Welcome to one of the January 11th stops on the blog tour for The Odd and the Strange by Harvey Havel, organized by Silver Dagger Book Tours. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for more excerpt spotlights, guest posts by the author, and a giveaway! (More on that at the end of this post.)
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The Odd and the Strange
A Collection of Very Short Fiction
by Harvey Havel
Published 1 November 2020
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Surrealist, Fabulist
Page Count: 432
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A Collection of Very Short Fiction from a variety of genres, including but not limited to horror, science fiction, politics, and the surreal. These celebrated very short stories have been collected over a number of years and have been published in a variety of online e-zines and posted on various websites.
THE ODD AND THE STRANGE by Harvey Havel is a collection of urban tales that toe the line of reality.
The subtitle of Harvey Havel’s THE ODD AND THE STRANGE is A Collection of Very Short Fiction. A better one would be A Very Long Book of Normal-Sized Short Fiction. There are 89 stories in all, most 5-10 pages long (though a few stretch to nearly twenty), with unassuming titles like “Visitation,” “Girlfriend,” and “Daughter.” Though set in the real world, the stories tease reality with nameless characters–the candidate, the doctor, the Big Man–and fantastical occurrences, similar to the parables of Jorge Luis Borges (Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish language literature).
Being a librarian, I was eager to read the story “The Librarian.” A young male librarian–unnamed, naturally–looks into a mirror in his office and sees not his reflection but a woman with “walnut hair luxuriously long and her skin as supple as a young girl’s.” He has seen her many times, and though the two cannot touch, they can talk. What do they talk about? The books he steals from the library and passes into the mirror for her to read. Eventually, his boss confronts the librarian over the missing books only to be told that the latter he gave them to his mirror-world girlfriend. To prove this claim, the librarian tries to summon the woman, and when she doesn’t appear, the librarian smashes the mirror. You can imagine the rest.
Some stories are less Borges and more Stephen Crane (author of The Red Badge of Courage): bleak, violent. Like “Lightning Love,” narrated by a wife whose husband changes into . . . something (the twist at the end is brilliant). Others are political fables, like “Santa Claus and Madam Secretary,” which makes Havel’s proclivities as clear as the image on a 98-inch TV. His style can be clunky–one woman’s breasts are described as “shaped like a queen’s”–and some endings are telegraphed. A few stories, like “Sex Toy,” are more like story fragments. Yet THE ODD AND THE STRANGE is quite an accomplishment: unusual, provocative, and honest.
Mixing the fabulism of Jorge Luis Borges with the bleakness of Stephen Crane, the tales contained in Harvey Havel’s THE ODD AND THE STRANGE draw the reader into a world they won’t soon forget.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader
To see my husband transformed from such a simple, quiet man to a raving lunatic became too much to bear. It started out slowly – so slowly that one could hardly catch where his personality turned, but it did turn, ever so subtly. I learned how to catch it after a few weeks of observation.
He’d come home right at dinner time from his teller job at the bank. We didn’t make much money. He insisted that I shouldn’t get a job myself, but because of our slipping status in the suburban community we live in, I knew that I had to get a job eventually and go against his wishes. We couldn’t rely on my Daddy’s check book forever, and I was perfectly willing to work. He did want me to get pregnant and raise children, but in this day and age, a married couple both had to be working.
After talking with him about this, he didn’t put up too much of a fight. He smiled at me as we held hands on the sofa, and said, “you can do whatever comes into your sweet little heart.” I kissed him on the lips, and then we made love that night – not only to make love and to feel the comfort of it, but hopefully to get myself pregnant so that the next stage of our lives could begin. We made love like crazy, and on one special day, after a trip to our fertility doctor, we both discovered that I was pregnant.
I had never been so happy, but for some reason, my husband had a somewhat blank expression on his face when the doctor announced the good news. He was neither happy nor sad, just accepting of it, as though a child would bring on another burden, almost like a chore. When I asked him about it, he said, “I don’t think it’s a problem, honey. We’re not the only ones to have ever raised a family, even though we’re heading for broke.”
“You sound uncertain or something,” I said when we arrived home.
“I’m not. I just know that this is what civilization is all about. We get married, and then we have children, right?”
“There’s no fixed game plan to life, honey,” I said. “I want you to be overjoyed that we’re bringing a product of our love into the world. We’re blessed.”
“I know that.”
“Then why does it seem like your brain has stopped working? Why does it seem like you don’t care about what we have right now?”
“I dunno,” he said after a moment of two of silence. “I just know that we’re on the right path, I hope.”
That was the best he could do. I let him brood about it more, but he wasn’t even brooding. He simply stared into space with a slight smirk, as though he were enjoying thinking about the challenges we may or may not face. I made dinner for him, and we both went up to bed, not really talking at all. I had no idea what went on in that quiet mind of his. We fell asleep at about the same time, and when I woke up, I could smell the eggs and ham he cooked for me. It was nice of him. I supposed he did it, because I was now pregnant. He wanted to start us off on the right foot.
“Thanks, honey,” I said, kissing him, when I made it to the kitchen. “At least I don’t have to stop by Dunkin’ Donuts again.”
“Dunkin’ Donuts? What do you mean?”
“That’s where I usually stop on the way to work.”
“Work? You can’t work.”
“What do you mean I can’t work?”
“Didn’t we talk about this? We’re raising a family now. You can’t work like you did before.”
“Honey, we need the money. Now more than ever. Plus, I want to work. I like working at the store.”
“Oh,” he said.
And then he fell silent while scraping the residue of the scrambled eggs from the pan onto my plate. He looked more confused than anything, as though he were looking for the right response to use, as though he had choices on how to react. He searched for an adequate response while sighing a couple of times. But he agreed with me, and then said nothing, as I walked out the door with my car keys.
He returned right after work, and I usually made it home before he did.
“How was your day?” I’d usually ask.
“A very slow day,” he said.
“That’s a good thing, right?”
“Not really. I’m gunning for a promotion, and I want the bank manager to see how well I do under the pressure of the long lines. We usually have them towards the weekend.”
“Wow. I didn’t know you were up for promotion.”
“Well, now you know,” he said. “What’s for dinner?”
“I made some meatloaf,” I said.
“Meatloaf? The meat must have been expensive. We can’t afford ground beef with the prices they have.”
“It’s not that bad. And besides, I have to eat for two from now on.”
“Still. Maybe you should eat mostly vegetables then.”
I caught him staring into space again. He no longer finished his arguments with me. There was no sense of closure to them. Nevertheless, we both ate quietly, as he disagreed with the meal, thinking it too costly. I could tell, though, that the baby inside of me deserved some meat, and I left it at that. In bed, I tried to move closer to him, but he just refused me. I wanted to make love that night, but he was too difficult to touch. When I moved closer, he said, “you shouldn’t have bought that meatloaf.”
“Can we give it a rest about the meatloaf,” I said.
“Fine. You take care of the baby, then.”
That remarked pissed me off, but I ignored him from that point on.
In the morning, he didn’t make me the usual meal.
“We have to save, so we can’t eat breakfast.”
“I’ll go to the Dunkin’ Donuts, then. No problem.”
“You should stay there. You and the baby.”
“Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“You heard me. Why don’t you both go live there.”
I was running late for work. I didn’t want to have an argument there and then. Until he called me ‘a bitch’ under his breath.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“That you’re a bitch,” he declared.
I felt like smacking him. How dare he call me such a name. I was, after all, his wife, and I would do anything for him. Somehow, though, he was changing. He wore his bathroom robe in the kitchen, and he hadn’t shaved at all. I could tell that he wouldn’t be going to work that day.
When I got home after a busy day at the store, he sat at the kitchen table with his bathrobe on and his unshaven face. He had been sitting there for most of the day, but he had a kind of beatific expression on his face – this same face of oddity and wonder as though he were still stuck in childhood.
“You never went to the bank?” I asked, throwing my keys onto the kitchen table.
“Yes,” he said, with that same childlike smirk on his face. “I did it for us.”
“Us? Honey, we need that income.”
“But who’s gonna take care of the baby? It’s good that I quit. Someone has to take care of the baby.”
“Yeah, but we needed the income.”
“Why are you always contradicting me? What a man says in this household goes, you got that? Don’t be such a bitch all the time.”
So out of that childlike fascination with whatever rotated in his mind, came a coarse, disgruntled look, his unshaven face and sharp teeth ready to pounce on me if I said anything else. He watched television, while I ate in silence, and I wasn’t sure what I should do. His personalities changed slowly, but suddenly I felt a little nervous being around him, especially now that he had the habit of calling me names, as though he had snapped away from his earlier innocence into an intense anger that no human being could arrest. And in bed that night, he was a wild, untamed animal. He entered me from every angle, corner, and crevice. Even though a lot of it hurt, he really didn’t care. At the end of it, when he came all over my back, he smacked my behind, and said under his breath, “dumb bitch.”
That was the last straw, really. I needed help, but I had little idea whom I should turn to. I thought a psychologist or couples therapy may help, but I delayed. I needed more time to find someone I trusted.
In the morning, I turned to look next to me, but he wasn’t there. I went downstairs to the kitchen and switched on the light. He sat there at the table in the darkness staring at the napkin holder. He was still unshaven, and he flashed his teeth. He had turned into some kind of beast. He didn’t talk at all. I tried to approach him, but he said, “stay away,” in a seething voice I didn’t recognize. And then I saw it on that rainy early morning. A steel rod leaned against the door.
I immediately thought that he would beat me over the head with it, but when he yelled for me to go back upstairs and wait for him like a good whore, I figured quickly that he would use it for something else. He played with some of the mail on the table in front of him.
“Bills! Bills! Nothing but bills! And then there’s this junk – catalog after catalog of shit we can’t afford. And all of it because of you and that crackpot baby that’s growing inside of you. Well, I have plans for the both of you.”
And then he looked at me angrily. He got up from his seat and picked up the steel rod leaning against the door.
“Let me see that baby of yours,” he said, waving the steel pipe around. It accompanied a vicious smile, and then I knew I had to do something. I had to snap him out of it.
Surprisingly, though, he didn’t come after me with the rod. He could have killed me, but somewhere deep within me, I knew he wanted our child and loved me unconditionally. I understood that about him. I realized that he could do no harm, and for a second there, I thought I saw him flash the innocent child again – that no-nothing face that seemed to hint that his mind was blank, and perhaps it had always been blank. He banged the steel rod on the floor, but I could tell that his fight was no longer with me, but with himself. He had struggled with himself, and he had struggled so much that it was almost heroic how he kept his own beasts at bay. He then turned towards the door, banged the steel rod upon it, and broke a couple of windows, but I wasn’t scared. I loved this man, and everything about him. He didn’t want to harm me. I knew that now, because in his bathroom slippers and with his demons he ran out of the house into the fields of our backyard. I could do nothing but follow him, because I loved him intensely just then. I rooted for the good within him to win, and he struggled through it like a caged animal.
He ran into the open field behind the house. Rain pelted us every step of the way as I followed him further and further outdoors. A clamoring thunder rollicked the sky, interspersed with sharp spikes and veins of brilliant lightning. He readied himself in the rain that had now totally soaked the both of us. He held the steel rod up to the sky. I cried for him to stop, but he didn’t listen. I had to keep my distance. Soon enough, a bolt of lightning struck his steel rod. He glowed for a few moments in the early morning darkness and then fell to the ground. I cried again and ran to him. I sat upon him, straddled him, and noticed a silver, albinic shock of hair that had erupted along the front of his scalp. I smacked him a few times to bring him up to consciousness. The rain, thunder, and lightning still emptied from the sky. We were both wet to our bones.
“Honey! Oh my God, honey, please wake up! Please!”
I pounded him on the chest, and I smacked him harder and harder as I straddled his body. I couldn’t tell if he were alive or died. I just didn’t know until, finally, he opened those clear blue eyes of his.
“Honey?” he called out. “What happened? Where’s the baby?”
“Oh, thank God,” I said, and then I smothered his face in kisses – his eyes, his forehead, his cheeks, and then his soft lips.
I now know what to do when he bends out of shape. Making wild and brutal sex won’t help him. Catering to his every whim and need won’t help him either. Now that we have our baby, I have to be extra vigilant. Whenever he gets angrier and angrier about things I know not of, I simply put his steel rod next to the door on soaked, rainy nights. He knows what to do. I put on my raincoat and walk outside with him. He hold the steel rod up to the sky, gets struck by lightning, and then I carry him back to the house. It feels wonderful to have my husband back. All of his hair has now turned silver.
Harvey Havel is a short-story writer and novelist.
His first novel, Noble McCloud, A Novel, was published in November of 1999. His second novel, The Imam, A Novel, was published in 2000.
Over the years of being a professional writer, Havel published his third novel, Freedom of Association. He worked on several other books and published his eighth novel, Charlie Zero’s Last-Ditch Attempt, and his ninth, The Orphan of Mecca, Book One, which was released several years ago. A full trilogy of this work had been completed a few years after Mr. Big is about a Black-American football player who deals with injury and institutionalized racism. This book was published in 2017. It’s his fifteenth book.
The Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill is his sixteenth book, and his seventeenth is a non-fiction political essay about America’s current political crisis, written in 2019. He has just now published his eighteenth book, The Odd and The Strange: A Collection of Very Short Fiction.
Havel is formerly a writing instructor at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey. He also taught writing and literature at the College of St. Rose in Albany as well as SUNY Albany.
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