A fake spider in Halloween webbingJoe Clark and Rich Sanders were looking for trouble. Well, not a lot a trouble. More like the trouble thirteen year old boys look for on Halloween. Too old for trick-or-treating, too restless to stay home, they had the itch to be out and about, and needed a decent reason. Smashing pumpkins seemed to be just the ticket.

They hung out in the park until well after dark, smoking cigarettes Joe had lifted from his older sister’s purse. They had to hide, twice: once when a police car pulled in and made a slow circuit around the parking lot, and once when Mike Mitchel and his boys came through. They weren’t looking for quite that much trouble. They watched from the creek bank as Mike and company overturned trashcans and tried their darnedest to destroy a picnic table. The hooligans finally got bored and left without accomplishing their mission.

“What a bunch of jerks,” Joe observed as they wandered back toward the pavilion. They did not go far before Rich told him to hold up.

“If a cop comes back, he’ll think we did that,” Rich said, pointing to the mess in the shelter. “Come on. Let’s go.”

So they wandered off in search of pumpkins.

It was late enough now that nearly all the actual trick-or-treaters were home reveling in their loot. They only passed two groups of kids in costumes, and they were obviously older. Last year Joe and Rich may well have been among them. But this year, being way too cool for that, they crossed the street to avoid them.

As they walked down Green Trails Drive they spied a pumpkin still feebly flickering on the darkened stoop of a modest ranch home. They started cutting across the lawn for it when Joe came up short, flailing away at something in his face.

Cursing, he pulled the sticky substance off as best he could. “I hate this fake spiderweb crap!”

Rich leaned close and pulled another strand of sticky fiber from Joe’s hair. He examined it closely.

“Uh, I don’t think this is fake…”

Joe looked up at him like he was nuts.

“Oh course it’s fake, nimrod. No spider could spin a web that thick.”

Rich trailed the strand across Joe’s arm. “That’s not fiberglass, dude.”

Movement in the bushes spooked them good.

“Let’s go,” Rich abruptly decided.


They both started to make tracks toward the road.

A sinister form appeared in the darkened doorway, and gestured for them to come. They walked faster.
Then they saw it – a huge spider, the size of a beagle coming at them from the side of the house. It was spinning a web as thick as a rope as it came. With a shout they ran for their lives.


“Did you put that spider costume back on Tippy?” Mrs. Johnston asked her husband as she stepped away from the door.

“Yeah, I think it’s cute,” Carl Johnston answered.

“Well, you just scared the crap out of a couple of kids.”


Since retiring I’ve been reading more. I have been tweeting the title and author of each book as I begin them under the hashtag #AmReading. Much to my surprise, those are the tweets that get the most interaction, and not just retweets from the authors. In fact that is a rarity.

So I thought it might be interesting to make a regular post of the books I’ve read over the course of the month. It will help jog my memory and keep me from buying duplicates. Parteimer’s, you know.

I don’t really do book reviews. Why not? One, I don’t feel particularly qualified, and two, I have a hard time saying negative things about people or the works they produce and not all the books I read are necessarily great. So these will generally be unannotated unless the book was truly exceptional or really needed a lot of work. (And I feel bad about the latter.) Otherwise, you can assume I read and enjoyed them, which means yes, they are worth your time and money.

My October Reads

Rain Girl, by Gabi Kreslehnar, a murder mystery – Kindle.

Realm Shift, by Alan Baxter, an action adventure – Nook

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Stienbeck, an American classic – Nook, from the library. A must read.

Forbidden the Stars, by Valmore Daniels, science fiction – Nook, needed a good editor

Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction – Kindle

Tracy’s Hot Mail, by Trevor Belshaw, satire – Nook

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, literary – Nook audio

Seven Book Covers, four over three

As the month winds to a close my next book up is an old Agatha Christie novel, but it will wait for next month’s list.

So what have you been reading lately? Have any recommendations for me?


Black and white photo of headstones in the woodsThey spent a lovely afternoon hiking in the Ozarks, the fall foliage everything they had hoped for. Finding the little waterfall as the backdrop for their picnic lunch had been the absolute topper. Mary Beth took dozens of pictures with her cell phone, but was thwarted by the lack of a signal when she tried to post them online. Time enough to do that tonight. Now they just needed to get back to the car before sunset.

Tony assured her that the park rangers would not lock them in for the night, but she was not so certain.

“You worry too much,” he teased her as she set a brisk pace. “And what’s the worst that could happen? We end up sleeping in the car?” He smiled at that thought. He would not mind that at all.

The sun now angled low, cutting through the canopy above with an amber glow. Dust motes and tiny bugs swirled on eddies in the air. The thick leaves underfoot were nearly as vivid as those overhead – a jumble of rich scarlet, orange, and deep yellow, all mixed in with muted russet browns.

Any chance of spotting wildlife was ruined by the pace Mary Beth set. The the rustle and crush of the leaves underfoot could probably be heard for a quarter mile, or more. Still, Tony kept an eye out – dusk being peak activity time for deer.

Something ahead caught his eye – a bright flash of white slightly off the trail on the uphill side. He paused and called out to Mary Beth. “What’s that?”

She stopped and silence descended upon the woods.

“What?” She looked at him, puzzled.

“Up there. Something bright, in the sunlight.”

She followed the line of his point. Shrugged. “I dunno.” She continued on, but slower.

They both watched as they neared the bright spot in the shadows of the trees. There was a little clearing, probably not more than forty feet off the trail, but the lay of the land kept them from seeing the object clearly.

“Looks like a rock,” Tony suggested, a bit disappointed. He had no idea what he hoped for, but certainly not a rock.

But Mary Beth’s pace slowed until he nearly rear-ended her. Then she came to a stop.

“I think it’s a headstone,” she said in a hushed tone.

She took a few steps off the trail. Tony stood pat, unwilling to follow.

“Uh, I thought you were in a hurry to get back?”

“It’s not far,” she said. “Come on. It might be an old graveyard. They’re scattered all over in these woods.”

“I think we should get back.”

She glanced back at him, and smiled. “Scaredy-cat.” She bounded up the hill.

She paused beside an old post oak. The sunlight perfectly framed her upon the ridge line. Smitten, Tony followed.

As he crested the hill he saw it was indeed an old, abandoned graveyard. By the time he reached the post oak Mary Beth had wandered in amongst the tombstones. Roots seemed to anchor Tony’s feet to the ground. Cemeteries gave him the creeps.

She turned toward him and called out, “Come on.” She gestured with a jerk of her head. “We used to find little cemeteries like these all the time when my aunt Ruth was doing her genealogy. They’re sacred ground, but fascinating. Aunt Ruth says you just need to be respectful. So rich in history.” She squatted to read what was carved on one of the headstones, shook her head in frustration, and moved on to the next.

Tony didn’t budge.

She let out a sad moan. “Oh. This little guy was only three months old.” She moved on to another. “This guy’s four.” She moved past several that were but nubs sticking out of the ground, then stooped to read another. “Here’s a six year old. Anna Morrison. How sad.”

“Nineteen months.”

“Twenty-two months!”

“Two years.” She straightened and looked at Tony, tears welling in her eyes. “They’re all babies.” She turned in a broad circle, taking in the headstones. “They’re all dated 1918.” Realization dawned on her. “Oh my God. The Spanish flu. It had to be…”

“Come on, let’s go,” Tony called to her.

She walked deeper into the graveyard. “A boy. Michael. Samuel. Henrietta. Ooh, she was just two weeks old!”

The sun was settling on the horizon.

“The park’s going to close.”

Just as she took a step toward him they both heard it – a baby wailing in abject misery. The hairs stood up on Tony’s neck. Mary Beth turned back, looking for the source of the sound.

“Mary Beth! Come on!”

“There’s a baby!” she snapped back, searching desperately in the gathering gloom.

The cry of another baby rose off to the right. She turned toward it. Then another, behind her. She whirled round. Tony reached out to her, plaintively, beseeching her to come. She ignored him, continuing her frantic search.

She stumbled over the remnants of an old monument, landing on her hands and knees. From where he stood Tony saw her scrambling forward toward something he could not see. Then he heard the screams.


They found him locked in the car, mumbling, “The babies took her,” over and over again.

They never found Mary Beth.

© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved. Photo by J. M. Strother, © 2014. All rights reserved.


A cabin in the woodsEric Hurley took pride in his woodcraft and survival skills. He used to boast to his friends that he could live off the wild with nothing but a knife, a fish hook, and a spool of ten pound line and gain twenty pounds.

It hadn’t quite worked out that way. During the four months he had spent eluding the authorities in the deep woods of Tennessee he had actually lost about that much weight. That was fine by him. In retrospect he had to admit he had let himself get soft in the intervening years since his dishonorable discharge. Now he was downright svelte. While his muscles did not bulge, they were iron hard and gave him a wiry strength that belied his five feet seven inch stature.

Since killing the old couple at the gas station in Green Springs Eric had led the authorities on a merry little chase. At first it was a local affair, entailing naught more than a little cat and mouse with the County Sheriff and his band of hapless Deputies. But once he killed that State Trooper the manhunt had gotten serious.

Not that it worried him much. Despite the added manpower, the dogs, and the aerial surveillance he continued to evade authorities. He even managed to lay down a false trail. According to the news his ploy had worked. While the search moved west, Eric moved east.

But summer had waned into autumn, and winter was fast approaching. Culverts, hollow trees, and abandoned animal dens were not going to cut it much longer. He needed to find someplace halfway decent to hole up in where he could relax in relative comfort.

Luck was with him. Three days ago he spotted this little cabin in the woods. Exercising caution he keep a careful eye on it ever since. No one had come or gone, despite the start of deer season. But the best indication that the place was truly abandoned was the overgrown path to the door. No one had been here in a long time.

Today was the time for action.

He moved cautiously toward the cabin, staying out of its lines of sight. Once next to the building he eased his way to a window to take a quick peek in. Then a longer look.

Inside seemed relatively well maintained. It had two beds – a full and a twin, a table by the fireplace, with two accompanying straight back chairs, a couple of stacked wooden crates, a three legged stool, and an ax sitting upright against the wall next to the door. He studied the ax for a long time, looking for wires to trip some sort of booby trap, but it appeared to be nothing more than an ax.

There was a crude kitchen under the window directly across from him with a hand pump for a well. If the well was not dry this place would be ideal. A cabinet next to the sink stood ajar, and he could see canned goods neatly stacked on the shelves. His stomach rumbled.

He tried the window but it would not budge. Inspecting the inside frame revealed four ten-penny nails holding it closed, the heads slightly raised so they could be pulled during occupancy. Clever bastards.
He moved to the back window in order to better examine the door. After careful study he decided it did not look to be booby trapped. Feeling more confident he walked around to the front.

He stood to the side and tried the latch. It depressed easily. This made him suspicious. He pushed the latch fully down and gave the door a shove, then flattened himself against the outside wall. Nothing happened.

He took a quick peek inside. Nothing gave him cause for alarm. He smiled broadly and stepped across the threshold.

He was nearly deafened by the roar of a blast as shotgun pellets tore into him from above. Blood gushed from his right shoulder and arm. The right side of his face felt horribly wrong, and he could not see out of his right eye. With that he passed out.

He awoke in a bed, his head, shoulder, and arm nicely bandaged. He had trouble getting his bearings at first, could not recall where he was, or how he had gotten there. He hurt everywhere – head, neck, back, right shoulder and arm, and both legs. He tried to see his surroundings but everything to the right was a void. There was a full sized bed to his left, and a small double hung window, nailed shut. If he strained to lift his head he could see a fireplace with a table and two chairs. Then he remembered – the cabin!

Christ, the door had been booby trapped after all. But how? He tried to turn his head to see the door, but the pain was too intense. He sank back into the bedding, feeling nauseous.

He heard the door open and then quickly close, someone moving into the room.

“Oh, you’re awake!” It was a cheerful, feminine voice.

He opened his mouth to talk, but his tongue seemed to be glued to his palate. Footsteps grew closer. A woman finally moved into his field of vision.

She was of an indeterminate age, had long dark brown hair and matching eyes, was slightly chubby, yet not unattractive. She examined him, or perhaps her handwork with the bandages, for a moment before moving closer to him.

He opened his mouth again and managed to rasp out, “Water.”

She nodded, turned, and disappeared once again from his field of view. He heard the pump being worked furiously for a few seconds then slower as the sound of water gushed from the spout.

He considered grabbing her when she gave him the glass, but then what? In this condition he probably would not be able to subdue her. And even if he could, to what purpose? He needed her now, needed her to nurse him back to health. He accepted the water and offered a feeble thanks.

She stepped out of his reach and smiled.

“It’s driving you crazy, isn’t it?” she asked.

He tried to frown, but it sent pain shooting through the right side of his face, across his scalp. “What?”

“The booby trap.” She stepped over to the fireplace and began adding some chopped vegetables to a pot he had not even noticed before. He suddenly became aware of the smell of something savory cooking and his stomach protested his lack of food.

“No one ever looks up,” she went on.

He dropped his head back down, the strain of trying to watch her was too much.

“It’s an electric eye mounted in the lintel. A little image processing software, and a 20 gauge shotgun shell, electronically triggered – voilà.”

Despite the pain he furrowed his brow. There was no electricity to this place. He was certain of that.

“It is amazing what they’ve done with solar cells.” She stepped back into his field of view, looking quite pleased. “They’re mounted on the top rim of the chimney. Nobody’d ever see them there. I rigged it all up myself. I’ve got a degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State. Bet you didn’t know that.”

The gleam in her eye told him she was quite mad.

“I need to get to a hospital,” he said. Screw the State Police. Just get me out of here.

She smiled and spun away on the ball of her foot, traipsing back over to the kettle. “Oh no, they’d just arrest you. And me. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?”

She took a spoonful from the pot and smelled it appreciatively before sampling it.

“Stew’s almost done. You hungry?”

In a panic he threw back the sheet and let out a scream. Both his legs were amputated below the knees.


© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of the Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County via the Creative commons. No known copyright restrictions.


A cartoon picture of Frankenstein.It started in middle school, when they were too old for trick-or-treating, but too young to drive. The appeal of wandering the neighborhood, smashing pumpkins or setting a paper bag full of dog poop on fire on Mister Swaney’s front walk, had quickly worn off, lasting no more than a year or two. By Seventh Grade they still wanted to go out and do something on Halloween, but what to do? Greg Lewis finally hit a homer when he came up with the idea of ghost stories in the graveyard. It was great.

Nowadays they were never destructive – oh sure, Greg had pushed over a few headstones in his adolescence – but they were older and wiser now, and gave the dead the respect they deserved.

They began to gather near the gate behind St. Martin’s Catholic Church around sundown. The four guys – Greg, his younger brother Mark, Tony Bishop, and Randy Murray – all showed up at about the same time. They lingered near the gate, glancing around furtively, until there were no passersby, then darted for Section A. It was the oldest, and therefore creepiest, part of the cemetery where the monuments rose in Gothic splendor.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Pegs and Ally?” Mark asked, jogging along side the others.

“They know where to find us,” Randy replied. “Those two are always late.” It was more bitter commentary than a simple statement.

Section A also afforded them the best concealment, with its combination of mature scatterings of trees and shrubs as well as the ornate statuary. The four guys settled near the base of Henrietta McAllister -Smith’s memorial, where an imposing figure of a severe looking angel stood over them holding aloft the hilt of a broken sword.

“I wish I had a smoke,” Tony Bishop said as he settled onto the lawn, propping himself comfortably against Henrietta’s tombstone. “Anyone got a smoke?”

Shrugs and shaken heads were his only replies.

“We could always go down to Kroger, and nab a few,” he suggested.

“Forget it,” Greg said. “You should have thought of that before you came.”

Tony flipped Greg the bird and flicked a small twig at him.

“Shh, someone’s coming,” Mark warned. They all scrambled to hide themselves from whoever approached.

They recognized the voices of Peggy Lane and Alice Spencer as they came down the long serpentine lane. They were chatting without regard of being overheard or attracting attention to themselves. The boys waited until the two girls cleared the shrubs. Without any preplanning on their part all four guys jumped out at the same time yelling some variation of, “Boo!”

“Ha ha.” Alice mocked them. “We’re so scared.”

“You’re late,” Randy snapped. Alice stuck her tongue out at him.

“Give it a rest,” Greg grumbled. As the group meandered about to find good resting places Tony Bishop and Alice Spencer gravitated toward each other, their eyes doting on one another.

“How ya been?” Tony asked her.

“’K,” Alice replied with a slight blush. They settled down as if trying to occupy the same spot of ground. Randy rolled his eyes.

They took turns telling ghost stories, each more outrageous than the last, but most heard before, so there was no real thrill in it. Yet somehow they enjoyed it, not for the stories themselves, more for the camaraderie, the sense of time well spent with good friends. They laughed, they playfully pushed at and teased each other. They shared intimate family secrets never heard before with the assurance not a word of it would ever go beyond their tight little circle.

Once or twice they had to hush, when the sound of voices carried in from the sidewalk on Washington Street, or a car seemed to pass at an unusually slow speed. On one such instance a beam of light suddenly flooded the grave markers, casting harsh shadows across the lawn. They laid flat, scrambling for those shadows, as the light played back and forth. Mark edged up to the crest of the slope and peered over toward the street.

“Cop car,” he whispered. When the light went out he sighed his relief and resumed his place in the circle. “He’s going.”

“I’m cold,” Alice said, giving a shudder.

“You’re always cold,” Randy replied with a sneer.

Tony gave Randy a warning look, and drew Alice into his arms. She settled, but still shivered.

“It’s always cold,” Tony consoled, rubbing his hands up and down Alice’s arms to no effect.

Once again a warning shush went up, and they all fell silent. Some ways down the hill, toward Oak Street, they could hear the sound of someone walking through the fallen leaves, of hushed voices whispering in the dark. All six of them scurried behind the avenging angel and peered through the night for whatever was coming.

“Zombies.” Mark teased.

“Shhh.” This from Tony.

“Is that Becca Townsend?” Peggy hissed as three teens wandered into view. “God, I hate that little bitch.”

Greg leaned forward, squinting to see. He settled back and shook his head, no. “Too young. Looks a lot like her though.”

“I think it’s Ann,” Mark said. “Becca’s daughter. She’d be about that age now.”

Peggy scowled. “Well the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. Let’s scare the bejesus out of ‘em.”

“I don’t think we should…” Mark looked to the others for concurrence.

“Oh, come on,” Peggy urged. “It’s been years since we’ve had any fun.”

The three teens drew closer. Henrietta seemed to be a popular locale.

“OK.” Greg said, and with that the decision was made. As the three teens turned toward the angel the six friends slowly rose up from behind it. Mark must has put the idea in their heads, for they all reached out with stiff arms, miming zombies.

“Brains.” Randy moaned.

The three teenaged girls shirked in terror and ran for the fences, never looking back.

The six friends fell to the ground, laughing out loud.

“Oh, that was great!” Peggy managed to say between guffaws. “Did you see the look on their faces? I bet they peed themselves.”

“Won’t be back here for a while,” Tony said, as he struggled to get up from the ground. “Serves them right for trying to horn in on our spot.” He looked up and saw the clock tower on St. Martin’s and suddenly became somber. “Oh, crap, look at the time.”

They all glanced up. Both hands pointed to twelve.

“Well, it’s been fun,” Greg said.

Randy started to drift away.

“He still hates me, doesn’t he?” Alice asked Tony, glancing toward Randy.

Tony pulled her into a hug. “Don’t worry about Randy, he’ll get over it.”

“If I just hadn’t been late that night–”

He massaged her shoulders and leaned in close. “Don’t blame yourself, Ally. He’s the one that tried to beat the train.”

The clock on St. Martin’s began to chime midnight. As Tony leaned in to give Ally a kiss they all faded into the night.
© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.


I attended Archon38 this past weekend. Archon is the annual Science Fiction convention for the greater St. Louis area. The St. Louis metropolitan area is one of those oddball border communities where half the population lives on one side of the state line and the other half on the other. This explains why while Archon is actually held in Collinsville, Illinois, it is still considered a St. Louis convention and is hosted by St. Louis Science Fiction, Ltd. Unfortunately, the state line in this instance happens to be the Mississippi River, one of the biggest rivers in the world, which means if you live on the Missouri side one has to traverse a major bridge, and thus a major bottleneck.

I worried as I approached the Polar Street Bridge that I’d end up in a major backup, but I zipped right across, and was quickly on my way to Collinsville. I took this as a good omen. Boy was I right.

One of the prime motivating factors for me to go to Archon this year was that I learned late in the game that one of my favorite people was going to be a guest/panelist – none other that Genevieve Ching, who writes under the names G. P. Ching for young adult and Genevieve Jack for more mature readers.

A line at the registration table.

Waiting to register

The only snag in the day was registration. The process was unduly long, but it gave me a chance to chat with a few folks in the line about conventions past, Archons in particular. The registration desk was using those cube things for credit cards, and the wireless signal kept dropping out on them. Finally, to the applause of many, they strung two big Ethernet cables across the hallway and hardwired their connection to get things moving along. Hopefully they’ll do that from the start next year as signals are always bad in convention halls.

Once registered I set out to find Genevieve. Genevieve was one of the early participants in #FridayFlash, and I’ve been following her online for years. I simply could not pass up the opportunity to meet her in person. I found her display right off, but alas, she was not there – probably doing a panel.

So I ducked into the dealer’s room to visit my friend and potter extraordinaire, Christine Collins of Mud Cat Studio. She does wonderful work in clay and has also branched out into jewelry. Don’t tell my girls, but I picked up these lovelies from Chris. Santa may just leave them under the tree.

Two ceramic cups, one with a fairy, one with a winged cat.

Cups by Christine Collins

After my visit with Chris I went out and found Genevieve at her booth along with her husband, Aaron. I introduced myself and generally swooned in her awesomeness. She really is as wonderful in person as online, and Aaron is every bit as nice.

Genevieve Ching at her table.

The best pro table at the Con.

I found out that she had a panel coming up in an hour or so on Publishing In the Digital Age, so I made a point of finding the room before woofing down a quick lunch. ($8 for a pretzel and a soda – ouch!)

I only attended two panels this year: Publishing In the Digital Age, and Medical Nano Technology: Were are My Nanobots? As I get older I find I don’t have the stamina to work a convention like I used to. I’ve decided that next year I’m going to preregister and get a hotel room for Friday and Saturday night so I can do more but still rest up on demand.

Publishing In the Digital Age was a terrific panel discussion moderated by Dan Koboldt with Trudy Myers and Genevieve as his other panelists. It’s always nice when the full panel shows up. This panel discussion was worth the entire price of admission all by itself. The authors were very forthcoming on how to handle the business end (as to the production end) of being a self-published author. Important things I learned included:

  • hire a good cover artist – without a good book cover you’re dead
    - you can get a high quality book cover design for as little as $100
  • hire a good (emphasis on good) line editor
    - a good line editor might run you around $1200 for a manuscript of 60-80K words
  • hire a good developmental editor
    - a good developmental editor might run you around $800, for similar sized manuscripts
  • if piracy becomes a problem, hire a firm to hunt them down and issue C&D orders
    - that can run you around $45/month
  • free helps sell
    - if you have a series, consider giving the first title away once the second title is available
  • with the advent of ereaders and cell phone apps novella’s are back
    - be sure readers are fully aware it is a short work or you may antagonize them
  • put out a newsletter
    - shoot for around 1,000 subscribers, realizing of course that it will take some time to achieve that
  • churn is good – strive to have several new releases a year
    - it maintains reader interest in you as a writer
  • write (see churn, above)
The three member panel for publishing in the digital age.

Panel – Publishing in the Digital Age

I cannot emphasis those last two enough. Genevieve told us that she tries to write 2,000 words a day. 2000 words a day! When editing she shoots for three chapters a day. She has produced nine novels since starting in 2011. She is incredibly productive.

I have always wondered how much financial investment it takes to get a manuscript into shape for publication. From my notes above one can expect to put out something in the neighborhood of $2100 just to get a book in print. Of course some of those costs might get skipped for the first book (at the cost of quality), but once it starts generating revenue use that money to a) fix the first book, and b) get the successive books in better shape before they go out the door.

Henry Stratman seated on stage discussing nanobots in medicine.

Panel – Where Are My Nanobots?

The other panel I attended was Medical Nano Technology: Where are My Nanobots, with a panel of one – Henry Stratman. I always try to catch Stratman as he is a very dynamic speaker and exudes enthusiasm for his topic, which is usually real science in nature. While he did not disappoint me this year I can’t share any of my notes with you since I lost my pen between panels. But if you enjoy panel discussions that are of the science fact variety, I heartily recommend you try to catch H. G. Stratman at every opportunity.

After Henry’s panel I debated the pros and cons of staying or going. There were still things worth doing but I’d have to work dinner in there somewhere. At 8 bucks for a pretzel and soda I shuddered at the thought of what real food would cost me at the convention center, and going out to eat alone does not appeal to me in the least. I decided to chuck it in. My mission was accomplished, I had met Genevieve Ching in person. Life is good.

Me and Gen in front of her table.

Me and Gen in front of her table.

There is a new bridge across the Mississippi River, complete with new highway ramps. I had not been to Illinois since it opened. So, of course, I got lost on my way home.


A cartoon picture of Frankenstein.The forest floor was nearly pitch black in the moonless night. In full summer it no doubt was, but now with the trees nearly bare, starlight and the urban glow of Memphis gave just enough light to see by. Jackson Grange paused momentarily, shifting the shovel and pick from his left to right shoulder, eyes constantly darting about looking for any chance of escape. There was a sharp poke in his back.

“Keep a moving.” Leon Mason prodded Jackson none too gently with a branch he’d picked up as a walking stick. The stick afforded Leon enough distance to urge Jackson on while staying out of range of a sudden swing of the shovel. Ahead Tommy Phillips stopped, turning to regard the two.

“I think we’re far enough,” Tommy decided. “Stay still a bit.”

The other two stood stock still, hardly daring to breathe. Tommy listened hard, but there was no sound from US 79.

Finally, “Yeah, this’ll do.”

Jackson threw the pick and shovel to the ground, his breath now coming in desperate gasps. “Listen, Tommy, I didn’t talk to no stinking cops. I swear.”

The walking stick crashed down on his left shoulder, making him squawk.

“Shut up,” Leon ordered.

“Don’t break his collar bone,” Tommy admonished, “else he won’t be able to dig.” He pointed his .38 at Jackson’s belly. “Pick them tools back up. Where you standing good as anyplace.”

Tears began rolling down Jackson’s cheeks.

“Awe, Jackie’s crying, poor fella,” Leon mocked. “Get’a going.” He prodded the shovel with his stick.

“I never done it,” Jackson mumbled over and over again as he lifted the shovel and slowly began to clear the leaf litter near his feet. It took several whacks across the back to get him motivated to put any effort into his chore.

He dug for nearly an hour before they stopped him to appraise his the progress. Jackson stood just over knee deep in his shallow grave.

“A li’l deeper,” Tommy decided. “Come on up, Leon’ll spell you a bit.”

“Say what?” Leon look daggers at Tommy.

“We’ll be here all night else wise,” Tommy explained. “I’ll take a go at her too,” he added to cut off any protest. “You,” he said pointing the gun at Jackson’s middle, “sit next ta that tree. Move an inch an I’ll shoot ‘cha.”

Grumbling, Leon jumped down into the hole and set to with the pick.

Leon alternated with pick and shovel for about a half hour before his shovel hit something other than dirt. He poked and prodded with the tip of the shovel, trying to dislodge it to no avail. Finally he leaned down to inspect the obstruction in the poor lighting. He jumped back with a cry of “Oh Christ-a-mighty!” tripping over the pick head as he back scrabbled. “This here’s a grave!”

Tommy stepped closer to peer into the deepening hole.

“This place already taken,” Leon cried as he scrambled back to his feet to the side of the grave. He reached up to Tommy. “Quick, give me a hand.”

Tommy shot Jackson a sharp look of warning, then locked his left hand around Leon’s wrist while still holding the gun in his right. Leon latched on like his life depended on it. “Not so hard,” Tommy squawked.

A lifeless arm, draped in moldering flannel, shot out of the loosened soil, its boney hand grabbing Leon by the ankle. Leon screamed. Tommy dropped the gun to pry at Leon’s fingers, trying to wrench himself free. The gun tumbled into the pit.

Jackson bolted like a jack rabbit. He ran blindly, ignored the branches and bracken that ripped and tore at his face and arms. The screams of the other two men diminished as he went, and would haunt him the rest of his days.

Jackson Grange never set foot in those woods again.

© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.


A mailbox with a bridal bouquet on it.“Good morning, my name is Tabatha, I’m sorry for your wait. How may I help you?”

“Oh.” Frank was startled back to the present.“Yeah, jeeze, I’ve been on hold for like twenty minutes.” His voice was edged with anger.

“I do apologize for that sir. We are experiencing heavier than usual traffic volume following the holiday.” Tabatha’s voice remained upbeat, if not downright perky. “I’ll be happy to assist you now. Can you tell me the nature of your call?”

Frank glared across the room at the Christmas present he had bought for himself. She blankly stared back at him.

“Well, yeah.” Now that it came down to it he found it hard to talk to the woman on the other end of the line. Why couldn’t he have gotten a man? “I’m not happy with this item I purchased from you, and I’d like to return it for a full refund.”

“I see, sir. Can you give me your purchase ID?”

“Purchase ID?”

“It’s in the upper right hand corner of the invoice.”

“Oh, sure.” He fumbled with the phone as he sorted through the paperwork. “Yeah, here it is. ZB104-2271953.”

There was some quick keyboarding on the other end of the line.

“Yes sir. I see you purchased Anna Marie, from our line of Eternal Bliss Instant Brides. Is there a problem sir?”

“Well, yeah!” He kept his voice just below a shout. “I don’t want her. She’s creepy. And she stinks!”

“I’m sorry you are disappointed with your purchase, sir. I’m afraid all our reanimated brides are non-returnable items. Failure to rehydrate is the only acceptable reason for a return. Did she rehydrate?”

Frank shuddered at the memory. He had been so excited when the package arrived, could hardly believe there was a real woman in a bag no bigger than a loaf of bread. Like they say, the Human body is something like 90% water. The instructions said to place Anna Marie in a bathtub full of warm water, wait twenty-four hours for complete re-hydration, carefully assist her from the tub, gently pat dry, and then wait twelve hours before use to allow all of her systems to properly stabilize. He’d gotten a boner just drawing the tub.

Then, around midnight, he’d woken up to the most god awful smell. At first he went to the front door, but stepping outside made it clear the smell was coming from inside the house. His nose led him to the bathroom. When he looked in the tub he almost lost it. The ‘loaf of bread’ lay at the bottom of the tub, completely submerged, and had expanded into a grotesque approximation of a woman, about three feet long, curled in a fetal position, shriveled skin, and with dead looking eyes staring up from under the water. It was all he could do to keep from hurling. He’d bolted from the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

“Well, yeah.” He hated to admit it, but she had rehydrate properly. When he looked again in the morning he saw a drop-dead beautiful woman laying in the tub. She now floated, her face, breasts, and thighs just breaking the surface. But she still had that vacant stare and the stench had not gone away. “She rehydrated.”

“I’m glad to hear that, sir. As indicated before, if the reanimated bride properly rehydrated we cannot accept it as a return.”

“But she stinks!” Now he did shout.

Tabatha remained cheerful in the face of his distress. “I am sorry sir. The catalog did discuss that particular limitation…”

“It said there was a slight odor the user could easily mask!” He rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. “I sprayed her with about a half a can of Lysol, and it hasn’t helped much.”

“The odor will dissipate over time, sir. You can speed the process with frequent showers, and we recommend Fabreeze. It also helps to keep the windows open.”

“It’s 38 degrees outside. I can’t open the windows!”

“You can place your bride outside while you wait for the smell to dissipate…”

“In the cold?”

“She’s already dead, sir. I assure you, the cold won’t hurt her.”

That reminded him of something else he hadn’t considered when he’d made the purchase.

“Uh, so what does she eat?”

“Oh, no worries there sir. All of our reanimated products have been modified to turn off the appetite. She doesn’t eat or drink anything. She’s completely safe.” He could almost see Tabatha smirking at the other end of the line.

He looked at Anna Marie sitting there naked, dripping water on his couch. God, what a mistake. Still, he had to admit, she was beautiful, if slightly gray.

“Her color’s awful.” This, almost to himself.

“I can recommend our Eternal Bliss body make up and perfume kit, sir. It comes highly recommend by others who have bought this product. It’s just $59.99.”

Frank dropped his head in resignation as he reached to get his credit card from his wallet.

He could kick himself for not just settling for the blow up doll.

© 2014 by J.M. Strother, all rights reserved. Photo © 2014 by J.M. Strother, all rights reserved.


A cartoon picture of Frankenstein.I let out a quiet curse as I stepped to the windows to draw the curtains for the evening. Dave’s car was just pulling into the driveway. My dear sweet brother, Dave. Goddammit.

Not bothering to close the curtains I made my way to the front door. I opened it just as he was about to knock. He stepped back, a little surprised, and flashed me his best car-salesman smile.

“Whoa! You startled me.” He took another step back to make room for the storm door as I swung it open for him.

“I saw you pull into the drive.” He nodded in understanding. “So, what’s up?” Like I didn’t know.

He gave a slight shrug as he stepped inside. His eyes scanned the hallway and the living room beyond. “Just wanted to drop by and say hi.” He started toward the kitchen. “Got any beer?”

We settled at the kitchen table, each nursing a bottle of lite beer. I opened a tin of nuts and we nibbled at them between sips.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Dave said. In fact it had been three months. “What you been up to?”

“Nothing special. Still the daily grind, down at the office.”

He bobbed his head up and down in commiseration. “Yeah, no rest for the wicked, eh? Can’t remember the last time I had a Saturday off. The car business has certainly recovered, I can tell you that. I’ve sold over a million dollars worth already this year.” He beamed with pride.


“There’s going to be a banquet for all the million dollar dealers around Christmas time. You want to come?”

I frowned a bit. “Is it a good date?”

His smile looked somewhat forced. “Not sure yet.”

“Well, that could be awkward.”

He took a large pull off his beer. “Yeah, the 6th would be bad. Hopefully they’ll pick the 13th or the 20th.”

“Thirteen’s bad luck,” I observed. “Aren’t you lot a superstitious sort? And the 20th is awful close to Christmas…”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” His good spirits seemed to be waning. His eyes darted around, not focusing on anything. He does that when he’s trying to change the subject. But what he wanted to change the subject to wasn’t much of a change at all. Not really.

“So,” he began, “we going to see you next Wednesday?”

Dive right in.

I sipped at my beer. Frowned. “I don’t think so.”

I saw the anger flash in his eyes.

“I’m really sick of Randy,” I said. “And frankly, the others aren’t much better.”

“You going out by yourself?” he asked, incredulous. “Lone wolfs don’t fare too well.”



“It’s lone wolves, not wolfs.”

His face contorted into a grimace. “You and your freaking grammar. It’s shit like that that gets you picked on.”

“No, it’s Randy being a prick that gets me picked on. Alice and Fredda eat it up, which just eggs him on. I’m not doing it anymore, Dave. I’m done with the pack.”

He almost rose out of his chair.

“You can’t run alone. It’s too damned dangerous.”

He was actually concerned about me. How touching.

“I won’t run alone—.”

“You found another pack?” He was dumbfounded.

“No. I just won’t run.”

He stared at me in silence for a good thirty seconds, the veins in his neck visibly throbbing. He turned in his chair and looked at the basement door. “You don’t have a freaking cage down there, do you?”

I said nothing.

He jumped up, pulling at the hair on the back of his head and let out a howl toward the kitchen light. He slammed his fist down on the table so hard his beer bottle fell over. It was nearly empty, so no mess made. “No brother of mine locks himself up in a cage for a full moon! No, dammit! No!”

I shrugged, but made no reply.

He started toward the basement door, then stopped and whirled back toward me. “I can’t look. Shit, Tim, what will Mom say? It’ll kill her.”

“Not if you don’t tell her.”

He paced back and forth.

“You can’t do this. You’ll bring shame on the whole family.”

“I’m going to live my life the way I see fit, Dave. I’m done running. There are more of us then you realize, and we get along just fine without the pack.”

“What? You got a freaking support group?” His voice was heavy with sarcasm.

I nodded. “Yes, as a matter of fact we do. We meet the day before the full moon, eat rare steaks, have a few Margaritas, and give each other the kind of support a pack ought to give. We don’t have to bare our throats to some stupid asshole who thinks he better than everyone else. We just have a good time, help each other through, and go back to work the next day.”

He stood there, wild eyed, panting. You’d think the Moon was raising.

I gestured toward his chair. “You’re welcome to join us if you’d like.”

At that he spun on his heel and headed for the front door. As he jerked it open he snarled over his shoulder, “Mom’s going to have a fit!”
© 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Image used by permission, © by Angie Capozello, for use with the #FridayFlash Halloween Humor and Horror contest.


He slipped from one back yard to the next, trying doorknobs as he went, casting furtive glances over his shoulder to check if he’d been spotted. They were close, way too close for comfort, and he needed to find somewhere to go to ground for a while.

His heart skipped a beat when the knob in his hand actually turned. He held his breath, hardly daring to believe his luck. If luck held the house would be empty, and there wouldn’t be any ugly complications. He turned the knob slowly until he could tell there was no longer any resistance from the bolt before pushing gently inward.

A little light shone from an above-counter fixture in the kitchen. There was the slight hum of the refrigerator, but otherwise the house was quite. Best of all, no barking dog to give him away. Please let these people be out of town, he silently begged. I just need one night for things to cool off. He stepped inside and carefully closed the door behind him.

He took a moment to look around, to get his bearings. Nice place. Attractively decorated, with all the latest in electronics in the adjoining family room. Whoever lived here did all right by themselves. A momentary thought crossed his mind, to lock the door, but he shook that off. Maybe they always left it unlocked, and to find it locked would send up a red flag. Judging by the amount of swag, he doubted it, but people are funny.

After checking the garage he was able to breath a little easier – no cars present. These folks must really be gone. Out for the evening, or out of town? Probably not out of town. Surely they would have locked up tight if they were leaving for more than a few minutes.

That thought got his heart racing again. He needed to find somewhere to hide in the event they did come home.

He silently crept deeper inside.


“OK, sweetie, I want you into your PJs and your teeth brushed, like pronto.” Marybeth gave little Pete a playful swat on the butt as they came in from the garage. “No arguments, and no more candy. It’s late. Mommy’s tired.”

The Halloween party at Rachel’s had been exhausting enough, but then she had to also swing by and pick up groceries or there would be no milk in the morning.

Pete, still in his cowboy outfit, rushed off but paused in the middle of the kitchen.

“Can I have some chocolate milk?” He gave her his best puppy dog eyes and all so innocent smile.

“No, you can’t.” She juggled two bags of groceries onto the counter nearest the fridge. “And leave that bag on the table, you’ve had enough for tonight. Now go brush your teeth. I’ll be in to tell you a story in a minute. Go on. Scoot!”

He reluctantly put his bag of goodies on the table, then spun and rushed off for his room.

By the time she had the groceries put away Pete had on his PJs, and had brushed his teeth. When she stepped into his room he was in bed with his covers pulled up to his chin.

“Mom! There’s a monster under the bed!” His eyes were wide with fear.

Not this again.

“There is no monster under the bed, Pete. We’ve talked about this over and over—”

“Yes there is! I really saw it this time! There is!”

She let out an exasperated breath. “Stop. Just stop, or there will be no story time.”

“Mom.” His plea was heart-wrenching. “Please look! Please!”

“You have got to get over this.” But how could she ignore such a plea? Against her better judgment she knelt down and stooped to look under the bed.

Her scream was cut off by the hand that shot out and grabbed her by the throat.

Pete’s screams died a few moments later.

~ © 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

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