Tag Archives: short fiction

The Complications of Fire (A Short Story)

Love, much like fire, can be a very dangerous thing. To some, it can even be deadly—or at least life changing. But can a soul survive without love?

I’m living a coming-of-age tale, and it’s one I wish to share with you. It’s a life story not uncommon to a few billion other souls that have trod upon this earth. And that means it must be lived—every single second. Nobody tossed a completed work in my lap and proclaimed the hard part had already been lived for me. After all, it’s the scars of life’s beatings that bring about a self-awareness needed to complete one’s own destiny.

That’s all anybody is really doing here: living out their destiny.

My name is Judith Zot. And honestly, I can’t recall a time ever hearing my father, in his own voice, tell me he loves me. Not even once. He just isn’t that sort of man. Feelings—or rather the expression of—isn’t part of his makeup. I’m his only child. The daughter he’d hoped would be a son. But love me, he does. I have never doubted this notion. It’s there in his eyes each night I step into center ring and thrill audiences across the United States.

I have a talent for archery. Some might even call it my one true passion. It’s just one of those things that came natural to me the very first time I picked up a bow fifteen years ago—on the very day I turned five. That bow, it had been meant for the boy my mother truly believed occupied her womb. A fortune teller even told her as much.

But that’s not how my story plays out. In my telling of it, my mother birthed a baby girl, then promptly bled out, leaving my father a widower and first-time parent.

My father is not the only man in my life. I have a husband. His name is Abel Zot. We were married two years ago, shortly after my eighteenth birthday. Three months later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Uncle Sam drafted all those able-bodied young (and not-so-young) men. My father, well, he walks with a limp. An old elephant injury, he likes to say. The army couldn’t use him. Abel? They snatched him up in the first wave, sent him to Fort Hood for basic, before delivering him to the South Pacific to fight the very ones responsible for the mess our country finds itself in to this day.

pexels-golnar-sabzpoush-rashidi-3723862I didn’t mind seeing him leave—not to face death, mind you. He and I, we just never really clicked as a married couple. I like him sure enough, though I don’t know that I love him. And it’s nothing he did wrong, either. Getting married when we did, well, it just seemed like the right thing to do, taking that first big step in our recently acquired adult lives. We both understood it to be a mistake after that first week. He took to sleeping on a separate bunk in our Pullman coach.

I was born into a circus family—fourth generation. We travel the country by train, visiting places like New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. The Midwest and east, mostly, though we do from time to time reach as far west as Denver.

I’m sort of famous. Not like a movie star kind of famous, but darn close. I’ve even been featured in Life magazine—twice. Franklin D. Roosevelt himself requested my services for the first USO show in support of our Troops right after we entered the war. But even being known by the president isn’t enough to stave off tragic circumstances.

*      *      *

photo-1542675454-b3fbb8b41c18I’m the middle act in the circus—following right after my father and his elephants. Jimmy Hoke and I, we enter center ring for each performance at six p.m. on the dot. Jimmy, he’s like the little brother I’ve always wanted—ten years old, a face full of freckles, and fearless. That kid will do anything I ask of him. He puts a shiny red apple atop his blond head, and I run an arrow straight through it at fifty paces. He holds up the ace of spades in his left hand, and I pierce the card dead center. My favorite is when Jimmy climbs up top and walks the tightrope high above center ring, holding a target over his head while walking from one end to the other with perfect balance. I use a flaming arrow for that one. We’ve done these tricks a thousand times without trouble or injury. And the night in question, well, it began exactly the same as any other along the way.

*      *      *

“You’re the archer girl, ain’t you?”

He’d just been hired, the one asking the question. And from the looks of him, he ought to have been alongside Abel Zot, fighting the Japanese, on a ship in the South Pacific. But the United States Army didn’t figure into this boy’s plans. He stood taller than me by a full foot, had one of those lean and wiry frames, and arms a tangle of muscles and tattoos.

I shouldn’t have looked at him, but I did.

“I’m her,” I told him.

He shook my hand, said his name was Daniel. “Like the man in the lions den.”

That’s how it all began. Just small talk meant to pass the time, I told myself. But deep down inside, I guess I knew I wanted more.

Two weeks later, we’re laughing at each other’s corny jokes and having lunch together. Not alone, mind you. My father always ate lunch with me. So did Jimmy Hoke and his parents. The Hokes, they’ve been tightrope walkers since anybody with a memory could recall. Jimmy claims to be the seventh generation.

Lunches turned into afternoon walks or quiet chats during travel. My father took notice, decided to drop his own opinions of the matter into my ear.

“You have a husband,” he said. “And God doesn’t look kindly on those keen to adultery.”

“I’m just talking with the man,” I replied, hoping that would put such gossip to bed.

I will confess there are certain aspects to a relationship that I miss with Abel being gone—even if I’m not in love with the boy. A smile, a touch, a lingering kiss—all can be had without love being involved. This one here, the new guy, he already knew that about me. He’d read me like a dog-eared pulp novel. He began to eye me with mischievous intent—and I liked it.

He and the other men on the crew would raise the massive circus tent, always showing out for the gathering local girls. I’d catch myself watching him swing that giant hammer, driving stakes deep into the earth at whatever city we’d stop in.

It’s there that the fire began. A slow burner, this kind, lots of smoke at the source of it. Lunches together became late afternoon strolls out to where nobody would see. Kisses were stolen and saved and reminisced over late at night. Those very kisses soon became touch revealing heat in the midst of all that smoke.

We made love just once. And that’s all it took to throw the world out of balance. That it happened in my Pullman coach, well, that’s on me. I planned it out of yearning, a deep desire. I thought I needed that emotion, the lust part of it in my life.

“You sure you’re okay with this?” Daniel asked, seated on my bunk.

I read a certain nervousness in the man, like maybe he’d not done such things before—or at least not often enough to be comfortable with the whole ritual.

We were set up to perform in Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie. My father had slipped off for a drink with some of the crew, leaving me to my own devices. That usually meant I wouldn’t see him until just before show time.

The thing about Daniel’s kisses, they ran soft and slow and purposeful, as if he were savoring me and the moment we occupied together. His fingers searched out and found the buttons on my dress. Our clothing fell away like silent accusations lying on the floor. I pushed him onto his back and took up on top of him. And Daniel let me. It’s something Abel would never have allowed—this giving away total control of such intimacy.

Such an odd feeling once our heat became extinguished. In the afterglow we lay in silence together—him smoking a cigarette, me staring at the ceiling above. Simple conversation failed us.

I don’t recall when he left. I just remember Jimmy Hoke showing up at my door, ready for the night’s performance.

“You look flustered,” he said. “You mad at somebody?”

“Only myself,” I told him, leading the boy out toward the big tent.

We waited in our usual spot, out of sight of the paying customers. This is where we’d normally bond in our focus, Jimmy and me. A quick check of my bow, the arrows in my quiver, the props we’d take out there with us. There’s never much talking between us. Jimmy likes to think we’re psychic, that our minds are somehow working together in some strange mystical sense. And maybe that’s usually the case.

But this night wasn’t usual.

My father and the elephants danced their familiar routine, completed tricks I’d seen a thousand times before, and walked their slow wander from center ring.

The ringmaster shouted my name.

Fans took to their feet and cheered wildly. Some thrust copies of Life magazine in my direction, begging for autographs.

Jimmy sprinted toward the wide pole holding the big top high overhead—the way he’d done hundreds of times before. He leaned his back against it and set the apple atop his head. The boy trusted me to get it done. I’d never given reason not to.

I ambled over to where he stood, counted off thirty paces, and took my stance. It’s here that I should have called him off, feigned illness, and gone back to my coach. I’d only done such a thing once before—three years earlier in Atlanta. A touch of food poisoning laid me up for a few days back then.

A bad meal couldn’t be blamed this night.

My hands selected an arrow from my quiver.

Jimmy’s trustful gaze fixed on mine.

When I pulled back the bow, inside my mind Daniel’s hands found my breasts again, his kiss stole my breath, and my guilt threatened to expose me to every living soul beneath the big top.

Thwack!

My arrow split the apple atop Jimmy’s head. A clean shot—as usual.

On cue, the boy raised the ace of spades high above his head and held it perfectly still. A single nervous twitch would likely cost him a finger or two—maybe even a whole hand!

As I drew back the bow, my father’s words filled my head: God doesn’t look kindly on those keen to adultery.

Thwack!

The arrow tore through the very center of the card and lodged in the pole behind Jimmy and his still-intact hand.

While Jimmy worked his way to the top of the pole, I wowed the crowd with an assortment of bullseye shots on targets scattered here and there across center ring.

Atop the pole, Jimmy readied himself for the long walk on the high wire. Slow and steady he worked his way to the middle of the rope, high up where one misstep would most definitely be fatal. In his hands he held the heavy wooden target.

I found the last remaining arrow in my quiver, its point wrapped in gasoline-soaked gauze. A silver Zippo came to my hand—a gift from my father, given just before my first-ever performance. Sparks from the flint lit the wick. The crowd offered their enthusiastic cheers, knowing what would come next, daring me to see it through. I touched the lit Zippo to the arrow, set the tip alight.

Jimmy stood still at the center of the rope, held the cedar shingle target over his head.

I’d never missed before—not even in practice. The arrow always found its mark in the wood.

But this night, well, my father’s warning took away all of my focus: You have a husband.

The arrow sailed high and to the left of its intended mark, attaching itself to the very top, up there where the pole and canvas meet. Flames like wicked tongues licked at that thick covering. There’d be nothing to stop it from spreading.

Paying customers scattered for the exits as the orange glow magnified its intensity. Panicked voices of parents calling out for lost children competed with the cries of those certain death had arrived.

I’d lost sight of Jimmy in all that smoke. The last I’d seen the boy, he still stood on that tightrope high above center ring.

“What did you do?” my father demanded, yanking me toward the exit.

*      *      *

When the flames died out, the wreckage revealed three dead souls, each one a child under the age of twelve. Jimmy had been among them.

Life doesn’t just resume after a fire. It doesn’t just stop, either.

The circus shut down for the remainder of the season, putting the entire crew back at our winter home in Tampa, Florida. Nobody blamed me—at least not out loud. A dangerous trick, people would say. It was bound to happen eventually. Can’t play with fire and expect it to not burn once in a while.

Daniel didn’t follow us down to Florida. He’d never live with the aftermath and its heavy burden.

I never again set eyes on that man.

