Author Archives: David Stewart

About David Stewart

I am a writer of anything quirky and weird. I love most genres of fiction and in each there are stories that I would consider "my kind of story".

Frozen Beauty

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Frozen Beauty

Ultimately, physical perfection was just genetics. Perfection became standard, beauty turned banal.

* * *

The club was a horror show: missing teeth, scars, ruined eyes. I was displaying a port-wine birthmark, created over two hours.

“Jess! Check this out!” It was Kaylee, her arm around a one-legged girl. “Her name’s Hazel.”

“That’s amazing!” I examined the stump. “Great work! But how?”

Hazel hesitated. “Car accident, actually.”

“Wait, it’s real?” Kaylee took her arm away.

“At least I fit in here, right?” Hazel laughed nervously.

Kaylee and I remained frozen, the illusion shattered. Finally, sensing this, Hazel adjusted her crutch and hobbled away.


Bye Bye Birdie

copyright Ted Strutz

Bye Bye Birdie

Me and the fellers are unwinding when one of them new auto-harvesters drives by. The ones that took our jobs and left us homeless by the highway.

“Ay, ya arshdriver!” Kenny shouts, flipping the double bird as it roars by. I flip it off too just as a piece sticking out chops off my right middle digit, clean as a butcher. It goes flying into the fire where Robbie’s cooking roadkill.

It’s nothing but ash now. Bad enough the bastards take my job, but now I can’t even flip the double bird in protest? It’s enough to make you misty-eyed.


Lasik for Cyclops

“Thanks for seeing me, Doctor. I appreciate it.”

“No problem. So it says here that you want to get corrective eye surgery, is that right, Mr. Summers?”

“Call me Scott. Yeah, I have wear this prescription eyewear and I wish there was a way so I didn’t have to all the time.”

“Alright, well just take it off and let’s take a look.”

“I can’t.”

“You can’t take off the visor?”

“If I do, I’ll shoot a beam of energy that will cut your office in half.”

“I see . . .”

“That’s why I want the surgery. You don’t know what it’s like having to wear this all the time: on the subway, at the beach, during my Civil War reenactment battles. If I hear the word ‘anachronism’ one time, I swear I will rain down holy hellfire on the entire 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment. I will—”

“Okay, okay, well let’s see what we can do. So anytime you take the visor off—”

“Energy beams shoot out of my eyes.”

“And this doesn’t completely destroy your eyes?”

“I guess not. I haven’t really thought about it.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to help you, Scott, since you would probably melt any instruments I tried to use to examine you. However, I do know a doctor with a revolutionary technique that might be just what you’re looking for. You can’t take off your visor so what he’ll do is make a prosthetic head that fits over your real head, visor and all. You can look through the eyes of the prosthetic head and be totally normal. It’s got a zipper up the back so you can take it off whenever you want, but no one can see it because the head comes with long, Favio-like hair.”

“And this guy’s legit?”

“Sure! He graduated top of his class from Hollywood Upstairs Medical College.”

“Thanks, doc! I can’t wait to tell my girlfriend Jean. I’m going to be normal again!”

Just a little thought experiment into the lives of one of our favorite X-Men


The Stress You Need, When You Need it

“There is a major problem in education,” the superintendent said. The teachers all leaned forward in anticipation. If there was anyone who knew about how to fix education, it was upper management. The superintendent had just come back from a month-long convention about how technology could solve all problems. Since it was so long, it was called Long-Con.

“The problem,” the superintendent repeated, “is that the students with the most stress are the ones that don’t need it. These are the Peter Gowickis, the Emma Randolfs, the Amir Khans.” He flicked through a slideshow of student profiles and grades, breaking dozens of privacy laws simultaneously.

“These are the students who will work until 4:00 am to raise their grade from a 98% to a 99%. They are the ones who drive you nuts by doing every extra credit assignment five times. They are the ones who couldn’t fail a class if they robbed an F factory.”

The teachers all nodded. This was true. One geography teacher in the back wondered why anyone would make an F factory.

“Then we have the other group: the students who clearly need to stress about their work, but don’t; the ones who could easily pass if they just cared enough to do the work.”

He had their attention now. The sea of nodding heads was like slow-motion headbanging at the world’s most boring rock concert. “This is where Long-Con has come through for us again,” the superintendent said.

“There are two types of stress,” he continued, “eustress and distress. Eustress is the good stuff, the stuff that makes us get off our butts and do what we need to. It’s the crunch-time, bottom-of-the-9th stress makes us do our best. Distress is the bad stuff, the stuff that leaves us crying in the corner of the cafeteria because if we lose another chess game to Brian-freakin’-Grosnick, our dads are going to tan our hides.” He stopped. “As an example.”

