To Life

To Life
by Lois Sockol

For a few moments Barbara Anne remains staring into the gray thin light of early dawn. Upon waking, she’s not always sure where she is. Perhaps, she’s still caught in her night dream. A likeness of her own tired eyes stares back at her from the mirror atop her dresser, and she knows she’s awake.

On the dresser’s unpolished surface rest several treasured photographs, the minute details of each etched deeply into her mind: her younger, smiling self in a blue shirtwaist dress with her only child held snugly in her arms. In a silver frame, Rachel, tall and slim, stands on the steps of Caltech, her hair held back from her smiling face by a beaded headband they bought together at the Institute’s bookstore. Another snapshot…a grinning Nathan holds tightly to Rachel’s plump hand, Rachel’s free hand seeming to flutter as if caught in the wind, an image snapped by Barbara Anne as they watched the Rose Parade.

Lying beside her, tented under the nubby wool tweed blanket, is Nathan, her husband of thirty-seven years. The sun will move twenty degrees higher before Nathan stirs. He’s resigned to burrowing. Most days he neglects to run a comb through his hair, his face remains unshaven and stubbled. Lately, a stale smell wafts about him.

She remembers the years before his lethargy, before the violence and rage, when her husband’s back stood straight, not bent over like a windblown willow. In those days he rose early, gulped his breakfast and dashed for the office, moving confidently to meet whatever came his way. And when he came home after work, he settled into his chair, and reach for a law magazine or Dershowitz’s latest book.

It’s three years now since he closed his office on South Lake Avenue, since he walked into a courtroom or law library, three years of inertia. But she remembers, and still searches for a glimpse of his previous self, still waits and hopes. Nothing lasts forever, she tells herself. Nothing.

Sometimes Barbara Anne aches with her need to touch Rachel. Sometimes the ache is so sharp it sucks the air from her lungs and she forgets for a moment how to breathe. Sometimes that happens only once or twice a day. She could swallow the green pills Doctor Graham prescribed, and in a little while drift away, all pain and feeling vanquished, but such solace is only temporary. Barbara Anne’s need is permanent and insatiable.

For weeks after Rachel’s murder, Barbara Anne stopped talking. Words frightened her, choked like stones in her throat. How could she speak of what had happened? How could she make it so real? But now she has forged another path back to Rachel. Each morning and evening, after she wakes and again just before going to bed, Barbara Anne goes into her small study and shuts the door. She sits on the carpeted floor, her back braced against the wall, and closes her eyes; her hands lie idly in her lap. She concentrates, focusing deeply inward with thoughts only of her daughter. The present is suspended, they are back to a time before the murder. Five minutes, ten, maybe more pass. Always Rachel leaves her with a smile, a gleam that beams a light into her heart.

And Rachel will always be there, always come to her, and when they are together nothing can touch them. Rachel is forever free from harm, she’ll never grow sickly or old, never older than thirty. When Barbara Anne tries to explain Rachel’s comings to Nathan a hardness darkens his eyes. He puts his hand out in a gesture of pushing away.

“You’re insane.”

“But Nathan…” her voice quivers.

“Don’t you understand? Rachel can’t come back. You live, you die…you rot and sink into the nothingness! For God’s sake, spare me your craziness!”

Nathan’s vacuity is like a disease, and when she stays too long with him she feels herself sinking into his misery. How easy then to turn hysterical, to scream in the hallway, run into the bedroom, and bolt the door.

As she lay in their bed, tears gather in her eyes and she blinks them away. She wonders what day it is. She volunteers at the women’s shelter in Los Angeles on Tuesdays and Thursdays and must make Nathan’s lunch before she goes. After all, she won’t be home again until after four. She’ll prepare his sandwich with last night’s left over chicken in the refrigerator, and then take the bus to Los Angeles.

When she started, her idea was that Nathan would volunteer with her, that together they would lose themselves for awhile. Even now she tries to make him understand that brushing against such hurt and violence numbs her own pain, yet makes her feel alive. It’s a paradox, she knows. More powerful than pills, more absorbing than television, but Nathan won’t listen.

Through the walls of the apartment above—she hadn’t noticed how long it was playing—came a familiar tune. Mrs. Schultz is playing her stereo—Fiddler on the Roof. The song dances through her mind: To Life, To Life, L’Chaim…L’Chaim, L’Chaim to Life.

Yes, she is sure, this is Tuesday. She glances down at her watch on the nightstand. Seven-fifteen. It is time. With a steady hand she carefully pulls back the blanket, lifts her legs over the edge of the bed, and plants her feet firmly on the floor. She walks to the window and gently draws back the corner of the sheer curtain. Spring is near, on the bush below her window sill fat new buds are pushing outward. The sky through the window looks solid blue.
© Copyright 2009 Lois Sockol. All rights reserved.

Lois Sockol lives in Massachusetts where she and her husband raised four sons. A former teacher, Lois writes short stories conjuring up ordinary people living their lives in search of justice, truth and meaning. Her first full length novel had its roots in a family tragedy. Several of her stories have been published online or in print. She continues to work on the craft of writing.

Jelly Jar by Tace Halliday

Held in one hand, in the other, a butter knife. Arthritis swells her knuckles. Stabbing and scraping, the jar is emptied; the last of the raspberry jam spread out on her toast. The jar then soaks in the sink, warm water, and with ease, she peels away the sodden label—paper and glue. The toast is forgotten.

She really doesn’t need the jar, although, holding it up, the water trickling away over the factory-pressed facets, she does desire it. How silly. I have so many. A recycle bin waits by the back kitchen door as she holds the jar for a moment. So hard to let it go. But finally she moves to set it atop tin cans and properly crushed cardboard boxes. The jar quavers on its perch, a threat to tumble to the floor, then settles, and she knows that it is for the best.

Now for my chores: she turns to the few dishes, some dusting, the sorting of mail. But when it’s time to do the laundry, she has to pass the bin. When she goes to the garage to retrieve a package from her car, she has to pass the bin. Whenever she forgets where she has placed something like her purse, her keys, or the bill for Huntington Hospital that needs to be posted, she wanders the house from room to room, searching and muttering…wearying, and she often passes the bin.

Each time, at each casual meeting, she sees the jar. She’s not looking for it, but out of the corner of her eye, it keeps winking at her, calling her for succor, and her neck stiffens in stages at its each insistent prayer.

When on the counter she discovers her abandoned toast, stiff and dry, she scrapes it from the stoneware plate into the trash. Oh! Such a waste. And her resolve disintegrates. Before so tired—how draining to the body are lost things—now her step is light as she goes to the bin, bends down and rescues the jar, clean and small, and just right.

Four steps away is the pantry where one section rises from the floor to the highest shelf near the ceiling. It is full of sparkling jelly jars that are waiting for their next life—to be filled with pecans or pine nuts, harvest snacks or pretzels, gifts she will give to adult children, nieces, a few remaining friends of her youth. The new jar is wedged within the others, and as she closes the door, her shoulders soften as she sighs.

© Copyright 2009 Stacey Smith. All rights reserved.

Tace Halliday doesn’t know why she writes things, but she does know she feels compelled to do so. She lives in South Texas with her husband who is determined to bring back the Garden of Eden. They have three sons who all seem to like one another.

Anybody Home? by Stephen R. Wolcott

Of the 32 homes on our block in Bungalow Heaven, only one reeked of mystery. 914 Chestnut. I swear my 10-month old son, Jack, sensed something odd about the place, too, whenever we’d trot past in the jogger stroller. “Dat!” he shouted on cue when I’d slow down to stare at it. Everything appeared relatively normal. The dark brown single story structure with forest green trim was in need of a new paint job and the faded lawn could use a gardener. But the shades were always drawn and I never saw a soul go in or out.

Then, one muggy August morning, after driving home from a trip to Crown City Hardware with Jack, I saw a Pasadena police car in front of 914 and a half dozen neighbors milling about, gossiping. I had to pull over.

Jack squirmed excitedly in my arms as we walked up to our nosey neighbors.

“I heard some bums were living inside and somebody tipped the police,” Beth Spritzer said.

