Salsa music changing the life of a weapons scientist, a 9-11 victim navigating the Bardo realm of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and a couple of accident investigators consummating their affair only when there is an airplane crash are the premises for some of these short stories.
Literary Fiction short stories
||4 publishers interested
Salsa music changing the life of a weapons scientist, a 9-11 victim navigating the realm of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, accident investigators consummating their affair only when there is an airplane crash, a description of where lost books go, geniuses driven crazy by a glimpse of ultimate reality, and a man who insults a martial arts master with the Japanese word for masturbation are the premises for some of the stories in this collection of literary fiction. An element of fantasy invades reality in some but all are innovative and tightly written. See the outline for more detail.
Disaster, My Love
Jack McNally of the Federal Aviation Administration consummates his affair with Grace from the National Transportation Safety Board only when they meet to investigate plane crashes.
Rideout’s Last Date
Steve Rideout wants to have sex one last time before prostate surgery leaves him impotent but Johanna won’t cooperate.
The Alchemist’s Grandson Changes His Name
Salsa music changes the direction of nuclear weapons scientist Herb Gordon’s life.
A stolen, Hindu statue gives an addict a second chance after he steals from a Cambodia gangster.
Chet Blackwell is about to test for his aikido black belt when he makes an unfortunate slip of the tongue.
The Storehouse of Consciousness
A description of the library that holds all the lost and unwritten books.
Art Franklin spends his life savings on a suborbital trip into space.
When the Live Sex Show Came to Grover’s Corners
Townspeople react when Chip Henderson rents his absent parents house to a couple performing live sex shows.
A stranger comes to Farley’s Gulch and offers a twenty-dollar gold piece to anyone who will let him stay in their home. But when he leaves, the host dies. Is it black magic? Only young Jake can find out.
El Presidente logs and mines the jungle when hunters do not bring back the jaguar pelt he desires. The jaguar has other ideas.
Faster Than the Speed of Love
Wendy Richards is about to commit suicide when the ghosts of Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams send her an inspiration.
After Stuart breaks up with Marina, she calls him to help an injured crow.
Crane inadvertently helps a sorceress take control of a group of zombies. To rescue his kidnapped girlfriend, he follows the sorceress to Colombia where she has a score to settle with narco guerillas.
What happens if your head is a funnel and you must feel any garbage people throw in?
First to Fall
Wounded by a fatal arrow, Kinnar hallucinates while waiting to die until a goddess intervenes.
Royce goes on a date with a strange woman the day before his mixed martial arts match.
After a failed drug heist, McCheese gets a job and a shady organization that guarantees security for criminal deals.
A 911 victim tries to understand what happened to him in the Bardo realm of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
The Problem Has Always Been People
To survive a plague, a man must put up with racist mentors.
An autistic boy visualizes breakthroughs in theoretical physics that scientists cannot.
An investigator tracks a member of a research team to the Hopi reservation to find out why the others committed suicide or went insane.
Young physicist Cameron Philips travels to secret space station where scientist test time travel with subatomic particles.
Deputy Norm Sleater must contend with interspecies cultural and sexual differences when he investigates the murder of a Neanderthal girl.
Two activists smuggle a suitcase that may contain a bomb on an airliner.
Unable to obtain the Substance D he needs to get back to his own time, Jack Danger plots the assassination of Soviet Ambassador Molotov. To intercept the airplane, Danger will need use the wings that can barely lift him off the ground.
Bank robbers get more than they bargained for when their hostages include a CIA assassin Springer Wellman.
I expect writers and graduates of creative writing programs to be most interested in my short story collection although I’ve tried to make the stories accessible. In my experience, writers contain an even balance between men and women. Although most of my peers are over 40, I’ve gotten good responses from millennials.
Jon Wesick’s face appears in photographs from physics labs, martial arts dojos, Zen centers, and cities all over the world. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland and has worked doing cyclotron experiments, communications, medical physics, and systems engineering. He’s studied aiki ju jutsu, aikido, karate, judo, and a little kendo. Martial arts and a fascination with the mind led him to meditation. He lived in Vancouver, Canada for three years during his postdoc and has traveled to five continents so far.
