A collection of short stories

(This collection includes several short stories that were previously released individually.)

by Bruce Corbett






Copyright © 2012.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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I have to admit it. Writing short stories is hard! Each of the following stories have been re-written anywhere up to a hundred times. The stories I managed to place in magazines were ruthlessly stripped of any and all excess verbiage - a painful process for one who is in love with words. Novels allow a little meandering. Short stories do not.

The first of these stories first saw light when I was a university student. It is fun, when I put them together for this book, to re-read them and see the evolution of my thinking. The truth is, they were written over a forty year span. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing them.


The author


Bruce Corbett
















9. Fe2O3













I had just read somewhere that the United States had more gun stores than gas stations. Students had been shot at Columbine, and the National Rifle association had reportedly offered each teacher in the country a free hand gun. The absurdities of these items led me to sit down and write an extrapolation. What would happen in staid Toronto if Quebec separated and Ontario joined the United States? Here is a fantasy - or is it? As I write this introduction, gang members in Toronto are well-armed and are currently shooting each other, while a U.S. lawyer is suing a dry cleaner who supposedly lost his favourite pair of pants for 65 million dollars. This story first appeared in the Fall 1999 edition of PERIDOT.



Damn it! I knew that tone. It was no siren call, to lure me on to the rocks of connubial bliss. I wish! It was the call of the dreaded Mildred. I sighed and answered. Our house wasn't so large that I could hide or anything. "I'm in the bathroom, dear."

"Honey! Just as soon as you're done in there, I want you to pick up a few things for me at Loblaw's."

 I thought through the implications of that apparently simple request and groaned. It was my birthday, after all. Wasn't there some law that says that you can stay home and relax on your own birthday? And what she was asking was nothing less than death defying.

Ever since the last Mr. Donut closed, even the police didn't go out on the streets at night. I can't say I blamed them. Ever since Quebec separated and Ontario became the fifty-third state, the guns had flowed north. Not Saturday night specials. Not semi-automatic military knock offs. No way. The real thing; fully automatic assault weapons; Uzis, MAC's, machine guns.

For a while Ontario was the third largest importer of weapons in the world. Boring Ontario changed. I sighed again. I knew SHE didn't really care what I thought about it. We both knew that I was on my way just as soon as I abandoned the shelter of the bathroom.

"It's pretty late, dear! It could be dangerous."

"Oh don't be silly, honey. Take the Humvee. I went by the armourers just yesterday. I had the oil checked and the gas tank filled. The ammo pods are all topped up, and they had a special on Big Berthas, so I told him to install one. You'll be as safe as if you are in your own snug little bed."

I wondered about that. The crime rate had climbed another 232% in the last year, but on the other hand, my bed shared by a cranky Mildred, was not the most secure place in the world, either.

I could only sit on the throne for so long. Eventually my bottom became so numb that I had to get up. I had already finished all the good literature I had stashed under the sink. I dutifully ran the water so I wouldn't get another lecture on personal cleanliness, and then headed out for the necessary briefing. My darling wife tucked the grocery list into my shirt pocket, and then sent me off with a supercilious peck on my cheek. I was heading down the basement steps when a deep growl told me that my BELOVED had decided to get another replacement Doberman. The last one had succumbed to a love tap from my gentle wife.

By the tone of its growl, it wasn't about to let me pass unchallenged. I waved my left hand in front of me as a tempting doggy snack as I used my right to grab for the Taser in my belt. The ten thousand volts gave the stupid animal temporary electronic rigour mortis, and I made it unscathed to the garage. Maybe it would remember to leave me alone the next time I had to pass through the nether regions of my own home.

I shrugged on my new flak jacket. It was a deep forest green, and had been my big present for my birthday. Mildred had hunted far and wide for one with such casual lines, yet one that could hide a brace of MAC 12's without a single telltale bulge or trace. Making sure that both hidden pockets had their complement of MAC's, I slipped behind the wheel of the massive armoured beast that lurked in our garage. Then I flipped on the onboard AI I had nicknamed Ricky, after a character from an ancient madcap vid my granddad used to drag out for me whenever I became too obstreperous for his taste. As long as I was within a block of the house, Ricky plugged into the home security system by remote. The house AI was a little flaky, so I had named it Lucy, after the nutcase in the same series.

"Ricky, plug me direct into Lucy. Lucy, scan outside the door for life signs."

The deep tones of Ricky's synthesized masculine voice was replaced with the more dulcet tones of the Gerrald 4200 home security 'puter. The new tone was incongruous, coming from a couple of tons of macho machine. "Done, master."


"And I am done, master."

'Puters can sure do some neat things, but they aren't as bright as the average three year old. "And are there any life signs within a range of 100 metres around the garage door?"

"No, master."

I had a sudden flashback from the days of my childhood, where I just used to open the door, after putting on my flack jacket, and headed out to play, safe and secure in the confines of our own unfenced property. The world had been so much safer then, and innocent. When had it all changed? I sighed. I had a job to do. I just didn't want to do it. "And how about around the side gate?"

"No one, master . . . Hold for further update."

I suddenly heard the hollow clattering of a 9 mm roof turret gun. "Lucy, I thought that you said there was no sign of any life form nearby!"

"There was briefly a life sign at the walkway gate. It carried pizza, but it did not know the password of the day, nor did it bother to identify itself as it stepped onto the property."

"You said 'briefly'."

"The life form entered the kill zone without permission, master."

The evening suddenly seemed much hotter. I pulled at my open collar, and started to work on my rapidly escalating breathing. Shit! The police would be pissed. That was the second time my wife had ordered pizza without bothering to tell the store all the details of our new security system. I just prayed that the guy was well onto our property before Lucy cut loose. Our insurance had doubled after the last incident.

"O.K., Lucy. Open both the garage door and the driveway gate on my command, and sterilize the garage after I leave . . . Now!"

I waited until the garage door was high enough that the big buggy could slip under it, and then gunned it. The electrified gates swivelled open at my approach, and in the rearview mirror I saw the garage door descending. I didn't worry much about the 17 seconds that the garage was vulnerable. I knew that Lucy would flood the interior with an obnoxious gas, and then pump it out so it would be safe for my return. I had programmed Lucy to back up the gassing with the basement-level mobile defensive mini-pod, and the walking appetite was loose somewhere in the lower level, or would be if it had stopped twitching. Anyway, I figured that anyone who made it into the house through all that had to be pretty talented.

I hit the road at a respectable fifty kilometres an hour, and the big machine drifted right. Damn! Almost immediately I hit a couple of 2x4 strips studded with nasty spikes. I thanked God that the last time I had the Beast in for a retread, I had sprung for the puncture-proof Goodyears. I slipped over the vicious spikes with hardly a hiss of escaping air; but lots of screams of rage from the Street Rovers who hovered nearby and had hoped for someone helpless to beat on. I knew that Ricky had been programmed by my bloodthirsty wife to respond to any such perceived threat with a stream of 9 mm lead. I was sure that I didn't have sufficient 'clear intent' on these guys' part to litter the road with corpses, so I hurriedly called out to the AI.

"Ricky, no one is to get shot! Swivel the turret to five o'clock and put a three second burst over their heads." As it was, the chatter of the small caliber slugs just made the punks jump for shelter. The staccato sounds almost matched the thundering of my heart. I practised more deep breathing as I rounded the corner on to Royal York and punched the accelerator. It didn't do any good. What I mean to say is, the accelerator worked OK, but my pulse rate was surpassing my best bowling score. Hell, I didn't want to shoot anybody. I just wanted to go to the damned grocery store!

I drifted left onto Bloor, and I felt a little more secure on the main drag. There were no obvious danger points, and, after dark, I simply didn't stop at red lights.

I cruised the couple of miles to my wife's favourite Loblaw's, and then slowed down to check out the parking lot. Damn! The road itself was clear enough, but a trio of old junkers had been parked across the entrance to the supermarket. I could call the police, but they would only arrive with the sun. Or I could cruise around waiting for the bad guys to leave, or I ran out of gas. At night, in suburban Toronto, the gas trick wasn't a bright thing to do. I outweighed each of the cars by a factor of three to one, I was armoured, and my wife's instructions were crystal clear. The idea of facing a dozen armed strangers was less terrifying to me than the thought of facing my spouse with empty hands, so I decided that I couldn't back down. I decided to go for a parking spot!

I aimed the beast, worked on squeezing my bladder muscles a little tighter, and headed for the totally inadequate opening. I heard Ricky cocking something a lot bigger than the twin 9 mm's mounted on the roof, and suddenly remembered that my wife had ordered a monster 50-caliber machine gun to be installed.