Personal Projects, Uncategorized

Short Story Sunday – Summon

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Yellow and orange sparks hissed, burning the coiled fuse Bo lit. In thirty seconds the rocket would ascend to the stars above, explode, and signal to the gods to heed their call. He hoped the fuse was long enough for him to rejoin Mai and Kan kneeling on the prayer rug at the edge of the dune. And he prayed the burst would be seen. The village depended on it.

Bo beat his bare feet on the sand, looking over his shoulder at the rocket. Mai and Kan held their arms out, ready to catch him. He slid short of the rug and kicked up sand.

Mai balked in a shrill voice, batting away the sand, “Don’t dirty the rug, idiot.”

“Quiet!” Kan pulled at Bo and pushed at Mai. “It’s about to—.”

The rocket erupted with a white tail and arced steeply to the moonless sky above.

All three teenagers followed the ascent, raising their necks, holding their breath, eyes wide. They had packed the tube full of blessed minerals and powders they had stolen from the village doctor. Bo had pages of his book listing the words they needed to chant in hymns of a language they did not speak. Their village needed help, a reprieve from the lack of food the sea provided them in recent months.

They lost the tail of the rocket, and it boomed, casting a bloom of crackling, fluttering petals in shades of rubies, emeralds and sapphires. The petals rained down over the ocean, lighting the shoals as they fell.

“It worked!” Kan jumped up and raised his fists in the air. “Our letters will be heard!”

“Maybe, not yet,” Bo said, muted, still tracking the rocket’s fall out.

“When will we know?” Mai asked.

“The book said when the ashes land in the sea and then they will walk ashore,” Bo said.

The flickering embers of the rocket continued to fall, bright and soft, lasting much longer than the fireworks they shot off during the new year. As they landed in the water, the embers stayed lit, floating like leaves on the water, but luminescent. Each color pooled, growing brighter and brighter, and each teenager needed to squint as they looked to the sea. The waves had ceased lapping the beach, and the salty air stood still around them.

An explosion of murky red cracked the silence, sending a fountain of water in the air. A blue and green eruption followed and they each stood with their mouths wide open.

“I think it’s working,” Kan whispered. “They’ll come now.”

“And we can ask them to provide for our people,” Mai said.

The foam of the water’s surface dissolved, the red, blue and green fading to the waters black.

A huff and a gasp of someone in a hurry encroached their prayer rug on the dune. The old mystic’s head appeared as he climbed over, his fists clutching sand and his face mixed with exhaustion and anger. “Foolish, foolish children,” he said.

Bo, Mai, and Kan turned, surprised to see the man rushing down towards them.

“Mr. Tran—.” Bo said.

“Quiet!”

“—We were—.” Bo continued, but Mr. Tran strode between he and Mai without looking them in the eye.

“I do not care for your intentions,” Mr. Tran said quick and harsh. He marched, shoulders forward to the water’s edge and stopped, planting his feet in the wet sand. The waves had not resumed their approach to the shore.

Three dark figures broke the water’s surface one by one. Each cut through the water with a distinct motion, and their figures became more discernible as they approached. The bulbous head of an octopus bobbed up and down while its arms propelled it forward. In the middle of the three, a turtle whose shell was larger than a house, glided along with the glint of his eyes focused on Mr. Tran. Farthest away, due to its zigging and zagging, a shark fin sliced through the water.

“What… what, are those the gods?” Bo said, his hands covering his mouth.

“We should go to Mr. Tran,” Mai said.

As if he had heard, Mr. Tran held his arm back to signal stop.

“But we called them,” she said.

Mr. Tran turned at his waist and mouth, “No.”

He turned back to the gods who stood before him. The shark floated in place, and the turtle’s wrinkled head rose above the surface, but the octopus towered taller than their temple’s spire. He began to speak in a language they’d never heard. His vowels were short, and his tongue clicked, and he gestured emphatically with his arms, pointing to the village and to the teenagers. He finished and bowed his head.

The octopus swung an arm across the water and pulled it back across, sending a wall of water over Mr. Tran’s head. It soaked him, but he remained still, holding his head in reverence. The gods slowly pivoted and receded to the sea, their figures dissolving below the surface.

Mr. Tran walked back to the dune, his body relaxed, but his face weary with a blank expression. “You three were lucky. Spared.”

“We—” Kan said.

Mr. Tran gripped Kan’s shoulder, “Almost started a war.”

“War?” Bo asked, the word surprised him.

“Against who, I do not know. You summoned them, that flare, was a war cry. And they would have taken each of you as a host to walk on the land.” He paused. “When they were done with your bodies, you would be as hollow as an empty conch.”

“Our village though, we need food,” Bo said protesting.

“We have enough, not plenty, but enough,” Mr. Tran replied. “We only summon the gods when it is absolutely necessary, and when we can sacrifice in kind.” He paused and looked at each of them. “It is not time for a sacrifice.”

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – In Need of Truth

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Chelsea slid into the seat of her BMW and dropped her coffee tumbler in the cup holder. Stray blobs of brown escaped and jumped on the gearshift. She cursed and wiped it off as she set her Birkin bag on the passenger seat. She started the car, fiddled with her rear view, making a note to talk to her husband about taking her car for a drive and forgetting to adjust the seat back to how she liked it. It was all about respect, and if you can’t respect the small things, how are you to respect the larger things?

Like, while she dressed in her slate grey Gucci dress, the radio station reported the president’s latest statements on the most recent congressional bill. It was bland and mealy mouthed, coded language to his supporters of his hidden agenda to submit the country to foreign interests. The man had no respect for liberties and constantly enabled division. All the experts she listened to on television confirmed it. One handed, while slipping on matching Kate Spade heels, she dashed of a 140 character screed with an emphatic hashtag of FREEDOM to her 234 followers. Most of them would agree, and she clucked her tongue at how right she was.

She flicked her blinker to turn right and rolled through the stop sign to pull out into traffic. A horn bleated and she raised her left hand, signaling a reply with her middle finger. Just another morning drive jackass. She flipped the radio on to her favorite station, where she caught the start of the morning portion of one of the few sane commentators talking about the truth in the world. In the rear view, she noticed her lack of mascara, blinked, and reached in her purse for a thin tube to pull out and brush her lashes as she drove.

Chelsea came to a stop at a light, batted her eyes twice, and put the makeup away. She sipped her coffee and checked her phone. She already had likes and retweets of her earlier message, but she also spotted a random reply from someone she didn’t know. The profile picture was that of a tree, and in a glib sentence called into question what she wrote, stating the opposite of what she believed.

She sucked in her bottom lip and huffed. What she believed was true! You can’t trust experts and their opinions. They have agendas. Agendas to further take away our freedoms, our liberties, our way of life. Didn’t this person know that? A horn honked behind her, and she gripped the steering wheel and accelerated through the intersection. Once she parked, she resolved, she’d respond with facts linking to the radio commentators website, not the newspaper. You couldn’t trust them either with the truth. It seemed like they were in cahoots with the president, writing lies and getting paid to do so. Everything was in decline. Schools, communities, roads, families—ever since that horrible man became president. All those staged photo ops and pithy speeches at funerals did little for unity.

But Chelsea knew unity. She fixed relationships in little children as a child counselor at an elementary school. She took it upon herself to make sure the children didn’t believe in their country’s leader.

She pulled into the school’s parking lot, parked, and replied to the person with the tree picture, calling him a traitor for believing that, and linked to a real source of truth. They were in need of it, unlike herself.

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Short Story Sunday – Stag Party

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“Are you ready, pally?” Connor asked, handing Davey a cold beer. “To enjoy your stag weekend?”

Davey, a husky man with slivers of silver hair cutting through the brown on his head, accepted the red lager, took a swig and grinned, “That why you all dragged me out here to this shanty by a pond in the woods?”

“We know your missy, Clarissa, wouldn’t approve of our agenda,” Peter slapped Davey on the back and winked. Slim with gaunt cheekbones and celtic cross tattoos emblazoned on his forearms, he gestured to his crotch, “the rods we’ll be using won’t be for fishing.”

The three men laughed while Thomas and Jamie steps through the foyer of the lake house carrying a cooler of food. They had driven an hour from Donegal to Loch Derg, arriving at dusk, the sunset hidden by the Irish shale grey clouds. A dirt drive meandered under a canopy of birch and elm trees, leading them to a white wash early twentieth century cabin overlooking the lake. Inside, the scent of wood and water mixed in the spartan living area. A couch, two sitting chairs, and an end table faced a boxy television with rabbit ears. Pelts of deer skin hung from the wall.

“Oh, really, Peter? And what will we be catching? Not the clap like you did in Belfast?” Davey asked, pointing his beer at Peter’s waist.

“I took that bullet for Tommy, didn’t I, Tommy?” Peter called out.

Thomas stood from unloading sealed packs of chicken and sausages. He had a reddish beard and wore trendy glasses to match his sharply styled clothes. “You’re always taking bullets, Peter. One day, some woman will murder you with just her eyes.”

“If I ever meet her, then she can have my soul with a kiss.”

The patter light rain hit the windows while the five men sorted their rooms and sleeping arrangements. Peter excused himself to the bathroom as Jamie set a bag of crisps on the coffee table and they circled in front of the television.

A double knock rapped at the door.

Connor, clean shaven and square jaw leapt off the couch, turned and smiled as he approached the door. “Our guests our early, but that means more fun time for us,” he said, raising his bushy eyebrows.

“What guests?” Davey asked, leaning back in the leather side chair.

“I thought they weren’t to arrive ’til nine,” Jamie said, checking his watch.

Connor spun on his heal in front of the door, “Guests of the fairer sex.”

“Oh bloody hell,” Davey laughed.

Connor opened the door, “Welcome lad—.”

Beyond him, framed in the doorway stood a barefoot woman. Her black hair was wet, and wound like coiled tendrils down her back and shoulders. Bleach pale skin and ashen rings marked her eyes, and her pink lips remained straight. A soaked ivory colored dress clung to her body, her breasts heavy and her nipples swollen. She rubbed her hands across her stomach and held them clasped in front of the mound of pubic hair.

