Saturday, February 26, 2022

Writer, Know Thyself AKA Don’t Fight Who You Are

Scott D. Parker

The year 2022 has been rather productive even if that productivity hasn’t always generated new words. It has, apparently, yielded greater clarity as to the type of writer I am. It also meant I had to struggle through some thoughts that really got me down.

On New Year’s Day, I had the idea that I wanted to write every single day in 2022. That lasted 41 days, longer than some folks do with their resolutions but it still stopped. Part of the reason was that I was a bit haphazard in what I was writing, but I think I learned something about myself in the process.

I thought it would be fun to write some short stories. I also thought I could write 1,000 words per day. I busted out the first one in only three days. Then I jumped on a second one, knocking it out in about seven or so days. Then a third. I then shifted to writing chapter 29 of my current WIP and finished up that chapter. But I wasn’t sure where to go next with the story. With the 1,000-word-per-day goal hanging over my head—when I really wanted to stop, re-read the WIP, and determine where to take chapter 30–I left the WIP and started a fourth short story. The thing was it wasn’t as good as I thought it could be. I was literally stringing words along just to get to 1,000, and I wasn’t writing what I truly wanted to write (the novel).

Dissatisfied with my output, I ended the 1,000-word streak. Then I ended the writing streak. And, to date, haven’t started it back up. Why?

Well, because of burnout, I'm guessing. I looked back on my 2017 writing calendar. I wrote three Calvin Carter novels in three months. Each time, I finished the books with days in the month to spare and I took a break. In January, I had about 5 days. In February, it was only two. I finished the March book on 28 March, giving me a three-day break. As you can see, I built in breaks. They were my rewards for a completed novel.

Then, in April 2017, I quit Calvin Carter Book 4 on Day 15. Back in 2019, when I was using NaNoWriMo to write a different novel, I ended up coming to a dead end—no, not a dead end; a 'which way to go?'—and I never got back on track. But that was in early December, after I’d successfully reached the NaNoWriMo threshold in November of writing 50,000+ words in that month.

All this is to say that it looks like I'm the type of writer who needs to have breaks built into my schedule. All the more power to those old pulp writers and modern ones like James Reasoner who can just keep writing, but it appears that's not me. Which is kinda sad because I'd like to be that kind of writer, but I guess I'll have to fall back on the mantra of Writer, Know Thyself.

When I stopped my 2022 writing streak back on 10 February, my failure really got me down. Why bother writing? was a common thought that ran through my mind. Why indeed? One more voice in the cacophony of writers and all the other content vying for people’s attention. I started to write down my thoughts and instead of zeroing in on all the bad stuff, I turned it around and started to count my blessings.

I am in the enviable position where I have a day job that provides me and my family with monetary income, health benefits, and stability. That affords me the ability to write what I truly want to write and make it the best I possibly can. You know, as opposed to having to write something simply to put food on the table and keeping the roof over our heads even if those subjects are less than exciting. Again, major props to those pulp writers of all the decades who really did have to churn out the words in order to provide for their families, even if it was the fifty-eighth Shadow novel or sixty-fourth Doc Savage book or even the two hundred and sixteenth novel in the Longarm series. (Or Destroyer. Or Executioner. Or Trailsman.)

By slowing the pace down to a steady constant rather than the frenetic pace I was keeping earlier this year, I should be able to be like the tortoise in the old rabbit vs. tortoise fairy tale. Yeah, I’ll get to the finish line with the content I have the time to write. Yeah, other writers will do better [Pick your metaphor: they’ll reach more finish lines than I will or they’ll reach the finish lines with more books] but I can’t control them. They have different environments and situations (and genres?) than I do.

Which means what I do will be more difficult. Yay. It means I might not have the success of others. Sure. But it also means I’ll be able to carve out my own path that is uniquely my own. And that is good. Again, with a foundation of having a day job to provide stability, I can keep going at my own pace.

