Novella Excerpt-The Whipfather

This is a snippet from my latest novella, ‘The Whipfather’, to be released as a Kindle ebook on November 1st, 2014.  The legend goes that Santa carries a companion with him on his trek around the world each Christmas Eve.  As he is laying out gifts for the good boys and girls, The Whipfather punishes the bad boys and girls.  Watch the book trailer here: 

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Vince lay on the floor in a sleeping bag.  Soft snoring and even breathing came from his direction, but there was something else.  A different noise elsewhere in the house.  Geoff tilted his head and tried to tune into the sound.  Still unable to pinpoint what it was, he raised up and slid his feet to the floor.  The child in him told him it was the sound of Santa laying presents under the tree.  It was easy not to believe the rest of the year, but if there was ever a time to believe, it was right now.  The man in him told him it was probably the sound of his mother and his aunt in the living room, consoling each other about their boys being delinquents.  Quietly, he padded to the door, opened it, and listened for a moment.  There was definitely movement out there, but there were no voices.  A chill ran up his spine and excitement roiled in his gut.  Tentatively, Geoff stepped into the hall, and took small steps toward the living room.  A shadow loomed across the wall towards him.  Haloed in blinking, multi-colored light, the shadow grew slowly.  The child part of him took over again, knowing he had stumbled upon Santa, and sent him running down the hallway back to the safety of his room.  After carefully shutting his door, Geoff leaped into his bed and pulled the covers to his chin.  Other than Vince snoring on the floor, the house grew quiet again and the fluttering in Geoff’s stomach eased.  An eternity passed.  And the doorknob began to turn.

Geoff squeezed his eyes shut just as the faint glow from the hall cracked the darkness.  He could hear the door swing wide.  If he had been brave enough to peek, he would have seen that the figure entering his room was neither the slight, feminine figure of his mother or aunt, nor was it the robust outline of the big man in red.  Geoff opened his eyes when he heard the unexpected sound of chains.  What he saw was a figure, hunched and angular, with long grey hair, a pointy beard and fingers like knives.

“Merry Christmas, Geoff,” the man hissed with a faint chuckle that trailed off into the night.  Their eyes locked.

‘Emerald Widow’ by Anthony Armstrong

     Milky white with a hint of green, the drink burned on its way down.  ‘The louche,’ he had called it.  That change of color as the water dripped through the slotted spoon, dissolved the sugar cube, and trickled into the liquor below.  Ridiculous, pompous bullshit, she thought.  And the taste?  Like stale black licorice if it had been stored in a shoe.  But she drank it.  Them.  She drank them.  This was something new he was into since the split and he was anxious to share it.  After the first one, the numbness in her lips wouldn’t allow her to say no when he offered her another.  The tightness in her shoulders made each glass heavier than the last.  The absinthe poured neon green again, like anti-freeze, until the louche shoved it spermier down the color spectrum.  The liquor made her esophagus want to slam shut but the doors to her imagination were kicked through, crashing into the dust of her brainpan, so she dealt with it.

     Dinner had been pleasant.  Nothing much was discussed, as the doctor requested.  These dates were strictly to get to know one another again.  Money issues, child-rearing stress, disagreements…all meant for another time.  “Think back to what made you fall in love and try to recapture that.  Let your stress wait.”  They had been married for just shy of twenty years, and dating now for three months.  What kind of backwards-ass nonsense was that?  She shut her eyes and leaned back.  Let her shoulders drop.  Let her glass grow thick with condensation on the table in front of her.  She didn’t need to be wooed again.  He managed it once, got her to open her legs and eventually her heart to him all those years ago.  Now, he really thought repeating those adolescent fumblings could win her back?  She was a sophisticated goddamn woman now.  An artist.  At most, she would enjoy the attention, take the compliments and the gifts, the free meals.  Can’t blame the man for trying.

     In the months since their separation, she found that painting was the only thing that brought her peace.  The sweet-rot, plasticy smell of the pigments on her palette and the roughness of the canvas under her brush brought her more satisfaction than the years of marriage they stumbled through.  Funny how she used to think happiness depended on the attention of another person…until that person turned into a fucking asshole, and then the truth became clear.  All she needed was a brush and an idea and the whole world made sense again.  Take this current piece, for example.  She cracked one eye open and cast a quizzical side-glance at it.  The colors were more muted than what she was accustomed to, but this was also the first time she attempted a mural on her dining room wall.  Fine grit sandpaper had taken the shiny finish off the white latex paint and left her with an orgasmically satisfying chunk of real estate to fill with her creativity, even if it reacted differently to her paints than a freshly gessoed canvas.

     Both eyes open, now.  Body turned to really take in the progress she was making.  Her head swam, but she wasn’t sure if it was the absinthe, or the image she was creating.  She stood, slipped the fan brush off the table.  The painting was of a trail that cut through a stand of trees, and in the dirt of the trail lay two severed arms; right one male, left one female.  The hands remained clasped.  The female hand had a ring on the third finger.  That fucking endless circle.  That false promise of eternity.  Yet here the two hands were: one foolishly, hopelessly, clinging to the other. 

     As she took in the work she’d done so far, two things bothered her.  The first was the fact that the greens in the grass edging the trail seemed too dark.  A quick pour of absinthe, a dip of the fan brush and a flicking motion of her wrist took care of that.  The flat, porous surface of the freshly sanded paint absorbed the liquor as it rolled off the brush and gave her grass the yellowy-green highlight it needed.  The second thing bothering her was the severed ends of the lovers’ arms.  She had made every attempt to make it realistic without being overly graphic, but the result was just so-so.  She needed time to think.  Ponder.  Let the painting fairies flit over it and get back to her with an answer.  Where did that fucking bottle go?

     Leaning against the sink, eating clumps of the cold pasta he had made for her, she continued to sip absinthe.  She’d stopped bothering with the stupid sugar cube and the cold water long ago…how long ago?  All she knew was the taste had gone from shoey black licorice to cough syrup on steroids with the omission of the sugar and water.  At this point, though…what was she saying?  Those arms.  The fucking arms and the grass.  I got the grass handled, she thought.  Cooed at her glass of anti-freeze and slurped some of it down.  Then she had an epiphany.  Who gives a fuck if the painting is too graphic?  It was two severed-ass arms in the dirt!  It had to have some gore.  Some grit.  Some blood.  And it was her goddamn wall, anyway.  Don’t like it?  Don’t look at it.  She stumbled her way back into the dining room to finish the mural.

     Picking up the filbert brush, she…wait.  The angular brush would be better.  She swapped the two, and as she thumbed her way through the offal that lay spread across the dining room table, she knew the angular brush was the right choice.  Dip, dip, dip into the red and she transferred the blood from the open cavity of his body onto the wall where she formed a small pool around the end of each severed arm, rivulets tracking towards the floor.  She hadn’t thought of doing that…the sanguine fluid decided that shit on its own.  But she liked it.  The finishing touch would be a bit of gore…a bit of texture right at the end of each arm.  Hands flipping through organs, looking for one she could pulp easily.  One that would spread nicely, leaving a thick, bumpy texture she hoped would give her mural a touch of realism.  She stopped.  His heart, still warm, lay in her palm.  Twenty years ago, she’d accepted this as a gift, but now she chuckled as she tossed it aside and kept searching. 

His heart, abandoned, tumbled back into his open rib cage to cool and harden. 

Flash Fiction challenge from http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/