Mage of the Blue Light

Mage of the Blue Light

It’s Free Flash Fiction time again, you lucky, lucky people!

It’s the latest distraction I gave to myself over the weekend to get my head back into things. It’s based on Daniel Pilla’s The Journey of the Wandering Mage, courtesy of Charlie Hoover and his Geekscape page. Please check them both out, but I suggest pulling up Daniel’s work in a separate window as you read to get the full effect. And while you’re on his page, be sure to show him some love. Encourage the arts. Encourage creativity.


Paal would rather be elsewhere right now. He would rather face the daily consternation from his wife about how much of a charlatan he is, and how her father was right in saying she should marry someone who was rich. He would rather be surrounded by squealing, rosy cheeked, snot-nosed children as he would astound and amaze them with basic magic for a few coins a day in the village square. He would rather be surrounded by the safe and familiar walls of his Kingdom, or at the very lest, surrounded by the prison walls of which he’s more accustomed to. Literally anywhere else would be preferable to be standing before the Kingdom of Krauthuga, whose very walls seemed to be carved from nightmare as it reflects and refracts the light of the rising Witch’s Moon.

Murrir stood resolute by Paal’s side. Claws extend and contract methodically around the leather woven handle of a battle axe that has been wielded by his father many times in battle. A golden eye scans the stone walls, ramparts and battlements for the slightest weakness to exploit. The other eye rests cold and dead behind a crude and tiny eyepatch. Murrir has been aching for this day. Before the blood red moon sets, he will finally win his freedom for his family and for the rest of his Feliformian brethren.

The wind changes direction. Murrir points his nose to the sky, his whiskers follow suit. His tail twitches as his ears spin to capture the smaller details of the night’s landscape.

“What do you smell?” Paal was interested in what caught his diminutive companion’s interest.

“Shhh,” Murrir extended a paw. “Voices, Mage. Our presence hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Paal sqwaked as he tried to count the number of torches and angry howls echoing across the valley. ” They know we’re here?”

“Hmm? Oh. No, not them. The Fae Folk. They know of our quest. They…” his feline ears flatten closer to the ground. “They warn us that the horde will attack when the moon is high… and…”

“We know this already, can they point us in the direction of a way in? I guess going through the front door is out of the question. because that bridge seems to go to nowhere.”

“Quiet, Mage!” Murrir growled as he struggled to translate the rest of the message. “There is a way. Under the wall. No one will be paying attention.”

“I can see that. The shouting is pretty articulate even all the way back here.” Paal is convinced he can smell the collective stench of their breath every time the black speech of the horde rises in a hellish chorus. Fires from a thousand torches and the clang of a thousand swords carry across the chasm. In a matter of hours, the countryside will be scorched by an evil that will bring about the end of all life.

“Well, this has been… an experience, my talking tabby friend. I think now would be a good time to start warning the nearest village that they’re about to be mowed down like a winter harvest.”

“No, Mage.” Murrir’s voice as fragile as a bundle of dried reeds. “We stay. Rescue Kova. He protect my clan. Must keep Tabbi Clan safe. Must keep family safe. You help.”

Paal’s cheap boots have already started the retreat. “Yes, that’s all well and good. Family should come first, yes, but you see…”

“…I’m not…”
“You no help?”
“No, you see..”
“Why you no help?”

Paal’s reaction got the better of him. “I’m NOT…I’m not who you think I am.”

Murrir cast a skeptical gaze at his reluctant partner. “What you mean, Mage?”

“That’s just it. I am no mage. I am no wizard. I’m just a street performer who practices sleight of hand for cash, and not very well, I’m afraid.”

“That not true,” Murrir chuckled, playfully slapping Paal’s knee with the back of his paw. “You are The Great Palindrome! Weaver of Time and Space. Master of Dark Arts and Illusion. You very clever.”

“Ah, how wonderful. You’ve… you’ve memorized my intro. Look, nothing I say or do is real. It’s an act. It’s all make believe. There’s no such thing as magic,” Murrir’s whiskers wilted as his words land like soft blows to his ears. “This jewelry I wear is fake. Nothing more than shards of glass and strands of copper. There are no magic properties to them. This cape is a piece of a tapestry I stole from a traveling minstrel show. Nothing there either.”

“What about your staff?”
“My what?”
“Your staff. Where did that come from?”

“This,” Paal had been walking with it for so long, he almost forgot that he’d been leaning on it for days. “This is just a prop. The crystal was payment for performing at a birthday celebration. Nobody seemed to think it valuable enough to trade, so I kept it. The staff itself is a tree branch that broke over a dog’s head. This dog wanted to kill me so I ran, I climbed the tallest tree I could find, I stepped on this branch and it snapped and fell right on top of him. Knocked him out cold. I supposed it’s been my good luck charm ever since. I don’t know, I think it adds to the whole ensemble, don’t you think?”

“So, you made that?”
“Yes, I did.”
“You are Mage.”
“I’m not a… right, why do you insist on thinking that I am some magical being that will aid you in your quest? I am a clown that occasionally gets incarcerated for practicing magic in public. Why you would trust me to help you in anything is beyond me. You should have let me rot in that cell.”

Murrir turned slowly to face him. “You can believe what you want. You can be street performer if it will bring you comfort, or a thief if it will give you spirit. But only true Mages have the power and wisdom to forge their own magic staff. You may think it nothing more than a fancy thing, but this eye can see much. I can tell you real Mage.”

“How do you know that,” Paal said as his own disbelief paints his face.

“You told me there were Fae Folk nearby.”
“I did?”

“A few minutes ago. When we passed that tree.” It was information that was a just a bit too much for Paal to handle at this moment. Waiting for a tree to do something answers no questions. Murrir is getting anxious. The moon is rising, and they are running out of time. And so is Kova. “Here, I show you.”

Murrir turned to face the ancient tree growing precariously from the raised wall of Earth just behind them. He took a deep breath and mewled a soft song from his throat. It was an ancient tune sung in a Feline dialect. It was what Cat Folk mothers sang to their young to call them home.

It would seem that the tree was unimpressed with his vocal ability, but one by one, tiny winged, glowing creatures the size of moths would take flight and paint the night sky in a brilliant azure hue. Soon, a cloud as blue as a robin’s egg on a spring day and as dense as a murmuration of starlings encircled the tree and hovered over their heads in joyous flight.

“But, how did I tell you they were here? I don’t remember saying, ‘hey Mur, there are little flying faeries over in that tree.’ Unless I’m mistaken.” Paal stretched out a palm to invite a tiny faerie to land.

