The Crucible

Enter the mind of a brain surgeon!

It’s 1951 & this is a test.

Trevor Mott is a brain surgeon. Jimmy P. is eight years old and plays baseball. Today, the two of them will come together. One will be taken to the very edge of endurance.

The other will go even further.

The Crucible is a far surpassing tale of surgical suspense available on kindle today. Just 99 cents.

Click now to buy THE CRUCIBLE on Kindle.

The Crucible
A short story by Edison McDaniels, MD

October 3rd, 1951 

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”  The announcer’s exuberance burst from the radio with the intensity of an artery geysering blood across the room. You couldn’t help but notice it. “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thompson hits into the lower deck of the left…” 

“Turn that damn thing off,” Mott said, putting down the loop cautery and motioning with his arm toward the radio. Jesus Christ, he said to himself, thinking of the damn Brooklyn Dodgers. How could the bums have a virtual lock on first, thirteen and a half games up with just forty-four to play, a month before the season ended, and still manage to rise to that particular level of mediocrity that is second place? It sickened him. 

Second place was an untenable position to Trevor Mott. As a brain surgeon, it represented a compromise he couldn’t afford inside someone’s head, an intolerable concession that could only bring pain or suffering at best, death or invalidism at worst. Of course, it wasn’t he that would suffer in such a case, it was his patients. And suffer they did he thought, for however untenable second place might be in his own mind, it was a plight which visited his – any neurosurgeon’s – operating room with a certain morbid regularity. 

An image of the neurosurgical ward two floors above suddenly flashed into Mott’s head. It was a large open rectangular room with pale cream walls and dingy gray floor tiles, all of it scuffed by too many years of use. Tall windows lined the walls on each side of the room’s long axis and the early morning sun spilled in from one side, lending the room a soothing but unbalanced look; Mott saw tiny specks of dust suspended in the golden light.

The Crucible is available on Kindle right now.



The Kowalski Scenario

An all new short story from the mind of Edison McDaniels


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Learning to survive as a neurosurgery resident is hard. Life on the front lines of medicine and surgery is anything but easy. The hours are long, rest is scarce, and the decisions never ending. 

 With life and death hanging in the balance, the decisions are never easy either. Sometimes, there isn’t a good—or even reasonable—choice. 

And sometimes you have to be in two places at once—with two lives dependent on what you do in the next ten minutes. What do you do then?

The Kowalski Scenario.
Not so much about learning how to operate, but when.

An excerpt…

IN THE NEXT FEW MINUTES I spoke with his mom (she looked terror stricken when I told her he needed emergency brain surgery, a look I had come to know well after nearly a year in the trenches—nobody is ever happy to see a brain surgeon, go figure) and made arrangements for him to go to surgery with Charlie, my chief resident, who concurred with my diagnosis.

“The kid’s got a fucking boil in his head. Let’s pop it,” Charlie said with his usual screaming candor when I showed him the films. 

I invited the peds resident to the OR with us, but she turned a little pale at the idea and said she’d take a rain check and join us another time. I doubted that, but she did help me wheel him upstairs to the pre-induction area. His seizure had stopped by then, but his breathing had shallowed, and I feared it might shallow further if we waited too long. 

We didn’t. Charlie and I had the boy in surgery within thirty minutes and had his skull cracked in another twenty. It was pus city in there all right, and, this was Charlie talking again, “smelled like an unwashed toilet.” We irrigated the bad humors off the surface of his brain for another half hour—extinguishing the flames, so to speak—before piecing his skull back together with a few metal plates and screws.

ORDINARY FOLKS—Extraordinary Circumstances

A short story perfect for the plane, train, bus, or commute.

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Dead Man Breathing

Sam Kelder lies comatose and near death in the ICU. He wants nothing more than to go home. Unfortunately, if those around him have their way, he won’t be going home anytime soon. An award winning story.

Written under the alias Edison Penn.


Dead Man BreathingFromEPM
by Edison Penn

If oonuh ent kno weh oonuh dah gwine,
oonuh should kno weh oonuh come fum.

(If you don’t know where you’re going,
you should know where you come from.)

—An old Gullah proverb— 

I. Understanding

Sam Kelder finally understands.

At sixty-eight, Sam is an old man. Much older than the calendar suggests, as if his body has withered, rather than lived, all those years. His dark skin hides a dusky pallor, and the blood within flows like molasses; the pump is all but worn out. His once-straight spine is stooped: a length of bamboo twisted crazy by the years. His once strong muscles are nothing more than thin lumps of fat under flesh, barely able to lift his own weight.

I nees a smoke, he thinks in his low speech, a mix of Gullah and English. As if rolling a phantom cigarette, his yellow stained fingers twitch back and forth constantly. He took his first pull as a young boy at the boot of his tata; for over sixty years Sam has rolled his own, and the smell of the harsh tobacco lingers in his nose like an old friend who never wears out a welcome. His lips constantly smack. Even now he feels the tip of a smoke against his tongue, can almost taste it, but only almost.

He sees his wife at the foot of his bed from time to time. She is always standing, always wearing one of her fine Sunday hats. Eulalee is her name, and she duh prietest ooman on dis heih islan. That would be John’s Island, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, and in his curious low speak, the sentiment is meant to imply both past and present. Eulalee and Sam were once a hot item on John’s Island, and he can still smell her hiar and taste her leps. He knows it’s her trabblin speerit what comes to visit from time to time; her hebben-goin’ speerit is long in the sure dead.

Eulalee is a large woman, coal black and big boned. Her face shows a large nose with big flaring nostrils; her left eyelid droops and lends her a sheepish appearance, as if she is always in the midst of a wink. She has thick, ebony black hair, wears deep red lipstick, and is sure enough sure a God fearin’ ooman. He usually refers to her as ooman, seldom as Eula or Eulalee (except maybe in church, which he attends every Sunday—the only time he ever wears a tie). Though she’s been gone near fifteen years, he can spend hours cracking teet’ and speaking with her most anywhere. She is never was, is always is.

For thirty-three years the pair lived in a broken down two bedroom shack, sharecropping a small piece of swampy, bug-infested land that barely allowed Sam the dignity of a man feeding his family. Onpossible tuh get straight wood fum crooked timber, Sam liked to say about that land. Sam and Eulalee kept one bedroom, their nine childin kept the other. Sam smiles and wonders if they would have had more or lesschildin if he’d have spent more time at home. He thinks of Eulalee again. She wasn’t a complaining woman. She was, is, a gud ooman.

Baking in the hot, unforgiving South Carolina sun, Sam worked the meager fields and picked cotton from sun up til sun down—promisin’ talk don’ cook rice is his philosophy about life and work. At the end of each tortured day, his bruised and blistered fingers looked more like they belonged on a meat wagon than his hand. It was a living that paid wages in blood and dividends in misery. Who could blame a man then, for playing as hard as he worked, spending so many of his nights in the numerous unnamed joop joints dotting the backwoods of Charleston County? His friends, mostly in the sure dead themselves now, were all from those haunts—Preacher Man, Buds, Butcher Prosper, Uncle Joey, John the Devine. Just names now, but oh how the memories dance.

Read the rest of the story for free at the website of On The Premises Magazine, where the story was originally published—Click Here


The Apotheosis of Forests



The Apotheosis of Forests
A short story by Edison McDaniels

The beast and the man upon the beast moved through the forest as one. He rode the animal as if born to the task, and his every command put the animal to action without hesitation. He was its master.

The animal itself stood half again as tall as the man. It moved upright on two powerfully built limbs, balancing now and again on a long and sinewy prehensile tail. Within its head two eyes the size of men’s fists peered out of a flat face, and below those eyes both a small and a large mouth. A thin, forked tongue pistoned repeatedly from the smaller mouth at irregular intervals.

The man adjusted his weight upon the beast. Its leathery hide had long since abraded and thinned his britches. But so long had he sat the creature that the insides of his thighs had scarred and pitted until his own skin was made leathery tough as a result. As well, the heat of two suns burned overhead and the man’s profuse sweating made his perch upon the animal’s broad shoulders precarious at times.

The pair came now out of the trees and ascended to the crest of a bald ridge, which dominated the land for miles in all directions. The man pulled his spyglass and eyeballed the world. What he saw was all gray and charcoal, a mixture of the meager and the substantial; more the former than the latter.

The putrid smell of the beast hung in the air and the man adjusted the scarf before his nose. The air itself was crystal clear. The trees before him were huge, hulking things, black and burnt and most over on their side as if tossed like twigs, as if some great and fantastic god had wiped his hand across the land and made it so. They jutted every which way, no rhyme or reason except to obscure any path through their mess. An immense expanse of trees of all sizes, from the insignificant to the gigantic, broken only by the odd boulder or clearing. A dry, angular, craggy, uninviting world.

He saw nothing anywhere to suggest water.

He counted exactly two rotting carcasses, both emaciated. He was mildly surprised the feeders hadn’t reduced them to bones yet, then thought how nothing moved in the high heat of day. As if to confirm this, he saw no vultures, no birds of any sort. Even the thrum of insects had fallen to something tolerable.

The great beast shuddered. The man pocketed the spyglass and patted the neck of his beast. “Easy fella,” he said. “You smell water maybe? Just a little?”

No, the man thought, adjusting his scarf again and sniffing the air, not yet you don’t.

He reached behind him and fumbled in his pack for anything to eat. He pulled out a few last bits of dried placenta. He fed half to the animal first, then took the other half himself. The taste was salty and bitter, the texture gritty. He pulled his water bag and took a sip. He offered some to the animal, mostly out of habit this was, but it turned away. “Good fella,” he said, “You know we’re in trouble.”

The beast sniffed the air and shuddered again, then made a loud croaking noise. The man dismounted. “We getting close, fella? You smell it?” He took his knife and water bag from the pack, stuck the knife in his belt. Shook the water bag. Thought, water enough for one more day. He looked at the animal’s rump, at the many scars upon it. “Won’t need eating if there ain’t no drinking,” he said, and so decided against taking any food. Besides, he needed the beast whole if it was to do its job properly. Find water and there’d be time and plenty for eating. He knew this last from experience. He pulled the reins and the animal bent forward to his level. “Find water,” he whispered in its ear, then “Away with you. Yehaw!” He slapped its ass and the animal moved off at a run.

The man tracked the beast, staying out of its way. He rubbed the oily black mud that did for soil all over himself by way of hiding his own scent, then followed the beast’s prints in the same oily crud. Night came and he tracked the beast purely by its smell in the heavy darkness, for the beast had keen night sight and preferred to move in the cooler night air. In the morning the man sought shelter under a deadfall. He dug worms and ate termites from a dead tree. He saw the black dirt melt to an oily crud as the twin suns rose in the red sky.

His water bag ran dry on the second day. He drew his member and filled the bag with his own piss, which he drank sparingly for another day. He rested in the afternoons. Night came and another day and another night. His piss turned purple-brown, the color of beet gruel, and it burned to pee. When he wiped his mouth, there was no spit. It occurred to him he might die and in the early morning he lay prostrate upon the ground, on the oily crud that had once again solidified in the cool night air. He chanted the Ka, or as much of it as he could remember, and once or twice thought he heard the high pitched whine of the feeders on the move.

He fell asleep and awoke to the building heat, to something pricking his arms. He came around only slowly. An insect whined at his ear and he pawed at it. Of a sudden he was fully awake. “Shit.” The whine of the feeders was loud in his ear. He rose in an instant, slapping at his arms and neck, dancing like a man possessed. He took off at a run.

In the low heat of just after sunrise the feeders didn’t follow. They didn’t have too, he realized. He’d be helpless and at their mercy soon enough. He’d seen it before, how the feeders attacked a man and reduced him to bones, and those bones to dust. It hadn’t been a quick death though. It had taken minutes—many long minutes—and the man had screamed the whole time. Awful screams. The man had been his father.

He tracked the beast. He found the animal over on its back at the edge of a clearing. Its tongue lolled to one side as if laughing. “Easy fella, it’ll all be over soon.”

The whine of the feeders moved slowly closer.

The man pulled his blade. “I won’t let ‘em get ya, fella.”

The beast stirred.

“Water? You smell water, fella? Seems like maybe you smell water.” He and the beast had been together for many ages and he knew the beast’s behaviors. Ot maybe he was just imagining it so.

The beast quivered and snorted, more convincingly this time.

It took all his might for the man to move the beast’s great head. The dirt under it was dry, had not yet melted to the oily crud. The man took a handful. He smelled it, put some in his mouth.

Water? Maybe. There was a sickly sweet taste to the dirt that he had missed in the days just past.

He began to dig. A foot below the surface the water ran in tiny rivulets. Slightly deeper and the water puddled. He took enough to wet his lips, then cupped his hands and brought them up to the beast’s mouth. “Here you go fella. You’ve earned it.”

The beast stirred. The man got the animal up and let him drink first. “Good fella,” he said over and over.

Next, the man drank and felt his strength returning despite the heat. As it got hotter, the whine of the feeders disappeared.

Later, as the twin suns faded over the horizon, the man’s hunger came on. Time to eat, he thought. He’d had nothing substantial in days. He tied the reins of the beast to a tree and pulled his blade once more. He ran a hand over the animal’s scarred rump. He said a prayer, something about renewal, and kissed his hand and placed that hand upon the animal’s rump. The great beast, a renewer, made a low whining noise and tensed as the man carved a hunk of meat from its rump, where the hide was thinner.

He was careful to cut only what he needed at that moment.

They were still surrounded by uncounted miles of dead forest, and a long way from anywhere.


Edison McDaniels’ novels and novellas are available for purchase at Amazon.