Monthly Archives: July 2018

Aborted Novel: Kansas City Shuffle

valentine's day

by Andy Rausch

THE FOLLOWING IS A 3,000 WORD EXCERPT FROM A NOVEL I BEGAN IN 2011 AND QUICKLY ABORTED. ELEMENTS OF THIS WOULD LIVE ON IN OTHER WORKS, SUCH AS MY NOVELLA EAZY-PEEZY WHICH APPEARS IN RIDING SHOTGUN AND OTHER CRUELTIES AND THE FORTHCOMING NOVEL LAYLA’S SCORE. THIS IS BRIEF AND A LITTLE BIT ROUGH, BUT I AM POSTING IT HERE FOR POSTERITY.

ONE

The date was September 19, 1974, and Michael Russo had seen better days. But hell, he was doing better than a lot of fellas he’d known. Most of the guys he’d run with back in the Chicago days had been dead for decades.

Frank Nitti had shot himself in the head back in 1943.

Big Al Capone had died of a heart attack back in 1947.

And lots of other guys with less well-known names had bought the farm in a variety of ways over the years.

Sometimes Michael wondered if he was dead, too, and no one had bothered to tell him. Most days he felt like shit. His bones had become brittle, and his liver-spotted skin had become as thin as paper. He had a bad heart, and a memory that was almost as faulty. Nowadays he needed bifocals just to read the sports page. The doctors had him on enough pills to medicate an army, and his plumbing didn’t work so good. Maybe there were worse things than being sixty-nine-years old, but Michael didn’t know what in the hell those things might be.

Times were tough financially, as well. Back when he’d been a part of the Chicago Outfit, Michael could never have imagined the life of poverty he’d live as a senior citizen. Things had been all right once, but that was before his Beulah got cancer and died in the summer of 1961. Her extended stay at St. Luke’s had wiped them out financially. Then her funeral service, which was meager at best, put Michael in a financial hole he had never been able to dig himself out of.

He was sitting in his apartment, nursing a hangover and watching The Young and the Restless, when someone knocked on the door. Before he even got up to answer it, Michael knew it was trouble. At best it would be Mrs. Rodgers, his landlord; at worst it would be Blackie Cromwell’s goons here to collect the five hundred bucks he’d lost on the Browns game. (Michael had made the unfortunate mistake of betting on the local team. The Bengals won in a 33-7 rout.)

Either way it didn’t really matter. Be it Mrs. Rodgers or Blackie’s boys, Michael didn’t have the money to pay either one of them.

He opened the door, and as luck had it, it was Blackie’s boy, Greasy Dunleavy, and some other musclebound goon he’d never seen before. Greasy grinned as though he was genuinely happy to see Michael, every other tooth in his grin missing.

“Mike,” he said, putting out a beefy hand for him to shake.

Michael shook it, and ushered the men into his tiny apartment.

“Good to see you,” Greasy said.

Michael shrugged. “Wish I could say the same.”

Greasy laughed at this. He looked at Michael’s old basset hound looking dead on the couch.

“Who’s this guy?” he asked.

“His name is Arthur.”

“He do any tricks?”

“He’s alive.”

Greasy looked at Michael. “That’s a trick?”

“When you’re his age it is.”

Greasy chuckled at this.

Michael nodded at the other guy. “Never seen this one before. What happened to Big Jake?”

Greasy shook his head solemnly. “They got him in lock-up.”

“You don’t say.”

“Some guys are lucky, and some ain’t,” Greasy said. “And Big Jake ain’t.”

“What happened to ‘im?”

“He comes home one day,” Greasy said, “and catches his old lady in bed with another guy.”

“He kill him?”

“Big Jake shot the both of ’em. Unloaded his pistol on ’em, then reloaded and shot ’em another six times.”

“Shit deal.”

“Hell yeah, that’s a shit deal. I mean, what else can a guy do in that situation?”

“Yeah. That’s too bad.”

“Speaking of luck, you haven’t been too lucky yourself lately, Mike.”

Michael said nothing.

Greasy grinned. “You don’t bet on the Browns when they’re on the road. Hell, if I’m being honest, you don’t bet on the Browns under any circumstances.”

“What can I say? I like the Browns.”

“And how’s that working for you?”

“Not so good, I guess.” Michael grinned uneasily, knowing what was coming next.

Greasy reached into his pants pocket and fished out a pack of cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?”

Michael shook his head no.

Greasy offered up the pack. “You want one?”

Michael nodded, and took one of the Pall Malls. He put it to his lips, and Greasy lit it for him with a tacky gold Zippo with a naked woman on it.

Once Greasy had lit both of their cigarettes, he asked, “You got the money?”

“I don’t have it all.”

A grim expression washed over Greasy’s face. “How much you got?”

Michael shrugged. “None of it.”

“There’s not much I can do if you don’t have any of the money, Mike.”

Michael nodded, already knowing the score.

“You’re not much of a gambler, Mike. Why don’t you just hang it up before something happens to you that you’re not gonna be able to walk away from.”

Michael said nothing, taking a long drag from his cigarette.

“I like you, Mike. Tell you what: I’m gonna let you pick the hand.”

Michael could have killed them both without so much as batting an eye. Back in the old days, had someone threatened him with bodily harm, he’d have unloaded on them like Big Jake had unloaded on his old lady and her lover. But these were different times, and Michael couldn’t begrudge the guy; Greasy had a job to do, and this was no one’s fault but Michael’s.

“I’m right-handed,” Michael said. “So if it could be the left, I’d be much obliged.”

Greasy nodded. “You got a nice, solid drawer I can use?”

“Yeah.” Michael made his way into the tiny kitchen where the silverware drawer was. He opened it, and a variety of silverware, knives included, was visible. Greasy looked into the drawer and said, “You gonna stab me with one of those steak knives?”

Michael laughed. “This is my fault, not yours.” He began removing all the silverware from the drawer and sitting it on the cabinet top.

“Good man,” Greasy said. “If only a tenth of my clients were as understanding as you.”

Once the drawer was empty, Michael pushed his left hand into it, half-in, half-out.

He took one more drag from the Pall Mall.

“Sorry, buddy,” Greasy said just before he slammed the drawer shut on Michael’s hand, breaking just about every bone. Michael screamed loudly, but quickly stifled it.

“You’re a pretty tough old sonofabitch, you know that, Mike?”

TWO

Michael curled up in bed with his broken hand out, his right hand gripping the bottle of Early Times. His hand hurt like a sonofabitch. The pain was intense, and Michael fell asleep immediately, attempting to outrun it.

And, as usual, the nightmares were there, waiting. Michael knew they were nightmares, but he still hoped he might change their outcomes. Somewhere deep down in his mind he believed altering the dreams might make them go away once and for all. But somewhere even deeper in his mind, he knew that it was a rigged-game, and that changing the outcomes was impossible. These nightmares, which now came to him on a daily basis, were memories that were now set in stone.

Each night they awaited him in his slumber. His only hope of avoiding them was getting black-out drunk and passing out. He attempted this each night, but rarely succeeded.

And so the nightmares came.

Today was no different.

His nightmares were like a greatest hits reel from his days as a hitman. Each night the faces of those he’d killed or helped kill came to him, each of them desperate and pleading for the lives they’d never know. And as the nightmares became more and more intense, Michael would find himself pleading to the God who must be overseeing these dreams for the exact opposite—he would beg for his own death. But life was merciless, just as Michael himself had been in his heyday, and death would not come.

The first nightmare was always the same—it would be the one with the little girl.

Michael hadn’t murdered the girl, hadn’t even wanted to kidnap her, but it didn’t seem to matter to the God of his nightmares. Each and every night, without fail, she would visit him in his dreams, just as doe-eyed and innocent as she had been on the day of her death.

Michael opened his eyes to sunlight, and he knew at once where he was. He and two other men, Sharky Tambini and some other guy whose name Michael could no longer remember, were standing around the parked Model T. They were on a hillside about a mile from a small town called Westchester, Illinois, and they were about to rob a bank.

And each night in the dreams, every minute detail would be the same.

They would joke around and discuss the job they were about to pull.

“Why Westchester?” the man whose name Michael could not remember asked.

“Because Al says there’s money in there,” Michael said.

“The man’s got a nose for money,” Sharky said. “If he says there’s good money in there, you can bet your ass he’s right.”

Michael and Sharky would light their cigarettes at the same time each night. Michael was still smoking Luckies; he could never see what brand Sharky was smoking.

As they stand around shooting the shit, Michael the observer remembers Sharky, and remembers why he never liked him. Sharky, or “Shark” as he liked to be called, was an arrogant prick. He was the guy who had done everything you’ve done at least twice as many times, and always had to tell a story that would one-up yours. In short, Sharky was a liar. But then hell, most of the criminals Michael had known in his day were liars. But there had always been something different about Sharky, and the truth was that Michael had been itching to put a bullet in him since the day they’d met. Thing was, Al Capone liked Sharky, and if Al liked somebody, they were pretty much a fixture. Nobody went against Al—not ever.

In the nightmare, the three men were now driving through the countryside, heading toward Westchester. The man whose name Michael could not remember was driving the Model T, and Sharky was riding shotgun. They were yammering on about how Rogers Hornsby had just won baseball’s triple crown with a .403 average, 39 homers, and 143 ribbies. But this was of little interest to Michael, who just sat in the back with his mouth shut, thinking about the job they were about to pull.

The passage of time in his nightmares was of interest to Michael, because it made no sense. Every night it was the same, and every night the nightmares skipped scenes. For instance, the nightmare now took Michael directly from the ride through the countryside to the robbery itself.

The three men each had Tommy Guns. The bank was relatively empty. There was the manager, a meek little sonofabitch, a couple of cashiers, and a smattering of customers. Tonight, as always, the robbery went off without so much as a hitch. Michael threatened to murder the bank manager’s family, and the little bastard opened the vault, whimpering as he did so. Things didn’t get messy until they heard the far off sounds of a police siren. That’s when Sharky grabbed the little girl. A pretty little thing, she couldn’t have been more than eight or nine, with stringy blonde hair and big blue eyes.

And every night in his nightmare Michael heard Sharky make the same declaration—“I’m taking the girl!”

And then they were all three out the door and gone before the cops arrived.

Now the nightmare skipped directly to the Model T pulled over on the side of the road about twenty miles outside of town. Michael the observer knew what was going to happen, but Michael the active participant in the dream had not a clue; the whole thing happened so quickly he hadn’t had time to react. Sharky had the girl out on the side of the road, cutting her down with the sub-machine gun, killing her instantly.

“What the hell you do that for?” Michael cried out.

Sharky, unaffected, said, “She saw us. She got a good look at us. Besides, we don’t wanna go down for kidnapping. The little girl had to go.”

And every night Michael says the same thing: “No, you’ve gotta go.”

And before Sharky can react, Michael’s gunning him down with the Tommy, Sharky’s bloodied body falling on the side of the road right next to the little girl’s.

And even in his nightmare, Michael felt no remorse for killing Sharky. Sharky was a lowlife and he had it coming. But the sad truth was, even in the dreams, Michael had no real remorse for any of the people he murdered. For him, these dark dreams weren’t so much an indication of remorse as they were a longing for remorse he just wasn’t capable of feeling. He felt remorse for not being able to stop the little girl’s murder, and he felt remorse for not being able to stop his Beulah’s painful march through the valley of death. But the deaths he felt remorse for were few and far between. The loss of life was just part of the job. His victims’ faces, sometimes yearning for life and at other times contorted gruesomely in demonic expressions, may have scared the shit out of Michael, but he rarely felt remorse for them.

The second nightmare that came to Michael each night was February 14, 1929—the day that had since become dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. A rival, Bugs Moran, had tried to gun down Al Capone and his men while they were eating dinner in a downtown Chicago restaurant. They showered the building with more than a thousand bullets, but they had missed Capone completely. Then Al learned that Moran had put a $50,000 bounty on his head.

“Something’s got to be done about this asshole Moran,” Al said, trying his best not sound frightened. “I can’t have every looky loo with a gun in Chicago tryin’ ta put a bullet in my ass.”

“No,” Nitti said. “We can’t have that.”

“So the question is, how do we get that sonofabitch?” Al said.

To this, Michael answered, “I guess it depends on how many of his men you want dead.”

“All of them,” Al said calmly. “Every last motherfucking one of them. I want them all dead.”

And that was when Michael explained his plan. Al had just received information that Moran was to receive a large shipment of whiskey on Valentine’s Day. The tipster had also revealed that the shipment was to arrive at Moran’s headquarters on North Clark Street. This, Michael explained, would be the perfect time to get the drop on them.

“What?” Al asked. “We just drive by and shoot up the place?”

“No,” Michael said. “We go inside, line ’em up against the wall, and shoot every last one of the cocksuckers.”

“How do we get inside?” Nitti asked. “How do we get past the door?”

Michael grinned. “We dress up as policemen and we act like we’re raiding the place. Then we line ’em all up—you know, the way the cops do—and we gun ’em all down like the filthy vermin they are.”

Al nodded happily, looking at Nitti, and then back at Michael. “I love this kid.”

“So who do we get to do the shooting?” Nitti asked.

Al nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe we hire guns from out of town.”

“Nah, I know just the guys,” Michael said. “I’ll put together a team.”

“Are they trustworthy?” Nitti asked.

“As the day is long,” Michael said.

Nitti asked, “How many guns are you thinking?”

“Four, maybe five,” Michael said.

Al pointed at Michael. “Well, I want you there. You wait outside until after our cops have corralled Moran and his men. Then you step inside and everyone starts firing. We’ll have a good old fashioned mobster’s ball.”

Al and his men all laughed at this.

Michael then put together his team. First he selected John Scalise, his oldest friend. He trusted John and knew that John was a good triggerman. With the selection of Scalise came Scalise’s partner, Albert Anselmi. Michael had no love for Anselmi, but he trusted him and also knew that Scalise wouldn’t do the job without his partner. Next Michael selected “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, a tough bastard who worked for Al and had once been a professional boxer. The fourth gun Michael chose for the job was Joseph “Hop Toad” Giunta, a gunman he didn’t really know that well but was suggested by Al himself.

Each night the nightmare began with Michael and the other men standing around the corner from Moran’s hangout at 2122 North Clark Street. They wait there, watching for Moran to arrive. But Michael never sees Moran arrive because the nightmare skipped ahead again.

Now John Scalise and the other three uniformed assassins were inside, and Michael waited outside alone. He checked his pocket watch and finally decided enough time had passed. He made the corner and rushed into Moran’s headquarters, where his team had seven gangsters lined up against the wall. Michael looked them over. It was a virtual who’s who of the North Side Irish gang. Everyone was present—except Moran.

“Where the fuck is Moran?” Michael asked.

“He ain’t here,” said Moran enforcer Frank Gusenberg.

Michael looked at John Scalise. “I thought you said you saw Moran enter the building.”

Gusenberg chuckled.

John Scalise pointed at one of the men against the wall. “I thought that was him.”

“It ain’t,” Michael said grimly.

“So what do we do?” asked John Scalise.

Michael nodded. “Mow ’em down and let’s get out of here.”

And the gunfire began. The men lined up against the wall made ghastly faces as their bodies danced rhythmically under the hail of machine gun fire. They fell to the ground in bloody heaps, now nothing more than hunks of meat wearing tattered clothing.

One of the dead men stared up at Michael with what looked to be accusing eyes. Of course the man was dead, so his eyes weren’t really saying shit, but Michael saw them staring at him. Through him. Even now, as he slept, he felt a shiver run down his spine.

And the nightmare skipped ahead again.

Michael talking with Al and Nitti.

“The heat’s really on us for this St. Valentine’s Day Massacre thing,” Al said.

Nitti chimed in. “We can’t take any chances.”

“What do you mean?” Michael asked, already knowing the deal.

“Your men,” Al said.

“What about my men?”

Nitti looked at him solemnly. “They go down for the dirty nap.”

Michael searched for the words. “They—they won’t talk.”

“Everyone talks,” Nitti said. “Everyone.”

Al nodded. “It’s just a matter of circumstance.”

“Right,” Nitti said.

“If the circumstance is right,” Al said, “they’ll sing like fuckin’ canaries, and we can’t have that.”

“So what are you saying?” Michael asked.

“Everyone involved with the murders goes down for the count,” Al said. “Everyone but you. And you’re welcome for that, by the way.”

Michael tried to explain to Al that John Scalise was his closest friend, but Al wouldn’t hear of it.

“Friends,” Al said. “They come and go. You lose a friend today, maybe you’ll make a friend tomorrow. But that’s not what matters. You know what really matters, Michael?”

Michael said he did not.

“Loyalty,” Nitti said.

“Right,” Al said, nodding. “Loyalty is the most important thing in the world.”

And that was it.

The nightmare skipped ahead, and Michael saw a montage of scenes featuring him killing Anselmi, McGurn, and Giunta, and dumping their bodies in ditches.

The nightmare skipped again to a scene in which Michael held his Colt .45 to John Scalise’s forehead. Michael didn’t want to do this—inside his mind, he pushed back, rebelling, trying to find an alternative path for this nightmare—but Scalise’s fate was sealed.

Making matters worse, John Scalise, one of the proudest men Michael ever knew, dropped his pride and began begging for his life. “Please,” he says, “don’t kill me, Mike. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a family.”

And Michael squeezed the trigger, closing his eyes as he did it.

And voila, John Scalise was nothing more than a footnote in history.

“The $10,000 John Wayne Magnum Opus”

zombie

by Andy Rausch

Edison Mayhew was sitting in a corner booth in Bob’s Pizza Palace, chatting up an actor over all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. He was paying for the meal, so he got to explain the project to the actor, Jimmy Donovan. Jimmy was hot shit at the moment as he had just appeared in the TV movie B-Lizzard, about giant reptiles who attacked and ate people during a snowstorm.

“This movie’s gonna be the fourth installment in my Titty Zombies series,” said Edison. “Have you seen the other three?”

“Well, I’ve seen one of them,” Jimmy said. “I think it was Titty Zombies 2.”

“Ah, yes; A Tale of Two Titties. That’s my favorite in the series,” said Edison. “Until now.”

“Why now?”

Edison smiled proudly. “Because this one’s gonna be my greatest film ever. My magnum opus.”

“What’s the budget?”

“We got $10,000.”

“What would my role be?”

“Your role would be Miles Macklemore, a private eye with a taste for broads.”

“So this is noir?”

“Not really, but it’s going to have some noir flavor to it.”

“And the film, it’s guaranteed distribution?”

“Yes, sir,” said Edison. “Bloody Mess Pictures made a fortune off the first three, and they’ve committed to putting out a fourth one.”

Jimmy nodded. “What would I get paid?”

“Two hundred and fifty dollars.”

“How many days?”

“We would shoot you out in two days.”

“And the role, is it a lead?”

Edison squirmed. “Not exactly. But here comes the reason you’re gonna wanna make this movie…”

“Okay.”

“You’ll be the second lead.”

“Who’s gonna be first?”

“I’m getting to that,” said Edison. “Rule number one of no-budget filmmaking is to either have a ‘name’ actor in the lead or to have something to exploit. Well, I’ve got both.”

“Who is it?”

“John Wayne.”

“John Wayne?” Jimmy didn’t understand. You’re gonna have to explain this to me, because first of all, John Wayne’s deader than disco. In fact, I think they both died at about the same time. Second, I’m pretty sure John Wayne was making more to appear in a picture back in the Seventies than your entire movie’s got for a budget.”

Edison laughed, pointing to his temple. “I’ve got all the bases covered.”

Jimmy just stared at him, cutting off a corner of pepperoni and anchovy pizza with his fork.

“My girlfriend, Bree, practices witchcraft,” Edison said. “She’s got a spell book that’s supposed to raise the dead and make them do your bidding. Well, we’re gonna use that spell to raise John Wayne and make him appear in our movie.”

“You’re crazy,” said Jimmy.

“Like a fox.”

“Okay, so why John Wayne?”

“Why not John Wayne?” Edison asked. “He’s my favorite actor. I’d love to be able to say I directed him in a movie. The man’s a friggin’ icon.”

“Will he be able to speak? I mean, he’s been dead for almost forty years.”

“We’re not sure yet.”

“Your girlfriend has never used this spell before?”

“No,” Edison said. “That kind of thing doesn’t come up every day.”

“He probably looks pretty rough these days.”

“Which will be just fine since it’s a zombie movie. So whaddaya think?”

“Well,” Jimmy said, “It would look good on my resume to have made a movie with John Wayne.”

Edison nodded. “Now you’re talking.”

At that point the waitress came over and asked if they needed anything.

“I’ll have orange juice,” Edison said.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have orange juice.”

Edison grinned. “Why don’t you go in the back and see if you can find some. After all, I’m a famous movie director, and you’re gonna want my business.”

The woman grimaced and walked off towards the kitchen.

“That was kind of a dick thing to do,” Jimmy said.

“Hey,” Edison said, “all the big directors do it. So are you on board?”

“It looks like I am. But I’d like to talk about my financial package.”

“How so?”

“I’m gonna need three hundred dollars to make the movie.”

Edison raised his hand and they shook on it.

Two weeks later, Edison, his buddy and producer Parker, and his girlfriend, Bree, were standing over John Wayne’s grave at the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Corona del Mar. There was a full moon out, which Bree said was a must for such an occasion. It was dark outside otherwise, and there was a cool breeze blowing. Bree had used sidewalk chalk to draw a humongous pink pentagram over the grave, as well as some words in a dead language around the grave.

“You think this’ll work?” asked Parker.

“I do,” said Bree. “I’ve used several other spells from this book and they all work.”

Bree opened the book and started reading from the dead language of Akkadian. “Cheepa, cheepa, burga, cheep,” she said. Edison and Parker repeated the words, and Bree continued. Finally, after about ten minutes of this, the wind picked up and it started to rain.

“What the fuck?” asked Edison.

“We’re upsetting the gods,” said Bree.

“Does that mean it’s working?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”

She read more Akkadian. “Beygo, teehum, daydo, bohah…”

After several minutes of this, she closed the book and stood silently. Suddenly the rain stopped.

“What is it?” asked Parker.

“The spell is complete,” she said.

“But I don’t see John Wayne,” said Edison.

Bree pointed down at the grave. “He’s reanimated, but he’s down there, in his coffin, unable to get out.”

“So now what?” asked Parker.

Edison shrugged. “We go to the car and get the shovels and we dig.”

And they did just that. Edison and Parker dug for two hours. Bree sat on a nearby grave and painted her fingernails and toes.

Chunk! came the sound from inside the grave.

“Hey, I’ve hit the coffin,” Edison said. “We’re almost there.”

Once they had the coffin fully excavated, they found great difficulty in getting it open inside the hole they had dug. But finally they did just that. When Edison opened the coffin, a wickedly rotten stench emerged. With the moon behind the clouds and the flashlight lying on the ground, they could barely see inside the box.

And then, suddenly, the reanimated corpse lunged out of its coffin and seized Parker, chewing on his face.

“Arrrgggghhhh!” screamed Parker.

The corpse was gnawing off Parker’s nose.

Edison backed away, watching his friend being eaten.

“Should we help him?” asked Bree.

“By ‘we’ you mean ‘me,’” remarked Edison, still watching the gruesome sight.

The reanimated corpse of John Wayne was grotesque, like something out of an Italian horror movie. He was missing an ear, his skull was exposed under rotten, leathery flesh, he smelled terrible, and there were tiny maggots falling out of his ear holes and empty eye sockets. And now what was left of his face was covered in Parker’s fresh blood.

“What do I do?” asked Edison nervously.

“You command him to stop eating Parker.”

“John Wayne,” Edison said. “Stop eating that man—now!”

And the reanimated corpse of John Wayne stopped feasting on Edison’s dead friend and producer. Through the power of command, Edison was able to subdue the corpse while he filled in the grave over Parker’s half-eaten body. Although Bree wasn’t fond of having maggots falling all over the back seat of her Honda Civic, the three of them drove back to Edison’s house in silence.

They were two days into shooting, and Edison and his two-man crew were filming on a hand-held digital camera inside an apartment in Silver Lake. The reanimated corpse of John Wayne was hitting his marks. Of course he couldn’t talk, but Edison filmed him staggering around and waving his arms just the same.

“Unnnnggghhhhh!” growled John Wayne.

It was a scene between John Wayne and Sarah Newsom, one of Edison’s regulars. Sarah was topless and in the middle of a lengthy monologue when John Wayne reached out and grabbed her head at both sides, twisting it hard. Her neck made a sickening crunching sound as he did this.

“Dammit, John Wayne!” Edison said.

But John Wayne didn’t give a damn. He was leaned forward and was chewing into the dead actress’s skull.

“John Wayne, stop that!” Edison said. John Wayne just looked up with a mouth full of brains, chewing. The bottom part of his jaw fell off as he did this, and a bunch of maggots fell out of his mouth into Sarah’s skull.

“Phil,” Edison said. “Can you please find a way to reattach John Wayne’s lower jaw?”

Phil, the film’s P.A., nervously walked towards John Wayne, still trying to feast on the dead Sarah with his bottom jaw missing. Phil turned his head, sizing up the damage. “I think I can reattach it with some putty,” Phil said. But just then, John Wayne reached out and grabbed Phil’s hand, pulling it to his face. He attempted to chew off Phil’s fingers, but got nowhere without his bottom jaw. Phil tried to pull his maggot-covered hand away, but John Wayne dropped Sarah’s body and grabbed Phil’s arm with both of his own, tearing it out of the socket.

Phil screamed in agony.

“Goddammit, John Wayne!” Edison said, turning to his crew. “This is why I don’t like using ‘name’ talent. They’re all primadonnas. If they’re not rewriting the dialogue on set, they’re eating the cast and crew!”

Edison sat down the camera and turned to go and grab a tuna fish sandwich from the craft service table. He exhaled heavily as he walked, now fully irritated. He heard more screams behind him, but he didn’t turn around. He was now second-guessing his decision to reanimate John Wayne. This was gonna be one hell of a long shoot. They were only two days in and already way behind schedule.

If you liked this story, it and many others are available in Andy Rausch’s short story collection Death Rattles, available in both physical and Kindle formats.

“The Dog and the Sparrow 2.0”

sparrow 2

by Andy Rausch (based on a story by the Brothers Grimm)

Kesey was an Australian Shepherd with a beautiful, shiny black coat. Everyone who saw her commented on her beauty. But her fur was the only aspect of Kesey’s life that was beautiful, for she had a very cruel owner who beat her and often forgot to feed her. (This was usually when he was drunk, which was a great deal of the time.) Because of this, the outline of Kesey’s ribs soon became visible through her fur.

Each day Kesey diligently chewed at the rope that bound her. Finally, after many days, she managed to chew through the thick cord and free herself. She quickly dug a hole under the wooden privacy fence which surrounded the yard, hoping her master would’t discover her digging. After several hours, the hole was big enough that she was able to squeeze through it and escape.

She walked along the street hungrily for some time. She stopped when she came to a dead bird in the street, and briefly considered eating it. Only moments later, a sparrow landed on the pavement before her and asked, “What’s the matter? You look sad.”

“I haven’t eaten in days,” Kesey replied. “I’m weak and my stomach hurts.”

“Well then, let’s correct this at once,” said the sparrow.

“How?”

“Follow me and I’ll feed you.”

So the hungry dog followed through the alleyways of the city. Finally they came to a dumpster behind a butcher shop. “Let me get you some meat,” said the sparrow, and off he flew, into the dumpster. He then returned a moment later with a large piece of steak. He dropped it at Kesey’s feet, and the ravenous canine quickly consumed it.

“I’m still hungry,” said Kesey, licking her lips.

“No problem,” said the sparrow. “I’ll get you another piece.”

The sparrow returned to the dumpster and retrieved a second piece of meat, this one larger than the first. The hungry dog quickly scarfed down the meat, barely taking time to chew.

The sparrow asked, “Are you satisfied now?”

To this Kesey replied, “I could use some bread to wash down the meat.”

“Then follow me and I will get you bread.”

The dog followed the sparrow through a labyrinth of alleys until at last they came to a dumpster behind a bakery.

“Wait here,” said the sparrow, and off he flew into the dumpster. A moment later he returned, dropping a loaf of bread at Kesey’s feet. The hungry dog devoured the bread, and was now quite satisfied.

“Thank you very much,” she said.

The two continued on as traveling partners, eventually going so far they exited the city. They followed the road several miles before Kesey finally stopped and said, “I’m very full from having eaten so much. I think I’ll take a nap.”

Kesey lay down in the road.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” warned the sparrow.

“Nonsense. I’ll just sleep for a short time and then we can proceed.”

Within seconds the dog was fast asleep.

After a while, an old Ford pickup truck came roaring down the road on the opposite side from where the dog was lying. The sparrow was alarmed at first, but relaxed once he realized Kesey should be safe. The man driving the pickup truck, however, did not share this sentiment. When he reached the sleeping dog, he went out of his way to swerve into the opposite lane and run it over. Kesey died without waking from her slumber.

“You son of a bitch!” cried the sparrow. “I’ll have my revenge!”

The driver heard the bird’s proclamation, but only spit a glob of chewing tobacco out his window in response.

Seeing the truck was hauling a load of furniture in its bed, the sparrow had an idea. The truck was missing its tailgate, and the furnishings were held in place by a single rope. “I’ll have my revenge!” cried the sparrow. But the man didn’t hear him this time, as he’d turned up the volume of his stereo, which now blared Led Zeppelin. So the sparrow went to work pecking at the rope, until finally it snapped. Immediately items of furniture began falling from the truck and breaking to pieces all over the road. But the man was oblivious to this, as he was listening to Robert Plant screaming “Whole Lotta Love.”

When the man finally noticed he had lost half his load, he stopped the pickup and hopped out to see if any of the fallen furniture could be salvaged. He quickly assessed it could not. While he was arriving at this conclusion, the sparrow started to peck at the old pickup’s front driver’s side tire, flattening it immediately.

When the man saw this, he screamed, “You filthy little bastard!”

He reached down to the road and picked up a broken chair leg, and came up swinging at the bird. The sparrow quickly moved, and the man accidentally broke the back window of his truck, causing him to become even angrier. The sparrow then flew around the vehicle, and the man gave chase, still swinging the chair leg like a madman. Finally the sparrow landed on the windshield, and the man brought down the piece of wood hard. But the sparrow moved, and the chair leg smashed through the windshield.

“Goddamn bird!” screamed the man.

“It’s not enough,” said the sparrow. “I’ll have my revenge!”

And the bird flew away down the road, leaving the man to walk back to the city alone. Several hours passed, and finally the man reached his old ramshackle house. When he arrived, his wife was there waiting for him.

“Where’s the truck?” she asked.

“It’s a long story.”

“Thank goodness you’re here.”

“Why is that?”

“Because a bird flew into the house,” she said. “Soon it was followed by hundreds of other birds, and they’re pecking on the walls and shitting all over the house!”

This angered the man. He grabbed a hammer from the shed and went running into the house like a crazy person, swinging at every bird he saw. But he struck none. Instead, he hit his own furniture, breaking it to kindling. The wife saw what the man was doing, and tried to stop him from swinging the hammer, but to no avail.

Finally the man grew tired and gave up.

“Look what you’ve done,” said the wife. “You’ve broken every piece of furniture we own!”

“Still not enough!” said the sparrow, fluttering around the man’s head. “Still not enough!”

But the man got lucky as the sparrow grew cocky, and he reached out and snatched the bird. Now holding him in his arms, he instructed his wife to retrieve his hunting rifle. The woman disappeared into the next room, finally returning with the weapon.

“What do I do now?” she asked.

“Shoot this goddamned bird!”

He expected the woman to know enough to shoot the bird from a side angle, but she did not, knowing nothing about guns. So she fired at the bird, but only grazed it. She did, however, manage to shoot her husband in the chest, killing him instantly.

“No!” she screamed, falling to her dead husband’s side.

“I told you,” said the sparrow, “I’d get my revenge.”

And off he flew through the open door, singing as he did.