Dodging Bullets – July 27, 2018 – Passing of the Gauntlet

When Shotgun Honey first started in 2011 it was done so to capture something of the past, of zines that had come and gone. Some that flickered brightly and then vanished. I didn’t have any concept of how long the site would last or if it would exist past a few months. It wasn’t entirely my show, and I was just happy to be part of Kent Gowran’s reminiscence. Kent and Sabrina, who founded with me what I like to call The Gauntlet, that tribunal system of story selection, both decided to move on after our first anthology collection. Even I moved on to an extent, only managing site and relying on a very capable group of editors. Many have come and gone: Chad, Joe, Erik, Chris, and most recently Angel. Their tenures varying.

Jen Conley accepted the invitation to join the gauntlet in the fall of 2012, essentially filling the position left by Sabrina Ogden. Without hesitation, I can say that Shotgun Honey would not still be publishing anything had it not been for the dedication and selflessness of Jen. There had been times, more than once, where my health and personal life put the site in jeopardy. Because of the trust I had in Jen, I knew that I could take the breaks needed and get myself right. She would guide the ship, and for six years she had been a true Shotgun Honey. This was her last week carrying my weight. I am and will always be grateful to her tenure and her heart, wishing her and her family the best. Though this is a loss in our family, we take a bit of solace in the fact she can now again contribute as the wonderful storyteller she is.

Every editor of Shotgun Honey has one thing in common, they have all been contributors first. I see no reason to change that tradition. I would like to welcome Hector Acosta to The Gauntlet.

Hector has been contributing since 2011 with his first story “Big C”, and has contributed to the Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels anthology series. His novella Hard Way was the first book to be published under the Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books imprint. Hector is a big wrestling fan, so if there are any Kayfabe crime writers this might be your in. He shares my love of Deadpool and always likes my tweets.

Hector rounds out The Gauntlet with fellow editors Nick Kolakowski and Renee Pickup.

We’re going to miss you Jen!


This last week we released covers for the upcoming books:


The delayed Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace will be release on August 24, 2018. Proceeds will go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in his honor. So please cut back on your favorite Starbuck’s coffees and save enough to properly remember Bill.


Don’t forget to read this week’s Flash Fiction:

The Final Sleep by David Nemeth

Chris Pennington woke up in his recliner at 3:07 AM. The Phillies game from last night was being replayed and was in its third inning. Chris thought he made it to the seventh or eighth inning earlier. He felt good, felt better than he had in months, maybe years.

Read More


We are always open to submissions. So if you want to be like one of the folks mentioned above, hit us up at the Submissions Manager.

Until next time, all the best.


It’s time for Honey to Change

One wishes they had a crystal ball, to foresee the future. See how the road takes us and to see how, seemingly, at a moments notices things change.  Change happens constantly.

One day Kent Gowran had an idea to start a website dedicated to flash fiction crime stories. The next day he has two willing assistants to get the ball rolling. All of a sudden there is a site with three editors wading an uncertain current of the internet, with the goal of publishing short shots of fiction from authors willing to face the challenge of three individual editors.

We didn’t know if we’d last a month, and I’ll be the first to say I was skeptical with a 3 day schedule. I was afraid we’d run out, that between the three of us we could agree on enough stories to fill the bill. I guess I didn’t foresee the quality of ready to publish stories or the tenacity of our contributors to submit over and over again despite rejection.

Three editors, three days. It seemed to work. A fantastic combination.

Most of you know, though we didn’t make any fanfare about it, that Kent stepped down as editor from Shotgun Honey at our first anniversary mark, and we officially brought on board Chad Rohrbacher to act as our third. Kent filled in from time to time to schedule stories and was an absolute invaluable part of our BOTH BARRELS anthology. Kent is a big man with a big heart. Not only did he let me in as an editor, but he let me in as a friend. I may not raise the doom claw, but we both care about family and fiction, and interests that overlap surprisingly in between.

On Tuesday, Shotgun Honey went from a web magazine or flashzine to a publisher with the release of BOTH BARRELS. That  isn’t the only change to be made this week.

Where Kent was our heart, Sabrina Ogden could be called our hope. Our faith. She kept me positive, as she does everyone, but wasn’t afraid to set things straight on a topic. As you know–or you will now–Sabrina will be having some reconstructive jaw surgery in the next month or so. I figured she would be taking time off–if only I had that crystal ball–but she decide she would need more.  Like with Kent, it is simply time for Sabrina to move on. And like Kent, Sabrina became a friend and not just a co-editor.

So now it’s official, our original editors Kent and Sabrina have stepped down. As friends I wish them the best and expect them to keep me up on all their new adventures. Maybe now I can get Kent to submit a story? Maybe he’ll be good enough to pass the new gauntlet of editors?

For the last couple weeks, behind the scenes two new editors have been reading and deciding the fates of our contributors. Let me introduce former contributors Jen Conley and Joe Myers.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Jen is really familiar with traffic. She lives three miles from the beach, or the Jersey Shore, and loves bagels and pizza. She’s a long-time, rabid fan of the Black Crowes and is obsessed with ID and Mad Men. Jen loves a good crime story, especially ones with characters that pop, and has written some dark tales herself. When not writing or reading, she teaches middle school and hangs out with her son who knows everything about Star Wars.

If you’ve read Jen’s work on our site and other venues, you’ll know you don’t want to ask her if she knows Snooki? She’s got a mean hook.

After growing up watching virtually every episode of Law & Order and The Twilight Zone ever recorded, Joe Myers finally realized that he couldn’t draw his comic books as fast as he came up with the stories and started writing them down. Since then, he wrote his first novel at the age of 17 and his work has been published in Shotgun Honey, The Escapist, and even earned a “not half bad” at a contest one time. When he’s not writing stories or doing freelance illustration, Joe can be found collecting old t-shirts, jackets, and being licked to death by his two dogs.

We met Joe last year at Bouchercon in St. Louis, and he just kind of clicked. It was a great opportunity to include to Joe on the team.

Both have been a valued asset already.

So now with Chad, Jen, Joe and myself we’re ready to see what the future brings. Another anthology for sure, and hundreds of more hard-boiled crime flash fiction.

If only I had a crystal ball, I’d tell you more.

For those attending Bouchercon this weekend in Cleveland, former editors Kent and Sabrina will be on hand with buttons and books. Be sure to get both and wish the two good luck, and give them a pat on the back for outstanding service. Jen and Joe will be at Bouchercon, also. Be sure to glad hand them, buy them plenty of drinks. These guys are helping choose your fate. A little good will, as they say, goes a long way.


The Night Mandy’s Car Broke Down on 539

She knew it was coming—her boss at the bar was always saying that an American-made car can’t make it to 200,000 miles.

Something in the motor just gave out when she’d slowed around the bend. Mandy had steered the car to the side of the road, let it come to rest by the woods, the night dark with fog. Immediately she fished in her purse for her cell, fear rising up in her chest.

She got out and walked along the muddy ground, waving her phone in the air, searching for a signal. Nothing. A dead zone. Mandy looked around—there were no houses, no stores. Only miles of trees.

A couple of vehicles passed by, but none stopped. That was good. What she wanted was a cop.

She got back in her car, locked the doors, turned the headlights off, dropped her phone in her purse. Three am. Mandy told herself not to panic, not to let the sickening feeling in her stomach take over. This wasn’t a tragedy. Her parents would help her get another car. She was safe for now. A policeman was bound to come along.

 

What pulled up behind her was an SUV, headlights lighting up the inside of her broken-down vehicle. She heard two doors open and shut, and before she could think, a face glowed in the driver’s side window. A knock and another face appeared on the passenger side.

“You in trouble, Mandy?”

It was Dave and Ray-Ray, two guys she’d served earlier that evening. They hadn’t stayed long, just enough to down a pitcher of beer and a couple of shots of Cuervo.

“My car just died,” Mandy said.

Dave shrugged, pointed to his ear, motioned for her to roll down the window. She couldn’t because there was no power in the car.

“Step out,” he called.

Hesitantly, Mandy opened the door, the SUV’s headlights blazing up the scene, illuminating the mist that hung in the dark. Something felt rotten in her gut and as soon as her feet touched the soft mush of the earth again, regret swamped through her blood.

Dave jumped in the driver’s seat, tried the ignition. It just choked. “Transmission.”

“Yeah,” Mandy agreed.

Dave got out, stood, looked Mandy over. Ray-Ray was suddenly behind them.

“I called my dad,” she lied.

“You got service out here?”
“Yes.”

