Stranger In Our Midst

by

She gets out the car, phone in her hand. Her brother is waiting for her on the jetty, his tie askew. She points at it.

“Aren’t you going to take that off now? The lawyer didn’t come.”

He smiles, tugs the tie around like noose, sticks his tongue out.

“Grim,” she smiles, turning back to her phone. “Google maps says slip F-18. No idea what that means.”

“It means our dear departed daddy also had a boat. In addition to the mistress, the second house and God knows what else.”

“You think you know a person.”

“Nobody knew our father.”

 

Friday Fictioneers

Thuyền Nhân

by

The storm blew for three days, took the remaining mast and two of the older children as they bailed with their little hands in a desperate attempt to keep the boat from swamping. Suong had helped as much as she could, but fifty days on the sea had left her so weak she could hardly sit up. After a few minutes, she lay back in the sloshing bilge, her face to the thundering clouds and rain.

It was the sun that woke her, hot on her face. She heard the cry of gulls.  One of the men pulled her up, the old Laotian whose name, Chó Chết, meant “dead dog” in Vietnamese. She remembered how she had laughed  at him the first day, feeling joyously lucky to be among the hundreds on the dock who secured a place on the crowded boat.

After days on the open ocean there was no more food and no more water and it was not so funny.

Chó Chết grinned  at her with betel-stained teeth and pointed across the bow at a low rise of land on the horizon.

“Is that America?” she asked in broken Lao.

“Why is that important?” he said. “It is land.”

 

Sunday Photo Fiction

Some Vacation

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I lay on face down the cracked tile, near the toilet. Its base was ringed with grime, and I could see what looked like a tuft of pubic hair wadded in the corner. My right eye was swollen shut, but the left one seemed unharmed. I wondered how long before someone found me.

The hotel had seemed okay online. The reviews were mediocre, but it was cheap and I figured I’d only be there to sleep. Nassau was full of better things to spend my money on, I’d told myself. I’d changed and walked across the land bridge to the Atlantis, admiring the motor sailors in their slips.

The woman at the bar had introduced herself as Tanya. She’d had an exotic accent and worn a lot of makeup.

“What do you do around here for fun?” I’d asked.

“You buy drink for me and we talk about it,” she’d said.

 

What Pegman Saw

The Medical Opinion

by

The doctor sits across from us at the steel table, mouth pursed. My wife’s hand goes clammy in mine.

“Well,” says the doctor, “aside from the things he says he sees, your son does not show any signs of mental illness. None.”

“That’s a relief,” I say, smiling. “Isn’t it, honey?”

“You said aside from the things he sees, Doctor,” says my wife. “What do you mean?”

“Perhaps he has an overactive imagination.”

“So you’re proposing that it’s an overactive imagination that makes him wake up screaming every night?”

I do not mention that I have begun seeing them too.

 

Friday Fictioneers

The Priest Offers

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The priest walks around the cluttered work table, drags a finger down its surface and holds it up for inspection. He scowls and wipes it on his cassock, walks slowly up the stairs to the kitchen. He stands before her, hands clasped behind him.

“Listen, daughter. I came to speak to your husband about his reputation. I do not carry gossip, for  I care nothing for the chattering of such birds. No, I speak of his professional reputation. Under normal circumstances I would never trouble a wife with my concern, but you and I enjoy a certain confidence gained by your life in the Church.  I say to you in all candor: your husband is on the verge of losing his good name, if he has in fact not lost it already. My errand today was to offer him opportunity to right the harms his dalliance have caused  the Church. It could be considered a commission. On the other hand, it might be considered a penance as well, for I cannot offer much in the way of financial compensation. It is a chance. Perhaps it is a last chance. So, my daughter, I ask you this: will you not approach your husband with my offer?”

Sunday Photo Fiction

This is an excerpt from a novel in progress about Marie of the Incarnation and  her mission to New France in the 1640s.

The Monster’s Daughter

by

The Egypt Air  flight  from LaGuardia was delayed six hours for mechanical trouble, but the real trouble came at customs. The official scanned her passport, held it up against a clipboard.

“Excuse me, Miss,” he said, and disappeared through a door.

He returned with two soldiers carrying  machine guns. Amaka was led back to a small room where a Ugandan colonel sat behind a steel desk.

“You are Amaka Otti?” he said, reading her passport. “The daughter of Vincent Otti?”

“Yes, Colonel. Though I never met him.”

The colonel sighed, tapped his teeth with his fingernails. “And I suppose you are a student?”

“I was, Colonel. I am home now. I returned home to put my education to good use.”

“Home. Yes,” said the colonel. “You understand that your father was a monster? That he massacred the villages of Barlonyo and Atiak and many more?”

“I am not he, Colonel.”

 

What Pegman Saw

Historical Note:

Vincent Otti was born in the Ugandan village of Atiak around 1946. He joined the Lord’s Resistance Army when it was founded in 1987 and rose to the rank of Lieutenant General, the second in command to Joseph Kony.

In 1994, the LRA attacked Atiak, Otti’s home town, killing more than 200 people. Otti’s brothers reportedly fled the village after the family was accused of breeding a “killer.” He is alleged to have led the Barlonyo massacre in February 2004, during which more than 300 villagers were shot, hacked and burned to death.

 In 2005, the International Criminal Court found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Otti had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, and issued a sealed warrant for his arrest. Otti was killed in October 2007 during a high command meeting that Kony convened at his base camp in Garamba, following a disagreement with Kony over the peace process.

Hamilton

by

Word comes down from our senior officers to prepare for evacuation. We busy ourselves making rucksacks and gathering our belongings. I linger in the room and pry up the floorboard to my hidey hole. One of the cartons of cigarettes is missing. In its place is a small German army musette bag. I open the flap. Inside is my gold Hamilton watch, a combat knife, a compass and a wad of folded bills. There is no note, but I know who left it.

I thread my watch onto a shoelace and tie it around my neck under my sweaters.

 

Friday Fictioneers

Pressed for time. This is an excerpt from my first novel Hawserthe story of a World War II bombardier who escapes from a German prison camp after being shot down. All formats are available on Amazon or directly from me. I’m always looking for readers willing to leave a review, so hit me up.

Air and Space

by

She agrees to meet me at the museum.

I know the second I see her. It’s on her face. Doom. I smile anyway.

“You remember this place?” I say, as though nothing is wrong. As though last night had never happened. “Our first date?”

“It wasn’t a date,” she says. “We need to talk.”

“We are talking,” I say.

“Let me put this another way,” she says. “You need to listen.”

“If it’s about last night, I can’t tell you how sorry I am–”

“It’s not about last night. Not only about last night. It’s all of it.”

“Please, honey. You don’t–”

“You need to listen. We’re done. The end. That’s it.”

“I don’t want us to be done.”

Her face reddens. I can see this was the wrong thing to say. “What I mean is–”

She shakes her head,  walks away like she’s late for something. I start after her, but realize it’s a waste of time.

A group of children file in. One of them presses the button and the recording starts. The Apollo I fire. Grissom, White, and Chaffee. Never made it into space.  Burned to death on the launchpad in a few seconds.  Somber music plays in the background.

She just needs space.

 

Sunday Photo Fiction

Excerpt from Quality Time Pieces

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This is an excerpt from a story I wrote in 2013. It is just a little too long to be published by a literary magazine (assuming that’s even an option). The character, Stuart Dulley, appears in four other stories so far.

 

 

Stuart Dulley left the office with his hat in his hand and the list of crossed-off jobs folded away in his pocket. The reception area was crowded with men smoking cigarettes and cigars, smoke drifting down from the ceiling in a blue fog. There was nobody at the reception desk.

A man stood up and smiled at Stuart, pointed at the office door and raised his eyebrows, as though asking Stuart for permission to enter. Stuart nodded, not sure what the man meant. The man walked over to the office door. He paused, turned to Stuart and fired off a snappy salute.

Stuart felt sick in his stomach. On the way to his previous interview he gobbled a hot dog bought from a street vender for a nickel. Stuart as though the hot dog and the smoke lay together in his stomach, twisting his intestines, filling them with gas. He hurried to the men’s room, pushed open the polished wooden door of the farthest stall, hung his jacket on the brass hook. After a while, he felt better.

He stood at the sink washing his hands. The man from the waiting room, the one who saluted, strode into the rest room. He held out his hand.

“I guess we’re the new boys! My name’s Fred Hayes. Call me Freddie!”

Stuart rinsed his hands and looked for a towel. He saw a roll towel rack on the wall. As he reached for it, Fred Hayes seized his hand and gave it three shakes.

Fred Hayes looked at his hand, now wet. Stuart smiled uneasily. He stepped to the roll towel rack. He pulled down the towel and dried his hands on it. Fred Hayes was smiling.

“Sorry,” said Stuart. “I don’t understand.”

“They hired me too,” said Fred Hayes. “I said I guess we’ll be the new boys together.”

Stuart felt his face grow hot. “Oh, no. I didn’t get the job. They didn’t hire me.”

Fred’s smile fell. “You didn’t get the job? Why not? Hell, a monkey could get that job. Easiest interview I ever had. Hired me on the spot!”

Stuart shifted on his feet. “They want men with experience.”

“So?” said Fred Hayes.

“Well,” said Stuart. “I told him I don’t have any.” Then, because Fred Hayes looked puzzled, Stuart added “Because I don’t.”

“Me neither,” said Fred Hayes. “I worked at my uncle’s grocery last summer. Before that I tasseled corn and did odd jobs. But I sure as kittens didn’t tell him that. Why would I? It’s not like they check.”

“But,” Stuart said.

Fred Hayes shook his head. “See, it’s like my old man told me. You gotta sell yourself. My old man told me that sales is all about confidence. All about looking a man straight in the eye. Make him believe that, no bull, you are a natural salesman. My old man told me to look ‘em in the eye, grab their hand and give it three good shakes, hard as you can. No bull.” He looked at himself in the mirror. He tightened his tie.

“But,” said Stuart, “he asked about experience. Did you—well, did you lie?

Fred Hayes looked astonished. “Never lie. A good salesman never lies, my old man told me. You distract with the follow-up. Take just now for instance. The man asked if I have experience. I told him sure I do. But I don’t say sales experience. Then I bring in the follow-up. I say I’m a natural born salesman who can sell anything. I use the follow-up to sell myself.

Stuart looked in the mirror and straightened his tie, too. Fred Hayes leaned against the row of sinks, striking an easy posture. He looked at Stuart in the mirror, in his backward eyes. “You see, I didn’t lie. I sold. I used the follow-up. He made up the story.

“He didn’t ask you for details?”

“Nope. Believed me right away. It was the follow-up did it.”

“But what if he had asked? Wouldn’t you have to lie then?”

“Nope. I just double down on the follow-up. I’m a born salesman. I have lots of experience. Then more follow-up. I would have looked around the room and started naming things I saw. Neckties. Typewriters. Ink Pens. Automobiles—Dodges and Hudsons and Buicks. See, he’d put the sentences together from the words I gave him. He’d make it story. I’m just naming things I see. I’m not lying. Simple.”

It did not sound simple to Stuart. He nodded and turned to go. Fred touched his arm.

“Just a second. I didn’t get your name.”

“Oh,” said Stuart. “I’m sorry. It’s Stuart. Stuart Dulley.”

Fred Hayes smiled and shook Stuart’s hand again, three good shakes. “Well, remember what I told you, Stu. Tell the truth, but use the follow-up. Sell yourself.

An Affair of Honor

by

The grass was heavy with dew as we walked across Phoenix Park, the sky pale with the false dawn.

What it would have been like for them? The two black carriages parked beneath the trees, their seconds pacing the grounds as they loaded the pistols and checked the flints. Fitzgerald would have preferred they use small swords. Two or three quick passes to bloody the scoundrel, then perhaps pierce his shoulder. But Fitzgerald was the challenger, so it was Roarke who chose the weapons, a brace of pistols made by Jean Lepage, sixty caliber with rifled barrels.

“Roarke’s pistol misfired,” my father said.

“And Fitzgerald shot into the ground,” I answered, finishing the old story we knew so well.

Roarke would not apologize.

Instead, he reloaded and blasted Fitzgerald through the heart.

He fled all the way to America. My great-great-great grandfather, known forever as the infamous murderer of Fitzgerald.

 

What Pegman Saw