Tag Archives: blitz
Date Published: May 2019
Publisher: IVX Books
Return to White Catcliff is Inna Val Helm’s debut novel presented by an unforgettable cast of characters. Fantasy and reality merge amid elements of anthropomorphism, eternal life, and dimensional existence.
It tells the story of thirtysomething Nick Taylor and his black Lab, BD, who stumble upon a convenience store robbery in a suburb of present-day Chicago and are left for dead. They awaken to find themselves in the tranquil village of White Catcliff, where inhabitants faced certain death immediately prior to arrival.
The antagonist is VEIL (Volunteer Eleemosynary Institute and League), which presents as a humanitarian organization, but its true agenda is steeped in pillage and plunder. Nick’s mission is to stop its proliferation. This means he must not only leave his new home, but of greater consequence, he must travel alone, leaving his best friend behind.
Return to White Catcliff is a smartly crafted novel, artfully illustrated, humorous at times, dark at others, and always thought-provoking.
About the Author
Inna Val Helm has served as a trial consultant and linguistic translator in various venues, and her resulting familiarity with courtrooms and legal proceedings is evident throughout certain passages and illustrative images of Return to White Catcliff.
The writer’s own vivid out-of-body experience inspired said novel and is largely responsible for its conceptual content. Helm’s creation of the nemesis, VEIL (Volunteer Eleemosynary Institute and League), is loosely based upon the world’s political climate over the past eighty years.
A student of the mind, Inna Val Helm has studied the human and animal psyche and related philosophy across Europe as well as the eastern seaboard of the United States, resulting in a litany of fully developed characters.
Literature, Fiction, Short Stories
Date Published: March 2019
Publisher: Napili Press
In Stories I Can’t Show My Mother, bat girl receives love voodoo from Needle Man, a woman finagles a direct deposit at a sperm bank, a modern-day Lady Godiva triggers a hot police investigation into a cold case, an astronaut plots to kidnap her former lover’s girlfriend, an escort’s famous client falls for her, and a woman recovering from a breakup has a mile-high quickie with a stranger. These flirty, playful stories explore sexuality and sensuality, taking you to places your mother never wanted you to discover.
About the Author
Ann Tinkham is a writer based in Boulder, Colorado. She is an anti-social butterfly, pop-culturalist, virtual philosopher, ecstatic dancer, political and java junkie. When she’s not tinkering with words, she’s seeking adventures. Ann has talked her way out of an abduction and talked her way into the halls of the United Nations. She hitchhiked up a mountain in Switzerland and worked her way down the corporate ladder. Ann has flown on a trapeze and traded on the black market in Russia. She cycles up steep canyons, hikes to glacial lakes and mountain peaks, and blazes her own ski trails. As soon as she amasses a fortune, she plans to buy an island and hopes she won’t be voted off her own island.
Her fiction and essays have appeared in All Things Girl, Apt, Denver Syntax, Edifice Wrecked, Foliate Oak, Hiss Quarterly, Lily Literary Review, Short Story Library, Slow Trains, Stone Table Review, Synchronized Chaos, The Adirondack Review, The Battered Suitcase, The Citron Review, The Literary Review, Toasted Cheese, Wild Violet, Word Riot, and others. Ann’s essay, “The Tree of Hearts” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her story, “Afraid of the Rain” was nominated for Sundress’s Best of the Net Anthology.
Children’s Picture Books
Publisher: Iguana Books
Date Published: April 16, 2019
Get out there with the curious Johnny and his patient Mommy, in this colourful, rhyming book, celebrating all the wonders of the everyday world.
Sneak Peek at the first page:
About the Author
Ilham (the “H” is the same “H” as in hat) lives in Toronto, Canada, with her family that includes a very lazy cat. Toronto is called a “city within a park” for good reason, due to all its public parks and greenery in every neighbourhood, from which Ilham drew inspiration for this book while out for her own wonder walks with her kids.
Date Published: August 2, 2019
Set in Mercer, Wisconsin, where tensions over Native American fishing rights are escalating, JERKWATER is a story about the racial tensions churning just beneath the surface of what often appears to be placid, everyday American life.
