Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Unpublished Excerpt - "Murder by Earthlight"


Four years before I wrote "Another Girl, Another Planet" - I made a false start on that story, a murder mystery set in space in an alternate universe. I got to 2,700 words before I abandoned it. Here is the beginning of what I wrote in 2011. If you have read "Another Girl, Another Planet", you can see the development of many crucial plot concepts here.

---

Because of the Recession – I suppose – the small patio behind the office building was overgrown and unkempt. As I walked through the fire door, I saw him sitting in a rusty metal chair, a Reuben on wax paper sitting in his lap.

He was alone.

He looked up and swallowed. “You looking for anybody, son?”

I pulled the book from my side pack fanny and nodded. “Are you Thomas Santangelo?”

He nodded and wiped the mustard from his gray beard. “Yes, what can I do for you?”

“They told me inside you were eating lunch out here,” I said.

I walked over to the table and put the boon down in front of him. “I found this is in the dollar bin at the Friends of the Library fundraiser sale,” I said. “It has your name in it, I tracked you down.”

I sat down opposite him. “I thought you might want it back.”

He peered through bifocals at the cover--and gasped, very loudly. He reached out with both hands and grabbed the book, hard, as if to assure himself that it was real.

“Oh, my God, it was real, it was all real,” he said, to no one in particular. Tears began to stream down his face, and he dropped the book as he tried to wipe them aside.

I had memorized the cover, and I looked at it upside down.

“A Decade of Progress: The Programmatic Outline of the International Space Colonization and Exploration Agency – 1980-1990: JASSECA.”

Below is smaller letters, it read: “Joint American-Soviet Space Exploration and Colonization Agency.”

Stamped in red stencil, it read at the bottom “Advance Review Copy – Return to Agency.”

Santangelo’s hands shook violently as he alternately tried to wipe his face and pick up the book again. I laid my hand on top of the book and steadied it. “Take it easy, it’s real, and it’s yours.”

He looked me in the eye. “You’re my witness!” he croaked.

He shook for a minute or two more, but soon he began to calm down and as he did, he began to flip through the pages of the book. His eyes glinted, as he obviously saw things he recognized.

It was a cheaply printed galley proof, a trade paperback sized book with sketches on the cover and where the art and illustrations would be inserted in the final printing.

When he was halfway through the book, he spoke without looking up. “Where did you get this?”

“Like I said, it was in the dollar bin at the Friends of the Library fund raising garage sale, where I live.”

“Where do you live?” he said, still without looking up.

“Natick, Massachusetts,” I said. “It’s west of Boston.”

“I know where Natick is,” he said. “I grew up in Rockland.” He looked up. “Do you have any idea where they got it.”

“The group takes donations of all types of books, They recycle a lot for pulp, but they save some for resale. This probably came in through some estate sale,” I said. “They had no idea where it came from. The only name I found inside was yours.”

I reached in my wallet and pulled out a yellowed cash register receipt. “I found this, stuck between pages like a bookmark.”

I held it out, and he reached for it with two fingers, grasping it gently like a butterfly’s wing. It read:

“Astro Gyros
“Our Middle Eastern Cuisine Is Out Of This World
“Lunar Base Mall Kiosk 37
“Dec 12 79
“Lunch Special # 5: FelGyr Pltter $5.47
“Thomas R. Santangelo
“Mastercard XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-5545
“Exp. 05-82
“Authorized Signature:”

I pointed to the receipt. “I assume that’s your signature at the bottom.”

He looked at me, and said--his voice trailing off softly--“Yes, it is.”

I cleared my throat. “I like science fiction, and I like alternate history. At first, I assumed--like the folks sorting through the books for library fundraiser--that this was a science fiction book, some sort of nerdy RPG guide, perhaps. I didn’t even pay a buck for it, I got it in a pile of a dozen books they let me have for five bucks. But when I got home and began to flip through it, it seemed--well, it seemed a lot of work for so specialized a goal.”

I pointed at the receipt again. “Then I found that, and I thought: ‘I can imagine some nerd making up a fake report to go with some RPG world, even if it is 200 pages long--but why counterfeit a receipt from a kebab stand?”

“It’s not fake,” said Santangelo. “I ate there, I had lunch there, the last day…” He looked away. “The last day…”

I tapped my finger on the table. “Is this an artifact from another quantum universe?”

Santangelo looked at me. His eyes were dry, and wide.

“You get it!” He said. “You get it!”

“There are 24 Thomas Santangelos in the U.S., according to Google, but there are only two Thomas R. Santangelos, and the other one is 84,” I said. “You’re only 54, I took a guess you might be the guy I was looking for.”

“I am. I grew up in that other quantum universe,” he said.

“Jeez, how did you cross over, then?”

“I didn’t, the universe changed on me. I woke up one morning in a different place, with a different past in a different history, but with my memory intact,” he said. “I don’t know why it changed.”

He held the book with both hands. “This is the first time I’ve seen anything from the world I grew up in.” He took a deep breath. “This must have had something to do with the change. I have to try to remember the last time I saw this before.”

He leveled his gaze. “I remember. It was in my apartment, on the moon base, in the moon colony.”
“You lived on the moon!”

“Shit, kid, that’s where I had my first job out of college, I was hired as an aide to the moon base governor right out of school,” he said. “That was in the summer of 1979.”

I must have looked stunned, because he snorted. “You like science fiction, young man? I can tell you a story times better than anything Admiral Heinlein or Harry Turtledove could have dreamed of. It happened to me, it was real.”

He looked around. “You came all the way from Massachusetts to Dallas, you can’t be in any kind of a rush.”

“No, no. I have all the time in the world,” I blurted.

“Give me a second, I’ll tell them inside I’m taking the rest of the day off, we can sit here while I tell the tale,” he said. “Maybe talking it through will help me remember something that will explain what happened.”

He got up and walked into the office building. A minute later he walked back out and sat down.

“You haven’t told me your name.”

“Jim, Jim Gibbons. My friends call me Jazzman because I listen to classical Jazz.”

“How old are you, Jazzman?”

“Twenty-two, I graduated from Emerson College last month.”

He looked thoughtful. “That’s how old I was when I went to the moon. Like I said, I was hired right out of college. I thought I was lucky at the time. I didn’t realize how much my luck would change when I set foot on that crunchy moon mud.”


(To Be Continued...}

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Original Fiction - "False Flag" by Lou Antonelli

The school shooting wasn't what it seemed...



Dickey slammed the hatchback shut and handed Marissa her assault rifle.  She looked at him.

“This is a rotten job, you know,” she said softly.

“Just remember why we’re here,” he said.

He took his rifle off his shoulder, and the pair walked to the entrance of the elementary school.  As they approached, a school police officer stepped outside.

“Halt, drop your weapons!” he shouted.

Dickey sighed as he shot the man in the forehead.

“Well, with all the practice, your aim has certainly improved,” Marissa said bitterly.

The pair sprayed the entrance of the school with gunfire, and then passed the shattered door.  There were shouts and screams as teachers and students ran away down corridors, followed by the heavy slamming of doors.

“I’ll take care of the classrooms, you do the office and teachers’ lounge,” said Dickey.

Marissa walked into the school office, where a young woman threw her hands up in the air.

“No, please, no!”

Marissa shot her in the face, and then walked into the suite of offices.  The principal tried to fight her, but she dispatched her easily.  A few people hid under desks. She shot them all.

One teacher hid in the supply closet.  She stared at the gunman, eyes wide in fear.

“Why are you doing this?” she sobbed.

“You’ll learn soon enough,” said Marissa as she shot her.

After ten minutes, all the people in the administrative portion of the school were dead, and Marissa followed the sound of gunfire to find Dickey in one of the classrooms.

“There are only a dozen classrooms, I’m halfway through,” he said.

“I’ll start at the other end of the hallway,” she said.  “We’ll finish faster.”

“You get warmed up after a while, don’t you?”

“There’s a kind of shock that wears off,” she said.

Many of the children huddled together under desks.  That made it easier for them to be killed. One young male teacher charged Dickey.

“The police are on their way,” he screamed.

“No, they’re not,” said Dickey and he shot him square in the chest.

Dickey turned away, but was startled to hear the teacher moaning on the ground.

“Why are you doing this?” he gasped.

Dickey went into a half crouch and looked the teacher in the eye.

“Be at peace, my brother, you’ll learn soon enough.”

He put a shot into the young man’s forehead, and then moved on.

After a half hour, the screams and sobs subsided.  The pair of “killers” walked back to the entrance of the school, and sat down on a broken brick wall.

Dickey took out his iPhone.

“We’ve cleaned it out, you can bring over the Sensitive.”

In a few minutes a battered pickup truck appeared, and a man in a military-like uniform stepped out from the driver’s side.

Two more men exited the bed of the truck, as a young woman stepped from the passenger side.

“This is Kaylee,” said the driver.

Marissa grabbed Kaylee by the wrist.

“As hard as this is for us, I know how difficult it is for you,” she said.

The Sensitive smiled sadly.  “It is what I must do, to help the others,” she said. “The living, and the dead.”

She walked forward towards the scattered remains of where the school once stood.  Marissa and Dickey watched as she looked over the field where the outlines of walls indicated where the classrooms had been.

“It’s amazing how little of the structures remain, only 25 years later,” said the driver.

“The firestorm burned everything to the ground,” said Dickey.

Kaylee closed her eyes and moaned gently.  The others watched intently.

After a minute, she opened her eyes.  “Just sadness remains, fading quickly,” she said quietly. 
“They’ve left, moved on.”

“Excellent,” said the driver.  “I’ll notify the others. They can bring in settlers tomorrow.”

Kaylee dropped her arms at her sides.  “I hope I don’t have to do this many more times.”

“Most of the known haunts have been cleared out, but settlers keep finding new ones,” said Dickey.

“I’m surprised there aren’t more haunts,” said the driver.  “This area had millions of people living in it at the time of the Sun Stroke.”

“Yes, but most adult spirits eventually discern what happened, and have dissipated by now,” said Kaylee.  “The schools, nurseries, playgrounds and such are the hard ones, places where there were a lot of children.  They can hardly understand that a solar flare killed them instantly without warning.”

“Among all the innocence of the children, the teachers remain oblivious, also,” she added.

“A few always fight or challenge us,” said Dickey.  “They always say the same thing, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

“Well, thanks to you two, the new people will be able to live here and start up again without the spirits,” said the driver.

The others got back in their truck and left the pair of shooters behind.

Dickey and Marissa stashed their rifles in the hatchback.  Dickey slid behind the steering wheel, and Marissa sat down.

He set his mouth.  “They’re already dead, you know.”

“It’s sad,” he continued, looking over at her.  “But it needs to be done.  Otherwise they don’t know to move on.”

Marissa exploded.

“No, you know what’s sad?  Not that a sudden solar eruption struck down millions of people without warning.  Not that ghosts linger for decades because what happened to them was so sudden they don’t know they’re dead.”

She glared at him. 

“What’s sad is that we had a society where a madman killing helpless children at a school was a regular occurrence,” she shouted.

She looked out the window. “None of them question what we did, and now they accept they’re dead.”

She looked forward.

“Let’s get out of here, let’s just get the fuck out of here.”

And they drove away through the empty landscape.

-The End-

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Not my problem!

I have an adopted son, my furbaby Peltro (a Catahoula Leopard Cur) who is sleeping on the couch right now on his back, legs akimbo, nether regions rampant. We all know the sight of a dog sleeping like this. It's cute.

Over 20 years ago I had another adopted canine kid, named Luke. He was German Shepherd mix, with the resulting long and pointed muzzle.

One night he was sleeping on his back on the floor while I was on the couch watching television when he sneezed violently.A few seconds later I heard a grunt.

He had sneezed so hard his tongue had fallen out of his mouth.

He grunted again and I realized he couldn't reel his tongue back in. His hyper-extended tongue was flopping on the floor.

He grunted a couple of more times and then rolled over on his side, and was able to yank his tongue back in his mouth.

He looked around somewhat sheepishly.

I looked over and said to him, "Luke, old chum, that is one problem I don't think I will ever have!"

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A nasty visit to the Paris zoo

 It turned out OK in the end, but I had to take Patricia to the ER of the hospital in Paris Saturday afternoon.

Starting Friday afternoon she started feeling abdominal pain and nausea. She ate and drank very little. This afternoon she threw up and suggested we go to the hospital ER.

They hooked her up to an IV drip (she was very dehydrated) and took some blood samples.They then gave her a few stopgap medicines and later, took her for a cat scan.

The process took about four hours. The report from the cat scan showed she had a spot of colitis. She's snoozing on the couch and feeling better. We have four prescriptions which I will have to get filled in Paris Sunday (there are no 24-hour pharmacies anywhere near here.)

The medical staff we interacted with at Paris Regional Medical Center were quite helpful, friendly, and professional.

BUT...

The ambiance was a combination between a zoo and a riot. It may just have been our bad luck, but we eventually stayed behind a closed door in the examination room, because we felt we were in a combat zone.

Early on, we had to close the door because a patient across the hall was loud and using the most vulgar language possible. It was really scatological. Sometimes he may have been on a cell phone, other times I think he was talking to people in person, but wow! This guy had the loudest, dirtiest mouth I ever heard.

We were able to muffle his foul language by closing the door, but then - believe it or not - things got worse. A lot worse.

While Patricia was getting her cat scan, some people - who must have known someone also getting a scan - camped out in a waiting area just outside that door.

It looked like a mom, a young daughter, and maybe four or five toddlers. I really couldn't tell, it was such a fiasco.

By the time Patricia got back, as we waited a couple of hours for the results, the kids screamed and shrieked and cried to make the doors shake and the windows rattle. It was obvious the kids were badly out of control and the adults either couldn't or didn't want to control them.

This time the door was no barrier to the noise. It was like being in a hurricane. Patricia started to get sick from the racket and I was getting woozy myself.

The hospital staff was nowhere to be seen. They all seemed to be clustered around the nurses' station. socializing and trying not to get involved.

I cracked open the door and saw hands trying to grasp the various limbs of the toddlers, who were squirming and on a complete warpath. I polite suggested from across the hall that it would be nice if it was quieter.

That didn't seem to have any effect, so maybe 15 minutes later I went down the hall and alerted the staff to the problem. Then I retreated to the exam room.

Instead of abating, it got louder, and after a while I cracked the door because I was genuinely curious if something was seriously wrong. It sounded like these kids were cannibals doing a war dance as they roasted a sibling over an open fire pit.

I saw maybe two staff members were in there, perhaps - I hoped - trying to get control of the situation. As I looked out, the older of the two ladies seemed to be saying that I was the cause of the problems by complaining, and then said, pointing, "And there he is sneaking a peek through the door."

OK, that was it. I do not sneak. I flung open the door and shouted at the top of my lungs "CONTROL YOUR LITTLE...!!!"

Now, that last word I used is a standard English plural noun used to denote children whose parents were not married at the time of their birth.Although often considered a malediction, I felt personally assured, under the circumstances, that it was probably accurate.

It was rude, though. A staff person told me to get in the room and shut the door and stay there. Which seemed like a good idea.

After a while the ruckus finally dissipated. Barricaded as we were in the exam room, Patricia and I were happy to believe the hurricane had passed.

A while later there was a knock on the door and the same staff person who had admonished me to get back in my room entered with a security guard. She chewed my ass for having the temerity to do her job in trying to abate out-of-control visitors. She said I can't use that language around children.

I bit my tongue and didn't point out it was probably a description rather than a curse. I admitted I lost my temper - which was true - and said I was sorry, which was also true.

They left, and a while later a real doctor came in and explained the results of the cat scan and the diagnosis of colitis. We left shortly thereafter with prescriptions in hand.

Back in the car, we agreed never to set foot in the place again, and if need be we'd rather go to a hospital in Texarkana or Mount Pleasant than back to that hell hole.

Although the medical professionals, and most of the staff, were - as I said earlier - helpful, polite and professional - failing to keep even a minimum of decorum in an emergency room is abusive and just plain damn lazy. I have high blood pressure, and I'm lucky I didn't have a stroke over the affair.

It was one of the worst Saturday evenings I've had in my life, and with that lack of detail to simple decorum, I suspect Paris will soon be another small city without a hospital.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Cold calling

I know what it's like to have someone call you out of the blue (the proverbial 'cold call') to sell you something, and you are real busy, or tired, or sick, or right in the middle of something, and you listen for a while and realize you can't even come up with a decent brush-off, and so you simply hang up.

Since taking over The Clarksville Times, I've made a lot of cold calls to build up the paper's business, and I've had great success. But the other day I called a business in Paris and after 15 seconds got hung up on.

Well, I thought, I've done it to other people a few times in my life, so I have no kick. All you can do is try.

And maybe wait a few weeks and call back again.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Much more satisfying

In my over 30 years of working as a journalist in Texas and participating in press contests, I've received a number of awards, but never a first place - 2nd, 3rd, Honorable mention, but I've never topped a category.

So I was startled yesterday when I was handed the plaque for First Place for Column Writing by the North and East Texas Press Association. The competition is so fierce, and there is so much good work being done out there, it didn't occur to me I'd come out on top.

On the other hand, the two columns I clipped and submitted WERE really good.

Then a short while later I practically fell off my chair when I was awarded Firs Place for News Photo. Apparently the judges were very impressed with how I was at the scene of an accident as it happened - in this case, a building demolition that went south when a bulldozer fell in the basement of the building being demolished - they didn't know was there WAS a basement.

Texas has five regional press associations; the North and East Texas Press Association is larger than 45 STATE press associations. It was a 200 mile drive to the city where the convention was held.

But it was worth the trip.

I feel sorry for so many of my friends who seek professional recognition and affirmation in the science fiction and fantasy literary field. The way it is converged now, most competitions – not all, but most – need to know your personal religious and political beliefs first, before they will judge your work.

Then, of course, if you are not politically correct, or sufficiently politically correct, you and your work is disregarded.

This kind of all-encompassing totalitarianism eventually turns on itself, like the Reign of Terror or Stalin’s Purges. I got a good chuckle last year when I read that someone called John Scalzi a Sad Puppy, because the Dragon Awards were invented by the Sad Puppies, and Scalzi had allowed a work of his to be on the Dragon ballot, so he was therefore a Sad Puppy.

This kind of ignorant, politicized bullshit is why few honest and intelligent people take literary s-f seriously any more.

Perhaps one reason why I have had such a low tolerance of it is because in community journalism work is still judged on its merits.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Convention bound

Patricia and I will be gone Friday and Saturday to the North and East Texas Press Association's annual convention in Granbury, Texas. The Clarksville Times office will be closed Friday.

The convention concludes with the annual press awards luncheon Saturday. We are hoping to bring home a certificate or two.

Too informal

There's a romantic myth that family owned businesses and mom and pop outfits are intrinsically better than chain-owned and corporate out...