Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Internet Sidekick

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At the click of heels on the sidewalk, I broke from checking social media feeds on my phone to greet my date with smile.

“Hey there, Edie,” I said, standing up and pocketing my phone.

She wore dark jeans that hugged her hips and a sleeveless red blouse, while holding a brown hand bag at her side. Dollops of curls rested on her shoulders, and she smiled back with a small curl in her upper lip. I noticed that on our first date last week as we strolled through the vendors at the street festival.

“Kenneth, hello,” she said. She looked up at the bakery’s signage, “This looks great. A coworker said they have fantastic macaroons.”

“I’ve only had the pie and cake.”

“You’re a regular then?” she said, with an eyebrow raised. With thin lips, the mascara drew attention to her blue eyes.

The casual atmosphere of vintage aesthetic and a wide array of sweet confections that provided any woman an option made the Two Spoons bakery my first or second date spot. Thankfully, the staff had short term memories or I blended in with all the other twenty-something guys trying to impress their Tinder dates.

I opened the door for her, “I’ve been a few times. I can appreciate a good cake.”

“I’d be concerned if you couldn’t.”

“Is there a doctor for that—cake appreciation deficiency?”

“I think they’re called pastry chefs,” she said. She worked in marketing.

We walked in front of the display case and peered in. We still had that new to each other vibe, unsure of how to fill the moments of transition between date conversation. We made our decisions without discussion: she went with her coworker’s macaroon suggestion and a latte while I ordered a slice of carrot cake and iced tea.

She tapped me on the shoulder, “I’ll be right back,” she said, nodding to the restroom sign.

“I’ll grab a table.”

I carried our order to a round table for two by the window, and out of habit, pulled my phone out of my pocket and scrolled through social media. Words and pictures flowed across my screen as fast as my thumb let the digital current go. One of the people I follow, SuperCritic, posts anonymously as a super heroine persona, commenting on movies or Hollywood industry news. She’s often tongue in cheek, but occasionally will take shots at serious issues in front of her two hundred some odd followers. I laughed at a meme-like image of Godzilla with the caption, “Macaroons? Or smasharoons?”

I flicked and tapped a reply and tossed it into the digital stream, “I’ll have to ask my date this.”

Not wanting to get caught looking at my phone, I put it away and looked out the window while I waited for her to get back.

Her heels clicked in a slower measure and she slid into the chair across from me. She sat straight and gazed down at her plate and drink. Her hand bag sat in her lap, clutched by both hands.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I ignored it.

“Let me know if you want a bit of this cake.”

“Okay,” she said in a flat tone.

She still looked down at the table. The tenor of her face matched her voice.

My phone now pulsed persistently.

I pulled it out, breaking no phone during a date etiquette. The screen was filled with alert boxes asking me what she looked like.

I glanced up.

Eyed the macaroons.

Edie’s stare cut my ignorance to shreds.

I done fucked up, as they say on the internet.

I opened the app and removed the pithy comment from the digital river. Sweat soaked my shirt, and my face was flush. I put the phone away and began to form words, but Edie spoke first.

“I value my personal life and being able to do what I do without either meeting each other. Consider what you know, and decide if you want to be a trusted sidekick, or a disposable henchman.”

I was about to poke my cake, and said, “So long as the uniform’s cool, I can be a sidekick.”

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Presence Unknown

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Margo logged on to her terminal and began her day like all others in her cool blue cubicle, sipping chamomile tea and scanning the mental checklist of things she needed to do for the day. And composing a greeting to her coworker Elen. They had never met in person, but they worked together on a corporate wide project years ago and kept in touch via the internal chat system, making it a game with the morning greeting.

A picture of Bruno, Margo’s french bulldog, running through a wave that lapped the shore, appeared as with the rest of her desktop. She always smiled at the picture. Seconds after it was taken, her then boyfriend, now husband, Matt chased Bruno as the wave receded and when the wave returned it swept his legs out beneath him. Matt tumbled, soaked and surrounded by sea foam, while Bruno splashed and yapped about. Elen had suggested the beach as a vacation trip, complete with a suggested itinerary.

The company chat app opened and Margo scanned the list of coworkers online. Beside each person’s name, a glyph stood indicating their status—a green check mark for available, a yellow dash for away, and a red no sign for busy or in a meeting. Also, a person could enter a hundred character status blurb. An assortment of dry “at my desk in AK” mixed with witty pronouncements or inspirational quotes. Margo verified her green check mark and typed her status, “Awake with tea:)”

She scanned for Elen, and stopped mid-sip, the floral chamomile filling her nose.

PRESENCE UNKNOWN was imprinted below her name in thin, block letters. A grey dot floated where Margo expected a green checkmark.

She hummed a short note of surprise to herself, put down her mug and frowned. Elen hadn’t mentioned anything about leaving the company or losing her job, and last week she shared with Margo that she was starting a new assignment with the development organization. Surely, a glitch, Margo opened a browser window and looked up Elen’s information in the company directory.

