Photo by Carter Yocham on Unsplash
What I remember perhaps most about Grandpa’s workbench was the vise he had attached to a wooden plank sticking out from the work area. I remember spinning the knob on that vise, round and round and round and watching the vise tighten or loosen around the air. There were pieces of leather neatly stacked. Most of those swatches had flowers or geometric shapes, stamped or whittled into them. Grandpa had made our stools and tables at that workbench. There was a wall of hooks that he had fashioned perfectly spaced apart and customized for the tools that he had. As the years passed, his glasses got thicker and thicker, and eventually he couldn’t work at that bench any longer. As he was dying from cancer, morphine was his only relief. His hands would raise in the familiar motion of leather work, just above his belly.
When he and Grandma eventually went to live at the nursing home, he gave me a handmade wooden box, filled with those custom leather pieces, the bandana he always used as a hanky, and the Folgers jar with the label scraped off, full of marbles.
Years after he died, I took a stagecraft class and learned to use a saber saw and a jigsaw. I carved the names of my fellow speech and debate team members out of wood. With each slide of the wood against the saw, I smelled the familiar sawdust, heard the familiar low buzz, and felt the slight vibration as the planks shaped into the name of a teammate or coach. Somehow, for a moment, I felt Grandpa might just approach my workbench and pat my shoulder one last time.
CLS Sandoval, PhD (she/her) is a pushcart nominated writer and communication professor with accolades in film, academia, and creative writing who speaks, signs, acts, publishes, sings, performs, writes, paints, teaches and rarely relaxes. She has presented over 50 times at communication conferences, published 15 academic articles, two academic books, three full-length literary collections: God Bless Paul, Soup Stories: A Reconstructed Memoir, and Writing Our Love Story, and three chapbooks: The Way We Were, Tumbleweed: Against All Odds, and The Villain Wore a Hero’s Face. She is raising her daughter and dog with her husband in Alhambra, CA.
Inferno, by W. P. Gerace
Daisy had lived in Phoenix, Arizona, for the past 15 years. Still, this summer has been the most heat she has ever experienced in her 45 years. She was not the only one saying it either. The forecasters would get on television daily. Their blank faces from delivering the same grim news seemed more dismal. A waitress by trade at Bob's Pub, the heat was so unbearable that business had dropped significantly. She used to make a decent three to four hundred a week, along with her disability pension. Since Bob had paid her under the table, she could survive. Lately, she was lucky to make fifty a week, and many days he closed early.
Early today, she had heard the scientists on television, two older men with white hair reminding her of Einstein humorously enough that the world's axis was slowing down. The end result was long days and more heat. There was no end in sight to this current situation. Daisy could not believe what she was seeing and hearing.
Additionally, people everywhere, not just in Phoenix, were going crazy. Rioting and violence exploded as throngs of people took to the streets rummaging through stores for food and supplies as the shelves slowly became bare. Many states were in severe droughts, with temperatures well into the hundreds across the country. Here in Phoenix, Daisy noticed her porch thermostat exploded all over the place, the mercury spilling all over her patio's surface, staining everything a deep blood-red tone. Today was well over one hundred thirty degrees. Her neighbors on both sides of her were nowhere to be seen. Just last year, this time, they would both be floating in their pools, their body's basking in the warm sun. Judging by the buckling of the black concrete parking lot and the melting of the metal hoods on the vehicles, no one dared venture out here. Even in the shade, she was getting a nasty burn. Daisy could not help but stare at the sun. It did not have its usual yellowish glow. In fact, it just appeared like a big old ball of fire that could burn anything.
Quickly getting back into her air-conditioned apartment was the only place she could find solace. Bob called nearly two hours ago in that melancholic tone once again, saying he was closing. Daisy wondered how she would manage and pay her bills and rent.
Sitting on her beige sofa, about to turn the television on, she heard a sudden thump as if something had collapsed on her roof. It shook the whole house. Her chair and body moved in response to the intense force. The fan in her kitchen collapsed to the floor. Gaping through the hole where her fan was were the glaring beams of red hues coming from the scarlet ball of fire in the sky. Its intense rays burned her skin like she was caught in some fire with nowhere to escape. Running to another area of the apartment, hoping to find shade, she noticed the temperature had suddenly increased.
