August 2012

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Powder Burn Flash # 387 - Gary Clifton

Right of Way
by Gary Clifton


Dwight Eisenhower had just been elected President.  Word on the street was happy times were here again.  In the neighborhood, times weren't worth a damn.  Ralphie only knew Eisenhower was President because he'd seen the news on the little round, black and white T.V. in Jackson's Furniture Store window.

Heavy snow the night before was compounded that afternoon by a freezing north wind relentlessly seeking clothing leaks.  Old Mr. Dell saw Ralphie standing out of the wind in his grocery store entryway and offered the kid a quarter to deliver the widow Kovac's groceries.  "Get $3.65, cash."  He handed Ralphie change for a ten.

Ralphie dropped off the grocery box, thanked Mrs. Kovac, and with Mr. Dell's cash safely in his britches pocket, was short-cutting back along the C.B.& Q. tracks.  In the late afternoon dusk, head down into the wind, footing was better on the flat, graveled surface.   Street lights up on Front Street provided limited light a half block away.

Most everyone around knew Dirty Jim, commonly regarded as a harmless, crazy wino, slept in an abandoned car just off the tracks.  Rumor said Jim had been a successful middleweight boxer.  Ralphie, a typical skinny 14 year old, didn't know or care.  His thoughts were consumed with sex and how to get out of the cold.

"Gimme yer money, kid," Jim scrambled up the raised right-of-way.  "Or I'll kick your ass."  Jim came at him, head down, swinging wildly.  He was fortyish, his face mangled from years in the ring.  Ralphie was nearly overwhelmed by foul body odor despite the sharp wind.

Startled, terrified, Ralphie stumbled backward.  Jim missed with a roundhouse right and went down, landing hard on the ties.  He gurgled several times, then lay still.  Ralphie ran all the way back to Dell's, levels of imagined punishment skyrocketing with each step.  He was a kid and the wino was an adult.  That he'd done nothing wrong didn't factor.

"The hell's wrong with you, Ralph?" Mr. Dell accepted Mrs. Kovac's grocery money and handed over Ralphie's two bits.  He eyed the kid closely.

Ralphie, a slum kid with no conception of rights, concluded he would catch hell no matter what.  Awake most of the night, the angry wind moaning around the eaves of his mother's small frame house, self-delusion ramped up a wild blur of punishments.

Groggy, exhausted, consumed with paranoia, he trudged through the cold the next morning to Public School 97.  The hallway was toasty warm as he overheard a kid he didn't know drop the nuclear bomb:  "Hey, man...hear about that crazy wino, Dirty Jim...lived in that old car down by the tracks?  Got run over by a train yesterday evening.  Musta been sleeping on the tracks.  Guts all over."

Ralphie, eligible for the free lunch line, skipped eating that day.

In time, folks clucked their tongues and condemned the wino for laying drunk on the tracks.  A street kid, but a smart one, Ralphie concluded Dirty Jim would be just as dead if he ran his mouth.  So he never did.


BIO: Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, published a novel in national paperback and has published or pending several short fiction pieces on Writer's Type, Spinetingler, Yellow Mama, Broadkill Review, Shotgun Honey, Boston Literary Review, 50 Word Stories, Black Heart Mag, Disenthralled, Fiction on the Web, Spasm Valley, Bewildering Stories, and Liguistic Erosion.  Clifton has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University.

Powder Burn Flash # 384 - Christopher E. Long

Brotherly Love
by Christopher E. Long

Mick steps gingerly over the body of an unconscious man in the hallway, as if any unnecessary movement would awaken the drunk with matted hair and beard, lying in his own urine. He approaches the apartment with a crooked “8” hanging from the door. He knocks. Nothing. He knocks again, but harder. “Harvey, it’s—”

With the words still hanging in the air, an explosion blows a chunk of cheap particle board past his head. Mick crumples to the floor, shielding his head. “Jesus Christ!” he yells.

There is the unmistakable sound of a shotgun’s handgrip being pumped back, ejecting the spent shell and chambering a new one. “Goddamn sons of bitches!” a voice booms behind the door.

“Harvey, it’s your brother, for Christ’s sake!” Mick yells. He cowers on the grimy floor. Glancing up at the jagged hole in the door, he sees a pair of bloodshot eyes, suspiciously peering down at him.

“Mick?” a shaky voice calls.

He gets up and dusts off his shirt and pants. “Yeah.”

Harvey fumbles with the security chain and opens the door. He wears an untucked dress shirt that is heavily wrinkled and stained. The laces on his leather shoes are untied and he’s not wearing socks. His cheeks are sunken in, and his skin is ashen. “What the hell are you doing here? I could’ve killed you.” The double-barrel shotgun hangs at his side. “Hurry. Get in here. It’s not safe out in the open.” He steps aside and allows his brother to enter, then quickly pokes his head out the door, surveying the hallway before slamming the door shut and locking it.

Garbage and scraps of papers are strewn about the floor. All the furniture is overturned and stacked up in the living room like a berm. The stench of old food and decay is like a punch to the face. Mick grimaces and covers his nose with his hand. “What happened to you?” he asks. He staggers back when his brother points the twin barrels of the shotgun at his chest.

“Who sent you?” Harvey snaps.

“What?”

“Did Dirty Mike send you?” he says through clenched teeth.

“Who the hell is that?” Mick asks.

Harvey slowly lowers the gun. He stares at his younger brother for a moment, then moves past him into the living room. He wobbles as he bends over and picks up a half empty bottle of single-malt scotch, leaving the shotgun on the floor. He takes a plug, grimaces as he swallows, then takes another one.

“What did you get yourself into now?” Mick asks.

The alcohol sloshes in the bottle as Harvey staggers to the window. He pulls the curtain aside and peers outside. “I finally did it this time,” he says.

“What?”

“Got myself into a bind I can’t get out of,” Harvey says with a dry chuckle. He steps away from the window and takes another slug off the bottle. “I agreed to a job I had no right agreeing to. My employer—”

“Dirty Mike?”

Harvey nods his head, “Yeah. Well, he got mad, and, when he gets mad ….” Harvey struggles to finish the sentence, but he can’t.

“Who is Dirty Mike?”

Harvey’s eye water and he wipes them with the back of his hand. “Haven’t got a clue. Never met anybody who’s seen him face to face. Runs his business from the shadows. Might as well be a ghost.”

Mick looks helplessly at the shotgun lying at his feet. He picks it up. “It’s heavy,” he mutters.

His brother laughs, and says, “You have no idea.” He tips the bottle back and drains it dry. He throws the bottle against the wall, and it shatters into a cascade of glass shards. Harvey flashes a forced smile at his brother, but it fades as the little brother levels both barrels at him. “Mick?”

The boom of the shotgun makes Mick cringe. His ears ring as he stands over the corpse. He wiggles a finger in his ear, but it doesn’t do any good. “I always hated the name Dirty Mike,” he says to no one in particular, and his words echo in the barren room.

BIO: Christopher's writing for comic books has been published by a variety of publishers, including Marvel Comics, DC Comics, IDW Publishing and Image Comics. At this writing, he has eight people following him on twitter. If you'd like to be number nine, find him at @Celong1122.

Powder Burn Flash #383 - Travis Richardson

A Damn Good Dad
by Travis Richardson

How long has he been up, thirty-two, thirty-five hours? Don’t know and it don’t matter. He has been making batches of primo meth, and the product is goooood. He will testify to that. Sampling a little here and there, for quality control, of course. He’s always been a good cooker, but this is something special, an intense blast-your-brain-to-the-moon-and-back supreme awesomeness. He has a reason to be cooking. There’s always a reason -- dough, mullah, greenbacks – but this time it is important. It isn’t for him. It’s for somebody. Who is it again?

He hears a movement from behind him and twists quickly to see Jenny, Jenny-Penny-oh-so-skinny, waking up. Her sleepy soft blue eyes look at him. He guesses she’s smiling, but can’t tell because she wears that paper mask doctors wear, but hers has jagged hand-drawn vampire fangs and red magic marker blood dripping off of them.

See, I’m a good father, a damn good dad, he thinks. Not like Clyde McDonnell, tweaked out of his fucking gourd, put his newborn in a freezer. Or Jimmy Treat who left his toddler in a car for three days in ninety-degree heat. Or even worse that asshole Steve Hobbes who sold his daughter to pervs so he could buy more crank. Not me, no way no sir no how. I’ve got her with me so no harm will come and she is protected. I’m the best father in Okfuskee County. Other tweakers might…

“Daddy?” Jenny-Penny asks.

“Yes, honey-bunny?”

“When’s mommy coming back?”

He stops, holding a beaker full of steaming anhydrous ammonia. That’s the reason for this meth-rage cooking spree. Bail money for Gloria.

“Well funny-bunny, I gotta get this batch here done and maybe one more. Then we sell it to Uncle Blaine and then we get mommy out in no time flat.”

“Are you making Metha…methafetamins?”

“Oh no honey, this is… medicine for sick folks.” See, he’s protecting her from illegal activities.

She sits up. “Wha’s in it?”

”Well, a little of this, pseudoephedrine, and a little of that, sodium and then mix it with ammonia and let it boil an bubble while adding just the right amount of ethanol… without exploding and when the ammonia evaporates, we get these beautiful, sparkly crystals of meth… medicine.”

“Suuumo…. Sumodoctorine?”

Losing his concentration he looks over at her. What did she say? That mask is creeping him out. It looks like the blood is dripping off the mask on the floor. Those teeth chomping. He looks back at his chemistry project. What is he mixing again? He looks at the small kitchen crammed into this camping trailer. His lab. See, he keeps the chemicals out of the house next door. That way everybody’s safe. What a good man. No a good dad.

“Daddy?”

He feels a tug on his pants and looks down to see a two-foot creature with hungry fangs. He shouts and jumps back, tripping over a boot, and tosses the flask of whatever he was holding. A flame shoots up from the kitchen sink and the ceiling is engulfed in orange heat. The little creature screams a high pitched squeal.

Oh shit, oh shit. Fire. I’ve got to save ‘em. He turns, grabbing the tray of drying meth crystals off the dining table and hits the front door. It won’t open. He reaches for the door handle, the tray tilts, and a few crystals fall. NOOO! The fire is intense and he feels flames licking his neck and ears. He opens the door, telling himself he’ll come back later for them and sprints into the open air.

An explosion blasts him to his knees into the hard dirt, but he holds the tray steady. Only a few crystals fell. He smiles setting the tray down and arranging the crystals in precise order. He thinks, I’m a good cook. I take good care of my product. I’m the best damn… Then he realizes.

“Jenny, Jenny-Penny!”

Panicked, he scans the yard, but doesn’t see her. The camper is aflame, the roof totally blown off. No, no, no. He’s a good father, a damn good dad. Nothing bad can happen to Jenny. He runs to the door and the handle singes his hand, but he tugs and is engulfed by an ocean of flames.

BIO: Travis Richardson was born in Germany, raised in Oklahoma, and currently lives in Los Angeles. He has worked over 20 jobs in fields ranging from secret bus rider to television post production to university fundraising. He is editing his first crime novel "The Prodigal Detective". His story "The Movement" was published in the anthology Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes (Down and Out Books) edited by Gary Phillips. He has a story in Shotgun Honey and will have one in All Due Respect in January. Find out more at http://tsrichardson.com

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