Kindle Freebies – making money giving away free books

Okay – so WHEN is it better to give than to receive?

I’ve given away close to 3000 freebie Kindle e-books since the beginning of September.

That’s more books than I have sold for money, in a year.

So is that paying off? Am I making money, hand over fist, as a result of my masterful e-book strategy?

Well, I am making more this month than I did last month – and I made more in September than I made in August. There has been a definite improvement and I believe that some of that improvement stems directly from my freebie promotions.

In addition to the higher sales rate I have seen a solid influx of reviews.

A whopping TWENTY-TWO new Kindle reviews since September 1, 2014.

That’s a pretty good rate of return, especially because most of them were unsolicited and VERY positive.

I’ve also seen an increase in the “borrows” through the Kindle Unlimited program.

About a dozen of my e-books were borrowed and read in September. Over thirty e-books have been borrowed so far in October.

Now – as most of you folks realize – Kindle gives a a payment for each Kindle Unlimited borrow THAT IS READ TO AT LEAST THE TEN PERCENT mark. So if somebody borrows your e-book through Kindle Unlimited and doesn’t open it and read at least 10% of the content you don’t get paid.

This payment varies, month by month.

In July the payment was $1.80 per borrow.

In August that went down to $1.54 per borrow.

September was $1.52 per borrow.

As more authors become a part of the Kindle Unlimited program the payments will drop – just because there is a limited amount of funds available in the pot for each month. HOWEVER, if Kindle Unlimited continues to grow in popularity with readers – the pot will grow – theoretically.

I believe that Kindle Unlimited is a good deal for chronically addicted readers of e-books. It is – in effect – like Netflix for e-books – so I am fairly confident that Kindle Unlimited is going to continue to thrive.

So those free books that I give away through Kindle Unlimited are money in the bank for me. I am happy with the rate of the return so far – especially on my lower-priced e-books.

WHY?

Well – if somebody buys a copy of BIG HAIRY DEAL – my Bigfoot YA novel which is currently 99 cents for the month of October – I earn 35 cents, roughly.

HOWEVER – if somebody borrows and reads a copy of BIG HAIRY DEAL they pay nothing and I earn whatever the Kindle Unlimited payment is that month. For example, in September I would have earned $1.52 for that borrow.

Which beats 35 cents.

HOWEVER, in the month of November I intend to raise that 99 cent price tag up to $2.99.

At that point a sale of BIG HAIRY DEAL would net me about $2.10 while a borrow would result in a return of whatever the borrow rate is THAT month.

So – theoretically – I lose money. But as far as I am concerned that is nothing but a theoretical loss. The fact is a person who “borrows” my book through Kindle Unlimited might NOT necessarily have bought it – if Kindle Unlimited hadn’t existed in the first place.

You see – theoretical money.

So – as far as I am concerned I am happy with my rate of return whether or not it is a borrow OR a sale.

Or even a freebie.

In a year or two my mind might change. I get to selling more e-books and it becomes more of an actual business for me I might actually have to take myself seriously and pay attention to profit margins and spreadsheets and financial statements and pie charts…

Damn it.

Why did I have to say pie?

Now how the hell will I get any writing done today?


While I am talking about free e-books why don’t I tell you about my latest Kindle freebie promotion?

Pick up a copy of FIGHTING WORDS today!

FREE - on Kindle today and tomorrow. Grab a copy now. You want to read it and leave a happy review that wouldn't hurt my feelings one little bit.

FREE – on Kindle today and tomorrow. Grab a copy now. You want to read it and leave a happy review that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one little bit.

So what is the book about?

FIGHTING WORDS is based on the true story of a Nova Scotia teenage fight club. It is a tale of bullying, peer pressure and the desperation of marginalized rural youth.

Max was just a thirteen year old nobody – until the fight. He didn’t plan the fight. He didn’t even want the fight to happen – but after he stood up to Rodney freaking Hammerhead to protect his sort-of-best-friend Tommy – Max decided that fighting could be a good thing. People looked up to fighters. Girls liked fighters. Now Tommy and Max have decided to create their own personal fight club.

It seemed like a good idea – but what can I tell you?

Sometimes stupid just gets in your eyes.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

“Steve Vernon is a born storyteller.” – HALIFAX MAGAZINE

eBook success: short and sweet?

Steve Vernon:

What do you author-types out there think of this?

I tend to agree, thinking that short and sweet sometimes fills the bill nicely. On the other hand – my best seller is also my longest book – TATTERDEMON.

I’d love to hear some other opinions.

While you are at it – you might also want to take a look at Sabrina Ricci’s latest blog entry – INDIE AUTHORS AND E-SINGLES.

http://www.digitalpubbing.com/indie-authors-and-esingles/

yours in storytelling,
Steve Vernon

Originally posted on Belinda Williams:

Shorter is sweeter in the digital world

As featured in Carnival of the Indies, Issue #36 September 13

As featured in Carnival of the Indies, Issue #36 September 13

eBook success

Is the length of your eBook all that stands between your success or failure?

Over the last twelve months or so, eBooks have been getting shorter. It could in part be attributed to the ‘series’ mentality that has come about since the worldwide success of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. These weren’t short books, mind you (at times I wondered if they’d ever end, but that’s another post!)

In the self-publishing world, you can now regularly see the first book in a series priced for free or a best-selling eBook author selling a series of novellas. Even traditionally published authors are hopping on the bandwagon. One of my favourite historical mystery/romance authors, Deanna Raybourn, released a prequel to her major release in May this year. How much did she charge…

View original 660 more words

Upcoming Halifax Book Signings

Hey Halifax!

I’ve got FOUR book signings next week.

On Oct 24th (this coming Friday) I’ll be signing books from 12 to 2pm at the Coles Scotia Square.

On Oct. 25th (Saturday) I’ll be hitting the Chapters Halifax in Bayers Lake from 12-1:30pm and then I’ll appear at the Coles Halifax Shopping Centre from 2:30 to 4pm. Then I’ll head back to downtown Halifax for a interview with CTV News – that should be televised on Halloween.

Then, on Oct. 26th (Sunday) I’ll head for the Chapters Dartmouth from 2:30pm to 4pm.

The folks at Nimbus Publishing and Vagrant Press and Indigo, Chapters and Coles are REALLY keeping me busy this month.

Hope to see some of you folks there.

If you click this picture it will take you the Kindle version of MARITIME MURDER. It is also available in Kobo, Nook or honest-to-Moses paperback. I'd put up a clickable picture for each of them but I have taken a sacred vow to help preserve our virtual forests and to abstain from over-spamming this blog page.

If you click this picture it will take you the Kindle version of MARITIME MURDER. It is also available in Kobo, Nook or honest-to-Moses paperback. I’d put up a clickable picture for each of them but I have taken a sacred vow to help preserve our virtual forests and to abstain from over-spamming this blog page.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Speaking of Scarecrows…

This weekend – from today until Monday – you can pick up a copy of TATTERDEMON on Kobo for a big fat fifty percent off.

So – all of you Kobo readers who are DYING to read something with a REAL October feel to it – why don’t you swing on over to Kobo and save a big fat honking 50% off on my big fat honking scarecrow novel.

The regular Kobo price is $5.99 – but if you use that SAVE50 promo code this weekend you get it for three bucks!

That’s about 400 pages worth of big fat scarecrow horror novel for the price of a Starbucks coffee.

This is the Kobo version. It's currently ranked #19 in Kobo's horror section. Order it today, Kobo users - but DON'T forget to use that SAVE50 promo code to save 50%!

This is the Kobo version. It’s currently ranked #19 in Kobo’s horror section. Order it today, Kobo users – but DON’T forget to use that SAVE50 promo code to save 50%!

Not enough for you?

You want to take a peek inside?

Here’s the Prologue AND the First Chapter!


Tatterdemon

PROLOGUE

summer 1691

Preacher Abraham Fell stared down at the witch Thessaly Cross, breathing like he’d run for a good long stretch. He leaned over, bending at the knees to lay another slab of fieldstone upon her chest.

“We beat you with hickory and we beat you with iron,” he said. “And you withstood every blow.”

He stooped down and picked up another rock, never taking his eyes off her, as if she were some kind of dangerous viper who might strike at any moment.

He set the next rock on top of her, directly beside the others.

“We shot you and the musket balls swerved in midair like they were afraid of sinking into the taint of your flesh.”

He scooped up another rock, grunting as he scooped. He just wasn’t as young a man as he used to be – and no wonder.

Sights like this one aged you faster than years ought to run.

“We hung you in a noose woven from a widow’s gray hair, a noose soaked in children’s tears and you kicked and cackled like a hell-kite in the wind.”

He laid the next rock down, sank to his knees and scooped up another stone. He was building a kind of rhythm that made the labor just a little easier.

“We burned you but even fired failed us.”

It was true. She had witched a storm from a cloudless sky and drowned the blaze cold. Seth Hamilton, the town smith who had been the only man to dare kindle her pyre had been cindered black.

“Let the stones crush you and the dirt eat you,” Fell said, laying another rock – which made thirteen stones in all. These were all good sized stones, hand-picked, at least the weight of child’s corpse. She ought to have been crushed by the weight upon her yet she carried the load as if it were nothing but sticks and straw.

“Where did you hide the broom, witch?” Fell asked.

“Maybe it’s up your bunghole,” Thessaly taunted.

The broom was her power and Fell feared it – although he knew that he shouldn’t have. It was just a thing of woven willow. His grand-nanny swept the pine boards of her cabin daily with just such a broom and she certainly wasn’t a witch.

Was she?

He bent for another stone.

Thessaly spat in his face. “Bury that, god kisser.”

He dropped the fourteenth stone upon her. It made a hard sound, like she had stared too long at the Gorgon. He grunted at the effort and she laughed at his strain – which stung his pride hard.

“You must pay for your crimes against God and this community,” Fell said.

Thessaly snorted. It wasn’t any kind of human sound. Her snort sounded like a boar in rut.

“What I pay for is refusing to give you my land,” she pointed out, as the wind rattled the grass. “What I pay for is witching your field in return for your greed. I pay for your cattle that ate the gray grass. Happiest of all, I pay for your daughter, Fell.”

Eliza.

Damn it.

Fell could still taste the smell of the dead meat festering in the back of his sinuses. He’d put down the last tainted beast this morning. He’d beat it square in the skull with his best chopping axe. The metal of the blade had chewed into the bone and stuck hard. He’d had to put his left boot against the cow’s forehead and lean back to work the axe loose. The unholy cattle hadn’t moved, not one of them. Even after he’d cut the first two down. They just stood there in his field, the wind making slow soft harp sounds blowing through their gray rattled guts.

He had put his daughter Eliza down before he had started with the cattle. Then he burned what was left of her and buried her ashes in the field.

The husk that he had burned and buried wouldn’t have nourished a worm.

“Was the milk tasty, Fell?” Thessaly taunted him. “Did young Eliza find it sweet?”

“Witch!” Fell hissed.

He snatched up a skull-sized rock scraping his hand against the rough granite and marking it with his own blood. He would match his stone and his blood against hers, he fiercely swore.

But first he had to know.

“Where did you hide the broom?”

“Closer than you imagine.”

She spat again. The phlegm spattered the grass. The wind blew a little harder as Fell flung the stone. The granite chipped and sparked upon her flesh.

The farmer in Fell’s soul feared a run of wildfire. A spark could easily rise up in dry times like this and tear through an entire countryside.

“I’ll curse you Fell. I’ll curse you and all those who stand with you.” the old woman began to chant. “Merry through the prickle bush, the gore bush, the hump; careful round the holly fall, she’ll catch your shadow hold…,”

The onlookers stiffened like a pack of wintered over scarecrows. Fear, or something darker, rooted their feet to the earth. Fell stumbled back from the pit. The wind stiffened and gusted as Thessaly laughed all the harder.

“Our father,” Fell began to pray. “Protect us from this harridan’s evil spells.”

Thessaly continued to laugh.

“It is no spell, you fool. It is nothing more than a children’s rhyme, Fell. It was only a nursery rhyme. Maybe I wasn’t witching your field. Maybe I was merely waving my broom at a thieving crow.”

Did she speak the truth?

Fell smothered his doubt.

Thessaly Cross had killed Eliza and Abraham Fell would not rest until he saw the witch finally dead.

He knelt down and caught hold of the next stone.

Only she wouldn’t stay quiet.

“Witches don’t curse, Fell. Only men curse,” Thessaly ranted. “They curse themselves and their pitiful lot.”

“You lie,” Fell said, working the stone free

“Truth! I tell truth. Witches dance in easy circles. We follow the rhythms of time and tide and the wind that washes the earth’s bones dry.”

The wind howled. A tangled snare of root rammed through the dirt. Fell stepped back too late. The root twisted like a snake. It snared Fell’s wrists and held him fast.

“Witches plant what men water with tears,” Thessaly shrieked. “Witches sow the sorrow men must reap. Know this, Fell. When you harm a witch you plant a grudge as old as regret.”

Fell tugged against the root. From the corner of his eye he saw the rest of the townsfolk, snared like screaming rabbits.

“I have you Fell. I have you all. Now you will see what a witched field really is.”

Thessaly set the field to work.

She stirred dead grass into unholy life. The strands and stalks whirred like a wind of teeth, slicing through men and women who tried too late to run away.

The first man died in mid-scream, as a gust of grass harrowed the meat from his bones. A root, flung like a dirty javelin, impaled a second man. A third went down beneath an airborne avalanche of fieldstone.

The wind grew gray with dust, straw and flesh. The earth opened in great cratered swallowing mouths. The townsfolk all died screaming.

Only Fell remained.

He stared at the carnage, as helpless as a snared rabbit.

“Witches sow, Fell. Witches sow and men must reap.”

She raised her hands.

He saw gray dirt imbedded beneath her fingernails.

“Shall I tell you where I have hid my broom, Fell? Have you guessed? Do you really want to know? I buried it in your very own field.”

The broom rose straight up from the earth’s dirty womb, not more than an arm’s reach from Fell.

“I and my broom will wait for you, Fell. We will wait for you like a seed waits for rain. Live with this. I have taken every one you know, but I let you live to breed. I let you live with the knowledge that one day I will return to visit your descendants.”

Fell braced his feet in the dirt. He prayed for the strength of Samson. He fought against the root.

“Now I will show you how to bury a witch,” she crowed.

She hugged herself as if hugging an unseen lover. The earth moved in reply as a thousand rocks flew from the flesh of the field and hovered above her homemade grave. Fell tore his wrists from the shackle of root.

He felt the skin rip from his bones.

“No descendants! No curse! Today we die together,” he howled.

He uprooted the broom with his freshly skinned hands. He threw himself down upon her. His momentum drove the broom handle straight through her heart. A gout of stinking blood splashed his face.

The willow twig head of the broom stood out in all directions like an angry star. Fell saw the flash of tiny unimaginable teeth grinning from the end of each writhing twig.

Then the broom took him.

It ate at his face like his skin was nothing more than apple rind. He felt the white-hot twig-worms gnaw his features. He felt them tear and burn through the bowl of his skull. They crawled into the jelly of his brain and nibbled at his thoughts.

He had time for one last scream.

The broom ate that as well. It swallowed each morsel of Abraham Fell’s pain and terror as it dragged him deeper down into the hole with the witch. The rocks poised above them like a pair of hands, ready to applaud. Thessaly pushed him from her. She nearly pushed him from the grave.

“Live, Fell. Let the meat grow back upon your opened skull. Crawl back from the brink of death. My curse shall stand. This earth grows too cold for me. I will wait for you and your descendants in the belly of hell.”

“No!” Fell pushed back down upon her. “The curse ends here.”

He shoved forward. He felt the broom slide and suck through the cage of his ribs. He pushed himself closer, impaling himself on the broom handle. The willow wood splintered inside him. It nailed him to Thessaly’s twisting frame. He felt her bones wiggling beneath her meat like worms in the dirt.

She nearly slipped free.

He bit her lip, tearing grayish meat. The pain racked her concentration. She let her spell and the rocks above them drop. The grave, the broom, the witch and Fell were sealed in completely.

For a long time, nothing moved.

The moon rose like a slow ghost, lanterning down upon the butcher field.

A small gray form pushed from the rocky grave. The gray hairless skin glistened beneath the cool wash of moonlight, like the hide of a stillborn rat.

It crawled away into the darkness that surrounded the field.

A lone owl hooted remorselessly.

…soooon…

*************

CHAPTER ONE – Three Hundred Years Later

* 1 *
I’m going to die, Maddy thought.

And the whole thing is all my fault.

She stared at her reflection in the dark kitchen window and her dead mother’s eyes stared back at her. There was a question asked in those ghost window eyes.

