The End

theaterHe sat, pretending to watch the garish musical on the big screen. Why anyone would present a so-called gala night featuring some forgotten and forgettable musical was a mystery to him.

Since he was here to catch a blackmailer, ignoring the noise and commotion onscreen was part of the task, and he was glad of it.

Also glad that he knew exactly who he was looking for. Easy to catch a criminal in the act when you know who they are. Follow them around a bit, do some discreet digging, and hey presto! Usable information leading to eyewitnessing their perfidy.

The light from the preposterous dance number bounced off a shiny silk suit. No, it wasn’t the suit.

It was a knife blade. And that was flashing toward the suit.

The suit worn by the blackmailer he was going to catch in the act.

Instead, he’d caught his murder, live and in person.

Hole in His Chest

His habit was to pop out of bed the instant he awoke. Today it felt good to lie there, eyes closed, sun glowing through the window onto the bed.

bedroom-dark-light“Know what I want to do today?”

The room was silent.

She’s still sleeping, he thought. Lazybones.

He rolled over to put his arms around her, knowing she’d open one eye, give him the grumpy face, then snuggle into his chest.

Her side of the bed was empty.

He opened his eyes.

Properly awake now, he threw himself down on her pillow.

His wounded animal cries made no difference. He’d done this every morning since he’d been able to sleep again, and it made no difference.

She was still dead.

Waking Up on the Couch I Can Hear Someone Upstairs

shadowy stairsI climb the stairs, avoiding the few creaky ones I’m used to avoiding coming down. Soft-soled shoes help, but I know whoever is up there will hear the slightest noise.

Every time they rummage, stumble, make any noise, I take an extra step. My slow climb is taking minutes that feel like hours.

I miss, or rather, don’t miss, one of the creaks. The noise above stops abruptly and a figure dressed in black appears at the top of the stairs.

My assailant, male I think, rushes me, probably trying to push me backward down the stairs.

I quash the instinct to fight back. Instead, I drop to my stomach, arms flailing above me.

I catch an ankle.

Then I catch a knee in the back as he tumbles over me.

By the time I turn and scamper back down, he’s lying motionless on the floor.

Before I even check for a pulse, I pull the ski mask off his head.

It’s more of a shock than when I first realized someone had broken into my home.

Finding that pulse matters now.

Over the Rooftops

alleyAs I slid down the rough surface of the shingles, shredding my pants while putting years’ of wear on my shoes in a single moment, I thought about the ridiculous depictions of rooftop pursuits in the movies. Leaping across flat rooftops, scaling peaks and running down the other side.

Nonsense.

I was determined not to let this guy get away, not because I was being paid for it (though of course, I was) but because he’d rubbed my nose in his last escape.

Still, my knees and hands were bleeding, my clothes were rags, my stomach was heaving and lungs were burning. I had to catch him, but quick, or give up.

I’m not the “die trying” type, thank you very much.

I slid off the edge of the sloped shingle nightmare and fell the short distance to the flat roof below. I’d seen it coming or I wouldn’t have slid down. Found my footing and ran to the other side.

It was too far to jump. Too far for me, anyway. So he was gone. Again.

Glanced down to see how far my fall would have been, and there he was, rag-dolled over a pile of someone’s junk in the alley.

There goes my dreams of capture and confession.

Then I heard him groan, and one leg moved.

The pile of junk I landed in was softer than his, because I went down intentionally.

It still hurt. But not as much as he did.

The Caravan at Alssikin

Trickles of sand crept into the boy’s clothes as he lay peering over the crest of the dune, down at the caravan below. He told himself he could ignore the sand just as he was ignoring the sweat, the heat, his hunger and thirst, his fear.

caravanLess than a mile to the east the caravan would pass through Alssikin, a narrow defile appropriately named for the long thin knife even young boys in his village carried. Only a thousand yards long, Alssikin was the right spot to launch an ambush, were a band of brigands so inclined.

… more … “The Caravan at Alssikin”

Perpetual Prey

canopyAs he scrambled through the underbrush the jagged tear in his leg soaked his boot and, worse, left a clear trail for the monster on his trail.

The same question circled his brain over and over: loop back and get behind the creature, or drive like a madman straight away from it?

His inability to decide stemmed from his unfamiliarity with the beast. Was it sentient, reasoning, a strategic foe, or simply a mad animal looking for a meal?

Pushing through the dense jungle since waking before dawn to the stench of the taloned thing behind him, he fought the mental fog brought on by lack of sleep. The animal had dogged his trail for a week, if his count of the days was right.

