Twisted Pulp Magazine Issue 032-01

Twisted Pulp Magazine Issue 032

What do you get when you cross a reindeer, a cosmically aware dradel, and the roadkill corpse of Krampus and dress it up like a cross between baby jesus and Sean Connery from Zardoz? I'm not sure either, but I'm pretty sure that it's excited about the newest Christmastime issue of Twisted Pulp Magazine. This month we feature interviews with Steve Rasnic Tem, Charles Rosenay, Richard A. Olson, Chemiqueen, and Podculture Vulture. For fiction we have a Christmas diddy from Thomas M. Malafarina, as well as what is probably the largest selection of short stories in the mag to date from the likes of Gavin Chapell, Richard Olsen, Tyson Blue and more.


  1. Editorial: The War on He-man
  2. Interview with Charles Rosenay
  3. Advertisement: The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Alternate History
  4. Crom-Ya and the Little People By Gavin Chapell
  5. Advertisement: Booked on Rock
  6. Interview: Steve Rasnic Tem
  7. Photographer: Angela Fardellone
  8. How to Stihl Rubies By Dr. Richard A. Olson
  9. Interview: Dr. Richard A. Olson
  10. Advertisement: Horrible Little Stories
  11. Interview: ChemiQueen
  12. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear By Thomas M. Malafarina
  13. Advertisement: The Olde Tavern Buffet by Wesley Critchfield
  14. Limited Edition by Tyson Blue
  15. Advertisement: Monsters of Search
  16. Interview: PodCulture Vultures
  17. Advertisement: Unfit to Print by G. Wayne Miller
  18. The Last Word By Chauncey Haworth
  19. Advertisement: Less Than Human Gary Raisor
Editorial War on He-Man

Editorial: The War on He-man

Warning… I’m a total fucking nerd. So, the other day I was in a He-Man chat room where some guy was hating on the new Masters of the Universe: Revelation cartoon. I thought I would join the conversation and say. “I really liked the new He Man Cartoon?”… Ya know, a normal comment that one would make to a person to start a constructive conversation. His response was, “Good for you”. My response was, “That’s not very nice”. It’s an example of how people can’t let change happen. In this guy’s case, is it that he thinks He-Man should now be made for him, a grown man? Or maybe that kids today should be just like kids of his day?

On to Christmas. People don’t say “happy holidays” to get rid of Christmas, and if spending and capitalism is a clue to anything, Christmas is not going anywhere anytime soon. In 2002, Americans spent $416.4 billion… in 2022 we spent $936.3 billion according to both FOX News and CNBC.

Why don’t we like to allow different things into our lives? Why can’t we make room for them? This time of year is for Christmas, but that’s not all it is, or ever was. Thanks to invaders and religions capitalizing on the winter solstice, christmastime is the birthday of about 20 gods throughout history… not to mention the stuff that has gone on since.

My birthday weekend almost always falls on the same weekend as the Superbowl. I don’t even like football, but you don’t see me with a sign in the street talking about how it’s supposed to be Chauncey-mas.

I know two people that both have birthdays on Halloween. One loves getting halloween themed stuff, the other hates it because she feels it takes from her birthday experience. What’s up with that?

I guess the point of this is that there is no war on Christmas. There is no war on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. What there is, is the internet, phones, radio and TV… and great magazines such as this one.

The world once spent Christmas holed up in a pub with 20 to 200 jackasses they had known their whole lives, grown up with, went to church with, and celebrated with. Now we spend everyday with access to seeing what 8 Billion jackasses are up to. There is no war on anything… just people doing their own thing. So chill the fuck out and go do your own thing… after you read the mag, of course.

Charles Rosenay Interview

Interview with Charles Rosenay

Meet Charles F. Rosenay, also known as “Cryptmaster Chucky” – a seasoned veteran in the world of Beatles fandom with over four decades of dedication to organizing Beatles conventions and festivals. Beyond that, he’s the mastermind behind Beatles Tours to Liverpool and the creator of the Beatles magazine Good Day Sunshine, which he passionately published for 25 years.

But Rosenay isn’t just about the Beatles; he’s also a notable figure in the horror genre with an annual Dracula Tour to Transylvania, courtesy of Rosenay, and the establishment of GHOSTours, offering week-long supernatural travel experiences. Rosenay is also the brains behind Connecticut’s largest indoor haunted attraction, “Fright Haven,” and a contributor to various horror films.

Intriguingly, his book, The Book of Top 10 Horror Lists, didn’t materialize out of thin air. It traces its origins back to an online newsletter called “National Horror Happenings.” When the pandemic disrupted his usual activities, Rosenay didn’t just sit idly. Instead, he compiled and edited The Book of Top 10 Beatles List, a compilation of 100 diverse and captivating lists featuring contributions from individuals closely tied to the Beatles.

Q: Where were you when you heard the Beatles for the first time?

Charles Rosenay: I was a young kid growing up in The Bronx, where I probably heard them on AM radio because my parents alway had music playing, but my first real memory was seeing them on the Ed Sullivan Show in our family living room. It was February 9, 1964. We watched Sullivan together for all the jugglers, acrobats, musical acts, comedians, but for me mostly the puppet mouse, Top Gigo. When The Beatles came on, nothing was ever the same – in a good way!

Q: I know this is an arbitrary question, but I have to ask. What’s your favorite Beatles album?

CR: That’s almost as hard as asking which song is my favorite, except there’s far less to choose from. I know most people will go for Pepper or Revolver or Abbey Road. And if you ask me next year it might be a different choice, but I’m currently loving the Help! album, and I plan on watching the film again soon.

Q: You’ve not only written the Book of Top 10 Beatles Lists, you also did the The Book of Top 10 Horror Lists. How did this project come about?

CR: The Book of Top 10 Horror Lists came first, and I’d been working on it for years without realizing there was a book in my future. Celebrities were giving me their top 10 horror lists for an online horror newsletter I was editing, and when Covid hit I remembered I had a batch of these lists in a database. I edited the ones

I had, added photos, and sought out some new ones. Voila—we had a book! 300 pages packed with not just lists, but reasons for the lists, great illustrations, factoids, and much more. The book was released to very favorable reviews, and was a big hit not just for monster mavens, but for readers who enjoyed celebrity and pop-culture books.

For years, people who knew me and my Beatles history asked why I hadn’t ever written a Beatles book, and my answer was very true – I felt everything was already written. After the success of the horror book, I realized that this wasn’t true. There was never a book before where celebrities submitted their top 10 lists with Beatles themes. Actors, musicians, athletes, authors, and other notables were quick to give me great lists.

I make it seem easy – it wasn’t. But it was worth the work! The upside for Beatles fans is that many of the chapters are by Beatle associates and relatives. So it works on all levels.

Q: What’s your top 10 horror films?

CR: My favorite horror film is The Exorcist. My first- ever monster movie was Bride of Frankenstein. My favorite horror comedy is Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. My favorite horror rock film is Phantom of the Paradise.

Q: When you were a kid, was that what you did? Made lists? I know a lot of people who did that and still do it?

CR: I was always making top 10 lists as a kid: my favorite films of that year, my favorite TV shows, my favorite songs of the year, etc. I did that for many years but lost the notebook it was in.

Q: Other than the Beatles, you’re a huge Monkees fan. Has there been any pushback from Beatles fans for having an interest in them?

CR: That’s an interesting question, because before The Monkees reunited in 1986 and before they became “popular” again, I was always questioned as to why I loved The Monkees so much. It seemed that it bothered some people that I loved The Monkees too (though, admittedly, not nearly as much as The Beatles). That bothered me—Monkee fans were able to admit they were Beatles fans, but people who adored The Beatles couldn’t enjoy and appreciate The Monkees as well?

The Book of Top 10 Beatles Lists by Charles F Rosenay
Charles F Rosenay

I found myself not just defending the music of The Monkees, but also their personalities, their humor, and their influence. And weren’t those some of the same elements of why we enjoyed The Beatles so much?

Well, time has proven that The Monkees don’t need defending on any of those counts.

Q: How do you feel about the Rutles? The Eric Idle parody?

CR: Ouch! I LOVE THE RUTLES! Of every Beatles tribute or homage ever, it is by far the best. I was friends with Neil Innes and got to see him live many times, and he is sadly missed. I would’ve loved to have gotten a top 10 list from him for my book. It makes me wish I had thought of this book many years earlier.

Q: What would be your dream project as far as writing books?

CR: My dream would be to write a horror or suspense novel on the level of Stephen King, Dan Simmons, or Dean Koontz, but I don’t have a fraction of the talent or self-discipline. So I’m happy right now with my niche of authoring cool pop-culture collections, and I have a few more music ones in the works for future release.

Q: Who inspired you the most?

CR: No one single person, but four of them… that fab 4-headed monster which was made up of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Because of them I have been in the music field my entire life: as a professional live DJ/MC, as the producer of Beatles Festivals and Conventions since the ‘70s, as the host & organizer of the annual Beatles tours to Liverpool and London during “Beatleweek” known as the “Magical History Tours (, now in its 40th year), as the former publisher & editor of the beloved Beatles fanzine Good Day Sunshine, and now as the author of

Q: I saw you were featured on a show featuring your Monkees collection. What other collectables do you have?

CR: First of all, I have to say that it was a real treat being able to be featured on the MeTV program “Collectors Call.” Although I was billed as an “expert,”

I don’t consider myself one. I know a lot about a lot of different genres, but there are so many friends and colleagues who are far more knowledgeable than I am. Fortunately, my personality comes through on camera, so I think I didn’t embarrass myself.

I don’t collect as much as I did at one time, but as you can guess I’ve collected Beatles, Monkees and horror stuff. I also collected pinball machines for a while, but they take up far too much space. I have down-sized most of my collections, as they didn’t interest my kids as much. They collect superhero Funko Pops! Now

I collect and treasure my memories, and the time I spend with my family. Nothing is more valuable.

Q: Has anyone ever approached you to have your own radio show?

CR: I have a very distinct voice but I don’t consider it a “radio voice” per se. What I lack in vocal tone I compensate with energy and personality. As such, I vastly prefer having a mic in my hand in front of a live crowd rather than sitting in a booth with a glass in front of me spinning tunes. I truly love the spontaneity and interaction of an audience. Having said that, after college radio many moons ago I didn’t think I would be part of a station again, until a fun opportunity presented itself a few years ago. I am currently one of the on-air announcers at an all-Monkees radio station, “MonkeeMania Radio” (which can be heard on www., and I’m having a blast hosting the weekend “Monkees Interview Show” with an incredible line-up of other DJs, who have become like a family.

Q: Would you have an interest in doing a podcast about your interests in collecting, or the Beatles or the Monkees?

CR: Perhaps, but I’m a guest on so many podcasts talking about The Beatles or The Monkees, or rock and roll for that matter, and also on so many podcasts talking about horror or the paranormal, that I think there’s enough of me on the airwaves.

Q: What other bands/performers are you fans of?

CR: I could go forever. Squeeze, The Turtles, Prince, The Ramones, The Four Seasons, Bruno Mars, The Raspberries, Hermans Hermits, Neon Trees, The Supremes, Elvis Costello, Badfinger, Culture Club, Billy Joel, Sly & The Family Stone, Green Day, Jay & The Americans, Crowded House, The Rutles! I was tempted to include Twisted Sister as a nod to this magazine’s name, but I’m mad at Dee Snider for not giving me a list in either my Horror or my Beatles book!

Q: You’ve done so much with your life. It was daunting to see how much you’ve achieved.

CR:Thank you so much. Lots more to come!

The Book of Top Ten Horror Lists by Charles F Rosenay

Crom-Ya and the Little People

By Gavin Chapell

1. The Hunters

Doggerland, 15,000 BCE

The stagnant marsh extended in all directions with twisted trees rising from its murky waters, oozing and dripping, garlanded with moss and lichen. Cold fog hung in air that reeked of rot. From the distance drifted the croaking of frogs but otherwise all was silent. From time to time the hush was rudely broken by the shouts of hunters reverberating through the mist, and the snarling of hounds that sounded like little more than tame wolves. 

Crom-Ya crouched by the roots of a marsh tree, flint tipped spear clutched in his massive paws, colourless eyes gazing bleakly into the mist. Once he had been a chieftain of the men who now hunted him through the flooded forest, once he had been a mighty man in this savage land. All that power had been snatched from him by schemers and plotters, weakling scum too craven to face him man to man, who depended instead on the dagger in the back, the hemlock in the broth. 

He spat vigorously, and watched his spittle drifting on the black waters. This deep into the marsh he would surely be safe from the hunters and their hounds, but he could not remain here forever. He must find the cave of the Old Woman of the Marshes, and it was still a long way. When he was still the chieftain of his people he had gone there by canoe, gone there many times to speak with the Old Woman, listen to her runes of the future. 

When the Tribe went to war against the Men of the North, or the Painted Folk of the Western Hills, it had been his duty to seek the Old Woman for counsel and divination. Only he had been permitted to visit her, by virtue of his chiefly blood. To the rest of the Tribe, her cave languished under a strict taboo. None would follow him there; in the Old Woman’s cave he would be safe. But if they caught him in the open marshland, they would kill him.

He cocked his head. Now only the croaking of frogs was audible. He had not heard the shouts of the hunters or the barking of their hounds for some little while. Glancing up at the watery gleam of sunlight that filtered through the dark, overhanging clouds, he pondered his chances. If he got going now, he would reach the Old Woman’s cave before nightfall. If he could find the way. Never before had he ventured so deep into the marshes on foot.

Rising, he brushed back his long, wet black hair from his eyes, used his fur cloak to sponge off the moisture that had collected on his brawny limbs, and began to wade through the marsh waters. The damp oozed into his buskined feet, the unseen mud squirmed beneath them. Things were moving in the waters, things he could not discern—nor did he want to. Passing a thicket of willows, he glimpsed a toad watching him from their shadow. His colourless eyes met its imperturbable gaze and it turned and hopped out of sight.

Crom-Ya bared his teeth in a mirthless grin. The Toad was the god of his fathers, the deity whom the Tribe had worshipped in dark rites since first they followed the aurochs herds into this low-lying land. For generations the Toad had known no rival, and had blessed Crom-Ya’s people with luck in hunting and battle in return for the sacrifices they offered—beasts, sometimes even prisoners of war. But during that strange time when Crom-Ya had suffered a strange malaise, the worshippers of another, newer cult had seized control—the followers of the Black Goat of the Woods.

He waded onwards. Soon he reached land that did not quake beneath his buskined feet. Striding from the marsh waters he made his way through the dark woods, spear at the ready, heedless of the wetness that still trickled from his cloak and loincloth. 

Alders rose on either hand, their black boles crisscrossing the murky evening sky. The wind soughed amongst the branches, shaking them until they quivered like the claws of skeletons possessed by sudden, grasping life. Crom-Ya thrust back low lying branches with his left forearm, spear gripped firmly in his right hand. Now he was out of the worst of the marsh, he knew that the Old Woman’s cave must lie nearby. 

Breaking through a gap between trees, he halted. In the distance, mist hung upon a line of hills. These peaks themselves were outliers of a range of clifflike mountains which marked the edge of the territory of the Painted Folk, ancestral enemies of Crom-Ya’s own folk. Separate from them was another hill, surrounded on all sides by marsh, so it was almost an island. Here, he knew, the Old Woman’s cave would be found. His hunters would not dare pursue him there. But how to cross the noisome, sucking bog? 

Searching for a path through the reeds and mire, he caught the clamour of barking hounds drifting down the cold wind.

Whirling, he saw them before they saw him. A group of hunters, clad like him in buskins and loincloths and short fur cloaks, spears and axes in their hands, grey, wolfish hounds frisking about their feet. Some carried bows. They were searching for something—someone!

“Him!” one cried, his voice almost indistinguishable from the snarl of the hound at his feet. “We have found him! Crom-Ya!”

One of the bowmen snatched an arrow from his belt and it whipped through the moist air. Crom-Ya flung himself aside as it plunged into a trunk beside him.

Desperately Crom-Ya used his spear shaft to haul himself up into a kneeling posture. A stand of yellowing marsh grass gave him meagre cover. 

Shadows were lengthening. A glittering ray of sunlight shone through the clouds banked above the western peaks. The hunters stood on the far side of an inlet of the marsh, a bite scalloped out of the woods before the marsh itself opened up. He watched them arguing in the lee of the alders. His eyes narrowed.

At their head, clearly their chief, was a tall, raw boned man with red mane and beard, bearing a stone axe in one hand. Bitterly, Crom-Ya recognised Morgrim. The usurper had come himself to finish off Crom-Ya.

Son of an exiled chief from the North country, Morgrim stood out from the rest of the Tribe by dint of his red hair, a stark contrast to the night black locks of the others. While his companions wore wolfskins, the cloak he wore was a russet fox fell. And yet it was not for that reason alone that the Tribesfolk called him Morgrim the Fox. 

It was he who had taken advantage of Crom-Ya’s malaise to make himself chief…

Morgrim was shouting. Crom-Ya caught snatches of his harangue. 

“…where is he? Cross the marsh and seek him! Worthless dogs…”

Crom-Ya saw him strike the archer. The other hunters fawned on Morgrim like hounds.

Taking advantage of their distraction, Crom-Ya began to crawl on hands and knees across the bog, still gripping his spear in his right hand. The wind had dropped, the smell of the mud hung rank in the air. 

It was clumsy work, but it was almost a success. He kept himself down below the level of the reeds, and in the gathering darkness went like one invisible. Though slime oozed around his knees and forearms, he made steady progress. Then his spear brushed against a stand of reeds and they shook vigorously. A crow flew up, croaking. A chorus of yells and barks rang out from the alders.

Glancing over his brawny shoulder, Crom-Ya saw the hunters pointing fingers and wading out into the bog in pursuit of him. Some sank straight into the mud, and had to be wrested free by their comrades while Morgrim shouted oaths. But others, more skilled at this kind of work, drew rapidly closer. The archer halted on a tussock, fitted an arrow to his bow, and loosed.

Crom-Ya rolled over, and the arrow vanished into a pool of slime. Then he was up and running, splashing, sloshing his way across the green quaking acres. And the hunters were at his heels, hounds milling at their feet as they sent up fountaining splashes of mud.

By now it was close to night, and the sun had already set beyond the western mountains. Crom-Ya ran like a man in a blind panic, and yet there was thought and cunning behind his seeming headlong flight. 

The slopes reared above him, dark against the blue black of the evening sky. On the edge of the marsh, in the shadow of scrub gorse, he turned, watching the dark shapes as they shambled and lurched across the marsh.

One gasping, panting hunter dragged himself up out of the stinking morass, grinning in relief at reaching dry land. He turned to beckon to the nearing hunters—and Crom-Ya struck. His spear, slathered with mire, sank in deep between the man’s shoulder blades. The hunter gave a startled, undignified squawk, then fell forwards to land with a splash to land in a stagnant pool. His body sank, taking with it Crom-Ya’s spear.

Before the echoes of the splash had died away, Crom-Ya was running again, thrusting his way through the gorse. In the distance, behind him, he heard the shouts of the surviving hunters. But gradually, strangely, after a while they died away.

Crom-Ya advanced through the gloom. Ahead of him loomed a rocky cliff. 

2. The Old Woman of the Marshes

As he came out of the gorse and saw the cave that yawned in the rockface, and the flickering ruddy glow of firelight from within, Crom-Ya knew that he had found his goal. He recognised the path through the bushes that led up from the marsh on the far side. 

Over there, times without number when he had still been chief, he had moored his dugout canoe before going up to the cave to speak with the Old Woman. It seemed so long ago. So long had he suffered his malaise, so long had he dreamed that he dwelt in an alien place beyond his understanding, a land of cone shaped beings and huge constructions of stone, that recollections of that former life were like a dream themselves.

He followed the path. Dangling from alders were skulls, hanging by withes or ribbons of twisted grass—beast skulls, deer, and fox, and lynx, and even an aurochs skull propped between two branches. The skulls of sacrifices made in this taboo place to placate the wrathful gods and spirits. It was a weird and eerie scene, and he wondered if he now knew why his so-dogged hunt had ceased their pursuit of him.

They were afraid. And rightly so.

He stepped onto sandy soil. The cave mouth was before him, its archway towering high overhead. Daubed on the walls were images of beasts and birds and hunters. A fire burned, but did little to dispel the gloom that lurked at the back of the cave. 

Crom-Ya nerved himself to speak, to call out.

“Old Woman? Old Woman of the Marshes, it is I. Crom-Ya, rightful chieftain of the Tribe. Where are you, Old Woman…?”

He stopped short, his speech faltering, seeing what sat propped against a rock in the shadows behind the fire. 

Again he looked upon a skull, but a human skull topping a human body. It leered at him from the shadows, pale and glimmering. When two eyes opened in those shadowed orbits, and looked at him, Crom-Ya caught his breath.

A wild burst of immoderate laughter rang from the cave walls, and the skull faced figure rose painfully to its feet. Crom-Ya reached out to take a crooked elbow and the Old Woman grinned her appreciation, her breath foul and her mouth lined with broken and yellowing fangs. She drew back, and gazed searchingly into his eyes.

“It is you,” she wheezed, her voice a death rattle. “It is you! I thought…”

“You thought me some Tribesman breaking taboo?” Crom-Ya asked. “Even in these times, none of them would dare. Only one of my blood would come to visit you.”

She shook her head, and began wiping from her face the pale clay with which she had daubed it. It was with such tricks that the taboo was enforced; no man coming surreptitiously to the cave would stay long on seeing her thus, like a living dead woman. “But I was visited by another, and not so long ago. When last you came here, Crom-Ya, at the time of the spring planting, it was another who looked out of your eyes.”

“I have no memory of that,” Crom-Ya said. “I suffered a malaise for a year and a day, during which time I lay in my shelter like one dead, while Morgrim the Fox snatched my chieftaincy, and the worship of the Toad was overthrown in favour of the outland cult of the Black Goat.”

At her bidding he sat down beside the fire, and she directed him to a skin containing drink. He tasted it, and at once felt reinvigorated. It was the most potent of meads. 

“Morgrim the Fox…” the Old Woman murmured. “Then that interloper has stolen the chieftaincy… Aye, but you have been lied to. You did not lie in your shelter.”

“I awoke there,” Crom-Ya protested. “After dreams of alien folk and strange lands under strange suns, I awoke in my shelter to learn that a year and a day had passed.”

“In that time, you walked and talked and came to visit me,” said the Old Woman. “At least, this hulking carcase of yours came hither. I knew that it was one other than you who looked out of those eyes.”

“Devils possessed me!” Crom-Ya cried out in fear. He would face any man in the field of fight without quaking, but the devils of the outer dark were a terror to him and all his people.

The Old Woman nodded slowly. “A devil, aye. That is one name for such folk. They come from another time, another world. Yith is the name of their race. The Wise know of them but dimly, they are a dark rumour. They steal the bodies of men and dwell in them for a space, while the man is transported elsewhere…”

“Then my dreams were not dreams,” Crom-Ya murmured. “I was bewitched!” He gazed sightlessly into the dark. 

Then he shook himself like a cat that has fallen into a waterhole. “But while I was possessed, I could not defend my birthright. Old Woman, I am no longer chieftain, but rather an outcast. I come to you now for succour!”

The Old Woman eyed him darkly a while. Long years had she been seeress, and she had already been old in Crom-Ya’s father’s day. Her origins were a mystery. “It cannot be borne that one of foreign tribe should make himself chieftain,” she said, “or that the immemorial worship of the Toad should be cast down, and the Black Goat take his place. You it is who alone must fight for your place, now all have fallen under the spell of the Black Goat. And yet,”—her eyes took him in, from buskined feet to the black mane of his hair and his colourless eyes—”you are but one man, however strong, and you come to me weaponless. They, however, are many and they have spears.”

“I had a spear,” Crom-Ya snarled, “but I lost it when I slew one of them. One of the traitors will not boast that he was stronger than I.”

The Old Woman nodded again. “I know of how you could come by a weapon mightier than all the spears of Morgrim’s men,” she said in a low slow voice. “Perhaps with that magic blade you could overcome them, a man alone. It might give you the… edge you need.”

“What is this? Tell me, Old Woman! Where can I find it, this weapon of which you speak?”

She sighed. “At midwinter, a star fell upon the land of the Painted Folk.” Crom-Ya grunted. He knew little of those folk, except that they dwelt in the high hills of the west, descending at times to raid the settlements of his Tribe. He had fought them since coming of age, even spoken with them in the lingua franca shared by all the tribes. Short, swarthy folk, who daubed themselves with the juice of the woad plant and pricked their skins with strange and whirling designs. “A craftsman of the Painted Folk was the only one who dared seek it out. From that strange heavenly rock, he succeeded in forging a new weapon, one that in their tongue he called a sword.

“With dark powers he had dealings, and without them would he never have prospered. And yet he thought to break his bargain, and he was hauled away into the depths of the earth by those with whom he dealt, aye and his sword with him.”

She studied him. “Are you not afeared?” she asked suddenly. “Not afeared to learn who it was that took the sword, that weapon with which you could defeat your foes and make yourself chief of the Tribe?”

“I will do anything I must to regain my place,” Crom-Ya declared. “I swear it upon the bones of my fathers.”

“You may think otherwise,” said the Old Woman, and the flames of the fire flickered upon her face, transforming it into an awful mask. “When you learn who it is with whom you must bargain to gain that sword, your salvation. They are the Oldest of Old, older even than I. They dwelt in the hills long before the Painted Folk came out of the West to thrust them into the darkness where they lair like beasts. Yet they are not beasts, and not men, either. During their dwelling in the abyss they have… changed. They are those whom we call the Little People.”

Crom-Ya gasped in sudden horror.

3. In the Hills of the West

“But why should the Little People give me the sword they stole?” he asked broodingly.

“Oh, there will be a price,” the Old Woman of the Marshes assured him. “You must bargain with them. It has been achieved in the past. There is a man alive in the lands of the Painted Folk who struck a bargain with the Little People—and lived.”

“This craftsman you speak of?”

She shook her head. “If that one lives, none know of it. He was carried off by them, none know whither. But he learnt how to bargain with them from a greater wizard who rules in a glen a little way into the hills…”

Crom-Ya brooded on this in silence. “What hope is there of success?” he asked suddenly.

The Old Woman opened up a skin pouch containing tiny fragments of bone, each one daubed with a complex design. She flung them down on the sand, studying the way they fell, then gathered them up carefully and returned them to the pouch. “The bones do not lie,” she said as Crom-Ya squatted beside him. “You have a great destiny. You will rule over many. You will be remembered after your death for many generations, even when the ice retreats to the pole and the sea floods the lands where your Tribe dwells. Your legacy will fall into the hands of one who will be even greater than you…”

“Very well, Old Woman,” said Crom-Ya. “I will follow this course.”

British Isles, 15,000 BCE

The village was small and meagre, but well-guarded. As Crom-Ya approached with hawthorn branch raised in token of peace, spearmen raced out to surround him. They had swarthy skins and coarse black hair. Their limbs and faces were stained blue with the juice of woad.

After a week’s journey into the hills, he found himself deep in the land of the Painted Folk. The fierce warriors who menaced this unexpected guest with their flint tipped spears seemed small beside Crom-Ya.

“I come to speak with the wizard.” Crom-Ya spoke slowly and carefully in the lingua franca of the tribes. “I am unarmed.”

One of the painted warriors searched him, tearing from his throat the necklace of bear teeth he had earned on the cusp of manhood. Another struck him with the haft of his spear. Crom-Ya endured the indignity stoically, although he turned his colourless eyes on the aggressor, favouring him with a look of menace.

Another thrust him towards the stockade, and Crom-Ya allowed himself to be ushered into the settlement.

Hides hung drying from racks. The ground was muddy. Eyes watched him from the entrances to low huts thatched with reeds. A broad path led up to a large shelter in the middle of the village, in whose doorway sat a slender man of the Painted Folk, his swarthy face like a carving of bone. Two eyes twinkled with merriment, but his features were immobile. He wore a complicated headdress of feathers in token that he was a wizard, and clutched in one hand a feather bedecked staff.

Crom-Ya’s captors flung him to the ground before the painted chief. He rose to his feet at once, casting contemptuous looks about him as he dusted down his skins. 

“He says he would speak with you, O chief,” said the tallest, most blustering, most swaggering of guards. “He has no spear. Is he then a man or woman?”

A chorus of laughter greeted this witticism, but Crom-Ya endured it. “I would speak with you, Black Dog of the Painted Folk,” he told the wizard. “I would speak concerning those who dwelt in this land before.”

The laughter turned at once into hisses of horror. Black Dog’s face grew darker than it already was. “You would come here from your bogs and your marshes, to beg Black Dog for aid? Word of my powers has reached even your country?”

“I have heard that you are a great wizard,” Crom-Ya said, “that the beasts of the forest and the birds of the air speak with you, that also you have had dealings with the worms of the earth—and lived. Lived where others have died—or been taken. I, too, would have such dealings.”

Black Dog gave a dismissive gesture to his warriors, then patted the earth at his side and beckoned to Crom-Ya. “All but one of you, go back to your duties,” he told the men. “You, stranger, how do they name you?”

Crom-Ya introduced himself and Black Dog urged him to sit beside him.

“What will you grant me in exchange for my aid?” the wizard asked. “You have naught, it seems.”

Crom-Ya brooded. “If the Old Woman is right that I will rule over many, then the only way it will come about is if you help me,” he said, and explained what he had learnt of his destiny. “In return I vow peace and exchange of hunting and fishing rights between our two peoples.”

Black Dog gave a bark of laughter. “You are most lavish with rights that are not yours to give,” he remarked.

“I am chief of my Tribe by right,” Crom-Ya said hotly. “I ruled with might until my malaise brought me down. I will rule again—with your help.”

“You would have me gamble,” Black Dog murmured. “You would have me enter the depths, to speak on your behalf with… with them? The Dark People? The Little People?”

He spoke the words boldly, but Crom-Ya detected a shadow behind his eyes, a shadow of fear. “It is said that you are the one man who has done so and lived,” he said. “I would go down there and I would ask from them…”

“Aye?” Black Dog muttered. “What would you ask from them?”

“I would ask of them… the sword!” Crom-Ya said.

Black Dog laughed long and low. 

“You are intrepid,” he said, “to come weaponless and alone to my country, speaking such words. But boldness alone will not avail you. You did well to come to me, for only I know how you might prevail.”

“Then you will do it?” Crom-Ya asked. “You will aid me?”

“In return for hunting and fishing rights that are not yours to give…” mused Black Dog, sardonically stroking his long, beaklike nose. “Very well…”

“Who made the sword?” Crom-Ya asked one day.

Black Dog pulled at his long nose. “A craftsman,” he said shortly. 

When Crom-Ya showed no sign his curiosity was sated, he went on. “Flint Heart was his name, and he worked much in stone. Men came from far and wide to barter for his axe heads and spearheads, paying many hides for them. Yet Flint Heart was overweening, and discontented with the stone with which he worked. When a star fell from the heavens at winter tide, he swore that he would make of it a weapon stronger than any man had wielded aforetime.

“From the star with many labours Flint Heart worked a new kind of stone, harder and yet more malleable. At last with some aid from me he wrought it into a mighty blade with which to conquer his foes. But it was not to be. Those who dwell below came for it, and for him. Even I, who have long had an understanding with the Old People, could not save him. His fate was fixed, and so he sank into a place of darkness. There his sword is worshipped as a god, this fallen star.”

For nine days Black Dog kept Crom-Ya in his hut as an honoured guest, feting him and feeding him the best cuts of the deer his men hunted, the best berries his women gathered. Crom-Ya slept in the finest furs. The hospitality of the Painted Folk was renowned—as was their treachery.

But Crom-Ya met with no betrayal that fateful morn when the first lights streaked the sky and Black Dog shook him from sleep. The wizard told him to come with him. They went together into the morning mist, Black Dog exchanging greetings with a vigilant sentry before they entered the pines that swathed the further slopes.

The trees were dark, the gloom beneath them was icy, and from everywhere came the gurgle of running water. Their footsteps were almost silent in the smothering blanket of pine needles. The further they went, the quieter it became, until an awesome silence hung over all. 

At last Black Dog halted at a towering cliff of limestone that reared out of the dark forest. Croaking, a hoodie crow flew out from the cliffs high above and circled lazily above them.

Crom-Ya looked at Black Dog and saw that the imperturbable eagle-nosed wizard was pale with what must have been fear. “Where do we go?” he asked.

Jerkily, Black Dog turned to him. His eyes were glassy. “Are the folk of your Tribe blind?” He gestured at the rock face. He was indicating a narrow crack that Crom-Ya had previously disregarded. 

“That will lead us to the underground kingdom of… the Little People?”

Black Dog hissed. “Utter not even such circumlocutions in this land,” he said. “They are… listening. They… hear all.”

Stepping up to the crack he slithered his way inside. Crom-Ya followed, squeezing his massive bulk through the gap in the rock.

The downwards climb seemed endless. More times than he could count, Crom-Ya scraped his hide on the rough limestone. All he could hear was the hoarse rasp of their breathing and an endless, elusive, distant dripping of water. Darkness enclosed him, the rock surrounded him. It was as if he was returning to the womb, or was this to be his tomb?

He grew weary from the ceaseless descent, wearier than ever he had felt hunting amongst the woods and marshes of his homeland. Despair gripped him. They would never reach their destination, wherever it might be. He wanted to call out to Black Dog, who scrambled forever beneath him, tell him they must end this ordeal, return to the surface and all its chanciness. There was nothing for them down in this underworld.

But at that instant the clatter of Black Dog’s descent ceased. A wind blew up from below. Trepidation gripped Crom-Ya’s heart. He halted, crouching, listening. He heard a sound like the distant sigh of the wind. But there could be no wind down here. Then he heard words, echoing words, impossible to understand, speaking somewhere down there, a whisper magnified yet distorted by the rock.

Blindly he followed the shaft. With an abruptness that was shocking, he staggered out into a great open space. He could feel air, fresh air on his face and yet all was dark. Or was it?

In the darkness he could see a thousand malignant lights that watched him like eyes.

“Come closer, Crom-Ya,” echoed Black Dog’s voice. 

And there was another source of light. A dim beam fell from an opening high up in the cavern roof, far higher than even a man of Crom-Ya’s strength could climb. In its hazy sheen Crom-Ya thought he saw the wizard standing by a recumbent stone at the foot of the cavern wall. And propped up on the altar, against the stone wall, was a glimmering length of some substance, like stone but glittering. 

“Come and claim the sword,” said Black Dog invitingly.

Crom-Ya took two steps forward, and the glimmering eyes moved to surround him.

Black Dog laughed. “Here he is, as I said,” he shouted, raising echo after echo in that sightless cavern. “Yours to do with as you wish—to sacrifice to your dark gods or to take as breeding stock. Now let me depart in peace!”

4. The Little People

No man of the Tribe would accept his fate without fighting. Crom-Ya struck out at half seen forms, felt the pinpricks of flint tipped spears that jabbed him until blood trickled down his flanks. Strangely pliant, squamous flesh squirmed beneath his grasping fingers. Taloned hands seized him in return. The small, dark folk swarmed over him, forcing him to the ground. Struggling furiously, he was dragged across the rock floor, a process that half skinned him. He found himself on his knees before the altar stone.

“Traitor!” he spat as Black Dog gazed down at him.

The wizard laughed. “I, a traitor? I brought you here, I have demonstrated my power over these dark forces. They do my bidding, in return for my offerings.” He sniggered. “And it is you who I offer.”

Crom-Ya could barely see his captors. They veered away from the shaft of light, but he caught glimpses of their glowing eyes, their mottled skin, felt their squamous hides against his own. They were small, twisted, bereft of all humanity, and yet he felt that they were, or had been somehow human.

“What in the Toad’s name are they?” 

Black Dog laughed. “Once they were the folk of this land,” he said, “ere my own people came from the islands in the West with axe and torch. The Little People resisted, and we fought. We were stronger, we slew many. The survivors retreated deeper and deeper into the caves where they dwelt, to dwell permanently in darkness, coming out only at night to steal our food or our young. They are a dying race in need of good breeding stock. I tried to persuade them to take you as such, you would sire strong sons for them. But they are twisted and vengeful, and besides,” he indicated the glittering star stone, the sword, “they have a new god. They would slake its thirst with your blood.”

He tittered, licked his lips. “I would see that slaking,” he added, “ere I quit these nighted caverns for good.”

“What of the Old Woman’s runes?” Crom-Ya rumbled.

Black Dog shrugged. “Oft-times such witches are wrong,” he said, “or their message is obstruse. I have no choice but to give them what they seek. How else do you think I gained them as my ally? I bring them sacrifices, and in return they do me certain favours. Our dark bargain is the source of all my power…”

Crom-Ya’s eyes widened. “You never meant to help me,” he muttered. “You never sought any alliance. It was all a jest to you…”

Small figures scuttled into the gleam of light, and one took up the sword. Crom-Ya saw that bones lay at the foot of the altar stone, a man’s skull, a ribcage. He would not be the first to be offered to the new god, the idol that had fallen from the heavens. A twisted form lifted up the sword in taloned hands, eyes glistening with anticipation. Others hustled Crom-Ya forwards. He went unresisting.

The sword flashed like the lightning from which it was forged. Black Dog tittered.

And Crom-Ya struck.

He had been concealing his true strength, feigning submission as the Little People urged him towards the altar. Now he showed his true might, flinging his captors aside. Standing by the altar stone, their leader, sword in hand, jerked with shock as the shambling lummox they were to sacrifice broke out into frenzied action. But it was too late.

Crom-Ya snatched the sword from the leader’s talons, swung it in a glittering arc. The creature’s head went spinning away into the shadows.

“What are you doing, you fool?” Black Dog cursed.

He broke off as Crom-Ya spun, bringing the sword down to slice through his breastbone, splitting him from neck to crotch.

Crom-Ya crouched, panting, his pale skin dark with the blood of the wizard. The cavern glittered with the malignant eyes of the Little People. He had slain their leader, he had slain the wizard with whom they had had their foul dealings. They were armed only with feeble spears of stone, and Crom-Ya held in his profane hands that magic weapon that had fallen from the stars, the only blade of its kind—the sword.

Crom-Ya’s wild war cry awoke echo after echo as he charged at them, whirling the sword round in great swashing blows. He felt it connect with flesh, felt it break bone. Felt flint spearheads and talons scratch at him. But to no avail.

Reaching the archway from which he had gained access to the cavern, he began the weary, dizzying ascent back up the chimney in the rock. Forever beneath he heard the sounds of pursuit. Reaching the head of the shaft, he halted, panting wildly. He heard them creeping up after him. Looking back down the shaft, he thought it was filled with dancing fireflies. It was their eyes, drawing ever closer.

Wildly, he swung the blade at the rocky wall beside him. Again and again he lashed it, the clashing clang of the blade on stone echoing through the shaft as sparks rained down. He felt the vibrations running up the sword and up his arm as rock began to fall away, plummeting down into the shaft.

In a cataclysm of falling rock and clouds of dust, the wall collapsed. He was flung back by a flying rock and went staggering down the tunnel. Looking back he saw that the shaft was filled with fallen rock.

At last he stumbled out blinking into the light of late afternoon. He was bloody and battered and clawed. But his enigmatic pursuers had vanished like shadows at noonday. 

Clutching the sword in his mighty paw, he shambled off down the hillside.

Dawn broke over Crom-Ya’s village, a huddle of shelters in a clearing in the lowland forest. Already the thralls were awake, tending to the cooking fires while the hunters yawned and stretched in their bedding bundles. The women went to work on the skins where they hung stretched on the frames. 

Last to rise was the auburn maned, bearded Morgrim. He stood majestically within his shelter while his thralls clad him in his fox furs before striding out into the cold morning air, looking about at the working folk with a grin of satisfaction. His grin faltered when he saw the dark figure that stood silently on the edge of the village.

He laughed wildly. “Then the fool, the weak witted madman, has returned!” he shouted. Heads turned, folk halted in their tasks as they gazed at the newcomer.

Crom-Ya stood in the gap between two shelters, bedraggled and with limbs wrapped in blood crusted bandages. In his hand he held a strange weapon, whose like Morgrim the Fox had never seen before. 

Morgrim signalled to some of his wolfskin-wearing hunters, who snatched up their spears and came forwards. “I would have let you live,” the Fox said, addressing the still silent figure of menace, “if you had kept away. It is a sin to shed chiefly blood, they say.”

“No sin to spill yours,” Crom-Ya said harshly. And he came running, the new weapon glittering terribly in his hand. He swung it once, twice, and hunters fell back, clutching at blood spurting breasts or throats as the weapon darted like lightning. Women screamed, grabbed up their brats, rushed into the shelter of huts. 

Crom-Ya stalked forwards. Morgrim’s followers fell back in awe, leaving the path to their leader wide open.

“Defend me!” Morgrim the Fox shouted frenziedly. “Faithless rabble, am I not your chief?”

Crom-Ya laughed mirthlessly. “It is I who am their chief, by blood right,” he said. “I ruled here, like my fathers before me, by right of blood. And it is that right that I shall assert this day. Take up thine axe.”

Shaking, the friendless would-be chieftain went to meet his foe. All the Tribe watched as the two antagonists circled in that rude village square. Crom-Ya feinted suddenly, Morgrim brought up his axe in fear to defend himself, but then Crom-Ya shattered the stone blade with his own weapon, following it up by splitting the Fox’s skull to the teeth. Morgrim’s cunning brains flooded out in a welter of gore.

Fastidiously Crom-Ya wiped his blade with Morgrim’s fox fur. He turned, lifted the sword on high.

“I am chieftain of the Tribe,” he proclaimed. “Bend the knee to me in fealty, or suffer my wrath.”

And there, in the light of that savage prehistoric dawn, all the Tribesfolk knelt before their chief. Before the power of his sword.

Steve Rasnic Tem

Interview: Steve Rasnic Tem

Steve Rasnic Tem is an American author, primarily known for his work in the horror and dark fantasy genres. He has written numerous short stories, novels, and novellas, often exploring themes of horror, surrealism, and the human experience.

His writing is characterized by a unique blend of emotional depth and fantastical elements. Tem has received recognition for his contributions to the speculative fiction genre, and his works have been nominated for and received various awards, including the Bram Stoker Award.

Some of his notable works include “Deadfall Hotel,” “Blood Kin,” and “The Man on the Ceiling,” the latter co-written with his wife, Melanie Tem. Steve Rasnic Tem’s writing often delves into the psychological and emotional aspects of horror, offering readers thought- provoking and unsettling narratives.

Where are you from? What is your background?

I grew up in Lee County Virginia. If you look at a map of Virginia you’ll notice that it ends in a triangle on the western side. That’s Southwest Virginia. I grew up near the western point of that triangle, only a few miles from both Tennessee and Kentucky in the heart of the Southern Appalachians. Coal country. Isolated. A gorgeous but disadvantaged area. I remember as a child, before the major highways were constructed, before there was even a public library in the county, watching the news with Walter Cronkite and thinking that the events he reported were about as relevant to the people where I lived as the news from Mars.

But things did change. The county got a public library (and more importantly a bookmobile!) around the time I was in Junior High. Never underestimate the power of the public library. It blew my small life wide open. The last few years of high school I was submitting stories to Ted White at Amazing/Fantastic, although my first sales wouldn’t be until at least ten years later, after getting a BA in English from VPI and an MA in Creative Writing from Colorado State.

What inspired you to become a writer?

We didn’t have books in the house until my brothers and I begged for a series of children’s classics my parents bought from a travelling salesman. Those, and library books, developed my hunger for reading, and my fascination with books on shelves and paperbacks on wire racks at the drugstore. I grew up within an extended family of enthusiastic storytellers. I could think of nothing finer than writing stories which would be included in those books. I’ve done other things for work in my life, but I’ve enjoyed nothing more than putting words down. For years I made the majority of my living writing manuals and online Help for software companies, in addition to fiction writing of course.

What inspired you to write the novels In The Lovecraft Museum, Excavation, and The Mask Shop Of Doctor Blaack?

Excavation was my first novel. I’d published a couple of hundred short stories by then, but I’d never tried a novel. I wasn’t sure I could do it. For me, the pleasure in writing came from completing things. The delayed gratification of finishing a novel didn’t appeal that much. But other writers were telling me it was a necessary career move. I’d submitted a short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. Marion liked the writing, but felt the content and momentum suggested a novel. After looking it over I agreed. After three months I had a draft, including everything I could think of including. After another month of judicious cuts I had a version which John Douglas bought for Avon.

The Lovecraft Museum was always intended to be of novella (or short novel) length. I actually think this is the best length for an extended horror tale. I’ve never been particularly influenced by Lovecraft, but I’ve been inspired by his themes. His tales involve a particular sort of paranoia I’ve always found compelling. After having made several trips to England and being fascinated by their different solutions for the same household technology issues Americans face, I began to see England as possibly a kind of alternate universe (and vice versa). So what better place to put a museum devoted to H.P. Lovecraft?

The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack, my only middle grade novel, began as a series of writing exercises I did on various old computers: the Commodore 64 and 128, the TRS-80 Models 3 and 100, and a couple of others.

I’ve always loved children’s books and I love Halloween. It just seemed appropriate to write a children’s book on computers which seemed to primarily appeal to children, with their colorful old-fashioned screens and big block lettering. I’d export the text via some clever cabling from one computer to the next, adding more of the story with each new computer I used. The final text was a huge challenge to clean up. I felt bad for the copyeditor who had to deal with this project.

You’ve been compared to great surreal writers such as Kafka, why do you think surrealism is a tough thing for people to accept as an art form, especially in film and fiction?

The average human being has a rather narrow view of what is rational, of what makes sense. That’s necessary, I think, for ordinary, everyday functioning. Who wants a surrealist accountant, or a surrealist airline pilot? For me, surrealism provides another source for metaphors for those things we can’t actually put our hands on, metaphors I can use to describe dreams, ambiguous emotional states, and liminal events. It’s a tool useful for creative artists of all kinds, but not particularly useful anywhere else. And it’s not easy to use—it’s highly subjective. A surreal image may mean different things to different audiences/readers. As a writer or visual artist you have to figure out what these images mean to you, and present them in ways that an audience (sometimes a relatively select audience) can apprehend them. Editing this kind of material is quite difficult. You have to develop an ear/eye for it.

There’s a great quote from Joe R. Lansdale about you, “Steve Rasnic Tem is a school of writing unto himself.” Are you comfortable with praise like that and criticism?

I’m not all that comfortable with praise. I grew up in a small southern town where bragging was frowned upon. Also, from an early age I saw my creative output as the only thing which was wholly mine, and any comment on it whatsoever embarrassed me a bit.

I’ve come a long way since then, but I’m still most comfortable just sending my work out there and what happens, happens. I do promote—I think you have to. I’ve simply made that an automatic process—I do the promotion I need to do when something comes out, and then periodically to remind people of my back catalog, but I try not to dwell on it. I simply so what needs to be done.

Every writer needs to get to the point where they’re their own best critic. Criticism is fine (and you should never take it personally or god-forbid answer it) but no one knows your process or your intentions better than you do, so critiques are likely to miss the mark in some way or the other. But they’re still valuable information—some more than others. They are (hopefully) someone’s honest reaction to your work. What you have to learn how to do is translate that critique into something that relates to your aesthetics and intentions.

What advice can you give to new writers?

New writers need to read, not only in their own genre but in other genres as well. Read the classics, read the literary journals, read the horror mags and anthologies, etc. I tell short story writers to read a thousand short stories—conscientiously—paying attention to how the writer begins and ends the story. What’s the strategy involved? Beginnings and endings are problematic for a lot of new writers and yet they have a wealth of technique at their disposal if they’ll just read conscientiously. Do the same with structure—how did the writer organize the story? How did the writer move from scene to scene and what was the purpose of those scenes?

The other thing that happens when you read deeply and widely is you get a sense of what is possible in storytelling. The approaches for telling stories, the types, the models, etc. You can’t really know what’s possible until you’ve experienced it.

How do you feel about the current state of genre fiction?

Simply put, there are more good writers of genre fiction now than I can remember during all my time as a reader and writer.

Do you think your environment, past area you’ve lived in, has an effect on your writing?

It always does. But the strange thing, and I’ve heard something similar from other writers, is that often you can’t write about a place effectively until either you’ve left it, or after you’ve lived in that place for an awfully long time. Distance is required, however you can acquire it. I also believe the landscape you’re in heavily influences the interior landscape of your imagination, which transforms the fiction you’re writing.

It’s also sometimes true that you write differently in different writing spaces. It’s at least worth an experiment.

What was the oddest thing you’ve ever been asked to do in your career as a writer?

Nothing particularly strange on the fiction side (except for the stories themselves), but during my day job as a technical writer I had all kinds of strange assignments. I maintained the technical specs for a major manufacturer’s plywood. I wrote online help for programs which designed wood frame homes. I wrote the documentation for a digital version of the I Ching. I wrote a letter informing employees they were about to lose the use of their company-provided trucks. And I wrote the manual for software which kept track of every vehicle in an auto junk yard, including every part on each of those vehicles.

What projects are working on now?

This year will see the release of Rough Justice from Centipede Press, collecting all my crime stories. I’m putting together another general horror short story collection, and I’m also working on a 27-story cycle of related tales called Queneau’s Alphabet.

The Night Doctor and Other Tales by Steve Rasnic Tem
Photographer Angela Fardellone

Photographer: Angela Fardellone

How to Stihl Rubies

By Dr. Richard A. Olson

Jewel heists are no fun, but the culprit was a jewel herself

Pepper, my secretary, and I were having our usual morning coffee. My office was on the seventh floor. I had the window open in spite of the cool autumn temperature. Leaves were scurrying and rustling across the streets. I was lost in thought, admiring the Illinois River, watching a barge roll by with seagulls chasing it.

Pepper said, “Hey, Boss, this envelope has your old address on it. The third floor of Fulton and Adams streets, Peoria, Illinois.”

I dropped the envelope down at my desk to analyze the mail. The mailman had just arrived at our office and left. I heard a sound at the door. Maybe the mailman had forgotten something. I ran my fingers through my thick raven-black hair, then squinted my steel-blue eyes at the door. It looked like a regular oak office door. Just a plain door, it hadn’t harmed anybody or done anything wrong. Then I thought of the joke, “When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar.”


The door burst ajar, one of its hinges broke apart. Wood splinters flew wildly, they landed and danced on the floor. Rudely, two uninvited men lunged into my office. One was dark, one was white — the important thing is they both had gats in their paws. These menacing snub-nose revolvers were pointed, aimed and ready to do business. Well, trouble is my business.

“Do you men have an appointment?” asked Pepper in a sweet, purring voice.

That made them slow down … a bit. They stormed over to my desk. The desk stopped their progress. It was a nice desk. 

The white man barked, “Stihl! We got business with you. Hands up tough guy. Now!”

I slowly got to my feet, stretched my 5’10’ frame, still holding my coffee. “Okay I’m up.”

Pepper has wandered over with the coffee pot simmering. She was on my left, hoovering. “Boss, would you like a refill?”

“We was told to tell you lay off the Grady case…or you will end up pushing daisies.”

“Or maybe a cement overcoat,” said the dark guy. “You look like catfish food.”

Well, I did not like daisies or the idea of being catfish food. “There is only one problem.”

“What’s that?” growled the white guy?”

I stated, “There are only two of you, there are two of us.”

 The dark guy said, “But we got the guns. You think you big and strong; that’s just the type I like to beat on.”

The other added, “Your secretary is a small negress. Hardly a snack.”

The two snickered merrily at the thought of our demise.

Their laughing was just the distraction I wanted. Giving Pepper the slightest nod, Pepper tossed out the coffee. I also dropped my cup for a diversion. Pepper’s caffeine toss perfectly hit the white guy’s hand, with a howl of pain the revolver dropped. 

The dark guy’s eyes inadvertently followed my porcelain cup-of-joe to the floor where is shattered, its dark fluids spewing outward, and my right fist of “steel” launched forward in a wicked roundhouse to his jaw. It produced a sound much like a slab of beef breaking a bone. My left hook to his stomach was just as swift and deadly. There was the sound of air, rushing, escaping his mouth. He stood there like a deflated balloon. But he still reached at my throat making a step forward. I too stepped forward with an uppercut coming from my feet to my hips to my arms to my fist. His body visibly lifted upward. He flew backwards landing on his back. Inwardly I groaned at the sound of his skull cracking against the tile floor. 


My teeth chattered at the hit I received from the white guy’s blow. Dazed but not confused, I ducked the next blow and rolled to the floor. Then I sprang to my feet. The cheap shot made me mad. It’s not good to get me mad. He bull-rushed me. His mistake. Being an x-professional boxer, I slid to the right and jabbed twice at his temple. His head snapped back, as he spun around a wild punch thrown at where I stood. His second blow was timed, it careered off the side of my jaw. Now I saw stars, not the kind you want. In a fighting rage I rushed in, clenched him, giving me time to regain my senses.

A referee would of broken us apart if one had been there. He kicked my shin—hard Which made me madder. I blocked the blow, leaped back. He came at me swinging. I parried and gave him the old one-two. That slowed him down…considerably. Now I charged in, right cross, left uppercut. He attempted to block me. That set him up for a haymaker.


His eyes got big. They seemed to spin around, then his eyelids closed. He sunk to the ground; out like a light.

“Pepper, call Detective Colby. It’s time to take out the trash.”

Pepper nodded with a smile, “Yes Sur, Boss.”

 In the cool Autumn air, the mist permeated the streets. An innocuous couple enter the jewelry store. The owner of Stanton Jewelry was working the counter today. His employee was too hung over to work. 

In a gruff voice, “How may I help you? My name is Clifford Stanton. You may call me Cliff.”

“Ello, mate. How’s it blooming going?” He was a tall slender man in a tweed suit, grey derby hat, and cane.

“Eh, okay sir. What can I do for you?”

“My sister, and I would like to look at some Rubes. Right, sis?”

In a melodic voice, “That’s bloody right, Simon. Rubes, ya got some?”

Cliff had a blank face, with a question on his lips. “Rubes?”

“Okay, in Queens English…Rubies. Right, Vivian?”

“Show us your best and biggest, sir. I got a hole in me purse. Know what I mean?”

“Yes sir, of course.” Cliff jumped to attention. He was back in a flash. He opened a case and stated unrolling the black velvet. Six rubies shined, flashed, they sparkled into existence. 

“That’s more to my liking,” stated Vivian. “May I…?”

Cliff nodded. She picked one up and ogled it then handed it to Simon. Simon took out a jeweler’s eye loupe, he rotated the jewel like it was on a rotisserie. A low whistle escaped his lips.

“Blimey mate, very nice. How much for the bunch?”

Cliff, gulped. “I…I could let the set go for only $10,000. And that’s a deal. Not much mark-up since the Depression.”

“Well, well, that’s a pretty penny,” commented Vivian. “What do you say brother?”

“Nothing good is cheap,” replied Simon. “Do you take pound sterling?”

“Er, checks or American dollars please,” countered Cliff.

Simon’s response was, “We have to visit one of your Yankee banks and make convertibility. We could be back after lunch. Fish and chips sound good, Vivian?”

“Jolly good, Simon.” Vivian’s nostrils flared. “Ah, ah, ah—choo!” Frantically Vivian opened her handbag. Another sneeze exploded. “Achoo!” The handbag dropped to its side, the contents exploding across the counter.

Cliff bent over to help Vivian gather up the contents. Simon made a gesture of helping. The mess was gathered up. Vivian was graciously wiping her pert nose. Simon stood there casually stuffing tobacco into his pipe. Cliff rolled up the black velvet collecting the rubies. 

“Sorry about that mate. Must be that fall ragweed that you have here in Peoria. Come, Vivian, time for a stroll and a bite.”

“Thank you, sir, for your kindness and time.” Vivian placed her hand on Cliff’s hand. She paused, leaned forward, then batted her sky-blue eyes. “We shall return. Ta-ta for now.”

“Um, thanks,” said an uncomfortable married Cliff. “I shall keep your rubies safe.”

They exited the store door and turned left down the hall.

“Excuse me!” yelled a bewildered Cliff. “The street is to the right!”

“Want another drink, Nick? Beer or Scotch?” asked Sam.

“The night is young,” I replied. “Let’s stick to beer for now.”

 Sam Wilson was my best friend, one the few honest lawyers in Sin city. One of Peoria’s many nicknames. Sam was medium height, weight, and brown hair. He took off his horn-rimmed glasses and wiped them. Don’t let those brown eyes fool you, he missed nothing. There was the wisdom of Solomon hiding behind them. The waitress showed up, a pert small-breasted blonde. We were at West’s Palace, the premier Burlesque club in town. 

Sam ordered, “Okay beer it is. Two PBR’s, Miss.”

There was a Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery in Peoria. Nothing like beer brewed yesterday.

“Say, Nick, I finally have a joke for you.”

“What’s that?” I’m usually the funny guy around here. I picked up a Lucky Strike. Sam started loading his pipe with tobacco from a Prince Albert can.

“Did you hear about the two lawyers walking down Main Street and they saw a gorgeous blonde?”

I nodded, “No.”

“One lawyer says to the other, ‘I want to screw her.’ The other lawyer says, ‘Out of what?’”

I spit out some of my beer. “Good one, Sam.”

 We searched around for matches; our pockets and the table were empty. Just our luck, neither of us had matches.

I volunteered, “I’ll go to the bar; back in a jiffy, Sam.” I skedaddled. The bar was modern art deco. It was blond-maple veneer with contrasting black-lacquer trim. It was full of drinks, ashtrays, ashes, spills, and minor stains. And of course, customers. I weaseled my way to the counter. 

“Pardon me,” I purposely bumped by a lady sitting there. I wanted my Lucky Strikes. In a loud voice, “Hey, Henry! A couple of matchbooks, please.”

“Don’t have to be so loud and pushy, mate.”

The voice stopped me dead in my tracks. It was bold, melodic, sexy, and very British. Glancing to my right I saw the most adorable bird. She had dark hair under her angled beret hat, deep sky-blue eyes, and a luscious lower lip that begged to be kissed. I definitely know how to kiss. Her low-cut silver satin dress looked like it was painted on her. The painter did not miss a stroke. Inwardly I thought, “Pucker up, babe.” What came out of my mouth was, “Can I buy you a drink to make up for being a jerk?”

The lady calmly put her cigarette in an ashtray. The last few puffs of smoke were dying out. “My gin and tonic is bloody well dry.” She lifted the glass overhead, tipped it upside down and leaned back. The last precious few drops landed on her moist glistening tongue. The tongue curled back into her mouth, followed by her lower lip closing. My toes curled watching her. 

I recovered straightening out my toes. “Henry, where are my matches? Two gin and tonics pronto for the lady.” My stomach revolted at the idea of drinking Gin. It tasted like an evergreen tree. Eeech! Man, she was that good-looking, good enough to drink Gin with. I bet she could make my ears sweat. Time would tell.

“I’m Stihl, Nick Stihl. You are…?”

“Vivian,” she extended her dainty hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

I pressed my lips to her hand; it smelled like violets. “Enchante.”

“Se Bon, se bon, monsieur Nickolas.”

A pang rang in my heart. She sounded like my ex-fiancée Jennifer from my boxing days. I kept beaming till the gin showed up. We nodded our glasses at each other and toasted, “Cheers.”

 I drank down my evergreen tree, or was it Pine-Sol. Inside I went “yuck,” with that taste in my mouth. “You must be new in town, or I would have noticed you before.” Not the best opening line.

“You’re jolly right. My brother and I just skipped across the pond.”

“What pond? You mean the river?”

“The pond is the Atlantic Ocean darling. Do you even know what a Quid is?”

I sadly shook my head no.

“It’s term for our money. A pound is a quid.”

Apparently I had a lot to learn. The first thing to learn was Vivian’s address and phone number, if she had a phone. Vivian took my hands; she eyed them like they were a side of beef.

“My, my what have we here? Are you a pugilist?”

That word I knew. “Ex-boxer. Now I’m a shamus.”

“These look like hands of steel. Such scars, and calluses. You have been in many battles, mate.” 

“A few, here or there,” I replied trying to remain humble. 

Then Vivian leaned against me, her moist breath in my ear. Were my toes going to curl again? Now I really wanted to kiss her. She traced my ear with her finger, dotted my ear with a light kiss, then rubbed my suitcoat feeling my hard muscles. She felt where my .38 Smith & Wesson was stored. “My, you are interesting. How’s your other gun darling? Do you dribble before you shoot?”

Just then Sam came storming over. “Where’s the matches? I need to smoke my pipe. What’s been keeping you?” When he noticed Vivian, his voice lightened up. “Oh… I see. Very nice. I’m Sam Wilson, Nick’s supposed friend.”

Meanwhile in the snakes den — To be more exact, Paul West’s private office…

“Well, what do you think?” asked Simon.

“I must admit it’s a pretty sight,” admitted Paul. He was holding a glistening ruby under the desk lamp. Paul was always dapper, dressed in a blue wool suit and dark-blue tie. He ran his finger along his pencil thin moustache. He had started West Palace from scratch and was now the king of the Burlesque. Peoria was the Burlesque capital of the world. There’s a famous saying. “If it plays in Peoria, it plays anywhere”. 

“Let me see them,” demanded Liam Walsh in a snarling voice.

 He was the most feared man in Peoria, leader of the mighty Walsh gang. Liam and his three brothers ran this town of sin and corruption. Police officers would step into the street to let the Walsh’s walk by. Simon handed two rubies to Liam. Liam greedily grasp them, his cruel lips twisting, put one in each hand. He stood up went over and held them under the Paul’s desk lamp. 

“Nice, very nice. I’ll take all six rubies. Why break up the set? We’ll keep this a secret from the Mayor Logan. Why give him a cut? I’ll offer you three thousand dollars for the lot. Not a penny more.”

Beneath Liam’s dark moustache an an evil grin showed. His white teeth menacingly shined.

“But…that’s not enough mate. My sis and I planned this nick a long time. We got expenses — overhead, you might say. We might have to blow this town fast. The bloody coppers and such.”

Paul and Liam laughed. They owned the police and everything else in this town.

Paul said one word: “Jesse.” A small mountain of a man came to life from the corner. He walked over and stood behind Simon. He placed a bearpaw of a hand on Simon’s shoulder. Simon froze in terror. Jesse was not small, about 6’6” by 6’6”.

Simon still said, “Make it four grand. We did a bloody good job; you know it Mister Walsh. We don’t want a sticky wicket twixt us, future business, and such.” 

Liam’s eyes widened in surprise. “You Limeys have balls that’s for sure. We’ll see about that. Jesse take—”

Paul butted in, a hazardous thing to do with Liam. “Liam, Jesse is mine. Jesse, show us.”

Jesse wrapped his arms around Simon, who was petrified, like a living statue. Jesse lifted Simon like a rag doll, carried him over and deposited him in a chair. Simon was as white as a ghost. 

“Liam, give him the four thousand clams. I like future business, dividends you might say.” Paul’s voice was smooth as ice.

Liam was silent. A long minute dragged out; tension cut the air. Liam’s lips snarled, “Okay, four it is. Let’s plan the drop. I know a couple of nice warehouses. Rubies now, the dough later.”

Simon stood up slowly, knowing he was on thin ice. “I’ll take my three bleedin’ rubies back please. We’ll do the exchange all at once. Four thousand dollars for the six stones. Send word tomorrow to the Julian Hotel front desk. The name is Relish, Simon Relish.” Simon’s hands finally betrayed him, they trembled. He nearly dropped a ruby as he placed the stones in a pouch.

“Cheerio mates, tomorrow it is.” Simon left a silent office behind him.

Simon saw Vivian at the bar counter, his eyes widened at the sight of me. He boldly ambled over. “Good evening blokes. I’m Simon, nice to see you keep my sister safe and occupied. There’s apparently a lot of rift raft in this town. Time to go dear. Almost tea time.”

Vivian looked at me with those blue eyes that could melt an iceberg.

As politely as I could, “Vivian, may I have your address or phone number?” 

She pressed her finger against her moist lips and then pressed her finger to my lips. “I’ll find you… Darling. Ta-ta for now.”

Simon and Vivian left. I instinctively licked my lips. They tasted like that confounded gin. Eeech!

I got my matches; Sam and I took our table. Sam lit up his pipe. I finally got my Lucky Strike and lit it. The first magical puff was mine. LSMFT (Lucky Strike means fine tobacco). Two scotches later, I was definitely feeling better. 

“Whoa, slow down Mr. Stanton. Let’s take it from the top. One more time, you might have left out something.” Colby was trying to cool off Cliff. 

 Detective Dave Colby one of the few honest cops in this town. His sandy hair was rumpled, his tie disarrayed, face unshaven. He got here in a jiffy. Stanton had clout. He had the best jewelry store in the Peoria area. 

Colby scribbled in a notebook. “When did you discover the rubies had been switched?” 

“I was holding them for the English people, starting to wrap them up. One of the rubies fell off the counter, it hit the ground and shattered. It was glass! I was robbed. It’s terrible. Oh, what a fool I am. They seemed so nice.”

“You can’t judge a book by the cover,” I said, jaunting into the store. I carried two cups of joe, and promptly handed one to Dave. He muttered thanks and attacked it. 

Colby kept drilling. “Did they say where they stayed or what bank they used? Any ideas, at all?”

“Not really, just they would get the money from a bank.” Cliff buried his face in his hands.

“What were the six rubies worth?”

“At least $10,000 dollars, maybe a little more.”

I piped up, “Where did they go after they left? See anything unusual?”

Cliff lifted his face up. “Yeah I did; they went the wrong way.”

“The wrong way?” echoed Colby. “How do you go the wrong way?”

Cliff wrinkled his brow remembering, “They went out the door and turned left, but the street is to the right.” 

Dave and I both looked at each other. “The roof!”

We dashed out the door and raced up the stairs, two or three steps at a time. We were breathless by the seventh floor. We spilled out the roof door to … nothing. Of course, the robbers were long gone by then. We caught our breaths and scoped out the rooftop for clues. I lit up a Lucky Strike and pretended to be Sherlock Holmes. If only I had a magnifying glass … The roof looked dirty, grimy, like a mini junkyard. Cliff Stanton would have to talk to his cleaning crew. There were candy wrappers, rusting beer cans, glass Coke bottles and a cage of pigeons in the corner.

“Nick, come here.”

I puffed my way over to Colby. “What did you find?” I wasn’t seeing much.

He bent over, stood up and produced two half smoked cigarettes. “Two Fags, one has lipstick on it.”

“What’s a fag?” I wasn’t feeling too smart lately.

“It’s a Schaeffler cigarette. They call them Fags in England. That’s slang. Seen any new English people in town lately Nick?”

Deep down, I felt sick to my stomach, and it wasn’t the Gin. “There’s always new people in town with Caterpillar. In fact, my friend Mike is Scottish.” 

“It’s the only clue we got. We need to find who smokes this type of cigarette.”

We went down the stairs much slower, making small talk and hit the streets of Sin City.

I entered my office, shaking off my umbrella. It was combination of rain, sleet, and ice outside.

“Good morning, Pepper. Nasty weather outside.” 

Pepper was busy, her brown hands pounding away on her Underwood typewriter. She looked as cute as a bug in a rug. Her thick dark brown hair was braided, her long eyelashes fluttering as she typed. She had on a purple wool dress, lavender scarf, pearl earrings, and a pearl bracelet. She was singing the Glenn Miller song, “Over The Rainbow.”

“Good morning, Boss. Yes, it’s nasty outside. It’s like the weather can’t make up its mind on what to do. How’s a girl supposed to dress for weather like this?”

“Yeah, my father told me if you don’t like the weather in Illinois…wait fifteen minutes. It will change. Any mail, news, gossip, or killings I need to know about?”

Pepper loaded up my desk with a pile of bills, steaming cup of coffee and a fresh pack of Lucky Strikes. Sometimes I could kiss that girl. 

Two cups of Joe and two Lucky’s latter, quite a few envelopes filled my garbage can. I kicked my feet up on my desk. Outside the window, the weather was turning back to rain.

“Pepper, I got a busy day planned for you. Take notes.”

With pencil and paper in hand, she asked, “What’s the plan Boss?”

“We need to track down a pretty English lady and gentleman. Here’s what we’re going to do…”

Pepper began scribbling.

We were sitting in Sam’s law office in the Lehman building. Three coffees were poured by his knockout of a secretary. She left but flashed me a big smile and a wink. I returned the wink. Sam elbowed me.

 I asked, “What do you think, Dave?”

“It could work,” I supposed. Things always sound good on paper. “But in real life…?”

“The most important thing is the timing.” Sam pointed out. The phone rang. It was Sam’s direct line.

“Mr. Wilson? This is Pepper Boyd. I did what Nick told me to. That odd English couple is leaving the Julian Hotel. I overheard that they are going to meet at the Apollo Theatre tonight. I think they are going to meet with Li…”

The hum of the dial tone could be heard throughout the office. My heart was in my throat. A snarl exploded out of my mouth. “I will kill the bastards that harm a hair on Pepper’s head.”

I realized I said that out loud. You could hear a pin drop in that room. Sam clenched my arm, he was stronger than I thought. But Dave spoke first.

“I’ll get my two best untainted men. Let’s go get those sons of bitches.”

Sam snapped, “I want in on it.” 

He went to his desk and much to my surprised he pulled out a nickel plated .35 revolver. He stood at his desk. Even for a lawyer, the glare on his face looked menacing. I patted my .38 Smith & Wesson; it felt comfortable. Then I jumped to my feet, all my 190 pounds ready to rumble.

My voice rumbled also. “Let’s round up the usual suspects!” It came out so deep and powerful I surprised myself. I am a ‘Man of Steele.’

The theatre was about half-packed, being a weeknight. Sam, Dave, and his men dispersed themselves among the crowd. I slowly cased the place. I bought a soda and popcorn at the counter. The popcorn was fresh, hot, and smelled great. Obviously they had cooked it in coconut oil. I plopped myself in the backrow. Munching my popcorn, I reached inside my suitcoat, pulled out my flask and poured a liberal amount of whiskey into my soda. Might as well have a good time waiting. They had a Thin Man movie playing and Myrna Loy was sure looking good tonight. 

Pouring more whiskey from my flask into my second soda, I noticed Vivian and her brother Simon walk down the aisle to take a seat. I slumped down, hiding my face behind my soda, slurping it. Sam turned to me, gave a nod. Next was Dave, he raised his shoulders questionably? Tossing my head of thick black hair in the direction of the Relishes, I kept on slurping. Dave nodded yes. The whiskey was starting to kick in by now. The movie was a riot. The dog Asta was licking a hungover Bill Powell’s face. Not daring to leave my seat for a soda refill, I splashed more whiskey into my soda’s remains. My throat burned in delight from the whiskey. I was ready to get this party started. It didn’t take long.

 A man sauntered down the aisle and sat next to Simon. Their heads leaned together conferring. They both got up, strolled back up the isle and went through the Exit door. Now it was my turn. I nonchalantly walked down and took a seat next to the lovely Vivian. Tonight, she had on a two-piece dark grey outfit, with a peach-colored scarf. A pheasant feather was precariously perched in her dark Garbo slouch hat.


Vivian face blanched, she was speechless. The look on her face was priceless.

“Are you enjoying the movie? Powell and Loy are great together. One of Hollywood’s best teams if you ask me.”

“Nick? What… ello mate, are you doing here?”

“I came for my kiss.” I blew a breath of whiskey toward her luscious lower lip.

She was taken aback, then regained her composure. “You smell like a distillery. What if my brother sees us?”

Not the answer I expected. “Let’s take a walk and find your wonderful brother. Get up slowly and head up the aisle…slowly.” I tapped my .38 Smith & Wesson under suitcoat. “Remember, I’m interesting.”

Vivian nodded. “Yes, I remember. You’re interesting.”

“Lead the way, sister.”

She stood up, started walking in slow motion. I gave her a not too gentle push. She staggered and gave me a venomous look with those now cold hard blue eyes. Vivian surprised me. Instead of up the aisle, she went down toward the movie screen, where she paused. Pulling a curtain aside, revealed a door. She wavered there, uncertain what to do.

“The night’s not getting any earlier, knock or I knock you.” It wasn’t my nature to be rough on dames. This wasn’t a dame, she was a professional thief, maybe more. Her hand raised like molasses; her icy blue eyes shot daggers of hate at me. Vivian knocked three polite times…

Inside a voice grumbled, “Who’s there?”

I released a savage kick, bursting the door open, to quite a sight I might add. Centered in the room, behind an oak desk perched Liam Walsh. A pair of bookend goons loomed behind him. Simon was seated in front of the desk smoking one of his English Fags. In the corner of the room, was Pepper gagged and bound to a metal folding chair. She batted her eyelashes at me helplessly. A chill of icy water went down my spine. But inside my guts boiled, steam was going to rage out of my throat. I shoved, or was it propelled Vivian toward Simon. She crashed into his lap. Simon’s fag went flying, embers and ashes spraying the desk glowing and burning by a black velvet bag that was placed on the desk. Liam didn’t move a muscle, nor did his goons. Then a saturnine smirk crossed his face.

“Good evening, Nick. I see you came to join our little party. I suppose we have something you want. This negress here, she’s your secretary, right? How unusual. What’s her name…Polly, Penny, or something like that? You might say, she’s our insurance. Even I must admit, you are as tough as steel.”

 Liam drummed his thick fingers on the desk. “Tell you what, you can get a small cut if you leave here peacefully. You can get your Girl Friday later.” With a venomous declaration, Liam said, “We’ll keep her mostly safe…for now. Know what I mean?”

I knew what he meant. Well, I meant business too.

I bumped my knuckles together. That made the two mammoth goons stir. There was only two of them, no matter what size, not a problem for me. I eat nails and spit rust. I like to fight and don’t care if I get hurt, but I do care about Pepper. 

“I’m thinking about it Liam, just give me a minute.” I was stalling. “What kind of cut? And you let Pepper go, right?” 

Simon jumped to his feet spilling Vivian to the floor. Her Garbo hat fell off. She had a look of shock and disbelief on her face. In another time I would have laughed at her. This was not another time. 

“I’m not giving up one red cent of my wife’s or my cut. It has to be out of yours, not ours.” Simon gulped, realizing what he had said. 

Liam opened his mouth. “You fool…”

A shout came from the doorway. “Police. Peoria Police Department. Everybody freeze.”

It was Detective Dave Colby, with two of Peoria’s finest, brandishing their service revolvers. Inside I wondered if it could really be this easy. The two goons deposited their guns on the ash burnt desk. Liam swiped at the velvet bag, but I was quicker. I opened it, inside nicely nested were the six stolen rubies. 

Colby said, “Let me guess they were delivered by carrier pigeon?”

“That’s right.” I chimed in. “The pigeons then flew to the roof of the Julian Hotel. And the Relishes picked up the rubies and here we are now.” I smiled feeling smug and proud of myself.

Colby and his men handcuffed the four bad guys while I freed Pepper. She did her best not to cry. I did get a hell-of-a hug through. She was one tough lady. We marched out like a parade into the theater. The two ladies in front. Up the aisle we marched. I felt a tightness in my stomach. Something was going to happen.

It sure did, with a vengeance. About half a dozen men stood up in the audience, armed with handguns, a couple of shot guns thrown in for good measure. Now the evening was going to get interesting.

BOOOM! Went off the first shotgun. 

 One of the Policemen’s chest exploded; a mist of blood mixed with chunks of flesh and lung tissue sprayed outward. He flew backwards like he was shot by a cannon. Landing on the carpeted aisle, he bounced once and went still. Colby and I were drawing our revolvers and spraying lead. It was a hail of death. I shot at one of the gangsters as I pushed forward to grab the gals and get them to safety. My shot was swift and sure, a crimson hole appeared on the left side of his forehead. I hardly noticed it. I missed grabbing Vivian’s arm, but managed to yank on Pepper’s arm, pulling us into a headfirst tumble. 

By now the innocent bystanders were panicking, screaming, running amuck if you will. Popcorn was flying and soft drinks spilling everywhere. The chaos was rampant. My question was, who were the good guys or the bad guys? Liam’s two goons used their bodies as a shield to protect him. I could not help but admire their loyalty to him. Several of the gangsters rushed to Liam’s rescue. Liam was handcuffed still and helpless. Colby shot twice, one the gangster’s clutched at his gut, like he could keep his insides from spilling out. He crumbled withering on the floor, a terrible gargle coming out of his mouth.

A goon charged me, I leaped to my feet and met his charge with a viscous left cross to his jaw. His momentum adding to the force of my blow. The sound of his jaw fracturing was sickening. So was the sound of my knuckles breaking. His eyes rolled upward, then went blank. Before he hit the ground, I was firing at another target. 

Cha, cha, cha! Went my .38, another man bit the dust. Sensing a presence, I whirled. A shotgun was directed my way. As the shotgun exploded, the other policeman dived into the gangster driving them to the floor. They rolled and tossed about. The shotgun aim had been knocked askew. The buckshot found its home in the face and chest of Simon. Simon was torn asunder. I’m sure not even his mother would recognize him. Vivian stood up rushing to her husband, she received a wild shot in her back propelling her face first to the ground. She feebly managed to crawled over to her husband, as she expired, grasping his motionless hand. The ill-fated couple’s hands were locked in Death!

My eyes now had to be on Liam Walsh. One of his men was pushing him up the aisle the other two goons still blocking my aim. The rage inside me wanted me to kill. The hatred for Liam was boiling up inside of me. He had killed my boxing trainer and mentor Max. 

I couldn’t do it…shoot a defenseless handcuffed men. I growled as I watch Liam and his three goons flee from the theatre. I whirled needing a release, ready to gun down anybody I could. Colby had a man he was handcuffing. The policeman on the floor was also handcuffing his man.

Another gangster had his hands in the air, behind him was Sam. Sam had jammed his .35 revolver into nape of the gangster’s neck. Sam was not a mousy lawyer. He meant business in or out of the courtroom. There was no one left for me to shoot. Out of frustration, with my left hand I punched the back of a theater chair. My senses exploded. A moan partially escaped my lips. I had forgotten I had broken my left hand with the left cross into the gangsters’ jaw. Pepper rushed to my aid; she wrapped her hankie around my swollen bloodied left hand. We slowly went over to the two still prostrate bodies of the Relish’s. With my right hand I rolled over Vivian. Their hands pulled apart. Her blue eyes were glassy and blank, her luscious lower lip was split in several places and bloody. She would never kiss anybody again!

“Here they are.” I opened the black velvet bag and spilled out the six precious rubies on the counter. “All six accounted for.” Inside me I knew it was a hollow victory at best.

Cliff Stanton was beside himself, beaming with happiness. All he could say was “thanks,” over and over.

Dave Colby patted me on the back. “Great job on the recovery of the rubies. That was clever of the Relish’s using carrier pigeons. The reward is all yours Nick. What a hell of a gunfight. It’s amazing no civilians were harmed.”

“I’m not sure about keeping all the reward money, Liam got away. That bastard needs to pay.”

“His day will come, Nick. Eventually all evil comes to an end. He will reside in Hell someday. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay.” Sam’s words rang in my head, with the laughter of The Shadow echoing in the background. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

“Keep the reward,” Dave reiterated. “I mean it, Nick.”

“Yeah, Boss, we got medical expenses.” Pepper held up my left hand, now in a cast. 

I pulled my plastered hand away and made a punching motion. “That chair should have ducked.”

Pepper giggled, then a chuckle from Sam. Dave burst out laughing, slapping his thigh. Cliff joined in, then I found myself laughing too. For a moment it was one big party in Peoria, the original Sin City.

Dr Richard A Olson

Interview: Dr. Richard A. Olson

Meet Dr. Richard A. Olson, the creative mind behind the gripping Nick Stihl Private Investigator series. Driven by a childhood immersed in athletics, martial arts, and bodybuilding, Olson’s diverse interests extend to the world of music, where he once showcased his talents as a professional rock drummer. Beyond the beats, he’s a voracious consumer of literature, indulging in everything from traditional books and comics to a particular fascination with Batman and pulp magazines.

Fueling his creative fire, Olson’s passion for film noir from the 1930s and 1940s adds a distinctive flair to his writing. Currently, Dr. Olson wears multiple professional hats as a chiropractor, physician, and acupuncturist. Nestled by the serene twin lakes just outside Peoria, Illinois, he shares his life with his wife, two children, and a giant white dog. Richard A. Olson is a masterful storyteller weaving tales of intrigue, mystery, and the indomitable Nick Stihl.

Where are you from? What’s your background?

Hello, I’m Dr. Richard A. Olson, I was born in raised in Moline, Illinois. Home of John Deere Tractor. The area is called the Quad Cities.

We had a strong family and did all kinds of things together. Everything from vacations, music, working out, bicycling, TV, and popcorn. We’re serious about our popcorn. I grew up with all kinds of cars. My family had owned several car businesses. As a teenager, I got to drive several thousand cars to test the brakes and alignments. We had a car repair business in Moline and automotive supply store in East Moline from the 1930’s till 2000. The Moline store is still open and called Olson’s Auto and Brake, but now it’s owned and operated by another entity.

We were also river rats, growing up on the mighty Mississippi River, boating, waterskiing, and swimming. We would even swim from island to island. I also lived on Campbell Island, named after a historical battle in 1812.

My pickup line to girls was, “Hey babe, want to come to my island?”

Hubba, Hubba!

It was awesome to live on the island for five years that I attended Palmer Chiropractic College.

My mother sang, played saxophone, and piano. My father was a band leader, he sang and played the Hammond organ. My brothers also played keyboards and guitars. We had a built-in band. I have played in bands since I was fifteen. I was a drummer for ten years. Our whole family played instruments and sang.

Growing up a big Bruce Lee fan, I studied martial arts from fifteen years on up. I also received training in Jeet Kune Do from one of Bruce Lee’s instructors from his school in Oakland. That was quite a thrill.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I wrote a Halloween werewolf story in 5th grade as a class project. My principal thought it was so good that he had me read it over the school intercom for everybody. I wrote some in high school and college. But being young, I didn’t complete many of the stories I started. I also have created from scratch extensive Dungeons and Dragons modules. Now, writing is my future and a way of life. it exercises my brain and my vivid imagination.

What was the first thing you remember reading at an early age?

At first my parents would read Hardy Boys to me, then I started reading them on my own. When I was ten I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan, and John Carter of Mars. I would stay up and read till one or two in the morning, even on school nights. My mom would hear me go to bed after reading late. At first she had a cow! Then she realized I got up in the morning and was not tired or grouchy and got A’s in school. So, she let me continue to read late at night.

What performer or artist/writer inspires you the most?

I grew up with classic rock, but I love big bands, and jazz. I even have musicians like Count Basie in my stories. All of them were great influences. Some of my stories have movies with actors, like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and William Powell in them. I have I read most of the great writers and inventors, Dickens, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and of course, JR Tolken. They helped my imagination. As a teenager I latched on to Will Murray, he ghost wrote The Destroyer and Doc Savage. Will still writes currently about Tarzan, The Shadow, Sherlock Holmes, and The Spider. He has become a friend of mine.

What inspired you to write A Man of Stihl?

Funny thing, I’m writing a super adventure novel about a border patrol agent and want to also write some short stories. I was thinking about PI’s like Mike Hammer, Philip Marlowe, and Sam Spade. So, I created the character Nick Stihl in about 30 minutes on the way to work one day. Stihl was a great name for puns like “How to Stihl Rubies.” I ended up sending it to a publisher that liked it that they wanted to make a book. I spent half a year and wrote 4 stories for the book called “A Man of Stihl.” His name is Nick Stihl, he was a boxer called “Kid Steele” who turned PI. Lots of corruption, violence, cool people, and humor. It takes place in my town Peoria, Illinois. Peoria was home to the famous Shelton gang, Mayor Woodruff, vaudeville, and burlesque. Everything is historically correct, but it’s crime fiction. Another Nick Stihl book is on its way.

Do you think your environment, where you live, has an effect on the type of art you create?

Yes and no. I work in Peoria, but also live in the country on twin lakes, again with the water. Being in the city I see the historical landmarks that are in my stories. Living in the country I feel stress free and creative. My house is my home, the basement is my Batcave and gym. It’s good to work out and stay fit. I have a comfortable office/den where I work and write. It’s a perfect blend for reality and creativity.

Between doing your job and writing, is it hard to keep that balance every day?

I will say no. If you believe that, I have some swampland for sale. LOL! I set daily, weekly, and yearly goals for three to five years. I am a Doctor on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I write on Tuesday and Thursday and some Saturday and Sunday mornings. I also manage to spend quality time with my wife and children.

What do you think popular culture will be like in ten years?

Great question. People are often a product of society. I am not, hence my writing. Screens will continue to dominate people and make them lazy, have a shorter focus. More people will become users than doers. I think people’s imagination will decrease; everything is so overdone nowadays. I use screens to my advantage, old movies, some new movies, and TV shows to enjoy and to create from. My computer is a screen also, it is my screen of imagination and creativity. I use it to create stories. Being a visual person, screens have helped me to picture my stories, I write in a cinematic form, like all my stories are being filmed. Each scene is like it’s being directed, highly visual. Hopefully people will find out what is good for them and a percentage of them get off their lazy buts and seek out real stuff again.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve been asked to do in your profession?

Someone mailed me five blank cards to sign for five books he wanted to sell in his bookstore in California. The strange part is I have an app that shows all orders, and I could not see his order. Maybe he ordered from the Twilight Zone?

What projects are you working on now?

A super adventure about a border patrol agent, named Scott Lund. Believe it or not, in my research, I could not find other fiction books about border patrol agents. In the first novel he rescues the President of the United States and fights an evil Chinese dragon colonel. It has an epic two hundred page battle in the second half of the novel. It will also be on audible. The second Scott Lund novel is already complete and ready to roll. There will be more Nick Stihl stories which means another Nick Stihl Private Investigations book will be out by December. Currently, I am writing a story set in 1938, about Nazi spies stealing a secret gas formula from Caterpillar Tractor and Nick Stihl has to stop them. There is also in the works a short story about a famous hero, that can’t be revealed right now. You know… all that writer’s secrecy and stuff.

Horrible Little Stories

Interview: ChemiQueen

During the ‘70s and ‘80s, women had to prove their hard-rocking skills to rival their peers in the male- dominated metal world. Groups such as Girlschool and the Runaways paved the way for women in metal music and were novelties of their time. In recent years metal has become less and less a man’s world and outdated gender labels are a thing of the past.

Female-fronted groups have become increasingly popular and have gone on to produce chart-topping hits and headline festivals. Women have become a firm fixture in the metal scene, but what makes the female- fronted Chemiqueen stand out? Victoria Walker shines as a vocalist who possesses a powerful range that effortlessly shifts from the powerful and soulful to the alternative metal screamer. Her strong, mysterious image is beautiful, dark, and all about rock. Which has led Victoria to many alternative modeling jobs. The group’s ability to write clever, dramatic, experimental, and otherworldly lyrics and music is impressive. They have a unique brand of alternative metal that combines melodic hard rock, prog, and nu-metal that demands the listener’s attention.

Twisted Pulp: Who is ChemiQueen and how did this hard-rocking quartet assemble?

ChemiQueen: The band came together around 2019 with our drummer wanting to produce a Technical Hard Rock/Metal band, Our Guitarist Ross and Bassist Phil took up the offer to create the band and started to write songs whilst looking for another guitarist. Gareth Replied back to Dan via Facebook to an Ad in one of the Essex metal band group pages. We all quickly gelled together and wrote material already for a vocalist to join, that’s when Ross mentioned if his fiancé Victoria could audition for the band, and we haven’t looked back, the band was complete!

ChemiQueen Consists of:

  • Dan Vinnicombe – Drums
  • Phil Lamont – Bass
  • Ross Turbin – Guitar
  • Gareth Brimley – Guitar/Vocals
  • Victoria Walker – Vocals/Keys

Twisted Pulp: What was the music scene like growing up in your hometown? How has it influenced your music?

ChemiQueen Essex has had its ups and downs in the past, with venues closing, and a lack of audiences & bands. But since COVID-19 the Essex scene has vastly improved, I think people have realized how much they have missed live music and it’s shown with the increased attendance at venues. Not only that Essex now has a great variety of bands that are touring across the county and even the country. Regards to how it’s influenced us where we’ve grown up is a difficult one to answer, we couldn’t name you a local band that we inspire to sound like, but we look up to old-school Essex bands like Forever Never, Fei Comodo & From Almost The End, who were at top peak for the Essex metal scene in the early/late ‘00s.

Twisted Pulp: How would you define your genre, I mean, I hear everything from alternative and nu-metal to melodic and progressive rock, and the combination kicks ass.

ChemiQueen: Kickass is what we aim for, haha! We like to think our sound is unique, each song we write we look to create a different sound from the previous song we wrote. We aim to challenge ourselves each time we write and it can take a while to perfect each song, Gareth & Ross are the main Riff creators of the band and use their huge collage of riffs to help create the new masterpiece!

Twisted Pulp: Just going through your back catalog, I have picked up multiple references to science, and alchemy. Would it be fair to say you have a fascination with science/science fiction? If so, how does that factor into your approach to creating music?

ChemiQueen: We think that’s helped with the band’s name. “ChemiQueen” sounded like a cool name for the type of band that we are. We do like to implement a laboratory/science theme to some of our photoshoots and songs, for example, our songs “Chemical Reaction” & “Alchemist” fits around our band name, so writing and naming the songs beforehand aided us in naming the band and giving us a theme we can work with.

Twisted Pulp: Would you say there’s a certain sound or type of lyric or even an instrument, that it just would not be a ChemiQueen sound without it?

ChemiQueen: Everyone! Every instrument, sound, and band member is vital for ChemiQueen.

Twisted Pulp: What is your favorite song to play live? Is it because of the crowd response or something else?

ChemiQueen: I think we’d have to pick either “Into The Storm” or “Guts & Glory” (Which we are currently recording). Each time we play them songs, the crowd looks to get more interactive and the heads start to bob along to the beat, which means we must be doing something right!

Twisted Pulp: Victoria, can you share with our readers your early inspiration to become the person you are and what you think is your calling as a female musician?

ChemiQueen: I started singing in choirs at age eleven. It’s where I discovered my love for singing. I have been an aspiring musician since I was thirteen, I joined my first band at 14! In my first band, The Drunken Monkeys (God knows why we called ourselves that)

I played bass and sang, along with a guitarist and a drummer, practicing in a small music room in my school where I spent most of my time. I remember wearing a Slipknot shirt and busting out songs such as “Sweet Child of Mine”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “7 Nation Army’ in my school assemblies and talent shows (much to my audience’s dismay) I used to play acoustic guitar and do Nickelback covers, and play the keys and sing Evanescence covers too! My music teacher Mr. Beecher was a massive influence on me as he allowed me to use equipment such as guitars and keys for the first time! He would let me take instruments home so I could learn. I also had a friend, Rieko. He would play electric guitar and that was my first taste of dirty riffs! I luckily acquired my own electric guitar, and we would kind of challenge each other to learn new shit. Killswitch Engage and most Nu-Metal at this point were a massive influence! I was absolutely addicted.

Twisted Pulp: What are some of the challenges for a female fronting an all-male group?

ChemiQueen: I must start by saying that the guys in Chemiqueen are the absolute best. They bring out the best in me, support me and give me confidence! We have great chemistry and I love and respect each of them. But do I struggle? Honestly, no! Okay, I might have trouble in the dressing department thinking about it… do I dress like a dude? Sometimes I want to! Baggy shirts and jeans. There is also a part of me that wants to be the frontwoman, stand out, and be myself (whoever that is!) I have always wanted to stand out, from a young age. I think that’s why I model. Although I do struggle to merge my model persona and stage persona! As they are completely different!

Twisted Pulp: Victoria, you model as well, as a model who is also a musician do you see the two as separate arts? Do you feel that music can heighten our emotional reaction to images? How important is an image to your music? And, what do you feel most comfortable wearing on stage?

ChemiQueen: I absolutely think image is important, although I may be biased! I look at bands and I am interested in how they portray themselves; it says a lot about them as people, which when paired with the music can give a more in-depth experience as to who makes the music. We have a unique image that I’ve built up from the name. I am so lucky to work with amazing photographers who like shooting me in my ChemiQueen persona (or just my general stage persona) which I enjoy sharing on our socials. It starts with a lab coat, some syringes, and a smoke- filled chemical flask! I’ve always loved being artistic and creative, like music I have a need to be creative.

Modelling and photography are other passions of mine, I’ve started making my own costumes and again I will use these for ChemiQueen shoots and videos as well as my work! I must say though, the 2 industries are completely different. But I love the fact that I can collab with some great photographers who shoot the band, and I love merging my two passions to create something that I can use in my work and my music!

I always struggle with what to wear on stage though honestly! It’s much easier being a model, where I just need to stand still, pose and I am in control! On stage, I am very much out of control, and I am always having wardrobe malfunctions! My control pants are showing, my IEM’s are pulling my skirt down on one side (trust me it looked awful) my hair is always in my face! My lipstick, from making out with the microphone is completely smudged. I get to a point where I’m like fuck it, but my issue is BEFORE I head to the venue.

What do I wear? Do I want to be sexy? Comfortable? Casual? I don’t fucking know! And I never probably will 🤣

Twisted Pulp: You have played many shows. Is there one that sticks out in your mind as having the craziest crowd energy?

ChemiQueen: I think one show that sticks in our mind, is our Local Castlemayne show in Basildon, which was a Halloween event. Everyone was in costume, including the other bands we invited to play, it was an all-in-all great night with friends, we are blessed to have such a great fanbase in our hometown.

Twisted Pulp: We already received a single (and video) for “Chemical Reaction.” Any plans for other ChemiQueen tracks to be released as singles?

ChemiQueen: I think you mean “Confession.” But, yes we released “Into The Storm” on the 25th of February with the idea of looking to do a video shoot for this song. We are in the process also of recording our next track “Guts and Glory” which we look to release in the summer.

Twisted Pulp: Any final thoughts for our readers? Or, upcoming projects or shows to share?

ChemiQueen: All we can say is, thank you for taking the time to read this interview, and hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed answering these questions. Please be sure to check us out on our social media for shows, content, and new releases!

You gotta give credit where it’s due and ChemiQueen is a groundbreaking act. No one can argue that this band doesn’t have some chops, every song is full of big, bold, in-your-face rock and roll. They worked hard enough and deserve success which will certainly not be denied for lack of talent. They consistently prove that as evidenced by their high-energy live performances.

ChemiQueen has spent the last few years growing a substantial fanbase, hitting it big on streaming platforms, and live shows. They are definitely a group you need to listen to and keep your eyes on as they gear up for more great music and performances ahead.

Check out ChemiQueen on their official media sites: Facebook: Insta: @chemiqueenmusic

Spotify: Chemiqueen

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear By Thomas M. Malafarina

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

By Thomas M. Malafarina

“It matters little,” she said, softly. “To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

The solitary automobile moved slowly along the empty main street of town. The man behind the wheel was paying little if any attention to the darkened storefronts or the virtually abandoned thoroughfare. It was after 11:15 pm, and although he was heading home, his mind was still back at the office where it always seemed to be. His thoughts were obsessed with important issues, which should have been resolved long before he chose to leave for the night. Then again, there were always critical issues needing resolution, and he knew even if he worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he still would never be able to take care of all of them. It seemed for every single problem he managed to rectify; three more came forward to take their place. But he supposed such was his lot in life.

The night was very clear, and every star could be seen for miles in the cloudless Pennsylvania sky. The temperature was surprisingly mild for December twenty-fourth, Christmas Eve. The pleasant temperatures would likely prove somewhat disappointing for those residents hoping for a white Christmas. Fifty-six-year-old Evan Flint had no need for Christmas, no desire to celebrate the holiday, or for that matter, no one with whom to share it had he chosen to do so. At first glance, one might think Evan had everything a man could want out of life, being the richest man in the county, if not the state. And if someone were to ask him, Evan would likely agree and say that he was quite satisfied with his life, stating categorically that he had absolutely no need for a wife, children, close friends, or other such things he often referred to; as “trappings of life.” Evan had more money than he could spend in three lifetimes, and his fortune continued to grow daily. But he was completely unaware that he would be lying not only to the questioner but more importantly to himself in such a reply.

Evan was the sole owner of a manufacturing company located on the outskirts of the small Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania town of Ashton. The factory employed well over two thousand residents from all over the county. It was one of the few remaining manufacturing facilities where one could attempt to earn a decent living. For most of the workers, the factory felt more like a prison. A prison was exactly what the place had become for many of them saddled with financial difficulties. Those residents who had overextended their credit or had lost what few savings they had during the downturn in the economy, had little choice but to tolerate the meager pay and substandard working conditions offered at Flint Manufacturing.

The benefits Evan offered were equally substandard. Even though he knew about his workers pitifully struggling to make ends meet, he had no qualms whatsoever about taking advantage of each of them. He realized if the economy were good and there were plenty of other places to find profitable employment, he would likely lose many of his better-qualified employees. Yes, he was certain most of them would leave to seek employment elsewhere. But fortunately for Evan, with the economy in the toilet, he could treat his workers however he pleased. As someone might assume, not many of Flint Manufacturing’s workers could be described as satisfied employees.

Evan was well aware of the workers’ complaints and the various derogatory nicknames they had devised for him and called him behind his back, such as Skin Flint and Evan-eezer. Evan didn’t think of himself as such a tightwad but considered his economic philosophy was conservatively frugal. When he first heard of the nicknames, Evan had been furious and had fired a handful of workers who he had determined to be responsible for starting the whole mess. He was able to identify those people thanks to a few of his loyal cronies and suck-ups who could be counted on to bring him all the latest dirt.

But one thing that always seemed to be true of such negative nicknames was that once they were spoken aloud, they seemed to stick—and stick forever. Such was the case with the names they applied to Evan. And soon, it became apparent to Evan that he would either have to learn to ignore the snide remarks and derogatory name-calling, or else he would have to fire his entire workforce.

The one particular term, which seemed to bother him the most, was Evan-eezer. That name irked him because it summed up his workforce’s complete lack of gratitude toward him. He could not understand what was wrong with them. He had managed to keep all of them employed during some of the most difficult economic times in the state’s history.

Although he didn’t like the idea of being lumped in with such a miserly Dickensian stereotype, if Evan had taken the time to consider the possibility, he might soon discover his own life actually had many similar parallels to that of the fictitious infamous Mr. Scrooge.

Like Scrooge, Evan was a loner as a child with few friends. As a young man in college, he had met, fallen in love with, and married a beautiful young woman named Claire. Eventually, Evan’s true love left him just as Scrooge’s had in the story.

Evan had started his manufacturing company as a partnership with a young man named Jack Worley. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge had started his company with his partner Jacob Marley. Scrooge’s partner died, leaving him to run the business alone. A similar thing happened to Jack Worley.

Evan had always been certain that someday his partnership with Jack would end one way or another. He had assumed this from the very start because the two were opposites. Whereas Evan had come from nothing and worked long hours and most weekends to build the business, his partner Jack had come from old money and was known as a reckless playboy throughout the area. Though it was true that Jack had put up the initial startup money for the company, he had no real interest in running the business itself and was glad to leave the day-to-day affairs to Evan. But Jack’s shiftless behavior nonetheless irritated him. Evan’s marriage ended after just a few short years when Claire tired of his long hours at work. Evan explained that he was only working so hard to build a future for the two of them, but that did nothing to appease her. She felt she had no need for money or the finer things of life. She wanted the man she married to be there for her when she needed him, and Evan was never there. On the day she left, Claire told him his true love was not her, but his money and the power that money brought to him. Scrooge’s lost love had told him, “Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”

After Claire left him, Evan immersed himself even further into his work, having nothing else to fill his empty hours. Within a few short years, he singlehandedly built the manufacturing company into a booming business that employed over one thousand people. While other companies were closing and sending their products overseas to be manufactured, Evan’s company was growing and expanding and hiring more workers weekly.

While Evan was busy working, Jack did virtually nothing to contribute to the business. Instead, he continued his wild and carefree ways, all the time taking his share of the profits. Evan knew that somehow Jack’s reckless behavior had to come to an end, and it was likely going to be left to Evan to find a way to stop Jack. Then one day, Jack was killed in a tragic boating accident. The man had been sailing off the New Jersey coast, having a private party on his favorite boat with several young coeds, when a freak explosion killed him as well as all of his passengers.

An investigation into the accident was started, and for quite some time, police closely scrutinized Evan Flint, considering him a person of more than just casual interest in the incident. Although the authorities had never gotten so far as to arrest Evan, accuse him of murder, or even refer to the inquiry as a murder investigation, they commented that the events surrounding the accident were suspicious. They were likewise reluctant to label the incident as an accidental death.

Their suspicions likely arose when they questioned Evan, and he did not even bother to feign the slightest bit of sadness at the loss of his partner. He even stated that it was some cosmic divine intervention and that Jack had gotten exactly what he deserved as far as he was concerned. To a police investigator, that statement alone would set off all sorts of internal alarms.

But it was later when the police discovered that the two partners had taken out substantial life insurance policies when the business was formed—each naming the other as the sole beneficiary of those funds—they believed they had a motive and truly became suspicious.

The insurance policies were each worth five million dollars each, and with Jack’s death, the entire sum went to Evan. Police felt that this fact alone would have been motive enough for Evan wanting his partner dead. But they also learned from questioning some of Evan’s employees that there was no love lost between the two partners.

Regardless of what their suspicions might have been, following a thorough police investigation, it was determined that although Jack’s death could very well have been a planned murder, it was more likely just an unavoidable accident. There were far fewer facts pointing to murder than to an accident, so the police had little choice but to drop that particular avenue of investigation reluctantly. In the eyes of several investigators, Evan was never completely exonerated, but since the affair was officially ruled accidental, they could do nothing more. And so, Evan was free to collect the insurance money.

But the townspeople and the many workers at his factory were far from satisfied with the authorities’ findings. They had watched Evan and Jack interact for years, and they believed Evan was a control freak. They thought they knew just how far Evan would go to get his way. And as much as they disliked Evan with his sullen, much too serious disposition, they all seemed to have loved Jack Worley with his outwardly friendly personality. Many of them were certain that Evan was perfectly capable of systematically planning and carrying out the murder of his partner. They also believed he would care nothing for the other guests caught in the accident as collateral damage. If they were given a choice, most of them would have preferred if it had been Evan who had died instead of Jack.

They all had many reasons to hate Evan and tried to unionize their workforce on many occasions. But each time, Evan had managed to fight back those attempts to bring in labor unions successfully. His employees didn’t know how Evan could keep the union out, but some of them suspected he might have greased the right palms or perhaps used some other form of coercion.

Evan was always on the lookout for union organizers. As he drove and thought about the events of the day, Evan’s major concern was that his latest planned change in the company’s benefits package might push his workforce too far. He worried that if they tried to unionize again, he might not keep them out. Evan had some underlying discomfort that his next move might open the door to a potential labor union organization. One benefit his workers still enjoyed, which most companies had abandoned many years earlier, was a pension plan. But now, Evan had decided he would have to take drastic measures to keep his company competitive with offshore manufacturers and keep his fortune growing as well. The result was that he had decided to do away with the company pension plan. He would essentially freeze the pension, so no one would lose any time and monetary benefits they had accrued to date, but he would not support any additional contributions to the plan. From March or April of the next year on, he would institute a 401K savings plan where employees could put in their own money to save and thereby manage their retirement funds. The idea made perfect sense to Evan, plus it would save his company a ton of money.

Both Evan’s company controller and vice president of manufacturing tried to change his mind about the move, complaining that it would further hurt employee morale and cause a mass exodus of workers from the company. Evan knew that although the workers would complain, as usual, there was no way they would consider walking out during such a hostile economic climate. Perhaps in a few years, if the economy started to recover, they might think about it, but the initial pain from the change would be long forgotten by then. Besides, he was familiar with every company within fifty miles and was confident not a single one of them still had a pension plan either.

The reason Evan was currently feeling stressed was likely because of an argument he had with his two top executives earlier in the day on that very subject. Evan banged his hand against the steering wheel, shouting, “Screw ‘em all! I’m the owner of this company and its CEO, and my word is gospel. I am the only one looking out for my employees’ futures. I founded this company; that makes me the creator, which means I am God as far as they all are concerned. And if I say this is how things are going to be, then so be it.”

Evan suddenly felt a strange and slightly painful sensation inside his head as if he might be on the verge of getting a severe headache. “No wonder,” Evan thought aloud, certain he understood the reason for the headache. “After the frustrating day I just had, I’m not at all surprised.”

Since the next day was Christmas, all of his workers were off for one day but would return to work on December twenty-sixth. Many of them had saved vacation for the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, but most would be back at work. And Evan, of course, would also be at work as well. He planned to announce his pension plan change through the company’s official communication channels first thing at the start of the next business day. He chuckled to himself, thinking about what a terrible Christmas present they would all be receiving this year, especially the workers who were off for a holiday and might not learn about it until they returned, which was also fine with Evan.

Once again, he felt the slight pain in his skull and made a mental note to take some painkillers when he arrived home. Since he planned on doing nothing special for the rest of the evening, he decided he would treat himself to a nightcap as well.

Soon Evan had passed through town and was on a rural road heading out into the country toward his estate. He turned into his driveway and paused in front of the eight-foot ornately decorated iron gates blocking his access. Pressing a button on his remote control unit, Evan made the gates swing invitingly open, and he continued along his lengthy driveway, the gates closing automatically behind him. As Evan approached the front of his luxurious three-story brick mansion, he pressed another button and watched the first of four huge garage doors open.

Closing the garage door behind him, Evan entered the kitchen area of his home and quickly typed in his security code to suppress the shrill scream of the alarm system. The house was suddenly thrust into blessed silence.

Evan walked into the living room and pressed a button on a control console illuminating a reading light behind a large leather chair across the room. He glanced at the tall, ornately-carved grandfather clock he had purchased from a clockmaker in Switzerland; the time was now 11:25 pm.

Then with the press of another button, the large gas fireplace burst into flames, washing the room with its glow and comforting warmth. Evan walked over to a bar next to the fireplace and poured himself a large glass of whiskey over ice. He sat down on the chair, allowing himself to sink deeply into the leather upholstery. After a few long swigs of his nightcap, Evan’s mind began to wander back to a much happier time, back to a time when he and Claire had been married and were still so madly in love. Back then, Evan always looked forward to coming home from work and finding her there.

During those years, they had no money and lived in a small apartment above a pharmacy on the town’s main street. He always promised Claire that someday they would have more money than she could imagine, but she never seemed to care. And on the day she left, he finally understood, much too late, that she didn’t want things but only wanted him. He recalled how he had begged and pleaded with her to stay, swearing he would find a way to change his work habits, but she said that she knew better. Evan was simply the way he was, and there was nothing she or anyone else could do to change him.

Evan later learned Claire had remarried a few years after the divorce, and the last he heard, she had been living in another state. Claire now had four grown children and a herd of grandchildren. He supposed she was happy in her new life, but he truly seldom thought much about her, except at quiet times like the one he was experiencing. Evan had his company, his employees, and his money. As such, he insisted he had all he could need out of life. But sometimes, he still felt so very bitter and angry over the loss of his wife.

He liked to be in charge and control every aspect of his life. Claire’s leaving had been a major blow to him emotionally. But it had also bothered him on another level. It irritated him that he could not control Claire and make her stay with him. That was also how he had felt about his late partner, Jack. But now, that situation was well under control.

No longer wanting to dwell on the painful memories of his past, Evan finished off his drink, poured himself another, took several long generous sips, then grabbed the TV remote control for the sixty-inch flat screen mounted above the mahogany fireplace mantel and turned it on. He mindlessly surfed from channel to channel, hoping for something to stir his interest.

After a while, he stopped at a channel playing the 1938 classic black and white film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The current scene depicted Jacob Marley’s ghost howling and rattling his chains madly as only one suffering the tortures of an eternity in Hell could do.

“Bah, Humbug!” Evan said, chuckling to himself, enjoying the way he was lampooning the Christmas classic and already feeling the effects of the whiskey. He pressed the off button on the TV remote in frustration, and the giant screen went black. He sat quietly in his large chair and finished his drink, sitting and staring at the flames dancing in the fireplace.

After a bit, Evan thought he saw something in the flames. It had only been there for a fleeting moment but what he saw seemed as clear in his mind as if it had been there for hours. He thought he saw the face of Jack Worley grinning madly out at him as the fire charred and melted the flesh from his skull. Then the hideous creature’s mouth began to slowly open and Evan knew the next thing he would hear would be his name being spoken in some ghastly undead voice. He quickly shook his head to clear his mind of the horrible image, and thankfully it disappeared. His head now ached worse than before. Something was wrong with him, and Evan realized he might have to visit his doctor in a few days.

After a moment, he got to his feet and discovered he was surprisingly off-kilter. He had not expected to become so drunk so quickly but thinking back; he realized he had not eaten since breakfast. No wonder he was half hammered. No wonder he imagined things. Suddenly he was startled by the sound of the grandfather clock striking midnight. “Time for bed,” he said to the empty room

As he regained his balance and attempted to stagger out toward the hallway, he heard a strange noise coming from the foyer, out near the front door. He then realized that he had disarmed the security system when he got home, but he had forgotten to rearm it. He began to wonder if some low-life scumbag of a character from town had taken it upon himself to attempt to break in and rob him. Evan was prepared to give the criminal a present he had never anticipated if that were the case. He walked over to the fireplace and clumsily withdrew a large wrought-iron poker with a menacing-looking tip. Holding the doorframe for support, he slowly peered around the corner to look out toward the front door.

What he saw caught him completely by surprise. No would-be burglar was skulking inside the door. The entire hallway was empty; at least, he initially thought it was empty. Then Evan noticed something strange starting to occur. It was as if the air in the hall, closest to the door, was changing its physical properties. It seemed at first to shimmer then to ripple in almost liquid undulations appearing like waves above a blacktop roadway on a hot summer day. Then a shape began forming within the distorted air.

It appeared to be some mass, low to the floor, perhaps only two feet high at its apex in the center, then tapering downward on sides, forming an elliptical series of pulsating and bubbling globs. At first, it reminded Evan of an enormous fried egg with a large flesh-colored dome in the center instead of a yolk. The entire thing seemed to be flesh-like, not only in color but also in its skin’s apparent texture. The mass was in constant motion, undulating and bubbling wildly. After a few moments, the waves of air stopped, and the thing in the hall seemed to solidify and become real.

“What the hell!” Evan exclaimed in shock, raising the poker high above his head, prepared to lash out at the strange living nightmare just a few feet in front of him. Suddenly the rhythmically pulsing shape began to move toward him under some form of propulsion he could not begin to comprehend. As it got closer, Evan could see large spidery veins, some as thick as rope, moving throughout its hideous form. Then he noticed a disgustingly foul stench emanating from the strange being. It made his stomach turn with disgust, the thing smelling like a long-dead rotting carcass.

At first, he took a cautious step away from the vile creature; then, driven by courage brought on from either the whiskey or simple stupidity, he decided to lunge forward with the poker and attack the thing. He plunged the sharp end of the poker deep into the front side of the mass, close to the large central dome. He let go of the handle out of sheer disgust upon feeling the unearthly consistency of the thing. The poker seemed to sink deep into the throbbing glob of vein-riddled flesh, then spring harmlessly back out and fall to the floor with a clang that echoed in the empty hallway.

Evan was suddenly hit with an incredible pain in the center of his gut, which doubled him over for a moment before it began to subside slowly, and he could once again stand semi-erect. It was as if he were being made to feel the pain he had meant to inflict on the horrifying creeping entity.

He staggered backward a step or two and wondered aloud, “What manner of creature is this ungodly thing?” He started to turn to run for the back door when suddenly he heard a soft, liquidy voice calling from behind him, “Evan… Where… do you think… you are going?”

He stopped in his tracks and turned around slowly, convinced that the hideous twitching blob on his hallway floor had just impossibly spoken to him. “Wha—what?” He stammered.

“There’s no need to run, Evan… Yes… That’s right… I know who you are… as I should,” the thing seemed to say to him, although he couldn’t quite make out any mechanism by which the creature had articulated the words. Then he thought he noticed a long slit forming in the center of the creature’s dome, appearing to run vertically rather than horizontally. Although Evan realized since the creature was almost round in shape, he had no way of discerning its front, side, or back from each other.

The crack opened slightly, and the stench, which had originally accosted him, became even more repugnant. Then he saw the slit begin to vibrate as he heard the quivering voice once again, “So, Evan… What special plans do you have for this lovely Christmas Eve?” Evan was taken aback by the question, feeling it quite odd and perhaps not what he would have expected the thing to ask him. Then again, what was happening was so bizarre he truly had no idea what he should expect.

The vile thing asked, “Where are your friends, Evan? Where is the merriment… the festivity… where is all the joyous celebration?”

Evan was confused beyond comprehension, and although he felt foolish doing so, he shouted angrily at the pulsating gelatinous mass, “Who, or what the Hell are you? What manner of being are you? And why in the name of all that’s holy are you here?”

Once again, the long slit began to vibrate, resembling the wave of an oscilloscope as the foul odor once again permeated the room, and Evan heard the strange voice speak. “Why, Evan! Do you mean to say you don’t know who I am? Don’t you recognize me?”

“What in the name of God are you talking about?” Evan shouted. “You are one of the most horrible-looking things I have ever seen, even more, revolting than the creatures of my worst nightmares. Recognize you? I don’t even know what manner of being you are! For all I know, you may just be a figment of my imagination. Maybe, in reality, I am actually back there asleep in the chair and dreaming all of this.” He pointed back toward the living room.

The blob-like gelatinous mound slid stealthily closer to the unsuspecting Evan, who was too preoccupied and equally confused to notice the thing’s approach and, as such, didn’t step back. The creature continued speaking to him with a calm and almost hypnotic tone. “Tonight is Christmas Eve … and you should be spending it with your loved ones, Evan … not sitting in the dark in this self-imposed prison you call home, but then again, you have no loved ones do you, Evan?”

Now Evan was becoming angry, at least to the extent his revulsion would permit. His more typical arrogant attitude rapidly replaced his discomfort, one he had developed throughout his lifetime and an attitude with which he was most comfortable. “What do you know of me, you hideous blob? Nothing! You are just some sort of mirage, an illusion.”

Then sounding once again very much like Ebenezer Scrooge, Evan said, “You are nothing more than the result of too little food and too much drink. Hell, I probably won’t remember any of… this strange dream by tomorrow morning. You are but a ghastly apparition. Leave me at once!”

“On the contrary,” the thing corrected, “I won’t be going anywhere, at least not yet. You do understand, Evan, that Christmas Eve is a special time, a time for magic, and a time for miracles. And after tonight, things will never be the same for you. Look closer at me, Evan. Is there truly nothing, not even one little thing about me that seems familiar to you?”

Evan stared more closely at the loathsome slimy rippling mass of veins and flesh, and although he knew he had never seen anything like it ever before, there was a feeling, a presence about the creature that did seem somewhat familiar. Somehow there was something about the unbelievable abomination that he did seem to recognize, or he at least he seemed to sense some sort of indescribable understanding. It was not something about the creature’s appearance that was truly horrendous, but something less tangible he seemed to feel, something almost telepathic.

“Ah!” The mass said through its rippling slit of a mouth. “There is some recognition after all. Do you care to venture a guess about my origin, Evan? Do you have the nerve to try?” The creature slid even closer to the unsuspecting man.

Then suddenly, the realization hit Evan, and he understood everything. “You—are you insinuating… are you trying to tell me you are… me?”

“That’s right, Evan,” the blob said. “In a manner of speaking, I am you. You see, I am the physical manifestation of your tainted immortal soul. I am the essence of you, Evan. This is what you have become inside, a vile, disgusting mass of anger, hatred, and bitterness. No love, kindness, or beauty exists in me because such traits no longer exist in you. You have become like a living disease, a foul blight on the face of the earth. All you care about is yourself and your precious money. Your wife, Claire, was right, Evan. She left you because she knew you could only have one true love in your life, and your love is your insatiable desire for money.”

“It can’t be,” Evan screamed. “It’s impossible! You can’t possibly be me. You’re nothing like me. You are just some horrible figment born of too much whiskey. Leave my house now. I demand it.”

He made a drunken futile gesture pointing his hand toward the front door. It was then that he realized the massive globule was now just inches away from him.

“I’ll be going nowhere just yet, Evan,” the thing said. “Look at me, Evan. I am your murderous soul made manifest.”

Evan looked as if he had been struck with a club. “Murderous?” he asked. “What are you talking about? Jack? Are you talking about Jack Worley’s death? The boating accident? You stupid pile of stinking flesh! That was an accident, I tell you!”

The thing slid yet closer until the outer edge of its flattest surface was touching the toe of Evan’s shoe. Then it spoke again. “You can lie to the police, Evan, and you can lie to the townspeople. However, you can never lie to yourself, Evan, and I am your innermost murderous self.”

With that, Evan tried to back away, but before he could make a single step, a long, thin, ropelike tongue shot out from the mouth slit and wrapped itself tightly around Evan’s throat. It burned the skin on his neck, and Evan could feel his breath being cut off by the fleshy lasso. Then the ropy tongue began to retract into the creature as the slit of a mouth grew in size from just a few inches to more than a foot and a half in length.

Evan was pulled toward the slit gasping for air and whimpering with pain and realization. This abomination was formed from the evilest and most horrendous essence, from the very core of his tainted soul. And this unspeakable inside-out version of himself was sent here from Hell to claim him, to make Evan one with its horrifying grotesquery.

Then the sides of the gaping maw separated opening to reveal an enormous black orifice. The blackness seemed bottomless as if it were not so much a mouth but an opening or a passageway to some unimaginably horrible place.

Before he realized it, Evan’s head was inside the thing’s mouth, which closed tightly around his shoulders. His flesh boiled and bubbled beneath its slimy touch. Soon Evan’s pitiful cries became muffled and were finally silenced. The sides of the slit rippled even more frantically, slowly working the rest of Evan’s twitching body further inside. His body thrashed and flayed as it was sucked deeper inside the beast. Within a few short moments, Evan Flint was completely gone. The creature remained in the hallway for a few more moments; then, it slowly faded from sight until it was completely gone along with the man whose greed had made the creature’s temporary existence necessary on that clear and magical Christmas Eve.

The Olde Tavern Buffet by Wesley Critchfield
Limited Edition by Tyson Blue

Limited Edition

By Tyson Blue

In this tale of revenge and literary vendettas, a promising mystery novelist, finds his career derailed when a man accuses him of perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Fueled by resentment and a desire for retribution, he takes matters into his own hands by kidnapping and crafting a macabre edition of his canceled book.

Howard Franks pulled aside the curtain of his living room window and looked out at the black Tesla sedan parked in front of his small cottage, on a bank overlooking Puget Sound. He looked at the car for a moment, then glanced down at the letter in his hand.

It was from his publisher, a small press specializing in mysteries, to whom he had recently sold a novel.

“Dear Mr. Franks,” it read. “We deeply regret to inform you that we will not, after all, be able to publish your novel. Although we still believe that it is a fine debut novel, and that you are a new rising talent in the mystery field, the critical reaction to our advance reader’s copies from the LGBTQ+ communities, led by Wallace Martin and coalition, makes it doubtful that the novel could be successfully marketed in today’s social climate.”

His lips curled in a silent snarl, Franks tossed the letter onto his coffee table. He walked into his compact kitchen and opened the door leading down the plain  wooden stairs into the cellar. The cellar was a single room, the size of the entire house. It was furnished with only by a washer and dryer and a sink to carry away the waste water.

In an old aluminum folding chair sat a naked man. His arms and legs were secured to the chair with duct tape. Another strip of tape covered his mouth. Franks reached out for an edge of the tape and ripped it off. The man gave a yelp and glared at his captor.

“Water,” he rasped, and Franks filled a water bottle from the sink and held the built-in straw to the man, who drank from it greedily.

“You won’t get away with this,” the man said, his voice still rough. “I know who you are, and when I get out of here, I’ll go straight to the police. You’ll be through!”

Franks smiled at him.

 “Of course you know who I am, Mr. Martin,” he said. “Just like you knew who I was when you and your friends destroyed my career before it even started with you lies about my book.”

“Is that what this is about? Your stupid book?” Martin was astounded.

“That book deserved to be cancelled; you made your villain a trans person, and played into every anti-trans stereotype there is. Do you have any idea how many people’s lives are ruined when you play into people’s fears about things they don’t understand?”

Franks lashed out with his right hand and slapped Martin across the face. The impact rocked him in the chair.

“You lying bastard!” he shouted. “The villain in my book is a serial killer who dresses in women’s clothes to ease his victims’ fears and get them to relax, making it easier to entrap them. Your claims are completely untrue, and your reviews got all those people up in arms about my book before it even came out!”

“Maybe that’s what you thought,” Martin replied. “But that’s not the way I read it. And a lot of people agreed with me.”

“My publishers pulled the book because of the shit you pulled!” Franks said, leaning his face into Martin’s, spittle flying from his lips.

“So?” Martin fired back, a smug smile on his face. “They let you keep the advance, didn’t they?”

Franks turned his back and walked away a few steps, then came back and shook his fist at Martin.

“That won’t carry me very far these days,” he said. “This book would have started my career, and would have let me write full-time, but that’s not gonna happen now, and it’s all your fault. You’ve destroyed me, over something that’s not even true!”

“You’re not the first person to get this treatment from me or someone else.”

“No, but those people had already written books that were very popular. They had royalties and film rights sales, and they were big enough for their publishers to bring out their books anyway, in spite of you. What you’ve done has ended my career before it even started!”

Martin shook his head.

“Good,” he said. “I’m glad your nasty little book is never going to see the light of day. I hope no one ever buys another one from you. And they won’t have much of a chance, will they? Because I’ve cancelled you, as the politicians say. And even if they don’t” he said softly, “I’ve taken steps to make sure you vanish without a trace. No one will ever read a word of your shitty little book for the rest of recorded time.”

“Oh, yeah?” Franks said, straightening up to his full height, crossing his arms across his chest and glaring down at Martin. “Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. You’re going to love my book.”

Martin stared at him with contempt. 

 “No, no, don’t give me that look,” Franks said, wagging a finger at his captive. “You’re gonna love my book so much that you’re going to wrap yourself around it and clutch it all to yourself in a great big, all-encompassing hug that will last forever! What do you think about that?” 

“I think you’re outta your fucking mind, that’s what I think about that,” Martin said, his jaw defiantly clenched.

 “Oh, really?” Franks asked.

“Yeah, really,” Martin replied. “Just how do you think you’re gonna make me change my mind about your nasty little book?”

“Oh, I’m not gonna do a thing to change your mind,” Franks went, pacing back in forth in front of the chair. “I’m going to bring my book out anyway, in a special edition.” he took a few more steps, then turned to face Martin,

 “And you’re going to help me.”

Martin looked up at him.

“And how do you figure that?”

“I’ve been reading up on bookbinding,” Franks explained. “It’s not all that difficult if you know what you’re doing. I’m going to take one the ARCs and bind it into a deluxe hardcover edition, with the pages Smythe-sewn, not just glued into the cover, so it will last forever.”

Martin shook his head in disgust.

“And how is that supposed to make me wrap it up in a great big hug,” he sneered, “that will last forever?”

A beatific smile spread across Franks’ face as he looked down at Martin. “That’s why you’re here,” he explained. “I’ve also been reading up on leathercrafting—how to harvest the hide, cure it , make it soft and supple.”

Martin paled and gulped.

“Do you mean—” he started.

“Yes,” Franks finished for him. “I’m going to bind it in your skin.”

Eight weeks later, Franks admired his finished product—a thin, square piece of leather, soft and warm to the touch. Although an industrially-made piece of leather can be produced in about ten days, Franks was working on a single piece, and the five-step process—cleaning, tanning, retaining, milling and finishing—had taken him considerably longer.

Now came hard part—binding the book. Over the next few days, the leather was stretched over hard boards, covering the front, back, and spine of the book. He then extended the leather over the fore edge to protect the textblock, forming a so-called yapp style binding.

He had then used a soldering iron to burn the title and his name into the cover and spine of the finished book, and he was done.

Thanks a lot, Mr. Martin,” Franks said, tipping a quick salute out toward Puget Sound, whose icy waters had swallowed the leftovers of Mr. Martin after he had harvested the parts he needed for his purposes. Being solidly weighted and sunk to a depth of 930 feet, he’d be out of reach for the legions of fishermen who roamed the area in search of coho, salmon and other game fish. No, he wasn’t likely to turn up anytime soon.


I pulled my rental in behind a black Tesla parked in from of a neat Cape Cod house perched on a hill with a nice view of Puget Sound. I got out and strolled up a flagstone walk that led up to the front door. I rang the bell, then knocked on the door with one gloved hand.

I could hear the sound of footsteps approaching the door. There was a rustle of the curtain at the front window to the left of the door, followed by the rattle of a bolt being drawn, then it cracked open and a man in his mid-30s peered out, looking me up and down curiously.

“What do you want?” he asked sharply. 

“My name is Ray Vincent,” I told him. “May I come in?”

“You can deliver it just fine from where you are,” he said. “Who’s it from?”

I reached behind me and said, “It’s from Wallace Martin.”

“Well, I hope he paid you in advance, Mister,” Franks said, turning to face me and suddenly looking cross-eyed.

As I leveled the silenced pistol between his eyes, I said, “You’re canceled,” and pulled the trigger. Franks fell over and landed on his back on the floor. I put the gun into its holster at the small of my back and stepped inside. The house had the quiet, empty feeling of an unoccupied place. There were no sounds that would be made by someone coming to investigated the sound Franks had made hitting the floor.

I was getting ready to leave when I noticed a book sitting on the coffee table. It was bound in leather, with Franks’ name below the title and on the spine. I picked it up. I notice that the pages were Smythe-sewn, the mark of fine bookmaking, and the cover had the smooth, buttery feel of the best leather. 

Perhaps it was a presentation copy for Franks, to celebrate the publication of his first novel. I decided I’d see if he was any good, and tucked the book under my arm as I left, pulling the door shut behind me.

Good or bad, it would give me something to read on the plane back to New Hampshire.I set the book on the passenger seat and started off to SeaTac Airport; I had plenty of time to make my flight. This had been a pretty routine job—I had in fact been paid in advance, everything had gone smoothly, and the normally rainy weather had held off for a change.

Monsters of Search
Interview with PodCulture Vultures

Interview: PodCulture Vultures

Check out the Podculture Vultures, a podcast that celebrates the charm of films and TV shows from both yesteryears and the present. Their funny show is a delightful exploration of nostalgic treasures, filled with laughter and reminiscences about those often overlooked quirky movie moments. While the 80s classics hold a special place in their hearts, the Podculture Vultures are always game for any cinematic adventure, especially if it comes with a killer soundtrack and a dose of badassery. With their cheeky and geeky banter, this podcast promises a unique and entertaining experience for listeners, available on their favorite podcast app.

Where are you from? What is your background?

Southsea, Portsmouth. UK

Deano – Musician (bassist and other instruments), garden landscaper, caretaker.

Kev – Digital Content Design, Filmmaking, Photography, lover of Belgian Beers.

What was the first movie you remember seeing?

Deano – Star Wars: A New Hope Kev – Star Wars: A New Hope

What inspired you to do a Podcast, specifically about movies and TV shows?

We’ve been mates for over 20 years and when the pandemic struck and utterly buggered up our regular catch ups down the pub where we’d talk in popcultre slang, quote movies and TV and generally enjoy a swift one or two, we decided, “Hey, let’s jump on the bandwagon and create a podcast, but just for us!” It was a means of collaborating still in a creative way that would allow us to continue hanging out with each other.

What other areas of art are you involved in?

Deano – Music production and podcast producing and editing.

Kev – I’m a teacher of digital content creation to university marketing students and also content creator for the podcast. I guess that’s where my areas of art are involved. I also enjoy photography and cinema.

Do you remember the first TV, music, or Films you saw as children?

Deano – TV = The Star Wars movies,, The Young Ones, Only Fools and Horses, M.A.S.K., The A Team, Blackadder,Mork and Mindy, Alf

Music = Sex Pistols, The Clash, Free, AC/DC, The Specials, Dub Reggae

Films = 80’s Horror, Robocop, Back to the Future, The Lost Boys, Carry on’s, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Heathers

Kev – TV = A-Team, Kightrider, Batman ‘66, Thundercats, Masters of the Universe, Only Fools and Horses, the Carry On movies.

Music (all on the telly) = Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, John Williams, Tom Jones, Duran Duran.

Films = Aliens, The Goonies, Robocop, Indiana Jones and, the James Bond franchise.

What performer or artist/writer inspires you the most?

Deano – Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Dave Chappelle, Adam Sandler. Rob Zombie, Tom Savini, Jim Jefferies, Lemmy, Jim Morrison

Kev – Salvador Dali, Rembrandt, Corey Taylor, Tom Cruise, Dan Brown.

We’re Americans here at Twisted Pulp Magazine, but rest assured we’re Anglophiles in our tastes in music, films, comics, TV. But I’m not so sure anyone younger thinks it’s important to look to different cultures for their entertainment. Has there ever been a group of younger British folk who are as ravenous about US entertainment as we are? Or you guys?

Both – Yes us! I would say (personally) out of all my friends, Deano is the one in which I can popculture gags and quotes and he just gets it straight away.

That’s quite the partnership. We’ve been influenced by so many different artists that have shaped us into the wallies we are today. The Comic Strip gang (Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson), The Blackadder lot (Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis, etc.) to Americana movies (Star Wars, James Cameron, Steven Spileberg, sci-fi, wild west, fantasy/adventure), rock n’ roll music (Elvis, The Beatles, Sex Pistols, Nu-metal, Post-Punk Hardcore)—there’s too much to reference. We admire the trail blazers, the pioneers of not giving a fuck, those who rise up against the system, artistic anarchists and the those not afraid to be themselves. Exploring and experiencing different cultures is absolutely important to shaping a person(s) and broadening their horizons. I’m (Kev) always dropping in a variety of popular culture into my classes to influence and educate the younger generations.

I remember seeing Python, Benny Hill, Are you being Served, as a teenager over here. Were there imports that affected you guys?

Both – Diff ’rent Strokes, Bruce Lee movies, Tom & Jerry, Magnum P.I., Transformers, The Twilight Zone, Happy Days. American cinema and pop culture (e.g. toys, cartoons, music, films etc.)

A lot of British culture-music-film-TV- comics-books, especially comedies like Benny Hill, had a great effect on me. Are you guys fans of Benny Hill? I think he was brilliant.

Both – We enjoyed watching him as a kid but haven’t really seen anything for years. No doubt it would still make us chuckle, especially those sped up segments and the theme tune.

What would you say to people who have never really watched an episode of Young Ones or Bottom and say those shows are inappropriate?

Both – WTF!!!! Haha, well it depends on their own humor as this kind of comedy is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you like similar comedies then, it’s worth checking out and seeing what were some of the most influential British comedies of all time. As to those thinking to be inappropriate then, people need to remember that all art is constructed within a particular time and place and what was not acceptable today might have been during that time. It’s a tightrope to walk with society being so brittle these days but, if anything, then people can still laugh at the stupidity of those shows. That’s one of many things those guys were genius’ of. As Ricky Gervais once said “You can’t joke about anything anymore.” You can. You can joke about whatever the fuck you like. And some people won’t like it and they will tell you they don’t like it. And then it’s up to you whether you give a fuck or not. And so on. It’s a good system.”

Do you think your environment, where you live, influences the type of art you create?

Both – Yes we do. Growing up in Portsmouth when we did was quite different to today. Especially where we grew up, the streets were tougher, there wasn’t much opportunity, and there was always some form violence happening. Therefore, American and British cinema really had an effect on me in terms of adventure and escapism. The popculture that influenced us in our youth helps us to create the “art if you call it’ today. You are a product of your environment, culture, society and opportunities and we have been conditioned by our surrounds and society to become what we are today.

What long term goals do you have?

Deano – To keep giggling at funny crap as long as possible and continue to be a superb father to my daughter, teaching her the ways of The Force. To keep this podcast going as long as possible, hoping we can entertain as many people as possible the same way we entertain each other.

Kev – Be as happy, healthy and fit as I can be. To be there as long as I can be for my son. Anything other than that is a bonus.

What other things would you like to explore as a podcast?

Both – More British comedy sitcoms and they’re long lasting impact.

The social impacts of particular films and how they resonate in today’s world, discover and review films/ TV we’ve never seen.

Grindhouse and splotation films, Horror and budget movies.

Interviews with filmmakers: We would love to interview filmmakers from all over the world and would want to learn about their filmmaking inspirations, and their challenges.

Deep dives into classic films: We would love to do deep dives into classic films, exploring the history of the film, the filmmaking techniques used, and the cultural impact of the film.

Guests from the film industry: We’d love to have guests from the film industry on the podcast, such as actors, directors, producers, and screenwriters to learn about their experiences in the film industry, the productions that they admire, and their thoughts on the future of film.

The Last Word by Chauncey Haworth

The Last Word

By Chauncey Haworth

~ 1 ~

“I don’t know,” James Pembroke said.

“What do you mean, ‘You don’t know?’” Javed shoved a few chips in his mouth and chewed feverishly.

Their group was having lunch in the small, crowded cafeteria at Merry Andrews Publishing.  Merry Andrews Publishing was easily the largest still-inhouse publisher on the eastern seaboard. The company was known for publishing many genres of books, but was best known for romance novels, specifically romance novels by the wildly famous Desideria Del Daga.

Since James started working at Merry Andrews, Astor Stillwell, the editing supervisor of the Romance Department, had bullied him at lunch. It all started when James accidentally spilled his Mountain Dew on the cafeteria floor and Stillwell slipped and fell. Stillwell was more than embarrassed. He had somehow got it in his head that James had done it on purpose. It didn’t help that everyone in the place had erupted in laughter. Since then, Stillwell would accidentally drop his lunch tray on James, trip him up, or cut in line in a juvenile attempt to reclaim his honor..

“I’m telling you, James,” Javed said as he wolfed down his soup like a dog drinking water. “I can help you out with that jerk.” Javed looked over his shoulder. He saw Stillwell gazing intently at James and said, ”he’s staring at you again.”

James swallowed his yogurt, sniffed, and replied, “I know.”

“Look, man. Remember how I got moved up to assistant editor?”

“Yeah,” James wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Jacob Gibson traded out to a dotcom or something.”

“No, remember? I was asked to go pick up Mrs. Del Daga from the airport last month?” Javed reminded James.

“Yeah, and you were half pissed they were sending an editor on an airport run and half excited that she might bring up if you’d been writing anything,” James recalled.

“Yeah yeah yeah, and she didn’t bring it up by the way, but what she did do is she left something in the car.” Javen’s voice decreased into a mysterious whisper through the statement.

“What’d she leave? Blackmail? Did you blackmail poor old Jake out of a job?”

“Nah,” Javed chuckled. “I’ll show you what happened after work.”

“You’ll show me? What’d you do? Kill the guy or something?”

Javed shrugged, “Or something.”

Javed noticed Harumi sitting at a table, alone, sadly poking her fork in whatever mystery meat she bought from the cafeteria. He sighed. “Look at Harumi,” he pointed impolitely. “She’s still depressed about you two breaking things off.”

James shook his head. “No, she’s not. She’s dating Tedbert. He’s more of a loser than I am.” Tebert’s real name was Theodore Bertinski, but James and Javen had taken to just calling him Tedbert, partially due to the man’s wide-set eyes. The two swore he looked “touched”, but most everyone else saw a fairly okay-looking successful man. Theodore, aka Tedbert, sat down beside Harumi at the table and her expression changed to happiness. She reached over Theodore’s tray of Tacos and patted him on the hand.

James felt a tinge of jealousy and turned to Javen. “He just cleans the floors around here. At least I write copy for the stupid dust jackets and have a hand in creating some amazing writing.”

“You mean you add punctuation. Besides, Tedbert doesn’t clean the floors,” Javen corrected.

“Yes, he does. Harumi told me.”

“If that’s true, James, then why does he go up to the executive offices on the 15th at all?”

James scrunched his nose up and looked perplexed. “He does? Well, I’m sure they have floors on the 15th too.”

Javen discarded the sarcasm. “Nah, man. She’s all broken up about you. I saw it on her Facebook. You’re the ex… shouldn’t you be the one web stalking her?”

“No. She blocked me,” James said.

At that moment an open container of disposable ranch dressing zipped by and exploded on the table. James jumped from his seat, quickly realizing it came from Astor Stillwell’s table. Stillwell leaned back in his chair and gave James a long-toothed grin.

“Okay, okay,” James said, a little shocked that he was so frustrated with his Stillwell problem that he was willing to let Javed help. “I’ll be at your apartment at six.”

“No,” Javed shook his head while he guzzled down the last of his daily lunchtime protein shake. “I’ll be at your apartment at six. Laksha will be home and I don’t want her to see this.”

James was still watching Stillwell, checking to see if he threw anything else. Stillwell gave James the middle finger. “Fine!” James grit his teeth. “This has gone on long enough!”

~ 2 ~

James’s apartment was pretty spartan. White walls, tan IKEA furniture, and art that looked like his mom picked it up for him at Target.

The front door opened and closed quickly as Javed entered and said, “That woman is going to drive me to do something fucking horrible!” He strutted over to James and handed him an envelope. “I told her I was just coming upstairs to see you and she shouts at me saying I don’t spend enough time with her! I mean, fuck, who would want to with a yapper like that? Am I right? It’s like if she wants a life like back in the old world I could smack her around. Just kidding, man. You know I don’t hit no ladies right?” he said using his mock pimp impression.

“What’s this?” James said, ignoring Javed’s blustering.

“This is what I was talking about at lunch.” Javed pulled a chair up and faced James.

“Is this the blackmail? How’s this going to solve my problem with Stillwell? I’m not really a blackmail kinda guy,” James said, going to open the envelope, but was stopped by Javed’s hands.

Javed looked at him with his intense, almost black eyes, “Inside there is a card with a word on it. Whatever you do, do not say the word out loud.”

“Don’t say it out loud? What? Why?” James asked while seizing the opportunity to have Javed let go of his hands by setting the unopened envelope on the coffee table.

“Because the sound of it does things,” Javed responded, uncharacteristically serious.

“Does things? The sound? What sound? The sound of the word?”

“Yes, the sound of the word being spoken does things… and as far as what it sounds like no one knows. When you say it you hear nothing, everybody hears nothing, but still, something happens.”

James of course didn’t believe him but was so intrigued by the fiction of the story he asked Javed to continue. “What the fuck man? What happens?”

“Anybody within earshot of the word will do whatever you want them to do,” Javed said leaning back in his chair.

“What, like breakout in a flash mob for a few minutes or some bullshit?” James joked, breaking free of the seriousness as well.

“If that’s what your heart desires. Whoever hears the word will do whatever your heart desires… and not for a few minutes, but forever… until they die,” Javed said flatly.

“What a bunch of bullshit. So like, what if I read it and say it out loud now? You’ll do whatever my heart desires? Seems pretty… ya know… weird?” James laughed.

“The word does not work on people who know the word but let’s not test that. Now do you want to put Stillwell in his place or not?”

“So, you’re saying that this is how you got Jake’s job?”


“What did your heart desire then? What happened?” James asked.

“I walked up to Jacob, I said the word and he stopped dead in his tracks. Well, not dead dead, but he stopped. Then he looked at me and he walked out the door. No one has heard from him since.”

“That’s it?” James asked.

“That’s it,” Javed reiterated.

“Try me. Read the word, promise me you won’t say it to anybody, even by yourself. Then tomorrow, walk up to Stillwell and say the word.”

“This is fucking stupid, man,” James said, laughing it off.

“I can’t do it for you… like everything else,” Javed said.

“No you don’t,” James was a little irritated.

“I got you this apartment,” Javed said.

“I was sick… my lease was up in two weeks.”

“I even talked to Harumi for you.”

“A lot of good that did. I still screwed that up.”

“Not too late, I’m telling you… She still has a thing for you.” Javed said.

“Nah, she’s with Tedbert. Does anyone know what he does at the office?” James asked, trying to change the topic.

“Not sure,” Javed said, his eyes still showing that he wouldn’t fall for the topic change for long. ”a book scout I assume…? Not sure.”

“He doesn’t act like those guys. You know, all pompous.”

“Hmph. I would if I was a book scout. Those guys are rock stars. You should try to get back with Harumi. She still feels for you. I can tell.”

“No. I… just don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like doing most things these days.”

“You’ve always been that, buddy. Lazy.”

“I’m not lazy. I go to work. I cook for myself.”

“Well then do this for yourself. I’m telling ya, man, you’ve got a lot of potential in ya and I’ve loved ya like a brother since we were kids. If we’re smart and hushed up about this, this will change our lives.” Javed said as he picked the envelope up and handed it to James.

James opened the envelope and removed the parchment card inside. There was a little bit of foxing on it, but nothing too ancient or mysterious, but on the card… on the card, written in immaculate cursive was the strangest word. It was the oddest collection of letters he had ever seen. There were mountains of consonants longer than he thought impossible to sound out, and valleys of vowels that made little sense. There were thirty-nine letters in all. James sounded it out in his head several times to commit it to memory and put the card back in the envelope.

~ 3 ~

Javed’s phone kept ringing. Weird Al’s It’s Christmas at Ground Zero would play over and over. It would sound off five times before he would silence it, look at James and sigh as the two rode to work together.

They walked down the hall of  Merry Andrews Publishing, toward the elevator that would take them to the 14th floor, and their respective offices.

“Are you going to answer your phone?” James asked.

“No,” Javed replied, looked at his phone again before placing it in his coat pocket. “I’m not going to answer it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to,” Javed growled.

“Well at least silence it!” James exclaimed. “That song is giving me a headache.”

“I’m not going to do that either,” Javed smirked.

“Javed… if your phone goes off one more time—wait… who is it that’s calling you, anyway?”

“It’s Laksha,” Javed answered, continuing to smirk.

“Your wife?” James said and sighed.

“Yes,” Javed said sharply. “My wife.”

“The one that hates me?”

“Yes, James. She hates everyone.”

They came up on the elevator, pushed the button, staring at each other. The doors slid open and the two of them squeezed past several others exiting the elevator. Harumi jogged up to the Elevator, barely caught the doors before they closed. She stepped inside and dropped everything she was struggling to carry—huge handbag, several books, and an apple. The apple rolled to James’s feet. He bent down, picked it up, and handed it to Harumi. That uneasy, awkwardness set in.

“Uh,” Harumi accepted the apple, fiddled with her glasses. “I didn’t… I didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast.”

“Oh,” James nodded, nonchalantly.

Javed’s phone rang again. He stared ahead without acknowledging it.

“Javed, your phone is ringing,” Harumi murmured.

“He knows,” James said, still looking ahead.

“Oh.” Harumi looked confused at first, then decided not to be bothered by it.

“What happened, Javed?” James asked after the phone stopped ringing.

Javed reluctantly told James the story. “Laksha thinks I’m cheating on her. I told her I was at your apartment. I stormed out and stayed at a hotel last night.

“Why didn’t you stay with me?” James was hurt a little. But also glad Javed didn’t ask to stay over. He didn’t have enough food and was waiting to go to the store until Thursday. For some reason, Thursdays always seemed like the perfect day to shop.

“Deal with that horrendous foot odor? No thank you.” Javed quipped and Harumi laughed. James gave her the stink eye and she glanced at her feet, embarrassed.

“You didn’t tell Laksha you were coming over ahead of time?” James asked.

“No,” Javed became defensive. ‘I told her to do what she pleased and I was going to do the same..”

“That is so lame,” Harumi shook her head. It was Javed’s turn to glare at her. “Sorry,’ Harumi bit her lower lip and again, stared at her shoes.

“Harumi’s right,” James agreed.

“What? You’re going to take the advice of a mousy girl who can’t even keep a boyfriend?”

“Hey!” Harumi objected.

The elevator suddenly came to a halt and the doors slid open exposing the brightly sunlit 14th floor. James marveled a bit at how fancy a place this was compared to how meager his paychecks felt. Reception on the floor was full of towering pillars, sitting areas, and modern concept work desks all bathing in the light of a massive vaulted window that looked over the city.

“I’m not taking advice from you either! Mr. I don’t have time for a relationship. What fools you two are! You’re both perfect for each other!” Javed sniffed. “You’re both weird!” And with that, Javed walked out, leaving Harumi and James in their awkwardness.

~ 4 ~

The first half of the workday passes slowly for James, as they always did. He thought to himself that editing must be hell for writers, and that he had arrived. He spent all day fixing other people’s work to get home and be too tired to work on one’s own.

Hating his life helped pass the time. That way lunch arrived faster. Again, James and Javed met at the elevator. As James approached, Javed looked around making sure nobody was there.

“You remember. Right?” Javed asked with a flick of his eyebrows.

“That my life is a cosmic joke? Yes, how could I forget.” James answered leaning his head back with a sigh.

“Dude?!” Javed whisper-yelled, his arms outstretched.

“Yes, I remember the fucking magic word,” James said with an eye roll.

Javed quickly put his finger to his mouth and looked around with a bit of panic, “Don’t even talk about it. You’re gonna get me fired.”

“You brought it up.”

The elevator doors opened to an empty car and the two stepped inside.

The moment the doors closed Javed said, “Dude, don’t talk about it here. Just promise me you’ll say it to him. I have to know if I’m crazy. I mean it totally worked for me, but, please man, just do it.”

James looked at Javed and thought for a second and said, “fine.”

The pair walked into the cafeteria and surveyed the scene. You could always tell who was going somewhere around here by the quality of their tweed. They grabbed trays and got in line.

“Here he comes,” Javed said with a whisper and an elbow to James’s ribs.

“Fuck,” James said, a little louder than he would have liked. “Fine, fine, I’ll say it,” he continued while rubbing his side.

Stillwell came up, grabbed a tray, and got in line right behind Javed.

“Oh, didn’t you have something that you’d like to tell Stillwell here?” Javed asked James. James dumbfoundedly shook his head.

“Oh, really you shit? What do you have to say to me?” Stillwell asked. Stillwell was one of those unfortunate trust fund kids, tall, blond, buff, smart and rich, which was really only unfortunate for the rest of us.

“Yeah, he does, but it’s a secret,” Javed said with a feigned look of seriousness on his face.

“So tell me you little wuss, or are you gonna sit there and wait for my message in a ranch cup later?”

James had enough. He leaned in close to Stillwell, close enough that only Stillwell, Javed, and James would be able to hear. James whispered the word.

Nothing came out. Just silence. A deadening, overpowering silence. None of the three men could hear anything, not the room, not their heartbeats, not the word, just deep, ancient, and dark silence.

Stillwell, slack-jawed, stopped in his tracks, staring at the two men. Stillwell dropped his tray with a crash and stepped out of the lunch line. He walked over to the end, where the drink cooler and cash register were. He reached in the cooler and pulled out a Mountain Dew. Several people at the front of the line thought he was cutting and started telling him off. As Stillwell opened the plastic Mountain Dew bottle the clerk at the register started throwing in his earful thinking he wasn’t going to pay. Both groups were right, he was cutting and he wasn’t going to pay, but neither group guessed what would come next. Stillwell turned the opened bottle upside down in front of him and poured the entire bottle on the floor. The bewildered man then took about six big steps back, appeared to be making a mental calculation, and then ran toward the spill quickly stopping on top of it. The quick, jerked action caused his feet to slip out from under him as he flipped backward smacking his head onto the institutional tile floor

Blood poured out from the back of his head like a cracked egg quickly spreading to people’s feet around him in the silence. A woman screamed and a man yelled for someone to call an ambulance as Stillwell started to convulse.

~ 5 ~

Late that night there was a succession of rapid-fire knocks at James’s door. James had no desire for company, but the knocks kept coming.

“Okay!” James yelled. “I’m coming!”

Javed was at the door. He rushed in, wringing his hands. “I did something bad,” he said. “Oh, James… I did something I shouldn’t have…”

“Who, Javed,” James shut the door. “Like we haven’t seen enough shit today, man. I can’t believe it. That shit worked and Stillwell got hurt and it’s my fucking fault.”

“Fuck that man. I fucked up. I really fucked up,” Javed trembled, his eyes begging James to listen.

“Slow down. Did you kill Laksha or something?” James laughed.

Javed turned to James, stone-faced. “Or something,” he said, a quiver in his voice.

James laughed nervously. “What do you mean—you left her?”

Javed shook his head. “No,” he whimpered.

The confusion left James’s face as he realized what actually happened. “Oh, Javed. You said the word?”

Javed swallowed hard. “I did,” he whispered. “I… did. And I feel… horrible for it.”

“Oh, shit,” James sat on the couch, looking straight ahead. “What happened when you said it.”

All Javed said was, “Laksha… is gone?”

“Laksha… is gone? What the hell does that mean? Like she disappeared?” James asked. “Why did you do it?”

Javed shrugged and wiped his eyes. She…” he continued through choked back tears. “She wouldn’t get off my back.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s a good reason.” James said, sarcastically. “So, what happened when you said it.”

“It started with us fighting, as usual,” Javed said. “She was relentless.”

“What was it about this time?” James said, still trying to grasp the gravity of the situation.

“I fucked Harumi,” Javed blurted out, his face falling back into his hands.

James was shocked. “You what?”

“Yeah, after work. I went to Harumi’s apartment. She was worried about Tedbert. Apparently, she hadn’t seen him since Mrs. Andrews talked to him and she said he’d been acting weird lately. Something about Mrs. Del Daga,” Javed said and sank into the couch.

“So… you just… screwed her… Harumi… in her bed?” James’s blood was boiling. He had completely forgotten about Laksha. The more he thought about it, the larger the vein in his forehead became.

“No. Not in her bed,” Javed said.

“Oh, that makes me feel better.” James didn’t get a chance to have Harumi. Not in her bed, his bed, or anyone’s bed.

“We talked for a while. A good while. We were watching TV, I don’t even remember what show it was… She got up to clear away a plate of Nachos.”

“You had her nachos?!” That was one of the things James dearly missed about Harumi. Her Nachos. She always added the right amount of spicy and sweet in her sauce.

“Yeah… I had her… Nachos. She bent over in front of me… I… couldn’t help myself… James… I don’t know what came over me. I felt untouchable. Powerful.” Javed was staring down at his clenched fist. “I felt… I don’t know.” He dropped his fist to an open palm. “Next thing I know is her skirt was up, and I was inside her and she was begging me not to stop. I went home directly after that. I was… I am ashamed. Oh God, James… ” Javed broke down again burying his face in James’s shirt, bawling like a baby.

“You said the word to her,” James accused Javed.

“No, I didn’t, I wouldn’t,” Javen defended.

“Oh but, you’ll say it to your fucking wife you coward?”

“No! I… I felt terrible… I promise I didn’t say it to her. I went home immediately. I was so confused, I didn’t know what I was doing. I got home to Laksha waiting for me. She called me out,” he paused looking straight off into space. “I didn’t lie. I told her.” Javed looked directly into James’s eyes, “I just straight up told her that I had fucked Harumi.”

Javed stood up and started pacing back and forth. “And then she just started going off. She wouldn’t shut up. I begged her, I fucking begged her to shut up, but she just wouldn’t stop. So I said it to her.”

Javed returned to his seat on the couch. “She immediately stopped when I said it. She stood, motionless for a moment, then, it was like a light came on, she went to the kitchen sink and started drinking cleaners. Not one of them. All of them! I tried to stop her, but she wouldn’t stop.” Javed was quiet for a moment. “I called the ambulance. We went to the hospital, but it was too late.” Javed collected himself, pressing down his shirt a bit, and then calmly said, “Laksha died on the way to the emergency room.”

James was not listening.

James was pissed.

James turned his head from Javed and said the word. Again he heard nothing but that deafening silence. He thought to himself all the terrible things that he wanted to happen to Javed. He wished for it, begged the powers that be to kill that two-faced fucker, but when he turned back, Javed was still there, unharmed. The word had not worked on him and he had heard nothing in the silence.

“Hey,” James said to Javed, “I want you to get the fuck out of my house.”

~ 6 ~

James stood in front of Harumi’s apartment, pounding on the door. It had been hours since Javed had told him that he had slept with her. James had tried to put it out of his mind, but it was no use. He just festered and festered. Then he took a walk and festered some more, all the way to Harumi’s front door.

Several locks were unlocked before the door opened slightly.

“James?” Harumi gasped and unfastened the chain from the door. She opened it quickly and yanked James inside, looking him up and down. “Are you okay? You look like shit?”

Harumi’s apartment was nice. It always smelled of honeysuckle and she always had snacks on the coffee table.  She had pictures of family everywhere and a very friendly cat, who at the moment was curled up on top of the cable box beside the television.

Harumi was in her nightgown and socks, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. James had never seen her like this. They dated for quite a while, but he never tried to stay overnight. James liked the way she looked and smelled at that moment. But, all James could think about was Harumi and Javed doing the deed, right there on the coffee table.

“I love you Harumi,” he blurted out.

“What?” she said, stepping back.

“I love you Harumi,” he repeated. “I have always loved you… but, you… you and Javed.” His head fell to his chest.

“I’m sorry, James,” was all she said, her arms grasping his shoulders in a familial way that made him feel even weaker.

James looked up, looked her straight in the eyes. He wanted to say the word. He wanted this all to go away. If he said the word to her she would be his, not that bastard Javed’s anymore. What would it hurt? If Javed had said it to her then he would be saving her from slavery to that thief. If he said it to her then they could be together and all would be okay. But, if Javed hadn’t said it to her does that mean that she really wants to be with him? James wanted to know. He wanted to say the word.

“What is it?” She asked, seeing words starting to form on the tip of his tongue.

He gave her another long stare and said, “Nothing. I have to go.” He pulled his shoulders from her grip and left, quietly closing the door.

~ 7 ~

The conversation with Harumi hadn’t done much to slow James’s fester and the following night of tossing and turning between torturous nightmares of Javed and Harumi eating nachos didn’t help either.

He fumbled with an atomically hot coffee and briefcase as he waited for the elevator. He was happy that he was getting to work late so he didn’t have to ride up with Javed, but as the door was closing a familiar hand caught it and stepped inside.

There he was, alone in an elevator with Harumi. They both look ahead, fighting to not make eye contact.

Harumi was the first to give in. “Listen, James. I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry. I didn’t know that you still cared.”

James quickly turned his head and looked at her with shock. She didn’t know? She didn’t know that he had loved her this whole time. That he was willing to change, that all he wanted was to be with her, to be by her. She didn’t know?

She went to speak again but he stopped her. He then said the word. The overwhelming silence immediately filled the elevator car, absorbing all other sounds around it. Harumi stood there in the silence clutching her purse to her chest, her face expressionless. The quiet hum of the elevator came rushing back into their ears.

Harumi dropped her purse and immediately punched herself in the face busting her own nose and splattering blood onto James. He stood, dumbfounded as Harumi repeatedly bashed herself in her already broken nose.

James tried to reach out to her through his full hands, but she grabbed his coffee and dumped it over her face, blistering the skin not stained with blood. He begged her to stop. “Please!” he begged. With nothing else to harm herself with she took to clawing at her face and neck skin with her nails.

James yelled the word at her hoping it would stop her. The silence came but it did nothing. He yelled it again, his eyes squeezed shut as he prayed for her to stop. The silence was deafening, so deafening that James didn’t notice the elevator doors opening. He continued to scream the word, pleading with Harumi to stop.

As the silence of the word spread across the reception room of the floor, it echoed over the pillars, around the modern concept work desks, and slapped back against the vaulted window that overlooked the city.

Everyone, other than Harumi, stopped and looked at James.

He stood there in silence, James in the elevator with a silent bloody girl, and fifteen men all staring at him. Wait, not staring at him. They were staring at her. Harumi and the men in the room made eye contact and immediately started charging each other. She moved like a crazed street lunatic and the group of men like an advancing, enraged army.

When the first man reached Harumi his fist flew forward and audibly cracked into her jaw. The group of men fell upon her hitting, smashing, pulling, and biting.

James was on all fours, arm outreached trying to make a sound as they pummeled her face to a bloody mass. They lifted her body up above their heads, like crowd-surfing a flailing body of ground meat.

In unison, the entire mass of suits, haircuts, and blood heaved toward the massive window. The mass bounced off the glass with a collective grunt. The group of men heaved back again and charged the window, their bloody trophy above them, this time breaking through. The men’s bodies went piling out the window like a waterfall of tweed, ties, and flesh. Every last man followed the pack with a look of dedication on their face until only James remained on the floor. He remained there, still on all fours, mouth open, looking out the shattered window apologizing in a whisper, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know I hated you.”

The Last Word by Chauncey Haworth
Less Than Human Gary Raisor