The Serial Killer’s Wife is finally available as an audiobook, narrated by the very awesome and talented Tanya Eby. You can grab it on Audible (iTunes forthcoming). For now, check out chapter 1 below.
After much consideration and counsel with close friends — one of whom is Ben White, the editor of Nanoism — I now present to you the top 20 finalists of this year’s Hint Fiction Contest.
It’s always tough narrowing down the best stories, and several stories came extremely close to making the final cut. In fact, I could have easily included a top 30. But a top 20 is much more reasonable, especially as I’m now going to open it up to you to vote for your favorites. Out of the 20 stories here, you can pick up to 3 stories. Tell your friends, family, whoever! Every vote counts.
Voting will remain open until the end of the month. Then the top 10 will be sent to Benjamin Percy to pick the winners. The poll box can be found at the bottom of this post (note: for some reason the poll box was not compatible with my current theme, so this rather boring layout is only temporary).
Now here are the top 20 Hint Fiction stories, in no particular order:
EDIT: The stories have been deleted.
What does Harlan Coben, Hugh Howey, and I have in common? We’ll be at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference this summer in New York City (though, admittedly, many more people will be attending to see those two dudes … okay, basically everyone will be attending to see those two dudes). The dates are August 1 – 3, at the Roosevelt Hotel. I’m on two panels — Expanding Your Brand with Co-Writers, with my Refuge co-authors Jeremy Robinson and Kane Gilmour, as well as Sean Ellis, and Getting Real about Self-Publishing, with Jeremy and Kane, as well as Judith Gille and Ember Reichgott Junge. You can see the rest of the schedule here. Hope to see some of you there!
To celebrate Mother’s Day (I guess?), Two Shot, which contains both The Serial Killer’s Wife and No Shelter, is currently $2.99 for the next couple of days. That’s over 50% off its regular price of $6.99, and if you take into account the fact both The Serial Killer’s Wife and No Shelter retail at $4.99 each, it’s a huge savings! Grab it on Kindle or Nook before it’s too late.
Chapter 6 of Bullet Rain. The whole thing should be out very soon.
* * *
Nova saw the punch coming. After all, he had been expecting it, had been baiting it, and would have been greatly disappointed had it not come.
The guy was right-handed and put everything he had into the punch.
Nova ducked it easily enough, the guy’s fist inches from his face, and immediately stepped in and kneed the guy in the balls. As the guy bent forward, Nova grabbed his hair and smashed his head against the bar top.
By then the guy’s two friends were already coming at Nova, and Nova turned to meet them, squaring his shoulders, deciding which one to take out first. One had a goatee and a nose which had clearly been broken many times, while the other had a shaved head and a tattoos on his arms.
Nova figured Tattoo was the weaker of the two, so as they hurried forward, he stepped toward Goatee.
Goatee feinted a left cross but ended with a right hook instead. It caught Nova off guard, despite the fact he had used a similar ploy countless times in the past. Goatee’s fist connected with Nova’s jaw, then immediately Goatee went for Nova’s solar plexus, hammering it hard.
Nova stepped back, blocked the next blow, leaned in and used his elbow against Goatee’s throat. As the man started to go down, Tattoo kicked Nova in the back of the knee. Nova started to stumble, managed to stay on his feet, but by the time he turned Tattoo was there with a quick one-two punch at Nova’s face.
Nova stumbled back into a table. Tattoo came at him again, and Nova deflected the next several punches before managing to get in a right hook. It sent Tattoo flying back into another table, tipping it over and sending several beer bottles crashing to the floor.
Other patrons in the bar had risen to their feet, but none looked ready to step in just yet, waiting to see how this played out. From the speakers a country singer sang about his dog and his pickup truck and some girl named Marlene.
Nova turned back to check on the first guy when another punch came directly at his head. He turned his face at the last instant, enough so that the fist didn’t shatter his nose, but still blood blossomed everywhere. Nova turned back, meaning to charge the guy, when suddenly he was grabbed from behind in a sleeper hold.
This had to be Goatee. Nova was faintly aware of the scars on the arms holding him in place. He didn’t even bother fighting the hold, knowing that would only waste his energy. The arm on his throat tightened, and Nova steeled himself, ready for what came next.
Which, as it turned out, was the first guy, his head bleeding, walking right up to him.
“Told you I’d rearrange your face, didn’t I?”
The guy never had a chance. As he raised his fist, Nova leaned back into Goatee and lifted his feet and kicked straight out. His shoes connected with the guy’s chest, toppling him over, just as gravity sent Nova and Goatee crashing into another table.
More beer sloshing the ground, more bottles shattering, a faint sense of glass pebbles biting into his arm. As Goatee struggled to his feet, Nova stayed where he was on the dirty floor, just waiting until Goatee stood up fully and turned to him, and then Nova kicked Goatee straight on his shin.
The desired effect was nearly nauseating—the bone snapping, Goatee crying out as he hit the floor—and Nova was back on his feet just as Tattoo charged at him. Nova gave it a second, waiting for the guy, and he used the guy’s momentum to grab him and throw him into another table.
He heard a shoe crunch something behind him and immediately ducked another blow, then reached out and grabbed the first guy’s throat and swept his legs out from under him, throwing him to the ground, the back of the guy’s head bouncing off the dirty floor.
“I told you,” Nova said, “nobody likes an asshole,” and he raised his fist to smash the guy’s face when suddenly a gunshot went off.
All at once everything went still. The country music kept going, but everyone else had stopped moving—had even stopped breathing—for the second or two it took to focus their attention on the door and the old man in a brown police uniform and his sidearm aimed at the ceiling.
“What the hell is going on in here?” he said.
Gay Degani is the founder of Every Day Fiction‘s Flash Fiction Chronicles, which published my essay “Hint Fiction: When Flash Fiction Becomes Just Too Flashy,” which then spawned the whole Hint Fiction craze, so I owe Gay a lot. Her first novel, What Came Before, is out now from Every Day Novels, which is currently posting a free chapter a day (though the hardcover is now available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble). Gay took some time to talk to me about the novel and the writing process. Check it out!
A day late, I know, but here’s chapter 5 of Bullet Rain, which should hopefully be out in another week or two.
* * *
It was another hour before the girl came into the bar.
Nova pegged her as the driver of the VW Rabbit at once. She just didn’t have the look of a local. The men and women here, their skin was baked brown by the sun, but this girl was pale, brunette, and looked like she had just stepped out of a college classroom. Even her clothes were incongruous with the rest of the place—jeans and a polo shirt, yes, but they were clean and bright, not faded and worn like the clothes of everyone else in the bar. The only thing that was faded and worn was the Detroit Tigers baseball cap fastened on her head.
She looked around the room for a long moment, as if deciding where to sit, before heading straight for the bar. She took a seat several bar stools away from Nova, who was working on his fourth beer.
He had asked the bartender if there was any food, and she slid a bowl of pretzels in front of him, but the pretzels looked as appealing as a make-out session with the bartender, so he just kept drinking. It took a lot to get Nova drunk, but these four beers had given him a nice buzz. Really, he should have just paid his tab and headed for the motel, picked a room and stripped the bed to make sure there were no creepy crawlies waiting for him under the covers, and then closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
And he was going to do that right after he was done with this beer, but then the girl came in—the girl who clearly didn’t belong—and Nova decided to wait. He had immediately sensed a shift in the atmosphere the moment she stepped inside. It hadn’t been anything overly apparent—the country music hadn’t abruptly stopped—but he had noticed the shifting eyes, the leaned-in whispers.
Nova didn’t like it, so he decided to wait.
He didn’t have to wait long.
The girl had barely ordered a beer before one of the men approached her. He was one of the trio who had been guffawing earlier. Nova watched him as he rose from the booth, hitched his pants, grinned at his friends, grabbed the empty pitcher on the table, then slowly made his way to the bar, wagging his butt drunkenly while his two friends were busting up laughing. The guy made it to the bar, which so far was only occupied by Nova and the girl, and he leaned in right beside the girl, holding a finger up for the bartender’s attention.
The bartender took the empty pitcher and placed it under the tap, all the while smoking her cigarette.
Even over the music, Nova could hear the guy ask the girl her name.
The girl, clearly uneasy, forced a smile at him. “Hi.”
The guy laughed. “Your name’s Hi? Well, shit, I never heard that name before. Hi, Hi.” The guy grinned back at his friends, then leaned in closer. “So, Hi, you like fruit?”
The girl took a sip of her beer but said nothing.
“Apples, oranges, bananas?” When the girl still didn’t answer, the guy said, “What about cherries? You like cherries, Hi?”
The girl was doing her best to ignore the guy, but that just fueled the fire. The guy grinned back at his friends again, trying not to laugh, before he continued.
“You like the way cherries taste, Hi? I love the way they taste. I love popping them in my mouth every chance I get. Do you like popping cherries, Hi?”
Nova groaned inwardly. It wasn’t the guy’s asinine one-sided conversation—though, truthfully, it was pretty bad—but the fact that Nova couldn’t force himself to sit by passively any further while this girl got harassed.
He pushed away from his bar stool with enough force so the legs screeched across the floor, and started to make his way down the length of the bar.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “I think you should take your pitcher and go back to your table.”
The bartender, who had already filled the pitcher and placed it on the bar top, took one last drag of her cigarette before she slowly backed away.
The guy tilted his face toward Nova, studied him for a beat, then snorted. “Get lost, asshole.”
Nova took a deep breath as he settled himself down onto the stool beside the guy. “See, with that type of disrespectful attitude, it’s no wonder the lady doesn’t want to talk to you.”
The guy had turned away from Nova, but now he turned back, slowly, as if somehow the slowness with which he turned would increase his intimidation factor.
“The fuck did you just say?”
“Your disrespectful attitude,” Nova said. “Believe it or not, women aren’t attracted to assholes such as yourself. They might like the bad boy, but a bad boy doesn’t also mean asshole. See, there’s a difference.”
Now the man was turned completely in Nova’s direction. The distance between them was only a couple feet. If the guy wanted to throw the first punch, or even the first kick, he would have more than enough room to strike. Assuming, of course, Nova just sat there and let it happen. Which Nova did not intend to do. Not here. Not anywhere. His whole plan had been to draw attention away from the girl, place it on him, but now that he was close to the man, saw just how tall and built the guy was, he realized he might have overplayed his hand. Nova was quite skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and there had been times when he had to fight several men at once, but a gut feeling he’d had the moment he stepped into this bar suddenly confirmed itself, and Nova knew he was outmatched. But that didn’t mean he was going to back down.
“Asshole,” the guy said, his face turning red, the cords on the sides of his neck sticking out, “you better do yourself a favor and get the fuck out of this bar before I rearrange your face.”
Nova held the guy’s stare for a beat, just long enough to sense that everyone else in the bar was now watching them. From the corner of his eye he saw that the guy’s friends were preparing to join in.
Which meant that, when the guy’s two friends joined the fun, it would be three against one. As long as the rest of the bar didn’t get into the mix, too.
“Rearrange my face?” Nova smiled, shaking his head. “That threat is about as scary as your breath. Which, I should add, smells like ass. Say, between your two friends over there, whose ass tastes better?”
And the guy’s friends were already on their feet by the time the guy threw the first punch.
The open submission period to Hint Fiction Contest IV has ended and now the waiting begins. I hope to start going through the stories in the next several days, and if all goes well, a top 20 will be announced in another week or two.
For the next several days my latest novel Legion is available on Kindle for just 99 cents.
It’s also now available in paperback. If you pre-ordered signed copies, you should have received yours by now. If they haven’t arrived yet, shoot me an email.
And until the end of the month, you can enter to win one of two free copies of Legion from Goodreads.
* * *
Outside the bar were parked three pickup trucks, two beaters, three motorcycles. Judging by the number of vehicles, he assumed there might be a dozen patrons inside at the most, but when he walked through the door he found double that amount, mostly men but a few women, too, sitting at tables and booths. None of them occupied the bar, where Nova headed through a fog of cigarette smoke and country music, instinctively veering toward the corner of the bar, so he could view the room with his back up against the wall.
The bartender was an older woman who had seen better days. She wore too much makeup and her hair had been bleached down to the roots. She barely acknowledged Nova at first, standing behind the bar, puffing on a cigarette, staring into space.
Finally Nova said, “Can I get a drink?”
She blinked and studied him for a long moment, before crushing her cigarette out in an ashtray sprouting used butts. She waltzed over, taking her time, still staring off into space like she would rather be anywhere else but here.
“What kind of beer?”
“I don’t care. Just as long as it’s cold.”
She pursed her lips, studying him again, before silently grabbing a glass and filling it from one of the taps set up along the bar. Despite the Budweiser and Miller Lite neon signs buzzing in the windows, none of the taps were labeled, so Nova figured it would be a crapshoot to see what he ended up with.
The beer, when she set it down in front of him, had too much head, and the foam overflowed along the sides of the glass.
“Thanks,” Nova said. “You got a napkin, too?”
She ignored him. “You want to start a tab?”
The woman started to walk away, probably to grab another cigarette, when Nova said, “Who runs the motel?”
She gave him an irritated look. “What’s that?”
“The motel. I’m looking for a room.”
“Oh yeah?” She turned to him fully, lighting herself another cigarette. “And why’s that?”
“My car broke down a couple miles from here. This time of night, I’m guessing I won’t get a hold of a mechanic until morning, so I figured I might as well get a room.”
The woman seemed to think about this for a moment before nodding. “You want a room? I can give you a room.”
“You manage the motel?”
“The motel, the diner, this bar—I manage it all. One night’s stay will cost you eighty bucks.”
“Seems pretty steep considering you have six rooms and only one of those is currently being used.”
Her eyebrow lifted. “You trying to haggle with me? Because I don’t have to rent you a room at all.”
“Eighty’s fine. Where can I get a key?”
“The keys are already inside the rooms, right on top of the pillows. But don’t expect to find any mechanic in the morning.”
“There ain’t any. At least there ain’t any around here. The closest mechanic shop is in Townsend, the next town over, and that’s at least twelve miles. They’ll send someone out, but it might take most of the day.”
This wasn’t the news Nova wanted to hear, but he wasn’t surprised. He had passed through some towns just as small as this in the past two days, towns that barely deserved a dot on the map, so he couldn’t complain. At least he had a place to lay his head down, even though he was beginning to think the sheets might not have been washed in a while.
Laughter exploded at a booth off in the corner, a trio of beefy men pounding the tabletop.
The bartender started to drift away again, and Nova said to her, “Small town, huh?”
She sighed, turning back to him. “You seen any smaller?”
Nova shrugged and took a sip of the beer. He had expected something watered down, but it wasn’t. It was surprisingly good. He held the glass up and squinted at the amber liquid.
“What kind of beer is this?”
“Good beer,” the bartender said. “Any other questions?”
“What’s the name of this town anyway? I didn’t see any signs on the way in.”
The bartender flashed nicotine-stained teeth. “Honey, welcome to Parrot Spur.”