“An Unwelcome Guest” by Jon PaperNick

Introduction by R. B. Wood

The world is burning.

Professor Papernick is a teacher, an author, a mentor, and a friend. I met him during my tenure at Emerson College studying for my MFA. When I first met him, his intensity and focus scared the living hell out of me. Which, of course, meant that I had to get to know this man. Since I graduated, Jon and i became friends–I love passionate people and Jon is both passionate and pragmatic. We would talk for hours about writing, movies, television, the writing industry, and so much more. The story that follows is one he wrote years ago, but will resonate with what’s happening in the world today. Among Jon’s many passions is his Jewish faith and I felt that An Unwelcome Guest would be a way to showcase my friend’s passion and pain regarding the state of the world in the fall of 2023.

An Unwelcome Guest 

Yossi Bar-Yosef felt his young wife Devorah stir in sleep. He rolled over in bed, felt her warm breath against his face and lay watching her until she was still again. Then she slept quietly. A large round moon hung low over Jerusalem, its white light spilling into their Muslim Quarter apartment. He sat up in bed, reached for his kippah on the nightstand, and placed it on his head. The night was silent in contrast to the chaos of the day; Arab merchants hawking fruits and vegetables, pilgrims shouting prayers and curses, army patrols strolling through the narrow stone streets. Now he could only hear his wife’s even breathing and the two soldiers joking quietly in Hebrew beneath their bedroom window. In a few hours the muezzin would call the Ishmaelites to prayer for the first time in the new day. 

He got out of bed and made his way to the kitchen by moonlight, nearly skipping all the way in his bare feet. It was the month of Tishri and the stone floors were chilly even for early autumn. He filled a pot with water, lit the gas with a match, and stood by the stove for a moment thinking of his wife, his Devorah Bee: her soft olive skin, her curly brown hair, her green eyes, the way her body felt beneath his. 

“You are welcome,” the Arab man said, startling Yossi. “Welcome. Have a seat,” he said gesturing to the empty chair at the kitchen table. “Welcome,” the Arab man said again, smiling. 

Yossi did not wonder how the old man had crept past the soldiers in the street, nor did he wonder how he had found his way through the locked door. He had waited every Passover for Elijah the Prophet to arrive and drink his cup of wine, and he prayed daily for the coming of the 

Messiah. Yossi knew that many people wandered the dreamy moonlit paths between sleep and prayer in this golden city of light and stone. 

The Arab may have been sixty-five or seventy years old. His face was cracked like a wadi in the heat of summer, his nose round, bulbous, and pocked like a Judean hilltop, his thin salt and pepper mustache ratty, careless, a goatherd’s mustache. He wore a black and white checked kaffiyeh on his head and a filthy striped caftan that reached almost to his slippered feet. 

“Sit,” said the Arab man in English. “We will share some tea and nana.” “What do you want here?”
The Arab man said nothing.
“My wife. She’s sleeping.” 

“She sleeps like a baby.” 

The thought of someone invading his new wife’s privacy, someone even imagining Devorah asleep infuriated Yossi. He took a step forward and whispered through his teeth, “Get out! Why are you . . .” 

“The water is ready,” the Arab man said, cutting Yossi off. 

Yossi turned his attention to the pot. The water bubbled over, hissing against the stove’s flames. 

“My name is Ziad.”
“Who are you?” Yossi asked.
“I am Ziad Abu Youssif.”
“You are in the wrong place. This is a private home,” Yossi said, returning with the pot of water.
The old man only straightened his kaffiyeh on his head, smiled, and reached for a glass. He poured himself some water and said, “You are a rabbi?” 

“No. No. I am studying. Near the Kotel.”
The Arab man smiled a brown-toothed smile. “So you are a rabbi.”
“I’m not a rabbi yet. I am studying,” Yossi said, and then asked, “Why are you here?”
“This is my home, rabbi,” the Arab man answered in an even tone. “A tea bag, please.” “Your home?” Yossi said, surprised. “This is my home.”
“How long have you stayed here?” the Arab man asked.
“Eight months.”
“You are just married?” the Arab asked, taking a tea bag from a tin on the table. “Where are you from?”
“New York,” Yossi answered. 

“I was born in that room, where you sleep. My first son, Youssif, the dark one, was born in the same room. My father was born where you are sitting. This was not always a kitchen.” 

“If this is your house what color are the tiles on the floor of my bedroom?”
“The Jews are always changing things.”
They sat in silence while their tea brewed in front of them. Then they drank. After a moment 

Yossi bit his lip at the corner, about to ask, “Why did you leave?” but before he had a chance, the old man said, “There were wars.” 

Yossi knew that many Arabs had fled Israel in 1948 and again during the Six-Day War. He had seen the squalid refugee camps and the anguished faces on his TV set, but he also knew the names Khmelnitski, Babi-Yar, and Auschwitz like a mantra. After a moment he said, “Abraham is your father as well as mine.” 

The old man did not seem to hear as he bent over to pick something up off the floor. It was a small wooden box. The Arab carefully placed it on the table between them. Yossi swallowed hard and thought about calling to the soldiers outside the window, but knew it would be useless. The bomb would go off before they could make it halfway up the stairs. 

It had only been eight months since he and Devorah had stood under the huppa, only eight months since he had first kissed her after stomping the traditional glass representing the fragility of life, eight months since he had first touched his virgin wife. That was supposed to be the beginning; a family, a Jewish family in the heart of Jerusalem, and now, they were about to be blown to bits like that bus he had seen smoldering in the spring rain on Jaffa Street. 

The Arab man undid a small latch and folded open a backgammon board.
“You play shesh besh?” he asked.
Yossi looked out the window and could see the moon higher over the city now, its light so bright, the face of the moon almost pulsing. “It’s the middle of the night.”

The Arab began setting up the board, the white stones first, then the black stone disks in their places. 

The old man took the last sip of his tea, “I will play you for the house. If you lose, I will live here again. If I lose, I will return to the Street of Chains begging for baksheesh.” 

Yossi was not interested in hearing about a broken man begging for shekels. He said, “No,” and then said, “no,” again. 

“I am joking, of course,” the Arab man said. “We will play for the right to speak.” 

Yossi would not get back to sleep now. He could feel his blood boiling through his body, his hands shaking, the small hairs at the back of his neck standing on end. “Okay. I’ll play. Just let me check on my wife.” 

“But, it’s your turn to roll.” The Arab man had already rolled the first die: a four. 

Yossi imagined his Devorah Bee curled up in bed, wetting her lips in sleep, kicking her leg against a bad dream. He thought of her slightly rounded belly and the child swimming within it. He stood halfway up from his chair, then picked up the die and rolled a three. 

“My move first,” the Arab man said. “Some more tea.” 

The old man rolled a six and a one. He moved the black stone to his side of the outer board, covering it with the one. Yossi rolled a two and a one. Already, one of his stones was unprotected. The Arab picked up the dice in his large hands and rolled. Then Yossi rolled. Only the sound of the dice clicking against the wooden board could be heard above the old man’s labored breathing. 

“Do you speak Hebrew?” the Arab asked.
“To read the Torah,” Yossi answered, head down.
“Tell me, Rabbi, how did you get here?”
Yossi tried to move his two white stones from the inner board but could not. His pieces were almost entirely blocked in. “Why here?” the Arab said. 

“‘If I should forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its strength.’ Tehillim. Psalm One thirty-seven,” Yossi said. 

“I do not forget,” the Arab man said, holding out his right hand. 

Yossi did not look up from the board and said matter-of-factly, “This land was given to us by God. It was given to us in trust to take care of. We are here because we are Jewish. Because the land was promised to us by God.”
The Arab rolled again, saying, “But we are both sons of Abraham.” 

Yossi rolled quickly and made his move. His mind was not on the game now. The Arab rolled the dice again. 

“Abraham was the best of men,” Yossi continued flatly, “But he contained some bad elements as we all do and those elements came out in his son Ishmael. He was the son of a slave girl. A wild man.” 

The old man’s stones were all strongly in place on his side of the inner board. Yossi rolled but still could not move his two white stones trapped deep among the Arab’s black stones. The Arab rolled and began removing his pieces from the board. “Beit ‘Itab,” he whispered. “Beit Mahsir,” he said on his next roll. “Deir el Hawa,” he said, removing two more pieces. “Jarash.” “Lifta.” “El Maliha.” “Suba,” he said, winning the game. Yossi cleared the board and began to set up another game. 

“Deir Yassin!” the Arab said loudly. “Do you know Deir Yassin, Rabbi?” 

Yossi motioned for the man to be quiet, he did not want to wake up his wife. The Arab lowered his voice. 

“Do you know of Deir Yassin? No. It was a beautiful little village of orange and lemon trees, almond trees, and date palms on the outside of Jerusalem. Like the others, it is also erased from the face of the earth. Now it is called Givat Shaul. I’m sure you know Givat Shaul.” 

He did know Givat Shaul; his wife’s aunt and uncle lived in an apartment not far from the mental institution. He had visited once or twice, but never saw a sign of Deir Yassin. 

“You came to Deir Yassin one morning . . .”
Yossi interrupted, “I’ve never been . . .”
“It’s my time to speak. I won the game. Now you must listen.”
Yossi shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“You came to Deir Yassin, a small quiet village at dawn. You were three hundred men with guns and mortars. You broke into homes, shot whole families, women and children, threw bombs into houses, machine-gunned us, butchered us, raped us. You took prisoners into the streets blindfolded and shot us dead. You left our bodies on the ground. You bound our hands, stripped us naked, put us in trucks, and drove us through the streets of Jerusalem. We were afraid and some of us ran.” 

Nonsense! Yossi thought. He had not even received his military training yet. He rolled the wooden die. 

“You tried to scare the Arabs out of Jerusalem,” the old man said and straightened his kaffiyeh. Then he rolled a three. It was Yossi’s turn to roll first. The moon had moved behind some clouds, leaving them in almost complete darkness. 

“Do you have a candle?” the old man asked. 

Yossi stood up in silence, walked to the pantry, and returned with two Shabbat candles. He lit them. 

“We’ll play until the winner of three,” the Arab said. 

This time Yossi was determined not to get caught in the back of the board. He would rush his two white stones out from the very start and race the rest of his stones around to his side before the Arab could do the same. Yossi rolled, and then the old man, and then Yossi. They moved quickly, sliding their stones around the board, hypnotized by the rhythm of the rolling dice. He was so busy concentrating on the board that he did not notice the old man had been speaking in Arabic. Smelling tobacco smoke, Yossi looked up from the table to find three more Arab men sitting on the kitchen floor beside the old man. He grabbed the table, nearly knocking the board to the floor as he tried to stand up. But he was unable, paralyzed in his seat. Two men slightly younger than Ziad wore kaffiyehs and took turns smoking from a tall gold-plated water pipe, a third ancient man with a battered fez planted on his head awkwardly fingered a set of worry beads. Yossi could still hear the soldier’s radio crackling faintly outside his kitchen window. 

“Do not worry,” Ziad said. “We are old men. There is nothing to fear. They are only my brothers and our blind father. Do not worry. Please. Please play.” 

The four men continued to talk in Arabic. Yossi, not understanding Arabic, did not know what to do. He took a deep breath but still could not fill his lungs. 

Ziad asked Yossi, “Do you smoke the narghile?” 

“No. No.” Yossi said coughing. Then he remembered his pregnant wife as smoke filled the kitchen. Yossi excused himself. 

From the bedroom doorway he saw Devorah asleep as before, her long hair splashed out onto the pillow. Yossi sat on the bed for a moment looking at her. Moonlight shined through the window and lit up her face. He kissed his index finger and touched it to the end of her nose. “Sleep tight, my Bumblebee,” he whispered and opened her night table drawer, removed his wife’s mini 9 mm pistol, and placed it in his side pocket. Then he closed the bedroom door tight and hurried back to the kitchen half afraid of the encroaching Arabs, half determined to prove that he could win the game. 

“She is sleeping?” Ziad asked.
Yossi nodded his head and sat down at the table.
“I shared that room with my brothers as a child,” the old man said.
Yossi rolled the dice, ignoring him.
“There was a pomegranate tree at the window. My son Youssif liked to climb in it.”
“It isn’t there anymore,” Yossi said, rolling a three and a one. He moved his first lone stone four spaces and said, “The tree is gone. There is no tree.”
“I am just remembering,” the old man said.
Yossi’s white stone was open at the edge of the outer board one space short of safety. The old man paused a long time before rolling the dice again. With the moon high above the apartment the three Arabs sat cross-legged on the floor; two of them passing the water pipe back and forth between them, the older man continuing to fumble with his worry beads. It was only now with the moon out of the clouds that Yossi noticed the blind father’s empty eye sockets. 

“How would you feel if someone took that glass of tea from you?” Ziad asked. “This glass?” Yossi said.
“Yes. That glass,” the Arab said, rolling the dice.
“I would get another glass.” 

The old man rolled and promptly hit Yossi’s single stone, removing it to the center bar. Yossi rolled, and entered in the fourth slot, moving his other lone piece from the first to third slot. His two stones were now open at the back end of the board. The Arab rolled again and Yossi found his stone back on the bar with the fourth and sixth slots occupied. He rolled a two and a three. His stone came off the center bar, but Yossi’s stones were still hemmed in. 

The Arab asked, “How old is your wife, Rabbi?”
“Nineteen,” Yossi answered.
“And what is her name?” the Arab asked, rolling and knocking Yossi’s stone to the bar again.
Yossi did not answer. 

