Time To Go

He walked out of Headquarters with the Lasso in his pocket; easy to do, since he’d used it to go back to before the detectors had been installed. It’d be half an hour plus ten years before they noticed it was missing.

The Lasso, it grabs hold of a moment in time and pulls that moment towards it. It doesn’t move you, it moves the continuity of the universe around you. If you’re very lucky, and very careful, it doesn’t break that continuity in the process.

He was careful, always. He’d written the rules, and spent a long time enforcing them. Lucky? Who knows. He hadn’t ended the world yet.

“Frank.” A familiar voice, over his shoulder: his own.

“Hey. Someone was looking for you inside, I th—”

“Don’t try my own tricks on me.”

He shrugged. His had was on the Lasso, thumbing the dial. “Don’t need to.”

“When did it happen?” The younger Frank looked at his older self in disgust. “When did you break?”

“That’s just it, kid; you don’t get it. You will, eventually.” The Lasso was already humming, a high-pitched rising whine they both knew well. “There’s no such thing as when. There never was.”

The Last Of The New Amsterdam Vampires

I went on to California, then Seattle and finally Portland. I can blend in among the eccentrics and the hipsters and the nut jobs without a second’s thought. Coral stayed in Nebraska, in that little town, where she stuck out like black tar heroin on a candy tray. She never gave me a straight answer why, past: “I’m tired of moving around.”

That was what, ten years ago?

I’ve put out feelers, from time to time; she’s answered none. I hear from Rocky, often, always when he needs something. I heard from Wen only once, before she faded into the great Chinese interior from whence she’d originally come. Maybe she’ll come back out again, someday. She knows what to say in the Times Personals if she wants to find me. So does Coral. I wonder who they’ll be, who they will have become, when and if they do.

Maybe they’re already dust. I don’t know. I oscillate between caring and not, between wondering if they still exist and forgetting they ever existed, that we were ever a family.

I could make a new one, drain them and feed them and wait for them to violently wake. But there’s still time.

Home For The Holidays

The boarding announcement crackled over the loudspeaker, telling her it was time to get in line, time to go through security, time to take the Xanax.

He'd been more silent than usual, but while staring over her shoulder at something undefined in the middle distance he managed, "So I guess I'll miss you."

"Oh?" She hadn't really heard it, not while concentrating on searching the bottom of her bag for tissues. But then it sunk in, and she looked up, and caught his eye and smiled. "I'll miss you too." She felt as if, suddenly, she didn't need the Xanax.

Containment Protocol

You have to return safely. It is our only concern.

"I'm sick," he said, followed by a cough that spattered tiny droplets of spittle across the inside of his faceplate.

You are not 'sick', you are in symbiosis with us.

"That's what 'sick' means in this context. You know what I'm saying. Don't act like… You've got to understand: I can't go back like this, I can't. I can't take you back."

There is no other option. If you do not execute the re-entry burn, you will miss the atmosphere, you will be flung into a widely elliptical orbit. You will starve and die and we will die with you.

They were right. He entered numbers into the flight computer, armed the retrorockets, set the timer.

Your numbers are incorrect.

"They aren't," he coughed again, a racking cough carrying a moan, full of desperate exhaustion. "I have a Doctorate."

The Command Module will enter the atmosphere at too steep an angle, and burn up. We will die before we reach the ground.

"That's the idea." Earth was a looming mural in the window. "They might try to recover the body if we end up in orbit. Can't take the chance."

Bloomsbury, 1936

"Now, let's see," She said, holding the photo at arm's length, then closer, then back out again. "That's me with my fist up, there on the top. The boy beside me is your Great Uncle Robert; he died in Korea."

"Why in Korea?"

"During the war, dear, the Korean War. He went into the service because our father had been. Now pay attention. "

"Yes, Gran."

"The others, they're just the other children in our class. But there in the black coat, with his hands behind his back? The handsome one?"


"That's your Grandfather. Only, I hated him then."

Composed En Route

You're dead now.

The kids, too, and their kids. The computer says three hundred years will have passed on Earth, even though it's only a couple months by ship's clock; you'll never read this, it's way too late. Plus there's no way to send it,  not until we're almost to our destination and the ship turns around to begin the deceleration burn. So I guess I'm not writing this message for you, I'm writing it for me.

You wanted a divorce, because you had to go on with your life, and I understood, and I gave it to you, even though I was still the same man you married, the man you fell in love with. I wanted this shot, always had, more than anything else I've ever wanted, and I couldn't take you with me, and that hurt you, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry I couldn't give up my dream to give you yours.

And I'm sorry for leaving the kids. I hope they had long, happy lives, and families of their own, and didn't forget their crazy, selfish, astronaut dad.I'll never forget you. I Love you. I forgive you. I hope you forgave me, by the end.


We've stepped through to this Earth before, more than once,
And moved among the analogues of the people we love,
To tell them our hidden truths without bearing the consequences.


