An Interview with Five Decembers Author James Kestrel

Punk Noir Magazine

James Kestrel is living the kind of life that a lot of other crime writers can only dream about. A practicing attorney, ex-bar owner, and world traveler who has won praise from the likes of Stephen King and Dennis Lehane for his newest novel Five Decembers (Hard Case Crime). He certainly has hit the ball straight out of the park with his most recent swing and deservedly so. Sharing a love for crime writing and Taiwan, I caught up with the Hard Case to ask him to answer some of our questions for Punk Noir’s Important Authors Interview Series.

 

Thanks a lot for agreeing to answer our questions here at Punk Noir, James. To kick things off, can you tell all of our readers a little bit about how you got started in the Literature scene?

 

I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid, and then I went to a boarding high school in Michigan called Interlochen Arts Academy, where I majored in creative writing. I also majored in creative writing in college (at a now-defunct school that occupied a former funeral home in San Francisco’s Mission District). Because I was otherwise unemployable, when I graduated, I moved to Taiwan and lived there for four years teaching English. I came back to the U.S. to attend law school, then moved to Hawaii. I started publishing novels in 2013, and have put out six under my own name. James Kestrel is a pseudonym.

 

Tell us about your most recent novel Five Decembers.

FIVE DECEMBERS is the most ambitious novel I’ve ever written. At its heart it’s a murder mystery, but its scope is enormous and spans the entirety of World War II. The main character, Joe McGrady, is a Honolulu detective who gets swept into the war and caught on the wrong side of the lines when he tracks a killer to Hong Kong just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I tried to write it like a punch in the gut.

What and/or who are your inspirations?

Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, James Ellroy, Ray Carver, Raymond Chandler, Megan Abbott, Laura Lipmann, Ernest Hemingway, and Haruki Murakami, to name a few.

 

What advice would you give to up and coming indie authors?

 

Unless you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, there’s no rush. Slow down a bit, read, re-read, and revise, and then start submitting to agents or publishers. Otherwise you might publish six books and then have to change your name.

What are your plans for the future?

 

To fight again another day.

 

What is an issue you care about deeply?

 

Right now, preserving our form of government in the United States. I fear we are one or two elections away from the end of our 245 year experiment with democracy. My grandfather—a German-American who killed Nazis for his country—would have been disgusted by the political rhetoric of the last 4 or 5 years.

 

What novel are you reading now?

 

I’m reading THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, but in Chinese. This is extraordinarily difficult for me and will probably take me until next summer to finish. I usually only read one book at a time, but I may have to find something in English so I’m not walking around with a permanent headache.

 

What music are you listening to now?

 

My wife plays piano and violin. Right now she’s working on Scottish Fantasy in E Flat Major, Op. 46, by Max Bruch. So I listen to that a lot.

 

Finish this sentence: Fuck ______!

 

Fascists.

 

What did you last eat?

 

The other half of my five year old son’s breakfast sandwich that he left on his car seat after I dropped him off at school.

 

If you could go on a drinking binge with 5 writers alive or dead who would you choose?

 

Ernest Hemingway, Yukio Mishima, Jack Ketchum (I had a drink with him once, and would dearly have liked another), Iris Chang, and Toni Morrison. I’d add Stephen King to that list but I know he doesn’t drink and I’d hate to be the guy who wrecked that for him.

 

If you could travel to a time and place in history what would it be?

 

Queens, New York, around September 1945. I would track down Fred Trump and give him a box of condoms.

 

What would you like written on your gravestone?

 

James Kestrel

1977 – 2177

 

(So medical science better get cracking on whatever it is that will make that possible.)

Formerly a bar owner, a criminal defense investigator, and an English teacher, James Kestrel is now an attorney practicing throughout the Pacific. His writing has won advance praise from Stephen King, James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Meg Gardiner, James Fallows, Pico Iyer, and numerous other authors. A sailor and world traveler, Kestrel has lived in Taiwan, New Orleans, and a West Texas ghost town. He lives in Volcano, Hawaii.

Optimus CrimeBy Scott Cumming

Punk Noir Magazine

“Says here, his robot is worth twelve grand mint. You know he’s never touched the damn thing.”

“What are you hollering about?”

“Kevin’s Optimus Prime toy from the 80s. He keeps all the toys his daddy bought him on a shelf. Never opened them.”

“His little shrine to dear old departed daddy.”

“I’m thinking we steal it, use it to pay off our debt and get rolling again.”

“I’ve heard dumber ideas.”

We were in debt after our heroin was confiscated. We weren’t in jail because the cops didn’t know who it belonged to. We hid it under old Dieterman’s toolshed. The exterminator found it while clearing out a wasp’s nest underneath it and Dieterman called the cops.

That’s how we ended up ten grand in the hole. Not many folks bought H no more. Those who did were in dire need of it and we could afford to mark it up significantly. Everyone was all over meth and pills these days. We had it in all forms for all comers even though the sheen has been removed from the allure.

