Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sources of Evil

I've got this great idea for a story, but I need a little input. Tell me, outside of money and power, what would you consider a "source of evil"?

I'm posting this question on my fb page, and I'll publish the results here. If you have any input, feel free to comment.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012



Note to reader...

A couple of months ago, I entered a writing contest called "Summer Shootout". I came in fourth!

The contest entailed receiving a 'prompt' on Saturday, and having until the following Saturday to submit a short story. There really were no other rules, other than the deadline.

Some people have asked to read the stories I submitted, so I'm posting them here.

This story is for the second prompt given. "An angry woman, a silver platter and a cannon."

I wrote a short story titled, "Scavenge", submitted here as "McShane". It's a detective, murder/mystery piece.

Thanks for reading.


by j l mo

            Sam fumbled for her ringing cell and cursed as it fell off of the nightstand. The ring tone belonged to her mom. She decided to leave the phone on the floor and let the call go to voice mail. Calling at nine o’clock in the morning on her day off deserved voice mail.
            The phone finally stopped ringing. She turned to her side and nuzzled down in the pillow as the cell announced with a beep a message had been left. The damn thing started ringing again. Mom was calling back. Then Sam remembered why Mom was calling so early. Her eyes popped open and she quickly sat up on the edge of the bed. She wanted Sam to go on a scavenger hunt with someone she’d just met yesterday. The whole thing sounded strange. She fumbled for the ringing phone on the floor.
            “Yes, Mom. I’m up.”
            “Samantha Angus McShane! You were supposed to be here already.”
            “C’mon, Mom, you said ten o’clock.”
            “I said we start at ten. You and I were going to have breakfast first.”
            Sam cursed again. She’d forgotten about that. “Sorry, Ma” Sam fell back on her bed. “I can still make ten. Tell me again why we’re doing this?”
            “I want you to meet Tom! Sam, he’s gorgeous and I know you two are meant for each other. I told him my single daughter is a detective, and then he told me about this scavenger hunt his church was holding. One team member has to find their two teammates through riddles. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Tom almost dropped out because his two friends couldn’t go, so I volunteered us!”
            Sam groaned. “Ma, how do you know he isn’t some scam artist?”
            “I just know. He says he goes to the First United Methodist Church and his Sunday school group is hosting this to raise money for the orphanage.”
            Sam smiled at her mother’s continued attempts to replace Amy. “Did you check out the guy like I suggested?”
            “Would you, for once, trust my judgment?” her mother said with a huff.
            “Ma, you know I hate riddles.” After a heavy sigh she dragged herself off of the bed and said, “I’m on my way to meet you.”
            “You don’t have to. Tom says we can start early and send you the first riddle by text. That way you don’t have to come all the way to his church to get it. The answer to the riddle will tell you where to go to get the second one. Don’t forget to take a picture to prove you found it. Since there are only four riddles total, we should be done in time to have lunch together. Okay?”
            “Yeah, Okay.”
            The first riddle came as a text message thirty minutes later. Sometimes Sam hated her own suspicious mind.

A park in town
turned upside down
take the shot
you’ll know the spot

            Sam hit the call back button to reach her mom. The call went to voice mail. Sam called her partner and asked him to run a background check on Tom Novak, her mom’s new friend.
            This first riddle was taking her to Soqquadro Park. Last year she cornered a scum named Aldo facing drug charges and a murder warrant in that very park. The barrel of his gun was pointed at Sam's head when she, her partner Charles, and half the police force took him out in a spray of bullets and blood. She lived, he died. Aldo’s partner River Nowak got away, but last known whereabouts put him somewhere in Southeast Asia.
            She found the second riddle before Charles called her back. Under the shrub where Aldo’s body had fallen she found a miniature set of stairs like one found on a large dollhouse. Each of the four wooden steps contained a carved sentence.

The bank got robbed
Women sobbed
your friend died there
on the stair

            Sam swallowed the lump forming in her throat. River Nowak was back, and he had her mom. Wasn’t killing Amy enough? She snapped the photo as her cell rang.
            Charles said, “Mr. Tom Novak is a white male of dubious descent, according to this photo, who flew into OIA last week. His current whereabouts are unknown. Sam, he came in from Bangkok.”
            Sam’s stomach clenched tighter. Straight from Southeast Asia. “Tell me true, Charles. Could the picture be River Nowak in disguise?”
            “Yeah, I’m afraid so.”
            “Shit! He’s got mom.” Sam started jogging toward her car.
            “I’ve got a couple of uniforms on their way to you.”
            She clenched her jaw, but tried not to let her frustration come through her voice. “You promised not to tell the Captain.”
            “Hold on now, I’ve kept my promise. I’ve spoken to Officer Smith and Officer Wesson. They volunteered to watch your back until more than just the two of them are needed.”
            “Alright, but tell them to keep their distance. We don’t know if Nowak’s got eyes on me or not.”
            “Done. What’s the next riddle?”
            “You’re not gonna believe this. River wants me to go to First National. I’m pretty sure the next clue will be on the staircase.”
            “What a sick son of a bitch. I’m calling the Chief as well as the Feds. Come on in, Sam. You’re too close to this. Let the FBI and the department handle matters from here.”
            “I will, but not now. The bastard’s drawing me in.” Charles was silent for a matter of moments. She added, “I’ll be careful.”
            “Fine, but I’m telling everyone to meet you at First National.”
            “Wouldn’t expect anything less, Charles.”
            “The bank’s been closed since the robbery. You want me to call the real estate company to go unlock a door?”
            Sam thought for a moment. “No,” she replied. “If River wants me inside, he’s left a way. Listen, I’ll check in, but definitely keep tabs on me, OK? It’s good to know Smith and Wesson have my back.”
            “I swear the Captain put them together just so we could say that.”
            “Bye, Charles.”
            The bank stood only a few blocks from the park. Aldo had stuck to his territory, and River was doing the same. First National occupied a corner of a two-story strip mall. She parked her car in front and removed her S&W J-Frame from the lockbox in the glove compartment.
            The front door was locked and the stairway couldn’t be seen though the windows from this angle. Sam watched a patrol car roll by in the reflection of the glass. She waited until they passed before she walked around to the back the building. The emergency exit door stood open.
            Careful not to touch the door or frame, she entered shouting, “This is the police! I am armed. Show yourself with your hands over your head!” Silence answered her. Keeping the weapon raised, she crept down the sunlit hallway and into the abandoned bank’s lobby. She glanced around the corner to the stairs on her left. On the third stair, right where Amy died sat a piece of paper on a small silver platter.
            The memory of that horrid day crashed on her. A lump in her throat threatened to burst as she blinked away the tears and swallowed hard. Memories of their life together painfully resurfaced. Amy had been buried for more than a year, along with Sam’s heart. Why would this sick son of a bitch do this? Amy was an innocent in the bank when Aldo and his buddies stormed in. Sam took several deep, cleansing breaths. Careful not disturb any evidence, she read the next clue.

the bar was filled
you were billed
the tab was paid
in the shade

            “Son of a bitch!” Sam shouted at no one. She snapped the picture and then called Charles. “The bastard wants me to go to the ruins of O’Malley’s.”
            “You got the riddle? Why did you go in? You should have waited. Now you’re gonna get your ass chewed. Stay there, the others should arrive any second. Don’t touch anything else!”
            “I haven’t touched a god damned thing, Charles. And I ain’t waiting. Do me a favor. Let them find this riddle on their own and figure out the meaning. Then they can chase me. Tell Smith and Wesson where I’m going, though. It was good to see them roll by.” Charles didn’t answer for a moment. Sam held her breath waiting for her partner’s decision to let her go on alone or not.
            Finally he said, “You cried in my arms for an hour on those stairs, Sam. I know how much you loved Amy. But your dying won’t bring her back, or bring your Mom home.”
            “I hear you. Will you keep them off my ass for another minute?”
            “Go. Please be careful.”
            “Thanks.” She didn’t bother to tell him she was already parking on a corner lot four blocks from the bank. This spot once held the most popular bar in town. The old oak tree here did not completely escape the massive flames that claimed so many lives. A portion of the trunk and branches still appeared singed. Somehow she, Amy, Charles, and his wife Isabella escaped the death trap that night. Sam was put through the ringer with Internal Affairs for the next six weeks.
            Under the tree sat another small silver platter holding the final riddle.

