Flash Fiction – Bells

When it was quiet, it was possible to hear the bells ringing in the church clear across town. Erika heard them often in the crisp evenings when everyone else was asleep. They kept her company, marked the approaching dawn, giving her increasingly insistent warnings that soon it would all begin again.

It occurred to her that there might be someone on the other side with the bells—a Quasimodo. She refused to believe that they were hooked up to a system of levers and pulleys that were programmed by a faceless computer. No, it was someone with strong arms and legs; a solid weight pulling down on a thick rope that burned their palms as they let it slide through before seizing it tightly to pull down again.

“I want to go to the church,” she told Kerry one evening.

Kerry frowned, brow furrowed. “Any church in particular?”

“The one with the bells.”

“I think they hold mass at nine o’clock,” Kerry nodded and shrugged. “But we can go.”

“No, not on Sunday. I want to go now,” Erika insisted rising.

“Uh, honey…”

But Erika had already left the room and left the house walking in the general direction from which she knew the music of the bells carried.

Kerry ran after her with a blanket to wrap around her shoulders despite the fact it wasn’t actually cold.

“Let me do this,” Erika told Kerry. “I’ll be fine.”

Kerry pressed her lips together but stepped aside. “If you head for Main Street—”

“I’ll find it,” Erika dismissed the offered directions.

“Just… be careful.”

Erika walked. She stopped at the ends of sidewalks and waited for cars to pass and the light to turn. She didn’t flinch when dogs barked at her from behind their fences and ignored a group of teens gathered outside a fast food place jeering at her and smacking one another on their arms and backs as though they’d accomplished something.

She checked her watch and waited closing her eyes.

There it was; ten, perfectly-spaced, deep tones that resonated with her bones. She turned and adjusted her path.

Her steps were small but determined. It wasn’t as silent as she’d always thought. The noise from televisions slipped through open windows, the light peeking through the cracks in shades and blinds. There were insects out and about as well as the bats, electric zappers, and other nocturnal beings that caught and devoured them. Cars idled at intersections and then sped off when the spectrum shifted.

Knowing all this made the bells that much more impressive. They cut through all the nonsense and made themselves heard, made their presence felt. And yet for so many they faded into the background too.

Erika stopped and waited again ignoring the woman who spotted her through her front window and came out to ask if she was lost. Erika held up a hand, confusing the woman until she started; eleven.

“No, I’m not lost,” Erika whispered as she started walking again; she was close.

Most everything was dark when she finally found the church. Only the streetlamps and the headlights from a solitary car competed with the moon and stars to light Erika’s way.

It was different this time. They started early—five minutes before the hour; they had a whole song to get through before the day officially ended.

Erika stared up at the bell tower and smiled. She wondered if they played the same song every time or if the unseen Quasimodo changed it from night to night.

Tears of triumph trickled down her face with the tolling of each of the twelve bells welcoming the new day.


Flash Fiction – Toddler Carols

Karen double-checked the restraint on her daughter’s car seat as they prepared to head home from the day care center.

“What’d you guys learn in school today?” she asked, conversationally as she climbed into the front seat and fastened herself in.

“We gonna have a concert!” Maya shouted joyfully.

“What kind of concert?”

“A Christmas concert. They gave me a paper in my pack-pack.”

“You’re going to sing some Christmas carols?”

“Ah-huh. Can I wear my red dress?”

“We’ll have to wait and see—Gram-gram bought it for you to wear when we go to their house for Christmas dinner. What about your blue dress? That one’s pretty.”

“Blue isn’t for Christmas, Mama,” Maya said, laughing at her mother’s absurd suggestion.

“We’ll go through your closet when we get home then. What about the songs? What ones are you singing?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, here,” Karen said, reaching to turn on the radio. Some the main stations had been playing Christmas music since Halloween but it made Karen’s hair stand on end to have anything to do with Christmas until Thanksgiving was over—she had a three-year-old, she was incapable of planning that far ahead for anything.

“That one, Mama!” Maya started screeching. “I want that one!”

The Twelve Days of Christmas—the Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall of holiday songs.

“What’s a partridge?” Maya asked.

“It’s a kind of bird, Sweetie.”

“What kind of tree’s it in?”

“A pear tree.”

“Oh. Five golden rings, four killing birds, three French horns, two tuttle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree,” Maya sang along, counting down with her fingers.

Karen smiled in the front seat glancing into the rearview mirror periodically to watch Maya’s enthusiastic expression.

Each time through it became harder for Karen not to laugh. They had almost made it to their driveway when the song ended and she began to breathe easier.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas came on—repetitive but that just made it easier for Maya to pick up… at least as far as the tune was concerned.

Karen waited until they were having dinner that night to bring up the concert again.

“It’s two weeks away,” she told him. “Do you think you can get the morning off?”

“I’ll put in for it,” he promised Maya who was beaming. “Do you know what songs you’re going to sing yet?”

“The teacher put in a list,” Karen said with a broad grin. “We actually heard a few of them in the car on the way home today. Honey, why don’t you sing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ for Daddy.”

Maya swayed in her chair as she started singing.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas,

We wish you a Merry Christmas,

We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a cup of good beer.

“Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring it right here.”

He nearly choked on his dinner.

Flash Fiction – The Arrangement

“But… that’s my allowance!” Caitlin complained when her parents told her they wanted her brother to start washing his own bed sheets and making the bed himself. “I get two dollars for each of the beds in the house, ten cents for each thing I iron, fifty cents when I put away the dishes…” she listed.

“We know,” her mother said in an exaggerated tone. “We’re the ones who set up this little pay-by-chore system. But you’re hurrying through and doing everything before your brother has a chance. He needs to have a chance to earn his allowance too.”

“He gets five dollars when he mows the lawn and he gets to sort the recycling,” Caitlin remained adamant in her objections. “If he isn’t fast enough to do the laundry, that’s not my fault.”

“He needs to learn how to do it and that’s that,” her father said, laying down the final word on the matter.

