Dancing in the Sheets

The sun is shining, and the temperature has climbed to 49 degrees. The boil-water advisory ended finally last evening–it’s just not a crisis in New Orleans unless we have a boil-water advisory!–and here I sit this morning, ensconced at my desk with a cup of coffee, a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer, with great expectations of the day. I went to the gym last evening after work, and my muscles, while a bit tired, still feel stretched and worked and supple, if that makes sense. Probably the best thing about rededicating myself to physical exercise again is how much better I feel; I don’t ache or feel tired the way I did just last week, and the stretching and the treadmill are also making me feel ever so much better. Today, I am going to clean (if it’s Saturday I must be cleaning) but I am also going to write, edit and read today. Paul is going into the office to work (it’s that time of year again) and so I have the day to myself. I want to finish the first draft of “The Trouble with Autofill” and I want to edit “Cold Beer No Flies.”

Among many other things; my to-do list is ridiculous, quite frankly. But the only way to make progress is not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the list but rather to keep plugging away at it.

I finished reading Miami by Joan Didion earlier this week, and it was quite good. Didion’s writing style is quite amazing, actually, and while the story of the book might seem, at first glance, to be rather dated; the truth is it is still very much appropriate to our modern times. Miami is a look at the Cuban exiles in the city, how they relate to each other, and how they impact south Florida politically; and to a lesser extent, the relationship between the US government with them as well as with Castro’s Cuba. During the Cold War Cuba was a much more terrifying apparition, close as it was to Florida, and it’s amazing how people do not realize the political clout, as a result of their sheer numbers, that the Cuban immigrants weld in that part of the state, and in the entire state as well. The importance of Florida as a swing state cannot be discounted; and therefore the Cuban-American community’s influence on national politics is something that has to always be considered. (A present day comparison would be the Puerto Ricans moving to Florida today in great numbers as a result of the hurricane destruction of their island; the difference being those Puerto Ricans are already American citizens who can register to vote and can impact 2018 already.) Didion’s look at Miami in the 1980’s, as a Caribbean city on the mainland, is also reminiscent of descriptions of New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city; the thing I love the most about Didion’s work is how she makes you think. Reading Miami made me want to write about Miami; I’ve been wanting to write about Florida for a long time, as Constant Reader already knows. Something to ponder.

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I also started reading Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is a look at the film industry through the lens of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967, and how they were made. Harris’ thesis is that was the year that bridged the gap between old and new Hollywood; and the five Best Picture nominees illustrated that perfectly: an expensive musical flop (Doctor Dolittle); two old style Hollywood pictures about race (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night), and two films that illustrated new Hollywood and its influence by European filmmakers like Truffaut and Fellini and Antonioni (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate). I, of course, have always been fascinated by Hollywood history and have been ever since I read Garson Kanin’s Tracy and Hepburn and Bob Thomas’ Selznick as a kid; this book is right up my alley, and since it’s been awhile since I’ve read any Hollywood history, I am looking forward to reading this (and his Five Came Back–I’ve already watched the documentary based on it).

The Short Story Project also moves apace; I am frequently surprised as I look through my shelves for something to read how many single author collections and anthologies dot them. My Ipad also has quite a few loaded onto the Kindle app; I often buy them when they are either free or reduced in price, and so my Kindle app is filled with books I’ve not yet read, primarily because I don’t like to read on it (which I realize is nothing more than stubbornness; if I can watch movies or television programs on it, why resist reading books there?) Yesterday I found my battered old Dell paperback of Agatha Christie’s The Golden Ball and Other Stories, which I remember loving as a child. I was looking for my copy of Lawrence Block’s first anthology inspired by paintings–those of Edward Hopper– In Sunlight or in Shadow, which I would have sworn I’d purchased in hardcover; yet it wasn’t anywhere on the shelves or in any of the TBR piles, before remembering I’d bought it as an ebook when the Macavity nominations come out; Block’s story “Autumn at the Automat” was a finalist, along with mine (I still can’t believe it) and I wanted to read all the other nominated stories for an entry, so the immediacy of the need required buying the ebook. It is a handsome volume, though, so I’ll need to buy a hard copy to pair with the new one. (New bucket list item: write a story for one of these anthologies by Lawrence Block)

Once I’d located it on the iPad, I scoured the table of contents and landed on a Joyce Carol Oates story, “The Woman in the Window.” I have to confess I’ve not read much of Ms. Oates; I am not even remotely familiar with what she writes. But she, too, was a Macavity finalist last year, for her story “The Crawl Space” (which also won the Stoker Award), and that story creeped me the fuck out. I know she’s been a Stoker finalist before, but I also think she tends to write across genre a lot and therefore isn’t pigeon-holed in one way or the other.

Beneath the cushion of the plush blue chair she has hidden it.

Almost shyly her fingers grope for it, then recoil as if it were burning-hot.

No! None of this will happen, don’t be ridiculous!

It is eleven A.M. He has promised to meet her in this room in which it is always eleven A.M.

This story, frankly, isn’t as strong as “The Crawl Space,” but it’s an interesting exercise in how thin the line between lust and loathing is; the woman of the title is a secretary having an affair with a much wealthier man, and as she gets older and older she is feeling more and more trapped in the relationship; he is married and he often has to break plans with her for his wife. There is also a shift occasionally to his point of view, and he’s not so fond of her anymore, either. Passion has cooled but habit has set in; and the way those lines can get crossed is chilling–and how destructive such a relationship can be to both parties, emotionally and mentally, is explored in great detail yet sparse language by Ms. Oates. The story’s not as creepy, as I said, as the other; but the end–which she leaves kind of hanging–you do feel that something awful is going to happen; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.

I’ve not read Joe Hill before, and there are several reasons for that; none of which would make any sense to anyone who is not me; I am nothing if not aware of my own eccentricities, which is why I generally don’t share them with people; I don’t need someone else to point out that something doesn’t make sense. But I do have a copy of his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, which I spied on the shelves as I looked for my copy of the Block anthology. Aha, I thought, perfect. I can read a Joe Hill story for the Short Story Project. So, I curled up under a blanket in my easy chair, waited for Scooter to get settled in my lap, and started reading “Best New Horror.”

A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.

No one had time to read them all, although once–when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America’s Best New Horror–he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.

He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.

I did not mention the elephant in the room; said elephant, of course, being that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. (The Kings are a very literary family; Mr. King’s wife Tabitha is a poet and a novelist; their other son Owen also writes, as does Owen’s wife, Kelly Braffet; I read a novel by Ms. Braffet sometime in the last couple of years–not aware of the King connection–and greatly enjoyed it.)

But simply based on a reading of “Best New Horror,” I have to say Joe Hill is also a terrific writer. And while it, like some of his father’s work, bears a strong resemblance to something I would have read in an Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery comic book–that is not a criticism. I loved those comics, and the stories I read in them; they had a deep influence on me not only as a writer but as a reader. “Best New Horror”, as you can tell by the opening, tells the tale of Eddie Carroll, a writing teacher and a long-time editor of the Best New Horror series, a chore he has learned to loathe and, basically, phone in every year for the money. This resonated with me; as an anthology editor myself, one of the reasons I stepped away from editing them–or took a break from doing it–was because it was becoming rote; a chore rather than something I found joy in doing. Eddie is an example of why I stopped–I didn’t want to become like him; embittered by the experience and tired of not finding anything fresh or new (unlike Eddie, I was able to keep the experience fresh because each anthology I did was a new topic; if I had done twenty anthologies with the same theme I would have gone on a killing spree). But in the mail comes a story from a new writer that is simply brilliant; original and fresh and resonant and horrifying in its reality; the story reinvigorates Eddie and makes the editing job no longer a chore; he has to have this story, and will do whatever he has to in order to track the writer down…but as with any horror  tale of obsession, it’s not going to end well. But Hill brilliantly keeps stringing the reader along, and the ending is just absolutely brilliant and clever. I am really looking forward to reading more of these stories.

And now, I must get back to the spice mines. There are clothes to fold, dishes to wash, floors to clean, stories to write and edit; I am probably coming back here for another entry later as I am trying to get caught up on posting the stories I’ve read–but I make no promises. I have another story to write as a call for submissions crossed my computer screen on Thursday; I have an unfinished story that I can repurpose, but I also need to get a first draft done so I can work the story out.

Until later, Constant Reader.

Lucky Star

New Year’s Eve, a time to look back on the past year and reflect on goals either achieved or missed; to look at what was accomplished and what wasn’t, to think about and make plans for the future year.

So, what kind of year was 2017? I didn’t achieve many, if any, of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I intended to write more short stories (which I sort of did) and publish more short stories (which I didn’t really do); I intended to start my search for an agent (which I did); but I didn’t seem to get much else done. I didn’t start working out more, but I did lose weight–so that one’s kind of a toss-up; I weigh 15 pounds less than I did a year ago. I did buy a new car, which was also a goal, and I’ve not regretted it once, despite the impact on my finances. I also didn’t write nearly as much this year as I had hoped/wanted to; there were no new novels published under my name this year; which is the first time I think that’s happened since 2005. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did in 2005, to be honest; my self-worth and identity as an author apparently no longer requires me to write and publish at the insane pace that I used to keep.

I read a lot of good books in 2017, discovered a lot of great new-to-me writers, watched some amazing television shows and movies, but creatively I spent most of the year in stasis; just kind of getting through the day every day and then watching as those days turned into weeks and then months. I started a number of short stories that I either didn’t finish, or finished but didn’t know how to fix. The WIP, the manuscript I am shopping to agents, needs some more work. I had started sending it out in the fall, but I am going to hold back on it for a few more months as I revise and polish it some more. I always felt it was missing something, even though I thought it was a good manuscript, and I’ve recently figured out what that something is; and I’ve also realized part of the problem I had with the manuscript and fixing it has to do with my own stubbornness. It’s starting point needs to be before where I start the book; I flash back to the beginning of the story and that kind of is not only a cliche but also steps on the action. Also, where I start the book itself is kind of hackneyed and cliched. There’s another subplot or two that needs to be woven into the story, and I  need to develop my main character more; and there are things about him that know that are kind of crucial to the story that don’t actually appear in the story, and some of the relationships between the characters need to be developed and deepened, more layered. It’s a very basic story right now, and it needs to be more complex; and it needs to go deeper into its theme.

So, that’s something, at any rate.

I also had a good year in that I was nominated for a Macavity Award (Best Short Story, “Survivor’s Guilt”) and an Anthony Award (Best Anthology, Blood on the Bayou). Both were completely unexpected surprises, and enormously gratifying.  As Constant Reader knows, I struggle with short stories and have very little to no self-confidence when it comes to them. So, to get nominated for a Macavity Award for a short story I wrote? That was probably one of the most meaningful things to happen to me in my career thus far. And I was nominated against some amazing writers–I read all the stories–and wasn’t in the least surprised when Art Taylor won; any of the other nominated stories were award-worthy. It was such an honor.

I was so certain I wasn’t going to win the Anthony Award that Paul and I booked our plane tickets home from Toronto for Sunday morning; I was boarding my flight to New Orleans when I started getting texts and tweets and Facebook messages that I’d won. It, too, was an incredibly lovely surprise, and I was extremely happy for the contributors, and thankful to them for their amazing stories.

I also realized this year that something I used to do when I was writing–something that was highly effective, and I don’t know why I stopped doing it–was write about whatever I was working on in long-hand in notebooks. I started doing that again this year, in these last few months–and it proved incredibly helpful with a couple of things I was working on at the time. So, I am going to make that a goal for the new year; to return to buying a blank book to carry around with me at all times, to use for notes and questions I have for myself, for developing characters and things. I think I stopped using the blank books because I started keeping physical files, and it was easier to use a spiral notebook for notes that could be removed and put in the files. There’s no reason I can’t stop doing that, either; but the point is that I need to start doing things like that in long-hand again. It was an excellent way of brainstorming and free-associating that I’ve sadly gotten away from over the years.

Despite getting off to a rough start, LSU also had a great season, one with lots of highlights and excitement, and wound up 9-3 on the year, with a chance for a ten-win season with a bowl win. The future also looks fairly bright for the Tigers going forward; the Saints are also having a great season. Back in September this football season was looking really bleak; who could have foreseen that both of our teams would have such a remarkable turnaround?

I had a lot of fun this past year. Last January I did two library events in Alabama, which were way fun, and was invited back again this year; I also spoke at an event at the University of Mississippi as well as at the Alabama Book Festival (both events were in teh same week, so I was driving around the deep South quite a bit then), and of course, Bouchercon in Toronto was a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to this year’s event in St. Petersburg, and I am also looking forward to a trip to England this spring.

We’re having lunch later at Commander’s Palace; our annual New Year’s Eve meal with Jean and Gillian, which is always a lovely way to ring out the old year. I’ve started reading John Hart’s Redemption Road–I greatly enjoyed his The Last Child and Iron House, so am greatly looking forward to this one. Next weekend I am appearing at Comic Con at the Convention Center every day; that should also be a lot of fun.

And so, I should get some things done before it’s time to go to lunch. The spice mines are always calling me, so here’s one last hunk for 2017, Constant Reader, and have a lovely and safe and happy new year.

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Steppin’ Out

Home. Sunday night–early evening, really–and I am exhausted. Bouchercon just sucks the life right out of me every year, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I have the best time every year: reconnecting with friends I don’t see nearly enough; making new friends; drinking waaaaaaaaaaay too much; and laughing until my abdominal muscles hurt and hurt and hurt. Right now I think if I started laughing I’d also start weeping in agony–that’s how much I laughed this weekend. (And let’s not talk about the ten hours of non-stop drinking that was Friday evening. Oooooooohhhhhh.) I often have trouble sleeping when I’m home; this is exacerbated when I travel, so I’ve not had a good night’s sleep since I left on Wednesday. I am now very close to running out of steam, but am struggling to stay awake so I can hopefully get a good night’s sleep tonight.

And I won the Anthony Award for Best Anthology; rather, Blood on the Bayou: New Orleans Bouchercon Anthology 2016 won. I just edited it. It’s kind of thrilling; it was an incredibly difficult category and I was seriously just honored to be in the company of the other nominees. Art Taylor deservedly won the Macavity Award for Best Short Story; again, I’m just so thrilled that I was even on the shortlist that I really didn’t care about winning, and Art’s story was simply phenomenal.

Okay, I am too tired to think clearly. I’ve been trying to write this for hours now, and I think I should just go to bed and finish in the morning.

Monday morning. I slept so good last night. I woke up several times during the night, and I did wake up much earlier than I thought I would, but I feel rested; it was good sleep, and that’s always a plus. It’s also weird because it’s not light in the mornings anymore; it’s fine, and I’m going to love the extra hour whenever we get it–but I always hate giving it back.

Wow, what a weekend. As I said before, I laughed so hard all weekend; it was almost non-stop. I can’t believe how much I drank…but every year Friday turns into an epic drinking marathon. (This year broke Raleigh’s record.) So many great friends, so many highlights…the only low light was the “not able to sleep in hotels so am always running on accessory” thing, and that’s my low-light of every year and every conference. I met some amazing new people and made some amazing new friends; I was on two glorious panels with fantastic people and fantastic moderators and fantastic audiences; my biggest regret is the same as it is every year–that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would like with everyone I would like. Toronto was absolutely lovely, and so was the hotel. (The hotel bar was just okay, but the private lounge on the 43rd floor was fantastic.) I read two books on the trip–Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco and The Vines by Christopher Rice, and started reading Oh, Florida! by Craig Pittman on my way home–which is also fantastic. I got some new books that I’m looking forward to reading: The Blinds by Adam Sternburgh; Sunburn by Laura Lippman; and the new Ivy Pochoda, Wonder Valley. (I finally met Ivy this year, and she told Paul and I a story about visiting Louisiana with her mother that had us both sobbing with laughter.) I had some awesome meals–but I think my favorite was the noodles I had for lunch on Friday, with the fish and chips on Sunday night at Braddock (not sure if that was the place) a close second. I drank wine instead of martinis–the martinis in Toronto were somewhat less than what I would have hoped for–and I got to laugh with so many wonderful friends. Paul, of course, was with me for this entire trip, and he fit in like I knew he would–I swear I think some of my friends like him better than they do me (I’m looking at you, Wendy) and oh, how I could go on.

I even ran into the ChiZine crew–Michael Rowe, Brett Savory, Sandra Kasturi–on Saturday night as two of my writing worlds converged!

And that LSU game on Saturday! That and the books are getting their own posts.

But probably the best–and this is simply because it was bigger than just being a good time for me–part of the weekend was being on the Writing the Rainbow panel. Moderated by Kristopher Zgorski of BOLObooks.com, the other panelists were Owen Laukkanen/Owen Matthews (seriously, buy his books!), John Copenhaver (whose debut novel I can’t wait to get my hands on), Stephanie Gayle (read her books–and she looks like Laura Dern with dark hair), and Jessie Chandler (seriously, read her books). When I was assigned the panel, my first thought was great, three people will show up for this. 

I was wrong, The room was packed. Kristopher had great questions for us, and the answers were all fantastic and thought-provoking. We talked about great queer books and great queer writers, talked about our own experiences writing about queer characters, and the audience was so receptive and amazing. I almost got teary and emotional, honestly; it was the first time I’ve ever be on such a panel at a mainstream event to have such a  great audience and such a great crowd. We’ve come such a long way. I just wish some of the great writers who were publishing when I first was getting started were still publishing so they could have enjoyed this moment as well. It was an honor to talk about Michael Nava and John Morgan Wilson and R. D. Zimmerman and Mary Wings and Katherine V. Forrest and there were so many others we didn’t  get to mention…and there certainly wasn’t enough time to mention all the great people doing the work now–although we were definitely able to plug the two great lesbian writers, Ellen Hart and J. M. Redmann.

And now, I have some things to get done around here while my other blog posts take form in my head, so I will leave you with a picture of me and my partner in crime for the weekend, the always amazing and hilarious Wendy Corsi Staub:

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My Love

Ah, Thursday.

At this time next week I’ll be in Toronto at Bouchercon! Woo-hoo! Although I glanced at the weather forecast and was horrified to see that it’s apparently winter already up there; forecasts in the 60’s? Dropping into the 40’s at night? Madness, absolute madness.

My panels, if you are there and would be so inclined as to hear me speaking, trying desperately to sound like I know what I am talking about (and usually failing), are:

 Best Anthology, which is described as Meet the editors of your anthology Anthony nominees.

Moderated by Sarah M. Chen, the panelists are Lawrence Block, Jay Stringer, Eric Beetner, Jen Conley, and Greg Herren (me!).  It’s Friday morning at 10 am, in the Grand West Ballroom.

 Reading the Rainbow, which is described as An LGBTQ panel.

Moderated by Kristopher Zgorski, the panelists are  Stephanie Gayle, Greg Herren (me!),
Owen Laukkanen, John Copenhaver, and Jessie Chandler. The panel is at 2:30 on Saturday, October 14th, in Sheraton Meeting Room B.

I will also be at the opening ceremonies on Thursday night, during which the Macavity Awards will be presented; I am nominated for Best Short Story. (Eep! At least I have lots of practice being at awards ceremonies where I lose.) I’ll be missing the Anthony Awards Sunday, as we will be flying home at the time, but it’s still quite an honor to be nominated.

Look forward to seeing everyone there!

Here’s your Throwback Thursday hunk for the morning, model/actor Ed Fury:

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You Are

It’s raining this morning here in New Orleans, and very dark outside my windows. We’re in a flash flood warning through Thursday, but from everything I’ve seen on-line this morning the eye of Harvey is going to pass far to the west of New Orleans; but a lot of Louisiana is going to be impacted. Not to the extent Houston and Texas were, of course. Just thinking about what’s happened to Houston (still happening, actually) here is terrifying. I saw on Weather.com that three times the water pumped out of New Orleans after the Katrina levee-failure has dropped on Houston…although it’s a much bigger area. Houston is going to need us all, everyone. It’s the fourth largest city in the United States; a major port and contributor to the economy, and a major cog in the oil/gas industry. Most everyone I know and love and care about in Houston has surfaced somewhere on social media, so I know they’re all okay, but the images are absolutely horrific.

It’s odd that today is the anniversary of Katrina and it’s raining, with a hurricane heading for the western part of the state. I’ve thought a lot about the post-Katrina flood these past few days as Houston has been ravaged, and my heart breaks for all the lives that are going through what so many here experienced. So many New Orleanians evacuated to Houston and stayed there, and now are going through the same experience all over again. It makes my heart hurt. I don’t doubt that Houston will rebuild; I lived in Houston for two years and have spent a lot of time there. Houstonians and Texans are, no matter what else you may think about them, are a hardy, tough lot who can’t be kept down.

HOU DAT.

The LSU-BYU game, which was scheduled to be played originally in Houston this Saturday, has been moved to the Superdome; I think we may try to get tickets. It’s going to be interesting trying to drive to work today, and even more interesting trying to get home later this evening after a day of incessant rain. Heavy sigh.

Oh, the wonderful Paul D. Marks did a blog piece about us Macavity Award finalists; you can find it here:

http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/08/2017-macavity-award-short-story.html

I started inputting the edits on the WIP yesterday–I stand corrected; that is more tedious than doing a line edit–and have decided my next read will be The Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith, a writer I love and admire and haven’t read enough work by; I’ve read some of her short stories (wonderful) but I think the only novels I’ve read (and loved) are The Talented Mr. Ripley (which I need to reread) and Strangers on a Train.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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Beatnik Beach

Monday morning! Another glorious week here in New Orleans, late July, and it didn’t really feel that obnoxious this morning when I went out to feed the herd. We shall see, shan’t we? Last night was lovely; we finished watching Ozark, which is sooooooo good, and so twisted; I do hope it’s going to be picked up for a second season. It doesn’t seem to be generating the same kind of buzz as other Netflix shows, like Stranger Things, and so I am not as confident it will be back. But I cannot urge you enough to watch it; it’s absolutely brilliant as a crime-driven narrative, the acting and writing are topnotch, and the cinematography is breathtaking. There’s also a particularly brilliant and heartbreaking gay subplot you don’t see coming, that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen depicted on television (or on film, for that matter) before. I will blog more about Ozark, once I’ve let it digest a bit. I also reread Agatha Christie’s brilliant Endless Night yesterday; something else I am going to blog more deeply about, after letting it sit in my head for a bit. So, I have at least three blog entries brewing for the future: Ozark, The Great Gatsby, Endless Night.

I also spent time yesterday reading a bunch of my own short stories for editorial purposes (I think I may have solved some of the problems! Huzzah!) and I also read the other stories nominated for the Macavity Award, which was rather humbling.

As you, Constant Reader, are probably aware (and tired of hearing about), I was nominated for a Macavity Award for my short story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (from the Blood on the Bayou anthology, which I also edited, and the anthology itself was nominated for an Anthony Award). I am still reeling from the shock and surprise; one of the things I did after the Anthony nominations were announced was buy copies of the other nominated anthologies, and slowly started reading them, story by story. This weekend, I discovered that one of the other Macavity nominees, Paul D. Marks, had posted links to the Macavity nominated stories:

Paul D. Marks, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” http://pauldmarks.com/stories/

Craig Faustus Buck, “Blank Shot”: http://tinyurl.com/BlankShot-Buck

Joyce Carol Oates, “The Crawl Space”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N6INC6I

Lawrence Block, “Autumn at the Automat”: http://amzn.to/2vsnyBP

Art Taylor, “Parallel Play”: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

Greg Herren, “Survivor’s Guilt”: https://gregwritesblog.com/2017/07/21/cant-stop-the-world/

I am not being self-deprecating when I say that I am in awe that I am somehow on the same list as these amazing writers and their amazing work. Not to mention this pedigree: Lawrence Block’s story won the Edgar; Joyce Carol Oates’ story won the Stoker, and Art Taylor’s won the Agatha. So, three of the finalists are already award winners; and both Art and Lawrence are also nominated for Anthonys this year, along with Megan Abbott’s stellar “Oxford Girl” from Mississippi Noir (which I read and loved);  Holly West’s “Queen of the Dogs” from 44 Caliber Funk: Tales of Crime, Soul and Payback; and probably my favorite title of all time, Johnny Shaw’s “Gary’s Got a Boner”, from Waiting to be Forgotten. 

So, it’s not being self-deprecating when I say I don’t think I am going to win. (Obviously, I would love to, but seriously, being in this company is literally a dream come true for me.)

Naturally, I decided to go ahead and read the stories. (The Block/Oates links are to the books that contain their stories; I don’t believe you can read them for free anywhere. However, I already own the book with Block’s story in it, as it is an Anthony nominee for Best Anthology; I went ahead and bought the ebook for the Oates story–from her collection Dis Mem Ber.)

And so, yesterday I read them all. Wow. Seriously. Wow.

I thought Paul’s story, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” would be set in Boston and have something to do with Revolutionary War history; I was wrong. The story is about the Bunker Hill neighborhood in Los Angeles, and is about the shooting of the point of view character, with nods to LA’s hardboiled, noir past pretty much everywhere you turn around. The story is well written and very compelling; but the nods to the history of crime fiction and the greats who wrote about LA (there are also several nods to the exquisite film Chinatown as well). Check out this opening paragraph:

I stood at the bottom of the hill, staring up at Angels Flight, the famous little funicular railway in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, that brought people from Hill Street up to Olive. I desperately wanted to ride those rails up to the top. But now the two twin orange and black cars were permanently moored in the middle, suspended in midair, ghosts from another time.

Perfect. Paul is an accomplished author; his novel White Heat won the Shamus Award, and he has been nominated for a slew of others. I’ve ordered a copy of White Heat; can’t wait to read more of his work.

december 2016

Craig Faustus Buck’s story, “Blank Shot”, is set during the Cold War in East Berlin; a haunting, hard-boiled remembrance of a time when the world was gripped in a struggle between ideologies; communism vs. capitalism, and both sides had access to nuclear weapons. It was a time where espionage ruled; which spawned amazing novels and writers like Alistair MacLean, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and John LeCarre. Buck’s story reminded me of those legendary giants.

Check out this opening paragraph:

His face hit the pavement hard. He tried to recall what just happened, but his thoughts wouldn’t sync. His head felt like he’d been whacked by the claw end of a hammer. Blood flowed into his field of vision, expanding on the ground before him. Must be his. Bad sign. He closed his eyes against a stab of afternoon sun reflecting off the crimson pool.

Saying anything more would be to give away too much; the problem with talking about short stories. Craig has also been honored extensively throughout his career; he has already been nominated for two Anthony Awards, a Derringer, and won the Macavity for Best Short Story. His debut novel, Go Down Hard,  was first runner-up for a Claymore Award–and he has been nominated for an OSCAR. Sheesh.

black coffee

Art Taylor is kind of indirectly responsible for both my nomination for the Macavity and my Anthony nomination for Blood on the Bayou. Art edited the Raleigh Bouchercon anthology, and he was the one who brought it up to me in Raleigh about who was editing the New Orleans one. I asked co-chairs Heather Graham and Connie Perry, who in turn asked me to edit it. So, thanks, Art! Art is an amazing writer, and an incredibly nice guy. He has won more short story awards, and been nominated more times, than just about anyone, really. Case in point: here is his short bio, from his website:

“Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine.”

And check out the opening to his “Parallel Play,” from the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (which is also nominated for the Anthony for best anthology):

The Teeter Toddlers class was finally drawing to a close–and none too soon, Maggie thought, keeping an eye on the windows and the dark clouds crowding the sky.

Ms. Amy, the instructor, had spread the parachute across the foam mats and gathered everyone on top of it. The children had jumped to catch and pop the soap bubbles she’d blown into the air. They’d sat cross-legged on the parachute and sung umpteen verses of “Wheels on the Bus” and two rounds of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The routine never varied, the children’s delight never waned–at least until the time came to raise the parachute with its spirals of color into the air.

Now, how’s that for an opening? Can’t everyone relate to that scene, those images? Immediately we are taken into a normal, every day, everyone can recognize and relate to it scene at a child care center, with an impatient mom waiting for it to be over so she can race an oncoming storm home. Into that normal, every day scene–things are about to take a turn, obviously, a chilling turn that could have been imagined and written by domestic noir goddesses from Charlotte Armstrong to Margaret Millar to Dorothy L. Hughes. And what can be more frightening, more suspenseful, that a mother and child in danger? Genius, really. Art keeps the reader squirming with suspense and unable to stop reading from first word to last.

chesapeake crimes

I am a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve never read Joyce Carol Oates before. I met her briefly at a BEA sometime between 2001-2005, and thought she was very nice and very charming. She is also incredibly prolific; her output puts me to shame and also puts her up there with Stephen King. I know she’s been nominated for genre awards before, but I’ve never really thought of her as a genre writer. But her Macavity nominated story “The Crawl Space” won the Stoker Award for best short story this year, and the title of the collection it is from (Dis Mem Ber) sounds kind of genre. I bought the book yesterday, and started reading her nominated story.

Please. You make us uncomfortable.

You are always watching us. Like a ghost haunting us…

Though her husband had died seven years before the widow still drove past the house in which they’d lived for more than two decades.

Why?–no reason.

(To lacerate a scar, that it might become a raw-throbbing wound again? To lacerate her conscience? Why?)

The story, about a woman whose husband died and couldn’t then afford to keep their house, is creepy and macabre and incredibly sad all at the same time; it reminded me of some of Daphne du Maurier’s and Patricia Highsmith’s short stories–about a woman trying to deal with a tragedy in her life, unable to let go of her past, and possibly, just possibly, reaching the breaking point. It is exquisitely rendered, beautifully written; I am so going to read more of her work! I can also see why it won the Stoker.

oates eqmm

The last story was Lawrence Block’s “Autumn at the Automat,” which recently won the Edgar as Best Short Story of 2016. It’s from Block’s anthology, In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, and the contributors are a who’s who of the best in modern crime fiction, from Megan Abbott to Lee Child to Michael Connelly; Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Olen Butler–I mean, it’s like an anthology editor’s dream of authors to include. The book is also nominated for the Anthony for Best Anthology; I’ve not finished reading all the stories yet, only having read the exquisite Megan Abbott story and now, Block’s.

The hat made a difference.

If you chose your clothes carefully, if you dressed a little more stylishly than the venue demanded, you could feel good about yourself. When you walked into the Forty-second Street cafeteria, the hat and coat announced you were a lady. Perhaps you preferred their coffee to what they served at Longchamps. Or maybe it was the bean soup, as good as you could get at Delmonico’s.

And with that, you are sucked into Block’s story, about a woman fallen on hard times eating at the Automat in New York City; a story that reminded me very much of one of my favorite short stories of all time, Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill,” and like it, this one is more of a character study than a crime story–although there is a quite brilliant crime in the story; one you don’t see coming that suddenly slaps you across the face–and has a neat little resolution that is eminently satisfying to the reader. Block is a master; I’m not as familiar with his work as I should be–that backlist! Just thinking about trying to get caught up on his work makes my head swim–but this story is an absolute gem.

hopper

So, there you have it. Five exceptional, exquisitely honed short stories, all nominated for the Macavity; all of them already recognized as exceptional; all of them written by masters of the art form.

And me. Somehow I managed to slip in there, too.

Thereby proving the adage that anything is possible.

 

Can’t Stop the World

So, here is my Macavity nominated short story, if anyone would like to read it.

Survivor’s Guilt

By Greg Herren           

I’m going to die on this stupid roof.

It wasn’t the first time the thought had run through his mind in the –how long had it been, anyway? Days? Weeks?—however long it had been since he’d climbed up there. It didn’t matter how long it really had been, all that mattered was it felt like it had been an eternity. He’d run out of bottled water—when? Yesterday? Two days ago?  It didn’t matter. All that mattered was he was thirsty and hot and he now knew how a lobster felt when dropped in boiling water, how it felt to be boiled or scalded or burned to death.

He was out of water.

Not that the last bottles of water had been much help anyway.

In the hot oven that used to be the attic of the single shotgun house he’d called home for almost twenty years, the water inside the bottles had gotten so damned hot he could have made coffee with it and it tasted like melted plastic, was probably toxic, poisonous in some way. Wasn’t plastic bad for you? He seemed to remember reading that somewhere or hearing it on the television a million years ago when his house wasn’t underwater and there was still air conditioning and cold beer in the fridge instead of this…this purgatory of hot sun and stagnant water and sweat-soaked clothes.

But drinking hot water that tasted like plastic and was probably, maybe, poisonous—that was better than dying of thirst on the hot tiles of this stupid stinking roof. He’d tried to conserve it, space it out, save it, trying to make it last as long as possible because he had no idea when rescue was coming.

If it ever came at all.

He’d been on the roof so long already—how long had it been?

Days? Weeks? Months?

Should have left, should have listened to her, should have put everything we could in the truck and headed west.

But they’d never gone before, never fled before an oncoming storm, laughed at those who panicked and packed up and ran away, paying hotels and motels way too much money for days on end.

Hadn’t the storms had always turned to the east at the last minute, coming ashore somewhere to the east, and New Orleans breathed another sigh of relief at dodging another bullet while saying a prayer at the same time for those getting hammered by high winds and storm surges and power outages and downed trees?

Hell, that last time the storm had gone up into Mississippi and the highways south had been damaged and blocked, keeping people who’d gone that way marooned for well over a week.

So, no, there wasn’t no need to go this time, either, because Katrina would surely turn east like so many before her had.

Stupid, so damned stupid.

He could be in a hotel room in Houston at this very moment, basking in the air conditioning, drinking lots of ice cold water, waiting for the water to recede and come home, see what survived, see what could be saved and what couldn’t.

Ice.

He’d sell his soul for an ice cube.

But when rescue came, he’d have to explain…

No, no need to think about that now.

If—no, when— rescue came, he’d deal with it then.

The sun, oh God, the sun.

He’d never been this hot in his life before, at least not that he could remember.

The closest was t the beach in summertime, but there was always something cold to drink, the warm gulf waters to plunge into for some relief.

He felt like he was broiling inside his own skin.

Sometimes when it became too much he’d slip back down inside the attic. The oven. The air down there so thick and humid and hot and dusty in there he could barely breathe, but at least he was out of the sun. The air was barely breathable, clinging to his skin, so thick and wet he felt sometimes like he was drowning,

Every so often the wind would come, blowing through the vents at either end of the attic, and it felt so good he felt like crying.

But he couldn’t stay down there for long. He had to stay out on the roof, in case rescuers came. He couldn’t take a chance on missing them.

If someone came for him.

Don’t think that. Someone had to come, rescuers will come. If I don’t believe that I’ll lose my damned mind.

Maybe it’s divine punishment for—

Yet another helicopter flew past overhead, the latest of many. He’d stopped waving and yelling and jumping up and down when they passed overhead, like he wasn’t even there. His throat was so sore from yelling he could barely make a sound anyway. They never stopped, but he knew—he knew they were rescuing people. They had to be. What else was the point to the big basket hanging from the underside of the helicopter, if not for lowering down to people stranded up on roofs like he was?

He just had to be patient. It would be his turn eventually.

He just had to stay alive until it was his turn.

The whole city was probably underwater for all he knew.

At least it was for as far as he could see, shimmering filthy water everywhere.

Should have left, should have listened.

One of them would –had to—stop for him, before he died.

Meantime, roasting, baking, frying, dying in the late August sun, or was it September now?

Every once in a while he heard a boat motor passing close by. He didn’t bother making noise anymore when he heard those, either. There wasn’t any point. They hadn’t heard him when he could still yell. Back when he could still yell, whenever that was. However long it had been.

They never heard him. They never came.

His throat hurt so badly from all the yelling he’d done when his throat could still make a sound other than a hoarse rasp he might have damaged his vocal chords. He might never be able to talk again.

Which wouldn’t matter, anyway.

If I never get off this roof.

He picked up the wine bottle again, poured the last swallow of hot red wine into his mouth. Alcohol dehydrated the body, he knew that, remembered that from somewhere. But some liquid was better than no liquid.

The sour hot wine hit his empty stomach. He hadn’t eaten, hadn’t had anything to eat in—it felt like an eternity. He’d passed the point of being hungry.

But he worried that since all that was left was hot wine, he might make himself sick.

If he started throwing up he might just throw himself off the roof and drown himself.

It was tempting to think about. The thought came now and then, when he was so hot he could barely stand it, when his skin hurt so bad, blistered from sunburn that he climbed down into the stiflingly hot attic and wept, but was too dehydrated for tears to form. That was when he thought about drowning himself, diving through the trap door into the water and drowning himself.

Joining her down there.

Then he would get back to his right mind and open another bottle of wine and sip it slowly.

He looked at the empty bottle in his hands, and tossed it off the end of the roof.

It splashed when it hit the water.

It was the last of the wine. All that was left now was hard liquor—a bottle of hot gin and a bottle of hot cheap tequila.

He hadn’t wanted to touch the liquor, so he saved it for when there was nothing else left. Every time he took a swig of the wine he got light-headed, so there was no telling what the liquor would do, on his empty stomach and dehydrated body.

He wasn’t even hydrated enough to sweat anymore. He hadn’t had to relieve himself since—weeks ago? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.  Time didn’t matter anymore, it was all one endless nightmare of heat and humidity and the sun, oh God, the sun.

Water, water, everywhere— but not a drop to drink.

No one was ever going to come.

I can’t believe I’m going to die on this stupid roof. I should just kill myself and get it over with.

No, someone will come.

Someone had to come.

Should have left, should have listened.

The sun was setting in the west in an explosion of oranges and reds reflecting off the stagnant, dark, oily water. The roof of his truck was still slightly visible when he looked down over the side of the roof, its white roof almost glowing through the filthy water. Paid for, finally, years of paying off that damned loan finally come to an end just a month ago, the pink slip arriving in the mail last week. And now it was drowned, just like the city and God knows how many people. Ruined, gone, the money he put into it wasted. He’d babied it, too—oil change every three months without fail, servicing it before it was needed, the fucking thing so well taken care of it would have lasted easily another five to ten years if he kept babying it.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Everything’s ruined. The city’s dead. We’ll never come back from this.

Thank God the old house had an attic—yes, thank God for that—the kind with a trap door with a long dangling chord that hung down in a corner of the bedroom. You pulled the chord, the door came down, and a wooden ladder unfolded. He’d left the door open when he came up, when the water came, as the house filled up, left it open thinking it might help when rescue came.

If rescue ever came.

Even though she was down there.

Someone will come, he told himself again, someone will come for me.

Someone has to.

If he didn’t believe rescue would come, he would lose his mind.

If he didn’t believe someone would come, there wasn’t any point in going on, to this suffering, to this agony of broiled skin and dehydration and starvation and air so thick he could barely breathe it, the stink of the wet wood rotting down below.

And despite the delirium, despite the agony, somehow–somehow he wasn’t ready to give up.

If he gave up now, the suffering of the days? Weeks? Months? Was for nothing.

Nothing.

But it would be so much easier to give up. Then I wouldn’t be thirsty anymore. Then I wouldn’t be hungry anymore.

If he stopped believing one of the helicopters would lower a basket for him, or a boat might come by to take him to safety, through the end of the world to whatever might still be out there, away from the water, he might as well kill himself now.

There was a rope coiled in a corner of the attic. He could tie a noose and find something, somewhere, on the roof or in the attic, to loop it around and just let his weight fall, his neck snapping, death coming quickly and easily.

That would be so much better than this slow, horrible death from heat exhaustion and dehydation on the roof.

But the sun was going down at last, and night was coming.

He’d survived another day.

It would still be hot, and humid, and the smell of the water wouldn’t go away, but the night was better.

Now he had to just survive another night.

He could still see the skyline of the business district in the distance in the darkening sky. There were no lights anywhere. Thick black plumes of smoke billowed in several places he could see, but there hadn’t been an explosion in a while.

Or gunfire. He hadn’t heard gunfire in a while.

Night wouldn’t relieve the relentless humidity, but at least being out of direct sunlight would be better, give his blistering and salt-crusted skin some relief.

There might even be a breeze.

And he could stay out on the roof, not have to climb down inside to get away from the vicious rays of the sun.

No air moved in the attic, the heavy wet air almost suffocating in its thickness.

He could smell his own stink, and sometimes imagined he could even smell his flesh frying in the hot sun. His skin was burned, red, raw, but he couldn’t breathe the fetid stale dead air in the hot attic all day. A cold shower to bring his skin temperature down was all he could think about, or packing himself in a tub of ice. That wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

Ice. The thought of it made him want to weep.

Should have left. Should have listened.

She’d been right.

“We need to go,” she’d said on Saturday, whenever that had been, however long ago that had been. She’d never been afraid of storms before, never wanted to leave. This unease, this nervousness, was something new, something he’d never seen before in her. There had been storms before when he’d wanted to go, and she’d laughed in his face, mocked him, and they hadn’t gone. She’d been right those times.

He liked that she was afraid of this one, that it made her nervous. She seemed off-balance, for once, not sure of herself.

“It won’t come this way, you know they always turn east before land fall,” he’d replied, dismissing and laughing at her, shutting her down every time she watched another emergency news conference, or when the Weather Channel ran another worst-case scenario for the city, as everyone began packing up and heading west for Houston, north for Jackson, and the city began to empty out. He mocked her panic, her nervousness, enjoying this new side of her he’d never seen before, and was determined to take advantage of it as long as it lasted. He sent her to the store for supplies. Batteries and bread and bottled water and peanut butter and protein bars and hell, might as well get some liquor, too.

Liquor never went to waste, after all, and it didn’t spoil.

She came home hours later, complaining about how crazy the Wal-Mart had been, everyone talking about evacuating and the city being destroyed, whining the way she always did when she didn’t get her way.

“You know they say that every time,” he’d replied, sure of himself, smug he’d held firm and not given in, cracking open a beer and flipping away from the Weather Channel with it’s constant predictions of doom and aerial views of the traffic snarl on the highways out of town. He found a baseball game and relaxed in his easy chair.

Probably no work on Monday, he’d thought as she clattered around in the kitchen angrily, muttering to herself, so might as well kick back and have a nice little mini-vacation.

Some mini-vacation this had turned out to be.

The sun usually set around nine in the late summer, didn’t it?

His watch was down on the first floor, under the water. The power had been off before the nasty filthy dirty murdering water had started filling up the house, drowning everything as far as the eye could see. Days, time, had all lost all meaning for him. The only thing that mattered was night or day. He didn’t sleep well—could anyone under the heavy hot wet blanket of humidity?

He didn’t really care anymore. Nothing really mattered other than the sun was going down and his skin would have some blessed relief.

And he would hear her again, whispering.

We need to go, Mike. We can’t stay here.

Every time the sun went down. Every time it got dark.

It’s a big storm. At least the power will go out and do you want to be here without the a/c?

Sometimes he thought he might just be going insane.

If he wasn’t already, that was.

He wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

We can stay with my sister in Houston, we don’t even have to pay for a motel, Mike, can’t we go, please?

The water lapped against the side of the house.

Water, water, everywhere.

Through the attic door into the downstairs, he could see things floating when he looked. Furniture, books, cushions, once even the dresser was there.

He hadn’t seen her down there in a while.

He was always afraid he’d look down and see her face, floating just below the surface, her eyes staring at him.

Should have closed her eyes.

He wasn’t sure where she was and he didn’t care.

Sometimes he would see her, walking on the surface of the oily water, pointing her finger at him, complaining, whispering, we should have left, I wanted to go, this is all your fault, you know, like everything is always your fault you can never do anything right this is why I never listened to you…

And he would wake from his fevered sleep, shivering even though it was so hot, even though the air was so damp and heavy and warm it just pressed down on him until he thought his bones might break.

His lips were so damned chapped. His skin was red and hurt, blisters here and there on the peeling baked skin. He wanted water to drink, something to eat besides chips and crackers and peanut butter and bread. He wanted off the roof. He wanted a bed. He wanted to be away from New Orleans, it didn’t matter where as long as it was far away from the drowned city. Sometimes he wondered if the entire world was under water, that it wasn’t just New Orleans that drowned.

Someone would come, he knew it. He just had to hold on, stay alive no matter how horrible it got. He wouldn’t die on the damned roof of the house he’d never liked in the first fucking place.

She’d wanted the house. Once she saw it when they were driving around looking, this was the house she wanted, even though it was on the wrong side of the Industrial Canal, even though it was in the 9th Ward. “It spoke to me,” she’d insisted, “and it’s cheap! We can fix it up ourselves. It’ll be perfect!”

He’d given into her, even though he didn’t want to live down here. She was right about the price—it was less than they’d been thinking they’d spend, and the monthly mortgage payments were a lot more affordable than any of the other houses they’d looked at. It wasn’t until later, when they’d moved in, that it even occurred to him that it was the only place they’d looked at in the 9th Ward. When he brought it up to her, she’d admitted she’d found it on her own and fell in love with it, colluded with the realtor to get him to see it.

They’d worked on him until he’d given in.

It wasn’t the last time she’d gotten her way.

We need to go, Mike. It won’t be safe here. I’m scared.

She always got her way, didn’t she?

Not this last time.

Which was why he was up on the roof. Because just once he didn’t want her to get her way, wanted to stand up for himself and not give in for once, put his foot down for good and MEAN it.

So, really, in a way, it was her fault.

And if someone did finally come, if someone ever did come to rescue him, he was never coming back to this godforsaken place.

Because she would be here, waiting for him. She would never leave him alone, not as long as he was here, even if the house was bulldozed and he built a new one.

Mike we have to go, it’s scary, it’s a big storm, we’ve got to go.

He lowered himself back down through the hole in the roof, carefully avoiding the jagged edges of the beams he’d hacked through with the ax to make the hole in the roof, so he could get out there, out of that suffocating attic, away from the rising water. He switched on the flashlight, looking for the liquor, and saw there was actually another bottle of the red wine after all—it had rolled off to the side, and he hadn’t noticed before. There was no need to switch to tequila just yet. He fought with the corkscrew, chewing the cork up, little flakes floating down into the wine but he didn’t care, he could always spit them out, and took a slug out from it. The sourness made him wince but it was wet, and that was all that mattered.

He heard a splash.

That wasn’t from outside.

The trapdoor to the lower level was open, a large rectangle of dark with the long shadows creeping across the floor.

He took a deep breath and backed away, not losing his sweaty grip on the green bottle. He’d closed it before he went back out on the roof, hadn’t he?

He couldn’t remember.

Hadn’t he decided to close it, in case he saw her down there in the water again?

He could hear his heart beating.

He focused on keeping his breathing even, taking deep breaths, ignoring the rising fear creeping up his spine.

I just forgot to close it, is all, I meant to close it but maybe it didn’t latch, that’s all there is to it, just close it now. She couldn’t have gotten up here. I’d have heard her.

She’s dead, you idiot.

But that wouldn’t stop her, would it?

Just close the damned door. All that’s down there is water. You’re making yourself crazy. She’s dead, dead, dead. Just close the door and you won’t have to worry about her.

But he couldn’t move, wouldn’t move, he kept standing there and staring and trying to remember if he’d closed it or not. He would swear that he did, but he wasn’t sure of anything anymore. The heat, the humidity, the damned bugs and the sun and the monotony, the way everything kept changing in his mind, the way he couldn’t remember how long he’d been up on the damned roof, how long it had been since the water rose, since he’d climbed up the damned ladder to the attic, since he’d taken the hatchet and chopped his way out to the roof.

The shadows were getting longer. Soon it would be completely dark.

Mike we have to go really, it’s a big storm and what will happen to us if the levees fail?

“Shut up shut up SHUT UP!” he yelled, or tried to, but all that came out of his sore and parched throat was a croak.

He took a step forward, swallowed, and took another.

One after another until he was standing next to the dark opening, looking down into the flooded house.

She wasn’t there.

Shaking now, he reached for the flashlight and flicked it on, pointing it with trembling hands into the darkness.

The oily dark water reflected the light back up at him, the filthy water swirling around in what used to be his bedroom.

Their bedroom.

He closed his eyes and said a prayer before opening his eyes again.

No, she still wasn’t there.

The last time he’d looked down and seen her—when was that? It didn’t matter, it was after the water came and he’d gone up to the roof– she was still there, face up floating in the water, her dark hair fanned out in the filthy water, eyes wide open and staring up at him accusingly.

You killed me. We should have left, but we stayed and you killed me.

He knew he couldn’t really hear her, she was just in his head, but still—he kept the light shining down there, swinging back and forth. He heard another splash somewhere down there—maybe it was a gator? There wasn’t any telling what was down in that water.

During the day, he could see the river levee in the distance—maybe it had held, but there was no telling where the water had come from. That didn’t matter anyway. All that mattered was that it was there.

So maybe…if the bayous and canals or even the swamps had filled with water, it wasn’t out of the question there could be gators in the water-filled city.

But wouldn’t he have heard something if a gator had gotten her? Some loud splashing or something?

She’s dead so she couldn’t fight it but still a gator wouldn’t have been able to get her underwater without making some noise?

He’d seen snakes a couple of times, making s curves to move forward in the water outside, but not inside the house.

The house.

What was left of the house.

The plasterboard was probably dissolving from the wet, and there was no mistaking the smell of wet, rotting wood. Hell, black mold was an issue even when the house wasn’t underwater—how many times had he had to climb a ladder to wipe down the ceiling around the air conditioning vents with bleach to kill it?

Yeah, this house had been a good investment.

Even if the water somehow got pumped out—and it didn’t look like that was going to happen any time soon—the house was ruined. It would take a lot of money to make it habitable again.

Maybe this time New Orleans would be left to drown.

He turned off the flashlight and backed away from the hole. He took another slug of the hot, cloyingly sweet wine.

She’d wanted to evacuate Sunday morning when the Weather Channel and all the weather broadcasters had gone into full-scale panic mode. “The mother of all storms,” the mayor had called it. He just shook his head at her fears, her complaints, his mind was made up and that was that. “They say this every time,” he’d scoffed at her, “remember Ivan? Jorges? I can’t even remember how many times they said it was the end. If you’re so damned scared, you go. I’m staying put.”

She wouldn’t go by herself. He knew that.

And why get in the damned truck and be stuck in stop and go traffic, eight hours to go the seventy stinking miles to Baton Rouge just to hole up in a hotel somewhere that jacked up their room rates to gouge the evacuees only to have the stupid storm turn east like they always did at the last minute and New Orleans would be fine.

Yeah, no way.

They weren’t going anywhere.

They’d lost power sometime in the early morning before the full fury of the storm came, and when it did come, it wasn’t that bad. Howling winds and crashes outside, sometimes the house itself shook, but then, after what seemed like an eternity, it was over.

It was over and they’d survived.

He’d gone outside. Some tree branches were down, debris everywhere he looked, a big live oak down the street had been uprooted and smashed through a house. Everyone else was gone, evacuated, holed up in a hotel or shelter somewhere west on I-10.

They had a few hours before the house started filling up with water.

He’d lost his temper when she started panicking. He just meant to slap her but he hadn’t meant to slap her so hard, it was an accident, she slipped in the water and hit her head on the table and went limp, and before he knew it the house was filling up with water and she was dead and he had to get up into the attic, had to make sure food and liquid was up there—

He reached over and looked down into the darkness. He shone the light down, his heart pumping, as he waved the beam of light around.

Nothing but floating furniture.

No sign of her.

He heard something.

Was that an outboard motor?

Bottle of hot wine still in one hand, he tucked the flashlight into the waistband of his shorts and climbed back out onto the roof.

It was definitely an outboard motor, and getting closer from the sound of it.

The flashlight dimmed in his hand and went out.

Swearing, he shook it as he tried to yell, but his vocal chords were too fried, his throat too raw.

Miracle of miracles, the flashlight came back on, and he started waving it in the direction the motor sound was coming from.

Oh please god oh please God oh please God

He was almost blinded as a strong spotlight shone in his eyes.

“Hey there,” a voice called as the motor idled, close by, near enough for him to see if not for the damned spots in front of his eyes. But as the bright red shapes began to fade, he could see someone swinging up onto the roof, and heard footsteps, and something cold and icy and wet was put in his hands. He almost wept, it felt so good, the cold against his hot skin. “Have some water, man. My name is Pete LaPierre, me and some buddies came down from Breaux Bridge to rescue some people—they told us we couldn’t and we thought, damned if we don’t have our own boat all we need is some water to put it in  and here we are.”

He twisted the cap off the water and poured some of it down, the coldness stinging his throat. He dropped the wine bottle he’d forgotten, heard it hit the roof and roll down the side and splash when it hit the water. He didn’t care, this cold water was like he’d died and gone to heaven, he just wanted to cry—

“Are you the only one here? No one else around here, down in the attic? You must have been pretty lonesome.”

He took another drink of the water, slow and steady, and felt a cramp forming in his stomach—too much cold too fast—­and he breathed in and out for a moment, waiting for the cramp to pass, pressing the cold plastic bottle against the hot skin of his forehead.

He shook his head no.

“Come on, then, let’s get you out of here.” Pete LaPierre clapped him on the back, and he followed him down the side of the roof, and dropped down over the side into the boat. It wasn’t much, just a fishing boat with an outboard motor and a large cooler filled with ice and water and beer and—

“You need you a hot shower,” Pete said, and he revved the motor, steering the boat away from the little house and away through the dark night, using the spotlight to make sure there was nothing beneath the surface.

He looked back at the house.

He might never ever see it again.

He slumped down in the boat and took another drink of water.

Someone was pressing a sandwich on him, one of Pete’s buddies, but he just waved it away.

They might not ever find her.

He exhaled, and watched the stars pass by overhead.

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