New Release Wednesday: Grindhouse by Elle Chambers

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Warning: This triple feature contains graphic violence, strong language, sexual content, and extreme bloodshed. This is not for the mild-mannered. If you have any emotional triggers that can cause severe mental disturbance – Grindhouse is not for you. All others – read at your own risk. You’ve been warned.

Grindhouse is a short story collection featuring three disturbing tales:

“Little Girl, I Want To Murder You”: A young paralegal, on the way to the interview of her life, takes the cab ride from hell.

“Deviltown”: A pre-op trans hooker, looking to perform her last great trick, is in for a treat when she goes home with a stranger.

and “The Beautiful People”: High school is hell for awkward teenage girls. And payback is a bitch for the ones who’ve done wrong.

Get your copy on Smashwords today.

ETA: Grindhouse is now $0.99 on Amazon!

Cover Reveal and Excerpt from Grindhouse by Elle Chambers

This is it – Grindhouse, a short story collection of pulp and horror fiction by Elle Chambers, will be released December 31, 2014.

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Here is an excerpt from the short story “Little Girl, I Want To Murder You:”

Marissa Pope was having a bad fucking week. Scratch that: she was having a bad fucking year.

It started in February when Danny broke up with her. The little shit waited until the week before Valentine’s Day to break off their three year engagement saying he “still needed to find himself” and he wasn’t one hundred percent sure marriage was for him. She’d been crushed. Then Marissa found out that for a year-and-a-half the asshole had “found himself” sleeping with some girl at his office-then she’d been pissed.

Come June, she’d lost her job at Johnson, Culpepper, and Kline due to budget cuts. She’d been a paralegal there for four years, but as she was the last one in the door, she was the first one out when the firm’s finances took a turn for the worse. Her boss told her he’d give her a glowing recommendation and assured her she had nothing to worry about: she was bright, a fast learner, and was great at her job. She’d find another opportunity in no time.

He was wrong. She’d done the query-go-round thing for months with very few bites, and the interviews she had managed to get resulted in someone else walking away with the position.

Her parents, trying to be supportive, encouraged her to go back to school for something else. She couldn’t. She’d already taken on as much debt as she could afford getting her Bachelors in Political Science and then a paralegal certificate. If she took on anything more, she’d find herself living in a cardboard box behind The Golden Dragon, sifting through the trash cans for leftover fish heads for dinner. Her parents told her she could always give up her swanky apartment in the city and come home to live with them, “Just until you get back on your feet,” they’d said. Again, Marissa couldn’t, no wouldn’t, do that. She was twenty-eight for Chrissakes and none of her peers were still living at home any longer-what would she look like if she came crawling back to Forest Park with her tail in between her legs?

A failure, that’s what. She’d look like a total and complete fucking loser. And, to be clear, that’s exactly what she felt like. She’d lost her fiance, lost her job, and now the little bit of savings she’d had had dwindled on student loan payments, food, and shelter to the point where she was almost in the negative numbers. She needed money fast. Then, to add on to the parade of pain she’d been marching in all year, Marissa came home in September to a nice letter from her landlord stating that if she failed to pay her rent on time one more time, she’d be asked to evacuate the premises and never come back. He was running a business, not a soup kitchen, and while he felt for her current predicament, there were other people interested in living in her apartment who could afford to be there so his charitable endeavor of letting her pay her rent whenever she was good for it was about to come to an end.

That’s when Marissa swallowed her pride and went down to the StaffRight Agency and begged for a job, any job. Her staffing coordinator, a girl fresh out of college with a metallic grill and acne scars around her forehead, enthusiastically took down her information, parsed over her resume and cover letter, then told her she’d call if she found anything she felt Marissa was suited for.

It was a blow to her ego, the fact that some early twenties kid was going to decide what jobs Marissa was good enough for, when this was probably the girl’s first adult job herself. How the fuck was she qualified to judge anything, least of all someone’s professional skills and abilities?

