A Wink and a Nod

By John-Paul Marciano

    Peter was distracted by a streak of light across the sky followed by the sound of metal scraping asphalt. He had been busy rolling a giant snowball he planned on using as a base for his snowman. The proximity of what he saw and heard piqued his curiosity and distracted him.

    Peter was trudging to the fence in the backyard through a foot of snow when he heard a deep throated “Hah-ah-ah” followed by another streak of light. Now the five-year-old stumbled his way to the front yard as fast as his feet would take him. When he finally reached the fence he looked to his left. A well-dressed man with a neatly trimmed beard and long jet black shoulder-length hair was rounding the corner whistling an unrecognizable tune. 

    “Hey there, young fellow,” the man called out in a baritone voice. “Hello,” Peter replied hesitantly. He turned to see if his father was looking out the front window. Fortunately, his father was busy baking ginger snap cookies and wasn’t watching. His father constantly stressed that he not talk to strangers.

    He turned back to face the grinning stranger. “Parents teach you not to talk to strangers?” the man asked. Peter nodded his reply. The stranger’s grin turned to a smile. “Pretty sound advice if you ask me,” he said conspiratorially. “I’m in a quandary, though. I’m looking for Peachtree Lane but it’s not on my map. Think you can help me out?”

    Again, Peter nodded but initially said nothing. The man looked at Peter questioningly and said, “Well?” Peter hesitated for a beat before speaking. He pointed to his right and said, “Two blocks that way then take a left. Go to the third light and turn right. Follow the road until you see the house with the huge snow globe in the front yard. The next street on the left is Peachtree Lane.”

     “That sounds simple enough. Thank you very much.”

    “Are you going to walk there?” Peter asked. The man shook his head and let out a summoning whistle. “I have a ride.”

    A flash of light to his left caught Peter’s attention. The gentleman began walking away. Peter watched as the man stood on the runners of a sled behind eight reindeer in the middle of the street. As Peter looked on the man’s hair and beard turned snow white and his clothing morphed to red. Peter’s new friend grabbed the reins and took his seat in the sled.

    The reindeer pulled the sled slowly until the sled was directly in front of Peter. Peter gazed in awe as the man gave him a wink and a nod. He snapped the reins and, in the blink of an eye, disappeared down the street.

    “There you are,” Peter’s father said as he came up beside him. “Were you just talking to someone?” Peter nodded and said, “Some old guy was looking for Peachtree Lane.”

    “How many times do I have to tell you not to talk to strangers?”


Your Friend

By John-Paul Marciano

    Dear Joseph,

    I’m your cousin Liam.  We’ve never met so I enclosed a picture of myself. I’m the handsome dude on the right.  That’s my girlfriend Ashlee on the left in case you were wondering.  I know you’ve met my cousin Angus.  His father and my grandfather are brothers.

    I heard you could use some cheering up so I decided to write.  I actually wanted to come visit you but I was told the Department of Corrections doesn’t allow dogs to visit the inmates.  Go figure.  Dogs always get the short end.  I would have enjoyed leaning into you while you gave me a belly rub or scratched behind my ears.

    I’ve read where some enlightened correctional institutions have Prison Puppy Programs where inmates raise and train puppies to work as service dogs.  The dogs live in the handler’s cell, spend the day training outside the cell and going to meals in the chow hall with their handlers.  While the program provides much needed trained service dogs, the correctional facilities get the benefit of a calmer climate created by the presence of us dogs.

    My humans mentioned you weren’t real happy with the food there.  That’s a shame.  I love to eat and rarely turn away from a meal.  I can’t imagine eating lousy food every day.  The only time I passed on a meal was when a store sold stale food to my humans.  I don’t think there was any malice involved.  For some reason the manufacturer thought it was a good idea to print the expiration date in black on a dark blue background.  I’d send you some of my kibble, but I think the inspectors might consider it contraband.

    So I’m curious.  Do you have your own cell or do you have to share it with one or more cellmates?  Have you made any friends there or do you just stay to yourself?  Are you allowed to have any electronics or a radio in your cell so you can listen to music?  What’s the prison library like?  If you find it wanting, maybe you can be the Andy Dufresne of Gowanda and work to improve it in your spare time.