Ray-Ray smirked. “You got a super phone?”

Even in the bright light from the SUV, Mandy could tell the two men weren’t right. They’d been doing something—coke, speed, whatever else—and their eyes were wild. Opportunistic. Ray-Ray was a big man, a hunter. Dave was smaller, beer-bellied, long arms.

“We’ll help you,” Dave said.

Mandy told them not to bother, that her dad would be there soon.

Ray-Ray spit.

“I’m fine,” Mandy said.

Dave cocked his head, bit the fingernail on his thumb, eyed his friend.

Mandy had made two-hundred dollars during her shift and the cash was sitting in her purse, the purse on the seat in her car. But she didn’t care about it now. She looked at the ground, snuck a look into the woods, and, in a sudden jolt, took off.

Branches snapped at her bare arms, her face, she slipped and fell, got up, ran, fell again, got up again. She heard them yelling after her, saying, “Mandy, we ain’t gonna hurt you! I swear!” But these were lies. She ran and ran in the darkness until she slammed into a tree, stunning her senses, making her drop to the ground. Her stomach went sick, her mind closed in, their voices in the distance.

 

Something crawled on her arm—a spider, maybe—and that’s what woke her. It was still dark. She waited for daylight, then got up, hiked cautiously back, prepared to duck if she saw the SUV. The scratches on her arms, the ache in her head, made her dizzy.

As she got closer, the sounds of the road—the groaning of vehicles—eased her mind. Daylight traffic.

Her car sat alone. She got in, found the key in the ignition. Gracefully, it turned over and started.

As Mandy drove away, she looked in her purse.

Yeah, they’d taken her money.


Hatpin

It’d been five weeks since Irene O’Connell’s father collected her from the Dominican Convent of Our Lady of the Rosary Orphanage on 63rd street. He turned up on a June day in ’39, driving a borrowed Model T Ford, not mentioning the borrowed part until they were well into the Bronx. Irene was sixteen, old enough to live at home again and take a job in a sewing factory.

The factory was hot and dusty, although the women said in the winter it would be cold and dusty, so pick your hell. Six days a week, Irene took the subway alone downtown to work. Her father drove a delivery truck—delivering cheese, he’d claimed. Sometimes he was gone for days.

“Your old man ain’t delivering no cheese,” Miss Mulligan from across the hall said. “Gin maybe, but no cheese.” She was a pretty woman with gorgeous red hair and a small waist. She said she’d, too, gone to the orphanage when her mother died and her father couldn’t take care of her. The phone in the hall rang often and it was usually for her. “Mary Mulligan around?” they’d ask.

Miss Mulligan gave Irene a brass hatpin with a lady sitting on a crescent moon at one end and a sharp point at the other.

“For when them men on the subway get fresh.” Then she added darkly, “Or, if that fella your father has boarding in the apartment tries something, you poke ‘im with it. Keep it in your pocket book. Keep that close by.”

Mr. Reznecki was as a friend of Irene’s father and he slept on the couch in the parlor. Irene didn’t engage with the man much. She heard him come in after midnight, stumble around. If she got up to go to the bathroom, the stink of liquor and beer wafted through the parlor like rancid milk. In the mornings, she’d see Mr. Reznecki on the couch, his head faced towards the ceiling, eyes closed, his mouth open like a corpse.

He did get fresh with her. Cornered her in the middle of the night when she walked into the kitchen to get her pocket book—she’d left it on the table and the thought woke her.

There he was, Mr. Reznecki, leaning against the small stove, swaying from drink, watching her as she slipped by to grab her pocket book. She caught his eye and he grinned slowly. Pushed her onto the table. “Doll,” he muttered while he tried to kiss her. Irene jerked the hatpin out of the pocket book and stabbed him in his left leg.

“Goddammit!” he screamed, jumping back, knocking against the stove before falling sideways towards the icebox. He pulled the pin out of his leg, threw it across the room. Irene went for her purse on the table—her money was in there—and then tried to escape, but he got hold of her again. She had no pin but she was able to get her hand around the handle of the cast-iron pan left on the stove. She swung it like a small ax. Smashed it into his head.

He buckled to the floor and blood oozed from his temple.

 

Later, Miss Mulligan stood in the kitchen. “Them boys get too drunk these days. They fall and hit their heads.”

