Thursday, May 23, 2013

Short story "All My Children" and interview on new Blackout City/Dark Dreams podcast

The Sky collection.
UPDATES! Coming soon, more from Mark on the critically acclaimed second collection VAPORS, just published!
And due in the fall of 2013, the third volume of my collected shorts: THE BEACH THAT SUMMER. Read the title story now. 

Horror aficionado and entrepreneur Mark Slade has brought a second short story from the Since the Sky Blew Off collection to podcast. Following on the heels of the fine narration of "We Who are His Followers" comes the 'cast of "All My Children," a horror/crime tale.

Listen to the podcast at Mark's Blackout City page. "All My Children" starts at the 14:45 mark of Episode 3: Darkness and Light.

"Stalking G. Wayne Miller," an interview Mark conducted with me is also on the same Blackout City page. We talk about many things, but mostly writing -- some good advice for young writers trying to break in, as I myself was many years ago as I was starting out. I know that rough road well!

"We Who are His Followers" can be heard at Mark's Dark Dreams podcast site. Starts at the 10:08 mark.

As Mark and the folks at Crossroad Press bring more of my short- and long-form fiction to new audiences, I am drawn to my archives -- to the magazines in which some of my short stories originally appeared. While I believe it has stood the test of time, "All My Children" was first published in 1988 in Violent Legends, a magazine published by writer and poet Joey Froehlich. For a glimpse into what things were like back then, before the Internet, when I was trying to break through -- young writers today, take note! -- look at the cover of that issue, and the first page of my story as it appeared. I do not recall if this was the only issue ever published, and I have tried without success to track Joey down. If you're out there, man, please drop me a line!

The cover of Violent Legends, horror zine in 1988.

First page of my story. It was typed!

Vote now! Help choose the title of my next short story collection.

Once we settle on the cover art, my good friends at Crossroad Press will be publishing the second volume of my collected short stories, a year after they brought out the first, SINCE THE SKY BLEW OFF.

And I'd like your help in choosing the title. Here are your choices:


Each is also the name of a story that will be included in the collection. Please cast your vote on my Facebook page, or send me an email.

It's not necessary to read either story to vote, nor even to know the genres -- in fact, I am hoping for your immediate, instinctive response. Which rings better to your ear: Vapors or Nothing There?

For the record, these are horror, mystery and sci-fi stories, like those in SKY.

If you would like to read "Vapors," however, follow this link.

And if you'd like to read "Nothing There," originally published in the late David Silva's legendary 1980s and '90s magazine The Horror Show, scroll down past the original art that appeared with the story. Illustration © copyright 1987 Chris Pelletiere.

Nothing There
© copyright 1987 and 2013 G. Wayne Miller

He drove north from Chicago in a rented Honda. The Saturday afternoon traffic was thick and sluggish, like blood through diseased arteries. How polite these drivers seemed. Back in Boston, you couldn't go a block without some idiot trying to nail you. Here, folks signaled when passing. They stayed close to the speed limit. No one tailgated. He supposed it was part of their Midwestern nature to be so courteous. He wondered momentarily what kind of world it would be if everyone were like them.

Before long, the factories and tenements had thinned and then disappeared. The jets in and out of O'Hare had shrunk to distant specks. He passed an amusement park, closed for the season. He saw transmission lines coming down from Canada. It was suburbia now, 7-11 stores and neat little lawns fronting neat little houses. Soon they, too, had faded. Farmhouses took their place. Cornfields and dairy cattle. Silos, rigid and tall, guardians of this rich black soil. He crossed the line and he was in Wisconsin. From here, she'd said, it was only another half hour.

The traffic was weaker now. The November day was, too. High, thin clouds spread across the measureless sky. Another hour, and the sun would be swallowed by the fields. At kitchen tables, dinner would be served. He imagined seeing aproned housewives, their hair done up in curlers and kerchiefs, bending over ovens where hamburger casseroles simmered. He imagined hearing the children, giddy with the thought of Saturday night, and the tired husbands, ready for their evening of rest.

Overhead, the sign said County K, one mile. What a funny name for a road, he thought. County K, like some new brand of cereal. He looked down at the directions he'd scribbled on hotel stationery. Yes, this was it. He eased over into the travel lane, slowed and left Interstate 94. There was the 76 truck stop, just as she'd said. A combination restaurant, gift shop and Greyhound bus stop. A parking lot full of full-sized Fords and Chryslers, with hardly a Toyota in sight. The heartland.

He'd called her after lunch from his hotel room. The first few minutes had been awkward for them both. He could hear the sounds of kids in the background. He told her about his convention. She talked about the weather, unseasonably mild, and unlikely to last, considering Thanksgiving was just around the corner.

``Where are you staying?'' she'd asked.

``The Palmer House.''

``Very fancy.''

``It's OK.''

``No, it's fancy,'' she insisted. ``I've been there. Window- shopping in that big lobby.''

``They have some nice shops.''

