Shorts

Tommy Had A Secret

Tommy had a secret. He liked to watch people. Most wouldn’t consider people watching a secret so much as a casual hobby, but Tommy treated it like it was a true calling. He watched strangers on the bus, stared at lone movie-goers, and soaked in as much as he could from every diner waiter or waitress he ever had.

He liked to watch people he knew most of all. He once followed his friend Brian home from school, just for fun. Tommy walked two blocks behind Brian the whole way, and Brian never noticed. He crouched behind a hedge and watched Brian greet his family through a window in the kitchen. Then he went home. The next day at school, Brian asked him what he did yesterday, and Tommy said, “Not much.”

A few weeks later, their class received a new student, whose family had moved to town from Michigan. Mrs. Korzybski brought her to the front of the class and introduced her. Tommy could immediately tell that the girl was either poor, or didn’t know how to take care of herself. Her dirty blonde hair was a matted and greasy shag that ended just above her shoulders. Her clothes were faded and stretched, and her jeans had a yellow bandana patch on one knee.

When Mrs. Korzybski asked her to tell the class her name, she said, “Trish,” and sat back down. She didn’t speak to anyone, and no one knew anything about her. She was the most mysterious figure at school, and Tommy could not resist.

At the end of the day, he kept Trish in his sights as he and the other students were carted off to the buses. If he could find out what bus she rode, he could find out where she lived. As fate had it, Tommy watched as Trish walked over to Bus 314. His bus. Congratulating himself for this stroke of luck, Tommy followed. He picked a seat two back from the dirty shag of hair, and waited.

Trish was dropped off several stops from Tommy’s home. He watched her get out and walk across a yard of dead grass and up the porch of a small house. There were beer bottles on the porch, some empty, others half-full and attracting flies in the heat. The bus pulled away as the front door opened. Tommy could just make out a vague, shadowy figure inside before the house passed from view. His brain itched, and his curiosity welled.

Tommy tried to get off at the next stop, but the bus driver held him back. “This isn’t your stop.”

“I can walk the rest of the way, it’s fine.”

The bus driver shook her head. “Sorry. Parents like to know where their kids are being dropped off. If you wanna walk, walk. But when you ride my bus, you get off at your stop.”

Tommy sat back down and brooded for the next five minutes until the bus stopped at his street. He pretended to tie his shoe until he saw it turn onto the next street. Then he stood up, turned around, and started walking.

He found the house quickly enough, though it was surrounded by others just like it. As Tommy walked toward it, he realized this was maybe what his mother had meant when she told him not to wander. He shook off the thought, and slipped behind the fence and into Trish’s backyard.

A line of trees and withered shrubbery along the fence provided good cover for Tommy as he staked out his new classmates’ home. He positioned himself directly across from the sliding glass door that looked into the kitchen. A man and a woman sat at the table. Both of them had a bottle in one hand, and were gesturing wildly with the other. Tommy imagined raised voices, and loud music to drown them out. He kept watching. Occasionally, the man would stand and open the sliding door to toss out another bottle. The first time he did this, Tommy nearly jumped for fear he’d been discovered. After the third time, he relaxed, but kept his eyes peeled for signs of Trish, who he still hadn’t seen.

By this time, Tommy was beginning to think he should just give up and go home. His legs were starting to hurt from crouching, and the sun was getting lower. As he made to start crawling back around the line of trees, the faint murmur of voices behind glass exploded into a shouting match. Trish was standing in front of the table and yelling at her parents, who were giving it right back. He couldn’t make out what they were screaming, but their faces said enough for Tommy to know that he’d seen plenty. He was starting to feel uncomfortable, which wasn’t right. This was supposed to be his fun little game, not something that made him feel guilty or embarrassed.

As the shouting continued, Tommy started crawling. He needed to get out of here, needed to get back home. He’d already have some explaining to do when he showed up over an hour after his bus was supposed to drop him off. But he could make something up. At the most, he’d get a stern talking-to.

Tommy was only a few feet away from the gate when he heard the glass door slide open. He froze, and watched as Trish stepped out, giving the sliding door as much of a slam as she could. Then she sunk to the ground and put her head in her lap. Tommy could just make out the faint, gasping sobs from where he crouched.

But he was so close. Tommy eyed the gate, started inching towards it. He lifted a foot, set it down, lifted the other. He’d almost reached the end of the line of trees when he heard the snap of a dead branch crack underneath him.

“Who’s there?” The voice didn’t seem like it belonged to the sad, lonely girl Tommy had just heard crying alone on the ground. But when he turned to look, he saw Trish standing tall, with a hard look in her eyes. She had a bottle in her hand, and held it above her head, ready to throw.

Tommy stood as still as he could. He didn’t blink, and kept his breathing as shallow as possible. She was staring right at him, but he was sure she didn’t know whether he was there or not. His eyes flicked over to the gate again. If he ran, he could make it. He glanced at Trish, who took a hesitant step closer.

Tommy bolted. He heard a cry and an explosion of glass behind him. She’d missed. He nearly laughed at the thrill of it. His hands hit the gate, and he opened it.

“Hey!”

Something stopped him from just running. No one had ever caught him before. He had to take another look, had to see the expression on her face. Tommy looked over his shoulder, expecting to see a mixture of confusion and admiration splattered across Trish’s features.

Instead, he got a broken bottle to the face.

He blacked out from the pain. When he woke up, the world looked flat and narrow. He put a hand to his face, and felt the gauze and tape blocking his left eye. The doctor told him it was still possible to save it, but he didn’t want Tommy to get his hopes up too high. Tommy’s mother told him they would be having a long talk when they got home, but she was glad he was okay. Tommy didn’t say anything.

When he went back to school, no one asked him any questions. No one told him they’d heard anything. As far as he knew, Trish had stayed quiet. It was a small favor to Tommy, but he was grateful for it. Sometimes they would make eye contact across the lunchroom, and Tommy knew, and Trish knew, but no one else.

Tommy still had a secret, but he didn’t want one anymore.

 

Shorts

Sometimes the Barbs

I sit and stare down at the breakfast of self-consolators: a stale doughnut, cream-filled, that has sat in its box on the counter for the past two days, and a brown-spotted banana, off-setting the sugary portion with the promise of an adequate daily serving of fruit. There s coffee, of course. Black and sludge-like and soon to be browned with milk.

The daily crossword and Sudoku is to my left, only turned over and revealed post-funnies. The rest of the paper lies forgotten and discarded on the far end of the table.

I begin filling in the 2s, checking each row, column, and 3×3 sub-grid, finding and eliminating possible boxes in my mind. I fill in the numbers automatically, taking periodical sips of coffee and bites of stale doughnut. The bruised banana remains unpeeled.

I let the coffee melt the doughnut and hold the two together in my mouth until they become a single gelatinous substance that I push down into my stomach. As the solution is squeezed through my esophagus it passes the stone that sits somewhere in the center of my chest. The stone is wrapped in barbed wire once around, and felt cloth twice-over so that I can only feel them scrape if I probe far enough down. When I don’t it is dull and viscous and numbing, the felt pushing its way through vessels to touch my fingers and toes, and floating up to the space in my head reserved for such thoughts. I don’t like to reach down to touch it, for fear I may cut my fingers on the deceptively sharp surface.

But sometimes the barbs poke through.

I finish the 2s and scan the nine sub-grids for my next numerical conquest. The 5s fall quickly, and then the 1s. The rating of this puzzle is only three stars. Child’s play. More doughnut, more coffee. Again the thick mush down my throat.

There are two dozen completed Sudoku books sitting in the corner next to the shoes. I keep them as mementos and friends, and flip through the pages of neat, completed grids, no two the same. There are 5,472,730,538 unique Sudoku solutions possible. I figure I have done a couple thousand by now.

The solution presents itself, and in a flurry of pen strokes the last two numbers are filled in. I sit back and stare, sated.

The Sudoku is complete. The doughnut is done. The coffee half-empty. The banana remains.

The barbs retreat back to their velvety-cushioned home.

Flash Fiction, Shorts

El Fin

The nights are getting longer and  I’m chasing after every hour  watching the hands go round wondering when I’ll be blessed with the lifted consciousness, and that sweet enveloping velvety blanket of black. Feeling slap happy now. More like slap crappy. Get it? Ha. Ha. Feeling more like happiness is a warm gun. And what does  a gun do but wait to be fired again? When I read this again in the morning I’ll laugh. When I read this again in the morning I’ll cry. 

Lilith stopped writing and stared at the monitor. The bluish glow was the only light in the room. The analog clock in the bottom right corner of the screen read 3:17. A glass of something dark sat on the desk. She took a sip with a grimace and lifted her fingers once again to the keyboard.

When I read this again I’ll think I should die. But I won’t let myself sleep until I finally know why. The world around me is quiet and it all stays the same, while I sit and rhyme words alone with my game. 

Finished. El fin. The fin of a fish. Lay back your head with a wisp of a wish.

On Writing, Ramblings

What Do Your Readers Care About? What do Mine?

A simple question that every blogger should ask him or herself, and one that is forgotten about far too often.

There are a number of bloggers out there completely entranced by each of their inch-worm successes. These are the type obsessed with page views and number of likes per post. And I get it. The quantitative measure of progress can be motivational. But its important to not let ourselves get caught up in all that.

I’ll admit that I’ve been there as well, and I think that everyone is when they first start a blog. But one thing that we must all remember is this:

The readers.

That’s why we do this in the first place isn’t it? To connect with others and share what we are passionate about. That’s the whole point of blogging. Not a desperate grasp at financial independence or a reclaiming of a popularity status you never achieved in high school. These perks can be nice, and I am by no means damning anyone seeking these things.

But blogging should be about the reader.

So, what do your readers care about? You determine your reading group by having them in mind every time you write a new post. What do you want your readers to care about?

As for myself, I’d like my readers to care about my fiction. I want them to enjoy reading my stories and get them in engaging discussions if I can.

In an effort to do this, I invite everyone reading this (if you’ve read this far) to take a look at my site and stories. What would you like to see more or less of? Is there a direction I could take that you would be particularly interested in?

Things I’m considering: book reviews, writing on writing, guest prompts, interactive storytelling, serials, interviews with other writers.

What sounds interesting to you, dear Reader?

I invite all you bloggers to ask yourself this question, if you haven’t already.

Flash Fiction, Shorts

To Run in His Shoes

John O’Connell woke up and shrugged the sheets off as he swung his legs over the side of his bed. He heard the sounds of Miriam cooking breakfast in the kitchen. He let her know he was awake and she helped him into the shower. After, she pulled his pants through each leg and fed him breakfast, eggs over easy, peanut butter and jelly toast, and a bowl of bran cereal. Miriam already had the newspaper laid out for John to read.

After breakfast, John told Miriam that he wanted to go on his daily run a little early today. Miriam just shrugged and said, “Okay.” She helped him out of his pants and into his running shorts, then tied his shoelaces for him while he stretched. Then she saw him out the door and told him not to be long.

The brisk autumn day made John start off at a speedy pace, anxious to get his blood pumping so he would warm up. His legs pumped as he sped up a hill, and spread out into long easy strides on the way down. He took each deep breath in time with his stride. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Like a castle of sand being washed away, all of John’s frustrations and pent-up rage eased from his mind. He was in control out here. this was his space. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

As he ran he passed a child climbing a tree. He was about six, and hung from a branch with his legs dangling. The two made eye contact and the child watched him with wide eyes. John didn’t stop, and kept running down the street. The child let go of the branch and landed in the soft grass. He watched John fade further into the distance.

He had never seen a man with no arms before.

Flash Fiction, Shorts

The Nauslid

The Nauslid waits unseen. It is between the panels of your walls, and underneath your floorboards. It is the creak you hear in the middle of the night. The tap on your windowpane. It slithers and slides in a slippery fashion and waits for sleep to take you.

When you fall asleep, it slips silently from its hiding place and as a shadow creeps to your side. It hovers over your head and feels the hot steady breath on its snout. It flicks a snakelike proboscis out that tastes the air before inserting itself in your ear canal and attaching to your cochlea.

The Nauslid feeds on the dreams you conjure up during sleep. More accurately, it is a parasite that feeds on the electrochemical signals stimulated by the dreams you dream.

There are few ways to spot the Nauslid, and all of them stress the importance of dream recall. When you wake up, write everything you remember about your dream down in a journal. Keep this up for a few weeks. If you have any recurring dreams, or nightmares, or if you have become lucid more and more frequently, the Nauslid may be present in your home.

There is no effective way to remove a Nauslid once it has claimed a host. All that is left is the knowledge that it will come for your dreams every night. So beware before you attempt to find its existence, for you very well may have it.

And the Nauslid will never leave.

Flash Fiction, Shorts

The Room in a Vacuum

The room was sterile and still, preserved in an indefinite state. The single light bulb sitting in the overhead fan had long since burnt out. A twin mattress lay on the carpeted floor in the corner of the small room. Its sheets smooth and clean. Everything in the room should have collected inches of dust by now, but as if by an occult hand, the hardwood surfaces of both the desk and bookshelf remained clear of any buildup.

On the bookshelf was an assortment of random objects. A half-filled change jar, a deck of cards, several bottle caps, two family pictures, one with a broken frame, a watch that’s hands had stopped at 7:23, one black pen, one unsharpened pencil, and a journal that had never been written in.

The dresser was the same, and every scrap of clothing accounted for, from a pair of mismatched socks to the too-tight jeans that were never taken to the thrift store.

The walls were bare and white, as plain as plain gets. But on the far wall across from the bed there was a single, small hole where a picture or painting might have once been mounted.

They didn’t think about the room. The door was left closed. Although occasionally one of them would open the door and peak in at the room in a vacuum, and allow themselves a brief moment of nostalgia. A quick escape from the present to admire the unchanging piece of their lives.

It’s funny how memory works.