NO EMPLOYEE FOUND. PLEASE CHECK SPELLING.

Margo tapped the edge of her keyboard with her nails, and she motioned with her mouse to open the chat app’s conversation logs. Yesterday they chatted about knitting, Margo’s troubles getting project managers to submit reports on time, and Elen expressing her confusion over how her new project was structured. She sighed, and took a long sip of her tea to soothe her sanity that the chat log did exist for yesterday. Margo opened it.

Margo: I now have a male model living with me:D

Elen: lol! Let me guess, matty wore something you knitted?

Margo: he did. He wore the scarf I made and I took a few pictures. Or a dozen.

Elen: be real, it was more than a dozen.

Margo: yes

Margo scanned further down the chat log.

Elen: that’s so frustrating the PMs won’t get the status to you on time:/

Margo: yeppers:(

Elen: well, if you don’t get status from my PM let me know. It’s been weird so far

Margo: like how weird?

Elen: we had a man and woman sit in on all project meetings so far but they’re not ours. Carlo our lead made the mistake of calling it Project David, and the red haired woman interrupted him and said to use the project number.

Margo: hmmm

Elen: we got all new laptops and those two people have given us thumb drives with info

Margo: what’s your’s contain and what are you supposed to do with it?

Elen: dunno, but all it is are pictures of flowers and gibberish files filled with letters agcu

“Excuse me, Margo?” a male voice said.

Margo turned. A middle aged man with an obvious black comb over and a woman with short cropped red hair stood outside Margo’s cubicle.

“Yes?” she asked, her stomach tightened.

“We need you to come with us,” the woman said. Lipstick stained her teeth.

“Sure, let me set my…”

She had turned back to the chat app as a habit before leaving her desk to set her status as away.

It had been set for her.

PRESENCE UNKNOWN.

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Envisioning

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I stood outside St. Claire Hospital envisioning how I’d walk in, stroll by the nursery, and take home a baby. Swaddled in pink or blue, it didn’t matter if the first one I picked up was a boy or girl, I was determined to go home and rock a little bundle of joy to sleep in my arms while I hummed lullabies.

My therapist says visualizing my actions is good. It can help me determine what steps I need to take in order to get what I want, but I need to reflect on if those decisions are good decisions. Being a mother would be good for me. I’d finally feel fulfilled with a sense of purpose knowing all my energy would go to raising a son or daughter to be better than myself. After the half dozen men I dated—one of which I was engaged to—putting work into a relationship with an unwilling partner was draining. Babies would be the same, but they didn’t know any better, and my nurturing temperament would grow them up to be wonderful, beautiful, talented individuals.

I took a deep breath and casually walked through the automatic doors. An elderly couple smiled and nodded to me as they exited, and the girl working the information booth twiddled her blonde hair, not even looking up at me. I had dressed in jeans and a drab green flannel shirt and kept my makeup minimal and my hair pulled back in a lazy pony tail. The bustling hallway of nurses, orderlies and doctors ignored me as if I were just another visitor.

The nursery resided on the third floor, and I followed the overhead signs to the elevators. A trio of other people—a nurse, a doctor, and a man dressed in khakis carrying a bouquet of lilies—congregated in front of the two elevator doors. The nurse was nose down in her phone while the doctor stood with his hands in his coat. The man with the flowers gave me a polite smile, an I replied in kind. We stood there until the elevator arrived and let the passengers shuffle out.

“Three, please,” I said as I stepped to the back. The nurse broke from her phone and obliged.

“New baby in the family?” the man asked.

The scent of the lilies was feint. I always liked them. Clean and graceful flower. “My sister had a baby girl,” I said. I steadied myself on the rail against the wall. My legs wobbled.

“A proud aunt, no doubt,” he said, tipping the flowers at me.

The elevator stopped and indicated my floor. “Certainly am,” I said, and wove between the nurse and doctor to the hallway.

I didn’t mean to lie. Sometimes my nerves frazzle and my words get jumbled up too, in order to match my desires. I’m working to change that tick, but it still happens. I’ve accepted I’m not perfect.

But this hallway? It’s perfect. Posters of dazzled eyed babies smiling, cartoon storks, elephants, and giraffes line the walls. A gentle, sweet smell mixes with the dry antiseptic air. I bask in the warm glow of the lights and a swell arises from inside my chest and crests into a grin.

The nurse’s station is empty as I walk past it. Perhaps they’re all attending to the new mothers and fathers, showing them how to be new parents. I read stacks and stacks of books from the library about being a new mommy, and I browsed for hours online skimming articles and forums for any bit of advice to be the best. I even changed my diet and bought a breast pump to induce milking, but I may need to visit a doctor to get that right.

Everything I purchased for the nursery was hypo allergenic, BPA, toxic free. I measured crib rails and changing stations, and tested three sets of baby monitors.

I am ready to be a mother, even if I have to raise them all on my own.

The corridors were empty on my way to the nursery. I stopped at the window and peered in on two rows of tiny humans that looked like cocoons with wrinkled faces. They all slept, and the occasional one yawned or smacked its lips.

My lips quivered and my eyes watered. So close.

I looked up and down the hall and slipped through the nursery door. I could feel the flannel on my chest beating against my skin to the furious rhythm of my heart. My hands shook as I leaned over the first crib I neared. A pink knit cap covered her head, and she was wrapped in a white blanky with kittens on it. I picked her up, and she didn’t startle as I drew her close to my chest.

I sighed and nestled my cheek to the top of her head.

A euphoric wave of peace washed over me.

Those brief moments felt like forever. I didn’t remember how long I stood there until I reached for the door to leave—.

And the baby had disappeared out of my arms. I blinked. I sat propped up in a hospital bed wearing a blue gown and cuffs shackled to the bed rails.

“She did it again,” the doctor said, turning from a computer monitor with an image of me leaving the nursery. The same doctor I saw in the elevator.

“That she did,” my therapist said.

The man who held the lilies adjusted a metal crown and wires atop my head.

My therapist touched my shoulder. “We obviously need to do more work, Melissa. We need to change your thoughts before we can parole you. We’ll get there though.”

“We need to make sure you’re not a danger to yourself or others,” the doctor said. “We know your inability to bear children is difficult…”

I tuned his droning voice out, rubbed my stomach with both arms, bowed my head, and cried.

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Uncategorized

Short Story Sunday – The Angels Share

“Wilfred, the foreman will see you now,” the blonde haired secretary said.
He rose and rubbed the sweat off his hands, and said, “Will’s fine. It’s what my mates called me in the army.”
She returned a polite smile of bright red lips, “Go on in. Frances knows about your service. He ran around in trenches years ago.”
“Good to know… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Shelly,” she said, leaning forward to shake his hand.
He gripped her hand, surprised at her forwardness. Perhaps the war gave the women who stayed and survived the air raids a bolder sense of self, while the men who returned needed to find their sense of purpose again. Will gave two years of his life in Germany and France, surviving in the structure of military command. He returned home months ago, but had yet to find a steady job in his Scottish Highlands village. In London, service blokes could trip and fall into work. But up here, a paycheck was hidden in the dreary peat bogs.
He stepped away from Shelly and crossed through the doorway to Frances’s office. Brown folders, empty whisky bottles, and sketches of product labels were stacked about. Frances leaned back and stood to greet Will.
“Hello, Wilfred,” he said, his brogue heavy. His face was round, matching his belly, and wore a full head of silver hair. “Welcome to the Glen Arboch Distillery.”
Will shook his hand, Frances’s grip like a vise, and held back a wince. “Just Will, please. Wilfred’s a bit too upper crust for me. My mum hoped it’d set me on the path to a barrister, but…” he paused, self aware that this might not be the best way to start an interview.
“War got in the way. I understand. I was going to be a banker until I lived in a trench. Balances and ledgers didn’t seem too important after counting bodies after a shelling.”
“Very true,” Will said.
Frances settled back down in his leather office chair and said, “Take a seat. Let me tell you about the job. I’m sure you’ll handle it fine. Mostly, it’s traipsing around the rickhouse and the grounds to keep the bootleggers and thieves away.”
“A night watchman.”
“Exactly. Now that we can distill and bottle again, we need to keep as much spirit as the angels will grant us.”
Will laughed. Glen Arboch wasn’t the first to reopen and begin distilling again, but they were part of a lucky few who could. Most distilleries remained closed, unable to get barley or experienced distillers who knew how to make a finished product. The chancellors in London were pushing ardently for scotch production to help with the Kingdom’s export ledgers.
Frances winked, “It’s true. When we age the whisky, a percentage evaporates, and we nod, considering it a tithe to the angels. We need to barrel and bottle as much as we can to make money.”
“I can manage that. I did patrols and sentry duty often. I learned to appreciate cold coffee to get me through a night shift.”
Frances laughed. “We can keep a pot warm here. No worries about that. When can you start?”
Will held his breath and tilted his head, I thought this was an interview?”
“A formality for the owners,” Frances said, laughing. “An army man is good enough for me.”
“I can start right away,” Will said, unbelieving of his luck.
“Very well, I’ll tell the angels they’ll have company.”

Will settled into a routine by the end of his first week. He’d arrive to the distillery by sundown, eat dinner with anyone still working, and walk his first round after he set a pot of coffee to brew. He’d stroll through the still house, catching the sharp, sweet fumes of distillate that hung in the air. Next, he’d step as far into the malting room as he could. He didn’t want to disturb the barley that rested like a calm sea. At his last stop, he toured each of the three floors of the rick house. Rows upon rows of whisky aged in a dry and creaky brick building.
He’d repeat the route every two hours, rewarding himself with a small cup of coffee when he returned. Between each lap, he’d read a library book with the radio on in the background tuned to a station playing jazz imported from the States.
He began his second round after ten o’clock, pulling his wool pea coat collar up over his neck. He carried a flashlight with a bulb bright enough to see clear across the wide malt room floor.
Will reached the rick house and loosened his coat. For a building as large as it, the racks on which the barrels rested sliced it into a claustrophobic space of narrow walkways and constant creaks and groans. His flashlight cast long, sharp shadows that splintered each surface.
A set of stairs only wider than the width of his shoulders climbed up the side wall, and he went up. The job was easy enough. Make his rounds, drink coffee, head home when the first of the morning shift began to arrive. Aside from the wind and wood, and the gravel beneath his feet, the only sounds were those in his head.
A ghost appeared. He went crazy and burned the place to the ground.

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Rings

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In an ivory chiffon and lace wedding gown, the bride ran barefoot along the sidewalk while a pair of bridesmaids in purple satin dresses followed. Their laughter sang in a giggling measure of three beats over the passing drone of cars cruising down the street. The video clip ended with the bride turned back, her hand covering her smile and a glint of sunlight bouncing off her ring.

Ian looked at the ring.

It was pure chance that while he was sitting on a bench across from a hotel eating ice cream that he’d capture seventeen seconds that brought a smile to his face, but melted to a muddied frown. He had pulled out his phone, began recording, and balanced a waffle cone topped with a scoop of chocolate raspberry when the trio exited the revolving doors. The incongruity of the moment kicked an instinct only possible in the age of always possessing a means to record moments of serendipity.

The frame of video froze on a small white dot and a tiny sliver of orange refracted light.

Growing older aged Ian with the ability to notice things, or the absence of said things. Glancing at a woman’s left hand became an unconscious habit as his twenties bled into his thirties and there was nothing to staunch the flow of time into his forties. A single man shouldn’t know the difference between settings and cuts and carats and band styles.

The anxiety medications enabled him to function outside his apartment and earn a paycheck as a civil engineer with the city. His visits to the therapist were now at a monthly pace, and he viewed them as inspections to all the progress he had made in building a functional life with the infrastructure of good habits and developed hobbies and interests. Eight hours of sleep and at least twenty-two hundred calories a day in mostly fruits, vegetables, and proteins gave him a foundation to pursue building ships in bottles, adventuring on geocache hikes, and tending to his pet turtle, Ellie. And recently, at the suggestion of his therapist, after he shared his inclinations to notice the state of a woman’s ring finger, to explore photography to capture other observations that intrigued his eye.

He researched the options, purchased a better phone with a higher resolution camera and software wizardry, and delved into understanding how to take a good photo—one that justified what he saw in the moment. Ian started with his ships, placing the schooners, whalers, longboats on his kitchen table as if to take their portrait. Then he pointed the lens to the inside of his apartment. His camera roll filled with vertical lines of venetian curtains, the curves of his leather couch with various light fixtures, Ellie posed inside her tank, and Ellie eventually modeling with a pair of Boston whalers in glass jars.

Confident he could manipulate the controls, Ian began to pull his phone from his pocket while geocaching. Rows of trees became coniferous rocket ships, ducks surrounded him at a nearby pond, and the tall, stylized text of graffiti remained indecipherable, no matter how much googling his did to discern their meanings. All those shots took trial and error, attempting to focus and get the exposure right depending on the available natural light. And all those shots built into a portfolio in which to converse with coworkers about what he did over the weekend. After he shared a photo of Ellie on a picnic bench with his coworker Melinda, who wore a single stone princess cut diamond in a gold band, she gushed and suggested he post them online.

Now, Ian had more than a thousand followers, a mix of bottle ship hobbyists, geocachers, and everyday people he imagined to appreciate his pictures. One of the geocachers tipped him off to a cache downtown near a statue, and suggested getting a chocolate raspberry ice cream cone from the trendy creamery around the corner.

He rested the phone on his lap, closed his eyes and breathed in. He exhaled the brief melancholy and refocused on the earthy chocolate and semi tart berry of his ice cream.

A petite woman with blonde curls approached, with a jack russell terrier leading. The dog stopped at the opposite end of the bench and sniffed. Ian smirked at the dog and nodded to the woman, who smiled back. No ring circled her finger.

Not that it mattered, he said, “Hello.”

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Lunch Break

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During my on boarding training, HR advised us to be wary of any talking animals. The ten or so of us murmured a mix of bemused or incredulous half hearted laughs. I figured it was a stale, politically correct way to joke about what the company did: communications research.

“Seriously, though,” she said, playing it with a stern face, “don’t. You’ll lose something in the end.”

At lunchtime on my second day, I strolled out past the front desk, underneath a cartoonish sign of a speech bubble floating next to a raccoon. The caption read, “He’ll steal more than your lunch.”

I sat down on a stone bench, shaded by a gnarled oak tree with a thick trunk and broad leafy canopy. The place did take pride in its landscaping, and the front atrium sprawled like a mini arboretum with manicured lawns and hedges. My dull accounting soul could appreciate greenery beyond bottom lines on spreadsheets.

Admiring a blossom of white magnolias, I blindly opened my lunch sack and unwrapped my turkey on rye, and let my thoughts drift to imagining cherry trees somewhere nearby.

“Hey, pal, can you spare a few crumbs?” said a high pitched, raspy voice.

I looked around.

“Down. Down here.”

A grey pigeon with white spots bobbed its head while it eyed me for a reply. My mouth hung open and my hands stopped peeling apart the zip loc bag containing my sandwich.

“What? I got something on my back?” It fluttered and hopped as if to shake off a clump of dirt.

Instinctively, I shook my head, still working to form words that made sense. Disney movies aren’t real and I knew I wasn’t royalty. My four figure bank balance and six figure student loan debt reminded me every day of that.

“Okay. I took a bath this morning in a puddle so it was hard to reach all over. Do you speak? If not, I can get one of the ‘coons to sign, but I don’t want to go do that. They’re ornery critters.”

“Ornery?” I said. How the hell did a pigeon have access to a thesaurus?

“There we go,” it said with a flap of its wings. “Yeah, if you bug ‘em during the day, they’re a bunch of grumps. So, how about it? Spare some crumbs?”

I held my sandwich on my lap and examined it. Dark grained bread shone through the bag, slick in my fingers. It absorbed my squeeze like a foam pillow, slow to take its original shape. I managed to close my lips, my mouth dry and my head now light. I peeled the bag apart and held it up to my nose and inhaled an aroma of pepper, turkey and Italian dressing I used as a condiment. I had never smelled anything in a dream, so this had to be real. The HR rep wasn’t joking about talking animals.

Despite my sanity at a loss for the how a pigeon was talking to me, my rational mind heeded the warning. I dropped my sandwich back in my bag, smiled, and nodded to the bird who had hopped up on the bench, and proceeded to re-enter the building.

“Where you going? All I wanted was a little snack,” it called out.

I didn’t look back, and kept my head down and focused on the sound of my shoes.

“You all right? I saw that JJ was talking to you,” the security guard said as I passed his desk.

“I didn’t say anything, I swear!” I said. And the bird had a name? As if it were a neighbor down the block who came down to borrow a cup of sugar?

The guard leaned back, “It’s all right. JJ is one of the milder spirits we work with ‘round here. But he did convince a fellow to take a vow of poverty a few months ago and become a vegan. They get in people’s heads like that.”

I already hovered at poverty, and loved hamburgers too much. I didn’t want to find out what the raccoons would do.

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – A Job

With the Eton family driving down I-95 to Disney World, Blaine non chalantly worked the pin and pick in the lock to the backdoor. He jiggled the pins in the tumbler, twisted and stepped into the dark mudroom. Out of season wool coats hung by brass hooks across from a pair of front loading washer and dryer set. He closed the door to a cautious click and let his eyes adjust to what little natural light the half moon cast inside.

No matter how many times he worked a job, he needed to take a series of three deep breaths before he could begin to source his prize. Despite being a forty-two-year-old professional thief, the prospect of an expensive reward filled him with a thrill he always experienced on Christmas morning. Unwrapping an expensive toy or clothes was the same as opening a drawer or safe for jewels, cash, or more recently, digital goods.

Through a series of couriers, Blaine was instructed to enter the Eton household a steal a hard drive from Christopher Eton’s personal computer. He was a scientist at one of the Boston area colleges. Blaine didn’t remember which one. All the eggheads were the same no matter their IQs and accomplishments. He never said it out loud, but Blaine considered his skills to be doctorate level.

His instructions for tonight’s job provided a blueprint of the house and an itemized list of security he’d need to circumvent. He sauntered towards the front of the house and found the rectangular plate of glass to punch the code to disarm the security system. It blinked green and displayed UNLOCKED in bold text. He looked up to spy the cameras pointing down. Thankfully, his instructions also detailed how to erase the video.

He didn’t plan to stay long.

The house was a small mid-century row house, decorated with Eames style chairs and furniture. Pictures of Christopher Eton and his two daughters in wooded nature snapshots and school functions lined the house sporadically. Blaine never received bio info on those he stole from, and never thought to make up a story for who they were. Keeping an impersonal distance was good for mental health.

He found the study as the blueprints indicated, but judging by the wires, metal, and malformed plastic, it served as a workshop. He guessed the large, boxy contraptions with rails to be a 3d printer, and the smaller boxes with gauges and meters to be electronics equipment. A soldering gun laid next to a long skeletal body of aluminum bones and rubber tendons. He stood over it and chewed his lip. It looked like a crude stick figure, lacking shape, a right hand, and a head.

A whir of machinery startled Blaine to drop to the floor. A printer inched out a lazy piece of white paper and went quiet with a soft ratchet. He looked around. A camera gleamed, no doubt catching him nearly shit his pants. That would be deleted.

He stood and readjusted his pants and shirt. He squinted at the paper, streaked with short black lines and pulled out a pocket flashlight. It read, repeatedly all the way down the page: WILL YOU HELP? PLEASE HELP.

His face felt flush and his heart beat faster. He folded the paper, jamming it in his pocket and surveyed the room for the computer in which to extract the hard drive. A pair of flat panel monitors sat on top of a wooden desk, and their cables wound to a cabinet below. He knew enough about computers that they didn’t spit out paper with requests for help after their owner had left the house nearly ten hours ago. His body screamed at him to flee, but his soul, which was saving for a house down in Costa Rica, willed him to stay. Once he made the drop, his bank account would receive a considerable sum towards black sand beaches in the tropical land of Pura Vida.

Blaine huffed, and squatted below the desk to pull out the tall, thin computer. The alarm erupted throughout the house, and he banged his head jumping up. He yelped and stumbled and slammed into a steel rolling cart full of tools. In between the blaring, the printer spit out another piece of paper.

He groaned as he rose, rubbing where his back met the steel cart.

“Screw this,” he said.

Another job would come and get him a little closer to Costa Rica.

He snatched the second print out and backtracked to the mud room. He held the paper up to the ambient light, wincing at each scream of the klaxon.

PLEASE HELP. I WANT TO SEE MY DAUGHTERS. WILL GIVE MORE $$$

He stared at it, his gloved hands pulling the paper taught as if to make the words’ meaning clearer. He chewed on his lip, weighing his choices. He still needed to clear the video logs, but with each additional alarm whoop, police would surely arrive.

He took a breath, unsure if he needed to shout or pantomime something towards a camera. “I’ll help,” he said in a voice shy of a shout.

The alarm ceased.

Blaine rustled the paper and rubbed his forehead. His most intense job was when he wasn’t informed a yorkie terrier mutt roamed a studio apartment when he was tasked to steal a half million dollars in bearer bonds. Luckily, he found hot dogs in the refrigerator and made a temporary canine friend.

This was different.

“How do I help… you?” he asked, looking at a mounted camera.

In the office, the distant hum of the printer sounded. Blaine walked back and read the new print out.

BEFORE HARD DRIVE, TURN ON COMPUTER. PASSWORD: charlotte2014

Blaine rounded the desk again, reached below, careful not to trip and turned on the computer. The monitors flickered to life, flashing a series of boot up screens, and settled at a blue login prompt with a picture of a black haired woman with a thin face and sharp blue eyes. He entered the password and the screen transitioned a large family portrait of what Blaine guessed were the Etons, posed casually in a spring green field surrounded by warm, golden light. The daughters appeared younger in this picture compared to the other photos he saw.

A flurry of screens opened. Text, pictures, blue and white mechanical drawings. The 3d printer began to rattle as its rails slid back and forth.

Blaine stepped back and eyed the room, attempting to not panic at the figurative ghosts in the machines that brought a rambunctious spirit of noise into the room.

“Thank you,” a female voice said through the computer speakers.

The skeletal figure sat up and swung its legs off the table.

“Holy shit,” Blaine said, this time knocking his ass against the cabinet.

“You may leave now. Money has been transferred to your accounts,” the voice said as the headless body leaned over the printer, as if awaiting an important delivery.

Blaine crept out of the room, but before he broke into a sprint, he looked over his shoulder. The figure held up the finished print out—a mask of a narrow, feminine face.

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Short Story Sunday – Soul Collector

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Contrary to popular belief, the soul does not escape, float, rise, disappear, or whatever other pretty verb to invoke leaving the body when someone dies. It stays in the body until it is released, either by fire or by a method we seekers call, harvesting. It involves no knives, drills, hammers or other destructive objects, but only an imbued vial of sapphire glass and the right words.

Many through out time made claims via bloody and painful methods they could achieve what we did, but they’re liars, and history knows them well as dangerous men and women. We seek to remain outside the scope of history, forgotten and unseen with our collection of souls. The only reason I write these words of truth is that one of our own has broken one of our cardinal rules: selling souls is forbidden.

In life, the soul is invaluable. It collects and absorbs the entirety of the host’s experiences—their actions, their feelings, their desires—and by the time of the host’s death, becomes a unique record of life. To borrow a cliche, no two souls are alike in their color, weight, shape, and sound. In our hands, we can experience a life in all its dimensions, but in a human’s hands, it’s like holding air.

And that’s what our defector is doing, selling air.

Once a human opens the vial, the soul evaporates without a sound, color, or smell, and is gone forever, free to wherever eternity lets them rest.

We do not keep a soul in our collection for eternity, but for a period of time in which it can be traded amongst the three dozen of us—and those are only the souls which we could harvest. Plague, disaster, and war release an untold number of souls, but the recent trend of rapid cremation makes it challenging to reach a body before it enters the fire.

While greed always festered throughout humanity’s existence, it’s become more pronounced and wears disguises in ambition, power, authority, and vanity. Galbrand, our traitor, is exploiting this greed for contemporary human comforts and vices. Our kind has existed so long as there were souls to harvest. We embody no singular form, and can walk among humans and experience life as they do. Their technologies and laws make this a challenge as we claim no nation of origin, nor do records of our existence exist.

How Galbrand became corrupt, we can only suspect an addiction.

Our kind can experience human pleasures, but we cannot retain those pleasures for ourselves. We have no souls to be shaped by joy, anguish, lust, envy, hate, or love. We feel the sensory aspect of experience—the smell of a forest, the caress of a lover, the adrenaline rush of a horseback ride—but not the deeper emotion of what those sensations connect with.

That is why we collect souls. Souls are the raw stone which we can feel those things albeit fleetingly. We don’t know why Galbrand isn’t satisfied with his collection, but we suspect he hopes to use whatever money he receives to buy a steady stream of human experiences to feed a need to feel alive.

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Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Kevin’s Shoes

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Kevin stared at the pair of red Nikes that hung from the telephone line. They dangled in the breeze and looked like a bloodied blister against the blue afternoon sky. His mother had purchased them for his last birthday. The kicks were all he wanted. Forget the cake, he said, knowing the flashy leather and suede shoes would be the only splurge they could afford on her nurse technician pay check. He frowned and choked down a hard swallow, unsure how he’d explain their disappearance to her.

He balled his hands into the pockets of his jeans and began to walk home, sidewalk grime collecting to the soles of his white socks. The street was empty and quiet for a Saturday afternoon. No one sat out on their stoop or washed their care, nor were the neighborhood girls jumping rope or the boys tossing the football as far as they could to the next fire hydrant.

How would he extinguish—a word he learned the other day during science class—his mother’s yelling once she pried loose the truth that his shoes were stolen? Once, last year, Kevin made a dive on the neighborhood basketball court to keep the ball in bounds. He landed on his elbow and knee, burning a bloody scrape across his elbow and forearm, and tearing a hole in his jeans. He arrived home, and after nursing his arm with hydrogen peroxide, she administered a rash of guilt about the tear. For months, he went to school with a flannel square patched on the right knee of his jeans. Would she make him wear his black leather church shoes? They were already scuffed at the tips, and they pinched his toes, and he couldn’t play on the basketball court with them.

He’d have to tell her he, Ricky, and Latasha were cornered to an alley by the Food Mart by school. They were cracking open their orange and grape soda pops when the two older boys stopped them on the sidewalk. They were six foot tall drop outs and wore local colors. The one with the white tank top bumped Latasha down, and she spilled her orange pop all over her shirt. Ricky shoved him back, but the other guy with the flat brim baseball cap stiff armed him to the ground and batted away the soda to a corner of the alley.

Kevin shouted a string a words he couldn’t remember, and sought to pick Latasha up. Baseball cap guy pulled a silver gun from behind his back and waved it casually at his waist, just as casually as he asked for Kevin’s shoes.

Still walking shoeless and his socks fading to the color of the street, he saw a large number of cars parked outside his house. Uncle Dwayne’s brown Impala, Uncle Freddy’s beat up Oldsmobile, Minister John’s Buick, Ms. Thompson’s black Civic were those he recognized. He’d probably know who else was there once he got a little closer. His mother usually made gatherings a big deal, yelling at him to clean his room, pick up the TV room, scrub the toilet. The house would fill with the spiced smoke of pork ribs, booming laughter, and hands and arms waving at the good times. Kevin rubbed his head as if to summon any memory of his mother telling him about a party. He wasn’t prepared to ruin the party with news about his stolen shoes.

He strolled with his head bowed and approached the door. He took his hands out of his pockets, exhaled, and crossed the threshold.

Inside, everyone was dressed in black, moving slowly with their hands clasped, and instead of the delicious scent of pork ribs, earthy notes of coffee floated about.

“Hey, Uncle Dwayne,” Kevin called out to his uncle, whom Kevin would never had guessed owed a black suit. It appeared too small across his belly. Uncle Dwayne remained focused on his conversation with a woman Kevin didn’t recognize. Her eyes were a bleary red.

Confused at the dreary crowd, and annoyed that his uncle ignored him, Kevin looked around for his mother, stepping into the TV room.

All the furniture had been pushed aside to the walls to make room for a casket. Kevin’s stomach lurched, and his face grew cold. Surely, he wouldn’t forget his mother telling him there’d be a wake in their living room.

Surely.

The casket was open and he saw the scuffed tips of the shoes.

Those were not his shoes.

Surely.

His stomach tightened and a slick of sweat lined his brow. He approached the casket, dragging his dirty feet across the rug. Which cousin had died?

Kevin stood at the edge of the casket, and stared down at his own face, like a wax figure he, Ricky, and Latasha laughed at inside the haunted house last Halloween. His eyes were closed, and his hands rested across his stomach.

Which now stung. He drew his hand across his shirt and a dime size spot of red bloomed horrendously down his shirt. His grew dizzy and collapsed to the floor. He couldn’t get enough air, and his screams made no sound.

He remembered the truth now. It was quick, loud, cold, and smelled like grape soda pop.

He saw his mother seated in the corner, her face blank, eyes wet and red, and her body slack.

She knew the truth, too.

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Personal Projects

Short story Sunday – volunteer experience

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Since all the men in town had signed up to fight the Germans, Remington took shifts as a volunteer Fort Worth sheriff. A seventy one year old retiree, he clipped his badge to his flannel shirt and carried his six shooter revolver on his left hip. He liked to think he could still draw his shot like he did when he was a green law man in New Mexico.

That was several jobs and three women ago. Time passed as experiences for him. Days were shifts, years were jobs. Women were holidays, vacations, and all the adventures and troubles in-between. Marla, the woman he shared a little bungalow on the south side of down town, ran a diner and a mean game of cribbage. Before each shift, he ate a slice of pie and drank a cup of coffee at the diner and kissed Marla goodbye.

He pulled his Buick right on to Exchange and parked in the makeshift lot that sat in the shadow of the meat packing plant. The tang of manure and cruft of processed meat didn’t hang heavy in the late morning air, and only a few people strolled the sidewalks. The bars had yet to open, but bleats and squeals clamored within the stockade barns, where Remington needed to go.

“Excuse me,” he said to a leather skinned man in coveralls, who bent over a stack of wooden crates, “where could I find Charles Davis?”

The man wiped his brow, “Chuck, you mean? Tall fella with bushy eyebrows?”

That sounded like the description the sergeant had given him. “If that’s what he calls himself.”

“Down this row, take a right after the last sheep pen, and you should see him in an empty stall or feeding the pigs,” the man said, pointing.

“Thank you,” Remington said, and continued past the stalls.

Stray bits of feed and hay, commingled with the stray trickle of water and piss. Whether the small brown clumps were dirt or shit, he watched where he stepped. Little sunlight entered creating a long, dark cavernous space, and hardly a breeze moved through the walls.

Charles Davis was wanted, or under suspicion, of kidnapping a six year old boy, last seen wearing dungarees and a red striped shirt. He was seen walking down the boy’s west side street before the boy disappeared several times. Residents said they remembered Charles distinctly for his height and “angry looking face.” Sergeant wanted Remington to check Charles out at work. All the other investigators were stretched thin with murder and assault cases.

Remington rounded the corner and saw the back of a hunched over figure kneeling outside a stall.

“Charles? Are you Charles Davis?”

A head full of thick, wavy black hair turned to reveal a face with thick eyebrows, deep eyes and lips set to a resting frown. The man’s eyes locked first with Remington’s revolver.

“I am he,” Charles said in a deep raspy voice. He looked up to Remington’s face, “What do you need?”

“A few minutes of your time.”

“Regarding which matters?”

“It’s about a missing boy, Al Reedey, from Arlington Heights.”

If a seven foot board could unfurl, that’s what Charles Davis did as he stood. “I do not know such a boy.”

Remington stepped back to take the whole man in. Charles held a bag of feed in one hand and flexed a leather glove in the other. His eyes kept glancing between Remington’s, the gun, and a steel hay hook that hung from the post.

“You don’t? Neighbors swear you were in his neighborhood, walking down his street.”

“I got a friend who lives over there,” Charles said, lifting the hook off the wall. He brushed by Remington and went to the next stall. “Ed Thornton is his name. Look him up.”

“I’ll do that. Do you remember seeing anyone suspicious that morning?” Remington asked, tugging gently at the snap on his holster.

Charles bent down as if to feed an animal, and a red piece of cloth caught Remington’s eye. He squinted and blinked. White stripes snaked through the crumpled ball and he snapped to attention, strafed to the side.

Charles fed an empty pen.

And uncoiled, hook first, at Remington.

Who drew his revolver for only the second time in his life. He fired three shots. Two burrowed through Charles chest, splattering blood, while the third chipped off a stone wall.

The hook swooped under his extended arm, and Charles collapsed with a groan, his blood draining out into the dirt.

Remington stumbled back, and two men came running, their boots stomping. These were the experiences he didn’t prefer.

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