Chuck Bowie is the welcome guest this week for the 4Q
Interview on the Scribbler. This is Chuck’s third visit. Previously he shared
excerpts from his international thriller novels featuring the dashing and
clever sleuth Sean Donovan. Chuck lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick with his
wife Lois. His love for music, fine wines and delicious food are passions he
brings to his novels. Terrific plots, great dialogue and plain good
storytelling will keep you turning the pages of his books. If you missed his
previous visit, please go here.
4Q:Thanks for taking
the time to share your thoughts Chuck. Was becoming an author something you
dreamed about when you were younger or did it just happen one day?
CB:I’ve always considered myself a writer, and began
writing to entertain others when I was in grade school. After several years of
selling tourism articles, short stories and then essays as a young adult, I
tried to write a romance novel. I was about eighty pages in when I discovered I
didn’t really have the heart—no pun intended—to write in that particular genre.
I then wrote a wonderful (to me!) speculative fiction manuscript about the
near-future. I’ll re-write it, one day, as the idea still ‘has legs’, as they
say in the movie business.
4Q:We all know that Sean Donovan is the central figure in
your thriller series. How did he materialize? Did he come first or did the
story come first?
CB:Donovan magically appeared to me one night while I was
sleeping, but in fact, it was the story that came first. I was in Romania on
business and the concept of a thief for hire came to me. The notion of a
fellow—and a Canadian guy at that—with the skill set to separate people from
their possessions, was an interesting idea. An incident at that time caused me
to develop a character I’d dreamed of; a guy who wasn’t too big, wasn’t too
young or old, and who carried around his own version of right and wrong. I put
the character with the plot and the first novel began to write itself. He’s a
complex guy, so I still find him interesting in the fourth novel.
4Q:Please share a childhood anecdote or memory.
CB:As a teenager in a small New Brunswick hamlet, I was a
bit of a loner. One fall afternoon just before dusk I went hunting for
partridge. I headed across a long field where the farmer had missed the second
cut of hay, and was quite a ways from home when I noticed my cat had been
following me through the tall, yellow grass. So I let him come along.
I sought out an opening in the forest and followed a road
that had grown over, until I came to an ancient house that had caved in upon
itself. I was almost there when I spied a ruffed grouse in the apple tree
growing beside the ruin. I dropped it with one shot from my .22, but it took
flight. It had got four feet from the ground when I saw a grey flash leap into
the air, taking it down. Then I had to have a chat with my cat to determine
whose, exactly, it was. But my mom was waiting for supper meat, so I asserted
myself and we brought it home to eat. My cat never forgave me for that.
4Q:Now tell us about your latest work. What is Donovan up
CB:My third novel in the series is called Steal It All, so you can perhaps guess
what happens. It occurs to me that readers can often guess who my bad guy is,
long before the climax, but I pride myself on pleasing the reader with all
kinds of hooks, tricks and twists as the book pulls the narrative arcs
Steal It All takes
place for the most part in the rougher neighbourhoods of Manchester, England,
although there are scenes in Niagara, New York City, London, Bucharest,
Constanta and The Lake District. So I indulge in my usual jet-setting travels!
The book opens with a murder in the Canadian Embassy in London, and from there
we follow a thief, an RCMP detective and a Scotland Yard inspector as they try
to solve a murder. But things get complicated, and Donovan is a tough fellow to
keep focused. There are many twists and turns, and we come to care deeply what
happens to each of the characters in the book. I think the ending is a
barn-burner! I hope the reader will as well.
Steal It All is
available now as an eBook. It will be available in paperback early this fall.
You can order it, as well as Three Wrongs and AMACAT, from Chapters-Indigo,
Amazon, and from my publisher: MuseItUp Publications.
Historical fiction has always appealed to me when looking for a new book to read. I think that Bryce Courtenay does it the best as well as James Michener or Edward Rutherford, all great story tellers. These terrific authors are an inspiration and I hope to emulate their style of writing.
The main character in my first two novels is Drake Alexander. He lives in New Brunswick Canada and his grandfather on the Alexander side comes from the United Kingdom. His grandmother is an Acadian from a small village on the east coast of Canada.
My third novel tells the story of the Alexander family, beginning in 1911 in Govan, Scotland and spanning the next 24 years. It is an unedited work-in-progress.
I would like to share the beginning and get some feedback. Any comments would be appreciated.
Alexander is about abandon her middle child, Dominic.Where she is going, she cannot bring him. She
is poised on the wide front stoop of her brother-in-law’s house, draped in
sorrow. Her father waits in the cairt which
he has pulled to the side of the street. Her hand is raised to rap on the faded
wooden door but she lingers. Looking at her eleven year old son Dominic, at her
side, almost as tall as her, she sees the uncertainty in his eyes. Like her
heart, her will is almost broken. She yearns to hold him, to cling to him, to
carry him away from the sadness they both feel.Biting her lower lip, the need for
him to survive strengthens her resolve. She knocks firmly upon the door.
sun is setting over the roofs along the street, detail is lost to silhouettes. A
cool breeze whispers around the corners, it carries the scent of iron and oil
from the shipyards Govan is famous for. The two horses pulling the cairt prance,
unfamiliar with city sounds and the odd automobile on Govan Road where they
turned on to Waterville Row. The street dead ends a short distance from River
Clyde. The river is deep and hosts an
abundance of shipyards. It separates the municipality from its bigger brother
Glasgow. Ibrox is to the east and the borough of Renfrew is to the west.
Alexander, Duff to his buddies, is leaning one-handed against the back of the
house, staring bleary eyed at the vomit on his new shoes, Florsheims that he paid 2
pounds sterling for yesterday. He has to work a whole day for these. The
pansies at his feet are covered with the frothy remains of a once damn-tasty
haggis. It failed the taste test miserably coming back up.
wobbles but stiffens when he hears a rapping at the front door. Straightening
up he guesses its Jacky Boy and Tubs, come to see if he has anything to drink.
Pulling a wrinkled, stained hanky from left front pocket of his trousers, he
swipes the spittle from his bearded chin, flips the fabric over and honks his
nose. He bellows with a raspy slurry voice.
yur peckers you dumb lads. I’ll be along in a shake.”
stops rapping, a frown scrunches up her narrow face. Placing a hand on her hip
she turns to Dominic.
bugger is drunk.”
is snickering, he only heard “pecker”. His brother Tommy told him what a pecker
is last summer. Tommy didn’t know why
they call it that but is certain his big brother wouldn’t tell him a fib.Lucretia pokes her son on the shoulder with
her free arm.
on the fabric of his coarse shirt, she starts towards the walkway.
along, I think we should forget this and…”
directive is interrupted by Duff staggering along the dirt driveway, coming
from behind the house. He’s trying to tuck his loose shirt in but can’t get the
edge around his ridiculously red suspenders. He stops two tentative steps
towards the front walk of fieldstone sunken in the neatly clipped lawn.
Forgetting the shirt he closes one eye to focus on the two bodies on his stoop.
They’re about twenty-five feet away. Expecting a rotund Jacky Boy and taller
Tubs he is surprised when the image clears. The porch is in shadow with the sun
behind the houses across the street. He only sees the outlines. Both
are thin, one is wearing a dress. The other is a step or two behind the dress.
The dress has one hand on a hip. Why does he feel like he’s going to be
Alexander! You should be ashamed of yourself. I know you’re a man of an odd
drink, but as long as I’ve been related to you, I’ve never seen you this drunk.
Look at you. You can hardly stand up.”
perks up, the lilt of his favorite sister-in–law is warmly recognized. He opens
his eye, spreads his burly arms open.
my dear, did you finally leave that no good brother of mine. Duff is here to
for Dominic to remain, Lucretia walks down the two steps to the walkway watching
Duff shuffle along the flat stones. When he is halfway he stumbles on the edge
of a larger stone that frost has lifted and yet to be fixed. The unbalance
causes his arms to cartwheel, like one of those lawn ornaments of a man in a
boat.His forward drunken momentum,
powered by enthusiasm propels him, head down, directly at Lucretia’s feet. His
temple and right ear are the first to connect with the stone in front of her. He
is unconscious upon impact. The thud of his bulky body causes the horses to
stir. Old man Watson, tugs on their reins and whistles a melancholy tune he
made up for them. The familiar trill calms the pair. Lucretia, steps back one
pace in shock, both hands on her face and exclaims with a high, alarmed voice.
goodness, he can’t be dead too?”
bends over the inert form of her brother-in-law that is lying on his side, arms
outstretched. She gently pushes him onto his back and places a hand on his
chest.Finding the even rise and fall of
his lungs she sighs. Looking up at her son, she points at the front door.
and see if it’s open.”
turns to twist the knob and the door swings inward on silent hinges.
yourself down here then and give me a hand with this sorry sight.”
joins his mother on the pathway and when he slides his hands under the
shoulders of his uncle’s supine form, Duff stirs and bats his hands away.
Momentarily disoriented Duff sits up rubbing his scalp where flesh met stone.
Lucretia backs off a little and Dominic stands beside her facing the stunned
man, their backs to the house. A welt
grows on his forehead. His hand comes away with a drop of blood on the index
me head hurts. What did you hit me with Lucretia?”
her hands in front of her, chin up as if insulted, she regards him with distaste.
didn’t do a thing you silly fool. You slipped on that cobblestone and landed on
your face. You scared the life from me man. Can you get up?”
the boy in front of him he scratches his head.
this lad? Can that be wee Dom?”
not wee anymore Duff. Now c’mon, let’s get you into the house and I’ll tend to
that scratch on your head.”
to Dominic, the two get their hands under Duff’s arms and wrestle him to his
feet.He wobbles like an infant that’s
just learned to stand up. Dom holds him under one arm, a smirk on his face,
knowing better than to laugh. Straightening out his loose shirt, Lucretia helps
him tuck the errant edges in when she catches a whiff of Duff’s liquor laden
breath. She scrunches her nose. Turning him towards the front door she comments on it.
be wanting to gargle with something sweet and I’ll be getting some tea in ya.”
two steps up to the porch and entering the house requires Duff’s full
attention. Shrugging off his assistants, he uses the wall of the hallway that
leads to the kitchen in back.
would I be needing tea? S’better to have another tot of that whiskey inside.”
him closely, she urges Dominic along with a wave to get behind his uncle in
case he loses his balance. Pausing while her middle child, the quietest and
most obedient of her seven children, helps the man into a two armed wooden
chair at the table, she dreads what she must do. Trying not to cry, she clears
want to be sober when you hear what I have to ask you?”
Thank you for dropping by the Scribbler today. As I mentioned above, any comments would be welcome.
Next week, we are happy to have returning author Chuck Bowie of Fredericton, New Brunswick for the 4Q Interview. A world traveller, an interesting gentleman and a talented author.
inPetropolis, Brazilin 1964.
She graduated inphysiotherapybyCatholicUniversityofPetropolis. In 1983 participated in theAnthology"Our PoetsII"
with the poem"If I
could" and in 1986 in the anthology"Brazilian Poets"with the poem “On any given day.” In 2005
she movedto Germanyand wroteher first novel, "Perfect Match". Her links are listed below.
Following is an excerpt from her novel.
Copyright is held by the author. Used by permission
Mary regained consciousness and opened her eyes, but
the blindfold kept her in the dark. Her parched mouth made impossible to
swallow and the gag hurt the side of her mouth. Every muscle of her body
protesting from being in the same position for a long time, she moved to a more
comfortable position, which proved to be difficult, with her hands tied behind
her back and her ankles tied together.
Dizziness clouded her mind. She didn’t remember what
had happened to her. Her heart started beating fast and loud against her ribs
and her breath became irregular.
Walker, you are in big trouble but it isn’t time to panic! Breathe, Mary, deep
and slowly, she ordered herself. Again, breathe.
She took several long and deep breaths, in an attempt
to calm down her heart. She was quite sure that if it continued to pound in
that crazy rhythm it would break her ribs. It slowed down and she concentrated
on the recent events. Where I was and
what happened? A noise startled her and her heart started to gallop again.
She listened carefully in an effort to identify it. A door was open. She would
say it was very close to her, and heavy footsteps came in her direction. Her
body stiffened and cold sweat rolled down her face.
She shivered as strong hands grabbed her arm to help
her sit, and took off the gag. He, she supposed it was a man, gave her water.
The cold liquid was a relief for her dry mouth. The relief didn’t last long,
the gag covered her mouth again and she was left alone in the darkness.
Bit by bit she put together what she had done the day
or hours before, she didn’t know.
was at the library. I was late but have to stop to buy dinner. Yes, a man asked
for directions and the other man had a gun. And then it went dark. Questions started to pop up. How long I was unconscious? Where am I? And she realized that
whoever had done it might know that she hated to be in the dark, that not
having anything to do was enough to drive her crazy.
She supposed it was hours later, she heard the door
open and footsteps coming in her direction again. It wasn’t the same person,
this one had light footsteps. It was incredible how sharp she could hear with
her vision blocked.
He took off the gag and the blindfold, and the rope
from around her wrists and ankles. The room was poorly lit; the light came from
a single lamp dropping from the ceiling. Still Mary blinked several times for
her eyes to get used to it.
She slowly flexed her muscles. Every inch of her body
ached. He let her go to the toilet and gave her something to eat and to drink.
Her annoyance increased.
he uses a hood to hide his face why do I have to be blindfolded all the
time?she thought. She didn’t dare
to ask anything, his hoarse voice and aggressive tone told her not to. She did
what she was told. While she ate, she looked at where she was. It
was a small room, with one window painted black not letting the day light in.
She couldn’t know if it was day or night. The place had
seen better days. It was dirty; a dick layer of dust covered the floor and the
walls, except one that was made of wood and was new. The place was stuffy and
smelled moldy. Mary felt bad, the smell was nauseating and the tiny room was
were two doors, one that led to the lavatory and one that meant her freedom.
She stared at them.You don’t have
any chance to escape from here even if you weren’t tied up, she concluded
ritual was repeated three times a day by two different men. The rest of the
time she was alone with her thoughts. She forced herself to believe that soon
she would be out of the dark and claustrophobic room. To keep her strength she
had to believe that soon she would be with her family again. Sometimes the fear
and the agony were stronger and negative thoughts assaulted her mind, but she
made herself ban them away. She forced herself to eat although she wasn’t
hungry and the food’s taste was dubious. She needed to keep strong.
She had lost track of the time completely, but she
supposed it was the third day she was there. The man with the hoarse voice came
with a telephone and a sheet of paper. He dialed a number and waited. Mary
was sure that he had called her family. Her pulse went crazy; a mix of emotions
invaded her heart. Determined to make her family believe that despite
everything she was alright, she held back tears. After a few rings someone
answered. The man held the sheet of paper in front of her and ordered her to
say exactly what was written, not a word more.
It was enough to hear
Mark’s voice for her fragile control to slip. Tears streamed down her face
“Read,” he demanded
She brushed the tears
with the back of her hand and looked at the words. But the words that came out
of her mouth were not the words that were written. Furious, the man
slapped her face twice.
Mark heard her low cry and his pulse began to pulse
“Mary, what is going on? Are you hurt?” Mark shouted
After three long days of agony and uncertainty it was
a relief for Mark, for George and for her parents, to hear Mary’s voice. She
was shaken but alive. But her low cry and the abrupt end of the call brought
the fear back and gnawed at their confidence. What had happened to her? The
question hung in the air. Afraid to say out loud what they feared, they
preferred to keep their thoughts and worries to themselves.No one wanted to talk about Mary.
He came in and watched her in her sleep for a while.
He kneeled beside her and pulled her to a sitting position. She woke up
frightened and didn’t scream because she was gagged.
Amused by her scared face, he brushed his fingertips
over her face and smoothed her disheveled hair, straightening it a little.
A jolt of panic ran through Mary. She turned her head from side to side
in an attempt to avoid the hand that was touching her. He put one hand behind
her neck, immobilizing her. Immediately her stomach tightened anticipating the
outcome. He kissed her cheek, and with his free hand pulled the
gag and kissed her lips gently.
know this scent, this way to kiss and touch. It’s the way it
used to be. No,
please God, don’t let be him,
she begged in
silence as recognition and shock raced through her. She
would like to forget every minute she had spent with him, but
the memories were
there, the good and the bad ones.
Thank you Marcia for sharing a portion of your exciting novel. I definitely want to read more.
Find out more about Marcia and her writing by visiting the links below.
Withers has been writing since she was seven years old, banging out stories
about dragons and damsels in distress on an ancient typewriter. She went on to
earn a BA in English Studies at the University of Pretoria. Since then, she has
taken writing courses through Writer’s Write, and Allaboutwriting. Jennifer
lives in Pretoria, with her husband, two dogs, and an ageing cat. The War Between is her first novel.
Following is an excerpt. Copyright is held by the author. Used by permission.
Raven raised her hands. The marking on the
back of her left hand glowed and waned in a rhythmic wave. Light pulsed from
both her palms. I felt the heat of it from where I stood. Raven pushed the
light away from her, striking Emery in the chest, knocking her to the dirt
floor of the ring. Emery sprang to her feet immediately, her expression
twisting into a mask of fury. She threw herself at Raven, who stepped aside.
Emery flew right out of the ring, barely saving herself from landing on her
face. She let out a scream of frustration, her face scarlet as titters of
barely suppressed laughter filled the room.
Raven crossed to Emery and helped her up.
‘If you let your rage get the better of you, if you lose your focus, you’ll
never win. You can beat me, but only if you keep it together.’
She pulled Emery back into the centre.
‘Let’s do it again. Concentrate this time. Don’t lose your cool.’
Raven raised her hands again. Before she
could do anything else, a spark shot from Emery’s right hand, slamming into Raven’s
shoulder and unbalancing her. She fell to the floor in an ungraceful heap,
laughing. ‘Good! That’s what I’m talking about.’ Emery’s face shone with pride,
her grin so wide it threatened to spill off her face.
I turned to Draiken. ‘She’s improving.’
He slung an arm across my shoulders and
pushed me to the smaller ring where several teenagers stood waiting.
‘Yes she is. But Emery’s not who I wanted
you to see.’
He motioned to Trey, a lanky boy who was
the one and only Converted of our kind. His presence still unnerved me, even
though there had been no signs of instability in his behaviour. The conversion
seemed to suit him, but I worried all the same.
‘Trey. Demonstrate for Syra.’
Trey stepped forward silently. His brow
furrowed, and his gaze centred on a line of tin cans propped on a table several
metres away. One of the tins wobbled, threatening to tip off the edge. Then it
rose, as if pulled up by an invisible string. It jerked towards Trey in fitful
starts, occasionally pausing and hovering, then resuming its journey through
thin air until finally, it landed neatly in Trey’s palm. His smile of triumph
was directed at me. I smiled in return. It felt strained.
‘Isn’t it remarkable?’ Draiken asked.
Without waiting for a reply he turned back to Trey. ‘Watch again. He’s a
I felt my alarm levels spike. ‘He’s a
Draiken nodded, his excitement palpable.
‘Trey. Show Syra.’
Trey took off towards the opposite wall,
moving so fast my eyes could barely track him. Halfway across the room he leaped,
his feet leaving the floor in a blur of speed. He landed gracefully against the
wall and seemed to hover there, his hands and feet flat against the brick.
Despite myself, I was entranced. He remained facing the wall, his hands and
feet braced against it, for another moment or two before sliding to the floor
Draiken grinned at me. ‘I think he’s nearly
as fast as you.’
‘Amazing,’ Ray murmured. ‘And he’s a
Convert. Imagine the possibilities.’
Draiken shot me a triumphant look.
Trey sauntered back to us, arrogance
creasing his face, his eyes burning with excitement. He looked at me
expectantly, and suddenly all I wanted was to wipe that overconfidence from his
‘Very impressive,’ I said flatly.
Disappointment flashed briefly over his face before he managed to arrange his
features into a neutral expression.
I could feel the heat of Draiken’s
questioning stare searing into my temple.
I avoided his gaze. ‘We need to talk.’
I turned around and made my way down the
stairs, heading to the small room off to the right side of the front door.
Draiken followed me and shut the door behind him, but not before I caught a
glimpse of Ray talking animatedly with Trey, his face lit with excitement.
‘What was that all about?’
I shrugged. ‘You know the boy gives me the
creeps. I told you from the beginning I wasn’t comfortable with a conversion.
And you went and trained him anyway. We’re supposed to be making these kind of
Draiken snorted. ‘I knew you wouldn’t
agree. I was hoping to win you over with his demonstrations. We’re Converts, Sy. And look at us. We’re
perfectly normal. We’re not hacking anyone to death with a dinner knife.
Besides, the boy came to us. He risked his life to cross The Waste, on the
off-chance we’d allow him to become one of us. We need more like him.’
The smile in his voice irritated me. ‘The
Creator converted us. He had more of a clue than we do. Do you think President
Crane will be pleased if he hears we’re doing conversions on humans?’ I paced
the tight corners of the room. ‘You shouldn’t be so flippant about this. You
normally take my feelings seriously. Especially when they involve people.’
‘This isn’t one of your sixth sense
feelings, Sy. This is you not taking to Trey, which isn’t unusual for you.
You’re not exactly the warm and cuddly type. As for Crane – what does it
matter? He’ll never find out. At least not until it’s too late.’ He smirked.
‘Anyway the boy could be from any of the human cities. No one knows for sure if
Toria is the only one left.’
I shot him a look. ‘This is absolutely not
personal. He’s a Convert, and a Dual. What if he becomes unstable?’
‘Then we kill him. The only thing we’ll
have lost is time. I’ve had a look at the numbers and we need a drastic
increase if we’re going to manage the takeover. You already know this.’
I folded my arms. ‘What does this have to
do with Trey?’
‘Converts are the way to get those
‘Draiken! You haven’t discussed this with
He held up a hand. ‘I’m discussing it with
you now.’ He motioned to a nearby chair. ‘Sit, will you? You’re making me
I glared at him but dropped into the chair
‘We agreed that we would try something
other than populating the natural way. There have been increasing reports of
more and more couples having trouble conceiving. And when they do, some of the
children have been born – ‘
‘Deformed. I know.’
‘Exactly. If more families have deformed
kids then we may as well welcome humans into Jozenburg. Those kids are exactly
like them. No skills. At least no useful ones.
‘Those that are healthy grow quickly, yes,
but it still isn’t fast enough. Not if we’re going to mobilise against the
humans soon. I’ve already spoken to the Elders –‘
I half rose out of my chair. ‘Without
consulting me? You had a gathering without me there? What the hell, Drake! You
said we would lead together.’ His face remained impassive, except for one
raised eyebrow, admonishing me without a word. I sank back down, feeling his
condescension in every pore of my skin.
‘We agreed that I would oversee the
training, didn’t we? That’s what I’m doing. We’ve got to play to our strengths.
If you want to change the arrangement then say so, otherwise stop being a
prophet of doom and let me get on with things.’
‘Why did the Elders allow you to meet them
‘They asked me the same thing. I told them
I wanted to run it by them first, because you would need some convincing. They
agree with me. We can’t convince the humans we need another city, without the
numbers to justify it.’
‘I doubt we’ll convince President Crane
anyway… Wait. What numbers?’
‘Don’t act stupid, Sy. You know the humans
have no knowledge of our problems with procreation.’
‘So the Elders agreed to this ridiculous
plan of yours? To convert humans? What about the loss of life?’
Draiken grimaced and shook his head.
‘Honestly Sy. Why do you even think human life is worth preserving? Look what
they did to this country – this world - with their greed.’
‘Regardless, the Elders said a hostile
take-over was out of the question. We do it peacefully, or not at all.’
Draiken rolled his eyes. ‘Yes – the Elders
are quite the idealists. I told them that converting would benefit us all. We
won’t take any humans forcibly. We’ll offer them the choice.’
I rose, preparing to leave before my temper
made a fool of me. Draiken’s voice pulled me back. ‘I need your blessing on
this. The Elders don’t want to force you into it. You know how they are –
freedom of choice and all that sentimental crap.’
‘Will they go ahead and do it if I refuse
to be a part of this?’
Draiken gave me a look. ‘Yes. But if the
Elders decide we can no longer work together then both our positions are in
‘I can’t agree to this. I think it’s a
terrible mistake. We don’t know the exact science of conversion. We don’t know
what will happen if one of the humans reacts badly to the change. You could be
putting all of us in danger.’
Draiken reached for my hands and squeezed
them. ‘I need you on my team. Please. Trust me. I know I can make this work.
And if I can’t, if anything goes wrong, I’ll stop. The Elders will never allow
bloodshed among our own kind. I need your help with the conversions. Your gifts
are too great not to pass on.’
My sixth sense screamed at me not to agree.
The warning heat of going against my feeling flooded my cheeks, pulsed like a
living thing behind my eyes, throbbed in the hastened beat of my blood. I
couldn’t refuse him. I had never been able to, even when we were kids. I owed
him too much. Without him, I wouldn’t be here at all. The memories of that
night rushed through me, reeking of fear and blood. The screams echoing in the
cavernous space of the laboratory. I clamped down hard on them. They went
silent. Still I felt them, hovering in the darkest places of my mind, waiting
to take flight again.
‘Fine.’ I ignored the drop of my stomach,
the sudden film of sweat on my palms. ‘But from now on I want to know
everything that’s going on, and I want to be present at all the conversions.’
Draiken hugged me tightly, his excitement
enveloping me like an ominous cloud.
‘Thanks Sy. I promise you won’t regret it.’
I nodded and extricated myself from his
grasp. I left the room, dread clotting my throat and filling my mouth with the
bitter snap of regret.
Thank you Jennifer for sharing an excerpt from your tantalizing novel.
Harding is a novelist and award-winning short story writer and poet.His work is currently featured on Acidic Fiction, The Loose Leaf Press, and QuarterReads.He’s been a nuclear missile mechanic and a
suspected member of Sinn Féin.Before
that he was an environmental lobbyist, a cemetery restorer, freelance artist,
puppet master, set designer, actor, carpenter, mortuary officer, scrimshander,
garbage man, you name it. The only thing he’s done longer than any of
them is write. He lives in a four-person artists’ colony in the woods
north of Chicago.
Below is an excerpt from his short story Invoking Ganesh, which won first place in the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards for the Horror category.
Copyright is held by the author. Used by permission.
Sandeep was cleaning the Slushie machine when his first customer
committed suicide. The gunshot popped like a Diwali firework and shattered the
rear windshield of the girl’s Camry. At first Sandeep thought she’d had a
backfire until he saw the spider web of cracks in the glass and the spray of
It was 2:34 am.
The young woman had just bought a pack of cigarettes—”Merits in
a box,” she’d said—and proceeded to light one up right in front of the register.
“You can’t do that here,” Sandeep said. He knew it was going to
be a long night.
The girl responded to his scolding by blowing a cloud of blue,
mentholated smoke toward the hotdog rollers. She was in her early twenties.
Brunette with blue eyes and an aquiline nose through which she deftly
French-inhaled her smoke. She was wearing a scoop front, leopard print
tank top, distressed jeans, and high heels. Her makeup and jewelry looked as if
she’d just left a nightclub, though the nearest venue was over four hours away
in Albuquerque. “You gonna stop me, Hajji?” she asked.
“Miss, I don’t want any trouble.”
“You think I’m trouble?” She trailed her fingers along the
Hostess display, knocking several fruit pies to the floor. She let out a high,
barking laugh that rang loudly in the empty store. “That’s awesome! I’m
trouble….troublesome…double-trouble. The girl your mother warned you about!”
“Please leave. Now,” Sandeep said.
“All right, there, Gandhi, don’t get your diaper in a twist.”
She turned on her heel and pushed through the door.
Sandeep emerged from behind the counter and peered around the
O-P-E-N sign to watch her cross the parking lot to her Toyota. The scent of her
cigarette and perfume lingered. He stooped and restored the fruit pies to their
rack and threw out five hotdogs.
The young woman climbed into her car but remained parked beside
the pump. A tiny, blue cloud escaped through her window.
“You can’t smoke near the pumps,” Sandeep said to himself. He
shook his head and bent to retrieve a rag out of a red bucket below the
beverage station. He began wiping the Slushie nozzles when the shot fired.
“9-1-1. What is your emergency?”
“A girl just shot herself in the parking lot!”
“Ok. Just stay on the line with me, sir. Where are you located?”
“On Route 70 east of Roswell. At the Kum & Go!”
“We’re sending someone now. Are you with the girl?”
“No! I’m calling you!”
“Where is she now?”
“She’s still in her car.”
“What is her condition?”
“Good God, woman! The back of her head is gone! She’s dead!”
“Please remain calm, sir. We’re sending someone out right now.
Stay where you are.”
“All right.” The line disconnected and Sandeep thumbed the
number for his manager, Dick Bliefnick. The call went immediately to voicemail.
“Boss, there’s been a shot, man! A woman shot herself! In the
parking lot! I called 9-1-1 but you really need to get out here, man!”
Just then the door chimed and swung open. A large, hairy man
dressed all in denim stepped inside. Sandeep hung up the phone and stared
dumbfounded at the new customer and wondered if he’d seen the dead girl. “Busy
night, huh?” the man said.
“Yeah…” said Sandeep, “…busy night.”
The man strolled up and down the aisles, idly taking his time
with his selections. He had a full beard and an earring and black rigger’s
boots. He had a blue bandana tied around his head, buccaneer style and whistled
as he shopped—Three Dog Night’s Shambala, if Sandeep guessed right.
Sandeep glanced outside and saw a Kenworth parked on the far
side of the parking lot. No trailer was attached to the rig and it looked like
it was still running. The trucker would’ve walked right past the dead
girl’s car to enter the store. It was a miracle he hadn’t noticed her—or had
When he’d made his selections, the trucker approached Sandeep
and meticulously laid a package of Good ‘n’ Plenty, some Twizzlers, Corn Nuts,
and a Red Bull before him.
He leaned on the counter with his arms slightly akimbo. The
front of his denim jacket opened and Sandeep saw a 9mm in a leather holster
under the man’s left arm.
“Will that be all?” Sandeep asked.
“And this,” he said. He plucked a pink, stuffed elephant from a
rack. “He’s gonna look out for roadblocks and obstacles for me. Sit him right
on the dashboard for good luck.”
Sandeep rang up his purchase while the trucker cradled the
elephant to his cheek. His salt and pepper beard crinkled against the tag which
read: “Webkins.” The elephant looked at Sandeep from the man’s shoulder with an
“Wait. Give me a Mega Millions,” said the trucker. He laid a
rumpled single on the counter. “I want these numbers: 33 84 22 10 37 71 and 9.”
“All right,” Sandeep replied. He took the bill and pulled up the
numbers while the trucker cuddled the elephant some more. Sandeep reached
subtly below the counter and fingered the knob of a cricket bat he kept there
just for reassurance while he handed over the lottery ticket.
“Can I get the keys to your john?”
Sandeep reached above the cigarettes and retrieved a brass key
chained to a broken broom handle. The trucker gathered his purchase in both
arms, strode to the door, and pushed it open with his backside.
Sandeep went out the empty the trash by the pumps. (He needed to
keep busy, but figured the can nearest the dead girl’s car could wait until
they came for her.) The wind gusted from the southeast like a dusty hairdryer.
The Milky Way stretched from the north horizon over the roof of the store. The
neon sign that said, “Lotto” winked seductively on and off. A meteor traced a
white line to the west and was gone.
A Mercedes had pulled up ten minutes before and still sat
outside the carwash. The driver’s silhouette moved slightly in the sodium
lights. As Sandeep was hauling a bag of paper towels and greasy Karl’s Jr.
wrappers to the dumpster when he noticed the blood trickling out from under the
He dropped the trash and banged on the door. “Hello?!” he cried.
“Sir?! Are you all right in there?” He shook the handle. “Hello?!” Sandeep
stood back and tried to avoid stepping in the puddle. Helplessly he took in the
tableau: the dilapidated outbuilding, the grimy, locked door, the sublime
darkness of the desert, and the blood. “God damn, Dick! I told you we needed
Red and blue lights cut through the darkness on the horizon.
Sandeep turned and could see the cruiser still about two miles away across
the flat skillet of the plain. “About time!” he said.
The cop broke down the restroom door first.
Inside, the trucker had eaten all of the Good ‘n’ Plenty,
Twizzlers, half the Corn Nuts, and finished the Red Bull before he’d smashed
the mirror and slit his wrists with a shard of glass.
“Good God, man!” whispered Sandeep. The cop rummaged through
some papers on the floor in front of the dead trucker. He plucked up
correspondence from a divorce lawyer and something from Teamsters Local 74
detailing severance benefits.
The cop whistled as he read the documents. “Christ, my union
would give me so much more payout if I were to get the axe.” The lottery ticket
fluttered from the cop’s hand to the edge of the sink. He picked it up,
considered it, and turned to Sandeep. “Here,” he said and tucked the ticket
into Sandeep’s shirt pocket right below the embroidered Kum & Go logo. He
peered at Sandeep’s nametag. “You keep that, Sand…Deep. Maybe you’ll have
better luck than he did.”
They searched the girl’s car next. The cop took in her outfit:
the tight jeans, the high heels, the makeup. He made a show of peering down the
front of her tank top to where one of her small breasts lay partially exposed.
“She’s dressed to kill, ain’t she?” he asked Sandeep with a leer. The backseat
was drenched in blood and the head restraint had been blasted apart by the
gunshot. It looked like a boll of cotton or a cloud of powder thrown in a Holi
The cop turned the key in the ignition. The speakers came alive
and Katy Perry blasted out mid-roar. The cop snapped off the radio. “I hate
that song,” he said. The young woman’s cell phone, which had been charging in
the power jack, blinked on.
The cop retrieved it and scrolled through a recent series of
texts. “Where u at fatty?” he read aloud.
“Still crying? LOL!”“Why don u just die? Everyone hates u!”
“Ur clothes suck! Wherd u get them walmart?”
He tossed the phone back on the passenger seat. “Guess we
know who she dressed to kill, huh?”
“How awful…” said Sandeep.
The cop straightened. “All right. Let me call the coroner and
I’ll meet you inside.” The cop flicked a piece of headrest foam from his sleeve
as he sauntered over to his cruiser. The carwash started up and the Mercedes
rolled slowly inside. Steam rose and floated away on the wind eastward towards
Clovis and the Texas Panhandle.
Back inside the store, the cop made himself a cup of coffee. He
shook three packets of Dixie Crystals into it then topped it off with the
powdered bone dry creamer. He didn’t offer to pay for it.
Thank you Josh for sharing an excerpt from your entertaining story.
Check out Josh's links above to learn more about him and his writing.