CHAPTER ONE: SHAWNA
There were spots in the lake where the anchor never hit bottom. The murkiness always fascinated Shawna. She knew it was only tangles of muskgrass and pondweed down there, but a part of her couldn’t help but imagine strange, never-before-seen creatures dwelling among the coontails and duckweed. Like Wisconsin anglerfish. Or some rare breed of dwarf whale. And maybe the lake was bottomless, like in those stories her mother used to tell her where Nanaboozhoo was always stumbling and laughing his way through the world.
Shawna dug around inside the cooler. Her journal was peeking out from under a tin of sardines. Ever since the day her stepfather had taken her mother away from her, the journal had become a sort of artificial limb for Shawna. Or maybe an artificial organ, a somewhat bulky and awkward replacement for what had been her heart.
“It’s not the world’s fault you’re lonely,” Shawna said out loud. It was something her mother used to say. The words came to her like that sometimes, like ghost ships sailing across the years, reminding her of who her mother had once been: a strong woman who’d been haunted by demons. White demons. Shawna picked up her journal and was sitting with her hand hovering over the page, waiting to take dictation from a dead woman, when she heard the muffled sounds of voices on the water. Then there was the echo of oars being worked in their sockets and a tackle box being slid across a metal hull. She lay flat on the ground, peering through the reeds, and spotted a man rowing quietly toward the island. There was a little boy in the boat, too, a little lump of a thing bundled up in a too-big camouflage coat and looking barely old enough to handle the pole he had dangling over the edge. Then, just as she thought they might row past, the man dropped anchor about forty feet out.
Shawna lowered her head and wondered about her boat, if they could see it. As she lay there frozen, she noticed a turtle sunning itself on one of the larger rocks near the island. It was an ugly thing with a head like a wrinkly old penis. The shell, though, was beautiful, almost like the yellow undercoating and the elaborate black hatch-marks were trying to make up for its unflattering head.
“You want me to do it?”
“No. I can do it.”
“Then take this one. He’s nice and fat.”
Shawna couldn’t see their faces all that well, but it was definitely them. It was like they were all in the same room together, the walls made of the mist still clinging to the lake. There was the crack of a can opening. Soda maybe. Or beer.
The room became hushed, and Shawna watched the two figures hunched over their rods, waiting. For the man, the waiting seemed like a kind of forced meditation, like something he wasn’t all that interested in but that came with the territory of fishing. As for the boy, he didn’t seem to want to be there at all. That much Shawna could tell without seeing his face.
“Here.” The man handed the boy something. “Eat.”
“When we get back can we–?”
“Quiet. You’ve got a bite.”
Shawna watched the boy’s bobber. There were little ringlets pulsing out from it like sonar. Then nothing.
“I think he ate my worm.”
“Maybe. Reel it in a little.”
The boy slowly reeled his line in, letting it stop every few feet or so. Then the bobber suddenly disappeared.
“Okay, okay. Let him take it now. That’s it.”
“Can I reel him in now? Can I?”
“Did you set the hook?”
“I don’t know.”
“Give it a little tug. Not too hard now.”
Shawna could see the boy yank on the line, lifting the pole over his head.
“Jesus, you’ll be lucky he still has a mouth left on him.” The man went about getting his net ready and leaning over the side of the boat as the boy pulled the fish closer. “See, I told you this was a good spot. Didn’t I tell you?”
The man lowered the net into the water, but when he brought the fish up, it didn’t appear all that big to Shawna. Maybe a bluegill or sunfish. She watched as the boy reached into the net and was sprayed with water as the fish flipped and arched about. The man put the net down on the floor of the boat, no doubt stepping on the fish to keep it from flopping about, then ruffled the boy’s hair before carefully pulling the fish from the net and placing it on a stringer. Shawna figured they’d probably go home now, but the boy went back to staring blankly out at the water while the man began casting a bright yellow lure closer and closer to the bank of the island. Shawna guessed he was going for Muskie now since they were known to hide in weed beds. Ojibwa called them maashkinoozhe. Or “ugly pike.”
