McFadden, Jerry


Jerry McFadden (sometimes writing as Jerome W. McFadden) has been writing fiction for the past several years. His stories have appeared in various fiction magazines and e-zines, such as Flash Fiction Offensive, Over My Dead Body, Eclectic Flash Fiction, and BWG Writers Roundtable. He received a Second Place Bullet Award for the best crime fiction to appear on the web in June, 2011, and has had his short stories performed aloud on the stage by the Liar’s League in London and the Liar’s League in Hong Kong. His stories have also appeared in various anthologies, including Hardboiled: Crime SceneOnce Around the SunA Christmas SamplerA Readable Feastand Let It Snow. He has also won honorable mentions in Writer’s Digest Magazine annual national fiction awards, as well as in several regional writing contests.



God’s Work

Jerry McFadden

(Spring, 2017)

Little Joanie saw them first. A flick of motion at the edge of the waterfalls. “There. There,” she shouted, pointing out the window. Thomas leaned past her to take a look. The pilot put the Cessna 172N into a tight bank, keeping the inside wing centered on the gap of cascading water that cut a swath through the jungle. Reverend Ronald Davis smiled at his two children. Of course God would act through little Joannie, he told himself, ". . . and a little child shall lead them."

Everybody craned to see out of the left side of plane, the ground below. Norma said, “I think I saw movement, too, at the top of the falls.”

The pilot took a wider arc, dropping several hundred feet. But there was nothing obvious.

“Go around again and take it down to tree level,” Reverend Ron ordered.

“No,” the pilot protested, “Too dangerous. There might be updrafts from the waterfalls. A strong gust could bounce us right into the trees.”

 “A thousand dollars more,” Reverend Ron said. “I will pay you a thousand dollars more.”

The pilot glanced at Joachim in the co-pilot’s seat and rolled his eyes at the insanity of the Norte Americano. Joachim shrugged. A thousand dollars was a thousand dollars. He would make the pilot split it with him. 

 “Open your side window,” Reverend Ron instructed, “so we can see better when we make the pass.”

The pilot popped the side window, latching it against the fuselage, then banked as if wanting to plunge the Cessna directly into the waterfalls, pulling up only as the trees came to them in a maddening rush.

There was a sudden thunk, thunk, thunk on the side of the plane.

“What the hell?” the pilot yelled.

“They’re shooting at us!” Joachim said.

Reverend Ron saw a handful of men darting in and out of the trees, aiming at the plane with bows and arrows and long slender blowpipes. The bows were as tall as the men and appeared to take great strength to draw back. The arrows floated upward, some actually plunking into the side of the plane.

The pilot said, “Oh!” surprised, then slumped lazily against the steering column. Joachim yanked him back to grab the stick, but it was too late. The plane lurched sharply skyward, stalled, then rolled over to dive head first into the vast sea of green.

 The upper branches of the canopy ripped off the wings. The thin lower limbs and infinite mass of thick vines and dangling creepers caught the fuselage, nursing it into a slight upward angle, slowing its downward descent. The lowest branches and vines tore the landing gear from the plane, further breaking its fall. It miraculously missed slamming into any of the enormous tree trunks. The stripped fuselage finally pancaked flat into the cluttered undergrowth and soft earth.

They sat in stunned silence, the engine ticking from its own heat, leaves, slivers of wood, and vines still dropping from great heights. Liquids slowly dripped from the plane onto the matted growth beneath it. The jungle was a hushed, startled witness.

Joachim was the first to move. He kicked out his door with a curse. Reverend Ron awkwardly followed him. Norma pushed past a whimpering Joannie, followed by Thomas.

 Norma straightened herself to address Joachim, “You don’t have to curse like that. We had a bad moment but we should be on our knees thanking God that we survived.”

“We had a bad moment? A bad moment? We haven’t even started to have a bad moment.” Joachim mocked. “We are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a hostile Indians, deadly snakes, vicious animals, malaria carrying mosquitoes, and I do not know what else. Even the ants in this jungle can kill you. And no one knows where we are because you wanted to do this trip in secret.”  He looked around and motioned towards the pilot. “And we did not all survive.”

“What happened to him?” Reverend Ron said, holding his hands palms out to calm the argument. “Did he have a heart attack?”

Joachim walked around the twisted and broken fuselage to open the pilot’s door, rudely pulling out the dead body. “No heart attack. A poison dart. In his neck. You asked him to open his window so you could see better and one of your precious Indians got in a lucky shot with a blow gun.”

Norma scoffed, “No one uses blow guns and poison darts these days.”

Joachim reached over to pull an arrow out of the fuselage. “No one uses arrows ‘these days,’ either. But we are now in ‘their days’. Now you know why they nicknamed them the flecheiros.”

“Why were they shooting at us?” Thomas asked. “We came all this way to help them. To bring them Jesus.”

Joachim snorted in derision, stepping over the dead body to climb into the pilot’s seat. He fiddled with the radio, flipping the toggle off and on, yelling into the microphone, “Mayday! Mayday! Can anyone hear me? Mayday! Mayday!”   

Silence. He slammed the microphone against the radio,. “It’s broken. Broken. Not a chance of repair.” He climbed down and walked away to sit on an enormous tree root to stare at the dense jungle around them.

Reverend Ron took charge of his family. He pulled the first aid kit from the plane to attend to their cuts and bruises, making sure no one was hurt badly, then ordered them to pull the supplies from the airplane to stack them a short distance away. He and Thomas scrounged through the cabin for anything that might be of use, such as flashlights, flares, spare bottles of water and packs of uneaten snacks.

Joachim came over to ask, “Which of these boxes have food and water in them?”

Reverend Ron glanced at Norma, “None. We assumed we would pick up food and water when we returned to the village, along with the porters that you planned to hire for us.”

“Then what are in the boxes?” Joachim asked in astonishment, kicking the cardboard cartons.

Norma replied, “Bibles. Crucifixes. Pictures of Jesus. Holy water. Hymnals. Everything we need to start an active service.”

Joachim stared at her in bewilderment.         

“You’re the hired guide. What do you think we should do?” Reverend Ron asked.

       Joachim hesitated for a long moment, then said, “Hiking back to the village is our only hope.”

“No,” Norma said, “We should go to the tribe to for help. That is why we came, to work with the tribe, and that is what we should do.”

       “They are savages,” Joachim said bitterly.

       Reverend Ron smiled at his wife, “Norma is right. We came for the tribe. And God has given us this opportunity to ask them for help. It is a good way to begin.”

“How are you going to talk to them?” Joachim asked angrily. “We have no locals. We were to hire them at the village. We do not speak Indian. We have no way to communicate.”

Norma searched though the boxes to pull out two books. “We have a Portuguese-English dictionary and a guide to native American languages. Plus you speak Portuguese, so we have a good start.”

Joachim took the books from Norma. “Just because we are in Brazil does not mean that these savages speak Portuguese. And this other book is a guide to speaking Navajo!”

       “That is all I could find. There was nothing in the bookstores in Columbus, Ohio, on Latin American Indian languages.”

Joachim threw both books on the ground. “Merda!”

       “You don’t have to swear. I may not speak Portuguese but I know what that word means.”

       Joachim repeated, “Merda!”

Reverend Ron gestured for quiet. “God will provide. We will do nothing tonight. We will give the pilot a Christian burial and rest. We will talk about our plans first thing in the morning, when we all feel better.”

