Monday, December 26, 2011


[The second-best reading experience of my life. As I'm a huge fan of New Orleans and spent days roaming it, the novel was both familiar and historical, capturing a time two decades earlier when the Crescent City was different, smaller even, than the one I became enchanted with. A footnote follows this essay.]

A Confederacy of Dunces

I’d seen the book many times, sitting at eye level, the cartoonish characters on the cover almost in motion, a fat guy wearing a green hunting cap (the kind with ear flaps) posing in a Jack Benny-ish gesture of simpering disdain.

The book had raised some controversy, for being a comedy about the South, it had struck the many exposed nerves of the “Dixie Gentry.” The author, John Kennedy O’Toole, had woven an outrageous tale centered on one of the most improbable, undefinable and fascinating characters to ever lumber, thunder and gambole across the printed page. That this character and his supporting cast happened to accurately skewer Southern life, mores, society and misperceptions-taken-as-Gospel only added well-deserved insult to insight.

The novel, the brilliant outpouring of a young man’s talent and ambition, almost didn’t see the light of day. Depressed over his inability to find a publisher, Kennedy committed suicide seven years after finishing Dunces. It fell upon his mother, a teacher of dramatic arts and avid reader, to find someone who could see in the manuscript what she had seen. Rejection followed rejection over several years. Then she collared Walker Percy and practically forced him to read it. As the novelist says in his Introduction, he reluctantly read it at first hoping it was bad, then with increasing wonder until he was overwhelmed. In 1980, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize.

Ignatius J. Reilly is described as “part Falstaff, part Don Quixote” by some lazy reviewer. Reilly is much, much more. Philosophical, dependent, arrogant, erudite, lazy, intuitive, confused, passionate, analytical, funny, bone-headed, pathetic, sensitive and insensitive, a heroic coward wrapped in stained bedsheets, Reilly stands alone as a literary creation. As you read the novel, you shake your head in disbelief, and if you are a writer, you gape in Percy-like awe at what Kennedy flung at the page with devastating accuracy.

And beyond Reilly is a cast of deftly-written portraits that feel more like biographies than fiction. Time and again the reader with Southern memories will find familiar “faces” and scenes that seem as if Kennedy had sat on the collective porches of Southern families and simply taken notes.

I’ve read Dunces six times now and I look forward to a half-dozen more readings in the coming years. The novel lulls you in like the French Quarter on a foggy morn, odd and quiet, eerie even, then erupts into a raucous romp that carries you along to a bittersweet end. Few novels are more absorbing; even fewer have such soul.

[Sadly, I won't make it to 12 readings. A seventh was enjoyable, but the 8th...felt sad. There was nothing new in it, no nuances I could discover. Maybe the problem is me, but when I finished it this time, I said to my wife, "I feel like I'm saying goodbye to an old friend." Maybe I'm wrong about that.]

Monday, December 19, 2011


[My usual sleep pattern in college was to sleep between 4:00 and 7:30 AM. I could do that for about three weeks, then I'd crash for about 10 hours one night and be back to "normal." I also noticed that I would stay up progressively later every night, and since I couldn't sleep when the sun came up, I had to avoid hitting that "sunrise wall." Aussie football made me hit it more often than not.]

Australian Rules Football

At 4 AM, TV used to be a wasteland. Even with the advent of cable, the darkest hours were populated by black-and-white B-movies, odd reruns and the occasional preacher desperate for attention. It isn’t much better now, because the peak moment of pre-dawn TV was Australian Rules Football.

ESPN was barely gaining momentum when, without fanfare, they started showing tapes of a sport that combined the high-impact action of rugby with the high-scoring drama of basketball and was simply mesmerizing to watch. Rugged guys in colorful uniforms of sleeveless T-shirts and shorts would run down and across an oval field, passing a large ovoid ball by punching it like a weak volleyball serve, by kicking it through the air or—daringly—by dribbling it in mid-run. Points were scored by kicking the ball throught two tall uprights or between a tall upright and a shorter one. Referees in long white coats and perky hats would indicate the score with mechanical gestures pre-dating “The Robot.”

Without explanation, with color commentary that assumed you were an Aussie fan and simply added to player bios that read like excised drafts of a Crocodile Dundee script, the action and intensity drew you in almost against your will. The play never stopped, and like in soccer, injuries (a few a game) were tended to on the field. I once saw a player knocked down, start getting attention from the trainer, only to bolt up and try to tackle an opponent and get even more viciously knocked out, forcing the trainer to sigh deeply, pick up his equipment bag and run over to the new mid-field “bedside.”

The hand-passing and dribbling seemed quaint and awkward, but the real drama was in “marks,” kicks that soared high and far across the field and were secured by players jumping like—well, kangaroos—to catch it in mid-air. The catches were not unchallenged: short of grabbing the other player, anything went. I saw a player run, leap, plant his left foot in the opposing player’s back for greater height and catch the ball while slamming the opponent to the turf, a catch so spectacular it was shown before and after almost every game.

Scores were often 80 points or higher per team as each goal was worth 6 points and a “behind” worth 1 point. Momentum could and did shift often and in one spectacular match, a league doormat overcame a 36 point deficit in the closing minutes to defeat a perennial winner, a sort of “Cubs beat the Yankees” scenario that was thrilling to watch. So what if I couldn’t tell one team from the other? I know a great game when I see one.

And so did thousands of others, especially in Australia. Despite its size (about 20% smaller than the States), Down Under is not nearly as populated as you might think. At the time, the total population of the country was around 14 million persons, and yet, these matches often had attendance that numbered over 100,000 fans. To give you an idea of what that really means, imagine a Sunday football game in Green Bay… with 12 million fans in the Stadium. All of them cheering, waving, singing, screaming, swaying and stomping their feet in the best soccer-crowd tradition.

The games were exciting, the marks were often spectacular, the close-ups of players who were “veterans” after 20 games and looked like middle-aged hockey players though they were 24 or 25, the drama of athletes playing hard because pride demanded no less and the sheer fun of being able to watch all this at 4 in the freakin’ morning was too much to pass up. But eventually, Life changed its rhythm, ESPN changed its schedule and Aussie Rules Football dropped off my radar. Still, the sporting excitement and pageantry remain a vivid, happy memory of the night’s quietest time.

Monday, December 12, 2011


[Fencing is the only sport I've taken up that I haven't played or participated in to the point of obsession. I've spent hours in a day playing baseball, basketball, tennis, football, ping pong and racquetball, but I never got that chance with fencing. It's like I'm missing something. I recently took up golf and haven't hit that obsessive level...yet.]

Fencing Wounds

I took up fencing in 1986 as a way of trying a new sport. Always a fan of swordsmanship, I quickly discovered that fencing was serious effort, not trivial play, and that I enjoyed the challenges immensely.

I quickly became the second-best fencer in our small group and trained harder with our Captain, an accomplished modern pentathlete. One Wednesday evening, after sweating out a grueling 20-minute session, he asked me if I wanted to compete in a fencing tournament. I agreed instantly.

The tournament was held in New Orleans. A large, stuffy gym served as the stage for an old-fashioned club challenge, a “them-against-us” day of fencing with human judges instead of electric machines. The local club had about 30 members and though ours was half as big, only 5 of us had made the trip. We decided on a round-robin format, by divisions, and began fencing.

My first match pitted me against a burly, wide-bodied fencer. Because of the other matches, all the judges in ours were his club members. I noticed this, slipped on my mask and we began. My style was quite aggressive, relying on my reflexes and footwork to streak in and make rapid lunges. Almost immediately I scored and at my pause, he lunged at my chest. “Point.”

I returned to my spot when I noticed I was down 0-1. I questioned it, but the guy behind my opponent, who should have seen my touch, shook his head. Settling in, we resumed. Again I made a fast approach and scored, only to have the point awarded to my opponent, by the same “judge.” Down 0-2. The mask seemed to fade away as I attacked, scoring clearly on my opponent without him touching me in return. And once again, the same bastard shook his head, denying me the point.

I removed my mask to stare at him. Bad form. Like I cared. He pushed his glasses up, crossed his arms over his chest and avoided my eyes. He knew. The match resumed and I eventually lost 2-5. I should have won by that score. My first true fencing match and I had lost.

Four more matches and I won them all easily. Then my final match and as the luck of the draw would have it, my opponent was the near-sighted bastard of my first match. I almost ran to the strip. We shook hands and he gave me a weak smile. I was ready. Masks on, we began.

In an instant, I knew I could beat him. But I wanted more. With cold certainty, I created an attack pattern—up, down, side, then down—and kept it going until I scored. We resumed and I kept the same pattern, but scored from another angle. I did the same on the third point. And as he again assumed his en garde position, I knew I had him. 

I started advancing, sword high. He stepped back. I closed and started my pattern: up, down, side… He went down and I immediately lunged, sword straight, my entire body a line of furious thrust from foil tip to left foot. I aimed through him, the tip slamming into the vest exactly where his heart was. As if punched by a heavyweight, he slumped back and fell down clumsily.

I straightened up slowly, the rush of energy flowing down and away. He groaned, grabbing his chest and his teammates came over. Edward, our captain, looked at me, his eyes boring into mine. Quickly, the bastard’s friends removed vest, sweatshirt and T-shirt. I stepped off the strip to wait. They left.

I won that match by forfeit and made it to the finals, where once again I faced the same stocky guy…with four of his club members as judges. I noticed no one from my club volunteered to judge and Edward couldn’t do it because he’d lost to the stocky guy in the semi-finals. 

I scored 9 times, but lost 4-5. What a surprise. The stocky guy even apologized. 

As I was packing my gear, the near-sighted bastard ambled over slowly, his face a mask of pain. He kept rubbing his chest, just above the heart. “Look,” he pouted, raising his sweatshirt and T-shirt to show me an already-bruised and swelling plum-sized knot on his pasty flesh. “You hurt me!”

I stared back at him until he lowered his shirts and started to shuffle his feet. Surprisingly, he extended his hand.

“I was aiming for more,” I said and walked away, his hand ignored.

Bad form. Like I cared.

Monday, December 5, 2011


[I have dreams about being here, in this restaurant, even after all these years. I know Ruby's is gone and with that loss, there's no sense in me going back to that town. I'm a guy who can spend a week eating hot dogs and canned vegetables, but if I had a week to eat anything I wanted, I would spend it all at Ruby's.]

Ruby's Chinese Restaurant

You would call it nondescript. A low brick building with a small semblance of a pagoda design on the roof above the front door, set in the left corner. The parking lot was shared by an apartment complex and there were plenty of times when I know residents had to park far from their spot because the restaurant was full.

People would drive two hours one way for dinner at Ruby’s. The moment you walked in, you left the routine behind and entered a tiny corner of the exotic. The overwhelming impression was of red—on the floor, the walls, lanterns, booths and decorations. But not the same red: shades of red that called the eye and made the room warm and expansive.

Everyone who worked at Ruby’s was Asian. Extremely polite, ranging from reticent to friendly, but always attentive. The menu was huge, and if you tried pronouncing the sonorous dish names in Chinese, the waiter or waitress would say the number; if you said the number, you’d hear the words. I stuck to the English descriptions, and over the years, tried all of the almost 200 dishes they served.

I had my favorites—Mo Shu, Sizzling Rice Soup, Mongolian Beef, Moo Goo Gai Pan—and whether it was a favorite or a new dish, I was never disappointed. Not once. In the middle of my run of weekly visits, I actually focused more on seeing if something would go wrong rather than on enjoying the experience. Fortunately, that ended quickly.

Most of the time, I’d dine alone, so food was the only focus. I learned to appreciate green tea, my consumption rising over the years from one cup to a pot or maybe two in the winter. If I ate with a group and Bill was there, we’d both pass on entrees until the Mongolian Beef appeared, then we’d pretend not to be hogging it as we polished off the entire plate.

Dining at Ruby’s was always… spiritual. Believe me, I tried to avoid using that word. Recorded as an incident, a visit to Ruby’s was prosaic: one entered, ordered, was served, ate, paid and departed; nothing intrinsically metaphysical about any of that. But the time I spent there was somehow sharper, brighter, clearer, more real.

Maybe it was the night I’d arrived a bit later than usual and as soon as I’d finished eating, Ruby’s began closing around me. As I got up to leave, one of the waiters came to me and, without a word, motioned for me to sit at the long table that flanked the kitchen entrance. It was usually reserved for special parties as it oversaw the entire L-shaped restaurant. (The private room had a smaller table, tucked in the short arm of the L.)

I sat down as the door swung open and every employee of Ruby’s came in carrying a bowl, tureen, plate or pot. Without a wasted motion, almost a dozen dishes were arranged with artistry, water glasses filled and tea served. Ruby’s owners, a middle-aged couple with friendly eyes, came in, sat down and everyone began to eat.

I hesitated. Chinese was flitting back and forth interspersed with laughter and food floating onto plates all around me. The owner caught my eye and smiled. He pointed at a dish placed in front of me that somehow I had missed. Mongolian Beef. No one had touched it.

My hesitation ended. I took a small portion and passed the Mongolian Beef into the stream criss-crossing the table. Dishes came my way, contributed new flavors to my plate and were passed on. The only words I spoke during that meal were “Thank you” and “This?” No one spoke to me. No one needed to. I was asked to share their private moment and had been welcomed.

I never went to Ruby’s after that expecting to be invited, but I never turned it down, no matter how much I’d eaten. I marveled at how comfortable I could feel while being the only non-speaker at the table. I was both guest—honored and treated with deference—and family, maybe like the quiet cousin from a far province.

On a wintry November night, at the end of the meal, I announced I was leaving town. As if rehearsed, everyone bowed to me and then converged, patting me on the shoulders, shaking my hands, even gently tugging my hair. As I groped for the words to thank them, the owner and his wife went to the kitchen, then came back and handed me a small box. It contained a small dragon, made of golden wire with red lacquer. A strip of paper was curled atop the figurine, adorned with Chinese characters. Tapping my shoulder, he pointed at the paper and said: “Wherever you go, our heart follows.” I nodded as my throat tightened. “You come back anytime.”

I nodded again, said good night and walked out into the cold, never to return. In some way, I never really left.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


[My second collection of flash fiction, Thirty More Stories, seems to have been related to time, as there are several stories strongly-related to that dimension. Maybe it was because I was so focused on finishing it, on time, with time running against me and time being of the essence to write each story. Then again, if it was a matter of exposure, several of the stories could have had coffee as a common theme...]


            Nineteen seconds…
            A lifetime… in nineteen seconds…
            Harry London slammed chest-first into the rubble, his helmet flipping up and banging against a chunk of concrete as ragged as a scream. Heavy machine-gun bullets chewed the air and dirt around him as he struggled to merge his flesh with the cover he so desperately had run to.
            Across the charred and mangled street, strewn with several bodies in uniform and gray tweeds, Gunther Meis swung his heavy Vickers machine-gun in a deadly spray, trying to catch up to the British soldier racing desperately across the clearing to leap for cover. The Vickers was unwieldy, the narrow tripod legs slipping on the dusty floor inside the crumbled building that once housed a druggist and his medicines. Gunther cursed as the soldier skidded behind a concrete slab, the bullets spanging to fly off in unknown directions. He stopped firing to scan the street again, and the empty windows of the few remaining houses across the way. He checked the belt and grunted, satisfied he had ammo to fire a full minute’s burst if he cared to. He shifted his weight, peered quickly over the parapet and ducked as a bullet whinged off to his left.
            Harry curled up, holding his helmet steady. The strap was broken. He breathed a sigh of relief as the bullets stopped. Rolling slightly left, he peeked at the machine-gun’s nest and saw the German soldier adjusting the gun’s position. Harry quickly sighted his rifle above the parapet and stopped breathing, heart pounding like a drum in his chest. Suddenly, the German raised his head and Harry pulled the trigger. The bullet went high and Harry cursed, rolling fast to his right to avoid the onslaught of bullets he knew was coming. He twitched a grenade from his vest, pulled the pin and held the explosive in his hand, silently counting One… Two…
            Gunther turned his head away to avoid the dust coming off the wall and lunged back to pull the Vickers’ trigger. Bullets tore at the edge of the concrete slab, reducing it by chunks and cracks from vertical ledge to air. Gunther roared as the Vickers fired, slamming the gun to the left to rip at the top of the slab, then down, hoping to bounce the heavy bullets into the enemy. He saw a green-gray object fly up from behind the slab, arcing its way across the dead street towards him, and without thought, yanked the gun up and to the left to intercept the grenade--the grenade!--his roar becoming a mad shriek of rage.
            Three… Four… Bullets shredded concrete to dust behind him, then walked like heavy rain across the slab to tear it above his head. The bullets then dropped to smash brutally into the slab’s lower edge and pieces of cement peppered Harry’s backs and legs. The slab was no cover there! Five… He threw the grenade in a stiff-armed toss, just like he was taught in Bingham, the thick-bodied metal apple curving up and away. Harry imagined it was flying straight and true, aimed with deadly precision at the machine gunner. He heard the bullets rise, then rise again as the hammering they caused became buzzing until suddenly a shriek of rage became--
            An explosion. The grenade blew up as Gunther’s aim crossed its path. The shriek of rage rose to become…
            Harry acted without thought, rolling to his feet as the explosion shredded the air everywhere, tucking his rifle and leaping to his feet, his mouth erupting into a shriek of rage that joined the German’s shriek…
            Gunther saw the British soldier rise like a spectre, like a demon, from the blast’s cloud, rifle at the ready, shrieking just as he was…
            Harry saw the German, heard him shrieking and pulled the trigger…
            The shriek ended as the bullets tore through Gunther’s head and neck.
            Nineteen seconds… A lifetime. In nineteen seconds.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NEW ISSUE: 20 In 5 -- Volume I -- December 2011

I am very pleased to announce a new project, a monthly e-mag/e-book titled 20 In 5, published by Mis Tribus Publishing and with me as Editor-in-Chief.

The concept is simple: 20 stories you can read in about 5 minutes each. Flash fiction ranging from adventure to western themes, passing through fantasy, horror, mystery and science fiction. 20 In 5 is the perfect companion for a coffee break, a waiting room or a nightcap, a little literary rest stop in your day.

Available for $0.99, you can subscribe to 20 In 5 and save a few dollars. If you will, please give it a look-see now by clicking over to the 20 In 5 page and reading the first story FREE.

And please notify your friends, those who love to read good short stories and especially those friends who love to write: 20 in 5 is a paying market! Here are the Submission Guidelines, informative and entertaining:

If you would like to submit your flash fiction story, send all submissions to:

Submissions must adhere to the following guidelines or will be deleted:

1) Send in .doc, .docx, .od or .rtf formats only. NO .zip or .rar files, please; attachments in those formats will be deleted immediately.

2) The story must be between 500 and 750 words in length. No shorter or longer unless you've won a Nobel Prize.

3) No porn, poetry or bloody gore. Adult language is acceptable, if its use is not excessive. We deem what is excessive, damn it.

4) Each story submitted must have your name and phone number listed, either in the document itself or the e-mail message. SexyFairy69 ain't your name.

5) If a story has been published elsewhere, please let us know. We don't mind second helpings, but we mind falsely touting them as our discoveries.

6) If your story(ies) is/are accepted, you will receive a MisTribus 20 In 5 contract. You will be happy. Don't hide it. Don't overdo it, either; we're not a Nobel Prize.

7) You must sign the contract to appear in any volume of 20 In 5. It lets you make money off of our picking your story. So it's a good idea.

8) Please allow 4-6 weeks for a response. We're not slow, it's that we can get swamped by submissions. And we're slow swimmers.

Mis Tribus Publishing and I look forward to reading your comments, your submissions and above all, your fulsome praise for the awesomeness of 20 In 5.

Read a FREE story now! And then subscribe! Thank you!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Essay: SHOGI

[It's been years since I played shogi. I love strategy games and now that my son and nephews are entering their teens, the days of playing those games may have ended. Their interests move on to other subjects and experiences, as they should. But I do wish I could play regularly again.]


Brendan owned a comic book shop in Hattiesburg back during the early heyday of the comic book explosion. I practically lived there and because the place was more refuge than mere store, we played games.

The one I was keen on was Shogi, the Japanese version of chess. Slower to develop into a mid-game, shogi offers a greater variety of tactics than its Western counterpart. It also offers a higher level of complexity, leading to tension. You’ll see why.

I taught Brendan how to play and he took to it immediately. However, he had a store to attend to so he could never fully focus on the game. We played about 5 games and I won them all. Brendan may have seemed an amiable goof to many people, but he had a great knack for tactics and it was serving him well, as each victory was notably more difficult than the one before.

One afternoon, just past lunch, I brought the shogi board to the shop and set it up to play against myself. Brendan walked over and said “Let’s play. I’m ready!” And the most intense game we’d ever played started.

The opening was typically slower than Western chess, as pawns only move one space at a time and the board is 9 squares to the side. By nature and lack of guidance, I played the so-called “modern hyper-aggressive” mode, which means I go on the attack and don’t try to build a “castle” of pieces around my King. Brendan, knowing my style, chose to play a more traditional style.

As soon as I could, I captured a couple of pieces and leaned back. The genius of shogi, it’s true leap above chess in terms of excitement, is the fact that captured pieces can be returned to the game as part of your army…at any time. This “parachuting” effect gives shogi an extra dimension that makes the game very much a race to keep your nerve.

Brendan’s castle was strong, as he had figured out that my aggression would lead to pieces being exchanged, so a well-defended King would slow me down. I captured another couple of pieces, but Brendan pushed his forces forward and began limiting my options. Rather than seek a strategy, I dropped pieces aggressively and forced several exchanges. All of a sudden, both Brendan and I had pieces in hand, scattered forces and vulnerable Kings.

Brendan could not sit still. He paced, sat down, got up to pace, sat down and popped up again. He wasn’t hurrying me, but it was obvious he was eager to get something going. I stared at the board for what was for me an incredibly long time. In my mind, I could see two paths to a checkmate, but my hesitation hinged on how precarious each path was. I weighed my chances against Brendan’s skills.

I picked up a Lance and dropped it against his Knight. The game was on.

For almost four hours, Brendan and I agonized over each play. No time limits: the only limits we had were our imaginations and whether we’d be cool enough to take chances. With every drop and move, I reduced Brendan to simply defending his King. Time and again, just when it seemed that he’d get the breather he needed to fight back, I’d come up with another twist and another battle sequence began.

Customers came and went and other friends of ours took care of them. Conversation, usually bright and edgy, was muted. Brendan paced, pumped his fists, mumbled to himself, talked to the walls and even opened a comic book to tell The Incredible Hulk I was going down. Out of the blue, he reached into the cash register and drew out a tattered pack of cigarettes and lit up. I gaped at him.

“I quit two years ago,” he said to me, a bit sheepishly. “But I need this right now to play this damn game.”

I almost felt guilty about driving him to smoke again. But I pressed on, only to realize that my fears were accurate: Brendan had played brilliantly and I was one, at most two pieces short to force checkmate. I had run out of forcing options, Brendan had several pieces in hand and now I had to play what I despised most: defense.

Brendan lit another cigarette and without hesitation, launched his attack. With keen deliberation, piece after piece clicked on the board, then slid forward. In a wise move, Brendan made sure my captures were few and even costly, extending my forces so that I had to drop pieces for defensive purposes only. As the pressure grew, I did the unthinkable: I focused solely on defense. Slowly, but with the growing inevitability of a tidal change, I gained a little space, a piece here, then another piece later in the battle. I knew Brendan’s offense was weaker than mine, but I knew I was still very vulnerable. Forced to move my King, Brendan made a series of brilliant plays and the game hung truly in the balance.

I had several powerful pieces and Brendan was facing my dilemma of a few hours earlier: could he finish me off? Time and again he glanced at the pieces I had, and we both knew there was too much for me to lose. All I needed was the chance. The moment I got it, the game was over.

Brendan’s shirt was soaked. The cigarettes were long gone and he had taken to chewing gum, adding pieces until he had a wad worthy of a baseball player in his left cheek. My heart hammered and I forced myself to breathe normally, my eyes taking in everything around me, but always coming back to the board. The sunlight was now almost horizontal through the picture window and in a flash, I saw it.

Brendan could win. In three plays. No matter what I did, he could win in three plays.

Brendan fingered his last piece to drop, a Silver. That wasn’t it. I saw where he could drop it and the countermove that would end his chances. For a moment, he looked at his King and I thought he would drop the Silver to defend it, a sort of pre-emptive shield.

Then, as if from a silent movie, I watched Brendan put the Silver back down and slide his lead Gold forward. Check.

I had to capture.

No attacking place to drop the Silver and now I had another major piece. But the next play was the key. He had to think “space” and he would see it. I glanced away, looked at the walls and wondered if The Incredible Hulk really knew anything about shogi. I had one chance: no piece could drop and give checkmate, so maybe Brendan would miss the more subtle route.

With a sudden lunge, as if the board would vanish in an instant, Brendan made the key play, cutting off my King’s only escape route. The next play was my inevitable checkmate.

I stared at the board as my heart thrummed down. Brendan held his breath, looked intently at the board, then leaped to his feet with a loud “Yes!,” his fists in the air. I flicked my King off the board and stood up, my first steps since lunch. Brendan came back to me and grabbed me in a bear hug.

“That was the most intense game of my life! That was great!”

I grinned. “You played great. Wanna play another one?”

He shook his head. No, he shook his whole body. “No! I’m never playing shogi again! Are you kidding? I could die of lung cancer if I play a few more games like that one!”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Flash Fiction: SOULMATES

[There are times when you are aware you are happy and pause to think what unhappy people are missing. Often it is a matter of choice, but more times than not, the choice is really out of your hands.]


            After three years of virtual monkhood, Thomas felt it was time to “get out there,” to test the dating waters again. His last breakup had been bitter, agonizingly so, as Erleen had gone from loving partner to vicious bitch, to the point where even her closest friends were taking Thomas’ side. Jumping at the chance to leave Erleen’s savagery behind, Thomas took a new position in San Diego, putting two thousand miles between him and his painful past. But the past travels well, so Thomas let time do its thing. Three years led up to a late Friday night, Thomas nursing a beer he didn’t want. With a few clicks, he pointed his browser to one of those “compatibility sites,” rated “the absolute best” and before he thought about it too much, filled out the questionnaire, chuckling at the absurdity of the whole thing.
            The next day, his Inbox had a cheery Subject line: “Your matches have arrived!” Smirking, Thomas opened the message and scanned the text. Hyperlinked numbers introduced four descriptions of women (Thomas hoped they were women) who, the message proclaimed, matched Thomas’ profile to “a 98+% degree!” Thomas had no idea what “98+%” could even mean, but he reread the descriptions and finally clicked on the third one, described as “Adventurous within reason, lover of solitude and embracer of honesty.” What the hell, he thought, It’s only a blind date.
            His overture got a prompt response (Desperate?) and an invitation for lunch on Sunday at Il Pesto, a trendy new bistro that was neither ostentatious nor chintzy. Good choice. She—Lorraine—said she’d be wearing an emerald-green dress and would arrive promptly at 11:45.
            As Sunday rolled towards noon, Thomas felt himself getting nervous. Nervous, hell, he was beginning to get scared. What the hell was I thinking? A website test to meet women? Thomas shook his head and slapped the steering wheel, driving up the quiet boulevard to Il Pesto.
            He was early and let the hostess at the bistro know he was expecting someone. The tiny bar had comfortable stools and when the door opened at 11:45, he knew who it was. Lorraine was wearing the promised emerald-green dress and Thomas let out a sigh he never expected to be so deep. I was afraid it would be Erleen. He rose and introduced himself, enjoying the pleasant handshake and dazzling smile. Even so, he mentally kicked himself for checking out her throat to make sure it didn’t have a visible Adam’s apple. You never know, dammit.
            Lunch went past two and became a short drive to a museum, where Impressionists led to an early supper of Hungarian stew and rye bread in a cubbyhole café by the pier. Over that time they discovered they’d both grown up in the Midwest, been in Scouting, loved math, hated English, enjoyed picnics and family gatherings, swam well, couldn’t get enough of Disney movies, “24”, chocolate and pistachio ice cream. They’d loved Europe, yearned for Japan and would not spend a dime of lottery winnings until they’d let at least five years go by, just to get used to the idea of having all that cash. Over coffee, with topics buzzing and cavorting between them, Thomas sat back and smiled, his heart filled with a joy he thought he’d never feel. Lorraine saw his expression and smiled, her deep blue eyes alive with pleasure. Lifting her purse onto the table, she pulled out a slim cardcase and slid it across the table to Thomas.
“What’s this?” he said, picking it up.
“Your membership to SoulMates,” she said. “You’re in!”
Thomas was stunned. “Membership? What—what do you mean?” He stared at the contents of the cardcase, not seeing any of it.
Lorraine smiled. “We’ve even given you a discount.” She patted his hand. “My treat!”
Thomas noticed the hand patting his: It had a wedding ring. Thomas felt his heart thud in his chest. He felt like kicking himself.
            Lorraine sipped her coffee. “Every prospective member is interviewed by a staff evaluator to ensure we get the finest possible candidates in SoulMates. That’s why we have such a high success rate.” She frowned prettily. “You didn’t think we relied only on a website test, did you?”
            Thomas shook his head and tasted a sad bitterness he’d thought he’d forgotten.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Essay: THGttG

[The initials are enough to make you smile, aren't they? After all these years, I can say that reading Hitchhiker's was the most enjoyable reading experience of my life. The second? A Confederacy of Dunces.]


The cover had the friendly words “Don’t Panic!” It made me smirk. Over a series of weeks, I’d walk into the Campus Bookstore, peruse the titles and I’d never fail to smirk. The buzz about the book was slight, and if just knowing about the buzz places me in the nerd category, so be it. Finally, I plunked down my money for Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and read it that same night.

And I laughed my butt off.

Science fiction, up to that time, had had its dilettantes of humor, such as Lester del Rey, William Tenn and Isaac Asimov. But humor and science fiction don’t mesh well, as science fiction requires creating an artificial world and humor has its strongest basis in reality. We don’t care for contrived humor. And I personally believe that most fans of science fiction—writers and readers alike—are angry people, angry at the rejection they feel for being different and thus have very little sense of humor, unless it’s the cruel kind that belittles those they would consider inferior.

But Adams was just plain funny. His humor, based on some deranged Apocalyptic scenario that destroys Earth to make way for an intergalactic highway, has science fiction as its background, but human foibles and eccentricities as its forefront.

Take Marvin the Robot, seriously, seriously depressed for being incredibly superior to those around him but being seen and treated as nothing more than a glorified lump of metal. Yet all he does is act like a lump of metal. (Science fiction fans were both target and audience here.)

Or how about Zaphod Beeblebrox, a two-headed, three-armed egotistical mush-for-brains con man who somehow always gets his way? In an exaggerated way, we know people like that, who seem to live a charmed life despite obvious disadvantages in acumen. How pathetically funny is someone who utters and believes “I’m so hip I have trouble seeing over my pelvis”?

The Girl in The Story, as SF fans objectify the species, was Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend and all-around wishing-to-be-free spirit. She is disconcerting if not downright unfathomable, not only for the odd things she says, but for her choice of Zaphod (the creep) over Arthur (the nice guy.) Trillian is the only character with a level head, except that it works on some jarringly-parallel level.

It is in Arthur Dent, Earthman extraordinaire (poor slob) that Adams shines. Befuddled, bewildered, a babe in the woods and the woods are beyond weird. Arthur embodies the deep-seated feelings we have that the world is one big party and we’re not only not invited, but if we go, we’re the hired help. Arthur gives the madness a touch of the ordinary and the humor emerges from tweaked humanity, the kind that lets us laugh at and with each other.

But above all that, I owe Adams for hundreds of smiles and lightened moments when my patience and interest were strained beyond endurance, when the droning voice or insipid event dragged on and on towards infinity.

Two words: Vogon poetry. Those who’ve read the novel will know what I mean.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Flash Fiction: LETTERS

[Most people that know me would say I have a romantic streak an inch wide, but that's not true: it's much wider than that. I'm also intrigued by letters, the almost-lost daily activity  (for many) of handwritten pieces of the heart and mind. I typed most of mine--lousy handwriting--but even so, several relatives and friends have told me that they saved my letters, cherishing them for years. I never agonized over writing one, essentially letting them fly, but so many of them touched the recipients more than I could imagine. I wish I'd known earlier.]


            The first letter sped across the intervening space, tucked within canvas, the very day after they'd met. Its response, perfumed ever so lightly with lavender, criss-crossed the county and arrived into eager hands. Words, tender and fragile as soap bubbles, were being shared.
            Letters then flew and rode and were carted like butterflies on a gentle breeze, filling the summer days with yearnings and sighs, with new memories, new hopes and new fears of being forgotten. Fall went from butterflies to equally-colorful leaves, letters now probing and confiding, seeking deeper into the illusion for the reality of souls matched in the heavens.
            The chills of winter blanketed the increasing ardor, wrapping it in the glow of its own contentment, incapable of dampening Love's flame. The eruption of Spring multiplied the letters, which then multiplied again into gilt-edged formal cards requesting a response s'il vous plait.
            For a while, the letters ceased, but a distant war and a call to honor made the letters fly, sail and truck to lands filled with the hateful violence of inhumanity. Fears and the frequent touches of despair, even thoughts of death and tear-stained lines weighed the letters with realities best left unmet. A bootie, pink-edged, made one letter bulge and two hearts squeeze with the dread possibility of hopes and lives dashed forever.
            But then letters, stiff, starched, serious soldierly letters said the time had come for the other letters to become unneeded and a flurry of letters, now tear-stained with joy, flew and raced to share the news, the plans, the changes and the future so bright and clear.
            No letters for a few years, until a step up the proverbial corporate ladder made the letters reappear, from points north, south, east and west, all radiating inward and outward from a tiny hamlet that to one person was a universe and to the other an anchor that demanded to be raised. Questions became demands and accusations, words going past each other without regard to each other, speaking to themselves, hearing nothing but their own angst. The letters dwindled to postcards with perfunctory details, then one day, they stopped.
            A few months later, one large letter, papers folded over carelessly, wrapping within them the words that signaled the end of any more letters, of any more words between these two. The papers, minus a few pages, were returned swiftly, slashingly, finally.
            Four months passed.
            A tiny letter, scrawled with crayon and kisses, made its journey. Held in trembling hands for an hour, receiving a drop of plumbed sadness before resting on a sleeping chest. Its response delighted tiny hands, and then every day, sometimes twice a day, crayon, pencil and even watercolor, like butterflies new to flight, wended their path across a landscape changed: the hamlet that felt like an anchor now seemed like a world, one that gave a soul purpose.
            A small letter reached out, not to tiny hands, but to a tiny hope that maybe, just maybe, a spark burned where once a fire kindled. For days...nothing. Then, from words, from many words, from what could have once been too many words, but were now not enough, the answer whispered like a wave...maybe.
            More words, many more words than were ever used, flowed from a heart torn by its own failings. Words of apology amidst lines of regret and sorrow, words that recognized that the shared had been so much more than the perceived, that what the heart had was so much more than what the eyes could have ever seen. The folly of blindness mixed with yearnings and sighs, with memories and hopes and fears of being forgotten, the passion of long ago barely restrained by the most powerful new hope.
            Its response, perfumed ever so lightly with lavender, criss-crossed the land and arrived to eager, tearful hands that, it now said, would never need to receive another letter again.

Monday, November 14, 2011


[When you develop certain habits that help keep you out of trouble, or capable of dealing with the unexpected, you feel a touch of mastery. If the environment changes and you let those habits fade, the moment you realize you always need them is...sobering.]

Lock and Chain

There are some summer nights when nothing moves. The air sleeps, the crickets chirp as isolated metronomes and it seems as if everybody chooses that time to stay put indoors.

I was walking from the bowling alley back to my apartment, an hour’s worth of exercise I was settling into. My habit on a jaunt like that was to amble along, thinking about nothing and everything, hands in pockets. The voice cut my reverie and I froze.

“Who you callin’ a nigger?” The voice was high-pitched, sharp, but strained.

I looked up. Seven young black men were arranged next to and against the dark-side Mr. Quik brick wall. Two of them pushed off the wall to complete a semi-circle in front of me. The speaker was a thin, gangly guy about my age, wearing a Dodger cap around his neck. He was glaring at me.

“Nobody,” I answered.

Dodger Cap feigned surprise. “You called me a nigger!” He looked around for support, agreement, chiming in. One guy, unbelievably wearing a leather jacket, nodded.

I shrugged. “No.”

He convulsed, affronted. “You callin’ me a LIAR?” he yelled.


The group moved, but stayed the same. Dodger Cap took a step forward. Only then did I realize I wasn’t an observer, but a participant. The radar I’d developed since childhood had faded to black. This was not banter and I had failed to act before it had gone too far.

Dodger Cap took a wild swing at me. I stepped back and when the guy on my right tried to grab me, I side-stepped and pushed him into the others. He and Dodger Cap went down.

Suddenly heavy metallic clinks broke the muffled silence. Leather Jacket had a length of large-linked chain, a heavy padlock at its end. With two short swings he got it in motion, the others stepped back and he swung at me.

I saw the flash on my left and I ducked. I felt the padlock cut the air above my head and thud into the bricks, chunks and fragments flying. I pivoted and ran, bursting through the group into the parking lot beyond. I ran without looking back, without thinking of anything but distance. I heard vague jeers and a word or two. I didn’t look back. I ran until I was sure they couldn’t follow. I got home in under half an hour.

The anger I kept expecting never came. My usual pattern of self-abuse over any perceived failing never raised its ugly head. I’d fallen out of a useful habit because I had come to believe that the world had changed, that it was fundamentally different, that my past was an anomaly that the present would never enact.

I was wrong. I didn’t even shrug it off: the moment of recrimination simply dropped away like a dead leaf. The radar, that useful habit, came back, like retrieving the old flannel shirt that’s become a second skin.

I kept walking, kept passing through the same area where once seven guys tried to make trouble and seldom gave them another thought. As lessons go, it was relatively painless.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


[Have you ever written anything with a sense of loopy adventure, just going pedal-to-the-metal with the words and seeing where you end up? Well, that could describe most of my writing, but here's a story that seemed to just pour out, as if I were merely transcribing someone else's loopy word adventure.]


            When Pritchard was about to turn 17, he figured out the secret to anti-gravity. Over a furious four weeks between his first kiss with Melanie and his mom's loony "Sweet 17" party (that included a clown, to the utter humiliation of everyone at the party, including the clown), Pritchard (he hated his given name, Percy, so he fixed it) drew up the design, polished the theoretical underpinnings in a 34-page article (never published) and built the prototype, that he tested on Muggs, his loopy bulldog. The dog's maiden, er, flight, caused the poor mutt to vomit and run away for almost a week. The anti-gravity prototype was now disguised as an 8-track player in Pritchard's home-built display of passé technology.
            Between Melanie (who went off to college somewhere in Michigan, while Pritchard stayed near home) and Sally, Pritchard figured out faster-than-light travel, pushed to a superhuman effort in consolidating theoretical physics and what he called "hyperquantic thrust dynamos" for lack of a better name. Sally, a smashing little redhead with birthmarks in the darnest places, was Pritchard's first lover, and the extended post-coital daze dampened Pritchard's other thoughts about FTL travel until Sally joined the Navy and was eventually shipped out to some port in East Asia.
            Pritchard tinkered with hyperspace signals based on string theory tunneling until he met Lois, the tall brunette with the perfect dimples on her (most-often) unseen cheeks. Inspired by Lois' fond memories of her childhood in eastern Louisiana, Pritchard made the conceptual leap between his anti-grav concepts (already proven) and FTL travel (which he tested by sending a 54-inch probe to the Moon and back in 6.4 seconds...twice) to discover that time could be unlinked from gravitational space-time and moved anywhere. After a frenetic series of tests, drafts, edits, rebuilds and several cameras destroyed in tests (though one brought back an intriguing half-picture of what could only be a T-Rex in full attack mode), Pritchard finally got his prototype to work after using parts from his last FTL probe (disguised as an over-sized Sith lightsaber) to power his "time capsule." Two trips later (17th century France, smelly, and 15th century Japan, bloody), Pritchard plonked Lois on his lap and took her back 16 years to the tree-lined Alexandria streets of Lois' childhood home.
            Only to lose her there when she absolutely freaked out after seeing her mom sneak out of their house, climb into Russell Graham's house through the den window and rock his world in a way that made Lois sick and made Pritchard want to get to know Mrs. Killian a helluva lot more.
            With much effort, involving a frantic car chase, a brush with fat, chaw-chewing Southern cops, another couple of looks at the Killian Method for World Rocking and getting Lois blitzed on cheap tequila, Pritchard got them both back to their time/home and took an extra two days to convince Lois her pot dealer was dealing from the bottom, not the top.
            Redecorating the time capsule into a home entertainment center with a rad game system and enough speakers to drown out Spinal Tap, Pritchard gathered the fake 8-track player and the über-nerdy fake lightsaber and tucked them into a hidden panel at the base of the new 72-inch plasma screen he bought for himself from the beaucoup royalties he made on his only patented invention: a cell phone accessory that found your wallet, purse, briefcase, keys, car and nearest coffee shop for you.
            But every once in a while, Pritchard would carefully dismantle the home entertainment system, and use the time capsule, anti-grav and the now-real lightsaber he invented for fun to hit the Cretaceous creatures like a meteor strike, or leave the anti-grav and Sith weapon home and just drop in on Mrs. Killian...for old times' sake.

Monday, November 7, 2011


[It's an awful feeling when you realize you let a great opportunity pass you by.]

Miz Evelyn

Her house was diagonally across from the cemetery where William Faulkner is buried. The house had seen better days (so had Faulkner), but it retained a degree of sober elegance, much like its owner.

Miz Eveleyn was rail-thin, white-haired and her cane was more battering ram than walking stick. She moved slowly but implacably and forced herself to walk around the block on every sunny day; a 5-minute jaunt for me, a 45-minute epic for her.

She spoke clearly and directly, never wasting words. She rented out the second floor of her home because "Money is a tool and I need tools." She selected her tenants on two criteria: "Good manners and good grammar." A former English and literature teacher, she was forever challenging whomever she spoke with to "Drop that 'ain't'" and "Nothing is broken so don't say 'fixing'."

Her two great joys at the end of her life were baked potatoes and pancakes. During that lazy summer, I'd frequently bake a few potatoes and share them with her. A couple of times a week I'd mix up some pancake batter, knock on her door and make breakfast for us. She was always a gracious host and in the battle of wills over who would do the dishes, I won because I raced to the sink ahead of her.

She told me a little about her life. After getting married, she discovered that her husband "Was not good for anything or anyone," so in the mid-20s, in her mid-20s, she went to Europe and bicycled around the continent for two years. She came back because "Europe was headed for disaster." She didn't get a divorce because her husband "did the smart thing and died." I asked her if she missed him and she glared at me and asked "Would you miss a bad toothache?"

Our conversations that summer were frequent, but brief. I had my own interests, whatever they might have been, and Miz Evelyn reminded me too much of my paternal grandmother, in both looks and attitude. I felt drawn and repelled. The months went by, I saw her every day... and yet I didn't really see her.

What could I have learned from a woman who biked around Europe in the Jazz Age? And what could I have learned from a woman who referred to Faulkner as "Billy," as in "Billy was always a brat" and "Billy thought he was clever, but all he ever did was tell secrets?"

Miz Evelyn is gone now, when and how I'll never know. Youth often disdains old age, almost always for the wrong reasons. I missed a golden opportunity to explore a life utterly unlike my own, to live a time that will never return. I once read that what you do and regret you can recover from: what you don't do leaves a regret that never heals. How true.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flash Fiction: ROAMING HOODS

[The thing about flash fiction is that it imposes severe limits on what you can write, in quantity if not in thematic choice. Here's a story that kept trying to grow longer, kept trying to leap beyond my self-shortened leash and howl deep into the forest.]


            He hated being called “Robin Hood.” Robin Hood was a trifling piker while he was a true plunderer, a real robber-man. But that “stealing from the rich to give to the poor” just put a lot of pressure on Roaming John (as he liked to call himself) and incensed him no end. He was much more comfortable with “stealing from the rich and keeping to himself,” but he needed some goodwill from the gentlefolk and so every once in a while he’d hand out some trinkets and coppers. Every time he did so he felt a part of his gut burn as if with lye.
            Roaming John was a big man, broad of shoulder and with a beard that resisted any effort to trim and tame. He carried a sword meant for a giant, and though he often cursed its ungainly weight, he did enjoy the fear it put into nobleman’s eyes when he unsheathed its gleaming length.
            The early months of banditry yielded great gains and a few scars, but as months became years, Roaming John had to roam farther and farther to find booty and avoid capture, by either the King’s men or Robin Hood’s. As his roaming took on the appearance of fleeing, he was forced to spend even more on the poor, tarnishing his reputation beyond easy repair.
In the winter of his fourth year of outlawry, Roaming John holed up in a former nunnery with his tiny band of henchmen. The snow-covered woods were unmarked well past St. Swithin’s Day when a tiny knock was heard at the oak door. Royce of Bergen, he of the very few teeth, opened the door and gaped in surprise. Standing there was a slip of a girl, holding a naked rapier of impressive Damascene steel. Her words were blunt in the icy air: “I’ve come to kill Roaming John.” No laughter would mar this pronouncement. Stepping aside with an eerie courtly air, Royce bowed the girl in. By fortune, Roaming John was passing the oak door and was quickly faced by a rapier’s tip, rock-steady at eye level.
            Roaming John opened his mouth to speak, but Royce’s toothless grimace made him stop. “What is the meaning of this, girl?” he rumbled.
            “You stole our money. I’ve come to kill you and get it back.” The rapier was still.
            Roaming John shook his head. “Mayhaps I did, mayhaps I didn’t. But I cannot let you kill me on a simple claim. Have ye any proof?” The rapier wavered. Trembled. Then dropped to point at the cobbled floor. A trick of the light made it seem as if the girl’s eyes held tears. “I—I lack such—proof. I was merely told my family’s silver had been taken by Roaming John.”
            In a flash, Roaming John pulled out his sword and swung at the girl. Royce was startled into a warning cry, for even such as he was shocked at his leader’s treachery. With the grace of a cat, the girl ducked and rolled, rising to her feet and thrusting so quickly at Roaming John’s neck that he stumbled back. Pressing her advantage, the girl lunged and thrust, forcing the huge man and his sword to struggle to stay intact. “Royce!” bellowed Roaming John.
            With a fluid motion, the girl flung a small pouch behind her, its contents tinkling mutely on the stone floor. “Keep it and stay away!” she commanded. Roaming John’s backward steps ended against a wall and the hellish fury of the girl’s attack pinned the villain until at last, tiring, his massive muscles failed to sweep away the rapier’s tip in time and it buried itself with a meaty thwip into his throat. Gagging and gouting blood, Roaming John collapsed like a fallen tree and died.
            Turning lightly, the girl saw Royce staring agape. Pulling a larger pouch from her leggings, she said “Round up the men. Tell them there’s money now and treasure aplenty on the morrow.”
            Royce nodded dumbly. “Who are ye?”
            The girl smiled. “Maid Marion.”
Royce gaped again. “And what about Robin Hood? He hates us so.”
Marion raised the rapier’s bloody length at Royce and said “He’s dead. In the same way.” She licked the blade and grinned in carmine glee.
            Royce turned to run, stopping not until his feet touched the quiet roots of the distant Black Forest.

Monday, October 31, 2011


[It is seldom easy being the outsider. To make it easy, one has to practice, to accept, to endure. Here is the pivotal point for me: from then on, being the outsider felt easier.]


They howled whenever they saw me, up on that tenth floor. It started out, as it always did, by one guy suddenly noticing that I wasn’t… normal. That in some way—like those odd pictures that hide images you have to find practically cross-eyed—once you’d “seen” me, you couldn’t seem to stop “seeing” me.

I don’t mean that it happened all the time, only that it happened. I made the process easier by having hair that brushed beneath my shoulders, by acting like I didn’t need the world and like the world didn’t need me. I never made much of an effort, if any at all, to fit in, to try to pass as “one of us.” I didn’t care for “us.” So I was always one of “them.”

The guys in the corner room just two doors down from me were “normal.” Three in that room, with friends that came almost every day to share loud music (heavy on hard rock and metal and most of it quite good), beer, some marihuana and a howling session if I happened to drop by.

Because I had an odd routine, we never met in the communal bathroom. I wonder what would have happened if they had walked in while I was showering. A fight, I’m sure. If it’s at least three to one and you’re naked, you negotiate or flee only for further humiliation.

For weeks, they howled. Several times, in the early mornings, they’d pound my door and yell “Wolfman! Hey, Wolfman!,” shout obscenities and howl like maniacs. Once they dragged a protesting young lady “to see the Wolfman.” I opened the door that time, actually carried on a conversation with her and when we’d finished, I heard her ask “Why do you bother him? He’s okay.” Maybe I was.

I superglued their lock shut, even down through the doorplate. Took Campus Services three hours to get it open. The next night, my door was glued. Took the same guy ten minutes to open mine, cursing most of the time. While he worked, we stared at each other, four guys in full understanding that a line had been crossed.

The muttering worker left and as soon as the elevator dinged closed, I walked towards them. Six steps. They backed up, into their room. I stopped at their door and they sat down, ignoring me. The TV came on, one grabbed a magazine and the third pulled at a longneck beer. I stood.

“You started it.”


“You glued our door.” The TV guy wouldn’t turn around.

“You don’t know that.”

They all turned to me. “Who else would do it?” Beer guy sucked at an empty bottle. Nerves.

I shrugged. “Same guy that puts superglue on the toilet seats.”

They started. One of them mumbled morosely. “We’re even.” They looked at me.


“What are you gonna do about it?” Magazine guy was pissed.

I pointed to the lock. “Guess who’s got a master key now?” I walked back to my room and shut the door.

The howling stopped. I even got a surly “Hi” every now and then. It wasn’t peace, but it was tolerance.

Things would have been different if only they figured out that their answer to my question was “Not you.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


[I often start stories seeing just a single image or thinking of one sentence. This one on came about after reading the description of a car crash, where thankfully, no one was injured, but the damage to the vehicles and the premises was huge. What connected that to this is a good question.]


            The battle had started in hyperspace, with temporal bombs—primarily subquantic cores wrapped in antimatter shells—being fired like ancient grapeshot. As the ships were damaged, they dropped out of warp and fired phasers, photon missiles and even a suicide run by a shuttle tug with its warp core disabled to explode via a timing mechanism.

            The badly-crippled ships hovered at cockeyed angles to each other, drifting closer together to meet some time in the future. But for now, with life support compromised, lifeshuttles skipped through the debris, firing laser cannons and scoring infrequently with totally fatal results.

            Eventually, three lifeshuttles made it down to the near-frozen planet, a Type G with scant atmosphere and no life signs. One of the Debengan shuttles lost control as it approached the landing point, rolling and smashing into an icy outcropping. Within seconds, the shuttle exploded.

The Terran shuttle slid onto the icy planet’s surface with a metallic screech, ripped away by the fierce winds. The remaining Debengan shuttle slammed down, bounced and came to a grinding halt. For almost half an hour, nothing moved except snow flurries. Then a blue laser beam shot out from the Debengan shuttle and sliced a chunk of ice near the Terran shuttle’s landing gear. Once again, silence.

            A figure dropped from the Terran shuttle and quickly rolled for cover behind a nearby outcropping. The figure was wearing a heavy suit, equipped with two airtanks on its back. In the right hand, the Terran held a heavy hand phaser, military issue. In the left were “bola packs”, sonic grenades linked by plasteel bands. The bolas could be adjusted for detonations from loud sound to Mach 4 impact capable of shredding steel. Moving in short dashes, the Terran approached the Debengan shuttle, using every inch of cover.

            With a sharp blast, the Debengan shuttle blew out a panel. From the opening emerged a large, gray-covered being, its suit a doubled set of orbs with four tentacles emerging from each orb. Two of the tentacles held a large cannon-like weapon, its opening glowing a hazy blue. Two other tentacles held smaller weapons, each glowing a different shade of red. The being whirled on its suit’s base, the tentacles snapping to point at different targets. The cannon fired one shot, high up against a nearby crag. The impact slammed an avalanche onto the Terran shuttle, smashing it under a blanket of ice.

            The Debengan stood still, then fired the smaller weapons at the only visible part of the Terran shuttle. The red beams converged and made the metal sizzle, then flare into a blazing explosion. The entire area then convulsed with a massive explosion, forcing the Debengan to retreat to avoid the debris.

            As the flurries covered the black scar where the Terran shuttle once stood, the Debengan retrieved the blown panel and began wedging itself back into its own shuttle. The actinic flare of a Terran phaser sliced through the suit’s midsection and the Debengan dropped and fired in an unbelievably fluid motion. The firing stopped as a bola pack landed next to it and exploded, sending a Mach 2 sonic wave against every solid surface nearby. The Debengan felt its insides hammered by a veritable wall of vibrations. It staggered, dropped its weapons and collapsed, quivering horribly. The Terran leaped down from its vantage point on the crag and fired once, slicing the Debengan nearly in half. The ruptured suit released a gush of fluids that steamed in the frozen air, a gush that quickly froze into a muddy stain on the ice.

            Tapping the suit’s chest pack, the Terran said “Lieutenant Grissom reporting. Debengan dead, shuttle recoverable.” Several seconds went by, then: “Excelsior, here. Well done, Casey. Are you injured?”

            The Terran sat on a frozen rock. “Negative. But I have no shuttle.”

            A chuckle was heard before “We barely have a ship. But we can pick you up in fifteen. Hold tight.”

            “Roger.” The Terran looked up at the heavy gray sky and set the timer on her suit for twelve minutes. After that kind of battle, a nap was really a great idea.

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