Monday, December 19, 2016

The Elf Who Saved Christmas

I squinted into the sun, a hand protecting my eyes, and saw what looked like a small Christmas tree perched on the bridge ahead. As I got closer, I realized it was a little person dressed in green pants and shirt and a red cap with a white puff sitting with his legs dangling over the edge. His beard was a few days old with a mix of black and grey hairs.

“Good day, good sir,” I said. I moved next to him and placed my forearms on the railing, my fingers laced together. “Long ways down, isn’t it?”

He didn’t respond, just continued to look straight ahead.

“Sun feels good after three days of rain. Don’t you agree?” I leaned over enough to see his face. “Tough day at work?”

He remained silent. I stood beside him for a few minutes, then sat down, mimicking his pose.

“My name’s Jed. You got a name?” I waited.

He finally said,“Elf 113,” in a scratchy voice.

“Interesting name.”

“Well, it takes a lot of us to make all those toys, and Santa’s too busy to try and name everyone of us. Besides, we all look the same to him.”

“Huh,” I said and tried not to smile. “So what brings you to the bridge today. I cross it just about every day, and I haven’t seen you before.”

“I . . ..” He looked down at his hands. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh, I doubt it’s that bad. After all, it’s Christmas, a time to smile, and sing, and best of all, drink. In fact, I have a half-filled bottle of fine whiskey in my coat pocket. Well, at least the finest I can afford. Would you like a sip?”

“No thanks. My mom said it would stunt my growth.”

This time I choked back a chuckle, but a little seeped out. I attempted to disguise it as a cough.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved, but I hated to see someone who appeared to have lost his way do something he might regret--like jump. “So you never said why you’re here.”

“I got passed over for another promotion. Three years in a row. I even had my new uniform ready.” He looked out over the water below. “Everyone sees it as a badge of honor.”

“Oh? What does it look like?”

“It’s the opposite of what I’ve got on--red pants and shirt and a green hat.” He finally looked at me.” I guess the outfit I have on will finally get washed when I jump.”

“Whoa, whoa. What do you mean jump?” I wanted to reach out and grab his arm but was afraid it might startle him. “That seems pretty drastic for not getting a promotion.”

“There’s Elfie May, too.”

“Elfie May?”

“That’s what I call her. Her real name is Elf 275. She works. . .worked. . . in the sewing department. We’d been dating for a year. I was going to propose. I thought she loved me, until she and the reindeer herder ran off. I don’t know where.” He turned toward me, pain on his face. “And I don’t care,” he said, his voice a few decibels louder.

“You sure you don’t want a little nip. It’s the best medicine I’ve found.” I removed the bottle from my coat, unscrewed the top, and took a belt.

“Well, I guess it can’t hurt.” I passed the bottle over. He put the top to his lips, tilted the bottom up, and took a bigger drink than I’d hoped he would. I was going to have to panhandle to pad my bank account, i.e., my trouser pockets, sooner than usual.

“Thanks, “ he said, handing the bottle back. “Now jumping doesn’t seem so scary.” He placed his hands on either side of his legs and lifted his butt slightly.

“Wait. You can’t jump today.” This time I grabbed his left arm. “It’s No-Jumping-Off-Bridges-Day.” I grasped harder. “You’ll ruin everyone’s Christmas if you do.”

“You’re BSing me.” He relaxed and let his body ease back onto the bridge.

“No, I’m not. Swear to His Holy Father.” I crossed myself hoping I did it right.

“No, you’re BSing me for sure.” He scooched forward with a determined look on his face.

“Okay, I was BSing. But I’ve got a friend--a female friend--who might be able to help you out.”

“She can find Elfie May?”

“Well, no, but she’s nice and friendly--for a price.”

“You mean a hooker.”


“Either she is or she isn’t.”

“Okay, she is--or used to be. She’s a little long in the tooth, as they say.” It was my turn to look down at the rippling water. “We were married once. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. She drove me to drink. And I drove her to. . ..”

“Oh, hell.” he said, standing. “I didn’t want to jump anyway.” He brushed off his bottom and strode off the bridge. “Too much of a coward, you know. Let’s go see your old lady and find out if she has any Christmas spirit.”

I didn’t know if the little guy felt any better, but I did now that he wasn't going to jump. I might even wish a few folks a merry Christmas on our way to town, something I hadn’t done myself for a couple of years.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A short-short story for Halloween

The Ghost of Camp Halloween Adventure

“There are thirteen of you tonight. Tomorrow, when you wake up, one will be gone.” I paused and panned the open-eyed faces of the boys sitting around the campfire cross-legged, Indian style. “Thanks to Camp Halloween Adventure’s resident ghost.”

“Sure,” the chubbiest one said. “Like there’s such a thing as ghosts.” He snorted in disdain.

“It’s true,” another one said. “My friend told me about it. He was here last year.”

“So I guess you didn’t believe him. . .since you’re here,” chubby said.

I know I’m not supposed to use words like chubby, but if I didn’t one would assume I like kids. I don’t. I like their parents’ money.

“It’s my mother who doesn’t believe in ghosts,” the boy said, wiping sweaty palms on his jeans.

“Well,” I interjected. “We’ll all find out in the morning—won’t we?” They looked at each other, most unsure what to think. “It’s too bad, too, since tomorrow is the day you get to go rafting and zip lining, and maybe rock-wall climbing, if you’re not too tired.”

“But it’ll be cold.” Guess who. “And we’re not strong enough or old enough to go rafting.” Chubby looked at the others. “We’re only ten.” He paused again to survey his fellow campers’ faces. “And we could drown,” he said, looking at me.

The others nodded and made various sounds of agreement.

I held up my hand, as if taking an oath. “We’ve been running this camp for years.” I smiled reassuringly. At least, it was meant to be reassuring. “We know what we’re doing.” The boys glanced at each other, their necks on ball bearing swivels.

“Anyway, you have to worry about our ghost first. He’s in one of you right now.” They gasped in unison. “That’s right. He always inhabits one camper’s body.” I looked at Chubby. “Usually the one who complains the most.”

Chubby peered at me across the campfire, his eyes two slits, the rising heat augmenting their meaning. “You’re full of sh—.”

“Ah, ah.” I wagged a finger. “Remember, only nice words at Camp Halloween Adventure. You read the rules with your parents like instructed, didn’t you?

Chubby closed his mouth.

“Anyway, our ghost reads the inhabited camper’s mind to find out which one of the others he likes the least.” I scanned the group, pausing to look each one in the eyes. “That’s the one who turns up missing in the morning.”

Chubby said, “You’re so full of it.” He pushed himself off the ground and walked away.

“I guess we’ll just have to wait until morning to find out.” I stood. “Of course, the ghost can only take one of you away if you’re all asleep.”

The remaining campers huddled together, whispering to each other, while I went to get rid of Chubby. Little did he know he’d picked himself to be sent home early. No harm would come to him. He’d simply stop being a pain in my ass.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to Stop a Thief

First published at

“I don’t want to scare you, sir,” Frank said as he continued to clip his customer’s hair, “but we’re about to be robbed.”

“Say what?” The man leaned forward and put his feet on the floor.

“Wait. It’s okay,” Frank said putting a hand on the man’s shoulder and nudging him back into the chair. “Nothing’s going happen to you.” Frank continued with the haircut. “It’s just Billy Jacobsen. He’s got a little circuit of small businesses he robs once every two to three months, sometimes more often around Christmas.”

“Why don’t you turn him into the police?”

“Oh, he’s harmless. Not quite all there, if you know what I mean.” Frank picked up the clippers and began cleaning up the back of the man’s neck. “We all know his schedule, so we make sure we have some extra money on hand. That way, he and his dog don’t starve.”

“What about his parents?” the customer asked.

“They passed in a car accident. Another stupid drunk driver.”

“Ouch.” The man flinched, wondering if the clipper had drawn blood.

“Sorry about that,” Frank said. “I get kind of riled up on that topic.”

“Yeah, well let’s not talk about it anymore.”

“Hey, let’s have some fun with Billy,” Frank said, winking into the mirror. “I’ll be right back.”


Billy lowered the ski mask over his face and patted his pants pocket. Satisfied the knife was still there, he opened the door, stood tall, and said, “This is a stick…Jesus, man, what are you doin’?”

“What are you talking about?” Frank said.

“You ain’t got no pants on,” Billy said.

“Oh, that,” Frank replied, “It’s No Pants Day.”

“It’s what?” Billy said.

“No Pants Day.” Frank stepped away from the chair and turned to give Billy a full frontal view. “People go to work without pants.”

“But. . .I mean…you ain’t wearin’ no underwear.” Billy reached back for the door. This guy was obviously crazy. He hadn’t noticed that the previous times he’d been in.

“Hey, no pants means no pants. I don’t make the rules.”

“I think you’re still supposed to wear underwear,” the customer said under his breath.

Frank gently cuffed the man in the back of the head.

“What he said,” Billy replied, pointing at the customer.

“All right. I’ll put them back on. Boy, you guys sure are party poopers.” Frank took a step forward, and Billy retreated closer to the door.

“Hey, what’re you doin’?” Billy said.

“My pants are on the chair behind you.”

Billy glanced to his right and saw a pair of khakis draped over the back of the chair. “You wait ‘til I’m outta here. You hear me? Then you can get your pants.” Billy backed out the door. “Crazy old coot,” he muttered.

“Wait,” Frank said. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled two twenties out. “Don’t you want your money?”

Billy paused. Thought about what to do. Finally, stepped onto the sidewalk. “No way man. I don’t know where that money’s been. You keep it.” He let go of the door and jogged down the street.

“He’s right, you know,” the customer said. “You are crazy.”

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A High School Reunion

First published at Pound of Flash.

It was her first time posing for our class. Other females had sat naked before us. This time was different. I knew the model.

Her name was Melanie, and I’d asked her out on a date our sophomore year in high school. She’d looked away and said she was busy. I never got up the nerve to ask her out again.

The kids in school thought she was anorexic. She was still skinny, her arms not much bigger around than the fat end of a baseball bat. Green eyes, pug nose, and thin lips created a distraction for me. She’d worn her hair longer in school. I liked the new pixie look. At least, new to me.

The instructor called time. Melanie stood and put on a robe.

I finished adding charcoal touches to the assignment, leaned back for one last look, and felt a presence near me. I looked over my shoulder to see Melanie, her head tilted to one side, perusing my effort.

“Not bad,” she said, laying a hand on my shoulder. Before I could thank her, she said, “Would you like to ask me out again?”

My mouth became as immobile as the naked female on my easel, until, taking a deep breath, I managed to squeak out a yes.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Other Casualties of War

First published at FewerThan500.

Ten-year-old Jason frowned at the rainbow wondering why there couldn’t be a pot of gold at one end. Just because nobody had ever found one didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Right? He picked up a rock and threw it as high as he could, hoping to cause a ripple in the colored bands. When the projectile fell to earth with the rainbow unfazed, Jason laughed, fell backwards onto the carpeted patio, and rolled up into a ball.

“Are you okay?” his father yelled from the kitchen.

“Yes,” Jason replied. Everything’s going to be okay. Even though Mom’s gone away forever.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Some Things Are Hard to Talk About

First published at Commuter Lit (May 2016).

Someone pounded Josh’s head against the wall. He yelled for the person to stop, wondered why he hadn’t passed out. Finally, the knocking on the door awoke him.

“Just a sec,” he yelled. Alexa lay next to him in the bed.

“Huh?” she said, a naked breast exposed.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you. There’s someone at the door.”

“What time is it?”

“7:42. Way too early to get up on a Saturday morning, especially after the night we had.” He kissed her on the shoulder, pulled up the sheet, and tucked her in.

He put on a pair of sweatpants, grabbed a robe, and padded to the front door.

“Mom? What are you doing here this early?”

“It’s not early,” she said storming through the door. “Your father and I get up every morning at 5:30.” She strode to the kitchen and grabbed a K-cup. “I tried to talk your father into getting one of these fancy coffee thingies, even bought him one for Christmas. He took it back. Said it was a waste of money. Heaven forbid we waste money.” She looked to the ceiling and crossed herself. “Certainly not like that table saw he bought after he retired that’s gathering dust in the garage.” She grabbed a mug and filled it.

Josh rolled his eyes. Before he could speak, Alexa came out of the bedroom wearing a sundress, her hair combed, her perfect white teeth on display.

“Oh,” his mom said, in a gentler voice than Josh remembered. “Who’s this?”

“Mom,” Josh said, taking Alexa’s hand in his. “This is Alexa.”

“Nice to meet you, Alexa,” his mother said, taking a sip of coffee. “She’s cute, Josh. How come I haven’t met her before?”

Josh blushed.

“We’ve only been dating for a few months,” he said.

When Josh looked away, his mother gave Alexa an exaggerated wink. Alexa returned a thumbs up, as if some secret communication had taken place.

“A few months?” Mon said. “And I haven’t heard anything about her? Is she any good in bed?”

Alexa blushed and put a hand over her mouth to hold in the laugh attempting to escape.

“Mom!” Josh said. His mother retained her straight-forward Brooklyn attitude, even though the family had moved to Miami twenty years ago after Josh’s dad said he was sick of snow.

“Well, it’s been a few months. Certainly you’ve—

“M-o-o-m!” Josh plopped into a kitchen chair with a moan.

“Oh all right.” She winked Alexa’s way again. Alexa winked back. “You know your father and I did it like bunnies before he finally proposed. I guess he wanted to make sure I wasn’t so oversexed I would kill him.”

“Well, I haven’t killed him yet,” Alexa said with a laugh, “but I’ve tried.”

“Alexa!” Josh yelled.

“I like her, Joshie. She sounds like a keeper.”

“Joshie?” Alexa sat on his lap. “You didn’t tell me your mom had a pet name for you.”

Josh didn’t know how his face could get any warmer, but it did.

“Do you have a pet name for him, Alexa?”

“No, but I’ll have to give it some thought.”

“Yeah, maybe something like Thumper, or Humper,” Mom said.

“Oh, God.” Josh put an elbow on the table and rested his forehead in the palm. He knew better than to respond further.

“I’m not sure I have enough data to know if either of those names works,” Alexa said.

“So, Mom,” Josh said changing the subject. “Why are you here?”

“For some good coffee,” she said, raising her cup.

“Come on, Mom. I know you better than that. You wouldn’t show up this early on a Saturday unless something was wrong.”

“Oh crap,” his mother said, looking at her watch. “I’m going to be late meeting Margie at the mall.” She put her mug on the kitchen counter and hurried to the front door. “Damn it. Margie will be grumpy all morning.”

She opened the door, paused, stared up, as if waiting for a traffic light to change, said, “I’m divorcing your father.” She turned her back to them. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”

Josh stepped toward the closing door. Alexa grabbed his arm.

“Give her time, Josh. It’s new for her, too.”

Friday, May 13, 2016


First published at Postcard Shorts (May 2016).

Cheryl waded through debris, wobbling at times as if drunk, her house topless after the tornado’s rampage. A Starbuck’s cup wafted past. The perfume of destruction rode the breeze with it. She found a picture of her and Matt before the divorce, shielded her eyes, stared at the interstate where he’d melded into the horizon.

He left before the IED killed their son, Jack, before her dad’s heart gave out, before Alzheimer’s claimed her mother, and now the devastating tempest.

Cheryl felt a hand on her shoulder, turned into her friend’s arms, let her head loll on Amy’s shoulder, and finally allowed years of anquish and despair to escape.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Lady and Wolfman

First published at The Flash Fiction Press (May 2016).

Wolfman—so called by his peers because of the fur coat he wore, even in the summer—watched Lady amble toward him, shoulders hunched, pushing her possessions in a rusted grocery cart, one wheel drunkenly spinning. No one knew her real name. He wasn’t certain she did after years on the street. But she’d always wanted to be called a lady, so that was the name the street people knew her by.

Most folks wouldn’t find her beautiful, with oily, salt and pepper hair stuck to her cheeks, and a face permanently etched with a scowl. Wolfman saw beyond all that. She was the one who came to his aid after another binge with a bottle of Jack could have put him in the hospital. The one who sat with him in his box, helped him sober up, and convinced him alcohol was the enemy. The one who hosted their personal AA meetings.

He stood as she approached, reached out to her, kissed her on the cheek. She hrumphed him away with a sweep of her hand. Her face remained the same, but he noticed a sparkle in her eyes. She was almost alive again. And so was he.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Another Day in the Life

First Published at The Drabble

She shuffles down the hall, her back arched with age, hazel eyes focused, proud. A wheel on her walker squeaks with each turn.

Stopping under a picture of a farm, she looks in the tote for her Avon catalog. It’s hard enough selling products without having samples for her clients to try. It’s nearly impossible when she can’t find the damn book.

She continues, reaches the end of the hall, turns right, stays close to the wall, the fall that caused the bloody bruise on her face forgotten.

She finds an empty chair, sits, waits. She doesn’t know what for.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Family Affair

This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

They were an unremarkable collection, the five cousins. Rob stood away from the rest, eating a banana, not offering any to the others. He slammed the peel in the trash, moved closer to the park’s weedy edge, looked at Jessi, wished he had his nickel-plated Glock. How could she be so stupid to get pregnant?

Prompt words: collection, banana, trash, edge, nickel

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Looking for Work

This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

Perched on a stool at an Internet café, the gunman nursed a fruit smoothie laced with Pepto-Bismol, a concession to his delicate stomach. Considered too old and unsteady by most, he waited for a last big job. One that would pay enough for him to retire. One that would save him from eating his gun. (55 words)

Prompt words: nurse, delicate, internet, gunman, fruit

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Trying Too Hard?

This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

The girl with the spongy walk spoke English with a French rhythm. I thought she might be high, faking it, trying to make an impression on me, or. . . I don’t know. Whatever, it wasn’t working. I paid the check, left a generous tip for her and walked off into the dark, lonely, night. (55 words)

Prompt words: rhythm, French, spongy, girl, dark.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Bonnie Parker Wannabe

First published at The Flash Fiction Press (Mar 2016)

Ellie sat in the public library admiring a picture of her idol. She and Bonnie Parker had so much in common. They were born and raised in Texas. Their fathers died when the girls were young. They dropped out of high school to get married. They spent time in jail for committing multiple petty thefts. Neither of their husbands returned after getting out of prison themselves. There were differences too. Ellie was an out-of-the-bottle-blond. Bonnie’s hair was shorter and brunette. Bonnie liked to write poetry. Ellie didn’t understand poetry but read it because it was Bonnie’s favorite. And there was Bonnie Jo, Ellie’s three-year-old daughter she’d delivered while in jail.

Ellie read everything she could find about Bonnie, paying particular attention to her travels. She would go to the library and mark Bonnie’s routes on roadmaps of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and the other states Bonnie had visited.

It wasn’t until Ellie met Joseph Barnes at the bowling alley where she waitressed on weekends that she thought she might be able to actually be like her idol.

Joseph was a handsome man with thick, dark hair, eyes that pierced right through to her heart, and a swagger that made Ellie’s knees weak. She undid another button on her checkered blouse, fluffed her hair, snuck behind the bar, and asked the man what he wanted. Randy, the bartender, gave her the evil eye, letting her know she was stealing his tip. She didn’t worry about it. She’d give him a blowjob after closing like she did most weekends for extra tips—if she was still around.

Fighting a rare case of shyness, she asked the newcomer his name. “Joseph,” he replied, “Joseph Barnes, but everyone calls me Clyde because I look so much like Warren Beatty.” Ellie smiled and agreed, even though she didn’t know who Warren Beatty was.

Two hours later she swiped his tip money off the bar, squeezed the bills into her jean’s pocket, and leaned forward to wipe the bar and give him a better view down her blouse. She didn’t have a bra on. Never did. She wondered if Bonnie wore a bra. That wasn’t mentioned in anything she’d read. She knew Bonnie liked sex, especially with Clyde. Ellie looked at her Clyde and hoped she’d find out soon if they sparked as well.

Clyde spent two days and nights with Ellie before announcing it was time for him to move on. Ellie asked if she could go and was surprised when Clyde said yes. She stuffed the few clothes she owned into her one, small suitcase and bounded out the front door of her mother’s place. She turned when she reached the car and waived to Bonnie Jo and her mother as she handed the bag to Clyde.

He pulled into a gas station on the outskirts of town to fill up, told Ellie she could drive, and went inside to pay. Ellie pulled up her skirt, maneuvered around the gear shift into the driver’s seat, and started the car. She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see Clyde racing to the car. A man, she assumed the clerk, followed raising a shotgun to his shoulder. Clyde jumped into the passenger seat and told Ellie to get out of there. She put the car in gear and tromped the gas pedal to the floor. The car slued away from the pump as the rear passenger window of the stolen ’91 Bonneville exploded.

Ellie gripped the wheel, leaned forward, let out a war whoop, and thought she might have an orgasm. She really had met her Clyde.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Carly’s Mistake

First published in (Feb. 2016)

The double date was a favor for Carly’s roommate, Sara. Josh, Carly’s date, who had recently moved to the city, was a college buddy of Sara’s boyfriend, Ken. The evening went well. They strolled through Central Park to view the autumn leaves—Sara’s idea. Then they rode the subway to a Thai bistro near the girls’ apartment—Carly’s choice. The girls shared a bottle of Riesling wine. The guys drank beer and sang karaoke.

“So what do you think of Josh?” Sara asked Carly in the ladies’ room. “He’s really cute.”

“He’s okay,” Carly replied, coming out of a stall.

“What do you mean, ‘okay’?” Sara said. “If I weren’t with Ken, dot, dot, dot.” She punctuated that thought with a wink and a smile.

“You know what my job is like,” Carly replied. “I don’t have time for a relationship right now.” She checked her lipstick in the mirror, looked to see if any was on her teeth, and fluffed her short, brown hair.

“Well, you know what they say,” Sara said with a shrug, “all work and no play, dot, dot, dot.”

The night ended a little after ten when Carly said she had an early meeting.

She thanked Josh for an enjoyable night, let herself into the apartment building, rode the elevator to the third floor, stripped to her panties, and climbed in bed just as Sara stuck her head in the door. “The guys had a good time,” she said, “and want to do it again sometime.”

“We’ll see,” Carly replied.


Working on two new ad campaigns plus preparing a presentation for a potential client took all of Carly’s energy for the next few days, including an all-day strategy meeting on Saturday and working most of Sunday putting the final touches on materials for her Monday meetings. She ignored the phone, at first, when it rang Sunday evening, but decided to pick it up. It might be her Pops wondering why she hadn’t called earlier in the day like she always did on Sunday. She didn’t bother checking the caller ID.

“Hello?” She said.

“Hey, Carly, it’s me. How’s it going?” She frowned when she heard the voice and realized it wasn’t her dad.

“I’m okay, Josh, just very busy with work. How did you get my number?”

“Even on the weekends?” he asked, ignoring Carly’s question.

“I’m afraid so.” Carly rubbed her temples and took a deep breath. He must have gotten the number from Ken. “In fact, I’m kinda busy at the moment.”

“Oh. Well, sorry to disturb you,” Josh said. “Maybe you’ll be less busy by Friday, and we can go out again.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea right now. I’d be a terrible date, always thinking about work.”

“That’s okay. I’m a good listener.”

Sure you are, thought Carly.

“I’ve got to get back to work, Josh.” She wasn’t going to say more and give him any hope of there being another date.

“Okay. Another time.”

“Bye, Josh.” She hung up, grabbed a Diet Pepsi out of the fridge, and went back to work.


By Thursday, Carly felt like she was sleep walking through her day. She entered the apartment around seven and was met by Sara and Ken.

“Wow, you look beat,” Sara said.

“I feel beat,” Carly replied.

“Well, we’ve got some news for you.” Sara looked at a smiling Ken and back at Carly. “We’re engaged!” Sara jump out of her chair and flapped her hand in the air.

“Congratulations,” Carly said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.

“We haven’t set a date yet, but we plan on living together.” Sara looked at Ken again. “I’ll be moving out on Saturday.”

“Gee, that’s short notice, Sara.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I know this is quick, but I plan to pay my part of the rent for six months, or until you find another roommate. Is that fair?”

“More than fair. I appreciate it,” Carly said, falling into the living room chair.

“Who knows. Maybe by then you and Josh will be an item, and he will take my place.”

Carly slumped further into the chair.


The Sunday after Sara moved out, Carly sat in front of the TV watching the Packers play the Giants. Having come to New York from Wisconsin, she took every opportunity to watch her favorite team. Today’s game was close, but she had confidence in her Packers’ ability to pull off a win. Just as half time started, the phone rang.

“Hey, Pops. Watching the game?” She knew he was. It was something they did together every Sunday after mom left.

“Hey, Babe. Who’s Pops?”

“Hi, Josh,” Carly said, feeling the onset of another headache. Since Josh hadn’t called for a week, she thought he might have given up on her. “Pops is my dad. We usually talk every Sunday. Although I’ve missed a few weeks. He understands how busy I am at work and usually waits for me to call.” She hoped Josh could take a hint.

“Oh. Okay. Thought I might have some competition,” Josh said with what sounded to Carly like an irritated chuckle.

“Nope. No competition at the moment.”

“There better not be. I’d hate to think you were leading me on and seeing another guy on the side.”

Carly couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “No, there’s no other guy, Josh. There isn’t any guy.”

“Like I said, there better not be.” Carly heard a hardness in his voice that made her cringe. “Anyway, you up for some dinner? We could go back to that Thai place you like.”

“No, thanks. I already ate,” Carly lied.


“I’ve gotta go, Josh,” Carly said and hung up before he could reply.

The next night the light on her phone was blinking when she got home. She pushed a button, and a voice told her she had three messages.

“Hey, Babe. How about getting a pizza tonight?”

She deleted the message and went to the next.

“Hey, Babe, I forget to say it was me, Josh. Here’s my number. Give me a call when you get home.”

She deleted that one and went to the next.

“It’s Josh again. Why haven’t you called? You sure there isn’t another guy?”

Carly’s legs wobbled and she slumped into the chair by her desk. Was this guy for real?

There were multiple messages on her phone the next two nights. All from Josh. Each one more threatening. Sunday morning, after a restless night’s sleep, she went to the hall closet and grabbed the box on the back of the shelf. In it was the revolver Pops had given her before she moved to New York. “You never know what kind of loonies you’ll meet there,” he’d said. She sat at the kitchen table, took the gun out of the box, held it in her hands and stared at it for a few minutes. She knew how to shoot. Pops had taken her to a gun range three times to teach her what to do. After a cleansing breath, she loaded the chambers and put the gun in her night stand. Just as she closed the drawer, the phone rang. She put the receiver to her ear but said nothing.

“Hey, bitch, it’s me, Josh. I know you’re in there. Who’s the guy?”

“I keep telling you, Josh. There is no guy.”

“I don’t believe you. Let me in so I can see for myself.”

Carly walked to the window and saw him standing on the sidewalk. “There is no one here, and I’m not letting you in. In fact, if you don’t leave, I’m calling the cops.” Carly slammed the receiver down, closed her eyes, and took a few deep breathes. She looked out the window again and thought she saw Josh across the street sitting on a stoop. She grabbed a beer from the fridge and tried watching the rest of the football game, but Josh kept popping into her mind.

For the next few nights, every time the phone rang she let it go to voice mail. Most of the calls were from Josh. There were a couple from Pops. She was afraid of what her Pops might do if she told him what was going on, so she decided not to call him back until her problem with Josh was solved.

On Thursday, Josh rang her bell and threatened her over the intercom. She had feared this happening and wondered why it had taken him so long. Instead of letting Josh in, she called the police and explained what was going on. She watched from the window as the patrol car pulled up. Unfortunately, Josh was gone.

The two officers took her statement and canvassed her neighbors. The policemen reported back to Carly that no one had seen a stranger out front, or, the officers surmised, no one wanted to get involved. “It would help if there was a security camera pointed at the door,” the older officer said. Carly nodded in agreement. They told her to call if she felt threatened again. She said she would but doubted if anything would be done unless Josh physically harmed her in some way.

Later that evening, alone in her room, Carly held the gun in her hands, flipped the safety off and on, and stared out the window. A neon light from down the street flickered in a syncopated rhythm. Street smells that she’d ignored before permeated the room. The gun felt slippery in her damp palms. The intercom buzzer rang. She ignored it. It rang again. She ignored it again.

She heard a man’s voice in the hall having a conversation with a woman, maybe Mrs. Murray. She couldn’t hear what was being said over the voices in her head. She moved into the hallway and pointed the gun toward the front door. Josh was not going to hurt her.

She saw a shadow under the door and flipped the safety off. There a knock on her door, then a louder one. A voice called her name. The voices in her head warned her to be ready. There was a third knock on the door, the knob turned. “Leave me alone, Josh.” He was trying to get into her room. He was going to rape her. She knew it. Carly aimed the gun, steadied her hands and squeezed the trigger, just like Pops had taught her.

Hearing a thud, she opened the door. A body lay face down on the carpet. A pool of blood formed on the hall rug. She stared at the back of the man’s head. Something didn’t seem right. She turned the body over and screamed.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Like Mother, Like Daughter?

This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

Mom looks out the window, ignoring lunch. She giggles at something funny only she knows about. It’s the same routine everyday, except sometimes she tells me she’s Japanese. I remind her she’s Irish. She laughs at that, too. I sigh as the space between us grows wider with each visit.

Prompt words: window, lunch, funny, Japanese, space (used in order)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

He Lost the Bet

This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

The candy-red rubber pants made his gait stiff, ducklike. Charlie sipped her Manhattan and giggled, as she watched his puckered ass approach the horizon. His voice squawked. She couldn’t understand a word he said. She imagined it was something like,” Next time buy the pants at least one size larger.” (50 words)

Prompt words: rubber, Manhattan, ducklike, candy voice

Sunday, February 21, 2016


This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

They said the planet was inhabitable with billions to be made in mineral rights. The government approved all proposals with little regard to the consequences—as usual. The water, even after being filtered, tasted like dehydrated Spam. Violent storms appeared suddenly, lasting only minutes but still taking people’s lives. As expected, no one took responsibility. (55 words)

Prompt words: dehydrated, violent, Spam, water, last(ing)

Sunday, February 14, 2016


This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

Obese flames tinted in red and yellow performed an erotic dance as smoke escaped through the shattered windows. The Fire Marshal would suspect criminal activity, so would the neighbors, especially now that the divorce was final, the house part of the settlement, even though he swore she’d never get it.

Prompt words: erotic, smoke, obese, criminal, red

Sunday, January 31, 2016


This week’s 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

Separated from the others, Jason tromped across the meadow, following the overgrown path. Ahead, twin amber lights glowed in the dark, a positive sign that he’d find his way back. The lights emanated from a tractor-trailer. The rig rocked as Jason approached. He heard a sound, peered through a window. “Jesus, guys, get a room!” (55 words)

Prompt words: meadow, sign, path, glow, tractor-trailer

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Collateral Damage

First published in The Blotter Magazine, November 2015.

She needed time to herself interacting with people she didn’t know, learning how to live an uncomplicated life. No, it wasn’t the sex, or my companionship that was lacking, driving her away.

I understood—for the most part. She’d survived an abusive father and a socialite-wannabe mother. Cancer hadn’t defeated her—either time—both before she was twenty-five.

I offered to quit my job and go with her. She said that wouldn’t work. She needed to learn who she was, who she was supposed to be, who the person inside was that she could live with for the rest of her life.

I told her I’d be there when she returned, watched her walk down the ramp to the waiting plane, blew a kiss to her back, pocketed my hands, swallowed a few times, stepped outside the terminal, yelled “Shit,” ignored the man and woman with two small children standing at the curb.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


First published at The Story Shack, December 2015.

Hump day was their favorite. Bill and Lauren made love for the first time on a Wednesday in her dorm room. He told her he'd hump her every Wednesday for the rest of their lives. And he did. Sometimes twice. They continued the tradition, even after Lauren's brain cancer diagnosis. She insisted.

Thursday was surprise day. He relished providing Lauren with jewelry, or wine, or tickets for a show, or sometimes just a long hug. She offered the best surprise, though, on a Thursday twenty-three years ago when she told him she was pregnant with twins. Paul and Patty were married now. Neither had children, but he and Lauren were hopeful they'd get a special Thursday surprise and learn they were going to be grandparents.

Every Friday they dressed up and went out for dinner. Bill always ordered fish and chips with a side of fresh fruit. Lauren was the adventurous one and often requested the special for the evening. They'd linger over dinner and drink coffee. They rarely ordered dessert. Now that Lauren was no longer strong enough to go out, Bill found recipes online for some of her favorites, like Amish meatloaf, or Chicken Marsala, and made them for her. He wasn't much of a cook. Tonight's filet was chewy and the fries burnt, but Lauren smiled and ate what she could.

Bill spent Saturdays in front of the TV with a six-pack of beer and a bowl of popcorn watching whatever sports were in season. Lauren rested in the recliner and watched Bill jump, sometimes with joy, other times in disgust, the leap always accompanied by a fist pump or a growl. On cold days, she'd cover her bald head with a Notre Dame ski cap.

Sunday was a day of prayer; and they did, especially Bill, hoping for a miracle. When Lauren became too weak to attend church, young Father Joseph came to the house.

Monday used to be Bill's third favorite day—after hump day and surprise day—a day for fresh starts. But not any more. Not since the Monday the doctors gave Lauren six months to live. Now it was his least productive day, one he could skip every week.

On a Tuesday in February, Lauren passed peacefully in her chair. Bill sat with her before calling 911, holding her hand, thanking her for a great thirty-three years. He'd promised her he wouldn't cry when the time came. It was the first promise he failed to keep.

He received the surprise they'd waited for two months later when Patty told him she was pregnant—with twins, just like Mom. "Mark and I hoped it would happen before…you know," Patty said. Bill told her it was okay. Mom knew. Mom always knew.

Bill still bought surprises on Thursdays. He gave them to neighbors, or friends, and sometimes strangers. He went out to eat on Fridays, often ordering the special, instead of the fish and chips. He still watched sports, but the excitement wasn't there. And on Tuesdays he sat next to Lauren's chair, closed his eyes, and held her hand.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


This week's 5 to 50/55 challenge. Prompt words below.

Cheryl waded through debris, wobbling at times as if drunk, her house topless after the tornado’s rampage. A Starbuck’s cup wafted past. A perfume of destruction rode the breeze with it. She found a picture of her and Matt before the divorce, shielded her eyes, stared at the interstate where he’d melded into the horizon. (55 words)

Prompt words: perfume, topless, Starbucks, interstate, drunk