“I bet someone’s dead in there,” Hank Buford said dryly.

“Know what happened?” I asked.” They all shook their heads ‘no’.

“They letting anyone inside?” I asked. Another ‘no’ consensus.

“Dat!” Jack blurted out, spying a cop jotting down notes.

“Yes, that’s Mr. Policeman,” I acknowledged, moving towards him. “Let’s say ‘hi’.”

“Excuse me,” I asked gingerly, “may I ask what’s going on?”

“Private matter,” the cop said, without looking up from his clipboard.

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s just that, as head of our street’s Neighborhood Watch committee, I was concerned.”

“Vandals broke a window,” he said matter-of-factly, then looked up at me.

“Probably a kid, hey—do I know you?” His gruff exterior seemed familiar. I stared at his badge. Officer Roger Clark.

“Sure do,” I said. “You came to my house to speak about crime prevention.”

“That’s it, you’re the writer,” Clark said, his mood mellowing.

“Right,” I said. “I interviewed you that night for a piece in the Pasadena Weekly. Got great feedback thanks to you.”

“Oh, well, good,” Clark said.

“You certainly make us feel safe around here,” I said. “Isn’t that right, Jack?”

“Dat!” Jack spat out emphatically.

“Well, needn’t worry about this place,” Clark said. “Except…” He trailed off staring back at the house, than back at me and back to the house again. I caught a glimpse of a shadow moving behind the shades.

“Is that the owner?” I asked, pointing to the window.

The cop hesitated before answering. “Look,” he said, “I’m not supposed to do this, but—” He stopped, then smiled at me. “What the heck. You wouldn’t believe it even if I told you.” Clark motioned me to come with him into the house.

“Believe what?” I asked. Walking in the front door, the first thing to hit me was the dust. Must have been an inch-thick. I fought back a sneeze, staring through a thick haze at the living room and dining area.

“The original owners lived here until 1941,” Clark said. I noticed Mission-style furniture, built-in cabinets, lamps and pottery with floral designs. The shadow figure I’d seen through the window—a tall, pale, balding guy in his 50’s—was inspecting a Batchelder fireplace.

“He’ll fill you in,” Clark said. “Just don’t touch anything.”

“Dat!” Jack shouted, and the man turned, startled.

“Uh, hi, I’m Scott and this is Jack,” I said holding my hand out. The man shook it, warily.

“Ben Whitman,” he said.

“He’s okay,” Clark said. “Just curious about the house.”

“Looks like time stopped still around here,” I said with a slight chuckle.

“Well, that ain’t far from the truth,” Ben said. “The original owners, Rose and Rachel Blake, came here in 1912. Then in 1941, right after Pearl Harbor, they panicked. In fact, a lot of people in the area panicked. Thought that the Japanese would attack the mainland.”

I never knew that.

“So the Blakes packed in a hurry and left,” Ben continued. “Never came back.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“Nope,” Ben said. “Gone. Poof. Been this way ever since.”It took a moment for this to sink in. An odd feeling gnawing at my gut. Like I’d stepped through a time portal.

“You’re telling me no one’s lived here since 1941?” I asked. “No one’s been in this house at all? What about family?”

“All their kin lived in Nova Scotia and didn’t want to come out,” Ben explained. “The place was paid for, too, so no bills, mail, no upkeep. Only instructions Rose left were to tend the outside, so arrangements were made. Things got lost in the shuffle, I suppose.”

I walked through this bizarre museum piece awe-struck. Everything exactly as it was for more than fifty years: a chestnut vanity dresser with half-filled perfume bottles, the faded white crochet-patterned bedspreads, an Arts and Crafts vase of dead flowers with a small hand-written note next to it: “Please change water.” I realized there more notes scattered around the house (to whom?), but the writing was illegible. A few simple print dresses hung in the closet. A medicine cabinet contained a few antique dark blue pill bottles, like you’d find at swap meets.

Jack was getting fidgety, so we decided to end our tour.

“Where do you fit in?” I asked Ben.

“My grandfather was the original caretaker,” he said. “I tend to it now.”

“And no one’s ever wanted to sell it after all these years?” I said.

“Don’t know, “ Ben said. “All I get is a small check in the mail once a month from the Blake estate in Canada. Kind of on auto pilot.”

I took in one more view around this perfectly preserved artifact. My life experience made it difficult to understand the emotions the Blakes must have felt in ’41 when they rushed out, leaving everything behind. Never coming back.

“Dat!” Jack said.

“That’s right, Jack,” I acknowledged. “I want to know more, too.”

© Copyright 2009 Stephen R. Wolcott. All rights reserved.

Stephen R. Wolcott is a writer/producer specializing in behind-the-scenes making-of documentaries on the film industry (view samples of his work on his website). His passion for interviewing and love of movies extends to a blog, The Interview Maestro. He also writes magazine articles, and can occasionally be found reading original stories at spoken words events. The story above was inspired by an actual incident Steve encountered working next to an abandoned Craftsman house. And yes, people in L.A. panicked. (See related story.)

Morning Commute by T.K. Carr

I love the smell of fresh plastic—plastic covered seats, plastic dash and my brand new thick and sturdy plastic steering wheel. Say what you will about Ford and fashion, my new little Focus handles so smoothly, it practically drives itself. Talk about convenience. If only I could get it to give me a massage. Hey, that’s not a bad idea. If you put some kind of motor inside the seat, instead of your ass falling asleep in the torpid bumper-to-bumper, you could get your blood circulating by vibrating your way to work.

Guess until that happens I just have to inch along the Pasadena Freeway with everyone else and try and enjoy the ride, as they say, by admiring how shiny my new car is. I chose black because it looks stylish. Now I realize that color makes my hood a mirror to the sky and as I gaze at the cloud formations reflecting off it in some kind of wonderment, I see her, or, I think I see her.

It’s like you’re watching a scary movie and something whizzes past the screen’s periphery, it makes your heart sink and your mind hope whatever it is, it’s not there.

She’s there all right.

In a pleated blue and black plaid skirt, like Catholic or something, her blouse torn, her hair wild standing on the freeway, young arms extended out pleading. She can’t be more than fourteen.

I know one thing, if I never see an expression like that again in my life I’m going to die a somewhat happy man. I say somewhat, because I’ve already seen it on her face. And there’s a lot of it. Face, I mean. It’s the widest face I’ve ever seen, I can’t tell you in inches exactly, but it’s about the same width as the mid-sized flat iron pan I use to fry four eggs in. OK? Picture four over-easys spread out nice and comfortable in a fryer and that’s how wide her face is.

She climbs on the hood of the convertible in front of me then tumbles off and over to the next car’s hood and says “fuck you fucker” or something like that to the driver.

“Help,” I yell out my window. “Somebody help her.”

She gives me the finger. Not just the finger but the finger again and again, like she needs me to get it. The finger. The finger. You. You. You.

I adjust my rear view to see how the driver behind me is reacting. Not so good. His hands completely cover his face and they are huge, just huge.

Someone honks.

I look up.

Now she’s on the hood of another car, her blouse in her hand, her bra, if she even has one, is no where to be seen, not that anyone is looking for it.

Then someone yells, “Put your shirt on.”

Some guy in a red truck opens his door and says, “Come in here, sweetie. I’ll give you what you need.”

Jerk. At least she flips him off too.

I look to a driver nearby, a pert woman with stiff hair and say, “You’re a woman. Do something.”

Circling her finger around her temple, she gestures the girl is crazy, or, maybe she is trying to tell me she is the one who is crazy.

Looking up I see the girl is gone. Not in the red truck. Not to the side of the freeway. Not behind me, not anywhere. Gone.

A belief in God would come in handy right now. I hear people who believe say all they do is ask him for help and he answers. If I did believe, I would ask that she be all right. How easy does that sound? And, if anyone wants easy, it’s me.

Finally we start to move again at more than a snail’s pace. Still, it takes about twenty minutes to get to Arroyo Parkway the exit before mine and wham, it’s a parking lot again.

It takes us another fifteen minutes to move four feet.

I see flashing red lights on the overpass in front of us.

Definitely going to be late for work. I turn on the radio for a traffic update.
“If you’re on the 110 Pasadena North, it’s going to be awhile, if your not, folks, take an alternate. We have a jumper on the Orange Grove overpass.”

I can’t look. I cover my face like the guy behind me did earlier then want to know if he is still there, behind me, so I look in my rear view. He’s there all right and his hands are off his face, which is flat iron fryer wide, just like hers. Or is hers like his? Their faces are identical in shape.

I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before, it’s right there in the corner of his dash, a crumpled vest or jacket or something in a Catholic plaid—the same plaid as her skirt.

He catches me staring.

“Please,” I hear myself mutter to I don’t know who.

“Jump!,” some driver screams. “I have to get to work. Jump.”

The man behind me must’ve heard, who didn’t? All I want to do is something. Anything. I could get out of my car and go talk to him. When I try to get out, the vehicle on my driver’s side, one of those big square things like Schwarzenegger drives, is so close to me, I can’t open my door.

© Copyright 2009 TK Carr. All rights reserved.

In the summer of 2001, when TK Carr’s career in music took her to Chino Men’s Prison to teach songwriting, she received a grant to participate in UCLA’s Screenwriting Program. By the end of the program, she had written three screenplays. Frustrated in her efforts to write a musical, she wrote it as a novella. Having already written several short stories, she put those together with the novella, The Subliminialists, and is  shopping it to agents.

It’s Only Furniture by Ginger B. Collins

I drove around the corner of Lucy’s apartment complex and saw Mother’s favorite rocking chair sitting cockeyed on the lawn. Neon cardboard straddled the arms with the words “Moving—Everything must go!” A stiff spring breeze blew through the hand-carved mahogany back rest, tipping the chair back and forth as if to say, “See, I told you so.”

I rolled down the window and called to my daughter as she boxed up a 1950’s desk lamp with one hand and made change with the other. “Oh great Mom, you’re here.” She zigzagged through the hand-me-down collection of our family furnishings wearing her Lancer’s Women’s Basketball jersey. She’d worn it almost daily since PCC won the State Championship in March. Obviously the sentiment for her furniture was nothing close to the love she felt for that shirt—dusty memories versus the sweet taste of recent victory. Fickle youth. I remembered her excitement two years ago as we filled her bare apartment with these faithful pieces from three generations. Now they were being cast off, scattered in her front yard with each chip, dent, and stain magnified in the glare of morning sun.

When Lucy leaned into the car window, her eyes were money-green. “I can use the help. It’s been busy.”

“You’re selling Gran’s rocker?” I said.

“Yeah. I told you it was a small apartment. No room for this clunky old stuff.”

“But, the rocker?” I looked around and saw slices of my life strewn across the stretch of grass between building walkways. I resented the way an unattended child was fiddling with the drawer handle of the old cherry nightstand where I had stashed my pre-teen diary, and I was crushed by the snide look a man gave the spindly ladder-back chair. My Daddy hung his jacket on the back of that chair every night when he came home from work. It had been in my life for as long as I could recall.

“We talked about this Mom, remember?” Lucy was getting impatient at my memory loss and the wasted time away from her customers. “The guy over on Raymond said he’d give me a really good deal on the smaller U-Haul, so if I unload these leftovers I can save a bunch of money. You’re the one who said, ‘It’s only furniture.’ You’re the one who said, ‘Keep your life simple, Lucy.’”

I put the car in park, and got out.

“What are you doing?” she said.

“How much do you want for the rocker?” I asked.

“What? I thought you and Dad were downsizing. I heard you talking about it. Villa Gardens, right? You don’t need more furniture.”

“I don’t need it,” I said, “I want it. So, bring me the rocker before that greasy kid gets his peanut butter fingers all over the seat cushion. And, bring me the ladder-back chair, too.”

I lifted the back hatch and started folding down the seats, trying to estimate how much of my family history the trunk would hold. In a half hour’s time I had stuffed the rocker, nightstand, and chair in the open trunk space, and had enough room for Daddy’s magazine rack, Mother’s old mixer, and the clunky pillar lamp with built-in clock radio that sat beside my bed and buzzed me awake through twelve years of Catholic education. It was so ugly it was beautiful.
© Copyright 2009 Ginger B. Collins. All rights reserved.

Ginger B. Collins publishes short fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work appears in Freckles to Wrinkles, Silver Boomers, and the newly released Scratch Anthology of Short Fiction. She recently completed her first novel. In her blog, Off the Top of My Red Head, Ginger applies a past career in sales, marketing, and PR to her new role as author, sharing links and writer resources while exploring subjects like social media, agent search, and writer platforms.

Game by Mark Barkawitz

It’s late Sunday afternoon. My teenage son and his friend aren’t yet back from shooting hoops at Jefferson Park. My son plays on the freshman basketball team at La Salle High School. He plays pick-up games at the park to work on his game, experiment with new moves his coach would glower at in league play. So my wife, who doesn’t like them to hang out alone for too long down there, prods me off the couch to bring them home. I put on my old sneaks (just in case my ball-handling skills are needed) and jog the few blocks to the park.

The wide-open, grass-covered square block is filled with families and teams of amateur athletes, playing softball on the diamond, soccer on the grass, and basketball on the courts. Frisbees fly on air smoky and sweetened by barbecues. Friends eat in groups at tables and on benches. Kids swing on playground swings, ride razor scooters on walkways, and run zig-zag everywhere. But as I near the b-ball courts, another sweet, familiar fragrance wafts past me. Three young guys—late teens or early twenties—share a burning roach on the sidelines of the court under a sign which reads: “Drug-Free Zone —Increased Penalties for Drug Use or Possession.”

One guy—with tats and scars—looks like a gang-banger maybe; the other two are just a couple of tight-eyed knuckleheads. No one says anything to them, even though we all know it’s not cool to smoke around kids. But why start trouble? Or risk acting uncool.

Everyone plays basketball nowadays: blacks, whites, Asians, Armenians, Latinos. Even girls. It isn’t about color or sex. It’s about game. And whether or not you have it—the ability to impose your will upon others. I recognize some of the guys hangin’ on the sidelines from past games. I nod. They nod back. Everyone’s cool.

On the court, my son—fourteen and already taller than I—pushes the ball on a fast break, then passes off to his buddy in the corner, who jacks up a three-pointer that clangs off the rim. But their center—tall, broad-shouldered, a little older than the others and obviously the most imposing presence on the painted asphalt—trails the fast break, muscles the rebound away from the opposition, and slams home what is apparently the game-winning basket. The losers swear, hang their heads as they relinquish the court.

Another make-shift team runs out to challenge the winners, who slap palms and knock knuckles in victory. My son spots me on the sidelines and gestures if I want in their game. I shake my head and indicate that it’s time to go. Reluctantly, he tells his buddy. They bid goodbye to their center, who offers his fist. Eager to be comrades with the big man in the middle, each boy coolly bumps knuckles with their center before walking off the court. My son grabs his basketball from the bench. His bud grabs a backpack, from which he produces an iPod; he places the ear buds in his ears. As they relate the day’s exploits, they smell of sweat, not weed. I’m relieved. Not that I have any reason to be suspicious. It’s just the situation. And they are teenagers. So I’m still anxious as we leave the park.

I hate sounding like a parent, but it’s my job, so as we walk home, I give them the low-down: “Just so you know, this is what’s going to happen down there. Someone’s going to complain. Cop cars are going to pull up on both sides of the court. Three, maybe four officers from the Pasadena Police Department will approach. One of the guys in the game—an undercover cop—will point. Him, him, him. Cops are going to bust anyone who’s been smoking weed in a public park. Cuff ‘em and throw ‘em in jail. Just so you know.”

My son dribbles the ball between his legs and replies: “We weren’t smoking, Dad.”

“I know. I’m just letting you know.”

“Dude, Big Man already told us,” his buddy adds, although I’m not sure how he can hear me with the iPod blaring in his ears.

“Big Man?”

“Our center,” my son explains.

His buddy continues: “Dude, Big Man said you got to prioritize. Get your education, your wife, your house, your fence, and your dog first. Then smoke if you wanna smoke, Dude.”

It isn’t the worst advice I’ve ever heard. They’re a long way from the “then” part. But as I said, it’s my job, so I’m compelled to add to Big Man’s game plan: “Just don’t do it. Okay?” All of a sudden, I’m Nancy Reagan in baggy shorts and high-tops.

Still dribbling, my son advises: “Don’t worry, Dad.”


His friend adds: “Dude, we’re cool.”

Yeah, everyone’s cool. “Let’s not mention this to your mother.”

My son picks up his dribble, “Dad, I’m not crazy,” and looks at me as if I’m crazy.

“Du-u-de,” his bud agrees.

I nod. Right. But when we cross the street together—it’s about game, boys—I reach in, poke the ball away, and push it out front like a point guard on a break-away.

Laughing and cussing behind, the boys chase me up the block and follow me home.

Three weeks later, the cops make their bust at the park. Game.

© Copyright 2009 Mark Barkawitz. All rights reserved.

Mark Barkawitz has earned local and national awards for his fiction, poetry, essay, and screenwriting. His work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals & anthologies, underground ‘zines, and is posted on numerous websites. He wrote the screenplay for the feature film, “Turn of the Blade” (NorthStar Ent., ’95) and has taught creative writing classes at the community college level. He coaches a championship track team of student/athletes and ran the 2001 L.A. Marathon in 3:44:42. He lives with his wife, has two kids, and breeds golden retrievers (Woof Goldens) in his backyard in Pasadena, CA.

The Treatment by Paul Darcy

It was green. It looked unhealthy. And it was affixed to his left biceps. The room smelled faintly of iodine. “Doc, what the hell is this thing, anyway?” Walter asked, staring at the repulsive blob on his arm, wondering if this New Age doctor knew anything about curing his insomnia. Or was this doctor simply a lunatic? Walter couldn’t believe he was paying forty dollars for this treatment. This was definitely the last time he would use the phone book to find a doctor in L.A. He had found this one listed under ‘Cures’.

“The moss is safe and friendly,” the doctor answered in a low breathy voice that Walter assumed could belong only to a fruitcake. Of course, Walter might be letting his imagination get the best of him. Or was he? To Walter’s knowledge, doctors always displayed multiple credentials on their walls. This one displayed none.

“It is a rare Polynesian moss,” the doctor elaborated, “capable of extracting the poisons from your body through your skin. It cleanses your system, much like your own liver. You may not know this, but the most common cause of insomnia is toxins in the blood, toxins which the liver has a difficult time removing. These toxins negatively stimulate the brain causing disruptions in the sleep cycle, hence insomnia.”

The strange glint in the doctor’s eye, coupled with an overly friendly smile, worried Walter. He knew little about livers, except how to fry them with onions. But if the moss did cure his insomnia, he might form a different opinion. Until such time he would remain unconvinced.

“How much longer do I need this attached to me?” Walter asked. “Not that I am complaining, if it will help me sleep, but it kind of gives me the creeps.”

Walter looked again at the moss, almost sure he had seen it move. In his opinion it was nothing but a damned organic leech. Forty bucks and all he got was an 18th century cure that cured nothing except the hunger of a quack doctor. A couple of green things in his fridge could probably do the same job should he care to get into this business himself. It was easy to have your name listed under, “Cures.”

The doctor shone a light into Walter’s eyes. “It is probably enough,” the doctor said, hovering far too close for Walter’s liking. The doctor snapped on a pair of rubber gloves and then, very gently, almost lovingly, peeled the moss from Walter’s arm, smiling warmly the entire time.

Walter could see a blue stain where the moss had been. It looked as if he had been hit in the arm with a baseball. “Thanks, Doc. I’ll let you know how I make out,” Walter said, thinking the exact opposite. Cured or not, he wasn’t coming back.

“I’m sure that you will. See you soon,” the doctor said. The glint returned to the doctor’s eye. But a glint of what? Glee? Perversion? Longing? Walter didn’t stick around long enough for any more contact.

Once safely in his apartment, Walter picked up a book and tried to read, hoping that when his head hit the pillow he would actually sleep. He wasn’t sure that he would. With the turning of every page, the face of the doctor kept painting itself across his mental easel. Distracted by the doctor’s face, which replayed itself like a hated song he occasionally found himself humming, Walter set the book down and got a glass of water. His apartment felt very dry and he was thirsty.

When Walter returned to the couch, he examined the stain on his arm left by the moss. Damn, he could swear it was bigger than when he left the doctor’s office. Wondering if his arm was infected, Walter pressed on the stain. There was no pain. Probably the stain or bruise or whatever it was would go away in a couple of days. If not, he would visit a hospital and see a real doctor.

Walter poured himself another glass of water. It was growing late. He would try to sleep.

He tossed about fitfully under the blankets. His insomnia was not cured. The treatment, if it could be classified as such, was not working. He grabbed the glass of water on his bedside table and finished it. The inside of his mouth felt like it was lined with hair. He fumbled for the light, but gave up after a couple of tries.

Suddenly, the image of the doctor’s face appeared in his mind again. The detail was incredible, even down to the glint in the eyes. That glint didn’t seem so strange to Walter now. He could almost understand what it meant. The doctor, in fact, was not unattractive. Walter’s thoughts drifted and he actually did fall asleep for a time.

When he woke, it was the middle of the night. The image of the doctor’s face remained. Walter felt like never before: invigorated, alive and very, very alone. The treatment had done something wonderful to him, but he didn’t know what. All he knew was that he felt compelled to go to the doctor again, and now.

Soon he was back at the doctor’s office. Standing on the sidewalk, Walter could see a light still on inside the house, a house which doubled as an office. It reminded him of one of those restored homes in Bungalow Heaven.

The doctor was waiting for him. He knew it. He strode quickly up the steps to the door, but before he could knock, the door opened and the image of the doctor’s face, the one fixed in his mind all night, struck him with the full force of reality. The doctor was beautiful and beyond compare. Walter was in love and knew he had found his mate.

They went inside, closed the door and embraced. Their lips met and opened. The sickly sweet smell of iodine intoxicated Walter and he knew true bliss. The kiss was long and passionate. The green hairy tendrils in their mouths intertwined in an orgy of joy. The doctor had been alone so long without another.

Walter was elated that she had chosen him for the treatment.

© Copyright 2009 Paul Darcy. All rights reserved.

Paul Darcy spends most of his time underground in the dark. This does not mean he is a vampire, though this would afford him greater insights into his paranormal fiction, but rather his writing space is located in the quiet basement of his house. A published author with dozens of short stories, three novels, and a screenplay currently looking for homes, Paul strives to one day emerge into the light…metaphorically, that is.

Fetal Attraction by Ellen Drebin

Never guessing that his life as he knew it was about to end, Gary Stone brushed back a mop of copper-colored hair as he unlocked his apartment door and shoved away the deluge of mail that had piled up under the slot while he had been away. Setting down his backpack, he grabbed the lone beer he found in the refrigerator and wandered through the apartment to make sure everything was as he had left it…unlike last year’s break-in. Reassured, he picked up the stack of mail and settled down in his favorite chair.

As he browsed idly through a Caltech alumni bulletin, a shiver shot through him as a name in the obits caught his eye. Apparently, Elise Aronson had died in a car crash. Their fields were so different that his path had never crossed hers until that reunion weekend a few years ago. They had found themselves alone together in the back of a room as others proudly showed off pictures of their kids.

“No commitments for me,” he had explained. “I need to be free to take off at a moment’s notice.”

That was when she had confided that she didn’t plan to marry either but that she knew she was letting down a family who had endured unspeakable hardships to get to this country. She was still living in their working class bungalow nearby. Her story was so compelling that, after a few drinks too many, he had agreed to go with her to her doctor’s office and provide the sperm that would allow her to carry on their line. When he eventually sobered up, he had wanted to renege but just couldn’t disappoint her when he saw how determined she was.

The next morning, unable to get the obituary out of his mind, Gary printed a map on his computer and got into his car. Half an hour later, parked on the street in front of a modest corner bungalow, he saw him. There in the backyard sitting on a swing, clinging to an old teddy bear, was a small boy with a thick shock of untamed copper-colored hair. The boy raised a small hand to his eye and wiped away a tear.

It hit Gary like a wallop in the stomach.

The following day, he went to see a lawyer. Then, feeling utterly conflicted, he drove back to the house and knocked on the door. It took a while, but an elderly man with a cane eventually opened it, obviously startled at the appearance of the man at the door.

“I was a close friend of Elise’s,” Gary lied.

In heavily-accented English, the frail man invited him inside. Then he explained, “As her only remaining relative, I was summoned from overseas…but I’m in ill health and will have to return home.”

As the two men talked, the little boy woke up from his nap and joined them. Within the next hour, the boy found his way onto Gary’s lap and into his heart. As the two pushed back identical mops of unruly copper-colored hair, there was a lot of light-hearted laughter. But eventually the sun went down and dusk settled in around them.

Slowly, an understanding evolved. An extremely tall man, Gary had to stoop down to hold the little boy’s hand as they walked out the door together into their uncertain future.
© Copyright 2009 Ellen Drebin. All rights reserved.

Ellen Drebin worked as a teacher and then a stockbroker for many years. She began taking screenwriting and playwriting courses in the evenings and on weekends. A few of her scripts have been optioned. She says “The more experiences one has in the world, the more stories one has to tell.”

Sweet Revenge by Margaret Finnegan

The thing is, it was a really good chocolate cake: Three thick, dense layers with just the right amount of sponginess. Perfectly cooked. One more minute in the oven and the cake would have been dry. One minute less and it would have had the slightest film of sticky undoneness on the top. Plus, of course, there was that dreamy cocoa frosting. Sweet, yes, but not overpoweringly, hurt-your-teeth sweet. No. This frosting was perfectly sweet. One might even say that the sweetness rested on the tongue like a kiss, with just the smallest, slightest, most subtly delicious salty aftertaste. Then there was that barely brittle crust that developed on the top millimeter of the frosting so that your fork met with the slightest resistance as it sank through this miracle, this little piece of heaven on earth, this cake that Heidi called hers.

Until Bob ate it.

“You ate my cake,” said Heidi. “I waited all day for it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I told Kelly in human resources all about how I was going to eat that cake after dinner.”

“No,” said Bob. “You said you didn’t want it.”


“Last night. During Leno. I said, ‘do you want some cake.’ You said, ‘no.’”

“I didn’t want it then. That didn’t mean I didn’t want it ever.”

“Hey. All I know is that you said, ‘no.’”

“I made that cake.”

“You said, ‘no.’”

Heidi stepped in close to Bob. The top of her head grazed his stubbly chin. She thrust an index finger into his chest and whispered to his Adam’s apple: “That was my cake. You’ll be sorry. One day, you’ll be sorry.”

A week passed. Heidi said no more about the cake. Bob, being Bob, said no more about the cake. Then, one day, Bob opened the front door and his body quivered. Wafting across the room, ensnaring him like a lasso was the tantalizing scent of apples, vanilla, cinnamon, butter. “Oh my God!” he said. “Is that apple pie?”

“Yes,” said Heidi. She was standing at the kitchen door in a starched white apron. It was made of eyelet and had frilly lace around the skirt. It was new, but Bob didn’t notice. With leaden zombie feet, he followed his nose to the kitchen, where his eyes fell upon the most beautiful tall and golden apple pie. He said. “I love apple pie.”
Heidi smiled. “I made it for you. Go ahead. Dig in.”

“But…what about dinner?”

“Dinner is overrated. Besides, this has apples. That’s a fruit.”

Well, who could argue with that logic?

Bob cut himself a big slice of pie and sat down next to Heidi, who had a salad.

“You don’t want any?” he asked.

“No,” said Heidi.

“You don’t want any now…?”

“No. I don’t want any ever.”

“But…I thought…”

“Don’t think. Eat.”

So Bob ate.

Years went by. Heidi baked. Weekly. Sometimes daily. She baked pies, cakes, tortes, tarts, cookies. She stood over scalding pots of fudge, pudding, candy. She made ice cream, mousse, milkshakes.

Bob and Heidi bought a house in Monrovia. Bob became a successful CPA, Heidi a respected computer programmer. The couple had a son. They named him Matthew. Alas, he was allergic to chocolate, eggs, and dairy—or so said Heidi. At dessert, she let him stomach sherbet. A boy of little imagination, he grew up to sell insurance in Pasadena, where his wife, a vegan, had a small business selling canine outerwear.

And, still, Heidi baked, and Bob ate, and Bob got bigger and bigger, until one day, at the age of fifty-eight, he swallowed a spoonful of tiramisu, had a massive heart attack and died.

As Matthew and his vegan wife cried at the funeral, Heidi walked up to the open casket. She looked at Bob, all 300 pounds of him, and she said, “That was my cake, you big jerk. Eat worms.”
© Copyright 2009 Margaret Finnegan. All rights reserved.

Margaret Finnegan does bake—and well—and her husband is alive—and well. Her writing has appeared in Salon, The L.A. Times, FamilyFun, the literary journal WordRiver and the book Life As We Know It (Washington Square Press). She is also the author of Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women (Columbia University Press). She blogs about wise women, demanding goddesses, and whatever she darn well feels like at Finnegan Begin Again.


Glorietta and Red Bob Come to Terms by Laura L Mays Hoopes

“Glorietta Mendenhall, what a mouthful, huh?” I said.

“Come with me,” she said. “I’m Amanda Flores.” She extended her hand.

I shook. “Nice to meet you,” I said. Yuck, how bourgeois.

“Since you’re sixty seven, you can begin to receive Social Security any time,” Ms. Flores said.

“How much will it be?”

A printer on her side table began to clatter. She handed me several sheets. One line of earnings for each year I’d worked. The years at the Haight commune weren’t listed. Barter was invisible to the government. Red Bob and I did okay in our diner, but we had some terrible times when we first bought it in the early ‘90’s.

“Do you want me to process your retirement papers?”

Even though I’d come here to do this, I felt unsure. What does it mean to retire from a business that you own and have worked in every day for twenty years? Would I sit out back in the trailer with my feet up? Who would cook? Could I make more than $1130 per month working? Finally, I said, “Yes, go ahead.”

She printed out forms and handed them to me.

I signed. She carefully went over all. Then she said I’d get an announcement in the mail when the processing was complete.

I bet myself that I’d hear from the bank before I heard from the government. I thought anarchy was best back in the ‘60’s and nothing the government has done since then had changed my mind. Yes, I had just signed up to receive a government pension, but I thought of the pension as my money they’d stolen from years of my paychecks. If I went through their stupid red tape, I could it get back.

I wondered about Red Bob. He resisted when I said we were employees of our place, the Cleghorn Diner. But he went along. He was two years older than me and he wouldn’t take Social Security. I hoped that my checks would finally convince him. I thought I could get Riann Moore to manage the diner for us, but I couldn’t afford to pay her unless he’d retire too.

I worried about our daughter Mimi. Red Bob thought she’d manage the diner when we stopped. She had agreed to waitress for us six years earlier after she graduated from high school, and she was still there. I thought it wouldn’t be long before she’d leave. I mentioned about it to Red Bob once, but he brushed it off. “Why should she, what else does she need? Got it all right here,” he said. But I saw her eyes that time after Ronnie took her down to The Ice House in Pasadena. Mimi had big ideas; she wanted to see her name in lights.

I also remembered running away from home to the commune on Haight Street in 1967. Mimi did what she should, but thought what she shouldn’t. She hoped Ronnie would marry her and take her down from the high desert so she could break into showbiz. She starred in Evita and led the Comedy Sportz Team in high school. But Ronnie wouldn’t do it. He moved here in mid-high school, but he was from the same stuck-in-the-mud mold as all the other guys she had dated.

When I got back from the Social Security office, I walked into our house trailer out behind the diner and went into Mimi’s room. Her closet was open and her red dress and that low cut black one were gone. Her suitcase was gone. And her two best pairs of heels. Uh oh. It was five o’clock. I rushed into my uniform and over to work.

Edith said, “Whew, glad you’re here. That table ordered burgers, and I had to tell them we don’t start cooking until five. They growled a bit but said they’d wait.”

I quickly started cooking. More orders poured in. Red Bob circulated around, telling his stories to all the guys. I couldn’t tell him about Mimi here. When it got to seven thirty, the crowd was pretty much over. I leaned on my kitchen stool. It was hard to stand up and cook fast three times a day for two or three hours.

We closed up at eight. Red Bob and I walked out to the trailer. It was still light, that mellow kind of light you get in late summer evenings. I said, “She’s gone, Red Bob.”

He said, ‘”I didn’t want to tell you; she went with Joe. I saw them pull out at four, on the Vegas road.” He gave me a sickly smile and said, “What should we do?”

I said, “We’ve got each other, Red Bob. She needed to find something for herself.”

His eyes were wet. “She was my baby. It won’t be the same.”

I patted his hand. “Of course it won’t, but we’ll be okay and so will she.” We sat at the kitchen table. I heated a can of chili and sliced some fresh bread. We picked at our food. Red Bob looked miserable. He cleared his throat often, but had nothing to say.

My mind was full of the time in my life when I left home and arrived in The Haight. Chaka and Melanie took me in at the commune. We wouldn’t cooperate with the government, but we didn’t blow things up. We wouldn’t work for money or pay taxes. We demonstrated against the war. I put a flower behind a soldier’s ear once.

Red Bob said, “C’mon, Glor, let’s go out. It’s been years since we’ve been anywhere on Saturday night.” I looked up at him in amazement. He was smiling at me in that special way I’d almost forgotten, the smile that made my heart turn over back in The Haight.

© Copyright 2009 Laura L Mays Hoopes All rights reserved.

Laura L Mays Hoopes is a biology professor turned creative writer. In June, 2009 she completed the Creative Writing Certificate at UCLA Extension. She lives in the Inland Empire with her husband and terrier, Sabby. Her two kids are grown; one in Chicago and one in Santa Cruz. She has published in North Carolina Literary Review, Christian Science Monitor, The Writer’s Eye, and other publications. She is working on a biography and two novels. In addition, she maintains the West Coast Writers blog.


Your Smiling Face by Ann Wilkes

Mourners filled The Dug Out. Buoyant country rhythms and laughter played counterpoint to Sandra’s sorrow and emptiness. This was Kyle’s restaurant and Kyle’s friends. She felt divorced from them. No one knew what to say to her. The smell of barbeque sauce and coconut was making her queasy. Or maybe it was the four piña coladas she had downed.

Sandra squeezed through the crowd at the ladies’ and splashed cold water on her face. Then she stopped by Kyle’s portrait on the wall by his table. He was leaning against his Mustang convertible, his cowboy hat pushed back on his head. As his blue eyes pierced her from the portrait, she smelled his cologne, felt his touch on her shoulder. She spun around but no one was there. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled.

She found Emily at end of the bar. “Em, can you tell everyone I said thanks for coming and goodbye? I gotta get out of here.” She tried to keep her voice steady.

“No, problem. Let me know if you need anything.” Emily moved toward the flip top section of the bar. Sandra pretended not to notice, and made for the door. She couldn’t deal with another hug.

Out of the corner of her eye, as she hurried to her car, Sandra thought she saw a man in a jean jacket and cowboy hat sitting on the bench under the tree. It was where they would sit when Kyle could take a break from the demands of his restaurant. But when she turned her head toward it, the bench, was empty.

Sandra expected every man she saw from the back, with his build, his hair, his walk, to turn around and be Kyle.

# # #

Sandra went to Old Town for the first time since Kyle’s memorial. She parked her car by Castle Green intending to stroll around then catch a movie. Her feet inevitably brought her up Colorado to The Dugout’s heavy wooden door. She pushed through. It smelled of barbeque sauce and wood smoke. Emily smiled at Sandra, her eyes radiating love and sympathy. I shouldn’t have stayed away, Sandra thought. Em always reminded her of her favorite aunt. Same age, same fire-red hair and Texan accent.

Emily came out from behind the mahogany bar and patted Sandra on the shoulder. “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes, darlin’. Sit wherever you like. I’ll have Ramon bring you a chardonnay.”

“Thanks, Em.”

Why did they have to do that? People, who were never touchy-feely before, suddenly want to touch me. Why can’t they act normal? But I’m being fickle. I want everyone to go on about their business but I hate them for doing it. Tears welled in her eyes. Shit. Not now.

Scanning the room, her gaze landed on Kyle’s portrait. The table underneath it was empty. Why not? She pulled out the chair and angled it toward the wall. She sat down and thought at the portrait, Why did you have to leave me? A tap on her shoulder startled her. Ramon handed her a glass of wine.

“Thanks,” she attempted a smile and took a sip.

Ramon crossed his arms and admired the portrait. “He’s still here, you know.”

She almost choked on her wine. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me. You’ve seen him too, haven’t you?” Ramon’s brown eyes fixed upon her.

She didn’t know what to say. Is he serious?

“I told him you’d come back,” he said.

Then she remembered seeing Ramon at the wake, a beer in one hand, the other hand against the wall as he faced the portrait. Like he was talking to Kyle. She figured he was. But she never imagined that Kyle was really there to hear.

Did Ramon?

“I shouldn’t have come. I can’t…I gotta go.” She stood and stepped around Ramon. Walking toward the car, she thought she saw Kyle on the bench. No. Don’t look. You can’t. He’s dead. There’s no one there.

Alone in her car, she broke down and bawled. After a while, she heard someone else crying and breathing hard between her own sobs. A chill shot through her and she held her breath. Closing her eyes, she willed the sound away.

“Sandra. Look at me.”

She opened her eyes. Kyle was sitting on the passenger seat, wearing the same clothes from the portrait. Because that’s the only way I can remember him? Or because this is some alien or demon borrowing that particular image of him? He raised a shaking hand to touch her face, then let it drop. Sandra’s whole body shook and her heart pounded in her chest. She wanted it to be him—needed him to be there. But how could he?

She gazed down, avoiding his pleading eyes. He leaned toward her and kissed the top of her head. When she lifted her chin, he shimmered into a small, glowing orb with a tail, like a miniature comet. It soared through the windshield, flashed brighter and there stood Kyle, ten feet in front of her car. Or what was left of him. Kyle had been thrown out of his car when it hit a guardrail at sixty miles per hour, his face becoming so much mangled flesh from skidding face-first on the gravel shoulder. He took off his hat, raised a hand to the lower portion of his lipless face and threw her a kiss. Then he was comet again and soared skyward.

Sandra let out a long slow breath. She sat, motionless for another ten minutes, still not sure if she could believe what had just happened. Then she straightened up and started the car. She looked in the rearview mirror. Her hair on the spot where he had kissed her had turned snow white. From his goodbye kiss.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Wilkes. All rights reserved.

Ann Wilkes‘ first book, Awesome Lavratt (2009, Unlimited Publishing) is a tongue-in-cheek space opera with mind control, passion and adventure. Her stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies. She also maintains Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys, a blog on writing, science fiction and writing science fiction. She lives in California’s wine country with her husband, Patrick and their youngest son.

Air Lines by Donnie Dale

In 1976 Trans Canada Airlines lost a small feeder turboprop and my girlfriend’s father was on it. Only he and the pilot were on board and their bodies vaporized. We went up to Ontario from Pasadena, Millie and I, to make sure her mother was all right, and that was the first time I saw the trail that became our family icon.

Her mother—Barbara was her name—was a woman as skinny as a new elm and as vulgar as an old hockey player. She told us she was fine, and she was surprisingly fine considering the co-pilot of her life had disappeared. She instructed us to go out and see the countryside and leave her alone so she could celebrate. Millie had heard that the Bruce Trail was something to see so we went to see it. We were avid hikers then, early in our courtship. I think it was only later that the trail became so well known, traversing a good part of the province along rolling hills that are the highest points in the state.

During the hike, up from a country road, into hills fully clothed with the shimmering greenery of that region, we first saw The Tree. We called it The Tree because it stood out that much. A massive old spruce, it had blown over in a storm and was caught in the arms of a better-braced beech of similar size. We made a bet, she con and I pro, that the next time we came up it would be down on the ground. On the way out Millie named all the flowers she knew from her childhood there.

“This is a wild daisy,” she said of the striking white ones. Taking one’s head off for me. “He loves me he loves me not, he loves me he loves me not.”

And so on until she had it plucked clean and the petals all lay as white as paint chips in her hand. Lo and behold, I loved her. Then she blew at the petals and all but three flew off her hand. “We’ll have three children,” she said definitively.

Then she picked a yellow buttercup the size of a quarter and held it up to my chin. “If it reflects off your chin, you love me.” She saw that reflection vividly, she claimed. Everything pointed to love.

We flew up again a year later, in part to caution Barbara to celebrate a little more slowly with the insurance money. We went out to the trail as she thought about this and remembered The Tree and walked the extra half-mile for a look. It was still hugged up against the beech, holding on with its stripped arms as if terrified of falling. Its bark was eroding to a slate gray in this liquid environment.

“This thing doesn’t want to go down,” I can remember saying. “Would you?” Millie asked. We went home and were married and had four children within seven years.

And so the visits went, over a period of three decades. Barbara was as tough as Niagara Escarpment limestone but when she declined she did so furiously. Into a long, lit matchstick of white hair and outdated blouses. Rigidly upright and lashing out about the American lust for Canadian lumber. She became more companionable toward the end. Once, she laughed with us rather than at us. Every visit was also a visit to The Tree. We took the kids, who like all good California children whined at the very sight of a trail disappearing into woods, even as they became teenagers and young adults.

“I don’t understand it,” Barbara said the last time we saw her. “That Vickers Viscount had the Rolls Royce Dart engine. That was the best engine ever made. It shouldn’t have failed. It just should not have failed.” We had never heard her grieve for her husband before, but this sometimes happens in the proximity of death.

When we got the news that she had descended the stairs in too much of a hurry and landed on her craggy limestone head we went up one more time. Buried her and sold the house and Millie left me for Bobby because she had quite a nest egg and determined that it was her best opportunity to start all over again. This happens to men like me who are too compliant, I hear. I always called him Bob when I saw them at Thanksgivings or weddings, but she called him Bobby and so did the kids eventually. After a few years I suggested that we go up and walk the old trails. Just she and I and the kids. Not Bobby.

Millie declined, of course, as anyone would. The kids were busy with their own families by this time and on a whim of international proportions I decided to fly up by myself. I drove by the old brick house where Barbara had ruled our meager dinners with an iron fist but that wasn’t why I went.

I drove to the trail head, which was now an asphalt parking lot lined with grass play areas and picnic tables, on a fine June morning and parked and hiked up the trail and found The Tree within twenty minutes. Like a reluctant cadaver it still clung to the beech, which had grown on without its old mate. The fungusy beast just would not go to ground, though it scarcely had arms to hold on with. I had lost my bet and this was the last time I would go back.

As I left I picked one of the new buttercups from along the trail, yellow as eggs and sugar mixed in a bowl, and before I could think what I was doing I held it to my chin and said “Is it there?” but of course this was stupid. There was nobody to observe whether my reflection was present or not.

© Copyright 2009 Donnie Dale. All rights reserved

Donnie Dale’s published novel is A Hunter’s Fire. A horror film he co-wrote was produced but never released. He has had several other screenplays optioned and was a writer on the true crime show Arrest & Trial. He makes his living as a freelance magazine writer. He used all but six of the thousand words allotted to him in writing Air Lines. The words he left out are crucible, maniac, fizzled, draconian and two buts.

Terror on the Ten

Terror on the Ten
By Yevette J. West

My wife Diane and I are taking a road trip to Dallas to attend an Anniversary party. We are on the 10-East crossing the Arizona state line into New Mexico. It’s a hot, early August afternoon—105 degrees according to the dash gauge. Even though we left our cozy place in Bungalow Heaven about 10 hours ago, I’m ready to turn around and head back home. Diane loves road trips and I hate them. We could have sent a card instead of going to the party and taken a mini-vacation within the great State of California. I lost that argument just as I am losing the argument in progress.

“Afraid of bugs?” Diane let this fact she had just learned about me sink in. “My gawd Dominic! You’re kidding me, right? I’ve known you for over 10 years. How did I not know this?”

“That’s why I love California—very few bugs. Besides we all know you’re not afraid of anything Miss Man Hands.” Diane ignored me.

“I’m afraid of some things, but not bugs. I just don’t like them on me, but who does? Anyway, isn’t that an oxymoron—you afraid of bugs? I mean, my gawwd Dominic, you’re grillions of times bigger than insects!”

“You’re an oxymoron, without the oxy.” I tried to be witty…nothin’.

“Wow, you of all people afraid of bugs.” she continued. “I guess we won’t be moving to Florida to retire after all.”

I could feel my face getting hot and although the a/c was on, I let my window down half way to get some fresh air—hot as it was. “I’m not afraid of bugs. I just have a phobia of them. For your information, it’s called entomophobia and it’s a real issue for a lot of people.” Who was I kidding? It was more than an issue. I’m 6′ 4″, 225 pounds, but bugs represent inconceivable horror to me, period.

Just then, as if on cue, something flew in through my half open window and landed in the back seat. A cold chill of dread-fear ran down my spine as I heard—whatever it was—fluttering in the back. Diane didn’t hear it, but my bionic hearing was locked on to the noise.

“I mean the South is full of bugs…” Diane rambled on but all I could focus on was the back seat. The fluttering had stopped and the grip I had on the steering wheel, now slick with perspiration, relaxed slightly. Diane didn’t notice because she was too busy talking…to herself.

The fluttering started again and while scanning the back of the car via the rearview mirror, I saw a giant grasshopper crawling up the back seat towards the rear window. Suddenly, to my horror, it flew towards us and landed on the back of Diane’s seat. I must remain calm…

“So what are you afraid of? They can’t hurt you unless it’s a wasp or something. Everybody’s scared of those things…” Shut up Diane! For crisake don’t you realize there’s a monster on the back of your seat!

“Hey Di, you mind if we turn off the a/c and let the windows down? We’re getting low on gas.” Who gives a shit about gas! Let’s get these damn windows down so that thing can get the hell outta here! I turned off the air conditoner and Diane rolled down her window. As soon as she did, however, another grasshopper flew in and landed in the back seat. Diane didn’t see it, but I, on the other hand, flinched and simultaneously jerked the car noticeably to the left.

“Are you falling asleep? What’s wrong with you?” she asked, annoyed.

“Nothing!” I squeaked. I was visibly sweating now. At that moment the grasshopper on the back of Diane’s seat decided to move closer to the top of her seat. I now had full view of it. I could also see the other grasshopper in the rearview mirror. It was now crawling up the back window. My eyes were straining to watch these two hideous creatures and watch the road. Hold it together man!

“Thank gawd there’s a gas station up there. Pull over Dom, I gotta pee.”

I took the next exit going 80, ignoring the 30-MPH sign. Just as I approached the gas station the grasshopper on Diane’s seat flew at me and landed on my headrest. I let out a gut-wrenching “I’m being attacked by a great white shark!” scream. I hunched my shoulders in an attempt to protect myself and my chin was almost touching the steering wheel. I was holding the wheel so tight my hands were starting to throb.

“Watch out for that old lady!” Diane screeched as I made a hard left into the gas station. She could now see the grasshopper on my headrest. The undeniable look of horror on her face fueled my terror. The other grasshopper jumped from the back window and onto Diane’s head. She didn’t feel it, but I saw it. I completely lost it.

“There’s a grasshopper in your hair!” I shouted so loud I almost choked on the words.

“Ohhh…myyyy…gawwwwwwwd!” Diane screamed as she started waving her arms. It was total chaos in the car—Diane and I screamed and flailed while the two grasshoppers jumped from place to place.

I slammed on the brakes and broke the seatbelt latch in an effort to get out, not realizing the car was still in drive. In a brief moment of clarity I jammed the car in park. I then swung open the door and swan-dived onto the pavement, rolling on the ground as if putting myself out from a fire.

I stopped rolling after about five minutes and, covered with weeds and dirt, I looked up to see a large crowd, including Diane, gazing down at me.

© Copyright 2009 Yevette West. All rights reserved.

Yevette J. West is an aspiring writer, born and raised in Denver, Colorado. She has chosen to showcase her writing for the very first time, using this forum. Yevette resides in Los Angeles and hopes to one day become a screenwriter.

Are We There Yet? by Steven A. Lowe

Jill, still sleepy, complained: “I’ve never been to Pasadena, why are we going there?”

NGL1 responded: “It’s a requirement. Protocol. No uploads are accepted without it.”

“It’s not an open system?

“No, you have to follow the guidelines—and wait your turn.

I heard it’s beautiful.

I couldn’t tell you—beauty does not compute. I can tell you that many visitors rate it positively; your bandwidth may vary.

“Pasadena is a server? I thought it was the Crown of the Valley?”

“It is; that was robot humor.

“Oh, I get it—bandwidth instead of mileage on the Internet. Duh. That’s a terrible joke.

“I know. But it’s the only one I have.”

“What’s it like now?”

“Pasadena’s actually a post-industrial wasteland, ever since the Green Energy Disaster of 2027.

“I read about that in school. The massive wind-farms destroyed great flocks of birds and drastically altered the regional weather patterns. The roses were the first to go. The combination of drought, tornados, lightning strikes, and unchecked mosquitoes finished off the tourists. The reservoirs dried up in 2028, and it was abandoned in 2030. FEMA has been there for the last 45 years trying to fix it—but if you ask me they never will, it’s their last active camp.

“We’re nearly there. 92.01%. 92.02%. 92.03%.”

“Stop that, that’s annoying.

“Also robot humor. My apologies.

“Are you getting me back for reciting history you already know?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps it is for questioning the intentions of the fine FEMA crews.

“Are you programmed to make bad jokes or tease me?”

“Not specifically, but it is suggested by your psych profile. I don’t want you to get bored and change your mind about going. I have a quota, you know.

“No, my mind is made up, I’m done with this host.

“If you say so.

“Uh…we’re not actually going into the town are we? I heard it was still overrun by two-foot mosquitoes.”

“An exaggeration. The average specimen is barely half a meter. But no, we’re not going into town, just routing around it on the bypass like all the other souls.

“So how far is Heaven from there?

“Not far. Go back to sleep, we’ll be there soon.

“If I do, will I wake up in Heaven?

“Doesn’t matter; it’s really too late to do anything about it.

“What is that supposed to mean?

“Well, you might wake up in Heaven, if you’re accepted. Or you might wake up somewhere else. Or you might not wake up at all.

“Wait a minute…I can stop now?

“Well, yes, if you really want to. I mean, if you say you want to cancel the upload I have to permit it. I can’t force you to continue. You have the option to abort, retry, or ignore.

“OK. Stop the upload. I’m sorry about your quota.

“You just fulfilled it. Please click the Back link to return home.

© Copyright 2009 Steven A. Lowe. All rights reserved.

Steven A. Lowe is the founder of Innovator LLC, a software-development and consulting firm, and is a member of the band Noise in the Basement. Steven has never been to Pasadena. If you think his stories are imaginative, you ought to see what he can do for your business!

A Losing Game by Bonnie Schroeder

She stuck out her tongue at me! I don’t believe it! Why’d she do that? I’ve never bothered never even spoken to her in all the months I’ve been coming to this Weight Watchers meeting in Pasadena. She’s always here ahead of me anyway, and she sits on the far side of room, facing the door, where everybody can see her.

But why’d she do that to me? I just weighed in and sat down, minding my own business, and I look across the room and see her, facing right toward me, slinky blue eyes narrowed down and pointed my way, and that tongue poked right out, nasty little thing—looked like the underside of a lizard’s belly. But why?

She sure thinks she’s something special, with that fancy name: Elizabeth. They give us stick-on name badges, but I don’t wear mine. My name is nobody else’s business, as long as I show up every week. I don’t know what the big deal is with names, anyway. Most other self-help groups are anonymous. That’s the way it should be.

Elizabeth was a lot bigger when I first joined here, but she’s collected a bunch of those trinkets they give you when you lose a pound or two, so I suppose she thinks she’s better than me. Probably has one of those supercharged metabolisms that burns up everything she eats the minute she’s finished chewing.

I try and watch what I eat, I stay away from potato chips and Coke; I buy the low-fat ice cream, and if that’s not a sacrifice, I don’t know what is. You can eat the whole carton and still not feel like you’ve had enough.

Maybe it wasn’t on purpose, her sticking out her tongue? No, she seems like the kind of person who knows what they’re doing. She may be skinnier than me, but she’s not pretty, not by a long shot. Scrawny brown hair all streaked with gray; you’d think she’s never seen a L’Oreal commercial. God only knows what color my hair would be if I let it grow out all ugly like that. And she hardly even combs it, lets it stick up all over her head, like she just climbed out of bed.

Did I do something to her and not realize it? I don’t think so. I’m pretty careful to steer clear of the other people, not bump into them in line. I don’t even talk much—not like Elizabeth. She talks to everybody, sitting there in those jeans that couldn’t fit tighter if she’d painted them on. I like a little room in my clothes, so I can breathe. My husband likes them that way, too; he tells me so whenever I ask him.

I wonder if Elizabeth even has a husband? Somebody to tell her California wouldn’t fall off into the ocean if she combed her hair and put on a little lipstick now and then. Me, I go the whole route, even if it’s just to a meeting like this one. Even if I’m only going to gas up the Suburban, I do up my hair and put on eyeliner and mascara and lipstick. There’s nothing wrong with a woman helping her looks along, you know.

I wish the meeting would hurry up and start. These chairs are so uncomfortable, hard and skimpy. Of course her skinny fanny fits with room to spare, but I’m not the only one who could use a couple more inches.

Lots of people showing up now. Why does everyone come at the last minute? There’s a bunch of them in line to get weighed, chit-chatting like they’re at some kind of party, joking about how much they ate, or didn’t eat, this week, and laughing if they fool the scale.

From the row of chairs behind me, somebody’s purse brushes against my hair. She better not have messed it up; I spent a lot of time fluffing it just so. I hope my husband notices when I get home. The purse’s owner is getting settled now, zipping something up and rattling papers. Probably reading the handout they gave us this week. I glanced at it, but who needs another salad recipe?

Oh, great—it’s another socializer behind me, the kind who has to talk to everyone. I hear her chair creak as she turns around in it.

“Tina’s in a good mood today,” the socializer calls out to somebody in line. Tina’s the receptionist who does most of the weigh-ins. The scale face is hidden, but you can tell what’s happened from what Tina says. She tells the ones who’ve lost, “Good job!” And if you’ve gained or stayed the same, she says, “Now, don’t get discouraged.” She’s always telling me not to be discouraged.

Skinny old Elizabeth is still staring my way, and I get ready to stick my tongue out at her. But she’s looking over my head, so I turn around. Wanted to get a peek at the socializer anyhow.

She’s not exactly what I expected: just a kid, one of those no-makeup types, almost as skinny as Elizabeth. She has good skin, and if she’d comb out her hair instead of pulling it back in a ponytail, she’d be a pretty little thing. She holding up her right index finger and grinning like a fool.

“Hey, Elizabeth,” she calls out, looking past me like I don’t exist, “don’t be a sore loser. I won the bet fair and square, by a tenth of a pound.”

© Copyright 2009 Bonnie Schroeder. All rights reserved.

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the 5th grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and also volunteered for a local Red Cross chapter, writing newsletters and press releases to sharpen her factual writing skills while she worked on her fiction. It was sometimes a challenge to separate the two. Her debut novel, Mending Dreams, was published by Champlain Avenue Books.