He pointed to the screen behind him in a dramatic gesture. “Behold, the De-Re-Stressinator. What this does is take the distress from the good students, converts it to eustress, and gives it to the under-performing students. The high-performing ones are relaxed and happy, and the slackers are doing what they should. Win-win.”

He paused as the room erupted into a standing ovation. The superintendent had done it again. Was there anything the district office didn’t know?

The first trial was held with the Nick Riviera High School’s AP Honors Aeronautical Neurosurgery class and the Remedial Spelling class. The two classes were put in adjacent classrooms, with the De-Re-Stressinator in a broom closet between them. The teachers wore special goggles to keep from being either de- or re-stressed. They told the students they had recently had eye surgery.

“Who’s that having the panic attack in the front row?” the superintendent asked, pointing the AP class. He was watching the progress on hidden cameras from the principal’s office.

“That’s Arthur Dempsey,” the principal said. “He has a 5.5/4 GPA. He gets like that if he comes within 48 hours of a deadline without passing an assignment in.”

The superintendent looked into the other room. The students were either sleeping or throwing large foam letters around. Someone had just gotten a lower-case L in the eye.

“Turn it on,” he said. The principal pushed a button and turned a knob. The result was immediate. Arthur Dempsey relaxed and smiled. The ambient blood pressure in the room (measured by another gadget from Long-Con) went down 10 points (6 diastolic). In the other room, the foam letters stopped flying. Someone spontaneously formed a diphthong on their desk. The Ambition-meter ticked up a notch. A girl in the front row thought about starting her own business after graduation.

“This is great!” the superintendent said. “Let’s get lunch.”

They returned to the school to find the English teacher in tears in the hallway. “They just won’t stop,” she cried.

“Who?”

“The Remedial Spelling class. They’re in there, spelling every word they know. Jessica Brenner is reading the dictionary and trying to use every big word she sees. But the context is all wrong!”

“How about the AP Aeronautical Neurosurgery class?”

The teacher sniffed. “Last I heard, they were smoking weed behind the gym.” The superintendent sighed. “You know, I never thought Long-Con would steer me wrong. Live and learn, I guess. Well, get rid of the De-Re-Stressinator. We’ll just go back to controlling everyone with medication, like normal.”


Requiem in Amber

Requiem in Amber

Walk to the grey city at the edge of the long-dry sea, past the corpses of ancient architecture.

Go to the center where it all ended, the gothic hall where that otherworldly bomb landed, obliterating everyone, leaving everything.

Sit anywhere you like—you’re the only audience today. Maybe ever.

Listen to the orchestra playing in their bubble of time, like music trapped in amber. They endlessly loop the 122 minutes before the bomb, unaware of the dead world outside. Odd how that happened.

Close your eyes.

Relax.

If you fall asleep, you can hear it all again in two hours.


Dinner at Encarna’s

This is a story I’ve been working on off and on for about two years. It is set in an alternate universe, so it’s not supposed to be historical at all.

Dinner at Encarna’s

They say all is fair in war, except at Encarna’s. The centuries-old restaurant stood in a sheltered pocket of no-man’s land, aggressively protected by both sides. Encarna welcomed everyone to her table as long as there were no weapons or any violence within her walls. Breaking these rules could get you killed, or worse, banned from the restaurant.

Encarna’s was the sort of place that wasn’t supposed to exist in war. It survived in a bubble that was exempt from the reality of total war outside its walls. The food was extraordinary, but it also survived through some deeply-buried part of the group psyche that longed for a respite from our current hell. It was a miracle that they could still get the ingredients they needed, although I guessed that both sides were secretly supplying it.

I stumbled through the doors, dead with fatigue after twelve hours of guard duty on the front lines. The guns had been quieter that day, but the quiet times were almost as bad, as you strained to peer through the fog for special forces troops creeping up under barbed wire to toss grenades into your machine gun nest.

I saw her sitting by herself at a corner table, dressed in the crisp, clean blue uniform of the other side. Gleaming brass on her shoulders showed that she was a captain.

I’d learned to gather information quickly. The new uniform meant she was either new to the front or worked in a department that didn’t see action. But people sitting by themselves usually wanted to be left alone, and they were usually accompanied by at least one bottle. This woman sat sipping water. Maybe she is waiting for a date.

When meeting people you would shoot without hesitation the next day on the battlefield, shyness doesn’t mean much. I went up to her. “Can I sit down?”

She glanced up, flicked her eyes over my faded uniform, but then nodded. “Fresh off the front, captain?”