The agent, Christy, turned out to be halfway decent. She’d gotten Marissa a temp job in another firm making almost as much as she was making at Johnson, Culpepper, and Kline. When her contract was up, however, the firm declined to hire her on full-time, instead choosing to go back to StaffRight for another temp to fill the position.

Marissa was livid, but there was nothing she could do. Christy, like her former boss, told her to buck up: she’d find Marissa something else in the temp-to-hire market shortly and in the meantime, Marissa should reach out to her school’s alumni association for any leads on companies looking to hire.

She took Christy’s advice and got in touch with Kelvin Phillips, the director of her university’s alumni association, and asked him if he had any leads. Kelvin told her his office was hiring and he could get her a job, no problem – if she’d be willing to blow him for it.

She passed on that opportunity. She was desperate, but not enough to resort to prostitution. At least not yet. She’d started watching reruns of Secret Diary of a Call Girl on Showtime and seeing the extravagant shopping excursions the title character frequently went on, not to mention her nicely decorated digs, made hooking seem slightly more appealing to Marissa. She’d keep the option in her back pocket in case shit got really dire.

Christy called her early in the week and told Marissa she had a couple of prospects lined up for her-was she ready to do the rounds again? Of course she was. Her empty bank account didn’t give her much of a choice. She got her best interview attire together and began pounding the pavement at Christy’s direction.

The first interview that week was a disaster. She’d missed the early train and had to take a later one, making her a half-hour late to her interview. Then, when she got in to speak to the HR rep handling the initial interviews, she’d stumbled over her words, called the woman by the wrong name, and even managed to forget the position for which she was applying. The HR rep had given her a tight smile and ushered her out the door with the dreaded words, “We’ll be in touch”-the kiss of death. The words that meant, “You’re so not getting this job, you incompetent little twit. Don’t contact us again.”

Two more Christy-sanctioned interviews ended up quite similarly, with Marissa looking and feeling like a fool.

She was having the week from hell.

Then, yesterday afternoon Christy called. She told Marissa she’d set up an interview for her with Goldman, Anderson, and Associates, a mid-size, but well-respected family law practice for the next afternoon. The firm paid well from everything Christy’d heard about it, they had none of the financial problems the previous firms Marissa’d worked for had, and they were interested in a long term temp-to-hire arrangement, which the firm usually made good on its promise to hire anyone who worked hard and maintained a positive attitude.

When Marissa got up in the morning to start her day, she told herself she’d forget about the bad week she’d had and stay positive. Goldman wanted to see a smiling, happy employee and that’s what she was going to give them. It didn’t matter that when she went into her kitchen to make a pot of coffee (her brain food), she’d spilled the bag of ground beans on the floor and had to sweep them up by hand (her vacuum broke weeks ago and she couldn’t afford a new one)or that she’d sloshed Listerine on her silk blouse and couldn’t get the spot to go away even after hand washing the shirt and blasting it with her hairdryer, causing her to have to change into a totally different outfit, one she’d already worn that week to one of her trainwreck interviews-she told herself she’d ignore all of this and keep the fake, Barbie-esque smile on her face during the day so by the time she got to her interview, it would seem less forced and more natural.

She was scared shitless. There was a lot of pressure on her. If she didn’t get this job, she’d have no choice but to give up her apartment and move back in with her folks and younger brothers. She had no desire to have to go back to checking in with her parents before she went out at night or trying to sneak men into her bedroom through the window like she did the boys in high school. She wasn’t a child and having to go back to being one, even if only for a few months, made her want to cry. She was supposed to be further along than this in her life. She couldn’t go to her ten year high school reunion with no job, no place of her own, and no diamond on her finger. She wouldn’t be able to look all the girls she’d been friends with in the face knowing how wonderful their lives had turned out while hers had skidded off the rails. They’d pity her, and she wasn’t ready for that.

