Monday, October 31, 2011

Born to be Stars

First published in The Ultimate Writer (print only)

Robbie stepped into the clearing and froze, one foot ahead of the other, rainwater dripping from his brown hair, the cuffs of his jeans muddy. Before him stood a creature unlike anything he'd ever seen. It had gray fur, a dirty-white cottontail, long ears, and a single eye in the center of its face.

Robbie stared. The thing stared back. Robbie moved to his left. The eye moved with him. He moved to the right, and the eye followed, like a tractor beam on an alien spaceship. Robbie took three steps closer and sat on his haunches. The animal lowered itself into a Sphynx-like position.

"My name's Robbie."

The creature squinched its nose.

"You look lonely."

The single eye continued to stare.

Robbie rocked his head from side to side looking at the thing from different angles. "I guess you're a rabbit."

The rabbit's eye blinked twice.

"I'll take that for a yes." Robbie rested mud-stained hands on his knees. "Are you lost?"


"Do you have anyone to play with?"


Robbie and the rabbit sat in silence, thinking. Robbie inhaled. He liked the smell of the forest after a rain.

"Do you have any friends?" Blink. "Me, neither." Robbie swatted at a mosquito and wiped his hand on his green t-shirt. "Maybe we can be friends."

Blink. Blink.

"I go to a special school. The kids there are friendly, but none of them live close to me; and the ones in my neighborhood don't like me. I guess they think I'm weird or something."

Blink. Blink.

"So, you know how I feel. I'm glad someone does." Robbie picked up a pebble, threw it as high as he could into the trees, and listened as it bounced from branch to branch. "I told my mom I'd like to go to a regular school. Then the other kids might not think I'm different. She said it wouldn't help." He watched a daddy long-legs crawl across the toe of his sneaker. "She may be right. Jillian and Tommy from next door don't play with me. Jillian told me through the fence their mom won't let them."

Blink. Blink.

"You, too? That's too bad."

Blink. Blink.

"Hey, maybe we could run away to the circus."

Blink. Blink.

Robbie's face turned serious. "Would your parents miss you?"


"Mine would. I think." Robbie rubbed a finger across his cheek. "I could always write them letters."
The rabbit cocked its head.

"Oh right. You don't know what letters are. I'll show you sometime. I can even write one for you, if you like."

Robbie stood and spread his arms above his head. "I can see the big sign with bright red letters hanging at the entrance to the circus. 'Ladies and gentlemen, the Big Top circus is proud to present the one, the only, Blinky the one-eyed rabbit and his one-eyed friend, Robbie.' We'll be stars, Blinky. Big time stars."

Blink. Blink.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Posse

First published at Flash Jab Fiction (2011)

Every able-bodied male in the county volunteered to help find the Andrews boy. He was the second child to disappear in the past four months.

I neglected to tell the men two things: I'd already found his body, and I didn't have a suspect. I would have, though, when the killer tried to steer his group away from the gorge by the Franklin farm.

Ralph's Ruse

First published at Eric's Hysterics (2011) - read editor interview

"Oh, my God. She's going to do it."

Ralph looked up from his jigsaw puzzle to see Millie peeking out the family room window. When the clap of thunder rattled the windows, he dropped the piece it'd taken him forever to find.

"Do what?" Ralph said. He located the elusive piece and locked it in place. After forty years of marriage, he knew how animated Millie could get over nothing.

Millie turned to him.

"Remember how Suzanne told us about Albert's wish to die on the golf course if he got too sick to take care of himself?"

"Yea. So what about it?"

"Well, he must be sicker than we thought. She's pushing him in a wheelchair onto the fifteenth fairway, and she's got something in her hand." Millie pointed at the window. "Get over here and see for yourself."

Ralph pushed himself to a standing position, knowing Millie would keep after him until he obeyed. He walked on stiff legs, bent at the waist. He'd sat too long working on the puzzle.

"Maybe they're just being frisky," Ralph said, as he approached the window. A light along the street opposite the green expanse provided enough illumination to see the two figures.

"Really, Ralph. At their age?"

"Yes, at our age," Ralph mouthed behind Millie's back.

Invigorated by the brief walk and the sight of his neighbors, Ralph reached out and pinched Millie's bottom. She slapped his hand away and gave him a look. Ralph stepped to one side and peered through the spotless glass.

"Don't stand right in front of the window. They'll see you," Millie said, pulling him halfway behind the curtain. "Oh my. Is Albert naked?"

Ralph squinted at the couple. "He must have shorts on. Can't really tell, though. It's kinda dark."

"I think he's naked," she said. He turned to see Millie looking through the binoculars she used for birding. "Oh my God, he is naked."

Ralph didn't know how she could tell, but he knew better than to argue. "How about Suzanne. Is she naked, too?"

"Ralph. That's disgusting," Millie said and gave him that look again.

"Geez, did you see that lightning?" Ralph said to change the subject. "She better turn him around and get inside."

As they watched, Suzanne bent down, first on the right side, and then the left.

"Looks like she's putting the brakes on," Ralph said.

Millie stood speechless, a hand over her mouth.

"And now she's putting something in his hand," Ralph said and moved closer to Millie. "It looks like a 2-iron. What the hell is she doing?"

"I don't know, but I think you should call the police."

"Wait. Let's see what happens." Ralph put his arm around Millie's waist.

"The storm is getting closer," Millie said, pointing to the western sky. She shifted her slender body into him. "We should do something."

"Wait," Ralph said. "I'm sure everything will be fine."

They watched Suzanne put the club in Albert's left hand and raise it as high as his arm would go. At that moment, a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree. Suzanne fell to the ground and covered her head. Albert rose from his chair and yelled to the heavens, the club held high. Millie turned into Ralph's arms. This was better than he could have hoped for.

"OH MY GOD," Millie said. "He's...he's...huge."

"That is quite a boner." Albert lowered his hand to Millie's rear and gently rubbed up and down. He waited for Millie to say something. Instead, she swayed her body against his caress.


"Yes, dear."

"I..." Millie put a hand on Ralph's chest and smiled. "Let's go upstairs."

Ralph put his arms around Millie, pulling her body to his, and gave a thumbs-up sign through the window. He didn't know if Suzanne and Albert could see him or not, but he'd be sure to tell them how well the skin-colored body suit and ten inch strap-on dildo had worked.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

First published Flash Jab Fiction (2011)

Johnny and I sat in these windows everyday after school, like a pair of twin tabbies. We started when we were six, watching the other kids play stickball, and kickball, and flag football in the street. We couldn’t join them. Dad said we weren’t to go outside until he got home from work. He didn’t give us a reason, but we knew it was because mom got hit by a delivery truck while jaywalking and talking on her cellphone.

We ate snacks--Ritz crackers, or Wheat Thins, or dried fruit--as Mrs. Browning walked her yappy Yorkie, Lady Gladys. Mr. Jameson would wave on his way to the lobby to deliver the mail. Ratty Ron--that’s what we called him--played his taped-up saxophone on the corner. He wasn't very good, but a few folks dropped money into the hat lying uninterested by his feet.

We were on the seventh floor and the windows didn’t open, so we took turns having a conversation with each one of them. We agreed we didn’t like Mrs. Browning much, nor Lady Gladys. They both walked with their noses in the air and ignored everyone else, including us.

One Wednesday afternoon, when we were ten, a firetruck, it’s siren screaming for blocks, came to a halt across the street. Six firemen in black and yellow coats and hats--three in the cab and three on the back--jumped off the truck and rushed through the door, almost knocking over a girl who dad ordered us to stay away from because she was a hooker. There was smoke coming out of Mrs. Browning’s apartment. We noticed it, but didn’t call 911. We just waited to see what would happen. The only fireman wearing a white hat stared up at us. We moved away from the windows, afraid he might come and ask us questions. We didn’t want him to know what we knew.

Johnny brought some crack home from school on our sixteenth birthday. I told him he was crazy and that I wouldn't try it, but he called me a chicken. The walls started changing shapes, and then I saw the delivery truck that killed mom. I pushed it. Once. Twice. A third time. The truck crashed through the window. Shards of glass flew beside it in slow motion. I stuck my head outside, saw the truck lying on its back on the sidewalk, its legs bent at odd angles, and smiled. Dad would be proud of me.

The police came. They took me to the hospital and one of them waited in my room until I could talk to him. Dad was there, too. The policeman asked him to leave, but dad refused. That’s when the officer told us about Mrs. Browning seeing me push Johnny out the window.

“The bitch is lying,” I screamed. “She never liked us.”

Dad laid his hand on my arm. I continued to yell until a nurse came in and gave me a shot.

I got home about an hour ago. Dad had to go back to work, but he asked his sister, Aunt Jessie, to stay with me. She hadn't arrived by the time he left, but that was okay. I needed to decide how I was going to make Mrs. Browning tell the truth, and what I would do to her if she didn't. Her and Lady Gladys.

I asked Johnny, and he said a smoke bomb wouldn't do this time. It needed to be a real fire. I perched by the window and waited for Mrs. Browning and Lady Gladys to finish their late morning walk. Our new plan wouldn't be any fun if the two of them weren't home.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Couldn't Do It

First published at Apollo's Lyre (2011) - read editor interview

I stood over Virgil waiting for him to stop hyperventilating into my lunch bag. He didn't seem to mind the smell of the Swiss cheese and horseradish sandwich. Or maybe he was too inebriated to notice.

"It wasn't my fault," he said. His eyes were teary, but that could have been the booze. "This raccoon came running out of the shadows and distracted me."

I didn't know if the raccoon was real or not, but the beer puddling on the front passenger seat of Virgil's pickup was. Franklin Forbes' dead body lay a few feet away, his legs and arms splayed on the ground like a prone scarecrow. I'd noticed blood on the front of the grill as I pulled up to where Virgil's truck had collided with Franklin's bicycle. A piece of cloth that looked like the shirt Franklin wore hung from the tip of one of the cattle horns mounted on the front of Virgil's truck. The bicycle lay crippled a few feet away, its wheels twisted, spokes broken. It didn't take much in the way of brains to connect the dots.

"I guess it's just coincidence that the man you hated most in town ended up bouncing off the grill of your pickup," I said.

Everybody knew Virgil had a drinking problem and shouldn't be driving. Everyone except him and his Uncle Walter, the town justice.

I rolled the toothpick from one side of my mouth to the other and stared down at Virgil's slumped body. If Franklin was Virgil's biggest enemy, I was second on the list, ever since he hit my son Jacob and put him in a wheelchair.

Virgil squinted up at me. I'd purposely stood so the morning sun was at my back. Served the bastard right.

"Nasty cut you got on your arm," I said.

Blood dripped from his fingers, and his leg lay in an awkward position. He lifted his hand and his face paled.

"Jesus, you gotta call for help, Bob." His arm fell limp. "My phone's dead." He tried to stand up, but when he put weight on his leg, the bone snapped clean through. He screamed, grabbed his leg with both hands, and plopped back to the ground. I should have felt sorry for him. I didn't.

"Come on, Bob. Make the call."

I stayed where I was, thinking. If I didn't call for help, Virgil would probably bleed out and die, or starve to death. If I did call, and they saved his miserable life, odds were he'd kill someone else, maybe with his daddy's yacht next time, or at least that's what they called the sorry excuse for a boat they owned. I had to make a choice between the churchly thing to do and the fatherly thing. I looked from Virgil to Franklin to the bicycle and the cloth dangling from the horns.

I turned and walked away, ignoring his pleas, opened the door to my Camaro and climbed in. I squeezed the steering wheel with both hands and pounded my head against the leather covering. Jacob's face appeared when I closed my eyes. Remembering what he said about forgiving Virgil, how he'd seen the pain in the boy's eyes at the trial, I grabbed my phone and dialed 911. That bastard Virgil deserved to die, but not like this.

Make Them Stop

First published in MicroHorror (2011)

Angelina knelt on the kitchen floor, the carving knife in her hand. The names her mother called her fought for a front row seat in Angelina’s brain—Lardo, Laggard, Lollygagger, as if her mother was one to talk. The fat slob. Angelina stared at the body, like an onlooker at a crime scene, waiting for her mother to awaken. A Beatles song played on the radio.

Mother Mary comes to me…

“She’s comin’ all right, bitch.” She’d never called her mother that, not to her face, not until now.


Angelina’s stomach tightened. Her breath hissed through clenched teeth.

“Twenty-six years you kept me in this house.” The words fell like tiny spit grenades on her mother’s bruised face. “Twenty-six years of tellin’ me how ugly I was, twenty-six years of makin’ your problems mine, twenty-six years of puttin’ me down. Well no more—bitch.”

Angelina sat on her heels, placed her hands over her ears, and rocked back and forth, waiting. She forced her breathing to slow. Her mother’s words echoed through Angelina’s brain. She lowered her hands to allow the words to escape. They didn’t. She rocked faster.

“You told me I was evil. I guess you was right. Did you see it in my eyes? Did you? Right before that skillet rearranged your ugly face—bitch?”

Angelina raised the knife over her head with both hands. Her lips parted, her eyes widened. The rage overtaking her, Angelina rocked back one last time before driving the knife into her mother’s forehead. She yanked the blade back and plunged it into the bloodied body—again, and again, and again—but her mother’s voice wouldn’t stop.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Foolish Art Lover

First published in 50 to 1 (2011)

He carries the Eiffel Tower in his pocket, the steeple a pointed reminder of his folly. They met over coffee on the Rue Bonaparte, a meeting between art connoisseur and museum curator. His lasting image is of her wiping mascara from her cheek, the result of him remembering his wife.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Her Last Diary Entry

First published at Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers (2011) - read editor interview

I wasn't aware of him until he sat next to me. He was the unshaven, fingerless glove type I'd expect to find at a bus station or sitting on the sidewalk with a paper cup at his feet--not someone I'd encounter at the motor vehicle office. I tightened the grip on my purse and looked around for another seat. There wasn't one.

The man coughed into his sleeve and asked if the author of the book I was reading was any good. I ignored him and wondered why he cared. He didn't look like the reading type. Was he hitting on me? He coughed and asked again.

"I like her," I replied, without taking my eyes from the page.

He coughed and said, "Good."

I guess he didn't get to talk much, because even though I only grunted in response to most of his forays into conversational topics, he kept on coughing and yakking. Our "discussion" remained like that until he brought up the mother who killed her children because they wouldn't stop crying. I glanced from side to side. No one was paying attention to him that I could tell. I let out a slow breath and turned an unread page, hoping the man would stop.

"How can a mother do that?" he said, looking at me for the first time.

Leave me alone.

He didn't.

I only half listened as he prattled on, until he mentioned a similar case from my hometown. That's when I heard him say my former name. My body tensed. I dropped the book. I leaned down to pick it up, my hand shaking, and tried to act like I hadn't heard him.

"That case remains unsolved," he said. "The woman's car was found at the bottom of a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway, but the police never located a body."  He leaned closer and spoke in a near whisper. "Some think she's dead, like her kids. Others are sure she's alive and remarried with new children, children who are in danger. Me? I don't have an opinion. Well, except if she is alive, she should turn herself in."

I remained quiet, staring at my book without seeing the words. Five minutes later, too frightened to listen any more, I left without taking the eye test. I sensed him following me out the door, but when I turned around, he was gone.


Back home, I take a sip of scotch, and stare at the distant tree tops. The gun I keep around, just in case, rests on the kitchen table. I'm tired of waiting for someone to recognize me after all these years, like the man at the DMV maybe. That's why I called the police and told them what I did. They're outside, threatening to ram the door in if I don't open it.

On the way home, I decided to turn myself in, but now I realize I fear going to jail more than I dread committing suicide. Good things can't happen to a woman in prison convicted of shooting her own children. The man at the motor vehicle office had that right. He was wrong about me remarrying and having more children.

I know. I'm babbling. I'm afraid of what will happen if I stop writing. God, my hand is shaking so much I can hardly write.

I'm sorry, Katie and Sam. I do love you and know I won't be going where you are. I've missed you every day, even the days I tried to forget, but now it's time for all of us to rest.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Do Unto Buzz

First published at The Flash Fiction Offensive (2011)

I parked an outhouse in Buzz's front yard late last night and blew it up. I suppose I should feel bad, but I don't. In fact, I think I strained something trying not to laugh out loud as I watched the contents of the crapper spatter all over the front of Buzz's house.

Buzz'll know who did it. He ain't that dense. We been pulling stunts on each other since high school.

Martha, that's my wife, says I need to grow up. If I really want to get to her, I raise my arms and fly around the house like I'm Peter fucking Pan. If it's close to supper time, I simply duck my head and say, "He did it to me last." That argument usually gets me this pose from Martha, like Superman staring down some bad guy, but I keep trying.

Buzz's pranks almost always have something to do with my truck. He probably figures it's in such bad shape he can't do it much harm. Once he hid a hornet's nest under the seat. I never bailed out of anything as fast as I did that beat-up Ford. Ran into the neighbor's driveway and nearly got run over by Old Lady Moss heading to church. I couldn't believe the language coming outta her mouth.

Martha reminded me about the time her daddy caught us in the barn. Said I ran fast then, also. Too bad he didn't get there sooner. Maybe I wouldn't of had to marry Martha before she birthed Jesse.

I tried to talk to Buzz about stopping, but all he wanted to do was argue. Didn't surprise me. He can be a mean son of a bitch. Kinda like a billy goat left alone too long in a pasture.

The argument turned into a real scorcher of a fight, and the best time I had with Buzz. I got to use all my cuss words without Martha saying something.

We ended up on the ground rolling around and beating on each other. He was winning, until I landed a hard punch on his liver.

I know someday we'll have to stop, probably soon. Martha's right. It's time for me to grow up. Jesse is five and needs a better example of how to be a man. Martha deserves better for putting up with me, too.

Buzz is coming down the street. I can't see his face, but he's not using his happy walk. He's carrying one of those fancy squirt guns with the big tank. I suppose now would be good time to tell him I pulled my last prank, but I want to see what he does to my truck this time. Besides, I still got a stick of dynamite left. It'd be a shame to waste it on some old tree.

Two Down Zero to Go

First published at Yellow Mama (2011) - read editor interview

I sat alone on a barstool at Mack’s waiting for the sudsy foam on my Guinness to settle. I hated beer with a head. Mack knew that, but he was pissed at me for turning his brother in for the bounty. It was a job to me, that was all. I liked Mack. I liked his brother, Jesse. I also liked paying the rent, drinking beer, and eating taco salads.

I'd known the twins since we played football together in high school. We were big for our ages and competed like it. Jesse had been the friendly one of his family until his third deployment to Iraq. He came home that last time an angry bastard. Too many good people died for nothing, he said. Later, Mack told me Jesse's best pal Javier had died in Jesse's arms after their vehicle ran over an IED. It made me feel good that all I brought home from the first Iraq war was a bum knee.

Jesse'd learned some nasty ways to kill people in the Marines and used one of them when he robbed the convenience store. He would've wrung the clerk's neck clean off his shoulders if his partner hadn't pulled Jesse away before he did any real damage. Not that I was there. My buddy in the police department told me about the heist. I liked to know what I was getting into, if possible, before I tried to apprehend a bail jumper, especially one as mean as Jesse.

I tracked Jesse to the junkyard across town and waited until darkness blanketed the neighborhood before climbing the chain-link fence. Using a penlight to make my way to the shack Jesse had called home since he'd gone into hiding, I sidled up to a grease-stained window and peeked inside. Jesse sat on a plastic chair in front of a TV, its rabbit ears held together by tape.

Jesse cheered on the Jets as I watched. "You boneheaded asshole," he said. "What made you think you could play quarterback?" He threw the bottle of beer he was working on toward the screen and missed.

I couldn't help but laugh. It was the same line he used on his brother when we lost the district championship. The only difference was this time he meant it.

The memory made me wonder what I was doing. Unlike the other criminals I'd tracked down, Jesse was a friend. After a few seconds--I wasn't one to over think a problem--I decided it didn't matter. I had to eat, and Jesse did the crime.

Shouldering the door open, I charged across the room. Jesse rose from his chair at the noise, and I thrust my fist into his face. A punch like that wouldn't have done much if Jesse was sober. The dozen or so empty bottles of Coors Light scattered on the floor told me he wasn't. I shackled Jesse and called the police. I would have taken him in myself, but he was too big for me to drag to my Explorer.

I stopped by Buck's Bail Bonds on my way to Mack's. I knew there wouldn't be any free drinks once I told Mack about his brother. I figured it'd be best if I told him.

Mack leaned forward, placed his hands on the bar, and looked at the floor when I told him about Jesse. Without saying a word, he grabbed a towel, wiped a spot on the bar, and moved away.

I considered finding a different job while watching Mack walk to the other end of the bar, but there wasn't much out there I could do. Some might say I wasn't much of a bounty hunter, but it paid enough for me. I wasn't about to buy a Mercedes or a fancy TV. They would ruin my image as a no good bum who hunted down his friends as if they weren't.

I finished my beer and left a ten on the bar to settle my tab. I wasn't sure Mack would touch it. It didn't bother me...well, not much. I was a loner. Except for Mack and Jesse, I didn't have any friends. Hadn't since high school. And now I was pretty sure I could cross them off the list.

Friday, October 14, 2011

We Made Them Proud

First published in Muscadine Lines (2011) - read editor interview

I hadn't smiled since Soldier chased a squirrel into the street and was killed by a car. He was six. I was twelve. Mom told me it was her fault for leaving the gate open.

She snatched a coin from behind my ear and pulled a streamer from her mouth, like she did after Dad's funeral, to cheer me up. The first time I was surprised, but her tricks didn't make me smile--not a real smile, anyway.

Dad worked with dogs in his job. When he told me he was going to Iraq, I asked if I could have a dog. Mom wasn't keen on the idea, but I promised I'd take care of it. Dad and I went to the pound and found a small mutt he thought I could handle. I named him Soldier. He didn't respond to any commands, so Dad showed me how to train Soldier to sit and stay and walk on a leash. It was the last thing the three of us did together, except for attending Dad's funeral. He'd been in Iraq for eight months. Soldier sat next to me, military proud, his tongue hanging out in salute to the fallen, as they handed the flag to my mom. It was the first time I'd seen her cry.

The funeral was six months ago, and I never thought Mom might still be sad, until I heard her crying in her room last night. I realized then she needed someone to help her, too. I didn't know the kind of magic she did, but I had one of my own tricks to show her, one I hadn't performed since Dad came home in the box with a flag on it. I'd been thinking too much about myself and Dad and Soldier to be of any help to Mom. But I changed that a few minutes ago when I walked into the kitchen, gave her a big hug, and told her I loved her. She hugged me back, and I felt her heart beating. I looked out the window into the backyard and saw Dad, in his uniform, smiling, and Soldier saluting us with his tongue. I felt my face grow a real smile, and when I looked up, Mom was smiling, too.

Edward and Lily's First Date

First published at Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers (2011) - read editor interview

Edward eyed Lily from the bailiff’s desk as her long fingers captured the District Attorney's closing statement. Edward had nicknamed her Little Miss Echo, because, as the court reporter, the only time Lily spoke was to repeat witness testimony. She’d first appeared in Judge Franklin’s courtroom on Monday, wearing a pale green pantsuit -- one similar to what she had on now -- that complemented her short, red hair. For Edward, it was love at first sight. Seeing no ring on her finger, he’d asked her out the second day of the trial. She'd declined. Undaunted, Edward continued his pursuit and finally succeeded. He and Lily had a date for lunch as soon as the judge adjourned the morning session.

Edward placed a hand on Lily's back as they entered Le Petite Cafe, a broad smile on his face. The word little described her perfectly, Edward thought. She was no bigger than a sapling; and except for the scar bisecting her right eyebrow, her face was flawless.

“I'm so glad you decided to have lunch with me,” Edward said.

“I'm so glad you decided to have lunch with me,” Lily replied.

Edward smiled and placed the maroon napkin in his lap.

The waiter asked them what they'd like to drink.

“I'll have an iced tea, please,” Edward said.

“And you, ma'am?” the waiter asked.

“I'll have an iced tea, please.”

At first, Edward thought her funny; but when she ordered exactly the same lunch, he began to wonder if she knew about his nickname for her and was teasing him.

“Do you ever say anything original?” Edward continued to smile.

Lily unwrapped her napkin and spread it in her lap. She kept her eyes down and didn't respond.

“Come on. I know there's an original thought in that pretty little noggin.” He tapped his forehead.

The waiter delivered their drinks and a basket of breads.

Edward bounced his heels on the carpet and waited for a reply.

Lily bit into a slice of cornbread and sipped her tea. She patted her lips with the napkin and returned it to her lap.

Edward placed his hands on his thighs and squeezed. The smile vacated his face. Enough is enough. He leaned forward and spoke so the nearby diners wouldn't hear him.

"What's wrong? Don't bailiffs make enough money? Am I not handsome enough?"

Lily raised her eyes and hesitated before leaning closer. "Not handsome enough," she whispered.

Edward's face turned red. He threw his napkin on the table. Still leaning forward he said, "Why you little." He looked around and then back at Lily.

“You should be careful what you say.” He inched closer until their noses almost touched. “You're not the first one who's insulted me, and the others never did it again. I saw to that.”

“Really?” Lily stared back. "What'd you do, take them to a hotel room and strangle them?"

Edward's body tensed, more blood rushed to his head. He reached for Lily's arm. She jerked it away.

"Isn't that what you did to the others, Edward?"

"How...?" He sat up and snatched the napkin off the table. "I'm afraid the stress from the trial has gotten to you, my dear. Let's just finish lunch."

"I believe you're the one stressed out by all that rejection." Lily kept her eyes on Edward and reached into her jacket pocket. "You've been a person of interest ever since a maid found number three." She showed Edward a detective's shield and nodded toward the small counter. Edward looked up. A man wearing a gray suit and blue striped tie nonchalantly saluted. In her other hand, Lily held a recording device between her thumb and finger. "And unlike the first two, you left DNA samples. She must have really made you mad for you to get so careless."

"I know all the cops in this district," Edward said.

"I'm on loan from the 38th."

"What about the trial? Won't your little deception set the perp free?"

"I served as a court reporter for five years. The judge and both attorneys knew what was going on."

Edward grabbed Lily by the wrist with one hand and reached for the recorder with the other.

The detective rushed from the counter to the table and pulled Edward away.

“You bitch,” Edward said. “I'll get you for this.”

“I doubt it,” the partner said, “but she will see you in court.”

“Yea, see you in court,” Lily said, as the detective pushed Edward out of the restaurant.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hail to the Chief

First Published at The Short Humour Site (2010) - read editor interview

Boy, that was some inauguration. And one Betty May Halpern won’t ever forget.

She was at Gus’ with me and the boys watching the event on the big screen TV. Betty and I were at a table sharing a roast beef sandwich, chips and a pitcher of Budweiser, while we waited for the ceremony to start. The others sat at the bar and talked about how the new president was going to get their jobs back, and how he would kick all those crooked CEOs out on the street, and how he’d show them commies who was boss.

A big cheer went up when Obama stepped into view, especially from Cletus Boyer. He jumped off his stool, let out a good old yell and held his bottle of Old Milwaukee high in salute. He did it again once the president finished his oath. It was after the benediction, though, when Betty May ended up having to go to the hospital. You see, when that preacher told people to say “amen,’ Cletus jumped up and joined in. When the preacher said to do it again, Cletus lifted his beer and said it louder. The third time Cletus raised his arm, the lone working suspender strap let loose and his pants fell to the floor. When that happened, Betty May fainted and hit her head on the table pretty good.

I learned later, when I picked her up at the hospital, it wasn’t that Cletus wasn’t wearing any underwear that made her pass out. No she didn’t faint until after she thought she saw the face of Jesus on his right butt cheek.

I just left Betty May at her home after her second visit to the emergency room. We stopped at Ginnie’s Liquor Mart on the way home the first time so Betty May could buy some medicine to help her sleep. When I opened the store door, Cletus stepped out and gave her a big howdy and asked how she was feeling. Just the sight of him reminded Betty May of her earlier vision, and she dropped into my arms like a tree hit by lightning.

I gave Cletus twenty bucks and told him to go to Gus’ and stay there until I showed up. Yes sir, this was an inauguration for the ages. And before the next one, I’ll make sure to buy a TV so Betty May and I can watch it somewhere Cletus won’t be. We don’t need Jesus crashing the party again.


First published in Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers (2010) - read editor interview

Crouched, two hands on my weapon, I scurried across the gravel path to where Cory waited. I rushed past him to a spot on the opposite end of the brick wall and stumbled into position. "Ouch."

"Hey, new kid. Quiet. They'll find us." Cory retrieved a small boring tool from his pouch and quickly rotated the handle, drilling a spy hole in the mortar. "Idiot," he mumbled.

"Sorry," I said, speaking in a loud whisper. "Some asshole left pieces of a broken beer bottle." I didn't normally use words like asshole, but Cory wasn't normal, or so I was told--after I agreed to be his partner. I pulled the shard from my palm and used my tongue for a pressure bandage.

We sat in silence. Listening. An awning of thick branches dammed most of the sun's rays from reaching us. The humid air thick with the scents of pine and decay assaulted my nose. I looked at Cory. His face was cloaked in anger. I didn't know much about him. Only what my friend, Frankie, had learned from Cory's brother. And a few rumors.

"Didn't you and Zach used to be friends?"

"Yeah." Cory's body was hard, stiff. His breathing shallow. He swallowed, and his Adam's Apple bounced in response.

"Frankie told me you two used to do everything together," I said to break the silence. "That he taught you how to do this."


"I also heard he asked Becky out." I look at the ground. "Is that why you're pissed at him?"

"Hey. Either shut your mouth the fuck up, or I'll shut it the fuck up for you." He turned, and his eyes nailed me to the wall. "Clear?"

I began to understand why no one else would be his partner.

Snapping twigs and furtive voices sounded the alert. Cory waved. I took his position at the hole.

He lay prone, legs spread, and readied his gun. "Let me know when he's in range."

I watched Zach approach. He motioned to his left and right. His partners spread out. I thought we were supposed to work in pairs. Zach crept forward, bent over, moving his head from side to side. I couldn't see the others. I gripped my gun harder to stop my hands from shaking. It didn't help.

Three more paces, and he would be in range. I waited. Waited.

As Zach crossed the imaginary line, I tapped Cory on the leg. He sidled sideways until his gun and head emerged from behind the wall. He raised the barrel and sighted his target.

I jumped when the gun went off. Cory sneered and rose to his knees, unconcerned about the others. I peered through the hole and saw the blob of paint over Zach's heart. Yellow tentacles slithered down his shirt.

Cory raised his weapon over his head and laughed as paint exploded on his chest. Losing the game didn't matter to him. He'd accomplished his goal.

I pulled the gold cross from its hiding place under my shirt, rubbed it between my thumb and finger, and stared at Cory. What I saw frightened me. His clenched fist. The menacing black streaks across his cheeks. His smile, rigid, unforgiving. His eyes displayed a message--a message that said next time the gun would be real.

He Should Have Known Better

First published in A Twist of Noir (2011) - read editor interview

She stepped into the lounge and spotted him sitting at the bar. The room was unremarkable and so was he. Three men and four women, wearing name tags, chatted at a table near the door. They watched as she sauntered across the room. She didn't care that the men ogled her ass, or that the women thought her hem too high and her bodice too low. She was here to show the man at the bar a night he wouldn't remember.

“Hi, Tom,” she said, sliding onto the stool to his right. “Allison. We met last week at the Townsend's.” She held out a limp hand.

“Yes, I remember.” He took her hand in both of his. “You know my wife.” He wasn't drunk, but his speech indicated he was getting there.

“I met Ellen a few weeks ago, and we became instant friends.”

The bartender took her order.

“Tonic water?” Tom said ordering another scotch. “Is that as strong as it gets?”

“For now.”

He'd forgotten about the others in the room. Long, athletic legs and stocking tops peeking out from under the little black dress captured his attention. Bloodshot eyes moved up her legs and paused to admire two tanned breasts before leveling to meet hers. They talked about his boring work, his boring life and how things should have been better for him. After his third round, he leaned forward and kissed the side of her neck. His hand wandered up her leg; she stopped him when it reached bare skin.

“Not here, Tommy.”

“Let's get a room.” His thick speech told her it was time.

“Yes, lets,” Allison said, caressing his thigh. “But you need to be careful. We wouldn't want Ellen to find out.”

“No, we wouldn't want that.”

“I'll wait by the elevator while you register.”

“Good idea,” he said, tottering off the stool.

As soon as they were in the suite, she excused herself to go to the bathroom. She took off her dress and hung it on the hook behind the door, then removed her thigh highs. She looked at her profile in the mirror and cupped her naked breasts. Dr. Watts had done a wonderful job. She faced the mirror and fluffed her blond curls. It was true what they said, she thought. Blondes do have more fun, especially if they have big boobs.

She refreshed her lipstick, looked at her profile once more, retrieved the weapon from her purse and opened the door.

Tom stood naked in front of her. “Wow, Allison, you are—“

The often-practiced knuckle thrust damaged his vocal chords and muted his open-mouthed scream. As he fell to his knees, Allison moved behind him. She used her legs to pin his arms to his sides, put the knife to his throat and placed a hand under his chin.

“I forgot to tell you something about Ellen and me.” She pressed the blade harder into his skin, but not enough to draw blood. “She hired me to find out who you were sleeping with and was despondent when I showed her pictures of you with three different women.”

Tom tried to get up, but she was stronger than he thought a woman could be. His yell for help never made it out of his mouth.

Allison lifted his chin, inched the blade across the soft skin of his neck and watched the blood trickle onto his chest.

“Don't worry, Tommy, I've had lots of practice at this. That cut won't kill you.” She leaned away and tilted his head back so she could see his eyes. The fear in them excited her.

“Your wife has quite an imagination. She wanted me to do all sorts of nasty things to you, but I assured her you would suffer in proportion to your level of infidelity. She can't wait to hear the details.”

Tommy's lips moved and this time muffled sounds escaped. He tried again to get free.

Allison lowered the knife to his chest and opened a second gash from nipple to nipple. “Somehow, I doubt this is what you had in mind while you were pawing me in the bar. Am I right, Tommy?”

Tommy's breathing slowed, and his body went limp.

She repositioned the knife at his neck and sliced a third gash, this one deeper. A gurgling noise caressed her ears as blood entered his throat. She held him to her breasts, waiting for the end, and chanted the same mantra she had with the others. “Why, Josh? Why did you cheat on me?”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why I Should Avoid Married Women

First published in A Twist of Noir (2010) - read editor interview

I awoke and saw a guy squeezed into the recliner across the room, his feet up. His right eyeball was fake, like an agate. The gun looked real.

"You know my wife, Betty," he said.

Betty was blonde and petite. This guy wasn't either of those. His voice came out higher pitched than I expected, given his build.

"How did you get in my apartment?" I asked.

He held up the gun.

I nodded. "Super let you in?"

"Yep," he said. He waived the gun in anticipation of my next question. "Said he didn't think the cops needed to know anything."

"Well, I'm afraid you have the wrong--."

Before I could finish, he tossed four glossy pictures across the room. One of them made it to the bed. I turned it over and saw Betty and me kissing outside a Red Lobster. My hand rested on her ass. My groin twitched at the thought of Betty naked on her hands and knees. I pulled the sheet up and looked at the guy, Rick, I think she said his name was, and smiled. His expression didn't change. I reached for the pack of cigarettes on the nightstand and lit one. I inhaled and blew the smoke out my nose. He wasn't impressed.

"Want one?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"Hey, you a Raider fan?" I got up on one elbow. "I got a couple tickets you can have." I didn't lack for ideas on how to get out of this, but Rick's disinterest in my offer made me realize he wasn't the kind of guy who could be bribed. Or maybe he wasn't a Raider's fan.

We stared at each other for a while until he put his hand on the chair arm and pushed himself to a standing position. I opened my mouth, but decided to keep quiet. Not only did he have the gun, he outweighed me by at least one hundred and fifty pounds.

He took a step toward the bed.

"Okay, I'll stop seeing your wife. It was only six times."

He stopped. I could tell by the look on his face I'd told him more than he knew. He started toward the bed, again. I slid to the other side next to the wall. The only window in the room was at the bottom of the bed. I would've considered making a run for it, but my place was on the fourth floor of an old building with no fire escape.

He pointed the gun in my direction, stepped to the edge of the bed, and laid a hand on my shoulder.

I had to pee.

"Calm down. I ain't going to shoot you." His face tightened. "Unless you stop seeing Betty."

My mouth fell open.

"Hell, that woman's a pain in the ass." He stepped back. "You'll find out. The others did." He smiled for the first time. "Sneaking out with you has been the best thing happened this year."

"But what about the gun?"

"This thing?" He raised the gun in front of his face. "Last couple of guys I spoke to got scared and dumped my Betty. I figure if I tell you I'll shoot you if you stop seeing her, you won't." He lowered the gun. "Least when she's with you I can watch the ballgame in peace."

He walked to the door, turned back to me, and held the gun up once more. "If I have to come back, next time it'll be loaded." He tapped the barrel to his forehead in salute and left.

I slouched against the wall wondering what the hell I was going to do now. If I wanted to be with a nagging woman, I would have stayed married to Clarice.

The Morning After

First published at Rusty Typer (2010)

Karen bit into the fried egg sandwich, its taste as insipid as last night’s lover. The place had been a zoo, that she remembered. But why that loser? She was a nurse, graceful and caring. He preferred cowgirls, rough and raunchy. She gawked at her breakfast. Maybe ketchup would help.

Speechless at Last

First published in FlashShot (2010)

The etude's salubrious sounds wafted from Carlo's cello filling the room with calm. Head tilted toward the ceiling, he allowed the music to soothe and relax his stressed muscles. Opposite him, his wife rested in a recliner, her eyes closed, her nagging stopped, her body sandwiched from head to toe in a bubble wrap uniform.

Antoine's Last Caper

First published in Powder Burn Flash (2011)

Antoine watched his partner, T-Bone, saunter along Fourth Street as if nothing important was supposed to happen.

"Where you been?" Antoine checked his watch. "We were to meet in the alley thirty minutes ago."

"Momma needed help putting the groceries away."

Antoine threw his hands in the air and turned to look into the window of Ling's Buffet. The smell of garbage oozing from the alley two stores away mingled with the aroma of Thai Chicken and Orange Beef. Antoine inhaled and didn't notice a difference.

"Well now we got to improvise." Antoine removed his glasses and wiped sweat from his eyes.

"That illegal, too?" T-Bone asked.

"What? No, that ain't illegal, too. It means we got to change our plan."

T-Bone removed a cigarette from the pack of Marlboros tucked into the sleeve of his stained t-shirt and lit it. "Want one?" he said, offering the pack to Antoine.

"No way. Those things'll kill you."

"So will Maurice if you don't pay him what you owe him by tomorrow," T-Bone said. He blew a smoke ring and watched it drift away and dissolve.

Antoine scanned the people standing at the corner waiting for the light to change. Everyone one was either reading the paper or talking on a phone. Nobody appeared to be paying attention to them. Still, he dragged T-Bone into the alley.

"That's why we was robbing the jewelry store this morning before any customers showed up. Remember?" Antoine pointed at Finn's Jewelers nestled across the street between Javier's Bodega and Maggie's Alterations.

"Yeah, but I don't need the money no more." T-Bone nudged a brown paper bag with his shoe and winced at the damp blob underneath.

"What do you mean you don't need the money? You owe Maurice, too. We stole his pills together."

"I told momma what I did and how I owed Maurice a bunch of money. She had some stashed away for me to go to college."

"How much?"

"Don't know for sure. Enough to pay off Maurice. Not enough left over for college."

Antoine stared at his partner, his mouth open.

"Only thing is," T-Bone said, "Momma says I can't see you no more. Says I shouldn't be hanging around with guys your age." T-Bone looked toward the street. "Probably a good thing."

Antoine's eyes grew wider.

"Well what am I supposed to do now? It's not like my problem is reversible. Maurice is sure to escalate things."

"I came to tell you I can't talk to you no more." T-Bone's back remained toward Antoine. "Don't know what you're going to do about Maurice. Don't want to know. I learned my lesson." He put his hands in his pants pockets. "See you around, Antoine. Good luck with Maurice."

Antoine watched T-Bone leave the alley and disappear from view. He started to yell something when his cell phone chirped. "Hey, Maurice, just talking about you to T-Bone."

"Yeah, T-Bone told me."

"Sure I'll have the money tomorrow."

"Oh yeah, Maurice, I know what will happen if I don't."

"No, I can't walk far on two broken legs. Don't worry, man. I'll have the money."

"Right. Tomorrow at noon. See you then."

Antoine snapped the phone shut and looked across the street at the jewelers. He checked his watch. 9:43. Late, but what choice did he have? He took a deep breath, shrugged his shoulders, and followed T-Bone's path out of the alley.

He joined the crowd at the corner and crossed the street at the next light change. He paused at the Open sign in the jeweler's window, reached under his denim jacket, and felt the revolver resting in its holster.  It wasn't how he'd planned on doing it, but this way might be better. With any luck he'd be arrested. That would give him time to figure what to do about Maurice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Next in Line

First published in Weirdyear (2010) -- read editor interview

Gerald noticed the smell first. He rounded the corner and saw a woman with three chins sitting on the top step leading to the apartment building entrance. Sweat spotted her yellow dress. An overmatched, oriental fan struggled to cool her face.

"Hot, ain't it," she said, not looking at him.

"Worst ever," he replied.

She laughed. "How would you know? You're barely out of diapers."

Twenty-seven, he said to himself, not that it's any of your business.

"What's that terrible smell?" Gerald asked.

"What smell?"

"You don't smell anything?"

She stuck her nose in the air and inhaled. "Oh, that smell." She pointed to the stairs leading to the ground floor apartment.

Keeping his eyes on the woman, Gerald walked over to the railing, glanced down, and saw the contorted body.

"Is she. . .?"

"Dead?" the woman said. "Oh, yea. A doornail, for sure."

Gerald stepped back and put the back of his hand over his nose.

"Did you call the cops?"

"Not yet." The woman continued to fan herself.

"Are you going to?"

"Thought you might want to."

"Why's that?"

"Cops go easier on someone who admits to a crime."

Gerald's mouth fell open, and he gagged.

"I didn't kill anybody." He looked over the railing. "I don't even know that woman?"

"Can't see her face. How do you know you don't know her?"

"I...I just know."

"According to the note in her purse, you do." The woman swatted a bug from her face.

"What the hell are you talking about. I've never seen her before."

"Maybe she was a lot younger, and you forgot."

Gerald stood silent.

"Maybe," the woman continued, "you like to molest girls. Maybe it was too much for her to handle, even after five years, and she jumped off the roof of the building."

Gerald tilted his eyes toward the top of the building, then back to the body.

"Then it was suicide. The cops can't blame me."

"Could be, but there's still the note."

Gerald turned to run.

"Won't do you no good. I'll find you again."

Gerald took a step.

"Not a good idea, Gerald. You don't want to piss me off any more than I am."

"You're crazy."

"And evil." She turned and looked him in the face for the first time, her eyes red. "And not even the Devil likes men who do things to girls without their permission."

Gerald ran.

The woman nodded. Three men stepped out of an alley and grabbed Gerald.

"It's time for you to go, Gerald," the woman said. "And to a place worse than Hell."

She nodded again. The men dragged Gerald into the alley. The woman nodded a third time, and the girl climbed the steps, mouthed a 'thank you,' and scurried away.

An hour later Gerald's screams died, as did he.

The woman hoisted herself from the steps and headed south on Lilith Street. She was late for her appointment with Father Raymond.

What's a Father to Do?

First published in Flash Fiction Offensive (2010)

Pervis leaned down and scowled at his son, Tommy Joe, through the open window of the '74 Barracuda.

“Listen up for a change, boy,” Pervis said. “This is important. If the ‘shine don't get to the buyer today, we're gonna lose the house.”

Pervis grabbed Tommy by the shoulder.

“Look at me. Now remember. You go down to Sutter’s Creek, take a left on highway 59, and head toward the Miller farm. If the police spot you, cut across the corn field and turn left onto County Road 27. You got that?” Pervis could tell by the look on Tommy Joe’s face the boy hadn’t heard a thing. He was more interested in the dashboard of the ’74 classic.

“Pay attention, dang it.” Pervis cuffed the shaggy head of his only son. “You’re seventeen. It’s time you start helping out more, but you got to listen to me, you hear?” Pervis felt like he was talking to a pile of dead branches.

“Now this here is a specially designed automobile,” he said, pointing to a toggle switch on the dash above the radio. “That there's connected to the booster. If anybody catches up to you, just flip the switch an' hold on. No, don’t flip it now.” Pervis loved his son, but wondered sometimes if the boy had manure for brains.

“This handle by the seat is for using if you know the police is gonna catch you. Pull it back to open the tank in the trunk holding the 'shine . And see that pack of cigarettes on the passenger seat?" Pervis pointed to the Marlboro box. "If you have to dump the load, light one before you pull the lever, then throw it out the window when the dumping’s done. The police can’t hardly arrest you if the evidence is burnt up.” Pervis retrieved a baggie from his coveralls' pocket and tucked a wad of tobacco in his cheek. He could tell he was going too fast.

“Okay then. Once you get to George’s Hollow, you go straight to Uncle Frank’s. He’ll take care of transferring the 'shine to another vehicle and getting it into Kentucky."

Pervis paused. He hoped he wasn't making a mistake, but what choice did he have. He couldn't do it anymore, not with the arthritis in his knees, and his regular driver, Cletus, was in jail for driving drunk.

“You got a full tank of gas, plus the nitrogen booster. The tires are balding a little, so be careful on those dirt roads. I don’t want you running into some big old oak out in the middle of nowhere. Don’t play the radio too loud. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself. And don’t stop at Anna May’s to show off. You can do that on the way back. Are you hearing me?”

Tommy looked out the window, a smile on his face, and said, "Can I go now?"

“I know this is exciting for you, getting to drive the 'Cuda and all, but you got to take this serious. You’re the only chance we have of saving the house.”

Pervis placed his hands on the roof and waited until Tommy Joe started the car. “God go with you, son. Your mother and me are relying on you.”

Pervis jumped back as Tommy Joe stomped on the gas pedal. The ‘Cuda fishtailed along the rutted driveway, its tires spitting pebbles into the air. Pervis took off his cap and ran his hand through thinning hair. He shook his head and slapped the cap against his leg before heading toward the house. It was time to tell his wife to start packing.

Sharing a Ride on a Rainy Morning

First published in Dark Valentine Magazine (2010)

The sound of tires creeping over gravel alerted Cassidy to the approaching vehicle. A fender edged past followed by a tinted window on its way into hiding. She knew the car. There was only one black BMW in town. Cassidy kept walking until the driver spoke.

“Cassidy Parker, right? Hop in. You’re getting soaked.”

The car and Cassidy came to a halt. She bent down and placed a hand on the door frame. Mrs. Allenby sat torso forward, twisted, her head tilted back. The pose reminded Cassidy of the yoga DVD in her backpack.

“Hi, Mrs. Allenby," Cassidy said, forcing a smile. "I’m fine, really.”

“Nonsense, you’ll catch a cold dressed like that. Get in.” Mrs. Allenby patted the leather seat. “I know it's not raining hard now, but there's a chill. It's the kind of weather that fools you." She looked at the hand resting on the door frame. "Is that blood?”

Cassidy looked at the back of her hand, lifted it to her lips, and silently cursed herself for being so careless. “I scratched it on a nail sticking out of the neighbor’s fence."

“You need to have that wound checked by a doctor? It could get infected."

Cassidy lowered the hand to her side. She felt her heart racing. Her hands shook, but not from the cold. This wasn't part of the plan.

“It’s just a scratch. Besides, my dad thinks doctors are quacks.”

The woman and Cassidy locked eyes for a moment before Mrs. Allenby waved Cassidy into the car. “Come on. I’ll see you get home.”

“But I’ll get the seat wet.”

Mrs. Allenby tossed a leather briefcase into the backseat between two boxes. “Nonsense. Water can’t hurt them.” She patted the seat again, harder this time.

Cassidy glanced toward the town where Jared waited. He would be angry if he saw her with someone. Not knowing what else to do, she settled into the seat and placed the backpack on her lap. Her eyes scanned the dashboard. Unlike her dad’s pickup, it was dust free and shiny. There were no empty beer bottles on the floor, and the ashtray held only coins. A crucifix and air freshener hung from the rear view mirror. She heard the sound of a small motor and watched the passenger window return to its closed position, her lower lip tucked between her teeth.

“Sorry about the mess.” Mrs. Allenby put the car in gear and rolled onto the highway. “I usually keep stuff in the trunk, but I hope to finalize three contracts today, and the back is full of For Sale signs.”

Cassidy spied a leaf on the floor and toed it through an imaginary maze. The car being immaculate except for the leaf, Cassidy assumed it came off her shoe.

“I need to pick up a prescription, then I’ll take you home.”

A hint of a smile appeared on Cassidy’s face when a large insect splatted against the windshield, and a wiper smeared the glass with bug body parts.

“It’s been what, two, three years since I helped your parents purchase the house on Peach View? They got quite a deal.”

“Three,” Cassidy said, before her dad lost his job and the drinking became a problem. She fidgeted with the backpack’s buckle, opening and closing it, and watched a herd of cows laze in the misty rain.

“Let’s see. That means you’re seventeen now. Still a straight-A student?”

“I’ll be eighteen in two months.”

“Have any plans for college? An education is very important these days.”

Cassidy saw the pharmacy up ahead.

“Would you mind parking around back?” Cassidy asked. “Billy Jacobs has been stalking me. I don’t want him to see us.” She wasn’t used to lying and was surprised at how easy it was.

“You poor thing. Have you reported him to the police?”

“Not yet.”

The last people Cassidy wanted to talk to were the police. She sat in silence as Mrs. Allenby maneuvered the car between two SUVs. Cassidy had never considered herself the killing type, but had learned today she’d been wrong. Given the right circumstances, anybody could kill. Jared had been right. The only way for them to be together was to get rid of her parents. She took a breath to calm herself. It didn't help. She needed more time. They needed more time. It was too soon for the police to find her parents. Why had this woman interfered? Damn her. Cassidy couldn't let this woman ruin everything. Not now.

Mrs. Allenby shifted into park at the same time Cassidy reached into the backpack and clutched the bloody knife handle. She gritted her teeth and turned to the woman. There was no other choice. Still, Cassidy regretted having to mess up such a nice car.

There's a Rule for That

First published at Flash Fiction Offensive (2010)

Rule: As that singer said, you gotta know when to hold 'em.

Chester tromped down the street toward me. I could see he wasn't happy, even from a distance. I smiled from under the beach umbrella planted in the ankle-high grass of my front yard and saluted him with an O'Doul's. He gave me the double finger. I guess he found out I was living with his ex. The problem was Chester didn't consider Melanie his ex. My brother had called to warn me Chester was back in town and on his way to my place. That's why there was a revolver resting next to my leg.

Rule: Obey all restraining orders.

I didn't know much about Chester other than he'd spent two years in prison for assaulting Melanie, and she was still afraid of him. I could tell by the way he pounded his feet into the sidewalk he wan't interested in talking. I wasn't the fighting kind, but I wasn't about to run neither. He needed to realize there were rules, and he hadn't followed them. One important one was to stay away from Melanie, who was inside hiding in the laundry room.

Rule: Sometimes it's okay to ask for help.

Now, I realized there were some rules that didn't make much sense and some that were plain stupid; but rules were rules, as my daddy always said. We couldn't ignore them because we didn't agree with them. Well, maybe some of the stupid ones. Anyway, Chester had violated every rule of being a good husband and a loving man, and someone needed to tell him so. As he stepped onto my yard, I wondered if it really had to be me.

Rule: Compromise whenever possible.

Panting, sweat dripping from his chin, his t-shirt soaked, his eyes cold in the heat, Chester headed my way. I thought about getting up, but decided that would only enrage him more. Instead, I gripped the pistol and waited.

Rule: Never try to choke a man who's holding a gun.

He Lost at Love

First published at 50 to 1 (2010)

A sorry excuse for a rooster tail dogged me as I surfed toward the beach. Discordant melodies commingled with inconsolable thoughts. She lay under an umbrella wearing the emerald bikini I'd given her. He lay next to her, their legs touching. I sank into the water wishing it was deeper.

Lonely is the Hunter

First published in Long Story Short (2011)

Evie sat on a metal chair in a cramped office sequestered in a section of the mall she never knew existed and waited for the young man who escorted her there to return. She squinted at the corkboard fastened to the opposite wall. On it hung discolored instructions explaining what to do in case of a fire, a top ten list, its edges rolled inward, of ways to improve customer relations, and an employee of the month citation for someone named Gordon. Evie hooked the cuff of her sweater with arthritic fingers, pulled it back and glanced at her watch.

She turned at the sound of voices and scrutinized the young man as he entered the room, followed by an older woman. He wore black pants, a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a red, white and blue striped tie, the knot loose around his neck. The woman, wearing a navy pantsuit and white blouse, leaned against a file cabinet, her arms crossed over her chest like a mobster in an Edward G. Robinson movie. The man sat next to Evie and placed a plastic shopping bag on the desk.

“Hello, Mrs. McIntyre. My name is Gordon Fisher, and this is Mary Clark.”

“Oh, please, call me Evie,” Holding her pocketbook secure, Evie turned and faced her new friend, Gordon.

“Okay, Evie --”

“That’s a beautiful wedding ring, Gordon. Do you have any children?” She reached out to touch the ring. He moved his hand away.

“Three, two boys and a girl,” he said. “Now about this bag --”

“Do they live at home with you?” Evie asked.

“For now. My oldest boy goes to college next fall. He’s been accepted to Dartmouth. The wife and I want him to go someplace closer.”

“That would be nice. It’s good to keep a family together.” She lowered her head and spoke to her purse. “My son’s company closed the local office and transferred him to Cleveland last month.” She looked at the woman and continued. “He hasn’t called me once. Isn’t that terrible, Mary?”

Mary remained silent, unmoving, unfriendly. Evie decided Mary would make a terrible daughter.

“He made me sell my home, moved me into an apartment because it was safer, and then went off to Ohio.” She looked from Gordon to Mary and back. “I don’t get to see my grandchildren any more, and my friends are either dead or too far away for me to visit.” She opened her pocketbook, took out a rumpled handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “Sorry,” she said.

“I’m sorry, too, Mrs… Evie.” Gordon removed an item from the bag and put it on the desk. “Now, about this wig--”

“It’s pretty, isn’t it,” Evie said. “I used to have auburn hair.” She patted a strand of grey curls. “I thought about dying mine. Do you think I should, Gordon?”

“I…” He looked at Mary, who rolled her eyes. “Evie, we have pictures of you taking this wig off a mannequin and putting it in this shopping bag. You know you shouldn’t do that, don’t you?”

“Oh, you must have me confused with someone else, Gordon.” She smiled in an effort to hide her nervousness.

He opened a folder, removed a photograph and placed it on the desk in front of Evie.

“…” Evie looked up at Gordon. “I really need to get going. The bus that takes me back to my apartment will be here soon. If I miss it, I don’t have any way to get home.”

“Evie.” Gordon put his hand on hers. “This isn’t the first time, is it.”

Evie clutched her purse and remembered the lipstick inside.

“If I catch you stealing again, I’ll have to ban you from the store. You don’t want that, do you?”

Evie shook her head.

“Good. I’d hate to have that happen, too.” He squeezed Evie’s hands and smiled. She reminded Gordon of his grandmother. He made a mental note to visit her soon. “Mary will walk you out to the bus stop.”

Evie rocked out of the chair and headed toward the door.

“Oh, and Evie” Gordon said.

She turned.

“Anytime you need someone to talk to, come and find me. Maybe we could eat lunch together.”

Evie smiled and stood a little taller. “I’d like that, Gordon.” She looked at Mary. “You could join us too, if you like, dear. You look like you could use a friend.”

Love Forfeited

First published in Litsnack (2010) - read editor interview
(three stories using the words wistful, mistake, scarf, wince, and expression)

His eyes lost interest when she entered the kitchen, her wistful expression a reminder of an indiscretion, a mistake she'd called it. She began to speak, just his name. Joe. He raised a hand. Her grin evaporated. In silence, she placed a scarf over her head, knotted it under her chin, and quietly left. His heart winced.


She winced when he caught her staring at him from across the cafe. Her face reddened. An expression of guilt? Hands in her lap, she wistfully rotated the diamond. She wondered which was the mistake, thinking about being with a stranger, or remaining in a loveless marriage. She paid the bill, flipped her scarf around her neck, and left without a word. Her husband would be worried.


She had loved him since before she knew him. In the motel, lying next to his spent body, a satisfied smile on his face, his wrists captured by silk scarves, she opened the drawer and reached inside. His mistake was to take her for granted. She raised up and placed a wistful kiss on his lips. He winced at the touch of the knife's point. His expression changed as the blade pierced his chest. So did hers.

He Will Pay

First published in Flash Shot (2010)

In public for the first time since the botched surgery that left her with a cabbage patch face, Alma held a blue, yellow, and red umbrella over her head and spun it like a pinwheel to distract all but the most insipid from her scars. Strolling into the parking lot, her back to the street, she lowered the umbrella and approached the maroon Jaguar, a short, pointed screwdriver close to her side.

Young Love

First published in Perpetual Magazine (2010)

Sharon stepped into the alleyway behind Metzer’s Hardware, turned an ear toward the street and listened for any sounds of trouble. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Barry perched on the first floor balcony outside his mother’s apartment. She clutched the canvas bag with the day’s receipts to her chest and took a step toward the street.

“Evening, Sharon.”

“Hey, Barry.” She looked up. Seeing him reminded her of the five dates they’d gone on in tenth grade and the crush she’d had on him. She also recalled his trial and how he claimed it was an accident the gun went off and shot the convenience store clerk.

“How’s your mom?” Sharon said, confused by her willingness to stay.

Barry frowned at the question and looked into the apartment.

“‘Bout the same.” He shrugged with one shoulder. “Spends most of her day on the sofa sleepin’, drinkin’ beer, and bitchin’.” He stopped and blew a wad of snot from his right nostril.

Sharon winced. She’d watched her son do the same disgusting thing at his little league game last Saturday.

 “Fell asleep on Tuesday with one of them putrid cigars in her mouth. Nearly burned the place down.” He cleared the other nostril.

“Too bad. I remember her as being a nice lady.”  A neon light on the bodega across the street flashed. She observed Barry’s bare feet sticking out of baggy jeans.

“It’s been a long time”.

“Fifteen years,” he said. “Coulda been longer.” He rocked forward. “Junior Prom.”

“What?” Sharon said. “Oh right.” It was the last time she’d seen him in person before tonight. He’d robbed the store the next day. “You went with Judy Smithson.”

“Wanted to go with you,” Barry said to his toes.

A shiver raced down Sharon’s spine. She wanted to ask him why he never asked her out again. Instead, she said, “How long do you plan on staying with your mom?” She wondered if he heard the same nervousness in her voice she did.

“Parole is for three years.” He grabbed an iron bar in each hand. “Can’t stay that long, though. Need to get some money and leave.”

Sharon nodded and tightened her grip on the canvas bag.

The sign flashed, and she saw the desperation in his eyes.

“Your mom came in the store a couple years after you left and told me you earned your GED.” Sharon said, her hands shaking.

“Learned I was good at fixing things, too.” He leaned back against the window sash. “Don’t matter. Nobody’s gonna hire a yardbird.”

Silence filled the alley.

“Well, I’ve got to get going.” Sharon said.

“See you tomorrow?” Barry asked.

“Tomorrow’s my day off,” she said and turned to leave.


She paused and kept her back to him. “Yes, Barry?”

“Maybe we could get some coffee sometime.”

Sharon stood motionless.

“Probably not a good idea, you being married and all,” Barry said when she didn’t reply.

Sharon chased the what-might-have-been thoughts from her mind, and in a soft voice said, “Probably not.”

The Clarinet

First published in Mirror Magazine Online (2010)

A man sits on the beach playing a dirge on his clarinet. His bare toes tap sand as white as new-fallen snow. A dateless palm mourns in rhythm with notes that sway on carefree waves. The smells of salt air and dead fish join the procession.

He tilts his head back and watches wispy clouds ride a westward current across winter’s evening sky, as if pursued by a posse. The music stops.

The man holds the instrument at arm’s length and stares at it, tilting his head first to the right, then the left, and then back to center. He returns the instrument to his mouth, and the plaintive music continues. He performs this routine twice more. Each time the music resumes it is louder and angrier than before, yet the melody does not change.

Finally, he springs to his feet and hurls the clarinet into the ocean. It disappears, resurfaces—its keys glistening in the moonlight—and floats out to sea, waving goodbye as it moves from one wave to the next. The man brushes the sand from his shorts, pivots in place like a soldier on parade, and tromps in the soft sand toward weathered beach houses. He’s whistling a happy tune. There’s a smile on his face.

The Accident

Published at Everyday Weirdness (2010)

Adam rotated his head toward the passenger seat where Karen, his sister-in-law, sat. Her eyes glazed over, her face red and swollen, she mumbled something he couldn't understand. Twin airbags lay like melted marshmallows in their laps. Steam rose from the front of her car, its hood crumpled into a sneer, the victim of a patch of ice and an ill-placed oak.

Adam forced the door open and rocked once, twice, three times out of the Mustang's bucket seat. He wobbled around the back of the vehicle, checked the trunk to make sure it was closed, and inched his way along the riverbank to the passenger door.

"Come on, Karen. We've gotta get out of here." He yanked the door open and slipped his arms around Karen. He guided her behind the car, lowered her to the ground, and propped her against a tree. "I'll be right back."

He stumbled to the driver's door and reached inside. The trunk lid groaned and yawned open, as if awakened from a sound sleep. Adam hauled his brother's body from the trunk and hoisted it over his shoulder. He placed the body in the driver's seat and slammed its head against the steering wheel.

"What are you doing?" Karen asked.

"Fixing things," Adam replied. He looked up and saw Karen hunched over, holding her head with both hands. He rubbed a section of the airbag across his brother's face but couldn't match the burn marks on Karen's. He hoped the small-town police wouldn't notice.

"Who's in the car?" Karen asked.


Karen squinted at Adam, her face a portrait of confusion.

"It's perfect. The police will think he was driving when the car hit the ice."

Karen opened her mouth, but Adam spoke first.

"You said if he wasn't around we could be together. Right?"

Karen stood, her eyes open as wide as her mouth.


Childhood Memories

First published in Bartleby Snopes (2010) - read editor interview

Loretta clutched Jacob's arm as she studied the flames gorging themselves on their family's farmhouse. The smell of melting plastic, the fireworks display created by sparks rising from the inferno, the sounds of wood sizzling and fuel tanks bursting filled the air. The house would be gone before the firemen arrived.

She wiped a tear from her cheek and gazed at her brother. His face stoic, his back stiff, as if someone had rammed a shovel handle down his shirt, Jacob watched in silence. "Why?" Loretta asked.

When Jacob didn't respond, she returned her attention to the house and noticed two children playing. Jacob pushed her on a tire swing, while she squealed through giggles, "Stop, Jacob, it's too high." Jacob laughed and pushed harder. Her eyes blurred, and the scene shifted to the day they climbed a ladder to the roof of the long shed to escape the aliens. When one appeared near the ladder, Jacob peeked over the side to see if it was safe to jump. He screeched and stood up. A swarm of hornets blanketed his face. She and Jacob leapt off the roof and raced home. The next day, they laughed about it and pinkie-swore they would be victorious next time.

Loretta's focus shifted to four people playing in their backyard. She smiled at the memory of the evening baseball game when Jacob hit a popup. Her mother tripped chasing the ball and fell face first into a muddy patch. "Hey, mom," Jacob said, "I thought we weren't supposed to play in the mud." Loretta's mother wiped a brown blob from her cheek and raced after the howling boy. When she caught him, she lifted Jacob to her waist and spun him around like a ride at a carnival. Loretta and her father stood by, his arm around her shoulders, and laughed until their stomachs ached.

Years later, after their mother died, when Loretta was seventeen and Jacob fifteen, Loretta heard the rumors about her dad. How he was lazy, selfish, and unfit to be a husband. How his wife, "the poor woman," was beaten, and raped, and made to work in the fields like an indentured servant. The town folk had their proof when yesterday, on the day of their father's funeral, a single dark cloud hovered over the casket as Loretta said her goodbyes. Jacob stood next to her, silent, like now.

Loretta knew none of it was true. She remembered hearing muffled sounds coming from her parents' bedroom on Saturday nights and once in a while during the week, too. The sounds of two people in love. When the noises resumed after her mother's funeral, Loretta decided it was the new TV her dad had purchased for his bedroom.

She jumped when Jacob spoke. "Sorry, did you say something?" she asked.

"I set the house on fire because of what he did to me." For the fist time since the flames began their ravenous journey, Jacob looked her in the eye. "I wish he was burning, too."

They stood in the silent smoke, her fingers entwined with his, a hand on his arm, her head resting on his shoulder, like two figurines on a mantel. She closed her eyes as the last wall fell and squeezed Jacob's hand. She opened her mouth but couldn't say the words Jacob needed to hear. The words that would validate everything she'd lied to herself about for too long.

Harold Brewster, Literary Critic

Published at Powder Burn Flash (2010)

Oliver sipped his tea and peered through the diner window. Two men in short blue jackets, the letters JSPD on the back, prepared to leave the alley. Chalk marks and blood stains denoted the spot where Harold Brewster's body had been found.

Oliver nodded in agreement with those around him who mumbled about what a wretched man Brewster had been and how he'd ruined many careers. Oliver had received his share of caustic reviews from the man, but unlike the others, he welcomed them. For every time Harold Brewster panned one of Oliver's novels, the local bookstore's stock sold out within days.

But Harold had gone too far this time.

Oliver's eyes darted around the room to make sure no one was watching. He removed the knife he'd cleaned in the diner's ill-kept restroom from the inside pocket of his tweed jacket and swapped it with the identical one on the table. Oliver figured that even if someone thought to look in the diner for the murder weapon, the knife would have been washed a number of times by then.

You got what you deserved, you old bastard, Oliver thought. How dare you give one of my books a positive review.

Together At Last

First published in Thrillers, Killers, 'n Chillers - read editor interview

Glenda turned from the window, placed the mug on the counter, and rubbed damp palms down the front of her brown slacks.

“So you’re my son.” She slid onto a cushioned stool, swiveled slender legs under the glass-topped table, and stared at the stranger. Black bangs loomed over his dark eyes. The head of a green dragon with red eyes peeked out from the sleeve of the young man's black t-shirt.

“According to the adoption agency.”

“I thought those records were sealed.” Glenda, back stiff, held his eyes with hers.

“When your adoptive parents are rich, you can do lots of things.”

“You’re rich? Dressed like that? And when was the last time you got a haircut?"

“You sound just like my mother.” Jonathan's gaze lowered to his lap where his hands lay motionless. “She didn’t approve either.”

Glenda swiveled out of the chair and retrieved a bottle of Dewars from the cupboard. Her eyes widened when his last statement sunk in. She returned to the table. “Didn’t? Is she—?”

“They died in a car accident five months ago.” He looked up. “Two days after I learned about you, as a matter of fact.”

“I’m sorry.” Glenda rose and retrieved another glass from a stained dish rack. Was it an accident? She chased the words from her mind. “So I guess I know why you’re here.”

“To see you, mother.”

“Don’t call me that.” She set the glass down and offered him the Dewars.

“No thanks.”

“No thanks?” She put a hand on her hip. “You don’t drink?” He shook his head.

They sat in silence. Glenda poured two fingers of amber liquid into the glass and swallowed it in one gulp. She had to think. This intruder could ruin everything if he found out the truth.

“My adoptive parents left me well-off.  I thought I—”

“You thought you could buy my love?" She forced rage into her words. "I don’t need your money. I have plenty of my own.” Her eyes narrowed. She placed her palms on the table and leaned forward. “And anyway, how do I know you’re telling the truth. You could be after my money.”

They stared at each other as silence returned to the room.

“I need to show you something.” Glenda rose, stepped through the door and down two steps into the back yard. Jonathan followed as she led him into a forest of oak and pine trees. Forty paces into the woods she stopped and pointed.

Jonathan dragged his eyes from the aged mound of dirt to Glenda’s face. “It’s your mother’s grave--my half-sister--the lucky one who married a plastic surgeon.” Those were the last words Jonathan heard.

The last thing he saw was the unyielding shovel nanoseconds before it slammed into his face.

My Summer Vacation: An Essay for Mrs. Baker’s 9th Grade English Class By Jeremy Fitzhugh

Published by Dew on the Kudzu (2010) - read editor interview

My summer vacation started at a Boy Scout Roundup. Kids from all over the state attended. The first day, Frankie Jacobs decided to show Billy Maine, both members of my troop, how to throw a hatchet. I came out of my tent and stood up as the blade whizzed by my head and buried itself in a tree. Unfortunately, the rope holding up one end of my tent wasn’t as lucky as my head. The next day we had a pig roast. I could smell them cooking all day. By dinner time, everyone was ready but the pigs.

Eight days after I got home, I got the measles. My little brother came down with them the next week. His were worse than mine. Served him right for forgetting to feed my goldfish while I was at camp. I wasn’t mad the fish died. I was upset, because I didn’t get to watch Sharkey circle a few laps of the toilet before going to fish heaven.

I saw Frankie Jacobs in the park one day. I rode my bike to where he was throwing a knife into the ground and yelled at him for almost killing me. He charged at me, and we fought, until he pinned me spread-eagle on the ground and told me he’d knee me you-know-where if I tried to get up. I stayed very still, only breathing when I had to, until he got bored and left.

Mom, dad, my brother and me spent a week in Florida. Disney World would have been fun if my brother hadn’t thrown up (twice) and gotten us kicked off a couple of rides. Mom was so embarrassed she made us go back to the motel. The next day we went to Daytona Beach. I hung out with some guys I met and got one of the worst sunburns mom had ever seen. She’d forgotten the sunscreen.

I learned a lot during summer vacation. I learned I don’t like to eat raw pork. I learned that people are like snowflakes. No two get the same disease the same way. I learned that Frankie Jacobs is stronger than me and a little crazy. I learned the importance of not staying on the beach all day. I learned what a thong bikini is, and that my mom thinks my dad shouldn’t smile when a girl walks by wearing one. And I learned that no matter how bad my summer vacation is, it’s still better than writing a dumb essay.

Anyway, I hope you like my essay, and that you had as much fun this summer as I did.

An Old Friend

First published in Blink Ink (2010) - read editor interview

Caleb stands at the end of the wharf knowing he’ll never be cured, his immune system too weak to repel the disease’s progression. He inhales as deeply as his lungs allow, turns, and shuffles toward home. This place has rejuvenated him many times in the past. It won’t be where he dies.

The Mechanic

First published in 50 to 1 (2010)

Clara fixed things, personal things. She stood outside the atrium of the Bellagio with the others, in pajamas, the pealing alarm assaulting her ears. The firemen disembarked, lumbered into the hotel. The story in room 1224 one she wouldn’t tell. Her husband. The hooker. An itch he shouldn’t have scratched.

She Wants Him Dead

First published in Word Catalyst (2010)

I died in a car crash four hours ago. Fortunately, it was my children’s day with their father. The other driver was drunk, and he’s in a coma. Serves him right. Moron.

We’re in his hospital room. I’m sitting in the chair, waiting, my heels bouncing off the floor in no particular pattern. The neurologist looks at the chart and tells Mrs. Richardson—“Karen. Please call me Karen,” she says—her husband’s condition is unchanged. After the doctor leaves, Karen looks at the bed, says with a shake of her head, “I warned you about the drinking, Bradley,” walks to the chair, and sits on me.

She’s calmer than I would be if my husband lay in a bed, in a coma, with a needle in his arm and a tube up his nose; and I’ve yet to see her cry. She must still be numb from hearing about the accident. I felt the same way after Jonathan told me he wanted a divorce.

Karen pulls a set of beads from her purse and recites a rosary while we wait. I can’t remember the last time I said one. Not that it matters now.

She stands and walks to the bed, the beads still in her hand. Her face changes, like rain turned to sleet, and she whispers something in Bradley’s ear.

She moves to the other side of the bed, her back to the door, and takes a syringe out of her purse. It’s like the one my Aunt Lizzy uses for her diabetes. Without hesitation, Karen sticks the needle into Bradley’s IV line and pushes the plunger. “You can’t even die right,” she says, her words dripping with disgust.

I move so I can see the monitor and watch Bradley’s heart rate flatline. A nurse rushes in and pushes Karen aside.

Watching Karen, her face feigning shock, I realize she’s not the nice person I assumed she was. Perhaps I’m wrong about Bradley, too. Maybe the drinking is his way to escape. I used to be a good judge of character, but not anymore apparently. I wonder how else I’ve changed now that I’m a ghost.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Three Couples, One Story

First published in Eclectic Flash (2010) - read editor interview

The Promise

She promised not to leave again. Karen was the entertainment at my friend Chuck’s bachelor party. I was jealous of the way the other guys looked at her even before she removed her clothes. We went out twice before her trip to St. Louis to be with her sick mother, fell in love over the phone, and married one year after we met. I thought everything was fine between us—until I kissed her goodbye on the morning of our fifth wedding anniversary, and she wasn’t there when I returned home. I don’t know what I did wrong, or if she’ll be back. She turned thirty.

Kissing a Frog

She turned thirty, and Alice’s passion wire disconnected. We met our sophomore year in college. She was shy, with the most outgoing smile I’d ever seen. We spent as much time together as we could, almost got caught by a security guard doing the naughty in a science lab. It was Alice’s idea. Now her hugs are platonic, bland, like sugarless cotton candy. And when our lips meet, it’s like kissing the frog that doesn’t turn into a prince. I asked our doctor what I should do. He said to give her time. Six months later the old Alice is still missing. I want to help her, help us, but I don’t know how.

A Good Day

I want to help her, help us, but I don’t know how. We were both on the rebound when a mutual friend suggested we meet. Eight months later, I moved into Paula’s apartment and everything was good, until Max showed up while I was at work. She left me a note saying she was sorry; but he was her husband, and we were only living together. I thought that was how she wanted it. The doorbell rang last night. Paula stood on the porch, arms and legs bruised, her left eye nearly closed. I held her in my arms and told her I loved her. She promised not to leave again.

College Life (language)

First published in The Legendary (2010) - read editor interview

Refluent? Spandrel? What the fuck’s that, Josh? At least she doesn’t holler out some other guy’s name when she comes. Fucking English major. What’d she do spend Spring Break with her head pressed in a dictionary like some fucking rose? True. She’s aces in bed. Great hands, too. Really great hands. Hey, toss me another brew while you’re up. College life. Fucking A, man.

The Return Trip

First published in Weirdyear (2010) - read editor interview

Brad hooked a carabiner into the bolt in the granite wall. He planted his feet against the stone and leaned back in the harness. His left hand held the rope. He rolled his shoulders forward and back. The climb had been more strenuous today, the anger fermenting in his gut the probable cause, he assumed. Regardless, he felt the same rush he always did when he looked down the eight hundred feet to the base of the mountain and inhaled the pollutant-free air.

His climbing partner, Erik, wasn’t with him today. They hadn’t spoken since Erik had been promoted to a corporate sales manager position and transferred to the headquarters in Chicago. Brad had wanted the job and didn’t know Erik was under consideration. He wondered what else Erik had neglected to tell him. September hadn’t been a good month for Brad. Besides losing the promotion, his father had passed away; and on the night he planned to propose, Jessica told him her true calling was to be a nun. He didn’t know which one of the three he hated more.

He pulled himself back into position and prepared to continue when he heard the voices. He looked up, down, left, right, and saw no one. Yet the voices continued. Shouts for help? He paused. Silence.

He placed his foot on an outcropping; and when he put his weight on it, he heard a moan, as if he’d kicked someone in the stomach. He shook his head, wondering if the altitude was getting to him, and continued his climb. After a few more steps, he heard another moan.

“Who’s there?”

He listened, looked, but no answer came.

“Come on. This isn’t a joke.”

The voices began again, their chant louder. They were cries for help. He was certain of it, but from where. As he restarted his climb, the rock moved and shook him from his perch. He repelled away from the wall and watched a vertical seam open in front of him. He swung back to the rock and bounced off once more. The crack widened. He returned to the cliff face and felt a suction on his chest, pulling him into the opening. He propped a foot on either side of the hole, leaned back, and twisted his torso in an attempt to free himself from the eerie force. It was no use. The grip was too strong.

Brad screamed for help as the mountain enveloped him. Whatever held him lowered Brad to the floor of the cave, and the pressure on his chest eased. He saw the fissure closing and raced to escape, but it was too late. He turned and noticed the figures of other climbers—some asleep, in fetal positions—nested among the layered rock. A few waved to him and called his name.

It was warm and damp inside, like his impression of a womb. A solitary figure stood at the back of the cave. It was a woman, a woman he knew well, his mother, or maybe everyone’s mother. It was then he realized the voices from earlier weren’t crying for help. They were saying “Welcome home.”

The Decision

First published in Boston Literary Magazine (2010) - read editor interview

Susan stabbed a piece of apple harder than needed. The leftover Waldorf salad offered little solace. She wanted a marriage, a family. He remained indifferent. Two sparrows argued outside her window. One yammered, “Leave,” the other, “Stay.” Her gaze seesawed from the interlopers to her luggage. The fork, suspended, waited.