And Then I Did Something Slightly Different

The Seattle Public Library had a flash fiction contest, so I entered it. The aim was to celebrate the late Octavia Butler, a writer I’m sad to have only just learned about, on the anniversary of her death. I wish I would have known about her when I was much younger and more willing to take myself down dark paths.

I was informed that I did not win, so I guess it’s OK for me to “publish” my work now. 

It Was a Cloudy Afternoon

It is Saturday and I’m putting on my shoes. I drag out the process, like a toddler getting ready for bed. When it comes to walking I’m of two minds. Having lived in New York for some years, I’ve walked miles with no complaint. Having lived in Seattle now even longer, I’ve grown lazy and impatient. “Can’t we just drive? It will be faster.” Sometimes I say this out loud. Mostly I keep my whining internal.

Once outside, I forget my struggle. The daffodils have started blooming, the cherry blossoms budding. Small, brown birds are chirping from the bare branches of trees. We can smell food grilling somewhere. There is a thick layer of clouds making the air cool but not cold. The sidewalk is clear and smooth. It’s never as bad as the anticipation.

We’re analyzing the architecture of the houses we pass, marveling at the uniformity in what ostensibly are unique, old buildings. Each facade its own color, windows placed similarly but with varying shapes. We lament the proliferation of new construction, devoid of personality. “Was it really any better fifty, sixty years ago? Back then, each family was packaged in their own little box, the same but different from the one next door. Now the packaging might be uglier, but really the only thing that’s changed is that we’re packed in bulk.”

On the corner waiting for the signal to cross Interlake Avenue, we pat the head of the bronze walrus. “Remember when this whole block was scaffolding?”  We’re startled by a flash of light streaking by overhead. Another whizzes over, then several more. The air fills with static electricity, and I have an uneasy feeling in my stomach.

We continue east on Forty-fifth, not saying anything, but walking with urgency now.  A few more flashes slice through the sky as we pass the Mexican restaurant. The library is on the next block, and we go inside.

A few people have also seen the light show from inside and have gathered near the windows. We join them in the northeast corner, where we can get the widest view. Those who had still been seated when we entered raise their heads one by one. Each one fills in the spaces at the perimeter of the room. Everyone is now pressed up against each other, gaping silently out the windows.

Whirlpools form in the cloud cover, and out of them reach slender black legs. I can see this happening across our entire vista. The closest is not quite overhead, maybe above Ravenna. The spindly legs reach down further from the flashing clouds, followed by glistening black vessels hundreds of feet across.

A whimper breaks the silence. We turn to each other with expectant faces. Someone must know what is happening. In a moment there is a burst of activity. The librarians lock the doors, the lights are turned off, orders are given to be seated among the book stacks. We could be the lucky ones, they say, since the food bank is in the same building. I’m not sure luck has anything to do with it.

The invasion has begun.

What’s that Definition of Insanity Again?

I entered the NYC Midnight short story contest yet again. I’m never going to win it, but somehow I keep trying. The parameters this time: 2000 word maximum, Sci-fi, an ultra-marathoner, and a hand drawn map. I learned about rogaining while researching for my story, so I did get something out of the exercise, at least. Anyway, here’s my entry:


“Oatmeal, bacon, two eggs over easy, wheat toast.” She rattled off her order with one arm outstretched, menu in hand. “Oh, and fruit salad.” Her teammates made similar orders, then Hana made a trip to the restroom. When the food arrived they had trouble fitting all the plates on the table, and Kali remarked, “I think she forgot your fruit salad.” Amid the chaos they deliberated on their strategy once again.


“I’m really looking for that slow burn, you know?”


Previously, they had settled on a plan to hit as many low-score checkpoints as possible in daylight, and save some of the majors for the moonlight. This had been decided after many hours of discourse which included countless rehashing of past competitions. This morning, Hana found the conversation tedious and concentrated instead on wiping up the last bit of egg yolk from her plate.


When they piled up into Kali and Jay’s SUV the team’s game plan was still being discussed. Hana climbed into the back seat next to Ben and gazed out the window at the blinking red and blue neon sign above the diner. There was no point in getting involved in the dialogue. She didn’t care that much about what they did on the course; she only cared that they were doing it.


They got to the site, checked in, set up camp, and got to work on the map. Jay was the map keeper, as usual, and highlighted their movements according to plan. Hana studied the diagram and its intricate details closely. She followed the contour lines, trying to get an idea of what the course had in store for them. The terrain was fairly flat but rugged, with several rock formations strewn about. A shallow canyon cut the course almost diagonally. They would be crossing it a few times, but if they interpreted the map correctly, it would not be a hardship. The biggest challenge for Hana, just as it always was, would be to resist the urge to abandon her team mid-competition. Once out in the field she could easily be distracted by a set of animal tracks, a pile of mystery scat, or even a fluttering leaf.


Time was called, and they set out for the twenty-four hour event. Ben and Kali wore the team’s wrist tags, and while they punched in at each checkpoint, Hana reviewed the map with Jay. By the time they left the third checkpoint, the team was moving in a light jog. They wasted no energy speaking, but they didn’t need to. They had prepared for this. They were all thinking the same thing. “There is no way we won’t win this year.”


The first canyon crossing was a bit more treacherous than they had anticipated. They pushed and pulled each other from one edge to the other, and made up some of the time by sprinting across a shaded gully.


As dusk approached, the team had met their goal and were brimming with confidence. They converged in the long, diffuse shadow of a nearby outcropping, their collective bliss resonating in the cool air surrounding them. They passed around protein bars and fruit and recounted in clipped and excited tones the highlights of the day. After so many hours of not speaking, their words tumbled out, bouncing and ricocheting around them. They each only heard a few of the others’ words, but it didn’t matter.


As the cacophony died out, Kali and Jay huddled together, Ben curled up with a pack for a pillow, and Hana took a journal out to write down some of the thoughts that had come to her during their trek. They had allowed themselves a two-hour break, one sleep cycle, before taking on a few of the high-value checkpoints. Despite being on the move for most of the day, however, Hana could not fall asleep. She had written all she wanted, then made a few doodles in her journal before returning the book to her pack. She sat for a moment, listening to the breathing of her team members. Then she stood and quietly made her way to the other side of the boulder. She took her pack to avoid waking the others with her rummaging. After digging a small hole with her spade for a latrine, she came to a squat over it.


Hana became aware of a buzzing, which gradually became a low hum. It was a less of a sound than a mere vibration; Hana didn’t really hear it, but felt it. The hairs on her arm stood straight out from her skin, and the air became warm and still. She might have seen a light flash, but she couldn’t be sure. Her thoughts were confused for what seemed like maybe a half hour. Or maybe it was only a minute. Just as quickly as she realized that she felt quite weird, she felt quite normal again. It was dark except for the glow of the moon. It was quiet.


Hana gathered herself and walked around the boulder. She nearly made a complete circuit around the object before she realized her teammates were not there. Their packs were gone, and there was no trace of them. Flipping on her headlamp, Hana scoured the surrounding ground for tracks but found none. She stood very still for a long moment. The cold air caused her to shiver, and an idea sparked in her mind. She searched her pockets for her whistle. Poised to sound the distress call, she saw in the distance a flash and a green beacon. It burned for a whole minute then was gone.


Hana put away the whistle and grabbed the journal out of her pack. She squatted on the ground and shut her eyes tight. She had seen the map many times that day. She drew it in her notebook, trying to remember as much of the detail as possible, and hoped she wasn’t remembering some of it upside down. In the upper left corner, she drew a capital D and next to it a question mark. Once she had it all sketched out, she studied it intently with her compass before switching her headlamp off again. She took one step, then another, in what she hoped was the correct direction.


The air had cooled considerably since sundown, but like most other sensations, Hana was no longer aware of it. She was determined to move forward and would not let herself be distracted by minor annoyances. An hour had passed when she encountered a furry lump in her path. It was unmoving, and she knelt down and saw it was a coyote with singed fur and a missing hind quarter. From it emanated a musky, smoky scent, and enough heat to tell her it had not been dead long.


There was no point in dwelling, so she kept moving. She sang camp songs and stayed focused on the ground just ahead of her, pulling out her compass periodically to remain on course. She had reached the transition point where night turns into morning, and she acknowledged that information just enough to allow herself to look beyond her immediate space. The sky was just beginning to separate from earth. Inspired, she began to jog. The horizon became more defined as the dark continued its slow exit. The stars dimmed and birds began to twitter. Eventually it really was morning. Structures appeared in the distance. Hana could just make out a flash of red and blue. She began to run.


Hana stopped just outside the door to catch her breath. Despite the cool air, she was quite hot and went straight in to the restroom. She splashed her face with water from the dingy sink and allowed her mind to relax just a moment. Her shoulders heaved as she considered her teammates. She didn’t know what to do, but she knew crying wouldn’t help. She splashed her face one last time and dried it with the rough paper towels.


Back out in the diner, she was looking for an empty table when familiar voices startled her. She approached the booth and sat down. Ben and Jay were discussing strategy. Kali’s eyes twinged with a sarcastic smile. “I think she forgot your fruit salad.”

Another Short Story Contest Entry


On a routine fishing trip with her husband, a woman is pulled by an octopus into the North Sea. She fights to free herself from the beast; he fights to free her from the sea.

Thank gods I remembered to breathe. This was her thought as her yellow strands of hair danced about her head in the bubbly darkness. It was surprise that pulled her off the boat, let her get this far beneath the surface. The morning storm made it murky above, but still enough light penetrated. She was able to orient herself, and she pushed herself toward that light. Suckered tentacles drew themselves tight around her. They clutched at her arms, adding resistance to her upward strokes. Still, she managed to break the surface, gasping in the salty, misty air above. The beast released a jet of water that rushed over her chest, past her neck, and she was under again. What it lacked in brute force, she thought, it made up for in determination.

