Author Michael West Interview – 4 April 2013

Photograph courtesy of bymichaelwest.com
Photograph courtesy of bymichaelwest.com

Michael West is a member of the Horror Writers Association and Indiana Horror Writers, where he serves as President. A graduate of Indiana University, West earned a degree in Telecommunications and Film Theory, and since that time, he has written a multitude of short stories, articles, and reviews for various on-line and print publications. He lives and works in the Indianapolis area with his wife, their two children, their bird, Rodan, their turtle, Gamera, and their dog, King Seesar.

His children are convinced that spirits move through the woods near their home.

West’s short story “Goodnight,” originally published in WICKED KARNIVAL #6, was named “Best Horror Short Story of 2005″ in the P&E Readers Poll.

Okay, the above “bio” is from Goodreads and the information about author Michael West is encapsulated in just five sentences. Granted one is a very long sentence but the fact remains that we don’t know an awful lot about this chap who writes such brilliantly scary stories.

Michael has kindly agreed to take time out of his busy life to participate in an interview for MikesFilmTalk.com and after I did a Snoopy dance around my laptop in celebration I had to set down and write out some questions for him to answer.

So without further ado, let’s welcome author Michael West to my site and let the questions begin:

1.     How old were you when you realized that you wanted to be a   writer/author?

I’ve always been a storyteller.  Before I could write, I would draw pictures to illustrate the tales that were spinning around inside my head.  At age seven, after watching Star Wars for the first time, I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker.  I would write screenplays and make movies in the back yard with my parents’ video camera.  And, as the stories I wanted to tell outgrew my meager budgets, I eventually turned my attention to writing short stories and novels.

2.    I’ve read that your influences were Stephen King, Clive Barker, Richard Matheson and Rod Serling; so I’m guessing that you’ve been “hooked” on the horror genre for a while now. Were there any other influences that were not literature related? For instance, movies or some real life experiences that started you down that road?

I’ve loved Horror as long as I can remember.  I don’t know why.  I used to trick babysitters into letting me stay up late to watch Night Gallery episodes and Hammer films. I’d collect toys based on classic Universal monsters.  In the eighties, when a new Horror film opened, I was always first in line.   In addition to the writers you mentioned, there are some film directors who have influenced me as well.  John Carpenter, George Romero, James Cameron, and Takashi Miike would be the most obvious ones.

3.    Are there any other authors that interest you at the moment? Any particular genre?

I love the work of Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzales, and Tim Lebbon, but Gary A. Braunbeck is one of the authors I admire most right now.  He brings this emotional reality to his fiction that is simply amazing.  His work elevates the entire genre, and I was so thrilled that he was able to write the introduction to my short story collection, Skull Full of Kisses, so honored and humbled by what he had to say.  As far as genres go, other than Horror, I’m really into Urban Fantasy right now.  I’ve never been a big fan of traditional Fantasy novels, but I love the idea of taking normal, everyday places and adding magical, fantastical twists to them.

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A Harmony Indiana book.

4.    A lot of your stories deal with the town of Harmony, Indiana. Is Harmony based on a real place?

Living in Indiana all my life, I have driven through and visited quite a few rural communities, and Harmony is based on my experiences and observations of small town life.  As far as the name goes, there is a New Harmony, Indiana, and so I thought to myself, “If there’s a New Harmony, there should be a Harmony.”

5.    I really could have made this a two-part question because I’m now going to ask about Colonial Bay. So obviously and wonderfully influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, is the “Bay” based on a real place or did you come up with the location based on your story idea?

The location, a town on an isolated island, was due to the story, but I always try to inject as much realism as I can.  I’ve been to a lot of coastal towns over the years on vacation, a lot of “tourist traps,” and Colonial Bay was based on all and none of them. 

6.    When did you become the president of the Indiana Horror Writers?

I believe that I was first elected President back in 2006.  I do know that there was a year when I stepped aside for various reasons and served as Vice President, but other than that, I have been President ever since.

