Flash Fiction: Drama Sandwich

Drawing by Allison Tupper, age 6

Flash Fiction

This bit of flash fiction didn’t quite meet the criteria for a challenge I tried this week but it was fun to crawl inside Jade’s head and discuss Jules from her point of view. And who doesn’t like a little extra glimpse inside the Tenderfoot world?

*****

DRAMA SANDWICH

Just this once, I’m doing it – I’m breaking the don’t-eat-your-roommate’s-food rule.

At least I have a good excuse. Cheerleading practice ran late and I missed dinner in the cafeteria. That pissed me off to no end because dad-burn-it, it was Chicken Fried Steak night! Wouldn’t you know, I ran extra laps before practice just so I could smother my dinner in gravy. Now instead of pouring it on, I’m in our dorm room rifling through Jules’ stash. At least she has one. All I have is skunked beer.

On top of her fridge, I find half a loaf of bread. I grab that and open the small black door to her cube-sized fridge. I don’t need to dig much to find something to put on the bread; there’s a pouch of deli meat on top of several bottles of water. There’s also something that looks like cheese but it’s not the right color of orange. Hastily, I put it back, next to a jar of something called lingonberry jam. Jules is always eating weird-looking cheese. For an American, she eats some seriously strange stuff. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up some place else. I rummage around and move some deli packages to the side. There’s no mayo.

Butter it is then. I grab it and shut the door. I carry everything in my arms over to my desk. I push some stuff out of the way and drop the ingredients on it. Now I need a knife. There’s a clean one in a plastic cup on top of Jules’ fridge but if I use it, I know I’m going to have to clean it. It’s one thing to eat her food, it’s another to leave her a dirty knife. In my catch-all basket, I locate a plastic one in a mess of napkins. After a quick swipe on my pants, it’s good.

You can tell Jules grew up somewhere else just by looking at her clothes. For instance, half of them are black. And the other half? They’re running clothes! Jules doesn’t look bad, she just doesn’t wear the right ones. This is a competitive campus. She’s got to kick it up a notch.

I untwist the tie from bag and take out two slices of bread. I frown. It’s whole wheat bread. I really wish it was white but I guess beggars can’t be choosers. My uncaring stomach growls.

One day I took Jules shopping at the mall and she tried on a heap of clothes. She was a good sport, and even bought a few of them, but I knew she was uncomfortable. She got that look of hers, the one where she’s smiling yet her eyes are telling ya something different. To be honest, Jules did look kind of odd in most of them. I think her style is just as different as she is.

I unwrap the cold chunk of butter. I realize it is in no way softened when I try to spread some on the knife. I struggle but eventually I have an ungainly hunk carved off and on the bread. By the time I give up, there’s bits and pieces not only on the bread but on my desk and the floor. I smooth the bread out to hide the hole where the bread tore. Still, a bit o’ butter is better than none.

And yet. This roommate of mine landed herself a total hottie – and then dumped him! I didn’t even know for the longest time that they’d broken up. Like seriously, right? I reach for the meat and open the pouch. It’s roast beef. I shake my head. It sucked that she didn’t tell me. It sucked that I didn’t even know they were fighting or whatever. And she’s my roommate! She’s supposed to tell me this shit! Worst of all, it continues to suck because she’s obviously still in love with him. For reals, on Halloween they kissed in the middle of the street like nobody else even existed. I should have known something was up when she started studying all the time. I pull several shaved slices out. It’s way more than I intended at first, but the smell of it is so good, I drop what I have onto my sort-of-buttered bread except for one, which I stuff in my watering mouth. I chew. “Studying” my ass. I saw her eyes. Jules was crying them out wherever the hell it was she was hiding.

I wrap the meat and butter up but I can’t find the twist tie for the bread bag. I turn around to check the floor and my eyes light on the flowers Andrew sent Jules. They are gorgeous, just gorgeous. He clearly wants her back. God, what is her deal? She likes him, he likes her, why the heck aren’t they together? I find the twist tie on the floor near her bed.

I like Jules. She puts up with my mess, listens to my boy problems, and we rock out together at concerts for her “friend” Nick’s band. He’s just dying to get into her pants, I don’t understand why she doesn’t see that. She’s just so different. And sometimes, a little creepy. I would swear she knows when I’m lying, and I’ve caught her watching me. I’m not sure why she does that but it makes me feel like a bug. She’s my friend but I just don’t know where I stand with her.

I slap the bread together, pick the sandwich up, and take the biggest bite ever. It’s delicious. I chew, ravenous. After another bite, I take it with me in one hand as I put everything back with the other.

I realize Jules is like this sandwich. At first glance, it’s exactly what you expect it to be but like her, it turns out to be something different. Something a little damaged.

I take another huge bite. The door to the dorm room opens.

*****

Flash Fiction: Champion

Drama Sandwich

Drawing by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction where a character makes a “drama sandwich,” as I came to think of it. In other words, write a compelling story where a character makes a sandwich.

This is my second attempt. The first attempt turned out to be a more nuanced story with less drama, less conflict. Since that story does not technically meet the criteria, I will post it tomorrow.

Both stories take place in the world of my book Tenderfoot. Bon appetit!

*****

CHAMPION

There’s a story I haven’t told Jules. At the time it happened, I thought I might fill her in as things went along. Jules has this mistaken idea that I, Nick, don’t like her boyfriend. She makes assumptions like this all the time. Like everything is black or white, yin or yang, oil or water. You would think that by now she would see all the nuanced shades of gray but she doesn’t. Her thinking is stuck. The reality is, I like Andrew. How can you not like a guy who takes care of his girl?

I was impressed when Andrew walked Jules back to her dorm after some asshat trolling for college girls on Franklin Street tried to rough her up in a bar room full of people. Having seen it time and time again with these star-crossed lovers, I knew Andrew would stay with Jules as long as possible. That’s how it’s always been – two magnets circling until they come close enough in proximity and they snap together, just like that. What I didn’t expect was for Andrew to come back after he safely saw her home. I thought they’d spend the whole night together. But once I realized he was down below on the street, I quickly grabbed a pair of boots and ran down the stairs. I caught up with him around the corner. He was easy to track – he practically glowed from the contact high. What worried me was the whiff of adrenalin that lingered on his trail. And I was right. When I catch sight of Andrew he’s standing next to the asshat in a sandwich shop.

So there they are, predator and prey. Fascinated, I walk in and get a front row seat, which is to say, I join them in line for a sandwich. It’s a shame the place didn’t sell popcorn.

The troll shifts his weight from foot to foot as some college girl makes his sandwich on the other side of the counter. She pulls a long sub roll off of a tray behind her and places it on the cutting board. Then she picks up a knife. That’s when Andrew steps into the troll’s personal space. I watch out of the corner of my eye as the troll looks up. His eyes widen. The troll steps away to the side, and hastily aligns his body forward. I hide a grin. Andrew’s watching the girl. When she has the sub cut open, she looks up. First at me, then Andrew, then the troll. I smile.

“What do you want on your sandwich? And do you want cheese with that?” She asks the troll. Her nametag says “Amanda.” How Americans love their informal formalities. The troll was concentrating so hard on Andrew, he seems a bit startled when she speaks to him.

“Buffalo Chicken, with that cheese there.” He points beyond the glass.

“The provolone?” She asks. The troll nods.

Amanda’s busy now, taking a portion of chicken out of a fridge behind her so she can put it in the microwave. While that’s heating up, she picks up a portion of pre-sliced cheese, discards the plastic paper around it and peels back the slices. As she lays the neat little triangles on the bread, Andrew turns to stare straight at the troll. The troll fidgets a bit. I don’t think he’s drunk enough to cushion the freight train that’s coming.

“What would you like on it?” Amanda asks.

The troll mumbles his reply, clearly unnerved. Amanda’s eyes shift from the troll to Andrew and back. She makes a good choice – she puts her head down and begins to sprinkle lettuce, onion, and green peppers onto the sub.

All at once several things happen: the microwave beeps, Andrew steps closer, and the troll returns his stare. They stand eye-to-eye. This is starting to get interesting.

Andrew’s shoulders have risen a smidge and I notice his fencing hand is absolutely still. The only question is when he will use it. The girl pulls the chopped sauced chicken from the microwave and begins laying it across. She puts a hand on the bottle of mayo.

“Would you like anything else?” From the way her eyes shift between them, she realizes there really is a problem.

The troll narrows his to a squint at Andrew as he replies, “I’m good.” And then he steps right up to him and says, “I’d like this to go.” Amanda wastes no time. She wraps that sub up, bags it, and asks for his money lickety-split. As the troll hands her the money, he asks her, “When do you get off work? We could go get a drink.” And he leers. Her eyelashes flutter as the poor thing looks down and makes some excuse. This is followed by the distinct sound of one of Andrew’s knuckles popping. The troll cocks his head at Andrew with such a smirk that now I’m ready to deck the guy.

Moving right along, Amanda asks Andrew, “Can I help you?”

Ever so politely, Andrew replies, “No thank you, I got what I came for.” The troll leaves, sandwich in hand, and Andrew follows him out. I didn’t bother to follow them. There’s only one way this will go down. By the time I leave the sandwich shop, chewing black forest ham on oat with mayo and black olive, Andrew’s already hit him a couple of times and is delivering a lecture on treating women right in the alley around the corner.

I pause for a moment and watch. It’s always heartwarming to see a champion in action.

*****

Flash Fiction: Management Tool

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction using an unlikable protagonist in less than 1000 words. The TV show House was the first time the idea of an unlikable protagonist ever resonated for me. The character was such a revelation, it felt much like being punched in the face. Only, in a good way.

*****

MANAGEMENT TOOL

Monday

The day is off to a good start. I hang around the entryway until Joanna arrives. I step onto the elevator behind her so she can only see me out of the corner of her eye. “Hey, Jo.” Her brow wrinkles. She reports directly to me yet I haven’t spoken to her in six months.

“Good morning.”

I note she doesn’t have enough balls to correct me on her name and she smells like my grandmother’s basement. “Are you ready for the meeting this morning? I heard it’s going to be one hell of a presentation.”

She shifts her insulated lunch bag to the other hand. The dark green of the bag matches the color of her coat. They’re so ugly, I want to burn them both. “I’m not going to be there. I’m in that new workgroup.”

“Too bad,” I remark. The elevator comes to a stop. I head in the opposite direction.

Tuesday

I open the spreadsheet. Damn it! How many times do I have to tell Ben how to fill this out? I might as well as just do it my damn self, right after I pick up his dry cleaning and fuck his wife. For a moment, I muse about the wife but then I remember his car. Ben drives a piece of shit. There is no way he has a pretty wife. I slug back half a can of Rockstar and watch the traffic around the break room. Several people come and go while Jason stands off to the side with Joanna. He checks out her tits while she talks to him. Nice.

I turn back to the screen. The spreadsheet is still a piece of shit. I print a copy. The fresh ink smears as I circle several columns with a big red pen. For a finishing touch, I scribble “Ben, WTF?!” at the top of the paper. I check the time. It’s 11:05am, not too early for lunch. Ben isn’t at his desk. I tape it to his screen where everybody walking by will see it and head to the elevator.

Wednesday

Candi passes my office on her way to the break room. I hastily grab my mug and follow her. As usual, she goes straight to the coffee pot. She greets me and we make small chat. The black skirt she’s wearing needs to be about 8 inches shorter but still, I get a good look down her blouse when she dumps the old stuff down the sink. Candi drones on about the specs of the new product line while she fusses with the coffee. I manage to lean in and get a whiff of her perfume before she catches on.

“Oh, would you mind doing me a favor?” I ask.

“Sure, what is it?”

With a big smile, I raise my coffee mug. “Would you bring me some fresh coffee with the pot is ready?” Grudgingly, Candi takes it. She may be a Senior Engineer but I outrank her. “Thanks, you’re a doll!” I head to the elevators for a smoke.

Thursday

I enter the bathroom behind Ted. He’s short. I notice his balding head as we step up to the urinals, which is unusual. He tends to lock himself in a stall when I encounter him in the bathroom. Taking advantage of the moment, I start up a conversation about local college sports. Ted excitedly recounts the bad calls from the night before. I take my whizz, shake twice, and zip ‘er back up. Ted finishes after me, but not before I notice he has an incredibly tiny johnson. As we wash our hands in adjoining sinks, I remark, “Tell me something. Do you have a girlfriend?”

He says, “Tristan, I’m married and have four kids.” I shrug.

Friday

I get lucky after lunch. There’s an email from Jason. The marketing team is jonesing to get their sticky paws on the test unit. It’s not even due for another two months from Hong Kong but he wants to send them a mock-up. It sickens me how well Jason works with others. If he didn’t report to me, he’d make me look bad. Just last week, he fixed a fuck up – Ben’s of course – that would have cost us a week of production time. I’m halfway tempted to send Jason to India to lead the setup of the new call center but frankly, the idea of Ted’s wife fending with four kids for three months on her own is tantalizing. If only I had an excuse to send Ben. Then again, I doubt the guy could find the airport much less another continent.

I head to Connor’s office, and breeze by Jerry, the C.E.O.’s pink cardigan-wearing admin. She looks up briefly then returns to her online gossip column. I walk in his office.

“I got your email. Have a seat,” Connor says.

I casually sit down in one of the bank chairs in front of his desk.

Connor leans forward. “I’m glad you stopped by. I’ve been wanting to discuss something with you. You know we have some new opportunities.” Instantly, I sit up in my chair. Where is this conversation going?

He continues, “I think it’s about time we took advantage of all your experience and I have just the thing. I’ve made a decision on the call center. I want you to run it. I’ve seen how you handle your people. You keep them in line, make your deadlines, and hit your targets. I want you in Bangalore and I’ll make it worth your while. Tell me you’ll do it.” He stands up and offers me a hand.

Fuck, I’ve been promoted to India. I jumped up, dazed. I thought they were sending that jerk Pentowski who sneers at me in the hallways.

 “Tristan, I won’t take no for an answer. You’re the best man for the job.” His words ring in my ears. My hand rises of its own accord.

 “Okay,” I mumble.

*****

Flash Fiction: Government Issue

teddy bear, guardian, government issue, red bow

A Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write a short story in seven acts in 1000 words. When I began, this felt like scaling Mount Everest. Luckily, the air grew thin and I stopped overthinking it. I just put one foot in front of the other.

*****

GOVERNMENT ISSUE

They said it would be an easy assignment. Theodore wasn’t sure if anything was easy, much less an assignment, but he let it slide when they tied the military-issued bow around his neck. The color was old-fashioned. Gazing at his reflection in the mirror, he had to admit it suited his looks. Theodore straightened one corner. He was ready.

And so it came to be that Theodore found himself at a birthday party. His General had allowed as her name was Madison. What a lovely name, he thought. The way she threw her skinny four-year-old arms around him, it was like to push the stuffing right out. Then she gave him a big chocolate kiss.

The chocolate was still on Madison’s face when the Mother put his Charge to bed. Theodore won a place of honor against the pillow, tucked beneath the purple and blue quilted coverlet. Madison slid in under the covers. Her little body was warm against his fur. It wasn’t long after the lights were turned off that her breathing calmed. Theodore waited until her tiny body shuddered. Only then did he pull himself from her grasp and give himself a good shake to restore the fluff to his fur. Then he paced the room. He investigated until he was completely familiar with everything in it. To his relief, the closet remained closed. He’d investigate it during the day.

A week went by, then a month, as Theodore settled into a life of domesticity. He slept by day and kept watch over his Charge by night. He had yet to see any sign of a Glorax. But as they said at The Factory, every night we keep vigil. And he did.

One night, during the quietest moment of the Long Dark, Theodore caught a whiff of something sour. The closet door was closed. He sniffed quietly, trying to coax out the source. Would a Glorax attack if the door to its portal was shut? Nevertheless, he slowly rose into position on the pillow beside the head of his Charge. As she dreamed the sweet dreams of little girls, he pulled on the end of his red bow. It unwound into a pool of ribbon. And when the beast showed itself, Theodore struck it smartly across the snout with the razor-sharp edge of his red whip. It jumped away with a hiss. Theodore jumped to the edge of the bed, just in time to watch the green reptile slide under. A Parveka! Even with ninety years of service, his General had fought the vilest of nightmare monsters but a single time.

Theodore ran back to his station to prepare for the next assault. A Parveka wouldn’t give up until the break of dawn sent it packing.

It came quickly. The Parveka sprang from the end and raced up the coverlet to meet Theodore. The galloping knocked Theodore off balance but he managed to jump up and deliver whistling  ribbon knives. Only two of the six found home between the edges of the Parveka’s tough scales. Theodore raised his paw and four flew back to him. They joined together into ribbon. He raised his other paw and the two began to dig deep into muscle and sinew as the nightmare roared in pain. Its shifty snake eyes glinted as it pulled the wiggling knives out with gnarled claws. Theodore gave a running kick and knocked it off the bed and onto the floor. The larger creature hissed a mouthful of teeth as it landed with a thump. Dark green blood dripped from the cuts. Eventually, it removed the sharp knives. Theodore summoned them back. Then he formed a new weapon.

They fought in this manner for hours. The Parveka would attack from one side then another. Each advance was thwarted. Time and time again, Theodore sent it scuttling off. His arms and legs grew tired as cuts and tears marred his own fur. It devolved into a contest of endurance. Theodore tried new transformations with his weapon. Knives, a whip, a long-handled hammer, a scythe, yet none of them were sufficient to drive it off.

Theodore kept an eye on the clock. May the Sun rise quickly this dark morn. It seemed his prayers were answered when the Parveka stumbled out of reach of the red hook and slid back under the bed. Was it gone? It seemed too good to be true. Then Theodore realized his error. During the long night, he’d kept his Charge safe. Yet, had he removed the danger? Did I prevent more children from dying? He smoothed the wet ribbon between his paws, wondering.

With a leap, Theodore threw himself on the floor and slid under the bed. On the other side of the spinning portal was the nightmare. It stopped licking its wounds with a forked purple tongue. It watched him warily. The Guardian Bear toyed with the ribbon. Time grew short until he feinted to the left and threw the ribbon forward. The lasso flashed forward to settle around the neck of the Parveka. Theodore yanked. The jolt sent the Parveka skittering forward, claws scrabbling against dusty hardwood. It fell into the portal until only its tail remained. Step by step, Theodore slowly hauled the thrashing Parveka out of the portal. Then he stood his ground.

The Sun finally rose. There was a flash beneath the bed as the portal closed on the raging, injured Parveka. The beast was instantly cleft in two. With a blast, its guts sprayed outward. The viscera fell to the floor as sparkling dust and vanished.

With aching arms, Theodore tied the almost-new ribbon in a jaunty bow around his neck. It was agony but he jumped onto the bed and crawled to his spot on the pillow. Maddy turned over. As she did so, she threw an arm around him. Her embrace was welcome as a wave of fatigue swept over him. In the early dawn, the soldier let go and slipped under.

*****

Flash Fiction: From The Sun

Drawing by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write no more than a thousand words in the present tense. Voila!

My main idea came from an article I read in an issue of The Atlantic. Global warming, nuclear accidents, killer asteroids, and vampires… these apocalyptic scenarios get plenty of attention. Why is everyone overlooking  that big glowing thing in the sky?

*****

FROM THE SUN

Alanna rolls over. The smartphone is buzzing on her bedside table and she’s too tired to open her eyes. It buzzes a second time. With a huff, she reaches out. Her fingers taps across the top of the bedside table but she’s unable to find the damn thing. With a huff, Alanna sits up. She gropes until she finds the grooved peg on the neck of the lamp. With a twist, the light comes on. In the moment of blindness as her eyes adjust, she thinks, who could be calling after midnight?

It’s a text message from Blake. “Turn on the TV, love.” Ten years rewind in a split-second.

Curious, Alanna reaches for the remote control as she leans back into the pillows. The screen moves from tranquil black to a scene of chaos. It’s CNN. A female broadcaster narrates a scene of terrified people, fires, explosions. “This is the last live feed sent from our studio in Tokyo, Japan, one of the world’s most populous cities. As you can see, the population appears unprepared for the rising sun just hours ago. It appears we are experiencing a solar flare from the Sun. Extremely high amounts of electromagnetic energy are striking Earth and temperatures have risen three times higher than normal. These temperatures are higher than most life can withstand.”

The view changes as the horrifying scene is inset and the announcer in the studio comes to the foreground. The broadcast loops. The woman taps her ear, as if adjust her earpiece. Alanna can’t believe her eyes. “Our sources at the Pentagon report the situation is dire. As the sun rises, time zone by time zone, the temperature on Earth will rise as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. There appears to be little chance of survival, short of taking shelter underground. Scientific sources believe most electrical grids, nuclear installations, and communications equipment, along with modern infrastructures, will not survive the extreme heat. I am sorry to report that it appears hundreds of millions of people are dead and more will join them.” The announcer audibly swallows.

“Oh my god!” Alanna whispers in her empty bedroom. The screen fills again with fire, flood, and explosions as the ticker runs reports of death steadily across the bottom.

She grabs her phone. As she waits for the call to go through, she mutes the TV. Alanna flips through the channels. The scenes of horror are different from place to place but in the end they are the same; the broadcasts end with static.

He picks up on the third ring.

“Blake?”

“I’m glad you called. I wanted to talk,” he says. His voice is still as she remembers – warm and comforting.

Nervously, she stammers, “Hi. Where are you?” It would be unusual for him to be in the same city two days in a row.

“Somewhere in Kansas. I’m as lost as Dorothy ever was. Tomorrow, I’m supposed to head back to the city…” They both understand there will be no tomorrow but the mention of it is like glass shattering. In the silence, reality breaks into a million jagged pieces.

Finally, he says, “I wish I was there with you.”

“I do too.” The words slip out.

He sighs. “How did we get here? Where did we go wrong?”

Alanna draws her legs up to her chin. She knows. “I shouldn’t have taken my frustration out on you. I’m sorry, so sorry. It was hard for both of us.”

“The fault was mine. I wasn’t there for you, or for Avery.”

How long has it been since she’s heard her daughter’s name aloud? Alanna imagines there is yet again a small warm body snuggled under the covers beside her. The memory defies ten years of sleeping alone. Life is cruel. When she lost one, she lost both. “I wish I made a different choice. Every day I wonder what life would be like, to be with you. I miss you.”

“We both made choices. I only wish we had the chance to make new ones today. You’re still living in our house?”

“I looked at some smaller places but it just didn’t work out.” In truth, the search was a complete failure. In one condo, the bare walls reeking of fresh paint threatened to close in any second, and in another, a swing set in the backyard stared back forlornly. Then she understood. To sell, she would have to paint over the soft pink color of Avery’s room. How could Alanna do that? Pack up and erase every sign of Avery’s existence?

Something moved on the TV. A suit with a clipboard was talking silently to the camera. Were his hands trembling? He was reviewing a series of bullet points on the screen. Seek shelter underground before sunrise. Bring as much survival gear, food, water, and medicine as possible. Appropriate shelter would be deep underground. Underground U.S. Government installations will allow civilians inside until sunrise. Be prepared for floods, fires, and explosions. The initial event may last several days. Sunrise charts are available by city at http://www.sunrise.gov.

“Oh, it’s really happening!” Alanna begins to sob. The tears burst from her eyes. She tried to swipe them away but one or two ran down her neck to the prim neckline of her grey cotton t-shirt.

“I’m afraid it is. And like most nights, this will be one where I wish I was with you.”

Alanna gasps.

“Really, are you that surprised? You really were the only girl for me.”

Swiping fiercely at her face, she can’t stand it anymore. “I’m turning off the TV. Turn off yours and talk to me.”

“Okay,” Blake said. “It’s off.”

“What would you do differently if you could do it over again?”

 He didn’t hesitate. “More children. We should have six more children, all as beautiful as their mother.”

 “Still a charmer! And as smart as their father. What should we name them?”

 They talked until the sun came up.

 *****

Flash Fiction: Cotton Candy Color

  Flash Fiction

*****

It’s been a few weeks since I had the spare moments I need to cobble together a story in my head. I use the word “cobble” because that’s how it felt to get my family ready for Christmas this year. Other applicable words would be “triage”, “minimize”, and “damage.” This story started slow. It took three weeks to marry the two main plot elements together in a fashion suitably holidayish after starting with an alliterative title.

I would like to thank a band named The Airborne Toxic Event for their wonderful song, “Something New.” I listened to it a couple hundred times as I wrote this story. Even now, it still provokes chair dancing.

In good fashion, it is also a response to a challenge set out by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

And so, happy holidays. I hope you enjoy this tale.

*****

We were in my mother’s attic when the roof cracked a thousand times and peeled away.

Only a minute before, we were searching for a misplaced box of childhood Christmas ornaments. I’d glanced at Jon’s face in the flickering light. The wind was so loud outside. Somewhere nearby, a tree cracked like it had fallen over. We quickly came to the same conclusion.

“Run, Janie!” Jon shouted.

 e only made it halfway across the dim space. The next thing I knew, I fell. Jon threw himself across me, his weight anchoring me to the tenuous sheets of dirty plywood laid across the beams as the pressure shifted. The deafening roar gave way to a cacophony of splintering wood and the light went out. Was this how it would end?

*****

For days, he’d dared me to pick a fight. Abandoned coffee rings and dirty socks, his leather jacket shrugged onto the floor by the front door, a bag of toiletries bypassed every trip up the stairs. Neglect. It was all too much.

I set the grocery bags down in the kitchen. Jon was eating a Christmas cookie. “Hey.” He took another bite. Red and green sugar fell from his lips.

A discarded sticky note sat beside the red tub decorated with candy canes. “Did you not see this?” DO NOT TOUCH was clearly visible in black sharpie ink.

“This is a damn good cookie.” He popped the last of it in his mouth.

“They were for work! How many gingerbread men did you eat?”

“A few. I couldn’t stop eating them once I started.” Jon brushed the stray crumbs from his t-shirt. He sidled up behind me and began to massage my shoulders. “I bet you taste just as good,” he whispered.

I stepped back. “Not now.” Beyond him, the milk rested on the floor, warming up. I picked up the groceries.

“Oh, baby. Don’t be like that.”

After I put the milk on the refrigerator shelf, I found Jon eating the pink marshmallows I bought to make treats with, straight from the bag!

“Janie, come back.” Jon followed me into the living room. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled behind him as he popped another marshmallow in his mouth.

“You see this?” I gestured around the magnificent room to the tree with twenty strands of lights and glass ornaments, the stockings hung by the fireplace draped in holly, the coordinated holiday pictures of us from years past among miniature red poinsettias on the book shelves. “I did all this by myself.”

He swallowed. “It looks great, sweetheart. You really knocked yourself out this year.”

I grabbed the bag from his hands and emptied it over his head. The soft pink globes bounced off his shoulders in slow motion, then fell to the hardwood floor. A single marshmallow peeked at me from the collar of his shirt. I plucked it out and pushed the squishy pink globe into his mouth. His eyes widened.

“We’ve talked about this. I’m done.” I turned on my heel. Stepping onto the first stair, I reached forward to pick up the bag of toiletries.

It was a peaceful hour before Jon came into the bedroom. I continued typing on my phone.

“Are we going over to your parent’s house tonight?”

Sigh. Mom asked me to search for a box in the attic tonight. I looked away from the list. I turned the phone off.

In the car, I didn’t say a word. It was a relief not to have to speak.

My father welcomed us in. We climbed into the musty attic. Jon pulled the cord of the jerry-rigged switch. Dull yellow light spilled across stacks of partially labeled boxes. Rusty nails protruded several inches through the roof. Pink insulation laid in-between the floor beams like unsettled snowdrifts.

I started at the far end of the attic since the box of gold spray-painted pasta and cheerio ornaments would have been found if it was close to the pull-down stairs. The wind picked up outside as I settled on one stack. I gingerly opened the flaps to find old family photos. I moved it to the floor and opened the second box. It held old clothes. Good gravy, what else was up here? The box on the bottom was larger. It was full of paperback books, Dad’s science fiction collection from the 1970s. Did they get rid of anything? Wind whistled through the soffits. It was so loud I couldn’t hear Jon behind me.

“Was it supposed to storm tonight?” I yelled above the noise. He shrugged and held up a Fisher-Price toy. Then the tree cracked and the sucking wind stole the breath from my lungs. The world shifted.

Silence. Jon’s grip loosened and he lifted himself off of me. I sat up and took in the sight around me. Weak green winter daylight lit what was left. Most of the roof was gone. The floor of the attic remained, perhaps held down by all the boxes. Bits of pink insulation the color of faded cotton candy floated down. They settled like snow on everything.

Jon picked a piece of insulation out of my bangs. He held it between his fingers, turning it this way and that. Jon smiled that mischievous smile I fell in love with. With exaggerated chewing motions, he pretended to eat the puff of pink insulation. Sirens wailed in the distance.

“Make snow angels with me.”

We laid back into the drifts and moved our arms and legs back and forth. How crazy was I? It didn’t seem to matter. Neither did the list. Daily life was just that. Daily. All that mattered was Jon.

“Up you go.”

He pulled me with a hop to my feet. His arms slipped around my waist as he laid his chin on my shoulder. We stared at the clumpy snow angels until I noticed a box marked “ornaments” above them.

I laughed until I cried. It was almost Christmas.

*****

Flash Fiction: The Tower

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write 100 words or less referring to one of five words. I chose “tower.” And here is my tale:

*****

They each thought I knew nothing. That I was naught but an innocent girl, whistling sweetly from my innocent perch. I saw him below, lurking about in the garden day after day. The Prince was there one morning when Mother called out to let down my hair. So when he called out, I knew what came next for hadn’t my mother warned me time and time again? And come he did.

I got what I wanted. Now my children and I roam, free from them both; stalker and witch.

*****

Flash Fiction: Dirty Job

Flash Fiction

This is flash fiction but it felt more like spontaneous fiction. Sat down to write one thing, ran across an article regarding the thesis work for a friend’s husband, and the story took off in a different direction. Enjoy.

*****

The man brushed at the tiny grains that covered his shirt. No matter how brushed at them with tough callused fingers, they clung. But every job was a little dirty. The truck bounced over the uneven back road through the mountains and the added weight of the cargo shifted from side to side.

Around a great bend, the truck pulled into the dead brush by the side of the road. The man got out. The door shut. Tan netting rose over the vehicle. He took care in covering it. He checked. It would hide the entire truck until he left tomorrow for the drop off point. He nudged one corner under. No mistakes.

It was then he got a closer look at his shirt in the light of day. The sand would not come off. The tiny grains were strange. They weren’t the color of actual beach sand. They were more like bits of graphite or gunpowder. He thought back. The cloud of dust blew out of nowhere when he picked up the cargo at the airport. And then there was that strange model airplane. It passed by a few times before disappearing. Had it disappeared after the cloud of sand blew over?

The man threw open the door of the truck and grabbed the modified tablet from the seat. After a moment to update, the GPS app indicated a plane nearby. It was way up in the sky, closer to space than Earth.

He’d been made.

Frantically, he ripped his hat off. It fluttered to the ground beside the truck as his arms slid from the open camo shirt. He pulled the desert t-shirt over his head. The boots were tougher. He cursed when his knuckles raked over the ground. The cuts stung as blood welled. The metal zipper tore open. He frantically shoved his pants down. He had to get to the bunker two hundred yards away. Wearing nothing but faded cotton underwear, he ran for his life. The rocks of the mountain were supposed to be protection. Barefoot, they were just one more obstacle.

The man didn’t make it to the opening of the cave before the blast from the bomb blew him off his feet into guided flight. The seconds of terror stretched into eons before his body crushed itself against the mountain.

*****

Flash Fiction: Ghosts Of The Past

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

To celebrate Halloween, I wrote some flash fiction!

In the past month, I wrote one story with a vampire, and another with a zombie, so here’s one with a ghost.

*****

GHOSTS OF THE PAST

He would never be rid of her.

It was all he could do not to grind the enamel right of the tops of his capped teeth. Jenny appeared any time she wanted. He’d get home from work, grab a beer, and turn the television on for a little r&r after dealing with bullshit at the office all day and the next thing Hunter knew, there’d be Jenny on the couch beside him yammering about something or other.

Today she’d surprised him in the kitchen when he was warming up leftover pizza. Naturally, she’d offered her unwanted opinion about the pizza. It would make Hunter fat. It would make Hunter sick. Hadn’t Hunter heard about carbs? Everyone these days was skipping them. It was enough to make him want to get a restraining order but what the hell good would that do with a ghost? It’s not like the ghost police would come and drag her away. She wasn’t eating the carbs, couldn’t she leave his damn well enough alone? He had to settle for the strategy that got him through his marriage while it lasted: a few “uh-huhs”, “nopes”, and “wows” strategically placed.

If only he could go back and undo any number of bad choices. In the first damn place, the cockamamie idea to get married. Then to marry her of all people. To not adopt children. To not get divorced sooner. Stupid lawyer.

The money. That’s where he’d really screwed up. It took Jenny all of ten seconds to plunk down a cool hundred grand of his money for the new fountain of youth, Eternavitas. Sure, Jenny recovered that rockin’ bod she used to have before she crawled into a giant potato chip bag with a tub of chocolate frosting. But who cared if those perfect lips were exactly the shade of a luscious red apple when they wouldn’t ever close. Hunter couldn’t even make jokes about taking a breath like he used to when he still looked forward to seeing her. Near as he could figure out that was over a decade ago – long before her death.

He’d considered suicide. About half an hour into plotting a painless death, it hit him. What would happen when he died? Would he be trapped in Hell with her for eternity? Hunter couldn’t take the risk.

Early into her visits, Hunter stayed away once. Drove to a bar and threw back a few. He commiserated with some sap next to him about being unable to tell the difference between an actual twenty year old and someone who’d lived through World War II. The pill had amazing results, no question. Certainly added a new level of risk to dating. But Hunter forgot about all of that when he walked out of the bar to drive himself home. There she was, waiting by the car. She frowned. It was not a pleasant ride home. That was when Hunter stopped thinking about running. Stopped thinking about anything really.

The government pulled the drug almost immediately. There were whispers on the nets. That your body wasn’t the only thing it changed. You really would look your best forever. But it was too late by then. Jenny came over to cry on his shoulder when the official statement was made. He should have moved to Alaska the next day.

Funny thing then that he would run into Sarah at the pizza place. Sarah, his fifth grade girlfriend. What could he say, he was advanced for his age. Picking up a piping hot pie, he recognized her on the bench out front. What luck, Sarah remembered him! It didn’t take long for Hunter to realize the cold breath as she whispered in his ear was the answer to his problem.

A week later, Hunter followed his usual routine. A crappy day at work, take-out bought on the way home, his favorite spot on the couch with a beer in front of the TV. For the first time in months, he smiled. When Jenny materialized and saw Sarah sitting next to him on the couch, she lost it. It made Hunter wish he’d thought far enough ahead to make a bowl of popcorn. It took some persuasion on Sarah’s part but by the time the ghost of his fifth grade girlfriend, she of the championship high school lacrosse team, got through with Jenny, he knew she wouldn’t be coming back. Honestly, he’d never been happier.

In return for the favor, Hunter promised to stop by Sarah’s Halloween party. Seriously, what was the worst that could happen at a party with a bunch of ghosts? As long as Jenny wasn’t there, he was game. Surely, that rumor on the nets about the Eternavitas ghosts keeping humans as slaves wasn’t true?

Flash Fiction: It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

Drawing by Emily, Age 8

For the fun of it, I decided to enter a little short story contest Mozy threw. If you haven’t heard of Mozy, they are a company offering data backup services to the cloud. It goes without saying but I will say it anyway: backing your data up is very important! Truth in advertising: I am not a customer of Mozy.

I chose one of four pre-written starts for the story which I have put in italics. The story had to be 200 words or less and seasonal. Entries were to be judged on creativity, originality, scariness, and Mozy-ness.

The winners will be announced on Halloween.

*****

She was in the middle of reading her friend’s blog when she heard a sound… and Jane jumped. There was something scratching on the glass of the back door. Jane screamed. It was a zombie!

Grabbing her smart phone, Jane ran up the stairs. She slammed the door to her bedroom and shoved the dresser in front of it.

Heartbeat racing, Jane turned off the light and crept to her window. The zombie staggered around the backyard moaning. To her surprise, it stumbled against the house. Everything went still. It must have hit the power box. Then Jane really freaked. Her dissertation changes were unsaved on her laptop!

Below, the zombie cursed loudly. Jane watched as it sat down on a lawn chair and rubbed one knee. A moment later, it peeled off a mask.

John! Jane was going to kill him for real.

Then she remembered. Jane swiped at the screen of her phone. Seconds later, the Mozy app opened. There it was! The dissertation file was last backed up ten minutes ago!

Jane turned a light on and stared at the barricaded door. As she picked everything up, she plotted her revenge.

*****

Flash Fiction: Father To Son

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment, “Bullies And The Bullied,” was to write 100 words on the motif of bullying. I wrote a scene from the backstory of one of the main characters in my book, Tenderfoot.

*****

FATHER TO SON

His father found Andrew where he shielded his little sister in the closet. Burly arms pulled him free. Andrew stiffened. He could hear his mother crying downstairs. What now?

His father thrust an old catcher’s mitt into Andrew’s chest. One hand tightly gripped his upper arm.

“C’mon, Son. Let’s go play some ball. You need to play a real sport.” He pushed Andrew toward the door.

The slight fencer stood his ground. “You leave us alone or I’ll tell my teachers.” The backhand sent Andrew to his knees. No more, he vowed. He stood back up.

*****

Flash Fiction: Predator

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction of 1000 words or less using 3 of 5 random words: box, fountain, tax, bottle, and cockroach. And a vampire.

*****

PREDATOR

Nicholas thought he’d seen it all. Then they sent Jean-Michel.

Jean-Michel floundered fully clothed in the dark water of the fountain as he tried to locate the bottle under the icy detritus of decomposing leaves. A bottle hidden inside a safe box in the church. For a Vampire of four hundred years, Jean-Michel still had a lot to learn. Starting with sleight of hand.

The damn Vampire really was an idiot. Most of the French Clan were. They averaged IQs slightly higher than a cockroach and therefore should have been easy to put down. Yet like the insect, they persisted. Nicholas would not underestimate a man who tracked him into Sweden. The Vampire wouldn’t stop until he had what he came for.

A few kilometers into the forest, Nicholas knew. Out for a walk in the quiet night, the empty void that followed quickly drew his attention. One of the Undead. Nicholas found it curious. And alarming. He circled around until he came to the front of the church. Then he waited.

Not long after, the creature stepped out from the cover of tree boughs. Nicholas didn’t need the faint light from the parking lot to know he had guessed right. Only a Vampire would tromp through the forest in a suit and expensive dress shoes.

The Troll King forged a pact with the Clan to stay out of Scandinavia. For the most part, the Vampires had. The French Clan was intelligent enough to foresee the consequences: a visit from a conquering army of Trolls, Dwarves, and Fae to hunt the dark nooks where Vampires rested by day. What did the Vamp want badly enough to risk breaking the Continental Pact?

It stopped at a slight distance. “What do you want, Vampire?”

“Pardonnez-moi the intrusion. My name is Jean-Michel Clerselier.” He gave a faint bow as he said his name. “I have come to ask for something.”

Nicholas shifted his weight back. He knew of this creature. And it knew about the bottle. Jean-Michel tilted his head. It’s charm wouldn’t work on him. He allowed himself a faint smile. He always enjoyed the odd fight of predator versus predator. It was infinitely more satisfying than outwitting teenage girls.

“The bottle. I have to come to beg, Monsieur Grimm. S’il vous plait, name your price.”

“You have nothing I want.”

The Vampire stiffened. The answer could not have come as a surprise. “I see. I suppose an explanation of my predicament would be a waste of breath, non? You have no interest in Clan disagreements. ”

“You are correct. I see no need to take sides on Continental matters. They must be bad if they bring you here.

Jean-Michel’s eyes flashed. “Oui.” He smoothed the lapel of his suit. “What if I were to tell you a story about two gay maidens who live in Paris with their parents. Every morning they skip down les grand boulevards to school. They do not suspect a monster shadows them from afar. Alas, it would be a terrible tragedy if something were to happen.” Jean-Michel stepped forward. “I could assist you in their care. Perhaps you would reconsider?”

And that was that. Vacation was over. Nicholas reached out. Satisfied no humans were nearby, he shrugged.

With a click, fangs split the line of Jean-Michel’s lips. “Allons-y. Now we dance.”

A moment later the Vampire was upon him. The Fossegrim shifted forward, forcing the Vamp to pass him. Jean-Michel turned quickly but Nicholas was just as quick. They turned as the Vampire sought caught Nicholas by his upper arms. He couldn’t bite Nicholas like a human, but there were other ways to break a body. Nicholas leaned back and kicked. His worn black boot caught the Vampire beneath the chin. The impact forced Jean-Michel to stagger back, hissing. Again, Jean-Michel lept forward. His arms sailed forward as he threw his body over Nicholas. Nicholas struggled. He swung his arms to throw the thrashing creature off. Nicholas fell to the ground, the stink of Jean-Michel’s foul corpse upon him. As the Vampire reached for his neck, Nicholas punched forward, finding the very center of the dead spot. Jean-Michel flew back into the air.

Nick was satisfied. When the lunge came, Nicholas allowed the broadside. He felt the wind first. Then the impact. Together they toppled against the rough cement of the fountain. Chunks of rock flew through the air. Nicholas didn’t need them. He had the one in his hand. As the pain transmitted wildly from all bones, he stood. He threw the rock from the forest. It landed with a splash a dozen meters away in the still sloshing water.

“You want the Nettle Elixir from the Tree of Life? You’ll have to get it yourself!”

Nicholas threw his head back and laughed as the Vampire scrambled over the wall into the water. Frickin’ Vamps. Every time, they underestimated the ones who taught war to the Vikings. This one wasn’t close to worthy of the blood-free immortality enjoyed by Nicholas’s kind.

As Jean-Michel floundered, his rage grew. He found the rock a minute later. That was the last time he flew. Nicholas clinically noted the terror Jean-Michel expressed as he impaled himself upon the fresh stake. What he forgot was how the cloud of Vampire dust got into every open orifice. He limped to the pool and peeled the torn cotton shirt from his bloodied body. As he wiped his face, he considered the future. It was time to evacuate the family from France and bring them to safe ground.

For the first time, he noticed the statute of St. Bridget. Such delicious irony. On a day far from today, Nicholas might find himself in the purgatory she described as he awaited burial in the roots of the Tree. Until then, he would escort those who threatened him to Hell.

*****

Flash Fiction: Search Results

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write a story about a new kind of monster.

*****

SEARCH RESULTS
#avasparty, @jenjenten, @ericablonde, @killersteph, @thadalot, @jonahdog, @drewdreamey

Hey Tweeps. Still pissed my dad grounded me for busting curfew last night. Missing out on #avasparty tonight!
WAH!
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 21:03

@jenjenten Damn girl. How long are you grounded for?
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 21:04

@ericablonde Forever. Nah, he hasn't decided yet. So who's there?
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 21:05

@jenjenten JASON!!!!!!!!!!!
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 21:05

@killersteph @jenjenten I know, like right? It's embarrassing how he's hanging all over Ava. Then again,
it's #avasparty .
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 21:06

@jenjenten Aww. I'm so sad you're not here, I'm crying in my beer. Can't you sneak out and come to #avasparty ?
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 21:15

#avasparty is kicking! Any ladies want to hook up?
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 21:34

@thadalot Sorry baby. Step Jane is guarding the stairs! Unreals.
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 21:40

@jenjenten Jonah wants to go to the gardens. Abandoned house, woot woot! Can you meet us? #avasparty
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 21:56

@jenjenten Meet us! Bring beer!
JonahDog, Sat Oct 29, 21:59

@drewdreamey You’re nasty. Stay on the other side of the room or I'll scream. #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 21:59

@killersteph O you can scream for me all night long! #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 22:02

@jenjenten Did you hear that crunch? That was Steph throwing Drew's phone out the window. Girl's vicious.
#avasparty
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 22:09

@killersteph I take that back. I didn't mean it Steph! Please? #avasparty
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 22:11

@thadalot @ericablonde @killersteph @jonahdog @drewdreamey LOL! Ok, I'll sneak out. #avasparty
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 22:45

@jenjenten Hooray! And bring a leash for Drew. #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 22:47

@jenjenten I'll be waiting. : )
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 22:48

@killersteph OW. THAT HURT. #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 22:52

@drewdreamey Seriously, what are you? 8 years old? #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 22:58

Meet at the front door if you're coming! #avasparty
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 23:23

Wait for me! #avasparty
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 23:24

Hey, did you guys hear that? This place is spooky! #avasparty
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 23:45

@ericablonde I forgot you were afraid of your own shadow. Thanks for reminding me!
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 23:47

@ericablonde I'll keep you safe! #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 23:48

@drewdreamey You found your phone? #avasparty
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 23:52

@drewdreamey Bro. I'm embarrassed for you. #avasparty
JonahDog, Sat Oct 29, 23:52

@jenjenten Yes. It's scuffed now. Thanks a lot @killersteph ! @jonahdog Why? #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 23:54

@drewdreamey You set a new low in levels of desperation. #avasparty
JonahDog, Sat Oct 29, 23:58

@jonahdog OW AGAIN. Are you my friend or my frenemy? #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 23:59

Shh, be quiet. I heard it again. Did you hear that? #avasparty
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 23:59

@ericablonde I heard it. Is there something in the trees?
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:01

@thadalot I think so. I'm totally creeped out. @drewdreamey will you walk me back to #avasparty ?
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 00:03

@ericablonde YES.
DrewDreamey, Sun Oct 30, 00:03

What a wuss. #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sun Oct 30, 00:06

@thadalot @ericablonde @jonahdog @killersteph @drewdreamey Where are you guys? I'm outside the front
gate! #avasparty
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:16

@jenjenten We're near the fountain. Straight thru and hang a left at the cupid statue thingy. #avasparty
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:19

@thadlot Thanks Snookums. #avasparty
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:19

You @jenjenten and you @thadalot are grossing me out. #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sun Oct 30, 00:23

@killersteph You're welcome! #avasparty
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:25

@thadalot What was that noise? Were you screaming?
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:31

@jenjenten RUN BABY
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:31

@jenjenten Get help!
JonahDog, Sun Oct 30, 00:33

@jonahdog @thadalot What?! Why?
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:35

@jenjenten There's something out here. @drewdreamey @ericablonde Where are you?
JonahDog, Sun Oct 30, 00:36

@jonahdog @thadalot @killersteph @drewdreamey @ericablonde I'm safe in my car. What is it?
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:37

@jenjenten It was disgusting! It unfolded these massive insect arms!
KillerSteph, Sun Oct 30, 00:39

@jenjenten Something jumped out of the tree. It bit me then it ran after Erica and Drew. Get help!
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:40

@jenjenten OMG. It folded itself into a tree stump. Then four eyes poked out and it skittered
sideways. I think it ate Drew's cell.
KillerSteph, Sun Oct 30, 00:41

@jonahdog @thadalot @ericablonde @killersteph @drewdreamey I called 911!
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:42

@jonahdog @ericablonde @drewdreamey @killersteph @thadalot Run to my car!
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:45

@jenjenten Hurry! It got Drew and he's bleeding bad! We're hiding in a shed by the house.
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 00:46

@jenjenten OMG! Some of its teeth are sticking out of Drew's thigh. It was only two feet tall
but it jumped on him.
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 00:48

@ericablonde Jonah made it to the car. @killersteph @thadalot Where are you?
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:55

@ericablonde The police are almost here. Jonah's talking to them. Hang on! @thadalot Baby??
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:57

@jenjenten I'm so scared! It poked one of its stalk snake eyes through a crack and blinked!
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 00:59

@ericablonde They're here! Hold tight! The police are in the garden now.
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 01:01

@jenjenten There's so much blood. That thing finally ran away.
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 01:02

@ericablonde They found Thad! Part of his hand is gone.
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 01:15

@jenjenten Where's Steph?
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 01:16

@ericablonde I don't know.
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 01:20

@ericablonde @jenjenten @drewdreamey @thadalot @jonahdog Please DM @newstoday. We'd like to
interview you. Was it a monster? #avasparty
News Today Investigators, Sun Oct 30, 03:14

Flash Fiction: Circular – Update

 

Congratulations to Me!

My three sentences were picked as a winner in the flash fiction contest thrown by my favoritest (sic) purveyor of writing tips and writerly experience: CHUCK WENDIG.

<insert flashy blinky lights here>

This is very exciting. One of my short term writing goals was to win acclaim from him, and I was able to do so with only three sentences!

Now, to wait by the mailbox for his postcard to see what writing advice Chuck offers…

*****

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write three sentences. Yes, three. I think the hard part for this assignment was to write three relevant sentences. I went with something topical.

*****

I arrived seemingly before I left. One moment the cops were around the corner and the next I sat down in the sand on the empty beach. With my stolen NeutrinoPort, it was easy to slip in and out of dimensions; staying in one place was what I found to be impossible.

*****

Flash Fiction: Circular

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write three sentences. Yes, three. I think the hard part for this assignment was to write three relevant sentences. I went with something topical.

*****

I arrived seemingly before I left. One moment the cops were around the corner and the next I sat down in the sand on the empty beach. With my stolen NeutrinoPort, it was easy to slip in and out of dimensions; staying in one place was what I found to be impossible.

*****

Flash Fiction: Blistering Criticism

UNC-Chapel Hill

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write a complete story of no more than 100 words using three of the five following words: ivy, enzyme, blister, lollipop, and bishop.

I used four of the five words, which can be found below in bold. The likely pairings were enzymes and ivy, blister and lollipop. I went in the other direction and purposely forced them apart.

*****

Jessica carefully added enzymes to the small beaker of urushiol oil and stirred well, like she’d been taught. Then she added the mixture to the gently bubbling corn syrup. How handy to make the treats right in the lab! When the syrup hit hard-crack stage, she poured it into small round molds. A few hours later, packed and ready, she arranged the shiny red lollipops on a pretty paper plate near the door.

Jessica’s days of researching herpes zoster were over. She’d show those pretentious Ivy League bastards she used to work with what it meant to form a blister.

Flash Fiction: The Collection

Crayon Drawing by Allison Tupper, Age 5

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction, a story of less than 1000 words, based on a photo. Go see it now. Thank you. Stare at it long enough and… yeah, it’s like a bad flashback to the 70’s. This one was based on an idea I had last week after watching True Blood.

*****

Ian called again.

“Did you get it?”

“No,” I said. “Couldn’t you just email it like everyone else in the free world does? Post it to Facebook, tweet it, stumble all over it, dang, whatever the kids are doing these days?”

“This picture you’ll want to hold in your hands.”

“Ian! Why’s this so important?”

There was silence. I knew he wanted to tell me. “Sorry, Jon. I wish I could have delivered it myself. Damn.”

When he called a week ago to mention he was sending me something, I had no reason to think it was anything earth-shattering. It was about the family reunion, right? I let it go at that. Then again, the dog was barking, the dishwasher half-loaded, and one of kidlettes spun in circles until she grew dizzy and dropped to the floor where she threatened to vomit. And I was up to my eyeballs in the types of nuisances that occurred only when we left town: the escape artist dog, a wobbly mailbox, a school meeting rescheduled to the same night as soccer and guitar lessons. In a nut-shell, life.

I was glad we went though. It’d been too long. Ian and I grew up together, cousins and best friends all through school. A week after graduation, we joined the Air Force. Eventually Uncle Sam did what no one else dared to do; station us in different corners of the earth. That’s when we took to the Internet. It cost some dough to get set up, but it beat the hell out of waiting for the APO mail to arrive. When we left the service, we wound up living a couple hours away. It was a real good moment to throw an arm around Ian when he arrived at the family reunion.

“Don’t sweat it. I’ll call you when it comes.”

“O.K.”

I finished loading the dishwasher and implored my daughter to find something more meaningful to do, like tease her brother. Then my wife swept by. She stood in front of the trash in a sorting stance.

“What’s that?”

“The mail. I forgot to pick it up when we got home yesterday.”

She was methodical. Glance, garbage. Glance, garbage. Tear it open, peer inside, garbage. Bill pile. Garbage. Wordlessly, she handed me a letter. One of those frigging air mail envelopes identical to the ones Ian sent me twenty years ago. Christ, did Ian throw anything out besides his wife?

There was a single photograph inside.

I laughed. It was a picture from the family reunion. We were setting up to play Shadow Charades, that ridiculous game my parents love. We picked up the lawn chairs and drinks, moving them near the siding of the house. Only this year, Auntie May had a bit too much to drink. Well, that’s not true. She always had too much to drink. But this year she dragged Uncle Tim’s welder’s torch out of the garden shed instead of the battery operated floodlights. Ian must have snapped the shot with his cell phone mere seconds before my mother yelled, “May! Turn that thing off before you kill someone!” and the family scattered.

I called Ian back.

“You got the photo?” He asked.

“Yeah, this is hilarious! I can’t believe you caught this on film!”

“I forgot about the pictures from the family reunion. I went to pull the ones I took yesterday off the phone and saw them there.”

“Well, you were pretty busy putting out the grass fire.” I added.

“Thank God for that kiddie pool. You didn’t see it, did you?”

“See what?” He had lost me.

“Where are you in that picture?”

“I was standing behind everybody.” I lifted the photo and scrutinized it. There I was, on the far right, keeping my distance from crazy Aunt May. Then I saw the second face. “Oh, no.” I backed against the kitchen counter, suddenly tired.

“Jon? I’m real sorry,” Ian said. “I love you, man.”

I ended the call and set the phone on the counter.

“Honey?”

I stumbled past my wife. Outside, the smell of Fall surrounded me. I slumped into a lawn chair. Leaves from the maple tree slipped free and spiraled down until they came to rest in the grass. They’d broken free.

Jenny. My sister was coming for me. After all this time, she kept her promise. I’d waited years but I thought I had more. Ian had my instructions. Long ago, we’d made the same promise to each other. Ian was the best man I knew. And bless Jenny for not taking me that night. An extra week with my family free from all the usual daily craziness. How was that for a bit of closure?

I knew what I had to do. There was dignity in walking away willing.

That was why we made the Promise. I’ll come back for you. I’ll take care of your family. I’ll conclude your business. What other way would The Collection work? I set the photo down on the side table.

Jenny stood on the porch when I walked out the front door. Twelve years after her death, she was as beautiful as I remembered. I turned around and kissed my wife and children one last time. It was time to go.

Flash Fiction: The Spelling Test

Drawing by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write a complete story of revenge in 100 words.

I would like to ___________ Chuck’s __________ except I sort of worship him. We have a firm no-__________-ing our idols rule in this house.

One rule we don’t have: it’s alright to throw food at the TV for terrible plot developments, bad dialogue, seasons 2 and 3 of Lost, and the second to last episode of True Blood this season where Marnie’s ghost comes back.

This story is semi-autobiographical, except for the end. My mother was a teacher at my elementry school and she would have ___________ my ___________ if I had responded the way the Main Character does in this flash fiction story.

*****

I wonder if she sat next to me because I looked nice or if the teacher put her there because she was missing half an arm and a leg but it didn’t matter after she looked at my test paper.

“Quit looking!” I carefully spelled the next word. Her neck craned forward.

The teacher’s head swiveled around. We froze.

I put my arm over my answers. Meghan continued to look. Angry, I yanked her pencil from her cracked, burned fingers. A moment later it hung from the white ceiling tile by the point.

I smiled at the final answer. “F-a-i-r.”

 

Flash Fiction: Oh, The Humanity

Drawing of Elizabet by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment, which I gamely accepted, was to mash any two of the following sub-genres together:

Southern Gothic
Cyberpunk
Sword & Sorcery
Femslash
Black Comedy
Picaresque
 

Obviously, this is quite a list to choose from! I did my homework and narrowed it down to Sword & Sorcery and Black Comedy. Then I imposed my own criteria which is to continue writing backstory for my book Tenderfoot.

While I was able to use the swashbuckling sword action component from the one, I’m afraid only the “black” in “black comedy” transferred successfully into the story.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Is there a smidge of offensiveness in the ending comments made by the trolls about humans or do I get token points good only at Chuck E. Cheese for trying?

*****

Once upon a time, among the schists of Dålsland, lived an un-baptized Troll named Elisabet. She was the second to be named Elizabet for the first, her sister, died upon birth. She and her many surviving brothers and sisters grew up in a cave beneath a great granite mountain.

One evening Elizabet was out tending to the animals at the nearby farm when she heard beautiful music coming from the family’s home. Elizabet crept close to listen. It was the most wondrous thing. It touched something inside of her that nights of stomping with her kin deep in the caves did not. There were many beliefs about sharing the land and sea with humans, all of them cautioning against involvement. Elizabet thought long and hard as the melodies of humming fiddle strings echoed in her head. In the end, she slipped on a human skin and set out for music school in Uppsala.

After several years, Elizabet felt she had learned what she could about the fiddle. She tied up her beloved instrument in a cloth bag, thanked her human teachers, and set out for home.

By this time, the human skin fit well. It was Elizabet’s mistake to travel in it at night for when she came to the river near the Ironworks, a troll sprang from beneath the stone bridge. Caught, she continued pretending. To her amazement, he was a beastly thing. Standing tall and broad shouldered with long tangled brown hair, his bulbous nose was overshadowed only by his big sharp teeth when he growled at her. This shocked Elizabet, but not in the way he intended. It was as if she was seeing a troll for the first time, finding it ugly and vulgar. Had her human skin ruined her eyes?

He drew close. “Lo! Do you think you are to cross this bridge? Not without payment, my pretty!”

At a distance of several steps, Elizabet found his stench overwhelming. And yet she was not afraid. This particular troll bore a resemblance to her mother’s kin. “I seek only to return to the  granite mountains of Dålsland. If I play you a folk tune, will that be fair payment?”

The troll scratched his great forearms and thought. “Yes, that will be fair.”

Elizabet gathered her skirts and sat down on the stones that lined the edge of the bridge. She carefully unwrapped her fiddle. Moonlight reflected off the glassy surface of the river as she played her favorite song about a waterfall. The troll sat quietly. When the tune ended, the music of night filled the silence. Elizabet wrapped up her fiddle and stood to cross.

“Wait! I cannot allow you to leave.”

“But what of our deal?” There was something in the way his gargantuan nose twitched that set her to worrying. Had her kind always looked this repulsive? She stepped forward. Distracted, the troll looked behind him. Elizabet saw her chance. She ran. Her thin leather boots slapped against the rough stones as she sprinted across the bridge yet he quickly caught her. In the blink of an eye, he slung her over his shoulder like a bag of turnips.

“Careful! My fiddle!” She cried. Kicking as hard as she could in the frail human skin, she failed to wrest herself from his grip. He carried her down the grassy embankment toward his lair. Elizabet thought as to reveal herself as a troll but the fear of being brought to judgment before the Troll King for living among the humans stopped her. At that moment, the clattering of horse hooves on the bridge startled them both. The troll rolled her off his shoulder into the grasses growing against the arch.

“Keep quiet!” He bounded onto the bridge.

Seeing her chance, Elizabet fled. The hawthorn bushes would provide shelter until she could disappear into the forest. From there, she could drop the skin and her once-hidden knobby troll feet would carry her away. When she reached them safely, she dared to look back.

To her surprise, the horse was gone. In its place on the bridge stood a handsome man. River water streamed from his wet clothes and coal-black hair. Time slowed as he drew back his sword and thrust it into the troll in one powerful motion. He wiped the sword clean on the fallen body then casually rolled it over the side into the river. Staring at where she hid, the stranger called out, “Dear Fiddler, will you play a tune for me?”

Crouched in the thicket of thorns, rivulets of blood ran down Elizabet’s fragile weeping skin. She held still, waiting.

And then he said, “I had hoped…” The swordman’s voice trailed off in the quiet splashing sounds of the river.

Elizabet did not return home until after her son was born. Worried the Troll King would learn of  her human dalliance with the shape-shifting water man, she knew she must protect her mongrel Fae child even as her heart was cleaved in two. She lucked upon a suitable human family who played music. And so it came to pass early one morning, Elizabet placed her beloved baby with coal-black hair side by side with their tow-headed baby and tucked both in. And yet Elizabet couldn’t bear the emptiness of her arms for a moment. She snatched up the tow-headed child and fled in haste, leaving her Changeling safely behind.

Then Elizabet sadly shed her human skin once and for all, burying it with her violin in the forest. At last she arrived home. She lied to her kin, and told grand stories of running with the reindeer up North. Then she revealed the stolen baby. The troll children gathered close. They were so curious, they poked and prodded until the baby scrunched up its pale face and cried. Elizabet shivered deep in her troll heart when one of the children giggled, “Who would want to live with such noise?” to which one mother replied, “Oh, the humanity!”

Flash Fiction: The Backahasten

A scary white horse with fangs

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com. Crime fiction + gun porn = a challenge that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

The Backahasten is a creature borrowed from Scandinavian folklore. It is briefly mentioned in my book Tenderfoot and a featured villain in my next book, Blinded. Marta is the great-grandmother of Jules Jennings from Tenderfoot.

This flash fiction is historical. What that means, dear readers, is that I spent 15 hours researching early 20th century Swedish life, military, and guns (including the translation of Swedish text to English) and 3 hours writing. I tried to make it as accurate as possible. If I got anything wrong, blame the internets. Enjoy! 

*****

There’s something there by the edge of the shore. Through the spindly trees, it looks to be the bloody remains of some unfortunate animal, crushed and torn apart.

I walk down the slope to get a better look. Could it be what I think it is? And then I see something move in the reeds. I freeze. To my disbelief, an enormous white horse emerges from the lake before my very eyes. Water streams off of its larger-than-life body as it climbs onto the shore. Then it looks up at me.

Devil be damned, it’s a fearsome thing. The withers of the horse are easily as high as the top of my head. Wet mane clings to its massive neck which twists forcefully as it shakes itself dry. Bits of dark green lake vegetation stick to its body, as pronounced against the white coat as the brown spot on the right front leg. The wet tail flicks back and forth like a cat preparing to pounce as it lifts hooves larger than a cabbage, each step deliberate, powerful. The creature is so big it’s a wonder the thing can move at all. At twenty meters, the beast opens its mouth to reveal teeth no horse should have. Fangs. Then it advances.

Not quite believing my eyes, I lift the Swedish Mauser 96 rifle and aim it directly at the beast.

A Backahasten.

My blood runs cold. I’d have one shot, maybe two before it made pulp of me too. I check the bolt action. It clicks and slides easily into position. As always, the wooden stock fits comfortably in my hand. I hold my ground, staring down the shiny barrel to the sight. Between hunting and time served for Sweden, the gun is like another limb. This time, it needs to be.

Silently, I curse. I should have known when I spotted the bloody mess of fur and jagged bone down by the water’s edge. It looked identical to the remains of that little girl ten years ago on these same shores, a horrifying scene I would never forget. There was intense mutilation of the girl’s body, as if someone deliberately intended to destroy it. Around what was left, blood pooled in giant hoof prints. This inexplicable death was worse than anything I saw serving conscription in the Vaxholm Coastal Artillery regiment. In the end, we identified Elsa Lindstrom by her shoes. Her killer was never found.

When the police union sent me from the new police academy in Uppsala to Varmland, the other men joked my primary duty would be rounding up lost pigs.

 But then this.

There were no suspects, for whom among us would do such a thing to a child? The only clue came from Marta Karlsdottir, age twelve, a friend of the dead child. She saw Elsa playing with a white horse and described it down to the dark round mark on the front leg. But even if I found said horse, what was I going to do, arrest it? And after a few days, Marta refused to speak further. The child was scared, as she should be. She was a witness to an unsolved crime. Whomever perpetrated this act still walked among us.

There was talk in Varmland. At first, I ignored the village chatter. After a while, I realized the low comments I heard when I entered the blacksmith’s, the sawmill, and the bakery were all the same. Beware the Brook Horse. It will drown you in the lake. Tales of the creature and its prior victims repeatedly endlessly. To my surprise, the child’s death was readily accepted. But one thing caused consternation among the villagers. Why did it stomp little Elsa to death? Why didn’t it drown her like the others? I dismissed the gossip that passed for folklore outright. It was all superstition. And yet, with so little, my only hope was to catch the killer during the next attempt.

Here before me was a matching scene, ten years after the father gathered what was left of his precious child and buried her in the church yard. There was no doubt in my mind, her killer and this horse were one and the same.

 Sunlight glints off the upside down brass disk on the right hand of the stock into my eyes. I shift it, watching. I no longer need to glance at the disk to plan the shot – after all these long years, I still know this rifle better than my own wife’s face. I bet my life on the stamped articles of faith: torped, overslag, the triangular mark above the “2” for a 6.52 millimeter bore. How many hundreds of times had I polished the receiver stamped with the year “1907” or the smaller disc of my dear regiment KA1? The stamp of crowns across the weapon applied by “J.V.” were an oath, an oath of the precision of Swedish-built weapons. This was a fine straight-bolt rifle with no strek, no rust in the bore, and it shot as true as any firearm could. Today, it would have to.

Through the metal sight, I line up the cross between the creature’s ears and eyes. I picture the brass round nose bullet originally destined for a buck when I left to hunt this morning. One shot. The palm holding the smooth walnut stock begins to sweat. I curl a finger around the trigger, waiting.

The beast freezes. Its head swings to the side as if to get a better look at me. The enormity of its jaws is breath-taking. The fangs are hidden now but the look is sinister. With the smallest of movements, I set my sight to the spot between the questioning eye and the flickering ear. I fire.

To my surprise, the beast suddenly rears back and gallops down the slope. And with that, it ducks into a stand of spindly trees, putting obstacles between itself and my bullet. I can barely make it out as it runs. And then I hear the splash. The horse is in the lake.

I lower the rifle to rest the metal buttplate against my foot. The Backahasten sinks quickly beneath the surface of the water. For as long as I stand there, it never resurfaces.

The sun starts to set. At last, I turn to leave.

It’s in the foliage covering the ground on the hill just above that I spy a single blue Forget Me Not. I pluck the delicate flower between first finger and thumb. As I pass the church on the way home to kiss my wife, I stop in the graveyard to leave it with the dead.

*****

Flash Fiction: Breaking In The Boyfriend

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com. This one is in response to “25 Ways To…” Well, if you really want to know, go read it for yourself. It sounds better when Chuck says it.

I used characters from the Tenderfoot world and told untold backstory. Err, you know what I mean. In this flash fic, Jeffrey, Jules’ dad, is by no means the most tortured protagonist ever, but he did receive a nice working-over courtesy of Nick.

*****

Karolina drew close. On the Penrith train platform, she stopped mid-stride to argue with our guest Jeffrey, both of them oblivious to the other passengers. She must have told him the good news. After a minute, they proceeded to the Jaguar. Jeffrey was unable to hide his dismay as Karolina slipped into the passenger seat next to me. I couldn’t help winking. She ignored me.

Things improved upon arrival at Mount Helvellyn. Jeffrey made a peacock display of himself, offering to carry more than half his load of camping gear up the mountain. It was easy to slough most of mine onto him. He blinked a bit as he shouldered it, but he trusted me. We’d see how long that lasted. No doubt he believed the evening held a shag in the Great Outdoors.

It was a pleasant climb. We took our time, following a path that meandered up the emerald green mountainside. There were no trees to speak of, just stone and closely cropped grass. The higher we rose, the better the view to the valley below.

I listened to their small talk. Jeffrey pretended they were alone as he flirted shamelessly. From the quickening of Karolina’s heart to the way she gazed at him, Jeffrey had to be the One. Bedevil me, it would be a long upward march.

After lunch, we splashed in the cold water of a mountain stream. No time like the present to disabuse Jeffrey of how this works. One slippery rock later, I hid my delight under the surface of the water where I landed while dear Jeffrey nursed an accidental kick to the groin. It took Karolina several minutes to determine the chain of events when her back was turned. While one eyebrow rose, my sweet girl acquiesced quickly. We continued. Across the afternoon, we worked our way up to a suitable camp site. Karolina inserted herself between us the entire time.

It would be a long evening.

Jeffrey went off in the wrong direction looking for fresh water. When he returned two hours later, a bit worse for the wear, I was happy to show him the stream one hundred meters in the opposite direction. The campfire was set up by then. After dinner, Karolina went to fetch thick socks against the chill. I surreptitiously slid into her spot under pretext of moving away from the smoke. Not one to miss an opportunity, I stared. Eventually his eyes shifted to meet mine.

“Jeffrey, are you a betting man?”

“Excuse me?”

“How much did you wager on tonight?”

His dirty brow furrowed in disbelief. A leaf was stuck in his hair. It shone luminously green in the reflection of the fire. “Why would I wager on her?”

“I wager this camping trip is not meeting your expectations.”

“Is that so?” His eyes blazed. It would be so easy to push him over.

“Karolina is not like other girls. You need to earn her.”

Jeffrey jumped to his feet and backed away. “You’re crazy, Nicholas!”

“No, I’m serious. If you want to date her, you need my approval.” I, the uncle’s nephew’s brother’s brother. I loved that joke.

A moment passed as he assessed his options. His eyes flickered over the fire toward the tent, resolve hardening around them. He was soft. Did Jeffrey have what it took?

“You get one shot. If you screw it up, that’s it. Or, you can pack your bags now.”

We were still in the silence. Karolina was kind enough to remain in the tent.

“I’m not going anywhere.” He sat down. The fire crackled as the plume of smoke reached to the dark sky.

“It’s settled then.”

Jeffrey held out his hand. I grasped it around the cuts and bruises, applying slightly too much pressure. We shook.

As I stepped away, I said, “You might want to tell her about that kid you killed in high school.”

Flies could have landed in his open mouth.

“How do you know about that? We were just kids playing hockey,” Jeffrey said when he recovered. Remorse flitted across his face.

“It’s one of many things I know about you.” I gestured to the collar of his not-so-white tennis shirt. He might be American but he dressed like the other Oxford twats.

I left him then. Karolina exited the tent, speed in her step. As we passed, I touched her shoulder. I whispered, “I’ll be back in half an hour.” The darkness welcomed me. She paid reparations to Jeffrey with kisses before I looked away.

The next afternoon, we descended the mountain. When we came to the bottom, I made my move. I blocked Jeffrey’s way with one foot. Abruptly, he halted, stumbling a bit as he fought for control on the rocky slope.

“One last thing.”

“What now, Nick?” He used this nickname since I returned to the fire last night. It was mildly irritating. He stood tall as he held my gaze. The swollen bump on his forehead didn’t look as bad as the cut along his hairline crusted over with blood. He refused to give up. He might work out after all.

“I’d like to see you do a handstand. Over there,” I gestured.

To my surprise, he dropped everything: the bedrolls, the wadded up leaky tent, the camping gear. It all fell to the ground so easily. Without hesitation, he skittered down the last paces of rock, jogging to the flat spot in the meadow. Karolina grabbed my arm as she watched. In less than a three-count, Jeffrey swung forward onto his hands. The effort to stay balanced cost him. He stayed upright for a true heartbeat before collapsing, finishing laid out on the grass. This time I let him rest. He’d proved himself.

Karolina ran to his side.

Let him have his prize. Not bad for a third date. It gave me something to look forward to – the fourth. How to decide between river rafting or skydiving?

*****

The view from Mount Helvellyn, 1986.

Flash Fiction: A Deathbed Photograph

Flash Fiction

 A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com 

Based on a recommendation Chuck provided in his “250 Things You Should Know About Writing”, I am taking new character Mike Halen (introduced in my next book “Blinded”) for a joyride in a short story. Kill two birds etc. In less than 1,000 words, Andrew’s new roommate has developed a tasty complexity. Thank you Chuck.

Jules and Andrew breezed through the double glass doors ahead of me, almost instantly separating in different directions. She fixated on a stall of quilts while he cut to the right, wandering lost among other people’s flotsam. The repurposed big box building held as much junk now as it did when it was a Wal-Mart.

I couldn’t help but notice the distance between Jules and Andrew. Usually you needed a crowbar to pry them apart. I spent a lot of time being that crowbar.

“Hey, Andrew!” He stared at a table stacked with old toys and books. They sat under a sign that read ‘$1.’

He lifted up a mid-century Fisher-Price toy still bright with color. “You ever have one of these?” It was first produced when I was two hundred and ten years old. Andrew didn’t know that. He thought I was some dumb farm boy from Iowa. They all did.

“Yeah, man! I used to chase the chickens around with that thing!” I pretended to chase chickens as I clucked and flapped imaginary wings. Like always, Andrew laughed at my idiotic joke. Humor made him soft.

He turned away to pick through more stuff, moving from table to table, stall to stall. I kept an eye on Jules as she followed. You never knew when the perfect opportunity might present itself. It was simply a matter of waiting when you had all the time in the world.

“Mike! This has your name written all over it.” Andrew gestured at a Jim Beam decanter. These littered every flea market in America. This one featured the 100th anniverary of baseball. I could give a shit about baseball, but participating in organized college sports was a sneaky way to blend into the group. The benefits? The outfield wasn’t too much work. Plus, I got a kick out of the astonishment on people’s faces when I jumped barely high enough to catch an impossible out-of-the-ballpark hit.

“Dude, I need that like I need a hole in my head! Look at all this stuff!”

He set it back down, grinning. Suddenly, Andrew stopped and looked around. He tracked Jules with his eyes, visibly relaxing when they settled on her. Of the three of us tracking her, he was the only one who had not a clue about the others. How long would it be until Nicholas, Jules’ Guardian, told him? The window was closing. I enjoyed myself, maybe a little too much, with the teenage Humans. Time to get down to business. In the meantime, I had to be careful not to blow my cover. If Nicholas saw through me, the charade would be over. Faith. Last time, the execution was flawless. The second would be also.

I savored the details of my plans for Jules as we wandered around gazing at the remarkable collection of cast-off debris. I couldn’t believe people wanted it. Give me a pasture on a lake, a never-ending supply of fresh hay, a couple of villagers to terrorize, and I was happy. Why did Humans need massive amounts of things to feel O.K.?

At last, Jules joined us, linking her arm through Andrew’s. While his attention was preoccupied by a display of mid-century drinking glasses, I winked at Jules, allowing myself the slightest of leers. Her eyes widened. She looked away, hands tightly gripping her purse. I really shouldn’t have but I couldn’t help myself. Her fear fed me on cold dark nights.

At long last, we arrived back at the entrance to the flea market. Andrew asked, “You ready to go?” Jules nodded.

Then something caught my eye. I’d overlooked a box of black and white photographs in the last stall.

“Just a minute.” I quickly flipped through them. These were old – easily over a hundred years – and the kind I liked. Bless the Victorians and their dour faces. It was easier to see the hardness etched by life’s tragic disappointments when they didn’t smile like chimpanzees. One in particular was outstanding. A deathbed photograph of a Victorian child in a coffin. Her pale skin was offset by the dark following hair around her angelic face. Excellent!

“Mikey! Get a load of Jules!”

I turned. “Jules?” I fought for breath. Could it be? How had I not noticed before?

A moment later I inhaled, breathing in the sight before me. She stood in front of the quilt stall, her hair tucked into a white bonnet. I stared. One skinny arm reached up to touch the ribbon at her throat, and she blushed. Yes, it was her! Heart of my heart, core of my soul, the girl who chose Nicholas stood before me. My Lovely. My Lovisa.

It took every ounce of control to not rush forward and clasp my arms around her. Ten generations removed and stripped of modern frippery, Jules was the reincarnation of her grandmother.

It was then that my heart beat again. One long slow pulse. The sound filled my ears like a tidal wave. In that moment, I was fifteen again and in love. Eons of bitterness fell away like layers of onion peeled back. I felt naked. I felt alive. The plan morphed. This time Lovisa would be mine.

“Stare much, Halen?” Andrew slapped my upper arm. “Are you all right?”

Was I all right? My laugh sounded slightly hysterical above the new rhythm of my thumping heart. It was an unexpected second chance.

I waved the tintype. “Can’t you tell? I found what I was looking for!”

Flash Fiction: He Asked For A Unicorn

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com

A unicorn walked into the bar. All eyes followed him as he sidled up to the bar, which is to say the bartender and I stared.

It was a little early for a stranger to show up, it being two o’clock on a scorching afternoon in the desert, miles from civilization, on a road to nowhere. And yet a unicorn walked into the bar.

He sat down on a barstool. As he turned his head toward the bartender, his horn dragged across a stray light dangling on a bare cord. There was a faint clinking sound. The thing bowed its head to the bartender as if in shame but Larry didn’t care much. His place was older than time and these things happened. It’d been pulled down a few years ago when some monkey decided to hang from the ceiling and Larry never got around to fixing it. That’s how things were around here. A sliding life of decline.

“Three glasses of cold beer, please.” Its voice was surprising. Much higher and squeakier than you’d expect, like some kind of overgrown chipmunk. I suppose it had as much choice in the pitch of its voice as it did in choosing the golden horn upon its head. At least, I assume it was golden. Hard to tell with the layers of dirt and grime. The horse part didn’t look much better. Its leather jacket did nothing to hide the fresh bruises on once-white legs. It looked like it’d been rode hard and put up wet.

I feigned disinterest when a lady warthog joined him. I say “lady” as she wore a pink satin ribbon in her hair. The ribbon was clean unlike the crusty goggles around her neck. These critters must be traveling together.

Larry slid the glasses down to the unicorn who set one in front of the lady and took the other two for itself. They had themselves a drink and a little conversation. Larry kept busy wiping dust off the glasses while staying within earshot. You could tell how good something was by watching how close Larry stood to the strangers. He kept finding excuses to move closer.

The unicorn and the warthog did a good job of keeping their business to themselves up until they left. It was then that they argued as the unicorn licked the spilled beer from its beard. The unicorn himself said something that sounded an awfully lot like “but he asked for a unicorn,” except who in his right mind would ask for a unicorn? I suppose the answer was a terrible one. Even in a spot this remote, we’d heard the verdict. Unicorns could no longer be captured by Virgins. If a unicorn healed someone, it was from their own free will. Penalty of death was no joke in the desert, which made me stop for a moment, thinking. Alas, the only healing I received came from the bottom of an empty glass.

The lady must have said something the unicorn didn’t like because the unicorn got up so fast, it knocked its bar stool over. Then it ran out of the bar. The warthog threw a couple of wadded up bills on the bar and followed out the door yelling, “This would be the last one! One last score, baby!”

In unison, Larry and I moved to the window. The story wasn’t done yet.

The unicorn climbed onto its hog, a big black motorcycle that had also seen better days. The warthog flipped its goggles up and got on too. With a roar, the beasts rode into the distance, headed West.

Larry and I made eye contact, his eyes bulging out from dark green amphibious skin. He gave a short croak and hopped back behind the bar to wait. There was no telling who would walk into the bar next.

Flash Fiction: If Wishes Were Butterflies

Flash Fiction

A challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com

If wishes were butterflies, Jenna would run headlong into the meadow where the spiky yellow flowers grow. She would bide her time until a butterfly of such size and strength floated by that when its wings flapped, the air would beat in punctuation against her skin. She’d know then. That would be the one. With a burst, she would stand and swing her white net through the air to capture it. Then she would run.

And run she would. Orange butterfly in hand, bedroom door papered in celebrity posters locked, Jenna safely made her wish.

Isn’t that what we tried to prevent? Didn’t we, the Council, after generations of education, having funded and coaxed and whispered football fields, nay, entire stadiums of clichés and dross captured in song and books and movies to mislead the people, to lead them astray, didn’t we do our best?  It’s Love, you want Love, we whispered. When they questioned this we broadcast a reality tv show… or dozens. Scattershot, we presented Death, Babies, the Illusion of Health, and drew upon the classic Grimm’s Fairy Tales to reinvent Fantasy at every turn, rebooting stories of action heroes, wizards, or fashion dolls. It seemed to work.

And still. There was Jenna.

She heard the lies, the tricks, the disinformation. Yet somehow she stumbled across the truth.

And when she went to the field that day, Jenna Warbley, age 14, with tangled brown hair and no boyfriend, caught the Butterfly and made a wish. We were wrong. The wish was of no import. It wasn’t the wish. It was the Butterfly.

The Sun went out. The lights went mere days after. The Council gathered one final time.

There were recriminations. There was shouting. If only we’d… the arguments began. In the starry day-long night, it was comical to try to prioritize what was more important; the light or the heat? In the end, it mattered not. The Butterfly who powered life as we knew it was caught and killed. With that tiny act perpetuated by a mere teenager, life as we knew ended.

If wishes were butterflies. All I wanted to know was, where did she hear it?