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CISI Contest Winner: False Promises by Ken Fish

So, that’s what it feels like to pretend, he thought, as he laid in bed staring at the water-stained ceiling, trying to fall asleep for what felt like the millionth time in his fifteen years of living. It had been a normal day. It had been a rough day. In Abel McIntyre Junior’s family, there was no difference. In his family, in the trailer park with the neighbors that surrounded him like ghouls from a house of horrors, the best days for him would likely kill any other kid, he always thought.

Abel knew how other kids lived, and it wasn’t like him. He could see their houses on the soft, rounded hills across the Mystic River through the loose glass slats of the crank-open windows in his tiny wood-paneled bedroom. They had yards with grass and swing sets in them where children played all summer, and mounds of colorful flowers that gleamed in the most carefree way from mid-spring to mid-autumn. Even in the winter when those same hills were just grey mounds spiked with the craggy skeletons of oaks and maples, the houses glowed golden and warmly, twinkling on the coldest of days when there was ice in the air and the river looked as if it was frozen solid.

They lived in actual houses, and those houses they lived in didn’t have wheels under them. This fact alone seemed to provide those kids with some sense of permanence and security that Abel never knew. This fact alone, Abel sometimes caught himself believing, raised them up above him and his ever-toiling Ma, Ethel, and drunkard Da, Abel Senior, and their house with the wheels underneath it just in case they needed to make a run for it again.

“Pretending,” his mother always said “is much better than reality.” For Abel, there was always a certain disconnect between that mantra of hers and how he thought he lived his life. He never thought what he was doing was pretend, it felt more like protection. It was what he did to make do as the poor kid who lived in the trailer park that was essentially used as a halfway-housing complex for the underfunded and understaffed loony bin on the edge of this otherwise rich white town. For Abel, it was survival.

* * *

“Don’t you ever change your pants?” taunted Fred, the super-popular star of the soccer team at school. “I can smell those filthy things from here.” The reality of it was, Abel rarely did change his pants. In fact, he only owned three pairs; one for every day, one for Sunday, and one for the rare occasion when Ethel would sneak their dirty laundry into the laundry room of the loony bin where she and her sorry excuse for a husband, Abel Sr., worked.

Abel always loved laundry day. He relished the brief moment when the few clothes he had were stiff and crisp and smelled like the industrial detergent they used to kill off every biting, burrowing, stinging, blood-sucking creepy-crawly he imagined inhabiting the flesh of all those crazies where his parents worked. Every time he slipped into a clean pair of trousers or a fresh shirt he felt, if only for a second, reborn.

Abel could feel his face redden as he froze from a sickening mix of anger, humiliation and disenchantment. He’d been caught out again. He’d been targeted by yet another wicked prick who had nothing better to do than pick on the one kid in school who did everything in his power to be invisible to all those around him. Abel always kept quiet. He always kept to himself. He never did anything to anyone. He never did anything to deserve the sort of treatment he got over and over again.

Sometimes he thought he was cursed. When Abel was little, back before he started going to school, he fantasized about what it would be like to be able to get away from his Da every day. He thought it would be some sort of safety-zone, a cinder block oasis where there would be kids just like him, a place beyond the reach of his Da’s roaming hands, or worse yet, drunken fists. It didn’t take Abel long to discover the difference between fantasy and reality. To Abel, school seemed like the place people like his Da went to learn how to curse, fight, and in general, grow up to be an asshole.

“My gawd!” Fred hollered across the crowded cafeteria. “Didja shit yer pants, or what, Abel?”

Just then, at the very moment Fred called Abel by his first name, the name his worthless father burdened him with, everything else he said, could say, or would ever say again, meant nothing. At that moment, he could hear nothing but the blood rushing in his ears like the roar of the hurricane that crushed the crazy gay twins under the huge choke cherry tree that set their ragged pack of scabby, inbred cats free through the torn sheet-metal of their old 12’ by 40’ two lots down from the McIntyre’s.

At that moment, all Abel could see was Fred, his mouth flapping mutely before him. After that, all he could see was red — red from the mouth of that nasty boy Fred where Abel’s first punch landed with a stomach-churning crack, mashing Fred’s thin, pale upper lip into hanging shreds of gore. Fred’s mouth kept moving, but his face no longer read as arrogant. He looked truly shocked, and under that, truly terrified.

Abel couldn’t hear if Fred was trying to backpedal his way out of the suddenly desperate situation his mean mouth got him into. He couldn’t hear if Fred was screaming for help. Abel landed another punch, this time, to Fred’s jaw. He could feel himself smiling as his now torn knuckles made their impact, and the bone of Fred’s jaw gave way with a pop, down and to the left; a deformity deserved.

Abel could see the teeth swimming in Fred’s mouth, and his left eye instantly swollen, the indentations of Abel’s fist at its rim like the dimples on a fat lady’s ass. It looked as if Fred was shaking his head in a frantic NO gesture, but there wasn’t
any NO left in this. There was only GO left in this.

Abel heard later that he was growling and grunting like some sort of rabid animal when he was on top of him, that is, when he wasn’t laughing like one of those fellas from the fenced-in gravel lot in front of the nut house. Despite being one of the smallest boys in his ninth grade class, it took three middle-aged teachers and a Puerto Rican dishwasher to get him off of that poor boy. Abel was expelled that day, and day later, he was sent to juvenile hall.

* * *

A week after he got out, Abel saw Fred with his mother at the local grocery store. He was shattered. Fred acted like he didn’t see him, but Abel knew he did.

Abel didn’t know what happened that day at school. He relived it in flashes that provided neither context nor explanation. What he did know, is that it was like a dream coming true. All the times he’d been picked on, and all the times he’d been beaten up, had been erased by latching onto that smart-ass, Fred, and beating him to within an inch of his life.

Abel pretended to be sorry in front of the judge. He pretended to be sorry in front his so-called anger management counselor in juvenile hall. He even tried to pretend to be sorry in front of his Ma after his month of being locked up behind a tall chain link fence and those thick concrete walls, but she could see right through him.

“You don’t have to pretend to be sorry in front of me, mister,” she said smiling wryly.

Abel said nothing in response. He just smiled and thought about how everything was gonna be alright from that point forward. He had no idea if he believed that, or if he was just fooling himself, and to be perfectly honest, he didn’t care either way.

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Frank Bill and Write Where You’re At

I had the pleasure this last Spring to be offered a chance to read an advance copy of Frank Bill’s CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA, a collection of short stories, Frank’s first book. I was thrilled, though I have to admit when the offer came up I’d been angling for a copy of DONNYBROOK, Frank’s second book and first novel. I had read an excerpt DONNYBROOK on the Do Some Damage blog the previous Spring and was deeply envious of anyone who’d gotten an early peak of that glory. Bastards.

CRIMES is an exceptional collection of story from Frank Bill’s heart and home and if I could I’d buy out the entire first run, giving each copy away because this book needs to be read. The reality check is I can’t. I did pre-order a copy when it first became available and as you know I really don’t need another copy. So I’d like to give it to you. One of you at least.

Would you like a free copy of CRIME IN SOUTHERN INDIANA?

If not, I suppose I can just put it on my shelf never to be read. Collect dust and when Armageddon comes and all the electronics in the world are destroyed by EMP or solar flares, some zealot will find it on my abandoned copy and devote an entire religion to the House of Grit. I think Frank would like that.

So you want a free copy? Well you’re going to have to work for it. Write for it.

In CRIMES there are several stories that are interrelated, tied together, but if you’re really reading the stories you’ll see a character that ties them altogether. A character with a powerful, but silent voice. Southern Indiana, with all her rural harshness and nurture. Like Daniel Woodrell’s Ozarks or Dennis Lehane’s Boston, Frank Bill captures the heart of Southern Indiana, elevating her above just a setting or a location.

So if you really want to win a copy of CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA, I give you this task:

Write a story that lives, breaths and could only exist in your own back yard. Fill it with local color and give your hometown a voice that walks effortlessly among its characters. Your story doesn’t have to be a crime story, but does need to be a good story.

Deadline: Thursday, August 25, 2011.
Word Count: 2000.
Genre: Open.
Prize: A copy of Frank Bill’s CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA.

Winner announced August 30, 2011.

Update: I failed to mention how to submit your story. In order to enter your story post it to your blog or other public venue so it can be read and commented on by readers and other entrants. If you don’t have a post location, contact me.

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Young Junius Essay Contest

Remember way back when you were a kid?

You know a smaller version of yourself?

Back in grade school?

No? Pretty old, huh?

Anyway, if you do, remember those essay contests you could enter where you wrote an essay on why something was your favorite or why you deserved something or about your favorite historical figure? Then you’d win something really cool like a bike or meet the President or maybe a whoopi cushion? All you had to do was write a short essay, of course as a kid it seemed like a novel? Remember?

No?

Me neither. I’ve seen it used a plot on a bunch of TV shows though. So it must be legit. Of course.

Today is YOUNG MONDAY. Sadly that might not mean anything to you. Yet.

YOUNG MONDAY is the official release of YOUNG JUNIUS by crime writer Seth Harwood. And to celebrate Seth has asked his friends and their friends and their friends and well just about anyone who can to go out and buy a copy of YOUNG JUNIUS from Amazon starting at 12 noon EST/9 am PST and push it up the ranks.

I was lucky enough to order one of these bad boys in a limited early release from Seth and Tyrus Books and can’t wait to crack the spine on it. Since I did this, I didn’t think I could participate in YOUNG MONDAY. Seth is my boy, but my book collection is starting to look like a hoarding problem. But you know what I’m going to order a copy anyway. So to save space and to save my marriage I’m going to give away my newly ordered copy.

You’d like to win a book right?

Well all you have to do is write an essay. Just like when you were a kid. Remember? Sorry, not going to go down that road again. Promise.

YOUNG JUNIUS can be yours for a mere 300 words. Make it serious. Make it funny. Make it a crime for you not to win. Make me believe you deserve a copy of YOUNG JUNIUS.

The Rules

  • Write a 300 word essay on why you deserve a copy of YOUNG JUNIUS by Seth Harwood.
  • Post your stellar essay on your blog.
  • Include a link to http://www.sethharwood.com and http://www.tyrusbooks.com.
  • Post your essay link in the comments below.
  • Must be 18 or older and have a mailing address in the United States. Sorry my world wide buddies.
  • Deadline is Monday October 25, 2010

Not sure YOUNG JUNIUS is worth your 300 words? Well you can download the PDF and give it a read. Here.

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The NEEDLE in the Box Contest

Last Spring I reviewed, commented on, a new seasonal crime noir magazine called NEEDLE edited by Steve Weddle. The debut was really a knock out of the park as far as I’m concerned. Every story really hit the mark and made me a fan.

Another thing NEEDLE, Steve and the community revolving around the magazine, did was to get me writing again. I’ve slacked off the last month or so, life gets the better of us sometimes, but seeing that there’s a new edition of NEEDLE out there has the old juices flowing. Need to write more, want to write more.

More than anything, I want the latest copy of NEEDLE. So I jump over to the order site Friday and precede to order a copy. Then I think, wait a minute I could share this, share it with everyone. OK, maybe not everyone. As generous as I can be, I can’t feed the world. I can give some lucky person a chance at winning a copy of NEEDLE. That’s the ticket.

So I ordered two. One for me, and one for who?

NEEDLE in the Box Contest

I’ve participated in a handful of writing challenges, ones that reward me with nothing more than the completion of a short story, a bit of flash fiction. This is the first time to host one, so let’s get on with it.

Not long ago Richard Kelly adapted Richard Matheson’s short story “Button, Button” into the movie The Box starring the Cameron “not as cute” Diaz and James “I’m a real boy” Marsden. Good story, not so good movie (not horrible mind you). The core of the movie is about making a choice and living with it. That’s not what this writing contest is about.

No, I’m simple. It’s about the box. About receiving a box and the consequences of what is inside. Now what’s inside is completely up to you. How the box is received is completely up to you. The only thing required to be in the story is that your protagonist or antagonist receive a box unsolicited. What you do to them after that, well I’ll leave that up to your devilishly criminal minds.

Now some guidelines:

Length: 2000 words
Deadline: September 10th
Theme: Receiving an unsolicited unmarked box
Genre: Crime, Noir
Prize: NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir Summer 2010

Post a link to your entry in the comments.

Good luck. I look forward to some good reading.

Links:

NEEDLE –  A Magazine of Noir
Order NEEDLE Summer 2010
Steve Weddle