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Verisimilitude ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Irene Gribble hit her mother in the head with an iron and sent the old lady sprawling. She hit the far wall of the room, head first, and fell to the floor like a hundred-pound sack of flour. Irene, observing from the ironing board that she wasn’t moving, figured she was pretending, as she had always been a great one for self-dramatization.

“You can get up now, mother,” Irene said. “I know you’re not hurt.”

No sound issued from the recumbent old woman.

“If you don’t get up now and stop pretending, I’m going to pour a pitcher of water in your face. That’s what they always do in the movies.”

She went and stood over her mother, hands on hips, and nudged her with her foot. “Well, at least I got you to shut up for a while,” she said.

She finished her ironing, washed some dishes, threw away some rotten vegetables in the refrigerator, and in another few minutes she checked on her mother again. This time she knelt down beside her and put her ear to the old woman’s chest. She heard no sound of a beating heart but, then, she had always been certain there was no heart there, anyway. When she saw that her mother wasn’t breathing, though, she knew she was dead.

“Well, what do you know about that?” she said.

She stood up and took a deep breath. She felt surprisingly calm, considering that she had just killed her own mother. She sat down at the kitchen table, lit a Lucky Strike and thought about the phone call she needed to make.

“A song came on the radio that she liked and she was dancing,” Irene would tell the police. “She always loved to dance. Her eyes were closed and she had her arms around her imaginary partner. She didn’t see the rip in the carpet, caught her foot in it, and fell backward against the wall.”

No, that didn’t sound quite right. Whoever heard of anybody getting killed while they were dancing?

“I was outside in the back yard,” the story might go. “I found her like this when I came in from outside. She must have taken a terrific fall.”

Or this: “I don’t really know what happened. I was upstairs and I heard a crash. When I came running down, I saw that she had climbed on a chair to change a bulb in the ceiling fan. She must have fallen over backwards off the chair and hit the wall. She was taking a new medication that caused her to black out when least expected.”

A little better. I have to make it sound convincing. Give it verisimilitude. I always liked that word. That will be my word.

As she stubbed out her cigarette, she realized her hands were shaking and she erupted into a torrent of pitying tears, not for her mother but for herself. What if they don’t believe me? What if they suspect I killed her? I can’t let them think that. My own mother. It makes me sick just to think about it.

She felt more alone that she had ever felt before in her life. She had only one living relative, her brother Ernest, and, although the two of them had never been on the best of terms, he might help her to figure out the best way to handle the situation.

She called his number and was relieved that he was available; he answered his phone on the second ring.

“Ernest!” she said. “Something terrible has happened!”


“It’s mother! I need you to come over right away!”

“Are you two fighting again? I told you I refuse to get involved.”

“No, it’s not that! It’s more than that! She’s down on the floor and I don’t think she’s breathing.”

“Call an ambulance.”

“I think it’s too late for that. I need some help.”

“With what?”

“Just come over and see for yourself.”

“I’ll be there in half an hour.”

An hour later he walked calmly into the house, removing his sunglasses. Irene was sitting on the couch in her bathrobe.

“Where is she?” he asked.

“In the kitchen.”

He went into the kitchen and a couple of minutes later came back into the living room. “She’s dead,” he said.

“I know she’s dead,” Irene said. She had taken tranquilizers, twice the recommended dosage, and felt calm, at least for the moment.

“Are you going to tell me what happened? The two of you were fighting, weren’t you? You think you might have killed her and you want me to help you cover it up.”

“That’s not quite true!” she said defensively. “You’re right about one thing, though. We were fighting.”

“I always said it would come to this. The two of you would end up killing each other.”

“Well, now she’s dead and I’m alive,” Irene said.

“You need to call somebody,” he said. “Call an ambulance, even if she is already dead.”

“How’s Malcolm?” she asked.


“Malcolm. Isn’t that his name?”

“His name is Martin and this is no time for small talk.”

“Are you two of you still living together?”

“Yes! And it’s not a crime!”

“Well, you don’t need to yell at me! I’ve had enough of that from her!”

“I knew it was a mistake for you to move in with her after your divorce.”

“She said she wanted me to. She said she was lonely.”

“The two of you have been fighting your entire lives.”

“I know, but it’s all over now. I feel a deep sense of relief, don’t you?”

“Well, at this moment, I can’t say relief is what I feel,” he said. “I’ve just seen my mother dead on the kitchen floor. That’s rather a shock in the middle of an uneventful day.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“Call somebody and tell them what happened. Call the police.”

“I’m scared!”


“I’m afraid they’ll think I was somehow responsible for what happened.”

“Weren’t you?”

“Well, in a way I suppose I was.”

“You’d better tell me exactly what happened.”

“She was a horrible person!”

“Yes, we’ve been through all that many times.”

“She always had to have somebody to fight with. Daddy or Aunt Jo, grandma when she was still alive, you, or me. Of course, now it’s me because I’m the one living with her.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“Well, a person can only take so much. She found fault with everything I did. I stay up too late at night and sleep too late in the morning. I smoke too much and I make slurping sounds when I eat soup. I’m not clean enough. I leave grease spots on the stove. I’m lazy. I don’t do my share of the housework. I’m a terrible daughter and a terrible person. I let my marriage fail. I take dope and I’m a shoplifter. I’m not a real woman because I never had any children. It goes on and on.”

“Same story, different day,” he said.

“I can take just about anything she heaps on, but when she accuses me of stealing money from her purse, that’s beyond the pale!”

“She said you stole money from her?”

“Two hundred dollars. Out of her purse when she while she was taking a nap.”

“Did you?”

“Of course not!”

“All right. The two of you came to blows over two hundred dollars that she said was missing from her purse.”

“I was ironing a blouse. She started screaming at me about the money. She called me a thief and whore and she said if I didn’t give it back she was going to call the police. When I told her I didn’t take the money and that she probably spent it and didn’t remember, she pulled a steak knife out of the drawer and threatened me with it. She held it to my stomach and said she was going to gut me like a fish and that it’s what she should have done the day I was born because I had always been a terrible curse to her. She kept on and on in that way and I hit her in the head with the iron to get her to shut up.”

“A hot iron?”

“It was on medium.”

“Then what happened?”

“I guess I hit her harder than I thought. I was so mad. It stunned her and she started falling backwards. It was really kind of funny, like the witch in The Wizard of Oz.”

“I don’t remember any witch falling over backwards in that movie.”

“For a few seconds it was like she was running backwards and then she slammed head first into the wall.”

He groaned and put his hands over his eyes. “What did you do then?”

“She didn’t move for a while. I figured she was all right and only pretending to be hurt to scare me. I finished my ironing and washed the dishes and then I went over to her and nudged her with my foot.”

“And nothing happened?” he asked. “She was already dead?”

“Well, I didn’t believe at first that she could really be dead. You know how melodramatic she’s always been and always making a play for sympathy.”

“When you realized she was dead, why didn’t you call an ambulance?”

“I was going to call, but then I thought how odd the whole thing must look to people who didn’t know what really happened. I was afraid they would come in and take a look around and just naturally assume that I killed her.”

“And you didn’t kill her?”

“No, it was an accident.”

“You have to call the police and let them decide if it was an accident or not. If she was threatening you with a knife, that’s self-defense, isn’t it? Weren’t you defending yourself?”

“It depends on what you choose to believe,” she said.

“I’d like to believe the truth,” he said.

“You know mother was always disappointed in you.”

“I know and I don’t care.”

“She wanted grandchildren,” she said.

“Tough,” he said.

“She called you all kinds of names. Not to your face, of course, but behind your back. To anybody that would listen.”

“Are you going to call the police or do you want me to do it?” he asked.

“She was a terrible person. Aren’t you at least a little bit glad she’s dead?”

“Right now the only thing I’m glad of is that I got away from home before it was too late.”

“You hate me for what happened, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t hate you. I’m worried about what’s going to happen to you.”

“I won’t go to jail,” she said. “I’ll kill myself first.”

“I’m going to call the police and tell them what you told me.”

“I have a better idea.”

“What is it?”

“We can wait until the middle of the night and drive down to the river and dump her in. Of course, we’d have to figure out a way to weight her down first.”

“Are you crazy? Do you think I want to be involved in covering up a murder?”

“I’d do it for you.”

He laughed. “Somehow I don’t think you would,” he said.

“There’s a space below the basement floor that has a metal covering over it,” she said. “Big enough to hide a body in. Nobody would ever find her there until long after we’re gone.”

“You should hear yourself! I can hardly believe what I’m hearing. You’re talking about hiding your mother’s body? What do you tell people when they come looking for her? That she just ‘stepped out’ and you don’t know when she’ll be back? I don’t think people are going to accept that.”

“Always such a pessimist!” she said.

“I’m going to call the police and try to explain what happened without sounding like a lunatic,” he said.

“No, you go on about your business,” she said. “I want to be alone for a while, to sit and think. To grieve for the lady who gave me life. I’ll call the police when I’m ready.”

“So you’re going to handle it on your own?”


“And you’ll do what’s right?”

“Don’t I always?”

“I’m going to leave now. I’ll come back tonight around dark. I hope you’ll have called the police by then and tell them the truth about what happened.”

“Of course. You don’t have a thing to worry about. You’re the guiltless one, as ever.”

“Tomorrow I have a funeral to arrange,” he said, and then he was gone.

She drank a couple of vodka martinis and took a bath, her first in four days. When she was dressed again and her hair clean, she backed her car into the driveway, as close to the back door as she could get.

Taking the two spare tires out of the trunk—new and old—along with a jack and other tire-changing tools, some assorted rags, a flashlight, and other junk, she set them on the ground beside the car.

In the bottom of her trunk was a compartment underneath a panel held in place with thumb screws. She removed the screws and lifted out the panel and after she had done this she went back into the house.

She had thrown a blanket over her mother’s body, but it wasn’t enough. Thinking fast, she went upstairs to the walk-in closet and pulled down a large garment bag containing coats and dresses that hadn’t been worn in twenty years. She emptied the stuff out onto the floor and took the bag back downstairs.

Getting her mother’s body inside the bag and the bag zipped was easier than she anticipated. She dragged the bag to the back door and then, checking to make sure the woman next door was not snooping around in the back yard, she dragged it out the door and the few feet to the car. With one great heave and a shooting pain in her back, she lifted the bag off the ground and into the compartment, quickly replacing the panel with the thumbscrews and putting the spare tires and other stuff back into the trunk. She felt much better now, having removed the body from view.

Going back into the house, she sat down at the kitchen table and, cigarette in hand, wrote a note to Ernest, which he would see when he came by later. The note read, in part: Mother and I are going away for a while. I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll be back. The deed to the house, in your name, is in the safety deposit. Do what you think is right.

She packed a bag containing enough clothes for a few days, locked the doors, turned off the lights, and got into the car and drove away.

She drove all night and all day the next day, into the next state and then the next one after that. At dusk on the second day, she stopped in a small city that seemed like another world and spent the night in a beautiful old hotel on the bank of a river. In the morning, after a restful night’s sleep and a wonderful breakfast, she drove around for a while until she found a place where used cars were sold.

The car didn’t bring as much money as she thought it was worth, but she didn’t care to argue about price and accepted the first offer. She drove away in a newer model, only two years old, in almost perfect condition as if it had hardly been driven at all.

In her not-quite-new car, she continued driving in a westerly direction. She had always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, so she spent a couple of days there, enjoying the solitude and the wide-open spaces.

From the Grand Canyon, she drove to Las Vegas, a place she had heard about and dreamed about but never visited. She had a feeling of excitement to be there, just as she felt as a child when the whole family used to go to the beach or the amusement park.

In Las Vegas she checked into a hotel room with a magnificent view and locked herself in, ordering lavish meals from room service, charging all to a credit card. At night she would lie on the bed in her room, turn off the lights and open the curtains, drinking from a bottle of chianti. Looking out at the millions of other-worldly lights, she couldn’t remember ever feeling so contented and free from care in her life.

When she went out among the crowds, in the casinos or on the streets, she felt safe and anonymous. Nobody paid any attention to her. Everybody was there to enjoy themselves, just as she was.

On her fourth day in Las Vegas, she was walking on a crowded street when she saw an old woman up ahead in a bright yellow dress. It was the same stiff-jointed limp, the left shoulder lower than the right one, as her mother; the same hair tinted the color of apricot jam. She didn’t know how it could be, but she was sure it was her mother. She wasn’t dead after all! She had somehow got herself out of the trunk of Irene’s car and here she was, same as always! Just like a miracle!

In her happiness at seeing her mother alive, Irene started at an almost-run to catch up with her, but still she was two blocks away. With all the people milling about on the street, she lost sight of her for seconds at a time, but the yellow dress was like a beacon that she could not lose sight of.

Abandoning all caution, she stepped off a curb into traffic. She didn’t see the taxi cab that knocked her down and ran over her. The driver screeched his brakes and jumped out. A crowd gathered. Traffic became snarled. An ambulance came to take her away, but there was nothing to be done. She didn’t have any identification on her, so it took a while to piece together who she was and why she was running. Nobody had seen a thing out of the ordinary.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

I am Dracula


I am Dracula. Welcome to my crumbling castle. Please don’t be alarmed by the cobwebs, the howling wolves, or by my terrifying appearance and manner. You have left the real world behind and now you are in my beloved…Transylvania.  

20th Century Ghosts ~ A Capsule Book Review


20th Century Ghosts ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

20th Century Ghosts is a collection of contemporary short stories by American writer Joe Hill.  Not all the stories in the collection are about ghosts; some are about other things, but nearly all the stories have some element about them of mystery or the unexplainable. As with any collection, there were some stories I liked and some not so much. Whether you like them or not, they are all quirky and unconventional, written in an engaging and compelling style that keeps you turning the pages to see what’s coming up on the next page.

The short story “20th Century Ghost,” from which the title of the collection is derived, is about the ghost of a nineteen-year-old girl who haunts an old movie theatre. In twenty years or so, there are around two dozen people who have had encounters with the ghost girl in the theatre, and those who do never forget the experience. The girl died violently in some way that involved the letting of blood. She was so in love with the movies and loved talking about them so much that her ghost just naturally has to haunt a movie theatre.

Many of the stories in this collection are about the loneliness and alienation of youth. “Pop Art” is about a lonely boy who has, not exactly an imaginary friend, but an inflatable one. When he loses the friend through an odd quirk of fate, he goes on to an inflatable girlfriend. Inflatable friends are so much more agreeable than real ones.

With a nod to Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” “You Will Hear the Locust Sing” is about a boy named Francis who lives in the desert and who, through exposure to radiation, turns into a giant locust. (Years ago I wrote a similar story called “Happy Trails” about a woman in the desert who turned into a giant bug that, I’m happy to say, was published in a literary magazine called Churn Thy Butter.)

“The Black Phone” is about a thirteen-year-old boy who is kidnapped by a crazed child killer. The story is told entirely from the point of view of the boy and not by the police or by the boy’s parents. The boy is locked in a windowless room that has a mysterious phone on the wall. If the phone is disconnected, why does it sometimes ring?

In “The Widow’s Breakfast,” a hobo in the 1930s travels around from place to place by snatching illegal rides on freight trains. He is rattled because his best friend and traveling companion has just died. When he comes upon a farm where a lonely widow lives, he rediscovers what it feels like to be treated with kindness. There’s something odd about her children, though.

At about fifty pages, the short story “Voluntary Committal” is the longest one in the collection and comes at the end. It’s about a teenage boy name Nolan with an idiot savant younger brother named Morris. Morris builds elaborate “forts” in the basement out of boxes and then paints and decorates them. When Nolan and a friend named Eddie do a stupid thing on a highway overpass that might have involved somebody getting killed, they are scared they will get caught. When Morris hears them talking about it, they are convinced he is too retarded to understand or to know what they are saying. Or does he know a lot more than they think? When Eddie becomes an annoyance to Nolan over his fear that Nolan will tell what happened on the overpass, Morris has an unconventional way of getting rid of Eddie in a way that nobody will ever be able to figure out.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

The Only Sane One in the Family


The Only Sane One in the Family ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Crumb was eighty-five and had more cobwebs in her head than in the basement and attic combined. She could no longer be trusted to stay at home by herself. She had been known to leave the front door open in the winter and then wonder why it was so cold in the house, or to turn the burners on in the kitchen and let dangerous amounts of gas escape into the room before she noticed the blue flame hadn’t come on the way it was supposed to. Her daughter, Lucy Ethel, age sixty-three, left her latest husband in the city and went to live with Mrs. Crumb in her old-fashioned house on a corner lot in a small and not very prosperous town a good five-hour drive away by automobile.

Lucy Ethel had smothering emphysema from a lifetime of smoking Camel cigarettes, but her more immediate problem was her fragile nerves. She took little yellow pills her doctor had prescribed, sometimes twice the number she was supposed to but, still, no matter how many pills she took, her mother tried her nerves almost beyond endurance. They had never been on the best of terms, anyway, and it was an almost impossible situation with them both living under the same roof. Mrs. Crumb was stubborn on principle and refused to do almost everything Lucy Ethel tried to get her to do. If it was mealtime, she wasn’t hungry and refused to eat; time to go to bed, she refused to get undressed. Lucy Ethel thought at times about taking the whole bottle of yellow pills at once and getting into her big four-poster bed and going to sleep and never waking up.

“I’m not a well woman,” Lucy Ethel was fond of saying to anybody that would listen. “I still have my own life to live.”

To have an occasional “day off,” Lucy Ethel had to engage the services of a “woman” who was willing to spend a day, or at least part of an afternoon, sitting with an impossible old woman and keeping her from doing any harm to herself or to the house. When Mrs. Ida Lehigh answered Lucy Ethel’s newspaper ad the first day it appeared, she seemed ideal; she had sat with old people before, she said, had some nursing experience, and lived only a short distance away. Lucy Ethel would have to pay for her to take a cab, though; Mrs. Lehigh was fat, had painful varicose veins, and wasn’t able to walk very far.

“I guess we can manage the cab fare,” Lucy Ethel blatted into the phone, delighted that she had found the right person so easily and on the first day.

On Saturday, Lucy Ethel was going to see the dentist, meet a friend for lunch and see a two o’clock matinee movie with said friend. She arranged with Ida Lehigh to come on that day.

Lucy Ethel was gratified that Ida Lehigh arrived on time on Saturday morning but a little dismayed to see that she had brought along her thirteen-year-old daughter, Stella Lehigh.

“She won’t cause no trouble,” Ida said. “I can’t leave her at home by herself. She gets into too much mischief.”

Stella Lehigh was a pale, skeletal girl with a permanent scowl on her face and dark circles around her eyes. Refusing to say hello to Lucy Ethel or to Mrs. Crumb, she slumped down on the couch and crossed her arms, looking bored.

“We’ll all get along just fine!” Ida gushed. “We’re going to have a fine time, aren’t we? Everything will be just fine.”

“I’ll be back around six,” Lucy Ethel said.

“Don’t give us a thought!” Ida said. “We’ll all be just fine!”

“Do you mean I have to stay here all day until six o’clock?” Stella asked her mother.

“Well, you need to find something to do,” Ida said, dropping her cheery manner. “Why don’t you go outside and twiddle your thumbs?”

“I don’t want to go outside!” Stella said. “I didn’t want to come here in the first place!”

“Well, sit there and be miserable, then! I don’t care!”

Mrs. Lehigh had eight children. The oldest was middle-aged. Stella at thirteen was the youngest. Mr. Lehigh had been dead for many years, a victim of sour stomach and poor circulation.

“This is a lovely house,” Ida piped to Mrs. Crumb. “They just don’t build them like this no more, do they?”

“It came to me when my second husband died,” Mrs. Crumb said.

“What did he die of?” Stella asked.

“Stella!” Ida said. “You’re not supposed to ask questions like that!”

“Well, I just wondered!”

“I was widowed twice,” Mrs. Crumb said. “My first husband was thirty-eight when he died. We had three children. Only one is still living.”

“Well, it must have been a comfort to you to have this lovely home when they passed.”

“Would you like a piece of butterscotch?” Mrs. Crumb asked. “I like to sit here and suck on a butterscotch because I don’t have anything else to do.”

“No, thank you, dear!” Ida said.

“I hate butterscotch!” Stella said.

“My daughter gets it for me at the store,” Mrs. Crumb said.

Stella rolled her eyes and sighed with impatience. “If you want to talk about something real,” she said, addressing herself to Mrs. Crumb, “I have sleep apnea. I could die in my sleep any night.”

“There’s no reason to talk about that now,” Ida said. “Nobody wants to hear about that.”

“Well, I don’t know why the hell not! I think it’s very interesting because it’s about me!”

“Well, the world doesn’t revolve around you, now, does it?” Ida said. “And I told you to not to use that filthy language!”

“Hey, I have to go to the bathroom!” Stella said. “Where is it?”

“It’s back through there, I guess,” Ida said, pointing over Mrs. Crumb’s head. “And don’t break nothing, either.”

“I always like to look at people’s bathrooms,” Stella said. She smiled and stood up and went toward the back of the house.

“Kids!” Ida said to Mrs. Crumb apologetically. “This one has certainly been a handful of trouble, let me tell you!”

“What?” Mrs. Crumb said.

“From the time she was born, she was trouble with a capital T, morning, noon and night. She would lie in her crib and scream all day long and all through the night. I said to my husband, I said, ‘I’m not havin’ any more children because I’m afraid they’ll be just like her’. We had eight by that time and he didn’t care if we had another dozen because I did all the work of takin’ care of them. He made the livin’ and that was all he ever did. I guess that’s not inconsequential, when you think about. Feedin’ all those mouths.”

“My second husband and I owned a grocery,” Mrs. Crumb said, “but it went bankrupt.”

“Now, let me tell you,” Ida said, “Stella has had a rough time of it in school. From the time she started to kindergarten, she had behavioral problems and learning problems and all kind of other problems. I’m sure I don’t know why the Lord burdened me with that one. He must think I’m guilty of some terrible iniquity. And then, if that’s not bad enough, the kids at school bully her and call her frog legs and bone mama and names like that because she’s so thin. Kids can be so cruel, as I’m sure you know. She was having nightmares for a while from the terrible way she was treated at school. I went to the principal of the school and said, ‘if you won’t do something to see that my little girl is treated better, I’m going to take her out of here’. And don’t think I wouldn’t do it, neither!”

“Better not to have any,” Mrs. Crumb said.

“What, honey?” Ida asked.

“I said it’s probably better. Not to have any children.”

“Oh, I don’t know. They’re a comfort to you in your old age, I suppose, but I guess you know that better than anybody else since your daughter lives with you and takes such good care of you.”

“She can’t stay married,” Mrs. Crumb said. “She’s been married a bunch of times. I think it’s six. I’ve lost count. She was married to one of her husbands twice.”

“Well, my goodness!” Ida said. “You’d never know it to look at her. She’s such a nice lady.”

“My son was an alcoholic and died young. Married two times.”

“Tsk-tsk-tsk! Isn’t that a shame! Well, I guess we learn tribulation from our children if nothing else.”

Stella came back into the room, wiping her hands on her hips. “That bathroom stinks!” she said. “I think you’ve got a skunk under the floor in there.”

“Miss Crumb was just telling me about the trouble she’s had with her children,” Ida said as Stella positioned herself back on the couch.

“I’m not having any of the little son-of-a-bitches,” Stella said.

“That’s a mean thing to say,” Ida said, “and you shouldn’t say it because you don’t know what the future holds for you. Whenever you have them, you’ll see there’s nothing more precious in the whole wide world.”

“I just remembered,” Stella said. “Today is my birthday.”

“No, it ain’t,” Ida said. “Your birthday is in April. This is October.”

“I can make today my birthday if I want, can’t I?”

“No, you can’t! It’s just another way you have of trying to make yourself the center of attention.”

Stella looked at Ida with contempt. “Oh, you’re insane!” she said.

I’m insane? If I’m insane, what does that make you?”

“I’m the only sane person in the family. I’m going places and doing things. I’m not going to stay around this dead old town and be like the rest of you!”

“Well, you’d better get started then, missy!” Ida said. “I’m ready to sign the papers!”

“Oh, you make me sick, you old fool!” Stella said.

Ida stood up, took three elephantine steps, and in one deft, fluid motion, slapped Stella across the mouth. “I don’t want to hear another peep out of you for the rest of the day!” she said.

At noontime, Ida went into the kitchen to fix lunch, leaving Stella alone to “visit” with Mrs. Crumb.

Stella and Mrs. Crumb looked at each other from across the room. “My mother says you’re a tiresome old woman,” Stella said after a while.

“She’s tiresome, too,” Mrs. Crumb said.

“Don’t I know it! And did you ever see anybody talk so much and not say anything at all? She’s like a big gas balloon with a leak. And did you ever see anybody so fat in all your life? Lord God! I’m embarrassed to be seen walking down the street with her.”

“Call you a cab,” Mrs. Crumb said.

“Did you know I have a boyfriend?” Stella asked. “I bet you’re kind of surprised to hear that about me, aren’t you? He’s sixteen and he has his driver’s license. He hasn’t got his own car yet, but he can borrow his brother’s car any time he wants to. He’s coming to pick me up tonight. My mother doesn’t want me to go out with him, so I’ll tell her I’m going to a girl party at a friend’s house. She’ll never know the difference. And me and my boyfriend? We’ll drive out someplace to a secluded, romantic spot, and when we’re sure there’s nobody else around we’ll get into the back seat and make love. Doesn’t that sound romantic? I’m a very romantic person, but I guess you can tell that by looking at me.”

“Lunch is on the table!” Ida called from the kitchen. “Stella, make yourself useful and help Mrs. Crumb out of her chair!”

Lunch was canned beef stew and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches made with strawberry jam. Ida had cut the sandwiches diagonally so that each one was a little triangle.

“I don’t like beef stew,” Stella said, sitting down at the table.

“Go hungry, then!” Ida said. “I don’t care!”

The little triangular sandwiches were to her liking, though, and she ate until the plate was empty and drank a large quantity of orange juice.

Mrs. Crumb ate about as much as a mouse would eat and when she finished eating she was sleepy, so Ida took her into her bedroom, took off her shoes, and covered her up on the bed with a quilt.

Back in the kitchen, while Ida was washing the pan she heated the stew in, she asked Stella in a soft voice, “Did you take anything a while ago when you got up and went to the bathroom?”

“Just a pair of little gold earrings.”

“If that daughter of hers knows you stole something from the house, she won’t want me to come back and, believe me, it’s easy money and I’d hate to lose it.”

“Oh, don’t excited! They’re not going to miss some stupid old earrings.”

“I ought to make you put them back where you found them.”

“Not on your life! You get paid for sitting around this dump all day. Isn’t my time worth something? Don’t you think I ought to get something out of it. I’ll be lucky to get ten dollars for those earrings. I’m not even sure if they’re real gold or not.”

“Well, you be careful is all I’m telling you. Don’t get caught stealing.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. I know how to do things.”

“You’re just an old thief. It breaks my heart to have such a child.”

“You get what you can,” Stella said. “That’s the number-one rule.”

When Lucy Ethel returned home, she was relaxed and in a happy frame of mind. She paid Ida for the day, including cab fare, and Ida and Stella put on their coats to go home.

Before Stella went out the door, she put her arms around Mrs. Crumb’s neck and gave her a squeeze. “I hope you’ll let me come and visit you again real soon, you sweet old thing!”

The sweet old thing gave Stella a confused look and shook her head. She couldn’t remember ever seeing this girl before in her life.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Vat of Acid in the Basement

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The skeleton pushes Vincent Price’s wife into the vat of acid in the basement (doesn’t everybody have one?) in the 1959 scream classic House on Haunted Hill, and it immediately turns her into a skeleton. Haven’t you ever want to do this to somebody?

Hollow City ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Hollow City ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs is the second novel in a fantasy trilogy, the first novel being Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the third being Library of Souls. I’ve read the first two novels in the trilogy and will read the third one, well, someday. It is about a group of “peculiars,” children who have special talents or abilities; for instance, Millard is invisible; Bronwyn has superhuman strength; Horace is a boy-sized gentleman in monocle and top hat who has the gift of prophesy; Hugh has an army of bees at his command living inside him; Emma can produce fire at her fingertips; Olive floats because she is lighter than air; Enoch can animate the dead for brief periods of time.

Into this mix of peculiars comes Jacob Portman, an odd, sixteen-year-old American boy who ends up in Wales trying to find out what happened to his grandfather, Abraham Portman, who was peculiar in the same way that Jacob is. These peculiars live in a “loop,” meaning a time and place that are outside the real world. (Their particular loop is in 1940, during World War II.) Peculiars the world over live in loops and each loop is presided over by an “ymbryne.” Miss Peregrine is the ymbryne of the particular loop this particular set of peculiars occupy. Jacob believes there is nothing special about him, but as he becomes drawn into the group of peculiars, he discovers that he does in fact have a special talent. He can feel “wights” when they are near. Wights are the deadly enemies of the peculiars because they want to extract their souls and eat them. That’s how they become “hollowgast.”

At the end of the first novel in the trilogy, the peculiars’ home in Cairnholm, Wales, is attacked and destroyed by Wights. Their ymbryne, Miss Peregrine, has been turned into a falcon and has a good chance of not being able to switch back. The peculiars must flee their home, with Miss Peregrine (who is now a falcon), with them. They have only a short time to save Miss Peregrine or she will be a falcon forever. Hollow City is a kind of picaresque novel, as the peculiars have all kinds of quirky adventures and experience all sort sorts of dangers as they travel to London. Wait a minute! Don’t they know it’s 1940 and there’s a war on, with London under almost constant attack by German planes? It turns out that Germans are the least of their worries.

Hollow City is light, almost effortless reading. To make it even more interesting and fun to read, the text is liberally punctuated with “peculiar” vintage photographs that fit in with what’s going on in the story. In an interview at the end of the book, author Ransom Riggs says that in the first book, he wrote the story to match the pictures and in the second novel he wrote the text and then looked for pictures that were appropriate to what was going on in the story. Either way, it works, if you, the reader, are willing to suspend disbelief and be drawn into a fantasy world somewhere in the vicinity of Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, or Gregory Maguire, but not quite as far as the nightmare world of H. P. Lovecraft.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp 

At the Rise of the Hill

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At the Rise of the Hill ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Freddy Chickwell’s mother called him at seven o’clock on Sunday morning, before he was even out of bed.

“I need you to come over right away!” she said.

“I can’t, mother!” Freddy said. “It’s too early. I don’t even have my eyes open yet.”

“You’re going to want to see this.”

“What is it?”

“I can’t tell you on the phone. You have to see for yourself.”

“I’m going back to bed, mother. Please don’t call me until the sun is all the way up.”

“I never ask you for anything,” she said pitifully. “I’m asking you this one thing politely.”

“I’ll come, but only if there’s bacon and French toast.”

“How can you think of food at a time like this?” she asked.

“A time like what?”

He lay back on the bed and groaned. He had planned on going back to sleep but now that he was wide awake, he got up and dressed himself. He hated jumping out of bed and driving someplace first thing in the morning, but it appeared he had no other choice.

As he drove the six miles to his mother’s house, he thought of the different things that might have elicited such a call at an early hour: a large rat (spider) in the basement (bathtub); a bill that came in the mail for a large sum that she says she doesn’t owe and has no intention of paying; Aunt Jeanette has a tumor on her gallbladder; a large crack has appeared overnight in the foundation.

He pulled into the driveway and his mother came out the front door and down the steps, toward his car in a pink terrycloth bathrobe and fuzzy slippers; her hair was sticking out in spikes.

“Prepare yourself!” she said.

“For what?” he asked.

“He’s come back!”

“Who has?”

“Need you ask?”

Freddy walked into the house behind her and there, sitting in the living room in the middle of the couch, was his father, who had been dead for a year. Freddy looked at his father and his father looked at him. There were no words.

His mother motioned Freddy into the kitchen. “What do you suppose is going on?” she asked.

“Who is that?” Freddy asked.

“Who do you think it is?”

“Well, I know who it looks like!”

“He’s been raising all kinds of Cain with me ever since he came back.”


“He says I went off and left him.”

“Left him where?”

“I told him I would never do that.”

“Mother, something’s not right here,” Freddy said. “People don’t just come back from the dead after a year.”

“Apparently some of them do!”

“Is he a ghost?”

“I don’t think so. He ate a big breakfast and then had to go to the bathroom. I don’t think ghosts do that.”

“If he’s not a ghost,” Freddy said, “it must mean he was never dead in the first place. How do you account for it?”

“I don’t account for it! I saw him go into his grave.”

“The only other explanation I can think of is that he’s a zombie come back to eat our flesh.”

“Oh, I don’t think he would ever do that!”

“I’m calling the police,” Freddy said.

“And what could they do?” mother asked. “They’d never believe he was dead in the first place. They’d just think we were a bunch of lunatics.”

“Then call his doctor.”

“He died, too. Right after your father.”

“Maybe he’s a hallucination that we’re both having,” Freddy said. “We were both so poisoned by the man all the years he was alive that we’re being affected by him from beyond the grave.”

“I just don’t know,” mother said. She sat down at the table with her cup of tea, lit a Pall Mall cigarette, and sniffled back tears. “I cared for your father while he was alive—truly I did—and I missed him after he was gone, but now that I’ve become used to having my freedom, I just don’t think I can go back to the way things were before.”

“I’m hungry,” Freddy said. “I haven’t had any breakfast.”

He ate quickly, pushed the plate back when he was finished eating, and fanned away his mother’s cigarette smoke. “Now that I’ve had a little time to think about this dispassionately,” he said, “I’ve decided on a plan of action.”

“What is it?” she asked anxiously.

“We’ll kill him. It’s as simple as that.”

“Oh, Freddy! Your own father?”

“Well, he’s already dead, isn’t he? If you kill somebody who’s already dead, it’s not really wrong, is it? Not really a crime?”

“I’m not sure how the law would look at it,” mother said. “Killing is killing, whether the person you kill is already dead or not.”

“I don’t expect you to do any killing. I’ll do it.”

“But how? I don’t want a mess in the house that I’ll have trouble explaining later.”

“Remember Echo Hill?”

“That old place? I haven’t been there for years.”

“I haven’t, either. If it’s like it was when I was in high school, it would be the perfect place to kill a person that’s already dead.”

“Oh, Freddy, I just don’t know about this.”

“Remember how they used to tell us kids how dangerous it was to go up there because of the air holes?”

“What are air holes?”

“It’s places where you can fall through the earth down into the old mine if you’re not careful. There are probably some new ones that have formed since.”

“That sounds dangerous!”

“Yes, but it’s the perfect place to hide a body. If a body falls down an air hole, it would never be found. The old mine is as big as the whole town and there’s deep water in places.”

“It sounds very forbidding.”

“We can take him for a Sunday drive up to Echo Hill. We’ll get him out of the car and walking around, and—boom!—he’s gone down an air hole. Just like that.”

“And what if somebody sees us?”

“They won’t, and if they do they won’t know what they’re seeing.”

“While I’m getting dressed,” she said, “you go in and visit with your father.”

Freddy went into the living room and sat down in the chair facing the couch. “How have you been doing?” he asked father.

“There’s some weeds growing along the back fence,” the old man said. “Somebody needs to get out there and pull them up, and I guess that somebody is going to be me.”

“I wouldn’t worry about any weeds, if I were you,” Freddy said.

“The whole place is goin’ to hell!”

“So, tell me. What have you been doing this past year?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’ve been…away, haven’t you? I just wondered what things were like where you were.”

The old man looked at Freddy with something like contempt. “What things?” he asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Mother came down from upstairs wearing a yellow pantsuit and matching wig that made her look like Doris Day. “Well!” she said brightly. “How are we getting along?”

“About like always,” Freddy said. “Not much in the way of communication.”

She bent over toward the old man and said very loud, as if being dead for a year might have made him partially deaf, “We thought it would be lovely to go for a little drive! It’s such a beautiful day!”

“Huh?” the old man said.

“Remember Echo Hill? We used to go up there for picnics with Betty and Waldo when we were young.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the old man said. “I never did.”

“Wouldn’t you like to get out of the house? Go for a little drive?”

The two of them together helped the old man off the couch, out the door and into the car. With him installed in the back seat, mother got into the front seat with Freddy.

“I just don’t know about this,” she said as Freddy started the car.

“It’ll be all right,” he said. “I think I know what I’m doing.”

He drove out to the edge of town, past the bowling alley, the abandoned funeral home, the roller rink, a used car lot, a couple of taverns, and into farm country, where there were barns, silos, cows and young horses grazing in fields.

“Not much traffic today,” Freddy said.

He looked in the rearview mirror and saw that the old man was asleep in the back seat, his head lolled to the side.

“Isn’t this fun?” mother said. “I just love going for a drive in the country on a pretty day!”

Freddy came to the turnoff to go to Echo Hill, and it was exactly as he remembered it. “Won’t be long now!” he said.

He took a couple of turns onto old country roads that became narrower and more tree-encroached. Finally, he came to the end of the blacktop and turned onto a dirt road. There was a gate across the road, long-since fallen into disuse.

“Just like pioneering days!” mother said. “This reminds me of my childhood!”

At the big hill, the road was very rough; Freddy slowed to ten miles an hour to prevent any damage to the tires.

Mother rolled down the window. “Just smell that country air!” she said. A bumble bee flew in and she screamed.

After what seemed a very long, slow climb, Freddy came to the top of the hill from which one could see into the next state. The dirt road ended there, so he pulled the car onto a little rise off to the right that seemed dry and firm and didn’t have a lot of weeds growing on it. It was a place where he could easily turn around when the time came.

“How about if we get out here and scout around a bit?” Freddy said, giving mother a wink.

He started to open the door but was arrested by a sound that he didn’t identify, a sound of dirt sifting. Then the front end of the car lurched forward significantly.

“What on earth!” mother said.

Freddy wanted to see what was happening to the front end but, as he put his hand out to open the door, the ground gave way and the car slid downward, front end first, into a hole just big enough to admit one mid-sized car.

Down, down, down went the car, into darkness complete. Mother gasped and grabbed onto the dashboard as if she could arrest the car in its flight. The old man in the back didn’t make a sound. Freddy had a few seconds of consciousness before the car hit the water in which he understood everything.

Copyright 2016 by Allen Kopp