Precision wasn’t his strong suit.

Death was.

… more … “Perpetual Prey”

Two People Meeting in a Bookstore

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/732128 by Muriel Miralles de Sawicki http://www.sxc.hu/profile/murielleBeing rude to people in the bookstore line was no way for Ellen to get back at her brother but she couldn’t help herself. For weeks now he’d been on her case about working in what he called “the dead zone” as if nobody went to book stores anymore. What did he think she did all day, watch soaps and eat bonbons? The store was busy right now. Where was Jason? Why didn’t he take a day off his precious college education and come see what really happened in a bookstore all day?

She’d asked him that when he called far too early this morning. He had to get to class, as if that was an answer.

“Excuse me.”

Jason vanished in a puff of smoke as the George Clooney type passing the register got her attention. She smiled, as she always did at the customers. Sometimes it was easier than others, right?

“How can I help you?”

He took a step closer and lowered his voice. “I need to find this book on site planning and Amazon wants a hundred bucks for it. Thought maybe this antique store would have a used copy cheaper.”

… more … “Two People Meeting in a Bookstore”

Q’noge Woman Escapes from Her Captor Scene Experiment

Q'noge womanAfter three variations I found myself stumped. The third feels right, but is it?

It’s easy to fly through storytelling, getting my readers to The End with the least fuss.

It’s better to make the critical scenes more than simply the conveyance of information. The deeper I dig into the core scenes, those that turn the story’s direction, the more memorable and emotionally fulfilling they are.

I’ve never done that, pushing myself to rewrite a scene multiple ways, looking for the best version. In the past, I’ve been satisfied to note the scene’s purpose, write a direct sequence of actions fulfilling that purpose, and let my editor tidy it up.

If he tidies brass, you get highly polished brass.

I want my books to be solid gold.

Q’noge Woman Escapes from Her Captor v03

Q'noge woman“I have money.”

He didn’t reply. She tried again.

“My owner will pay whatever ransom you want.”

Still nothing.

“How much am I worth to you?”

“Stop talking. If you were only a possession to barter with you would already have been sold.”

“Then what am I? Why are you taking me?” She suspected an answer but wondered if he would respond.

“Stop talking.”

“Don’t I have a right to —”

He slapped the back of her head. “Stop talking. I won’t say it again.”

She turned. “I will not. If you intend to drag me through the forest you will hear me every step of the way.”

He had stopped a moment after her, one step too close. As he slid his machete from his belt she kicked him, hard, below that belt.

Before the machete dropped from his hands she was holding it.

“Do not follow me.”

He backed away. She stepped closer and flicked the machete in her two hands. The middle of his tunic split; just a small split, but the tip had touched him.

“Do not.”

He continued backing away.

She turned and ran without a backward glance.

Q’noge Woman Escapes from Her Captor v02

Q'noge womanShe slowed.

“Keep moving.” He shoved her.

Stifling rage, she smiled coyly. “I thought this might be a good place.”

As she stepped closer he raised his arms to either attack or defend depending on what she did next. “A good place for what?”

She softened the smile and tilted her head slightly. “Unless you don’t want to . . .”

That was the look she was expecting. All men everywhere were the same.

He lowered his arms.

She stepped closer and raised her bound hands. “Aren’t you going to untie me first?”

His face reddened and he put one hand on his machete. He leaned and stepped at the same time, his nose nearly touching hers.

As he opened his mouth to shout at her no sound came. Her hands were locked behind his neck, the thick rope pressing against the front and sides.

When he was unconscious she let him fall, took the machete, and fled back down the path. Time enough to free her hands when she was out of his earshot.

Q’noge Woman Escapes from Her Captor v01

HQ'noge womaner captor was no match for her in the forest. Any opening was enough for her to slip away.

Every few minutes his pace changed; he slowed, to check behind or to rest or simply because it was how he marched.

She started counting.

The third time, it was almost exactly the same count.

The fourth time, she anticipated, quickened her pace, and was hidden among the trees before he could touch her.

Understaying Your Welcome

nomadicShe shoved her wadded up sweats and t-shirt into her duffle bag. Down in the yard, a blue jay dove on a squirrel. Hand still in the bag, she imagined a mother bird risking all to protect her young. She’d never know the feeling.

The rest of the house was silent. These big wooden houses, if someone was moving you’d hear it. Sounds carried through the registers in the floor and up wide staircases, down spacious hallways to the small room in the tower at the front of the house.

They’d had a nice dinner at a picnic table in the backyard, her hostess and her 5 boys. Their dad was working late; he wouldn’t be home until after they’d all gone to bed. And now she was leaving before he was up.