Jon hosts Southern California’s best ice cream parlor poetry reading and is a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He hopes that he’s passed on some of what he’s learned from his pursuits in the hundreds of poems and stories he’s published in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Metal Scratches, Pearl, Slipstream, Space and Time, Tales of the Talisman, and Zahir. The editors of Knot Magazine nominated his story “The Visitor” for a Pushcart Prize. His poem “Meditation Instruction” won the Editor’s Choice Award in the 2016 Spirit First Contest. Another poem “Bread and Circuses” won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists Contest. Jon is the author of the poetry collection Words of Power, Dances of Freedom as well as several novels.
I’m plugged in to the Southern California writing community, host a poetry reading, and am an editor of a local journal so I have 150 writers in contact list. I market my writing to 270 friends on Facebook and post every day. I also post daily on Twitter where my list of followers is growing. I have an author’s website, which I update weekly.
I’ve featured in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, and Edinburgh. I even placed in a poetry slam in Sydney, Australia. My poems and stories have appeared not only in America but internationally, as well.
My self-published novels have had mixed success. Aionios Books just released a science fiction novel of mine. With its more professional cover and layout, I expect improved sales. Short story collections may not sell as well as novels but they do sell. For a collection from a small publisher, sales of 500 to 2500 can be expected.
Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang, Tor, 2002 - collection of innovative SF. My collection includes more real-life stories.
Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link, Small Beer Press, 2005 - a brilliant collection of slipstream stories. My collection includes more real life stories and has a grittier flavor.
Emporium, Adam Johnson, Penguin, 2002 - another brilliant collection of slipstream stories.My collection includes more real life stories and has a grittier flavor.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, ZZ Packer, Silverhead Books, 2003 - literary fiction short story collection. My collection contains more fantastical elements.
Love and Hydrogen, Jim Shepard, Vintage Contemporaries, 2004 - innovative literary fiction short stories. My collection contains more fantastical elements and has a grittier flavor.
The smoldering remains of Heartland Airways Flight 869 littered Clyde Parish’s cornfield. Twisted aluminum, blackened sections of fuselage, and the remains of two jet engines had scattered over acres. Pictures of charred skulls, bits of floating rib, and a thighbone with meat attached would never make it onto the six o’clock news. Thirty minutes after takeoff, the Boeing 737 had plummeted from twenty thousand feet and had plowed into the rich Indiana soil at over five hundred miles per hour. The impact had sheered off the wings and ignited five thousand gallons of jet fuel that had consumed all sixty-three onboard.
Three years ago, before he’d seen the high school football player’s corpse in a red, letter jacket with white vinyl sleeves on a snowy Pennsylvania hillside, Jack McNally would have walked among the debris to question the National Transportation Safety Board investigators combing the wreckage. He’d seen dead bodies before, but the corpse’s flat, questioning stare had troubled him for months afterward. Today Jack stood at the road’s edge and looked at one of the airplane’s wheels. Its tire was still inflated. He wondered how it had come out of the fireball intact. Strange things happen when a plane crashes. At times, something fragile survives–like the music box he’d found when that Airbus went down in the Everglades. Jack had broken FAA rules by taking it home from the crash site. He’d given it to his daughter, Katy, as a good luck charm.
The stench of kerosene, burning insulation, and incinerated flesh recalled other crashes. He’d always associate those smells with a late-night phone call and leaving the comfort of Judith’s warm body for a red-eye flight to the latest tragedy. Jack slapped at a mosquito whining in his ear. He had to call Commissioner Nakamura at 10:00 with a status report.
Jack looked up the road past the cluster of firemen in dirty yellow slickers to where a garden of microwave dishes sprouted from retractable antennas on the backs of news vans. Grant Kessler, the NTSB lead, stood with his hands in his pockets and yammered to some red-haired airhead in a short skirt, who held a microphone to his face.
