The Cat Came Back; Friday Flash Fics by Jeff Baker for March 27, 2020.

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The Cat Came Back

By Jeff Baker

 

I’d never slept in a church before, especially not a deserted one, but it beat spending another night on the street. Anyway it was cold in the city and I didn’t want to get picked up by the cops as a runaway which technically I was, as a sixteen-year-old whose parents had bailed on him. I’d been lucky; I looked older than I was and I’d found some places to work and live over the last few months. But I kept out of trouble; a youth center was no place for a gay teenager in 1977. Which brings me to the church.

I’d been warming my hands over a fire in a trash can under a bridge, feeling uncomfortable about the way a couple of the bigger guys were looking at me when I overheard somebody saying something about the old church on Haley Street. It was closed up, I knew that, but someone else had told me earlier that people stayed away from the church and that it wasn’t a church anymore, and that “it wasn’t a place where anybody would go, not even the cops.”

I wandered away from the fire; the big guys didn’t follow me. I guess they just wanted the fire to themselves. I looked around and walked down the street, turning a corner and taking a zig-zag route in case I was being followed. It was after midnight when I found the church, a one story building in a run-down neighborhood. The street light in front of the church was burned out or shot out. The only light was another streetlight a block away. I looked around again and climbed over the sagging wire fence that someone had put up a while back. There was dead, brown grass about a foot tall around the little building which was about the size of a convenience store. I kept imagining giving the cops my usual spiel: that my name was Bryce Going, that I was nineteen and seeing the country and that somebody had stolen my wallet with my I.D. and cash.” I shuddered and felt my way around the building. The back door was boarded over, but I pulled at it and I could crawl through into the church as the board snapped back into place behind me. I looked around; most of the windows were boarded-up too. I pulled out the little pocket flashlight I’d bought months ago (thank God I had a warm jacket!) and flashed the beam around the room. Floor solid; some broken glass around the edges of the room: pew toward one end, a Christmas decoration hanging lazily from a beam in the ceiling. A couple of worn, felt banners hanging on the wall. When I was sure I was alone, I turned the light off, dusted off the nearest pew and lay down, using my gym bag as a pillow. I started to doze, glad at least that the church was sealed-off from the wind and open air and was somewhat warmer than the outside. I was falling asleep, hearing my own breathing in the quiet and the far off sounds of the highway.

There was a noise in the church, a rustling sound. I sat up, wide awake, breathing hard. I fumbled for the flashlight. I saw movement on part of the floor dimly lit from the light from between the boards on the windows. A small, grey-white kitten crawled from under a chair. I could hear the purring in the quiet of the church. I smiled and sighed with relief.

The purring grew louder. It filled the room, it filled my ears. The kitten began to puff out, swell and then grow. In instants it was the size of a horse, and then its ears brushed the roof. The purring was deafening, its eyes glowed like moons. Its teeth were bright and sharp.

I grabbed my bag and ran, I wasn’t sure where. I found myself at the back door and slammed against the board, falling outside. I was halfway down the street when I realized the purring was gone. And that I had been screaming. I ducked down a side street and made my way downtown. I spent the night walking in and out of convenience stores and the bus station, eating my last candy bar. Tomorrow I’d find a job, get some money. I kept remembering what the man had told me about the church on Haley Street: “It ain’t no place where anything holy lives anymore.”

 

—end—

Posted in Bryce Going, Fantasy, Fiction, Friday Flash Fics, Horror, LGBT, Short-Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Short-Stories from “Invisible Men,” (1960) Edited by Basil Davenport. Part Three. Reviewed by Jeff Baker.

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Basil Davenport’s Invisible Men (Part Three)

Slesar and LeBlanc

By Jeff Baker

 

Continuing my review of the stories in the 1960 anthology “Invisible Men,” edited by Basil Davenport. As promised last time; two tales of mystery.

“The Invisible Prisoner” by Maurice LeBlanc. This review is going to skirt very close to spoilers. A mysterious burglar breaks into a house and steals money. The burglar ducks out of the house into a walled area of the city pursued by the owners of the money and several locals. There is no way for the man to escape “Unless old Nick carries him over the walls.” A mysterious stranger arrives in town and is able to deduce where the burglar has hidden himself. Fans of Maurice LeBlanc will have no trouble identifying the stranger before the reveal at the end of the story. The story, of course, is a mystery with invisibility used as a metaphor, as it involves a clever “impossible crime,” in this case the disappearance of the burglar. In the book’s introduction the story is described as involving “extremely clever robbers and cleverer detectives.” But that’s not even the whole story!

I confess I had never read one of LeBlanc’s stories before, and found this one highly enjoyable. It is also the only story in the book I had not read back in the 1970s and holds up well for a mystery originally published around the turn of the last century.

Like LeBlanc, Henry Slesar has rock-solid credentials as a mystery writer, and his “The Invisible Man Murder Case” does not disappoint. In it, a formula for invisibility is used by a clever killer. Not quite a “fair play” detective story, but almost. Likewise a lot of fun. Slesar’s television credits include Alfred Hitchcock Presents and hundreds of soap opera scripts.

Next time, we close out this review as two masters of horror pull back the curtain onto invisible worlds.

 

—end—

Posted in Books, Fiction, Henry Slesar, Invisibility, Invisible Men, Maurice LeBlanc, Mystery, Reviews, Science Fiction, Short-Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Keep On Keeping On–Jeff Baker, March 22, 2020

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

The world has gone mad to-day, and good’s bad to-day, and black’s white to-day, and day’s night to-day, and that gent to-day you gave a cent to-day, once had several chateaus.—Cole Porter, from “Anything Goes.”

Things are going nuts right now, and myself and a lot of writers I am online with are wondering what to do. A lot of us are hunkered-down in our homes and trying to keep “business as usual” as usual as possible by keeping up our regular schedule or just plain writing, maybe more than usual.

About three-and-a-half years ago I wrote a column for Queer Sci-Fi (thanks, Scott!) which touches on some of these issues. It is as topical now, as it was then. Here it is:

(From Boogieman In Lavender, November 13, 2016.)

So how should writers react? Write with passion, continue to type the good fight and do not be intimidated. Which brings me to Marcel Ayme…

Marcel Ayme (1902-1967) was a French novelist, children’s writer, playwright, humorist and short-story writer, the latter being what he is best known today. He was in Paris during World War Two, the time of the occupation by the Germans. He wrote on political issues while at the same time writing stories, many of them using Paris of the time as a setting for fantasies like “The Man Who Walked Through Walls” or “Across Paris.”

One of my favorite Ayme stories, “Tickets on Time” incorporates the realities of wartime rationing with a twist; Parisians are issued time cards that determine how long they will exist that month. The vanishings and reappearances lead to amusing and odd complications.

The point is; Ayme’s typewriter did not go silent. Our word processors, pens, typewriters and other writing implements of choice should not either.

Write with passion. Keep on keeping on.

 

—end—

 

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Short Stories from “Invisible Men” edited by Basil Davenport, 1960 (Part Two.) By Jeff Baker.

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Basil Davenport’s Invisible Men

Beaumont, Bradbury and Gold

By Jeff Baker

 

More stories form Basil Davenport’s 1960 anthology “Invisible Men.” The anthology which exposed me to a bunch of stories from the pulp days (and earlier) and became something of an influence on my own writing.

“The Vanishing American” by Charles Beaumont. One of my favorite stories by the author best known for his “Twilight Zone” scripts. This story was omitted from the fine Beaumont collection “Perchance to Dream” but is available elsewhere. The story touches on familiar Twilight Zone territory: the little man in an office job; the ordinary everyday setting and then the touch of strangeness that Beaumont specialized in.

“Invisible Boy” by Ray Bradbury is quintessential Bradbury; the implication of witchcraft, the hint of Halloween, the young boy character. Stirred together in a heady brew.

“Love in the Dark” by Horace L. Gold. Back in the 1970s I’d never heard of Gold, the editor of Galaxy Magazine and a fine writer. This story is another of my favorites in the anthology and was reprinted with an explanation of how it came to be in Gold’s collection “The Old Die Rich.” Livy Ransom has a strange feeling that someone is watching her undress at night. What follows is a delightful blend of sci-fi and whimsy. (“Long blue hair and wide blonde eyes?”)

Two tales of invisibility and mystery in the next installment.

Posted in Books, Charles Beaumont, Fantasy, Fiction, Horace L. Gold, Invisibility, Invisible Men, Ray Bradbury, Reviews, Short-Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Short Stories from “Invisible Men,” 1960; Edited by Basil Davenport. Reviewed by Jeff Baker.

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Basil Davenport’s Invisible Men; a review by Jeff Baker

Part One: London, Collier, Pratt, Wells and de Camp

 

I stumbled across Basil Davenport’s 1960 paperback anthology “Invisible Men” around 1975, at a used bookstore in Albuquerque, NM. I’ve liked stories and comic books involving invisibility since I first saw “My Favorite Martian” and later read H.G. Wells’ novel “The Invisible Man,” and so I picked this one off the shelf and when I found it had a story by H.G. Wells in it, I bought it. Nearly a dozen stories on variant themes of invisibility, marketed for young adults with a preface for students and teachers which did not talk down and was spoiler-free (a term that did not exist in that era of bell bottoms and Bicentennials.) The gist of it all was the book introduced me to authors and themes which would affect the course of my writing career, so the least I can do is review the stories here. Not in order, but I will start with the first story in the book:

“The Weissenbroch Spectacles” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. I am not sure if I had read the paperback of “The Compleat Enchanter” yet, but I’m sure this was my first encounter with de Camp and Pratt’s humorous fantasy series set in Gavagan’s Bar, collected as “Tales From Gavagan’s Bar” which I found when I had just started college around ’78. The story is whimsical, uses invisibility in a different way than I’d expected and also manages to reference Benjamin Franklin. At the time I didn’t dream I’d want to write funny fantasy of this type and actually would years later.

“The New Accelerator” by H.G. Wells. I don’t think I’d read this in the Wells collection in the South High School Library in Wichita, but Wells was one of a few prose writers whose work I actually looked for back then. I would read through an anthology (usually of ghost stories) and not pay any attention to the author’s names. These days, I look for the author’s names first. This story tells of a scientist and his drug which speeds someone up temporarily. The invisibility is the result of super speed; a concept I was familiar with from comic books. (I read far more comic books than short stories back then!) Wells’ story features descriptions of the area the accelerated narrator and scientist travel through and others moving in seeming slow motion. Loads of fun.

Almost a companion piece to the Wells story; “The Shadow and the Flash” by Jack London presents two scientists, life-long rivals who have each devised a method of invisibility. I love London’s stories, even though there is a scene where he posits that a Black man would be nearly invisible in a nearly dark room which might not go over as well today.

Wells and London probably fired up my latent interest in the magazine writers of short popular fiction of the pre-pulp era.

John Collier is a legend of short story writing and “The Invisible Dove Dancer of Strathpheen Island” a reason why. A fantasy with a downbeat ending and the work of a master at the top of his craft.

I’ll write more about these stories in a future post. And the anthology is readily available online. Seek it out.

 

—end—

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Fletcher Pratt, H. G. Wells, Horror, Invisibility, Jack London, John Collier, L. Sprague DeCamp, Reviews, Science Fiction, Short-Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cab ride with Friday Flash Fics, by Jeff Baker. March 20, 2020.

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And Now When David Banner Grows Angry Or Outraged A Startling Metamorphosis Occurs

By Jeff Baker

 

You see a lot of things when you drive a cab for a living and although I have never held that particular occupation, I have heard from those who have that the claim is no exaggeration. I am going to tell you the story as I heard it told to me by one of those selfsame cab drivers.

The driver of the yellow cab looks like he could play a kid in a revival of “West Side Story,” but his I.D. says he is 42.

“Look at that!” the Cabbie said. “It’s really coming down, isn’t it?”

“Glad I’m in here,” his passenger says.

“Me too, I need the fare,” the Cabbie says. “And this is a real thrill; I’ve never had a real bear in my cab before. I mean, I had celebrities, like Paul Rodríguez once, but never a bear.”

“I know,” the Bear says. “It breaks with the stereotype, doesn’t it?”

“I know,” the Cabbie says. “I expect bears in the middle of the woods or in a zoo. No offense.”

“None taken,” says the Bear. “I usually don’t come into the city, but I’m here on business.”

“What kind of business?” the Cabbie asks. “Not Wall Street?”

“If it was, I might be riding with a bull,” the bear says. He and the Cabbie both laugh. The Bear scratches the back of his neck. He is a big brown, furry bear, wearing a seatbelt in the back of the cab with a small briefcase on the seat beside it.

“Turn up there will you,” the Bear says, pointing with a furry paw. “That office building on the right.”

“Okay,” says the Cabbie, turning and parking in front of the building.

The Bear pulls out a roll of bills, and hands it to the Cabbie.

“Here, and keep the change,” the Bear says.

“Thanks!” says the Cabbie, for whom tips were as rare as parking spaces outside the stadium during the playoffs.

“I will be on my way,” the Bear says, picking up his briefcase.

“Might want to give that door an extra shove,” the Cabbie says. “I been having trouble with it sticking.”

“All right,” the Bear says. “But it shouldn’t be any, be any…” The Bear is struggling with the handle of the cab door. He grunts and pulls, and then he rolls over on his back and with another grunt, shoves the door with both of his powerful feet. With a loud creaking noise the door pops off its hinges and falls onto the sidewalk in front of the building.

The Bear steps out of the cab, puts the door in the back seat and apologizes to the Cabbie.

“Maybe this will cover it,” the Bear says, handing the Cabbie another roll of bills.

Now, I am not sure exactly what business the Bear had in the city, or where it earned all of that money but as long as he can pay for damages like that and tell a cabdriver to keep the extra, nobody is going to complain!

 

—end—

 

NOTE: Copied Damon Runyon’s style for this one and had fun doing it! —-jsb

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Words for our time:

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Here are some words for our current surreal times:

 

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

Franklin D. Roosevelt said this during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Fear and panic are running rampant these days. More people will be hurt by unreasoning panic than by any virus.

 

“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy…” 

The Ghost of Christmas Present says that to Scrooge in Charles Dickens’  “A Christmas Carol,” about the children that cling to him. (“Spirit! Are they Yours?” Scrooge says. “They are Man’s,” the ghost replies.)

There is plenty of misinformation and rumor flying around these days, spreading far swifter than any virus. And they are just as dangerous and deadly in the end.

If you do not believe we are in times ruled by ignorance, rumor and fear, just think of the empty shelves where the toilet paper was.

 

——-jsb. March 18, 2020

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