Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Last Christmas

On the eve of last Christmas I turned out the lights;
I tucked in my daughter and wished her goodnight.
“Tomorrow is Christmas!” she uttered with joy
“When Santa brings presents to good girls and boys!”

“That’s right, little princess,” I replied with a grin
“But you must be asleep for Saint Nick to come in.”
With a smile and a giggle, she closed her eyes tight,
Trying her best to fall asleep for the night.

After closing her door, I walked down the hall
To where my wife snoozed, oblivious to all.
I climbed into bed without making a peep
And stole back some blankets for a warm winter’s sleep.

As I began to drift off, my mind wandered free;
I pictured my little Natalie, circling the tree,
Gasping with joy when she saw her new bike -
A thank you from Santa for leaving cookies he liked.

I heard a sudden noise - it came from downstairs.
Could it possibly be there was someone down there?
I opened my eyes and stifled a scream;
I heard it again - not part of my dream!

I climbed out of bed and ran ‘cross the floor
And gingerly opened my top dresser drawer.
Heart beating madly, and quaking with fear,
I pulled out the gun I got for Christmas last year.

As my wife snoozed away, thinking all was well,
I crept to the hallway and loaded some shells.
Determined prevent being totally robbed,
I was gonna put a cap into this thieving slob.

From atop the stairs, footsteps I could hear
Of a man trying to rob us of our Christmas cheer.
I crept down the steps, cursing my bad luck;
Dammit - that bike costed one hundred bucks!

I saw a black shadow, bent over the tree;
Consumed by his task, he didn’t see me.
Raising my pistol, I drew careful aim;
I squeezed off a shot, screaming, “Here comes the pain!”

With a big burly grunt, he fell to the ground,
And I roared in triumph, having put the perp down.
From upstairs my wife cried, “Hey, are you okay?”
I said, “Never better, ‘cause I saved Christmas day!”

I began to breathe easy, thinking all would be right,
But all of that changed when I turned on the light.
I stared at my victim and became suddenly sick;
Rolling ‘round on the floor was good ol’ Saint Nick.

Through angry clenched jaws, he stared up at me;
Clutching his wound, he screamed “You shattered my knee!”
I rushed to his side and cried, “I didn’t mean to!”
With an agonized breath he roared back, “Screw you!”

A cry from behind - and I turned to see
My horrified wife and a bawling Natalie.
“Daddy shot Santa!” she wailed in surprise;
My wife simply glared with hate in her eyes.

My mind in a panic, I threw down my gun
And ran to the phone to call 9-1-1.
My wife yelled at me, “You yuletide louse!
I knew this would happen with a gun in the house!”

I heard coming sirens, then a knock at the door;
As I answered it my kid cried, “I love you no more!”
“Report of shots fired!” said a cop in dismay;
And then he saw Santa, knee bleeding away.

Drawing his sidearm, he said with a frown,
“You shot Father Christmas and you’re goin’ down!”
I said, “I’ll explain, please listen, for God’s sake!”
He said, “I’ve busted some bastards, but you take the cake.”

They slapped me in handcuffs and hauled me away
For shooting Saint Nick and ruining Christmas day.
My wife sold the bike to pay for court costs,
Then into a filthy cell I was tossed.

I’ll always regret the shot that I fired,
For Santa said, “No more,” and then he retired.
I’m now serving time, doing twenty-to-life
With a cellmate named Bubba, who calls me his wife.

Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Unfortunate Pig

I met a pig today.

Not on purpose. It was one of those weird little incidents that, while not necessarily life-changing, you never forget simply because it is one of those times when you wonder how things would have turned out if you’d have done just one thing differently.

While I was at school (I‘m a teacher), my wife called saying she locked herself out of the house, and wanted me to come home and let her in. Good timing, really, because this was just when my lunch started. I had roughly forty minutes to get home, unlock the house and get back before my next class started. I was a little miffed having to skip lunch to bail her out, but that anger subsided when I remembered it was chicken nugget day in the cafeteria (my school’s nuggets have roughly the same taste and consistency as a plate of Hacky-Sacks).

I made it home in about 15 minutes. The driveway gate was open when I pulled in. We’re usually pretty good at keeping it closed, since Murphy, our wheaten terrier, isn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box. But after climbing from my car, I saw Murphy was actually trapped in the house, barking at me through the living room window (his eyesight ain’t so great either). I had expected my wife to be sitting on the porch with a sheepish grin on her face, but she wasn’t.

Figuring she was in the garage on the treadmill to pass the time, I headed toward the back of the house. And that’s when I saw it…a pig. Not a very big one, about the size of our dog, pushing his snout through some weeds on the side of the house.

Okay, so it’s not like I just spotted a giant squid flopping around in my yard. But I live in Portland, Oregon, not exactly Times Square, but not Green Acres, either. My house sits on a busy street just a few blocks away from a 7-Eleven, a wrecking yard and a strip club. How in the hell did a pig end up here? Until now, the most unusual animals to venture onto my property were the occasional frogs climbing the side of my house, and two raccoons humping atop the storage shed one night. And I guess there was also the time my neighbors decided to fill their pond with crawdads; one of the critters apparently did not like the new living arrangements and kept crossing the property onto our driveway. I returned it to them twice before my neighbors finally realized crawdads didn’t make great pets.

But this was a pig, and not one of those cute & fuzzy potbelly ones people adopt as pets. This was a pig pig, fat and pink, the kind most of us only come in contact with only after they’ve become pork chops. Okay, maybe he was a little cute, like the one in Babe. But still, he was wet, muddy and not something I'd want sitting in my lap.

I froze and stared, the reality of a farm animal on my property not really registering for a second. The garage door was open, and one of my wife’s disco CDs blasting from within (yep, she’s on the treadmill).

“Honey?” I called, which startled the pig from his burrowing to look up at me. “There’s a pig in our yard!”

She didn’t hear me, but the pig heard all he needed to before breaking into a sprint, whizzing past me as fast as his little piggy legs could carry him. He snorted as he went by, obviously terrified, toes clicking on the driveway as he scurried out the open gate.

“Hey, wait!” I yelled, feeling immediately stupid, as if the beastie would suddenly stop, rear his head and reply, “What is it, Dave?”

Hell, my own dog doesn’t come to me when I call him.

Still, I felt a bit panicked and chased after him. We live on a busy road, and I worried he might run out into traffic. He may not have been a beloved pet, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him get pancaked by an SUV.

By the time I reached the end of the driveway, he was nowhere to be seen. I was a bit relieved at the time. At least he didn’t run out into the road. He must have disappeared into the neighbor’s bushes or something.

Finished on the treadmill, my wife came out of the garage. I asked her if she had seen the pig in our yard. She looked at me like I just had a six-pack for lunch.

“I swear to god,” I claimed. “There was a pig  snooting around in the weeds. I hope he stays off the road.”

I could tell my wife thought I was making this up…or worse, hallucinating. In fact, she only half-jokingly suggested that very thing.

Anyway, after checking the time, I forgot about the pig. I had to get back to work fast to be in time for my next class. Kids are allowed a few mulligans when it comes to tardies, but teachers aren’t.

Back at school, I told the students in my next class about my pig encounter. None seemed too impressed. Granted, seeing a pig may not be as awe-inspiring as a UFO landing in your yard, but it isn’t like the streets of Portland are teaming with swine. The only comment I got back was from one girl, who asked, “Was it fat?” Yeah, like the pig’s size was the missing detail to make my lunchtime account a better story.

After the school day ended, I got home in time to join my wife in waiting for my daughter’s bus. On the way back from the bus stop, there was the little pig lying on the side of the road, about thirty feet beyond our driveway…


Fortunately, my little daughter had a friend with her, who she’d invited home for a play date, and in their quest to get home and start dressing Barbies, they didn’t notice him. I’m glad, because she only recently informed us she would no longer eat pork because pigs are cute animals.* Not only that, she doesn’t handle death too well just yet; she cried for two hours when a fifty-cent snail in her fish’s bowl died.

After the girls had vanished into the house, my wife and I ventured over to the dead pig, which was definitely nailed by a car. I guess he wandered out into the road after all.

“See?” I said to my wife victoriously. “I told you I wasn’t making this up.”

But inside, I was kind of sad. No, I don’t get upset every time I spot roadkill. In fact, part of me does a silent cheer whenever I see the bloodied carcass of a raccoon that met its end with a car bumper. Raccoons may be cute, but they are nasty, mean animals (and one beat the shit out of my cat once, which resulted in a $300 in veterinarian bill).

But a pig? In the city?** I do not know how he got there, but the little critter was obviously out of his element and probably scared to death. And as I looked down at his carcass (not a bloody, gory mess…just lying there on the sidewalk with his little black eyes still open, which actually made it worse), I started to wonder if I could have prevented this. What if I had closed the gate when I got home to let my wife in? What if I had tried to catch the little pig as he tried to flee my driveway?

I tried to reason with myself in order to feel better…he wasn’t my pig, and it wasn’t as if I had the property or resources to take care of a pig, even temporarily, while I scouted the neighborhood to find its owner. My wife suggested going to Zenger Farm, a nearby business which isn’t so-much an actual farm as it is a tiny agricultural Mecca for hipsters to congregate and buy pumpkins and wine. Maybe one of Zenger’s animals escaped. So I checked. But they had no pigs, just some chickens and bunnies for school kids to fawn over during field trips (just what purpose do bunnies actually serve on a farm, anyway?). After that, I felt I did all I could for the little pig.

As I write this, it is still lying on the side of the road, thirty feet from my driveway, as cars whiz by. I feel bad about that, because someone in my neighborhood is obviously missing a pig, and probably wondering where the hell he is. It ain’t like owning a cat. Face it, even if you love cats and probably think they return that love, you have to admit sometimes they just decide to take off and never return. But surely there must be someone missing their pig, even if they only intended to make bacon strips out of him.

And, as I write this, I’m thinking I should go outside with a few towels and hoist him off the sidewalk, away from the road where he met his death. Why? I don’t really know. It ain’t like we bonded or anything. I dunno…maybe it’s to make up for not trapping him in my yard earlier this afternoon. After all, he'd still be alive if I'd have just closed my driveway gate.
This dead pig isn’t my problem, so why am I making him my problem? It isn’t like I asked him to wonder into my yard.

I guess this is one of those ‘would’ve, could’ve should’ve’ moments we all face at some point in our lives, even though there is no way we could predict subsequent events in time to change the outcome. But that doesn’t always make us feel any better about how things turn out.

So, I still feel bad for the little pig that wandered into my driveway.

*She rescinded that proclamation just a couple of weeks later, when she awoke to the smell of bacon frying on the griddle last Sunday.

**No Babe jokes, please. I’m in mourning.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Stephen Brayton Interview

Free Kittens recently caught up with Stephen L. Brayton, author of the novels, Beta and Night Shadows (both published by Echelon Press). When he isn’t writing, Brayton is also an experienced martial arts instructor, in addition to having a day job. He is a pretty busy guy, so we here at Free Kittens are pleased he took some time from his busy schedule to let us know a little more about him.

First, two obvious questions everyone's gonna ask anyway...What first inspired you to write? And when was that moment when you decide this was something you wanted to pursue?

I read mysteries (Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators) as a child. I started developing my creativity with writing short skits for my sister and me to perform. I wrote a few short mystery stories featuring a Quad Cities detective but didn’t start seriously writing until at my first job out of college. I found I had a lot of free time so I would write. When I moved to Oskaloosa I decided I really wanted to create something to submit to publishers. Not knowing how to go about it, I just began the way I thought best and learned from others throughout the years.

As a writer and reader, what are your favorite genres?

I still enjoy a good mystery, thriller, police procedural, a few legal mysteries. I’ll try sci-fi if I think the book looks interesting.

Your five desert island books...

Forgive me for just a moment, but at first I thought you were asking after my five favorite books about desert islands. I wasn’t sure I had read any that would qualify unless they started writing novelizations of Gilligan’s Island episodes. Then my brain clicked and now the question is even tougher. What five books would I take to the island? I have hundreds of books in my library, many waiting to be read, so although I have a few favorites, I’m going to have to go with the next five on my list of to be read and hope the supply ship shows up soon.

How would you describe your work to someone who knows nothing about it?

Beta is the first adventure of Mallory Petersen, six foot blonde martial artist and private detective. She has a knack for attracting the odd cases but when she starts trailing after a kidnapped eight year old girl, things get serious in hurry. Humorous scenes temper the serious subject matter as Mallory uncovers a child pornography ring.

Night Shadows: Think of X-Files with a twist. A federal agent who investigates paranormal and supernatural occurrences teams with a Des Moines homicide officer trying to stop a horde of killer shadow creatures.

Action mystery fans and those who like a little fright in their stories will enjoy these.

Tell us a little about yourself. Like a lot of independently published authors, I am assuming writing is not yet a full time career. How do you pay the bills in between writing projects?

I thought about knocking over banks and convenience stores to help with finances, but those pesky cops kept showing up and ruining my plans. So, I dropped that idea and began looking into identity theft…

Wait, scratch that. Actually, I instruct martial arts four nights a week as well as a full time job in the hospitality business.

I enjoy fishing in the summer, maybe a little golf once in awhile. I’d love to find a place to restart racquetball games. I really enjoyed the exercise.

I notice on your website you are heavily into martial arts. Tell us a little about that. Has that interest influenced the types of stories you write? Do martial arts play a part in some of your tales?

I took advantage of a two weeks’ free classes back in 1990 and never looked back. I earned my black belt in a little less than three years and opened a club in 1996. In 2003, I took over the Oskaloosa club.

When I started thinking about a private investigator series I considered using the detective I had written about years before, but I was so impressed with the women in my organization, I created Mallory Petersen, fourth degree black belt. One of the challenges is to create various scenarios to show off her wide range of skills.

In your publishing/submission efforts, what's your greatest experience? What's your worst?

Well, an obvious positive would be getting accepted by Echelon Press for publication. However, in my travels and networking I’ve met so many wonderful authors and editors and so the wonderful experiences continue with those developing relationships.

I don’t know if this was the worst experience, but it sticks in my mind as one of the most disheartening. When I was still learning my craft and sending out submission queries, I tried to follow the guidelines for each publisher. One night I’m sending out email queries and I shoot one to a publisher at 9:45. Not half an hour later, I receive an email rejection. Really? How much serious consideration was given? I sighed and thought, “Live and learn.”

We all have that one story that, no matter what else we accomplish, remains the nearest and dearest in our hearts. If you could choose one story or novel or yours (published or unpublished), which would it be and why?

Each author develops an individual style and I wouldn’t want to copy anyone. I don’t want anyone to say, “Well, he writes just like(insert name here).” However, I would like to have half the talent the pair who created Ellery Queen possessed. Their stories were so fundamentally solid, complex, intriguing, and entertaining. I also admire the immense skill of H.P. Lovecraft. A true master. The language he used and the images he created were outstanding. I hope one day somebody can read my stuff and have similar thoughts.

What's your writing process? Some map out everything in advance, some wing-it. Some maintain a strict schedule, some don't. What do you do?

I want to be more disciplined and I’m always looking to have better time management to be able to write. I can’t be forced to write which why I don’t join the annual NaNo event. I just can’t write with someone constantly looking over my shoulder wondering how many words I’ve put down. I would like to have a set time each day to write, but my schedule is so full I have to wait for a few hours free at work.

Ideas will pop into my head and if they seem interesting, I’ll write them down for future reference. If one won’t leave alone, I’ll jot a few scenes, a few possible characters. If the idea starts to be look promising, I’ll see if an outline can be completed. I’ll note points of future research, questions to ask certain people. Then I’ll start thinking about character profiles, maybe a subplot. After that’s completed, it’s time to start chapter one.

Any advice to aspiring writers looking to break-in to the business?

Do your homework. Don’t worry about plot, character, queries, synopses, or anything do with story structure. Learn how to write. This means basic punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Learn how to put together a proper sentence. Learn the rules. Develop a style where you then learn when and where to break them.

Promoting your books comes with the job. What types of things do you do to let the world know about Stephen Brayton, the author?

I’m on several social networking sites. Facebook and Twitter as well as a few .ning sites and others. I’ve created a book trailer for Beta (, bookmarks, postcards, done a few blogtalkradio interviews. I’m also planning on visiting some martial arts studios and hand out material to promote the book. And of course, blog interviews. Love them!

Where can one find out more information about Stephen Brayton and his work?

Please visit my website at:, my blog at:, and if you want a book reviewd at: Plus, check me out at Facebook and Twitter. Then, tell your friends.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Free Kittens Round-Up


Well, the ebook version of Shaken was made officially available today. A nice way to begin my Sunday just before the NASCAR race (made even better when I heard Kyle Busch is being force to sit out of the race...I hate that guy). Now some of the real work begins, mainly trying to get word out that it is available and where to find it, trying to send review copies and set up interviews. All that, of course, would be a lot easier if I didn't have a day job getting in the way. Who knows...maybe someday. Anyway, you can click the cover on the right to download it right now.

I recent gave an interview to Stephen Brayton, a fellow author and martial arts enthusiast. You can check it out here: . Look for an interview featuring Stephen in Free Kittens very soon.


Here's something I found quite depressing. It seems that Amazon is selling a children's book called The Trinity of Superkidds, by J.D. Bauer. It was published by PublishAmerica, a barely-disguised vanity press that pretty-much accepts any crap someone sends to them. But here's the rub...J.D. Bauer is actually convicted serial killer Charles Kembo, currently serving a life sentence for four murders. This has outraged a lot of people lately, which I suppose is understandable.

But here's what makes me sick. As of this writing, the Amazon sales rank of The Trinity of Superkidds, written by a serial killer who also confessed that he prefers writing naked in the dark, is about 38,000. I'm a school teacher and family man, and the current sales rank of my first young adult novel, Killer Cows, is only 1,800,000. Being the 38,000th selling book may not seem very high, but based what I've been able to discover, it is currently one of the bestselling books in PublishAmerica's library. Granted, that still doesn't amount to much, but it does suggest to me that there are a lot of people buying this book out of morbid curiosity.

I also find it interesting that, just a day ago, there were several reviews of the book posted on Amazon by readers outing the author's identity, but as of right now, all of them have been removed. Yet, the book is still on sale.


Why is Kim Kardasian's divorce part of my morning news?

The new Opeth album, Heritage, is awesome. Even if you don't like metal, I recommend this.

A lot of my male seventh grade students love to make fun of Justin Beiber, but I'll bet there isn't a single one who wouldn't trade places with him, given the chance.

Barack Obama needs to commission the construction of a giant robot. People who would build a giant robot are clearly insane, and not to be messed with. All he'd have to do is air-drop one of those babies into the middle east, and everyone would throw down their guns, because anyone crazy enough to build a giant robot is someone you shouldn't anger.

Grimm is a great show, and it's filmed in my hometown!

It's hard to feel sorry for anyone in the NBA when you realize the reason for the lockout is that they can't agree on how to split up the FOUR BILLION DOLLARS IN REVENUE the league earned last year. I hope they cancel the whole freaking season. The more I read about pro athletes, the more I love NASCAR.

Speaking of NASCAR, I believe I already stated how much I hate Kyle Busch, but I'm sure glad he's there. Every sport needs a bad guy.

Is it just me, or is “Don't get smart” a dumb thing to say to your kids?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"On the Boardwalk in the Moonlight", from D.M. Anderson's "With the Wicked."

I never found vampires particularly scary. Still, there are two vampire tales in With the Wicked. The first, “The Bottom of the Well,” was published as an e-Book by Echelon Press . The second, “On the Boardwalk in the Moonlight,” was first featured in a small magazine called Nocturnal Ecstasy in the 1990s. Being that it is a fairly benign and humorous story, I’ve used it to teach story elements to my seventh graders (albeit with some of the language revised). I guess maybe you could it an ‘anti-vampire’ story. This one is very short, and in my opinion, kind of funny.


They walked hand-in-hand on the boardwalk, just as they had every night since meeting only a week ago. Like clockwork, they stopped at the same spots to listen to the seductive swirl of ocean waves. It was as though each night was created exclusively for them.

Dimitri glanced over at Clare, who closed her eyes and let the soft sea breeze brush through her hair. She was so beautiful, so sweet. Not just another meal.

How the hell do I tell her I’m a vampire?

After a few quiet moments, they walked on, content to enjoy the silence of each other.

He loved her. She had to know that. He swore to himself to be completely forthcoming and honest, even if the consequence was losing Clare forever as she ran away in horror. After all, she had awaken feelings in him he thought were long dead. She deserved to know who he was; what he was. He owed it to her. And maybe, just maybe, she loved him enough to join him in eternal darkness, to live forever in each other’s arms.

Dimitri hadn’t prayed in centuries, but tonight he prayed to God for Clare’s unconditional love. Did God have the wisdom and compassion to forgive one who had forsaken Him so long ago? Was any god that forgiving?

At any rate, Dimitri promised both God and himself that he would not take Clare unless she wished to be taken. What was that old saying…if you love something, set it free?

Clouds above cleared, allowing the moon the smile down on the two lovers. Clare stopped again and beamed upwards.

“The night is so beautiful,” she said softly. “I wish it never had to end.” She gazed into his eyes, tightening her grip on his hand.

Dimitri smiled back, then kissed her forehead, basking in the radiating warmth of her flesh before working his way to her earlobe. “It doesn’t have to end,” he whispered.

She sighed contently as she wrapped her arms around him. Her touch made him ache with hunger.

Tell her. Tell her now! There will never be a better time.

“I love you, you know,” Dimitri breathed into into ear.

“Yes,” she replied, tightening her hold on him. “I know.” Her soft lips found his neck, parting just enough for her tongue to brush his flesh.

Dimitri swallowed hard as he prepared to test just how strong her love for him really was. He reluctantly pulled her away and stared intensely into her eyes. “There’s something you need to know, Clare. Something about me. Something you may not want to hear.”

Clare frowned, her face growing concerned. “What is it, Dimitri?” She suddenly eyeballed him suspiciously. “You aren’t married, are you?”

Despite his nervousness, he managed a chuckle. “No, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s just that…” Dimitri paused. Okay, here goes. “Clare…I’m a vampire.”

She stared back blankly for several seconds, then replied, “Excuse me, a what?”

“A vampire…you know, Bram Stoker, Christopher Lee, Team Edward…” Before she could react or reply, he added, “But please believe me that you are in absolutely no danger, dear Clare. I love you, and even though I’d love nothing more than to spend the rest of eternity in your arms, I’d never-”

Clare suddenly broke into laughter, loosening her grip on him. Dimitri frowned as as Clare giggled and snorted uncontrollably until her eyes watered. He had a few ideas on how she’d react to his revelation, but this definitely wasn’t one of them.

“Vampire, huh?” she replied, still snickering through pursed lips as she tried to reign in her laughter. “That’s okay, darling. I’m a vicious, man-eating squid.”

Dimitri frowned indignantly. “But I’m serious. I really am a vampire.”

“So am I. I really am a man-eating squid.”

Clare suddenly ballooned and exploded like an over-inflated party doll. Her fine flesh and long flowing hair ripped apart, giving-way to moist, writhing tentacles. Dimitri screamed as he stared into Clare’s real eye, a huge, snotty orb that malevolently stared back. Clare’s massive beak hungrily snapped as her tentacles gripped him. He screeched in pain, feeling suckers and claws pull and rip at his flesh.

“You’ll be tasty,” Clare gargled.

“But I loved you,” Dimitri croaked.

She hoisted him into the night air, smacking her jaws in anticipation of the meal. Dimitri’s bones crunched as she squeezed him in her slick arms, drowning out the breaking waves. His bulging eyes watched in horror and sorrow as Clare pulled him toward her hungry beak.
Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Shaken": A Novel of Mass Destruction

I'm pleased and proud to announce the release of my second young adult novel, Shaken. It will be available as an E-book in November, followed very shortly by the paperback version during the holidays. Echelon/Quake, my publisher, has just sent the cover, which I really like. It’s bleak looking, but reflects the tone of the story. I also love the tag line Karen Syed, Echelon’s CEO, added under the title…“A Novel of Mass Destruction.” I love that because it tells any potential reader know exactly what to expect (kind of like Snakes on a Plane). In fact, maybe the book should have been titled, Shaken: A Novel of Mass Destruction.

Anyway, I must hand out massive kudos to Karen, as well as Jenny (J.R. Turner, to you), who has worked extensively with me during the revising process of both of my novels. These two ladies totally rock. I don’t know if we’ll ever meet in person, but they can consider themselves hugged. When I started Shaken, I set-out to write Die Hard for kids, and with their help, I think I’ve accomplished that.

To celebrate the book’s upcoming release, presented below the opening chapter of Shaken. And, of course, your feedback and opinions are always more-than-welcome.