“He didn’t fall, Miss Mulligan.” Irene was sick with guilt. She’d committed murder. Hell awaited her, no matter how long she lived on Earth.

“Oh, sure he fell, honey. I seen it with my own two eyes.” Then she winked, snapped the gum she was chewing. “Go wash the pan and we’ll find something he banged his head on.” The pretty woman’s eyes scanned the tiny kitchen, noticed something in the corner. “Like that metal stool over there.”

“But I murdered him.”

“No, you pushed him away and he hit his head.”

“The police will never believe that.”

Mary leaned down, picked the hatpin off the floor, placed it through her gorgeous red hair, right above her left ear. The lady on the moon glistened in the kitchen light. Mary posed like a glamour girl and smiled, the devil glinting in her eyes. “How much you wanna bet?”


Ghouls

She was a pretty girl, fourteen, romantic in her thoughts, still a kid. The house she lived in backed up to a line of scrub pines and skinny oaks before opening into an endless beige desert of abandoned gravel pits. Fire trails and narrow paths ran along the perimeter of the forgotten excavation, with dirt arteries that shot off into the unknown.

Her name was Heather. She’d gone walking, thinking, and before long, she was standing on the other side of the pits, at the edge, far from her house, in the next township. The wind blew and the trees behind her rustled.

She turned and looked into the forest.

Something moved. She bit her lip and sucked in her breath.

He appeared from the trees, wearing a black jacket and hood, dark jeans, his hand stuffed in his pockets.

“You got something to drink?” he asked when he reached her.

Heather saw that he was thin and young, about her age, and he seemed cold.

“No,” she said, shaking her head.

“You got any food?”

“No.”

He nodded and took out a box of cigarettes. He offered her one but she didn’t smoke.

“I’m Ben,” the boy said.

He lit a cigarette with a brown lighter. Heather saw that his fingernails were dirty, as were his jeans. Deep shadows hung under his gray eyes. A few freckles ran across his nose.

“Are you lost?” she asked.

Ben smiled. His teeth were crooked. “No. I know where I am.”

“Where do you live?”

“Can you get me some food?”

“Do you need help?”
“I need something to eat.”

She studied him for a moment, thinking she should be afraid, but wasn’t. “Okay. Stay here.”

“You gonna get me some food?”

“Yes,” she said. Then she turned and walked away.

In her house, there was no one at home. She made two cheese and bologna sandwiches, wrapped them in tin foil, and grabbed a few bags of potato chips. She almost forgot the soda and napkins, but she didn’t.

Before she left, she applied mascara to her eyelashes.

The sky was overcast, heavy with gray clouds. She hiked along the trails, searching ahead of her, across the beige hole in the earth, looking out for Ben.

She smelled cigarette smoke before she noticed him leaning against a tree. She handed Ben the bag of food and, with the cigarette hanging from his mouth, he peered inside. He nodded.

They sat on the ground, overlooking the great hole in the earth. Ben ate quickly. There was something off about him, she thought.

“Are you a runaway?”

Ben shrugged. “Sort of.”

“Where are your parents?”

He opened a can of soda, sipped it, and then gazed at her. She was hoping he thought she was pretty.

They spoke for a while. He asked about her school and teachers and her mom and friends. They chatted about music but he wasn’t up on the newer bands. She tried to talk to him about television shows. He didn’t know anything but old cartoons.

The clouds grew heavier and more grim.

And then, a man and girl appeared. They emerged from the forest like ghouls, dressed in dark green and black, their hands and faces dirty. The girl hung behind the man, her head cast down, her legs skinnier than awful, but her lips ruby red with lipstick—like a child prostitute Heather had just seen in a movie. The man was young, long-faced, with silver earrings in his left ear, silver rings around his fingers.

“Get up!” he growled.

Ben didn’t. He stared at the gravel pits.

Heather was terrified and pulled herself up from the ground. She looked at the man, the girl, Ben.

The man stepped forward. Dropped his hand to the side, produced a gun from his pants’ pocket. He stuck it into Ben’s back. “Get up.”

Heather sucked in her breath, tried not to cry out.

The girl with the skinny legs and red lips just stared.

Ben stood, turned slowly, and walked into the forest, the man close behind. The girl trailed after them.

Heather watched until they disappeared. Finally, fear set in. She ran all the way home.