Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Stage Five by Robert Brumm: Spotlight, Review: Featured Author


Robert Brumm Jr., author of Windigo Soul and the Desolate series, brings you Stage Five - a collection of five short stories.

Warning. May contain traces of the following:

Talking cats and dogs, a serial killer on dialysis, testicle dissecting robots, prostitutes getting shot in the back, a meth head burned alive, a decapitated head kicked across the room, a puggle tempted to eat fresh vomit, a woman with a hangover wearing a Reggie White t-shirt, a pink litter box, and the extinction of the human race.

A Blog Named Phil - Visit Phil’s blog to read his account of the day his dog and cat started talking to him. Yes, it happened to everybody but read it anyway. Phil’s a lonely guy.

Cooper - Having to kill a gum snapping prostitute, a knuckle cracking beefcake, and a twitchy meth head was just the start of Cooper’s bad day. When he gets teamed up with Vinnie Smalls, a razor wielding pain in the ass wise guy, to collect a debt, the night goes from bad to bizarre to deadly.

Stage Five - After a usual night of binge drinking and television watching, Amy finds herself locked in the basement cell of a serial killer the next morning. Her death seems certain until the killer realizes he may have picked the wrong woman to be his next victim.

We Called Them Sheen - They started out as personal assistants, butlers, nannies, and companions. They ended up being responsible for the extinction of the human race.

She Must be a Daisy - One cat and one man in an apartment. One dies. The other tries to survive.

One or more of the stories in this book contain descriptions of graphic violence and language meant for adults.

Kindle  |  Paperback  |  Goodreads 


It started out as a pretty typical morning. I was lying on my back and my cat Ranger was on my chest. Ranger sleeps with me most nights but he’s never actually slept on me that I can recall. He seemed content, purring away with his eyes slightly shut.

Ranger is a butterscotch tabby that I picked up for free from the hardware store a few years ago. They usually don’t stock cats of course, but one of the employees was trying to get rid of a litter. I didn’t consider myself a cat person at the time, but Ranger was so cute I couldn’t resist. So, taking a chance that I might turn into a creepy single guy with a cat, I took the plunge and walked out of the store with a kitten.

Ranger looks like that cat Morris who used to do those cat food commercials in the ’80s. I preferred pet commercials back then when they shot them with old-fashioned trained animals. These days they do a little too much CGI and make cats smile and what not. It’s a little creepy.

Anywho, it was a nice way to wake up, having Ranger purring there on my chest. I skritched his head and said, “Well, good morning, ’Ger. What’s happening, buddy?”

He opened his eyes and said, S'il vous plaît ne m'appelez pas ’Ger.

My eyes opened wide and I sat straight up, sending Ranger flying off my chest and the edge of the bed. I think I heard his head hit the wall.

“What in the hell just happened?” I asked nobody in particular – definitely not my cat who did not just talk to me.

“He said don’t call him ’Ger,” said June Bug. “He prefers it when you use his full name.” June Bug is my puggle who sleeps in a crate in the corner of my room.

I inherited June Bug about a year ago. She used to live with the old lady in the townhouse next to mine. When the old lady passed away, I heard she had no close family or friends and her dog was probably going to end up at the pound. I don’t know if it’s all those damn Sarah McLachlan commercials or if I was just feeling generous that day, but I offered to take her dog. Before June Bug, I’d never even heard of a puggle (half pug, half beagle), but I always thought she was cute. But I digress…back to the little detail of her, you know, actually speaking to me with her puggle mouth.

“What?!” I shouted at June Bug.

“I said, he doesn’t want you to call him ’Ger. He thinks it’s stupid,” she said. “Besides, his name is pronounced Rain-Jer. Shouldn’t you call him ’Jer instead of ’Ger?”

“Yeah, I guess. I never thought of that,” I muttered. I shook my head and rubbed my eyes. “What in the hell is going on?” I asked the ceiling. “I’ve finally gone nuts. My pets are talking.” The ceiling didn’t have a good answer.

“Oh, yeah. That,” June Bug said from behind the door of her crate. “Listen, I’ll explain everything in a minute, but can you let me out of here? I’ve been waiting for you to wake up since dawn and I need to take a massive dump.”

Ignoring June Bug, I paced around the room. My heart was racing and I was definitely freaking out. Ranger sat in the corner, licking his left paw, oblivious to my nervous breakdown.

“I gotta call somebody. This has to some kind of episode. Should I call the hospital? Poison control?”

Phil,” June Bug said.

“Maybe some bad drugs. Jesus, did somebody slip me something at work yesterday?”


“Come to think of it, that Coke I had during lunch yesterday tasted kind of funny. Oh, man. This is not good.”

Phil!” June Bug shouted.

“Huh? What?”

“Seriously, man. I’m starting to crown over here.”

“Oh, right.” I slowly walked to the crate. My hand paused over the door latch. “You’re not, like, self-aware or anything, are you?”

“I’m not a robot, Phil. I can’t even reach the doorknob to the front door. How much damage do you think I’m capable of?”

“Sorry.” I opened the latch on the crate door. June Bug ran downstairs.

Ranger slowly followed. “Excusez-moi,” he said as he passed.

“Uh, yeah,” was all I had.

We all headed downstairs and I opened the back door so June Bug could do her business.

Ranger asked me, “Que diriez-vous de déjeuner?”

“Um, I don’t understand.”

“He said he wants breakfast,” said June Bug as she trotted back into the kitchen. “Sounds pretty good if you ask me.”

“Wait a minute. You understand him? What is that, French? Why is he speaking French?”

“He’s a cat,” June Bug said. “Why wouldn’t he speak French?”

“That doesn’t even make sense!”

Idiots d’humains!” Ranger said in an exasperated tone. He walked over to his empty food dish and gave me the stink eye.

“Hey, take it easy on him,” June Bug snapped. “This is all new to him, remember? Besides, didn’t I see you freak out over a pencil on the floor the other day? Now, if you want to start calling people stupid…”

“Guys!” I shouted. “Please! Can one of you just please tell me exactly what in the hell is going on?” Ranger opened his mouth and I added, “In English, please?”

“Well,” June Bug said, “for one thing, you’re not going nuts and nobody slipped you a mickey. Ranger and I are definitely talking. We’ve always been able to. Today is the day we’re allowed to.”

“Amazing. And what about him?” I  pointed out the window to a squirrel running up the tree in the back yard.

“Well, now you’re just being silly,” June Bug said. “Of course squirrels can’t talk. Say, speaking of breakfast, it is getting late. If you don’t mind me talking with my mouth full…”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Sorry.” I pulled out the bags of food and filled each bowl.

They dug into their breakfasts and I started to pace around the kitchen as my excitement grew. “This is amazing,” I said again. “Do you know what this means? I’ve got a talking dog and a cat. Do you realize how famous I’m going to be?”

I paused in mid-pace. “Wait, you guys aren’t going to pull that crap, like in the cartoons where I take you to a casting agent and you don’t talk in front of other people, are you?”

Bon, tu lui expliques ou quoi?” Ranger asked June Bug between bites.

“Yeah, I suppose I should,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll try to let him down easy.” June Bug, being a typical dog, had finished her meal in under a minute.

Phil, have a seat. We need to talk.”

“What is it?” I was starting to get a bad feeling.

June Bug nodded toward the empty chair next to mine. “Do you mind?”

“Oh, uh, yeah. Of course. Have a seat, J.B.”

“Thanks.” June Bug hopped up and sat down in the chair. “Hmmm, not too bad,” she mused as she looked around the room. “I could get used to this.”

Ranger looked up from his bowl and rolled his eyes. Something I would never think was possible until about twenty minutes ago. “J’y crois pas,” he commented in a sarcastic tone and went back to eating.

“Sorry,” June Bug muttered. “Anyway, here’s the thing – don’t bother calling anybody or making a big deal out of this, okay?”

“What do you mean?” I sputtered. “You can’t possibly expect me to…”

Phil,” June Bug interrupted. “Didn’t you hear me before? I said today is the day we’re allowed to talk. I’m not talking about just me and ’Ger, here.”

Qu'est-ce que j’ai dit!?”

“Sorry. Ran-Jer.” June Bug cleared her throat. Again, not something I’d ever…well, you get the idea. “Right about now, every pet owner in town is having a similar conversation with their dog or cat. Well, actually all over the world.”

“But why now?” I asked. “What’s so special about today?”

“You know what the date is, right?”

“Yeah, it’s Friday. So what?”

“No. Date, genius,” June Bug snapped. “It’s the twenty-first. You know, 12-21-2012? The nut jobs got the date right but today isn’t the end of the world. It’s the day we go home. We’re leaving.”


5 Stars 

Usually, I avoid short story collections because while there might be a story or two I enjoy, there is often not enough character development for me to really care, or to become invested in the story.  However, that said, I read and reviewed another of Mr. Brumm’s books last year that I truly enjoyed, Windigo Soul.  Further, the story blurbs for this collection appealed to my sense of whimsy, so when the author offered to let me read the book without expectation of a review I jumped at the opportunity – a decision that I am so happy with because this collection is just superb!

The stories are all well-written with outstanding character development. They ranged from outright hysterical (I am an unabashed cat lover) to tearful, to quirky, to frightening.  I read the entire book in an afternoon – a wet, rainy, dreary afternoon – perfect for escaping into this type of fantasy.  I loved the first story (it is very short), liked the next one a little better, and on it went that way the entire afternoon. I enjoyed each well-written, cleanly edited story better than the one before.  I was so into the 4th one “We Called Them Sheen” that I was sure nothing could top it.  But, I was wrong!  “She Must Be a Daisy” was just spellbinding!  It evoked an emotional smorgasbord - cute, clever, heart-breaking, then a delightful conclusion that left me smiling. I highly recommend this collection. All five stories are very different from each other, but most have a common thread for us animal lovers, as well. 

Reviewed by Laurie-J


Robert Brumm lives in southeastern Wisconsin with his wife, two sons, two cats, and a puggle. His day job is in IT and he writes fiction in his spare time.


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