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An Interview With Author Zachary Ankeny

By: Zachary Ankeny

“Original Published in eFiction Magazine, May 2010.”

What is your history in publishing?

Though I have been writing fiction for many years, I am fairly new to the publishing industry. In the beginning of my writing career, I would publish much of my short fiction myself through blogs and other web-based outlets. About three years ago, I began writing non-fiction articles and historical research papers for both the Jerome (Arizona) Historical Society, and the Phoenix (Arizona) Historical Society. Jerome is a mining town in central Arizona that is known as the world’s largest ghost town, or “Ghost City.” The town sat nearly abandoned from the late 1930’s to the 1980’s when it saw a resurgence. Though many historical records still exist in the town, less than half have been adequately researched or published. Writing and publishing the research papers was an interesting experience and solidified my decision to become a full-time writer and concentrate on my fiction work.

Where do you see publishing going in the next 5 years?

Even though my fiction stories usually come across as dreary or pessimistic, I am in actuality a very optimistic person. My view of the future of publishing is also an optimistic one. Changes are coming, that’s for sure; but I think that the coming changes will be positive and quite the opposite of what a lot of writers, editors and publishers are fearing. With any change in technology or trends in culture, must come acceptance, because there’s no holding it back and assimilation is inevitable. I think that the next five years will see quite a few holdouts that resist conforming to new standards, but all in all I think that the majority of us will have a smooth transition into new media formats. I think that news media, periodicals and magazines will have the toughest time in the transition – therefore shorter stories, articles and those who write and publish them will be affected the most. Writers and publishers of novels, novellas and epic series’, however, will not be affected as deeply. I believe that some publications that are smaller and have less of a circulation will certainly close their doors if they cannot find a way to merge into our new world. But newer publications will emerge in their place and some of those “newbies” will certainly bring with them new ideas and fresh approaches to publishing that will not only keep the craft alive, but will also breathe new life into it.

How has your writing career plans changed due to the tech shift in publishing?

Simply, it hasn’t. I write the way I write, and I write what I am compelled to write. My stories aren’t changed by the way I am required to submit them or by the word counts one publisher prefers or by anything else in the publishing industry. The characters in my book come alive as I write them, and they don’t care if something they do or say within the story might cause the book or story to be rejected, so I don’t either. Once the story has closed itself, then I start to think about how to market it or sell it. If the stories begin to suffer, then my career also begins to suffer. Therefore, I live out the story and if it sells, great; if not I’m not bothered by it. The satisfaction I get from writing comes from the actual act of writing, not from an advance check or movie options or anything else – those are just a bonus.

Does the iPad live up to the hype? What does it mean for publishing?

Ah, the iPad. I’m sure that as we speak right now, there are people in the publishing industry cursing its name, putting hexes on Steve Jobs and hoping it will be sent back to hell in a hurry. In my opinion, the fears that the device will kill writers and writing as an art form seems to be the one hype it won’t live up to. It’s a handy tool, sure, but I think that its uses aside from reading will turn out to be what makes it a mainstay in the mainstream of our culture. I have spoken with many people in the past year about reading devices such as the iPad and the common agreement is: “I don’t want to read a full book on a screen!” My friends and family seem to be in agreement that they may use the device to read a magazine article or catch up on the day’s news while toiling through their workdays, but wouldn’t want read 50,000 to 110,000 words on its flickering screen – and I agree. Whenever I complete a short story, novella or novel; I immediately want my close friends and family to read it and give me there feedback. What results is a reading-curve. The longer the story sent via email, the less people that actually read it. My novella “Lonesome Old Town”, which came in at about 60,000 words, wasn’t read by anyone I sent it to. I printed out a few copies and handed them to the same people. It cost me more than the e-mail had, but it was actually read. That’s what it comes down to – will it be read? I think that soon enough the publishing houses will realize the reading curve for themselves, and will once again adjust to it.

What is your latest project?

I just finished the first draft of my novel “No sunshine on the road”. A love story about a boy named Rallie and a girl named Jordie who live in Cottonwood, Arizona. Their tumultuous relationship gets even worse when Rallie overhears an urban legend about a road out in the desert that was abandoned before completed because anyone that was standing on the road after the sun set, would simply disappear.

I am also a little more than halfway through writing my first draft of “Celebration of the Waning Moon”. A story about a newly married couple who planned for a honeymoon in Costa Rica. Their plane is struck by lightning on the way to Costa Rica, and instead have to land on a small island called Isla Luna Disminuir(Island of the Waning Moon). The island is primitive except for a lavish resort owned by an eccentric German expatriate. While on the island, they are witness to the locals’ “Annual Celebration”, a festival showcasing the magical powers their belief in voodoo had granted them. The celebration culminates with a show of strength. The strongest of the tribe has to do battle with a strange beast that emanates from the jungle on command. The show is frightening and the couple want to escape, but it’s too late.

Witch on the Rail


Zachary Ankeny

Originally Published December 2010 e|Fiction Magazine

Dennie and I were never the closest of cousins. He was a year older than I was—he was fifteen. That single-year difference meant that we were paired together to hang out for the summer; my other cousins were considerable younger. Dennie was not only older, but bigger. He was born a big kid; chunky in his youth but a well-built athlete in his adolescence.

Dennie’s size was suiting for his reputation—that of a bully. If Dennie saw a mud-puddle, he’d push you into it… If Dennie saw the opportunity to beat you up and embarrass you, he would take that opportunity and exploit every one of your insecurities.

I—being his cousin—was spared the physical brutality that Dennie could bring. Instead, he tormented me in ‘softer ways.’ He always had some scary story he was trying out on me… something to test my bravery. If I failed, I would be ridiculed. Succeeding only bought an hour, or so, worth of Dennie’s respect… So I wasn’t surprised when He told me we were going on an adventure that night…

“This is our opportunity to see a real live ghost,” Dennie said as we drove up 13th Street toward my grandmother’s house.

Summers were always spent with my grandparents in Sidney, Nebraska: a small town by my standards—I lived in from Phoenix, Arizona—but a larger stop on the highways wrapping across the Nebraska Panhandle.

This summer, upon my arrival, Dennie was eager to take me out on the town in his new pickup.  He had gotten his farm-permit; meaning, he could drive a car all throughout the county during daytime hours at the age of fifteen. In rural Nebraska, kids as young as thirteen years old were allowed to gain driving permits—in case they needed to run agricultural errands.

We spun the truck quickly onto Main Street; Dennie slowed down to point out a grey-gravel parking lot. “That’s what we call ‘The Square,’” Dennie explained.

It was a simple lot, wedged between a three story hotel and the hardware store… But to Dennie, it was the center of the universe. “I hooked up with these two girls there, last summer…” Dennie recalled. “…Everyone usually gets-together in The Square, and then we find a place to go party. Usually, we go out to the supply barns, but sometimes we party closer to the city.” Dennie had clued me in to what the ‘Supply Barn’s’ were…

…The kids Dennie hung out with were popular… and rich! Their parent’s owned so much land throughout Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and as far as Canada; that these kids had access to hundreds of silos, barns, and private-land. With a playground stretching across the American Plains and into Canada; the teens growing up in the Nebraskan Panhandle had the world around them—literally!

Dennie assured me that a ‘barn-burner’ wouldn’t be happening tonight… He had other plans… “Think about it!” Dennie said. “The past 2 summers we have been searching grandma’s house for a ghost, and we haven’t seen anything. Tonight, we’ll finally get to see a ghost.”

Ghost-hunting in my grandmother’s house was a favorite pastime for all us kids.  My grandmother’s house was nearly a hundred years old, but looked even older. We were all convinced that it housed a vengeful spirit that was angered by our presence.

Needless to say, we never saw a single thing, nor heard a single unexplained noise. As far as I know, there’s no such thing as ghosts. But there’s something much more frightening that we should have been afraid of… Something much darker…

Staying with my grandparents meant was like taking the batteries out of my watch. They kept to a regular schedule that seemed to be an hour and a half earlier than everyone elses. “At 9:00pm-sharp, they take out their hearing-aids and go to bed,” Dennie had said. “After that, they don’t hear a thing until 5:00am, when they wake up. That’s when we’ll sneak out…”

“Wait! Sneak out?” I asked, a resurgence of nerves tearing at my gut.

