Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Stuff: Book Tree, Sugar Scrub, Fudge, Gift Wrap, Writing Prompt.

My first attempt. Next year I might buy extra books at the library sale ($1.00 a bag on the last day) and make a bigger tree. The topper is a White House Christmas ornament, displayed in its box, using a plate holder.
Easy Hypo-allergenic Tree:  choose large, heavy books which are approximately the same width. Build a platform. Start stacking books in a ring, each ring consecutively smaller but with book corners jutting out to resemble branches. Drape with lights and place ornaments in nooks and crannies.  Don't have a lot of space? Build a half tree by stacking books (like bricks) straight up against the wall, then form a half-ring of books in front. To disassemble:  invite friends over for a rousing game of Jenga, the Book Tree Version.

Easy Homemade Sugar Scrub For Gifts:  this is a great activity for kids. We used this as a holiday craft with some special-needs classrooms. It's also non-toxic, in case you have children with a penchant for eating what they're not supposed to.

1 cup granulated cane sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil (In a rush? You can substitute olive oil if you don't have time to shop for coconut oil, although the result will be a little runnier.)
10 to 15 drops of essential oil. (In a rush? You can substitute food extracts like vanilla, lemon or orange)
Mix well and store in container. (Glass is not a good idea since this will be used in the bathroom more than likely.)

Easy Homemade Fudge:  another activity that kids can help with and give as gifts.

3 cups chocolate chips (or broken up plain chocolate bars in a pinch)
14 oz can Eagle sweetened condensed milk (plain milk won't cut it, sorry)
1/4 cup butter/margarine
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt

Grease 8 x 8 pan.
Put chocolate, milk and butter in microwaveable container. (Split ingredients in half and use 2 bowls if you have a small microwave.)
Microwave at 40 sec intervals, stirring each time, until everything is mixed, melted and smooth.
Add vanilla and salt. Stir.
You can now add nuts if you'd like. Or try quartered maraschino cherries.
Pour into pan, spread smoothly. Top with a few holiday sprinkles if you want.
Refrigerate 2-3 hours before cutting into squares.

Easy And Cool Homemade Gift Wrap:  
Have kids color and draw pictures on computer paper for small gifts. Or...

XEROX has free printable holiday cards and templates
Brit + Co has free printable gift wrap, and so does
The Elli Blog

Easy Holiday Writing Prompt:
Got a child in the family? If you're a writer, a great gift would be a personalized little story.
Prompt:  The child is lost in the forest while the family is looking for a Christmas tree.  Do the animals help him/her find the family? Maybe they celebrate Christmas together. How do the animals keep him/her warm, and what presents do they give each other?

Whatever holiday you are celebrating this season, I hope that it is happy and memorable.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Coffin-Dodgers #FlashFiction #FridayFlash

     So now that the war has dragged on and the younguns are done for, they figure us old folk can fight. Well, they're right and they should have let us join up years ago.
    You know and I know that there's nothing meaner than a geezer. If we'll run you off our lawn with a shotgun, imagine how we'll deal with the enemy on our turf.  Hell, we don't even need guns. Pete killed a rattlesnake with a shovel the other day. Just plain flattened it and cut its head off. And I don't want to brag, but I pegged a coyote in the head with a brick last year.
     I was raised in a shanty with a dirt floor and no running water. Sometimes we fought the dog for somethin' he'd killed. The rats were so big they chased the cat. So this army deal seems pretty good. Especially the food. The MRE meatloaf is like my wife used to make, just the right amount of salt and gristle.
     Sabotage? Hell, that's how we entertained ourselves as kids. Ralphie used to poke a hole in a car's fuel line and plug it with wax. Down the road the wax melts and out drips the fuel. With any luck, it hits the hot exhaust pipe and kafloom! some poor bastard's car goes up in flames. Of course you can always just pee in the gas tank. Geezers have an inexhaustable supply.
      Company C, the Coffin Dodgers, moves out tomorrow. Tremble in your boots, oh enemy mine.
My Inspiration: 71 Year Old Takes On 6'4" Thug

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Visible Signs: a #Halloween Short Story

       Trash he thought with disgust, and threw aside the handful of baubles he'd extracted from the jewelry box. Another wasted evening spent breaking into a hoarder's den. He'd had high hopes for this one; the occupant, a pearl draped old lady, looked to be the type to have antiques and heirlooms everywhere. Instead, her apartment looked like the staging area for a dollar store clearance sale. Even the cat litter was generic.
      One angry swipe cleared the top of the dresser. As he turned to leave, his booted foot slipped on a figurine and a stab of pain shot through his knee. Dammit, that's all I need. Hard enough to get around as it is. He bent and picked it up.
      The plastic face beamed gently at him. He threw it down and ground it under his heel slowly, deliberately, and then with increasing ire as it refused to break. With an oath, he picked it up again, cocking his arm to hurl it across the room. That's when he saw that it was bleeding.
      Sweet weepin' Jaysus. The phrase slunk into his mind from the dark crevices of memory, his grandmother's voice as she salved the cigarette burns on his arm with bacon fat and the willow switch welts on his back with cool plasters. She cried, she prayed, she tried to heal him but she could not, or would not, protect him from the vicious rages of her only son, his father. The family never spoke about it, never drew the poison to the surface, and so their lives swelled and festered until they ruptured. His grandmother had statues like this, silently standing about in her room, arms outstretched bidding humanity to take shelter. But they had never, even in his fevered imagination, bled.
      He turned it over and over in his hands, looking for a catch, a button, an indentation that would allow him to find the secret of the thing. This has got to be worth a helluva lot to someone. His heart fluttered. Tabloids would pay a mint for something like this. If people would pay for a piece of toast burnt with the silhouette of Elvis, or gum chewed and spat out by Britney Spears, what would they pay for a so-called genuine miracle? He would no longer be Little Sal, son of Big Sal the boozer, but Paul Peregrino, bazillionaire. A parade of desires marched before his eyes; a brand-new sports car, unending fountains of liquor, vapid women with scanty clothing, all fueled by tracks of meth and coke that stretched to the horizon. Yes, life would be good. He realized that his hands were clenched in fists of desire, sending needles of pain through him, as though they were wrapped with barbed wire.
      Barbed wire. His father, twining it between Paul's fingers, binding it about his palms, withering him with red-eyed silence. I'll teach you to steal from me, you little scumbag. He hadn't taken it, would never have dared to touch a dime of his father's, but the money was gone and whether it had been lost, spent, or never even existed made no difference. You paid for other's mistakes, and then you passed it on; that's what Paul had learned at his father's knee.
      As he watched, jagged red lines arose on his palms, beaded with fine red droplets. Nausea gripped him. He hadn't smashed any glass, nor handled anything that would have broken his skin. I am losing my friggin' mind. It isn't really there. I just need a fix. Taking a last look around, he awkwardly climbed back out the window, dropped to the porch roof, and from there to the litter-strewn alley. The darkness punctuated by streetlights and neon signs comforted him. It was good to be back among the shadows, with a future fortune riding comfortably in his pocket.
      He heard Reggie, his wife, moving about in the kitchen as he let himself into their tiny apartment. He'd only called her by her full name "Regina" once, on the day they were married; but she had always called him Paul, believing that “Little Sal” was beneath him, perhaps in hope that the Biblical name would carry some intrinsic protective quality. Make him a better man. It hadn't. Boiling rage would overwhelm him, lashing out through his fists and his feet, driving her into the far corners of the room. And always, always, she would forgive him, making him feel even worse.
      “Reggie!” he called, hearing the excitement in his own voice. “C'mere, got something to show ya.”
      “Half a sec, I'm making some cocoa.” The sound of a spoon on china, then her light footsteps. “I thought it would help you sleep tonight. Last night you tossed and kicked like a mule.”
      Paul looked up from fingering the statuette in his pocket.  Staggering backward, his mouth dropped open of its own accord. Regina stood in the doorway, one eye swollen shut, the socket like an artist's palette of primary colors. Her arms, proffering a steaming mug, were covered with livid bruises, cuts as myriad and as tightly woven as a textile, and thick scars like caterpillars under the skin. Her face turned from cheerful to bewildered.
      “Paul, what is it? What's wrong with you?”
      His mouth was so thick with pasty saliva and bile that his tongue wouldn't move. I didn't do it, I didn't do it, I haven't laid a hand on her in days, someone's broken in and done this to her, they must have been looking for me, and I'll hunt them down one by one and set them on fire for this. The smell of his own fear and anger was choking him.
      “Who did this to you? You need a hospital, I'll call someone, and then I'll go after them...”  He was blubbering now, and Reggie only stared at him, her initial puzzlement turning to fear with a dash of her own horror.
      “Paul, what are you talking about? There's nothing wrong with me! No one's been here, I'm fine, it's OK, you're having some kinda eye problems, you don't feel well, I can see that, here let me...” and she reached for him.
      For an instant her face was smooth, beautiful, familiar, but then it reverted to its former state and he felt his mind struggling to keep its balance. One thing he knew; he had to get out, away from this thing, and regain control somehow. He slipped past her, noiselessly, warily, and yanked open the linen closet door. Keeping his drug stash and bankroll in an empty tampon box had been a stroke of genius; Ultra Protection! indeed. No guy would think to look there. He pocketed it, and crept past her again, watching her carefully. Empty-handed now, she stretched out her arms for him. He fled.

      Although it was still hours before dawn, the street was rustling with the feral noises of its inhabitants. Paul slipped half of a pill between his dry lips, wincing at the bitter taste. No way in hell could he swallow it; he'd just have to wait for it to dissolve. But the very act of placing the tiny miracle on his tongue calmed him. He slowed his footsteps, willing the drug to work its magic and sweep the nightmares away. Craving a cigarette, he searched around, feeling instead the forgotten figurine buried in his clothing. His first impulse was to throw it away, but somehow he just couldn't do it. Superstition. Just superstition. It's a hunk of plastic. Wouldn't be worth nuthin' if it didn't do a magic trick. He pulled it out and looked it over. The blood had worn off, probably on his clothes, and now it looked just like any other piece of crap sitting on countless shelves all over the world. Still, it would bear some looking into. His eyes fell on a pimply youth sitting on a stoop, smoking and frantically tapping on some electronic gadget.
      “Bum one?” he asked, drawing closer. The boy looked up.
      “Sure,” he said, glancing sourly at Paul and drawing one from behind his ear. “You look like you need it more'n me. Although my girlfriend just ditched me for some douche.”
      It was all Paul could do to stifle a scream. A gaping wound had suddenly bloomed on the boy's chest, opening and exposing the beating organ. I'm nuts, I'm seeing zombies,ohmygodmygodmygod. And he ran.
      He crashed into a stinking, ragged bum on Third Street, flinging a curse which promptly made the guy's nose stream with blood. A prostitute smiled at him on the corner of Laurel and Oak, her body so broken that it couldn't possibly be standing on its own. Finally, he drew to a halt in front of the department store on King Street. Bent double. Straightened, took a breath, and sought his own reflection. It was ghastly beyond all imagination.
      The fetid breath of a storm sewer reached him. Wracked with sobs, gagging with self-loathing, he turned, walked over to the curb, emptied out every bit of his money, dope and paraphernalia, dropping it down into the stinking depths. Last went the statue, its left arm remaining above the water for a moment as if in cheery goodbye, then disappearing on an invisible current. He sat on the curb and wept for everything and everyone: his grandmother, his mother, his father, his own wife. Most of all, for himself.
      When his tears were exhausted, he stood once again and steeled himself to look in the display window. His shattered visage still greeted him with a leer; he covered his face with his hands. But then he took them away, and – miracle of miracles – it was his own face again, a little hollow-eyed, pale beyond belief, but whole. Clean. Restored.
     “Thinking of buying something for me?” asked a female voice behind him. It was the whore from down the block, her voice so flat from fatigue that it was anything but a come-on. She might have been asking about the weather. Before, he would have slipped her a few bills and dragged her into an alleyway, never caring whether his roughness left a mark. But now he could see them, those marks, every one left by some act of violence, by ignorance, by harsh words or vicious lies.
      Paul gently laid his hand against her bruised cheek, and then lifted it away. The flesh was once again whole and unmarred. 
      He now had the power to heal.
      The street was becoming more animated under a watery dawn, and as he watched dozens, then hundreds of the walking wounded began to move toward him, battered and bloodied and reaching for him with greedy hands. He walked among them, murmuring kind words, placing his hands upon their heads, proclaiming his new-found love and compassion. Many of them struggled or moved away; Paul understood that they were simply unused to such benevolence and mercy, and so he redoubled his efforts. Soon there would be thousands, as the city shook off the shroud of night and roared to life. It would take weeks; no, a lifetime for him to accomplish what he had been chosen to do.
      A siren rent the air, and Paul was relieved to see two police officers pull up. They would be useful in bringing order to the crowd; perhaps they could set up a cordon, keeping people in line so that everyone would receive their fair share of healing. He beamed at them.
      The officers lost no time in reading Paul his rights and placing him in the back of the squad car. A plexiglass partition separated them so that he would have to wait until they got to the station to explain. There was no doubt in his mind that they would soon see his remarkable gift for themselves. After all, the big one had a trickle of blood coming out of his left ear.
      “So, I vote we take him straight in to the medical center for a psych eval,” said Officer Jenkins, reaching for the radio.
      O'Hara nodded, taking a quick look in the back. “Yeah, I imagine they'll want him for observation at the very least. Besides, he needs a doc to look him over. What the hell did the guy do to his hands?”
      “Beats me. Looks like he's been tangling with some heavy-duty razor wire.”
      “Friggin' nut job. Maybe he was tryin' to get into the loony bin the hard way.”
      Jenkins bit his lip. “You know what's weird? Remember when he went to stick his bony finger in my chest?”
      His partner snorted. “Yeah, thought I'd finally get to use my stunner. What's weird about some perp in your personal space?”
      “He said he wanted to heal my broken heart. What the hell, John? It's like he knew Doris left me. Like he knew.”
      O'Hara gave him a suspicious glance. “Don't tell me you buy into that voodoo hocus-pocus mind reading stuff.”
      “Nope. The guy's just spooky, that's all. Creepy.”
      Paul, in the backseat, was watching the St. Christopher medal twirling from the rear view mirror.
It had begun to bleed.

Word count excluding title: 2224
Originally published several years ago in an anthology, which is now out-of-print.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Horror! There I Was, Trapped On the 4th Floor Balcony... - Memoir

I was out on a friend's 4th story balcony a few weeks ago when the wind blew the door shut. I went to open it and... the knob came off in my hand.

Stuck my fingers in the mechanism to try and turn it - locked.  The words "my heart sank" just do not do justice to the feeling of my innards at that moment.

Crap. Now what.

1. I could've called the building super. IF I had my cell phone. Which I did not.

2. I could've screamed for help. But there was no one around, and this is NY after all. People scream and yell all day and half the night.

3. Passersby MIGHT have paid attention if I yelled "the Giants suck!". Then again they might've thrown bricks at me.

4. Hmmm. I notice the door swings outward. I'll just remove the pins from the hinges and take the door off. That would've worked IF there wasn't 100 years of paint on the hinges and pins. And IF I carried tools around with me, which I generally don't.

5. I might still be out there, cold weak and starving, except that I realized I might be able to use the single window which opens onto the balcony. Normally the windows are all locked, but the AC unit was still in place. Which left ninja kicking the window AC unit until it fell onto the bedroom floor and I could climb in thru the window. 

6. So after I break in, I call my friend. I'm a wee bit upset, and not in the mood to face either NY traffic or the parking situation. He calls me a cab. Cab shows up. There's a petrol truck parked on the ramp in front of the apartment building. Cab has to back up ramp. I open the door and ask if he's the cab to take me to hospital - there are no markings on the side of the car, it just looks like a black Mercedes.  And I'm not inclined to just climb into cars with strange men. (BTW, being from a rural area, this happens to be the first time in my life I've ever taken a cab.) Cab driver says "How should I know? What does it say on the front of the car?" So I bite my tongue and look at the front and it's the correct cab company. I get in and he says bitchily "What would you have done if it was a bigger car that couldn't back up the ramp?

At which point I visualize hopping out, yanking open the driver's door, hauling him out by the neck and kicking his ass. Do I LOOK like a truck driver? Do I LOOK like it's my petrol truck parked there you dumb sh&t? Was it really THAT big a deal for you to have to back your car up 20 feet to pick up a fare? But no, I just sigh and say "I don't know." 

And off we go to the hospital.

For all of those who love NY - great. But I'll take the boondocks any day.

Monday, October 6, 2014

I'll Be Back...

I know some of you are wondering/have inquired whether I've abandoned blogging.

I haven't.

Just a string of bad luck.

An accident which totaled my car in August. Son laid off from job.  BF just went in hospital over the weekend for serious infection and slated for surgery today.

I'm not one to devote a lot of time to personal matters here on Flash Fiction, but I thought it time to update everyone.  I do plan to pick up where I left off on the "Greetings From Toadsuck" series, as well as return to visiting, reading, commenting and supporting my fellow bloggers.

I just don't know when. 

Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the years, it's meant a lot. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What I Did On Summer Vacation - #Photos

Watched the local polo team.

Went to the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World's Fair. Observation towers left from World's Fair at Corona Park, Flushing, Queens, NY.

What's left of the NY state pavilion. It once had a mosaic roof. Several groups are working toward securing fund to do some restoration work.

The Geosphere. Really stunning.
My ride.
My parents found this among their photos. Here I am at 6 years old with the mumps. A lot of you have probably been immunized with the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine but have never seen anyone with these diseases. Let me tell you, mumps was agonizing. I couldn't move my head or eat - just sip through a straw.

SO, hope you've been entertained while I enjoy my vacation. I'll be back writing and visiting in a week or so. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Greetings From Toadsuck: Part 5 #FridayFlash #serial

For beginning of the story click here
     I've never quite figured out the difference between a wish and a prayer.  Maybe it's this:  a prayer is like a letter, addressed to just one Being, and a wish is like a handbill you paste up in the hope that someone will read it.  Bet that's why they say "be careful what you wish for", because you never know who's gonna lay eyes on it.  Could be a rich man with love in his heart or the Devil himself just looking for sport.  It might even be the sheriff.  That's who came and took Bird away.
     I was reading Fun With Dick and Jane to Bird when the green and black Ford rumbled up our drive.  Pop pulled on his boots and went out to meet our unexpected guest while I carefully peeled back a corner of the oiled paper over the window to have a look.  Most folks our way drove cars that were held together with baling wire, rope, pitch, or just about anything else that would keep the parts together.  Sometimes the McCully's drove around in a half-car, half-truck contraption with all seven kids hanging out the windows, lumber or cotton bales on the roof, and a goat tied to the running board, bound for market.  So I knew that this particular vehicle, all of one piece and mostly the same color, carried someone special.
     The first fellow who climbed out was one of the biggest men I'd ever seen.  And when he turned to shake hands with Pop, the sun glinted off a star over his pocket.  He wasn't dressed like the police I'd seen chasing Rico in Little Caesar; instead, he was just wearing plain clothes and a hat that looked like a dog might have worried it some.  Still, I felt a little shiver of excitement.  Maybe there were some gangsters hiding out in the area and they were going to ask for our help in finding them!  I knew all of the good spots, and I was pretty sure that I could handle a machine gun.  The gangsters would be so surprised that a girl was brave enough to hunt them down that they'd come out with their hands up.  Then I'd coolly tell the sheriff to "lock 'em up till it's time for them to get their necks stretched".  I wasn't really sure what that meant, but it sounded tough.  Then there would be a parade, and I...
     Pop was reading a bunch of papers the sheriff handed to him, and the look on his face wasn't good.  Trouble was brewing.  Then the other car door opened, and a skinny man unfolded himself like a jackknife and leaned up against the car.  He was looking straight at me, so I dropped to the floor and belly-crawled over to where Bird was spitting on a book page and drawing designs in it.
     "You cut that out."  I snatched Dick and Jane away - Jane's face looked like a candle had melted it - and got out Ma's tin can full of buttons.
     "Shake it."  He grabbed it from me and shook it, turning it over and over and then shaking it some more.
     The voices outside went up and down, so that I could pick out a few words but couldn't make sense of the whole thing.  Then I heard "windmill" and "feeble-minded" and it felt like falling and hitting the ground all over again.  Somebody had seen us, and now we were in big trouble.  It might even be one of the few times that Pop would have to take a switch to me.  I concentrated on playing with Bird and not throwing up.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Greetings From Toadsuck: Part 4 #FridayFlash #serial

For the beginning of the story, click here

      Everybody's got a starting point, be it as a child or even a grownup;  that moment when life starts to unspool like a line with a whale on it.  You either spend your life trying to reel in something impossible, or the line breaks and you stand there empty-handed with nothing but a story.  Some folks even get pulled overboard and drown. I know that's a funny way of thinking for someone raised a thousand miles from the sea, but there you have it.  Our whole family's peculiar in one way or another and I'm no exception.
     I'd like to say that I was thinking these thoughts when I was dangling fifty feet in the air, but I wasn't.  I was fixed on getting Bird down from the Hendricks' windmill without my falling and splattering in the dirt. No need to worry about Bird;  he was a champion climber.  Trellises, barn roofs, silos - you name it, he'd end up on top, hooting and waving his skinny arms around like Tarzan in the movies.  
     I was already queasy from the candy that Pop had bought us on his last trip to town.  It was supposed to last at least a week, but the Valomilks I had settled on had starting melting into goo the minute we left the store. I was in charge of my brother's licorice drops too, but was far better at managing his supply than my own.  It was a lucky stroke, too, because I still had some left in my pocket and it proved to be the only thing that got his attention.
     Hollering sure didn't make any difference.  You'd think he was deaf.  We'd stopped on the way home from school to get a drink and scrounge our usual biscuit at the Hendricks place, but there wasn't a soul around.  I cracked the door and called a few times, even checked the stove.  Cold. I was just helping myself to the scraps of pie left in a tin when I heard Zeke start up like he'd fallen in a pit of snakes.  I could say that my mouth went dry from fear but that was probably just the pie.  My stomach was sure enough up in my mouth though.
     I made my own little dust storm charging out the door and round the corner to where we'd left Zeke by the windmill.  He was making a God-awful sound, but I couldn't see anything wrong with him.  Finally I grabbed an ear and yelled into the hairy depths.
     "You HUSH!"
    Unexpectedly, he fell silent.  I was just congratulating myself when it dawned on me that Bird was nowhere in sight.
     "Bird.  You there Bird.  Come here.  Olly olly oxen free. Peek-a-boo.  Durn it, Charles Barrymore Dunner! You come here now!"  The sickening realization that he might have fallen down a hole or been dragged off and eaten by coyotes (the latter was a constant specter in my dreams)  made my voice squeakier than I liked.
     I was just wishing that I had my tin whistle with me when I remembered the licorice in my pocket.
     "I'm gonna eat up your candy!"
     From up above me came a howl.  There was my brother, dangling by two hands and swinging his legs to catch the next girder.  I held up a licorice drop and slowly moved it toward my mouth.  He stopped for a second, and then resumed climbing.  I was going to have to go up and get him.
     And that's how I ended up 50 feet off the ground and wishing my brother had never been born.  Climbing was never my strong suit;  I hated the woozy feeling I got in my head, the way my muscles went weak and the sensation that I was going to pee myself any minute.  But I kept on going until I was close enough for him to get a good eyeful of that licorice.
     "Look Bird! Licorice.  Got a whole bag full in my pocket.  You gotta come down to get it."
     He moved close enough to reach for the piece I held, and I broke a bit off.  Sucking on it, he closed his eyes and for a moment I thought for sure he'd fall.  But then he opened them and smiled, reaching out for another.  I slowly backed down the structure, one leg at a time, keeping each sweet bit just out of reach so he'd follow me.  About every 10 feet I'd let him grab a piece and eat it to keep his interest.  We were almost to the ground when he got fed up with the whole thing and grabbed my hand, digging his nails in.
     I let go.
     Hitting the ground felt like dying, or at least what I imagined dying might feel like.  I was flat out;  the breath had been sucked from me and I couldn't draw another for what seemed like forever.  The sky was a blue tablecloth above and everything was silent.  A gentle peace was settling over me when I felt a finger go up my nostril.
     With a whoop my lungs started up again and I had enough strength to smack Bird right upside the head.
     "Get your dirty finger outta my nose.  What's wrong with you?"  I grabbed him by the collar and pinned him in the dirt.  "You get up and quit causing me trouble." Yanking him up, I hustled him over to Zeke.  "We gotta get home.  Pop will be mad as a hornet if we don't get there in time for chores."
     He was all set to fight me on it, and I rummaged in my pocket for more licorice.  Dang.  Nothing left but the Valomilk wrapper.  But, Bird being Bird, he was as happy as a dog with two tails.  Carefully licking the wrapper, he climbed up on Zeke and settled in, crinkling the shiny wrapper and turning it this way and that, over and over again.  
     Of course, we hadn't gone more than five minutes when he dropped that wrapper and set up a ruckus.  I had to stop, get down and retrieve it - nothing but a tiny bit of trash no good to anyone. Looking back, it meant as much to him as a nickel would have meant to me, but at the time I just felt like Job of the Bible suffering through his trials.  I wished that Bird would just go away for a while and give me some breathing room.
     Somewhere along the way home I felt his arm creep around me and the heavy weight of his head between my shoulder blades.  We rode like that, mortared together with sweat and dust.  The land rolled out around us, nothing but acres of brown dirt under an angry sun.  
     For a while it felt like maybe we were the only two people left in a world of empty tomorrows. 

Continue reading - Part 5 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Greetings From Toadsuck: Part 3 #FridayFlash #serial

For beginning of the story, click here.
     Death was dust, dust was death, and both were everywhere, from the tender hollows of our necks to the windmill gallows upon which farmers' hopes once hung.We ate it, breathed it, wore it and slept in it.  Ma used to wet sheets and put them over our beds and in the morning they'd be brown and gritty.  For a time I remembered when things were good, the fields were green and there was meat for dinner and penny candy when we went to town.  But the older I got, the more it seemed like something I'd just dreamt about.
     I used to be able to walk to school, catching little snakes and turtles in the fields.  But when the dust storms started to roll,  Pop made me ride Ezekiel.  That meant no stopping, because Zeke was the stubbornest mule that ever lived.  You had to always walk up on his left because he was almost blind in the right eye and if you scared him he'd snatch at you with those big yellow teeth and bray like you'd stuck him.  I'd climb on, Pop would tell him "school" and he'd head down the road on his own.  I couldn't turn him or stop him; and he moved at one speed, unless I kicked him in the ribs.  He'd trot along just enough to rattle every bone in my body before settling back into his usual I'm-fixin-to-die-any-minute pace.  Soon as we hit the schoolyard he'd dig in his feet and wait till I got off.  Then he'd turn around and head back home, reappearing at school in the afternoon to take me home.
     That was till my brother came along.  The first time Bird toddled into the barn he went straight over to Zeke.  On the right side.  I expected him to get eaten right off the bat, but that old mule spun halfway around, fixed him with his good eye, and let out a snort.  You don't think of a mule looking surprised, but he did.  Maybe he'd never seen a miniature human before.  Anyway, they were friends after that.  Pop says that animals know enough to protect babies of any kind, and that mules are so smart they know bad people from good.  Bird was sort of that way too;  he knew that George Miller was a mean kid and bit him on the leg the first time George showed up at school.
     For a while Bird went to school with me, and that was nice.  He could get Zeke to do most anything, including stopping at the Hendricks farm on the way home to get a drink of water or maybe a biscuit from the Missus.  Bird didn't do so well at school;  he couldn't sit still, climbed out the window, ate the chalk and pinched anyone who interfered with him.  The one thing he could do was take things apart and put them back together.  Miss Ellie, the teacher, started bringing in bits and pieces from her brother's junk yard, and pretty soon he was dismantling carburetors like nobody's business.  That kept the peace until George Miller took some parts from him and that's when Bird bit him on the leg, and Miss Ellie sent a note home saying she was very sorry but Charles Barrymore Dunner could no longer come to school.
     "Pop, what's it mean when people say Bird's touched?"  I'd been turning that over in my head the whole way home from school.  Folks pointed to their heads and I was pretty sure that they were saying that Bird was crazy, but I wanted to be sure before I started kicking them in the shins.
     I remember him studying me for a minute, and that look meant that he was pondering whether I was grown up enough to understand something.
     "It means that God has laid his hands on that person and made them special.  Reached right down from heaven and touched them.  That's what makes them special, and different. Some folks are afraid of anything different. Just like old Ezekial, if they're scared they're liable to kick or bite. Some of 'em even bray like jackasses. Most of the evil in this world doesn't come from anger;  it comes from fear. Anger generally wears off over time.  It's the fearful person that you need to watch."
     "Zeke ain't afraid of Bird."  I secretly wondered if Bird was special enough to talk to animals.
     "That mule's got more sense than half the town put together.  Now suppose you go out and give him a little extra  bran mash tonight.  He's feeling under the weather this evening."
     I couldn't help but gape.  "How'd do you know that?"
     He winked.  "A little bird told me." 
Next Chapter 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Reblog From Sulci Collective: Cover Reveal - "28 Far Cries" (Flash Fiction Collection)

As you know, I love reading and writing flash fiction.  One of my favorite authors happens to be Marc Nash, who is coming out with another collection.  Marc is a master of the genre, creating memorable characters, exploring culture and society, and using language in imaginative and innovative ways.  Stop by his blog and sample some of his Friday Flash posts!   

From fellow writer Marc Nash's website:

Sulci Collective: Cover Reveal - "28 Far Cries": "Really excited that my fourth collection of flash fiction is imminent. This is my first that will be in both print and kindle, through the auspices of Gumbo Press who are publishing it.

Stories of warlords, pole dancers, alien invasions, synesthesia, incubi, railway viaducts, graffiti artists, dying superheroes, living statues, cyanide pills, vultures, toxic relationships, the first language, beheadings...

Out next week hopefully!" 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Blame It On the Dog - Drabble - #Friday Flash

Even though they'd been married for 30 years, she had difficulty recognizing the body as his.

The nanobot scrubbers had seemed like a miracle cure, busily clearing out fatty deposits in her husband's heart and arteries. A miracle until they'd learned to communicate, multiply, seek out more sustenance, consumed him from the inside out.

She waited for the scientists from the University to pick him up. The family dog whined, raising his skeletal head; apparently old age was creeping up on him, although he was only 8. Angrily scratching her increasingly itchy legs, she blamed the infestation on the dog.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Greetings From Toadsuck: Part 2 #FridayFlash #Serial

For the Beginning Of the Story Click Here

      Back in the Dirty 30s people with money had family pictures taken, but we didn't have two nickels to rub together most of the time. Let me tell you what you'd see if we had been captured by one of those magic boxes. You'd see Pop standing in the middle looking stern, with a bushy beard and the greatcoat his own father had worn in the war. I was never clear about which side Grandpa fought for, and I'm not sure that Grandpa was clear about it either. I guess he was for whoever gave him food and shoes at the moment. At any rate, he made a pile of money selling cane rum to both sides, then lost it in cotton speculation, whatever that is. He went out west to try his hand at the abandoned gold mines, thinking he could find veins of gold with a dousing stick. That's where he met my Grandma, who was in the entertainment business. 

      Pop was born and raised somewhere out there, learned to ride horses, speak Injun and drink liquor. One day Grandpa fell down an old mine shaft and died. Pop swore off liquor forever. Grandma took Pop (whose name is really Elvin) and joined a wagon train headed back east, with a little gold dust sewn in her hem and a music box to play. She would sing along with the box and men would come and give her coins to hear her voice. Pop had to sit outside when the men came to visit on account of his sour face. One night she took sick and had a fit, and the next day she died. Pop shot a man who was trying to take the music box.  They had a trial right then and there, and when they looked to the Bible it said that he should not be killed but be put away from others. They left him with food and water and some other things. He made do with what he had and built him a little sod shack. So that's how he ended up on the homestead where me and Bird were born. He kept the Bible too.

     But back to that picture which isn't real except to me.  There's Ma in her one good dress which is blue like the morning sky before the dust makes it a sick yellow. It's left from the bunch she used to own before she married Pop. They met at a church dance and he asked for her hand about a week later.  It was probably pretty and white then, but now her hands are freckled and red with all the sun and washing and mending and catching chickens. She's smiling because she's got a chance to do nothing and look nice for a few minutes.  I never saw Ma be still except when she was sleeping, and even then she twitched a little like she was dreaming about stirring pots or chasing after Bird.

     Bird is sitting cross-legged at her feet twirling a piece of string or some such nonsense. He's never still either less he's got something to mess with.  Some people take him for a girl because he's got long blond hair and big green eyes.  Pop cuts his hair once in a while but Ma and I have to sit on him and he scratches and bites like a cat in a wash tub.

     The scarecrow with scabby knees wearing a too-short dress is me.  I've got Pop's dark eyes and black hair but it doesn't curl and doesn't lay right.  It sticks out all around my head like I've just been scairt.  Ma did her best to make me look a proper girl sometimes but it seemed like I'd go right back to being dirty and messy the minute her back was turned.  Being a lady didn't seem much fun anyway;  you weren't supposed to spit or run or wrestle, and sometimes I had to wear knickers with lace that drove me wild with itching.  It made me wonder if all clothes made Bird feel that way, because he was forever stripping them off and running around nekkid as a jaybird.

     I carried that imaginary picture in my head until a real picture took its place.  A real picture in a real newspaper.  But that's at the end of my story and this is just the beginning.

Next chapter 



Thursday, May 15, 2014

Greetings From Toadsuck: Intro #FridayFlash #Serial

First I'd like to thank Nate over at Sometimes the Wheel Is On Fire for awarding me an Amazon gift certificate for a haiku I submitted for his contest.  Nate's a writer, blogger, web designer, and all-round great guy with an awesome sense of humor and a penchant for footnotes.  (Read a few of his posts to see what I mean.)  Thanks so much, Nate!

Second, I need a project to kickstart my blogging over the summer.  So I've decided to begin a serial set during the Dust Bowl, a period in American history which has always fascinated me. The title?  Greetings From Toadsuck. I'll try and post at least one installment per week, probably on Fridays to tie in with Friday Flash. As always, feel free to critique if you wish. 

Without further ado, here's the first installment.

Greetings From Toadsuck:  Part 1  
      We were a family of miracles according to Ma, traveling through a country which prayed, no begged, for divine intervention but got a bellyfull of dust for its trouble. A miracle that the rusting 1927 Ford truck kept going in spite of throwing tires and hoses like a mule; that Momma hadn't lost her mind from trying to scratch up meals for four bellies out of nothing; that Pop hadn't got his fool head shot off for preaching hellfire to moonshiners; and that we'd sprung Bird from the Fichandler School For the Feebleminded without a hitch.

      It isn't his real name, Bird. Pop had sealed him to God with holy water under the name Charles Barrymore Dunner, at which time baby Charles blessed Pop with pee. I started calling him Bird when he quit talking at three and cheeped or whistled instead. He plumb forgot every word he knew, except for Mamamama, amen, and Mm Mm Good from the Campbell's soup song. Couldn't walk a straight line, although he could climb like a squirrel; wouldn't learn his letters or numbers, even though he knew when I took one of his marbles. Bird clouted me a good one for that, and Pop said served me right for we reap what we sow. I said then how come our crop died in the field, and then Pop clouted me a good one too and reminded me never to question God or my elders, exceptin' old man Jones who didn't have the sense to come in out of the rain. Bird was six then and hadn't ever seen rain and I barely remembered it myself and so that made no sense either but I hushed up.

      Now a brother who'll kick you sometimes just for looking at him, messes his pants when he feels like it, draws stares and mean words from strangers, and generally sucks up all the attention like a dry riverbed might seem hard to love. But sometimes when we wrestled I could feel his heart beat against my chest, echoing my own, and when he sat twirling a piece of string and looking at nothing for hours I was sure that he was listening to God. Then there was the fact that I was sure I'd brought on whatever was wrong with him. One night right about the time that Bird stopped talking, I sneaked a toad into our room and put it in his little bed with him, thinking that it would make a better plaything than his one-eyed stuffed rabbit. Dead of midnight he woke up screaming, having some sort of fit and it was all downhill from there. Maybe that toad had a curse on it or was poisonous or something. I was scared that I'd be found out and spend my life on a chain gang. Funny thing was, that might have been easier in the long run. It was a mighty big load of guilt that I carried after that, the worst secret that ever was, and so loving my brother became equal parts sharing blood and breaking rocks. 

 Author's note:   In keeping with the time period, I may use terms such as "feebleminded", which while unacceptable today were in general use at the time. 

Next chapter 

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour Post - Meet Some #Writers!


Welcome and thank you for stopping by my post during the Writing Process Blog Tour. It’s a great way for writers to not only share how our writing process works, but to analyze what we've been doing - and maybe even make some changes! It's also a means to showcase fellow writers and bloggers.  I've tried to include a few that you may not know.

  Special thanks to Corinne O'Flynn for inviting me to participate. I "met" Corinne thru Twitter, Triberr, and the A to Z Challenge.  Drop by her website and check her out! (Some of you may have read her April A to Z series "26 Words Every Writer Needs".)

First, here are the questions which I must dutifully answer.

1. What am I working on?  I started a steampunk novel way back in November.  It ground to a halt after the holidays and is now collecting dust.  Why?  Partly because I had an exhausting work assignment which left me to drained by evening to do anything but eat, read a little and go to bed.  And, as usual, as soon as I lost momentum the project stopped in its tracks.  Will I get back to it?  I hope so.  But in the meantime, I'll go back to writing short pieces for a while.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?  Well, I mostly write flash fiction, which has only one real parameter:  keep it under 1000 words.  (Even that varies.)  I've tried to write in all genres, from folk tales to historical fiction to magical realism.

3. Why do I write what I do?  I write what interests me at the moment.  Because if I'm bored with a topic, or writing something just to get it published, that disinterest transmits itself to the reader as well.

4. How does my writing process work?  Get an idea - from the news, a dream, a conversation, an observation.  Turn it over in my head for a day or two.  Scribble some notes.  Put down what I have - even if it's only a vision of the ending.  Work from there, be it backwards or forwards.  Flesh it out.  If it's too long, either decide that it can be pared down, or move it to the "short story or novelette" file for further expansion work.  Prune, edit, re-read, edit. Ask for input from a beta reader if necessary. Post, or submit.
Gee, its all so simple...
But enough about me.

Now, let me introduce some fellow writers.

Email Joan    Joan Verlezza has been researching and collecting family anecdotes since childhood. She believes every family has stories worth telling. Warming Up is her first novel. Her work has been featured in New England Journal of Poetry and San Diego Woman Magazine. She is passionate about encouraging new writers to spread their wings and fly.

My Photo
                                   Helen Howell is a fiction writer, who writes in several genres which include fantasy, noir, horror and humour.

She has written several short stories, flash fictions and poems. Her work has appeared in both e-zines, anthologies and print publications. She has three novellas published Jumping At Shadows, I Know You Know and Mind Noise.

Helen’s blog: Words Written

You can find more information about her books here: