Category: For Readers (Page 1 of 17)

New Release: Good Neighbors

New short story release, a horror/suspense tale in the vein of Twilight Zone

Universal Buy Link | Goodreads

What makes the fae so terrifying is how subtle they are…

One foggy night, Lee Warnick waits for her dad to come home from the factory. Lately, more and more people have been disappearing from her small town, and she feels that her family might be next.

No one else will talk about it, but Lee knows the truth: the fae have been abducting people, on the nights when the fog rises up.

Haunted by nightmares and terrified for her family, Lee must find a way to keep the faeries from striking again…

A night full of primal dread…and horrifying illusions.

Good Neighbors

Lee Warnick leaned her head on her arms and watched out the window. Her mom said, “Come away from the window, Lee, why don’t you call your friend Jenny? Or watch some TV?” but Lee ignored her. Her dad was working late at Smithfield Parts Fabrication—the factory—that night, and she wanted to see him come home.

Her mom wasn’t fooling anybody. They were both nervous.

That day had been one of those fall days that are too beautiful, too perfect. The sky was a clear and artificial blue-green, and the leaves rattled as they tumbled along the streets and through the parks, picking up strays. Everything had come easy at school. For example, almost everyone had gotten an A on the math test from last week, and nobody had gotten lower than a C. The worst thing that had happened was that a couple of senior boys were smoking behind the building and had made rude comments to her, but their hearts weren’t in it. It was the kind of day where no elementary school kids were beaten up for their lunch money, no stray dogs were kicked, and no soufflés went flat.

Those days, those days. Those terrifying days.

About four o’clock the air turned damp and cool and wet. “It’ll be foggy tonight.” About a dozen people called her mom to tell her that, as if she didn’t know. With her husband working late at the factory tonight. Driving home in that fog.

“You never knew when something might happen.”

But that was it, wasn’t it? Nobody knew. Nobody knew why some people, on foggy nights in the town of East Smithville, just flat-out disappeared.

Or rather, everyone knew why. The fairies took people.

They would take one or two or three or six people a year. The records went back to 1875, and there were no years where no people were taken; the most was six, although one of them had looked more like a crib death than a taking, at least to Lee.

But it could have started before 1875. That’s just when the records started.

The question was: how did the fairies decide who to take?

Read more here!

(https://books2read.com/tenebrosities-good-neighbors)

New Release: Evil Twin

New short story release, a horror/suspense tale in the vein of Twilight Zone

Universal Buy Link | Goodreads

A haunting tale of a monster who lived inside mirrors, and the ghost he left behind when he died…

What would you do to get rid of an abusive ghost?

When Michael’s father died, he left behind a grown-up family shattered by years of his broken, abusive, alcoholic behavior—and a legion of adoring fans who hung on every word of his stories.

They called him creative. But the truth was that Michael’s father had the ability to violate the boundary between one side of the mirror and the other, traveling between reflections and watching, and interfering, with other people’s private lives until there was little of the man left—only a monster.

Now the man is dead. But part of the monster has been left behind…

Evil Twin

One last time of cleaning up after you, Dad.

I’d slept downstairs on the couch, expecting him to get up and stumble downstairs, looking for beer or bourbon or something to piss in, but his body was still in the shower stall. His hip, covered with old blue jeans, lay against the glass door, pressed flat against the soap scum. His head lay against the fiberglass wall, curly white-gold hair surrounding his head like a halo. His pants bulged, filled but fortunately not overrunning with shit. I was tempted to turn the shower on and hose him down, one last time. You’re a drunk, you’ve always been a drunk, you died a drunk, you even haunted me drunk. He still wore his professorial corduroy jacket with leather patches at the elbows, real as the number on the scale after Thanksgiving. At least he hadn’t haunted me in the leisure suit Mom had him buried in.

I shoved the double-paned shower doors open so I could get at his legs. His right boot caught against the glass, then suddenly unstuck itself and lumped onto the rug. I grabbed him by the ankle and pulled until his head thumped onto the shower floor, then lifted his other leg and turned his hips around until he was an L-shape with his legs out on the tiles.

If he’d been alive, I would have worried about tearing the skin under his shirt, or on his face. A fact learned from my long history of cleaning up after my father: cheekbones get caught on the damnedest things. Ridges between rooms, uneven tiles, rubber floor mats. I used to always put a pillow under his head when I had to drag him out of places by myself, one of those u-shaped corduroy travel pillows. Kept it in a Ziploc bag under the passenger seat in the car, so the car wouldn’t smell like puke.

I pulled him out of the shower stall onto the rug, being careful not to look toward the medicine cabinet, and checked that he wasn’t leaving a trail. He was; the cup had runneth over. I rolled both Dad and the rug onto a fitted sheet from the closet that I couldn’t remember seeing lately on our bed. I closed my eyes as I passed the hall mirror, then covered it with a sheet on the way back.

Then I called Joanna and got serious about dragging him out of the house…

Read more here!

Wonderland Press Policy Statement re: 2020 Politics

Anyone who’s met me or interacted with me online knows that I am a very political person. I try not to be annoying about it. Instead of ranting, I try to infuse my opinions into my fiction. In my personal online spaces, I am much more openly political, but try to keep it positive, either bringing news articles to the forefront or reposting positive messages of support, rather than wallowing in sarcasm and negativity (although yes, sometimes I give in to the temptation).

I have tried to keep my politics off the blog, because it’s a publishing blog–not a political one. However, it has become clear that, as a matter of business, it is important to establish certain policies:

  • Wonderland Press does not support Trump and/or other actual or aspirant dictators, or their policies.
  • Wonderland Press does not support people or institutions that try to preserve or establish White supremacy, cisgender and heteronormative privilege, suppression of human rights, or other forms of bullying.
  • Wonderland Press will not be responding to, but will be preserving and/or reporting harassment, threats, manipulative, and other negative emails, and will develop additional asshole mitigation policies as necessary.

In the past, I’ve been less than perfect in carrying out the actions implied by those policies. Thank you for your patience, and feel free to let me know if I’ve face-planted in not carrying them out well. The policies themselves are not up for discussion. –DeAnna

Online Boundaries

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about boundaries; one of the things I realized was that I’m much better at online boundaries than I am in person. In person, I’ve only been enforcing (some) boundaries for the last few years. Online, I’ve been enforcing boundaries since 1992, and doubling down on them since 2016.

It turns out that I know many, many people online who are good at in-person boundaries but are struggling to enforce online boundaries right now. Here are some of my rules of thumb:

  • You are not required to tolerate bad behavior on a social media post that you control, even from old friends, business connections, and close relatives. If you can delete it, it is your “house,” and people must abide by your rules if they wish to remain.
  • You are allowed to compartmentalize your relationships. It may not be appropriate for you to connect with coworkers on social media, particularly if they try to take advantage of that connection.
  • “Keeping the peace” means telling others that it is okay to hurt or take advantage of you, and of anyone else in your presence.
  • You are not required to make contact with someone else in a way that makes you uncomfortable. For example, if you hate using Facebook and someone insists that you must be on Facebook in order to talk to them, then what they’re doing is making sure they only speak to you when you’re in a mood to compromise.
  • You don’t owe anyone an explanation for not responding, not responding soon enough, or not responding in a way they want to hear. “I saw your message but didn’t feel able to answer at the time” should suffice, if you’d like to respond.
  • You are not required to tolerate the presence of anyone who sexualizes a nonsexual interaction without your consent. They are trying to determine the extent to which they can control you.
  • There are no awards for being the person who never blocks, unfriends, or mutes people who make you uncomfortable. The people who want to make sure “you don’t live in an echo chamber” are mostly concerned that you don’t live in their echo chamber.
  • You lose nothing by distancing or cutting off a relationship that makes you uncomfortable. The person in question was never going to support you, either personally or professionally, except as it benefitted themselves. Make room for people who truly support you.
  • The bare minimum for an online connection is that the person is pleased and supportive of your successes, and disappointed for your sake for your setbacks.
  • Even the most heated discussion can be held politely, with respect for each other’s autonomy. If one party insists on a level of polite behavior that they do not hold themselves to, they are attempting to control you.
  • If someone is attempting to control you, you are allowed to withdraw your politeness. You don’t need to be positively rude, although you certainly may. The worst thing you can do to an asshole online is to refuse to play—but please do take screenshots, and if you must respond in order to defend your reputation, do it in a place that you can control, and can delete responses from assholes.
  • Politeness without the ability to snub another person for their bad behavior is not politeness, but submission and compliance.
  • Decide what your boundaries for interaction in your spaces are ahead of time, such as “no politics, sex, or religion” or “no personal insults or manipulative or harassing behavior” or “doubling down on bad behavior automatically gets the perpetrator a block.” Decide what you will do to enforce those boundaries—and stick to it. In my opinion, multiple warnings should turn into a block. (Be careful about unfriending people; they will often return to continue harassing you, if your posts are at all public.)
  • Decide how you will respond to rude behavior ahead of time, so you’re less likely to be pressured into making a fool of yourself in a heated moment.
  • Decode how you will be wrong ahead of time. I suggest first acknowledging the situation, then stating what action you will take, which may or may not include an apology. “I didn’t know that. I’ll think about it” is a good phrase to use in order to give yourself some breathing room.
  • Apologies are a way to influence a bad situation. You don’t need to grovel or explain. “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand how important this was to you” is a good apology. Combining it with your plan for what you will do about the situation—whether or not that plan makes other people happy—makes it a great apology.
  • A bad faith apology is worse than no apology, especially on social media, where it can be recorded, shared, and brought forth for decades. “I’m sorry that you’re angry about this” is a manipulation tool, not an apology.
  • Assholes don’t have relationships; they have degrees of control. If they cannot control you, they will often take a sour grapes tactic: your lack of cooperation means that you’re worthless and/or incompetent. This is often called “the devaluation phase” in psychological literature.
  • Assholes want to win. They do not care about fairness, duty, sanity, good health, safety, legality, or nuanced points of view. They do not believe in your autonomy or personhood on a very basic level, and often can hardly imagine their own existence beyond the present moment. Their actions toward you are not truly personal. You need not take to heart anything they say.
  • Fallacies exist to train you to recognize bad faith arguments, including your own. Everyone has some point upon which they become an asshole: the thing is not to make a habit of it.
  • If you’re not sure whether someone is being an asshole or not, ask them to clarify their statement. “I’m not sure what you mean here; it sounds like you’re saying ____” will often do the trick. Be open to people with poor communication skills who are supportive and mean well.

To sum up:

  • People who support you are happy for the good things in your life, and disappointed for your sake for the things that didn’t turn out well.
  • If you want to be surrounded by people who support you, you have to make room for them by cutting out the people who do not.
  • You can’t “win” against an asshole, but you can plan ahead how best to allow them to defeat themselves.

Good luck!

Like what you read here? More of the same at the Wonderland Press newsletter!

(Fallacies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies)

 

Crime du Jour, Day 31: White-Collar Crime

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #31: White-Collar Crime

TONIGHT IS FOR THE SIX OF US

 

Once a year—Halloween—the six of them gather at a tasteful mansion in Castle Pines, Colorado. It’s a $2.7-million house, at last guesstimate. The walls are stucco and the walk-out basement is big panes of glass.  There’s a glass walkway indoors, running from one side of the mezzanine to the other, and glass tile walls between rooms.  The dining-room table is made of glass, the fronts of the cabinets are made of glass.  Hearing the description of the house, you might be tempted to make a joke about how people in glass houses should not throw stones.  But the house feels warm and luminous, the kind of house where you can view the worst weather out of the windows with equanimity, because you cannot avoid feeling warm and safe within them. There’s a screening room with theater-style seating in the basement, if that tells you anything.

Within the house are a number of skylights. There are skylights on the roof, of course, but there are also skylights built into the floor inside the house, not extremely large ones, but extremely difficult to walk on. Your every instinct is to avoid them, even though they are perfectly safe. During a party, you might look upward through one of these skylights, and look up a woman’s dress.  Or look downward and see into a room you haven’t glimpsed before, and spend the rest of the night attempting to find it.

At the bottom of the stairs in the basement is a sort of shrine, two half-columns on either side of a glass sculpture, almost like a Chihuly or underwater coral. Visitors have called it a “sort of jellyfish” or “a monster.” Variously, the sculpture is said to symbolize greed, lust, the beauty of the underwater realms, or “an elder thing, something like Lovecraft’s Cthulhu,” according to one of the most spectacularly brilliant financial analysts ever to consult for a member of the six.

She was an odd one, that Nora de Zaldo.

She looked continuously on the edge of tears, or anger. She had dark circles under her eyes, and hollows under her cheeks. She had thin lips, downturned, and curly black hair that she kept pulled back in a severe bun.

Even stranger, she noticed things. She looked downward into the skylight—the one in at the bottom of the back stairs to the second floor; the basement couldn’t be reached from there—and turned to one of the other guests, a promising movie director who hadn’t quite made Hollywood, and said, “I don’t think I belong here.”

The director, also a woman, tried to reassure her.  “If you’ve been invited to one of the six’s summer parties, then you must belong here!” said the woman, still optimistic despite being in her thirties. De Zaldo shuddered, and looked upwards. Above the triangle-shaped skylight set in the floor were two large wood supports, crossed over each other in an X.  (The light on the landing came not from above, but from floor-to-ceiling windows set in a semi-circle along the outer wall.)

So when de Zaldo found herself, at the end of October, in a small room with cement walls, and the only light coming from a skylight above her, she saw the X on the ceiling of the room above her, and understood where she was, if not why. A steel door, hinge-less and without a handle on the inside, blocked her egress. There was a bed, a sink, a toilet, a drain in the floor, a heavy hook on the ceiling, and a small, muffled air vent that did not echo when she banged on its steel mesh. There was no food.

She was wearing a jogging suit, warm but moisture-wicking, clean cotton underwear and an undershirt, but no bra. Her hair was loose, but an elastic hair tie had been left on the back of the sink for her. She pulled her hair up, noting her irrational gratitude for the thoughtfulness it signified.

Why me? she asked herself. Why here?

De Zaldo ran through possibilities, reaching a tentative conclusion that she was being withheld. Not being held prisoner, but being kept out of reach. She waited.

Hours later, the owner of the house appeared, bringing a garlicky pumpkin-tomato soup and a panini, which she set down on the bed. “I hope you don’t mind, dear,” she said, “but Carlos—” One of the other guests at the party, de Zaldo recalled, and a friend of the owner’s— “was getting decidedly fussy about having you killed.”

“Why?” de Zaldo asked.

The woman laughed and named a certain company.  “Because your predictions about their stocks went contrary to his insider information, darling. How dare your math be more accurate than his informants, I think the thinking went. I made millions off your advice.”

“And?” de Zaldo asked.

“Poor Carlos,” the owner said, shaking her head.

A few days later, on Halloween, the owner held an intimate dinner party, entirely unlike the party de Zaldo had attended in July, and much more to her taste. By then, matters had sorted themselves out, and de Zaldo had been released from her bolt-hole, or oubliette, or whatever it was, and was wearing a low-cut velvet top with a lace choker, and a translucent, embroidered pink skirt over black tights. They were coming downstairs from de Zaldo’s guest room, where she had changed.

“And Molly?” de Zaldo asked.

The owner of the house said, “Of course your lady friend is welcome on Thanksgiving, ma chère, but not tonight. Tonight is for the six of us.”

At the landing, de Zaldo hesitated.

Below the glass of the skylight was a pale face, looking up at her. It raised one hand in supplication.

De Zaldo looked up at the owner, who had come to a stop, and wore a half-smile on an already crooked face.

“I thought—”

The owner winked. “Just before midnight,” she said. “And then we hang him for six weeks. A good sacrificial feast never happens on Halloween.”

Crime du Jour, Day 30: Vandalism

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #30: Vandalism

ONE ORDINARY DAY, WITH SUITCASE

Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans is a necropolis, a city of the dead.  Although the homes of the dead are smaller, they are better built than the homes of the living, and less likely to succumb to flooding.  The Pontchartrain Expressway runs through the necropolis, dividing it into Greenwood Cemetery to the east, and Metairie Cemetery to the west.  In front of Greenwood along City Park Avenue, there are a few monuments, with the Confederate Tomb visible just as you get off the nearest bus stop. During Katrina, many of the gravestones had toppled, and you could still see the high-water marks stained onto the stone. But there was less damage there than in many of the neighborhoods.

I carried with me one black, hard-sided, 29-inch rolling suitcase, the kind that’s taller than it is wide.  It was dingy and had a scannable airport tag around the handle, as if I’d been flying. I was wearing a business suit and carried a briefcase-slash-laptop bag. I reeked of Wild Turkey, which I sneaked sips from as I rode.

At the corner stop, the bus driver offered to help me with the suitcase. I laughed off the offer, saying that I might be drunk but I wasn’t that drunk. An old woman with a squat oxygen tank got off the bus alongside me, totally ignored by the driver. The driver was white, as was I. The old woman was black.

It had just rained and smelled fresh and invigorating, but with an underlying smell of rot and damp. The bus had left behind the perfume of diesel fuel. All that was missing from the nostalgic, nightmarish scents of Katrina was the smell of rotten flesh, bloated and floating, to take me back to 2005.

I left the old woman behind, passed the front gates, and kept rolling, the wheels thumping heavily and wetly on the ridges of the sidewalk. I turned at Canal Boulevard and kept rolling. The city had not gone to sleep, not quite yet. I soon reached the Greenwood Funeral Home, where the fence was only thigh-high. I boosted the suitcase over it, then worked my way into the cemetery. The wet, rolling wheels echoed on the old cement road, loud to my ears but undoubtedly lost in the echo of cars running along the expressway.  I had long since marked out the particular tomb I wanted, which had been erected in 1890 and featured a fully mortised lock plate behind the antique marble door. Weeks ago, I had tested the lock with a discreet little skeleton key and some WD-40, and was able to turn the lock silently, in full daylight.  That night, the lock opened smoothly. I unzipped the suitcase, disgorged it of my victim, and locked the tomb up again, nice and tight. Then I returned the way I had come, wheels rolling more lightly through the puddles this time. The security cameras would not be checked unless there was a disturbance reported later, which there wouldn’t be. The security guard at the funeral home was higher than a kite.

I turned onto City Park Avenue and walked back to the bus stop. As I walked, I heard a low hissing sound.  A light glowed at the front of the Confederate Monument on the corner. In the distance a police siren made a soft “whoop-whoop,” almost of surprise, and my ears pricked up.

I kept walking with an unhurried pace, letting myself stumble from time to time: making noise.

The light snapped off, the hissing stopped, and someone grunted out a curse, then, “Almost!”

Almost what? I wondered.

The streetlight caught several dark shapes moving at the base of the tomb.

The soldier atop the monument had been defaced, or rather beheaded.  The rest of him had been painted neon green, with an additional application of what appeared to be pink feathers. Paint fumes bit at my nose. On the base of the statue were letters, which I could not read then but later proved to be “HEADLESS MOTHERFU.”

The old woman waited there at the head-high, wrought-iron fence opposite the bus stop, sans oxygen tank.

A shadowed form scampered away from the tomb, hissing, “They’re coming!” then boosted itself halfway up the fence, improbably hefting the heavy oxygen tank, along with enough tubes and attachments to turn it into something else entirely, at the woman, who caught it but struggled to lower it to the sidewalk.

“The bag too!” she hissed, but the dark shape had disappeared across the lawn, into the rows of tombs.

I jogged over to help the old woman untangle herself. The oxygen tank appeared to be rigged up as a sandblaster, all the better to etch marble and granite with. It was dusted with dark grit.

I bent over, unscrewed the various tubes, shoved them into my suitcase, and wiped the tank down with a clean towel just as the bright lights of the bus pulled up alongside us: the last bus of the night. Wordlessly, the old woman attached a clear tube from tank to nostrils. I helped ther onto the bus, then struggled after her with my bags in tow, again refusing help. It was the same driver.

He ignored the old woman, asking me, “She kick you out of the house?”

“She called me a–a motherfucker,” I said, with the dignified tones of a longtime drunk. The bus driver laughed, waited until I’d sat down, then pulled away from the curb.

The old woman was still on her feet, and I heard the oxygen tank clank against one of the seats as we sped up under the streetlights. He must have had selective vision.

He hadn’t even noticed a green-and-pink feathered statue.

I got off along Metairie Road, stole a Honda sedan out of someone’s driveway, and went home to Colorado, keeping the key and the sandblaster gun as souvenirs.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 29: Telemarketing Fraud

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #29: Telemarketing Fraud

I UNDERSTAND AND I APPRECIATE YOUR CONCERN

 

So our son, Charles.

Every man wants to think that his son will replace him in the world, and carry on a sort of immortality for him. Every man is disappointed to discover that his son can’t do that.

As Charles became a grown man, I began to lose touch with him.

I can’t blame it on “kids these days” or video games or even porn. Lynette thinks I’m just missing the fact that Charles is a genius, and he has so far exceeded me that I simply can’t follow. Lynette, although she has always been the sweetness in my life, has a blind spot when it comes to that boy. She always coddled him, saying that the way we were raised wasn’t good enough. I’ll grant her that. Nothing is ever good enough for your kids, if you have the ability to love them. You tear yourself open, thinking, What can I do to make his life better? It’s never enough.

But.

This is different.

Charles is a grown man. Lynette says he’s not quite a grown man, but he is. He’s reached his full growth. When he was sixteen he was already six feet, looked like a damned scarecrow. He’s twenty-two now, never had a job. No plans to move out. He can drive but he won’t. He’s on the computer all day in the basement. Boxes arrive at the front door for him. I ask Lynette if she’s paying for what comes in, and she says she isn’t. I haven’t quite stooped to checking her credit card bills, but it may come to that.

He doesn’t speak to us. I can hear him talking to himself downstairs. Lynette brings him food. The only time he comes upstairs is to pick up his boxes. He’s a stranger.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think he has a cache of guns in the basement. I don’t think I’m going to be on the news one day as “parents found dead in home after killer goes on a murderous rampage.” I don’t think we’re going to find out that Charles is a serial killer, or a rapist, or some kind of weird digital pedophile. I don’t think that.

The sound in the house carries. From the air vents I can hear him talk. He started out saying things like, “This confidential message is to inform you that a legal matter will be filed against you within the next twenty-four hours.” And “We are contacting you in regards to a complaint being filed against you.” And “I’m calling today to offer you the opportunity of a lifetime.”

At first I thought he had a job working for an online call center. Even a telemarketing fraud company. But I quickly disabused myself of the notion. It’s the way he repeats the same phrase over and over again, with a different tone each time: “I understand and I appreciate your concern. I understand, and I appreciate your concern. I understand, and I appreciate your concern.

That went on for months.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, it got stranger.

“Hello, is this Mrs. Johnson? My name is Charles Adair, and I’m calling about a confidential manner,” he’d say. Then, “Confidential matter.” There’d be a pause, and he’d say, “Confidential matter, confidential matter. Hello, is this Mrs. Johnson? My name is Charles Adair, and I’m calling about a confidential matter. Yes, that’s right.”

He talked to himself—corrected himself—for hours. All day and all night.

Lynette says everything is fine, that he’s working on a programming project. I ask her what it is, and she says it’s a secret.

Yesterday, Lynette came down with the flu. I got my shot at work, but she kept putting off getting hers, and now it’s too late. Charles, of course, won’t leave the house to get his. It’ll just “slow him down.” I’m making everyone’s meals today, both because Lynette is bedridden and because she doesn’t dare touch anything he might eat.

I make him tomato soup and a couple of cheese sandwiches, then go downstairs and tap on the door of his room.

“Just leave it outside,” Charles calls.

“We need to talk,” I say.

“Not now, Dad,” Charles says.

I open the door. He’s sitting in the dark with the computer screen turning his face into a blank silhouette. He sighs and says, “What do you want, Dad?”

“I’m worried about you,” I say.

“I realize that I live like a slug down here,” he says, “but it’s a big project.”

“What is it?”

“I’m working on an artificial intelligence program that can run scripts in a natural-sounding voice for first-tier technical support, charity phone banks, things like that.”

“Telemarketers,” I say. “I’ve heard you speaking. The sound just kind of carries.”

He sighs again. “Okay, I am testing it out as a telemarketing scam,” he admits.

“Why?” I ask. “Some kind of get-rich-quick scheme?”

“There’s no such thing as a get rich-slow-scheme anymore, Dad,” he says, which is true. It’s get rich quick or inherit, these days.

I say, “I understand how that is, but all the money in the world won’t do you any good, Charles, if you don’t take care of your health. And your relationships.”

He says, “You’re probably right about my health. But…if this works, I can write a program that talks to girls and lets the AI weed out the ones who will never like me. I’ll save years that way.”

I give him a chuckle. “I suppose you will, at that. Just remember to move your lips when you’re talking to someone in person. Otherwise it gives the whole show away.”

His jaw dropped.

“Your mom sends you her love,” I said. “Be sure to have your computer call her. She’ll like that.”

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 28: Tax Evasion

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #28: Tax Evasion

HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY

 

I long since discovered that I cannot live the life of an innocent man. Instead I have tried to live the life of an honest one.  After high school, I went to work as an errand-boy for a life insurance company, National Life & Trust. They liked me well enough, and promoted me to sales agent, a career at which I was moderately, but not extravagantly, successful.

My first fraud case was that of Anthony Lombardi.

When a kid starts out as an errand boy at National Life & Trust, he’s tested. For example, two agents will both claim they’ve sold a policy to the same client. It’s clear that there’s something wrong with the situation. One of the agents is the boy’s “special” mentor. The way the boy handles the situation marks him.

Conspiracy and dishonesty are complications that all life-insurance agents should avoid.  That’s what Mr. Roberts, the president of the company always said, and I agree with him.

Anthony Lombardi was a self-employed accountant, age 63, married to Veronica Lombardi, age 58, living in Rhode Island. One of Lombardi’s clients was Louis Andreozzi, the owner of a profitable groundskeeping company with possible ties to the mob. We had a saying at National Life & Trust: it’s not the crime that gets you, it’s the cleanup.  Mr. Lombardi was one of the first people I ever sold a policy to.  The other agents complimented me on my success, but conversation would fall suspiciously short whenever his name came up.

Several years passed.

Mr. Andreozzi was arrested and charged with tax evasion and racketeering.

One day, Mr. Roberts called me into his office to chat. “So, Mr. O’Neil.  Tell me about your cases.” Naturally, the subject of Mr. Andreozzi came up.

I told Mr. Roberts about the hush that fell whenever the case was mentioned. “I’m not sure what will come of it, Mr. Roberts, but I will do my best to handle the situation with integrity and good judgment.”

Mr. Roberts shook my hand when he dismissed me, but I wasn’t sure that I’d deserved it—yet.

When the other shoe dropped, it fell so strangely I almost missed it.

Mr. Lombardi, as expected, was arrested for aiding and abetting his client, Mr. Andreozzi, in evading the payment of his taxes. In case of such an eventuality, I had looked up the details of his policy.  The policy would be paid to Mrs. Lombardi if Mr. Lombardi died in prison, as long as he didn’t commit suicide or benefit financially from his crime.

Mr. Lombardi was released on bail.  (A high amount was set for Mr. Andreozzi’s bail, and he remained in prison.)  The night before Mr. Lombardi was to return to court, he drove off an embankment into the Scituate Reservoir and drowned.

The question was: was it an accident, murder, or had he killed himself? Was National Life & Trust required to pay out the policy, or wasn’t it?

The coroner seemed to be of the opinion that Lombardi’s death was suicide.

National Life & Trust had several investigators especially trained to look into such matters, but, as a rule, the agent who had sold the policy accompanied the investigator on his investigations.

The investigator’s name was John Madeiros. He had been my mentor when I had been but an errand boy, and had been promoted to investigator the same time I’d made agent. We went to the morgue in Providence where Mr. Lombardi’s body was being held pending identification.  The widow, Mrs. Lombardi, had fainted when she had been given the news, and had hit her head. Most of Mr. Lombardi’s family did not live in the United States, and his employer, Mr. Andreozzi, was obviously not available.

As we were waiting for someone who could perform the official identification, in walked Mr. Lombardi.

He was greeted with surprise, as you might imagine.  He was shown into the room where “his” body was being kept.  He took one look at it, shook his head, and said, “Nope, that ain’t me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I got a trial to go to.”

He never arrived.

Even my mentor was puzzled by the case. If Mr. Lombardi wished to fake his own death, why reappear to identify the body?  If it was a simple case of mistaken identity, why not take advantage of the situation to simply disappear? Or was the second man the imposter?  If so, who had sent him, and how had the disguise been made so convincing? I had spoken to Mr. Lombardi during the sale of his policy, and recognized him by appearance as well as by voice.

John offered to let me avoid the autopsy of the dead man—whoever he was—but I stuck it out. Afterward, we went to the widow’s home for an interview. She seemed remarkably well. My mentor did the interviewing, while I wandered the house, searching for something.

I soon found it.

And that’s how Mr. Andreozzi got off charges of tax evasion: Mr. and Mrs. Lombardi had cooked up a scheme to launder money for the Mafia without Mr. Lombardi’s knowledge, stripped the business profits clean when Mr. Andreozzi became suspicious, and arranged to flee to South America. A clever plan.

But they had tried to take it one step too far.

Mrs. Lombardi was arrested at home, Mr. Lombardi was stopped before boarding an international flight out of San Francisco, and both went to prison for first-degree, premeditated murder, as well as multiple other charges. National Life & Trust might have argued that Mr. Lombardi’s policy was invalid, but instead earmarked the money for charity upon the resolution of Mr. Lombardi’s estate, or the cessation of monthly payments—whichever came first.

When the coroner had hinted that Mr. Lombardi’s death might be a suicide, he had put the life-insurance policy at stake, and Mr. Lombardi’s conveniently-invited-to-visit-America twin brother suddenly became an inconvenience.

Mrs. Lombardi had missed taking down a photo of the twin brothers from the old country, you see.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crime du Jour, Day 27: Shoplifting

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #27: Shoplifting

GOOD LUCK PIG GLUCKSSCHWEIN
SILVER ANTIQUE CHARM
LUCKY BRACELET PROTECTION SPELL

 

Condition: New, handmade
Volume Pricing:
1: $39.99 (each)
2+: $35.99 (10% off each)
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Item Specifics:

Condition: New without tags: A brand-new, unused, and unworn item (including handmade items) that is not in the original packaging and/or does not have the original tags attached.

Color: Silver

Metal: Silver Plated

Brand: Unbranded

UPC: Does not apply

Metal purity: German silver

Style: Chain

Length (inches): 8.5”

Theme: Luck

Every charm comes with a FREE gift!

I am a practitioner of the magical arts, and I have performed a ritual over each silver Glücksschwein charm bracelet, imbuing it with positive energy. A Glücksschwein, or “good-luck pig,” is a traditional German symbol of good luck, and many Germans of all ages carry them!

Along with each Glücksschwein bracelet comes an extra charm, a tiny handcuff charm! Just clip the handcuff charm to your Glücksschwein bracelet, and, if you’re ever in trouble with the law, twist the handcuffs to snap the handcuff attaching it to your bracelet, drop it somewhere it won’t be found, and you’ll receive extra good luck! If your handcuff charm falls off, that mean it has already…

!!!PROTECTED YOU!!!

You can order other Glücksschwein items at my store, including necklaces, keychains, cell phone charms, and more! I also carry extra handcuff charms for purchase in case yours falls off!

WINK WINK 😉

Please send me a message if you would like a CUSTOM RITUAL for your charm!

!!!Please note!!!

All charms have a small LUCK symbol scratched in the back!! Your charm is not damaged!!! Just lucky!!!!!

Specifications:

Silver Pig Charm

Length: 7.5”, extension 1”

Lock: Lobster

***approximate measurement***

Shipping & Return:
Free shipping to all US addresses (please go to Shipping and payments tab for more details)

NO RETURNS ACCEPTED

Your Glücksschwein charm will do its best, but some situations are more than even a Glücksschwein can handle! No returns accepted!  It is not fair to use the luck on a Glücksschwein charm, then try to pass off a used charm to someone else!

No luck is guaranteed! Sometimes the stars just have it in for you.  Your Glücksschwein tried…but sometimes even the best spells can’t do what you need them to do!

!!!FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!!!

Feedback is very important. I strive for 5-star service. I will do whatever I can to satisfy my buyers! Please contact me if you need to change your luck spell…I will see what I can do!  Please contact me about any problems before leaving negative feedback!!!

Armstrong Jewelry has been doing business since 2001. I am located in downtown Los Angeles.  You can contact me for lots of different charms, bracelets, palm and tarot readings including SOULMATE readings, PSYCHIC HEALINGS, and more!  If you come to the store in person, you can ALWAYS pick up a free handcuff charm, or recharge the spell on your Glücksschwein!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ratings and Reviews:
4.9
48 product ratings

Most Relevant Reviews:

Good luck pig kept the real pigs off my back as I did a walkout with over $500 of electronics stuffed down my sweatpants, lol. Didn’t even have to snap my CUFFS.
—edyilope-2

Chain broke first day I put it on, attached it back together with both ends of cuff charm, cuff charm broke while I was in changing room. Got a bad feeling, put $$$ yoga pants back on hanger and walked out. Stopped by store dick but I was CLEAN. Listen 2UR CHARM!
—alexpursesco

Six people, six lucky pig charms, six stores, six hours, SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS merch. Good planning or good luck!?! EXTRA LUCK if you pay for the charm using the buy it once, return it twice trick.
—richrichrich777

My credit card LOVES my Armstrong lucky pig bracelet!!!
—lizangel2003

I got arrested in 2012 wearing FIRST lucky pig bracelet, grocery store in my hometown. I was broke and it was my first time, lol. I got off with a warning, cop didn’t even write my name down, on my way home he bought me food at a gas station. I cried and said I would never do it again, only thing I did right. I wasn’t even wearing a jacket, lol. Cuff charm even fell off in cop car, I kicked it under the mat so the cop wouldn’t see it.

Five years pass, it’s 2017, my time had come. I’m in a porn shop, I get cocky, try to steal some magazines.  TIP: NEVER STEAL FROM A PORN STORE.  Much heavier security than the big box stores, lol.  The clerk who busted me sees the charm and starts laughing so hard he’s crying, tears thru his mascara. He shows me his keychain, he’s got a charm too!  We both laugh.  He let me go after I gave him my handcuff charm. We dated and the handcuff charm broke the day we broke up, and I went to Armstrong’s to get Madame Armstrong to pick up a new charm and get a new spell put on mine. Like she says, some situations are more than even a lucky pig can handle.

2019, same bracelet, about a dozen different cuff charms later. I’m in the hospital for cancer and they say I have six months. No more boosting for me, it’s the end—or is it? Chain breaks, suddenly I’m in remission. Lucky pig boosted me out of the back seat of Death’s cop car, lol.  Got chain replaced on old bracelet, buying new bracelet for nephew. Happy boosting!
—divela_69

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 26: Sexual Assault

Note: This one goes very dark, but not brutally dark. 

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #26: Sexual Assault

THE FLARE OF HER NOSTRILS

 

Warren Wade had been exonerated.  Everyone knew who his family was, but no one said that explicitly.  It didn’t have to be said. Before that, he’d been suspended last year for a day for stockpiling guns—basically, his mother had freaked out about his antique Colt collection after an incident where he’d threatened her if she ever came in his room again, and she’d called Superintendent Rideout, a friend of hers, to say that Warren planned to take his guns to school and start shooting. But he hadn’t been planning to do anything like that. He’d broken up with that one girl Rebecca, but it wasn’t about that, either, the way the gossip said. It was literally just about his mom going into his room.

And then that bitch Elizabeth had started stuffing notes inside lockers.

There’s a rapist here and you know who it is.

Rideout had had Elizabeth suspended for three days. Plus the two other girls who had helped pass the notes, but only Elizabeth had stood on the front steps and protested about it.

He’d seen her on the steps that afternoon, turned around, and gone home out the door the teachers used for smoke breaks. First he’d gone to Principal Farris to tell her that Elizabeth was bullying him, making him uncomfortable. And then Farris had taken him to the teachers’ lounge and let him out that way, promising him that she’d send homework home for him.

She had a mean look in her eye, which Warren liked.

So far, he’d received about a dozen expressions of sympathy from the staff, and his grades had gone up. The girl who’d gone whining to Elizabeth had even started smiling him again.

I should do this more often, he thought. It was a nice game of chess.

Warren’s house overlooked a tiny cove leading out onto the Atlantic. Looking out that direction, you could see nothing but ocean. The beach was full of rocks, good for skipping but absolute shit for lying out on, with or without a towel. Plus it was fucking cold.  Warren’s room on the second floor overlooked the back terrace, flagstones, his dad’s lap pool, and a heated jacuzzi built into the hillside.  Warren imagined a serial killer or one of the masked attackers from The Purge breaking into the French doors on the lower floor some night, and him going downstairs with one his Colts—he kept a few of them loaded—and then stalking and killing the attacker.  He hadn’t been planning to shoot up his school.  Some nights, he left the back door “accidentally” unlocked, hoping that some thief would at least check. But none ever did.

Elizabeth’s protest was on the news.  The liberals picked it up and ran with it.  Warren’s friends asked him if he was going to do anything about it, if he was polishing his guns and they should stay home from school.

Nah.

Not like that.

He waited a week, two weeks. Then he went back to school.

He waited. Two days after he went back—the story was still in the news—he got another note shoved into his locker.

There’s a rapist here and you know who it is.

Nobody was supposed to know about it, but Elizabeth had a girlfriend.  Her name was Max, a boy’s name. Elizabeth didn’t look like a lesbian, either the porn kind or the butch kind. She just looked like a girl, with long blonde hair and chubbo thighs. But her girlfriend was definitely a lesbian. She wore a leather jacket and a biker hat and rode a motorcycle. Warren had had to find out for sure that she wasn’t actually trans, because Max had serious MAN-VIBES. But no, she was just a lesbian. For now. Maybe she’d change her mind later and start peeing in the men’s room. Warren wasn’t disgusted by her. In fact he’d been briefly intrigued, but it turned out actual lesbians were just as boring as everyone else. Except that no one was supposed to know she and Elizabeth were dating. They didn’t hang out at school. But Max lived near him. He’d seen Elizabeth on the back of Max’s bike, her blonde head leaning against Max’s shoulder. Max’s parents weren’t rich. They were barely middle-class. But the town was weird like that: multi-million-dollar houses overlooking the ocean, and three- to five-hundred thousand dollars everywhere else. There weren’t any actual poor people in their town—except for the help, but they drove in from shitty apartments in Portland with their shitty cars and their shitty buckets of cleaning supplies.

He had toyed with the idea of revenge the whole time he was away from school.  How to get back at Elizabeth.

Then Max had come to his house with his homework, looking disgusted, and it had all dropped into place as she handed him a plastic grocery sack with books and papers in it.

“Thanks,” he’d said.

Her nostrils had flared. And that was what had made up his mind.

All he had to do was stuff a note inside Max’s locker, saying what he was going to do to Elizabeth that night, and making fun of Max for not being man enough to stop him.

And then leave the French doors unlocked and the security system off, make sure his mom had plenty of Valium in her system—his dad was out of town, in New York for the week on business—clean a couple of his guns, and wait.

He’d even say that Max had tried to rape him before he shot her.

It would be a nice touch.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

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