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.

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.


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.


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.

Personal Projects

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.

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.


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

Those were not his shoes.


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.

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.

Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Units

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Under white LED lights, Angela hummed a nonsensical tune while she strolled the corridor of the storage complex. Alone with her thoughts and twenty thousand square feet filled with personal junk of strangers, she made a game of pointing at odd numbered units and imagining what secrets were locked away.

Unit 347 held the contents of an heiress with an affinity to mid century Eames furniture that the children didn’t know about. 349 belonged to a cat burglar who currently sat in jail after finally being caught. The tenant of 351 stowed away blueprints he pilfered from his biotech firm and was planning on selling them in case things went under before he could cash out.

Walking the halls was part of her job, the night shift manager. Twice a night, she’d leave the office with a cell phone and flashlight and check the areas the cameras couldn’t see, or a closer inspection was warranted. Three weeks into the job, she caught a broken water pipe streaming into one unit. She pulled the shutdown valve before the break spread to the adjacent units. For a college student awash in loans, and preferred the night, it was a cozy gig, no uniform needed other than a clip on name tag, at Waypoint Storage.

She turned the corner, still humming to herself, starting the final red and grey hallway of the patrol. About a quarter of the way down, a metallic clatter rang out. She stopped and scanned the ceiling, and then traced the outlines of each red door in her line of sight. The ten year old building, creaked, clacked and clicked like any industrial building, but the clatter sounded like a pipe falling or a heavy tool being dropped. Angela gripped the phone, prepared to dial the emergency number.

Four doors down on the right, a door rattled, echoing throughout the corridor. Her breath shortened and a flash of heat spread across her face. She had heard the urban legends of people living in storage units, cooking drugs, doing shady deals out of a rented office locked with a simple MasterLock they sold in the front office. The steel slats rattled again, but rose a fraction of an inch, and a band of orange light escaped.

Sweat stuck under her arms, and she flicked the phone to life, ringing the emergency number.

“Waypoint Storage Security,” a nonchalant female voice said.

“This is location twenty two. Angela Remus.” She took a breath, keeping her voice to a whisper, “There’s someone in one of the units.”

“Which unit? Have you seen the individual?”

Angela searched for the unit number, unsure why that mattered. “No, I haven’t seen them. The unit number is 376.”

“We’ve made a note,” said the voice. “Head back to the office, and personnel will be there to assist.”

“How long will that be? What if—”

“Angela,” the voice was firm, “go back to the office.”

The line disconnected, and Angela frowned at the phone’s screen. A larger swath of light, split by the shadow of two bare legs flooded the floor as the door rose halfway before a shriek of frustration erupted behind it.

The legs appeared feminine to match the high pitch of the voice.

Angela rubbed her cheek and held her hand over her mouth. Could a woman be behind the door? Doing something illegal? Legal? Packing away a tea set she inherited from her grandma at midnight?

What if she needed help?

Angela crept near the door, and a female voice spoke in a language she didn’t understand. The door rose again, but was dropped with a gasp.

“Hello?” Angela said, touching the door. It felt warm. Oddly warm. “Are you okay?”

Footsteps paced behind the door.

“I can help you open the door,” Angela said, tapping it.

More footsteps.

“I’m going to open the door.”

Unit 376 was one of the larger storage space at 500 square feet. Angela had lifted a few of the doors with considerable effort in the past, but not recently. She bent over and wrapped her hands around the handle. Small beads of sweat formed along her brow and her hands felt sticky. If the woman needed help, she couldn’t wait for the emergency response. Whatever that entailed.

She took two deep breaths, and grunted as she lifted the rumbling door above her head.

The unit was devoid of any boxes or furniture, except for a black doorframe in the back left corner, sans door, and two people. A fully clothed man, dressed in what Angela guessed to be a costume pulled from the 1800s, lay strewn in a growing pool of blood, while a tawny skinned woman wearing a thin brown tunic held a crude metal rod above her head.

Angela held her arms extended, palms out, “I’m not going to hurt you!”

The woman continued to hold the rod above her head and bared her teeth. She spoke a quick succession of words, her other arm gesturing toward the black frame.

“Do you speak English?” Angela asked. She didn’t know any foreign words aside from the Spanish she knew to inquire about the location of a bathroom. She stepped forward and the woman swung the rod with enough force Angela heard it swoosh through the air. Angela jumped back, hands raised, “Okay, okay.”

