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Coming up in 2017 and a Christmas story.

I have lots of things planned for 2017. A young adult dystopian novel coming out late winter, a fantasy novel to be released late spring and a thriller set in the northern winter, ironically being released during the summer. Somewhere in there I’m releasing a small book of poems and mushroom pictures.

While you wait for all these goodies, here’s a Christmas story for you:

Unbelief

The carollers were off key again. Hank took a swig from the bottle in an effort to drown the exuberant caterwauling coming from next door. He glanced at the label Laphroig it said, twelve years aged in oak casks. It didn’t matter Hank had stopped tasting anything after the first bottle. It was his father’s booze anyway, or at least it had been before tonight. Now it was Hank’s.

Marge would be furious. She would say that he should have kept his father’s scotch collection as a souvenir and sipped careful drams on special occasions. Marge wasn’t here either. The love that had burned so hot twenty years ago had slowly dissipated until all that was left was a cool regard and a reluctance to spend money on divorce lawyers. Marge had gone to her sister’s right after the funeral. Candace did have cancer. She needed her older sister’s help to manage her house and four kids. Candace’s husband had no qualms about paying divorce lawyers.

Hank could hear the carollers laughing and talking as they walked past the front door. They wouldn’t stop at this door. Hank’s father hadn’t believed in Christmas. To be truthful, Hank’s father hadn’t believed in much of anything except his own correctness. That he was right in every argument was as much an article of faith with him as transubstantiation was for the Pope. Hank swallowed the last of the Laphroig and carefully dropped the bottle in the blue recycling bin. Hank had brought it from home. His father didn’t believe in recycling either.

Hank staggered out of the kitchen and just managed to catch himself on the doorjamb. He was drunk. Hank hadn’t been drunk since…. well he couldn’t actually remember the last time he got drunk. Seeing all those bottles of scotch, it seemed a reasonable response to the old fart’s death. He manoeuvred himself over to the couch and half sat, half fell onto it.

His father wouldn’t have got drunk on scotch. He was too full of life to waste it getting drunk. He would have walked ramrod straight out to the top of the line Mercedes Benz he drove and started it up. He would have revved the big eight cylinder engine to hear the roar and feel the power in the steering wheel. Then he would have driven away at speeds that made lesser men pale. (He didn’t believe in speed limits.) He would have raced in and out of traffic keeping up a running commentary on the shortcomings of the other drivers, until he hit that tiny patch of black ice. The law of physics didn’t care whether Hank’s father believed in them or not. The bridge abutment cut the car in half. It pretty much cut his father in half too.

Hank lay on the couch and felt tears leaking from his eyes. For all the old man’s faults, Hank would miss him. They had never celebrated Christmas, not all of his wife and family’s pleadings would change his mind, but he wasn’t a miser. At each graduation of Hank’s children the old man had quietly handed his grandchildren a check that would pay their tuition for university. When Hank’s youngest had spent it on carpenter’s tools instead, Hank had expected an explosion. Instead the old man hired his granddaughter to work on the house.

Hank’s tears flowed harder and sobs wracked his body. He was alone in the world. Marge had her life taking care of the kids and her large family. The kids were all independent. They tolerated their mother’s meddling, but Hank didn’t know how to talk to them any more. His father was the last person Hank could pretend needed him. The alcohol that brought out his tears carried him into a merciful sleep.

Hank woke to the sound of singing at the door. He pushed himself to his feet and listened. This wasn’t the raucous carolling from earlier. It was a single, pure voice. Hank could hear each word clearly, but understood none of them. Maybe it was Latin. He looked at the clock on the mantle. Two o’clock in the morning. Who sings Latin at two in the morning? Who sings Latin at all?

Hank through the door open and looked in astonishment at a young child who stood singing with his eyes closed. Hank half expected an angel chorus to leap out, or maybe a camera man. He recognized the tune of one the Christmas carols they sang at Marge’s church. The boy finished the tune and smiled at Hank.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Merry Christmas,” Hank said, “What are you doing here?”

“Singing.”

“It’s two in the morning. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“Yup,” the boy said, “but I felt like singing. Mom said this was a sad house. I thought I could cheer it up.”

“Sad,” Hank said, “Yes, it is sad.”

“Why?”

“My father was buried yesterday,” Hank said, “He didn’t believe in Christmas.”