“Yeah… You wanna see a ghost, right?” Dennie sneered.

Afraid that showing my apprehension toward sneaking out would ruin my credibility with him, after he invited me to hang out with him for the day; I nodded, “Of course! But is it a real ghost or another one of your bullshit-stories?”

For a moment, Dennie tensed up, a jerk-reaction that screamed he wanted to hit me for the insult.”

I recoiled, “I mean… is it real or are you just trying to scare me?”

“Oh,” he seemed calmed by my quick reprisal. “Well I guess you’ll never know for sure unless you come with me, right?”

I’d backed myself into the corner and he presented me with my only way out—I’d have to go with him to see his ghost; or wimp-out…

…I should-have wimped-out.

It was 9:45pm when we decided to sneak out. Plenty of time to allow our now-deaf grandparents time to fall asleep, and extra time for my dad to fall asleep as-well—he was in his prime and would surely hear us if we weren’t perfectly-quiet.

But we were perfectly-quiet, and were out in the yard without a stir from inside the house. We hopped over the six-foot wall surrounding the house and were onto Cedar Street. Cedar was a better way to go—more foliage to cover us on our way downhill. The town had a 10 o’ clock curfew for anyone under the age of 15—meaning I was out past curfew.

“Where are we going?” I asked as we snuck from tree-to-tree along the road.

“Downhill,” said Dennie. “We go to the train tracks and follow them down the line maybe a mile or so. That’s where the house is…”

“What house?” I asked, unsure if I really wanted to hear more.

“The McInley House,” Dennie said his own interest peaked by mine. “McInley was a drunk whose wife had left him and moved east to Hastings with some guy from around town. McInley lost it. He was seen around town for a few weeks—he had moved on from booze to drugs… Then no one saw him for a while. The sheriff went to his house, but saw no reason to enter… They figured he might have moved out of town with all the gossip going around about his wife leaving him. It was two weeks before the sheriff returned and found him in his wife’s robe… naked… a shotgun next to what was left of his head.”

I was amazed by his story, yet skeptical-still.

“They cleaned up the crime scene and the bank tried to sell the house, but it’s old. Not to mention, everyone around here knew the story and wouldn’t dare make an offer on the house. So it was abandoned. They stripped out everything in the house and boarded-up the windows and doors… And we are going in there—try and see old half-headed McInley himself.” Dennie gave me an evil smile and narrowing of his eyebrows. He knew he was scaring me.

Dennie paused as we came up to Magnolia Street. The rails were on the other side of the street, a 10-foot chain link fence separating the houses from the train yard. “We gotta get over that fence and onto the yard,” he said. “Once we’re on the rail, our chance of seeing a cop is zero.”

I nodded, and Dennie gave a whispered 1-2-3-count before we bolted for the fence. The street was deserted and dark, with a single streetlamp lighting the farthest corner of the fence. We scaled the fence quickly and hid in the shadows of the parked railway cars that proudly displayed Union Pacific Railway adjacent to a colorful layer of graffiti. With our backs against the rusted metal shells on wheels, we sided our way onto the rail.

“A mile?” I asked.

“About a mile… maybe a little more, said Dennie, swinging his head left to right, watching out for any adults, or worse: cops.

The abandoned Cabela’s Building faded in the distance behind us, and the outer neighborhoods sprung up ahead—the curve of the rail leading us onward.

“Here, take a swig,” said Dennie, producing flask of bourbon from the pocket of his jacket.

I didn’t want a swig of anything, but Dennie wasn’t asking. “Take it,” he demanded. I took the bottle and pressed it to my lips, tipping the flask back all the way but only letting the tiniest sip into my mouth and down my throat.  “A swig, not a sip!”

Caught, I made my second attempt to appease Dennie, taking a full mouthful of the bitter liquor. Immediately after swallowing, the burning taste spread across my chest and I wanted to gag—but put on my best pokerface and handed the flask back to my cousin with a nod.

A ribbon of light snapped across the black sky, lighting the clouds that were hidden to us.

“There’s not supposed to be rain tonight,” Dennie said. And I believed him. Growing up on a farm, and—because of his premature size—Dennie was put to chores at an early age. Learning when to get the equipment in the barn before the rains came in to rust everything uncovered, was a skill he had learned early. How this storm had snuck up on him, I do not know. “There’s a yard ahead… If we run, we can make it.”

We broke into a simultaneous sprint as another flash lit the coming storm in the west.

Nebraska’s late-summer storms were vicious and electrical; the dry air coupled with resonate static in the ready-dry wheat fields coupled together to make fierce lightning. Tornados were the big-scare though. In a storm that sneaks up like this one had, the possibilities of freak tornados was ensured. That’s what why we ran.

The train yard came into view. There were three box cars strung-together laying just off the main railway. They were cattle cars—metal boxes with wooden floors so that cattle wouldn’t be harmed in case of a lightning storm just like this one. We ran to the opened door of the second middle car and heaved ourselves up. The car hadn’t been cleaned since it was parked and I ended up face-down in a butte of manure.

Dennie helped me to my feet as I spit-out grassy clumps of hay that had seen the inner workings of an Angus. For a moment I though the liquor, forced down my throat, was also going to make an appearance, but my stomach and attention were hastened by the man’s voice.

“Your face down in your future boy,” he said. The man scooted on his ass out of the shadowy back corner of the car. “Take it from me.”

Dennie was still helping me to my feet and I felt him tense at the sight of the man. He was a hobo, a tramp; a homeless wanderer riding the rails and sleeping day-and-night in the same filth I’d just tasted.

“Here, wash your mouth out with this,” said the hobo. He crooked his hand out; a dirty hand sleeved by a heavy down-jacket, clutching a brown-bag wrapped bottle.

Before I could decline, Dennie accepted; saying, “Let me get a blast before he gets shit on the bottle.” He pulled back on the bottle, taking a hearty gulp before passing it on to me, his fallen comrade. I took a mouthful of the whiskey and spit it back into my cupped hands, splashing and wiping away the last of the brown smears across my face.

“So you boys from here in Ogalalla?” the man asked, taking the bottle back against his lips.

“Ogalalla?” Dennie laughed. “If that’s where you think we’re at, then maybe you better just let me take your hooch. Ogalalla is a hundred miles east of here…”

“Really?” he asked with more amazement than worry. “Where the hell are we?”

“Sidney,” I answered.

“I Must’ve slept through Ogalalla then,” the man wheezed.

Dennie nodded. “You’re in the Western Panhandle.”

The man looked a little confused, but took another sip of his bottle to right his thoughts. “Well if you boys fancy to keep-on knowin’ where you are, you’d be smart to leave this sort of drink to people like me!”

The winds howled past the cracked-open cargo door and whistled into the boxcar as the old man settled onto a circle of hay bales he had set up as a sort of bench. In the center of the bales was a pile of half-burned tinder and logs on an old metal sign. The man put a small drop from his liquor bottle onto the kindling and lit the fire. Within seconds the charred twigs erupted into hot glowing coals. Dennie and I took the other two barrels to seat, bringing us face to face with the man.

He was as you would expect a hobo to look: long speckled-grey beard, long speckled-grey hair, oily-black smudges across the ridge of his cheekbones. The clump in his beard, though, was what kept me unsettled. It looked like a wad of white chewing gum had fallen from his mouth and nested in the wiry hairs of his chin, but was never removed—left to morph into the crusted hairball that now graced his face.

“What are you boys doing out here on the rail anyway?” the man asked. “No kind of place for boys your age… You should be with your friends drinking out in Peetz Canyon…

Dennie and I looked at each other immediately. How would he know that the circle of kids we had been with earlier, were going to Peetz? He didn’t know where he was!” Dennie held his hand flat; signaling me to keep it cool.

“That’s where you should be alright…” he drifted off into whispers.

“Um, sir?” I nudged the man as he drifted away. “What were you saying?”

The hobo began a quick snore—he was asleep!

Dennie cocked a smile that lit-up our rusted-out old boxcar the same as the lightning had. “He’s had it man…” said Dennie. “The dude just drank himself to death right in front of us. Whoah! We might see a ghost sooner than we thought.” He was almost jolly as he flirted with the details of his story…

“The tortured soul,

of Hobo-Joe…

He died tonight,

His flesh gone-cold.

