Foxtails – Extended Version

The following post is an extended version of a short story I wrote in August of 2017 by the same name. Those who support me on my Patreon account at the $10 a month level not only got early access to the extended story you see below, they also got an exclusive patron-only audio reading of this story. If you’d like to get future perks such as this (or any of the other perks I offer), support me on Patreon.


I stood at the end of the bike path and stared out into the park before me. Sweat dripped down my forehead and into my eyes, clouding my vision temporarily before I wiped it away. I took a deep breath and made a mental note as to how my day was progressing. 18.5 miles done, 18.5 to go.

I walked my bicycle through the grassy park and toward the picnic area on the far side of the park. I leaned its emerald frame against the support posts of the gazebo and walked over to the nearby water fountain. The chilling liquid flowed forth from the silver spigot and hit my lips with its icy touch. My face flinched back instinctively from the shock before I went back in and took a couple of long drinks from the water’s flow. Though the water had a slight metallic aftertaste to it — and an even more faint scent of sulfur along with it — I gulped the water down ravenously. It was shit water, but it was familiar and comforting.

I knelt to the ground, adjusting my shoes around my feet in an effort to limit the soreness that would develop on my ride home. With calm and purposeful movements I learned as a teen, I unlaced the top holes on each side of my shoe, weaving their plastic coated aglets back through those top two holes, creating a loop I could swoop the opposite lace through. For whatever reason, this configuration of shoe tying always made my feet less sore after a run or a ride. At the bare minimum, the placebo effect was strong with this ritual.

I took a moment and absorbed my surroundings. It had been thirteen years since I was last in this park. As I expected when I set off on my ride today, not much has changed here. This town never changes. Sure, the gazebo had a fresh coat of paint (or two) in that time. The swing set had gone from a four seat apparatus to a three seat one. The people walking by had grown measurably older. But at its core, this was the same tiny hamlet I left after high school. While its charm and nostalgia had grown to tourists as it aged, the shortcomings of the town — and its people — appears as larger and more hideous blemishes to me with each new year. At least I was just passing through. Had my mission for the day required anything longer than this, I’m sure I would have said something to someone that pissed them off. It always happened that way.

As a warm summer breeze blew in from the west, I grabbed my bike and hopped on, pedaling back up the path via which I had arrived a few minutes prior. June was hardly my favorite month to be outdoors — I strongly preferred a jog through the vibrant October foliage or a hike in the frigid January air — but this seemed different.

I wasn’t more than twenty yards from the gazebo when an old man waved and called after me frantically.

“Ollie?” he shouted. “Ollie? Is that you?”

I kept pedaling, pretending I didn’t notice him. He was right about my identity. Everyone knew everyone in this small town. I just knew this man better than most. His name was Albert Kariss. He was a custodian at the elementary school, assistant coach of the wrestling team I captained in high school, and the neighbor of my third girlfriend, Mallory Quill. Even though I knew Albert and found him to be one of the less objectionable people in this area, I wasn’t about to talk to him today. My mind wouldn’t let me.

For weeks I had been battling this feeling that I was missing something. It took me a while to put my finger on what exactly was lacking. At first I chalked it up to being overworked and under caffeinated, though a long weekend and copious amounts of espresso later, I was still perplexed, albeit shakier. I took a short vacation from my day-to-day life to clear my head, skirting off from my townhome in northeastern Ohio to spend some time at a secluded cabin in upstate New York. However by the end of my time away, instead of having clarity and calmness, the feeling had only become more pronounced. It was as if a ghost from the past was calling out to me, beckoning me to seek it out. Yet no matter how loud the ghost yelled for me, I could not recognize its name, or its purpose.

The source of this feeling, however, I was sure of. I decided to take one last shot at trying to satiate whatever was stirring inside of me. Perhaps I was acting quixotically in hoping that there was some silver bullet that could kill this nagging feeling. It was a phase. It would pass. All things do. Yet, despite knowing this fact, or at least believing in the passage of all feelings, factual belief or otherwise, I set out for a place I hadn’t been in nearly a decade and a half, recreating an activity lodged even further in the past along the way.

A little under a mile up the path from the gazebo, I came to a road crossing. The bike path was leaving town — this would be the last road I’d cross for four miles — but not before crossing over a tiny street that saw virtually no traffic. In one direction, I could see the side street end on the main street of town. There were three or four houses on the street, all bunched at the corner of the primary road. In the other direction, the road continued on for around two hundred feet, crossing the bike path before becoming a dead-end at a fence leading into acres upon acres of soybeans. A tractor was more likely to cross the bike path on the road than a car. A bench sat on either side of the end of the road, often serving as a final stopping point before the park for any biker or runner needing a breather.

In my youth, I had stopped and sat on those very benches countless times. When running, they provided me with a place to sit for a few minutes before I finished my workout. Had I lived in the area as an adult, I likely would have done the same thing, though because I truly needed a breather rather than the act of laziness that my teen self took it as. If I was biking, particularly with a group of friends, the benches where a place for those of us who rode faster to pause for those who moved at a more leisurely pace. But those weren’t the moments that I associated with this place in the archive of my mind. At the age of 14, it was where I had my first kiss.

Mallory was my third girlfriend — well, literally third. I should really count her as my first girlfriend, as the previous two relationships lasted a combined five days of sixth grade. That said, she was technically my third girlfriend…but my first kiss. My first romantic kiss. Granted, I had been exposed to sloppy kisses from my great aunts that smelled of equal parts cigarette smoke, day-old hollandaise sauce, and that one old lady perfume that no one knows the name of but every seventy-year-old white grandmother who carries two Bibles in her purse seems to use. Those kisses were the stuff of nightmares. Mallory’s was not.

A group of eight of us had decided to bike the entire trail over a two-day span. Our parents all dropped us off at my friend Steve’s grandparents’ house, which was at the opposite end of the trail from the park with the gazebo. We’d ride that afternoon to Mallory’s house, which was just minutes from the park. We’d stay there overnight, then rode back to Steve’s grandparents’ so that our families could pick us up the following afternoon.

The first day of the ride was pleasant, albeit uneventful. Steve and his best friend, Matt, stopped at every possible gas station on the way to buy something. Usually it was a candy bar or something cheap like that. Apparently before the ride began, they had set a goal to see if they could ride the entire trail while stopping at every gas station on the way and buying something, all for under ten dollars. No idea if they succeeded. I spent most of the day riding in a group of three featuring Mallory, her best friend, Anne, and myself. The other three members of our group featured the Covelli twins, Ashleigh and MacKenzie, along with Ashleigh’s boyfriend, Trent. Throughout the day, Ashleigh and Trent kept sneaking off, trying to find somewhere just off the path to make out without the rest of the group noticing. Unfortunately for them, MacKenzie watched them like a hawk, leaving their freedom to be more of a want than a reality. Between all the stops for everyone, the ride took most of the day, even though it shouldn’t have.

We arrived at Mallory’s house in time for her father to make us all hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. The group of us stayed outside and huddled around the fire pit long after the sun had gone down, and well after Mallory’s parents and sisters had gone to bed. Around two in the morning, the twins were the first to turn in, quickly followed by Steve, Trent, and Matt. Anne snuck off to have a cigarette, while Mallory and I shared a blanket to protect us from the cool summer breeze. We worked our way through the quarter bag of marshmallows left, burning all of them to a crisp just to see how long they’d stay on the skewer.

About four o’clock, Mallory and I made our way inside, walking hand-in-hand up the narrow steps leading to her back patio. She went up to her room, while I curled up on a couch in the basement. I could hear Steve snoring from the recliner across the room, his tenor tones nearly perfectly alternating with similar snores from Ashleigh — or was it MacKenzie? — in the next room over. I was nearing sleep when I felt someone poke me lightly on the shoulder.

“Are you two dating yet?” Anne asked, the smell of yet another cigarette running off of her breath and into my nostrils.

“I think so?” I said, unsure of the actual answer. “At least, I want to be.”

“That’s good. As long as you make her happy, I won’t have to slit your throat.”

I could hear Anne smiling through the darkness.

“Sleep tight!” she said excitedly as she left the room.

I did not, as Anne put it, sleep tight.

On the second day of the ride, Steve decided that he wanted everyone to race back to his grandparents. Most of the group took off and rode as fast as they could, but Mallory and I didn’t feel like trying hard. The late night had sapped both of us from our energy, and though a massive stack of pancakes for breakfast was helpful, I still felt like I’d been hit by a train. Mallory, sensing my fatigue while feeling a good bit of it herself, had apparently convinced Anne to give us some time to ourselves. At least we’d enjoy the ride, even if we fell asleep midway through.

We stopped at the benches by the soybean fields and sat for fifteen minutes or so, watching as the sun melted the dew off of the giant foxtails growing by the fence at the road’s turnaround. Mallory leaned her head into my shoulder, resting there as we watched the droplets fall or vaporize, depending on their size. Her strawberry blonde hair still smelled strongly of the campfire from the night before.

“Is Anne actually going to hurt me if we date and I fuck up?” I asked, my eyes closed as I focused on the lingering scent of burnt maple wood and sugar emanating from Mallory’s soft locks.

“Depends how you fuck up,” she replied. “Did you mean to hurt me?”

“In this hypothetical situation? No.”

“Then no,” Mallory said, squeezing my hand in hers. “She’s all bark and no bite.”

As we got up to leave, Mallory gripped my hand and pulled me towards her. We only kissed for a moment, but in that moment, time stopped. I know its cliché to say, but everything around me evaporated from existence. All that there was in that moment was Mallory, me, and that slow, soft kiss.

It ended as soon as it began. Mallory laughed and jumped on her bicycle, pedaling off as quickly as she could into the distance. I gave chase after her, catching up around a mile later. We eventually caught up with everyone else, save for Steve, who won his own race convincingly. Despite that middle school kiss, Mallory and I broke up before the summer ended. I couldn’t even tell you why at this point in life. It just sort of happened.

We went our separate ways throughout high school, always staying decent friends, but never being particularly close. She went off to college at Central Michigan, while I pursued my studies at the University of Buffalo. We wouldn’t date until graduate school, where we happened to end up in the same economics program at Wright State University. I married her seven years later.

As my mind drifted back from long-gone days to my adulthood quest to free my mind, I parked my bike and sat down on the same bench Mallory and I had sat on as teens. It wasn’t literally the same bench — the rotting wooden benches had been replaced by nicer composite ones some years back — but the view was the same. Giant foxtails fading into farmland, dew clinging to their edges like tears on eyelashes. In the distance, I heard thunder echo through the sky. Even if I was bound and determined to relive that moment where I found that first glimpse of love, the world was not going to melt away for me today.

Save for a quick burst of rain, my ride ended uneventfully. I loaded my bicycle and drove home slowly. It wasn’t a race, after all. I arrived home shortly before dusk and unloaded my bike from the bed of my truck, taking a moment to refill the water bottle I’d brought with me from the hose on the side of my house. After a short breather, I left my house began to pedal up the street, just as I had nearly every day for the last year.

Unlike the bike path from earlier, which largely wound through small towns and farm land, this trip covered sidewalks and bike lanes through the suburbs. Though traffic was light this evening, I still had to be aware of my surroundings at all times. My mind couldn’t wander and linger as it had this morning or afternoon, lest I get hit by the driver of an over-sized pickup truck who was too busy texting to see me. Even though the ride was short — a mile and a half at most — it felt like it took twice as long as the 37 mile round-trip trek from earlier thanks to the amount of focus I had to place on not becoming a distracted driving statistic.

I stopped at an iron gated cemetery, locking my bicycle to the fence outside. I entered by foot, taking the same robotic path I always did — twenty-three steps forward to the first footpath, turn right, one hundred and six steps forward, turn left, then nine steps forward. I could do it in my sleep, I’m certain of it. There’s plenty of times I’d made the same walk in a fog, both a literal one and a figurative one. Sleep walking couldn’t be that much harder.

I came to a stop, reached into my pocket, and removed the giant foxtail heads I had picked from the grass by the bench. I placed them on Mallory’s grave and kissed the headstone, hoping that somewhere…wherever she may be…she was feeling the same way she did when we both had our first kiss.

The feeling of missing something wasn’t gone. I don’t know why I expected it to be. In the thirteen months since Mallory’s passing, the feeling waxed and waned, but never fully disappeared. I had hoped that reconnecting to a point in the past that was such a profound instance of happiness for me — as well as for Mallory, as she would admit after we’d been dating for some time — would calm the hollow feeling inside my soul. But it didn’t work. It never did.

I sat down on the rain-dampened path in front of Mallory’s headstone, staring ahead blankly at the monolithic slab in front of me. After a few moments, my eyes began to unfocus and my vision blurred. It was almost as if I were staring through the headstone, as if it weren’t even there. The exercise had become part of my routine since Mallory had died. It made me feel like the grave wasn’t real. If the grave wasn’t real, she couldn’t be gone. I’d get up from my seated position, bike home, and she’d be there, annoyed I’d left without telling her.

It never worked.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, rising from my seated position slowly. The long ride was finally starting to catch up to me, my back and hamstrings pulsing with dull, deep throbs. There was only one place left to go: home. I didn’t want to go back. I never did. But I had to. If I didn’t go home, there’s a chance I wouldn’t come back tomorrow. If I didn’t come back tomorrow, that was the first step to Mallory being forgotten. The memories of her were all I had left. I wasn’t going to let those go too.

Eyes Upon Us

This post is a response to November 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


The beauty of frequent airport travel is that you begin to learn the best places to sit in your home airport before your flight. For me, this is completely contingent on what I’m doing. If I have a lot of work to get done before my flight, I’ll find a corner near my gate where I can camp out with an outlet and put headphones in. If I’m travelling with others, I find that it’s most efficient just to get to your gate, find seats for everyone, then send off small parties for food so as to save seats.

Today, I’m flying alone for work, but I have nothing to do before my flight. This is my favorite time at the airport, as I can sit and people watch. For the early morning flights that my job necessitates, this means the optimal place to sit is a small grove of black tables and yellow chairs near the Starbucks and McDonald’s in the D concourse. This placement is great because I can see people leaving both restaurants, all while still watching the four gates across from the food area.

My morning begins with a rambunctious child announcing himself by sprinting ahead of his parents, a tiny suitcase thrashing wildly behind him. His parents lag some twenty to thirty steps behind. Mom appears to be on the phone with some family member making plans while dad pushes a stroller housing a small child with one arm and drags a larger version of the child’s suitcase with his other. Their story is not particularly interesting. I see it nearly every time I come to the airport. Grandma/grandpa/distant cousin Louis has died and the young family has a funeral that they need to go to either out of caring for that family member or obligation to avoid hearing whining from the family members that do care. It’s a coin flip which one is the case.

Behind them, a young woman in sweatpants and a pajama top carries a duffel bag over one shoulder as she stares down at her phone. Her crimson dye no longer covers all of her hair, sandy blonde roots poking out at the base of her skull. She strolls into the Starbucks and takes her place at the back of the line, still deeply engrossed in whatever is featured on the screen in front of her. This type of traveler is growing increasingly common. While I certainly find myself doing this on many of my own trips, it’s much harder for me to imagine their story when my view of them is nothing more than a face and a screen in the crowd.

After a short lull in the early morning foot traffic, I’m greeted by my first real opportunity of the morning. A middle aged couple — at least I presume they’re a couple from their matching non-corporate suitcases and laptop bags, similar styles of wedding rings, and general disdain for one another — came walking up the ramp that led to my area of the terminal. The woman walked five to ten steps ahead of the man, her pace only slowed out of annoyance when she allowed him to catch up.

The man’s name either Oliver or Shithead. I assume the former, though the woman referred to him by the latter much more frequently. If their roles were switched — the woman looking frightened in the face of a truculent man verbally berating her — it’s likely that one of the several passersby in the airport would have said something. Instead, everyone looked at the couple with worried eyes and scared faces.

Oliver took a seat on the ground near the giant window between gates D21 and D23 that overlooked the tarmac. He shouted after the woman — her name was Amelia — asking her to get him a coffee, black with sugar. Whether or not she heard him was unclear. Amelia joined the line at Starbucks, three people behind the crimson haired girl. Through all the shouting, said girl was the only person that I noticed who didn’t look up at Amelia and Oliver. Personal sound bubbles created by headphones are a hell of a drug.

A giant blue, red, and yellow plane tail made its way past the window, driving its way down to a gate further along the concourse. Oliver’s head turned to follow the plane’s path, watching it until it made its way out of sight. As his head turned all the way to the left, I noticed a tear rolling down his face, hitting the shoulder of his gray t-shirt. Oliver opened his laptop bag and pulled out a small bottle of pain killers. He popped the lid off, dropped two of the pills in his hand, then quickly consumed them.

I heard a gabby pair of gentlemen walk out of the McDonald’s behind me and make their way back toward the main concourse area. The taller of the two men — a slender fellow with ash brown hair and a black duster — paused their walking by elbowing the shorter man in the arm. The tall main pointed towards Oliver with two fingers, leading the shorter man to nod and walk off without the taller man. The tall man removed his coat, folding it over his arm, and begin walking towards Oliver.

At first glance, the tall man looked like an odd cross between on Old West gunfighter and an evangelical Midwestern preacher. I blame the duster. But the more than I looked at him, the more he seemed like a kindly person than either of the negative stereotypes he initially appeared to be. The man walked over to Oliver, held out his hand, and helped Oliver to his feet.

Oliver began talking to the man, though from the distance they were away, I couldn’t make out anything they were saying. Oliver mostly nodded, the corners of his mouth fighting their hardest to avoid being in a frowning position. He sighed heavily and sat down in a nearby chair, holding his head in his hands. The tall man stood closer to him, placing his hand on Oliver’s back and rubbing it in small, circular motions lightly.

After a few minutes, Amelia exited the coffee shop, a cup of coffee in each hand, and walked toward the window. She handed Oliver his coffee, then began talking to the tall man. I wondered if she would continue her shouting at Oliver in front of the man or not. It was clear that she didn’t have — or at the very least chose not to use — the restraint not to do so earlier. Would she do it when she was more than just a (very noticeable) face in the crowd?

Instead, after a brief conversation, Amelia handed her coffee to Oliver, then wrapped her arms around the tall man and hugged him. Their embrace didn’t last long, though it was evident that there was some sort of pre-existing relationship between the two of them. My best guess would have to be that the three of them were mutual friends at some point in the past, though at this stage, the tall man was much closer to Amelia than to Oliver.

As I watched their embrace, I had failed to notice that the shorter man from before had taken a seat the table beside me. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and silver tie. On the left side lapel of his jacket, he wore a small pin of an orange fox. The shorter man too was looking on, watching this scene from afar.

“What’s going on over there?” I asked him as I took a sip of my coffee.

“Who?” he asked, “me?”

“Yeah. Do you guys know the lady that was screaming at that man earlier?”

“Kind of,” he replied. “The man over there holding his jacket is the head of Cyngreen Research.”

“The company trying to find out how to access the Halycon Realm?”

“That’s the one. He’s always trying to meet people he runs into that don’t act like typical humans.”

“Hoping to meet a being from Halycon?” I asked.

“Precisely.”

“Any luck?”

The shorter man shuffled in his seat and smiled as he turned towards me.

“Of course,” he replied. “Where are you flying to today?”

“Boston.”

“What a coincidence. How would you like to join us for dinner? We’d love to hear more about the Halycon Realm from someone who is from there.”

I laughed to myself as he reached out his hand to shake mine.

“You have a good eye,” I said. “How about Al Dente in the North End. 7pm?”

“It’d be our pleasure, mister…”

“Ka’la Banon.”

Another Haunt

This post is a response to October 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


“Dale! Dale, hurry up!” yelled Marty.

“I’ll just be a few more minutes!” Dale shouted back.

“Dale, come on,” said Marty as he floated through the living room towards Dale’s bedroom. “It’s the busiest night of the year for haunts and you’re spending hours getting ready. The Spectral Turnpike is going to be crammed with spirits trying to get to Earth tonight.”

“I know,” Dale replied. “It’ll just be a few minutes.”

“It’s not like there’s going to be press there. All the celebrity ghosts are going to the party Frieda Kahlo is throwing. The spookarazzi will have its hands full. No need to bust out the couture.”

Dale cracked his door open and poked his head out.

“Spookarazzi?” Dale said. “Really? You know they’re still called paparazzi in the spirit realm.”

“I’m just trying to be festive,” Marty countered.

“Yeah, well if you want to be festive, go finish putting up your lights. Our block won’t win any awards if your only decorations are some fake spiders sprinkled in your shrubs.”

“Fine,” said Marty as he floated to the door. “I’ll be back in ten minutes. If you’re not ready, I’m leaving without you. Last Halloween we hit the thick of traffic and it took six whole minutes to get to Earth. It’s a thirty second trip! I’m not dealing with that again.”

Marty shut the door behind him, leaving Dale to dress in silence. He smashed together a sparkling dark blue powder with a wispy black mass, forming a midnight blue amalgamation on the dresser in front of him. Dale slathered the concoction on his black sleeves, the powder fading quickly into the fabric. He finished rubbing the powder into his top, grabbed a sheathed katana from beside his dresser, and made his was out of the house.

“Took you long enough!” shouted Marty as he dangled lights from his roof.

Marty floated down to the ground and gave Dale a look over before uttering a disapproving scoff.

“A ninja? Again?” said Marty.

“It’s tradition,” replied Dale.

“Tradition for what? You go, scare a bunch of kids for a few hours, then come back and go get blitzed off your supernatural ass with me and the misses. We’ve been doing this for ten years! Try something new.”

Marty pointed across the street at twelve of their neighbors who were organizing themselves into a six by six formation.

“You see that, Dale?” said Marty. “They’re going as a hung jury. Complete with nooses and everything!”

“I don’t do group costumes,” replied Dale.

“It’s not about a group costume. Yeah, you could be the cat to my rat. I just want to make sure don’t get stuck doing the same thing every Halloween forever.”

“I won’t.”


Dale and Marty arrived on Earth at Midland Cemetery in the town of Norton Mills, Indiana. For ten years, Marty and Dale had chosen this cemetery as the start of their Halloween haunts. Cemeteries provided easy portals between the spectral world and Earth, which was particularly useful as spirits couldn’t move as freely on Earth as they could away from it. Though this was a source of frustration for Marty, Dale accepted it as the reality of his circumstances.

“See you back here at 10pm?” Marty asked.

“Yeah. Same as every other year.”

“If you make the Jenkins kid piss himself again this year, be sure to remember every detail.”

“I will, Marty. I always do.”

Marty floated off into the woods behind the cemetery, while Dale ducked behind trees, dancing through the shadows as he made his way towards a suburban neighborhood. Trick or treating was nearing its end, parents and small children making their way back into their homes as teens began to take over the streets.

Dale ducked into a nearby oak tree as teenage twin boys dressed as Freddie Kruger chased their unicorn-clad younger sister down the street. Dale closed his eyes and summoned up a strong gust of wind, blowing leaves up into the face of the twins, slowing them down briefly and allowing the girl to get away. Though Dale disliked using his supernatural powers to control earthly things (even during a haunt), it did provide him a surprising amount of joy to mess with people who were acting like assholes.

As Dale rounded the corner, he floated up to the roof of a small yellow house, allowing him to overlook a similarly designed blue house next door. 38 Carmody Lane. Though Dale participated in occasional haunts wherever he (or Marty) felt like throughout the year, this was the location for his Halloween haunt for the last ten years. It would remain that way for the foreseeable future, if Dale had any choice in the matter.

Dale floated off of the roof of the yellow house, taking care to make sure no living human noticed him doing so. He drifted through a closed second floor window of the blue home, entering a room lit by a small desk lamp by the wall to his left. Dale made his way back into the shadows of the corner, trying to stay as far away from the light as possible. After twenty minutes, a boy — around sixteen years of age — entered the room and sat down at the desk. He fiddled with the lamp, pointing it away from the corner Dale hid in.

“Are you there, dad?” the boy asked, staring into the corner.

“Yeah,” replied Dale.

“Thanks for coming again.”

“I can’t miss Halloween, Kenny. I wish I could come more, but this is the only time there’s enough paranormal activity that I can show up and ghost hunters won’t be tipped off to the consistency.”

“I know,” replied Kenny.

“How’s your sister?” asked Dale.

“Marci’s good. Just started eighth grade.”

“Is she here?”

“Nah,” said Kenny, “her and mom went to Grandma Engle’s house. They should be back late tonight. But you probably can’t stay that long.”

“Do you think she’ll ever want a visit one of these years?” Dale asked.

“She was three when you died, dad. I don’t know how much she even remembers you anymore.”

“Oh.”

Kenny sighed and put his head to his chest.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know,” replied Dale. “You’re probably right though. You at least had me around for six years.”

Dale examined Kenny, looking him up and down from a distance.

“How tall are you now?”

“Six one,” Kenny said.

“Are you swimming again?” asked Dale. “Or are you trying basketball?”

“Neither. Lifting in the offseason for baseball.”

“I guess that’s good.”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I see you?” asked Kenny. “Not in costume, I mean.”

“You know I can’t do that, son.”

“I know. But I have more memories of my dad dressed as a ghost ninja than I do of you alive. All I can see is your eyes.”

“It’s not my rule,” said Dale. “If I could change how I looked, this wouldn’t be an issue.”

“It just sucks,” stated Kenny.

“Yeah. It does.”

The sound of the doorbell ringing downstairs put an abrupt end to the conversation.

“Gerald going to get that?” asked Dale.

“Mom and Gerald are separated,” replied Kenny. “Have been a few months. Besides, it’s probably Olivia.”

“Olivia?”

“Yeah.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” said Dale. “I’ll leave you two be. Just be safe.”

“I will. I love you, dad.”

“I love you too.”

Dale made his way back through the window and down Carmody Lane and back towards the cemetery. He sat for three hours atop a fading tombstone belonging to someone named Thomas Dickinson. Dale never met the man, but he clearly had comfortable taste in burial decor. As the occasional passerby would walk near the cemetery gates, Dale would make the wind howl lightly, just enough to make the person walk with a bit more purpose in their step, but not enough to frighten them.


“Are you sure you want to change costumes before you come to the party?” asked Marty. “It’s kind of tradition you come as a ninja at this point.”

“I’m sure,” replied Dale. “Tell Courtney I’ll be over shortly.”

“Don’t be too long. All the good spirits will be gone. Or, wait a really long time and then it will only be us bad spirits.”

“I see what you did there.”

Dale entered his home and made his way into the bedroom, shutting the door behind him. He placed the katana down by the dresser, then made his way to the wardrobe where he kept his haunting attire. Behind a pair of ragged suits, he pulled out a box with a new outfit he had bought a few years prior. Dusting off the container, he opened it, revealing a new sport coat and dress trousers. Dale placed the box on the dresser, shoving the bronze centerpiece atop the dresser out of the way, and stared at mirror on his wall.

Through the ninja mask, he could see his own eyes — blue as they had been in life, though hollow and absent of being. His eyes were one of the few features in his life that Dale liked, so he was happy they crossed over with him, at least partially.

The unfortunate reality was that in addition to his striking blue eyes crossing over to the spirit world with him, so did the rest of the physical features that Dale possessed when he died. He removed the mask from his ninja costume, revealing a bloodied exit wound from his suicide. While such a feature wouldn’t get a second look in the spirit realm, Dale could never bring himself to go to Earth with it uncovered. Even beyond the stigmatization he knew suicide held on Earth, he didn’t want Kenny or Marci to see him like this. He removed the ninja costume’s top and began to change for the party. Maybe next year his routine would be different.

Maybe.

Like Clockwork

This post is a response to September 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


“How are you planning to come back from this? Can…can you?” asked Leo.

“Which part?” replied Sara. “The part where I fell in love with someone I shouldn’t have or the part where everyone’s happily celebrating my demise?”

“I’m positive not everyone is celebrating.”

“My mom called me to tell me that I’m better off single anyway. My brother has already texted me his ‘I told you so’. My best friend is busy trying to figure out how to rebound from this relationship.”

“I didn’t mean my question as a bad thing,” Leo interrupted.

“I know you didn’t,” said Sara.

“You’ve been telling me for weeks that things weren’t going to last with Natalie.”

“I have.”

“And you’ve been telling me that getting as close to her as you did was a mistake.”

“I have.”

“So even though this sucks,” said Leo, “you’ve known this was coming.”

“That doesn’t make it any easier,” replied Sara.

“I know it doesn’t. You were together, what, six months?”

“Seven.”

“Alright. And you weren’t to the point where you bought a ring for her like you had for Thia.”

“Thia and I dated for six years,” Sara scoffed. “That’s not a fair comparison and you know it.”

“I’m not trying to compare the relationships themselves,” replied Leo. “What I’m trying to say is that you’ve had a history of diving head first into bad situations and trying to solve them by going even deeper into them. You told me three weeks after you met Natalie that she was bad for you.”

Sara sighed heavily.

“And what was the first thing you did after you told me that?” asked Leo.

Sara sat silently staring at her shoes.

“You texted her asking if she wanted to go skydiving with you.”

“I didn’t want to go alone,” replied Sara. “It was my first time and the thought of skydiving was scary as shit.”

“It’s not about the fucking skydiving, Sara!” shouted Leo. “It’s that you routinely fall for people who you know are bad for you in some way and you turn it into a fucking quest to date them and make it work. You’re an alcoholic. You knew she partied hard on the weekends. What did you expect would happen?”

“I don’t need to hear this from you too, Leo.”

“Yes you do. No one else is holding you accountable. I don’t want to be doing this either, believe you me. But it’s not like you have a community of people around you to tell you to stop making terrible life choices.”

“Leo…” stammered Sara.

“She made you relapse, Sara,” said Leo. “I don’t know how you expect me to react. You’ve lost most of your friends over the problems you’ve had. And I get it. You have a problem. You’ve been working to get help. And when you’re trying to get help, you really do try your best. But…fuck. Stop putting your sex drive above your personal well-being.”

Sara got up from the couch and walked toward the door, grabbing her jacket and slipping shoes on her feet.

“Where are you going?” Leo asked.

“Walking home,” replied Sara.

“The sun isn’t even up yet. You’re not walking home.”

“The fuck I’m not.”

Sara slammed the door behind her and quickly walked down the stairs from Leo’s third floor apartment to the street below. A few moments later, she heard Leo giving chase behind her.

“You know your car’s here, right?” asked Leo.

“Don’t care.”

“You’ll have to come back and get it in the mor…”

“Dooooonnnnnnn’t care.”

“Sara, please let me drive you home.”

Sara violently turned around, whipping her coat around her and creating a wind that shifted the leaves on the sidewalk behind her.

“What do you expect me to do?” Sara screamed. “Am I supposed to be alone for the rest of my life?”

“I’m asking you not to cave to situations that you shouldn’t be in,” replied Leo.

“So what? Are you going to hand pick my next girlfriend? Maybe I should get my brother to do it. I bet Marty will love that. Oooo! I could call Thia and ask her advice. I’m sure she’ll be a great help.”

“Sara. You haven’t slept in thirty-six hours. You’re stressed, you’re upset, and you just got broken up with. Please either let me drive you home or sleep on my couch.”

“Can you promise you’re going to leave me the fuck alone about Natalie for the rest of the night unless I bring her up?”

“I promise.”

“Good. I really don’t want to walk home. It’s cold out.”

Leo walked over to Sara and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, guiding her back towards his apartment stairs.

“I’m hungry,” said Sara. “Do you think anyone is still delivering?”

“Adams’ Wings should still be open,” replied Leo.

“Oh good. The cute redhead from my spin class works there. Maybe she’ll deliver.”

“Sara…”

“Kidding. Mostly.”

Vita in Morte Sumus

This post is a response to August 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this story comes both from my song of choice, as well as a comment made by John Green on a recent episode of “Dear Hank and John“. My choice of the three songs listed in the post was “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire1I had originally written a story based on “Atlanta” by Stone Temple Pilots that dealt with the current climate towards legal and illegal immigration in parts of the USA. Upon re-reading the story, as well as a day spent with family members whose views on those topics are diametrically opposed to mine, I decided that my story needed more research prior to publishing. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, as well as one I feel like I presented from the correct point of view. That said, after seeing the venom and hatred that some people feel towards those who are different from them (not to mention how certain people think that splitting up families is a joke), I want to be certain that there are no factual inaccuracies in my story. Not because the people I was around deserve it — but because the people living through the hell that is being an immigrant in the USA today deserve my story to be as accurate of a representation as possible..


“Wake up! It’s finally here! Today is here!”

Maddie rolled over and placed her pillow atop of her head, cuddling her skull into the mattress beneath her. For a few seconds, the silence around her gave her hope that sleep was coming. But that hope was quickly shattered by her roommate, Cruz, shouting at Maddie again in her melodic, soprano voice.

“Maaaadieeeeee,” she sang. “It’s your special day!”

“Then why are you waking me up?” Maddie mumbled back from under her pillow.

“Because it’s your last chance to do anything you want!” replied Cruz. “You don’t want to miss out on that.”

Maddie sat up in bed, then threw her pillow at Cruz with a swift-moving left-handed toss. The pillow missed wide, bouncing off the wall and landing harmlessly at the foot of the bed.

“What if all I want to do all day is sleep?” asked Maddie. “I’m dying today. I should get to do whatever I want. And maybe I just want to curl up in bed and dream about sleeping while I’m sleeping.”

“But…” Cruz stammered. “What about spending time with your best friend?”

“My cat’s dead,” Maddie deadpanned.

Cruz picked up the pillow off the floor and playfully tossed it at Maddie’s head. Her throw flew truer than Maddie’s, striking Maddie’s hands just as she got them up in front of her face.

“Bitch,” said Cruz.

Maddie climbed out of bed and walked toward her dresser. She pulled out a pair of baby blue leggings, pulling them onto her legs and over her hips.

“I’m really sorry, Cruz,” stated Maddie as she dug through another drawer looking for a shirt to replace her sleeping shirt with. “What would you like to do today?”

“It’s not my day, Maddie. It’s yours. Whatever you want.”

“But I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I’m not spending this day wearing a bra. Fuck that noise.”

“Then let’s go get some coffee and figure it out from there.”

Maddie and Cruz left their apartment and walked to the nearby coffee shop they had frequented numerous times over the three years they’d lived together. Upon entering, they were greeted by Cline, a burly middle-aged man with a graying beard and a blue bandana covering his balding head.

“Good morning, ladies,” Cline bellowed out from behind the counter. “The usual?”

“That’s fine for me,” replied Cruz. “But we need to make something special for Maddie. It’s her day.”

“Oh, yay!” Cline exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”

“Not her birthday,” retorted Cruz. “Her day.

“Oh…” said Cline as his voice trailed off. “Um…well, what would you like, Maddie? It’s on me.”

“You don’t need to do that,” replied Maddie.

“Please?”

Maddie sighed. “Fine. A small decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel is butter.”

“Go have a seat. I’ll bring it out to you.”

Maddie and Cruz walked to the far side of the coffee shop, taking a seat near an large window that stared out to the shopping center behind the building. A small emerald green sedan rolled slowly through the lot between the coffee shop and the shopping center. Its back and sides were covered in bumper stickers of all sizes and shapes and colors. One of the largest stickers — a bright yellow sticker with bold, black font — read “EXPIRATION DATES ARE POPULATION CONTROL”.

“I hate seeing people like that out in the wild,” said Maddie.

“Why?” Cruz inquired.

“Everything is a conspiracy theory to them. I get there there are actual conspiracies out there, filled with shady people doing shady things. But most of the time it’s just people upset with something that’s out of their control.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Being upset isn’t bad,” replied Maddie. “Shouting as loud as you can about something you know nothing about is. Especially when there’s impressionable morons who will believe anything they hear.”

Cline walked to the table, a drink in each hand and a plate balanced on each arm. Cruz and Maddie reached out to take the plates from him as Cline carefully placed the drinks down on the table.

“Decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel with butter for you,” he began. “And a blueberry coconut Italian soda with a slice of lemon pound cake for you.”

“You’re the best,” Cruz said enthusiastically.

“You’ve been getting that flavor combination for nearly a year now and I still don’t understand it.”

“Have you tried it?” asked Cruz.

“Yep,” replied Cline. “It’s one of the few times in life I’ve regretted something I ate.”

Cruz shrugged. “More for me, I guess.”

The sound of sleigh bells hitting a glass door announced the arrival of new guests at the coffee shop.

“That’s my cue,” said Cline. “Maddie, if there’s anything else you want, just tell me or come help yourself. Okay?”

“I will,” she replied. “Thanks.”

Cline walked back to the front of the store where he began to make drinks for a young couple struggling to corral the three young children that had arrived with them.

“Is there anything you feel like you’re going to be missing out on?” asked Cruz, her mouth half full of pound cake.

“Nothing I’m not over,” Maddie answered. “I mean, I would have liked to have been rich and famous. But it’s hard to get either of those things by the age of twenty-six.”

“It’s not fair though. Not the not getting to be rich and famous. But you’re only twenty-six. Most people get to be around until they’re in their eighties or nineties. You don’t feel anything’s wrong with that?”

“Not really,” said Maddie. “There’s still a lot of people who think a sky spirit pre-ordains when it’s their time to die, even if it’s an untimely death. I don’t see how this is any different.”

Maddie took a drink from her coffee, closing her eyes and savoring the taste of the coffee in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.

“In fact,” Maddie continued, “it’s a better situation. I get to know when I’m dying. I could choose to ignore it, live life on the run, and then die anyway. Or I can have my shit together, say my goodbyes, and live my life the best I can in the finite time that I know I have.”

“But what about the people that’ll miss you?” asked Cruz.

“My adoptive family hasn’t spoken to me in years. My parents gave me up as a baby and I haven’t heard from them since. My group of friends has been dwindling the more people I tell about my expiration date. My cat’s dead. It’s pretty much you and the service workers I interact with that’ll notice I’m gone.”

Cruz clenched her lips together, contorting them to the side as she bit down on them from the inside. She took a deep breath in, then let it out with a long, slow exhale.

“I’ll miss you a lot,” stated Cruz.

“I know,” Maddie replied. “I’m sorry. You can keep as much or as little of my stuff as you want. Whatever helps you.”

“I appreciate it. What time is it?”

“A quarter to eight.”

“You have to be there at nine, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We should get going then.”

Maddie and Cruz took the last few bites of their food, then packed up to leave the coffee shop, their drinks in hand. Cline waved at them from behind the counter, though only Cruz returned a wave, albeit a half-hearted one.

The Expiration Bureau was a large sandstone building on the edge of the downtown area. It has previously been a bank, as well as a hotel before that. But with the formation of local Expiration Bureau offices by the National Board of Human Services and Well-Being, many cities found their largest — and often most well-known — buildings converted into Expiration Bureaus.

Maddie and Cruz entered the building and proceeded to a large reception desk with several employees seated behind it. After a short wait, they stepped up to a middle aged man wearing a cobalt blue suit.

“Your full name and birth date, please?” he asked, not bothering to look up from the screen he was about to enter the information into.

“Madeline Niko Raymond. Born November 1, 2084.”

“One moment,” said the man.

Behind her right shoulder, Maddie heard Cruz begin to sniffle. She reached back and grabbed Cruz’s hand, grasping it tightly in hers.

“It’s okay,” Maddie whispered.

“No it’s not,” Cruz whispered back.

“Do you wish to submit a final will and testament, Ms. Raymond?” asked the man.

“I do,” said Maddie. “I wish for all my possessions, physical, digital, and financial, to be turned over to Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega.”

“Is that who’s here with you today?” inquired the man.

“It is,” replied Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man, “please state your name and date of birth so that the system can locate you and complete the final will and testament process.”

“Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega,” stated Cruz. “Born January 11, 2086.”

The man waited for the voice verification system to process Cruz’s information. He scrolled through the prompts that followed, tapping various boxes and radio buttons as he did so.

“Would you like any final pictures taken prior to processing?” the man asked.

“No, thank you,” replied Maddie.

“Any pets, children, or non-emancipated robotic beings where custody would need to be transferred to a family member, domestic partner, or other willing and financially responsible entity?”

“No.”

“Do you wish to opt out of the national organ donation program?”

“I do not.”

“Do you have a preferred method of processing?”

“Can you make me famous?” asked Maddie.

“I cannot, Ms. Raymond.”

“Then just make it painless.”

The man tapped at more options on the screen, his eyes glancing back and forth as he read through the various prompts on the screen.

“Do you need more than legally required hour and a half of visitation to say goodbye to friends, family, or business associates?”

Maddie looked back at Cruz. As Cruz stared at the floor in front of her, she shook her head slightly from side to side.

“No,” Maddie murmured. “I do not.”

The man motioned for Maddie to place her hand in a translucent blue box in front of her. The box felt warm around Maddie’s hand. After a few moments, she felt a gelatinous fluid filling the box around her fingers. The fluid filled the box nearly completely, though just as Maddie started to feel pressure from the fluid building on her hand, the box began to buzz and the fluid began to recede. The fluid completed its escape, the box stopped buzzing, and Maddie’s hand was freed from the box. She pulled it away, her hand covered in a pale white powdery film.

“Go down the door on the far end of the lobby,” said the man as he gestured toward the door with two fingers. “Place your hand under the scanner and wait for the door to open. Follow the purple line to the visitation area if you so desire. After your visitation ends, you’ll follow the white line back to your room. Do you understand, Ms. Raymond?”

“I do,” said Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man. “Once visitation ends, advise one of the attendants that you’re Ms. Raymond’s primary heir. You’ll be taken to handle any and all final arrangements for Ms. Raymond, as well as to process her will. Do you understand, Ms. Ortega?”

Cruz nodded.

“Ms. Ortega, I need verbal confirmation,” the man stated.

“I understand,” replied Cruz between sobs.

“Thank you both. You’re free to go. Welcome home, Ms. Raymond.”