Friday, April 20, 2018

2 Minutes. Go!

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.

At the end of the trail, there was a boulder covered in lichen. None of the kids knew what it was, but they liked to scrape at it. To pick flakes from the rock’s surface and marvel at the shapes and textures. They absorbed sun from the sky and soaked up the warmth of the rock. They closed their eyes and imagined what the world would look like all green. Nothing but green. Green sky, green skin, green, green, and more green.

There were trees, too. They surrounded the trailhead and they were tall and omniscient. They saw everything in the forest and everything in the forest bowed to them. They were not power-trippers, these trees. They were not malevolent. They were protectors. They watched over the children and the boulder and the lichen and the hundreds of lifeforms that lived in the trail.

Every once in a while an adult, clad in bright spandex, would rocket down the trail on something that looked like a cross between a bike and a piece of sculpture from the museum they went to every fall. Sometimes, an old man with a dog loped down the trail. The bicyclists did not look at the lichen. They did not see the earthworms, pill bugs, earwigs, wonder – they were moving too fast. The old man and his dog moved more slowly.

When they closed the trail, the adults formed committees and wrote petitions. They were aghast. They were outraged. They called their elected officials and railed against the injustice – the destruction of their recreation of the destruction of the natural world. Their cries did no good. The crying of the children achieved nothing either, but there was an honesty in it, and, at the bottom of each of their pockets, they knew there would always be flakes of lichen to study.

The trail is long gone. It is a strip mall. The bikes have rusted. The old man is dead and his dog died before him. The children are adults now, and they move too fast. But every so often, they remember. When they find an old shoe box full of bark and lichen flakes. They remember.

If only for a second. 

#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. Ooh. You should search the internet for a trail in Hawaii called the Stairway to Heaven. You have to hike it illegally now, but it's worth the trespassing charge.

    1. Ah, that first tale breaks my heart... truth masquerading as fiction, and filled with visceral images, especially the old man and the dog called out to me.

    2. This is something different from you. I like. A lot. It has an unusual voice, one that speaks truth.

    3. I love the box of lichen flakes. It will live forever.

    4. I love this. It's the folk tale with a conscience that delivers its punch without sticking it in your throat. Subtle but all the more masterful for that.

  2. The headstones were illegible from centuries of moss. There was only one on which the year of death could be discerned. 1695.

    But that made no sense. Europeans hadn’t made it this far west. Anyway, he needed to start the hike back to his camper if he was going to make it by dark. He snapped a picture with his phone to send to a colleague when he realized he had no signal out here. The sticks. The middle of nowhere.

    The gate creaked when he closed it on his way back. Something close to a scream.
    Jeremiah Winchester's day job was anthropologist, but he was on a two week vacation in Wyoming. He was unafraid of gates that screeched, even at sundown.
    Even so, he had an eerie feeling that he was not walking alone across the prairie grass to his camper van. He stopped. He listened. Silence. He looked around. No movement. Only the brightest stars in the sky. He sniffed the air. Only the smell of dust.

    By the time he got back to the van, the sky was filled with stars. The ribbon of the Milky Way wound across the dark blue-black like a celestial river.

    In his youth, he would have lit a campfire and eaten beans heated in the can. His back was glad that the camper had a decent bed and his belly was glad it had a microwave. Still, he missed the smell of woodsmoke. Maybe, for old time's sake, he’d have a fire tomorrow night.

    When he was done eating macaroni and cheese, he washed his spoon and bowl. Then he opened his laptop to add to his journal of the vacation. Which reminded him he hadn’t sent the picture. Plenty of signal here. He typed an introductory note, and then looked at the photo again. Was it the light? He could read more of the stone's hand lettering. He could almost make out the name.

    There was a noise, by the door. Not a scratching, more of a rubbing sound. Odd. He squinted through the window. He could see nothing in the dark. He hit send on the phone and heard the satisfying whoosh of sent mail. Marylee ought to find that intriguing, he thought.

    He yawned. The hiking would have been nothing for him even five years ago, but he was exhausted now. Youth is wasted on the young. Someone had said that, but he no longer remembered who.

    The sound at the door returned. He thought for a moment of opening it, then recalled that in horror movies, a secret passion of his, that was exactly the worst thing to do. He laughed at his foolishness. Just the wind.

    He closed the curtains in the smart little camper and dimmed the lights. He made the bed up, and stripped out of his clothes. Maybe just a little drink to help him sleep. He was on vacation after all.

    He opened a drawer and found the fifth of Jack Daniels he’d brought along. For medicinal purposes, he’d told Marylee when she saw him coming out of the liquor store.

    Sitting in his underwear, he was a little chilly. He turned the small furnace on and its fan warmed his pale white legs. Such conveniences. He’d turned into the old man that he as a younger man made fun of. Unable to survive the wild without technology.

    His phone pinged. He saw it was a text from Marylee: "very funny." Marylee never capitalized anything, but insisted on punctuating correctly.

    "What?" He texted back.

    "the edited picture."


    "you always said you were lousy at photoshop."

    He opened the picture again, and gasped.


    The unlocked door to the camper opened. And nothing was there. Nothing visible anyway, but a voice whispered, "Time for sleep, Jeremiah."

    When Marylee called the sheriff department the next morning, it took them an extraordinarily long time to find him. They should have been able to latch on to his cellphone signal.

    But six feet of earth blocks a lot of signals. And they never figured out how he chiseled his name in the stone, or how he buried himself, but there are many mysteries on the plains of Wyoming, where no one is ever really alone.

    1. *shudders* This is a very effective ghost story.

    2. OMG. So wonderfully creepy. I love the way you lead us through it.

    3. Wow. I kinda knew what was coming from about half-way through but you landed it perfectly. Fabulous!

    4. I agree. This is a cool example of the classic campfire scary story. But better.

  3. Part 1

    His was not so much a bookshop as it was an apothecary's. There was never more than one customer at a time, it seemed, so he had all the time in the world to dispense the proper prescription.

    For despair, he recommended Emily Dickinson. For the lovelorn, a dose of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or Shakespeare's sonnets if the affliction was advanced.

    He kept copies of The Little Prince by the cash register and handed them out like candy to the children who sometimes accompanied the adults.

    His current case puzzled him, however. A homeless boy, caught in the currents between boyhood and manhood. He was an orphan, though no one called them that these days. It had taken a half-hour of light conversation to get more than two words to leave the boy's waifish mouth.

    "So where do you live, then?"

    Five heartbeats before he answered, "On the streets."

    Perhaps Oliver Twist? No, the boy might think he was encouraging a career as a pickpocket. The Boxcar Children? No, he was too old, and the book was long out of print. Vexing, most vexing.

    The boy stared at him, daring him to come up with a book with which to cure him.

    "Do you like to read, then? he asked, stalling for time.

    "S'all right."

    "What’s the last one you read?"

    The boy blushed.

    "It’s okay, when I was a boy I read some racy—"

    "No, it’s not that. Most people think I’m lying when I tell 'em I like philosophy."

    Oh dear.

    "The last book was..."


    "Voltaire's Candide."

    "Ah, an excellent choice indeed. Which is it then? Everything works out for the best, or our garden grows better when it is cared for?"

    The boy hesitated before he answered, crossing and uncrossing his too long legs. "I think," he said, "that we too often make forced dichotomies of thought. I think your question presents an unnecessary choice. I would say rather that everything works for good, in the long run, but we can make it better by tending our garden, by being involved in it, a part of it."

    Perhaps he was not so young after all.

    "I generally recommend books, but it seems you are already on an excellent program in that area. Perhaps—"

    The boy leaned closer.

    "Perhaps I might have a different medicine in mind. Come with me."

    1. Part 2:

      The bookman led the boy to the back of the store, through a storeroom heavy with the scent of old paper, through a dark hallway, and finally to a heavy door. With a flourish, he unlocked and opened it.

      "There. Your remedy."

      The boy looked at the patch of weeds, and then with a raised eyebrow, looked at the man.

      "A garden, if you can imagine it."

      "...but it’s just a bunch of weeds."

      "Is that all you can imagine? Can’t you see hollyhocks against that ugly fence?I Or a bench over there, almost hidden in a bower of white roses? And there, a bed of leaf vegetables, and carrots..."

      The boy walked a few feet into the vacant lot, squinting as he began to take in not what was there now, but what might be.

      "But I know nothing of gardens..."

      "Then it is a good time to learn. I think I may have some books on the subject..."

      And the boy laughed, the sweet sound of tension leaving a body to make room for joy. "I just bet you do."

      "The thing is, we’re in a kind of dodgy neighborhood, and I’m worried... no, concerned... that once word gets out, people will try to steal things from the garden... I’ve been considering hiring a watchman for the store..."

      "Are you offering me a job?"

      "I can’t pay much, but there’s a small room that might be large enough for a cot..."

      The boy grinned.

      "And of course, all the books you could read..."

      The boy stuck his hand out to shake, and the man did, and the burdens which weighed on his shoulders lightened.

      Sometimes metaphors become reality. The next year, the sign was changed from the laconic "Bookstore" to "Bookstore and Secret Garden,” and there was one less philosopher on the street.

    2. Ha, I love it. It has an undercurrent of quiet magic running through it.

    3. Wonderful! It almost reads like a lesson from Candide, too.

    4. Wonderful. I loved this. So well written and such a delightful read.

    5. I concur. This is lovely and such a cool concept. I wish more doctors handed out books.

  4. You look in the mirror and you squint your eyes and you think: this is one of those moments. And you’re right. This is one of those moments. It will define you. It will come to represent everything that is wrong and right and everything in between. You look yourself in the eye and wonder if you are the kind of man who can do what he thinks is right, despite the consequences. It would be so much easier to just walk away. To forget it ever happened. To drift and ebb like a summer wind.

    Instead, you throw caution to it, and the wind whips your reservation into a kind of stagnant, controlled rage.

    When you leave the bathroom, you can feel it on your face. Your lips are tight and thin. The muscles of your jaw are knotted – a warning. Your whole body is a muscle – a heart beating too fast with adrenalin. You approach the table. You clear your throat. You try to convince yourself that you are not like other men.

    The loud one is still loud, and he’s still insulting everyone within hearing distance. His friends look at you and you can see the disease in them. They are folding inside. They are already retreating. They could look in the bathroom mirror, but they would then see the truth. They are men who are tough when they are shaded by a bigger, louder man.

    You feel bigger than you have ever felt.

    You try to control your voice, quell the shaking. You are ready for confrontation. But, right at that moment, there is a rustling of fabric and suddenly the loud man is swept onto the dancefloor and he’s laughing. The woman he is dancing with is beautiful and sure-footed.

    The men around the table hold their hands, palms out, like you are a skittish colt. The closest one talks. His old man just died, he says. I’m not saying that makes it right, but he’s not usually like this. That’s his sister dancing with him. She’ll tire him out; and we’ll take him home – get some coffee in him. And we’ll make this right. I already told the manager that everyone here eats for free tonight. He'll come apologize in person, too. Tomorrow. Can't drink, that one.

    And just like that, you deflate. You smile. You are ashamed. You go back into the bathroom, wondering what the mirror will reveal this time.

    1. I like this... the strength in building up to be a justice fighter, and the strength in the others to be peacemakers. If only there were more such resolution in our conflict-ridden world.

    2. Yeah, what Leland said. So much going on here, about masculinity and femininity and expectations and stuff. You do second person so well.

    3. I'm a ditto-head here. You write so lyrically, Dan, it's a treat to read you. I especially loved 'Your whole body is a muscle – a heart beating too fast with adrenalin.' Masterly writing - bravo!

  5. There was an uneasy silence as though the scream was still sounding. William could hear it in his head, even now, so perhaps it had never ended. Perhaps it was as loud as it had ever been in some other place, the volume of her voice feeding on itself, so instead of it dying away it maintained its strength, his memory keeping it alive. Or maybe it had never happened at all – it was an aberration, just his imagination trying to deceive him.

    The woman was real enough. Her body was curled up on itself at the soldier's feet, its head smashed and bleeding. The corpse was still, of course, but it wouldn't have taken much of a trick of his mind to see it again, upright and vital and possessing a voice. The voice he could hear now in his still intact head, her lips opened wide, her eyes questioning the soldiers' order. The soldier was distraught too - William could believe that this was his first kill – his face paled with shock at what he'd just done. He'd have expected this to have happened overseas, him shooting at a foreign enemy in a kill or be killed situation where a moment's hesitation would result in his remains being shipped back in an anonymous box, with his wife and his children questioning the fate that had brought him home this way, never to hold them or smile ever again. He would have killed the enemy without thought, believing him to be a target instead of a man, rationalising his actions as an incident of war. The adversary was always faceless, a blank neuter shape holding a rifle like his own, with its finger on the trigger and an order in its ear.

    The woman was none of those.

    1. It takes a lot to fill so few words with such a chilling and ominous atmosphere. So good, Mark.

    2. Chilling is exactly the right word... and you made us stand in the boots of the soldier. Well done!

    3. Yup, I agree completely with Antrobus. You used so little paint to create this picture. The tension IS chilling and the writing is tight as shit. Well played indeed.

  6. Part 1

    When I saw it, my first thought was: I don't know what this is.

    My second wasn't a thought but a nuclear gut punch, and the strangest sound escaped my throat, a feral and finite sound, and I vomited until I had nothing left but the lining of my innards with which to stain the snow.

    Staining the snow alongside me was the mutilated head of my wife, the box that had until now contained it upended.

    Yes, I've seen the movie Se7en. Liked it, in fact, grim as it is.

    But nothing can prepare someone for this. No horror show, no graphic video game immersion. This was negation. So it goes. As the saying goes.


    Everyone called her Dresden, which was most certainly not her name. I first saw her dancing on a rooftop, shimmering while the cool air hovered neutral and all the singers lined up in the stairwell. She moved reptilian, askance and quasi mute, dragging a phantom carcass behind her, a gator, a claimant, a caiman, something swamplike and humid.

    Buried in silt.

    For decades she'd known pain.

    It might take a woman to return to this lost and brutal man his jettisoned humanity.


    Let's see.

    Walk into love; don't lose it. The world's mouth is open, its glacier eyes clear and focused. Something like air can be liquid when it's mingled with gold and poured over the massed green ranks of trees that march their lockstep quickstep down to the lake shore. Green chard drizzled with honey. Or butter. A deep blue above, an inscrutable one below. Ingredients waiting for an absent maestro to blend.

    Step onto the train, let it move you in lines and swirls against the charcoal backdrop of evening. Lozenges of light—peach, tangerine, coral, and honey—spreading and blinking beyond the glass, distant, removed, passing and appearing, lampooning inchoate nebulae, emergent star fields, microlensed gases, cosmic arraignments.

    My palms are like eyes. My eyes are my hands. Hamsa. Nazar. I am my own amulet. Open, clean, yielding, without doubt.

  7. Part 2

    The deluge is comprised of millions of drops. They bounce across my roof, along the railings, upon the anxious surface of the lake, over each and every leaf, countless tiny assaults.

    The cabin itself creaks, its wooden bones groaning.

    Something inside the fridge is mewling, the weakest of snarls, an enraged kitten-thing. I wake most hours, upon the hour, and listen to the protests of this house, the outrage of its joists and fixtures. The scandal of its frame.

    Each kiss innocuous until it's not. I know I must plot my way back from all this.

    I know she isn't coming back.


    He looks at her, can't speak. She won't even look back.

    Eventually he says, "There's a way out of this."

    She stands and starts to walk away, part ghost.

    "I haven't found it."

    She almost looks back but not quite.

    "But you might."

    Do we all float? Can you hear the hiss? Can you hear the emphasis?

    "Okay, don't look at me."

    What the fuck was all this?


    "Some day you will break like I break."

    She stops me speaking, shivers though the air is warm. A child. She is but a child, yet here she tries to reassure me.

    I blink and cannot think of anything to say.

    Until I do in fact say, "You did no other any wrong. You are my wondrous girl. You are the world's girl. You sang from terraced rooftops, glowed amid the morning light, splashed in crystal pools, breathed the spangled gleam of new-blent worlds. I wish I had the words to tell you what you mean to all. You galvanized the lost. Reclaimed the love we mostly imagined gone. You must not… Please… Forget none of this."

    Etna smokes as always, vineyards trace green hillsides like battalions, veins and tangles and topography; all Europe keeps on bitching like the mad, fractured queen she's always been. Each and every woman has a different secret way to dazzle, to be resplendent.

    But oh. This. This. Who and what on earth was Dresden?

    Answer that and all we've done is rediscover love. Which is everything.

    1. I've never read anyone who does these vignettes so well, so interconnected, and yet so non-linear. Your word choices are exquisite, as always. And the last paragraph wraps it up like a bow.

    2. I'm just blown away. Reading and rereading.

    3. And now we've leapt into another dimension. I need to reread this a few times to get as much out of this as I can. It's surreal and direct all at the same time and as fine an example of literary art as we'll find anywhere.

    4. Yeah. This is epic. And the props to Vonnegut work well. I agree with what they said. Schizophrenic eloquence in the best sense.

  8. Missed Connections

    You were standing behind the door of a stalled outbound Green Line train at about three thirty Tuesday afternoon. LuLaRoe leggings with white cat faces in a sea of black. Pink streaks in your long white hair that made me think of taffy and bubble gum and those adorable girl singers from the eighties, like Cindi Lauper. You were reading something on your phone that made you smile. I won’t be able to sleep until I know what it was. Maybe you missed me, a skinny redheaded freckled guy in a Spider-Man T-shirt, staring at you from the inbound side, wishing time would freeze, longing for a non-pervy look into your closet, but in case you glanced up, for only a second, or even if you didn’t, let’s meet in the middle and share TBR lists and bubble tea.

    I was so engrossed in rereading the first Harry Potter book (so crushed on those Weasly twins when I was a kid!) that I barely noticed the T had stalled out just north of Kenmore Square. Maybe it was the rush of the train passing on the opposite tracks that pulled my attention. Maybe it was you. I saw your eyes through the window. Soft, like a doe’s. And you smiled. So tell me, tall, dark, and handsome in the leather jacket on the Tuesday afternoon train. I’ve never done anything like this, and maybe you were just smiling at my punky self like “look at the freak,” but if those eyes were meant for me, let’s meet for a brew somewhere and see where this leads.

    1. Such great detail in so few words. In a sense you make the reader the third person there.

    2. So very poignant... when I was a younger man and visiting DC often, the local gay paper, the Washington Blade, always had pages of these (of course, that was pre-internet)... and I read them all, fascinated that people would put their hearts and hopes into such small print, in such a public way. You've captured that reality in these.

    3. Snapshots of a life and told in far fewer than 2,000 words. And as real as it gets. Thank you, Laurie, for this!

    4. This is a great concept. And I'm seconding Antrobus on the POV effect. So cool.

    5. Thank you much! Just thinking about riding this out into a full short. Until they actually meet...

  9. Part 1: (sorry, I'm being loquacious today)

    He was married. And he thought no one could tell. But I knew.

    He walked into the bar with his eyes straight ahead, not looking at anyone. Avoiding eye contact with anyone but the bartender. His eyes flitted to the mirror, watching and making sure no one he knew was in the place.

    When he reached in his pocket and pulled out a bill to pay for his draft beer, the white skin where his ring had only recently been was obvious. I pretended not to notice.

    But I noticed everything.

    He didn’t sit at the bar. He stood there, not sure what to do next. He started drinking from the mug that Mike had poured him. At first they were slow sips, and he sat the mug down on the bar. Then, they became gulps and the mug stayed in his hand.

    I wondered where he put the ring.

    He was wearing Wranglers, with that little pocket on the right side, that used to hold a pocket watch back in the day. Just right for a ring. I’d bet that was where it was.

    I just watched him, out of the corner of my eye. After the third beer, and before the fourth, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. "Jimmy, Jimmy Blue."

    His eyes opened wide, like he thought he was all alone and a piece of furniture talked to him. I knew the panic he felt. Should he give his real name or a made-up one? His mouth opened and closed while his morals fought his practicality.

    I spared him. "It’s okay. I’ll just call you The Stranger."

    His mouth stopped moving.

    "Buy ya a drink, Stranger?"

    And he smiled. And his eyes actually met mine.

    Mike the bartender slid another full mug down the bar, and I caught it. Gotta love a bartender who's paying attention.

    His fingers touched mine when I handed him the beer. The heat of his skin and the cold of the glass felt like electricity to me.

    He nodded. "Much obliged," he said.

    God help me; we were sounding like an old western, but John Wayne never went home with another cowboy.

    He bought the next round. I drank slow, and he drank fast. Worrying about getting home, I guessed.

    "You don’t talk much, Stranger. Strong silent type."

    This time he only smiled on one side. Yeah, he was getting tipsy.

    I called Mike over to clear my tab, and Mike raised one eyebrow and I nodded. He put the Stranger’s drinks on my tab too. Mike knew me well.

    "Where you goin'?"

    "I’m headed home. I can give you a ride."

    "Naw, I’m fine. I was just hopin' to get to know you better."

    "Another time, maybe."

    I looked at him. I catalogued his features in my memory. He’d be easy to recognize again.

    He backed away from the bar, but without its support, he wobbled.

    "Let me get you home. You’re in no shape to drive."

    So I led him out of the bar, ready to catch him, and we made it to my truck.

    "You don’t have to..."

    "You’re right. But I want to. Just tell me where you live."

    And he did. Not that far from my house. He fell asleep, and I kept stealing glances at him. What kind of hell had he arranged for himself? Wife, three kids? Maybe four? He couldn’t be more than thirty. How many lies had he told himself?

    I parked a couple of blocks from his house. "Wake up sleepyhead."

    He rubbed his eyes, like a little boy. "Whaaa? Where are we?"

    "Thought you might want to pull yourself together a little bit before you got home. Thought maybe you didn’t want to have to explain who was bringing you home."

    "Thanks. Thank you kindly."

    I handed him a stick of gum.

    His long fingers unwrapped it, and put it slowly in his mouth.

    "Didn’t turn out the way I thought..."

    "Yeah, sorry about that. I got this thing about not sleeping with drunk men."

    1. Part 2:


      "Nah, they’re just sloppy kissers."

      That one-sided smile again.

      "But if you wanna try sometime without the beer, here’s my number."

      He hesitated before taking my card. "Thanks man." He gave me one more look, straight in the eyes.

      He pulled the door handle and stepped out into white heterosexual suburbia.

      "Oh, and don’t forget to put your ring back on."

      His shoulders slumped, and I watched him make his way down the street, weaving a little, but not stumbling.

      It’s a damned shame sometimes to have morals.

      And I was right. About where The Stranger kept his wedding ring, I mean.

    2. Oh, perfect. That last line. I'd forgotten about the pocket of his jeans. Another story that says as much between the words as the words themselves. You're on a roll today, Leland!

    3. That's so beautiful. All the looks, the smiles, and that pocket. Perfect.

    4. Yup. Love this one. And I agree about the coming back to the pocket. And this: "white heterosexual suburbia" - simple, but says so much. This is a great piece. And makes me really glad I've never tried to live a lie.

    5. Thanks! and I don't think any of the lot of you could lie worth a damn anyway... you're shining examples of why fiction is truth, not lies.

  10. The Devil was unfailingly polite. It was the one thing he retained whatever form he took, the failing he used to good effect. He was a woman now, average in most ways but possessing a sniff that drew your attention, his eyes quick to see you looking his way but slow to release your gaze. He smiled, ever-charming, then rubbed his hands together, moving forward on silent feet to join you.

    "Can I help you?" he said, looking out through her eyes.

    You were struck by him then, anxiety bubbling up through you from your gut, putting the book down and then stepping away. You could see them both, both the Devil and his ride, the woman squirming in her reluctance as he drew her along. He did that on purpose; he made you an accomplice to his power, made you a mute witness as you saw her suffering under his rule. It could just as easily be you, you knew, and that was the worst of it, your giving her up and retreating as much a crime as your staying and doing nothing. Or you could give yourself over, let him leapfrog into you, releasing her from her plight.

    There were no correct answers to this question, only a million shades of wrong, your shame the currency he exacted with pleasure. You hesitated with your weight on your back foot, the length of the moment echoing through you until you stepped back again.

    “Yes. Or rather no. Or…”

    “You want more time? I got all day, least till five.” He angled her head as though he was going to check the time, then stopped, knowing you’d look for him. She’d a sheen of sweat on her brow now despite it being cooler today and her hands were still busy, clasping and then unclasping each other, never stopping even though the rest of her was still. There was a quiet war going on in full view. You couldn’t hear the screams but the pain was still there, going unvoiced.

    1. Oh, creepy. Loved "a million shades of wrong."

    2. Dang. Yeah. That phrase grabbed me, too. And there's something here I can't put my finger on. I'm going to have to reread later after I am better caffeinated. ;)

    3. I'm intrigued with how you handled the third person, representing both the Devil and the woman... really done well, and yeah, million shades of wrong is brilliant. Also, "...your shame the currency he exacted with pleasure." This actually might be fun to do as a collection of short stories, with the Devil jumping from person to person.

  11. Part 1:

    He has a gold tooth and eyes as green as traffic lights. Later you’ll learn he broke the tooth in a fight to protect his baby brother, and you’ll find out the green eyes can flash when he’s angry. But right now you’re focused on the dimple in his chin, and the two that show up in his cheeks when he smiles as he looks at you.

    He looks eighteen, and he should be in school, you think, and then he stands up and you stop thinking altogether. He is walking your way.

    It’s probably nothing. You vaguely remember the restrooms are somewhere behind you. He’s probably going there.

    But no. He stops in front of you, and stares into your soul, and he smiles. And you are done for, and he knows it. Doesn’t even try a cheesy pickup line.

    He leans in, toward your ear and you wonder if you’ll be able to hear his words above the staccato of your heart.

    He smells like leather and wood smoke and something minty, and he asks one thing: would it be okay if I kiss you?

    And you smile, and you nod, and you say yes.

    His eyelashes are impossibly long. You vow not to close your eyes as he kisses you, and time slows down. He is gentle. You can taste a hint of the cheap beer he left on the bar. You close your eyes, despite your promise to yourself, and the kiss lingers, and you think of horses and cowboys and good luck and bad. All too soon, he ends the kiss and pulls back, still examining your soul through the windows that are your eyes.

    You wonder if you disappointed him. If your kiss was good enough, if you showed so much passion that you are scaring him away, or if you were too tame for this dark-haired stranger. But you can’t find your voice. Your pulse feels dangerously high.
    He looks down at your hand, and he clasps it in his own.

    His hands are cool, not cold. There is hair on the back of his fingers. There may be some grease under the nails, but now he’s lifting your hand, and he gestures toward the door with only his eyes, and he’s still holding your hand.

    He starts walking, and he gently leads you toward the door, and you know you’d follow him anywhere. Not because he’s dominant or forceful, but because he’s not.

    Outside, in the dry Texas air, he looks up at the stars, and following his example, you do, too. The moon is there, and constellations you once knew the name of. He’s leading again, you’re following again. He puts his other hand in the small of your back, and you marvel at how body parts fit together. You put your other hand at the place where his jeans hold a leather belt. Your fingers trace the design in the leather, where his name is carved. Your fingers read the letters: Buck.

    You stop in front of a massive pickup truck, clean and glossy white.

    He opens the door for you. You somehow find the strength to separate your hand from his and you climb in. He makes sure all of your body parts are inside before he closes the door.

    It takes a quarter of an eternity for him to walk around to the driver's side. Internal warning bells go off in your head as he walks. What are you doing? You don’t go home with strangers. Not since...

    The interior lights come on when he opens the door, and your doubts are silenced. This is not danger. This is destiny.

    He closes the door. He looks at you, seated so far away. He looks down at the empty space between us, and looks up at you, and you scoot over to be next to him.

    "That’s better," he says almost in a whisper.

    1. Part 2:

      "Where are we going?" You ask, and he answers with a grin.

      "Do you trust me?"


      He starts the engine and you’re headed out of the parking lot, on the highway, headed west. "I wanna show you something."

      And you drive and drive, out of the city lights, past the ranchettes on the other side of the city limits, and when the last lights are but fireflies on the horizon, he turns off the highway, pulls to the side of the gravel road, rolls down the electric windows and turns the engine off.

      His hand is on your thigh. Not inching up, not squeezing, just resting there, and damned if it doesn’t feel fine. You wonder if he even knows how to spell urgency. You want to kiss again, but you don’t want to risk being too forward, but in the end, you find you cannot wait. You put your hand on his neck, and pull him toward you. He lets you be in charge for that moment, but his lips don’t touch yours. Instead they land on your neck. Gentle kisses, soft as a butterfly. His lips kiss their way up, so slowly, and then he kisses your earlobe.

      Whispering again, he asks, "Do you know why I brought you here?"

      You shake your head no, but the voice in your head imagines yes.

      "Look, over there, he points with his calloused finger, out the window, and there, bathed in silver moonlight, are two horses.

      "I wanna see how my horses like you, how you ride."

      Your breath catches in your throat. You have not been on a horse since you were twelve, but you don’t care. This man, this night, has aroused a sense of recklessness in you.

      He watches your face for a reaction, you suppose, and the dimples appear again when you don’t laugh at his idea of a midnight date.

      "Let’s do it," you say, and you open your own damned door, and walk to the fence.
      Both horses sniff at you, and they approach you with caution. Once they get close, they press against your hands. You wish you had carrots or an apple or a sugar cube to give them, but maybe affection is enough.

      We rode for hours that night, that night some thirty years ago. When the sun rose, we were shivering in each other's arms, from both the cold and the heat, and both horses snickered.

      Tonight, I ride alone.

    2. Again. So beautiful, so dream-like. I love the unspoken conversations, the insecurities.

    3. This is so grand in scope, yet so detailed. It's amazing how you can play with archetypes and themes so subtly - creating fresh, new beauty from expectations. Love it.

    4. Thanks to you all for the kind words.

    5. How on earth did I slide from second into first person in the last two paragraphs... ah well...


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