Monthly Archives: August 2013


Chalmers Penn began to think he didn’t matter anymore. He knew he still existed, but even when he looked in the mirror, he seemed a little less there. Not mentally, that was all good, but he could almost swear that he was fading.

This required some tests. He started on Monday. Something small, just in case it was a mental thing, he wore tennis shoes to work. Not is decent, casual Friday ones, but the ones he used to cut the grass, air-conditioned from a few holes and dyed stark green from the blood of a million blades of grass.

He had no meetings. No deliveries and his lunch pal, Bill was out of the office for two days so Monday seemed to be a bust. There were no opportunities for people to see his shoes, except for maybe Betsy whom he stopped by to ask a question, but she was deeply entrenched in a phone conversation, busily handling one of her standard fires and neglected to see him.

On Tuesday, he decided to bump things up a bit by wearing his old college Hawaiian party shirt and his grass cutting shoes. He had a fairly big meeting with Jolsten that afternoon and surely it would be a topic for discussion. Unfortunately, just as he got to Alice’s desk, Jolsten’s admin, she was cancelling his meetings for the rest of the afternoon and was informing Bolger, Jolsten’s boss, since his afternoon was clear, golf was a go.

On Wednesday, Penn decided to keep the shirt and the shoes and bump things up by getting drunk at breakfast and staying drunk all day. Not boomingly, stupidly drunk, but impaired enough to be noticeable. Near lunch time Bill swung around as he normally did, peeked over the rim of Penn’s cubicle and then wordlessly, hastily stepped away.

Did he see me or did he see me? Chalmers wondered. “Hey, Bill…” but Bill was gone.

In the cafeteria, by himself, he filled his tray with pretzels and three orders of fish strips. He stopped hiding his vodka bottle and left it right there on the tray next to the two cans of lemon-lime soda he would use to mix it in. He noticed no stares, no slight comments…nothing. In line to pay, the cashier offered a smile and a pleasant exchange to the lady before him and then visually skipped him to greet the man after him. He stood at the end of the line while she took three more customers before deciding to leave.

Thursday he avoided the mirror. He was afraid more of what he might not see than what he expected to see, less of him. His phone never rang. It was eight days since he received a text from anyone, and he was nearly run over by that bicycle delivery boy. He decided that he must take one more, potentially catastrophic test. He went to work entirely naked, with a few drinks in him for courage, and went about his day.

On Friday, Chalmers Penn’s apartment was quiet and empty. A few dirty dishes stood in the sink unattended, a clock on a bookcase ticked as it had dutifully for years, but Chalmers Penn was nowhere to be seen.


Lewis opened the door to the fridge with a sort of blind ignorance tied to a wish that maybe this time, there would be something there he might not be responsible for,  some kind of gift left by fairies, or trolls, or leprechauns.

Wrong again.

A quick visual survey confirmed the only things in there were things he put there and hadn’t used yet. Most of the things he couldn’t use without getting more things. Swinging the door wide, the light came up on three beers, two pounds of butter, an expired jar of green olives where the remaining two olives were floating in a murky brine, a dried up carrot, a tiny jar of orange marmalade someone got him from a recent trip to the sunny south and one slice of American cheese where the corners were getting hard because he neglected to close the Ziplock properly.

What was he doing with so much butter?

He grabbed one of the beers, now dinner, and the carrot. He tossed the carrot into the garbage bin, snapped the top off the beer and held it to his head. It was so hot he was convinced there was a sizzle when the can touched his skin.

The air conditioning blew out earlier this morning and being a bit late on the rent certainly didn’t seem to motivate the super into coming up to have a look at it.

The first course of dinner went down fast. He barely tasted it. He opened the fridge again, grabbed a second beer – the main course – and forced himself to slow down enough to make it last. He would try not to get at the last one tonight. What could be dessert might have to be breakfast in the morning.

He plopped himself down onto the chair of his nook-sized kitchen table and stared up at the bright, naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Sweat dripped down his face.

“What a mess,” he said softly to himself. It might have been the fifth time he said it in the last thirty minutes and he lost count of how many times it rolled across his mind this week. It was only Wednesday. There were still many more eye-opening moments of full failure realization to go before he had two solid days to wallow in his unfortunate circumstance free of the burden of weekly annoyances.

Of course, the rent was due on Friday, really two months worth now, and while part of his mind churned on any one of a number of creative excuses for not having the full amount this month, the other half was scheming away at how he could get the money in two days, and how getting the money would certainly turn things around…or at least start to turn things around.

All of his thoughts began with phrases like, “if I could just,” or “if only.” Phrases you might hear on a Saturday morning cartoon where Scooby and the gang are about to be done in by this week’s mystery, when “if only” results in a misstep, that results in an accident, that results in everything working out and the kids becoming heroes for saving the day.

