Monthly Archives: April 2011

Night Swim…

Night Swim

Out on the road, somewhere west of Tucumcari, New Mexico my dead son starts speaking to me through the CB.

I’m two days out of Salinas with a trailer full of avocados and Cole says, “Papa, get off  next exit.” Like he’s here in the cab with me. Clear as a fucking bell.

I look at the CB as if I’d never seen one before.


I reach down and click it off.

“Papa,  next exit.”

My whole body is going cold. My hands are shaking so badly, I’ll be lucky not to jack knife the rig right across Interstate 40.

The therapist AA set me up with said it wasn’t unusual for someone in my situation to have delusions, even hallucinations. Because of withdrawal, you see.

Or it might be that when you kill your kid, he comes back to haunt you.

“Papa turn here.”

Now I’m crying in terror and shame. “Cole? But how? Can you hear me? Cole, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. I’m -”

“Now Papa!”

I turn off where he says.

I know what lies down this road.

Cole traveled with me a few times.  Janice and I let him take a couple days off from school to head out with the old man and see the world. Just regional hops. But it was a grand adventure to those seven year old eyes.

I remember how he’d just goggle at everything. Took him to the Canyon once. We hiked up over a rise and there it was, all spread out before us. Cole stopped. Didn’t say a word, but just reached out and took my hand. We stood there in the breeze, looking at those vultures riding the isotherms, and taking in all that color and majesty.

And each day I try to find my way back to that time. Because, I know what comes next and I want to make it not come. To do it over.

“Papa, the motel. Go.”

My skin is all gooseflesh. What’s going on? I start seeing Cole’s pale corpse on the seat beside me, out of the corner of my eye.

I won’t look over. I looked at that corpse a year ago, when I awoke after a boozy night to find the EMTs pulling Cole’s limp body out of the swimming pool at the Arrowhead Motel. Now the smell of chlorine makes me wretch.

I haven’t had a drink since that day.

My sobriety wasn’t enough for Janice, though. Can’t blame her, really.

I pull into Ray’s Long Haul. My hands shaking so badly I can hardly steer. I fumble with the door handle and try to push down the thought of a cold, wet hand clutching me before I can get out.

In the bathroom, I splash water on my face and look at myself. Without the booze, I look healthier. But there’s no life in those eyes.

Over the intercom comes Cole’s voice again. “Time to go, Papa. Just a few more miles.”

Can’t anyone else hear this?

I’m losing it. Toys in the attic. That’s all there is to it. I should just go check myself in somewhere until this passes.

Or better yet, I could drive the rig out into the mesa lands and ditch it. Just walk out into the desert and shoot myself under that blaze of stars.

That’s how I’d like to end it: under those stars.

What do you want, Cole? A life for a life? Or would a long life of abject misery do it? Misery for the long haul, unchanged through all the years of my life.

I hide in a stall and sit down, head in my hands. When I look up, the graffiti on the door says it all: PAPA, THE ARROWHEAD.

All right then, Cole. I’m coming. I guess I owe you that much.

When I pull into the Arrowhead, it’s already midnight. A few cars parked in the lot.

I check in and I’m not surprised at all to be in the same room as that night a year ago. I guess Cole has this all figured.

I’m coming son. You can do with me what you will.

I walk past the swimming pool. No one in it. Just checking.

I throw myself into the huge depression in the center of the bed.

Jesus Christ, I wish I had a drink.

I must’ve dropped off, because the next thing I’m aware of is the door to my room clicking shut.

No, it can’t be.


My back to the door, I can’t bring myself to turn around. I fix my gaze on the glowing numbers of the alarm clock. 2:45 a.m…

Something climbs into the bed behind me.

Now comes the stench of chlorine.

A thin, white arm drapes across my shoulder.

I reach out and caress the hand.

I realize I am crying now.

“I’m sorry, Cole. I am so sorry!”

“It’s alright,” he says. “Come swim with me, Papa.”

I have to look at him. My son.

I turn, expecting only a dead-fish grayness. Instead, a radiant Cole blinds me.

He leads me down to the pool.

The Arrowhead sign is off for the night. A few crickets. So peaceful.

We slip into the water.

He swims up to me and opens his arms wide. We hold each other tightly as we submerge.

At first I struggle. Only natural, I suppose.

Then, Cole releases me and I sink to the bottom.

I look up at those magnificent New Mexico stars. They send silver shafts dancing into the water all around me.



I inhale.


Image by Paul Downey


Margo in Rome…(Hermosa Beach Heartache prequel)

Margo in Rome (prequel to Hermosa Beach Heartache)                                                                                                                      

Margo winced as a mosquito stung her in the neck, but she made no sound. She peered out into the blackness.

“Who is it, do you think?” she asked.

Dan squinted, trying to make out any detail that would help them identify their attackers.

“Dunno. Wait here. I’m going to try and outflank them over there by the entrance to the palazzo.”

She grabbed his arm. “Be careful.”

He looked at her with a bemused expression. “Wow. Pregancy’s doing quite a number on you.”

“Maybe if you could keep it in your pants, we wouldn’t be in this position. I used to be so professional. Now, I’m eight weeks pregnant, crouched behind a dumpster in Rome, my wedding gown is ruined, and someone’s trying to kill me.” She smiled, pulled him close, and kissed him. “We’re going to have a baby. Don’t be stupid out there. You take the gun.”

Dan looked like he was searching for words, but she pushed him off. “Move!” she whispered.

Dan crouched and scurried off into the darkness.

She wouldn’t see him again until the baby was two years old.

Margo sat with her back against the dumpster, her gown smeared with garbage.

No gun, she thought. Stupid.

Then it really hit: Jesus Christ, Margo.

She sighed, rose to a crouch, and prepared to run.

A baby?

She smiled.

Yeah, a baby.


Margo just wants to have her story told. I’m thinking of serializing it in this blog. I realize the piece above  doesn’t really qualify as a full-blown story. It’s more of a prologue (if that, even). If your new to the blog, please read “Hermosa Beach Heartache” also. You can read them in any order (I guess). I’m not entirely sure where this story is going yet, so please keep checking in for further installments as occasionally I put them up.

Again, the image is courtesy of Nathan Eckenrode

A Little Birthday Horror…

A Little Birthday Horror

The sunlight spilling in through the large bay windows of the Gould’s living room is comforting. Despite my physician’s warnings, I feel I was right to keep working after all that’s happened.

Poor Olivia. They say she’s stable now, but what do they know? They didn’t see what I saw, nor did they hear what I heard that night.

But I need to focus on today’s performance.

I couldn’t leave a traumatized fourteen year-old home alone, so I’ve brought Devin with me. I parked her wheelchair over in the corner, away from all these screaming kids. She remains largely catatonic since the incident, but I can tell when she gets anxious.

The doctors say the trauma of seeing her mother in that hysterical state caused Devin’s mind to go into a sort of hibernation. Of course, they refused to render an opinion on what I told them about Olivia’s, well, growling.

Olivia was irresponsible to pull Devin into her experiments with conjuring. Hindsight, I know.

The birthday girl’s baby sister is Bailey – a one year old. She pulls herself to a standing position by grabbing the spokes of Devin’s wheelchair. She babbles something. My daughter just looks off into space. And drools.

Devin and her wheelchair drew occasional stares at the start of the party, but Mrs. Gould redirected the kids to the magic show. Now all eyes are on me as I move into the meat of my performance.

I ask for a volunteer and, as expected, hands shoot up, vying for my attention. I choose a boy with loose fitting pants. I give him a black marble and ask him to put it into his pocket. I spin the boy around three times, mumbling a phony incantation, and finish with a series of dramatic hand motions. I’ve picked his pocket during the turns and now ask him to produce the marble, and of course, he cannot. The boy looks at the crowd with wide-eyed bewilderment, his arms extended, palms upraised, his shoulders hunched to his ears. I produce the marble from behind his left ear to much applause and an ensuing announcement from Mrs. Gould that they will sing “Happy Birthday” and have cake and ice cream in the adjoining parlor. The children run out, squealing with delight.

I need a cigarette. I go over to Devin, stroke her black hair, and tell her I’ll be back in a moment. Nothing. Mute, vacant. Little Bailey crawls by again, cooing.

Ten minutes later when I reenter the room, it’s obvious someone has vomited. The stench is overpowering. Soldiering on, I ask that the curtains be drawn and candles lit for the finale, in which the birthday girl, Brittany, will produce a rabbit out of a hat. I have the hat set up on a small table with a hole over a box containing the rabbit. Children always love this one, and the candlelit semi-darkness just adds to the drama.

Brittany’s arm descends into the yawning mouth of the top hat. “And now Brittany will amaze you with her new powers!” I announce, looking about the room. There’s a small bustle within the audience, kids looking down smiling, pointing. Bailey crawling through to see her sister’s trick.

“It feels yucky.” Brittany says, rummaging around in the box under the hat. “Oh gross, it’s wet, too.” she says, grimacing.

“Has anyone seen Bailey?” It’s Mrs. Gould.

“And sticky.” Brittany says.

Mrs. Gould is throwing off my timing. I look over at Devin, who is now staring right at me with a demonic grin on her face. Her eyes, like her mother’s that night. And what in God’s name has happened to her teeth?

Where’s the baby!” yells Mrs. Gould, more insistently now.

The smell of the puke and the jumping shadows on the walls are making me sick.

The kids in front jostle as they open up to finally let Bailey through.

But it’s not Bailey.

It’s the white rabbit.

With a small grunt, Brittany finally pulls her prize out of the hat. There’s a beat of silence, and then Mrs. Gould screams as she sees what Brittany is holding.

A candle’s been knocked over and the drapes are burning, sending shadows that look like dancing demons onto the walls.

And now Devin rises slowly from her wheelchair, turns her lizard’s eyes onto the scattering children.

And then she is upon them.


Image by Gabriel S. Delgado

The Couple in the Basement…

The Couple in the Basement   (A love story in three sentences)

The ancient house – dormant, decaying, silent – lies deep in a forest of black trees, undisturbed for a thousand generations, but for skunks and rats that die bloody and wriggling in the jaws of the long-forgotten couple in the basement.

The sudden distant squeals of children invite their attention upward out of the radium gloom and a ball bounces over the stone precipice and pop, pop, pop, lands in his lap.

From deep inside them comes the shadow of an echo of a distant memory displacing endless flesh-hunger with a delicious, warm anticipation of a child’s radiant smile.


Awesome freaking image by Casey Muir-Taylor

This is one of those images that contains, to me anyway, an endless number of stories.

Hermosa Beach Heartache…

Hermosa Beach Heartache

Margo sat alone on the pier at dusk.

The oranges and reds in the western sky burned down to embers, and then to deep purple.

She watched couples strolling along the beach, hands linked, heads inclined toward each other. Occasional laughter filtered up: kids making out or getting high under the pier.

The salt air kept her alert despite her lack of sleep. Since Abrams had called yesterday, she’d been unable to keep her mind from spinning out the possible scenarios.

She fought back another wave of nausea.

Either Dan was still alive, and she had room to negotiate with Abrams, or they’d already turned him into an artificial reef somewhere off Santa Barbara. Either way, she’d be next if she didn’t stay focused and nimble.

And she had to stay alive.

At least until the baby was born.

She was wearing the wig Abrams – or one of his boys – left in her mailbox. A fiery red mop. I guess they don’t want me flying under the radar for this job, she thought.

Margo crossed her legs and hugged herself. Cold tonight, she thought.

At the entrance to the pier, she saw a man in a dark blue suit get out of a car and start walking toward her.

OK, she thought, here it comes. If it looks in any way like this is going south, what’s your plan B? C’mon Margo, think! Abrams hadn’t called back until two hours ago to tell her where to go. She’d had no time to plan an escape or a counterattack. Again, Abrams being his usual thorough self.

The red pumps were killing her feet. She’d always hated assignments where she needed to dress like this. Abrams knew that, the asshole. He knew he could neutralize much of her physical training with the shoes, the tight gold dress, and a wig that could obstruct her vision. Margo knew only too well that it was just in the movies a woman kicked any serious ass in a pair of high heels. God, she needed to puke.

The man continued slowly up the pier. He stopped directly in front of her.

“Hello Margo.”

She knew the voice. “So that’s what you look like, Abrams. Not bad. I’ve always envisioned you as more bureaucratic. Pear-shaped, male pattern baldness and everything. So, what brings you out from under your rock?”

“I’m happy to disappoint you on my looks. Given the years we’ve worked together, I wish this could be all kumbaya and handholding, but we’ve got a problem you and I.”

Margo raised an eyebrow. “Do tell.” She was trying her best to appear nonchalant.

Abrams sat down next to her. “Oh, I will tell. Dan told us you were planning to run. He told us all about the connubial bliss after getting hitched in Rome. And now you want out? You look hurt your hubby sold you out.”

“Under torture, I’m sure. C’mon Abrams. Someone with your years in the field appreciates the unreliability of that information. What did you do? Pound a nail into his balls?”

“My methods are none of your concern. Not at this point, anyway.”

Margo shivered as adrenaline spilled into her bloodstream.

“No,” Abrams continued, “I think you still have a useful role to play in this little drama.”

“Why am I dressed like this?” Margo was getting cold now.

“I need you to go across the street to the Del Ray Hotel. Get a little information from someone.  The guy’s got a thing for redheads. Don’t worry, we’ll put a transponder in your cell phone; we’ll hear everything.”

“Gee, thanks. That makes me feel so much better. By the way, where is Dan, anyway?”

“Alive and well, I assure you. And he still has his balls.” Abrams handed her a manila folder.  “Finish this, and you two can go frolic in suburbia with impunity. We’ll put you in the program and you’ll be baking cookies for the PTA before you know it. You two are pathetic.”

It was full dark now. Margo was outwardly calm, but inside she was scrambling to understand the game and what her next move should be. At this point, she had no choice but to go to the Del Ray. After that, she’d have to improvise. As usual. And she had to find Dan.

“Who’s the mark?”

“He’ll be at the bar. Omar Sharif – looking motherfucker. From what Dan tells me, you’re quite the little monkey between the sheets. Ought to be no problem for you to chat this guy up, get him up to his room and, well, you know what to do.”

“I’m not killing him. Fuck off.” Margo stood up to leave.

“Sit. The.Fuck. Down,” Abrams said. “You will kill him or you and Dan are both dead. Not to mention your little bundle of joy.”

Margo felt her stomach tighten and lurch.

Abrams laughed. “Don’t look so shocked. Dan told me. Good thing you still got your figure or you’d be useless to me on this one. You don’t kill this guy and get me my information from his hard drive? No kiddies, no cookies, no little league. Got it?”

Margo stood up and looked down at him. Another wave of nausea caught her and she puked all over him.

“Ah, that feels better,” she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Fuck you, Margo. Brush your teeth before you kiss that guy. After a few months of smelling baby puke, you’ll be begging me to reinstate you in the field. Look at this fucking mess.”

Margo straightened her wig and started across the street. She turned and said, “Hey, what about the transponder?”

“Just do your job.”

In the lobby bathroom of the Del Ray Hotel, Margo stared at herself in the mirror, her hands pressed low on her stomach.

I’ll protect you.

I’ll find your father.

I will make this happen.

Just sleep, little one.

This is not going to hurt at all, baby.


I wrote this story today in response to another Chuck Wendig’s terrible minds flash challenge . The challenge was to write a story (1,000 word limit) off of five random words chosen by an online prompt generator. The five words were: wig-dusk-figure-cell phone-flirt.  Hope you enjoy the story. I like Margo – she’s a can do gal.

Image is by Nathan Eckenrode

1,000 views…thanks!

I just wanted to thank you guys for stopping by every now and then to read a story or two.  We’ve passed the 1,000 views mark.

By the way:  if you have an idea you’d like to see developed into a story, or if you want to give me some feedback, you can contact me at:

Again, thanks!

The Ice Hive…

The Ice Hive

The wind roared outside the tent as Dr. Terry Silva pulled on her boots.

She ran outside to the waiting jeep.

“It’s like a freezer out here,” she said, climbing into the passenger seat. “Is it true what they said about finding the queen?”

Peter Matthews, her graduate assistant, smiled and said, “It’s all true, doc. She’s big, she’s frozen, she’s dormant. Oh, and she’s got about a million workers frozen in there with her.”

“Dormant? Have they verified that? She’s revivable?” If what Peter said was true, she would be completely vindicated. And Russell would have to grovel at her feet.

Peter pulled up in front of a large ice cave. The wind continued to howl and blow snow horizontally. Terry’s eyes were stung with ice crystals. She got out of the jeep and ran into the darkness of the cave.

When her eyes adjusted, she could see people running around in obvious panic.

“What is it?” she asked as a man with a headlamp and wild eyes tried to shove past her.

“She’s thawed! They’re all thawed!” he pushed Terry out of the way and stumbled out of the cave.

Terry felt a panic rising in her gut. If the bees were no longer dormant, they’d be looking for immediate food. There was no telling how long they’d been dormant in the Arctic ice. The scent of human flesh would send them into a feeding frenzy. But who would have thawed them?


She staggered further down into the hole. Why had she let him come? Did she want to ensure he would be there in her moment of triumph? To see the look on his face when it was finally her, and not him, bathing in the adulation of the crew?

Terry could now hear the awful buzzing of the giant bees echoing up from deeper in the cave.

She could feel them coming. The air vibrated with the beating of their leathery wings.

From behind her came a small rumble. The ice shelf was unstable. Shifting.

Terry turned to flee the cave but was stopped by the blinding light of someone’s head lamp.

“Leaving so soon, Terry?”

She recognized the voice. “Let me by, Russell.”

“Oh, but I thought you wanted to go down and feed your big, frozen bees.”

“Turn off your head lamp, Russell, so I can see you.”

“Not a chance. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate all your hard work and research on the possible genesis of the colony. Quite fascinating, really.”

“Russell, everyone knows this is my project. Peter will – “

“Oh, Peter. Yes, well, he had a small accident. National Geo here I come…”

The ice shelf quaked and rumbled. From below them in the cave, Terry could hear the approaching swarm.

“I’ve got the fail safe detonator with me, Russell.”

Russell switched off his head lamp. “My dear, I don’t believe you’d bury us both in this ice just so I could be stopped from stealing your big find.”

Inside the pocket of her parka, Terry pushed the button on the detonator.

There was a bright flash as the magnesium of the thermite charge ignited. Russell was blown forward into Terry and knocked her back toward the darkened hole.

They both turned their head lamps on.

“Light won’t last long,” Russell said.

“Neither will we, you asshole.”

Below them in the darkness, the bees sped upward.

To feed.


Well, this is one that didn’t quite  work out.  In keeping with the spirit of the blog, I make every effort to get a story out each day. Sometime, life gets in the way of that happening.  The story of the frozen bees will make another appearance in another story. I’m going to keep after it.
Photo by Patrick Wallace



Recurrent lump.


No pain if no one feels it?

Car in garage. Duct tape.

A letter.

Please forgive.


I wanted to take another stab at micro-fiction (less than 50 words). How few words does it really take to tell a story?  As you can see, micro-fiction has much in common with prose poetry and haiku.

Image by CIA de Foto

Zombie Wranglers…

Zombie Wranglers

Derek sped after the strays, driving hard around a cactus, down into an arroyo, and finally emerging onto a flat plain. Out here in the open, the strays were no match for the speed of Derek’s horse. But they split up. So Derek chose the one that looked easier to catch: a fat rancher, once.

He threw his lasso and caught the zombie around the neck. Derek knew not to pull too tightly. Out in this heat, the bogeys didn’t stay together too well. And Derek had already been docked two days’ pay for damaging stock. Boss said the venture capitalists only paid for intact zombies. Why? Derek didn’t care.

The zombie struggled fiercely at the end of the static pole Derek had attached to it’s neck. The rope was fine for catching bogeys, but only a static pole or a head shot would keep them off you at this distance.

Riding back into camp, Derek called out, “We’ll need to ride the south fence later on to catch that other stray ‘fore it gets dark.”

“What difference does it make if we lose one?” Roy asked. Being the new guy, Roy had much to learn, in Derek’s opinion. A city boy who’d chosen to come out West for the job opportunities that zombie wrangling represented. Derek had been a wrangler long before the apocalypse. Back when the herds were horses.

“Well Roy,” Derek said, “for one thing, if we lose one it’s gonna come out of our paychecks. For another thing, when we can’t account for all the bogeys in the herd, that means there is a good chance that you might one day be over behind a cactus taking a shit or playing with yourself, and that missing boy’ll come up behind you and take a nice bite out of your ass.”

“Whatever,” Roy mumbled, and walked off toward the mess wagon.

“You think he’ll ever get it?” Manny asked.  Manny was one of the best wranglers Derek had ever worked with.

“He better. Or one day he’ll get one of us killed, sure as your shit stinks.”

Derek grabbed the static pole and pushed the captive zombie into the holding pen then went to the mess wagon for a cup of coffee. He sat down next to Roy on a tan, dusty rock.

“Boy,” Derek said, “I been out in this country my whole life. You don’t even know what you don’t know yet. This country don’t give you no second chances. Them damn zombies are just one more way to die out here. You understand what I’m saying to you?”

Roy looked down at his dusty boots. “You know what I was before I came out here? An accountant. Everything nice and tidy in a spreadsheet. I liked that. Then I watched  my wife and daughter get eaten. I wished I had a gun, been prepared. I might have saved them.  After that, well, there was no reason to stay in Philly. I always wanted to be a cowboy. Get to shoot things.”

They heard Manny scream from the direction of the holding pen. “Shit! I been bit!”

Roy’s face drained white. “Bit?”

But Derek was already up and running. “Manny! That damn thing circle back here already?”

Derek saw Manny’s boots sticking out from behind a rock. He sprinted over, breathless.

Manny’s eyes were wide. He was covered in sweat.

Derek saw no sign of the zombie.

“We gotta get you out of here,” Derek said, staying alert for any movement.

“Snake,” Manny panted. “It was a rattlesnake.”

“OK. Got it.” Derek slashed the wound and started sucking the venom out.

Roy came around the corner, wild-eyed.  He saw Derek sucking on Manny’s arm and said, “Derek, what the fuck are you doing?”

Derek turned to Roy, his mouth bloody, and said, “Now, hold on son -”

Roy put a bullet in Derek’s head and another in Manny’s.

He looked down at them.

There was a shuffling noise behind him.


Photo by Ashley Campbell

Dummies – Nuclear Test Site, Nevada 1953…

Dummies – Nuclear Test Site, Nevada 1953

Good jobs,

Government man say.

Even children paid.

Keep house.

Keep new furniture.

Love children.

Love life.


Momma go out?


Momma go out?


M –


Image by Mark Holloway

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