Officially, both sides were forbidden from talking to one another in Encarna’s. Officially, neither side was allowed to visit at all. On all reports, it had been destroyed in the shelling years ago, but Encarna’s was a world of its own. Even generals and field marshals would sneak into the restaurant when they could.

I nodded. “Not a bad day. Your guns were pretty quiet today.”

“All out for repairs,” she said, beginning the verbal dance that mortal enemies play in conversation—that dizzying mix of truth and lies you tell when becoming friends with someone you can never hope to trust.

“I guess you’re new here,” I said.

“Why do you say that?”

“Your uniform looks pretty new.”

“I came out for a nice night, the first in a long time. Of course I wanted to look my best,” she said. “Doesn’t your side still have dress uniforms?”

“We chopped them all up for bandages,” I said.

She nodded. “I thought I saw an arm sling with epaulets a while back.”

A waiter came and we ordered and then sat talking, as normally as if we were on a date back in normal times.

“So, are you Intelligence? Logistics?” I asked after the lasagna and paella had arrived, a lovely mix of Mediterranean cuisines.

“I’m in the Army,” she said with a smile. It was the typical stonewall answer. The fact was that I didn’t recognize the branch insignia on her lapels: a coiled snake around a star. “You?”

“Mine’s easy,” I said, pointing to my Infantry insignia. “There’s no mystery about me.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” she said, and for the second time, she smiled.

“What’s your name?” It was a taboo question but I asked it anyway.

Her smile disappeared. “Captain Renzi,” she said. I knew that from her name tag. “You are Captain Foxhaven, but you are not English, are you?”

I shook my head. “Names have long histories.”

After the meal, Captain Renzi pulled out a few red banknotes—what on our side we called kommidollors—and stood up. “I will be sitting at this table three days from now.” Then she left.

It was devilishly hard, but I got an 8-hour pass three nights later and made my way to Encarna’s. Captain Renzi was already there in her corner. The waiter was just bringing her a plate of pasta.

“I thought you weren’t coming,” she said. “I was almost regretting turning down all the others wanting to sit.”

“It was hard enough to get away this early,” I said. “The Old Man always has work for me.”

“Order something,” she said. “We’ll split this, then eat that when it comes.” I felt a burst of pleasure at this and I ordered something quickly and got another plate to split the pasta.

“The Old Man?” she asked. “Do you mean Colonel Dreifuss?”

“You know him,” I said, surprised.

“We know a lot about your superior officers,” she said, with a tiny smile that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to think of how she knew. I would rather have ten howitzers pounding my location for hours than one double-agent, moving around undetected.

“How long have you been at the front?” she asked. My internal alarms started again.

“About two weeks,” I said, although I had really been there for over a year.

She nodded. “Me too.”

We started eating, but I was tired of all the evasion and lies. “My name’s Marco,” I said. Giving information to the enemy was a bad idea, but there was not much she could do with my first name.

She nodded and took a couple bites. Then she seemed to reach some internal decision and put down her fork with a smile. She reached across the table. “My name’s Angela Renzi. Nice to meet you.” We shook hands.

The evening went well, and we mostly talked about our lives before the war: where we had gone to school and what life was like growing up. Just before we left, Angela leaned into me. “Listen, I don’t know what your patrol schedule is like, but stay away from the Red Hill area tomorrow.”

I was stunned. “What did you say?”

Her look was blank. “What? I didn’t say anything.” She looked at me steadily for a few extra seconds, then turned and left.

The road back to my barracks seemed longer than the three miles it was. The fact was, I was planning on visiting the Red Hill outpost the next day, but how could she have known that? It didn’t make any sense. It was a war; nowhere was safe, so why warn me about one specific spot? I did not sleep well that night.

The next day, I found an excuse to stay away from Red Hill. I agonized about the decision. Should I warn the commander of the outpost? If I did, they would want to know how I knew, which would open up a lot of uncomfortable questions. And what would they do, even if warned? It was not like they would evacuate the outpost, just because it was going to be attacked. If anything, they might reinforce it, which would not help anyone if the base was going to be heavily shelled. Still, the burden of unwanted knowledge weighed me down like a machine gun slung around my neck.

The next day, I was in HQ when the news came. Red Hill outpost had been destroyed. Sappers had dug a tunnel up to the walls and thrown in satchel charges and grenades. The fort was a wreck. The enemy had not been able to hold it, but they had destroyed a lot of its fortifications. I stayed away from Encarna’s for the next week.

But I could not stay away forever, and despite what had happened at Red Hill, I missed seeing Angela. After all, she had not attacked the fort personally, and she had only been trying to warn me. Still, it had thrown into sudden focus that the woman that I thought and dreamed about was an enemy that I was sworn to defeat.

When I managed to make time to go, the anticipation of seeing her again made me almost nervous. I put on my best uniform and walked the muddy wreck-strewn track the three miles to the restaurant. When I got there, Angela was sitting in her usual corner with two male officers of her own side. Disappointed, I went and sat at another table. I was almost finished when she slipped over and sat down across from me.

“I’ve missed you here,” she said in a low voice. “I’m glad to see you unharmed.”

“Why did you tell me that?” I said. “Isn’t that treason on your side? You warned an enemy about upcoming plans.”

“You couldn’t have stopped us anyway,” she said, in a way that annoyed me. “Plus, I wanted to make sure you’d be okay. When’s the next time you can be here?”

“I don’t know,” I said petulantly, but then reconsidered. “This Friday I have some time.”

She nodded. “I’ll be waiting over at our table.”

Our table. That made me smile and even as I watched her leave with the two other officers, it made me feel better.

That Friday, I was the first one there, but she came in soon after and slid into her seat. “Did you order?”

“I just got here. What do you want?”

“I like everything. You choose. I’ll pay tonight.”

“Oh, really? Is it pay day over there?”

“Something like that,” she said.

We ordered and chatted a little, but it was obvious she was preoccupied.

“Trouble at the front?” I asked after a while, trying to make it a joke.

Angela shook her head. “It’s not that. I’m just worried. About you.”

“I can take care of myself, don’t worry.”

“I know you can. You’re smart and lucky so far, but I’m thinking of down the road. We’re winning this war.”

“I think it’s pretty even,” I said, more than a little defensively. In fact, the war was dead even, with emphasis on the dead. Ever since I had been at the front, the war was just a huge meat grinder with men and women being fed into it from either side of no-man’s land.

“It was, but it’s not anymore,” Angela said. “Red Hill was just the beginning. We’re going to win this war, without doubt, and I’m afraid for you.”

Psychological warfare, I thought, the disappointment twisting my stomach. She had made friends with me and now was trying to sabotage my morale. “Are you trying to get me to defect?”

She looked at me and I saw the beginning of yes forming on her lips. Then she smiled sadly. “I wouldn’t ask you to. I know you wouldn’t.”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t, any more than you would defect to my side,” I said.

The food came and we ate in silence for a bit, making only small remarks about the food. The atmosphere had changed. The word defect was almost as taboo in Encarna’s as weapons and like the word divorce in a marriage, it tainted the mood.

“Listen,” she said, as we were finishing up. “I don’t care if you tell what I said or not. I’d like to see you again, but I’ll understand if you don’t. In any case, please take care of yourself.”

“I’ll come here whenever I can,” I said. “I want to see you again too.” She smiled, gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, and left through the side entrance, back towards her side.

I got back to my barracks to find out that I had been reassigned, effective immediately. The new posting was thirty miles down the line, at another HQ. The transfer was a step up, but I was depressed as I packed my belongings in my duffle bag and got on the truck.

The next few weeks, I worked hard, but I never stopped thinking of Angela and what she had said. The war did seem to be going badly for us. More of our outposts were being taken or destroyed and the enemy seemed to find their way through our defenses almost effortlessly now. There was some talk of treachery. I was almost glad I could not go to Encarna’s to avoid any suspicion that I was a spy.

Two weeks later, the end of the war came for me. I was commanding a small outpost on what our maps called Hill 54. It was just after midnight and only the watch was awake when the side of the hill exploded. I was dozing in my cot and jumped up to hear shouting outside and submachine gun fire. Someone ducked into the tent and pointed a gun at me, shouting at me in the enemy language to get down. I fell to the ground, expecting every moment to be my last. Five minutes later, he told me to get up and I was marched outside.

Most of my squad had been killed, but three of us had been captured. They tied our hands and marched us down the slope and back across no-man’s land to enemy territory.

I won’t deny that I looked for Angela as we were searched, then marched to a truck and driven far behind the lines to a prisoner-of-war camp. If she was there, I did not see her in the sea of enemy uniforms.

What I saw depressed me. New weapons and fresh-looking soldiers were everywhere. The POWs were fed better than the officers at the front on our side. We were losing and everyone in the camp knew it. There was no talk of escape. We all knew the war would be over soon.

I was at the camp two months according the scratches on my bunk post when a guard came and called for me by name. I got some dark looks from the other POWs as I walked out, wondering if this was for release, interrogation or execution. The guard directed me to an administrative building. I walked into a small room with a table and two chairs. Angela Renzi was sitting in one of them.

She looked similar to the first time I had met her at Encarna’s, although the insignia on her epaulets had changed.

“Major Renzi,” I said. “Congratulations.”

“Marco,” she said. “I’m glad to see you.” She smiled but I saw the pity in her look. It incensed me as much as our unequal positions: she in a gleaming dress uniform and me in threadbare POW pajamas.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

“I’ve known you were here even since you arrived,” she said, “but I couldn’t come visit without arousing suspicion. Now, however. . . .” She slid a newspaper across the table. It was from the day before. My reading ability of the enemy language was passable, but anyone could have guessed the meaning screaming from the headline in 100-point font: “PEACE DECLARED!”

“Your president surrendered,” she said. “We were five miles from your capital.”

My grandparents’ home was about thirty miles from the capital, in the direction of the front. I wondered if they had gotten out okay, if the places I remembered visiting in the summers were now nothing but smoking crater holes and death-infused mud.

“So did you come here just to gloat?” I asked.

“No!” She seemed genuinely shocked. “I like you, Marco, but this was the only way that we could ever have had a chance together.”

She was right, of course, but why did it have to be her side that won? I thought of our glorious historical sites that had never seen the tread of an invader before now being overrun with foreign troops, the sight of that hated flag flying in our skies. The thought sickened me.

“How did you do it?” I asked. “If you think we have a chance, tell me that.”

“We developed a way to read minds,” she said. “We would listen across no-man’s land at night through special machines and heard all your plans, all your intelligence.” She saw the look on my face and put up her hands. “I wasn’t reading your mind in Encarna’s,” she said. “It takes special machines that require a truck to move. There, I’ve just committed treason by telling you that. Do you trust me now?”

I wasn’t sure. I still felt as if I knew nothing, and Angela held all the power. I had lived with enemies too long to loosen my grip yet.

“If what you say is true,” I said, “then I should be released soon, right?”

“Next week, I think,” she said. “They are drawing up the articles of surrender now and those will be signed in three days.”

“Six months,” I said. “Everything should be mostly back to normal by then, whatever normal will look like now, at least for me. If you still want to see me, I will meet you six months from today at Encarna’s at 8:00pm. Then we can see if we have a chance.”

Angela took out a notebook and wrote the date six months from that day on it twice, then ripped off one of them and handed it to me.

“Captain Foxhaven,” she said, shaking my hand. “I look forward to not being your enemy. I hope to see you again at Encarna’s.”


Stalled Starts

As of this moment, I have 99 files in my Drafts folder for the Green-Walled Tower, stretching from 2012 to the present. Sometimes I get an idea and start writing but then stop because I haven’t figured out where it’s going to go or I run out of time or I realize it’s stupid. Sometimes it’s only a sentence or two and now I’ve forgotten what the story was supposed to be about. Here are some of my stalled stories that I’ve given up on doing anything with. If you want to suggest a story for any of them, let me know (or write it yourself; maybe I’ll post it 😊).

Stalled Starts

“Remember when parasols were just for girls?”

Jack scratched his butt, balancing the umbrella with the other hand. “Ha! I’m not getting skin cancer just to prove my manliness.

The Pies are Alive

“Look, I know how this sounds,” I said. “It’s the sort of thing even Flat Earthers roll their eyes at, but it’s true. The pies are alive.”

“Uh huh. So that’s why you smashed up the pastry shop, is it? To kill all the evil pies?” The cops looked less than impressed.

I knew I should have stopped but I couldn’t help myself. “They’re not all evil

Meditation with Dummies

Walking, By Me

Chateau de Sable

I was just putting the last of the dishes away when I realized that my son Harry, six years old the week before, had been too quiet too long.

I walked over to his playroom and looked in. It was its usual disarray of toys but in the middle of the room sat a superb Lego creation, a castle that could have been featured in Legoland, perfect in every minute detail. Harry was nowhere to be seen. I walked over and that was when I saw the crumpled

Glass Cones

We didn’t know until we went in person, but there are ghosts on Mars, screaming, relentless demons that burrow into men’s minds, devouring thoughts and hopes and feelings. All that protects us is the energy cones at the center of every settlement and on every vehicle.

That’s what they told us, at least.

Alex never knew how big the city really was until the night she drove around its sodden, dark underbelly, searching for one homeless man.

Cannoli I Have Eaten

If you don’t know what a cannoli is, look it up. I’ve only eaten three in my life, so I’m no expert. It’s a kind of dessert and they’re sweet (unlike most desserts, right?) Still, I think of think of them as bittersweet and here’s why.

I had my first cannoli (or cannolo, if you want to get technical) when I was thirteen. It was summer and I was going to play baseball with my friend Martine. He

Dirty Grey Robe

By the Rules

Filip was a man of rules. He lived by rules (except when he didn’t, but those were Exceptions, and he didn’t count those).

Rule 1: make a list every day. Every day when Filip got up, he made a list of things to do. It was not a constructive

Icy Streets

The streets today were like an ice rink. Actually, they were an ice rink. I saw children skating through traffic, dodging out-of-control taxis and desperately trying to get to their extra-curricular activities on time. I even saw a girl do a perfect double axel at a cross-walk, although this is the country of Kim Yun-Ah, and Koreans don’t do anything—even cross the road—without doing it very, very well.

Bonus: This is a completed piece that I did back in 2013 but never got around to posting it since it didn’t seem to be worth it.

An Ode to Minimalism

Oh Minimalism!

What else can I say?

Happy New Year everyone!


Hope from Above

Happy New Year everyone. Globally speaking, this has been a pretty terrible year and a lot of people are still suffering quite a bit. We can only pray that 2021 is better and do what we can to make it so. I have hope.

copyright Na’ama Yehuda

Hope from Above

The wind caressed the dress shirt from its rooftop drying rack. It rose into the air, a well-dressed ghost preparing for a New Year’s Eve party. A cross breeze sent it dancing with invisible partners.

Sung-Ho sat listlessly on the curb. Suicide? Why, with no life insurance? Burn down the building? Insurance companies could tell. Start over?

How?

He felt Eun-Ha’s hands on his shoulders. “We’ll get the money somehow,” she whispered.

The shirt fluttered down. Sung-Ho caught it before it hit the ground.

“See?” his wife said. “2021 will bring hope. Even God is sending us his dry-cleaning now.”


The House of Lost Things

Adapted from: Paul Gorbould, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The House of Lost Things

The directions I got from the Real Urban Legends website only got me to the village of Fenton. But, when it comes to finding a place, locals are as good as a map. I spotted a man sitting on his porch, scratching the head of his geriatric terrier and staring into space.

“Excuse me, sir,” I said, rolling down the window, “I’m looking for a special house in the area. What I mean is—”

He was already nodding, with a smug little twitch of the lips, as if to say, Ah, you’re one of those people.

“Yeah, I know where it is,” he said. “It’s not in town though. Go down Main and hang a left on Perdue. I doubt he’ll let you in though. He’s gotten kinda squirrely lately. So they say.”

Better than a map, I thought as I thanked him and drove on. Maps didn’t come with commentary. Following his directions, I turned onto Perdue Street. The street followed a gradient of pavement to cracked pavement to dirt and by the time I had gone half a mile, it was full-on abandoned forest track with a hint of horror movie set.

The trees opened up to a rusty iron fence surrounding a house that embodied an odd mixture of Victorian grandeur and big box store utilitarianism. It had originally been a mansion and the original façade retained that gothic feel of a haunted house. But to either side, someone had built on high windowless concrete boxes that overshadowed the original house and completely ruined the aesthetic. However, considering the Amazonian state of the lawn, the owner probably didn’t think much of aesthetic.

I rang the doorbell several times before anyone answered. When they did, it was through a cobwebbed speaker above the button.

“What?”

“Are you Mr. Haster?” I asked.

“You a reporter?”

“No,” I said, trying to talk into the mic by the speaker but not get too close to the cobwebs. “I lost my wallet. I thought you might have it.”

The man started to laugh. It was the sort of strung out, slightly crazed laugh you might get if you went up a firefighter who’d been battling a forest fire for a week and asked him for a light.

The laughter continued until the door suddenly opened and a man, presumably Devon Haster, stood in front of me. He stood staring at me with mad fascination in his dark-rimmed eyes.

“You want some coffee?” he asked. “I just made some.”

I did not want coffee, but I did want to get into the house, so I nodded. Mr. Haster stepped aside to let me in. The house had a musty smell with a minty undertone. He shut the front door, and I followed him down a wide hallway to a large kitchen with a bed, sofa and TV in it.

“This is the only room of the house I use now,” he said. “The only one I have left.”

He poured the coffee and handed me a cup. It had a cracked handle and said Expo ’86 on the side. He gestured to the table and we sat down.

“Thanks for letting me in,” I said. “The folks downtown thought you wouldn’t.”

“They’ve never liked me,” Mr. Haster said. “You must have had a lot of money in your wallet if you came all this way to get it.”