“You no say one word, no.” Murrir rasped through purring vocal chords. “Your staff did. The gem is what they call an Angel’s Tear. It is not valuable to eyes of man, but is very precious to magic users. The crystal glows bright when magic is near.”

The crystal atop Paal’s staff radiated with the same blue faerie hue. He was too awestruck to notice. “I did this?”

“Yes,” replied Murrir bluntly. “Only true Mages can capture magic from nature. This is no accident. You real Mage now.”

“I’m sorry,” said Paal. “I just don’t believe it.”

Murrir slung his mighty axe over his shoulder. “Well, I believe in you, Palindrome The Great,” and with that the fearless Murrir, The Feliformian Warrior continued on the path. “Come. Great heroics will happen. Stories to tell your children.”

Paal waited for the last of the blue Fae Folk to return to the tree and for his stone to dim. The Witch’s Moon is higher, and the horrific chanting has yet to cease. He faces the dark castle and knows that there is a possibility that he will not make it out alive. But that doesn’t matter. He is no longer Palindrome, Prince of Parlor Tricks and Master of Illusion. He is now Paal, Mage and Steward of the Blue Light. A deep breath, and his cheap boots bring him a few steps closer to legend.

©2018 AAPayson


Author’s Shameless Plug Corner:

Thank you all so much for reading. Please be sure to sign up for notifications so you’ll never miss a post.

Also, I’m considering publishing this as well as other short stories into one book. I’ll be putting my first short story up for sale soon, but until that time, donations are greatly appreciated. Thank you all again.


Nothing To See Here: Notes on a Current Flash Fiction Project

Nothing To See Here: Notes on a Current Flash Fiction Project

The Call of the Wendig has sounded, and I must follow.

Here we all are, doing what needs to be done. Some of us in the midst of taking care of some business that has been needing to be taken care of for the longest time. Suddenly, and without warning, another school shooting happened on Valentines Day 2018. As of that day, the number of school shootings stands at 17. That’s two away from meeting the record from last year.

Chuck Wendig’s felt it. I’ve felt it. Anyone with a pulse and a conscious has felt it. It’s really hard to concentrate on doing anything creative when another unexplained act of extreme violence takes the lives of 17 children. It’s also rather chilling to think that in 2018 we have to use the modifier another when speaking about an atrocity like a school shooting. Like we regard it as a casual inconvenience along the lines of Five o’clock Traffic. Chuck has posed to us a challenge because there are things to be said. There are more voices that need to be heard. There needs to be a healing.

The theme of this latest challenge, to the surprise of absolutely no one is “A World Without Guns”. I have spent a few days with this going through my head. I don’t think I’m any closer to visualizing it than I was the week before. Maybe this is why he made this challenge. Maybe this is why I need to accept it.

How Did We Get Here?

Okay, let’s clear the deck and start rearranging the furniture. There’s a lot of stuff to unpack, and it would help if I kinda knew where I was going. First of all, what type of world are we talking about? Second, there is a consideration of story length. Third, what is the theme? What is the message I’m trying to convey? Once again, I’m treating the smaller things with great importance. I’m doing it again because it matters. This one effing matters.

1. What Is The Shade of the Sky in Your World?

There is probably no way to get through this without blatantly committing the worst examples of Impostor Syndrome. I’ve researched all the examples I can think of, all the classics, all the new voices. Sooner or later, they all start sounding familiar. Bradbury leaps to mind. Vonnegut could probably do this in his sleep. For this, I think I want to go a little darker, and this means I have to ask myself one thing before I jump in with both feet: What Would Stephen King Do?

First, is this a world where guns have been outlawed? Well, if that’s the case, then it kinda isn’t necessarily a world without guns. If you ban something, anything, make that thing even more desirable because it is forbidden, they just don’t go away. They go underground. You would have the deepest and darkest of black markets where the world’s weapons would still be for sale, but only to the people who will go through great lengths to get there. I think this world would exist without stretching the imagination too much, and so I think I’ll stick in this one.

The other possibility is that they were never invented to begin with. We could live in a world where we never evolved passed the Dark Ages. This could mean literally, where dragons exist along side of WiFi technology. Or it could mean figuratively where our attitudes haven’t changed much since then; we still fear the unknown, witchcraft is very much a thing and surgery is still done with leeches. The former seems like a decent idea for another time, but the latter would be better suited, if only for a spice, an accent, for this scenario. It’s modern day, but people are still completely, willfully, dangerously ignorant. Flat Earthers and Anti-vaxxers come to mind.

2. That’s A Rather Personal Question, Isn’t It Sir?

How long is it? This is a very real issue that needs to be addressed. The challenge is for 1500 words, no one is going to fault for going a smidge over. The point is that it needs to stay short. The basis of writing Flash Fiction is to tell the story, sell the story, get to the point as quickly as possible in the space that you have. 1500 words is pretty much max capacity for Flash Fiction. The answer to this question should be exactly that, and it should be something that I stick to, but is there another way around it?

As of this point, I’m well over my daily session target of 500 words. Not bragging, but I knocked them out within an hour, and I’m not slowing down either. I feel this play needs to be performed in 4 acts. Realistically, I could smoosh everything down to Flash Fiction size, but my compulsion to go big is speaking louder, so how do I curb this?


  • Keep it short: Limit to one scene. Limit to two characters AT THE MOST. Begin close to the end.
  • Use one theme ONLY
  • Use one plot line ONLY
  • Keep it tight: save only the essential items of a back story. Get rid of fluff words, and unnecessary dialog.

Keep in mind that Flash Fiction is essential if for nothing else than practice. It’s something that tightens the spring for a longer story. That’s why this is a challenge, it’s going against everything that I want to do.

3. What Are You Saying?

The premise of this story is a world without guns. But does that necessarily correlate to a world without violence? From an outsider’s perspective, gun culture, particularly an American brand of gun culture, seems to be not too far away from a sort of Feudalism. Maybe the term “living in the dark ages” as a little more apropos these days. Within the framework of what I need to write, there is now a world completely devoid of guns, but evil still remains. Nobody shoots up a school anymore, but people still fear the unknown. People still segregate, diminish, hate. It’s the notion of accepting a Utopian society were it not for the people who still feel the “need for a gun”. They need some magic weapon to make all the things they consider bad to disappear. Take away the guns, but leave the fear and ignorance. What happens then?

I envision a world in the final throes of a democracy. A world where enlightenment has been going on so long that it feels like it’s been tarnished by it’s own brilliance. How would this story be told? How would I write it? What am I trying to say? Throw all the guns away, if it will make you happy. You still won’t erase ignorance and greed. You still won’t save people from themselves. It is 2018, and we have learned, and will learn, nothing.

But, let’s put all that on the back burner and focus on something in particular. I have yet to establish a theme, and instead I’m focusing on a broader picture.

What am I trying to say?

Yes, violence is bad, life and liberty is good and all that is very useful if you’re teaching children. But this is a story, not a homily. Gun violence is out of control and they should all be banned and blahblahblah I’m putting myself to sleep on this.

No one will listen if I went down the Ban All Guns road. At the same time, the point wouldn’t be made if I glorified violence either. I’d be riding that fine line between preaching to the choir or screaming in the wind. Instead of coasting on a broad generalization and starting an argument that goes nowhere, maybe try and disassemble the whole morality of it, lay the whole issue out on a blanket as if I were taking apart a motor, and find one thing about this topic that is important enough to write a story about.

Let’s step away from the guns themselves for a moment. It’s window dressing and only represents a small part of the argument. Not to diminish their existence and the destruction that they bring, I get that part. What specifically about the gun culture that riles me? Is it the deaths? Sure. Is it that we are the only country in the “civilized” world that assassinates children on a regular basis without really doing anything about it? Absolutely. It’s all those things, but the biggest issue I have, the thing that makes my blood boil, has nothing to do with the actual weapons of war. It has to do with the hypocrisy around it.

A tragedy happens, and the normal thing to do, outside of the natural mourning period, would be to take steps to figure out what happened to make sure that it never happens again. Regulations are put in place. Media blitzes swamp the landscape. People talk about it. Seat belts. Drunk driving. Smoking is bad for you. Speed limits. The ineffective “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. All of these were the result of people taking action after a tragedy, and all of these are all commonplace now. We wear seat belts. Drunk driving is a no no. Smoking is no longer socially acceptable.

Someone shoots up a school, which *winces* happens on a fairly regular basis these days, and the people, the people we count on, the people we elected to hear us and understand us and do something when our lives are in danger, are strangely quiet about it. In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, they’ve been seeing something and saying something for a while now. In fact, they’ve been quite active on this. The tragedy here is that no one bothered to listen or take them seriously because… pfft… kids… amiryte?

It’s not just the weapons themselves, it’s the ignorance and the arrogance and the hypocrisy and the twisted logic surrounding it that I find the most horrifying.

This is where my story lies. This is where I’ll start.


The Road to eBooking Part 1: Where To Begin?

The Road to eBooking Part 1: Where To Begin?

You know how it goes…

It’s late summer, and you’re holding court at some corporate Tiki Bar in the middle of the banker district. There’s a beautiful sunset overhead, but you ignore it because at the moment, one hand is feverishly flipping through your news feed on your phone, while the other is wrapped around your third Suffering Bastard. Right now, all you can think about is where your next gig is coming from.

Your buddy’s Hawaiian shirt is so loud it could be heard over the soulless banter of the Mid-week Happy Hour crowd and whatever piped in audio sedative treacle they have playing at the time. It must be a Tuesday. His gait is wide as he clears a path back to your table. He removes his cheap, ill-fitting sunglasses from his pock marked face, and he reveals a very serious expression. He orders a Red Stripe, turns to you and says, “That was the main office. They want to know if you can write a novel.”

“A novel?” You ask with heavy indignance, “Can’t those bastards find anything else to do in this god forsaken time? They had plenty of time to unleash this task last month. Novel. Pfft. They must be getting desperate.”

“I dunno. It could be important,” says your buddy as he gives the glass back to the waitress and takes a mighty swig from the tiny bottle. “As your attorney, I advise you to consider this option. Pack up the car, leave town for at least 48 hours. It could be just the thing you need to get out of this rut.”

“Those barking jackasses won’t get a word from me,” you say as you adjust your amber tinted aviators and turn your attention back to your Twitter feed. “Don’t they realize this country is going to hell in handbasket? There’s more important things out there than just casual reading, dammit!”

Next thing you know, you wake up in some horribly painted unfurnished apartment out by the railroad tracks on the edge of town. You are surrounded by stacks of notecards, a mountain of hastily written drafts that seem to be propping up a tower of pizza boxes, a minefield of empty coffee cups underfoot, and huge goddamn WiFi bill that your buddy stuck you with.

You squint at the Dollar Store Adorable Kitten calendar affixed crudely against the kitchen wall with duct tape. You notice it’s November. You notice this not because of the fluffy baby tabby kitteh posed perfectly on a pumpkin in pilgrim attire, you notice this because the name of the month circled and underlined repeatedly in red marker with an equally urgent treatment given to the date of the 28th.


You look over at your laptop and you notice a jibberish laden manuscript flickering on the screen with a bold heading that simply says Chapter 3. You panic. At least, you think about panicking if it weren’t for the dull nausea in your gut that you get from too much coffee and not enough food. It has garnered your full attention, and is quickly amplifying the hell that you found yourself in.

Everywhere you look is chaos. Nothing is making sense. Seriously, where did this cat come from? Do I even own this much paper? These aren’t my pants. Did someone actually use a highlighter on my screen? You’d be more inclined to think that you’d been robbed, but nothing appears stolen. But then again, you don’t even know whose place this is.

You turn around, and come face to face with a wall sized cork board completely choked from corner to corner with more notecards, color coded and frenzied. A few are stitched together in some random network of colored yarn and thumb tacks. Confusion fills your head, because you can’t recall any conspiracy theories that you’re following at the moment. Then, it hits you. It’s NaNoWriMo, and you’re about to go down in flames.

I know, I know. We’ve all been there.

My experience wasn’t any different.

With a little restraint, I’ve managed to control the impulse to do something like this, and it has gone down a few notches since then.

Write Smaller, Not Harder

Before signing up, I honestly don’t think I had a cohesive idea for a novel at all. I had the beginnings of an idea. A spark. I had the willingness to elevate the way I use this craft, and the desire to see it through to the end, only to have the wind knocked out of my sails by the end of week two.

I was ill equipped, and perhaps just a little full of myself. I ramble, in case you haven’t noticed. And as such, I thought I would be able to make it to the finish line. Most of my blog posts average around 2000 words so it should be no problem. True, there are times where it takes me a few days, sometimes longer to finish. I accept this because time and privacy are both luxuries I do not possess. These are the things that I would need in order crank out more, if not better and more consistent posts. These things would facilitate a decent showing at the end of November.

