First

Photo by Chris Davis

Photo by Chris Davis

Out into the sunset they go. And tomorrow morning, from the sunrise, they will return. Boat upon boat upon boat makes its way out of the harbor and into the deep water, pushing past where the last of the ice is beginning to crack and budge.

In the wake of each vessel swim fierce creatures, undeterred by the cold, chasing these machines to adventure, to frivolity. On deck, we passengers point at the things in the water, the ones who stayed behind when our ancestors crawled out onto the beaches of the world. We point and smile from the safety of the deck, and then we wave. The merfolk wave back.

Soon, soon we are out on the open sea. We carouse and we dance beneath more stars than we have ever imagined possible, more stars than we have seen since winter forced us back to our bright lights and our big cities, where the stars stand no chance in the sky above. There are more stars still, if only we have the courage to keep going, to push past the places where our own lights end. Soon, we say, as we wrap ourselves in blankets. Soon.

But, for now, this will do. The ice recedes, and in the sky the sun bleeds into the blue.

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.

Proof

Photo by Ales Krivec

Photo by Ales Krivec

Snow’s piled high as the top of the wooden fence, an intruder that won’t be kept out, that can’t be told to get off your lawn, old man.

You sit on your porch, in a throne carved by your red plastic shovel, and you drink a Budweiser while you watch the man with the clipboard trudge down the middle of the street. His black pants are splattered with gray-white dirt up to his knees, and his shoes look so filthy even a trip back in time to your father’s shoeshine stand—the most beloved in the city, and don’t you forget it—could not save them now.

The man with the clipboard pauses and stares at a snowbank that has been formed and shaped around an unmoved jalopy. He produces a phone from his pocket and holds it at arm’s length, taking a picture of himself in front of the strange sight. And then he moves on, typing out a message with his reddened thumbs in this bitter cold. You want to yell at him, like you yell at your grandchildren, to put on some goddamned gloves, but you don’t. These kids today, they need to prove they were here. They need evidence. The brains between their ears, those things aren’t good enough, not anymore. A brain is no longer admissible in the court of public opinion.

You remember a time when you walked across the city, with your sisters and your little brother, pushing through mile after mile to reach the home of your nearest relations. This was the day after your mother put her head in the oven, and you heard the cops were coming to split up the family. You remember looking back at your siblings, huddled in their rags, then looking past them for the footprints you'd left behind. But it was still snowing, snowing hard, and the footprints were gone.

But you knew where you'd been, and that was good enough.

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.

Homophones

Photo by Fré Sonneveld

Photo by Fré Sonneveld

I see the sea, and the sea sees me.

When I told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell, I married Mary and we were well.

And merry, of course.

But it did not last for Mary and I, for Mary and I, though we saw eye to eye, could never hear what was here in this here to be heard when the herd came on home from the place where they roam. Or, rather, we could each hear a thing, but not the same thing, and that was the thing that ended the thing.

When someone spoke the sentence true, Mary wasn’t merry like me or like you. She scowled when she heard all those words said aloud and she said such a thing ought not be allowed.

It was nonsense to her, this bit about bison. I tried to convince her, way more than twice, son. But she wouldn’t listen, and now, yes, she roams, speaking the sentence from here until Rome:

“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”

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.

Again

Photo by Melody Sy

Photo by Melody Sy

When I am old, I want to live in a house that looks as decrepit as I feel, in the middle of a jungle that’s been growing since long before I was born. I want its walls to be a mix of gray and white, to be weathered by life and nature on both the inside and the out, as I will be.

I want to collect the rain water that pours in during monsoon season in an array of worn cast iron pots and pans. I want animals to crawl in through the glassless windows, on vines that hang from their beds to mine. I want them to watch me while I’m sleeping, ready to eat me when I’m gone, to return me to the circle of life like in that movie about lions that made me weep, once upon a time.

I want to be alone, punished for all those years of worrying about dying when I should have been worried about living, or not worrying at all. I want to lie there, on the second floor, my face pressed into the crack between two floor boards, looking down at the place where my children and my grandchildren once played, before my bitterness and anger drove them away for good. I want to cry so hard I hallucinate, like that time when I yelled so loud and hard about football that I saw stars. I want to cry so hard that I see the children again. Maybe the wife, too.

And then I want to close my eyes and begin again.

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.

Hurts

The goat rests on the small girl’s lap as she plucks briars from the back of his neck. He’d managed to rid himself of the rest with a frantic roll through the weeds, but these last few just would not come loose. And so, he has gone to the place where the girl plays, and he has leapt over another row of bushes, chancing further aggravation in the hope she will set him free.

She is patient, this girl, the only one her little brother will sit still for on Sundays when it is time to comb his angry mop of tangled blonde hair, and she pulls the briars from the goat’s fur with the same diligence. If there is a choice between yanking a hair and pricking her finger, she will bleed before hurting him.

Years from now, when she has crossed the ocean and made her way to America, when she has married the mechanic who will only make love to her after he has made love to the bottle, she will remember the goat in the weeds. She will remember to stroke the hair of the man who has done what is expected of him, even as he cries into the warmth of her bosom. She will work her fingers across his scalp inch by inch, rubbing and scratching, rubbing and scratching, until every hurt is gone, until he—like the goat—is staring into the middle distance, unsure of how he got here, but thankful just the same.

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.

Flat Water

A boat on flat water, tied up in an empty canal—that, right there, is the saddest thing I ever done seen.

A boat wants to be free; she wants to roam. But, not only that, she wants the waves. We don’t, the men what pilot her, but the boat herself, she craves the challenge of climbing a slope of water tall as a mountain. She yearns to prove herself, to come back right side up after going under, to do the sorts of things no other boat has ever done.

She doesn’t need a port to rest in, for she doesn’t need to rest. It’s we men who need the comforts of a warm bed and a hot supper. She, the boat, she don’t want her sails tucked away. She don’t want her decks empty and silent. What she wants is a belly full of rum, a crew as crazy as she is, and an open sea before her.

Let her loose, says I. See what she can do.

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.

Choices

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

How do you feel about that moment when, as he twists the cover off the pickle jar, the veins in his neck begin to show, the muscles in his arms begin to tense, and his ribs become clearly visible? How do you feel as this bare-chested man grits his teeth and struggles against the vacuum seal that’s keeping you from your midnight snack? Do you wonder why he has his shirt off in the first place, or do you simply revel in the sight of a man fighting the last great battle of his life?

When he slaps the jar down onto the counter in defeat and skulks away, when you pick it up and twist the blasted cap off with one swift flick of your far smaller wrist, do you tighten it back up a bit, tell him that no, he didn’t hear the tell-tale pop, and ask him to give it one more try? Do you do that, or do you say the hell with his male pride and start eating the pickles?

The pickles, I say. Eat the fucking pickles.

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.

Escape

He spends his nights dreaming of ways to escape this house that has trapped him, that he bought when he was too young to know the American dream is a crock of shit they spoon-feed you until you no longer notice the taste.

Whatever that means.

He can’t escape it now, the four walls he owes the bank his first-born child for. They’ll take nothing less, and since he’s proven to be infertile—hence, the absent wife (soon to be ex)—he’s stuck here until he can come up with something. He wonders if the bank will take a cat instead. Or a dog. People who own pets talk about their animals as if they were kids, so…

He punches the wall and makes a dent—another repair he’ll have to make, should the bank ever choose to take his goldfish as payment—and he closes his eyes to drive away the pain of his own stupidity. What he sees is an orange car—a Volkswagen Beetle!—with a surf board on top. He can’t surf, but he doesn’t let that stop his delusion.

He sees himself and the wife, free of the house, free of expectations, free of everything except the small amount of clothing they need to keep from being arrested. He sees them park the orange bug across the street from the beach, and he sees them dash across the two lanes of traffic with the surfboard stretched between them. He sees them taking turns on the waves, taking hits off of a jay, and wasting days and days and days.

He keeps his eyes closed, and he escapes. It’s the only way. The moment he opens them, he’ll be stuck again.

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.

Hands

Photo by Alex Jones

Photo by Alex Jones

She preferred ‘wordwright’ to ‘author,’ not because of pretentiousness—though she wasn’t naïve enough to deny she had her fair share of that trait—but because of the work the word implied. Her grandfather had fixed cars, her mother had fixed hearts, and she liked to think that what she did was the same as piecing an engine back together, the same as mending an organ whose valves were clogged with the debris of a life well-lived.

She made words, not with her mind, but with her hands, with the steady click and clack of fingers on a keyboard, with the persistent scratching of a pencil across a blank page.

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.

A Hallway

Photo by Jamie King

Photo by Jamie King

In a hotel in Washington, DC in the early 1990s, amongst a group of hormone-addled eighth graders on a school trip, there is a boy wishing he’d remembered to pack swim trunks.

It is April vacation, and back home in New England there is still snow, so he can’t be faulted for his oversight. But, fault or no fault, he can be bummed. Because all of the girls on his floor are running down the hall now, crowding into the elevator with their towels and heading for the pool. The guys he is sharing the room with, they’re going too. Everyone.

The smiling, laughing face it hurts the most to see: Meghan Silverman, with her chin-length mop of auburn curls and her gorgeous nose. His buddies have heard she is embarrassed by it, but it intoxicates him. Her profile, he thinks, is the most striking in their school. And he knows profiles, having learned the art of silhouette portraiture from his great aunt, once upon a time. His buddies tease that she’ll have a nose job some day, as soon she’s old enough to demand the money from her trust fund, but he hopes that they’re wrong about her just as hard as he hopes that he’ll one day have the muscles to kick their asses for the things they say.

As he stands in his doorway, watching them all go—including the boy and girl who will, years from now, recall this stolen trip to the pool at their wedding ceremony—as he stands there, a door opens across the way. It is Kamala, the Muslim girl. She smiles at him, says she is not going either.

“I could go,” she clarifies, wanting him to know that her religion—still strange in their suburb back home—does not forbid it. “I could go,” she says. “I just forgot to bring something appropriate to wear.”

Which makes him wonder, though he does not wonder it aloud, if she brought something inappropriate. He also wonders, before he shakes the thought out of his head, what that something inappropriate might look like. First, on a rack. Then, on her.

“Me, too,” he says. Then he leans back against the door and lets his body slide down it, until he is sitting on the floor.

She does the same, only without the sliding.

They talk about video games, how he is worse at them than his little sister. She says she is terrible at them too, runs Mario into Koopa Troopas with alarming regularity, but when she says it without looking at him in the eye, he suspects she is lying for his benefit.

Then they talk about The Simpsons, which he is surprised that she can watch. He tells her how his mom wasn’t allowed to watch The Three Stooges growing up and she laughs, saying, “Now, those guys. Them, I’m not allowed to watch.”

When talk turns back to the pool, he is thrown for a loop. “Who were you hoping to swim with?” she asks him.

He does not say Meghan’s name, feels that might be a betrayal of some kind. But he does not say Kamala’s name either, for fear that would be inappropriate, or that she’d guess he was just being polite.

“Me,” she says, “I like Carl.”

“The football player?” he says, a bit heartbroken. Every girl likes Carl.

“Sure,” she says, but again she doesn’t look at him.

Is she saying Carl because that’s what she thinks people expect to hear? Is she saying Carl’s name because she wants to say someone else’s name? Who else’s? He wonders.

“Do you think,” she says, “anyone would like to have gone swimming with me?”

He knows how he is supposed to answer. It’s how he thought of answering before. But somehow, in this most important of moments, no sound comes from his mouth.

“I suppose,” she says, “it’s just that I’m still new here.”

“I would have gone with you,” he says, too late. “I can’t believe I forgot to bring shorts.”

She smiles at him, this time looking him straight in the eye. “It was snowing when he left,” she says.

They sit in their doorways, talking, until the elevator dings down the hall and the crowd begins to file out of it. Then they stand up hastily, before they can be seen, before they can be teased, and they step back into their rooms.

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.