“Can we go soon?”
Shawna knew all too well who they were: Peyton Crane and his little boy. She’d made a sort of hobby over the past year or so of casually stalking them. Lately, though, it had become less casual. She noted the day and time in her journal next to the others.
Something was slid across the hull of the boat. “Here, have a pretzel. We’ll go back soon. I promise.” Peyton stood up in the boat, and Shawna got her first clear look at him. He was wearing a brown flannel jacket and a camouflage baseball cap, his dumb brown hair sticking out the back like burnt straw. The beer belly pushing out against his flannel made him appear older. And pregnant. Shawna smiled to herself. If that were true, ninety percent of the white men in town would be knocked-up.
Shawna watched as the turtle, apparently having had enough of all the commotion, waddled off his rock and into the water. The turtle reminded her of a story her mother used to tell her about the world being flooded and Nanaboozhoo sitting on a log searching for land. In the story he tried to swim to the bottom of the lake to grab a handful of earth so he could create a new place to live, but the lake seemed bottomless. A loon, a mink, and a turtle also tried to reach the bottom, but all of them failed. Finally, a little muskrat tried. The muskrat didn’t survive, but when his lifeless body floated to the surface, they found a ball of earth still clutched in his paw. Nanaboozhoo put the ball on the turtle’s back and with the help of the wind from the four directions, the dirt grew into an island which is now North America. Ever since then, Ojibwa have revered the muskrat for his sacrifice, and, also the turtle for literally bearing the weight of the world.
As Shawna daydreamed about the turtle down below holding up the island, she heard something clatter in the branches overhead. There, not a foot away, was a lure with a treble hook swaying and glinting in the sunlight.
“Jesus H. Christ.”
Peyton stood up and began yanking on the snagged line, rocking the small boat back and forth so that the boy was forced to set his pole down and grab the oars for support.
“Shit if I’m going to lose another lure to a goddamn tree.”
When he eventually gave up and began reeling in the anchor, Shawna pulled the lure down and set the line between her teeth. It took a few bites but soon the lure came free and the line went slack. Shawna could see the boy staring intently at the island, and, for a brief moment, it seemed like they were staring at one another. Almost like the boy had seen what she had done but had decided to remain quiet.
“Look. It came free.”
Peyton turned to see his line lying limp and flaccid on the water, and Shawna thought she could see a smile spread across the boy’s face.
“You promised we could play video games, ‘member?”
Peyton stared hard at the island, like the thought of leaving the lure there somehow meant the island had won.
“Yeah, I remember alright.”
He then worked the boat around with one of the oars and began rowing them back across the lake. Shawna rolled over on her back and studied the lure in the sunlight wobbling its way through the leaves. It was a simple lure. Wooden. Handmade. She wondered idly if Peyton had ever caught anything with it. Save Two Walleyes – Spear A Pregnant Squaw. Too Bad Custer Ran Out Of Bullets. She remembered the protests and the bumper stickers on the boats from when she was a girl. She remembered, too, the hate white people had spewed at her relatives as they tried to dock with their boats full of walleye. “Ignorance,” her mother had told her, “is a dangerous thing. But now at least you know its face.”
She turned the lure over in her hand, her fingers tracing the lines of the treble hook, pushing the barb gently against her thumb. She found herself thinking about the ceremonies the Plains Indians used to have where the boys pierced their skin with hooks and suspended themselves from chains as a rite of passage. She rested the lure against her shirt, brushing the metal back and forth across the cotton. She wondered how much pain a person could endure. She wondered if enjoying it would somehow invalidate it.
Just as she was imagining her own skin being pulled and stretched, a moth landed on her knee. A gypsy moth. She recognized it because she always thought their floppy antennae made them look like little flying rabbits. They were hated by both whites and Chippewa alike because they were destroying large swaths of Wisconsin forest. It was one of the few things both agreed on. Shawna shooed the moth away, watching as it flitted up into the tree to work its mayhem, and rolled over onto her stomach before tossing the lure into the cooler.