But he will be back,

For your life—it’s told.

Dennie cackled and wriggled his fingers in my face, ending his poem on a high-scare. He poked at my face as I yelled at him to stop… “Stop… Stop… Stop!” I yelled.

“Stop…!” the old man grumbled through the end of his final snore. His head was still dipped between his legs, eyes closed—but he seemed to now be awake.

Dennie’s taunts were detracted from me and he sat back on his bale, eying the old man—his smile, not yet shrunk.

“You boys won’t make it to the house…” the old man groaned.

Dennie’s smile finally dropped as he looked to me. “What did he say?”

I couldn’t answer.

“What did you say?” Dennie lunged at the man shoving-back his shoulder.

The hobo’s back straightened with a crackle of worn-bones and his head lifted slowly—eventually greeting us with wide white eyes. “You wanted to see a ghost tonight right?” his voice sounded calm, normal, and nonchalant; but the horrid, dead look on his face spoke louder.

Neither Dennie, nor I could move a muscle; frozen by his chilly-white eyes. “Ghosts,” said the man, “don’t exist… Stories made-up by people like Dennie that want nothing more than to see you scared. Right Dennie…?

And still we couldn’t move—couldn’t speak.

“You know, ghosts are the last thing you have to worry about out here on the rail… It’s the witches that can get you.” The man’s voice waivered as he spoke. “The witches…” he mumbled again, his speech trailed off into a high-pitched inhale. “They love the rail…”

The man gurgled and thin strand of blood and spit flew from his mouth and dripped to his clumped beard. He slumped to his side, tipping off of his hay bale. Behind him, though, came a short black figure, her features flickering in the spinning light from the fire. Her eyes were as white as the hobo’s: dead-white. A ratty black blanket, covered in lint, draped over her from her head to her heels.

She smiled at us with a face so wrinkled; it was as if she were melting. “They love the rail,” the witch said in the hobo’s voice, “we love them.” She moved slowly, staring directly at me. I couldn’t move, hypnotized by the gloss of her frozen white eyes.

Dennie noticed her slowly stalking toward me; whatever power she had over us, keeping her prey still, began to weaken on Dennie. He mustered the strength to raise his right arm and dig it into his jacket, retrieving his bottle of whiskey.

The woman was face to face with me, her yellow skin and pale eyes only inches from the tip of my nose. The crackling of the fire dulled to a cottony, mute silence, and I felt my eyelids growing heavy—I was falling asleep, just as the hobo had.

Dennie stood up—the witches control gone from him—and sent the glass bottle crashing over the top of her head. Glass shards scattered and the whiskey dripped down her shoulders and down into the fire, starting a slow ignition that began at her feet at quickly licked upwards, engulfing the blanket that covered her.

She stumbled backwards with a look of shock, horror and—above all—anger. She howled as the flames went from silky blue to bright orange; she tore at the blanket, trying to cast it off of her.

“Let’s go!” Dennie yelled as he tried to pull me to my feet. “We’ve got to get out of here!” I could hear him, but could still barely move. It was as if my entire body had fallen asleep and the blood was slow to pulse through and wake it.

The witch recoiled into the corner of the car, tearing away the last shreds of her smoldering cover. Now she was naked, her frail and emaciated body steaming and bubbling from her collar to her eyes. She screeched like a hawk, turning Dennie’s attention away from me and back to her. Dennie jumped over the fire and knelt beside the hobo’s corpse, trying to pull the booze from his stiffened grip. Freeing the bottle, Dennie gave it a full forced toss, shattering it at her feet. He kicked the metal sign cradleing the fire, sending it across the floor boards and lighting the old woman up again. Now fully-engulfed—and no clothes to cast off—she twisted around, floating off the ground and out through the crack of freight door, disappearing into the night.

“Let’s go… Now!” Dennie yelled pulling me by the arm.

I was having trouble moving, my legs wobbled underneath me, too weak to carry me faster than a dragging walk.

“Where did she go?” Dennie asked as we made our way to the edge of the field bordering the rails. “Is she gone?” He kept looking behind us as we ran full speed toward the fence. I didn’t dare look behind me.

Getting over the fence was more difficult this time; we struggled and slipped as we rushed to get past the barrier. Dennie was off the fence, and I was taking my last descending steps as the sirens came. The whirling whine of the storm sirens jolted me and I fell the last three feet, landing on my backside. “What is that?” I asked.

“It’s a tornado,” he said, “a tornado’s coming!”

I hobbled to my feet and we ran again. The winds were growing fiercer as we drew closer to the house. We came up the lane to 15th street and Dennie stopped running. “You hear that?” he asked.

It was a thick, deadening pulse of booming noise; like a heavy steel stamping machine, each pounding thud rang in our ears. I didn’t know what the sound was, but Dennie did. Dennie knew it was the sound of a tornado, but didn’t tell me. Of course he didn’t have to. A crack of lightning flashed in the distance, backlighting the funnel and casting its monstrous silhouette directly at us.

It was as they say on TV, the tornado… It looked like a swirl of filthy water twisting down a drain; it sounded like a train roaring off its tracks and screaming toward you.

This time Dennie was the one standing still, unwilling to move, his eyes glazed with awe and fear for the funneling maelstrom. he had seen storms before… Apparently never so close.

The spinning winds lashed against the side of the Cabela’s building, tearing at her old wooden roof and collapsing the attached tin shed. It was headed straight for us… past the old building and up 13th street toward my grandparent’s house. Moving slow, but quicker than we could run.

Dennie yelled something close into my ear, but it was lost in the loud static of the wind blowing all around us. He pointed toward the 13th street tunnel, and I understood what he meant. We pulled up our feet and sprinted full force for 13th. I don’t know if my adrenaline had me running faster, or if Dennie held back his speed for me; but we were elbow-to-elbow all the way past the fenced yard, over the concrete shoulder-block and down into the tunnel.

The sound was greater in the tube below the tracks; the whipping winds whistled and pierced our ears. Again, Dennie tapped my shoulder and pointed—a service door. Dennie went to the door while I braced myself on a bundle of copper pipes protruding from the concrete wall. The tornado was nearly at the opening of the tunnel at this point, and I found myself clutching the pipes harder, unable to withstand the sucking vacuum at the tunnels mouth. Dennie pulled at the door, releasing its lock; the door flung open wide and quick, propelled by the winds, hitting Dennie in the center of his forehead and knocking him backwards. He stumbled, stepping backwards toward the tunnel’s mouth, maybe 8 steps before he finally fell flat on his back.

He was flat and motionless; unconscious. I called his name and loosed my anchoring by one hand, only to have the pulling force of the suction stretch at me, pulling me off my feet—beckoning me toward the funnel. I regained my hold on the pipes and weaved my body between them, stitching myself back into a firm hold against the force. The brown outer edge of the cyclone disappeared as it rolled over the lip of the tunnel, and a newer, clearer funnel appeared inside the tunnel, feeding the storm directly above us. I looked at Dennie from the safety of my copper harness, and saw him begin to slide along the wet concrete. Slowly at first, his cotton cloth’s dragging along the pavement; but just as quickly gaining momentum and coasting away toward the tunnel’s opening—dragged away by the unseen force of nature at its worst.

I fought with myself as I was sewn safely in those pipes… I wanted to help him, wanted to be able to hold onto the edge of his boot and keep him from slipping away. But I couldn’t and I didn’t. I stayed where I was and watched him as the suction pooled him in. 20 feet from me… 30 feet from me… until finally the winds turned and slammed him against the rebar at the corner of the tunnel’s mouth, pinning him against the exposed metal spokes.

That’s when I saw he wasn’t the only one at the corner of the tunnel. The image was dulled by the brownish-red haze of swirling dust; but I knew it was her. The witch, her skin still blackened from flame, stretched her arm out from the rail above the tunnel and grabbed Dennie by his collar. She slid him out of the rebar with ease, and seemed to not be affected by the vacuum’s pull. She pulled him under her arm and slipped away back onto the rails.


By: Zachary Ankeny

Dedicated to my father: Stephen Bessire Ankeny

It’s probably happened to every writer… a coincidence that blends fiction with reality. One writes about a storm, perhaps, and the storm is powerful—destroying everything in sight. A short while later, a storm hits… just as the writer has written it.  Watching the news, the writer can’t help but consider that he/she made the storm happen—willed it to be. This has happened to me on a few different occasions, but never more coincidentally than the situation that writer/editor/publisher William Thomas Stead encountered.

Stead was born July 5th 1849 in Embleton, England; he died April 15th 1912.

If the date of his death doesn’t already seem familiar, it will…

His two most memorable fiction stories were: “How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor” (Published in 1886); and “From the Old World to the New” (published in 1892). Both centered on his growing nervousness about the safety of the Royal Mail Ships of Britain.

The first story, “How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor”, tells of two steam ships that collide in the North Atlantic Ocean. Due to a shortage of lifeboats, the disaster ends with a catastrophic loss of life. His second story on the subject, “From the Old World to the New”, was written as fiction, but became all-to-real. A luxury-liner en-route from England to New York strikes an iceberg and begins sinking slowly. Once-again, there are not enough lifeboats to accommodate all the passengers aboard the vessel and it’s a race against time for another vessel to come and save the passengers.

On his two short stories, Stead commented, “This is exactly what might take place and will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats.” Two decades passed and his stories fell on deaf ears.

In 1912, President William Howard Taft invited Stead to speak at a peace congress at Carnegie Hall in New York. Stead agreed and boarded the next ship to the United States. The ship: was the “Unsinkable”  Titanic, leaving England on her maiden voyage.

4 days into the voyage, the ship struck an iceberg and sank. His fiction story came alive as the 2,208 passengers of the “Greatest Ship Ever-Built”  fought to fit into the insufficient number  of lifeboats (20).

In the two hours it took for the Titanic to sink, Stead knew that a titanic loss of life was about to ensue. It is impossible to know exactly what he was thinking in those two hours before his death, but his two short stories give an insight into what he could have been thinking. It must have seemed like déjà vu to Stead. He had written this incident multiple times and now he was stuck in his story and destined to die.

Accepting his fate, Stead retired to the First-Class Smoking room as thousands clambered around the decks frightened and screaming.

Already in the Smoking-Room, were Thomas Andrews (The ship’s builder), and Benjamin Guggenheim (an American Millionaire). All three were ready to go down with the ship. Guggenheim was last seen wearing his best suit, drinking a brandy; Andrews was entranced, staring at a painting of Plymouth Harbour; Stead, true-to-form, sat gentlemanly in an armchair trying to finish reading a book. “Suicided” was the word the survivors used for these gentlemen’s odd acceptance of fate.

Stead’s 20-years of pleading for sufficient lifeboats on mail-ships finally became a regulation in late 1912, only months after 1500 people (Stead included) lost their lives in the Titanic Disaster.

Is it possible that Stead foresaw his own death? In his writing, Stead’s fear of sinking ships is quite evident. Over and over again, he lived out his characters deaths—the fear, anxiety and amazement. Stead’s prescient writing can easily be written off as a coincidence—an extreme coincidence—but a coincidence nonetheless.

Me? I don’t believe in coincidences, at-least not those as extreme as Stead’s. The Titanic sunk in the same waters as in Stead’s story; the ship was an RMS (Royal Mail Ship), just as-in his story. Incidentally, Stead wrote in “From the Old World to the New” that there were only 20 lifeboats aboard the fictional sinking ship—The Titanic had only 20 lifeboats. In that same story, it was a White Star Line vessel that steamed toward the foundering ship owned by Cunard-Lines. The Titanic was owned by White Star Lines and the Carpathia (owned by Cunard-Lines) was the ship that came to the rescue.

Is it possible that an imaginative person, with a tendency to write what is seen in the mind’s-eye, can be privy to future events?

Writers of all formats and genres, in numerous interviews, have admitted: “I don’t know where my ideas come from.” Author Stephen King actually admitted a sense of nervousness when presenting a new book, saying that he can never truly own the idea of his books, because he doesn’t know exactly where the idea originated.

Coincidence is a strange idea to me. I can’t believe that a random spin-of-the-wheel can bring such a fitting and tragic end to a man like Stead: the man who tried to save the lives of those aboard the Titanic, before the idea of such a ship was even conjured.

It seems that writing can take two separate courses: either the idea affects future events (as is the case with the works of Jules-Verne), or future events inspire the idea.

The classical-teaching of literary writing tells authors to not question where his/her ideas come from, but to let it roam free and take on a life of its own. I can’t help but ask: If you give life to your writing, will it outlive you?

5 Underground Horror Movies You Must See


Zachary Ankeny

It took an entire summer, as well as $100 worth of Blockbuster-fees; but I did it… I searched through the lower rung of cheap horror movies at my local rental-store. 85% of the films lived up to their cheap cover-art, lackluster casts, and un-appealing synopses. They were dead-fish. Rotten movies that only inspired a sense of resentment for picking one box instead of the next. A few, however, stood out.

When you rent every horror film available: you sift through the shit and find those little diamonds that were almost thrown out. These are the diamonds you cannot throw out.

5.  Blood Car

Set in the near future, this film has an odd approach to explaining our apocalyptic fate: gas prices! In fact, cars are obsolete in this story. Archie Andrews (played by Mike Brune) is a vegan who aspires to inventing an engine that runs on vegan smoothies. And it’s not working-out. The engine only roars to life after Archie accidentally cuts his hand and bleeds on it. Soon enough, the hippie naturalist who once hated the killing of any living being, is lured-in by the prospect of being the only one in town to have a running car. Now, anyone and anything filled with blood, becomes a possible fuel-source.

Listing this films nominations, wins, and nods would be impossible in this short article. The entire budget for the film was $125,000. And yes, it is evident in the fact that the film is grainy, the sound isn’t perfect and Anna Chlumsky (“My Girl”; “My Girl 2”) is the only actor you’ll recognize. Still, the story is wonderful enough to earn a spot on this list. By far, an underrated movie.


4.  Black Cadillac

Based on a true story, ‘Black Cadillac’ tells the story of four teenage boys who go out to a bar in the country to drink while underage and score some lonely girls stuck in a small town. A fight in the bar forces them to head back home prematurely. A hundred mile drive back to the city doesn’t seem that bad at first, but they’re being followed by a mysterious black Cadillac. Whoever—or whatever—is driving the Cadillac seems hell-bent on terrorizing the already frightened boys. After hours of taunting by the unknown car, the boys face facts and admit that they might never make it back home.

Honestly? The synopsis didn’t intrigue me either. The only reason I agreed to rent it, was the fact that the movie’s logo was a great design: ‘Black Cadillac’ in broad letters, formed into the chrome logo that was on the classic Caddies.  After watching the film once, I immediately went back and watched again. Then I watched it with the director’s commentary. Listening to the director re-live everything that happened on the night that inspired the story, added a new dimension to the film. The actors in the film were low-key as well—nobody too famous, but good actors. This helped develop the characters well—you have an instant relationship with every character introduced. Randy Quaid (‘Vacation;’ ‘Independence Day’) is, however, a recognizable face, and plays a character he was born to play: creepy local sheriff. Don’t go the rest of your life without seeing this movie… Like other films on this list, you can find it for a bargain-price.


3.  Terror Tract

A newlywed couple goes house-hunting with their trusty realtor, played by John Ritter (“Three’s Company”; “IT”). Problem? Every house shown by their nervous agent has a tawdry and murderous past, needing to be explained in-detail before the buyers can make their decision.

My girlfriend and I rented this movie for one reason only: John Ritter. He had just passed away, so seeing this movie on the shelf made us want to find out what the hell it was all about. Unknowingly, we stumbled onto one of the greatest horror-comedies ever made. It was the perfect balance of horror and comedy. Both mine and my girlfriend’s families were big in the real estate business at the time; so, of course, we loved the idea of a realtor that only had ‘haunted houses’ to show his clients.

When it comes to famous faces, this movie will take you by surprise… A low-budget, fun movie with appearances by actors and actresses that make you ask, “Hey, what other movies were they in?”A decade after first seeing it, I am still looking for any extra copies of the original release. Trust me… If you see it in your movies store, or in the bargain-bin—don’t pass it up.


