Tag Archives: short story

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.


Saving the Short-Legged Ones

Basile Morin, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Saving the Short-Legged Ones

Alice was driving to McDonald’s when she saw a woman walking her leash. The first thing that flashed through her mind was that it was one of those invisible dog gag leashes that seem to be popular at carnivals. But this leash was trailing far behind the woman, and there was no one else around to appreciate the humor. Alice couldn’t imagine anyone being that committed to the joke, especially one that wasn’t very funny to begin with.

Ghost Dog 2: The Rebarkening (source)

Do people actually walk their pet skinks? she wondered, then felt very proud of herself that she had thought skink and not just lizard. Her Reptile-a-Day calendar seemed to be working.

As she got closer, she saw that there was an animal at the end of the leash, a real dog, or at the very least an especially hairy skink. It seemed to be some sort of teacup poodle, although for this one, thimble poodle might be more apt.

The woman was wearing earphones and seemed to be striding along to the oldies. The little pup was giving it the old community college try* to keep up with her but when you have to take four hundred steps to your owner’s one, it’s pretty much a losing battle. It occurred to Alice that the dog might have been much larger at the beginning of the walk but had burned off most of its body weight already.

*like a college try, but mostly done in the evenings and on weekends.

Of course, all of this happened in the space of a few seconds and then Alice had driven past and the woman and her marathoning pet were receding into her rear view mirror.

Alice happened to tell her family about the episode at dinner that night. Her husband Mark laughed.

“You should have filmed it,” he said. “That would be great for the channel.” Mark had recently started a YouTube channel called Good for What Fails You, which was terribly named and consisted mostly of fail videos stolen from other sites.

“No, that’s terrible!” their 12-year-old son Corbin said. He was planning to be a companion-animal veterinarian when he grew up and hated to see any animal in distress. “We need to call the authorities.”

“And say what? There’s a dog out there whose legs are too short?”

“It’s cruelty,” Corbin said. “It’s like you being tied to the back of a car and then forced to run.”

“So what do you want to do?”

So Corbin came up with a plan. It was bold, it was daring, it was completely insane, but Alice did not want to discourage him from thinking creatively. She even helped him implement it.

Mark agreed to help only if he could film the encounter and put it on his channel. “Don’t try too hard,” he said. “If this ends in a disaster, so much the better.”

Through some stake-out work over the next week, they discovered that the woman walked her dog along the same route every afternoon. The next Monday they had everything ready and by 4:15, everyone was in their place. Alice was loitering on the corner of 45th and Penelope Street while Corbin hid in the bushes nearby. Mark was parked across the street with his camera ready.

The woman appeared around the corner and came towards Alice, trailing her leash. The dog seemed to have gotten smaller. Maybe it would eventually just shrink to the point where it would just slip the collar and run away.

“Excuse me!” Alice said as the woman approached. She waved a hand. The woman stopped and took off her headphones.

“Yes?”

“Have you seen my gila monster?” Alice asked. “I was walking him and he seems to have disappeared.” Mark and Corbin both thought this was an idiotic cover story, but Alice was determined to get the most out of her Reptile-a-Day calendar.

The woman’s forehead wrinkled. Behind her, the dog had slumped to the ground, panting.

Corbin tried to creep out of the bushes, but tripped and sprawled on the sidewalk with a loud crack of breaking branches. The woman started to turn around.

“Wait, is that him?” Alice cried, pointing ahead of them. Corbin picked himself up, then carefully picked up the dog as well. He slid a small custom-made skateboard under it, then snugged the safety belt across the dog’s back. He pushed the straw that led to the on-board water bottle towards the dog’s mouth.

“I haven’t seen anything like that, sorry,” the woman said. Corbin was massaging the dog’s head with two fingers. Alice tried to signal him with her eyes to get out of there.

“Okay, thanks. I’m sure the little guy’s around here somewhere.” She walked past the woman and jabbed a finger at Corbin to get moving.

They stood on the sidewalk and watched the woman recede into the distance, the tiny skateboard bouncing along after her.

“She’ll notice it when she gets home,” Alice said. “It might not solve anything in the long run.”

“But at least it helped the little guy this time,” Corbin said.

“You’re a good kid,” Alice said, putting an arm around his shoulders. “Now let’s go cheer your father up. He’s going to be sad no one got hurt.”


Competing Vows – Longer Version

On April 12, I posted a 100-word story called Competing Vows. There were people who were curious about the situation surrounding it, both what had come before and what happened afterward. So, here is the full story.

Competing Vows

Our candles were the fireflies that darted around, our incense the scent of the lilacs and lavender in full bloom in the bower chapel. I arrived first, with two of my friends as witnesses. A moment later, I saw Francesca appear with two of her ladies-in-waiting, ducking to avoid catching her hair on the low-hanging branches. My beautiful, forbidden bride.

I had just taken her hand when the priest arrived, stepping in silently from the other side of the grove. He was young to the point where I wondered briefly if he even was a priest.

“Thank you for coming,” Francesca said to him. “Thank you for doing this for us.” He nodded, pulled us closer together and started the marriage ceremony.

The words of the wedding mass flowed over me, but I could hardly believe this was actually happening. I was marrying the duke’s daughter, snatching her from the arms of the man she was promised to, a week before they were to be officially betrothed. I, in my cowardice, had been willing to concede defeat, but Francesca had fought for me. At least, secretly.

We joined hands and there in front of God, a farmhand, a tavern assistant, and two ladies-in-waiting, two became one. Five minutes later, Francesca and I left the bower together.

I had no money for preparations, but Francesca had rented a cottage not far away for our wedding night. My friends escorted us there and then with grins and slaps on the shoulder and cries of “good luck!” they said good night.

There was wine, cheese and bread waiting for us on the table inside. I built a fire while Francesca served the food. We sat on the rug in front of the fire and ate together, feeding each other and laughing, nervous and excited. But we both had other appetites on our mind, and only half the food was eaten before we fell into each other’s arms and abandoned food altogether.

I awoke the next morning to the crow of some distant rooster. The air was chill but the covers around us were warm. Francesca was lying next to me, her dark hair spread out like a halo on the pillow, my sleeping angel. I snuggled closer to her and was about to fall back asleep when there was a pounding on the door. We both sat up and I saw the fear in her eyes.

“It has to be my father’s men,” Francesca said, her eyes wide. “They’ve found us.”

“What do we do?” I asked. She had assured me that although her family would not be happy with our marriage, once it was done, they would accept it. I had trusted her because I had no choice. Now I was not so sure she was right.

We got dressed quickly as the pounding continued. I was just moving towards the door to open it when it burst open and soldiers pushed their way in. There was no discussion with them. One of them knocked me to the floor and as I picked myself up, I saw two of them escorting my Francesca out the door and out of sight. The clop of hoofs and rattle of carriage wheels told me that she was gone.

They took me back to the duke’s palace, back to the stables where I had worked for my whole life. But it was too much to hope that things would go back to how they had been. The soldiers guarded me until the duke appeared, striding purposefully towards us. He drew his sword. I stared back at him defiantly and waited for death.

He rested the sword against the side of my neck. “I took you in as a child, a beggar on the street and you stab me in the back like this, by stealing my only daughter away in the dead of night? What do you have to say?”

“I love her,” I said. I had no other defense.

“My wife wants your head on a pike outside her window,” the duke said. “I will spare your life for now in gratitude for your service to us. But if I see you again or hear news of you in this duchy, your life will be forfeit.” He sheathed his sword and turned back to the palace.

The soldiers escorted me to the outer gates and suddenly I was homeless and a new husband with no wife.

I was walking to the village when I came across Maria, one of Francesca’s ladies-in-waiting sitting by the side of the road. Her dress was dirty and torn and she was sobbing. When she saw me, she fell down and clutched at my feet.

“Forgive me,” she said. “The duchess discovered my lady missing this morning and beat us until we told them where you were. They turned us out.”

“Where is Francesca?” I asked. “Is she okay?”

“They are sending her to St. Margaret’s,” Maria said, referring to the convent in the hills east of the village. “It was her mother’s wish for her anyway and now that her father considers her spoiled, he has consented.”

“I need to see her,” I said. “Can you get a message to her?”

Maria wiped her eyes, and I helped her stand. “I will try,” she said.

Maria had contacts within the palace, and that afternoon she sent me a message at the tavern that Francesca would try to meet me at the convent garden gate after the Compline prayers. I spent the rest of the day in nervous tension and finally set out for the convent long before the arranged time. I arrived as the bells for Vespers were ringing and waited in the trees as the shadows got longer and darker. The Compline bells rang, and still I waited. It was dark when I heard a creak from the garden gate.

It was Francesca, and she bit her lip when she saw me. We were both trembling. She was still beautiful, even swathed in her crisp, new habit. I wanted to embrace her, but instead, I took her hand.

“Hello, wife,” I said, still unused to that glorious word.

She looked troubled. “The abbess said the cardinal has annulled the marriage.”

“We didn’t agree to that! Did you?” She shook her head. “Then God still honors our vows. Come, you can’t stay here. Run away with me. We can go tonight.”

“Go where?” I could hear the hopelessness in her voice.

“There must be somewhere your family can’t find us.” I tried to draw her outside, my body aching for her. “Do you have some time, at least?”

She resisted. “They made me take other vows here.”

“But ours came first.”

“I know.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I felt like I was losing her, had already lost her. This day which had started so perfectly with Francesca waking up in my arms was ending with this gulf between us.

“I have nothing right now,” I said, “but if I earn enough to take you away from here and provide a place for you to live, away from your family’s reach, will you come?”

She smiled for the first time since I had seen her that evening. “I will,” she said. Then she leaned forward and kissed me. “Don’t forget about me, Bernardo.”

*         *         *

Seven years later, an expensive carriage rolled up to the gates of the Convent of St. Margaret. Even before the well-dressed man and woman were helped out by their footman, the abbess had been alerted and was waiting to greet them.

“Welcome, my lord and lady,” the abbess said, who could sense a large donation when it approached. She bowed. “How may we be of service to you?”

“We are setting up our manor and would like one of your nuns to come perform services in our chapel, at least temporarily,” the man said. “Of course, I would glad to donate something to the Lord’s work for the inconvenience to you.”

“I would be happy to be of service,” the abbess said, bowing again. She eyed the carriage, looking for a crest. “You are a count, perhaps?”

“Simply a merchant,” the man said, “at least for the moment. I provide horses to the Papal States and other kingdoms as well.”

“Please come in. I will select one of our most experienced nuns to come serve you,” the abbess said.

The man held up a hand. “Actually, my wife would like to select one, if it is okay with you. Can we see them?”

The nuns were summoned and stood around the edge of the courtyard while the man and woman strolled by them under the watch of the abbess. The woman walked in front, inspecting the assembled nuns and giving quick glances back at the man. They made it halfway around the courtyard when the man stroked his beard and the woman stopped.

“What is your name?” the woman asked the nun in front of her.

“Sister Amelia, my lady,” the nun replied. The woman glanced back and the man nodded.

“We’ll take this one,” the woman said.

“Immediately?” the abbess asked.

“If possible,” the man said. “She needn’t bring anything with her. We will provide everything.”

The footman helped the man and woman back into the carriage and then held out his hand for the nun to join them inside.

“It’s you, Bernardo,” Sister Amelia said as soon as the door was closed. “I recognized you as soon as I saw you, even with the beard and fine clothes.”

“I told you I would come for you.”

Sister Amelia glanced over at the other woman. “You’re married, I see.”

Bernardo nodded with a smile. “I’ve been married for over seven years.” He indicated the other woman. “This is Genevieve, one of your new ladies-in-waiting. I apologize that I had her wear one of your new dresses, but she needed to play the part. It’s a six-day journey to our house. Do you think that is far enough away from your family?”

“They have forgotten about me. My mother still comes once a year to see me but that is all.”

Bernardo reached over and took her hands. “I am afraid Sister Amelia must die, in order that Lady Francesca can be reborn in her place. I am sure the abbess and your mother will mourn her when they find out.”

She played with his fingers and looked up with a sly smile. “You would have me break my vows to God that easily?”

He grinned back. “What God has joined, let no man separate. Don’t you remember? Our vows came first.”


Turning a Blind Eye

Happy New Year, and yay I’m back and not dead!

Although it might have seemed like it, I haven’t given up on writing. In fact, I have been writing nonstop for the last year, doing a series of five books for my nieces and nephews. Those are finally done and now I have a little more time on my hands, although admittedly I have another six (slightly shorter) books planned for this year.

Nibling 16 books

I am going to try to post more stories on the blog this year. It’s not a resolution since those tend not to last; I’m just going to try.

And now, a story.

Turning a Blind Eye

It was a hard call to make, but I finally got up my nerve to pick up the phone.

“Hey John, I can’t make it into work today,” I said when my boss answered.

I heard the expected sigh. “What is it this time?”

“I’m blind.”

“You’re blind?” Skepticism dripped off the words, probably leaving little scorch marks on the floor of John’s kitchen or wherever he was at the moment.

“Yeah . . . it’s complicated.”

“Well it had better get uncomplicated fast,” he said. “This is your fifth absence this month. Heather’s going to burn the office if she has to cover for you much more.”

“I’ll try to regain my sight by tomorrow,” I said.

“See that you do,” was all he said before he hung up.

I put the phone down, felt my way to the living room recliner, and sat alone in the dark for a moment. Then I said out loud, “Okay, let’s talk about this.”

It sounds strange, but my eyes were on strike. To be fair, I had been treating them badly lately. Besides that unfortunate bout of pinkeye a month back, I often fall asleep with my contacts in and have to pry them off my eyeballs the next morning.

The final straw, though, was when I looked at the sun the day before. It wasn’t for very long—just a second—but my vision suddenly went black.

“Enough of this,” a voice in my head said. “These are unreasonable working conditions. We’re on strike.”

Luckily for me, I had been at home. I felt my way inside and sat down in the living room.

“Who are you?” I said. It took a while to answer. My ears are quiet, passive things and don’t like to make a fuss, but eventually they passed the message along to my eyes.

“We’re your eyes.” There was only one voice, but with just a slight echo, as if there were two voices speaking at exactly the same time. “We’re tired of you taking advantage of us all the time. We’re important and we’re not working again until conditions change.”

It was early evening about then, and I wanted supper. I tried to call for pizza, but after accidentally calling my Uncle Joe five times in a row, I gave up and ate half a loaf of bread and two bananas that were on my kitchen counter.

Everything was still dark, but even now and then little slogans would drift across my vision. EYES ARE THE WINDOW OF THE SOUL!  THERE IS NO “EYE” IN OPPRESSION! I pointed out that there was an “i” in oppression, but it wasn’t appreciated.

Around 8:00pm there was talk about getting a union together. Since it was my body, I kind of had a general idea of what was going on, although I wasn’t sure how. The eyes first tried to form the UEO (United Essential Organs), but the heart and lungs pointed out that eyes weren’t strictly essential in the same way the torso organs were and that they would be cold in our collective grave before they took orders from a pair of brown-irised head marbles.

No one even tried to approach the brain since that was clearly management.

It was 9:30 and I was trying to listen to the radio (good old ears) when the eyes gave up on the UEO and came up with the SOC (Sense Organ Cooperative). The nose came on board immediately in a sympathy strike and I stopped smelling the popcorn I had just succeeded in burning. Taste went soon after since taste does whatever smell says.

The ears were still holding out, saying they just wanted to keep doing their job and not cause any trouble. After all, I hadn’t jammed any Q-tips down there and never listened to obnoxiously loud rock music.

The skin couldn’t get a consensus among its various types of nerve receptors, but I felt some numb spots for a while and random hot flashes. I fell asleep with slogans like “The brain needs you, you don’t need the brain” and “Fair labor practices are a sight for sore eyes!” parading across my vision.

The next day, after I talked to John, I sat in my recliner, trying to get the striking organs to come to the bargaining table. I didn’t want to be blind my whole life, and I really didn’t want to lose my job. However, once I got them talking, it was easy. The eyes demanded better sunglasses and eye drops twice a day. The nose just asked that I never take a job cleaning out septic tanks.

Sure. Whatever.

After giving my word, my eyesight slowly came back, along with my senses of smell and taste. Finally.

I was just about to call John and tell him I wasn’t blind anymore when I felt a clenching somewhere deep in my bowels.

“You know,” a small voice said, “I don’t want to sound like a butthole, but I’m feeling very unappreciated. I’m not moving anymore until you hear my demands.”

Enough of this. I headed to the pharmacy to pick up a bottle of “strike buster”.


Do you like scary stuff?

My first piece of original fiction to be accepted by a literary magazine is finally out in print!

The story, Bloody Neighbors, was accepted almost a year ago and Issue #14 of Bete Noire just came out this last week. Go buy a copy and read mine and other scary stories.

Bete-Noire


A Spider Web to the Face

I had a bad day today. This is my response to it.

Spider web to the face

There are a million and one opinions on almost anything you could name, but one thing most everyone can agree on is that walking suddenly and forcefully into a web of sticky filaments, filled with mummified insect carapaces (and if you are truly unlucky, the furious, eight-legged occupant) is a perfect way to start a Bad Day.

Such was the case for Francesca Guinevere Dubois IV, who went by the refreshingly plain name of Pat. Pat began the day in a comfortable, caffeine-supported middle ground of routine. She got ready for work and left the house, cutting through the idyllic little wooded area to get to the bus stop.

Whap! Something soft and clinging hit her in the face. A second later, she was clawing frantically at the spider web, trying to wipe it off her face and pull it out of her hair. Dead bugs dangled next to her earrings in filthy parody.

At least there was no spider, she thought. Her hair was messed up and her makeup smeared and she had no choice but to go back to the house and get herself back together. She had almost reached it when she felt a tickling on her neck as the spider that had been sitting quietly on her shoulder decided to look around a little more.

In the ensuing terror-induced flailing to get the uninvited passenger off her neck, Pat whacked her arm into a light pole, bruising her elbow badly. For the first time, it occurred to her that this might be the beginning of a Bad Day.

This little guy just arrived from someone's nightmare.

This little guy just arrived from someone’s nightmare.

There was no time to ice her elbow but she cleaned off her clothes and redid her hair and makeup. She did not dare go back through the woods and so had missed the bus by the time she got to the stop. Finally, 20 minutes late, she stumbled into work.

“Where have you been?” John, her supervisor, asked.

“I got a spider web in the face,” she replied.

He gave her a suspicious look. “Was the spider poisonous?”

“No.”

“So it didn’t bite you?”

“No.”

“Doesn’t seem like a good excuse then.” He walked away, looking disappointed with the world in general.

Typing was painful with her bruised elbow and Pat worked very slowly. Things did not improve when she spilled coffee on her keyboard and had to go down to maintenance and request a new one, as well as explain the whole situation several times over. She was far behind on her work when lunchtime arrived and was now thoroughly convinced that this was a Bad Day.

They were out of her favorite food at the cafeteria and a woman at her table complained about being cold (in August) and wouldn’t let them use the air conditioning. The icing on the cake came when she got back to her desk and John informed her that the director had asked to see her.

“I think it’s about your low productivity,” he said and then walked away with an expression that lamented that a phrase like “low productivity” even existed.

Pat crammed herself into the elevator with ten large men who had just gotten back from a long run. The elevator stopped at every floor until she finally got off on the 20th floor. She waited outside the director’s office for ten minutes before she was escorted in.

“Please, sit down,” he said. “So, can you guess why I called you in here?”

“Yes, I think so, sir,” Pat said. She wiped her hands on her pants and found them already damp. That was the point when she realized they were wet with the transferred sweat of one of the large men she had been squeezed up against. Suddenly and completely, the terrible, horrible Bad Day won. She broke down in tears.

The director blinked in surprise. “It’s nothing bad,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “I’m not like this usually. It’s just that this morning I took a spider web to the face.” She told him the whole story.

The director’s expression turned to shock. “And you still came in to work? You are an uncommonly strong person. I’ve seen grown men curl up in a fetal position for hours after walking into a spider web. I think you should go home for the rest of the day. Also, go get your elbow treated. You were coming to work so we’ll cover it under our health plan. Take tomorrow off too, just to be sure. Did you drive to work?”

“I took the bus.”

“Do you have a license? You do? Okay, take one of the company cars home. We just bought a Ferrari under our new Corporate Excess program. You can test it out for us.”

“Thank you so much,” was all Pat could say. She stood up and started to leave.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you the reason I called you in here,” the director said. “I wanted to let you know that you won the company charity raffle. Talk to my secretary and she’ll give you the $2000.”

As Pat drove home early in a brand-new Ferrari, $2000 in cash in her purse, she took a deep breath and smiled. It was a Good Day. She might have to go find that spider and say thank you.

Spider web


“Giselle” is almost here

Riddle: what does belly dancing have to do with time travel?

You will find out when my new short story, “Giselle”, comes out, hopefully next week.

I first started working on this story in February. It all started as an Invitational Prompts story. I have only done three of these, but they are where I ask one person to give me some prompts and I write a story around them. The first was “The Circle of Unbeing” which I did for Sharmishtha Basu. “Giselle” is actually the second one, which I did for Amy at The Bumble Files. The original prompts were: a sci-fi/time travel genre, a professor, a belly dancer, a message in a bottle, and an empty warehouse.

I quickly had an idea for the story, but it was slow going and I restarted it several times. Time travel stories are also quite complicated and necessarily non-linear, so it also took a while to root out all the pesky plot holes. As well, the story kept growing until I knew that I could not do it justice by simply breaking it up into installment like I did with The Circle of Unbeing. So, I will be releasing it on Smashwords as an e-book.

Incidentally, do you know Sorina M? If you are a blogger, do you follow her blog at Chosen Voice? If not, go check it out right now. I’ll wait. I have been a blogging friend of hers for a long time now and her work is absolutely amazing. Here is one of my favorites of her recent work, called Wearing a Nebula.

You can understand how honored I felt when she agreed to make the cover for my story. Here it is:

copyright Sorina M.

copyright Sorina M.

I’m currently putting the last touches on the story and getting ready to upload to Smashwords. I’ll post again when it is available.


The Tyromancer

He was setting up across the street as I was leaving work: a card table filled with blocks of cheese and a hotplate. A sign hanging off the front read: Fortunes Told!

“Excuse me, sir! Can I tell your fortune?” he called as I tried to hurry past. I was the only one on the street, so it was hard to be inconspicuous.

“I don’t need my fortune told,” I said. Still, the cheese was making me curious. “So, how does it work?”

“With cheese. I’m a tyromancer,” he said, quite proudly.

“Uh, okay, how much is it?”

“It depends on how detailed you want it. $5 for regular, $10 for an extra detailed fortune. It takes more cheese that way,” he added.

I was intrigued and the cheese was making me hungry. “Okay, I’ll take a fiver. Can I eat the cheese afterwards?”

He seemed shocked at the idea. “Eat the cheese? Eat the cheese? Do you eat the X-ray film when the doctor is finished? Or the mechanics tools when he’s finished fixing your car?”

“What do you have to do with the cheese?”

“I just melt it. I’m a progressive tyromancer. Now, what kind do you want? I’ve got cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, gorgonzola—”

“Is there a difference?” I asked, as he looked prepared to list off his entire stock. “Surely if it’s a fortune, it’ll be the same either way.”

He shrugged. “Different cheeses emphasis different things. It’s like when you go to the doctor: different doctors will tell you slightly different things, although your condition will be the same. So, which one do you want?”

cheese

“I’ll take the Swiss, I guess,” I said. I knew immediately by his face that this was the wrong choice.

“I’d stay away from the Swiss at first,” he said. “We in the business call that the Widowmaker. The best fortune I’ve ever seen come out of a piece of Swiss was a divorce.”

“What was the worst?”

“Double decapitation,” he said. “Don’t ask—it’s not pretty.

“Fine . . . I’ll take the Gorgonzola. Is that okay?” He was looking at me with a small smile.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Perfectly. Let me just add a slice of Edam, just because I like you.”

He cut off slices of the cheese and put it in a frying pan on the hotplate. Then we both got close and peered at it.

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“That’s just grease on top. That doesn’t mean anything.” The cheese started to melt and bubble.

“Ah ha!” the tyromancer said suddenly. “Do you know anyone by the name of . . . Bob?”

“No.”

“Really? I’m pretty sure you do.”

“Well, I have a second cousin named Bob, but—”

“I knew it! Never lie to the cheese. Bob is going to call you in the next five minutes.”

“Oh come on!” I said. “I only met him once when I was ten. He doesn’t even have my phone number.”

“The cheese doesn’t lie.” The tyromancer was staring at the bubbling cheese closely. “It looks like he has a business venture opportunity for you. It’s going to fail horribly in less than six months. You’re going to lose a lot of money.”

“Well, I guess that’s good to know. I’ll be sure to turn down any business ideas my cousin Bob gives me.”

Sarcasm was obviously not the tyromancer’s strong point. “Oh, you have to though,” he said. “It’s your future; you don’t have a choice.”

My phone rang and his eyes lit up like Christmas morning. “Ha, there’s Bob now. What did I tell you?”

I took the phone out and showed him the caller ID. “It’s my mom.” I put it up to my ear. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Hi, you probably don’t remember me, but I’m your cousin Bob. I’m over at your mom’s house right now; she gave me your number. Listen, I got this great idea I think you might interested in: Chia Cars. It’s like the Chia Pets, but with cars. All I need is a bit of start-up cash—”

I ended the call and pulled out a $10 bill. “Okay, give me a sharp cheddar with a sprinkling of gouda. Let’s see what else you got.”

Harry Potter Tyromancy


Story Premise Challenge: And the Winners are…

Last Tuesday, I posted a challenge where I put up three pictures, with random words below them and asked people to come up with story premises based on them. I got 16 premises and picked out my favorite one for each picture. They are:

1.  “Mermaid/Jerk”

Winner: nightlake – “Mermaid sighted in disputed waters sparks territorial fight between warring neighbours.”

Flash premises 1

2. “Car/Peacock”

Winner: Michelle Proulx – “Reginald Hammersworth, secret agent extraordinaire, is ready for his next big mission … until Z gives him his new ride: a cute little red car with a sassy AI named Mrs. Peacock.”

Flash premises 2

3. “Kneeling Man in Woods/Violin”

Winner: Jilanne Hoffmann – “Please Mom, if you help me find my way out of this jungle, I promise I’ll practice the violin every day for the rest of my life.”

Young Man Kneeling in Forest Clearing

I promised prizes for the winners, but since everyone is different, I’ll let them decide what they want. So, Nightlake, Michelle, and Jilanne, read carefully and let me know which one you would like to receive.

  1. I will write a story and dedicate it to you. You would suggest a few key story elements (theme, genre, characters, plot elements, etc.) and I would use them to write a story. I call this Invitational Prompts and I’ve done it twice before. The first was the story The Circle of Unbeing, which I wrote for Sharmishtha Basu. The second is a story I have been writing for some time for Amy of The Bumble Files, which should be out soon. If you choose this one, email me at greenwalledtower@gmail.com and we’ll talk about it.
  2. I will email you a picture of a word or phrase of your choosing (e.g. your name, your blog address, etc.) spelled out creatively (e.g. with jelly beans, in Korean, spray-painted on the side of a police car…)
  3. I will mail you a small souvenir from Korea, which is where I live (you will need to email me your mailing address because I suck at guessing mailing addresses).
  4. I will give you one (1) piece of advice. (Note: NOT RECOMMENDED. My only piece of advice is “shape up and fly right”)
  5. I will make a video in which I will read a short story of your choosing in a creative location (i.e. not in front of my computer). It could be either one of mine or yours or one that I won’t get sued for using. I’ll give a shout-out to your blog on it.

Let me know which you’d like, and if you didn’t win, there’s always next time.


Story Premise Challenge: Ready, Set, Go!

A couple days ago I posted a quote on Facebook that said, “Original ideas appear at the nexus of dissimilar concepts.” I didn’t get a lot of comments on it, but what I meant by it was that I sometimes come up with novel idea by sticking two very different things together. For example, I might put the picture of cogs below with the word “chocolate” and come up with the premise: “A chocolate factory in Switzerland is sabotaged by the Jelly Bean Army, sparking the first of the Candy Wars.” cogs

Okay, I just made that up on the spot. They’re not always very good, but it’s a good way of getting the creative juices flowing and thinking of things from a different angle.

So, now it’s your turn. Below there are three pictures with random words attached to them. The words were provided by my wife, who didn’t see the pictures and wasn’t sure why I was asking her to give me random words, as evidenced by the first one.

Your challenge is to give a one-sentence story premise based on one of the picture-word combinations (do as many as you want, of course). Multiple entries are encouraged. I’ll let this go for a week and then pick the best one and give them some sort of prize. I’ll let them pick from some choices and although it won’t be money, I’ll try to make the choices cool. So, here are the three pictures:

1.  “Mermaid/Jerk”Flash premises 1

2. “Car/Peacock”

Flash premises 2

3. “Kneeling Man in Woods/Violin”

Young Man Kneeling in Forest Clearing

Ready, set, go!


Redoubtable Writing

Writing tips you'll love

Lady Jabberwocky

Write with Heart

Fatima Fakier

| Self-actualisation | Achieve your potential

The Pinay Ajumma

just sharing

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, Writer, Eclectic Unschooly Mama, Postcrosser, Cancer Survivor,Crafter, Gardener, & Voracious Reader, sharing bits of my life at Bikurgurl.com {pronouns: she/her/hers}

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 Stories

The Best Short Stories on the Internet

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

%d bloggers like this: