A Shade of Gray – J. Douglas Sparer

7800 words Literary Fiction

“A Shade of Gray” features an alienated, isolated protagonist through his seventy years of life, his dealing with imaginary friends, and his acquaintance with real and semi-spectral dogs.  A cinerous shade of fog, a brindled dog, and an imposing argentite building all share a shade of gray the protagonist is drawn to in life and beyond.

Shades are disembodied spirits whose presence can often be felt by living mortals.  Shades are thought to leave an emotional imprint on those who perceive them.   

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I’ve always been alone, at least as far as being human is concerned. A very brief family snapshot. Father Jewish, Mother Catholic, New York, 1938, eloped, fled to Michigan, bought a suburban home and presented me to the world seven years later. An only child, raised without a religion, (thank god,) and brought up without any wider family, friends, or primal beliefs, my world was unique. My mother was a housewife who drank beer at night and smoked cigarettes like she had seen stars smoke them in the movies. My father made a living playing piano in bars, adored my mother, and seemed happy just to have her in his life.

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Joe Nevada – J. Douglas Sparer

2700 words Literary Fiction

1975: 23 year old arrives in Vegas to become a poker pro.  Joe Nevada, his favorite dealer, embodies the joy of Vegas.  Realizing poker pro dream not likely, the boy leaves, but returns to Vegas yearly to play at Joe’s table.  In 1995, the man returns to find the poker room closed.

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When I was 23, I flew to Vegas for the first time, twinkling with dreams of becoming a professional poker player—dreams more flickering, flimsy, and capable of annihilation than the gaudy strip lights which to this day rest on the whim of an oil cartel continents away. I knew I was ready for them. I’d read Scarne and various other poker whizzes, knew the odds of drawing three to a pair versus two to a pair and a kicker, knew what I had to have to call a bet in draw, depending on where the initial bet was made, and I even knew what I had to have to call a raise or re-raise, given my position at the table and the amount of the raises and calls in front of me.

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Scream – J Douglas Sparer

4500 words Mystery / Literary Fiction

A lonely man, his family and dog gone, sets out on what he believes will be his last neighborhood walk.  His companion, a knife, accompanies him in a sheathe next to his heart.  He and his companion “discuss” the man’s life and plot his fate, until, at the conclusion of the walk, two screams alter the plan.

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I must walk, at least once more, through my upper middle class neighborhood, but this time, not alone. At last, I’ve gained the courage to intimately engage my companion. If I look at her directly and remain focused, there is a point where her beauty shimmers into invisibility. A moment when I hear razors of light susurrate her emergence into the visible world. Though I’ve never heard her speak, she clearly intimates transcendence, peace, and atonement; and yet, as always with women, the price is blood. Today, finally, I decided to walk with her. This decision catapults me into a commitment fraught with mystery, terrifying possibilities, and perhaps, oblivion.

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The Boy and the Kite – J. Douglas Sparer

1300 words Literary Fiction

A boy who is afraid of heights glimpses a magnificent kite abandoned in the upper reaches of an oak tree.  With trepidation, he rescues the kite, makes the repairs, and when he flies it, neither he nor the kite are ever the same.

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Sun-specked, freckled, dotted with twilight, a kite lay abandoned at the top of an oak tree. Once it had been perfect, but now was only beautiful. Its paper was sky-blue and tapered into a fine kite diamond, while emblazoned on the front was a white, whirling cascade of paint shaped as a face—a powerful face with the cheeks puffed outward and the eyes filled with happiness. It was a portrait of the wind god created by a master craftsman. Giving structure to this artistic work were two of the whitest pieces of plywood imaginable.

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The Gatekeeper – J. Douglas Sparer

7800 words Literary Fiction

“My girlfriend just left me,” the undergraduate says.  “Mine too,” the classics professor replies.  “Thirty years ago.”  He is serious.  The professor believes this woman the incarnate reality of “a dreamer’s dream of dreams,” words the undergraduate repeats in his paper.  Upon the Professor’s death, five years later, the undergraduate is designated in the professor’s will to deliver a written message to the lady who left him.  He and only he can read the message, or it is to be destroyed.  The former undergraduate’s fate, the professor’s partial vision of that fate, plus Helen of Troy’s function on the Skaian Gate all combine to propel a love story spanning more than thirteen centuries.

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He’s dead now. I’d been Professor Jay’s student five years ago when he taught a romantic poets seminar for seniors at Cornell. The rumor was that Professor Jay, the classics man, had been called into duty when the romantics man, being romantic over Christmas break, had collapsed, dead but happy, on the ample bosom of an undergraduate. Professor Jay loathed Coleridge, Wordsworth and Keats. It was never apparent in class, but he loathed all of them except Blake. During our first one on one meeting, (a week before the end of the semester and ten days before graduation), he told me, “Mr. Christopher, they are whining adolescent twits—‘that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’” His words provided me vast comfort.

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The Sixty Minute Roll – J. Douglas Sparer

3400 words Literary Fiction

CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE

A homely, middle-aged craps player, Marty, enjoys a craps playing “date” with a stunning young woman.  Marty supplies gambling money, plus remuneration. They laugh, touch and win. She leaves when the hour terminates.  The date impacts Marty, the narrator/boxman, and one female craps dealer.

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I know his face. He’s played craps at my table hundreds of times. For all the times he’s played, he’s never addressed me and I’ve never addressed him. Like almost all dice players, he plays his own system. He bets the inside numbers, then switches to the don’t pass if the table gets cold. When he loses, he leaves the table without comment; when he wins, he leaves the table without comment. I don’t know his name, his job, whether he’s married, divorced, or has kids. Nothing. He’s at least ten years younger than I–fifty or so, white, 5’9” or 10,” a thin aquiline nose, beady brown small eyes, set a fraction too close together, an imperfect pale complexion containing several visible pock marks.

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