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The Last Meal of Laughing Boy Reilly-Fiction by Jason Butkowski
Miss Pearl-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Vegas, Napalm Strike-Fiction by j. brooke
Favorites-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Salton Sea-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
We Must Never Find Out-Fiction by Sam Graham
Collateral Damage-Fiction by Jim Farren
Radiant Night-Fiction byPauline Duchesneau
Late Returns-Fiction by P. K. Augustyn
Bad Influences-Fiction by Marci McKim
Where My Fathers-Fiction by Willie Smith
Nothing I Could Do-Fiction by Brian J. Smith
The Magician-Flash Fiction by Jon Park
Sky Toucher-Falsh Fiction by Jerry Vilhotti
Dark Morning-Flash Fiction by M. G. Allen
What Might Happen in Vegas-Flash Fiction by Bill Baber
San Mateo County Easter Egg Hunt-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Doing Some Resaearch-Poem by Roy Dorman
A Lack of Rain-Poem by Michael Keshigian
In Traffic-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Distinguished Souls-Poem by J. J. Campbell
The Ghosts of Murdered Children-Poem by J. J. Campbell
Digging Season-Poem by Christopher Hivner
Sometimes the Light is My Enemy-Poem by Christopher Hivner
Char-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Gone Feral-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Rat Tamer-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Imaginary Hedgehogs-Poem by Michelle Hartman
I Knew Him when He was Six-Poem by Michelle Hartman
A Reason for Everything-Poem by Michelle Hartman
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Hillary Lyon 2018

Bad Influences


Marci McKim



Corey looked down at the gun in his hand. He’d been a gun owner for most of his life, taking pride and pleasure in shooting targets at the local police range. He had several handguns and stored them at the range. His firearms permit didn’t extend to carrying handguns around the city.

He’d never take this gun to the range, though. The SIG Sauer M11 was a beautiful piece of machinery, used worldwide by military and law enforcement personnel. This particular firearm, with a mangled serial number, had been used in Afghanistan and gone missing shortly after it arrived in-country. He’d paid a high price for it and an extra 15-round magazine with the understanding that they were untraceable.

He bought it in the proverbial dark alley, dealing with a guy he found online.

“Here’s the package,” the seller said, “I got it off a Blackwater guy who got it from a diverted shipment.”

“You’re sure it can’t be traced?” Corey asked.

“Look at it,” the seller replied, “all the identification has been removed.”

“Okay, good,” he said, “I think it will do the job.”
The seller laughed, “It will do whatever you want it to do.”

Returning the gun to its fitted case, he looked out the window, staring at nothing, thinking about the cascade of events that brought him to this point.

His life was in shambles, again. How many times could he let people do these things to him? His parents’ bankruptcy ruined his higher education prospects; between the stress and waiting tables, he barely made it through his degree in political science. He waited tables for almost a year after graduation before he found a job as a sports writer for a small weekly newspaper.

Eventually, he ended up on the entertainment beat of a daily paper. Covering music festivals, reviewing movies, and opening art shows was more interesting than sports, and he thought he’d settled down for the long haul. He got an apartment in a nice neighborhood, bought real furniture, registered his guns and permits, and learned to cook.

He was covering an art opening when he saw a real celebrity in the room. Jason Stashman, the TV talk show host, was engrossed in conversation with the featured artist, a beautiful young woman.

Corey approached them and waited for a lull before he spoke.

“Mr. Stashman, I didn’t expect to see you here. I’m Corey Andreson from the Post. How do you like the exhibit?”

“The exhibit is magnificent, as is the artist, Jane Wilson,” he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. He was unnaturally perky. Corey recognized the effects of cocaine, and seized the opportunity to get some good quotes.

“Jane’s work is important because she sees what’s important! Those flowers have soul! That landscape represents all landscapes!” Corey’s tape recorder picked up more gems like that, as Jason’s voice rolled on and on.

Eventually Jason’s attention was sought by someone else, and Corey lost him. Corey stayed around until Jason and Jane left, and followed them out of the gallery.

Jason saw him and said, “We’re going to Lotus Flower for Chinese, want to join us?” And so, Corey became part of Jason Stashman’s inner circle.

Jason was a football star in high school and college, until a knee injury deprived him of the opportunity to go pro. It was just as well, because he moved from the field to the broadcast booth, and made a name for himself making people laugh while calling plays. He had a great face for television.

He became an infamous character in the local cable station, his oversized personality and insatiable appetites were well-documented, and people loved him in spite of, maybe because of, the scandals. His wife, Gayle, was a fashion model when they met, and hitched her wagon to his star while he was still a sportscaster with great ambitions.

She was a tall, willowy redhead with milk-white skin that never saw the sun. With her regal bearing and finishing-school diction, she was the perfect trophy wife.

“It’s amazing what a beautiful woman can do for my career,” Jason told Corey, “You think the paparazzi loved me before? Look at this spread in the Sunday magazine!” There were four pictures of the couple, looking totally glamorous. Gayle’s diamond Tiffany earrings caught the camera’s flash like, well, Tiffany diamonds.

Some believed she was the force behind his rapid ascent, others believed she stayed with him for the glamour. Truth be told, both were true, and she put up with a lot of nonsense on the way up. In due course she gave birth to Tommy and Jennifer, and put most of her energy into raising them.

Soon, Corey found himself in front of a television camera, discussing the arts scene with other local luminaries, laughing at Stashman’s jokes. The paper liked the publicity, and he liked the notoriety.

He also liked the cocaine. On top of a few drinks, it made him feel all-powerful, invulnerable, on top of the world. He found himself dating models, escorting beautiful women to important events, having the time of his life.

After about 6 months of this, Jason called him on the phone.

“Hey, Corey! I’ve got an offer from WBGY TV in Springfield! More money, more exposure, more everything!”

“Well, that’s great,” said Corey, with an enthusiasm he did not feel, “I’m going to miss you.”

“You won’t miss a thing!” Jason replied, “I want you to come with me as a staff writer! I get staff writers on this gig!”

This time Corey submitted his resignation happily. His co-workers threw him a going-away party, congratulating him on his good luck.

Television writing was new to him, and it took him a while to get the hang of it. But Jason expected that, and didn’t mind the time it took him to get up to speed. They were best buddies who attended the best parties nearly every night.

The station was working to promote Jason’s show to the networks, hoping to go national, even if it was on cable. His face was becoming known beyond the local market, and Corey was right there with him. But the media saw him as a ‘hanger-on,” not an important part of the story. If they only knew! Corey was doing more of what he considered baby-sitting than writing for the show.

Jason’s drinking and drug use were getting out of control, and a large part of Corey’s job consisted of making sure Jason got home safely, before he embarrassed himself in public. Gayle was stepping out of her background role, showing up with him at public events. She’d make an entrance with him, be seen, and slip out about an hour later.

Jason began to resent the role Corey was playing in his life.

“I’m a major star!” he declared while under the influence of multiple substances, “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?”

“I’m your damned baby-sitter!” Corey shouted back, “You’d be on the street without me!”

Jason was not impressed. “I can handle myself,” he said, “I don’t need you! When’s the last time you wrote a word for the show? You’re useless!”

“I’m useless? Okay, we’ll see just how useless I am! You owe me two weeks’ vacation, and I’m taking it!”

Corey stormed out, packed a bag, and took off to New Orleans. He was there for 48 hours when Jason called.

“I’m sorry, man,” he said, “I don’t know what got into me. You’re right, I need to calm down with the drinks and stuff. Come back to Springfield. Gayle is really giving me shit about it.”

“I’ll come back after my vacation,” Corey said.

But the phone rang every day, and the vacation was cut short after a week. Gayle even called him, demanding he come back and do his job before Jason got fired. Corey went back to Springfield. Jason cut back on his partying. Gayle settled down. Corey met Maddie.

Maddie was a serious person, a registered nurse who worked in the emergency room of the hospital. She worked long hours at a difficult job, and fit Corey into the time she had left over. He was totally smitten.

“Jason,” he said one day, “Want to come jewelry shopping with me?”

“You looking for a new watch, Corey?”

“No, I want to get an engagement ring for Maddie,” he announced proudly.

“WOW!” shouted his boss, ‘Yes, let’s do this!”

Jason thought he knew how to make a woman happy.  With all his faults, Jason was a faithful husband, as far as Gayle and Corey knew.

So Jason took Corey to the local chain jeweler, where they looked at dozens of engagement rings. Corey picked out a few in the 1-1/2 carat range, but Jason demurred.

“Listen, man, you want this to be the best day of her life so far! You’re looking at rings that cost about 1 month’s salary. This place offers its own credit policy, so go big! Go to 2 carats! She’ll appreciate it.”

So Corey ended up with a new credit account with a $15,000 ring on it. The ring was magnificent, a gorgeous work of art, and Corey presented it to Maddie with pride. He got down on one knee.

“Maddie, will you marry me?” He asked, opening the box.

“What? Are you crazy?” She asked, laughing, “This ring is gorgeous!” She took it out of the box, and held it up to admire it.

“I can’t believe you did this for me,” She said, “But I can’t wear this!”

He was crushed.

“What do you mean you can’t wear it?”

“I work in the ER! This will get full of nasty bodily fluids, even if I wear gloves!” She handed it back to him, “I love it, but I can’t wear it.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to marry me?” Corey was confused.

“Oh, I’ll consider marrying you, but if you want me to have a ring, get me a little diamond chip solitaire, that will be fine.”

Jason had other ideas.

“You have to tell her she can stop working when you get married. You’ll have a couple of kids to keep her busy in no time. Look how well that’s worked for me!”

But Maddie was not happy with that idea.

“I’m a nurse, I’m a professional medical caregiver, and I don’t want to stay home and take care of kids. If that’s what you’re looking for, find somebody else.”

She broke up with him, and Jason was unsympathetic.

“Sorry, but you’ll find somebody else,” he said, “There are plenty of nice girls around.”

But Corey didn’t find another nice girl. He was lonely. He stopped cooking, and found himself a dive bar where he could get cocaine.

One night, after bingeing on booze and coke, he started thinking. He was tired of being Jason’s baby-sitter. He hadn’t written much in the last 6 months, and what he did write wasn’t up to even his standards. It was all Jason’s fault. Jason hired him, paid him, but Jason was demanding.

He demanded Corey’s time on and off the clock. He demanded that Corey follow him to the new job. And he’d ruined Corey’s relationship with Maddie. He had to go.

Corey got into the car with the SIG in its case on the passenger seat. He sat there in the driveway for a few minutes, did a couple extra bumps. Then he squared his shoulders, turned on the engine, and drove to Jason’s place.

He had to do it. Jason was a devil, a bad influence on everybody he met. He skated on his good looks and charisma, and he was famous for being a celebrity—someone who could do a good job reading what others wrote for him. Lived above his pay grade, borrowing money all over, promising to pay it back when he went national.

But he wouldn’t go national. The way Corey saw it, Jason had ruined the lives of everybody he touched, and he had to pay for it.

The house was a big brick pile, with a pretentious curved driveway where a garden should be. Corey never liked it, knew Jason could not afford it.

He parked on the street, took the gun out of its case, and suddenly wished he’d brought a holster. He’d forgotten how heavy the gun was. He couldn’t put it in a pocket, he’d have to carry it carefully. He smiled to himself as he thought about watching Jason’s head explode. Useless? He’d show him who was useless!

He walked around the house quietly, peering in the lighted windows. It was about 9 pm. There was nobody in the kitchen, nobody in the dining room, but bingo! In the living room. Jason was sitting at a computer with his back to the window. Corey listened carefully to the neighborhood sounds.

This was a quiet block, very little traffic. He heard no raised voices, no television noise from the neighbors. He aimed at carefully, squeezed the trigger.

Jason jumped up at the noise and flash of light, stared out the window. When he saw the body on the lawn, he ran out without a jacket, yelling for Gayle to call the police.

“What the hell?” he yelled, “Corey! What the hell. . .” his voice stuck in his throat as he realized Corey was dead.

The official cause of death was a bullet that ricocheted off the bullet-proof glass and hit the shooter square in the solar plexus, killing him instantly.

Marci McKim has been writing all her life. When she was in 6th grade, she started a monthly newsletter for her class, the first in Woodrow Wilson School.

 Her writing has been published in The Legal Letter of the National Association of Theatre Owners, Publishers Weekly, PD News, Computer Graphic Magazine, New York Magazine, and the poetry anthologies of the Networking Cafe.

 She was editor-in-chief for the Exhibit Reporter, an R.R. Bowker publication.

 Marci has been a technical writer since the mid-1980s, and currently writes business documents and proposals as a Software Development Project Manager.

 She is also lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the band Red, White and Blues. Some of her music is available on YouTube.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2018