Abel, well, he returned to me a month after the conflagration. The one I called husband had taken a bullet in his left knee, thus rendering him useless to Uncle Sam.

He’d hobbled into the bathroom that first morning I got sick, held my hair back from the spew. “You okay?”

“Just fine,” I told him.

He sensed the thing growing inside my womb, understood the circumstances in its coming to be; the man made offers to raise it as his own.

“You won’t mind?” I asked.

His head gave a short left-right twist, a move meant to settle the thing right then and there. “I don’t even need to know the details.”

“I wasn’t offering any.”

“But you might—in due time.”

Abel’s arms went easily around my body. He hugged me close to him. His scent, both familiar and strange, carried with it a certain comfort, a reassurance of sorts. We’d be all right, me and him.

Love (like fire) can be a very dangerous thing indeed. And yes, to some, it might even become deadly—or at least life changing. But a soul, well, it most assuredly cannot survive without it.

© 2020 Beem Weeks

Remaining Ruth: A Short Story

This is a short I wrote back in 2013. It’s about a girl trying to hold tight her grasp on self-identity. This one appears in my first short story collection Slivers of Life.

Remaining Ruth

I heard my mother say, “It could be she’s just that kind of girl.”

I knew she meant me because my father responded, “No daughter of mine will be that kind of girl.”

I’m an only child, so forget any misunderstandings. Besides, just what kind of girl were they debating me to be?

I slipped through the back door, just inside the kitchen, crouched low near the refrigerator, and listened to their talk in the next room. I’m either a lesbian or a drug addict, depending on their deciphering of my mood on any given day.

Okay. True. I do keep my hair cut short and dyed black. I also prefer jeans and T-shirts to dresses and skirts. But that doesn’t make me a lesbian. Of course, there is that other thing…

My father said, “Maybe we should send her to one of those Catholic schools.”

“We’re not Catholic, Fred,” my mother reminded him.

“But they know how to deal with these sorts of things, Miriam.”

What sorts of things? I wondered, angling for a closer peek into the living room. I didn’t need to see, though. My father would be parked in his recliner, newspaper open and held in front of him. My mother, she’d be seated on the sofa, watching the television with the sound turned all the way down.

I’d never get past them. At least not without a hundred questions tossed in my face.

“Maybe we should just leave her be,” my mother offered. “I had my own moody moments at that age.”

A low harrumph, is all my father managed.

As much as I hated the idea of confrontation, I despised even more the notion of hiding out in the kitchen all night.

He’s the one who caught me, came right up out of his recliner as soon as I entered the room. “Let’s see what’s in your pockets, young lady.”

I knew the drill. They’d been doing this since the end of the school year, when I’d been stupid enough to leave a joint in my jacket, where my nosy mother happened upon it.

“I’m not carrying,” I told my father. “I smoked it before I came in.”

“So disrespectful,” my mother lamented. “I never sassed my parents when I was fourteen.”

“Gonna let them nuns straighten you out,” my father threatened, searching the pockets of my jean jacket.

He found nothing incriminating. I’d learned to never carry anything on me—at least not where they’d bother to look.

“Can I go to my room now?” I asked, not really looking for that argument my parents seemed to enjoy so much.

My father gave up a subtle nod I’d have missed if I hadn’t been looking for it.

They took my phone—and my bedroom door.

But I still had the bathroom.

I closed myself inside, pressed the lock. They’d come knocking in a while, demanding to know what all goes on when they can’t see.

They’ll never see what they don’t really want to see, though.

Muffled voices trickled through the floorboards, putting them still in the living room.

My mother’s the one who caught me kissing Megan Vennerhull. That’s where the whole lesbian thing came from. But we were just practicing. Megan pretended I was David Skillsky and I, well, I too imagined Megan was really David Skillsky—I just told her I’d been dreaming of Michael Kranshaw to keep her from freaking out. Megan has been in love with David since the third grade. But so have I.

Can’t tell that to Megan, though.

My fingers worked at the buttons on my jeans; I tugged them off my hips.

My father never used those multi-bladed razors. “One blade is all it takes,” he’d tell the television, whenever one of those commercials touting three blades came on.

I agree. One blade is all it takes.

I twisted the razor’s handle, retrieved the shiny blade from its open mouth.

It’s not a suicide attempt. I’ve never wanted to die. It’s just something I need, something I dream about when moments of stress find in me an easy target.

And I never cut too deep, either; just enough for bleeding.

Just enough for a taste of pain.

They never look at my hips—or my inner thighs. Nobody looks there. Nobody sees or knows.

My mother’s voice disrupted my moment of pleasure. “Are you going to be long in there, honey?”

“Be out in a minute,” I assured her, knowing full-well my father would be beside her in short order, threatening to remove even the bathroom door.

A quick cut just beneath my stomach let go that crimson release.

Better than an orgasm, this.

My father intruded; his meaty fists banged against the door. “I’ll break this son of a bitch down, Ruthie, you don’t open this door!”

“Can I wash my hands first?” I asked, rinsing the blade before returning it to its proper place of honor.

They weren’t quick enough—not this time, at least. I still owned one secret belonging only to me.

One more day I could still be the Ruth I wanted to be.

© 2013 Beem Weeks

This story, along with 19 others, is available in Slivers of Life: A Collection of Short Stories. Find it at all online booksellers.

Day 4 of the Concordant Vibrancy 4 Book Tour: Beem Weeks!

Today is Day 5 of the Concordant Vibrancy 5 book tour. I am hosting me, myself, and I today. . . It’s always a party when those three show up! 

(1) What prompted you to be a part of the Concordant Vibrancy concept?

The thing that prompted me to participate in the Concordant Vibrancy concept was an invitation to do so. That’s the sort of proposal one just doesn’t turn down. To be asked to contribute to such a wonderful project is a high honor. Having my name and my work published alongside this group of skilled writers is an incredibly humbling experience. There’s also a challenge involved: Here’s a theme, now write a short story that encompasses this theme and brings it to life. Challenge accepted!

 

(2) Which Concordant Vibrancy books are you featured in?

I have been blessed to be part of four of the five anthologies. These include CV 2: Vitality, CV 3: Lustrate, CV 4: Inferno, and this latest edition, CV 5: Extancy. Each volume poses a theme and a question for the author to ponder while crafting a story around that theme.

(3) Why did you choose a certain attribute as your answer to CV5’s theme question?

I chose the attribute of adaptation to answer the theme question—What intangible elixir is paramount to one’s survival?—because those who learn to adapt will be those who survive. And survival doesn’t always equal success or a happy ending. Life isn’t outlined for us. It doesn’t fit into the pages of a well-crafted novel. Humans are often presented with unforeseen events that change our world, ruin our plans, and re-write the roadmap we’ve plotted for ourselves. These various themes postured in each of the Concordant Vibrancy editions speak to the human soul and to the human struggle for life. To adapt is to survive.

About the Author

Beem Weeks is an author, editor, blogger, podcast host, and audio/video producer. He has written many short stories, essays, poems, and the historical fiction/coming of age novel entitled Jazz Baby. Beem has also released Slivers of Life: A Collection of Short Stories and Strange Hwy: Short Stories, as well as the novella The Thing About Kevin. He is a lifelong native of Michigan, USA. Beem is currently working on two novels and several short stories.

Social Media

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WEBSITE

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

Day 3 of the Concordant Vibrancy 5 Book Tour: Carol Cassada!

Welcome to Day 3 of the Concordant Vibrancy 5 book tour. Today we are introducing author Carol Cassada. . .

  1. This is the third time I’ve participated in the Concordant Vibrancy series. I’ve known Yasmin, Monica, and the All Authors family for a while.

When they invited me to be part of volume 3 of the anthology, I jumped at the chance. I loved the first two volumes, and to me, the concept of Concordant Vibrancy was unique. 

Participating in the anthology challenged my mind. I delved into my philosophical side as I contemplated the theme’s question. Then I had to create a story centered around my answer. 

It was a fun experience, and Concordant Vibrancy helped break me out of my writing comfort zone. I was able to see what else I could create instead of my usual genre.

 

 

  1. I’ve been featured in Lustrate, Inferno, and now the last volume Extancy.

It’s been a pleasure to work alongside this wonderful group of authors who I admire. I’m sad to see the Concordant Vibrancy series come to an end, but I hope I’ll be able to continue working with All Authors in the future.

  1. I choose strength as my answer to the theme’s question, and when I say strength I mean emotional strength.

My CV5 story is inspired by my own life. Alzheimer’s runs in my family. My paternal grandmother had it, and my aunt was her caretaker. It was heartbreaking watching my grandmother’s mind slipping, and although my aunt never showed it, I knew it was tough on her.

Now, several years later, I’m in the same situation.

My mother was diagnosed with dementia about two years ago. At first, I didn’t want to believe it, but after confirmation from the doctor, I had to face the sad truth. I also stepped up and became my mother’s caretaker.

Being a caretaker isn’t easy. Aside from the physical stress, it can also exhaust you mentally. Seeing the person you love have their memories and their personality taken away is difficult. I’ve had moments where I broke down, wondering why my mother has to go through this, and worrying about the future.

As I explain to everyone, there are good days and bad days. Although there are challenging times, I manage to pull myself together to be the best daughter and caretaker I can be.

Author Links:

Blog: https://carolcassada.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dramacjc

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Carol-Cassada/e/B00520F3ZU?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2&qid=1609261323&sr=8-2

 

Day 2 of the Concordant Vibrancy 5 Book Tour: C. Desert Rose!

Welcome to Day 2 of the Concordant Vibrancy 5 book tour. Today we are introducing author C. Desert Rose. . .

* Knock, knock! *

 

I know you’re there!

 

Beaming Face with Smiling Eyes

 

I’m just kidding! Hello, everyone. C. Desert Rose here; just stopping by to say hello and share the 411 on my “Concordant Vibrancy” adventure throughout the year.

 

 

Going into this blog tour I was asked these questions.

 

What prompted you to be a part of the Concordant Vibrancy concept?

 

Which Concordant Vibrancy books are you featured in?

 

Why did you choose a certain attribute as your answer to CV5’s theme question?

 

 

Honestly, where do I begin?

How can one fully encompass and quantify the value of the above questions without potentially leaving something out? It seems difficult but I will do my best.

 

I’m going to try to answer all of these questions at once, albeit, potentially not in order.

 

I, gratefully, have been in all of the Concordant VIbrancy books. In Unity I wrote a story called “Her A to Z”. In Vitality I wrote an essay called “An Ocean of  Questions”. For Lustrate I wrote a comedy called “The Boo Thang Convention” and in Inferno, I pitched in with “Calliope’s Inferno”.

Now, for Extancy, I’ve brought another essay. This one is called “Frequencies Towards Illumination”.

Each one of these stories mean a great deal to me in their independent ways.

I came to join the Concordant Vibrancy project when my publisher, All Authors Publishing House, asked if I would like to be a part of it. We were being offered a compensation of sorts for being a House author. I was thrilled when I was first invited, but  also rather nervous. Mostly because I knew that I would be joining a collection of phenomenal writers and I wasn’t sure that I could compare to their talent. My very first entry, “Her A to Z” was written with great trepidation as I fully expected it to be rejected. But, to my great surprise,  it wasn’t. All these years later, here I am, having participated in the entire collection.

Solely speaking on “Extancy”, at first I chose “Self-Love” as my theme question word. But upon further scrutiny and feedback from the publishers, we settled upon “Awareness” which seemed to be a better suited interpretation.

Why “Awareness”? Well, in the simplest of terms, because awareness is true life … but I won’t get too much into that because then you won’t read my essay. LOL

 

Thanks for having me!

 

Following is an excerpt poster. Enjoy!

Layers: A Collection of Short Stories by Zuzanne Belec! Something for Every Reader!

Blurb: 

Layers is a debut collection of imaginative short stories celebrating life and the human spirit despite the ever-present spectre of melancholy in our lives today. With their distinctive blend of wit and humour, they light up any underlying darkness.

From the Americas to India, from Africa to Europe, and through a range of genres, voices and styles, layers are unraveled, revealing the textures and contrasts of old and new in the environments and cultures of today’s fast-paced world. With vivid descriptions, we are drawn into enchanting worlds with characters that leap off the page, leaving the reader lingering long after the pages have been read.

  • In The Christmas Charge: Instead of enjoying their Christmas preparing eggnog cream pie and sipping sherry by the fireside, three batty grannies go on an African safari. At this stage of wisdom in their lives, nothing can go wrong. Right?

 

  • In Paths Taken: When her grandmother ‘kills’ a man on a busy town square, Hecate is forced to face her worst fears and use her own unsettling powers to help her. But where will these new paths take her?

 

  • In White Noise: All Earl needs to do is hand his work over to his successor. But is it that easy to let go? And where does one hide from one’s inner noise when things go wrong?

 

  • In The Old Man and the Donkey: Deep in northern Portugal, an old man and his donkey go about their lonely routine. When an unexpected visitor shows up, everyone is given a new chance of happiness. But have they all been stubbornly avoiding it for too long?

 

  • In The Arctic Haze: Since he was little, bad luck has stuck to George’s soles like clingy dog mess. Some of us are luckier. Or are we really?

 

  • In Penny’s Purple Robot: A loving father exceeds himself to make his daughter happy after her mother passes away. But can he force himself to face a brutal truth?

 

  • In Mothers: Deep in Africa, a desperate mother accepts her own fate, but refuses to face an even harsher reality. Mothers will do anything for their young. And things may not be as they seem.

 

  • In Yeehaw: Running from their regular lives, Sam and Patsy end up in an artificial town – Yeehaw Theme Park. Will they find their true selves in this synthetic world?

If you like a minimalist and dark, yet humorous look at the contrasts we face in the world today, you will enjoy this collection of mixed-genre stories.

Buy now to enter into these worlds!

 

My Review: 

Rating: ★★★★★

Layers: A Collection of Short Stories offers readers a buffet of tales from which to choose. Author Zuzanne Belec has crafted stories filled with originality, intrigue, suspense, and life. Her characters arrive fully formed and breathing, alive with personality that radiates throughout these pages.

Each story is a look inside lives that are both unlike our own and yet very much alike. Though some stories may read slower than others, they are each worthy of a reading.

From the opening story to the final one, it becomes clear that Belec writes from the heart. She has the talent to weave emotion into her work, allowing readers to become invested in the characters and the plot. Among my favorites are The Christmas Charge, and the inventive Paths Taken.

If you enjoy short fiction, there is something here for every taste. This is a fine collection.

 

About the Author: 

Zuzanne is a writer, poet and translator who now lives in the heart of Europe, after being lucky enough to spend her first thirty years absorbing the contrasting textures of Africa.

After she quit the rat race, she spent fifteen years as a translator before discovering the world of writing. This discovery, and the encouragement from her daughters, partner and friends, led to her decision to delve even deeper into writing. She then grew a long grey beard and became a hermit, studying the craft and immersing herself into this world that is magic.
About the time when her beard reached ankle-length, she knew she was on the right path when three of her stories were published in Canadian literary magazines.

This debut collection, Layers, is the result of this passion. And it is only the beginning …

Dying for a Kiss (A Short Story)

Dying for a Kiss

 

It’s like one of those stories you’d read about in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I mean, who ever heard of anybody dying from a kiss? Seriously! But that’s what happened to me—well, except for the dying part. Two weeks in the hospital—that’s the souvenir I brought back from my spring break.

Okay, let me back up to the beginning.

My parents’ hushed words pierce the wall that separates their bedroom from mine. This particular conversation doesn’t warrant status as an argument, though. And believe me, I know what their arguments sound like—lots of yelling, and maybe an ashtray or a bowling trophy gets thrown by Mom. I guess I’d classify this one as just another log of disappointment tossed on the bonfire that engulfs our family—our collective lives.

Dad is a dreamer. The problem is, dreamers make promises they’ll eventually have to break. He’s also the sort of man who’ll spend his last five dollars on scratch-off lottery tickets instead of household necessities, like food, or gas—or our long-planned excursion to Disney World during spring break.

Dad’s the one who sets it in stone over breakfast in our kitchen—Dad, because Mom refuses to play the bad parent anymore.

“Sorry, kids,” he tells me and my sister, Amanda. “We just can’t afford Disney at this time.”

Amanda, being nearly two years older than me, carries a heavier burden of disappointment than I do. She’s had more time to gather her own collection of tales regarding broken promises, cancelled plans, and the jettisoned idea of ever being a normal, well-adjusted family.

“I figured as much,” Amanda mumbles, dismissing herself from the table.

Dad tries to be sincere in his attempt to save spring break. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t go somewhere that’s almost as fun and exciting.”

When Dad speaks of somewhere, it’s usually a state-park campground in some far-flung forest up north.

Amanda hollers from the living room, “Just so you know, Daddy, I hate camping.”

I don’t hate camping—though it doesn’t exactly make my top-ten list of fun things to do.

*      *      *

A little backstory.

My parents met at a Beatles concert back in 1964. Mom claims love at first sight.

Dad, well, he’s been known to dispute her recollections on the subject. He’s fond of saying, “She had the hots for John Lennon, is all. I’m just the booby prize.”

Hippies, they were—and still are, even though it’s 1979 now. They only just recently (as in one year ago) got married—despite the fact that Amanda is almost fourteen and I’m already twelve. And though they’d both been college students when they met, neither has ever collected the degree they once intended to earn.

Mom works at the IGA as a cashier—minimum wage, with practically zero opportunity to advance into a higher tax bracket.

Dad? He’s dabbled in various occupations—sales, electronic repairs (TV’s mostly, maybe a few stereos), welding, landscaping, auto repair. Nothing ever really sticks for him, though. My grandfather (Mom’s dad) refers to my father as professionally unemployable. Granddad still blames him for making a mess of Mom’s life. They don’t speak, Dad and Grandpa.

Dad’s a good guy, though. He means well. He’s just not one for responsibilities.

So, anyway, the folded map of Michigan comes out, spread across the kitchen table. Mom eyes the places circled in red—those previous vacation spots. We’ve been all over the state: Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Traverse City during the cherry festival, Holland for Tulip Time. We even spent a few days on Mackinac Island three summers ago—though we didn’t stay at the Grand Hotel.

“It’s Andrew’s turn to choose,” Mom says, dropping the big decision in my hands.

Hiawatha National Forest had been my first choice the last time my turn came up. But Dad broke his foot, which cancelled our vacation that spring.

“The Upper Peninsula, it is,” Dad says.

Amanda despises me in this moment. “I told you I hate camping.”

*      *      *

Radio songs fill the van once we hit US 27 going north. The Bee Gees squawk about a tragedy twice before we’re even on the road for forty minutes.

“I hate that song,” Amanda complains.

Dad says, “Well, I like it.”

Mom tries to lighten the mood. “I spy with my little eye—”

“Please don’t!” Amanda begs. Without warning, she socks my shoulder, yells, “Slug bug red!”

“Ouch!” And just like that, it’s on. We’ll both of us be battered and bruised by the time we spy the top of the Mackinac Bridge.

“Slug bug green!” Thwack!

“Slug bug blue!” Thwack!

“Slug bug—oh, never mind. That’s not a VW.” Thwack!

“Hey! No fair!”

Blondie sings about her heart of glass and Amanda momentarily abandons our game—just long enough to sing the few lines she actually knows.

Many hours later, I’m the one who spots the top of the Mighty Mack! “I see the bridge,” I say, hoping it’ll irritate Amanda.

But in truth, she doesn’t mind losing this game. It’s not a thing to her anymore. She’ll leave us the day she turns eighteen—or even sooner, if she has her way. Grandpa promised to pay for her college, knowing my parents will never be able to afford it.

Evening spikes the sky with an orange-pink sunset by the time we find a campground inside Hiawatha. Dozens of tents and RV’s occupy the prime camping spots.

“Andrew and I will set up the tent,” Dad says, parking our van on the last vacant lot within sight. “You girls can get dinner ready.”

Kids—loud and rowdy, as Grandpa would say—run from lot to lot, chasing after somebody’s collie, darting across the road without so much as a glance in either direction.

“Too stupid to last long in this world,” Amanda says.

Mom gives her the eye. “They’re just kids, for crying out loud, Mandy.”

*      *      *

“Andy and Mandy,” the girl teases, laughing at our introductions. “That’s cute. Are you two twins or something?”

“Or something,” Amanda says.

Her name is Nora, this girl with short brown hair. Already fourteen—unlike Amanda, who still has another month. The tents across the street are her family’s—it’s their collie running wild.

“Five kids,” Nora says, answering my mother. “I’m the oldest. Three younger brothers and a baby sister.”

“Sounds kind of crowded, that many people in just two small tents,” I observe.

She looks right at me when I speak—like I’m really truly here, standing in front of her.

“You don’t know the half of it,” says Nora. “I asked if I could just stay home, sit out this vacation. That’s not happening anytime soon.”

*      *      *

Blue jean shorts and a red bikini top—that’s what Nora wears the following morning. And a pocket full of salt water taffy—which she gladly shares.

Mom’s not impressed. “Leaves little to the imagination,” she says, regarding Nora’s top.

“But you and Daddy used to skinny dip,” Amanda reminds her. “So how is that better?”

Mom’s hard gaze issues silent threats. Her words aren’t quite as harsh. “Aren’t you kids going boating?”

It’s not really a boat, this thing we rent; it’s more like a canoe—but only plastic. I sit in the rear, my paddle steering us toward the middle of the lake. Amanda has the other paddle, though she’s not really doing anything with it.

Nora sits in the middle—facing me!

I think Amanda is intimidated, not being the oldest for a change.

Nora talks—a lot. But I don’t mind. She tells us all about life back home in Detroit—well, the suburbs, really, a place called Royal Oak. She used to have a boyfriend, but he cheated on her. Her parents separated last year, intending to divorce, but her mom ended up pregnant.

“Amazing how an unborn baby can save a marriage,” Amanda says.

It’s after we bring the canoe in that Nora says, “Wanna go for a walk?”

Only, she’s not talking to Amanda. Amanda is already halfway back to our tent.

We end up in a picnic area near the lake, just me and Nora. She tells me more about herself, her family, what she intends for her future.

“You’re cute,” she says, sitting right beside me on a park bench.

My cheeks get hot, probably bright pink.

And she’s two years older than me, I think, as her lips press against mine.

My first kiss—well, first real kiss.

On her tongue I taste salt water taffy and excitement and all things possible.

What I don’t taste is the meningitis in her saliva.

Amanda intrudes, tells me lunch is being served at our tent.

*      *      *

It strikes without warning, leaving me confused, nauseated. Words tumble from my mouth, though I have no idea what I’m saying.

Mom’s hand finds my forehead. “He’s burning up,” she says. “We need to get this boy to a hospital.”

Only, I don’t hear it that way. What I hear is, “We need to get this boy a pretzel.”

“But I don’t like pretzels,” I mumble.

*      *      *

Two weeks later, I’m back home. It’s a blur, but my parents say I nearly died.

From a kiss!

Is that a Ripley’s story or what?

And what a kiss—totally worth dying for!

Well, almost dying.

© 2019 Beem Weeks

My Review of Comes this Time to Float by @StephenGeez

Rating: ★★★★★

Author Stephen Geez possesses a talent for crafting tales that draw readers into the unique and vivid worlds he creates. This collection of 19 short stories offers a smorgasbord of genres, characters, lives, and situations with which everyday people can and will identify. From the very first story to the last, Geez has a way of keeping the reader enthralled and entertained.

“Halfway House” tells a sad tale of loss and the search for redemption. “Vapor Girl” is trippy and far out, and one that will surely remain with you. “Family Treed” sprinkles the weird and humorous on this wonderful word salad. “Tailwind” is a thoughtful piece about a pair of aging friends in the latter stages of life. “The Age Eater” carries a note of science fiction and a hint of creepy. But my favorite is a story entitled “Holler Song”. This story harkens to the Ozark Mountains of Daniel Woodrell’s modern classic Winter’s Bone, where poor people caught up in impossible circumstances will do whatever it takes just to survive the lives handed to them.

There isn’t a bad story in the entire collect. Stephen Geez has been a favorite of mine since I first read his novel What Sara Saw many years ago. If you’re a reader with a keen eye for the literary, this is one you’ll want on your bookshelf.

A Pair of Brand New Titles from Fresh Ink Group!

Greetings to all book lovers! Fresh Ink Group has two brand new releases here in the new year! One is a collection of brilliant short fiction from author Stephen Geez. The other is a detailed investigative book addressing pain management versus opioid addiction. 

Comes this Time to Float by Stephen Geez

Prepare to think as you explore these wildly disparate literary short stories by author, composer, and producer Stephen Geez. Avoiding any single genre, this collection showcases Geez’s storytelling from southern gothic to contemporary drama to coming-of-age, humor, sci-fi, and fantasy—all finessed to say something about who we are and what we seek. Some of these have been passed around enough to need a shot of penicillin, others so virgin they have never known the seductive gaze of a reader’s eyes. So when life’s currents get to pulling too hard, don’t fight it, just open the book and discover nineteen new ways of going with the flow, because NOW more than ever Comes this Time to Float.

 

 

American Agony: The Opioid War Against Patients in Pain by Dr. Helen Borel

Managing pain with opioids is a science—except politics, money, and overzealous law enforcement are denying American patients the relief they so desperately need. Demonizing the best pain reliever we have leads to needless suffering, even suicides, and it drives the rise in deadly street drugs. Helen Borel gathers and presents the evidence, the intimidation, the raids of clinics, the chilling effect on those very professionals we trust to care for our loved ones and ourselves. She looks hard at the Veterans Administration, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Justice, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chapters include “The Suboxone Hoax,” “The Wrong Arms of the Law,” and “The Epidemic of Death,” plus an entire section on solutions for this widespread crisis. Read American AGONY now—or you might be the next one hurt.

Welcome to the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! – Fiza Pathan @FizaPathan

The Star Pupil’s Diary Entry by Fiza Pathan

The Star Pupil’s Diary Entry by Fiza Pathan

Dear Diary,

I had a wonderful day at school today. I got a star and I’m going to tell you all about it.

I’m eight years old, but I’m the tallest boy in the class. I, and the other kids in my neighborhood, study at the school down the block. Actually, our school was once something terrible; it was a disgusting Christian church, something called “Catholic.” The school officials tore it down and made it into a proper school for us kids.

So, I went to school today. I was the first one there so I got the biggest teddy bear to do my training with. The kids who were late got teddies that were way too small, the cheap ones that our soldiers stole from the hands of fleeing Jewish kids before they shot them in the head.

My teacher made us do our practice training in the morning. He handed us our daggers. We each checked with our fingers if they were sharp enough. Since I was early to class, I got to demonstrate. I put the dagger on the neck of the teddy and slit it the way my teacher had taught me to do. The other students followed me, but I was the best at cutting off teddy’s head.

“The jugular,” my teacher scolded another student who was cutting the wrong part of the teddy. “The jugular and do it slowly; it should make them cry.”

After dagger practice was over, we all sat and singing practice began. Singing is important; it touches souls and bring them closer to God.

We sang the national anthem. Teacher said I was the best singer and patted me on the head.

“Now, who knows a good English song, a hymn for our nation?” our teacher asked.

Every kid was stumped. They knew plenty of English songs, some of them were American. But you couldn’t sing those songs anymore. They knew “If I Was Your Boyfriend” by that Justin Bieber nonbeliever and “That’s What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction, another group of nonbelievers—may the devil plague them!

But no one knew a hymn in English to our cause. Not a single kid. Well, everyone except me!

I raised my hand and teacher smiled.

He asked me to stand up and sing in place.

The other kids turned to look at me. They were jealous because they were not as smart as me.

I put my hands behind my back and stood straight like I do when singing the national anthem. I opened my mouth and began to sing:

We for the sake of Allah have come under the banner,

We for the sake of our Caliph have torn the world asunder;

We for the sake of our raped sisters will kill the ones responsible,

We for the sake of our nation will die, but not before we become incredible.

I didn’t know the meaning of raped, but daddy had taught me this song while we were fleeing India to come here, to this land of milk and honey. Daddy taught me a lot of songs and hymns as we fled India. We almost got caught, but our fake passports worked. Daddy is so smart. He is now working as a soldier here.

“Bravo, my son,” my teacher said, and he shook my hand. The other kids clapped, but some spat on the ground with disgust.

“Bravo, my son,” my teacher said again, holding me by the shoulders and looking into my eyes. “You are a gem of a man already. You get a star for this.”

And I did; a star made of metal shining like gold, the ones soldiers put on their uniforms. I was so proud that I couldn’t stop smiling.

The teacher then said it was almost time for prayers, but before that, did any of us kids know who we were deep in our hearts? Many kids answered:

“We are Allah’s blessing in flesh.”

“We are the terror of the Westerners.”

“We are the protectors of our faith.”

“We are true worshippers of the almighty.”

But the teacher said all their answers were wrong. I knew that too, because I knew the real answer. Teacher then asked me, “Tell me, son, who are we?”

I smiled, fiddling with my gold star before answering: “We are men who love death just as some people love their life; we are soldiers who fight in the day and the night.”

My teacher clapped, and so did the other kids, except for the ones who yet again spat on the floor and gave me angry looks.

We spent the rest of the day praying, going to the mosque that was once a church. They called it Lutheran, which sounds so ugly. I then came home, and here I am writing in this diary, which Daddy gave me to record the fun time I’m having here in this new country, the place where Allah truly lives with his beloved people.

I’m so happy to have earned my star. I’ll wear it tomorrow to the next beheading on the main square of those bad men who were trying to escape heaven, this place where we stay. I love beheadings. I take pictures of it on my uncle’s cell phone. I love the blood, snapped bones, and torn veins the best.

Tomorrow, our class will burn crosses at the beheading. I will burn not a cross, but a small statue of Mary, mother of that prophet who sinned against us. I’ve never burned her before, not because I haven’t gotten a chance to do so, but because . . . her eyes, her eyes when they look at me are funny.

Well, it’s time to go for prayers. I shall write later.

Yours always,

Alif Shifaq of the ISIS children brigade,

3 Bel Anif Mansion,

Sultan Saladin Road,

Raqqa,

ISIS Syria,

March 12, 2015.

*

After the fall of ISIS in Raqqa, an American soldier with his entire team were on the ground for inspection purposes. It was the year 2017, and the whole city had been razed to the ground.

The American soldier’s name was Emmanuel, and as he walked over the immense quantity of rubble, he spotted something.

It was a diary. A bit battered due to the bombing, but in good shape.

The hand of a preteen was found holding a pen beside it. The hand only. Not the rest of the body. The body had been incinerated.

Emmanuel lifted the diary and dusted it. He took it along with him, jumping over a pile of dusty teddy bears with their throats cut.

“City of the dead,” Emmanuel intoned, as he opened the diary to read. The first thing he read was an inscription in black ink from a fountain pen. It was done in calligraphy—skillfully done.

 

We are men who love death just as you love your life,

We are the soldiers who fight in the day and the night.

 

Emmanuel sighed and turned a page.

***

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Fiza Pathan RWISA Author Page