Caitlin turned on her heel with a loud grunt of frustration as she stormed off.

*          *          *

“But I don’t want to,” Caleb complained when his parents told him he’d be laundering and reassembling his own bed from then on.

“I don’t care if you don’t want to,” his mother said in a dismissive tone. “It’s something you’re going to need to know how to do for when you get older and move out. Get used to it now.”

“But—” he started to complain again but he stopped when he saw his father’s impassive expression, backing his mother up.

Caleb rolled his eyes and shuffled off with his a loud sigh.

*          *          *

Caitlin hovered near the door to Caleb’s room as he played his Gameboy sprawled across his disheveled bed.

“I’ll do it for you,” she said with a glance over her shoulder to be sure their parents weren’t around.

“You will?” Caleb asked, pausing his game.

“Five dollars and I will.”

Caleb’s face scrunched up as he considered her offer, his eyes lingering on the device in his hands. “Deal.”

“Great. Get up and I’ll strip the bed while you get the cash.”

Caleb moved to his dresser and peeked to be sure Caitlin’s back was to him before reaching behind it to retrieve his wallet from a pocket he’d made out of duct tape and attached to the back.

With the sheets gathered against her chest, Cailtin took the five-dollar bill Caleb held out for her as she left the room.

*          *          *

“You did the beds?” their mother asked while they were eating their ice cream in the living room that night.

“Yup,” Caitlin answered.

“Here.” Their father handed Caitlin six dollars.

She furrowed her brow.

“You did all the beds, didn’t you?” he said.

She nodded. Caleb realized what was going on and objected. “Hey!”

“She made your bed didn’t she?”

“Yeah, but she made me pay her for it.”

“Well then, let that be a lesson to you,” their mother said with a shrug.

Flash Fiction – The Prophet

“Are you sure you should be—?” Eric started to ask but Taylor had already downed the shot.

“Woooh!” she squealed after swallowing and setting the glass down. She shook her head as the others laughed with varying degrees of sincerity.

“I think you should slow down a bit,” Joan advised, nudging the bottle of tequila out of reach.

“What?” Taylor slurred. “Why? I’m just keeping up with this guy.” She threw an arm around Eric who was grinning from his own buzz. He turned to look at her and she pulled his head towards her so she could give him a kiss on the cheek. Before letting him go, she licked the side of his face and then giggled.

“Okay,” Steph said with a groan. Despite the fact that they were at Eric’s apartment and all lived within a three-block radius, Steph had switched to just water as soon as she felt warm enough to lose her jacket. Billy squeezed her leg to caution her about butting in but Steph kept talking. “Taylor, you can’t keep up with Eric. He’s got ten inches and a hundred pounds on you.”

“Watch me,” Taylor said with a wave of the hand that almost knocked the half-empty bottle of tequila over, the arch of her arm wider than Joan anticipated. She grabbed the bottle out of the way.

“No, we need to get you home,” she agreed, downing the last of her margarita and rising to fetch their coats. “I’ll walk you home.”

Taylor leaned too far into Eric and they both slumped against the sofa, Eric’s arm coming up and stroking Taylor’s arm. She didn’t seem to notice. She was too busy watching Steph and Billy. They’d just made their relationship official a few days earlier and it was the first time they’d gone anywhere as a “couple,” even if it was just hanging out and watching movies at one of their apartments.

“You know…” Taylor said, ignoring Eric’s other hand moving to her thigh. “You two… you’re gonna make it. I… I can just feel it.”

“You can feel what?” Joan asked, reentering the room with a pair of coats. Her eyes went straight to the hand massaging Taylor’s thigh.

“And you,” Taylor said, rising and pointing an accusatory finger at Joan. “When are you going to dump Jack-the-Ass? You can do soooo much better. He’s just gonna keep treating you like shit.”

Joan flushed and looked down, fiddling with the coats so they wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.

Steph shook off Billy’s touch as she hurried to get Taylor to her feet. “I’ll go with you guys,” she volunteered.

“Come on, Steph. Stay,” Billy implored. “I’ll walk you home later.”

Joan and Taylor were already in the hallway. “Nah, I’m gonna help Joan,” she said with a significant look, trying to communicate with him silently. Billy rolled his eyes and finally let her go.

They broke up a week later. Joan and Jack lasted six months longer.

Together – The Call Pt 2

“Vanessa? I hope this isn’t a bad time.”

“Who is this?”

“It’s Rick. The only guy who would call that phone and ask for you.”

“Point taken. You managed to catch me during prep time. What do you need?”

“You hung up on me earlier before we figured out what we were going to do about swapping our phones back.”

“I did? Good. I thought we’d settled on something and I’d just forgotten. It’s been one of those days.”
“I’m familiar with those days. They’re part of what keeps me employed. Along with bachelor and bachelorette parties.”

“So, are you working at the bar again tonight? I can drop by on my way home later.”

“It’s actually my night off. I’ll be back at the bar tomorrow but you probably need your phone back before that.”

“Yeah, that’s the number most of my colleagues have and while I doubt there’ll be a snow day tomorrow or any other emergency, I don’t think you’d appreciate having the principal wake you up.” Continue reading

Together – The Reconciliation

Rick was waiting on her couch when Vanessa came through the door after work. He looked tense, leaning forward with his elbows and forearms propping his head up by resting on his knees. His coat was on the arm of the couch beside him, removed only so he wouldn’t overheat during the wait. It was a moment before he looked up from his lap which gave Vanessa little time to process the rush of conflicting impulses and thoughts that passed through her mind and paralyzed limbs.

Relief that he was still alive, fury that he hadn’t returned any of her calls and had made her worry, frustration with herself for caring so much when she’d spent the last few days pushing herself not to, and fear that this would be it, the end, that this would be the last time he’d walk away from her and that he wouldn’t look back again or come back. Was he back?
“What the hell are you doing here?” She couldn’t help the harshness of her tone and immediately wished there was a better way to convey her relief along with her frustration.

“I used my key,” he said a little sheepishly. He pulled it from his pocket, placing it gingerly on the coffee table, where it became a boundary of sorts between them. Was he really just here to return her key? Why would he stick around? Was he trying to make her cry?

He saw her struggling for control over her body which had begun to shake and thought she was fighting against the impulse to scream and scold, maybe even attack him physically with the purse that was slipping from her shoulder or, worse, the noticeably full work bag that was working with gravity to rest on the floor.

“I, uh… I was going to just wait for you out in the hallway but then Mrs. Jenkins came home with a bunch of groceries and gave me a funny look and I didn’t want her to think we’ve been fighting so I pretended I had been looking for my key and had just found it.”

Vanessa nodded but remained silent and continued to hold her stuff by the door. Rick took a deep breath and stood up. He looked down at the key on the coffee table and spoke to that instead of to her.

“I want us to move in together.” Continue reading

Together – The Meeting

“You remember the signal?”

“Yes, now go or he’ll get here and see you talking with me and wonder what’s up.”

“Okay, I’m headed over there now. Wish me luck.” Susan hiked her purse up on her shoulder and teased her bangs before walking off.

“You’re gonna need it,” Vanessa called after her in a teasing tone but Susan was already across the bar and setting into a booth. Vanessa spun the bar stool back around and found an angle where she could see Susan reflected in the mirror behind the bar.

“What can I get ya?” The bartender said as he moved towards her, wiping the bar down on his way.

“I’ll have a coke,” Vanessa answered as she shifted and contorted to see around him and re-establish her eyeline to Susan’s reflection. The bartender stepped into her way again, deliberately trying to get her attention. “Rum and coke or just coke?”

“Just coke. Designated driver.” She’d found Susan’s booth again but was nearly sitting on the barstool next to hers.

He moved a little ways back down the bar to fill a glass with ice. Vanessa straightened up and watched as the guy Susan had arranged to meet approached her booth. Then the bartender was blocking her view again and placing the soda in front of her with what became an inquisitive smile as Vanessa began to twist to see around him again.

“You meeting someone?” Continue reading

Together – The Scare

Vanessa came first. As she felt Rick’s rhythm alter, building to his own rapidly approaching climax, she had a flicker of doubt that blossomed into panic.

“Did you put on a condom?” she gasped, not having had time to catch her breath yet.

But it was too late and Rick finished with one last thrust. He only rested against her breast for a moment, then rolled still holding on to her, still inside her (though diminishing). Now on his back with Vanessa astride him, Rick responded.

“Did you say something?”

“Were you wearing a condom?”


“You idiot. Why not?”

Continue reading

Together – The Call Pt. 1


“Who is this? What are you doing with my phone?”

“Am I speaking with Vanessa, by any chance?”

“How do you know my name?”

“I’ve got your phone, remember? I could have looked it up but I actually just remember it from last night.”

“Right. But that doesn’t tell me who you are or why you have my phone?”

“Our phones got mixed up at the bar when I put you in your cab.”

“So we met at the bar? You’re not Susan’s date are you?”

“I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Susan but I think you told me all I need to know about her.”

“We didn’t… hook up or anything. Did we?”

Continue reading

Together – The First ‘I Love You’

Vanessa pulled off her shirt and looked at herself in the mirror, debating whether she should leave her bra on or take it off. She folded her shirt and put it at the end of Rick’s bed. She shook her head and picked it back up, shaking it out and tossing it haphazardly at the dresser. She kicked her shoes off in the direction of the door then crossed to set them neatly side-by-side, out of the way. Finally, she gently kicked one over and nudged it a little further away from the other. She let her skirt drop to the floor next to the bed and crawled between the sheets in her panties and bra.

Removing a balled up t-shirt from beneath a pillow, she settled comfortably in and debated how she wanted to pose herself for when she heard Rick coming. Blanket up to her neck? No, that wasn’t sexy. It would make it look like she had something to hide and not in a good way. Blanket covering her bra? Or not? Should she lose the bra altogether?

Vanessa looked at the clock on the bedside table. 1:30 am. Rick wouldn’t get off work until 2, and he probably wouldn’t get back to his apartment until quarter after or even half-past. She laid back so that she couldn’t see the clock and tried to guess how much time had passed since she last looked, attempting to stretch the time between peeks and will the minutes to pass faster.

When she felt herself fading at 1:58, she searched for something to occupy her attention and keep her awake. Leaning over the edge of the mattress, her hand clutched around in the space under the bed as she struggled to stay between the sheets warmed by her body heat. All she found was an old Playboy, its pages ruffled with age and she was afraid to imagine what else. Gingerly putting it back, she debated venturing to the living room where her workbag was hanging out with her purse on the floor next to the sofa. She could probably make it through the spelling tests before Rick made it home, but given how tired she was, she didn’t trust her eyes to see straight enough for that. The book reports would only make it harder to stay awake. The history quizzes would have been fine but they were still in a pile on her desk at work, waiting for Jimmy Flenderson to make his up at recess on Monday.

With each minute that passed, the bed became warmer and harder to leave; the pillow became more inviting and her eyelids heavier. At 2:43 she lost the battle and sleep triumphed. Continue reading

Together – The Fight

Vanessa tossed her keys down onto the decorative table in the hallway. They clattered against the blinking answering machine. Rick came through the doorway behind her, yawning.

“Why didn’t you wake me up? We could’ve left you know.” He pulled his coat off and threw it across the back of the easy chair in her living room.

“I thought you could use the rest,” Vanessa said as she put her purse on the table and hung her coat in the closet. “Besides, it would’ve been louder to wake you. You tend to scream if you’re startled awake.”

“What? You’re lying.”

“Really? What about that time I forgot to put my phone’s alarm on vibrate? Your neighbors almost called the police.”

“I just didn’t expect you to have that song for your ring-tone.”

Vanessa laughed. “Do you even remember which song it was?” She looked him in the eyes with eyebrows raised in expectation. He didn’t break that contact until his mental straining for the answer failed.

“Its… irrelevant.” He blinked.

“Ha!” She kept laughing and watched as he sunk down onto the arm of the chair bearing his coat. “You weren’t the only one asleep. Didn’t you hear the guy down front snoring after they killed off what’s-his-name?”

“No, that was when I lost interest and fell asleep. I mean, he was the only one of them that I liked. Why’d they kill him so early?”

“I don’t know. He was the only one I liked too. Though, it was almost entertaining to see just how bad it could get.” Rick raised his eyebrows. “I said ‘almost.’”

“You could have waken me up,” he paused. “Woken? Waked? Anyway, we didn’t have to stay.”

Vanessa flipped through her mail and set it back down beside the answering machine. “I told you, it’s fine.”

“But it’s not,” he insisted. “It was supposed to be a date night and I know I have a broad definition of what constitutes a date but even I don’t consider me falling asleep during a terrible movie to be a date.”

“I agree with that sentiment.” She crossed from the table to where he had perched on the arm of the chair his coat had been thrown upon. “But we can still turn the evening around.” She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him. His arms came up to hold her by the waist. She pulled back and headed for the kitchen.

“Where’re you going?” Continue reading

Together – The Work Thing

“Are you sure you want me to go?”

“Of course. You’re not backing out of this, not now. Taste this,” Vanessa held a spoon out for Rick to try. If it had been an experimental dinner or lunch attempt, he would have dug around for an excuse to avoid her catastrophic cooking. But the spoon bore something sugary. Desserts were her specialty and even when they didn’t turn out as planned, they were still pretty tasty. He could taste chocolate and a hint of raspberry, warm and rich and creamy.

“Mmmm.” Rick licked his lips as Vanessa turned back to the bowl and continued mixing. A timer went off and Vanessa whipped around to the oven and pulled out a golden pie shell crust. Rick hadn’t even seen her put the oven mitts on her hands, she’d moved so rapidly and fluidly. A trivet was waiting on the counter and she set the crust there to cool before moving to the freezer and pulling out a plastic bag of raspberries.

“Why do they need to be frozen?” Rick asked. He used his finger to wipe up some of the chocolate mixture that had run down the side of the bowl. He popped the finger in his mouth before Vanessa could turn back around and catch him.

“I didn’t have the time to make this earlier so the crust won’t be able to cool completely. If I did it with fresh raspberries, I think they would get too mushy too quickly.” She was carefully lining the bottom of the crust with the frozen berries. “At least, I hope this will work. It won’t have much time to set either, just however long it takes me to shower and get dressed. I hope this helps, but I really have no idea.” She poured the chocolatey mixture over the berries and gingerly carried it to the refrigerator.

“I’ll go to the party if only to have a chance to try the finished product,” Rick was using his finger to scrape the excess chocolate from the bowl.

“Don’t get any on your shirt. The only change you have here is that vile monstrosity and there won’t be time to stop by your apartment on the way to Deb’s.”

She threw her apron on the table and hurried off to change. Continue reading

Together – The Tip

“Is this seat taken?”

Paul looked up and saw a woman indicating the seat next to him at the bar. The carpet had muffled her footsteps as she approached. As she gracefully alighted the seat of the high barstool, her knee length navy dress rode up just enough to show a little thigh. He wished he had been watching her wen she’d come in. Maybe she had scanned the booths and tables before noticing him and strolling over.

The bar tender was at the far end and nodded to acknowledge he had seen her and would be there momentarily for her order. Paul’s window of opportunity would be brief. Picking up his glass, he downed the last of his bourbon Manhattan then raised the remaining ice to indicate he’d like another.

He swiveled to face the brunette beside him.

“And what will you be drinking tonight?” Continue reading

Stubbornly Flexible

“Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined. Plans rarely stay the same, and are scrapped or adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan.” — John C. Maxwell

About two years ago now I began writing on a project that I intended to self-publish through a platform like Smashwords. I haven’t worked on it much in the last eighteen months, however, and I haven’t had much time to work on writing flash fiction pieces either. It’s not a project that I’m particularly passionate about or one that I was even sure about how I would ultimately assemble it. An examination of a modern romantic relationship and the dynamics between the two parties, I have abandoned the plans to compile and self-publish it as one unit (at least for the foreseeable future).

But rather than let the handful of completed episodes languish in a folder on my desktop, I have decided I’ll post them here. There was no set order to the episodes (pretty much the only thing I had settled on was that they wouldn’t be presented in chronological order of occurrence). I only have vague ideas for other episodes I intended to include and maybe I will get to them eventually. For now, though, I’m going to be posting these episodes every other Friday to make up for the stunning lack of my own creative fiction in recent months.

So make of them what you will. The working title I had for the piece as a whole is Together.

Flash Fiction – Father’s Day

Jordyn laid the roses on the kitchen table. She began raiding the drawers searching for the good pair of scissors. Gabe came in. He wordlessly pulled a cereal bowl from the cabinet, filled it, and sat down to eat while Jordyn opened and rifled through each drawer for a third time.

Having taken a few bites, Gabe was finally in a place where he could coherently comment on Jordyn’s increasingly noisy search. “What’re you doing?”

“Looking for the good scissors.”

“I used ‘em last night. Other room,” he explained.

“Why couldn’t you put them away when you were done?” She shoved the drawers closed and marched to the den to retrieve them.

“Didn’t know you were gonna need ‘em.” Gabe was unfazed by Jordyn’s frustrated tone. “What’s with the flowers anyway?”

“It’s Father’s Day,” Jordyn responded as she made fresh cuts to each rose’s stem.

Gabe’s brow furrowed as he squinted at the calendar on the wall. “Huh. Still, what’re you gonna do with ‘em?”

“What d’you think? They’re for Dad, duh.”

Gabe’s chewing slowed. He watched Jordyn wipe the scissors and return them to their proper drawer. She avoided looking at him while she tore paper towels from the roll, folded them, and soaked them under the faucet. His spoon clanged against the ceramic bowl in a not-so-subtle attempt to capture her attention and force her to acknowledge the disbelieving and uncomfortable expression on his face. Fetching a sheet of aluminum foil, Jordyn returned to the table with her eyes intent on the materials she carried for the task at hand. The saturated paper towels were wrapped around the gathered and freshly trimmed stems before the aluminum foil secured the bouquet.

Gabe continued to sit stoically and will Jordyn to look at him as she shouldered her purse, tucked the roses into the crook of her arm, and grabbed her keys from the table. Before she could breeze past him, Gabe spoke up. “Dad’s dead.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So what…” he fumbled to try and make her understand. “Why… Don’t you think it’s… weird… to… you know…” He raised his eyebrows in the direction of the flowers.

Jordyn stared at him blankly for a moment. She opened the door and floated out, letting it slam behind her.

*          *          *

Jordyn laid the bouquet at the base of the granite gravestone. Running her fingers over the etched letters, the stone was warm from the sun.

A few rows over, a pair of boys played catch while their mother watched from a blanket spread on the ground by a carefully tended stone.

Off to her other side, Jordyn could see someone with grey hair and a dark jacket, man or woman, she couldn’t tell, on his/her knees pulling up weeds at the base of an old and weather-beaten gravestone.

Jodyn looked back at the stone in front of her. “I love you Daddy. And I miss you. Happy Father’s Day.” She kissed her fingers and pressed them against his name.

Flash Fiction – The Patch

“Where’re the extra planks of wood?” Ted hollered.

“They’re down in the cellar, just like last year,” Linda hollered back. She turned her attention to the book open to a glossy image of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. She took up her tools again. She just couldn’t get the shape of the head right. The pumpkin’s flesh wouldn’t cooperate.

“I don’t know why you’re trying to get another one finished,” Donovan said, leaning in to inspect Linda’s handiwork. “You’ve already done three more than last year.”

“Would you mind stepping back? You’re blocking the sun.”

“Yes ma’am.” He backed off but Linda still felt him hovering.

“Why don’t you go help Ted?”

“Am I bugging you?” Donovan smiled.

“What do you think?” Linda glared over her shoulder at her annoying neighbor. She hated that he showed up unasked every year, that he thought she was flirting with him. All she wanted from him was silence, to be left in peace.

“Linda,” Ted called from the back door. “Telephone.” He held up the handset.

Linda rushed off with relief.

“It’s that reporter again, from Letter something-or-other. The website,” Ted explained handing over the phone. He watched a shadow lift from her face as she took the phone and disappeared inside.

Ted headed out to the yard where Donovan was examining Linda’s work and waiting for her to return. “I could use some help setting up out front,” Ted offered.

“Yeah, of course.” They headed around the side of the house to finish setting up the makeshift tables before arranging the pumpkins out front. Pausing, Ted glanced up at the moon, already visible in the ripening late afternoon sky. A dark cloud on the horizon might carry rain but looked like it might keep its distance.

“Where do you want these?” Donovan had a few pumpkins that didn’t fit on or around the display tables.

“Switch them out with some of the smaller ones on the ground. These will fall out of the tree but the smaller ones stay up okay.” Ted guided Donovan in the rearrangements, and then showed him a technique for hiding supportive boards in the lower branches of a nearby tree. “Once it gets to be dusk I’ll get out the candles and start lighting them. I guess we’ll be seeing you later tonight when everyone else shows up. Thanks again for your help.” Ted held out a hand for Donovan to shake and did his best to politely dismiss the man.

Donovan headed back across the street where he waited for the sun to descend. A flow of visitors coming along the road grew from a trickle to a river. He fought off sleep at the window as the crowd slipped away, one by one, eventually leaving just Linda in the yard. She went from pumpkin to pumpkin, blowing out the remaining candles that blinked like stars. Trails of smoke created a thin fog as she resisted glancing over her shoulder, somehow aware that he was watching her. 

150 Years Beyond “Four Score and Seven Years Ago”

“If you go to Gettysburg and take the time, maybe take a tour, maybe just drive around, read some of the monuments, read some of the plaques, you will come away changed.” – Jeff Sharra

Now that the government shutdown is over and the National Parks are open again, history buffs are rejoicing. And at Gettysburg, it’s just in time for the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Check out a guest post I wrote for The History Girl about my visit to the Gettysburg battlefields last year.

I am a pretty big history nerd and the Civil War happens to be one of my areas of interest. Three years ago, I had the opportunity to walk the battlefields at Manassas on our way through Virginia on vacation and last summer I was finally able to hike around Little Round Top and other areas I’ve read so much about. Whether it be in novels, history books, or the surviving first hand accounts, walking the fields that have been preserved, seeing the bullet holes that remain in the bricks of the buildings, it makes what you read tangible. Continue reading

Flash Fiction – Grave

Matthew grabbed the bowl of candy corn off the table and rushed to the front door where kids were impatiently pushing the doorbell.

“Coming,” he hollered and pulled the door open. There was a man in a police officer’s uniform. Matthew looked around him in search of the shy child that had probably ducked behind him when the doorknob turned.

“I’m sorry sir,” the man said. “I’m afraid your wife and child are in grave danger.”

Part of Matthew was waiting for the guy’s serious expression to crack into a smile and for a playful laugh to go along with a, “Just kidding. Trick or treat.” But another part of Matthew began to panic as an image of Kim clutching a terrified Maddie to her chest flashed through his mind.

The officer remained calm but stoic and Matthew’s heart rate rose. He cradled the bowl of candy against his gut and used his free hand to grab his keys from the small decorative table and his jacket from the hook by the door. He left the candy corn on the front step.

“Are you gonna drive or should I just follow you in my car?” But the officer was already getting into a car and starting the engine so Matthew hurried to the driveway before he lost sight of his escort. As he pushed the gas to keep up, sugar-seeking kids in costumes flooded the sidewalks.

Matthew sat in the car for a minute when they finally came to a stop outside the hospital. He had to close his eyes and breathe deeply before he could open the door and step out. The officer was nowhere to be seen when he’d reached the sidewalk in front of the building’s main entrance. He couldn’t even spot the car. The guy must’ve gotten another emergency call.

It didn’t matter. Matthew strode up to the front desk and inquired after Kim and Maddie.
“I’m sorry sir,” responded a woman with whiskers drawn on her cheeks and black cats walking across her scrubs. “I don’t show them in our system. Who did you say you spoke to?”

“An officer. I didn’t get his name. He took off again after we got here.”

“I’ll go check with my supervisor. See if we have anyone matching your description. Wait here.” She walked off and Matthew looked around for a seat.

“I think I can help you.” The man’s face was obscured by the orange jack-o-lantern grin painted on it. “Kimberly and Madison, right? I’m afraid their condition is… grave. Follow me. I’ll lead you to their room.”

Matthew let the man lead through twisting hallways and down darkened stairwells. He turned a corner and the man held open a door. Matthew could see Kim and Maddie resting on beds. He walked through and looked over his shoulder as the door swung shut. The man had vanished. It took a moment before his mind set right the backwards letters on the glass window of the door. Morgue.

Flash Fiction – Bad Day

Jennifer saw Gina sitting at table with her forehead resting on her arms, swaying gently from side to side. As she got closer she could hear a slight groaning and Gina began lifting her head a few inches and letting it fall back onto her crossed arms. Dropping her backpack to the ground, Jennifer slid into a chair across from Gina.

“Been waiting long? Did you already eat?”

Gina just shook her head, still resting on her arms.

“Can I get you anything?”

Another head shake, this time with a small groan.

“Are you feeling okay?”

“You’re asking me if I’m sick?” Gina mumbled.

“I guess.”

“Physically, I’m fine. I’m just… embarrassed, humiliated, having the worst day ever.”

“It’s the first day of classes. You go to class, read through the syllabus and do some of those stupid getting to know you exercises that are absurd because all the students know each other already and the professors don’t pay attention anyway. They just do it to kill time so they don’t have to prepare a full lesson. How bad can it be?” Jennifer’s skepticism got Gina to look up and prop her chin on her arms.

“It’s bad. Awful really.”

“You need cheering up?”

“I don’t think you can say anything that will make it better.”

“Come on, give me some credit.” Jennifer smiled but Gina’s expression remained unconvinced.

“You underestimate the steaming pile of shit that’s been my day.”

“Okay, you think you’re having a bad day…”

“No, I don’t think. I know. I know I’ve been having a bad day,” Gina interrupted.

“Well, Tory’s boyfriend Al was talking about some poor kid in his class earlier today who was having a worse day. It was some kind of lab practical with the setups. You know, all the tubes, beakers, flasks, and the clamps holding things up. Anyway, everything was already set up for whatever they were doing. Don’t know what kind of professor would have that kind of lab on the first day. Actually… wait. No, it wasn’t for their class. The lab was for a class later this afternoon. So, they’re taking notes and the professor is lecturing and I guess this kid in class dropped their pen. Of course, everyone hears it but ignores it. So they’re trying to get it back, reach the pen. I guess they bumped the lab bench or something but the whole elaborate setup starts crashing down. Everything broke. Well, almost. Apparently they managed to grab a piece in each hand as it was going down. Don’t really know what happened after that. I guess it would be hard to regain control of the class after that. Not to mention cleaning up the mess. You can’t be having a worse day than that poor kid,” Jennifer said putting her backpack under the table and getting ready to get some lunch.

“Actually, my day is exactly that bad,” Gina said with a small nod.

Jennifer raised her eyebrows. “Oh. Um… oh.”

The Things We Find When We Clean…

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison

When you’re a book lover and you move, your books provide as much physical exercise as they usually do mental exercise. Between packing up and carrying duffel bags of books to and from the car, up and down the stairs, and then maneuvering, carrying, disassembling (when necessary) the corresponding bookcases, I have to actively look at the process as contributing to my much neglected exercise regimen so that I don’t get too frustrated and rashly decide to give away my library-in-progress. I still have one bookcase to move and resettle (it will join the seven bookcases and one smaller mounted shelf-unit already in place).

The moving process is full of blessings and curses. In addition to the workout/hassle of physically relocating possessions amassed over time, there is the necessary evil of cleaning. And not just the superficial dusting or vacuuming but going through boxes of old things that haven’t seen the light of day in years. Of course, this can lead to unexpected strolls down memory lane and discoveries of days gone by. My niece, for instance, has been having a ball playing with costume jewelry from my own dress-up days and learning about toys I’m not sure they make any more (do they still make Lite-Brite or Wee-Waffles?).

One of the discoveries I made during this cleaning/moving period is a short story I wrote for class during my sophomore year of high school. Since I’ve removed some of my other pieces for publishing purposes (fingers crossed), I have decided to share this blast from my past entitled “The Price of a Good Time.” It’s nowhere near as dramatic as the title suggests (and keep in mind, this is at least ten years old now).

Here’s a little taste:

Krysten drummed her newly polished nails on her bedside table and sighed. Though the radio was blasting music from her favorite station, Kiss 108, on the other side of the room, all she could hear was the thick silence from the phone she held up to her ear. She shifted position so that her feet were at the head of the bed and her head at its foot. Nervously, she blew on her nails again to make sure there was no chance that they were still wet.

“Com on, Jen. You’re running up my phone bill. Where are you?” she said into the receiver. No answer. She hated call waiting when she was the one stuck waiting. Her foot began tapping against the headboard as she always did when sprawled on the bed in such a manner.

The next instant her friend was back.

“Sorry about that,” Jennifer apologized. Krysten wished Jen could see the look on her face. That would make her really sorry. “My mother is so… she must have asked me a million questions about school and how things are here. I mean, come on. I’m sixteen, I think that I can be at home alone for a few hours and survive. It’s almost like she doesn’t remember the fact that I spend more time baby-sitting for other people than I spend at home. If I can keep four kids under the age of seven out of trouble, I think I’m capable of taking care of myself.”

“Jen,” Krysten cut into her friend’s frustrated monologue. “You were saying something before you put me on hold…

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Keith, my cousin’s friend Keith, is having a party next Saturday,” her voice was suddenly all business and serious, like a partner giving an update presentation for a Board of Directors. “I can get us in. Can you make it?”


Read the full story here.

Flash Fiction – Battlefields 3

The gown refused to close in the back and Sam knew that it didn’t really matter but it bothered him just the same. He didn’t like how vulnerable it made him feel, not being able to see it but knowing from the slight chill that he was exposed back there.

“Are you okay in there? Do you need help?”

“I’m fine, Ma,” he rasped, raising his voice as much as he trusted it, which wasn’t very high.

The door opened a crack and a worried face peeked in. “They’ll be here for you soon.” Tears welled up in her eyes but she held them in place, refusing to let them spill over.

“I’m scared,” Sam whispered.

“Of course you are.” She opened the door more and joined him in the sizeable hospital bathroom. Sam wanted to sit but there was no seat to the toilet and he was already feeling dispirited enough. She came over to him and draped an arm across his shoulders, using her other hand to brush his hair out of his face. He’d stopped cutting it when he heard his diagnosis. It would be gone soon enough. “I’m scared too. And your father. But we also know that you can do this. You’re strong enough and brave enough. You just have to take it one step at a time. And we’ll be there with you for each of them.”

Sam nodded and leaned his head over onto his mother’s shoulder. She held him close for a moment and then patted him on the back gently to rouse him. There was a quiet knock on the door.

“They’re here.”

Sam’s mother reached for the door. Sam’s father was standing on the other side. He couldn’t keep the fear out of his eyes and the color was gone from his face, but he was trying. There were a nurse, an orderly, and his doctor waiting beside the bed behind his father.

“Why don’t you come lie down while we work on getting you prepped,” the nurse coaxed.

“I’ll talk you and your folks through every step of the procedure we’ll be doing today and what our next few steps will be after that,” Dr. Smith said in a way that was meant to be reassuring but came off as condescending. “Knowing what you’re getting yourself into helps you prepare, physically and mentally for the fight ahead.”

Sam laid back as the nurse went to work poking and sticking him, inserting an IV and the monitors’ sensors. The words of the doctor washed over him. He could focus on single words here or there but they refused to make sense when strung together and rattling around in his head. He couldn’t tell whether his parents were absorbing the doctor’s monologue, but they were nodding their heads to indicate understanding.

There was a pause as they wheeled Sam out of his room. He took a few deep breaths and decided silently, “I can do this. I will beat this.”

Flash Fiction – Under the Dock Pt. 3

“What is it?” Iris asked. “A snake?”

“It’s the thing that’s been living under the dock,” Adam said sarcastically.

“Well yeah. But what is it?”

“An eel,” Josh explained. He was holding the line at arm’s length as the long and slimy creature writhed at the end of the hook. A small amount of blood trickled down the dark, slick body and was mixing with the slime coating the dock. The end of the hook protruded from just beyond the gills. Its jaws opened and closed slowly, giving the impression of silenced screams.

“Let it go,” Iris pleaded.

“It’s not gonna make it,” Josh said, looking down at the tiring eel. “There’s no way for me to get that hook without doing more damage. He’s a gonner.”

“Just, let it go.” Iris was adamant.

“It doesn’t look that menacing anymore,” Adam admitted.

“Fine, but I’m gonna need one of you to hold this for a minute,” Josh held the line out for someone else to take. Iris and Adam exchanged a brief look before Iris reached out and reluctantly took the line.

Josh crept over to his tackle box and pulled out a small but sharp knife. He got as close to the eel’s gaping maw as he dared before folding tugging some of the line through Iris’ fingers and creating slack. Folding it over against the blade of the knife, he worked his way through the tough monofilament. The full length of the eel flopped onto the sun-heated dock and continued to thrash.

Josh stood and walked over to the suffering creature, nudging it with the edge of his sandal. The nudge gave the eel the necessary momentum to squirm the rest of the way across the dock, where gravity assisted in restoring it to the lake below. Their three heads strained to watch as the eel struggled away through the water, listing to one side and remaining close to shore. They lost sight of it as the eel slipped in amongst a cluster of branches dangling into the lake at the water’s edge. A small ripple across the surface was the last indication that the eel had been there. That and the slime that coated the weather proofed dock.

Josh slid as he returned the knife to his tackle box. He re-spooled the line and set the rod aside with the rest of his gear where the stone steps met the dock. Iris fetched a bucket that Josh had hoped to fill with a fish or two and filled it from the lake. Splashing it across the dock, she rubbed at the slime with her foot and managed to clear off some of the blood, but most of the mucus continued to cling to the surface. A second attempt with more water and some sand worked a little better but when she stepped barefoot onto the dock the following morning for a quick swim, the feel of the slick surface raised goosebumps along the skin of her legs.

Flash Fiction – Under the Dock Pt. 2

Josh struggled to kneel comfortably on the dock but the sun had heated the surface to an uncomfortable degree. Shifting was driving splinters deeper and deeper into his flesh. At last he had the bait skewered on the hook and raised himself to his sandaled feet. Securing the lid on the plastic container of pungent dead clams, he heard the slap of flip-flops on the stone steps leading down to the dock.

He expected Iris was about to kick him off the dock, send him down along the rocks and brambles that were overgrown along the shore to either side. She wouldn’t want his hook to pose a threat to her swimming. But when he looked up she was in cut-off shorts and a snug long-sleeved tee.

“Not gonna take a dip?” He moved closer to the end of the dock and prepared to cast his line out. “Head’s up,” he warned, bringing the rod back.

“Not after yesterday.”

“Come on,” he said as he swung his arm and the line flew out, landing in the water with a small plop. “It was probably just a fish. You were working with bait after all.”

“Uh-uh. It wasn’t a fish.”

“Okay, whatever you say.” Josh began slowly reeling in the line, his eyes focused on the red and white spot that would disappear beneath the surface momentarily and then reappear a little bit closer than before.

“Adam believes me.”

“Adam’s always paranoid about something.”

“Well, good luck. I think I’m gonna walk up to town. Need anything?”
“Real bait? I appreciate the effort but these things suck.” He pulled the line up to reveal a hook that had lost its bit of clam. He would have felt a tug if there’d been a nibble so he knew the damn thing had slipped right off.

“Fine. Money?”

“Take ten from my wallet. It’s on the coffee table.”
“’kay.” Iris turned and slapped her way back up the steps and into the cottage. Josh heard the screen door bang shut a few minutes later when she left for town.

Josh settled in to a rhythm of casting out, counting, and reeling in for another cast. He hadn’t had a single bite between the time Iris left and her return at least an hour later.

“You gonna call it quits anytime soon?” she called as she brought down a plastic bag with the container of store-bought bait.

“Something must be scaring away the fish. I’ve never seen them this quiet before. Not even a nibble.” He let the line sit in the water next to the dock while they chatted.

Iris eyed it with trepidation. “I know one thing that would keep the fish at a distance.”

The line began to run out on Josh’s spool. He snapped to attention and began to reel it in. There was less resistance than he expected but it still a struggle to get his catch onto the dock.

“Ewwww!” Iris squealed when she saw it lying there.

Flash Fiction – Under the Dock Pt. 1

Iris waved her hand from left to right under the water, attempting to clear the object in her hand of mud. Squinting through the foggy goggles, she turned it over examining its edges. Nope, just another rock. She flipped it off to the side and it sent up another cloud of silt as it came to rest in the muck on the bottom of the lake.

Iris surfaced briefly, sputtering momentarily then taking a deep breath and plunging back in. She spotted a smooth, curved edge jutting out from the reeds and muck. Grabbing at it, she pulled it up along with mud and a few pebbles. Shaking her fist, she could feel the shape emerge as the sediment washed away and knew it was what she was looking for. She added the clam to the pail bobbing with the waves a few feet from her. She looked at her haul and decided she had enough.

Without touching the bottom, Iris pushed the bucket along towards the dock, only standing when the sludge had given way to the smoother, sandier bottom. A rock lay waiting near the edge of the dock. Iris took a clam out of the bucket and placed it as flat as it would go. She raised the rock and muttered a brief, “Sorry,” before bringing it down on the sturdy shell. A small crack formed. She brought the rock down again and this time the shell gave way and bits of pale flesh spurted through. She picked pieces of shell away to expose the rest of the slimy flesh. Using one of the larger shards of the shell, she cut the mollusk away from the other half.

“Why are you doing that?” Adam asked as he meandered down the cement steps to stand over Iris.

“You said you wanted to go fishing later. I’m just getting you some bait.”

“Aren’t worms more traditional?”

“These’ll work too. Why don’t you throw on your suit and come join me?”

“Nah. Won’t get me near that dock. There’s something living under there.”

“It’s just the fish that you’re hoping to catch later.”

“No, there’s something… else under there too.”

“Oh really? What?”

“Don’t know but I’m not rushing to find out.”


“Call me what you want, I’m staying up here. Good luck with your bait.” Adam walked away.

Iris rinsed the clam in the water next to her and put it in a pile before moving on to the next in the bucket. She made it through five more then felt something brush up against her leg. She used her other foot to brush whatever it was away. Probably reeds. She went back to her clams and rinsed another in the water at her waist.

The reed rubbed against her shin again. She ducked her head into the water to see if she could uproot the annoying reed. And looked into a pair of hazy eyes that gazed back at her, continuing its attempts to pass.

Flash Fiction – Battlefields 2

The humidity was rising but it wouldn’t be lasting much longer. In a few weeks the crisper air would creep in from the north, brushing fire tinted leaves with a frosty brush before knocking them from the trees’ limbs. But there was much to be accomplished before that happened and she was wasting time standing at the window, gazing past the jungle gym and slide, already hazy as the metal absorbed the sun’s heat and sent some of it back into the surrounding air.

The air conditioning was pumping through the vents in the ceiling and the sporadic gusts sent the planets in the dangling, styrofoam solar systems orbiting unpredictably. She moved one of the desks underneath one display that was hanging precariously. With care, she stepped from the low chair onto the desk and reached for the fraying string that tenuously held the mobile to its mount. But even on the desk, she was a few inches away from securing it safely. She’d have to let the janitor know about it and warn the kids to keep an eye on it for her.

She realigned the desk with the others and wiped her shoe prints from its surface. Tilting her wrist, she checked the time, then checked it against the clock mounted on the wall. Unsure which was correct, she checked the cell phone on her desk, putting it away in the top drawer where the students wouldn’t spot it and be tempted. Picking up the attendance list, she reviewed the names and speculated as to which might be younger siblings of former students. She tried a few aloud several different ways, searching for pronunciation that sounded right and hoping it was right.

Twenty-four names on the list. Twenty-four labeled mailboxes. Twenty-four copies of each text on shelves in the closet. Twelve cubby spaces, each with room for two backpacks, two coats, two lunchboxes. Five markers and two erasers resting in the metal tray at the base of the white board. Six rows of four desks, the sunlight filtering through the decorated windows creating strangely colored geometric patterns across several in the first two rows. Two stacks of papers. One of notices reminding faculty about the need for improving testing scores, techniques for helping students achieve that, goals for the year. One of notes and cards from pupils mentioning their favorite projects and games, letters interspersed from parents thanking her for helping their kids discover new things and making learning fun for everyone, challenging students that needed it, taking the extra time with those who had trouble.

The scent of generic antiseptic cleanser clung to most of the surfaces in the room. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes to listen. The squeal of tires braking on hot pavement and the hum of a motor left running as the bus lingered to deposit students at the front of the school, the babble of voices as they clamored through the halls, sneakers squeaking on the waxed tiles.