Friday, July 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.

The moment the door closed and the doctor was out of the room, the old man took a cigarette from a pack well hidden in his backpack. The sterility of the room was driving him crazy. The cigarette would make it a drive to crazy with a tiny distraction.

“Jesus Dad! Are you fucking kidding?”

“What son? I’m dying! It don’t matter anymore. The ship has sailed. We have crossed the Rubicon. We didn’t pull out in time. Calm your righteous indignation.”

“Even if it doesn’t make a difference for you, this is a fucking hospital. You can’t even smoke next to the building outside, let alone in the goddamn examining room!”

“So, what? They’ll call the cops? Give me detention? Refuse to do the surgery? I’ll just look innocent and start calling the doctor by your name. I’m sorry, Billy. I just get so confused sometimes. I’m so scared. I don’t mean to be a burden on you and Ma. They ain’t gonna do shit. One of the benefits of being old.”

Billy dragged his hands down his face. He wanted to start smashing the beeping machines around his old man, but he didn’t.

“Dad …”

“Son, Jesus Christ. I never tried to push any of that ‘be a man’ stuff on you ‘cause it’s bullshit, but have some balls. Believe me, worse things have happened in this room than an old man smoking.”

“Are you trying to make a point or something?”

“I think the lung cancer made the point, son. I’m just letting it know that I got the point and don’t give a fuck.”

“Why? Why don’t you give a fuck?”

“Because it’s too late. It was too late before I had a chance to stop it. You think I’m a coward? An idiot? You think I wouldn’t drop this cigarette forever if it meant one more minute with your beautiful kids? Goddamn, son. You’ve known me a long time.”

Billy tried to smile, but the smile got stuck on condescending. He could feel it and he hated himself for it.

“OK, Dad. You never told me how to live my life. I’m not telling you how to live yours. But I disapprove. For the record.”

“Let it be shown that the firstborn has registered his moral quagmire – let the record show that Billy Winthrop is incensed!”

Billy couldn’t help laughing. It was his father’s most powerful weapon. Ever since he was a kid. It’s hard to be mad at a man who never gets mad at you. It’s hard to place judgment on a man who never placed judgement on you.

“Henry was really sorry he couldn’t make it. He’ll be here with the kids next time.”

“Good. Henry isn’t as uptight as you are. You balance each other out. I feel like I’m talking to your Mom. Come to think of it, Henry probably would have done your mother a world of good. About the only thing I feel proud of when I think about being a dad and husband is that I knew you were gay before you did and it didn’t change one damn thing. If anything, it made me respect you more.”

“Respect me? What the hell does that mean?”

“It means some people come out of the closet slowly. Some come out with a look of shame on their faces. Some inch their way out so they can dive back in if necessary. Not everyone kicks the goddamn door to splinters and then sets the closet on fire.”

“Aw, come on …”

“Hey don’t bullshit a bullshitter. You told me with a straight back and a straight face and you meant it. You wore a white t-shirt with “I am gay” written on it to fucking SCHOOL. There’s no one I respect as much as you.”

“Dad …”

“Hey, listen. You take the nice things I say and believe them. And remember them. How much longer you think I got? Not long. You’re going to hear everything about yourself, your wonderful husband, and your beautiful children until you stop denying it. You’re a good man. A better Dad than I was.”

Billy froze, mouth open.

“Dad! You were the greatest dad a kid ever had. You ever wonder why every kid in the neighborhood spent their weekends at our house? They had assholes for dads. Or guys that didn’t care. Weren’t invested. Some of my gay friends lost their fucking Dad the day they told the truth.”

“Alright, alright. I didn’t say I was a bad dad. I just think you’re better at it.”

“Then I owe it to you.”

“The fuck you do. You don’t owe no one nothing. You never did. You came into this world the most beautiful thing I ever saw. Your mother and I loved you so hard it made us love each other more. You were a gift. I owe you everything. You made me a better man.”

Billy was not trying not to cry now.

“Dad …”

And then the door opened. The doctor looked first at Billy weeping and then at his father puffing lovingly on a Marlboro.

“Sir! There is no smoking in my hospital.”

“Let the record show that I accept my reprimand and that it is no fault of my boy’s. He thinks I’m an asshole too.”

The doctor looked shocked. Even moreso when they both burst out laughing. Tears rolling down their faces. Billy kissed his Dad on the forehead.”

“I love you, you stubborn old man.”

“I know you do. And I love you, you stubborn young buck.”

The doctor cleared his throat. Billy smiled.

“Alright, alright. I’ll be in the waiting room. Be strong old man.”

Billy did not know that part of him would be waiting in the waiting room forever. Because his dad came out covered in a sheet. He never had a chance to say goodbye to Henry or the kids.

The kids took it hard. Achingly so. But they knew their Granpa loved them. And they knew they were as lucky as their own dad had been.

They had been given a gift.

#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...#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. Dammit, bro... you made me cry before my second cup of coffee. This is so beautiful, and so beautifully told... so real... thank you for telling this story.

    1. This one hit me hard, right in the feels. It's pretty much perfect. <3

    2. Wow, I love this. Love, love, love. So good. Dammit, my heart breaks.

    3. Beautiful got taken, but I'll use it anyways. Thank you.

  2. You told me if I looked for it, I would find it. You promised. That was before I figured out how many people lie. What promises mean. You presented a united front. You and you were right. And I believed you because you had that smile and those soft hands. And you told me I wasn’t a piece of shit. Which no one had really done before.

    And it was those eyes, too. Crystal blue. I don’t know why I always believe blue eyes. I shouldn’t. I’ve learned that lesson multiple times.

    I am the caterpillar hiding under the dewed canopy of a poisonous mushroom. I look enticing, colorful. If you touch me, I will be soft.

    On the outside.

    Sometimes, when my mind slows down. When I am staring at water, when the wind is coming through the leaves. Sometimes, I can see the forest for the trees. Get up off my knees. Get up and dust myself off.

    You were such a winner. And I felt like such a loser. I was always feeling calamity coming closer. An agnostic sinner. Let’s not say a word at dinner.

    There was a pair of red-tailed hawks that lived right by my apartment. I saluted them every time I drove by. I watched them soar and flirt the air currents. They were my friends. They were my faith.

    The other day, I saw one of my friends crumpled and broken by the side of the freeway. Red tails mate for life. I will never see either bird again. And, I swear, it took the wind out of my lungs. It brought tears to my eyes. It hurt me on a level you would never understand.

    It’s never been about winning. It’s been about noticing, appreciating, SEEING. If only you could have seen the tree and not the forest … the forest was bullshit.

    I will not repeat the pattern. And that’s how you lose. I wish it made me a winner, but I’ll take what I can get.

    1. And this breaks my heart... in a good way. The last two paragraphs are so full of truth, and the whole thing has just the right balance between beauty and ugliness. Well done.

    2. on a roll today, sir. That bit about the hawks....

  3. Clean War

    It was a clean war. No casualties. Half the population didn’t even know there’d been a war, until it was done.

    The first to realize it was Bob Brown. He woke up before his wife Belinda one morning, and realized he hadn’t seen that queer couple across the street for a week or more. He nudged her awake.


    "Them fags across the street move or something?" He was standing at the window, naked as a jaybird.

    "They’re called 'gay,' honey."

    "Whatever. Where’d they go?"

    "I dunno. Haven’t seen 'em, but their cars still in the driveway, right?"

    Bob grunted. "Somethin's not right. There’s dandelions in their lawn."

    "Go start the coffee, Bob, or you’ll be late."

    Bob grunted and pulled on his red underwear.

    Later, when he got to work, he noticed the new salesman, the colored guy, what was his name? Washington. Why the hell wasn’t he in doing his job like everyone else?

    He asked his manager.

    "Don’t know. Just stopped coming in. Lazy bastards. Can’t even resign. More paperwork for me to terminate the asshole."

    Bob had to work late that night, but it was Friday, so he’d have the weekend to make it up to Belinda.

    She was waiting at the door for him with a kiss and a cold beer. Like a good wife was supposed to be.

    "Honey," she said, "I thought maybe we could get away for the weekend. That nice little motel on the beach?"

    Bob grinned. Oh yeah, that motel brought back memories, some of them with Belinda.

    "But I couldn’t get reservations. Short on staff they said."

    "What the hell is going on? Why can’t those people, those..."

    "Latinos, honey? Please don’t use vulgarities."

    "Probably make more on welfare than I make working..."

    "I don’t know. It’s like an epidemic or something. That nice Filipina girl at the salon wasn’t in today either. I had to do my own nails."

    Bob set his beer down on the nice table, without a coaster. "Not an epidemic. A conspiracy! I’m gettin’ to the bottom of this." He marched out the door, across the street, and pounded on the homosexuals' door.

    But no one answered.

    He peered through the window and saw them, lying on the floor in a pool of dried blood.

    The red and blue flashing lights caught him off guard.

    He turned around slowly.

    "Keep your hands where we can see them, Mr. Brown. Your wife warned us about you. Said you're selling cars to illegals."

    "I don’t have to check people’s papers..."

    "Old days, old ways, Mr. Brown. We’re doing things by the book, now. The new book."

    "But..." The rest of his sentence was interrupted by a ball of lead straight to his heart.

    "So much more efficient now. No arrests, no court dates, not even reports."

    You only count the deaths of the ones who matter.

    The street was quiet, and life was good for those who thought they mattered. There were no casualties.

    1. This is so chilling. Especially the way you told it. So spare.

    2. 'You only count the deaths of the ones who matter'. And I love the subtle way you point out his wife turning him in.

    3. Yup. I totally agree with Laurie. Brilliant and terrifying and told so perfectly.

  4. The rain was gentle and warm that night, and the lightning was far in the distance.

    "Do you think they know?" asked the man in tattered blue.

    "Know what, Elijah?" queried the man in gray.

    "How close they are, to doing what we did."

    "I'd guess some of 'em do. And some of 'em don’t. And some of 'em just don’t care."

    "Strange, ain’t it, watchin' it all unfold."

    "Strange indeed. But we cain't do anything about it."

    "Oh, I know. It’s their battle, maybe soon to be their war, but I wish..."

    "Elijah, no one coulda stopped us. We were headstrong."

    "And how many of us died?"

    "Too many."

    The rain grew colder.

    "Do you think they’ll find a man like Lincoln?" asked Elijah.

    "Pray to God they do."

    "Brother against brother, war ain’t supposed to be like that."

    "How is war supposed to be? Ain’t we all brothers?"

    Elijah nodded. "Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we choose to forget."

    "Think we could help 'em remember?"

    "Don’t see how. Each generation's gotta choose. Each generation's gotta bury its own dead."

    "Looks like the rain stopped."

    Thunder came from a distance, but there was no lightning.

    “Sounds like the war has begun."

    "We should get some rest. I reckon we'll have company soon enough."

    The moon shined silver on rows of white marble.

    "G’night Elijah."

    "G'night, little brother."

    And blue and gray faded into mists and memory. There was always room for more graves.

    1. It hurts to read, but a good kind of hurt. The kind we need.

    2. brilliant point of view. And heartbreaking.

    3. Man, I love this one too. You're killing it with the tone here. And prior. If you'd gussied it up too much it would take away the power. Restrained and powerful.

  5. Part 1

    Linda had dreamed in different languages before—bits of this and spots of that blending together into a linguistic soup, or the frustration of needing to say something and unable to remember the words. But never dreams like this. Nightmares, really. The faces of the men loomed like dark mountains over her head, their eyes lasers that threatened to sear her brain. “Tell us,” they said. “Tell us what you heard.” This time, they’d locked her in a small room, left her alone in the dark. It was cold and damp and she was hungry and they’d taken her shoes. The door bashed open, the shock so great that she’d woken, sweating, heart racing. The comfort of someone sleeping next to her would have been welcome. The steady breathing, the warmth. The thing she missed most about him.

    Comfort had come in a cup of hot tea, a breath of the night air. She had both on her small terrace, and she curled into her chair, imagining the stars through the orange-black haze of the sky. Stars that didn’t need human language.

    A light winked on and her neighbor’s terrace door slid open. Sam stepped out, a thin robe over his pajamas, both hanging loose on his thin frame. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

    “No, it’s okay.” Linda sat up, straightening her nightgown. Their terraces shared a railing. A feature she hadn’t been crazy about when she took the apartment, but Sam and Trish were considerate neighbors, both retired from their government desk jobs, and Linda traveled a great deal. “My body clock is still messed up from traveling. Seems I’ve forgotten when to sleep.”

    “Occupational hazard?”

    He didn’t know the half of it. She wouldn’t lie about that occupation when asked, but she didn’t like to advertise it. She detested the inevitable questions—if she’d met such-and-such world leader, if she’d ever translated something wrong and caused an international incident. “Something like that.”

    “Boy, I tell ya.” He scrubbed a hand over his receding hairline. “The news lately is what’s keeping me up at night.”

    Linda nodded. “That, too.” There were so many voicemails on her phone that she’d turned it off. Her palms grew sweaty, her throat tight when she remembered what a colleague had called to warn her about. That Congress would try to subpoena her over what was said in Helsinki, a breach of her professional ethics. Never again, she thought. Never again would she take a job where there was no press, no backup. She had the seniority to refuse an assignment; perhaps it was time to start.

    Perhaps it was time to retire. Would she then need to keep what was said confidential? For the good of the country, could she reveal the startling and worrisome things the men had discussed? The thought gave her some comfort. The dark SUV across the street did not. “Sam.” She tipped her head toward the road. “Has that car been sitting there for a long time?”

    He squinted into the distance. “Not sure. I think I saw it this morning. Why? Think they’re up to something?”

  6. Part 2

    It could be any of them. An agent with the subpoena. Or someone from either side who wanted to shut her up. She swallowed and said, “Follow me and shut the door behind you.” As quietly as she could, she set down her tea, got up, walked back into her apartment, and started repacking her suitcase.

    After she briefed him on her situation, he said, “Is there something we can do?”

    “Yes. If anyone asks you, tell them you don’t know where I’ve gone.”

    His thick white eyebrows knit together. “But you haven’t said—”

    “Exactly. It’s safer for you and Trish that way.”

    He put up a hand. “Just give me a minute. Please.”

    She didn’t know why she waited. Maybe the suddenly serious glint in his gray eyes. She continued her packing. Passport. State Department ID. All the cash she had on hand. Then her door opened. Sam, fully dressed now, had Trish with him. Trish was stuffing what looked like a gun into the waistband of her jeans. A shoulder harness peeked out from Sam’s jacket. “Let’s go,” Trish said, flashing an FBI badge.

    Linda couldn’t get the words out. In any language. She stammered, “Am I...under arrest?”

    “No.” Sam picked up her suitcase. “We’re taking you someplace safe.”

    1. wow! mystery and thriller and action in two small parts! and a timely topic. And you've given me hope. Well told tale!

    2. Great twist, and well-told throughout. Scary how believable the scenario is.

    3. That scrambled my brains. In an awesome way.

  7. June

    It was time to leave, but she wanted to stay. He was already half out the door as she contemplated the end drop of her Mai Tai. The pink umbrella even dared her with its perky jauntiness.

    “Are you coming?”

    Eyes turned to the door and back again. When she gave no response, they flicked back the other way. It was like a game of tennis, back and forth, back and forth. June just sipped her drink slowly, drawing it out towards the last gasp.

    She heard him curse, the cold wind stealing the full force of it, leaving only a whimper to slide back into the room as the door slammed shut.

    Several heads nodded her way; all female, of course, except for dependable Len, who gave a cheeky wink. She gave him an awkward smile. Hopefully it wouldn’t entice him over again. She couldn’t bear to turn him down a second time.

    Within minutes the pub gathered steam, voices crept up and people returned to their own business. June crept into a corner, perched herself on a wooden stool and perused her audience. She’d been coming here for how long – three years, four, five, six even? She barely knew anyone.

    Most people were too wary to come within a few strides of Rick. His temper was legendary. It took the smallest thing to fire him up. June knew this only too well, but she’d put it out, that fire. Passion had fuelled it and all of that was long extinguished. The green demon no longer enraged him. Men could actually talk to her now without fearing a crushed skull. Not that she was remotely interested. God forbid.

    June preferred her own company these days. It was so much simpler. The idea of meeting anyone new was exhausting, and she’d need to leave Rick first. Better the devil you know, they said, but she’d danced with the red-tailed one too long. Energy. It was the thing she missed the most – the energy to reshape things. She’d never feared change when she was young, so what was so different now? It was still inside her, somewhere. She flicked the umbrella in her empty glass. She wouldn’t find the answer lurking in there.

    “Hello, June.”

    She bit the end of the straw. “Hi, Len, how are you?”

    “I’m well, thank you. How are you holding up? I see Rick didn’t stay long.”

    “No. He had things to do.”

    “Things to yell at?”

    June laughed. “Things that don’t answer back.”

    “Fancy another?”

    She nodded. “Sure. I’m in no hurry to get yelled at.”

    Len sniggered, dipped his herringbone cap and shuffled towards the bar.

    1. Good build up of the tension... and the way that Rick "stays" even after his angry departure... his shadow falls on everything... but June, I don't think June's gonna put up with it much longer. I like these characters!

    2. Thanks, Leland. I'm a bit low on inspiration today! Insomnia week :)

    3. good scene, and solid map to her thoughts

    4. I agree. Dope characterization. It's not fair that you write prose as well as you write poetry. ;)

    5. Thanks! It wasn't totalling jelling for me so thank you ;)

  8. Strings of stems

    Into the thrashing of the normal, the being
    This unpredictable within the substance of
    The misunderstood. Lines upon dreary lines
    Of awkward stumbling, words upon words
    Of buried meaning – all wandering adrift, this
    Sand will suck you under. Fear the stepping of
    The moon, a dance of strangers beneath these
    Stubborn stars a-glint without an audience,
    Dying to be dark. Or so they say when gathering
    Stories and watering them, muttering secrets of
    Growth. Into the shallow sea I ponder nothing
    And throw a stone into an arc of resembling.

    1. feels like a day when the writing isn't going well. Other's mileage may vary. Captured it for me though.

    2. This is a cool reflection of the "garden" of stories. I love that last line HARD.

    3. The last line got me, too. Is the stone falling into water and making ripples, or into glass and shattering it?

    4. Thanks guys :) I'm thinking the last word could be dissembling also. It's whatever u want it to mean, Leland :)

  9. Part 1 - “Do you think today will be the day, Pa?” Ephraim Holliday asked his father.
    “Eph, I been praying it’d be so,” said his father Eleazar, who gouged out a handful of the dry crust that scabbed over what was supposed to be his cornfield. He crushed it and watched the wind carry it eastward, as if saying, “You should go, too.”
    “You think those clouds out by the mountains will bring rain today?” Ephraim asked, since his father was the most learned man he knew out on the Colorado prairie.
    “Can’t say just yet. A farmer’s at the mercy of nature anywhere. Out here, mercy’s hard to come by,” Eleazar said. “Sometimes a farmer isn’t much more’n a gambler, ‘cept the stakes are a whole lot higher than a few Gold Eagles.”
    “Heard a man in Sterling say Hell would freeze over before we saw any rain that’d make a damn…sorry…a difference for any dirt farmers out here,” Ephraim said.
    Eleazar placed his hand on his son’s shoulder and turned him toward the house and barn to do his morning chores, though they had become less laborious as his father was forced to sell off a few more head of cattle and a mule last week to the fellow running the mercantile in Sterling.
    “Ephraim, could you fetch a pail of water, please?” he heard his mother, Cora, call from the house, a cabin of sod and dry pine his father built with help from Vern Daley. The Daleys had come west with the Hollidays. They had made a life on the Illinois prairie for generations, according to Mr. Daley.
    “Figured to make a go of it somewhere the land was open, free and wasn’t so crowded with lawyers and politicians,” Daley once said.
    But the Daleys hadn’t counted on some Pawnee boys riding onto their farm from time to time; fewer after Leah Daley got measles and died. They hadn’t counted on the boys telling their fathers about the white baby who went to the Creator with the spotted sickness. They hadn’t counted on the Pawnee band catching measles and begin dying and deciding to nip the source of their curse in the bud by burning down the Daleys’ place with them inside. Then that band of Pawnee just disappeared like they had been caught inside that blazing cabin, which Eleazar said they might as well have.
    “Don’t know anything worse’n dyin’ in a fire,” Ephraim said as he hauled a bucket from the small spring in a nearby copse of trees. And from the way their shadows had begun to wake up from their western repose, he also reckoned it was full morning.
    “Pour some into the big pot, Ephraim,” his mother said. “Have you had anything to drink?”
    “Not yet, Mother. Gotta see to the stock first.”
    “I’m afraid if it doesn’t rain soon, you’ll be doing that with a thimble,” she said.
    As Cora brushed back strands of hair from her face, Ephraim realized how much his mother had changed in their two years out there on the Colorado frontier. The hair was gray and her eyes had taken on cracks like the ones along the furrows out back.
    “I’m going now, Mother,” Ephraim said. And then gave her a hug.
    “Oh, my. You surprised me, Eph. What brought that on?”
    “Just ‘cause.”
    “Well thank you, Eph. You’ve made my day. Now scoot.”
    Ephraim joined his father, who had begun digging a trench to connect one end of his cornfield with the spring.
    “Shovel’s right there, Eph. Let’s see if we can get another eighty or ninety feet today,” his father said.
    “Clouds are building, Pa. Look.”
    Eleazar lifted his head from his digging and peered through the shimmering air at the far mountains, where the clouds were rising like heavenly peaks. Only they were beginning to crawl east.
    “Hmm, maybe the mountain’s gonna come to Muhammad today.”
    “Just an old saying. ‘If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.’ Means if one's will doesn't prevail, he must find an alternative. Like if it won’t rain on our field, then we have to bring rain here. Now pick up that shovel and let’s move a mountain.”
    Ephraim once more looked at the rising peaks of white and gray and made another little prayer for any rain the Lord saw fit to give them.
    “Even a thimbleful,” he whispered.

  10. Part 2 - The sound of two deep scraping shovelfuls, punctuated by a shallow one, sang into the afternoon until a cool wind brought a chill to the sodden backs of the Holliday men.

    The sun had fired morning into a cumulonimbus alloy of power and potential crouching above the eastern Rockies. They looked up at the cloud tops and saw summer had forged an anvil upon which it might clang out sparks and pound down thunderclaps.

    “Clouds are getting dark, Pa,” Ephraim said.

    “Yeah, they are. Say you prayers, son. This could be it.“

    In the distance a jagged rip of white tore down from the sooty bottom of the cloud mass inching eastward.

    “Shhh… Count. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three….” When they finally heard the rumble of thunder, Eleazar said, “I’ll be damned. Twenty miles.”

    “How’d you know…?”

    “Tell you later. Gather what stock you can into the barn and tell your mother I went to fetch what I can of the cattle. I’ll be back before anything happens. If anything IS gonna happen.”

    They scrambled toward the barn, where Eleazar saddled up and rode northwest to find what beeves he could to drive nearer the house.

    “Mother, did you see the lightning?” Ephraim said as he rushed through the door.

    “Heard the rumble, Ephraim. Where’s your father?”

    “He went to gather some of the cattle. Said he’d be back directly. I gotta tie down the Guernsey.”

    Outside, Ephraim saw the clouds had become a slate ceiling across the sky and he whispered another prayer. He jumped when he saw another flash of lightning and counted Mississippis until he heard the thunder, though he didn’t know how his father figured out the distance. Ephraim wondered if the thunder was another empty test of faith, a weaving of wind and water with want.

    His father was closing the corral as Ephraim finished. Both Eleazar and his horse were panting and slick with sweat.

    “I’ll take care of Red. You go in and help your mother with the little ones,” Eleazar said as he uncinched his saddle. “Scoot.”

    Ephraim heard the wind blowing louder and a flash of light burst through every gap in the barn walls. Before he could get to “Two Mississip…” a sound like the Apocalypse exploded all around.

    Inside the house, baby Lucy was wailing in her mother’s embrace and five-year-old Edwin sat on the floor clutching Cora’s leg.

    “Your father back?” she said, fear widening those weary, crinkled eyes.

    “Yes, Mother. He’s coming.”

    “Shut the door, Ephraim,” Cora said, as wind blew dust from what remained of a dream through the house.

    Then came the hammering on the roof.

    “Rain, Mother,” Ephraim shouted, startling the baby. The clattering was so loud he didn’t hear his father enter, only felt the chill air raising hairs on his neck. As he turned, he saw his father in the doorway shaking small white balls off his shoulders and hat.

    “Hail, Cora. And that wind, those clouds,” Eleazar said, his eyes projecting something Ephraim had never seen in them before. He’d seen Eleazar angry enough to level a man twice his size. He’d seen him weep over the grave of little Julia back in Missouri, and with joy at the birth of Lucy. But he’d never imagined the wide and confused look he saw at that moment.

    “Ephraim, come here,” Eleazar shouted above the din. Eleazar knelt next to Cora and held his boys in front of him, as close together as they could get.

    “Let’s pray. Pray that we’re saved from all that’s beset us. Pray, boys. Our Father, which art in Heaven…” And the voices of Cora and her sons carried on with the Lord’s Prayer as Eleazar listened to how the wind changed. It reminded him of the trains that ran from Chicago to St. Louis. And he knew Hell had frozen over.

    Outside, something looking like Satan’s tail dropped from the clouds, it’s tip a whirling skein of Colorado dirt, dust and grass. And as the boys, their eyes tightly closed in prayer, recited “…now and at the hour of our death. For Thine is the Kingdom…” Satan scooped up their bone-dry souls, when the only sin they had committed was to pray for rain in this frontier between his kingdom and the Creator’s.

    1. Man, I love every bit of this. Understated and authentic. You can feel the plodding panic.

  11. "O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
    Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you."—T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

    This boat is a sculpted incisor cutting the surface of the lake. A fierce sun debrides the foaming scars, and a stillness traps the heat beneath a sultry, birdless dome of exquisite blue.

    A near-naked woman helms the boat, lion-haired and hewn by toil and sunlight into a gleaming statue of bronze. Her tawny-golden hair is a rippling banner proclaiming both her passage and her ferocity.

    Midpoint of the lake, she cuts the engine and drifts, drags something bulky across the clean wood-finished deck. All her amazonian brawn is needed to wrestle and tip the object into the water. Fetid bubbles belch to the surface, and it drops quickly to the forest of swaying weed below.

    Slick in the inferno afternoon, and like Kali, she stands and extends her arms. She asks the pitiless sky for relief, to have this sorry deed erased by a deluge. But the raging sun won't even blink.

    No one at the shore or in the sundry craft enjoying the summer lake seems to notice her.

    She imagines a horror film, a tiny hand reaching from the deep after the tale is supposedly told. Or a comedy: a sodden, piss-coloured toupee afloat for days until snagged by a thwarted fisherman's hook. A long red tie twisting like a wounded eel. A swampy red hat, its slogan unpicked, reduced to a handful of letters: M..e .me…. Great ……

    Two cruel decades for this moment. Years of being gaslit, of callous disregard and wanton humiliation. Choose your slurs and slanders slyly enough, with sufficient precision, and you don't need fists, not even tiny ones.

    With escape no option, frail murder remained by default, mewling and fretting, that poor abandoned runt of the human litter. She had bided her time, built her fortitude and power, and one fine day, when it was at last possible and the hawks had looked away, she had extinguished the remaining glint of light in watery eyes that had long-ago spurned brightness. As that vestige waned, the last words he heard in this world he'd done so much to sully were, "You will be hated as long as there are people to hate. Not only me. The world is well rid of you."

    A new breeze licks at her sweat-salted skin, and she shivers. A squall is forming to the east, a knot of cloud like the ghost of a frown on a smiling face. Vacationers near the lakeshore scramble as the first fat drops hit. Her prayers have been answered at every step, and she thanks the sun and the heavens and the blessed clouds and starts up the boat and smiles at last and looks to windward at the approaching storm.

    She wonders, when it comes, what the thunder will say.

    1. The teeth are sharp. Delightfully sharp.

    2. It's all dope. And the last line kills. But I keep reading this sentence over and over: "Choose your slurs and slanders slyly enough, with sufficient precision, and you don't need fists, not even tiny ones."

    3. Sharp indeed. Your word choices and alliteration are particularly strong in this tale of vengeance.

  12. The Last Man on the Moon

    He was old now, but then, he’d been in his prime. Fearless. Fit. Savvy.

    He was a member of an elite club: Twelve men — twelve humans — who had walked on the moon.

    All the attention was great, and the moon itself had been exhilarating, but there was something more.

    Something he didn’t completely remember until he was safely back on Earth.

    Something he’d never told anyone.

    When he looked up at earth, he’d seen something remarkable. He remembered that much. He remembered a sort of double vision.

    The Earth has phases, just like the moon, and the day he walked the lunar surface, the Earth was equally split between light and darkness.

    In the double vision, he saw one Earth as it was, and one Earth with mushroom clouds and fire and smoke.

    In a space suit, you can’t rub your eyes, so he blinked. He blinked a lot. At last, there was only one Earth in the sky again.

    The part that came to him only after he returned home were the words that came with the vision. They were in the voice of an old man, said with certainty, said with hope, said with sternness.

    “You have a choice.”

    Four words. Four words that still echoed in his mind nearly fifty years later. Four words he’d never shared.

    And now it was time. He took out a piece of Air Force stationery, emblazoned with his name and the Air Force insignia for astronauts.

    Would they think he'd gone off the deep end? Space crazy? Maybe, but what the fuck did he care at this point.

    He began, "Mr. President, we are not alone. I received a message during my moon walk that I should have delivered fifty years ago."

    He continued, until the page was nearly full, and signed his name.

    A voice — the voice — came to him as he sealed the envelope. "Well done," it said.

  13. Victor’s Walk

    Victor Clemons walks with purposeful strides,
    attempting to blend in, to look like he belongs.
    He cringes as the black and white pulls alongside him, and slows.
    Eyes of the law stare him down,
    and surge forward, losing interest for now.
    People think of Chicago, industry and skyscrapers.
    He walks down the sidewalk,
    thinks of the job he lost today.

    Blue cap turned backwards, curved bill
    nearly touching the heavy leather backpack.
    Canvas straps dig into his shoulders,
    swarthy arms extend from short yellow sleeves,
    swing through the air, boxing in pantomime.
    People think of Lincoln, Midwest hospitality and football.
    He walks down the sidewalk,
    thinks of where he can sleep tonight.

    Sweat blisters his brow.
    Flecks of mold grimly spread across his carryall,
    crossing the boundaries marked by salt leached from his body.
    Trusty bag worn smooth with the friction of miles,
    failing to weigh him down, with all that he has left.
    People think of Wichita, pizza hut and air capital.
    He walks down the sidewalk, the clenched fist in his gut
    thinks of the half-eaten burger he dug out of a trashcan yesterday morning.

    He walks south,
    Migrating out of the nation of his birth.
    The climate of intolerance poisons the air around him,
    fills the miles with a high-pressure system that growls,
    and makes a vow of the storm that will break.
    It is not the heat or the wind which drives him.
    It is the ice of his memory.
    Victor feels the sting of frostbite beneath his skin,
    as he walks.

    1. Absolutely fantastic descriptions. Just the right amount of detail.

    2. Filled with pain and desolate beauty, and the boundaries of the salt and the mold are perfect, as the last line is... frostbite beneath his skin.

  14. The last man on earth smoked a cigarette, drawing lightly on it while he watched the last building crumble. It had been falling apart for decades, both it and all the others that men had built, but this one was the only one that could still be seen, every other one now submerged or broken apart.

    It had taken a long time for this to happen though. And then very little time at all. It was all a matter of perspective. There were some – mostly self-named experts – who claimed industrialisation was to blame and that it was the exhausts from the factories and powerplants that hastened the end. Others said it was the scientists’ and the chemists’ tampering with nature. Carrick had his own theories, pinning the responsibility on the first men to build fires, their actions precipitating everything that followed. It was men that were the problems, not the things they created. Even the cigarette in his hand contributed to the problem – his being here too, as well – everything he did adding to the debt that was now being paid. The Pod that was waiting for him sucked power from the past, channelling it through circuits that absorbed most of the heat, the remainder being fed back to keep the nuclear core hot. It had been free energy, an offsetting of the penalties of science, a convenient rug for the industrialists to sweep their greed beneath, the paradoxes of time minimising the effects of what they did, reusing the energies of the past by progressively mining it backwards, re-digging the same ‘hole’ again and again.

    Of course, nobody realised there’d be a problem doing that until the Earth began to warm exponentially. The development of the Pod and its far-cast technology enabled future travel, albeit only to a time beyond Mankind. The main shock was how soon it was going to be.

    1. Aaaaaah! Do you hate us? Why always with the literary blue balls. ;) Kidding. This is another one that could open up as big as you want. I love the first paragraph especially.

    2. Powerful indeed...and a perfect set up for a long work set in various eras!


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