Frantically running around her living room and quickly checking the grey thermostat, the red indicator light was blinking, indicating that the air conditioner had shut down. The steam from the sun's overbearing rays started to assent through the entire area. Quickly losing her breath, gasping for air as if she were breathing through a thin straw, she could feel a heaviness surrounding her cutting her off from life. Wheezing increasingly with each passing second, she was unsure how much more she could take all this. Sweat glazed her arms and legs, and her saturated white blouse felt glued to her flesh.
The only thing still working in the corner of her kitchen was her small black radio operating on batteries which she forgot about blasting a blaring sound through its speakers. A deep voice came through. She supposed it was a man, probably someone at the radio station. He warned everyone to seek shelter in Arizona, and the whole west coast is under a state of emergency. Many residents lost electricity and water, and supplies of water lines were bursting and drying up from the intense heat. The earth slowed more on its axis, meaning the days would be extended to 20 hours.
Trying to process this all as she had sat here in the only place she felt safe since this all started, suddenly she began to be lifted off the ground. Trying to grab her kitchen sink proved useless as if she had no weight or anything to hold her down. Slowly she was being sucked through the open hole where the red flares of the sun sizzled her skin. Yelling in pain, she could not take more of this. What in the world is going on? Was this the way life would end?
Bleeping in the distance, she heard an alarm. Bolting up, she found herself in the darkness of her apartment. There was electricity, her ac was on, lights were on, and she was in bed watching some sci-fi show on television about the end of days and the sun taking over.
"Oh, this was just a dream. Silly me. "Daisy laughed.
"Ouch." There was a red blister on her hand.
Was it a dream or not?
W.P. Gerace grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and moved to Phoenix Arizona back in 2013 with his partner Carlos and their fur baby Skittles. He currently works full-time for a major bank in the Quality Assurance Department from home. An avid fan of horror and science fiction since he was a young adult he loves to read horror stories. His favorite authors are Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Additionally, he is a fan of crime and police detective shows. His favorites are Forensic Files, NCIS, and Criminal Minds. He loves writing horror and science fiction.
On Schedule, by Phillip E. Temples
Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash
As on most days, Lenny was obsessed watching the construction of the new building next door from the comfort of his eighth-floor high-rise condo. He was fascinated with the order and planning of the project. A part of him daydreamed that he was the construction project manager of the project, responsible for all aspects from pre-design to close-out, and guiding the construction crew in transforming the vacant lot into a state-of-the-art, seven-story biotech building with office and lab space.
As he watched that day, three men were busy excavating large pits that he assumed would be used to help anchor the building foundation. The backhoe operator finished scooping the final shovel of dirt from a pit. He efficiently transferred the dirt onto a large pile adjacent to the hole. Then one of the workers gave the operator a hand signal that Lenny had not seen before. Suddenly, without warning, the operator brought the shovel careening into the second worker knocking him into the hole. Lenny was horrified.
Just then, another worker standing nearby wrestled a hose from a nearby cement mixer over the hole and sprayed a stream of wet cement onto the fallen worker. Within seconds, the man was buried alive by the thick, gray paste until there wasn’t a trace of him left. The backhoe operator walked up to the two other construction workers and slapped them on the backs. They all seemed in jovial spirits.
The dead man must have been a real asshole, Lenny thought.
The backhoe operator happened to glance up and catch Lenny looking at them from above. The others glanced up, too. After a few seconds, the operator tipped his hardhat at Lenny. Lenny obligingly nodded back.
Anything that improved morale and kept the project on schedule was okay in Lenny’s book.
Phillip Temples resides in Watertown, Massachusetts. He's had five mystery-thriller novels, a novella, and four short story anthologies published in addition to over 190 short stories online. Phil is a member of GrubStreet and the Bagel Bards. You can learn more about him at https://temples.com.
The Pink Store, by David Henson
Unable to sleep, I go for a long walk and wander until I’m lost in a part of the city where the streets are as tangled as tree roots. I come across a brightly lit place. A hand-painted sign proclaims it to be The Pink Store. Unable to resist going inside, I find a jumble of antique lamps, used clothes, old tools, hardware and groceries.
I’m already thinking it’s one of the strangest places ever when I notice a stock girl juggling oranges, a banana plumb on her nose. After admiring her talent a few moments, I continue looking around and come across a bear, in a green beret, squeaking his cart down the aisle.
As I ease past, he asks if I know where they keep the honey. I tell him I think I saw a few jars next to the nails. The bear puts a giant paw on my shoulder and pulls me close. I’m thinking I might be in trouble when a woman tiny as a clothes pin gallops past on a sugar mare smaller than a box of Tide.
After strolling the aisles awhile and finding nothing else of interest, I head for the exit. As I pass the cashier, he tilts his head back and puts a match to his lips. I hear a roar and whoosh behind me. It takes me ‘til dawn to find my way back home.
Over the next few days, I can’t get The Pink Store out of my mind. During another night in the throes of insomnia, I decide to see if I can find it again. I’m about to give up, when I come across a pile of smoldering ashes. I’m unsure if it’s The Pink Store until I see a charred, hand-painted sign. I feel as though I’ve lost and found something at the same time.
David Henson and his wife have lived in Brussels and Hong Kong and now reside in Illinois. His work has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions and has appeared in various journals including Half Hour to Kill, Moonpark Review, Literally Stories, and Fiction on the Web. His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.
Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash
My name is classified. My date of birth is unknown. I left my former employer under disagreeable circumstances. Now I perform odd jobs for powerful men.
I tracked Hector Reyes to Belize. Then Suriname. Then Venezuela. Then Chile. Each time, the kid ghosted right after I hit town. The kid was clever, and he had help. I caught word he was headed to Cordoba, Argentina. This time, I let the kid come to me. I waited for three weeks in the alley across from Leyendas. It was the only sports bar in town that showed American football. Hector was a Seahawks fan. Sure enough, he showed. After the game, I trailed him to an apartment in Alta Gracia. He went out for dinner at nine. I was waiting in the bedroom when he came back. He dropped his keys on the kitchen table. He stiffened. He bolted for the fire escape. The kid was fast. I was faster. I caught him at the window. I put him in a rear naked choke. He was out cold in a minute.
Hector woke up strapped to a chair. He was in an empty warehouse.
“I’ve been looking for you, Hector.”
“¿Quién eres? ¿Qué quieres?”
“Alright, Hector. We can speak Spanish if you prefer.”
We were both speaking Spanish now.
“My name isn’t Hector. I’m Marcelo. Marcelo Rodriguez.”
“Nice try, kid.”
“I’m serious. Check my passport.”
“Which passport? The one for Marcelo Rodriguez I found in your desk? Or the one for Hector Reyes I found hidden in the vent behind your refrigerator?”
“What do you want?”
“I want to talk about the incident outside the theater in Bellevue.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb. You had the best seat in the house.”
“This is crazy.”
“No, Hector. What’s crazy is two men getting shot in the face.”
“Someone got shot?”
“Yes, Hector. You’re going to tell me how those two men wound up dead in a gutter outside a movie theater in Bellevue, Washington.”
“You’ve got it all wrong. I’ve never been to the States.”
“Ordinarily, I’d play along with you. We’d banter back and forth. I’d catch you in more lies. You’d confess eventually. But I’ve got dinner plans in Geneva tomorrow night. I’m on a tight schedule, so I’m going to skip to the end.”
I drew my revolver and pressed it into the indentation between Hector’s right shoulder and chest.
“Tell me what happened at the theater.”
“I can’t, man. I’ve never been to no Bellevue.”
I squeezed the trigger. Hector howled. It was a combination of surprise and excruciating pain. I gave Hector a moment to contemplate his predicament while I wiped the blood off my revolver.
“Now that I have your attention, Hector, let’s have a serious discussion. Are you a religious man?”
Hector shook his head. He was gritting his teeth from the pain.
“Theologians have argued about the nature of man’s agency for centuries. Calvinists believe man is irredeemably depraved. Man cannot save himself. His eternal fate is preordained by God from the moment he is born. Arminians, on the other hand, believe man has free will. A man is never completely lost. All he has to do is make the right choice. All he has to do is embrace God.”
“Is this why you brought me here? To preach to me?”
I ignored the bravado.
“Listen carefully, Hector. I want you to understand the ground rules for this evening. I am your God tonight. I hold your life in my hands. Luckily for you, I am an Arminian. I do not believe your fate is preordained. I believe you can save yourself. All you must do is make the right choice. Do you understand?”
“Let’s start over, Hector. Tell me what happened at the theater.”
“You gotta believe me, man. I don’t know anything about no theater.”
I dug my finger into the gaping hole in his shoulder.
“Come on, Hector. You aren’t being very considerate of my dinner plans.”
Hector flinched, but he did not cry out. He was a tough kid.
“It’s time for a choice.” I pressed my revolver against Hector’s right knee. “If you tell me what happened in Bellevue, you will walk out of here on your own two feet. If you lie to me again, you will walk the rest of your life with a limp.”
“I’m telling you. This is all a terrible mistake.”
“I’m afraid that’s the wrong choice.” I squeezed the trigger. Hector shrieked.
“Do you think you can lie to God, Hector? God already knows everything you’ve done. He knows every sin you’ve committed. But he still wants you to be saved. That is the beauty of mercy. All God wants is for you to make the right choice.”
I pressed my revolver into the indentation between Hector’s left shoulder and chest.
“Okay, okay. I’ll talk. It was all Paco’s fault.”
“Me and Paco. We went to see a movie. But we got there early. These two guys were waiting outside the theater. Tough guys, you know. They started talking shit to us. I wanted to leave. But Paco, man. Paco don’t like nobody talking shit to him. Paco pulled his piece. Paco let them both have it. I heard those two guys had friends, so I ran. That’s all. That’s the honest-to-goodness truth.”
I shook my head and pulled the trigger. Hector screamed.
“Why are you doing this? I told you everything. It was Paco.”
“It’s a good lie. The best kind, really, because it resides in the vicinity of the truth.”
“You gotta talk to Paco. Paco will back me up.”
“Alright, Hector. I’ll enlighten you. Consider it a divine revelation. I’ve already talked to Paco. Paco is certainly the type of idiot who would shoot two men over a few words. There’s just one problem. Paco wasn’t at the movie theater that night.”
“Paco told you I did it, didn’t he? You can’t believe Paco. He’s a liar. He’s a chronic.”
“You keep forgetting the nature of God, Hector. I know more about Paco than you do. For example, did you know that Paco used to have a tattoo of a snake on his forearm?”
I set a cooler on a small, coffee table between us. I opened it and showed Hector its contents. His eyes widened.
“You’re sick.” Hector retched.
“Tell me about the girl.”
“What girl?” Hector was starting to look pale. He was losing a lot of blood.
“I’m not a fool, Hector. It wasn’t you and Paco at the theater. It was you and the girl. And those two men weren’t there by accident. They were there to kill the girl, but you stopped them. That’s right. You stopped them, and you shot them with one of their own guns. You’re quite a troublemaker, Hector.”
“You’re loco, man. That kind of hero stuff would be in the papers.”
“Yes, it would. Except the girl was Delilah Jensen, and Mr. Jensen doesn’t care for publicity.”
“It was me and Paco at the theater. I don’t know any Deborah Jensen.” Hector was deathly white now.
“It’s Delilah, not Deborah.”
“Whatever her name is, I don’t know the bitch.”
“Tsk, tsk, Hector. Is that any way to speak about your conejita?”
I sat down on the coffee table. My face was six inches away from his.
“God knows about you and Delilah. God knows she’s helping you run. All you need to do to save yourself is confess your sins and tell me where the girl is.”
“There isn’t any girl. You hear me. No Deborah or Delilah or whatever.”
“Hector, my colleagues failed to perform a very lucrative contract. I need to finish the job. But I can’t finish the job until you tell me where the girl is.”
I pressed my revolver against his left knee.
“It’s time for another choice. You must decide if you ever want to walk again. Where is she?”
“There wasn’t any girl.” Hector repeated.
I squeezed the trigger. Hector wailed. This cry was different from the others. This was the cry of someone who had given up hope. I had heard that cry before.
“It’s time for your final choice, Hector. It’s the biggest one of all. Do you want to live?”
I pressed my revolver against Hector’s forehead.
“Where is she?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“I love her.”
“Do you love you her more than life itself?”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Hector.”
I squeezed the trigger and scattered Hector’s brains across the floor of the warehouse.
I lifted the visor from my head. I was back in Hector’s apartment in Alta Gracia. Hector was strapped to a gurney inside the interrogation chamber. He was convulsing wildly. His brain had just told his body — incorrectly — that he had died, and his body was taking the news badly. A grey-haired man stood next to me, staring irritably at a monitor.
“Did you hear what he said?”
“Yes.” The grey-haired man hissed.
“He’s a good kid, Mr. Jensen.”
“He’s a gutter punk.”
“He’s tough. He’s loyal. He’s clever. He never once begged.”
Hector’s convulsions were getting worse.
“Dee’s too young.”
“He loves her.”
“She’s only nineteen.”
“He’ll make her happy.”
“She’s not ready.”
“She’s old enough to make her own decisions.”
The grey-haired man stroked his chin.
“Mr. Jensen, in thirty seconds, he will suffer permanent damage. It’s now or never.”
The grey-haired man gestured reluctantly in my direction. I opened the chamber and injected Hector with a syringe. He stopped convulsing immediately. About fifteen seconds later, he slowly opened his eyes.
“Where … am I?”
The grey-haired man pulled a chair up next to the gurney and sat down.
“Do you know who I am?” He said to Hector.
“You’re Dee’s father.”
“A man in my position has to be careful. Careful about who he does business with. Careful about who he allows near his family. Dee kept you a secret from me. I don’t like secrets. I like to know who I am dealing with. I like to know who is spending time with my daughter. I like to know who my daughter has agreed to marry.”
“Mr. Jensen, I …”
“It’s not time for you to talk, Hector. It’s time for you to listen. I have ruthless enemies. What happened outside the theater could happen again. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen a year from now. The next time they might succeed. The next time you could be the target. The next time your children could be the target. Do you understand? If you stay with my daughter, you will be looking over your shoulder every moment of every day. You will always be at risk of losing everything.”
“I love her, Mr. Jensen.”
The grey-haired man sighed.
“And love conquers all, I suppose?”
“No, Mr. Jensen.” Hector replied. “Love faces every obstacle together.”
The grey-haired man stared intently at Hector. At last, he stood up and spoke briskly into his phone.
“Bring her in, Nettles.”
The door to Hector’s apartment opened. Two men entered with a young woman. She ran immediately to Hector. She was a mess.
“Hector, I’m so sorry. He bugged my phone. I tried to stop him. Can you ever forgive me?”
All Hector could muster was a half-smile, but it was enough to answer her question.
“Get him out of there.” The grey-haired man barked.
The two men unstrapped Hector from the gurney and lifted him out of the interrogation chamber. Hector swayed unsteadily on his feet and leaned against the young woman. She hardly noticed. She was too busy smothering him with kisses.
“Tell Anderson and Klopek to bring the cars around.” The grey-haired man glanced at his watch. “I want to be at the airport in 30 minutes.”
“Where are we going?” Hector asked.
“We’re flying to Geneva for your wedding.”
Well after midnight — after the ceremony, the reception, and the dancing — I stepped onto the patio of the chalet to smoke a cigar and sip some cognac. Hector was already there. I joined him at the railing overlooking the lake and offered him a cigar. The kid took it.
“Even you’ve got to admit this is messed up.” Hector said. “Yesterday, you shot me in the head. Today, you’re at my wedding handing me cigars.”
“I was rooting for you all along if it’s any consolation.”
“I’d hate to think what would’ve happened if you’d been rooting against me.”
“You’re a good man, Hector.”
“No offense, but I’m not sure I can take your word for it.”
“I’m quite sure you can’t.”
I lit Hector’s cigar. We stood next to each other smoking and staring out over the lake. I spoke again.
“Marriage is impossible. Believe me, I know. I’ve failed at it three times. Eventually, she’ll make you so angry you’ll want to murder her.”
I pressed a misshapen bullet into Hector’s hand.
“When she pushes you to the breaking point, take a good, long look at this bullet and remember what you are capable of enduring for her.”
Hector ran his finger along the bullet’s flattened edge.
“Is this what I think it is?”
“The miracle of 3-D printing.”
I took another puff on my cigar and casually flicked it into a nearby snow drift.
“So long, Hector. Good luck.”
Then, without another word, I slipped quietly back into the shadows.
Joseph S. Klapach is an attorney who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, three children, and two dogs. His writing has appeared in a number of journals, including Idle Ink, Every Day Fiction, Epiphany, and miniskirt. He is hearing impaired.
Kingslayer. Oathbreaker. Bastard. Traitor. The words flashed in Gunnar’s mind, rage pouring into one final, ferocious thrust. The blade sank into the old man’s flesh, his grey eyes growing wide with momentary fear. His father, the king, was dead. There was no going back. Bonds had been broken. Blood had been spilt. Nothing would stop him now.
Gunnar brushed the hair from his eyes, the golden locks sticking to his sweat-soaked forehead. He paused, recovering, his hulking frame heaving with every breath. The room about him was a nightmare, heads and limbs scattered all about, the once-beautiful tapestries red with blood. Gunnar stared at his armored gloves blankly, their now crimson sheen reflecting back at him. With a start, he leapt to his feet, shaking himself from his ruminations.The warlord strode onward.
On the far end of the chamber stood two wooden doors. They were a feat of craftsmanship, their colossal frames rising high into the rafters above. Gunnar halted before them, as if afraid, pausing with cautious anticipation. Behind these slabs of solid oak was a treasure beyond compare. The Prize of Aurulion, the Twilight Widow’s Dowry, enough gold and silver to fill any king’s coffers for years to come. His rightful inheritance. Gunnar smiled faintly, remembering the stories of his youth, how he had dreamt of this day. But it had all gone wrong.
They had planned to attack in the dead of night, hoping the element of surprise would earn them a painless victory. Instead, they rushed in, the city riots forcing their hand.
The enemy was waiting. Gunnar’s warriors had fought well, but they were no match for the calculated discipline of the castle guard. What should have been a quiet assassination became a bloody massacre, and those he had once loved--brothers-in-arms, childhood friends, even his own kin--fell to the sword. But as the morning sun peeked above the horizon, only one man remained. Gunnar Godfrey, the Butcher of Dane, Jarl of the Emerald Cliffs, the Bastard Prince, and now--King. Gunnar breathed a long, painful sigh, the memory of the carnage still with him. It had been bloody, but unavoidable. And they had all died honorably, even his father daring to meet him in combat. Yet Gunnar could not escape the lie. For deep down, deep within the chasm of his soul, he knew a burning truth which could never be spoken. He had not shunned the slaughter. In fact, he had relished it.
With a grunt, the soldier pushed open the heavy oaken doors. They creaked stubbornly, their seal rarely broken. Inside was a cave. There were no wooden carvings, no embroidered tapestries, no golden statues, but a stone crypt, hewn crudely into the castle foundation. In its center was a single chest. Gunner was surprised at the simplicity of the chamber, but he brushed aside his momentary doubt, rushing to the treasure. The stale leather crackled as Gunnar pried it open, his eyes wide with anticipation. They grew wider still, slowly filling with silent tears. It was a chilling site. Amidst the scattered debris, the warlord slumped to his knees and began to weep. For within the grand chest was neither gold nor silver nor jewels of any kind, but heaps of leather and crumpled pages. Books.
James Crowell is an aspiring writer and editor with a passion for entrepreneurial endeavors and a love of storytelling. When not pursuing these interests,he can be found managing his YouTube channel and full-time business White Noise Reacts, reading, playing Warhammer with his brother-in-law, and cooking for the special people in his life.
HalfHourToKill.Com is a literary website publishing authors of Flash Fiction and Short Stories in the genres of Fantasy, Horror and Noir. Feel free to submit your Fiction, Poetry and Non-Fiction work to us year round.
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