At least I’d get a t-shirt out of it.

These are also the things I will probably never get by being a stay-at-home dad. So, in order to reach a compromise, it made more sense to set my sites a bit lower, and work smaller.

Writing prompts and Flash Fiction contests are great to make sure the imagination keeps moving, but these days, I tend to gravitate more towards static art. Building a story around a painting just makes sense because…well… they are worth a thousand words, after all. So, why not figure out what they are and write them down? You know… for kicks!

At Home Among A Gaggle of Geeks

When you post a work of art on your social medias, you’ll get your usual, obligatory likes, and random one or two word comments. You feel this fleeting moment of satisfaction where you think someone might have the same taste you do.

Post that same work onto a community space that is inhabited entirely by a nerd herd of people with similar likes, interests and experiences, and you’re bound to get something a little more fleshed out.

Examples of this can be found on Tumblr, Medium, Facebook (I’m presuming) and in this case, Charlie Hoover’s Geekscape of the Day.  There is no contest he constructs. He offers no direction. One would think that he would posit a challenge at the very least, but he doesn’t. He simply posts a work of art that he likes, something that can easily fit with the community’s namesake, along with the name of the artist who made it and a link to where they originally posted it. That’s it.

To the average person, this is just another post on just another social site.

To a person who is predisposed to letting their mind wander, it’s like catnip.

Sooner or later, the word nerds from the nerd herd would gather and start clicking away at their keyboards like little nerdy word birds. What ultimately ends up happening isn’t a competition or even a round-robin type thing. It’s more like an unofficial open mic night at some bar that only the locals know about. One person would leave their related micro fiction as a comment. Then another would leave their interpretation, then another, and so on.  This is what happens when you show something interesting to a group of smarter than average people who read a lot in their spare time. This is how I often thought an ideal social media interaction would take place.

This is also how I came to travel down the road to my first official publication. Fingers crossed.

I’m about 1200 words in, and I still haven’t provided anything actionable yet.

For some reason, I’m still thinking that the point of writing this post is to show what my thinking process was in writing a short story, or anything else for that matter. I’ve been fighting with this part for about a week now because there’s a big part of me who is convinced no one will care.

As I’ve stated before, do you really want advice from someone who isn’t a professional? Advice, good advice, should be dispensed by smarter people than me.

But then again, advice isn’t gospel.

The best I can do, is impart a tiny bit of wisdom through experience and hope that it might be beneficial to someone.

Where To Start?

The painting that I based my current story on, is found here. Take a look. Take a good long look at it. Absorb it. Spend a few minutes with it, then get back to me.

Welcome back. Now, answer me this. What did you see? Who talked to you? What was said? What did you smell? This way of doing things accounts for the majority of my present and future drafts. I’m not saying that it will work for you. It may, but it may not. Looking at the source material is the first step. This is what I normally do next.

1.) Remember The Basic Rule.

“Every play has to have a beginning, middle and an end. Jean-Luc Godard said, ‘Not necessarily in that order.’ And that’s why French movies are so effing boring.”
-David Mamet

I will acknowledge that liberties are ours for the taking. We as writers, professional and amatuer, will always have the freedom to do what we want with our own work.

Mix it up ‘Memento’ style?
Go ahead with your bad self!

Sticking with the ‘Once Upon a Time’ to ‘Happily Ever After’ formula?
Well, look at YOU in your Sunday Best!

Whatever route you follow, always remember that every story will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Absorb the source material. Think about a beginning, you don’t have to get into too much detail. Then a middle; will there be conflict? Then the end; what would be the result?

If you can fill in these blanks, then you’re well on your way.

2.) Keep Asking Questions.

Imagine you aren’t a writer chained to your desk to finish your latest work of fiction. Imagine you’re a journalist who just arrived on scene of a botched robbery. You’re job is to get all the important details out of the way first. The rest will take care of itself.

  • Who was involved? Who was the victim? Was there a perpetrator?
  • What happened? What is the evidence? What are the facts?
  • Where did it happen? Home or business? City or suburbs?
  • Why did it happen? What was the motivation? Who stands to benefit?
  • How did it happen? What was used? Where was it acquired?

The principle is the same regardless if you’re creating worlds for your next novel, or writing a fully detailed article for the Washington Post. Once you get all the important information down, ask yourself, “Is this all to the story, or is there something that I missed?”

3.) Stay Curious.

Right around this time, Imposter Syndrome kicks in, and I go back over everything to see if it’s slightly original, or just another worn out trope.

If it starts ringing familiar, then I try to steer the narrative into a new direction. If it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t make it any less challenging.

Can you work with it? Are you willing to work with it? Is it something you’re willing to put the hours into? If the answer to these is no, then it probably wasn’t meant to be, but that’s okay. There are plenty of other motes of inspiration out there waiting to fly into your nostril cavity at any time. All you have to do is to keep an open mind, and stay curious.

It’s been over a week on this post. I’ve spent long enough away from my draft, and I should return with a fresh set of eyes. Revisions will be the house in which I will be moving into soon, but for now, something else has my full attention. Something awful.

In the course of writing this post, an American radicalized by a White Supremacist Terrorist Group walked into a Florida high school, and murdered 17 children.

He walked in with an assault rifle. Passed metal detectors. Passed armed guards. 17 children, 3 adults, murdered. In school. On Valentine’s Day. It’s now two days later. No motive has been given.

I know it’s our job to stay on task and finish the article and stick to the program, but shit like this makes it hard to talk about anything else. Everything else seems small in comparison. I’m writing about some stupid book that I’m trying to publish, meanwhile 17 kids were slaughtered on Valentine’s Day. That’s 17 kids who will never have the opportunity to make the world a better place. 17 voices silenced. Hundreds in mourning. Thousands enraged. A country fed up.

Right now, there isn’t anything else.

Right now, there are more important things that need discussion.


My Response to Charlie Hoover’s Geek Question of the Day: Unicorn Wine

Author’s Note:

For those of you who are on g+, you should check out Charlie Hoover’s Geek Question of the Day. I’m a newcomer into his circle, and yet I always find something that inspires. Full disclosure, this is the shortest of three projects I’m working on that are inspired by his posts.

The other two will be released soon. Hopefully.

Here is one his more recent posts…


My contribution might be a little clunky, but I consciously decided to keep it as a draft. It’s all in fun, and it’s good to practice.

Also, I might be coming down with a cold, and this is what’s been fueling me for most of the day.

Also, scary writing isn’t in my wheelhouse, although I would like to try my hand at it some more. This is my gentle way of saying, “Prepare to be underwhelmed.”

