Friday, December 15, 2017

2 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON'T IDENTIFY AS 'WRITERS' - all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the 'comments' section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds ... no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send 'em here to read your 'two' and encourage them to play.

I was the man, and I woke up. The man who had been me was hiding. I was the third person in a room full of first and second people. There was a pounding in my temples. He was scared. I was scared. You were scared. I was the man, and the man was scared.

You don’t want to know about it. And I don’t want to tell me. I don’t want to hear about it – all the things I try to sell me. She wasn’t the catalyst; she was one more glimpse of nothingness and mist. She was me, and I was her. Always screaming. So demure.

We all brought us here. We brought me, and I brought you. The whole gang came, and then we were two. And you don’t want to step when I roll with my crew. We’re four steps behind and one step ahead. And we don’t have time for you. Just the thoughts in our heads. 

I don’t have time for me, and he never did either. He being me. 

“You’re still alive,” they said. I smiled, fevered. I never thought I was dead. I never thought about it at all. You tried to live without it, and where did that get we? You and me.

I can’t be alive, and I can’t be dead. I won't stop listening to the voices in my head. 

They’re entertaining.

#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...


  1. That trademark MaderRap™ gets me every time. And they ARE entertaining. And they cost less than cable.

    1. I love the meta thing going on in those opening lines. Like the character's writing himself into existence or something.

  2. The jar of green olives in the refrigerator looked lonely. The bottle of catsup on the shelf looked just as forlorn. But at the apex of the pathetic triangle there is a box of spaghetti, from the back of a drawer, and the address for the manufacturer has a postal zone, not a zip code. Like they used in the 1950s. And before.

    Can pasta go bad? The question was rhetorical, as there was nothing else to eat. The snowstorm had gone on for days longer than forecasted. The first day he had gorged, while the electricity was still on. Binge movie watching and eating went well together.
    When the power failed, he thought he was smart, moving the remainder of the frozen food from the freezer to the screened porch to keep it frozen. The thermometer said it was ten degrees above zero.

    The raccoons appreciated the offering. He saw their thank you written in paw prints in the snow, outside the screen they’d chewed through to reach the frozen meats and vegetables.

    Industrious little critters. They even took the ice cream.

    So, it was going to be vintage spaghetti, olives, and catsup for dinner. And prayers for the snowplow to come by tomorrow. He lit the candle as the sun went down, and put another log in the wood stove. At least there was plenty of firewood. Odd, there felt like a draft coming from the kitchen. He walked in, and was surprised to see he’d somehow left a window open just a little. Why hadn’t he noticed it last night? Oh yeah, he’d finished the last of the Jack Daniels last night. He closed the window.

    Okay, water in the pot for the spaghetti. Pot on the wood stove.

    The candle went out, and there was only the light from the flames in the wood stove. Just enough light for him to see the shiny eyes of a well-educated and hungry raccoon.

    He didn’t even scream.

    The bandit-eyed intruder declared the dinner delicious. It seemed the catsup and olives enhanced the taste of human flesh. He left the spaghetti untouched. It just didn’t smell right.

    1. Wow! That was an ending I did not expect. I like how you build up to it with the delicate balance of resignation/fear. And I love "vintage spaghetti" - and I do have a very healthy fear of Jack Daniels and raccoons. ;)

    2. Leland! You scared me! I was with ya on the ghetto puttanesca right up til the end...

    3. Yeah, that came out of nowhere! I love it.

    4. Excellent! And I usually like raccoons so much - now, I'm just a bit nervous.

    5. haha, darkly comically fantastic! my fave line --

      The raccoons appreciated the offering. He saw their thank you written in paw prints

      gonna be short reviews today - a finger out of action

  3. Part 1

    Have I got a half-baked story for you. Turn your pretty head.

    I sit at a corner table where I can see the main doorway and the windows, keep myself mindful amid warm, oblivious goldfish trapped in a frozen hell.

    Karla is the recently Sharpie'd name on the left breast of her waitress smock. She asks me if I would like to order, and I tell her I was supposed to meet someone a good thirty minutes ago, and will wait, see if they're the belated kind or the bailing kind.

    "Would you like to order a drink while you wait?" she asks.

    "Sure. Coffee. Dark roast. Cream."

    She brings a porcelain mug and a delicate matching jug on a tray. White with a subcutaneous shadow. It feels French. Or Elvish. Or English from some other time and place. My hands are large and clumsy.

    Her eyebrow is an arch, an irony, a bow flexed by a squire. I try to stop myself, but I fail: I laugh out loud.

    "What is it, sir?"

    She is so fine. My heart pumps extra blood.

    "You. Just you. You're priceless."

    "All respect, mister, I ain't, and nobody is. We all got a price."

    "All right. Look. Yes. I didn't want to say this, but I'm dying. Does that change anything?"

    "No, sir. Not anything I said, if that's what you mean."

    "Yeah. Yeah."

    "Uh, if you don't mind me asking, you're a fairly young fella. What you dyin' of?"

    "Well, Karla, you just asked the exact right question."

    "Okay, and I'm glad…" Her pretty face is flushed. "But I'm too darned inquisitive, and I gotta get back to the kitchen."

    "Yeah, sure. Go. Nothing says I should answer you, or you me. Even when you talk in poetry."

    Three emotions run across her face, her eyes, her brows, and she retreats, sensibly.

    I pull out the nine millimeter, caress its cool barrel. A woman in a booth with two small kids clocks it and looks away, alarm on her handsome maternal face. She has that dry Christian denial in her glowing bones, which are also porcelain. Somehow, within a minute, she's signaled the waiter, corralled her children, paid her check, and left the diner before I can even register it. All I see is the caboose of her receding Cherokee, one child looking back, a girl, tiny face stricken, like she's always known, like she wishes she never did.

    So instead I stand and shoot the fat old white guy in a neighboring booth. Nothing personal, but I'm playing the percentages at this point. I damn well want him to be a bigot and a malignant human blemish. He doesn't immediately die, which upsets me. His wife tries to stanch the carmine gouts of arterial blood that ejaculate from his throat, and as he gurgles and drowns, I admit I laugh. Not out of cruelty but out of absurdity. Stupidly, I think his neck is orgasming.

    "There are glorious things in this world, but I can no longer find them."

    I think it is me who says that, but I also think it's someone else. I feel forked like a tongue and skewered like a heart.

    1. great last line.
      towering and effective.
      a fucked-up mixed-up world where the person who clocks it orders the cheque!
      his coldness perfection.

  4. Part 2

    "Tell me he hates niggers and faggots and cunts," I say gentle into her face, but she only looks blank and crosses herself.

    A siren blooms from the landscape, like a blister aching to be burst. So I oblige. Step out into the gravel lot where the snow is falling like soft artillery and pop both uniformed men who alight so breezily and guilelessly from their cruiser. One is gone from the get go, and the other clutches his throat and grabs my ankle as I aim to walk on by. He can't speak, but his face can. It says: "I don't know you, and you have now become the second-most important person in my life, since you've done killed me. Please tell my gentle wife I died clean. That I didn't cry or beg. That I died well, uncomplaining, upholding my duty."

    I nod yes. I wish I could talk, but I feel all stoppered up. And I think we hear each other regardless.

    None of this is personal. Yet it's about as personal as it gets. Not all the bad guys hate niggers and faggots and cunts. (But all the guys who hate niggers and faggots and cunts are bad.) You see?

    This is the land of the locust, the rat, the serpent; the wounded and the livid. Violators of women; fondlers of children. The doltish and the dotard. Malevolence squats beneath the bleachers. Feigns piety while reconnoitering malls, noisome with loathing.

    This bleach is not to whiten but to clean.

    Watch the steam unfurl from a grate. It strives to form a shape, like the birth of a ghost. Most times it's stillborn. But that one time, you know? That one time is a glory to behold. It's the silver tongue behind speech, delivering all that is lyrical, midwifing the honeycomb of words.

    We're not bad but flawed. That distinction might not comfort those we fail, might even be a feint or dodge most times. Look. Some say we are fools to love what death can claim. But death can claim all things. Why would we withhold the last great fragile thing that renders us unimpeachable?

    In my mind's eye, I see the place again, and this time I sit still and wait, and Karla comes out from the kitchen as the man enters the diner at last, that icicle sound as the door opens and his brogues are the first part of him to cross the threshold. His rage enters next and is endless, even while quiet. Karla smiles at him and with a gesture of her head and eyes offers him a choice of seat. He smiles back, but it's a cold thing in a warm place, and it stops people dead. In the abrupt silence, I start to get up, but it's too late. He pulls out a sword—a katana, I think—and swings it toward the fat old white man, who sees it coming and grabs Karla by the waist and the katana slices into her instead. I howl like something raised in a hidden forest among a shock of echoes and the eternal creaking of a giant raven. I know I am too late. This is all wrong. I blink, and the picture changes to white noise and static, and all I can feel is relief. A lie. Resignation and relief.

    Glorious things. Her sapphire eyes. Wide salt lakes. Forever gone but not quite lost.

    1. This is astonishing.... down to the depths of hell and back again, and with pain and angst... one of my favorite things of yours that I've read. And if I were the type to have tattoos, I'd have this right above my heart: "We're not bad but flawed." And then you totally nailed it with those glorious little sentences in the last paragraph....

    2. Damn, man. I gotta agree with Leland. You always kill it, but this is some next level shit. I kept highlighting my favorite lines, but they're all my favorite lines. Good lord.

    3. I love that bitter, yet grieving strength to the narrative voice.

    4. Yeah, I kinda liked this character, lost as he probably is. I like that he wants to take out the Roy Moores of this world. Thank you, my friends, for your words.

    5. Holy crap. Your words just stun me, in the best possible way. So dark and so strong and so terrifyingly beautiful.

    6. so he shoots the guy after he katana-ed the girl?
      I like the fact it makes you piece that jigsaw.
      Grand language and i like it when the inanimate plays.

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  6. The woman sat on a boulder by the edge of a crystal clear pool. From a distance, she was indistinguishable from the rock. I wouldn’t have noticed, but I’d looked at that rock a million times. I could sketch it in my brain. So, I knew there was someone there from the first.

    I don’t know who I expected to find. Not many folks new about this bend in the river. It was tough to get to. It required a certain ambivalence about poison oak and ticks.

    And there she sat.

    I couldn’t have guessed her age. She might have been twenty and she might have been fifty. She was ageless, her face smooth and calm. She smiled when she heard my sneakers in the leaves, but she did not move. I saw the hand line and immediately stopped, far from the edge.

    “The fish is watching.”

    I looked at her, puzzled. She laughed.

    “I’ve been fishing this spot all morning. There’s a big trout watching every move I make.”


    “I haven’t seen it.”

    I was all set to ask the obvious when she tugged gently on the line and it went tight. There was a glimmer in her eye as he wrapped the line around the spool. Slow, gentle. She brought the trout right to the edge of the bank and then she got off the rock and rapped it twice on the forehead. The fish spit the small piece of wood that was tied to the line.

    And then it swam away.

    She stood up and nodded to me. She could see the look on my face – she knew I didn’t want to ask.

    “I don’t use hooks,” she said.

    And then I was alone, sitting where she had been sitting, questioning everything I had ever thought about water, fish, and life.

    1. Quietly powerful, like there's something brooding behind it all.

    2. okay, this is weird. i wrote about fish before reading any of these stories - i only read Dan's before writing. David mentions a goldfish and this story is all about fish. how fishy is this??

      the language kind of echoes the water. it's all v reflective and pensive.

  7. I couldn’t look at it. It was too bright and it turned my stomach, eyes open or closed - I had no idea. All I knew was that the color did something to me. Inside of me. Clenched my stomach and created some kind of hot pain. It made me feel like I was about to break loose from my moorings.

    And I didn’t even know where I was docked.

    I turned away from it. With every part of me. Mind. Body. Everything. Whatever piece of you that they try to sell at the crystal stands on tacky boardwalks. I shuffled the Tarot cards of the soul. Tried not to question it. I clenched my teeth and thought about green fields. Or I tried to. It was all blotted out by the hot wash of confusion.

    I could hear people speaking, but I couldn’t make out the words. They were echo-chamber ramblings. I knew that they had meaning. I knew that I should care more, but I just didn’t. I can’t explain it.

    The bright orange chased it all away.

    When I woke up, I was in an empty room. There was a man sitting on a chair in the corner. So, I guess the room wasn’t empty. If you want to be a stickler about it. There was a man there. I didn’t know why.
    But I was about to find out.

    1. whoa. powerful set-up for a story. great short fiction ending.

      love this bit, besides the powerful end-grabber --

      It made me feel like I was about to break loose from my moorings.
      And I didn’t even know where I was docked.


    2. someone put a comment on my poetry once, telling me i didn't need to use 'like'.

      you could go with "it made me feel I was about to break" or even kick out the "feel like" for immediacy.

      when this guy told me this, he made my poem better.

  8. I can’t picture her. I don’t remember what she looked like, but I will never forget the way she smelled. Like homemade soap and vanilla extract. A warm, loving smell. Every so often, I’ll catch a whiff of it and everything comes back in an instant. All the cold mornings shivering until there was a mug of hot chocolate in my hands. Biscuits in my belly.

    There are pictures of her, but I don’t want to see them. I remember her smell. I remember the way it felt when she hugged me. I remember the way she blew on scrapes and cuts. Does it matter what she looked like?

    Not to me.

    I could go blind tomorrow, but I would still be with her. There is more in the smell of vanilla than there could ever be in a picture. Seeing her would take more than it would give. I know it. Or I’m not willing to risk it. Because what I have right now is perfect.

    I wasn’t there when she left, and that was cowardice and bravery at the same time. With a dash of youthful folly. I’ve beaten myself up a million times for not being there at the end, but I know what she would have said. She would have told me to go out and play.

    And I would have listened because I always listened to what she had to say.

    1. The way you always sow truth into every word is amazing. So many memories and emotions in this one. I think this piece is about as perfect as flash fiction can get.

    2. So sweet, so loving and SO true to how memory really operates.

  9. Good afternoon and welcome to this week’s edition of
    ASK AN ILLUMINATI: Advice for the Spiritually Confused.
    The first question comes from Josh B. in Minneapolis
    “Dear Enlightened Being: Is Paul Ryan really Beelzebub?”
    No Josh, Paul is not the devil, he is, however owned by the devil. It’s a little different. Still, there’s some serious Faustian shit going down there, am I right? Just wait until he quits Washington, it’ll be a riot. I promise.
    Next comes one from Carla in Oklahoma:
    “ Dear Illuminati, Is Princess Kate really carrying Rosemary’s Baby?”
    Actually, no, Carla. While Satan has been trying to infiltrate the British monarchy for centuries, he has never succeeded. Never quite got the hang of the royal protocol, which, believe me, is harder to figure out than a Rubik’s cube while you’re on acid. The good news is, the Brits actually have as much sex as anybody, they just don’t talk about it.
    “Mooji my man! What’s deal with all this sexual harassment stuff? How’s we supposed to do the New World Order thing and make us a revolution when we got to ask permission to get it on? I a man, ain’t I?” signed, Anonymous in Chicago
    Paradoxical isn’t it? Here’s the deal: If you’re so wrapped up in your fine self that you can’t even tell when some woman don’t want you? You been spending way too much time jerking off watching porn and not nearly enough with actual people. Get out more. Look, don’t touch, and think real hard about why in hell you’d even want to have sex with somebody who didn’t want to have sex with you. In time, your answer will be revealed. And women TBH I will share with you wisdom I learned from my own dearly departed mother. “Don’t advertise what you’re not prepared to deliver” and “Learn the difference between a tragedy and a burnt potato.”

  10. “Dear Illuminati, Just who is running this shit show, anyhow? Aren’t you guys supposed to be at the heart of a world conspiracy? Well get busy, will ya? Humanity’s in serious trouble here.”
    Well since you asked, for a long time things were run by some guy named Henri in Paris, who though an extremely powerful and influential being nevertheless contracted an unfortunate mold allergy from all those secret meeting in temples and had to step down. These days what with twitter and all, it’s pretty much a grudge match between a bunch of morons who actually think they know what God thinks and a bunch of people who are smart enough to know they don’t. Yet our interest remains for the good of the entire human species, not just anxiety-ridden Americans. For more information, please visit our website and try to figure out our mission here on Earth. I can’t personally, but it’s very reassuring.
    “Dear Illuminati. How can you tell me to have Faith? I have eyes, don’t I? And what’s with all the God stuff and religion and shit?”
    Believe me, there is no one more embarrassed than God at all things that have been done in his name. However, religion does have its purpose here on earth, though most of it has about as much in common with God as sending snapchat pics of your private parts to random people on the internet does with intimacy. Religion and yeah, even political parties, maybe even the internet (though the jury’s still out on that one) serve to bring people together in such a way that they can feel themselves part of something larger; past the trees to the forest, past the end of their own noses or penises or other extensions of their egos. This is a good thing, perhaps even a necessary thing because despite what you’ve been told about the purity and sanctity and innocence of your soul, way down deep inside, everybody hates something. Nature, nurture, tomato, tomahhto. And we are capable of acting on those feelings in absolutely primitive and appalling ways. Look at a toddler having a tantrum sometime, you’ll see what I mean. What religion does, is to make it possible for you to believe you can be a better person than you actually are, or at least to prevent you from doing any of the really crazy shit you’re already thinking.
    They do this by convincing you that free will is real and something else called fellowship. Free will is great because it means you can actually choose to be a better person; the downside is, it very often makes many people think they are God, only with all the privilege and none of the responsibility. Which explains a lot of Republicans if you ask me.
    As I learned when I once became a temporary Presbyterian, fellowship can be very effective, because even though it means you sometimes have to join with others to eat Wal Mart fried chicken and jello and macaroni salad just teeming with salmonella, at least you can pretend to belong to a community of like minded others, even if you have nothing in common. When you sit in a church and sing hymns about raising your Ebeneezer, it’s comforting to believe that these same people will stop by and bring a covered dish to your funeral isn’t it? Even if you don’t like ‘em, you can tolerate them, right?
    And so friends, in this troubling era, as the darkness grows long, remember the light, even if you can’t quite get there yet. It’s the pagan story, the Jesus gig and Hannukah; it’s the Buddhists and the Baptists and the Muslims and Zen. Even in darkness the light returns, so in the meantime reach out and find you some friends.
    Well, that’s about all the Enlightenment I’ve got for now! Merry Christmas!

    1. Ha! I especially laughed at this: "...religion does have its purpose here on earth, though most of it has about as much in common with God as sending snapchat pics of your private parts to random people on the internet does with intimacy."

    2. Agreed. You strike the right balance between silliness and satire, I think.

  11. PART 1

    My stepfather thought he’d make a man of me by shipping me West one summer to work on his ranch in Southwest Colorado. He told me I needed to learn the way of the world, the natural order of things in which Man, or least my stepfather, sat at the top of the mountain.
    And so I was sent to help Waini Muatagoci, who the other ranch hands called Luke Two Moon, which is what his Ute name translated to. Two Moon was from the Muache Band of the Southern Ute tribe who once ruled this part of the Four Corners before the whites “subdued” them and, in turn showed them the way up that mountain my stepfather talked about. Just nowhere near the top.
    “Yog’yuvitc, brother coyote, he’s been here since before my people arrived in the before times, young Ben. Coyotes would take deer and elk and the calves of kutc-um, the buffalo. But it wasn’t until the white ranchers came that coyote has been hunted like this, just to be rid of him on the ranches,” Two Moon said as we rode the trap line set out to take down the coyotes that had been killing calves of my stepfather’s prized Herefords during the calving season.
    “I guess Hal’s barbed wire fence is only good at keeping the cattle in and not the coyotes out,” I said, half-joking. Hal was my stepfather, Harold King.
    “No. Mr. King thought he could scare them off the ranch by making big noises. Coyote ran away, laughed at him and then came back for more calves. He sent us on hunts, but there are more of them than there are of us and this is a big spread. So now we set traps and kill coyote without even seeing him. It’s a dirty and cowardly thing,” Two Moon said.
    Up ahead we saw a thin gray form lying on the ground. It was my first view of a coyote and later I wished it was my last.
    The animal’s bloody leg was in a hole, its mouth open as if in a silent scream of protest and it’s eyes were open in defiance, fear…maybe even accusation. I couldn’t look at its face long enough to tell.
    “So now you see Mr. King’s ‘enemy,’ this scrawny thing lying here in a pile of skin, fur and bones. Help me get him out of the hole so I can reset the trap, young Ben,” Two Moon said.
    I put on my gloves, pulled down my hat and jumped off my buckskin and tried to put aside my disgust. I understood the problem of the coyotes coming through the wire and taking calves, but I wished there was better way to keep them under control besides killing them in such an inhumane manner.
    “This is just wrong,” I said.
    “As far as the ranch goes, you’re wrong, young Ben. But you’re also so very right.”
    In the next hour we found four more dead coyotes, their legs caught in traps set in holes and hidden from them, save for the bait that drew them to their abrupt capture and slow, agonizing deaths.
    “As long as there are so many cattle here, breeding and calving so often, there will be coyote hunting and taking the calves,” Two Moon said. “It is as it has always been. Mr King is just providing many more opportunities for coyote to prove his rightful place in our Mother Nature’s order.”
    At the next trap in the line, which sat at the top of little rise near the southern boundary fence of Hal’s spread, we didn’t find a coyote carcass. No, what we found was even more grotesque than the twisted form of a now-dead animal once wild with pain and fear.

  12. PART 2

    Two Moon asked me to check on the trap set and bait, so I jumped off my buckskin and carefully reached into the hole. Two Moon must have thought I got bitten or the trap snapped and my hand barely escaped its vicious jaws, but he’d be wrong on both counts.
    I looked at my glove and showed the blood to Two Moon.
    “You all right, boy? Trap catch you?
    “No. Come on down and take a look in here,” I said.
    Two Moon’s feet hit the ground in a silent puff of dust and he walked to the hole, kneeled next to me, peered into it and withdrew the bloody trap. In its jaws was the severed leg of a coyote. Actually the lower leg that had been gnawed off by the trapped coyote. Two Moon’s face took on an expression both resigned and disgusted.
    “You’ll see this happen from time to time, young Ben, when brother coyote will not wait to die on the Man’s terms. He would rather die free, no matter the cost in pain and suffering,” Two Moon said as he opened the trap and let the grotesque talisman of a perverted sense of freedom fall to the ground.
    “May I have that, Two Moon?” I asked.
    The old Ute shrugged and said, “Why not? It’s not doing coyote any good now and the dead ones on the pack-horse don’t need it, either.”
    He reset this trap just as he had the previous ones and the seven more in which we found coyotes of both genders and all ages until we came to the end of the trap line.
    “If Hal wants me to check the line tomorrow, do you think I should check the sets on the way back to the house, Two Moon? Just so’s I can remember their location and order?” I said.
    “Ya know, that’s probably not a bad idea, young Ben. I’ll leave you to it while I bring these back to the big house for burning,” Two Moon said. “I think your idea’s a right good one.”
    As Two Moon road back to the big house he sang, in what I assumed was Ute, a tune that swayed in the wind behind him.

    I tripped every trap on the way back. I knew the calving season was still months away and I’d be back East by then. No more coyotes would die like that while I played cowboy. They'd have to find another way to control the coyotes.
    My real Dad had been a conscientious objector and Draft protester back in ’67-‘68. Yet he went on to win a Silver Star in Vietnam as a life-saving medic and came back to protest the war and racism and whatever other injustice he saw in American society right up until he died in ’86.
    Hal wanted me to be a man by his definition, if not in his image. I'd already decided to be the man Dad would want me to be.
    As I tripped the last trap, I heard a coyote howl in the distance, saw it in silhouette against the moon as both rose over the ridge south of the big house. I yip-yip-yeowed right back at it and it echoed my call. I’m sure it had no idea what I was doing, but liked to think it understood my eastern accented message that we were in solidarity against the Man.
    I, I'm sure Dad would be proud of me.

    1. Nice. I'm a sucker for a coyote story; I love those little animals. The heart of this story beats gentle but strong.

    2. I agree with DA. And that ending is so perfect.

  13. What is life?

    Some say it is consciousness.

    Some say it is a soul.

    Some say it is being able to process information.

    I say it is being.

    1. I like this. Simple, reflective. And a question I don't have a good answer for.

    2. it is being.
      and it's damn good to reflect.

  14. The soothing pattern of the train's wheels as they click-clacked over the rails was a wonderful thing for my soul to take in. It had been a long, long day. In fact, it had been a long week. A long month. Year. Life.

    I was an aging man. I wasn't married. Didn't have any kids. I worked as a janitor for the local elementary school. I was tired.


    Tired of this. The monotony.

    As I reclined in the seat, I looked at the stars as they shifted ever so slowly across the night sky, the gentle rocking of the train lulling me to sleep. I heard the conductor announce my stop, but I didn't care. I was tired, and I had nothing to go home to. So I decided to go.


    I don't know. Why?

    Because no matter what, this train is the long train home.

    1. Oh, I like this a lot. So spare, yet there's a whole life hiding in these, what, well under two hundred words.

    2. Really like this, and the last sentence.

    3. I gotta be the ditto-head, but they took my answer. ;)

    4. deceptively simple :) love the language echoing the idea, with the monotonous rocking of the train. rhythm in the background.

  15. The girl looks at the man. He considers her.

    The man sees a woman before him; her face round and with exaggerated lips and eyes. She’s young but wishing to be seen as being older, probably aware of how she appears to him. She licks her lips and then looks coyly away, her eyes dropping from his face to his chest.

    “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m waiting for a friend.” He looks away, toward the door, knowing she knows it to be untrue.
    He feels a hand on his wrist.

    “Are you sure?” The girl smiles, showing her teeth. She’s much shorter than him and at least ten years younger. She’s dressed lightly, and he can see the curves of her breasts beneath the fine silk of her shirt, the material darkening to twin ovals at their peaks. She squeezes his wrist, the tips of her nails digging in just a little. Enough to mark her intent, he thinks.

    “He might be a while.”

    The girl lowers her eyes again, her smile relaxing.

    “You need company,” she says.

    The barman moves in closer, refilling her glass as though prearranged. She nods and then pouts, her lips curving back toward her smile. The barman disappears again, retreating into the gloom.

    She picks up the glass.

    “It’s a fine wine, this,” she says, holding the bowl up to her nose, giving it a slow, practiced swirl. “The grapes are from the south, grown only on terraces where they receive the hottest of the sun’s rays, remaining in shadow for the rest of their time. They’re only at their best for a short while. And then they wither.”

    “May I taste?” the man says, reaching for her hand.

    1. Like seeing a Do Not Enter sign over the entrance to some dark garden, this makes me want to read more.

    2. Me too. Because my spidey-senses tell me this is headed somewhere wicked.

  16. The hamster could be dead for all she knew. She longed to unzip her coat and check the coffee can for signs of life, because it was cold as hell in Hartford with an icy mix of snow and sleet peppering her face and neck and finding the gaps between her sneakers and socks. But she was afraid that if she stopped to look, either she’d find a dead hamster or a very live one that might escape and die from exposure. Or she’d end up murdered by some vagrant in the switching yards at two in the morning. Even before she’d had this thought of the hamster—who gives someone a rodent for Christmas without even asking?—her boyfriend had been a good twenty yards ahead of her, head down, hands in his pockets, loping along like he went for long walks through the snow every night. Now he was even farther, a dark blur in the distance. She hurried to catch up, called his name but he didn’t answer. He was angry, and that’s what he did when he was angry. As if it were her fault he’d read the bus schedule wrong and there were no connections to Boston on holidays. As if it were her fault the only hotel in reasonable walking distance didn’t have any vacancies and the less-reasonable one was two miles from the bus station and the cab company didn’t answer their phone. Again, she called his name. He stopped. Turned.

    “You’re slow, woman.” He sounded like his father.

    “It’s cold,” she said.

    Even his grin looked like his father’s. Mean around the edges. “Then walk faster.”

    He started telling her a story. No apologies for his silence, for ignoring her. The stories always had dragons in them, and princesses, and he pulled them out of his pocket to pass the time while they waited for buses, or during the long stretches when they were hitchhiking and no cars would come along. This was one she’d heard before, about a princess who ends up rescuing the dragon, and he’d told it to her the night they’d first met. It charmed her, then. But it was cold and late and while the charm was wearing thin, she didn’t have the courage to face the silence. He stretched the story out for the rest of the walk, disappeared while she laid her credit card down for the room, began a new tale in the creaky elevator ride up to their floor.

    Her Christmas present was still alive. But something inside her wasn’t. The right words never seemed to come when he shone his blue eyes and stories on her. Only while he slept was there room for her. In repose his mouth turned into a scowl, exactly like his father’s. When he fell asleep that night, in a hotel room she couldn’t afford, she started what would be a series of notes, first to herself and finally to him, in which the princess rescues herself. And the hamster.

    1. Wow. I love this one. Everything about it, but that line about pulling stories from a pocket will stick with me for a while. There is so much here. Awesome piece, Laurie.

  17. The crowds cheered as my brothers and I marched in formation, and paraded through town. We were on display, basking in the welcome they offered us, celebrating the return from our war.

    Our procession turned a final corner, and as I took in the scene, my eyes burned with unshed tears. A group of men in leather jackets stood together, and held up a sign - 'Vietnam Vets Welcome You Home'.

    I have never felt such shame as I did at that moment, seeing those men, and how they rose above their past to love us.

  18. ok, that one did!
    Dan's opening story - loved it. Love the ending and how it rounds itself off. Sweet and xmas-y!

  19. The aftermath

    So the thing was said in two words when speech wasn’t needed, the reply losing itself upon the wind whistling through his brain. In the darkness in which he wrapped himself these things he came to see: the arch of her back, the light dancing in her eyes, the red flecks in her hair. But it hadn’t always been that way. In the past they always sat in rooms, silent; the back of her head the only thing given freely. The monotone answer of her voice stagnant water, the tapping echo of her pencil tip an irritation he could never scratch. She was always good at sums, able to add up anything. Numbers were her thing. And dates. Birthdays, weddings, appointments, anything – some so random as to be inconsequential. And anniversaries. He breathed in the smoke. His one downfall the pitiful memory he inherited from his father, no matter what they say about most chromosomes being inherited from your mother. How he wished. The woman filed memories like an elephant. He stubbed out the cigarette butt on the step and gazed down at Layla’s soft, brown eyes beneath him. She barked and cocked her head to one side. He nodded and stood. It would be a while before it was safe to venture back inside anyway.

  20. Fisssh

    It’s a haunting thing, this crazy thing I think you call fear,
    Unpegging me from the world I make my own,
    Leaving me to flounder, flipping, like a glass-eyed fish,
    Out cold, gasping for breath and a helping hand.
    “Throw me back in,” I want to scream,
    Full knowing my voice seeps out in silences.
    For we are adults now, not children, and can have no excuses.
    Let the brave run wild and blind into their mistakes
    Learning nothing until the pattern is finally broken,
    Usually with a quiet sigh and a heavy heart than a dance.
    Let the weak turn back from any path losing its light.
    These reactions mark our differences, neither right nor wrong.
    The grey shark swims as fast as the humble goldfish
    If the lowly goldfish dares to dream so big.

  21. it's 23.09 here so will read more tomorrow :)


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