Sunday, May 29, 2011

Old Hate - Chapter One

Old Hate


Chapter One

by David Pidgeon


Sarah watched as the stranger entered the saloon. He came to the bar, bought his usual bottle of whiskey and took it and a glass over to his usual seat in the corner. He was a tall man, and lean but he tried to hide that under the thick coat that he wore despite the sweltering heat. He sat in the corner and, as the day wasted itself away, slowly but steadily depleted his supply of liquor. He watched everything, she saw from behind the bar, with a fierce intensity. He studied the face of each person that entered. He was looking for someone. It wasn't for the ambience or the watered down whiskey that he'd been coming here for over two weeks. He was hunting someone and he wouldn't leave until he had found them.


She busied herself with cleaning up, hoping to avoid the ire of Emmett again. Her face was still sore from the last time he'd been unhappy with her work. She tried to make herself busy enough to forget the man in the corner.


She almost had, when he spoke.


“Are you Harmon Merriweather?” he asked, in a low and quiet voice.

She looked up and saw that there was a man standing at the bar, looking at her. He wore an extremely faded grey coat, the kind Sarah knew from the war, and a military style cap. His eyes glittered as he heard the man speak and a grimace came across his face. He turned, slowly and spent a good long moment studying the man in the corner.

“I reckon I am” he said, a drawl to his voice.

“I'm Jonah Walsh and you killed my father”


Sarah sensed, not saw, the man's surprise and saw the movement as his hand reached for the gun at his belt. He had barely touched it when a gunshot rang out, deafening Sarah and leaving a loud ringing in her ears for quite some time after. Harmon Merriweather staggered backwards one step and fell heavily against the bar before falling to the ground with a thud. Her eyes flitted to the man in the corner who remained seated but now his right hand held a smoking pistol. He kept it trained on the downed figure until he was certain there was no remaining threat and then neatly holstered it again in one simple but elegant movement.


He reached across, picked up his bottle of whiskey and stood with a slight stagger to his step. He tipped his hat to Sarah, spared a glare at the body on the floor and walked out.


The decision was instantaneous and unplanned, even to her. She threw her cleaning rag down and rushed around the bar to the body of Harmon Merriweather. She pried the pistol from his rapidly cooling hand and rushed outside, hot on the heels of Jonah Walsh.


She spotted him sauntering down the side-walk as if nothing had happened. She called his name and he turned, as she closed the distance between the two.

"My name is Sarah and I want you to take me with you, please"

His eyes gazed deeply into hers and there was only a moment's hesitation. He nodded and gestured for her to follow him. She followed closely.


They rode out of town, the two of them on his roan stallion and they made camp in the ruins of an old house as the sun began to sink beyond the horizon and night crept in.


They sat in silence for a long time before he spoke.

"The man you work for, he hit you?"

"Yes. Often and hard. He wasn't happy with me working there, but he couldn't find anyone else and I had nowhere else to go so I dealt with it"

He nodded.

"How long since... your father?" she asked

He stared into the fire.

"Before I was born. He was trying to flee with my mother and they came for him and killed him. He gave up his life in order that she and I, although he did not know of me at the time, would live."

"What of your mother, where is she?"

"She passed"

"I'm sorry"

"You needn't be, it was some time ago. A few years now. Now it's just me and the horse"

She nodded and they both sat in silence again for a while.


"Who are they, the men who killed your father?"

"They were soldiers. Well, they called themselves soldiers but they were just murderers. Border ruffians outta Kansas, trouble-makers who didn't really care for following orders. My father was an officer in the Union who made trouble for them and they didn't take too kindly to it. They hunted him across a few states and eventually pinned him down when he was with ma"

"What are you going to do now?"

"There's still a slew of 'em out there for me to kill. Jameson and his whole bunch of bastards. Still at least five, by my count. Merriweather wasn't the worst of them by any account, but he was the easiest to find. I've got a trail on Kent, one of them, and I intend to follow it west come sun-up tomorrow"

She nodded

"You don't have to stay with me, if'n you don't want to. I can drop you somewhere safe, I can give you some money"

She nodded again, but he knew then that she wouldn't allow herself to be dropped off anywhere at all.


They settled down to sleep and the stars wheeled overhead, mute and ever-present witnesses to their dreams, their rotation through the heavens heralding the coming of the sun for one more day and a day that would see the continuation of Jonah Walsh's campaign of revenge.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Art of Theft - Chapter Three

Art of Theft


Chapter Three

by Murray K.


Step.

I love open plan living. It's makes it easy to navigate in the dark
when your only source of light is a red glow-stick bracelet. The
floors are wonderfully bereft of tripping hazards and there are nice
wide spaces between all the furniture. At the speed I'm moving,
detouring around a couch would add another ten minutes to this
business.

And step.

After sitting at the bottom of the pool for 6 hours, getting into the
apartment was a relative breeze. Getting down from the roof was
pretty easily achieved, even in the wetsuit. The only reason I
bothered with a rope was to make getting back up easier.

And step.

As for why I went down to the balcony, one word: Deadlocks. The
front door and the door down from the roof both had them, but the
balcony door didn't. I've played around with picking locks a bit but
I'm no expert. A good deadlock with some trap pins could take me a
lot of time. But a few seconds with a pick gun on the balcony lock
and I was in. That was the easy part.

And step.

When I was a kid I was into birdwatching for a while. I always liked
animals, but one of the challenges with birds was how close I could
get to them. Now, you can't really sneak up on a squirrel, the moment
he notices you move towards him, he's onto you. But birds don't seem
to differentiate much between people and trees. As long as they don't
see you moving when they’re looking at you, they don't care that
you're suddenly a foot closer than you were. So the key was to move
at a snails pace, slowly lift a foot, inch it forward and put it back
down again. Shift weight onto the forward foot...

And step.

And that is pretty much what I'm doing right now. In the corners of
all the rooms and the hallways, the Welshes have security sensors
which I discreetly checked out at the party. The sensors are
infra-red motion detectors, so they detect anything that's a different
temperature to ambient and moving. Basically, I'm treating them like
a flock of birds. I figure if I don't move too quickly, they won't
get startled.

And step.

I’m hoping the wetsuit helps as well, the sensors should really only
see my face and hands, but it’s best not to take any chances. One of
the hardest things is not knocking the plastic bag I’ve got hanging
from my left hand. The plastic shouldn’t set off the sensors, but as
I say, no chances. Each of the sensors has a small red light at the
top of it, and if just one of those goes off, I’m toast.

And step.

It’s slow progress, and it’s taken twenty minutes to get through the
living room, down the hall to the bedroom. Thankfully the Welshes
leave their doors open when they go on holidays. The moment I get
inside the bedroom I shuffle to the right so I’m no longer visible
from the hallway, and then I raise my right arm very slowly and turn
on my laser pointer. It takes a few moments to adjust my wrist but
then I have it pointed directly at the IR sensor.

And relax.

While ever the laser pointer hits the sensor, it’s basically snow
blind. The transition doesn’t set off the sensor, and then it can’t
see a thing. There’s only one sensor in the room so as long as I stay
out of the view of the hallway sensors I can actually move for a bit.
Vigorous stretching is still a bit difficult to do while keeping the
laser pointer focused, but I feel a lot less tense as I walk over to
the Matisse. I have to lower the bag I’m holding to the floor first,
but then I gently ease the Matisse up off the hook and...

I’ve got it!

The laser pointer trembles a little as I struggle to keep it focused
on the motion sensor. Very, very gently I lower it down to the carpet
and reach into the plastic bag. Out comes a square the same size and
shape as the Matisse. The faint light of the glow stick makes it hard
to tell but the frame looks like a perfect replica. Lord knows I
studied the real one for long enough at the party. Inside that frame
is a canvas printed copy of the Matisse, carefully touched up with
varnish to match the brushstrokes. Talk to anyone at Sotherby’s or
Christie’s and they’ll have a dozen stories that all come down to the
same thing, a tale of someone bringing in a painting that they thought
was a minor masterpiece, only to find that it’s a print covered in
varnish. A couple of coats and a hairdryer to crack the surface and
it looks just like oil paint. It’s an old trick, but it works. I
figure, as I carefully place the replica on the wall, the easiest way
to get away with a crime is if no-one knows it’s been committed.

It is tortuous creeping back to the balcony when all I want to do is
jump and run and whoop. As soon as I’m out I relock the door and
climb back onto the roof. Then it’s time for a quick change, back
into jeans and a fresh designer shirt from the toolbox. Also from the
toolbox, a Louis Vuitton roll bag. Now before you roll your eyes,
there’s a reason I’ve chosen LV. That pattern on the side is
unmistakable. After all, what’s the point of a status symbol if
no-one knows it’s a status symbol? But that means that when someone
sees a well dressed young man with an LV bag, the last things they’re
going to expect to be in that bag are diving gear, rope and a stolen
painting.

It’s a struggle to get everything in there, especially since I have to
take care of the painting. The large salt tub is staying but I figure
no-one is going to notice a tub of pool salt in a pool shed. The dive
weights also end up underneath a planter box, I’m afraid they’re a few
pounds of weight I just don’t want to carry down. But after a bit of
fighting everything else is put away and I’m ready to go.

The fire escape locks aren’t any harder than the balcony door, but
that’s expected. They make them easy just in case emergency crews
need to get past but aren’t in enough of a hurry to bust the door
down. I pick one to get in and then another a few floors down to get
out, then it’s express lift all the way to the ground. I stare at
myself in the lift mirror and thank god the wet look is in. I look
rumpled, but the kind of rumpled one might expect from someone leaving
an apartment block at 2am.

The doorman, presumably Charlie, gets up from his desk when he sees me.

“Cab, sir?”

“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”

I hoist the bag on my shoulder and follow him to the curb. I’m trying
to think of small talk but before I get the chance the cab’s there, I
had the guy a $5 bill and I’m away. Almost too easy. I keep looking
to see if anyone’s following, and when I get dropped off a block from
my apartment I spend the whole walk home with half an eye over my
shoulder. But there’s no-one. It seems I may have gotten away with
it.

So now the painting is hanging in my bedroom, directly opposite the
bed, sitting comfortably between the Monet and the Boudin. The first
touches of sun are hitting the buildings nearby and the slight glow is
giving the painting a morning feel as well. The adrenaline has worn
off but for the last 4 hours I haven’t been able to stop looking at
it. It’s beautiful, wonderful, I love it. It leaves me with only one
question.

What next?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Footsteps in the Dark - Chapter One

Footsteps in the Dark


Chapter One

by Hayden Tunnicliffe


She looked up as the guard's footsteps rang out once more. Through the iron bars of her cell she could see the glow of a lantern drawing near, the tang of burnt oil in the air making her tiny prison that much more claustrophobic. The guard held his light up to the window in the door, confirming his charge still lay in the room, the light seared her eyes as it shone through the small window.

He said something, not knowing any German, she could only assume he was tormenting her from the tone in his voice and the laugh that came from his companion. She spat at the window, a small measure of the hatred she felt for her captors. Soon enough the guards moved on, the sounds of their boots echoing off the stone walls, as if a hundred men marched through the small prison. Again she was left in the dark, not knowing if the next time they came would be the last.

She was awoken from her daze as the door creaked open. As she got to her feet, moving instinctively to the back of the room, she noticed that there was no light.

'Shh! Keep quiet' came a voice out of the darkness. 'I am here to help' Suddenly the floor in front of her leapt into vision as the stranger opened the cover on his lantern, shining but a sliver of light into the room.

'Who - who are you?' she whispered as the man beckoned for her to follow him out of the cell.

'We haven't the time for that now. We must leave before the guards return' The man said, moving along the wall and peering around the corner. 'Quickly now. I will explain everything when there is time'

Anything was better than being locked in that damned cell any longer she thought as she followed the man, being as quiet as she could possibly be. It seemed like an eternity that they stalked through that dark maze, occasionally ducking behind whatever cover they could find as the guards passed.

'We must hurry. It is only a matter of time before they begin their route again and find you gone. And if we aren't out of here by the time that happens then we are done for'

She only nodded as she struggled to keep up with him, afraid she might alert someone. A soft breeze and the shine of light told her that their flight in the dark was nearly over. They paused closer to the exit as her rescuer leaned over to extinguish their light. 'Here. Do you know how to use one of these?' the man asked as he pushed a pistol into her hand. 'Yes, but wouldn't the gunfire attract attention?' she asked as she checked the chamber.

'Only use it if there is no other choice' the man said as he readied his own weapon before moving out of the tunnel. She followed him, the light blinding her as she hastily ran from the tunnel. It took a minute for her vision to adjust to the shock, the sun beared down from above them, as she looked out across the fields that lay below them.

'It will be suicide to cross the open fields' the man said as he drew her attention to a hedge on the far left of them. 'We must use that to get across the fields and into that copse of trees, where we will wait for the extraction, keep low and follow me' he said, dashing off before she could reply.

She followed him, glancing back to make sure they weren't followed. The cool country air burned in her lungs at the same time as it invigorated her body, every nerve was set on end as she pushed forward through the brush. Finally they reached the bottom of the hillside and before them lay acres upon acres of open fields, the only cover to be found were the hedges between them and the odd hay bale. The man dashed across the small open space towards the closest hedge before pausing to survey the situation. He motioned for her to follow and she raced towards him as fast as her weakened body would allow.

'Here. Drink some, you will need your strength' he pushed a canteen into her hands. The water was almost gone before she realised they might not have any more and quickly screwed the top back on.

'I'm ready.'

They started towards the trees, she made it to be a good mile from where they were, she only hoped that they would make it before exhaustion took her.

Halfway across the field she heard an alarm sound from behind them, evidently the guards had discovered that she was missing. She cautioned a glance behind her but could not see any pursuers, all the same they doubled their pace. She hoped they would not be seen at this distance, but kept her head as low as their speed would allow just the same.

She could hear the bark of dogs and the shouts of men behind them as they came ever nearer the tree line, and safety. Another look back told her that they still hadn't found their trail. She hoped they never would, death was preferable to the rest of her life in that prison.

At last they reached the tree line, giving up stealth completely they sprinted into it, stumbling across roots and fallen branches she followed her surefooted saviour, falling twice before they reached their destination. She fell to the ground in exhaustion, her legs burning and chest heaving as she drained the last of the water in the canteen.

'I hope you have more' she almost pleaded as the man sat next to her.

'You think I would come unprepared to a rescue mission' he laughed as he put another canteen into her lap. 'Here, but don't drink it too fast, there is only one more where that came from and our transport won't be here for another 3 hours'

'Who are you?' she asked between sips of the canteen, 'And why would anybody rescue me? I'm just a civilian'

'They call me Alcott, but you can call me Robert. I was sent to extract you because HQ think you could be useful to the war effort. But mostly I am here because I couldn't leave a gorgeous lady like yourself to rot in a damned jerry jail cell'

'I don't know how much help I can be, but thanks all the same Robert. I am Carol, but I am sure you already knew that'




Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oni - Chapter One

Oni

Chapter One

By D.C. Wince



Saturday, January 1st 2011



Nozomi was terrified.

She woke with a fearful start, her eyelids instantly flashing open, and her body recoiled in the car seat.

In a panic, her eyes darted swiftly from side-to-side. The first thing they fell upon was her left arm. Strangely, she was holding it up in the air, stretching it out in front of her body, while her hand was clenched into a tight fist. It was a bizarre sight, and she momentarily felt both surprised and perplexed.

Slowly, it dawned on her that she’d simply fallen asleep, and a breath of relief escaped from her lips. Feeling slightly chagrined, Nozomi lowered her arm and composed herself, and then looked at her surroundings.

She was sitting in the front passenger seat of her family’s SUV, travelling at a fast pace down an almost deserted highway. Nozomi felt an odd compulsion to know the time, and she glanced at the clock set into the vehicle’s dashboard.



9:00 A.M.


Behind the wheel was Shinya, trying to observe her physical condition. Their eyes met, and Nozomi sensed he was studying her, as if she were just one of his patients. Embittered by the look on his face, it was her belief that in moments like these he became only a therapist at work, instead of also being her husband.

Hey, everything okay?” he asked her.

She did not appreciate his feigned ignorance. He knew what was wrong, she thought, the look in her eyes must have already told him everything. Just the same, she waited for him to ask the question which she’d invariably come to expect.

Did you have the dream?”

This time, for some reason it incensed her, and Nozomi decided not to answer, preferring instead to gaze out the car window.

It wasn’t a dream, she thought angrily. She believed those were supposed to be about good, happy and natural aspects of your life. This was something else entirely. It was a dreadful, unnatural nightmare, forcing itself down into the very reason for Nozomi`s existence. It always left her mind and body feeling tired and drained of energy, but it also gave her a deeply disturbing sense of having moved dimensionally around the inside of an invisible circle, in an infinite loop she had no hope of escaping.

Now, she was aware it had suddenly shifted in a new direction. The nightmare had changed.

It was fast approaching ten years since the very first time Nozomi had awakened from sleep one night in absolute terror and fright. Immediately, she’d told Shinya everything about it in detail.

At her desperate urging, Shinya began researching dreams, night terrors and sleep paralysis. However, he believed he already knew a medical explanation for her problem: She was suffering from narcolepsy, a neurological sleep disorder characterized by EDS, or excessive daytime sleepiness.

A few years ago, while living at the apartment in Hiroshima, Nozomi had suffered a mental breakdown followed by a severe bout of depression. Shinya remembered days at a time when she didn’t even leave the bedroom, and so he’d naturally concluded that narcolepsy was the only possible answer for her condition.

Nozomi, however, didn’t agree with Shinya’s opinion. He had wanted her to get professional treatment, but she stubbornly ignored his advice, and the nightmare continued unabated.

After that first night, she never felt the need or desire to describe any part of it to him again. That is, until the present moment.

You fell asleep,” Shinya continued, “I didn’t want to wake you.”

For how long?” she inquired.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. About an hour, I guess. We’re almost there.”

She remained silent for a while, before finally speaking.

It was different this time,” she said.

Huh?”

The nightmare. There was something new about it I don’t remember from before.”

Oh? What was it?”

Nozomi turned her head so she could carefully gauge his reaction, and, more importantly, watch his eyes.

Do you own a black book?” she asked.

His brow furrowed. “What do you mean?” he replied, appearing genuinely confused by her question.

A book with black covers, front and back. Inside it, are old photographs.”

Photographs of what?”

She was hesitant to answer. “People,” she replied flatly.

He squinted his eyes, thinking, but he couldn’t recall any books like it in his collection.

No, I don’t think so. Why?”

She got the impression he was telling the truth. Frowning, she knew the conversation could go no further, and she decided to end it.

Nevermind,” she replied, and became silent.

Shinya thought his wife was acting erratic. Her mind seemed to be wandering all over the place. It was obvious she was still very disturbed, possibly even a little unhinged by the recurring dream. It bothered him to see her like this.

He remembered meeting Nozomi for the first time. It was April of 1996, and 21-year old Shinya had just begun attending Hiroshima University. After one of his classes, a mutual acquaintence had introduced them to each other in the school hallway. She was in the two-year Nursing Science course, whereas Shinya was in a five-year doctoral program, studying for a Ph.D. in physical and occupational therapy.

Shinya became immediately enamored with her, but Nozomi initially resisted his affections. She seemed to enjoy wielding sexual power and control over him, and it resulted in a drawn-out courtship. After several weeks she finally relented, and they began dating.

Then, unexpectantly, Nozomi became pregnant. Not wanting the baby to be born out of wedlock, she announced to her parents their plans to marry. Surprised by the sudden turn of events in their daughters life, they had pleaded with Nozomi to wait until after graduating. But the young couple didn’t listen, and only six months after first meeting, they were married in October. Right away, they’d moved into an apartment, and for a time life had been good. They were in love and happy. It wasn’t to last long, however.

Everything changed. How stupid and naïve I was.

Heaving a sigh, Shinya pushed away the dark memories which still seemed to haunt him, and returned his attention to the road ahead.



The Ishii family were driving on the Kyūshū Expressway in the southern end of Fukuoka Prefecture on the island of Kyūshū. It was Shōgatsu, the new year in Japan, and they were moving to a house in Ōmuta city.

They had left Hiroshima early in the morning, and were now on the last leg of the nearly three-hour journey. As the SUV approached the city outskirts, the green pastoral countryside faded to a drab grey under a shroud of low-hanging clouds, and a drizzling rain began to fall.

Behind the wheel, Shinya began to feel at ease and he smiled. Though he’d gone with the moving company to the house only the day before, he was nonetheless happy to be back, this time hopefully for good. He’d been born and raised in Ōmuta , and it was here that he wanted to spend his remaining years.

In it’s heyday, Ōmuta was once a center of the coal-mining industry in Japan. Shinya’s father, Tsutamo, had worked hard for most of his life at the Miike Mine. In 1963, an explosion killed 458 workers and injured almost 600, including his father, who still suffered from the effects of carbon-monoxide poisoning. At the time, it was the worst post-war mining disaster in the world. When the mine finally closed down in 1997, it left a lasting impact on Ōmuta’s economy, and many people were forced to leave. Today, commercial fishing was the city’s chief industry.

Shinya and Nozomi had made the unusual request to move into the house on gantan, the most important day of the Japanese calender, and the agency had graciously accepted it. They were due to meet their real-estate agent, Ms. Tanaka, at precisely ten o’clock. Being late was, therefore, quite out of the question.

This year was supposed to be the start of a fresh, new life for the Ishii family, one which Nozomi had been long anticipating. In fact, it was the only reason they’d decided to move in on the first day of January.

Nozomi shivered with anxiety in her seat, as it suddenly occurred to her that the year wasn’t off to a good start. Being very superstitious, she knew that her hatsuyume, the traditional first dream of the year, was likely an ominous harbinger of things to come.

The SUV veered off of the expressway. In the distance, the city was now within sight, and they headed steadily toward it.



The single-storey, wooden house at 200-7 Tendō-Machi was located at the end of a very long and lonely street.

Parked in front of it was a white car. Shinya drove past it, pulling the SUV into the little driveway, and shut off the engine.

Well, this is it,” he said with a smile to Nozomi. He looked at the dashboard clock.



9:55 A.M.



And we’re five minutes early.”

Mommy!” a tiny voice yelled from behind.

Nozomi’s twin four-year old daughters, Motoko and Shiori, were fastened into travel chairs behind her. It was Shiori who had called out.

Yes, Shiori?” she replied, turning in her seat to face her.

Um... Are we at the house mommy?”

Yes, we’re here now.”

In the very back of the SUV, nine-year old Ryuki peered at his mother from behind his sisters. He had big brown eyes which were wide open with inquisitive curiosity. She smiled at him.

Nozomi hated to admit it, but though she loved her daughters dearly, she’d always been much closer to her son. No matter what Ryuki’s age, she thought, he would always be her baby. And besides, Motoko and Shiori had their father, who doted on them constantly.

They exited the car, and Nozomi got her first real look at the house they were moving into.

With the exception of the driveway, the entire property was surrounded by a black iron fence, waist-high with a gate, and just beyond it was a stone path leading to the front door.

The house had a flat, thatched wooden roof, which appeared to Nozomi to be in very good condition.

Well, what do you think?” Shinya asked her.

It’s bigger than I imagined,” she said, trying to stifle a smile. “It doesn’t have much of a front yard, though.”

Shinya knew right away his wife was teasing him. He could see it in the expression on her face.

Indeed, Nozomi felt a strange, immediate attachment to the house. Shinya had made a good choice, she thought happily.

Well, just wait until you see how big the kitchen is,” he said, opening the back hatch of the SUV. He reached inside and brought out two suitcases, while Nozomi opened the back door to let the girls out from their seats.

They bounced down from the vehicle, running excitedly to look at the house through the iron bars of the fence.

Ryuki, are you coming out to see our new home?” she asked him.

Slowly, he emerged from the SUV and climbed out. He looked at the house, a plain expression on his face.

Just then, a young woman, the real-estate agent, stepped out of the white car parked in front. With a friendly smile on her face, she approached them and gave a deep, respectful bow, which they returned.

Akemashite o-medetō gozaimasu! Welcome to Ōmuta Mr. And Mrs. Ishii.”

Nozomi, this is Ms. Tanaka,” Shinya said.

Ms. Tanaka bowed deeply to Nozomi. “It’s very nice to finally meet you Mrs. Ishii. How was the drive down from Hiroshima?”

The traffic was light. We got here quite fast, and only stopped once to give the children a break.”

Oh, that’s very good. What do you think of the house?”

Nozomi looked at it over the agent’s shoulder. “I can’t believe it’s over a hundred years old. It looks so well-maintained.”

Yes, it has been,” replied Ms. Tanaka. “A wine merchant built the house in a traditional style, but he gave it some unique modern features.”

Like what?” asked Ryuki. He was peering at the pretty young woman from behind his mother.

Well, it has a cellar, and western style doors and windows,” she replied, giving him a big smile.

A cellar? What’s that?!” Ryuki exclaimed, before hiding again behind Nozomi, clearly embarrassed.

You’ll have to excuse my son,” said Nozomi.

Oh Mr. Ishii, that reminds me,” continued Ms. Tanaka, reaching into her purse. “Here is the key to the cellar.” She pulled out a key and held it out for Shinya to take, which he did.

Thank you for all of your help,” Shinya said to her. “We couldn’t have found a house so close to my work at the university. It’s only a fifteen minute drive away.”

I’m very pleased to hear,” she replied. “I understand you will be teaching?”

Yes, occupational therapy,” Shinya answered. “Nozomi will also be a volunteer care-giver in the city.”

That’s wonderful. Ōmuta will most definitely benefit from having such a kind-hearted family,” said Ms. Tanaka with a beaming smile. She gestured to Motoko and Shiori, standing very close to their father. “And may I please say what beautiful children you have.”

Nozomi nodded her head respectfully.

Well, I’ll be on my way,” Ms. Tanaka continued. “If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to call me. Enjoy the holiday, and welcome to Ōmuta!”

They exchanged courteous bows of gratitude and thanks. Then, Ms. Tanaka got back into her car and was gone.

Shinya glanced at his wife. “I’ll get the bags out of the car. Why don’t you take the girls inside for a look around?” He handed her the house keys. She went with Motoko and Shiori to the front door, leaving Shinya alone with his son.

Well Ryuki, how do you like it?” he asked, gesturing to the house.

Instead, Ryuki looked down the empty street.

There’s no one to play with,” he replied, disappointment in his small voice.

Shinya smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find other kids soon enough.” He put his hand on Ryuki’s shoulder. “Come on, help your old father carry the bags inside.”





Inside the house, Ryuki walked through the different rooms, inspecting each of them carefully. The house was definitely bigger than the apartment, and he liked it.

In the hallway just beyond the kitchen, he spied a closed door, the only one he`d yet found. Grasping the handle, he tried opening it but it was locked. He wondered what was on the other side.

Daddy!” he called out.

A few seconds later, Shinya entered the hall and came over to his son. “What is it Ryuki?”

Ryuki pointed at the door. “What’s in there?” he asked as he again tried opening it.

That’s the cellar. Do you want to see it?”

Ryuki nodded.

Reaching into his pant pocket, Shinya pulled out the key Ms. Tanaka had given him. Inserting it into the lock, he turned the handle and pulled at the door. Slowly, it opened with a loud creaking noise. Before them, were wooden stairs descending into darkness.

Shinya found a switch, and flicked it on.

Are you going to see what’s down there?” Shinya asked him.

The boy shook his head.

Do you want me to go down with you?”

Ryuki thought about it. “Yes,” he replied.

Okay then, let’s have a look.”

But before they could, a voice suddenly called out from somewhere within the house. It was Nozomi.

Shinya!”

Shinya hesitated. “Hold on Ryuki, I have to see what your mother wants. Wait for me, and I’ll be right back.” He walked away from his son, leaving him alone at the open door.

Ryuki peered down the stairs. What was he afraid of, he wondered? He was almost ten years old, he thought, and didn’t really need his father to come with him. Feeling slightly ashamed, he decided to find out for himself what was down below.

Cautiously, Ryuki began descending the wooden staircase. Even though he didn’t weigh very much, it bent and creaked under his feet with each step. Reaching the bottom, he surveyed the room.

The cellar was rectangular-shaped and windowless, and the air inside smelled old and stale. Although it was mostly empty, it was dusty and filled with hanging cobwebs. At the far end of the room, was a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling by a chain.

Ryuki’s eyes adjusted to the dim light it offered, and he saw there were empty wooden wine racks fastened to the walls on either side of him.

A flash in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He saw that there was a large object at the other end of the room. Curious to see what it was, he made his way toward it.

There, resting against the wall, was a full-length mirror. As he approached it, Ryuki began to feel tiny and insignificant. The mirror was tall and loomed over him, and he noticed that its corners were decorated with highly ornate brass fixings. Ryuki had never seen anything like it before, and he thought it must be very old and valuable.

Standing before it, he momentarily gazed at his own reflection. There was something weirdly hypnotic about it, something which did not seem quite right, but Ryuki couldn’t tell what it was.

Reaching out, his fingers were about to touch the mirror`s surface, when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. There was an electricity in the air, and it caused him to tremble ever so slightly.

A hand suddenly appeared on his shoulder, and Ryuki flinched, drawing himself away. It was his father.

Hey, did I scare you?” Shinya said with a little chuckle. “Didn’t you hear me calling your name?”

Ryuki shook his head. Shinya looked to see what had so absorbed his son’s attention.

Wow, look at the size of this thing!” he exclaimed, as his eyes moved up and down the mirror, studying it. “I wonder how long it’s been down here? What do you think?” He looked at his son, waiting for an answer.

Ryuki shrugged. “I don`t know, maybe a hundred years?”

Shinya laughed, tussling Ryuki`s hair. “Yes, could be. C’mon, I want to show you your new bedroom.” He held out his hand for his son to take.

Ryuki grasped it, and they turned to leave the cellar. As they ascended the creaky wooden stairs, Ryuki glanced at the mirror one more time.

For just a brief moment, he had the eerie feeling that it was staring back at him.



© 2011 D.C. Wince

Monday, April 25, 2011

Old Hate - Prologue

Old Hate

Prologue
By David Pidgeon

1865

She barely heard the sound over the pouring rain, a rap against the glass of the window that caught her attention when it was repeated. She looked up from her book and could see only darkness outside. Putting the book down, she stood and walked across to the window. She hesitated before it. The noise came again and without making the decision, she unlatched it and opened it. As soon as she did, a figure entered from outside. It was a man, dripping wet. She drew in a breath to scream or shout or make some sort of noise, but he spoke.
"Jane" came his voice, hoarse but familiar.
"Hiram?"
He looked up at her, that familiar face and those same green eyes. She threw her arms around him and held him tightly to her, ignorant of his sodden clothing. He embraced her briefly before pushing her away slightly.
"Jane, I am terribly happy to see you but I am soaking wet. Do you have a something to dry myself with?"
"Hiram, what are you doing here?"
"I told you I would return, did I not?"
Tears came to her eyes and a smile to her lips, as did a scolding tone to her voice.
"Hiram, you know it isn't safe"
"I told you I would return. I gave you my word. Something dry, my love?"
"Get out of those clothes Hiram. I've still some of yours stored away in the closet"
He began to undress and in a moment of awkwardness, she turned away from him.
"I've missed you"
"You've no idea how I have missed you"
She opened the closet and moved things about in the bottom of it, pulling out the stored clothes.
"We have to leave, Jane. Tonight"
She turned to look at him, forgetting her bashfulness of a moment ago as he stood naked before her. He stared intently at her, with a look she knew.
"You know that I cannot argue with you when you look at me like that my Hiram, but why must we leave?"
"They know that I am coming here. I believe, also, that they would do you harm to get to me. I cannot have that."
He stepped forward to hold her, free of the wet clothes. He was warm, despite the rain outside and she let herself sink into him. Her lips found his, her clothes were lost and they fell onto the bed and melted together.

They lay together in the bed when he heard it, the low rumbling sound of several horses galloping.
"We must leave now" he said and stood.
She simply nodded at him.
"I'm afraid you will not have time to pack" he said, as he began to dress.
She nodded again, trying not to be afraid.
Fully clothed, he began to root through the small pack he'd carried in with him. She studied him as he did so, admiring the man she loved. He was short but had long arms and legs for his height, an unusually rangy frame. He had jet black hair and glittering green eyes, his usually neatly trimmed beard was starting to grow out. He looked tired, she thought.
He turned to look at her and could not help but smile as he saw her watching him. Then his look became hard.
"You must dress now Jane, and dress for travel."
He removed his hand from the pack, holding in it a pistol that gleamed dully under the lantern light of the room. He checked that it was loaded and, satisfied, hung it over his shoulders from the leather thong that was attached to it, leaving it swinging close to his hip on the right side.
Jane was dressed quickly and stood before him ready.
"We cannot go back out the window, we must go downstairs and hope that we can leave through the back."
She nodded.

As he opened the back door of the hotel Jane lived in, there was the crack of a gunshot from across the street and the doorframe near his head suddenly splintered. Hiram sprang backwards, keeping Jane behind him and closing the door into the street
He looked at her and she saw fear in his eyes.
"Jane, they have us surrounded."
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
A voice boomed in from the rain.
"Come out Walsh, we know you're in there" hollered one of the men outside, "come out now and we won't hurt your woman. She's free to go".
Jane shook her head. Hiram placed his hands on her shoulders and stared at her.
"We have no choice, my love. I had no choice in coming back to you and I have no choice in saving your life."
"Please, no. Please Hiram, I can't lose you again. Please" she said, weeping and grabbing tightly on to him, as if trying to hold him there.
Tenderly but firmly, he took her hands into his and pulled her to him in a crushing embrace.
His breath moved her hair as he whispered into her ear "I will always love you, in this life and the next" before releasing her.
She slumped to the floor, weeping.
Hiram opened the door.
"I'm coming out"
Through the tears she could barely see him go.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Art of Theft - Chapter Two

The Art of Theft

Chapter Two
by Murray K.

Friday afternoon has taken an eternity. Ever since the financial
crisis the markets have been working in dog years as they lurch from
one disaster to another. Japan seems to have settled down so the
crisis du jour is the middle east again with a dash of soveriegn debt
and the markets have taken another pasting. The clients always need a
bit of love in these conditions and I'm just finishing my ring around.
The last name on the list is Mr Welsh.

"So how are we looking" he asks after we go through the pleasantries.

"Not bad. The portfolio protection we put in place has worked well,
the option straddles are - "

"I don't need the detail Scott, just tell me, are we winning or losing".

"Well, today's a draw but we're a nose ahead for the week."

"Hell, in this market a draw is a win in my book. Great work Scott.
I'm going to feel a lot happier for the next month knowing you're
looking me."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence sir. When are you off, anyway?" I
ask, glad he's bought it up first.

"We fly out Saturday morning, arrive in St Petersburg Sunday morning.
By this time Monday we'll be on our riverboat cruising down the Volga
river."

"You know Henry, I was going to ask you about that. Why Russia? Was
Paris booked out?"

"Gloria and I have been to Paris a hundred times. We figured it's
time to do something a little more adventurous. It's the route the
Vikings took to get all the way to Baghdad you know?"

"Well, you can bring me back a horned hat if you like. By the way, do
you want me to call you or email you anything?"

"And ruin my holiday? I've told everyone, even my kids, the phone is
off. I might check messages once a week or so. Just let me know if
you've lost my entire fortune, I'll look for a goatherder job on the
Russian steppes."

"Oh, you don't want anything to do with goats. Nasty, foul-smelling,
mean-spirited creatures."

"Sounds like your colleagues at Goldman's, Scott."

"Not a bit of it. Folks here wear cologne. Have a good trip Henry."

"Thanks Scott, talk to you in a month."

And with that, motive becomes motive and opportunity.

Saturday morning is spent in my apartment, laying tonight's tools out
on the bed, surrounded by my art collection. Most of what I have on
my walls in prints, but there's the odd minor work that's original.
After our last bonus, when one of my colleagues bought a Masserati, I
bought a beautiful Eugene Boudin seascape of Le Havre. It cost about
the same amount as the car, but where in New York are you going to
park a Masserati?

Next to the Boudin is the product of my first foray into crime, a
small Monet. Actually, that's a bit misleading, it's a lithograph and
the only thing Monet really did was sign it. But it's based on one of
his compositions and that signature is worth something. The motive
was pity as much as desire. The lithograph was one of the many
thousands of pieces in Goldman Sachs' art collection, mostly up and
coming current artists so Goldman can claim to be modern Medicis.
I've no idea how this little piece entered the collection and clearly
neither did Goldman's curator, because he'd relegated it to a small
internal meeting room. With the hundreds of low level management
updates and strategy meetings it had seen, I'm amazed it hadn't
spontaneously combusted. My theft wasn't a particularly bold or quick
affair, first I just took it off the wall and hid it in the computer
cupboard. A month later, after it had been missed by no-one, I
spirited it out in a laptop bag one evening. Easy. Getting the
Matisse, well that would be a very different story.

By the time I leave in the late afternoon I've repacked a dozen times.
An ex of mine used to say that whenever I was stressed I went
borderline OCD, but I prefer to think of it as thoroughness. I leave
my apartment hauling all of my gear in a toolbox and a large plastic
tub that had previously contained 20kg of pool salt. I walk a block
before grabbing a cab uptown to central park and arrive a touch before
half past five. It's awkward lugging everything the three blocks to
the Welsh's apartment, but most of the foot traffic was heading with
me away from the park. I intentionally try to avoid people's eyes,
not that anyone was likely to notice me anyway. I'm dressed in jeans
and the kind of blue button-up shirt one would only wear as a uniform,
emblazoned with the logo of "Skyline Pools". The cap sitting over my
wrap-around shades has the same logo, courtesy of iron on transfers.
I look the regular Joe Tradesman, or so I hope.

Half a block away from the apartment, I get hit by a surge of
adrenaline. It's the same feeling I get standing at the top of a
cliff, about to abseil down. I savour it for a moment and then I'm at
the building, standing in front of the doorman.

"Hey bud," I call to get his attention.

"What's up?"

"I'm Dave from Skyline Pools," I say, pulling out an ID that had been
put together with a colour printer and a laminator. "We got a fault
call from the pool on the roof here. Client by the name of, uh,
Walsh's?"

"Welsh's," replies the doorman absent-mindedly while looking at the
ID. It's amazing what a laser printer and a laminator can knock up
nowadays.

"Yeah, that's them. Can you give them a call, tell them I'm coming up."

"Sorry bud, no can do. They're not in."

"Aw geez, are they gonna be long?"

"Can't say."

"Well, the systems reporting a major fault. Any way you can get me up
there to check it out?" This was the moment of truth. I reckoned I'd
figured the logistics out, but the one variable, the one human factor,
was this doorman letting me up to the roof. He was clearly in two
minds, turning my ID over in his hands. "Have you got any calls of
sudden wet floors from the apartments? Flooding, water leaking from
the light fittings, coming down the walls."

"No, nothing."

"Well, I guess I can come back when they do..."

"Ah, come on, we'll check it out."

A quick trip up the elevator gets us to the top floor and we head into
the fire escape, up the stairs and onto the roof.

"I think the pool's over, uh, there it is," he says, pointing back to the west.

"Yeah, I know, I've been up here before," I say, the first truthful
thing I've said so far. "I'll check the equipment shed, can you have
a quick look at the pool?"

I set my gear down next to the small shed and open it up, reaching for
a couple of things from my jeans pocket as I do. I smear a couple of
the pristine pipes and a patch of floor with a tube of grease and
stick a small box of angry red blinking LEDs underneath one of the
large control boxes. Then I open up the toolbox and grab a spanner
and screwdriver from the top. By the time the guard comes back, I'm
industriously unscrewing what I think is the main filter control.

"Hey, you'd better see this," says the doorman with genuine concern,
"there's water spilling over the edge."

I follow him to the pool and it takes me a second to realise that the
guy has never seen an infinity pool before. On one side the wall is
lower and there's a steady stream of water cascading over the top, so
that anyone inside has the sensation that the pool never ends, just
goes off into the horizon. The doorman is looking at it with quiet
alarm, and I say a small prayer of thanks to whatever gods look after
thieves.

"Yeah, thought so. Problem with the pump, it's overflowing."

"Is it flooding the apartment?"

"No, don't worry, there's a secondary containment for just this sort
of thing," and I point out the small area where the water is meant to
collect. "Give me a second."

I head back to the equipment shed and spend a couple of seconds trying
to work out which machine is the pump. Then I just turn everything
off at the wall switches and the steady hum goes silent. Sure enough,
by the time I head back to the pool edge there's a lot less water
coming over, and after a minute there's just a tiny trickle.

"Good thing we got here when we did, that would have filled up
quickly," I lie to the much relieved doorman, and head back to the
pool shed with him in tow. "I can see what's wrong with the pump and
I reckon I can fix it, it'll take about half an hour."

"Oh," says the doorman, looking at his watch. "My shift ends in 15
minutes." And I was relying on that as well, 6pm on the dot. Try
getting a New York doorman to work 5 minutes more than he has to.
"I've got to get down and tell Charlie what's going on."

"That's fine," I reply. "Look, this shouldn't be a problem. You can
tell Charlie to come up or I'll just head down when I'm finished."

"Yeah, ok," he says, looking at his watch again. "Charlie'll be up in
15 or 20." And with that he walks back to the fire escape.

The moment the door clicks shut I'm up and moving. I strip off my
shirt and clean off the grease, then pull everything out of the tub.
I've got a 3 mil wetsuit top in their that I throw on, then strip off
my jeans to reveal the wetsuit bottoms. Surprisingly comfortable,
they stop chaffing, but they don't breath well, probably won't wear
them the next time I'm clubbing. I put together the rebreather tank
and fit two 5 litre oxygen canisters and my weight belt, that's half
the weight of the tub right there. I get a large piece of blue
plastic and a roll of roofing tape out of the tub and then stow the
toolkit and my clothes in it, then put it at the back of the pool
shed. It looks like it belongs there. Then it's goggles on,
mouthpiece in, and into the water.

As I hit the water I'm glad it's been sunny the last couple of days,
even so it's unpleasantly chilly. But I haven't got time to think of
that as I spread out the blue plastic on the water's surface. This
was a test of my colour sense, but the plastic is pretty close to the
colour of the pool. I bring it down to the bottom and have to
straighten it out underwater, the hardest part of the whole deal. A
series of steps come down into the pool, and I tape the plastic so
that it sticks out from the last of these. Then I tape it one side to
form a new step. The pool is about as wide as I am tall, and when I
get in under this plastic I'm able to rest my feet against the side
and tape the other end of the plastic.

So now I'm sitting, cocooned in a piece of plastic pretending to be a
pool step, trying to slow my breath in the respirator. The rebreather
puts out only a fraction of the bubbles of a normal scuba tank, and
I'm hoping that to the casual observer I'm invisible. After an hour
has passed I figure that Charlie the doorman must have come up to
check. Will they just check the roof, or will they open up the
aparment? Will they even search through the building? I've got no
idea, but since there's no sudden splashing and tearing back of my
plastic sheet, I at least know they haven't spotted me yet. I figure
6 hours more than long enough for any heat to do down, the hardest
thing now is that my hands are starting to freeze. I hope they're not
too numb to get past the locks.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Under a Steel-Grey Sky - Chapter Two

Under a Steel-Grey Sky

Chapter Two
By Michael Bennett


Seeing the woman come around the corner, the man just behind her, he realised that the guy seemed instinctively to know the best course of action to protect her. He wondered what was going to happen, or just who they were, as his deeper police instincts over-rode his hard crust of belligerence.
This time, to his amusement, was a reversal of the situation in the diner. She was the one wearing a gruff mask, the bodyguard looking more calm, almost smiling toward him. He guessed that a decision had been reached despite, or maybe because of, his behaviour inside.
As they walked up silently, he figured he might as well play his part in this act, and opened how it seemed he was supposed to. 'So, what's the game, girly? Why've you sought me out, in a cop diner of all places? If you were trying to keep a low profile for whatever this is, you kinda sucked at it.'

Taking a step closer and looking at him evenly, she put a hand out toward Fighting Man and said quickly, “I would have dropped by your ...hovel, Mr Turner, but it looked like I'm not the only one interested in you right now. So, here we are” as she was handed two envelopes, “and here you are. I'd like to hire you to investigate the matter, and the men, inside this. Call me this evening, once you've looked it over. My personal, private, number is in there. The other envelope.. Consider that a down-payment for your services.” Turning on her heel, she glanced back and said “I'll wait for your call to hear your preliminary thoughts.”

As she began to walk away, Fighting Man something in Japanese, causing her to lose colour in her face. Turning around slowly, she added with a tinge of desperation, the gruff mask cracking for a second “ - and don't let your other watcher catch you with that, or find it. I haven't the foggiest who that is, and had no desire to reveal the fact I was attempting to meet with you. There will be a rather messy undercurrent of violence here, and I don't know ...well, everything I could reveal, is in there. Goodbye for now, Mister Turner.” She turned again, letting her guard lead the way. Pauly watched silently, opening the smaller envelope, and almost yelped at the amount of bills stuffed inside. Must've been at least 2 and a half grand in $100 bills, at least. All that just to read a few pieces of paper?

Giving her a little time to get away, Pauly smoked two of his cigarettes, pacing the alley, giving the matter some thought. About halfway through the second one, his inner detective won out again, as he knew it would. He'd find a hotel and crash there for at least the night. A swanky, upscale one. She certainly gave him enough to be able to do that. He'd have to find a pawnshop that did under the counter deals, since he hadn't Old Nancy, his well worn revolver. He didn't think it'd be the smartest idea to go back for her, in case the person watching his place was still there.

Walking through the alley, Pauly spotted a taxi, and hailed it. Getting in, he told the driver where he wanted to go. Letting the city blur past silently, he again fell to thinking, wondering just what she was on about with all the talk of violence and undercurrents. And just why had she come to him? Obviously she couldn't go to the cops, so she clearly wasn't the most upstanding of citizens... And the bodyguard was most likely Yakuza.

But aside from the guard, and the fact she sought him out ('why me' floating through his brain again), brought 2 possible angles, at least that he could nut out. Either she was telling the truth, and didn't know exactly who she could trust, which meant he was holding something that could bring a massive storm down on him. Or she was feeding him a massive line, which could have the same result.

As he pulled up to the hotel, having gotten a functioning, if inelegant looking, handgun and some fresh clothes and a few other things and stuffed them into a bag, he realised grudgingly that he'd taken the bait, and would see this through to whatever end it lead to, even before getting to his room, to read what she'd wanted him to look into.

Once the concierge had shown him into the swanky hotel room, and he'd scoffed down on a room service order that cost more than any meal he'd ever eaten, he kicked off his shoes and sat down to read the file. He wasn't sure if it was a spun story, what actually happened, what she thought was fact, or some mix of the 3. But he'd taken her money, so he would at least investigate it to a surface level. After a couple of hours, more than a few beers, and almost 2 packets of cigarettes, he'd memorised it in it's entirety.

After a mostly restful night in the most comfortable bed he'd ever known to have existed, he figured out what his next move would be over a stacked breakfast. It was just smart to know all angles of a case, to have all the sides you possibly could, before moving. He was lucky that he was able to investigate, as opposed to being dumped in a sudden crisis or event, which had happened rather often while on the force, so long ago. The instincts were still there, even if he wasn't.

Which is why he knew what his next move would be, though he didn't know how it would go.
He knew it was time to face his old partner. It was the only strong link he had, the only possible source he had to get more information about the case he'd taken on, and the woman who dragged him into it.

Reluctantly walking into his old precinct, he noticed that the general buzz was greater, seemed more intense, than he once knew. He wasn't the sharpest guy in the world, but he knew when something was up. And he knew, again because of instincts, that it was tied to what he was now investigating. He'd have to play this one close to his chest. Very close.

It was then that he heard a voice shout, across the room. At him. His partner had spotted him, and was beckoning. The first thing he noticed, aside from the familiar deep rumble of his voice, was that he'd been promoted to Captain.