He had trouble relighting the lamp. The oil sloshed with every wave, extinguishing the wick before the flame had a chance to take hold. After several tries, and several precious minutes lost, the fire filled the glass globe fully. He slid a mirrored backstop into the lamp to focus its light. He strained to see into the impenetrable water. They had set out early as usual, before dawn, in relative calm. But as the sun had begun to rise, a storm brewed, diminishing the daylight. With the darkness, there was wind. It was impossible to discern how far off course the gusts had blown them. He couldn’t be sure of exactly where he had lost his wife. One moment she was leaning at the bow, like a hero crossing an icy river, and the next moment he was alone with a few empty lobster traps at his feet.

She remained near the surface, able to take quick, chaotic gasps. She could not loose herself of her captor, however, and she wondered if her wild flailing would be seen by her husband. In the brief moments her head was above water, she sought out their small boat in the surrounding water, but could see nothing. They were not boat people naturally. That is to say, they weren’t born into this life. Sent to live in the remote village by His Majesty, they sought sustenance from the sea by sheer necessity. There was no farming on the rocky shores, and no market as no one wanted to live near a prison. After this many years, they had learned their way— a symbiotic, nautical extension of their terrestrial marriage.

The mist turned into rain, biting cold pellets blown onto his face. They collected in his beard and his eyebrows, and as the temperature continued to drop they threatened to freeze. He did not break away from his search of the roiling surface about him. He had fixed the lamp in place with rope which freed his arms to push the boat around with an oar. It was not without great effort that he kept his position in what he believed was the spot his wife was pulled in. In his head, he heard her scream again and again the beast’s name, and saw her fall, unnaturally slow, into the blackness. Had he seen the tentacle on her leg? Had he thought there was no need to warn her, that she would somehow feel the arm creeping toward her bent knee through waxed canvas and several layers of flannel?

She counted to ten, took a deep breath and pulled her arms to her sides. The leather ties that held her dagger in place were waterlogged and seemed glued together. Her cold fingers felt doubled in size. She was sinking, and just as panic was setting in, she felt the wooden hilt in the palm of her hand. With each upward beat of her arms, the grip of the tentacles grew tighter. She thrashed with her dagger at its gelatinous mantle, every breath drawing in just as much sea water as air as she bobbed violently in the swells.

In the distance, his eye caught a glint of gold in the foamy surge. Too far away, he thought. The storm had pushed him more forcefully than he had gauged. But the glint was enough to empower him, fill him with the rage necessary. It was the same rage of survivalism he felt when the inmates had risen up against him and his gaolers. The same instinct that allowed him to fight off their make-shift weapons provided him now with the strength to propel his boat against the wind, against the angry waves. He would make it to her, he would get her back from the sea and its beasts.

She slashed at the tentacles with ferocity. They loosened and fell away, but she kept fighting. Beneath her canvas gear the flannel she wore for warmth was soaked with seawater and sweat. The weight worked against her efforts to remain afloat. She would be deplete of energy soon, a thought she pushed out of her mind along with a creeping panic. Tiny stars of yellow light appeared before her. A calm dulled the edges of her freneticism. In another moment, a gaff hook would catch under her arm and pull her back into the boat.

He gripped her tighter than any sea creature could ever hope to, his frantic anger washed away by ecstatic relief. She returned her husband’s embrace for a long moment before surrendering to her exhaustion.

Untitled Writing Exercise

I awoke as usual, with the animals, restless with hunger, signaling the approaching dawn. I poked my face out and took in a breath of air. It was cold, and clear, and I braced myself for full emergence into it. I pushed back my pack and stepped out onto the smooth stone below. I stretched my body, one quadrant at a time, and was ready for the day. I rolled up my pack and stashed it in the rocks. The animals would hopefully earn their keep by not letting anyone – or anything – take my pack in my absence.

I climbed down the side of the hill to the communication hut. The antennae were already abuzz, exchanging messages with the other huts scattered about the moonscape. I checked the log for any urgent communiques from the overnight. There were the usual data requests and status relays. But today they’d have to wait to get my full attention. Today I had a more important task.

Transport duty is an honor of sorts. Being outside of the electrified perimeter of the communication hut is dangerous, for many reasons. Inside the hut is the only equipment available for contact beyond the perimeters. Outside, exposed to the elements, and the native fauna, without any way to call for help, imminent death is a foregone conclusion. That is, unless you’re in a transport vehicle. Most sectors only have one or two available, so only dignitaries or missionaries are allowed their use. But nearly everyone in every sector craves the day they are asked to operate a vehicle. That means leaving the sector, if only for a brief time, in the hopes that things are different somewhere else. After so many days of sameness, any shift in the scenery is valued.

After reviewing transport vehicle protocol, I’m given the ignition rod and a map. I’ve been tasked with carrying one of our missionaries to a rendezvous point in Sector 46b2. A group of missionaries is taking another hop to the dark side for data mining and negotiations with the native clans. Important work, I’m sure, but I don’t really care. If I can get our missionary to the rendezvous point sooner rather than later, I can make a diversion without anyone really knowing.

For months we’ve been hearing chatter about food in Sector 46b2. We’re all supposed to be surviving on rations, but somehow, someone over there has been making actual food. Not merely fuel for these, our biological machines, but things with flavor and texture and aroma. I’m determined to find out for myself if the rumors are true, and I’d gladly die trying.

I was expeditious in my deliverance of the missionary at the rendezvous point, but not so hurried as to raise any alarm. Once my task was complete, I throttled the engines on the transport vehicle and made my way slowly through the ramshackle buildings gathered beneath the launch pad. Nothing stood out, which was to be expected. Any hint of nonconformity, even in the chaos of this veritable shanty town, would call for a severe clampdown by the authorities. Not necessarily for any kind of meanness, really, but no one wants to risk a convergence of the beasts in their sector. All the more reason I needed to try this food. If it was worth the risk of the beasts, it must be heaven on the moon.

I lowered the lateral visor and leaned my head outside. I was rewarded for my patience then. Barely noticeable, there danced amidst the dust particles and soot, molecules of such an alien, and yet, pleasurable odor, I didn’t quite believe it at first. I brought the vehicle to a stop outside a lean-to of corrugated steel draped with hemp netting. I removed the ignition rod and sat still for a long moment, gathering every piece of data available from my vantage point. The odor became stronger, or more concentrated, really, and a slight murmur emanated from behind the steel. I stepped out of the vehicle and cautiously made my way around what I hoped was an incognito kitchen.  As the murmurs grew louder, I considered for a moment that there might be a password or some kind of signal I would need to know to gain entrance. Considering the clandestine nature of such an establishment, the proprietors must be on their guard.

As I stood there contemplating my next move, something shifted in my peripheral view. Through a slit in the corrugation, a glittery eye looked upon me, unmoving. Two long, shaky breaths later and the slit widened to show a toothy grin residing on a round, dirty face. The man wordlessly beckoned for me to come inside, and I did. Once inside, the steel sheeting closed behind me with a rush of air, and immediately I felt transported to another world. I could feel the aromas crawling across my skin, wrapping me with an almost visible envelope of flavor. I followed the round-faced man across the dark room, and even though there was barely any light, I could see the air shifting about us, each wave bringing a new scent to me.

I was overwhelmed, but the cook didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure I wasn’t the first speechless stranger to wander into his shack. A firm but gentle hand pressed upon my shoulder, and I found myself sitting on a bench in front of a smooth and seemingly wooden table. My eyes were finally adjusting to the absence of light when another sensation greeted me. Hot, scented tendrils of steam crawled through the darkness, touching my chin and entering my gaping mouth. My jaw pulsed and saliva filled the cavity. On the table before me was a stack of what I can only describe as food. What else could I call something I had never seen but only heard about from others who also had never seen it?

The round-faced man stood before me and gestured for me to pick up the stack and put it to my mouth. I did just that, unsure of what I might do at any second. But instinct kicked in and my jaw stretched and my quivering lips surrounded the mound of hot substances. As I bit into it, the outer most layers gave way to my teeth easily. These outer layers were dry, yet soft, and did well to hold the inner layers from falling apart in my hands. My teeth continued to penetrate and I felt a resistance to my lower jaw. I reached my tongue to investigate and found what I can only compare to grass in feeling, but in taste. . .

There was a sweetness to the tiny bits of liquid that burst from the grassy stalks. And then my lip burned as the grass gave way to meaty leaves and seeds and even more bursting of liquid. Meanwhile, my upper teeth continued their downward trajectory. They met with resistance as well, but this was harder, not unlike the dried tobacco bits in our ration boxes in texture, but far from them in flavor. My teeth came together in the middle of a thick layer of spongy whiteness. I took the full bite of all layers together in my mouth and mashed them with my teeth. I let the liquids swirl around my tongue and my teeth, the fire that was on my lip, now inside my mouth, was tempered by the white mass surrounded by the crunchy flakes. Each layer was a separate sensation worthy of contemplation, but together they were a study in ecstasy.

My biology took over and I began swallowing the mashed up mass of substances. To fill the void, I took another bite, and another. The fire inside my mouth increased, but I welcomed the pain as it was feeling, true feeling I had never felt in all my days on this moon. I recognized more aspects to the flavors. There was bitterness that was not poison, there was saltiness that was not sweat. My eyes began to water and I paused to take a few gasping breaths. I didn’t want to let go of this pile of food for fear it would be taken from me, but I needed a break from it. The sensations were too much after so many years with none. I set the pile down on the table and wrapped my arms loosely but protectively around it and stared into the darkness. The round-faced cook pressed something cold to the back of my hand. I looked down to see an aluminum tankard filled with a creamy liquid. He motioned for me to drink it. The cool thickness soothed the delicious fire in my mouth. My craving strengthened and I lifted the stack for another round of devouring. I traded off on the cold, creamy liquid and my pile of food until they were both gone. Then I sat, perspiring and exhausted, my belly protruding like a missionary’s. I sighed audibly and the cook stretched his gnarled smile wider.

I was happy and sated and drowsy and unaware of the passage of time or of my surroundings. I soon felt tugging and prodding and was forced to standing, and then pushed out between the slit in the corrugation.  Outside, the light was blinding compared to the dimness inside the shack. I stood dumb and confused, trying to commit the memory of my meal into the safest part of my brain for later retrieval. My eyes readjusted, and the euphoria wore off, bringing me back to reality. I looked around for the transport vehicle but forgot where I had left it. I thought it was right outside the little building. I reached down for the ignition rod, and it was gone. No passwords or secret handshakes required, but my little pile of nirvana had a price.

Flash Fiction Challenge 2011: Allocution

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Gregory emptied his mind of all thoughts. With a hand on each knee, he concentrated only on his breathing, a steady flow of air in and out. The walls of the room fell away from him and the bed melted into nothing. Images and sounds and emotions tried to reach him, but he fought them off until he was alone in the vacuum. He remained suspended in this nothingness, devoid of any feeling that might interfere with the task ahead. Gradually the noise of the TV crept from the living room, down the hall, and into Gregory’s ears. The sound brought with it other sensations and he felt the room around him and his weight again on the bed. Without moving his body, he reached with his right hand to the revolver lying beside him. He slid his hand beneath the metal and gripped the gun.
Gregory stood, and without making a sound, took the solemn walk toward the living room, the noise of the TV, and his father.


There is the chaos. There is light and noise. There is a current running through the air the color of sunshine. There are jovial voices bouncing off the cinder blocks. Then there is quiet. There is stillness and grey light. There is one man with no voice, staring into the void. If we get close we can feel the mild heat of anxiety emanating from his body and we can feel the slow rise and fall of his chest as he waits for his turn.
Today is a day he should be looking forward to. A day of extended visitation. A day for men like him to have their children surround them, pretending to be a family for a few hours.
For him, today is filled with sweet anticipation as well as a bitter loathing. Soon, he will be called from his cell along with several other men on this wing. They will be escorted to the yard, specially decorated for the occasion in balloons and streamers of blue and green.
Each man will be assigned a table where his family will already be seated, neatly combed hair, freshly washed shirts, all to make a good impression on Dad. The reunions will be bittersweet, some more than others. There will be happy faces tinged with sadness, some the other way around. There will be laughter, there will be yelling. But for that short time they will be together, a family again, though briefly.
The man lying still in his dingy cell is not thinking about any of that. To be fair, he began the day with visions of his young son upon his knee, cherubic face tilted up toward his, beaming. That pride triggered his guilt and then he was in another place, in another time, reliving the moments which brought him here.


Gregory was at the park, pushing his son in a swing, relishing the gurgling laughter coming from the toddler. His cell phone rang and he reached for it with one hand while continuing his gentle pushes on the boy’s back. It was his mother on the other end, explaining the diagnosis just given to his father. He’s got emphysema, she told him, and a visit from his son would lift his spirits. “Gregory, be a good boy and come see your father.”
He made arrangements with work and said good-bye to his son. “Your daddy has to go visit his own daddy. But I’ll be back soon.”
Although it was Gregory’s house for sixteen years, it felt like a stranger’s. His father sat in front of his TV, a small oxygen tank on his left and a small table to his right. The table held an empty beer can as well as a full one, and next to them was an unused ashtray, still occupied by a few smashed cigarette butts.
His mother flitted about, taking his coat, offering to make him a snack, asking a series of rhetorical questions about his life since leaving home. Through the din, Gregory’s father bellowed at his wife to pick up his empty beer can, which she did. As she reached for it, he grabbed hold of her wrist and pulled her close. With noticeable effort he chided his wife for making such a fuss over their son. She was quiet for a moment as she avoided his glare and waited for him to release his grasp. As Gregory watched this confrontation, the heaviness in his gut told him he was home.
Over the next few days, the family fell into a routine. The father would call out a demand. The mother would comply. The son would ask his father not to bully his mother while offering to help his mother with her task. Neither parent would hear their son’s words. At breakfast, Gregory would notice a new bruise on his mother’s arm or on her cheek, but any query would be answered with more pancakes or fresh coffee.
It was if he were sixteen again. And now he was given a second chance to act. He had been able to escape, but his mother had not, and would not. She had been pounded on and badgered for as long as he could remember. Even crippled by his emphysema, his father did not let up on his mother. She would only be free once his father was gone.
After a week, Gregory needed a break from his parents. He walked out the front door, and after the slam, heard silence for the first time since his arrival. He shoved his hands in his pockets and walked, head down, to nowhere in particular. The neighborhood had not changed much since he had left home. The kids still congregated at the drive-in burger joint. The old men still sat outside the smoke shop. Gregory walked on, hoping he wouldn’t be recognized, and soon found himself across from a gun shop. He stopped, and his heart raced. Without thinking, he crossed the street and walked into the store.
Gregory’s knowledge of guns did not extend past whatever he had seen on TV or in movies. The man behind the counter grunted a greeting but otherwise let Gregory be. He scanned the glass case, not really seeing what was inside. The words “six gun” made their way into his thoughts, and so that was what he purchased. The man behind the counter sold him a box of bullets as well, though Gregory knew he would only need what would fit in the cylinder. He stashed his new purchases into his jacket pockets and stepped back out into the street.
Gregory took a different, longer route back to his parents’ house. His mind raced along with his heart. Images rushed through his mind – his father’s dark fingers tight around his mother’s pale flesh, her eyes brimming with tears as she stifled her cries. He heard his father’s gruff voice shouting obscenities at them both, calling Gregory stupid, and his mother worse, in as many colorful words he could come up with. His ears grew hot with anger and started to ring. His palms were sweaty and his breathing too fast.
The sun was well below the horizon when Gregory eventually returned to the front porch of his parents’ house. He opened the door and the sound of the TV spilled out toward him, and he became calm. He entered and got to his bedroom without being noticed by either of them. He shut the door quietly and sighed long and heavy. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the revolver. He loaded the cylinder from the box of bullets, which he had set on the dresser. He laid the gun on the bed and sat on the edge next to it.


There is the chaos. There is light and noise. There is silence and grey light encapsulated within the cacophony and sunshine. There is a man, thinking about what it is to be a good father, and what it is to be a good son, awaiting his turn for Father’s Day.

Flash Fiction Challenge #1: Angela

Frank was on the counter between the dishwasher and the sink, one leg dangling over the edge, the other bent at the knee with one crooked arm resting on top. This is how I found him most mornings, usually with a smarmy grin on his glowing face.

“You look rather pleased with yourself. Another satisfying night of havoc under your belt?”

“I find it ironic,” Frank said, looking at me with his eyes but otherwise unmoving, “that you and I have absolutely nothing to do, yet these—people are constantly busy.” I looked down at the large table in the center of the room and saw Angela weighing out a large amount of flour. “Always preparing for something.”

“You say that as if you’re any different,” I replied. Frank snorted, eyes back on Angela’s toil.

I lounged atop the bread racks. As the wee hours merged into dawn, the racks would be filled up, the hot tendrils of yeasty steam gently dancing around me. And as the dawn continued into daylight, the racks would be emptied again, leaving me in a musty warmth until night returned. It was a daily ritual I relished, and one which Frank would find to be stifling. His only ritual was to be sitting on the counter when I returned from my nightly wanderings, presumably to check in on his oldest friend. But I know it is only to make sure I haven’t somehow found an exit and left without him.

Although Frank despised tedium, I believe he also visited to witness Angela’s. For years she had been dedicated to her work and inspired others to be the same. It was after her only son was run down by a motorist outside the shop that her dedication turned into obsession. She worked every day, arriving at least an hour earlier than any employee, and remaining at the shop until the last crumb was swept away. In the early mornings, thinking she was alone, she would sometimes talk to her dead child, as if he were right there with her. Frank and I knew better.

This was one of those mornings, as Angela spoke softly about a zoo trip long passed. A gentle smile broke through her usual melancholic countenance. But this only served to rile Frank. “Hey!” he yelled to her, coming out of his pose and leaning from the edge of the counter. “Knock it off!” Angela was oblivious.

Frank came down from the counter to slowly circle the table, keeping his gaze on his prey. I leaned forward on an elbow to get a better look. He walked deliberately, passing the ovens, then the wall with pegs still holding children’s things aloft – a small satchel, a tiny parka, some toys. Angela continued her reverie on caged beasts, unaware of her own predator. When Frank made his way around to her side of the table, he came close enough to stir the air touching her skin. Her body shivered at the sensation, but it gave her no indication that she was not alone. Frank kept going around the table until he was on the opposite side from Angela. He stopped, placed both hands flat on the tabletop, and leaned forward.

“Angela,” he sang. “Angela, your boy’s gone away-ay. He’s no longer he-ere.” There was malice in his voice, but only I could hear it. I relaxed into my lounging posture; I’d seen his taunting act more than enough. I rolled onto my back, and closed my eyes, waiting for his sing-song mockery to end. Soon there was a crash. I was at Frank’s side even before Angela could react to the disturbance. He was at the wall of pegs and had pulled everything down.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.

“I’m showing dear Angela that things change.”

“By throwing all her kid’s stuff on the floor?”

Angela, her heart pounding heavily, looked around the room for a reasonable explanation for why her son’s belongings were at one moment safely hanging on the wall and the next moment falling to the ground. Not finding one, she walked over to the now desecrated shrine, and knelt next to it. She touched each item one by one, ending with the parka which she then held to her chest. I watched her face as it turned from stunned to heartbroken.

In a moment, Frank was behind her. With all his effort, he pushed her down with one foot to her back. When her face was against the floor, he turned to me. “It’s all I can do to hold her down. You have to get that jump rope and pull it around her neck.”

“What are you trying to do?”

“She has to know. I have to make her know.”

“By choking her?” I asked, as I pulled the two little plastic handles over either shoulder. I crossed the two ends until I could see I was causing her discomfort.

“She begs for that boy to stay with her, talks to him as if he were right beside her. Meanwhile, he’s gone forever, and you and me? We will never leave. She’ll be gone, too, and we’ll still be here. She has to know!”

Angela’s arms flailed, reaching behind her back seeking her attacker but finding nothing. I pulled tighter on the jump rope. I didn’t have it in me to do any real damage, and killing her – releasing her – would only have angered Frank more. Soon, her body did go limp, and I let go. Frank stepped back with a heavy sigh.

Moments passed and we heard a key rattling out front. Frank disappeared. I bent down and blew into Angela’s face. Her eyes opened and looked right through mine, bewildered. One hand pulled the rope from her throat, the other still clutched her boy’s parka. Her employee entered the kitchen, and that’s when I disappeared, too.

Taste of Temptation

In my seventeenth year I found myself, at great expense and lack of provision, pursuing higher knowledge at the newly established college in Charlottesville. The brainchild of the Honorable Thomas Jefferson, the institution was but in its second year under the moniker of University of Virginia. So new was the school that the principal architecture was just reaching completion, and the principle of self-governance had not fully established its foothold among the student body.
Seeking respite one day from the chaos of the fledgling university, I ventured out onto the Lawn to sit and study at the base of one of the small oaks scattered about. Spring was in full bloom and the air temperature high enough to remain still in it without need for an overcoat or accoutrements such as a scarf or gloves, luxuries I could scarce afford in those years and even now. There was only a slight breeze that would on occasion bring to my ears the jocular exultations of my colleagues. On most days I would be a party to those exultations, but on this particular day introspection was the catchword.
I allowed myself complete immersion into my texts, the German vocabulary marching its staccato through my cerebrum as I contemplated syntax with my synapses. The flurried tarantella of brain activity strikingly betrayed by the utter stillness of my corporeal self, I daresay I would have seemed an oddity to the occasional passerby if they had been able to lock onto my eyes, those windows into the soul and the mind.
I had positioned myself outside of Pavilion VII (ironically the first school building to be completed) whose cornerstone was laid by our country’s fifth President. The Colonnade Club, as it was called, was a preferred destination for faculty and students alike, warm and receptive. It was probably for this reason that I chose to position myself just beyond its doors. Though I wished to be alone that afternoon, I was also hesitant to be too far from the bustle of activity. A secondary reason for my position was the vista it afforded me of Pavilion IV, in many ways the direct opposite of the Seventh. The building itself sat at the other end of the Lawn criss-cross made by the two Pavilions. In it housed the bane of mine and others’ existences, Mr. B¾, the very professor whose class I was studying for under the young oak’s bough. A miserable man of Prussian origin and demeanor, he barked at all who had the misfortune of being within earshot. Handpicked by the university’s father, I suppose he must have had some redeeming qualities. And I suppose the fact that I was making such an effort to excel in his class suggested he must have been a teacher of considerable worth, which was fortunate as that was the justification for his residence there. From my perch there outside the Colonnade Club, I could intermittently peek at its Doric columns and rejoice in not seeing Mr. B¾ exiting to the Lawn to spoil my good mood.
It was during one of these peeks across the Lawn that I spotted some peculiar movement among the columns. At first I thought it a construct of my German-addled brain, but as I took a more lingering look I could see there was indeed something happening on the front porch.  Two small children, a boy and a girl, were weaving themselves in and out of the structure, taking turns chasing one another. Their tinkling laughter, like tiny little bells, floated down one terrace and another, into my welcoming ears. Such delightful sounds to distract me from my studies, I allowed myself to look upon their horseplay until my watching was noticed by the little girl. I quickly turned my face back down to the book in my lap, flustered that I could not remember my place among the umlauts on the page.  Even in my haste, however, I could not miss that tiny derisive tongue poking out in my direction through pursed lips.
From that point, I kept my head down and would not allow myself to be distracted. I regained control of the wanderings of my mind, and that familiar rhythm returned to my brain. I was back in the Old World, conversing with Kaisers with the greatest of ease. Completely immersed I was when a flutter of white appeared in the periphery of my vision. Without moving at all, I was able to see through my eyelashes a vague shape emulating a miniature human. I gave in to my curiosity and looked up fully at the same young girl who had moments before been so discourteous toward me, now standing not even a yard away. She was joined instantaneously by her gregarious brother whose motion behind her caused her skirts to rustle of which she was oblivious, her attention fully focused on myself. She remained silent, and her brother began the introductions.
“Good weather, isn’t it? The winter’s finally gone. Are you a student here? You look like a student. I don’t see any moustaches on you. Can you grow moustaches? I can’t. I’m only six. My pater’s a teacher here. This is my sister, Greta, she’s younger than me. I’m George, what’s your name?”
The cascade of his diatribe was initially a mere cacophony  in my ears. I daresay I was only able to piece together  his words in any semblance of order after what seemed like very long moments before I was able to respond. Too late, though, as little Greta had finally broken her tableau vivant to take a step close enough to insert one small finger in the tattered shoulder seam of my morning coat. Flustered again, I batted away at her hand as you would a horsefly, but finally I answered the boy, “You may call me Eddie.”
The boy then began a second battery of questions for which he apparently cared not their answers. Intermingled with his queries were his observations of what was currently his home. His family came to Virginia directly from London, though they were German by birth. Most of the time he preferred the weather in Virginia because he could play outdoors most days. However, he didn’t care much for the mosquitos in the summer. When asked about his sister he merely replied that she kept out of his way most of the time and so was tolerable. I had to agree with George that his sister did seem fairly agreeable in disposition, despite her insistence in noticing how my ensemble was in quite a state of disrepair.
“You ought to get this fixed, Eddie,” were the very first words Greta uttered in my presence, and I did my best to disguise my humiliation in good humor.
“Well, lassie, if your occupation is seamstress, I may be able to scrounge a shiny penny for you to make the repairs for me.”
George interjected once again. “You don’t have any money, do you? My pater has lots of money. He’s a professor here, did I tell you that? They’re always having parties at the Pavilion. We’re supposed to stay in our rooms, but Greta likes to see all the ladies’ dresses. Most of the adults don’t notice us. You should come to one of the parties, you could eat like a king.”
“I’m afraid I would not be able to make myself hidden, and my presence would certainly not be welcome, though eating like a king does have quite the appeal.”
“You should just take the food,” Greta suggested. Such simple words uttered from such an angelic countenance. Yet those words struck a resonant chord within me. I had only been at the University for a few months but already was feeling the pinch as the purse strings had been pulled ever tighter by my step-father. Every penny was given grudgingly, and some of those pennies were given to extant obligations, sacrificing a hot meal. Having more than just moldy, crusty bread in my belly would certainly make modern language study more palatable.
I could see on his face that George was thinking hard. After a few moments, he had a plan worked out. He would go back to the Pavilion and procure an empty canvas sack, the kind they bring potatoes in. It could be folded up small, concealed in my satchel. No one would question my entrance into the building as I was a student of languages there. The children would create a diversion outside the kitchen at which time I would quickly and quietly slip inside, fill the sack with whatever foodstuffs that were available then sneak out the back entrance. I would be able to make my way across the gardens and into the woods beyond , hiding if necessary among the construction mess of  Washington Hall which wasn’t yet complete.
“Believe me, young imps, when I say your proposal is indeed quite tempting. Not just for the sport of it, but the result would prove comforting to my constitution. Alas, it is completely contrary to the gentleman’s code to which I’m bound.”
“All the more reason, sir, you should take the risk.”
I was beginning to believe strongly that these two sweet-faced angels were acting as agents of the great tempter Lucifer, attempting to hasten my downfall. There was also a part of me that would have relished the thought of bringing some amount of suffering to Mr. B¾. I remained steadfast, however, and refused to take their bait, that juicy red apple which even now coaxes some salivation. This displeased the male child greatly, and his behavior became increasingly agitated. As for the young female, she merely appeared bored.
George sighed heavily, “I’ll give you a half-dime if you do it.” Another temptation was added on. Not only would I have a bag of food, I would have a coin I could use to buy more when the sack was empty, or to place on a bet for even more coins.
“It’s no good my dear boy. I must remain true to my oath. Though I may be hungry for sweet morsels, I am more hungry for knowledge and mustn’t threaten my future at the University.” At this, George kicked a large divot into the grass, and Greta fixed a large but pretty pout upon her face. She swirled around on one foot and, with her brother, spirited away back from whence they came. I watched as they made their way across the width of the Lawn, smiled to myself, and with a harrumph returned to my studies.