The roar of another unit door opening reverberated down the hallway. Angela stepped back, and a trio of figures in solid black fatigues, face masks and guns she recognized from her brother’s casual snapshots from Afghanistan, sprinted towards her. The woman lowered the rod and cocked her head at the oncoming boot stomps. She screamed at Angela, and threw the rod.

Angela covered her face with her forearms and cried out as it ricocheted off and fell to the ground. The woman ran past her her hair trailing in her sprint. A soft puckering sound came from behind Angela, and the woman fell to the ground with a tumble and a thud.

Angela turned and a figure held out a pen and lowered it to her neck.

“Shoulda gone to the office,” a deep female voice said, jabbing Angela in the neck.

The electric pricks seized her jaw shut and her eyes fluttered. She was unconscious before her head hit the concrete floor.

Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Be Brave

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“Be brave,” the woman with the frizzled clown hair said. Maybe she dyed it red to hide the grey, or maybe to distract from the wrinkles criss crossing her face. Could I believe a middle aged woman about bravery when she worked hard to deny she was growing old? I was about to be dropped into an alien planet where children under thirteen disappeared quicker than her smile did when I replied.

“I’ll be myself, thanks.”

“Elise, we’re counting on you,” she said, tugging at my suit, checking the clasps. “A whole lot of people are counting on you.”

I had heard it before all through my training. Earth’s oceans and atmosphere were in the process of swallowing livelihoods or suffocating them, eroding life expectancy to under fifty. Combined with massive migrations to the far northern hemisphere to escape scorching heat, this caused a lot of issues. Violent ones.

Ones that killed my parents.

The space agencies united after a flu pandemic sent a billion people to mass graves in the hopes to find a suitable planet to escape to. And they did. And we sent colony after colony. And it was great until word escaped back to leaders on Earth that the planet they found performed vanishing acts on children. This made regular people afraid and angry, leaders of the surviving countries earnest and outraged, and scientists curious.

Their curiosity was sending me to the planet Menoma to walk among the colonists living there and to understand what happens when a child disappears.

“Did you hear me, Elise?” a man behind the clown haired lady said. “We’ll be sending you out soon. Do you have any other questions? We have all your vitals synced up to our systems, all the tracking devices are functioning and signaling.”

I think that was meant to reassure me. I shook my head and said, “No, but when I come back, can I get my own place with all the food, clothes and movies I want?”

He blinked and smiled a little too quickly, but I saw the brief lie in his eye, “You can have whatever you want.”

“I’d like that in writing,” I said, quoting my father’s advice.

“Sure thing.”

I stared at him and raised my eyebrows and swished my lips.

“Oh, you’re serious.”

“I’m about to be your Russian space monkey. I think you can afford to humor me at least.”

“Be nice, Elise,” the clown haired lady said while she wrote on a digislate.

The man pulled a pen from his pocket and glanced around the room. He found a stack of yellow post it notes among all the gadgetry in the room and etched his pen across the pad. He peeled it off with a smirk and handed it to me. “Keep this for your records.”

Good for whatever:) it read in blue ink. I tucked it in my breast pocket, and for the first time in a while, a surge of hope ran through me. I really wanted my own place, and that note, I would use it as my ticket to redeem a fully furnished house larger than the shacks they lived in on Earth. Maybe freedom and independence was worth being brave for.

Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Forgetting

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Pablo knocked at the door with a nervous twitch, fully prepared for the police to jump out of the adjacent apartment door and arrest him for his illicit act. Or what he was about to do. Or was it what he was about to buy? The laws on memory erasure drugs were as clear as waking up from a bender, and no less painful.

He pulled at his coat and rubbed the sweat off. Were his shoes, suede and leather Nikes, too out of place for the neighborhood? His coworker told him to dress down if he went through with going the building in the south end of town, past all the dive bars and all night bail bondsman shops. The hookers working the corner didn’t even take two looks at him as he walked by and buzzed the brownstone door.

A lazy feminine voice answered, “Forget your wallet?”

“Yeah, the brown one,” he recalled the coded answer, “with the baby pictures.”

He climbed the stairs, patting his wallet, free of baby photos, but full of cash on a disposable credit card.

He was about to knock again, but soft footsteps approached the door, and a chain rattled. A sliver of a face appeared through the ajar door, revealing a deep blue eye outlined with heavy eyeliner and a broad forehead that lead to black and bleach blonde streaks.

“I called about the lost wallet,” Pablo said, his Portuguese accent more pronounced with his rising blood pressure.

“Come in, come in,” she said, opening the door wider. She wore grey yoga pants and her breasts hung braless against the white tank top. “I’m Marie.”

Pablo exhaled, and committed himself to cross the threshold. A skyline picture of London, a generic poster of flowers hung in the sparsely decorated studio apartment. A strand of Christmas lights dangled around a doorway, unlit, and faint traces of teriyaki floated about.

“Take a seat. Pablo, right?” she said, disappearing below the unlit Christmas lights.

Still no cops. Were they hiding in the bathroom? He sat down on a deep orange leather recliner.

“Yes,” he paused and eyed the coffee table covered in a trio of celebrity magazines. He pulled out his wallet and removed the disposable credit card and placed atop the eyes of a young starlets face. That little blue piece of plastic was his ticket to forgetting. “Thank you for agreeing to meet me.”

She returned trailing a miniature cart about as tall and thin as she was. Pablo had seen these in emergency rooms that administered drugs in specific measurements.

“You’re welcome. I consider this my volunteering, helping people through rough patches,” she said pulling out a blood pressure cuff. She bent over and the scratchy peeling of velcro ripped through the room. “Mind if I roll your sleeve up—or better—could you take your coat off?”

Pablo nodded and removed his coat, placing it on his lap. She wrapped the cuff around his arm and pumped it full of air. Her eyes glanced between the gauge and the blue card on the table. The cuff deflated and she said, “Let me get you a glass of water to ease your nerves.”

Marie hung up the cuff and palmed the card in one motion before walking to the kitchen. A faucet sounded and Pablo refolded his coat and repositioned himself in the chair. She returned, arm outstretched with a glass of water. He half smiled a thank you and accepted the glass.

“Pablo, for this to work, you need to calm down. It’s understandable, you’re not the first, but to achieve the… results you want, you’ll need to relax.” She rubbed his shoulder and smiled. “Take a few breaths and visualize a peaceful setting. An image or place that calms you.”

He was here to forget those places that brought him peace, all the places he and Jamal visited together hand in hand. He gulped more water, and pictured a generic beach of smooth sand and a sunset painting the tides red and purple. Jamal hated beaches, and Pablo could not envision him there.

Marie worked at the cart. “This works in three parts, Pablo. Well four, but the first part is set up, where I place two prickly diodes on your temples and poke you to get the IV line going. Next, I’ll inject saline as a test to make sure your blood is circulating. That’ll make your mouth taste funny, but the next two parts—where I administer the Cerebrexum—the drug is a shot and a chaser. The shot will make you feel warm in your chest and then buzz your brain a little bit, and the chaser will knock you out.”

“Knock me out? Like sleep?” he asked, his eyes now open.

“Kind of. It’ll induce a deep REM state for about ten minutes, and then you’ll wake up,” she said, putting on gloves. She pulled out a sterile wipe and searched Pablo’s right arm for an obvious vein.

“Have you done this?”

“Before? You’re at least the twentieth person I’ve given Cerebrex—.”

“I mean, have you taken the drug?” he asked, tilting his head, searching her face.

“I have,” she stared back, resolute.

“Did it work?”

“Yes.” She poked the needle in the vein above his forearm. “I don’t recall having a father.”

He frowned, unable to hide his melancholy, but it sounded promising.

She shrugged as if this wasn’t the first time she had delivered the line. “The thing about Cerebrexum is, yeah, you forget, but you forget why you have things missing. Kind of like something at the tip of your tongue except it’s a shadow out of your mind you can’t recognize.” She swished her lips and tapped the machine, looking back at Pablo as she affixed the diodes to his head, “I have the line in. Are you ready? Are you sure you want to forget?”

He nodded, his eyes beginning to water at the thought of losing Jamal forever. The man he loved was dead, but Pablo’s memories of him caused him so much hurt already—a botched suicide and a constant fog induced by all those memories that rolled in at any sensation that was Jamal.

Marie patted his knee, “All right. Saline first.”

She pushed a button on the machine. Pablo’s arm grew cold as the saline flowed through his vein, and he could smell, taste something bitter and tangy in his mouth. The machine beeped, and he rolled his head. OK was lit in green letters.

“Here comes the first part of the drug, and this is the important part, picture what you want to forget.”

Pablo let the tears roll, and his arm now felt warm. His chest swelled inside as if a fire was lit in his heart. “Jamal,” he said, realizing it’d be the last time he’d say his name.

The fire dissolved but his head felt warm and pulsed as if he’d drank too much coffee.

Marie said in a whisper, “Think of Jamal.”

Pablo met Jamal at a New Year’s party their mutual friend Katelynn was throwing. Jamal, in a fit of irony wore a gold polyester shirt with his trademark black jeans, while Pablo wove through the crowd wearing glasses in the shape of the year they were celebrating. They ate oysters and drank cheap wine at a grimy bar by the harbor that reeked of fish and fried oil for their first date. Jamal’s lips still tasted of the vinegar sauce when they kissed for the first time as they stopped strolling down the wharf with seagulls drifting overhead. Pablo’s bed was a mess the first time they made love, and Jamal always teased him about making the bed, even on the morning Jamal died and breathed his last breath, surrendering to leukemia. They vacationed in Japan, staying in the country side eating rice balls and pickled vegetables with an elderly couple who took in travelers on holiday. In Chicago, they argued in a blizzard why it was a good idea to visit then. They cried together at the death of Pablo’s mother, holding hands in the front pew, in front of a priest and Jesus hanging from the cross. Coltrane played while they drove the English countryside in a rented Rolls Royce for Jamal’s fortieth birthday. Pablo stood silent, by Jamal’s side as he told all of their friends in their apartment that his leukemia wasn’t responding to treatment. Pablo fell to the ground as Jamal’s casket was lowered under a bright blue sky.

“Here’s the second half—.”

Euphoria surged through his arm and bloomed in his mind. He smiled wide, embracing Jamal in all his warmth, and fell asleep.

Pablo awoke to Marie checking his wrist. His ears rang, and his head felt like it had hit a brick wall. His mouth was dry and chalky, and the wires no longer threaded from his body. He remembered why he came here, to Marie, to forget something, but he wasn’t sure what.

“Welcome back,” she said, softly. “How are you feeling?”

He groaned, rubbing his face.

“Figures. Drink water for the next day or so, and eat a few good meals,” she said, handing him a bottle of water. “You remember your way home?”

“Yes, I live in the financial district. Can I hail a cab this time a night?” he asked, cracking open the water. He proceeded to drink half of it.

“I’ll call you one.” She stopped after standing up and held a hand on his shoulder. “Do you remember Jamal?”

He looked up and winced at pounding in his head, “Who’s Jamal?”

Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – Rhymes

Detective Ryann Chilcot entered the interview room with a cup of water and set it in front of the main witness, Jane Doe, who still refused to give her real name. Jane stopped tapping her fingers, the nails painted bright blue with a pearled clear coat, clutched the cup in both hands and drank all the water in three gulps.

“Thirsty,” Ryann said, more as an observation than a question.

“Parched, like an empty sea,” Jane replied, resuming her finger tapping. The notes on her case file guessed she was mid to late twenties. She had blonde hair with lighter highlights, tan skin, and her mascara and eyeliner had started to smudge. Roy, the night desk sergeant put her in an orange jumper after she arrived in a cocktail dress soaked in blood.

“How are you feeling?” Ryann asked, taking a seat across the table.

“Fate’s sealing.”

Ryann looked to the grey tiles above, “Fate is above us?”

“Yes, but closing up.”

The “rhymes words” in the case notes now made sense. It was still early in her shift, and Ryann could put her mind through the gym of whatever word play her Jane Doe wanted to tumble at. Ryann was a twelve year veteran of the force, and had recently returned from maternity leave. She surrendered to the path of least resistance and got a short cropped mom hair cut, so she wouldn’t have put time into the extra shampoo, conditioner, brushing. Her slacks and blouse stretched and bunched up in awkward places thanks to the remaining pregnancy weight she still hadn’t jogged off during her evening runs. As a first time mom, pumping breast milk took priority.

Ryann took the cup back, “Can I get you another?”

“Yes, please, mother.”

Ryann held her breath and rolled her jaw. Was Jane aware that Ryann was a new mother or was it part of her verbal speech habit? “I’ll get you another glass in a minute, but I have a few questions for you first. Can I ask a few questions?”

“Yes, yes, minus suggestions.”

Her voice wavered between breaths to let out a rhythm to her words.

“Can you tell me your name?”

“Mary, a dame of no fame.”

“Mary, can you tell me why you arrived here covered in blood?”

“Like I told the others, a man I was with was an emotional flood.” Her eyes looked up and blinked. She brushed her hair back behind her ears to reveal a pair of ruby stud earrings.

“And what does that mean, an emotional flood. Tell me in your own words what that means.”

“If I tell you, will you let me go? I’d like to go home and put on jeans. Comfy jeans, or comfy sweats and snack on pretzels with my dog, Beans.”

Ryann leaned forward and mimicked Mary’s hair gesture, except Ryann didn’t have any expensive earrings to reveal. “I’ll see to it you can go home to your pup.”

“He’s a good doggo, always knows what’s up. Okay, see, last night was supposed to be a delight with dinner so expensive they kept candles for light, but instead the man, my date, insisted on dinner in, with room service and gin. He always drank gin, it made his cheeks red and gave him a sloppy grin. But I didn’t mind, so long as he paid me in kind, enough so I could cover my rent and not put me in a bind.”

Ryann remained leaning forward, wondering if this young woman was highly functioning on the spectrum. She let Mary continue with her verbal prose.

“He asked me a lot of inquiries, and I always answered true, but he got angry and summoned furies. He shouted and yelled, and twisted my arms and my legs befelled, I said he was hurting me and in his eyes there was a rage I could see. He shoved me near the hotel food cart, and I stumbled and saw my part. I clasped the steak knife and swung and slashed at my strife, thinking goddamn I deserve my life.”

Mary’s eyes searched the table and the rest of her face remained expressionless.

“I left the room, knowing my doom, but I doth protest, innocence in my defense!”

Ryann leaned back and glanced at the two way mirror and the camera in the corner of the room and let out a sigh. She’d order copies of the forensics report and ask about reports of a dead male with stab wounds in a hotel. Those don’t stay quiet long, and in fact attract the press quickly.

Ryann stood and Mary kept her head bowed watching her tapping fingers.

“Mary, I’ll go get you another cup of water.”

“Okay. And when you come back, can you give me a hug, like you give your daughter?”

Ryann froze and her eyes sharpened on Mary. How could she know that? Rather than giving in to curiosity, she stepped out of the room to fetch the water and to ruminate on her next line of questioning.

Personal Projects

Short Story Sunday – The Ward

Read more Short Story Sunday stories.

Without having my first cup of coffee, I answered the chime of the door bell to greet my neighbor Blaine, who appeared too chipper for 8:45 on a Saturday morning. He was holding a brown pot in his arms. Or maybe it was an urn.

“Les, g’morn,” he said, his Welsh accent slipping through. His usually crisp clothes were wrinkled.

“Good morning, Blaine. What’s up?” I asked, still raw with sleep, half distracted by the brewing pot of coffee in my kitchen.

“May I come in?” His fingers tapped the pot he cradled while his face made an apologetic smile. “It’s a bit urgent.”

We were friendly neighbors. We grilled out on each others patios, shared beers, and socialized with our significant others over board games in our respective urban row houses. We’ve known each other for years, and even when I helped him get the keys out of his locked car, his demeanor was cool. This morning, however, his feet shuffled and his hands moved as if he couldn’t shake the nerves out. My girlfriend Ginny still slept, but I looked over my shoulder and the bedroom door was shut.

“Come in, sure. Everything okay?” I said, stepping aside.

He entered briskly and placed the pot on my kitchen table, brushing aside the stack of mail I had yet to open. “Truthfully, no. Honestly, I hope it will be. You haven’t seen anything odd yet today have you?” His words were quick.

I closed the door, but not before glancing up and down the street. Only parked cars covered in leaves sat outside. I approached the table chewing my lip, “Just woke up, so I haven’t had a chance to notice anything.” The coffee pot stopped gurgling. “You want a cup of coffee, tell me what’s up?”

“Darkness. I mean, a cup of black coffee would be great, and I don’t want to cause you any alarm, but some bad stuff is going to happen soon,” he said pulling small canvas baggies out of the pot, along with a set of three candles.

I waited for him to explain his coy sentence. When no further thoughts came, I asked while pouring our coffee, “What kind of bad stuff? Rain? Some hail? It is the time of year we get those bad storms.”

He spread out his items as if to double check he brought everything. He exhaled and leaned against the table, “You know that I’m a pagan, right?”

“I guess. What you do or believe is your business.” This was too much of a conversation for too early in the day for me to process. I knew he and his partner were into occult or wiccan interests, but I never really pried. I figured it was something they brought with them when they crossed the pond, as they often joked, keeping some of the old world mythos with them. They rooted for the White Sox as opposed to the Cubs and drank cabernet instead of Old Style, but I never questioned who they were. I handed him a mug.

He took a sip and stared directly at me, “I’m what’s considered a ward. I look after a particular area. My area happens to be north side Chicago.”

“Do you walk the streets with a wand or something?”

“No.” He took a longer sip. It was piping hot, and I’m not sure how he hadn’t scalded his tongue. “I do make rounds, checking parts of the city, talking with people, things, creatures.”

“Things?” It would have been rude to break out the whiskey and pour some in my cup.

“More like checking energy levels of landmarks.”

“Huh.” I leaned back against a counter. I refrained from asking about the energy level of the Bean in Millennium Park.

“I ensure the welfare of the area and see to it—.”

A shriek shot out from my bedroom followed by a series of thumps. The coffee singed my hand as I banged the mug down and bolted towards what had to be Ginny, still yelling. Blaine followed and we met Ginny, who wore one of my old Northwestern t-shirts that looked like a mini dress on her figure, mid way down the hall. Her face was pale and her eyes were wide, and I hugged her at the waist, pulling her close.

She spat out words in between ragged breaths. “Went to bathroom… saw an ugly red and black thing… it jumped… I ran…,” she paused, “Blaine?”

She pulled at the t-shirt to cover more of her legs.

“Ginny. G’morn,” Blaine said.

I turned to him and said in my best keeping-my-shit-together voice, “Is this what you were talking about?”

“Possibly. I won’t know until I see the creature.”

“Creature? What?” Ginny said, her hands digging into my waist. “Les, what’s going on?”

“Blaine was in the middle of explaining it a minute ago,” I said, attempting to loosen her grip, pinching at my waist. “Blaine?”

“I’m a warlock, and a ward of North Chicago. I received a… message that an event was to occur in the vicinity sometime this morning.”

“A parade is an event. A Cubs night game is an event. A creature in the bathroom when I want to pee is a nightmare,” Ginny said her brows wrinkled at the bridge of her nose.

Blaine raised his hands in front of him, “I’ll take care of it,” and he turned back to the kitchen.

I kissed Ginny on the forehead and guided her into the office where I knew a spare blanket draped over my desk chair. Blaine brushed back by, and I said to her while wrapping the blanket around her waist, “He probably doesn’t need it, but I should see if he needs help.”

She frowned and shook her head, but I left and entered the master bedroom, where Blaine knelt in the door frame to the bathroom. He was pouring powders into his brown pot, shaking it, and chanting words I could only surmise as Latin. Beyond him, a red and black scaled creature sauntered along the counter. It walked on two stubby feet, and its body wasn’t any larger than an average house cat, but four arms sprouted from it. Atop the longest was a blue, glassy orb with a floating black disk. Judging by its movement, it had to be its eye. At the end of another arm were claw-like prongs with an opening of yellow, brackish teeth like a shark in its palm. Its two other arms were freely tossing and hurling any bottle or tube it touched.

“Holy shit,” was all I could muster.

Blaine held up a hand as if to silence me. He spoke the Latin louder, and the creature paused. It’s blue orb of an eye lowered and peered at Blaine, who tilted the jar towards the creature. It hopped off the sink and its leather feet smacked the tile. Its toothy mouth hissed, while the eye inspected the pot. It stepped closer and I could smell bitter charcoal emanating from it. Brimstone? It clawed at the inside of the pot and Blaine swung his free hand around and shoved the creature in the pot, swooped up the lid with the other and sealed the creature inside.

The pot rattled from within and settled, and I plopped down on the edge of the unmade bed. “WHAT. Just. Happened?”

“You know how they say ‘all hell broke loose?’ Kind of like that, but with the realm of those creatures. One of them got loose.” He said this as if it were a regular thing, like birds fly or dogs bark.

“How often does this occur? Was it dangerous? Would it have hurt Ginny?”

“Not very often, and Ginny could have given it a swift kick and it would have left her alone.”

“Are we good now?”

He nodded his head side to side, “For now.”

I mouthed the words, got up, and went to search for a bottle of whiskey to pour into my coffee.