“Not really,” I said, “but it was a gift from my father before he died. I have some pictures in it too that I like.”

“Where did you lose it?” he asked conversationally.

“I have no idea.” He only nodded and took a sip.

“Is it true?” I asked. “Do you really have every lost thing in the whole world.”

“Dear God, no!” he said and gave a few titters in his half-mad laugh. “I think I’d shoot myself. No, it’s just all things lost in this region. That’s enough, that’s enough for me.

“You want to know the story?” he asked, taking a large sip and sloshing the coffee onto his shirt. “Lots of reporters have come here to ask. I told them to get lost.” He snorted and made a gasping half-sob. “I used to think it was this big secret I had to protect, but now I just don’t care anymore.”

“Go ahead,” I said, not sure if I should take notes or get out while I still could.

“It was a wishing well,” he said. “A wishing well and a brand-new pen. This wasn’t any cheapo Bic you get in a ten-pack. This was a Montblanc Classique, a pen you take care of and hand on to your children, if you’re so lucky. I came across the wishing well one evening just as the sun was hitting the far hills and burning all the sky around it to gold and crimson. My grandmother always told me there was power at that time of day, so I fished out a nickel and was just bending over the well to think of a good wish when my Montblanc Classique slipped out of my shirt pocket. I heard the sad little plop sound as it hit the water far below. What made it worse was the week before, I had lost my favorite jackknife and my watch two months before. I was fed up and I flung the nickel down after it. ‘You know what I wish,’ I said. ‘I wish I could find everything that was lost.’”

“And you started getting all the lost things in the area?” I asked. “How big an area is that?” The coffee was atrocious. My eyes flicked to the counter to see if I saw any open containers of motor oil.

“It’s about 14 states, from the IDs I’ve seen come through” he said. “Also, Thunder Bay, Ontario, for some reason.”

“So do you have like a box of wallets I could rummage through to see if mine’s in there?” I asked.

“A box?” he shouted, slamming the coffee cup so hard that it split neatly in half. The pieces clattered onto the table, and black liquid poured out over them and dripped onto the floor. “I have eight rooms crammed full of wallets, three with purses. Nineteen damned rooms with nothing but single socks. I just burn most of the new arrivals now because I’ve run out of room. I could heat the house with butane, if I could figure out how to easily get it out of the lighters. You should see the room I have for loose change. It’s like Scrooge McDuck’s money bin if he didn’t have anything bigger than a quarter.”

“I just lost it two days ago,” I said. “It should be on top of the pile, right? Do you remember seeing it come through?”

Mr. Haster left the broken mug and coffee puddle and stood up. “Let me show you,” he said.

He led me upstairs and through a strong door at the back of the house. As soon as it opened, I heard the loud clank of machinery that continued on as constant as an assembly line. In front of us was what looked like a metal spider. Conveyor belts extended out from the main body of the machine-like arms and above it, the bulbous abdomen of the thing, a huge hopper.

“That’s where it all appears,” Haster said. “It was burying me in stuff until I realized that it all appears next to the nickel, the same nickel I threw in to make the wish in the first place, which is weird since I never lost that. I threw it away. But that makes as much sense as Thunder Bay, Ontario. The machine sorts the things automatically. It cost me a lot but it was worth it; I couldn’t keep up it myself. Of course, the company was pretty mad when I sent them 418 bags of small change.”

Haster turned to me with a haunted look. “I pay for most things in small change.”

He brought me to the first of the wallet rooms and I quickly despaired of every finding that one picture of my girlfriend wearing that hat I bought her at the county fair. The room had about fifty thousand wallets in it.

“This is the small room,” Haster said morosely.

I picked up one of the wallets and opened it. “Hey, there’s about two hundred bucks in here,” I said, “plus 3 or 4 credit cards. You’ve got all the money you’d ever need.”

“Do you want to sort through all these every day?” Haster said as if I suggested digging up earthworms and licking them clean to sell. “Plus, I feel guilty spending this money. It’s actually worth something, unlike the loose change.”

“You know, you’ve got a great business possibility here,” I said. “You could set up a website, hire a few sorters and the owners could pay you to send back their stuff.” From his blank look, I couldn’t tell if he was horrified by the idea or if he didn’t know what a website was.

“Do you want the nickel?” he asked. It was so sudden, I didn’t know what to say. “The nickel that started all this,” he said. “I’m pretty sure if you had it, you would start getting all the lost stuff. You could do that business idea.”

“What would you want for it?” I asked after a minute.

He gave a high-pitched giggle. “The last thing I want is more of anything.”

He made me climb up and pluck the nickel out of the housing of the machine. Immediately, the jingle of falling objects stopped.

