Savage Country

“Do you want to play guns?” he asked me.

This was a complicated question, and while I stood not knowing what to say, the summer heat beat down through the cloudless Virginia sky. Twenty years has gone by now, and each summer heat wave brings back this vivid memory. It will forever be with me, as clear as it was that day when I was eight.

A dozen or so boys watched me, waiting to hear my answer, and not one of them seemed to notice the oppressive humidity hanging thickly about us. The leader of the horde stood out in front, eyes fixed on me, with a toy cap gun in each hand.

The first part of the question that my eight-year-old brain had to address was this boy’s use of the word ‘guns’. He said it like ‘guns’ was an activity. In my universe, guns are not an activity; guns are things, guns are objects, guns are weapons, and guns can be used for many activities, but they are not activities. They can be used for hunting, or warfare, or even the occasional wild west duel that takes place at high noon on a hot summer day with the hero only seconds faster than the crooked sheriff who finally, finally got what was coming to him, but guns, in my universe, were not an activity.

In my world, as an eight year old boy who grew up playing games like, Boggle, and Scrabble, and the magnificent Trivial Pursuit, ‘playing guns’ did not compute. So I stood there silent for a moment as this other eight-year-old boy watched me, his mouth held open slightly, and all the other boys crowding in behind him also brandishing toy weapons of various kinds. They looked for all the world like a tribe of savages. Some were shirtless, some had skinned knees, and one even had an unnoticed booger hanging from his nose. But every one of them burned by the sun under which they played each summer day. They all looked at me like they didn’t understand why I wasn’t responding, as if they couldn’t have asked a simpler question.

But as I mentioned before, his question was multifaceted. I tried to step out of my universe and into some crazy parallel universe where ‘guns’ was an activity. The question then hinged around the rest of his sentence, ‘do you want to…’ Now that was a loaded question, pardon the pun. Did I want to…what? What did ‘playing guns’ entail? I had no way of knowing what I was signing up for. If I said ‘yes’, would I be resigning myself to an afternoon of getting stung by humming steel pellets fired from the smoking mouth of Red Rider BB guns? Entirely possible. I didn’t know what these booger-nosed hooligans were capable of. The mere savagery of that undetected booger was simply beyond my comprehension. A boy who can look another human in the face while standing there in such a state, well, he must be capable of anything. Saying ‘yes’ was right out of the question.

But to say ‘no’, now, there was another conundrum. If I said ‘no’ to the prospect of ‘playing guns’ without knowing what in involved, well I could be passing up on the greatest event of my life. The day I kissed Sally from School was good, but ‘playing guns’… that could be monumental. An eight year old goes to play with savages; he leaves a boy, he comes back a man. I could see the headlines already! The radio broadcasts! The cinema posters! I was sure that to say ‘no’ would be closing the door on one of life’s great opportunities… forever.

“How do you play guns?” I asked back at him.

The tribe’s leader looked at me like I was an alien from outer space assuming the form of an eight-year-old human boy. His eyes scanned my tucked in polo shirt and my khaki pants, and it was as if a realization dawned on his face. He knew right then that I really was an alien from outer space, at least an alien from a different city, a different suburb, and a whole different way of life. He realized that I had a whole different culture, and he didn’t hold it against me for a minute.

He just held out a Smith and Wesson replica cap gun and said, “You take this one, and shoot at me, and I’ll take the other and shoot at you.” He paused for a moment, looking at me to see if I understood, and then finished with, “It’s every man for himself.”

I took the toy six-shooter in my little hand, and I swear I grew six inches taller. My universe turned on its head. My world flipped upside down. But never for one minute did I want anything else. In my old universe there was order, there was reason, there were games that have boards, and rulebooks, and winners and losers. But here, out here in savage country, there were no rules; there was mayhem. Glorious mayhem. No winners. No losers. Just endless hours of joy serenaded by the pap-pap-pap of the cap guns, and the happy hollers of eight year old boys. Eight-year-old boys being eight-year-old boys.

The Back Doors of Fancy Places – In Submission to Kindle Singles

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“A woman with a green cigarette, a murder with no body, and a mysterious catamaran named the ‘Midnight Sun’. The private eye’s past cases come back to haunt him as he realizes that they are more entangled than he could have ever guessed.

-The Back Doors of Fancy Places is a dark short story that explores many quintessential noir themes.”

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I am excited to have my short story, “The Back Doors of Fancy Places”, in submission to Kindle Singles! While I don’t have high hopes of being published in a list of works that includes authors such as: Stephen King, John Grisham, and Lee Child, it was always my ambition to submit this story to the editors of Kindle Singles. As my wife can attest to, I often start projects or have ideas that I never complete. Hitting the send button on my submission email was a big success for me. At this point, getting 1 to 5 more people to read it would be icing on the cake.

Some interesting things about Kindle Singles for those who have never submitted to them before:

  1. They only publish stories that are complete and between 5,000 and 30,000 words
  2. Their submission guidelines seem clear at first read, but when you consider that they receive everything from idea proposals, to manuscripts of works in progress, to complete and published books, things get a bit murky. If you have already published through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, then submitting to Kindle Singles is easy; just link to your book and give a brief summary. However, if you, like me, have a finished story that is not yet published, you are kind lumped in with the unfinished works and proposals, and you need to send a cover letter with a detailed description, and as much material as you have completed, etc.
  3. This is a curated list, and in exchange for that exclusivity, you give up your rights to publish on other platforms such as NOOK and Kobo.
  4. Kindle Singles publishes a VERY wide selection of material: fiction, articles, memoirs, etc. The only things that they don’t publish are how-to manuals, public domain works, reference books, travel guides, children’s books and story collections. Fiction is by far the largest section, but it is still limited to 578 stories right now (I just checked, 15July2016). That is a very narrow list considering all of the fiction that is out there.

Like I mentioned, I’m not expecting to be accepted, but either way, The Back Doors of Fancy Places is one step closer to being published!

-Anderson Ryle

The Developer

 

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“Who is it this time?” he asked me, his old black face cracking into a wide grin. “Mayor? Chief of Police?” I couldn’t see his eyes through his dark sunglasses.

“No, this is big time,” I replied. “Senator. I caught him with his pants down. He is trying to make a bid at the presidency, so I’ll be selling the pictures to the Democratic National Committee unless he offers me a better deal. Either way, its a big payday.”

“You’d better be careful that those political bottom feeders don’t gut you six ways from Sunday.”

“I’ll be getting out of town for a while afterwards. Maybe Mexico; I hear it’s nice this time of year.” I smiled, and tapped out my cigarette in the green glass ashtray.

“Well let’s take a look at what you’ve got, shall we?” He scooped the negatives up in his wrinkled black hands and shuffled his old body across room. “It’ll take a while; grab us a bottle of cognac would you?”

“Sure.”

“Cabinet by the stove, top shelf, just like always.” He adjusted his sunglasses as he crossed the doorway into the darkroom. “Bring us a couple of snifters too.”

I snatched the bottle from the cabinet, carefully selected two brandy glasses from the next shelf down, and followed him into the darkroom. He breathed heavily as he shut the door behind me. He motioned for me to pour the cognac, and I did, just as quickly as I could.

“It’s bad luck to develop photographs without a good glass of cognac,” he said, taking a swig and a deep breath. “Now, lets get to work.”

I watched as he stood at his table, illuminated by red light, fingers working at the roll of film I had brought him. Tyrone was the best photograph developer I had ever worked with. I met him during a particularly nasty job; I had caught a whole gaggle of dirty cops running a prostitution ring in the city, and nobody wanted to touch my pictures. Tyrone didn’t have a problem with it. We sent the pictures to the news station, and those cops were bagged by state troopers by the end of the day.

That’s why we got along so well I guess, I’d photograph anything, and Tyrone would develop anything; we didn’t have a single scruple between the two of us. It didn’t matter if we were smearing some cheating husband, the president of the United States, or the Pope, we were out for the pay day. And we had always made a decent living, the two of us. But this was a bigger fish than we had ever fried before. I hoped there would be enough money for both of us to cool it for a while afterwards; I didn’t want Tyrone to have to stick his neck out unnecessarily.

I watched him again as he prepared to expose the first picture.

“Split filter ok?” he asked.

“Always has been before,” I replied.

“I just love how it brings out all the tones,” he said, and a far-off wistful smile passed over his face.

He carefully exposed the paper through the negative image, and then he dipped it in developer. After a minute he pulled the paper out, gently submerged it in the stop bath, and slowly agitated it. He then transferred it expertly to the fixer for a few minutes before he washed it thoroughly, flipping the photograph over and over, and changing the water several times.

Finally, he waved the photograph in the air to dry it off, and then held it up to the dim red light. He adjusted his dark glasses again as he examined the photo.

“That’s a good one,” he said, and hung it up to finish drying.

I took a close look at the finished photograph. He was right: rich tones, clearly focused, and the senator’s face so clearly visible. It was a beautiful picture; this would no doubt be our golden goose.

He finished developing the photographs as we sipped cognac slowly.

When the photographs were dried and tucked neatly into my briefcase, I snapped the latch shut. “I guess this is it,” I said. “After I drop off your money at the locker box, I’ll be gone for a good while, living it up as best I can.”

“I guess so. When you get those pictures sold, and get yourself to Mexico, drop me a line so I know you’re not dead.”

“I’ll do that,” I said. “And don’t worry about me, in a week I’ll be sipping margaritas with the sun on my face.”

“I’ll try not to worry, but drop me a line just the same. Maybe a post card with a nice beach and a nicer señorita.” He smiled.

I looked at him with a chuckle.  “I’m going to miss you, Tyrone.”

“I’ll miss you too, boy. And I’ll miss you bringing your pictures in for me to develop.” His dark skin cracked around a mouth that smiled almost too often, and his dark glasses shaded eyes that would never again see the light of day.

“Well Tyrone,” I said, “for a blind man, you sure do know a good photograph when you see one.”