She watched the now tiny boat as it docked along the southern edge of the lake. The poor kid didn’t stand a chance. Whether he wanted to be or not, he was a racist-in-training. Half the kid’s heart was probably already polluted, and by the time he reached high school, his insides would be entirely black. And what was worse was that things would continue on like that, the kid growing up, having his own kids, and then infecting them. And on and on and on. Like a cancer. Or like a gypsy moth making its home in the family tree. There was nothing for it to do but spread disease.
About the Author
Jamie Zerndt is the author of THE CLOUD SEEDERS, THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY, and THE ROADRUNNER CAFE. His short story, “THIS JERKWATER LIFE”, was recently chosen as an Editor’s Pick in Amazon’s Kindle Singles store. He received an MFA in Writing from Pacific University and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with his son.
Date Published: June 2019
Publisher: Riverpoint Press
Laura Beckman’s comfortable suburban life would be perfect but for her daughter. Four years earlier, Brooke abandoned her husband and her own young daughter to run off with a musician. Now back home with her tail between her legs, Brooke’s self-loathing boils over in the face of her mother’s unrelenting condemnation.
Laura’s world is turned upside down after witnessing the long, painful death of her husband. In the search for a better version of herself, she creates the Chocolate Shop which grants terminally ill patients one last wish (e.g returning to the Rockette stage, having sex one last time, even skydiving). Laura then lovingly helps her clients slip away to a peaceful death. Laura must dodge the police who suspect she’s committing second-degree murder, and an ex-wife of a client consumed with collecting on an insurance policy. Her relationship with her daughter flips as Brooke becomes the one doing the condemning: “I may have made many mistakes in my life but there’s one thing I can say. I never murdered anybody.”
As Laura comes to grips with the ethical, moral, and legal dimensions of what she’s doing, she worries that her strained relationship with her daughter will never be repaired and wonders whether she can ever find love again. She meets Arlo Massey–brash, flamboyant, someone who couldn’t care less about what other people think–the complete opposite of the always appropriate Laura Beckman. Arlo disrupts Laura’s already tumultuous life. She finds him despicable.
And yet . . .
Laura wanted Mickey to die.
She had it all planned. They’d relax on the sofa in front of a roaring fire, watching the flames dance and crackle, snuggling together under her grandmother’s time-softened green and white patch quilt. The red wine stain on the quilt from New Years Eve when they’d made love on the same sofa had faded away and almost disappeared.
And now her husband was about to fade away and disappear.
She would take his hand, mercilessly scabbed by needles searching for a vein, and entwine her fingers through his. Their interlocked hands would act as one and empty the medicine vial of tiny white pills into the glass of Chivas, his favorite. They’d enjoy their last hour together, her head nestling into the hollow space where his neck met his shoulder. She always considered that spot her private property. She would breath in his scent, and if she remained still she’d be able to feel his heartbeat tickling her cheek.
Then a final toast. He would drink the whiskey from his favorite cocktail glass, the one with the etched Orioles logo. They’d reminisce using the shorthand developed by every husband and wife over decades of marriage.
Remember when . . .?
He’d become sleepy. She would gently rub his neck right behind his ear . . .
Then a lingering last kiss.
Goodbye my darl—
Laura’s eyes sprang open. Had she dozed off? She glanced at Mickey asleep in the narrow hospital bed squeezed next to her chair. With so many twisting tubes and wires connected to his shriveled body he more resembled a monster from an old black and white horror flick than her husband.
“You were mumbling in your sleep,” Brooke said. “Something about white pills and the Orioles.” Without looking up from her phone she rotated her hips in an unsuccessful attempt
to find comfort in the battered gunmetal chair.
What was her daughter talking about?
“Maybe you should go home and get some sleep,” Gracie said. “I can stay with him for a while.”
“Sleep’s overrated.” She yawned, and her eyes caught the old Baltimore Orioles baseball pennant hanging over the hospital bed. Orioles logo . . . whiskey glass . . . white pills . . . Her dream flashed before her eyes.