Connor stepped backwards, looked to the men in the living room, his smile replaced with a sneer, and returned to the woman. “I thought there would be three of you.”

She tilted her head a blinked. No light reflected off her hair or eyes.

“Peter,” Connor called over his shoulder.

Thomas leaned forward on the couch, and said to Jaime, “Peter said he booked three dancers, right?”

Jaime nodded, his mouth hung open, staring at the doorway. “He didn’t say anything about goths, neither.”

“Well, this is a surprise,” Davey said with a meek smile. “Invite her in. She looks wet as a fish.”

“Would you like to come in?” Connor asked.

The woman gave a slow nod.

Connor paused, expecting her to cross the threshold. He huffed. “Come in then, we’ll get started when you’re ready.”

She returned a small smile and crossed inside. A wake of red stained water followed the dragging hems of her dress, and she stopped at the edge of where the stone foyer met the wooden floor of the living room. Connor closed the door and narrowed his eyes as he checked her out. Jaime, Thomas and Davey sat quietly, sipping their beers, exchanging wide eyed glances.

“Who the hell is this?” Peter asked, returning to the room.

“It’s one of your girls, isn’t it?” Thomas asked.

“God damn, no. I just got of my mobile with one of them, Molly, they’re on their way but got a little lost,” Peter said.

“Who are you, girl?” Connor asked, touching her shoulder and one of the coils of hair. He snapped his hand back and yelped.

“You all right,” Davey asked, standing up.

Connor flicked his wrist in the air and fell to his knees clutching his hand, his fingers fading to a coal color and just as cracked and brittle. His screams jolted Jaime and Thomas off the couch, who rushed to his side. His face was red and in hysterics when they picked him up and dragged him across the room and hunkered by the television.

Davey ran behind his chair, “Peter what, who, what is that woman?”

The woman began to speak, deep, the consonants hard and the vowels shrill. With her left arm she pointed at Peter and circled her finger, and with the other, she raised and clapped her open palm as if to signal to something.

A pair of hollow wails rose outside the house, and she strode closer to Peter, her hands cupped at arms length in front of her. Peter stood frozen, his boots glued to the floor, his lungs constricted against a paralyzed chest, desperate for air. He couldn’t blink as she came close and rested her hands across his heart. She smelled of heather and sulphur, and her breast felt cold as ice pressed against him.

“Peter, Peter!” Davey, Jaime and Thomas cried.

She traced her fingers along the crosses on his forearms and gripped them tight. Her eyes now flickered ruby and sapphire, and she kissed his lips.

He closed his eyes and surrendered to the warmth that spread across his lips and over his tongue and down his throat into the depths of his stomach. It settled and sloshed, and it rose to his chest, where it pulled at the life in his fingers and toes. His limbs fell slack and cold, but still petrified in place with a growing mass of fire in his chest.

The wailing outside was deafening, vibrating anything lighter than brick.

She pulled back, parted from his lips, and released her grip. With a wave of her arm across her chest, the mass of fire floated up, up, up, out of Peter’s mouth and into the palm of her hand. It pulsed and sparked gold and tangerine and no bigger than a golf ball.

She turned, and Peter’s body dropped with a set of clumsy thuds. She raised a finger to her lips, as if to silence the men, and paced to the door. It opened all on its own, and as she crossed the threshold, her figure faded to white smoke, tinted with orange.

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – What is Known

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When rumors of a truce wound their way through the stone hallways, we imagined what freedom would be like once we climbed to the surface. Sun or stars above, some said they didn’t care so long as grass grew at their feet. Or space, wide open space, wider than three men across, so wide only distant mountains and the disappearing horizon enclosed us. For those of us, like myself, who had only ever known our stone city below the surface, possibility was intoxicating as it was foreign.

Foreign enemies we only heard stories about bombarded our home above ground. If we hadn’t lived there for over a decade, was the land still ours to till? Periodically, booms reverberated like a war drum beating a constant rhythm of fear into our daily lives. Why? Our land was there’s they claimed. Our elders cried back that we were in the way of conquest. We refused to be fate to their proclamations of destiny.

But could freedom and peace be destiny for us?

Living in an underground cavern city where our streets are carved hallways and our rooms are hollowed our nooks, anything beyond the stone confines should be. What peace is there with ten thousand people’s voices to forget what silence is? What freedom is there when by the time you’re five you can walk your entire city with your eyes closed, or in the dark when we extinguished our torches when an invader snuck below?

I never saw the body, but torn pieces of his dirty tunics and his bloody silver knives were held up in the great hall and made an example. A real threat, a scourge, the council shouted. They come for our lives, and we refuse to give them.

But the intruder did steal two lives before his own was claimed.

Theft is the only sin we were told. A lie was theft of truth. Stealing was theft of property. Rape was theft of dignity. Murder was theft of life. Being forced to live in a city that never knows the color of the sky was theft of freedom.

And today was the day when we’d venture above ground.

The old women said they’d fall to their knees and kiss it. The old men said they’d tend to it for the crops. The parents said they’d run and play with their children, aches and pain be damned.

I waited with my family in the ascension room. It was as large as a grain store, but a ladder made of cedar and twine rose from the dirt floor of our ground to the ground above our heads. The line moved slow. We weren’t the first family to go, but we weren’t the last. I expected to hear shouts once people reached the surface, but instead the slapping of hands and feet and the occasional groan as someone climbed.

Our turn came, and my father went ahead. I swallowed and flexed my hands, which were sweating. He reached the top, and my mother nudged me forward. The wood bars were warm and wide enough for my sandals to feel secure enough keep my weight even. Below wide eyes and smiles followed me up, and my mother nodded as she gripped the bars. Above was a shade of blue I’d only seen in jewelry worn by the women on the council. A breeze of outside air scraped my wrists and touched my cheek.

At the last rung, I threw my arm out and clutched hard dirt. I pushed myself up and saw why I heard only silence.

The adults were bent over on their knees with sack cloths over their heads, while the children were carried away by masked men in brown tunics, gagging the children’s mouth. All around us stood a grayish red wall, twice as high as the walls of our city below.

A hand that smelled harsh and acidic smacked over my lips, while another arm wrapped around my chest and knocked the air out with two quick pumps.

Either our leaders were tricked, or they surrendered, but in the grip of that man, this was not freedom. This was prison.

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Personal Projects

Sunday Short Story – A Librarian Conducts an Orchestra

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Our feet tread down the empty hallway lined with red lockers. Principal Wabash’s heals clicked at the beat of the metronome in my head while Kent, the janitor’s scruffed tennis shoes squeaked out of rhythm. My beating heart provided the percussion.

Wabashed is what we called her. She arrived loud to to any social setting breaking it of any harmony, whether it be by her shoes, always designer, or prim cut power dresses, or how her dyed black helmet hair bob became the most distracting wreaking ball on a pair of shoulders. Her words swung regardless of their impact. How she became a leader of a suburban high school may have been one of demolition.

And now she led Kent, who carried a set of bolt cutters, with me in tow as an unwilling bystander, to demolish the lock on my locker. We stopped three quarters of the way down the hall. She huffed and cocked an eye at Kent, who stood lazily with his gaze at the floor.

“Fiona, one last chance to do this voluntarily and you’ll only receive a minor detention,” Wabashed said. “I’ll see to it the counselors can help minimize this for college applications.”

A threat with a favor. A snake holding its own anti venom.

I glanced at my watch. Five minutes until the changing bell. She had attempted to extract me at the beginning of the period, but Mr. Lowery, the band instructor deflected her requests stating today was the day of an important rehearsal of an exam on pentatonic scales. Thirty two years of waving a baton, wearing sweaters, and watching each new principal enact their own form of bureaucracy made him immune to administrative theater and made him attuned to his students. He nodded to me as he took the podium, knowing she’d return with even more force.

He knew I stowed banned books in my locker. He recommended Kerouac and Ginsberg as much as he talked about Mahler and Mozart. “Art is a weapon to small minds and a tool to greater minds,” he told me when rumors of the book crackdown began. “Use those tools wisely.”

Despite preparing for this moment, rehearsing what I’d say in my head with whatever mental notes of rhetoric composed as a score for my argument, I lost the sheet music and felt like I was going to throw up all over Wabashed’s emerald leather heals. “There’s nothing in my locker,” I said, keeping lunch in my stomach.

“Lying makes this worse, Fiona,” she raised her voice on the last syllable of my name.

“It’s the truth. There’s nothing in my locker for you to find.”

“Those books are restricted—.”

“Banned—.”

“—Do not interrupt me. Restricted because they are not appropriate.”

My mouth was dry and I swallowed nothing, not even my meek sense of pride, “When are they appropriate? And by who?”

“Parents concerned for the welfare of their children. That’s who. You’re simply not ready to deal with the weight of those issues.”

“Then teach us how. How to be responsible and deal with them.”

Her lips puckered, and she turned to Kent, who stared at the ceiling. “Kent, open the locker.”

He looked at me. I couldn’t tell if it was pity for me or annoyance at her.

“Don’t look at Fiona for approval. Open the locker.”

“Okay, okay,” he said with a hushed voice. He raised the bolt cutters and steadied his feet and squared his shoulders to get leverage. The steel loop of the lock jangled at the arrival of the pincers come to cut it loose. Kent grimaced and grunted, but the loop snapped with two brute squeezes of the cutters.

A flicker of a half smile revealed Wabashed’s zeal, but she composed herself and with a twist of her wrist clutched the lock and removed it. With her other hand she pushed the lever and swung the locker open.

“Where are the books, Fiona,” she said both syllables of my name with a shout that startled Kent as she saw my empty beige locker.

I shrugged. “Everywhere else.”

“They can’t be,” she said with a curled lip. “I know you’ve been distributing these dirty books.”

The passing bell rang like a shrill final note, and an applause of student footsteps began to pour into the hallway. A brown haired skater boy stopped and handed Wabashed a piece of paper. I grinned. My bandmates had gotten word out via texts and snaps.

“Here, Principal Wabash,” he said.

“What is this?” she asked with a sneer.

“A piece of paper I need to turn in.”

She scanned it. “This is a page from Catcher In the Rye…”

He walked off and another student, a blonde haired girl with glasses and a round face. She did the same as the skater but with a page from The Giver. As the hall became abnormally flooded with students, more and more stopped at my locker and handed Wabashed sheet after sheet of paper. It reached a shuffling, rustling crescendo when she grew tired of stuffing them under her arm and shoved the stack into my locker.

With Kent as witness to nothing in my locker, my parents were able to argue all the way to the school board that I had done nothing wrong, despite conducting orchestrated civil disobedience.

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Short Story Sunday – Funeral Pyre

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Under a waning, summer half moon, we lit the funeral pyre with an oil soaked torch. Walla, Menor, and myself tossed them to the rising flames and receded to the living shadows of our people gathered by the spirit doctor. Beyond us stood the Tomb Forest, a maze of thick trunks and mossy earth, and a canopy so dense, the sun never broke its boughs.

Our dead lay at the bottom, wrapped in shawls of their family’s colors. Walla’s father wore sapphire and cream diamonds, Menor’s grandfather wore gold and emerald stripes, while my father was draped in scarlet and black check. They each died two days ago fending off a swell of vipers on horseback, cross men who desired a little more than what their king provided them, and sought it by stealing from our village.

Theft receives death, and the three knights were killed. Two by our own and a third by the sheriff upon hearing of the incident. The king sent his condolences by letter, and we placed them in the pyre, too.

Eloe, the spirit doctor took two slow paces towards the fire and spread his arms wide and his hands cupped the air. His silhouette with his cloak made him look like a dove standing on two feet, with its wings coaxing the embers higher and higher.

Walla held her face steadfast, and the flames gleamed in her eyes and against the tears. An only child, she shouldered the pelts of her father, which swallowed her in the dark. No doubt her hands were balled in fists. Menor bit his lip and closed his eyes tight. His chest heaved under his grandfather’s milliner’s cloaks. I watched the flames engulf more of the pyre and held my hands behind my back. My family tended the fields, and our garb was worn threads patched over several harvests.

Eloe began chanting at the first loud crack of wood. The pyre shook and his voice undulated through a range of high notes. With each measure, he repeated it at a lower voice and swung his arms upwards. By the fifth cycle of chants, his voice bellowed, and the fire had now taken a deep red almost purple tint. Wisps of white and orange flickered at the tips, but the core of the pyre looked like a burning bruise across flesh.

At the sixth cycle, he thrusts his hands by his side, dropped to his knees and shrieked the chant. Several in the crowd startled. Walla narrowed her eyes and Menor opened his just as the fire exploded in a fury of white flames. We all stood and bore the brunt of the heat. How Walla did not pass out under her father’s pelts I’ll never know, but her face was drenched in sweat.

Within the larger white flame, three smaller ones formed: bright blue and off white, solid yellow with green flecks, and red with black shades. The colored flames grew to ethereal outlines of men.

“Papa,” Walla whispered. “Papa.”

Elow approached the pyre. He waved his hand through the flames as if he were stroking the waters surface. He stepped back and bowed his head to each colored flame, and then spoke with a deep reverence, “Go find respite and peace in the forest. Your kin shall honor you and complete the work you had left to do.”

He turned and walked towards us, his head bowed, and his folded in his sleeves. No scorch marks marked his cloak.

The three flames separated from the pyre and walked towards the forests. At the tree line the black depths of the forests, welcomed them to their tomb and extinguished their light.

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Short Story Sunday – East Meets West

Inside the Silver Star, Reginald Spencer leaned along the splintering edge of the bar and nodded to the bar keep, setting his bowler on the counter. A stocky man who wore a brown three piece suit and kept a bushy, greying mustache, Reginald hailed from Kansas City and arrived in San Francisco by stagecoach last night. He had been sent west to prospect for property for a large dry goods company, and before he was to begin his day, he wanted a drink.

The barkeep threw a white dish towel over his shoulder and stepped in front of Reginald. “What’ll it be?” the barkeep asked. His black waist coat was trim and clean, much like his hair, and his shirt cuffs buttoned with cufflinks shaped like a silver star. He raised an eyebrow, where the blue of his eyes glinted silver.

“I’ll take a glass of what the locals imbibe,” Reginald said, looking around the bar. He guessed it to be the size of a large kitchen, with six tables, an upright piano and a wall of mirrors behind the bar. A brunette barmaid in a faded emerald dress sat at the piano, tapping the keys at the high end. An amorphous swirl of sweat, alcohol, dry wood, and kerosene floated through the air. On the floor, and he missed it when he walked in, but the sunlight beamed on a muddied stain in the floor boards about the size of a ladies suitcase.

It looked fresh.

A glass clinked on the counter and brought Reginald’s attention back to the barkeep.

“This is local shine, made by gentlemen down the street. They’re Scotsman, but they can distill a drink,” the barkeep said. “I’m Joe. And you may be?”

“Reginald Spencer. In town on business,” he said, inspecting the glass full of sharp, clear spirit. Hints of corn rose to his nose. He took a sip and the liquid singed his tongue but lit a fire at the back of his throat and burned all the way down to his belly. Reginald coughed and gasped for air.

Joe grinned and placed his hands on his hips, “That ought to kick your business in the drawers, Reginald, and clean your clock, too.”

Reginald smacked his lips as his breath still spouted fire. He shook his head wishing for a more palatable cognac and eyed the spot on the floor again.

“That spot caught your eye?”
Joe asked.

“It just seems…” Reginald couldn’t find a polite word for it.

“Unsightly? Yes, it is. I’ll get it cleaned up shortly, but if it was a damn sight that caused it,” Joe said, leaning on the bar with wide eyes.

“Was there a gunfight? Wouldn’t the gentlemen duel outside?” Reginald furrowed his brow and twitched his mustache.

“It was no gunfight, well, one fellow thought it was but the Chinaman had other inclinations.”

“He wasn’t no Chinaman, Joe. They don’t carry swords like he did,” the brunette at the piano called out over her shoulder. “My beau Wesley says he came from the Japan.”

“Ginny, how am I to know? Chinaman, Japanman, he was from the East and brought a sword to a gun fight,” Joe said.

“Like a cutlass?” Reginald asked. “Plenty in the Calvary ride with them.”

“This was no cutlass I ever seen. The blade was wider and flared back at the tip like so,” Joe said, holding up his index finger and bending the tip backwards ever so slightly.

“This man proceeds to bare his sword with no cause?” Reginald took another sip of the shine. It didn’t burn as much.

“No. I didn’t see how it started, but I was told a group of young men persisted in verbally harassing him while he was drinking by himself. He didn’t speak much. He grunted ‘whiskey’ and I poured him his whiskey and tended to the other patrons. Seemed like a dour man. He kept his hat low to his eyes and didn’t loosen his duster when he sat down.

“Maybe a half hour later, chairs scrape against the floor, and there’s shouting. The Japanman is wielding his sword with two hands, low and center at his waist. One leg is forward, knee bent, while his other is straight back.”

“A curious stance,” Reginald said.

“Very much so. The other man, whose name I learned to be Edward, has his hand on his hip, his duster flipped behind his sidearm. The crowd huddled as close to the piano and the far wall as much as they could. The patrons at the bar jumped over at my feet, and I’m working to make sense of the commotion.

“I yell ‘Gentlemen, please put away your arms,’ but they both ignored me. It felt like a terribly long time, but… In a bang, it was over.”

“But I thought you said the Japanman created the spot?” Reginald asked, turning around, inspecting the length of the floor.

“He did!” Joe spread his arms wide. “He parried to his right, slashed the other gentlemen’s forearm right as he fired the shot. Edward’s face is completely silent until the blood begins pouring from his arm, and then he drops to his knees, the gun plops and bounces, and he screams.”

“Bloody, bloody murder, he screamed loud,” Ginny said. “I reckon they heard him down by the docks.”

“Two men leap from the crowd and pick up their friend Edward, and I presume, took him to a doctor. From the look on the Japanman’s face, a cut on the arm was mercy. He pulls a handkerchief and wipes his blade before resheathing it.”

“Did he leave?”

“Eventually. But first, he finished his whiskey and closed out his tab by dropping a five dollar bill on the counter.”

“Five dollars?” Reginald wouldn’t pay a dime for any poison in the bar.

“It made up for the customers I lost after everything settled down.”

“Where do you think he went, the swordsman?” Reginald finished his drink and coughed again, his eyes watering.

“Not a clue at all, but I would never wish to face him with ill intent.”

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Failure

A short story about an execution during a mission in space. Read more Short Story Sunday stories.

Olly and I struggled to drag Evan to the airlock. Even in an induced stupor of a mild sedative, the 230 pound Englishman writhed his arms and torso to break free and escape his death sentence. I guess it’s natural to refuse to attend your own execution.

“You kill me, the mission’s over. Failure. Got it? Failure,” he slurred his words as if he had two pints too many.

“Ev,” Sarah, the now commander said. She stood with her arms across her chest, and her bun slightly unkempt with sprites of black hair sticking out. “You knew this would be the punishment. We all did. Murder of a crew member by another is death.”

“But you don’t have to,” he said and yanked his shoulder up, clocking me in the jaw, despite our grip and the restraints on his feet and hands.

“We do. We agreed. As a team. You killed the commander of this mission, and you’re a danger to the rest of the crew,” she said, referring to the man Evan killed, our former commander, Walter. Sarah found him pale and cold in his cabin bunk after he didn’t show for morning role call. Video from outside Walter’s cabin showed Evan entering after 0100, and our medic Brianna determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation.

“How am I a danger?”

Zane held the airlock door open and nodded as we carried Evan over the threshold. The sterile already small room felt smaller, and we were about to let physics shoot our systems engineer into the vast expanse of space. Out the porthole, was only black with a smattering pinpricks of starlight.

Sarah raised her voice, tired of repeating the same things, “You physically assaulted Brianna, you’ve been combative to every member of the remaining crew, the seven of us.” She drew a breath, “and you refuse to accept what you’ve done.”

