Someone tried to break into Uncle Percival’s room. Teddy is hung over.
The three of them sat at a small table for breakfast. Cornelia was grateful that none of the other hotel guests had joined them. They needed to figure out who was interested in her uncle and why.
Professor Pettijohn began to order sausage with his eggs.
"That's not a good idea." She indicated Teddy, who was greener than the palm fronds. He wisely switched to bacon.
Cornelia ordered orange juice, eggs, and grits.
Teddy ordered coffee and a bag of ice.
After the waitress left, Cornelia lowered her voice. “Why would someone want to break into your room?”
Pettijohn shrugged. “I brought cash for a down payment. Maybe they wanted it.”
“A number of other people here have cash, too. Probably some brought more than you did, especially the ones in that fancy new hotel. Why you?”
“Maybe they have a list, and it was my turn.”
“I don’t think that’s it. If I were that sort of crook, I would break into a binder boy’s room, not yours,” Cornelia said.
“They wanted to start small?”
She gave him a disgusted look. "Will you please take this seriously?"
The waitress arrived with the coffee and orange juice. She also had a bag of ice on her tray. She handed it to Teddy, who lifted her broad-brimmed hat long enough to tuck it inside.
“There’s my camera,” the professor said. “It’s valuable.”
“Most of the visitors can afford one of their own. If they can afford a winter home in Florida, they can afford a camera. Even one as nice as yours.”
“Perhaps it’s a pair of locals. Men in need of money, and ones who don’t have a car. It’s a fair walk to the new hotel.”
“So, now you’re suggesting they picked you because they were lazy?”
Teddy’s voice, acidic, broke in. “Figure out who they were first. If you know the who, the why might solve itself.”
“Good suggestion,” the professor said.
“I need out of the sunlight,” she replied. “I thought I’d hurry the two of you along.”
“How will we identify these people? What did you see, Corny?”
Cornelia winced at the use of the nickname. “Very little. One was average size, the other was huge. That’s about all I could tell.”
“But you heard their voices.”
“So, we match the voices to the people,” he said. “I think we should do some socializing with my potential neighbors today.”
“Speak more quietly,” Teddy muttered. “I have a fat head.”
The professor ignored her. “Should we begin with the people on our floor?” he asked his niece.
“No,” Cornelia said, “I don’t think they’re staying or working at this hotel. We’ve eaten here every day. I know every voice by now. These men were strangers.”
Excerpt from "The Carver", by Erin Farwell:
The hinges on the door to the old barn squealed in protest when Chris shoved his way inside. All season he’d told Drake Logan to fix the damn thing. How was he supposed to create in conditions like this? Flipping the switch, he let his eyes adjust as the overhead lights flickered to life. The large tank still had pumpkins floating on the surface, like a giant’s game of bobbing for apples. Someone had cleaned the work tables, but bits of pumpkin guts and rind still lay on the surface and covered the floor beneath.
Chris sighed. He’d told the minions to give the place a good clean-up. Even though the corn maze would be open for another few weeks, tonight was the culmination of the last month’s efforts. Halloween marked the end of the month long “Pumpkin Walk” at Logan’s Corn Maze Farm, and this barn had been his workshop. With his team of eight minions, they had carved over 2,000 Jack o’ Lanterns that were displayed along the meandering path through the small wooded area near the corn maze. Of course all of the big ones, the great ones, the truly scary ones were created by him.
The problem was that pumpkins would rot. Soaking them in water with a little bleach then spraying them with acrylic kept them looking nice longer, but in the end they turned to mush. Chris took a month away from his graphic design studio each October to work in this fickle and impermanent medium. Every year he created the theme of the walk, carved the primary pumpkins and oversaw the creation of the others. He and the minions checked the display every day, carving new pumpkins to replace the ones that had started to sag. For six years he’d worked for Logan’s Corn Maze and enjoyed the challenges and reaped the rewards and kudos, which were his due. Everything had been perfect, until this year.
He knew he was depressed--his father had died only two months ago, but that was only part of the problem. There was also Patrick, with his tight t-shirts and tighter jeans who caught the attention of too many women. He also wanted to paint the Jack o’ Lanterns, add Spanish moss for hair, hats, stuff like that. But Chris was a purist and there was no place for such fads in his workshop.
Unfortunately, Logan had liked some of Patrick’s designs and had hinted that Chris should do more of that kind of work next year, which was never going to happen. He was a master carver, well respected. Besides, if Logan wanted Chris to play nice, he needed to do the same.
Then there was Amy. Restless and beautiful, his wife flitted from career to career like a butterfly to flowers. She’d never hung around the farm, never cared about what he did here, until this fall.
Maybe he needed to walk away from her, from the farm, even his business. Stupid, he knew, and this wasn’t what he wanted, not really. What he needed to do was take some time off and think things through. As soon as he closed up the Pumpkin Walk, he’d pack a bag and head to the cabin.
Decision made, Chris picked up the jacket he had left there earlier in the day and started for the door. Amy said she was going out tonight, some party or something, but he wanted to be home when she returned. They needed to talk. The minions would finish up tonight and tomorrow they’d do the final clean up, throwing away all of their hard work.
He’d reached for the light switch when he noticed that his tool box was open. One of the minions must have needed something and couldn’t be bothered to close it again. He stomped over to the table and did a quick inventory. Peelers, graters, chisels, awls, small saws, knives, they were all accounted for. No, they weren’t. His best knife, the one that had been forged by a blacksmith, was missing.
The walkie-talkie on his belt crackled to life, followed by an indiscernible string of words.
Snatching the thing from his belt, he pushed the button and said, “This is Chris. What the hell do you want?”
“The light in the big Jack o’ Lantern in the center of the main display is out.”
Chris swore under this breath. “Get one of the minions to fix it.”
More static. “Can’t reach anyone else.”
“I’ll take care of it then.” At least this was a problem he knew how to fix.
The last of the stragglers worked their way into the Pumpkin Walk, some lingering longer than expected, cutting things close. Then the biggest risk of the night, dragging the sawhorse over the path with the closed sign hanging from it, but no one saw.
Slipping through the darkness, avoiding the motion sensors and lights, was easy. The last of the visitors were almost through the display. A minute later the large clearing emptied of the sightseers. The giant Jack o’ Lantern in the center of the display glowed brightly until a wire was cut. Light still shown from the smaller pumpkins, but it didn’t matter. Chris would only have eyes for his creation.
The inside of the pumpkin was slick, but not much movement would be required. Crouching low, surrounded by the smell of rotting pumpkin, the wait was only a minute or two before Chris lumbered down the path.
He walked behind the display and leaned into the back of the Jack o’ Lantern to fix the light. The look of surprise on his face was almost comical.
“Trick or treat.”
The knife slid between his ribs, once, twice. Amazing what you can learn on the Internet.
Chris jerked back, taking the knife with him, stumbling over pumpkins, smashing them underfoot until he finally collapsed. Stepping carefully around the broken bits of pumpkin was difficult, but the goo made it easy to drag Chris’ body into place.
Logan Zachary (www.loganzacharydicklit.com) lives in Minneapolis, MN and has over a hundred erotic stories in print. Calendar Boys is a collection of his short stories. Big Bad Wolf is an erotic werewolf mystery set in Northern Minnesota and its sequel GingerDead Man is due out in January 2015. His stories can be found in several collections, including: Beach Bums, Sexy Sailors, Black Fire, Brief Encounters, Biker Boys, Rough Trade and The Spy Who Laid Me.
Just so everyone knows, Logan's story in Strangely Funny II has erotic overtones, but it's not X-rated. I'm sure some of you are disappointed by that news.
In "Catting Around", a meeting takes place where neither party is what he seems to be at face/fur value.
From "Catting Around", by Logan Zachary:
I came home late one night from the bar and saw the big tomcat standing by my back step. There was a patch of blood along his right side, a dark crimson/black slash across his yellow tiger-striped body. There was a bare spot on top of his head and a nick was taken out of his left ear, clotted with blood. The night was close, and the day’s heat still radiated off the concrete. My T-shirt and cut offs clung to my skin from my sweat and humidity.
“You poor guy”, I said as I saw him. “Are you okay?” I bent down to scratch his neck.
The cat arched his muscular back and rubbed up against my hairy leg, sending shivers up my leg, all the way up my spine.
What was this strange reaction? I know I didn’t drink much at the bar. I looked up at the moon, almost full but not quite. Two days to go. I could feel my nerves raw under my skin in the moonlight, itching, prickling wherever it touched me.
I knew how this poor fellow felt. “Did you need something to eat? Drink?” I dug into my pocket and pulled out my keys. I unlocked the back door, and the cat darted into my house. I grew up with dogs my whole twenty-five years on this earth, and after my camping accident, I haven’t owned a pet.
I flipped on the light to check on where my guest ran to.
The golden tom sat in the middle of the kitchen looking at the refrigerator.
I opened the door and pulled out the bottle of milk and a cold beer. A bowl dried in the rack by the sink, and I poured some milk into it and set it on the floor.
The cat raced to the bowl and lapped up the milk. His pink tongue dipped into the cool liquid, and he drank quickly.
I opened the cupboard and found a can of tuna and opened it. I tipped it over onto a plate and set the plate next to the bowl.
The cat stopped drinking and eyed the pink cylinder of fish. He slowly approached and took a small bite. He looked up at me and gobbled the rest down.
I filled a glass with cold water and drank it as I watched the cat eat. I kicked off my shoes and set them by the back door.
The tom cat looked over at me as I bent over. He watched me intently.
I looked back at him as I lined up my shoes. I could feel my tight shorts cling to my backside and I looked back at the cat.
His green eyes glowed in the kitchen light. His pupils dilated.
Was he checking me out? I looked underneath him and noticed he was a big old tom. He must know which way I swung.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer with over a hundred stories published in ten countries, in four languages, and a winner in the National Space Society’s “Return to Luna” Contest and the Marooned Award for Flash Fiction in 2008. His fiction has appeared in a Pearson High-school Test Cycle in the US, a Bundoran Press anthology, The Rose & Thorn, Albedo One, The Best of Every Day Fiction and others.
His contribution to Strangely Funny II tells the tale of two astronomers who have been stationed alone in the Chilean desert for several months. Everything has become dull until they find themselves held hostage by a dragon. Does he want to eat them? No... he needs them to help him sign up for Facebook.
From "New Hunting Grounds", by Gustavo Bondoni:
“All right,” Ferdinand replied, bending over the keyboard to look at the screen. “There should be a pull-down menu of years to choose from. Here it is. Now what year were you born?”
“Well, that’s the problem, of course. I was born in northern Africa just as Hannibal was sailing for Italy. Of course, I’ve moved since then. But there’s no choice for years before 1900, and besides, I happen to know for a fact that you humans are so dumb that you lost count of the actual years a couple of times in the Middle Ages, so it’s all bunk anyway. What can we do?”
Ferdinand’s mouth fell open in shock; his salvation came from an unexpected source.
“The first thing you’re going to do,” Marko said, appearing from behind the bank of mainframes that had concealed his eavesdropping. “Is to lie about your age. You won’t get any friends at all if you tell them that you’re a dragon old enough to be their grandfather.”
“Technically, I’m much—”
“We won’t get anywhere unless you listen to me,” Marko interrupted. “I can make you popular in a day, famous in three. Now, do you want to bumble through this on your own, or do you want to learn at the knee of the master?”
The dragon looked at Ferdinand, who shrugged. “It’s not what I’d call orthodox, but he does get results – at least online.”
Dubiously, the reptile nodded.
“Good,” Marko said. “Now let’s start with the name.”
“My name is ancient and respected.”
“Are you kidding me? No one is called Tarnetisney. No one. Anywhere. This is the twenty-first century – you’d get beat up for having that kind of name even if you grew up in a yurt in Mongolia. You look like a Jack.” Saying this, he typed ‘Jack Draco’ in the name field, and pressed Enter. “And don’t even get me started on your hobbies. Classifying rocks? Unless you want to be catalogued as the biggest loser on the net, you need to get rid of that pronto. Let’s see…” his eyes lit up and he chuckled to himself. “Skydiving. Yeah, and we wouldn’t even be lying.”
Ferdinand left them to it and went to see if he could find something to eat that hadn’t been in a can for more than a year. Marko’s evil laughter drifted through the once-productive scientific outpost. Ferdinand almost felt sorry for the dragon.
How will this situation end? Will Tarnetisney eat the two astronomers, or will "Jack Draco" make hundreds of Farmville friends? Check out the rest of Gustavo's story for yourself! Strangely Funny II is now available in print and Kindle formats on Amazon, plus several other e-book formats on Smashwords!
We're also giving away three copies on Goodreads - deadline is August 31st!
Instead of an interview with a Strangely Funny II author today, we thought you'd like something a little different: a taste from the book itself!
Our featured author today is Columbkill Noonan, who has an M.S. in Biology and teaches Anatomy and Physiology at a university in Maryland. An avid history buff, much of her writing, which could be best described as “supernatural historical horror”, combines historical events with elements of paranormal fantasy.
In the excerpt below, young Anfernee Antonius Abercroft III is a new ghost who desperately wants his body to be found so he can travel to the Other Side. Unfortunately, each ghost only gets one power, and our hapless haunt's power is the ability to say "Groch" aloud. He's about to learn the disadvantages of dying at a Catholic school.
He stuck his face right up against Sister Agnes’ ear, and yelled, “Groooooooooch-ahhhhhch-ahhhch!” as loud as he could, just as several other nuns entered the office through the front door.
Sister Agnes jumped, then fainted dead away onto the ground. The other nuns screamed, and clung together like frightened hens. Father Marion, eyes wide, pulled himself together and went to stand over Sister Agnes. He waved his hand in front of her face, and shook her by her shoulders.
“Urk”, said Sister Agnes. Opening her eyes and sitting up, she shook her head groggily, then gripped Father Marion’s hassock. “A demon, Father Marion! You heard it too, didn’t you?”
“I heard it!” chimed in one of the nuns by the door.
“Me too!” echoed the rest.
“Indeed, I heard it too!” said Father Marion. “A voice most evil and foul!” He whipped out his crucifix, and wielded it aggressively in front of himself. “I exorcise thee!” he shouted. Anfernee, stunned at this unexpected turn of events, and quite insulted at being called evil and foul, stood there uncertainly. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiriti Sancti, I compel thee. Begone!”
As the priest spoke, a wind began to dance about Anfernee. A mere tickle at first, it built in strength until at last, when the priest cried, “Begone!” the wind became so strong that, with a mighty blast, it blew Anfernee right through the door. He landed in a heap in the corridor, and looked up to see Spencer standing over him, shaking his head in amusement.
“Groch!” Anfernee cried, and rushed towards the office door, thinking to try talking to them again, to make the nuns and the priest see who he really was. But the door repelled him like the wrong sides of two magnets, and he bounced backwards to fall ignominiously again and again. He screamed in frustration, and beat his fists in futility upon the floor.
“Ah, brother,” said Spencer sympathetically. “Your first exorcism! And it was a fine one, too. Quite dramatic!” Spencer began to giggle. “And I must say, you looked quite funny, flying through the door like that, your face all surprised and such.”
“But why can’t I go back in?” wailed Anfernee. “I need to talk to them!”
Spencer clucked, shaking his head. “Yeah, you gotta be careful with that. Once you get exorcised from a place you can’t ever go back. You get exorcised from enough places in here, you’ll end up like poor old Harry.”
“Why, who’s Harry?” asked Anfernee.
“Well, he got exorcised one too many times and now he can’t go anywhere. He’s stuck in a locker on the third floor. Got exorcised from the hallway up there, and had nowhere to go but into that damned locker. Now he’s just trapped in there. Can’t do a thing about it. It’s even more terrible because his ghost power is to open drapes. There aren’t any drapes in that locker, let me tell you,” said Spencer, shaking his head ruefully.
Mystery and Horror, LLC, is an indie press interested in what the name suggests.
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