Category Archives: flash fiction

She Had Three Babies

The woman known as Jewel, or Jaden’s wife, gave birth to three babies. Two were fat sleek boys who could walk within days. The third people often forgot about because the babe was a scrawny girl, a wild howling thing that disappeared inside cubicles and cylindricals unknown to even her mother. The wild child loved geometry and the way it allowed for three dimensions. Flat spaces were much more difficult to crawl inside, or this is what she claimed when search parties discovered her. Friends and family tried to protect Jewel from the wild girl, and this was difficult, as the child held a fascination for her complacent mother, but only when her mother wasn’t looking for her.

“I have three babies,” Jewel often whispered, over and over, while lounging on her sofa.

“You have two,” Jaden corrected her because even he forgot about the geometry of the living room, how it created rectangulars and polyhedra. “If you have a third, where is she?”

Jaden thought he was so smart, but most males did, especially those who believed themselves to be born teachers, full of all manner of things they had to inform her of. Her sons were the same as their father. Good God were those fat, sleek boys full of themselves and things to know.

“She’s in my hat,” Jewel said. But Jewel’s sarcasm blew right over the top of her husband’s head.

“Why don’t you wave a magic wand over it?”

Jaden’s sarcasm didn’t wash over Jewel’s head. She knew when he mocked her, when they all mocked her.

“She doesn’t want to go to school, so she hides.”

“Maybe she would come out if you were a better mother.”

“I’m perfect. I’m everything she wants. It’s you she doesn’t want. She hates you and school and all the teachers at the school.”

“Hire a governess to teach her at home, then.”

“I won’t fall for that, Jaden. You can’t fool me. She’ll go to the family school.”

Jaden didn’t threaten to have her locked up as he usually did. Why did they all have to lie to her about her daughter? Why did they have to protect her from the best part of her life? If only Jewel could drag herself from the couch, lower her limp white legs to the Turkish carpet and step lightly, her anklets jangling. She couldn’t go anywhere without anybody within hearing distance knowing about it. For years, she’d thought about finding a pair of clippers and cutting through the jangling things, but she had yet to find the motivation. Instead, she imagined herself dancing on the carpet as she had done more than five years ago when her parents had sent her to seduce wealthy Jaden who lived on the hill above town. In her fantasy, her thin white feet lightly touched down, and her delicate ankles made music, just as they had done for Jaden. Jaden had found her enchanting, carrying her off to his chamber that night.

Less than a year later, the three babies arrived–the two fat boys, and their scrawny sister with her red face and cloud of angel white hair. Jewel was virtually a child, herself, and carrying three babies had nearly killed her. She’d never been the same, had turned into this complacent wretch, never knowing where her daughter was.

She had three babies. And where was the scrawny girl?

“Where are you, my third child?” Jewel called out.

She sighed. There were too many hiding places, too many crawl spaces. The little clown was her favorite, yet she drove her to distraction. She thought of dancing. She closed her eyes with a cool cloth dripping down the sides of her face. She removed the cloth and poured wine into a glass from a silly crystal decanter. The decanter didn’t change the nature of the wine, which was like currants and blackberries and cinnamon and all kinds of heaven. With a deep breath, she held the fragrance inside her nose and mouth. Then she drank it down in a few gulps.

“My scrawny child, don’t play the clown with me! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

From some distant place, Jewel heard a howling, giggling echo. Was the child outside? She took down another measured portion of wine, which slipped like a warm spirit down her throat and into her stomach. It wasn’t like a warm spirit, but was one.

“Put your feet down,” it told her. “Your child’s in the cylinder of the well. She’ll never be able to climb out if you don’t help her.”

The spirit strong in her belly, she set one foot, then another to the carpet. If she stepped very carefully, her bells would barely toll her plight. So she minced her steps. She minced toward the balcony door, through the breezeway, around the lattices, to the courtyard. From deep within the well, she heard the giggling echo.

“You won’t find me!” the little voice howled.

“I’ve already found you, my little girl,” Jewel said as she leaned over the opening and looked down.

Darkness confronted her. She picked up a pebble and threw it in and heard it splash down deep below.

“That’s not nice,” the little girl shouted. “Don’t throw stones at me.”

“Why don’t you come out of there, and I won’t throw anything at you any longer?”

“No, Mama! You have to come get me.”

Jewel looked back at the house. She thought of Jaden, who was, no doubt, in his office conducting dictation and business–a flat, two-dimensional world of meaningless figures on paper. She imagined dancing for him, his carrying her into his chamber. She always did what she was told. She jumped to her parents’ commands, to Jaden’s. Why shouldn’t she also obey the little girl, who giggled and called to her Come get me; come get me!

And so she jumped, and when she splashed down, her weightless figure sounded as a pebble would, a plink, and then she descended into the cool ripples of water to meet her scrawny child with her damp white cloud of hair.


The Grimmest Error Reaps Death

As Alice set aside her work for the day, her sheets of written text, an uncomfortable feeling stole over her. She’d committed an egregious error of some kind. The pages sat in a heap on her desk. Could she sort through them at this late hour? She didn’t think so. Her employer was not a man to mess with. The sky glowed orange behind her–not with evening, but with morning.

Alice had worked herself to the bone over this document. She had worked herself to skin and bones. Her hair, long and thin, hung in a ponytail sheath down her back. It was her last vestige of youth with its golden sheen, but the roots were ash. This work had aged her, and she had worked with such diligence, too. Yet even diligence wasn’t enough to avoid fatal errors. And make no mistake: her employer would view the error as fatal. This fatality could affect her family if she allowed it to. But she wouldn’t allow it. She would offer her own life instead.

Armed with the ream of pages, she carried the document up the hill to her master’s residence. After his secretary admitted her, she placed the document at his feet, and then bowed to her knees.

“I made an error, and I don’t have time to fix it,” she whispered, her eyes downcast to the stone floor.

“Please show me your face,” he said.

She raised her face, but not her body. She didn’t dare stand in his presence, nor did she dare look directly at him. She raised her face and stared into the corners of her eyes.

“What do you propose to do about it?”

“I know I must give my life for it. If I give my life, will you protect my family?”

“I am now, and have always been a fair judge. I accept your offer. The Grim Reaper will come for you at midnight. Set your house in order. I won’t allow him to touch the other members of your family.”

“Thank you.”

Alice trembled from the release of tensed muscles. For so many years, she’d worked on that document, her body as cramped as her writing hand, bent over her enormous desk. Her desk now sat empty, and she wouldn’t return to it. She would spend her last hours with her husband and children.

She and her family lived in the upper portion of her father’s house. Due to her husband’s low income, and her lack of one, they remained a multi-generational family, despite Alice’s plans for future autonomy. Her windfall was to come after her work’s completion, but now that riches were no longer an option, they would have to learn to live with even less–no mother, no wife, no daughter. How could she break it to them? They had tirelessly supported her project for years.

Somehow, she managed. She broke the truth, and they accepted it in the way that inevitable truth must be swallowed. Her older children understood, but her younger ones didn’t. However, older and younger alike decided not to dwell on it, and most likely for the same reasons. The young ones didn’t understand, yet they understood sadness, and they attempted to avoid it at all cost.

The little ones played; the older children read. Alice cooked dinner and cleaned up the kitchen and put the little ones to bed upstairs. Back downstairs, her husband and two eldest daughters sat silently at the kitchen table, their arms spread across the surface as if in defeat. Alice’s father didn’t seem to know what to do. He wandered the house–he picked up his guitar and strummed it. He slid a Robin Mark album in the player. Maybe songs of God would drive the darkness away. Of course, they couldn’t. This kind of death–contractual–was firmly entrenched in the physical world and in its tangible words. It contained no spiritual message.

For the last few hours before midnight, Alice tried to forget her fate. She sat with her husband and her beautiful eldest daughters and drank tea with them. With every space left inside her soul, she soaked up her daughters’ images–their long hair and soft gray eyes, which they turned from her. One scrolled through the music selection on her Android, and the other traced pictures on the wood grain of the table, invisible worlds that kept to the boundaries of her finger. Alice offered coffee to her husband, and he accepted it, though he didn’t take a drink. He slipped into a half-catatonic state, which Alice couldn’t blame him for.

At a few minutes to midnight, her father pointed to the time, and desperation filled Alice’s soul. She ran upstairs and shook her little ones awake long enough to choke out I love you to each. Her eight-year-old sleepily opened her eyes, wrapped her arms around Alice’s neck, and mumbled something that sounded like I know. Her son’s eyes flickered. He said nothing.

She ran back downstairs just as the wind rattled the glass in the windows. Lightning split the darkness and thunder cracked, and Alice found it ironic that her actual ending would be the cliche sort she’d always avoided in her writing. Death would come on the wings of a stormy night, and how could it be any other way? The lights flashed off and back on; the Robin Mark album petered out with a crackle of static.

The door flung itself open by an unseen force. Whatever happened, she would remain calm. She had no other choice. When she glanced at her family at the table, they looked away, stared into the table surface, and Alice hoped they were imagining a different life there. On the other side of her, her right side, her father stood grinding his teeth, his jaw muscles twitching. Her father’s pallor faded and his eyes glazed.

Finally, she faced the open doorway. This was the only way out–the only way to pay for her mistake. The Grim Reaper rolled up, his legs attached to metallic rollers. He groaned from the rust of centuries. He towered as tall as the house, his metal jaws attached to a swing loader. At his side, two children in white gowns hovered, waiting. They floated peacefully, unafraid of death. Their faces bore no expression, and they didn’t move or flinch, even as the swing loader swung down toward Alice’s skin-and-bones figure. It would snatch her up, and she would weigh nothing to its iron form. It opened its jaws, ready.


The Sea, The Bear, and the Jay

image by Emille Domschot © 2012

You were a young mom, then, but as much an old crone as you were in childhood. You lived in a strange town, an empty, rain-gray place painted blue at the edges. You scuffed behind your family through the sand that edged up to broken sidewalks. Behind you, the gray waves softened their approach to earth. They soothed and caressed, rather than raging and stealing everything in sight to carry back to the belly of open sea. The waves seemed to sigh, “Sh, sh. She’s still asleep, don’t wake her.”

In itself, this was disturbing, though you couldn’t determine when the flow had changed. So you joined it, in last place, behind a bear of a man at the head and a row of stair step children who wore faded jeans washed out by the gray and blue air. You looked down, and you followed their scuffed white sneakers, off-brands all. Collectively, the children declared they were hungry, but they made their appeal to the bear at the front and not to you. In fact, the children didn’t acknowledge you at all. Were you there with them? You looked back at the sea, and its edges faded. When you directed your gaze forward again, the bear-man held a door open for you, and you entered into the foyer of a restaurant. You weren’t invisible to him; he wore a gentle smile that expressed his deep understanding of your soul. As you brushed past him, he tried to gaze into your eyes, but you dodged him because the connection felt too intimate for a public place, more obscene than anything that could occur behind closed doors.

The dining area had a broad empty floor of blue tiles, and it triggered a deep memory in you of how fast food restaurants used to appear before the common days of chemical substances and bad oil. Back then, in that fictitious time of memory, fast food providers were family-happy. Their food was simple, soft bread and grilled meat coated in chopped onion and pickle relish. In those days, fast food nourished the body and soul in steamy booths. You didn’t like to be tricked this way, but how could you protest? The children–your children–needed sustenance and ice-clicking drinks sucked through colored straws. They needed hydration, and the bear pulled out his billfold and paid for it, and you said nothing. You tasted the yeasty bread and savored the pickles, while the brightness of the drink awakened your senses. This was the memory–this was it! This was nostalgia in a red booth bolted to a blue floor.

After eating, the children ran outside in the gray-blue air, and you could see them tagging each other in the lot. The bear waited for you, his large hand holding the door, and then he led you out, back to the car so the children could fetch their roller skates. They exchanged their white sneakers for the old-fashioned kind of four-wheeled skates, and you reluctantly did the same. Then they formed a chain like a conga line, each small set of hands on the blue windbreaker of the one in front. You counted them: one rugged man-bear and four children of indeterminate age and sex, too skinny in their faded pants and old skates. How could the children of this burly man be so insubstantial? He resembled the weight of earth, and his hair was wild and dark. In comparison, the children were wisps. They were wind, hair so white-blonde their heads disappeared into the edges, much like the soft sea.

“Aren’t you going to join us?” The man yelled, his voice as growly as a bear’s.

These were your children. Yours. And they ching-chinged away from you. You didn’t want to skate on such an uneven sidewalk that buckled and cracked as this one did, but you grabbed for the tiny waist of the child at the end, and you capped off the line. This exhilarated you. You were a part of something. You were complete, your own four children between you and the solidly human bear-man at the front. You had five children–count them again. One, two, three, four. Panic clenched in your side, in the same spot where cold air and exercise and fast food stabbed you. Panic clenched you because you knew with certainty that you had five children, and where was the fifth? Had you left the fifth back at the house? Was this unnamed child alone in the sand? Would the deceitful waves grab for it and pull it away for the sea to eat?

No, no. The child was following behind you. You could feel it. The child was a bright blue jay with wings spread and tail feathers fanned into a blue arc, and it flew at your back. It followed in your wake, desperately trying to catch up to you. You dropped the thin waist in front of you and halted, which caused the children to fall backwards in a reverse domino, laughing all the while and banging you with their bony elbows. You fell down with them, feeling as if you were, after all, a bruised mother. The dark man lent you his hand, and when he pulled you up, you teetered against him, and your physical presence together with his startled you with its heaviness. Was it possible for a solid man to desire an old crone such as yourself? It seemed unlikely to you–you were spirit and soul, and he was body–an unlikely match.

But where did your missing child go? You spun around as best you could on dinged-up wheels because you caught a flutter of its brilliant feathers. You reached for your child-bird, and its life dropped from it as a kite drops without wind to bear it aloft. It dropped, a skeleton lacking bright feathers. It crashed, head first, to the buckled walk. You reached for it, even though you couldn’t salvage it. You cried and nobody cared. Your family screeched and skated off. At the head, the bear-man beckoned for you to continue. You’ll miss out, he called to you. You’ll miss all the fun!


The Unadventures of Pop and Mop

artwork by Emille Domschot © 2012

I’m guest blogging at Mike Duran’s deCompose today, primarily on the stereotypical Christian wife character in fiction, but also on the husband counterpart. This is both exciting and scary because it’s my first time as a guest blogger. Below, you’ll find a gentle satire that’s meant to be complementary to my article at deCompose.

Pop woke briefly when his wife slid from bed. He lifted the curtain, but the sky still wore white, and he rolled to his side and fell back to sleep. Two hours later, he finally pulled himself from bed at the joyful call of “Breakfast!”

His wife had done it again. While he needed his beauty sleep after working all week, she was beautiful naturally and didn’t need enhancement in any way. Pop hitched up his pajama pants and made his way to the kitchen, where his wife was singing a Fanny Crosby song as she heaped the kids’ plates with eggs and bacon and toast.

“Mornin’, Mop,” he grunted in his just-awake voice, using her favorite nickname that was a combination of Mom and Shop. He kissed her cheek.

“Did you get your rest?” she asked. “I know you’re a real grouch if you don’t. Here, have some breakfast.”

He carried his plate to the table. “Where’s my coffee?”

“I was just pouring it, Darling, so give me a chance.”

“Ah, that’s more like it.” His eyes opened wider to the essence of fresh morning coffee wafting in his nostrils.

What would he do without his Mop? His four children sat quietly around the table in their Sunday best, not spilling a drop or fussing over their food. They were all so well-groomed and obedient. That scripture—the one from the Bible about rubies—described his wife perfectly. As far as disciplining their precious tikes, she left nothing for Pop to do, which gave his life a sense of peace.

“What have you been up to this morning?” he shouted at Mop from the table because she was in the kitchen cleaning up. Generally, she ate the sparse leftovers while loading the dishwasher. She insisted it was the best diet trick ever. “Women,” he chuckled to himself, willing to put up with a few female foibles in exchange for her tactile manner.

“I did my devotions,” she shouted back. “Then I ironed the girls’ church dresses, took a shower, and made breakfast. I think I’ll just have time to put on my make-up before Sunday school. I sure hate being late. I love my Bible study time with the other ladies.”

Pop pointed his fork threateningly at the kids. “Kids, don’t make your mom late!” Although Pop didn’t understand Mop’s need for socialization, he allowed it to be another female foible. He loved her enough to indulge her whims.

“Will you go to church with us this morning?” asked his youngest, Katie, who wore her ginger curls in pigtails. “Please, Daddy?”

“Just as your mom finds God with her friends at church, I find God in my Sunday nature walks. Plus, this is no big secret, but I’ve got a beer in the fridge with my name on it.”

“Oh, Pop,” Mop sighed. “Why won’t you go to church with us just this once?” Her brow furrowed with worry.

Pop knew his wife prayed for him, and for her, alone, he struggled to be the man of God she needed as leader of the home. Being a leader, he decided, didn’t involve going to church. As he yanked on yesterday’s jeans and an old Seattle Sea Hawks t-shirt, he thought very deeply about the world, his wife, his children, his house, and his Dodge Ram. Let his wife be the spiritual one. He was the intellectual of the family, and that was as it should be.

Before she left, she kissed him and gave him a tight squeeze, her Bible and purse pressed against his lower back. Her eyes misted over as though she was sad. Had he done something wrong?

She let him go. “Don’t forget, it’s my turn to cook meals at the homeless shelter after church, so I froze a lasagna for your lunch. Just microwave it on high for two minutes.”

Ah, that explained it. Mop’s eyes always misted over at the thought of helping others. Years ago, she’d helped Pop by pulling him from his hard shell of intellect and strength. She taught him, her green eyes ever-misty, what being emotional was all about. Now, he was a poor, emotional sop.

“I love you, Mop,” Pop choked out. His wife stepped lightly out the front door, gentle as a ballerina ushering her gingery fairies to the waiting sedan. “I love you.”

Then he trudged to the fridge and grabbed a beer, ready to find God in the park preserve down the street, amber bottle in hand.

“Praise God,” he muttered and popped off the cap. With a plop, it landed on Mop’s spotless kitchen floor.


MapWriter LoveMap: Virtual Honor

artwork by Emille Domschot © 2012

I purchased my LoveMap. So sue me. I thought it would resemble the antiquated, which makes me feel like an antique because that’s how I found my soul mate Gwen at age twenty. We had thirty years together before she died of ovarian cancer. Now that I’m sixty, I’m finally ready to find a new companion, someone to ride off with me into the sunset, our bikes whirring in joyous union.

You know those MapWriter dealies that advise you on your life steps? Yeah, I never bought one because I have all I want as senior librarian at the local library. But the LoveMap sounded all right. Surely, it would work in a similar way to the MapWriter, using its database of my information to link me up with a compatible lady.

As soon as I engaged my LoveMap, I knew something was off. The damn thing looked like a board game. But a sign flashed at me: “Enter Your Moniker.” With the type pad, I punched in Arthur Michael Knight. Yeah, that’s my name. My parents were really clever. Next, a spinning set of dice lit up. “Click to Roll,” it said. I clicked.

The game squares lit up one by one, until the movement stopped on one emblazoned The Ghetto. This message scrolled across the top of the game: “You are a knight of the first order. You must earn your way out of The Ghetto by seducing the seven first-order priestesses.” Priestesses? What?

The game image split in the middle and unfurled to reveal a ghetto scene, complete with a little man in a kind of red space suit, whose back wore my name. A set of arrows indicated I was to pick a direction and search the area. As I clicked my way up a garbage-strewn alley, ghoulish drunks hiding in the shadows reared up and grabbed at my virtual ankles. I sighed. I hadn’t played a role-playing game since 2007 and, even then, work and fatherly demands kept me from getting hooked on them.

At the top of the alley, a crowd of men appeared to be kicking at something or someone. My initial instinct was to turn around and find a safer route, but a small cry emitted from the game. I jumped. So far, the game had been silent. I stopped my space-suit man and hesitated. The cry mewled out again, a pathetic female sound–no yelling, no cries of pain, just a small, shamed noise.

With all the game bravado I could muster, I ran at the crowd, unsheathing a sword from somewhere inside my suit. I knocked the men aside and looked down at the pathetic creature that huddled in the dirt. Her clothing, what was left of it, bore her label: Peasant Dodo. I helped her up.

“WTF?” One of the men shoved me into Peasant Dodo. “Whaddya think you’re doing? She’s yours now, sucker. She’s the punishment dolts like you get.”

“You were hurting her,” I said out loud, and the words strangely echoed from my game counterpart.

“Huh. You must be new here, Arthur. I dub you Sir Biscuit, and you’re doomed. Good luck finding a priestess to get you out of this spell: I call on the spirit Hetch to bind your sword grip and lock your weapons in the lowest level of hell. This I proclaim with the power of darkness, Sir Biscuit.”

“My name is Arthur Michael Knight,” I said before the map face turned black and reverted to the auto game screen.

I grabbed the instructions from the LoveMap case and studied them for answers. LoveMap was a role playing game that involved seducing priestesses in order to earn higher levels of knighthood. Spells, incantations, and false moves could knock me to lower levels of knighthood, even down to peasanthood. The same was true for the female players. And the only way out, once in, was to find a mate and exit the game with her. In the various disclaimers at the end, I found a caution against using real names or other traceable information in the profile section. If attraction occurred between characters, names and phone numbers could be swapped privately. Great. Why had I not read the instructions?

When I logged on the next day, I wandered around the LoveMap world, observing the goings-on of others. The priestesses postured as sex kittens, not the type of woman I would enjoy as a late-in-life mate. Some females didn’t have the essential tiger-like spirit to act as priestesses, and raunchy knights gave them as punishments to errant lower level men. Dodo, it seemed, was the pass-around, worst punishment of all the females. Poor Dodo.

At ten, I gave it a rest and made a pot of coffee. Just as I was enjoying my first cup, the phone rang. I hit the speaker button.

“Thank you for saving me,” a breathy voice said. “You were the first who ever bothered.”

“Peasant Dodo?”

Her breathy voice heaved into sobs. “I used my real info, too. They’ve been tormenting me every day. I can’t get out. Sir Arthur, you have to rescue me. If you don’t, nobody will.”

Her words echoed and faded, as though our verbal communication was as virtual as the game, and then I heard a click. She was gone. I ate a sandwich for mental strength and reentered the game, this time in search of Dodo’s profile information.

Her name was Barb Ackerman. She was thirty-eight years old, never married, and taught French literature at the University of Washington, which was just under ninety miles from my small town. In the picture of her–an actual untampered photograph–her face was plain, but her smile pleasant.

What the hell, I thought. This game was not for me. I sent her a mate request and waited for her to answer. I could do worse than discuss French literature over coffee with a young lady who had a pleasant smile.

Almost instantly, she accepted my request. “Thank you for letting me out of this prison,” she messaged me.

“My pleasure,” I wrote. “Care for a country bike ride this Saturday?”

“I’ll bring the wine!!”

And I’ll bring a rare edition of Voltaire. A book. An actual book. I deleted my profile and stowed the LoveMap away. What a farce.