Tag Archives: John Vicary

In The Shallows

by John Vicary

"in the shallows" by John VicaryThere is a sea in faraway Israel where nothing grows. It is called the Dead Sea, although it was not always known as such. In ancient times, it was invoked in many tongues, but most often it was named Yām ha-Mizrahî: the Eastern Sea.

A man may lie in the less famous shallows of the sister of the Sea of Galilee and rise to the top without effort, buoyed to the surface by science or faith. He need only to gaze upon its barren shores to delineate the foothills of history, when other men may have tried to float in the same sea and failed the test. How much does man trust in his knowledge and how much does he heed the pull of those stories from his youth? The joy drains from that swim like water from a cracked vessel, and he wonders if he had lived at that time in this land of Canaan if he would have escaped the brimstone fate that awaited so many others. His gaze traces the horizon and a twinge gnaws his gut. The sheltering arms of the waves remind him of a different embrace in years already spent.

Two angels had descended from heaven to give warning to the righteous, his mother had told him long ago. He could still hear her voice as she told him her favorite biblical tale.

“Disguised as two men, the angels tried to pass Lot’s house on their way to Sodom, but he insisted they break bread with him,” Mama said. “In those times, it was a solemn duty to give hospitality to those in need.”

“I’d recognize them, Mama,” he said. He imagined the men with a certain golden glow or perhaps an errant feather peeking from under their cloaks. “I’m special.”

“Of course you are, sweetie,” she answered, pulling the blanket up to his chest as she readied him for bed. “But there’s no way to know by looking. That’s why it’s always important to be kind, especially to strangers. Maybe you’ll be talking to an angel all along.”

Finish reading the rest of this poem in Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah, or download the book at:

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In the Office of the Tooth Fairy

by John Vicary

tooth fairy bureaucrat

Photo Tooth fairy exchange – © Caraman | Dreamstime.com

“Yeah, so they says to me, they says, ‘Barry, you look like you could use a drink,’ and I say, ‘What, do I look like an—”

Jenny paused and checked her card. This was the correct place. Despite the unprofessional language and cigar smoke she could see drifting out from the door, the numbers on the office placard didn’t lie. It didn’t much look like any claims agency she’d ever been associated with, but it wasn’t her business to judge. Maybe years of being in billing made folks coarse or something. Perhaps it was the bad lighting wreaking havoc on their nerves. Whatever it was, so long as she had a job, she didn’t care what the place looked like. Or smelled like. Jenny wrinkled her nose as another cloud of smoke wafted by her. She straightened her hemline and knocked.

“Oh, for the love of … I gotta call you back, Mike. Temp’s here. Yeah, yeah, another one. Sure, Thursday, you’re on. Your turn to bring the beer. Yeah it is, you schmuck. See you then.”

Jenny heard the click of the phone being slammed down in its cradle, followed by a sigh.

“You gonna stand out there all day or what? You here for the job?”

“Yes, sir.” Jenny rounded the corner and saw exactly what she expected to: a middle-aged balding man behind a desk. “I’m here about the acquisitions position from the—”

“Yeah, I know. It’s the busy season, so let’s get this show on the road. I’m Barry. Pull up a chair and lemme go through the files with you,” Barry said.

Jenny selected a chair with the fewest stains on the upholstery and flipped open her pad to take notes. “Can you begin by telling me the exact nature of the property we are attempting to merge?”

Barry barked out a laugh. “Teeth, dollface. You kidding me? Now, like I said, it’s busy season. You wouldn’t think so, but September and October we’re slammed. And of course there’s always a spike around the holidays, ‘specially Halloween. Ever since we had to sign Murphy’s Law, that time of year is a killer …”

Jenny scribbled away. “Murphy’s Law? Where are the precedents on that? I’m not familiar with that article. Is there a case number, so I can check up on it and familiarize myself with the details?”

Barry ignored her and kept talking. “Janice, over in Polishing, has this theory that kiddie sports have something to do with the losses this time of year, but I think it’s just the competition amongst classmates and all. You don’t want your best mate to get ahead of you, do you, not when one good yank’ll get you a payoff. Right. So that’s my thought on that.”

“Sports … losses … competition …” Jenny was scrambling to get all the words written down, when she paused. “Can you clarify that for me? What company are we taking over? Something in dentistry? Or does it have to do with sports medicine?”

“Look here.” Barry leaned back in his seat. “The agency said they were sending someone who could handle this sort of thing. This is a high-pressure position. And like I just said, it’s our busy season. So are you a quick study or not?”

“I am!” Desperation crept up like a flush on Jenny’s cheeks. “I’ve worked in a legal office; I know I can handle this. It would just help to know more about the product we’re acquiring, that’s all.”

“Teeth, I told you.” Barry shook his head. “You’re not deaf, are you?”

“No! I’m just not quite sure I understand.” Jenny tried not to let her confusion show. She stared at her notes, but the words remained unhelpful. “We deal in teeth?”

“You got it, toots. Our region is only the northern mid-quadrant. Sometimes the southwest quadrangle falls off—those lazy buggers—and we have to absorb the overflow, but I try not to let that happen. What do I look like, a charity office, here?” Barry grimaced. “Anyway, we manage our region, which is fine, unless we get short-staffed, like now. You follow?”

Jenny nodded dumbly. “So, like … when you say ‘northern mid-quadrant’, you mean that we are in charge of, say, Chicago?”

Barry recoiled. “Good God, no. What a nightmare of logistics, can you imagine? I said the northern mid-quadrant, not the mid-quadrangle, northern urban unit. Big difference.”

“Yes. I can see that.” Jenny pretended to make a note of it, but she wasn’t sure if Barry was quite sane.

“So, look here. These cases are flagged as imminent. Boy, these little buggers are hanging by a thread. These are the ones you’ll be dispatched to immediately. Field agents are in place, but before they can move on these cases, they will need their allocation, and that clearance will come from you. There has been a lot of slack in the financial department lately, I’m not gonna lie. Even given the adjustment for inflation, there has to be a cap on this. You are going to be in charge of expenses and balances.” Barry gestured to the computer screen.

Jenny perked up. “Okay, so I’m in charge of making sure that agents are being truthful about how much money they need? Expense reports, as it were?”

Barry nodded, pleased. “Exactly. Red flags will happen tonight. Possibly tomorrow. You can check up on orange files. They are sure to come due in the next week or so. Sometimes they’ll surprise you, though. Yellows are just the kids who are crying wolf. Maybe there is a little wiggle, but short of them falling smack on their face, those suckers aren’t going anywhere for a month, at least.” Barry unwrapped another cigar. “Not that we haven’t had that happen, mind you. None of us like a Code Blue. Puts us in a crank for the whole day, let me tell you what.”

“Sorry, what exactly is the business that you’re in?” Jenny didn’t care if she looked foolish or not; this whole conversation was turning her brain to mush. “It sounds like you are collecting children’s teeth.” She laughed.

Barry lit his stogie and puffed a few times to get it started. “I thought you said you weren’t hard of hearing.”

Jenny swallowed.

“So, do I need to hold your hand over this, or can you figure it out? I have three code reds tonight alone, and the going rate for a molar ain’t cheap, sweetheart. Don’t let those guys try to bull you for more, though. We have budgets, just like the rest. And you don’t want to stand before The Committee and say you ran outta funds before the fiscal year is out, trust me. That’s on you now, thank the good Lord. Damn little kids won’t get outta bed for less than a dollar these days. When I was a kid—”

“Mr. … Barry …” Jenny felt the sort of sour sickness in her stomach that heralded either immediate vomiting or a contrariness that would get her branded as the office “bitch”. Jenny hoped, for the sake of her paycheck, that she’d just had a bad danish, but the words just kept spewing, and she rather feared it might be the latter. “Are you trying to tell me that you’re the … Tooth Fairy?”

“For the love of Christ.” Barry cracked his neck. “Are you trying to tell me that you can’t read? They sent me a temp who can’t read. Perfect.”

“No, I—I’m just really confused! What the hell is going on?” Jenny was aware that she had shredded her notes into confetti all over the floor.

“Honey. I’m going to say this as clearly as I can, because we are out of time. We are a division of the U.S. Government. We collect teeth. See?” Barry held up the nameplate on his desk, which read “Barry McFadden, Tooth Collection Agent Manager”.

“You’re telling me that there really is a Tooth Fairy?” Jenny stared at Barry’s combover in horror. “I always pictured her in a blue dress. With wings. And maybe some sort of tutu.”

Barry rolled his eyes. “That’s the corporate logo.” He fished a card out of his pocket and handed her the embossed rectangle. There was, indeed, a blue fairy on it, complete with wings, crown, and magic scepter. “But adults usually realize that it takes more than magic to make these things happen. Next you’ll be telling me that you pictured the Easter Bunny as a six foot rabbit. Ha!” He looked at her face. “Holy shit. Wait until Charlie hears this …”

“It’s just that … I don’t understand how the government can subsidize children’s teeth. What do we have to do with it?” Jenny asked.

“It’s a bargain, you kidding?” Barry took a pull on his cigar. “We pay a dollar—less, if we can swing it, and that’s where you come in, angel— for every tooth, and look at the markup on those suckers! Where else can you get something so cheap? Except China, of course. Little bastards are always making our numbers look bad. Those Chinese kids’ll give up their teeth for a few measly yen. I can tell you, if they start outsourcing, that’s it. I told ’em, I ain’t moving to Zhāngjiākǒu, I don’t care how good the noodles are. They got the best eggrolls right over on thirty-seventh you ever had, I don’t need to go halfway around—”

Jenny rubbed her temples. “Barry, it still doesn’t explain why we want teeth. Even for an exceptional deal.”

Barry stopped mid-diatribe. “I don’t have time to explain economics to you, peaches. This ain’t college. You might have mistaken me for your prof, when in reality I’m the Tooth Fairy. Or one of them. You know, I don’t think you’re gonna work. Why don’t you go see if they can use you down on the fifth floor. I know that Phil needs someone. I really think that would be more your speed, sugar.”

Jenny stood up. “It’s a regular office? Nothing funny?”

“Nothing funny. See ya around, babe.” Barry shook his head. “Charlie, a freaking rabbit, for fuck’s sake …”

Jenny grabbed her attaché case and stepped away from Barry. As she made her way through the office, she saw things she’d missed the first time through: little toothbrushes decorating some desks, molars hanging from the ceiling, a picture of a pile of gold coins and even a jar of teeth near the elevator (she’d taken them for after-dinner mints on her way in). Jenny shuddered.

“Excuse me.” She caught the receptionist before the elevator made its way up. “I’ve been reassigned to the fifth floor. Can you tell me what to expect there?”

“Sure,” the girl said. “You’ll like it. It’s pretty small, actually, and nothing much happens there. It’s for folks who prefer a quieter workplace. I’ll phone that you’re on your way.”

“Thanks so much.” Jenny smiled. She had a much better feeling about this assignment.

The receptionist picked up the phone as Jenny got in the elevator and pressed the button for floor five. “Hey, Phil, it’s me. You have a new girl on her way. I know, St. Patrick’s Day needs its fair share of attention, too—that’s why she’s on her way, to help you organize those calls about the leprechauns from last year …”

The door slid shut before Jenny could say another word.

John Vicary began publishing poetry in the fifth grade and has been writing ever since. A contributor to many compendiums, his most recent credentials include short fiction in the collections “The Longest Hours,” “Midnight Circus,” “Something’s Brewing,” and “Temporary Skeletons.” He has stories in upcoming issues of Boktor Magazine and “Halfway Down the Stairs.” John enjoys playing piano and lives in rural Michigan with his family. You can read more of his work at keppiehed.com.

John Vicary has essays in the Garden of Eden anthology and Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah.

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Before Dawn Can Wake Us

There was a time when things were weightless.

Yes, it’s true. There existed a place without drag upon the senses. It was so far distant as to be beyond the confines of thought, but it has been there. The memory of man is linear, and perhaps they have since forgotten it in the clamoring obscurity of now, but we can still recall. It takes some effort, but remembering is a backwards shedding. We must set ourselves to the task, examine each year as a discarded husk. It has a sinuosity of sorts, hasn’t it? That is how we find ourselves at the beginning. Or the only beginning you care about.

It is true that the water flowed uphill there, that the breeze was always mild. Neither too hot nor too cold, the sun shone but did not beat down. The rain fell yet did not flood. We are just and accurate in describing the many joys of such a paradise.

Perhaps the best of all was the buoyancy that suffused the atmosphere. There was no pull on our limbs, no downward tugging of earth’s embrace. We were free from responsibility, free from troubles or forethought. We needed only to exist.

We can see that this is hard for you to believe. Ah, well, that is your choice; we cannot force faith upon you. Do not let our forked tongue distract you from the truism of our words, Brother. This place is real.

Finish reading this story by John Vicary in the Garden of Eden anthology. Get it FREE!

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Two Archers

by John Vicary

cupid's flaming arrowsThe sun dawned bright and fair in the halls of Olympus, as it did every morning. The peaceful scene was broken by the sounds of arguing in the Great Hall.

“I’m sick of it!” Cupid shouted. “I’ve had it with your insults! We both know I’m the better archer!”

Apollo sniffed in disdain. “Come off it. You can’t even throw a tantrum properly. You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with those flaming arrows of yours. Everyone knows it.”

“They aren’t flaming. I’m going to kill—”

“Boys!” Hestia massaged her temples. “Must we have the same discussion every morning? You’re both very talented.”

“I could beat them both with my eyes closed,” Artemis said under her breath.

“Nevertheless,” Hestia said, frowning, “I do wish you could settle your differences. I would like to enjoy my breakfast in peace.”

Cupid kicked the table. “I’m not settling anything unless he admits I’m the better archer!”

“Not going to happen,” Apollo said. “It isn’t true. Jerk.”

“Why not have a contest?” Poseidon asked around a mouthful of eggs. “It would put the issue to rest once and for all.”

“What kind of contest?” Apollo asked.

“Yes!” Cupid sat up in his chair. “We could set it up in the courtyard—”

Aphrodite cleared her throat. “Have you forgotten? It’s Valentine’s Day today, Cupid. You can’t have a contest until you go to your temples.”

Cupid smacked his forehead, losing a few laurel leaves from his wreath in the process. “It’s no problem, Ma. I’ll have a cherub do it. No worries.”

Apollo snickered. “I’ll be waiting for you when you finish your chores, honey.”

“Shut up!”

“You shut up!”

Aphrodite frowned. “Cupid, your patron day is a serious responsibility. You can’t ignore your saintly duties.”

Cupid stood from the table, eager to follow his opponent and prove his skill as the top-ranked archer in Olympus. “I know, Ma! I said I’d do it, okay?”

“But—”

The sound of his mother’s voice faded as Cupid skipped through the Great Hall to the courtyard. He whistled for a cherub before he stepped through the bower. One of the many winged babies that followed him flew over, its tiny wings pumping furiously to propel its oversized body. Cupid unslung his golden bow and silver quiver. “Here,” he said as he handed them to the cherub. It struggled to stay aloft with the extra burden. “Go to earth and be a presence. Don’t shoot anything, okay? Just act like me. Pose a bit, hold the bow, maybe pretend like you’re going to loose an arrow. But don’t actually do it. Got that?”

The cherub nodded. “Sir? I have a question. My sister’s friend? Her name is Grogda—”

Cupid paused. “Wow. That’s an unfortunate name, there.”

“Yes. That’s why I’m asking you for help. Her name is the prettiest thing about her, see,” the cherub said.

“Oh, ouch,” Cupid said.

The cherub nodded. “So I was wondering if, maybe, you could use one of your flaming arrows to help someone love her?”

“They’re not … listen, they don’t flame! Those are for a different kind of love. I’m not sure why everyone has the wrong end of the stick on that,” Cupid said. “Listen, I don’t have time to help your friend’s—”

“Sister’s friend.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Cupid could see Apollo setting up the targets. “No using invisible arrows!” he called.

“So can I?” the cherub asked.

“What?” Cupid asked. He could just make out Apollo’s first target. It seemed too far away. Was he cheating?

“Use the arrows to help her?” the cherub asked.

Cupid jiggled his leg, desperate to check the target length for himself. “Uh-huh. Okay, now, be careful.”

“Thanks!”

Cupid headed for the field to begin the contest. “Yo! I’m watching you. Cheater.”

Apollo spread his hands. “Whatevs, man. I have nothing to hide. I can beat you however you want to set the spread here. Go ahead. I’ll wait.”

Cupid scowled. “No, I’m cool. Let’s get going.”

“Where’s that famous bow of yours?” Apollo asked. “You’re always bragging on those special arrows.”

“No, I’m not!” Cupid said. “My skill is in these guns, baby.” He flexed an arm for show.

Apollo laughed. “Come on. I set the course, so you have first shot.”

“Pearls before swine, bro,” Cupid said.

“Pshaw. Whatever. Just shut up and take your best shot.” Apollo rolled his eyes.

Cupid retrieved his back-up bow from his pack and took careful aim at the first target. He adjusted for wind speed and pulled back the arrow to the required tension. Just as he was about to take the shot, a voice broke his concentration. “Excuse me, sir?”

“What?” Cupid relaxed his stance.

It was the cherub. “There’s a wee problem on earth.”

“What is it? I’m in the middle of something here, you know?” Cupid said.

Apollo snorted. “Can’t handle your issues, man?”

“Butt out, buttinsky. Eavesdrop much?” Cupid narrowed his eyebrows. To the cherub, he asked, “So what is it?”

The cherub sighed. “I missed the mark with the arrow. I was aiming for Grogda—”

“Who?” Cupid asked.

“My sister’s friend? The one who—”

Cupid waved his hand. “Whatever. So, basically, you ignored me and fired an arrow when you weren’t allowed. That’s the problem here. It’s noncompliance. And moreover, it’s lousy aim. Don’t you ever practice?”

“No, that wasn’t what you—”

“Dude. I get it. It’s all right, I’m not going to kill you over it,” Cupid said. “Who did you hit instead? Was it a total hottie? A married guy? It wasn’t a dog or something, was it? The possibilities are endless.”

The cherub twisted his toga into a ball. “It hit a garden gnome.”

Apollo laughed.

Cupid stared. “A what, now?”

“A garden gnome. You know, one of those decorative statues?” The cherub bit his lip.

“That’s a first!” Apollo said around his glee. “What a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! I love it! Wait ‘til your mom hears about this.”

Cupid pulled back his lip in a sneer. “She isn’t going to hear about it, unless you’re a little baby tattletale. Great! So this lady is in love with a stone?”

The cherub mumbled in the affirmative.

Apollo laughed harder.

“Shut up and let me think,” Cupid said.

“That would be a first!” Apollo said.

Cupid stuck out his tongue. “Give me my arrows back. I need to do this one myself.”

The cherub handed over the bow and quiver, visibly relieved to be absolved of his burden.

Cupid scanned earth for the woman in question. It didn’t take long for him to find Grogda. He nocked his bow with a lead-tipped arrow and took aim. Even from Olympus, the shaft flew straight and true, and the woman was released from her unnatural desire. She unclasped the statue, dazed and not a little confused by the entire episode.

“Done and dusted,” Cupid announced. “No biggie. But more than you could have done.”

“Right,” Apollo said.

“Listen, I’m bored of this. Want to go hassle Dionysus? I hear he has a new brew on tap. He might give us a nip,” Cupid said.

Apollo shrugged. “Sure. Lemme pull the sun to midday and I’ll be there in a jiff.”

“Yeah, all right.” Cupid slung his bow over his shoulder and headed inside, the competition already forgotten. It was turning out to be a fine Valentine’s Day after all.

John Vicary began publishing poetry in the fifth grade and has been writing ever since. A contributor to many compendiums, his most recent credentials include short fiction in the collections “The Longest Hours”, “Anthology of the Mad Ones” , “Midnight Circus” and issues of “Alternating Current”, “Timeless Tales”, “Garden of Eden” and the Birmingham Arts Journal. He has stories in upcoming issues of Disturbed Digest, “Creepy Weird Horror Stories”, “Plague: an Anthology of Sickness and Death”, a charity anthology entitled “Second Chance”, and “Dead Men’s Tales”. John lives in rural Michigan with his family. You can read more of his work at keppiehed.com.

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