Monthly Archives: September 2013


Hamlet jumped ahead as Casper Turlock opened his front door to step out into the brisk fall morning. The smallish dog tugged on his leash with an eagerness that reminded him of a kid who had too much sugar churning through him.

It was early, still dark. Casper judged the temperature and decided to tug up the zipper on his jacket just a bit.

Hamlet continued to tug until they got going and found their pace. The morning walk was a refreshing time for both of them. Casper had no idea what was going through Hamlet’s head. He was really Cheryll’s dog and while the relationship between man and beast started off a bit rocky, the two had come to establish a steady détente through the comfort of routine.

For Casper the mornings were a time of solitude, reflection and relief that he didn’t have to encounter many people. Aside from the occasional car engine, the only sounds he heard, especially on a morning like this, were the light winds brushing past his hear, a rare morning bird and the constant jangle of Hamlet’s tags.

He walked his pace and thought his thoughts while Hamlet nosed his way around the sidewalk and any nearby shrub he happened to encounter, occasionally snarfing, or sneezing, or whatever it is that dog’s do when they get a snout full of something.

The morning walk came with the promise of a carefree nothingness, a time to forget the woes of the moment and a reprieve from the possible woes of the day ahead. A majority of the time, the walk was uneventful. The only time the walk had the potential to go sour was when Hamlet sniffed out a skunk who graciously spared them from an unpleasant spraying, mostly due to Casper’s still quick reflexes. Well, still quick enough to yank a smallish dog back on a leash. Danger averted.

As they turned down Bobolink, Hamlet pulled to the length of his leash to get to a clump of brush and stopped to stick his nose deep inside.


“Come on Hamlet. One more mile to go.”

Casper walked on, but the dog, who would normally follow stood his ground and even fought a bit to stand his ground when Casper gave the leash a gentle tug.

“Come on boy.”


Casper stopped and rolled his eyes a bit as if he was asked to do something he really didn’t want to do.

Whimper. Snarf.

“All right,” Casper said, making a mental note that the dog may be stressing the terms of their alliance. “What have you got?”

He took a few steps back to the dog and pushed him back. The dog stepped back, but that surged forward as Casper reached between the branches.

Bark. Snarf.

Casper pulled out a paper bag rolled down from the top, the kind you only see under the counters of grocery store check out lines any more.

He crouched down to get closer to the dog’s level. “If this is a bag full of bloody clothes or a head or something, it’s the pound for you big man.”


Casper rolled up the top of the bag and peered inside. Even in the dim pre-dawn light and the weak glow of a nearby street lamp, Casper could see that the bag was filled with loose, yet densely-packed one hundred dollar bills.


Patch relished the dizzy euphoria that comes with sleeping in on Saturday. Pulling the pillow off his head, he stretched into a deep arch of tension before flopping into a pile of absolute fluffy-headed relaxation…for about twelve seconds.

A subtle mental mantra evaporated the very second Patch’s eyes shot open. His head turned to look at his clock, he face slapped the mattress. His eyes squinted to focus.


His mind raced. It’s Saturday. He’s going to have breakfast and read the paper. It’s 8:20. He’s going to run to the store and get a twelve pack before the game. It’s 8:20. It might rain today. It was supposed to rain yesterday, but they pushed it to today. It’s 8:20. He knew about the rain because he watched the late news on channel eight. The news comes after L.A. Gun Force, which he watches every Tuesday. Tuesday. It’s 8:20. Tuesday! It’s not Saturday. It’s Wednesday!


It’s not Saturday. It’s Wednesday. It’s 8:20 and he’s late.

Patch shot out of bed with his feet tangled in his sheets. He crashed to the floor. His head missed the corner of his dresser and a possible trip to the emergency room by three-quarters of an inch.

A string of expletives filled the air as he struggled to work himself free of the restrictive cloth. He crawled across the floor to the bathroom on his hands and knees. Grabbing the edge of the counter, he pulled himself up to see himself in the mirror.

“Saturday? Really?”

Patch shook his fist at his reflection.


Free Drinks

“Ok,” Tuke said, rubbing his hands together, “What’s up for tonight?”

“I don’t know,” said Hipps. “I’m feeling kind of blue. I’m thinking I just lost my long time faithful companion and well loved family dog Jasper.”

“Seriously?” said Tuke. “That’s a drag. And, didn’t we kill Jasper off three months ago?”

“That was Whiskers,” said Hipps. “Family cat.”

“Still…what a downer.”

It was Free Drink Tuesday. Tuke and Hips sat in parking lot of the Carmalita Bar and Grill trying to invent their next story. It had to be real enough to elicit sympathy or celebration, there had to be just enough backstory for them to make it believable, but not so complex that they got lost in the details, it had to be something they didn’t have to prove and it had to be strong enough that they would ultimately score free drinks.

“Look,” Tuke said, “If you want to kill something, how about your beloved Uncle Tilk?”

“We killed him already.”

“Yeah, but that was months ago and don’t you remember how he loved to drink and tell jokes and…I loved Uncle Tilk.”

“He wasn’t real.”

“He was real to me,” Tuke said. “And I’ll never forget him. God rest his soul.”

“I’m just not feeling that up tonight,” Hipps said.

The two in invented Free Drink Tuesday about a year and a half ago as a way to have fun, stay edgy and ultimately…cut down on the amount of money they spent on drinks their monthly outings. They liked drinking.

The idea bubbled up between them one night as they worked their way through a number of Couldersville’s prime drinking establishments. It seemed bartenders and servers were generally happy to part with a few free drinks when someone was celebrating something, or trying to get over something.

They tried it themselves and found great success on their birthdays. The problem was they only had two birthdays between them and their birthdays that sat months apart from each other. It hardly provided a regular opportunity for them to score free drinks on a more frequent basis.

It wasn’t until a simple off the cuff remark from Tuke put them on the path to drink prosperity. The moment of realization was still fresh in his mind. Tanya, server extraordinaire at Barker’s Pub on route 33, tipped the scales in their favor.

Hipps was blue, again, and after grabbing their table, Tanya approached.

“Good evening gentlemen,” Tanya said while smiling and placing small napkins before them. “What are you all celebrating tonight?”

Tuke looked at Hipps who looked down at his napkin and wallowed in the eight seconds of silence that passed between them as Tanya looked on.

“He’s depressed,” Tuke said causing Hipps’s head to shoot up. “Yes, he depressed because his girlfriend…his long time girlfriend…his fiancé…of seven years just left him…to join the Marines.”

Another moment of silence passed as Tuke felt Hipps’s glare burn into him. The moment seemed an eternity until Tanya tilted her head to the side, stuck her lower lip out in a pout and said, “Well that is just about the saddest story I’ve heard all day. This first one is on the house.”

Ding! Free Drink Tuesday was born.

Since that moment, and every month since then, they have celebrated various life events well worthy of free drinks including such glorious moments as Tuke’s liberation from his capture by Somalian pirates, buddy colonoscopy, the passing of dear Uncle Tilk, the passing of Whiskers, buddy vasectomy, Tuke’s being stuck by lightning eight times and Hipps’s awakening from a coma that coincided with the passing of the comet Maltese on leap day.

Hit Song

Toby Gerling knew that if he could write that one song, everything else would fall into place.

Toby had been banging piano keys from the moment he could reach them. He studied. He practiced, even when he didn’t want to. He learned enough to start writing his own stuff and he shared his songs with anyone who would listen.

So far the response was a very consistent, lukewarm, and noncommittal ho-hum; a judgment he didn’t embrace because the people he was getting to listing to his stuff were usually people consumed with there own problems. Getting them to sit and listen, really listen, for the four and a half minutes it might take was just too much of a commitment. It was more of a polite dismissal of him than the music itself.

He was good enough to join several bands in high school and he’d put together ‘Still Fackin’ with his friend Dinx (actual name Dexter Napoleon) Capstone after college. They were getting regular gigs and making enough money to keep Dinx in guitar strings, but he wanted to make his own music.

Much like the pleasant noise he got the first time he brushed those piano keys, he knew he wanted to be a songwriter the first time he heard Wonderbomb on the radio. It moved him and while he had yet to admit it out loud, the bit at the end where the orchestra just seems to explode can still bring tears to his eyes. If he could create something even half as good as that, he would be satisfied. Or, so he told himself.

Writing the next Wonderbomb bordered on the incredible and near impossible, as Dinx kept saying. And the problem wasn’t so much writing the next Wonderbomb as it was not rewriting the original.

The first few Tony Gerling originals had a sound very close to other songs that already existed. He tried hard to avoid it, and he never really heard it. But time and again, he would stumble on something that would be amazing only to have Dinx come into rehearsal to list all the artists and songs he was subconsciously copying.

It seems his Velvet Jacket borrowed heavily from Swinging Mama by the band Blueberry Cluster. His Tenuous Heart reminded Dinx of Smile that burns by The Radical Twins and pretty much everything else fell under the heavy influence of Wonderbomb by Max Henry.

He didn’t want to steal those songs. He wanted to be original. He didn’t even think of those songs when he wrote. He knew he was close. He knew it.



When Chesley Biggins found the glowing, smoldering lump of rock in his backyard, his first impulse was to poke it with a stick. This was not a new idea for Ches. Over the years he had poked a great many things with a great many sticks. It was pretty much his first response to all things. In fact, in the foregone conclusion that he was going to poke something, the only question that ever rose within him was what kind of stick this particular poke required.

In the summer of his 13th year, Ches came across a dead owl and a dead skunk along Old Stickley Road. As he recalled, it was June and the sun was just picking up its summer steam. He found the owl early in the month and it was fairly fresh. In the lottery of dead things on the side of the road, an owl was pretty rare, so it took him a bit to identify the thing. Even then it wasn’t until a successful stick poke allowed him to see the beak that he was sure it was an owl.

That stick was probably about 18 inches long and even that might not have been long enough, for when he poked it to get it to roll, the essence of unsettling the dead seemed to shiver up his arm and into his spine.

The skunk came later in the summer and had spent a bit longer on the road. You didn’t get as many points for finding a skunk. They were super easy to identify and fairly common in Gimpmann’s Hollow. Still, with the memory of nudging the owl carcass over the tarmac still fresh in his bones, he felt the skunk required a much more substantial stick. He recalled it was a nice piece of birch that took both hands to swing into place. It certainly proved long enough to prevent the skunk’s death shivers from reaching into him. He also allowed that by the time he found it, the death shivers had time to escape.

Looking at the smoking, glowing rock thing, a thing that he was able to trace as it dropped from space and crashed next to his begonias, the poke was set in stone, but the stick…what stick would work best for an extraterrestrial poke?

The rock thing looked about a foot and a half wide. Peering at it with the inadequate glow of his porch light, he saw that the surface appeared smoother than he first suspected. He could kick himself for not bringing out that flashlight, but he wasn’t convinced that it had good batteries in it. The thing in the shallow hole didn’t move so he didn’t think it was alive. And because he was convinced it wasn’t alive, it wasn’t a far stretch to say it probably wasn’t dead; a key factor in determining stick length and girth.

The diameter was one consideration, but then he thought about weight. He quickly recalled something from Mr. Truman’s science about element density and how that could make even a small object misleadingly heavy. Then he recalled he never paid much attention in that class because it was the time when he obsessed over Donna Callingdale.

Next, there was the heat to consider. When he first got to it, he could feel the warmth on his face that reminded him of a campfire. He couldn’t squelch the notion of cooking a marshmallow over it, even if only for a moment. Still, it seemed to be cooling at a steady pace.

With his evaluation just about complete, he realized there was probably nothing in the immediate vicinity that would work. He figured the stick needed to be wood and taking into consideration the depth of the hole and the way it sat, it needed to be at least 36 inches long. It needed to be thicker than a yardstick, but something he could get a good grip on.

His mind tore through his available inventory. There were some two by fours in the garage, along with some branches he trimmed from the old apple tree and the shovel he borrowed last spring from Jennigs McCoy. There was an old banister that he replaced from the basement steps, but that would be too long.

Ah! As soon as he discarded the banister, he thought of the perfect stick for this poke, and if anything went wrong as a result, he would be ready to respond properly.

“Martha!” he said, turning his head a bit toward the house but keeping his eyes on the space thing. “Get me my Louisville Slugger!”


At nine years old, Maxie King was already a superstar, at least from within the confines of her bedroom. Her performances were legendary. She was a giving artist and the legion of stuffed animals and dolls clustered precariously on her dresser at the base of her full-size mirror created the most appreciative audience an artist could want.

The venue was practically built to her personal specifications. She aimed a couple of flashlights carefully taped to two small coat trees and placed on either side of her dresser to converge on her standing spot, her center stage. She saved a sheet of blue cellophane that once wrapped a present from Grandma Nell and cut it to cover the lights when she needed to ‘bring everything down’ for her slow songs, usually dedicated to one of the many non-blinking, eternally blissful stuffed creatures that stood before her.

Her wardrobe was enviable. Comprised of thrift store glitter dresses and a mosh of Halloween costumes from bargain bins next to newly placed Christmas decorations, Maxie made enough costume changes during her performance to put Cher to shame.  It made her shows both a spectacle, and often, exceedingly long.

Her microphone was real; a gift from Uncle Cal who said it didn’t work anymore. To Maxie, after she tucked the end of the cord into the bottom drawer of her dresser it worked fine for her. Tammy Dillard used a fake plastic one…amateur.


Dart plopped himself into the driver’s seat of his car. He slammed the door with great authority and enjoyed the extra noise it made in the parking garage. He forced a calm into his hand so that the key slid into the ignition easily. His teeth clenched harder to take up the slack. The car came to life and he backed it out carefully, but his grip on the wheel was tight and unforgiving. He pulled around to and through the automatic gate and stayed relatively silent until he hit the street. At that point, he was free to unleash.

He started with a solid string of expletives, low and slow at first, but long enough to build to the point where the last few raked his vocal cords. His hands clenched the wheel tighter and as he stopped at the first traffic light, he let out a scream that both released an initial wave of frustration and a spray of saliva that dotted his windshield. Dammit! How he hated a dirty windshield.

Moving past the level of primal expression, he strung together actual words that formed hateful, yet basic rhetorical questions the car certainly would not be able to answer.

“What the hell was that?”

“What did they mean by that?”

“Who does that?”

“What kind of…”

Another primal shriek filled the enclosed space.

The radio had avoided drawing his attention that was, until the first words of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” seemed to hit him in the face. He hated Tainted Love.


Dart punched the dial, dropping the radio into silence. A tiny sense of reason rose from the back of his head. He hoped that he didn’t pop it so hard that he broke it. In general, his radio was his car ride companion and they logged hundreds of thousands of miles together in times far worse than this. He would miss it if he broke it and would be extra pissed to have to fix it.


During the day, Johnsonville City promoted itself as a family friendly, family oriented, one-stop destination place for wholesome family fun. During the day, the music was bright, clowns and cartoon characters, littered the streets available for photo opportunities and the scent of candy and fried dough filled the air, almost like an overgrown county fair.

By night, Johnsonville City changed as completely and quickly as if someone flipped a switch. It was as if the moment the darkness of night put the sun to bed, the neon ignited to call the night people from the holes and crevices where they slept, or lay in waiting for their time

With the night, Johnsonville City unabashedly stepped away from its daytime self to embrace a darker persona. Still promoted as a one-stop shop for the ultimate entertainment experience, the focus shifts to the promise of delivering on the more base human needs and desires, the promise of luck, wealth, intimacy and anything else to make them forget their troubles, if only for a moment, and always at a price. The music was louder and angrier, the once pleasant smell of the day faded into the stale smell of garbage and smoke attacked by artificial scents that aim to complete the illusion. Dangerous men and women hawk their wares offering anything to anyone, they just needed a dark corner to discuss the terms.

Anne Kringer had no use for the day. Like the dark people, she closed out the light. She slept. She ignored the cloying façade of the city’s daytime image. There was too much history between them for her to buy in. If you came to Johnsonville City with your eyes open, it was easy to see what the city really was. You would either play by the rules as you knew them and take your chances, or better yet, you’d decide to go someplace else to find your fun or cure your soul.

A few years ago, she almost shook the stink of this town from her heals. She left the force with the bloodied face and lifeless body of Alisson Tudor burned forever in her memory. For as much as she yearned to leave, it was her failure, and the failure of the force sworn to protect all the Alisson Tudors, that kept her bound both to the city and the darkness.

The people deserved better and she swore to do everything she could to prevent the truly innocent souls from falling victim to the evils of the darkness, or die trying. Sometimes it took as little as shadowing someone to make sure they got where they needed to go. Sometimes, it required her wearing a mask.


Carrington Phit was not a fan of the general public. It’s not that he hated people. It’s more that people, in their inherent predictability, never failed to prove themselves capable of even contemplating their true potential. More often than not, they preferred wallowing in their mediocrity and complaining about why they didn’t have more. They made victims of themselves.

Being successful took work. Even though his own path to success featured struggles and challenges that brought him to the brink of bankruptcy, both in money and in spirit, he could proudly say that he made it through and he was a better person for it.

Now, having achieved a certain stature in the human pecking order, he felt entitled to proceed through the rest of his years as he saw fit. In his mind, there were ways of doing things.  Some might consider his ways old-fashioned, you dressed for dinner out, you supported the proper community groups, at least monetarily, and you conducted yourself with a modicum of grace and refinement when in public.

His work required that he travel regularly. Often enough that he could access many of the various airline perks afforded the frequent flier. Still, it was not enough to keep him out of the flow of the general traveling public. He didn’t consider himself an elitist, but he did often wonder what happened to some of the refinement that used to come with traveling. It used to be special. Now people are treated like cattle and they often behave much the same way. They seemed all right with it. He was not.

Carrington viewed the lack of smart dress and diminished interpersonal skills as evidence of the ongoing social decay he felt all around him. Thanks to some idiot who tried to set his shoes on fire on a flight some years ago, he now had to go through the degrading practice of practically disrobing in order to get to his flight.  He worked to streamline the time he spent in these lines, but there was only so much he was willing to do.

That was another problem with people generally, their willingness to forego certain graces in the name of convenience, especially at airports, subjected him to a flood of ill-fitting clothing and more bare feet than he ever wanted to see beyond the boundaries of some Oceanside resort. Worse still, was the apparent lack of hygiene these poor feet enjoyed. Nauseating.

Paradise Gone

George Pullman pulled into his driveway at the end of a long day’s work, three days after his vacation. It took a day and a half for the sheen of his time in the islands, that post-vacation euphoria, to evaporate in a cloud of reports, statistics, ratings and fiery circumstances allowed to develop in his absence that needed his immediate attention.

Fortunately, for him a gift awaited on the front step of his house, a gift to himself that he hoped would continue to connect him to the peace and tranquility of those glorious days in paradise, five cases of Manticoopa. Manticoopa was an island favorite and George fell in love with it the moment it crossed his lips. It wasn’t really a soda and it wasn’t really juice. It tasted heavenly any way you served it, straight, on ice, or as a mixer. In one case, he enjoyed a delightful dinner of delicate field quail marinated in Manticoopa and served with a light island fruit chutney.

Manticoopa held within it, the essence of the islands. A delicate balance of fruits mixed with a mango base that was never too sweet or too dry. It had a pleasant, light orange color, an ever so light effervescence so as not to disturb the flavor and the subtle scent of coconut reminiscent of the island breeze. Just thinking about it, he could almost feel himself drifting back to heaven.

His mood perked up considerably. The day might not be a total wash after all. He parked the car, rushed inside and brought the cases into the kitchen. The cost to bring these five cases to Cornington was ridiculous and impulsive. But he so wanted at least the notion of his vacation to continue that he was willing to do the work and pay the cost. One afternoon, he found a distributor willing to ship to the states. George made all the arrangements so that the shipment would arrive safely after his return so he was there to receive them. His work quickly consumed him and he nearly forgot that the cases were on the way.

Now, safely in the privacy of his own kitchen, he prepared to transport himself back to tranquility. He put on some island music, another small gift to himself, a CD of the hotel house band’s most requested songs. He pulled out a special glass intending to highlight the color and let the delicate beverage breathe. He opened case one and pulled out the first of 240 cans that he planned to meter out over the next few months, or whenever he needed a quick escape. He closed his eyes and breathed deep with anticipation as he snapped the top open to release this glorious nectar.   

The Manticoopa tumbled from the can into the glass, a bit darker than he remembered and with a bit more foam. The expectation of a subtle essence of coconut seemed lost in a cloud of fizz, but no matter, this is what he was waiting for. He let the beverage settle before bringing the glass to his lips and taking a full, deep sip. He held the fluid in his mouth and awaited the magic. 

His pursed lips that held back the fluid puckered. His eyes, once closed in anticipation squeezed tighter together as his brain tried to weed through the bombardment of messages coming from the mouth.

His mouth filled with a sour flavor half-reminiscent of a plum well past its prime and a healthy dose of a lemon based furniture polish. Whatever the taste, an immediate flood of saliva mixed with the unsettled concoction and forced him to move the fluid around in his mouth. Pushing it into his cheeks, the flavor transformed again into something more beer-like than fruity and the ever-present essence of stale, wet paper.

George forced himself to swallow. The after taste that coated his mouth forced him to run to the fridge, pull out a beer and cleanse the residue from his palette. He slammed the beer can down on the counter. He looked at the can of Manticoopa. He looked at the full glass minus one healthy swig. He looked at the expensive cases holding the 239 remaining cans, cans which he knew in that moment he would never drink. He looked at the floor. His vacation was truly over.


Mitzy Cole suffered from something many high school girls suffered from, she was blossoming. While this was natural and wonderful in so many ways that even she was unable to fully comprehend, Tracy Colter, Janice Melton and Brin Whitmire found this to be totally unacceptable.

While high school, structurally, allows for the common progression of students from grade to grade, year to year, it seems to do little to accommodate the varied levels of development of its inmates beyond the academic.

Mitzy, Tracy, Janice and Brin had known each other since the 5th grade. In 6th and 7th grade, they were fairly thick, sharing secrets and pizzas over random sleepovers, going to skating parties, exchanging friendship bracelets and giggling until they could barely breathe. They hugged and cried a bit when 8th grade split them up and 9th grade brought about the reunion of the other three, leaving Mitzy on the side to figure things out on her own.

There are a million stories of that mystical time, those one or two summers, when kids seem to go from awkward kid to awkward more adult looking kid loaded with hormones and confusion. In May or June they go away all geeky and wobbly and they come back in August all buff and disenchanted. Nature is either cruel in not letting all kids advance at the same rate to level the playing field, or smart and calculating by knowing that the rest of the world could not handle all of that condensed development in one fell swoop so it meters it out for the safety of all.

Mitzy was clearly on a different track from the other three, who had physically matured quite a bit heading into 9th grade. They had discovered make-up and shopping at Calification, a store that brought the styles of California to Billings. You needed more money to shop there, which they apparently had. Tracy began to pull together a small group of like-minded shoppers with Janice and Brin as her lieutenants and the other girls as her minions.

Mitzy believed that whoever was putting the highlights in Tracy’s hair was using something unnatural that was warping her perception of the world and her place in it. To her credit, Tracy assumed power quickly. She was taller than her recruits were, she was quicker when it came to smart remarks and practical lies, and she had a dangerous stare. Benji Coleman says he swore he saw that very stare melt a glass in the cafeteria once.

Mitzi had been shorter than most of the girls heading into 9th grade. She liked to read and mostly kept to herself until the circumstances of the cafeteria and biology gave her the opportunity to create a few potential friendships. She hated the clothes from Calification, so she wore her usual array of t-shirts and sneakers. She was comfortable, smart, and not much of a threat to the power trio and her minions.

But that was 9th grade, and when the doors opened that August and Mitzy stepped into 10th grade, she herself felt very much the same…on the inside, but those around her noticed many changes. She had grown a solid two inches, decided to let her hair grow out a bit longer and she did some more experimenting with make up. Her overall style was similar, but she wore her clothes differently. Different enough that it drew Benji Coleman out of his conversation with Matt Billings about the latest Sizerman comic book long enough to say, “Hey Mitz…wow!”

It happened that, while he intended nothing of the sort, Benji’s ‘wow’ was just loud enough, and just close enough to Tracy Colter to draw her attention.

Ever on guard, Tracy whipped her head around, appearing casual and disinterested as if she was flipping her hair, to see what source this wow created. When she saw the new girl at her locker, she stopped. That wasn’t a new girl at all. It took a moment, but after watching a series of double takes from others passing her by to confirm what they were looking at, it clicked…Mitzy Cole.

In that second of recognition, even Tracy would have been hard pressed to answer the harder question of why, but Mitzy Cole, for doing nothing more than brushing her hair differently and growing a bit taller became a target.