Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Stalemate

This first appeared in A Story in 100 Words.

Zach’s eyes followed the dirt path as it blended into the trees. Three couples, the latest newlyweds, disappeared in the last month while strolling the serpentine lane. The townspeople wanted something done, and they expected Zach to do it. He was the sheriff, after all.

Zach glanced from side to side, saw faces—some showing fear, others glaring—waiting less patiently with ever second that passed.

He rocked from side to side, his palms sweaty, hoping those standing with him would get bored or hungry and leave. The one thing he knew was he wouldn’t be the first to move.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"You Never Know" at Yellow Mama

My crime story, “You Never Know,” is in the current issue of Yellow Mama. Thanks to editor Cindy Rosmus.

http://blackpetalsks.tripod.com/yellowmama/id1880.html


And here’s an interview I did with Cindy at Six Questions For. . . to find out what she looks for in a submission.

http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/2010/09/six-questions-for-cindy-rosmus-editor.html

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Life’s Challenges

First appeared at Ariel’s Chart.

Life’s Challenges

“Hey, Ma. It didn’t work again.”

Kate looked out the kitchen window toward the tool shed. Jamie stood in the doorway wearing his great great grandfather’s World War I gas mask. A doll dangled in his hand by one foot.

“Don’t worry, Hon. You’ll figure it out.” She wiped her hands on a towel and asked, “Would you like some help?”

“Nah, that’s okay. Don’t you remember the last time you tried to help?”

“You’re right, Jamie.” She chuckled at the thought of the poor doll nearly headless. She’d managed to sew it back on good enough for Jamie to continue his project. “I’ll be doing laundry if you need me.” 

“Okay.”

Kate replayed the tragedy that had left Jamie homeless as she loaded clothes into the washer.

Her sister Caroline’s husband—and his replacement—gone, Caroline had turned to drugs to deal with her mentally challenged son. The morning of the accident had been a particularly difficult one. 

Caroline’s 7-year-old daughter, Amy, sat in the back seat on the way to a doctor’s appointment. The crash, the utility pole bent, wires hanging, the explosion. Mother and daughter gone before help could arrive. 

Jamie survived because he was staying with Kate. He didn’t behave well in doctors' offices. He’d seen too many in his young life.

Kate took a deep breath and wiped a tear from her eye. She never planned to have children, especially after the age of forty. She loved the ones she taught each day and that satisfied her maternal instincts. Then she inherited Jamie. 

She continued teaching until the end of the year but found it difficult to manage both. Kate applied for financial assistance, and between that, her savings, and money she earned tutoring, she and Jamie managed. It helped that the house was paid for.

As she sorted the clothes, she remembered her first few weeks with Jamie. He couldn’t—or didn’t want to—understand what had happened. Kate never told him about the accident. Just that his mom and sis weren’t coming home.

He was calm at first, playing with his soldiers. Then he began to yell and throw things. Being big for fourteen, like his dad, Kate found it difficult to control him physically. Instead, she stood in the doorway until he collapsed in tears, then cradled him in her arms. Eventually, he fell asleep. He remained silent for the next week, sitting in a corner of his bedroom, refusing to come out, and eating little.

One morning, Kate asked Jamie if he’d like to come and check out his great great grandfather’s footlocker filled with souvenirs he’d brought back from the war. “No. I want Amy.”

“There might be some things you can use when you play soldier.”

Jamie’s head popped up. “Like guns?”

“Maybe,” Kate replied, even though she knew any guns and ammo had been disposed of years ago.

He led the way to the attic. She let Jamie open the container. They both sneezed as a combination of dust, mildew, and mold tickled their noses. He reached in and pulled something out.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s a gas mask. They had to wear them sometimes, especially when the enemy sprayed something called mustard gas.”

“Did the gas hurt them?”

“Yes, it did.”

“Do you think it helped some people?”

“Maybe.” She wasn’t used to lying to Jamie, and now she’d done it twice.

Instead of responding, Jamie raced down the stairs and out to the shed, where he stayed the rest of the day working. 

Later in the afternoon, she stuck her head in the shed and asked him what he was doing.

“Fixing Amy, ” he replied, his voice filtered through the mask.

“It’s dinner time. You should eat.”

“I’m not hungry,” he said.

“One more hour, and then you eat.” Kate forced a smile onto her face. “You can’t fix Amy if you’re sick from lack of food.”

“Okay,” Jamie said, not looking at her.

One hour later, Kate peeked through the shed’s plastic window and saw Jamie poking and pounding one of Amy’s dolls. He poured soapy water on its lips and then some 3in1 oil Kate kept in the kitchen. After each step, he’d put his hand over where the doll’s heart would be and then hold its nose to his ear. All the time wearing the gas mask.

After dinner, Kate sat at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and listened to the sounds coming from the shed. Once in a while she’d hear a “damn,” or an expletive that made her cringe. She’d talked to Jamie a few times about using such words but decided they were minor annoyances compared to the other challenges they faced. 


Kate didn’t know how long Jamie would keep at his project or what he would be like when he finally gave up. For now, she was happy and relieved he had a purpose in his life.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Family Reunion

This story first appeared in Short-Story.me.

I’m going to a family reunion soon—kind of. You see, I’m dying. The doctor said six months. Right around my sixty-fifth birthday. Bad liver, just like my Pa. Same cause too. We’re both drunks, but I didn’t go around beating up on women and children.

In the meantime, I’m staying with my daughter, Cathy. The two grandkids are in college so there’s a bedroom available. I’m hoping to meet them before…well, you know. Cathy asked my doctor about a transplant. Doc said even if they found a donor match in time, my heart most likely couldn’t stand the stress.

I spend a lot of my time on her back porch. The smell of the woods is therapeutic according to Cathy. At this moment, two blue jays are having a tussle near the tire swing. The squawking and flapping remind me of my family, at least the way it was before I ran away.

I thought about going back a couple of times; but even after I’d sobered up, the drunk in my head convinced me it was a bad idea. No one would want me around after being gone for thirty-some years. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be back now if I were strong enough to take care of myself.

Cathy is inside preparing me a cup of tea with something in it she found on the internet that will cure me. The odor and taste make me scrunch my nose. She’s always giving me some dang concoction that’s supposed to help. I gave up trying to tell her it wouldn’t. Now I just drink or eat whatever she says. Of course, that doesn’t include booze. I tried explaining it couldn’t make me any worse than it already has. She wouldn’t hear of it.

Her mother left me. Couldn’t take the drinking, even though I didn’t yell at her, or threaten her, or nothing like that. I miss Martha the most and can’t wait to tell her so.

After the diagnosis—and a period of denial when I drank myself numb every chance I got—I began making a list of people I’d meet in heaven and what I might say to them.

Besides Martha, there’s Ma, of course. I hated her for a long time, blaming her for not keeping Pa from hurting us. Blamed her for the booze, too. Sometimes she took my beating for me. Other times she was too weak, or sore or, on Pa’s really bad days, afraid to say anything. I told her many times we needed to leave. She said it wouldn’t matter. He’d find us. I suggested she call the police. She said that would only make things worse. Years later, I learned these are common reasons why woman stay in such relationships. I wish I’d known this back then. Maybe I could of thought of something to do.

At some point, Ma died on the inside, then her heart had had enough. Next Thursday is the twenty-fifth anniversary of her death. That would be a good day for me to join her. I want to hold her and tell her I love her and forgive her.

Uncle Billy made the list. He was Pa’s younger brother. He drank but wasn’t a drunk. I wish I’d inherited his genes instead of Pa’s. Uncle Billy took me in a few times and didn’t tell Pa where I was. He taught me two things: how to fix cars and how to swear like a disenfranchised Mormon. I never thanked Uncle Billy for helping me. I want to shake his hand and tell him how much I appreciated what he did.

Cousin Rachel was the closest I had to a sister. She was the first girl I kissed, and the first girl I saw mostly naked. We were ten. I never told her how pretty she was. I don’t know if she cared or not, but I want to tell her anyway.

There are others who probably should be on the list, maybe even a few who aren’t family. It’s funny how being sober—and dying—makes you more organized. So, I’ll make sure everyone gets on the list before I go.

Of course, the one person I don’t want to see is Pa. That shouldn’t be a problem. He should’ve gone straight to Hell.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

What Next?

The doctor’s visit. The tests. The results. Shelly couldn’t stop smiling, until she stepped off the trolley and saw the look on Derick’s face. The smile—that love-of-his-life look—missing. The meager hug. The embryo snuggled between them briefly. His clumsy apology for falling for someone else. (50 words)