Flash Fiction – Ice Storm

I was halfway home before I could tell there had even been a storm. It was too dark to see the damage I hadn’t paid attention to on the news. White slush sat at the edges of the highway, like foam left behind on the sand after a wave retreats, but frozen in place.

No signs on the highway let me know the road would be closed. I pulled onto the exit ramp and rounded the bend. Up ahead, several floodlights illuminated the intersection. The stoplights were dark. It was beyond there that my headlights struck the orange sign barring my way. “Road Closed Seek Alternate Route.”

Mine wasn’t the only car to do a U-turn in front of that sign. I got back on the highway. Back the way I came for one exit then off again and a string of back roads home. A less direct route, but at least those roads were open.

Even with the high beams on, it was hard to see the road ahead. I was in the town adjacent to mine when I realized just how dark everything was. Though the way was shrouded in trees, there weren’t any limbs down in the road. But if I looked up from the street at all I would have seen the trees’ limbs weighted down until they kissed the ground at their own feet. A crisp layer of snow lines the length of each and every branch and twig, glued into place with a clear coat of ice. Deeper in the woods, out of sight, the weight has split trees, more thoroughly than the arrow split William Tell’s apple.

Finally I reached a thinned out settled area. It was eerie, lit only by the light reflected by the incomplete moon above and my headlights. The only buildings with lights of any kind are those big enough or vital enough to warrant emergency generators. The police station. The fire house. The grocery store. Some windows had the faint glow of candlelight within but it was too weak to reach beyond the shades and shutters.

As I passed into my town and the power remained out, I began to worry. My car was warm but I knew how cold it was on the other side of the windshield. We don’t have a fireplace or a wood-burning stove. The only place to make a fire is in the pit outside, buried beneath the same layers of snow and ice as everything else. I prepared to rush inside and bundle myself in blankets, quilts, and comforters after donning every warm article of clothing my closet contained.

There was only one more intersection before I reached my street. Coming to the top of a small hill, I saw it below, in a circle of light cast by the streetlamp on the corner. The streetlights beyond it were also alight and I breathed a sigh of relief as I passed from the dark quiet into the light and warmth of home.

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Flash Fiction – In Transit

“Hey kids,” Mom called from behind the computer. “Come see this.”

Tommy and Lisa came running from opposite directions.

“Grandma sent us an email. She’s shipped something for you guys and sent us the tracking number so you can see where it is on the map.” Mom pulled out an old map of the country and circled about where Grandma’s house was on the California coast.

“So where is it now?” Tommy asked craning his neck to see the screen better.

“Now I can’t see,” Lisa complained and tried to nudge Tommy out of the way.

“Stop it or go to your rooms. You can take turns marking the map. Look, see what it says there?” she pointed at a line of bolded text. “It says it should be here in about six days. It left a warehouse in Los Angeles at 10 o’clock this morning.” She drew a line from Grandma’s house to LA. “We’ll check it tonight before bed again and Tommy can draw its progress, then again in the morning and it’ll be your turn Lisa. It’ll be Tommy’s turn again tomorrow night. No complaining, got it?”

Tommy and Lisa nodded before running off to keep themselves busy until bedtime.

Tommy drew a line from Los Angeles to Phoenix.

Lisa drew a line to Tuscon.

Tommy drew a line to San Antonio.

Lisa drew a line to Houston.

Tommy drew a line to Chicago.

Lisa drew a line to Pittsburgh.

Tommy drew a line to Harrisburg.

Lisa drew a line to Trenton.

Tommy drew a line to Hartford.

Lisa drew a line to Nashua.

Tommy drew a line to Chelmsford.

“Mom, it was supposed to be here by now,” Lisa complained as she was being tucked in.

“Well, sometimes it takes longer than they expect. Some of the places it’s been have had bad weather that might have slowed it down.”

“But they took it too far. Why’d it go all the way to New Hampshire?”

“Somebody must have made a mistake. You two will just have to be patient until Monday.”

“You mean we have to wait even more?” Lisa asked, incredulous.

“I bet you guys can do it.”

“What’s Grandma sending us anyway?” Tommy was beginning to doubt whether it would be worth the wait.

“She didn’t say. We all have to wait and see. Now, lights out in fifteen minutes or I’ll send your father up.”

After an agonizing Sunday of watching television and playing outside in the sun, Monday finally arrived to find Tommy and Lisa sitting and staring out the window like the two children at the beginning of The Cat in the Hat. Every time they heard a car, their heads lifted from their palms in hopes it was the delivery truck.

The package arrived when they were eating lunch. Half finished bowls of mac and cheese were abandoned on the table as tape was yanked off and packing peanuts flew everywhere.

“Teddy!” Lisa exclaimed.

“My DS!” Tommy shouted.

Flash Fiction – Retaking the Test

Waiting at the DMV to retake my driving test, I craned my neck to see who was taking the sixteen-year-olds ahead of me in line. When I saw him, a chill ran up my spine and I almost left. But then I thought there might be a policy in place so you can’t get the same guy twice. It had to be a conflict of interest. There must be someone else that day and I’d get him.

That worked until my number was called and he was the one holding the clipboard.

I started flashing back to last time.

It was a new car. Well, new to me. We’d just bought it the week before so I wouldn’t have to use a standard for the test. I could drive the standard, but I didn’t like it. Plus, I would need the car for work over the summer. Might as well get one I was really comfortable driving.

How was I supposed to know the brake light was out? I’d only been in the car when it would have been on and no one from any of the cars behind me had noticed or signaled me in some way to tell me it was out.

Maybe I would have been fine if he didn’t say he would let it slide, even though it was supposed to be an automatic fail right then and there. As if I wasn’t nervous enough.

Then there was the whole issue of the seatbelt in the back not working. I can still see my dad as he looked from the rearview mirror. He coat spread across his lap to cover where the belt and buckle were supposed to join so no one could see that he sat on the belt directly.

Once we got out on the road, I did well. Even when I stopped at a yellow light and the monstrous tractor-trailer behind me honked in frustration, telling me he thought I should have tried to beat the light. He smiled at me in his blue uniform and made a notation that I couldn’t read but I’m sure it had been positive.

There was just one more light to get through to turn into the parking lot. It went red and I panicked a little. I was pretty sure that you could go right on red so long as the traffic permitted it. I debated internally whether I should just wait it out to be on the safe side, but that enormous truck was still on my tail and the driver was already peeved at me. I slowed to a crawl as I debated, but one more look in the mirror at the trucker and I went for it.

I came as close to stopping as you can without actually stopping. Automatic fail.

And now here he was again telling me, “You need to bring your car around to the designated area. I’ll join you there momentarily so we can get started.”

Flash Fiction – Welcome to College

Being homesick was bad enough but college wasn’t shaping up to be what Billie Butler had bargained for. She had been to a few parties in high school so she wasn’t totally naïve about what would be happening. But for heaven’s sake, it was move-in day! She was still unpacking her things away.

Her roommate had disappeared approximately twenty minutes after her parents had left and Billie hadn’t seen her since. Or maybe she had and she just didn’t recognize her. It wasn’t like they were well acquainted.

Billie turned up the music from her laptop. The highest volume couldn’t drown out the party three doors down (and spilling into the hallway). She put her clothes in the dresser but there wasn’t enough space for everything she brought. Her mother had been right about needing hanging shelves for the closet. Billie put what wouldn’t fit into a duffel bag and shoved it under the bed.

Classes wouldn’t start for two days. Billie didn’t know what she’d do to pass the time in between. She hung posters and thought about how the orientation she attended two months earlier had failed to prepare her. Freshmen hadn’t been given their room assignments at that point so she didn’t know where to find anybody she’d met during those two days. She and her roommate hadn’t even been put in the same group.

One of her professors had emailed a syllabus ahead of schedule. Maybe she should study and get ahead? But then she realized it was one of the classes where she was still waiting for the book to come in. She’d look at the school store the next day to see if the price difference between ordering online and buying textbooks through the school was really as great as everyone said. She hated waiting and the feeling of being unprepared that she was experiencing.

After a few hours, everything she’d laid out on her bed had been put away or hung up and all that was left was an empty pile of plastic storage boxes. She would be going home in about two weeks. The noise level that seemed to seep from the very concrete walls of the building was making her nervous. She wasn’t comfortable with the idea of going outside until the next morning to put the boxes in her car.

The sweat and grime from moving was starting to annoy Billie. She grabbed her bathrobe and a few toiletries, careful not to forget the key to get back into her room. She crossed the hall to the communal bathroom and took a deep breath before stepping behind the double curtains that were the only things separating the shower from the rest of the bathroom.

As she stood washing the shampoo from her hair, she heard one of the partygoers stumble through the door and fumbling with the door to the toilet stall, pulling down one of the “Welcome to College” fliers, before the unmistakable sounds of hurling commenced.

Flash Fiction – Trophy Glory

Betsy was four the first year her mother enrolled her in ballet lessons. It was all right but she was pretty sure she preferred soccer and softball. The pale pink tights rode up uncomfortably and she didn’t like the way the wall of mirrors made the room seem so big and long.

She told her mom she wanted to quit her lessons but her mother insisted she wait until after the recital. A few more weeks wouldn’t kill her and the costume had already been ordered and paid for.

A few tantrums later, Betsy had to endure the preparations for her first public performance. The tutu was itchy and no amount of baby powder helped. Her head hurt from the tight French braiding she’d had to sit through at the salon. The hairspray made it a funny texture and sitting still so her mom could put on her makeup was torture. She looked like a clown.

Even though she didn’t want to be there, Betsy didn’t want to mess up on stage so she practiced backstage with some of the other girls. Older girls who looked a little less like clowns and whose costumes didn’t look quite as itchy were put in charge of telling Betsy and the others where they were supposed to go and went along to help when they needed to go to the bathroom.

Betsy only messed up three times on stage from what she could tell. When her mom snuck backstage a few minutes later she lied and said no one could tell from the audience.

“Can we go home now?”

“You’re not done yet,” her mother explained.

“Yeah I am.”

“There’s a little finale and ceremony at the end. We can leave after that.”

Betsy went back to the circle of chairs and picked up one of the dolls she and the other girls had been playing with while they waited.

All the girls were shuffled to the hallway, shown how they were supposed to do their bows, and pushed back on stage one last time. Then they were made to stand around while the instructors were given microphones and talked a lot.

Then Betsy saw the table four older dancers were shifting into position on stage. Her eyes widened as she saw that it wasn’t the table that shined but rows of trophies.

There were several different heights. Some had one figure frozen in a pirouette while others had one holding up a partner. They were awarded for achievements from five years with the dance studio to ten and even two fifteen-year trophies. There were at least a dozen smaller ones for students who put in the best effort or were the most improved.

They were infinitely better than the medal-bearing ribbon she had received for soccer or the pin she’d gotten when the softball season ended.

“I changed my mind,” Betsy said when she and her mom got into the car after the show. “I want to keep doing ballet.”

Flash Fiction – An Apology

To the loaned book that has yet to be returned:

Do you miss me as much as I miss you? I promise you I had no idea our separation would be so long. I assure you I am doing what I can to secure your speedy return.

Are they taking care of you? They haven’t spilled anything on you or damaged your spine in any way, I hope. You’re tough but even you shouldn’t have to take that kind of abuse. I thought I could trust them but those I believed to be worthy caretakers have proven themselves to be no better than common kidnappers. It fills me with rage and frustration. How could they have betrayed me that way and why must you suffer for it?

There is no way I can bring myself to replace you. You would never abandon me and so I will not abandon you. The space you occupied gathers dust and upsets those you propped up who also propped up you. They sag with sorrow over your absence and can only turn to one another for comfort.

I begin to lose hope of ever seeing you again. Your captors appear bound and determined not to release you. They probably call you my gift to them but you and I know the truth, though it won’t be enough to bring us together again. You wouldn’t want me to neglect the others for your sake and so it is with their well being in mind I endeavor to move on.

I promise not to forget you and I will not forgive those that took you from me under false pretenses. Not until you are restored to me, if it is meant to be. If you ever should find your way back to me, there will always be a place for you here.

I cannot apologize to you enough for the situation you are in. It is entirely my fault and I will never be able forgive myself so you needn’t feel obligated to do so. Shakespeare had it right: Neither a borrower nor a lender be. He may have been talking about money, but at least money is interchangeable. To me, you never have been and never could be.

Flash Fiction – Karma

“Do we know anyone from Colorado?” Louise asked her husband.

“Don’t think so. Why?” Henry said without looking up from the newspaper.

Louise held the curtain aside to get a better look. The license plate was definitely out of state. “Maybe they’re visiting the Kingstons.”

“Are they parked on our lawn again? There’re still ruts from last time.” The memory of his injured grass and the difficulties it caused every time he brought out the lawn mower had him out of his seat and joining Louise at the window.

“They’re more on the street than our lawn.”

“Maybe I should go out and talk to them. The Kingstons’ driveway is plenty big enough for them to have guests park in their driveway. At the very least they should have them parking on their lawn.”

“Wait, Henry. I’m not sure the car belongs to the Kingstons.” Louise reached out to bring him closer to the window.

“Well, what are they doing then?”

Louise didn’t answer, just let him look for himself.

“Doesn’t look like they’re reading directions.”

“No, they’re getting out.”

“Get away from the window,” Henry said pulling her with him as he backed away. “They must be selling something. If they see us they won’t let us get away with not answering the door.”

“Colorado’s a long way for them to come if they’re trying to sell something. Maybe they’re just lost.” Louise let the curtain drop a little to hide her watchful eyes from anyone in the car.

Henry went to the table and refolded the paper.

“There’s a dog in the back. It looks like they’re letting him out to walk.”

Henry was back at the window. “They better not let their mutt do his business on my lawn.”

“That would be horribly inconsiderate. Can you imagine? On a complete stranger’s lawn.”

“If they do, they’d better clean it up. They’ll be eating it if they don’t.”

“Henry,” Louise said with a little shake of the head.

The dog sniffed at the post supporting the mailbox. Henry’s hand went to Louise’s shoulder and gave a little squeeze. But the dog wasn’t interested and meandered across the street to explore the Kingstons’ carefully manicured lawn.

Their stone walkway was lined with lawn jockeys lighting the way and protecting clusters of tulips and hyacinth. Gnomes worked at the roots of the shrubs on either side of the front step. The dog went to investigate and proved to be dissatisfied with the way they’d been doing their jobs.

Relieved in every way, the dog checked the road before crossing the street and jumping back into the car, pleased with the encouragement he received from his owner. The car pulled away and turned around in Louise and Henry’s driveway before driving back in the direction it had come from.

“I thought you were gonna tell them off?” Louise let the curtain fall and went back to clipping coupons at her seat.

“Eh,” Henry said as he stood smiling at the window.

Flash Fiction -Rice or Bubbles

“Do you want rice or bubbles?”

“For what?”

She holds the open catalogue out to him so he can see what she means.

“Oh. Isn’t rice more traditional?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I thought you said you wanted everything to be traditional?”

“But bubbles are more enchanted. Don’t you think they have a more enchanted feel to them?”

“Then we’ll go with bubbles.” He gives her a smile and goes back to his newspaper.

“What if it rains?”

“The ceremony’s inside and so’s the reception. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Bubbles won’t work if it rains.”

“Then get rice.”

She fidgets with the edge of the page, folding it over to one side then the other and back again. Looking at the ordering information, she realizes she won’t be able to call for a few hours yet.

“I bet it feels like getting pelted with hail.”

“Then get bubbles.”

“I thought you said you wanted to be involved with the planning?”

“I am.”

“Then have an opinion and stick to it.”

She turns the page harshly and nearly tore it out in the process.

“I have opinions on the things I know about.” He doesn’t raise his voice or turn the page with any more force than usual. He doesn’t speak faster than he ordinarily would. “I gave opinions on where and when, what colors I liked, even the flowers. I helped look up photographers and was there for the band auditions. I can’t have much of an opinion on the things I don’t know or care about like what hits me in the face on my way out the door. Stop trying to turn this into something it’s not.” He sips his coffee in silence. Contrary to what he expected, she doesn’t say anything.

She turns back to the marked page and rereads the descriptions, trying to picture how she wants to remember everything. Would she rather shake rice from her dress on the dance floor or take the chance of catching a bubble in the eye? She could always use the veil like a mosquito net against the bubbles.

“I’ve got it,” he says with a chuckle. “Silly string. Give ‘em cans of white silly string. Let ‘em go nuts. If I know my brothers, they’ll have it half used before the ceremony even starts.”

She laughs and they smile at one another across the table.

Flash Fiction – Vomiting Butterflies

I thought things were going well between us. I thought that feeling in the pit of my stomach was butterflies at the thought, the sight of him. At least, that’s what I thought until I saw the other one again.

The one that got away is such a cliché but in this case it’s true. We were so close but there was a line in the sand that neither of us was ready to cross. Then it was suddenly too late. There was an invisible wall where the line used to be and though I could see him, the distance between us was too great and always expanding.

I told myself it was time to move on and turned my back to the wall. That was when they fixed me up with him, the one who was supposed to be perfect for me. And it all made sense for a while, a very little while.

I felt the things I thought I was supposed to feel. It’s why I didn’t notice that the butterflies in my stomach were making me sick. I thought I couldn’t eat because I was excited and thrilled. I didn’t listen to what my body was trying to tell me.

It took turning around and catching sight of him through that wall to realize that I had made a mistake. I was sick because what I was doing was wrong. My attention was in the wrong place. I was supposed to be fighting the wall that I could see but not get through. I couldn’t allow myself to become distracted by turning my back. I had to pay attention for any weak points in the wall. If I looked at it the right way, the distance between us was not so great.

But someone kept tapping my shoulder trying to get me to turn back around, trying to distract me from the wall.

It’s not you, it’s me. Do we wrap the truth in clichés to protect those we use them against or ourselves?

It didn’t matter. He couldn’t understand what it was about the wall that had me so focused. I don’t think he could see the wall was there at all even though I had told him all about it. He didn’t understand that if I turned around again, it would be worse than before. The butterflies in my stomach weren’t for him. If I turned around they would try harder than before to get out. I would wind up vomiting butterflies.

I didn’t want to have to push him away, but he left me no choice.

Flash Fiction – Party Pooper

It was finally the day. Sally had been looking forward to this party for what seemed like years. Red marker circled the date on her pony calendar so that it bled through and gave a crown to one of the ponies featured next month.

The right dress had been selected and washed. Several shopping trips were required before she settled on an appropriate present. Now the day was finally here. Sally had bathed without a fight (to the great astonishment of her mother), had sat still while her hair was brushed and braided, and was sitting carefully on the seat of the car to make sure she didn’t get wrinkled or dirty.

The present was sitting in her lap and Sally stared out the window remembering the day the invitation had arrived in the mail.

She had double-checked and triple-checked and quadruple-checked to make sure that Jeannie Sanders, the belle of the second grade, had really invited her, Sally Jennings, to her ninth birthday party.

After her mother had explained the meaning of the letters R.S.V.P., she wouldn’t leave her side until she called Jeannie’s mom to say she’d be attending the illustrious event. Rushing to the calendar in the kitchen, she insisted on doing it herself while her mother was still on the phone. Then she ran to her own room with her own calendar to mark the day a second time.

The invitation had said that there would be balloons on the mailbox but Sally knew exactly which house was Jeannie’s because they rode the same bus.

But Sally didn’t see any balloons when they turned the corner and she spied Jeannie’s driveway. There were ribbons marking the spot where balloons had abandoned their post. But there were no cars in the driveway or along the street and the house looked quiet and dark, even in the mid-afternoon.

Sally’s mom went up to the door with her while she rang the bell knocked nine times and rang the bell another eight. But no one answered. Sally had to be dragged quietly away from the house and put back into the car.

She threw the unopened present at the stairs when they got back home, then nearly tripped over it on her way up to cry on her bed. But first she threw some things across the room, including the invitation torn in half.

Her mom let her cry herself out and went upstairs to straighten things up in Sally’s room while Sally slept and cried on the bed. When she picked up the pieces of the invitation, Sally’s mom noticed that the date listed belonged to the day before.

Rather than wake up the disappointed girl, she decided to wait until after dinner to point out the mistake. She headed downstairs to leave a voicemail for Jeannie’s mom, explaining that her husband’s car had unexpectedly broken down the day before and would it be possible for Jeannie to come over for a special birthday sleepover Friday.

Flash Fiction – The Collector

A sign drawn with permanent marker on construction paper announced the yard sale that was set up in front of the brown house on the corner. The damp of the early morning had caused the ink to run, turning the event into a “Mand Bale.”

Candace didn’t care what the sign said. From the moment she spied the tables on the lawn and boxes emerging from the house, she was glued to the window. She saw the care with which some items were laid out and the haphazard way others were treated. The sight was exciting and she itched for the first few people to arrive so she wouldn’t feel like a vulture, descending before the family was ready.

Candace was a collector. She loved going to yard sales, estate sales, she even managed to find what she was looking for at flea markets once in a while, though, generally, those weren’t as reliable.

You see, Candace didn’t collect antiques. She didn’t collect stamps and she didn’t collect mailboxes. Candace wasn’t interested in acquiring the physical, the redundant, the objects left over. Candace collected the stories that went with those items.

There is a knack to collecting the kinds of stories in which she was interested. You can’t just walk up to anyone helping with the yard sale and ask them about the sentimental value of any old item on the table. You had to observe and feel out which person would be the best storyteller. Selecting the right item was just as important and just as difficult. Anything plastic, with the exception of some children’s toys, were best avoided. Wooden items were better. If anything looks hand-crafted, those were the best bets.

Candace started scouting before she walked over. She was pretty sure the woman with slightly graying hair would be the best target for inquiry, but she wasn’t decided about which item she would use. There was a birdhouse that looked like a good candidate. But then, last time, she had used a lawn gnome and wound up with one of her best tales to date. The lawn jockey was no gnome, but it might do better than the birdhouse.

She waited until after lunch before heading over. There weren’t as many people at that point in the day but family working the yard were primed and ready to go again after their own midday meal.

Candace took her time, moving slowly from table to table, looking over each item carefully. In her periphery she made sure to watch her target and gauge the woman’s reaction to her taking up each piece. The woman approached her when she had taken up a lamp with a hand-painted shade.

“We’ve marked everything down since this morning,” she said, pushing one of the thicker gray streaks out of her eyes. “Only five dollars now.”

“What can you tell me about it?” Candace asked.

Flash Fiction – People Watching

It was like watching a silent film. They were behind glass and even if the sound made it through that invisible barrier, the noise of early afternoon traffic would have drowned them out before it ever reached across the street.

A young man was moving mannequins around in a storefront window. A young woman, probably about the same age, came up behind him to help. He should have been able to handle them alone but she seemed to be insisting on helping. Before too long the two of them were yelling at each other and fumbling about, trying to put the head back on one of the dummies and the arm back on another.

At the bus stop, a couple of strangers sat waiting and struck up a conversation.

“What do you think they’ll tell their boss?” Joanna asked with a little laugh in her voice. The woman was using the arm to hit the man holding the head.

“She shouldn’t be doing that. He’s unarmed,” Carson said with a disapproving shake of the head.

“Can’t even get his head screwed on right,” Joanna replied.

They got the pieces back on the right bodies and went back to moving them within the display but their discussion still seemed pretty intense.

“I said I was sorry. They must’ve forgotten it was your turn. If you want to beat me more later you might want to hold on to that. Anyway, you wouldn’t have been able to move them without help. Just tell me where you want me to put them.” J.D. rested against the mannequin he’d just moved across the display for the third time.

“Oh, you want me to tell you where to put them, I’ll tell you where to put them.” Charlene muttered.

“Hey, you see those two on the bench? Where do you think they’re going?”

“Who cares? And what makes you think they’re together?”

“They seem to be having fun.”

“I will never understand how your mind works.”

“What do you think they’re talking about?”

“They could be talking about a million different things. They could be talking about us for all I know. Would it be possible for you to help without talking for a change?”

J.D. made a face when he turned his back to Charlene as he bent to pick up a hat that had abandoned its mannequin head. A shoe from the mannequin next to Charlene hit him in the back of the head.

“That looked like it hurt,” Carson said cringing. “Why do you think she did that?”

“I bet she saw the reflection of the face he was making. I probably would have done the same thing,” Joanna admitted with a smirk.

“What do you think they’re fighting about?”

“Who knows?”

Flash Fiction – and Order Chaos

It’s there every time I go by, every time I turn my head to the other side so that I don’t have to look at it. It doesn’t matter that I can’t see it; I still know it’s there.  It still bothers me, that little bit of disorder.

Everyone laughs at me because of it and I fight the urge to give in for a while, but it reaches a point where the relief I’d get from fixing it outweighs the embarrassment I feel at their hands.

I’m getting close to that point right now. I have to cross the room to get to the morning meeting, right past it. Then, after the meeting is over, I’ll have to go by it again to get back to my station. I know I won’t be able to pass it twice without putting it back right.

But I manage to put it off until after morning meeting is over. I hang back and survey the area, searching for a round about way back to my station but nothing will avoid that wall with those plaques and the two chronologically out of order.

Maybe if I had someone to walk with and talk with I could have distracted myself enough to go by it without fixing it but everyone had lit out of the room at the meeting’s end as if someone had promised free donuts to whoever got back to work first.

I gather myself together and focus on my destination. I start moving quickly; perhaps sheer speed will take me past it. From the corner of my left eye, I can see a number of my coworkers peeking above computers, around shelves, and over partitions only to duck as soon as they see me see them. The distraction is almost enough, but in staring down a few of them my footsteps have slowed down.

The right corner of my eye sees the line on the wall and my body stops. I don’t even turn my head to look at what my hands are doing, ashamed for having given in. There’s a commotion off to my left but I won’t to turn my head in that direction either.

After calmly walking back to my station I try not to give myself such a hard time. It was a new record for how long I’d let it go before fixing it and that was something I should be proud of. And at least I knew that for a while, it wouldn’t bother me. I should have at least until the cleaning crew comes through next week for the end of the month’s major cleaning session.

When I packed up at the end of the day, I was content. Until I walked by the plaques. I could feel that something wasn’t right before I looked. There were two out of order again but not the same two as earlier. It took everything I had to walk out the door.

Flash Fiction – Hotel Hell

Every five minutes, more accurate than a snooze button, the air conditioner kicking on and off woke him up. It didn’t matter how much he fiddled with it the night before, he couldn’t turn it off permanently, or even on permanently for that matter. It was the noise more than the temperature that bothered him.

And every time he woke up, that smell washed over him all over again. It couldn’t be adequately described using the adjectives of the English language but spoiled, rotten, and putrid all came to mind.

To top it off the blankets were itchy and the pillows too small. His head would fall between two, which would muffle the sound of the AC eternally kicking on and off, but he would also be in danger of suffocating himself with memory foam. And, a few times, he wondered if the smell might even be coming from the pillows themselves.

After twenty minutes spent unpacking and settling into the room for the night, he couldn’t take it anymore. He had gone down to the front desk and requested a room change, citing his lengthening list of complaints. The ancient woman sitting behind the desk for the duration of the night shift, asked him to repeat himself several times before she realized her hearing aid was on the desk next to her well-worn romance novel and her thick reading glasses. She explained that there were no rooms available to move him into unless he paid extra.

He couldn’t bring himself to pay extra. The office would only compensate him for the rate he was already paying and he wasn’t going to shell out his own money to a hotel that couldn’t bring itself to use simple air freshener. He stormed back to his room where he tossed and turned the rest of the night.

In the morning he packed everything back into his car before taking a look at the breakfast spread near the lobby. At least the food looked good. But halfway to his table with a plate of pastry, eggs, and bacon in one hand and a cup of bitter but better than nothing coffee in the other he spied a line of ants working their way back and forth across the lobby to the food table and bringing crumbs back to their queen. He took a sip of the coffee and dumped it along with the plate into a nearby trash bin.

It was time to check out and he prepared a little speech for the receptionist, determined to take out the night’s disappointments of the old woman. He was past caring that she was old. She probably wouldn’t even be able to hear him ranting anyway.

Behind the desk the crone had disappeared. Instead there was a bubbly young woman with a sugary smile and gentle eyes.

“I hope you enjoyed your stay here with us and we hope you’ll think of joining us again next time you’re in town.”

“Oh, yes. I will.”

Flash Fiction – The Best Laid Plans

The plan was simple: make the girls a frozen pizza, pull out the couch-bed, pop in a movie and turn out the lights for a fun babysitting night.

The reality was very different. Smoke began pouring out of the oven before it had even finished preheating, the frozen pizza lay forgotten on the counter, turning the cardboard box soggy. The younger sister, Anna, stood on a kitchen chair wielding two potholders, waving them wildly about to clear the smoke away from the smoke-detector. The older sister, Alicia, was also standing on a chair. She was riffling through cabinets looking for something, anything that they could have for dinner that didn’t require using the oven. There was no milk in the fridge so cereal was out. And the can opener was missing from the drawer so most of the things in the pantry’s contents were out. She climbed down from the chair with a box of Pop-Tarts in one hand and a sleeve of crackers in the other. It would have to do. Popcorn during the movie would help to fill them up more.

Some cheese with the crackers and a minute in the toaster for the frosted pastries and dinner was ready. Time to set up the sofa bed for the movie. Anna pulled all the cushions off while Alicia helped to pull the bed piece out but the whole couch wobbled with each tug. By the time Jessica came in with the bowl of popcorn, the couch had wobbled right off one of its back legs. No amount of balancing or propping could get the couch in a position that would make putting the leg back on possible; at least, not without a lot more help than two children under the age of ten.

The couch had to be abandoned but the cushions with a few blankets were an adequate substitute. As the kids were munching on the improvised dinner, Jessica went to put the movie in the player and prayed that the disc wasn’t scratched, that the machine was hooked up correctly, and the batteries in the remote were fresh.

Finally, something was working. They went through the previews and reached the main menu.

“Can we turn the lights out to make it more like a movie theater?” Alicia asked.

“I don’t see why not,” Jessica said and got up to flip the switch.

“I wanna do it,” Anna hollered as she jumped up and strained her hand up the wall.

“Be careful,” Jessica warned her as she sat back down.

Anna’s tiny fingers finally reached the switch. The lights in the living room went out. But so did the lights in the dining room and study and the television went off too.

From the darkness Jessica muttered, “You have got to be kidding me.”

Flash Fiction – Eight Lives Down…

He sits in his window and surveys his territory. He owns the neighborhood, even if he isn’t allowed outside anymore. There isn’t a critter in two blocks who doesn’t know to bow their heads as they passed by the stretch of lawn his ever vigilant eye scans daily.

His exploits are the stuff of legend. Death had stalked his steps many a day but each time he’d turned to face it and swatted it back with a bat from his dark, extra-towed paws. He went face to face with a car and lived to tell the tale. Precautionary quarantines hadn’t held him for long during his younger days. He would be back out to mark his territory as soon as he was allowed. He had never been afraid to walk right down the middle of the street with vicious dogs on either side gnawing at their leashes in the hopes of a chance to chase him.

Of all things to force him into retirement, it had to be the likes of an automated garage door. And he had been so close to escaping intact. Stupid tail. Sure it was good for balancing but to have it trailing behind all the time. It was bound to get caught in something, sometime. And that something had been a garage door and that sometime had come. And the tail had gone.

But instead of being able to use that tail, or rather the lack thereof, to further intimidate and impress his position on the others it had been his doom. Instead of being allowed to share the newest scar and the only tale he had left, he was the butt of a twisted joke. He was relegated to the stale and predictable indoor life.

But he is just biding his time, watching the activity on the other side of the window and waiting for the right moment. He only has one left and he will make it count. He would go out with a bang, even if it is the last thing he does (actually, that’s what he’s counting on).

And there he sits still, a sphinx. Enduring, patient, as chipped and damaged as the original. He sits and plots, ready and waiting for an opportunity to present itself and an ending befitting the legendary creature that he is.

What happens when you try to bring your past into your present?

“You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” – Jan Glidewell

“Second Guessing” is a short story about a young woman wrestling with her past and a relationship that never was.

I wanted to explore the way that memory is anything but solid. Its meaning can change if you try to look at it from another perspective and knowing what comes after that moment can also change the way it looks. Emotions like desire and fear can also affect what we see when we look back. Are we remembering things as they really were, or as we want them to have been?

Excerpt from “Second Guessing”:

A puddle has formed on the floor at my feet as I’ve stood here, holding open my closet door, mentally trying on each dress and throwing them onto the floor in disgust. Maybe the towel is wrapped around my head too tightly. It doesn’t matter what I end up wearing tonight; it won’t accomplish what I want to, need to tonight. Only I can do that.

Still, looking my best won’t hurt, or make my job harder. I grab a few dresses on hangers. Whoops, not going to wear that one. I put the red spaghetti strap dress back in the closet. I refuse to wear the dress I wore to my senior banquet again for my ten-year reunion (even though it fits better now than it did then; probably because my boobs finally grew in and I don’t have to pad to keep the neckline symmetrical and in the right place). I don’t want to be one of them, those tacky probably-ex-cheerleaders who have had a few kids but think they have the same figure they had before they popped them out.

I think I’ll go with one of the blue ones. They go best with my skin tone since it’s too cold out for the sun to be allowed an opportunity for changing that. The halter dress is a little uncomfortable and frankly, makes me look like I should be standing at a street corner in the red light district, even before I apply makeup.

Flash Fiction – Studying for Chemistry

Very few students manage to make it through their high school careers without being forced to take chemistry. No one is immune to the traps of chemistry. Honors chemistry junior year started out with twenty-one kids and ended the year with only eleven.

As terrifying as the prospect of having the midterm and final combine to form twenty percent of the final grade, it was what saved most students. Not specific enough to screw anyone up to greatly, everyone would score two grade levels higher than usual (an “A” instead of a “C” for example) and it was enough to bring up the grades from the rest of the year.

Where as in most science classes, biology or physics, students dreaded lab days because they took up study periods, in chemistry students looked forward to actually doing something. The lab write-ups were a different. Labs meant looking up expected values, which would sometimes take hours.

Towards the end of the school year, whenever labs were due everyone would convene after school in the cafeteria to figure them out together. They always started the same way, with everyone gathered at the same round table.

“I’m hungry. Does anybody want to got to the vending machine?”

“I’ve got… a buck seventy-five.”

“I’ve got some change. Here, get some chips.”

“I found a bag of candy in my purse.”

“Can someone get me a drink?”

“Sure. Whataya want?”

“Orange if they have it.”

Candy and snacks accumulated in the middle of the table, everyone contributed.

“Do you have any idea what he wants us to do for calculations?”

“I just guessed about the equations. Were you able to find an accepted value anywhere?”

“I was online for three hours last night and couldn’t find a thing. My computer froze about five times before I gave up.”

“What kind of computer do you have?”

“PC.”

“Hey, how’d you do on that last test?”

“Oh, I failed. Again.”

“No way. You failed too?”

“I think the highest grade in the class was an seventy-one.”

“Did we all do that bad?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Did you see number five? Did he ever explain how to do that one in class?”

“I was out that day. I stayed after to ask him about it but it only made me more confused.”

“Here. I have it in my notes.”

“Damn. I messed up the structure. I had the angles all wrong.”

“Oh man. I’ve gotta go. My brother’s got practice and I got stuck with taking him.”

“Good luck finishing the lab.”

“Maybe he’ll be out again tomorrow.”

“Yeah right. Don’t get my hopes up.”

“Just remember, there’s only another month and a half.”

“Only thirty-three school days total.”

“Then we’re seniors.”

Flash Fiction – Man versus Squirrel

A man stands before a pair of French doors and glares at a squirrel perched on a bird feeder stealing the birds’ food. He sips his coffee, nibbles his pastry, and devises a plan. Later that day he stops at a home improvement store and purchases a special feeder triggered by the weight of a squirrel. Birds are light enough to feed, but the squirrel’s weight prevents it from accessing the food. The man smiles slyly as he sets the new feeder up in his yard and even chuckles a little as he dumps the food from the old feeder into the new one.

~ ~ ~

A man stands before a pair of French doors and glares at a squirrel gnawing away at the ledge of a newly installed bird feeder. One splintered edge of the perch dangles as small shavings drop from the other. Before long the entire perch falls to the ground leaving the squirrel on the ground and birdseed accessible. The squirrel runs up the pole and reaches up and around into the feeder to grab a handful of seed, maintaining its grip on the pole with its two hind feet.

The man sips his coffee, nibbles his pastry, and revises a plan. Later that day he stops at a home improvement store and purchases pvc pipe and fishing line. He smiles slyly as he buries the pipe in the ground and strings up suet cakes using the fishing line, making sure to pick a spot in the open, away from the trees in the yard. He even chuckles a little as he tugs on the line and plays with it between his fingers, testing the strength.

~ ~ ~

A man stands before a pair of French doors and glares at a squirrel clinging to a suet cake and nibbling away at one corner. He gulps his coffee and burns his tongue so that he can’t taste the pastry he nearly chokes on as he mixes up the order of chewing and swallowing. He grasps for another plan and something comes to him.

Later that day he goes to the drug store and buys several creams, ointments, and moisturizers. He grits his teeth as he rubs them up and down the pvc poles and along the fishing line. He sighs as he replaces the suet cakes and cleans up after himself.

~ ~ ~

A man slumps in a chair before a pair of French doors and shakes his head resignedly at a squirrel miraculously gripping a suet cake and perched atop the exposed end of a pvc pipe with fishing line trailing from it down to the ground. The squirrel grips what little is left of the cake in his teeth and slides down the pipe like a fireman responding to a call. He crosses the distance to the step before the doors, peeks in while nibbling a little more, and dashes off, leaving behind a few scattered shells and seeds.

Flash Fiction – Feeding Time at the Aquarium

A three-year-old girl with blond hair, and dreams of growing up to become a mermaid or a marine biologist, leans up against the glass to see the giant sea turtle in the tank. She wears a Little Mermaid t-shirt and has been pointing out and naming all the sea creatures she knows as her parents lead her from one exhibit to the next. She even waves at the sharks they pass and smiles her own toothy grin – after all, they never actually caught Ariel.

Her parents stand on either side of her with a better view but she won’t let them pick her up. She’s a big girl and can see well enough on her own.

An announcement is made over the intercom that it’s feeding time at the aquarium and just as the little girl spots the sea turtle and starts to get excited, she catches sight of a woman climbing down into the tank and the eager turtle getting closer. From her inferior vantage point, she cannot see the containers of lettuce. They are blocked from view by the hand railing.

Her parents look down at her smiling and pointing. She looks at them with a horror and disgust they hope never to see again. It was difficult for her to turn her head back to the sea turtle whose viciousness she has grossly underestimated. But someone has to be there for the poor woman in the bright pink wetsuit who is destined, in the eyes of a confused three-year-old, to be the giant sea turtle’s dinner.

But the three-year-old’s courage fails her and she looks away as the woman eases herself into the water and heads for her gastronomic fate. She begins to cry quietly and clings to her mother’s denim pant leg. When her parents bend down to ask her what is wrong she only begins to cry more.

Her father picks her up and without a spoken word between them, they instinctively head for the gift shop. She stops crying when they buy her a purple and black, stuffed, striped fish but she remains upset until she finally falls asleep in the car on the highway back home.

Flash Fiction – Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

A chainsaw roars loud enough to be heard over the shower. An innocent hedge is cut down before it even has a chance to bloom. But someone runs from the house, screaming, arms waving, towel trailing.

The chainsaw quiets enough for shouting to echo across a neighborhood. No one likes the new owner of the house on the corner. He ignores the common courtesies that have kept the rest in good standing with one another for over fifty years. Instead he is out for what he can get. When someone begs a favor, he demands repayment immediately. When others wave or nod as they pass, he grunts and goes back to pampering his hot rod. When he has a problem with one of the other residents of the neighborhood, he stews and lashes out in a passive aggressive manner.

And so the intended destruction of the hedge is the last straw. Where the natural boundary has proven insufficient, an artificial one must be constructed. A large roll of chicken wire appears, hooked to stakes buried every five feet. When the fence is finished, a murmur ripples through the neighborhood.

A vivacious old woman goes out to her front garden and uproots one of her award-winning irises. She has trouble getting back up from potting it, but manages to drag it across the street and replants it about five inches in front of one of the posts. She knocks on the door and the man who’d barely been wearing a towel earlier answers the door fully dressed. Water is procured and the cluster of irises perks up again.

Two teens from down the street use their little brother’s wagon to bring along two small hostas. The old woman directs them in where to dig and how to hold them so they don’t fall apart. A young couple brings their toddler over with a packet of morning glory seeds. It’s early enough in the season for the vines to coat the chicken wire fence just a few weeks. The ten-year-old son of the man in the towel gets out of a car with his mother, carrying a potted rose-of-sharon while the pot she carries holds a climbing rose bush.

In two weeks time the side of the fence that faces most of the neighborhood has bloomed into a wall of colorful perfume.

Inside the house on the corner, a medicine cabinet is stocked with antihistamines and tissues overflow the wastebasket.

Spoiled – A Short Story

“As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested.” – Oscar Wilde

“Spoiled” is a short story that was an idea I had for a novel back in middle school. The flashback episodes were supposed to be more numerous and developed. I changed my mind and wrote it as a short story the summer after high school. I actually like it better as a short story.

The first draft is written on the backs of sale flyers from the store where I worked that summer. I had an epiphany about the way the story should start while I was ringing up customers and grabbed a flyer to write it down on when I got back to my car after my shift ended.

When I decided to include it in my thesis collection, I made up little book cover style images to go with each of them (I’ll go back and edit the post and page for “A Mother’s Love” to include that image too). The image for “Spoiled” is perhaps my favorite of the group.

Excerpt from “Spoiled”:

A buzzer sounded and echoed off of the concrete, steel, and razor wire that held the prison together. It was visiting day and the guards were in the process of reading off the numbers of those prisoners with people waiting to see them (there were more on the list than one might expect). Joe Wilson heard his number rattled off with the others and sighed.

He knew who it would be the same way he always knew who it would be. As much as she wanted to see him, he didn’t want to see her. There had been other times when he’d hoped to see Elizabeth or their son, Danny, sitting in the folding chairs on the other side of the bulletproof glass holding the telephone’s receiver up between them so they would both be able to hear him, eager to talk with him, see him with their own eyes, hear his son call him “Daddy” just once more. But he’d long since given up hope of ever seeing anyone other than his mother, or on the rare occasion his father, waiting for him on the other side of the glass.

At that same moment, Kim Wilson sat impatiently fiddling with the cuff of her shirtsleeve. She pulled on a thread making the cloth fray further. She would need to mend it when she got home later. Right now she was poking her fingers through the hole, slowly making it larger. As usual, she was feeling nervous about seeing her son. Each time she came to this place she hoped that when he was escorted into the room by the guard he would be happy to see her.

Honing my rewriting skills

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” – James Michener

Now that my thesis is officially and completely done, I’ll be posting some of the short stories that were included in the collection (and will be posting about the progress of trying to get some of the others published). Actually, the name of this blog, Nightmares, Day Dreams, and Imagined Conversations, was the title I gave my thesis project.

The first story from that collection, “A Mother’s Love”, I originally wrote in high school. My friends and I wanted to spend a summer making a movie and needed a story to start the process. I wrote it with the intention of adapting it to a screenplay but we never managed to coordinate and we didn’t have the right equipment anyway (as it turns out, having a camera that works with the computer so that filming and editing can actually happen are key components to the filmmaking process). The story was written for a small cast and the descriptions of place and objects are based on the intended filming environment, my parents’ house.

I have rewritten it a few times now, most recently for the inclusion in my honors program thesis project. Because of the length of the story, I haven’t had success with it on the literary journal circuit. It was published in my high school’s literary magazine my senior year (though my position as secretary probably didn’t hurt).

Excerpt from “A Mother’s Love”:

Lavinia opened the door and got out of the car. She allowed her mother to take her arm and lead her to the house. Her father took her things out of the trunk. He opened the door with the third key on the ring and held the door open for the other two. No one said anything to the others. Lavinia’s small bag was placed beside the door as they encouraged her to look around the house and reacquaint herself with everything.

There were framed photos along the wall leading up the stairs to the second floor bedrooms. Lavinia pointed to a young girl in one of the photos. “Is that me?”

Her mother nodded and smiled broadly towards her husband. He nodded and smiled meekly back. They remained silent.

Lavinia walked closer to the photograph behind the glass, set in the gilded frame. The girl was sitting between her parents at a professional photographer‘s studio, smiling with her hair pulled away from her face. She didn’t even recognize her own picture. Did she really look like that only a few years ago? How much her face had changed during those pivitol years of adolescence. “I don’t remember,” she declared, never taking her eyes from the girl’s face. The smiles disappeared from her parents’ faces but they continued to encourage her. She gauged their reactions from what she could see reflected in the mounted photo.

“It’ll come back to you. It’ll just take some time, but it will all come back,” her father said. It was like an order for her mind. Her mother walked over and placed a hand on her shoulder. Lavinia shrank back from the woman’s touch. The mother’s face couldn’t hide the pain. She quietly excused herself and left the room with tears in her eyes.

Lavinia sighed when she realized it was her fault. “I’m… I’m sorry. I want to remember, but… I don’t know how to make it come back.” Lavinia continued to gaze at the girl.

In love with what I learned in the second grade

“All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.” – Bobby Knight

Why is it that the best ideas always strike in the most inconvenient places at the most inconvenient times? I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping a notepad by my bed for when ideas strike at bedtime, but I have yet to solve the problem of jotting things down in the shower.

Even with all the projects I’m already working on, inspiration struck last night for a serial story that I feel would be perfect for this venue. Honestly, it’s the kind of thing I’d like for a television series, but I want to do it as a daily (or as close to daily) posting here. My goal is to post somewhere between 100 and 500 words a day. I’ll still be posting short stories and novel excerpts as well as thoughts about books and what I’m reading.

Here’s the last of what I have from Rosewood Manor.

Rosewood Manor – Chapter 5 and Rosewood Manor – Chapter 6 (partial).

Excerpt from Rosewood Manor – Chapter 5.

The miscarriage kept Elizabeth in bed for a few days. The doctor did his best to assuage the fears of her husband and his parents.

“She lost a bit of blood. Keep her in bed. Absolutely no moving from the room for at least three days, but encourage her to rest longer. If she starts to bleed again, send for me, although I don’t know that there would be much I could do in such a case.”

Jane was standing closest to the doctor, her arms crossed over her chest. “Do you think she knew of her condition?” She couldn’t form any other thoughts, however hard she tried.

The doctor paused for a moment but went ahead when he saw Charles’ worried face. “I’m not sure she knew. She may have only suspected but you would need to ask her for a definitive answer. What I’m instructing you to do is keep her off of her feet for a few days. Watch her and send for me if you see any changes in her condition. I’ll call again in a few days’ time to reexamine her.” He picked up his things and left the house.

More of my twaddle

“Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.” – Katherine Mansfield

There’s a photo somewhere of me sitting on a booster seat and our old gray desktop Mac, typing away. I was a little shaky on the rules of plagiarism at the time, being only about four years old at the time. I wanted to write a book so I found my favorite copy of Cinderella and began typing it myself. After my parents explained that doing it that way didn’t count and was against the rules, I started stealing paper from the printer, folding it in half, and stapling it into a book of my own. I would write until I started running out of paper and hastily wrapped it up and started a new one.

I was about seven years old when I started my first story that could really be called a story. It was going to be a supernatural murder mystery. I still have the first few pages in a trunk with my school things from elementary school. It’s right on top of the orange and blue house made out of a milk carton where a petrified gingerbread man resides.

Next week I plan on playing with my old laptop until I can get a readable copy of the novel I wrote when I was fourteen. Until then, there are still two main chunks of the incomplete Rosewood Manor that I’ll be posting as well as some of the short stories I included as part of my thesis project. Here is Rosewood Manor – Chapter 4.

Excerpt from Rosewood Manor – Chapter 4

Elizabeth used the information Mrs. King had given her the day before to begin the tiresome search for her mother and sister. Rather than cause a scene and draw unwanted attention to herself, Elizabeth ventured out on foot. It was a pleasant walk to town, though the distance seemed longer on foot than from the comfort of a carriage. The rain of the previous afternoon had ceased during the night and the morning sun had worked at clearing the puddles. Through a series of disastrous misjudgments, Elizabeth quickly learned to keep t the center of the road when possible, away from the carriage-wheel induced ruts along the edge.

Once she arrived at the outskirts of the small town, Elizabeth found herself lost. In the few months she’d lived with Amelia and Anne at Mrs. King’s boarding house, she’d only ventured out unassisted a handful of times, and even on those occasions she rarely met with success. In an attempt to find the butcher, whose shop was on the road perpendicular to their own lodgings, Elizabeth had wandered into the Worthington store where she’d first met Charles. He had escorted her through the rest of her errands that day and returned her safely to the boarding house. When he would come to call they often went for drives in his carriage but she had paid little attention to her surroundings beyond the carriage’s interior.