We might look like hicks, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how use the internet. Capitalism has done a good job of narrowing down the options. That auction site had all kinds of Optimus Prime toys and it took a minute to pinpoint the right one and less than that to click “Buy It Now” on the perfect fake.

Turns out you can get fake anything from China and for only $30 we had ourselves one fine looking fake 80s Prime. It almost looked too good. A good few weeks shipping time gave us plenty to butter up Kevin.

***


“Hey, Kev!”

“S’up, Buddy?”

“Uh, guys, what are you doing here?”

“We’re here to see you, man. Make up for lost time.”

“What lost time?”

“C’mon, Kev. We’ve been feeling bad about how we used to treat you and we thought we’d show you how we’ve grown.”

“I dunno, guys. That’s water under the bridge and all. 

It’s weird you just showing up out of the blue.”

“We’ve a case of beer and a bottle of Jack here. Can’t let it go to waste, can we?”

“Alright. Come on in then.”

Kev was suspicious and didn’t drink or let his guard down. We sat watching TV and tried to break the ice.

There were plenty of rumours about Kev’s dad not actually being dead. He used to be the big heroin connect in these parts. There were those who said he’d moved up in the world rather than down.

Kev was aware and we imagine seeing the latest heroin slingers at his door had him rattled. That, and the fact we used to steal his lunch money and give him atomic wedgies back in junior high.

When we showed up a couple of nights later, he thawed a bit and we started heading round every night. He began stocking up on booze, which saved us some expenses.

We were into the fourth week of this when the fake Prime finally arrived. We thought it was lost in the mail at one point. We’d started taking Kev out to The Rusty Cannon every few nights too. He’d really settled into our relationship and was happy to have friends. We almost felt bad for the guy.

***

“You really think the Rams could win the Super Bowl?”

“Why not? We all saw what they did last year.”

“Woo, Kev, you should put money on that.”

“Oh, guys, I got a fish on the hook here. I’m gonna bounce. I’ll catch up with you later.”

“You tap that ass, Wayne! Make us proud!”

“Shut up, Art. Later, Kev.”

“Later, Wayne.”

Wayne wasn’t about to tap any ass. He was off to swap out the Primes. We’d left a couple of windows off the latch for easy access. Stopped it looking like there’d been a break in.

“I don’t think Wayne should be the only one to have some fun, Kev. How about we go see some titties?”

“Sounds good.”

Kevin was in heaven while we were on the cusp of solving our problems.

We’d found a guy in the next state who could evaluate the real Prime and give us an estimate on its worth. Another expense, but it would be worthwhile to stop us seeing our demise.

***

“Okay. Let’s see what you guys have for me.

Hm, a mint looking G1 Optimus Prime. Don’t see many of those.”

“Yeah, my dad bought it for me right before he died and I just never opened it. I feel bad looking to sell, but needs must. Y’know the economy…”

“I hear ye, son. Let me just give this a once over and see what we’re dealing with.”

The guy took out a pair of special glasses and looked at the details of the toy through the window in the box. He inspects the box with the same level of detail and attention. He checks something on his computer and is looking between the screen and the toy getting closer to each with every pass.

“Son, I’ve got some news for you. This item is a fake.”

“What!” We exclaim simultaneously.

“You see the roof of the robot’s cab here. Yours is slightly rounded whereas the original toy had straight edges and a boxier look. I’m really sorry.”

“Well, maybe it’s just a different type of Prime. Surely it’s worth something.”

“Maybe twenty bucks if you’re lucky.”

***

We’re in disbelief. We went over the night the toy was taken again and again hoping we didn’t just take our fake to get evaluated. There’s a rap at the door and we call for the visitor to come in thinking it’s Kevin.

In walks a veritable giant, close to seven foot tall. He has to stoop to fit in our trailer. He’s followed by a shorter, older guy.

“Hey, boys. Do you know who I might be?”

We look at each other in befuddlement.

“I’m Kevin’s dad. And yes, I know I’m supposed to be dead.

“I faked my death because I didn’t want to break the kid’s heart. He was always too trusting. And it would seem he hasn’t changed.

“I’ve got the real toy. I knew some peckerheads would go after it and Kevin wouldn’t see it coming. He’s always isolated himself. The lure of a couple of friends was going to be tough to resist.

“Add to that, I’m the guy you owe ten large to.

“So, this here is my friend, The Nutcracker. We’ve got a deal for you both, but you’re still going to have to take yer licks in order that this don’t happen again.”

***

Kev had a couple of friends for life. We were working to clear our debt by sitting playing video games with the putz. It was a helluva job to compete with our broken thumbs.

Black Hole by Katy Naylor

Punk Noir Magazine

One thing that I’ve learnt over years of space travel is that there are things you can’t leave behind, however far you go. All the light years, all the galaxies I’ve crossed, and always the same tired eyes looking back from the mirror.

Outside the ship, the stars spin fast. The Rosa Z has been riding the waves of the deep dark for some weeks, but it’s still a long time before she’ll make the next port.

It took a while, but I scrabbled together enough to get a working ticket on a Commission cargo vessel, sharing out my duties with another sucker who needs the credit. It’s cheaper than sailing on one of the big pleasure cruisers, and it keeps me busy.

I can turn a hand now to the routine tasks required of an able spaceperson – oxygen checks, theta monitoring, navigation. The years have given me that, at least.

Theta monitoring in particular requires constant vigilance: the slightest fluctuation in the wave patterns can be a vital early warning of fourth dimensional interference. Leave them too long and you’ll land in trouble. Signs that you are approaching overload include interruptions in the temporal flow, time freezing, stretching and distorting, until before you know it, you’re in such a spin that you won’t notice that you’re staring a black hole right in the face. It’s an unwelcome consequence of dipping your rudder into dark matter that the spacefaring worlds have decided they can live with.

I flick through my entertainment station. Joni Mitchell. I always loved twentieth century music, but I haven’t been able to bear to listen to this one for a long time.

A swoosh as the bridge doors open.

“Jaaaaax, my main lady!”

I stifle a groan. Creg should be settled in her bunk trying to get some sleep. I know what she’s after.

“Hi Creg. What can I do for you?”

Creg has the decency to look shame-faced. She stares at the ground, her right eye briefly flicking up to gauge my reaction, and her tongue darts nervously.

“You don’t happen to have any filters going spare, do ya?”

It’s not Creg’s fault that, unfiltered, the air on a Commission ship will kill her. But she could have at least made the effort to keep her own stash topped up.

“You know what Creg, I just might. What’s it worth?”

The colour drains from Creg’s scales: she’s cold broke, and she knows that I know it. What could I possibly ask from her that she’d be able to give? I leave her hanging just that little bit too long.

“Of course I’ve got spares, Creg.”

I toss Creg the keys to my locker. They land in her claws with a faint jingle.

“Go on. Fill your boots. I’ve got some rum in there too – grab yourself a tot while you’re at it.”

A look of intense relief floods Creg’s face.

“Thanks Jax – you’re a marvel. I owe you one, for sure.”

“Ah don’t be daft, you big lizard.”

A swoosh as the bridge doors close.

Nebula rising. The sight of the blue-green swirls gradually ascending into the ship’s sights is something tourists on the pleasure ships would pay good currency for. Now Creg has scuttled back to quarters, the show is all for me, the swoop and dazzle of it. So much dust, that’s all.

There are some things all the wonders of the universe can’t compare with. A different kind of dust, lit by the lazy sunlight filtering through the blinds, in the warm stupor of a September morning. Nate’s face, in the moment that sleep finally falls away and he slowly starts to open his eyes. The very beginnings of a stirring, the faintest flutter as I swear I can feel you – but there’s no point going over it. That was on another planet, and besides –

A swoosh as the bridge doors open.

“Jaaaaaaax my main lady!”

“Hi Creg. What can I do for you?”

“You don’t happen to have any filters going spare, do ya?”

“You know what Creg, I just might. What’s it worth?”

“Of course I’ve got spares, Creg. Go on, fill your boots.”

The locker keys jingle as they land in Creg’s claws.

A swoosh as the bridge doors close.

I shake my head. Was that…? No. De ja vu, is what it is. Instruments all read normal. Still, I can’t quite shake the sense that the air is slightly sharper than it was before. The faintest crackle under my skin. The nebula shimmers outside my window. It must be a trick, an optical illusion caused by a stray eddy of dark matter, but I could swear that it’s pulsing in time with my breathing. The ripples are soothing: what rivers dream about as they flow under the stars.

I wish I had a river I could skate away on. 

The bittersweet melody flows from the little speaker in the corner of the room, under the sound of the monitors and the smell of antiseptic. I close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing over the waves of pain. Nate sits next to the bed, holding my hand. He wants to comfort me but he is as helpless as I am. The sheets are wet. I don’t know if it’s with my sweat or something else. Again I try to push, but nothing happens. My heart pulses faster, yours is slowing. Sometimes it stops completely. I’ve been here twenty minutes. I’ve been here for a thousand years. The doctors still don’t come.

A swoosh as the bridge doors open.

“You know, Creg, I just might…”

“Jaaaaax…”

“….spare filters…”

A jingle as the keys…

“..fill your boots…”

Colour draining from her scales. 

“You don’t happen to have..?”

“…big lizard…”

“…what’s it worth?”

…land in her claws…

“…do for you..?”

A swoosh as the bridge doors… 

I shake my head to swat away the dizzy dregs of it. Fuck. There’s no mistaking this. The thetas are royally screwed and I don’t have much time to fix it if we want to get out of here with our hull in one piece. I turn to the controls. No need to panic just yet.

Not yet… 

4am. I can feel you settled low into my pelvis, still kicking as my abdomen tightens with each wave. I’ve been trying to breathe through the pain but now there’s something different. I’m so hot I’ve had to take off my clothes and now there’s something all over the kitchen tiles. Wet – good job I missed the carpet haha – it’s – it’s coming out black – it’s meant to be clear – ohgod there’s something wrong – we need to get help stat – it’s not meant to be like this –

A swoosh as the bridge doors open. 

“Jaaaaaaax…”

The room judders, like the holo’s skipped…

A set of keys traces a shining arc through the air. The moment is slowed, stretched so thin that a liquid eternity could pass before they land in the pair of waiting claws. I watch this moment from a cage of static. Time is frozen, trapped in amber. Or maybe outside of these crackling bars everything is flowing along just fine, and I’m the one who’s trapped.

A swoosh as the bridge doors close. 

Now…now I’m starting to panic. The ship lurches. The controls whine under my hands as I hammer every emergency combination I can think of. I can hear banging on the bridge doors – one of the codes must have locked Creg out. Outside the window blue-green light crackles and churns. The nebula isn’t a river: it’s a whirlpool. I just need to calm down.

CALM DOWN!

The doctor’s quiet authority has all but evaporated as he shouts to make himself heard over the machines. Somewhere, over in the top right-hand corner of the ceiling, a part of me notes, with an air of quiet detachment, the irony of the fact that the doctor, this man who only half an hour ago was batting away my polite requests for help with professional distain, is the one to lose his temper now it’s skirting so close to disaster. From up there I wryly observe the futility of shouting at someone whose blood pressure is as high as mine, when a moment of calm is possibly all that’s keeping me from the waiting crash cart.

Most of me though is right here on the bed, staring up at the strip lights and the square grey ceiling tiles. This is it. This is the moment I’m going to die. It doesn’t feel real but it feels too real and it feels it feels it feels it feels oh how can I claim to know how to feel ever again now that you’re gone –

The ship shudders and groans as I try my best to right her. But there’s no turning back. Her course is set. Blue-green currents swirl around me now. I am firmly in their grip.

I hope Creg’s jacked into an escape pod and saved herself. That’s what Nate did when, on that distant Sunday afternoon, he finally fled from the bitterness of our silent house. I don’t blame either of them for it.

Some things you can’t run from, however far you travel. It was always going to end this way. I look into the flowering heart of the nebula and see a great eye, staring into my very core.

Katy Naylor lives by the sea, in a little town on the south coast of England. She writes in the time that falls between the cracks. She has work published with Outcast Press, Expat Lit, The Bear Creek Gazette and many others. Her chapbook, Postcards from Ragnarok (Alien Buddha) will be published on 14 November. Find her online at https://voidscrawl.weebly.com/ and on twitter @voidskrawl

 

 

 

2 poems by Courtenay S. Gray

Poetry, Punk Noir Magazine

540

I have never wanted to be
happy. not ever and certainly
not today. with a life full of shitty
situations, death, hatred, and decay—
wanting to be happy would be
an outrageous thing to ask for.
I know not to get comfortable
at any point because what goes
up must come down. when I was
at school; I used to catch the 540
back home. sometimes we’d walk
and stop by the Mcdonalds for the
monopoly stickers. XY would win
a sugar donut and I’d turn the hand
dryer on while she went to the bathroom.
that town almost killed me, but I still didn’t
wanna leave. and, now I live in a different
town where bad things still happen to me.



love box

how can a girl know so
much about the world
without having had a
man touch the most
intimate parts of her?

all she knows is the
feeling of her own hands,
of her own fingers. she needed
his hands, his fingers to scope
out the premature beginnings
of loneliness and bring them
to completion.

at this point, she is chasing
pity fucks and any man
who would be willing to
love for one evening. he
must make the most of
the act of taking her virginity.
she will bleed, and she will
probably cry at least once.
but at least the deed will
be done and she can die
knowing that one man’s
penis rose to her birdsong.

their heads will bang against
the double glazed windows
of the five star hotel where
they serve blackberry wine
instead of coffee. with each
rhythmic thrust, she sheds
her angel wings — becoming
one with the world of dirty
lust and orgasmic dreams.

she’s the devil you know
and the one you ply with
diazepam to numb the yelps
of the emotions which make
her seem a little too human.
pain dissolves into sex and
sex dissolves into being a
scapegoat for erudites and
aristocrats. they’re a lot less
inclined to hurt you if you
mirror their image.


Courtenay S. Gray is a writer from the North of England. You’ll find her work in an array of journals such as A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Misery Tourism, Expat Press, Red Fez, and many more. She will often post on her blog: www.courtenayscorner.com Twitter: @courtenaywrites 

An Interview with the genre-hopping, bizarro-lit king Brian Asman

Punk Noir Magazine

Can you tell our readers a little bit about how you got started in the Literature scene?

Sure. I’ve always written off and on for most of my life, but in 2016 I decided to get serious about writing fiction. The LitReactor forums were a great foot in the door, gave me the confidence to start submitting work to different markets and introduced me to a bunch of cool people. Also took some classes that were immensely helpful—their horror writing course and The Choreography of Violence. Through one of my LitReactor contacts, I heard about a horror class Stephen Graham Jones was teaching at the Stanley Hotel, and jumped on that. Super fun, it snowed every day and we watched scary movies at night. I’ll never forget watching The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and then one of the hotel staff came into the room pushing a metal cart covered in a white sheet. Totally freaked us all out!

Tell us about your recent work?

My newest is a haunted house novella called Man, Fuck This House. After doing SF horror with Jailbroke and a bizarro martial arts comedy with Nunchuck City, I wanted to write something more explicitly in the horror genre. In both style and content its quite a bit different than the stuff I’ve published before, and I’m really excited to see how people respond to it.

Describe your writing style in 5 words?

Punchy, energetic, and utterly bonkers. 

What and/or who are your inspirations?

Stylistically, Garth Ennis is a big one. John Connelly and Joe Lansdale, for both their writing prowess and ability to genre-hop. Tana French, because her style and approach to fiction is so different from mine I learn something new every time I read one of her books. Thomas Ligotti—no one has the ability to transport me into a completely different reality like Ligotti can.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with a bunch of really amazing writers who’ve been massive inspirations to me—Stephen Graham Jones, John Skipp, Tod Goldberg. I’ve learned a hell of a lot from each of them, to the point where I could open up a book, point to a certain paragraph, and be like X taught me that.

I’m also inspired by a lot of the writers I’m acquainted with in the indie/small press scene, like Chandler Morrison, Gemma Files, Christine Morgan, Duncan Ralston, Autumn Christian, Max Booth III, Lucas Mangum, S.W. Lauden, Sarah Chen, and many, many more. The amount of amazing fiction I’ve been reading lately is off the charts.

What advice would you give to up and coming indie authors?

Write a lot, read a lot, and don’t be a dick. And don’t give up. Every single person I met when I first started out has achieved some degree of success in the intervening years, whether it’s publishing a book or a short story. 

What are your plans for the future?

To keep writing. Do more stuff in the comics and film worlds. Make more friends. And hopefully sell a novel to one of the bigger publishers.

Oh, and one of these days I’m going to take IDW into letting me write a TMNT Universe issue about the villain Pizzaface, mark my words. 

What is an issue you care about deeply?

Artistic freedom. Definitely not as bad in horror and crime as certain other genres, but fundamentally I believe the Artist is the only one who gets to decide what sort of art they’re going to make. Everyone else can decide to experience it, or not, but when it comes to policing what art gets created—or engaging in things like review bombing campaigns, or uncharitably attributing a CHARACTER’S noxious opinions to the writer themselves—I’m staunchly against that. I do believe in freedom of expression as a value, not just a legal doctrine (in the US, at least), because speech is my business. Speech deserves and requires both legal and cultural protections in order to flourish.

On the flip side, I wish more people would spend time creating art instead of tweeting about the books/movies/TV shows/poems they think shouldn’t exist. The answer to art you dislike is more art—yours, specifically. 

What novel are you reading now?

Cuts You Up by David Blackwood. It’s a goth slasher with fairy tale elements, but also a very compelling meditation on trauma. Really unique blend, and Blackwood’s a great writer who should really be on more peoples’ radar.

What music are you listening to now?

Same stuff I’ve always listened to—I read once your musical tastes crystallize in your early ‘30s and that definitely applies to me. I gravitate towards punk, stuff like Alkaline Trio, Off With Their Heads, Lagwagon and Bad Religion, and horror punk/psychobilly bands like the Misfits, Murderland, the Koffin Kats. I’m also a huge fan of the Gaslight Anthem and Brian Fallon’s solo records.

What did you last eat?

Chicken tacos with guac and salsa verde, followed by a blonde brownie. 

If you could go on a drinking binge with 5 writers alive or dead who would you choose?

KillerCon notwithstanding, which is basically a three-day drinking binge with a lot of my favorite living and almost-dead writers, I’d have to go with Bret Easton Ellis, Garth Ennis, James Ellroy, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Allan Poe. 

If you could travel to a time and place in history what would it be?

Fake history—the Hyborean Age. Real history—man, so many. Ancient Rome would rock. I’d be fascinated to see World War II unfold in real time. Watching the pyramids being built, either the Egyptian or Mayan varieties would be pretty cool. But I think if I could only do one, it would be to travel back to 1947 Los Angeles and find out who actually killed the Black Dahlia. I don’t think there’ a single mystery in all of human history I’m more obsessed with, because at a young age I talked my parents into buying me a little “Unsolved Mysteries” book at the supermarket and that story really affected/scarred me.

What would you like written on your gravestone?

Just my name. If I’ve done my job, that’ll be all the information a passerby will need.

Bio:

Brian Asman is a writer, editor, producer and actor from San Diego, CA. He’s the author of I’m Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today from Eraserhead Press and Man, Fuck This House, Nunchuck City and Jailbroke from Mutated Media. He’s recently published short stories in the anthologies A Pile of Bodies, A Pile of Heads, Welcome to the Splatter Club and Lost Films, and comics in Tales of Horrorgasm. An anthology he co-edited with Danger Slater, Boinking Bizarro, was recently released by Death’s Head Press. He holds an MFA from UCR-Palm Desert. He’s represented by Dunham Literary, Inc. Max Booth III is his hype man.

Find him on Instagram or Twitter (@thebrianasman), Facebook (brian.asman.14), or his website http://www.brianasmanbooks.com.

Brian AsmanBooks.Comics.FilmTwitter: @thebrianasmanWebsite: www.brianasmanbooks.comIMDB: imdb.me/thebrianasman

Not Happening by Laura Stamps

Punk Noir Magazine

NOT HAPPENING

 

Last week a friend gave me a copy of the Tao Te Ching and suggested I read it. And I am. And I like it.

This morning, I’m reading about the sage’s anti-stress strategy. When things come, the sage lets them come. When things go, the sage lets them go. Sounds easy enough. I can do that. I can let things come. I can let things go. I can remain calm. I can. I close the book and head downstairs.

The minute I walk into the kitchen I know something’s wrong. But I’m calm. I can do this. No stress, no stress, no stress. I open the pantry door. “Nooooooooo!” I scream. “Not again!”

I’m looking at the last thing I need to see.

The.

Last.

Thing.

“What is this?” I demand, when my cat trots into the kitchen and sits on my foot. Skipper looks up at me like I’m an idiot, like even he can see he’s trashed the litterbox again.

Skipper is a rescue cat. I rescued him from a cardboard box someone stuffed him into, taped shut, and left on the street.

Skipper has issues. He suffers from intestinal distress. The explosive kind. Everything he eats leaves his body in a high-speed splatter.

“You’re killing me on cat litter and cleaner,” I scold. “You realize that, right?”

Skipper rolls over on my foot and purrs. He’s a sweet little booger. I look at the litterbox and scream again just because it feels good.

Wonder what the sage in the Tao Te Ching would say about that? Actually, I don’t care. Forget the sage’s chilled approach to life.

Tomorrow I’m returning this book to my friend. Okay, he’s not a friend. He’s my therapist, the one who’s trying to teach me how to manage stress. AND IT’S NOT WORKING!

Hey, I gave it my best shot, didn’t I? But who can be calm with an explosive cat?

Not me.

Not happening.

Back to square one with the therapist. I guess.

Oh, well. Won’t be the first time.

Laura Stamps
Novelist / PoetTwitter: @LauraStamps16 Website: www.laurastampspoetry.blogspot.com

Bongo Fury… and Zombies by Simon Maltman @simonmaltman

Punk Noir Magazine


I took a last hit of the number and flicked it into the road. Shutting my lips tight, I held in the smoke before finally releasing a dark plume into the grey late-afternoon. I had been leaning against the window of my music shop; ‘Bongo Fury’. It was nearly closing time-almost time to get home to Pav and Skye. There was a shout from up the street. I strained my eyes to see a ragged group of bodies staggering away around the corner two streets away.

Fuck me, I thought. A bit early to be hitting the Bucky, like. I only caught a glimpse, but they all looked to have already tied one on. An afternoon bender- been a brave while since I’d had one of those. I pushed open the door and returned to my empty shop, The Outcasts were finishing up singing that the ‘cops are comin’. I hoped not- I was light headed, half regretting that last one-skinner. Kind of regretting it. I checked my watch then hit ‘no sale’ on the register and began counting out the notes. Not much there beyond the float I started with.

​Fucksake.

At least I didn’t solely rely on it for income. I was gonna need a couple more plants though.

Starting on the change, there was a sudden heavy thud against the door and a shape pushed up against the frosted glass.

To be honest; I near shat my pants.

Catch yourself on Jimmy, I scolded myself.

Then there were more shapes. I counted three of them, all pushing noisily against the glass.

“Fuckin’ cainers,” I complained under my breath, moving around the counter and towards the door. I gripped the handle as they bashed against the glass, groaning.

“Away and fuck you lot!” I shouted through the glass, reaching for the handle.

Pulling the door open, I was immediately near knocked on my back. The three of them burst in with an unexpected strength, forcing me backwards. As my wide eyes focused, my mind tried to make sense of what I was looking at. Three ghouls with blood and skin dripping off their gnashers were staggering their way into my shop. I held up my hands, grappling with the first one as his bony fingers tried clawing at me.

What the fuck was in that weed? I thought. I continued to wrestle with him. Worst whitey I ever had, like.

I got my head straight and slipped into fight mode. Whatever these things were, it wasn’t exactly my first scuffle. I clocked the other two groaning zombies now shuffling in behind the first one. Need to make a move. I heaved the three of them back with an almighty shove and leaped to the side grabbing a cymbal stand off the window display. I twirled it around in my hand as the first Zombie lunged again for me. I swung the stand through the air and plunged it into his veiny throat. His head hung above it like the world’s worst fuckin’ S’more you’ve ever seen. I ripped it free, blood spurting out freely with it. Then I sank the thing through his skull. This time he dropped to the floor with a thud- dead- or more dead.

The other two were almost on me and I stumbled away, nearly crashing into a display of mint original Bluenotes. I manged to back around it okay- small fuckin’ mercies.

I jumped to the side and looked around for something else to use. I went to grab up a guitar from the long rack along the floor.

A gold-top Les Paul… no, hold up… An original Fender Six bass… fucksake- I’ve too many good guitars.

I jogged down to the back of the store and found a second-hand Encore. I swung it around my head, as the second zombie made a dive to try and sink its teeth into my neck. Not even a first date- no wine and box of Quality Street? I don’t think so mate. I smashed it against his head, flesh and blood spurting off every which way, but it didn’t stop him. I swung it again. His head practically exploded this time- the red speckled scratch plate on the guitar now more speckled than not. The white guitar was now cherry red. That was him down too.

The last zombie was only a few yards away. I broke into a stride, holding the guitar aloft like a fucking lance.

I plunged the headstock into his head.

Now all three were down.

In the next few seconds of sudden peace, I felt elation. Then it was immediately broken as the door shot open again. I’d have been less surprised if a vampire and a werewolf came sauntering in. Standing before me, armed with a sword and a tommy-gun respectively, were our former first and second ministers; Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

“Fuck me,” I mumbled, barely clinging to my sanity.

“Language, please,” scolded Paisley.

“You two are meant to be dead,” I said simply, finding myself in the position of treading over dead zombies on my shop floor, speaking to what might well be ghosts.

“We can talk about that later,” said McGuinness coarsely, his eyes darting back towards the window, “We’re here to help, son.”

“My head’s melted. I need a fuckin’ smoke,” I said, fumbling in my pocket for my tin. I pulled out a pre-rolled number and sparked it up.

It earned another tisk from Paisley as he pulled out a cloth and began wiping blood from the end of his sword. “There’s a smoking ban you know,” he declared in his strangled whistle.

I ignored him, staring incomprehensibly at the once dubbed, ‘Chuckle Brothers,’ smoking my joint. “And yousetwo are working together?”

McGuinness looked at Paisley before they turned to me and both shrugged.

“Aye. You comin’ then?” said McGuinness.

I took in a deep draw. It felt good.

“Yeah, alright,” I said, “Just a sec.”

I reached above the counter and pulled down a pink ukulele. I hung it by its strap across my chest like a god-damned rifle.

“All set.”

 

End.

Innovate! Don’t Hate by Stephy Jay Silvers

Punk Noir Magazine

As I sit hunched

over this greasy keyboard,

unable to write

anything substantial,

I close my eyes and

My bitter little heart

screams your name

Into a void of dissatisfaction and unfulfilled needs.

I wish I could

Take this time,

anger, bitterness, effort

and energy

and go

and write

something that should

gain me

the attention

I so dearly crave

But alas, I have no such talent

only having

Salty bitter tears

That flow so easily

unlike the meaningful words

I can not write

The Palm Reader of Haight Street: A Halloween Tale By Patrick Whitehurst

Punk Noir Magazine

Halo’s snowy white hair hung in spidery strands over her brows. In the dim light of the room, the palm reader’s eyes looked almost black. Her bangs cut across her facein an uneven line.

Palms didn’t warn against bad haircuts apparently.

Yet there was something unnerving about the woman. How did she know his name? Called it to him as he passed her doorway near the corner of Haight and Clayton. A sign in the shape of a hand, with her name painted over it, hung above the door. Halo said he had an aura she could see a mile away. An aura like a fucking nuclear bomb.Not that his energy fields had anything to do with the lines on his palm. Not so far as he knew.

“You look scared, Sam.”

“Stuff makes me nervous.”

Heavy drapes kept much of the light from the room. Shawls and scarves hung on every wall, some perilously close to lit candles. A stick of incense burned on a counter behind the woman, sending gray lines of oily sandalwood into the still air. He saw two pumpkins near the front door when he followed her in. Carved with lopsided smiles and crooked eyes. Posters of hands hung on the walls, half hidden behind the scarves and drapes. The palms in them were covered in lines and images, which looked to Sam like hieroglyphics. A paisley sheetcovered a small round table in the center of the room, a damn crystal ball placed in the middle. Madam Halo reached over it, her palms facing up, and asked for Sam’s hands. He unbuttoned his flannel cuffs, rolled them up, and laid his palms, facing up, in her grasp.

Someone laughed on the sidewalk outside. A car horn honked. “How do you know my name?”

His cell beeped. Probably Little Sam asking if he’d got the candy yet. Laterhe’d watch a Christopher Lee Dracula marathon with her and he’d promised peanut butter cups. They’d get a few trick or treaters too.

“Let’s just focus on those hands.” She spoke quietly and, despite the noise coming off the street, he heard every word. “I can see a lot from looking at you, but the hands reveal all.” Halo looked to be in her forties with barely a wrinkle. He couldn’t tell if her hair was dyed white or natural. Not that it mattered.

“Barista called out my name at the coffee shop just now. Must have been in there too, waiting for a sucker to call in off the street.”

“You’re right-handed I see. I’ll focus on that. Put the other down if you please.”

“As long as you don’t go over twenty bucks…” With his free hand, he reached intohis tan Dockers, then tossed a Jackson on the table next to the orb.

She swept the bill into her lap. “I knew you were coming to see me. I could tell when you crossed the street. Not to the other place, Pia’s Parlor, but here to my shop.”

Sam winced. “Stuff makes me nervous.” He said again.

“I see a long head line,” she whispered, trailing one thin finger over his hand. “You’re an intelligent man. Fast too. Not a single broken line.”

She paused before moving on. Sam watched her eyes.

Compliments always worked when it came to this shit. Butter up the clients, keep them coming back. “You’re a man of letters. At least you were,” she continued.

Sam thought of his former job as a newspaper reporter and the fucking layoffsthat led to his current occupation. “Odd jobs” paid better than journalism, especially the illegal ones.

Her finger traced his knuckles, touching a patch of scabs. “Seems now you use fists more than letters,” she said. “And you’re a sneaky one.”

She paused a moment, removed her hands, and set them in her lap. “I see beyond the hands, you know. I know why you’re here.”

“Because you called me in off the street.”

Halo waved her hand, dismissing the comment. “You seek wisdom from odd places, though much of your wisdom comes from within. You’re a rebel, an outlaw, and aren’t afraid to take risks.”

“Any of this got a point?” Sam could tell she was leading up to something. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it.

“It’s your life line that interests me. Here.” She ran a finger along a crease near his thumb. “See how it interacts with the line of fate here? Yours is long, but with curious breaks. I see death around you. The worst is yet to come.”

Sam narrowed his eyes. The sandalwood made his stomach turn. “So much for my aura.”

She squeezed his hand. “Not your death. No. All around you. You have blood in your future.”

Sam pulled his hand away and jumped to his feet. “This is why I steer clear of this shit. I don’t want to know.”

Halo stood, her eyes hidden in black shadows. “Leaving so soon? What would your favorite author, Jack Kerouac, have to say about that?”

“How did you know…? Forget it. Keep the twenty bucks.”

She walked him to the door. He felt her hand on his back as she ushered him out. Did it nice enough, but he got the feeling she didn’t want him to be there any more than he did.

***

Back in the coffee shop, Sam stopped next to an older woman seated in a ray of sunshine near the door. She wore a gold blouse with an antique broach pinned at the neckline. She handed him the mocha he’d left with her earlier. Short black curls, an obvious wig, jiggled when she tilted her head.

“Was my two grand well spent?” she asked.

“It’s all there. Two baggies of meth. Stuck them under the table like you asked. Hope the glue holds.”

“Good. Already called the police to search her place. Should put her out of business for a while.”

“Did what you paid me for, Pia. Don’t need to know the rest.” Sam turned to leave.

“She told you something, didn’t she?”

He turned. The woman stared into his eyes. These fortune tellers, palm readers, whatever, had that all-knowing look downpat. “Told me a bit, yeah.”

“You’re not worried she’ll curse you, are you? If she thinks you planted the drugs?”

“Shit.” Sam took a sip of his coffee. It had gone cold. “She can do that?”

“Don’t worry.” Pia laughed. “She’ll have her hands full with the cops.”

Fog rolled in as Sam made his way down Clayton. He remembered Halo’s words. “I know why you’re here,” she’d said. He looked across the street. A block down he could see the white-haired woman outside her shop crowded by a detective and two uniforms. Only her shadowed eyes weren’t on them. They were on Sam. Watching him from half a block away. How did she even spot him on the misty, busy street?

She’d known. 

He dropped his mocha into a sidewalk trash receptacle and rifled his pockets. His pulse raced. Sure enough, the baggies were there in his back pocket, both bags with the glassy meth staring up at him. They went into the trash next to the half-finished mocha. She was good, that lady; good enough it made his head hurt to think about how she’d done it. He didn’t see a thing, yet she’d plucked the baggies from under the table and managed to plant them back in his pocket.

He felt around in his pants for the money Pia paid him. The two grand, his usual fee, hadn’t disappeared. Sam shook his head. Curses, magic, psychics; none of them held a candle to cold cash.

Mess with his rent and, curse or no curse, Halo’s prediction would come true. There would be blood. And it wouldn’t be his.

Patrick writes both fiction and nonfiction, the latter of which includes the books “Haunted Monterey County” and “Murder and Mayhem in Tucson.” His stories range from true crime to thriller fiction reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Punk Noir, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern, Hoosier Noir, and Switchblade Magazine. He’s been featured in the anthologies “Bitter Chills,” “Wild Violence,” and “Shotgun Honey Presents: Recoil.” His reviews and author interviews appear regularly in Suspense Magazine.