Lewis had some pretty big “if onlys.” Short of running around his apartment shoving bookcases and trying to turn light fixtures to possibly reveal a secret passage or untold wealth, he was pretty certain there was no neat and clean Scooby ending awaiting him at the end of a 90 second commercial break.

He got up and walked to the fridge. It was probably just as good a night as any to have a little dessert.

That’s Crisco!

Jake kicked his heels into the dirt at the base of the tree and leaned deeper into the shade. Biscuit sprawled out on his back across the grass and pulled his ball cap over his eyes to keep out the glaring summer sun. It was another glorious summer day, but after hitting the ice cream truck, riding their bikes through Mrs. McCatanney’s sprinklers and then all the way across Montgomery Field, they found it was a good time for a break.

“We should invent our own language for stuff,” Biscuit said

“What do you mean? Like a code?”

“Kind of, sort of, not really. A code is something that only we would use. Like when we came up with ‘Sparlez.’ We had Charles, who is a spaz, and we mixed them up to make Sparlez. That’s a code. If we made up a language, everybody could use it.”

Jake squinted up the sun then clamped his eyes shut. He traced the remnant aura back and forth under his eyelids. “Oh, you mean like how people say, ‘cool.’”


“That’s dumb. Why would we do that? Who would use our language?”

Biscuit rolled over onto his elbow letting his hat drop to the ground. “If it was good enough, everybody would use it. We’d be famous!”

“You’re a dork.”

“Shut up. And you just proved my point. Who do you think came up with dork?”

“I don’t know. Some dork. He’s certainly not famous.”

“Just because we don’t know him, doesn’t mean he’s not famous for coming up with the word. That could be us.”

“You want to be a dork? No, a ‘dork-maker’?”

“No, I want to make cool names for stuff that other people will use liiike…Crisco!”

“You are now a super-dork!” Jake said laughing and resetting his feet. “Crisco is already a word.”

“Yeah – but we can use Crisco to mean something is slick. ‘That’s pretty Crisco!’ That’s pretty slick. See?”

Biscuit rolled over onto his back again and reset his hat.

“How about, gelatinous?” Jake said.

“Hm…gelatinous,” said Biscuit. “Good word, but what’s it mean in our language? Use it in a sentence.”

“Ok.” Jake paused in thought. “The plan to get Jerry Brigg’s Jonathan Tyler rookie card was gelatinous. It means, the plan is good, almost super solid and can work, but it might be a little shaky.”

“That’s not bad,” Biscuit said. “How about, needs soap? Like, you know how Chester Ding always smells like armpit? We could just say, ‘needs soap’ and leave it just like that.”

“That’s like code.”

“I guess, a little,” said Biscuit. “At least until it catches on.”

“I don’t know,” said Jake. “It all sounds pretty paper to me.”

Biscuit sat up. “Paper?”

“Yeah, paper, super thin. Probably not going to work. See what I did there?”

“I see. That’s Crisco!” Biscuit said pulling himself up. “Let’s go write these down. It’s too hot out here.”

“You mean it’s…solar!”

“I guess. Let’s go.”

“Don’t you mean let’s…zoom?

Biscuit straddled his bike. “I think I created a monster.”

“Do you mean you created a…jumpdog?”

“Shut up already!”

“Are you telling me to…pop mouth?”

“Come on! Shut up! Let’s go…let’s Zoom!”



Calvert Jennings gripped the edge of the lectern. He looked up into the moderate crowd of mostly strangers, strangers to him anyway. He supposed that, while still on the younger side, in his mind, this sort of thing would start happening more often, but he hoped the opportunity to play this role would be rare.

“Friends and family of Cranston Bink, thank you for being here today and thank you for this opportunity to speak on Cranston’s behalf.”

He paused, needing a deeper breath due to the weight of the moment.

“I’ve known Bink most of my life. Although our paths moved us near and far and near again, we kept in touch loosely over the years and when we were able to get together, we usually picked right up where we left off, as if I had just seen him the day before.”

A slight smile came to him.

“Bink would probably hate this. Those of you who knew him well, knew that he didn’t stand on ceremony. He liked things to happen organically. He thought if people really wanted to celebrate, or react to something, they should be able to drop everything and do so. He would say that celebrations rarely happen organically because there is always someone somewhere who feels the need to organize. They would want to make it an event and it would be something bigger than it needed to be. Organization takes time and planning, and time and planning tend to kill genuine impulse, genuine joy. Celebrations should not be events, he would say. Events become more about the planner than the occurrence.

While tragic for us, Bink is probably happy that his passing came at a time where people who really knew him could gather and reflect upon the joys of his existence. He told me once that he feared getting too old, because when you’re too old and you die, there is nobody left to speak for you…the real you. Rather, if you get someone to stand up for you, it’s generally a canned speech from someone who sees you as an assignment, something on a to-do list before they wash their hands and go home for dinner, or get a drink, or to take their kid to soccer practice.

Being properly represented was important to him. You know that in talking to him, he worked to make himself clear and that there was a rationale that drove him, and a sense of self-image he felt comfortable working with.

As I look at you, I sense some of you may still be a little tender about some of the things he said about God, about religion. One of the last things he said to me was that he hoped you understood where he was coming from. It’s not an apology. It’s just more reflective of who he was. However, since he was likely going away, he didn’t want to leave on ill terms. His words.

You see, not being religious himself, an offer of prayer, while heartfelt and genuine for you, was for him a failure in his ability to communicate with you his feelings and needs without trampling on yours.

He knew that a sense of faith is something deep inside people. He knew he could no more ask someone, or expect someone, to turn off his or her prayer mindset, than he could not tell a joke. But he felt that if you really knew him and respected who he was as a person, there would never be a prayer between you. For him, that was OK. While he would take all the good energy and good thoughts you might throw his way, he had very little use for someone’s prayers.

It might be semantics. Maybe prayers are just another way of sharing good energy, but he liked to say that reaching out to some far great beyond for assistance is like bringing a mediator into your negotiations for buying a new car. Why do you need the middleman? You’ll get to where you need to be eventually, and you’ll be stronger for the journey. He thought it diminished the direct link between you and I know he got a lot from you all directly in those last few weeks. It was your being there, your energy that helped him through to the end.

Bink was a moral man. He was a smart man. He had a nearly unshakable faith in himself, a confidence that many of us might envy.

I don’t know where you go after this. Bink and I had many long discussions on the matter. We got no closer to a final resolution than we are today. We thought once the best heaven was where you got to go be your favorite character from your favorite movie, so it’s quite possible that there is a new Han Solo galloping around the galaxy, fighting the good fight.

To close, one of the last things Bink and I talked about before he faded into sleep was how much he enjoyed the ride. That even the dull, drudgery of the day-to-day, held within it glorious sunsets and magical full moons, flowers and laughter and snow and handshakes, fresh fruit and hugs. The world is magic if you know where to look. And it can be depressing and hard, but it can also be made easier just by saying so.

He does not want you to leave here in tears. He wants you to leave here with hope and a smile. And when we’re done here, he wanted me to tell you to all go out and get a sandwich and enjoy being together.”

Fourth Date

Corvis suspected the date could have gone better.

It was their fourth official date overall. They had done things with groups of people and there were several events where they both showed up and did the “hanging out” thing, so his association with Melody had some time behind it. Up until now, he felt there might even be some roots here from which they could grow a strong relationship.

That thought made him pause. He wondered why, when he thought of relationships, his analogies always involved farming. Being a middle manager at Allus-Smith made him pretty much the farthest thing from a farmer, and the very pathetic looking “lucky bamboo” on his desk sealed the notion should there be any lingering doubt.

Mulling over the evening, he was hard pressed to put a finger on where things took a turn. Dates one through three went nicely. They built on each other as one might prep a field for planting. (There it was again.)

The fourth date seemed polluted with missteps and awkward moments. Maybe they were both off their game a little bit. The conversation seemed forced, the jokes – stale. They ate a quiet dinner and the evening capped with his grand statement about the suffering souls in third world countries and how things wouldn’t be so bad for them if…

He couldn’t recall the exact remark now, but once it left his lips he knew it was bad. Like stepping in something unfortunate, he knew it was not where he wanted to be, but his foot was right in it.

Her recoil to the remark, which he was sure he meant as a joke, was contained, yet her face let slip a certain amount of hurt or discomfort, he couldn’t say which, as if he said something pointed and hurtful at her directly. He learned in date two that she was born and raised, like her entire family, in Muncie and lived there until almost recently. This stint in Chicago was the farthest she had ever been away from home, much less a third-world country.

Dates one through three ended with shy smiles, and “let’s do this again…soon,” sort of phrases. This date ended with thank you, I’m tired, drive safe.

As he pulled away from her building, making a mental note that third-world country jokes were straight off the table, he feared he was being immortalized in her diary as another example of what she did not want her future mister to be. That her impressions of him, certainly unfair at this point, would be added to however many men she made notes about, that when considered collectively would guide how she moved forward into future relationships. That’s what women do right?

If date five happens, if by some miracle he figures out what triggered the chill and she is able to resolve his callous thoughts in her own mind, he resolved to step more carefully. If he can figure out what the error was, he will apologize. Unless bringing it up re-stirs the pot, then he would let it go. Then of course, he runs the risk of not acknowledging the error, cementing the notion that he is an uncaring clod and being definitively and officially marked in her diary as Mr. Wrong.

Storm clouds seemed to come from nowhere and while the promise of rain is good for the seeds of a new relationship, a torrent, a flood will only destroy them.