She was more comfortable with men, so last night she’d chatted more with the boys than with their mother. The woman kept eyeing her oldest boy, a young man, really. … more … “Understaying Your Welcome”

Character Study: Jake Calcutta

forestAs his quarry stumbled noisily along the path he moved silently on a parallel path through the trees. Occasionally he fell behind; unlike the supermen on film, it took time to move truly silently.

But his quarry was in no hurry, and so with spurts of speed through clear spaces, he kept up.

He carried no weapon; needed none but the one inside his head. He valued life, considered it sacred, and wouldn’t take a life unless it were the last desperate option — and even then, he knew he’d give his own before taking another without good cause.

This quarry was no threat, simply a source of information. He’d noticed the so-called tourist’s familiarity with customs in the market and realized they were the underling he’d been waiting for. Whatever function they performed for their employers, their function to him was simple.

To take him to those employers so he could destroy them.

My fiction newsletter signup — the official handwritten welcome note

Every person who signs up for my newsletter gets a personal welcome. Some, it’s just that: a welcome. Others, it’s an excerpt from something I’ve written. Most, though, get a vignette I compose on the spot.

IMG_1263

Reviewing them just now, I realized I could rearrange them to make sense as the introduction of a story. Almost.

Like this:

… more … “My fiction newsletter signup — the official handwritten welcome note”

Tabloid Thousand Rover

Cold morning. Mist. Garage doors open, close. Lemming boxen off to slave.

Feet stamped awake. Couch cushions put back. Taste of dirt in his mouth.

Unemployment. Self-employment, maybe. Guns and gals and goodness.

Cold tap water. Hands, face, stomach. No breakfast. Coffee. Black.

Out, down, gone. No lemming box. Just feet.

Foot and foot, foot by foot.

Save the world. Save someone.

Save yourself.

The Stillness of Waiting

the mesaNothing moved between the sagebrush and ocotillo below him. Now and then a ripple of wind scattered across the brush but any animal venturing out in the heat of the day was too small at this distance for even his sharp eyes.

The sand was hot under his belly as he lay under a creosote bush at the edge of the mesa. Unarmed, because it was not his task to attack or defend, only to watch and report. Three small, smooth stones in his mouth kept his tongue moist with saliva. Should he have to signal his brothers farther north on the trail, his lips and tongue would have to be ready. A dry tongue made ineffective sounds.

… more … “The Stillness of Waiting”

Wedding Day

He’d said he’d leave his old life, settle down, marry her. She wanted to believe him, wanted to be his wife.

It had taken time. He’d said it over and over. As they walked in the meadow at the edge of town. As they sat by the fire at Mrs. Wilson’s cafe on damp days. As he’d walked her almost all the way home.

She’d finally believed that he’d changed, that she could marry him and be happy.

Her pa was another matter.

“Men like him don’t change, Lacey.”

“You did.” She didn’t make it a habit to challenge him, but since her mother’s death she’d grown bolder. Her pa pretended not to notice, just went on as if she hadn’t changed.

“I was never like him. And you’ll never marry him, I’ll see to that.”

She had wondered why her pa could change but wouldn’t allow it in another man.

And now, standing at the front of the little church where the town nearly spilled into the meadow, she wondered where he was; where they both were.

# # #

Meanwhile deep in the woods, two men stood, guns drawn, in a level place at the edge of the stream.

Their guns were not aimed at each other.

at the edge of the stream

Show, Not Tell — Another Exercise

ElbertIt’s no secret when Elbert is at a party. Those plaid shirts are hard to miss. He’s not a bad chap, really. Some of his witticisms are quaintly amusing.

The glasses aren’t bad, though wire frames might be less geeky. Though with that hair, it’s hard to say. Could be quite stylish if it were brushed once after he gelled it.

Jeans are acceptable party wear, I suppose, though I’d have opted for something pleated. To each his own. At least jeans and plaid go together, usually.

It’s nice to see someone that age retaining their youthful sensibilities. Most folks his age would have settled into more mature dress and grooming. That, um, quirkiness is just part of his appeal to most people.

Tell and Show: An Exercise

practice makes noise
Billy was angry.

Billy shoved the blocks off the table, growling like a little animal.



The chicken was terrible.

Picking strings of dried meat from my teeth, I tried not to make eye contact with my hostess.



They ran as fast as they could.

Skidding around the corner they bounced off a dumpster so hard they gained momentum rather than losing it.



The door made a scary sound.

As she pushed the door with her shoulder the tortured hinges screamed.