MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 8

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The Ultimate Mystery

 This cross-over tale stemmed from an idea that had nagged me for many years. It poses the question: What is a deity?

 Published in World Enough and Crime, Carrick Publishing, 2014.

 Finalist, Derringer Award, Long Short Story, 2015

In this excerpt, we see two parallel worlds: the underground kingdom where Lily exists and the isolated prairie farm where her earthly counterpart, Lucy, dwells.

Lily rarely saw diggers her size, since children fared poorly in the tunnels. Many died because they did not get enough to eat. During the frequent rock falls and tunnel collapses, children were more likely to lose their lives. Often, when she and Maria picked their way through the aftermath of a catastrophe, she’d see small limbs protruding from the debris.

            More disturbingly, she’d heard stories about guards taking young ones to the Supreme Ruler. In the dark, the other diggers whispered that those children simply disappeared. The guards had their way with them. Then ate them.

            She asked Maria if this was true.

            “Of course not,” Maria replied. “If we uphold The Law, the Authorities take care of us. That is the social contract our ancestors made long ago. We work to support the Supreme Ruler and the Authorities – and they feed us and keep us safe.”

            Which really means we dig and dig for nothing, Lily thought. Their food consisted of chunks of matter heavily processed at The Centre. On rare occasions it tasted sweet, but other times it tasted foul and bitter. Her fears multiplied.

            “Is there meat in the food?” Children? she wanted to ask.

            “No, not for diggers like us,” Maria replied. “Only the privileged eat meat. Meat keeps them strong so they can take care of us.”

           In other words, the Authorities and the guards ate meat. But so did the hunters who left the citadel to forage for food. At the rare gatherings with other diggers, Lily heard exciting tales about the hunters’ exploits. Rumour had it they did not always bring back all the food they found, even the precious meat.

            “That means the hunters are breaking The Law!” Lily whispered to Maria.

            “The hunters must sample their takings,” Maria said, hiding a smile. “To make sure that the food is fit for the Authorities.”

            “I want to be a hunter.”

            “That is not your rank. You are a digger. The Authorities decided this for you when you were born.”

            “Why? And don’t just say they obeyed The Law. Who made The Law anyway?”

            “The Goddess made The Law and everything in our world.”

            Lily thought this over. Every digger knew the Goddess made the world, and that She had created the Authorities in her own image. Of course, no one had any idea what the Goddess looked like, or the mechanism whereby She passed on Her word to The Authorities.

            “What if the Goddess got it wrong?”

            “Enough! No more questions.”

            Not understanding the reasons for what happened in the world made Lily feel stupid. She longed to go to school, but education of diggers was forbidden. Learning was reserved for the privileged. Maria reminded her yet again that their low status was an advantage: to be overlooked meant to be safe.

            “Are hunters allowed to learn?” Lily persisted.

            “Only enough to navigate the Outer World, so they can bring food home to our citadel.”

            Now, more than ever, Lily wanted to become a hunter.

***

            Lucy fidgeted on her kitchen chair. Every day Mom made peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, to save money, so Dad could have steak for dinner. To keep his strength up, Mom said. Because he was the one who travelled to earn money for the family.

            “Time for your lessons, dear.” Miriam gathered up their dirty dishes, clearing the way for Lucy’s textbooks.

            “Why do I have to learn at home? Why can’t I go to school like other children? And don’t just say it’s God’s will.”

            Miriam sighed. Lucy was always so full of questions. “Your father and I decided to home-school you the day you came into our lives. Public schools don’t follow God’s word, so the children there just learn about sex and drugs. I know you’re lonely, but out here we’re safe. And you’ll stay pure.”

**

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 7

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THE LIZARD

This story began when a friend told me about her daughter’s new pet, an animal the daughter wasn’t looking after properly. It started life as flash fiction for Maureen Jenning’s course on creativity, then grew into a longer story.

 Published in Crimespree Magazine, Summer Issue 2013 and reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014. Also reprinted in the 2014 Bloody Words program book, the final year for Canada’s national crime fiction conference. 

Winner of the Bony Pete Award for Best Short Story, 2012.

In this excerpt, Margaret visits her daughter, Jennifer and discovers that she’s waiting for her drug dealer boyfriend, Paul’s return.

“I’m worried about your iguana,” Margaret said. “It seems to be in pain. It can’t move its leg properly. Why don’t I take it to my vet and let him take a look?”

            “Forget it!”

            “I’ll pay for the vet.”

            “How much?”

            Margaret shouldn’t have mentioned money. The social workers had warned her never to mention money in front of Jennifer.

           “How much would you pay? How much have you got with you?” Jennifer’s eyes shone with a frightening hunger.

