Category Archives: Excerpts

“A Day in the Sun” – Joseph Downing – An Excerpt

The Pacific stretched wide, vast and dark, the blue-green waves rolling softly and teasingly until, seemingly from nowhere, a breaker would slam into the beach, driving the tourists floating and bobbing in the shallows violently to the sandy floor. Still, they rose up coughing and snorting and, somehow, laughing. My father and I sat in the hotel’s plastic beach chairs, watching all this. I sprawled in the late afternoon sun, feeding on the warmth like a last meal before our return to winter, but my father stayed in the shade of the umbrella. The bucket of beers sat in the sand between us, linking our private worlds together. It was our third day in Puerto Vallarta, and it was already starting to feel like a mistake to have come.

“This was your mom’s favorite spot, right here,” my father said. “We would push her all the way out to the sand, and she would sit with a beach towel wrapped around her knees, still cold even in this heat. But she loved every minute of it.”

I felt him looking at me, waiting. I scooped a chunk of ice from the bucket and pressed it to the back of my neck. The ice melted in seconds.
“You remember that, right?”

He wouldn’t let it go. “Yeah. I remember.” I also remembered the extra doses of pain medication. The calls to the front desk at 3:00 a.m. for clean sheets.

“Sometimes I even forgot she was sick, at least until—”

“Do you want another beer?” I handed him one without waiting for an answer and then pulled a lime slice from the bucket and tossed it to him. It landed in his lap and the task of stuffing it into the bottle momentarily occupied him. I took the opportunity to slip on the earphones of my iPod, leaving the power off.

All around us seagulls squawked as they dove for stray bits of food tourists had dropped in the sand. A mixture of mariachi and dated American pop music poured from the cantina behind us, only to be drowned out by the crashing waves. These sounds compensated for our silence…

This is an excerpt from Joseph Downing’s short story “A Day in the Sun.”  The remainder of this story can be read in the complete book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1.  The complete book book features seventeen additional stories.  Click here to find the book on Amazon.  E-books are also available from all major digital retailers, click here for links.

Joseph Downing was born in 1969 in Dayton, Ohio. After receiving a B.A. in English from the University of Dayton, Joseph obtained a law degree from Ohio Northern University and is currently a practicing lawyer, writer and artist. He has twice published in Flights Literary Magazine, is an Impact Weekly Fiction Contest Winner, and he writes The Abundant Bohemian blog. His nonfiction book, The Abundant Bohemian: How to Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process, will be published in 2014. Joe lives in Dayton, Ohio.

“Cinderbox Road” – Scott Geisel – An Excerpt

We’re driving down Cinderbox Road, bright afternoon sun bouncing off the corn that’s starting to turn brown in the late summer heat, when a buck jumps in front of the pickup. It’s the last curve before home, a zag to the right so sharp it’s almost a turn. This one always gets you, makes you dig your nails just a little into the palms of your hands.

The road drops here, and we can see the house below, peeking through the cornstalks where they melt into the edge of town. The buck stands rigid in the center of the lane, staring straight at us, eyes locked on ours. He’s a big one.

You scream, and I hit the brakes. There’s no place to go; the road is a high berm between two steep ditches. The truck goes into a deep slide on the loose gravel scattered across the two-lane. The buck doesn’t move, watches as the bumper tags him high on the haunches.

It’s a glancing blow, but a solid one. He staggers, confused, eyes big and wet.

“No. Oh, no!” you shout.

The buck takes a step, stumbles, rights himself and steps again. He tries to run, crashes awkwardly off the road and limps to a drainage run-off where the stalks are thin, and disappears inside.

He doesn’t look good.

“Shit,” I say, gripping the wheel. “Shit.”

We’ve been here before. Not here, exactly, but we’ve had this conversation. One of your greatest fears since we moved to the farmhouse is that you’ll hit something. But we both knew that when it happened it would be me behind the wheel.

“He’s hurt,” you say. Your hands are still clenched. I can see where your fingernails will leave imprints.

“We didn’t kill him,” I try. We’re still in the middle of the road, mostly sideways. The engine purrs from the tune-up I gave it yesterday, out in the shade behind the barn.

“He didn’t even try to move. He just stood there, like he wanted to get hit.”
Your elbow twitches, and you turn away to the window. I want to touch you, break the spell, but I know it would be too much. You’re breathing shallow, at the top of your lungs, keeping most of the air in and letting only the smallest amount escape. Like when you’re having a bad dream and I lay beside you. I know that the air in your lungs must be getting stale, turning to carbon dioxide, blue, purple. I reach over—

“He’s too hurt. He won’t be able to survive.”

“You don’t know that.”

“You don’t either! You killed him.”

Your hands fall into the seat now, and I know it’s time to go. But Roy comes out of the field behind us on his tractor, closing at a good clip. I can see that he’s shouting, but I can’t hear what he’s saying.

“Go,” you whisper, too late. Roy is edging up beside us.

“Everything all right?” he shouts, and it comes out much too loud now.

I give him a salute, our usual greeting when he’s out in the fields, but he’s probably too high on the tractor seat to see it. “Fine,” I say, twisting my head out the window. “Buck in the road.”

Roy has lived on Cinderbox Road his whole life. Got the farm from his daddy and raised his kids here. He knows every inch of every acre for miles.

He scans the crop line, looks at the skid marks behind us. “Where?”

“Run off,” I say, pointing.

Roy nods. “You missed him, then?”

I shake my head. He bends to try to see you, can’t, and inches the tractor forward until he’s in front of the windshield. “You all right, ’Lizbeth?” he asks, looking in through the glass.
You lean forward to let him see you better, give him a piece of a smile, and he seems satisfied.

“All right then,” Roy says. He turns and looks down the line of corn, takes off his hat and holds it against the sun.

“I better get her out of the road,” I say through the window.

Roy looks at me, then gives the salute and rumbles off in a hurry.

I ease the truck into gear and back it up to straighten out in the lane, hoping you won’t see Roy when he bumps off the road and disappears into the wash where the deer ran.

We drive the half mile home at about five miles an hour.

You jump out as soon as the truck stops, and I call after you, “What do you think I could have done?”

You spin, mid-step. “You know I hate that road.”

“That’s the way home,” I say, more harsh than I know I should. “You can’t keep trying to avoid it.” It’s a mistake. This was going to be a good night. Our anniversary. Six years. Three months to the day since the miscarriage. We were just starting to move forward again.

This is an excerpt from Scott Geisel’s short story “Cinderbox Road.”  The remainder of this story can be read in the complete book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1.  The complete book book features seventeen additional stories.  Click here to find the book on Amazon.  E-books are also available from all major digital retailers, click here for links.

Scott Geisel’s stories have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Best New Writing 2008 (Hopewell Publications) and Christmas Stories from Ohio (Kent State University Press), from which his story was aired on WYSO. He was a finalist for the 2008 Eric Hoffer Award for fiction. Scott is the founder and editor of Gravity Fiction and was a founding co-editor of MudRock: Stories & Tales (Honorable Mention, Best American Mystery Stories 2004). He was Assisting Editor for Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction (Norton 2006, 2007). Scott has been a presenter at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and Sinclair Writers’ Workshop, has taught workshops at the Dayton Art Institute, and founded a series of teen writing workshops and a publication for the Dayton Metro Library.

“Besancon” – Mark D. Baumgartner – An Excerpt

Chad’s father is long dead by this point. Mugged and shot twice, arm and chest, in a far suburb of Cleveland. We have no way of knowing this yet; the murder occurred late at night Eastern Standard Time, early morning in France, and we wouldn’t hear anything for some time. It’s the heart of winter, and around the university all anyone can talk about is politics and American foreign policy. The French are obsessed by a war gathering in someone else’s desert. The wind is unseasonably cold, ice everywhere. Chad thinks we brought it with us from the Midwest, the war, the foul weather, but I’m certain I know better—these are not things that can be carried by men.

At seven on this particular morning Chad and I stand in the foyer of our host family’s house, up in the hills surrounding Besançon. We’ve been in France for two weeks now, out of contact with friends and family save for the odd postcard now and again. We look and smell awful, hung-over to the point of imminent disintegration. Chad has on this ridiculous t-shirt, red with black lettering, which depicts Victor Hugo in the style of a porn star from the late seventies. It was a gift from his homely, bookish girlfriend and he wears it everywhere—to class, to the pub, to bed. I keep pleading with him to take off the shirt, but he is unrelenting. Chad is studying to be an EMT, he is a distinctly American blend of confidence and blithe indifference. He fancies himself an emissary of sorts; he loves to talk politics and has a few carefully prepared phrases he likes to try out on the locals. His French is mangled and incomprehensible, as is mine, but this doesn’t keep him from trying. We care nothing for war, Chad insists to all who’ll listen, we are Americans trying to escape the wayward drift of our own history. There are many ways to call someone an idiot in French, and with the aid of my journal and a pocket dictionary I have deciphered at least six. Even Chad seems to have picked up on the sense that we are not wanted here.

Our hostess is firing off a series of complex, interrelated questions at Chad and I. I’m not certain, but I believe she’s asking where her husband has gone. She’s worried because she hasn’t seen him since he went out for his morning walk. Chad does not catch this, thinks he hears something about breakfast.

Dos huevos, si vous plait,” answers Chad.

Our hostess looks at him, then at me.

I don’t know enough French to field the question about her husband, so instead I correct Chad. “It’s an oeuf,” I say. A fucking oeuf. I am tired of being asked questions for which I have no answer; I am tired of Chad. I am a little bit in love with the wife, and France as a whole, and Chad has become a stone around my neck.

She looks at me for a long moment, then walks into the kitchen to start the stove. I apologize and move to intercept her—I can make the eggs myself. There’s a note in French tacked to the icebox which reads, essentially: CHAD CALL HOME. He doesn’t…

This is an excerpt from Mark D. Baumgartner’s short story “Besancon.”  The remainder of this story can be read in the complete book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1Click here to find the book on Amazon.  E-books are also available from all major digital retailers.

Mark D. Baumgartner lives in Johnson City with his wife and son, where he is an assistant professor at East Tennessee State University. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in magazines such as Yemassee, Bellingham Review, The Southern Review, Phoebe, Tampa Review and Wisconsin Review, and he has worked as a fiction editor at Mid-American Review, River Styx and Witness. He earned an M.F.A. degree from Bowling Green State University in 2005, and a Ph.D from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2010, where he was a Schaeffer/Black Mountain Fellow in creative writing. Excerpts of his first novel, Mariah Black, are currently forthcoming in Confrontation and Silk Road.