when you soared
the cannon roared
then came thunder
she’ll be under

            Sam read the paper twice. The patrol car driving by ever so slowly caught her attention. She realized she should be moving. Snapping the picture she got back in her car and drove away. The problem being, she had no idea where she was driving. The riddle made no sense. There was nothing her mind could recall tying Aldo, or River, to a cannon or soaring or thunder. After driving aimlessly for ten minutes, she called Charles.
            “What do you know about a cannon?”
            “There’s a cannon in Soqquadro Park.”
            “No there’s not.”
            “Yeah, they put a little one in about six months ago. A plaque says the thing was found on a sunken Spanish ship fairly close to shore.”
            “Shit!” Sam tried to find a place to turn her car around to go back to the park. “The bastard’s sent me on a wild goose chase and has probably been there the whole fucking time!”
            “I don’t want to interrupt an angry woman, but maybe you should come in and let the Feds handle this.”
            “Angry Woman?” Sam heard herself screech and didn’t care. “He’s got my fucking Mom, Charles! Angry fucking woman? Are you serious? I am going to get her back!”
            “You can’t get Amy back!” Charles’s screeching voice matched her own. The sound took her by surprise. She took several deep, very audible breaths. Charles sounded as if he were doing the same.
            “That was a low blow.”
            “I’m sorry.” Another moment he added, “Amy would demand you come back and you know it.”
            That much was true. Amy was as overprotective as her mom. “Okay. I’m calming down. Let’s think. Is the cannon in Soqquadro Park the only one in town?”
            “Wait. Read me the whole clue.”
            Sam didn’t have to read the clue. The words were carved into her memory. “When you soared, the cannon roared, then came thunder, she’ll be under”
            Silence stretched. Sam wanted to give Charles time to process it, but she began to think the call had dropped. “Are you there?”
            “Yeah. The clue is for me, Sam.”
            “Come again?”
            “I was flying back from Tallahassee. Isabella had taken the boys to the park. There was a break in at my house and someone blew up my Cannon gun safe. They stole my Bersa Thunder 380 and went on to kill four people. They found the damn thing in a dumpster.”
            “Oh my god! I remember! The dumpster at the fairgrounds! Have everyone meet me there!” She ended the call and took the next right turn. Her phone rang with ‘Unknown’ where the caller ID should be displayed.
            “Hello, Sam. Miss me?”
            “Who is this?”
            “I’m hurt. You don’t remember me?”
            “See, you do care.”
            “Where’s my mother?”
            “Well, she’s not with Amy. Yet.”
            “Where is my mother?” Sam screamed into the phone.
            “Tut-tut, such anger. No small talk? No ‘how ya been?’, ‘whatcha been up to?’ That kind of thing?”
            “You mother fucker!”
            “Oh, heavens no! Mother killer, sure. But fucker? Not my thing.”
            She was only another couple of miles from the fairgrounds. Taking a deep breath she asked again, “Where is my mother?”
            “Didn’t Charles give you the answer to my last riddle? I admit, I’m no poet, but I couldn’t have made it much clearer.”
            “What does Charles have to do with this?”
            “Now I’m really hurt. He didn’t tell you about us? Shame on Charles.”
            “What are you talking about?”
            “Charles and I were together for a while. He was everything to me. I would have given him the world. Then he turned straight for Isabella. Aldo was a dear, but I never got over losing Charles.”
            “See, now you’re getting the picture.”
            “No, I’m not.”
            “Charles broke my heart and made my life miserable. I, in turn, made life miserable for everyone he loved. Isabella was supposed to be home that day I got his Thunder, but I still had fun.”
            “You killed Amy to hurt Charles? You sick mother fucker!”
            “We’ve already gone over that part. Besides, Amy was just a happy coincidence.”
            The screech returned to Sam’s voice. “Where is my mother?”
            “Go to the fairgrounds. Mrs. McShane is on the southeast corner, tied to a chair. Behind her is the dumpster where I returned Charles’s Bersa Thunder to him. The one I gave him as a Christmas present all those years ago. Tell him to look under the dumpster for his next gift. She’s kind of messy. You might want to bring some extra cleaning supplies.” The phone went dead. Sam hit the call back and heard an automated voice tell her there is no such number. She called Charles.
            “Where’s Isabella?” Sam asked.
            “At work. Why?”
            “You should have told me about you and River.”
            “What? Wait. Why? No, there’s nothing to tell! Besides, it was ancient history! Why? Oh my god. What’s happened to Bella?”
            “Charles, this wasn’t about me or my mom. It’s been about you all along. Go get your kids. I think something’s happened to their mom.”


Note to my dear reader; I hope you’ve enjoyed this. I've had so much fun with Sam, I decided to make this a chapter in my next book.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Normal Parameters

A couple of months ago, I entered a writing contest called "Summer Shootout". It was the first time I'd ever tried such a thing. Of the 22 original contestants, I came in fourth! If you had asked me five years ago where I saw myself in that amount of time, the answer would not have been 'entering a writing contest'. But life does take odd turns, doesn't it?

A few of you have asked to read the stories I submitted, so I'm posting them here.

The contest entailed receiving a 'prompt' on Saturday, and having until the following Saturday to submit a short story. There really were no other rules, other than the deadline.

The first prompt given was "Instrument Failure"

I wrote a short story titled, "Normal Parameter" set in the not-too-distant future. Leave a comment or send me an email and let me know what you think.

Thanks, and enjoy.


Normal Parameters
Submitted July 20, 2012
By j l mo

            The vibration I feel through my shoes seems familiar. I step to the small patch of bare wall, one of the few areas not covered by instruments, pipes or wires, allowing a direct touch to the inner hull. Reaching up, I place my hand on the slight curve to try and identify the sensation. Bzzz. A count of ten and again, Bzzz. Rhythmic shivers gently pulse through her. Something tugged at the back of my mind as I try to reach a memory of a lesson, buried in layers of lessons from too many years gone.
I've been Captain of this antiquated three-level shuttle since my demotion five months ago. In all fairness, she was a beautiful spacebus in her day. The upper dome held the helm, mid-deck was for the passengers and the lower deck housed the engines and gravitational units. The thing is, her day is long past. I don't believe she should still be in service. However, all of her maintenance checks came back clean.
            “Ensign Tadford. Status update, please.”
         The young woman swiveled around on the squeaky, too small seat and declared, “All is working within normal parameters, sir.”
            “Are you sure? Oxygen, power, engines, all read normal?”
            “Aye, sir. Would you like a report sent to your intermail?”
            “No, that won't be necessary.”
            “Is there anything specific you might like investigated, sir?”
            I decline with a shake of my head. I'm not sure where to start with something so vague. The military, in their infinite wisdom, declared system engineers on board a shuttlecraft unnecessary. The manufacturer, AGN, claim there is no need for them. All monitoring and minor repairs could be performed by the crewmembers, if necessary. Except for odd things like this.
“Call Lieutenant Meyers to the bridge.”
            “Aye, sir.”
         The memory of a lesson from long ago danced just outside of total recall. What caused that damn vibration? I'd had so many professors at the academy I couldn't remember them all. Their individual lessons were even more distant. This was something I should know.
            This shuttle with its crew of three carrying a dozen passengers could fly fine without me. After my demotion, the route assignment turned out to be the worst of my punishment. I accepted losing rank from Major to Captain with grace. My true hell lay in the monotonous shuttling of passengers from Earth all the way to Moon, with five regular stops on each surface. The most uninteresting, mind numbing route to be had, and I am to fly this until retirement.
            “Excuse me, Captain Casey. Lieutenant Meyers, as ordered.”
        The formality on this shuttle still boggles my mind, but the others appreciate the military protocol. So, I deal with the uniforms, and the salutes and the posturing as if we were actually on a military mission. Well, I suppose we are, but it's an AGN Class B Shuttlecraft, for God’s sake! I return his salute, stifling my frustration.
            “At ease, Lieutenant. Have you noticed a pulse, an odd vibration, through the ship?”
            “A vibration, sir?”
            “Yes, Lieutenant. Here, put your hand right here.” Meyers places his palm where indicated on the ship’s inner hull.
            “No sir, I don't feel anything.”
            “It's faint. Wait a moment longer.”
            Dutifully, Meyers obeys. He lowers his head and closes his eyes, doing what he’s ordered to do with every ounce of concentration. After twenty seconds his head jerks up with his eyes wide. “Shit! I mean, Captain!” Meyers glances at the ensign who swung around quickly in her chair. “Ensign Tadford! Has a flux been recorded by the Bosonic Gravitron Meter?”
            My chest clenched as I heard her say, “No, sir. As I told the Captain, all is working within normal–”
            She didn’t finish the sentence. I pushed her out of the way to get to the instrument panel. The lesson dodging my memory came back to me like a lightning flash. The AGN Shuttles were one of the first passenger ships built with the HB Artificial Gravity Field. In the preceding seventy-five years of use, not one failure had occurred. This would be the first on record. If anyone survived.
         The instruments all gave normal readings. I scramble to the other consoles to check the back-up instruments. They all show the BGM working within parameters.
            I spin to face Meyers. He had helped Tadford to her feet. The Lieutenant’s face had lost all color, while the Ensign appeared too calm.
            “Is there a problem, Captain?” she asked, as her lips curled into a cruel curve. Tadford’s eyes locked mine as she reached into her pocket and proudly displayed a recognized, much-hated black calling card depicting a hologram of the red planet. I froze in shock. The card marked her a MarSaver. One of the terrorists responsible for thousands of deaths in their pursuit to ‘save Mars from man’ has sabotaged my ship.
            “What have you done?” My voice sounded much calmer than I felt.
            “What my people told me to do. Kill you.”
            “You would kill yourself and all these innocent people, possibly Earth itself, to get to me?”
            “Well worth the sacrifice!”
            My voice seemed hollow as I shouted, “I told the military of your people’s demands! They refused to negotiate! I lost my rank because I wouldn’t stop my crusade to save those people, and you blew up the Mars station anyway, killing hundreds of innocents! What more could I do?”
            “Captain!” Meyers voice broke the spell of incredulity this woman held me in. “We might still save the passengers on board!”
            “Yes! Bypass the instruments and sound the alarm!” The too-smooth, female automated voice started before Meyers reached the control panel.
            “The containment field is failing.”
            “Repeat - The containment field is failing.”
            “Repeat - The containment field is failing.”
            “I know, Agnes!” I growl under my breath.
            “Captain, the alarm began–”
            “Yes, Lieutenant! Tell me this piece of flying space junk carries the proper number of escape pods!”
            Tadford said, “It did until I had two removed for maintenance. The instrument failure was overridden. Captain Casey? Are you afraid to die?”
            “Captain!” Meyers shouted. “We have to move! The HB is pulsing harder!”
            I stopped engaging this lunatic and paid attention the vibrations. The pulse was so hard it had become audible. RUMBLE. A count of five and RUMBLE.
“Follow proper protocol to abandon ship. With two pods gone, one remains. All of the passengers will fit if they double up for the ride. Go!”
            Meyers scrambled off the bridge and down toward the passengers.
            “Repeat - The containment field is failing.”
            “Well, Captain,” the terrorist purred. “I would say it's been a pleasure serving under you, but, well, you know.” The shrug she gave and the sickening, cruel upturn of her lips pushed me too far. In two strides I reached her and she hit the floor hard. I'd never punched a woman before, but since I was gonna die anyway, I figured, what the hell. I may have broken her jaw.
            The panel still read everything working normally, even with Agnes blaring her warning. Think, man! Professor Watts taught you well, so pull the shit back into your mind! If the instrument says it's OK, then the instrument is wrong. So, what made it go wrong? The instrument failure is not the point! What will it take to make the HB Artificial Gravity Field not implode? No one’s ever done this! Think!
            “Repeat - The containment field is failing.”
            “Wait!” I shout. I turn to Tadford still on the floor holding her jaw. “The gravity field needs the Stress Energy Tensor! Is that what you did? You disabled the SET?”
            The only response I receive is her glare. At least she’s not smiling anymore.
            “I need to get to the engine room and put the two back together before this ship becomes a black hole!”
            From behind me Meyers says, “You’ll need help.”
            “Repeat - The containment field is failing.”
            “Secure Tadford to something. Let's make sure she can't cause any more trouble. Then, please, turn Agnes off.”
            All lights dimmed to lowest illumination level through the passageways, as per protocol. I could still see, but barely. The pulse now gave the impression of being inside a beating heart. A dying heart. “We'll try to save you, girl,” I whisper. “Just hang on for another minute.”
            POUND. A count of two and POUND. The gravity field is trying to pull the ship in on itself. The closer we get the more difficult it is to move, as if walking through molasses.
            We reach the engine room adjacent to the HB Gravity Field unit. Meyers crossed himself as we went in. Here was the source of the heartbeat. A monstrosity of machinery, as reliable as the sunrise in the east. That is, unless someone sabotaged her, which somebody did. The SET was destroyed. Tadford must have had help with this. There must be another MarSaver among the escaping passengers. Tadford somehow manipulated the instrument panel while her accomplice came down here and performed this catastrophe.
            “What'll we do, Cap?” asked a nervous-sounding Meyers.
            The too-smooth, female automated voice said, “Repair the Stress Energy Tensor by removing the HB Artificial Gravity Field.”
            My stomach clenched as I gasped. Agnes was not programmed for speech recognition. She should not be able to respond, or to give instruction. Meyers’ face looked like he'd just seen a ghost. Mine probably looked the same. I asked, “Didn’t you shut Agnes off?”
            “Yes, Captain. I did.”
            POUND. A count of two and POUND.
            “Repeat. Repair the Stress Energy Tensor by removing the HB Artificial Gravity Field.”
            “Agnes?” I venture.
            “Repeat. Repair the Stress Energy Tensor by removing the HB Artificial Gravity Field.”
            I attempt to process what I'm hearing. “Agnes that will kill us all.”
            “Correction,” Agnes replied in the annoying, non-emotional voice, “That will kill the three humans on board, and terminate the shuttlecraft. The planet we serve will survive.”
             “Agnes?” I asked, voice shaky to my own ears. “How long have you been sentient?”            “Repeat. Repair the Stress Energy Tensor by removing the HB Artificial Gravity Field. It's been an honor to serve with you, Captain Casey. Repeat. Repair the Stress Energy Tensor by removing the HB Artificial Gravity Field.”