The lights flickered and Natalie felt like she was losing her balance. She wasn’t dizzy, though the illusion of the room spinning was similar. Her body slowly swayed back and forth as if she stood on a boat at sea. She tried to steady herself with a nearby table, but if anything, the sensation grew more intense.

The fake crystals of the cheap chandelier hanging over the dining room table tinkled. This wasn’t just in her head.

“Whoa!” Lucy cried from upstairs.

Trinkets on the shelves rattled. Another cheesy painting, this one on the dining room wall, fell off its nail and slapped face-down on the floor.

What the...

A jarring jolt under her feet, under the floor, dropped Natalie to her knees. She struggled to stand, but the floor shifted so abruptly she could barely stay on her hands and knees. The bookshelf toppled over; an avalanche of paperbacks barely missed her. The living room window imploded as the frame caved in.

Something struck her head; Natalie yelped as white dust and plaster billowed to the floor.

Oh, God, her mind panicked. She scrambled under the dining room table. The ceiling is falling!

From somewhere upstairs...a high-pitched scream. Natalie barely heard it over the roar of the trembling cabin.

“Lucy!” She crawled from under the safety of the table. Ignoring the raining plaster from above, she scooted on all fours to the nearest kitchen counter and used it to pull herself to her feet. The floor literally shook.

Dishes, glasses, pots and tumbled from the cupboards and crashed to the floor. The sink faucet snapped; water erupted from the ruptured spout and drenched the crumbling ceiling. The window over the sink exploded, showering her with glass. A shard gashed her cheek; warm blood rolled down her face.

Lucy kept screaming upstairs.

“Hang on, Lucy! I’m coming!” She barely heard herself. Natalie scrambled out from beneath the table and though she gripped the counter, she could hardly stand. How was she even going to reach the stairs, let alone climb them? She felt like she was being shaken to death.

She stared in horror as a crack appeared between her feet, ran across the floor, up the wall and onto the ceiling. There was a splintering whack! like a gunshot, and seconds later the room was split into two. Part of the upper floor collapsed, crushing the dining room table she had cowered under a minute earlier. A huge support beam snapped and dropped from overhead. Natalie dove out of the way, just as it swung like a wrecking ball and smashed the kitchen counter to pieces.

The lights went out. Natalie screamed in the dark and the world shook apart around her.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Karma's Messenger," from D.M. Anderson's "With the Wicked"

Many of the stories included in With the Wicked were previously published in various small press magazines. "Karma's Messenger," however is new, and I still may make some revisions to this one, so what you read here may not actually be the final version. I'm posting it just to see what readers think of it so far. I've never solicited feedback for a work-in-progress before, and thought doing so would be interesting. So feel free to let me know what you think.


            Andy felt the front tire explode before he actually heard it.
            “What the fuck, Hanks?” Sovereign screeched from the backseat, eyes suddenly huge and white.
            If they weren’t doing 90, Andy probably would have been able to guide the car to a stop. Instead, the dusty black Charger swerved to the shoulder, struck a small mound and became airborne. Helpless, he released the wheel, wrapped his arms around his head and braced for impact. In the backseat, Sovereign and McPherson screamed. The car seemed to fly through the air forever before Andy felt the nose dip back toward Earth…
            This is gonna be bad.
            And it was. The Charger’s front end struck the ground, immediately crumbling. The air-bag exploded from the steering wheel, shoving Andy backward and breaking his nose. The windshield shattered. The shriek of tearing metal drowned out everything else. Gravity shifted. Andy was suddenly upside-down, then right-side-up again; being pinned to the seat by the airbag was the only thing which kept him from bouncing all over.
            Then, sudden stillness. Andy sat with his eyes squeezed shut as desert dust filled his nostrils. The ringing in his ears slowly gave-way to eerie quiet; aside from the dying hiss from the mangled Hemi-powered engine, and his rapid breathing, he heard nothing.
            He slowly fluttered his eyes open; the blood-stained white airbag rapidly deflated. Empty Arizona desert stared back. Before engine smoke stung his eyes closed again, a tiny prairie dog scurried across the sand, ducking behind a cactus.
            He looked into what was left of the rearview mirror. McPherson was dead, face frozen in eternal torment.
            Good riddance. The man was a fucking psycho, anyway.
            But Sovereign was nowhere to be seen.
            Pain settled into Andy’s face and chest. Both throbbed from the force of the airbag. Blood poured from his busted nose, but at least he was able to move and breathe, meaning he didn’t break any ribs.
            Could have been a lot worse, he told himself as he hurriedly unbuckled the seatbelt. He knew he had to get out of the car quick and get the hell out of there. Cops could be descending on them that very moment.
            He froze, thinking he heard a distant siren, then exhaled in relief when, upon closer listen, it was obviously a hawk or vulture flying overhead. But his relief was short-lived. He knew unless he got off his ass right now, the next sound he heard really could be sirens.
            Where the hell did Sovereign go, anyway? Did he ditch us?
            Andy yanked the door handle. Initially, nothing happened. Bracing himself, he threw his shoulder into the door, wincing in pain. With another shriek of bending metal, it popped open easily. He climbed out, squinting up at the desert sun. Heat blasted his face,  like he’d just opened an oven. This time of day, it must have been 110 degrees. He regarded the wreckage of the Charger. Once a pretty nice set of wheels, the car was now a steaming, mangled heap of junk, almost unrecognizable. Too bad; this was the best getaway car anyone had ever provided him with.
            A hundred feet behind the wreckage was the highway - wow, we really flew some distance, didn’t we? To his relief, the road was empty, meaning nobody saw the crash. Thank God.
            Then, turning back to the wrecked car, he spotted what was left of Sovereign, lying in a heap several feet in front of the car. His pastel shirt and Bermuda shorts were ripped and bloody; his face was sliced up, almost unrecognizable. His neck looked broken The man must have flown through the windshield on impact. Too bad. Andy didn’t know the guy too well, but he seemed okay. At least Sovereign wasn’t blasting clerks and security guards on the way out the door.
            Incredibly, Sovereign’s left hand still clutched the briefcase. The case itself had popped open; hundreds of shiny stones dotted the desert sand around it, sparkling in the sun.
            Not good, he thought as he checked his watch. We still got a buyer waiting for this shit in Phoenix.
            Dropping to his knees, Andy started scooping handfuls of diamond-encrusted sand back into the case. The sand was scolding hot, his bare knees burned, but he ignored the heat. He had to get as many rocks as possible before-
            Andy’s palms suddenly tickled. Several hairy black legs popped from the sand in his hands, kicking a few diamonds back to the ground. He gasped and dropped it, backing away a couple of steps. A large tarantula scurried from the discarded pile and scampered around in a quick circle.
            “Jesus Christ!” Andy cried, eyes bulging. He watched the confused spider in revulsion before swallowing hard, stepping forward and stomping it flat. There was a sickening pop as its innards squirted out from beneath Andy’s tennis shoe. “Fucking little monster.”
            Despite his urgency, Andy took a minute to regain his composure, feeling a bit stupid at his reaction to such a tiny critter. But he couldn’t help it…as far back as he could remember, he always hated spiders.
            The beating sun remind him of another problem, of far more concern than the spider under his heel, or getting to Phoenix in time for the exchange…
            How long can I stay out in this heat? And I must be miles from the nearest town…
            Still quaking from his encounter with the tarantula, Andy gingerly hunkered  down, closed the case and pried the handle from Sovereign’s dead hand. There were probably a lot more stones lying around in the sand, and he plucked up the few he saw, stuffing them in his shorts, but time seemed to be a growing issue. He had to get out of there, away from the wreckage, away from the bodies and away from that smashed fucking thing under his foot.
            The guys in Phoenix would just have to settle for what they got.
            He spotted Sovereign’s gun, the ivory handle protruding from the man’s Bermudas. Being a wheelman, Andy had no use for guns and never carried one himself on a job. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he even fired one. But things were different today. Thanks to fucking McPherson, who laughed as he blew away at least three people during the getaway, the cops weren’t just looking for thieves. They were looking for killers.
            Just in case, Andy took the revolver, tucked it into his own shorts and lumbered toward the highway, clutching the briefcase.
            He heard the sound of an approaching car, maybe a half-mile away. Just by the sound of the engine, he could tell this was no cop. Cop cars never rattled or pinged. This engine had at least 100,000 miles on it. But it would be enough to get him where he was going.
            Andy bolted to the side of the highway and ducked behind some sagebrush. He peered through the thickets; waves of heat billowed from the black pavement. A white sedan - it looked like an old Ford Taurus - approached from the north at a leisurely pace. Compared to the Charger he just destroyed, it wasn’t the sexiest getaway car in the world, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
            He felt butterflies; confrontation wasn’t really his forte, nor was car-jacking.           
            Just calm down, man. You’ve got the gun, for Chrissakes. Flag them down and take the car.
            Andy was just about to step out onto the highway when, less than a hundred feet away, the Taurus slowly pulled off to the shoulder and stopped.
            Oh shit, did they see me? Or the wreckage? What if they’re calling 9-1-1 right now?
            The driver-side door cracked open. A white-bearded old man, donned in thick eye-glasses and an Arizona Diamondbacks ball cap, slowly climbed out. Decked-out in black boots, white shorts and a sweaty Megadeth T-Shirt, he was certainly odd looking. He squinted at the sun, then yanked a handkerchief from his rear pocket to dab his neck. Then he casually reached back into his car and pulled out a small plastic box and yellow gloves. If he had seen Andy or the crashed Charger, he sure was being casual about it.
            Andy kept crouched and rigid, ready to attack if the old fart reach for a cell. Instead, the man shut his door, crossed the highway and marched out into the desert, snapping on the gloves like a doctor prepping for surgery.
            What the…was the guy going off to take a leak or something? With gloves? Must be OCD or something.
            Who cared? What matter was that he left his car behind, ripe for the picking. And it looked like he wouldn’t need to use the gun after all. After waiting a few more seconds, Andy sprang from the sagebrush and bolted to the Taurus.
            His heart sank when he tried to open the driver-side door. Locked.
            Shit, that means he’s got the goddamn keys with him!
            If he had his kit, he’d have this old beater jimmied and hot-wired in less time than it would take for that old man to drain his dragon. But out here, in the middle of nowhere? Andy nervously glanced across the highway, squinting into the desert. Nothing but cactus waved back. The old man was nowhere in sight. Andy quickly paced back and forth before kicking the front tire in frustration.
            Think, dammit!
            Stopping to stare at his bloody-nosed reflection in the driver-side window, he supposed he could smash out the window and hot-wire the car the old-fashioned way, but that would be loud, and take precious time he probably didn’t have.
            “What the hell are you doing out here in this heat, young man?” barked a voice behind him.
            Andy’s heart leaped into his throat as he whipped around, hand on the gun butt sticking out the back of his shorts. The old man stood across the road, clutching the plastic box with both gloved hands. Behind those thick lenses, his eyes stared back curiously before his face contorted into a wince.
            “Geez, buddy, you okay? What happened to your face? Have an accident or something?”
            Andy released his grip on the pistol, slowly exhaling, and brought a hand to his busted nose. Despite his throbbing pain, relief swam over him; the old fart seemed harmless enough. “Yeah, you could say that.”
            The man frowned, looking around. “Where’s your car?”
            Andy cocked a thumb back to the wreckage.
            The man’s eyes grew large. He shook his head and whistled. “Damn, look at that mess. Haven’t seen a wreck like that since the Daytona 500. You okay? Anyone with you?”
            “No, just me. I think I blew a tire.”
            “I think you’re lucky to be alive. I also think you’re lucky I came along. Not too many folks travel this road anymore, not since they finished the freeway. In this heat, your goose might have been cooked.”  He crossed the highway and extended his hand. “Name’s Jackson, Art Jackson. You want me to get on my cell and call for-”
            “No, no,” Andy quickly replied before returning the handshake. “I’m not that badly hurt. Maybe if you just give me a ride or something, that‘d be great.”
            Art Jackson frowned, stroking his fuzzy chin. “Hmm…well, I’m sorta working right now and it’s a long way back to town. I mean, if you wanna wait ‘till I‘m done, I guess I could give you a ride. Got bottled water in the trunk if you need to clean up your face and cool off.”
            Andy clenched his jaw impatiently. He did he best to sound congenial. “How long are you gonna be out here?”
            Art shrugged. “Dunno. I’m about half-done…maybe an hour or two.”
            Andy shook his head. “I can’t wait that long.”
            The old man stretched a glove off with his teeth and dug into his pocket, tugging out a cell phone. “Well, then, let me go ahead an call-”
            “I don’t think so, Mr. Jackson.” Andy set down his briefcase, pulled out the gun and aimed it right at Art’s chest, doing his best to sound calm and cool, like he did this all the time. The truth was, he had never actually aimed a gun at anybody. “Drop the phone and give me your keys.”
            Art backed away a couple of steps. “But-”
            Andy cocked the hammer. “Now!”
            Startled, the old man opened his fingers; the phone dropped and clattered on the pavement. He never took his eyes off the gun barrel.
            “Now drop the box, toss me your keys and get on your knees.”
            Again, Art complied. He let go of the box - it popped open as it hit the road - then reach into his other pocket. His lower lip trembled as he tossed the keys.
            Andy caught them in mid-air. “Now, Mr. Jackson…on your knees.”
            Tears started to roll down Art’s face and he slowly dropped to the road. “You’re gonna kill me now, aren’t you?”
            “Not if you do what I say.” While outwardly remaining cold and hard, his heart sort-of went out to the old dude, being so terrified. Andy would never kill anyone, but Art Jackson didn’t know that. “I just need your wheels, Mr. Jackson.”
            Art blinked. “You…you’re gonna leave me out here? In the middle of the desert? I‘ll die out here.”
            “Want me to shoot you instead?” Andy replied. But the man was right…about two things. First, hardly anyone used this old highway anymore; that’s why Andy chose it for their escape route in the first place. Second, how long could an old man last in this blazing sun and scorching heat in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest town?
            But I can’t bring him along with me. Isn’t that kind of like taking a hostage?
            He leaned down and snatched up the phone. “We can’t be more than an hour from Phoenix. I’ll call 9-1-1 once I’m there and-”
            Sharp pain suddenly struck just above his right ankle, so intense that Andy almost lost his footing. He cried out and looked down. Attached to his foot was a big brown tarantula, fangs buried in his flesh. Andy flailed and kicked wildly, dancing in agony on the pavement until the spider finally let go. It flew threw a few feet through the air before plopping to the road between Andy and Art.
            “Son of a BITCH!
            The old man fell from his knees to his butt, clutching the empty plastic box and reclosing the lid.
            Andy gawked down at his rapidly-swelling ankle; two tiny rivulets of blood snaked from the puncture wounds into his shoe. The skin around the wound became pasty-white. And it hurt like a motherfucker. Gasping hot desert air, he spotted his attacker, eight legs fluttering as it scurried toward the old man.
            Before he realized what he was doing, Andy limped over, trained the gun right down at the spider and fired.
            The shot was deafening.
            The recoil jerked his arm back.
            The spider disintegrated.
            The bullet ricocheted off the pavement…
            …and buried itself in Art Jackson’s brain.
            The old man’s head flew back, a perfect hole between his surprised blue eyes. They stared straight up at the hot afternoon sky, the last thing they would ever see.
            “Oh, shit,” Andy gasped, watching the old man drop to the ground, left leg kicking a couple of times before he ceased moving altogether. Momentarily forgetting his own wounds, Andy stared dumbstruck at the dead body, still reeling from what just happened.
            The last echoes of the gunshot finally dissipated in the distant desert hills.
            Jesus Christ, I just killed a man. I just killed a man for no reason. Just like McPherson.
            Andy shot a panicked glance in each direction, seeing nothing but heat billowing  from the road. Not another car was in sight, thank God. He tucked the gun away, grabbed the old man by both arms and dragged him behind some nearby bushes.
            After dropping Art’s lifeless arms, Andy checked the highway again, his stomach doing summersaults. Sweat plopped into his eye, stinging it shut. He squished a finger in his socket to clear it out, then regarded the body at his feet.
            I’m not longer just a wheelman, he lamented. I’m a murderer. I’m no longer looking at doing time if I’m caught. I’m looking at a needle in my arm.
            The thought made him wretch; Andy leaned over and hurled. Vomit splattered the sand. His leg pounded painfully; the bite wound had ballooned to the size of a gold ball. Blood still seeped into his shoe. As he reached down and rubbed around the wound, which only made it hurt worse, another thought crossed Andy’s mind…fuck, how poisonous are tarantulas anyway?
            Goddammit, worry about that later! Get your ass outta here first, or the state of Arizona’s gonna stick something in your skin a hell of a lot worse than spider venom!
            Andy limped to the old Taurus, stopping to pick up the briefcase. Because his hand was trembling, he missed the lock a few times before finally being able to stick the key in and open the door. He tossed the case into the passenger seat and jumped in, wasting no time before starting the car and hitting the gas. The rear tires kicked-up sand and gravel. The rear-end fishtailed as Andy cranked the wheel, climbing off the shoulder onto solid pavement.
            Within a few seconds, Andy Hanks was once again speeding down the road, picking up where he left off. The further he got away from the dead body of Art Jackson, the better he started to feel.
            Sweat oozed from every pore in his body. Whether it was from the heat, the bite or his own anxiety, Andy wasn’t sure, but he countered it by cranking the AC. Cool air blasted from the dashboard, bringing relief as it began to dry the sweat on his skin.
            Ignoring the nagging sting of his ankle, he pinned the gas pedal to the floor. The speedometer shot from 70 to 90; the sudden acceleration caused some of Jackson’s junk to slip off the top of the dash, empty water bottles, wadded napkins, a few CD cases and a lot of stray paper. Some of it dropped on the passenger seat, some onto the floor. A single yellow business card fluttered into his lap. Keeping the wheel steady with one hand, Andy  snatched it up, eyes darting back and forth from the open out the windshield to red-embossed font on the card:

Tarantulas, Scorpions, Small Reptiles
Supplying pet stores throughout the Southwest for over 40 years.
Arthur T. Jackson, Owner

            Andy frowned, tossing the card to the floor. Tarantulas? He suddenly remembered the plastic box Jackson was carrying, the one which popped open when he dropped it.
            Geez, is that what the old fart was doing out here? Collecting spiders? Was that what…
            Renewed pain pumped beneath the skin of Andy’s ankle. Somehow, knowing it was one of Art’s captured spiders made his leg hurt worse. He tried reaching down to  massage his open wound and keep the steering wheel straight at the same time. Bad idea. At this speed, the Taurus veered onto the shoulder; gravel pelted the undercarriage, brown dust spewed from the tires. Something loudly bounced around in the back seat. Andy sat back up straight, slapping both hands back on the wheel before guiding the car back onto the road. He let off the gas a bit; maybe doing 90 wasn’t such a great idea anymore.
            Regaining control, he craned his head to see what was making all the noise in back. He frowned, then took a quick look forward to make sure he stayed on the road. Glancing back again, fear struck him. On the seat was a large cardboard box. It was tipped over, and inside were several smaller plastic containers, just like the one Old Man Jackson was holding.
            There must have been a few dozen of them, in the box, spilt on the floor, strewn  all over the backseat. Most of the lids had popped open, probably from being tossed around so violently.
            Panicked, he faced the road again. He spotted the business card on the floor. Something big and black scurried across it. He remembered some of Jackson’s last words before a bullet ended his life: I’m about half-done…
            Andy’s skinned crawled.  Half done? A spider wrangler? That means-
            His neck tickled, then instantly erupted in fiery pain. Andy yelped, slapping at his neck, his hand striking something thick and hairy; it wiggled under his palm, then bit again. Another stab of agony.
            The car careened onto the shoulder again.
            Andy roared, squeezing his fist closed and crushing the spider in his grip. Pulling his hand down, he looked down at his clenched hand in horror. Fuzzy black legs poked between his fingers, still twitching.
            His foot inadvertently punched the gas pedal to the floor.
            “Jesus!” Andy screeched, frantically shaking his hand. Spider pieces flew everywhere; a single leg stuck to the windshield.
            Another bite, this time to his left thigh. Andy screeched and released the wheel altogether, using both hands to swat the spider that had crawled up the seat to join him.
            Out of control, the old Ford Taurus slid sideways. It skidded loudly along the road, tires shrieking. One of them finally exploded; sparks erupted from the naked rim before it dug into the pavement, flipping the car over.            
            For the second time that day, Andy bounced around in the driver’s seat, arms flailing. Boxes, bottles, business cards, loose diamonds, his gun, as well as dozens of huge black tarantulas, sailed all around him as the car rolled over and over.
            After what seemed like an eternity, all movement ceased. The Taurus came to rest in the middle of the highway, upside-down. Smoke and dust filled the car. Lying on the interior roof, Andy coughed and wheezed. His left leg was in agony; he managed to lift his head to check it out, wincing in horror at the bloody shin bone that had punched through the skin.
            God, I’m a mess, he thought crazily.
            Something dropped onto Andy’s chest…another frisky tarantula, courtesy of Creepy Critters, Inc. This one seemed to be staring right at him. Andy tried to raise a broken arm to squash it, only to be greeted by more unbelievable pain. The spider scampered forward, towards his face.
            Another one dropped from the floor above him, landing on his groin.
            Movement from the corner of his eye. Andy turned his head. Another spider raised up, waiving its front legs defensively before leaping forward to bury its fangs into his forehead.
            More fangs chomped the hand on his broken arm. Another spider crawled up the left leg of his shorts to bite him in the ass.
            Andy wailed in torment. Collective venom coursed through his veins, slowly shutting down organs one-by-one. His limbs, both in-tact and broken, convulsed uncontrollably as more and more of Old Man Jackson’s captured spiders joined in on the kill.

Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The Man in the Fluffy Bunny Suit", from D.M. Anderson's "With the Wicked"

I originally wrote this in the early 90s, before I had kids. Now that I have two daughters of my own, revisiting this one was kind of hard. Still, it was one of my earliest published stories, first appearng in The Unknown Writer in 1998, and will also be included in my With the Wicked collection.


Roger Peterson, the man in the fluffy bunny suit, hopped purposefully down the sidewalk, a permanent holiday grin etched upon his papier-mâché head. Under his mask, he felt sweat trickling down his face, occasionally stinging his eyes and obscuring his vision, which was already regulated to what lay directly before him through the black wire mesh of the bunny’s mouth.

It was unusually warm for an Easter morning, and inside the stuffy suit summer had arrived early, bathing Roger in musky sweat mere moments after he put it on. However, he was in too-fine a mood to let it bother him. If one of those awe-struck children could see the man behind the rabbit, they’d have seen an even bigger grin than the one plastered outside, the genuine smile of a man who felt like the luckiest guy on Earth.

Inside the rabbit’s head, Roger’s breathing was heavy and labored, drowning out the sounds of the neighborhood. He barely heard the occasional passing car, the angry protests of birds perched in maple trees, or the squealing of excited kids running over to receive one of his special hand-painted eggs. His basket was heavy, making hopping difficult. With each jump, the eggs rattled and clacked together. But he was confident they wouldn’t break until the time was right, and with each approaching child, the basket became lighter. It wouldn’t be much longer until he was finished.

He’d brought twenty eggs in total, including one for himself, which he had taken great care to paint last night. Roger was no artist; it took him seven hours and a fifth of Yukon Jack to finish the job. The effort was well worth it, though, for they were beautiful eggs, brightly adorned with stripes and polka-dots of all sorts of different colors. They were much nicer than the ones his mother made when he…

…was a boy, before he was even in school, Roger would awaken on Easter morning in anticipation of the hunt in the backyard of their trailer home. The sun would barely be awake, and wasn’t quite warm enough yet to shake the dew off the lawn. His mother, knowing her son always woke up early on Easter, would be out in the yard even sooner, strategically stashing eggs. There were the usual hiding places, of course, like the old wine barrel where mom tried to grow tomatoes each year, or the Dr. Pepper thermometer that leaned against the side of the trailer. The thermometer used to hang on the front porch of the house they once shared with his father.

Roger grew to know Mom’s Easter routine, but he played along anyway, milking the event for all it was worth. He always started in the middle of the yard where Elvis, their friendly old basset hound, was tied up. Roger knew no eggs would be there because that was Elvis’ territory and everything in that ten-foot radius was his. He and his mother learned that a few Easters ago when the dog chowed down on nearly all of the eggs within his reach. Eggs, it turned out, didn’t agree with the dog’s digestive system and he farted all night, stinking up the whole trailer. But it wouldn’t be Easter if Roger didn’t start the hunt in the middle of the yard, skillfully dodging Elvis’ droppings - ‘doggy mines’, mom called them.

Most kids loved Christmas, but Roger loved Easter most. It was the holiday when his mom always smiled, laughed and took snapshots of him with her boxy little Kodak camera. Roger didn’t like Christmas, because Mom would shuffle sadly around the house in her bathrobe, spending most of the day staring at the television with a drink in her hand. Sometimes she cried, holding her only child in her arms and apologizing for not being able to afford a tree, for having nothing more to give him to unwrap than a cheap trinket from a second-hand store. Roger felt sorry for her, yet would get angry at her display of self-pity. It wasn’t the mom he knew and loved during the rest of the year.

But on Easter, she was happy. She was beautiful. She’d always throw on the yellow dress she once eloped in and fix her hair the way loving TV moms always did, then spend the entire day with him. After the great egg hunt, he’d eat a couple of eggs, then the two of them would plant themselves on the sofa and catch the Bugs Bunny cartoon marathon channel 12 showed every Easter. Roger absolutely loved Bugs Bunny, and would often mimic the famous rabbit whenever he said…

“…what’s up, doc!” Roger greeted in his well-honed Brooklyn bunny voice as he handed one of his eggs to a little red-headed kid. The boy giggled and tried to snatch a second egg from the basket, but Roger playfully side-stepped him, raising the remaining painted treasures out of reach.

“Sorry, doc,” he said. The papier-mâché head made Roger sound as though he were talking into a bucket. “Only one per customer. Gotta have enough to go ‘round, ya know.”

“It’s for my sister!” the boy cried defensively.

“Where is she, doc? Don’t she wanna meet the Easter Bunny?”

The boy pointed across the street. Roger had to turn most of his body in order to see where he was pointing. A little blonde girl, no more than four or five years old, stood in the middle of her front yard, staring back wide-eyed and open-jawed.

“She’s scared of you, Easter Bunny,” the boy added seriously.

Roger’s sudden laughter bounced around inside his rabbit head. “Afraid of me? I’m just a rabbit. Why, I wouldn’t hurt a single hair on her pretty little scalp.”

“She’s scared of Santa, too. Had a cow when my mom took us to meet him at the mall last Christmas.”

“Can’t say I blame her, there, doc.” Roger knelt beside the boy and placed a fluffy paw on his shoulder. “Tell ya what…you go tell your sister that, if she comes over, I’ll give her the best egg I got…one I’ve been saving for myself.”

The boy obediently nodded and darted back toward his house, checking the road for traffic before crossing.

Roger peeped into his basket and counted four remaining eggs, including his own. He heard muffled laughter behind him, and he turned to spot three kids scampering up the sidewalk ahead of their mother to greet him. This was turning out perfect.

He smiled behind his costume, then looked back across the street at the boy and her sister. She glanced over at Roger, then uncertainly back to her brother. After she slowly nodded, her brother encouragingly nudged her in Roger’s direction, ushering her the same way…

…his father ushered him into the back seat of the car and slammed the door shut. Roger shook rain from his hair and looked out the window at the grassy hill where Mom would spend eternity. He had hoped she would go to Heaven, but his Dad set him straight the night before. “Dead is dead,” he bluntly said.

Roger pulled a Hot Wheels race car from his pocket - the last thing Mom ever bought him - and mindless flicked the wheels as his dad’s new wife hurried into the front passenger seat and clicked on the radio. Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun” drifted from the car speakers. Mom always loved that song.

“Dammit,” Dad’s wife hissed, checking her watch. “I think we missed the lucky number drawing.” She pulled the rearview mirror in her direction and produced a compact from her purse to fix her face, which was wet with rain.

Roger’s father climbed into the car, soaking and angry. “Why the hell couldn’t the funeral be indoors,” he groused, bringing the engine to life. “especially since I paid for the fucking thing.”

Roger felt tears threaten to sting his eyes, and he fought hard to beat them back. Dad hated seeing him cry. At mom’s eulogy, a single tear escaped his eye. A handkerchief was thrust in his face. He looked up to see his father staring into him, a single brow raised in disapproval.

“Wipe your face, son,” he quietly insisted. “You’re acting like a girl.”

There were only five people at the funeral, although Marcie, Dad’s new wife, didn’t really count. She had never even met his mother. Still, Roger was grateful she came because, even though he didn’t like her much, she usually managed to keep Dad’s temper in check. He hated to think what Dad would be like today if Marcie hadn’t come along.

The car rolled down the road leading out of the cemetery; Roger took at long last look out the back window. Through the rain, he could see two groundskeepers in heavy raincoats shoveling dirt into his mother’s grave.

I wish there was a Heaven, he thought gloomily.

Once again, he fought the urge to cry. Once again, he was victorious.

Dead is dead. Stop acting like a girl.

“Turn around, Roger,” his dad said. “Let Mom fix your hair.”

Tucking the race car back into his pocket, he silently obeyed as Marcie turned around with a comb in her hand, sitting on her knees and leaning forward to reach his head. His father playfully took one hand off the wheel to pinch her rear.

“Stop it!” she playfully giggled, swatting at him if he were a fly.

Roger didn’t know how much longer he could battle the tears.

“Look sharp, Roger,” Marcie said with a smile that never reached her eyes. “You father made reservations at the Doubletree for Easter brunch.”

“Yeah,” Dad snickered, his anger subsiding. “I’m so damned hungry I could eat a whole rabbit.”

Marcie slapped his shoulder and laughed. “You’re awful! You…

“…can’t eat these eggs,” whined the youngest of the three kids who had run up to him. Their mother, standing about ten feet behind them, was busy taking snapshots with her camera.

“Course not,” said Roger, staring down at the kids. “These eggs are special. The kind you keep with you forever.”

The oldest of the three, maybe seven or eight years old, examined hers methodically. “Is there candy in them?”

“Better than Candy. If these were real eggs, once you eat ‘em, Easter’s over. If there was candy in ‘em, once the candy’s gone, Easter’s over. With these eggs, it’ll always be Easter. It can be Easter forever, for however long that is.”

“I wish it was Christmas forever instead,” the youngest pouted.

“Christmas? Christmas is the sad time. That’s the time to watch TV, the time to cry, the time to wish your father dead-”

“Come on kids,” the mother interrupted, staring uneasily at the rabbit’s fake blank eyes. She grabbed the youngest by the hand and pulled him away. “We’ll be late for church.”

“Church?” Roger piped with concern. “Who died?”

The woman didn’t answer as she hurried her three kids away, all of them clutching their new Easter gifts.

Just then, Roger felt something tugging his fluffy cotton tail. He whipped around, ready to fire, then breathed a sigh of relief to see it was just the red-headed boy, who had returned with his little sister in-tow. She stared ominously up at him with huge unblinking eyes, her thumb crammed securely in her mouth.

“Hi, doctress,” he chirped, kneeling until his eyes her level with hers.

The girl stood rigid, too terrified to move. Her older brother giggled.

“Doc here tells me you’re scared of the Easter Bunny.”

She nodded, backing away a step.

“That’s okay. There’s no need to be afraid, but I do know how you feel. I was afraid once, too.”

The boy was suddenly incredulous as he scoffed, “The Easter Bunny afraid? What could the Easter Bunny be afraid of?”

Roger chuckled. “Doc, everybody gets afraid sometimes.”

“Not me!” Then the boy ran off to do a summersault in the nearest lawn.

Roger pulled his last egg from the basket and showed it to her. Of all the eggs he worked so hard on last night, this was his favorite; fluorescent orange with navy blue stripes. Painted in yellow on one side was ‘I’M A BAAAAD MUTHAFUCKA!’, and on the other side, ‘DEAD IS DEAD.’

“I do not want you to fear me,” he said. “I just want to help.” He held up the egg in one paw. “This egg is special. It takes away the fear. It takes away sadness. I was going to save it for myself, but I’d like you to have it. Would you like that?”

The girl nodded and took her thumb from her mouth.

“What’s your name?”

“Megan,” she replied quietly, lips curling into a tiny smile.

“Well, Megan, I’m done being scared. You don’t want to be scared anymore, do you?”

She shook her head. “No, Mr. Bunny.”

“Then give me a hug.”

Megan went to him. He welcomed her into his fuzzy yellow arms and pulled her close. For the first time in years, Roger felt tears awakening, but not in sorrow this time. His father wasn’t around anymore, so he welcomed them.

Suddenly, a few hundred feet away, in the direction the woman took her children, an explosion…

…rocked the hills to the south. Roger’s heart leaped into his throat. He whipped around, clutching his rifle, ready to fire.

“Calm down, Bugs,” Rico said, putting a hand on Roger’s trembling shoulder. “Fight’s over. That’s just our air support mopping up.”

As if on cue, a low flying jet roared over them, disappearing over some trees to the north.

“Come on, Bugs. Let’s torch this place and get the hell outta here.”

Roger looked beyond his friend to see other guys in his unit ushering locals out of the village, prodding stragglers with their gun muzzles. “Why do we gotta burn it down?”

Rico lit a cigarette, then held his lighter to the grass roof of the nearest hut. “Keep yer pants on, we’ll get humpin’ soon enough. Then we’ll get shitfaced and whore around ‘till morning. We earned it, I’d say.”

The fire spread rapidly. Within minutes the whole hut was in flames. Thick black smoke snaked into the sky.

“Beautiful,” Rico sighed, gazing upward.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Roger quipped, still darting his head around nervously. It was always the quiet times that scared him most. “There’s nothing beautiful about this.”

Rico gave a here-we-go-again roll of the eyes. “Don’t start up again, Bugs.”

“Rico, there’s nothing here. It’s a farm village.”

“Yeah, a farm village of American-hating murderers.” He searched the ground around him. “Where’s my fuckin’ helmet?”

Roger‘s jaw dropped. He loved Rico and would die for him, but sometimes his buddy could be so damned ignorant. “Village of murderers? I just watched Jennings blow a lady’s head off in front of her own kids. Who are the murderers here?”

Rico flicked his smoke away and stared hard at him. “Look, Bugs, we’re all scared shitless. I get an hour of sleep a night. I can’t take a shit most of the time, and when I do, it comes out like Niagara fucking Falls. You know why? Cause these motherfuckers don’t play Monopoly the same way we do. I don’t know if the next slant comin’ my way is a farmer or a walking bomb. I saw an old bitch cut a buddy in half with a fucking machine gun hidden under her poncho. So, if a guy like Jennings is a little overzealous, so what? Good riddance, I say.”

Roger heard Rico’s flag-waving kill-or-be-killed tirade before, and Rico was probably right. It was guys like Rico who survived shit like this; it was guys like Rico who kept guys like Roger Peterson alive.

“If you’re smart, Bugs, you’ll stop pumpin’ piss for these assholes and look out for number one, or you ain’t gonna live to see another cartoon.” Rico continued the search for his helmet while Roger watched him in silence. The only sounds were distant booming in the hills and the crackle of burning huts.

“Sorry, Rico. I didn’t mean-”

“Forget it, Bugs. Stop being sorry all the time. You can’t help what you feel.”

Roger tried to ignore the sick pang in his stomach. He hated making Rico mad, and always worried that the day may come when Rico would get sick of putting up with him. Roger knew he wouldn’t have lasted very long in this place without Rico. It was Rico who befriended him when the rest of the unit thought he was just dead weight. It was Rico who got him laid for the first time by a local hooker. At first, he thought his buddy would join the others by teasing his virginity. Instead, he set Roger up with the best girl in the brothel, even paid for it. Those were the best two minutes of Roger’s life, and he had Rico to thank for it.

Maybe Roger was sort of a pet project for Rico, who educated him in a way teachers never could, and watched over him after his father gave up. And he always displayed a level of patience for Roger that no one had since Mom died. The only time Rico ever got angry was when Roger started showing compassion for these people, especially the children.

Rico grinned when he finally found his helmet, lying upside-down in the mud next to a rusty water barrel. He had developed an almost superstitious attachment to that helmet. It was adorned with beer bottle labels and clever Ricoisms, such as ‘I’M A BAAAAAD MUTHAFUCKA!’ and ‘HAVE SOME HELL.’

Roger snorted, slinging his rifle over his shoulder. “Happy now?”

“Happy as a cat in a fish house…or is that a fish in a cathouse?” Rico cackled wickedly.

Roger smiled and shook his head. “What the hell does that even mean, man?”

Just then, they heard a rustling sound from behind. They wheeled around, unslinging their rifles. Out of some nearby bushes, two young girls came shambling toward them. Their clothes hung off their brittle bodies like tattered rags on a scarecrow. They had no shoes; mud squished between their toes as they ran.

“My God,” Roger gasped. “They look like they haven’t eaten in days. Parents are probably dead.”

“Easy, bugs.”

“Give it a rest, Rico. We probably killed their folks.”

One girl ran to Roger, the other to Rico. Roger looked down at the child - she couldn’t have been more than five or six - his heart breaking as she clutched his leg. She smiled a toothless grin while tears carved rivers in the grime on her face.

“I’m sorry, kid,” moaned Roger, willing himself not to cry. He didn’t want Rico to see him acting like a girl. “I’m so very s-”

“Bugs!” Rico screamed. “They’re fucking wired!”

He turned to see Rico rolling around in the mud, trying to pull the child off his leg. Roger looked down at the girl hugging him. Only then did he notice the hand grenade fastened to her thigh. The pin had been pulled.

“Buuugs!” Rico roared, eyes threatening to burst from his skull as his helmet fell back off.

Then he exploded. The force of the blast threw Roger to the ground. Blood, mud and meat showered around him.

“Nooooo!” he screamed. “Nooooo!” Why did everyone he loved have to die?

The other girl still clung to his leg. She bawled as she tightened her grip. Before he could comprehend what he was doing, Roger ripped his Bowie knife from its sheath. Grabbing a fistful black, tangled hair, he yanked the girl’s head back and plunged the blade into her throat. Blood shot at him like a fountain. He twisted the knife, pushing it in further, until the tip busted out the back of her neck. The girl’s arms loosened their grip as life poured out of her. Roger let go of the knife, snatched up the tiny body and hurled it as hard as he could. She landed on her back, splashing into a puddle about ten feet away. Roger dove the opposite way and hit the ground, shielding his head to await the explosion.

Several seconds passed. It should have gone off by new. Roger cautiously raised his head. The girl lay lifelessly in the mud, staring vacantly into the smoky sky.

A dud, he realized in horror. Grenade’s a dud.

Gorge roared up his throat. He sat up, leaned over and spewed his rations onto the ground.

“I murdered her!” he wheezed. “Oh, sweet Jesus Christ, I killed her!” Wiping his mouth, he remained rigid on his hands and knees. He gawked open-mouth at the girl, then started sobbing out loud. He didn’t care who heard him.

The girl’s head flopped over to face him, the left half disappearing into the muddy water. Her dead, glassy right eye remained open, staring back accusingly.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” he slurred, strings of spit and vomit flying off his lips.

She didn’t reply. That dead right eye bored into him.

“Stop it.” Roger slowly stood, ignoring the mud that dripped from his fatigues. He unslung his rifle and clicked off the safety. “Stop looking at me!”

Blood from the girl’s neck turned the puddle purple. The eye continued to stare him down.

“Stopitstopitstopitstopit!” He fired away, pumping round after round into the dead girl. Her body jumped and jerked wildly as Roger…

…picked Megan up, cradling her in his paws. Screams filled the neighborhood as another grenade exploded a block away.

“What’s that?” Megan’s brother cried.

“Oblivion, doc,” Roger said calmly. “Sweet oblivion, where fear can’t follow. Life is pain, doc. Life is fear. But dead…well, dead is just plain fucking dead.”

Megan began to cry, squirming in his paws as another explosion vibrated the sidewalk beneath them. Roger rocked her gently, making soft shushing sounds as she bawled. “It’s okay, honey. I’m here. I’m here.”

He heard distant sirens as he plopped his butt on the sidewalk, keeping a tight hold of Megan. Her brother bolted away, screaming for his dad.

“I wanna go home,” Megan whimpered as she trembled in his arms.

“So do I, little one,” Roger said. “So do I. We’re gonna go home together, the way we should have before.”

Roger Peterson, the man in the fluffy bunny suit, shook the paw off his left hand, then off his right, making sure not to lose his grip on Megan. Her sobs grew louder, as did the approaching sirens. He stroked her hair gently, clearing it from her face.

“You and me, Megan…we’re gonna make things right.”

He held the grenade before her eyes, the sweat from his hand smearing the paint.

“Remember this trick?” he whispered before pulling the pin.

A police car roared around the corner and screeched to a halt. Roger clutched Megan tighter as two cops leaped from the car, guns drawn and leveled at his head.

“Dead is dead,” Roger said.

The egg exploded.

Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson