Story Excerpts

Art by
Eric Scott Fisher

10,432 Serial Killers (In Hell)

by Emily Devenport

At once, as far as angels’ ken he views
The dismal situation, waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed . . .

        —Milton, Paradise Lost

She had a cat tucked under each arm. That’s what Ernestine thought when she saw the white lady hurrying toward her empty bus at eleven thirty Monday night. The lady had pajamas on under her bathrobe and big, fat slippers on her feet, which explained why she couldn’t break into a run. She didn’t have a free hand to wave the bus down, so Ernestine cut her some slack and waited. It was thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit on that January night, but she left the door open. Twenty years with Phoenix Transit had taught her supreme patience. Plus she was curious to see if the design on the lady’s pajamas were duckies or piggies.

They turned out to be piggies. And one of the cats turned out to be a small dog. The dog and the cat didn’t seem to mind being tucked under the lady’s arms; maybe they were used to traveling that way.

The lady smiled at Ernestine when she realized she didn’t have to hurry anymore. She climbed up the steps and said, “I have a dollar in my pocket.”

“That’s good, sweetie,” Ernestine said, “but you can’t bring your pets on a city bus, no matter how cute they are. Unless they’re assistance animals.”

The lady looked down at her pets. They looked back, the cat purring and the dog wagging its tail. Ernestine had thought she was younger when she saw her under the streetlights, but in the well-lit bus she looked forty-something. Her blonde hair was streaked with silver. It was long and tousled, as if she hadn’t had time to brush it when she jumped out of bed and booked for the bus. “They’re my buddies,” she said. “But I can’t honestly say they’re assistance animals.”

“If you want to take them home, I’ll wait for you. You live in that apartment complex, right?” Ernestine glanced at the group of elderly, yet well-tended buildings that crowded almost to the curb at Thirty-sixth Street, near Camelback.

“I do,” said the lady. “But I can’t take them back. He’ll kill them.”

Ernestine frowned. She was good at friendly patter, but she tried not to get involved with people’s problems. A lot of folks who rode the bus had nothing but, and Ernestine had her share at home. But something about this lady triggered her mothering instinct. Funny, because they were about the same age. “Who will, honey?”

“The serial killer in my apartment,” said the lady.

In her mind, Ernestine could see her grandmother, dead five years, but as real and solid as she had been the last time Ernestine had seen her in her Sunday best, with her hairdo peeking out from under her best hat, her smooth skin marred by dark circles under her eyes, making her look sad even when she was in the best mood. Girl, she warned, you always manage to find trouble, no matter where it’s hiding. READ MORE



Art by Hank Blaustein

Bothering with the Details

by Dayle A. Dermatis

Lydia Minchen finished her crossword puzzle in record time, which would have been a success except she’d been trying to stretch the time out. Now her surroundings flowed back into her consciousness: the slightly
bitter scent of coffee, the light jazz on the sound system occasionally overcome by the harsh buzz of the coffee grinder, the hard wooden chair that made her bones ache.

She was pretty sure Starbucks had uncomfortable chairs so customers wouldn’t sit there all day. That and the air conditioning that was always a little too cold (especially on days like today, when the fog crept in and shrouded San Jose in gloom). They were effective ploys.

She’d never been without a job before, and the passing minutes wore on her like water dripping on a rock.

She’d worked as an editor all her life, usually in places where the hustle and bustle of the office flowed around her. Newspapers were the worst—people always on the phone, and first typewriters, then keyboards clacking away.

Dayken Tech, her last employer, had been the best in that sense—everybody staring silently at their monitors, meetings held behind closed conference room doors—but by the time she’d started working there, she’d become inured to background noise and distractions.

Lydia believed she could find a single typo in a five hundred–page document in the middle of a war zone with missiles screaming by.

She’d tuned out Starbucks for a little while now, except for absentmindedly slipping on her favorite cardigan, a soft, sage-green wool, between finishing Across and starting Down.

Lydia could’ve gone home, but she’d recently allowed her granddaughter, Brittani, to move in with her while Brittani attended Stanford, and she wanted to give the girl some space to study. Unlike Lydia, Brittani seemed to need quiet to concentrate, and the apartment wasn’t that large. Comfortable enough for one, less so for two independent adults.

The crossword done and the rest of the newspaper read, Lydia turned her attention to her iPad and checked Craigslist for editing jobs. There were ads for writers of various types (but she had no interest in that, happy to leave the writing to the writers. Her job was to make their writing shine.), a fair number of obvious scams, and one or two positions involving blogging and SEO and on-page optimization and so forth.

All of the publishers and newspapers and magazines and even major websites in the Bay Area had her resumé, but no one wanted to hire a woman near retirement age when they could get some wet-behind-the-ears thing at half the price.

Half the knowledge and experience, too, but everybody thought the job was easy. Find a few typos. Know the difference between “lie” and “lay.”

Lydia snorted. Child’s play. READ MORE

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