Just to the south of the hulking Stern Beverage beer-distribution warehouse in Milan sits a relatively tiny and decidedly nondescript building. It has massive rocks between the parking lot and the structure that look decorative but are actually a low-tech security measure designed to prevent a smash-and-grab theft.

In August, Tennessee-based Strategic Behavioral Health unveiled plans to build a 72-bed psychiatric hospital in Scott County. The for-profit company's proposal - which will be considered by the Iowa Health Facilities Council in February - was greeted with enthusiasm by many public officials and community mental-health providers, dozens of whom wrote letters of support.

Our 2015 short-fiction contest featured 15 prompts from spooky fiction both famous (Dracula, Frankenstein, 'Salem's Lot) and obscure. Entrants were required to include one of the prompts and craft a story in fewer than 250 additional words.

Here are our winners and favorites. Enjoy!


With a foreboding Beethoven composition lending an incongruously somber air to the proceedings, Ballet Quad Cities' ensemble is rehearsing. The brightly lit studio space finds the 10 company members engaged in all manner of movement during these five minutes of Ludwig van: two male dancers tussling in the foreground; another male skulking in the background; a petite female gliding amongst her fellow dancers and voicelessly addressing one with an accusatory glare.

Our 2015 short-fiction contest features 15 creepy prompts, and the deadline for entries is 9 a.m. on October 20.

We'll publish winners and favorites in the October 29 issue of the River Cities' Reader - just in time for Halloween. Stories don't need to be scary, but ... 'tis the season.

Even a brief visit to Davenport's Nahant Marsh will show something unusual: a wetland habitat nestled in an area that includes an interstate highway, a railroad, and various agricultural and industrial uses. You'll likely see plants and animals that you won't find anywhere else in the Quad Cities area, just a few minutes' drive from the Rockingham Road exit of Interstate 280 in the southwestern part of the city.

In Matthew Hentrich's novel Damned City, the magic has gone - literally.

The self-published debut novel from the Quad Cities author takes place in a world in which everybody has magical skills - but its hook is that the residents of Spectra have been abruptly robbed of those abilities. There are additional complications for the city: Its highest elected official has been found dead, and it is enveloped in a spell that makes time pass much more slowly than in the rest of the world - making daylight span days. Spectra's residents are certain that an attack on the city is imminent, and they need to figure out how to defend themselves with their magic gone.

The premise, Hentrich said in a recent phone interview, was a reversal of the typical fantasy what-if of characters having magic. "The one twist I thought I could put on the concept was to go the opposite direction and say, 'What if you had people who had magic, and now it's been removed from them?'"

That narrative starting point is plenty clever, and Hentrich is also strong in his pacing, in his management of story rhythm with multiple main characters, and especially in the way he melds disparate elements into a compelling hybrid. His world shares plenty with ours (from coffee and booze to representative government) while still being foreign. (In one nice oddball touch, a city with no need for mechanical transportation finds itself using bears for travel when magic disappears.) The plot brings together fantasy and mystery, and Hentrich trusts readers enough to leave out expository background that would bog down his quick-moving story; everything is familiar enough to grease the path.

Dave Heller. Photo by Kevin Schafer (KRichardPhoto.com).

It goes without saying that Dave Heller is a baseball guy. He is, after all, the Quad Cities River Bandits' managing partner, and he has an ownership stake in three other minor-league teams.

He talks about his first ownership experience - as a business partner with legendary players Don Mattingly (Heller calls him "Donnie") and Cal Ripken Jr. And about road trips to see his baseball idol Tom Seaver when he pitched for the Mets and Red Sox.

When I inquired about his favorite River Bandits player, he quickly answered, "Carlos Correa, without question. ... Great work ethic, great natural ability, great with kids. He'll be a special star. ... The idea of having an overall number-one pick like Carlos here is really exciting to us. Two years later, and he's in the major leagues and tearing it up."

Heller grew up in Baltimore, but he wasn't an ardent Orioles fan. "I wasn't passionate about the Birds the way other people were," he said. "I really kind of just loved baseball writ large. I could watch a Cardinals-Cubs game and enjoy myself every bit as much as watching an Orioles-White Sox game."

Yet the 53-year-old doesn't run the River Bandits - or any other team he owns - like a sports enterprise. In an hour-long conversation last week, the game itself felt incidental. Heller said his model for the myriad improvements, additions, and promotions at Modern Woodmen Park during his tenure was "county fairs. ... I think the idea of bringing some of that county-fair atmosphere into a ballpark is really healthy and fun and productive."

Treating the ballpark like an amusement park might rankle baseball purists, but it's good business - particularly when one considers that minor-league owners manage the venue and not the team. The goal is to get people through the gates - and all the better if some of them only know ERA as an acronym for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Davenport started Iowa's debate over using cameras to ticket vehicle owners for speeding and running red lights, so it's appropriate to look at one of its intersections as an illustration of the current situation - 11 years after the city began automated enforcement.

From 2001 to 2004 - before any traffic cameras were installed - Kimberly Road and Elmore Avenue averaged 7.0 red-light broadside crashes per year. From 2011 to 2014 - years when speed and red-light cameras were in operation - it averaged 1.0 red-light crash annually, a drop of 86 percent. The percentage decrease is slightly greater if one only considers red-light crashes in the directions of camera enforcement - east- and west-bound speed and red-light cameras.

From the city's perspective, this represents clear evidence that the traffic cameras have improved safety at the intersection.

Yet earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) ordered that the City of Davenport turn off traffic cameras at Kimberly and Elmore, which it did in April. While the city presented data on broadside crashes - those in which somebody running a red light was a direct cause of an accident - the state looked at all crashes within 150 feet of the intersection.

And here the picture becomes muddled. In three pre-camera years, total crashes averaged 10.3. The DOT evaluation found 15.5 total crashes per year after camera activation, including 23 in 2013.

Gary Statz, a traffic engineer with the City of Davenport, said those numbers aren't really in conflict: "In 2013, we had a spike in crashes out there, and I don't know why, but we just did. So the average of [total crashes] those two years was pretty high, and they came to the conclusion that the cameras weren't effective ... .

"My argument would be that most of the crashes had nothing to do with the cameras. The red-light crashes were almost nonexistent, but we had a lot of rear-end crashes that were well back from the intersection. Traffic backed up further than people thought, [and they] just weren't prepared to stop. That seemed to be most of them. ...

"I found the vast majority of the rear-end crashes occurred well back from the intersection" but within 150 feet of it. "We only found three [in 2013] ... that occurred during the yellow or at the beginning of the red. ... When it happens five seconds after it's red, and it's 10 car lengths back from the stop bar, you can safely say the camera had nothing to do with it."

Ultimately, though, the City of Davenport opted not to appeal the DOT's order at Kimberly and Elmore. "I didn't really agree with what they said," Statz said, "but we didn't argue it."

This anecdote highlights a few key elements of the present battle over Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE).

George Strader, Andrew King, and Patrick Adamson"Is that ahi tuna?"

"No. It's a-ha tuna. This is a comedy interview."

So went a not-atypical exchange during my recent conversation with area comedians George Strader, Patrick Adamson, and Andrew King. (It was George who asked about the tuna and Patrick who ordered it. If you were wondering, Andrew had a burger.) But while the jokes and laughs tended to come fast and furious during our chat, there was one thing this trio was dead-serious about: The Quad Cities' comedy scene has, since the beginning of this decade, been enjoying a pretty dramatic renaissance. A pretty inspiring one, too.

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