The Day of the Dead

This blog post is scheduled for November first, otherwise known as the Day of the Dead. But come to think of it, for those of us who are hardcore readers and hard-working writers of mystery fiction, every day is a day of the dead. We’re obsessed with death. We look to murder, usually premeditated, violent murder, for our entertainment and for our art and sometimes for a bit of financial reward. We live by the sword.

I find this a bit strange. As a publisher of mystery fiction, and as a networker with other mystery writers, I’ve come to know dozens of mystery writers, and I must say they are, as a group, kind, considerate, gentle, peaceful people. So where do they get this urge to kill people on paper?

I might as well look close to home for the answer. True confessions: I’m a pacifist. I haven’t hit anybody in anger or even in self-defense since before I survived puberty. I feel guilty when I lethally trap rats in Susan’s greenhouse. I don’t hunt. I don’t even fish. Furthermore, I’ve never witnessed a fistfight, I abhor professional boxing, and get this: I’ve seen only one dead body in all my seventy years, and he wasn’t a murder victim, just somebody glad to be done with illness.

And yet, I’ve done my share of ruthless killing on paper. I drowned one fellow in a hot tub (Play Melancholy Baby). I poisoned one lovely woman with roofies in champagne (The Poet’s Funeral). I roasted a guy well-done in a burning warehouse (Vanity Fire), and I left one poor man propped up against a Dumpster with a kitchen knife stuck in his throat (Behind the Redwood Door).

Whence all this mayhem?

Perhaps it’s because all us mystery readers and writers honor death. Like members of all species animal and vegetable, we have in our nature, and have reinforced in our nurturing, an aversion to death: we fear it, avoid it, deny it, and try to escape it. But those of us who read and write about death know that Death is the fairest of adversaries. It comes to us all, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak. It’s patient. It’s sometimes kind. Yes, it’s a bit scary, but it will give us peace at last.

On that warm and chilly note, allow me to entertain you with seven stories about death and dying, each only 55 words long.



Death is for the Living

“Martha, after you die I’m going to marry Alice.”

“My hospice nurse?”

“We want your blessing, Martha. Life’s for the living, y’know.”

Martha’s tears dropped from her cheeks to the pillow.

After Ralph left the house, Martha rose and spent the rest of her life swallowing Ralph’s medications and refilling his bottles with her own.



My Name’s Larry, and I…

I used to be an alcoholic. Booze was all I lived for.

Then one fateful day, my marriage broke up, I lost my job, and I got in a horrible automobile accident.

I haven’t had a drink since that day. That day changed me forever.

I don’t miss the alcohol. I just miss being alive.


Injury to Insult

“You’re foolish to insult a witch,” I scolded.

“You’re no witch.”

“You think not?”

“Prove it,” he sneered.

So I unlaced my bodice.

His jaw dropped.

His eyes fell.

His heart sank.

I kicked his heart, his eyes, and his jaw under the bed, then said to the rest of him, “I rest my case.”


The Second Course…

The unfaithful slave was ordered to choose between two doors. Behind one, the girl he loved; behind the other, a ravenous tiger.

Hearing growls behind the left-hand door, he opened the right. Entered.

Slam. Click.

The room was empty.

There was no partition between the two chambers.

Next door, a tiger was finishing his appetizer.


Catch and Release

He wobbled into school, still flinching.

“I was caught,” he said. “Thrown on a pile of dead bodies. It was all dry. All hard. I couldn’t breathe. Monsters squeezed me and ripped my mouth apart and threw me away. Brrrghhh!”

“They’d caught their limit,” I said. “You were lucky.”

He shuddered. “The others were luckier.”


Independence Day

I watched the little kid stamping up and down the sidewalk all morning. Finally I asked, “What are you doing?”

“Getting free of my mother,” he answered.

“You’re running away?”

“I can’t,” he whined. “My dumb mom won’t let me cross the street.”

“So how—”

He grinned and resumed his march. “I’m stepping on cracks.”


…And Have  Nice Day

Folks, this is your captain speaking. We’re experiencing some difficulty with three of our engines, and we’re going to have to lose some weight.

So I have volunteered to take the parachute and jump. Automatic pilot should keep you flying for a while, and eventually you’ll…land. Sort of.

Enjoy the rest of your flight.




6 Responses

  1. A couple of these are like country-western songs, John. (I mean that in a good way!)
    I heard Stephen King say that writing horror has saved him millions in therapy. Maybe it’s the same for mystery writers!

  2. Makes me want to say, like the little girl in Peanuts, “You’re weird, sir.”

    In fact, my favorite is the little boy stepping on cracks, My husband would say getting that one requires top-down processing. If you don’t know the reference, you’re out of luck. True of a lot of good fiction.

  3. Like Stephen King, I’ve always felt that my writing keeps me out of the psychiatrist’s office. (Nice to feel that King and I have something in common–and it ain’t money!) To John, I would simply say: “Enough of this death stuff. Get a life.”
    Well, I guess you have…

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