Tag Archives: fiction

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

Miracle Cherries: The Level 3 Dilemma

This is the third and final part of this story. You can read the other stories in the links below, but here is the synopsis for those who did not read them.

  1. The Era of Miracle Cherries
  2. Miracle Cherries, Level 2

Synopsis: A year before, a mysterious product that is nicknamed miracle cherries begins to be sold online for $150 for ten. People quickly find that they cure any disease and give a person superpowers. Then a woman calling herself Rachel comes on all TVs in the world to say she is the one selling them and that these are the first of three levels. She also creates a huge tower in the middle of the Atlantic and declares herself the ruler of the world.  Level 2 miracle cherries go on sale for $150 million for ten.

The narrator is chosen by his company to take the first Level 2 miracle cherry while the world watches. He finds himself in another world where Rachel tells him that his whole universe was created by her civilization in order to do research and harvest cultural properties. He goes back and does not remember anything about it, although he starts having vivid dreams about Rachel. He decides to go to her tower in the Atlantic to try to find answers.

Rachel’s Tower was located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, about 300 miles southwest of the Azores. She had not built it for ease of access, but in the era of miracle cherries, that was not a problem. I took a miracle cherry and teleported to within sight of the five-mile-high tower and then took another one to fly the rest of the way there.

In the two weeks since Rachel had appeared on TV to show herself to the world and simultaneously build her tower, a floating village of ships had formed around the base of the tower, which rose straight out of the water with no door or platform of any kind at its base. People had flown all around it and had tried everything in their power to get inside, but the tower did not seem to be affected by any power that a Level 1 miracle cherry could imbue. Despite declaring on TV that she had decided to rule the world, there had not been much more said about that. Either she was still preparing or she would be a very laissez-faire world ruler.

I went there with little hope of getting in, but after several nights of ultra-vivid dreams about Rachel, including some with her asking me to get in touch with her, I had to at least try. That happening right after I had taken a Level 2 miracle cherry gave me some hope that I could find answers.

As I approached, I saw a group of people clustered around one spot on the tower about twenty feet above the water. All of them were hovering in mid-air. I knew from the news that this was the Triangle, a raised 3-sided panel on the tower’s side about two feet wide. It was the only part of the tower’s exterior that was different, so everyone naturally concluded that this must be an access panel of some sort.

A woman with a bag of multi-colored rods was directly in front of the panel, tapping it in various places and in different combinations, occasionally switching out one rod for another. No one said anything to me.

As I watched, an enormous sense of déjà vu came over me. I had never been here before, but suddenly I knew what to do, as if peering momentarily through a window into a past life. I moved forward, pushing past the woman and ignoring her shout of protest. Grasping the two lower corners of the triangles with my hands, I touched my forehead to the top corner.

With speed greater than what I had come to think of as “normal” teleportation, I was inside the tower. To my amazement, from the inside, the entire thing was transparent and hollow. It rose above me like an unending column of glass. I saw the woman outside desperately holding the bottom of the triangle as I had done and banging her head against the top. It did not work for her.

I turned and in the middle of the tower was a small table with a box. I went over and opened it to find a single miracle cherry inside. Its dark pink color told me it was a Level 2. Without hesitation, I picked it up and put it in my mouth.

I was back in the small red room. Rachel was there, sitting in the only chair. She smiled when she saw me.

“Well, you made it back, I see,” she said.

“Yes, I can’t believe I actually remembered what to do,” I said. Now that I was back here, I remembered her instructions on how to come back, how I was supposed to go to the tower and touch the Triangle on all sides.

“Was that all just a test then?” I asked.

She nodded. “About 40% of humans have the capability to retain the memories of this place subconsciously. That is important for what might come next. Of course, it was also a test to see if you would actually go to the tower and follow through.”

“Did anyone else take the Level 2 miracle cherries?

“A few,” she said. “They came here just like you did and I talked to them and told them the same thing. But you’re the first to come back, so I guess you win.”

“Win what?” I asked.

Rachel stood up quickly. “Two things,” she said. “You win the answers to your questions last time and you win a choice.”

“What do Level 3 miracle cherries do?” I asked immediately.

“The miracle cherry. There is only one.” She held out her hand. A purple miracle cherry encased in a transparent sphere lay in her palm. “You have to take it out here, in this world. If you wish.”

“What does it do?” I asked.

“It will let you live out here, like me,” she said. “You will take over for me and can move back and forth from your universe to here whenever you want. I’ll basically give you your part of the universe. You can rule the world or just let it keep going on its own. You can continue to sell the Level 1 miracle cherries or stop. That would all be up to you.”

“And if I decide not to?”

“Then we would put your universe back in time to before the miracle cherries went on sale. Life would continue as it had before. We cannot jump back and forth in time, but it possible with machines to force your universe backwards a certain period of time.”

She handed me the purple orb encased in its sparkling case. I had no idea what I was going to do, I realized.

“Why?” I asked. “Why give me the choice at all?”

She motioned me to the chair. “I really should have put two chairs in here,” she said with a small laugh. She waited until I sat down. “Your civilization has already considered the possibility of a super-reality outside of yours: where your whole world is nothing but a simulation, or a game board, or a research project. Any sufficiently developed civilization will eventually consider that idea. However, for us, who have our own universes that we plant and tend, the idea is much more pressing because we know it is possible.”

“You are worried that this is all inside a greater reality,” I said. “That you yourselves are pawns inside someone else’s game.”

“We have some reason to think that we are,” Rachel said. “But we want to find out. If you choose to, we could use your insights as a member of another universe. You have experiences and perspectives that no one here could possibly have.”

I thought about my family and friends. I could still go see them, although possibly becoming ruler of the world might change our relationship somewhat.

“When do I need to decide?”

She looked up at the wall. “You have 21 minutes. Then you’ll be back in the tower with no memory of all this and no way to get back here. It’s your choice.”

I pushed on the transparent case in my hands and under the pressure of my fingers, it disappeared, leaving the purple Level 3 miracle cherry in my hands.

“Am I the first one?” I asked. “How many other people have stood here with this same choice and how many times have you pushed time back?”

“A few,” she said.

“What did they do?”

“The fact you are standing here should tell you what they did,” Rachel said. “All of them decided to go back and rewind the world. It’s the safe choice, to be sure.”

I weighed the small orb in my hand for a second, then put it in my mouth. Rachel’s face broke into a grin as I swallowed. “Welcome!” she said, reaching out and pulling me up out of my chair. The walls of the room disappeared and I saw we were on a floating platform surrounded on all sides by thousands, if not millions of other people in the largest stadium imaginable.

“Meet the rest of the research team,” Rachel said as a roar went up from the assembled crowd, as if I’d just scored the winning goal in the largest World Cup game ever.

“What will you do about the world you left?” Rachel asked above the noise. “Should we leave it as it is now or would you like to rule for a while? Anytime you do will help with our research. Or we could rewind time anyway and none of them will know anything about this.”

“I don’t know,” I said. I gazed around at the uncountable crowd around me, unable to comprehend what had just happened. “Maybe I’ll go back and ask them.”


An Elbow Too Far

The air was as thick with tension as it was with the reek of my roommate Herbert’s new cologne, described generously on the bottle as “aromatic”. As I sat on my bed, wiping sweat out of my eyes and trying to concentrate on the comic book spread out on my drawn-up knees, I wondered if mustard gas had ever been described as aromatic.

It had all started when Herbert burst into our apartment with tears running down his muscular cheeks. Herbert was the only person I had ever seen actually work on building up their cheek muscles. He has special weights and everything.

The problem was obvious and predictable. Herbert had gone out half an hour before for his blind date with Jane_lovergurl333, a (presumed) girl he met online. That part was fine, but I was nervous because he had just gotten the half-gallon bottle of Eau de Mystique in the mail that day and was dying to try out its claims of instant romantic attraction. The funk cloud surrounded him in a ten-foot cloud, like a security team you could buy on Craigslist.

This is why I wasn’t surprised to see him turn up again a few minutes later, looking like his tender heart had been dropped off the side of building, then hit by a cab. He threw himself on his bed, which groaned a threat to collapse. The miasma of Eau de Mystique began to fill the apartment.

“That was short,” I said, trying not to cough.

“Shut up.”

“Was it the cologne?”

He turned, eyes red. “Why would you say that?”

“Because if you were the German army, she would be the French at Ypres,” I said, cleverly shoehorning in a reference to the first major use of chemical warfare. But Herbert was not a World War I buff and only glared at me.

“Get away from me,” he said.

The only problem with that was that our apartment had been built by a guy who once stayed in a Tokyo capsule motel and described it as “a little roomy”. Probably. I don’t actually know who built it, although I am sure Shaquille O’Neal has shoeboxes that were bigger. The end nearest to the door was the living room. That had the chair and the TV on the upside-down milk crate. The middle of the apartment was the bedroom. It had enough room for two twin beds with about six inches between them, through which you could get to the “kitchen”, which was the creative way of saying half a card table nailed to the wall with an antique hotplate perched on it. Opposite that was the stall that held the toilet, sink and shower, perfect for the go-getter who wanted to shower, brush his teeth and take a dump, all at once.

“I am not going to go sit in the bathroom again,” I said. “Besides, it’s still wet from my shower.” I flipped a page on my comic. “This is my home.”

“It’s mine too. Move out if you don’t like my cologne.” We had this conversation at least once a week, replacing “my cologne” with basically any other intersection of two wildly different personalities that were confined in a tiny space with not enough money to move.

However, this time was different. The smell slowly grew until it was a physical force rabbit-punching my lungs from the inside. Finally I got up and left.

I returned an hour later with a bulky package. “For the last time, will you get rid of that ungodly cologne?”

“It’s starting to grow on me,” Herbert said.

“It’s starting to burn off your scent receptors,” I said. I unpacked the tarp I had bought and began stapling it to the ceiling, right down the middle. And just like that, instead of sharing a 120-square-foot apartment, I had my own 60-square foot apartment, all to myself.

Well, almost. For one thing, while I had the TV and chair, Herbert now had the front door, which mean I had to cross over if I wanted to leave. I just weighted down the tarp at that end with a dusty Organic Chemistry book. At the other end, I had the “kitchen” but he had the bathroom, so I put up another wall between my bed and that end, as a sort of airlock. Still, I was proud of my ingenuity in roommate segregation and went to sleep fairly happy.

I woke up in the middle of the night to a rhythmic rustling, like a rat sashaying around the room in taffeta. In the gloom, I could make out tarp moving.

It was Herbert’s elbow, I realized. I don’t know if it’s a documented thing, but Herbert had restless sleeping elbow. Whenever he slept, his arm started twitching–jabbing his elbow out sharply like he was really trying to get the attention of the person next to him. Unfortunately that person was always me. With only six inches between our beds, I had often been woken up by a wicked elbow strike in the middle of the night.

Bam! The tarp was hit again. Normally I tried to ignore it but not tonight. I hit back with my elbow, pushing the tarp the other way. Herbert hit back even harder. I couldn’t tell if he was still asleep or not.

I sat up and swung an arm out, hoping to shut him down for a bit. Through the tarp, I felt my arm connect with something round and solid. There was a sharp crack and the sound of shattering glass.

“Wha?” I heard Herbert sit up and saw the light of his phone go on.

“Herbert? What happened?”

“Oh, oh wow.”

“What is it?” There was the apocalyptic thump of a 300-pound man collapsing. “Herbert? Then I smelled it.

The ambulance arrived ten minutes later. I thought that was pretty good time, until they said they had just been responding to a murder in the building next door. They came in with gas masks as I had cautioned. I explained that I had accidentally knocked the bottle of Eau de Mystique off Herbert’s nightstand. They revived him with oxygen and after smelling the stench of cologne, said Herbert probably wouldn’t lose too many more brain cells, for what it was worth.

Herbert went to the hospital, and I went to a hotel. The next day the landlord discovered that the cologne had seeped into the concrete of the building. Eventually the building was condemned and gentrified into a crack house. Herbert moved back home with his parents in Tallahassee, and I sold the story of what had happened for a thousand bucks, which let me pay the security deposit on a brand new 160-square foot apartment. It was fifteen minutes closer to work and my new roommate was an amputee who took his arm off at night, so there were no sharp elbows attacking me in the middle of the night. So I guess Herbert’s Eau de Mystique was good for something after all.


When You Don’t Fit

Copyright C E Ayr

When You Don’t Fit

When you fit, you’re invisible . . .

“I want to be an artist.”

The queen growled.

“For the last time, we don’t need artists. We need laborers. If everyone did what they wanted, what would we eat? Where would we live?”

“There are millions of us! Why can’t I be different?”

“But why you?”

“Because I’m asking.”

She let him try. In a month the hill was covered in a rainbow of swirls and circles. The word spread. In a jungle of 400 trillion ants, he was the only one with a name.

The Artist.

. . .When you don’t, you’re all they see.

*         *         *

In 1835, French naturalist George Valentin came across a nest of Argentine ants in the Corrientes province of Argentina. It was three feet high and covered in symmetrical patterns of berries and twigs, including one design that many claim to be the figure of an ant. It was destroyed in a flood the next year. To date, it remains the only example of ant artwork ever found. Source*.

*Okay, so this didn’t actually happen. But it makes a good story.


The Hermit of the Casa del Jamón

I don’t know if I have a typical story, but this probably isn’t it. It started when my wife asked me to tell her a story before bed one night. I asked her what kind and she said a romance. I’m not so good with extemporaneous storytelling so I eventually wrote it down. I tried the straddle the line between a Stephen Leacock-esque satire and a straight love story. You can tell me which side I came closer to.

Adapted from “Tigray Hiking Lodge” by Rod Waddington is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The road up the mountain was hard and the stones cut into Catalina’s feet. Legend said that the monks of long ago had imported especially sharp stones from the Rocafilada region in the north, just to make the path especially pious.

Looking back on the valley she had left, Catalina brushed her lustrous dark hair away from her face, her olive skin gleaming with the sweat of the journey. Far below, she could see the village just starting its morning. Her family would have found her note by now. But there was no turning back now. Catalina was on a mission.

Her storm-swept gray eyes could just pick out the walls of the Casa del Jamón far above on the mountain peak. It looked the same as it had in her dreams. Picking up the edges of her brightly-colored skirt, she struggled on.

It was noon by the time Catalina reached the walls of the Casa del Jamón. They were covered with dead ivy that was grey and weathered but here and there, shoots of green showed through. It was like her heart, she thought.

“Hola,” a voice said from above her. Catalina looked up into the face of a man standing on the wall just above her. It was the hermit. His hair was long but his beard was trimmed and there was wisdom in his dark eyes. “Can I help you, señorita?” he asked.

Catalina could barely breathe. The words refused to come. How could she explain the quest that burned in her breast? “May I come in?” she asked at last.

“There is no door in the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit said. “I bricked it up once I first came here. I never go out and no one ever comes in. That is my vow.”

“How do you find food or water?” Catalina asked. “Or clothing?” She looked at the man’s bare chest and bit her lip at the thought of what might be hidden by the parapet.

“I have a well,” the hermit said. “We are on top of the mountain, so it took the monks three hundred years to dig it. But piety is stronger than gneiss.”

“Nice,” Catalina murmured. “And food?”

“I have a flock of 24 miniature sheep,” the hermit said. “Their milk is so concentrated that three drops are enough to sustain me each day. Their wool is so dense that a handful is enough to weave a coat. They are my fluffy manna in the wilderness.”

Catalina and the hermit talked for hours while she sat and ate the lunch she had brought, and he milked a tiny sheep into an acorn cup and drained it in a single gulp. He told her how the hermitage had been a hammery centuries ago but how the owner had donated it to the Church after having a vision. Catalina’s own vision rose to her mind, but she did not speak of it.

By afternoon, dark clouds were massing in the west. “Are you sure I cannot come in?” Catalina asked. “It will be dark before I can reach the village.”

“It is not possible,” the hermit said. “Because of my vow.”

“I understand,” Catalina said. For a moment, their eyes locked and each tried to look into the soul of the other. Then Catalina turned away and started down the mountain.

Before long the wind picked up. The rain fell in sheets. Lightning split the sky and the thunder crashed and echoed off the surrounding peaks. Catalina picked her way carefully down the slope. Suddenly, her foot slipped on a wet stop and she was sliding off the path. With a scream, she fell over the edge and plunged into the dark ravine.

When Catalina awoke, she was warm and covered with a woolen blanket. It was dark in the room and the air smelled like sheep.

“You’re awake,” a voice in the darkness said. It was the hermit.

“Where am I?” Catalina asked. She knew the answer but could not believe it.

“You are in the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit said. “I watched you as you went down the path. I saw you slip and fall into the crevasse. Then I was faced with a choice. Those few seconds seemed to take a lifetime, but I hurried to the storage shed where I kept the ladder for repairing the roof. I climbed over the wall and down to the ravine where I found you. I carried you back here.”

“You broke your vow for me,” Catalina said.

“It was God’s will,” the hermit said. “I vowed that I would stay here until God sent an angel to rescue me. That was you, I realized. This place has been shut up for years, like my heart, but now I will open it again.”

“I had a vision that I needed to come up here and set you free,” Catalina said. She felt the hermit draw near and then his lips were on hers.

“No longer will they call this place the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit whispered. “From now on, it will be known as the Casa del Amor.”


My Steel Mask

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends and happy end of November to everyone else. This is definitely not a Thanksgiving story: I just wrote the story I saw in the picture. However, I’m very thankful for everyone who reads my stories. Thank you.

As Monty Python said, “And now for something completely different.”

copyright Susan Eames

My Steel Mask

The crutches are my mask. One glance and people have this poor crippled girl all figured out.

“The hell are you?” I come closer and the man’s demeanor flips.

“Hey, you lost?” He’s all Mr. Rogers suddenly. “This is a bad neighborhood.”

I wait until he’s close enough that when I swing the crutch up, the spring-loaded spike destroys his throat. He falls in a bubbling heap. Nighty-night, mugger.

He’s got $300 and a pack of cigarettes on him. I smoke two as I sit on his corpse to rest my aching leg.

Who says cripples can’t be superheroes?

A rare explanation: I realize that the term “cripple” is viewed as offensive by some. That is not at all my intention, so my apologies if you felt uncomfortable. I chose it only to fit with the tone of the story. After all, the point of the story is not to judge someone by their outward appearance.


Wave of the Future

I am not particularly happy with the way trends are heading when it comes to possessions these days, especially anything digital. To be specific, we really don’t own anything any longer. We either license products or rent them or subscribe to them and those same products often take our information and sell it to advertisers. That got me thinking what these sort of ideas might look like in another context.

Adapted from “Antique Stove” by Kool Cats Photography over 14 Million Views is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Wave of the Future

Pansy was excited. She still felt the glow of the wedding last week, and now she and Walter were moving into their very own home in town and even getting a new stove. She wasn’t going to cook over a fireplace like her mother had for her whole life. This was 1875. These were modern times.

“These here are the finest examples of the latest in stove technology,” the salesman said, sweeping an arm to encompass the room full of shiny ironware. “Now, at this end are all the standard ranges. They’ve been around for a while. They’re good, but nothing special. But I’ve got a feeling that you want something special.”

Pansy nodded and beamed up at Walter, who was looking less certain. “How much does special cost?” Walter asked.

“Worth every penny,” the salesman said, winking at Pansy. “Take this Ramscackle #6 Food Instantiator, made by the Ramscackle Brothers right here in town. Wave of the future, this one is. We took design ideas straight out of the twenty-first century to make this. Just think: you’d be 200 years ahead of your neighbors, ma’am.”

“How do you know what they’ll be doing in 200 years?” Walter asked. Pansy frowned at him. He was entirely missing the spirit of the occasion.

“It’s all very scientific, I assure you,” the salesman said. “Nothing good Christians like you would object to, I’m sure.” He hurriedly threw a newspaper over a crystal ball that was sitting on the desk.

Walter seemed resistant, but Pansy wore him down over the next few hours and by the time they left, they were in possession of a brand new Ramscackle #6 Food Instantiator. The company promised it would be delivered the next day.

The stove arrived the next morning. Pansy fairly bounced up and down with excitement as the delivery men carried it into the kitchen and set it up. A small boy came in with them, and Pansy assumed he was the son of one of the men until they thanked her and left. The boy stayed behind, crouching by the side of the stove.

“Excuse me, do you belong to one of the men?” Pansy asked him. The boy ignored her.

Pansy ran outside. “Did one of you leave your son behind?” she asked. “There is a young boy in my kitchen.”

“He comes with the stove,” one of the men said. “It was on the papers you signed yesterday.”

“Like a servant, you mean?” Pansy asked.

“No, of course not! He doesn’t do any work. He’ll just sit there. You don’t need to feed him or talk to him. It’s his job, but we’ll switch him out with another kid every so often.”

“Why is he there then?”

“He just comes with the stove,” the man said, looking more uncomfortable. “Well, we gotta go. Bye!”

Pansy went inside and began to investigate the stove. The boy watched her but did not say anything. It was a little creepy but she forced herself to ignore him. After all, this was the modern way.

The next week, Pansy and Walter were sitting on the porch after dinner when a man approached.

“Good evening,” he said. “I wanted to let you know that Thomas and Sons General Store just got in a shipment of molasses. They’re selling it at a discount for anyone who buys more than one gallon.”

“That’s very convenient,” Pansy said. “I just ran out of molasses this morning. Thank you for letting us know. We’ll go get some.”

“That’s strange,” Walter said a minute later. “He just skipped three houses but went to the fourth one. It’s like he knew we were out of molasses.”

“The boy must have told him,” Pansy said. “Still, that’s convenient.”

“Excuse me.” There was another man at the front gate. “If you’ve got a minute, I’d like to tell you about Slatterly’s Woolen Goods. Are you plagued by holes wearing too fast in your undergarments? Slatterly’s patented anti-hole technology means fewer holes in your undergarments, for both the men and the ladies.”

 Walter jumped up and there was a screech from the kitchen a moment later. He came back carrying the boy and put him down outside the fence. The boy gave him a reproachful look and flounced away.

The next morning when Pansy went down to make breakfast, the boy was sitting by the stove again and a group of men were prying something off the front of the stove.

“Excuse me!” Pansy cried. “Who are you?”

“Oh, don’t worry, we work for the Ramscackle Brothers,” one of the men said. “You see, the company got a new logo, so we are just switching it out on your stove.”

“How did you get in though?”

“The boy let us in with his key,” the man said. He saw the outrage on Pansy’s face. “Well, of course he needs a key,” he said. “How else is he supposed to come and go when his shift ends.”

“Yes. Very reasonable,” Pansy said. “When will you be done? I need to make breakfast.”

“I’d say we’re about 22% done,” the man said. The others nodded. “Maybe another hour?”

Walter was not too happy to come down and find a bunch of strange men in his kitchen and no breakfast ready. “They’re updating the stove,” Pansy whispered.

“Could you possibly do this later?” Walter asked.

“Well, we could, of course, but we’re halfway through now. In the future, we can schedule updates to your stove at night, so you won’t be disturbed.”

“You think there will be more?”

The man shrugged. “Hard to say.”

Pansy gave a party for her neighbors the next day and the praise and admiration over the stove was enough to make it all worthwhile. She tried to ignore the boy, even when she found him reading through her diary. She laughed off the ads that were baked into the side of each loaf of bread made with the Ramscackle loaf pans they had bought. It felt good to be modern.

Two months after they had bought the stove, a woman came to the door. Pansy showed her into the parlor.

“Thank you for seeing me,” the woman said. “My name is Miss Cuthbert and I am a lawyer for Amalgamated Ranges and Cookery, Inc.”

“A female lawyer!” Pansy said. “How very modern.”

“We are a very modern company,” Miss Cuthbert said gravely. “We have just purchased the Ramscackle Brothers factory. As a customer of Ramscackle Brothers, I wanted to extend to you a special offer. It is known as the Eternal Cookery program. For one dollar a month, we will provide you with a new model of stove every time one comes out. The subscription also comes with ten cubic feet of offsite storage.”

Pansy confusion was evident. “That means you can store food at our warehouse downtown,” Miss Cuthbert said. “There are a million reasons why you should. What if you make too much food and your icebox fills up, as well as your pantry? Are you just going to throw it away? That’s such a waste. And what if your house burns down? You wake up the next day in a tent in the backyard and there’s nothing to eat! Just call us and we’ll deliver the food you stored there. You can do it anytime. Just say ‘I want my stored food’ and the boy will run and tell us.”

This was all too much. Pansy suddenly thought of cooking with her mother over the fireplace when she was growing up on the farm. That had seemed much simpler even if it was a lot harder in some ways. It would be nice to go back to that simpler time.

“Four of your neighbors have already signed up for the Eternal Cookery Program,” Miss Cuthbert said.

“Very well,” Pansy said. “We’ll do it.”


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