“You can’t Spell Mediterranean without Maine”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com

The theme for this story is ‘Surfer’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

 

It was the sort of house that had a fireplace upstairs and down, but the painting only hung in their bedroom. The fireplace was entirely necessary for the cold Maine winters, but the painting was even more necessary. It was an oil painting of a man in a neon orange wet-suit surfing on what appeared to be a small lake. Pine trees lined the lake, oaks poking out where they could. The colors bled into one another with giddy fascination, as if everything in the painting was rushed and intertwined.  Although it didn’t keep anyone warm like the fireplace it so heartily lorded above, it did do what any great piece of art should do; lived as a reminder of love.

 

(—————–)

 

Five years into what she would call a very happy marriage, Lucy Young sat on the porch of her house and deliberately faced east where she could see through the trees to the ocean. Her husband Garret had left for work only a few hours earlier. He was a fisherman and restaurant owner, a hard worker who loved food and loved Maine possibly more than Lucy did.

It had been a cool morning but the day promised to be hot before the evening cooled off significantly; a reminder that it was, in fact, still Maine, and that in six months everything would be buried in snow and ice.

An unusual group of clouds hung overhead, one Lucy felt had verged a bit too far out of the realm of reality. Still, it was something that should be painted. But even though inspiration begged to be painted, Lucy could not. She was distracted and a bit mad at herself for being so spoiled. Here she had an opportunity to paint something truly beautiful and yet, she felt bored.

Lucy had spent the morning pacing her porch and nibbling on leftovers for breakfast. She felt drained and it wasn’t even noon. Nothing struck the spark in her that began the conflagration of inspiration, so she packed up her travel easel and drove from her home on the ocean towards the lake.

The lake looked as if someone had already painted it. Lucy decided long ago that Lakes in Maine were like all other pieces of natural wonder in Maine; perfect, formed of crystal and sunshine and the very essence of nature. It was this belief in her home state she felt she captured in her paintings, giving them their appeal.

The lake was calm and a slight breeze hung in the air, twisting in no particular direction. Lucy took a deep breath, convinced the air here was clearer than the sea air back home but more savoring the idea of taking a deep breath.

Movement on the lake caught her eye, far away but unusual enough that she moved along the west bank to get a closer view. It was the unnaturalness of the movement that drew her; part of her brain recognized that whatever was moving on the lake shouldn’t be moving the way it was. “That’s the way something on the ocean would go…” she mumbled to herself.

The trees got thicker as she drew closer, and Lucy decided to take advantage of this, hiding among the oak and pine grove.

The lake rippled and sloshed near her feet as she finally realized what she was looking at; a man, dressed in a neon orange wet suit, surfing on the lake.

There were no waves on the lake, it was too small to generate any kind of wave, let alone one large enough to surf on, but somehow large wave after large wave spiraled around the man as he surfed through the blue tunnels as if it were the most normal thing on earth.

As the waves crashed around the him, the man in the neon orange wet suit plunged underwater for a brief moment before surfacing again, a grin clearly outlined on his face. Lucy realized with a small shock that she knew that grin; she married that grin. A small splint of anger fractured Lucy’s chest before it gave way to a laugh. She was mad he Garret; mad that he would keep a secret like this from her, but amused that it was something so strange and absurd. How was he surfing? It was clearly Garret who moved the water to make waves; every few minutes his hand stretched as if gently pushing open a door, the water responding and forming into perfect surfing waves.

Her head spun a little as she watched Garret mount another wave. She let her mind wander as she took out a small canvas and her paints and, in about twenty minutes, she had a perfect painting of a man in a neon orange wet suit surfing on a pine lined lake.

She examined her painting and decided to head back to the car. Confront him! One part of her yelled, but she didn’t want to. He had his secret and now she had hers. She kept this thought close to her the whole drive home, letting it run through her mind, creeping and receding like high tide.

Back home, Lucy stood on the porch for a long time and made up her mind. She split the canvas in two and fed it to the fire pit on the front porch. By the time Garret arrived home, the painting was long gone; the image burned away in blues and oranges.

 

(———————–)

 

Lucy continued to steal away and paint her surfer muse every Wednesday for the next three months. Every time, she drove home, thinking of Garret out fishing, Garret at the restaurant, Garret surfing on man made waves, a shining grin lighting the lake, and every time, she burned her painting when she arrived home.

 

One Thursday evening, she left home early in the evening to have dinner with her sister in the next town over. “Tell Steff hi for me,” Garret had said as he gave her a kiss goodbye in the morning. “I’ll be fine for dinner. I’ll grill some of that Octopus we hauled up yesterday.”

 

Lucy drove back from dinner, the setting sun a neon orange in the dark blue of the evening sky. She pulled into the driveway and turned off the car, heading around the back to the porch instead of going in through the front door. Garret sat by the fire pit, grilled octopus in a pool of olive oil resting on a plate next to him. She gave him a kiss and stole a bite of scorched cephalopod.

“How’s your sister?” Garret asked.

“She’s good. She says hi,” Lucy responded, and headed inside. “I’m going to change into pjs,” She called over her shoulder. She bounded up the steps and turned on the light in the bedroom.

The painting hung above the fireplace.

Lucy froze. It was the same piece she had painted yesterday. But she had burned it, right? No, she hadn’t, she remembered with a drop of her stomach. Garret had come home early so she had stashed it under the porch. But why would he go under the porch? There was nothing under the porch besides…

“I found it next to the extra propane tank.” Garret said from behind her.

Of course.

“You know,” Lucy said, staring at the painting.

“You know?” Garret gestured at the man in the painting. Lucy’s eyebrows furrowed.

“Why would you keep this a secret from me?” she asked. “And just how is it you can make waves?!”

Garret sighed. “It’s something I’ve always been able to do. Grandpa Kritakous always told me it was because we come from an ancient Greek family that counted Poseidon at the top of our family tree. I never told you because, um,”

“What?” Lucy demanded. “Were you scared?”

“Well, yeah. It’s not exactly normal, Luce.”

“Garret,” she said. “I love you. I’ll always love you. Even if you can move water or talk to Elves, I don’t care.”

“I’m sorry.” He paused. “I can’t talk to Elves. I don’t know any Elves.”

“I care that you lied,” Lucy said.

“I know. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Lucy nodded.

Garret asked, “How long have you known?”

“Only a few months.”

“Is this the only painting?”

“Um,”said Lucy.

“No?”

“I’ve… I’ve made more. I burned them.”

“Oh,” said Garret. Then, he laughed. A small laugh at first, but it turned quickly into a belly laugh. “Why?” he asked.

Lucy frowned, but couldn’t help but laugh as well. “I didn’t want you to know.”

They stared at the painting and laughed together, the summer cicadas humming outside.

Garret took her hand in his and squeezed it. “It’s a really lovely piece.”

“Thanks,” Lucy said. Then she looked at him, the ghost of tears in her eyes. “No more secrets?” she asked.

Garret pointed at the painting. “No more secrets?” he asked.

They kissed in the affirmative. The painting never left its spot above the fireplace.

The Very Counterfeit of Death

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Voice’ This is my fiction piece

 

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, 1923

Hans Kroeger strolled through the plain wooden door, its frosted glass guarding the outside world from seeing inside, and set his briefcase down heavily. He set about brewing a pot of coffee, from which he poured himself a large cup and stared out the window.

Thomas Todder, his business partner of five years, interrupted; slamming the door behind him and pointedly avoiding eye contact with his partner.

Thomas poured himself an equally large cup of coffee and added two fingers of whiskey. He sat at his desk and began to sweat under Hans’ nervous stare.

 

 

Though the two men departed from their office the night before and retired to their own homes, they found themselves reunited in a dream. It was a shared dream, impossible yes, but seemingly less impossible than the landscape around them. It was made of crimson reds, violets, oranges the color of the sunset and teals that flirted with indigo but never gave in. They stood in a desert, wavering cacti stretching for miles. It was night in their dream, daytime seemed a ridiculous notion, and under an oversize moon hung six or seven big dippers.

Death a voice repeated, simultaneously in Spanish and English.

Hans and Thomas found themselves tied together, back to back, palm trees sprouting all around them and dancing violently.

We know. We know and we will rinse your soul clean.

 

 

If you asked Hans Kroeger or Thomas Todder about their newspaper, The San Antonio Voice, they’d say it was the most popular paper in Texas, the National Paper, hard journalism, and the best read since The Declaration of Independence. It was the same paper that had unmasked the Cattle Killer as Carlos De Sueña, discovered the Texas Desert Ape and proved it was Ricardo Jimenez and his wife Maria, and had proved the corruption charges against Mayor Jonas Rodriguez true, running him out of office.

It was a three man operation with only enough glory for two. Matta Zoltón, the young man who ran the presses, cleaned and maintained the machines, and loaded the cars for delivery, was a shadow stuck behind the scenes.

This morning, Hans and Thomas found their hubris deflated, both wondering about the strange dream they had, unaware the other had dreamt the same nightmare.

They moved slowly, but by lunch both men had put the terror out of their minds and, by evening, felt jovial enough for a drive up to the Hill Country for a drink at the Beer Hall.

They left Matta with a full night’s work. Tomorrow’s headline read: SANTOS CERO: OFFICER OF THE LAW, OR KILLER OF LOCAL BATS; CHIROPTERA KILLER.

 

 

Hans’ crimson tie lay on the table next to Thomas’ teal and purple diamond print one as the two men readied themselves to leave the Beer Hall. It was not a large Hall with mostly outdoor seating, but the warm night air of the Texas summer kept patrons comfortable where walls and ceilings did not. The owner brewed his own Ale and kept a plethora of pretty daughters behind the bar, both contributing to the continuing success of the establishment.

It was dark and the moon had not yet risen when the two men decided to call a car and return home. Without the blanket of stars, the sprawling, open fields of the Hill Country remained seemingly unconquerable. Thomas grabbed both men’s ties and encouraged Hans to follow him on the short walk to the road where they could more easily meet their driver.

As they trudged through the wet grass, the moon rose violently, stars coming into view under a wavering orange band of light. Trumpets sounded around them, playing a dark melody in an incongruously snappy, crisp performance.

The sound of hooves snuck up on the two men until they spun around to find a glowing white figure atop a horse. It was clearly, even through the haze of a few pints of Ale, a skeleton wearing a General’s uniform, a tailored black and red coat with black pants that made the apparition resemble some sort of vampire if not for the unnerving, grinning skeleton face the two men could help but fixate upon.

The hands and head of the skeleton sucked the glow from the full moon and illuminated fully in the space around the men. Its face was adorned in the traditional Dia De Los Muertos Calavera Skull, flowers around the eyes, with smaller more decorative lines in oranges, teal and crimson all across the face. On the forehead a small sun faded to crescent moon and back again every few seconds. The Skeleton pulled the reins of the horse and jumped in an acrobatic spin, landing in front of the two men and knocking them to the ground.

Hola! It cried.

“Who are you?” Thomas demanded.

Oh, senior Todder, you do not recognize me? Is it perhaps because I am dead? It does alter the face a bit, no? the apparition laughed, drawing his face in close to Thomas’.

“I know that voice…” Hans murmured.

It is General Posata you odorous gringos!

“No, no you’re dead.” Hans retorted. He had only met the man a few times, but this did not sound like General Posata. Or did it? Perhaps having no vocal chords altered the voice?

I AM??  The General cried, looking back in forth, his features pulled into exaggerated surprise, like a glowing, undead tragedy mask. He laughed heartily, a meaty chuckle that sent shivers down the two men’s spines. Walk with me. He said, and set off.

“No. Leave us alone,” Thomas spat.

Wasn’t asking. Posata said, and Thomas realized his feet were moving independent of his brain. They were no longer in the Hill Country; the landscape had changed to that of the desert far west of San Antonio.

It is cold here at night, but not as cold as death. Did I mention I’m dead? Posata said lyrically. I believe that you two had something to do with that. And I believe you two have had something to do with a number of deaths, all which number among the Mexican men and women of San Antonio.

The desert was indeed cold. The Big Dipper fell from the sky, crashing to earth and revealing itself to be seven souls, each men and women The San Antonio Voice had proved guilty a crime that had sentenced them to death.

Posata circled the men. I am a blunt man, so let me say this; You have brought death upon too many who did not deserve it, including myself, all in the pursuit to prove a your so called truths. You are not journalists, but prejudice harbingers of death. Tonight, this ends, unless you can report from this desert, your new home Someday, you will feel the cold of death, but first ,you will burn in this place.

Hans and Thomas could not protest; their voices were stripped from them. The big dipper danced around in cold, fiery torment, and the coyotes of the desert laughed and laughed.

 

 

 

No one in San Antonio ever figured out where the two men who ran The San Antonio Voice had gone. The bar maids at the beer hall said they had wandered off and were captured by wolves. Others claimed the old Native American Gods who protected the land had taken them. Matta swore it was an Angel sent from hell to take them.

Matta took over the paper, proving swiftly that the previous management’s versions of the truth were both fabricated and dangerously askew. The Mexican community rejoiced at his ascension and fine work running the paper.

He was not only a fine journalist and well respected member of the community, but also the best horseman in all of San Antonio

And the coyotes laughed and laughed.

Six Feet Small

 

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Float’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

 

“Stop it,” she said tersely.

Daron raised his eyebrows. “What?” he asked, surprised.

“Floating. Stop it,”  She said.

“Oh. You noticed that?” Darron asked.

His date scoffed. “Yes.”

They stood at the bar of an upscale Italian Restaurant that was trying a little too hard not to be Italian. Darron liked to bring his dates here because the bar was impressive and the food sounded lavish. Darron touched his feet to the ground just as the host called his name for a table for two. His date looked like she was seriously entertaining the idea of leaving. Darron sighed.

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

 

He had been the first person to float in over three hundred years, all thanks to a blood-red, leather bound book he had found in the garbage room of his building. Under a precariously placed gold statue of Krishna and an old Ralph Nader button he noticed the book, which he promptly picked up and leafed through, skepticism swarming his face.

“Um,” he said to no one in particular, wondering very much if this was a joke.

He brought the book upstairs and never let it go.

It was without a doubt an old book of handwritten spells. A Witch, at least Darron had a strong sense she was a witch not only because of the spells but due to the large meticulously scrawled “I AM A WITCH, HA HA HA” written in the front cover, had spent considerable time gathering these spells together and making sure they were recorded.

They were mostly inane spells; how to make a stone fly or how to preserve beets without pickling them, but there were more complicated spells every now and then. It wasn’t just that they were complicated; to Darron they seemed unnecessary. Why would he ever need to turn a pig inside out? Or create a second moon?

All in all they were pretty helpful and, all things considered, Darron really liked beets, so he considered the finding of the book positive event. He found a spell permanatly removing dust and another to summon an obedient Cat, which he did late at night by candlelight. The cat was very friendly but not very obedient, which was fine with Darron because he needed the company and never really believed in such a thing as an obedient feline anyway.

But, for all the multiplying pennies or unlimited shade spells, Darron found the most useful to be the spell that made him float. All his life he’d been short, and Darron always felt that the only thing holding him back from meeting more women was a few inches.

Now, he could float himself to six feetntall. The only problem was, woman always noticed.

 

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

“She didn’t fall for it either, huh?” Darron’s sister asked, snickering.

Darron sat behind the counter of the Magazine shop he owned in Long Island City, a small but quickly growing part of Queens nestled under the shadow of the 59th street Bridge.

“I’m not trying to trick anyone, C.” Darron groaned, unpacking a box and extricating an invoice.

Catherine scoffed. Where Darron was short and squat, with a face like a boulder and dark features, she was light and energetic. She was like a sunrise; Darron was like a water buffalo.

“I don’t get you Darron. You’ve always tried to trick people into thinking you’re something you’re not. “

“I have not,” Darron said, counting a shipment of magazines.

“Yes, you have! Remember in High School when you tried to make Layla Riccoritti think you were Turkish?”

“Hey, we could be! Mom’s family doesn’t remember which Mediterranean Island they came from.”

Catherine laughed. A few customers poked their heads up from reading to try to locate the source. “Let’s review. You find a book of magic tircks-“

“Spells,” Darron muttered.

“Spells, fine, you find a book of spells which grants you powers-“

“C, it doesn’t grant them, I had to master them!”

“Like magic tricks?” Catherine smirked.

Darron fumed silently, typing commands into his computer.

“You find a book of spells and instead of, oh, I don’t know, conjuring piles of gold to get out of selling Hipsters lame magazines for the rest of your life, you use it to trick women.”

“My clients are not Hipsters and my magazines are not lame!” Darron said through gritted teeth. A man with gauges in his ears wearing a tank top with suspenders approached the counter. He handed Darron a copy of Integrated Clockworks. Darron rang him up with a smile, attempting to inject some warmth into the tension.

“I like your Elk tattoo,” Catherine said to the man. He blushed and muttered a thank you.

After he left, Darron rounded on his sister. “Don’t you have something better to do today?”

She laughed again, but more serious this time. She punched her brother’s shoulder and locked eyes with him.

“Stop trying to trick women. No one is ever going to fall for it.”

 

_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_

 

 

A few hours later, the Spring sky had darkened late, leaving the reflection of the Manhattan skyline in Darron’s window. He dropped a box down on the counter and stretched his shoulders, trying to get the knots out. No one was in the store as The Queen is Dead by The Smiths played from the store speakers.

A woman with shoulder length chestnut hair walked in. Darron greeted her with a hello and was struck by how pretty he found her. She nodded at his hello but did not smile; not in reaction to Darron but because she seemed like the sort of person who saved her smiles, perhaps for decrepit graveyards or a murder of crows closing in on a smaller, weaker bird.

Darron shook his head, trying to clear it of such bizarre images. While her back was turned, he floated a few feet, raising his height to what he judged was taller than she.

She spun on her heel so fast Darron doubted whether she had ever turned her back.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Um,” said Darron.

She crossed her arms and glared at Darron. He smiled.

The woman snapped her fingers and turned Darron’s eyebrows into Seagulls which, Darron later reflected, was the most painful thing that had ever happened to him.

She returned him to normal, albeit sweating profusely.

Darron pointed at her and shot a small, violent tornado at her which she scooped up like a kitten and quelled very easily.

She smiled, making Darron feel very much like a small, weak bird.

“Would you like to go out for a drink?” she asked.

“Ought to Do Right By Me”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Ticket’ This is my fiction piece.

 

You could see the lake from outside the venue; a usually an ominous dark blue monster now rendered incongruously beautiful by the reflection of a sunset of pinks, oranges and reds. At the entrance to the music hall, a young man stepped up to a large, bearded ticket taker wearing a shirt that said ‘SECURITY’

“Ticket please.” the bearded man said.

“Here you go,” the young man said, handing him a ticket.

The bearded man examined it, and then scanned it.

“This is not a ticket.”

“Yeah it is.”

“It’s not a valid ticket.”

“What? Why not?”

“Well, it looks like you drew this ticket.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. So, that is not a valid ticket.”

“Yeah, it is. You need a ticket to get in, and I have a ticket.”

“No, see, hand-drawn tickets are not valid tickets.”

“That’s ridiculous. Where does it say that?”

“If you look on our website, you’ll see the rules and regulations for buying a ticket.”

The young man made a show of bristling. “I’m offended!”

“I don’t think you are,” the bearded man said.

“I am!!!”

“Nope.”

“Now I’m offended that you don’t think I’m offended.”

The bearded man raised his eyebrows. “I’ll live.”

“I demand to speak with your manager.”

“Don’t have one.”

“Your supervisor.”

“Don’t have one.”

“Your boss!”

“No.”

The young man stared pointedly at the man’s beard.

“I still don’t get why I can’t get in. Bermuda 467 is my favorite band and I have a ticket; this should be a simple transaction.”

“It’s a shame one of us is making it hard.”

“I agree.”

“I meant you.”

“And I mean you!”

“Listen, kid,” said the bearded man, brandishing the hand-drawn ticket. “This isn’t a valid ticket because you didn’t pay for it. You have to pay to get in.”

“Oh! Here, hold this,” the young man said, placing something in the large, bearded man’s hand. He took the ticket back. “There!” he said. The bearded man unfolded his hand and found a quarter.

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“I’ve purchased my ticket, and here it is. Thank you!”

“Tickets are $55 plus tax.”

“I’m a college student who works to put himself through school; I don’t have $55 plus tax for a ticket I already paid for!”

“I’m not letting you in.”

“You will let me in!”

“I won’t.”

“You will!”

“I won’t.”

“You won’t!”

“You’re right.”

The young man snapped his fingers. “Bah! That usually works.”

“When?” the bearded man asked. “When does that usually work?”

By now, the bearded man’s boss, a thin, elderly man who resembled an oil painting of a crane, had wandered over.

“Is there something wrong  here?” he asked, lifting a pair of glasses on a chair to his eyes.

“No,” said the bearded man.

“Yes!” said the young man. “This,” he motioned vaguely to the bearded man, “man refuses to accept my ticket.”

“It’s not a ticket,” explained the bearded man.

The young man scoffed. “Who are you to say that!? What’s a ticket anyway? Just a piece of paper that grants you access to an event, right?”

“A ticket,” said the bearded man, “ is a piece of paper or small card that gives the holder a certain right, especially to enter a place, travel by public transport, or participate in an event.”

“Um,” said the young man.

“Further more,” continued the bearded man, “for this venue, a ticket is said piece of paper purchased from the venue or through a valid third party distributor. Not, and I can’t say this enough, something hand drawn.”

“Aha! By definition, the ticket is simply a piece of paper or card, regardless of its origin, as long as it’s a piece of paper that gives the right to participate in said event if purchased from the venue. The quarter in your hand is proof that I purchased this ticket from the venue. Therefore, I should be granted access!”

No one spoke.

“He’s got you there,” said the bearded man’s boss. “Come on in.”

“Thank you!”

“Wait,” said the bearded man. “He would have me there, except I am authorized only to take tickets and work security for the band. I am not an authorized ticket seller, rendering your proof of purchase invalid, rendering this ticket invalid.”
“Oh,” said the man’s boss.

The young man sighed.

The bearded man smiled. “The line for tickets is over there. You can purchase one for $55 plus tax.”

The young man walked away without saying anything.

It took about a half hour to make it through the line. By that time, the sun had set and the lake had returned to its inky color; an ever-watching behemoth in the distance.

The young man reached the ticket window and pulled out three crumpled twenty dollar bills.

The ticket seller eyed him. She checked a note someone had left for her and examined the young man.  “Your ticket has been paid for. Here you are.” She handed him a ticket.

The young man narrowed his eyes, but the ticket seemed to be valid. He approached the bearded man again.

“Ticket please,” The bearded man said.

“Here you go,” the young man said, handing him a ticket.

The bearded man examined it and then scanned it.

“I’m not letting you in.”

“You will let me in!”

“I won’t.”

“You will!”

“I won’t.”

“You won’t!”

“I will!” The bearded man blinked.  “Oh, that does work.”

The young man walked in, but turned back. He opened his mouth to say something to the bearded man, but stopped. The bearded man tossed him a lanyard. “Eddie, the bass player, he and I grew up next door to each other. I asked him for a VIP pass. Have fun kid, and tell him Rick sent you.”

“Thanks, Rick.”

Rick, his beard an inky color,he himself an ever-watching behemoth; smiled.

Invisible Sun

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Indiscriminate’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

Tomorrow is my birthday. Getting older is inevitable, I know, but does it have to be so boring? Maybe for other people getting older is some kind of journey, something they share with a loved one or friends, but  me? I’d rather eat sand.

 

Okay, stay with me because I’m about to tell you something very strange. I live in a desert wasteland. Plenty of people live in a desert wasteland, yes, but when I was fifteen years old, I slipped indiscriminately into a void occupied by said desert wasteland. Sand stretches infinitely in all directions and the sky is forever black. It’s not the black of night or a permanent marker; it’s the empty black of a cardboard box or an vacant theatre. The sky is empty, and I mean that both in the way that there is nothing in it and that there is no substance to it. It’s just black; just a void that hangs over sand.

I’ve been here for ten years. Happy Birthday to me.

 

I made a joke earlier. I actually do have to eat sand to stay alive. If anyone thinks that’s weird then I would gladly change places so they can experience the sand. It’s not bad, but it’s not good. Hey, people eat mushrooms and livers, why can’t I eat sand?

 

My mother and father were both Professors at Yale. One night, we were invited to a fundraiser on campus at an enormous mansion, a mahogany beast that had many previous owners; Mark Twain and Groucho Marx among them. That night, however, the Drama Department was auctioning items from the previous owner before they turned the mansion into a new campus library for yet-to-be translated Greek plays. The man who owned the house, famous filmmaker and Oscar winner Pytor Sansk, had died only a few weeks before. Sansk’s film career began with artsy, black and white films that explored death and loss before he moved to a focused, magically staged series of films in color that explored death and loss. Each piece was set in a different country, in a different area of history, but kept a through line of actors and story. As the auction crept into its fourth hour, I decided to explore. I slipped upstairs, where I found Pytor’s office; an enormous room with an oversized telescope, a skylight that stretched across the entire ceiling, and walls of storyboards.  I had found a piece of the man left behind, not valuable enough to sell for money but valuable enough not to touch. I poked around for close to an hour, sifting through old scripts and examining Pytor’s library. It was there I found the indiscriminate catastrophe that would doom me here: a door, marked with an upside down triangle with three vertical lines through it. It sat between two shelves of Shakespeare plays, old and grey; an incongruous post-it note attached that simply read: NO.

I didn’t listen to the post-it note. I walked through the door.

 

Mostly, I just keep walking. I have a playlist of songs in my head that I sing. Today, I’m going through all The Police albums I remember. My older brother, well, half brother, was a huge Police fan. He used to come over for dinner every Wednesday night and, after coffee with my parents, sit and listen to music with me, determined to make sure I did not succumb to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears of the world. So today, it’s Ghosts in the Machine, and then maybe to Synchronicity from there. All the while, walk, walk, walk.

 

Is it healthy to daydream about your first crush for ten years straight? My answer is yes, but I’ve also been without human contact for ten years, so judge me all you want. I was in love with this girl, Maya, and maybe I still am, but is it love at 14? We dated for about half a year before she broke up with me because her family was going to move. She didn’t move, but after that we never really got back together. Actually, my favorite memory of her isn’t even from when we were together. It’s from later, about a week or two before I made my indiscriminate mistake of walking through that damn door. Don’t laugh at me, but we were on a band trip. On the bus ride back, my best friend Ryan ditched me for the cute blonde girl who played first trumpet, but Maya made a seat for me. We made some small talk in the afternoon sun that stretched across our laps before Ryan came to ask some advice. When he left, Maya had buried herself in a book, so I grabbed my CD player, A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay, and my headphones. The next thing I knew, my eyes pulled themselves down like divers into the sea, and I fell asleep. I woke up as the last song on the CD began and found my head had slipped onto Maya’s shoulder. My eyes flickered open but I immediately closed them. She wasn’t asleep, but nor was she reading, just staring out the window, a blur of green moving past her. A rush of old emotions came to me; the feel of her hand in mine, sitting next to her at the piano, how she smiled even when I didn’t say anything funny.  She hadn’t moved my head or tried to wake me up when it slipped there. Instead, she let me rest, let some part of me stay attached to her. She let us both slip into memories, just for a little while. It didn’t change anything between us, but it was a silent acknowledgement that we did have something, that we were right to feel how we felt, that in the quiet parts of the afternoon, she thought about me too.

I wish I could thank her for that.

 

 

This morning, I stopped walking. Why? Why today, of all days? Because I heard a voice. Someone else is here! Someone else among the empty black and the infinite sand! I’ve gone insane, at this point in time that is an inevitable destination, but I swear on every grain of sand below my feet that I recognize that voice.
I just have to find her.

 

“SUNY West-Cayuga Men’s Basketball”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Leviathan’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

It was the first time in the history of March Madness a 16 seed had beaten a 1 seed. For those who don’t speak Basketball, all that needs to be known is that the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans won a game they weren’t supposed to win. Not the don’t-win-this-game-or-your-family-will-be-mysteriously-relocated-to-an-island-in-the-South-Pacific-no-one-will-discover-for-another-150-years kind of not supposed to win, but the team-they-beat-has-bigger-stronger-faster-and-better-players-with-better-scholarships-and-are-all-one-foot-taller kind of not supposed to. From there, the miracle run lasted far beyond anyone’s expectations. In the blink of an eye and the space of a few weeks, the SUNY West-Cayuga Leviathans were playing in the National Championship game.

 

 

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Poseidon loomed over the battlefield, a web of shallow rivers in a dry plain filled with palm trees. Odin, grinning a grin from a cartoon noir, stood tall over the other side of the battlefield. Poseidon’s Leviathan had fought better than expected in the Tournament of the Gods, first beating Bast’s Wildcat, followed by Loki’s Azure Frost Giant, The ‘Blue Devil’, Hephaeustus’ scrappy Wolverine, Badb’s menacing ‘Fighting Irish’ Crows, and Tyr’s new alliance with Fenrir’s Wolfpack.

All in all, it was surprising to everyone involved that the Leviathan was able to defeat such strong opponents, but with her long neck, sharp teeth, narrow, gar-like jaws, mud colored scales that shone blue in the water, and sharp mind and focused eyesight, Poseidon’s creature was the feel-good story of the Tournament.

Hermes blew the horn that signified the start of battle. The Leviathan darted forward through the system of rivers, plunging without fear into the fight. From a cloud of darkness and static electricity emerged her opponent, Odin’s Great Bruin.

 

 

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SUNY West-Cayuga huddled around the bench, grief and consternation brushed across their faces. In 4 minutes, UCLA had gone up 28-3. After sinking the first three point shot of the game, SUNY West-Cayuga had lost the ball, missed blocks, fouled far too many times, and allowed three Sports Center worthy dunks.

“SUNY West-Cayuga is going to call a timeout here, Jim,” said one commentator.

“They’re going to see if they can get the tires back on this thing. Only 3 points, allowing UCLA to score 28, I can’t think of a worse start to a game.”

“Arlington Roberts has a stat line that reads 0 points, 0 rebounds and -2 assists. I don’t even know how you can get negative assists Jim, but this team found a way.”

“It’s a shame too, because SUNY West-Cayuga has really played some great games in this tournament, but the narrative around them was that a 16 seed in the Championship Game would lead to a blowout. That’s certainly been the story so far.”

Over in the huddle, Coach Cavanaugh took a breath and tried to compose himself.

“Okay guys, listen up! I didn’t think I’d have to make this speech until the last minute of the game, or until the last three minutes, or at least halftime. Or, at least the last minute before halftime. Or-”

“Coach!!” Arlington Roberts cried.

“Sorry,” Coach Cavanaugh said, waving his arms as if to clear the thought. “Sorry. You guys deserve to be here, so don’t give up. You’ve got nothing to lose at this point! Those guys over there? Yeah, they may be bigger, they may have scholarships or a chance at the NBA, but they don’t have the wild run you guys have had. No one expected you to be here, so get out there and keep fighting! Keep fighting your butts off because tomorrow, you either wake up the greatest underdog champions or the greatest underdog story. Either way, people will be talking about you for years to come. We might as well give them one more shock, huh? Alright hands in, Leviathans on three!”

 

 

===============================================================

Odin’s enormous Bruin swatted a morning star sized paw at the Leviathan, who, to her credit, dodged the brunt of the attack. She darted forward, nimble jaws outstretched to close around the bear’s throat, but was knocked away by the other paw. The Bruin pounced onto the Leviathan’s back in a thunderous bolt of crackling energy.  The Leviathan screeched in pain, a cry that echoed around the battlefield in a sickening Doppler effect. She dove underwater as fast as she could; losing the Bruin’s snapping jaws to the surface of the water. She turned and gave herself a burst of speed and rammed into the furry mountain, managing to knock the wind out of the bear as it was pushed back to land. It recovered more quickly than she thought. Machine-like jaws clamped down on her back, blood flowing under the scissors of teeth. She flailed awkwardly and detached herself. Poseidon called timeout.

The Leviathan swam lazily to the God of Water, his long white hair tied back in a ponytail. He set his trident down and knelt to greet her.

Poseidon gave her a few reassuring pats on the head.

“I’ve been thinking,” he murmured. “Now, no one expected you to get this far, but we did, and I have an idea of how to win this.”

He looked across the way to Odin’s plastered smile. Odin laughed in Poseidon’s direction.

“Go for the bad eye.” Poseidon said, staring at Odin’s eyepatch. “It’s the fat man’s weakness; it must be the Bruin’s.”

The Leviathan nodded. A horn blow from Hermes signaled a resume play. The Leviathan dove as far as she could, letting the deep silence of her underwater world surround her before she propelled herself out of the water. The Bruin was waiting for her, but she managed to snap forward, jaws closed together like a jab connecting with the Bruin’s eye.

Nothing happened. She splashed back into the water and peeked her head out to examine Odin.

“Other eye!” Poseidon yelled.

The next jab she landed.

 

 

==============================================================

“Another three!!”

“Jim, this is incredible. But did we really expect anything less from SUNY West-Cayuga?”

“Their Cinderella story is NOT over yet!!”

“It’s incredible, with one minute left to play SUNY West-Cayuga takes a 68-61 lead. “And Arlington Roberts is fouled! He will go to the line and shoot two!”

“I don’t get it Jim, it’s almost like someone punched the Bruins right in the eyes! They cannot make a shot! SUNY West-Cayuga is playing great defense, hitting the three point shots they need and, as Roberts sinks one and they go up 69-61 with 45 seconds left, it looks like the Leviathans are going to be National Champions!”

Right Now, On the Back Porch

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Feathers’ This is my fiction piece.

UPDATE: I was the winner of the #Blog Battle for my ‘Feathers’ piece! Thanks to everyone who read and voted!

 

It was last March when all the trees sprouted feathers instead of leaves and the birds grew flowers and leaves instead of feathers. Just to make things equal, I suppose. Sure, it was strange and very surprising at first; I remember being over in Riverside Park for a case, all the way up by 125th street where the park is below West Side Drive, down on the river that looks out on Jersey. I remember taking a cigarette break and looking down into the water where a mess of feathers floated. I thought for a moment maybe a boat had hit a duck or something, but when I looked up, I saw a tree, bent in the breeze shedding feathers. I figured it was an isolated incident, something I’d read about in the paper next week, but Wilson’s existence in the sliver of a chair that sat in the sliver of New York I called an office changed that.

“It’s only affecting certain species of trees,” Wilson told me from behind his clear framed glasses and sandy brown hair, his voice like burnt coffee. “Palms seem to be just fine, as well as anything in the Spruce and Fir family.”

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

He threw a briefing down on the desk in front of me. “You’re the best person for the job,” he said. He was right, but I was holding out for as much money as I could get. “You figured out why that volcano appeared in Central Park. You helped stop those baby tornadoes that kept popping up in Williamsburg. You even tracked down why the sturgeon in the Hudson started singing the entirety of A Little Night Music.”

“Those fish love Sondheim,” I noted.

“We’ve got people working on the consequences of this, but I need to know why,” he said.

“Find someone else, I’ve already got a case.”

He wrote a number down on a piece of paper. I added a zero. He sighed, but nodded.

I took the case.

___________________________________________________

I made slow progress the first few weeks. As March turned to April, it became more apparent which trees bloomed feathers and which were unaffected. Birds, however, didn’t get such a lucky break. Eagles on the Hudson grew oak leaves, pet parrots bloomed with tulip petals. Pigeons, once the winged rats of our fair city, now sported beautiful flowers of bluebells and nasturtiums, buckeye leaves and dogwood petals. Tourists made pilgrimage to New York, eschewing the Statue of Liberty and Radio City to take photos of Pigeons. I was happy to see the little winged clowns get the spotlight for once; I always thought Pigeons were cute. I have a sneaking suspicion that all New Yorkers do as well, New York code forbids one from admitting it.

A month passed, feathers in the trees waving the breeze, sparrows with buttercups for wings flitting about, and still I had no idea why these two species decided to mix it up. Was it a fluke? I decided to try my usual suspects.

I checked in with the Super Villain that lives on 175th, by Highbridge Park, but he only laughed at me. “What sort of stupid evil plan would that be, turning fowl to flower and arbor to avian?” I made sure to let all his lab mice out of their cages before I left, setting whatever plan he had scheming back a few months.

I had similar luck with the Witch Queen of Gowanus. She simply shook her head and sadly remarked, “It pains me to see the birds so limited in flight and the trees so unnatural. I pray to see their return to normalcy by the hour.”

Even the Frost Alien who disguises himself as a Great Pyrenees in Washington Square Park couldn’t tell me anything.  “Woof. Woof bark,” he said. “I’m not an alien, why do you keep asking if I am? What about the trees?” He declined to comment further.

Exhausted, I grabbed a Falafel and a Coke and sat on a park bench with a cigarette. Tourists from around the world frantically photographed flowered Pigeons. On the bench next me, a little girl fed a Pigeon who had sprouted wide, flat leaves adorned with acorns.

“She’s the Fairie Queen of Birds,” the little girl said, throwing scraps of a hot dog bun for her majesty, the Queen Pigeon.

I nodded and browsed my phone.

“You look angry,” she said to me.

I raised an eyebrow. “Why do you think these birds have flowers?” I asked the girl. “Why did a bunch of trees all of a sudden grow feathers?” I stomped out my cigarette.

“Because,” she said, eyes focused on the canopy of feathers above her. “The trees want to fly and the birds want to be more beautiful.”

She threw another scrap of bun for a group of birds that fought and pecked for it and turned to me, smiling.

“That’s stupid,” I said, grabbing my phone and keying ‘birds of prey’ into the search engine. “Look at this Eagle. And this Falcon. They’re beautiful. Have you ever seen a Peacock? Or a Toucan? Look…. look at this redwood tree out in California, look how deep the roots go. Birds are already beautiful and if trees wanted to fly they wouldn’t have dug into the earth so far.”

I shook my head and walked away.

_________________________________________________________

I never did figure out what it was, but when Wilson came back, I fed him the girl’s response. He pulled a face, but agreed it was poetic. If the supernatural couldn’t explain it, it might as well say something that sounds beautiful about it.

This year, as the birds molt and March slogs through some late snow, everything seems to be back to normal. Birds with feathers, Trees with leaves and flowers.

I guess we’ll never know why exactly it happened, but I long ago decided not everything needs an explanation. Not everything happens for a reason because sometimes, the reasons just don’t make sense. You’ve gotta let the trees dream of flying and the birds dream of, um, photosynthesis? Don’t ask me, I’m just one man with little poetic spirit.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for a smoke.

 

BlogBattle award 1

 

 

 

“Fearless Minds Climb Soonest Unto Crowns”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Hair’ This is my fiction piece.

 

The whole army was behind him, their swords sharpened, their armor clanking a cacophony of sound as they marched along the river bank.

John had seen the river before, long ago, and although his men grumbled at his back, he swore on his grave that it hadn’t been this big. He had played in the water with his sister. Their father had crossed on horseback.

Now the river had swelled; that or it had eaten another river. No horse could cross, let alone a man on foot. John was unsure a boat could cross without the river greedily swallowing it whole. With the advice of the local farmers, John now lead his army three miles out of their way to a bridge.  John and the army were coming on it now, and a cry snaked its way back through the ranks of men. They stopped to rest along the banks, stretching and drinking from the flowing waters.

After speaking with a few of his generals, John approached the bridge, meaning to walk about halfway out to examine the river, when a strange sound greeted him.

It was a laugh that, at one point in time, must have sent lesser men running with chills in their bones. Now, it was half cackle and half cough that leaned more towards a lung deflating wheeze. It bordered on alarming, so much so that John searched frantically for the source so that he may try to aid it.

A troll loped up from under the bridge. Its skin was sallow and slate colored; large, sunken yellow eyes bore into him. It was not the large, land troll that John had previously encountered but the wily, river kind. At least it had been.  A mess of white hair lay about its pointed ears. One hand was missing a thumb among its long, centipede fingers. It wore a dusty tunic, perplexingly dusty given its proximity to water.

“Halt!” It cried, wheezing. “Who goes there?”

“Are you alright?” John asked as the troll fell into another fit of coughing.  He risked a look behind him, but none of his men seemed to notice the troll.

“This is my bridge and none shall cross!” the troll cried. It pointed menacingly at John, sharp teeth peeking out from a broken grin.

“I have an entire army at my disposal. Please, move or be destroyed.”

“An army?” the troll asked. John nodded and pointed behind him.  “Oh,” It said. “Well perhaps then I’ll need to kill them first.”

John laughed.

“Go ahead and try!” He goaded.

The troll closed its eyes and chanted a song strange and gruesome; something old and devastating, sung in a language that had never been written down for fear of what the words might do or where they may try to go.

The water in the river began to rise, forming a wall one hundred feet high. It stood, full of kinetic energy waiting to be unleashed, and John did not want to watch it crush his army like ants in the rain.

“Wait!” he cried. “What is it you want? Please,” he finished lamely. Two of his best generals came running up the bridge, one with an arrow notched in his bow. John motioned frantically for them to stand down.

The troll opened one eye and exhaled slowly, the wall of water shrinking with its breath.  It cackled again, this time without wheezing.

“I’ll need four pigs, a knife of infinite sharpness, five pounds of gold, the liver of two chickens,” it began.

“They are yours. Anything else?”

The troll smiled an evil smile. “Yes. Your hair.”

“Um,” said John.

“What is it?”

John removed his helmet. His bald head shone in the sunlight.

The troll said, “Oh.”

“Yes.”

“Oh my. You’re, um,”

“I am,” John said.

“But you’re a young man! How?”

“It runs in my family, I’m afraid. I lost it all completely a few years ago.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“Yes, well, now you’ve gone and made me feel bad about it,” John said, annoyed.

“I didn’t mean to!” The troll protested.

“Doesn’t matter if you meant to, you’ve done it. It’s bad enough that I’ve no hair left, you had to go and rub it in.”

“I-“

“It’s shameful, you know? Shameful to be the young, virile King of an entire land and be completely bald, but you don’t care do you? You just go about, willy-nilly demanding hair from people, and why? Because you’ve magic powers that can drown an entire army?  My men don’t even know, by the way. But perhaps I should show them? Perhaps I should go show my bald, shiny head to my men so that they can laugh right along with you. That’s what you want too, isn’t it? To humiliate me!”

“No!” cried the Troll, shaking its head miserably.

“It is! You magic folk are all alike, picking on humans. You’re no better than the elves that come to the castle, laughing away, calling me ‘Baldylocks’ and ‘King Hairless III’. I’m not even the third! I’m John the Sixth! Cheeky buggers!”

“I am sorry King John, I- I did not, please I did not know, I swear!”

“No, it’s fine. You may have your other demands. I am sorry I cannot provide you with hair. Perhaps we can shave my steed. It is only fitting, I suppose, for a bald King to ride upon the back of a bald horse!!”

“Please, please no!  It’s no matter, really. I am sorry! Let me make it up to you! You and your men may cross my bridge, no charge!”

“Are you sure?” John asked.

“I would be an honor for a great King such as you to pass overhead,” the troll shook John’s hand and retreated back under the bridge, bowing repeatedly to cried of ‘all hail!’ King John and his two generals made their way back to the banks of the river.

“Your majesty?” The taller of the two Generals asked. “Permit me, Highness but… well, you’re not bald.”

“No, I am not.” John said, smiling.

“So, you knew-”

“Let’s get a move on, men!” John called. He smiled and mounted his horse. “When faced with the unexpected,” he said running his hand over his smooth head, “Always prepare.”