“You okay?” Gracie asked.
White pills . . . She gasped. Oh my God. She could not, she would not permit her mind to visit that awful place ever again.
Gracie pressed. “Laura?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine.”
Her aunt responded with a skeptical expression, then hoisted a pink tote bag to her lap. Short and wiry in stature, Gracie colored her hair red and wore it below her shoulders in a wavy style more suited to a young starlet from the forties than a woman of seventy. A Kurt Vonnegut quote in green script decorated the side of her bag: “Tis better to have loved and lust, than to let our apparatus rust.” Laura shook her head and took a deep breath. The thick, stifling hospital air smelled of must, of decay. Of death.
For the millionth time she wondered why God would spare the evil people of the world—serial killers and terrorists and child molesters—while the good man lying next to her faced certain death?
Mickey moaned again. Eight months earlier he’d been diagnosed with “distant” esophageal cancer, meaning the cancer had spread away from the tumor to his lymph nodes and organs. The cancer had been hiding there for some time, undetected, slowly eating away, bite by tiny bite.
At first it had been hard to think the words—my husband’s dying— much less say them. Now, after witnessing him wither away for the past many months, the vocabulary of death came easily. Hope arrived early but departed long ago leaving her with the heartbreak of seeing the man she loved suffer the quiet torture of a lingering death.
Mickey’s treatment plan combined palliative care along with active treatment, but the pain medication never seemed to be enough. When she begged for more, the doctors furrowed their brows and explained how they were limited by dosage protocols. What BS. She’d considered transferring Mickey out of Annapolis General to a hospice facility, but Delaware offered the closest available bed, and in-home hospice care couldn’t provide the constant attention he required.
For the last few weeks Mickey had been begging her to end his life. She, of
course, wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Lately, however, the dreams had come. The Chivas Regal and the white pills in the Orioles glass. She loved him so much, and it broke her heart to see him suffer. But she wouldn’t do it. Laura Beckman followed the rules, and the rules were pretty clear that a wife should not murder her husband.
Brooke pulled a hip flask from her back pocket.
Laura lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. “What do you think you’re doing? This is a hospital, and your father’s lying here barely alive.”
Brooke ignored her, took a drink, then passed the flask to Gracie. After raising it
toward Mickey in a silent toast, Gracie helped herself to a healthy swallow.
Laura closed her eyes and tried to control her emotions. She didn’t need this stress, not now. She heard a gurgle from the bed. Mickey’s eyes fluttered. She stood quickly. “I’m right here.”
He tried to talk, but with the breathing tube obstructing his airway the sound blurred to a ragged rasp. Mickey attempted a weak smile, then his eyes found Laura. He lifted a corner of the blanket and made dabbing motions in the air.
“What’s he doing?” Brooke asked.
Laura smiled to herself, and her mind drifted back almost thirty years . . .
At the beginning of the second semester, Laura, like almost all of the students at Bollen except for maybe the nerdy engineering majors, tried to schedule her classes so Friday afternoons were clear. An early December snow dump left no uncertainty about how that afternoon would be spent. She, her best friend, Megan, and three other girls strapped their skis and snowboards on top of Megan’s old blue Ford Explorer, and they drove north to Massanutten for a few hours of night skiing.
On the first run down Rebel Yell Laura caught an edge and twisted her ankle. Despite Laura’s strong opposition, Megan decided to remain with her at the lodge bar while the others skied. The crowded bar made maneuvering between tables difficult. Laura had taped an ice bag around her ankle and propped it up on a chair while she and Megan enjoyed their hot-buttered rums.
A good-looking guy with thick, curly black hair and soft brown eyes attempted to squeeze by. Someone bumped him from behind, and he spilled beer down the front of Laura’s sweater.
“Sorry.” He grabbed a handful of napkins from the dispenser and attempted to blot the beer from her sweater. A moment later, he realized he was dabbing her breasts and froze. “Sorry. I’ll be happy to pay for the cleaning.” Their eyes locked, and the attraction was instant. “How about you let me buy you ladies another round?”
Laura smiled. “Only if you promise to keep your hands to yourself.”
He offered a goofy grin, and held up his pinky finger. “Pinky swear.” After letting him twist in the wind for a few moments, she laughed and hooked her pinky finger into his. At that very moment he was bumped again, and this time spilled beer down the front of his ski jacket. Laura pulled more napkins from the dispenser and dabbed the beer from his jacket.
Megan laughed. “You two are the Dabbers.”
Laura rode back to college with him, and they became inseparable. From then
on, throughout their dating and married life, before going to sleep each night they’d hook pinkies and say, “Love you, Dabber.” One of those private little moments in a marriage that only has meaning to the husband and wife, something anyone else would consider plain silly . . .
Laura reached over and stroked her husband’s hand. Almost all of the flesh had been replaced by scabs from the IVs. She hooked pinkies with him, then peered deeply into his eyes, and whispered so only he could hear. “Love you, Dabber.” He nodded and slipped back into a restless sleep.
Brooke headed for the door. “I need a cigarette.”
“Great idea, your lungs will love it.”
Brooke ignored her and walked out.
Laura sighed and settled back down. Truth be told, she felt relieved without Brooke in the room. Her daughter created tension, and that was the last thing Laura needed now. Her life had been defined by stress since Mickey’s diagnosis. Seemed like years ago, not months. Second opinions and third opinions and tests and treatments and, in the end, the inevitability. She lightly rubbed her husband’s arm and wondered where all the time had gone. They’d married young, both still in college, and their life together had been good. Not great she supposed, but good. More than good. The few bumps along the way had mostly been caused by their rebellious eldest daughter.
“If I say up, she says down. If I say, black, she says, white,” Laura mumbled. “Why does Brooke have to be so damn headstrong?”
“Sounds like her mother,” Gracie said. Before Laura could respond, Gracie stood and announced, “I’m going for a walk around down the hall, check out the scenery. There’s nothing more sexy than a man in white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. You take the ugliest man in the world and put him in a white coat, and I’m telling you—”
“Go. And don’t be surprised if those men in white coats take you away in a tight white jacket.”
In a moment she was out the door.
Mickey’s eyes opened again and found Laura. He made a writing motion with his hand. Laura grabbed the note pad and pen from the table and set the pad in front of him. She flipped through the pages where he’d already written until she found a clean page. She placed the cheap Bic pen in his right hand and wrapped his fingers around it. The ridges made it easier for him to grip with the IV stuck into the back of his hand. He wrote the word, “please,” in half cursive, half print. The handwriting of a young child.
Mickey locked eyes with his wife, then jerked his head toward the wall next to the bed. Laura’s eyes followed his gesture to the control panel for the ventilator equipment barely keeping him alive.
Laura studied the panel as she’d done countless times. Several switches, including the one controlling power to the machines. The Magic Switch. One flick of that . . .
“You know I can’t, sweetie.” She stroked his head. The baldness still felt strange. Over the past weeks and months she’d watched his hair fall out and his skin change from a healthy tan to a pale, almost translucent parchment.
Mickey’s hand struggled to form an image on the paper pad, a crude heart that more resembled a lima bean.
“It’s lovely, Honey.”
The thick plastic tubes turned his attempted smile into a snarl. He convulsed and emitted a ragged cry that ripped across Laura’s heart. Mickey’s eyes pleaded with her. He flipped the tablet back and forth in frustration. Laura didn’t need to be reminded what had been written all over the previous pages—the single word, “please.”
Desperate, Laura’s gaze returned to the ventilator’s control panel and noticed the
manufacturer’s identification plate. RxTron, Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Eden Prairie.
Sounded so peaceful. Flip the Magic Switch, and you’ll float away to Eden.
Mickey’s beseeching eyes locked with hers.
She gasped and bit her lip to stem the tears.
She couldn’t do it.
About the author:
J. J. Spring is a pseudonym for a successful author who writes in another genre. J. J. lives in Florida with a spouse and a rambunctious poodle named Handsome Jack.