A scowl crossed his face. What was with the farming thing?


Because it looked a bit on the disgusting side, Den took two towels and draped them over the stationary bicycle. With the bulk of the seat covered, he moved on to the handle and display. Because of the odd way the bike sat, it took about four towels to get it right. He used two more towels to cover any other visible portion of the machine, save for the pedals and any other moving bits. It would not do good to have any of the cloth getting caught up somewhere.

“Damn,” he said.

“Can I help you sir?” The staff representative at the Bright Morning Health Club and Juice Bar startled him.

“Yes,” Den said, not really looking up from his work. “It seems I’ve run out of towels. Could you go get me about four more.”

“Sir, it looks like you already have a fair number of towels.”

Den stopped and finally looked at the young man standing before him. He had a light blue polo shirt, khaki shorts, white socks and sneakers. He wore a name badge that identified the youth both as “Stanley” and as an “Honor Associate.”

“Ah…Stanley is it?” Den said. Stanley nodded. “How does the club here define a fair number of towels?”


“Simple question Stanley. You said I have a fair number of towels. How is that defined?”

“I’m not sure specifically,” Stanley said slowly and with a modicum of hesitance, sort of like how one might approach a strange animal. “Most people use one or two.”

“Ah. Very good. Do you know how long I’ve been coming to this club?”

“No, sir.”

“I’ve been a paying member of this club for three years. I’ve paid my dues regularly and on time. This is, however, only the second time I’ve ever set foot in this place. The reasons are not important. I get busy. I forget. I have other things to do. The list goes on and on. The main point is, now that I’m here, I feel I deserve a little of what I have been paying for. Does that sound fair?”

“Yes, sir”

“Good. Now the way I see it, using your example, my being a member here allows me access to, let’s say two towels per visit. I imagine an average member might come here three times a week. Over a year that is 156 visits. Over my three-year membership that would be 468 visits. Take away the one time I’ve already been here and that leaves 467. Multiply that by a standard two towel a visit limit and you could say I am due the use of 934 towels.”

“Yes, sire, but that’s…”

“Ridiculous, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Of course it is. I’m not sure you have over 900 towels available. But if I were to demand them, I would certainly be within my rights as a paid member to use the facilities as I see fit within the rules as they were established. Is there written rule that indicates a limit on towels, Stanley?”

“No, sir. Not that I’m aware of.”

“Do you want to start bringing me out over 900 towels Stanley?”

“I’d rather not sir.”

“I thought not. If you think about it, another half a dozen towels or so doesn’t seem so crazy now, does it?”

“No, sir…if you put it that way.”

“Very good young man, now off you go! Bring me, let’s say, an even dozen towels and we’ll call it a day.”

“Yes, sir.”


Pap Doyle stood by the backstage entrance of Packertt Valley Theatre and ArtsExplorationCenter as he had done so many times before. There was so much activity at the theatre these days, it almost felt like his regular beat. It was a perfect assignment for he wasn’t the kind to get star struck. So even while he enjoyed seeing the “stars,” he could focus on the task at hand, protecting them.

Each act, each celebrity had his or her own persona. Each persona generated a crowd to match. It’s funny how a group of people, normally probably fairly well disconnected, are drawn together for something and that group as a whole develops a personality of its own. The teens stars bring out the kids and lots of screaming. The moodier, “deeper” artists bring out the crowds of kids who like to dress in black, accept for their hair, which usually held a wild splash of vibrant color. The “classic” acts usually brought in the older folks who by the time the show was over, mixed their youthful desire to see their chosen idols with stray yawns that slip out because it’s an unusually late night for them.

Tonight was a mix. Max Henry. The crowd building up backstage to get a simple glimpse of the man was much larger than Pap could ever remember, and probably for good reason. Even though they got a lot of them, no act as big as Max Henry had ever come to Packertt Valley.

Max Henry had just turned 65. His career started when he was 14 in the troubled streets of Dublin, Ireland, back in the day. Max hit the world hard and fast with an infectious mix of pop, rock and Celtic influences that just seemed to hit people in the right places. Even though the times changed over the years, and the sounds with them, almost everyone found something to relate to in a Max Henry album.

Pap had the option of working inside, stage side. He could have seen the show, and while he would have a hard time denying his own preference for a good Max Henry album. He felt the backstage door was where he could do the most good. Coming in, the stars were usually pretty safe. They sneak in really. Arrival times are fluid and fans are few. The departure was another story. The transfer from building to vehicle and vehicle to what they called the release, was probably the most important security challenge of any show.

He saw many acts come and go. Most were tired and spent when it was time to leave. They just want to dive in their cars and go. Some, the ones who can’t get enough, dwell outside, not so much to interact with the fans, but to hang there awash in the screams of adoration as if they drew some kind of energy from it. Finally, some acts were just trouble. Panda Angst was the best example of that. The lead singer, Copper Potts had been in a downward spiral personally for some time. The band was strong and growing and Pap was warned to expect the unexpected. He had no idea that once safe in the car and the car was on its way that Potts, high on several things, would burst through the limo’s sunroof climb to the top and dive into the waiting, screaming throngs of people. What a night.

Max Henry should be different. The crowds were energized, but respectful. They saw the barricade lines and only tested them a little. How could they not? Henry’s show ended about an hour ago, and while he was normally known to leave the premises rather quickly, an hour wasn’t out of the question.

Pap’s earpiece crackled. “We’re on the move.”

While he was certain that he was the only one to hear the message, the crowd sensed it and he could feel the energy surge. Two minutes later, the door pushed open and after three band members crossed the threshold and moved to the cars with purpose and intent, but also with smiles and nods, the man himself stepped into the broad alley.

Pap was all business, ready to take on whatever happened. He stepped close to Henry as the crowd tested the barriers with their enthusiasm.

Max Henry, worldwide pop icon, stood for a moment, smiling and waving at the crowds. Cheers and whistles filled the alley. Henry clapped Pap on the shoulder drawing his attention. “Great night, right mate?”

Pap nodded and smiled back. Then he noticed the hand that rested on his shoulder, the hand that penned hits like, Mary Sunshine, Party in the Park and Wonderbomb, seized his shirt. Pap quickly took in the man’s face. Mere seconds ago he was smiling, eyes lit with a bottomless energy. Now, the face was contorting into a pleading wave of misunderstood pain.

“Christ!” someone shouted. “You, get him into the car now.”

A man, probably an agent or a publicist grabbed Pap and Max, who were now joined by Max’s grip, into the car. The door slammed shut cutting a good amount of the noise down to a mild roar. The unknown man yelled at the driver, “Get to the hospital! Now!”

The List

Percy Collins had a list a mile and a half long filled with things he had to do. He wasn’t sure how many items actually fit on a list a mile and a half long. Of course, it was theoretical. If there were an actual list, the font size used to create it would be critical in determining the number. It was easier to just say, a million.

Of that million, missing amongst the stare at the moons, the climb the mountains, the take exotic trips to Canada, was ‘become a successful businessman.’  

He didn’t care much about becoming a successful businessman, and by much he meant, not at all. That said, he seemed to spend most of his time working toward just that. He joined his father’s business shortly after college. After his father got sick, he took on the whole of the business full-time. He worked hard. He worked long hours. He was good with people, and he supposed to some degree, he was good at business.

Still, when he rolled out of bed in the morning he was about as excited to get to work as one might be excited to go to the doctor, a doctor who kept trying to find the elusive cause to a dull and nagging pain or a spreading rash. There never seemed to be a cure or resolution. It never ended. It just led to another series of appointments, pokes, prods and tests.

A younger Percy fancied himself an artisan. He was good with his hands. He liked the notion of looking back and seeing something stand for a day’s work. He liked tile. He liked baking. They were simple concepts and honest trades, but often seen by some, mostly in the business world, as ‘less than” because they rarely garnered the potential of huge deals, huge payoffs, and a businessperson’s warped sense of professionalism.

He went to work. He did his job. He was honest, and dedicated and worked to improve himself. Then he would go home, eat dinner, have a nightcap and nod off in front of the evening news thinking of his list. Canada…

Into the sea

Candice Wingmare stood before the collected group of 20 second graders, her kids.

Until this moment, they had never met. She knew little about them and she suspected that looking back on this moment years from now, she might realize she knew very little about herself. Still, here they were together in room 110 of the Tannis Valley Elementary School, and from this moment until June 12th at 2:25 pm, these were her kids.

The fresh faces hovered over crisp and clean, first day of school outfits. Some smiled. Some sat expressionless, but their eyes offered a touch of apprehension at the newness of if all. All were quiet. All of them were…waiting.

This was Candice Wingmare’s first day. She was launching a career. She envisioned herself smashing a bottle of champagne on the door of her classroom, like they might do before releasing a new ship into the sea. She was like a ship. The classroom was like the sea. There were maps and charts and plans on how to get across it. There ways to tell when trouble might be brewing, or when one could expect smooth sailing.  She should be fine.

Tricks and tips.

However, like the sea, the classroom held within it mysteries untold and lurking dangers. Like the sea, all the maps and charts and instruments in the world become useless when the forces that lie within decide to assert themselves. Like the sea, we can only prepare for what we know and hope that what we know is enough, and that we are clear enough in thought, and determined enough in spirit to weather any storm the sea may produce.

These 20 strange faces looked at Candice Wingmare with hope, expectation, fear, and anticipation. They silently threw down a challenge.

Teach us.

She drew a deep calming breath and placed her hands on the top of her desk for support.

“Good morning, cla…class,” she said softly. He voice dropped a bit near the end forcing her to say class twice, almost like she forgot what she was going to say. Not at all like she had practiced.

The silence of the room seemed to expand as the sound of her voice stifled the last few shuffling feet and bits of paper.

The heat that worked its way up into her face brought a sort of light-headedness with it that made her clench the edge of the desk a bit harder. She drew another deep breath hoping against hope that she would not pass out.

“My name is Miss Wingmare and I’ll be your teacher this year. I’m so happy to see you all, because I think we have a great year planned and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. We have a lot of special things you’ll get to do this year. We have two new computers in our class. I understand there are a few of you who are new to our school like I am. This is my first year, and I’m so very excited to get to know you and have you get to know me better. Is there anyone who would like to lead us in the pledge?”

By the time she got to pledge, Candice’s head was swimming. She said all that on one breath. She swallowed a deep breath as if she just rose up from a long swim underwater. Her head cleared and she tried to replay the last moments over in her head to try and remember what she said.

The class sat quietly for a second and whatever blurriness that came to her vision during her brief opening rant started to fade. Then, 20 hands shot into the air.

Right, the pledge.

She smiled, she relaxed and as she raised her hand to select the smallish girl in the middle of the third row, the ship of Candice Wingmare’s teaching career headed out to sea.

Life Must

Tenard had few preconceptions. He was not a religious man. He had very little use for the concepts of luck, fate or karma. Life was. Things happen. You roll with it and move on or get caught up in it and get washed away.

Still, after a particularly lengthy string of events, which many might categorize as “bad” or at least “carrying the potential for negative impact,” Ten decided he need to change…something.

He named his new game, “Life Must.”

The rules were simple. Taking into consideration every new age, self-help piece of drivel he ever read, he knew the only thing he could control in life is how he reacted to things as they happened around him. And since his doctor said it might be good for him to find a higher level of tolerance for things he couldn’t control, rule one was: Life must want you to see this. Take in what you can and learn from it.

Rule two.  Look beyond the hassle to find the opportunity.

Rule three. Look down the road. What are the long-term goals, benefits or repercussions of how you react to the things that happen.

Rule four. Shut up. Very few things require immediate evaluation, categorization and commentary. Observation is like eating a giant piece of hard candy. It takes time.

That was it. Four rules in and out, unless he needed to add more, which, since it was his game, he had the full authority to do. He planned on playing the game for 30 days as he read that is how long it takes to make a good change or, at the very least, create a new habit.

He was 4 days in.

Day four – Having already overslept, he took a deep breath in while in the shower and uttered his mental mantra. Life must want you to be late today.

Running late, of course meant more traffic, but Life must want him to slow down. Coming up to the next exit, he realized there was another way to get to work and he could either sit in traffic or move. Life must want him to move.

Pulling off, he got about four and a half blocks before some roadwork on a broken water pipe forced him yet again to alter his path. Life must really think being late to work is a great idea. He took some deep breaths and listened for his pulse. Be calm lad.

The new detour led him to Barney’s Fresh Donut Emporium and Exotic Bakery. Ten had never been there, and with as quick an impulse decision as he ever made, he turned into the parking lot and into the drive-thru lane. As he pulled up to the menu, he decided Life must want him to try one of Barney’s signature Organic Banana-Walnut Imperial Joy Muffins. He paused after collecting his bag and paying. Life must want him to bring in some donuts for the crew at work. Ten drove around again to the drive-thru window.

Once he arrived at work, nobody seemed to notice the time. They were thrilled with the donuts, except for Lewis who needed to share, in detail, why he couldn’t eat donuts and what, in detail, they did to his system if he did.

At that point, Life must have wanted Ten to call Lewis an ass under his breath. Day four was shaping up nicely.

Access Denied

Dink entered the passcode multiple times daily, for over a year now. He had probably entered the code over a million times if he took the time to count them. It was automatic. His fingers knew it better than he did. The password box popped up, his fingers did the walking and boom – he was in. So when the words, “Access Denied” popped onto his screen, he froze…confused.

He thought for a second as he looked down at the keyboard. He brought his hand up and typed in his passcode again, a little slower than the last time – just in case.

Access Denied.

Dink looked at his hand and moved his fingers quickly in a rippling motion as if to wake them up. He punched the passcode in again with deliberate intent and recited the change of letters and numbers in his head as he went. As right as it all was in his mind, it felt off.  He was doing it wrong.

He went over the code in his head. Everything was right, but it wasn’t. Somewhere his finger drifted or he transposed something. He had all the elements, but he popped them in wrong. Of course, he knew the passcode. It was silly to think he didn’t, but it was so automatic, so habitual that he barely paid attention. And now…

He stared at the keyboard. His thoughts grew cloudy. Did he really just forget his passcode? A tiny wave of panic rippled over him, not because he couldn’t access his system, but more because of the utter ridiculousness of the situation. He used to have the passcode written down, when he first got, but that was a long time ago and that sticky note was long gone.

He took out a pad of paper and wrote the code down. That was it. No, it wasn’t. Something was wrong with it. He pecked at the keyboard again, slowly just in case his fingers were so fat and clumsy that he really didn’t type the characters in correctly the first several times.

Access Denied.

Ridiculous! He just typed the very same stupid code into the very same machine not an hour ago, and with great success! He crumpled up the small page and tossed it into the bin.

He tried again. Access Denied. Unbelievable.

He squelched the desire to punch the keyboard. It wasn’t its fault, but this was silly and frustrating and stupid.

He rubbed his hands together and closed his eyes, part trying to clear his mind of the near endless combinations of numbers that swirled with in and part just to calm down and focus. He thought back to an hour ago. He had just come back from the bathroom. He set his energy drink to his left. He sat down.  He cracked his knuckles as he pulled up to his keyboard, moved his cursor into the passcode box and typed in…

Dink held his breath for a moment as he let his hand move to the keys. He hoped the muscle memory would help cool his frustrations. His fingers tapped the keys before him and while not minutes ago the movements seemed foreign and out of place, this time the flow seemed right. Not wanting to jinx it, he let the fingers finish. He opened his eyes, breathed and pushed enter.

“Welcome back, Dink!”

Duh! Of course!

Not pausing to savor the sigh of relief escaping from him, Dink reached for a sticky note. He scribbled down the passcode and locked in his front desk drawer, just in case.

Getting Some

At the ripe old age of nine, Karen Whignett was convinced she had adults all figured out.

Karen lived in an apartment in a high-rise building in New York City. Because of her lifestyle, and more the lifestyle of her parents, her access to other children was limited outside of school. She considered Paisley Barnes, a classmate who lived six floors below to be her best friend. It was mostly a ceremonial title for when Karen’s mom thought the girl needed someone to play with, she called Paisley’s mom. If Paisley was available, and she was always very busy herself, the girls sat around Karen’s room drawing or playing with dolls as Paisley talked about how she was going to be famous. Karen mostly listened.

Karen was a good listener. It was one of the reasons adults didn’t mind having her around. She never said much and because she was quiet, the adults normally forgot about her. They would talk, she would listen, she would learn.

Based on what she heard, three basic things drove all adult problems, money, time and whether or not anyone was “getting any.” The last of the three was the most confusing. Karen understood money and how there was no such thing as having enough. She understood time and how, like money, it was a valuable and rare commodity. But the concept of getting any was vague and seemed to be not only the source of consternation, but also an odd way to forget about problems for a while.

She recalled several conversations between her mom and Aunt Petrina where the vagueness of “getting any” came to light. At first she thought it as a redundant reference to the notions of time and money, but it quickly became clear that it was something more unto itself.

“Ugh,” Aunt Petrina would say, “On top of all that, I’m not even getting any.” To which Karen’s mom might nod or agree or say nothing.

On the other hand Petrina has also said, “Things are in the dumps as usual, but at least I’m getting some.”

Karen could only guess that in the pursuit of all things, the better answer to the problem of getting any was that it was to be getting some.

She pondered the question a good long time.

Karen spent the early evenings after school and school days off with her Grandma Bets, who lived two floors up. They talked and laughed and had snacks. Grandma Bets was an adult, but not as much like an adult as the others she had access to. When Karen finally decided to ask Bets about the concept of getting any, Bets didn’t bat an eye. She just kept on doing what she was doing, in this case crocheting, and explained it as only she could.

“Honey,” which is what Bets called her. “It’s a lot like cookies. If you have a bad day and things seem to go off base here and there, a simple thing like a cookie can make all that feel like a little less of a burden. Understand?”


“And if you have a bunch of bad days and you don’t have time for a cookie, or there aren’t any around, you don’t have anything to distract you from your troubles. So you just focus on them more and they just seem to get worse. Do you understand that?”


“Well there you go then. It’s better to have cookies when you need them than none.”

“Can you ever have too much?” which to Karen, seemed like the next best question.

“Well, can you recall a time when you ate too many cookies?”

“Not really.”

“That’s right! I’ve heard people complain about not having any, and people are usually happy having some, but I have yet to hear too many people complain about having too much…of anything… but troubles.”


Evan Caulder started writing about unsolved crimes when he was young. His boyhood dreams of becoming a police officer where initially dashed by his poor eyesight and profound asthma. After “life” happened a few times, his hopes of his becoming any kind of investigator faded into the background, waiting for a chance to shine like the odd man out at a high school prom.

The writing stuck though, it was a good solid habit, like smoking he supposed. He could give it up, but why? He trolled through magazines, newspapers and endless Internet pages seeking out and cataloguing the various details of various crimes. He’d developed quite a collection of well documented cold case files that some small part of him still hoped he might have a hand in solving one day. His records were meticulous, in his mind.

He probably had what the police had overall, but what set his information apart, he felt, was the way he organized his documentation. Every page was built off a basic three column template. Dates and titled evidence to the left, details and descriptions in the middle and his unique ‘patented’ brand of insight and supposition related to the details, in his special form of short hand, on the left.

He had no special education, or measured mental agility that would help him solve these crimes. He wasn’t Sherlock Holmes or anything. He didn’t pretend to be. He did have a good brain and was convinced that his way of looking at, and interpreting case facts and circumstances would make him competitive and an asset to any crime team. When he matched his information against that of many closed cases he followed, his interpretations and predictions led him to the primary suspect about 92 percent faster than the authorities.

Few people knew of his ‘hobby.’ He kept mostly to himself in a small apartment in Kensington. He had yet to share any of his information with authorities because he felt if he ever did, he would have one shot at it, and it had to be a good one. It would be way too easy to brush him off and keep him at bay. He never even really considered the possibility until he started following the A case.

The A Case, as the media called it, was unique in that it was happening in his own backyard. Kensington was a medium-sized city emerging from the deeper woods of Western Virginia. Someone was killing people in and around town at about one every one or two weeks. Tensions were high and the tasty morsel the media decided release as a possible motive is that the killer wrote a letter A on the forehead of each victim. It was an odd clue to leave behind, until someone surmised that the victims, six in total so far, were mostly unsavory characters. They surmised that the A stood for absolved and that the murders where the work of some vigilante.

The A Case killer was a hero to those wronged by the victims and a menace to the rest who found the theory weak. Evan followed the case closely from the moment it broke. There was some validity to the vigilante theory, but there was something missing. A bigger piece of the puzzle yet to be realized was out there. He felt it tugging at him a bit, gut it was still too far for him to fully embrace.


Edna Mae McSworley flipped slowly through the pages of Fashionista Bravo! magazine, smirking at the photos of airbrushed girls with impossible figures wearing impossible clothes.



Clearly unhappy.


The sky outside held the promise of a very full day of rain. Even though it was still dry now, the churning clouds above were just looking for the precise time and place to release the deluge. This made for a very slow day at the Epic City Bike-O-Rama where Edna Mae worked. It seemed few people thought of bicycles and fine accessories when such a promise of profound rain lingered in the air.

“Amber” looked up at her from the next page. Tanned and taut, she sat, perched precariously on a large rock by a waterfall wearing a Scott Trumane tube skirt, a light linen button down from Kale Fa­­shion, shoes by Colby Adams and accessories from Any Girl Unlimited.

“Amber, honey, who put you up on that rock wearing those shoes,” Edna Mae muttered. “And would it kill you to eat a cheeseburger once in a while?” She looked closer at the image, at the shoes. She was convinced that if Colby Adams himself had to climb up that waterfall in those shoes, poor Amber would be wearing an entirely different ensemble.

Before she could officially label Amber as anorexic to move on to the next pixie, the bell over the door jangled drawing her attention. A woman entered, relatively tall and slender with her hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail. She began to walk the line of bikes to the left of the door.

“Hello and welcome to Epic City. Can I help you?” Edna Mae said as she was trained to do.

The woman turned quickly flashing a smile, “Not yet, I’m just looking.”

There was something familiar about that smile, the eyes. Edna Mae looked down at the magazine and then back up to the woman. Then down again. Then up.

That woman was tube skirt Amber.


Blaze tumbled behind a cluster of bushes and forced his girth into a ball the best he could to hide himself. He tried to hush the harsh, rasping breath coming from his chest. His heart banged around in his chest as if it were trying to escape. He imagined an angry heart-shaped gorilla trapped in a tiny cage.

It was at that moment, inconvenient as it was, where his brain, his conscience, decided to confront him. “So, this is what you have become? The great Blaze Banks.” The voice sounded a little bit like his mother, God rest her soul.

“Shut up,” he dared to whisper. The truth always stings a bit.

Randall Banks acquired the name Blaze during his glory days on the high school football field. Days and glory he has since squandered, playing video games, drinking beer, working to make ends meet at Gil Towdy’s used car lot during the day and performing “odd jobs” at night that others found too unsavory to discuss in anything more than a whisper. When he was younger, he was an imposing figure, but time and carelessness just made him…doughy.

“He’s this way!” The call came from just over the hill.

Blaze stopped his breath completely. Despite the rhetorical essence of his brain mom’s question, the short answer was, yes. This is what he has become and if he didn’t figure something out quickly, this is where he would end.