Marissa checked her Tiffany watch and cursed-she was ten minutes behind schedule. She couldn’t risk waiting for a bus or a train to take her ten miles out of the city to the Goldman offices so she’d have to go find a cab. Living in the city had its drawbacks, and not having space for parking was one of them. If she had her own car, she wouldn’t have to worry about things like this, but she didn’t so she’d have to get a move on if she didn’t want to be too late to her interview. She grabbed her purse and keys, threw on her smart red peacoat, and hauled ass out the door.

She spotted a lone cab sitting across the street from her building and sighed. Marissa thanked the lord for this fortuitous happening and hurried over to the yellow taxi before someone else snatched it up.

“Where you going?” the man in the front seat asked as she slid in the backseat. His accent was thick with the Middle East and this gave Marissa pause.

She forced a smile anyway and told herself it was just pre-interview jitters causing the unease.

“358 Burlington Road. Do you know where that is, ‘cause I have the MapQuest directions in my bag if you need them.”

The man glanced up at her in the rearview mirror. His chocolate brown eyes were lidded and a glint of something Marissa couldn’t quite read flitted across his face.

“I don’t need directions,” the man said, dropping his gaze back to the street before him. “I’ve been all over this city. I know it like I know myself.”

“Well, it’s not in the city. It’s outside of—”

“I said I know where it is,” he interrupted. His voice was hard and Marissa felt bad for causing him offense.

“Okay. Thank you.”

There was an awkward silence as he started the cab and pulled away from the curb. Marissa’s stomach fluttered and her hands shook in her lap. She hoped the man would drive fast so she wouldn’t start this interview on the wrong foot by showing up late. You could overcome a lot during an interview, but rudeness wasn’t something most hiring managers were willing to overlook when vetting potential job candidates.

Marissa felt strange, as if someone was watching her, and she looked up. The cabbie was staring in the rearview mirror. His gaze was fixed and intense; he looked as if he was trying to piece together a puzzle of some sort.

“Are you from around here?” she asked, trying to make conversation. The silence was stifling and the man’s fixation on her was kind of unsettling.

He turned his eyes back to the road, swerving into another lane. “No.”

She waited for him to elaborate, to tell her where he was from as most cabbies were wont to do when you asked them about themselves, but nothing further was said. She cleared her throat.

“I’m not from here either. My family’s from outside of town. We’re originally from Seattle though.”

She always did this-talked too much, overshared-when she was nervous. She wrung her hands together and smiled.

“How long have you been driving cabs?”

The man eased into another lane to avoid traffic in the heart of the city and stopped at a red light. “A few years.”

“Oh, okay. And do you like it?”

He shrugged and adjusted the rearview mirror so as to better see her. “It’s okay. I meet some interesting people.”

She could imagine. She’d watched enough Taxi Cab Confessions on HBO to know that people said some crazy shit in the backs of these cabs, as if the drivers were their personal therapists or a priest they could tell their dirty little secrets to and be absolved with a few Hail Marys at the end of the night. She wasn’t about to get all confessional herself, but she had to admit that talking to this perfect stranger was at least keeping her mind off the fear she felt about this upcoming interview, so it couldn’t be all that bad.

She just wished he wouldn’t look at her the way he did. Marissa bristled slightly under the man’s penetrating gaze. He was staring at her again from time to time, his face blank and unreadable. She wondered what he was thinking-was her hair bad? Did she have something on her face? Why did he appear to be fascinated by her? She couldn’t be the first blonde white woman he’d ever seen. Women like her were a dime a dozen in this city, or any city really. His attention was a tad unnerving.

Marissa tried to make more polite conversation, but the cab driver only gave short, noncommittal responses so she dropped it. He obviously wasn’t one of those gregarious types who wanted to know every detail about his passenger’s life-she supposed she should be grateful for that. He’d wind up asking where she was headed and she’d tell him about the job interview, then probably spill about her entire wreck of a year and that would make her more anxious about the interview. It was a vicious cycle she didn’t want to engage in so she remained quiet.

