Hammers on Bone (Persons Non Grata, 1), by Cassandra Khaw

Cassandra Khaw bursts onto the scene with Hammers on Bone, a hard-boiled horror show that Charles Stross calls “possibly the most promising horror debut of 2016.” A finalist for the British Fantasy award and the Locus Award for Best Novella!

John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable.

He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.

As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realizes that he carries something far darker. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.

Terror in Brief: 200 Two-Sentence Horror Stories, by D. T. Adams

Chilling horror stories that are very short, but no less scary

All 200 stories in Terror in Brief are just two sentences long. The frightening, bite-sized tales in this collection are presented in four categories:

– Twisted Individuals. Bloodcurdling stories about evil, morally bankrupt people, lunatics and sociopaths

– Remorseless Killers. Horrific stories about those willing to commit murder

– Terrifying Creatures and Wicked Beings. Savage stories about non-humans and the terror their acts can cause

– Creepy and Horrific Happenings. Strange stories about paranormal and supernatural phenomena that can prove deadly

Encounter foul, crooked people and bear witness to the revolting things they do. See what fearless beasts and otherworldly spirits are capable of. Watch as weird occurrences have disastrous consequences and effects.

If you’re a horror fan and you enjoy very short fiction, you’ll enjoy Terror in Brief.

 

G. I. JOE CLASSICS, Vol. 1, by Larry Hama

The classic Marvel Comics G.I. Joe gets new life in this first collection of must-have Joe stories! This action-packed volume collects the classic G.I. Joe issues #1 to 10. Writer Larry Hama, the man irrevocably linked to G.I. Joe, guided the team for over ten years (and he returns to the characters next month in an all-new series!). Here, he is joined by an array of artists, including Herb Trimpe, Mike Vosburg, and Don Perlin.

JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, BY BENDIS AND GODLEWSKI

The greatest heroes of two eras face their biggest threat…each other! It’s the 21st century versus the 31st century, with all of reality at stake!

One thousand years in the future, a Legion of Super-Heroes comes together to dedicate their lives to recapturing the great age of heroes of the 21st century. When the heroes discover that reality is falling to a great darkness in both times simultaneously, the Justice League and the Legion of Super-Heroes must team up to stop it all.
 
Soon, the Justice League are trapped in the 31st century, and the looming terror of the Great Darkness hovers over both time periods simultaneously. Even as the great heroes of the 21st century get to experience the fantastic far-flung future, the mysteries behind the Gold Lantern and the Great Darkness threaten all of existence. What is the secret behind the Great Darkness? And will the greatest heroes of two ages be able to stop it before it’s too late?
 
Two of DC’s top super-teams clash, as threads from legendary writer Brian Michael Bendis’ runs on Legion of Super-Heroes and Justice League collide in a story with both the present and the future at risk!
 
Collects Justice League vs. Legion of Super-Heroes #1-6.

HOW TO READ COMICS THE MARVEL WAY, by Christopher Hastings and Scott Koblish

Presenting a universal gateway into the House of Ideas! You know you’ve experienced it before, True Believer: you loan your friend a comic book, only to have it returned unfinished. “I tried to read it,” they say, “but I just got lost.” What went wrong? Comics can be like a foreign language – if you don’t learn them young, you might need extra help to catch on. Other clever cartoonists and scribes have shared their theories on the grammar of comics…but it’s never been done in the Mighty Marvel Manner before! So get ready, because Mysterio has trapped Spider-Man inside a comic book – and Spidey’s going to help you navigate through the gutters, balloons, panels, pencils and more! Follow along as Spidey figures out how to escape and save the day!

Collecting: HOW TO READ COMICS THE MARVEL WAY (2020) 1-4, MS. MARVEL (2014) 1, ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN (2011) 1, MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR (2016) 1, SPIDEY (2016) 1

 

On my Kindle, I am currently rotating between these four books:

FREE FIVE, by Paul D. Dail 

Five Flash Fiction horror pieces, all under 1000 words.

Each piece also includes a brief afterword from the author with a bit of background on where he got the idea for the story.

A little insight into the life and mind of a horror writer.

Approx. 7000 words (roughly 28 pages)

Includes:
– “The Professional Crier”
The tears of high school outcast Penny Circe can bring back the dead. At least temporarily.

– “I Spy With My Little Eye”
Anthony Monsano has gone through hell to finally find himself in possession of the round box. The question is, what’s inside?

– “Run, Rabbit. Run.”
Pete Cantrell hates jackrabbits. Unfortunately, his home is surrounded by them. And something else as well.

– “The Death He Expected”
A group of boys on a midnight, full moon trip to an Indian burial site get more than just a practical joke.

– “Another Oldie But Goodie”
Retirement home resident Margaret Daniels is hearing music that no one else can hear, a song she hasn’t heard in almost 50 years.

FIVE MINUTE FRIGHTS, by Dan Deluise 

“Absolutely horrifying.” – Customer Review

Neighbors who haven’t left the house in years. Unwelcome visitors who don’t let you sleep. Reflections that look like someone else. Combining elements of folklore, 80’s horror, and campfire stories, “Five-Minute Frights” is a collection of flash fiction that’ll raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

 

30 DAY WRITING CHALLENGE, by Sara E. Crawford

Do you want to take your writing to the next level?

The 30-Day Writing Challenge encourages beginner and advanced writers alike to stretch their writing muscles and create or enhance a daily writing habit. Each day, a new writing exercise/prompt is presented in an inventive collection that focuses on technique, inspiration, and craft by taking a comprehensive look across multiple forms and genres of writing.

STAR TREK Vol. 1, by Mike Johnson and Steven Molnar

The adventures of the Starship Enterprise continue in this new story that picks up where the blockbuster 2009 film left off! Featuring the new cast of the film, these missions re-imagine the stories from the original series in the alternate “Kelvin” timeline created by the film, along with new threats and characters never seen before! With creative collaboration from Star Trek writer/producer Roberto Orci, this new series begins the countdown to 2012’s Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Collects issues 1-4.

HIT ME, by Christa Faust

A high-octane crime thriller from Christa Faust (Bad Mother, Redemption) and Priscilla Petraites (Chariot). Lulu has a very unique profession: She gets paid by the bruise. When she is witness to the execution of one of her regular clients, she escapes into the night with a briefcase filled with diamonds and a pack of killers on her trail. Navigating the dark underbelly of decaying, early-90’s Atlantic City, one step ahead of her pursuers, Lulu must call upon every one of her street-born instincts and underworld connections in what will be the longest – and possibly last – night of her life.

Today I start Dean Wesley Smith’s THE CASE OF THE INTRUSIVE FURNITURE: A Pilgrim Hugh Incident.

Pilgrim Hugh solved some odd cases before, but an old, smelly couch sitting in the middle of a beautiful lawn seems to have full-blown strange written all over it. With his friend and beautiful assistant, Carrie, he must figure out why the couch ended up there and what the woman living in the perfect home hid (besides a bad facelift and a heart of stone). A new Pilgrim Hugh Incident.

One after work, one before bed.

THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD, by Paul Tremblay

Paul Tremblay’s terrifying twist to the home invasion novel—now a major motion picture.

“A tremendous book―thought-provoking and terrifying, with tension that winds up like a chain. The Cabin at the End of the World is Tremblay’s personal best. It’s that good.” — Stephen King

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

THE JERSEY DEVIL, by Hunter Shea

“Old school horror.” —Jonathan Maberry

THE LEGEND LIVES
Everyone knows the legend of the Jersey Devil. Some believe it is an abomination of nature, a hybrid winged beast from hell that stalks the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey searching for prey. Others believe it is a hoax, a campfire story designed to scare children. But one man knows the truth…

THE DEVIL AWAKES
Sixty years ago, Boompa Willet came face to face with the Devil—and lived to tell the tale. Now, the creature’s stomping grounds are alive once again with strange sightings, disappearances, and worse. After all these years, Boompa must return to the Barrens, not to prove the legend is real but to wipe it off the face of the earth…

THE BEAST MUST DIE
It’ll take more than just courage to defeat the Devil. It will take four generations of the Willet clan, a lifetime of survivalist training, and all the firepower they can carry. But timing is critical. A summer music festival has attracted crowds of teenagers. The woods are filled with tender young prey. But this time, the Devil is not alone. The evil has grown into an unholy horde of mutant monstrosities. And hell has come home to New Jersey…

“Shea delivers a tense and intriguing work of escalating tension splattered with a clever, extensive cast of bystanders turned victims…An otherwise excellent, tightly delivered plot…Fans of cryptid creatures are likely to revel in this love letter to a legendary menace.”– Publishers Weekly

Two new books added to the rotation.

VOICES, by Kit Power:

A series of micro-collections featuring a selection of peculiar tales from the best in horror and speculative fiction.  From Black Shuck Books and Kit Power comes Voices, the seventeenth in the Black Shuck SHADOWS series.

 

 

 

 

 

ALABASTER: WOLVES, by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Dancy Flammarion may look like a frail teenage girl, but her journey through the swamps and byways of the American South brings her into battle with werewolves, monsters, and grotesque secrets, armed only with a knife and a mission to destroy the deadly creatures that lurk in shadow. Collects the five-issue miniseries.

“It’s gentle and horrific and apocalyptic all at once. Good writing. Good pencil and ink work. Good colors. That’s a good comic.” –Comics Alliance

 

MASTER OF KUNG FU: BLEEDING BLACK

Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, has been poisoned. His only hope is to find the elixir vitae, the serum of eternal life created by his father. Shang Chi’s quest takes him to all of his father’s hidden facilities, where he will face the deadly traps designed to keep out thieves. He is accompanied by his allies from British Secret Service: Sir Denis Nayland Smith, Clive Reston, Blackjack Tarr and his beloved Leiko Wu. On the verge of death, he must nonetheless find the strength to defeat the assassin Shadow Hand, though every minute he is delayed brings him closer to the end in this 80-page special. 

AVENGERS: DEATHTRAP–THE VAULT

The Avengers are trapped inside the Vault, a maximum-security prison built to house super villains. Now they must battle a cadre of the Marvel U’s deadliest villains including Radioactive Man, Klaw, Rhino, and Spider-Man’s arch nemesis, Venom! To make matters worse, Freedom Force, the former Brotherhood of Evil Mutants now a government sponsored strike force, are on the scene to complicate things. Can Earth’s Mightiest Heroes quell a superhuman prison break when they’re not sure who they can trust?

In addition to GWENDY’S FINAL TASK (I have finished INAPPROPRIATE), I am also reading selected stories from the following collections I got from the library:

 

THE DARK: New Ghost Stories, edited by Ellen Datlow

Modern audiences have long inured themselves to fear, trained themselves to shut off their childish nighttime terrors and scoff in the face of deliberate scares. But award-winning anthologist Ellen Datlow–called “the genre’s sharpest assembler of strange, dark fictions” by William Gibson, author of Neuromancer–was convinced that there was life in the ghost story yet. So she challenged a list of varied and talented contributors to scare the heck out of her.

 

 

BODY SHOCKS: Extreme Tales of Body Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow

[STARRED REVIEW] “Hugo Award–winning editor Datlow (Edited By) brings together 29 spine-tingling tales of body horror to terrify even the most seasoned horror reader.”
Publishers Weekly

Bestselling editor Ellen Datlow (Lovecraft’s Monsters) presents body horror at its most wide-ranging and shocking best. Discover twenty-nine intricate, twisted tales of the human body, soul, and psyche, as told by storytelling legends including Carmen Maria Machado, Richard Kadrey, Seanan McGuire, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nathan Ballingrud, Tananarive Due, Cassandra Khaw, Christopher Fowler, and many more.

The most terrifying thing that you can possibly imagine is your own body in the hands of a monster. Or worse, in the hands of another human being. In this definitive anthology of body horror selected by a World Horror Grandmaster, you’ll find the unthinkable and the shocking: a couture designer preparing for an exquisitely grotesque runway show; a vengeful son seeking the parent who bred him as plasma donor; a celebrity-kink brothel that inflicts plastic surgery on sex workers; and organ-harvesting doctors who dissect a living man without anesthetic.

 

FLIGHT OR FRIGHT: 17 Turbulent Tales, edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent

#1 New York Times bestselling author and master of horror Stephen King teams up with Bev Vincent of Cemetery Dance to present a terrifying collection of sixteen short stories (and one poem) that tap into one of King’s greatest fears—air travel—featuring brand-new stories by King and Joe Hill, “an expertly compiled collection of tales that entertain and scare” (Booklist).

Stephen King hates to fly, and he and co-editor Bev Vincent would like to share their fear of flying with you.

Welcome to Flight or Fright, an anthology about all the things that can go horribly wrong when you’re suspended six miles in the air, hurtling through space at more than 500 mph, and sealed up in a metal tube (like—gulp!—a coffin) with hundreds of strangers. Here are all the ways your trip into the friendly skies can turn into a nightmare, including some we’ll bet you’ve never thought of before… but now you will the next time you walk down the jetway and place your fate in the hands of a total stranger.

Featuring brand-new “standouts” (Publishers Weekly) by Joe Hill and Stephen King, as well as fourteen classic tales and one poem from the likes of Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Dan Simmons, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and many others, Flight or Fright is, as King says, “ideal airplane reading, especially on stormy descents…Even if you are safe on the ground, you might want to buckle up nice and tight.”

Each story is introduced by Stephen King and all will have you thinking twice about how you want to reach your final destination.

INAPPROPRIATE, by Gabrielle Bell

2 IGNATZ AWARD NOMINATIONS: Outstanding Collection + Outstanding Story

Foreword Indies Finalist

One of the Best Graphic Novels of the Year ― Library Journal

Gabrielle Bell returns with a brilliant new collection of hilarious short stories. From a revisionist Red Riding Hood, to uncomfortable role reversals, Gabrielle Bell revels in skewering modern mores with razor-sharp humor and wry observations. Culled from The New YorkerParis Review, and Medium, including several brand new previously unpublished gems, Inappropriate collects Bell’s best short comics form the last couple of years.

 

And when I’m done with that, I’ll finally dig into GWENDY’S FINAL TASK, by Richard Chizmar and Stephen King.

When Gwendy Peterson was twelve, a mysterious stranger named Richard Farris gave her a mysterious box for safekeeping. It offered treats and vintage coins, but it was dangerous. Pushing any of its seven colored buttons promised death and destruction.

Years later, the button box entered Gwendy’s life again. A successful novelist and a rising political star, she was once again forced to deal with the temptation that box represented.

Now, evil forces seek to possess the button box and it is up to Senator Gwendy Peterson to keep it from them. At all costs. But where can you hide something from such powerful entities?

In Gwendy’s Final Task, “horror giants” (Publishers Weekly) Stephen King and Richard Chizmar take us on a journey from Castle Rock to another famous cursed Maine city to the MF\\\-1 space station, where Gwendy must execute a secret mission to save the world. And, maybe, all worlds.

THE ART OF NEIL GAIMAN, by Hayley Campbell

With unprecedented access to Neil Gaiman’s personal archives, author Hayley Campbell gives an insider’s glimpse into the artistic inspirations and musings of one of the world’s most visionary writers.

Over the last twenty-five years, Neil Gaiman has mapped out a territory in the popular imagination that is uniquely his own. A master of several genres, including, but not limited to, bestselling novels, children’s books, groundbreaking comics, and graphic novels, it’s no wonder Gaiman has been called a rock star of the literary world. Now, for the first time, Gaiman reveals the inspiration behind his signature artistic motifs, giving author Hayley Campbell a rare, in-depth look at the contents of his personal notebooks and early work, even some of his abandoned projects. The result is a startling, intimate glimpse into the life and mind of one of the world’s most creative visionaries. The book is the first comprehensive, full-color examination of Gaiman’s work to date, tracing the genesis of his creative life as a starving journalist in the UK to his life as a successful comic book writer and, ultimately, a bestselling novelist.

Complete with running commentary, interview text, and annotated material that contextualizes the visual material, this deluxe compendium contains never-before-seen material and promises to be every bit as inspired as Gaiman is himself. 

THE DEVIL CREPT IN, by Ania Ahlborn

An unforgettable horror novel from bestselling sensation Ania Ahlborn—hailed as a writer of “some of the most promising horror I’ve encountered in years” (New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire)—in which a small-town boy investigates the mysterious disappearance of his cousin and uncovers a terrifying secret kept hidden for years.

Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

 

BOWIE IN BERLIN, by Thomas Jerome Seabrook

Driven to the brink of madness by cocaine, overwork, marital strife, and a paranoid obsession with the occult, Bowie fled Los Angeles in 1975 and ended up in Berlin, the divided city on the frontline between communist East and capitalist West. There he sought anonymity, taking an apartment in a rundown district with his sometime collaborator Iggy Pop, another refugee from drugs and debauchery, while they explored the city and its notorious nightlife. In this intensely creative period, Bowie put together three classic albums Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger with collaborators who included Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and Tony Visconti. He also found time to produce two albums for Iggy Pop (The Idiot and Lust For Life) and to take a leading role in a movie, the ill-starred Just A Gigolo. Bowie In Berlin examines that period and those records, exploring Bowie’s fascination with the city, unearthing his sources of inspiration, detailing his working methods, and teasing out the elusive meanings of the songs. Painstakingly researched and vividly written, the book casts new light on the most creative and influential era in David Bowie’s career.

Break-time reading at work:

 Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel 

From the New York Times bestselling author of Fun Home, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama is a brilliantly told graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel becoming the artist her mother wanted to be.

A New York Times, USA Today, and Time Best Book of the Year

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel’s childhood . . . and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven.

Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It’s a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother — to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.

 

At-home reading:

Planet of the Apes Omnibus: Before the Fall by Gabriel Hardman

Twenty years before an Astronaut named Taylor fell from the stars, the Planet of the Apes is gripped with a cataclysmic crisis between Apes and Man!

Ape society is in flux. The rigid caste system is breaking down. Humans can’t speak and are considered animals, but are tolerated in the City. Scientific curiosity is smashing old taboos. But not everyone is happy with the new status quo. When an Ape general named Aleron discovers that the Lawgiver’s most sacred commandment—Ape Does Not Kill Ape—has been broken, he unwittingly unlocks a vast conspiracy deep in Ape City that will upend society, and all of history. On the run and faced with unspeakable betrayal, Aleron crosses paths with Doctor Zaius, Zira, Cornelius, and others as he journeys into the heart of the Forbidden zone to discover the truth.

Collected together for the first time in one prestigious omnibus, experience the entire critically-acclaimed Apes saga from Gabriel Hardman (Green Lantern) and Corinna Bechko (Star Wars: Legacy), and celebrated illustrators Marc Laming (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Damian Couceiro (Old Man Logan). Features Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes, Exile on the Planet of the Apes, and Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm.

Cat Diary, by Junji Ito

Is there anything spookier than a silent feline, eyes glinting, stalking you in the night…IN YOUR OWN HOME?? Master of horror Junji Ito turns his twisted eye on his own life in this comedic graphic memoir about becoming a cat owner, now reissued in a deluxe hardcover featuring an exclusive interivew with Ito and a NEW cover illustration by the author that GLOWS IN THE DARK! The perfect gift for the slightly-twisted cat lover in your life.

Reigning king of horror manga Junji Ito presents a series of hissterical tales chronicling his real-life trials and tribulations of becoming a cat owner. Junji Ito, as J-kun, has recently built a new house and has invited his financée, A-ko, to live with him. Little did he know…his blushing bride-to-be has some unexpected company in tow–Yon, a ghastly-looking family cat, and Mu, an adorable Norwegian forest cat. Despite being a dog person, J-kun finds himself purrsuaded by their odd cuteness and thus begins his comedic struggle to gain the affection of his new feline friends.

AVENGERS: KREE/SKRULL WAR

A conflict of star-spanning proportions – with Earth caught in the crossfi re! Those eternal intergalactic enemies, the merciless Kree and the shape-changing Skrulls, have gone to war – and our planet is situated on the front lines! Can Earth’s Mightiest Heroes bring about an end to the fi ghting before humanity becomes a casualty of war? And what good are even a dozen super-powered champions against the vast military machines of two of the great empires of the cosmos? The key to victory lies with the expatriate Kree Captain Mar-Vell – and his human host, honorary Avenger Rick Jones! Featuring the trendsetting artwork of Neal Adams, the Kree/Skrull War is universally acknowledged as one of the fi nest and most important sagas in the Marvel canon. Guest-starring the Fantastic Four, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. and more!

COLLECTING: AVENGERS (1963) 89-97

from the book 642 Things to Write About:

Describe five memories—events you remember really well.  Then take one of them further.

 

1) My mother taking me to a carnival on a random cloudy day.

2) Kara likes my shirt.

3) Walking with Caleb and Charli.

4) Getting laid off, twice.

5) Buying comics with Scott

 

 

I remember my mother taking me to the carnival one random cloudy fall day.  I don’t remember seeing any other people there.  We rode a few rides and a guy who ran one of the games kept trying to get us to play one.  He showed us how to beat it, but I was maybe 8 or 9, NOT athletic or confident in my abilities at all, and I just wanted to ride the scrambler again.  This guy, however, wanted in my mother’s pants.  She wasn’t having it, she just wanted to take her kid to the carnival.  We didn’t have much back then, so a random day of fun like that went a long way and I wonder sometimes about her motivations for that day.  I believe she just wanted to take her kid out for some fun.

 

But what if…?

 

 

“Pulling Her Weight”

 

The autumn wind wrapped around the boy as soon he got out of the car, a beat-up old VW Bug that hadn’t had a muffler in years and sounded more like a Harley when it passed by than a piece of German engineering.

 

The carnival had been set up in an empty lot next to a Wendy’s, and all around, the boy marveled at the bright, colorful rides with their flashing lights and spinning cars.

 

Mother paid for a string of tickets and asked the boy “Where to first?”

 

He pointed to the Scrambler and together they were whirled around in Spirograph-like circles, the boy laughing as the machine went faster and faster for a too-brief moment, before slowing and letting them off.

 

He ran around to the entrance again and Mother gave the ticket-taker another bundle of red cardboard to let them back on.

 

If the boy noticed they were the only two there that day, it didn’t register consciously.  He was just happy to be out on a random day, enjoying carnival rides with his mother.

 

It wasn’t often they got to do things like this together.  Most of the boy’s days were spent in school where he was part of a split third/fourth grade class in yet another new school, the fourth one in four years.  And now here he was again, after yet another move, and another new school.

 

He’d started in kindergarten, he and Mother living with her boyfriend, but the boyfriend was abusive, and Mother had reached the end of her rope.  School number two was when they were living with Uncle Jed, then the next year he and Mother had their own place, this time with Aunt Trudy.

 

He didn’t know why they had moved out of that place; he was only seven and such things were beyond the limits of his worldview.  All he knew was that now they lived with his grandparents in a one-bedroom house down the street from school number four.  Moving so often, the boy didn’t make friends easily, finding it better to entertain himself, so he was perfectly content to ride the rides with Mother, the only constant in his life up to that point.

 

There had been a brief period earlier in the year, the summer before third grade, when Mother was dating a man who lived on a farm and the boy had spent a few days there alone with him.  He’d watched the man build a shelter for his pigs, and the boy remembered seeing one of those pigs, dead, half-eaten by a coyote.

 

Another time, he remembered spending the night with his grandfather, who wasn’t really his grandfather, but he and Grandma had been together since before the boy was born, so as far as the world was concerned, he was Grandpa.  Grandpa had a farm just outside of town, not near as big or as impressive as the other farm.  He and Grandpa had stayed up late watching horror movies and the next day, the boy helped Grandpa plant seeds in the garden.

 

He remembered Grandpa and Mother arguing the day before.  Grandpa said something about Mother not pulling her weight, but the boy thought that was weird because Mother wasn’t fat.

 

Mother said she was broke, but that was weird, too, because she seemed fine to the boy.

 

Grandma said she should have thought of that before she spread her legs.

 

The boy had seen his mother exercising once and she had spread her legs while doing stretches, but he didn’t see a problem with that.

 

After he had helped Grandpa in the garden, things calmed down.  He would come home from school and do his homework in the kitchen, then play outside until it was time to eat dinner.  At the end of the day, Grandma and Grandpa went to bed while Mother unfolded their bed from the couch and they went to bed, too.

 

Life fell into a dull rhythm.  School, play, eat, bed.  Over and over with no break in the routine until this cold autumn day in the empty lot next to the Wendy’s.

 

After the Scrambler, they headed to another ride, the Tilt-a-Whirl, but a man who operated the basketball game called them over.  “Make a basket and win a prize,” he said.

 

The boy wasn’t interested, he just wanted to spin around as fast as he could.  But the barker was persistent, and Mother stopped.

 

The object was to toss a ball into a basket.  If it stayed in, you won.  If it bounced out, you lost.  He showed them how easy it was, making several baskets in a row and telling them exactly where to aim.  The boy had to admit, he did like the look of the stuffed animals along the wall.  He nodded and smiled, thinking this was going to be an easy win, then he could get back to the rides, this time with a new friend beside him.

 

Mother handed the man a dollar, and the man handed the boy the ball.

 

He shot, aiming for the spot in the basket where the man had showed them.  The ball went in, then bounced back out and fell to the cold autumn ground.

 

The boy wanted to cry.  He’d aimed for the right spot, why hadn’t it stayed in?  He and his mother walked away from the game, the boy thinking how much he wanted that stuffed animal, and feeling bad he had made his mother waste a dollar when he knew how few of them she had.

 

He asked how many tickets they had left, and Mother said, “Enough for three more rides.”

 

“Ok.”

 

He scanned the carnival, trying to decide which three he wanted to ride.  They still hadn’t made it to the Tilt-a-Whirl, so that was next.  The Octopus scared him, so that was out.  He didn’t see a lot of other rides that looked like something he would enjoy, so maybe the Tilt-a-Whirl again and then the Scrambler one more time?  But if they went back to the Scrambler, they would have to pass the games and he didn’t want to look at the games again.

 

After they rode the Tilt-a-Whirl for the third time, he noticed Mother was crying and he didn’t know why; they were having a great day.

 

“What’s wrong, Mama,” he asked.

 

“Nothing,” she said, sniffling and wiping her eyes.  “I’m ok.  I promise.”

 

“But you’re crying.”

 

“I’m fine,” she said.  “I promise.”

 

“Is it time to go home now?” he said, looking at her empty hand where the tickets had been.

 

“Not just yet,” Mother said.  “Are you having fun?”

 

“Yeah!”

 

“You like it here?”

 

“I love it here.  Well, the rides anyway.  I don’t like the games so much.”

 

Mother was definitely crying, no matter how much she tried to wipe away the tears.  He wished he knew what she was so sad about.

 

“How would you like to stay and ride some more?”

 

“Can I?  But we already used the tickets.”

 

“Well, how about this,” she said and wiped more tears from her face.  “How about … you help them out with some stuff they need help with, and they’ll let you ride as many rides as you want.”

 

“Really?” the boy said, smiling wide, but not wanting to seem too happy with Mother crying like this.

 

A man appeared at the boy’s side, and he looked up and saw it was the man from the cheating basketball game.  The man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and Mother said, “You’re gonna go with him and I’ll be back later to get you, okay?”

 

“Um … okay, Mama.  Don’t forget.”

 

“I won’t,” Mother said.  Before leading the boy away, the basketball man shook Mother’s hand and the boy watched him stuff a wad of money into it and that made Mother cry even harder. She cried so hard she had to run away and the boy watched her go, wondering how long he had to help out before he could get back on the rides.

 

END