7.    What exactly do you have to do in that position? Were you elected?

Yes, it’s an elected position.  I help steer the meetings and help keep the various projects and events we are involved with on track.  We try to get involved as much as possible in our local schools and community to help foster a love of reading and of speculative fiction in particular.  We appear at various book stores and conventions in the area to promote our works and, again, raise awareness that there is a lot of great talent in the state of Indiana.

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A great collection of short stories.

8.    I’ve just finished reading your short story collection Skull Full of Kisses. Is there any chance that some of these might “reappear” later as a longer version?

It is certainly possible.  I get emails all the time from faithful readers who want to see more of my Japanese demon, Jiki.  I would love to do something more with her sometime. 

9.    I’m sorry to have to ask this next question, but enquiring minds want to know. Where do you get your ideas? Are they left over dreams or something that just strikes you as interesting?

I get my inspiration from a variety of places.  Sometimes I will see an article in the news that strikes me as odd and I start to ask myself that question: “What if…?”  But a lot of my ideas come to me when I’m in the shower in the morning, in that weird, dream-like state between consciousness and unconsciousness.

10. I loved the award-winning story “Goodnight.” Is there any chance of revisiting those characters later?

Thank you.  There are no plans at the moment, but I never say never.

11. Your “Bio” on Goodreads states that your children think the woods around your house are haunted. Any thoughts on that?

I’ve never personally seen or felt anything around our house in the almost twenty years that we’ve lived here, but my sons claim to have had experiences there, and I believe them. 

12. Have you ever had any “ghostly” experiences?

I went on several ghost investigations, doing research for my novel Cinema of Shadows, and I did have an experience or two.  I was in what they called “the demon closet” in the old Woodcarvers building in Converse, Indiana, and I witnessed a hanging light moving like a pendulum when there was no breeze or any reason for it to be moving.  I asked questions, and received spikes on an EMF meter in reply.  I also spent the night there and woke up to hear people arguing in the hallway outside my room, but there was nobody there.  Very creepy place!  I never felt alone there.  It always felt as if I were being watched.

Number 1 in the Legacy of the Gods series.
Number 1 in the Legacy of the Gods series.

13. I know that you’re working on Hades’ Disciples at the moment. How’s that coming along? Can you wager a guess on when it will be finished?

It is coming along.  With it being the second book in a series and knowing a bit more about the characters, it is going quicker than the first.  I’m hoping to have it done this summer.  The publisher has their heart set on a fall release, so time is short.

14. When you write, do you set yourself hours, words or pages as a goal?

I try to set word goals.  Right now, I shoot for 1,000 words a day. 

Sometimes I meet it, sometimes I exceed it, and sometimes I don’t even come close, but I like having something to strive for.  It is the only way I can meet my deadlines. 

15. And finally, (just because I’m a fan of Inside the Actor’s Studio) I’m going to crib some of their infamous questions:

  • A:  What other job would you like to do?   Film director.
  • B:  What other job wouldn’t you like to do?  Growing up, I always said I would never work in fast food.  I was too afraid that I would find out horrible things about the food and never want to eat it again.
  • C:  What is your favorite word?    Awesome.
  • D:  What is you least favorite word?    Can’t.

Besides working on his second book in the Legacy of the Gods series (Hades’ Disciples) his latest offering is now available from Seventh House Press: Vampires Don’t Sparkle is a great new vampire anthology featuring some of the best talents in the genre. It is available in paperback and e-book formats.

Michael took on the role of editor in this collection of varying vampire tales. His motivation for taking on this project was a personal and close one, a portion of the proceeds from the sales are going to cancer research.

In Michael’s own words, he says why: “It is a very personal cause for me.  One year ago, I lost one of my closest friends, author Sara J. Larson, to cancer, and then my wife was diagnosed with the disease last fall.  I hope that, with this anthology, we can help win the fight against this real-life horror.”

I’ve got to finish by saying that I am honored that Michael chose accepted my invitation to an interview. I am a huge fan and I am sure that if any of you are horror fans, you’ll love his work.

If you like truly original scary stories, you cannot go wrong with reading Michael West’s tales of terror.

Available now from book sellers and a portion of the proceeds are going to cancer research.
Available now from book sellers and a portion of the proceeds are going to cancer research.

Skull Full of Kisses by Michael West: A Short Story Stradivarius

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Skull Full of Kisses is a ten story collection of Michael West’s short fiction. I can tell you know, that if you go to read this collection, you will find no two stories alike. Each and every one is different, unique and damned scary.

There is a short story in there for everyone.

Interested in Japanese culture? Fascinated by the Yakuza and Japanese Demons? Well Jiki will be right up your alley or basement, in this case.

West gives us glimpses of the horrific haven of Harmony, Indiana and a look at the Lovecraftian village of Colonial Bay; where you definitely don’t want to ask the question – What’s a nice girl like you, doing in a place like this?

There’s a great little place that’s just out of reach in the desert unless you take Einstein’s Slingshot; a one-way ride into the realm of nightmares and things that like human flesh.

If you ever dreamed of being an astronaut, you’ll want to avoid the story To Know How To See, which feels like a Twilight Zone episode with tinges of The Outer Limits.

While I’d love to set here and give little “teasing” clues about what is in the book and the themes of each story, I won’t.

What I will do is urge you to read these…quickly…while with friends…and in the daylight. If you attempt to read these alone, slowly, or at night, you might just have bad dreams. Or more correctly nightmares.

When Michael West tells a scary storynothing can be considered safe. Not even your loving girlfriend who never wants to let you go (For Her).

At the beginning of this post, I said that all the stories were scary. I will hold my hand up and  admit that this is a lie. I will not divulge the title of this particular tale. I’ll let you stumble upon as I did, by reading this collection. It is, I think, my favourite and no, it is not scary in the traditional sense, but is it very good.

West has a little “afterward” in his collection where he talks about what gave him the idea for each story and when it was originally published. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a horror writer. He warns about not reading this section before you read the stories as there could be spoilers hidden there.

I would listen to him. If you skip to the back, he might find out. And, I don’t know, you could wind up in one of his stories.

Now where I might find that entertaining (there’s nothing worse than one of those people who jump to the back of the book) if you are one of those people, I cannot think of a better punishment. Because as much as I love being scared by West’s scary denizens in his stories, I’d hate to have to deal with them.

Another great addition to the Michael West collection I already own and I will now wait (not so) patiently for his next offering of terror.

A real 5 out of 5 for creative and non-repetitive horror. If this collection was a musical instrument, it would be the Stradivarius of its peers; playing with a deeper and more resonant sound than other stories in the genre.

Read it.

Author Michael West and a fan.
Author Michael West and a fan.

Taken by Adam Light: O. Henry Eat Your Heart Out

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Adam Lights short story Taken throws a different light on the usual tales of abduction. Here is a  protagonist whose secret trauma is not revealed until the very last of the story and it helps to give an O Henry ending that quite surprised me.

I have only just discovered the delights of Adam and Evans Light and their twisted world of horror and the unique way they write about it. I’m rapidly becoming a fan and I’ll be continually dipping into their new books as they write them, like a literary humming-bird darting into their different stories for a taste of sweet sinister terror.

Both the authors can be found in the realms of Goodreads and what a pleasant discovery they are. If you aren’t familiar with their work, check out the Goodreads site and keep your eyes peeled for some of the special deals that these two talented writers are a part of. Kindle  deals abound and you can sample the terror filled treats that are becoming a staple of the two brothers.

I’ve only read two of the brother’s work and as I mentioned above, I am rapidly becoming a fan of their original ideas and very different story lines. I know that the title of this post is somewhat deceiving in that it looks like I am going to be addressing the story Taken its own. But being a short story, I would give way too much of the plot away.

I will say it deals with a long distance driver who loves his stay-at-home partner too much. So much in fact that he’ll do anything for her. It’s a great read and entertaining.

Check both Adam and Evans stuff out, if their stories were edible, I’d say, “They’re finger-licking good.”

Author Adam Light.
Author Adam Light.

A definite 4 star tale just for the unpredictable twist at the end.

 

 

Moths

 *This short story is a work in progress, please feel free to tell me what you think of it. Thanks.*

The sold sign (subject to contract) in front of the “two bedroom terraced starter home with garage” was being taken down. The estate agent trundled the sign to his van and deposited it in the back. Walking back to the front of the house he smiled and reached into his pocket to withdraw a shiny set of keys.

Holding the keys out he said, “May I now officially present you with the keys to your new home.”

Frank and Liz Donovan both reached reflexively for the keys. They burst into pleased laughter and Liz reluctantly lowered her hand to allow Frank the privilege. As Frank’s hand grasped the keys, the estate agent smiled.

“Good luck in your new home sir.”

“Thanks.” Frank turned to Liz. “Honey, get Bethany will you?”

Bethany, their highly energetic 18 month old daughter, was inspecting something in the grass with impressive concentration. Looking up at Liz’s approach, Bethany stood up from her crouching inspection to point at the object of her intense scrutiny.

“Bug, Mummy, bug.”

“Yes dear,” Liz said. She held her hands out.

“Cuddle?”

Bethany’s attention diverted, she forgot the bug and ambled drunkenly over to Liz.

“Cuddoo? Cuddoo?”

Picking her baby up, Liz glanced uneasily at the spot where Bethany’s bug apparently resided.

Probably just a beetle, she thought.

She shivered slightly and decided not to tell Frank about it. He hated bugs even more than she did, to the point of phobia. Whereas she could at least force herself to kill them, Frank froze up completely when confronted with any multi-legged creature.

Frank

Frank stood looking proudly at their new home.  Well, not exactly new, Frank thought wryly, a little over three years old if you wanted to be truthful about it. But it was their “new” home at any rate.

At the wrong side of 35 and stuck in a promotional slump in his civilian job for the USAF, and living in a foreign country to boot; Frank had given up hope of ever owning his own home.

A letter from his best friend who retired back in the states a year ago had done little to assuage Frank’s feelings of frustration. The letter contained pages of information about his friend’s new house.  John called it his “Sticks and Bricks” retirement house. John had gotten a nice lump sum out of his retirement package and that had gone toward buying the house.

Frank had called John and they’d had a good laugh over the phrase “Sticks and Bricks.” After he’d finished his call, he made up a rhyme: “sticks and bricks and mortar and stone, I’ve got to find a home of my own.”

Liz said that it wasn’t funny. That is sounded forced and contrite. Frank thought she was right, so he didn’t repeat the rhyme again.

At least not out-loud, in his mind the rhyme had become some sort of nagging chant. It was caught in an endless loop that played non-stop until he thought he’d go crazy.

As he squeezed the house keys in his hand he thought, ‘Got it now Dad. I’ve got a house now. I’m not a loser anymore old man.’ With a lump threatening to form in his throat he turned to hurry Liz and Bethany along.

Liz

Liz felt as though someone had taken all her breath away. ‘Our first home,’ she thought, ‘maybe now it will all seem real.”  At twenty-five Liz still couldn’t believe that she was married to this strange, maddening American; even though it had been six years and one baby ago when they’d “tied the knot.”

They had met at the village pub. He was hard not to notice; back then he had looked sad, older and lonely. He would come in every night and drink on average forty gin and tonics while quietly chatting to the old men at the bar. He would then stand just before closing time and, apparently sober, wish everyone a good night.

He would walk out the door ramrod straight without a trace of stagger. Liz was fascinated by this dark-haired, hard-drinking, stranger and she decided to find out what made him seek refuge in a bottle.

After finally meeting, they started a short furious affair that culminated in marriage before he was posted to Holland. Maybe Holland was why none of this seemed real. They only spent three months as a couple before they’d left. Now they were facing her home country for the first as a family.

As Liz headed up the path to Frank and their new house she thought, ‘England. God it was good to be home.’

Happy families

She smiled as she joined Frank. ‘Home owners,’ she thought slipping her hand in his as they walked toward the door. Bethany pointed to the front of the house, “Owse? Owse?”

“Yes dear,” Frank said, “Our owse.”

Bethany had started this two-word repetition about a month ago. Frank found it hysterically funny along with her mispronunciation of bedroom (dreadboom) and scarecrow (carescrow). Winking at Bethany and Liz, he put the key in the door lock. Turning the key, he bowed his head. “Won’t you come in Madame and mademoiselle?”

Liz laughed as she swept through the door with Bethany in her arms. “Why thank you monsieur.” She went into the kitchen and stopped in front of the sink. She stood with Bethany and looked out the window. Frank stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders and they watched for the moving van to arrive.

The house seemed uncomfortably warm after the damp cold outside. The nighttime storage heating that they had so worried about seemed to be doing a fine job. As they looked out the window, a moth fluttered madly around the kitchen light bulb.

Bethany pointed to it and whispered, “Moff? Moff?” As if she knew neither Mummy nor Daddy would be pleased at its presence.

When the big van pulled up in front of the house, Bethany’s attention was drawn to the big men who came out of the van. They stood smoking and consulting their map as Frank jogged down to them and told them that they were at the right place.

Liz put the kettle on for a cup of tea for the men and Bethany watched the moth as it was joined by another one, fluttering and smacking the dead bulb.

The House

The house was a standard two bedroom “starter home.” So called because it was so small that only a couple starting out could live in it. Space was at a premium. Entering the front door you encountered a short hallway with the kitchen off to the left. Go forward two steps and you entered the living room/dining room. The left side of the room contained the stairway to the bedrooms and one bathroom. The ceiling at the top of the stairs had an attic entrance.

The garage was detached from the actual building and housed in a block with two others. Frank knew that this would soon be the overflow for the house and that it would be full of boxes that had place to go yet.

Both the house and the garage were encased in red brick with redwood stained trim. Everything about the house shouted new and it was in one of “the neighborhoods.” Almost exclusive, most certainly snobbish and very definitely “up-town.”

Over the next two weeks Frank and Liz unloaded boxes and chased after Bethany. By the end of the second week, Frank’s nerves were frazzled. Bethany had gotten into everything and Liz had kept the windows open the entire time, letting in every insect from the neighborhood.

Sipping on a beer, Frank observed for the tenth time that day that he was amazed that the English didn’t have window screens. “Look at all the things that come in. We might as well be living outside.” Liz looked up from her unpacking, “I know dear, I grew up here, remember?”

Frank set his beer down hard, foam running from the top of the can. “Is that a spider?” He pointed to a dark spot on the wall. Liz stood up quickly. “Where?”

Frank frozen in place, thrust his finger out, “over there, by the hall door.”

Liz leaned toward the dark spot, squinting. “No, it’s only a moth.” Moving closer she took a jiffy cloth from her back pocket. “Got you.” She smashed the cloth down hard on the moth.

“Creepy things,” she said. There was a small brown toxic looking smear on the wall where she’d killed the moth. “Just look at that,” she shuddered, “Disgusting things, aren’t they?”

The Cat

The cat arrived from the kennel where she’d been in solitary confinement, as Frank liked to put it. The poor thing had to stay in isolation for six months because of the draconian animal laws intended to keep rabies out of the country.

During the cats stay at the kennels, Clover (what a stupid name for a cat, Frank thought, but didn’t say) had gotten ridiculously attached to him. Liz refused to see Clover while she was in “nick” as Frank had taken to calling the poor animal’s enforced kennel time. So he’d had to visit the cat and bring treats and spend some time playing with it so, “She won’t forget us poor lamb.”

The end result was that Clover became Franks cat instead of Liz’s. He had taken to just calling her cat instead of Clover. His grandfather had called every dog or cat he’d ever owned just that, Dog or Cat. It made sense to Frank. In order to keep Liz from biting his head off, he changed the cat’s name to CC. It seemed to work fine as the animal pretty much answered to anything.

After the cat regally ignored everyone in the family, she went upstairs and sniffed each room and the carpet. She went into the bathroom and flopped in front of the small open window at the back of the room.

Frank, Liz and Bethany went out for some KFC at the new place that had just opened down the road. Leaving CC to her own devices. A gust of wind through the open window blew the bathroom door shut. The same gust then slammed the window shut.

The cat could care less. She laid her head down and flopped on her side and began to lackadaisically lick her stomach. A moth suddenly appeared and started bashing against the closed window.

CC immediately froze in mid-lick. She watched the moth and went back to licking and then she lay on her side again.

The cat couldn’t rest. She watched the fluttering moth with eyes so wide they threatened to swallow her face. Suddenly she leaped; paws clasping like little hands. She landed, twisted, and leapt up again.

The single moth she’d been chasing was joined by another as she leapt higher and tried to grab both these noisy fluttery things. The two moths became three; then they were joined by another and another.

The room was suddenly full of these maddening creatures. The moths bounced off the window, the walls, and the light bulb.

Tink, thwack, tink.

The noise increased with the mad fluttering of the tiny wings. It became deafening. The cat ran and jumped halfway up the wall swiping frantically at the insects. Faster and faster she ran and jumped until her sides heaved and her tongue lolled.

She tried to stop but she couldn’t. The moths continued to swirl and dive, now bashing into her face as well as her body. The moths focused their crazy fluttering attacks on the cat, driving her mad with the desire to catch these things.

Her jumps became shorter and she staggered when she landed and when she tried to run. Defeated she slumped to the ground too tired to even lick herself. The moths fluttered and jerked while she watched. Her sides pumped trying to draw more air into her exhausted and empty lungs. Gathering herself, she made one last launch into the air.

When she landed, she did not move again.

Copy-write Michael E Smith 14/03/2013

 

Eggs

Tom‘s grandpa called him from outside his grandparent’s house. “Tom, come on out here. I want to show you something.”

Tom reluctantly tore his eyes off of the roller derby he’d been watching and stood up. It must be something interesting, Grandpa wouldn’t have called him otherwise. “Okay.” Tom shouted back. He switched the television off and glanced guiltily at his Grandma. She was sleeping setting up on the couch, but she had not even blinked when he’d shouted.

Grabbing his straw cowboy hat, Tom ran out the closer front door and crossed the porch with its covering of yellow grains of fly poison and dead flies. He knew that later Grandpa would sweep all the bodies and poison up and throw it in the ditch; he’d then spread new poison and remind Tom needlessly about not touching it.

Even though Tom was 12, he knew that Grandpa wasn’t treating him like a baby, he was just being careful. Something that Grandpa was very good at. Years before when Tom was about 5 or 6 Grandpa had worked at a lumber mill two towns away. He worked the big band saw that made planks out of trees.

“I was just standing there feeding the tree through the saw. It was stupid what happened. That damned old place was noisy as hell,” Grandpa paused and looked around cautiously for Grandma, she did not like it when he swore, she went to church every Sunday and would get really cross when he used foul language as she put it. “I heard a horn honk outside the factory on the main road. I glanced out the window and when I looked back, four of my fingers were laying in the sawdust on the floor. I don’t remember anything after that because I passed out.”

He stopped and pulled a machine-made cigarette out of his shirt pocket; put one end in his mouth and struck a match on the seat of his jeans. “They said it was damned lucky that I fell backwards when I passed out. If I’d fallen forward, I would have lost a lot more than my fingers.”

He always chuckled when he got to that bit while his eyes kept looking for Grandma. He never tired of telling that story, Tom knew because he’d asked him a least a hundred times how he’d lost his fingers. Grandpa always used to say that he learned all about being careful after his accident.

When Tom rounded the corner of his grandparents stone house, he saw his Grandpa standing in between the garden plot and the two rows of grapes in front of the barn. He held his .410/.22 over and under shotgun in his left hand. His right hand with a thumb, one half of a middle finger and all of his little finger rubbed his mouth; he alternated this gesture with licking his lips.

Tom found out years after his Grandpa had died that he had a drinking problem and that the rubbing and licking was a dead give-a-way that he wanted a drink. He went around the back of the house, skirting the ivy that grew on the corner of the house because it had a tendency to sway in the breeze and sometimes it would tap you as you walked near it. He glanced quickly at the stuff that was full of big black spiders and the odd tarantula; just looking at it made goose bumps dart up and down his back.

Grandpa was wearing his old grey work trousers and a snappy blue striped long sleeve shirt that he’d rolled the sleeves up to his elbows to ease off the explosive heat of the day. He also wore his grey hat, its brim was round and the crown had been fixed into a flat Arizona style that was pinched in the front from him taking it off and putting it on. He never used the brim to remove the hat, because as he put it, “It would make the brim droop so I couldn’t see very well.”

Grandpa smiled that perfect false teeth smile that Tom had grown up seeing, the one that made years drop off his face and had the curious effect of making him seem both kind and contrary. Thinking about it, that pretty much explained grandpa’s personality in a nutshell, kind enough and good-humoured, but, he did bite if you got him riled.

Tom had no idea how old his grandfather really was. His age changed from year to year. His birth records and the family Bible had been destroyed in a fire and he claimed to have no real idea when his birthday was. Mom said she thought he knew perfectly well how old he was but that it was his idea of a joke to keep changing it each year. Tom had to admit, he found it pretty funny. Grandma never said one way or the other how she felt about it.

“Come on up with me to the barn Tom,” Grandpa said. “There’s something I need you to check on for me.” He turned and started walking up to the gate that led to the barn. The chickens, which were fenced in by the barn along with their henhouse, started clucking and chasing each other around at the sound of the gate being opened.

Tom liked looking at the ground when the weather was this hot and dry; each time your foot touched the ground a puff of pale dust would drift lazily up, just like in a western where the horse’s hooves would make little dust geysers when they trotted across the ground. Tom wished he had spurs on his boots so they make that ca-ching noise while he walked through across the dusty ground. That would have been so cool.

“Stupid damn things think they’re going to get fed,” Grandpa said. He chuckled and closed the gate behind Tom. As they approached the barn the air seemed to get very still and a lot hotter. Grandpa took off his hat and pulled a bandanna out of his pocket to wipe his forehead. “The top of that barn is blasting out heat like a furnace, ain’t it?” Tom nodded and the old man finished wiping his brow and put his hat back on while the damp bandanna wound up back in his pants pocket.

“I need you to go up into the loft of the barn for me. You don’t need to stay up there it’s too damned hot to spend too long up there.”

“What do you want me to do, Grandpa?”

“I need you to tell me if you see a possum’s nest up there. Something has been stealing eggs and I’m pretty damn sure it’s not a weasel. A weasel would kill the chickens or at least worry the hell out of them. They’d be all bloodied up and spooked.”

They both arrived at the ladder leading to the barn’s loft at the same time. Grandpa was right, Tom thought. It was like a furnace in the barn and not just in the loft either. The heat made shimmery waves in the air as you looked up at the barn roof. Tom hoped grandpa had meant what he said about not being up there too long.

“Climb on up there boy and look for that nest. Tell me if you see anything.” Grandpa sat on a stump and pulled out one of his cigarettes and lit it. “Like I said, don’t take too long. It’s too hot.”

Tom went slowly up the ladder. He didn’t like heights and had a fear of falling. He gritted his teeth and went up; he wasn’t going to chicken out in front of his grandpa. He’d just concentrate on the barn wall in front of him and not look down.

As he went up he could hear the cicadas buzzing, the noise sounded angry and loud. The first time Tom had heard the sound he was scared. He’d never heard anything like it before. His dad had just laughed and said, “Don’t be scared of that. It’s just a jar-fly.” Dad had looked on the ground and found a dead one to show him. “It’s their wings that make that noise, I reckon. They’re pretty big so that must be why they’re so loud.”

Tom got to the top of the ladder and took a cautious step or two into the barn’s stifling loft. The buzzing seemed to be louder in here and sweat ran down his face and body. The hay in the loft made his skin sticky and itchy in seconds and you could see hay motes swirling in the air, despite the lack of breeze in the barn.

Suddenly Tom caught the whiff of something rotten. It smelt like the sulphur water at his friend Hank’s house only worse. Putting his hand over his nose and mouth he headed towards the smell. Looking down at the floor he saw a lot of eggs scattered around one corner of the loft. He picked one up with the idea that he would show it to grandpa, he then noticed that the smell seemed to be coming from the eggs.

He dropped the one he had been holding and it exploded on the floor by his feet. Instantly the smell got ten times worse and he started to gag. He whirled around and headed toward the ladder to get down. His eyes were watering so badly he couldn’t see properly and he almost walked right off the edge of the loft. He waved his arms for balance and then backed blindly down the ladder.

He was in such a hurry to get away from the smell that he actually fell off the ladder just before the bottom and he landed in a huge puff of dust.

Grandpa stood up with his mouth gapped open for a minute and then started laughing. “What the hell was that all about? Are you okay?” He stepped forward and stretched out his almost fingerless hand for Tom to pull himself up.

Getting to his feet, Tom used his hat to dust himself off. “There’s lot of rotten eggs up there Grandpa; all in one corner of the loft.”

“Did you catch any sign of that damned possum?”

“No, sir just lots of rotten eggs.”

“That’s where he’s taken em alright. I’ll have to come back tonight after dark and grease his skids.”

“What does that mean, Grandpa?”

The old man shook the gun gently, “I’m gonna turn him into a possum angel, boy.”

Grandpa walked off toward the house chuckling to himself and Tom followed after him. When they got near the ivy corner of the house, he suddenly veered off to the right and went behind his work shop.

There was another small fence behind the shop that didn’t have a gate, it was too low. Up against the back wall of the building were a bunch of strawberry plants; the smaller fence was meant to keep rabbits away.

Grandpa stood just outside the fence staring hard at the plants. He stepped carefully over the small fence and moved slowly towards the plants. Tom started to say something, but the old man held his hand up and he shut his mouth. It was almost like grandpa had eyes in the back of his head.

He put the gun up to his shoulder and clicked the safety off. Leaning forward he put the barrel of the shotgun down into the strawberry plants. Tom leaned forward and saw that at the end of the gun barrel was a possum. It was playing dead.

Grandpa shot it and a fountain of blood shot up in the air. He leaned down and grabbed it by the tail and slung it over the fence by the garage’s back door. He broke the gun open ejecting the spent .410 shell and quickly put another one in. With a quick flicking motion the he closed the gun back up and it was ready to fire again.

He stepped over the fence and poked the possum with the gun barrel. The animal whipped its head around and bit the barrel. The second the possum’s mouth closed down on the barrel, grandpa pulled the trigger again.

There was an explosion of blood, teeth and brain matter that flew over everything and everyone. To Tom the whole thing seemed to be in slow motion and the shotgun sounded ten times louder than when grandpa had initially shot the possum.

The old man stood with his chest heaving as he panted and reloaded the shotgun again. This time when he nudged the now headless animal it did not move. He leaned down and grabbed the tail again, this time slinging it into the field behind his workshop. He took out his bandanna and wiped the bloody mess off of Tom’s face and then his own.

“No more free eggs for that little bastard.”

Fred!

Both Tom and grandpa jumped like they’d been shot. It was grandma and she was furious. “What have I told you about shooting so close to the house?” She was wiping her hands on her ubiquitous apron and moving quickly towards the two of them.

Grandpa just gestured to the spray of gore that was spread across the once white door of his workshop. “Varmint.” He broke the gun open and handed it to Tom. “Boy put that in the house while I go get the hose to wash this mess off.”

Grandma didn’t say another word and went back into the house shaking her head. Grandpa disappeared into the workshop and was moving things around looking for the hose. Tom stood staring at the mess and then he turned to look and see if he could see the animal’s dead body from where he was standing.

Nope, it was completely out of sight.

Grandpa came back with the hose and hooked it up to the faucet at the back of the house. He began spraying down the door with the water. The water ran red along the side of the shop and Tom could see the animal’s teeth moving along with the stream.

Years later when he’d killed his first man and the man’s teeth had exploded out of his mouth like shrapnel, Tom thought of his grandpa and the possum teeth that had floated down the rushing water like white and red rafts floating out to sea.

Shoving the gun back in his coat pocket he murmured, “There you go you little bastard, no more free eggs for you.”

Michael E. Smith copyright 28/01/2013

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