"I hope you're comfortable." It was a lie, a platitude worn as a disguise by utter contempt. "You're going to be here a while."

She said nothing; she restrained herself from looking around nervously. There would have been nothing to see: an empty box of a room with a single door and a large wall mirror behind which was undoubtedly a camera.

"We need your help with some things."

"What things?"

"The names of other members of your organization, the—"

"What organization?"

"How you communicate with them, where their money comes from, that sort of thing. And how you beat the lie detector."

"I don't belong to the Snows. I don't know anyone who does." She forced herself to stay calm, to speak in normal, measured, even tones. "You're wasting your time."

"We know that's not true. You're caught, and you can't talk your way out of it." He sat down opposite her, shrugged. "Talking is your only hope."

"I can't help you." She couldn't answer his questions, because the answers were buried deep behind an activation phrase no one had said yet.

He stared at her, then: "I guess it's going to have to be the hard way, then."

The Kitchen Scene

"So who's this guy, now?"

"Not sure, some Rabbi from out of town."

"They're really losing it over him. It's embarrassing."

"Right? And all this food… you know they won't eat half of it, and will we get the leftovers? We will not."

"Of course not. She'll tell you to toss it to the dogs out back and she'll watch to make sure you do it, too, you just wait."

"Oh, I know she will. I know she will."

"Oh, hey, draw a pitcher of water and take it in."

"Just water? Not wine?"

"Just water. For some magic trick."

Deep Listening

"What," came Rebbo's voice over the suit radio, "is this dreadful noise I am listening to?"

"Music. I'm playing music from the library computer over the open comm circuit. Too loud?"

"It is confusing."

"Con—" Mays pulled up his core-sample tool, leaned on it, turned to look across the frozen surface of the moonlet to where Rebbo was working nearer the ship. "You don't have music? Your people?"

"We have music. It soothes, calms. It aids in slipping into the trancelike state we use to allow subconscious problem-solving." There was a pause. "This music seems designed for exactly the opposite."

"It's mostly for dancing. You know, dancing?"

"I have seen it done."

"You want I should turn it off? Maybe switch to a different playlist? There's classical, and… the ambient/minimalist category is probably more your speed."

"I do not wish to interrupt your enjoyment if it is assisting you in your work."

"It's fine. ELLE, play the man some Eno. Or something like that."

"Music For Airports, volumes one through four. Album mode."

Mays continued his work, taking more samples before heading back to the ship. He found Rebbo sitting cross-legged at the base of the ship's ladder, fast asleep.

Pica And Sensibility

Oh, do come in.

It's such an honor, and we are delighted to make your acquaintance, of course. Were your travels easy? Have you come from Calais? Is it beautiful this time of year? Is absolutely everyone there? Are all the ladies festooned with the latest fashions from Paris? Are all the gentlemen dapper and smart? We would have been in attendance but for Father's gout…

But I do go on. Have a sherry, and some cakes. Perhaps we'll walk the garden later, or I can play you something pretty on the piano. You will stay the week, won't you?

Nursie Dear

"Are you comfortable?" Her voice was female, her chassis was human-shaped enough to be comforting while falling outside the 'uncanny valley'. "Can I get you anything?"

His voice was a whisper buried in loose gravel. "…Has anyone called?"

"No, I'm sorry. Is there someone I can call for you? Someone you want to see? I can ask them to—"

"No, no. I thought, maybe… but, no." He winced, shifted his weight, trying unsuccessfully to redistribute the pain.

She turned to the monitor display, took in all the information at a glance, and then began adjusting the life-support array, a little more here, a little less there, an increase of dosage, a decrease in light level. She reached for another control, but stopped, as if pausing to remember something, but stayed frozen there, a sudden statue.

"What is it?"

She didn't respond. He realized the low hum that usually came and went with her was gone.

"Broken down?" He coughed a wracking spasm, turning his head into the pillow until it was done. "Ran out of juice?"

The call button was out of his reach; in an emergency, she was supposed to hit it.

"Here I was sure I'd go first."

Three Line Thursday: "The Next Morning"

You've stolen away before dawn, before I could escape my slumber.
The sheets still own the languid curve of your body
More than I, for all my trying, ever did.

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

He was in the kitchen again this morning.

I locked both doors, front and back, before going to bed, and they're still locked. Windows have been painted shut since Thursday. The clothes dryer vent is hooked to the dryer, and the fireplace flue is closed. I even took a flashlight into the basement and checked for holes in the foundation, anything. There's simply no way to get into this house, but there he was. Still is. He's watching me right now.

I called animal control and they don't know how he escaped their holding room much less got all the way back here. They also said he acted normally while he was there, no cold unblinking stare, no claws out, ate their regular food, even purred. They actually suggested that I think about keeping him.

If I went to stay at my brother's place in Memphis, would he still be here when I got back? Or would he find me there? It's a three-hour flight, so I suppose if he appeared there that same day, then at least I'd know to be scared and stop feeling so foolish.

What does he want from me?

Maybe I should buy a gun.

Teachable Moment

Vacuum cementing. That's what it's called. Vacuum cementing.

When I was a kid, my mother used to pick me up after school every day. Always at the same time, always at the same spot, a smile and a wave, leaning over to push the door open for me, asking me about my day. Then one Tuesday afternoon she got a flat tire and couldn't get dad on the phone; I sat for an hour, panicked, alone, wondering if I'd ever see home again. It's the things you take absolutely for granted that, when they fail, can absolutely ruin you.

Doors are like that. You open a door, you go through; you think nothing of it. If it's locked, you use a key. If you have no key, you knock, and someone lets you in. If no one's home, no big deal, you come back later.

In space, the air is inside and you need to get inside with it before your tanks run dry, and there's no coming back later. If the hatch doesn't work, because the parts have cold-welded together, you are well and truly fucked.

Anyway, I'm attached to the umbilical. Come get the body when you can.

Three Line Thursday: "A Hole In The Water"

You know how seasick I get, remembering our honeymoon well,
Yet you spent all that money on that damn boat;
I can only assume it's to sail away from me.


I wonder what  became of them all, the little army men from my childhood; I don't recall their fate. They're not to be found in any of the boxes containing the rest of my childhood. Did they end up in a musty shoebox in the attic, were they spilled across the floor of the garage and eventually swept out with the dust and leaves, were they left in the backyard between the blades of grass to eventually sink into rain-softened soil?

We won so many wars together, victories snatched from the jaws of ignominious defeat. I could use them, now.

The Last Of The Garden Parties.

They walked outside, glasses in hand, shoes long-since removed and lined up along the baseboard and forgotten, and looked up into a dusky sky. Somewhere up there was a ten-mile-wide minivan-shaped chunk of nickel-iron tumbling its way towards the end of all human civilization. Someone asked, "Anybody see it?"

No one answered. Howard fished a phone out of his jeans pocket and stared down at it for a bit. "It's on the other side of the planet right now. Nothing to see."

They didn't go back inside; they milled around with their toes in the grass and made small talk about friends and family.

Howard sat down in the grass; eventually he laid down in it. At some point, as the stars twisted slowly above him, he realized Francesca was laying next to him. "Hi."


"So, what if it misses?"

"It won't."

"But how do you know?"

"Because… because math. It's gonna hit."

She made a face as if she'd been holding out hope, even this late. "I always hated math. Hated the teachers, they all thought it was so easy."


"Wanna go inside? Upstairs, I mean?"

He considered it carefully. "I wouldn't want to miss the show."

Three Line Thursday: "Angels 33"

I waved as you boarded, watched as you took off,
I come back, have for years, to sit here patiently,
For as long as they'll allow, waiting for your return.


"I collected sheep."

He moved the pillow from over his head and strained to see her in the darkened basement. "What?"

She was out of her cot, standing, peering up out of one of the little head-height windows, watching zombie feet and ankles shuffle by. Her voice was quiet, almost a whisper. "I collected sheep, little plastic toy ones, pewter ones, cartoony, photo-realistic, whatever. I had, like, four hundred of them, probably. They're lined up on shelves in the living room. Out where people can see them."

He rubbed his eyes, yawned. "Okay."

"I was so proud of them. Like, it was a neat thing about me. 'Oh, Missy's the girl who has the sheep thing going on'."

"Nothing wrong with that, I guess."

"Everything's wrong with that. All that money, all that time. I used to go to craft shows, just to look for sheep. I scoured the internet. What did it get me?"

"A lot of sheep?" She didn't respond. He offered, "I collected Lego guys for a while. But I guess I was pretty young."

"I wish I could get back over there to the house," she said. "I'd break every last one of the damn things."

Three Line Thursday: "Standing Over The Body"

I don't get it. I don't understand why this happened.
You've seen the movies, you know how this stuff works.
You never open the creepy murder clown box. Not ever.

The Enclosed Is To Be Buried With Him

I don't want to spend every Christmas at your Mother's, and I don't think being a vegetarian is one of those things one should compromise on just to be polite to someone who would never compromise in return. And that egg nog is fucking repulsive.

It wouldn't hurt the kids' development for me to take a class one night a week, and it wouldn't hurt you to have to fix them dinner while I'm doing it. Make spaghetti. Jesus, how hard is that?

You need to be nicer to me. Especially when you're drunk.

I let Dwight Horseman kiss me once, in a weak moment, while you were away for work, and hated myself for years. That's why we stopped going to that church; I couldn't bear seeing him.

Go to the doctor. Every year. No stalling. If you don't, you'll get colon cancer and die and I'll be alone.

Having Come Back From Barbados

There was a week and a half there, maybe two, where we were perfectly happy. The reality that love doesn't fix everything else wrong with the world hadn't yet shouldered its way through the door of that first cheap apartment. We ate Chinese food, naked together in that bed that hadn't started to seem overly small. We talked, not having run out of mysteries. Our peculiarities were adorable, our human frailties endearing.

She's cut her hair; I have a bit of a paunch. We're naked only in the shower with the door locked. It's work, now. But it's still love.

Against Future Emergency

"We don't go back here much. Very leaky, you know, especially in spring. A lot of water…"

I nodded, having barely heard him over the  blood rushing in my ears. The brickwork was different, older than the rest of the church, larger bricks and a different color. The floor was of cut stone slabs, expertly fitted.

"Can't say I understand why it's suddenly so important. Lots of these old churches sit on Roman foundations."

"Roman," I echoed, nodding. I came out of my reverie long enough to continue, "I'll be a while, sorry. No need to keep you from your work."

"As you like, Professor. I'll be seeing to the graveyard leaves if I'm needed." He trudged back up the steps into the upper, modern section of basement.

I'd seen it almost immediately, having known what to look for: the stone to press, the one with the mechanism behind it, but I waited until I heard the leaf-blower noise from outside. When the wall slid back and then aside, my flashlight played across a furnished room clear of cobwebs and damp.

An armored figure sitting within looked up and regarded me at his leisure, and then asked, "I am needed?"

Three Line Thursday: "Urban Spelunking"

Spend one night there, they said, just one winter night,
And your skepticism will fade to nothing like sun-weathered paint,
As the ghostly dead re-enact long-ended lives in every room.

Family Legend

She went to Reykjavík when she was twelve, that was the start of it. Her parents took her. For reasons passing understanding they let her stand on the lip of a volcanic vent and look into it. "Down there? That's the Earth burning," her Father told her, both of his index fingers fed through the belt loops on her pants.

In college she did Europe, like you do. She stayed a little longer than many, left a little bit more of herself behind than most. After graduation she did India, and instead of coming home she went on to Bangladesh, then up into Nepal. That's where she met my father.

He followed her to Cairo, then Alexandria, as enchanted with her as she was with the world. He took the picture half an hour before he gave her a ring he bought at a bazaar that morning, while she slept.


"Tell me what you see."

He peered at it, squinted, cocked his head to one side like a listening dog. Finally: "A cave. A dark cave, like down an abandoned mine where the tracks run out and there's no lights yet."

That card slipped up and away, revealing another one. "And this one?"

Again he regarded the picture for a long time, until he was nervous the doctor would think it overlong. "A… a dog?"

"Is that what you see, or is that what you think I want you to say?"

"Aw, Doc, I just want to get out of here, to go home. Can't you please just sign the paper to tell them I'm fixed?"

"It doesn't work like that, Robert."

"But why not?"

The first card reappeared. "What did you say this looked like to you, Robert?"

"A cave."

"What kind of cave did you say, though, specifically?"

"…like down in an abandoned mine. You know. And this, here, this square bit…" He pointed out something on the card, "This is a minecart, at the end of the tracks, where they run out."

"And where did you leave little Florence Gregory, Robert? Where did they find her body?"

Three Line Thursday: "Sea-World"

Take to a boat, run up sails, find the wind,
Just as a reminder, because it is all too easy
Forgetting that the world is ocean, with only occasional land.

G, A, F, F(8vb), C

How old was I, when they came? It's so hard to remember.

There was a building, a farmhouse. There was as barn, and… a man…my Father; he kept animals in there, and there were fenced-in fields with more animals, and other fields with crops. It was so big to me, when I lived there, growing up, it was the whole world. But I remember how small it looked from above, dwindling smaller and smaller, until I couldn't pick it out anymore. I wish I had understood then that I wouldn't see it again, not ever.

I wonder what it's like now, the Earth. Time dilates near the speed of light; the Friends had to learn a new language when they got home, so much time had passed. And it's been decades since.

I wonder if they'd take me back, just to see. Not to stay, of course. Just to see.

The Scientist

With the shell held to my ear, I can hear the entire ocean. I hear the darting fish and the gliding whales and the bottom-feeders skittering through the cloudy dust. I hear them as if they were one great creature writhing and thrashing and eating itself, dying and sinking and being reborn.

I have petitioned the King for a ship, so that I may take it to sea. I believe he thinks me mad, but he may grant my request nevertheless, to be rid of me. She may already have a name, but I am resolved to call her Eurybia.

The200: "The Archean"

"It's hot. Hotter than the projections." He cycled to the next data set on his arm-screen. "And the atmosphere's an unbreathable soup. Suit's staying on."

"Well, we figured that."

"You're coming through fairly clear." He turned around: the portal was shrunk to a tiny glowing speck, but it was still there. All those briefings, and all the classes, and he still had no idea how the technology worked. Or, why it worked. "Unbelievable."


"Three and a half billion years. Oop…" He steadied himself. "There's some ground movement there. And I'm seeing volcanic activity."


"No, far off. Horizon. Big plumes of smoke. Whole place looks more like Io than home. Let me try to get to higher ground and I can—"

"Negative. Stay on primary task. We want the pools."

"There's one about ten feet away, stand by." He clambered across a ridge of slick rock, placing his boots and hands with methodical care. "Here we go. I'm taking out the sample tool, but…"


"There's a film across the top of the water. Looks organic. It's well in progress here already."

There was a long pause. "Understood. Return to the portal. We'll just have to go back further."

Three Line Thursday: "Cohesion"

It's like a marble, she whispers, leaning in closer still.
She's ensorcelled by it, this simple bit of natural world,
As I am, in my own way, ensorcelled by her.


"Good afternoon, ma'am. Are you Eunice Bond? Did you go to Shepherd High School in Isabella County?"

"Yes, that's me…"

"My name is Aggie Warfield. My grandmother was Penelope War— her maiden name was Adler. Penelope Adler?"

The woman's face lit up. "Oh, my goodness, Penny Adler. Come in dear, come in…"

As Eunice closed the door behind them, the girl continued, "I was wondering if you'd kept any pictures from back then, maybe something with my gran? I know it's been a long—"

"The only thing I have is the yearbook, it'd be right there on the shelf." She shook her head. "But they came and erased her, years ago."


"The government, dear, the Department Of The Army. During the war. Two agents came, took all the loose photos. They left the yearbook, just smudged her out."


"Oh, Lord, dear, you didn't ask why during the war…"

SF Drabble #467 "Good Night, Universe"

I didn't have a room growing up, not as such.

My father invented a thing, a space and time thing. I don't know how it works. To listen to him try to explain it to people, he doesn't quite know how it works either.

I slept out on the Serengeti, so long as I could show Mother that no predators would pass by my chosen spot that night. I slept in a crook halfway up a Sequoia, after I'd shown Father I could secure my bed to the trunk, and myself to the bed.

Better than a room, I think.


Okay. Annabelle awoke, stretched her arms, looked around her studio apartment and… Wait, no, that's too cliché, can't start with her waking up. No decent literary agent would let that pass.

Annabelle stepped out of the front door of her apartment building, her Manolos flashing red against the… Ugh, too 90's. What is this, Sex in the City? No. How about:

Annabelle raised her arm to flag down a cab as if she was a wizard  bending the city to her will. Ooh, I like that… Hey, maybe this could be Urban Fantasy! I bet that stuff sells great… Okay.

Annabelle felt the power coursing through her fingers as she commanded a cab driver to… Should her name still be Annabelle if it's Urban Fantasy? What about 'Lorelei'? Or maybe something like 'Rielle'? Rieeeeeelle. Love it. Okay.

Rielle slid into the cab and the ensorcelled driver pulled away from the curb without a word from her… Where's she going though? Maybe a nightclub full of demons and sorcerers? OOh I could call the club 'Underworld'!

Underworld was a seething mass of power and sex and thumping house music. Rielle snaked through the crowd until she saw him… Okay, what should the guy's name be? 'Cray'? Maybe 'Tanner'? 'Tanner' works. I like a 'Tanner'.

As soon as Rielle approached, a predatory smile spread across Tanner's face. What does he say? Something alpha-male, gotta be a little rapey, but in a hot way.

"Welcome back, pet." Yeah, that'll really draw 'em in.

The Contraptionaire

With the Merry Elizabeth's boilers stoked once again, and repairs made to her canvases and cannon, we regained most of our previous altitude and swung towards London. Enemy planes harassed us well into the night, but the armor held, as did the lads' nerves, thank God. Miss Hawthorne and her governess, the formidable Mrs. Posey, kept the coffee flowing and even lent their eyes to the watch. I yet believe we shall see Mrs. Posey take the crow's nest, though I would not wager soon.

But the good spirits on board belie my worries. I am more certain than ever that our mysterious enemy is none other than the Comte de Saint Germain after all. This engagement over Calais is therefore but a foretaste of the great approaching contest, with the fate of all Europe hanging in the balance. But then, as our dear Miss Hawthorne says: isn't it always?

Three Line Thursday: "Array"

So many portals, in rows and columns and trailing loose
As if an orchard planted and untended and spread wild,
Through each of them a new world we can disturb.

That One Crazy Night

He found her in the sun room, sitting quietly, staring out the window at an unremarkable darkness. "Honey?"


"I opened another bottle. Jamie's… what are you doing in here? I thought you just went to freshen your drink. We're in the living room."

"I know."

"…Honey? What's going on?"

"I was just thinking."

"You were thinking?" He waited for a response, then something in his mind clicked over, rearranged, placed the awkwardness of leaving his guests unentertained for a few minutes into perspective. He pulled out a chair and sat down opposite her. "What were you thinking about?"

"Remember when we got married?"

"Of course. Your Mother got blasted. So did a couple of my groomsmen. I think Vinnie ended up sleeping it off on his next door neighbor's front lawn." He saw an ephemeral hint of a smile. "What do you remember?"

"I remember wanting you so much. I didn't want to go to the reception at all, I just wanted to go back to the hotel right away." She glanced over at him, caught his eye, blushed. "I suppose I told you that."

"You did." He grinned. "But later."

"That lasted a long time, didn't it? The newlywed thing? As long as any couple?"


"Longer than most?" She sounded like she wanted his permission to believe it.

"Never went away, babe."

She smiled, but it was linked to a look that might have easily graduated into a rolling of the eyes. "It comes back from time to time, anyhow."


Some music started a couple rooms away, soft music, something from the Ipod he'd left plugged into the dock. Jobim, Quiet Nights. He pictured Jamie dancing dreamily to it, wine stem between her fingers.

"She's got good taste," he observed, reaching out for her hand, taking it, laying the pads of his fingertips on hers. She blushed again.

"I suppose this whole thing was my idea, wasn't it?"


"You agreed right away, and I mean, Jamie's gorgeous, probably enough to make you forget there's another man in the room, but I'm the one who wanted to do this."

"We both agreed." He leaned back in his chair, having screwed up the courage to go through with it, now beginning the process of screwing up the courage to walk into the other room and call it off. "Second thoughts?"

"Tenth? Forty-eighth?"

"I can send them home." He meant it, he tried to say it like it wasn't a disappointment.

"You still want to."

"I want you to be happy."

"You want to watch me make out with Jamie. Et cetera."

"…Et cetera. But not more than I want for you to be sure you—"

She'd taken off her wedding band, laid it carefully on the table. "Don't panic. We're just not going to wear them during this. Yours too, come on."

He didn't want to take it off, but she'd decided that was what they were going to do. He laid his ring atop hers. "Okay."

Three Line Thursday: "Dad's Weekend"

That's where I stood and waited, for you and him,
Where we always said we'd go together as a family,
So it would be true, if only for a moment.

Before It's Time

I've never been dead before.

Pete's been dead seventeen years; he says to relax, take some time and figure it all out. Aoibheann's been dead nearly a thousand; she stares through you, says nothing, then gets startled when she notices you're there. She reaches out, tries to touch your face, and then when she can't she goes back into her head. Pete says she was like this when she got here, but how would he know? Maybe there were others who knew, and they told him, but then where are they now?

I wish I knew the rules. I wish I had my ipod, and my headphones, the nice ones, the Beats. I wish there I wish I knew whether Cribs lived, he was in the passenger's seat. If he didn't, would he be here? Pete doesn't know.

I don't get wet, but I still wish it would stop raining.

Zombie Drabble #433 "Dollhouse"

Half-collapsed houses everywhere, broken windows and sagging roofs letting in twenty years of leaves and rain. Never anything good in the cupboards, not anymore: picked clean ages ago, or spoiled. Don't hardly go in anymore, not safe. Except sometimes, looking for clothes.

The kids' rooms are the worst, even when the kids are long gone, not even bones left.  Toys all over the floor, drawers pulled out, bed crooked and linens soaked and rotted to a sickly brown, mushrooms growing in the corner. Just seems wrong, more wrong. I want to clean them up, but of course I never do.

Three Line Thursday: "Cast Away"

I am shipwrecked once again in this distant, familiar place
And my body will contribute, appropriately enough, to its firmament,
Coral islands being chiefly constructed from remains of the dead.

The Strange Case Of The MacDonnell Children

"What are we doing here, Carl?"

"Just wait."

She rubbed her eyes, sighed. Her phone was dead, and with it, her patience. "I've been waiting."

"We got here early, I… I got us here early, I'm sorry. It doesn't always happen early."

"What doesn't, Carl?"

"You'll see it. When it happens, you'll see them, right through there, past us, down the hall."


"I don't know." Calmer, with eyes closed: "I don't know. I tried to take pictures once but they didn't show up. I mean, they showed up, but not in the picture."

There was a laugh, a squeal: distant and warped as if the sound had been carried down a copper pipe or a high-tension line. Before she could ask, the blurry, ethereal children climbed through the window, bounded down the hall past them, and disappeared through a doorway that was boarded up solid.

"What the hell, Carl?"

Come Find Me When You're A Man

"You sure about this?" Father sounded genuinely concerned, which was perhaps the strangest thing to happen yet on this strangest of days.


"Outside the gate, ain't no more protection. Old Wadnell's wards won't stick on you, you go down the road. You're all on your own, down the road." It had all been said before, of course, but his Father was never shy of repetition. "Ain't nobody coming to your rescue, you run into troubles."

"I understand." He hefted the bindle stick onto his shoulder, checked the position of the morning sun for about the tenth time. "Best be off, now."

He opened the gate, only halfway, only enough to pass through, closed it behind him. He lingered, hesitating without looking back.

"I wish you had more than a knife." Not 'I wish I had more than a knife to give you'. But then that was the way of things, always.

"It'll do. I know how to use it."

He took a step, then another. His boots fit well, thankfully; they were his most important possession now, besides the knife.

"Hope she's worth it," came his father's voice from behind him.

He chose to mishear. "I'll miss you too."

Just To Catch Up

"We made a break for it, do you remember?"

"Sure." Again with this. He sipped his coffee, stared out the window into the street, looking for something, anything interesting. "You wanted to live in the school basement. You thought the cafeteria lady worked all day, that she'd make us dinner and breakfast but wouldn't turn us in."

"She was nice."

"She was an adult."

"She was nicer than most adults."

Maisie was defending long-ago childhood logic, so he dropped it. "You know they tore it down, the elementary school, built a new one."

"I haven't been past there in years. It's out of the way," She shrugged. "Anyway, the kids go to Walker."

"They try running away yet?"

"I had them chipped." She said it like it was a perfectly normal thing to do. "The dog too, of course. But I don't think I'd go looking for that damn dog."

Three Line Thursday: "Wax"

We burn, each of us, for all of our lives,
Until, all our fuel exhausted, we can burn no more.
But sometimes, having burned, we leave behind a beautiful residue.


"Why is she turned away from the camera?"

"There's no camera, it's a painting."

"You know what I mean. Why is she… why can't we see her face? Why would he paint her like that?"

"Who knows? Maybe they were alienated. Maybe she loved the flowers more than him. Maybe the flowers are a symbol of something, maybe beauty, I don't know. Maybe she left him for a more beautiful man. And with the fallen petals he's saying that her new love will fade and die like their old love, like any living thing."

"Jesus, you're a real downer."


Three Line Thursday: "Overly Cautious"

"It could taste good, but still kill you," he said.
My grandfather: a font of worldly wisdom for the ages.
Haven't picked a berry since I was seven years old.

Raqs Beledi

photo source at https://www.flickr.com/photos/albruni/9321124308/lightbox/

She hit this wall, man, she quit her job, didn't want to stay in the city, started taking classes, stuff I'd never heard or seen her show any interest in. French cuisine, computer coding, calligraphy, you name it. But I suppose everybody has that stuff, you know? Layers that never see the light of day until life wears you down to them.

My favorite was the belly dancing. Don't get me wrong, the pole dancing class worked for me too, but we didn't have a place we could put a pole at the old house: the bedroom had high ceilings and the living room would have been, I don't know, just weird.

We've got a place out near Olympia now. She's much happier, and I can write anywhere. Lots of trees, got a little dock for a boat, you can sit and watch the sunset. I mostly just watch her.

The Specialist

Fourth floor, walk-up, dusty and faded carpet in a hallway lit by bare bulbs, all the way at the end, knocking softly so as not to aggravate his nerves. Waiting patiently, listening to the muted traffic noise outside and for the shuffling sounds that precede the door opening.

He looks older than anyone you've ever met; he is older than he looks, moreover, which is an accomplishment. His face is lined and carved and hollowed as if sand-blasted by desert winds in biblical times and his hair is a ghostly aura of snow-white wisps. He motions you to come in, he nods and grunts but does not smile or introduce himself: he knows you know who he is, and he doesn't need to know your name.

The apartment appears constructed less from brick and drywall than from books and bookcases. It smells of old tobacco, and slow-cooked sausage, and vanilla. He points to a chair and you sit, waiting.

There are no questions: he knows why you're there, what you need. He pulls out this book and that one, thumping them open on the dining room table between plate and tea service. He traces line by line with a bony finger and a muttered whisper.

He looks at you for the first time, his eyes jet-black and yet still somehow shining. His voice is a sudden crack of shock and power that courses through you to die at the tips of your bones.

"There. No more leukemia. Five Hundred Dollars."

Gimme Shelter

The trees bend to shield her head from the sun,
It is said, because she is good and kind hearted,
But I think it is because they, the trees, are.

Heat Rises

Summer in the boroughs: open windows and gushing hydrants, sitting in the bath all afternoon, sleeping on the fire escape. Picnics on the roof under beach umbrellas that have never felt the sand. Short tempers and broken-down city buses. Sordid newspaper stories cataloguing serial killers.

That's his world, what he's used to. As alien as it seems to us, to him it's mother's milk. He knows nothing of rows of corn or paddocks full of cows, or of forests or ponds. He's never been fishing or skipping stones, he's never eaten wild berries and felt sick, he's never sat and daydreamed on cool moss with the sun dappling him through the leafy canopy.

He'll be lost and bored, at least to start. We have our work cut out for us. He may come to love it, he may not. But we'll love him, and that's half of it right there.

Three Line Thursday: Aerobraking

Slowed enough by the atmosphere that the flames outside die,
We glide deeper, layer upon layer, into the gas giant,
Inevitably towards crush depth; but until then, what a view.

Shallow Graves

I did the best I could, all right? It was for their own good. I was trying to help them, to save them, from their baser nature, from their sin, their disobedience, their willfulness and wantonness. I was trying to bring them back into grace before it was too late, not just for them but for society.

Some of them I couldn't save. Some were destined for long lives of debasement and self-abuse, and if I spared them that, if I spared them from deeper, eternal torment at the hands of the Devil by sending them to their judgment early, then that's a mercy, isn't it? Isn't it?

It's not for you to judge me: it's for God and God alone. I am his instrument. You're just a detective, reeking of the sins of tobacco and alcohol and probably hiding worse. You'll see. He'll protect me from man's pathetic law.

None Shall Pass

Walks up, smile creeping into a smirk, all confidence and swagger, doesn't say hello or introduce himself or ask my name, just delivers the line like it's a shibboleth of the players' club, a magic word that opens me up like a secret corridor to a pharaonic queen's chamber of otherworldly treasures.

I let him buy me a drink, but every word that passes between my lips is a subtle hint of disinterest, designed so that he will hate himself later for not getting the hint more than for clarity in the moment.

I have fucked so many guys meeting his exact specifications; he will never know how many, or why I was not disposed to add to the total, or what he missed thereby.

A girl in the bathroom gave me this lipstick, mine having been lost in the cab or on the dance floor or left on a table somewhere in this club or another, saying, "Here, use mine, it's called Standards. You put this on those lips, and you don't kiss any frogs, you don't blow anybody in the parking garage out of pity or boredom, you don't settle for anything less than Prince motherfucking Charming, baby."

Down In The Valley

Mae in the pool blindfolded at night, mouth full of whole milk, counting four-one-thousand five-one-thousand so she's sure I'm ready to take the picture. I already have her lounging on a chair with an actual cigarette, standing in the doorway with a tumbler full of whiskey, in the kitchen laughing and absent-mindedly tugging up her bandeau top. She doesn't mind the camera, doesn't mind my eyes following her around as afternoon rolls into evening and slides into night.

I don't know if there will be more pictures later, but there is a twinkle in her eye hidden behind that blindfold.

Three Line Thursday: Droplet

It is an entire universe, with settled laws and shape
Scrambling desperately to life, spreading and multiplying beyond death’s counting,
All of it, of us, held together by surface tension.

Trojan Horse

You see the fort down there? See it?

Now, Chester, he says the only way to take the place is to rush the gate, pull it down before they can get organized. He says if we try to burn them out we'll incinerate anything we might have wanted from in there: guns, food, women, the works.

But I have a better idea. I think we just send you, just you, helpless and half-naked and beautiful. I think we let them take you in like a little lost kitten, just like I did. And then, when they're not paying attention, then you open the gate for us from the inside, and we walk in.

It'll take time before they'll trust you enough to stop watching. We will be patient. But don't think we've forgotten, that we've gone away, that you have a safe new home; we can still burn it down.


You plant this seed, you see? You find a patch of rich earth favored by sun and rain and you push the seed in with your thumb, and you wait.

It'll take time, of course, long time. That's why we do this now, when you're little, when you don't understand how it all works. But one day you'll come back here and there she'll be, as grown as you and almost awake.

She won't belong to you; that's important. She'll choose you, right then, or she won't ever. If she doesn't, I suppose, try again while you still have time.

Five Sentence Fiction: "Ludwig Van"

"It's too cute, I can't take it, turn it off."

"This is a court-ordered remediation session, we can't turn it off; you just have to watch the whole thing and try to be open to the experience, let it wash over you without feeling like you're drowning in it."

"Listen, I want to talk to the judge again, can you pause so we can call the judge?"

"The judge isn't gonna take your call, sir, and he wouldn't change his ruling if he did, so we're not going to waste time pausing the session to dial him, so stop asking."

The Iron Lady Of Cardiff Bay

It was an Englishman — a contraptionaire to the court of George IV — who built her to protect the city where he'd found love and a home. For generations she waded in the bay, righting overturned boats and spotting fires, a civic watchdog as well as mobile local landmark.

During the war, she was often seen swatting at low-flying German planes, but it remains unknown whether she ever managed to down one, which is just as well, as had she done so it was unclear how and to whom such a hypothetical 'kill' should be credited.

By the early sixties her movement had slowed almost to lethargy, and there was great concern. It was however not until June 12, 1978 that the end came. Early one morning she collapsed with a great crash onto the shore, breaking into many pieces; most were scrapped, but one remains, a monument to her devotion.


Having been forgotten by the children's children of my people,
I am robbed of my power and my true form,
And may only watch as they squander my exquisite creation.

Future Impermanent


"Brandon. I need you to listen carefully. Can you hear me ok?"

"Sure, I… wait, how do you know my name? This is a pay phone, I just picked it up to say you'd misdialed."

"I know your name because I know you. I needed to talk to you, and I can only call pay phones, and this will be one of the last times you pass one."


"Are you kidding? How many pay phones do you see in 2015? The one you're talking on right now is going to be ripped out in two weeks. They're pretty much all gone by 2018."

"Is that right."

"You don't believe me, that's fine. Next Tuesday, the headline will be 'Feds Indict Commerce Chair, President Withdraws Support'. When you read that, you'll know I'm not fucking around. Come back to this phone at noon."


"So I can save you."