FREE RANGE MEAT teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.

Free Range Meat cover

FREE RANGE MEAT

            It was unusually hot and bright that day, and as Brian approached the parking lot, he almost regretted his decision to walk to the shopping plaza where his nearest Whole Foods was located.  Though his backpack was currently empty, he was already sweating heavily beneath it, his tee-shirt sticking to his back.  The front of his shirt also, though less sopped than the rear, bore visible sweat marks.  Brian had decided already that, as soon as he got home, he was going to take another shower.  He hated to waste the water, but even his conservational idealism had its limits; many hours remained before bedtime, and he really didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon stinking of stale sweat.

            The sky was barely dotted with occasional small clouds, but the air was noticeably humid, and the temperature was well into the upper eighties even though it was only early May.  Brian shook his head, tossing his mid-length, straight hair—also damp with sweat—from side to side as he went.  He wondered, given such unusual warmth, how anyone could possibly doubt that climate change was real, that the world was getting warmer thanks to the unrestrained use of fossil fuels and the ridiculous output of all the cattle humans raised just so they could eat steak and burgers, wasting countless acres of land that could have grown food for people to eat directly, without nearly so much impact on the environment.

            He had to remind himself that one unseasonably hot day was no more proof of global warming than a particularly cold winter day was evidence against it.  Still, the emotional weight was hard to resist.  He didn’t think he was mistaken in believing that his childhood summers had not been as severe, nor as early, as they were now.  That was memory, though, surely colored by the fact that a child’s body was more resilient than an adult’s—though Brian was lean and muscular from regular workouts, a regimen he’d undertaken more to fight against his moderate scoliosis than for trying to look good.  Indeed, at forty-four, Brian had often been assured that he looked easily ten years younger.  The tee-shirts and shorts he habitually wore helped this impression, but even in a suit and tie, which he wore when meeting with certain clients, Brian could easily pass for a young, upwardly mobile professional rather than a man approaching middle age.  Even his simple, wire-framed glasses made him look young and intelligent.

            Brian took no special pride in the fact that he looked good for his age, except to think to himself that this was what clean living did for a person.  And though, just as with the weather on any given day, he knew that his individual attributes couldn’t honestly be used as evidence of a general trend, he was nonetheless convinced that his health and appearance were due more to lifestyle than to genetics.  Perhaps his genes could be credited with the fact that he was smart enough to recognize better ways to live and had the will to act on that recognition. Continue reading

PROMETHEUS AND CHIRON teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.

prometheuscover

PROMETHEUS AND CHIRON

          Tommy first saw the woman at the station in the evening as he waited to catch the train home. He had done some drywalling in a friend of a friend’s house that day and was tired and sore as he waited.  The job had been off the books, so as not to endanger his disability benefits, and it was good to have the extra money; quite apart from eking out basic living expenses, the supplemental cash helped pay for his medical needs.

          Tommy had injured himself some years before, during a construction job on a three-story building.  The fall had not been as serious as it might have been, but three fractured lumbar vertebrae, with the addition of disc herniations and joint injuries to his right knee had left him in chronic pain.  He’d begun taking prescription opiates at first solely to relieve his agony; the extent of his MRI-revealed injuries had at least ensured that he never had to fight much to convince doctors that his pain was real.  After a while, though, he’d found that the meds also made other aspects of life easier, and his dose had slowly but steadily increased.

          Tommy stood at the far end of the station, smoking a cigarette in the designated area.  He had swallowed two extra blues on his way from the job, trying to take the edge off his soreness, to assuage his own jitters, and to relieve his psychic distress over when his next paying job might be coming.  He had just achieved a bit of equanimity when he looked across the track and saw, in the electric light that locally banished the already-thick nighttime, a woman seated on one of the benches.

          Something didn’t seem right about her.  She was extremely pale, Tommy could see that even from across the tracks in the artificial light, and she was visibly trembling and squirming.  She didn’t look healthy. Continue reading

PENAL COLONY teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.

penal colony cover

            It was chilly bordering on truly cold that Thursday night, which had now become Friday morning.  Paul Taylor stumbled through the rear exit of a popular bar, not too much the worse for wear, and headed toward the twenty-four-hour, self-pay lot in which his car was parked, a few blocks away.

            When he’d left the car for the evening, to continue a group celebration of the closing of a major contract at the small ad agency where he worked, the whole area had been surprisingly crowded.  In some circles, it seemed, Thursday was the new Friday when it came to partying.  For Paul, however, this was a departure from the norm, as was having more than a few drinks in an evening.  He’d stayed at the bar later than the rest of the team, both because he’d been surprised to find himself enjoying karaoke night—he’d happily and repeatedly punished all those present with his crooning—and because he’d wanted to wait out the effects of a frankly irresponsible binge of mixed drinks.

            He’d used the occasion as an excuse to sample several cocktails he’d never tried before, including—but not limited to—a mojito, a fuzzy navel, a tequila sunrise, and a Manhattan.  By ten o’clock, he’d been positively reeling, comically unsteady on his feet, and quite a bit more extroverted than usual.  It was just as well that the team had gone out for a large meal before hitting the bar, or Paul surely would have been both barely conscious and violently ill.  As it was, he’d apparently just become a charming buffoon; no one had seemed offended.

            Finally, as others had begun to leave, a few had offered Paul a ride.  When he’d declined, stating that he was still enjoying himself too much to go home yet, he’d been strongly urged to get an Uber or to call a cab when he did, but definitely not to drive in the state he was in.  He had promised to comply.

            The more he’d thought about it, though, the more he’d been reluctant to leave his car in the parking lot overnight.  It was unattended—payment was by credit card, swiped first when one entered the lot, then swiped again when one left—and it was not cheap.  If a car stayed overnight, or if a driver left without remembering to swipe a second time, the daily maximum charge of fifty dollars automatically applied.

            Paul could afford it—his drinks alone had cost well beyond that amount—but he bristled at the notion.  Also, he worried about what might happen to his car.  This was not a terrible part of town, and his Nissan was not particularly tempting, but still…

            Reluctantly, at about eleven, he’d started ordering alternating Coke and orange juice instead of alcohol, waiting for his intoxication to fade enough for him to make the trip.  Now, at nearly closing time, he felt sober enough that he could drive without endangering the few other travelers still on the road.  He supposed he might be wrong—advertising people were, he knew, at least as good at beguiling themselves as they were at convincing others—but he felt that his coordination was at least tolerable.  His stumbling bar exit had been an honest case of tripping over an uneven spot in the doorway, and he had easily righted himself.  That had to count for something. Continue reading

IN THE SHADE teaser

Hand version 1

IN THE SHADE

 

            When Gary Sawyer first heard the screams, he thought they were just the noises of boys playing.  His son, Kyle, had been out most of the morning with his friend, Sean Corcoran, from two “blocks” up, and they were rarely the quietest of companions.  Upon noticing the sharp, high-pitched noises from one of the boys, overlaid with shouted but unintelligible words from the other, Gary assumed that the two were involved in some strange adventure game, or that one of them might be angry at the other.  Such things happened from time to time, even between boys who were as good friends as Kyle and Sean were.

            Gary sometimes thought of the stretch of road on which he lived—and from the end of which he heard the noises—as a “block,” but it really wasn’t.  It was a cul-de-sac, a little, knobby protuberance sticking off the main street, with three houses along each side and four circled around the bulb at its end.  Well…there were three completed houses at the end, and one that was still under construction.

            Gary was not a fan of the way streets were laid out in Florida developments.  He had grown up in the Midwest and the northeast, and one thing you could say about northern suburbia—at least where he had lived—blocks there were blocks.  Streets crossed each other at right angles—more or less—and they split neighborhoods into rectangular agglomerations of dwellings, with backyards abutting other backyards, usually with fences in between, as God clearly intended.

            In Florida, however, things rarely followed any sane deity’s design.  The roads along which people lived tended to meander and twist like big, sightless worms working their way through the soil of neighborhoods, with no clear geometric path.  Occasionally they would close into a single, huge loop, but there was rarely anything one could honestly call a block.  Also, there were all those little protruding bits of rapidly terminating street, such as the one on which the Sawyers lived—strange polyps of roadway.  They were called cul-de-sacs, and residents often referred to them as “sacks.”  Gary supposed the French term sounded fancier than “dead end”, but where he had grown up that was what they would have been called. Continue reading

HOUSE GUEST teaser

The following is an excerpt from the beginning of my short story House Guest, the oldest active story in my opus, so to speak.  It will be the first entry in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities.  Enjoy!

knocker

HOUSE GUEST

            William Harrison sat up in bed, awakened by a particularly frightening nightmare.

            This was all too common an event for him, though he’d thought it was becoming less so.  His pajamas were slightly damp with sweat, but that was as much because he was using too many covers as that he was frightened by his dream.  He’d had far too many, sometimes far more terrible and vivid, dreams in his life to let himself be bothered all that much by this last one.  In fact, as was usual, he couldn’t even remember what the dream had been about now that he was awake.

            He blinked sleep from his eyes and looked around the dark room, first noting that, according to his bedside clock, it was just after three in the morning.  Surely that was the loneliest time of night…the soul’s midnight, he had heard someone call it once, though he didn’t know why.

            He sighed.

            His bed was too big.  He noticed this acutely in the near blackness of his room, the pale rectangle showing vividly against the surrounding dark.  For the past several months, he’d slept in a bed that was little more than a cot, and the king-sized mattress he lay on now was far, far larger than that.  To add to—and to worsen—its relative size, his wife, Melissa, wasn’t there with him.  And, of course, neither was Tammy, their four-year-old daughter, who would sometimes crawl into bed with her parents during the night, when her own nightmares, or just her darkened room, became too frightening. Continue reading