“He sure goes after the publicity. Doesn’t he?”
“It should be you up there, Grace. You always worked twice as hard as he did.” Jack turned to the woman, whose blonde hair hung in a thick plait over her navy-blue nylon jacket. “Sorry, I didn’t see you. How’ve you been?”
“Good. The doctors say I’m doing well. How are Judith and Katy?”
“Katy’s looking forward to starting NYU in the fall.” Jack glanced at his watch. “Listen, I’ve got to call Nakamura in a half hour. You have anything?”
“Voice recorder was damaged in the crash. We still might get something from the tape fragments, but it’ll take some time. Haven’t found the black box. I’d say it’ll take a few days before we know anything.”
“Why?” Grace crossed her arms. “What’s Nakamura saying?”
“The usual. He’s reluctant to ground the fleet but doesn’t want to look like he’s putting the public at risk either. Don’t worry about it. I’ll tell him you don’t know yet and let him figure out what to do.”
Grace straddled his torso and thrust her hips back and forth as if the force would chase away the day’s memories. The motel bed’s springs squeaked to the rhythm of her forceful motions. Instinctively Jack reached to cup her breasts. When his right hand brushed the thickened skin of her scar, he hesitated. She placed her warm hand over his and held it to her soft, injured flesh. The tickle in Jack’s groin grew into a shudder of release.
Grace arched her back. Her lips formed his name, “Jack,” without making a sound. She leaned forward to press her chest against his and touched her lips to his temple. After a few minutes, she got up and padded to the bathroom.
Jack pulled the thin blanket to his chin and looked at the glowing blue numerals on the alarm clock. He and Grace would have to be back at the crash site in three hours. He thought of returning to his room but knew he’d never sleep.
The toilet flushed. Grace opened the bathroom door, throwing a wedge of light on the darkened room’s carpet. She turned off the switch, returned to bed, and stretched out beside him. Jack held her like a life raft and fell asleep stroking her familiar curves. The alarm’s buzz woke him at 4:45.
“Guess I’d better get back to my room before our colleagues start roaming the halls.” Jack stepped into his pants. The plastic wand attached to the room key stuck out of his front pocket.
Grace walked him to the entryway.
“See you in an hour.” She kissed him and softly closed the door.
Jack stood for a moment and stared at the number on the door. Then he turned and walked down the blue-carpeted hall to the stairwell.
An hour later, eyes gritty from lack of sleep, Jack caught a ride to the crash site with one of the NTSB workers. The reporters had already moved on to the next headline. Only the investigators and a few state policemen in wide-brimmed hats remained. Jack spent the morning watching workers lay down a grid using GPS receivers and catalog debris before hauling it away. By noon he knew for certain he could contribute nothing. The investigation would plod at its methodical pace despite FAA’s desire for answers. He called Commissioner Nakamura.
“Get some photos of the starboard engine before we load it on the truck,” Grace said. She turned from the pale skinny man, scribbled on her notepad, and looked up when Jack approached.
“Looks like you’ve got everything under control,” Jack said. “I talked to Nakamura. He’s made his decision.”
“What’s he gonna do?”
“He’s grounding Heartland’s 737s but letting the others keep flying.”
“That’s a no-brainer.” Grace slipped the pen into her blouse pocket. “Heartland has the worst maintenance record in the industry. When do you fly out?”
“I’m on the next commuter to Indianapolis.”
“I’ll give you a ride to the airport.”
She led him to the rented tan Mercury Grand Marquis, slid behind the wheel, and reached across the seat to open the passenger door. Jack climbed in. Grace maneuvered the big boat-like car along the razor-straight country roads cut between the tall green corn stalks. Her canvas purse sat on the seat between them like an uneasy silence. To Jack, Grace looked self-contained, as if she only had to wait for everything she wanted to come to her. Jack kept his mouth shut. Any words he could say would only garble his complex feelings. He only nodded when Grace asked if he needed to return to the Best Western for his bag.
It took twenty minutes to get to the airport. They sat together on hard orange fiberglass chairs in the waiting room.
“You ever think of giving this up?” he asked. “Maybe get a job with McDonald Douglas or one of the airlines?”
“You wouldn’t be happy.” Grace touched his forearm. “We’re different than them, Jack. For us there’s no going back.”
The roar of the Beech 1900’s twin turboprop engines caused him to look out the window. The commuter plane parked at a yellow line on the pavement and killed its engines. The propellers slowed to a strobe-like speed and stopped. A man in hearing protectors and gray overalls opened the plane’s door and pointed the passengers toward the terminal.
“You’d better go.” Grace dropped her hand from his arm.
Jack knew a thousand ways for an airplane to fall from the sky. Yet he trusted the pilots and mechanics to get him home to his marriage and the pretense of security. Before he took the stairs to the runway, Jack turned to see Grace’s steady stillness in the swirl of arriving passengers. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and waved. Sometime soon they’d meet again.
No one steals from Stereo Thay and gets away. I should have known better, but arrogance from years of being his white puppet blinded me to the danger. Sure, I could have hopped the first plane home, blown my cash in a few weeks paying retail for diluted heroin, and ended up breaking into apartments to pay for my fix. That wasn’t much of an option, so I stayed put waiting for my chance at a big score. When Nahwee told me she knew the combination to Thay’s safe, I put together a plan.
The next time Thay traveled to the Laotian border to meet his supplier, Nahwee smuggled the box out of Thay’s villa and brought it to me. Things went wrong almost from the start. Mechanical problems delayed our flight. Nahwee returned to the villa, so her absence wouldn’t arouse suspicion.
Thay was supposed to be gone for three days, but when Nahwee showed up wild-eyed at my door the following midnight, I knew we didn’t have time. I got out with the clothes on my back and a rucksack containing my stash, the money I’d hidden in the toilet tank, my nine-millimeter Beretta, and the box.
The airport was too dangerous, so we boarded a crowded bus south through the jungle that still echoed the memories of mortars and automatic weapons fire. Nahwee rested her head on my shoulder and fell asleep. An old man with skin the color of strong tea stared. His dark eyes smoldered with hatred for her for sleeping with a foreigner. The stench of unwashed bodies and diesel exhaust filled the air. We passed abandoned trucks and the flyblown corpse of a water buffalo that had stepped on a landmine.
When we arrived at Koh Kang, I paid a toothless old woman for a room in a hotel with a façade of mildew-stained stucco and rusted wrought iron. I went to check the ferry schedule for the quickest way out. Nahwee stayed behind.
I spotted Thay’s henchman. Thin, quick, and deadly as a butterfly knife, he wore sunglasses and leaned against the ferry terminal’s glossy green walls near the entrance. Thay sure must have wanted the box back. Either that or it was a matter of principle. I turned, struggled against the tide of people, and made it to the street before the thug saw me.
With no way, out by sea it was only a matter of time before someone ratted us out. Of course, we could go overland, but I didn’t relish hiking through leech-infested jungle while wondering if a landmine would blow my leg off on the next step.
By the time I got back to my room, Nahwee had gotten into my works. Wearing only panties and a T-shirt, she reclined on the bed with her unblemished forearm draped over her eyes. Nahwee preferred shooting up between her toes to keep unsightly tracks from her beautiful arms and legs. The syringe lay on the floor beside a burnt spoon and bag of white powder. A languid breeze swayed the gauzelike curtain.
“Nahwee, how many times do I have to tell you to get your own needle?”
She didn’t respond. What did hepatitis or HIV matter, when we’d probably be dead in a few days anyway? I put some heroin in the spoon, added bottled water, and cooked the mixture over a butane lighter to dissolve the solids. A torn piece of cigarette filter removed any remaining sediment from the liquid I drew into the syringe.
I needed a rubber tourniquet to tie off my arm. I removed it along with the silk-covered box from my rucksack. In the panic of our flight I didn’t have time to get a good look at what was inside. I set down the syringe, took the box from the silk wrapper, and removed the golden statue from inside. A full-breasted goddess rode a tiger. Her torso swayed in a delicate S-curve. Eight arms sprouted from her shoulders. In each hand, she held a weapon such as a disc or an arrow.
“Durga.” Nahwee rested a warm hand on my shoulder and yawned. “When the gods couldn’t defeat the buffalo demon, they appealed to her for help.”
“What makes it so valuable?” I turned the statue over in my hands.
“It’s one of a kind, over fifteen hundred years old.”
I set the statue on the nightstand, wrapped the band around my bicep, pumped my arm, and tapped the needle into a vein. I pulled back the plunger. Blood swirled into the syringe. As I injected the needle’s contents into my bloodstream, I wondered whether the goddess could rescue me from Thay. I removed the band and felt the golden rush of bliss soothe my troubles away. They shrank to a pea-sized voice babbling insignificance from the left side of my mind. I nodded between dream and reality. The warmth in my veins formed into a woman’s smooth skin. A tangle of arms held my head between her breasts. Something wet and rough tickled my soles. I glanced down at a tiger licking my feet. The room spun, my head felt heavy, and I slept.
The stench of cigar smoke woke me. Somehow, I’d made it into bed and had lowered the mosquito net. I extracted myself from Nahwee’s arms, sat up, and rubbed the hallucinations from my eyes.
“You disappoint me, Alistair,” a chilling voice said.
I looked through the mosquito net to where Stereo Thay sat holding a cigar in one hand and the statue in the other. The flap of torn cartilage that had once been his ear begged me to stare. Thay cultivated the rumor that a tiger had attacked him when he was a boy. I’d heard it was a stray dog. I forced myself to look at his chest.
“I could have almost forgiven you for the girl.” He took a puff from the cigar and blew out a stream of gray smoke. “After all, I could buy a hundred like her from the villages. But this.” He held up the statue and set it on the table. “There’s only one. How long do you think I’d remain in business if news of your betrayal got out?”
By now Nahwee was awake. I felt her tremble behind me.
“It’s all a misunderstanding, Thay. I’m just trying to do the right thing.” My hand moved slowly under the pillow. “Nahwee confessed that she’d stolen the statue, but you’d already returned. Since I always had a soft spot for her, I brought her here. Once I’d gotten her on the ferry.” My fingers brushed the Beretta’s stock. “I’d have returned the statue.”
“Sak!” Thay yelled.
In an instant the thug from the ferry held the biggest hand cannon I’d ever seen to my face.
“Remove your hand slowly.” Sak took my pistol from under the pillow and tossed it to Thay’s bodyguard, Yem.
“Get dressed.” Thay stood. “We’re going for a ride.”
The two henchmen marched us down the staircase. Thay followed carrying the rucksack with the box inside. The pistol barrel bruising my floating ribs discouraged me from attempting escape. When we got to the lobby, the old toothless woman looked away. She’d sold us out.
They herded Nahwee and me out the door and into Thay’s black Toyota. Sak drove, Thay rode shotgun, and the rest of us crowded into the backseat. It took forty minutes to navigate the narrow streets and get on the narrow road that led northwest. Soon we left the town behind. The pavement ended and thick jungle sprang up on both sides of the road. Each time we hit a rut I tensed, fearing the pistol Yem held would discharge into my side and splatter a huge chunk of intestines over the upholstery. My bladder ached, but I wasn’t about to suggest a rest stop. It didn’t matter anyway. Fifteen minutes later Sak stopped the car. Yem opened the door and stepped onto the shoulder.
As I climbed through the doorway, he yanked my arm. I lost balance and landed face down on the ground. I spat dirt and struggled to my feet. He shoved me down a path leading into the jungle. Sak hustled Nahwee behind me, while Thay brought up the rear. I never regained my balance. Each time I slipped in the mud Yem pushed me. After a few minutes, I stumbled into a clearing, where half a dozen skeletons lay half buried.
While Thay held his pistol to Nahwee’s head, Sak and Yem motioned me toward a small tree. Sak kicked away the bones near the roots, and Yem forced me against the trunk. He cinched my arms around the trunk behind me so I could not escape.
“We used this place when I was in the Khmer Rouge,” Thay said. “It’s private enough that we won’t be disturbed by people coming to investigate your screams. In the old days, we took bets on how long a prisoner would live without his skin. Four days was the record, but I think you can last for five. Maybe I’ll start with your eyelids, so you’ll have to watch what we do to Nahwee.”
In a blur of silver Yem flicked open his butterfly knife and held the blade to my nose. I felt something warm and wet in my pants, and realized my bladder had let go. Yem sliced open my shirt, leaving my chest bare.
“It was all my idea, Thay. Why don’t you show mercy to the girl?”
Bang! The bullet from Thay’s pistol sprayed Nahwee’s brains in the air. Her body slumped to the ground at his feet.
I felt a white flash of pain. Yem smiled and held my ear in front of my eyes. My screams crowded out thought.
“You think I don’t know what you call me behind my back?” Thay hissed. “You’re weak. When the tiger mauled my head, I didn’t make a sound.” He patted his shirt pocket, where he kept his cigars, came up empty, and sent Sak to the car to get them.
It looked like my life was all over. I wished I’d never come to this God-forsaken country. The wound, where my ear used to be, throbbed. When I felt the maddening itch of flies landing on my blood-slicked cheek, I rubbed it against my shoulder and set off another round of searing pain.
Gunshots and a scream came from the direction of the car. Pistols drawn, Thay and Yem ran up the path. I struggled to get free. The cords tying my hands burned the skin of my wrists. Something tore in my right shoulder. More gunshots and screams. My hands pulled free. I crashed through the jungle until the execution ground was far behind. Then I stopped. Everything was quiet except for my hammering pulse. I tore a sleeve from my shirt and wrapped it around my head to stop the bleeding. Once I caught my breath I doubled back toward the road. I inched forward clearing the bushes from my path with my arms. I paused behind a stand of bamboo and looked up the road. Three mangled bodies lay in pools of blood by the car. I waited. All I could hear was the middle C whine of mosquitoes. No one moved. I crawled out of my hiding place and approached the car. The footprints of a huge cat led from the carnage into the jungle. Evidently the rumors I’d heard about the extinction of tigers in Cambodia weren’t true.
I got behind the wheel and reached for the ignition. The keys weren’t there. I got out of the car, walked to where Sak’s body lay, and rolled him onto his back. The tiger had taken huge swipes out of his chest and throat. His mouth open in a silent scream, Sak stared at the sky in disbelief. Half expecting his dead hand to grab my wrist, I reached into his slimy pants pocket and removed the keys.
I boarded the Star Ferry at Kowloon and sat up front, where I could admire Hong Kong’s modern skyline and the freighters flying Chinese flags in the aquamarine water of the bay. When we docked at the Central terminal, I flowed down the gangway with the crowd. I walked west on Des Voeux Road to Sheung Wan, climbed the hill, and scouted antique shops until I found one that looked upscale.
A tone chimed when I entered. I wandered among the gold Kuan Yins, huge stone Buddhas, and Kwan Tis with their beards and halberds.
“May I help you?” a Chinese woman with a few strands of gray in her hair asked. Her tasteful clothes and the reading glasses propped on her head gave her an air of wealth and scholarship.
I slipped the rucksack from my shoulders and looked at its worn canvas exterior. The statue inside would bring enough money to keep me in heroin for the rest of my life. I turned the rucksack over in my hands and thought of the horrible deaths of Thay and his henchmen.
“No,” I said. “I’m just looking.”
Some forces are too powerful to provoke. A library would have the address of the Phnom Penh Antiquities Museum, and there was a post office not far from my hotel. I had enough heroin to last a few days, enough for me to hook up with Three Fingers Wang. He was always looking for talent.