brendan halpin


Well, the last of my short stories I still had out on submission finally got rejected. (From Mystery Tribune, which is a good publication that puts out a gorgeous physical magazine, and which I recommend despite this stunning lapse in editorial judgment.)

So nothing I’ve written in the last ten years is now part of the publishing industrial complex, and I’m honestly quite relieved. I had no idea what a toll the constant cycle of submission and rejection was taking on me until I stopped.

Anyway, this is a nice little story that’s free of bloodshed and gore. It’s really about a friendship. I wrote it in part because I missed my friend Liz who died in 2009. We aren’t the characters in this story, and this friendship isn’t our friendship, so I can’t really explain how writing this helped me with missing her. But it did.

The only content warnings this time out are for addiction. Both main characters are struggling with sobriety.



Calvin woke up at 7, vomited, crawled back into bed, got up at 9:52, vomited again, and spent the next hour in bed cursing himself for being a cliche. Well, first cursing himself for drinking too much, again, and then cursing himself for being a cliche.


Old friend Seamus Cooper, author of The Mall of Cthulhu, stopped by yesterday and dropped off a story in manuscript form. “A little break from my arcane studies!” he said before disappearing into the night. I present it here for your amusement.


Content warnings: emotional abuse, severed hand

Everything changed the day she found the hand.


Alter ego Seamus Cooper penned this five years ago. There were more parts planned, (and promised in the foreword!) but they never came to pass. Cooper tells me he needs time to fully recover his sanity before diving back into the depictions of eldritch horrors therein. So here’s part one: “Something Fishy!” Read at your own risk!


I fully expect questions. How did you come across these manuscripts? Are we but meaningless specks of dust adrift in an uncaring universe? Can a dog really talk?

Unfortunately I have no answers, or at least no satisfactory ones. One day, the first manuscript appeared, quite literally, on my doorstep, typed on an actual typewriter and wrapped in twine. Curiosity compelled me to begin reading, and the writer’s skill compelled me to finish.

I should reveal, in the spirit of  honesty, but also as a warning, that I did not sleep for three nights after reading the first manuscript. Months later, a second appeared, and, the process—read, shudder, lie awake for three nights in feverish contemplation of the horrors I had just read—repeated. Manuscripts continued to arrive on my doorstep at irregular intervals afterwards.  Have the deliveries ceased?

O God! I pray that they have.

I share these with you now for purely selfish motives. For one of the things that has been most difficult about being the recipient, caretaker, and only reader of these tales is the terrible weight of being the only person alive, outside of the four (or, depending on your definition of person, five) who are the subjects of these tales, who knows the terrible truth about the world in which we live.

I warn you, therefore, that the secrets contained in these tales, once they have settled into your brain, can never be un-known. I’m sure some of you will say, “Very well, then! Let the scales fall from my eyes!” I encourage you to reconsider. For the scales that obscure the true nature of our world provide comfort enough that you can go about your mundane routines and fall into the sweet embrace of Morpheus at days’ end, and after you read this, these simple pleasures may be denied you.


--Seamus Cooper

Providence, RI, September 2018


This is a short (2800 word) noir story I wrote for an anthology where it failed to find a home. It has also garnered rejections from a number of fine short fiction publications. It’s a nasty little jolt of a story that does exactly what I wanted it to do. It’s noir, so content warnings aplenty: Suicide (discussed), Sexual abuse (discussed), violence and murder (depicted).

I don’t think anybody really wants to work third shift, but that was the job that was open, so that was the job I took. Doing security for minimum wage plus a buck twenty-five an hour shift bonus at a warehouse in Somerville. It was boring as shit.

That’s inaccurate. Because even shit varies. Whereas security at the Krebs Envelope warehouse was exactly the fuckin same every single night. Walkthrough at 12:30 PM after the last of the second shift workers were out, just to make sure nobody was hiding in the machinery or, I don’t know, fucking in the break room or whatever. Another walkthrough at 3 AM, and a final one at 6:30 before anybody from first shift was in the building. Every walkthrough exactly the same: me walking around, shining a flashlight, not seeing shit. But I had to do it because if I didn’t show up on the security camera footage walking through the warehouse at the appointed times, I would be summarily fired. Or so my boss at Gravitas Security told me.

So: same shit every night. I read a lot of books, played a lot of games, watched a lot of TV. Easy money, and I should have been happy. I was even saving because I never got to go out. But it sucked. One night I got off the T at 11 o’clock and was seriously thinking about just bailing on the whole thing. Stop going to work, get evicted I guess, and then what? Move back in with Mom?

Might as well be dead. I knew I had to find a way to get through the night. The Store 24 two blocks away was open, so I went in. There was a young woman behind the counter. Short, black hair, sleeve tats—I’m not gonna say she made the Store 24 uniform shirt look good because that’s impossible, but she looked good despite it. I was browsing for a while, and she was behind the counter on her phone. I couldn’t find anything exciting enough to get me out of my seat for the 3AM walkthrough.

And then I realized I knew somebody else who worked the late shift who might be able to give me some advice. I got a can of Red Bull, I guess because they didn’t sell caffeinated piss and this was the closest thing. And it was also good to have another purchase in my hand when I asked her about snacks so she wouldn’t think I was just there to perv on her. So I went up with my Red Bull and said, “Hey, so I work all night at the warehouse down the street and it’s boring as fuck and I need a snack I can like, look forward to at 3 AM so I don’t just run screaming into the night from being bored out of my skull. Got any recommendations?”

She smiled. “Get those wasabi almonds,” she said, pointing at an endcap that had a lot of skinny plastic bags of nuts. “Wake your ass right up. If you take a handful, it feels like your nostrils are on fire. Not, like, completely pleasant, but if you’re gonna fall asleep and then get fired, those’ll do the trick.”

I bought two bags. “Thanks” I said. “If I don’t get fired tonight, I’ll owe you.”

“Does that mean I get a cut of your paycheck?” she asked, and at that moment I had this stray thought like I would totally give you anything you asked for, but that sounded both dorky and creepy in my mind, so let it go.

But I was back the next night. I brought a flower. I was like, “Hey, I wanted to thank you for the tip about the wasabi almonds, and I was gonna like, bring some food in, but I don’t know if you’ve got food allergies or whatever, so I went with a rose.”

She looked at me for like ten seconds, then said, “You bought me a rose. Because you were afraid I had food allergies.”

“I mean, I guess it...I mean, you were nice to me on a shitty day, and I wanted to say thank you.”

“Well,” she said, looking at the rose and smiling, “You’re welcome.”

And so that’s how I wound up going back there the next night and the one after that and pretty much every night before work. I started taking an earlier train so I would have a few more minutes to shoot the shit with her. Her name was Candace, and if you called her Candy she would put a Doc Martens so far up your ass she’d knock your teeth out from the inside. Or so she told me. I did not want to test it.

After a couple of days we exchanged numbers and then we would text each other while we were working. I probably should have asked her out sooner, but, and I know this is going to sound dumb, but she was the only thing making my job bearable, and so the only thing keeping me anchored to a stable life. Or a life that was on the way to stability, anyway. If we went out and it was weird, or she decided she hated me or whatever, I’d have to go and be alone in the warehouse again with no texting and no wasabi nuts, and I honestly didn’t think I’d last a week.

But then I decided I was going to do it because it was dumb not to. It had been a month and she was going to think I wasn’t interested if I didn’t pull the trigger. So I walked in and walked straight up to the counter and said, “Hey, so I’ve got my day off in a couple days, and I don’t know if you—” and that was as far as I got because at that moment I swear to God David Fucking Chapman walked into the Store 24.

In order to understand what came next, you have to know a little bit about David Fucking Chapman. He was a Latin teacher at Boston Classical when I was in seventh grade there. Teacher of the year like three times. Everybody loved him—one of those teachers who has a little cult around him all the time because he’s mister inspirational Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society or whatever.

I always found him creepy, but my sister Bridget liked him. Until he raped her. But she was just townie trash with a drunk for a dad and a mom who was never home, and he was teacher of the year and worked at Boston Classical where the mayor and half the city council went, and if you thought anybody was gonna stand up for a girl like my sister against that kind of power, well, you’re obviously rich or stupid or both.

After the rape came the drugs and…well, I don’t wanna get into it, but my big sister Bridget was dead four years later. And our whole fuckin family blew up. I stopped going to school because why go to school when they just protect rapists there, Dad left and never came back (this part wasn’t actually that bad), and Mom just decided she was gonna do nothing but sit in front of the TV 16 hours a day for the rest of her life.

So imagine my surprise when David Chapman walks into a Store 24 in Somerville at 11:30 on a Tuesday night.  “Hey, Mr. Chapman!!” I said when he walked in. He looked at me, confused.

“Did I have you in class?” he said.

“No, but you had my sister. Bridget Connolly?” I watched his face to see if he would flinch or have any kind of tell that he felt guilty or afraid. He didn’t.

“Mmm. Sorry, I don’t remember, but I have a lot of students, you know.”

I got up real close to him. “Yeah, but how many of those do you rape? I mean, I bet it’s a lot, motherfuckers like you always do it a lot, but it can’t be so many that you actually forget them. Can it? Bridget Connolly? Nothing?”

Now he looked uncomfortable, but I figured this was more because I was in his face than because he remembered my sister. I grabbed him by the collar and slammed his face on the counter. I heard his nose break, and blood went everywhere.

“Bridget Connolly,” I said. “Remember her now, you piece of shit?”

“I…I have no idea what you’re...” BANG. I slammed his head down again. He started crying “Please,” he said. “You’ve got the wrong—”

I brought a knee into his nuts before he could finish his lie.  He crumpled to the ground, and I got on top of him and started slamming his head on the linoleum. “Bridget! Connolly! Bridget! Connolly!” I said, over and over again. He was crying and I didn’t care because I missed my sister and she deserved better than she got, and she might have had a chance if it weren’t for this fuck.

I guess I kept slamming him for a while, because I felt Candace’s hand on my shoulder. “Hey,” she said. “I think he’s had enough.”

I looked at the bloody mess underneath me and at my bloody knuckles. Looked like maybe I punched him in the mouth a few times too. There was a tooth on the floor next to his head. Candace reached down and felt at his neck. Then she kicked him in the ribs. He didn’t react. “Yeah, I think he’s dead,” she said.

I immediately came off my anger high and just stared into space, feeling like I had just been dropped into someone else’s life. Candace put her arms around me for five seconds. “Hey,” she said. “I need you here. You can fall apart later,” she said. “But right now we’ve got some work to do.”             “What do you mean?” I said. I was just starting to realize that I had killed a guy in a Store 24 and was maybe going to spend the rest of my life in jail.

“I mean, you wanna go to jail for killing that asshole, or you wanna do a little work?” She dug into the guy’s pocket and pulled out the key to his Prius. “Take this,” she said.  She locked the front door and turned out the store lights. She went to the little machine where the hot dogs and taquitos rotated on hot rollers and grabbed two pairs of gloves.

“Help me move him to the back door,” she said, so I did.

“Great. Now I’m gonna disable the security cameras. You—pour some bleach in that bucket and mop the shit out of the floor, then wipe down the counter and anywhere you see blood.” She looked at me. “And you’re eventually gonna have to bleach the uniform and probably throw the shoes away somewhere far from where you usually go. I don’t suppose you’ve got any extra clothes?”

“Um. No.”

“Okay, well, for now, wash the blood out of that shirt. Just don’t forget to bleach everything later. And then maybe burn it. Except the shoes. The soles stink like hell and make a lot of black smoke.”

I washed the blood out of the shirt in the bathroom sink, then got to work mopping.

Even though there was light from the streetlights spilling into the store, it was still a little challenging to mop in the dark, and a couple of times people came to the door and I had to duck behind the chips and stuff, but it only took me ten minutes or so to get the floor mopped and the counter wiped down.

I smelled something horrible and started to cough. I looked over at the counter, where Candace was pulling something off the hot dog roller with a pair of tongs. “Sorry about the smell,” she said. “Had to cook the security camera DVR’s hard drive. Now I’m gonna go reinstall it.”

I didn’t really know what she was talking about, but I trusted her.

I dumped out the mop bucket and put the paper towels in a garbage bag which I threw in the dumpster.

“Great. Now here’s the plan. You’re gonna pull his car around—oh, I guess you better call in sick, by the way, this is gonna take a while.”

“Shit. I am totally getting fired.”

“Yeah, I know this is gonna be a big loss for you because your job is really something special. Kind of like mine! But maybe one day, if you’re really lucky, you can find another job that sucks your soul out.”

“Okay, okay, touch ,” I said.

“Also it’s better than going to jail.”

I pulled the Prius around back and we wrestled the body that once belonged to David Fucking Chapman into the passenger seat. “I kind of wish I’d let him live and just cut his dick off,” I said.

“Yeah, well,” Candace answered, “Maybe you can do that to the next rapist. Now, turn your phone off. Then drive the car to Everett, by the casino. Send a text from his phone to anybody in his contacts when you get there. Doesn’t matter what—you just have to make sure his phone pings a tower there. But stay out of the Casino lot—they’re bound to have cameras. Wipe the phone down and stomp it till you’re sure it’s broken and leave it on the ground. Then drive to the rear parking lot of the Wellington Orange Line station. If you drive to the far end of the station you can back right up to the tree line. Pull him out of the back of the car and drag him to the water—it’s only about fifty feet to the Malden River.”

She had very specific knowledge of how and where and how to dump a body. I did not ask why.

“Don’t take the T because there are cameras in the station. You’re gonna have to walk back. Oh yeah, and keep those gloves on until you’re out of the car. Then ditch ‘em.”

“Got it,” I said. I followed her directions. When I saw the sign for the casino, I pressed Chapman’s dead finger on the phone and then sent a text to the number one person in his frequent contacts: Marjorie. “Going to the casino,” I said, then turned the phone off. It turned out to be very hard to text using a dead guy’s fingers. Stomping the phone to death was much easier.

After this, it took me about fifteen minutes to find my way to the rear parking lot at Wellington Station because of course I couldn’t turn my phone on to navigate there. But I did eventually find it, and it was exactly as Candace had said. I pulled Chapman out of the back of the Prius and dumped him into the Malden River, which was more of a creek here, but whatever. There was enough water for his corpse to start floating away. “Good riddance, you fuck,” I said.

Then I started the long walk back to Somerville. Maybe I should have gone home instead of back to the scene of the crime, but I felt like I was just about to fall apart, and I needed to see Candace again.

It took a little over an hour to get back, but I didn’t have anything else to do. I walked in and looked around at the immaculate store. You’d never know a guy was murdered here a couple hours ago. From behind the counter, Candace said, “Welcome to Store 24!”

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’m off at 6:30,” she said. “And you’re taking me to breakfast. Least you can do.”

She was right about that. The morning shift guy came in, and she sloughed off her Store 24 shirt, revealing the Misfits T-shirt underneath.

We walked away from the store, arm in arm, not talking. And after a block or so, I started to cry. I just had a lot of feelings all the sudden, and it got kind of overwhelming. We stopped, and she gently wiped the tears from my cheeks. “Hey,” she said. “You did a good thing. You don’t have to feel bad.”

“I don’t feel bad about that guy,” I said. “I just…it didn’t bring my sister back. You know? She’s still dead, my old man’s still a drunk piece of shit, and my Mom is still catatonic in front of the TV. Nothing’s better.”             “Well,” she said. “Maybe it’ll be better when we get the next one.”

“What next one?” I said.

“I’ll tell you over breakfast,” she said.


#ShortStory #fiction

If you liked this story, you might well enjoy my novel The Long Detention. Pay what you want!