Instead, she turned her attention to the scene outside her window. She watched as they sped along the city streets, passing by cold, steel skyscrapers and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to boosted designer handbags. She saw the women in tailored dresses walking to work in worn sneakers that didn’t quite match their outfits, carrying their briefcases in one hand and a pair of heels in the other, and desperately wanted to be one of them again. She eyed the men strolling along in power suits toting large travel mugs while chatting to nameless strangers on their cell phones and wondered if any of them worked for a company that was hiring, just in case things didn’t work out with Goldman, Anderson, and Associates.

Then they were on the highway, sandwiched between two lanes of cars all headed out of the congested city and into the neighboring suburbs. Marissa wondered where they were going. She leaned her head against the glass window and closed her eyes for a moment, imagining herself making this commute every morning to Goldman’s offices-the power of positive thoughts and all. It was a nice picture, though she told herself that at some point, it would get crazy expensive to take cabs to and from work every day-eventually she’d have to give up her fabulous city apartment and move someplace she could keep a car. She’d planned to do that anyway once she was married, she didn’t want to raise babies in the city, but then that jackass Danny had broken their engagement and ruined her Ten Year Plan so she’d scratched that dream off the list.

The ride became bumpy and Marissa opened her eyes. She stared out the window and frowned. Trees were zipping by the window and the long stretch of cars she’d seen beside her on the highway were gone. They were traveling a dirt road and there were no signs along the street. She sat up.

“Did we take the right exit?” she asked, glancing out of the other window. She’d never been to the area where Goldman, Anderson, and Associates were located, but she had put the address in MapQuest and she didn’t recall seeing anything about dirt roads or woods nearby.

The cab driver glanced up at her and met her eyes in the rearview mirror. His face was impassive as he nodded.

“We did.”

Marissa frowned. She reached into her purse and pulled out the sheet of directions. “I don’t know. From this, it seems like we should still be on the highway. It says we have to pass the Vine Street off-ramp that goes into that tunnel thing and I don’t remember seeing a tunnel.”

The man didn’t look back at her. “Your eyes were closed. We passed it.”

His voice was calm, unemotional. Marissa’s brow furrowed as she looked around her surroundings.

“Are you sure? Because this says—”

“Ma’am,” the man interrupted, his accent now thick with annoyance and impatience, “please be quiet. I took the exit that’s gonna get us to our destination quicker. I’m saving you time and money.”

Marissa balked. Did this guy really just tell her to be quiet? And who told him to take another exit, and why had he lied when she asked him if he took the right one?

“Excuse me, but that was incredibly rude,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “You don’t talk to me that way. I asked you a simple question and all you had to say was that you knew a faster route, that’s all. The attitude isn’t necessary.”

The cab driver peered at her through the mirror and she thought she saw a small smile pull at the edges of his lips. “Apologies. I wasn’t trying to be rude.”

Marissa slumped back against her seat and calmed her breathing. She was angry, but the guy had apologized for his tone so what else was she going to do? She couldn’t go to her interview in a snit-she’d have to stop acting like a butt-hurt baby and get over it.

They drove in silence. Marissa felt his eyes probing her from time to time, but when she glanced in his direction, all she saw was her own gaze in the mirror. He’d focused back on the long stretch of road before them and softly hummed to himself.

Melissa glanced at her watch. The MapQuest directions said the ride should only take about thirty minutes from her apartment to the Goldman office, but they were now coming up on forty-five. She leaned forward and tapped the driver on his shoulder.

“Sir, how much longer is this ride going to be? You said this way was faster, but it seems to be taking much longer than the highway and I’m running late.”

The cab driver met her eyes in the mirror. This time she was sure she saw a smile crease his mouth.

“What’s your name?”

She paused. What did that have to do with anything? “Marissa, why?”

“Don’t worry, Marissa,” the cab driver said, smirking back at her. “We’re almost there.”

She glanced around the landscape and saw not a single building in sight. Her pulse quickened and a sinking feeling formed in the pit of her stomach. Something was wrong.

“Where are we?” she asked, gripping her purse strap at her shoulder. “There’s nothing out here. What road is this?”

“Do you like to fuck, Marissa?”

Her mouth fell open. She wasn’t sure she heard him correctly. She asked him to repeat himself.

The cab driver glanced at her with dark, lidded eyes, no sign of merriment or joking in his face. “I said, ‘Do you like to fuck, Marissa?’ Do you?”

Marissa’s cheeks burned with anger and her heart pounded in her ears. “What the hell is your problem? Who asks someone something like this?”

He ignored her biting questions and tilted his head to the side, his eyes fixed on the dirt road ahead.

“I think you do. You look like you enjoy all the positions, but doggy style’s your favorite, right?”

He didn’t give her time to answer; instead, he nodded to himself and smiled. “Yeah. You look like you like to be fucked like an animal. Like a little bitch in heat. What does your pussy smell like when it’s wet?”

“Jesus Christ, you fucking pervert!”

“I bet it smells like salt and whore musk.” The cab driver locked eyes with her and grinned a conspiratorial grin. “Are you a whore, Marissa?”

“Fuck you,” she spat, digging around in her purse. She glanced up at his dashboard, her eyes roaming the dark surface for his identifying information. “I’m reporting you to whoever the fuck overseas your cab company. Now pull the fuck over and let me out.”

The cab driver’s face returned to its impassive position. He continued driving, staring straight ahead at the road.

“Did you hear me, you dumb fuck?” Marissa grabbed hold of her phone and pulled it out of her bag. “I said pull the fuck over and let me out.”

His low humming resumed and Marissa sat stunned and unmoving for a moment. She hadn’t hallucinated the conversation-this man really had said what he said to her. But it seemed like something out of a dream, so unreal and unbelievable that she couldn’t really wrap her head around it. She’d never been so insulted in her life. Furthermore, he was acting as if he’d only asked her what the weather was like. He made no apologies for his crass inquiries, and he didn’t pull the car over at her request.

She would call the police. That’s what she’d do. She couldn’t find his cab information-not his name, not his car number, nothing-but if he heard her talking to the cops, Marissa was sure an apology would be forthcoming and she’d be let out like she asked. Sure, she was in the middle of nowhere and had no clue how she’d get back to the city, but she wasn’t going to spend another minute in this cab with this asshole.

Marissa punched in the number for emergencies and listened to the ring.

“Put the phone away.” His voice was low, almost a whisper. She almost hadn’t heard it.

Marissa glanced up to the rearview mirror and the driver stared back at her. His eyes appeared bottomless and his face was twisted up into something close to a snarl.

“I said, put the fucking phone away.”

Marissa’s hand tightened around the ringing phone. Before she knew what happened, she felt the cab swerve beneath her. Something hard cracked her across the face as her phone tumbled from her fingers onto the floor. He’d reached behind him and punched her. She realized it when she felt warm liquid spurt from her throbbing nose and gush down her lips.

“What the fuck?!”

The cab driver glowered at her and tightened his hands around the steering wheel. She noticed specks of red on his knuckles and wondered whether it was hers or his.

“I told you to put the phone away,” the man said, turning his attention back to the road. “We’re almost there.”

Good Eats: The Deluxe Edition FREE on Amazon 4/17-4/18/14

Attention all horror fans: Good Eats: The Deluxe Edition by Elle Chambers is free on Amazon starting April 17th and ending Friday the 18th. Don’t miss this sale!

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Good Eats: The Deluxe Edition is a 34,000 word novella that tells the story of the Crawford family in 1960s Louisiana.

The Haitian-Creole people, their religion, Vodoun, and the rumors of hoodoo rituals have brought esteemed cultural anthropologist Michael Crawford, his nine-year-old daughter Libby, and his Haitian-Creole nanny, Virgine Santiago, to the area. Michael’s a skeptic of the Vodoun faith and hoodoo in general—until the day his daughter is discovered lifeless at the bottom of a creek. Devastated and unable to let go, Michael makes a deal with the local bokor (sorcerer)—bring his daughter back and the bokor’s debts will be paid for life. Two days later, Libby returns. The question is: as what?

This edition also includes stories (“When Daddy Comes Home,” “Child’s Play,” “The Storyteller,” and “Old Flame”) from the Dark Tales series.

Before You Self Publish….

Research the indie market. Go on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Study the covers of the books in the genre you write in and take notes on font use, kerning, color, imagery, aspect ratio, and titles. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the cover well designed or does it look DIY? If it does look less the professional, what changes could be made to make it better? Does this cover make me want to read the blurb or sample pages? Why or why not? If you read the blurb, does the cover adequately convey what the book is about? Then do the same thing with the blurb. Read it and then ask yourself: Is the blurb compelling? Do I want to read more? Do I care about the story being presented? Why or why not? Also, take a look at the prices of these books so you can get a feel for what other indies are charging for similar products. You don’t want to lowball yourself, but you also don’t want to set the price so high that no one will buy it, either.

Once you’re done researching the indie market, research the traditional market. Go back to the aforementioned distributor’s websites and study the covers, blurbs, and prices of traditionally published books in your genre. Ask yourself: Can my cover sit next to these covers on a virtual bookshelf and be virtually unrecognizable as a self-published novel? Is my blurb as enticing as the ones written by a professional sales team or could it use some work? Is my price too high or can it be lowered and still compete with other reasonably priced ebooks?

You don’t have to know all of these things ahead of time, but it will save you some time in the long run if you’re aware of what’s out there and what the public is buying. Pay attention to keywords and metadata while you’re at it (this is something I’m still working on myself and trying to get right – maybe with the next book?).

Make a business plan. We’d all like to be overnight success stories, but for many of us, that won’t happen. So think about where you want to be in five to ten years and plan for that. Make a budget for each book and/or short story that you plan to publish and try to stick to that budget if you can. Then figure out what you would like to be making per hour as a writer (this will be different for everyone) and calculate how many books/short stories/nonfiction articles/whatever you need to write and sell to make that money. Figure out how much money you’ll spend each year (and again, this will vary depending on each individual’s production schedule) and how long you have to write to break even, and then turn a profit.

I also can’t stress enough: plan for emergencies. My planned production schedule for 2013 was cut down from three complete novels and some short stories to one novel  and short stories because I wound up getting slammed with medical bills for a then undiagnosed stomach issue (I’ve since discovered I have celiac disease and a lactose intolerance) – I couldn’t afford to buy three covers, pay for editing, etc. Things happen sometimes and you have to have a backup plan (and a cash cushion) for when they do. You don’t want to derail your momentum.

Build a readership. A blog isn’t enough. From my own experience, I can tell you that 90% of the people who read this site aren’t average readers – they’re writers. And while I appreciate the eyeballs, other writers aren’t likely to buy (and read) my book. Same thing with Twitter. Most of the people who follow the @indie_spirit account are writers. 99% of my daily feed are tweets from those writers hawking their own novels. How likely is it that any of those people are going to see similar tweets from me about my book or Elle’s micro fiction collections (she has another one due out at the end of the month) and go purchase them?

Not very. Writers need to go where the actual readers are. There are many places online that people can post their complete stories or works in progress like FictionPress or Wattpad. There are online magazines and anthologies looking for everything from flash fiction to serials. If you prefer to venture outside of the interwebs for an audience (or if you want to do it in conjunction with online writing), there are many reputable short story markets you can send your work to. Wait times vary as does pay – some publications pay up to $700 for an accepted piece, others don’t pay at all or they only pay in contributors copies, but writers license their work with these pubs anyway for the increased visibility. Whatever avenue best meshes with your long-term plans is the one you should take.

Blogs aren’t completely useless either. They can reach readers if the writer in question does more than self-promote 24/7. Releasing free fiction on your site is a good way to get a following started, posting excerpts from published novels, maybe even doing an exclusive serialization will make your blog an attractive destination for non-writing readers. Experiment – see what works best for you. The more eyes you can get on your work prior to self-pubbing your own books, the better your novels will do sales wise. Do you need to have ten thousand Twitter followers to get on a bestseller list or have decent sales? Not really, but it doesn’t hurt. People are creatures of habit and comfort – we tend to seek out things that are familiar to us. If we already know an author and like her work because said author posts free stories on her blog every week, we’re more likely to read something else she puts out later on and may even pay for it!

Finally, read more. And more importantly, read books in the genre you plan to write in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across writers who’ve said they either don’t read at all or they don’t read in the genre they’re writing in. My mind boggles every time I hear that. How in the world can you expect to understand narrative structure if you don’t read? And if you’re writing genre fiction that relies on tropes to work, if you don’t read the genre, how will you know what they are and whether you’re doing anything new or interesting with them? You don’t have to read five hundred books a year to be a writer, but you do have to read something. The more you read, the more ingrained in your brain the storytelling process will become and that will ultimately make your writing cleaner, clearer, and easier.

*Please note that all points above are opinions based off my own (admittedly brief) experience as a self-published author. Feel free to ignore the points you don’t agree with. Publishing is not one size fits all and there are certain things that will work wonders for one writer and fail horribly with another. Use your best judgment when seeking advice or help of any kind.*

Excerpt: Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers

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                 WHEN DADDY COMES HOME

 

Opal Brown spit-shined the forks for that evening’s supper. She buffed out all the water stains with a crisp linen napkin. Her silverware needed to sparkle; dinner would be special.

Daddy was home. He’d been off living with some hot-butt trollop for three months. It didn’t last. He’d called that morning asking to come by and “see the girls.” Opal had told him to come around six.

He didn’t know she would make his favorites: pork loin, fried okra, and biscuits. She’d wanted to surprise him. She would put out the special dinnerware, not the cracked and discolored dishes they’d been used to. He’d get the plates and bowls with the silver trim finish – nothing but the best for him, see. She’d even do her hair up all fancy; dab on a little perfume. Just the way he liked.

Opal dressed the girls in their matching Sunday best even though it was a Tuesday.

They’d said they wanted to go live with Daddy, their lips poked out, wounded to be left behind. Opal had stroked their cheeks and said, “He’ll come back. He always do.”

She sat the girls one on either side of the table. Daddy sat at one end and Opal sat opposite.

The smell of peppery-lemon zest with an undertone of seared fat dripping in juices enveloped the room. Opal inhaled the aroma, satisfied. Dinner was done.

She donned her favorite oven mitts; the ones Daddy had given her on her birthday with little frosted cakes along the top, and took out the meat. She set the baking pan in the middle of the small table.

“Mmm,” she said. “Don’t that smell good, y’all?”

The girls and their Daddy stared at one another.

Opal pulled out her chair. She turned on her husband and winked. “Aren’t you glad you came back to us? The house just wasn’t the same without you, was it girls?”

She reached out and grasped one of each of her girls’ hands. The girls’ free hands rested inside their father’s open palms.

Opal wriggled in her chair to get comfortable.

“Now. Let’s all say grace.”

She bowed her head and thanked the Lord heavenly father for the meal they were about to receive, for each of her girls, but most of all, for the return of their daddy. Without him, there was no telling what Opal might do.

She ended her prayer with an “Amen”, then went around serving the food. When finished, she took her place back at the head of the table.

“I don’t want to boast you know, but I think this may be the best dinner I done made yet,” Opal said.

She smiled at her family. Their hands remained joined, but unfeeling; their full plates of food untouched; their eyes glazed over and unseeing.

She’d done good.

Opal stabbed up a forkful of moist meat and popped it in her mouth. She grinned.

Daddy was home. Just like she said he’d be. And that’s where they’d all stay.

Forever.

Get the full collection of Dark Tales NOW via Amazon and Smashwords.