            Margaret fumbled in her purse for her wallet. “Here’s fifty dollars. That’s all I have with me.”

            “Fifty bucks? That’s it?” Jennifer snatched the bills and shoved them into the waistband of her sweatpants. “That’s no help.”

            “When was the last time you ate something?”

            “I’m fine. Leave me alone.” Jennifer bounced off the sofa and ran over to the window. She parted the dusty slats of the venetian blind with her fingers to look out. “God, Paul, where are you? You said you’d be back right away.”

            How could Paul have such a hold on her daughter? He was years older, sickly thin from his life on the streets. He reminded Margaret of a furtive wet mole.

            “How long has he been gone?” she asked.

            “All night.” Jennifer chewed her thumb the way she used to in grade school. “He told me to sit tight and keep the door locked. That he’d take care of the problem.”

      “What problem?”

            “Business.” She looked at Margaret. “If you really want to help, give me fifty thousand dollars.”

            “What! Paul owes someone fifty thousand dollars? What happened?”

            “He screwed up, OK? Happy now? Quit asking me questions. Since you don’t want to help me, get out.”  

            “Jenny, please. I don’t have fifty thousand dollars to give you. Even if I did, we both know it wouldn’t change anything. There will always be a next time with Paul. And a time after that.”

“Well, this time he’s dead. And I’m dead, too.”

**

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 5

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INCOMPETENCE KILLS

 Ever get fed up with people who really don’t know how to do their jobs? That’s what led to this flash fiction story.

 Published in Excerpt Flight Deck 1: Starship Goodwords, Carrick Publishing, 2012.

 

Competence is a commodity in low supply. Amazing that the world functions at all really. But incompetence does have an upside: it creates such temping opportunities for predators.

Like me.

You’d never give me a second glance. In appearance, I’m pale and bland. The only remarkable thing about me is a black spot under my thumbnail. If you bothered to get to know me better, you’d recognize it as a sign of my true nature.

Inconspicuous and invidious.

How trusting you people are. The coffee cup unattended in the food court, the step too close to the subway platform.

Innocent and inattentive.

Lucky for you that I’ve learned to, shall we say, engineer my violent tendencies…

**

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – 4TH EXCERPT

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CHRISTMAS IN ALICE

Our visit to Alice Springs in Australia led to this story. Although the resort hotel is fictional, the Henley Boat Races on Old Todd are indeed real. In this story, Margaret, a Canadian married to an Australian, flies to Alice Springs to help an old university friend implicated in a fatal accident.

Published in Blood on the Holly, A Christmas Anthology, Caro Soles ed., Baskerville Books, 2007.

 

Outside the rain had stopped, but even under the dull overcast, the desert heat seared her skin. Enormous ghost gum trees edged the hotel driveway. Margaret followed their chalk-white trunks out to the main road, fragments of their brittle bark crunching under her sandals. Immediately the flies sprang upon her, invading her mouth and nostrils.

Beating them off, she hurried down the main road, the incongruous roar of a river filling her ears. She spotted the bridge over Old Todd a short distance away, just as Constable Owen had said.

A rickety metal barrier prevented her from crossing over, but from where she stood on the road, she had a clear view. A foaming brown torrent sluiced under the bridge. Branches and debris tore past. Black oaks leaned like charred match sticks into the flood. No one could survive a fall into those waters, not even a giant like Constable Owen.

Several police officers were searching along the far bank close to the raging river. She recognized Owen who looked up and waved to her. Margaret half-raised her hand in reply. The flies settled on her again. She turned and walked swiftly back to the hotel.  

“Cheer up,” Imogen said, when Margaret returned. ”Grab some tucker from the breakfast buffet. Christmas present from me to you. Do you good.”

Perhaps coffee would help, Margaret thought and thanked her. She joined the crush of guests charging the buffet tables set up in the dining room, but her appetite was gone. She filled two bowls of fruit salad, one for herself, one for Eileen, and found a table.

Alone in the crowd, she pulled the digital camera from her purse and switched it on. An image of Uluru in the rain popped up on the screen, the rock’s blood red surface laced with streams of water. She flicked through dozens of photos of gaudily dressed tourists who were hugging koalas, brandishing gift store souvenirs or raiding dinner buffets. A cheerful, heavy-set woman centred in a lot of them. Eileen appeared only once, standing next to the white Christmas tree in the lobby, her narrow face barred with shadow.

The last image was black.

“Fine little camera, that.” Imogen had appeared at her table. “Lots of you Americans like it.”

Margaret slipped it back into her purse.

“Can I ask you something?” Imogen took the chair opposite her. “Have the police found Phyllis?”

Margaret shook her head.

“It’s stupid to hope, I know.” The girl’s face crumpled. “I should have stopped them. Eileen couldn’t possibly have meant the Henley Boat Races. I mean, that’s stupid. But Phyllis was so keen. She wanted to see every last thing in her guidebook. She was such a lot of fun, such a nice lady. Everybody liked her.”

Everybody liked her. That’s what they’d said about Laura, too.

“Her son gave her the trip,” Imogen went on. “He’s flying in tomorrow. He’ll never feel the same about Christmas now, will he?”

**

Back in the room, Eileen was sitting up in bed, hands splayed on the sheets. She snatched the bowl of fruit salad from Margaret and stared into it. “Why do they always put in cantaloupe?” she grumbled.

“Eileen, we need to talk,” Margaret said, setting her purse down on the writing desk. “About Phyllis Redding.” She watched Eileen chew the pieces of woody melon. “Her son will want to know what happened to his mother.”

Eileen lifted a bony shoulder. “Nothing happened to her.”

“Don’t be like that.”

Eileen shoved more salad into her mouth.

“If you say nothing, people will think the worst. No one can blame you for an accident.”

“Don’t treat me like an idiot.” Eileen’s bowl tipped over, the dregs of syrup staining the sheet.

“I want to help, but I can’t if you continue this way.”

“OK, fine.” Eileen was getting loud. “We were on the bridge. She walked down into the dark.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess she wanted to take a closer look at the river.”

Margaret sat down. “Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Why should I? She never listened. All she did was talk. Talk, talk, talk. Everything was always so wonderful, like fucking Disneyland.”

For an instant something primal flashed into Eileen’s face, the way it had in graduate school when she smashed the glass tubes of her failed experiments into the sink, one after the other.

**

GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES

glowgrassRevenge, guide dogs, cats big and small, beleaguered ladies of a certain age and a cop with a tarnished heart, meet them all here in Glow Grass and Other Tales.

The characters in the seven stories and two novellas fight for justice even when their sense of justice is warped.  The tales include “The Lizard” and “Kill the Boss” winners of The Bony Pete and Golden Horseshoe awards, respectively. You will enjoy, “The Ultimate Mystery”,  finalist for the 2015 Derringer and “Glow Grass”, runner up for the  2016 Arthur Ellis Best Novella Award.

My personal favorite is the comedy story,  “Amdur’s Cat”, an excerpt you will find on this website. I drew on my working experiences with the Ontario Ministry of Health. I’ll leave it to you, readers, to decide which ones are true and which ones I are products of my warped imagination!

 

 

Short Story Publications

Coming soon:

In the Spirit of 13 (Carrick Publishing) Donna Carrick, ed., Fall 2022

A collection of fantastical crime stories for dark times, involving spirits of all kinds: ghosts, debunking of same, demons, demon rum -even rum running! And I’m happy to say, it includes my second Dr. Amdur story, “Amdur’s Ghost”.

When Ben Amdur takes over the Dunlop Health Unit, the new Minister of Health pressures him to find her missing ex-husband. Along the trail, he meets an eccentric medium in an abandoned trailer park – and a rabid coyote.

Stand by for the cover reveal and publication details later this year.

 

Moonlight and Misadventure (Superior Shores Press), Judy P. Sheluk, ed., June 2021

Delighted to have my story, “The Moon God of Broadmoor”, included in this collection of 22 stories. My story. “The Moon God of Broadmoor”,  is based on a news story I read many years ago about an unusual man in NYC. He dressed and acted like a superhero long before The Avengers series of movies, fan expos and coz play became popular.

Liz, a junior health inspector, is thrown no-win job by her scheming boss.  Someone has turned the courtyard of the Broadmoor Apartments into  an outdoor toilet.  There she encounters Stanley aka Thoth, the self-proclaimed moon god of  Broadmoor.

 

A Grave Diagnosis: 35 Stories of Murder and Malaise (Carrick Publishing), Fall 2020.

Murder with a medical theme, featuring 35 scary tales by crime fiction authors from around the world.  My story, “The Eternal Bakery of the Fractal Mind” is my second speculative fiction crossover tale.

Francis, a grieving widower, returns to Vancouver for his 50th university reunion.  Lonely and guilt-ridden, he finds his favorite bakery unchanged from his undergraduate days. The mysterious new owner, a retired physicist,  ushers him into another world.   

In the Key of 13 by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

The Mesdames of Mayhem’s fourth anthology, published October, 2019, has the theme of music, mayhem and murder. The book contains 18 stories and one satirical poem by established Canadian crime writers and one talented newcomer.

My story, “Brainworm”, explores the dark side of families. The tune,  “Le Pont d’Avignon”, is the earworm slowly driving the protagonist mad.

Fiona has been forced to look after her elderly stepmother, a retired French teacher who  despised her.  A fight looms between her and her half-brother over the Singer – is it the worthless sewing machine in her late father’s study or something more valuable? 

 

In 2018, I had two stories published. The first, “The Cry”, appeared in the April issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine, a new Canadian publication.

I based this story on a story my running buddy told me. Her father was hiking through Sunnybrook Park in North Toronto when he heard a cry of terror. He tried to find the person in trouble, but he never did. The experience haunted him.

“The Cry” takes place in the large memorial park in Hiroshima, which we visited in 2012. 

An elderly assassin, on the cusp of dementia, hears a scream of terror. At the risk of his own life, he tries to save the victim to atone for his life’s business.

 

The second story, “The Seeker”, is part of The Dame was Trouble, an exciting anthology of noir fiction published by up and coming Coffinhop Press. The book features noir tales with female protagonists – all by leading Canadian women crime writers.

“The Seeker” is one of my personal favorites. The hero, Terry Snow, is a tough, 62 year old professional woman driver.

 

On a lonely highway in New Mexico, a young man runs out in front of Terry’s car. He’s on the run and wounded. They hole up in a lonely gas station on the outskirts of Espanola with Moe, the Afghan manager. Only Terry’s gun and Moe’s shotgun stand between them and certain death at the hands of four murderous gangsters.

 

13 Claws by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

The Mesdames’ third anthology contains 17 twisted tales (ha!ha!) of crime starring our animal friends. Angels or demons?  Includes stories by 12 established crime writers as well as three newcomers to the genre.

I indulged my love of noir to create my thriller novelette, “Snake Oil“. Strangely, many readers get freaked by the snakes in this story, even tough noir male authors who don’t bat an eye writing about splatter murders and disembowelments. Go figure.  “Snake Oil” is based on an actual experience a friend of a friend (yes, really) when she was a young real estate agent. Unbeknownst to her, the house she was viewing was inhabited by serious reptile fanciers. Definitely an odd subculture, aspects of which appear in the story.

“Snake Oil”, too, a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Best Novella award.

Bella Bates is in desperate financial straights. Making it as a real estate agent is her only way back to her preferred lifestyle.  Her son-in-law warned her about weirdos hidden behind closed doors, but so what? She’s tough, she’s got what it takes. Or does she?

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Finalist-40013 O’clock by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

Warped tales of time and crime! Fourteen authors contributed to 13 O’clock, the second anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing).

The book contains my dark suspense novelette, “Glow Grass”, inspired by an unofficial memorial garden we stumbled upon while hiking in the woods. “Glow Grass” was a finalist for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novella!

A young woman returns to her derelict family cottage abandoned since her father died in a mysterious accident. Is the secret cemetery in the woods meant for her?

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World Enough and Crime (Carrick Publishing)

A collection of stories by some of Canada’s leading crime fiction authors, including the runner-up for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award.

My cross-over tale, “The Ultimate Mystery“, was a finalist for the prestigious 2015 Derringer Award.

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Maria questions why her world forces her and her mother into slavery. At the same time Lucy, who lives alone with her mother on an isolated prairie farm, also begins to question the rigid rules governing her life. 

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Thirteen by The Mesdames of Mayhem (Carrick Publishing)

Dastardly tales by thirteen of Canada’s leading crime fiction authors. Two stories were nominated for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story and one for the 2014 Derringer prize.

My comedy thriller story, “Amdur’s Cat”  introduces the hero from my learner novel. I liked Benjamin Amdur too much to leave him in the filing cabinet.

 Dr. Amdur, a hard-working civil servant, sees a real lion on his way home from a boozy Christmas party.  Or does he? Life isn’t easy.  His new boss-from-hell resembles a former Toronto mayor…

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“The Lizard” appeared in Crimespree Magazine, 2013, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

Bony Blithe for LindaIt also won the Bony Pete Award in 2012 for Best Short Story.

A desperate mother tries to save her drug-addicted daughter using the death of Mr. Kim, their beloved family cat, as leverage, but she’s way out of her depth in the criminal underworld.  

 

More publications:

  1. Incompetence Kills. Published in EFDI: Starship Goodwords, Carrick Publishing, 2012; Reprinted in the 2021 BOULD Anthology.
  2. The Dog on Balmy Beach. Published in Going Out With a Bang, anthology by the Ladies Killing Circle, Dundern Press, 2008.
  3. The Widows and Orphans Fund. Published in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, March, 2007.
  4. Christmas in Alice. Published in Blood on the Holly, Caro Soles editor, Baskerville Books, 2007.
  5. Kill the Boss, Winner of the CWC Golden Horseshoe Award, 2005. Published in Silver Moon Magazine, January 2006. Reprinted in Mouth Full of Bullets, September 2007.

 

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