What are you going to do now, girl?

Maddy couldn’t say.

Vic stood in the center of the kitchen, waving his arms like a one-man windmill. Zigger slunk beneath his feet, gazing up with eyes pale as rotted moons, hoping to be fed.

Again.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Vic yelled.

Maddy felt her bones reaching down through the floorboards into the Nova Scotian dirt. She felt her bones take root, going to seed. What had she been thinking? She should have run a half a dozen years ago.

Now she was trapped.

Just like her mother.

Vic kept on yelling, one of the only things he was good at. “I come home a little late and you do a thing like this. What were you thinking?”

Maddy didn’t regret what she’d done, just doing it so stupidly. She’d been angry. She should’ve known there’d be trouble. She told herself that she needed to keep just as calm as possible.

She watched her reflection as she answered.

“A little late? It’s nearly midnight. You could have phoned.”

“The payphone at Benson’s was broke. Somebody buried a goddamn slug in it.”

Vic always had a ready lie. Lord but she was tired of it. She was tired of a lot of things. Marriage with Vic had started out fun, but fun changed fast. Vic grew mean just as soon as he had his cubic zirconium leash planted on her finger.

“You weren’t at Benson’s,” Maddy said. “You were at the tavern, spending your pay check. You probably danced yourself a couple of go-rounds with the shortest skirt in the place, I bet.”

Vic grinned, knowingly.

He was such a total bastard.

He didn’t even try to hide it.

“A man’s got a right to relax. Besides, I was at Benson’s, having a cup of coffee.”

She was tired of arguing, but what else could she do? Divorce him? She couldn’t expect any alimony. Vic would just laugh and drive away and that would be that – which would leave her on meant welfare.

No way.

She’d be cold in the ground before she’d lean on the dole.

“I smell bourbon,” she remarked and instantly regretted it.

Vic’s eyes flattened like slices of cut glass.

Maddy had just stepped over the line.

“Maybe your nose is broke and you smell things wrong,” he suggested. “It could happen.”

Stupid. She hadn’t planned to make him angry. She should have stopped right then and there – only she didn’t feel like stopping.

She made herself loose and ready to duck.

She usually could dodge the first couple of swings.

“You could have phoned,” she argued. “It’s a public restaurant. You could have asked Jack to use the counter phone. He wouldn’t have minded.”

Vic bulldozed straight through her argument. “Don’t talk goddamn foolishness, girl. Jack Benson never lets anyone use that phone, not unless the kitchen was burning down.”

“You could have tried.”

“Never you mind. Me being late is no excuse to do what you done.”

“It had gone cold,” she explained for the dozenth time.

“Well what’s a microwave for?”

“The microwave was broke, just the same as the pay phone.”

He nearly laughed. It was too bad he didn’t. It would have been over but out of the blue old Zigger started to bark. Vic booted the hound square in the ribs. The dog yelped in protest.

“Shut up hound.”

Kicking the dog should have cooled him down only Vic never worked that way. A little violence stirred him up like a poker shoved in a fire.

“I just need to know what you were thinking,” he asked, coming back to his anger like a dog after a bone. “Doing a thing like that.”

“It went cold,” she repeated. “It went cold, I was tired and it was near midnight.

The dog needed feeding. If you’d put some dog food in the house like I asked, I wouldn’t have had to give him yours.”

“There was a hockey game on,” Vic argued. “Can’t you understand?”

His voice rose at the last like a hurt little boy. Maddy nearly laughed. He was just so dense. He couldn’t realize what an absolute shithead he was being. She nearly laughed, but laughter right now would have been too much like asking for it.

She wasn’t suicidal.

Not yet.

She tried to make peace.

“Look Vic, there’s a stick of salami in the fridge if you want. Some pickles and relish if you’d like. I’d be glad to fry you up a couple of slices and make you a sandwich of it.”

“I don’t want no stinking salami and I’m sick to death of your preserves. I want my supper, damn it, and I want it now.”

From beneath the table’s safety, Zigger barked again. He was always going off, ever since his eyes went. His baying bounced off the ratty gray walls of the kitchen until it seemed the plaster would shatter.

“Quiet!” Vic yelled, kicking at the table and the dog beneath it.

Don’t let him get you going, she told herself, but there was something growing inside her and getting bigger as every moment slipped by.

“So I thought,” Maddy started, still trying to figure how to change the subject.

That instant of lapsed attention was all Vic needed. He grabbed her by the chin and twisted her face around to meet his gaze.

“Thought what Maddy? What did you think? What have you ever thought in your godforsaken life?”

He pushed his face close to her, looming over her. He really didn’t need to. Vic was large all over, a totem of a man, all forehead and chin framed in a thicket of dark tangled hair. It made Maddy feel small, just standing next to him. It was a kind of slow erosion working away deep in her soul. Every year Vic made her feel a little bit smaller, like he was whittling her down until she was nothing but a shadow.

Some days she felt like she was nothing more than a puppet, dancing on his strings.

“If you learned how to think, then I sure want to know about it.” Vic went on.

The thing got bigger inside her. Every breath cut like a fish knife, her heart banged like a crazy drummer. It’s a heart attack, she thought. I’m having a heart attack.

“Maddy? Are you listening to me?”

Oh god I’m glad it’s over. He can bury me where ever he wants to.

I don’t care.

Zigger bayed and skittered across the tile floor.

“Shut up hound,” Vic snarled. “It’s bad enough you ate my goddamn supper.”

Maddy squeezed her eyes shut. She felt a burst of blue light open like fireworks going off inside her skull.

Oh god.

It’s a stroke, she thought. A stroke or a heart attack or maybe some sort of aneurysm.

Whatever it was it couldn’t be any worse than life with Vic.

Just then Vic snapped his fingers a half inch from Maddy’s eyes, calling her back from the brink of her imagined death.

“Hey!” he shouted.

Maddy opened her eyes, startled to attention.

“Are you listening?”

She stared. It wasn’t a heart attack, but it sure was something. A blue dot of light popped open in front of Vic’s chest. Maddy knew that the blue light had to have come from somewhere inside her. It wasn’t anything she thought. It was more something that she just felt.

The dot hovered over Vic’s heart, flickering like a blue firefly.

“Well?”

She saw her chance and she took it.

“It went cold, Vic. Your supper went cold and the pork chops were greasy and I figured you were out at Benson’s and it’s a restaurant so you must have had yourself some supper, now didn’t you?”

The cavalry rode in just that quickly. She shifted the blame to him. She put him on the defensive. It would work. She had trapped him in his lie and made him feel like he had to hide the whole thing.

She’d beaten him again.

She didn’t care. She didn’t even notice, not really.

She was too busy staring at that blue light, wondering just what it was. Maybe the light wasn’t from her. Maybe it was something else. One of those laser gun sights you saw in movies. What if there was a sniper out in the darkness of the field, taking aim on the kitchen? Getting ready to fire? Would it bother her, watching Vic get shot to pieces?

She decided to wait and see.

“Are you listening to me, girl?”

She nodded vaguely, entranced by the blue dot.

Vic rolled his eyes in disgust. “Wake up, hay-for-brains! Jesus Christ, you look like some kind of sleepwalker. Are you listening, hey?”

“I’m listening, Vic.”

Only she wasn’t listening at all. She hadn’t been for years. Vic just had nothing new to say. As far as their marriage went he had stopped growing a long time ago.

The blue light widened. It was like staring at her Daddy’s old television set, turning off in reverse.

“You ain’t listening. Christ. For the life of me I don’t know why I ever married you. Your Daddy was right, you know. You’re stupid and ugly.”

That hurt.

“I ain’t ugly, Vic. Maybe I’m stupid, but I sure ain’t ugly.”

It was true. Maddy was always pretty. No movie star, mind you. She was a tough sort of pretty like a country weed in full bloom. Straw blonde hair, straight as a beggar could spit – with eyes that her Daddy used to call cornflower blue. A little gopher bump on the bridge of her nose, hooked down like a river running around a bend. Thin in the flanks from work and worry, but living with Vic would do that to any woman.

“You’re skinnier than a bean pole, and if them tits get any closer to the ground they’ll leave skid marks where you walk.”

That was a cruel truth. Maddy’s knockers crept closer to her stomach every year. They nearly hid the row of five tiny circular scars Vic called her rib holes. But what could she do about that?

Nail them up?

“It’s the law of gravity, Vic.” she explained. “Sooner or later we all fall down. I can’t help that. Nothing but trouble ever comes back up.”

She stared at the blue dot, watching it grow. Vic didn’t seem to notice the blue light at all, no matter how large it got. The dot started changing like it was taking shape.

“There you go again,” Vic complained. “If you did some work around here instead of daydreaming, I might come home in a whole lot nicer mood.”

That was a bold lie. Vic didn’t know how to be in a good mood unless he was drunk and even that wasn’t any kind of a guarantee.

The blue shape grew into a form. It looked like some kind of rag doll, getting bigger all the time. Vic thumped the pine table for emphasis. The salt and pepper shakers shivered in their wooden box.

Maddy didn’t notice.

She was too busy staring at the hovering blue image directly between her and Vic.

The hovering blue image of her long dead father.

“How long are you going to let this skid mark with legs get away with that kind of crap?” Maddy’s dead father asked.

* 2 *
Helliard Jolleen drove a Mercury, just the same as his Daddy did. Two shades of red sprayed across a patchy rusted skin of red brown primer. Duane called it Martian camouflage. Helliard liked to think of it as something more like flames or blood.

Today it was both flames AND blood.

Helliard was certain of one thing.

Something his Daddy had told him a long time ago.

“Death is all around you boy. It’s just waiting around the next corner to jump you when you least expect it. Believe in that, and you’ll grow strong. The first thing you got to do is learn not to fear death.”

Helliard’s daddy, who had once picked steel guitar with Hank Snow and could shoot the pussy out of a pregnant flea, taught Helliard rhythm and how to kill.

“So long as you are alive, Helliard, you got to fight, eh? Now most folk, they say fight, they mean hit. I don’t mean hit. Hitting is for playground sisters. When I say fight, I mean kill. The man who goes into a fight ready to kill, he cannot be beat. So you got to learn to kill. And killing is just like a country song. It’s got a rhythm, easy as breathing, easy as dancing, whether you shoot them, knife them, or just beat them to flathead hell.”

It was daddy’s truth and a goddamn lie.

Helliard knew that now, for sure.

Damn it!

He swerved the red Mercury, tumbling half of Duane Telford’s potato chips down his beard.

“Goddamn it Helliard!” Duane swore, while trying to stuff the rest of the chips into his mouth. “Are you trying to kill a man?”

Duane was a fat useless fuck. Ordinarily Helliard wouldn’t have paid him any mind. Only today, after visiting that hospital Helliard felt a long way west of ordinary.

“Shut the fuck up, Duane. You eat too much anyway. That stomach is going to be the death of you yet, I swear.”

Helliard shoved a lock of red hair from out of his eye. The hair was another gift from Daddy. He claimed it was the Joleen temper bleeding out.

“Goddamn it Helliard. Ever since you come from that hospital you’ve been acting meaner than a rusty meat axe. What the hell’s got into you anyway?”

Helliard thought about the hospital. He thought about his Daddy. He thought about what he’d been afraid to do.

He couldn’t deal with any of it.

“Shut the fuck up before I kick your ass through your teeth, Duane.”

“Well goddamn it Helly, you made me spill most of my potato chippies,” Duane complained, picking and nibbling the larger crumbs from his beard.

“Chips, Duane. Not chippies. They’re called chips. Besides, you eat too fucking much.”

“I’m growing,” Duane said.

“You’re growing on my fucking nerves is what you’re doing. Now shut the goddamn fuck up, eh?”

Duane shut up. People always shut up when Helliard said to, because Helliard was a tough fucker.

Yeah, right.

He slid an Export-A cigarette out of the pack in his shirt pocket. He snapped open his Zippo lighter and sparked flame without missing a beat. That was the way Helliard liked to do things – smooth and tough, without thinking at all.
Only right now he didn’t feel so tough. Not after seeing his Daddy in the hospital bed with no more meat on his bones than a stick of kindling. Not after the way Daddy had stared at him, begging with his eyes for Helliard to find the guts to take Big Fuck and….

“Fucking cancer.”

A growth, his Daddy had called it.Like it was some kind of fucking weed.

“Jesus.”

Daddy gave him the lighter on his twelfth birthday. It was supposed to be right from World War II. The lighter had some writing on it. The writing said – SO SHALL YOU REAP in big fancy letters, all hooks and knobs that reminded him of meat hooks hanging in a slaughter house. Antique or not, the lighter worked damn good.

It lit the first time, every time.

None of that plastic butane shit for Helliard.

He puffed in a long hot drag and sparked up a couple of coughs to clear the air track. He ought to give this shit up. It was smoke that killed his Daddy. Sooner or later old man tobacco-weed would let Helliard know his bill was long past due.

Fuck it.

He puffed again. He blew the smoke at Duane for the hell of it.

“Horseshit, Helly!”

The doctor gave Daddy three months to live. He said Helliard ought to stick around to sort of keep an eye on things.

Like hell.

Sticking around, watching a man die, that was too much like sticking around to watch your house burn down after the oil tank lit off kiddle-tee-boom.

Helliard tucked the lighter back in his pocket. He touched the gun, jammed in his black leather belt. It was a big old Ruger Blackhawk. Way too much gun is what his Daddy called it, but Helliard called the gun Big Fuck, because it made a big fucking mess of whatever it shot. It could put a hole through a man large enough to reach your fist clear through.

He knew that for an honest fact.

The pistol wasn’t legal in Canada, but God bless the U-S-A-holes. Helliard’s Daddy drove it up over the border, tucked in the bottom of a welded over gas tank. He gave it to Helliard as a thirteenth birthday present. Since then Helliard had shot more men dead than he had fingers and toes to count on. And that was counting his extra little toe.

Mind you, Helliard didn’t shoot nobody he knew. That’d leave way too much motive hanging out there in the wind for some lawman to catch hold, like the tail of a kite. No sir, the only people Helliard shot were strangers he met on the road. He buried them deep in the woods a mile out past the town.

Yes sir, Helliard was a real bad fucker.

“Yeah right, goddamn it,” he muttered. “A real bad gutless fucker.”

Helliard felt Duane eyeing him like he wanted something.

“We need some pop, Helly. Some Pepsi.”

Helliard glared at him.

Duane shook the Pepsi can meaningfully.

“Yeah, damn it. I’m dry to,” Helliard admitted. “There’s a Night Owl up the road.

We’ll pick up some Coke there. Pepsi is nothing but piss water.”

“I ain’t got any money,” Duane said.

Helliard rubbed the butt of his pistol like it was a woman’s tit.

“Don’t need any,” he said

And he didn’t.

* 3 *
Maddy didn’t get it. There was Daddy, just as big as television. Skinny as a starved rake with that goatish half beard he grew because he’d always been too lazy to shave.

Only he was blue.

He was blue, and he was talking to her.

“I raised you better than this, girl.” Bluedaddy said.

She’d gone crazy.

That was it.

She’d gone absolutely nuts. Daddy was dead and buried. She ought to know. Yet there he was. Was, and wasn’t. He wasn’t more than a tattery blue silhouette, like the light that tatters about a dead stick in a fireplace, just before it bursts into flame. He was Bluedaddy – that’s what he was – glowing like a dime store glow in the dark dashboard Jesus.

“What are you staring at?” Vic asked. “Have your eyes gone buggy?”

Bluedaddy just stood there straight in front of Vic, grinning like a bastard at the tit. She could hear his grinning somewhere deep inside the plates of her skull, humming like the twanging of a guitar string.

Only Vic couldn’t see a thing.

“I asked you a question, girl.” Vic said.

Bluedaddy jerked a crackling blue thumb in Vic’s direction.

“He asked you a question, girl.”

“You’re dead,” Maddy whispered.

“You ought to know,” Bluedaddy replied. “You’re the one who buried me.”

Vic looked confused. It suited him.

“Don’t you be threatening me now,” he warned her. “You’re the only one who’s going to be doing the dying around here Maddy. The only dead I am is dead tired. Dead hungry too. Fry me some eggs, damn it.”

Bluedaddy’s grin danced in the air in front of his mouth like fairy light in a haunted swamp. She could hear the old bastard’s grin buzzing just behind her left ear, like a hive full of crazy bees.

“Are you listening?” Vic asked.

He got tired of waiting. As quick as you could say stick he backed his right hand hard against her cheek.

“Wake up,” he said. “And fry me them eggs.”

He plunked himself down at the big kitchen table. He faced away from Maddy, like she wasn’t worth worrying about.

“Why don’t you kill him?” Bluedaddy asked. “You sure as hell know how to.”

“Why?” Maddy asked.

“Because I’m hungry!” Vic shouted. “Because I fucking told you, that’s why.”

Bluedaddy grinned even harder.

“Because I told you to,” Bluedaddy repeated.

Maddy grabbed her fry pan. She gave it a half twirl to spill any dust that might have grown overnight. She hadn’t stood griddle at a half dozen Halifax greasy spoons for nothing. In a minute she’d have the pan on the burner, the eggs cracked and sizzling.

“Get to them eggs, girl.” Bluedaddy commanded. “Your man has spoken.”

That stopped her.

Those last four words told her that this was her Daddy and not just some figment of her imagination. Your man has spoken. The same four words he’d said to Maddy’s mother more times than Maddy could count. The last four words he ever said.

Your man has spoken.

Maddy opened her mouth and three more words fell out.

“Make them yourself.”

The hell of it was she wasn’t even sure who she was speaking to. Vic knew though. At least he figured he did.

“Are you looking for a pair of homemade sunglasses, Maddy my girl?” he asked, without even bothering to turn around.

He’d do it.

It wouldn’t be the first time he’d blacked her eyes.

“Well?” he asked.

Maddy stared at the homespun wall of Vic’s back.

“I’m waiting,” he said.

She swung the pan over her head like a kindling hatchet and brought it down into Vic’s skull.

He hit the table face first. His hands pancaked out to break his fall but that was only reflexes talking. He was deader than Jesus’s dog, long before he hit the table. The impact launched the salt shaker into flight. It landed with a clatter, spilling salt on the floor. Hell, she thought, spilled salt’s bad luck. She had better throw some over my shoulder.

She stood there trying to remember which shoulder she was supposed to throw it over.

Vic’s brains began to spread like spilled porridge.

Maddy forgot about the salt.

She grabbed for a napkin to blot the mess.

Then realization hit.

She stared at what she had gone and done.

Then she smiled.

“How do you like those eggs, Vic?” she softly asked.

Bluedaddy smiled too.

For some reason he was holding a gray willow broom – kind of like her granny used to use. He passed the teeth of the broom through Vic’s skull. As the broom touched the skull the air crackled like a hairbrush on a dry winter morning.

“It’s time to clean up, Maddy,” Bluedaddy told her. “It’s time to clean up all of the old messes.”

Maddy nodded.

She let out a long slow sigh.

She thought it was over.

It wasn’t.

Because a few days later, just like Jesus, Vic rose up


Whew.

That’s a big old blog entry. The little hamster that runs the WordPress mechanism probably lost about three or four ounces of belly fat pedalling that wheel around.

NOW – for those of you folks who HAVE made it all the way down this far – here’s a bonus.

One of my favorite Friday The 13th television episodes.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

The Entire Halloween Series…

Good news fellow horror nerds!

The entire HALLOWEEN movie series is NOW AVAILABLE in a great big fat juicy boxed set – but ONLY in Blu-Ray.

I haven’t converted to Blu-Ray yet.

Call me a caveman.

I’m still resisting.

Okay – so I REEEALLLY want to buy this series – the whole freaking series – but HMV only has the Blueray collector’s set because that’s all there freaking is – and besides I am so broke that my wallet cries bitter, bitter tears because it just does NOT remember the feeling of actual honest-to-Donald-Trump folding money – so I have to settle for watching this cheapie 2 minute remake of the ENTIRE FREAKING HALLOWEEN SERIES!

Happy October, boys and girls!

(warning – gratuitous potty mouth Youtube video – you might want to put your babies to bed before you actually watch this)

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon


If you enjoyed this blog entry why don’t you pick up one of my e-books?

Steve Vernon on Kindle!

Steve Vernon on Kobo!

Stop spamming, you’ll scare the potential readers. Marketing: A passive aggressive sport.

Steve Vernon:

There is ALWAYS a very fine line that stretches between discretely laying your book on a table where someone will see it and ask you about it and entering a room jumping up and down in an ill-fitting neon green kilt, while waving your book over your head and possibly concussing a few random household pets while shouting “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!”

So – how do you folks promote your books?

Originally posted on Author Eric Johnson:

191

How do you let people know that you have written book with out clubbing them over the social media?

Marketing: A passive aggressive sport.

Passive Marketing- I am passively marketing to you right now. I had a catchy title for my blog post. I provide useful information and there is a link to my book, ready for anyone who clicks. I offer tips and tricks and tell a secret, I re-post other authors blogs and read their books. I offer advice, although I am new to marketing. It creates dialogue. People can say, he was helpful or better yet, I was able to help. Provide words of encouragement.

Active Marketing- Deliberate and purposeful. Buy my book, I want your money. Here’s my link www.buymyblahblahbook.com . That sums it up. Active marketing is like fire works, or a one night stand, after the flash and bang, people go home, sometimes…

View original 344 more words

Just in time for Halloween…

Just in time for Halloween my terrifying full length novel of scarecrow horror, TATTERDEMON, is available for a measly 99 cents.

You can order this on Amazon.com for a measly 99cents. Just click on this cover and I'll take you there.

You can order this on Amazon.com for a measly 99cents. Just click on this cover and I’ll take you there.

So what is it all about?

Why not take a peek at the Prologue and Chapter One of TATTERDEMON?


Tatterdemon

PROLOGUE

summer 1691

Preacher Abraham Fell stared down at the witch Thessaly Cross, breathing like he’d run for a good long stretch. He leaned over, bending at the knees to lay another slab of fieldstone upon her chest.

“We beat you with hickory and we beat you with iron,” he said. “And you withstood every blow.”

He stooped down and picked up another rock, never taking his eyes off her, as if she were some kind of dangerous viper who might strike at any moment.

He set the next rock on top of her, directly beside the others.

“We shot you and the musket balls swerved in midair like they were afraid of sinking into the taint of your flesh.”

He scooped up another rock, grunting as he scooped. He just wasn’t as young a man as he used to be – and no wonder.

Sights like this one aged you faster than years ought to run.

“We hung you in a noose woven from a widow’s gray hair, a noose soaked in children’s tears and you kicked and cackled like a hell-kite in the wind.”

He laid the next rock down, sank to his knees and scooped up another stone. He was building a kind of rhythm that made the labor just a little easier.

“We burned you but even fired failed us.”

It was true. She had witched a storm from a cloudless sky and drowned the blaze cold. Seth Hamilton, the town smith who had been the only man to dare kindle her pyre had been cindered black.

“Let the stones crush you and the dirt eat you,” Fell said, laying another rock – which made thirteen stones in all. These were all good sized stones, hand-picked, at least the weight of child’s corpse. She ought to have been crushed by the weight upon her yet she carried the load as if it were nothing but sticks and straw.

“Where did you hide the broom, witch?” Fell asked.

“Maybe it’s up your bunghole,” Thessaly taunted.

The broom was her power and Fell feared it – although he knew that he shouldn’t have. It was just a thing of woven willow. His grand-nanny swept the pine boards of her cabin daily with just such a broom and she certainly wasn’t a witch.

Was she?

He bent for another stone.

Thessaly spat in his face. “Bury that, god kisser.”

He dropped the fourteenth stone upon her. It made a hard sound, like she had stared too long at the Gorgon. He grunted at the effort and she laughed at his strain – which stung his pride hard.

“You must pay for your crimes against God and this community,” Fell said.

Thessaly snorted. It wasn’t any kind of human sound. Her snort sounded like a boar in rut.

“What I pay for is refusing to give you my land,” she pointed out, as the wind rattled the grass. “What I pay for is witching your field in return for your greed. I pay for your cattle that ate the gray grass. Happiest of all, I pay for your daughter, Fell.”

Eliza.

Damn it.

Fell could still taste the smell of the dead meat festering in the back of his sinuses. He’d put down the last tainted beast this morning. He’d beat it square in the skull with his best chopping axe. The metal of the blade had chewed into the bone and stuck hard. He’d had to put his left boot against the cow’s forehead and lean back to work the axe loose. The unholy cattle hadn’t moved, not one of them. Even after he’d cut the first two down. They just stood there in his field, the wind making slow soft harp sounds blowing through their gray rattled guts.

He had put his daughter Eliza down before he had started with the cattle. Then he burned what was left of her and buried her ashes in the field.

The husk that he had burned and buried wouldn’t have nourished a worm.

“Was the milk tasty, Fell?” Thessaly taunted him. “Did young Eliza find it sweet?”

“Witch!” Fell hissed.

He snatched up a skull-sized rock scraping his hand against the rough granite and marking it with his own blood. He would match his stone and his blood against hers, he fiercely swore.

But first he had to know.

“Where did you hide the broom?”

“Closer than you imagine.”

She spat again. The phlegm spattered the grass. The wind blew a little harder as Fell flung the stone. The granite chipped and sparked upon her flesh.

The farmer in Fell’s soul feared a run of wildfire. A spark could easily rise up in dry times like this and tear through an entire countryside.

“I’ll curse you Fell. I’ll curse you and all those who stand with you.” the old woman began to chant. “Merry through the prickle bush, the gore bush, the hump; careful round the holly fall, she’ll catch your shadow hold…,”

The onlookers stiffened like a pack of wintered over scarecrows. Fear, or something darker, rooted their feet to the earth. Fell stumbled back from the pit. The wind stiffened and gusted as Thessaly laughed all the harder.

“Our father,” Fell began to pray. “Protect us from this harridan’s evil spells.”

Thessaly continued to laugh.

“It is no spell, you fool. It is nothing more than a children’s rhyme, Fell. It was only a nursery rhyme. Maybe I wasn’t witching your field. Maybe I was merely waving my broom at a thieving crow.”

Did she speak the truth?

Fell smothered his doubt.

Thessaly Cross had killed Eliza and Abraham Fell would not rest until he saw the witch finally dead.

He knelt down and caught hold of the next stone.

Only she wouldn’t stay quiet.

“Witches don’t curse, Fell. Only men curse,” Thessaly ranted. “They curse themselves and their pitiful lot.”

“You lie,” Fell said, working the stone free

“Truth! I tell truth. Witches dance in easy circles. We follow the rhythms of time and tide and the wind that washes the earth’s bones dry.”

The wind howled. A tangled snare of root rammed through the dirt. Fell stepped back too late. The root twisted like a snake. It snared Fell’s wrists and held him fast.

“Witches plant what men water with tears,” Thessaly shrieked. “Witches sow the sorrow men must reap. Know this, Fell. When you harm a witch you plant a grudge as old as regret.”

Fell tugged against the root. From the corner of his eye he saw the rest of the townsfolk, snared like screaming rabbits.

“I have you Fell. I have you all. Now you will see what a witched field really is.”

Thessaly set the field to work.

She stirred dead grass into unholy life. The strands and stalks whirred like a wind of teeth, slicing through men and women who tried too late to run away.

The first man died in mid-scream, as a gust of grass harrowed the meat from his bones. A root, flung like a dirty javelin, impaled a second man. A third went down beneath an airborne avalanche of fieldstone.

The wind grew gray with dust, straw and flesh. The earth opened in great cratered swallowing mouths. The townsfolk all died screaming.

Only Fell remained.

He stared at the carnage, as helpless as a snared rabbit.

“Witches sow, Fell. Witches sow and men must reap.”

She raised her hands.

He saw gray dirt imbedded beneath her fingernails.

“Shall I tell you where I have hid my broom, Fell? Have you guessed? Do you really want to know? I buried it in your very own field.”

The broom rose straight up from the earth’s dirty womb, not more than an arm’s reach from Fell.

“I and my broom will wait for you, Fell. We will wait for you like a seed waits for rain. Live with this. I have taken every one you know, but I let you live to breed. I let you live with the knowledge that one day I will return to visit your descendants.”

Fell braced his feet in the dirt. He prayed for the strength of Samson. He fought against the root.

“Now I will show you how to bury a witch,” she crowed.

She hugged herself as if hugging an unseen lover. The earth moved in reply as a thousand rocks flew from the flesh of the field and hovered above her homemade grave. Fell tore his wrists from the shackle of root.

He felt the skin rip from his bones.

“No descendants! No curse! Today we die together,” he howled.

He uprooted the broom with his freshly skinned hands. He threw himself down upon her. His momentum drove the broom handle straight through her heart. A gout of stinking blood splashed his face.

The willow twig head of the broom stood out in all directions like an angry star. Fell saw the flash of tiny unimaginable teeth grinning from the end of each writhing twig.

Then the broom took him.

It ate at his face like his skin was nothing more than apple rind. He felt the white-hot twig-worms gnaw his features. He felt them tear and burn through the bowl of his skull. They crawled into the jelly of his brain and nibbled at his thoughts.

He had time for one last scream.

The broom ate that as well. It swallowed each morsel of Abraham Fell’s pain and terror as it dragged him deeper down into the hole with the witch. The rocks poised above them like a pair of hands, ready to applaud. Thessaly pushed him from her. She nearly pushed him from the grave.

“Live, Fell. Let the meat grow back upon your opened skull. Crawl back from the brink of death. My curse shall stand. This earth grows too cold for me. I will wait for you and your descendants in the belly of hell.”

“No!” Fell pushed back down upon her. “The curse ends here.”

He shoved forward. He felt the broom slide and suck through the cage of his ribs. He pushed himself closer, impaling himself on the broom handle. The willow wood splintered inside him. It nailed him to Thessaly’s twisting frame. He felt her bones wiggling beneath her meat like worms in the dirt.

She nearly slipped free.

He bit her lip, tearing grayish meat. The pain racked her concentration. She let her spell and the rocks above them drop. The grave, the broom, the witch and Fell were sealed in completely.

For a long time, nothing moved.

The moon rose like a slow ghost, lanterning down upon the butcher field.

A small gray form pushed from the rocky grave. The gray hairless skin glistened beneath the cool wash of moonlight, like the hide of a stillborn rat.

It crawled away into the darkness that surrounded the field.

A lone owl hooted remorselessly.

…soooon…

*************

CHAPTER ONE – Three Hundred Years Later

* 1 *
I’m going to die, Maddy thought.

And the whole thing is all my fault.

She stared at her reflection in the dark kitchen window and her dead mother’s eyes stared back at her. There was a question asked in those ghost window eyes.

What are you going to do now, girl?

Maddy couldn’t say.

Vic stood in the center of the kitchen, waving his arms like a one-man windmill. Zigger slunk beneath his feet, gazing up with eyes pale as rotted moons, hoping to be fed.

Again.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Vic yelled.

Maddy felt her bones reaching down through the floorboards into the Nova Scotian dirt. She felt her bones take root, going to seed. What had she been thinking? She should have run a half a dozen years ago.

Now she was trapped.

Just like her mother.

Vic kept on yelling, one of the only things he was good at. “I come home a little late and you do a thing like this. What were you thinking?”

Maddy didn’t regret what she’d done, just doing it so stupidly. She’d been angry. She should’ve known there’d be trouble. She told herself that she needed to keep just as calm as possible.

She watched her reflection as she answered.

“A little late? It’s nearly midnight. You could have phoned.”

“The payphone at Benson’s was broke. Somebody buried a goddamn slug in it.”

Vic always had a ready lie. Lord but she was tired of it. She was tired of a lot of things. Marriage with Vic had started out fun, but fun changed fast. Vic grew mean just as soon as he had his cubic zirconium leash planted on her finger.

“You weren’t at Benson’s,” Maddy said. “You were at the tavern, spending your pay check. You probably danced yourself a couple of go-rounds with the shortest skirt in the place, I bet.”

Vic grinned, knowingly.

He was such a total bastard.

He didn’t even try to hide it.

“A man’s got a right to relax. Besides, I was at Benson’s, having a cup of coffee.”

She was tired of arguing, but what else could she do? Divorce him? She couldn’t expect any alimony. Vic would just laugh and drive away and that would be that – which would leave her on meant welfare.

No way.

She’d be cold in the ground before she’d lean on the dole.

“I smell bourbon,” she remarked and instantly regretted it.

Vic’s eyes flattened like slices of cut glass.

Maddy had just stepped over the line.

“Maybe your nose is broke and you smell things wrong,” he suggested. “It could happen.”

Stupid. She hadn’t planned to make him angry. She should have stopped right then and there – only she didn’t feel like stopping.

She made herself loose and ready to duck.

She usually could dodge the first couple of swings.

“You could have phoned,” she argued. “It’s a public restaurant. You could have asked Jack to use the counter phone. He wouldn’t have minded.”

Vic bulldozed straight through her argument. “Don’t talk goddamn foolishness, girl. Jack Benson never lets anyone use that phone, not unless the kitchen was burning down.”

“You could have tried.”

“Never you mind. Me being late is no excuse to do what you done.”

“It had gone cold,” she explained for the dozenth time.

“Well what’s a microwave for?”

“The microwave was broke, just the same as the pay phone.”

He nearly laughed. It was too bad he didn’t. It would have been over but out of the blue old Zigger started to bark. Vic booted the hound square in the ribs. The dog yelped in protest.

“Shut up hound.”

Kicking the dog should have cooled him down only Vic never worked that way. A little violence stirred him up like a poker shoved in a fire.

“I just need to know what you were thinking,” he asked, coming back to his anger like a dog after a bone. “Doing a thing like that.”

“It went cold,” she repeated. “It went cold, I was tired and it was near midnight.

The dog needed feeding. If you’d put some dog food in the house like I asked, I wouldn’t have had to give him yours.”

“There was a hockey game on,” Vic argued. “Can’t you understand?”

His voice rose at the last like a hurt little boy. Maddy nearly laughed. He was just so dense. He couldn’t realize what an absolute shithead he was being. She nearly laughed, but laughter right now would have been too much like asking for it.

She wasn’t suicidal.

Not yet.

She tried to make peace.

“Look Vic, there’s a stick of salami in the fridge if you want. Some pickles and relish if you’d like. I’d be glad to fry you up a couple of slices and make you a sandwich of it.”

“I don’t want no stinking salami and I’m sick to death of your preserves. I want my supper, damn it, and I want it now.”

From beneath the table’s safety, Zigger barked again. He was always going off, ever since his eyes went. His baying bounced off the ratty gray walls of the kitchen until it seemed the plaster would shatter.

“Quiet!” Vic yelled, kicking at the table and the dog beneath it.

Don’t let him get you going, she told herself, but there was something growing inside her and getting bigger as every moment slipped by.

“So I thought,” Maddy started, still trying to figure how to change the subject.

That instant of lapsed attention was all Vic needed. He grabbed her by the chin and twisted her face around to meet his gaze.

“Thought what Maddy? What did you think? What have you ever thought in your godforsaken life?”

He pushed his face close to her, looming over her. He really didn’t need to. Vic was large all over, a totem of a man, all forehead and chin framed in a thicket of dark tangled hair. It made Maddy feel small, just standing next to him. It was a kind of slow erosion working away deep in her soul. Every year Vic made her feel a little bit smaller, like he was whittling her down until she was nothing but a shadow.

Some days she felt like she was nothing more than a puppet, dancing on his strings.

“If you learned how to think, then I sure want to know about it.” Vic went on.

The thing got bigger inside her. Every breath cut like a fish knife, her heart banged like a crazy drummer. It’s a heart attack, she thought. I’m having a heart attack.

“Maddy? Are you listening to me?”

Oh god I’m glad it’s over. He can bury me where ever he wants to.

I don’t care.

Zigger bayed and skittered across the tile floor.

“Shut up hound,” Vic snarled. “It’s bad enough you ate my goddamn supper.”

Maddy squeezed her eyes shut. She felt a burst of blue light open like fireworks going off inside her skull.

Oh god.

It’s a stroke, she thought. A stroke or a heart attack or maybe some sort of aneurysm.

Whatever it was it couldn’t be any worse than life with Vic.

Just then Vic snapped his fingers a half inch from Maddy’s eyes, calling her back from the brink of her imagined death.

“Hey!” he shouted.

Maddy opened her eyes, startled to attention.

“Are you listening?”

She stared. It wasn’t a heart attack, but it sure was something. A blue dot of light popped open in front of Vic’s chest. Maddy knew that the blue light had to have come from somewhere inside her. It wasn’t anything she thought. It was more something that she just felt.

The dot hovered over Vic’s heart, flickering like a blue firefly.

“Well?”

She saw her chance and she took it.

“It went cold, Vic. Your supper went cold and the pork chops were greasy and I figured you were out at Benson’s and it’s a restaurant so you must have had yourself some supper, now didn’t you?”

The cavalry rode in just that quickly. She shifted the blame to him. She put him on the defensive. It would work. She had trapped him in his lie and made him feel like he had to hide the whole thing.

She’d beaten him again.

She didn’t care. She didn’t even notice, not really.

She was too busy staring at that blue light, wondering just what it was. Maybe the light wasn’t from her. Maybe it was something else. One of those laser gun sights you saw in movies. What if there was a sniper out in the darkness of the field, taking aim on the kitchen? Getting ready to fire? Would it bother her, watching Vic get shot to pieces?

She decided to wait and see.

“Are you listening to me, girl?”

She nodded vaguely, entranced by the blue dot.

Vic rolled his eyes in disgust. “Wake up, hay-for-brains! Jesus Christ, you look like some kind of sleepwalker. Are you listening, hey?”

“I’m listening, Vic.”

Only she wasn’t listening at all. She hadn’t been for years. Vic just had nothing new to say. As far as their marriage went he had stopped growing a long time ago.

The blue light widened. It was like staring at her Daddy’s old television set, turning off in reverse.

“You ain’t listening. Christ. For the life of me I don’t know why I ever married you. Your Daddy was right, you know. You’re stupid and ugly.”

That hurt.

“I ain’t ugly, Vic. Maybe I’m stupid, but I sure ain’t ugly.”

It was true. Maddy was always pretty. No movie star, mind you. She was a tough sort of pretty like a country weed in full bloom. Straw blonde hair, straight as a beggar could spit – with eyes that her Daddy used to call cornflower blue. A little gopher bump on the bridge of her nose, hooked down like a river running around a bend. Thin in the flanks from work and worry, but living with Vic would do that to any woman.

“You’re skinnier than a bean pole, and if them tits get any closer to the ground they’ll leave skid marks where you walk.”

That was a cruel truth. Maddy’s knockers crept closer to her stomach every year. They nearly hid the row of five tiny circular scars Vic called her rib holes. But what could she do about that?

Nail them up?

“It’s the law of gravity, Vic.” she explained. “Sooner or later we all fall down. I can’t help that. Nothing but trouble ever comes back up.”

She stared at the blue dot, watching it grow. Vic didn’t seem to notice the blue light at all, no matter how large it got. The dot started changing like it was taking shape.

“There you go again,” Vic complained. “If you did some work around here instead of daydreaming, I might come home in a whole lot nicer mood.”

That was a bold lie. Vic didn’t know how to be in a good mood unless he was drunk and even that wasn’t any kind of a guarantee.

The blue shape grew into a form. It looked like some kind of rag doll, getting bigger all the time. Vic thumped the pine table for emphasis. The salt and pepper shakers shivered in their wooden box.

Maddy didn’t notice.

She was too busy staring at the hovering blue image directly between her and Vic.

The hovering blue image of her long dead father.

“How long are you going to let this skid mark with legs get away with that kind of crap?” Maddy’s dead father asked.

* 2 *
Helliard Jolleen drove a Mercury, just the same as his Daddy did. Two shades of red sprayed across a patchy rusted skin of red brown primer. Duane called it Martian camouflage. Helliard liked to think of it as something more like flames or blood.

Today it was both flames AND blood.

Helliard was certain of one thing.

Something his Daddy had told him a long time ago.

“Death is all around you boy. It’s just waiting around the next corner to jump you when you least expect it. Believe in that, and you’ll grow strong. The first thing you got to do is learn not to fear death.”

Helliard’s daddy, who had once picked steel guitar with Hank Snow and could shoot the pussy out of a pregnant flea, taught Helliard rhythm and how to kill.

“So long as you are alive, Helliard, you got to fight, eh? Now most folk, they say fight, they mean hit. I don’t mean hit. Hitting is for playground sisters. When I say fight, I mean kill. The man who goes into a fight ready to kill, he cannot be beat. So you got to learn to kill. And killing is just like a country song. It’s got a rhythm, easy as breathing, easy as dancing, whether you shoot them, knife them, or just beat them to flathead hell.”

It was daddy’s truth and a goddamn lie.

Helliard knew that now, for sure.

Damn it!

He swerved the red Mercury, tumbling half of Duane Telford’s potato chips down his beard.

“Goddamn it Helliard!” Duane swore, while trying to stuff the rest of the chips into his mouth. “Are you trying to kill a man?”

Duane was a fat useless fuck. Ordinarily Helliard wouldn’t have paid him any mind. Only today, after visiting that hospital Helliard felt a long way west of ordinary.

“Shut the fuck up, Duane. You eat too much anyway. That stomach is going to be the death of you yet, I swear.”

Helliard shoved a lock of red hair from out of his eye. The hair was another gift from Daddy. He claimed it was the Joleen temper bleeding out.

“Goddamn it Helliard. Ever since you come from that hospital you’ve been acting meaner than a rusty meat axe. What the hell’s got into you anyway?”

Helliard thought about the hospital. He thought about his Daddy. He thought about what he’d been afraid to do.

He couldn’t deal with any of it.

“Shut the fuck up before I kick your ass through your teeth, Duane.”

“Well goddamn it Helly, you made me spill most of my potato chippies,” Duane complained, picking and nibbling the larger crumbs from his beard.

“Chips, Duane. Not chippies. They’re called chips. Besides, you eat too fucking much.”

“I’m growing,” Duane said.

“You’re growing on my fucking nerves is what you’re doing. Now shut the goddamn fuck up, eh?”

Duane shut up. People always shut up when Helliard said to, because Helliard was a tough fucker.

Yeah, right.

He slid an Export-A cigarette out of the pack in his shirt pocket. He snapped open his Zippo lighter and sparked flame without missing a beat. That was the way Helliard liked to do things – smooth and tough, without thinking at all.
Only right now he didn’t feel so tough. Not after seeing his Daddy in the hospital bed with no more meat on his bones than a stick of kindling. Not after the way Daddy had stared at him, begging with his eyes for Helliard to find the guts to take Big Fuck and….

“Fucking cancer.”

A growth, his Daddy had called it.Like it was some kind of fucking weed.

“Jesus.”

Daddy gave him the lighter on his twelfth birthday. It was supposed to be right from World War II. The lighter had some writing on it. The writing said – SO SHALL YOU REAP in big fancy letters, all hooks and knobs that reminded him of meat hooks hanging in a slaughter house. Antique or not, the lighter worked damn good.

It lit the first time, every time.

None of that plastic butane shit for Helliard.

He puffed in a long hot drag and sparked up a couple of coughs to clear the air track. He ought to give this shit up. It was smoke that killed his Daddy. Sooner or later old man tobacco-weed would let Helliard know his bill was long past due.

Fuck it.

He puffed again. He blew the smoke at Duane for the hell of it.

“Horseshit, Helly!”

The doctor gave Daddy three months to live. He said Helliard ought to stick around to sort of keep an eye on things.

Like hell.

Sticking around, watching a man die, that was too much like sticking around to watch your house burn down after the oil tank lit off kiddle-tee-boom.

Helliard tucked the lighter back in his pocket. He touched the gun, jammed in his black leather belt. It was a big old Ruger Blackhawk. Way too much gun is what his Daddy called it, but Helliard called the gun Big Fuck, because it made a big fucking mess of whatever it shot. It could put a hole through a man large enough to reach your fist clear through.

He knew that for an honest fact.

The pistol wasn’t legal in Canada, but God bless the U-S-A-holes. Helliard’s Daddy drove it up over the border, tucked in the bottom of a welded over gas tank. He gave it to Helliard as a thirteenth birthday present. Since then Helliard had shot more men dead than he had fingers and toes to count on. And that was counting his extra little toe.

Mind you, Helliard didn’t shoot nobody he knew. That’d leave way too much motive hanging out there in the wind for some lawman to catch hold, like the tail of a kite. No sir, the only people Helliard shot were strangers he met on the road. He buried them deep in the woods a mile out past the town.

Yes sir, Helliard was a real bad fucker.

“Yeah right, goddamn it,” he muttered. “A real bad gutless fucker.”

Helliard felt Duane eyeing him like he wanted something.

“We need some pop, Helly. Some Pepsi.”

Helliard glared at him.

Duane shook the Pepsi can meaningfully.

“Yeah, damn it. I’m dry to,” Helliard admitted. “There’s a Night Owl up the road.

We’ll pick up some Coke there. Pepsi is nothing but piss water.”

“I ain’t got any money,” Duane said.

Helliard rubbed the butt of his pistol like it was a woman’s tit.

“Don’t need any,” he said

And he didn’t.

* 3 *
Maddy didn’t get it. There was Daddy, just as big as television. Skinny as a starved rake with that goatish half beard he grew because he’d always been too lazy to shave.

Only he was blue.

He was blue, and he was talking to her.

“I raised you better than this, girl.” Bluedaddy said.

She’d gone crazy.

That was it.

She’d gone absolutely nuts. Daddy was dead and buried. She ought to know. Yet there he was. Was, and wasn’t. He wasn’t more than a tattery blue silhouette, like the light that tatters about a dead stick in a fireplace, just before it bursts into flame. He was Bluedaddy – that’s what he was – glowing like a dime store glow in the dark dashboard Jesus.

“What are you staring at?” Vic asked. “Have your eyes gone buggy?”

Bluedaddy just stood there straight in front of Vic, grinning like a bastard at the tit. She could hear his grinning somewhere deep inside the plates of her skull, humming like the twanging of a guitar string.

Only Vic couldn’t see a thing.

“I asked you a question, girl.” Vic said.

Bluedaddy jerked a crackling blue thumb in Vic’s direction.

“He asked you a question, girl.”

“You’re dead,” Maddy whispered.

“You ought to know,” Bluedaddy replied. “You’re the one who buried me.”

Vic looked confused. It suited him.

“Don’t you be threatening me now,” he warned her. “You’re the only one who’s going to be doing the dying around here Maddy. The only dead I am is dead tired. Dead hungry too. Fry me some eggs, damn it.”

Bluedaddy’s grin danced in the air in front of his mouth like fairy light in a haunted swamp. She could hear the old bastard’s grin buzzing just behind her left ear, like a hive full of crazy bees.

“Are you listening?” Vic asked.

He got tired of waiting. As quick as you could say stick he backed his right hand hard against her cheek.

“Wake up,” he said. “And fry me them eggs.”

He plunked himself down at the big kitchen table. He faced away from Maddy, like she wasn’t worth worrying about.

“Why don’t you kill him?” Bluedaddy asked. “You sure as hell know how to.”

“Why?” Maddy asked.

“Because I’m hungry!” Vic shouted. “Because I fucking told you, that’s why.”

Bluedaddy grinned even harder.

“Because I told you to,” Bluedaddy repeated.

Maddy grabbed her fry pan. She gave it a half twirl to spill any dust that might have grown overnight. She hadn’t stood griddle at a half dozen Halifax greasy spoons for nothing. In a minute she’d have the pan on the burner, the eggs cracked and sizzling.

“Get to them eggs, girl.” Bluedaddy commanded. “Your man has spoken.”

That stopped her.

Those last four words told her that this was her Daddy and not just some figment of her imagination. Your man has spoken. The same four words he’d said to Maddy’s mother more times than Maddy could count. The last four words he ever said.

Your man has spoken.

Maddy opened her mouth and three more words fell out.

“Make them yourself.”

The hell of it was she wasn’t even sure who she was speaking to. Vic knew though. At least he figured he did.

“Are you looking for a pair of homemade sunglasses, Maddy my girl?” he asked, without even bothering to turn around.

He’d do it.

It wouldn’t be the first time he’d blacked her eyes.

“Well?” he asked.

Maddy stared at the homespun wall of Vic’s back.

“I’m waiting,” he said.

She swung the pan over her head like a kindling hatchet and brought it down into Vic’s skull.

He hit the table face first. His hands pancaked out to break his fall but that was only reflexes talking. He was deader than Jesus’s dog, long before he hit the table. The impact launched the salt shaker into flight. It landed with a clatter, spilling salt on the floor. Hell, she thought, spilled salt’s bad luck. She had better throw some over my shoulder.

She stood there trying to remember which shoulder she was supposed to throw it over.

Vic’s brains began to spread like spilled porridge.

Maddy forgot about the salt.

She grabbed for a napkin to blot the mess.

Then realization hit.

She stared at what she had gone and done.

Then she smiled.

“How do you like those eggs, Vic?” she softly asked.

Bluedaddy smiled too.

For some reason he was holding a gray willow broom – kind of like her granny used to use. He passed the teeth of the broom through Vic’s skull. As the broom touched the skull the air crackled like a hairbrush on a dry winter morning.

“It’s time to clean up, Maddy,” Bluedaddy told her. “It’s time to clean up all of the old messes.”

Maddy nodded.

She let out a long slow sigh.

She thought it was over.

It wasn’t.

Because a few days later, just like Jesus, Vic rose up


yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon