Short fiction of 101 words or less submitted by readers, presented in random order.
Condensation builds on the outside of my pint and I can clearly see the forming of clouds. Pressure, dust, and vapor build until the tension is too great and I fall to the earth with a dignified collapse featuring glazed eyes and spittle trickling from my mouth. The shimmering movement of patrons and staff lends me the compounding sight of a housefly, recognizing only movement with little to no detail. I am surrounded, yet alone.
For a brief moment there is a silent pause and focus. I am present, I am home, where everybody knows my name.
He sat in the dark of the kitchen, hands over his eyes. Thin streams of water rivering down his face. Darkness was next to him, a tangible shadow amassed, an unknowable shape. It reached out as he sighed and laid a hand on his shoulder. Something broke. Smaller than a twig, but it held the waters of the Pacific. He opened his mouth and roared. A guttural scream and as he did, a tiny sun was born. Growing, nova, supernova. Light exploded in the kitchen. The shadow behind him now. His cry sputtered and he sighed again, now with relief.
On the outside, it is all calmness. The bed made. Her hair, brushed into a loose bun, rests against the her neck. Tidy. She leaves the curtains open, and the sunlight between branches, pours in, spilling across the bedroom floor.
Inside her brain, a calamity. A circus of competing attractions. A jumble of conversations that she’s overheard, words gathered, sunsets burned against her dry winter skin. She picks things out; curses, ideas, thoughts and rest them - one at a time, on her paper.
White spaces sit next to black ink, that sink into the pulp, and constructs sentences across the page.
It was a creepy feeling. Willie hated it. He knew he could never tell anyone what he’d seen that afternoon, but it burned in his mind, like he could never forget. It was everywhere. It was like everyone could somehow see it plain as day inside him, which made him panicky. That first night he almost hid from his parents. He could tell they knew that something was up, but they didn’t ask too many questions. But that night, dreams were crazy and sleep was chaotic, like his class with a bad substitute teacher—only scary. And… would he be next?
The last time I saw my father alive, he was staggering drunkenly down State Street early one evening. As I viewed this sad spectacle, a man on the next bar stool said, “What a shame. He was once a successful businessman.” I pushed away my drink. The next morning, I learned that my father was in the hospital. I arrived to find that he had just died. The nurse took my hand and said, “I know how you must feel. My father is killing himself the same way.” We married that spring. Dad would have loved our children, Ashley and Phoenix.
In Sickness And In Health
“I want to do it on my own, James.” Geraldine’s voice hinted at a whine she hated to hear. Clearing her throat, she continued. “I’ve waited thirty years to explore the Collosseum again; I don’t want my… illness, keep me from it.”
“Darling, Huntington’s Disease can’t stop you. There’s a railing; please use it.”
“Cold metal–– another reminder that I can’t walk on my own anymore.” She paused, afraid she’d cry. “I wanted to return and remember how sweet it was the day I met you here.”
“Then take my hand, love. We’ll walk together, just as we did that day.
Hall Bed #5
“I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to know…” I tell the nurse.
I drenched myself in the night ocean to see what it would feel like, to bring my sick mind to a halt.
Shivering, I glance at the door. I could make a run for it. No one could catch me if they wanted to.
The social workers come in: I’m not in any immediate danger to myself.
And yet, here I am dangling my truck key nervously in my hand, discharged. Am I sick? Am I not sick? Where the hell do I go from here?
The coyote trotted lithely along the river. His head undulated from checking the ground to testing the air for all of the scents of past and present visitors. Brush hid the hunter. The coyote moved onto a ledge to stop and lay belly down. Suddenly, the coyote threw his head up past vertical flopping it back into a dislocation of bowed throat howling. The hunter forgot the hunt. He was now a spectator, a voyeur. No response from anywhere. The coyote was silent. The hunter sat silent, his gun forgotten. The hunt was done. The soul satisfied.
“And here you go, the lasagna. Can I take your salad plate?”
“Anything else I can grab you?”
“No, this will be fine. Thanks.”
“Hey, I have a weird question but do you always eat alone?”
“Well I didn’t used to. But now, yeah.”
There were no leash laws; dogs ran loose. Walking to school, I ran a gauntlet of canine affection. Neighborhood dogs loved me. Special was a collie named Melon, for her color, like a cantaloupe. She’d see me, bark, come running, writhing and wagging. She was like mine.
But Melon chased cars. She snapped at the front wheel, out of the driver’s sight. It was crazy scarey.
One morning, breaking from me, she chased a truck toward school. “No!” and “Melon, Come” were ignored. I followed sadly. Around a corner, something beside the road. My fears come true, it was Melon collie.
The radio sounded static before the jockey’s voice reappeared, “...that was ‘‘Burnin for You’ by the Blue Oyster Cult. Remember, the thirteenth caller at 3:30 will win a weekend in our penthouse in Phoenix. Here’s Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion’...” Jimmy’s cigarette burned as the red and blue lights flashed brighter in his mirrors. Blood on his hands caused them to stick to the steering wheel. As Jimmy careened into traffic, he thought of calling the radio station. Of winning and looking across the redness of the desert from the view of the penthouse. His penthouse. A loud sound. The view vanished.
“Don’t you have a grammar test tomorrow?”
“Yeah, we might. At least, we were supposed to before Snowmageddon…”
“So shouldn’t you be studying?”
“While plugged into Spotify and gazing out into space?”
“I’m thinking…actually, I might be stuck. What is ‘modality’?”
“It is supposed to be ‘the writer’s attitude toward the world.’“
“I guess it is used to give an opinion or to control an action. You know, words like woulda, shoulda, coulda.”
“Oh. But one’s attitude toward the WORLD?”
“People can live in modality without even knowing it.”
How did you become a world-whisperer, they asked me. Well, I said, you know how the Viking gods died when the Vikings—the real ones—went away? So we thought the pagan world and talking with the animals was dead too. Then a whale carried her dead calf for days, loud and clear. How did she know we were back and ready to listen, even to the trees? I was recruited by one of them, who told the others, and they apprenticed me to speaking truth to power in an unimaginably ancient language—I’m learning to translate the earth’s voice ...
Snow fell steadily. The cat lounged by the wood stove. Jack sat hunched over the table, his gaze cast intently on his work. “Don’t look so sad, I’ll have you feeling like new in no time.” Jack said, but his words weren’t directed to the cat. From above, eyes of other animals gleamed in the stovelight. Disembodied heads of deer, elk, and bear stared over Jack. Years of taxidermy practice earned him the reputation of the best in Coldspring. Long since retired, this subject would be his last. “Almost done dear Marjorie. You look like you did when we were twenty.”
Marguerite stares out the window. The lecturer drones on at the edge of her awareness. “We find… that… in certain poetic genres…” The sound is hypnotic. Marguerite wonders if certain cadences of words, poetic resonances, can carry meaning beyond language, like radio waves carry sound without being audible. When she’d registered for the class, she didn’t realize poetry could be boring. Her interest in verse had been triggered by a wildly romantic Italian with whom she’d had a sizzling summer fling: Andreo recited verses of beauty and grace as foreplay and interlude to their mad bouts of passion. Marguerite squirms, remembering…
This is a story. It is about a song. Your song.
You choose. It begins. It ends. That’s it.
Just a job for the paycheck. Hauling words across my keyboard exhausts the hoarded reserves in my imagination. I’ve saved my thoughts all day, waiting for time found to build my own story undisturbed. Carefully, I recognize the wisps of memory slipping among the internal detritus of the day. Time scheduled to open my mind and see what I can capture. Just a job for a paycheck. I edit written words. Enviable work if you can get it. Admiring the skill found among so much forced effort. They make the mistakes I learn from. Just a paycheck for the education.
The Blank Rocketship
Carson looked out the window at the swing, almost at rest after the minute he had spent inside. Everything in him pulled towards climbing back on and reaching for the sky, kicking it with his legs. He was stuck to the hard plastic seat, waiting at the table for his bowl of soup, from can to pan to bowl. Mom came back from the oven and tossed dinner down in front of him before sitting down to return to her phone, running her hand through the maze of her hair, unaware that she sighs when she reads.
The land appears mostly quiet, ignorant, immune to our instructions; fields or mountains seem to slumber—a nice picture hung on walls, framed by windows. However, never quite asleep but too long mute, at last unknown sounds stir, sob, speak out, whispers before voices unfolding like a bright season—buds, shoots, branches, leaves, then blossoms assert their rainbow of fireworks, air full with audible scents, all nature’s shouts raised in open rebellion; even clouds, wind, and rivers insist being firmly heard, weather’s overdue reprimand as heat rises fast above swollen seas . . . this upstart, sunlit symphony we cannot follow.
After the Recent Storm
“Did you just tell me how to dig a hole?”
“No,” she said. “But it should be wider.”
The winter windstorm off the Pacific had snapped several fence posts. Most of the posts, though, still stood.
He dug again, carving down through the wet soil, expanding the last hole. The fence was old, but younger than their marriage. With two good knees and shoulders between them, together they hoisted the bag of cement, pouring a new post foundation.
They admired their handiwork, allowing the concrete to cure.
“I could eat,” he said.
“My night to cook?”
“Yeah,” she said.
You’ve been trying to kill this fire, now it’s trying to kill you. You start a backburn, and new flames sprint for the ridgeline. You scramble and stumble uphill behind it. The big fire is coming behind you, a locomotive on steroids, chasing, vengeful, angry. You think, Too late. I’m going to die. You can’t breathe. You can’t see. You can’t hear yourself crying. You can’t go on. You unfold your Mylar emergency shield, crouch, get under, tuck in, choke, gasp, scream. The freight train shrieks past. You crawl out into ash and embers. The fire races on, uncaring.
By the Burn Barrel
The fire burns. Snow, no wind.
Old Charlie keeps muttering about something that happened 30 years ago.
Smoodge starts a story about sleeping with two women, obviously bullshit. Harry guffaws. Smoodge stops talking. The bottle goes around again. Smoodge calls Harry an asshole.
Two kids saunter over. “Hey, can you buy us some booze? We’ll get you another bottle.”
Nobody responds. They wander off.
Big Ivan lights a cigarette, spits in the fire, tosses in another chunk of fencepost. Sparks take wing, mingle with snowflakes, fade.
We’re in an alley, by the burn barrel, snow, no wind.
Once upon a time there was a serpent and every single time that it rounded the world it would change color and every color that it changed would make one new thing. When it turned brown, it would make mountains. When it turned red it would make lava. But those were the only two colors it could change to. So it would never leave its cave because every time it circled the world and changed color, someone would die.
Then one day somebody was immortal. So when they were supposed to die they took the place of the serpent. The End.
“Sadie, Stop It! You need clothes for school.” Irene empathized with Sadie but she just needed her to be “normal” today. “Your aura’s anger red” Sadie mumbled, squeezing into her favorite purple sleeping bag. This bag was her sanctuary from all the colors of emotions she could see in the outside world.
As the door slammed, Sadie sighed. For yet another year, her mother went shopping without her and she will be buying Sadie clothing that is pink and usually flowers everywhere.
A question came to her mind: “Would the world ever accept her gift?”
Yearning for Fame
“Don’t compare yourself to others. If you do, you’re insulting yourself” muttered Edger, taking a puff of his Marlboro as he briskly walked on a cold winter morning, reminiscing about his heritage.
Since he was a kid, his father, a failed and broken man, bragged about being a German stormtrooper. Edgar, now in his late 60’s, dreamed of righting the wrong.
Hearing shouting and seeing people disperse, he looked up. Sensing a chance for glory, he fumbled in his waistband, pulling out a pistol. The undercover officer paused just long enough in his pursuit to turn, point and fire his w
Sense of Place
Julia noticed the followers as she was leaving the market. At first, she thought they were kids who’d been buying crispitos and beer, but as they caught up to her at the intersection, she realized they weren’t young at all despite having skin so smooth it looked plastic.
What ? she thought. And then…
…Julia woke up in bed with the figures looking down at her.
“Where am I?”
“You’re at home,” one said. “You’ve had a little stroke.”
“You’re lying to me,” she said.
The alien smiled at her, too widely.
“How did you know?”
“I can’t hear the trains.”
They drove through the flames praying and crying. Weeks later, while sifting through the ashes, we found the black cast iron dog transformed into a ravenous wolf, white and mottled. Marbles and plates and windshields had melted. I lifted a solid pool of smelted metal from the shop floor, my inheritance. It formed a strange island, an archipelago, a treasure map to the past. We navigated through the memories and the trauma, building a sturdy bridge to the present. But the future was terra incognito. A blank page to be printed with each survivors colors, their grit, their personal resolve.
Adam felt his hibernation dream-state float away. He floundered against the floor, recollecting where he was: the UESC Tranquility. Alarms pierced his ears.
The starship’s interior came into focus. Had they arrived? Where was Eva? Passengers to escape pods immediately echoed as panic surged down Adam’s spine. He woke Eva, and they hurtled into the getaway capsule. Not only was the porthole glass cracking, the void of space was pitch black. Where were the stars? Her grip on his hand tightened.
The pod launched upward, darkness faded to light, and they surfaced on an ocean. Lush hills rolled on the horizon.
“That was nice.”
“Yes, it was.”
“We should do this more often.”
She held her breath. “Why don’t we?”
He pulled away. “You’re tired.”
She fell back onto the pillow. “Stick around in the morning when I’m not so tired.”
He flushed the toilet, turned on the tap.
“I have a job in the morning. Maybe you should get one.”
She rose and snapped on her clothes. After the door slammed, the kids yelled.
He cocked his chin toward the mirror. Moved the blade up his neck.
Joy To The Earth
misty moon glowing fullishly upon… what is this? a celebration of sorts, attended by night creatures; roustabout raccoon, squeaky bat, jitterbugging rat, drumming deer, prancing possum, whodunit owl. the occasion being, freedom of nature night. meaning ? that the human beings have built themselves to destruction ! the oozing oily black spreading ocean tide, the combustible unbreathable air, their brilliantly conceived killing tools, bombs, guns, gases, chemicals, unleashed, have done the species in. and none too soon for the rest of earths inhabitants. beings incapable of fouling their nests, devouring their foodstuffs, reproducing in unfathomable numbers like the two leggeds. impossible dream, right ?
Are we homeless or is this home?
On his GoFundMe site he says he’s set for next week but no place for tonight, and he hopes help is on the way.
He used to post cell phone photos on Facebook, snapshots of graffiti, graphics he discovered walking to work in downtown San Francisco. A single cheerful word—Snap! for instance—accompanied by a quick sketch.
A branch breaking.
Now he moves from shelter to shelter with a few plastic bags into which he’s stuffed a work outfit, pillow, toothbrush.
They watched her move about the house, stooped and slow, while she muttered about the state of the world, of the weather…of her old bones. Listened to her one-sided conversations and frustrations, and thought her perfect. Licked at the pink spot of jam that had missed her morning toast and landed on her shirt…and thought her perfect. Not foolish or wise, too thin or fat, crazy or difficult. Her dogs loved her any way that she was, and all the ways she would be, as long as she was theirs.
Her Life Was So Gay
Harriet, please open the door.”
“It is awfully dark in here, Archibald.”
“Of course it is, darling. Open up.”
“It’s just that I have something important to tell you, Archy.”
“All right, dear.”
“It’s rather shocking, I’m afraid. It’s about our marriage.”
“Okay, dear, but please first come out of the closet.
She was a frost covered cabin beside the river, and gave the traveler the only extra key. He said he was true to her only, no doors to open but hers alone. One quiet night she heard keys jingle, then changed the lock and set the trap.
Things Men Tell Me
My hands are insured by Harrods
My wife is fine with this.
I’d love to read your book
I have a genital piercing
Want to take a ride on the back of my BMW?
No one knows Paris like I know Paris
Ever done it on a train?
I have my own massage table
Your smell is intoxicating
I’m leaving next week for Mogadishu
I do a mean sous vide
I’m serving dinner to homeless people on Thursday. How about Friday?
Semen is good for wrinkles
Crossing The Bar
Returning from a long day of crabbing, I’m approaching the bar. Conditions are hazardous. Timing the series of waves, I pick my spot and advance the throttle. We’re committed. Passing the tips of the jetties now, I see a series of waves coming. A really big series!!!! Turning the boat around to point the bow into the waves I’m staring at a 25 foot high breaker, the top starting to curl over. Hammering the throttle, I hope to get enough speed to punch through the wave. “BOOM”!!!! The pilot house windows blow out!!!! I awaken from my dream.
The Dragon Inside Me
The dragon was always inside me but I ignored her, focusing instead on my misfortunes until my taut belly stretched and swelled asymmetrically. Clawed feet, wings, and tiny hands poked out of my skin shapeshifting from tadpole, to snake, to bird to a two tongued scaly green dragon, unwinding and untangling my untruths that were deeply embedded in the walls of my uterus. The dragon’s flame singed and scorched my old stories to ashes making space for an exciting new tale. She entered the world; I threw our golden umbilical cord around her neck and she took me for a ride.
Teenager Bonnie lived with five sisters in a sharecropper shack on a sandy chicken farm near Waycross, Georgia. The 100 chickens were donated by the 4-H Club and Sears. They also had three milk cows.
Bonnie was skinny and emaciated looking similar to pictures she saw years later of concentration camp survivors. Girls at school called her ‘bony Bonnie’ and ‘chicken legs’. When they showed off their starter bras in the bathroom, Bonnie had nothing to show.
Her parents and doctor couldn’t figure out what the problem was, but it finally became apparent. A tapeworm was swimming in the toilet.
The Cat Defines its Needs
We’re in the future now, where avenues will click with noise of apps that rip through torrid air, through laden beams of chat. I worry that these messages impinge upon my right to have a quiet mind. I need to find my furtive way to attics of another age, to creep into a crevice where someone has left her wealth. I need to touch the crafted, mitered, deckled sheaf, to sniff the wrinkled pages, paw the print. It’s only sensible to want a hand-me-down, a secret stash of stacks of books that I might rest on when you want to read.
The Third Option
“Schrodinger was an idiot,” the cat said. It licked blood from it’s front paws. “He never saw the edge of the quark.”
“A third option,” I said. “When he opened the box.”
The cat nodded. “Not alive, not dead. Just hungry.”
I glanced at Schrodinger’s bloodless body.
“I’m still hungry.” The cat flashed its fangs at me in a sharp parody of a smile. “But I could use a friend with opposable thumbs.”
“Your choice,” it said in a ragged purr.
Against all probability I crawled into the box. A quark flipped, and I became.
I, (the) Phone
Destination will be on the right. He sat down at a counter in the bar, which was crowded with people and whose words swirled from mug to mug and from bottle to bottle; it was known, through familiarity, that those sparks coming out of several burning mouths were from the English. With his smartphone in hand, he typed in a frightening speed and even, for a brief and rare moment, he thought: will be that every thing I type here is said by a person in this place? AHAHAHA > SEND. A female voice had burst out laughing. With his smartphone in hand, he typed again and did not think anymore.
A black cat crossed my path as I walked beneath a ladder. A car drove by going too fast and hit a mud puddle in front of me. Dirty black water splattered across my clothes. My phone rang. It was her. I threw it in the puddle. I let out a yell. I couldn’t contain it. You saw me and asked if you could help. I apologized and said that I was upset, my girlfriend had dumped me. You said you had just gone through a break up with someone too. You asked for my number. I stared at the puddle.
Are We Homeless Or Is This Home
On his gofundme site he says he’s set for next week but no place for tonight, and he hopes help is on the way.
He used to post cell phone photos on Facebook, snapshots of graffiti, graphics he discovered walking to work in downtown San Francisco. A single cheerful word –Snap! for instance – accompanied by a quick sketch.
A branch breaking.
Now he moves from shelter to shelter with a few plastic bags into which he’s stuffed a work outfit, pillow, toothbrush.
I knew the moment the dark looming clouds came, it was going to be a doozy of a day. I had sensed the rain long before the action started far down below me. Large white canopies and chairs were quickly being set up as the rain started pouring down. Soon the mourners arrived, surrounded my trunk, and I began. I spread my boughs wide to filter the air for the many who had just had the wind knocked out of them. Then I stiffened every leaf to shield the raindrops from the beautiful scene and keep their tears pure.
The alarms never rang without warning.
It’s not fair that I should be one of the few to experience the consequences of another’s destructive choice.
Can I trade my final thoughts to the fates so I may pass these moments in blissful ignorance while asleep on my side?
I am filled with regret; leaving behind mistakes that i am unable to fix.
But my death—our deaths—will change the world.
A cloud will rise from our graves as a signal to the world that the path leaders have chosen is one of unforgivable selfishness and pain.
The crampons go on last, obviously. She pulls on black ski pants that still fit after all these years, yet the waist is a bit tight this morning since that fritatta and slice of pie.
Each day, donning warm clothes and bulky footwear has streamlined the routine into a pleasant task she awaits.
With one hand on the doorknob, the other the thermos, she yanks the door open to a blast of hot humid air.
The temperature gauge outside reads 91 degrees as she mutters to herself once again, “How I miss the snowy northland,” backs up and closes the door.
Trail of Tears
Henry sat on a stump and wiped his eyes. Tears, sweat, it all felt the same: burning pain. He held the small wooden box and gazed out across the ridge and peaks beyond. He’d risen early to hike to their favorite spot, where they’d fallen in love, forty-five years earlier as young Rangers.
Now he was alone. Six months since the bicycle accident, and he still had trouble sleeping or getting through his day without his best friend and wife.
“Jessie, I love you darling. Until we meet again…” Henry cast the fine ash into the gentle breeze, and smiled.
“In case we’re separated.” He handed her the boarding pass and the smaller of the bags. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right behind you.”
He nodded toward the crowds lining up for security, and smiled, white teeth and crinkly eyes—the smile she’d fallen in love with.
“Papers, please.” She handed passport and boarding pass to the agent, her glance back blocked by the crush of travelers.
At the gate, she waited until the last group boarded. Maybe she’d missed him and he was already on the plane. She scanned the passengers as she shuffled up the aisle, realization dawning.
The day will come when the electricity will stop flowing. At that time the Internet will cease to exist. (For better or worse.) Simple daily transactions we take for granted in our modern life will become a burden. Digital information will only be a faded tribal memory.
For something that has been around for less than 150 years we have wrapped it like a warm blanket around our world and lives. Afraid of the cold and what it might bring in with it we huddle together alone.
Thank God that day will not happen any time in the near futu
Second sun was shrouded in stinky clouds seeping out of the Southern Swamp. It made me lethargic. But I was anxious and didn’t want to wait for a double sunny day.
The lab was empty since the other students were on break and scattered around the Blxiverse. The explosion shocked me when I put the ingredients together. The ball I created was a floating work of art. It’s liquid was a majestic swirling blue that circled brown and green anchors.
Being bored years later, I added life forms for interest. They call it Earth. I wish I’d done a better job.
I have watched them, figured them out. They have oddly assimilated, despite their pallor and the smell of decay. But to avoid attack, to avoid becoming one of them, one must show no fear and keep language simple, slow, deferential. I identify survivors by judicious use of complex language. If it is one of them, a quick abashed return to simple language, smiling, nodding. Language is the shibboleth, but a two-edged sword. It can identify one of us, or trigger attack by one of them. The key to survival is to smile and be polite. And to choose your words carefully.
The Old Ones
The old ones built this house, each beam hewn by hand, each mark of adze pointing like a fingerprint to the long dead craftsman.
My grandfather could name them all. I can hear his voice even now, like an old newsreel- it’s still standing, boy, it’s still standing.
It has stood witness to generations of a family so consumed by the ghosts of their past that some were pushed to the edge of madness. Even my grandfather, as calm and rational a man as I have ever known, by that last summer before I left, was beginning to hear the footsteps.
Approaching the log road, Mindie hears the waterfall and considers hiking to it. But takes the lower trail instead. Light rain falls making the morning feel fresh and quiet. Following a path off to the side, she finds a patch of trilliums hiding under foliage. Feeling eyes on her, she looks up. An owl sits on a tree branch a few feet away watching her. Mindie returns to the trail. As it curves to the left, she sees the back of the owl. Its head turns only as it continues to stare. She says, “I’ll remember this walk for some time.”
I don’t live by a warm ocean. All pebble and no sand.
I’d catch a cold sometimes, walking along the rocky shore in the rain. The cliffside is made of clay and the debris becomes moldable with water. We used to build shapes out of it. We’d take a chunk from the ground by the bluff, fill up a bucket with seawater and create. The figures left behind would melt away in the rain.
The funeral was in Florida. I couldn’t afford to fly out so I went to the beach and watched children turn rock into sculpture, solid into liquid.
On Hat Creek
If I stare at the campfire long enough this morning, baking my moccasins while sunlight creeps past my tent to measure the tall pines across the creek, I might linger, like my brush-tailed companion perched safely on a branch above, and watch fat, river-round boulders shoulder aside the rush, the spring rush of Hat Creek.
We two—like the Talmudic scholars we are—might chitter back and forth about existential mysteries left by a mischievous God: the space-time continuum, evil in the world, Velcro, the square root of minus one ... and agree how pointless it is to leave this place.
You Burned Your Last Gift to Me
“Wait,” he breathed in to the phone, waiting for things to make more sense. “What do you mean you aren’t coming back?”
“I’m sorry, I just – “ her pause hit him over and over, each second for each year they had spent as the other’s blanket against the cold of the world. “I can’t do it anymore. I’m not happy. I have to see where this trip takes me and I can’t worry about you.” “You worry about me?” his voice broke.
“Listen, I have to go. I love you. I’m sorry.”
One and Some
She had organized her life by one simple principle: one of everything. She did it do avoid complication. She had one job and one friend, one dog and one lover she shared one bed with. This did indeed apply to most things normally kept in pairs: shoes, gloves, skates and other objects one puts on hands and feet. Her life was mismatched - a small price to pay. However, she was practical and allowed some exceptions. She kept in her drawer more than one set of underwear, a collection of socks and did, on occasion, eat more than one piece of cake.
Four Characters in a Nutshell
Four teenaged townies rowed a little boat around the island just big enough for a weeping willow, in the amusement park pond. When time was up it was Sly Donkey’s turn to row, but the boat didn’t move away from the island. Screaming Meemie screamed. Sly Donkey tried this way, that way. Screaming Meemie screamed louder.
The Anointed One wept with laughter. Screaming Meemie screeched, enraged. The Anointed One had seen, (because he had looked), Little Mischief with her arm raised, straight-faced, her hidden hand grasping strong, supple willow twigs behind the leaves.
Beneath the Surface
Sometimes there’s beauty in mental illness. Remy, whose schizophrenia manifested in college, swam between reality and technicolor fantasies. As the years passed, spending more time underwater, watching colorful creatures morph into mermaids in filigree castles.
He’d floated in-and-out of reality throughout his mindless days, leaving his sparse apartment, catching the bus, maintaining the grounds of a large office park, eating a baloney sandwich, coming home to microwaved ramen.
Routine suited Remy.
On a cold morning, raking leaves from a partially-frozen pond, Remy slipped. As hypothermia paralyzed his limbs, he watched the detritus swirl like a kaleidoscope, sinking slowly to the bottom.
“I’ve had enough of this,” he murmurs.
His hand turns the knob and he walks out.
She doesn’t go after him. Her gaze falls through the window.
She hears the gravel crunch under his feet, watches as he closes the car door. She sees the exhaust pour out of the back of the car as the engine starts, and then cloud around the rear window, as the dented sedan backs out of the driveway.
She picks up the plastic spray bottle and walks carefully over to the large potted Philodendron that sits near the window.
She thought he would never leave.
Nothingness is Certain
Once upon a time, there was a boy who liked a girl. One day he decided to block her on Instagram, just to see if she would notice.
The girl never spoke to him again.
I guess she noticed.
Once upon a time, there was a boy who liked a girl. One day he decided to block her on Instagram, just to see if she would notice.
The girl never spoke to him again.
I guess she never noticed.
My ten year old sister drags her deformed leg under a sunny halo to breakfast. Over oatmeal she says she dreamed that Sunday, the Jesus water is coming down the French Broad. Jesus water? What? We’re sixty percent water, she says. Like ‘duh.’ When you die, Mother Earth gets her water back. What about “ascended into heaven” me, curious as hell? Total bullpucky, her spoon waves like a baton.
Sunday morning we do a three-legged shuffle into the shallows of the river. Cling together until our legs are numb. When it begins to snow, we cannot contain our laughter.
Wouldn’t say I’m an alcoholic, but on some nights I’ve seen it looking in through the window at me much the same way I look through the window of that 37th soon-to-be-opened brewery, with curiosity and excitement and a hint of something melancholy, like maybe somewhere on the other side of that glass there’s just enough of a good golden pilsner to rekindle the memory of perfect endless summer sunlight and youth and genuine laughter, and then maybe there’s also enough black stout in there somewhere to put an old motherfucker down for good because, hell, it’s gotta happen sometime.
He snorted. “Unitarian? What’s that, like a, like a vegetarian? But you only eat one thing?” This was followed by another ignorant snort.
I smiled my best ‘love-everyone-on-earth-no-matter-how-clueless’ smile, and said, “Unitarian. It’s a faith group. Like a church, kinda.” What I felt like pointing out was that the words ‘ominous’ and ‘anus’ similarly share an ending sound.
“A church? Never heard of such a church. Like with Bibles, and priests and such?”
“Not that kind of church. Friendlier, kind of. We actually call it a fellowship.”
“Oh, I get it. Like the Odd Fellows. My granddad was one of them.”
B is for Book
J turned out to be for jewelry. Rancis shook the picture book sideways, spilling rings and glimmering necklaces out of its pages.
“More,” he hissed at the book. “I found you in that gutter. Give me more or I burn you.” The book snapped open to a page marked with a crimson letter D.
He arched an eyebrow, puzzled. Then he heard the heavy beat of wings outside his window and saw an approaching shadow blot out the sun.
“D is for…” he screamed, but a jet of flame hit before he could finish.
I’m sitting on a bench, that is on the ground. I know it sounds strange. For me living in a world where cities are in the sky floating and no one uses the ground anymore. Living in a world where everything has changed in the last decades is horrible. Technology is everywhere it’s hard to even walk down the street without cameras following you. This generation may be fine being watching every second. But wish I lived in the olden days. I long for the 2000s. Maybe one day I’ll live in a world of peace, privacy and grounds.
The Girl Who Heard Trees
The day men with the tree-cutting service came to remove trees from in front of her family’s apartment building, Amanda was inconsolable.
Her mother found her in a closet holding her hands tightly over her ears.
“Amanda, what’s wrong?”
“A tree screams. Then it stops. Can’t you hear?”
“I hear the chainsaw. Is that what you’re hearing?”
“No. The trees. Usually they hum. They scream when they’re cut.”
Felicia didn’t know how to respond. “Lunchtime. Would you like a grilled-cheese sandwich?”
“Fine. Mom, can we plant trees?”
“When can we go to the nursery?”
Sunset on Lummi
Bonfire on the rocky beach
Sadly, I just can’t get tan
Burning in the sun
The world of my own
Places only I can go
All made up by me
Thousands of different worlds
The smell of old books
Held Up at Snake Point
Marla tossed a bag of writhing vipers on the convenience-store counter. “Hand over the loot!”
The clerk recoiled. “You’re crazy.”
“Hurry,” she said, watching the door.
A sack of bills flew over the counter. She grabbed it along with the bag of venomous snakes—except one, that is.
Laughing, she watched it curl around the kid’s phone. “Wouldn’t try calling the police, if I were you.”
Marla turned toward the door. A black snake slithered from the bag, sinking fangs into her arm. She dropped the money and the bag of pet vipers as she fell.
Sirens wailed in the distance.
I work the local Starbucks, evening shift. Night coffee drinkers are a different breed from the mellow pre-work or chatty lunchtime crowd. Kind of intense. One guy in particular has caught my eye. He comes in with his laptop around eight and stays till closing time every Tuesday and Wednesday. Crushes six double espressos over the two hours. Not a word, not a smile. Not even a thank you, just a little nod. I imagine he’s a terrorist, or maybe a priest. Here’s the interesting thing: turns out he’s a comedian who writes his stand-up here before each weekend. Go figure.
Memory of My Father in Boca Raton
The hospice nurse folded Dad’s glasses into their black case. The one that always closed with a CLACK! The same CLACK! that used to put an exclamation point on the day. Now, I didn’t think I’d ever hear it again. I bent down, kissed his forehead and told him what a great job he’d done. “I’ll be right back,” I whispered.
Two minutes later, the nurse touched my shoulder. “He’s passed,” she said.
“Some people wait until their loved ones have left the room to take their last breath.”
Before I left, I tucked the case into my pocket.
Abigail makes her way slowly down to the bay—rising early, as always, rain or shine, warm or cold.
Her thick black boots slapping against moist concrete, stepping noiselessly through grass, crunching softly through wet sand, she taps carefully to the water’s edge. Standing motionless, tasting the salt air, she listens acutely to the call of sea gulls, the honk of a sea otter, the waves lapping the shore. Sifting sand through her fingers—wet, cold, grainy. In summer she can wiggle her toes in the ebb and flow of the waters. Her senses sharpened by her lack of sight.
On the first night of Ramadan, we shelled the Muslimquarter. She tilted her head, “Do you think they’ll recognize disjuncture between their hopes and their chances?”
“Maybe they’ll metabolize our neuroses,” I replied, only because I knew she’d like it.
“Think of it as preemptive transgenerational trauma,” she said, crossing herself in that Orthodox way, and I felt my stomach tightening.
“Ok,” she said, “let’s aim badly, create psychic wounds, a mash-up in the epigenetics that will travel down the years, wipe another’s tears.”
Who talks that way? Gawd, I loved her. I picked up the lousy AK-47. Perfect.
Hiking in northern Mexico desert, I saw a wall. Huge. Tall. Stretching horizon to horizon. I took a rope ladder from my backpack, crouched, flung it high so it caught the edge.
I climbed up, perched on the wall’s top, looked down.
Human-like creatures ran about, rifles strapped to their backs, pistols holstered below fat bellies.
They had shaved heads, wore polyester sweats with flag patterns, and carried long, serrated knives.
Each was busy cutting open another’s head.
They saw me peering down, stopped, looked up.
“Won’t you miss your brains?” I asked.
“What?” they shouted, then skipped off together, free.
Shipwrecked on the Sands of Ygnacio Cortez
there is a dying even in the sunrise as we surely know it must set
fear of death had given way to quiet resolve
life treaded hard hoping there would finally be peace
the mind raced
eyes flickered strained by the light that burned and tore at his place in this existence
a birdsong mocked the disquiet
he floated like a feather untethered and borne by the breeze
until a wasp lit on his face and bit hard
the blood trickled down his cheek a painful reminder
there would be no peace on this day or for many more to come
Four Short Pieces of Prose
There it was, just like a blank piece of paper. The Snow day, work exempt, time freed up and waiting for the right impulse to strike. Tick tock… What to do…Nap on the couch; done. Hot bath soaking sore muscles from skiing last weekend; done. I know that’s a lie. It was the all night dancing at fifty. I have a bit a gratitude for the day to be chill. Still there, like a cat on my chest. A feeling, not a feline, a mild anxiety sits gently purring. Saying that I need to be somewhere, other then here at home.
Snow soft and dry, windblown against the curb. The world of work shut down. Thank God that the crops did not relay on this bunch to get the harvest in. We would have starved. Perhaps slowing down is not so bad. These priorities of making life easier on oneself, having free times to write and walk the town a bit and pet the cat. It is not all that bad an idea. I think I will head out and get a haircut and walk to the dock. Perhaps look at the boat. Life is good with room to be creative.
Do you actually believe that one can make a living off of writing? I mean, really what is it that I have to say that would be so captivating that others would take the time to feed me and read what it is I have to say. Perhaps I would tell them that it would be OK to have a fit and to toss rocks in glass houses. Or, perhaps I would try in a few short words to express why it is that seeing ourselves through a lens of time is so very important. Understanding time will allow you freedom now.
What was the most amazing thing today all snowed in? It was the walk and all the little and varied footprints left in the snow. Other then the other bi-peddled up righters. There were the coon tracks and dog tracks. Running after squirrel tracks. The cat’ I don’t like this tracks. There were the cutest little brown bird tracks hopping around the back streets near Paddington creek, looking for a bite to eat tracks and the clear and distinct marvel of a bike going up the trail, then back the other way tracks. Lastly nothing on the train tracks except trains.
The Price of Years
A super-rich man laments, “With my money, why can’t I buy more life?”
POOF! God appears. “You can. But it’s expensive.”
“A billion dollars per year.”
“Okay, 50 years.” He pays. A huge stack of papers appears. The man signs.
“Oh, there’s a deductible. You have to live a hundred years first.”
“It’s there on page 1,352.”
The man lives healthfully, but still deteriorates, barely reaching 100.
POOF! God appears. “Now you get your 50 years.”
“But first, God, save me from this horrible senility!”
“I’m sorry. Your policy doesn’t cover that preexisting condition.”
2:22am and wide awake, rudely ejected from a dream ‘bout you. We were downtown in some store and I pressed against you ever so gently from behind while you tried on a pair of glasses. You smiled at the mirror and leaned back and I awoke. A moment of aprè-dream bliss, but only a moment, dispelled by fresh remembrance: Last night, together, out. The drink, drink, drinks; the too-loud music; the argument that blew in like an uninvited draft. Only two words, but surely fatal. Oh, so much night ahead.
Old syringes from the alley worked perfectly for carrying blood. I saw her under the cover of night, and I knew she would be next. In one swift motion I forced her into the shadows, her eyes glistening with fear and curiosity. I removed my hand from her mouth, “W-who are you?” A grin crossed my face, eyes glowing red with anticipation, “Don’t fear,” her face froze, as they all do. “I am simply a goddess of the underworld, looking for…companions.” I continued, “Now, how would you like to live forever?” and plunged the dull syringe deep into her neck.
Few people know that Geppetto was not the only carver to stumble across enchanted wood. Long after the time of his roughly made Pinocchio, there lived a fine wood carver whose name was Karlina. One morning Karlina set out to gather wood from the forest. She regretted the windy day she’d chosen, but she carried on, absently calling to each tree in the manner of those who live alone. As she came to a particularly majestic maple a gust of wind roared through and cracked a stout limb from the tree.
Karlina staggered—the crashing branch had uttered “Umph,”
After the law went into effect in 2025, protests erupted and lawsuits mounded up, but the evidence was incontrovertible that levels of violent crime and sexual assaults of women dropped precipitously across the USA. Years of clinical trials on monkeys confirmed that extracting half the testosterone from the gonads of male babies at birth produced specimens exhibiting less aggressive behavior towards other animals even under stress-induced conditions. Extraction from human males at birth also prevented higher levels of testosterone from returning throughout the life cycle. The controversial measure later became a text book case of public health versus individual rights.
Nothing To Lose
Jan and Irena huddled in the dark, and cupped their mouths in the frozen air.
“Nie ruszaj,” he mouthed silently. Don’t move.Forbidden to speak their native Polish in the camps, sometimes the women whispered late at night– the comfort of familiar words, the only beauty.
Jan found the hole in the fence, then slipped a note to Irena in the laundry detail.
“spotkajmy się o północy, Jan”
So she met him at midnight, terrified but determined. As two blinding lights cut the darkness, she held her breath, and waited to run– back to their child, away from this hell.
“In case we’re separated.” He handed her the boarding pass and the smaller of the bags. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right behind you.”
He nodded towards the crowds lining up for security, and smiled, white teeth and crinkly eyes—the smile she’d fallen in love with.
“Papers, please.” She handed passport and boarding pass to the agent, her glance back blocked by the crush of travelers. At the gate, she waited until the last group boarded. Maybe she’d missed him and he was already on the plane.
She scanned the passengers as she shuffled up the aisle, realization dawning.
In the shallows the water came up to her chin; in the deep, it was over her head. She knew this, but she didn’t know why they took her by the ankles and wrists and in unison, 1-2-3, threw her into the deep.
In a squirming panic she forgot how to dog paddle and lost the surface sinking to the bottom. She looked up, a mirror, and then beyond her two brothers laughing and pointing. A sudden realization of betrayal and anger, she fought the urge to cry out.
The rule of the pool today was simple: stay alive.
She ambled down the cedar-chipped pathway with her green gardening apron tied at a jaunty angle on her waist. The old trowel with the wooden grip, somewhat dog-chewed, and the new red-handled claw jutted outward from the apron’s pocket.
She envisioned the family arriving late July and staying through September. Grandpa with spiky hair and nodding head, held up by a stake; the siblings and cousins with their round, bright caps and sunny faces looking upward; Mom and Dad holding hands mid-flowerbed—would Mom wear her brightly colored sunrise bonnet this year? She continued planting the dahlia bulbs.
A Visit to Mr. Doctor
The waiting room was full of women, all ages, all sizes, so as she walked in she felt that she fit into her waiting seat just as well as the rest of them. Worry lingered in the fluorescent lights above and no one talked to each other. The worry would all pass, the pains would only be temporary, but they would also be in quick succession. If anyone knew the feeling ahead of them, they wouldn’t have showed up.
The lunar capsule landed and its four astronauts scrambled for the hatch.
“Let’s be fair,” said the commander. “Here’s how we can all be first with our own unique walks on the moon:
“That’s one hop for Bill, one small step for Jan, one giant leap for…”
She lurched forward in her bed and gasped as if she was drowning. The shadows turned into the things that haunt her: best friends who betrayed her, people whispering that she’s a liar, her ex-boyfriend, the person she used to be. They all inched closer and closer, clawing toward her. Tears spilled down her cheeks. They aren’t real, she thought, not real. She breathed deep and exhaled over and over until the shadows disintegrated and her bedroom took shape around her. A sigh of relief left her when she looked out her window to the stars, it was only a nightmare.
Summertime in Fairhaven
Greta parks the golf cart outfitted with a 20-gallon tank and spray hose she uses to water and fertilize the lush flower baskets hanging throughout the village.
Although still early, she stops for her morning break. Greta slides onto the bench next to the statue of Mark Twain and sips her tea.
She asks, “How are you?”
Twain responds, “The report of my death is greatly exaggerated.”
She smirks and asks, “Are you writing a new book?”
No response. She thinks the old bird is cagey.
The door to the bookstore opens. He crosses his leg.
I’m an idle billionaire obsessed with goats, so I became one.
My super-secret team modified my hands and feet, forming “cloven hooves” with opposable thumbs and free big toes, smeared Rogaine everywhere so I grew a bristly calico pelt and curly beard, bent my femurs backward so I could walk on two legs or four, lopped my ears, implanted two stiff horns, cut my pupils into horizontal slits and altered my larynx so I speak with a strident bleat. I’m adept at head-butting, eating tin cans, lust and Parkour.
Now, on your knees! Scream my name, for I am Pan!
The clear, glassy waters
The rocky beach beneath
Ripples echoed from the paddle
Then continued out to sea
Sunlight danced off the waves
Shining sparkles like a ruby
Other boats moseyed by
None as joyful as she
She relaxed back in her kayak
Content as one could be
As she slowly paddled forward
She was giddy with glee
The enthusiastic parasite
A face bright and happy
Clinging on to the small kayak
Strong-willed but lazy
She accepted his challenge
She refused to give in or flee
While he may slow her down
There is no stopping little B
Twelve star-spangled flags, unfurled.
Winking colors behind the dais.
World leaders advance. One, looming, whitened, goggle eyes.
Portly one. Blouses invocations of duvet covers.
Towering presences, over lesser entities.
Totalitarian issues arising?
As right hands emesh in expected calms.
Left hands facilitate.
Right hands delineate into frozen grips.
Left hands, reveal firearms disclosed from bulging wastebands.
Firearms blast into errant guts.
Chaos stutters. Senseless movements.
White haired seconds, lay featured heads on religiously ironed slacks.
Red spreads along the counted dais.
No one emerges to console portly spector.
Screams frolic from upturned mouths.
The world awaits…
From half a mile away she could hear a deep bark. At a small bridge that stretched across a fetid stream, overripe guava smashed like tiny starbursts along the planks, she paused: a dog. All jutting bones, he yapped as though he protected the emptied trash behind him, the tiny wrappers and empty gallon jugs, leftover litter from pig hunting raids. She’d been warned against these poi dogs. Dangerous, even rabid. But offering a granola bar, she saw only hunger—in the eyes, the drool, the slow swing of the tail. A name was all it took to bring him home.
In the Cell
Locked in the cell, there was nothing to do except think and listen to the guy next to him yell and kick the door. He couldn’t let himself think about why he was in jail, not if he didn’t want to go crazy. He felt the cement walls closing in on him when he heard a knock and saw a woman at his window. She said she was from mental health but he couldn’t figure out her angle. He noticed she looked sad. He was wary, thinking she was just trying to get information. He gripped the bars and started talking.
Into the Blue
Marjorie moved hesitantly across a field, toward three doors—her confusion was only momentary, as she flashed back over her years as a kindergarten teacher.
Primary colors, very original, she thought.
At first it was confusing, the blur of memories. So true; it flashes before you, she said to no one. Such bright moments, difficult challenges… and the love.
She wanted longer, but understood the choice before her.
I choose blue: the color of the sea, the sky and his beautiful eyes; then she stepped through the blue door.
“Time of death: 11:23 a.m. Let’s go tell her husband.”
She found the leg among some soggy brown leaves on the hill. It was December. He’d been gone a month. They’d had only happy times. Even when he ate her Bose headphones he was cute, burying the puffy earpiece under his Costco bed—as though to reprimand her for where she spent money. She picked up the leg. One side was fringed with fur. Ernie! she yelled. Ernie! She looked up through the trees, flat with evening light, and was flooded with unreasonable hope. Ernie! Behind her, something rustled in the brush. He would come. He would come. He would come.
It’s been a lifetime since she visited this town. This graveyard. This stone with her name. And his. He’d wanted to control her, but she would never be ruled by another. Not in this lifetime.
There’d been a crash, a side-swiped tree, an explosion. Both killed. Apparently. It was hard on her parents. Maybe. They were both gone now and she could return. Be herself again. She’d been someone else for decades, but now that persona, too, was dead. Life is messy; men, problematic. Time to start over. Again. As herself. She’d gotten away with it before.
Happenstance wasn’t part of Edith’s vernacular. Her life had narrowed to a claustrophobic tedium in a one-bedroom apartment on the seventh-floor of a non-descript, concrete complex.
Her cramped existence suited her. Weighing over 300 pounds, it was increasingly exhausting to move.
Food was Edith’s passion. Once a week, she’d waddle to the grocery store, rewarding herself afterwards with Coney dogs, fries, and pop.
Uncomfortably full, and dreading the walk back, she wasn’t looking as she shuffled, plowing into the hooligan, rushing through the door, gun cocked, adrenaline pumping.
By happenstance, the miscreant tumbled to the floor, turning Edith into a heroine.
The Pacific slumbers in twilight to the West while, to the East, the pinnacles of Baker part the winter air with quiet disregard. I’m walking the interurban, enjoying the smell of fir in the darkening air, thinking about that surgery tomorrow.
A sudden rustle, gravel shuffle, and a stab-tap in the back, right behind the heart. I spin around.
“Hey, can you help me out?”
A man in need, too close, too jittery, with an opened palm and parted jacket. A rude poke at my soft belly.
“Wallet,” he says and, remarkably fantasy-free, I reach into my pocket.
Thud, thump, thud, thump.
I run left and right but I can’t get to the exit. The clothes whip me in the face. This department store is never ending. I stop. My body’s hot from running and from pure terror. It’s no use running; so I decide to find a place to hide.
Thud, thump, thud, thump.
My blood turns icy cold. He’s closer..
I dive into a clothing rack that’s covered on all four sides.
Thud, thump, thud…
I don’t want to, but I peer out, and come face-to-face with Peg-Leg Pete.
He smiles evilly.
Everything went black.