“That is sad,” the boy agreed, though Hank wasn’t sure whether he meant the death or the lack of Christmas. The boy started another song and Hank stood listening as it washed anger he didn’t even know he felt away. The tears started again, but Hank didn’t care. He remembered how his father came to all his school concerts and games. He remembered the great booming laugh. The unbelief only became hard and uncomfortable when Hank’s mother died. She had believed in a great many things, but mostly in her husband. Without her love, his father had become uncompromising. Hank realized his tears were as much for his father’s pain as his own. He thought of his father at the grave side saying ‘Well that’s it then,’ and just walking away.

The boy’s song finished and he beamed at Hank again.

“Thank you,” Hank said.

“Merry Christmas!” the boy shouted than ran away through the snow. Hank looked to be sure he left footprints behind.

“Well that’s it then,” Hank said and closed the door. He walked through the house letting it tell him stories. At first they were of the unbending man that was Hank’s father, but gradually they took him further back to when his mother and father would read to each other from books with long and boring titles. Hank didn’t remember what they said, but he remembered the passion his parents’ voices held. He remembered arguments too. His mother and father often shouted at each other trying to make the other see. The only time Hank remembered seeing his father cry was after one argument when his mother had walked out in mid-sentence. When she returned later, his father had held her tightly and cried unashamedly.

His father did believe in something. He dialled his sister in law’s number that Marge had given him before she left.

“Hello?” Marge sounded barely awake.

“Hello,” Hank said.

“What time is it?”

“About four.”

“What do you want?”

“I just needed to talk to you,” Hank said.

“Alright then,” He heard Marge settle herself more comfortably.

“How’s Candace?”

“She had a rough day,” Marge said, “I made her unplug the phone in her room. She needs her sleep.”

“How are you?”

“I don’t know,” Marge sighed, “I’m scared to death that I’ll lose my sister, but I can’t let her see.”

“Dad was scared of losing Mom, but he showed it.”

“I always thought he never recovered after her death.”

“No, he didn’t,” Hank sighed, “Maybe you should let Candace know you don’t want to lose her. It is easy to let people drift away because we assume they know.”

There was such a long silence that Hank wondered if Marge had fallen asleep.

“Are you coming home today?” she said finally.

“I thought I would come by Candace’s and give you a break.”

“That would be nice.”

“See you later.”

“Later then.” Hank heard the click of the phone hanging up. He hung up the phone then went to find his bed. He decided that he believed in Marge. He lay in bed trying to find the words he would use to explain. Just as he was falling to sleep he whispered.

“Thanks, Dad.”

The Cursed Seed by Geralyn Wichers

I had the good fortune to meet Geralyn at Central Canada Comic Con, also known as C4. She had with her a few copies of her yet to be officially released book. Now it’s out and I’d like to introduce you to it.


final-coverJack doesn’t know how he resurrected after the gruesome construction accident that killed him. But while his loved ones age and pass away, he remains unchanged, indestructible. With his wife of thirty years dying of cancer, Jack is consumed by the desire to end his life.

A mysterious society of immortals holds the answers, but others would kill for that knowledge. An ancient feud over the power of life and death, an enigmatic murder, a paranoia-stricken history professor. Will these give Jack the keys to following his beloved into the grave? Or will someone else get him first?

Links:

Amazon Kindle: http://mybook.to/cursedkindle

Amazon (Print): http://mybook.to/cursedseed

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/678670

author-3Geralyn Wichers is a writer who moonlights as a manufacturing operator at a large factory. When she’s not wearing a respirator and handling hazardous chemicals, Geralyn is either writing about the impending zombie apocalypse, or training to survive it by running long distances.

Geralyn is a marathoner, a foodie, and a coffee addict. She wrote We are the Living, an apocalyptic story of love and hope in the midst of destruction, and Sons of Earth, the story of a clone finding his humanity in a dystopian near-future. Geralyn just released urban fantasy novel Cursed Seed, the first of the Society of Immortals trilogy

You can connect with Geralyn at her website, geralynwichers.com, or on Twitter: @geralynwichers or Instagram: @geralynwichers

Author Interview

Congratulations on publishing Cursed Seed. How do you feel about publishing this book? Does it feel different from the previous books you’ve put out?

Thanks! Yeah, this book does feel a little bit different then other’s I’ve published. I think that’s mostly because, as this is the first time I’ve gone through a publisher, this book has been much more of a group effort than the previous two.

Tell us more about yourself. What else have you published?

This is my third published work. I published a love story called We are the Living, set in zombie-riddled, post-apocalyptic Italy. I didn’t set out to write a love story in that case. What began as an adventure story turned into a story about loving someone with mental illness, that just happened to have zombies, guerrilla warfare, and a miracle-healing priest in it.

Sons of Earth was my second novel. Dominic is a “manufactured person” or a clone. He was bred to be a fighting machine, but didn’t meet specifications. Knowing he’d be exterminated, he escaped the cloning facility. Years later, he comes back as a scientist, hoping to overthrow the company from within. This story was inspired by the manufacturing plant I work in… though I’d like to think it isn’t quite the blood-sucking monstrosity that Caspian Genetics is in the story.

Cursed Seed deals with mortality and immortality and our desire to choose our own lives. What motivated you to write the story?

For starters, I don’t write didactically. I don’t set out to preach a message with my work. I do, however, explore ideas when I write stories and so deep themes start popping unplanned. I think this is the true purpose of fiction, to give us scenarios to explore ideas and their applications.

If there is a “point” to Cursed Seed, I think it has less to do with mortality and immortality, and more to do with grieving, and finding the strength to move on despite the past. Jack, Alexander and Alannah are all grieving the loss of a loved one and it is coloring all of their decisions. I guess I can’t say too much about that without spoilers, though.

What are your favorite kinds of stories to read and write?

I have no idea! I like history, and biographies, and some dystopian novels, and some fantasy novels… but can I say any of them are my favourite? Nope. I guess my mind doesn’t work that way.

I love to write characters, and generally miserable ones. I really don’t know why.

Since we had the chance to meet at Comic Con, if you were going be a geek about a movie or series, what would it be?

Well, I’ve read the Harry Potter series 2 1/2 times in like 2 years. I guess that makes me a geek about them? I’m also a huge fan of the Chronicles of Narnia books.

What is your writing space like?

Currently, I’m writing from my kitchen counter beside the dirty dishes. 🙂 I don’t have an office, so generally I’m lounging in my easy chair with my feet up. I also really like to take my laptop to a coffee shop. The noise is soothing.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m revising the sequel to Cursed Seed, tentatively titled Trial by Water. Practically anything I say about it will be spoilers, I guess. It picks up where the last book left off, and also adds a thread in pre WWI England, where Alexander and company investigate the mysterious death of an immortal and Zoran’s claims that his unborn child is guaranteed to be immortal also. Giovanni Ardovinni, a background character in Cursed Seed, is tempted to make a deal with Zoran to immortalize his lover, John Burke, and his choices begin to reverberate into the present day.

What question would you ask yourself? Answer that question.

Should I rent Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr. version) this weekend?

Yes. I believe I should.

Oh wait, was it supposed to be writing related?

The Enemy Within by Scott Burn

Every once in a while I like to give a boost to a writer by featuring them on my blog.

Scott Burn has released his first YA novel, but this isn’t the first thing he’s written by a long shot. He agreed to write a bit about getting your screenplay noticed.

Check out his new book too.

the-enemy-within-coverTHE ENEMY WITHIN:
Seventeen-year-old Max suffers agonizing apocalyptic visions. He soon discovers the visions weren’t just in his head. There are others who have shared those same thoughts. Like him, they are something more than human. When a covert military group begins hunting them down, Max doesn’t know which side to trust. But in the end, his choice will decide the fate of both species.
Buy the The Enemy Within from Amazon.

SO YOU WROTE A SCREENPLAY
 
Awesome! Nobody cares.
Now let me take a step back – every agent, manager and producer I know is desperate for good material. They would love to have that near perfect script that will become the next mega-hit or Oscar winner. They are also convinced that your script isn’t it. And the truth is, they are right 99% of the time.
I’m by no means a big writer. I’ve sold and optioned several projects at different studios. I’ve been hired to rewrite other people’s projects, and I’m fortunate enough to make my living solely as a writer. But I’ve never had a film made – the movie gods just have not smiled yet. Or another way to think of it – something was missing from the model.
And what is the model? That is the big question. One studio exec told me he’d much rather have a script with a big idea and a great ending than a script with a mediocre idea where every page was flawlessly written. What makes for that big idea, it’s something that an exec can go into his bosses office and say, “It’s about a group of astronauts that land on a planet and discover their own dead bodies…” His boss immediately gets the idea – he can see the movie in his head and boom, off to the races. That was one I sold years ago with my old writing partner based on a Richard Matheson short story.
While there are all kinds of paths to getting to that stage, the system of Hollywood is designed to keep you as far from that path as possible. Let me start with the challenges then we’ll get into solutions. I had lunch with my agent not too long ago.  He shared with me how countless writers and directors were on him to make something magical happen with their projects. But the reality of Hollywood is fewer films are getting made, many are remakes or based on pre-existing material (book, TV show, game, etc)… The last thing any manager or agent want to do is take on a another mouth to feed when he doesn’t have something he thinks he can sell.
That’s the key – as much as we all love movies, if you don’t have anything they can sell (and my focus here is strictly on Hollywood, not the indie world), then they will pass you by without a second glance. So what are the steps to getting in?
1. Come up with an idea that you’re excited by and people love when you describe it in 30 seconds. If it takes you 5 minutes to try and explain it, move on. Picture the movie poster. If you can’t see it with a cool tag line, don’t bother.
2. Write the first draft. Don’t stop, don’t slow down. Try to write at the same time each day so you get in a rhythm. Most importantly, don’t go back and edit. Just finish.
3. It’s great that you finished your first draft. Now here’s the hard thing to accept – it’s awful. Don’t worry. Everyone’s first draft is awful. Now go back in and rewrite again and again until it’s as great as you can make it. Then don’t give it to friends and family – give it to nasty, bitter writers who will tear it apart. That’s good – you want that, painful as it is, because until that script has been seen by the brutal side, its still your first draft. Now pull up your big boy/big girl pants and do it all again.
4. Once you’ve gotten it to a point where every page glimmers, now comes the hard part. Ultimately there’s a saying in Hollywood – a great script finds a home. But that only happens after banging down every door you possibly can. That means reaching out with query letters to every worthwhile agent and manager in Hollywood or NY. Most won’t respond. Of those that do, most will say no. But if the idea is great enough, you might slip through the cracks. And then… they’ll have notes.
Leave no stone unturned: you have a friend who knew someone in the mailroom at CAA? Reach out. Your plumber’s brother is an assistant at Industry Entertainment? Reach out. But, and I can’t stress this hard enough, don’t reach out until that script is as perfect as you can make it. That’s not days or weeks, it’s months and sometimes years. And when the rejections come, don’t be deterred. “Onward” is your new slogan. Nothing may happen with that script in the end. I would be surprised if it did. That’s OK, now take that approach and do it again with your next project. And then again. Most people I know who break through do so somewhere around their 6th or 7th script. In other words, years. Writing screenplays is a craft and it’s one that needs to be studied to have any chance.
And remember this – many wanna-be writers disparage Hollywood movies, usually while complaining that their project is so much better. Don’t mock the hand that you want to feed you. If other projects are succeeding, look at why, try to understand what made them work such that tens or even hundreds of millions are spent on them. Then create your own…

scot-picA little bit about Scott: He’s a former lawyer turned writer. Scott currently has several sci-fi and action-adventure screenplays in development at various major studios, including Gold Circle, Summit/Lionsgate Entertainment, and MGM/Splendid Entertainment, and his comic book series AGON was published by Zenescope Entertainment.

THE ENEMY WITHIN is his first YA science fiction novel.

The Gods Above is out!

gods-above-cover-smallThe Gods Above is my re-imagining of the zombie story, follow Pranthi and her camera as the world changes around her.  You can read an excerpt here. Gary Buettner has posted a review on his page Book Autopsy:

Zombie stories seem to have a weird relationship with, well, other zombie stories. As deeply infected as our pop culture is with the shambling undead, fictional worlds are a lot more fickle in their undead.

In TV’s THE WALKING DEAD, for example, zombie movies don’t seem to exist at all. When the dead walk, it is an unprecedented horror. In Alex McGilvery’s upcoming THE GODS ABOVE (2016), zombies thrive in popular culture and the novel opens with fun and festive “zombie walk” that quickly spirals into a too-real horror.

you can read the rest here.

The Gods Above

  • [ebook_store ebook_id="419"]

New book of short stories. Tales of Light and Dark

I’ve released a new book, a collection of stories written over the last few years with a fantasy/fairy tale feel them. Some of humorous and some very dark, much like the original fairy tales collected before ‘happily ever after’ was a thing.

 

Tales of Light and Dark Alex McGilvery

After the Fever

fever-cover

This story came out of a challenge to write about the upside of a really bad thing.


John ‘Wolfie” Mulholland scrambled away from the latest wave of zombies. They grabbed and pulled at him with their splintered fingers. Mrs. Dougherty was in the front row. She used to give him milk and cookies and listen while he ranted about the latest atrocity from school. Now she was trying to tear him apart. He kicked her knee and she fell to the ground. He felt sorry for her, but not sorry enough to die at her hands.

It just wasn’t fair! John’s rage brought him to his feet and he pushed the shambling neighbours away and made a break for freedom. His flight brought him to the edge of an escarpment where the fence had been crushed by a fallen tree. John ran up the trunk and leapt out into space. The escarpment was a two hundred foot bank of dirt and rock looming over the Humber River. It was possible to ride the loose dirt safely to the bottom. John had done it last year on a dare. His feet struck dirt and started a small landslide. He skipped and jumped to avoid the outcroppings of solid rock and splashed alive into the river. Then the first zombie landed beside him, head first, then it rained zombies. John dove under the water and swam out into the current and let it carry him away.

Still warm enough that John felt no immediate need to get out of the water; he let the river carry him away from the horrible life he already missed. Swine flu induced encephalitis was what the authorities called it – zombie flu. It disinhibited the infected by destroying their upper brain function. There were no survivors, except John who, apparently, was immune.

He finally climbed out of the water and stripped off his wet clothes. His foster parents would have beat him for it. He didn’t care anymore. John used his hands to strip the water out of the fur that covered his body, relieved to be rid of clothes that didn’t fit quite right.

The streetlights were coming on in patches so he started looking for safe shelter for the night. That’s when he heard the screams.

His feet reacted before his brain could carrying him around a corner to where a mob of zombies had cornered a young boy. John yelled in rage and slammed into the group pushing them off the youngster. Zombies growled and mumbled, but they didn’t scream. The kid was also immune.

Some of the crowd turned on John and he found himself fighting for his life. John kicked knees, punched throats and whatever else he could manage. But it wasn’t going to be enough, there were too many of them.

Then a shotgun roared and the mob twitched as pellets tore through it. Again and again the gun blasted until the zombies ran off leaving John gasping on the pavement. The kid put the gun down and came over to him.

“I didn’t think there was anyone else alive,” John thought his voice sounded odd through the ringing in his ears. “Thanks for the help,” he said, “I thought I was a goner.”

“I left the gun in my bag. They caught me by surprise and I didn’t have time to get it.” The gun was slung over the kid’s shoulder. “I won’t make that mistake again, but we need to get somewhere safe.

John faded in and out until the kid dragged him into a house.

John heard a shower running. “Good, there’s still hot water, but it won’t last long. We’d better share.” John stood under the hot water. He closed his eyes as it washed away both gore and despair.

Gentle hands scrubbed his back with soap. John sighed and leaned against the wall.

“Let’s switch.”

John squeezed to the side and opened his eyes to see his companion. The first thing he saw was that his rescuer was no boy. She was at least his age. The second thing was the soft red fur that covered her whole body. She put soap in his hand.

“Scrub.”

John carefully washed all the blood out of that miraculous fur.

“My name’s Peke,” she said, “Short for pekinese.”

“Wolfie,” he said.

“Hmmm,” she said running her finger through his wet brown fur. “Suits you.”

She stepped out of the shower and dried off. Wolfie followed her. She walked past the clothes in the hall and curled up on the sofa. John lounged in a chair across from her.

“It’s called Robson’s Syndrome. It’s rare, only a handful of cases in North America.” She stroked her side. “It causes the fur, and for some reason immunity to the zombie flu.

“Now what?” he asked.

“We wait a few weeks for the fever to pass, then we go and look for survivors. It will take a while but we’ll rebuild. We might even learn something.”

“And what are we supposed to do while we wait?”

She smiled and stuck her tongue out at him. “I am sure we’ll be able to think of something.”

Well,  once you get past the whole end of the world thing, this was turning out to be a pretty good day.

Aggie and the Robot

Aggie walked to the brow of the hill that overlooked the city. Aggie had never been to the city, but she loved to watch the traffic bustle in and out. Airplanes circled overhead waiting their turn to land, the dull roar of their engines muffled almost to silence by the distance. One day she had watched so long that she had seen the lights come on one by one until it was lit up like a fairy kingdom.

Today she arrived at the hill to find an enormous metal man leaning against the edge of the cliff. He was watching the city.

“Excuse me,” she said politely, “you are blocking my view.”

With a great grinding and clanging noise the metal man turned to face her.

“Who are you?” he demanded in a voice that was so deep that Aggie could feel it in her teeth.

“I’m Aggie,” she said, “I live with my mom and dad over there.” She waved her arm vaguely over her shoulder.

“You should go home,” rumbled the iron man. “This is no place for little girls.”

“This is my place,” Aggie said, “And you are rude.”

“Rude?”

“I told you my name. You are supposed to say ‘Pleased to meet you Aggie my name is…'” she paused, “What is your name?”

“Name?” said the metal man, “I have no name. I am a robot.”

“What is a robot?” asked Aggie.

“A robot is….” the metal giant paused. “I am a robot.”

“Where are you from?”

“From? I am from nowhere. I was built over there from metal and glass.” The giant man pointed into the mountains.

“Why?”

“Why?” rumbled the robot, “To destroy the city.”

“The city?” cried Aggie. “Why would you want to destroy the city? It’s wonderful.”

“My master hates the people in the city. He says they are evil and selfish.”

“But even if they are selfish, they don’t deserve to be destroyed.”

“My master wants them destroyed. So he built me to destroy them.”

“But you can’t destroy the city.”

“It is what I am made to do,” said the robot. “I must do what my master made me for.”

“But it’s wrong.”

“I don’t know wrong. I only know obedience.”

Aggie walked to the edge of the hill and looked out over the city. She felt tears forcing their way out of her eyes. The cars and planes blurred. She thought of all those buildings broken and burning; people hurt and crying.

“No!” she shouted at the robot. “You can’t do it. Your master is wrong.”

The robot bent down further with more clanking. She could smell oil and electricity.

“I am not built to know what is wrong. I am built to obey. I cannot disobey.”

“I disobey my dad sometimes.”

“Your dad didn’t build you well.”

“Dad didn’t build me,” laughed Aggie, “I was born.”

“What is born?”

“I’m not sure. I asked my dad once and he just turned red.”

The robot shook his head.

“Whether born or made, we must do as we are told.” He turned again to look across to the city. The sun glinted on windows and winked from airplanes. A breeze blew the faintest sounds of activity to the hill.

“We start out doing as we are told, because we don’t know anything,” Aggie stepped up to the edge of the cliff. “But the more we learn, the more we need to choose for ourselves.”

Aggie heard the metal grind as the robot nodded his head.

“Come with me,” he said and held out his hand. Fearfully, she stepped onto his hand. He curled his fingers to protect her. “We will go and learn.”

Aggie was sure that his footsteps shook the earth, but she couldn’t feel them away up in the air cradled in the metal fist of the robot.

“I am listening to them,” said the robot after a while. “They are laughing because some geese are crossing the highway and traffic is stopped.” He walked on.

“They have seen us,” he rumbled. “But they won’t attack because they see you. They won’t hurt a little girl even to save themselves.” They arrived at the edge of the city. Police cars and fire trucks were lined up across their path. Planes circled overhead.

“It is time,” the robot said, “I must obey.”

“But you can’t.”

“Then you must stop me.”

The whole city watched what happened next. How a little girl stood in front of the colossus with tear streaked face and pushed on the robot”s foot. Miraculously it tottered, then fell backward with a great crash and lay still.

“He could not choose to disobey,” Aggie told them, “but he could choose to fail.”

Cheese and Whisky

Joe leaned his cane against the counter and put the kettle on for tea. He put some biscuits on a plate and sliced some cheese to go with it. After a moment’s thought, he put a jar of jam out as well. Cups and plates completed the setting. The door bell rang; he took a final glance at the little kitchen. It would do.

He picked up the cane on the way to the front door. A young women stood on the other side of the door. Everyone looked young to Joe now, but she couldn’t be thirty yet. Youth glowed in her red hair and blue eyes. She smiled when she saw him. Joe liked that, even better were the faint smile lines around those blue eyes. He revised his estimate of her age upwards a decade.

“Hello, Mr. Baldur,” she said, “My name is Gina, I talked to you on the phone yesterday.”

“I remember,” Joe said and opened the door, “Come on in. I’ve put water on.” He led the way back to the kitchen. She put her purse under her chair and laid a pad and pencil on the table.

“Do you mind if I tape the interview?” Gina asked, “It’s helpful to make sure that I don’t misquote you.”

“Fine by me,” Joe said, “What do you take?”

“Just milk thanks,” Gina said as she fished a tiny recorder out of her purse and placed it at the top of the pad. “Gina Stapopolous, interviewing Joe Baldur, January 28, 2010 at his home. Anything you don’t want recorded just let me know and I will stop the recorder.”

“Thanks for coming by Gina,” Joe said, “It’s nice to have a new audience for my old stories.”

“I should start off with a few questions then. How old are you?”

“According to my birth certificate I am one hundred and fifty one this year.”

“That’s an extraordinary age Mr. Baldur.”

“Please, call me Joe.”

“OK then, Joe,” she said, “Do you have any other way of proving your age? It isn’t that I doubt you, but the oldest person on record is one hundred and seventeen and they live in a nursing home.”

“I’m afraid that anyone that might remember the day of my birth is long gone.” Joe smiled her. “I have no interest in trying to claim any record. I’m not interested in going through the media circus that would entail.”

“Yet you took my call and invited me here…”

“I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to have a pretty young woman give me her undivided attention.”

Gina laughed and marked a point in the air with her finger.

“So tell me what it’s like being your age?”

“Boring.”

“Boring?”

“Not many people are interested in the elderly anymore. Getting other people to take care of your parents or grandparents is big business. Put them in a safe place and get on with the important work of living. No one gives much thought to what it’s like for the old people who’re pushed to the edges. The last decent conversation I had was with the paper boy. He was collecting his money and told me all about the hockey tournament he’d played in on the weekend. That was five years ago. Now the paper is delivered by a girl in a car and I pay online for the paper.”

“Sounds lonely.”

“That too,” Joe admitted. He pushed the plate of biscuits toward his guest. “Help yourself.”

Gina took a biscuit and put a slice of cheese on it.

“So if you are bored and lonely, why live by yourself and not talk about your age.”

“All the fuss about my age would just add annoyed to bored and lonely. I don’t want to be Methuselah.”

“Methuselah?”

“The only thing anyone knows about him is that he lived to 969 years and was Lamech’s dad. That would be me. I would just be ‘the old guy’.”

“So, what do you want to be known for?”

“That’s a good question.” Joe took a long sip of his tea and looked up at the ceiling. Gina picked up the biscuit on her plate and took a bite.

“O my, this is good,” Gina said, “Where did you buy them?”

“I make them myself,” Joe said, “I can teach you how.”

“Really?” Gina gave herself a shake and looked at Joe. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to distract you from your answer. What do you want to be known for?”

“A baker of really good biscuits wouldn’t be a bad start,” Joe said, “Try the jam, it’s from the strawberries I grow out back.”

Gina dutifully spread some of the ruby red jam on her biscuit and bit into it. She closed her eyes and sighed.

“Heaven,” she said, “So what else can you do?”

“I make most of my own food from scratch,” Joe said, “It isn’t like I don’t have time to give what I’m doing my full attention.” He bit into his own biscuit and sighed.

“That sounds like good advice. My dad used to tell me something similar.”

“Sounds like he’s a smart fellow.”

“He is, but he lives on the other side of the country now and I don’t see him much.”

“Don’t have time?”

“He’s pretty busy too,” Gina said, “He’s always off golfing with his buddies.”

Joe just looked at her.

“All my friends are my age. They are just happy not to have their parents telling them how to live their lives anymore.”

“Yes, that is a weakness of the elderly.”

“Not just the old,” Gina said, “You wouldn’t believe how many times my girlfriend tries to tell me what to do with my life.”

“Is her advice good?”

Gina laughed, “Heck no, she’s into relationships like an alcoholic is into beer.”

“Right, so it’s about the effect not the taste.” Joe took another bite of his biscuit. “So you put up with bad advice from your friend, but not good advice from your father?”

“Just because he’s older doesn’t mean the advice is better.”

“True.” Joe got up and opened the fridge, pulled out a tiny block of cheese and brought it back to the table. He carefully cut a slice. “Try this.”

Gina took the tiny sliver of cheese from him and popped into her mouth. Joe watched as something close to ecstasy passed across her face.

“What is that?” Gina whispered.

“That is a ten year old cheddar,” Joe said and passed her another sliver. “Some things, like cheese and whisky improve with age. If you have the patience and the knowledge to enjoy the difference.”

“And you’re saying that people are one of those things.”

“Some people, in the right conditions,” Joe said and cut himself a sliver of cheese. “I guess what I want is to keep improving with age.”

Gina looked at him and smiled.

“I think I could say the same thing.”

“It’s no easier at my age.” Joe cut her another slice of the cheese.

“But you manage.”

“I hope so.”

Gina pushed the stop button on the recorder. She looked at the blank pad that sat in front of her and picked up the pencil.

“You offered to teach me how to make these biscuits, how about you give me the recipe, then you can teach me how to make it work.”

“Only if you promise to make some for your dad and….”

“And?”

“Come back to visit me.” Joe looked at her, his heart thumping with nerves. He didn’t want to be disappointed again.

“I think I can promise you that,” Gina said.

Joe grinned, “I’m feeling a hundred years younger now.” He went to the cupboards and began pulling out bowls and ingredients. “The trick to good biscuits is in how you mix them…”

Finding Pooky

Trains are full of stories, some of them on the noir side.


Five hundred dark miles until we arrived at our next stop. People were already settling in with blankets and cushions. Some of them even planned on sleeping.

I walked the cars checking tickets before they got too involved. The sleeper cars were next. I tapped on the door and a hand would show me the appropriate number of tickets, except for Cabin 31. It was flung open by an old man who made a move toward where his pockets would have been had he been wearing pants.

“Where are my pants?” he asked. An old woman paused in her undressing to reach under a pile of clothes on the floor and hand him the tickets. I checked them and closed the door.

There are certain things that are not meant for mortal eyes to see.

That was one of them.

I finished my walk and sat at my desk in the closet they call the “Conductor’s Office” I hadn’t been there five minutes when a woman flung the door open.

“You the conductor?”

“Yes’m”

“I’ve lost Pooky”

“Pooky?”

“Yes, she’s about eight pounds and wearing the cutest pink sweater.”

I looked at the woman again, taking in the once carefully coiffed hair, the expensive suit. the even more expensive implants. I made a bet with myself.

“She’s a toy poodle,” I said.

“Of course.”

I owed myself about a million dollars. This was the biggest part of my job. Passengers were always losing things on the train; purses, wallets, their virginity. Most things I could find, some not.

“Where did you last see her?”

“I left her with a man and his daughter in coach. He was wearing a black leather vest. I needed to get off at the last stop.” She sniffled a little. “I broke a nail, and I just couldn’t find my manicure kit.”

“I see.” I send her back to her seat and headed for the dining car. A bit of cheese goes a long way to befriending vicious little dogs. Then I was off to coach.

I found the big man in the leather vest making serious inroads on a bottle of something cheap and alcoholic. When I interrupted him he came off the seat at me. I pushed him back into it. He lunged again. I put my finger on his forehead and pushed him back. As he gathered himself for a third try I asked him a question.

“Do you know how fast this train is going?”

“Why should I care?”

“Because it has a lot to do with how painful it will be when I throw you off the train.”

“What do you want?”

“A woman left her poodle with you, she would like it back.”

“That vicious little critter chewed my vest. I sent my daughter to take it back.”

“When was that?”

“How should I know? It was before we left the station.”

“Where is she now?” He just shrugged.

“She is your daughter.”

“Only until I get her to her mother’s. She’s fourteen and can take care of herself.”

I took away the bottle and deposited in the garbage before I looked for the kid.

She sat in the dining car holding a torn shirt with one hand and a coke with the other. I sat down across from her.

“Everyone else was doing it,” she said, “He didn’t like it when I changed my mind.”

“What does he look like?”

“I left him in a fetal position, moaning.”

“Good girl,” She burst into tears, so I offered my handkerchief and waited.

“Aren’t you going to lecture me or something?”

“No.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I am looking for the poodle.”

“Pooky? Didn’t they get her back to her owner?”

“Who’s they?”

“An old couple. They acted like kids in love. You know, holding hands, bumping against each other. It was kind of cute. They were in cabin….” She paused in thought.

“Thirty-one,” I said and she nodded.

“Thanks,” I stood up, “You stay here as long as you need.”

“The waiter told me I had to order something to sit here.”

“Usually you do, but tonight is different. If you do want something, just ask. It’s on the house.”

I waved a signal at Frankie and he came over. I left her ordering enough to feed an army.

Back at cabin thirty-one I could hear high pitched barking mixed with other sounds. I knocked on the door and a moment later the old timer flung the door open.

“You’ve come for Pooky,” he said as he deftly caught the small dog that was leaping and snapping at him. “She’s a nice dog, but I’m too old for a threesome.” He handed me the dog and I let Pooky smell the cheese in my hand. She quieted.

“We are running away from our kids,” he said, “They are going to be so angry.” He winked and closed the door. The kid was right. It was kind of cute.

Pooky’s mistress was delighted to see her so I took myself back to my closet.

“Another victory,” I said to the picture of my wife. Twenty years ago she had vanished from this very train. I never found her. I’m still looking, but some things can’t be found.

I turned and watched the darkness pass outside.