Friday, December 23, 2016

The State of Bizarro Report, vol. 1: What is Bizarro?

A certain other blogger has been making a lot of claims about Bizarro recently, most of which are highly exaggerated or outright falsehoods. In the interest of giving some positive clarity to the matter, as well as some actual history, I've decided to put together just a couple of blog posts about it. If any of the information I give here is inaccurate, PLEASE do not hesitate to contact me to correct the info.

That being said... where do we start?

A lot of people start with a seemingly simple question:


That's a good question, but it's not a simple question to answer, and that answer is inextricably tied to the origins and development of the Bizarro scene. The most basic attempt to give a guideline (and a guideline is far more important than a dictionary definition here) is this: Bizarro is the literary equivalent of the cult movie section of a local video store. This is a section full of lots of different, off-kilter, and genuinely strange movies by filmmakers like John Waters, David Lynch, Takashi Miike, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jan Svankmajer, David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin, Lloyd Kaufman, Terry Gilliam, and Yorgos Lanthimos.

That covers a lot of territory and some people find that confusing - everything from surreal art-house to low-budget shock films - but it's hard to make it any clearer in less than a thousand words of explanation. Recently, when I used that rule of thumb, the person asking responded that this guideline was "uselessly broad." And I responded, "Well if American Psycho, The Wolf Man, Dead Alive, Jacob's Ladder, Scream, Shaun of the Dead, Jaws, Videodrome, and Critters are all the same genre, how usefully narrow is that?"

EVERY genre is extremely broad, and until you understand the associated elements and the aesthetic you won't get it. All Bizarro could be classified in other genres, though not necessarily in a way that's sensible. Just like one person might argue that American Werewolf in London is a Comedy movie first and a Horror movie second, or that Bone Tomahawk is a Western first and Horror second, Bizarro is one particular metric that overlaps with a lot of other genres. And that metric is WEIRDNESS. If the appeal of something is that it is entertainingly weird, then it is Bizarro. Period. Regardless of whatever other elements are in play from any other genre or style. A lot of Bizarro is trangressive, or surreal, or absurd, or grotesque, or perverse, or incorporates horrific elements, but none of these have ever been required for a book to be considered Bizarro, only weirdness.

Is a category of weird books useful? If you don't think so, then Bizarro may not be for you. This is a category that didn't necessarily happen by design - just like Lynch didn't decide at the outset to be a cult filmmaker - but it is also not something that happened by accident. Bizarro coalesced when a tiny group of writers and small presses noticed there was a growing amount of hard-to-classify underground lit that shared some similarities. There were "Horror" authors whose work was far more weird than scary, and often darkly humorous. There were authors writing with elements of Sci-Fi that focused less on the science and more on the general weirdness of the world it allowed them to create. There were authors doing almost experimental literature that was too low-brow to be taken seriously in the academic scene and used genre elements that ghetto-ized it. And they looked around to more popular authors who were hard-to-classify like Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Roald Dahl, or Joe Lansdale, and they decided that not only was there already a genre of weird in existence, but it needed a label so that people who were into weird stuff could find it more easily.

So three presses got together and decided to brand their releases as Bizarro. It was extremely small at first, mainly limited to authors already involved with Eraserhead, Raw Dog Screaming, or the now defunct Afterbirth Books. This was 2005, when "Bizarro" was picked as the genre tag for all these previously misclassified books. Those first Bizarro authors had already been writing Bizarro since the early 2000s or even the 90s, but they'd never had a name for it. They'd never had a convenient way to communicate to readers what their stuff was all about. Bizarro, as a label, changed that.

Now, for a lot of authors whose work doesn't fit into traditional genres, Bizarro provides a haven and an opportunity to reach an audience that they may not have known existed before there was a rallying point, a short hand, a brand name. I didn't set out to write Bizarro. I know that I am not alone. I started out just writing stories that were too weird to get accepted by the Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and Lit markets I'd been submitting them to. I was getting rejected because I was submitting to the wrong places, not realizing how bizarre my work was by core genre standards. When I found Bizarro, I found the appropriate market for my work. And I was way late in the game compared to progenitors like Carlton Mellick III, Kevin L. Donihe, John Edward Lawson, D. Harlan Wilson, or Gina Ranalli. But I came to Bizarro the same way they did: seeking an outlet for a voice too weird to make it in other markets. If I hadn't found Bizarro, I might have eventually given up on ever getting published. You can only take so many rejections before you feel like your work must suck. And it's very hard to tell, especially with form rejections, if the problem is the quality of your work or that you aren't writing what the markets are looking for. If no other market is looking for your work, YOU are probably Bizarro.

