Short fiction of 101 words or less submitted by readers, presented in random order.
Just in Time
He reties his bootlaces again, and looks carefully in the mirror. Forty-two steps to the door. Fifteen stair steps to the street. He walks with a certainty that won’t draw attention. Remember to wave as you pass the barbershop, like you’re a local, he’s been told. Don’t make eye contact with strangers unless they engage you first. Act like you own the place, but in a subtle manner. Have quiet confidence. Stanley’s family will get revenge. His father would want him to do this. Everyone will know his name. But a random smile by Suzy Radner changes history.
From Earth, it came! Once launched, the Space Force quickly found (and annoyed) intelligent life. In response, bright pink Venusian ships arrived and zapped fragrant rays of doom, turning its targets into petrified art. Daring Northwest adventurers Crash Ledfoot and Downtown Gravy Brown drove pell-mell to bargain for peace with delicious apple pie and psychedelic milk from star-crossed cows. Those charming lads got through, and so Earth was de-petrified and allowed to live, with the new capital of the U.S., Bellingham, with its beat of funk and freedom, standing as a beacon of planetary groove.
He sits and waits on the grass heavy with frost from the night before. He ambles, purposefully, to my open car door, waiting. We talk. I move toward the door of the house, keys in hand. I walk up the steps while leafing through the freshly delivered mail. I fidget, briefly, inserting the key, turning it, while gently kicking on the door stuck from settling. Underneath my feet he races in, only to sit on the carpet in front of me, staring. Paw up, ready for food. I walk over and pick him up, lovingly cuddling a cat that isn’t mine.
Why must flowers be customary for occasions like this? They’re really far too temporary. If I leave them here, they’ll probably just be thrown around in the wind and ruined. If you’re lucky they’ll go untouched long enough to die here alongside you. But nobody likes dead flowers. Not even you would.
Before I came today, I saw some chrysanthemums on sale that apparently were made of silk. Silk is nice. It never dies or withers away. Would you like that? It would certainly save me time, something you rarely saved for me. I think I will get them next week.
Respect others says the world while you wait at the post office, bus stop, ticket office, theater doors, airport ticket counters, grocery stores, waiting for your table, stepping on the bus, paying for your purchase, and stepping gently into worship. Mimic the parade of preschoolers secured to the twine handled rope, not shoving, pushing only eager five finger waves to the halted, line of cars as they cross the street to frog hop over the curb while smiling at proud teacher escorts. We must be manner mentors to others using only five finger waves not one finger waves.
He flipped the hourglass over again. He wanted to walk away, to find some reason to live, but the flow of sand had him transfixed. As he sat there, he could feel time eating him alive. His vision was getting weak, and he found it hard to maintain his gaze. Each second that passed felt like an eternity, and he began to feel as if he was a piece of sand in the hourglass, waiting for his time to fall to the bottom. As the last grain of sand fell, there was no one left to turn the hourglass over again.
A Relative Latecomer
On an amenable planet its strangest creature, a relative latecomer, nurtures problems, odd complexes; after dark millennia that human vector veers vertical―mere centuries ago, change exploded. Suddenness became our boring norm as megamyths migrated past fact. Like some viral phoenix, the supermeme emerged.
But despite cultural charm or majestic monuments, where time once trudged by candlepower, instants now blitz beyond reckoning, mind races brain. This warpspeed saga cannot retreat: it seizes tomorrow, chasing the faster horizon. Nothing works as planned, tempers tear all apart, digitals divide, conquer, intelligence exhausts artifice; the future totters uncertain if not precarious . . .
Alice was late again. She was late for an important date with Dorothy somewhere. Curious! Something about a bridge. . . Oh, yes: a bridge game! She didn’t like the Queen of Hearts for some reason. And trump! She never understood why so many people liked the idea. Curiouser!
“Where am I supposed to be?” Alice asked herself. She was up for an adventure, but didn’t know which road to follow. She called Dorothy to get directions, but Dorothy wasn’t much help. She only said, “Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge, way up high.”
Daylight rising to her back, Lenore perches on the narrow, least rain-soaked part of the bench. Lights a smoke while casting an eye to the door she’s due through in about 10 minutes. She holds her hand steady. The butt is kept at lip-purse distance. Fog is lifting across the bay she views through her smokey exhales. The goal is to let the ash grow to its furthest point before it falls away in a small dirty snow. To view the cone as what is left and the next long ash as wasted time. Quit. All of it. Goals.
The New Neighbor
“What’s going on out there?!” Patricia shrieked. Muffled grunts, punctuated by profanity, perforated the cool evening air.
Patricia grabbed her faded flannel, flinging it hastily about her shoulders. She ran out of her house in her slippers, her cat streaking into the night behind her.
What was she doing? she berated herself. Her new neighbor might be in her 60s but was she, Patricia, in any condition to help? Puh-lease.
She arrived, panting heavily despite the short distance.
Three youths sat sullenly at the feet of her new neighbor. Stately and serene, she turned to Patricia bemusedly.
Who was this woman?
Visible from his bedroom window were shopping carts and a canvas tent. The young boy understood this for the cruel reality of a homeless person. His curiosity was sparked at how quickly it all appeared and how permanent it now felt. The encampment shouted, I’m here, deal with it! There too was a beautiful husky. The disparity of this human’s suffering was inconsequential to the boy. He marveled at the beauty and stoicism of the dog. This blinded him to any danger of the situation. Slipping on his worn shoes he carried water and a blanket to greet his new neighbors.
The Last Encore
They crowded the auditorium to see their hero one last time. The former vanguards of radicalism were now retired from corporations and bureaucracies, bodies failing faster than idealism. This night they were alive again, swaying to music and memories. Standing onstage was the lone survivor of the ’60s band that infused their youthful rebellion. His skills were diminished, voice strained and disdain barely veiled. The encore was near perfect as the crowd pulsed forward. Sound overwhelmed the moment and almost no one heard the gunshot crack, while everyone saw their god drop to the stage.
Into The Mist
The night’s last note faded into a coming fog. Dancers drew each other closer, seeking final warmth. The singer smiled, knowing music would continue into the night. The band packed equipment, ready for the next gig. In the back, the bartender cleaned the glasses, closed the register and stacked the chairs. The rest would wait. She had other plans. She locked the gate at Boundary Bay and turned. He approached through the mist and took her hand. “What was your favorite song tonight?” Her answer was always the same. “Every song you sing,” she said, a twinkle in her eye.
She’s out the door, off to meditate. I’m right behind her, sneaking off to the pot shop. If she’s such a damn Buddhist, why the hell does she give me a ration of shit whenever I fail to live up to her unconscious expectations? Driving, I’m talking to her…again. “Hell, it’s my life, my body, my mind.” Yeah, sure… If it’s my mind, why is she perpetually crawling around inside it like a caged ferret? Pot clerk calls me “bud” without irony. “I want one joint. Half gram. Sativa. Something that’ll make me see ‘naked cowgirls floatin’ across the ceiling.’”
The Mermaid and the Pornographer
It was night at Silver Lake, and Harvey was taking photos of scenery hoping, above all, to sell some prints. He was astonished to find a beautiful mermaid sitting on a rock. “I am the spirit of this lake, one with its life and beauty. If you photograph me, there will be a terrible curse,” she said. She started to swim away and he quickly snapped a shot. Suddenly the lake turned to fire, the mermaid was incinerated, and Harvey fled. He felt bad at first, but decided he didn’t care after the photo became his bestseller. The buyers didn’t care either.
What She Took
One day I was kicking my way through life, sitting in a sad basement apartment in Bellingham banging out another story on my Smith-Corona manual, when suddenly I was frozen by a fearful thought, a ferocious terror: What if I could no longer use my fingers ever again, for anything? Any. Thing. Ever. I panicked slow, then softened, slept. Twenty-five, 30 years passed. Moved to a small farm in Lazarus County, south of Spokane. Hard blue skies. My wife Franny murdered me in the kitchen, using a well-sharpened long knife. She took the fingers last.
Swarming down the hillside like a flash mob gathering, the buzz in the dusky August sky was electric. Colorful festival-goers swayed to the honey-tongued singer while thrumming instruments measured time. Hanging solar lanterns flickered as night absorbed the day and bonfires began their slow burn ‘til morning, sending sparks and crackles into the mix. It was a welcome homecoming for the road-weary band, returning to their roots to refresh. Suddenly, the humming cloud exploded overhead, igniting a frenzy among the throng, each beast seeking refuge; the over-crowded bees forging a new way home.
“The paths down this mountain are slow,” rasped the old man. “True. But much slower if we hadn’t found him. Mayhap his wife can find some peace and closure now,” the warden replied while securing the shrouded corpse to the bovisaur’s saddle. “Prayers for this man and his beloved,” the old man whispered with hands akimbo. The warden shouldered his heliorifle and took the lead rope in hand. “We can make it by sundown if we start now,” he remarked. “I’ve wanted to ask you; why do you find the dead?” The old man paused. “I once had to search alone.”
Today they bring celery, artichokes and oranges in sacks, sweet pears and yams. Women and men shift and fill spaces, pack rows of carrots, peppers, cumbersome cauliflower, cabbages and shrub-like broccoli. They hurry, lean and lift, scoop and straighten, hands wiped clean on aprons. They have bushels of potatoes, bags of avocados, flats of grapes. Wet leaves fall from crimson beets.
I see white and yellow onions, turnips and purple eggplants. Add lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, kale, lettuce, beans, peas, and even parsnips; though cold as it’s become, it isn’t winter yet. But I need ginger. No ginger, not today, sorry.
“I must have been a swashbuckler in a past life,” he thought. “I was born to wield a rapier, not a pen.” His pen moved across the page: “...The road was a ribbon of moonlight across the purple moor.”
A commotion from the street broke into his concentration. “Damn! How can I write poetry in times like these?”
He pulled his cloak from the closet. “I’m done with 1906.” Drawing his wand, he vanished into the romantic days of yore. He was killed half an hour later, because the days of yore were even more difficult for poets.
Thump, Thump, Thump
Mama stretched the goat hide over the frame as her own skin stretched tight over her belly. She thumped a beat, “I love you!” I thumped “Love you more” on her slippery insides with my hands and feet.
Out I came. “Your name is Cybele after the Goddess of drumming.” I felt the vibration, but I heard nothing.
Week after week my thumping increased, but I never turned my head to “Cybele” when mama called.
At last, one day, sad as she was, Mama felt what I was saying. We created our own language to the beat. “Thump, Thump, Thump.”
DETECTIVE BROTHA-DUDE LAZILY VAPED AS THE SUNSET FADED.
HE SHIFTED AGAINST THE ACID BALL, CABBIE HAT HIDING A FACE THAT HAD SPENT YEARS AT BARS PRAISING INFINITE JEST AND CRITIQUING OTHERS BEER SELECTIONS.
“I’VE BEEN HERE 4 HOURS,” HE POSTED ON FACEBOOK ANGRILY.
THIS BUST SHOULD HAVE MADE HIS CAREER. A BLACK MARKET EJUICE SHIPMENT. THE CONTACT HADN’T SHOWN.
A NOTIFICATION STOPPED HIM DEAD. A SECOND FACEBOOK ACCOUNT?
HE TAPPED THE NOTIFICATION AND WENT COLD.
COUNTLESS SLEEPLESS NIGHTS WATCHING ANIME HAD FIGHTCLUBBED HIM:
THE SECOND ACCOUNT WAS THE BLACK MARKET CONTACT.
HIS OWN FACE STARED BACK FROM THE PROFILE PICTURE..
“What is that smoke plume over there to the east, at the base of the mountain?
“That’s that factory.”
“I don’t know. A factory, or a farm. They’ve got an incinerator.”
“What? I have never seen that plume before.”
“How can you not have seen that? It’s constant.”
“Yeah, and now that you mention it, I really would like to know what it is.”
“So would I.”
“I looked on Google Earth a while ago, but nothing showed up.”
The smoke billowed, and the clouds took the shape of people. Many were too busy to notice, but those who witnessed it, stood at their windows and wondered.
Do I hear your voice? No, you are no longer here. Be still. I see your face and feel your loving embrace surround me. Be still. Raindrops fall on the path before me. I look up, the sky is blue. It is raining tears. Be still. I see a heart shape in the clouds at sunset and it vanishes. Be still. I go on without you, but you are with me always. Be still.
The river is never quiet; neither is my brain. I keep my waders and boots in the car with my fly rod. I keep it simple—only carrying a half-dozen flies (usually brassies or pheasant tail nymphs). Sometimes the river calls to me, but sometimes I need the river to quiet my busy brain. The sound of the river replaces the tedious loop of self-deprecating shit I endure: I’m too high-energy, people don’t like me, why am I so weird? Birds, insects, water and wind seep in slowly—replacing the bad thoughts with space. Now I can breathe. ―By Margot Falkenberg Jerome
First shells, then coins. Baseball cards as a teenager; later, fine wine. Sangfroid + Shrewdness = Success. Big time. Cars: Ferraris, Buggatis, a ’63 Stingray. Houses: Paris, Moscow, Barbados. Children? “No, me live to play!” Marriage? “Confining.”
With time, the first dint of infirmity, then another. Suddenly, too many Things. Consolidation to a gated community in the Carolina sun. A new interest - meditation. Collect your thoughts, focus on the present, Be Here Now. Progression, then plateau. The mind is sneaky. Decade later, here at the Home, it’s now always and only and nothing but. “Sorry, who are you again?”
I’d like to get a dog. I like to imagine what our life together would entail. Sloppy kisses on my face. Long runs on the beach. Lots of, “You’re a good boy! You’re a good boy, aren’t you?!” in goo-goo talk. Our attachment to each other would be unquestionable.
But I will never be able to have a dog as I am not brave enough to endure his inevitable death before mine.
Sometimes, when it is very late at night and I cannot get to sleep, I grieve about my lost dog and hope that he has found a good home.
The thin man kneeled over his kill, the forest wrapped around him like a cloak. His clothes tattered and stained. Soft crunching leaves. A hunchback feast was held. The man was kneeling close to the neck of his kill. Soft slurping and gargling sounds could be heard as he consumed. Breaking the serene silence of the woods: “Eating a man is treason in the forest yah know? The Mördekai is gonna get yah.”
The thick Scottish accent would croak out of the man’s corpse followed by cackles. “By the way, he’s behind yah. Better run. It will hurt less.”
One Couch, Two Cats
Once upon a couch, there was a cat sunbathing. Her name was Audrey Catburn and she was six months old. She had an awesome life. Then, one day there was no food in her dish when she woke up!She was devastated and hungry. She told her little sister Mako Sharkcat her story.
Suddenly, she really had to pee and there was no fresh litter.
“Meow (need fresh litter mommy)” Audrey said. Her owners left the castle to go get litter. While they were out, Audrey checked on the food and there was a fresh scoop in her dish! When the owners got home they cleaned the litter and sat on their couch. Audrey and Mako sat on their laps and never moved ever again.
The Sound of Music
Our ukuleles ready, we wait for the conductor’s signal to pounce on the first note. The audience of elders slump in their chairs, eyes half open. By the third song, we belt an enticing, “Oh Baby.” An
aide scrambles to assist a woman who has taken to the dance floor using a table for support, not exactly a table dance, more of a jig. A former band leader, unable to speak, eyes glistening, taps drum
sticks to the beat. Others sing heartily. We go home, knowing soon it will be our turn to listen.
The first turnt leaves kissed autumn’s earth and in you flickered. You were early. With one slow blink, everything else disappeared.
Snow fell and I swam in you. If swimming means living still, stuck, somnambulant, I dove deep, your blue chill eclipsing my caution. I forgot to breathe.
We were forever.
Until that warm prism pierced through, the last mourning was gray and frigid then distant as a fresh corpse. I waited, inhaling gold, but you didn’t come for me. Now you’re a film behind my eyelids, thick with seasoned shadow.
It had been a long drive, on backroads, because she liked to travel that way. Tired, a few hours from home, she needed to pee. And oh how she was ready for a drink.
Rain. So much rain. Welcoming neon. Stoic bartender, long sober, ironically. “Award-winning chili,” he advised, as she perused the menu, and he slid some comfort-on-the-rocks her way. Chili, comfort. Local college game that translated to camaraderie.
Continuing home, some hours later, she ran into the doe. Not literally. The broken doe had fatally crossed another’s path earlier. Wipers wiped, and she wept, hard. Rain. So much rain.
Today’s the Day
Karalyn used all her strength to push aside the covers. Today will be the day, she thought, as she slowly got dressed, deciding to do it at the river, three short blocks away. The loneliness and depression had become unbearable. She put on her jacket, placed the recently purchased gun inside a pocket. Stepping outside, she made a pact with herself―If one person smiles at me, I won’t do it. She passed 12 people in the first two blocks. No one smiled. The last building before the river, Karalyn glanced inside an office. A man looked up at her, and smiled.
The oddly handsome pharmacist was sadder than a baby’s toes in brambles. “I can’t continue like this,” he thought. “These drugs don’t help. I must help myself.” He closed the store early and drove out of town. He left his car and walked through the fields and woods to the river. Taking off all his clothes, he jumped in and swam downstream. He saw a crude raft on the bank and climbed on. It took him all the way to the coast, where the outgoing tide carried him out into the sunset. He looked west and wept. He felt better already.
The House of Unborn Saints
I peek inside the house of unborn saints; a driftwood dollhouse on the wet shore at night. Bioluminescence lights a trail from the tide to the front door. The saints are there, curled up like soft marbles. As they inhale, their miniature bodies fill with light. They hum in harmony. Like a tiny, emerald planet, one of them starts to spin in place, her spirit coalescing. I recognize her; my granddaughter. She’ll lead the brokenhearted to the forest. She’ll lead the forest back to the city. She pauses from her work of becoming. She looks at me and says, “Please begin.”
The bus smelled like artichokes, which wasn’t really a bad smell as far as buses went. Instead of struggling to avoid touching knees with a stranger, my mind danced with ideations of butter, boiling, and spoonfuls of citrus foam. Clearly I was starved for distraction from yet another unsavory, wasted night. I wasn’t trash, exactly. If everyone acts a certain way—no matter how disappointing—then everyone is, ultimately, normal. But there’s a weighty melancholy, like a soaked wool coat, that comes with learning your limitations. Maybe that’s why so many millennials binge drink. At least canned rosé goes with artichokes.
“I love you!” He told Maria, kissing her goodbye as he was boarding this spaceship, leaving Eden. “I love you more Jim! (she hugged him) and please be safe out there,” Maria told him, desperately hiding her sadness behind a farewell smile. His hand up in the air, Jimmy waved at her one last time. Then, quickly disappeared behind that curtain of white metal sheet, heading back to earth for his duty service. There was no war between Eden and Earth. However, to both Maria and Jimmy the entire universe was like ending whenever they had to live apart.
Uggh. Sunlight. Jan’s eyelids flickered—she knew she had to be discreet. Her head pounded and her body ached. But subtly flexing each extremity revealed no fractures, only aches. She also found herself naked, wrists and ankles bound with coarse rope, lying on the riverboat’s rough planks. Jan replayed the abduction: She’d taken out four of her attackers. Not enough. Now what? Hearing no crew members nearby, she opened her eyes to see the low gunwale next to her. Steadying herself with several breaths, she lurched over the edge, plopped into the murky river, and dove as deeply as she could.
The world was on fire. I watched as swirls of smoke billowed up from the forest outside my window, too afraid to step outside. I knew if I did the dry grass would turn to ash beneath the balls of my feet while the stifling smog slowly suffocated me. Rivers of tears fell from my eyes, yet it was not enough to put out the rampant Australian wildfires. Gathering the courage to look outside again, my eyes widened in horror as my neighbor tossed a crumpled Sunday paper out of his window. “How?” I thought, “How could you be so careless?”
After months of dedication, I finally drove the bitch batshit crazy. All the skulking, banging and howling paid off and now the house is rightfully mine! Of course the cops didn’t believe her, paranoid nutjob. I saw her fussing with tools, putting steel plates on windows and rigging doors. She went so crazy she burst out the front door to get me, forgot about her booby-trap and died by a hundred spring-loaded knives!
Can’t wait for my first shower here! What, the bathroom door locks itself closed? What is that hissing pipe on the wall? Shit, smells like gas.
Detective Bagel turned on the coffee maker and hopped about the room. The two roommates donned the modest attire fitting their stations. For the detective, a simple button-up could flatter the
form and connote a quiet distinction in keeping with his good breed. Bound with a teal striped tie, his look bordered on prep in a classic way. Darwin spooned himself into a patchwork plaid two-piece bargain brown suit, and plopped a Hershey’s kiss of a fedora on his head, and called it ‘macaroni’ as he smirked in the mirror. They began to leave, and Darwin stopped Bagel at the
Her car disappeared around the bend. I then turned, slowly, morosely, toward the door and went through it. The invisible blanket of warm air inside that wrapped itself around me barely gained my notice. I then accepted that my wait had begun. I would wait because her possible return was the only thing that would keep me going. It was only a small amount of hope to sustain a person on, but it was better than nothing.
Media Sound Bites
She’s a manta ray, jaws wide open. He’s a calypso dancer, bare feet on shore. She’s a Stetson, lasso and riding boots. He’s a bolero, tam or yarmulke. She’s the flag, waving in sport stadiums. He’s the franchised player, up for sale. She’s buttered popcorn, hot and salty. He’s golden kernel and broken tooth. She’s decay that fills his cavity. He’s mercury capped in gold. She’s the belly for blasts of hate. He lays railroad tracks of war. What does that teach us? From dying seas to shiny galaxies, nothing glitters like our lust for litter.
Ken Burns Effect, Early Years
I’m texting by candlelight from my tent, the one next to Odysseus. Our journey, eight years now, seems like forever. Ody broods a lot. Each day we scan the sea, look leagues east, almost back to Troy. The men mutter we should be home, complain about weather, want more wine, more sheep. They fear our next adventure will be worse than Cyclops or Sirens. If the gods were filming this for PBS, they would zoom out slowly, show tents, campfires, beached boats, the island, hopeless, gauzy mist covering light. The camera would pan through darkness west, show Penelope, alone, unraveling night.