offensive launched with its own blog site in 2008—and its stories weren’t published at Matthew Louis’s Out Of The Gutter Online (OOTGO) until March 1, 2012—when miscreant crime author Joe Clifford took the helm, and was soon joined by the Underworld Bard of the San Francisco Bay Area Tom Pitts. Three months later, on June 28, 2012, FFO created its Facebook page. FFO also generated its Twitter account in conjunction with OOTGO and Mr. Louis’s publishing house Gutter Books that same month.

These days you Tweet on Twitter @alcrimewriter. And like most writers, you’ve got aFacebook page. But back when “Sleaze Factor” appeared at FFO in 2009 you were welcoming comments through an AOL account—and FFO’s writers and readers routinely left more interactive comments on the blog than I see nowadays.

History lesson over, your thoughts and experiences, Albert?

The effects of social media go beyond my writing life to my entire life. That goes especially for Facebook. If life used to be layers of sediment deposited over time, Facebook jumbles them like a comet strike.

Have I tortured that metaphor enough?

I have reconnected with people from junior high school. I haven’t seen them in fifty years, but they mix with writers I’ve met recently or know only virtually. It can be disorienting when a kid I traded punches with in 1964 comments on a story I just published.

Not that I was much of a brawler then or ever.

Although I’ve written and edited non-fiction for years, I didn’t jump on Facebook until two years ago: and I gotta say that decision has revolutionized my fiction writing experiences in positive ways.

But speaking of punches, brawlers, and mashed metaphors like comet strikes, New Jersey lies at one of the epicenters for notorious events known as Noir At The Bar (N@TB). Crime author and candy corn-loving Jersey Jen Conley—a long-time flash fiction editor for Shotgun Honey—describes these debacles as “A roomful of half-bagged, semi-literate knuckle-draggers.”

The list of participating N@TB knuckle-draggers whose stories have appeared at FFO throughout the years is too numerous for mention. But Ms. Conley showcases an array of posters from these events on her website. And your name, Albert, is notoriously featured on some of them. As are a slew of New York writers including Thuglit founder Todd Robinson, who closed the doors for that legendary outfit in June 2016 after roughly an outstanding 11-year run. So don’t try and act all innocent here!


What have you enjoyed about participating in N@TB events, Albert? And what kind of benefits do these celebrations offer writers of all experience levels?

Notorious. I like it!

Noir at the Bar is pretty well-known these days, but for those who might be new to the idea, Peter Rozovsky will go down in crime fiction history as the one with the vision. He got the first such event going. Others have followed. Organizers find a bar with well-disposed management and gather a group of crime fiction authors who take turns reading their work aloud and drinking.

Actually, the drinking is continuous, with no discernible handing-off of the responsibility.

N@tB events have sprouted all over the country. In New York Todd Robinson and Glenn Gray ran the events for quite a few years at Shade Bar in the West Village, aided by one of the treasures of the city, bartender Laurie Beck. As you mentioned, I read at several of those events.

Todd and Glenn begat Jen Conley and Scott Adlerberg, with Laurie’s continuing assistance. Jen and Jay Butkowski have also spun off events at the Complex in Asbury Park.

Have I read there too, and supported other writers when I wasn’t reading? I ask you. When the Jersey Girl In Chief summons a Jersey guy to Asbury Park, what answer can he give but, “Yes, Ma’am?”

So far, Jen hasn’t slapped me down over the JGIC appellation. I continue to push my luck.

Most often I read flash fiction. I enjoy giving the audience a complete story in my six to eight minutes, and thanks to publications like DZ Allen’s defunct Muzzle Flash, Shotgun Honey, BJ Bourg’s Flash Bang Mysteries, and of course FFO, I have quite a few stories to choose from.

I think most writers who’ve read aloud will tell you that it makes mercilessly clear what works and what doesn’t. I would compare it to standup comedy, with one crucial difference. In my experience the audiences are always supportive. Any novice reader who gets an invitation to read should grab it.

And if you do, you’ll meet people you have only known on screen or on the printed page. There is nothing like face-to-face, and that’s why I hope to keep getting invited back.