``You've done all right for yourself, John,'' she said, trying to mask her bitterness. A trace still showed. ``You always did.''

He didn't answer. Didn't know what he could have said if he'd tried.

``So how'd you find me?'' she asked after shouting at the children to be quiet, Mommy's got a very special call.

``The alumni office.'' They'd been the same class, the class of '96. He'd gone back east after graduation. She'd gone home to Wisconsin, never expecting to hear from him again.

``It's funny.''


``That you tracked me down. I tried to find you, you know.''

He didn't. But it didn't surprise him. There was a time he'd actually dreaded her call, but that had passed. During the period he was married, he'd almost forgotten her. It wasn't until after his divorce that he'd thought much about her again.

``I tried several times, as a matter of fact,'' she continued. ``I wrote letters. They kept coming back.''

``I've moved a lot,'' he said. ``The company.''

``It doesn't matter now.''

There was another pause. The words weren't coming easily from either of them.
``I'm divorced, you know,'' she said after a bit.

``I know. I am, too.''

``I've got two children. That's who you hear running around. A boy and a girl.''

``I know,'' he repeated dumbly.

``You seem to have done your homework,'' she said, and he couldn't tell if she was mad or not.

``It's all on record at the alumni office,'' he explained. ``Anyone can get it by calling.''

``Did they tell you they were both adopted?'' she asked.


``After Bryce, I couldn't have children. Of my own.''

Bryce, he thought. So that's what she called him. Why did she even bother to name him? What could it matter?

``I'm sorry,'' he said. He wished he had a glass of water to get rid of the dryness in his mouth.

``I am, too.'' He was surprised at how cold her voice had turned. How suddenly. He didn't remember her like that. He remembered her as soft, pretty, the youngest-looking girl sitting at the back of Economics 101 the morning he first set eyes on her.

``I'm really sorry.''


There was silence again. It was a bad cell, and he could hear static through the phone.

The child had been stillborn. That much he'd heard years ago from a friend of a friend of a friend. There had been whispers of some horrible deformity, but he'd never been able to confirm that, never bothered to try. What would have been the gain? What was done was done. All he knew for sure was that Sheryl had carried the baby to term, and he'd come out blue and unbreathing. There was a question of medical malpractice. As far as he knew, it had never come to a suit. That wouldn't have been like her. This had all happened that September, three months after he'd said goodbye.

``So why'd you call, John?'' she asked, breaking the silence.

He'd been ready for this one, but he still didn't have a good answer. Just some private feelings he couldn't share because he wasn't sure what they meant, if they meant anything at all.

``I just thought I should,'' he said. ``I've been thinking about it for a long time.''

``Do you want to see him?'' she asked. ``I think you should see him. Just once. It wouldn't have to be for long.''

He had no idea what she was talking about.


``Bryce. His grave, I mean.''

What a strange idea, he thought. Perverse. Again, the pause was long, uncomfortable. He wished desperately that the call was over, but he saw no way of ending it. It was up to her now.

``I could tell you how to get there. It's not even two hours from Chicago.''


``I think you should, John,'' she said sternly. ``I think you owe him at least that. Him and me. Respect for the memory. Respect for the past.''

``Yes,'' he finally said. ``I'd like to.''

She gave him directions. He was reading them again now after stopping at the restaurant to use the men's room. County K six miles west to an intersection. Right on Rowe's Lane about a mile to a seed farm. The cemetery would be just over the next knoll. You can't miss it, she'd said. It's on the highest land around.

He rolled the window down and put the car in gear.

Night wasn't far off, but it seemed to have warmed up since leaving Chicago. The air on his face felt refreshing, like a shower after a bad night's sleep. For some reason, he'd been getting increasingly anxious the last few miles. Strung out. He could feel the excess nervous energy running up and down his body. It was like having too many cups of coffee. His palms were actually sweaty. For the first time since talking to her, he wondered what exactly he'd gotten himself into, and why. He didn't have the answers. That bothered him more than anything. He'd gotten where he had in business by coming up with answers.

County K, a two-lane blacktop, wound off toward the setting sun. There was almost no traffic, only an occasional tractor or pickup truck or stainless-steel tanker carrying milk destined to become butter or cheese. The only buildings were farmhouses and barns. It seemed everyone was flying an American flag. In the Ivy-League East, patriotism smacked too much of Tea Party politics to be worn on the sleeve. Here, it fit.

He found the cemetery without any trouble. From this knoll, you could see for miles and miles over the rolling countryside. It reminded him of a Grandma Moses painting, the fields and outbuildings arranged like patchwork.

He got out of the car and paused a moment, surveying the cemetery.

It was unexpectedly tiny, a postage stamp of graveyards. The only smaller one he recalled ever seeing was one near Concord, Mass., where a handful of Revolutionary War heroes were buried together under white headstones whose inscriptions had worn off over the years. He counted, unconsciously using his finger as a measure. There couldn't be more than a dozen families buried here. One of them was hers, the Andersens. He remembered her telling the story of how the family had come over from Sweden during the great wave of Scandinavian immigration a century ago. They'd been carpenters and masons, these Andersens, and they'd done all right for themselves in the New Land.

The wind had picked up since the truck stop and it was insistent now, brisk but not harsh. In a few short weeks it would deliver the sleet and the snow, but today, on the cusp of fall, it brought only a final reminder of summer. In great sheets, it came whipping across the flat landscape, fragrant with a sweet agricultural odor he did not recognize. He stood, letting the wind caress him. He looked out over the stones, the torn veterans' flags, potted geraniums wilted by the autumn's first frost. The cemetery was surrounded by fields. They were brown, their life gone silently underground to await a more encouraging season.

The heartland. He'd probably eaten food grown around here, maybe from one of these very fields.

Carrying the green bag he'd picked up in the Palmer House lobby, he opened the rusted iron gate and walked uncertainly into the cemetery. That shaky feeling had returned. His lips were dry. He felt suddenly alone, inexplicably embarrassed, like the man in the dream who finds himself in public without any clothes. Let's get it over with and get out of here, he thought. He went directly to the Andersen plot, past the Birds, the Bergmans, the Mondales, the Thompsons. The featured Andersen stone was a towering obelisk, at least twice his height, cut from what appeared to be gray marble, polished and mirror-smooth. The shadow from a leafless tree fell across it in an abstract pattern. Somebody had paid a small fortune for this display, he could tell that. He remembered her father, Ambrose Andersen, a tall, stern man he'd met once. Andersen had made a small fortune in construction, and like many newly wealthy people, he enjoyed spending. He'd probably footed the bill.

Laid out in front of the obelisk were perhaps 25 flat stones, each roughly the size of a hardcover dictionary. All that had been inscribed on any of them were names and the two most important years in anyone's existence. ``Mother, 1845-1912.'' ``Father, 1840-1905.'' ``Henry, 1884-1944,'' and so forth. On the extreme left-hand perimeter of the Andersen territory, almost into the Birds', was the stone he was looking for. 

``Baby Bryce,'' it read, ``1996-1996.''

He opened the green bag and laid what was in it, a single white rose, atop the stone. His fingers were clumsy, his breath more labored than it should have been. He didn't have any of the thoughts he had expected would be haunting him right now; maybe they would come on the return trip to Chicago, or the plane home tomorrow to Boston. Nothing about what might have been, how he might have been playing Little League baseball, what he might have looked like, what his favorite subject in school might have been. None of that. Only a nagging sensation of having done wrong, and never being able to make contrition, even if he wanted to.

He didn't hear the pickup. Didn't see her approach from the field.

When he looked up, she was there, barely 20 feet away.

He looked at her, startled initially. Time had gotten to her. It had to him, too, he couldn't kid himself. She looked unkempt, haggard, as if she never got enough sleep any more. Her clothes looked freshly laundered but worn, as if she'd had them too long. For an instant, their eyes locked. It was impossible to say what was exchanged between them in that moment. Recognition, but more. Loneliness. A glimmer of what might have been, perhaps. A rush of memories, none well defined. Then it was gone. Her eyes went as cold as the gathering evening. There was nothing to say.

She came closer. He didn't move. He hadn't expected it to play out like this.

They embraced. For his part, it was instinctive. Reflexive. There was no more thought to it than drawing a breath. She was warm, her breath intoxicating. Through her coat, he could feel the swell of her breasts. Suddenly, the memories had taken on sharp definition. Now he remembered them making love the first time, the way he'd eased inside her, the softly building passion that had finally exploded one Saturday evening when his roommate was away. 

He didn't see her knife.

She plunged it into the back of his neck.

The first blood fell in perfect splatters on Baby Bryce's stone, like drops of wax from a flaming red candle. It was only a surface wound, calculated and deliberate. Alone, it might have stopped bleeding. He wasn't even sure at first that he'd been stabbed. He thought maybe she'd dug her fingernails into him. The tenderness he'd started to feel escaped him like steam. He was tempted to slap her. He'd never wanted to hit a woman before. He did now. Self-defense. But he didn't. He turned, headed for the car. A trickle of warmth ran down the inside of his shirt. The crazy fucker.

She roared toward him, her cutting arm a scythe of blurred motion. This time he saw the blade. It was a pocket knife, the kind young punks smuggle into school. The blade couldn't have been four inches long. In that instant of confused terror, he remembered something his mother had told him as a kid. It wasn't about knives. It was about drowning. You can drown anywhere there's water, she'd said. Even in your own bathtub, even in an inch of water.

This time, she connected only once, a long, violent gash that sliced through his coat sleeve into his forearm. The fabric was quickly moist from the inside out. The pain was immense. She meant to kill him. It was like being kicked in the stomach, realizing that, but he knew it was true. He was suddenly breathless, fevered. With his good arm, he grabbed his wounded one, holding it fiercely, as if that would stop the bleeding. She came at him again. For a second, he saw her eyes. There was nothing there but emptiness. He ducked to one side, and she charged past him, almost falling.

He hesitated. For a second, he thought of fighting back. He was bigger than she, stronger. And she was out of her mind, a crazed psychotic with a knife. He looked wildly around, but there was nothing he could use as a weapon, no branch or loose rock. The best bet was to get the hell away. The bleeding wasn't bad, but he'd have to see a doctor. Then he would go to the police and have the crazy fucker arrested. That's what he was going to do, goddamn it. Have her put behind bars for good.

He took a step, a step that brought his foot into contact with Baby Bryce's stone.

He felt something lock around his ankle. Tiny, vice-like.

He looked down. There was nothing there, of course, only grass and that flat polished marble stone, blending into the shadows of approaching evening. He could taste bile as his panic rose.

He tried to move. 

He was locked in place.

``What the--''

She was back, blade whistling. Her aim was more precise than before. He saw the knife, heard it, tried to roll out of its trajectory, but his foot was stuck. He did the best he could, twisting and squirming to one side. It was not enough.

She made contact, again and again. His shoulder. His side. His thigh. His right hand. He felt each cut. None was deeper than tendon level. It was more like being pricked with a needle or stung by hornets than being stabbed. After each cut, the warm moisture. Death by a thousand cuts.

His ankle.

He grabbed at it, like a mink caught in a leg hold trap. There was nothing there, of course. With his other hand, he tried frantically to fend her off. She was nimble. She seemed able to anticipate him, dodging when he lashed out, closing back in when he tried unsuccessfully to get to his feet.

Maybe he could crawl. In his panic, that new thought was delightful. It was like being born again. He was on his belly and maybe he could crawl. Maybe he'd broken his ankle, that was all, and he could slither away from her. 

But he couldn't crawl, not more than a few inches. His foot was frozen.

She was in no hurry. There was still plenty of daylight remaining, 15 minutes or more until blackness settled over them. She was nicking him. Little flicks of cuts, counting toward a thousand. It was uncanny how she kept missing all the major arteries and organs, the ones that would have ended it quickly. She seemed to know anatomy, seemed to have studied it until she was sure what to hit, what to avoid. He was bleeding everywhere but gushing nowhere. His central nervous system only gradually was shifting into shock.

The pain was building. Soon it was too big for screaming. He began to moan. A mortally wounded animal sound, back through the millennia to when ancestors walked on all fours. Hunter and prey. Victor and vanquished.

His vision blurred.

As consciousness drained away to nothingness, he thought he saw her.

Smiling, her face inches from his.

He thought he heard a new sound.

The sound of a newborn crying.

The sound of birth.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Audible potpouri

More of my writing, new and old, keeps finding its way into additional formats. Previous publishers are issuing new e-editions, and my partners today at the multi-platform, multi-genre Crossroad Press have joined in that effort -- with books and stories that span my professional career, from old to brand-new, notably the finally completed Thunder Rise trilogy of horror/mystery novels and Since the Sky Blew Off, first of a planned three volumes of my horror/mystery/sci-fi short stories. (Read "The Beach That Summer," from the forthcoming v. 2, Vapors.)

Now come the audio (and video) productions, of various works, from multiple sources:

Thunder Rise, first in the trilogy (with Asylum and Summer Place, is now an audible book.

 The earlier audible version of King of Hearts, from Random House, remains available.

Also now on audible is The Work of Human Hands, my first non-fiction book. .

A podcast of "We Who Are His Followers," from the Sky collection, is now available as a podcast (starts at 10:08 mark) from Mark Slade's Dark Dreams. More stories will be available on Dark Dreams soon.

A podcast about Toy Wars and G.I. Joe on JoeDeclassified: Special Ops went up in January 2013.

And you can watch an interview with me on writing from a few years ago, by my son, Calvin.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Thunder Rise trilogy, finis!

In 1989, when William Morrow published my first book, the horror/mystery novel Thunder Rise, I envisioned it as the first in a trilogy set in the area around a fictional mountain in real-life Berkshire County, Massachusetts. In the last few months, I have completed writing the last two.

And thanks to my good friends at Crossroad Press, Asylum and Summer Place are now in print and Thunder Rise is also an audio book. Details on all editions of the three books are at my books page -- along with details about Since The Sky Blew Off, the first volume, of a planned three, of my collected horror/mystery/sci-fi stories, some previously published, some now for the first time. (Read The Beach That Summer, from Vapors, the upcoming Volume 2.)

The beginning of the saga. In e-editions and now also an audio book.

Second in the Thunder Rise trilogy. Proceeds will benefit patients at Zambarano Hospital, in memory of my dear friend Frank Beazley.
The final book in the trilogy. A Kindle exclusive.
Dystopia, Apocalypse and more, available on multiple platforms.

The Beach That Summer


copyright 2013

(From Vapors, the just-published v. 2 of my collected short stories, companion to the Thunder Rise trilogy)


That summer, Sand Hill was overrun by crazies. Try as you might, you couldn't get away from them -- not at the beach, not in the bars, not even in your own backyard.
I don't mean the summer people, the Applebaums and Lodges, the Bloomfields and Morgans. They came that summer, as always, but they stayed even more to themselves inside their Victorians and Capes. I don't know how many installed burglar alarms or hired guards or took up arms, but I guarantee you there were a lot.
No, they were a new breed, strangers to oldtime islanders like me. Out-of-towners, drawn by the big-city papers and the checkout-counter tabloids and that big story on network news the day before the Fourth of July. Just for fun, I stood on the bridge one morning and checked license plates. It's a two-lane job, and both those lanes were busy the hour I was there. Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, a few New Yorks, a couple of Ohios, even a California -- that's what I saw. I don't claim every one of them was drawn by what was going on, but I'd bet you a shore dinner most were.
We had gorgeous weather that summer, absolutely picture- postcard perfect the whole way through, and that didn't help, either. Come Labor Day, an islander -- a sailor whose business it is to know such things -- counted the rainy days and came up with a total of five. Even the thunderstorms stayed away that summer.
Of course, the crazies would've come anyway, fair weather or foul. I knew that. Most every islander knew that. The authorities knew it, too, and the frustration of it nearly drove them mad.
See, there was a crackle in the air that summer on Sand Hill. A tension you couldn't hide from. A tension that was strongest out on West Shore, where all of them were found.


Paula Hempson was first. I knew Paula -- about as well as anyone else, I guess, and that was none too well at all.
She was a loner -- a seamstress by trade but a drinker by profession, an overweight woman about my age, 47, who lived with a couple of strays in a trailer out by the landfill. Once in a blue moon you'd see her at Jake's Cafe, swilling beers alone at the end of the bar, clothes unkempt and hair dirty, looking for all the world like somebody who'd just poisoned her overbearing mother.
June 8, they found her body -- what was left of it -- on a tidal flat off West Shore.
West Shore is the island's scenic gem, three miles of beautiful white sand that belongs in Florida or South Carolina or Hawaii, not southern New England. Three miles of clean, virgin beach, not a hot dog stand or a windsurfing shop in sight. State land, the only reason it's stayed undeveloped for so long.
West Shore -- since I was old enough to walk, I must've been there a million times, swimming, fishing, clamming, falling in love with it again and again and again. I had my first woman on West Shore. She was 36 and I was 17 and she took me there in her car, a '51 Plymouth, and we shared wine and a blanket as we watched Fourth-of-July fireworks. She disappeared years ago -- there's still talk it was murder -- but I never forgot her, or that night.
I say they found Hempson's body, but it actually was a 10-year-old girl. She was the daughter of Jake Cabot, the selectman, and she was out there clamming when she stumbled onto it. As Jake later told it, first she screamed, then got sick, then finally ran like the devil himself was after her -- ran straight to the police station, a full mile away.
Sgt. Ross Miller was on duty that afternoon, and he knew Jake's little girl well enough to know she wasn't bull-crapping about what she'd seen off West Shore. After calling her dad, he got in his cruiser and headed down. On the way, he called Rescue One.
I was at home, camped out in front of the TV, when I heard the chatter over my Bearcat. In half a minute, the fire horn downtown was blaring. I heard a second siren -- somebody'd decided to send an engine, too. I got in my Jeep and headed after it.
When I got to West Shore, half the department was already there (but not a single other soul), sloshing knee-deep through the incoming tide on their way out to the flat. I headed out with them, curious, but also strangely edgy and...
...excited isn't quite the word.
Nobody spoke, but everybody felt it, what I was feeling. There wasn't going to be any rescue today, we saw that right off, only a cleanup we'd be seeing in our dreams for months to come. I don't blame that girl for getting sick. I damn near did myself, and I've spent my adult life in fishing boats -- not the pleasantest of places to be, especially a week after a full catch.
Paula was face down, three-quarters submerged, bobbing gently as the waves licked over her. With his billy stick as a prod, Sarge Miller turned her over.
That's when we saw -- total evisceration. I think we all gasped. I think we all said a silent prayer. We stood, not wanting to look, unable to turn away, wishing that the sea would swallow the body up again so we could go home and forget we'd ever seen it. Ten seconds, half a minute, a minute -- who was counting? The time went by and we were still there, lost in our thoughts, the sea lapping against our boots, a few gulls skimming low over the water, the sun pinkening as it started down toward evening.
Finally, Sarge Miller said in an unsteady voice, ``OK, boys, we got work to do. Tide's gonna beat us, we don't get a move on.''
Sarge's order was like a rock through glass. In no time, we had the body on the sand, safe from high tide.
Buzz Aldrich went across the sand to his four-wheel-drive to have the station call the ME's office. The rest of us moved off some and lit up cigarettes.


Sarge Miller was the first to use the word ``shark.''
It was, as events would later prove, a most unfortunate choice of word. It was a word that would come back to sorely haunt him, and the island, and the state -- a word that would be misinterpreted and misquoted and misused so badly that for part of that summer, at least, it would seem like our lives were being scripted in Hollywood, and we were actors in a real-life Jaws. It was wrong, as we would find out -- about as wrong as you can get -- but then, the beginning of that summer, that's what we believed.
Now, it would be one thing if Sarge made his assessment over beers at Jake's, but he didn't. He made it in to a reporter.
His name was Storin, and he worked for one of the Boston papers. Storin was on the island that day getting notes on Sand Hill's summer set when the siren blew and we tore-assed down to West Shore, him not far behind. I remember thinking that Sarge was going to tell him to take a flying leap when he strolled up, dressed in tan slacks and a button-down shirt, Mr. City Slicker himself. Only he didn't. He didn't say boo when Storin pushed straight past us, barely a word of hello, to get a better look.
``Mauled,'' Storin said simply when he strolled back. Mauled -- it was the word we'd been wracking our brains for.
``You got it, my friend,'' Sarge said.
``Homicide?'' Storin asked casually as he pulled his notebook out of his back pocket.
I saw that notebook and cringed, and I figured by that point alarm bells should have been going off inside Sarge's head. They weren't. Maybe he was shocked. Maybe he didn't understand the press. Maybe he'd been cozying up to Jack Daniel again.
Whatever the maybe, he was just as cordial as can be.
``No person could have done that,'' he said, as Storin scribbled crazily. ``Had to be something from out there,'' he finished, sweeping the expanse of the sea with his right arm.
``You mean shark,'' Storin said, and that's when he pulled the tape recorder out of his pocket.
You knew, listening, that the guy had Jaws dancing in his head. You knew he couldn't wait to get back to Boston to write it. You knew, if you knew anything at all, that his story would draw the media to Sand Hill like gulls to a homebound trawler.
Even then, Sarge didn't come to his senses. ``That's right,'' he said, spitting into the sand. ``I mean shark.''


The Herald put Storin's story on Page Three. It mentioned Jaws, quoted Sarge Miller extensively, and included a list of documented shark attacks around the world the last 50 years.
Beyond that -- well, what more could it have said?
The ME wasn't talking and there were no grieving relatives to be quoted. I understand the police phone rang off the hook the next day, and I understand that Sarge Miller got reamed but good by Chief, but until Marjorie Peters, that Herald story was it.


Mark Peters was second.
It was after him that the lid blew off Sand Hill. It was after him that the crazies took over the beach.
I wasn't on the island the day he washed up, June 30, but Chief gave me a description over Rolling Rocks at Jake's Cafe. Thank God, no kid found him. That kind of thing could have scarred another kid for life -- just ask Jake. No, this time, a guy from state Environmental Affairs had the honors. Spotted him through binoculars on a law-enforcement patrol of West Shore, about a half mile north of where we fished Hempson out of the surf.
Spotted him and then threw his lunch, just like Jake's girl.
Like Hempson, Peters was a shadow figure, a ghost. He wasn't poor like Hempson -- he had a nice waterfront cottage, what was rumored to be a nice fat nest egg in a First State trust. The other particulars were identical: Mark Peters was lonely and alone.
``Looked like Hemspon,'' Chief said, ``exactly like Hempson,'' and he knew he didn't need to say any more. I killed my Rolling Rock and ordered a double Cutty. Chief followed suit. We sat together on our stools, silent as the mahogany under our elbows.
Silent, that is, until another double Cutty was history. That's when Chief whispered: ``It ain't no shark.''
I didn't catch his drift, not immediately.
``Somebody wanted it to look that way,'' he continued, ``faked it like a shark. Mark Peters was murdered.''
``You're kidding.''
``I wish I was. Lord, how I wish I was.''
``How can you be sure?''
``We got a note. Hand-written. Arrived at the station an hour after we fished him out. Certain details in that note are consistent with certain preliminary findings from the ME. And there was a drawing. Very precise. Very gory. Made me sick.''
``Holy smokes.''
``There's more,'' Chief said on our third Cutty. ``Hempson wasn't any shark, either.''
``You can't be serious.''
``I am. ME's report came back.''
``--and it seems we got a nut on the loose.''


The papers and web went ape over Mark Peters. TV joined right in. By Friday night, the island was crawling with reporters and photographers and bloggers -- I mean crawling, the way an army of ants'll crawl over something sweet that's dripped down your kitchen counter.
Who cared if Chief was urging restraint, was insisting nothing was definitive, that no sharks had ever been sighted within miles of Sand Hill? Who cared if the ME took pains to explain that the natural action of seawater and bacteria have a certain disgusting but distinctly deteriorative effect on human flesh?
Who cared?
This was the rarest of opportunities, probably it would never come again, a summertime Jaws in real life and all there within a couple hours driving time of the big East Coast cities.


If you wanted to put a date on when we first felt the crackle in the air that summer, first really felt it, it's fair to say it was at 6:39 p.m. on Sunday, July 3.
I knew it was coming, and I guess most other islanders did, too. Hadn't we seen the big-shot film crew sticking cameras in shoppers' faces on their way out of Franny's Market? Hadn't we seen three shiny new Lincolns parked outside Clipper Inn? Hadn't they rented Bill Weather's 44-foot Chris Craft, mooring it for an entire afternoon off West Shore? Hadn't there been a helicopter?
We knew the report was coming, but still the force of it was overwhelming -- introduced, as it was, by Brian Williams.
I remember that report like it just ended. It opened with an aerial shot of the island, the water shimmering like diamonds in a jewelry-store display case, and then it cut directly to West Shore, where a pretty-boy type was standing alone with a microphone, the wind tousling his hair, this terribly somber look on his face.
``Fear has struck this quintessential New England resort,'' he said, or something very close to that, ``fear that man's greatest natural enemy is prowling these beautiful waters. Fear that a great white shark which has apparently claimed two victims will go for more before the long hot summer is through...''
The day after that broadcast. That's when it got crazy to walk the beach.
Crazy, because for a spell, it didn't seem the off-islanders were ever going to leave. Crazy, because everyone knew why everyone else was there -- to wait, to watch, to hope in the sickest fashion that they would be the ones there when... when it happened again.
And nobody doubted it would.
All day, they were there, and well into the evening. They parked their Broncos and Winnebagoes and played Frisbee and set up Volleyball nets and lit charcoal fires on Hibachi grilles and the younger and more foolish ones, the gold-chained men with their painted-toenail women, dared each other to wade in. From the dunes, you could see them -- shadowy characters in a bad dream.
Few islanders walked deep down the beach from then on that summer, but I did.
I did because I'd always done it, always been in love with the smells and sounds and sunsets you get there, only there, on West Shore. I did because I'd been going there since I was a kid. I did because stress and tension magically dissipated there, carried away on the warm summer breeze. If I'd been a poet, I think I would have camped out forever on West Shore. The poems I would have written would have been soft and billowy, like clouds, not angry and irrational and unforgiving, like the world around us.
Once a day, I walked West Shore, end to end, three miles in all. Once a day, invariably in early evening, when the sun was dropping down to kiss the sea and the breeze was stiff enough to keep the black flies grounded.
I carried a .38 that summer, and sometimes, the razor-sharp stiletto I picked up in New York years ago. I carried them -- and carrying them gave me security. Few islanders walked West Shore that summer, but when they did, they carried weapons, too.
After Billie Robards, it would have been crazy not to.


Billie put an end to all the shark talk. There were two good reasons for that. One was where they found her: in the West Shore dunes, 100 yards, easy, from mean high tide.
The other was the letter that was mailed to the editorial offices of the Providence Journal.
It arrived July 14, hours before they found her, decapitated and limbless, so there was no question it was authentic. They never published the full text of that letter, which had a Providence postmark, but word got around the island pretty quickly about what was in it: Billie's name, a drawing, a plea to ``stop me, I can't control myself,'' all of it in black felt pen.
``He's sick, really sick,'' Chief said to me, and I could see the desperation and frustration and the something I hesitated to call fear in his tired blue eyes.
I knew Billie.
Knew her personally, and well. She was married to Will Robards, the skipper and owner of the Liza D., a Sand Hill trawler I'd crewed on for years. Will's boat had kept me in dough times when times were rotten, and for that, I was eternally grateful. His wife was a peach, a 40-year-old brown-eyed peach with a wonderful laugh. I used to run into her in the market, at the gas station, wherever, and we always exchanged pleasantries. For years, she'd made it a point to stop by the house Christmas Eve to drop off her home-baked goodies. ``Bachelor's Special,'' she'd say, and we always laughed heartily as we toasted our mutual good health.
After Billie's autopsy, they quietly exhumed Paula Hempson and Mark Peters, allowing the pathologists to conclude that one person almost certainly was responsible for all three deaths. It answered the question the papers had forgotten to ask: Just what had Hempson and Peters been doing swimming off West Shore, anyway?
If they loved Shark, they went berserk for Maniac on the Loose.
They'd smelled blood, real honest-to-God fresh-flowing blood, blood that seemed certain to flow again if everybody only waited a spell, and now there was no stopping them. Somebody joked that every fourth person on Narragansett Avenue was a reporter from there on out, but I didn't laugh. One knocked on my door, and I live half a mile from the main drag. Forget downtown, Jake's Cafe, the docks. Things were at a fever pitch, nobody seemed sane anymore, everybody had a theory and a suspect and...
...and that crackle was in the air.
I don't know how else to describe it. I think back to that summer and I can hear it inside my head, a loud, painful crackle, this terrible thing that prickles the hairs on my neck.
``All that publicity can only be encouraging him. Sons of Satan, every one of these reporters.''
If Chief said it once that summer, he said it a hundred times, and he was right, he was right. That was the bitch of it; everyone knew what the publicity was doing, but we were powerless to stop it. A great country, America, isn't it? You could see this sick puppy, living alone, catching the evening news and getting all worked up about his latest victim -- a steam-filled pressure cooker set to blow again, and no one there to turn the burners off.
Off-islanders still walked West Shore -- for the most part, only in the bold light of day now. And they did it in tighter and larger clusters than before -- the foolish illusion of strength in numbers, I imagine. But mostly, after Billie Robards, they stuck to the docks and the restaurants and Jake's, endlessly, morbidy fascinated with the Shore Stalker, as they came to call him.
I kept walking West Shore, my hand a little tighter on my .38, my eyes straining a little harder, every passerby a suspect. I kept walking because I was determined the Stalker couldn't keep me from the place I loved so. I kept walking because I always had.


Victims four and five were found Aug. 14, three days after a letter arrived on Chief's desk. The State Police sent it off to the lab for analysis, but it didn't take a criminologist to see that the same hand had penned both letters.
I got a photocopy of that letter from Sarge Miller. Photocopies were worth their weight in gold that summer. ``Stop me,'' the letter said. ``Please, I beg you, stop me.''
Nothing else.
I forget their names -- they were off-islanders, a honeymooning couple in their 20s from Pennsylvania. Their car was found in the West Shore lot, and there was some dispute over whether they had known what was happening on the beach that summer or had wandered there unsuspectingly through impossibly bad luck.
Even after them, the curious came, but they came in much smaller numbers. By late afternoon, West Shore would be deserted, whatever off-islanders there had been having retreated to the safety of the motels and bars. After Aug. 14, the only people I met on my evening walks were cops and a couple of old salts who'll be out there surf casting the day they drop the Big One.
We islanders drew tightly together then -- for solace, more than protection. I bet there have never been more floodlights sold than that summer, more German Shepherds bought, more shotguns oiled and loaded, mine included.
For all that, it was an uneasy camaraderie.
Media or no media, one fact could not be exaggerated: there was a cold-blooded killer out there, and who's to say he wasn't your Uncle Joe or your Cousin Henry? Who's to say he wasn't sitting right there with you in Jake's, or standing with you at the checkout counter, or behind the wheel of the car in front of you coming over the bridge? Who's to say it wasn't Jake, or Will Robards, or Chief, or Sgt. Ross? Stranger things have happened.
Truth was, we were an island scared to death.
Up in the capitol, there was a sense of urgency you usually see only after hurricanes or blizzards. The governor went on TV to announce creation of the Sand Hill Task Force, what he described as the state's largest, most ambitious crime hunt ever. State Police, Sand Hill Police, the National Guard -- they were all in on it.
The Shore Stalker was going to be caught, yes he was.
Except he wasn't.
One week, two weeks, three weeks went by, Labor Day was just around the corner, and there hadn't been an arrest. Thank the Lord, the Stalker was quiet, but the authorities were no closer to finding him than they'd been all summer.
They tried everything -- roadblocks, unmarked cars, armed men in the dunes. They searched cars, boats, crunched names through national data bases, run up the biggest overtime bill in the history of Rhode Island law enforcement. Eventually, the American Civil Liberties Union began to squawk. It was that big.
That unsuccessful.
``It's the goddamndest thing I ever saw,'' Chief told me on Sept. 3, two days before the Board Of Selectmen fired him. ``It's almost like this guy doesn't really exist.''
He wasn't the first to think that. I'd thought it myself.

Labor Day came and went, and the Stalker didn't strike, and then it was Columbus Day, and Christmas, and we were into the New Year. The papers and TV moved on to other places, other tragedies.
Still, he wasn't caught. There wasn't even an arrest.
So here it is, Friday of Fourth of July weekend, and the traffic into Sand Hill is noticeably heavier, and every islander is remembering last summer and feeling strangely skittish and...
...and that crackle in the air is back, louder than before.
I close my eyes and I can hear it, feel it, excruciatingly painful, like the first stab of a migraine at the back of your skull.
They won't admit it, of course, but the authorities are convinced that there's a better-than-even chance the Stalker will be tempted this weekend. Something about the pattern of last year's killings, they say, something about the renewed publicity, something the handwriting experts say they can see in his letters.
Another one, you see, was received by the new Chief today.
So they've closed off West Shore for the weekend, and they're turning back cars headed into the parking lot, and they're warning people not to go out alone, and there are rumors that National Guardsmen will be patrolling the beach around the clock.
But I fully expect that some fool will still walk the beach this weekend. Some poor drunk slob slipping past the guardsmen and wandering the dunes, those sprawling, magnificent dunes.
I expect that I might see that slob. I plan to be there, as usual, walking the beach as the sun is setting and the soft summer breeze is blowing gently in off the water.
Just like last summer.