2.  The Tripper

Hippies Beware! It’s the biggest outdoor concert of the year—a festival of peace and love. What could go wrong? Well… A homicidal maniac who thinks he’s Ronald Reagan could show up, bent on slaughtering all those filthy hippies.

From writer/director/actor/famous family/husband of Courtney Cox (David Arquette), comes this gem. Starring David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Jason Mewes, Balthazar Getty, and more: this film was David Arquettes subtly-political commentary on the state of our country. Drugs, hippies, the government, concert-promoters, and animal-rights activists; all are fair-game in Arquette’s satirical story. And really? Why wouldn’t you want to watch a b-movie that has an axe-wielding Ronald Reagan as the villain?


1: Carriers

Upon seeing the cover of this film, I was worried… “What is this? SyFy Channel’s version of 28 weeks later?” I commented to myself.  Thankfully, this presumption didn’t deter me from renting this movie.

First lines of the movie were, again, overused and bland: rules for surviving the post-apocalyptic world where disease has devastated mankind, teenage survivors learning how to cope with the new world… Even the cast-members kept me uneasy: Chris Pine (Star Trek [2009]) in the lead? Either this guy agreed to make a terrible movie at the height of his success, or this movie will hit a note. Honestly? I think he made the perfect decision. Though the movies starts slow, the plot, climax and ending made the movie.

I still can’t tell if this is a true-horror film, or a drama with horror-overtones, but the bottom line is: I actually cried at the end of the film. As a writer, my job is to create characters and put them into horrible situations; hoping that readers will grow an emotional connection to those characters. Then, I am supposed to torment them. This movie sucked me in and enamored me—I felt the characters and felt their pain.

Though this movie is fairly-hard to find; it shouldn’t be in the bargain-bin… This is an artistic piece that should be remembered and enjoyed by everyone.


I sifted through all the marked-down movies, the throw-aways, the bombs, the rotten tomatoes… Of all the bad scripts, worse actors and lacking budgets, these are the best. Rent them, purchase them, over-borrow them from your roommate—I don’t care. But watch them.

The Coalescence of Family and Future Endeavors

By: Zachary Ankeny

(Originally published in eFiction Magazine; June, 2010)

It was a quarter past nine and still, Evelyn hadn’t arrived. Denton was worried. Had she been caught sneaking out of town to meet him? Had she reconsidered, realizing that running away from her family and fiancé with Denton would be a mistake? He couldn’t let himself think that – she would be there soon.

It was 1887; two years since Denton had come to Cherry, a booming mining town in the Arizona territory. He had hoped to make his fortune in the mining business with the claim he had won in a high-stakes poker game in Goldfield. Upon his arrival in the small town of Cherry, he found that his “claim” was little more than a mined-out old shaft, already stripped of its valuable minerals. He’d sunk all his money into getting from Goldfield to his new home; now, penniless and unemployed, he had no choice but to work for the major mining outfit that owned Cherry. The mining company gave him a job, but technically he still wasn’t even a miner. His duty was to carry the honeypots out of the mine; the buckets of urine and feces from the true miners. A terrible job, sure, but even worse of a blow to his social status. It was hard enough to get the respect of the townsfolk as the new man in town without being the person that transports their filth and waste.

Denton met Evelyn in the post office, a beautiful young woman of 23 with vibrant, flowing red hair. From the moment he saw the girl, he knew she would one day be his wife. Immediately, he quit his honeypot-job and took a new job at one of the local boarding houses. Incidentally, it was the Carville Boarding house; Evelyn’s father, John Carville, was the owner. Denton had hoped to show the old man he was a hardworking gentleman with good morals – a perfect suitor for his breathtaking daughter. It was a good plan, but one laid too late. Evelyn was already engaged to Clark Wittstaff; the foreman of the mines and Cherry’s most eligible bachelor. He was handsome and distinguished, but was known to have a hot temper that could erupt without warning. The matching was made by Evelyn’s father (money had more than a little to do with it) and was highly opposed to by Evelyn. She didn’t love the man, she could barely stand the sight of him; this fueled her resentment for her father and lulled her into a promiscuous relationship with Denton.

Denton and Evelyn had carried on their affair behind closed doors and no one in town suspected a thing. Their affair began simply enough – Denton wanted Evelyn and Evelyn wanted out of her forced fate.

With only two weeks remaining before her wedding date, Evelyn knew something had to give – and soon. Desperately, she asked Denton if he would take her away from it all; from her imposing father and undesired fiancé – he agreed. The only problem was that an escape through the desolate landscape of Arizona would be a difficult one. If they could make it to Flagstaff, they might have a chance of continuing on to San Francisco via rail. The trek from Cherry to Flagstaff would be the most difficult part. No one wanted to brave the road north to Flagstaff with the recent rumors of attacks from Apache renegades. Even if they made it to Flagstaff unscathed, they would need money to get them the rest of the way to California. Denton had a total of $35.oo. A good chunk of savings, but more was needed to ensure their safety through the untamed mountains of the northern Arizona territory, or to purchase a place in San Francisco. He had no idea how to get the money together and his time was running short. In 13 days, his beloved Evelyn Carville would be Evelyn Wittstaff.

Fate, it seemed, had dropped the answer directly into his hands – quite literally. Denton was tending to his daily duties at the Carville Boarding House. He began the morning by cleaning the rooms, turning the sheets and cleaning the lobby. By the afternoon, he was balancing the books for old man Carville. Denton was an educated man, and Carville trusted him to tally the month’s finances. Cherry did not yet have a bank within its city limits; Carville’s only security for his weekly earnings was placed both in the hands of Denton, and the blast-proof safe hidden below the office desk. While Denton was balancing the books, Clark Wittstaff walked into the office, arm-in-arm with his soon-to-be father-in-law. Clark could always be recognized immediately; he wore the same grey suit and derby hat every day, a fancy, custom-tailored set of garbs that obviously cost a fortune. The two laughed and slapped each other on the back as they puffed on their fat cigars (Clark had them imported from Havana, sparing no expense).  John Carville commenced his fatherly embrace with Clark and pulled a bottle of 12 year old scotch from the desk, reaching over Denton without acknowledging him. He pulled together a couple of handsome glasses and poured two healthy slugs of scotch.

“Here’s to our futures, Clark my boy,” Carville toasted. “The coalescence of two great families barreling forward into future endeavors.” Clark clinked his glass to Carville’s and sipped at it gingerly. “Oh, Denton… do have a drink with us,” said Carville, finally noticing his presence.

“Thank you sir, but I’m on the clock,” Denton declined.

“Nonsense – you’re on my clock, and I can stop it whenever I want.” Carville grabbed another glass, splashing in a good-sized gulp. “Best worker I’ve ever had,” Carville proudly announced to Clark, pointing his chubby finger at Denton. “Good with numbers, hardworking and best of all… trustworthy.”

Denton smiled; the old man’s flattering words sealed his decision. He would rob John Carville and steal away with his daughter – he would do it tonight.

“To the coalescence of family and future endeavors,” Denton reciprocated, holding his glass to Clark.

Clark hesitated, shooting Denton a suspicious look; finally giving in and tapping his glass to Denton’s. Denton slammed back the glass, pouring the lot down his throat.

“Speaking of future endeavors,” Clark turned back to Carville. “My family wishes to give you a gift.” He took an envelope from inside of his vest, and handed it to Carville. “A token of my gratitude to the man who brought the crimson beauty that is Evelyn into this world – and, soon enough, into my family.”

The envelope was fat and nearly bursting through the wax stamp that held the lip shut. Carville broke the seal and peeked into it, his eyes rounded and he pulled a stack of U.S. notes from its pith. “My gracious,” Carville gasped. “This… this is just too much.”

“It is not,” Clark opposed. “My family believes in sharing our good fortune with our closest of friends and family. You’ve been saying you aim to expand the boarding house and add a saloon; well this should take care of both… you might even have a little left over to add a faro parlor for me as well.” The old man’s eyes glossed over and he hugged Clark with all his strength, hard enough to make Clark lift his glass, protecting it from spilling on his signature suit.

Carville poked a finger under his bifocals and pushed away a tear. He turned back to Denton, “Put this in the safe immediately, boy.”

Denton grabbed the envelope, pulled a hunk of red wax from the drawer and held it over a candle burning at the center of the desk. He let the wax drip onto the envelope and stamped a new seal into it, trying to emphasize to Carville that the cash was well taken care of. He bent below the desk and spun the dial of the steel and concrete safe… 32 left, 12 right, 07 left.

Denton smiled, crouched and hidden away under the desk – the irony was perfect as a pearl – not only was he taking Carville’s daughter and Clark’s bride-to-be, his escape was now fully funded by the victims themselves.

Denton paced the floor of his cabin nervously; it was now nearly 10pm, and still no sign of Evelyn. He walked over to the pack saddle hung from the wall, and pulled the envelope full of cash from its leather pocket. He knew it would still be there, but had to check again to give himself some comfort.

Denton’s cabin was a good 4 miles outside of Cherry’s city center, on what remained of his worthless claim, and Evelyn was travelling at night; had she gotten lost in the desert? Perhaps she strayed from the path and was now aimlessly wandering in the brush somewhere between here and the camp. No, he thought, tearing the thought from his head. She’s still coming – she’s on her way.

Denton returned to his table; an island of worm-eaten wood in the center of the cabin which doubled as his writing desk, and read the telegram from the transport company ensuring that a stagecoach would be waiting for him where the northern road forked toward the Mingus mining camp. This too gave him a bit of relief. He tossed the telegram into the fiery belly of the stove, incinerating the last piece of evidence to where they had gone. Undeniably, when John Carville woke up tomorrow and checked his safe; both Carville and Wittstaff would quickly gather a posse to chase him down and retrieve their treasure (the money and Evelyn).

The thought of the scorned men giving chase twitched at his nerves, and he had to stand up and walk around the room to keep himself from hyperventilating. He pulled the pistol from his belt and checked its chambers, ensuring that all 6 bullets were loaded and ready to fire – and they most certainly were.

Sheathing his weapon, Denton heard a familiar sound outside. Horses – he definitely heard the dusty clacking of hooves in the dirt. More than four sets of shoes, he deduced. Evelyn wouldn’t have brought a pack horse with her – there was someone else out there.

Quickly, he blew out all the lanterns around the room; the oven was still hot and gave a faint glow from behind the windows, but if he doused it, the steam would be a signal that could be seen from farther. He slouched down below the window, his back against a rusted sheet of scrap metal that would hopefully block any bullets that might be aimed at him. A metal bit above him clanked against the wall, offering the only sounds; outside, pure silence. Had he really heard the horses, or was it his nervous (and guilty) mind playing tricks on him? He tried to convince himself it was the latter, but the truth remained – he was a thief in hiding, waiting for his crimson-haired accomplice to arrive. He had reason to worry.

He sat there hunched into the corner of the log house for another 45 minutes, pistol in-hand. Something was wrong. He considered the fact that there was still time to sneak back into Carville’s office and put the money back into the safe, but reserved a hint of hope that his true love was on her way to him – more than a little late, but on her way.

And there it was – three short knocks… a pause, then two more (the code that he and Evelyn had decided upon). Denton breathed a heavy sigh of relief, holstered his pistol and picked himself up from the dirt floor. He walked to the door, unlatched it and pulled it open. Immediately he felt a smashing blow, flat across his face; he fell backwards, losing consciousness just a moment before hitting the ground. In mid-air, as he fell and blood trickled from his nose to his lips he saw the group standing outside of his door – 6 men in all; Clark Wittstaff and his villainous smile in the lead.

Denton awoke from the blackout to see the same group gathered around him, now inside the house, their glares bearing down on him. He tried to straighten himself out, only to find that he was tied to his chair with straps of leather.

“I never took you for a criminal, you know,” a voice chimed in from Denton’s left. It was Clark, spinning a fire poker in the smoldering coals of the stove. “I never quite trusted you, but saw you as more of a lowly, irritating son-of-a-bitch – not a thief.”

“What are you talking about,” Denton blubbered as blood spilled from the cracks of his mouth. He caught one of the outlaws brandishing a heavy rail tie covered in blood – his blood. The hefty lumber was the ram that battered into his face just before the blackness overtook him, he was sure of it. He was lucky to still be alive after receiving the heavy shot.

“It’s well past the point where you can pretend to play the imbecile,” Clark snapped. “I know what you did… I have quite a prescient knack for spotting the intent of a would-be criminal, you see. I knew what you planned to do as soon as you took the envelope from Carville’s hands – saw it in the darkest spots of your eyes. Sadly, I hadn’t yet realized what part Evelyn played in your plan.” He pulled the hot iron hook from the fire and waived it tantalizingly in front of Denton’s eyes before setting it virginally on top of the table. The red, glowing end kissed the wood and let out a slight sizzle and wisp of smoke as a blackened mirror image of the hook developed on the table.

“Where is she?” he labored to ask, his front tooth blowing out of his mouth and onto his lap.

“Oh dear,” said Clark, his eyes narrowing and digging through Denton. “With the $12,000 in this envelope you could have gotten that grin taken care of.” Clark once again pulled the envelope from his vest, brought the money to his nose to give it a whiff, and set it on the table. The mob behind him roared.  “I don’t think you understand, fully, who I am Denton. I’m not just some half-wit acting as foreman of the mines you know…”

The pain ripping through Denton’s gums and lips peaked, and he felt as if he was going to faint again.

“Truth of the matter is my name isn’t even Clark Wittstaff… It’s Whitley Clark. Well, that was my given name.”

“Dear God,” Denton thought. He had heard that name many times before in his travels throughout the west. Whitley Clark was a close relative of William A. Clark, the second richest man in the country, and surely the most powerful man west of the Mississippi. Whitley had been the family’s dirty little secret; a murderer by the age of 12 and an all around ne’er do well. With the combination of his temper, money, power and his flat-out disregard for morals and law; he was the most feared (and rarely seen) men in the western territories.

“So you can guess that the 12 grand – a gift of mine to my friend – you saw to abscond with, isn’t really the most concerning of matters to me.” Clark struck a match on Denton’s chair and lit his cigar. “I got plenty more to my name. No, what really gets under my hat is the fact that you thought you could take what I truly desired… Evelyn.”

Denton twitched in his chair at the very mention of her name. “Where ith the?” his speech was impeded by his lack of front teeth. The newly acquired lisp gave way to a cruel laugh from the men.

“She’s coming,” Clark smirked. “I’ve paid my boys here a large amount in advance for the work we have before us tonight – surely they won’t keep us waiting.” Another grumbling set of heckles tore through the room from the dusty, sweat-stained mob.

Tears ran from Denton’s eyes, rolling down his cheeks and thinning the clump of blood that had dried to his chin. “Goddamn you!” he yelled, spitting a spray of blood into Clark’s face.

“Shut him up,” Clark commanded the mercenaries. Two of the men hurried to the chair that kept Denton trapped; one man pulled a pair of dirty, crumpled handkerchiefs from his soiled pockets and stuffed one of them into Denton’s mouth, knocking out another tooth that was still clinging to his jaw. The second, he wrapped around the prisoner’s head, holding the first gag in-place.

“Can we continue our conversation now?” Clark sneered. He produced a bottle of scotch and poured a slug into a gold-rimmed snifter. It was the same kind of scotch that Denton had enjoyed with the sharp-dressed brigand only hours ago. “Forgive me if I don’t offer you a drink… unlike Carville, I am very particular about who I invite to my toasts.” He raised his snifter and looked at the ceiling of the cabin. “Since we can no longer toast to the coalescence of family and future endeavors – let’s drink to… REVENGE.” he shot the liquor back into his throat the same way Denton had previously done. He smiled back at Denton, wiping the last bit of scotch-dew from his lips. “God that’s good – aged twelve years in Scotland, and another five in my private cellar.”

A rap on the door kept Clark from continuing his tribute to the rare liquor – three short knocks… a pause, then two more. Clark faked a surprised look, “Hmm… Could that… No… Could it be? Your partner in crime? The angel with rose locks? The ethereal beauty that stole both our hearts?” Denton’s chest pounded with anticipation, he could accept death right now if only he was able to see Evelyn one last time – touch her skin or feel her flowing red hair brush against his chest. “Let’s see, shall we?” Clark grinned and turned toward the door. “Enter!”

