Friday, December 6, 2019

"Figments and Fragments" by Deborah Sheldon

Figments and Fragments:
Dark Stories
by Deborah Sheldon

Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories by Deborah Sheldon

Figments and Fragments by Deborah Sheldon is currently on tour with Silver Dagger Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Brutal. Compelling. Sinister.
From wheat farms, roadhouses, caravan parks and beaches to quiet suburban streets and inner-city apartments, award-winning author Deborah Sheldon tells distinctly Australian stories about violence, loss, betrayal, and revenge.
Figments and Fragments includes three new stories written especially for the collection.

Blue Light Taxi
You stumble from the bar, giggling. The street is a blur of tram tracks, shop fronts and parked cars. There must be stars overhead, but the streetlights are too bright for you to see them.
“Wait,” you shout, and laugh, doubling up.
Far ahead, the two detectives, striding to a Holden sedan, stop and look around. You turn to the couple behind you. What are their names again? They are talking, not making sense, every syllable floating off like a balloon. The earth tilts beneath your stilettos. One of the detectives, the chubby-cheeked one, suddenly has his arm pressed around your waist, his sweating hand on your hip. You smell whisky and cigarettes.
“Come on, you can’t call it a night,” he says. “We’ve got that party, remember?”
You say, “Just help me to the car, Hedgehog.”
The chubby-cheeked detective sniggers. Hedgehog is your name for him; you came up with it during your fifth or sixth or whatever champagne. His short hair is gelled into needles, and he’s pear-shaped, a waddler, a stout little hedgehog on hind legs. You giggle again.
He says, “Can you walk? Do you want me to carry you?”
“Oh, no, I hope she’s not sick,” a female voice says.
You glance at the couple: the greasy-faced girl with her scruffy coat shedding nylon faux-fur from its lapels; the skinny boy with his straight-leg jeans, long fringe and cardigan. They are very young. Older than you, of course, but so cloistered and middle-class that when you and the detectives used them for laughs they didn’t even know it. But they bought drinks too, so what the hell.
“I think she needs coffee,” the chubby-cheeked detective says.
You push away from him and dash along the footpath towards the other detective, who has his hands on his hips, his suit jacket pushed back to reveal his crumpled shirt, his paunch, his shoulder holster, the butt of a .45. Your stiletto heels clack and smack against concrete. Each footfall sends shock waves up your legs. The world is sliding. The detective catches you by your elbows, straightens you up.
“Know what you look like?” he says. “A baby horse, all legs and no balance. I was waiting for you to face-plant.”
“Oh yeah? What would you have done?”
“Left you there.”
Under the streetlight, he’s a lot older than you thought, maybe fifty. He wears his thinning brown hair to his collar in a style too youthful for the lines around his eyes and the yellow of his long teeth.
You say, “If I’m Baby Horse and he’s Hedgehog, then you’re Mister Fox.” You laugh but he doesn’t.
He looks over your head and says, “What about them?” and lets go of you.
You turn. The couple is right there, staring at you. The girl especially seems fascinated, like she’s never seen anything like you before. It’s a look you already know from high school, you with your sneer and your piercings, those scars along your arms. Cliques of girls look at you that same way every lunchtime and recess when they walk on by.
“Hurry up, let’s go,” says the chubby-cheeked detective, standing at the Holden sedan. Then he snatches a parking ticket from under the windscreen wiper and flips it to the gutter without even looking at it, without even commenting. A warm thrill diffuses through you.
A V8 packed with teenagers and thumping rap music ploughs past. A bottle smashes against the footpath.
“Arrest them,” you shout, and lean against the Holden, closing your eyes.
You’re bundled into the back of the car. You crawl along the seat and slump against the window on the far side. The boy gets in next to you, the girl takes the other window seat, and the detectives are in front with the older one behind the wheel. The sedan pulls away from the kerb.
“Oh my God,” you say, peering around the driver’s seat to point at the two-way radio and handset recessed into the dashboard. “Is this an unmarked cop car?”
“Aw, don’t tell me this is your first ride in a blue light taxi,” says the chubby-cheeked detective. “A fine, upstanding girl like you.”
“Wow,” you say, “have you got lights and sirens?”
“It’s a frigging cop car, isn’t it?” he says, and snorts through his nose. “How many have you had tonight, honey? Bottles, not glasses. You’re way past counting glasses.”
Yes, I am, you think. I’m way past counting anything anymore. For a few seconds, thoughts of home come to you, but staccato, each one quickly lost, beads on an open-ended string. It doesn’t matter. You don’t want to think about your family.
“What’s the fastest you can drive?” you say.
“Depends on the traffic,” the older detective says.
“Well, I can’t see much traffic right now.”
The older detective turns his head to catch your eye. He smirks. The chubby-cheeked detective gapes at you joyfully and slaps his thigh.
The older detective says, “She’s a bit of a firecracker, isn’t she? We’re gonna have to watch her, mate, what do you reckon?”
“Oh yeah,” the chubby-cheeked detective says. “Oh, shit yeah.”
“Come on,” you say. “Come on.”
They glance at each other. You become aware that you’re holding your breath. A small male voice says, “I don’t think we should.” Startled, you look around. It is the couple. You forgot about them, yet here they are, two church mice.
The acceleration slams you off balance. The siren and strobing lights almost stop your heart. Then you grab the back of the driver’s seat and hang on, whooping.
The car takes a corner, tyres screaming on the bitumen. You point at the red light up ahead and yell, “Don’t stop.” The car blows through the intersection. You point again, yelling, “Drive on the wrong side,” and the car fishtails over the line. The posted limit is sixty, but the speedometer quivers over one-twenty-five.
The chubby-cheeked detective, his eyes bright, murmurs, “Oh, honey, you’re loving this, right?”
You point at a one-way sign and yell, “Turn into that street,” and the car does. You are god of this machine. The rush threatens to take off the top of your skull.
There is a sudden dazzle of headlights.
The older detective leans on the horn and the headlights slew out of the way. You blast past a hatchback, a shocked face at the window, and your laugh is wild. The detectives are laughing too. You remember Mister and Missus Church Mouse and how much you hated their white-bread sensibilities but you’re expansive now, all forgiving, gracious, and you turn to them, a benevolent deity.
It’s a scene from another movie. The girl appears to be crying. The boy’s lips are pulled back from his teeth. The couple is shrunk into the seat, clutching at each other.
The car lurches to a halt. It is a red light. A semi-trailer is lumbering across the intersection.
The girl flings open the door. The couple tumbles from the car and sprints down the footpath, coat tails and cardigan flapping. Their animal panic makes you understand that you should be bailing right along with them, that these detectives should be watching the pitching frills of your polyester dress as you also run to safety.
“I guess they’ve changed their mind about the party,” the older detective says, and turns off the siren.
“Aw, stuff ’em, so what.” The chubby-cheeked detective gets out of the car, shuts the back door, and climbs into the front passenger seat again.
The older detective turns off the spinning blue and red lights. The car has pulled in its teeth and claws. Now it’s just another vehicle on the road, a plain Holden sedan. Your heart rate drops, your eyes fill. You’ve had enough but the night isn’t over yet.
“Ready, honey?” the chubby-cheeked detective says.
You nod.
The light turns green.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
“I really enjoyed this collection, unlike others I’ve read all the stories were interesting, well written and engaging, not just one or two.” ~ Allen James on Goodreads
“Deborah Sheldon is adept at drawing you in, writing fast, furious dialogue, making you smell and taste the landscape and the characters’ sweat, taking you on a journey with the lost, the displaced, the broken, the runaways, the misfits and the mad, who populate the pages.” ~ Alyson Rhodes on Goodreads

My Review
I received this book in return for an honest review.

By Lynda Dickson
This is a collection of thirty-six dark short (and extremely short) stories.
In “Basket Trap”, Helen uses the survival skills her father taught her as a child in order to survive an ordeal in the Brazilian wilderness.
In “Risk of Recurrence” Dr. Wainscott diagnoses a patient with cancer but doesn’t get the reaction he expects.
“Family Album” details the poignancy behind a family photograph.
In ”Farm Hands”, Carl hires two men to do some work for him and gets more than he bargained for.
In “Blue Light Taxi”, a drunk girl goes for a ride in a police car.
In “Lunch at the Trout Farm”, Jake’s parents take him to a trout farm for his birthday, but things aren’t as perfect as they appear on the surface.
In “Road Rage”, Chrissy recovers from a road rage incident at her brother’s house.
In “The Caldwell Case”, Detective Sergeant Higgins investigates a case that has him stumped.
In “Beach House” Rosemarie returns to the family beach house years after a tragic accident.
In “Man with the Suitcase”, it seems everyone wants what’s in that suitcase.
In, “Shootout at Cardenbridge”, Sergeant Maggie Drummond is involved in a shootout at a rural property. This one reads like a factual account, so much so that I googled the town to find out if it was real. It wasn’t.
In “Parrots and Pelicans”, Anna gets more than she bargained for when she agrees to mind her grandson.
In “The Sequined Shirt”, Joanne stays at a caravan park and runs into someone from her past.
In “Getting and Giving”, Maureen tells us what happened between her and her abusive boyfriend.
In “We Have What You Want”, Gordon deals with a difficult customer.
In “Baggage”, Aphrodite moves into a new unit and meets her neighbors.
In “Muscle Fatigue”, a mother shows her son how to weight train.
In “Waiting for the Huntsman”, Natalie is forced to spend a few days at her uncle’s farmhouse.
In “Cash Cow”, Sarah is placed in an uncomfortable position when her ex asks her to do something illegal for him.
In “One Grand Plan”, Daniel takes a moving job but finds himself in the middle of a shootout.
In “Free Lunch”, an uninvited couple attends a wake.
In “Paramour”, Janice meets a man in a bar.
In “White Powder”, Lorraine makes a terrible decision.
In “Rooftop”, Nina makes a phone call from the top of a building.
In “Lopping and Removal in Three Parts”, John sets up a tree lopping business.
In “Family Business”, Mimi and Damien get the job done.
In “Burnover”, Mandy worries for the safety of her husband, who is a firefighter.
In “Party Animals”, Reston has too much to drink.
In “Flashpoint”, Rebecca takes her parents hostage.
In “Fortune Teller”, a fortune teller reveals her secrets.
In “Hot Dog Van”, Adam makes a deal he might end up regretting.
In “Broken Things”, Craig moves back in with his father after a motorcycle accident.
In “Crazy Town is a Happy Place”, Dr. Vivienne Leach shows a young reporter around her dementia care facility.
In “Toby Mulligan”, Diane searches for the gravestone of her childhood dog.
In “Last Visit to Samuel P. Garfield”, Belinda struggles to get to the hospital before her father dies.
In “November 9th 1989”, Dr. Ian Webb bonds with his patient over shared memories.
The stories mostly detail the lengths some people will go to in order to survive. They depict violence, rape, and murder, but also longing and regret. Settings include a South American forest, the Australian countryside, the city, small towns, the beach, and even an airplane. It’s nice to read Australian writing that isn’t either historical or all set in the outback. The word “Fragments” in the title is certainly an apt description, as a lot of the pieces aren’t fully formed short stories, but more vignettes imparting a certain mood or feeling. Some stories don’t even conclude: “One Grand Plan” and “Paramour” are especially infuriating with their lack of an ending. There are some minor editing errors, mainly consisting of the use of a mixture of American and Australian English.
My favorite stories: “White Powder”, “Lopping and Removal in Three Parts”, “Crazy Town is a Happy Place”.
Warnings: rape, graphic violence, coarse language.

About the Author
Deborah Sheldon
I'm an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. I write short stories, novellas, and novels across the darker spectrum.
My latest releases, through several publishing houses, include the horror novels Body Farm Z, Contrition, and Devil Dragon; the horror novella Thylacines; the crime-noir novellas Dark Waters and Ronnie and Rita; and the dark fantasy and horror collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (winner of the Australian Shadows Best Collected Work 2017).
My short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo. My fiction has been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in various “best of” anthologies. I'm also guest editor of this year's edition of Midnight Echo.
Other credits include TV scripts such as Neighbours and Australia's Most Wanted, feature articles for national magazines, non-fiction books published by Reed Books and Random House, and award-winning medical writing.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card or an ebook copy of Figments and Fragments by Deborah Sheldon.


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