STORY OF THE MONTH
Don’t Mess With The Moon Goddess
by Stephen Book
Cindy crouched with her back against the wall, gun drawn, listening for any sound that her mark might be around the corner. No use in being stupid. Sure, death was unavoidable, but there was no point in cashing out early.
She pulled a small compact from her pocket, opened it, and angled the mirror to peer around the corner. She saw an alley, a dumpster. Her mark was nowhere in sight.
She didn’t know the mark’s name for sure. Somebody told her it was Bartholomew Helschwitz. The Commander called him the Angel of Death, a hard core assassin from Yugoslavia. With a name like Bartholomew Helschwitz? Right.
With twenty-three certified kills, the sound of his name struck fear into people’s eyes. She saw how they held their breath, as if it might be their last. Not her though. Not Agent Gooblink. She had kills, too; and if this Angel character had the audacity to come gunning for her, then it was time to give him a royal butt kicking.
She tucked the compact away and stood up. Around the corner, Cindy saw five trouble-spots where the Angel could ambush her. The first was the garbage dumpster—in it or behind it. The next two were around both corners at the far end of the alley. The fourth and fifth were the corners she just left. More than once, she saw a rookie go down because he failed to cover the back door. She reached in her pocket and sprinkled a handful of crackle glass on the ground. Her own special mixture of Christmas light bulbs painted black, it looked like gravel, but snapped like bubble wrap when stepped on.
Her back door secured, Cindy inched down the alley, gun leveled at the ground ahead of her. Her eyes darted to the dumpster, to the far corners and back again. Her arms prickled as the winter air breezed across her skin, every hair buzzing like a frayed, hot wire.
Her ears stayed on high alert. In the distance, a tinkling of bells chimed out “Deck the Halls” and Cindy almost laughed at the absurdity of it. Christmas was only a a week away, and she should have been home, enjoying the season. Yet, here she was, searching an alley, a giant bulls-eye painted on her back.
A scraping came from behind and Cindy whirled around, her gun raised. It was only a stiff oak leaf carried along by the swirling air. She took a deep breath, turned and resumed the search.
Come on, Angel. Stick your head out so Gooblink can take it off.
She once asked about the code name. Why not something cool, like Moon Goddess? Ever since she was a girl, she wanted to be a moon goddess. Growing up, watching shows like The Shazam/Isis Hour had its impact. However, only the Commander issued names. Like it or not, Moon Goddess was not an option. Cindy remembered shaking her head. Such was the cost of being a woman in a little man’s world.
She stopped about ten feet short of the dumpster. The lids were down; and to make matters worse, the clouded sky cast no shadows. If the Angel was behind the dumpster, she still couldn’t tell.
Taking out the Angel was not what Cindy had envisioned for herself. She had other plans. Like being a wife. And a mom. And certainly she was both, living out life as a toilet scrubber and a home-school teacher. Still, her life worked in her favor, didn’t it? Just as she knew the Angel was supposedly a model citizen, he had to know she was a suburban homemaker with two kids. Hopefully, he would overestimate her and make a mistake.
Cindy stepped to the right, pressed against the building, and aimed her weapon at the space between the wall and the back of the dumpster. Nothing. Only the other end of the alley. If the Angel had used the dumpster for cover, then he was smart enough not to expose himself.
She stood and slowly circled around the dumpster, her gun pointed at the blind spot on the other side. Nothing there either, which left her with the possibility that the Angel hid himself inside.
She reached up and touched a grenade on her vest. With only five seconds before detonation, she would have to time it just right. Pull the pin, count to three, and toss it under the lid. Even if the Angel realized his mistake, he couldn’t escape before the device would take him out.
She grabbed the grenade and pulled the pin.
One Mississippi, two—
Crackle-glass popped. Cindy jumped around the side of the dumpster, finding cover as the Angel’s shots exploded off the metal. Realizing she still had the grenade, she hooked it toward the front of the alley. More crackle glass popped as The Angel took cover around the corner; at least, Cindy hoped that to be the case.
She waited for the grenade’s explosion, and then rolled out. Her gun raised, she fired at the first sign of movement. The Angel’s chest exploded with a crimson splatter as he took her round in the center of his vest. He groaned, collapsed, and tumbled into the alley.
Slowly, Cindy stepped over to confirm the kill.
“Let that be a lesson,” she said. “Don’t mess with the Moon Goddess.”
The Angel opened his eyes. “Moon Goddess?”
Another voice came from around the corner. “Yeah!”
A young boy bounded down the alley, pumping his fist in the air. The Commander. Cindy lowered her weapon and walked off. Over her shoulder, she heard The Angel say, “Dude, I thought your mom was Agent Gooblink or something.”
In the parking lot, Cindy’s husband stood by the car. He looked amused.
“You have fun playing paint ball with the kids… Agent Gooblink?”
Cindy unfastened her helmet and vest. “Nothing but a bunch of amateurs.” She tossed everything into the car.
“And the name’s Moon Goddess.”
Stephen currently lives in Texas. By day, he’s a CPA working in a corporate office; the rest of the time, when he’s not writing, he’s a husband, a father, a general handyman, and comic relief to his family. He enjoys camping and fishing, especially in the mountains. His short stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Online, Crime and Suspense and Boston Literary Magazine. One short story was also included in the Editor Unleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 Anthology.
CONGRATULATIONS, STEPHEN, GREAT STORY! NOW, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF.
I’ve worked at writing for six years now. In that time, I’ve focused much of my energy into learning the craft by continually writing. I’m still learning. Each story brings a new understanding about me and about life. If anyone is interested, I like to share slices of my life—what I’m working on, links to published stories, personal experiences, and insights I’ve learned—through my blog at http://powderburnsandbullets.blogspot.com.
Q. Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre is it?
I can’t say that I write in a particular genre. While I gravitate toward crime fiction, I have also written mainstream and horror stories. In fact, a couple of my more successful stories haven’t involved any crime whatsoever.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Character and plot. Most of what a writer accomplishes in a story, from dialogue to description, should be crafted in order to reveal the characters. It’s the revelation that creates a connection and draws the reader in. Plot is what keeps them turning the pages.
Q. How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I don’t use formulas or questionnaires. Maybe that’s why it takes me so long to have a polished story. Whether it has been a piece of flash fiction, a short story or my novel, asking questions and being patient enough to wait for the answers has been the best approach to developing plots and characters.
Q. What do you do to unwind and relax?
I like to read, listen to music and watch movies.
Q. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
My inspiration has come from a variety of sources. A newspaper article inspired one of my crime stories. Painting my daughter’s room, listening to the sound of the paint roller, inspired what is probably my best story yet. In writing, my opinion is to keep your eyes and ears open for anything. You never know where the next flash of inspiration will come from.
Q. Are you working on any projects right now?
In January, I finally completed my first novel. My plan is to let it cool until April, at which time I’ll work through the first revision. In the meantime, I’ve decided to pull a few more short stories off the shelf that have been waiting for their own revisions.
Q. What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
For me, the most frustrating part of writing a story is dealing with the inner critic. With each revision, there’s always something that I want to fix, whether it’s a piece of dialogue that didn’t feel right or a sentence that sounded off when read aloud. The most rewarding part is hearing feedback from readers who want to share how your story touched them or excited them or made their skin crawl. It’s the feedback that lets you know when you hit the mark.
Q. If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
Focus on character. At the heart of any good story is a character that we can relate to.
Q. What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
At the risk of sounding cliché, my advice is the same thing we’ve heard or read many times: you need to write as much as possible. Even if your life is busy with work and family, make the time to write. You also need to read as much as possible. A diverse selection, too. The classics, crime novels, horror and women’s literature are all vital to rounding out your skills and understanding. It is through reading and writing that we learn to develop our craft.