The door flung open, but Evelyn wasn’t outside; it was another 3 mercenaries who filed in and merged with the rest of their group. Clark clicked his cheek, “Nope… And I really thought she might show up. That just doesn’t seem right to me… really, it doesn’t – because I’m going to kill you tonight Denton; I am. The least I could have done was give you a glimpse of the prize that you lost your life trying to attain.” Clark took another gulp of Scotch, this time straight from the mouth of the bottle. Giving a sour face, he called out, “Sullivan, show the man what he’s about to die for.”

Denton felt a slimy splat on his lap and looked down to see a bundle of red hair, bloodied and still clinging to its peeled scalp. He screamed (or tried to through the sweaty handkerchief filling his mouth), rocking himself back and forth in the chair, trying to fling the pelt of his love off of his lap. The men’s laughter grew to a scream of its own as they taunted Denton. One of the men came forward, grabbed the scalp off his lap and stretched it over Denton’s head; his panicked moans peaked again.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Clark announced. “Have some respect for my late fiancé.” The man who had planted the scalp on Denton went back and retrieved it, still snickering.

“I want you to know that this isn’t a gaggle of laughs for me Denton, it really isn’t. You see; tomorrow when Evelyn turns up missing and the search party goes out…” Clark pointed to the men surrounding the room, introducing the search party. “…When Evelyn is finally found; I hold the heartbreaking duty of having to tell Carville that his daughter, while on a late night stroll, encountered a group of the renegade Apaches that have been tormenting the Verde Valley for some weeks now. Not only did they take her scalp, but they left her body naked in a very horrifying position out in the brambles. Carville is my friend and I’m not looking forward to seeing his reaction to that.” Clark stood up, set his snifter on the table and began walking around the room. “Sure, I’ll admit it… I am a very, very evil man – have been all my life. I was going to try and change my ways; moved out here to Cherry, took a modest job at the mines, fell in love with a woman… I thought it would be a new road for me.” He picked the poker up off the table and buried its curled, iron end back into the coals of the stove. “I’ll try it again after this is all over; I’ll try and move on, find a wife and move into my old age as an upstanding citizen of this country… I hear there’s a camp up on the other side of the mountain – they say it’s going to be the richest operation in the west. They call it Jerome – who knows, that may be where I can finally shed my past, make the new-start I had hoped for in Cherry. But before I do… I still have one last problem to deal with…”

The poker was red-hot again as Clark pulled it from the fiery chips; he brandished it in front of Denton’s face, letting it radiate a glowing red orb across his cheeks.  Clark, wide-eyes and wide smile, was enjoying every moment of the torment Denton was enduring. “Don’t worry Denton,” Clark teased. “We’ll go slow – It’ll all be over in a few hours.”

He eased the hot iron back and forth toward the iris of Denton’s eye as the jeering outlaws watched on intently. From behind the laughing horde, the window of the cabin shattered as a bottle fired through. The bottle and the flaming rag in its spout exploded on the back of the biggest of the watching bandits. The man screamed and was instantly engulfed in flames, licking around him from his back. Stunned, the other men moved to the window. Clark dropped his fiery, staff and ran to the window, pushing the gawking mob out of the way. Peering around the frame and out the shattered window, he heard a whooshing sound and a sharp pain as a stone-tipped arrow pierced through his eye and crashed out the back of his head. Clark stumbled backwards, and blood dribbled from his mouth and nostrils. He collapsed onto the wooden table, grasping one last time toward the envelope before his body slumped lifeless at Denton’s feet.

“Apaches!” hollered one of the outlaws. The merciless men unholstered their pistols and charged out the front door. Another flurry of whooshing sounds rang out, and three of the exiting men fell dead in the doorway, arrows prickling out from their chests. Denton rocked himself in the chair, desperate to unbind himself. For now, the Apache marauders had been his saviors, freeing him from the torment of Clark and his men; but what they had come for, was blood – white man’s blood. In the eyes of the Apaches, the blood that pulsed under Denton’s white skin was just as red as the spilling blood of the outlaws in the doorway. Hearing gunshots outside of the cabin, Denton hopped in the chair, hoping to snap the legs and release his bindings. Another kerosene-filled bottle flew in from the broken window, shattering on the table and releasing a sea of flames that dripped to the floor. Denton watched as the envelope, filled with money, quickly burned and curled into black flakes. For a moment he paused, saddened by the sight, but quickly was brought back to reality when another round of arrows sprinkled into the room, narrowly missing him.

The fire spread quickly through the deadwood walls of the building and Denton could feel the heat of the flames licking toward his face. With all of his force, he lifted himself and the chair strapped to his bottom, and crashed backwards into the wall. The chair broke apart underneath him, splintering from the legs to the seat. His head slammed into the dirt floor, dazing him and reducing his hearing to a cottony, muted ring. He focused his blurred eyes and forced himself to stand up. The leather bindings still choked him at the wrists, cutting of the blood flow to his pounding fingertips, but he was unrestrained. Crawling low along the wall toward the door, he felt a digging in his back and reached around to feel a splintered shard of the chair buried in the flesh behind him. The wedge of chair had missed his spine and kidney, but he didn’t dare pull it out just yet, fearing he would bleed out before escaping the conflagration.

From outside, Denton heard the war-cries of the Apaches. They hooted in celebration, circling the burning wreckage and bodies. This steadied Denton; surely, the raiders believed they had just killed the last of the white men and would soon retreat to stow themselves in the hidden desert. The fire raged throughout the cabin, there was no way the Indians would dare to check inside now. Denton just hoped they would be gone quickly enough to allow him to escape the inferno. The howling cheers began to grow more distant; over the crackle of burning wood, the clamping of retreating hoofs could be heard. Denton crawled cautiously on his belly toward the door, hiding himself behind the slouched corpse of a bandit. Peeking around the corner – careful not to expose his eyes to a screaming arrow – he could see no sign of the marauding army of natives. He could make his getaway. He stood up, paused, and looked back at Clark – a thought crossed his mind. The only option left for him now was to flee town and try and get to Flagstaff or maybe Prescott on his own, but he still needed money. He ran back to the center of the room and rolled Clark’s body over. The back of the arrow had broken off and only a frayed stick stood out of his eye socket. Denton stripped him down, collecting Clark’s signature suit and derby hat.  Suit in-hand and leaving Clark’s naked body behind, Denton walked over the sprawled corpses and out of the burning building. The renegades had made off with the horses – it was the only thing of value to the warring wanderers – but had left all of the dead desperados untouched, their firearms still clutched in their hands. He grabbed two pistols, a rifle and enough cartridges to fill them all several times over and watched – everything he had owned turned to ash in a burning swirl of fire that stretched toward the stars. Worthless, meaningless things roasting inside the pyre; Evelyn, however, had meaning and worth, but she too was gone.

Denton entertained himself with a new plan. The fire grew higher and higher, and (he figured) could be seen from the rooftops in Cherry. Soon enough, the town would send its most able-bodied men to investigate what had happened. Upon seeing the arrows, they’d know the attack was carried out by the Apache rebels everyone had feared. Immediately, a scavenger group would be sent to take chase of the warriors; leaving the town defenseless – open for him to walk right in and rob the town. The ill-gotten $12,000 from Clark was gone, but inside the Assayers, lay a fortune. No one would be able to accuse Denton Barrington of the robbery, because he had been incinerated in the fire. The bodies would be unrecognizable – nine in all, he figured – even Clark wouldn’t be recognized. No, he thought. Denton Barrington is no more…

Tonight, there wouldn’t be a coalescence of family; but the possibility of future endeavors gave a golden twinkle in Denton’s calculating eyes. He pulled his blood-soaked clothes off his body and slipped on the custom suit of Clark’s, covering his face with a bandana. The only survivor, he imagined, was Clark Wittstaff – once known as Whitley Clark – and come tomorrow, Mr. Clark would pillage the town of Cherry, taking it for all it was worth. Then, maybe, Mr. Clark would finally get to move on to a new town and make a decent life for himself – as he had hoped to – in the mining camp of Jerome.

Dear Cainwright


Dear Cainwright,

Zachary Ankeny, Author

I realize that this letter will likely come as a surprise to you, seeing as how you just attended my funeral last week. Of all the ways I could have gone, I never could have imagined that I would be killed by your wife (who I was in-fact sleeping with for over two years). I’m told that she is facing a death sentence and trying for an insanity defense. A little bit of insider information: it doesn’t work. In 457 days the jury finds her guilty and 735 days later she is put to death. Not that letting you know how and when your beloved wife meets her bitter end is the point of this correspondence – it certainly is not.

The point of this letter is to tell you where I am and where you are going. I can’t quite call it Hell, but it’s no picnic. When we started our contract-company in the 1980’s, we were only concerned with profit and success (which we attained at a cost hidden to us at the time). As it turns out, our bright idea of selling irradiated bullets to the Department of Defense was not well received by those here in the afterlife. Sure, we never killed anyone face to face, but our product was used to inflict pain, torment and death all around the world. The ghostly record keepers of our lives’ doings (both good and evil), tend to wink at one or two indiscretions in our lives and forgive and forget. Your wife, for instance – it was a crime of passion, killing me, and she will avoid the torture of the plane I am in right now. I can’t tell you what the other side is like, because I’ve never seen it – and never will, but I’m sure it’s a whole hell of a lot better than where I am. Unfortunately for you and I, the manufacturing of those bullets have racked up 241,367 kills (that was the total at the time I was ushered into this place) and the number is rising every second of every day. I guess we made quite a household project huh?

I’m not telling you this so you can see the light and change your life and try and repent for all of your sins – you can’t. This isn’t some Charles Dickens-style warning to redeem you – you are going to die, and you’re coming straight here. I feel for you Cainwright, I really do. The horrors of this place are unimaginable and I wouldn’t wish it on any soul no matter what their crime. I’m not trying to scare you either; you were always a good friend, co-worker and partner in crime. No, the reason I am writing this to you is because whatever it is that’s in charge here wants to frighten you. It’s horrible – I know. But selfishly, I accepted. A small break from the infinity of pain and fear I am now waist-deep in.

In closing, I am compelled to apologize for so much. I am sorry for having an affair with your wife, that was a really rotten thing for me to do. I am sorry you had to find out about the affair by tripping over my corpse and seeing your wife cradling the shotgun and crying. I am sorry for giving in to those that keep me here and agreeing to write you this letter. Above all, I am very sorry for the way things have turned out (or will turn out, in your case), I wish I could say that I’ll be here for you when you arrive, but that’s just not the way things work; they keep us all separated into our own personal fears. All I can say, is I apologize for everything. Be brave and live your life however you want… there’s no changing fate now.


Your friend Brice

How to Submit Short Stories to Publishers

For me, and for many other authors and readers out there, the short story is an art form held in very high regard. A short work of fiction can, (in some cases), cross genres more easily than longer novellas and even novels. Why? Because the story is a quick glimpse, or vignette of the story’s ideas; and the characters’ attributes, struggles and lives. The story is required by its constrained length to give all of the elements of a novel, novella or novelette at a quicker pace than longer works. This often makes writing a clear, concise and complete story more challenging for the author; but, (if written well), gives the reader immediate gratification. In this day in age—when technology makes our lives easier, and gives us the ability to obtain information and entertainment without putting forth much effort—the short story, and publishers actively seeking salable short fiction, seems to once again be a booming market in the literary world.

So you have made the biggest step and written a beautiful and complete work of short prose. You feel the story has both merit and a little something that editors might be looking for. What now? First, I’ll ask you a question: ‘How well do you know the short fiction market?’ Before submitting anything—whether it be a 900 word flash-fiction story or a full length epic novel—you should know as much information as you can gather about the market you are submitting to. Lucky for you, short story publishers make-available a wealth of knowledge on the subject; nearly always posting their guidelines, what types of fiction they are looking for, what to expect once you’ve submitted, and even a pay-scale to let you know the average-payment you can expect to be receiving when and if your story is accepted.

First thing’s first. Do you know where you would like to send your submission? If you have a favorite magazine that you would like to submit to, check their website. Usually you can find either a section titled Guidelines that will have exactly that: everything you need to know before submitting. If you cannot find a Guidelines section on the website, check under the Contact Us section. I have come across many publishers that prefer to keep different guidelines for different employees and positions. In this case, the website’s contact list will be where you’ll find your guidelines for submission. If you cannot find the guidelines anywhere on the site, chances are they don’t accept unsolicited submissions. If you aren’t quite sure where you want to submit to,  here’s a little trick: Go to; search the following phrase: ‘Short Story Guidelines.’ Note: it is often beneficial to try out variations such as ‘Short Fiction Guidelines’; ‘Short Story Submission’; etc. This simple search will return results for all sites that include guidelines for submission of your shorts.

For the purpose of this article, I will use the guidelines given to me buy Editor Doug Lance of eFiction Magazine; a wonderful monthly publication that strives to assist and educate new and emerging authors with all aspects of short story publishing.

Mr. Lance was eager to give readers some examples and tips for submitting to his publication and to others as well. “I started eFiction to be an inclusive submission process. Most other publications are exclusive. They have their “slush pile” that is skimmed over for good submissions. The large majority of those manuscripts are simply tossed out. eFiction receives really good manuscripts that don’t need any editing. For the manuscripts that I feel aren’t quite ready, I work with the author to improve not only that manuscript, but their entire craft. I teach ‘the man to fish.’”

This is a very good example of how monthly publications of short prose can be beneficial to both experienced and emerging authors. These publishers and editors—more often than not—are excited to work with authors in honing their craft, and give constructive criticism and feedback. If the author takes their feedback, dwells on it, and learns from it: said author will return to the publication with a higher quality of writing, and it is win-win for both parties.

               This is just one example from one magazine. eFiction Magazine may not be for every writer, though. My advice is to search out the perfect home for your work.

               Now, any publication that accepts submissions is bound to receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of manuscripts. For this reason, some magazines will only actively accept submissions during their pre-set reading periods. If the magazine is swamped or backlogged, they will usually have an open-period, averaging six out of twelve months per year. These open reading periods will be posted on their website—usually on their Guidelines Page—and I cannot stress enough how important it is for writers to adhere to this. If you submit your manuscript during their off-times, you are wasting their time, and probably won’t make any friends in the editing room. Follow the rules set by the magazine’s guidelines (ie. formatting, reading periods, word counts, etc.) and your story is guaranteed to be read and given serious consideration based on its merit.

               Among the guidelines a publication may specify, formatting is probably the most important. Every editor has their own idea of how your manuscript should be formatted while he/she reads it. Often, it will be in Standard Manuscript Formatting, but this is not true for all printing houses. Just like a writer likes to format their story in their own way while writing, editors like to see everything they read in their own preferred format. Second: word-counts. This is also very important; guidelines for a publication are usually set-in-stone. If the guidelines tell you that the magazine accepts submissions of 2,500 to 7,500 words, than the ideal manuscript they are looking for, is right around 5,000 words. If your story comes in at 9,000 words, query the editor first, (if they accept queries); and if they would like to make an exception, they will let you know. Otherwise, you might want to look for another magazine, or do some editing to cut-down length. An editor knows exactly how many words his/her issue has room for; and just like playing Tetris, he will try and fit the highest amount of quality work into a single issue. This is one of the main duties of an editor, so take word counts very seriously. As a guide, I have listed word-counts below to give you an idea of what your story may be, based on its word-count:

·         MICRO FICTION: 0 – 100 Words
·         FLASH FICTION: 100 – 1,000 Words
·         SHORT STORY: 1,000 – 7,500 Words
·         NOVELLETE: 7,500 – 20,000 Words
·         NOVELLA: 20,000 – 50,000 Words
·         NOVEL: 50,000 – 110,000 Words
·         EPICS and SEQUELS: Over 110,000 Words

        Again, this is a beginner’s guide to the wonderful world of short fiction and the submission process. Serious writers of short stories should use this article as a jumping-off point and continue their own research into the guidelines of separate publications. I feel the need to reiterate the fact that the short story market, its submission and editing processes, can be one of the most useful tools a writer can utilize. Follow this guide and delve into as many publishers’ guidelines as can be obtained, read them thoroughly, take them seriously, and your story will see its day as a concise and publishable piece of work.

For additional information, take a look at the following websites: