Thursday, December 21, 2017


[This is one of two stories that appeared in the tiny ‘zine, NUTHOUSE. The other is considerably better, so I’m going to reserve that for the next time I want to put out a collection. I thought I was oh so clever with this story. And it is all right, as far as stories go. Here’s the problem: I hadn’t read Avram Davidson’s “Or All the Seas with Oysters” at that point. This is probably the most imitated story in the history of SF. This story isn’t quite the same thing, but it’s so close that the point is moot. This one appeared in NUTHOUSE #78. (Out of curiosity, I looked them up and holy shit! NUTHOUSE is still in business! That’s pretty cool.)]

“Honey, wake up! I think I heard a burglar in the house!”

I tried to ignore her, but when she started rattling me like a bag of Shake and Bake, I had to say something. “It’s prob’ly jus’ the house settling.” Maybe my tone could have been more considerate, but I had to get up for work at five, and I . . .

And I heard something, too. A loud crash from the garage. It sounded like a heavy chain being thrown into an empty swimming pool.

“Please, Harold, check it out!” Even in the dark, I could tell Myrtle’s face was strained in an unattractive, stretched-Silly Putty fashion.

“Fine,” I said, sweeping the blanket from my bare feet. I was about to stand when she grabbed my arm, whispering for me to be careful.

I wanted to say it was nothing, but my hands shook like I had malaria. I’d never been in a fight before. What would I do if I really did find a burglar?

Armed with a golf club, I made my way down the stairs and, though I stepped as lightly as a ballet dancer, my footfalls seemed to echo in my ears. My tremulous journey ended at the door which led to the garage. A hand hovering near the knob, I blew my fear from my chest as quietly as possible.

I was still jittery.

Do it now, before you chicken out.

Good advice. I pushed my way through the door to discover . . . nothing. My eyes scanned the garage left and right, and no one was there.


Except, hadn’t my Mustang been parked in the other space? And vice-versa for Myrtle’s Town Car? Or was it my imagination?


The next day, I went into the garage so I could drive to work. Instead of sticking to my routine, I discovered something that took a sledgehammer to the foundation of every belief I’ve ever harbored in the arena of my mind.

Sucking at the Town Car’s gas tank was a small vehicle, no bigger than a child’s radio-controlled toy, its sleek body pulsing with life, gurgling like a baby.

I shouted for Myrtle to come quickly, just to see if I was crazy or not. She saw it, too. So I called in sick.


We eventually got used to it. There was no explanation, but it stopped bothering us when the baby car began to grow. Before long, I started finding my Mustang in the driveway, as if it decided to sacrifice its comfort in favor of the little one’s.

Soon, we were able to drive the newcomer. It enjoyed long joy rides, especially down country roads in the summer. It bubbled with glee at every new oil change. Whenever the gas tank neared empty, it growled with hunger, and when I filled it up, it often belched. The horn beeped whenever the car was near a sleek new model, and once it sobbed when I got into a fender bender.

Of course, it made us uncomfortable to be inside something that defied all knowledge, but nothing ever happened to make us suspect we weren’t safe. Besides, the car had to come from somewhere. I know I sound crazy, but I think the sound we heard in the garage that night had to be the two cars making love.


One morning, the new car was gone, and my Mustang was back in the garage. After a few days passed without its return, Myrtle wanted to call the police. I managed to talk her out of it on the grounds that no one would believe us. We didn’t have a pink slip, and it wasn’t insured. In short, there were no records.

Myrtle grew depressed, often thinking about the car as if it had been our child. “Do you think he’s with a better family?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. “It couldn’t stay at home with us forever, you know. It had to move on.”

My reply had no effect on her tears.


“Harold! Come quick!”

I was mowing the lawn when I heard her, and as I considered it an emergency, I ran inside without turning the mower off or even wiping my hands. When I found her, she was standing in front of the open closet.

“Look!” she cried, pointing.

My eyes followed the path of her finger, to our two vacuum cleaners. Between them was a brand new Dustbuster.

And it was gurgling.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


[So soon after they started publishing my stories, the editors/owners of Detective Mystery Stories decided to retire. It really was a great little ‘zine. I miss it to this day, although I don’t write much that they would publish these days. I made some good contacts, though, and because of the DMS family, I would go on to get stories published in other venues. This letter was in DMS #50.]

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Johnson,

How are you? I just wanted to write to let you know I’m pleased, once again, with the presentation of my story in DMS. The other stories were excellent, as well, my favorites being “Tinseltown, Illinois” and “The Futility of Resistance,” the emphasis being on the former, as I live in Elmhurst about a half-hour away from Naperville (when traffic is being cooperative), and am glad to see towns close to me portrayed in fiction.

I was reading “The Speakeasy,” and a couple of letters alarmed me. They mentioned your retirement. So soon after you’ve started publishing my stories? Say it’s not so! No, I understand. Retirement is something I wish I could do, and I wish you the best in the future. I’ll miss the magazine, but as Mr. French said in his letter, “You fought the good fight.” Thank you for publishing my stories, and thank you for publishing others that brought me joy. And thank you for Ron Wilber’s cover illustrations; no one could have done it better.

John Bruni

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


[This appeared in Detective Mystery Stories #48. It felt good to be published several times by them. I felt like I had a home for my detective stories. And then something happened, as it always does. I’ll talk about that next time, though. This story was inspired by my late-night walks, which I used to go on almost every day. Two miles a night. Elmhurst does, indeed, have a Free Garbage Day, so when I took my walks around that time, it was common to see trash pickers going through piles and piles of garbage. As my brain tends to go to dark places, I wondered if one of those pickers was actually disposing of a body. Also, take note of Detective Laurich. He showed up in “Yum,” which was in TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. He also appeared in a lot of unpublished stories and novellas. He was my stab at writing a series detective. He also appeared in my novella, “The Meat House,” which was extreme horror but was never published, as I wrote it in my first year of high school. I kind of like the idea of that one, so maybe I’ll dust it off and turn it into something I would enjoy reading. For now, Cameron Laurich is lost in the mists of time.]

I hate being old.

At first, it was only bothersome. My hair color faded, and then my hair itself faded. I remember thinking to myself when I was in my late forties: At least I still have my teeth.

Not half a decade later, I started losing those, as well. Now I’ve only got a few molars that I can call my own, and the rest are falsies. I’ve been meaning to have the molars pulled and getting a full set of dentures, but I’m kind of attached to the last of my real teeth.

Then, what was merely bothersome became debilitating. I found my strength slowly leaving hand in hand with my energy, and I was ballooning out, no matter how much I watched what I ate.

One of the worst things about getting old, however, is fear. Not that I’m going to die, but that I’ll live with something horrible, like cancer. Every time my doctor checks my prostate, I get a chill, wondering what might be lurking inside of me. When I was young, I hated going to the doctor, Now, in my old age, my hatred has developed into fear and loathing.

No matter how bothersome, debilitating, fearsome, and disgusting old age is, the absolute worst part is seeing all your friends and family die. Everyone I used to know, everyone I used to work with, everyone I used to drink with, they’re all gone. My wife died three years ago. Our only son died way back in Vietnam, and our only daughter was run down by a drunk in broad daylight just outside the town library where she worked. I have no surviving relatives, blood or law.

There’s just me.

I started collecting hobbies to take up my time—mostly stamp/coin collecting and tying fishing flies—but the only thing I truly enjoy is walking. Not at day, but at night, while everything is peaceful. It’s the single most relaxing thing I do.

It’s also why I nearly got killed.

I went out for my nightly walk at about one o’clock on May 15, the night before Free Garbage Day. In Redford, the town where I live, you have to pay to throw your garbage away. The city allows you toss one bag for free; if you have any more bags for the dump, you have to buy stickers at the hardware store—two dollars a sticker—which you then have to put on each bag.

However, once a year in the spring, the city has a Free Garbage Day; you can throw as much as you want out for free. Since it was around spring cleaning time, everyone jumped at the opportunity to get rid of their junk.

So, when I went out for my walk, I passed unbelievably high heaps of trash. People threw away just about everything: old bikes, broken playsets, and doors. Someone had even torn down his fence and thrown it away.

I was about halfway through my walk when I noticed a station wagon idling down the block by a stack of garbage. The man was obscured by the shadows—all I could tell about him was that he was a man—rummaging through the heap. It’s not an uncommon sight. I thought he was scavenging, and I could hardly blame him. After all, sometimes people threw good stuff away. One man’s trash . . .

Picking through garbage on the night before Free Garbage Day would actually be pretty practical, and I thought that if I happened to walk past something I fancied, I would probably scavenge it myself.

I paid the man no mind as I got closer. Just before I reached him, he got in his station wagon, empty-handed, and drove off.

About fifteen minutes later, on the way home, I saw him picking through trash again, and just like last time, before I reached him, he got into the station wagon, again empty handed, and drove away.

I didn’t think much of it and merely headed for home, where I had a nightcap and went to bed.

It wasn’t until three days later that I heard about the Decapitator in the newspaper. He was a killer who chopped up his victims for easy disposal. He was named for the first body part that the police had found. Normally, I would shake my head and wonder how someone could do such a thing in Redford, but one detail caught my attention: the killer got rid of the body parts by dumping them in other people’s garbage. The garbage men found body parts scattered throughout Redford, but two of the places had been on my nightly route.

Exactly where I saw the scavenger.

I debated on whether or not to call the police. I don’t like getting involved with anything that really isn’t my business, especially if the police are a part of it. Besides, I might’ve ended up in trouble.

Despite all this, I called the Redford Police Department—I considered it my duty as a citizen—and they sent over a polite young detective named Cameron Laurich. He was a tall, thin man with curly brown hair, probably about forty. He called me “sir” a lot; it’s something you don’t see much with young people today.

“Would you mind telling me what you saw, Mr. Reming?” he asked after taking down my name, address, etc.

I suppose I rambled a bit—I have a tendency to do that –but I told him everything I saw during my walk. He took notes on a small pad of paper. He was disappointed when I said all I knew about the man was that he was a man, and a big one at that. Tall, not fat. I also couldn’t tell him that the license plate number for the station wagon, but I said I thought it might have been a Buick Century of the early nineties, I’m not that big of a car man, but I remember Ellis, one of the old guys of Redford—which is what I like to call my peers—had a Buick Century, though it wasn’t a station wagon, and I thought the Decapitator’s vehicle looked a lot like Ellis’s. Ellis is dead now, by the way. Car crash. It was probably because of bad eyesight; Ellis was starting to get cataracts before he died. Too bad; he was a World War II vet, just like me, except I fought the Japs and he fought the Krauts.

Detective Laurich thanked me and left. The next day—after the police held a press conference, no doubt—reporters came by my house and asked me all kinds of questions. I told them everything I told Detective Laurich, and they seemed grateful for the information.

The day after that, Marty Holman, another old friend, stopped me at McDonald’s—I usually go there in the morning for coffee—waving a newspaper in his hand. “Hot damn, Frank!” he said. “You’re in the paper!”

Marty and the rest of the old guys—we usually hit McDonald’s at the same time, not out of agreement, but mostly out of coincidence at first, then unspoken tradition—wanted to hear everything, so I told them the story a third time. They were disappointed that I didn’t tell them anything the paper didn’t print, but they at least seemed satisfied.

Even when I went to the matinee at the Redford Theatre, the young man behind the counter knew about me being in the paper. “Anything they didn’t print, Mr. Reming?” he asked.

I never knew so many people were interested in this kind of thing. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know that later, I would be telling yet another story over and over again, but the next time would be even more frequent.

That night, I decided to forgo my walk due to weather conditions. I sat on my porch, smoking my pipe, watching and listening to the rain fall.

At about midnight, a car pulled up in front of my house. From within stepped a tall man wearing a suit. I couldn’t tell much more about him—I couldn’t see his face through the shadows—but I recognized the posture immediately. It was the scavenger, Mr. Decapitator himself. He had a different car, but it was still him.

He walked up to my porch. “Mr. Reming?” he asked.

“Yep,” I told him. I’d been a POW in World War II, tortured by Ishii himself; the Decapitator didn’t scare me one bit. Besides, if I slipped up, and he killed me, what would I lose? Another decade of loneliness, insomnia, and doctor visits?

The Decapitator flashed a badge that was so fake it was insulting. “I’m Detective Adams,” he said. “I’m working on the Decapitator case, and I’d like to ask you some questions.

“I thought Detective Laurich was working that case,” I said.

He spoke without hesitation. “He works it during the day shift, and I work it at night.”

“Oh,” I said. “What can I do for you?”

“Could we go inside?” he asked. “I’d like it to be a private discussion.”

I didn’t mention the fact that it was midnight, and there was no one in sight. I put my pipe in the ashtray, stood, and opened the front door. He wasn’t on the porch yet, so I thought I could turn my back to him long enough to get inside.

I stepped aside and watched Adams enter my house, then closed the door without locking it. “Have a seat,” I said, pointing to my couch. As he sat, I asked, “Would you like something to drink?”

“Just a glass of water, please,” he said. “It’s starting to get hot out there.”

“Summer’s definitely on the way,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

I went into the kitchen, wondering what I should do. It’s been a long time since I killed somebody—fifty long years; for a few years after the war, I went on a bit of a spree through the Southwest, and they never caught me, so my weapons were limited.

I settled for a steak knife, which wasn’t too bad. Back in 1947, I killed a family with a butter knife.

I slipped the steak knife up my sleeve and held the handle where Adams couldn’t see it. That accomplished, I filled a glass with water from the tap—I can’t stand bottled water—and headed back into the front room.

The Decapitator stood and reached for the glass. I noticed he was now wearing gloves. “Thanks,” he said and took a sip.

We sat down, him on the couch, me in my easy chair, where I used to read newspapers after hearty breakfasts cooked by my wife. “How can I help you?” I asked.

“Well, I noticed you talked to the reporters,” he said. “Since you did, you were placing yourself in danger. Killers read the papers, too, you know.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I just wanted to see my name in print, is all.” A lie, of course. I just didn’t see the harm in talking to them.

“Very understandable, Mr. Reming,” the Decapitator said. “If I were you, I’d never do anything like that again.”

I’ll bet, I thought.

“Down to business,” he said. “Would you tell me your story one more time? What did you see on May 15th?”

I took a deep breath. Show time. “I saw you, Detective Adams, dumping body parts and driving your station wagon.”

He stared at me a moment, then one corner of his mouth turned up in a half-grin. “A wily old man,” he said. “How did you know? Was it the badge?”

“No,” I said. “I just knew the instant I saw you. Maybe I’m psychic.”

“Psychic, huh?” He laughed. “Tell me what I’m thinking then.”

“You’re going to kill me,” I said.

“You know, maybe there is something to this psychic business.” He started to reach for his knife when I realized this would be my only chance. Granted, I have killed nearly a hundred people—not including Japs; wartime doesn’t count—but I did them without ever having to fight. I always had the element of surprise, and the strength to back it up. Now, at the age of seventy-nine, all I had was the element of surprise. If the Decapitator got his weapon out, I would never have had a chance.

Just before his hand disappeared into his suit coat, I pulled out the steak knife and leaped at him. Adams never expected to be attacked by such an old, frail man, I’m sure, so his reflexes weren’t much. He wasn’t quick enough to stop the blade from sinking into his throat.

What that done, I backed off, holding the steak knife, letting him flail around a bit. At first, he pulled out his own knife—a rather impressive Bowie—and tried to get me, but the blood rushed out of him far too fast. When he realized that, he dropped his weapon and held his wound.

It wasn’t long before his life had run out of him, and he laid still on the floor. At that point, I called the police and asked for Detective Laurich.

He arrived with a bunch of other policemen, begging to hear my story. I told him about the fake badge, saying that was what tipped me off. “It didn’t look much like your badge,” I told him.

He went on to tell me how lucky I was, and I agreed. “If I hadn’t been trying to get some baloney out of that damned package, I would never have had the knife,” I told him. It was one of my habits my wife disapproved of. She always insisted I should use a fork instead.

I ended up telling the story over and over again, for the reporters and old friends and other curious parties. I gained a lot of respect for killing that man, which I thought was pretty funny.

Pretty funny, indeed.