He turned and clapped his hands, “I want you children to build a fire, like we do at home when we are at camp. Dig a nice hole, ring it with stones, then collect some dry brush and firewood and start the fire while we bury the pilot. But don’t go far from camp. We will then share what we have to eat and talk and maybe sing some songs before we go to sleep.”

Everyone did as directed. Reverend Ron and Joachim tore twisted metal from the plane to dig a shallow grave, while Norma gathered what little food and water they had. The men laid the body into the hole and covered it with earth. All of them, including the children, stood silently while Reverend Ron read the twenty-third psalm. Norma said “Amen,” the children repeating it.

They trooped back to the fire and took the snacks and water from Norma. No one spoke, wanting to make the meal last. Almost absent-mindedly Reverend Ron asked, “Where’s Joachim?”

“He walked into the jungle,” Thomas said. “I thought he was going to pee behind a tree.”

Reverend Ron and Norma glanced at each other but said nothing. But Thomas knew, “H-He left us, didn’t he?”

 “He went for help,” Reverend Ron replied.

“Be honest with the children,” Norma said. “He deserted us. But we’re better off without him. He was here only for the money.”

“We’ll make do without him,” Reverend Ron assured everyone.

       And they tried very hard to do without him. Reverend Davies and Norma took turns standing watch to keep the fire going while the children slept. 

The jungle turned into a matte-black void, like stepping into a foul smelling closet without lights, windows, or ventilation. But there were noises. Hundreds and hundreds of noises from things rustling and scurrying through the underbrush and overhead in the trees. Suddenly there would be a violent clash and a desperate shriek, almost human, and the jungle would again fall into absolute silence, as if hiding, waiting for the bad thing to pass. Slowly the noises would rebuild. Until the next cycle of angry clash and unearthly shriek.

Norma stared at the fire and the night beyond. She was concerned but she knew everything would turn out all right. It always did. But she was sorry for Ronald. This shouldn’t have happened to him. This adventure had already cost him so much. The church had refused to support him in this quest to bring Jesus to this last lost tribe in the Amazon.

The Brazilian government had announced that no one was to approach this newly discovered tribe until they, in consultation with noted anthropologists and psychologists from around the world, decided how best to make contact. There were to be no further flights over the area or foot incursions into the region without government approval.

Reverend Davies could not launch a fundraiser for fear of tipping off the American or Brazilian authorities, so he quit his ministry, pulled out their life savings, and sold their home, cars, and everything of value to finance this trip, even borrowing from a few trusting souls, not knowing how he would ever repay them. Norma understood. This was his destiny. He had been chosen to bring Christ to this innocent tribe while the Brazilian government muddled over the pseudo-scientific methods of integrating them into the evils of civilization.

Morning light came swiftly. The forest turned from black to underwater blue to heavily shaded light. Birds rustled in the trees. But they did not sing or warblethey screeched and screamedas  if they, too, were terrified at the hostile world around them.

 The heat and humidity became oppressive. Gnats and bugs stuck to their sweat and swirled around their eyes and lips. Reverend Ron rose stiffly to his feet and started to talk about getting organized but Thomas interrupted him. “Papa, there are people out there.” Reverend Ron turned to see Indians standing among the trees, not moving. Men only. Naked. Carrying spears, blowpipes, bows and arrows. Their bodies and faces splashed with red pigment.

“Ron?” Norma said.

But Reverend Ron motioned her to silence. He picked up his Bible and raised it over his heart.

One of the Indians reacted by puffing into a blowpipe. The dart thunked against the Bible. Reverend Davies pulled the book away to look at the embedded dart. One of the Indians dashed in to snatch the Bible, running back to show the others. All seemed amazed that the dart had not penetrated through the Bible.

“Slowly pull out the boxes of Bibles,” Reverend Davies instructed Norma.

Norma nudged the boxes forward with her foot. The Indians rushed to pull the Bibles from the boxes, each wanting his own. Some whacked others to take possession of their prize. Norma could not keep the excitement from her voice, “They love the Bibles! They really love them.”

       “Try the crucifixes now,” Reverend Ron said.

Norma found the box of crucifixes and pushed it forward.   The Indians peered in cautiously, reaching in slowly, as if the boxes were filled with snakes. One studied the artifact for a long moment before flinging it at the nearest tree. He let out a disappointed huuumph when it bounced off the tree trunk. He tried again. And again it bounced back at him. He picked it up and walked over to one of the others to strike him over the head with it. The second Indian howled and rubbed his head and held his hand out to see if there was blood. The first Indian smiled, satisfied, and tucked the crucifix into the cord around his waist.

This was a signal for the others to rush the box to fight over this second set of prizes, using the crosses quite effectively on each other’s heads. “No, No,” Norma shouted, “They’re not for fighting! Please stop! Please stop!”

The Indians stopped, but only to stare at her. The tallest of the group, who appeared to be the leader, walked up to survey Norma from head to foot. She was slightly overweight, on the softer side, with short grey hair. She was wearing a man’s shirt and blue jeans. He ran his hand across her breasts, then jammed it into her crotch and laughed, saying something to the others. Norma stumbled back in shock.

Reverend Ron said angrily, “What are you…” but was stopped in his tracks by a dozen spears pointed at his chest.

The leader stepped over to little Joannie to drag his fingers through her blond hair. He leaned forward to sniff the color. He barked a command and several men grabbed both Joannie and Norma, pulling them into the jungle. Both screamed, reaching back for Reverend Ron, but he didn’t dare move as spears were pressed tight against his body.

Thomas made an attempt to intercede the only way he knew how—he grabbed his prized bible and pulled out a beautiful reproduction of the crucifixion, showing a handsome but tortured Jesus looking down from the cross, surrounded on a hillside of other men being crucified, Roman guards with long spears standing at the foot of his cross.

Thomas held out the reproduction, jabbing at it, yelling, “Look! Look! This is why we are here! To bring Jesus to you! We are on a mission!”

One of the Indians plucked the paper away. Several peered at it as if they had never seen a piece of paper before. They flipped it over to see what was on the other side, then dangled and shook it to see if the small men would fall off. One held it up to sunlight to peer through it. In his keenness, he ripped the page, only to receive several smacks across the back of his head for his stupidity. They finally handed the page over to the leader. He looked at it and then at Reverend Ron and Thomas and made a noise that sounded like hummmph, nodding to his warriors to bring them along, too. They were beaten savagely, then tied together with crude ropes and dragged into the jungle.

At a clearing of huts and smoldering camp fires, the women and children stopped all activity to stare at the strange men being pulled into the camp. Reverend Ron saw little Joannie and Norma huddled together in one of the huts. He glanced across the clearing and was shocked to see Joachim sprawled on the ground, battered and bloody. “They must have caught him during the night,” he whispered to Thomas.

The leader stepped forward to shout something, holding out the reproduction of the crucifixion. Everyone ran forward to take a look. The chief held it overhead, turning around for all to see. He finally gestured for them to make space so he could put it on the ground, weighing it down with large stones. The crowd pushed forward to closely inspect the picture, making comments, laughing, and pushing each other merrily.

When he was satisfied that everyone had had a turn, the chief spoke sharply to his warriors and they shouted a response and brandished their spears and began dancing in a circle, which was a signal for others in the camp to begin blowing horns and banging on drums.  Let the games begin, was the only thing that Reverend Ron could think of, unable to imagine what was going to happen next.

With another shout, the leader walked over to the prostrate form of Joachim. A small gang of warriors walked into the clearing carrying two stout tree limbs. They fiddled with twine and crude tools to fashion a cross. They referred to the reproduction of the crucifixion to securely fasten Joachim’s hands and feet with twine but also drove in large splinters of thick bamboo. Joachim bellowed in pain. They lifted the contraption off the ground to stabilize it vertically. They stepped back, proud of their work. A few stepped forward to stab Joachim with their spears, enjoying the moment.

A handful of men came out of the forest carrying more stout tree limbs. Reverend Ron realized at that moment he was to be crucified for his belief in Jesus Christ.

*          *          *

      It would be six months before the Brazilian government, under the auspices of the United Nations, accompanied by several prominent anthropologists, linguists, and psychologists, protected by a platoon of soldiers, ventured into this deepest part of the jungle to make contact with the flecheiros. They were stunned to find that the warriors had tattered, weather beaten bibles dangling across their chests, held in place by fiber cords, as totems against evil. Even more stunning was the row of crosses on the edge of the tiny village that held both fresh and decaying bodies. No one was able to explain how the tradition of crucifixion of their enemies had begun with the flecheiros.

None of the government people noticed the small, filthy, unkempt girl in a tattered dress, with dirty matted blond hair, who hid behind the other Indian children, terrified of what these newcomers might do to her.


Night of The Longhouse

Jerome W. McFadden

(Featured, Sept/Oct 2016)

Richard Turnball looked like a pale whale sprawled across the pool lounge chair. He stirred now and then, in spite of himself, to sip on a fruity purple drink that sported a silly ass umbrella toothpick and to puff on a stale cigar. The South China Sea sparkled in the distance, the late morning sun playing across endless variations of aquamarine and turquoise blue. The rolling hills behind the resort sported a thousand shades of green foliage. He was truly one with nature, at this moment - in his own smug, self satisfied way.

His center of attention, of course, was fixed on the handful of attractive women splashing in and out of the swimming pool, modestly hiding their female assets in string bikinis and wet thongs. He thought about pulling his t-shirt back on to protect his smooth, protruding belly from the imposing tropical sun but he was too relaxed to make the effort.

Rachel would be back soon. She had announced over breakfast that they would go into Kuching this afternoon to see the Grand Bazaar, where she would spend hours shopping for woven baskets, multi-colored sarongs, and cheap sandals carved from worn out tire treads. This tedium would be magnified by her manic need to “bargain” with the natives (“They expect it, you know. It’s how they do business.”) Turnball would keep his silence, but inwardly sigh, if you calculate the exchange rate, you’re arguing over twenty-five freaking cents. Give the woman the goddamned quarter and move on for God’s sake.

Immediately after breakfast this morning, she had rushed off to tour the Sarawak Cultural Village, a collection of “authentic” huts and houses that represented the ethnic lifestyles of the semi-naked tribes that used to haunt the local jungles. Turnball had begged off, citing Borneo Belly. This was their first “long weekend” together, a short hop from super modern Singapore to the bush of East Malaysia. He had anticipated a long weekend in bed. She apparently saw it as a weekend adventure for an Indiannette Jones. He would put up with it, assuming that even jungle explorers came back to bed now and then.

“Rich, honey, get dressed. I’ve booked us a tour.”

He swiveled around, startled. He did not expect her back this soon. “Uh,gee, Rach, I don’t feel that good yet. Why don’t you go and I’ll wait for you here.”

“It’s an overnighter, Rich. Up to an Iban long house on the liSkrang River. We leave in an hour and come back tomorrow afternoon.”

“An Iban long house?”

“I’ll tell you all about it, but you need to go get dressed. Real quick.”

Turnball heard the splash behind him of one of the scantily clad females diving into the pool. “What about the hotel? We booked the room for the whole weekend.”

Rach smiled to show that she was way ahead of him. “They’re Okay with it. They’ll hold our luggage until we come back, then put us in a different room. No big deal. They do it all the time.”

His first reaction was to whine about it but decided to give in. Whatever an Iban longhouse was, it couldn’t be too bad if the resort was tied into it.

A small van waited in front of the hotel, RIVER SAFARIS stenciled on the side. They were alone, except for the driver and a guide. The driver wore a black t-shirt, jeans, and dark sunglasses. He didn’t smile when they climbed into the van. The guide wore a safari shirt with matching slacks and an oily smile. He introduced himself as Ali, and the driver as Hamid. As they shook their hands, Turnball discovered Ali had two thumbs on his right hand. Or a thumb with a hanging appendage. He tried not to look down or to show any shock, but it was upsetting. He waited until Ali turned away before wiping his hand against his slacks.

“There are only two of us?” Rachel asked.

Ali bobbed his head. “Yes, yes. It is not peak season, so you are very fortunate to be on your very own.”

Once inside, Rachel leaned over the front seat to say, “Hamid, thank you for driving us.” Hamid grunted without turning to acknowledge her.

“Hamid dos not speak English,” Ali said, “but he says you are very welcome.”

Great freaking start, Turnball thought. He glanced at the brochure on the seat beside him. This would be a two and half hour drive (two and half hours?) followed by a one hour boat ride up the river to where twenty families lived together in a long house made of wood and bamboo, with a thatched roof. Great freaking finish, too.

Rachel continued to chat with Ali as they rolled down the highway. Turnball slouched back into full boredom. It quickly became apparent that once you have seen one rubber plantation, you’ve seen them all: Endless miles of trees, all the same height, the same crown of palms, in straight anal rows, skirted by dirt paths pounded out by the tappers and sappers. The only alleviation were the rice paddies, all pancake flat between berms, rows of palm trees in the far distance. Rachel and Ali eventually (thank God!) ran out of things to talk about. Ali slumped against the front seat for a nap.

Rachel smiled at Turnball, “It’s all so beautiful, isn’t it?”

Turnball gave an imitation Hamid grunt and pretended to nap, too.

“You’re not enjoying this?”

Turnball made an effort to change the subject. He shook his right hand, nodding towards Ali. “Why doesn’t he have it removed?” he whispered. “No big deal. An outpatient routine. I could do it myself if I had an axe. Or a machete. A quick whack. A little antiseptic and a bandaid. Done.”

“Ssh, He’ll hear you,” Rachel said, horrified.

Turnball laughed, “Guy could be a hell of a hitch hiker. A twofer. Double your chances. Might cause an accident with cars piling up behind each other to stop for him.”

Rachel turned away without comment.

The rest of the trip passed in somnolent, irritated silence, until Ali directed Hamid to pull over for refreshments and toilet break at a roadside shantytown that consisted of several crumbling huts with corrugated tin roofs.The restaurant looked like a pool cabana: Four posts supporting a thatched roof over a handful of plastic tables and chairs around a small bar. Signs touted Pepsi and Tiger Beer. The Pepsi was flat and the beer warm. Suffocating heat and humidity radiated off the dirt floor. Turnball and his beer sweated together.

Rachel came back from the toilet, her usual cheerful self, to order another Pepsi. Turnball took his turn, only to discover the “toilet” was a porcelain slab with footpads surrounding a small hole. He couldn’t remember the last time he squatted for anything and he had never in his life sustained a squat with his pants around his ankles. It was like shitting in a sauna.

He became really pissed when he discovered the lack of toilet paper. There was only a low faucet, dribbling water. The long house had better be better than this, he thought to himself as he slammed the toilet door on the way out.

“You Okay?” Rachel asked.

“Just swell.”

Rachel, Ali, and Hamid were eating a brown glop called Mee Goreng. The smell made Turnball gag. His first thought was to rush back to the toilet to vomit, but that was more repulsive than the Mee Goreng, so he sucked on his warm beer and ignored all entreaties to try the food.

Back on the road, Ali became animated. “We are close now, so you should read these,” handing over brochures entitled PRECAUTIONS GOING TO AND AT THE LONG HOUSE. Turnball scanned the table of contents. His eyes locked on the sub-headings of VIPER TOURNIQUETS, PYTHON KILLINGS, MEETING WITH CROCODILES, VENOMOUS SPIDERS.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“All nonsense,” Ali said. “Liability precautions, you know? Lawyers? They told the tour owners to distribute these as a precaution. It’s nothing, really. Mehdi, the guide who will take you upriver, will take good care of you. Never mind.”

“You’re not going upriver with us?”

“No. No. I’m a city boy. Hamid, too. We don’t like this country stuff. But we’ll be back tomorrow evening, to take you back to Kuching. You’re going to have great fun.”

Rachel was avidly reading the brochure from front to back. At least one of us will know what to do when some venomous viper sucking spider attacks us, he thought cynically.

Several long, narrow, boats were beached on the pebbly shore, with a group of men standing around talking and smoking, dressed in t-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps.

One of the men pasted on a smile and hurried forward as the van bumped towards the landing. His smile grew wider when Rachel stepped out of the van. “Hello, I’m Mehdi.

Welcome. Very nice to be seeing you.”

Huge outboard engines were attached to the sterns of the metal canoes. Mehdi shouted to the other men who immediately manhandled one of the boats into the shallow water. Mehdi motioned for Rachel and Turnball to follow, wadding up to their knees to the side of canoe. Rachel stepped lightly over the gunwale to settle. Turnball followed, awkwardly, nearly tipping the canoe, but Mehdi caught him to guide him in, then settled in behind them, the driver behind him.

The remaining men gave an immense shove and the canoe floated into the river, while the man in the back pulled over and over on the rope attached to the oversized Mercury outboard. Ali and Hamid stood beside the van, shouting, “See you. See you.” Or at least Ali shouted and waved. Hamid stood with his arms crossed, staring at them.

Rachel waved back, “See you tomorrow evening.” Turnball gripped both sides of the boat and stared straight ahead, reassured when he heard the Mercury outboard roar to life.

The canoe shot forward as the outboard’s propellers bit into the deep channel. The breeze was refreshing and Turnball relaxed for the first time since leaving the resort, although he had to be careful not to shift around too much, causing the boat to roll with his weight.

After a while, even with the breeze, the sun began to bake. He noted the thick shade that covered both banks and yelled back at Mehdi “Can’t we ride in the shade?”

Mehdi couldn’t hear him over the outboard but Rachel passed the message along. Mehdi said something and laughed. Rachel grinned and shouted over the noise, ”Mehdi says that is no good. Sometimes the snakes fall out of the trees into the boats. He also says you should not drag your hand in the water. There are sometimes bad things in the water.”

Turnball said, “Shit,” jerking his hand out of the water. It took forty minutes to arrive at the long house landing. Another collection of canoes with oversized outboards were waiting on that beach, with more men sitting around talking and smoking. A handful of naked children splashed in the shallows and waved to them. The driver killed the motor as several men waded out to pull the canoe to the shore. Mehdi was quickly out of the boat, shouting, “Come. Come.”

Rachel slipped over the side and into the water. Turnball started but again tipped the boat. Two men grabbed him by the armpits to save him from a face flop into the river. No one laughed but he suspected they were snickering behind his back.

Mehdi had Rachel by the arm, leading her to the grass beyond the beach. Turnball heard, smelled, and then spotted a pigpen, while chickens grubbed in the dirt in front of him. The clearing was dominated by an immense hovel with a corrugated tin roof, built on stilts. “Your time is good,” Mehdi said. “We have time to talk, then some dances, maybe some shopping, and then supper.”

Shopping? Dances?

A huge log notched with footholds substituted as a ladder led up the veranda, which appeared to be an endless front porch, the length of two football fields. A crowd of people, mostly women and children, milled around in small groups, gossiping, sewing, cooking, and napping on the porch floor. No one paid any attention to them. Mehdi led them to a large straw mat, chasing away a gaggle of children. “Wait here. I will find the Chief to welcome you. He will be pleased to talk to you.”

“I thought they were expecting us,” Turnball said.

“But they didn’t know exactly when we would get here,” Rachel replied.

They surveyed the veranda: a blend of Main Street and front porch for twenty or more families that lived in the rooms that opened onto the deck. The only “primitives” Turnball saw were a few scraggly toothed, bare chested old women in sarongs. The younger women wore flowered print ankle length dresses that were fashionable in Kansas in the 1940’s.

“Do you see that?” Rachel said, looking up towards the rafters.

“What?” Turball said, looking up for bats or snakes or spiders or something else equally menacing. but only spotted a signed poster of Miss Iowa 2007. Now that was a woman!

“In the rafters. The bones and little heads.”

“Bones and little heads?”

“These people were headhunters not that long ago.”

Turnball squinted harder. “Headhunters?”

“Fierce warriors. Manhood and leadership were equated with the number of heads that a man could collect. They told us all about it at the Cultural Village.”

Turnball finally saw the shrunken heads hidden in the upper notches of the ceiling. “Those are real?”

“This is so cool,” Rachel said, just as the Mehdi came back with the Chief and a second man. Both of them looked a thousand years old. with leathery, wrinkled, skin and stiff knees. Mehdi squatted beside Rachel. “This is the Chief, the tuai rumah, and the Shaman. They are pleased to meet you. They do not speak English. I will translate.”

“We are honored to meet them,” Rachel said.

“Shaman?” Turnball said. “Like Medicine Man?”

Mehdi nodded. “More or less.”

“Do you do voodoo tricks? Or fly around like Harry Potter?” Turnball asked, waving his hands in the air as if conjuring up a magic spell and adding “Woooooo!”

“Richard!”

“I understand,” Mehdi said. “A joke.” He spoke to the two men. They laughed politely.

“Is there anything else you would like to ask them?”

The only other thing Turnball could think of was why the freaking hell do you live here? But Rachel jumped in with a slew of questions about the long house, the living arrangements, and the school for the children, causing an endless back-and- forth in two languages that would put a dedicated missionary to sleep.

Turnball gazed around, noting television sets flickering in some of the rooms, and heard Lady Gaga on someone’s cassette player. Most of the kids wore shorts and t-shirts, but all were barefooted. The Chief and shaman wore short sleeved plaid shirts and jeans. All they’re missing are plastic pocket protectors, Turnball thought.

Flies buzzed everywhere, causing their little group to continually flick their hands across their faces. Scruffy looking dogs wandered across the straw mat and out the other side. “We need some refreshment,” Mehdi said, clicking his fingers at someone. A teenage girl instantly appeared with a tray of porcelain pots and plastic cups. “This is Tuak,” Mehdi said, “rice wine."

Turnball laughed, “Rice wine? How do you order that in a restaurant? ‘Today we have a fine white rice or, if you prefer, a tasty brown wild rice with a faint hint of water buffalo and bare feet.’” The others looked at each other, not having a clue what he was talking about. Rachel stared at him in smoldering rage. But the wine was good. Chilled. Sweet. It went down fast. Turnball had another. And another. The Chief want away. They probably told him why but Turnball was no longer paying attention. The rice wine was doing a number on him. The Chief returned, dressed in braided vest and fringed skirt of palm leaves, with a headdress of long feathers. He carried a shield and a machete. Somebody banged on a gong and the Chief started slapping the machete against the shield and making jerky dance steps.

Turnball cackled, “You’re freaking ferocious, old man! My head’s shrinking just looking at you!”

“Shut up, Richard,” Rachel snarled.

Turnball filled his own cup one more time. The Chief danced away, as gracefully as a stiff-in- the-knees 80 year old can dance. “Good stuff!” Turball shouted. ”You can dance with my stars anytime.”

The teenage girl came returned, wearing a knee length straw dress covered with braided decorations and random sequins, wearing another feather headdress. Again with the gong. She flicked her hands and twitched her hips and swirled to the music.

Nice butt, Turnball noted, and probably other good things hidden under that ethnic nun outfit. He took another shot of wine.

Things became jumbled. He remembered Mehdi helping him outside to pee in the bushes. Somebody brought bowls of roasted chicken and sticky rice. They ate with their hands. He peed again, and when he came back several women were squatting in front of Rachel offering her reed baskets and wooden bracelets and sandals. Mehdi had disappeared, but left behind the pot of wine. Great guy, Turnball said to himself, really great guy.

“Are you interested in these?” Rachel asked.

“Wha?”

A blow pipe with darts. A machete. An imitation shrunken head carved from a small wooden block. Turnball took the blow pipe and started spitting darts at the wall. They hit with satisfying plunks.

Then he woke up, surprised. The veranda was deserted. He started to get to his feet but a hand on his shoulder pushed him back down. Mehdi. “Here is a blanket. You should sleep here.”

“Where’s Rach?”

“Women guests sleep with one of the families.”

“Tha-That’s not fair.”

“It is our way.”

Turnball grunted and stood, saying, “Well, screw that.” He walked along the veranda yelling “Rach! Where are you?”

No response, which made him angrier. This was supposed to be their weekend together. Not a goddamn slumber party with a bunch of jungle sisters.

Mehdi lead him back to the straw mat. He suddenly had a headache. And was tired. Mehdi handed him a pillow.

He woke to the sound of music. The veranda was deserted. Out in the yard there was a group of teenagers around a small bonfire, smoking and talking softly, laughing among themselves. Turnball pulled himself up and walked out to join them.

He recognized the girl that had danced for them. A white t-shirt and tight jeans proved that she had been hiding things under that native dress.

The group broke up as he approached. But the teenage girl remained, waiting for him. He gave her his best smile. If you’re not near the one you love, love the one you’re near, he told himself. He pulled out some dollars, just in case that was the way things were done out here.

* * *

They woke Rachel with a fuss. “Missy, Missy, your man gone.” Early morning sunlight came through the windows slats. “Gone?” Rachel asked in confusion, still half asleep. “What do you mean, ‘gone?”

“Last night, he leave house to pee-pee. No come back.”

Rachel slowly sat up, her back sore from sleeping on the hard floor. “I don’t understand.”

Mehdi knelt in front of her, “It seems Richard got up in the middle of the night to pee outside the compound. In the jungle. He seems to be lost.”

“Jungle bad place,” said the woman who had been jabbering at her.

Rachel stood up. “W-What can I do?”

Mehdi smiled to reassure her. “Wait here. We are looking everywhere. You should not go into the jungle. We are asking the authorities for their help. Have breakfast with the women and stay here.”

She stayed. But nothing happened. Mehdi appeared around noon and told her that she should go back with the canoe. Ali would be at the landing waiting for her.

There was nothing she could do, and she would be better off back at the resort. Rachel protested but finally understood no one wanted her here, as if she was getting in the way.

She went back to the resort and waited. For a week. But she had to go back to her job. Ali came to say goodbye, accompanied by a policeman who apologized and said there was no new news but they would contact her when they had something to report. He took the details of Turnball’s employer in Singapore and family in the USA and her contact numbers in Singapore.

There was no further news. As if Richard was forgotten. He had walked into the jungle, probably still intoxicated, and disappeared from the face of the earth.

Then one day, Rachel’s secretary brought a small box into her office. “A messenger just left this for you.”

Rachel took the box. There was no writing on it, no mailing address, no return address. “Are you sure this is for me? Who brought it in? UPS? DHL? The Post Office?”

The secretary shrugged, “Just a boy wearing a motorcycle helmet. He said it was for you, then left.”

Rachel tore off the brown wrapping paper. She used a metal letter opener to pry open the wooden lid. Rachel recognized Richard’s face, even though it had a dark brown tinge. It was shrunken to the size of a small grapefruit, with stitching through the eyes and mouth, the perfect artifact of a forgotten craft.

Rachel fainted.


The Top Ten . . .Writing Gurus:

Jerome W. McFadden

I often get the impression that there are more people teaching writing than there are people actually writing. Blogs, books, conferences, seminars, workshops, camps and retreats, etc. There is obviously money to be made teaching others how to write, and I have spent more than a few bucks chasing after writing gurus, both false and true. The following are the ones I currently follow, for what that is worth. Note: I am listing them in alphabetical order (except for the last two), as it would be unfair to rank them as each brings different insights to the writing struggle.

Note 2: All of these folks have their own blog and website dedicated to writing.

1. James Scott Bell - Jim is a popular and frequent speaker at major writing conferences. His presentations are low key and entertaining, and he goes out of his way to be approachable when not speaking. He has published four books on writing - Plot & Structure, Revision & Self Editing, The Art of War for Writers, and Conflict & Suspense. He is among the crowd of lawyers who have turned from law to writing. He has a long string of best selling thrillers and mysteries, with a myriad of awards to back them up.

2. William Bernhardt - Again, another attorney turned writer (Maybe being a lawyer is boring?). He, too, is a popular conference and seminar speaker, and also goes out of his way to work and talk with attendees. Bill currently has a series of 7 books on the different aspects of writing, including Plot, Creating Character, Story Structure, Dialogue, Style, and Editing. His own fiction specialty is courtroom drama (big surprise?), and mysteries. His Red Sneaker Writer blog has a fanatical following.

3. Tim Grahl - Tim’s efforts focus on helping authors and writers create their platform, to sell more books, and to connect with their readers. He does this through his consulting company and his two books -Your First 1000 Copies, and Book Launch Blueprint. He issues frequent podcasts on book marketing, building the platform, and book launches.

4. Steven James - Steven has written more than 30 books, including several mystery series, inspirational nonfiction books, prayer collections, a YA series, and a book series on creative storytelling. His classic on fiction writing is Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules.

5. D.P. Lyle, M.D.D.P is a practicing cardiologist in California who somehow finds time to write novels, as well as teach the world more than it may want to know about forensics. He has seven thrillers/mysteries. His non-fiction forensic books includeForensics for Dummies, Forensics, A Guide for Writers, Forensic Science, Murder & Mayhem, and Forensics And Fiction. In his spare time he consults for TV and movies, such as Law & Order, CSI-Miami, House, Cold Case, Royal Pains, among others. Oh yeah, he also consults directly with writers. teaches at conferences, and runs a blog.

6. Gabriela Pereira- Garbriela is a recent addition to the conference scene, originally focusing on how to write Middle Grade novels, but now on the basic structures of writing. She is an energetic, engaging, teacher who goes out of her way to work with listeners between sessions. Her major tome, DIY MFA just launched in July, to great reviews. The book emphasizes the basics of writing, what writers should be reading, and building your own writing community. Attending her lecture and spending an hour with her afterwards kick-started my efforts on my own MG novel.

7. Steven Pressfield- Steven’s life story sounds like a novel about a young man struggling to become a writer. His day jobs included being a U.S. Marine, an ad man, a school teacher, a tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout, mental hospital attendant, fruit-picker, and screen writer. He hit the big time in 1995 with his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance,which became a major film. He has since written 18 books, including novels and non-fiction. His manuals include The War of Art, Do the Work, The Warrior Ethos, Turning Pro.His newest book also just appeared in July,No One Wants to Read Your SH*T - a must read for any writer!

8. Phil Sexton - Phil is an insider’s insider in the publishing world. He has worked in the book world for more than 20 years. This includes managing several indie bookstores, major positions in the magazine business, and at publishing houses. He is currently the Publisher atWriter’s Digest. He is the author of A Picture Is Worth a 1,000 Words and Legends of Literature. His talks at conferences and seminars, as well as his blogs, focus directly on the mechanics of marketing your books and outlining the inside truths of the publishing world. If you have a chance to listen to him, or read his blogs - Do it!

9. My Critique Group - Often times I do not agree with what they say about my writing, until I get home and think about if for a day or two, then say to myself, “OMG, they’re right.” The group has a wide spectrum of personalities who write different genres, which gives interesting insights that might not happen if we were all devoted to the same category of writing. The trick is to listen, to really listen, to what your group is saying about your writing, and about the writing of others. If you are attending a group to just receive praise for your writing, you would be better off staying home to read your stories to your friends and family.

10. My Butt in the Chair - If you don’t have it in on paper (or computer screen), you haven’t written it yet. If you haven’t rewritten it, you have written it yet. If you haven’t rewritten the rewrite, you haven’t written it yet. You learn to write by writing, and then rewriting over and over. Nobody said it was going to be easy.




They

 

Jerome W. McFadden

(March, 2013)

                                                           

 

 

I am mad. Irrevocably insane. Everyone says so. Because I see strange things in the cornfield behind our house in the late evening.

 

They are not ghosts. But their bodies are pale, effervescent, iridescent , never firm. Their movements blend between a shimmer and erratic darting about. And I hear their voices, but nothing verbal, more like musical tones. High pitches and low notes. The sounds do not sound menacing but they cause an unease, a foreboding.

 

My husband Earl laughed at me in the beginning. He would watch me standing out on the patio, staring at the cornfield as the sun went down, then tease me, asking me if I was seeing my cornfield people again, Sweetie? I would point at them when they came out but he could never see them. I would motion him to be quiet but he could never hear them, either. But I could see them and I could hear them, and there were more and more of them every week.

 

Earl finally got angry. He put on his hunting clothes and hiking boots and pulled out his shotgun and loaded it, then took his good flashlight, the kind the police use, and said if there is something out there, he’d damn well find them and chase them away. Was I going to come along or not? I backed away. No way was I going out there and I didn’t want him to go either. But he slammed the back door and left.

 

He came back empty handed and even angrier. There is nothing out there, he said, so stop your nonsense now.

 

But more of them come. A few more each evening. I see them weaving in and out of the corn stalks and through the adjacent trees, singing to each other, whistling to get each other’s attention, as if they’re exploring the new world around them. I dare not stop watching. I can’t take the time to cook supper for Earl anymore, and I no longer have the time to come inside to watch television. Earl has to come out to steer me back into the house to go to bed. Some nights I slip back out to watch – but he always catches me and gets infuriated, roughly pulling me into the house.

 

He takes me into the city to see the doctor. I am physically fine, the doc says. Blood pressure a little high but nothing to be worried about yet. A small pill of Diovan every day will take care of that. I am in great shape, for a woman my age, yes indeed, he says. But he adds two more prescriptions for Earl to take to the drugstore. Xanax and Prozac. If one doesn’t work, we will try the other.

 

The first one makes me drowsy for most of the day. Not getting anything done. Don’t really care either. A nuclear bomb coming down our chimney ain’t going to bother me much. But they are still out there. Coming closer. I can tell.

 

We’re on to the second prescription. But we must have over done the dose because I am now lost in my own head. Dreams. Memories. Long periods of nothing. Earl has to feed me and take me back to my bed. And pull me out of the bed to take me to the toilet, if it ain’t already too late. Then I lie on the sofa and watch the ceiling while he cleans the sheets and does the laundry.

 

But I can still hear them. Late at night. Their songs penetrate the fog of the pills. They are coming closer. Now almost to the edge of the back yard. I slip out of bed, trying not to wake Earl, fully awake myself for the first time of the day, to stand on the patio in my nightgown. They are looking at me now, pointing. Talking at me,. I can tell. It’s a warm summer evening but I feel a chill and need to hug my arms around my body to keep warm.

 

Earl comes busting out of the sliding doors, angry as hell, saying I am goddamn crazy standing out here in the middle of the night in my bare feet and half nude. He hits me. For the first time in our married life. In the morning I have a huge black eye and Earl is crying and hugging me and saying he’s sorry and he will never do it again and I gotta forgive him. I don’t say anything. I don’t care one way or the either.

 

We go in to the city to see another doctor. But this one doesn’t give any pills. At least not yet. Just talks to me. And talks and talks, asking me stupid questions about my family and my father and how I felt about Earl and if we are still having sex and do I feel like going somewhere for a rest?

 

I told him I didn’t want to go. I need to stay home. I need to watch them. They’re getting closer.

 

He and Earl have a long talk afterwards. More pills. No big surprise to that. But now a woman comes into the house to watch after me while Earl is off at work. I don’t remember her name but she’s pleasant enough. Feeds me well. Makes sure I make it to the toilet. Lets me sleep. Earl comes home after work to take over. Gives me a lot more pills at bed time.

 

But they don’t work. I can still hear them out there. But I can’t get up now as Earl has me strapped down in a cot in the spare bedroom. I can’t move my wrists or ankles. And they’re talking to me now, just outside the windows.

 

Earl has to go on a trip for work, so the woman comes to stay day and night. It’s going to work out. She put togeher a schedule for me, for when to eat and when to pee and when to do the other things I need to do. She dresses me and fits on my shoes for me. It’s nice, I think.

 

One night she sees me listening and trying to look out the window. Asks what I’m hearing. I tell her. She nods, smiling to herself. Then stands up to walk me outside to the

patio.

 

They’re there. Excited at seeing someone new. But she doesn’t see them. Or hear them, just like Earl. I take her hand and pull her past the patio into the yard so she can be closer to them. Surrounded by them. But she puts her hands on her hips and stares around the yard and out into the corn fields and trees and says she doesn’t see or hear a thing. It makes me so mad I pick up the rake Earl has left in the yard and hit her with it. Again and again. Damn her. Damn her. Broke the handle but I keep hitting her with the rake head.

 

They take her away. That surprises me. They take her by the arms and legs and pull her into the forest.

 

Earl comes home two days later and asks me why the woman isn’t here. He is really mad. The house is disheveled and my clothes are soiled and the toilets are backed up. I tell him. I tell him they took her. Out into the trees. Which makes Earl even angrier. He hits me again. Says I’m lying. Says I drove the woman away. Says I’m a crazy bitch and he can’t take it anymore. I say she is out there in the trees. With them.

 

He looks at me funny. Then goes out the back door, telling me to stay here, do not  leave the house.

 

Takes him a long time, but he comes storming back, even angrier than before. I am waiting for him at the back door. I blast him with both barrels of the shotgun. Blowing him past the patio table, right out into the yard.

 

I sit down on the patio chair and wait. They come in the evening, really excited to snatch another body. They drag Earl away, singing and whistling just as I thought they would.

 

So now I’m waiting here at the house with the shotgun to see if anyone else will show up.

 

They’d like that.




Jerome W. McFadden has always been afraid of cornfields. Now he knows why.



The Professor
Jerome W. McFadden
(November, 2012)

He asked the question in his usual patronizing manner, looking directly at me, “Do you know the difference between ignorance and apathy?”

I hated Freshman English. No matter how we answered his questions, Professor Weatherly would mock us with a caustic, sarcastic response. We were, in his mind, the Barbarians at the gate of knowledge.

I squirmed, wallowing in the collective silence as my fellow students gratefully distanced themselves from Weatherly’s victim–me.

Inspiration clicked. I had nothing to lose. I said, “I don’t know…and I don’t give a damn.”

The students gasped.

Professor Weatherly smiled. 



A Story to Tell

Jerome W. McFadden
(November, 2012)

We were walking in the desert. My wife said, “You wouldn’t know a good story if it bit you.”

“I am a writer. I know a good story when I see it.”

At the edge of the arroyo we saw a weather beaten old wagon with broken wheels and arrows sticking out of it. Barrels and tools were scattered about. We hurried down.

Hidden beneath the wagon was a box of gold coins but as I reached for it a rattlesnake sprang from nowhere to bite me on the wrist.

My wife said,“Now you have a story to tell.”
 


 Suicide 
Jerome W. McFadden
 (Featured, March 2012)

He was standing on the stepladder, facing me. He glanced at me as I came in through the garage door but continued to adjust the rope around his neck. The top end of the rope was secured to the overhead garage beam. The other end was quickly becoming an expertly knotted hangman’s noose. I was about to ask what the hell he thought he was doing but he kicked away the stepladder before I could get my mouth open.


Instinct propelled me forward. I managed to wrap both my arms around his legs just as he hit the end of the rope There was a sharp jerk and a heavy grunt but I pushed upward with all my strength in the same instant.


“You OK?” I asked, trying to regain my breath. I could feel he was alive. We had achieved a delicate balance with me carrying the brunt of his weight but his neck cinched against the taught rope. I could not lift my head high enough to see his face. I was in fact talking into his crotch.


There was a long silence, followed by a hoarse, “What…the…f—k …do…you…think…you’re…doing?”


“What the f--k do you think I’m doing?” I replied, resenting his tone.


“Meddling.”


“Don’t bother to say thanks.”


He tried to wiggle his crotch away from my face, saying, “I hope you’re not some kind of pervert.”


“If I feel you’re getting a hard on, I’ll let you drop. How’s that for a deal?”


He didn’t speak for a moment, as if considering the deal, but then said, “I think this was a mistake.”


“Hanging yourself or me stopping you from hanging yourself?”


“Hanging myself.”


“Had a change of mind once you kicked away the ladder?”


“How you going to get me down?”


Good question. I hadn’t thought about that up to this moment. I was too busy just holding him. I looked around. He had kicked the stepladder out of reach and there was nothing else within six feet of us.


“You got a knife on you?” he asked, his voice still a hoarse whisper but amazingly calm.


“I have a Swiss Army knife, but it’s at home.”


“My hero.”


“What if I lift you up? You put your feet on my shoulders and then maybe you can reach the beam to untie the rope.”


“I got a rope cinched tight around my neck and you want me to balance on your shoulders to reach the beam?”


“All right. I’ll lift up a little to put some slack in the rope and then you try to stick your thumbs under the noose to loosen it, OK? Maybe you can pull the noose up and off?”


Silence, then, “OK, that might work.”


I awkwardly pushed his legs up as I high as I could and he raised his hands to insert his thumbs inside the noose - but the quick shift in his weight made me lose my balance and lurch backwards, causing him to gag with a loud squawk, with his eyes popping out like huge marbles as the noose cinched even tighter around his neck.


“Sorry,” I mumbled sheepishly, once we were back under control.


His voice came back in a very low whisper, “My f--king thumbs are caught under the noose.”


“I guess that eliminates trying to reach the beam?”


“Jesus, this really hurts,” he croaked.


“You were going to hang yourself and you didn’t think it would hurt?”


“I thought it was going to be a little quicker than this.”


“Why not take sleeping pills? Or gas yourself in your car? No pain, no muss.”


“I’m flat broke. I wasn’t going to waste a hundred bucks on a bottle of fancy sleeping pills just to kill myself. And my car was repo’d last week.”


I shifted my arms slightly, trying to avoid a cramp.


“Goddamn it, be careful, will ya?”


“I guess you’re not Catholic?”


“What the f--k has that got to do with anything?”


“Catholics think you go to hell when you commit suicide.”


“I’m about to die here and you’re worrying about me going to hell?”


“Seemed appropriate.”


“You Catholic?”


“No.”


“Then why the hell did you bring it up?”


“Forget about it. I was just making conversation while we figured out what to do with you. What the f--k are you doing hanging yourself in Chuck’s garage, anyway?”


“Chuck is away for the weekend and I didn’t have any other place to do it. What are you doing here?”


“He said I could use his hedge trimmer. Just come  and get it out of the garage while he’s away.”


“You a friend of Chuck’s, too? I’m surprised we haven’t met.”


“Just lucky up to now, I guess.”


“What the hell does that mean?”


“Your friend is away for the weekend and you hang yourself in his garage? He comes home on Monday and finds you hanging here. He’s in shock but he’s gotta get you down, call the police, explain who you are, then clean up the mess. Who the hell would want  you as a friend?”


“The schmuck deserves it. He got me into this mess.”


A ring tone went off over my head.


“You gotta cell phone?” I asked.


“Shirt pocket.”


“Who’s ever calling can help us out for chrissakes!”


“You gonna reach for it? My thumbs are trapped upside my neck!”


That was pure sarcasm. He knew damn well that I couldn’t reach it. The ringing finally stopped. “That was probably the bitch, anyway,” he said.


“Is that what this is all about?”


“Whatever. I am flat ass broke. I’ve lost my job and the bitch says we ain’t got a future together. I ain’t got a damn place to go except to the end of this rope.”


“She sounds a bit shallow."


“So what are you, a marriage counselor?”


“If you were both in love, you could work it out.”


“Thank you Dr. Phil. She doesn’t work. She’s just a housewife and her old man barely has a pot to piss in, so she wouldn’t get a dime if she divorced him.”


“She’s married?”


“A neighbor of Chuck’s. He introduced us. Said he thought we would be a real match. That’s why he deserves to find me here, stretched out in his garage. Probably ruin his day.”


“Maybe she’s worried about you. Does she know you’re this depressed?


“Saundra only worries about herself.”


“Saundra?”


“Yeah, Saundra. The bitch only worries about herself. No money, no honey. And I ain’t got no money.”


I shrugged my shoulders, lifting his legs a few more inches upward, saying, “I don’t think we’re going to make it.”


“What does that mean ‘you don’t think we’re going to make it’?”


“I can’t see any way out of this and I am getting tired of holding you up.”


“So you’re going to drop me just like that?”


“Yeah.”


So I dropped him. He bounced and gurgled and danced in the air and turned blue and purple with his eyes bulging out again and then fell silent.


I spent a few minutes looking for Chuck’s hedge trimmers and then walked out of the garage. I giggled to myself thinking about the sh-- fit that Chuck was going to have when he found his buddy hanging in the garage. I wondered how he was going to explain about the thumbs being caught up under the noose.


But I was keen to get home. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife Saundra about meeting her boyfriend in Chuck’s garage.


Top Ten Places I Never Want to Go Again

by Jerome W. McFadden

(March, 2012)

 

I was infected with virulent wanderlust at an early age. I have spent most of my adult life living, working, and traveling outside the USA, which has led me to some weird and wonderful places. None of the below are among them. Many of these qualify as the home town for Crimes-R-Us. All qualify as a vacation spots from hell.

 

10. Bali (Indonesia):

The tourists live in beautiful resort ghettos. Once past these walls, you are open game for every beggar, peddler, and hustler on the island. Litter & pollution are rampant in Paradise. Some of the public beaches are toxic and the Royal monkeys play with plastic shopping bags. Tourist t-shirts are the major industry. The cheap Australians infesting the beach at Nusa Dua provide no redemption.

 

9. Prague (Czech Republic):

A pristine medieval city center devoid of real life, surrounded by a conglomeration of former communist urbanization. No one lives in the center city. All of the stores, shops, and outlets hawk tourist trinkets. All of the restaurants are touristic kitsch. A city surviving on its backpacker’s reputation.

 

8. Port Au Prince (Haiti): 

Overwhelming poverty and chaos. Makes all other 3rdworld countries look good. And this was before the earthquake!

 

7. Cairo (Egypt):

A filthy city with unbelievable cultural & historic attractions. Garbage in the streets, garbage in the doorways, garbage on the roofs, Garbage in the canals. Enough dust and dirt to make you an asthmatic for life. But the Nile, the museums, and pyramids are a once in a life time experience - and you will only want to go once in your lifetime.

 

6. Johannesburg (South Africa): 

Strip mines in the center of the city. The rape capital of the world. They advise you not to walk outside of the hotel alone because of the rampant crime. An ugly urban gateway to a beautiful country with awesome geography, great vineyards, amazing game parks, and some wonderful people.

 

5. Teheran (Iran):

Grey. No personality. Even the Grand Bazaar is boring. The Ayatollahs make the Pope look like a party animal. The plethora of cops in the streets are not there to protect you. You could get arrested for breathing, blinking and having non-religious thoughts, but the most heinous crime of all is being American. The Shah had all of the good stuff and he took it with him.

 

4. Ryadh (Saudi Arabia): 

Oppressive heat. Oppressive atmosphere. Joyless. You might get arrested for laughing. You can definitely be arrested for riding in a taxi with a woman who is not your wife, mother, or daughter. Unfortunately, it is illegal for your wife, mother. or daughter to drive. But if you like to pray 5 times a day, this might be the place for you.

 

3. East St. Louis (Illinois): 

My foreign wife locked the car doors and hid under the dashboard. Looks like Beirut in the bad old days. I have never been to East or South Los Angeles but they tell me they are similar, kinda like Disneyland for gangstas. Oh, did I forget to tell you I was raised in East St. Louis?

 

2. Caracas (Venezuela): 

A deep, lovely valley surrounded by world classfavelas – slums – with all city housing and apartments having bars on all of the windows (no matter how high up) to prevent intruders, with all balconies and porches sealed off  by iron grills to keep the bad guys out. The innocents are in prison and the should-be inmates are running free. This is a way to live?

 

1. Monrovia (Liberia):

Deep poverty with spots of even deeper poverty. Another city where crime is so rampant that you are advised not leave the hotel or to walk in the streets or take a taxi alone. Did as I was told, then got mugged in the hotel lobby. A historical social experiment gone bad.



Santa Claws

Jerome W. McFadden

(Dec. 2011)

            Have I told you the story of Santa Claws? This is a story of an evil presence that has lived for hundreds and hundreds of years in the very, very far North, beyond all civilization and human reach. It is a man wearing a blood red suit with a fearsome face that is hidden behind a long matted white beard and bushy, nearly impenetrable, overgrown eyebrows.

He comes out of his frozen lair on the 25th of December, every year, to terrify young children. He slips into their homes in the dead of night through small openings or unguarded chimneys, guided to his victims by a team of ferocious shaggy animals with sharp antlers who stamp their hooves in the cold and who can smell young children from far distances.

Once in the house, Santa Claws devours any unguarded lactate drinks sitting on counters or tables as well as all baked flour compounds that are carelessly left out on small plates. It is also rumored that he mistreats any small animal, cats or dogs or hamsters or gold fish that might raise a cry of alarm. His intent inside the house is to punish young unsuspecting children for mischievous behavior known only to him.  He does this through the threat of withholding promised rewards if the desired comportment is not followed. A true convert might receive the promised gift, a reluctant follower might receive a reward but never the one promised, and a recalcitrant victim will have a dirty black lump of coal shoved into a pair of socks carelessly left around the home. 

It wasn’t always like this.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a kindly bishop named Nicolas who lived in an ancient European city.  He very much loved his parishioners and was in fact upset one winter when he discovered that two sisters did not have sufficient dowries to lure any local young men into marrying them. So, in the dark of night, he sneaked past their house and threw bags of silver coins through an open window. In the morning, the two sisters had a brilliant dowry, enough to bribe any man in the world into marrying them.

Alas, someone saw him do this (the night was not as dark as he thought!) and then people far and wide began shouting at him, “What am I? Chopped canoodle? I have no money and no one loves me, either! You throw bags to the hags but you got nothing for me?”

Bishop Nicolas did what he could, but it was never enough and the demands never ceased. Slowly he was hounded out of his parish, and then his village, and then his country, constantly driven father north to escape the incessant demands of an ungrateful public.

After he was gone, the people realized how great the bishop was, and called him a saint. Saint Nicolas. But as he disappeared into the cold north, it was mis-translated into Santa Nicolas and then Sanicole Las, then Santa Claus. But the cold and greedy people back home had turned bitter and mean and he became known him for what he is now: Santa Claws.

And now he travels through the storm tossed snowy nights of December 25th, clumping across the roofs of frightened children, scaling down their darkened chimneys with his heavy sack of unwanted items, entering their empty living rooms, shouting, “Ho, Ho, Ho, I know what you did this year!”

And the children cringe and cry, desperately trying to remember what they did this year, hoping they had behaved the way Santa Claws wanted them to. But, gradually, after years of constant torment and fear, the children finally grow older and learn that the evil Santa Claws can no longer hurt them and they can ask their parents to buy them gifts and lumps of coal in socks don’t mean anything.  They can live their lives as they want. All of which makes Santa Claws even more bitter as he returns into frozen seclusion, waiting for another year for his animals to sniff out younger children that he can terrorize. 

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