Thanks for this walk down Memory Lane, Albert. It’s certainly been quite a trip. And we’re excited that you, Diana and Detective Tillitson will be making another appearance at FFO in December—with a Christmas story called “Black Friday Blues.”

You also mentioned NJ crime writer Jay Butowski—who’s been published at FFO among other places. Earlier this year we were excited to see Jay team up with some colleagues, including N@tB NY reader and writer Roger Nokes—who possesses more literary sensibilities than most of us crime degenerates. Together this crew, which includes Jonathan Elliot, Nikki Dolson, and Katrina Robinson, launched the cross-genre story endeavor Rock And A Hard Place Magazine. Their first issue released in September with “A Chronicle of Bad Decisions and Desperate People.”

We’d heard some rumors about this outfit. And to try and confirm them? We plied Mr. Nokes with copious amounts of alcohol—and then threatened to hurl him down a stairwell if he didn’t ’fess up. Bottom line? Mr. Nokes confirmed that under extreme duress, which may have included blackmail, you’ve agreed to jump on board with them as an editor. So congrats on this new gig, Albert!

Meanwhile? Our best wishes to you, and all the other notorious knuckle-draggers out there!

Desperate Times Call! Bill Baber Hits L.A.'s Mean Streets to Hunt Down Author Bruce Harris

WANTED: DEAD or ALIVE
NY Author Bruce Harris

My flight out of Phoenix to smog-filled Los Angles left me tense and stiff. I rolled my neck and shoulders while flagging down a cab. “The Gutter,” I told the driver.

The cabbie sneered in distaste. “That dive bar over on—”

I shot him a look that quickly cut him off. “Yeah, that’s the place.”

A decade of writing crime was starting to take its toll—though I’d enjoyed a helluva ride. My first story got published at The Flash Fiction Offensive back in 2010, when hard-drinking southern writer Rey A. Gonzalez first ran FFO’s dubious operations. Business still gets done on bar stools. But a lot of things have changed. We used to talk on pay phones. Now we got encrypted cell phones—though most of them are burners.

One of my burners had chirped two hours earlier at my safehouse in Arizona. Instant Private Message from Jesse “Heels” Rawlins, the first Gutter Gal in history to take the reins at FFO: “East Coast varmint Bruce Harris is drinking at The Gutter—which just happens to be FFO’s new HQ. The man’s a wall of secrecy. Practically untouchable. And that makes me antsy, Bill. Care to run out to L.A. and ply him with some drinks? Your dime of course.”

Right. My dime of course. Disorganized crime at its finest. No one wants to pay, everyone wants to score.

Damn. Bruce Harris. An old school criminal miscreant with a touch of class. Not an easy mark. We’ve done a few gigs together over the past half-a-dozen years. We rarely talk much. But he’s got a reputation. One that I respect—and respect is everything in this business.

I don’t work for Heels. So I didn’t PM her back. Though I immediately booked a flight.

I had my own reasons for wanting to talk to Mr. Harris. Clear out of the blue, my Muse had deserted me …. Maybe picking Bruce’s brain—at least figuratively for starters—would get my mojo back.

Soon as my foot hits the grungy curb, the cabbie stomps the gas—and happily hauls ass. In this neighborhood? Can’t say that I blame him. The Gutter’s dark like always. Takes a minute to spot my man … he’s writing in a notebook, not on a laptop. But I slip onto a barstool before he knows I’m there—

“What are you drinking, Bruce?”

His flinch is barely perceptible. Though he deftly closes the notebook. Shit. Was hoping to snatch a peek. Always good to know what the competition is up to.

“Vodka, Mr. Baber. R6, on the rocks, with olives. I like supporting local distillers. This joint still looks like a shit hole, but they only serve top shelf. I imagine Rawlins sent you. Now are you done asking questions?”

I laugh. And let him stew.

But once we get our drinks? I hit him hard and fast. “How’d you get started in this racket? Where and when did your first story appear?”

“In 2009, a few of my mystery short stories got published in the now defunct online journal, Pine Tree Mysteries. But that wasn’t my first publishing rodeo.”

Interesting. But I want him off-balance, and let the obvious question slide. “I imagine you did a lot of reading long before then. What’s your favorite book?

“Snubnose .38 to my head? Though I’m glad you ain’t got one pointed: one book—I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane. I enjoyed everything about it: the era, the urban setting, Mike Hammer, the dialogue—and of course the memorable ending. I met Spillane years ago at his South Carolina home. We drank Miller Lites in his backyard. Nicest guy in the world.”

Miller Lites? Obviously Mr. Harris’s tastes had grown more expensive.

“I know what you’re thinking. Forget it. Spillane had cases of the stuff, gratis, from Miller. He did commercials for them.”

“Gratis, huh? Beats robbing a beer truck. What other writers influenced you?”

“Ever since grade school I’ve been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and an admirer of Arthur Conan Doyle. My Holmes fascination continues to this day. As far as classic whodunit mysteries? Hard to top Ellery Queen. Other old-time favorites include David Goodis and Cornell Woolrich. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of what’s written today, but I’ve got a soft spot for the old stuff.

“I’ve also got a soft spot for R6, Bill—

“Another vodka, please.” Christ, the guy was putting a dent in my drinking budget. I would either have to nurse the Bookers in front of me or switch to something cheap like Beam.

The bartender overheard. I nodded, he poured. “You tend to write in a variety of genres—pulp, straight crime, mysteries. But lately you’ve been writing a lot of Westerns. Was that a deliberate shift?”


“I like to mix it up. For some reason, crime’s the toughest genre for me. I struggle with it … and admire guys like you who consistently pull it off. Westerns are fun for me and provide the opportunity for interesting characters and settings—as well as lots of action.”

Damn. A compliment from him felt good. “To me, no matter what you write, your style is instantly recognizable, Bruce. Is that by design?”

“You flatter me, Bill. Honestly? I couldn’t describe my style. Unless maybe I’ve had three or four more vodkas.”

I show him my poker face, but buy him another R6 before pressing on.

“You recently retired from your ‘day job.’ Is writing going to be a full time thing now? I have to admit I’m envious of how prolific you’ve been lately.”

“Besides being thirsty, Bill, I’m also very lucky. Yes, I retired after 30 years at UPS. I’ve been writing about 4-5 hours a day on average, mostly mornings and some afternoons. As you well know, some days the words flow and sometimes they sadly don’t.”

“You’ve got that right, Sherlock. So what’s in your writing future?”

“My ultimate writing goal is to appear in either Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. If I happen to appear in both? I will be ecstatic.

Both good choices for a mystery writer. “What’s your proudest moment as a writer, Bruce? Favorite thing you’ve written?”

“I’ll cheat and pick more than one. Proudest moment was the publication of my first book, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type. It’s a monograph comparing Holmes, the Type A personality with Watson, the Type B. The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box published the book in 2006. And it’s still available at www.batteredbox.com.”

Ah, that explained his cryptic rodeo reference. The book came three years prior to his first published story.


“I’m also thrilled to have won the September/October 2017 Mysterious Photograph Contest in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. And one of my favorite short stories, “Pothole,” appeared at FFO back in 2012 when San Francisco crime authors Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts were at The Gutter’s helm—”

He fishes his shirt pocket. Smirks. Hands me a scrap of paper: “Here, I brought you the link. Read it, crumble it, and swallow it.” http://theflashfictionoffensive.blogspot.com/2012/05/pothole-by-bruce-harris.html

“Gee thanks.” Now that I have that link? I’ll easily forge his signature. Sell the bootleg versions on eBay. Maybe even recoup the cost of his drinks. “The first story of yours that I read was at Slow Trains, a great piece of satire about what sports talk radio would have been like at the start of the 1927 Major League Baseball season. It remains one of my favorites of yours. To me, it’s just another example of what a versatile a writer you are.”

“Thanks, Bill. I’m a big baseball fan. But not a Giants fan—and I enjoy writing humor so that story was a perfect marriage. Oh, and Mantle was better than Mays.”

Consummate wise guy. Diehard Cubbie and Yankee fan. Had to dog my Giants.

“Did you spot those fresh bloodstains by the door on your way in here, Bruce?”

Soon as he turns around? I swipe his lousy olives.

“Slick move, Mr. Baber. But not that slick. I caught your cotton-pickin’ fingers in the mirrored glass out front.”

I shrug, fight a smirk. “You’ve set many of your crime stories in that thirties and forties era. I’m guessing you’re a big fan of old movies. You have a favorite? Any particular reason you like writing about that period?”

The Maltese Falcon. I’ve seen it 100 times: but still can’t get enough. Since I enjoy reading the old pulp magazines, detectives, and westerns, I tend to feel most comfortable trying to imitate the classics from that period.

“Of course, there’s plenty of quality crime and mystery offerings around for today’s modern writers and readers alike. Besides venerable Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, Canada’s Mystery Weekly Magazine is another worthy publication. And good online journals? Wow, there’s so many. Shotgun Honey, Crimson Streets. Tough, Yellow Mama, Flash Bang Mysteries. Over My Dead Body! and Flash Fiction Offensive, just to name a few.”

“How about that? We’re on the same page here. Anything else I should ask—or that you’d like to add?”

He crudely taps his empty glass. “Yup. ‘Can I buy you another drink, Bruce—and add it to my tab?’”

I buy us both a double.

The jukebox switches from Springsteen to Sinatra. Our thoughts drift with the music, the bar’s darkness an old friend. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Provided Rawlins doesn’t turn up like a bad penny ….

Inspired to write by Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss and the poems of Brautigan and Hugo, Bill Baber has worked as a ranch hand, bartender, truck driver and, for a while, as a sports columnist. His crime fiction has appeared at various sites on the net. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011.He now lives in Arizona with his wife Robin and a spoiled dog. He has been known to cross the border just for a cold Mexican brew. A novel in waiting can be found somewhere on his computer. And you can find his work on Amazon.

His first published story appeared at The Flash Fiction Offensive in 2010 courtesy of Editor Rey A. Gonzalez.


Submissions are Closed until January 20, 2020: Thank you all submitting Writers!


On behalf of Flash Fiction Offensive (FFO) editors past and present, we'd like to thank all you writers out there who've submitted on hands-n-knees and shared your tawdry tails with us over the past 11 years. Ooops. Typo. We meant tales. You know ... stories.

FFO has now Closed Submissions for the remainder of 2019. Submissions are scheduled to Re-Open on Monday, January 20, 2020.

Meanwhile? We luv ya to DEATH. That's our Assurance. If you're not completely Satisfied? Please let us know. We'll keep working at it until you are. Dead that is.

Your 2019 Miscreant FFO Editors,

Jesse "Heels" Rawlins
James "Jim" Shaffer
Mick Rose

Former Bad-Ass FFO Editors

Beau Johnson
Hector Duarte, Jr.
Rob Pierce
Joe Clifford
Tom Pitts
David Barber
Bryon Quertermous
Rey A. Gonzalez (FFO's Original Bad-Ass)


Happy Birthday FFO! We're launching this party early with "Loaded Guns" by Sandra Seamans


The Pulp and Degenerate Flash Fiction Offensive (FFO) launched in late 2008 under the leadership reins of Southern writer Rey A. Gonzalez. Waving the banner you see above, FFO's stories were proudly and boldly published at: www.theflashfictionoffensive.blogspot.com

Our sodden wanderings thru FFO's original gutterly archives suggest the first story Mr. Gonzalez published appeared at FFO in December 2008a tawdry tale penned by Clifford, Pennsylvania crime writer Sandra Seamans.

For years Sandra shared writing-related news on her blog "My Little Corner." 
www.sandraseamans.blogspot.com

We reached out to Sandra in March, hoping to have a chat. So we were saddened by the news that she passed away on May 23, 2019 at age 68. Snubnose Press published an e-book collection of Sandra's stories during her lifetime. While the collection is no longer available, many of Sandra's online stories continue to live on at mags like FFO.

And now as part of Flash Fiction Offensive's 11th Anniversary celebrations, we're pleased to present Sandra's original story. Best wishes to everyone from Jesse, Jim and Mick.

Loaded Guns by Sandra Seamans (December 2008 The Flash Fiction Offensive)

I was staring into the black tunnels of my own double barrel shotgun and my first impulse was to laugh. Not those nervous girly giggles, mind you, but full blown piss-your-pants laughter. I’m standing here in the middle of my own bedroom, stark naked with my best friend standing at attention between my legs, trying to hold it back, but the chuckles erupted into the room like a Mount Vesuvius lava flow. It must have amused the blonde bombshell holding my gun cause a grin sliced its way across her face.

"What's so funny, laughing man?" she purred.

"You, holding that gun in my face. In my line of work, you always expect to end up on the wrong end of a gun. Funny thing is, I always figured it'd be some hot-ass dame and not the job, and by damn, there you are. It's to be expected when you're an old pussy-sniffer like me."

"You just met me tonight. What made you think I’d shoot you?"

"Not you in particular, sweetheart, just your knock-'em-dead type. A fully loaded blonde with legs beggin' to wrap themselves around a man until he can’t think of nothing but slamming his dick into her hot spot. That makes him an easy mark for whatever game she’s looking to play. Trouble is, you got pissed when I took you up on the fuck-me offer and shucked my clothes.”

“I never said I wanted to fuck you and you had no right to expect it.”

“You think I’m wrong? Take a look at the way you're dressed, lady."

"What's wrong with the way I’m dressed?"

"Nothing, if you’re looking to get fucked. If you don't want men looking at you with their dicks and expecting more than dinner and a movie, you shouldn't be wearing sweaters too small for your tits and one of them Marilyn Monroe skirts that clings to your ass like Super Glue. Hell, there ain't a man alive who wouldn't jump on that offer."

"What I'm wearing shouldn't matter. You had no right to expect me to fall into your bed."

"I had every right. First off, you came home with me. We’re in my bedroom, in my apartment. If you didn’t want to get laid, what the hell are you doing here? Were you hoping I’d pass out after a couple of drinks and you could pick my wallet clean or did you figure I was looking to hire a housekeeper?"

"You son of a bitch. Just because I came home with you, you think I'm here to rob you or play housekeeper? Do you really think that's all a woman like me is good for?"

"Hell no, I think you could probably whip us up one hell of an omelet, after a good night's romp between the sheets. Other than that, broads like you are just straight up trouble."

The insulted look she flashed set off another round of belly laughs. Hell, I was laughing so hard, I barely heard the blast that knocked her out of her heels. I always knew stuffing that old shotgun barrel full of wadding would come in handy one day. Dames are so damn predictable. Always going off half-cocked.

[Sandra's Original Bio]
Sandra's stories can be found scattered around the internet in places like A Twist of Noir, PulpPusher, and The Thrilling Detective. Her thoughts on writing can be found at http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com/

Sandra's tale "Loaded Guns" was originally published here:

Photo: Your 2019 Flash Fiction Offensive Editors

 



A Mother's Love by Eric Beetner (Halloween in The Gutter 2019 )


Too many finicky kids like this one? And Gerber Products Company would soon go belly up.

A Mother's Love by Eric Beetner

“Open up, here comes the airplane.”

Marnie swirled the spoon around in circles as she approached her daughter’s mouth, but it was no use. Molly continued to wail. Eighteen months old and only 17.6 pounds, well underweight. Molly had been a fussy eater since birth, but things had gotten worse over the last two months. Her daughter looked emaciated, like a doll missing the stuffing.

Marnie tried to keep it together when all she wanted was to join her daughter in crying out to the heavens for relief. For Marnie that meant her daughter taking in precious calories.

“Okay, here it comes,” she said, fighting back tears. She pushed the spoon closer to Molly’s mouth but the toddler thrashed her head side-to-side like her mom was coming at her with a blow-torch. Frustrated and desperate, Marnie put her free hand on top of Molly’s head and stopped the twisting. She jammed the spoon forward, pushing against closed lips. Molly let loose a rage-filled scream that started Marnie’s ears ringing. When the tiny mouth opened the spoon slipped sideways and one of Marnie’s fingers slid inside instead. Molly clamped down with her newly cut teeth, tiny daggers like a baby shark, and dug gashes in Marnie’s flesh.


“Ow, dammit!”

When Marnie tried to pull away, her finger caught on those tiny razor teeth. Suddenly Molly was quiet, her cheeks suctioning in and out the way she used to suckle during breastfeeding. Sucking down her mother’s blood, Molly’s eyes were oddly content.

Her little girl was … drinking. Pulling needed nutrition from the open wounds. And Marnie felt something she also hadn’t felt since breast-feeding—a subconscious connection—a bond.

She let her daughter suckle until her eyes drooped, and she fell asleep in the highchair.

Two days later and Molly, once again, hadn’t eaten a thing. Her eyes looked sunken, her arms and legs like twigs that would snap in a stiff breeze. Marnie peeled off her Band-Aid, offered the finger to Molly—who opened her mouth like a baby bird. The wound reopened and Molly drank, her tiny teeth tearing away bits of flesh that she also swallowed down.

***

Marnie removed the ice pack and pressed a finger into her thigh. The flesh went white, though she felt nothing but pressure. She set the edge of the knife against her skin and closed her eyes … but still couldn’t find the resolve. Opening her eyes again she caught Molly staring with curious anticipation.


Marnie dug the knife into her thigh and made a quick slashing motion, like whittling a piece of wood. She pressed a towel against the open wound—and sucked air through her teeth. Confident the bleeding had stopped, she sliced the flesh into tiny bite-sized pieces and let her daughter pick them up in her tiny fists the way she’d seen other toddlers do with Cheerios. When Molly was done with the fresh meat Marnie let her suck on the towel and draw out the blood.

Two months later Molly had gained weight at last. Marnie hobbled to the freezer on her artificial leg. She hadn’t gotten used to the prosthetic yet, but took out the last baggie of meat. She could tell by the blue lines of her tattoo that it was from her calf, just above the ankle. She thawed the piece in the microwave and brought the chunk to Molly, who waved her arms in anticipation.

Marnie sat down and removed her plastic leg, rubbing the stump where the doctors had removed the bare bone. Sure, they’d asked questions. But Marnie claimed she didn’t know what happened to rip nearly all the flesh from her right leg. A “degloving” injury the stunned doctors called it. All she knew was that her daughter was healthy again and she’d do anything for Molly.

Meanwhile Molly finished the small portion of meat and cried out for more. Gesturing wildly, her highchair shook the floor and rattled the plastic tray.

Marnie sighed and pressed the icepack to her left leg and waited for the muscles to go numb. Molly’s thrashing became so violent it threatened to overturn the highchair. Marnie scooted her own chair closer, wedging the bulky ice pack tighter to her thigh. She pressed the tip of the knife into her finger, using the whorls of her fingerprint like a bulls-eye. A bead of blood oozed from the puncture—and Molly’s eyes went wide—same as the first time she’d seen a real-life cat.

Marnie held out her finger. Molly eagerly accepted and contently suckled. Whatever chemicals bonded a mother and child coursed through Marnie’s veins. She marveled at the peace and joy on her daughter’s face as the child drank deep.

If Marnie could get used to one fake leg, she could also get used to two. And she would do anything for her little girl. Anything.

After that, well, the lady next door was old and slow. No family that Marnie knew of. Nobody to miss her. She didn’t relish the thought—

But if it came to that … a kid’s gotta eat.

Eric Beetner is that writer you've heard about but maybe never read. Then when you finally do you wonder why you waited. There are a lot of books like Rumrunners, All The Way Down, and The Devil Doesn’t Want Me so you'd better get started. He co-hosts the podcast Writer Types and Noir at the Bar L.A.. He’s also been nominated for three Anthony’s, a Shamus, a Derringer, an ITW award, and 5 Emmys. Seriously, what’re you waiting for? You can also vist him on his website: www.ericbeetner.com