Join me in welcoming J.J. White to Highlighted Author.
J.J. White is a multi-published, award winning author, and he’s with us this week to introduce his latest book, Death’s Twisted Tales.
A native of Vermont, I was dragged kicking and screaming to Central Florida by my parents when my father relocated to work at the KennedySpaceCenter. I was a precocious and adorable little boy who overflowed with the creative juices that would prepare me for success as a noted author. Unfortunately that was stifled at a young age by an overwhelming desire to take apart things to see how they work. Thus, the left side of the brain won the battle over the right and I became a boring engineer. A few years ago, as luck would have it, I ruptured the L4 and L5 disks in my back trying to play tennis as if I were eighteen–years–old, again. With nothing to do but lie on my stomach for days on end, the right side of my brain saw an opening and pounced on the left-brain, once again surfacing my creative juices. Since that fateful day I have penned seven novels and over two hundred short stories. I have had articles and stories published in several anthologies and magazines including, The Akashic Press, Wordsmith, The Homestead Review, The Seven Hills Review, Bacopa Review, and The Grey Sparrow Journal. My story, The Nine Hole League, is set to be published soon in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Volume 14. I have won awards and honors from the Alabama Writers Conclave, Writers-Editors International, Maryland Writers Association, The Royal Palm Literary Awards, Professional Writers of Prescott, and Writer’s Digest. I was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize for my short piece Tour Bus which is included in my new book, Death’s Twisted Tales. I enjoy writing, surfing, golf and tennis. I live in Merritt Island, Florida with my understanding wife, editor, and typist, Pamela.
What they’re saying:
“Comprising 28 stories, each either an award-winning tale or a previously published yarn, White’s collection stays true to its title: The stories all have death, and each has a twist.
There are touching tales, such as ‘Beneath the Wintry Sky’ about enemy soldiers meeting on Christmas Eve, or thought-provoking ones, including ‘Grackle Trap’ and ‘Emily Wasn’t There.’
White’s writing pulls readers in quickly; in just a few paragraphs, he can shape a whole story.
Don’t fear the Reaper; let him read you these quick, creepy stories.”— Kirkus Reviews
Death’s Twisted Tales
“Every story ends in death if one waits long enough.”
So quotes Death as he introduces twenty-eight twisted tales for your literary enjoyment. Written by award-winning author, J. J. White, these stories weave their way through the odd, the eccentric, the suspenseful, the vengeful, the evil, and even the hopeful, with the hapless characters hurtling toward their surprising and inevitable demise, much to the approval of our macabre narrator. All of these tales have been previously published in both national and international publications with many winning awards in distinguished competitions put on by Writer’s Digest, the California Writers Club, the Oregon Writers Colony, the Arizona Mystery Writers and the Florida Writers Association, to name a few. So sit back and enjoy, for as The Grim Reaper promises, each story has a happy ending.
Beneath The Wintry Sky
He had slept only four hours in five days of constant battles, his side surrendering St. Vith back to the Panzer divisions. Window dressing for the Reich, one success in a lost war, with only one conclusion, the end of their noble quest. The Nazis were delaying the inevitable and taking as many of the enemy with them as they could.
A shell from a Kraut eighty-eight exploded about fifty feet from Joe’s foxhole, an eruption of dirt covering the fresh snow. There was plenty of snow, and sleet, and ice, all penetrating their sleeping bags, coats, and boots, while preserving the mangled bodies of their comrades, blessedly saving the living from the smell of the dead. He’d had enough of death, and enough of war. Why did civilized men capable of understanding mathematics, building cathedrals, and conquering disease, think they needed to club each other to death for a little land?
Joe had shot his first enemy soldier over a year ago. He had squeezed the trigger as if he were holding a baby bird, the rifle nearly jumping out of his hands as the distant silhouette collapsed to the earth. He thought of the dead soldier as an infant held by his parents over the crib, a toddler chasing playmates through high grass, a young man kissing his sweetheart as he boarded his train to eternity.
Those thoughts stopped after a few months of war. Joe felt none of them now. The enemy was faceless and nameless. He was eliminating someone intent on eliminating him. That’s all it was. Anything else and you’d blow your brains out.
Kowalski threw the bottle across the foxhole to Joe. He wasn’t expecting the toss and spilled some on his uniform.
“Dumb Polack,” Joe said. “Don’t they play any baseball in Jersey? You throw like a little girl.”
It was Christmas brandy from Camden’s girlfriend or lover or mother, who the hell knew. Camden wouldn’t need it anyway, buried in a shallow grave two miles north of their entrenchment. Joe passed the bottle to Corporal Johansson who took a quick swig and handed it to Paul Santini. A goddamn League of Nations foxhole. Kowalski got the bottle back from Santini and held it out in salute. “To Jake Camden, God rest his soul.” Santini made the sign of the cross. “And,” Kowalski continued, “to a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
“Yeah,” Santini said. “Just like home, except there ain’t no food, no family, no presents and no tree. Other than that, it’s the same.” Santini pulled broken Christmas tree cookies from a sack and passed them around. “A little stale and broke to hell, but better than nothing, right Sarge?”
Joe nodded and nearly broke a tooth on a cookie trunk. It was a six-hour time difference between Belgium and Vermont. Kathy would be helping her parents start the Christmas dinner. Afterward, they would stand by the tree and toast Joe and pray for his safety. He wondered where they got their tree from this year. Kathy’s letters took months to get to him. She probably thought he was dead unless the Army was keeping the mess in Belgium secret.
The snow stopped as suddenly as it had started. Small black bugs crawled out from Santini’s cookie sack. Welcome to our world, Joe thought and threw the rest of his cookie away.
Three years ago, he drove twenty miles to Shrewsbury to find the perfect Christmas tree. The Frasier Firs were at just the right height. The perfect tree for the in-laws. He and Kathy had made love quietly in her old bedroom, each wondering if it would be their last Christmas together. That gave him an idea. He stood, put on his helmet and strapped his carbine over his back.
“You know what we need?” he said.
“Betty Grable,” Kowalski said.
“Besides that. We need a Christmas tree.” He pointed to the woods. “There’s a whole forest of ’em out there. Keep my seat warm.” He pulled a small hatchet from his pack.
“You’re gonna get yourself shot for a tree?” Santini asked.
“Yeah. I mean no. One of those eighty-eights hits in here it’s goodbye Charlie, anyway. What’s the difference?” And with that, he climbed out of the foxhole and ran bent over, holding his helmet on his head as he made a beeline to the forest, about a hundred yards away. The constant artillery barrage of the last two days had left few trees near the edge to choose from so Joe pushed further in until the woods were so thick they blotted out what was left of the setting sun through the heavy fog.
There it was, a four-foot spruce near the bottom of a small gully, the branches heavy with snow. He took the hatchet from his coat and after shaking the snow off the tree, began hacking at the trunk.
A few ration cans and some of Santini’s stale cookies hanging from the thin branches and they’d have their own Christmas tree for their hole. Maybe Stars and Stripes would send a reporter. He could imagine the headline: “Four unlucky bastards blown up with their Christmas tree.”
He stopped to light a cigarette. About thirty feet away, a German soldier sawed on a similar tree with a large knife. Their eyes met as Joe flicked his Zippo. He missed the tip of the cigarette with the flame by two inches.
Joe swung his rifle around and aimed first at the soldier’s head, then the chest. Light pressure on the trigger, ready to squeeze, but he didn’t. It surprised Joe as much as it did the Kraut. The German fumbled with his rifle but somehow managed to get it into firing position. He was just a kid.
Hell of a thing to die for, Joe thought, but there were worse ways to go and his intentions had been good. He hoped someone would tell Kathy the truth.
A gray squirrel jumped from one tree to the next behind the nervous German. It startled him enough that his Mauser shook. Then the man took a breath and yelled something at Joe that could have been anything. Joe understood a little German but Johansson was the only one fluent and he was a million miles away and drunk on stolen brandy.
Joe lowered his gaze to the soldier’s tree. The boy hadn’t made much progress with the knife. Maybe the Krauts didn’t supply hatchets to their men when they fought in dense forests. It sounded like something Hitler would do.
Joe gently placed his rifle against a charred stump and then pointed to his hatchet. The soldier seemed to understand and nodded, so Joe picked it up and cleaved what was left of the trunk of his little tree with two mighty hacks. He held the tool out to the soldier. “Looks like you’re having a tough time with that knife.” He threw the hatchet to the boy’s feet, where it sunk in the snow.
The soldier fished it out and began chopping at the base of his own small Tannenbaum, never taking his eyes off Joe. A couple of times Joe thought the guy might hack his foot off but the tree finally came loose of the trunk.
Joe walked over to him and the soldier immediately had his rifle up and aimed. The snow began to fall again, small flakes resting on the boy’s long lashes. How old was he? Fifteen? Sixteen? Old enough and nervous enough to kill, he guessed.
The boy tried to hand the hatchet back to Joe, but Joe shook his head.
“You keep it, Hans. You need it more than I do.”
Joe went back to the stump and picked up his rifle and the Christmas tree. He had walked away a few steps when the boy soldier said, “Frohliche Weihnachten.”
Joe smiled, turned, then saluted lazily to him. “Merry Christmas to you too, buddy.”
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