Thursday, July 4, 2013

Get the short story "The Caliphate" free on Kindle from 7/5 through 7/9




"The Caliphate" is one of the stories in my collection Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense.







Description (from Amazon.com): 

"When a terrorist organization stages a bloody takeover of a Canadian city, two friends are forced to confront their innermost demons---and each other."



The opening paragraphs of... 



"The Caliphate"



Marty Frazier stopped to adjust the shoulder strap of his Uzi before heading down the long, gleaming expanse of Concourse A. Although he had been in the Ontario Islamic Guard for more than eighteen months now, he found that he was still uncomfortable with weapons—especially the automatic and semiautomatic kinds. He took a few steps forward before stopping once more—no doubt looking awkward by now—and double-checked the gun’s safety. The terminal was packed with what passed for Monday morning congestion these days, and Marty was taking no chances.


The sight of young men with guns had become commonplace over the past three years, and most of the passersby in Toronto International Airport didn’t even give him a second glance. Nonetheless, he kept deliberately to the side of the concourse, beyond the main flow of pedestrian traffic. Despite the authority that his gun and his uniform conveyed, he was almost shy about displaying either. Especially the gun.
So far he had never had an occasion to draw the weapon in a threatening manner, and that was just fine with him.

He spotted Phil Scherer in the distance through the crowd, walking in the opposite direction on the far side of the concourse. Marty held his hand high in the air and waved. Phil acknowledged the wave with a nod, and veered toward him. Phil was also wearing a Guard uniform, and carrying an automatic weapon of his own. People stepped aside to give him a wide berth as he threaded his way through the crowd.

Marty leaned casually against the wall and waited. The airport loudspeaker crackled overhead. It was the midmorning call to prayer, which most Ontario residents still ignored. What else did Harb expect? The announcements were in Arabic after all, which almost no one in the Canadian province understood. Just the other day Ali had asked his opinion about reading the announcements in English. Marty had replied that English-language summons to prayer were an excellent idea.

Marty smiled as Phil drew near, but Phil’s gloomy expression was unwavering.

“Anything going on?” Marty asked.

“Nope. A quiet one today. What about you?”

“Nothing so far.”

“If we’re lucky it’ll stay that way.”

“You said it. Insha Allah.”

Phil stiffened and glared at him. Marty immediately realized that his last two words had been a mistake. He began to say more, but Phil cut him off with a wave of his hand. He stepped closer, until the two of them stood no more than a foot apart.

“Don’t quote the Quran at me.” Phil spoke in a low, raspy voice, just above a whisper. “We’ve had this conversation before, haven’t we? After all, it’s not like Ali’s here.”

Marty was taken aback. He and Phil had been friends at the university. In fact, Phil had acquired his position in the Ontario Islamic Guard through Marty’s connections.

Moreover, Marty was Phil’s squad leader. He could technically write him up for insubordination, if he wanted to.

But that wasn’t Marty’s style—especially not with a friend. “It’s not exactly the Quran,” Marty explained. “Insha Allah just means, ‘God willing.’ That’s all.”

“I don’t care what it means.”  Phil looked over his shoulder, making sure that no one was standing within earshot. “Look, let’s just drop it, okay?
You know I don’t like to talk their line when it isn’t absolutely necessary.”

“Fair enough.” Marty did not want to argue. “But speaking of Ali, he wants to have a meeting with us at one-thirty this afternoon. In the office downstairs. Room 115. That’s why I called you over.”

“What’s it about?”

Marty shrugged. “Beats me.”

Phil hesitated. “All right,” he finally said. “I’ll be there, I guess.”

Now that was an interesting way to respond to an order from Ali. Marty raised his eyebrows at Phil as if to say, It’s not like it’s optional.

Marty was eager to let Phil go on his way. Although they were still friends, there was a certain quality about Phil that sometimes made him uncomfortable. Since Phil had joined the Ontario Islamic Guard, Marty had detected a growing ripple of barely restrained rage just below the other young man’s surface. He didn’t believe that Phil would ever turn on him, but he wasn’t eager to put this belief to the test.

“Well, Phil, I’ll see you at 1:30 downstairs.”

“I’ll see you then.” The muscles in Phil’s throat were visibly tense. “Bye.”

“Bye.”

Marty watched Phil walk away until he became lost in the flow of people. He shook his head and pulled two coins from his pants pocket.

Good old inscrutable Phil. He had to play the tough guy routine to the last, didn’t he? Phil was an ex-high school wrestling champ who could seemingly bluff any guy who challenged him, or—for that matter—charm any girl he wanted.

Well, that might have been important before. But it didn’t mean a thing in the Islamic Republic of Ontario. Did Phil even realize this?

There was a little kiosk in the center of the concourse that sold reasonably drinkable coffee. There had been no fresh Starbuck’s in
Ontario for two and a half years, and Marty really liked Starbucks. But vendors were still able to get their hands on the canned stuff, like Folgers and Maxwell House.

The woman working at the kiosk was middle-aged, with red hair and a light Irish complexion. Marty noticed that she looked horribly awkward and uncomfortable in her chador—a long, bulky black garment that covered a woman from head to toe. Only her hands and face were exposed. Ali had told Marty that the officially sanctioned public attire for
Ontario women was modeled on the Iranian garb.   

She kept pushing the chador’s head covering back, exposing locks of red hair. She obviously saw Marty’s Guard uniform, so she didn’t dare voice a complaint; but when she fiddled with the head covering, there was something in her eyes that made him think of Phil.

“May God bless the Prophet,” she said, as she handed over the coffee.

Marty smiled and nodded. “May his name be praised, and may the blessings of Allah be upon you.” The woman nodded and became suddenly interested in rearranging the change in the cash register’s coin tray.

Marty sat down on a nearby bench to drink his coffee, exercising caution so as to avoid any accidental body contact with the Uzi. This coffee was better than usual; definitely not Starbucks, but almost as good.

His thoughts returned to Phil. His relations with his friend were likely to get worse before they got better. Marty had not been completely honest with Phil. He did have an idea of the purpose behind the meeting with Ali—and Phil was sure to loath this afternoon’s mission.

It had to be the Donovans again. He and Phil would likely be asked to deal with this local couple who persisted in preaching Christianity—despite clearly promulgated laws against such activities.

Why did people insist on pushing the Islamists so far? The affair might well end in violence. In fact, it almost certainly would. Marty would try to avoid bloodshed; but desperate times sometimes called for desperate measures. And no one could deny that they were living in desperate times.

A new mural dominated the wall opposite Marty. It was an unintentionally cartoonish depiction of a hooded Islamic warrior raising a sword over a cowering Uncle Sam, and a figure that appeared to be a medieval Christian crusader. “Defeat the infidels and preserve the Islamic Revolution of North America!” the caption below the painting read.

Yes, Marty thought. It appeared that he and Phil were going to have to do something just like that this afternoon....  

(End of excerpt)