    I hear you work offsite operating a front loader and a couple bobcats.  I always wanted to go along for a ride in one of those.  They look like fun, especially the big front loader.  That’s a good skill to have when you get out.  You can get a job operating heavy machinery making a lot more than they’re paying you in there.

    I’m glad to hear you’ve not been issued any tickets.  Sometimes it can be hard to avoid trouble.  I remember when I was a puppy my humans were told I wouldn’t be allowed to return to a doggy daycare because they thought I played too rough.  My humans asked if they would reconsider.  One of the owners said they would, but only if I met with a dog behaviorist they recommended.  So they drove me to a dog park in Ridgefield, CT and the behaviorist evaluated my interaction with the other dogs for a half hour.  In the end he said I was the most balanced dog in the park.  He said he didn’t really understand what they were complaining about as puppies tend to play rough in general.  So as best I can tell, I was banished for nothing other than being a playful puppy.

    I hope all is going well for you and that you are in good cheer.  Maybe they’ll cook you a decent meal for Thanksgiving but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.  Christmas is right around the corner and that’s always a happy time.  I hear my humans are planning to take a ride up there to visit you but I’m not sure when.

    I will close now as it is getting close to my afternoon mealtime.  Hopefully we can meet when you get out.  I would like that.

    Your friend always,



First Shot

By John-Paul Marciano

    Sgt. Jim Hanson dug into his musette bag for the Very pistol he took from a dead captain three days prior.  He set the pistol aside and searched in his musette bag again.  He pulled out two flares, one each for the sniper and the machine gunner.  He loaded one of the flares into the pistol and waited for Sam’s signal.

    “Honker,” Jim called.

    “Yeah, Sarge,” Hank answered.

    “There’s going to be some fireworks in a couple minutes.  Just keep your head down.”

    “I can do that.”  Hank thought for a moment.  “Sure there’s nothing I can do?”

    “Nah, not the way you shoot,” Jim replied.  “I’ll let you know if we’ve got some figures that need tallying.”

    “Thanks, Sarge.”

    “Don’t mention it.”

    Jim rolled onto his stomach and scanned the area in front of Sam’s hole.  A narrow strip of amber light was starting to peek over the horizon.  Eerie shadows dotted the landscape.  He cautioned himself against letting his imagination run amok.  He took a deep breath in through his nose and let it out slowly.  He repeated the process a couple times trying to lower his heart rate and steady his nerves.

    It shouldn’t be much longer now.  Where the hell is Sam?

    Jim unslung his rifle and laid it on the ground in front of the hole.  As he waited for Sam, he surveyed the area to his front left.  He couldn’t make out any movement and shapes were still indistinguishable.  He pushed a mound of dirt beyond the front of the hole then grabbed his rifle.  He gently rested the barrel of the rifle on the mound of dirt and slid it back and forth to create a firing slot.  Looking out over the front sight he was satisfied with the firing position he created.

    Jim placed the rifle to his right, then took his helmet off and loosened the chin strap.  With his bayonet he dug a 4-inch slit into the bottom of the hole long enough to fit the handle of his shovel.  After strapping his helmet to the shovel he propped it up and packed dirt tightly so it would stand up on its own.  He grabbed the Very pistol and waited for Sam to give him the ready signal.

* * * * *

    Sam peered at the area from which Jim thought the sniper was firing.  He was in a comfortable firing position but he was still unable to make out any shapes.  He needed more light and he didn’t see the need to alert Jim just yet.  Sarge was pretty good with a gun for a Yankee but he didn’t have much hunting experience.  Better to wait then start things prematurely.

    Sam spit out his chaw of tobacco.  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly while checking for signs of life.  Stillness gripped the area.  With no wind to speak of, the air hung thick with moisture and the cloying stench of rotting flesh.  All was quiet except for the rumble of artillery fire far off to the south; too far to tell who was shelling whom.  Those beasts and fowl that weren’t killed had fled the area long ago.

    It was time.  Sam flipped up the rear sight of his M1903 Springfield rifle and centered the front sight on the trunk of a tree that was stripped of its bark and branches.  He slowly worked the bolt action to chamber a round, then applied just enough pressure on the trigger to take up the slack.  He took a deep breath and let out his best cardinal call.

* * * * *

    Jim was looking where he thought the sniper would be and spotted the Maxim when he heard Sam’s whistle.  Using the Very pistol, he fired a flare at the machine gun and ducked.  The Maxim opened up, firing a burst toward Jim’s position and then spraying the area for good measure.  Mordecai responded with his Chauchat while rifle fire on both sides added to the cacophony.

    The Maxim went quiet while Jim was busy reloading the Very pistol.  A sharp metallic crack over his head made him start.  The shovel with his helmet toppled over onto his legs.  Retrieving the helmet, he tightened the chin strap after placing it on his head.  After taking a deep breath, Jim fired the second flare; this time about 20 yards to the left of the Maxim.   Jim dropped the Very pistol and grabbed his rifle.  He peered over the sites looking for targets but couldn’t find any.  The rifle fire continued for what seemed like eternity but in reality was no more than a few minutes.

    All went quiet.  Jim surveyed the area in front of his position but saw nothing.  Next he concentrated on the area around the Maxim position and all was still.

    “Bird Dog,” Jim called while putting the Very pistol back into his musette bag.

    “Yo,” Sam called back.

    “You get him?”

    “First shot,” Sam replied.

    “I’m going forward.  Cover me.”

    “Sure thing,” Sam said.

    Jim checked the area one more time then scooted forward, hunched down low in the direction of the Maxim.  He moved as fast as his legs would move, continuously searching for the enemy, always prepared to drop to the ground at the first sign of trouble.  He reached the Maxim without incident.  It was the sled mounted version.  The gunner was slumped sideways, hands still clutching the firing grips; shot in both the head and abdomen.  Closer inspection revealed the gunner was chained to the sled to prevent him from retreating.

    Jim slung his rifle over his shoulder and inspected the area one more time.

   “All clear,” he shouted.

A Mystery

By Ed Baranosky 

     Detective Inspector Ian Baxter was lying in bed looking up at the ceiling. He finally had a weekend off. He could hear kitchen noises as his wife Maggie made breakfast for the children to get them off to school. The plan was for Maggie’s sister to pick up the children and keep them over the weekend. He had rented a cottage on the Firth of Clyde near Dunoon so he and Maggie could have some time to themselves.

     Ian got out of bed, brushed his teeth, got dressed and went down to have breakfast.

     He kissed his wife. He tussled his son Robert’s hair and gave his daughter Jean a hug and said “good morning all.” Maggie pointed to the tea cozy and said “It’s hot. Your eggs and bangers will be up in a jiffy. Toast is under the napkin.”

     Ian sat down and poured a cup of tea. He just finished his breakfast when the phone rang.

     Maggie picked it up saying “Hello.” With a scowl she handed the phone to Ian. Somehow Ian knew it was Superintendent Macgregor at the Glasgow precinct.

    He said “good morning sir.” He listened for a second and said “yes sir.”

    Ian said “yes sir “twice more and hung up. He turned to Maggie and told her they had some trouble at Glasgow University. 

     She asked “what about the weekend?” He threw up his hands in exasperation and replied “I don’t know. I’ll have to call you when I find out what’s going on. I’ve got to go.” he picked up his coat and left.

     Turning into the university grounds he saw two squad cars parked in front of a four- story building. That must be where the problem is. He parked next to the cars.

     A sergeant he didn’t know saluted and told him Inspector Tomlin was up on the second floor waiting for him. He took the stairs two-at- a-time. At the top a constable was standing by a door halfway down the corridor.

   The constable at the door said “they’re waiting for you inside Inspector.” Ian went in.

   Inside the room Ian saw a sign in red by a door with a small window. It read: “Danger No Admittance Without Hazmat Suit.”   There were three people in the room, Sgt. Jim Tomlin and two men in a lab coats.

   Jim introduced them as Dr. James and Dr. Edmons. Ian asked Jim why they were there?

   Jim took him to a door with a window and pointed inside. Ian saw what was a laboratory with all its paraphernalia. The bodies of two men clad in white suits were lying on the floor close to each other. One of the men was in a pool of blood with a scalpel protruding from his chest. Why the other man was down Ian would have to determine when he got inside the room. Ian asked the names of the men

   In the lab. Dr. James answered the man with the wound is Dr. Sam Trent. The man next to him is Dr. Chad Fried.   Dr. James said “It’s time for the warning.” Ian told the sergeant to leave the room. He didn’t want him to get involved in what was going on here.

    Ian said “the last time I heard that was when I was in the army. You’re talking about the Official Secrets Act. What the bloody hell do you people do here?”

    Dr. James told Ian he had now been warned. “Anything I tell you is classified Top Secret under penalty of 30 years imprisonment if you divulge what I say. We are engaged in much the same work as we did during the war on Anthrax on Gruinard Island.”

    “If you were injected with Black Mamba venom without getting treated it would take about 20 minutes for you to die. We’ve developed a neuro-toxin that can kill you in a matter of seconds with a touch of it on your skin. We mixed it in a gelatin base and for the want of a better container put it in a woman’s lipstick tube. You can guess who our contractor is.”

    Ian said “that’s all well and good but I still have to get into the room.” James showed him to a room with the Hazmat suits. Ian put one on and went to the lab door. James punched   code and Ian went into the lab.

   It was obvious how the stabbing victim died. What he wanted to know was how the other man died.

   He saw that the rubber glove on his right hand was pulled halfway off. Above the glove on his wrist was a small round spot where the skin had turned black.

    He had seen what he wanted. He walked to the door and left the lab.

    James pointed to a room where he could get out of the suit. He took off the suit by turning it inside out. There was a container marked “Bio-Hazard Only.” He pressed the foot pedal to open the container to throw in the suit. He saw another suit in the bin.

    He left the room. To James he said “I have two questions. How many people have the code to the lab door and how often is the hazard container emptied?”

    “There are five people who have access to the lab. Those two in the lab, Edmons, me and our neurologist, Dr. Emily Rand. The container is emptied at the end of each day.”

    They were interrupted by rapping on the outer door. James opened it to find Sgt. Tomlin and a young girl who seemed to be out of breath. Between gasps she said “Dr. Rand is dead.” In unison Ian and James asked “where is she?” The girl answered “In her room at the women’s dorm.”

    In the corridor he told the constable “nobody’s to go into the lab.”

   He followed as James led the way to a building across the Quad. On the ground floor a group of girls were looking into a room down the corridor. Ian told Tomlin to move the girls out of the room. Then he went in. Lying on the bed was a woman, her right arm outstretched. Her left arm was alongside her body. Above her partly exposed left breast was a small round black spot identical to the spot on Fried’s wrist.

    He was beginning to put two-and-two to together when the sound of a frantic scream came from down the hall. He emerged from the room and saw a girl with one hand to her mouth, pointing into a doorway with the other.

   Ian went to the sergeant and told him to clear the corridor.

   Ian entered the room. A young woman was on the floor. In her left hand was a small hand-mirror. Half of her upper lip was black. A glint caught his eye. Just under the bed he saw a lipstick tube and said to himself “Aha.”

   With that he went out to find James and Edmons. He summarized his findings to them. “What we have is a crime of passion. Rand obviously was having an affair with either or both Trent and Fried. She was in the room with them. Probably in a jealous rage Fried stabbed Trent. Trent had the lethal tube.”

   “In the second before he died Trent pulled the glove off Fried’s hand and pressed the tube to Fried’s wrist. He got his revenge. Fried has small black spot on the back of his wrist.  Rand picked up the tube and left the room. I saw her suit in the bio container.”

   “She took the tube to her room. I think she was so distraught to see her lover killed she committed suicide. She didn’t have ‘Cleopatra’s asp’ but she had the next best thing.  The dead girl in the room probably heard her fall. She went in and saw Dr. Rand. Seeing the lipstick tube, picked it up and took it. Thinking it was lip balm, she was applying it and was dead before she hit the floor. She’s the innocent victim here. You’ll find the weapon that caused this death under her bed.”

   “I would suggest you call your sponsor whom I assume is either the home office or MI5 to come clean up this mess. That’s what you should have done in the first place.”

   Ian entered the corridor and told Tomlin to stay until higher authority showed up. He was going back to the precinct to fill out the paperwork.

   As Ian crossed the Quad to where he parked his car he had a bit of spring to his step. He and Maggie are going to have their weekend getaway after all.”



      By Ed Baranosky

      I was in line behind an older man. A woman who appeared to be in her 30s was in   front of him.

There were about 30 of us lined up waiting our turn to speak to a bearded old man in an immaculate

white robe standing behind a lectern that held a large tome.

       I was startled when the man in front of me turned said “this is my third time.”

        I replied “I’m sorry I don’t understand.”

       The old man asked “what’s the last thing you remember?”

       “I was in my car it was raining I approached a stop sign at an intersection as   I applied the brakes.

My foot slipped and got wedged under the gas pedal and that’s the last thing I remember.”

      “The thing you don’t understand young man is you are dead like the rest of the people here.”

      “What did you mean when you said this is your third time?” I asked.

      “The man at the lectern is like an expediter. He reviews what you did when you were   alive. If you

screwed up your life he sends you back until you get it right. What did you do when you were alive?”

       I explained that all I was ever good at was electronics. After I got out of the army I opened repair

shop. My dad gave me a green tackle box I used for my small tools. RCA had a promotional deal

where if you bought a certain number of vacuum tubes got you a red caddy the size of a suitcase to hold


       I was in a bar with a friend. He told me of a man who wanted a sensitive high-quality Hallicrafter radio

installed with a rotating directional antenna and instructions on how to   use it. My friend gave me the

man’s phone number. I called him and we struck a deal.

       After the job was complete he told me he was a bookie and the radio and antenna were used to pick

up racing broadcasts from the Narragansett and Sarasota race tracks for results before they were posted.

Somehow my name had been passed around to some shady characters who were told I could keep my

mouth shut.

       One of the jobs involved the family that controlled the area numbers racket. They owned two duplex

 houses side by side. I had to call before I made service calls. And it had to be after 2 p.m.

      The father would meet me in the driveway. He would take me to the second floor of the one of the

houses to work on the radios.

      A few weeks later I was called for another problem. I said I had to come early because I had to catch

a plane later in the day. He said I could come at one.

      When I got   upstairs I saw the reason why I had to come after 2 p.m. On the living room table

   were stacks of money. Two women were sorting and counting it.

      A local drug dealer bought a big screen projection TV for his mother and shipped it to her

   in Puerto Rico. When it needed repair my wife and I spent a week at a posh seaside hotel with

   all expenses paid so I could repair the TV.

     The man in the white robe called the name of the old man I had been talking to. He spent a

   few minutes at the lectern. He turned, waved to me and was gone.

     I heard my name called. The robed man opened the tome and with his finger went down the page.

   He bent down to take something from under the lectern. He came up with my green toolbox and

   my red caddy. I screamed “Oh No!”

     My wife bolted upright in bed and said “Go back to sleep. You’re just having a bad dream.”


The Moments in Between

By Juan Rodriguez 

    I am most content in the moments between the tasks of everyday life.  

    The moments between a delivery and walking back to my truck. Leaves crunching underfoot breaking the silence leading to the incessant rattling of the truck. 

     When I am no longer torn between Scylla and Charybdis and the odyssey in my mind ceases, albeit momentarily. 

     When the thunderous cacophony of thoughts is reduced to static if only for the moment. 

     When past and future are cast aside and I’m forced to embrace the present.   

     When my love places a hand on mine and asks “Where’d you go?” Reminding me that she holds the switch to turn my thoughts off. In the past, I’d always settle for a dimmer.  

    When my mind is clear after I’ve cataloged all the thoughts that threatened to burst out my very soul. 

   When I’m free to be as verbose as I want to be. Unapologetically allowing words to spill from pen tip and on to the page.   

    When I’ve let them dance across the edges of the page and allowed ink to bleed through. Knowing that a few illegible lines are a small price to pay for catharsis.


Use the Spade End

By John-Paul Marciano

     As Sgt. Jim Hanson crawled away he heard Mordecai warn H.B., “I’ll be joining you in a few minutes.  Don’t get jumpy on me.”

    Jim made his way to his own hole.  Exhausted, he took his helmet off and used it as a headrest while lying on his back.  He looked up at the stars and briefly thought of home.  He missed teasing his mother and his kid sister, Ann.  He missed bumming around with his pals.  He missed his father’s rebukes.  He missed the sounds of the city.  Then he caught himself before the “what ifs” came calling.

    Get it together, Hanson, he chastised himself while rubbing his eyes hard with the palms of his hands.

    He rolled onto his stomach and put his helmet back on.  His stomach gave up a deep audible growl while the acidic taste of bile simultaneously crept into the back of his throat.  He swallowed hard and took a couple deep breaths.

    “Bird Dog,” Jim uttered barely above a whisper.

    “Yeah,” Sam quietly answered back.

    “I’m coming over.  See you in a few.”


    Jim took another deep breath as he made the sign of the cross.  He crept out the right side of his hole and began to work his way over to Sam.  He got most of the way there but stopped when he heard a buzzing noise.  He reached out and placed his hand in a wet gelatinous goo.  As his eyes fixated on the form in front of him, he realized what he thought was a boulder was the trunk of a man with half an arm, no head or legs.  He dry-heaved when it dawned on him the goo was someone’s entrails.  As he quickly pulled his hand away, gorged flies followed the fresh meat.

    “Ugh,” he groaned as he wiped his hand on his trousers.

    Jim swatted at the flies then scooted around the remains and worked his way over to Sam’s hole.  His heart raced as he squeezed in alongside Sam and breathed deeply to gather himself.

    “Y’alright there, Sarge?  Ya look like ya saw a ghost.”

    “I’ll be fine, just give me a sec.”

    “Sorry it’s so cramped.  Aah wasn’t ‘spectin no visitors,” Sam said as Jim continued to take deep breaths.  His heart continued hammering the inside of his chest.

    Jim patted Sam’s arm and gasped, “That’s alright, Sam.  I didn’t come to socialize.”

    Sam waited patiently for Jim’s breathing to normalize, staring at him with dark brown eyes like a dog waiting for a treat.  It took a few minutes before Jim got his breathing under control.

    “How’s your night been?” Jim asked.

    Sam snorted and said, “Had better.”

    Jim gave Sam a sideways glance but the understated Arkansan offered nothing more.  “So what’s Wolf Creek like in July?”

    “Hot,” Sam replied.  “Ain’t much ta do ‘sept hunt.”   

    “You care to do some shooting now?”

    “Aah’m listnin’,” Sam said and spat a wad of tobacco juice through his teeth.

    “I want to draw that sniper out,” Jim said.  “Think you can nail him?”

    “If ya git em ta poke his head up Aah’ll git em,” Sam said confidently.  “Ain’t no wind ta speak a.  Shun’t be too hard.  What’s yer plan?”

    “I was thinking I can get his attention by taking a shot in his general direction.  I’ll give him a target by scooting over to Hank’s hole.  I figure between you and H.B. we can take him out before he can make our day miserable.”

    Hank (Honker) Lewis was one of more than 1,600 men who transferred into the 1st Infantry Division from the 41st in June to fill the ranks after Cantigny.  An accountant from Eugene, Oregon, Hank probably could have better served the army with a pencil in a supply depot than with a rifle in the infantry.  But this was the army and, right wrong or otherwise, Hank was in the infantry.  Mordecai started calling him Honker the first time he heard him laugh, saying Hank sounded like a flock of geese flying south for the winter.

    “Ain’t ya kinda hangin’ it all out there?  Maybe y’oughta rethink that one.”

    “You got a better idea?”

    “I dunno, but sposin’ yerself’ll jus git ya dead.”  Sam snorted and spat some tobacco juice out the side of his hole.  “Ya kin tra smokin’ em out,” he said.

    “How do you propose I do that?”

    “Got anymore a dem flares fer dat Very pistol ya been carryin’ ‘round?”

    “I got a couple,” Jim said.  “Why?”

    “Ya know where he at?”

    “Sort of but he might have moved.”

    “Ain’t likely,” Sam stated.  “Snipers ain’t much fer movin’ ‘round.”

    “Ok, I’ll take your word for it.”

    “Strap yer tin hat t’yer shovel.  Give em a target ta shoot at.  Shoot da flare ta where ya think he’s at.  That should git his tention nuff ta tra n shoot ya.  Aah’ll put one in his ear from over yonder,” Sam said pointing with his thumb toward Jim’s hole.

    “There’s a body about 10 yards straight out,” Jim warned.

    “Yeah, Aah saw em,” Sam said as he started to crawl out of the hole.  He turned toward Jim and said, “Use da spade end.  It’ll look more lak a head at first light.”

    “Thanks for the advice,” Jim said as Sam crawled away.  ”Let me know when you’re in position.”

    “Aah’ll jus whistle lak a bird.”