Lisa Learns the Stutter Step — flash fiction

It was nearly closing time. I was wiping down the counter one time before laying out the paper mats and setups. Val is kind of adamant that we have everything ready for the breakfast crew. It’s a crap diner and the pay is lousy, but in 1981 I’m lucky to have a job, and every now and then I get a decent tip. Every now and then I meet a guy who is pleasant, is happy with the service, and isn’t trying to get into my pantyhose.

I didn’t notice when the college kid in the charcoal overcoat left; just heard the front door close.

Over at his booth I discovered enough cash to cover the check and a decent tip, and the book he’d been reading: “Jitterbug Perfume,” by Tom Robbins.

The check ended up on the spike, the cash in the till minus my tip, and the book ended up in my purse. My dogs were killing me, but it looked like tonight I’d be dancing a bit before I fell asleep.

Later, in bed with a glass of red and Knuckles purring at my feet, I opened the cover and discovered a note:

            “The book is an acquired taste. You anticipated my every need tonight.
            Not trying to pick you up. If you like the book, maybe give me a call and
            tell me why. No strings. — Neil — 822-0820”

Shit! I stayed up all night reading. I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Now what?


* * * 


Trying my hand at a writing exercise — write in a voice different from your own. In this case, that of a woman. Stirring up memories of a diner I knew as a child. I would appreciate feedback on how well… or less than well… I did. Also on how well I placed it in the early 80s (if you dare admit you have any memories of them).

Also posting this on Weekly Scribblings #62.



Justice in the Cave — a flash fiction

Carrot Ranch

Justice Ranes was lost. Spelunking! he thought. He considered his predicament. “Lost in a fucking cave is what I call it.” His words bounced off rock walls pressing in. He picked a direction. His torch would hold an hour at best. The way seemed familiar.

A turn unremembered. Back track? Determination overcame reason. He pressed on.

Ahead shadows. Switching off his light he detected a faint glow. Stepping forward the light increased. At the mouth he stopped. The sought for entrance was instead a cavern. He was doomed.

Justice was undone by a fallacious bioluminescence lurking beyond the passage.

* * *

A flash fiction challenge at The Carrot Ranch: A flash piece, 99 words (no less, no more — just like the tombstone in… um, Tombstone), where you use “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Without the cliché.

Internal Irony, part 5

“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”

— Marion Zimmer Bradley

It is inevitable for a father who has been present in his children’s lives, to know without conscious thought when a child nearby slumbers.  As you slipped into a deep and peaceful rest, I drew my pipe and pouch from my messenger’s bag. Carefully I filled the bowl with a portion of my remaining supply.  Fishing a branch end from the nearly dead coals, blowing gently on it, I brought it to the tobacco, and drew in the cherry-rich smoke I had come to… appreciate; that would be the word… over my years here.

Around us the voices of the night whispered.  I heard the barred owl call out, and thought how rare that riddle-filled call must have been in the city just three years before.  Nature was overtaking the habitation of your kind. I looked up into the open sky fringed by the lush canopy of the park’s oak trees, and listened to the chatter of the universe.

“Why didn’t you attack?”  I addressed that which inhabited you.

(Would you not have killed her along with me?)

I considered the Fell’s question.  The deeper meaning being not “you would have killed me,” but “you would have killed her.”

(Why didn’t you kill?)

This required another draw on my pipe.  And another. “I didn’t sense you were a threat.”

(Yet, you sensed me.)

“Long before you arrived.”

We remained quiet for a long time.

“Why aren’t she and you both dead?  In three years’ –”


I waited for the Fell to explain.  The Reveal happened just over three years before, as you would remember.  But this one was saying you had been… infested… for six years. So I waited out the answers to my many sudden questions.

(I came earlier.  As a scout. No, that’s not totally accurate.  I came pretending to be a scout — took the place of a scout.  One who I… decommissioned.)

Decommissioned.  I worked with words for most of my time on this earth; I can sense implied meanings.   I waited, working the pipe.

(Because of the girl.)

I considered you as you lay, curled on the grass.  Too many questions presented themselves. My mind pressed the necessity to start small, progress slowly.  “Why isn’t she a dead shell? Your kind–”

(Only the pre-invasion forces.  I’m not one of them. I am a… thinker.)

“A philosopher?” I offered.

(Um… no.  A teacher.  Although that’s not exact, either.)