I still have the goal of completing twelve short stories by year’s end. I’m a quarter to that goal already. And I have my three novel WIPs that’ll keep me going. But I’ll build in breaks. Evidently, that’s the kind of writer I am. Better to acknowledge it and run with it as opposed to fighting it and getting depressed I’m not a different kind of writer.

I’ll be back on the writing wagon come Tuesday. It’ll be a new month and I’ll start up again. I’ll move forward, finish the next project, and then set everything aside. The break probably won’t be the two weeks I’ve given myself in February, but it will be a break.

So, fellow writers, have you had a heart-to-heart with yourself to help you realize who you are as a writer? What steps did you take? I’d love to know as writing—and all creative outputs—are a constant work in progress.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Goddess of Filth


This week Beau looks at V. Castro's GODDESS OF FILTH.

“Five of us sat in a circle doing our best to emulate the girls in The Craft, hoping to unleash some power to take us all away from our home to the place of our dreams. But we weren’t witches. We were five Chicanas living in San Antonio, Texas, one year out of high school.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2022


I'd understand if you looked at the title of this post, and the picture it ran with, and assumed that I was about to eulogize Andrew Vachss two months too late. But that's not what this is. 

Bad Ass

In truth, at the time Vachss died, I had never read a single word he'd written. I'd never interacted with him. I didn't even follow him on Twitter.

There were reasons for this. The first was I had been under the impression he was mostly a PI writer, which is a flavor I don't generally dig (though there are exceptions). The second reason I'd avoided Vachss work is because I'd heard it dealt a lot with child sexual abuse. 

I'm not squeamish or a prude, but that particular shade of darkness has never done anything other than turn my stomach, so, though I knew Vachss had fought for children's rights, though I knew that, as a victims advocate, he probably handled the topic more skillfully than 99% of writers who touched the topic, it still wasn't something I wanted to go near. 

And then, when he passed, so many of my friends who, perhaps because of the same reticence that made me unwilling to give Vachss a shot, began to voice exactly how influential he had been to them. How fantastic of a writer he'd been.

It was surprising. Death brings out accolades for everyone, but these were sincere. Genuine. Powerful. You could feel them. Especially this one

Which, if this is the first time you've seen this, savor it, because god damn. 

Anyway, this outpouring of love, this recognition that an unsung master had passed, it convinced me to give Vachss a shot, and, after asking around, the consensus was pretty much consistently that I had to read SHELLA. 

I've read a lot of books that touch darkness, but the number that dive in to it fearlessly and head-first, I can probably count on one hand. SHELLA is one of them. 

The story of a killer named Ghost in search of a woman, SHELLA is a doomed romance told in blood. It's written in a tight prose that stands somewhere between propulsive and breakneck, and the violence, the depravity, and the emotional weight of those same actions, unfold with a speed and intensity that can be met only by other masters. The sex in this book, and there is a lot of it, is almost always uninterested, just another sin to be marked down or discarded. Emotional attachments are few, and when they are severed, it is just as brutal as the throat cuttings that happen throughout. 

More than once, while reading SHELLA, I have thought to myself, "This is what Ellroy meant when he described ultra-noir." 

In fact, SHELLA is more than Ultra-Noir. It's somehow both something worse, and also, strangely, more uplifting? Maybe that uplifting comes from the skill with which the book was written - I truly think 99% of writers would fail to capture the elements of humanity in these characters - but its undeniably there. And the darkness. God, it seethes. 

Not to make this anything other than a post about Andrew Vachss and my sadness at not being able to tell him how much his writing now means to me, and how, if you haven't read him, you need to correct that right damn now, but I've also been thinking about about how wild it is that this book came out from a Major Publisher. If anything, that's what Vachss means to me know. His writing is a demonstration that nothing is actually too far or too dark, if it's done skillfully enough, with enough humanity.

That's a lesson for all of us, I think. And something to be celebrated, no matter the timing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

What's Your Book About?

By Scott Adlerberg

I've been reading Zadie Smith's essay collection from 2018, Feel Free.  She writes about so many different topics so well -- reading, hip hop, dance, art, politics, just to name a few -- and from the point of view of elegance and grace, as well as humor, everything is a pleasure to read.  Naturally, she has a good deal to say about writing, and her thoughts on the topic are as insightful as you'd expect.  In one of her shortest pieces in the book, I came across something that struck an immediate chord with me, and it articulated something I've thought about for a long time but never had in my head as lucidly as she lays the point out here.  It's in her short piece "Notes on NW", which, she explains, she wrote in response to a question from the Guardian about her novel (published in 2012) of that name.  

The question is "What's this novel about?"

A simple and obvious question, and a question that readers and other writers ask writers all the time.  And it's a question that pertains not only to novels, obviously, but to short stories also.  "What's your story about?" From my experience, it is not a question most writers appear to have trouble answering.  Answers can be long or short, depending on the writer.  But I've always found it a rather hard thing to answer myself.  Not because, I hope, any novel or story I've written isn't actually about anything, but because, well, as Zadie Smith puts it, "My books don't seem to me to be about anything other than the people in them and the sentences used to construct them."  

Exactly.  That expresses it.  I mean, in answering the question about what your book is about, you can always describe the core of the plot (which is something I do and that's not nothing), but beyond that, I find it difficult to go.  To say a book I wrote is about (plug in a "theme" word here, or a "social problem" word of any sort here) is anathema to me, I realize.

Zadie Smith goes on: "Which makes NW sound like an 'exercise in style', a phrase you generally hear people using as an insult of one kind or another.  But to me, an 'exercise in style' is not a superficial matter -- our lives are also an exercise in style.  The hidden content of people's lives proves a very hard thing to discern: all we really have to go on are these outward manifest signs, the way people speak, move, dress, treat each other.  And that's what I try to concern myself with in fiction: the way of things in reality, as far as I am able to see and interpret them, which may not be especially far."

Use language to create a fictional world from the inside out, as it were.  I feel so simpatico with this, and it just amazes me how often I hear other writers launch with great gusto into describing what their book is about, when what their book is about, that in and of itselfis often the least interesting thing to me about their book.  Now everyone's different. I understand that. And no one is saying that books worth anything are exercises in style only. But to expand on something else Smith says in this piece, I find that above everything else I strive for in writing, I try within the limitations of my abilities to create people, evoke landscapes, describe physical things through language. Simply that.  There's the struggle, the thrill, and the challenge. I spend little time mulling over what my story or book is about. And what a book is about (theme word, social problem wordmay be consequential, but for me at least, at this stage in my reading life, it is rarely the selling point, the come-on, that will get me to pick up someone else's book.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

A Must-Listen Podcast Episode: Roxane Gay & SA Cosby



By Claire Booth

I’ve been enjoying The Roxane Gay Agenda podcast recently, but was taken to new heights  of love this week when her guest was Shawn Cosby. 


I made the mistake of listening to it in the car, which meant scribbling down notes and quotes as I sat at stoplights (at this point, I’d like to formally apologize to the dude in the Nissan Sentra behind me who I caused to miss that green light). 


They talk about a variety of things, including of course crime fiction. She’s a big fan of Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears (both of which I highly, highly recommend and if you’re a longtime DSD reader, you already know he’s a blog alum and a fantastic writer). 


It was interesting to hear about the themes he addresses in his work, including the idea of tragic masculinity and how his characters deal with the consequences of their values and beliefs. Often, that involves crime. 


"To me, every crime is a confession of pain," he tells Gay.

Listen to the episode here, or wherever you get your podcasts (unless it's Spotify--Gay just pulled her podcast from there).

Saturday, February 19, 2022

What Are the Famous Books of the 1990s?