We set Evan down on his back and stepped out of the airlock and joined the remaining crew that stood behind Sarah.

“I don’t accept it, because I didn’t mean to kill him. Again, you don’t have to kill me,” he held his head up and wheezed, “you have an option.”

“We do not have an option, and you have refused to explain yourself by what you mean by that you didn’t mean to kill him.” She bit her lip, took a deep breath, “Zane, close the airlock door.”

Zane paused, scanned our faces and gripped the airlock handle to close it, “Sealing interior airlock door.”

The door clicked and hissed with an emphatic finality. None of us objected to the death sentence. Our mission was far greater than the life of one man who could jeopardize us all. Our task was to make it to the next habitable planet.

Sarah approached the door and turned on the intercom. She began to speak but stopped and rubbed her hands on her shoulders.

Evan spoke, “We were lovers.”

Brianna and Mazie gasped while Quint, Olly, and Zane each muttered their befuddlement. I tilted my head and frowned.

Evan continued, his voice low, “Sometimes, we were… rough on each other.”

“I’m sorry, Evan, we’ve decided,” Sarah said.

“Commander, Sarah, maybe we don’t have to—,” Mazie said, her voice wavering.

“We do. Initiating outside airlock for execution of First Engineer Evan Tolley,” Sarah said, her head bowed.

“This is a failure of the mission, Sarah, do this and you’ve failed,” Evan said.

The lights within the airlock flickered and the outside hatch slid open to a rectangular door of black.

But Evan remained on the airlock floor.

Zane and Sarah leapt to the window, their eyes wide.

“What the—,” Zane said, his eyes tracing the interior of the airlock for why Evan had not been ejected into space.

Our white hallway turned red as the emergency lights popped on. We shuffled and scattered to the ships console for system status when a voice cracked through the overhead speakers.

“I’m disappointed in you all.” It was our previous commander. “You’ve failed.”

“How?” Brianna said sharply. “We followed protocol—.”

“You’re dead!” Olly shouted. “Brianna pronounced you dead!”

“An induced sleep, and we never left Earth.”

Sarah slid to the floor, leaning against the wall, her head rolled to one side, “This was a test. I failed it.”

The interior airlock door opened slowly, and Evan stepped through. “No, you all failed. Like I said.”

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Trumpet Call

A young boy attends a funeral for his Uncle Angus, a Vietnam veteran. Read more Short Story Sunday stories.

In a suburban cemetery, the crowd of mourners bowed their heads, heeding the priest’s call to pray. Tyson squeezed his hands clasped in front of him, trying his hardest not to fidget. His mother said fidgeting at a funeral was disrespectful, but his suit coat soaked up the morning sun and sweat began to trickle down his side.

He wriggled his toes, trapped in shoes his feet were outgrowing, and shuffled at the dry grass. The priest spoke of his Uncle Angus, who he’d only met at a handful of holidays. Uncle Angus was a loner his father said, never right since he came back from Vietnam. Tyson knew it was a war and guessed terrible things happened to his uncle, like if screw up playing your trumpet scales and the band director embarrasses you in front of your whole class, you’d be different too.

But he knew it wasn’t the same.

Murmurs of amens floated, and Tyson looked up. The priest dipped a twig in water and flicked it over the grave. Noses sniffles and his mother and two aunts dabbed the tears rolling down their cheeks. His father’s eyes watered and he bit his lip. A group of other men, who said they served with Uncle Angus, stood still with their heads raised. There were five of them. Each let the tears stain their suits.

A soldier in a crisp blue uniform with red stripes down his pants, rows of medals across his chest and his hat pulled down to the bridge of his nose, approached his mother and aunts. He kneeled and offered a flag, thirteen threaded stars shining up.

“Thank you for your brother’s service,” he said, his voice barely audible. He bowed his head, stood and saluted.

A second soldier in the same uniform, but with a less point nose pulled forward a stereo.

“Bullshit,” one of Uncle Angus’s friends said. Everyone looked up as if they had been slapped out of sleep. A man with deep eyes and sharp cheekbones continued, “Marine, it’s not on you, but tell your commander, bullshit.”

“Can’t even get a damn bugler,” said another one of the friends with a thick gray beard and a gut that stretched his jacket. “Angus deserves a bugler, not a tape recording of Taps.”

The marine with the pointy nose sucked his bottom lip in. “I’m sorry, but we have a lot of veterans–”

The gaunt man spat his words, “A lot of congressmen who don’t know either, what their votes do.”

“Perhaps we can just accept–” the priest said with a deep breath.

“Accept. Fine. Play the tape.”

“Excuse me, I,” Tyson heard all the necks whip in his direction, “I can play Taps.” His words landed quietly. His trumpet lay locked in the backseat of his family’s minivan, and Taps was a fairly simple piece. It was one he learned during a lesson focused on patriotic music.

“Ty, you don’t have to do that,” his father said, gripping Tyson’s shoulder.

Tyson glanced at his mother and then the fellow veterans. His mother raised her eye brows, her eyes red with tears and brushed her hand along the flag in her lap. The men each turn their head in their own way. Was this respect, playing Taps from a live trumpet instead of a tape?

“Father Finch,” Tyson said as he turned around towards the car, “I’ll be right back.”

Tyson ran, wincing at his feet and forgetting to unbutton his coat, and grabbed his trumpet from the backseat. He returned to a quiet chatter that he broke with the click and clack of opening his trumpet case. The instrument was slightly warm from sitting in a war mm car, and the brass felt slick. He tapped the keys out of habit and took two deep breaths.

Tyson breathed life into a G note, and the funeral group grew deathly silent. With each half and quarter note, he played thinking of respect, and the notes now sounded heavy and sad.

This was what the teacher meant by somber.

He finished, his eyes now heavy and full, and his mother mother mouthed “thank you,” while the veterans gave their salute.

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Trading Bones

Read more Short Story Sunday stories.

A bag of bones landed on the witch’s scale with a hollow crunch. She peered up, her spell and hex research interrupted by a girl whose dirt encrusted face matched the tattered rags that hung from her body. The witch raised an index finger to brighten the candles on the shelf behind her. The girl could not have been older than ten but behind her emerald eyes she gleamed a life worn by experience.

The witch half smiled and nodded her head back, “And what do you offer these human bones for?”

“A family,” the girl said, sharp and direct, keeping her eye’s on the bag of bones.

“A family?” The witch replied. In all her decades she had received requests for love to grow, hate to burn, greed to sow, and pride rise. She traded in death and life and all the sins, and occasionally a few strands of hope. Those who bargained with her rarely knew what they truly desired. She closed her spell book and stood tall, “Daughter of Eve, do you have a name?”

“Margaret, Daughter of The Grey Forest. Can you grant me a family? Those bones are the hands that killed my parents and brother. I’ve another with their bodies, buried in the forest if you need more.”

The witch’s heart surged and the candles blazed like an afternoon’s sun. The Greys were murdered years ago during an early harvest by a band of robbers never caught. Travelers bore rumors that the family’s forest lands were coveted by a petty lord after The Greys refused the lord hunting rights. Now, before her stood a survivor, who must be older than ten.

“You don’t believe me do you, I’m Margaret?”

“It’s a revelation near a miracle for you to appear before me.” She brushed the bag of bones and lowered the candle light to normal. “And what makes you believe I can grant you a family? I do not raise the dead with necromancy.”

“I do not expect that. Seasons ago, I heard a tavern maid speak of your spells. Aleia is your name, correct? And you gave her a child?”

Aleia did give the barren tavern maid a child at the cost of the maid’s beauty. During the birth of the child, Aleia cloaked herself as a wet nurse, delivered the child healthy and screaming while she drained the maid’s beauty in to three small ruby vials.

“At a cost. Child, how did you acquire these bones of vengeance?” Aleia asked, keeping her tone calm.
Margaret glanced away, her round bottom lip sliding back and forth.

“Moreso, how did you survive all these years to stand before me?” Aleia straightened the fabric at the hips of her night sky colored dress.

“You don’t know of the Grey Forests?” Margaret shot back. “I believed witches were supposed to know the world and what walks upon it?”

“I know of the spirits, the energies, and the forces that surround us and apply them to the world we live. Creatures and travelers tales, while I am aware, they are not worth my time.” Aleia said, crossing her arms.

“My family keeps the Wendigos at bay, or well, I do as the last surviving member.”

“The howl of the wind walks among the trees? More than one?” Aleia drew her hand to her lips, but managed to not let her shock influence the lights. A Wendigo was a spirit of the forest that took shape as a standing beast who howled as it walked. It fed on lost hunters and travelers, stripping flesh from bone with its razor teeth.

“They do, and they helped me gather these bones.”

Aleia closed her eyes. Those poor souls, may their deaths have been quick.

“It took me years to hunt the five men and their. Lord–”

“So it’s true then, why your family was murdered? The Greys refused him rights to hunt within your family’s forests, and therefore–”

“Kill us all. He failed. I saw their faces and fled to the woods and sheltered in caves in the cold and rainy months, and within the trees during the dry and warm months. I knew how to gather food, my mother taught me that. And my father taught me how to talk to the Wendigos.”

“They have a tongue?” Aleia said, raising her brows and narrowing her eyes.

“They do, but not like ours.”

“And because you are their last remaining keeper, they helped you gather your vengeance?”

“Yes.” Margaret flexed her hands and tapped the bag. “If I die, the Wendigos shall roam free beyond our forest.”

Aleia took a deep breath and opened the bag. A collection of ivory colored hands and fingers shuffled and a musty stench filled her face. Margaret spoke the truth.

“Child, my offer is this: I’ll take these bones of vengeance, and you must teach me the Wendigo’s tongue, for a family that you desire.”

Margaret lowered her eyes and chewed her lip. She stood in front of Aleia’s table for minutes before raising her eyes to counter, “So long a you do not steal the tongue from me, and I can speak it, teaching my children, to teach their children and any future generations, I will teach you how to speak Wendigo.”

Aleia smiled, impressed by the nimble counter offer. “Margaret, Daughter of the Grey Forest, then we have a bargain. Let us now discuss your new family.”

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