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Robert Ninja

Everyone knows the rule that you dont tug on Superman’s cape.

Angel Luis Colon stops by the Gutter to offer an addendum: You don’t fuck with a man named Ninja.

Robert Ninja by Angel Luis Colon



I found the name in the phonebook, Robert, Ninja. My finger stopped in time with my eyes. “Bullshit,” I said out loud. I wandered dorm room to dorm room—collected the usual suspects: Jerry, Pete, and Mike.

“Bullshit,” they all repeated.

“It’s in the fucking phonebook.” I pointed at the name, as if that would make it more real.

“Yeah, but…” Jerry snatched the phonebook away. “…the way it’s listed. His last name is Robert?”

“What matters is this motherfucker’s first is name is Ninja.” Mike lit a Parliament. “His parents couldn’t have done that—had to have named himself that shit later.”

“You never know, man.” I lit a Newport. “Maybe it was his destiny to be a ninja.”

“Yeah, or it’s probably what’s his name, Michael Dudikoff.” Pete scratched the back of his neck. Adjusted the crotch of his board shorts.

“Who the fuck is Michael Dudikoff?” I asked.

“Fucking hell, Rob. You never saw American Ninja?” Jerry eyed me. Mike and Pete joined in.

I shook my head.

All three threw their arms up and groaned.

“Whatever.” Mike brought his phone from his shorts. Only one of us with a cell phone—a Nokia. “Motherfucker needs to be spoken to.” He dialed the number, then handed me the phone. “All yours.”

The phone rang. The call connected. I turned on the speaker.

“This is Ninja,” the voice on the other side of the line slurred.

I lowered the phone, mouthed, Holy shit to the guys. “Um, Mister Robert?”

“Yeah?

“This is Samurai Pete. I, uh, challenge you to a duel!” My lack of imagination was old news.

The guys burst into laughter. Pete snatched the phone away. “Don’t forget Cowboy Gustavo, Astronaut Daniel, and Coast Guard Lieutenant Alexander.” He stifled a laugh. Cleared his throat. “We’ve had enough of your shit, Ninja Robert.”

“Do you boys understand what you’re doing?” His voice was a little clearer. “This disrespect will not stand.”

We howled laughing.

Jerry took the phone next. “Whatever, dude, we’ll be in touch.” He disconnected the call. “Let’s get blazed and call that asshole back later tonight.”

That’s just what we did. Sixteen calls in a row between 2:30 a.m. and 5 a.m.—all between bouts of Tekken 3.

By the tenth call we were familiar with him—started calling him Ninja Bob. He picked up every call. Stayed dead silent throughout—never hung up.

*

Ninja Bob killed Jerry first. Caught him in the dorm showers and hung him from the shower bar. 

Campus security figured it was a suicide. We didn’t argue the point, I mean, what were we going to say—Ninja Bob did it? Besides, my phone book disappeared and the newest one I found didn’t have his name in it.

I sat on a bench outside as EMTs rolled the stretcher with Jerry’s lifeless body on it into the back of an ambulance. Behind me, the roar of a leaf blower blocked out the rest of the noise around me—the tears of friends and acquaintances. Mike tried to call out to the gardener, but the fat fuck ignored him.

*

I had the misfortune of finding Mike next. He was dead on the top bunk of his bed—throat open from ear to ear. He was tucked in tight—top of his blanket stained a deep red, but his face as white as the rest of the sheet. Girlfriend said she had left him sleeping sound when she left for classes at 7 a.m. The cops held her for questioning for most of the day, but she had an airtight alibi. When she got back, she was crowded by students and administration. All the questions broke her down and I think she had a psychotic break right in our common area. Campus security came to pick her up and get in touch with her parents.

“Dude, that rent-a-cop look familiar to you?” Pete asked.

I stayed silent. Could this crazy bastard be coming after us over a few phone calls?

I looked at the two security guys flanking Mike’s girlfriend—didn’t even know her name—but only saw their backs. Both fat as hell.

*

Pete and I drank our sorrows away for a few nights. Decided it was time to kick the Playstation back on and play a few rounds of Tekken—for old time’s sake.

Of course as I’m a round from destroying Pete’s Lei with my Eddie Gordo, the lights went out. It was only a few minutes before they came back up. That’s when I saw that Pete’s head was gone—just a raw, red stump remained. I dropped my controller, scrambled away from the body. Heard a thump behind me and turned to see Pete’s head bounce and roll until it hit the TV tray. My only escape route blocked by a fat bastard in orange ninja pajamas—the lower half of his face covered.

“You dishonored me.” He adjusted a strap around his waist. It struggled against his gut.

I stood. Held my hands out to him. “Listen, man, we were just fucking with you.” Shook my head. “It was a prank.”

He stood in a dramatic pose. Arms held slightly aloft at his sides, legs spread to shoulder width. “Which one are you?” he asked.

“What?”

“Which one of my enemies are you?”

This was fucking insane. I put my fear aside and tried to run for my phone. Saw Ninja Bob move out of the corner of my eye. Heard a whistle and my left hand was gone. Separated from the wrist before I could grab the phone from its base. I screamed. Held my forearm and watched the blood spurt from the center of my new stump.

Ninja Bob laughed. “Do you know what’s worse than dishonoring a ninja?”

I ignored him. Vision blurred as I lost more blood. Heard a click.

“Dishonoring a ninja with a rocket launcher.”

A bump. A rush of super-heated air. My stump didn’t hurt anymore.


Angel Luis Colón works in New York City but has been exiled to live in the northern wastes of New Jersey—thankfully, they have good beer. His work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Revolt Daily, Thuglit, All Due Respect, and The Flash Fiction Offensive. You can follow his grumblings on Twitter @GoshDarnMyLife. Or http://angelluiscolon.com/

More Than They Could Know

In today's world, caring about recycling is important.

But is it as important as caring about your fellow man? 

More Than They Could Know by Beau Johnson



*—to be fair, I think I have always been like this.

Cycling down, compressing, I watch as the arms and legs hanging outside the machine snap off like muted branches.  Thick and bleeding, they fall to the concrete floor, no longer a part of what once made them whole.  Occasionally—perhaps one in five—these appendages roll towards me, but most times they do not.  Inert, they remain still about my feet, each piece but a rearranged fragment of something which will never again be.

It is Sunday, pre-church, and before the morning rush.

Did I care that they made fun of me?  Yes.  More than they would ever know.  Did I show it?  Never—not once.  I am good at things like this, at holding them in.  I let them stew, boil.  It’s how I’ve come to cook; how the man inside me rolls.  In the mirror, naked, I repeat:  I am Rage.

At seventeen I am hit by a car.  Scars come, many, and to this day I still limp because of it.  My right hand turns inward as well, up and towards my chest.  It resembles a claw, but one which has lost the will to live.  I’d like to say chicks dig this, but no, this has never been the case.

Mr. Gray, the manager here at Mister Food, keeps me on even though corporate had suggested otherwise.  I give the man credit for that.  I really, truly do, even though I have been told this more times than I care to count.  Mr. Gray—he of the tall, the bald, and the very bad breath—shouldn’t have done what he did though, and only because of what it produced.  Truth be told, he should of given me severance; just ensured I went away.  He didn’t however, and soon after is when I find out that Mr. Gray is no better than all the others talking behind my back.  Mr. Gray never yells at me, nothing as vulgar as that.  But he whispers along with the rest of them, and at times I have seen him laugh.
              
It is this which has caused me to do the things I’ve done.
              
Why I rage.  Why I seethe.  Why I formed big goddamnable habits. 


Done, the final straw is the baler, and the day that Mr. Gray takes me aside.  He tells me the machine is only meant to house cardboard and plastic—that only a bale of each could be made at a time.  I say I understand this; that it hadn't been me who’d mixed the two.  It is here that Mr. Gray chooses to call me a liar, and his voice, had it been raised?  I can’t recall, not really—all I do see is my fellow employees; that they have stopped in their tracks, there to glare and stare.  One of them had been Cara, a girl I had at one time wished to call my own.  She would never fuck me though, and I have never held any delusions concerning that.

“And Ronald, seriously, you need to be washing your uniform more than once a week.” 

I nod, take what has been given, and then watch as Mr. Gray begins to walk away.  From the side I see him roll his eyes as he passes Patrick, Bill and Mark.  They smile in return, the secret shared and understood.  The rage comes forward then, leaping, but I smash it down, my wide and toothy grin fighting to contain that which no longer wanted to be contained.  This is a skill, something I’d come to excel at—the fuel which has filled me these last few years.
              
It’s only later that the staff meeting at the end of the month goes and enters my mind.
              
They are always held on Sundays, before store opening, and out back where Mister Food keeps all of its excess stock.  Mr. Gray rents folding chairs and everyone gets a seat.  To the right, beside these seats, looms the baler.  Industrial grade and painted brown, it possesses a mouth I had come to dream of—six feet long, three feet wide, and five feet deep.  Plastic and cardboard Mr. Gray had said, saying it as though I were someone new.
              
Producing rectangle kids, you fed the baler until you no longer could.  Full, you pressed the button which activated the plunger, three thousand pounds of pressure then compacting recyclables the only way it could.  Needless to say, I was far from wondering about cardboard and plastic as I spasmed into my hand.  I was thinking about bodies; about stacking them high.  Could it be done, I thought, and suddenly realized I had asked the question aloud.
              
“Mr. Gray?”
              
“What is it now, Ronald?”
              
“At the staff meeting, if it’s not too much trouble … I was wondering … I mean, would it be okay if I was in charge of refreshments?” 
Pausing, Mr. Gray finally swivels in his chair.  He is elated, I see, just as I thought he’d be.  All told, it’s shit like this that makes me want to heave.  Fact is, it proves what I’d come to understand—that people like Mr. Gray don’t just call the kettle black, they fucking well paint it.
              
The dosage I drum up is enough, more than, and all but Florence has taken a glass.  It doesn’t take much to persuade her however, not once I put the full force of my limp on display.  She takes the glass, sips—comments on how peachy it tastes.  Thirty minutes later all thirty-seven employees lay prone before me. 

Where to begin, I think, and suddenly notice how hard it has become to breathe; how hard my heart is now knocking inside my chest.  “I am Rage,” I say and take each of them in at a time.  I will be stacking you, I think, and then go on towards Mr. Gray.  In time—stupid fucking hand—I get the big man up, rolling him up and over the baler’s top lip.  Easier, I take the cashiers next, each of them half the weight of Mr. Gray.  Eleven of them inside, I close the safety gate and then push the big green button on the side of the machine.  With a start and then a screech the plunger descends, crushing breath and bone alike.  They never wake, not one of them.  They only bleed, forming a lake like the syrup we kept in isle 9.
              
The buggie boys come next, followed by the ladies who ran Floral.  Of them all, it’s Sheila the office girl who proves the most difficult.  Over three hundred pounds, she is more than I can lift.  Using empty milk crates, I stack them like steps and create the leverage I believe I will need.  In, she sinks halfway down, her face coming to rest next to George from Frozen Food.  Amanda is beside them, her brain exposed and grey. 



Finished, I look around at the empty chairs, at the skids full overstock and beyond.  I take in the blood that continues to seep from the bottom of the baler and the arms and legs that rest within.  Should I leave them, I think, but realize I have been trained too well; that a job is not complete until you have cleaned up after yourself.  Smiling, I make a bale using twine that will never again be white.  It does not turn out as I hoped, not as rectangular, nor as solidly built.

From skin that runs in flaps to muscle that hangs and drips, I stand in front of the baler’s open door, squint into the chamber for all the faces I can still make out.  There in the corner is Stacy and Beth, both of them covered in a twit that had gone by the name of Steve.  Below them I see Richard, the man finally making his way inside Peggy-Sue.  And there at the bottom lay Mr. Gray, his bright eyes now dull, his nose beneath his mouth.

To reiterate:  Did I care that they made fun of me?  Yes.

More than they could know.


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

Hammer Came Down

Here's the deal with debts, fuckos. You gots to repay them.

But here's the caveat in the Gutter: exchange rates change over time, and pennies on the dollar can turn tit for tat really fucking fast.

Hammer Came Down by R.P. Lester




“Hey, man, where’s ’Los? New Orleans is a three-hour drive.”

Rayjean cut me a sneer from behind his Corona. Only black man I’d ever seen drink a Mexican beer. “Shut the fuck up, Whitey. Y’all gone be leavin’ soon enough, aiight?”

I’d just met Rayjean. I hated him within ten seconds. But I was doing this as a last-ditch effort to pay off some crushing debts. I played it cool and resisted the urge to jam the bottle straight up his ass.

It was noon. We’d been sitting at the Delta for over an hour, a fucking dive located in Pinpoint, Louisiana. It hunkered on the Southwest side, oblivious to the gentrification claiming most of its looming apartment buildings. For most watering holes in the Heart of Dixie, race dictated the demographic. But the Delta catered to everyone—black, white, brown, purple, didn’t matter. As well as the bar; the owner operated two adult movie stores and peddled biker speed on the side. To him, dollar bills were green no matter whose pockets they came from. Anyone who didn’t practice tolerance was escorted from the premises with a pistol-grip 20 gauge.

The creaky door opened and slammed, its hinges crumbling from years of swinging abuse. We looked up from our drinks and saw ’Los walk in with his usual bravado: overpriced blue jeans hanging below his ass, right hand clutching his dick like a grand prize, and a gait one can only learn on the prison yard.

When ’Los got to our stools, he slapped our palms in greeting, the smacks echoing through the room like the double-tap from a .22. “Whatup, my niggas?! Y’all ready to make that money or what?!” I tried to downplay his enthusiasm; regular handshakes and “Hello’s would’ve bolstered our discretion. But then again, shit, I’m just a really white whiteboy.

There’s a reason they called me “Pasty” around the old neighborhood.

*

The normal struggles of life in the ghetto were hard enough, but being the only white kid in a square mile of decrepit shotgun houses brought its own set of challenges. In contrast to my later achievements, the hopelessness of that place seems so distant, as if it were part of someone else’s history.

My parents were poor. Kelly Land was the only place that Pops could afford for his family. He worked at a plywood mill just off the interstate. Mama stayed home while he toiled in the misery. Brutal hours and a recurring cycle of nepotism had made Pops a bitter alcoholic, angry that some undeserving nephew or brother-in-law always made supervisor. He died of liver failure before my eleventh birthday. When I neared my 20s, I realized alcohol wasn’t as responsible as the mill. The fuckings he endured from that place had left him a broken man. After he passed, Mama got a part-time gig at a craft store and did her best to keep me straight.

’Los’s parents had been killed on their living room couch when he was five, victims of a .44 and a heroin deal gone south. Three shots apiece. His grandmother took him in so he wouldn’t go into foster care. We’d seen each other on the streets but didn’t hook up until I was thirteen. He showed me how to sell weed to the rich kids at school and sling rocks to the strawberries in the alleys. I used the money to offset the poverty at home; I was paying the light bill and filling the fridge better than Pops ever had.

Selling dope is dangerous in itself, but I was an almond in a box of raisins. When I was fifteen, some Barney had gotten wind of a cracker-kid running product in the neighborhood. I wasn’t that hard to find. They kicked in Mama’s door and found me with a pound of weed and a half-ounce of boulders. I pled guilty and received two years in the Renaissance Home. It was there that I discovered the joys of academia. I was a sponge, reading three books a week and getting decent grades in their classroom. Being away from the pitfalls of Kelly Land, I showed an aptitude for learning and stayed the course when I was released. I’d be a liar if I said it was easy, but with recommendations from teachers and a batch of student loans, I obtained a B.S. in Business from a state university.

I’d always been grateful for my second chance, but repaying those loans were breaking me.

’Los kept on slangin’, becoming a fat rat in a city of hungry mice. Though criminal life was behind me, we kept in touch, even when he spent three years in the clink. He resumed his old ways after release. 

When he offered me thirty grand to drive him and his old cellmate to score a shipment of coke in the Big Sleazy, I saw it as my first step out of the poor house. Still, Rayjean’s comment never sat right with me:

“Y’all gone be leavin’ soon enough.”

*

We’d taken my silver Camry. It wasn’t as noticeable as ’Los’s sparkle-blue Infiniti. With four keys of uncut sitting in the trunk, I’m glad we did. We neared Pinpoint around twilight. From the backseat, Rayjean asked me to pull over by a cane field to piss. I didn’t trust it. He stepped out and I reached under the seat to palm my .45.

The dashboard bloomed crimson when Rayjean shot ’Los through the passenger window.

I fell to the gravel and came up blasting. I caught one in the shoulder, but two hollow points sent Rayjean falling into the fresh sugarcane. He was still alive when I jammed my thumb into a bullet wound.

His words were soaked in blood. “Fuck you, devil. And fuck that bitch in the car. Wudn’t nothin’ but a punk anyway. ”

I shoved the muzzle against his tonsils. Smelled the stink of human tissue searing from hot metal.

And my hammer came down.


Real name is Russell Lester. Born and raised in Louisiana. For a long time, I did the wrong things, but I always kept writing in some fashion. Then I spent seven years in EMS, running 911 and watching everybody else do the wrong thing. Now all I do is write from Texas.

Brit Grit Alley

Brit Grit Alley features interviews, news and updates on what's happening down British crime fiction's booze and blood soaked alleyways.

By Paul D. Brazill 

A quick news roundup down Brit Grit Alley:

Brit Grit superstar Luca Veste has signed up with big cheese publishers Simon & Schuster. He says:

‘I’ve been sitting on this news for a few weeks now, which has been incredibly difficult. I’m not great with keeping good things to myself, so I’ve had to be extra careful lately that I didn’t let it slip. Now though, all is official and I can talk about this news for a while!

The Dying Place, which is book two in the Murphy and Rossi series will be released in December from Avon/HarperCollins, but from next year (2015), the series will be moving to Simon and Schuster! Incredibly excited and honoured to be amongst such a stellar line-up they have there, and can’t wait to get started. Work on Book Three – which doesn’t even have a working title yet – has begun and will be out sometime in 2015.’

Ryan Bracha has put together a very tasty trailer for his 12 Mad Men anthology which includes stories from Richard Godwin, Les Edgerton, Darren Sant, Keith Nixon and me.

Shadows & Light is a forthcoming charity anthology edited by thriller writer Andrew Scorah, to benefit the Domestic Violence organisation Women's Aid. Women's Aid is the key national charity working to end domestic violence. Contributors include Andrew Vachss, Cath Bore, Aidan Thorn, Graham Masterton and Thomas Pluck.

Hartlepool horror writer Andrew Bell has some tasty news:

A short story of mine has been accepted for the DEAD HARVEST dark tales anthology by Scarlet Galleon Publications. It's being released 22nd September this year. It's really big for me as I'm amongst Bram Stoker award winners on the table of contents!’

Congrats to Andrew!

Gerry McCullough is interviewed by Christoph Fischer.

I interviewed Martin Garrity about the new Solarcidal Tendencies anthology.

Renato Bratkovic interviews writer and musician Nick Sweeney.

SJI Holliday signs to Black & White Publishing.

The Bookseller said:

‘Black & White Publishing has signed a psychological thriller by debut crime novelist S J I Holliday.

Campbell Brown, c.e.o. of Black & White Publishing, acquired world English rights in the novel, titled Black Wood, from Philip Patterson of Marjacq Scripts.

Black Wood is set in Banktoun, a fictional small town south of Edinburgh: a quiet, close-knit community where gossip and rumours abound, and terrible deeds are quietly swept under the carpet, such as what happened all those years ago in the woods. It is described as an atmospheric novel of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love that builds to a murderous climax.

Holliday said: “I am absolutely thrilled to have found the perfect home for Black Wood. The team at Black & White have just 'got' exactly what I was trying to do with the novel, the characters, the setting – the things that make it a little different. It's a dark book but with some lighter elements - just like the town it's based on.”

She added: “I plan to write others set in Banktoun, but not so many that it turns into Midsomer..."

Black & White Publishing will publish Black Wood in spring 2015.’

The bestselling Byker Books eBook, Shit Happens, by Eileen Wharton is out now in paperback.

Drive by Mark West is out soon!

The Brittle Birds by Antony Cowin is out now!

And Graham Smith's debut crime novel will be published by the splendid  Caffeine Nights Publishing.

  There'll be more carryings on down Brit Grit Alley very soon, sorta kinda thing, like.

Paul D. Brazill is the author of A Case Of Noir, Guns Of Brixton and Roman Dalton - Werewolf PI. He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, Polish and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime 8,10 and 11, alongside the likes of Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman and Lee Child. He has edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. His blog is here.



Forgot the Trouble, That's the Trouble

We all know that feeling when an old love comes calling. 

But for most of us, that love is another human being. 

Forgot the Trouble, That's the Trouble by T. Maxim Simmler



The last time I'd spoken to Simone was a week before she sent me a ‘Dear John’ from her phone, so I'm surprised to see her at my door, two years later, giving me a half-buckled smile and slipping in.

"You gotta do me a favour, Mickey," she says.

Girl’s never been one for dicking about.

She looks sick; ashen lank hair hanging over a puffy face and she could carry her worldly possessions in the bags under her eyes. Lost a lot of weight, too. The clothes slouch over her scrawny arms and legs. Only the cardigan’s too tight.

"You're preggers, for fuck’s sake.” The words toddle on my tongue.

"No worries. Ain't yours."

I look at her a bit longer and feel that something’s wrong, something’s off, but I can’t put a finger on it. Then it dawns on me—I still love her. Shit.

"You live with your Mum again?" Her eyes dart around, but I don't think she sees anything.

"She's dead. House’s mine now."

"Yep." Neither is she listening, she’s busy scraping her arms, neck and chest.

"Look, I've got no right to ask you anything, but, Mickey, you're the only one who can help me here."

I have a bad feeling about this. The olfactory sensation of shit starting to stir.

"I've got to kick the skag. Doc says, I carry on like this, I’m done in a couple of months. Bloody Hep C’s even the least of my problems.”


"Plus there’s the wee one?"

"Huh?" She's seriously confused. "Oh! Sure...the fucking baby."

Guess they don’t need to start engraving the Mother Of The Year Award yet.

"How exactly do you figure it's supposed to work? Going cold turkey? Here? You need to check into rehab, luv.”

"I can't. Well, I did and then legged it on the third day. They won't take me again this year. I'm dying, Mickey. Please? Help me."

She’s sweating, trembling, stuttering: "I'll stay in one room and you only need to check on me once a day. You won't even know I'm here. Lock me in, just..."

Then she starts to cry and that settles it.

"I’ve got a sofa in the cellar. There's a restroom, a TV and a fan. No windows and I keep the bloody door locked. I'll look after you every few hours, but as soon as I think it goes tits up, I call an ambulance."

"Right." She nods so enthusiastically, a tear drops on my cheek.

"Give us the phone."

"What?"

"Your mobile. I won't have you call some drug dealing dickwad on me the minute you start to detox.”

She rummages through her handbag, looking lost and vulnerable. And because I’m an emotionally impaired eejit, I feel like a cunt when I pocket her Nokia.

"I'd better bring a few buckets then," I say.

My brain's spinning somewhat out of control, showing me a short film with Simone and me jumping over a bright meadow, holding hands. Uplifting music plays in the background.

"But I need a last fix." The film stutters and dies.

"Fuck that. There’s no way..."

"One last fix. I can't crash that hard now. Not with the door closed and no windows—I'm going to freak. Really, just a bit and I can get used to this.”

It's a load of bull. The same bullshit I tried to pull when I kicked the stuff years ago. I also know there's no way I can reason with her, so, God help me, I say: "I'm back in an hour. I'll call Tony, buy some and then we start. For real."

"Thank you." For being a co-dependent bollockbag.

I kiss her forehead, which seems to startle her and lock the door. I hear her walking up and down as I pinch Tony's number.

"Long time no hear, mate."

Bleeding tinker remembers me. Well, no wonder really, considering I still owe him for a
family-sized bag of coke.

"You can change hundred Euros for me, Drago?"

A long pause, crackling static and then he asks: "After all the time? Are you sure?"

"You’ve got a conscience for Christmas?"

He chuckles. "Come over."

Driving to Whitby, conducting business and heading back takes less than fifty minutes. I listen down the staircase, hear the telly blasting away and walk into the kitchen to grab a beer. My mood’s pretty great now—Tony didn’t even mention my debts. Sucker.

I toy with the white balloon. Damn bubbles got small. Still a lot for one last fix. I take a long draught from the bottle, but my mouth dries up again in an instant. I wonder about the quality. If a hit after all those years would be just as good as the first one. I keep wondering till I've opened the bubble. It's not like I’d start again. I wouldn't even shoot up, just a drag or two, I think and look for aluminium foil. Can't hurt, I reckon. I spread out a line, fetch a lighter. No one can get hooked again from one wee blow. I untwist a biro, stick one end into my mouth, heat up the shit and suck the light blue fumes into my lungs. Oddly, I smell sugar-coated plastic melting.


That’s when everything goes wrong.

My chest tightens and fireworks explode in my spine. Blood rushes into my head like a simmering geyser till my eyes bulge.

That devious motherfucking gipsy...

I see a shower of incandescent stars raining down. My muscles all jerk at once and I fall flat on my face.

I need to phone for help, but every time I move I forget how to breathe. There's no way I can get down the stairs. Don’t remember where I put the keys anyway.

The TV bellows white noise through the house.

Maybe someone will hear it. Maybe someone will come and find us.

I really need some rest now. Sleep it off.

Remember to breathe in.

And out.

And in. 


T.Maxim Simmler writes horror, crime and assorted weird stuff, mostly while working as a night porter at a decrepit riverside hotel. Drop by and say hello on the probably most swear-word riddled page in the history of social media: https://www.facebook.com/TMaximSimmler

Dancing in the Dark

As Gutter Books (in conjunction with Zelmer Pulp) readies to release our Trouble in the Heartland: Crimes Stories Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen anthology, we are going to run a few Boss-related pieces over here at the FFO.

This story by Brian Panowich (whose "Wreck on the Highway" will be in the collection) testifies that when you can't get the moves right, you better hold on tight.

Dancing in the Dark by Brian Panowich




Jesus Christ.

I couldn’t believe she was still asleep by the time I made it to our bedroom. I damn near knocked the front door down trying to get in the house. I banged my knee on that stupid antique credenza running past it in the hall, but it didn’t slow me down a bit. My heart was beating so fast and hard, I thought I might go down of a heart attack right there in the hallway.

I laid my gun on the dining room table. It was still warm. If it were human, I’d have spit on it.

My hands were still shaking.

I had to hold the doorknob to our bedroom tightly with both hands to keep it from rattling like a dinner bell. I flung the door open and there she was, wearing one of my old T-shirts, with one leg hiked over the body pillow I bought her for nights like this when I didn’t make it home. I paused just for a moment to take her in, lying there half naked. She always left the bathroom light on when I was gone. Forty years old, and she still needed a night light. I sat down on the edge of the bed and pushed her hair back behind her ear. She was something to look at. She was just as beautiful now, as the day I met her. No. Wait, that’s not true. She was light years beyond that skinny little nineteen-year-old with the fake ID I met all those years ago at the Pony. She just got better and better, each imperfection, scar, or extra pound made her more unique and incredible. What she considered to be flaws, I considered to be secrets just between us. She was custom made just for me.

And I was the dumb-fuck who didn’t deserve her.

She was everything to me. The reason I had to get out of bed in the morning. The reason I stayed out ’til all hours of the night handling business. At least that’s what I told myself. Goddamn, I’m so stupid.

“Baby, wake up.”

She stretched a little and rolled toward me.

“You’re home early,” she said without opening her eyes. I cupped the side of her warm cheek, but it wasn’t my trembling hand on her skin, and tone of voice that scared her. It was the look on my face when she finally opened her eyes.

“Baby, what’s wrong,” she said, and sat up with a start. I pushed the comforter back, and grabbed her hand.

“Come with me, we don’t have much time.”

She said something else. Something about our daughter Bobby calling, but I don’t remember. I led her into the living room and frantically scoured the darkness for the stereo remote.

“Let me turn on a light,” she said.

“No, no don’t. And stay away from the windows.”

“What’s going on, you’re scaring me,” she said, twisting her hands in the length of the long oversized T-shirt.

“Don’t be scared, just give me a second.” I found the remote and clicked on the receiver.

Saxophone bled out of the speakers.

“… And I … would drive all night again, just to buy you some shoes … and to …”

I dropped the remote to the floor, pulled her to me, and held my wife against me like my life depended on it.

It did.

She could smell the whiskey and cigarette stink on me, and normally she’d let me have it, but the smell of fear coming off me must have been more powerful.

“What’s going on?” she asked again, her head on my shoulder, her voice hushed now. The tears were starting to come for both of us.

“It all went wrong,” I told her.

“How wrong?”

“The kinda wrong you don’t get to walk away from.”

She squeezed her arms around me tighter and we danced. We danced like kids on the beach under a canopy of stars. We danced like the last night of summer before life forced its burdens and responsibilities on us. We danced slow and close like we were the last two people on earth. I buried my face in her long chestnut hair and breathed in the cinnamon and burnt sugar. She always smelled like that. She smelled like home. I hoped I’d never forget that smell, but I knew I would.

“Tell Bobby her old man loves her. Tell her I’m sorry. Tell her …”

“Shhhh,” she said, and kissed me quiet. Finally my hands stopped shaking. I drank up every bit of her. Every detail.

We both jumped with the first bang on the front door, but not the second time when they kicked it in.

“Let go of the woman and get down on the floor!”

We danced.

“Last warning! Let the girl go, and get down on the fucking ground now!”

No. I don’t think I will.

The last night of summer.

Cinnamon and burnt sugar.

I’ll never let go of the girl.

Brian is the author of Bull Mountain coming Fall 2015 from Putnam Books. He has several stories available in print and online collections. Two of his stories, "If I Ever Get Off This Mountain" and "Coming Down The Mountain," were nominated for a Spinetingler award in 2013. He is currently a firefighter in East Georgia, living with his wife and four children. Bull Mountain is his first novel.