“So you are able to inhabit without eating the host?”

(Yes.  I am not… a parasite.)

I was back to looking at the stars.  My pipe was finished. “Why her? Why did you come for her?”

It was a long time before the Fell answered.  (Have you ever been led… somewhere… to do a thing…?  Something you don’t fully comprehend? And you don’t know why… or how you are being led?)

As the Fell asked me this, I found myself seeking a particular star — tiny and scarlet among the multitude.  Finding it, I sighed, “You have no idea.”

(Then listen.  And please try to believe what I am going to tell you.  We came tonight because we have been watching for you. Some things I do not know, except that you are part of a plan.  Perhaps to save her. More probably, if you will believe my extrapolation, to attempt to save this… ) he paused, (her word is ‘planet.’)

“It is the word.  But your kind has already–”

(The infestation was only the first wave.  The invasion is coming soon. They are more powerful.  They will clean the planet of extraneous life.)

I was sitting up now.  “What do you expect me to do?”

(I brought her because I was certain you would know.)

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1    Part 2   Part 3   Part 4

Internal Irony, part 4

“It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends;
and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason.”

— Jules Verne

Did I know you were on your way when I built that fire?  Perhaps.

What I recall most clearly is that it was a brilliant night.  The highways of the skies were lit, as they had for three years, with the absence of mankind’s banishment of the dark.  Honesty bids me say this to you: this planet has been inhabited by little children pretending to be big. A race that is as afraid of the dark as this one has been is ultimately — and deeply — afraid of itself.

Not that anyone has asked me.

What I also remember was that I had found this beautiful park, touched only by the fingers of nature, in the midst of a derelict city.  Your city. I hauled my wagon into the brush, and I built a fire.

A truth I believe to be universal among sane beings is that you rarely find animosity at a campfire when the builder greets you with peace.

You came out of the darkness.  I watched you step gracefully into the light, a beautiful creature.  I guessed you to be sixteen. That you were still in one piece told me you were a host.

This confused me, because nearly every human that carried the Fell husked out after the first year.  Their parasitic nature overwhelmed the hosts — those that didn’t die in battle with those who were immune.

What further confused me was, though the Fell certainly recognized me, you did not attack.

As beautiful, as frail as you appeared, the certainty came to me that the Fell within you was all that had kept you whole these past few years.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.  You nodded. “Do you mean peace?”  Again a nod. “Then sit with me and share what I have.”

You didn’t speak through the meal.  I wondered if you were capable.

“Thank you… sir,” were the first words I heard you speak.  Your voice carried me back to a sanity I thought I had outrun.  A warming light, a meal, and the stars, after the fire died, brought us into an alliance both uneasy and perplexing.

I had to wonder why.  It turned out I wasn’t the only one to wonder.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1    Part 2  Part 3

Internal Irony, part 3

“I felt myself being invaded through and through, I crumbled, disintegrated, and only emptiness remained.”

— Stanislaw Lem

You told me you thought you were thirteen when the Fell… were.  We don’t know when they arrived — and can never know — do we? If your memory is exact that makes you sixteen; seventeen at the most.

Most of your memories, your deepest memories, of parents, friends have evaporated into that for which you are the host.  Many of them are mingled with the thoughts of the Fell within. And that is sad.

What you do remember is the nights you hid wherever you could.  Hiding from the unruly. Those who for whatever reason did not fall under the sway of the Fell.  Mostly men after a while. Men who looked at you as prey.

The first night that you slept in the open on a roof, the stars as a nightlight, you were awakened not by the sound of their footsteps.  Something inside you caused you to go on alert. Two of them much bigger than you came up silently. They grabbed you quickly, roughly. Clawing at you, at your clothes.

What you described to me wasn’t a struggle.  You recalled the first one’s look of shock as he went over the edge.  He never cried out. The second one threw out his hands, signalling surrender, as you gripped him by his exposed flesh.  You who had never seen a boy, neutered a man in the blue-blackness of night. His death was an agony you carried with you for many days and nights.

Eventually, the attempted assaults — the deaths at your hands — brought you to the place emotionally where every warrior must come if she is to survive.  You stopped seeing them as humans; merely threats. You can’t even tell me how many men and women you have had to battle.

In that alone we stand on even ground.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 1

Part 2

Internal Fires

Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day.
Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”

— Terry Pratchett

Before all of this you never saw the stars.  Before the ruins — before the revelation of the Fell — your night sky carried a safe glow just several shades below daylight.

You remember; but your memory is being eaten as surely as your body.  Family. Friends. Home. Other… things. Going. Going.

Darkness followed flame.  War of intense rapidity. The enemy didn’t come — they were.  And you were among the last standing. Infected, but alive. Not knowing how or why.

After the smoke, the stars.

Empty buildings along empty streets.  You became the forager, a double hunger driving you.  You pieced together a place to Gather and Keep. Night was the perfect time to Range and Collect.  The stars were a wonderment, and the ghosts — others like you — kept their distance and their peace.

Then, in a basement, a sub-basement you encountered them.  These four had escaped the invasion, the invading of the Fell.  The oldest spoke as they surrounded you. “‘And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread,’ hey, Goblin?”

A younger smiled, “Yeah… I guess, Professor.”

The other two remained silent.

“I have to wonder if Yeats had in mind a pair, or one in the same,”  He turned from you and receded into the shadows. When he returned, he carried an axe.  Still in contemplation, he continued, “‘Heart mysteries there… To engross the present and dominate memory…’” he faltered.  “The Circus, damn it!”  

He touched his gloved fingers to his forehead, “Um, ‘Players and painted stage took all my love… those things that they were emblems of.’”  He shook his head, “Not!  He said, ‘Not those things.’”  He looked around at his men, back to you.  “Damn it all!”

With a wave of his hand, the battle began.

You who had never fought, waged war — engaged the enemy as enemy — mercilessly.  The maneuvers your body made — the assaults — were guided by that from within. Ruthless.

The one named Goblin was the first to go.  I winced as you recounted the skirmish. Not carriers, these four had resisted infestation.  Goblin came at you with an improvised lance, and received a face-full of ball fire from the palm of your hand.  He fell as quickly as his weapon. The quiet two came at you in unison. One flew back against a wall, inert as he slumped to the floor.  The other screamed a short scream as you lifted him by the neck. He, too, died.

When the professor lifted his axe, preparing to charge, you ran to him.  The axe flew from his lifeless hands. Standing over him, you… or the Fell within you, whispered, “‘I must lie down where all the ladders start.’”

A fitting epitaph you uttered.  Then you continued to ransack their lair.

I watch you tonight, considering the night sky, and wonder when… and how….

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

This is part 2 of a story.  Part 1    Part 3

Internal Irony


“There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.” — Robert A. Heinlein

They watch and they wait.  They are waiting for the time when you slip up.  From the darkened hulks of damaged civilization, they eagerly hunt, sniff for the weakness they presume you’ll one day show.

You appear young; that’s what trips up their hopeful lust.  They are sure you are a neophyte. Untried? Untrue.

It is that unspoken surprise the Fell left you with — the seed you carry in your core — that makes you appear unaged.  You will die looking so. Anyone who tries you will share that seed. The seed of the Fell… parasites of the universe. Although you are strong and versed in personal tactics, you are also being hollowed out by an enemy that came with the unseen ships and the madness that destroyed civilization.  The Fell are a… “a cancer.” It’s best to think of it that way.

That said, while it’s true your days are passing fast, what lives inside you gives you a strength, a quickness, an alertness — a prowess! — that those who dwell in the shadows cannot overcome.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 2 Part 3

On Being Megan

cheese tray

photo by J. C. Lyman


The young guy with the La Closerie des Lilas apron steps out into the courtyard, beret not cast rakishly to the side.  Give him time, I think, he’ll learn.  His gaze scrapes across the crowd, seeking a target.  He carries a beautifully-crafted cheese board.

“Megan?” he calls.  A Spring bird on his way back north.

He steps forward, looking here and here.

Raises his voice over the guitarist playing ‘Round Midnight.


After yet still no response – and I wait for it – I raise my hand, “Here.”

His look tells me in advance I’m going to win this round.

“You’re Megan?”  He is beautiful in his confusion.

I eye the tray and smile, “Absolutely!  Set it here.”  I’m a big guy; a bit intimidating.

He obeys.

For a cheese tray like this I will gladly be Megan.

“Um, anything else?”

I consider.

“Why yes.  I believe we ordered two glasses of your fine Pinot Noir.”

As he heads back toward the door, I hold up half of a strawberry in salute to our valiant server.



Wishing Star


Two hours down Bonita Klondyke Road in Arizona summer heat, sun cooking through the ragtop of his classic Chrysler.  Air conditioning long dead.  The sign read, “Wishing Star Saloon, turn right.”  He cranked the wheel.  It was right there in sight.

* * *

                “Dang!” said the woman behind the bar, “Windows down in this heat?”

“AC’s broke.  Heinie.”

“Tuff.”  She slid the bottle over.

“‘Wishing Star?’”

She motioned with her head.  “Every wish granted.”


She shrugged.

He stepped over to the painting.  “Wish I was someplace cooler.”

* * *

                Colder than hell, snow blowing.  Teeth chattering.  A sign.  “Klondyke River, Yukon Territory.”


Posted to The Carrot Ranch, December 28 Flash Fiction Challenge — Wishing Star.



bridge of death

Jonathan sat in one of the black vinyl chairs, badly padded, badly contoured, and as uncomfortable as they were meant to be; no doubt an object lesson inflicted by some HR gnome just before she or he became expendable.  The vacant-eyed woman behind the counter had returned her focus to the screen off to one side.  If the entirety of ISIS came through the glass doors, assault weapons on full auto, they would overrun her counter before she’d have the presence to ask, “How can I help you?”  Of course she wouldn’t be saying it anyway, because she’d be dead, still facing her inter-office emails or her unauthorized game of Spider Solitaire.  Jonathan silently bet on Spider.  Her attention was too… rapt for it to be anything less.

He glanced around the lobby of HR – glass walls on two sides, a huge wall-mounted screen spewing corporate propaganda on the third wall, a huge print of positively representative members of the workforce smiling out at prospective clients because they damned sure were having fun working for… The Machine?  The Meat Grinder?  He shuddered and decided on The Machine; the alternative was too in touch with… accuracy.  They were having a wonderful time working their jobs in The Machine.  And you knew it, too, by the way they looked out at you and smiled their smug, knowing smiles at you as you came through the big double glass doors.

Why all the glass? Jonathan wondered, looking around again.  Was it meant to convey a sense of transparency?  There was no transparency here, he thought.  Four times he had gone through this process.  Dress for success.  Be sure your hair appears freshly cut.  Use positive, appropriate colors when choosing your wardrobe.  Appear young and perky, no matter your age.  Be ready to answer questions the logic of which eluded Jonathan every time.  The job interview process was the very antithesis of the metaphorically open and transparent lobby; there was no seeing in.  It was the Bridge of Death in that Holy Grail movie.  The bridge trolls allowed you to approach within eyesight of the other side – within view of the blessed end of the quest.  Then came the questions.  Each time you interviewed, they slipped in a final, damnedly deceptive question (“What… is the capital of Assyria?”).  Fail to answer immediately… strong-heartedly… and, perhaps, even correctly, and you’re instantly flung into the abyss of despond and failure.  God!  To be The King for just this once!

Here he was yet again; proof that his applications at least attracted the attention of one of the trolls.  His references and qualifications impressed someone enough to have him back in these god-awful chairs awaiting yet another ordeal.

As in previous visits, he watched the clock tick off time well past his appointment.  Please arrive fifteen minutes early, they always advised.  So we can rub your nose in it by making you wait a half an hour past… just for giggles.

Jonathan fumed.  He hated wearing a suit coat, detested the noose about the neck.  The smile plastered on his face caused his cheeks to cramp.  The screen zombie behind the desk never looked up, right nor left, even when answering the phone.  Was it all worth this, he wondered, irritated by the sweat rolling down his ribs under the crisp no-iron dress shirt.  He wanted to strip out of his discomfort.  He longed to tell the receptionist, “Red Jack on the Black Queen,” even it just messed up her concentration.  Or tell her, “I’m going out to get a cold beer.  Tell the powers to be if they want to interview me, I’ll be at The Crush around the corner, okay?”  Instead he sat silently and fumed.

“Mr. Green?”

He followed the bridge troll with the well-rehearsed smile and the clipped on ID that sported the troll smiling the exact same smile.  A few words of instruction, a rough idea of what to expect during the interview, and “Good luck,” were uttered before entering the conference room.

Jonathan shook hands, heard and forgot names, and took his seat.  The questions came at him….