Now, when I first heard of Bizarro and started to look into what it was about circa 2009, I was immediately skeptical. I looked around and got the impression that it was the paperback equivalent of Troma films and IN-YOU-FACE Gwar videos dripping with green hog semen. But this was not accurate. There were those books, don't get me wrong, and I'm not shitting on authors who write those kinds of books, but at the time it seemed to me that my weird was different from their weird.

I started to explore some Bizarro books and I was pleasantly blown away. The genre was incredibly diverse, and even titles that screamed GONZO SLIME EXPLOITATION were actually books that defied my expectations. There was something going on in this scene much deeper than superficial shock humor. There was an undercurrent of weirdness that ran through this material, from one end of the spectrum to the other. There were weird children's books and weird romances. There were incredibly well written books with cuss words in the title. It was hard for me to process. But once I got it, I had found my home.

From the time I got involved in Bizarro in 2012, the scene has only grown more diverse, more vibrant, and more creative. If anyone tells you anything else they are selling something. There are still plenty of shockingly extreme titles to choose from, as well as fabulously weird magical realism, weird noir, pop culture absurdity, high-brow strangeness, and even absurd Bizarro erotica that you can't imagine anyone jilling off to. There are so many flavors of weird here, I can hardly believe it.

And in closing the section, I'd like to visually list just a few TOTALLY BODACIOUS AND RADICALLY IN YOUR FACE TITLES that came out in the last five years, showing definitively that the Bizarro scene is not dead, oh no it's not.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Big Blue Dick: A Review of Clown Tear Junkies by Douglas Hackle

This is that painting by Munch, The Scream

Do you know that painting The Scream by Edvard Munch? Okay, now imagine that that character there in the foreground is real, and he’s called The Scream, and he doesn’t talk or make any noise at all, and he usually keeps his wavy hands next to his gaunt face unless he’s doing something else with them. And he hangs out with an immature, blue-collar jerk who takes him clubbing all the time, trying to pick up chicks. And the chicks all think the Scream’s friend is a loser, but that’s okay, because he’s got a pat response that puts them all in their place: he tells them they are 7s. Then goth chicks start to dig The Scream and he becomes a horror movie star, so the two part ways….

That’s pretty much what it’s like inside Douglas Hackle’s mind all the time.

And that’s pretty much the story The Scream, My Dog, part of Hackle’s collection Clown Tear Junkies. I spoilered the crap out of it, but you should still read it because it’s still good.

Camera zooming out for a moment, Clown Tear Junkies (WARNING: Contains zero clowns and/or circuspunk elements) is a collection of 27 very short stories. People like to use the term “absurd” to refer to this style of prose, and while some of it is absurd, Hackle’s style is much more nuanced. He draws equally from the wells of the existentially absurd turf mined by Kafka (see: Struggle of a Description); the playful, list-loving postmodernism of Barthelme; and obscure pop cultural references—Stiles from Teen Wolf makes an appearance alongside the chain-smoking Indonesian toddler of YouTube fame. What makes Hackle’s writing so much fun is his unpredictable wordplay and his juxtaposition of low brow fare and academic trivia. You’ll find quite a bit of recursive humor tying the stories together, not the least of which will be the intoxicating and addictive nature of clown tears (esp. when mixed with mime tears and mainlined—what a rush!). You’ll find yourself looking up words to see if they are in the real dictionary or at (yes, both chyme and chyle are for real). You’ll find yourself expecting the stories to be going in one direction; you’ll be surprised where they end up taking you.  

Now, there are a few moments when the stories just get downright silly, and there’s probably a story or two that doesn’t stack up to the rest of the collection. But 27 is a nice round number, and who are you to tell Hax to the Max to drop a story from his baby? I mean, these stories are like his children, and just because some of them are born with beards or flippers or lobster faces doesn’t mean you love them any less, right? Are you asking the man to pick his favorite child? What kind of a monster are you? Quit Sofie-ing his choice! When you do see one of these freak babies, do not make direct eye contact. Just keep your head down and push through to the next paragraph, which is bound to be creepily brilliant, like Crispin Glover playing Sherlock Holmes.

And there are a few moments where you think to yourself, “Is Douggie Hacksaw trying to tell me something?” It’s possible some of the stories actually have a meaning. Racism, homosexuality, intimacy, education, cosmology, music, art, life and death, puppets/poppets, chyme and chyle are all examined in varying degrees of insanity. At the end of the book, I learned that Strange House advertises within Rooster Republic books, and this seemed like a sort of conflict of interests, but nowadays networks advertise their shows on other networks, so whatever. It just makes it harder to remember which station the shows come on, but I have a TiVo, which doesn’t seem to get confused and can always figure out how to record the shows I tell it to.

I’d point out the highlights, but that’s almost the entire book. If I can only recommend three of these stories to strangers, I’d say that you, stranger, should start with The Perfect Popcorn: A Recipe, Fishing with Higginsworth Fig VII: A Tale of Denial, and Give Courtney Cute Anything She Wants.

The Scream, My Dog could really act as a sort of synecdoche here. Meaning, I could say, “You read The Scream, My Dog yet?” and you would understand that I meant, “Have you read Clown Tear Junkies by Dig Doug Hackensplatz yet?” We just have that kind of understanding of each other, don’t we, stranger?

Wait, forget it. Just read the whole damn book. We’re done here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Past's Body by Guy Anthony De Marco (Random Title 30)

 The minor wave of nausea passed quickly this time. My vision was slightly blurred, so I immediately scanned for a pair of glasses. They were on the bathroom sink, perched near the pink toothbrush.

I donned the glasses and looked into the mirror to see what today's psychotic killer looked like.

It was a she this time, and she just came out of the shower. Blonde, cute with a slightly upturned nose, and an impressive rack. I couldn't help playing with them in the mirror, pinching the nipples and licking my lips. Somewhere across space and time, I'm sure my physical body sprung a boner. It's a good thing the feelings generated by masturbation didn't get coded and transmitted, otherwise we'd lose agents far more often. As it was, when this chick woke up, all of the sensations would flood through her from the memory buffer, giving her an intense, instant orgasm. I explored her clitoris for a bit before I got back to business.

I left the bathroom, still rubbing my new-found cleavage, and found her closet. She was a pink freak, but there was a basic black, ultra-tight A-line dress tucked in the back. Her drawers were well stocked with the latest from Victoria's Secret, and I put on a thong and a push-up bra to accentuate her natural charms. As I adjusted the tits in the bra cups, I couldn't help but feel I'd seen her before. Probably in some porn vid, but that didn't seem right. Shrugging it off, I went to the box from Amazon on her kitchen table.

She was well organized, and I found a nice sharp knife to cut the tape. She was expecting a new iPad Air, but this box contained a gas-propelled pistol with five shots in the magazine. My new victim had dainty hands, so it took both of hers to hold the gun steady. Back to the closet, I dug out a black purse big enough to fit the pistol and a pair of black strappy stiletto Vera Wangs.

I knew the area and the time period well. The Ryndic Syndicate was particularly interested in the goings-on of scientists and politicians from this particular parallel universe. I snagged her wristwatch and keys from the table near the door and headed out towards Lexington Avenue.

Every step of the journey attracted every eyeball within a block on purpose. Even some women looked me up and down. I stopped at a newsstand to bend over, revealing my Yoga-sculpted ass to the world, so I could catch the date on the newspaper. I'd arrived at the right day, so my mission was on.

As I neared the Federal building, I saw my target coming out of the heavily guarded doors. I marched right up to him, and he was taken aback at the intrusive nature of a hot blonde in a tight dress. I pulled my pistol, and something happened that I did not expect.

As my finger tightened on the trigger, the target said, "Marcus! It's me, Marcus!"

My name.

In a previous jump point, in a body from the past.

I've been looped. The data connection to my real body was severed, and I had the most amazing orgasm. She was a real, make that I am a real squirter. I felt her flood running down my legs. The gun in my hands began to molecularly deconstruct, so I tossed it aside as the guards ran down the stairs and slapped some cuffs on.

Damn. It could've been worse. At least I can enjoy my new body in prison, unless I can get some poor schmuck of a public defender to get me off on a technicality, such as there being no real bullet in the dead man. I hope the top public defender is a woman, since I do have talent in oral sex with chicks. I hate sucking dick, but if I have to do it to get the best lawyer...well...a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® finalist; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.

A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia,, and

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thunder of the Second Mars by Ben McInnis (Random Title 29)

“He’s here, Murdoch”, Sam said, “I know he is.”
“Those canals are empty, kid”, Murdoch said, “This is stupidity.”
“His beacon is out there, can’t you see that. He’s got to be out there.”

The rover bounded over the red Martian landscape. Sam was frantic. Murdoch had told him Charlie was missing. The tracker in Charlie’s ID chip had led them out here.

“Kid, you’re making a mistake”, Murdoch said, “it’s got to be a mistake.”
“Those chips are implanted, old man. You know that as well as I do.”
“Look, Sammy, I know what you are feeling right now.  Believe me, I’m just as scared for Charlie as you are, but we’re SecForce. You know the drill. We have to keep our heads about this.”

Sam engaged the rover’s hover-foil. They rocketed over the side of a canal into the inky darkness. They hit bottom with a soft thump. Sam clicked on the running lights and panned a hand search light around the canal bottom.

“The beacon signal is strongest up ahead”, Sam said.
“Whatever you say, boss.”, Murdoch returned.
“Did you see that?”
“See what?”, Murdoch said, looking into the darkness.
“I thought I saw something flapping.”, Sam said.
“Kid, there’s no wind down here” ,Murdoch said, “not even any static readings.”
“Look…right there.”, Sam said.

Sam and Murdoch got out of the rover. Their breath rasped through the respirators in their helmets. Sam pulled out a pair of electro-binoculars and scanned the area where he had seen the flapping. At first he missed it, but them a faint movement attracted his attention. Sam drew his sidearm and walked over to investigate.

“What did you see, kid?”, Murdoch asked.

 Sam grabbed the corner of a piece of camo-cloth. He pulled it aside revealing a cave entrance. Sam heard a tumble of small rocks from above. Murdoch lunged forward and caught a larger rock that Sam was leaning against and steadied it.

“Good thing I caught that, kid”, Murdoch said, “If that rock had fallen we would have been buried.”
“Thanks, old man.”

Sam continued forward. After a few feet the passage opened onto a vast antechamber. Sam’s searchlight could not see the any ceiling and barely reached the opposite wall. He looked down and saw a shape huddled in the center of the chamber.

“Charlie?!”, he said and rushed forward.

Sam slid to the ground on his knees and grabbed the end of the tarp. He pulled and pain exploded in the back of his head. Blackness consumed him.

Sam awoke. His head hurt. He tried to move and discovered his hands were tied behind him.  He was lying on his side. He took in a breath and realized his helmet was gone.

Damn, Sam thought to himself, I have about five minutes before I suffocate.

“Why, Sammy…why?!”

Sam saw Murdoch across the chamber from him. Tears poured down the older man’s face.

“Why couldn’t you just leave it alone, kid”, Murdoch moaned, “ I told you the canals were empty. I told you, but you couldn’t leave it alone. Now, I’ve got to give you to them or we’re all dead.”

Sam kept his breathing shallow and pretended to be unconscious.

“They told me a long time ago that if I gave them a sacrifice when the thunder roars, they wouldn’t come out of the canals. They would leave us humans alone in our ‘Second Mars’. I didn’t want to do it, kid. The first time I killed for them I couldn’t stand it, but after that, it started to feel good. I’m sorry, Sam, now you know their secret. They told me if I gave you to them everything would go back to normal.”

Sam started working his hands back and forth. He had his hands free in no time. He waited.
Thunder shook the antechamber.

“It’s time, Sammy”, Murdoch sobbed, “I’m sorry.”

Murdoch lurched over to Sam. His knife was clenched in his hands. Sam waited until Murdoch was almost on top of him. He kicked out with his foot and swept Murdoch’s legs out from under him. Murdoch crashed to the cavern floor. Sam wrenched the knife from Murdoch’s hands and drove it into his chest. Murdoch gasped once and died. Sam struggled to his feet, his lungs burning.

Something rasped across stone. It rose from the chamber floor and loomed above Sam. It looked like stone at first, but the rust-red surface of its flesh flowed like water. Shapes resembling eyes and mouths formed and dissolved at impossible angles. Sam tried to scream, but the lack of air constricted his lungs. Gasping for air, he stumbled toward the cave entrance. He could hear the thing behind him, gliding across the stone. With every step, Sam got weaker. The thing was right on his heels.

With his last burst of strength, Sam drove his shoulder into the loose stone in the entryway and rolled to the side. The rocks fell and crushed the horror just before it emerged from the chamber. Sam dragged himself along the ground to the rover. He opened the storage compartment and pulled a spare helmet over his head.. Sam fell to the ground sucking in cold, dry air. After a moment, he pulled himself to his feet. He glanced at the sensor array. His brother’s beacon was still pinging. It looked like it was right on top of him.

Sam whipped around. Cold steel tore into his chest. Sam gasped.  Charlie stood before him twisting the knife in his chest.

“I’m sorry, big brother”, Charlie said, with a twisted grin, “but it’s the only way.”


Ben McInnis  has been writing for over 20 years. His published works include "The Oracle of Enheduana" (co-authored with Warlock Asylum), poetry published by, articles, and flash fiction published in a number of different venues. Ben is a married father of four living and working in the New England area.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Pets of the Missing Beast by S.T. Cartledge (Random Title 28)

Detective Snyder pulled his coat tight across his chest and cursed the bastard farmer who called him out to work so early in the morning. Actually, it was his boss who did the calling, passing on the farmer's message. The message was to be at this address within the hour or else he would be fucking fired. He had never been fucking fired before. He had come close a few times at this job. It sounded painful, and Snyder would rather not risk it. He trudged out into the frosted field, the grey snow crunching beneath his feet and forming a trail of slush puddles from his car. The farmer was waiting for him in the middle of the field, standing beside a fucking big hole.

“Wow,” Snyder said. “That's a fucking big hole.”

The dirt was scattered around the field and the hole disappeared, twisting and tunnelling into the earth. There was only a little snow inside the hole, like it had only been freshly dug.

“There's not a lot of snow down there,” he said. “It looks like a freshly dug hole. What are you doing, digging holes in your field at this hour of the morning?”

“That's the thing, man,” the farmer said. He spat tobacco on the ground. “I weren't the one what dug that hole.”

“Where does it go?” Snyder asked.

The farmer shrugged. “Don't think I know that much.” He blew his nose into a crumpled handkerchief. “What you reckon?”

“Beats me,” Snyder said. “I just thought I was going to have to check out some crop circles, or some shit.”

“Heh,” the farmer said. “Shiiiiit.”

Snyder pulled his torch out. He had one of those big heavy ones security guards carry so they can beat people with them. He jumped into the hole and sunk a few inches where he landed. There was more snow than he thought. Snow and mud, and blood and fur. Shining his torch through the hole, he saw it tunnelling down and around, the blood trailing like the beginnings of an underground river.

“There's blood down here,” Snyder called back up to the farmer.

The farmer responded with a daft “wha?”

“There's blood down here.”

“Wha?” the farmer repeated.

“Never mind,” Snyder replied.

“Oh, blood, yeah. There'll be a lot of that down there.”

Snyder froze in his steps. Not so much from the cold, but more from what the farmer said. There was most likely a monster down here killing things, and the farmer didn't seem fazed. He didn't seem remotely unsettled when Snyder arrived, now that he thought about it.

“See anything?” the farmer called out.

“Nothing yet,” Snyder said.

He followed the tunnel, the blood trail growing thicker the deeper he disappeared.

The splat-splat sound of his footsteps in the thin layer of blood coating the ground echoed through the tunnel. He paused. He could no longer hear the farmer. He could hear the deep-raspy breaths of some asthmatic creature further down.

He progressed slower, thinking of how he would need to soak his shoes in the sink when he got home. He could feel the blood seeping in and around the soles of his feet. In between his toes. The earth and blood had a pungent manure smell to them, or perhaps other smells were wafting from further down the tunnel.

The torch light strained his eyes, and he yawned wide, yearning for the coffee in his kitchen that had gone undrunk. That's when he saw the tie on the ground. And then a jacket. Shirt. Belt. Pants. Underpants. Two more ties and three shirts. Four pants and a belt. Seven shoes. A hat. A severed hand. An arm. Three feet and a full leg. Lying on the ground like a trail of breadcrumbs soaking in blood. A trail of breadcrumbs leading the opposite direction of safety.

Snyder wanted to turn back but he didn't want to return to the farmer empty-handed. He was a terrible liar, so it's not like he could make something up to keep the creep satisfied. If he turned back now he would make up some terrible story and he would tell his boss and his boss would see through his shit and Snyder would be fucking fired.

The wheezing was a lot louder now, and the blood flood was up to his ankles. He turned a corner in the tunnel and shined his light on a hulking great humanoid mole-creature. Black fur and pink eyes, squinting in the dim torchlight. It lifted its finger and made a noise through its clenched mole-teeth, “shhh.”

Snyder saw where the clothes and the limbs came from. Dragging themselves through the tunnel with the mole monster were about a dozen naked and semi-naked detectives with glazed eyes and filthy skin covered in dirt and dried blood. The mole monster gestured for the detective to follow.

Seeing the state these other men were in, Snyder had no option but to follow the beast. It grunted and grabbed his torch and smashed it broken on the wall. In the darkness the beast made sounds which could only be more digging, more tunnelling through the earth.

Snyder followed the beast in the soggy, pitch-black gloom and thought about how, when he failed to report back on the job, on top of being blind, naked, amputated, and crawling through filth, he would finally be fucking fired.


S.T. Cartledge wrote a book called House Hunter. He's also written some other stuff too. There are some short stories and poetry in magazines, some flash fiction and fan fiction online somewhere too. He also has some pretty killer unpublished stuff too. Like that story with the big guy and the dead things. And that other thing with the wicked cool aliens and the weird creatures. He hopes you liked this story and that you will consider being my *ahem* HIS friend.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

RECKLESS DRAG PATROL By Brandon Cracraft (Random Title 27)

My father served honorably in the Riot Defense Patrol, nineteen hour shifts without food, water, or piss breaks.  Dad used to joke that RDP actually stood for “Rotten Diaper Patrol” because a lot of them wore diapers under their armor.  Since they wore them all day without a change, he said that the locker room was pretty ripe.
            “I know this one giant who still hasn’t washed his uniform,” Dad said, holding his nose.  “I wish the kid would wear a diaper.  He let his pride get in the way of hygiene. I’m sick of smelling his piss and shit every time I go out on patrol.”
            Dad was small for a member of the RDP, barely over eight feet tall and two hundred and ninety pounds of hardened muscle reinforced with plates beneath his skin, making him a grand total of four hundred pounds. 
            “How was Rotten Diaper Patrol?” I said when I caught Dad watching me as I slept.  He took a drag off a cigarette laced with nutrition capsules and caffeine.  It took him a long time to respond.  He hugged his knees, his body shaking.  It was the closest he could physically come to crying.
            Dad shook his head.  “It’s not Rotten Diaper Patrol anymore.”  I expected him to make a joke, but he sounded serious.  Dad actually sounded scared.  My entire body went cold.  I nervously played with the frayed edge of my blankets.  “They have a new name.” He stood up.  Dad was wearing his uniform.  He never wore his uniform at home.  “They are now the Reckless Drag Patrol.”
            I gave him a confused look.  He sat next to me, and my bed creaked under his weight.  “What’s going on?”
            Dad’s eyes trailed to the shoebox I hid under my old blankets and toys.  “As of last night,” he said, his grey eyes scanning my bedroom nervously, “homosexuality is illegal.”  He shuddered, and I felt my body shake.  I never felt so terrified.  “We went to a gay bar and locked the doors.”  His voice cracked.  He sounded like a little boy.  “We put a chain and lock on the door and put bars on the window.  When everything was secure, we set the bar on fire.”
            “They burned to death. . .”  I said, barely able to speak.
            Dad shook his head.  “Most of them died from the smoke before they had a chance to burn to death.”  He stood up, peeling off his armor and dropping them on the floor.  “You need to be careful, Jono.”  He went from sounding like a little boy to sounding ancient.  “If someone finds out, they’ll make me kill you.”
            “I’ll burn them, Dad,” I said.  “They won’t know.”
            Dad tried to smile.  “Maybe this will all blow over,” he said.  “You know how The Country is.  They get a bug up their ass for the stupidest things.”
            The Reckless Drag Patrol continued to cleanse The Country.  I watched newscast after newscast that happily showed the image of men dressed like women being beaten, shot, and burned.  My friend, Abbie-Lee Marsh, did a presentation about the scourge of homosexuality and the importance of the RDP.  She got another A that she didn’t deserve.
            Dad looked worse every day.  He started wearing his uniform full time, even the armor and weapons.  He hardly even ate.  I hated the smell of those damn cigarettes.  The Reckless Drag Patrol didn’t just kill homos.  They killed something inside my dad as well.
            I stopped calling it the Reckless Drag Patrol yesterday.  They stopped going after gay people.  There was no explanation from The Country.  The Country just decided to stop.  They had a new target: traitors.  Anyone who spoke against the RDP could be labelled a traitor.  The Country encouraged us to snitch on anyone who criticized the RDP.
            Abbie-Lee Marsh actually snitched on her parents.  She announced that she was going to a youth education program.
            RDP now stands for Ruining Dad Patrol, even though I will never say that out loud.  Some waiter heard my dad call them “Reckless Drag Patrol.”  He kicked us out and called my dad a traitor.
            Dad told me not to worry, even though he was obviously terrified.  He tried to assure me that the RDP would never kill one of their own.  Loyalty was the second highest virtue after obedience.
Some giant who didn’t even bother to take off his helmet callously told me that my father was a traitor and nothing else.  The RDP officer didn’t stay long enough to let me answer questions.
            I haven’t eaten in days.  No one will sell food to me.  My teacher told me that she would shoot me if she saw me on the street.  I guess I’ll be going to a youth education program.  No one will tell me anything.
            There’s only one thing I know for certain: The RDP killed my dad. 
            At least, I hope that the RDP killed my father.  Dad once told me that The Country was capable of doing horrible things to people.  When I asked what they were, he just shook his head and looked like he was going to puke.
            I really hope that the RDP killed my dad. 

Brandon Cracraft lives with his boyfriend in the historic district of Tucson, Arizona.  His short stories have appeared in several anthologies and his novel, FAMILY VALUES, is available in electronic and paperback format.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Into a Mirror with a Toad by Rie Sheridan Rose (Random Title 26)

Padaragh Filopott was dirt poor. Literally. In a society footed in how much land you owned, how many fields you plowed, how high the piles of sand and dirt that ranged around your home, Padaragh had so negligible an amount that he might as well be landless. His father had been a speculator and gambler, and all that was left of what once was a healthy holding was a fifty foot square of land under a ramshackle building that housed Padaragh and his seven children. His wife had died six months earlier, leaving a new babe to feed.
            Padaragh was at his wits end. He had hoped to receive some settlement from Katoran's family on her death, but they had made it clear that all ties were broken. They had never approved of Padaragh, and considered the children mongrels.
            As he trudged wearily home from yet another attempt to persuade his former in-laws that they owed something to their grandchildren, Padaragh kept his eyes on the dusty road. It belonged to his father-in-law, and he was only allowed to walk it because he paid a tithe every month.
            "Watch where you are going, you lout!" A voice at his feet startled Padaragh to a stop.
            He looked down to see a huge green toad sitting in the dust. It blinked up at him. "Did you say something?" he blurted out.
            "Your ears work, if nothing else does," scoffed the toad.
            Padaragh felt his ears heating up, and knew they must be red. "Sure and I do all I can. Six wee mouths to feed and no dirt to sell. I scrape and scrounge and scrabble every day of my life."
            "What if you could do better?"
            Padaragh stamped his foot in frustration, barely missing the toad. "Don't you think I want to? No man wants to see his children starve."
            "I can help. Take me home with you."
            Padaragh stared at the little creature. "Are you daft?"
            "What harm would there be?"
            "Little Tadagh might put you in a jar and keep you for a pet, for one."
            "He can try." The toad made a move that, in a human, would be a shrug.
            Padaragh laughed for the first time he could remember. At least since Katoran's death, for sure. "Why not?" He bent and lifted the toad into his hand.
            He carried the toad home to his shack, opening the door with a flourish. "I've brought home a friend," he called. "Come and see."
            The children gathered round—Lysant, Katorana, Parvan, Tadagh, Mysha. Only baby Terasan in her cradle and the eldest, Padarac, out at work, were absent.
            When Padaragh held out the toad, Katorana frowned. "You said a friend, Da. That's naught but an old toad."
            "Sure and you are no prize yourself," croaked the toad.
            The girl started. Her brothers and sister giggled at her discomfiture.
            "Now, get on about your chores," Padaragh ordered the children. "You can talk to..."
            "Shaymus," offered the toad.
            "...To Shaymus later. We have something to discuss."
            He carried Shaymus to the dining table and set the toad in a bowl. "You said you could help...I could use some, I know."
            "Have you a mirror?" asked the toad.
            "I might do," Padaragh said. "Why?"
            "Go and fetch it."
            Curious, Padaragh went to Katoran's old chest in the corner and found her silver-backed mirror. It was one of the few treasures left from her childhood. Running a hand over the etched back with a wistful sigh, he brought it back to the table where Shaymus waited.
            "Here it be," he said, placing the mirror before the toad.
            "Set it up where it reflects the table," Shaymus told him.
            Padaragh did as he was told.
            "Now, reach through the glass and pick up the cup you see within."
            "Are you daft?" Padaragh asked again.
            "You are talking to a toad, is this any dafter?"
            Padaragh nodded thoughtfully. "You have a point." He took a deep breath and reached out. His fingertips touched the glass, and then—with a cold tingle—they passed through. He curled his hand around the cup within and pulled it back. He looked down at the cup in wonder.
            "Anything within the mirror can be brought back, if you believe in the magic."
            Padaragh's eyes widened. "Anything?" he whispered.
            Padaragh scooped up the toad and the mirror and ran from the house. He set the glass against the wall, reflecting the small pile of dirt that he had managed to scrape from the yard. With shaking fingers, he reached through and pulled a handful of dirt through the mirror.
            It was true!
            He raked the remainder of the small pile through the mirror, doubling his wealth in seconds. "Lord save us!" he whispered.
            "And so much more can be yours."
            "I need a bigger mirror."
            He got one. As large a glass as the pile of dirt would buy. He and Shaymus took it into the forest, to a clearing where no one was likely to spy them. Padaragh carried a garden spade and barrow with them, and reached through the glass to dig as much dirt as it took to fill the barrow. The clearing on their side of the glass remained inviolate.
            He trotted the barrow home and back six times by nightfall. The pile of dirt beside the house grew higher and higher.
            People began to whisper. He knew it a matter of time before someone found him out.
            Padaragh took every grain of dirt he could assemble and bought a large sitting room mirror—the sort that would grace a rich man's house. He set it against the rear wall of the house, reflecting the lands beyond their little square of earth.
            He had kept Padarac home from work that day. Setting Katorana to work bundling the younger children into all the clothes they owned, he packed up the few items worth carting away into the barrow. He placed Shaymus in his coat pocket and gathered the children close.
            Katorana bounced the baby on her hip. "What are we doing Da?" she asked.
            "We're going on a grand adventure, darlin'. A grand adventure."
            Taking a deep breath, he led his children into a new world. Into a mirror with a toad.


Rie Sheridan Rose has been writing professionally for over ten years. She has published 6 novels, 1 short story collection, 2 chapbooks of collected stories, and 5 poetry collections as well as contributing to numerous anthologies. She also wrote lyrics for Marc Gunn's “Don’t Go Drinking With Hobbits” CD.
Her stories have also been published in Reloaded: Both Barrels, Shifters, and A Bubba in Time Saves None and Abandoned Towers. Her poetry appeared in print magazines Mythic Circle, Dreams of Decadence, and Abandoned Towers as well as Penumbra, The Voices Project, and the Metastasis, Boundless, and Di-Verse-City anthologies.