Get Gone by Cindie Geddes

You know how some girls, they like to say how their man used to be nice and all? How there was this time before the yelling and before he laid hands on her, and how that was the time she learned to love him? You know how she’ll smile all sad when she says that and you just know she’s got some Disneyfied picture all hazy and soft in her head? And you can tell she’s waiting for that guy to come on back to her. Like he’s going to wake up one day and realize what a sumbitch he’s been and he’s going to buy her roses and do the laundry and read their bastard kids a book and carry her on up to their bed like he was missing her the way she’s been missing him. You can see it on her face clear as a bruise.

Well, I’m not like that. Never been. Because Nate, he wasn’t ever like that either. He was mad-dog mean from the day we met. He smacked me before he ever kissed me. And I was okay with that. I could work with that. He was beautiful. Looked to be carved from deep white granite, cold and hard, made me shiver the first time I touched his arm. I was all dark and small and he was all light and big, and we were both already cracked. We fit together like two pieces of a broken cup. And I would’ve kept on gluing us back together forever if he hadn’t touched that four-year-old down the way.

That sweet kid, no bigger than a cherub on a fountain, after Nate, she was busted. Sure as if he’d taken a hammer to her, she was busted on the inside. There was no putting her back.

And after that, part of me broke off and went missing. And no matter how much glue I used, everything we had, sick and sad as it was, all that just spilled on out through where that missing chunk once was.

When I picked up his gun from the garage bench where he liked to clean it after a hunt, that rifle was solid and heavy and righteous in a way that just blew away the rest of that cup. By the time I walked through our tiny house and woke him from our little bed, sometime after I shoved that gun in his mouth like it was a dick he hadn’t been planning on, but before I pulled that trigger, sometime in there, I found my calling.

I pulled that trigger as if the harder I pulled it the harder that bullet would hit him. I pulled that trigger and it was good.

I was a hammer. And I was just looking for something else to smash.

Somehow the softest little girls, they end up with the hardest boys. And that meanness, it settles over them, hardening over them like a cement shell. Some of those girls just get crushed under the weight of that shell. Others die right inside it, never looking a bit different. But some of those soft little girls, they take that shell and they harden all the way through. Those are the ones that stand up. And when one of those girls stands up, those boys best back down if they know what’s good for them. ‘Course, if they had that kind of sense, I’d be out a job. And I do like my job.

Still, a soft little girl, even one that’s found her own meanness, she doesn’t want anyone dead. Not if she can help it. She’d rather just up and leave. She’d rather the restraining order worked. She’d rather that walking away didn’t mean exposing her back. But there’s not many that care about her rathers.

I did a few favors in the beginning. Did a little time, too. I was what you might call an on-the-job learner. Focus was an issue in those early days. When I got going I got sloppy. There was some man who needed to get gone, I would get him there. Didn’t matter so much how. Hell, didn’t matter so much why. Some girl pointed me in the right direction and I was all about the crushing.

But I learned some skills behind bars. A sort of vocational training, because there were a whole lot of girls there thanks to some man. Some man who turned them out or hooked them up or turned them in to save his own ass. By the time I got out and settled in Pasadena, not a rose to be found in my neighborhood, I was a long way from home, with a long list of names. My get-gone list. I spent my 30s on that list. One at a time, I made the world a little lighter.

I got better with each one, too. And I made connections. You take out the husband of some woman lawyer, and she owes you big time. But you bring down a molester for a cop whose little girl is turning ten? Damn, it’s like a get-out-of-jail free card. I even got a judge at the Ninth Curcuit Court of Appeals whose daddy finally took a tumble—the kind that leaves broken bones and a sweet inheritance. She’s the one who turned me onto a sliding scale. Everyone pays what they can. When you love your work the way I do, it’s not a bit about money. But it’s nice having my schedule freed up. And the move up to a loft, that didn’t hurt either. Me and the Playhouse District, with its bustle and noise, we get along just fine.

Yeah, now, I’m doing alright. Dali Cade, Hit Chick for Hire. Shit, I should have cards printed.

© Copyright 2009 Cindie Geddes All rights reserved.

Cindie Geddes runs Flying Hand Writing Services in Reno, Nevada. She writes for love and money, but like her narrator, she likes it best when both are involved.

Death Dealer (Or Bob Strikes Back)

Editor’s note: This story is the haunting sequel to “Sweet Revenge.” Watch your cholesterol, people. That’s all we’re saying.

Death Dealer (Or Bob Strikes Back)
by Margaret Finnegan

“Murderer.” The word stole into Heidi’s head on summer nights when she lay down to sleep. It was annoying, but Heidi didn’t dwell. She had no regrets.

Over time, the word managed to get out of her head and into the copper pipes, which hissed it—murrderrerr—in a ghostly tune when she laundered her whites.

Then, on Halloween, the word burst into her hearing-aid static. That was when Heidi got mad. She shouted to her empty kitchen, “That’s enough, Bob; there’s no need to get melodramatic,” whereupon, Bob materialized before her.

He did not look good. He had lost a lot of weight in the afterworld, and he had the gloomy, pissed-off face to show for it. Plus, he had no eyeballs and his tongue was black. “You were my wife. You were supposed to love me, but you killed me,” he moaned, pointing a long gray finger at her heart.

“You killed yourself. No one made you eat all that saturated fat, all that beef, all that sugar and butter, all those empty carbs. You did that all on your own.”

“Nooooo, you gave me those things on purpose.”

“Ha! Tell it to Oprah. ‘My wife stuffed me with desserts.’ ‘Violet’s made me eat their cupcakes.’ ‘Congress won’t pay for my lap-band.’ How about some personal responsibility, mister?”

This seemed to stump Bob. He had to massage a big chunk of revealed brain with his fingers. “I hate you,” he said at last.

“Fine. Spend eternity hating me, but stop messing with my hearing aid.”

“Murderer!” he shouted. The kitchen lights flashed as Bob, his skin an angry, iridescent purple, stretched out—nine feet, ten feet. Red light shone from his empty eye sockets. Worms and maggots slithered from his ears and nose. Raising his fists to the sky, he thundered, “Yooooouuuuu killed me.”

Then his jawbone tumbled to the floor. He tried to speak, but his black tongue just flopped around like a sea cucumber.

“Well, thank heavens for that,” said Heidi.

Without even a soda pop fizzle, down went Bob—eight feet, six feet, five-foot nine and a half. With as much dignity as he could muster, he bent down and retrieved his jaw. Cradling it gently and shuffling backwards, bathed in the yellow light of shame, he began to fade away until there was nothing left, not even a maggot on the ground, not even a hum in the pipes.

Heidi stared at the spot Bob had stood. She blinked. She sighed. Then, when it was time, she got out her good ceramic bowl and her eight super-sized bags of candy, and waited for trick-or-treaters.
© Copyright 2009 Margaret Finnegan. All rights reserved.

Margaret Finnegan is a frequent contributor to Rose City Sisters. Her work has appeared in Salon, the LA Times, FamilyFun and other publications. She blogs about wise women and even wiser goddesses at Finnegan Begin Again. She reminds you that excessive Halloween candy can lead to an early death but giving individual-sized snack bags of carrots to trick-or-treaters can lead to an even earlier one. Remember: to be forewarned to be forearmed.

Special Delivery by Khyati Soparkar

Gia struggled to maintain a neutral expression as she packed the lasagna for Carlo’s lunch. It was difficult when she really wanted to burst into laughter, sing as loudly as her voice would go, and dance in the driving Pasadena rain. But years of experience had taught her that overt emotions would only irritate Carlo, and lead to an argument. He was quicker with his tongue, and Gia would be left in the kitchen, dozens of potential retorts uselessly whirling through her mind.

“What are your plans today?” he asked, holding out his glass for more of the fresh-squeezed orange juice he insisted on every morning. That wouldn’t leave any for her, but it wasn’t Carlo’s way to be concerned with mundane matters.

Why was he asking, she bit her lip. Did he know something?

“I’m volunteering at the Norton Simon”, she replied, keeping her voice steady. “I told you yesterday.”

“I was wondering if you could pull together a dinner for my colleagues tonight,” he went on, as if she hadn’t spoken. “It would be good networking for the partnership.”

No, no, screamed a voice in her head. Today is the only chance. You can’t let him trap you.

“I already signed up, Carlo,” she responded. “They’re counting on me to show up.”

He threw an irritated glance at her as he pushed back his chair. “Fine,” he ground out. “I’ll take them out. Don’t expect a present when I get promoted,” he added.

She rushed to get ready the minute he left, and was knocking on the door of the room at the Pasadena Hilton even before Carlo got to work. It opened so quickly, she knew Nick had been waiting on the other side. He pulled her into his arms, and an hour passed before they exchanged a coherent sentence.

It had been six months since a chance meeting with the attractive Army sergeant from Fort Irwin had turned personal. Gia’s only regret in that time had been her marriage to Carlo. She would have divorced him in an instant, but the thought of her parents’ shock—and the fact that Nick’s military obligations made meeting difficult—held her back. Perhaps in another life, she sighed. Right now, Nick was giving her the love and sex that she had been craving from Carlo in their three years of marriage, and she intended to hold on to it as long as she could.

She gradually became conscious of Nick’s gentle voice. “…transferred. Not sure when I will be back…”

“What?” she started. “When?”

“I leave in the morning,” he murmured. “I am so sorry, sweetheart. Army’s orders.”

Back at home, Gia nervously fingered the antique diamond pendant Nick had insisted on gifting her. Carlo had a sharp memory and no respect for his wife’s privacy. Even if she never wore the necklace, there was no guarantee that Carlo wouldn’t go through her jewelry some day just because he felt like it. And if he did, it would be difficult to explain the presence of an expensive necklace.

Carlo had never allowed her any income or assets of her own, and gave her a monthly allowance that just covered household necessities. But she wouldn’t give this up, she decided. Carlo already had her life; she was entitled to this one symbol of what could have been.

• • •

Leaving her friend Pam’s apartment, Gia was elated. Pam ran a small marketing promotions firm, and would ensure that Gia won the diamond necklace in a contest from a magazine Carlo knew she subscribed to. Pam’s professional ties would even ensure that the “prize” came in an package stamped with the magazine’s logo. To top it off, she would send the package to Carlo’s work address, a masterful finishing stroke that Gia herself had suggested. Get the pendant while giving Carlo no reason for doubt, she thought excitedly. She couldn’t have planned it better.

A few days later, Carlo handed her a packet with the magazine insignia. They were having a party, and as always, Carlo had arrived well after the first guest. Pam was standing by her side, and Gia sent her friend a small secret smile of gratitude. Pam acknowledged it with a smile of her own. As she started to rip open the package, the doorbell rang again.

Carlo firmly believed that work around the house was Gia’s responsibility, and didn’t even take a cup to the sink when he was home. But tonight, even as Gia stiffened from years of habit and prepared to tear herself from the package to answer the door, Carlo gestured at her to stay seated. Still intent on her package, Gia didn’t look at the new arrival until she was enveloped in her sister Maria’s hug and signature Chanel No. 5 scent.

As Gia slowly disengaged herself, the diamond pendant glinting at Maria’s throat caught her eye. Gia’s expression turned to shock as her package revealed a plain silver chain.

“Beautiful necklace, Maria,” said Carlo, breaking into Gia’s dizzy thoughts. “Is it new?” he asked, a suggestive smile on his face.
© Copyright 2009 Khyati Soparkar. All rights reserved.

Khyati Soparkar started writing as a teenager, and has published in the US and abroad. She has a MBA in Marketing with experience in financial services. She loves writing on marketing and business school, and is developing a portfolio in creative writing. Currently, she is writing a novel, working on a PMP Certificate, and growing her business in MBA admissions consulting. She invites readers to email her to say hello or to get help with admission essays!

I’ve never been to Pasadena by William Wren

“Are there moose in Pasadena?”

“Are there what? Where?”

“Moose. In Pasadena. I just ask ‘cause I’ve never been to Pasadena.”

Evelyn looked at Mr. Houle as if he had lost his mind. Mr. Houle had what people called “quirks.” White hair, a little bent and a smallish man, he was frailty’s poster child.

He was actually sixty-five and energetic. Just when you thought he would fall over with the wind, he’d begin his long and determined run through the park, down past the river, out to where the office buildings refused to go and the old barns refused to leave.

And he’d run back the way he came, without respite, never drained by the ordeal. If anything, he was invigorated. Until he started to think, when he would slump, walk slowly and appear very, very old.

In the early spring he had been asking about Dutch windmills, Don Quixote and the availability of old fashioned metal barber basins. When questioned, he replied, “Life should imitate art. I’m exploring possibilities.”

“Why would you want to know if they have moose in Pasadena?” Evelyn asked. She was not famous for a lively imagination.

“The re-creation,” Mr. Houle said.


“Yes,” he replied. Despite appearances, he was astute and saw Evelyn would need more information. “My basement. I thought I should put something down there. I decided on Pasadena.”

Baffled, Evelyn asked, “Why?”

“I’ve never been to Pasadena.” The logic was self-evident.

Evelyn returned to her life at the bank, where she was moving upward managing the personal accounts of the many people who, unlike her, were incapable of organizing and orchestrating and ordering their finances.

There was good money in other people’s failings.

Evelyn led a life guided by order and planning and “plain good sense” (her father’s phrase). She had a house that would be paid for on a specific date. She had a fuel-efficient car completely paid for. And she had a cat though she did not see the point of cats. In fact, she had named her cat Pointless. (The cat had been a friend’s idea.)

Evelyn had neighbours on one side she greatly appreciated because they were rarely home and when they were, they were function-focused: car washing, lawn cutting, leaf raking.

Evelyn’s other neighbour was Mr. Houle. He was always home, never functional, and had a dog, Troy, who wagged his tail for everyone but Evelyn. With her, he barked crossly and shat on her lawn. The only place he ever shat was on her lawn.

She wanted to report the dog and would have long ago but everyone on the street loved Troy and found his antics cute. Many of them were her clients at the bank.

With his shitting dog, impractical pursuits and deadpan seriousness while discussing the most absurd of ideas, Mr. Houle reminded Evelyn almost daily of her mother, whom her father had left when she was twelve in an act informed by plain good sense.

Most galling to Evelyn was the information she had received from an old university friend who worked in a similar position as she, but at another bank. Mr. Houle was loaded and had started from nothing.

How the hell could that be?

One day in late January, Mr. Houle called out to Evelyn as she was heading for work.

“Ever been to Pasadena?”

Rushing, she simply answered, “No.”

“It sure is somethin’!”

To Evelyn’s dismay, he walked over to her.

“I tell you, I’ve never been much for football. And I never understood what Americans saw in that college football. But I’ll say this, that Rose Bowl is a thing to see. A thing to see.”

“I’m sure it is,” Evelyn said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m running behind. Bye!” She quickly got in her car, started it up and left.

The Woodstocks were looking at the possibility of a loan, maybe a second mortgage, to finance their son Josh’s education. Evelyn was impressed. He’d be going to Caltech.

She was concerned with the application, though.

“You’ll be able to cover tuition and things like books, but I don’t see how you can cover living accommodations, meals and so on.”

“Josh will be staying at home,” Mrs. Woodstock said. “He’ll have his bedroom and we’ve decided to give him the back room too. And he’ll be eating at home of course.” She smiled.

Evelyn blinked, then asked, “Are these online studies?”

Mr. Woodbridge answered, “Oh no. He’s got the campus map and all. He’ll be doing some running around, mind, but if he’s quick he’ll manage it.”

Bluntly, Evelyn asked, “How will he be living at home and attending classes at Caltech? That’s in Pasadena. California.”

“It is. But Mr. Houle says it’s fine for Josh to come by in the mornings and go downstairs. The Bester’s girl, Leah, she’s been going for over a week. To Pasadena, that is. Says the climate’s more agreeable. And Mr. Houle don’t mind.”

After work, Evelyn went straight to Mr. Houle’s front door.

“I’ve had people at the bank today saying their son is going to school at Caltech in Pasadena but living at home. When I ask how that’s possible, they say, ‘Oh, Mr. Houle doesn’t mind. He says use the basement anytime.’”

“They can.”

“But you don’t have Pasadena in your basement.”

“But I do.”

“Oh, you have Pasadena in your basement?”

“Yes. Wasn’t sure it would fit, but it does. And it’s a helluva thing. I’d move there except I prefer living on the main floor of the house.”

“You do not have Pasadena in your basement.”

“Yes I do.

“No you don’t.”


It was an irresolvable moment so Mr. Houle said, “Why not come downstairs and see?”

Fuming, Evelyn said, “Yes. Let’s just do that.”

They went down to the basement.

It was Pasadena. It was sunny. Everyone was so, so tanned.

There were no moose.

© Copyright 2009 William Wren. All rights reserved.

William Wren is a writer-editor in New Brunswick, Canada. He likes constraints. With the above example, he spent more time reducing the word count than actually writing the story. More to the point, he finds his creativity stimulated by constraints such as, “a Pasadena connection.” Having never been to Pasadena and knowing little beyond a parade and football game, the writing became very compelling. What to write? Why, a Pasadena of the mind, of course.

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.