The game continued, and Yossi’s stones were alternately knocked onto the center bar as the old man removed his pieces from the table two by two, whispering in Arabic. The Arab men on the floor clapped their hands on each other’s shoulders—the blind old man mumbled something in Arabic that could have been a prayer. 

“I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to sleep,” Yossi said. He had not removed any of his stones from the table. 

“But you can’t. Nobody has won three games. Sit. Sit. I won the second game.” 

One of the Arab men got to his feet, a silver sheath shining among the folds of his caftan. Yossi fingered his wife’s pistol in his pocket and said, “Okay. We’ll play another game.” 

The old man picked up the stones in his hands and began chanting quietly the names he had just whispered, “’Allar; ’Artuf; Beit Naqquba; Deir Aban; Ishwa’; El Jura; Kasla!” Do you know of the village of . . .” 

“All right. It’s time to play,” Yossi said.
Yossi began setting up the board.
They played on, the dice rattling against the old wooden board. The men on the floor were anxious, groaning in discomfort with every move, shifting from one knee to the other. Yossi blocked the men from his mind, focusing only on the board. When he had established a lead he looked and flashed a confident wink at Ziad. The old man sat calmly, pondering his next move. Then he called out a question in Arabic and was answered by a woman’s voice. 

Four Arab women dressed in black stood over the kneeling men. One wore a hijab over her face, the other three sternly looked on. One of the women spoke loudly in guttural Arabic. The old man listened and turned to Yossi, who was beginning to remove his stones from the board. 

“My wife, Zahira,” Ziad said. 

Yossi continued to play, ignoring her. His only interest now was to beat the old man, throw the Arabs from his home, and return to bed with his wife.
“These are my brothers’ wives. And,” he said, pointing to the tiny woman in the hijab, “this is our mother.” 

“It’s your move,” Yossi said. 

The old man rolled. He had twelve stones left on the board. Yossi had six and rolled low but still removed two stones. The woman who had spoken to Ziad, pushed her way forward and placed her hands on the table. Yossi saw the black under her fingernails, her eyes cold as the chipped stones on the board. Her face had the worn look of an old leather saddle. He rolled double four and won the game. The woman grabbed up the pieces and began to quickly reset the board. Yossi tried to place his hand on top of hers. She pulled away. 

“Hevron!” he said, making eye contact with all the Arabs except the blind father. “We were neighbors in Hevron and you came to our homes,” Yossi said, borrowing the tone of the old man, Ziad. “And you raped us, burned us, chopped off our hands.” 

“That is not true,” the woman said.
“It is true,” Yossi said.
“Liar!” the woman said louder.
“You were not born then,” Ziad said.
“You came to our homes in the City of the Patriarchs . . .” Yossi said. “Isra-ay-lee pig!” the woman yelled. “Liar!” 

“. . . and tore us apart like fresh bread,” he added. 

“Arrogant Jew. Liar. Zionist,” the woman shouted and the men joined in shouting, knocking against the table. The woman stood face to face with Yossi and said, “You have no place here. Pig!” Then she spat in his face. 

Yossi reached into his side pocket, pulled out his wife’s pistol, and jammed it hard beneath the woman’s ribs, doubling her over momentarily. He felt her soft stomach rebound against his hand. 


The men moved back, but Zahira, the wife of the old man Ziad, stood her ground. “Put your toy away, yeled.” 

“It was a long time ago,” the old man said. “It was only sixty years ago,” Yossi said. 

“You were not born. You were not there,” the old man said. 

“Memory is in the blood,” Yossi said. “I was there as I was at Sinai to receive the commandments. I was exiled from Spain. I wandered. And I remember pogroms beyond the Pale and the killing. I remember. And the camps, I remember that, too. Jews have been in Hevron since the time of Abraham. You have only lived there since the thirteenth century.” 

He waved the pistol at the Arabs and tasted blood in his mouth, sour and metallic. He wanted to lay the Arabs face down on the floor with their hands behind their backs, and fire a bullet into the brain of each. He would clean the floor with the old man’s kaffiyeh and return to bed with his wife. 

Zahira stepped closer, her weathered face inches from his. “Okay, boy,” she said. “Shoot me.” She pulled his pistol closer to her stomach. Yossi’s hand was compliant. “I am all used up,” she said. “Make me a martyr of the great battle.” The men looked on impassively, the women stood stone-faced, Ziad, too, stared expressionless. “I am the mother of generations. But now I am finished. I am the husk of a pomegranate, my seeds have been scattered and grown. Shoot me. I am only a husk.” Yossi pushed his pistol into her stomach and then pulled it back. 

“Sit. We’re going to play again,” Yossi said.
The men sat, and the women did too.
Zahira reached forward and touched Yossi’s cheek and said, “You are weak and sad.”
“We will play?” Ziad said.
“Do not fear us,” Zahira said. “We are old and not to be feared. But fear our children. Fear my son Youssif. He will burn your crops, tear down your home, and eat the flesh of your children.” Yossi rolled the dice. 

“He will eat the flesh of your children,” she repeated. 

They began to play again, the Arab leading two games to one. The sky was turning from deep black to dark bruised blue. The moon was gone. Yossi slipped the pistol back into his pocket. 

“The tea. It is cold,” the old man said. 

Yossi stood up to boil another pot of water, then returned to his seat and rolled the dice. He opened with a solid four and two, occupying the four slot on the inner table. 

“My sweet wife was beautiful as a flower,” Ziad said. “We married when she was fifteen. Her lovely name means flowers.” 

The old man rolled and Yossi turned to the woman. 

“I brought her to the place to take her gift, and my father and uncles waited outside the room with stones and knives—if she was not a virgin. But there was blood.” 

Yossi remembered his wife’s red blood on the white bedsheet and the feeling that she was truly his. 

“It hurt her and she cried and cried for days, did not stop.”
Yossi rolled again.
“And we prayed that, Inshallah, we would have a strong boy who would not cry,” Zahira, the old man’s wife, said.
“And when he was born he cried,” the old man said. “He cried for Palestine, and the bloodstained mountains, and the crying seashores. And I slapped his face and shook him and said, ‘Do not be weak! You are an Arab!’ And Youssif grew to be an angry barefoot boy.” 

The old man rolled and Yossi watched him slide the stones around the board with his rough fingers. The smell of hashish mixed with the smell of tobacco filled the room. Yossi was afraid to look up, feeling the weight of claustrophobia on him. He just stared at the board and at the old man’s chipped black stones. 

“It’s your turn,” the old man said. 

The room was jammed with Arabs. The children had arrived. Eight young men with thick hair and mustaches crowded around the table with the others. Yossi could feel one of the newcomers breathing at his neck. Some drank beer from brown bottles, others smoked. They were all slim and strong and Yossi was afraid. The kitchen was so crowded that the Arabs pressed right up against the table and chairs. 

“I need room,” Yossi said and the woman called out “Lebensraum?” and laughed. “I need room,” Yossi said again, but the Arabs either could not or would not move. Then he thought of his wife alone in the bedroom and wanted to run to her. 

“It’s your turn,” the old man said. Yossi stared blank-faced. “My sons,” the old man said. “And my brothers’ sons.” 

“I don’t want to play.”
“But you must. We are the majority,” the Arab said.
Yossi wanted to call the soldiers down below, but couldn’t raise his voice to speak. His wife’s pistol in his pocket comforted him, but he knew he would never use it. He rolled again. Then the old man rolled. The young Arabs pressing in toward the table kept a running commentary of the game in Arabic. One imitated the sound of the clicking dice with his tongue. Yossi rolled again and he was leading. He removed his first stone from the board. The old man held up his empty cup and said, “Your pot is burning.” Black smoke rose from the stove. 

“Your house is on fire,” the woman said. 

Yossi pushed his chair back into one of the Arabs, stood up and forced his way to the stove. The Arabs laughed, and as he waded through them and tried to pull his kippah from his head, one reached into his pocket. Someone had thrown a dish towel into the flame. Yossi dropped it into the sink with the blackened pot and turned on the water. 

“Some more tea,” the old man said in a cracking voice. 

When Yossi returned to the table his white stone was on the bar and six or seven of the Arab’s stones had been spirited away without even a single roll of the dice. 

“Where is the tea?” the old man asked.
“There is no tea,” Yossi said. “Put the stones back or I won’t play.”
“All right. I will put them back and you will play.”
“Where is your toy?” the woman asked.
Yossi felt his side pocket. His wife’s pistol was gone and had been replaced with a slab of olive wood. Yossi’s head felt light and then heavy.
“You will play now,” the old man said.
Yossi’s stomach churned and his mouth tasted bitter, acidy. With the pieces back in place, he rolled again, more determined than ever to beat the Arabs. “When I win you’ll give me back my gun,” Yossi said. 

“You still don’t understand. We make the rules,” the old man said. 

Yossi bit his lip and rolled again—double four. A lucky roll. Five stones left. The room still smelled of hashish now mixed with body odor and Yossi’s head felt too heavy for his neck. The Arabs rolled. Then Yossi—two more stones off the board. 

“Which one is Youssif?” Yossi asked.
The young Arabs laughed and one called out, “Youssif no home.”
“Youssif is not here yet,” the old man said.
Yossi put his hand to his forehead and rolled again—two more stones.
“You have won,” the old man said, picking the last stone off the board with his battered fingers. “Now tell me of the six million, or some other lies, rabbi.”
“Tell me, Jew,” the woman said. “Tell me some more fairy stories.” 

Yossi remembered the burned out carcass of the bus on Jaffa Street, the shattered glass, the body parts scattered in the street. The bomb blast had woken him and Devorah in their apartment within the walls of the Old City. He had rushed from their bedroom to see, arriving while the acrid smell of burning flesh was still thick in the air. 

“Bus number eighteen. I was there when the second bus blew up.” 

“Good. We have a bomb-maker here,” the woman said, pronouncing the second ‘b’ as she pointed to the young Arabs. 

“He’s a terrorist and should be killed,” Yossi said, remembering the Hesed shel Emet workers cleaning flesh from the statue of the winged lion who sat perched atop the Generali Building. 

“That is not very humane. Does your Torah allow that, Rabbi?” the old man said, setting up the board. 

“The Torah of Israel has nothing to do with being humane,” Yossi said. “This is the land of Isaac and Jacob. This is the land of my fathers and the land of my children and it will be the land of their children. This is our land. The land of Israel. The land of the Jewish people. I don’t give a damn about your orange trees and date palms and pomegranate trees. You do not belong here. You are Amalek. I should have poisoned your tea.” 

“You should have,” the old man said. “But your right hand forgot its strength.”
“What?” Yossi said, stunned.
“I have read your books, Rabbi. Does it not say, if someone is going to kill you, it is your duty to rise early and kill him first? Yes, I am Amalek and you are not welcome here. You have scattered my children, chopped down my trees, thrown me from my home,” the Arab said. “I am a son of Ishmael and you are a son of Isaac. But for that, we are not enemies. We are enemies because you came to make a family in Al-Quds. The land of Palestine is an Islamic holy possession, given to 

future Muslims until Judgment Day. You are a cancer and you must be cut out.” The Arab paused for a moment. “Now it is your turn to roll again.” 

Before Yossi had a chance to reply, he heard what sounded like a window smashing in his wife’s room, the glass shattering onto the stone floor. Yossi’s stomach turned. He tried to stand up but was forced down by his shoulders. 

“Help!” he called, before the old man pulled off his checked kaffiyeh and stuffed it into Yossi’s mouth with the help of his laughing nephews. 

“If I forget thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” the old man said, shaking his head. 

Psalm One thirty-seven,” Yossi thought, sickened. 

Yossi could hear someone stepping through the broken glass. His wife, in a panic would rise in search of her gun, pull open her night table drawer and find it empty. The taste of the dirty kaffiyeh in his mouth made Yossi want to throw up. 

Hacol b’seder?” a soldier called from beneath the kitchen window.
B’seder,” one of the Arabs answered.
Lo b’seder,” Yossi thought in Hebrew. “It’s not okay. There are Arabs in my kitchen!” “Tov,” the soldier said. Then there was silence.
The old man placed the dice in Yossi’s hand. He dropped them onto the board.
“A good roll,” the old man said moving Yossi’s pieces around the table. “Do you have mazel tonight?” the Arab man said mockingly.
The sky outside the window was turning quickly from a deep blue to a glowing purple. The bald old man reached into his caftan, removed Devorah Bee’s mini 9 mm. pistol and placed it onto the table. Yossi struggled but could not move. He was held in place by three of the young Arabs. “My children studied at the revolutionary school. They drank anger and ate fury and threw stones. 

But they are not just bomb-makers and pickpockets. They will be the leaders of this land.” The old man prodded the pistol with his index finger and spun it on the board. There was an inscription on the handle. 

“What’s this?” the old man said, “‘DARLING DEVORAH: FOR A SAFE LIFE IN JERUSALEM. LOVE DADDY.’ A thoughtful gift, and practical, may it protect her from all harm. And a very pretty name. What does Devorah mean?” 

Yossi blinked his eyes hard and fast as if he were trying to say, “Fuck you. Fuck your mother you filthy Arab.” 

The woman picked up the gun and held it against Yossi’s temple. Then she pulled his kippah from his head and dropped it to the floor. “It is almost time to pray,” she said. 

Yossi prayed to his God, wishing Moses had never led his people out of the wilderness, wishing that he had never come to this violent desert land, wishing that he and Devorah were safe in bed back in New York. 

The old man looked on, his big eyes pitying, his pink peeling head almost glowing as the sun continued to rise. 

Yossi looked at the woman, her face as hard as fire-forged steel. And then the muezzin cried, calling the Arabs to prayer. “Ull-aaaaaaw-hoo-Ak-bar! Ull-aaaaaaw-hoo-Ak-bar!” And the unwelcome guests, as surprisingly as they had arrived, began disappearing into the blue morning light. The blind father, the wives, the mother, the woman, the sons, and the nephews dropped to their knees, foreheads on the floor. And were gone. The old man, too, climbed from his chair and vanished. Yossi pulled the dirty kaffiyeh from his mouth and ran to the hallway, his heart breaking in his throat. The bedroom door opened and out stepped Youssif, a tall handsome Arab in a sweater and slacks. He held a broken bottle in his hand. 

Youssif stepped past him, dropping the bloodied bottle to the floor. 

“She is not dead,” Youssif said. “She is only crying for the ghosts of her children and their children, too.” 

The sun continued to rise, the muezzin wailing in Arabic, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” 

F%&k Cancer

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. There are many reasons, from being too busy with projects to pure laziness on my part.

So why am I finally posting now? 

The short answer is that I was diagnosed with cancer. Again.

The longer answer is why I’m posting.

Many of you know about the “Series of Unfortunate Events” that befell me in 2015/16. Inclusive of my first bout with the Big C. A 3 cm tumor was found on my thyroid back then, resulting in a complete thyroidectomy and radiation treatment. Papillary Thyroid Cancer is 90% fatal to men (according to Wikipedia—so take that stat with a grain of salt). But I beat it, and I’ve been clear for seven years.

The other health issues I had back then crippled my ability to do what I had spent 30 years of my life doing for my career. “Fine,” I thought. “Let’s do something else, then. Daytime TV is boring.”

I jumped back into writing, went back for a second Master’s degree (this time in Fine Arts from the most wonderful Emerson College), and wrote my second novel, Bayou Whispers. Since then, I have developed the outline for three additional novels, written 20 short stories, and started a new podcast called The Sudden Fictions Podcast.

During recording sessions for this new show, I noticed a problem.

It was in May of this year (2023) that my voice became hoarse. I initially thought the problem was allergies—something I’ve suffered with in springtime for most of my adult life. None of my usual over-the-counter remedies worked this time, so after a couple of weeks of no change, I went to see my doctor right before a planned trip to Europe.

She was a bit concerned with my medical history, so she sent me to an ENT, who put a scope down my throat to see if anything was going on. It turns out a lot was going on.

A white, irregular mass on my left vocal cord was found to be interfering with my voice. This was discovered a few days before Tina and my first vacation in ten years.

The doctor and I locked eyes, and she said, “Go enjoy you’re your vacation. It will take me a few weeks to organize the biopsy surgery anyway.”

See, the only way to get a sample of this thing was to put me under, intubate me, and go in with a micro laser to cut a bit of the mass off to run some stains on.

I knew from the look she gave me that she already knew what it was. In fairness, I knew there was a serious problem too, but that was more intuitive than education or experience based.

Tina and I followed the doctor’s advice and flew off to Dublin for a few days, then to Italy for three weeks. And we tried not to think about the albatross that followed me.

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There is something strange that happens when you are diagnosed with cancer. You lose all faith in your body. The life we have that, in many ways, is taken for granted becomes something darker. Scarier. But even worse than the diminished confidence in your body is how people react to the news when you tell them. You end up being their rock. It’s a weird experience.

The antithesis to that awkward experience was and is my wife. She is an amazing, strong, and brilliant person who immediately put aside her emotions and began to research things while reaching out to the vast network of healthcare professionals she has worked with. She did this quietly, without letting me know—because she wanted me to enjoy our holiday.

I love her so much.

Meanwhile, Tina and I and another couple of dear friends enjoyed the beauty of Capri, Sorento, the Amalfi coast, and finally, Maratea. It was the type of holiday we’ve missed for the last decade or so—sandy beaches, crystal clear water, ancient ruins, boat rides, fantastic food, wat too much to drink, laughter, and memories all combined joyously into the experience of a lifetime.

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Only while we were winging our way back to Boston did the sense of dread and foreboding return.

My surgical biopsy was now scheduled for the Friday of my return—and deep in my soul, I knew that what I and my doctor suspected would be borne out.

Spoiler alert: The “suspected” was confirmed. I have Squamous Cell Carcinoma on my left vocal cord.

Here is another weird thing. That sense of dread I was feeling…disappeared.

I know now what I’m up against. While we all hope this has been caught early, I will be going through many tests over the next month or so. Probably surgery and chemo as well, based on whom I’m meeting with on the 13th of July.

Within two days of the confirmatory diagnosis, I was assigned a trifecta of oncology doctors at Dana Farber Cancer Institute—a head/neck specialist, an oncology surgeon, and an oncology chemotherapist. That’s my meeting on the 13th..

I don’t know if it’s just one vocal cord. I don’t know if I will be able to speak when this is all said and done. What I do know is two things:

  1. I’ve never given up a fight in my life and 
  2. I have the best personal and professional support system anyone could ask for.

But I’m under no delusions. This is going to be a long, tough fight. I expect to win. I have to win.

To this end, I’ll be cutting back my con attendance for the foreseeable future. No ReaderCon, no NECON, and no Haverhill Halloween Book Festival. I’m also postponing my Writer in Residence program that was to occur in Iceland this fall.

Other than the “secret project” I’ve been working on for the past nine months and some writing (for my own sanity)–my focus now is on beating cancer for the second time.

I have three novels outlined and ready for me to write. But now, I want to write them for me—to help me push through this new medical speed bump and push through toward my literary finish line. It’s funny. You would have thought I’d have realized the writing was for me during the first battle.

I’ll post here occasionally during this process. But for now, I love you all.

Chat soon. And fuck cancer.


Winter in the City Update-12 January 2024

WINTER IN THE CITY: Editor’s Update 12 January 2024

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Hello all!

I wanted to update you on the status of the anthology I’m editing for the House of Gamut called “Winter in the City.”

First, let me say it’s taken me longer than I thought to work through the slush pile. That was an overestimation of the available time split between the launch of House of Gamut, teaching my test class, the back-end necessities of running a non-profit, and the anthology. 

That’s on me. Fortunately, I’m now making up for lost time.

Second, I was overwhelmed by the fantastic response to our open call. We have nine invited authors and nine slots in the anthology that the open call was to fill.

As of this morning, we’ve had a total of 180 stories submitted for consideration.

You guys rock. You really do.

Let me share some upcoming deliverable dates with you as well as some statistics (as of today):

  • The SLUSH Closing date for NEW requests is JANUARY 31, 2024. All those who have previously Claimed Cities still have until 3/31 to submit via Moshka.
  • First-round SLUSH Rejections have started going out. The first round will be completed by 2 February 2024. One thing that I ask people to be cautious about is following the guidelines—especially:
  • Minimum word count is 3,000 words.
  • We are reading blind for the first round. PLEASE remove all identifying markers from your manuscript.
  • The SLUSH First round edits will be sent out by me no later than 29 February 2024.
  • The SLUSH edits are due back to me by 15 March 2024.
  • The SLUSH selection/final rejection notifications will go out by 30 March 2024. Contracts will be sent out that day to those stories selected for the anthology.
  • The INVITEE due date for their story 1 is 31 March 2024.
  • Final edits of the INVITEE stories will be discussed individually with the authors. The GOAL is to lock down the final stories by 30 April 2024.
  • On 1 May 2024, all the final stories will be sent to the book designer.
  • Also, on 1 May 2024, we will make the Table of Contents public for the anthology. Authors can now announce their participation on their social media platforms.
  • We will send out ARCS for reviewers in JUNE (exact date TBD).
  • A release date of 1 December 2024 is our target. Contributor copies will be mailed at that time.

Statistics as of 12 January

  • Number of stories received via open call (slush): 180
  • Number of Rejections/withdrawals/disqualifications: 58
  • Number of Stories left to read: 78

One last note. I realize the information has been difficult to come by—certainly, a post on my author site is helpful, but moving forward, we have decided to spin up a “House of Gamut” discord server. We will link to that server beginning 1 February, and that will be the go-to for our readers, writers, and fans to gather as a community. Future updates will be posted on that platform. 

“DF tx 1 -200 to PTV_6600”

What the hell does that mean? I’ll get to that in a minute.

The two weeks from my last posting regarding my cancer “police action” until the first treatment went by faster than the speed of summer vacation from the perspective of a school-aged child. I’ve been a pin cushion for phlebotomists and had a special radiation mask created that will—when bolted to the table—hold my head in place so they can blast my tumor with Oppenheimer rays of glorious DNA rearranging poison.

My Oncologist originally told me (rather emphatically, I might add) that my six and a half weeks of daily radiation must begin on a Monday—which meant that I should have started yesterday (31 July). But I’m starting on Tuesday the 1st of August. Why?

Well…T and I, along with friends Rachel and Joel, had P!nk tickets at Fenway Park last night. They were on the field right in front of the stage. And Pat Benatar was one of her opening acts.


“Postpone??!! But you have cancer!” you might say, aghast.

“So fucking what?” I would reply in my best New York accent.

A day won’t make a difference in my treatment parameters, and the day gave me another bit of joy in the life I share with my soul mate.

Yeah. This is my second bout of cancer. Boo-hoo. That sort of thinking is so incredibly boring.

All the diagnosis does is make me realize how limited our time is here on our giant rock hurtling through space. I might as well enjoy the time I have left—and as long as my enjoyment doesn’t hurt anyone, I’ll repeat: so fucking what?

The concert last night was a blast. This old body of mine hasn’t danced so much in a long time. P!nk was amazing—how the hell she can do all those acrobatics while singing is beyond me. She is a kind, goofy, and amazingly talented performer—and Tina and I had an amazing time at her show.


I love her music—it’s fun, political, feminist, and a delight to behold—and her backup singers, band, and dancers all hit their marks. But what sold me on the field-level seats wasn’t just P!nk.


A three-time grandmother whom I haven’t seen in concert since the 80’s was up first. Rock-n-roll hall of famer Pat Benatar hit the stage before P!nk. I’ve said before that my first crush was Olivia Newton-John. My first fantasy girl, though, was Pat Benatar.

Let me tell you…that 70-year-old rocker still has it. And while my vocal cords no longer allowed me to sing, I could still remember every word to every song she performed.

In my mind, I was transported to the early ’80s…hell, I could almost smell the pungent, ozone-destroying scent of hair spray again.


It was a night I’ll never forget, in the company of good friends, amazing music, laughter, and a giddy happiness that was worth postponing my treatment for a day.

So. Back to the title of this blog post: DF tx 1 -200 to PTV_6600

That popped up on my phone as we were heading home from the concert at about midnight last night. It stands for “Dana-Farber treatment number 1 with my proton radiation dosing /absorption in centigrays.” In other words, my iPhone was reminding me of the start of my six-and-a-half weeks of hell.

I’m ready. As P!nk says: “Let’s get this part started.”

I have a lot more life to live.

Peace, love, and hair grease. -RBW

The Long Road Ahead

The emotional whiplash I’ve been experiencing since my cancer diagnosis culminated in my kick-off meeting at Dana-Faber with a trifecta of top specialists in chemotherapy, cancer surgery, and radiation treatments.

This meeting—not to be overly dramatic—would determine the course of my life.

So, let’s get the great news out of the way first.

The experts agreed that laryngeal cancer was self-contained and in a very early stage. I’m scheduled for a CAT scan next week to confirm that opinion and to 3-D map the tumor on my left vocal cord.

Based on what they know so far, I’ve been given a 90+ percent chance of survival. “Relief” doesn’t come close to covering my feelings on that statement.

The Chemotherapist said because my tumor is small and not impacting other organs or systems, as far as he can tell, Chemo is not the way to go for me. He will monitor the additional tests to ensure my cancer’s staging stays at a “one.” As he explained, Chemo is for the later stages with multiple organ involvement.

Next, I spoke with the surgeon. While he was confident that he could excise the tumor completely, it would mean the removal of one vocal cord and potential issues with aspirating food and drink. Not to mention a significant impact on my voice and my ability to teach, perform readings, and continue to record my podcast.

The Radiologist was next. He said my team agreed that targeted radiation would give me the best chance at an acceptable quality of life. While my voice would be permanently raspy, eventually, my throat would heal enough the avoid choking on my breakfast every morning.

However, he said. The next few months would be rough, and he needed to prepare me for what was coming.

They need to give me six and a half weeks of targeted radiation treatments—33 sessions in total- to eradicate the tumor. First, they would map my head in order to 3-D print a mask that would bolt to the treatment table to hold my head in position for the targeted proton radiation bursts. 

My head will be bolted to a table. In a mask. Dumas would be proud. As would Sir Anthony Hopkins.

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This radiation procedure would be done every workday for a month and a half—maybe longer based on examination of the tumor. Side effects were expected to be exhaustion, burning of the skin and throat (“you will have the worst sore throat of your life”), and difficulty eating and drinking. Oh, and I will not be able to speak above a whisper at the end of treatment for a month or two.

Yeah, it’s going to be a tough few months. But the team at Dana-Farber is confident of curing me of this cancer. That’s the endgame I wanted.

The long-term news is fantastic. But I’m going to have to go through hell first. But I’ve done that a few times, so I know the path.

I have the fitting for my mask on Monday, 7/17/23, at 7:30 AM. I’m ready.

I wonder if they will serve fava beans and a nice chianti that early.

The Sudden Fictions Podcast Schedule for March (and Prompt for April)!

Podcast Schedule March 2023

1 MAR: Post this schedule and prompt for MARCH (Submissions re-opened)

The Prompt for APRIL is: STORM

3 MAR: Episode 9 – Eden Bailey “Life in the Air”

10 MAR: Episode 10 – Kristi Petersen Schoonover “It Can’t Rain All the Time”

17 MAR: Episode 11 – ****SPECIAL GUEST****

24 MAR: Episode 12 – Jason McIntyre “Train Car Six”

31 MAR: Episode 13 – Andrew Butters “The Prophecy”



  1. Stories are to be YOUR work of original, not-previously-published flash fiction of between 750-1000 words FIRM
  2. Once the prompt for the month is released (on the 1st of the previous month) You will have either 30 days or until the number of accepted stories for the month has been reached.
  3. Submissions are to be in MANUSCRIPT FORMAT (if you aren’t sure, here is the wiki page on standard manuscript formatting)
  4. Submissions are to be e-mailed to submissions <at> suddenfictions <dot> com
  5. Once your story has been selected, you will be asked for a bio, photo and PAYPAL E-MAIL address. Right now we are paying $25.00 USD per accepted story.
  6. NO stories about rape or child abuse will be accepted. I have a hard time with violence agains women/children/minorities in general. Don’t test me.
  7. These guidelines will be posted each month under “Events.” The latest post has the latest version of the guidelines
Upcoming Sudden Fiction podcast Events

Podcast Schedule February 2023

1 FEB: Post this schedule and prompt for MARCH (Submissions re-opened)

The Prompt for MARCH (With apologies to Billy Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) is: PROPHECY 

3 FEB: Episode 5 – Maria Haskins “Marta’s Smile”

10 FEB: Episode 6 – Cindy O’Quinn & Nathan McCullough “I’ll See You in Forever”

17 FEB: Episode 7 – Kerry E. B. Black “Beloved by Shadows”

24 Feb: Episode 8 – Jason McIntyre “Keys”



  1. Stories are to be YOUR work of original, not-previously-published flash fiction of between 750-1000 words FIRM
  2. Once the prompt for the month is released (on the 1st of the previous month) You will have either 30 days or until the number of accepted stories for the month has been reached.
  3. Submissions are to be in MANUSCRIPT FORMAT (if you aren’t sure, here is the wiki page on standard manuscript formatting)
  4. Submissions are to be e-mailed to submissions <at> suddenfictions <dot> com
  5. Once your story has been selected, you will be asked for a bio, photo and PAYPAL E-MAIL address. Right now we are paying $25.00 USD per accepted story.
  6. NO stories about rape or child abuse will be accepted. I have a hard time with violence agains women/children/minorities in general. Don’t test me.
  7. These guidelines will be posted each month under “Events.” The latest post has the latest version of the guidelines
Star Wars Storytelling Matures with ANDOR

NOTE: This post originally appeared in issue #69 of Journey Planet

There is no doubt that Disney’s stewardship of the Star Wars franchise has suffered from growing pains. Fan and critic reactions to the final two films of the Skywalker saga and the move away from Star Wars feature films are a clear testament to that fact. The one bright spot for Disney in the cinematic space was the one true “war film” of the franchise – Rogue One.

There are spoilers ahead for many of the Star Wars properties. You’ve been warned.

Rogue One follows the exploits of Jyn Erso, a strong-willed woman with a checkered past (and daughter of the lead architect of the original Death Star project) who leaves her history behind to fight the Empire. During her onscreen journey, we are introduced to a cast of marvelous characters, including rebel spy Cassian Andor.

Rogue One ends as one would expect a war movie prequel to end for all the characters never mentioned in any other properties. The beauty of the storytelling in Rogue One is that, as a seasoned and obsessive fan of Star Wars, I knew how the movie was likely to end for the characters we meet in in the movie – yet the writing was so good, their foregone conclusion did not take away from the enchantment one bit.

Maintaining story tension for two hours for a tale where the audience already knows the outcome is no mean feat – see the Star Wars prequels for an example of a missed opportunity.

The (in my not-so-humble opinion) mediocrity of the prequels was the reason I was nonplussed when it was announced that Disney would be producing a prequel series to Rogue One called Andor. Would they ruin a spectacular film with another missed opportunity prequel story?

The short answer is that the House of Mouse got it right.

Disney brought in the writer for Rogue One, Tony Gilroy (whose credits include Beirut, Proof of Life, and The Devil’s Advocate, to name a few), as showrunner. The result is a story unlike any other told in the vast Star Wars universe: a slow-burn, character-driven show with superb acting, poignant writing, and political intrigue. It showcased the absolute horror of a fascist regime and the sacrifices those who revolt against such a government must make to eventually win.

Andor takes place five years before Rogue One and follows the returning Diego Luna’s titular character for his own journey from rogue to freedom fighter. But this fight is not a solo endeavor, as we also are reintroduced to the eventual political leader of the rebellion, Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), and the expert in subterfuge and antiquities, Luthen Rael (played by the brilliant Stellan Skarsgård). Through their eyes and actions, we witness the birth of multiple insurgencies that, as we know, eventually come together to form the Alliance of Leia, Luke, and Han.

But Andor is not a black-and-white story of good versus evil. This is a gritty story of sacrifice, lies, and murder – more often than not carried out by the heroes of the story. While Cassian Andor’s journey is like that of Rogue One’s Jyn Erso, it is the interaction of the characters that drive this story. Tony Gilroy takes his time to properly set up the pieces on his chess board, an act done with great care. Oh, there are still explosions and Star Destroyers, but they are used sporadically and only when a necessary part of the story.

Andor is telling a story about regular beings in a complex universe who are facing extraordinary and deadly choices within the framework of a tyrannical government exerting its power and control to obliterate individualism and freedom. The scenes within the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) – analogous to the German Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) or the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) – show the Empire’s attempt to quell the movements of Mon Mothma, Luthen Rael, and others. As the twelve-part series unfolds, we are shown that both sides of the galactic conflict break the rules of basic morality and law to achieve their goals. There are no white and black hats – green versus red lightsabers – to be seen. All hands are dirty, and Tony Gilroy shows it with great finesse. There are brilliant speeches and monologues to underpin the passion that the various factions feel about their chosen paths (Fiona Shaw’s speech as Maarva Andor will make the viewer shed a tear). But the triumph of Andor is taking a story with a known ending and making it both entertaining and relevant for the times we live in.

While telling a poignant Star Wars tale with nary a lightsaber to be seen, I cannot wait to see where Andor goes in season two.

REVIEW: Slow Horses (Seasons 1 &2) streaming on Apple+

4 5 StarRating
4.5 out of 5

Based on Mick Herron’s “Slough House” book series.

Rated: TV-MA

Starring: Gary Oldman (Jackson Lamb), Jack Lowden (River Cartwright), Kristen Scot Thomas (Second Desk Diana Taverner), Saskia Reeves (Catherine Standish) and an additional cast of delicious characters.

I’ve heard that Mick Herron has been equated to a modern-day Ian Fleming, comparing the latter’s James Bond books to the former’s series of MI-5 misfits. If anything, the series is the antithesis of James Bond—and the stories and characters are richer for the experience.

The Apple Plus series is a visual masterpiece and the pacing more than makes up for the books tendency to become bogged down in details that, in my not-so-humble-opinion aren’t needed.

Each of the first two seasons is named after the first two books in the series (Slow Horses and Dead Lions) and follows the disheveled, alcoholic, chain-smoking, and rather disgusting Jackson Lamb (Oldman) and his Slough House division of MI5 (The British Security Service) misfits.

Season One opens with a very action-oriented scene that sets the stage for the series. We are first introduced to an up-and-coming agent by the name of River Cartwright who…makes a career altering mistake, landing him under the disapproving and abusive eye of Lamb. I would equate Lamb’s character to that of Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House character—but Lamb is worse—way worse than House.

Political intrigue descends upon Slough House as the team of MI5 misfits (this season rounded out by Saskia Reeves, Rosalind Eleazer, Christopher Chung (who plays Roddy perfectly) and Dustin-Demri-Burns step up to solve a kidnapping case with political and international ramifications.

The Second season finds the team again fighting the politics of the MI5 Regent Park HQ along with personal agendas that have dire consequences for some.

The season long stories are tightly scripted. The Characters—especial Oldman, Reeves and Lowden, are brought to life in a way better than I’d imagined when reading the novels, the first time around. Gary Oldman sells Jackson Lamb. Even when the stories ebb a bit (as they do in both seasons occasionally), Oldman’s performance is a delight to behold, and his delivery (and outrageous accent) made me laugh out loud more than once.

A few of the villains of the series are a bit over the top (Freddie Fox’s James ‘Spider’ Webb for one). Samuel West as the conservative right-wing MP (and Home Secretary in season two) was brilliant in the first season, and a smarmy git in the second. I knocked off a half star for those quibbles.

But there is a reason that season’s three and four have been green lit by Apple already. Overall Slow Horses is a well written romp of a spy series. So, if you like your spy thrillers with a side of snark, and with twists that are surprising, I think you should give this one a go. I, for one, can’t wait to see Gary Oldman run more rings around the intelligence establishment in future seasons.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the “new and improved” rbwood.com!

The refresh was sorely needed, and while the team is still working on things in the background (the new store, for example) we felt a soft launch was in order, as 2023 is bringing a LOT of news!

On 31 December, just a couple of days ago, I had a paper I wrote on the Disney+ series Andor published in issue 69 of the fanzine Journey Planet. Thanks to Erin Underwood for thinking of me and inviting me to participate.

The year begins on that publication high note, but there is so much more in store!

January sees the release of the first four episodes of my new podcast called Sudden Fictions. It’s a weekly show featuring one piece of flash fiction of between 750-1000 words. These so-called sudden fictions are concise stories that don’t end with a twist or a bang but are suddenly just there, surprising, unpredictable, hilarious, profound, and moving, all in a couple of pages. The first year-long theme is “Seasons,” with January’s monthly theme of “Blizzard.” Bill Kirton, one of my old “irregulars” from my last show, joins me the first week, with original stories from Sheri White, Suzanne Madron, and J. Edwin Buja rounding out the month. I’ll release February’s prompt on 6 JAN, so look for that posting on Twitter, Hive, Facebook, and Instagram. The show will be available in multiple locations, including my website, Spotify, iTunes, and more.

I’m also continuing a secret project I began with a partner last fall. Announcements on that will be forthcoming, but we are building something I truly hope will be magical—especially for those who write, wish to write, and love speculative fiction. 

My writing continues; I have three short stories ready for open calls that I’m looking forward to in the first half of 2023. Work on the novel (The Daemon of Flatbush) goes well, and I recently crossed the 50k word mark. I aim to have that wrapped up by June 30, so I can devote my time to the secret project launch. 

Have a poke around the new site and drop me a line at me (at) rbwood (dot) com to let me know what you think.

It’s going to be a good year for all of us, I hope!


RBW 2 Jan 23

Podcast News! Sudden Fictions Schedule-January 2023


Podcast Schedule January 2023

6 JAN: Post Feb Prompt and Open for Submissions

6 JAN: Episode 1 – Bill Kirton “Twins?”

13 JAN: Episode 2 – Sheri White “All is Calm, All is Bright”

20 JAN: Episode 3 – Suzanne Madron “Cold Faith”

27 JAN: Episode 4 – J. Edwin Buja “Tight White Smile”

“West of Hell” is born…

My latest novella called The Trickster of Paradise (There is a link to me reading a 5-minute scene at the end of this article) is out now in a collection of three wonderfully weird westerns by myself and my fellow writers and friends Michael Burke and James A. Moore.

You and buy the eBook, paperback, or hardcover version of “West of Hell” at this link: WEST OF HELL

           How did I, an uncanny & macabre thriller writer, end up writing a weird western? Well, my friends, tie up your horse and come sit by the campfire, and I’ll tell you a tale from yesteryear.

            I grew up in the 70s on Long Island, New York, wearing a red cowboy hat and toting two silver plastic cap gun “six shooters” strapped to my waist. My imaginary horse was called “Toby,” and he and I went on the most insane adventures a young boy could think up. This was before “Creature Double Feature,” “The Twilight Zone,” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” changed my life.

            My dad—may he rest in peace—was a western fan all his life. From the books of Zane Grey to those of Louis L’Amour and the movies of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, my dad loved them all.

            I remember watching those old movies on WPIX channel 11 in New York. I also loved “The Rifleman” (and always thought I would make a better son to Chuck Connor’s Lucas McCann rather than actor Johnny Crawford). I would wait eagerly for “The Wild, Wild West” to come on (and as an adult, I’ve decided never to discuss the cinematic remake starring Will Smith).

            I guess what I’m trying to say is that before the darker speculative fiction that became my passion in my teen years and beyond, westerns were the first stories that tickled my imagination. The sense of adventure. The peril of living “on the frontier.” The simple morality tales at the end of each episode of “Gunsmoke.”

            And the singing of Gene Autry.

            Westerns were my childhood; so it was only natural that as an adult speculative fiction writer, I would create a weird western story that would combine the supernatural with a “hearty ‘Hi ho Silver, away!’” My novella as a part of “West of Hell” is, in many ways, a tribute to my father as it is a story of revenge and the power of legends, both good and bad.

            I hope you enjoy the collection as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you. In the meantime, I’m going to grab my red cowboy hat because Toby and I are riding off into the sunset of our next adventure.

           And I would be much obliged if you grabbed yourself a copy of “West of Hell” today!

Here is a 5-minute snippet of me reading from The Trickster of Paradise: