Title / Description

Data

The Contactors – One Answer to the Fermi Paradox

People wonder: If there’s alien life, why have we never heard from them?  Maybe there’s a good reason. 

2 pages

945 words

5.8 Flesch-Kincaid

25 Aug. 2011

The Veteran  

On a bench, staring into space, sat a veteran of the psychic wars – at least that’s what his uniform claimed.  Austin said that there had never been such a thing, but I wondered…   

2¼ pages

1367 words

4.2 Flesch-Kincaid

18 June 2009

In a Rustwreck 

He left the security of the Abbey for a life with the streetlings.  As long as none of them knew where he had come from, he could be part of the crew.  If they ever found out…

6 pages

2900 words

5.1 Flesch-Kincaid

9 Sept. 2011

No Sign of Industrial Activity 

Mix a young pilot newly assigned to a remote airfield, an attractive but lonely commander, and a routine surveillance mission.  On a world in which human genes have become mixed with animal, what could go wrong? 

  pages

3740 words

5.0 Flesch-Kincaid

30 Nov 2012

The Butcher of Del Mar Rae  

A war criminal or a desperate hero?  The interview or interrogation, whichever one preferred to call it, would tell. 

4 ½ pages

1331 words

4.2 Flesch-Kincaid

1998

Pretty Quiet around Here  

Something peculiar was going on around the mountain farm he was trying to buy.  People were afraid – but why? 

2¾ pages

1849 words

4.1 Flesch-Kincaid

13 Sept. 2011

The End of the Journey  

Even if any residents of Rookers had been out before breakfast in the cold clear air of the mountain heights, it is doubtful they would have seen the Flier.  He held his distance as he examined their city, holding onto the aluminum bars of his manglider with thick, furred mittens.  The rattling and flapping of the glider was loud enough to him, even through his thick leather helmet, also fur-lined, but he knew it would be inaudible below.  He scrutinized the city through goggles, which kept his tears from freezing on his eyes. 

Rookers ran along the crest of a gray granite ridge for nearly a mile, a long, thin city.  Only three to five tightly clustered buildings straddled the ridge at any width, and each resident, if he or she had come to the door, would look out on the ruddy, crumbling tiles of the neighbor’s roof below.  Beneath the lowest home on each side of the crest, a sheer precipice fell away.  Looking for signs of activity, the Flier gazed down at their windows and doorways, each one trimmed with a painted line of bright blue or red. 

2½ pages

1154 words

5.7 Flesch-Kincaid

2008

Descending the Ladder  

A probe from Earth brought our culture.  It helped them raise themselves out of the problems of an extremely difficult climate.  But can culture be transplanted?  What would long-term effects would our culture have on an entirely non-human civilization?

A fight broke out behind the schoolhouse, and Druer, the teacher, had to go out to the playground and break it up.  He arose with some anger from his desk, stalked through the empty crowd of students’ tables, and stamped into the coatroom at the back of the schoolhouse.  His anger, however, vanished as he opened the door to the outside.  From the coatroom door, he saw that the fight was over.  The two combatants now hung from the massive hands of Mr. Thornapple. 

“Aren’t you supposed to be controlling these kids?” roared Mr. Thornapple.  “What do we pay you a salary for?  To sit at your desk while these kids turn into animals?” 

3¼ pages

2182 words

5.1 Flesch-Kincaid

16 June 2011

Five Years is Almost Forever  

Five years after she had run out on him, she was standing on his porch.  He thought he would never see her again.  Maybe he shouldn’t have.  He knew he couldn't let her in...  knew he must not. 

3 pages

1175 words

2.6 Flesch-Kincaid

31 July 2011

The Spider Arrived on Meerce Street  

Sometime in the night or early morning while I slept, Republican forces advanced to Twenty-Eighth Street without my knowledge.  I took a moment to reflect on how odd that was: Had the military advance occurred in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Century, it would have been made with mounted cavalry followed by foot soldiers, which I still might not have heard, because I was a little drunk; but had it occurred in the Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century, it would have been proclaimed with artillery, and I hadn’t been that drunk; while an advance in the late Twentieth or early Twenty-first Century would have been loudest of all, with explosives dropped from jets followed by columns of tanks, which would have wakened all but the comatose.  Last night’s military advance was the mere electronic reassignment of a robotic kill zone.  Since I had turned off my radio, I had missed the notification.  I slept through it. 

4 pages

2000 words

5.0 Flesch-Kincaid

June 2013

Strange Folk  

They were strange folk, no doubt.  Still, they seemed good people, willing to share a meal and a roof with a traveler. They had slowed their truck down as they passed him on a dirt road between two farms, way off the highway.  He remembered there had been horses in the field to the left, fenced in with barbed wire strung between ancient posts.  On the right had been a high hedgerow.  His eyes, however, were on the back of the truck where the three daughters, enchantingly beautiful, held out their eager hands to help him aboard. 

2 pages

1494 words

4.3 Flesch-Kincaid

28 Dec 2012

We Don’t Use that Word in this House  

“I don’t want to hear you use that word again,” Wilson said, “not in my house.  The word parasite is for invertebrates, not intelligent beings.”  

His eyes remained on his daily work, accounting sheets displayed in crystal diodes, but the glowering, silent stance of his son overpowered the mute numerals.  “We’re not bigots in this house,” he said at last to Stephen.  “There’s an end to it.” 

His fingers entered in a few more subtotals, and then the stillness burned into him.  His son wasn’t leaving.  Wilson thought.  The boy would be getting his own ambassador soon.  He was probably feeling the stress.  He turned away from his work, gave his son his full attention. 

“Don’t let the anxiety get to you.  It’s natural to be apprehensive about the unknown, I know, but we’ve found a balance – a way to live.  They’re not so bad once you get to know one.” 

“I don’t want to get to know one.  I want to be free.”  

Wilson gave out a sigh with a grimace.  It was too late in the evening for this type of conversation.  Like all adults of the colony, he was acutely aware of his ambassador’s depth of perception.  It would never know what conversations he had in the morning.  He was at liberty to blow off a little steam then.  In the afternoon, it could be dodgy.  He tended to watch what he said.  But in the evening?  Why couldn’t the boy use any sense?  When the ambassador connected to his brain, it would know. 

 

 

2½ pages

1394 words

5.7 Flesch-Kincaid

1 Oct 2012

 

After Dark

I’ve got two major flaws.  One is that I never ask for help.  The other is I’ve never been tactful.  It just wasn’t in my skill set.  But after I had seen the thing all night and most of the day, out of the corner of my eyes, in dark recesses of unlit rooms, I overcame one of my flaws and went to Angelia for help.  I didn’t overcome the second.  As she washed the dishes, I leaned toward her, grinning until I had her attention, then said, “Last night Mark and me went out to seek the voices.”

Yeah.  Not cool, not tactful.  And I said it with as straight a face as anything, as though it were normal and I thought she should be excited about it or something.  I suppose she should have slapped me, but she was probably too shocked to make any response at all.  I saw the look on her face.  She just stared. 

I thought of telling her it was all just a joke.  Then I saw it again, just a glimpse.  It was behind her, crouching in the darkness.   

2½ pgs,

1553 words

 3.3 Flesch-Kincaid

27 Sept 2012

Morning Departure

When Brentz put on his coat in the morning, he said, “I’d like to think that when I come home tonight, you’ll still be here.” 

“I’ll be here forever and ever,” Fae said, “as long as you never bring anyone home nor ever talk about me outside this house.” 

Brentz momentary forgot that his right arm was moving through his sleeve, searching for the cuff-hole.  He froze.  He knew what her request meant: She was an Intruder, a stowaway, a refugee from their dying homeworld.   

Generation Starship was the only craft that could make it to safety.  The many smaller craft that had desperately swarmed around them were just too slow to endure the vast emptiness between stars.  Their systems were not closed tightly enough to keep water and gasses from escaping, even if it were only a few molecules at a time.  The time required for travel to the nearest system was also longer than their ability to balance oxygen and carbon dioxide, food and waste. 

Their own behemoth vessel gathered fuel as it went, and as it pulled into the icy outer realms of the system, it began to distance itself from its escorts.  Some of these smaller ships forced dockings.  Swarms of refugees boarded.  Sometimes they tried to seize control.  More often, they just tried to disperse into the population.  Most encounters ended violently.  Their planners had measured everything, calculated precisely.  Generation Starship could not allow any more people aboard.  Brentz believed the news channels when they said that all boarders had been killed within days of their forced docking. 

Brentz finished putting on his coat.  He had been turning away from her, toward the door, but stopped.  This was important.  Brentz took her in his arms, let her look directly into his eyes.  He kissed her. 

“I’ll see you tonight.” 

He held her for a moment before ducking through the door, out into the corridors of the ship, away to work. 

He didn’t tell her he was a cop. 

 finis

1 page

333 words

5.4 Flesch-Kincaid

30 January 2013

In the works:

 

Roundup

As soon as the villagers had seen the Overmasters’ ships above them, they stampeded.  Gregor and the other rustlers stayed hidden just within the forest’s shade.  They watched the chromium capture ship swing through the sky to cut them off.  The great doors in the ship’s belly opened.  The enclosure mechanism fell.  It landed in the people’s path, its posts drove down deep into the earth.  As quickly as the posts had fallen, the fencing expanded between them like a bird spreading its wings.  The escaping humans stalled.  It was obviously a corral.  Some began to make moves toward the sides. 

Gregor raised his coiled whip above his head: “Let’s go!”  

A xampfel was a terrible beast to face on foot.  A charge of twenty barbarians riding them, driving forward with whips, was overwhelming.  These wild humans didn’t have a chance, but the Overmasters would teach them how to behave; they would teach all the humans.  But that would be after they received the collar of obedience.  Until then, the Overmasters relied on human rustlers. 

Gregor guffawed and cracked his whip.  “Round `em up, boys!” he cried. 

 

Safety Spell

My mother was arguing with Katalla, our local shaman, on the far side of the berry fields.  It wasn’t the first time.  My mother had given some healing herbs to a neighbor, and Katalla considered that his exclusive territory.  The problem was that many people in our village were terrified of the old witch doctor. 

Katalla’s jealousy had the opposite result that he intended: It actually increased my mother’s involvement in magic.  Before the old man threatened my mother, she knew only some herbal healing and a few ordinary spells.  As the sorcerer’s tirades grew more ferocious, my mother’s fear grew and she bought a talisman with a powerful spell on it.  She travelled to a distant village for it, and then hid it in our hut. 

As their argument grew louder, I kept my head down, filling up my berry basket.  Then a heard what sounded like a roar and a scream.  I slowly raised my eyes.  My mother was growing, swelling.  Her face distorted and her nails became claws.  The witch doctor had changed her into a troll!  Her eyes roved for prey and they settled on the only living thing around – me.  I knew I had to reach that talisman or die.  n

 

Hot Pocket

Ichari knew that his girl had carried him into a city.  He heard the noise and commotion long before she approached the marketplace.  He slithered up her blouse and she felt his dry, smooth dragon scales wrap around her neck.  She smiled gently and patted the tiny dragon’s face until he withdrew into her collar, still able to see, but no longer drawing attention from the villagers. 

“Be quiet,” said his girl, “and don’t let out any little puffs of smoke.  We have to find the boy with the red turban.” 

The dragon obeyed, but kept watch. 

 

 

That Ball of Light

When we stopped for the night, I already had a plan: I was going to take care of Molly, my horse, and then I was going to have a serious talk with that Ball of Light.  The mare was a thousand pounds, but old and gentle; I staked her to a picket where she could reach several yards of soft, green vegetation.  Then I yanked the tent from the wagon and flomped it onto the ground a great deal harder than was needed.  I could see the Ball of Light floating toward me, so I turned away from it.  I didn’t want to make eye-contact now – I wasn’t going to see any more visions until I said my piece. 

“Look,” I said, “I’ve done everything you’ve wanted.”  

I stretched the canvas onto the forest floor and threw a stake out to each corner.  The mallet felt good in my hand and I gave the first stake a mighty womp.  The Ball of Light floated closer, then hovered over my head.  I kept my eyes down. 

“I got the ring from the witch,” I said, “even though she wanted to kill me.  And I got the book from the wizard even though he tried to trap me in a crystal.”  Now I stopped and looked directly at the Ball of Light.  “But if you’re wanting me to kidnap a girl, I’m going to have to know a little bit more on what this is all about.” 

 

Houseguests

A badger – I’d say three and a half feet tall – stood on his hind legs in my bathroom.  It was using my toothbrush.  He wore a dark purple bathrobe I had never seen before.  He opened his mouth a crack: “Mind shutting the door, pal?” 

“That’s my toothbrush,” I said. 

He turned his face back to the mirror and gently pushed the door shut with one paw. 

I stood staring at the door for a moment.  “I need a strong cup of coffee,” I said out loud. 

I made my way to the kitchen. 

Someone was standing at the fridge, someone shorter than the door, so I couldn’t see a face, but I could see two very fuzzy ears poking up. 

“Hey!” I said. 

A three-foot squirrel peeped around the door.  “Yeah?”

I didn’t say anything immediately, and the squirrel and I stared at each other.

Then he said, “You know this milk is out of date?” 

 

 

Mission of Rime  

When ice breaks, it makes a groaning or grinding sound, a noise one gets used to after ice fishing for any time.  So, on Thursday, although the groaning was louder than the Northern Sea usually gives, I didn’t even turn around.  Ice fishing had bored me into lethargy.  Then the ice erupted skyward.  Splinters larger than my entire body rose higher than the naked trees on the shore.   

I ran.  The ice blocks crashed behind me and a dark wave of frigid water overwhelmed my fishing hole, taking all my tackle and gear.  I was halfway to shore when I looked back.  A face pushed its way through the ice, a face ten feet high.  Shoulders followed, and the ice shattered and clattered around them. 

It was Rime, Lord of the Northern Sea.  I had heard about him since I was a child.  He was the Great Spirit that cared for my people and fed them fish from the icy depths.  He was also the One that claimed them in blizzards and welcomed them below the ice when it broke.  He was blue, a light, shining blue of ice.  Although his waist remained below the water, he towered some forty feet above me.  I stopped running and threw myself onto the ice.  When all was quiet, he spoke. 

“I have something for you, Tummai of the North Woods,” he said.  I froze upon hearing my name.  “I have a mission for you, and something to help you complete it.”   

 

In the Southern Mists    

She had on bib overalls, frayed at the edges, thinned by work and bleached by the southern sun.  Her dark skin was like thin leather.  The reporter’s notes said she was ninety three years old, but the woman’s eye was sharp and her lips mostly tight.  When she spoke, she didn’t give away much. 

“Last time I was out to visit you,” the reporter said, “you told me you had lived here between the cemetery and the swamp your whole life and never saw anything strange in either place – not once.” 

The old woman shifted in her straight-backed wooden chair.  “That was before,” she said. 

The reporter clicked on the MP3 recorder.  “Before what?” 

“Cancer: I’ve got to get my story out soon or Timmy would a died for nothing.”  

 

The Witch’s Jewel 

Trandor knew that the prince had hidden the Witch’s Jewel in his own bedchamber, high in the east tower of the castle.  The maid Eselda had told him.  She was an old woman, a cleaning servant in the castle, but Trandor knew she was loyal to the forest people.  If he could get his hands on the jewel, the evil prince would be stripped of his power, and his people would be safe.  Now he only needed a plan. 

 

Night Shift

Around two AM, a homeless fellow had tried to sleep under the back stairs, but otherwise the night shift had been boring as usual at the old hotel.  The elderly chap had been sleepy-tipsy, but he shuffled off when I told him to move it.  I was glad I didn’t have to call the town cops out to put him in the drunk tank.  When I was sure he had moved on, I continued my rounds, eventually reaching the front staircase, the majestic one in all the advertisement photos.  I had just pulled out my radio to check in.  I had my eyes on the little screen as I started up the stairs, and it took a second for me to realize someone was coming down.  I looked up. 

Her feet weren’t touching the floor.  Her ashen face and pale dress were just the slightest bit translucent. 

“Samuel Morrison,” the spirit said. 

That was my name. 

My jaw dropped open. 

 

The Scars of the Ordinary

Ordinary people are covered in scars.  From the things we’ve done to ourselves.  That’s normal.  Take Michael for example.  OK, maybe Michael’s an extreme case since he lost an eye, but his scars are nothing beyond normal.  His left temple and cheekbone and brow are covered in ropey, white grow-back stuff.  On the opposite side of his face, it’s clear that both lips had been torn and healed back and not quite right neither.  That was from a fight on the beach.  I was there.  This other guy picked up an old can and did his lip, but Michael did him in the end.  The facial stuff is from some sliding when his motorcycle went down.  The eye from when he left the road and slid into the sticks. 

So that’s what I’m saying.  It’s what’s normal.  I myself am missing my left pinky and ring finger, and there’s a chunk above my ear where no hair will ever grow.  The scars on my face are smaller, but people have done stuff to me where it doesn’t show.  It’s normal.  Life’s not like it was back in the twenty-teens or twenty-twenties, when people grew up all nice on some farm or something.  It’s twenty-thirty-six for cripe’s sake. 

That’s what made her weird.  She just didn’t have any scars.  We figured her parents were in some weird cult - Protestants maybe.  When Nina was smaller, they actually made her wear dresses.  Now she’s older, and she still wears them.  She listens to folk music.  I’m telling you, there’s something really wrong here. 

 

The Third Wish

We were led to believe that the first two wishes went horribly astray, but that the third wish cured all ills.  Perhaps there was more to that third wish than we knew. 

 

30 Billion Miles from Home  

When the ship’s computer aroused her from hypersleep, Saran moved her tongue around but didn’t open her eyes.  Her mouth felt like the dry dust from her grandfather’s basement.  The plexi bubble over her sleeper opened and she opened her eyes, then sat up.  The ship was further from Sol now than any human ship had gone before, but she didn’t revel in her achievement, she just wanted orange juice.  The other stasis pods were open already, but she didn’t worry about her crewmates missing her.  Saran was going to have breakfast before reporting to work – breakfast with coffee, lots of coffee.  After her fifth cup, she stuffed the last of the toast into her mouth and addressed the computer. 

“Computer, patch me through to Captain Wallace.” 

“Captain Wallace is not aboard the Far Explorer,” the computer said.

Saran stopped chewing.  Not on board the ship? 

“First Mate Johnson, then,” she said. 

“First Mate Johnson is not aboard the Far Explorer,” the computer said. 

Saran dropped her coffee. 

 

 

Images

Jordy threw his suitcase on the big bed, very square, with the coverlet perfectly turned back by the hotel maid.  He flipped on the television.  The news burst forth, a protest or disturbance; someone had been killed.  Jordy was too exhausted to focus on it, but just let the noise fill the room.  Next to the phone was a little folder of advertisements, several of them for take-out.  He pondered his choices tonight – Chinese or pizza? 

The TV camera zoomed in on the scene on a downtown street.  Police pushed back a crowd.  Something caught Jordy’s eye.  With just a glimpse, something in the back of his brain had identified an image in the crowd.  One of those faces had been someone he knew.  He peered closer. 

The face appeared again. 

A shock ran through him. 

The face was his own face. 

The image of himself glared, not only obviously conscious of the camera, but Jordy felt certain his doppelganger knew he was watching.  The image turned away, looked back over his shoulder.  Then the stranger pulled at him with his forefinger, beckoned to him. 

 

The Necklace 

“Elizabeth’s got a spell on her.” 

“Everybody’s got a spell on them these days.” 

“Hers is interesting.  Do you want to hear?” 

“No.” 

“Her rival gave her a necklace as a wedding present.  She was a Spanish woman, and bitter that she had lost the man that was to become Elizabeth’s husband.” 

“Then this Elizabeth was a fool to accept it.” 

“Ah, but she did.  And once she put it on, she was under its power.  She cannot take it off, or her husband will die.” 

“I suppose there is a consequence for leaving it on as well?” 

“Of course: As long as she wears it, she will have nightmares every night.”  

“That doesn’t seem so bad.” 

“And sleepwalking.” 

“Still, could be worse.”   

“It is.” 

 

Plane Down    

Michael Raven-Feather had seen the smoke in the distance and had turned his dogsled toward it.  He had lost sight of it in the dense forest, but now, as he pulled into the valley clearing, he caught sight of it again.  He called his dogs to a halt.  It was an airplane, crashed and smoking.  There had been a fire, but a small one.  Survivors could still be in that wreck, but they would likely need help to survive the negative temperatures coming that night.  He mushed on, and when he arrived at the plane, he saw that he was right.  A woman sat before it, wearing a dress suit and shoes appropriate for clean, tiled floors. 

“Do you have a radio?” she asked.

He shook his head. 

“How far to one?” 

“Winston Station,” he said, “three, four days.” 

 

Never Too Far

The Persian handed Seljuk a tiny casket, circular, two inches across.  It was made of gold and inscribed with magical symbols. 

“Smell,” said the old man. 

Seljuk hesitated.  A fugitive for over a month now, hunted by the Emperor’s men, he had learned to be suspicious.  However, he had sought out the Persian for his powers.  If he didn’t dare to trigger the spell, how would he even know whether Dena was even alive?  He inhaled deeply. 

His surroundings vanished.  Dena stood before him, at the entrance to the Hallway of Women in the Sultan’s Palace.  Seljuk now knew that he could slip back into the city and rescue her. 

The vision cleared, and he was once again on the stony riverbank. 

“As long as fluid remains in the casket,” said the Persian, “you can inhale its vapors and see her.  But when the fluid is gone, so will the visions be.”   n

 

The Book Imp

I found the first piece of him stuck between the pages of an old book in our high school library.  I thought at first it was an apple stem, left behind by some careless reader munching years ago, but it was bent, with a little knuckle at the joint.  So maybe a twig.  I flicked at it with my fingernail.  It skittered across the book’s paper and onto the desk of the carrel, bounced off the carrel’s back wall.  That’s when I saw the fingers. 

I looked again.  The little stick had a knot in the end, looking just like a tiny fist tightened into a ball.  Could it be a desiccated bird’s foot?  How weird.  I picked it up between my thumb and forefinger. 

It wiggled. 

I dropped it immediately, startled.  It creeped me out to feel that thing squirm.  It had my full attention now. 

That was only the first piece.  I found another.  And they connected.  By themselves. 

 

Artificial Affections

I didn't know until the end that she was artificial.  I might have guessed it.  There were signs.  The day I met her however, my life depended on her aid, and she was, in addition, very beautiful. 

 

Specter Soldier

He tied the nine rods of ash wood in a bundle, tied four times, each time with a strip of cloth from one of his missing daughters, then he looped his house key onto a leather thong made from the skin of a rabbit and slipped it around his neck.  That was for the return to this world.  He grasped his only weapon, a knife made of glass, then he drew the circle around him and began to chant the spell that would take him across, to the otherworld where his daughters had been taken. 

 

Report on the Findings of the Diomedes Team    

“Alanson and I were there, the last of the Diomedes team after the creatures destroyed the base.  And now Alanson’s dead.  So, no: I have no proof, but the tale I tell is true.”  

“And you no longer have the samples.” 

“No – unfortunately all of the life samples were lost.  But we did extract them, and Dr. Alanson analyzed them with the equipment he brought.  They were without doubt DNA-based.” 

The lecture hall erupted.  Scientists from eight worlds shouted each other down.  The chairman beat his gavel.  After a moment, the lecture hall was silent again. 

“But that can only mean that the samples originated from Earth,” the lead interrogator said, “because no alien life form has ever been DNA-based.” 

Another scientist stood.  “It is impossible that the samples were native.  Your team contaminated them.  Only the Diomedes team carried the humans out so far!” 

“Let me tell you how it happened….

 

Hansel’s House

People that come to Antarctica tend to be mal-adjusts of one sort or another.  Think about it: What type of personality is attracted to the idea of being shut indoors with a small team of people, unable to escape for months at a time? 

Hansel was, of course, an exception.  He was gone now, taken off to Oslo.  The Norwegian team found him sitting comfortably in front of his house, dead and desiccated.  One of their scientists had described him as an upright-walking rhinoceros and another as an aardvark with three-fingered hands (all six of them opposable thumbs), but in spite of this, Hansel was quite unrelated to rhinos, mammals, vertebrates, or even turnips.  He was unquestionably, undeniably alien. 

The Oslo Center, which had given him the nickname “Hansel,” had determined that he was not DNA-based.  Neither was his body built up of cells.  Instead, microscopically, his tissues consisted of bundles of sticks.  The investigators believed that the sticks grew at both ends until they broke in the middle, then they sloughed off just as dead skin did.  But this is not about Hansel.  It’s about his house.  Or more correctly, the mystery of his house.  It was cleverly built, but not beyond the skills of a Neolithic human; yet Hansel, clearly capable of interplanetary travel (and more likely interstellar travel) had been living alone in this simple stone house in Antarctica’s Dry Valley.  Why? 

 

Tagger’s Backpack   

Dinosaur and I kept our art supplies right in the old building, since bringing them home would have got us in trouble, and we wouldn’t want to walk through the streets with a knapsack full of spray-paint cans anyway.  They make a distinctive noise. 

We were up to the fifth floor.  We didn’t do the first floor – it was filthy and too open to the public – so we began with the second and now had three full floors of fully decorated walls.  That used about a quadrillion cans of paint. 

“Guess what,” I said. 

“Tell me.”

“I joined the Navy.” 

Dinosaur stopped tagging the wall. 

“You suck!” he shouted. 

“Why?” 

“I thought we told each other everything.  Don’t tell me you just woke up one day and signed up.  You’ve been thinking about this for a long time.  You held out on me.  Ain’t I your friend?” 

Dinosaur grabbed my backpack and threw it at me.  I ducked.  It sailed through the window, its glass having been gone for decades. 

“That was my backpack!”

The screech of car brakes erupted below, then a crash.  We both rushed to the window.  Below us, in the alleyway, a van lay on its side.  My backpack had gone through its windshield.  Little slips of paper, looking remarkably like money, fluttered out.  It was money.  There were hundreds of bills.  We looked at each other. 

 

Communing with the Tribal Ones

We come down from time to time as Skuri and commune with the tribal ones.  As usual, once I sink into the cytometal, I become one with the Skuri.  I stop breathing and the Skuri feeds my tissues with the oxygen it needs, the sugars, the proteins, the complex carbohydrates, all of it.  As my human senses vanish, I begin to see and hear and register a dozen other senses through the portals of the Skuri.  I am now a creature eighteen feet tall and indestructible.  It is easy to forget one’s human self.  Forgetting my human self, I stalked off through the forest toward the tribal village. 

 

At the Airport

Mike was looking around like he expected something to go wrong at the last minute, and it did.  Arione knew she had to help him get the package aboard, and the struggled for ten minutes before they had it stowed.  The rain was picking up. 

“Get in the plane,” he said. 

“What’s in there?” 

Mike stopped once again and gazed around the night-shrouded airfield.  Arione didn’t like it.  He was just too nervous, especially when she knew how calm he had been for the last three years, in spite of the mob creeps he worked with.  This was something different.

Two men burst out from the door at the foot of the terminal.  They had guns drawn. 

“Halt!” one of them shouted. 

Mike spun.  Arione was shocked to see a pistol in his hand; more shocked to see him firing it.  Three shots; three shots more.  The two men ducked back into the building, but one of them was helping the other. 

“Get in!” he cried. 

She scrambled up the wing and into the pilot’s seat.  He followed. 

“Mike!” she said.  “You’re bleeding!  Were those cops?” 

“No,” he said, gripping his shoulder to stop the flow.  “Iranian secret service.” 

 

City Flight

He dropped the weapon and ran.  He ran blindly, and without thinking.  When he had bolted through three blocks of the worst part of town, he stopped running and turned, facing the distant alley where he had found the body.  Why on Earth had he touched the gun?  He knew better.  Now his fingerprints were all over it.  That left only one thing that Dave could do: He would have to go back and wipe off the prints before the police showed up.  He reached the alley turned the corner, and stepped out into the open.  He stopped suddenly.  A beat police sergeant had arrived, probably on foot.  He had heard no siren.  The cop looked up and saw Dave.  Dave turned and ran. 

 

Behind Enemy Lines    

Blood spattered his flight goggles at the same instant the pain exploded in his left forearm.  Robert screamed and doubled himself forward in his cockpit.  He didn’t need a doctor to know that the 7.92mm bullet from the Messerschmitt 109 had shattered the bone, or that he was losing blood.  His engine choked.  His Hawker Hurricane was going down – down into Nazi-occupied France.  Robert tugged at the controls, pulled upward, vainly trying to slow his descent.  Thick oily smoke erupted into the canopy.  He ejected. 

 

Reappearance

She had been the mayor of that small town year after year, and although she was a career politician, she had done only one corrupt act in her life. 

Several years ago, in the autumn, the police had caught a young man cooking up crank in a tiny apartment; she had worked behind the scenes to have the police drop charges against him.  She had no regard for him – he was a lowlife dirt bag.  The town, however, she had to protect.  It was a tourist town, and the economy was already bad.  This sort of news could just kill them.  She made the arrangements: one of the sheriff’s deputies would put that young man on the bus to Arizona.  He would be warned that if he ever returned, he would face charges. 

It was only later that she learned the police chief’s daughter had been in the apartment, and that she had been a real mess.  In the years since, she had begun to wonder if that boy had ever made it to the bus station.  Might a sheriff’s deputy – just maybe, could he have made that boy disappear forever?  And

 

Leaks

I know what they did because I jumped a brainjack when I was fifteen.  My own mother did me.  She was planning on leaving my father, and she wanted a clean start, she said, cut all the former strings – a new life, y’know?  So she was just going to erase all my memories of our former life.  I was mad as anything that she wanted to make me go through all that, but I didn’t let on.  Right then and there I planned to backup all my memories on a hard stick and hide it in my schoolwork.  I knew I’d find the stick later access the memories, and jump the brainjack.  When I did, I got my first memory cracks.  I’ve had these leaks ever since. 

 

Woman of the Wolf    

I had been in the far north far too long. 

I was required to keep in touch, reports and chats with Pieter Bruegel two or three times a week.  He’s my commander along the northern border, but he’s also an old friend.  The accommodations weren’t too primitive.  I mostly fed myself – moose and salmon and a small garden, but I had a charge account and could order supplies online, dropped from a small plane every third week.  My cabin was equipped with both solar and wind power, and I had the Internet, sure, but I hadn’t seen a human form in over two years.  I should have brought a dog; then I wouldn’t have fed the wolf.  I would have shot it. 

It was dying.  I brought it into the cabin and nursed it back to health.  When she could walk, she hung around the yard for five days, playing with me like a husky or German shepherd would.  Then it was gone. 

About two weeks later, I saw her – not the wolf, a woman.  I had gone deep into the forest looking for gamebirds.  I sat in a blind, waiting and watching.  A feeling crept up on me that I was being watched.  I turned.  She stood about fifty yards off, clearly observing me.  Calmly, she turned back to the forest and vanished.  I ran after her but found nothing. 

I wondered if I should report this to Pieter.  If he thought I was losing it, he could pull me from my post.  But what if she were the enemy, crossing the border, scouting me out? 

 

Street Duty

Rodriguez and I had street duty Thursday afternoon, out on the Kharji Emergency Quarter.  Since the Kharji arrived on Earth, the government had carved out a separate place for them to live, but we administered it.  Neither one of us were rookies; Rod had seen plenty of action.  It was obvious from the start that something was up.  There was no one on the streets, neither humans nor Kharji.  I adjusted my full-spectrum glasses to look for tracks and other evidence that someone had been out within the past few hours.  I couldn’t spot a sign anywhere.  I knew I was getting a little jumpy, so I kept my finger off the trigger and the barrel pointed down. 

 

The War between my Brothers

The war between my brothers was growing beyond my father’s control.  I had little doubt that my father knew something about it, but I was the one that went off to work with them every day.  Look at the photograph here.  Jerry’s the one with the grin.  You can tell he’s got the Devil in him just from that grin.  From kindergarten on, he was pulling some girl’s pigtails or fighting with some boy.  Too often, he was beating on Silas. 

Silas is the one in the middle.  He was different, you know – artistic, soft, and tender with women – the opposite of Jerry in every way.  To a man like Jerry, Silas was a target waiting for torment. 

I stand next to my father – there, on the right.  I was the oldest.  I should have stopped what was happening.  It was my job to keep order and keep Little Tommy safe.  He shouldn’t have been hurt.  That’s Little Tommy’s on the left.  We all called him “little” because of the way he acted, but he was almost a grown man.  He wasn’t quite right.  He didn’t know any better than a third-grader.  The battles between Jerry and Silas should never threatened him.  n

 

The Mancart  

In the early morning hours, after the drunks had staggered home and before the early morning workers trudged off to work, the cart rolled into town.  Although no one saw it with their eyes, there were many witnesses.  An old man lay on his bed and heard it creaking across the pavement as he stared at the cracked plaster ceiling.  He and others commented later that the sound kept them mesmerized.  The old man said afterwards that it struck him that it did not create a single continuous noise, but rather a forward creaking, creaking.  One woman described it as slithering, like an enormous snake moving across paving stones covered lightly with wet sand.  Others thought that went a little too far.  No one heard the sound of hooves, neither of a large animal such as a horse or donkey, nor the small hooves of a goat.  The cart noises were too large to be a dogcart, so it was agreed upon in the morning that it was a hand cart, or, as some called it, a man cart.

 

Followed  

Now she wished she had listened to her grandmother.  Her grandmamma had told her to carry pepper spray when she moved to the city.  Maybe it was just that cute guy that had closed down the coffee shop where she worked.  She had noticed him, and he had certainly noticed her.  But even if it were him, was she safe?  She was still three blocks from home.  She glanced back.  He was still there. 

The Secrets Kids Keep    

“Can ya keep a secret?” 

Mere smiled.  Little kids were so cute.

“Of course,” Mere said. 

“I can do stuff,” the child said.  “I can do stuff nobody else can do.” 

Mere tried to think of what hidden talent this little girl could have. 

“Of course,” Mere said, “we all can.  I can play the bassoon.  Not many people can do that.” 

The girl’s smile only grew bigger. 

“I can do stuff nobody else can do.” 

War Zone

Sometime in the night or early morning while I slept, Republican forces advanced to Twenty-Eighth Street without my knowledge.  I took a moment to reflect on how odd that was. Had the advance occurred in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Century, it would have been made with mounted cavalry followed by foot soldiers, and I still might not have heard it, because I’m a heavy sleeper.  Had it occurred in the Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century, it would have been proclaimed with artillery, and I’ve never been that heavy of a sleeper; an advance in the late Twentieth or early Twenty-first Century would have been loudest of all, with explosives dropped from jets followed by columns of tanks, which would have wakened all but the comatose.  Last night’s military advance, however, was the mere electronic reassignment of a robotic kill zone.  I had turned off my radio in the evening.  I slept through it. 

what if his spirit was not at rest?

The Landing Zone  

They were on us from setdown.  Scouts had radioed ahead that it was a green landing zone – safe.  When two-thirds of our troops were on the ground, the dark of the forest around the craft began sparkling with deadly fire.  The glade was dotted here and there with a wildflower like Indian paintbrush, and the blood of my comrades was joining them.  We had set down directly into a rebel ambush. 

Detective Taul

“Who found the body?” 

Detective Taul didn’t look up from the victim, but just waited for the answer.  The victim was a woman in her late forties, dressed in evening dress, expensive, her jewelry still intact.  It looked real. 

“Construction foreman,” said his sergeant.  “Came in this morning ready to pour the cement floor.  Would have buried her for good, too, but he had to use the john.  Took a short cut across the floor and stepped on something squishy under the sand.” 

“Clearly not a robbery,” said Taul.  “More interested in hiding the body than getting the loot.  The perp knew they’d be pouring concrete this morning.” 

The Junk in the Trunk   

What a steal, he thought.  What a dealmaker I am.  Imagine that schmuck selling me this car for only two thousand bucks!  With this kind of mileage! 

His smile beamed broader than the golden oat fields he drove through.  Jorin headed out of that town and onto the highway and let her open up.  A thumping came from the rear of the car. 

What the heck! he thought, breaking down already?  That hillbilly better not have sold me a car with bad bearings!  

The thumping started again. 

Wait – that’s not mechanical: That’s something alive – in the trunk! 

He quickly pulled over onto the gravel shoulder. 

Driver Down   

I should have been paying more attention to the road and less to my satellite radio, or I would’ve realized those first pops were pistol shots.  My head jerked up.  I swiveled my eyes around and saw I had a motorcycle on either side of my car.  The bullets were coming from my left; a large-caliber pistol pointed my way, held by a man in a plum T-shirt and jeans, his black hair flapping in the freeway wind.  I jerked my head to the right.  A woman in black leather was ducking beside me, using my car as cover.  My back left window crashed in.  The man with the plum shirt fired three blasts straight through my Corvette.  She ducked, hugging her Triumph’s fuel tank.  I ducked too, but my eye caught her spilling onto the grassy shoulder to the right.  Plum shirt revved it high and sped off.  I pulled to the side, stopped, threw the door open.  The woman was alive.  She was getting up slowly, as if in pain, and lifting the bike.  n

When are You Coming Home?    

Mom wasn’t home, which was unusual, so I was free.  I left my backpack in the kitchen, so that she’d see I had been home, and then I took off.  Dad wouldn’t be home until after six, working long hours as usual.  I headed downtown. 

Town was a bust.  I couldn’t find anyone I knew.  I ended up wandering through some shops, and then I sat on a bench and broke out my cellphone.  I began texting.  Someone had to be around.  Then I looked up; I saw someone I knew. 

Across the street, through the window of a restaurant, my mother was sitting at a small table.  She didn’t see me.  Her eyes were locked on a man sitting across from her, a man I had never seen before.  My mother was listening intently to what he was saying.  Then the stranger reached across the table and grasped my mother’s hand.  My mother smiled, and I had the sudden idea that my mother wouldn’t be home tonight.  n

Destination

The cab driver suddenly turned off the main road.

“Where you going?” I asked.  “This isn’t the right way.” 

“Aye,” he said, “you’ve got a destination, but my boss would like to – uh – maybe have a little talk with you first.” 

“The owner of the taxi company?” 

The man gave a laugh.  “I don’t work for no taxi company.” 

Emptied  

I woke to the silence of the house and an empty bed. 

Nights were pretty solid for me: I work out and stay up late.  When I do wake up, my wife is always beside me.  But tonight, the room was empty.  I imagined she was in the bathroom; I rose, and told myself that’s where I was going, for a call of nature, and not for any other reason. 

The bathroom was empty.  The house was empty. 

That was when I saw it.  Is it her wedding ring?  Is it their gun missing?  Is a car running on the street our front? Has a glowing portal appeared at the bottom of the cellar steps?

Deal with It   

I came in from work tired and tossed my keys on the counter – another day done. 

I smelled cigarette. 

My eyes darted around the kitchen until they came to rest in the sink.  On the bottom was an unfiltered Camel, half smoked and purposefully snubbed out, its mess mucking up my clean stainless steel.  That was Marco’s brand.  He had been here, found me here halfway across the country, had been in my house.  And he wanted me to know – wanted me to know I had not escaped him or that whole world. 

Two Ceremonies    

Nyjel received his initiation at the Temple in the center of the city in a ceremony that almost everyone ignored.  The only people participating had been required to attend.  It was supposed to be his day, his moment of independence as a full-fledged adult, but as the officials rushed through the incantations, Nyjel could see another, far more important event was on their minds.  This very hour, the Empire was cutting the apron strings to their planet, supposedly setting them free.  Right – everyone knew the aging empire could no longer support the outlying systems and was cutting off support to their planet, leaving them nearly defenseless.  The voice of the priest faltered and his eyes turned to the sky.  Nyjel looked too.  A white cloudlike streak scratched the sky: an incoming ship, one that couldn’t be the empire.  Their enemies hadn’t waited long. 

Opting Out

Harry stuck the gun behind his belt and then nodded at me. 

“Well, I can’t make another man keep his promise,” he said.  “You wanna opt out – you opt out.  As long as the cops don’t show, we’ll be cool.” 

I jerked my head up. 

“If the cops show up, it’s `cause you weren’t careful.  Nothing to do with me.”

“Whatever you say, chief,” said Harry.  “C’mon, guys.” 

The other three slid their guns into their jackets and headed for the door. 

“Oh, and I forgot,” Harry said with a grin, “your little brother Jimmy will be drivin’.” 

Private Party  

Three things were immediately obvious: they were both hot, they both worked out, and they were both interested in us.  My girl Aliya and I had each slipped out without our parents having a clue, found a spectac party, downed a couple drinks, and had a few dances.  Just after twelve, these two – Fareed and Cho – asked us to go to a private party.  Of course, we said yes. 

Cho had a car, a fast one.  He and Aliya sat in the front seat, and I was in back with Fareed for a long ride out to the country.  I was a little disappointed when I saw the house – kinda run down.  But then, who am I to judge?  So maybe they were just starting out.

Cho opened the door and we two girls stepped inside.

A man was standing in the living room like he was waiting for us – an older man. 

“Who’s this,” I asked, “your dad?” 

They both burst out laughing. 

“Duct tape their hands and mouths,” the stranger said.  “Then you’ll get your money and you can be on your way.” 

Cho grabbed Aliya’s wrists and pulled them behind her back, clearly hurting her. 

“What are you doing?” she said. 

“You’ve kidnapped the wrong girls,” I said.  “Neither of our parents have much money.” 

“Your dads both work for a tech company,” the man said.  “They make missile guidance software.  That’s worth more than everything both your parents could ever own.” 

In the Car

The shortcut scratched about a mile off my trip home.  The gravel road spanned the swampy forest from the factory to town.  Some people might have disliked the dark walk through the wood, but it was only about four blocks, and I sure wasn’t walking all the way around. 

When I realized the dark blot ahead of me was a car, I stopped.  I’m sure I gave a little sneer as I dropped my cigarette to the gravel road, and ground it out with my shoe.  A car parked here meant lovebirds.  The road was extremely narrow. The forest was a good foot lower than the road and it had been raining.  I couldn’t circle round the car without soaking my shoes.  Ah well – it was their own fault if they were embarrassed.  I would just walk on past and not look. 

I looked. 

The car held no lovers, but only a bald man, about fifty, his eyes staring upward at nothing.  As soon as I looked into those eyes, I knew he was dead.  n

Guests

Kourin raised his head above the tawny grass, a meter deep, and glimpsed the strange pillar.  Kourin held his bow with an arrow on the string, but he did not bend the bow.  He knew instantly it was metal, and Kourin had seen almost no metal before.  Last summer, some men had come to his village; Kourin watched them melt and forge the metal into knives and spear points for trade. This pillar looked like that metal when it was liquid. 

In the midst of the light of the pillar, a doorway opened.  Inside stood a slender woman, young, with hair and skin darker than any he had ever seen.  She raised a rod toward him – she had seen him!  Kourin wondered briefly whether it was a weapon and whether he should flee.  Then he knew.  She had made him know.  He knew the mission he would have to undertake and he knew exactly what he would need for the journey.  Theela had told him.  He arose and left the hay meadow. 

He only wondered what he would say to the others when he returned to the village for the supplies. 

In the Walls   

I don’t usually wear pajamas, but servant of the old house had brought them to me, so I slipped them on before brushing my teeth in the little closet they had converted into a bathroom.  It was obvious this house had been built before indoor plumbing. 

Behind me, in the room, a scuttling or scurrying sound grabbed my attention.  I returned to the room, the toothbrush still sticking out my mouth.  The sound was coming from the wall, and just above the head of my bed. 

“Great,” I thought, “rats.” 

The noise began again, a slow dragging sound.  I stepped closer.  Something was dragging itself along in the space behind the stone wall. 

“Those aren’t rats,” I thought.  “They’re much too large.” 

A question then arose in my head – if not rats, then what?

Survival Problem

The enemy had driven them from their homes, but they were now on a false trail south of the river.  Alex, just come down from the ridge, had spotted them with binoculars.  The younger adults and the teenagers walked up the little slope to meet him above the tents.  They gathered close to hear him, crouched in a tight circle. 

“We’ll take guard duty in two hour shifts,” Alex said.  “Stay concealed, keep quiet, and most of all…”

“Hey BOB!”  The obnoxious shout blared through the forest.  “Your dinner’s BURNIN’!”

The guards, cringing, slowly turned toward the camp.  It was Higgins, of course.  Nobody expected him to pull guard duty.  It would be useless.  He would fall asleep, entangle himself in the tripwire alarms, or be so loud he actually attracted the enemy.  They watched silently as he dumped an armload of wood on the fire.  “Les make a BIG fire!” he called out.  Plumes of smoke rose above the trees, visible for miles. 

“He’s going get everybody killed,” Mike said.  “We should ditch him.” 

“No,” Kayla said.  “We can’t do that.  He would die on his own.”

“If he stays, we’ll die too.”

“We can’t start deciding who we’re going to support and who we’re going to leave behind.” 

“All we need to do is not wake him up,” Bob continued.  “He sleeps in every morning while everyone else does all the work.  When he finally rolled out of bed, we’d be gone.” 

The Electrics

“My parents were preppers – took us out to a cabin on the edge of the woods to wait an economic collapse that never happened.  They got the Electrics instead.  What’s your story?” 

“Amish – my family never had TV or any such thing going back generations.” 

“Hmm – I wonder how many people still human are from the Amish.” 

“Probably a lot.  I mean, everybody else in had their faces cemented to a TV screen or computer monitor, or their ear attached to a cell phone, didn’t they?” 

“Yup – and now they’re totally integrated into the power grid.” 

“Electronic zombies.”

A rustle came from the stream below.  We craned our necks but remained seated above the bluff.  We knew if this weren’t a deer or a raccoon, it could be our lives.  It could be the electrics. 

The Island

He awoke with the salt water splashing his face.  The tide had come in.  He sputtered out salt water, then picked at a weed that had tangled in his hair.  Steven sat up.  He lifted his head from the sand of the beach and looked inland.  Palms and other tropical greens covered the island – if it were an island – but he saw no sign of humans.  He needed to find fresh water, but he was so exhausted from the swim to shore last night.  He made a plan to walk the shore looking for a creek.  If there were water on this land, it should flow out into the ocean. 

Just then, from somewhere deep in the jungle, came the sounds of a fierce animal, some creature he had never heard before. 

 “I’ve got to get back,” she said, “and I have to be there before then.  In three days there’s going to be a horrible terrorist attack.” 

Powers

They told her to take off a couple of days.  She didn’t want to.  She wanted to be down at FuturEnergy working in the lab.  Their work was important – the physics they were exploring went to the very edge of reality.  Sirena didn’t want to sit in her apartment alone for an entire week recovering from that strange accident.  She turned the TV off and sat up on the couch.  No – better to leave it on.  The silence would be worse.   She reached for the remote.  It wasn’t beside her.  She glanced around the room until she found it.  It was in front of the TV, ten feet away at least. 

How had she turned it off? 

She shrugged it off, went into the kitchen, and made a sandwich.  With her mind on the damaged machinery down at the project, she sought the knife to cut the sandwich.  It flew across the kitchen and into her hand.  She gripped it before she was aware that she had called for it.  She gasped.  She had made that happen, just as she had turned the TV off. 

To the Top

“You been wearing that red bandana for months now,” said Bundy.  “When we get to the top, you can tie it up there.  Then, at school tomorrow, everyone will see it up there and nothing on your head.  Even Clarisse will see it.  Then everyone will know you climbed the big nail in the sky.” 

Mark pulled his lips tight and looked up the cell tower.  It was a long way up.  The top seemed to wobble against the bare, blue sky. 

“I don’t know,” Mark said.  “Shouldn’t we have a safety rope or something?  The guys that work up there use special equipment.” 

In Thistledown’s Shadows   

Allison poked her head out of the carriage window to read the Latin inscription on the great iron gate.  This marked the southernmost boundary of the Harrington estate, although she knew she would travel through five miles of forest parkland before she would see the manor and its grounds.  Her carriage rolled through the gate and they were on the property. 

Her carriage!  If only it were hers.  The young duke’s mother had sent the carriage to fetch her.  Allison’s family had lost their wealth, and the Harrington Family knew it.  Just why they had asked her to live in Thistledown Manor, therefore, was somewhat of a mystery.  Still, she had heard that the young duke was handsome as well as rich. 

The carriage lurched to a stop.  Allison slid the window up and poked her head through again.  The wheels were axel deep in the mud.  The horses were hopelessly mired in a ridiculous pool of filth.  Even she could see they were going nowhere.  She had spent hours this morning selecting and preparing her dress and her hairstyle.  Now she imagined how it would all look as she approached Thistledown after navigating this pool and walking five miles.  Her shoes would have disintegrated by then. 

“Lucky I have this rope today.”

She turned to the voice.  A young man in his early twenties sat upon a horse grinning at her situation.  His rough and ill-kempt clothes clearly marked him as a servant or perhaps a commoner from the nearby village.  He let loose a laugh, swung down from his mount, and began wading into the mud to unhitch her horses.  His brawny muscles showed as clearly as his lack of humility.  Still, the laugh was genuine and she liked it in spite of herself. 

In the Basement

The noise stopped Felicia in her tracks.  It was loud and low – a scraping sound.  Could it have been a bad garage door opener?  Were Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer back already?  Felicia had fed Sissy and changed her and all the things a good babysitter should do.  Now the toddler had been asleep upstairs in her crib for almost two hours.  With no Internet connection and with nothing good on TV, the quiet of the country house had been getting on her nerves.  The scraping sound came again, and it wasn’t from the garage.  It was too loud.  She stood, and the noise continued.  It was coming from the basement.  They had told her not to go into the basement.  Why would they tell her that? 

The Girls

When Tandy entered the locker room of the gym at Ravenwood High, she knew something was up.  Jessica and her senior and junior girls were clearly waiting for her, smiling.  Someone was standing behind them, trying to hide.  Tandy stepped to one side and saw that it was Kaelyn, her best friend.  Why was she here with Jessica’s gang?  

“Kaelyn?” Jessica asked. 

Her best friend couldn’t meet her eyes.  

Suddenly, Jessica knew that her secret was no longer safe. 

“Kaelyn, what have you done?” 

Grudge

Stella was wiping the big window at the front of Uncle Billy’s Ice Cream Bar when Nathan’s car pulled to the curb.  No other car looked like that – a cobalt blue Mustang from 1968, sparkling like new.  He spent two years restoring it when they were together, two years ago.  Stella froze.  Nathan shouldn’t be in town; he shouldn’t have come back. 

“Nathan’s back?” Rashaima said.  “I’m going to call Mark,”

Stella broke out of her shock.  “No, don’t – Mark’s still angry.  He’d kill him.” 

“Then maybe your old boyfriend should have stayed gone.”  Rashaima put her cell up to her ear.  “I’m punching Mark’s number in; you can go warn him if you want.”

Stella rushed out Uncle Billy’s front door and onto the sidewalk.  Nathan stepped out of the car smiling at his old hometown.  Their eyes met.  Nathan’s smile vanished.  Then Stella looked in the shotgun seat.  There sat a blonde woman, as shapely and as tan as if she had just arrived from a California beach.   n

College or Sarah   

That day he knew he either had to go to college to pursue his dream or he had to propose to Sarah and stay in the hometown.  She wasn’t coming.  If she did come, she wasn’t going to make it.  She was smart, but she just didn’t have the drive, the dedication.  He was too much a realist to believe in long-distance relationships; it was either college or Sarah.   

 

Three older pieces:

 

Christopher and November

They had met before.  Would their pasts keep them apart? 

Once, this was the beginning of a novel; now, it’s a moderately long story in six parts. 

The first part, under the title “Chimo”, won Lake Superior State University’s first annual short story writing contest.  The contest was judged by Sue Harrison, New York Times’ best-selling author of Mother Earth, Father Sky. 

25 pages

7,895 words

Grandpa and the Groundhog

On a visit to his backwoods relations, a city boy sees a dog fight a groundhog. 

2 pgs

814 words

Feathers

A reminisce sparked by missing items

1½ pages

468 words

 

Maps