“It’s broken!” I cried.

“It’s not broken,” Haster said. “When you move it, it stops. It takes about twenty minutes of being at rest for the cosmos to realign or something. As long as you’re driving, you’ll be okay.”

I said good-bye to Mr. Haster and left with the key to my fortune safely in my pocket. I drove joyously, going way over the speed limit and acting like the rich idiot I finally was.

When I got home, I couldn’t find the nickel. I turned the car inside out. I turned on the news and horror hit me like an iceberg, cold and slow-moving but no less deadly.

Chaos! the lower third banner read. Toll booth explodes. Lip balm and reading glasses everywhere!

The toll was 55 cents. I had two quarters and then . . . . 

No!!! Just like that, my dreams of wealth burst like an exploding toll booth. Now some bank would get all my unearned profits.

After an hour of sulking, I went on the Real Urban Legends website. After some searching, I found a woman who claimed to be able to read dog’s thoughts. There must be a way to make money off that. Maybe I’d go visit her.


Mixed Signals

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! Thank you to everyone who has read any of my stories over the past year. I am looking forward to big things in the coming year.

By the way, this story takes place before COVID times. 🙂

Mixed Signals

I’d spent a week preparing for the Christmas party. We even got an eggnog fountain.

Little Ellie-Mae wanted to put a sign at the end of the driveway, so people knew where to turn. “Eggnog for all!” it would say.

Twenty minutes later, she was back. She’d made the letters too big. “Can it just say EGGNOG?”

Sure.

Ten minutes later, she returned. “How many G’s does ‘eggnog’ have?”

Three.

“Oh. I only put one in.”

EGNO? ENOG?

When no one showed up, I walked down to the road to look for cars.

That’s how we learned about Ellie-Mae’s dyslexia.

copyright Trish Nankivell

The Pinay Ajumma

living in the moment

The Green-Walled Treehouse

Explore . Imagine . Create

One Minute Office Magic

Learning new Microsoft Office tricks in "just a minute"

lightsleeperbutheavydreamer

Just grin and bear it awhile :)

Linda's Bible Study

Come study God's Word with me!

Haden Clark

Better conversations toward a better tomorrow.

Citizen Tom

Welcome to Conservative commentary and Christian prayers from Gainesville, Virginia. That's OUTSIDE the Beltway.

The Green-Walled Chapel

Writings on Faith, Religion and Philosophy

To Be A Magician

A fiction blog of funny and dark stories

My music canvas

you + me + music

Eve In Korea

My Adventures As An ESL Teacher In South Korea

Luna's Writing Journal

A Place for my Fiction

Bikurgurl

Traveler, Foodie, Eclectic Unschooly Mama, Blogger, Outdoor-Seeker, Gardener, & Voracious Reader, sharing bits of my life at Bikurgurl.com

Upper Iowa University

Center for International Education

Here's To Being Human

Living life as a human

jenacidebybibliophile

Book Reviewer and Blogger

yuxianadventure

kitten loves the world

Strolling South America

10 countries, 675 days, 38,540km

It's All in Finding the Right Words

The Eternal Search to Find One's Self: Flash Fiction and Beyond

Reflections Of Life's Journey

Lessons, Joys, Blessings, Friendships, Heartaches, Hardships , Special Moments

A Writer's Path

Sharing writing tips, information, and advice.

Chris Green

Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Finding Myself Through Writing

Writing Habits of Elle Knowles - Author

BEAUTIFUL WORDS

Inspiring mental health through creative arts and friendly interactions. (Award free blog)

TALES FROM THE MOTHERLAND

Straight up with a twist– Because life is too short to be subtle!

Unmapped Country within Us

Emily Livingstone, Author

Silkpurseproductions's Blog

The art of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

BJ Writes

My online repository for works in progress

wordsandotherthings.wordpress.com/

she is confidence in shadows.

Musings on Life & Experience

Poetry, Fiction, & Non-Fiction Writings

Outside The Lines

Fun readings about Color, Art and Segmation!

obBLOGato

a Photo Blog, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to dear dirty New York

Björn Rudbergs writings

Poetry and fiction by a physicist from the dark side

SightsnBytes

A.K.A. Ted White

WordDreams...

Jacqui Murray's

The Day After

Musings, Photography, Writing, and More

Mondays Finish the Story

This is a flash fiction site where you finish the story!

Sketches By Boze

An ongoing exploration of faith, culture, myth, life, art. An advocate for all who are trapped in nightmares.

Tiffys World

A diary type blog following the life of a Forensic Science Student

%d bloggers like this: