The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology

 

I am honored to have had one of my flash fiction pieces be selected for inclusion in The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology. All proceeds (that’s proceeds, not profits. i.e. every cent not taken by the ebook distributors) from this collection of thirty powerful flash fiction stories will be split between the following two charities:

PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children is a national pro-child, anti-crime membership association established in the US in 2004 to protect children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Children 1st Scotland delivers services around Scotland in homes and communities that help children and families every day, speaks out for children’s rights by influencing legislation and campaigning to change attitudes towards children, and shares their expertise with others, both professionals and volunteers who work with children and families through their training and consultancy services.

Please consider purchasing this tremendous eBook anthology on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBookstore, or any of a number of major eReader platforms, or from Smashwords in a variety of formats, including PDF and HTML. Your purchase will directly benefit these two very worthy causes.

Or, if you would rather not purchase the eBook, please consider making a donation directly to these charities through the links above.

Details about the anthology from its blog page:

 

The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology now available

 

 

30 powerful stories from around the world to benefit two children’s charities: PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children (www.protect.org) and Children 1st Scotland (www.children1st.org.uk).

 

Stories by David Ackley, Kevin Aldrich, David Barber, Lynn Beighley, Seamus Bellamy, Paul D. Brazill, Sif Dal, James Lloyd Davis, Roberto C. Garcia, Susan Gibb, Nancy A. Hansen, K.V. Hardy, Gill Hoffs, Fiona “McDroll” Johnson, J.F. Juzwik, MaryAnne Kolton, Benoit Lelievre, Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw, Vinod Narayan, Paula Pahnke, Ron Earl Phillips, Thomas Pluck, Sam Rasnake, JP Reese, Chad Rohrbacher, Susan Tepper, Luca Veste, Michael Webb, Nicolette Wong and Erin Zulkoski.

 

It began as a flash fiction challenge when Fiona Johnson and Thomas Pluck donated $5 to PROTECT and £5 to Children 1st for every story at Ron Earl Phillips’ Flash Fiction Friday and Fictionaut. Now we have collected the 30 best stories to benefit these two charities.

 

Join us and make a difference while you read 30 great stories genres by writers from the U.S.A., Poland, Hong Kong, Portugal, India, Scotland, England, Canada, and one told by a Lost Boy of the Sudan to his teacher.

 

Only $2.99

 

Available now for Amazon Kindle (You may also read it on your computer with Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader, or on your phone with the Amazon Kindle App)

 

Available for Kobo, Sony e-reader and in PDF, epub, mobi and Viewable Online at Smashwords

 

Available for Nook at Barnes & Noble

 

If you don’t have an e-reader: you can download the Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac app, the Nook for PC App, Nook for Mac App or view it online at Smashwords, or download it as an Adobe PDF file. You can also read epubs on the Adobe Digital Editions reader for PC and Mac.

 

Posted: November 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Flash Fiction Friday, Publishing | No Comments »

New eBooks available!

 

Four new eBooks are now available on Amazon.com.

The following are available individually for $0.99 each:

Shine

A father struggles to overcome the demons of his past and make amends with the son he lost.

The Sea Beside Me

In the aftermath of his wife’s sudden death, Tom realized what kind of man he had become — and didn’t like what he saw.

In The Forest

Would you give your life for your own child? What if it were your own child who would take it?

Or collected together as In The Forest and Other Stories for $1.99.

I’ll be posting these in the B&N Nook bookstore, iBookstore, and others soon. For now, you can find them on Amazon here.

If you like what you read, please add a review on Amazon. If you don’t, please leave your comments here or send them to me via email.

Posted: October 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Publishing | No Comments »

Friday Flash: One Down, One Up: Live

 

Prompt: Use music in a short fiction piece
Genre: Any
Word Count: 750 words.
Deadline: 9/14/2011 at 8:00 p.m. ET

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One Down, One Up: Live 

 

It’s safe in here.

In here, it’s safe.

Cymbal sounds spinning like birds in a hurricane. Those block chords banging. That sax screeching up down around what and where I go where it pulls me.

It’s a wild world in here, dark and smoky and warm and wild.

Toms rolling to a bootdrop, waves pounding the shore, roll to pound, roll to pound, roll to pound, with the block chords banging, chords banging alongside them.

And that damn crazy sax making no sense, screeching and crying, thinking and wandering.

It’s wild in here, but it’s safer. Got the bass laying down the floor, something firm to stand on. Out there ain’t nothing firm. In here it’s wild, see, got chaos, but got order, too, got rhythm. All things happen for a reason in here. Out there ain’t no goddamn reason not one bit. They swing you up and let you go and move on to the next not waiting not willing to see where you fall ain’t no one there to catch you. In here you got the sax on the right the keys on the left the cymbals all around and the bass on the ground got order got structure got chaos. Got that wild sax trilling like me shaking my head flapping my feet tapping my hands on the bar lost in that dark smoke, warm and wild.

Wailing wild and damn, ain’t nothing out there for me no more. In here is all there is now. Take another drink, take a drink of that, take it, take a drink now, drink it down, drink it up, drink it away, away all that out there all that no reason goddamn throw you up let you fall.

Yeah.

Jazz.

Drop the block. Lilt the sax, bring it a little less mess, a bit more ponderous, less wanderous, gonna let us breathe, gonna have a think for us.

Now the kick getting insistent, being persistent, telling em hey I’m down here, man. Gonna kick kick kick ensnare, beat the snare, snare, bass laying down the floor now dropping out.

Out.

Falling in air. Lose my kick, just ensnare ensnare and that sax getting crazy again. Getting wild, getting frazzy, gonna do something a little bit crazy, a little loose like a man in freefall. Sax flipping high high screech like the cymbalbirds then drop low like a warning. Ain’t no shit here, this shit is serious. Dis a man’s shit in here. Give me another drink and keep it coming. Gotta get my brave up.

Them toms like thunderclouds. Got a storm brewing here. Far off, but coming closer, closer. Coming close. Flash sax lightning spin down. Can’t take it away from a man watch him fall splat down on nothing fall into the dark deep into the what they call it abyss. Ain’t that abyss a bitch watch it fall got a storm brewing sax lightning closer close closer see loser close closer.

Sax been spitting so long getting hoarse getting frantic why ain’t you listening why you doing this shit to me. Ain’t a man got a right to work round here. Got no block got no floor done lost it all and them birds now just a haze up ahead feeling like the shit gun come crash down on my head sax head shaking flapping cheeks head hurting got a storm coming down gonna do something crazy nother drink now.

Damn where’s that bass.

Head splitting off. Crazy thoughts in. Take someone out. Take me out. Sky turning red. Lights coming on. Going off. Shots going down. Going off. It ain’t safe in here. It ain’t safe nowhere.

That sax in my head, speaking the wild pain of my heart, the frantic desperate head gonna blow off why ain’t nobody listening to me helping me I just want to work want to do my part don’t need much just a job a block a floor shit. Frothing at the mouth sax, screaming to the sky sax, somebody help me help me help myself shit done gone round here.

Fuck me, here them keys like an angry banker come to shit down my throat all menace me rich you poor now the floor come back.

Lay it down.

Lay me down.

Calm down.

Down.

Down low.

Low.

Low.

 

Posted: September 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Flash Fiction Friday | 2 Comments »

Friday Flash: Everything In Its Place

 

Prompt: Look at the photo, look into the child’s eyes
Genre: Open
Word Count: 700 words.
Deadline: Wednesday September 7th at Midnight EST

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Everything In Its Place

 

Don’t stop to help me. It will only get both of us hurt. Just move along, deal with your conscience later. It’ll hurt a lot less, believe me.

Everything in its place. Knife on the right. Fork on the left, atop the linen napkin. You don’t think rich kids get abused? Water glass at one o’clock, wine glass at two o’clock. Just the way he likes it. I’ve got the bruises to remind me how it’s supposed to be. Why would I mess it up now?

Yes, it’s horrible. I know it. I live it. You act like you’re the one abused. Do you think I need a knight in shining armor? Fuck off before you get me beaten again. Look away. Avert your eyes. He doesn’t want to be noticed. He wants to pretend no one knows, that it’s our little secret. He wants to pretend he’s doing what’s best for me. That’s what he says, afterward. It’s what’s best for me. He’s trying to teach me a lesson, help me understand how to get along in life. Father of the year. But, if you butt in, trying to score points, trying to make yourself feel good, make yourself look good with your bleeding-heart friends, tell them how you rescued the poor abused rich girl from her tyrant father, you know it won’t work. It’ll get me another broken rib. And you’ll just get frustrated and keep trying in your clumsy, stupid way, keep getting me hurt.

Don’t you get it? He’s not stupid, and he’s rich. He’s got lawyers. He’s got private doctors. He knows where to hit me so that it doesn’t show in public. He’s mean as hell, but he’s smart as the devil himself. You can’t beat him, and your trying will only make it worse for me. So, fuck off and mind your own business. You think I give a shit about how bad it makes you feel to see me suffering, to see it in my eyes?

Everything in its place. He gives me rules, I know, so that I will break them and he’ll have an excuse to beat me. Not that he needs an excuse. When everything is an excuse, excuses don’t matter, do they? Knife here, fork there. Bed made just so. Books arranged neatly. Then it was by size. Then by author. Shoes in the closet, but boots in the garage. Who cares? Just beat me and leave, so I can get on with the things I have to do.

I don’t need your help. He’s preparing me for life, he says. He’s right, though he’s lying to himself. I’ve had so many broken ribs, bruised muscles, cuts and welts and whippings, I don’t feel them anymore. I’m stronger now. See, he’s blind to it. He thinks I’m still his little girl. Mom died, he blamed himself, he takes it out on me. But, I’m not a little girl anymore. Make a kid so she doesn’t feel pain anymore, lie to yourself so you don’t see clearly anymore, and give the kid a reason to kill. Everything in its place.

So, don’t stop to help me. You can’t. And, let’s be honest here, you can’t stomach the solution. You still feel too much. You don’t have a reason, even if you think you do. You might not like to see it, but you have no idea what it’s like to live it, to feel it every day. You have no idea what I go through, and you have no idea what I’m planning.

It will be quick. It will be neat. It will be clinical. And then it will be over.

I’m my father’s daughter. He’s taught me more than he intended. And I’m not a little girl anymore.

Everything is in its place.

 

*************************************************

 

If you liked this story (or even if you didn’t), please consider donating to one or more of the following charities:

CHILDREN 1st, the Scottish Society for prevention of cruelty to children

PROTECT, the National Association to Protect Children

Living Water for Girls, who help get young, sexually-exploited women off the streets

 

Posted: September 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Flash Fiction Friday | 3 Comments »

Friday Flash: Late

 

Prompt: The aftermath of being late. Late. Late!
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1000 words.
Deadline: Friday, August 5, 2011, 9 am EST

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Late

 

In that moment, my life changed.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible that a life could change so completely in so short a time. But, in that moment, mine did.

In that moment, I was given a choice. It was like I had been plucked out of space and time by some supernal being, some objective but benevolent overseer, like a God, but more administrative in her duties, who pulled me up by the back of my shirt and stood me before a judging rail in some celestial place.

In that place, I saw clearly the choice before me: I could continue to be a selfish man-child. I could continue this process of punishing myself for things I had not done, for things that had been done to me. I could continue this process of denying responsibility for those things I had done, then punishing myself for that denial. I could continue to play the victim, to dive with eyes and ears tight shut into that fallacy, to pretend that the world was a harsh place, a place designed to bring me down, to humiliate me, that all other people were thrown against me by some unseen enemy for this purpose.

Or, I could heal the wounds of my past. I could see, in that ethereal space, that I was the architect of my own pain, the warden of my own prison. I could see the choice before me to re-enter that prison or to step away, to walk on the grass outside, to lunch in its shadow, to be free of it. I had been punishing myself in that space for so long, struggling with all of my might to be free of it, but struggling with my right hand and restraining myself with my left. I could see that now, and the choice was clear: return to this madness or be free of it forever.

You’d think, in that moment, that the choice would be a simple one. Who in their right mind would step into a prison, lock themselves inside, and throw away the key? Who in their right mind would choose a life of misery and suffering?

I would.

I did, for decades, meticulously maintaining that illusion, that prison, despite the high cost of doing so, a cost measured in lost friends and hurt feelings and damaged relationships, all the while blaming others when the pain came only from me.

And, in that moment, when all of this was so clear to me, still I hesitated. Still, I clung to my illusions like a child clings to a shopworn teddy bear. They were all I had known for so many years, to let them go was suicide. They kept me safe. Yes, they caused me suffering, but that suffering was nothing compared to the potential suffering that awaited me outside the confines of that prison. Out there was the unknown, the uncontrollable. In here was safety, control. Illusion, yes. Falsehood, yes. Suffering, yes. But, safety.

And familiarity. I had lived in this place for so long that I had become this space. To leave it now would be to remove an organ from my body, to amputate a limb. To die, a death of a notion of myself, one with which I had identified for so long it had become the only notion I could recognize. It had become myself. To leave it behind would be to leave myself behind. It would be to kill myself.

Do you feel that I’m overstating this? I assure you, I am not. I built and entered this prison when I was but a boy, and I did so for my own protection, protection against those who claimed to love me, but who were hurting me. What’s worse, I knew they did love me, but still they were hurting me, so it must have been me who was to blame. So, I built this prison, this brilliant solution, both to protect myself from being hurt and to punish myself for whatever I had done that deserved punishment. And I lived and grew within that space, that stunted safety. It became my home, my sanctuary.

But, in that moment, for the first time, I knew that I had to choose. For, in that moment, my choice was to remain in my sanctuary or to do what I knew was right. More, it was a choice between who I was and who I wanted to be. In that moment, fate stood beyond the bars, offering her hand. In seeing her face, the kindness, the understanding, the compassion, I wept. She knew my pain. She knew my fear. Her pity was not one of condescension, but one of hope. But, that hope stung me like a whip, so long had I denied it from entering. For hope carries with it the challenge of change, and change was not allowed in that sanctuary. Change was dangerous.

But, in that moment, change was upon me, and I saw then that change is all-powerful, that I could ignore it, but I could never deny it. No bars could shut it out, no walls protect me from it.

In that moment, this all became clear to me. The illusions lost their power, faded into diaphanous veils.

In that moment, I had to choose. To my credit, I admitted that I had a choice, I gave myself the opportunity to return to my cell or to step away from it. But, in truth, as soon as my eyes were opened, there was only one choice I could make. I could lie to myself no longer.

In that moment, trembling, I chose freedom.

In that moment, weeping, I chose truth.

In that moment, frightened, I chose risk, but I also chose joy.

In that moment, nervous, she said, “I’m late.”

Posted: August 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Flash Fiction Friday | 12 Comments »

Friday Flash: Inner Critic

 

Prompt: STARTER SENTENCE: “I slowly peeled back my eyelids and immediately wished I was still out for the count”
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1500 words.
Deadline: Thursday, July 28, 2011, 8:30 pm EST

*************************************************

Inner Critic

 

I slowly peeled back my eyelids and immediately wished I was still out for the count.

I paused, considering.

“That’s what you’re going with, then?”

“Sure, why not?” I said, irritated. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

I snorted and refocused.

“It’s just…”

I glared. “Just what?”

“Nothing. Nothing.”

“What?” I spat.

“Well, you don’t peel eyelids, for one. It’s not an onion.”

“It’s a metaphor.”

“What, are they really dry or something? Do they need some eye drops?”

“It’s not meant to be literal. I’m setting a mood.”

“And the adverb, right there, second word. That’s a little weak, don’t you think?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s a bit unnecessary, isn’t it? When’s the last time you peeled anything quickly, really?”

“Well…”

“And when’s the last time you peeled an eyelid at all…” he muttered.

“Mood!”

“Hey, I’m just saying. You don’t have to get angry. You asked me, remember?”

“No, actually, I didn’t. I didn’t ask you at all.”

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Line four.”

I checked. Damn.

He was quiet, exulting.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “I’ll take out the adverb.”

“I’m just saying.”

“I said I’ll take it out.”

“Okay, okay. Look, I’m just trying to help. I’m here to help you.”

The hurt in his voice seemed genuine. I felt bad.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little touchy. It’s only a first draft.”

“Right, right. It’s only a first draft. Sure.”

I deleted the word “slowly”.

“Of course, you know…”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I mean…”

“You mean what?”

“Well, it’s just that, without a good first draft, how can you have a good second draft?”

“How can you…”

“I mean, garbage in, garbage out, right?”

“What… garbage? Are you calling…”

“Garbage in, garbage out. That’s what they say, isn’t it? ”

“Who says that?”

“I’m just saying. And there are two adverbs.”

“Two…” I closed my eyes tight and shook my head, trying to clear away the confusion. “Wait…”

“Right there. ‘Immediately’.”

“Immediately?”

“That’s an adverb, too.”

“So…”

“That’s weak. Adverbs are weak.”

“You want me to take it out?”

“I don’t want you to do anything. You asked me for my help. I’m just trying to help.”

I looked at him for a moment, then turned back to the screen.

“So, take out ‘immediately’.”

“It’s an adverb. That’s all I’m saying.”

“And adverbs are weak.”

“I’m just saying.”

I deleted ‘immediately’.

“I peeled back my eyelids and wished I was still out for the count,” I read aloud. Sounded good. Better, actually.

“Still no good,” he said.

“What do you mean? It’s good!”

“No, still no good.”

“What’s wrong with it now?”

“Are you asking me?”

“I just asked you.”

“I’m just asking if you’re asking me.”

“I just asked you. Of course I’m asking you.”

“I’m just making sure you’re asking me. I don’t want you to get mad at me later.”

“I’m mad at you now, for crying out loud. I’m asking you. Now tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Tell me what I asked!”

“What did you…”

“What’s wrong with it now!” My head began to throb, behind my eyes and in my temples.

“Well, just look at it. I mean, you know… look at it.”

I gritted my teeth. “I am looking at it.”

“You see it then?”

Teeth still gritted. “See what?”

“It’s right there.”

I was silent, waiting.

“If she wished she were still out,” he said, finally, “why would she peel back her eyelids?” Smug. Triumphant.

“Why… She…”

“Besides the fact that you can’t peel an eyelid…”

I clenched my fists, rattling the keyboard with their shaking, pressed my lips together, but couldn’t hold back.

“How would she know to keep her eyes shut unless she opened them first?” I shouted.

He paused.

The pause grew longer, like a clinging drop of water enlarging at the end of a dripping faucet.

“Are you okay?” he whispered.

“Am I okay?” I spluttered.

“You seem a little upset.”

“A little upset?”

“You’re doing that thing again, where you repeat everything I say. That thing you do when you’re upset.”

“I am upset!”

“I can see you’re upset.”

“I just told you I’m upset!”

“Maybe we should take a break, come back to this later, with, you know, fresh eyes, cooler heads.”

“I don’t want to take a break.”

“A break might be good. Hit it again later.”

“I don’t need a break.”

“Because, you know, it needs a lot of work, still, and it might be better if we both just stepped away…”

“It doesn’t need work…”

“…and came back with fresh eyes…”

“I don’t want to step away…”

“It does need a lot of work.”

“It doesn’t need a lot of work.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re upset.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You just said you were.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Line, um… ninety-four…”

“No, not that I didn’t say I was upset…”

“…and ninety-six…”

“I am upset, but that’s not…”

“…and just now, lines one-twelve and one-fourteen.”

“It doesn’t need a lot of work! And I’m not saying that because I’m upset.”

“So, you admit that you’re upset?”

I shut my eyes again, tight, shaking my head, back and forth.

“Oh, dear,” he said. “Now you’re doing that crazy person thing.”

I shook my head faster, trying to shake out the sound of his voice.

“Look, it’ll be okay, alright?” he said. “It’s bad, but that’s okay.”

Shook faster.

“I’m not sure it can be saved, even, but we can keep working.”

Faster.

“Or, take a break, you know, come back later with fresh eyes.”

Faster.

Faster.

Faster.

I stopped.

Silence.

I opened one eye, looked around.

Silence.

Both eyes open, looked over each shoulder.

Silence.

I sighed, shoulders slumped. Relief swept through me like a summer storm sweeps away the heat. I refocused.

I peeled back my eyelids and wished I was still out for the count.

“See what I mean?” he said.

I turned off the monitor and left the room.

Posted: July 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Flash Fiction Friday | 11 Comments »

Trust Yourself: Change Your Thinking

 

Prompt

Change Your Thinking by Maryellen Smith

“If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

At any given point in time, you’re only one thought away from changing your thinking. What thought can you change today?

(Author: Maryellen Smith)

****************************************

Response

For me, the thoughts to change are always the same. It’s all the thoughts that are telling me that I can’t do something. Not the ones telling me what the actual risks are; those are helpful thoughts, thoughts that help protect me from predicable risks. No, the harmful thoughts are the ones that attack my character or my ability or that try to fill me with irrational fears, fears that don’t exist or are highly improbable or that can’t be controlled.

However, the most important part of this prompt isn’t what thoughts to change. The most important part is the idea that those thoughts can be changed at all. I think most of us (I know this is true for me) go through our lives inadvertently playing the victim in our lives. Part of that is pretending that we are victims of our own thoughts. But, the truth is that we can control our thoughts far more than any of us are aware or even want to admit. We may or may not be able to control the thoughts themselves. That is, we may not be able to stop the thought “You are worthless” from rolling through our mind. But, we can control our reaction to that thought. If our habit is to grab hold of that thought and believe in it and invest our self-image in it and collect other, similar thoughts around it like plastic bottles and beer cans and wrappers floating in a dingy stream collecting on a jutting log, we can choose to change that habit, to grasp that thought lightly in our palm for a moment, notice it, acknowledge it, and open our palm again, blow it like a kiss back into the ether of our minds, let it drift downstream and fade into the distance. We can choose to do this. And we can choose it again and again. In fact, if you’re like me, with a long, entrenched habit of self-hate, you will have to do it again and again and, maddeningly, again and again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, until, one blessed moment, no self-hating thoughts drift by. In the next moment, they’ll come again and we’ll grasp them lightly and let them go, but, at some point, they’ll become less frequent and our ability to let them go more facile until these thoughts no longer control us, but we control them. Or, to be more exact, we no longer react unconsciously to them in a negative way, but react unconsciously in a positive way, having consciously built a new habit, one that empowers us and helps us achieve our dreams. We can choose this, if we want to. This is the change in attitude Emerson is talking about.

But, it’s not easy, and we will have to choose it again and again, moment after moment, for a long time before that new habit ingrains itself.

Still, it’s our choice. And, like it or not, if we choose not to change, we’re choosing to stay the same. We’re making a choice, one way or another. Why would we choose to hurt ourselves? Why would we want to live our lives suffering at our own hand?

Posted: July 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Trust Yourself Challenge | No Comments »

Friday Flash: Old Man

 

Prompt: Use the photo for inspiration
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1000 words.
Deadline: Thursday, July 21, 2011, 8:30 pm EST

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Old Man

photo by Thomas Pluck (http://www.pluckyoutoo.com/)

How did he follow me here? thought the Master.

He watched his gangling apprentice work his way down the subway car toward him.

“Master,” he said, pressing his palms together and bowing his head briefly.

“Poltos, how did you find me here?” He looked the boy up and down. “And why are you wearing that outfit?”

Poltos was wearing tight black padded bicycle shorts and a yellow cycling shirt, zipper pulled down to reveal his chest, sternum and ribs stark like the teeth of a wide comb, collarbone spread and jutting like the underside of a bird’s wings. The clothes were at least two sizes too small, exposing the boy’s narrow midriff and displaying an embarrassing bulge between his legs. In San Francisco, perhaps, on the right day at the right time of year, this ensemble would attract little attention, but in New York City, on a crowded subway, this was more conspicuous than the Master had hoped to be.

“I’m sorry, Master. It was all I could find. I arrived…” he looked around, leaned closer to the Master, and whispered, “…completely naked in the middle of a park in broad daylight. I hid behind trees and shrubs as best I could until I found these clothes beside a changing room.”

“That explains the smell, then,” said the Master, leaning away from the boy in disgust, waving his hand in front of his nose. “I had the same problem, but I arrived on someone’s back patio. I was fortunate to find these rags on a clothesline. It must be some side effect of the spell, something about it that excludes inorganic matter, even if it’s in direct contact with the subject. I’ll need to tweak it later. But, how did you find me? If nothing else, the spell was designed to have been untraceable.”

“That’s what I came to tell you, Master. Despite your efforts, the spell left a residue behind. A faint one, to be sure, but visible, nonetheless, to those who would know to look.”

The Master furrowed his brow. “That is troubling.” Consequences and possibilities rushed through his head, filling it with a thousand alternate futures, a branching nest of potential events that spidered his mind like ice across a frozen window pane.

“There’s more,” said Poltos. He bit his lip.

The Master looked up sharply. He saw his apprentice’s hesitation, and that troubled him even more. “What is it, Poltos?”

“Master, the reason I came so quickly, rather than waiting for your return…” He looked around behind him again, leaned in again, but was stopped by the Master’s upheld palms, leaning his body away from the boy, turning his face away, nose crinkled. The boy mumbled an apology and straightened again.

“…I saw Counselor Erithma riding through the main gates.”

The Master blanched. “Did he see you?”

“No, I don’t think so. I came immediately, as soon as I saw him.”

“How many were with him?”

“Two riders, Master, though I could not make out who they were. One may have been Lord Stil.”

The Master swore under his breath.

“Stil will slow him down, at least. That buffoon couldn’t make a swift decision if his choice was to live or die. Plus, Erithma won’t know what to look for. Not at first, anyway”

“Do you think he won’t notice the spell residue?”

“Little chance of that. Erithma is too skilled a sorcerer to miss any magical traces, no matter how faint. And when he finds us both gone, he’ll immediately be suspicious, so he’ll be even more on his guard.”

He swore again, this time loud enough to cause the young blonde woman seated beside him to look over her shoulder at him. He giggled at her and wiggled his fingers, waving, hoping she’d dismiss him as just a crazy old man. She eyed him and Poltos for only an instant before averting her eyes again. It helps sometimes to look discomfiting enough for others to want to pretend you don’t exist, even when they’re looking right at you.

A woman’s warm voice, a recording over the loudspeaker, announced their approach to the next stop. “We’d better get moving, Poltos. If you found me that easily, it won’t take Erithma long, either.” Again, he eyed his apprentice from head to toe. “And we’d better find you some different clothes.”

The train slowed and the Master stood, moving to the door. Through the clouded, scratched, split window, the dark black of the tunnel walls gave way to the pale yellow light of the platform, a color that, when paired with the humid, fetid stink of the underground stations, never failed to remind the Master of urine. The train slowed, the faces of the people on the platform slowly becoming unblurred. He watched the flat line of the concrete draw by, slowing. A pair of black leather shoes, impeccably shined, drifted into view, centered on the door as the train hissed to a halt. He heard Poltos suck in his breath behind him. The Master pulled his eyes up the fine cloth of the pantlegs, the tasteful cut of the tailored shirt, the subtle pattern of the silk tie, the elegant fashion of the suitcoat, seemingly custom-made for its wearer, before settling, as the doors rattled open, upon the manicured blonde beard, impeccably styled blonde hair, and smooth, glowing skin. The pale blue eyes, amused, looked back, unhurried.

“Hello, Siryl,” said the man.

The Master sighed. “Hello, Erithma,” he said.

How in the world did he get such beautiful clothes so quickly? he thought.

Posted: July 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Flash Fiction Friday | 8 Comments »

Distraction

 

Always, it seems, when hitting a groove with something creative, we encounter distractions. Whether it’s during the day, when hitting our stride with a work project and the “urgent” email comes in or the kids interrupt or a meeting comes up. Or, it’s a longer rhythm, when we’re a few days or a week into building a new routine, be it exercise or writing or something else and interruption strikes in the form of injury or illness or vacation or some other distraction that throws us off our game, disrupts and ruins our progress. This is so common as to be cliche, so insidious as to invite speculation of design, as I there is some vigilant force that works to prevent us from making progress. Resistance, perhaps.

Just took a week-long family vacation with a lot of travel and a lot of time with family and a lot of activity, which left little time or energy for writing. Though I had to ditch my daily writing practice, I still somehow managed to write and post one short story during the week, but have lost,momentum since then, not sure if I’ll be able to pull it together enough to post this week’s story. Maybe.

But, it raises the question… How to recover? How to avoid distraction amid distracting circumstances, and how to recover when we fall prey to the distraction?

It comes down to discipline, I think, but discipline in context. Daily distractions will never go away, especially in our lives today. There will always be another email or tweet or blog post to read. These must be kept in perspective in relation to our priorities (which, of course, implies that we’ve done the work to figure out what our priorities are).

The longer, less common distractions require more forethought, more planning, and, possibly, more cooperation from others. For me, this past week, I did none of these things. In order to maintain my practice, I would have had to arrange time each morning, a block of at least an hour, maybe more, in which to write. I would need peace and quiet and a space in which to work, which would have requires prior knowledge of the places in which I was staying. And, I would have had to make sure everyone who was with me know that this time was inviolate. However, due to the nature of the vacation, I didn’t
feel that this was appropriate. Part of the purpose of the trip was to reunite with family members I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years. To steal time away from tha purpose in order to write each morning was something I was unwilling to do. So, in this case, I made a conscious choice to sacrifice my writing in order to meet a higher priority: my family. Though I find this inconvenient as I fly back home at the end of the trip and try to shift back into my routines, I don’t and won’t question the decision. But, I still need to deal with the problem: getting back into rhythm.

I wish there were a simple answer, a pill I could swallow or a mantra I could chant. Unfortunately, as with everything, and as before, when I got into the routine in the first place, there’s only one thing to do: work. Write. The only way to get back into a writing routine is to practice discipline and write regularly again, to push aside all of the distractions and write. I’m starting at square one again, with one difference: I’ve been here before. Many times. I recognize the terrain. I know the difficulties and, ,while surmounting them feels different every time and I won’t know how to handle the specific challenges in this occurrence until I face them, I know that I’ve faced similar challenges in the past and overcome them every time, and that, if I work, actually act and produce, then i will overcome them again.

What else can I do? Give up? What’s the point of that?

Posted: July 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Friday Flash: Dogs of War

 

Prompt: Write a story involving playing cards and using these words: Ante, Drag, Bluff, Busted, Blind
Genre: Open
Word Count: Up to 1300 words.
Deadline: Thursday, July 14th, 4:30 pm EST.

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Dogs of War

Dogs of War

 

Antwerp, 1937

Never trust an American, especially in a poker game.

He came with Alex, the English dog, who had been a reliable player for some time, but who was prone to poor judgment, obviously. Not unexpected, of course, in the English. Immediately, I sniffed the newcomer as one to watch closely. His head a bit too oblong, his ears a bit too large, his smile a bit too ready, too lolling. And his demeanor, well, his demeanor entirely too… American.

“Hiya, Heiny,” he uttered upon being introduced to me, though Alex quite clearly and quite properly introduced me as “Heinrich”, though leaving out my title and class, to my chagrin, as is his wont, the forgetful Bull. “Grossherzog Heinrich von Aufstaeden of the Uradel” is beyond the capabilities of a sluggish Mastiff mind.

It was he, Max, the American, who suggested “Texas Hold-em”, a peculiarly American confection if ever there was one, rife with New World slang and loose laws, littered with overt moneylust. A game for the rabble. But, Alex was eager to please his new friend and Patou, the sleepy Frenchman, offered only token resistance, leaving me outflanked.

Indeed, as if the proferring of funds up front by every player, the oddly termed “ante”, were not undignified enough, I was asked by Max to pay the “big blind”, as well. Such moneygrubbing is beneath one of noble station, but propriety forced my hand, to garner the phrase. Though “old Max-a-million” might be willing to stoop to uncivilized behavior, I, for one, would not provide him the satisfaction of dragging a fine German house into his American ooze. I provided the funds and held my tongue.

The game proceeded in mild fashion, a diversion, at best, unlike the stimulation and gentility offered by a fine game of whist with well-mannered companions. Nonetheless, I found myself amused not as much by the play as by the affectations of our American interloper. As he slapped his cards face down on the table in disgust, “Busted!”, after a poor hand, or attempted guile when eyeing Patou, as stoic and long-faced as always, with suspicion, suspecting a “bluff”, it occurred to me that he might not only be American, might not only be without tact or breeding, but might not even be purebred. A mutt among us! Indeed, though his features suggested American Foxhound, his coloring appeared to me perhaps like a Coonhound, his squarish head reminiscent of a Labrador Retriever. Watching him pilfer from the pot while taking a “drag” only supported my suspicion; his breeding was clearly low.

When I mentioned my thoughts to Patou during a refreshment break, he merely shrugged, the cigarette jutting from beneath his jowls flopping in lazy arcs, waving spirals of smoke into the crisp, moonlit air. Patou, aloof as always, unconcerned. Then again, perhaps he was just appeasing me. Regardless, in general, he didn’t seem to care about anything except a fresh drink and the scent of fine rabbit, and this was no exception.

When we returned to our seats, I could feel that something was amiss. Between Alex and the American there was a conspiratorial kinship, a winking collusion that set my ears on end. I struggled to relax them, so as not to inform either conspirator of my awareness. But, my senses were keened.

I had not long to wait before my vigilance was rewarded. There, as I sipped my port (served most distastefully in gauche tumblers – all that poor Patou could muster, I was told), with the American hoping to catch me off my guard, while he looked away in poorly feigned nonchalance, I saw it. Rather, I should say, I felt it, the subtle pass of a card from the English foot to the American hand, a treachery, a sale of Old to New, a debasement, a debauchery, a contamination. An affront.

I am of noble birth and station. Of one of the oldest families in the German aristocracy, I care not for the base concerns of money or victory in foolish and base games of cards. But, being of noble blood, I cannot abide deception. I cannot brook chicanery. I will not be made the fool by low-born charlatans.

“Enough!” I barked, rising to my feet. “You, sir,” I pointed at the American, “are a swindler and a cheat, a low-born mutt, if not by blood, then by action. And you,” I rounded on Alex, “a compatriot these many years, have sullied your reputation and spoiled our friendship by bringing this… this… buffoon into my presence.”

“Now, hold on there, Heiny…” began the American cur.

“You shall address me as Grossherzog von Aufstaeden, if I allow you to address me at all.”

“…We’re just playing a friendly game of hold-em, here, your grossly hedgehog-ed-ness. No need to get your aufstaeden in an uproar.”

I could not believe my ears. The impudence of this cad to address me, his obvious superior, in such an informal manner after I had revealed his deception beyond controvertibility. And to chortle over his impudence afterward! And for Alex to join him!

That was too much to bear, even for one of my standing. I could see immediately that there would be no recompense from such a one as this for his affrontery. I gathered my things calmly, slowly, ignoring the English’s attempts to pacify me.

“Come, Patou,” I said. He looked up, the ignorant Frenchman, as if noticing for the first time that the game had been interrupted. He shuffled to his feet and ambled along after me.

They would pay, those two, the English and the American, for their actions, for their rudeness. No longer would they be privileged to join my company. I would begin again, find new partners. Perhaps the Austrian, the dachsbracke. If he refused, I could force him to join, regardless.

This is my struggle, mein kampf, to find those worthy of my company, to purge those who are not.

Posted: July 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Flash Fiction Friday | 7 Comments »