Anyway, Happy Halloween. Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoy it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pass out somewhere. 



“Hurmph…what is it, Kevin?” Said my half-sleeping wife from the other end of the bed. The noise was enough to rouse me completely. The absence of a body next to her was barely enough to rouse her.

“I thought I heard something,” I said. “I thought the wind was bringing that branch closer to the window.” It was a clear and quiet night and the branch in question was no closer now than it has been for years.

“It’s probably nothing, hon. Come back to bed.” Susan’s voice muffled by her down pillow.

“In a second, Sue. Let me go check out the rest of the house.” My eyes are still blurry, my robe and slippers were a challenge to put on and all I want to do is go back to sleep. It was an option I greatly considered were it not for that clink clink clink of something hard tapping against glass.

The first stop was Abby’s room. It was a lazy five steps down the hall. I quietly open her door to see her night light burning bright in the corner of her room, her head still on her pillow. I check under the bed to make sure that the cat hadn’t found something she’d like to play with, but no sign of her fuzzy tail tonight. I kiss my daughter’s cheek and close the door behind me. I found it a little unusual for the cat not to be up here with one of us and it concerned me for a moment. It was a concern that quickly evaporated when a strong, sulfuric odor reached my nose. “Oh,” I said fanning the air from my face. “That’s where she is.” Clink clink clink went the sound again, rhythmic and deliberate. I went downstairs to investigate.

The front door was locked when I reached it. It’s on rare occasion that we go to bed and we wake up the next morning and find the front door still unlocked. Sometimes, you pass out in your chair. Sometimes, you’re just too damn lazy to care. These days, I make an effort to make sure we are indeed safe from harm. Clink clink clink. Louder this time. Behind me.

I spun around to see a pair of glowing eyes burning a hole in my soul. “CRAP!” I gasped. “Mittens. Geez, girl. You have to remember to bury your poop.” The sulfur smell became stronger as I descended the stairs, I can only presume that it was my cat letting everyone else in the house know who’s really in charge here. I glanced at her litter box further along the wall, but there were no discernible lumps resting on top of the sand. The awful smell wasn’t hers.

“Mewor?” she said as she leapt from the credenza to the floor. Her tail was straight out as she tread carefully into the darkened hallway and lept onto a darkened countertop in the darkened kitchen. “Mewor,” was her follow up statement. It was lower this time and louder. The type reserved big dogs or unwanted guests. She senses danger.

“What is it, girl?” I call out into the void.

The lights in the kitchen turn on by themselves. She sits and stares at me wide-eyed at the end of the counter.

The stench gets stronger with every step I take toward the kitchen.

Clink clink clink

For a moment, I wished that it was something else.

Clink clink clink

Think about rotting garbage. You forgot to put chicken in the refrigerator. Anything.

Clink clink clink

I think of anything else other than that night 20 years ago. But, you know the harder you try and wish something away, the closer it sticks to you.

Clink clink clink

Mittens casts her gaze over her fuzzy shoulder, as if introducing me to my guest. She and I know that he needs no introduction. The stench radiates from his flesh like Georgia pavement in July. Long, black nails clink clink clink on a leaden crystal goblet in relative indifference while a pair of burning, yellow eyes that are known for spawning nightmares rest with lids at half mast. He is bored, and his presence makes me impatient. He catches my gaze, and presents the bottle that his other clawed hand has been clutching.

“Did you know that there are approximately three to five genuine bottles of a 1928 Mouton-Rothschild left on Earth?” His voice equal parts bombast and delectation. “It’s what they call a ‘Unicorn Wine’. More of a collector’s item than something you’d actually imbibe. It’s bouquet is complex and magical, but the taste is so bitter that it’s considered unpalatable.”

“I would consider myself more of an ‘under $10 bottle’ type of guy,” I say flippantly, letting him know that I cannot be rattled.

“Understandable,” he said. “There are days when a cheap bottle of fermented fruit champions the most expensive bottle of vinegar on the planet.” He flicked a long, black claw against his crystal goblet with just enough force that the vibration yielded an exact copy of itself. Cheap parlor tricks were beneath him, but they were useful in a pinch. “Fortunately, this is neither of them.”

“So, that isn’t an extremely rare bottle of vinegar?”

He grinned knowing that there will be an air of civility. “Nor is it a cheap bottle of Muscatel from the local 7-11. In fact, this concoction has very little to do with the fermenting process at all. I am quite fond of Philippe de Rothschild, and when he came to me, I simply had to have his distinct taste. I would sooner drink a dying whore’s piss than to pop the cork on a Unicorn Wine. So instead, with the help of dear Philippe, this, my friend, is a bottle of the genuine article distilled from nothing more than pure memory.” He slid a freshly minted goblet in front of me. “Please. Sit. Have a drink with me.”

There was no thinking straight. Reasons would have to wait, and would probably come around soon. There was no fighting, no arguing, no protesting. It simply is what it was, and the only thing to do was to roll with it. The aroma from the Bordeaux was an exquisite mystery as he poured it into my goblet. “You do remember that my debts have been cleared, right?” I asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“Which means I’m clear of reproach or retribution, right? I’m free and clear?”

“You are as pure as snow, Glen.”

“It’s Kevin now. What I’m trying to say is that I’m good. I don’t owe you anything, and you don’t owe me anything.”

“Correct.” There was something genuine about his smile. I knew that he wanted something, but it didn’t strike me as anything devious. If there was ulterior motives, they were thin and plain. Like he was trying to bum a ride somewhere.

“I see. So, since all transactions have passed, would you mind telling me how I’m ending up in my own kitchen at 2:30 on a Tuesday night having a drink that doesn’t exist with Lucifer?”

He straightened himself up, downed his wine in one lusty gulp, and set the goblet to one side. “Kevin, the news of how you bested me at my own game has been something of a legend in a few circles.”

“Really?” I smiled, wine already warming my toes. “I’m a legend?”

“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. You are a bit of a celebrity, I’ll go that far.”

I’m already tired of his games, “So this is the part where you put a wager down, hoping to win back your pride in some rigged game that almost insures me not winning, but at the last moment, I’ll use something in my bag of tricks that will win the day with my soul intact. Is that it?”

His smile evaporated. “You know? If there’s one thing I hate more than a smart-ass, it’s being a foregone conclusion.” For being the Prince of Tricks, it seemed that he was trying very hard to present himself as legitimate. It almost appears as if he’s begging. “Yes, you’re right. I would engage you in some sort of battle for something something whatever, because that’s what I do. But, not now. Not today.”

There was a silence. He isn’t talking, which is a giveaway. This is something that needed to be handled gently.

“You’re right,” I say trying to bridge the gap. “This is an outstanding wine.”

“Indeed it is. Indeed it is.” he lifted his glass.

The crickets engage in another chorus outside.

“You seem worried. Should I be concerned?” I ask.

All pathos had left him. His expression is grave. There was something caught in his throat and the only thing that would pry it loose would be another glass. “I…uh… I’m not good at these kind of things, but…” his hand trembled as he poured. “Something’s come up, and I uh…”

“You what, Lucifer?”

“I kind of need to call in a solid.”

It was my turn to smile as the memory of 20 years ago catches up with me. The agonizing sickness I felt making the deal in the first place. The glory of besting him at his own game afterwards. All of it bubbled to the surface as I sipped.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s hear it.”

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.


See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.


Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.


First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.


This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

In Regards To My Absence…

In Regards To My Absence…

drinkandwritefordisplayThe first thing that I want to do when it comes to filling in my readers on where I’ve been for the past couple of months, is to rattle off this laundry list of things that people normally do, only to catch myself and think, “Who cares? Everyone is in the same boat.” Personal issues and familial obligations override everything at the end of the year. It’s nothing unusual. It’s necessary.

At least, that’s what I want to think as dozens of authors and editors crank out post after post of evergreen content to boost their SEOs and stuff. They know what to do. They know how to make themselves known. How to be present, how to sustain themselves online.

Me? I cleaned out my coffee maker the other day, and I felt like a god for 10 minutes.

I could fake my way through this. I could boldly go where everyone has gone before, and break no new ground. I could do the old Listicle thing and get all the clicks. Chicks dig clicks. Big clicks.

But that’s not me. I’ve gone over this before, and I’m not in the mood to kick that horse again.

I started this post with a head full of snark. I had every intention on laying on the dad jokes, and assume an air of jocularity whilst bullshitting my way through the aforementioned excuses…

But this year has found a way to make my heart heavy.

Not just with heroes from my childhood dropping one by one, not just because of a newly elected dictator of the United States becoming a reality.

It’s everything.

The end of the year can be overwhelming. It usually is. Whatever time I’ve allotted for myself, thin though it may be throughout the rest of the year, has become extinct on the First day of November. It’s hard to think straight. It’s hard not to slip from just the normal winter blues to full blown depression. The result being, nothing gets done. Nothing other than taking care of the kids, and the house, and many other things. Come November first, I check out. I don’t resume any writing activity until long after the ball has dropped in New York City, and cause celebre has silenced.

Spending a lot of time on Twitter doesn’t help kill the blues either. The madness of the world. The shortsightedness of people. Every word is a punch, or a random shoulder check from stranger on a subway; cold, apathetic and willing to accept its own destruction. It is a cold place filled with angry people, and it’s so easy to become part of the chorus. Finding another stranger to verbally throw my shoulder into became more important than writing something meaningful.

It has warped my soul. Although on the bright side, framing an idea in 140 characters or less is good practice for succinctness. Still, there is writing to be done. And brawling on social media doesn’t change that fact.

Plus, as anyone, especially the authors and writing gurus who dispense advice on their blogs will tell you, writing is friggin’ hard.

Dispensing advice is always good to get people to return to your blog. So are motivational quotes. One of which was in my feed the other day. It was from Ray Bradbury.

“Write a short story every week. It’s impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row.”

I was on G+, which is the equivalent of finding a spot in an open field and kicking your shoes off and staring at clouds. I just left a marathon Twitter slapfight, so my mood might have been a little dark at the time. My reply was…



Mr. Bradbury is, and always will be, one of my greatest literary heroes. Most of my teen years was spent with a copy of The Illustrated Man in my backpack. Still though… going by recent experience, there might be a possibility that his stated theory could be proven false.

Just get me in front of a keyboard. I’ll show you what’s possible.

A little harmless snark was just enough to elevate the mood a little, and it was good.

Still, there was writing to be done.

Ideas for projects have lined themselves up like taxis outside of an airport terminal in my Scrivener. All of them are idyl, none of them have a place to go.

The story I’m working on now, I might have given a little too much room to grow, and might need to reign it in. (Given that the definition of “short story” depends on who you ask, I set my word count to 20,000 words. I honestly don’t think it might see a third of that).Turning it into a shorter, short story might be good insurance that it gets done.

And then, I can move on to the next one, then the next. Then, the next. And then hopefully by mid-August, I would have sharpened my writing skills beyond 140 characters. I guess, the longer I thought about it, the more…I want to say plausible it became (I hesitate on plausible. I’m a little tired of making promises I can’t keep).

I have given this a lot of thought. And by that, I mean briefly mulled it over while sipping a beer. I might…MIGHT be able to do this. Maybe I can write a story a week for a year. I don’t want to make promises, but I already have a head start. I’d still want to publish on my own so I can finally PROVE that I’m a legitimate word monkey, so maybe post a highlight of the text. Whet people’s appetites. Generate interest. Evergreen. SEO. Yippee!

It is now well passed midnight on Monday, January 2nd. In a matter of hours, I will be another year older. Tomorrow, I will start on a year long journey to see how far and how often I can meet this challenge.

Happy New Year, everyone. The crapfest that was 2016 couldn’t end soon enough. The slate is now clean. No more picking fights with strangers. No more hiding away. Time to get shit done.


The Tornado in Her Paper Cup

The Tornado in Her Paper Cup

writingprompt9202016There were times where I’d never thought I’d see her again. Even though she sits across from me at this moment in our favorite booth. She rests the tip of her nose on the brim of her cup, not necessarily to sniff, but to let the warm, honey sweetened plumes of steam defrost her rosy face. Her fingertips, pink and brittle and shyly poking through slowly unraveling knitted, fingerless gloves. They want so much to keep a firm grasp to the outside of this flimsy, disposable vessel, but the boiling tea inside deny them their full embrace.

There were times where I’d never thought I’d see her again. Even though she sits across from me at this moment in our favorite booth. Her gaze is aiming for a target further than the window, further than the people walking by, further than the other side of the street. It was blocks away, on the other side of town, skimming across the ocean to the places only she knows.

I’m used to this, whenever she vanishes from right in front of me. She was never snobby. Not the Teddy Bear I remember. She prefered the company she kept.  She was never been ungrateful or aloof. She cherishes every person in her life, and has gone out of her way to help every person in need more times then I can remember. And yet, I can’t help thinking the same thing now as I did then. I always thought that such generosity might have come at great cost to her.

At first, she would disappear for a day. A few people would notice her absence, and were curious as to how long she’d been gone, but she’d always come back. It wasn’t too much later where she would disappear for days at a time. Then a week. Two. Until one day, we suddenly realized that nobody had seen her for months. She returned at the end of summer; A touch of bronze to her skin, freckles occupying the bridge of her nose, and several colorful ribbons wrapped as tight as Maypoles through strands of her hair. This latest trip? Gone for a little over five years. Heavy, woollen scarfs wrap around her neck. A journal bloated with ink and memories lay sleeping beside her.

I’m used to this. We all are. She would take center stage for brief moments of our lives. She would swoop in and fill our days with art and literature and things we’ve never seen before, and people we’ve never heard of, and music we’ve never danced to, and wisdom we’ve never thought of. She would paint our worlds in a wonderful and jubilant shade of chaos, and then vanish. Carried away on a multi-colored vapor trail of her own imagination.

She is back again. For a while, at least. I should be lucky enough to have at least a few moments of stillness with her before her muse finds her again. But, even though she is sitting across from me in our favorite booth, she is still miles away.

“Tina and I finally found a new place,” I say trying to coax her down from whatever cloud she’s on. Tina and I are irrelevant. Our quest for a better place is never-ending, and as far as that goes, nothing much has changed. Nothing that is happening in my life at this moment has anything to do with what’s going on inside her head right now. I could tell her that Tina’s been plotting my murder for months and I’ve only found out after a conversation with the cat. I could tell her that the place we found was a cave deep in the White Mountains that was previously occupied by a Bridge Troll and his pet unicorn. I could have strung together any combinations of words and scenarios, and it would have received the same response.

First, it’s the acknowledgement that someone may have been talking to her, “Oh?”
Next, comes the feeling that she should have kept up with a conversation, “Oh.”
Last, would come the recognition that she was lost in the great beyond again, “Ohhhh.”

Her eyes brighten. The apple of her cheeks shine. She has come back, body and soul. “I miss Tina,” she says recalling the years of almost sisterly companionship between them in the steam of her steeping tea.

“She misses you too. She speaks about you often. You should drop by sometime.”
“Of course you should. I insist. We’ll put on a spread, invite some of the old crew back, we’ll have a few laughs. It’ll be great.”

I offer every single time. It’s what one does, now that one has achieved adulthood. Should the occasion arise, you invite long lost friends over for dinner. Miss Manners told me so. Actually, that’s not true. I have never cared long enough to do any extensive research, but I’m fairly certain that there isn’t a social etiquette book in print that states that it’s expected of you to extend an invitation for an impromptu soirée for an old friend, but it never hurts to err on the side of caution. Then again, I used to be a pack-a-day smoker who spent most of his days blasting punk music from a beat up tape deck, and most of his nights stumbling home. And now these many years of kicking and screaming later, I have become a responsible adult. I have always been reluctant to bare this title, and she knows it. She knows my heart. I’ve never been much for social graces. Neither has she, and that is where we found each other so long ago.

I offer every single time, thinking this time she’ll change her mind. Her smirk tells me that I should know better. There is something in her eyes that won’t let me forget who I was.

“Alright,” I chuckle, changing the subject. “How was Europe? Was it as life changing as you thought it would be?”

“I guess you can say that,” she says as her fingertips have finally made peace with the scalding water swirling inside her paper cup. “I’d get reminded of just how far I’ve gone with every border crossing I had to make. It made me more homesick every time I was asked for my passport. But the people I met were pleasant, for the most part. A lot of people were quite helpful, even after they realized I was American. I met this circus troupe in Nice. We were all heading the same direction. For a while, it almost felt like they kinda adopted me as one of their own. Which would have been cool, I think. We barely spoke the same language, but we all got along. We all had the same spirit. Since my French was horrible, I had to act out my conversations in mime, and I made them laugh!” she exclaimed with genuine giddiness. “Can you believe it? I made professional clowns from Europe laugh! I taught them how to cuss like an American, they taught me how to juggle. It was a fair trade.

Oh! And there was also,” she paused. “…Jean…” Her eyes rolled back, her chest heaved. The universal symbol for, this boy was damn fine. I always thought it was charming how she regarded me as another one of her girlfriends, or often times, her brother, and not just another one of the guys. “This kid,” she continues delicately placing her fingertips to her chest. The universal symbol for, I do declare spoken with a swooning, aristocratic, Southern accent as if Rhett Butler walked into the room.”I could have eaten him all up with a spoon. He had these eyes that…when…I…”

Uh-oh…Houston, we have a problem.

The muse had her by the tail, and then it flew away. Somewhere across the ocean. Somewhere nestled in the lean, sinewy arms, and disarmingly hazel eyes of Jean. Her smile that she managed to drag out of storage for few minutes was quickly packed up again on account of looming storm clouds forming in her frontal lobe. She has vanished again.

One of the greatest lessons she has ever taught me, was that sometimes it’s not what people say, it’s what people don’t say that speaks volumes. There is nothing I can do when she disappears like this. Nothing. There is nothing I could say to bring her back into the world. Nothing I could do to bring her comfort. The best thing I could do is sit patiently, quietly. Hoping that she’d come back with her spirit intact, and if I’m very lucky, maybe she won’t rabbit so quickly.

“Yeah,” she mutters, packing the rest of the thought into a nutshell. “Europe was a good experience.” And that was the cue to drop it. Europe is thousands of miles away, but she’s home now. Back on familiar soil. Talking with familiar people, about familiar things.

Clouds churn and darken to pencil gray outside the coffee shop. It will snow again soon. Her fingers tell her that the tea has calmed down to just the right drinking temperature, and she takes a cautious sip. She scrunches her brow as she swallows. “Mmng. I need more honey, I’ll be right back.” She plops her bag on the table, thereby anchoring her to this place in time. This time, she means it.

I acknowledge the storm that’s coming, and sip my already tepid coffee. I get tired of looking at gray things, and turn my attention to her Andean patchwork satchel which has spilled out in front of me.

For a moment, the faint memory of her tutelage in the sport of people watching returned. I remember she once told me that you can “tell a lot about a person by the way they stir their coffee”, and through this, gain a wealth of knowledge.

Random hair ties and brightly colored scrunchies. Scores of cheap, ballpoint pens with various levels of ink, all with chewed pen caps. A fountain pen. Probably stolen. Probably a trophy. Two disposable lighters, both empty. She has never smoked, so… probably more trophies. A package of convenience store cupcakes. The kind that come two to a pack. This one was missing its twin. An impressive collection of hard candy, chewing gum, and cough drop wrappers. The companion issue of her other journal, equally as loved up. Her essential “desert island” books that she never goes anywhere without; Khalil Gibran’s, The Prophet, Selected Poems and Letters of Arthur Rimbaud, Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, and one completely dog-eared, busted spine, water stained copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I didn’t have to look at the whole cover to know what it was.

I know what it was, because I was the one who gave it to her.

It was Christmastime. Everyone else on my list was easily taken care of that year. A six-pack of local brew for Eddy. An abalone bracelet for Tina. But for our dear Maddie Bear, finding the perfect gift for our introverted, bookish friend who has a flare for madness and wanderlust, was proving near impossible. There was nothing that seemed to fit the bill at the mall. Then again, nothing ever did. It’s where inspiration goes to die (another lesson taught). Nothing hurling themselves at me in the Hallmark Store. There was no other option. I was fighting the urge to be completely obvious, but there was no way I could win that battle. I should have went to the bookstore to begin with. It was on the way home anyway.

I had no idea what I was looking for. The most exotic thing I’ve read up to that point was a few Kerouac poems, and that was for an elective class that I barely passed. How was I going to compete with a woman who once disappeared for five days because she heard about someone halfway across the country who had a first edition, signed copy of a Lawrence Ferlinghetti book that she just had to have? I punted. The guy that worked there was helpful, and I didn’t want to think about it too long this close to closing time on Christmas Eve. He rang me up, and I was on my way.

This copy was in it’s 12th reprint or so. The pristine, glossy cover reflected every haphazardly strung Christmas light in my living room as she unwrapped it. The look on her face was priceless. I was half expecting a, “Oh, I already have this, dear. But thank you,” or at the very least for her to crinkle up her brow, look at me and proclaim, “what the hell is this?” Neither of which happened.

Of all of her endearing qualities, the one I hold most dear, is the fact that she is a terrible card player. Insincerity was never her strong suit, she could never hide what she was thinking. Except for this time. She held the unwrapped book in her hand. Her expression wasn’t joy, or surprise. It wasn’t even the gross, apathetic facsimile of it; The expression you’re forced to wear around the holidays like an ugly sweater that was knitted by your estranged aunt that always smells like cat pee. Nowhere near it. It was the look of lightning striking you when a famous person waves in your direction. The look you make when your best friend admits that he’s been in love with you for years, and you’re just now knowing about it. It wasn’t shock. It was more like shock’s cousin.

The wrapping paper fell to the floor. Her eyes darted around the cover art, studying every stroke and nuance. “Thank you, Peanut,” was all she said, followed by a customary hug.

The rest of the evening was food, drink and laughter by the rest of us. For the better part of the evening, I was convinced that she hated her gift, until I was proven wrong. I stole a glance when I could. Me in full host mode, her holding court on an ottoman. Her Peruvian satchel at her feet, Dollar Store Santa hat on her head, brand new book in her lap, hands gripping it as if it were the last ticket for the greatest merry-go-round on Earth. She threw me her full-cheeked smile. It appeared that she was caught in that wonderful dilemma of deciding whether to crack the spine now, or wait for a more cozier environment that involved down comforters, warm wool socks, hot chocolate, and a couch. She liked it. Christmas was saved. Hallelujah.

The grayish light from outside that has been washing the coffee shop in a shade of meh, seems to have enhanced  how sun-bleached and worn her once vibrant bag was, making every flaw obvious. Every repair jumped out; a newer stitch with different thread here, a patch of cloth with a rubber duck pattern placed in the middle of what was once blue and violet there. A book that was given as a gift many years ago that barely had a fingerprint on the cover, now creased and mangled from years of being stuffed into a bag. The dog eared corners of every page bent into a permanent curve and stained in a subtle tone of Chamomile. Much time has past. And while I bemoan the loss of my own glory days, seeing this ragged book in her ragged bag, this last minute gift for a friend who would go out of her way to paint our worlds in a different color, seeing it loved and appreciated and lived in, warms my heart against the coming snowfall.

The midday crowd shuffles through while the notes from some long, forgotten pop song weave themselves through the pressurized steam of a fully functional espresso machine. She returns and throws a fistful of sugar packets and a stack of napkins into her bag. Old habits die hard. The wooden stick slowly comes to a rest after dancing in the mini tornado in her cup. “Ah,” she says sipping her sweeter tea. “Much better.”

“It’s so good to see you again,” I smile. “Are there any more treks into the unknown for you?”

“To where, the condiment stand?” she winks. “Kidding. No, I don’t think I have anything left in me. It was fun while it lasted. I wrote down a bunch of names so I can keep in touch with the people that I met, and I have more snapshots and trinkets and memories than I know what to do with. But,” she pauses to take a look around her.  “I miss the states. I miss home.”

“Well, I for one am happy that you can still call this town home,”  I say. “Most people we knew left in the middle of the night and didn’t come back. I lost track of how many times Tina and I thought about packing up a U-Haul and heading south.”

Well traveled eyes find mine. “Don’t go south,” she whispered. “I’ve known too many snowbirds who melt too easily in June, and curse the day they moved anywhere south of Boston when they do. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you couldn’t make at least one snowball a year. I believe someone told me that a long time ago.”

“It was that winter where it didn’t snow until February. I remember.” Small talk and fond memories over warm drinks. Creature comforts that hold a person still long enough to sprout the tiniest promises of roots. But her distant, hunter’s gaze through the window tells me all I’ve already known about her.

“So, this really is the end of the road for you?”
“Yep. I’m officially retiring from globetrotting. I’ve been looking for a place for a few days now. You wouldn’t happen to know if your old place is rented yet, would you?”
“I’m not sure. I think the landlord was going condo, last time I checked.”
“I could look, if you’d like.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah, I never liked where it was anyway. Too far away from everything.”
“It’d be nice to have you back.”
“It’s nice to be back.”
“And you’re headed to Central America…when?”
“Next year. As soon as I get enough…” I wrangled her mind from roaming too far. We have found each other again. “I could never get anything past you huh, Peanut.”
“Not today, Teddy Bear.” I laugh.

The kid behind the counter replaces stale, old coffee urns for fresh ones. Two schoolgirls squeal at the text one of them received a few tables over. An old man shakes his newspaper to shoo away the world. At this moment, all is well.


©2016 AA Payson