Story Excerpts

Art by Tim Foley

The Witches of Endor

by Janice Law

The two women bent over their worktable. One held a strip of plywood, built out and decorated to depict the facades of several battered looking brick buildings, while the other screwed a cleat to the base of the diorama.

“Have we ever done both inside and out before?” Edie asked. Her long thick hair, streaked gray and brown, was pulled back and tied with a ribbon. Just like George Washington, her sister always said. Edie had strong arms and hands and did most of the carpentry.

Cynthia was two years younger. She still had her dark hair and she wore large glasses that magnified intense, dark eyes. They shared noses of character and square, determined chins. Both sisters were older than they looked and a good deal sharper too.

The facade secured, they stepped back and studied the effect. A narrow street had acquired a row of seedy-looking shops, broken by an external stair to rented rooms above. Edie selected a second component, the floor and walls of one of those apartments. Although still empty of furniture, the room had working windows, one at the front partly raised, and two doors, one leading out to the stair. The room had cream-painted trim and a brown-and-gold striped wallpaper. The floor was linoleum with a dusty pinkish area rug.

“What do you think?”

Cynthia took her time. She did the designs and soft furnishings and she had an eye for duplicating colors and original materials. After a minute, she nodded. “I think that will do once we add the furniture, though I’d feel better if the victim were a man. There are so many female victims.”

“Absolutely, but consider our audience. Men prefer a woman, preferably attractive.”

Cynthia sniffed. It was true that their usual audience, the annual regional forensics conference, still skewed heavily male, but she couldn’t help adding, “Though how attractive is any murder victim?”

Edie shrugged and concentrated on fitting the prefabricated room to the supports and the facade.

“Their clothes are always a bit skimpy for my taste,” Cynthia continued, for she was obsessive about details. Without her sister’s compulsions, Edie knew that their crime scene miniatures would never be as successful; at the same time, without her own ability to push through a project, none of them would ever be completed.

Fortunately, the annual forensics conference provided an unalterable deadline, and Cynthia was forced to stop fussing a day or so before the year’s project was due to be delivered. The present commission was a different story, and she had used the extra time to be even more meticulous than usual. READ MORE



Art by Kimberly Cho

The Last Waltz Across Texas 

by Michael Bracken

Stovall, Texas, 1957

The phone rang. Country-western singer Earl Coffman untangled himself from the dark-haired roadie sharing his bed at the Stovall Inn and fumbled for it. After he answered, a soft female voice said, “I have long distance for you from Nashville. Will you take the call?”

“Of course.”

The phone clicked and a moment later he heard, “Earl? Earl is that you?”

“It’s me, Irma Jean,” he said as he swung his feet off the bed and stood, careful to step around the new Fender Stratocaster leaning against the wall. “You don’t have to shout.”

“It’s a boy,” she said. “An eight-pound-four-ounce baby boy.”

Earl switched on the bedside lamp and glanced at the clock next to it. One a.m. was minutes away. “When?”

“Just after midnight, Earl. Your boy was born just after midnight.”

“How’s he doing? How’re you doing?”

“He’s beautiful,” his wife said. “And me? I’m just tired. Really tired. But I had to call and tell you the moment they let me use the phone.”

“You take care of yourself, Irma Jean,” he said. “I’ll be home soon as I can.”

After Earl ended the call, Jerry Hubbard stirred and mumbled, “What was that all about?”

“I just had me a son.”

The roadie patted the empty mattress next to him. “Why don’t you come back to bed and tell me all about it?”

Earl shook his head. “We can’t do this no more,” he said. “I got a child to think about.”

“Damn it, Earl.” Jerry rose from the bed. “What about me? What about what I need?”

“What you need is to move on without me.”

“I can’t do that, Earl.” Jerry tried to wrap his arms around the singer.

Earl shoved the roadie away. Jerry stumbled backward, caught one foot in the strap of Earl’s Stratocaster, and fell. His head hit the nightstand, upending the phone, the clock, and the lamp. The lamp’s bulb shattered as it hit the floor, leaving them in darkness.

“Jerry?” When he received no response, Earl tried again. “Jerry?”

*   *   *

Stovall, Texas, 2017

Junior Coffman and the New Blanco River Band were recreating his father’s infamous last tour of Texas. During the summer of 1957, Capitol Records had sent Earl Coffman and the original Blanco River Band to every honky-tonk and backwater dance hall in the Lone Star State in support of their regional hit “Last Waltz Across Texas.” In addition to performing songs from the A and B sides of their first three singles, the band performed popular country-western dance music, mixing Western swing with country waltzes, honky-tonk, and polkas. After purchasing a Fender Stratocaster at Adair Music during a three-day engagement in Lubbock, Earl even added a few rockabilly tunes to the set list. READ MORE

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