Table of Contents

Spring 2009

From The Editor

Letter from Jack Getze

Short Stories

Patrick Whittaker

9:03

Anthony Rainone

Fall to Pieces

Phil Beloin

Late, After Dinner

Jake Nantz

Midnight on the Links

Stephen D. Rogers

Queen Anne's Lace

Mike Sheeter

Blue Fugazzi

David Moss

The Sleepy Pines Nursing Home

Fiona Kay Crawford

Successful Surgeon

Graham Powell

The Ins and Outs

John Towler

The Fall

Damien Seaman

Thursday Night Blowout

Matthew Acheson

Writing on the Wall

Interviews

Sandra Ruttan with Russel D. McLean

Declan Burke with Brian McGilloway

Jim Napier with Phyllis Smallman

Brian Lindenmuth with Craig McDonald

Reviews by:

P.A. Brown

Mexican Heat

Gloria Feit

Friend of the Devil

Theodore Feit

Death Was in the Picture

A Beautiful Place to Die

Night and Day

Claire McManus

The Hanged Man

The Poisoner of Ptah

My Sister, My Love

The Cruelest Month

Jim Winter

Trigger City

The Fourth Victim

TKO

Bookspot Review Roundup

Book Excerpt

The Big O
by Declan Burke

Featured Article

Passing of the Torch - Celebrated crime novelist dies
by Jim Napier

Writing on the Wall

I don’t know who they are, or what they’re doing to me, but whatever it is I know it ain’t for my benefit. I know that much for sure. I also know, on account of these fresh bandages and scattered memories, that my right arm weren’t always missing from the elbow down. I wish I could remember when they took it from me, or why, but everything’s been real foggy of late. Mind plays some awful tricks on me in this dark hole.

The food they leave for me by the door is drugged I think.

I eat it anyways, on account of the fact they only leave one plate a day, and I get a powerful hunger in this cold. Besides, I need to get my strength back up so I can get out of here. I got myself a plan, and I intend to go through with it too, before long. I ain’t never seen one of them come in to feed the woodstove, so I reckon they must do it while I’m sleeping. They won’t be expecting what I got planned for ‘em, the next time they come.

There ain’t much in here to keep a man occupied, just the woodstove, a cot to sleep on, and a little hole they dug in the dirt floor for me to do my business in. The soil is frozen solid, or near enough, and the only place I can sit down without freezing my ass off is on the cot or by the fireplace when it’s going good enough. It’s near impossible to stay warm in here, what with the draft that seeps in through the cracks between the wallboards. During the daytime, the light wanders through the seams a little bit, and when I try to peek out sometimes I reckon I see a whole sea of white.

If I had to try a guess I’d say maybe I’m still down at the mining camp in Antarctica.

I remember a good deal about that, although it scares me to admit that even those details are becoming blurrier and blurrier with each passing day. That’s why I’ve took to writing on the walls with charcoal when there’s enough light for it. It’s the only way I can keep it all straight in my head as to what happened before I woke up in this cell. The other reason is on account of the nightmares. Most nights it don’t take me long to fall asleep after eating the food they leave for me. My ears start buzzing and my whole body goes all light and numb like. Whatever they’re giving me, it feels a lot like the pills the doc gave me when I broke my arm a few years back.

Sometimes I dream about being wheeled into a room, with a real bright light, and a whole mess of faces wearing masks leering down at me. Only I don’t think they is nightmares, because I wake up the next morning with fresh bandages on my chest, legs, and on the stub where my arm used to be. I don’t know who or what they are, but I know one thing sure as rain.

I ain’t gonna survive much longer if I don’t get away from them.

Maybe that’s why they left me this here tape recorder. Maybe they seen my writing on the walls and thought I might like to get my story down on record before they put me to whatever end they got planned. But I ain’t doing this for them, no sir. I’m getting this down in the hopes that maybe some regular folk will come along one day, and when they find this here tape they’ll know that I didn’t do nothing wrong to nobody, and that I weren’t crazy. No sir. I did what I did to right what my fool curiosity had set wrong, and to protect the world from what I discovered down in those tunnels.

I been a miner for Warren & McNamee Company for almost twenty years now. I’ve worked all over the world, and dug for just about every kind of precious metal you could imagine. The company offered a big bonus that lured me and about thirty other breakers up to Antarctica last summer to open up a new mine. We dropped the first shaft right into the side of an old snow covered mountain, and the foreman: Dan Harris, had our camp built down in the valley. I say camp, but really it were more like a village than a camp. Hell, we even had our own liquor-hole and everything.

It weren’t until they decided to close the first shaft and open up two others that things started to get queer. Harris had me and a few of the other breakers down on the lower levels, clearing out the last of the equipment and transferring it to the new shafts. As I was leaving one of the deeper tunnels, the one the fellers nicknamed Big Clyde, there was a place on the wall that caught my eye. Now I can’t tell you what it was about that particular spot that grabbed my attention. It might have been that the rock there was discolored from the rest, or had some other special quality that I can’t rightly remember. Whatever it was it left a powerful impression on me.

That night I came back to the spot with a pneumatic drill and a pickaxe and went to work. It’s hard, grueling labor, diggin’ into the earth. When I was a young man it didn’t tire me out so much, but these days a twelve hour shift does a devil’s work on my back and neck. The queer thing was that although I had worked all day and was dog tired, diggin’ into that wall got me all fired up somehow. The hours flew by, and before I knew it the shift whistle blew and I was back to work in the other shafts.

It went like that for quite a spell; diggin’ for WMC during the day, and drilling on my own at night. I don’t rightly know what compelled me to drill that new shaft. What I can say is that the deeper down I went, the more obsessed I became. Where I got the energy to drill for eighteen hours a day, for three straight weeks, I have no idea. Looking back on it now it’s clear to me that the influence that place had on me was right unnatural.

My only real fear was of having my secret project discovered, and it weren’t just paranoia neither. Harris was as sharp as a whip, and he was the sort of foreman that liked to keep his finger on the pulse of the operation. It didn’t take him long to notice that a portable drillin’ unit had gone missing, and he started asking all manner of uncomfortable questions. He wanted to know how I was spending my off time, where I was on such and such night and the like. After that I had to be real careful about the amount of time I spent in the old shaft, and about returning all of the tools I used before morning.

Those last few nights before I made the breakthrough were the worst. I was turning all colors of strange. Sometimes, when I was taking a break from drillin’ I’d get this weird sensation that I was being watched. The only way I could shake it was to return to work. Other times, I thought I heard voices echoing down from the upper levels, and I got to convincing myself that Harris and some of the boys was out searching for me. But there weren’t never nobody there, it was always just my imagination. It feels a little funny to write, but I think the deeper I dug the more I came under the thumb of that strange force that was running afoul of my nerves.

When I finally broke through into that damp little cavern, it was just about as exciting as my first time being with a woman. Pretty little whore I met when I was stationed in Korea. I wasn’t sure what I expected to find, but I had this weird feeling it was gonna change my life for good.

When I clicked my electric torch on and peered through the hole, I reckon my blood just about turned to ice. The cave was about thirty feet around, and it didn’t look like no natural formation I’d ever seen before. It weren’t made by water action, because there weren’t no stalactites or stalagmites, and the walls were real smooth like and charred black in places. It almost looked like something had just melted out a little hollow spot right in the belly of that great mountain. The floor of the cave was covered in thick patches of a strange moss that seemed to glow with a queer green light all of their own. Except for a big watermelon shaped rock near the center of the room, there weren’t nothing else to tell of.

It took me a couple of hours to widen the hole enough for me to squeeze through. I can’t explain why, but I was real scared about using the portable drill so I did the rest of the work by hand with the pickaxe. For some odd reason I had a hard time taking my eyes off that strange rock while I worked. When I finally crawled into the chamber, I was struck by a powerful notion there might be some type of enormous insects rooting around in them patches of moss. Even though I had my thick boots on, I didn’t dare step anywhere near them stains of green.

When I got up closer to the watermelon shaped rock it didn’t take me long to realize that it was a right peculiar kind of stone. I’ve come across all types of rock in my line of work, but that weren’t like anything I’d ever seen before. Parts of it was real polished and smooth like, while others was all rough and worn down several inches beneath the surface. The other thing that set my nerves on end was how there was all these odd little holes weaving in and out of it. Almost like an anthill. I swear on my mother’s grave it looked just about exactly like worms had tunneled around in that rock. I didn’t like that thought one bit, and I remember I started to feel all strange and woozy around the damned thing almost at once.

The blood started singing in and out of my ears, and at first my face got all hot and flushed, and then just as quick it went cold and I got to feeling weak in the knees. I don’t remember falling down, but I do remember waking up face first in that weird moss. I also recall how soft and wonderful it felt on my face, and how strange it was that I weren’t afraid of there being no strange kind of insects in it no more.

Now you remember how I said that diggin’ that tunnel had given me all kinds of energy? It don’t make a bit of sense, but I tell you that finding that rock did the exact opposite. It’s hard to explain, but I reckon I’d have to say being in that cave made me feel less master of myself than I had ever been. When I woke up the next morning with my face in that moss I felt as though I had been sapped right to the bone of just about every ounce of strength I ever had. When I went back to the other mines to work, the foreman chastised me something fierce, because I was ten kinds of tired and I must have been just about as useless as a skirt at a poker table.

At first I got scared and stopped going down there altogether. But it weren’t long before I started sneaking back down once or twice a week. The more time I spent sitting down there with the moss and the worm eaten rock, the more I began to feel as though I belonged there. Some part of me needed to be there, I reckon. After a while I got as so I could see perfectly well in the dull green glow of the room, and took to leaving my electric torch out in the tunnel. More and more I found myself sleeping down there; waking up in the arms of that soft green moss.

One night I came to thinking that I was developing some kind of connection with that worn stone. I’d spent a lot of nights laying in the moss with my hands folded behind my head, staring up at it, and after a while I started to think that it just might be staring right back. It don’t seem right to speak of an object that way, after all a rock is just a rock. But then again, I ain’t never seen no rock with worm marks in it neither.

Looking back on it now, I reckon that my first real contact with the stone came in my dreams. The funny thing is, in my dreams I never did see nothing, just heard a soft voice that was always talking real soothing like. At first it kept telling me that everything was gonna be all right. It said how it weren’t gonna hurt me, and that it had brought me down there so we could be friends like. I ain’t never had many people in my life that I got to calling friends, which made the strange kinship I was feeling for that rock mighty damn peculiar. Ch’reitus, that’s what it called itself, sort of reminded me of my mother in certain ways, and of my father in others. Always in the good ways. I got to the point where I think I must have loved that rock like it was my own family, and I’d have done just about anything for it. That’s round about the time it started asking me to do things. Just small things at first.

Then Ch’reitus got to telling me all about how lonely it was, and how it had been trapped down there all alone for ages. How it had nearly died of hunger and thirst, although I never rightly asked it what a rock fed on. It also told me how the mountain wasn’t really its home, and how it had come from a whole ‘nother place where things was very different to how they was here. It put an image in my head once, of a strange looking place with thick green fog everywhere and bright red lights burning in the sky. Then it got to telling me that it couldn’t survive here under the mountain for much longer, and how it needed to be spirited off to a warmer place where there was lots of people. I told it all about New York City, where I was born, and it seemed to like the idea of going back there with me a great deal. The only problem was that it weren’t a small rock, and even if I could have hauled it up out of them mines all by myself, I never could have hoped to get it on the boat and bring it back to the States without having to answer a whole load of questions.

If I was going to save its life I knew I was gonna need help from someone who could get things done without having to worry about answering a bunch of peculiar questions.

One night I went over to foreman Harris’ shack and fetched him up. He wasn’t real keen on the notion of following me down into the old shaft, which had been closed down for months, in the middle of the night without any explanation as to why. I just kept telling him that I had found something that he needed to see, and in the end that worked sure enough. I thought for sure once he saw Ch’reitus, and got to knowing it as I had, he’d help me bring it back to the States where it wouldn’t have to worry about being cold no more, or hungry, and where it wouldn’t never get lonely again.

His reaction weren’t at all what I was expecting. I ain’t rightly sure what disturbed him more, my little worm eaten friend, or the oddly angled glyphs and foreign looking symbols I had drawn all over the walls of the cave. Some of ‘em I’d drawn up with charcoal, and the others, special ones, I’d marked using my own blood as the paint. I tried to show him everything, to explain it all so he could understand, as I did.

Foreman Harris didn’t take very kindly to my work, or to my new friend.

As he was yelling at me and demanding answers to all kinds of questions, Ch’reitus told me that he was gonna try and separate us from one another. Split us up for good. That weren’t a real appealing notion to me at the time, so I took up my shovel with a mind to hit him over the head with it and then everything just sort of went black.
I don’t know what it was that finally jarred me back to reality. Maybe it was looking down on his dead body that did it. Whatever it was, I remember feeling real queasy and sick to my stomach about what I had done. Ch’reitus had used me like a puppet somehow, and made me bash the foreman’s head in so far that his brains was leaking out on the moss. The queer fogginess I always seemed to feel when I was down there departed, and all of the sudden I came to a right important realization. If it was able to take over my mind, and turn me into a cold-blooded murderer, then what kind of havoc would it cause if it ever got back to the States?

There was only one thing to do about all that business, and I knew I was the only man who could get it done.

I got myself into the storage shack easy enough, and me being familiar with setting charges and so forth, mostly from my service in Korea, it only took about two hours to rig the whole goddamn mine to blow. I set it up so that when the place went, the whole thing would go crashing down on the lower levels and seal it all up for good. Round about the time I was setting up the charges and stringing the lines out to the detonator box, I started to get a real bad headache and my legs got all shaky. The closer I got to done, the worse it got.

Finally my headache got so bad, and the howling screech in my ears got so loud that I just collapsed right there at the entrance to the mine. On my hands and knees, I finished wiring all the lead lines to the detonator. I was all ready to prime the explosives, but just then I had a powerful jolt and my whole body began to twitch all violent like. It was hard to keep a thought in my head, what with all the spasms I was having and on account of the fact I was screaming at the top of my lungs. I could tell the rock was fighting, trying to keep me from doing what needed to be done.

It was unfortunate that a couple of the fellers from the camp heard all the screaming and came out to investigate. My last memory, before everything went black and I woke up in this hole, was of John Burnham and Marty Ackerman trying to wrestle me up off the detonator box. I find myself wondering an awful lot about whether they succeeded or not. I like to think they didn’t, but I ain’t got no way to know for sure.

Like I said before, I never done nothing wrong to nobody. It weren’t me that did the killing, it was that goddamn rock. I ain’t crazy neither, so you can put that thought right out of your head. I done what I done because I had to, and I reckon if I did blow that mine all to shit and back, then that’s just about the greatest thing I ever did in my whole life. But all that don’t matter one squirt to me no more. All I care about is getting out of this cold shitbox I’m locked up in.

They’ll be along to take me again right soon I reckon, so I better get myself ready. They ain’t gonna be expecting what I got planned for ‘em, the next time they come.




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