Twenty-Eighth

Photo by Philip Estrada

She was at the end of her rope, he at the end of his string. And, oh, there was their fuses; that was another thing. They both liked Dr. Seuss and greeting cards that rhymed, but he could never bear to hear the stories of her mime. She had a mime, you see, instead of having mom. And as he stroked his beard and thought, she told him he was wrong.

A ball of orange yarn between them, on the sheets where they once laid. Two glasses on the nightstand filled up with Minute Maid. Bacon on the fryer, eggs whipped in a bowl. Breakfast for the tired, and supper for the bold.

But uneaten went this food, undrunk this orange juice, for the rope and string and yarn, my friend, they wove into a noose.

Now who swung first, you ask, but I can never tell. For I am sworn to secrecy, until they toll the bells. Until they toll the bells for me, these ghosts that I once knew. Until they toll the bells for me, till orange turns to blue.

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Twenty-Seventh

Photo by Anna Demianenko

“Why won’t she look at you?” you ask me.

“Because I told her a joke.” I say.

“The one about the snowmen?” you say.

I raise an eyebrow. I don’t know this one, my eyebrow is meant to say. Also: be careful. You know about me and snowmen after whatshername, my ex, and that damned song from that damned movie that we never should have seen because we’re in graduate school now and not kindergarten.

“What did one snowman say to the other snowman?” you say.

“What?” I say, waiting to slug you.

“Smells like carrots.”

I don’t slug you. Instead, we look at the girl staring away from us. From me, actually. You, she couldn’t care less about. She’s beautiful, this girl, the sun lighting up the yellow in her dirty blonde hair, her freckled shoulder bare but for the bra strap that is revealed now by her loose blouse.

“What’s the joke you told her?” you ask me.

I gaze at my shoes. I’m a shoe gazer. Ugh. It’s only for a moment, but it disgusts me.

“Was it that bad?” you say.

“Why shouldn’t you ever make fun of a paleontologist?”

“You made fun of her?” you ask, laughing, punching me in the arm, holding your fist up to your mouth and doing a little shuffle as you guffaw. “Oh shit, son. Why’d you go and do that, br’ah?”

I say nothing.

“You didn’t mean to make fun of her?” you say.

Again, I say nothing.

“Okay,” you say. “So, why don’t you make fun of paleontologists?”

“Cause you’ll get jurassikicked,” I say.

And that’s when she turns and looks at me again and gives me a big old smile. Son of a bitch, I think. Ass kicked indeed. She was just fucking with me.

You, on the other hand, aren’t fucking with me when you say, “I don’t get it.”

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Sixth

Photo by Anna Demianenko

Mesmerized by her hat, the boys stared the photograph and tried to trace the white spiral outward from the blue center to the furthest floppy edge. The older of the two gave up first, his attention drawn away by her bare arms resting along the edge of the pool. He wondered how much of the rest of her was bare and smiled at the notion.

“She looks totally uncomfortable,” said their sister from behind them, grabbing the magazine out of their hands and then stepping away from the couch as they reached backward for it.

“Give it back,” said the younger brother as she swatted at his pudgy hand with the magazine.

“Do you realize,” said the sister, leafing through the pages, “how uncomfortable women make themselves in order look comfortable?”

“How can you tell she’s uncomfortable?” asked the older brother. “You can’t even see her face.”

The sister rolled her eyes and tossed the magazine back at them. “I’m a woman,” she said, readjusting the strap of her training bra, which just would not stop sliding down her shoulder. “I am a woman,” she repeated, “and women just know.”

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Fourth

Photo by Sergei Zolkin

Photo by Sergei Zolkin

Do you remember that day that we took pictures of each other? On the hike over the river and through the woods, the day we meant to visit grandmother’s house, but didn’t?

You were wearing a blue shirt—before I took it off and we lost it in the leaves—and you started in with your camera, snapping and laughing as you held it just outside of my arm’s reach. To fight back, I slipped my phone from my pocket and started taking pictures of you, too.

“Nuh-uh,” you said, still smiling as you tried to wrestle the phone away from me.

When you look at those photos, am I chewing on my lower lip, the way, in my photos, you’re chewing on yours? Is there an invitation in my eyes? There was in yours. I see that now, though I was too blind to see it then. Thank goodness for your vision.

Or for your imagination, at the very least.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Third

Nobody knew where the wheel came from, why it had spun for as long as it did, or why it had stopped. But they all marveled at its heft, its girth, and the way the stone of it looked like it had been torn from the belly of Mother Earth herself—or maybe her gall bladder. They all marveled at it, and then, when others began to ride their horses to town to see it, or drive their buggies there, the people of the fair town erected a fence and a ticket booth, and began to charge a quarter for admittance, a buck for a photo.

One should not let marveling happen for free, after all, if one can help it.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-Second

The day the last ship came home, the widows climbed down from their walks and served tea and biscuits. They waited at tables by their windows, fingers fiddling with doilies, eyes trained on the dusty lane that led to the harbor, and they wondered for the last time whose tables would be empty and whose would be full.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twenty-First

Pick one:

  1. When the wolves are at the door, you feed them, or you’ll get more.
  2. When the wolves are at the door, you feed them, and you’ll get more.
  3. When the wolves are at the door, you feed them, but you’ll get more.

Hand your answers to Pete, then proceed to the waiting room for your decision. And thank you for visiting the Pearly Gates.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.

Twentieth

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

On the second day of the traffic jam, despite the hourly warnings to remain seated and calm, Ramona got out of her car. The first thing she did, after removing the balloons from the back seat, was to look at the stain on her driver’s side door, the stain from where she’d been dumping the Big Gulp cup after each evacuation of her bladder. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the stain on the front of her dress, there from the times before she mastered where to put the cup and how far to scooch up in her seat before peeing, but the paint on her driver’s side door would never again be the same.

As she strutted down the highway, balloons tied to her wrist, hands stuffed into the pockets of her dress, she kept her eyes on the ground. Still, she could feel them watching from behind their rolled-up windows, could hear them begin to murmur over the sound of their trucks’ sputtering, thirsty engines. She wondered how long it would take them to break free themselves and to follow her down the road. Another minute? An hour? Another day? This stretch of highway ran straight through a military town. Maybe they were so good at following orders, it would take them another week to question the authority flying back and forth above them.

She was wondering still when the assault chopper descended from on high, its machine gun blasting. She didn’t look up until the gunner, with his terrible aim, managed to pop one of her balloons. And, at that point, she had nothing to communicate to him that couldn’t be communicated with one finger on her free hand. So, that’s what she offered up.

In the helicopter, another guy shoved the gunner aside and took aim. He shot off Ramona’s finger first, then paused, letting everyone see what a hotshot he was, letting everyone see what the penalty for noncompliance would be. Then he took out her balloons one-by-one, the yellow one last, because that had always been his mama’s favorite color and it actually hurt him in the pit of his stomach to do it. Then, finally, he got on the P.A. and told everyone they were free to leave their cars now.

Ramona fell to her knees, clutching at her bleeding half-finger with her uninjured hand. She cursed the guys on the chopper even as men and women emerged from their vehicles all around her and began to take aim with guns pulled from the beds of their pick-ups. She had never seen eye-to-eye with gun nuts before the traffic jam, but now she was glad for them. She had always been one for balloons instead of bullets, but now, as they shot that helicopter out of the sky and started talkin’ ’bout a revolution, now she thought she might understand.

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Nineteenth

On the day he was run down by the Rafiki brothers in the middle of the Public Gardens, Syd bought his Big Gulp of Diet Coke as usual. He left the car running in the parking spot adjacent to the handicap spot, as usual, ensuring that his driver’s side door would be unobstructed on the way out. And he cranked the ‘Hits from 80s Movies’ station on his iPhone the second he peeled out onto the DW, as he always did. He did nothing differently on his commute from the wilds of New Hampshire to the bowels of Boston, nothing at all.

And yet, as he dashed up the stairs of the T stop at Boylston, the 64 ounces of water and artificial sweetener compelling him to do the pee-pee dance on his way through the Gardens, he was run down nevertheless. He’d never been run down on any other day, never been killed by two young men who he’d looked at the wrong way before. Who knows why such things happen on one day, and not the next, and not the day before? Who knows?

All we can know for sure is that, when he pissed his pants as he shuffled off this mortal coil, he left one hell of a stain. A Big Gulp really is a big gulp.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.