Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Guest Writer: Salvatore Buttaci


The call came at midnight. We were certain of the time because, almost in unison, we lifted up our bowed heads to the wooden bird stepping out the mechanical door of Mother’s clock, cuckooing the twelfth hour.

All around the dining room table six of us held hands in near darkness. Only a small incense candle burned, its flickering flame stretching human shadows to the high cathedral ceiling.

Just as the clock door slammed shut on the cuckoo, Madam Shasta’s timid, tremulous voice revved into a strong baritone.

“Oh, my God! It’s Robert!” said Mother, quite recently, Father’s widow. We recognized it too. We had heard it since childhood. Heard it till a month ago when he collapsed and died.

“Where are you?” We had heard Mother ask him that same question down through the years. “Robert, where are you?” and Father would toss out another Middle-East archaeological dig, and then as she berated him for his never being home, wept like a spoiled child, Father would hang up the phone. Now, through the Gypsy medium, Father was calling again, this time from beyond the grave.

Father had devoted his entire life to disproving Christ’s divinity. As an archaeologist he excavated his way through Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Cana, even to the shores of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. “When I find that preacher’s bones,” he had said more than occasionally, “I will wave them in the face of the whole world!”

Now the call had come. The moment of truth. Madam Shasta puffed up her ample chest, reminiscent of proud Father during one of his rantings, then exhaled a vociferous growl that caused all perspiring hands to shake loose of the séance circle. The connection, however, remained intact.

“I was wrong,” we heard Father say in between the snarls and howls and gruntings of the beasts now echoing in the room.

The candlelight illuminated Mother’s beaming face. “There is a Heaven!” she said, clasping her hands in seeming prayer.

Then the snarling beast spoke to Father in a human voice. “Move along. You had your say.”

“Robert! Robert!” Mother cried out, but like in days of old, Father did not respond.

Madam Shasta clutched her red-scarfed throat like a woman choking on fire. Her tongue lolled out the side of her open mouth, then coughed her lungs clear of brimstone ash. When at last she spoke, it was her own accented voice consoling Mother. “Oh, yes, I can assure you, Mrs. Carr, there is a Heaven.”

© Salvatore Buttaci 2010

Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer who writes everyday. His collection of 164 short-fiction stories, Flashing My Shorts, is available from or from

FLASHING MY SHORTS (by Salvatore Buttaci)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Guest Writer: Sandra Davies

Theme for a Summer Place

“Plod,” a quietly-spoken but urgently-conveyed warning by the eldest of the trio of near-permanent barstool occupants, turning to catch the eye of one of the lads – his grandson as it happened – who was sat with the noisier-than-usual group of laughing youngsters in the public bar of the ‘Crown’.

And in a move so smooth it might have been choreographed (it hadn’t, but the interruption occurred sufficiently frequently to make it appear so) all the under-age drinkers rose silently and left through a black-painted wooden door labelled ‘Toilets’ at the far end of the bar, leaving their glasses on the small ‘off sales’ counter in the lobby, from where the barmaid collected and buried them in a sink of sudsy water. As they piled out into a narrow back lane, the remaining drinkers redistributed stools and formed a convincing, long-settled quintet.

At that time every village had its live-in bobby, and the most effective used their local knowledge and common sense at least as much as their official powers to maintain law and order – they did, after all, have to live there. ‘Plod’ Patterson was one such, hence it was known that if he entered the saloon bar of the Crown with his helmet on it was a signal that he was on duty, the rest of the time he happily drank alongside all and sundry in the public bar, as well able as the landlord to turn a blind eye to minor infringements (although he made sure never to outstay his welcome).

He also had, in those days, the backing of most of the parents who, when told (as they invariably were, sooner or later) that he had given their cheeky or otherwise miscreant son or daughter a clip round the ear, were inclined to repeat his action for good measure - not that this deterred some from playing tricks on him: the night a few unnamed but knowledgeable lads loosened the spokes on his LE Velocette, and watched, with delighted anticipation, as he rode a short way up the road until the front wheel collapsed was long-remembered.

The Panda car, forewarning of which had been received by phone from a colleague in the next village to the north (rather too close for comfort, they usually came from the other direction, allowing more time to respond) passed the end of the road as the gaggle of young teens made for the sparsely-wooded wasteland at the back of the rectory, no intention yet of ending this particular evening – a celebration of the last day of term and the prospect of a whole six empty weeks to fill.

And for the girls, this six weeks – this summer of 1961, when Henry Mancini’s ‘Theme for a Summer Place’ persistently played along the telegraph wires, exhaling hauntingly into the ether – promised to be one of the most exciting ever, thanks to a recent influx into the village of no fewer than eight new males: some only boys, but others, at least four, if not five, undoubtedly men. On their behalf an informal challenge had been mounted, the rules drawn up during bus journeys to and from school, the winner to be whoever got off with the greatest number of them before the beginning of September, by which time they’d all be sixteen, and all be singing along to Helen Shapiro’s ‘Don’t treat me like a child’, to Billy Fury’s ‘Halfway to Paradise’ and to Presley’s ‘Surrender.’

© Sandra Davies 2010

Sandra Davies is an artist and printmaker and recently-emerged writer of fiction, with a long-established interest in family history. Born on the Essex coast, she now lives in Teesside in the north east of England, both places having the flat landscapes and sea-edged horizons considered essential for a sense of well-being. More writing can be found at and prints at

Guest Writer: Jeanette Cheezum

Little Black Dress

“Hi Dotty,” his eyes lit up when she came into the wallpapered room.
“Momma, why doesn’t he call you by your name?”
“He thinks I’m Dotty, wait until he tells you his favorite story.”
“Come sit next to me little girl,” he grinned large.
“Grandpa it’s me . . . Melody, don’t you remember?” She gave him a hug.
“You know I dreamed about her last night” he pointed to his daughter, smiling even more.
“What happened in your dream?”
“I had hair,” he laughed out loud, “black.”
“Then what Grandpa?”
“I heard a commotion—looked around to see what the chatter was about. Dotty walked into the room every man looked her over. She had her black mini-skirt on and her legs ran all the way up to her--”
“Poppa!” She shook her finger.
“Dotty had one of those low cut tops on and they were spilling out.” He cupped his hands.
“Okay Poppa that’s enough she can figure out the rest.”
“Wasn’t Grandma’s sister named Dotty?”
“Yep, it’s a good thing Momma never heard this story.”

© Jeanette Cheezum 2010

Jeanette is always dreaming of cruising when she’s not walking on the Chesapeake Bay. She can write anywhere and has.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Guest Writer: J.O. Vaughn


No matter what she did – covering her ears, humming incessantly, trying to escape to the astral planes – the electronic tone just seemed to intensify, it felt as if it were liquefying her brain, memory, motor functions, death; she tried to remember where she’d heard it before, somewhere in the past, almost like a dream the voices were real and at the same time an illusion. She managed a slight grin, she attempted to shrug but the gesture only caused more agony, she relaxed on the cold metallic flooring trying to ignore the dirt, grime and mildew that surrounded her, either way it’s not exactly the worst way to go. Her pain continued and she began to slam her head against the floor, the heavy metal only causing her to bleed, the sound wouldn’t stop but she noted that she had to be in so much pain the hand banging didn’t change much. Tears formed due to the pain, she felt very nauseated and yet still she refused to leave.  Just above her, it was eye level when she had the strength to stand, was something she’d never thought she’d live to see again, a note from her mother:
Please Mayu, wherever you are, come home.  I know you wanted to be alone in these last months but I have to beg you to let me see you one last time.  I love you and I always will, I hope you know that.  I’m sorry for what I’ve done and that I couldn’t help save you.  Please forgive me.
~ Mom
Mim. She reached up to try and grab the sheet of fading water-logged parchment, she could smell the trace of lavender among the uncanny sense of home emanating from the page. She allowed herself a moment – her ability to shield herself had steadily weakened as her body had begun its descent into death, her people knew all they had to do was place the message close enough; They knew I’d search for this.

She cried out, All right! You know I’m here. I’ve walked for miles to come and find thisWhere are you?


She took a breath but nothing had changed. For the last mile all she’d sensed was the thin trace of her mother’s letter. They’re not here. I’m alone. The moment of clear thought was again shattered by the deafening noise coming from all around her, it echoed reminding her of times she spent living in caves, the vacuuming sounds of waterfalls and a swarm of bats searching for food. Her head was spinning with colors being distorted from the pain, her dizziness and nausea increasing, Not hypothermia, she tried to control herself, perfect timing.

Everything amplified, a crescendo of life from every corner, but through the fog she sensed someone was coming closer and pushed herself as far back as she could trying to phase through the wall to free herself from the agony and eventual discovery. She squeezed her eyes shut, enjoying the sight of the colors, waiting to hear, ‘Oh, my God.’ ‘What is it?’ ‘Is she dead?’

The ringing stopped but there was a new noise invading her thoughts, “Julie.  Sorry baby, you called earlier than we agreed. Yeah.  Yeah.  I can meet you. There’s a bus, five-six minutes.  Ok, wait, wait, I need to find something to write this down.”

She opened her eyes, momentarily blinded by the sudden incoming glare from the street lights, to see the man looking around, Don’t touch my paper, use the flippin’ phonebook, it’s got enough pages torn out already. Look, there’s paper down here near this – I don’t even want to know what that is but use it.

He pulled her mother’s note from the glass door and was about to write when she gave a warning growl, “Goddamn, what the hell,” he shouted as he scrambled out the booth dropping the phone leaving it swinging, almost hitting her in the head. A woman’s voice, Julie, panicked asking what had happened and where was he and ‘Baby, are you there?  Are you ok?’

We don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, she smiled, reaching down to secure the paper, and after taking a long moment to breathe left the booth shakingly but with the determination to return home.


There were a group of African-Americans sitting near a fire playing poker and discussing a wide variety of topics, there were four different conversations but everyone seemed to participate – they were making crude jokes about the economy and women, talking about plans for tomorrow, possible job opportunities they’d heard about and needed to investigate, and what court they were going to use to play ball. Cameron, a small thin male in his late forties who always wore military gear even though he’d never served, motioned with his head to Twan who looked back and noticed Mayu returning in her Eidolon form but still looking as small and frail as a newborn kitten.

Twan, who in his late thirties was a stocky man but carried an inner strength and self-confidence that caused most people not to even notice, had known her a few weeks but he could tell that she was in excruciating pain and being that she was the bravest and strongest woman he’d ever known, seeing her look so weak broke his heart.  He put his playing cards down and excused himself, Cameron and the others acknowledged the reason, avoiding staring at Mayu while they all felt the same concern, “We’ll come, too,” Cameron offered as he gestured the others to stand up.

Twan motioned them to sit back down, “Nah, she’d want to be alone,” he refused to look away from Mayu, he didn’t want to admit it to himself or the others but before he took his first step forward he felt he had to make things clear, “It’s time.”

Cameron nodded his acknowledgement and motioned for two others to come with him to help find Kisa, Mayu’s son, while the rest stayed behind and began to pray for her to pass without much pain and allow her soulless body to be admitted into heaven. It didn’t take long for the word to spread and soon people started arriving from all sides of the community with various religious ornaments and candles lit, unity while they waited.  Mayu wasn’t a nameless nobody, sometimes it took a while for newbies to be welcomed into the community but she’d been welcomed from the first moment they’d seen her with her little boy strapped to her back and a brown leather satchel around her neck.  She always had a smile on her face, a light step and a joke, she always dismissed whatever she’d had planned for the day to help someone fix something, watch someone’s child, prepare a meal, or teach a class – she knew so much for someone so young – it was hard to believe she wasn’t some doctor or lawyer living in a three-story mansion somewhere overlooking a bluff or sitting next to a spring in the middle of the forest.  Everyone had to agree, even before they knew she wasn’t human, that her life wasn’t meant to be sitting in the middle of a barren tent city waiting to die.

© J.O. Vaughn 2010

J. O. Vaughn lives in Winston-Salem, NC where she spends most of her time researching having a passion for knowledge which she uses for her writing. Feel free to check out her website Inkslingers Anon. She appreciates constructive criticism.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Guest Writer: Peter McNiff

The Dogs of San Francisco

Up on Alamo Park I walk Diva. There is a spot on top of the hill where I can let her off the lead to throw an object for her to chase and race around and work up a lather while, in between, she attends to her bodily functions. This morning when I throw her chewed up tennis ball she dissolves in the rolling mist. Trees and shrubbery appear as pale imprints. Erased along their edges, they resemble plant life on the floor of the ocean from which, as I watch, now looms a fabulous sea creature. This is Tim, surrounded by twenty canines attached by tentacles to a rope around his waist. When he stops they stop.
I greet him: “I see business is barking as usual.”
“You got to get down and dirty first,” Tim says, reaches into the satchel across his shoulder for a plastic sack, pulls one out, and slips it over his right hand. He was majoring in psychiatry at the time of the economy bust. His practice never got started. People who need him most cannot now afford him. He is good with dogs though. Clients hand over the keys to their kingdoms to have their little beasts exercised, as I do when I am out of town. When we meet we discuss life in general and today, dogs in particular.
“A lot of people tell me they love their pets and would die without them but they are too damned busy to walk them.” he says.
“Or just bone idle.”
“In some cases, possibly—no probably is nearer the mark.”
“I wish I had your patience, Tim.”
“This is not work really, it is entertainment. When owners complain about their pets I tell them, ‘Get a robot. You don’t need to feed them. Plug it into the wall let it do its tricks. No pooping.’”
“That is so soulless.” I say.
“That’s my little joke with them. No man is an island. Humans need human friendship. If other humans let certain individuals down badly enough, they may destroy their confidence, sometimes completely. They may break down. When that happens a cat or a dog may be the only friend they have in the world.”
Then it happens again. It is as if Tim’s words have found a nerve and pulled its trigger. I feel myself going to pieces. I try to reel myself in.
“I n-n-need,” I begin, but for some reason of late, I have begun to stammer. I kick start again. “P-p-people n-n-need soul m-m-mates.”
Tim’s eyes pounce on mine.
“You OK, man?”
He may be the right man in the right place to talk to about this problem but not yet. I am not ready for that. 
“Sure.” But I feel that emptiness that comes with something lost.
We watch a Dalmatian squat. When he finishes, Tim bends to scoop up what looks like a ring of German sausages, steaming on the morning air. He pulls the sack inside out, drops it into his pouch and picks out a fresh piece of plastic.
“You were saying,” I say, still pulling myself together, “D-dogs help the human condition?”
“Don’t knock it.  Dogs don’t talk back and they sure as hell don’t chase wallets or skirts. Some of my clients prefer dogs to people. A dog makes them feel good. Dogs hand over power over dominion to their owners. Dogs may fill the void when there is no one else. They are a warning device. They let you know when strangers are around, even if they only wag their tails at burglars, or bite the mail carrier.” 
“Hold on. Let me finish,” he says, his eyes widening in a comical way. “Do you known how many people depend on their dogs to dispose of leftover food? Sometimes those doggy bags really are for their pets. So here I am double-jobbing, street cleaner and dog walker, picking up the scraps they jettison. I mean, why shouldn’t I charge them double, man?”
I smile. For his services, Tim charges top dollar.
“Here’s another from my cracker barrel—any idea how many people believe their dog will bark to save them next time the San Andreas cracks open?”
A Kerry Blue goes down on her haunches.
He stoops to scoop up another dump.
“Better keep moving,” he says, shoots a wry grin and moves on with his circus.

Diva now has a friend, a tired looking Labrador with rheumy eyes and white muzzle. He springs to life when Diva nips his ear, nothing vicious, just having fun and then his owner drifts my way, as might a ghost from a graveyard, a woman in her thirties with a certain elegance, in a tan winter coat belted round the middle, and fleece-topped boots.
“Hello—is that your dog?”
I nod, smile.
“I think he has paint on his coat,” she says of Diva. It is true. Diva’s fur looks like a decorator used it to clean his brush.
“She,” I say, “is a bitch. Australian sheep dog I p-picked out at the p-pound. Or, maybe she chose me. Anyway, each of us is grateful for the other.”
“They really do show their appreciation when rescued from the pound.”
“Maybe they know just how close they came to oblivion.”
The Labrador tires, flops down beside his mistress. Diva wanders off and returns to deliver the ball at my feet, backs off and yelps. I pick it up and hurl it, and ball and Diva vanish.
“This old fellow is from a pound in Tucson,” the woman says. “Seven years ago December. The previous owner left him in the desert and drove away. I got him after—” she throws her eyes my way, confiding, “—after I broke up with my husband.”
Diva lays the ball at my feet and yelps, backs off, sits on her haunches, tongue lolling. This time I give the ball a kick, sending it into the shrubbery.
“I was in Tu-Tu-Tucson for s-s-six weeks, not too long ago,” there I go again. “Are you f-f-from there?”
“Not at all.”
There is a pause, brief enough for her to take in more information about me, glancing at my shoes then my eyes, before turning away saying, “I am from right here in the city of Saint Francis. I moved back with my parents.
I take a deep breath.
“I was in Tucson for a movie,” I volunteer.
“Are you an actor?”
“For part of a shoot—I wrote the script and directed.”
“A western?”
“It was about Billy the Kid.”
“Surely there have been too many movies on that theme.”
“Far too many and most of them mythical. Cinema tends to leave out the facts while somehow telling the truth.”
“And your movie succeeds where others fail?”
I recognise the hint of mockery in her voice and feel a rush of blood to my face.
“It was a documentary. Its aim was to expose the mythology about Billy,” I say evenly and without impediment, as one might pitch an idea across a table to a producer, full of self-belief. “The real story of Billy the Kid is one of emigration and hard times. Billie’s mother was from Ireland, probably pregnant when she sailed here on the migrant boat. She gave birth in New York, took in laundry for a living. She married and the family moved south to New Mexico where Billy’s troubles began and ended. The sheriff who became Marshall, Patrick Garrett, was a migrant Irish farmer—but you don’t really want to hear this stuff. You want go home and have breakfast, right?”
“No, please, I’m intrigued,” she says. “Do go on.”
“Another major character in the plot was Lewis Wallace, ex-soldier and at that time, governor of the New Mexico Territory, about to pardon Billy, but under provocation the kid shot his guards. Garrett ruthlessly tracked him down and killed him, which part Hollywood got right. Wallace was also a writer. At the time the Kid died,  he was putting the finishing touches to his best-seller, Ben Hur.”
“I know something of Wallace and Billy the Kid,” the woman says in a matter of fact way. “You must know that there are at least forty-five movies in existence.”
“Then I am p-preaching to the converted,” I say, and the wind drops in my sails. 
“I teach media studies,” she says. “Movies are my subject.”
Now I am the one doing quick takes—noting the commanding way she stands, legs slightly apart as if ready to defend her position, hands not so deep in her pockets, the confident angle of her head, the chic cut of her straight blond hair. She looks, well, attractive and now that I think of it, contrary.
“I d-don’t think I have s-seen you here before,” I say.
“Perhaps not,” she says and the shutters roll down, as if her privacy has been transgressed. I take a deep breath, holding in air for a slow count to ten, then expel it slowly. But nothing happens. I feel twitchy.
“Well, nice talking to you,” I say, and calling Diva to heel I hook the lead to her collar.
“Her name is Diva?”
“How lovely—my dog is Fleet,” she says, now I note certain warmth in her voice, a sea change, or perhaps a trace of desperation.
“Fleet—as in ‘track’ or ‘harbour’?” I say
She chuckles.
“—As in speed.”

I project a disengaging smile and move towards the downward path knowing that with each step the fog will swallow me for, as yet, I am ill-disposed to confide in perfect strangers that the woman in my life is missing, that she packed and left without a word, sometime in those weeks in Tucson and that if I had not gone there, searching for the lost soul of William Bonnie, my life might be as it was before.
At least, I have the ever faithful Diva to help fill this awful void but, for now, that is simply not enough.

© Peter McNiff 2010

Peter McNiff, current affairs producer based in Ireland, independent documentary film maker and web designer; short fiction broadcast by RTE and BBC; included in short story anthologies published by Heinemann (London) and Phoenix (London).  Has a Jacobs Award for television work; a Hennessy/Irish Press/New Irish Writing award; Cultural Person of the Year (2004) in his home town Greystones, Co. Wicklow.

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