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Dead Hesitation

When you got a job to do, don't blink and mute that guilty conscience. 

Just one sliver of hesitation puts you six feet under.

Dead Hesitation by Michael D. Davis


I’d like to think that when I was shoved out of my mother I had a bit of humanity. Standing  over a blubbering old lady with a throwaway gun that is held together with black tape makes you think about such things.

How I got here, I don’t know. It’s been a blur. I had a good enough up bringing with a great mother. Nothing you could call abuse took place and isn’t that all you can ask for? I was just that kid at the back of class no one noticed until disciplinary action was needed. You know the one; shaggy hair, an old dirty jacket, and in the yearbook voted most likely to be found dead next to a hooker named Dimples.

I drank in high school. Hell, I drank in middle school; probably even drank during nap time in kindergarten. It’s just one of those things I’ve always done that's always made me feel good. My one true friend, the bottle. That’s probably why Ingledue takes my bets. No one else in town even speaks to me when it comes to placing a bet, except Ingledue. I think he probably looks at me and sees a no good dumb drunk son of a bitch that's going to end up dead in a ditch sooner than later. He’s more or less right.

So, I make my bets. I drink my winnings and don’t pay what I owe. I knew something was going to come of this and I wasn’t wrong. Ingledue came to me for what he called a chat. He said my debts, the money I owed him, would all be forgotten if I did him a favor: killed his mother. He didn’t tell me why, just how and when. He gave me the gun as he talked with that smooth whipped cream voice of his.

Why he wants her full of holes, I couldn’t give less of a fuck. I just don't want to do it. I don’t want to take the gun or drive to her home or point the stupid weapon at her sagging pendulous chest, but here I am. Looking down at her wrinkled face hidden behind those foot-thick old woman glasses, she looks just like my mother. All old bags look alike, but this is eerie. I catch myself waiting for her to peer up and call me Puddin’. I have to remind myself this isn’t my lovely mother. No, this is Ingledue’s mother. Probably an awful wretched woman hiding under all that wrinkled, sweet-looking exterior. I have to do it. I have to shoot her.

I tighten my grip on the gun and point the barrel at her face. I can’t pull the trigger. I’ve found the line I can’t cross. I may be a broke, drunk, son of a bitch, but I’m not a killer or worse, in some books, an old lady killer. I am proud of the fact that on my headstone it can read: Lewis Holly did some bad shit but at least he couldn’t shoot an old woman in the head.

I lower the gun and drop next to her on the couch. We both sit still for a few moments. Killer and victim side by side.

I’m just about to speak, tell her to call the cops and about her son sending me, when the old woman takes the mug of coffee she’d been sipping from and slams it into my nose. I'm too shocked to do anything. She plucks the gun from my hand and before I know it she’s poked a few holes in me.

I am bleeding into her couch and making some rasping sounds as I try to breathe. She hovers over me like I am a disobedient child about to be punished. Her resemblance to my mother is gone and as the darkness comes I am really wishing I’d popped the blue-haired old bitch.

Michael D. Davis was born and raised in a small town in Iowa. A high school graduate and avid reader, he has aspired to be a writer for years. He’s written over thirty short stories--ranging in genre from comedy to horror from flash fiction to novella--some of which have been published in Out of the Gutter Online, Near to the Knuckle online magazine, Horla, Sirens Call, and The Dark City mystery and crime magazine. He continues in his accursed pursuit of a career in the written word and, in his hunt, Michael's love for stories in all genres and mediums will not falter.

By The Hour

When tying up loose ends, 

make sure the knot is nice and tight.

By The Hour by Bill Morgan



The elevator smelled like stale piss but the old valet holding his bag didn’t seem to notice. Ellis took in baby sips of air and waited as the ancient cab crept to the third floor. He nudged past the man into the hallway and took a deep, quiet breath. It didn’t smell any better.

“Room 306, this way,” the old man said and turned to the right, down the hall. Ellis followed.

At the third door, the valet used the key and pushed the door open before stepping aside to let Ellis in first. The wallpaper was a floral pattern way past its expiration date and everything had a jaundiced yellow hue from so many cigarettes smoked or left forgotten, burning to the butt.

The valet gave him a smile and reached out his hand. Ellis slipped him a five and followed him to the door. “Have a pleasant stay, sir,” the valet said.  

It was a by the hour place, where the only thing to be had was pleasure in one form or another. Ellis looked out the window and counted the hookers, more volume than quality. He watched the train across the street make its slow loop into the city. In an hour, it would come back; his plan was to be on it. He opened the leather duffle bag and pulled out a pair of thick rubber boots, made to slip over regular shoes. Below the boots were coveralls and gloves. At the bottom of the bag was the wrapped M&P .22 compact, with the suppressor beside it. He took these out and set them aside, sure not to touch either with ungloved hands.

The phone in his pocket dinged with a text: Five minutes. Will notify what room after check in.

He set the phone on the soiled duvet and pulled the gloves on. From the front pocket of the bag, he took out a small passport case, part of the same parcel as the gun and suppressor. Inside were the details and a grainy black and white picture; each already committed to memory. He thought she looked like a nice older woman, the type who might look out of place here if anyone cared to take a second glance, but once the money was across the counter everybody became faceless.  

The phone went off again and he reached over to get it. Fourth floor, room 412.

He dressed in the coveralls and slipped the boots over his shoes. Once he had tucked the gun away, he took the gloves off and stowed them in the coverall pockets. At the door, he waited as two people passed by. They were probably too drunk to remember, but he was cautious and waited another minute before opening the door.

He took the emergency stairs up two flights and entered the fourth floor. He counted down the room numbers until he was standing at 412. Beyond the door, he heard the faint music of Chopin. He tested the knob. When it turned completely, he let himself in.

She was sitting on the bed, smiling, when she saw him. He shut the door and turned the lock. The radio switched to Samuel Barber Adagio for Strings. She raised a glass and drank the contents down.

“Drink?” she asked.

He declined with a nod.

She took the bottle and tipped another drink into the glass. “I really do hate drinking alone, but I admire a man who doesn’t drink on the job.” The curtains were drawn but she’d left the window open enough to let a slight breeze in.

Ellis stepped away from the window.

She sipped her drink and watched him. When he reached into his pocket, she flinched then relaxed when she saw the gloves.

“So how does this work? Do we have a struggle or. . .”

“You get what you paid for,” Ellis interrupted.

“Of course. Do you want to know why?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Mister, I’m paying you to kill me, the least you could do is entertain me.” 

Ellis relinquished and crossed his hand behind him.

“I’m already dying, caught a bit of the cancer last year and damned if it hasn’t worked its way into the untreatable spots.” She finished her drink, gave him a weak smile, and filled the glass again. After another sip, she rested it on her knees.

“Are you married?” she asked

Ellis shook his head.

“Good man. Worse thing I ever did. Thirty years and you know what he’s doing right now? Screwing an intern at his office. I have the pictures. When I confronted him, the arrogant shit laughed. ‘Oh, you’re going to be dead in six months anyway, I’m just getting a head start.’ He’s going to move her into my house, spend my family’s money on her. No!”

Ellis watched her finish the rest of the drink in one swallow.

She grimaced, shook away the alcohol burn, and looked up. “I’m not a murderer, and as much as I hate him, I can’t imagine him dead. But, sitting in a prison cell wondering how his gun got into this hotel room, how it was used to. . .Well, that I can live with.” 

Ellis took the cue and pulled the pistol from inside his coveralls. She let out a little laugh. 

“And this. . .” She waved her hand around the room “. . . is a bit of poetic justice. We used to come here when we wanted to feel dangerous. He’ll never understand. . .” Ellis pulled the trigger and the bullet stopped the thought before she finished it.

Per her instructions, he fired two more shots and exited the room, wiping the knob. When he got back to his room and undressed, he dumped the coveralls. The gun would find its way back into the victim’s house.

He looked at his watch. The train would be along in ten minutes, plenty of time for him to make it.

Bill W. Morgan’s fiction has appeared in the Yellow Mama webzine, The Wildcat Review, and The Reno News and Review. He is the author of three books: When We Awaken, Showcase, and Suffer Head. He lives in Carson City, Nevada.

Mr. Big

In The Gutter,  

age ain't nothing but a number.

Mr. Big by Jonathan Brown



The road is always slickest after the first rain. We’d had twenty-nine days of scorching heat then the dark clouds moved in overnight like a bad omen. By eight a.m., I’m on the street and the road is like ice under my rubber. Still I go—gotta get there or I’m toast.

I gun it down Eastman and take a hard right on Main. Breaking slightly before the turn, I punch it coming out. The back end kicks out but I ride it and right it. I’m pushing it when I hear the sirens. They get close. I shoulder-check, seeing as I don’t have a mirror. A black and white Ford Explorer has all grill and roof lights flashing. I don’t care. I’m going for it. I grind the gears as I shift sloppily. I feel every bump as my rubber fights to meet the road. But I won’t be late—can’t be late.

I see my spot and accelerate, crank the wheel, and squeeze between the Beemer and the Audi, and tuck in like a Louisiana tick. The cops scream by and keep on movin’.

I leave the ride and take the steps two at a time. Sprinting down the hall, I deke left and double-deke right. No way is this horde of people going to stop me, not today. I grab the door just before it shuts. The place is packed. Mr. Big holds court. Nobody talks when Mr. Big has the floor. His sleeves are rolled up high on his thick hairy forearms as usual. When Mr. Big puts his pissed off glare on you it’s like being stared down by a Rottweiler. I try not to shake.

“Nice of you to join us, Mister Davis,” he says.

“Sorry, Mister Big,” I say, angling for a chair.

“Sorry? That’s it?” His voice is deep like actor James Earl Jones only add two tablespoons of gravel to it and that’s Mr. Big’s soundtrack.

The silence is thicker that grandma’s gravy. A thought hits me before I sit. “Mr. Big I apologize again for being late but I’m going to need, like, another thirty seconds.”

“Oh really? Why don’t tell us why we should wait for you? You do know that if you fail this final you’re looking at summer school? And if you fail that it means no high school for Mr. Timmy Davis. You’ll be looking at eighth grade all over again.” He pauses and folds his big arms. “Talk about middle school blues.”

“Yes, sir, I know,” I nod. “But I just remembered I forgot to lock my bicycle!”

Jonathan Brown recently signed a two-book deal with Down & Out Books. THE BIG CRESCENDO...A Lou Crasher Mystery releases late 2019 and the follow up DON'T SHOOT THE DRUMMER in 2020. He also wrote a bio-fiction book: A BOXING TRAINER'S JOURNEY...A Novel based on the Life of Angelo Dundee on Mentoris Books. It drops February 2019. The often misunderstood rock n roll P.I. writer lives with his hot wife in sunny Southern California. He believes Bogey had it right when he said: "The problem with the world is that everybody is a few drinks behind..."

Cornered

Got a little thing nagging at you? 

Better get it checked before it goes to your head.

Cornered by George Garnet




"Please hold and an officer will be with you soon." The recorded phone message with a soothing feminine voice plays for the thirty-fourth time. I force myself to keep counting as it keeps my brain from exploding. Forty six minutes blink through the cracked screen of my cell phone.

A female voice jolts me back to the moment. After listening to my problem  of suspended payment, she sighs and says she's transferring me to the payroll department of Social Services. Before I can say a word, the line clicks and the soothing voice returns. My head's spinning, last night's crackers wearing off. It's cold and the ruffled blanket I pull up doesn't stop the chill from spreading up my feet. My eyes focus on the ceiling crack above me. Its jagged edges remind me of where my life is now.

A cold, unsympathetic voice intrudes a half-hour later. She can't help me to unlock my account unless I arrange for a new interview. Two more days - the world starts to whirl. I can't survive another day without money, much less two.
Her abrupt explanation sums up my predicament. "New policies. You missed your first interview and need to arrange a new one before we can see if we'll restart your payments, sir."

She hangs up on my mumbling, and I find my phone credits nearly gone. I've been jobless for the last four years. My last two employers sent almost all the jobs abroad, the rest of the openings taken by low-paid immigrants on some dodgy business visa. "Globalization," the boss shrugged. "Try re-inventing yourself."

How many times do I have to invent myself? I'm 61, deaf in my left ear, suffering vertigo and arthritis. I've gone through my last reincarnation. Dropping my useless cell phone to the blanket, its credits gone, it goes dead. I reach for my almost empty angina spray as my chest tightens. My good ear begins to ring, pain shooting down my neck.

As I clench my teeth, my eyes return to the crack on the ceiling. Cracks. Plenty of cracks in my life. You can call me 'Crackie'. Everything is cracked, broken - my marriage, my family, my life; all gone in a dark, deep crack, like in a wide crevice. I'm just clinging to the edge while the whole world's waiting for me to slide down the hole.

Something faint, a premonition turns in my mind. Something flashes like a micro-lightning, neurons making faulty connections in my brain. I shake my head. As if just having woken, I get up off the bed and vertigo hits me like a baseball bat.

Sliding hands over the wall for support, I manage to get to the door and outside to the front yard. It's a grey day, the sun strangled in a thick mantle of clouds. Just yards away is my rusty Toyota buried under a blanket of yellow oak leaves on the street.

The unlocked car door shrieks and I crawl inside. My eyes closed tightly, breathing hard, I wait for the vertigo to pass. The engine starts and I thank God for small miracles.

In front of the rectangular, one-story, beige Social Services building, I wedge my car behind a black Ford, parked yards away from the entrance; eyes firmly fixed on the glass doors, I don't need to wait long.

When a skinny young woman dressed in a formal black suit walks out of the door, I reach for the crowbar under my seat. The gold job tag dangling around her neck tells me all I need to know: Social Services officer. I can't read her name but it doesn't matter anyway.

The slamming of the car door catches her attention. Her eyes widen in horror as I slash her hard across the face. Her willowy body jerks back and the contents of her purse spill on the sidewalk. She drops to the ground soundless, a crimson stain spills from the crack in her face, surrounding her head.

The emptiness inside me spreads as I stare at the crack in her face; another crack in my life. One more doesn't make any difference. The image of the dying woman doesn't bother me. Maybe I'm a psychopath, not just another ordinary killer. I don't care anymore.

I pick up her purse, taking the $75 in cash I find in there.  I bend over, her lips barely moving. "Just needed my payment," I say. "Please hold . . . an officer will be with you soon."

George Garnet's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of publications such as Switchblade, Mystery Weekly, eFiction Literary, The Dark City Crime and Mystery Magazine, The Literary Hatchet, Heater, Romance Magazine, Needle in the Hay, The Lady in the Loft, GKBC International Short Story Competition Anthology, and elsewhere. He lives in Melbourne.

Mr. Sandman

Mister Sandman, bring me a dream. 

Make it the loudest that I've ever screamed.

Mr. Sandman by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri


Nick is twelve and he wants Mr. Sandman to bring him a dream where people love him and where parents aren’t having affairs, absorbed in selfishness. Instead he finds the Sandman having sex with his mother in her roadster. Mom had a liaison with Santa last Christmas (whipped cream was involved), and Daddy is still getting it on with the Easter Bunny’s daughter (she sprays chocolate syrup over his manhood), but this is a new low.

“I have dreams too, motherfucker,” Mr. Sandman says. “I spend all my time giving, so I’m taking your mother. And I’ve just taken her.”

Mr. Sandman laughs at his joke; crude, raw, ugly.

Nick’s mother tells him that Mr. Sandman needs love, that they were high school sweethearts. She talks of her dreams, the fact that Mr. Sandman understands her need for space, for a different life. A life without domesticity, as she puts it. Mr. Sandman nods menacingly at Nick. A life without demands, people reducing her to a status, a wife, even a mother.

In other words, a life without Nick. But Nick wants a mother, has always hoped she might truly love him. He’s tried to be good, he explains. His mother just smiles, the words evaporating. She says it’s more than that, that she can’t be a mother just now. She spouts platitudes Nick has heard on TV.

Nick begs and Mr. Sandman tells him to shut the fuck up. Stop being an emotional cripple, he says with his normally tender lips curled into a snarl.

The Sandman also wanted to be a writer, his mother says, to express emotions. Sadly, his father insisted that he stay on in the family business: Sandman, Incorporated. The mother says the Sandman’s father was like Nick’s own father: oppressive. Now they are fleeing to San Francisco, to find communion on the beaches, and hills, and in their stories. Mr. Sandman will never surrender.

It seems everyone’s dreams are being fulfilled, except Nick’s. No one has asked him what he wants. On top of that, his mother is leaving with the Sandman. Nick is tired of being denied. He wants a dream and he will not let Mr. Sandman deny him. He’s been denied too long, tried to be patient, but no more.

Nick chases after his mother and Mr. Sandman, only to be waterboarded by sand. He tumbles into bed, tries to awaken, but the Sandman keeps waterboarding him. Nick screams, until he falls into a deep, dreamless sleep. It seems that everyone’s dreams are being fulfilled except his. He lives without love, goes to orphanages, and people laugh when he tells them of his need for dreams. Nick becomes a thief, stealing people’s dreams. Even those dreams find their owners. In the end, he hires a hitman to find the Sandman, but he knows that even in death the Sandman will deny him. He’ll take what he can, though.


Mir-Yashar is a graduate of Colorado State University's MFA program in fiction. His short-stories have been published in various journals including Monkeybicycle and Paper Darts.

Sonny The Wonder Beast

If we're made in the image of God, 

the deities must be really self-conscious.

Sonny The Wonder Beast by Nick Kolakowski




Bobby couldn’t recall how many men he’d killed over the years. Of course, he remembered his first: a soft-boy snitch with bad teeth who’d sent Bobby’s father on a five-year bid in the hole for embezzlement. He would never forget the weirdest: a pyromaniac midget named Hard Harvey who was surprisingly fast and strong. This latest assignment? Well, this was a new one.

Bobby had never been ordered to murder a dog before.

The thought of pulling the trigger on motherfuckin’ Lassie made his throat tighten. Stopped at a traffic light, he retrieved the over-sized flask from his jacket pocket and helped himself to a deep swig of whiskey. The alcohol burned his throat, but failed to kill his jitters.

The dog’s name was Sonny the Wonder Beast. He was a bulldog, and the hilarious bastards at Premium Winner Off-Track Betting™ had made him a throne out of a discarded easy chair they’d found in the alley out back. They had even spray-painted the fucking thing gold—the chair, not the dog.

And why not? Sonny was the best thing that had ever happened to them in their miserable lives.

Bobby parked the car a block away from the betting parlor, opened the glove compartment, and pulled out the stubby .38 from its nest of old Chinese takeout menus. For the first time, he regretted not investing enough in some kind of retirement fund. When living on a little patch of Florida beach, nobody asked you to put a bullet in a cute pup.

He slipped the gun into his shoulder holster, where it tapped against the flask. Keep it simple, he thought. Walk in, bam, walk out. Hate yourself later. 


The parlor was jammed with old guys with too few teeth and nothing better to do than burn their Social Security checks. The screens above them flashed a dozen horse races. Even in 
the midst of the geriatric maelstrom, the throne was impossible to miss. It shone like real gold in the cold fluorescent lighting and Sonny the Wonder Beast lolled in its seat like a drooling, hairy king.

Bobby had a hand beneath his jacket, on the pistol’s grip. He paused, transfixed by the ancient dude in the stained wife-beater who knelt on the dirty linoleum before the bulldog, extending a folded piece of paper. The animal stared for a long moment with its head cocked and tapped the paper with its left paw.

The old man shed tears. His lips quivered. As he stood, he stepped backward—practically kowtowing as he retreated to the nearest window to make his bet.

On the screens, the horses finished their latest races. Men came alive, cheering, clutching their tickets, hopping on arthritic legs. It reminded Bobby of his childhood, his father in the big tent preaching so hard he spat blood. Daddy, the fake Man of God, always with one hand in the congregation plate.

But this dog—maybe it was the real thing. Bobby’s boss had said so, but Bobby hadn’t believed it, because street myths were usually a speck of truth buried under a steaming heap of bullshit. And yet, dozens of guys—hardened types, totally faithless—were bowing to this slobbering critter.

Besides, even if you thought these guys were delusional. . . Well, there was always the money. For the past five weeks, ever since they had found a starving Sonny in the street, the patrons of Premium Winner Off-Track Betting™ had a track record (so to speak) of constant wins, with virtually no big losses. Because the dog. . . The dog. . . 

The oldster in the wife-beater, shaking the wad of hundred-dollar bills in his hand, yelped at the top of his lungs. “This dog is fuckin’ psychic!”  

Tightening his grip on the pistol, Bobby stepped closer to the throne. He felt a dozen gazes on him, the room crackling with energy. In a second they would sense something very wrong and then his options would narrow. . . Do it now.

Sonny’s black eyes locked on Bobby. There was a whole universe in there, so deep that Bobby’s stomach tumbled, as if someone had hurled him off a high cliff. From what felt like miles away, his hand began to draw the weapon from his jacket. “I’m sorry,” Bobby wanted to tell the dog. I know you’re a miracle, but I don’t have choices here. 

And then the .38 was out, pointed at that wet snout, Bobby squeezing the trigger—and then that black universe exploded white, filling with pain, and Bobby felt cold linoleum on his back, his face wet, his arm on fucking fire.

The pistol had exploded in his hand.

What were the odds?

Sonny barked, farted, and settled back.

That’s what you get for fucking with a minor god.

Nick Kolakowski is the author of the noir thrillers "Boise Longpig Hunting Club" and "A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps." His short fiction has appeared in Out of the Gutter, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, and various anthologies. He lives and writes in NYC.

Eight

You can run, you can hide,

but dirty deeds always follow you. 

Eight by Chinelo Enemuo



NINE...That's how many times Ebele had looked to the large framed mirror that leaned on  the wall. And still, she couldn't help shudder at the sight of the bald-headed, gaunt reflection that stared back. Twenty-five; the number of pounds she'd shed, and thirteen; the number of weeks she'd been away from home... from family and friends. No-one knew where she was and most would probably not recognise her. She had become a ghost of her former self... The look was right.

ELEVEN... The hour the loud-ticking clock on the wall struck. She pulled the hood of her jacket over her head and peeped through the shabby curtains of her motel room. Outside was pitch black, save for the headlamps of passing cars and the street lights along the highway. Storm clouds loomed above and a light drizzle ensued... The weather was right.  

FIFTEEN... That's how many minutes it took Ebele to jog from her motel to the empty parking lot of the supermarket. Two; the number of letters unlit from the neon sign that glittered before her. The name Oasis only flickered Ass. Two was also the number of shoppers Ebele found inside - elderly women sauntering along the  grocery aisle, complaining in hushed tones about food prices. Four cashiers at the counter were taking stock of the day's sales, hankering to close shop in a few minutes... The timing was right.

FIVE... That's the number of times Ebele's hand reached for a feel of the loaded piece tucked into her left side. She raised her eyes to the CCTV cameras and tugged on the hood over her head. It was time to strike. Six times she had done this; six similar supermarkets in six different cities. But this time felt different... Guilt and nerves gave way to a firm resolve and the relief that this seventh strike would be the last... The feeling was right.

TEN... That's how many minutes the operator's voice announced that the store would be closing in. Ebele queued at the counter, behind the old ladies, rolling a bottle of coke in her hand. No sooner had the oldies exited the building that Ebele pulled out the glock from her side, sending the Coke bottle smashing to the floor. The cashiers were quick to comply, obediently emptying their trays into the bag that Ebele provided. All was going as planned... Up until the entrance doors swung open, forcing Ebele to turn her pistol in that direction. A lady in a drenched nylon rain coat scampered in and Ebele was the first to gasp when their eyes met. Kemi. Ebele almost cried in disbelief. Kneeling down with her hands up in the air, Kemi couldn't help squint at the dark hooded figure pointing a gun at her. "I know you from somewhere," Kemi muttered, unsure. She was right.

THREE... That's how many cashiers had taken advantage of the distraction and dared to make a run for the back door. A frantic Ebele pointed the glock their way, ordering them to stop. "Ebele?" Kemi's timid voice uttered from behind. Then came the loud shots, ringing through the air. The cashiers screamed. Kemi screamed. But Ebele's head was spinning and her finger kept pulling the trigger until all screaming stopped. With no second to spare, she grabbed the money bag from the counter and made for the door. She fled into the rainstorm with the sound of sirens whining in the distance. Raindrops merged with the tears that flooded her face and for what felt like hours she kept running, past her motel, and down the highway for as long as her legs could carry her. All was wrong.

FOUR... That's how many weeks after the incident before Ebele returned home to Atlanta. She almost missed the church service, arriving just at the tail end. She took a seat at the back pews, away from the altar... Conveniently distant from the casket. A curly wig covered her bald head and dark shades obscured her sunken eyes. She sat and watched as Dr. Ade spoke in forced restraint about his daughter and his gratitude to all who had come to commiserate with the family. Everyone in the room was in tears... Everyone except Ebele. She was all cried out, and her hollow eyes were proof of it. When Dr. Ade ended his address by promising to get retribution, Ebele got up to leave. She had just stepped onto the church's patio when a familiar groggy voice from behind called out her name. George, Kemi's husband.

"I'm so sorry," Ebele whispered as they hugged.

He wore dark shades. "I should say the same," George said. "You are like family"

"What was she doing in West Virginia?" Ebele asked.

George hesitated for a second, replied in a somber tone, "To see a distant wealthy relative. She was hoping to raise money for your boy, Tony." 

Ebele's hands flew to her mouth and her heart sunk further than it already had.

"Please don't feel bad,” George continued.  “She'll rest better knowing that you were able to raise the money for your son's surgery. It must have cost you so much."

"Yes." Ebele stood trembling as she glanced towards the casket at the front of the altar. The tears found their way back as she replayed the events from that night.

EIGHT... That's how many bullets Ebele fired at her best friend Kemi.

An Affidavit on Why I Stabbed Him

There are three sides to every story:

yours, mine, and the truth.

An Affidavit on Why I Stabbed Him by Peter Beckstrom



Against my lawyer’s pestering, I offer the truth. I should’ve listened to what my husband’s ex -girlfriend told me five years ago while we waited in the line at the DMV. She said a lot and I listened with a trained smile, but one thing stuck; he was the kind of guy who wouldn’t let kids win at board games. His competitiveness got us to this point. That drive for more and nothing ever being good enough is why I’m here writing this statement in a cramped room with a big mirror that you’re undoubtedly behind, watching me.

My husband is doing his thing. His thing being the military—part time— because he wants to have the best story at the microbrewery when he hangs with his cadre—his word, not mine. So, he joined the National Guard and I think it’s real great that America opened up part-time positions in the military; moonlight as a machine gunner in some place no one can agree on how to pronounce. What I don’t like is he’s gone playing grab-ass with a hundred other people one weekend a month and I’ve seen some of those girls.

My thing is working out now. My body was fine before. I didn’t feel terrible about it unless I watched too much E! or lingered in the magazine aisle at the grocery store too long or wondered why my size at Dress Barn wasn’t the same size at that junior store in the mall. I’m doing CrossFit and kettle bells and even running circles around the gym in a beige, flak jacket. I thought my husband would like that detail. A way for us to reconnect. He laughed. A routine laugh. Routine like saying, “I love you” or “Drive safe.” No one does. Drive safe that is. Or love you.

But I still wanted us to have a thing. Together. We don’t have kids. Something doesn’t work. We’re not sure whose broke and we’re not trying to figure it out. We side-stepped that landmine, paved right over the sorry thing. He bought an assault rifle. The barrel is long and black and he runs greased patches of cloth through its tunnel. He called the end of the barrel a compensator. I scoffed and said no kidding. He says I should feel safe because he’ll shoot anyone that breaks in, aimed the thing right at me when he said it too. No one has ever broken in and I feel a lot less safe because maybe the bad guy is already inside. I started sleeping with a nail file on my nightstand, which he would’ve known was odd if he paid attention to me because I never manicure. Ever.

We were in that comfortable don’t-turn-the-fan-on-when-you-have-diarrhea phase of our marriage and love at that phase is like our paid off Toyota; old, the seat fabric smells a little, and when you smack it the corpses of a thousand farts rise and hover like speckled, stinky nebulas. The other drivers on the freeway look at the horrendous grocery cart scratches in the driver side door panel, and I don’t make eye contact. I build myself up with the great gas mileage and the cheap maintenance.

But when my husband drives, he’ll stare at the Cadillac CTS with the headlights that go all the way back like stripper toes tickling the air behind their head. At the red lights, his mouth hangs open whenever an Audi TT pulls next to him with their slick, honeycomb grills that may be built for high speed air flow but it’s not going to deflect that nocturnal creature wandering across the road when he’s on his way home late—again. And I’m not going to mention the luxury, Asian SUVs because I don’t want to get mad. When I found their pictures on his phone he called them “art,” which is so cliché I had to leave so he wouldn’t see me laugh at how juvenile he is. I’m getting off track.

The night it happened, I made his favorite dinner—ribeye with the perfect marbled ratio, cooked medium-rare. I even did my nails. I was shaping with the nail file when he sat next to me. We smelled the burning before the smoke alarm yelped. At that point, we knew the ribeye was beyond medium-rare.

Then he said it. “You’d fuck up a one car parade, wouldn’t you?” It’s all the defense I needed. I drove the nail file so deep into his thigh, part of the glittering, pink handle disappeared. It wouldn’t have gone too deep if it weren’t for all those kettle bells.

Peter Beckstrom is a Public Defender in Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit. His work has appeared before in the Gutter and are also published or forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Prime Number Magazine, Carve, and other journals here and there scattered across the web merely a Google search away if you’re so inclined.

My BFF

Redemption, second chances, new leases on life. . .

This week, Geoffrey Philp reminds us there is danger in hope.

My BFF by Geoffrey Philp



Marlene was my “ride or die” partner. From the moment we met in middle school, I felt if Marlene needed a kidney, I would have given her one of mine. We were inseparable until I met Greg in college. He was the love of my life and we’d planned to get married when we graduated. But not before we received my mother’s blessing.

A lapsed Pentecostal—I was born out of wedlock—my mother’s life revolved around paying for her sins by taking care of hospice patients. When I told her about our plans and that Marlene was my bridesmaid, she grasped me by the hand. “Be careful,” she said. “Envy can poison the most innocent heart.”

I ignored her, of course. She was always so exaggerated about things and I wasn’t surprised when she left the ceremony after we said our vows. But Greg and I didn’t let that ruin our intimate reception. Marlene was by my side. “Friends for life,” she said.

Even when I got pregnant and confined to bed rest, Marlene and my mother took turns taking care of me until my mother said it was either her or Marlene.

Marlene didn’t fuss, but stopped seeing me. That’s when the fights started with Greg. I understood what he was going through. He was paying all the expenses and the baby was unexpected. But sometimes, Greg was brutal. He called me “fat” and “lazy.”

When I told Marlene, she said I shouldn’t worry because Greg was a good guy. But I suspected that Greg was having an affair. He smelled of a perfume I never wore.

Then, tragedy struck. I had a miscarriage. Greg blamed me and my mother. I thought my marriage was over, but I wasn’t giving up without a fight. Determined to get back in shape, I went back to the gym with Marlene. After our workouts, we reminisced about old times.

“We should do this more often,” I said and held her hand.

“We should,” she said and placed her hand on mine.

Marlene’s phone rang and she reached inside her purse. When Marlene pulled out her phone, she giggled so much the phone dropped out of her hand.

When I reached down to pick it up, Marlene squealed. “Nooooooo!”

I looked at the screen. I recognized Greg’s penis. It had a mole on the tip.

“You can have him.”

I threw the phone on the floor, smashing the screen. 

I went back to live with my mother. When she greeted me at the door, I felt her fingers tightening around my chest. She would be my only friend.


Geoffrey Philp, an award winning author from Jamaica, has written two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. His work is represented in nearly every anthology of Caribbean literature, and he is one of the few writers whose work has been published in the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. He lives in Miami, Florida.

Red Pop

A lot of good samaritans out there. 

Makes you wonder what their hustle is.

Red Pop by Morgan Boyd


After getting out of the program, I get a job at a convenience store. I’m required to wear a white polo shirt and khaki slacks. The attire makes me feel douchy.

Mr. Barnes owns the substance abuse rehab facility I clean up at. He also owns the halfway house I stay at, and he owns the Food Mart I work for.
           
I’m thankful to Mr. Barnes for the job, even if it is demeaning minimum wage bullshit. He helped me get clean, gave me a place to stay, and hooked me up with a job. It isn’t ideal work, but it beats the hell out of the crummy things I used to do. Stocking TV dinners and two liter bottles of root beer trumps ripping off mom for a hit any day. At least that’s what I tell myself while price-tagging plastic soft drinks.

As I slap a ninety-nine cent label on a two-liter bottle of soda, the plastic jugs on the shelf next to me explode, followed by a deafening sound. The blast knocks me on my back, and covers me in fizzy red pop. A man in an orange ski mask points a shotgun at my face. Playing possum, supine in a pond of sticky crimson sugar water, I sneak a peek into my attacker’s eyes; one brown, one blue. The blue eye twitches as he opens the till, alleviates the evening’s earnings, and flees.

I used to shoot dope with a murderous scumbag named Eddy “Winky” Fisher. Winky’s peepers are identical to the yegg’s.

The police arrive and put me through the standard rigmarole. Kindness and understanding aren’t words I’d use to describe their questioning tactics. I tell them everything straight without mentioning Winky.

They all seem to buy what I’m selling except for a corpulent, balding detective named Donaldson. “Dope fiend Danny!  Remember me?”  He asks.

“Yeah.”

“All cleaned up?”

“Sure.”

“How’s that working?”

“How’s it look?”

“Pink’s not your color.”

“Can I go?”

“Your story’s shit. And when I prove it, I’m stuffing your junky ass back in the can.”

“Yeah?”

“Hear me out. Your hype-headed buddy shoots up the joint. Of course you don’t get done, just covered in pop. He gets the nightly earnings, and in a couple of hours, you’re both higher than the price of groceries.”

“Danny!  Thank god you’re alive,” Mr. Barnes says, entering the Food Mart in a blue three-piece suit. “When I heard about the shooting, I feared the worst.”

“I’m afraid you’re being suckered, Mr. Barnes,” Donaldson says.

“Who’s this?” Mr. Barnes asks, dabbing the sweat on his forehead with a silk handkerchief.

“Mr. Barnes meet detective Donaldson,” I say.

“What do you mean Danny’s suckering me?” Mr. Barnes asks.

“He and one of his druggy buddies robbed you. Right, Danny?”

“Someone almost killed him,” Mr. Barnes says. “You should be finding the guy who did this, not blaming Danny.”  

After Mr. Barnes vouches for me, the police let me go. Mr. Barnes gives me a ten spot, and tells me to buy a new polo shirt. I get into my pickup truck and head for the halfway house. Then I get an idea, and turn around my 4-banger.

At each hotspot, I park down the street, scoping crack houses, but there’s no sign of Winky. Seeing those hops scoring brings back hard memories.

I call my stakeout quits just as Winky wanders out a rundown apartment building and climbs into a hooptie.

I follow as he crosses the tracks into the right side of town. Winky parks in front of a large white two-story house, walks to the front door, and is admitted inside. I wait, but Winky never comes out. After several hours, I get tired and leave.

On my way to the halfway house, a cop pulls me over, and stuffs me in the back of a squad car.
           
“Sorry about dicking you around at the Food Mart,” Donaldson says from the front without turning around, the back of his fat, bald head directly in front of me. Eye contact occurs through the rear view mirror. “But you know more than you’re saying, so I had to bust your chops.”

“I told you everything.”
           
“We’ll see,” Donaldson says, lighting a cigarette. “A man comes into your shit shop and tries to blow off your goddamn head.”
           
“Yeah.”
           
“And you know the sorry sack who done it, but you don’t say nothing.”
           
“I don’t know who did it.”
           
“Admirable you cleaned up, Danny,” Donaldson says, turning to face me. “Too bad Mr. Barnes has a bad habit of taking out life insurance polices on his clients shortly before they die.”
           
“I never signed a life insurance policy,”
           
“Think I’m feeding you magical horseshit?” Donaldson asks, holding up a piece of paper. “Got a copy right here. Take a look. That’s your John Hancock there and there.”

Leaning forward, I see my signature scribbled several times on the page.

“Who were you following?” 

“Nobody.”

“Bet it was the guy tried to kill you.” 

“Why do you think that?”

“Because he led you straight to Mr. Barnes house,” Donaldson says as a ship sinks in my gut. “Ain’t it a bitch, Danny? Signing up for death instead of life.”

Dope sick, I filled out a stack of paperwork before gaining admittance into Mr. Barnes’ drug rehab center. I didn’t read any of it, just signed all the dotted lines.

“Winky,” I say.

“That a boy, Danny. Got a copy of his life insurance policy here somewhere too.”

“Can I go?”

“Sure,” Donaldson says, letting me out. “Hate to say I told you so.”

I slide into my truck and head downtown. Where else can I go? Certainly not back to Mr. Barnes’ halfway house. I park in front of a rundown apartment complex, and crumple the ten spot in my hand.




Morgan Boyd used to live in Santa Cruz, California. Now he lives somewhere else with his wife, daughter, cat, and carnivorous plant collection. He has been published online at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, Coffee and Fried Chicken, Tough, Yellow Mama, Pulp Metal Magazine, and in print at Switchblade Magazine. He also has stories forthcoming at Spelk, and Story and Grit.