Occasional Prose

Dead Owls (a short story)

The remnant of the evening’s candle flickered and dripped wax onto the table. The scarce lighting only accented the worried looks of Otto and Minerva Steiner, currently tied tightly to their own kitchen chairs by tattered rope. Handkerchiefs covered their mouths in a similarly taut fashion. They did not scream as the outlaw tied them up. They only looked at him and at each other with unbridled intensity.

“I bet you’re wonderin’ ’bout now, Why are we’s tied up in arr own home?” The outlaw produced a pistol from the belt on his hip. He took turns pointing the barrel in Otto and Minerva’s faces. “Well, I reckon I’ll give you’s an answer.”

They could hardly see the man strut around the main room of the two-room shack. The color of his clothes absorbed any faint light that made its way to his figure. Only the occasional reflection from his equally dark eyes gave indication of where he treaded, and only the clinking of his spurs told them for certain if he was on their right or left.

“You two stole this here land from me. I’m here to rectify that infraction.” He grabbed something in the dark and threw it on the ground. “The question remains: what will you pay me to ease the pain you’s caused me?”

Otto made no noise. Minerva adjusted herself in her chair as best she could but silence followed.

“I will take the gag away. Who’s is goin’ to talk?” The outlaw came back over and sat at a third chair. “Mornin’ is comin’. I’d hate to leave things as they are between us. I saw a Bible over der. Looked like they spelled it wrong. Called it a B I B E L. You’s a religious man, squarehead? I ‘member somethin’ about thou ain’t supposed to steal and thou shouldn’t kill. You ‘member those? I reckon if there’s a God, He’d be alright wit’ me shootin’ you and the frau, don’t you think? An eye for eye, I vaguely ‘member. I never gave much of a hoot about it, but I think that there’s mighty pretty.”

The outlaw pulled Otto’s handkerchief down.

“My old rifle,” Otto panted. “You can have that.”

The outlaw pointed his pistol at Otto’s temple and pulled the hammer back. “I seem to have a gun already.”

“It is expensive. Sell it in town. Take whatever you want from here but leave us be.”

He chuckled and started to laugh a little louder with each passing second. Minerva struggled to speak with the handkerchief around her mouth so Otto intervened. “I will ask you to keep your voice down.”

He stopped laughing and stared at Otto for a moment, deciding to hit him over the head with the grip. “I don’t think you call the shots here. I’ll hit your old lady next.” Minerva was quiet but trying to touch Otto’s foot with her own. The outlaw grabbed Otto and loudly scooted the chair across the wooden floor to prevent this, but stopped when he heard shuffling nearby.

“Shh,” Otto said.

“What was that?”

“Never mind that. I have some money in town. The bank will open at sunrise. You and I could head out soon. You could escape with a clear conscience.”

“You really want me to hit your wife, don’t you squarehead?”

“I would not like that at all. I don’t know you. Tell me. You seem like you don’t want anything but blood. Tell me what you want,” Otto attempted to reason with him.

“I done told you: I want the land back. It ain’t my fault they sent me to Leavenworth. You think you can just take a man’s land while he’s away?”

“I bought this land from the undertaker. He said it was his land. Had a deed. It’s around here somewhere.”

The outlaw smiled a crooked smile. “There’s part of your problem: you think I give a damn about any of that. I’m thinking that I might just kill you both for the sport of it. What can you give me that worth takin’?”

“I offered the rifle. I offered you money. Would you like the horse? It is my livelihood, but I could part with him. Livelihood would not mean much without a life, no?”

“Ah, but I have a horse. You’s runnin’ out of options fast. And look! The sun’s already risin’!” The outlaw stood up and walked over to the burning candle. A short wick remained along with a waxy mess. “Squarehead, I can honestly say that you Steiners are between a rock and a hard place. I need retribution.”

“Reparation,” Otto calmly said.

The outlaw looked at Otto and smirked. In equally calm fashion, he replied, “I spoke correctly.” Lifting his pistol, he took aim at Otto’s head. Minerva objected with grunts behind the handkerchief, obviously annoyed with the outlaw. “Maybe we should ask the frau what she’s thinkin’.” He lowered his gun, walked over to Minerva, and pulled the handkerchief down.

“You don’t seem to want anything. Hurt us if you want. I don’t care. But don’t you raise your voice or make a ruckus.” The sun peaked through the window in the small, two room shack. The outlaw could see by the look illuminated on her face that she was serious.

“I had hoped you would be reasonable,” he jested.

“I am,” she countered.

“Please don’t make loud noises, sir,” Otto chimed in. “We’ll get you whatever you want, but please don’t make loud noises.”

“What is there to take? This place is shit. I couldn’t give a hoot about any of it. And I’m about sick of you, squarehead.” He fired the pistol above Otto’s head and cackled. Otto and Minerva looked around, frightened, but both kept their composure. Neither screamed. But in that short time, the shuffling noise came from the other room again. This time, the cry of a child followed, echoing through the two-room shack.

“Ooh,” the outlaw realized. “I’m sure the marshal will appreciate a third body. Maybe the undertaker can resell the land too!”

“Is that your plan?” Otto asked.

“Please let me tend to the child,” Minerva pleaded.

“You think I have a plan?” the outlaw said, rotating the gun’s chamber.

The child’s scream grew louder.

“I will be quick,” Minerva continued, desperate.

“Please untie my wife,” Otto said. “I won’t ask again.”

“Shut up, squarehead!”

The child would not be comforted by his mother’s voice in the other room. The outlaw started toward the room with the same strut he entered the house with. It could, and would, only end one way.

But Otto threw himself onto the ground, shattering the wooden chair and loosing the tattered bonds around him. He made a beeline to his old rifle across the room. The outlaw saw it and took another shot. He missed.

Minerva lifted herself up just enough to move the chair. She scrambled into the outlaw to make him stumble, but not enough to tackle him. This gave Otto enough time to level the rifle’s barrel, aiming it right at his chest. “Step away from my family,” he growled, the warm demeanor gone.

The outlaw stepped toward the doorway to exit but the rifle never lost sight of him. Otto walked over to Minerva and untied her, holding the rifle steady in one hand. She rushed into the other room to comfort the child.

The outlaw smiled nervously at Otto. There was a visible bruise on his head where the outlaw had hit him, and a trail of blood in case he forgot that. “You know,” the outlaw said. “I never did like this place much. Why don’t you’s keep it and I’ll be on my way?”

“I built this house with my two hands,” Otto said. He looked over at Minerva and the baby she held in her arms. “I’d make anywhere home with those two.”

“I have no home,” the outlaw said.

“Is that so?” Otto asked. “What happened?”

“I only have–“

The butt of Otto’s rifle caught him right in the jaw.

“Tell it to the marshal,” Otto said. “I don’t give a hoot.”

Occasional Prose

Human Nature (Things Heard and Said)

I was just headed to my car when another car slowly pulled up behind me. It was an older woman behind the wheel. She had a prominent frown on her face but you know what they say about the books and the covers and such.

Where’s the car wash around here?’

‘Which one?’

‘The car wash!she reiterated.

‘There’s two that direction,’ I explained to her, pointing north. ‘One on the left and one at the right.’

‘I’m looking for one called the Spa.’

‘That’ll be on the right,’ I said. ‘Alright, see that light right there?’

She nodded.

‘You’re going to go straight through that. When you get to the second light, you’re going to take a right.’

‘So go through the first light, turn right at the second?’

‘Yes ma’am. There’ll be an Aldi up there by the Spa.’

‘I’m not from around here so I won’t be looking for that,’ she assured me with a hiss.

‘Fair enough. Hope that helps. Have a good one.’

‘Yeah,’ she muttered and drove slowly to the end of the lot. She had to turn around and headed out of the lot just as slow.

I got in my car and started towards those two intersections too. I was headed to the left though. I figured she would already be at the car wash since I didn’t leave the parking lot right away. But sure enough, we met at the first intersection.

You realize how incredibly boring this story is, right?

I do.


I was in the left lane, she was in the right. The light turned green and we started for the second light straight ahead. Couldn’t miss it if you tried. I looked over a couple times to get her attention but she was like a horse with blinders. She was on a mission. And when we got to the light, I made my way to the left turn lane.

And she made her way to the right?

Nope. I watched that grumpy old woman haul ass through a yellow light, headed straight.

Occasional Prose

A Most Dangerous Game (Things Heard and Said)

“Heads down!” they commanded. We all put our heads down and covered our eyes. Of everything that could happen in these situations, we always expected the worst. That was for the simple reason that the worst always happpened in these situations.

Their feet shuffled over the floor, any secrecy done out the window with. It seemed like each one would get closer and closer, only to tag their victim and move on. You could hear the exasperated sighs and heavy breathing of anticipation around the small room.

One of them drew near to me. Even with my eyes closed, I could tell who it was. The heels of his boots were too recognizable. I wonder if he even had to think about it. He came over and hit me over the head with unnecessary force, yet there was obviously a bit of restraint involved. Maybe I would live to see another day . . .

“Heads up!” a voice commanded. The room looked like a dozen souls just woke from heavy sleep with weary eyes adjusting to the lights once again. This was the moment of truth.

“You didn’t see anything?” somebody asked one of the others.

“No,” he replied.

“Well, then, who did it?”

He looked around at the lineup, unsure. Several pairs of eyes looked intimidatingly at him. A few seemed to tempt him to give them up, just so they could torment him even further.

“I-I-I don’t know,” he stumbled, eyes trained on Sally.

“You have to give an answer!” he was told, threateningly.

“S-s-sally!” he pointed. “She did it.”

“No.” With that one word, he sank down, defeated.

Now all eyes were trained on me. “Well, C. Who did it?”

I looked at the lineup. Sally was still in the running but I knew it wasn’t her. She wouldn’t risk a cooties epidemic. Al had a mischievous look on his face but it was obviously a distraction; he had figured out how to psychologically manipulate others early on.

That left two. The first was Woodrow. He sported a fancy pair of cowboy boots and would’ve wore the hat if permitted. He seldom had a mean streak though, just a penchant for orneriness. It wasn’t him. Not even close.

It was Mickey.

He smirked, knowingly. It was killing him not to laugh. I must have had a bump on my head or something. It certainly hurt, but watching him try not to laugh somehow hurt too.

“You guys have to start answering faster! We’re running out of time!” There was urgency in the teacher’s voice. There was betrayal in mine.


“You’re out!”

I imagined how I would fight Mickey later on, use my size to my advantage. I would not hold back. Maybe punch him? Kick him? Tell him how he was a damned bully and I was going to lay the hurt on him?

After a few rounds of Heads Up Seven Up, the rainy day activity came to a close. They sent us single file down to lunch. Mickey and I sat together, of course.

“I wish they’d let us play outside in the rain,” he complained.

“That would be more fun,” I agreed.

“You know I tagged you, right?”


“Good,” he said, taking a bite out of lukewarm piece of cardboard masquerading as a piece of pizza. I sipped a chocolate milk, realizing that vengeance may not be the best option. The table was already pretty lonely.

Occasional Prose · Poetry

Ladies’ Fingers (a short story)

Author’s note: I had no idea where this was going but I wanted to overcome some procrastination. I couldn’t decide if this should be a poem or a short story so I went with both. Scattered throughout are the random words listed on Jenny Grace’s post. Be sure to check out her excellent blog!




Ladies’ Fingers

She’d fry the okra the second it was ready.

Couldn’t wait. More likely we wouldn’t wait.

The days were long enough.

The blues would play softly on the radio

but we’d all shuffle ’round in silence,

waitin’ on the oil.

A flick of water told her it was ready

to drop into the grease.

Guitar slides on the radio. Static. More guitar.

Any moment we could do the same,

slide in frenzy, meltdown from the humidity

or the tension in that house.

Boss had half a mind and a half a heart

to disown me

when they heard the news–

they knew I knew their secret.

I was just surprised that they had a half

of either one to spare.

The okra made a loud sizzlin’ noise

from the kitchen, no doubt splatterin’ grease

all over the dirty countertops.

She forgot to pat ’em dry.

It was like a burstin’ dam. Slow. Small. At first, anyway.

She took solace in an old music box

her mama gave her, some song

about the northern lights of someplace

called Aberdeen.

She wanted to see them, the aurora borealis

they’re called. The place didn’t matter.

Yes, sweet solace waited elsewhere.

No solace here.

The gruff voice on the radio

might have felt similar.

Boss took solace in belittlin’ her.

Said he didn’t give a damn

that she missed her home.

I took uneasy solace in steady work, room and board.

We all took some solace

as the sizzlin’ sound slowed in the kitchen

and she pulled that fresh fried okra

from the stove.

Why any of us would want that heavy meal

when we were all drenched in sweat,

tired from a long day, and set to sleep soon

for yet another long day

was beyond me.

Boy, did it always taste good though,

never stalky, never bitter. Perfection.

She could cook.

She called us to the table,

warm beers all ’round. She had a dirty glass

of water, chipped near the edge.

She spoke grace while he groaned,

waiting impatiently for the amen

to most assuredly eat that okra.

We ate in silence spare for the radio,

Memphis Minnie serenading us.

It didn’t take much to eat our fill.

It didn’t take much to enjoy the taste

that would have to tide us over

until the next batch was ready to pick.

A longer silence followed. The radio cut out

for the evening.

It wasn’t quite dark but it was time to head out.

I bid them a good night.

She smiled half-heartedly. He just grunted about the work

for tomorrow and the mess

in the kitchen.

I stepped out into the muggy evenin’ air,

cigarette rolled and ready

to smoke,

unawares that my last night

under the magnolia flag

was that very night.

Acoustic guitar echoed in my mind.

“Now look here mama what am I to do?
Now look here mama what am I, I to do?
I ain’t got nobody to tell my troubles to
. . .”

That was the night the fire broke out,

no survivors, only one body.

Trail of burnt grease

’round the ruins.

The others stuck around,

to investigate, to figure out

how the fire done burnt the

house there on the delta.

I just remembered a half-hearted smile

and the taste of perfectly cooked okra.

I’d have to head south.

I had no mind to know what happened

but a lesser desire still

to see the lights up north.

Occasional Prose

The Unfortunate Few (100 Word Story)

The thunder boomed with the lightning. There were no pauses between the sound of raindrops; they fell quick, precise. It sounded like wind blowing with the already heavy wind. Only the hail took short pauses on the tin roof to let them know they were trapped. The raging storm did nothing to relieve the humidity which smothered the unfortunate few inside. Maybe they could have chanced the storm, ran, or found another shelter with more than one way out.

Instead, they huddled together in the unbearable heat–watching the door, holding their breath, hiding.

Waiting on another storm to pass.

Occasional Prose

Marrow Minded (Things Heard and Said)

“Who cooked this chicken?”

Oh boy, I thought. Here we go again. One of the managers was already on the scene, trying to reason and match step with the next round of this belligerent ballet. I knew the drill. Just stay in the kitchen.

“Can I help you?” the manager asked. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Is your cook trying to kill us? There is pink in the chicken!”

I could tell you of how I’ve been through the food handler’s safety course three times, been working in kitchens for thirteen years (twelve as a cook), and even suggest that I’m not the type of person who would willingly put a sub-par product out on the line. But I’m sure you are well aware that anyone could say that and probably would to cover their tracks. It really wouldn’t matter: there are folks who just don’t care. Time and experience doesn’t matter if you don’t care about what you’re doing.

But hey, how could they, or you, know for certain where I fell on that chess board?

Around this point in the conversation (a word I use loosely to describe the irate customer’s tirade) they would become experts on baking chicken. That was the point of contention. The baked chicken was always a point of contention. Why? Because there would be spots of pink in it.

Why would I admit that? You’re going to think I’m crazy . . .

I should turn back the clock. Let’s say ninety minutes. The chicken comes from the distributor in twenty-pound boxes. It’s a buffet, after all. The morning prep cooks distribute the bird onto sheet trays for easy access, half remaining bare and the other half coated in a dry batter for the fryer. It’s not ideal but I have certainly seen worse. I clock in around two o’clock, prep what I need for the evening, and then get ready to bake a tray. You season it liberally, flip it onto a rack placed on another sheet tray, and season the other side. You place it in the oven and time it for sixty-five minutes. When the timer goes, you stick the probe thermometer in the thickest part of the bird. Then you check different points around the tray to make sure the whole thing cooked evenly and thoroughly.

165 degrees at the bare minimum . . .

“I demand a refund!” I lost track of the conversation but was unsurprised that it came back to that. It always came back to that. But would the manager comp the meal or stand his ground? After all, there was no ground for the customer to stand on. They were in the wrong.

There’s a difference between pink chicken and chicken with some pink in it. Maybe you know the difference, and if you do, I applaud you. You won’t hear too much about it on the Food Network, or on some food blog that relishes in aesthetics, or even your cookbooks. Not typically, anyway. And I certainly understand why people would be rattled or concerned if they didn’t know about it. But here is the difference between the colors: a properly cooked bird–one that is up to temperature–will not have pink in it. If it is a light pink inside, then it probably didn’t reach temperature. And here is the even more important part, the tell-all of your cooking plight: does it have bones? Bones have a little something on the inside called marrow which will come out and color the cooked meat. But it is cooked and it is safe to eat. This will be a darker pink. This buffet used bone-in chicken.

Things sounded heated out there now, and the customer would not let up. I decided to come out since it wasn’t terribly busy. The customer was an older man with gray hair, glasses, and a knitted sweatshirt.

“Are you the cook?” he said to me. I was wearing a chef jacket and apron so I could understand his confusion.

“Yep, that’s me.”

“Your manager is trying to say that chicken gets pink inside of it when it bakes. I cook chicken all the time. It never has any pink in it!”

“How do you cook it? I need some pointers.” He didn’t think that was funny and he didn’t want to divulge his culinary secrets either. I continued with the usual, the same speech given a few times each week. “I assure you, the chicken is safe. As long as it reaches the correct internal temperature all over, it is safe to eat. Because it still has its bones, the marrow cooks out into the meat. The health inspectors will tell you the same thing. It is safe to eat.” Which was true. Contrary to what people thought in the kitchen, health inspectors were usually great to work with.

He turned back to the manager. “I want a refund!”

The manager sighed, defeated. “Okay.” This was a frequent battle and it was frequently lost. I felt a sense of defeat too that the customer managed to bully a comped meal out of him. It would usually end the same way too. The customer would be rude to the other staff but continue to return to the buffet for more. If they would listen or do a little digging around, they would find out that it was safe to eat. Was it pretty? Not really, but some folks love the taste of marrow. Most of the customers who ate the baked chicken knew that marrow would color the meat. Most of the customers weren’t entitled and looking for a fight a family buffet either.

The manager came back from the register and stood next to me. “Well, I wonder what he’ll complain about when he comes again tomorrow.”

“Does he come here regularly?” I asked.

“Yep. Regular enough. Anyway, back to it.” He went out to the dining area.

I turned around to go to the kitchen but was stopped by soft voice.

“Excuse me, sir?” I turned back around. It was a short, elderly lady who had walked up behind me. She had a piece of baked chicken on her plate.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

“Well, I didn’t want to raise a fuss.”

“There’s no fuss at all,” I smiled. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Well, there’s a little bit of pink in my chicken . . .”







Author’s note: Things Heard and Said was an online diary of sorts back when the Unnecessary Blog was on Blogspot. The posts are fictionalized, though mostly true stories about some of life’s little absurdities. It is not chronological. Here is the previous and unrelated post in the series: The Ballad of Mickey, My Friend

Occasional Prose

The Ballad of Mickey, My Friend (Things Heard and Said)

Back then, the television stroller in school seemed taller and the 19-inch square screen seemed massive. One teacher had a laserdisc to show us some science mumbo-jumbo, but the real favor was with the VHS tapes. It could also be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, maybe they would put on something interesting, or at least put on Timmy Tugboat or something like that. And at least Ms. Whiterance would leave us alone for the time being. On the other hand, it might be some decade old tape that flickered wildly on the screen and made awful noises as the tape scratched against whatever mechanisms that made it work. Worse yet, it might also be something educational.

It was a tape about bullying, as it turned out. Why we would need to watch a tape about that was anyone’s guess. Everyone in the room, including the teacher, seemed to have a pretty good grasp on what it was. The others had perfected the craft over time. Mickey, one of my closer friends, sat forward at his tiny desk to take thorough notes as some garbled synthesizer music projected out of the TV.

The first thought on my mind–verbally clarified by one of the others–was that the person on the screen deserved to be bullied. He was some middle-aged dweeb with a dork haircut and nerdy disposition. He had stepped in to save some younger looking dweeb with a dork haircut and a nerdy aura about him. The bullies on display were mere amateurs; I got told worse things on a daily basis from Mickey. Those kids on the screen (who were probably in nursing homes by the time we saw the tape) only said the boy looked funny.

The older guy looked into the camera, his face waving with the used-up tape, said something inaudible about being nice. “It doesn’t cost a thing for you to say nothing. It doesn’t cost a thing for you to say something nice. But once you say something mean, you can’t take that back.”

Someone was snoring by this point. Who could blame them? The lights were out and the windows gave us the full picture of the gray sky and diagonal rainfall. Others were fixated on that. Others were drawing pictures or making those paper finger games that answered life’s burning questions. Who knew colors and numbers had such insight? Still others were hanging on to consciousness for dear life, afraid that Ms. Whiterance would notice them sleeping and belittle them in front of the class. It wasn’t until high school English class that we realized she was immortalized in history though never mentioned by name at the bequest of Grendel’s mother; Ms. Whiterance really scared that woman. I stared around the room to see what was going on and accidently made eye contact with her. Her eyes glowed like a cat’s and it was enough for me to turn back toward the screen. It was only out of the corner of my eye that I saw Mickey transfixed by the program.

It made me wonder what fresh torture and torment awaited me and the others when we would have recess again. With the rain, it would likely be inside today. But one could always do some damage with the kickball, the jump rope, the wiffleball bat, or even the two hands and feet you had. Mickey liked to hit his closest friends on the groin and kick the shins of those he was indifferent to. I never took up cussing until junior high but even as his friend, Mickey could be a real bastard.

I lost track of the bullying movie because we would all be kinesthetic learners soon enough. It came to a close and the static took over the screen. Ms. Whiterance rushed over to turn it off and turn on the lights. It was a brief moment that we kids had to reevaluate our lives and where we wanted to be in five years, or more likely, in five seconds. Her grunt was as if a growl that shook the dropped ceiling and made the fluorescent lights blink like lightning. Had you heard her voice, it would have seemed indecipherable. But to us learned pupils of the first grade, we understood the dialect and vernacular. She had hissed that it was now time for recess. “Go down to the gym,” she said in a tone two decibels lower than a banshee.

We were expected to walk single file to the gym, and I always preferred to be the caboose of the train. It was a frightening place to be since all would be made known there. The alternative was not knowing what happened. And on this day I watched as a stray student or two dared to jump to one of the tiles on the floor instead of staying in the line. The teacher would send them to some unspoken place, the dreams of recess dashed with a precision unknown to humanity. She would shatter that one moment of reprieve for the students. It was not out of necessity for order, nor did she do so with the intention of correction. Ms. Whiterance just enjoyed power and suffering with the scale tipped to the former.

Now, I liked recess and had no problem staying focused enough to get there. But recess was just a changing of the guard: Ms. Whiterance for Mickey. We were set loose in the old gym and knew where to find the equipment we needed. She would leave us there to chain smoke a half dozen cigarettes in the allotted twenty-minute time frame. Freedom is always great until you need protecting. A big kid like me should have known how to defend myself but I excelled more as a doormat.

The popular kids decided today was kickball day. That was fine by me. I liked kickball. I was even good at the kicking, not so much with the base running though. Mickey was on my team and preoccupied with the game, thankfully. He liked kickball too.

Not long into the game, the bases were loaded and we had two outs. All the pressure in the world was no doubt somewhere else but I dare you to explain that to an unpopular first grader. All eyes were on me as the pitcher rolled the ball my direction. Under the stress, I missed the first kick and got a strike. There was an audible groan from my team. Then the pitcher rolled another and I kicked it, only for it to go out of bounds. This day would have no bearing on the rest of my life but I could feel something was about to happen. I would be the hero for this team and kick the ball to the stage: a home run.

The pitcher got hold of the ball again.

He drew it back.

He pitched.

I kicked.

And boy howdy, did that ball soar across the gym. That is, it soared upward and knocked a tile down from the drop ceiling. “You’re out!” the pitcher yelled, reminding us of the automatic out that type of play resulted in.

Some of the team were angry as we took the outfield. Mostly it was the usual insults. Moron. Idiot. Dweeb. Fatty. Things like that. But to my surprise, Mickey told them to shut up. He even kicked little Sammy in the shin. “Don’t talk to him like that! It costs you nothin’ to say nothin’!” And with Sammy crying and on the injured list, he, Mickey, and I had to sit out the rest of the game.

As we had our backs to the wall and watched the game proceed, Sammy sniffled and refused to look our direction. But I was thankful and trying not to beam, knowing that I had a friend like Mickey in my corner. He blankly watched the game go on like he had been watching the tape earlier. “Hey, Mickey, I just wanted to thank–“

Wham! Just like that, I felt a terrible pain from being hit on the crotch.

Mickey only shook his head and continued watching the game. “Why do you let them bully you, fatass?”

Occasional Prose

The Chauffeur (a short story)

“Where to, love?”

“Today was simply dreadful. Why don’t we just drive around the lake?”

“Yes, marm.”

Violetta sat uncomfortably in the back seat of the car, rolling up her window up and letting out a sigh. The car began to move over cobblestone to a paved road. She watched the bare trees rush by as she leaned her head on the window. “Can you slow down?”

“Yes, love.”

“You can drop that hideous act as well. It’s only me.”

“Yes, marm, but you–“

“I know, I know. I forgot to make the change.”

“All is well.” There was a brief pause as the road drew closer to the lake. It was cool outside but the sight of the water brought Violetta warm feelings of older days. The silence was an important part of these trips even if it would not last forever. “What, pray tell, has made this day so dreadful?”

“It’s the same everyday.”

“But you are not the same as you were, marm.”

“I assure you that my mind is still the same.”

“I cannot cannot determine what it is that makes you confide in me.”

“Then why do you try?”

“Perhaps I can be what lacks being. I need only figure out your motivations. “

“I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“With all due resprect–“

“You know, I thought a drive would help today. Would you kindly pull into one of the empty lots?”

“I can, love.”

“Stop,” she whispered.

“I do apologize. I wanted to say it one last time.”

The car pulled into an empty lot moments later. Violetta took a few minutes and stared out into the water with a look of emptiness in her eyes. “Some days,” she said, her voice trailing off. She sniffled but ultimately composed herself.

“We have talked about this.”

“How do you remember talking about it? How can you?”

“Might I suggest a course of action? Why don’t you hit the reset and I will drive you home?”

“Maybe that would be for the best.” Climbing into the front seat of the car, Violetta pushed a few buttons on the dash, each making a cheery note. A notification popped up on the touchscreen which read: RESET? YES or CANCEL. She closed her eyes and tapped blindly. There was no audio to indicate her choice.

“You will not tell anyone?” she asked.

“Who would I tell, marm?”

“Can you drive me home?”

“Most certainly. Same time tomorrow, love?”

She was silent as the tires ran over some particularly noisy rocks. “Same time,” she eventually said.

“Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day,” the car said monotonously.

Occasional Prose · Stuff

A Spiel About Characters and Stories (but the switchyard operator in my mind just threw up his hands and took an early weekend)

If the title didn’t give it away, this is just me airing out some thoughts. Don’t expect a lot of clarity.

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Sometimes I ask indirect questions in order to get more direct answers. It is more of a last resort than anything else but it does serve a purpose. I’ve had an embarrassing amount of free time this week for a multitude of reasons and it has got me back into writing my other stories. And, of course, whenever I get back into that I hop on a metaphorical rollercoaster that has no safety bar.

I made a bit of progress on one short story over a month ago but when I working on it, I got some not-so-great phone calls two nights in a row. I’m not superstitious at all but that sinking feeling in my gut still remains when I look at the draft.

The other story? If you’ve followed this site for a while, then you know it’s that dog and cat story. I am at a constant crossroad with it. It is my oldest story (and yes, there is a story) but there remains another problem: it’s that dog and cat story. I’m of the mindset that a story should say something. It has always been more about conflicting personalities working off of each other, as well a satirical look at small-town America, but I often wonder if I’m pairing my characters with the right stories. And that has been fresh on my mind too, especially with all the free-time I’ve had this week. I want the characters to have their moment in the spotlight but there are a lot of characters.

I asked an indirect question on an Instagram story earlier and admittedly, I was fishing for a certain response. It was also a bit of a broad question but I will ask all of you here too (even though I’m showing my cards):

What is the best, or your favorite, series? It can be from any medium.

I’ve enjoyed the few answers I’ve received. The method to my madness was/is this: what do all of these series have in common? Some of them share characters, some share themes, others share locales. I wanted to see how many had large casts of characters. The only one that did was Star Wars and when it comes to characters, the galaxy far, far away seems like an outlier. Many series do have a large quantity of characters and pull it off nicely. Others do not. Star Wars seems at its best when it is focused on a smaller groups of characters. Compare each successive trilogy: the original had only a few and they were able to delve into the common mythologies shared by many cultures, the prequels had a few more characters and sometimes had to take a back seat to the story, and the sequels had new characters bursting from its seams that had to fight for relevance in their own films. Star Wars has shown promise on television by breaking up the many arcs but it is also another medium.

I wouldn’t call the five Chronicles of Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander my absolute favorite but my goodness, there is something to be learned and admired in his approach. The Book of Three introduced Taran the pig-keeper and he was insufferable. The story was good but the main character was not. But the books only focused on a handful of characters and with each one, they were able to be fleshed out. I almost dreaded the fourth book because it was solely about Taran and yet he had grown substantially as a character by that point. You felt for him. The ending of The High King is gloriously executed. Had I started with that book like I intended, I would not have had the same appreciation and respect that I have for it now. Those books are guides for character progression, plain and simple. But should you have to read or see something else to appreciate something? I think The High King could stand on its own while many stories today exist solely to set up another.

So: a few characters or a lot of characters? How many stories? Should there even be more than one story? Should there be any story written at all? I’ve asked myself these questions many times and I can see pros and cons for each.

C. E. called earlier this evening and we had a good chat. None of this came up, of course, but he indirectly helped settle my mind for now. We talked for a little bit about an old hangout we went to. Many, if not most nights for a few years we went there to have a drink, usually at the same table. Everyone there knew us. That was seven or eight years ago. A lot has changed. But I went back there without him three or four years ago. I didn’t recognize a soul in there. It was renovated. Oddly enough though–and for the record, it had nothing to do with us–that spot we frequented had a table set up with no chairs and a light above it. It’s a funny thought to think that it might have been considered sacred because of us. It’s a funny thought to think that all of these complete strangers had no idea why that particular table had to be set aside as a memorial and yet they did so without a second thought. It’s a funny thought to think that at one point, two friends sat there, never reserved it, but a new group of people keep it there in reserve anyway.

It’s funny because there’s a story behind it. Every person in there had a story. Every one of you has a story. Life is full of characters.

And so, though my mind is settled for now, I will have to ask myself directly or indirectly once again:

How many characters need their story written?

Occasional Prose · Poetry

Come What May

The door’s open, come what may.

* * * * *

The FOR SALE sign slowly burned.

* * * * *

The neighborhood watched behind closed curtains.

* * * * *

“The end is nigh,” it read.

* * * * *

The CLOSED sign was in neon.

* * * * *

The open door closed many out.






Six word stories? Writing prompts? A weirdly edited poem? You decide.