Sunday, November 25, 2007

Billy Ann's Box

By Charlotte Jones

My big sister, Billy Ann, was in the shower, getting ready to sneak out with that handsome new lawyer in town, when she slipped and hit her head on the edge of the bathtub. At least that’s what her husband Russell said, and he’s sticking to it. God knows, she cheated on him every chance she got, so I don’t blame him much. I haven’t spoken to her since she made a pass at my husband three years ago. He delivered the mail one day, just like every other day, when she greeted him at the door in some fancy-pantsy negligee and invited him in. When he told her no, she had the nerve to get mad at me, like it was my fault.

Anyway, the police chief ruled her death an accident – probably because he owed Russell a favor, ever since Russell caught him bare-assed and red-handed with Billy Ann and didn’t shoot him.

So there we were, me and Russell, sitting around the kitchen table eating breakfast with Momma and Daddy, trying to determine the final resting place for Billy Ann’s body. My husband couldn’t be found. He was down at the hunting lease shooting himself a deer.
“I say we cremate her,” Russell said.

I figured he was trying to get rid of the evidence. But I did know that’s what Billy Ann would have wanted. When we were little, she used to tell me, “If I go first, don’t you bury me. I don’t want to spend my eternity with critters crawling in and out.” Then she’d drop a worm down the front of my shirt and I’d run crying to Momma.

“That just isn’t Christian,” Daddy said as he took a bite of bacon. “We all know Billy Ann had her faults, but I’m not going to the funeral if you fry her up like, well, like this shriveled piece of bacon here. I won’t be party to something that just isn’t natural. True Christians don’t cremate their loved ones.”

“More creamer, Georgie Sue?” Momma said to me. She had set her grief aside and fluttered around the kitchen with her apron on, just like she always did, trying to make everyone else feel comfortable. She always taught us girls that a mother’s job is to make sure everything turns out right, no matter what the situation and no matter what you have to do. Probably why Billy Ann and I never had kids.

“Well, cremation IS what Billy Ann wanted.” I decided to speak up. While I wasn’t a big fan of Billy Ann’s, I’ve got enough respect for the dead that I figured my sister ought to get what she wanted. I think she would have done the same for me, if I’d been in her shoes. ’Course, I’m not in her shoes.

“In that case,” Russell said between mouthfuls of biscuits and gravy, “I’m gonna bury her. She always got everything she wanted in life. I think it’d be fitting if just this once, Billy Ann didn’t get what she wanted.”

“So, it’s settled then,” Daddy said.

“I don’t know, Dad,” Momma said. “Seems to me we ought to do right by Billy Ann and cremate her if that was her desire.”

“I said, it’s settled.”

So later that day, me and Russell went over to the funeral home to pick out a casket. The funeral lady met us at the door and talked to us in soothing tones about how grief is God’s way of calling us unto Himself, and how surely we must want the very best for our dearly departed loved one. Then she guided us into the casket room where they had the most expensive caskets displayed at the front. I guess most people buy the first one they see, but when I saw the $9000 price tag on the bronze model complete with a guaranteed rubber gasket seal and a stainless steel American eagle on top, I said, “Do you have anything less shiny?”

I wasn’t going to spend any more on my sister than I absolutely had to since she had already dipped into my inheritance by stealing from Momma and Daddy. She did it by pretending to be the good daughter and doing their grocery shopping for them. When the money they gave her should have purchased two bags of groceries, she brought home only one, making some excuses about how high the prices were. Then she’d pocket the rest. I can’t prove it, but I know she did it. Russell knows it. Momma and Daddy know it, too. She had too many nice things, like one of those singing trouts you hang on the wall, and Russell knows he didn’t buy them for her. I doubt any of her lovers could’ve afforded them.

Well, when I asked for something less shiny, you’d have thought I’d asked if the funeral lady believed in ghosts. The mood in the room turned icy and her tone of voice wasn’t all sweet and soothing anymore when she said, “We do have some wooden models, but they do not offer eternal protection for your dearly departed like these stainless steel models.”

“Protection from what?” Russell said. “She’s dead.”

The funeral lady glared at Russell. “We do have one pine box in the back,” she said. “We keep it around for, you-know, Jewish people.”

No, I didn’t know, but a Jewish pine box sounded just fine to me.

“What’ll God think, a sweet little Christian girl showing up in a Jewish box? As if she’s headed to heaven anyway.” Russell loved it.

“Just don’t tell Daddy,” I said.

“That’ll be $477,” the funeral lady said through tight lips.

“Can I put this on lay-away, or you know, pay it over time?” I asked.

Now the funeral lady glared at me.

On our way out, we ran into Momma. She looked as surprised to see us as we were to see her. “What’re you doing, Momma?” I asked. “I told you me and Russell would look after things.”

“I’ve got some business here, that’s all. Now you run along.” Momma pushed right past us.

“That’s funny,” said Russell with a puzzled look on his face.

“That’s Momma,” I said.

There was no telling what she was up to. She didn’t come back until late that evening smelling faintly of hickory smoke.

So the arrangements were all made. Nothing fancy, just a graveside service with cocktail wieners back at the house when it was over. The cousins were all called, the minister was notified. The funeral home even put a notice in the paper. Billy Ann always did want her picture in the paper. We used her favorite — the one from high school when she was crowned Miss Pork Sausage by the FFA.

We were sitting around at Momma’s and Daddy’s drinking coffee on the morning of the funeral when Russell decided he’d better double-check everything, almost like he wanted to make certain she wasn’t coming back. After he hung up the phone, he called me into the other room.

“The body’s gone,” he hissed while peeking around the corner to make sure Momma and Daddy hadn’t heard him.

“What do you mean, the body’s gone?” I couldn’t believe my ears.

“You’re not pulling some kind of joke are you, Georgie Sue? It’d be just like you to pull some last-minute stunt on your sister.”

“Excuse me, but you seem to have me confused with Billy Ann. I’d never do something like that! Probably one of her lovers saw the notice in the paper and decided he wanted Billy Ann for himself, you know, bury her in his own back yard so he could dig her up every now and then and see her.”

“You could be right, Georgie Sue. God knows there are enough crazy people in these parts. Should we tell your Momma and Daddy?”

“That’d only upset them. I think we should just go through with it as planned. The whole family is here. It’s going to be closed casket anyway, so nobody’ll know if she’s in there or not.”

“The pall bearers will know. The box won’t be heavy enough.”

“Maybe we can stick some bricks in it. That’ll make it heavy. I say we go through with it. We can figure out where her body went later.”

So after the service and we’d put Billy Ann, or rather Billy Ann’s box, in the ground, all the relatives came over to the house. Nobody seemed the wiser. Momma was busy setting out the trays of wieners and pouring coffee for everyone. I noticed she had a new flower vase on the table, one I’d never seen before. Looked right pretty, even if there weren’t any flowers in it.

I sat stirring my coffee, trying to get that creamer to dissolve when Momma came up to me and said, “More creamer, dear?” She shoved that flower vase under my nose and scooped some more into my cup.

It was that little glint in her eye that caused me to reexamine the gray lumpy powder floating in my coffee. I looked back up at her in horror. “Momma, please say you didn’t . . .!”

Charlotte Jones has seen her work featured in over 60 literary and commercial magazines including Bordersenses, Nerve Cowboy, Barbaric Yawp and Zygote in My Coffee.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Antibacterial Pope

By Nick Cato

“They’re at it again,” the Pope said as he poured fresh cement in the bullet hole.

The audience continued chant-renditions of forgotten television jingles, clouds becoming triangular in the east.

“But Father, can we truly afford to lose the people?” A circle appeared under Cardinal O’Henry and sucked him down. “Father? Can we—”

The planes approached on limited fuel.


O’Henry, released on a frozen tundra, founds his own sect.


“I just want you to know how much this means to me,” an audience member said, his exposed arms covered in clear gelatin.

“Don’t speak my child,” the Pope said.

Police rushed the altar. A pistol floated before the crowd, daring anyone to look at it. One policeman gambled and was rewarded with two holes above his right eye.


O’Henry: “We have to get some heat or we’ll die―and it’ll be hard to attract any new members.”


The planes; tiny excremental meteors falling from their wings.

“Forgive me Father; it’s been six years since my last panic attack.”

The Pope closed his eyes and poured hardening cement into the confessor’s ears. A circle formed beneath the newly-deaf man.

“See the planes: hear the planes, those of aural cohesiveness,” the Pope said.

Antennae sprouted from the polieman’s wounds and fired two shots at the cement-crazed pontiff.


“Brothers and sisters, truly we are cursed. No one remembers a word I’ve said. You . . . yes, you who just joined us. What do you have to say for yourself?” O’Henry asked.

The newly-deaf man shrugged his shoulders, said “what?” then succumbed to another mental blow.


The planes crashed into the square, one by one by one, nearly-unfueled, yet exploding.

Covered in cement, the Pope escaped and headed for the tundra.


O’Henry sensed the pontiff’s coming, still screaming as ice worms pulled his brain across the solid-white plain.

The planes try to become one with the crowd.

The crowd, a circle forming underneath them.

The Pontiff, now frost-bitten and sluggish.

O’Henry, cast down now promoted.

Nick Cato's fiction has appeared in Dark Recesses Press, on several dark fiction websites, as well as the anthologies Deathgrip: Exit Laughing from Hallbound Books, Southern Fried Weirdness 2007, and the forthcoming Strange Stories of Sand & Sea by Fine Tooth Press. His work has appeared in Blue Lady magazine. With his wife, Maria, he runs Novello Publishers, a small press dedicated to humorous horror fiction. He also runs an entertaining webcast, Lair of the Yak. His debut novel, Suburban Exorcist, will be here eventually.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


By Matt Mitchell

You were that girl, the one I met that night down by the water. You asked me what I was thinking of, but I couldn’t answer right away. Intimidated, I tried to slow my heart rate, but it just ran on faster and faster. I remember looking away and swallowing hard; I was shaking, just by your nearness. The black water calmed me some, its steady surge, its salty banter. But I was still faint, wondering if you were a mermaid.

You told me you wanted to dance, but you would only dance on the water, and with a sideways smile you were off. I looked around for guidance, for support, but everyone else was involved with their own drama. With another difficult swallow and wrenching guts, I followed…

The black water was tight around us and warm and you laughed out loud. I wanted to reach out to you, but I just idled there, letting the swell of the waves pass me by as I watched you frolic, listened to you laugh. Everywhere you splashed was alive with phosphorescence. It glowed green and reflected in your hair, on your skin…

Finally, I found the words: “Is there more to life than this?” I called, just loud enough so you could hear me.

You stopped and spun, facing me, coming closer. I imagined your feet rapidly paddling, kicking up sand clouds on the ocean floor. The water was still, the green sparkles gone with your dance.
“There’s only tonight, and whatever it is it’s all we’ve got,” you said.

I swallowed again, mad at this injustice done to us, but you just kept on smiling.

A lighthouse swung its glow our way and passed over us without pause. A buoy’s ringing bell chimed in the black distance. The bobbing red light of a shrimper trolled our way, a hundred miles away it seemed. You touched my hand.

“Chill out,” you said, still smiling. “It’s good enough for now, isn’t it?”

For the first time in days, I smiled. And I remembered. And I loved you.

Matt Mitchell, author of The Last Man, is a working writer in Montevallo, Alabama. In addition to being one of the authors featured in the print anthology, Southern Fried Weirdness 2007: An Annual Anthology of Southern Speculative Fiction, he is a father of two boys, a southerner, technophile, naturalist, and part time adventurer.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

All About Doc

By Christopher Woods

Sure, I’ll admit it. No problem. We weren’t so smart. Now, it’s different. But last night? I guess we didn’t know no better. Clint and me. That’s why we went ahead with it. THE PROJECT. Yeah, that’s what we called it. THE PROJECT.

Doc, he’d been our neighbor awhile. We counted on him for the wisdom business. And vodka, too, when we was out. Doc, he was real smart. But he’d been out of his line of work a long time. But that don’t mean he didn’t like to talk about it. He did.

I’d ask him, “Doc,” how do you crack one?” And Doc, he said it was like cracking some old dinosaur egg. Kinda hard, you see. He even showed us how to do it. He pulled out that black doctor bag, the one he hadn’t used in so long? He blew off the dust. He showed us his shiny tools. He’d been sidelined a few years for shaky hands and what all.

After he got everything spread out on the kitchen table, I asked him how he knew what was what. So he told me. He got out some big old book. Medical kind of book. Doc showed me a map of the brain. Like a roadmap, but all the roads was inside, if you follow me.

I was watchin’ Doc, looking at the pictures. That’s as close as he’d get to operatin’ again, least ‘til he got his hands settled down. But there wasn’t much chance of that happening, the way Clint and me saw it. No, Doc was down the tubes. Else why was he hangin’ out with a couple guys like us? You never saw Doc without a drink in his hand, and that’s the bottom line.

That roadmap book was the first thing I went lookin’ for last night in Doc’s kitchen. When things went wrong? And Clint actin’ like a yellow bastard, lettin’ me do all the work? Oh, he helped me crack Doc’s dinosaur egg, but that was only after I started hollerin’ at him.

Once I had everything out on the table, I started lookin’ at it real hard. And you know something? Doc’s brains didn’t look anything like the pictures in the book. No roadmap, is what I mean. Messier, too.

I didn’t let that stop me. I’d look at Doc’s brains, then the pictures. I started seein’ things. Places I didn’t know about before. I came across the place where feelings hole up. And this and that, like where talk starts. I poked around. There wasn’t no labels or nothin’ like in the book. Hell, I couldn’t read ‘em even if there was. No, it was mostly like pushin’ jelly ‘round on a plate.

While I’m operatin’, Clint’s walkin’ ‘round the kitchen. Openin’ cabinets, then slammin’ them shut. He’s bitchin’ ‘cause he can’t find Doc’s gin bottle. He’s so drunk he can’t stand up straight. I said, Clint, you dumb fuck, how do you think we got Doc to pass out in the first place? We got Doc to drink the whole bottle. Good thing, too. Who can have their head split open without some of that...oh, what do you call it? Uh, oh yeah, annis asia. That’s what it’s called.

I’m workin’ hard, see? And Clint, he’s breakin’ out the bourbon. Sour mash. I say, give me some of that stuff. Settle my stomach with all that blood everywhere. Doc’s brain was pretty good for browsing. I was enjoyin’ myself. Pretty soon, though, it stopped bein’ fun. Things started dryin’ out on the table. Real dry. I knew my time was runnin’ out. I tried to put it all back like I’d found it. Like in the book?

But I looked at all that flattened out jelly, and I didn’t know the first thing ‘bout puttin’ it back together. Oh, I tried to line it all up nice and proper. Clint was watchin’. I knew he was thinkin’ the same thing.

Clint said he didn’t recall me askin’ Doc about this part. That’s what I know, I said. That’s what I know. Damned if it wasn’t so! Hell knows it was too late to ask Doc.

So maybe I messed up big time. Wouldn’t you say so? Yeah. How else can you explain how somethin’ like this happens? Soon as I sober up, I’m gonna study Doc’s book real hard. Next time, I’ll be ready.

Christopher Woods is the author of a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY (Panther Creek Press), and a collection of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK (Stone River Press). He lives in Houston and in Chappell Hill, Texas.