Scott D. Parker

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman. I’d never heard of him but the book’s cover caught my attention. Couple that with my son’s musical tastes currently residing in the 1990s and I thought why not take a chance with the new book.

It’s a fascinating read and I thoroughly enjoyed. I annotated my audible file with interesting clips and I’ve got the ebook on hold via my library to potentially re-read some passages.

Klosterman focuses on pop culture, politics, TV, music, movies as a means to explain that last decade of the century. It was only by the end that I realized something: I don’t think he mentioned any books. Which got me to thinking about an obvious question:

What are the famous books of the 1990s?

Okay, do something with me. Think about that decade and see if you can recall any titles or authors but do not use the internet. Heck, don’t even look at your bookshelves. Just see if you can come up with any famous books strictly from your memory. I’ll wait.

Okay, so how many did you remember? Truth be told, as I’m writing this, I have not yet turned to Google. I’ve not even turned my eyes to my various bookshelves. In real time, I’ve been thinking about this question, off and on, for about a day, and only in the last few minutes did I remember an author and book that emerged in the 1990s: John Grisham’s The Firm.

I struggled to even remember many books. I went through my mental Stephen King list but could only remember Bag of Bones from 1998. Grisham’s status as the premier writer of the legal thriller instantly brought his other books to my mind. And I think Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a 1990s book. But those were all I can remember.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Google now. I suspect I’ll have more than a few “Oh, right! That book!” forehead slaps but such is my memory.

And I’m back, and I’ve slapped my forehead more than once in the category of “How could I have forgotten that book.” Among the titles that slipped my mind are Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990), The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum (1990), Truman by David McCullough (1992; my historian cred just went down the tubes), The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (1993), Men Are from Mars, Women are From Venus by John Gray (1993), Primary Colors by Anonymous [AKA Joe Klein] (1996), and many books by Danielle Steel and Mary Higgins Clark. I used this site to get the Top 10 books per year and not what someone thinks are the important books.

How many did you remember? More than me? That’s good. Heck, I couldn’t even remember all the Stephen King books of that decade. And how many mystery/thrillers did you recall? The presence of Clark and Ludlum tells me that our genres was at least at the table—as was Tom Clancy (more than once) and James Patterson.

Here’s a larger question: how many of those books were influential? How many changed things? I’ll come back to the Truman biography. I was in grad school and in 1992, many of my professors grumbled at McCullough’s book because it was too popular. Like the study of history had to be impenetrable to be good. I, for one, appreciate it when a historian writes a popular enough book that it becomes a bestseller (or a Broadway musical). I saw more history books written in McCullough’s style after 1992 than before.

What is the Nevermind of Books?

What about fiction? Is there a Nirvana moment (there was a Before Nevermind and then there was an After Nevermind) or a Matrix moment (same concept) for books? Historically, I’m guessing something like Agatha Christie or Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) or Raymond Chandler’s work (The Big Sleep?) or Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer’s first book) or Ian Fleming (was he the first huge spy writer?) or Tom Clancy (techno-thriller) or Grisham (legal thriller). I guess Grisham in the 1990s can count as the guy who put legal thrillers back on the map (Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason was king but I can’t think of any other ones other that Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent in the interim).

Now, I also admit that I also did a more specific search for mysteries and thrillers in the 1990s. Here is that link. This is likely not an end-all, be-all list, but something is obviously apparent if you scan the list: the large majority of top mystery books in the 1990s involve series characters. I counted twelve out of 100 that were not series related. My guess is that a respective list for the 2000s, the 2010s, the 1980s, will reveal the same thing. Series sell. It’s a testament to a certain type of writer who can publish different stories within a genre and not do a series.

This essay is a thought exercise but also a real question. Were there any truly game-changing books published in the 1990s? Did they influence pop culture? If not, when was the last time a book sat in the middle of pop culture and dominated the national conversation or, at least added to the greater conversation? (I’m mainly talking about fiction because there are certainly non-fiction books that have made their mark on society.)

Friday, February 18, 2022

Killing Malmon - The Panda Heist

 By Jay Stringer

Back in 2017 Kate and Dan Malmon put together a fun anthology Killing Malmon in which a whole bunch of crime writers lived out our deepest, happiest, fantasy of killing Dan. For a good cause, obviously. All proceeds go to the the MS Society. 

This was my story. Read it. LOVE IT. And if you want to see more, you can order the book here.  


A Long Time Ago, In A Glasgow far, far Away....


Mackie woke up with one hand in his pocket and another in a plastic bag.

Neither of them were his.

This was shaping up to be one of those mornings.

Scratch that. He checked the time on his phone. It was shaping up to be one of those afternoons.

His head was killing him. Pain pulsed from his temple. He felt a lump beneath his hairline. It was tender, and sent sharp rods into his brain when he touched it.

The sun streamed in through vertical blinds. Mackie was on the sofa. It had been a nice cream colour, but now was stained brown and red. His clothes were covered in blood.


Mackie climbed to his feet, patting himself down for wounds. There were a few odd scratches. Like he’d climbed through barbed wire in one of they old war movies. A hero. An adventurer. A leader of men.

Private Mackie.


Captain Mackie.

That was better.

Captain Mackie and his ragtag band of rebels, on the run from the Germans. Maybe it was a future-type movie, and he’d been running from zombies. How cool would that be?

Cool, but unlikely.

So, if this blood wasnae his, then whose was it?

More importantly, whose clothes was he wearing?

Mackie was strictly a trackies and trainers man. Occasionally he might wear an Asda suit if he was going to a wedding. 

There was that one time, when he was six, that he wore a tuxedo. He still didn’t like to talk about that.

But these clothes were proper, like. Shirt and tie. Trousers.

With a severed hand in the pocket.

Hang on.


Severed hand?

He could feel something else, in the other pocket. A wallet? Mackie pulled it out and looked at the driver’s licence.


There was a note on the floor.

Mackie saw Cal’s scrawled handwriting.

“Gone for supplies. Call me before you go in the bathroom.”

Well, now.

That was a challenge.

Mackie climbed the stairs. The bathroom door was directly ahead of him. A strange noise was coming from inside. Mackie gripped the handle and slowly inched the door open.

There was a panda in the bath, staring at him.


He looked back down at the wallet.

“Who the hell is Dan Malmon?”


Cal set the two pint glasses down on the table. Amber liquid splashed over the sides, running down to form a pool. Mackie picked up a beer mat and mopped at the spilled drink. He crossed himself and said a prayer for the wasted alcohol.

Cal raised a toast, garbled an Irish word, then got back to the conversation they’d been having.


“Anyway, aye,” Mackie said. “What you need to do, I’ve been thinking on it, and what you need to do is apologise.”

“You think I haven’t tried that? It’s the first thing I did. Then I tried buying him a present.”

“I don’t suppose they make ‘sorry I killed your fish’ cards.”

“No, they don’t. Or if they do, the shop didnae have any.”

“Tell me you asked.”

“’Course I did. They says, ‘can I help you’ and I says, ‘I accidentally killed my dad’s Koi Karp, do you have anything I can give him?’ You know what the little fud did? He pointed to a balloon. One of they floaty helium ones, shaped like a fish.”

“Was it a koi?”

“How should I know?”

“I thought you were the expert,” Mackie paused to sip his beer. It was pish. Chilled pish. But it was a warm day, and he never turned down a cold drink. “So you didn’t buy the balloon, I’m guessing?”

“Naw. I asked him to keep it back for me, just in case.”

Mackie rubbed the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger. He could feel the buzz building. This beer wasn’t the problem. The ten he’d had before, they were the real issue.

Plus the eckies he’d been popping last night. And maybe the Feminax he’d used that morning. He’d never taken it before, but would try anything once.


Five times.

Mackie figured the second and third doses were probably a mistake. He was choosing to forget them. Also, he couldn’t remember how he got to the pub. Had they walked? Stolen a car? It was a blank.

“Oh, hey,” Cal said. “There’s Dan.”



Cal turned up back at the house with three plastic bags full of supplies. Mackie was sitting on the stairs, waiting. Cal noticed Mackie had piled three chairs up against the bathroom door. 

It wouldn’t help. The door opened inwards. Still, Cal had to admire the work that had gone into it.

“So you’ve probably got some questions,” Cal said.

“One or two, aye.”

“Well,” Cal started lifting items out of the bags. “I didn’t go in for the meat, but this joint was in the reduced section for seventy-one pence, and you cannae say ‘no’ to that. Then, these biscuits were down to-”

“Haw now, bawheid.” Mackie threw a hand in the air and caught it. “I’m no’ interested in the shopping. I want to know why there’s a panda in the crapper.”

“Don’t worry, he’s sedated.”

“With what?

“Been using your heroin. He seems to like it.”

“How are you measuring the doses?”

Cal shrugged. “Just guessing, really.”

“Great, so we’re either gonnae kill him, or he’s going to get really into Lou Reed.”

They both paused as the sounds coming from the bathroom changed. The stoned bear’s low snuffling gave way to a long, drawn out, snore. Cal thought, no wonder these animals are dying out. None of them can find a mate, with snoring like that.

Mackie started singing Perfect Day.

“Okay,” Cal said. “So what do you remember?”

“We was in the pub, talking about your dead fish.”

“What else?”

“We was in the pub, talking about your dead fish.”

“Really? That’s all. Well, Dan Malmon walks in, and you’re all like, ‘never met this guy in my life,’ and I’m all ‘aye, you have, we went to his house for Hogmanay that time.’ Then you’re, ‘was that the one when I took a load of horse and slept on top of the cooker?’”

“Good times.”

Mackie offered Cal a high five. Cal pulled back when he saw it was one of the severed hands.

“So anyway,” Cal continued. “Dan’s been working in Edinburgh Zoo.”

“Oh, I know who you mean, now.” Mackie looked at the two severed hands. Turned them around a few times. “Yeah, I can see it. Recognise him. Okay.”

“Then we get to talking, and you’re cracking that joke about how there’s more Pandas in Scotland than Tories.”

“Doesnae sound like me.”

“I know, aye? That’s when I knew you were stoned. You never talk politics.”

“Never even voted.”

“How about that time your uncle Rab stood for the council?”

“Oh aye, well, yeah. I voted then. But that was with a bunch of other people’s voting slips. I meant I’ve never voted in my own name, like. You know?”

“Well, Dan said he’s sick of hearing the thing about pandas and Tories. And you were about to kick off with him, he looked all scared and shit. Then, you got this idea. And you said...”


“It’s obvious”.

Cal paused for breath. Looked down at the panda they’d bundled into the shopping trolley. “Are you sure?”

“Come on. Stealing a panda, it’s the best idea ever. You said you tried apologising to your ol’ Da’, you tried buying him presents. But you didn’t try stealing him a panda, did ye?”

“No. That’s true.”

“He’ll be pure made up, man. Best present ever.”

“And all the better, because it’s free.”

“A free panda is the best kind of panda.”

They crept through the grounds of the zoo in the darkness, stealthy as they could with a stoned panda in a shopping trolley. 

They were dressed in Dan’s spare security uniforms. Dan led the way, checking around corners like in an action movie. He would hold up his fist when he wanted them to stop. Occasionally he’d do that thing where he’d point two fingers at his own eyes, then at Cal and Mackie, before indicating something off to the right or left.

“Do you know what any of that means?” Cal said.

“Not a clue,” Mackie said. “Are they like dance moves?”

“Here we are, trying to break our new pal out of solitary, and Dan’s throwing shapes.” Cal leaned over to talk into the bear’s ear. “Howbout you, big man? Any idea what he’s up to?”

The panda made a snuffling noise. He’d been doing it on and off ever since they shot him up with heroin. It had all gone so easily. Dan provided the keys and access codes, and he’d been able to let them into the panda enclosure.

“Very dangerous,” Mackie said to Cal. “You go first.”

“Me very little, you cheat very big.”

The panda had been asleep. Mackie got in close and jabbed a needle full of heroin into the big fella’s arm. He wasn’t sure how you searched for a vein on a big furry beast, so he took a best guess.

“Lemme have a go,” Cal said.

He stepped in and injected the same arm.

They stood back and waited. Cal said, “How will we know?”

The panda rolled onto its back and made a low keening noise, almost like a human sigh, before letting out the longest, wettest, and foulest fart Mackie had ever known.

They nicked a shopping trolley from Tesco on their way to the zoo after googling the weight of a giant panda. Turned out, the bear wouldn’t be any heavier than Cal’s uncle Chris. Though, right enough, that was before Chris dropped a leg to diabetes.

So, with a panda in a shopping trolley and a dancing security guard, they were making their escape. Everything went smoothly until they passed the elephant enclosure. Dumbo had appointed himself neighbourhood watch. At first they heard him snort a couple times, like a large horse, then he raised his trunk and bellowed out into the night.

“We need to stop him,” Cal said.

“Oi, bawbag,” Mackie called out. “Shut it, ya fanny.”

That didn’t work.

The elephant sounded out again.

“I know a way,” Dan said, climbing over the enclosure wall. “He just wants some attention.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Cal said.

Dan waved him off. “What’s the worst that could happen?”


Cal stopped talking. He picked the bags back up and headed through to the kitchen. Mackie watched as Cal started to unload the shopping. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and turned to look blankly at Mackie.

After a few seconds, Cal seemed to realize Mackie was waiting for something and said, “You want one?”

Mackie took a deep breath.

He counted to five.

Cal had some kind of attention deficit thingy. Mackie knew about it. Dropped on his head as a baby, something like that. He had a scar across the back of his scalp, it showed up whenever he went grade one.

Mackie tried to be sensitive about it. He almost never called Cal ‘stupid.’ And he only called him a ‘fucking spanner’ when he really deserved it. Or when it was funny. Or when he felt like it.

“No I don’t want one, I want to know...actually, yeah, toss us a beer.”

Cal threw a can over. Mackie opened it. He took a belt and sighed. The cold beer had hit the spot. Whatever spot that was. Why do people say that? Is it always the same spot?


Where was he....

“Right. Now. What the fuck happened next?”

“Well.” Cal was hesitating. He had one of those tones, like he was scared of how Mackie would react. “You know how you can get a wee bit violent when you’re high?”


Mackie climbed over the wall of the elephant enclosure. He slipped down into the moat that ran around the edge, splashing through sludge and weeds. He could feel thorns scratching at his clothes and skin, but he didn’t care, he was too angry. Man on a mission.

Mackie the Enforcer.

Commando Mackie.

Dumbo was continuing to toot his fucking horn. Every few seconds. Like he’d just woken up and realised he had a trunk and, hey cool, now I’m going to use it. Mackie was having none of his pish.

Oi, big man, I said pipe doon, or I’ll fucking smash ye.”

Dan was next to Dumbo, patting his side and whispering small cooing noises, like he was talking to a pet. He put a hand out towards Mackie, waved him back, but that only annoyed Mackie more.

Dumbo trumpeted to the sky.

Mackie took a step forward and punched Dumbo right in the trunk.

The elephant blinked. He actually blinked. Like he was surprised. He snorted and sat down on his rear haunches.

“See,” Mackie said. “Not so loud now, are ye?”

Dumbo swatted Mackie with his trunk.

Everything went black.


Mackie rubbed the lump on the side of his head.

“So that explains...”


Mackie held up one of the severed hands. “What about…”


Everything came back. The sights. The sounds. The pain. Pain? Was that a new thing, or had he always been hurting?

“Whoa,” Mackie said to himself. “That’s deep.”

“What’s that?”

Cal was stood over him. He was coated in blood. Mackie panicked, thought it must be his, but he patted himself down and was bone dry. Except his trousers. They were damp. And why was he wearing trousers, again?

“Where are we?”

Cal held out a hand to help Mackie to his feet. “Elephant enclosure.”

“The what?”

“Edinburgh Zoo.”

“Why are we? What?”

Mackie could see Cal peering into his eyes. “He hit you hard.”

Mackie felt anger surge. Someone had hit him? Who? He’d give then a right pure doing. Then he noticed the elephant. Dumbo was standing a few yards away, eating straw from a metal box hung on a wall. He didn’t seem to mind that they were there. There was something all over his arse, like a red paste.

“We have a problem,” Cal said.

He pointed to something on the floor. It looked like a pile of sausages, baked beans, and white pudding. Except it was wearing clothes. Mackie realized he was looking at the insides of a person. But why weren’t they....inside?

“Who’s that?”

“Dan Malmon.”

“Who the hell is Dan Malmon?”

“The guy an elephant just sat on.”

“Why did-”

“You punched it.”

Mackie turned to look at Dumbo. Now he knew why the big lump was keeping so far away from them. “Aye,” he called out. “You better stay away.”

“So what do we do?” Cal said. “About Dan?”

Mackie took a step closer and looked down at the mess. He could see bones. A wallet. Some glasses. Two hands. Just sitting there. Not attached to anything. Dumbo had squashed them clean off. 

Mackie pocketed the wallet and turned to leave.

“We can’t just leave him,” Cal said.

Mackie turned back. “Aye, you’re right. Deserves a proper burial.”

He picked up the two hands.

It was tough climbing out of the enclosure. Much harder than getting in. The weeds and brambles of the moat cut through to their skin, and the wall on the other side was ten feet up. Cal was smaller than Mackie. He was a skinny wee thing who’d never boxed. Mackie planted his feet on the narrow ledge at the edge of the moat, then held himself straight while Cal climbed up onto his shoulders and reached up to the top of the wall. Cal pulled himself over and vanished from sight.

Mackie waited, but Cal didn’t reappear.

“Haw, you,” Mackie shouted. “Giz a hand.”

“I think you’ve already got enough,” Cal said.


“I don’t remember any of this,” Mackie said.

“Aye. I noticed. When you got back up out of the enclosure, you freaked out because there was a panda in the shopping trolley.”

“There was a panda in the shopping trolley?” Mackie left that hanging for a second. Just long enough for Cal to sigh, and start telling the story again. Then he said, “I’m kidding. So, how many times have you told me all of this?”

“Well, three times on the way home. Then once this morning. And again just before I went to the shop.”

Mackie rubbed the lump again. The pain shot down the side of his face, and his vision flashed with white dots.

“Do you want the good news,” Cal said. “Or the bad news?”

“Good news. Always good news. And another beer.”

Cal tossed him another can.

“So, I’m talking to my dad again. I called him up, told him the whole story. He laughed.”

“That’s awesome, man. I’m the king of plans.”

“But he says there’s no way he’s taking a panda. Wants nothing to do with it. Says we’re on our own.”

“It was a stupid plan, and I’m angry you talked me into it.”

They fell silent for a moment. They both realized that was a problem. It was too quiet. There was no snoring coming from upstairs. They heard a low moan that turned unto a growl. The frustrated call of a bear who had woken up craving his next hit of heroin. There was the padding of big feet on the stairs.

A black and white furry face appeared in the doorway, staring at them.

“Run?” Cal said.

Mackie nodded. “Run.”