Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Cincinnati, fiction by Victor Kreuiter

Funny thing is, I met The Reverend because of my parole officer. You get out and you got nothing and nobody sees you – you might as well be invisible. That’s what I told my parole officer and he wrote something down on a sheet of paper and handed it to me and said “Go see this guy” and I did.

The Reverend started his place while I was inside, a little more than a year ago. The Sunshine Mission was down by the river in a rundown area, in some old buildings that used to be warehouses or factories of some kind. When I found the place there were three of four guys standing around outside, a couple more inside. It was pretty shabby, really. The Reverend had an office with some beat up furniture and all this spiritual stuff – posters and such – plastered all over the walls and when I introduced myself and told him my parole officer sent me he pointed to a chair and said “Sit.” His desk was stacked up with folders and books and he saw me looking at all that stuff and said, “They never forget.” He let that hang there like I’d know what he was talking about. I had no idea what he was talking about.

He stood up, walked around his desk and leaned back on it, pointed at the tattoos on my arms and said, “Shouldn’t have done that.” I didn’t respond. Inside, I learned saying nothing was a sure way to steer clear of trouble. “People see those things, they know they weren’t done in some expensive tattoo parlor.” He was right. Mine looked like hell. I didn’t like ‘em either, but inside you join up with whoever will have you.

I handed him some paperwork, he looked through it, dropped it behind him on his desk and said “You got to find some work right away. You know that, right?”

I did. I nodded.

“What can you do?”

It was the simplest of questions and I was tired of hearing it. I’d been hearing it my whole life. “I worked in the kitchen inside,” I said.

He got me a job, four days a week. Sometimes five. There was a hat and a shirt I had to wear and I was okay with that. My job was dropping frozen potatoes into a fry basket, dropping the basket into oil, pulling it out and getting the fries into these little boxes. I watched burgers fry, too. Chicken went into the fry basket. It was easier than working in a prison kitchen and I got paid on Friday and The Reverend took about half of what I made and I didn’t complain. I kept in touch with my parole office and when he asked how things were going I said fine and when he asked me about the job I said it was fine and when he asked how I was getting along at the mission I said fine. He told me “Don’t lose that job” and I assured him I wouldn’t.

I got to know the other guys at the mission a little bit. We played cards in the evening sometimes. There wasn’t no television. Lights-out was 10 p.m. On days I didn’t work The Reverend had me do stuff around the mission, painting and carpentry and picking up whatever needed picking up. I’d have conversations with him on occasions. He wasn’t a big guy, but you look at him and the first thing you think is “this guy knows how to handle himself.” He never raised his voice.

He’d preach on Sunday mornings. He’d read from the Bible and talk about it and ask if anyone had questions and usually there wasn’t no questions. The last time we talked – this is years ago now – he kept telling me to keep an eye out. “They never forget.” He kept saying that and it wasn’t so much a warning as it was … I don’t know … maybe it was a warning. I never knew him real good. I don’t think anybody did. If he had past, he never talked about it. If he was on edge all the time, and I think he was, he hid it pretty good. He ran the place like a drill sergeant.

When I got released from parole – eighteen months after I got out - we had another conversation. He kept insisting on the same message, the same thing. Be prepared. Keep an eye out. Life will get you when you let your guard down. That kind of stuff. I told him I was thinking about moving on.

“Where you think you’re going?”

I didn’t have an idea. None. He said “If you’re thinking about starting over – I’m not trying to talk you out of it – but if you’re thinking about starting over, don’t just hop on a bus and go anywhere. Think it through. Think about what you’ve done. That’s gonna follow you. Don’t think it won’t. And don’t think you can get lost in a crowd. Everybody thinks you can get lost in a crowd. You can’t. Not if somebody wants to find you.” He had his arms folded across his chest, staring at me. “Find yourself a quiet spot somewhere. Find somewhere nobody thinks about, out of the way, where you can stay out of trouble. That’s the best you’re gonna get. Think about that.” I thanked him and told him I’d do some thinking and that seemed to satisfy him. That’s the only time he shook my hand.

Couple months later I’m walking home from work – I’d worked a night shift – and I get up near the mission and there’s cop cars everywhere, cherries flashing. There’s an ambulance, too. Maybe two ambulances. Story I heard later was some guys come busting into the mission – middle of the night – hollering for The Reverend. That’s what the other guys at the mission say. They come out running and The Reverend sends them all back to bed – they say it’s the first time they heard him really raise his voice and he raised it real good – and eventually it all quiets down and in the morning them guys wake up and The Reverend is gone and there’s two dead guys in the mission. One’s in The Reverend’s office, and one’s by the front door. The cops find another dead guy in a car, not all that far away.

That pretty much puts the kibosh on the Sunshine Mission. There was a couple of us stayed around – the cops questioned all of us, seems like for days – but we were all gone inside sixty days. The little thinking I’d done about moving on, I had to fire it all up again, and I did. I moved on.

Couple years later I’m living in Superior, Wisconsin. I lucked out going there, really. It was small enough and out of the way and I found work fast – two part-time jobs – and found me a decent place in a half decent neighborhood. I’m working and I’m staying away from trouble and I’m not crazy about the winters, but the summers are worth staying for.

Then I bumped into The Reverend.

Actually, he bumped into me.

I had me a car and one Sunday I drove up to Duluth – it’s less than an hour away – just to see it, just to be doing something. I was just killing time, walking around downtown; it’s all closed up on a Sunday, but I’d never been there before, I hadn’t made the effort.

I wish I’d never gone there.

When I was walking back to my car I felt somebody behind me but I didn’t turn around. You learn not to always turn around so fast. Just keep going. Going forward is keeping out of trouble. Backwards is trouble. When I touched the handle on my car door another hand landed on mine and I turned and saw this guy, chunky, shaved head, big beard. When I looked into his eyes I knew right away who it was and I didn’t smile. Spooked me, I’ll tell you that. Spooked me good. I was glad it was daylight.

“You follow me?” he asked.

I was scared right off. It don’t bother me to say that one bit. He said it like he said everything: quiet, simple, no emotion. Inside you learn to think fast and I did. “Buddy, I don’t know you from Adam.” I looked up and down the block, everything closed. No traffic.

He didn’t hesitate. “Yeah, you do,” he said, and his hand was still on my hand it tightened up a bit and he looked up and down the block, looked back at me and said, “Follow me.”

He turned around and walked and I followed, all the time wondering why I’m following him. There ain’t nobody out. Not a soul. I could’ve walked away. That’s what I think. I could have. We walked a block, then another, heading toward the lake, and he walks us into a coffee shop of some sort and we sit at the window and he orders two coffees, looks at me and says, “You want something to eat?” and I said no.

A young guy brings us two coffees and The Reverend looks at me and says, “I’m not leaving here.” Just like that. I wasn’t sure what that meant. “But you are,” he said.

I sip at my coffee, blow on it, looking down, and he said, “They showed up. That’s what happened back there. At the mission. That’s what happened.” The Reverend was staring at me, deadpan, like he always did. It’s like every word out of his mouth is an effort because it’s a cold, hard fact. “I did what I had to do,” he said.

I knew what he was talking about and wished I didn’t. I wasn’t asking no questions. I learned there are things you don’t want to know.

“I ever treat you wrong?” he asked.

I sighed. “No. No, you didn’t.” I tried to smile, looked at him and said “But you took a big chunk of my little bit of money, don’t you think?”

He shrugged and we sat there, quiet. He was looking out the window most of the time. Finally he said “You gotta go. Sorry. You can’t be here. I can’t trust you. I’m not saying you’re following me … how would I know? … but you remember what happened don’t you?” And he put those cold eyes on me and I knew what he meant. Outside, a cop car went by and I’m thinking “How did this happen? What twist of fate put me right here with this guy, again?” I knew what he was telling me. He didn’t have to do no explaining. He wasn’t asking and I’m sitting there thinking where do I go? I know I gotta go, but where?

“You got Wisconsin plates,” he said. “Where you at in Wisconsin?”

I didn’t answer. I could stay mum for as long as I wanted. Now it was me looking out the window. He didn’t push it. He’d made his point.

“Take your time,” he said. “Plan it out. Iowa maybe. Nebraska. Everybody’s looking for help these days, right? You can find a job anywhere.”

He was right. The times meant a con with some years of straight-and-narrow could find work. I could find work, I knew that. I didn’t have much to move, I knew that, too. I wasn’t sure how fast I had to move, but I knew I had to move soon.

“I don’t want nothing to happen to you,” he said. The Reverend could always say simple things and make them sound … I don’t know … not so simple.

He stood up, walked over to the counter and paid, pointed into the case and had some coffee cake thing wrapped up, came back to me and handed it to me. “It never stops,” he said.

I had no idea what his life was like. How could I know? But I knew he wasn’t no preacher. I knew that years ago and so did the guys at The Sunshine Mission and nobody – not one of us – ever said a word about that. We – all of us – knew there was something going on with him. Nobody was stupid enough to ask. There are things you don’t want to know. Maybe The Reverend didn’t kill those guys. I didn’t believe that, but I sure as hell didn’t know anything that would put him behind bars. Did he think I did? Is that what he was thinking?

“Take your time and think it through,” he said. “Be smart.” He looked back at the guy at the cash register, turned and looked at me. “Let’s not meet like this no more.”

I spent maybe a year in Michigan. Didn’t like it that much and moved to Iowa where I got a pretty decent job that paid more than I thought I was worth. A year or two later, I’m watching the news and there’s these murders in Duluth, Minnesota. The news says the bodies are hard to identify. There’s two bodies found down by the lake, then police find a dead body in a car at a rest stop on the interstate and the news says the police are thinking they’re related.

Iowa was nice, but after a while I felt uncomfortable. Just not comfortable. I was skittish and wasn’t sure why. There wasn’t nothing I could do to shake that feeling so I moved again, thinking I got to pay attention. Stay alert. Keep my eyes open.

Nebraska was next and I lucked out and got me a job driving and every time I took a load through Ohio it was beautiful, and I started thinking about Ohio. Ohio ain’t as cold as Nebraska and I was tired of the cold. I mentioned that at work and the boss said they had a depot in Ohio I could probably drive out of there if I wanted to and I said I might try that and I did.

Been here now for years and I like it just fine. I mostly drive I-70 east, sometimes a little west, it’s all interstate. Easy. I’m in my apartment a week ago and the TV says there’s been these murders in Cincinnati. There was two bodies found down by the river and another body found in a car somewhere and the police are saying it looks like something that happened in Duluth a year or so back and they say maybe the FBI are gonna get involved.

I’m north of Cincinnati, closer to Dayton. It’s nice most of the time, winter or summer. I ain’t never been in Cincinnati and I’m not likely to be going anytime soon.

Victor Kreuiter lives, reads and writes in the Midwest. A retired
typographer (he watched the linotype die), he has published fiction in
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Sou’wester, Literally Stories, Halfway Down
The Stairs and other online and print publications.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Dollar Fortune, fiction by Archer Sullivan

 There’s a man here in town called Micah Hollers.

He sits behind a little card table, a pole at either end holding a banner above his head that says, “I See” and every now and then he does see.

He sits at his little homemade booth in the parking lot of Arlen’s Grocery and Bait and sees your future or someone else’s future or maybe little confetti bits of time all shattered around him. He tells you what he sees and maybe you walk away wiser.

For this service, Micah Hollers charges one dollar.

What’s your name?” he asks me, when I lay a dollar on his table.

I answer. He nods. He’s already forgotten because he was never listening.

My name is Micah Hollers,” he says. “I see.”

I nod and wait for the magic to happen.

Micah Hollers doesn’t have a crystal ball and he doesn’t look at palms or channel spirits or any of that nonsense. What he does is, he taps one hand on the table—palm open—and then taps the other hand—a closed fist, knuckles down—in a rhythm like a slow, steady drumbeat. It doesn’t take long, less than ten seconds of tapping.

Palm. fist-fist. Palm. fist-fist. Palm. fist-fist.

And then he stops.

And he looks at me again but he’s not really seeing me. He’s riding time’s arrow, sure enough, his eyes are glazed over and his jaw slacks a little and he’s mouthing some words that eventually become loud enough to hear.

“—hole in the canyon. That’s where you’ll find ‘em. That’s where… that’s where…”

He trails off and his knuckles rap again and I begin to walk and he says, “All the glowing glowers, glowing all night long.”

And then it’s like I can see the shattering of time as it happens to him. He blinks and flinches like the arrow he’s riding shatters. His eyes roll around in all directions as if he’s following the splinters of an explosion. And then he closes them and his chest shakes with a wet chuckle.

His cheeks go pink and when he opens his eyes again he says, “That entropy is a killer.”

Yeah,” I agree and turn from the booth.

One time, Arlen was making bologna sandwiches behind the counter at the Grocery and Bait when Micah Hollers walked in and grabbed a cold cream soda and went into his seeing right there in front of the coolers. He talked about the rolling land and the rocks underneath and the big yawning crack that ran through it all and the layers and layers and layers of dead things everybody was standing on. Millions of years of dead things all underneath us. And then he came back from his seeing and told Arlen about the entropy being splinters. Infinite splinters.

And Arlen said, “Sounds like a bad time, Micah Hollers.”

And Micah Hollers had given him four one dollar bills and left with his cream soda and two bologna sandwiches.

So what’d he say?” Hank asks me.

We’re sitting on Hank’s porch drinking cans of beer and watching his kids play in the yard. There’s a boy and a girl and they have an old kickball and they’re taking turns kicking it against the side of the old sheet metal shed. It makes a sound worse than thunder that I think probably gets on the nerves of every single person down in this gully but it’s not my gully and they’re not my kids so I just watch and listen to the kick-booom-kick-booooom. Somewhere, further down the road, a dog barks.

I mean,” Hank says. “I get it if you don’t wanna talk about it. I hear sometimes Micah Hollers says things people don’t want others knowing.”

But everyone in town could guess why I wanted to talk to Micah Hollers. Everyone in town knew about Shelley. Knew how she was there one day. Gone the next. Disappeared like vapor with the night. Everyone had helped look for her, scraping around in the brambles and poking sticks into ponds, leading dogs around in the woods behind The Blue Moon Bar where she was last seen.

Nah,” I say. “It’s okay.”

I watch the kids for a minute and then I say, “He said something was down the hole in the canyon.”

The canyon?”

That’s what he said.”

Didn’t elaborate?”

He’s Micah Hollers.”


Hmm,” I say.

We watch the kids and listen to the ball and the dog.

But maybe the universe or… The Lord or… you know my Aunt Jean said ol’ Micah Hollers is a real smart man? Said he used to work for the government.”

Government,” I say. “Doing what?”

Hank shrugs.

I watch the kids kicking the ball.

Kick. Booooom. Bounce.

Just saying maybe he’s some kind of genius,” Hank says with a low chuckle like he can’t hardly believe his own mouth.

I sigh and say, “All I know is, I give him a dollar. He tells me about canyons and glowing stuff. It ain’t rocket science, Hank.”

And I know what Hank wants to do is ask me did he say anything about Shelley and where she might’ve gone off to.

Everybody wonders about it because everybody loved Shelley. She was easy to love. Smart as she could be. Pretty as a picture. Always helped out wherever she could. But, Hank was Shelley’s brother. Only person misses Shelly almost as much as I do is him and so I know he’s sitting there just dying to ask more about what Micah Hollers said.

Instead, Hank takes a drink of his beer and I do too.

Kick. Booooooom. Kick.

Well,” Hank says eventually. “Ain’t but two canyons around here.”

The ball bounces back and smacks the little girl right in the nose. She doubles over but she’s laughing. The boy’s laughing too. They’ve lost track of the ball.

There’s a high ping of hollow rubber as the ball gets away.

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

I watch it roll under Hank’s big pick-up.

There’s Potter’s Canyon and there’s Harpie Gorge,” Hank says.

Harpie Gorge is a gorge,” I say.

Aren’t they the same thing?”

I shrug.

Besides, would Micah Hollers know the difference between a canyon and a gorge? Do you?”

I guess I don’t,” I admit. I watch the little boy shimmy under the truck and knock the ball out from under it toward his sister.

Kick. Boom. Kick. Boooom.

So what’re you gonna do?” Hank asks.

About what?”

Well, aren’t you gonna go look?”

In the canyon? It’s Micah Hollers. I just wanted to give him a dollar. Man’s getting old.”

But he said you’d find ‘em.”

Right,” I say. “Them. Not her. Them.”

Well, okay,” Hank says and takes a big breath and lets it out like he’s letting out the hope of finding her. He takes another one in and says, “So, what if it’s nothing to do with her? Maybe it’s something really good. Like some kind of buried treasure. A box of gold coins or a stash of old shine.”

I laugh.

Hank says, “Or bad, I guess. Could be bad. Like a stack of dead bodies or something.”

A stack of dead bodies?”

Hank shrugs and tries to take another drink. Realizes it’s empty, puts it down, opens the cooler between us, pulls out a fresh can, pops it with a hiss.

You want one?”

Nah, I’d better head on,” I say. “Probably had enough anyhow.”

I get up out of the chair and start down the rickety porch steps.

Kick. Boooom. Kick. Booooom.

But when I get back to my place, I do crack open another beer. A bottle this time, back-of-fridge cold. The weather is hot and the cicadas are buzzing and me and my beer both just sit and sweat at the kitchen table while I think about the hole in the canyon.

People can’t resist a mystery,” Shelley said to me once or more than once. “We can’t help wanting to know.”

Know what?” I’d said.

Exactly,” Shelley had said.

I watch beads of sweat drip down my bottle and onto my hand and my table. They seem a kind of magic. Little drops of clear clean water that appear from nowhere to live briefly on a glass bottle or a can and then drip or disappear again, back into the very air.

Things fall apart,” Shelley had said. This was another time. There, at the end.

And now I say, “Well, hell.”

And I get my flashlight. The old yellow one with the neon strap so if I drop it and it goes out, it’s easier to see.

The part of Potter’s Canyon that runs through our county is twenty-odd miles long. Harpie Gorge is shallower and shorter so I decide to start there. I park on a black gravel shoulder. Dusk is just about to fall and the light is a nice kind of bronze color, filtered through the trees like it is. The cicadas buzz. A few crickets get to humming as I climb over the guard rail and start my way down the path.

I wonder, after I stumble over a tree root and catch myself, what would happen if a body gave Micah Hollers two dollars instead. If you’d get twice the seeing. Probably not, I think, and keep on going down the path. It rained the day before so the sandy soil wants to slip under my heavy work boots.

I get to the edge. This is where the old gray-brown rock on either side of the canyon (or the gorge or whatever it is) was cut away by the little tiny creek that runs far below. I pause and listen and hear the tumble of cold water right there next to the buzz of the cicadas and the hum of the crickets.

I love that sound,” Shelley had said, there at the end. “I love that sound. This is how I want it.”

That was the very end.

Shining the flashlight up one way and then down the other, I find an okay-looking set of stair-step rocks. I clamber onto them, my flashlight in my mouth so I can use my hands to scramble. I’m holding the strap in my teeth and it’s swinging around like all hell, bouncing light around all over the woods and the creek.

We’re hardwired to find things out,” Shelley had said.

This was a little before. Right before the end.

We need to know. Ya know?”

I’d said I didn’t know but I was probably just being a shit, which is what she said.

And now I’m ankle deep in cold spring water, shining a flashlight around the bottom of a canyon because a man sitting in a parking lot who can see backwards and forwards and sideways in time took my dollar bill.

Hey,” Shelley had said. “Hey, it’s alright. Don’t cry now. It’s alright.”

And I wonder if I am slipping around in time just like Micah Hollers does. I wonder if talking to him broke something too fragile inside me. Some hidden, shining, shimmering part made of carnival glass. Made when Shelley went away.

I tromp through the water and onto the opposite bank, waving my flashlight around. I pick a direction and walk, my feet slipping sometimes, my bank-side hand reaching out for purchase on tree roots or lumpy bits of stone.

I walk into what I think is called a slot canyon. Water falls from higher up into a hole—cut by the water long before—and down into a little pond that then empties into the stream I’ve been walking through.

My breath is a little ragged as I slide my body deeper into the slot and think about how I’m forcing my way in like an animal when the water itself took probably thousands of years. I wonder if Micah Hollers has seen time on water’s scale, has known time the way water knows time, the way water doesn’t fear it or bow to it or try to look at it. It just is.

I wonder if maybe I drank too much beer. If maybe I’m being silly. No, I think, I definitely am. I’m about to give up this whole business but I’m shining my flashlight around and there, on the other side of the stone, is a hole.

My light hits the stone, lights up the rough rock. Sandstone, I think. Its gritted texture seems to chew up the light but when I shine it on the hole it just disappears. It doesn’t light up the stone within the hole. The light is just gone.

What I see when I get closer is that the hole is about as wide as my hand.

Hole in the canyon,” Micah Hollers had said. “That’s where you’ll find them.”

Find what?

Find what?

I get closer, shine my light right in the hole but it’s just black and more black. Just a mouth to nowhere. I search around the floor of the little slot and find an old bit of stick. I poke it in the hole. I shine the light on it and watch as the stick just goes away into the dark and then comes back out clean. In. Out. Like it didn’t go nowhere. My light can’t even follow the stick past the threshold. It’s just gone.

Like a magic trick but not a trick.


I think about that beer back at my place, sitting on the table, sweating itself half to death and me not really understanding why or how. And I think about Hank’s little girl with her smacked nose doubled over laughing and I think about Micah Hollers and those bologna sandwiches and his talk about finding things in canyons.

That entropy’ll kill ya,” he said.

I stick my hand in the hole.

When I was in third grade my teacher, whose name was Miss Bell and who smelled like vanilla, taught us about the five senses. She brought a shoebox painted black to school and she would turn around and crouch behind her desk and put things in the box. She had a little black fabric flap on the front where you could stick your hand in and feel what was inside. Every kid in class went up to her desk and felt something in the box.

I stick my hand in the hole.

I feel… nothing. Just a breeze. Just a cool cave breeze.

I pull it back out, look at my hand in the light. Just a hand, my hand. I put it back in.

I feel… nothing… and then the brush of something soft. Fabric. Warmth. A body.

When I went up to Miss Bell’s desk and stood there smelling her smell and looking at her pretty brown eyes and listening to the kids behind me giggle, I put my hand in the box.

What do you feel?” she asked.

It’s a hand. A hand grabs my hand. The hand is strong and calloused and it pulls.

I pull back.

It was a hairbrush in the box, I remember.

With my other hand, I shine the flashlight into the hole but there’s only darkness and this other hand keeps hold of my hand and I close my eyes because I know that I have stumbled into something that is not meant for me.

And I see the rubber ball. Bounce. Kick. Boooom. Kick. Bounce. Smack. And it slaps the little boy in the nose and he doubles over laughing. This is wrong, I think. This is different. The ball bounces backward. The ball stops.

And Hank hands me another bottle of beer. And somewhere, inside the house, a cat meows. And the can in my hand is sweating onto the tabletop and I pick up my flashlight and I leave.

I open my eyes and I look at the light in my hand. Green. Not yellow.

The hand pulls harder. I pull back.

I am thinking of Shelley and of the way her laugh sounded. The way she laughed so loud you could hear it even outside the house. The way she cocked her head back and pointed her mouth at the sky when she laughed like she even wanted the Lord to hear her.

Not at the end though. Not then.

Then her laugh was so quiet it just about killed me. So quiet when she said what she said. When she showed me she was who she was, even then.

Shelley had smiled at me. But I was crying.

Miss Bell had smiled at me and her teeth were all white and straight and pretty and she said, “Would you like to feel what’s inside the box?”

And I had nodded, yes I would. And I did.

It was a hairbrush, in there.

Bounce. Kick… Boooom. And Hank asks me if I want another beer and I say yes. And the dog barks down the road and he says, sit a spell, and I do. And I still sit there. This is another time. Another past. Another version of life. Another shard like the shard like the sharp shards that scrape at the mind of Micah Hollers.

Kick. Bounce. Kick. And I watch as the ball goes rolling down the drive and the kids both chase after it and somewhere a dog barks. And I get up to leave.

And the beer sweats in my hand. And I jump at the sound of a muffler on the road and the beer spills on the table. “Great,” I say. And I get up and get a rag and decide to watch TV, order a pizza.

Great,” I say. And I get up and get a rag and decide to go into town and get a bologna sandwich.

Great,” I say. And Shelley says, “Don’t worry about it.” And Shelley gets a rag and starts mopping it up and then comes over and kisses me, soft at first and then hard. Because in this other shard of time, Shelley is still there. And I am with her. I tickle her while I hold her and she cocks her head back and laughs and here, in my slice of reality, I realize I am crying.

Great,” I say. Another shard. “Just great.” And I get up and get a rag. And that’s when things fall apart. The crack that rests beneath the town’s feet, beneath the rocks and the stacks and stacks of dead things, shifts and everything lurches like the earth is made of water and we all tumble into darkness.

The beer tips. And I catch the beer before it hits the table and I laugh at myself, laugh in relief.

And the hand pulls back. This hand, my hand.

It is my hand, of course. You can’t go your whole life and not know your own hand when you feel it in the dark.

What’s in there?” Miss Bell asks me. And she smells like vanilla or like strawberries or like coffee with cream. And she’s wearing a red dress or a blue dress or a skirt suit with shiny earrings.

What’s in there?” she asks me. And I tell her it’s my hand.

What’s in there?” Shelley asks me. Shelley’s with me. On the other side, Shelley paid a dollar to Micah Hollars just like I did. On the other side, Shelley’s in the canyon, too. “What’s in there?”

And I shine my flashlight. It’s the yellow flashlight. The one I can see in case I drop it in the dark. I shine my light into the hole and I see nothing but I feel my hand and I say, “Let go.”

I’m not going to do it,” Shelley had said. We were sitting in the car outside the oncologist’s office.

Shelley—” I’d started to talk but she’d put her hand on top of mine and I’d stopped. Shelley did what Shelley wanted.

What do you want?” I asked.

I want to take my last good months. And then I want to go away.”

Away?” I asked.

Yeah,” she said. “And I need you to help me. Can you do that?”

I didn’t think I could. Shelley didn’t think I could either.

In the end, though, I did.

Let go,” I hear. An echo of my own voice.

No,” I say.

Let go,” I hear again, anxious now, the voice I have that sounds angry but is really scared.

No,” I say.

Let go,” Shelley says. Calm.

And I do let go.

I let go on this side and the other side. The calloused hand rasps my own as we both pull away.

I am panting and tears burn my eyes as I shimmy back out the little slot in the sandstone. It’s full dark now. The water rushes by my feet and the cicadas are finally done but the crickets are still going hummm, hum, hummm, hum.

I was the one who’d found Shelley. She’d told me where she’d be. She’d told me I might need to help her. She was weak, then. Not in her head, no. That frustrated her. Her mind so strong, her body so weak. Still, a body will always fight back.

It would not die, even when she tried to kill it.

Finish it,” she’d said, when I found her. “Finish what I started.”


Finish and then hide me where I said.”

I stared at her.

People love a mystery,” she said. “They don’t love this… they don’t love sickness.”

I do,” I said. “I love you.”

Things fall apart,” she said. “I wanted to do this by myself but I couldn’t.”


No,” she said. “You have to help me. Can you do that?”

I was crying. Shelley did what Shelley wanted. Got what she wanted.

It’s alright,” she said. “Hey, don’t cry now. It’s alright.”

The crickets were humming then, like now.

Hummm hummm hummmmm hummm.

This is how I want it,” Shelley said. “I love that sound.”

And then I did what she told me to do.

The lightning bugs are out now, too. I watch them. Watch their chaotic, random dance, and think it’s probably not really random at all. Think I probably just don’t understand things as tiny and complicated as lightning bugs. Glowing glowers, Micah Hollers had said. Glowing, glowing all night long.

And he’d smiled because he’d ridden the arrow of time and it had burst beneath him. Things fall apart. Time. Space. People. Doesn’t matter. Ring around the roses, we all fall down.

Somewhere on one of those splinters, Shelley still lived. She was standing here in this canyon now, listening to the crickets.

That’s where you’ll find em,” Micah Hollers had said.

He’d smiled because the infinite sharp shards of space and time are his drug.

I paid him to take it. And he’d shared it with me.

I sit down on a low rock and watch the lightning bugs. I watch them all night long.

Born and raised in Appalachia, Archer Sullivan now resides in Los Angeles where she is a real life Beverly Hillbilly. Her fiction is hard-boiled and country-fried.

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Recipe, fiction by Bethany Paul


The stiff in the pink tutu stood frozen in fourth position. Hank knew this because his daughter took ballet. For three tortuous years, his wife barked out the positions while Hannah huffed and complied. They finally gave up and let her quit.

        Fourth position. One foot pointing north, one pointing south. Right arm posed over the midsection. Left arm held gracefully above the head, slightly bent at the elbow.

        “Betcha’ve never seen anything like this before.” The local sheriff who called Hank to the scene in the old Midland square dance barn stood with hands on hips and rocked from heel to toe, as if he owned the place. As if he was proud of the sight before him.

        “Never in all my years.” Hank would venture to guess never in anyone’s years.

        The corpse was posed, standing with perfect balance. No strings. No harness. Just there.

        The male victim appeared to be in his late forties, dressed in a white leotard and pink ballet shoes laced up to his kneecaps. Over that, over all of him, was a thick, glistening layer of resin or maybe epoxy. Extra epoxy circled his feet on the polished concrete of the dance floor, no doubt keeping him upright. Frozen in position and time much like a figure in a wax museum.

        Or an insect preserved in acrylic.

        Hank circled the body. And then circled again.

        “You’re getting every angle of this, right? I want the floor, the ceiling. Get down on your hands and knees and get shots from below. Bring in a ladder and get shots from above.” Hank barked direction at the two crime scene photographers. The forensics team continued to sweep the area. They hadn’t yet touched the body.

        Hank put on a glove and tugged at the tutu, which had been placed on the victim long after the preservative dried, the waistband of the tulle skirt did not stick to the body. It moved freely and Hank could have slipped it over the corpse’s head if he wanted to. Easy on. Easy off.

        “Any idea who this is?”

        The sheriff dug a toothpick out of his pocket and held it like a cigarette for a moment before sticking between his back teeth. “No. Never seen him. But there was a dance in here just last night, so that gives a timeframe for the death.”

        “That gives a timeframe for the positioning of the body, not necessarily the death.” Hank put his nose inches from the dead man’s mouth. He didn’t smell the all-too-familiar odor of decay. He smelled harsh chemicals, like the caulk he used to repair the bathtub and nearly fainted from the fumes. The time his wife told him if his job didn’t kill him, his handyman skills would.

        He examined the man’s face up close. Relaxed jawline. Peaceful, closed lips. Nostrils filled with the preservative. A few crows’ feet and laugh lines. But the eyes.

        The eyes were open. They were not the clouded-over orbs Hank saw a hundred times before. They were clear, brown with flecks of yellow, gazing straight ahead.

        The perp preserved the eyes first. This man watched as his torturer poured the epoxy over his face.

        Hank retreated to the edge of the barn, where low wooden benches circled the straw-covered concrete dance floor. A few tables in the corners covered with red and white checked tablecloths held forensic kits and gave respite to weary crime scene workers, called out before dawn. And now it was noon.

        From one of the benches, Hank stared at Mr. Doe. The victim must weigh 160 to 170 pounds without the hardened preservative. The preservative had to have hardened on the body before the body was moved. The perp certainly didn’t have time to do all this work at the barn.

        How did he do it by himself? How did he steady the hefty dead weight upright while the epoxy dried the feet to the floor? Without stepping in it himself?

        Hank looked directly above the scene. Large wooden beams crisscrossed the ceiling, dotted with dozens of hanging bare bulbs.

        He slapped the table where a pair of lab geeks were taking a water break. “Glove up. Get the ladder back out and examine the beams above the body. I want to know if anything was hung over them, rope, chain. Look for fibers. Look for splinters that may have jabbed our perp. Anything.” They jumped to it. “And call me when you’re done. I want some time with the body.”

        Hank stepped outside and walked the perimeter of the barn. Brown and yellow leaves crunched under his feet. The overcast skies and dry air matched his mood. He was thankful for the mild breeze which rid his nostrils of the chemicals and hay from the barn.

        The yellow and black crime scene tape had come undone from a giant oak at the corner of the property and was whipping in the breeze. Hank walked over to fix it and noticed a set of narrow, parallel tracks leading from beyond the oak to the barn. He followed them past the tree about a hundred yards to a gravel lane. The crime scene techs most likely missed it because half of the trail was outside of their taped off boundary.

        Because all crime boundaries fall neatly within the most available tree, fence post or stoplight. Why is everyone so head-slappingly stupid?

        His cell vibrated with the message that the team was done with the barn, and he could spend some up-close and personal time with the frozen man in the pink tutu.


        After twelve hours at the scene and forensics lab, Hank fell exhausted onto the motel’s bed. He allowed himself a thirty-minute cat nap before showering, pouring straight up black coffee and firing up his laptop to process the clues and information gathered earlier. More would come tomorrow and the next day after tests were run on the rock-hard preservative, but he had enough to get a start.

        He straightened out a paper map of the area on the bed and pulled a file from his briefcase.

        A man had been reported missing in the middle of the scene cleanup. A man who fit the description of the ballerina. He’d been gone for five days.

        According to the BMV’s copy of the dead man’s driver’s license, Mason Bradford, 46, resided in Belvue, a town three removed from rural Midland. His actual wallet was nowhere to be found, and Hank doubted they’d find it tucked inside the leotard when they got the guy thawed out.

        Or chiseled out.

        He ran the stats through the database and got a hit. Two years ago, Mason Bradford was brought in on charges of possible misconduct with a minor. The charges were dropped, and nothing ever came of it since the girl was a month from her eighteenth birthday.

        According to a local gossip site, Mason Bradford had also gone through a terrible divorce.

        Hank would have to check further with Belvue’s local police force, and he made a note to check the ex’s alibi.

        The cell vibrated with another message. This time from the lab. They had no clue what covered Mr. Bradford’s body, but it was lightweight, and they’d broken two bits trying to get him unstuck from the barn floor. Approximate time of death was hard to pin down. Could be a couple of days. Could be a week. He ordered a sample be sent to headquarters. No sooner than he sent his instructions he got another message.

        Another body. Epoxied.

        Baseball diamond at the south side of town.

        Hank rubbed the back of his neck and slipped on his dress shoes. He folded the paper map and stuffed it into his back pocket. He closed his laptop and grabbed the small Styrofoam cup the motel graciously provided and filled it for the third time with fuel for the evening.


        The baseball field was lit up like the Cubs were playing. The field’s lights lit the whole diamond and outfield. The forensic lights pointed to the Away Team’s dugout. Hank lifted the tape, this time tied to the edge of the fence behind the dugout and to the lamp post near the parking lot. He shook his head in disbelief and lost his temper.

        “Widen this area. Look for tracks, same as were at the barn!” He yanked the tape loose and shouted his orders a little too loud and his voice echoed across the field.

        Hank gloved up and trod into the dugout, as astonished by the sight in front of him as he was in the old barn.

        Another man, about the same age as Mr. Bradford, same approximate build, covered in the same epoxy. This corpse was plastered in a seated position to the wooden bench that stretched the length of the dugout.

        The vic wore a white clown suit covered in multicolored polka dots. Great red clown shoes adorned the man’s feet. His legs were crossed, his arms outstretched, a bottle of bubbles in one, the bubble wand in the other. The glimmering preservative covered the suit and shoes and extra could be seen between his thighs and the wooden seat.

        Over the top of the dried epoxy, just like the tutu, a bright blue curly-haired wig sat atop the victim’s head. Hank reached for the wig, which came off easily. The epoxy covering the body was dried and smooth, nearly the feel of porcelain. That on the bench was sticky and trapped a couple of moths that had ventured into the lights.

        This man’s green eyes stared at them in horror, but his mouth was painted in a bright red smile to match the bulb nose glued to his face.

        The sheriff came behind Hank. “We got ourselves a serial, don’t we?”

        Hank didn’t respond.

        “Maybe someone who’s been done wrong on Halloween, or somethin’. Dressing the folks up like this and all.”

        Hank rolled his eyes at the body, away from the gaze of the sheriff.

        “What should we tell the press?”

        Hank whirled around. “Tell them nothing. No photos. No clues. No comments. Nothing.” The last thing he needed with two crime scenes was the press sensationalizing this.

        Sensational, it was though.

        Hank’s phone went off. He pulled it from his pocket, forgot himself for a second and sat on the bench with the clown. He reread the message until it sank in.



        Baseball field.

        Movie theater.

        “Sheriff, I need your people to stay here and lock this place down until the body’s removed.”

        Hank walked a few yards onto the field and called headquarters. “Yeah, I’m gonna need a couple of fresh teams. Yes, I said two. We have three scenes now and my people are exhausted.”

        Hank walked off the field, under the crime scene tape, which had been moved out a whopping ten feet, and got into his car to head for the third scene in less than 24 hours.


        As Hank approached the theater, he tried to remember the last time he had taken Hannah to see anything. He always promised, but never quite made good on it. Work always got in the way. She was old enough to understand now, but it didn’t make up for the lost time.

        The manager/owner let Hank in. The tiny town supported a two-screen theater. The manager discovered the body when a silent alarm went off at his home. He told Hank three times before they reached the body that he’d spent his own money and worked hard to update the building with the latest tech and was hoping to get a 3-D screen soon.

        The man was a nervous talker. Dead bodies can do that.

        Some people cry. Some people puke. And some talk.

        He preferred the pukers, so long as they were outside his crime tape perimeter.

        The house lights were up. The theater sat about a hundred. The plush blue folding seats were empty except for the front row.

        “Go back outside and wait for my team. Don’t let anyone in.” The manager was happy to scamper up the aisle, chatting about clean up and opening day and who knows what else.

        Hank stood in front of the victim and gloved up. Fear embedded the man’s brown eyes. He took a shot with his cell phone and sent it to headquarters for identification. Hank wondered how long it took to die after the process began. Maybe the lab would have some more information. Whoever did this had taken lots of time. And now he was delivering the preserved bodies, one by one, all over town.

        The gentleman in front of him wore khaki slacks, simple dress shoes and a blue and white striped polo. If it weren’t for the props, Hank would have had a hard time guessing what he was supposed to be. In one frozen, outstretched arm, the man held an apple. One bite removed. He could lift the apple from the body, like the clown wig and the tutu. Other than the bite, it was complete and fresh. Recently bitten. Hank set the fruit back in the victim’s hand.

        Wrapped in the other arm, and under epoxy, were two hardback textbooks, English and elementary math. A box of chalk and a ruler laid in the man’s lap, also under the epoxy.

        A ballerina, a clown, and a teacher.

        Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

        Hank went to the back of the theater to take in the view and try to map the movements of the man who’d placed the victim here. To make a mental movie of the steps, effort and struggle that was endured to get across some seemingly random point.

        His phone jarred him from his thoughts, and his fresh team had arrived. He gave the room to them with strict instructions for photography and collection.

        The message on his phone gave him two names. The clown and the teacher and their respective towns. He went to the lobby and pulled the map out and spread it on the concession stand.

        “Would you like me to start a batch? I’d be happy to.” The owner came up behind him, chewing nails on one hand, pointing to the popcorn machine with the other.

        “Uh, no. I’ll pass. And don’t make any at all. It could contaminate the scene in there.” Some people. Hank went back to the map.

        Midland was smack in the middle of the towns the three men called home. But that didn’t tell Hank much. He texted back that he needed their records and BMV files.

        He turned the scene over to the junior detective and left for the motel. He couldn’t think and he needed rest. And another shower. And more coffee. But mostly rest.


        He was unaware how long he’d been out. He awoke in a pile of papers and had apparently used the map as a blanket. He shook the cobwebs and pulled the motel drapes. No matter how cruel the night, morning always comes.

        He threw on a clean change of clothes and opened the laptop. He pulled up all three men’s information in separate windows. The second two had files like the first. Almost convicted, but not quite. All in separate towns. All accused of inappropriate conduct with a minor.

        As he was connecting the dots, someone banged on his door.

        “What is it?” he didn’t even bother opening it. Half of his team was doubled up in the fifteen-room motel at the edge of town.

        “You gotta see this, sir,” came the muffled reply.

        Hank threw the door open. The tech stood in socked feet with an open laptop scrolling photos of the ballerina, clown, and teacher in their final staged poses on the internet. Among those, however, were two others, a chef and Mickey Mouse, the police had not discovered.

        He grabbed the computer. “Is tech on this?”

        “As soon as I saw it, sir.”

        “Can we take it down?”

        “No, we tried. We keep getting blocked. Whoever it is is really good.”

        “Get out. Let me think.” Hank slammed the door in the tech’s face.

        He watched the website scroll across the screen. A bright red banner under the photos remained stationary. Across the banner was a recipe.

        The recipe for the hardening epoxy.

        And a call to action.

        Hank put in an emergency call to each of the three police precincts in the victims’ towns.

        Within an hour, they all called back, and Hank had nailed the motive down without a doubt.

        One girl after ballet practice.

        One girl during the state fair.

        One at recess.

        In all the cases, not enough evidence was gathered to convict—or the girls were nearing eighteen.

        He read the call to action again: Mix up a batch of your own Recipe for Revenge. Post your photos here.

        Hank recalled the fear in each man’s eyes and thought about the fear that each one had caused their own victims.

        Hank thought of Hannah. And the therapy. And the night terrors she still suffers after that day at the zoo.

        He took a long draw on his room-temperature coffee and popped his neck.

        And then he flipped to the last page in his notebook and copied down the recipe.

Beth started writing epic space sagas using dull pencils on wide-ruled notebook paper in grade school. She’s since upgraded her writing implements (she is, after all, an adult now) and has a blog (again, with the adult thing). Find her books, short story collections, and a free fiction tale at