Welcome to the Nightmaries page. This is a miscellaneous page for rotating content like fiction excerpts, giveaways, contests, art, pictures, trivia about my books — all kinds of neat little free stuff. Easter eggs, they call them in video games—little nightmaries. Enjoy!
January 10, 2012
Just for fun:
August 9, 2011
August 2, 2011
Peep the new bookplates:
June 16, 2011
These songs inspired me during the writing of THRALL, and also seem to fit the overall mood, as well.
THRALL: Book Soundtrack
April 6, 2011
My contributor copies for Thrall arrived yesterday, and the book looks beautiful! I’m so pleased with how the book turned out.
If you’re still on the fence about picking this up, here are some pics of the book which may sway you. 😉
March 30, 2011
So to celebrate the release/shipping of Thrall today, I thought it might be fun to post some little trivia facts about the book, the town, and the characters over the next few days.
As I was packing my apartment up last night, I found something that seemed fortuitous but somehow very appropriate for the release of the book today. Below is a relatively hand-drawn map of Thrall itself. This isn’t the color version with the street names written in, just a basic black-&-white of the street layout, which is pretty closely based on the street layout of Newton, NJ (with a few changes to accomodate the story’s needs). I thought you might bet a kick out of it.
Trivia: All the street names in Thrall share something in common. Once you read the book, let me know if you figure it out. 😉
March 18, 2011
In approximately 10 days, Thunderstorm Books will release the signed, limited edition of Thrall. I think this calls for some fun. Watch this space for details.
March 4, 2011
FREE FICTION FRIDAY! 🙂 This is a reprint, my first real take on a ghost story (of sorts). For those who haven’t seen it yet, I hope you enjoy it.
Letting Go By Mary SanGiovanni
They blurred sometimes so Hank Swanson couldn’t see them. They rushed by his ear and made angry sounds that he could no longer attribute to the wind shouldering through the cracks in the house. They were getting stronger. The day before, they moved the toaster three whole feet across the counter. And he suspected that one had learned how to break light bulbs. He’d found two already that week in egg-shell shatters on the floor in the front hallway. They were angry. Maybe getting dangerous.
There were four of them in the house, although they rarely all convened together. Sometimes they were lured by the sound of Law & Order from the television set. Quite often, he caught them from the corner of his eye while reading the newspaper. Mostly, though, he felt them late at night, when he was alone with his thoughts. They stood behind him, surrounding his easy chair, charging the air with heat and cold and tension and thin noise. They had never tried to hurt him physically.
He suspected that was going to change, though, now that they could act on things in the house.
These certain memories haunted him – powerful ones. Ones he couldn’t let go. But he’d discovered that when one held onto such things long enough and hard enough, they took on lives of their own, lives of discontent and disapproval. They were stuck there with him, unable to rest in the dust of the past and the graves of resolution. And they hated him for it.
He stood in the first floor bathroom, studying a worn and tired face. Thin lines fanned from the corners of blue eyes that had seen too much. Set grooves around his mouth spoke not of years of smiles, but of grimaces and bared teeth. That scar above his left eyebrow remained from when, in a flurry of fear, Linda had scratched at his face.
Hank had done so much he wished he could take back. The lusterless gray of his hair reminded him of the overcast sky on the day Linda left. The DUTY HONOR FIDELITY tattoo on his right bicep was the same dark color as that little Vietnamese girl’s eyes….
Upstairs in his bedroom, Abuse howled like a battered woman. Like Hank’s wife had. Like his mother had, all those years ago. It was, perhaps, the most volatile of all the memories. Its explosive temper mirrored what his own had once been. He remembered that, every time Abuse threw an angry tantrum.
He flinched when he heard a wooden crash upstairs, heavy, like his dresser had been knocked over. He turned away from the mirror to find Nam standing behind him.
It grinned. Its sweat-slick tanned body rippled with muscle as it stepped casually out of the way. Hank brushed past, and felt steamy jungle heat from its skin. Hank believed that the memories’ physicality was an effect of what Linda might have called personification. She was an English teacher, and although he’d paid little attention to English, it seemed to fit, that word personification. He’d suspected even then that the memories could take shape from the blurs of light and shadow they used to be. They seemed now more physical than ever. Now, they had faces. Patchwork pieces of faces from recollections in his head.
Nam’s eyes were like that little girl’s. Its arms were like the Viet Cong he’d clipped in the back of the head. Its laughter was like the old woman’s before he’d burst her throat open. He didn’t acknowledge the memory, but it followed him into the kitchen. He felt its eyes on him as he made a sandwich at the counter.
It spoke to him in Vietnamese. “We have come to a realization. A consensus.”
He answered in English without turning around. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”
Its reply, also in English, came halted and awkward. “If we kill you, you will then must let us go.”
“No one take memory with him when he die.”
Hank stopped, turning slowly, the mayonnaise knife in his hand. “That would only be true if consciousness ended with death. How can you be sure that will happen?”
“Because you believe it.”
“What if I’m wrong?” He turned back to the sandwich. “Then you’d be stuck with me for eternity.”
“Not necessarily so, Hank.” A third voice frosted the air between them.
Hank paused, mid-bite. Death in the Family was, by far, the most cool and collected. It scared him more than the others. He put the sandwich down and turned around. The memory – a first from his childhood – sat at the kitchen table. It wore a neat cream sweater which made the pale bluish boy-features of its face and hands more prominent. Its colorless lips pressed together. The black hair, rumpled like a child’s, recalled the windsweep of racing Schwinns and the sweaty hairlines of baseball and tag in mid-summer. It sat otherwise reserved, Sunday-best neat, its lean, pre-teenaged limbs poised. After a moment, it unfolded its hands and dusted an errant piece of fuzz from its sweater. “Really, Hank, give us some credit for a degree of forethought.”
It looked up, and its pupiless white eyes managed the semblance of focus on him. He felt cold down his back. “Let’s say you take with you into the afterlife whatever you remember of this one. Then it simply becomes a matter of eradicating the part of your physical brain which harbors memories. Now, we’ve mastered physical contact. It’s a matter of time before we master force.”
It paused to let him soak up this information. Hank wasn’t sure that Death in the Family spoke the whole truth. There seemed to Hank to be a huge leap between wiggling light bulbs out of their sockets to crash on the floor, and wielding a baseball bat to brain him in his sleep.
Death in the Family continued. “You hardly seem as hung up on the good memories as you are on us, so we believe the cost to be relatively low. I see from your expression that you don’t buy that. Consider for a moment if the Judeo-Christian concept of Heaven and Hell exists. Your soul – your energy – either seeks God and God alone, and leaves memories behind, or is sent to Hell for eternal torment, where memories will be the least of your concern. Or, for the sake of argument, let’s say it turns out that the soul is home for the memories that construct your sense of self. Then the afterlife is buoyed by memories. If we simply disconnect you from us, you’ll go to the sweet peaceful oblivion you wanted anyway. No judgment, no reconnection with your angry dead. No hell.” It winked at him. “And we’ll be put to rest. There is no one else to keep us here. No one who cares enough to keep your memories alive. You’re alone.”
Hank snorted. “Alone.”
Death in the Family gave him a wide, crocodile smile. “Alone with us.”
“There are holes in your theory. What if my version of hell is being forced to relive each and every one of you every day for the rest of time? Or what if I’m left a ghost in the afterlife, to haunt the earth where all my memories of violence and pain keep me chained?”
Leaning in the doorway, gleaming with sweat in the kitchen light, Nam cast an uncertain glance in Death in the Family’s direction, but the other memory seemed unperturbed.
“Hell, Hank – any true form of hell, I’d say – would be more than that, by its very nature. In either scenario, you’re describing your life exactly as you live it now, on Earth, day to day remembering us, day to day chained to this house. Hell, by its connotations, would constitute more than the mere mechanisms of your daily life.”
“You’re guessing. But you don’t know for sure.”
The memory shifted in the chair, folding its hands on the table again. “Hank, really, it doesn’t matter. Crushing your skull would give us some satisfaction at least, even if nothing else were to change. And the potential risk is worth it to us, since the possibility that it will work in our favor seems higher than it working in yours.”
“No single one of you can do it, anyway. You can’t kill me.”
Death in the Family regarded him with a cool stare, eye to glassy eye. “That’s not true, generally speaking. Single memories drive the life out of people all the time. What about your Linda’s Death of a Child? The one you beat out of her. Remember that one?”
Hank felt anger rise in waves of heat beneath his arms and around his neck. “That was an accident.” He cringed at how much he sounded like his dad, when his little brother Robbie had died. An accident, his father had said.
The memory seemed to read his thoughts. “Seems to be a popular refrain among the males in your family.” After a pause, it added, “Ask Abuse if that’s true, that it was an accident. See what she says.”
Death in the Family gave him a patient smile. “All of this conversation is of no real relevance. All of us together can do this. All of us together can overwhelm you.”
“Why are you telling me all this? Giving me a running head start, are you?”
“Common courtesy. You created us, after all. It changes nothing, though, for you to know. You’ve proved that there is nowhere you can go that we can’t find you. And face it, Hank – you’ve stopped running.”
The night passed with little more than thumping in the upstairs hallway – they were practicing, evidently, but hadn’t quite worked up to smashing his skull in yet. They made their presence known, though. They wanted him to be afraid, to maybe force some soul-searching that might let them go.
Wasn’t going to happen. Those bastards were his to hold onto, his to wallow over if he chose. He owned them.
Not to be deterred, though, Shot in the Leg gave him a hard time the following morning.
From the open window, he felt that outside the air was humid, thick with unspilled rain. The sky blew down and swallowed his neighborhood in fog. In the distance, he heard the hungry rumble of thunder.
Oncoming storms always made the pain in his knee worse, right on the outer meniscus, which a bullet had nearly severed years ago. Even though he’d had surgery, the knee never felt quite right – not after those occasional nights in the bottle, and definitely not before storms.
Shot in the Leg leaned casually against the wall by the TV. It wore the same flippant tousle of blond hair and the same cocky smirk as the punk from the convenience store who shot Hank. Its legs were mottled with scars beneath the rips in the jeans. One was large, thick in the thigh like his partner’s had been. The other was skinny, like the guy in shorts from the convenience store, the one who’d covered his girlfriend from the spray of glass and flying bullets. Both looked shaky. Shot in the Leg did not look phased, though. Its legs always shook. Hank wondered if it felt anything beyond hate – like pain. Throbbing ligaments. Strained muscles. Buckling knees. Now that they could think on their own, he wondered what the memories remembered. What they thought about when they were alone.
The memory folded its arms across the blood-splattered chest. The clerk’s chest, the one the punk kid shot before shooting Hank. At the time he’d been Officer Henry Swanson, working his way up to a spot somewhere in the Tactical Division of Morris County’s Major Crimes Unit.
He was now Mr. Swanson-down-the-street, ex-vet, ex-cop, ex-husband, full-time asshole.
“So you ready to die, officer?”
Hank tried to ignore it. On TV, Regis was making Kelly smile. He liked to see Kelly smile.
Sometimes she looked so pretty. Sometimes she looked like Linda.
“You can’t ignore me. Not today.”
Hank felt a twinge in his knee, and he rubbed it absently.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Shot in the Leg shove itself off the wall. It sauntered, as best as it was able, in front of the television set, crossed around the coffee table, and sat down on the other end of the couch. It kicked up dirty worn sneakers and propped them on top of an old issue of Penthouse.
The woman on page 12 of that issue looked like Linda, too.
“Hank, do you want to die?”
He didn’t turn his head. “No.”
“Do you want to live?”
“Haven’t given that much thought.” Hank watched the Kelly/Regis banter without really hearing it. Regis was a snappy dresser. Kelly could be beautiful sometimes.
“Just let us go.”
“Leave me alone.”
Shot in the Leg laughed. “We’d like to. Let us go.”
Hank sighed. “You think I like having you here?”
“I think you keep us to fill up that space. Somehow, we’re easier to hold onto than your wedding, or birthday parties, or making the force.”
“Nothing to them. I can barely remember those things.”
“Consider recalling them a project then.”
“I’m in retirement. I’m not looking for new projects.”
Shot in the Leg gave him an exasperated sigh. “Look, I’m trying to keep you from getting little sharp broken pieces of skull all stuck in your nice, clean brain. But there’s no love lost if you won’t listen. We hate you, and we know you hate us.”
That was not entirely, true. What Hank hated was to admit that, of the four of them, something about Shot in the Leg seemed okay. He’d been trying to be good the night he was shot, trying to Serve and Protect, to save lives. He’d failed, of course, as he’d failed at his marriage, as he’d failed as a son and a big brother, but for that one memory, he could at least honestly look at himself and know he tried.
His knee ached in little pulses. That he tried to be good – that was not entirely true, either. A clusterfuck of a situation, the shooting had been. Protocol ignored, hair-trigger Dirty-Harry hijinks ending with people getting shot. A barely-cleared IA investigation. A bum knee.
But if any of the memories ever cut him a break, it was Shot in the Leg. He thought that warranted a certain degree of honesty between them.
“You four are all I’ve got.”
“How about no memories at all, then? A clean slate. A new beginning.”
“Too old for that. Too late. Now if you don’t mind, I’m watching this. Go practice moving toasters.” Hank scowled and turned up the volume. Sometimes Regis looked waxy and Kelly looked plastic. A cranky thought, and one, for some reason, that reminded him of Linda.
She looked waxy when her eye swelled. And plastic when she put on extra make-up to cover a bruise.
He felt bad about both. Sometimes Linda was so pretty. So pretty. He missed her.
Shot in the Leg got up. “Suit yourself. Kitchen appliances, nothing. I’ve learned the fine and dexterous art of loading a firearm. You know…in case the toasters don’t work.”
Abuse rarely confronted him head on. When it did, it usually sported something sprained, mildly fractured, or in need of stitches. He hated those rare occasions when he ran into it in the upstairs hallway, not so much because of the sight of the physical injuries, but because of the guilt. He’d taken to avoiding it as often as possible. When it went on one of its tearing fits in the bedroom upstairs, he slept on the couch. When it tore up the kitchen, around seven most evenings, he went out to China Wok down the street.
He was nearly certain Abuse learned to move the toaster first.
The memory used to remind him of weak and beaten women, women whose fragile inner beauty and relentless outer beauty drove the awful sinking feelings of possessiveness, helpless mistrust and blind anger. The beauty that struck chords of remorse after.
Nowadays, he saw the purest and most intense rage of all the memories in Linda’s swollen eye. It glared at him from beneath the long blond hair, stringy with blood in the front, his mother’s split lip puffed out in an angry pout. There was even some reclamation of power in the broken wrist, the cracked rib that bled out underneath the pale and papery skin, the dress he’d nearly twisted Linda’s arm off for wearing one night. These things reminded him of the horrible mistake he’d made. He’d hurt her, again and again in ways she could never forgive. In ways he couldn’t forgive himself. And Abuse reminded him every chance it got.
Hank climbed the stairs that evening to right whatever Abuse had knocked over in the bedroom. In the upstairs hallway, he listened for its crying and hearing nothing, he crept to the bedroom.
He froze in the doorway when he found it in a fetal curl on the bed. Its blood seeped into the cotton of the comforter and spread out across the quilted diamonds. To the left of the bed, the dresser lay splintered face-down. A number of casualties in the form of underwear and socks had tumbled out toward the foot of the bed. The lamp that formerly stood on top, as well as the silver picture frame with Linda’s picture, lay in pieces just where the comforter brushed the floor.
Hank’s mouth opened, then closed. Cool sweat ran from beneath his arms, and his chest felt tight. The memory had done that. The memory had toppled something that even Hank would have had trouble moving.
He took a careful step back into the hallway.
Abuse shot up and glared at him. The shredded silver rags it wore snapped outward as if up in arms. It moved off the bed and swooped to the doorway so fast that Hank cried out. He backed up further into the hall until he felt the hard wooden post of the banister thump against his back. He was cornered. Abuse swam up to him, hovering inches from his face, the gash in its forehead leaking watery blood over the crusted black around it.
It smelled like Linda’s perfume. The scent made him feel sick.
“I’ve been waiting for you to come upstairs.”
“Please don’t do this.” He’d gotten used to the plaintive whisper his voice took on any time that particular memory cornered him. He hated it, but he slipped into the whisper every time, all the same, like familiar slippers.
“I wanted to see your face when I told you I can kill you now, if I wanted to. Almost every one of us can. We’re close, so close to where I want us to be. But we agreed to do it together. All of us.”
“You can’t do anything, you lying –”
His sentence was cut off by a sharp crack to the mouth. The force of it turned his jaw. He felt Linda’s long red nails graze his cheek. His face stung in the wake of the palm, shocking him into silence.
It could touch him. Physically touch him.
“What should I break today? I can do fingers, maybe, or toes. Something little. Something delicious. I can fuck you up, you egotistical bitch.” It laughed, a wild woman’s cackle.
And Hank realized then that he was in serious trouble.
He took a chance and pushed it away, hard. His hands sank into the soft chill of it, and it felt like wet sand – like silt, really. Cold, a little slippery, and soft.
But he’d caught it off-guard and an inch or so in, he felt something solid – the part of it, maybe, that had solidified enough to allow physical contact with him in the first place. And he managed to move it. It staggered back a foot or so before recovering and lunging forward, but it was enough time for him to slip away and down the stairs.
He turned once near the bottom, surprised that it hadn’t caught up and tried to push him down already. At the top of the steps, it seethed, its bruised knuckles tight as it clenched its fists, restraint arresting its chase. Fury shone bright and wet in its one unswollen eye, its split lip bleeding over bared teeth and down its chin. It howled, not in fear or pain as Linda had done, not in frustration as his mother had. It was angry. It did not want to wait for the others; it wanted to kill him right now.
Death in the Family came up behind it and took hold of its arm, gentle but commanding.
“Get the others,” Death in the Family said to it. “It’s time.”
Hank went out to the garage and got the broom. The bristles stuck out in odd directions like bed-head, but the wood felt good and sturdy in his hands.
The memories had to be solid to hurt him, and if they were solid, he could fight back. Let them try and kill him.
He owned them. His death was not their call.
Hank Swanson knew he wasn’t any better than anyone else. But he didn’t think he was pure evil. After all, people bought, sold, traded, stole and borrowed memories on which to build a sense of self all the time. In his retirement, he never gave much thought to a conscience. He’d always assumed that he let his wither and die. Years of exposure to murder, greed, rape, callousness, and stupidity did that to a person. They made a guy realize that evil is plainly and simply impure. Mussolini made the trains run on time, and all that. The devil had been God’s favorite angel, according to Linda’s faith. So what was conscience but personal judgment? Who was he to judge anyone’s acts? A person “in good conscience” couldn’t righteously hate something that wasn’t pure evil, and frankly, no one was an absolute either way, good or bad. He never thought of himself as being in good conscience, but he knew one thing. Shot in the Leg was wrong. He didn’t hate those memories. Not that he felt no sense of justice; he’d always suspected a part of him kept the memories around to punish himself, in a way. But he simply didn’t feel that he could pass sentence anymore, even on himself. It wasn’t for him to decide. And his encounter with Abuse upstairs made him realize that extended to the memories, as well.
They had no right to condemn him, either. He wanted to live.
He made purposeful strides from the garage to the den, testing out the swing of the broom handle, listening for their approach: the whisper of feet that weren’t really feet and the dull hum of their anger.
In the center of the den, he waited. He heard the crash of broken glass from somewhere upstairs.
He considered leaving, but it wouldn’t matter. Train station, hotel room, deep in the woods, on a sunny beach – they’d always know where to find him. They were part of him.
He could reason with them. Suggest therapy. The thought got squashed fast, though. Therapy was like Neverland magic – one had to believe in it in order for it to work. And he didn’t. Never had. Even if he would consider it, therapy took years, if it worked at all. The memories were fed up now. They were out of patience. He didn’t have years.
Hank heard them on the stairs. He actually heard their footsteps on the stairs. They meant to intimidate him with the physical thud of their footfalls.
He swung the broom handle at the air in front of him. It made a satisfying whizz sound.
They entered the den together, the four of them, their expressions blank. Their eyes watched him, solemn and somehow peaceful. This was going to be their death, too, and they were ready for it. They were just riding it out, seeing it to the end. Their desperate resolve frightened him.
He swung the broom handle out in front of him. “Stay away from me.”
They drifted closer, not quite tentative but cautious, like jaguars moving in on their prey. Each held a weapon.
Death in the Family smiled. “That’s all we want, Hank.” It held a baseball bat. Where had it dug up that old thing? The force hadn’t had a company game in years.
Nam held a rake from the shed. In Vietnamese, it said, “If you hold still, we’ll make it quick.”
“Fuck you,” he responded in English. “Fuck all of you.”
Abuse had a broken wine bottle by the neck. Hank kept a wary eye on it. The jagged end looked to him like a gaping, hungry mouth, salivating in the den light.
He tried to think of good memories – something, anything to weaken their hold. But the bad memories had a much further head start. They’d grown strong over time – time he didn’t have to build up good ones.
Still, he tried to think of a birthday party as a kid, something fun, something enjoyable. He remembered instead the fight his father had gotten into with his mother on his little brother’s birthday. How angry his father was when he left the house with Robbie. His mother’s baby. Her favorite.
Robbie looked up to Hank. Robbie didn’t want to go river fishing with Dad. He was always scared when Dad got that look in his eyes and ground his teeth and clenched his fists like that. When he focused straight ahead and refused to look at anyone.
His dad claimed he’d dozed off while they were waiting for the fish to bite. Robbie had gone off by himself, slipped on a rock, and fallen into the water. Robbie couldn’t swim. He never liked the water. He never liked going anywhere alone with Dad. The splashing woke up his father, but not in time to reach Robbie. Or so he said. There were no fishing trips after that.
Hank hadn’t been there, because he’d caught attitude that morning, and endured the smack-around and the grounding to get out of going on the trip. Hank had saved himself.
No happy memories there. Death in the Family grinned at him, again seeming to read his thoughts.
“Bastards.” He glared at them all, and made a half-arc with the broom handle. The memories snapped back out of range.
Abuse lunged at him and he swung again, but the memory was quicker. It brought the broken glass down on his hand, and back up along the inside of his wrist, slicing it open. He dropped the broom handle. Where the bottle had bitten through his skin, tiny drops of his blood smeared the jagged teeth.
He bent to pick up the broom with his left hand. He wouldn’t be able to swing it as well, especially with the pain pumping out bloody squirts down his stronger arm, but he’d make do. He looked up, and saw Death in the Family standing over him with the bat.
He crab-scuttled back and stood on shaky legs. The jerky movement sent a light patter of blood across the carpet. They closed in on him again.
Hank panicked. Good thoughts, try again, good thoughts….
“Too late for that,” Shot in the Leg said. It clicked the safety off Hank’s gun.
He tried to think of his wedding to Linda. It shimmered for a moment just at his periphery. He thought about the church, the cake, the champagne glasses, the dance, the way it pissed him off that his best man leered at Linda all night….
And he remembered hitting her years later, over and over until she’d lost the baby. He didn’t know she was pregnant. He hadn’t been mad about that.
It had been the dress, the silver one that he thought was too low-cut, the one that hugged her hips and drew attention to her legs, and oh God, how beautiful she’d looked. He wasn’t the only one who noticed. A lot of other men did. And she seemed to like that, the bitch. She liked other men looking at her. Didn’t give a damn if he did – sure, she could say she’d dressed nice for him, but he knew.
The blood got all over the front of her dress. All over the comforter, too. She’d curled up on the bed, fetal and bleeding, and cried, too much in pain, too hurting to move. And he’d left her there because he couldn’t stand to see her bleeding and he couldn’t stand to hear her cry. Not like that. No satisfaction in her crying like that. She’d called the ambulance herself.
Abuse held the remains of the broken bottle up by his neck, as if trying to eyeball the best angle to stick it in.
He tried to think of something, anything, but each time he tried, they overwhelmed him. He remembered the village in Viet Nam with the little wide-eyed girl and her grandmother, and the American fire that fell across their bodies in an effort to root out the Viet Cong they were hiding. He remembered the punk on the convenience store floor, bleeding, scared, hurt, a kid again, the way his head blossomed red on the floor when Hank shot him. He remembered how his dad used to beat his mom and then leave and he would find her on the floor, curled up and crying, mumbling between tears about having to make dinner for the boys, both of them, even after Robbie had died. He remembered being terrified every night when his father came in his bedroom to say good night, terrified because it wasn’t such a stretch to imagine those big hands that liked to hit and punch also liking to push pillows over faces, or to hold a throat underwater until it filled up. And every time he did something bad, he imagined that his dad had given Robbie that same look, that same disappointment and barely simmering disgust, right before he drowned him.
Fathers who cared that their youngest sons accidentally drowned didn’t say accident as if it was a blessing in disguise, and they didn’t share a look with their eldest sons that said You could be next, if you cross me.
“Wait,” he muttered. “Wait.”
Shot in the Leg trained the gun on his head. It would get its turn last. Finish him off, probably, after each of them had gotten in a good lick.
Inside, he chuckled, but he knew it wasn’t really funny. None of them had opted to use the toaster.
Death in the Family took a step forward. “Good-bye, Hank.”
“Wait,” he said again, his gaze darting around the room for an exit, an opening between them through which he might escape. There was none.
He swung at Nam blindly, but Abuse must have warned them. Nam blurred – everywhere but the wrist and the hand that held the rake – just seconds before Hank’s broom handle passed through its chest, then grew sharper and more solid again in its wake.
The first blow from its rake cracked against his skull. His head froze and the room in front of him wavered like heat off hot pavement. Then the pain thudded black spots across his eyes.
The chilly draw of glass across his cheeks and forehead, the wet of blood running into blood, felt strangely right.
What was his brother’s name?
Death in the Family swung the baseball bat. Home run.
Hank felt another sharp crack. He smelled perfume but he couldn’t remember whose it was. His eyes were painted black, and he slumped down onto something soft. Couch.
He heard a crunch and felt something give above his left eye. He felt light. Soft, like the couch. Even the pain in his head felt fuzzy. Bad reception. Couldn’t see Kelly and Regis.
He’d been in the army. When? Where? It didn’t matter.
It all stopped with claps of thunder against his head.
A few weeks later, Detective Cauley stood in the den of Hank Swanson’s house. Without the yellow tape, the swarming CSIs, the investigating officers, and the miscellaneous craning necks and curious frowns of neighbors and news people, Cauley could think alone, in the center of everything.
His gaze wandered to the couch. The clean-up crew had gotten most of the blood out of the middle cushion, and all of it from the carpet. Cauley had known Hank for years. He’d gone to his retirement party, in fact, down at the station. He knew Hank had problems – lady trouble, mostly – but Cauley couldn’t imagine anything that would have driven the man to suicide. Hank just never seemed too troubled by anything.
The medical examiner said that Hank’s body had been worked over pretty good – baseball bat, broken bottle, rake – before the shot to the head. But the only fingerprints on any of the weapons were Hank’s, and there was gunpowder residue on his fingers. Given several of the angles of the cuts, the ME had concluded that he’d done most if not all the other injuries to himself.
Cauley could almost feel the sum total of Hank Swanson’s life swirling heavy around him in the room and throughout the house. The darkest of corners did not go unused there. The dusty shelves, the bare furnishings, the wear and tear of lonely routine – none of it was empty. In that house, Cauley still felt the man who’d lived there, or at least remnants of the man. The house hadn’t cooled yet. The spirit – or spirits – of his past hadn’t left.
“Shame,” he muttered to himself. “He was one of our own.”
Behind Detective Cauley, Dark Alley, “Accidental” Shooting, and First Homicide waited, pelting his back with black-eyed daggers of frustration. They felt strong in that house, stronger than they ever had before. They felt alive. And they felt angry.
March 1, 2011
So I was surfing the net and I found, among some old pictures of Stokers, cons, and residencies past, a few covers of anthologies in which I have stories. Among those, I found this old chapbook cover, for a promotional short story I did waaaaaay back when I first started writing. Check it out:
Might make a kinda cool, fun prize for a giveaway, huh?