Unable to Breathe – Daily Story Project #27

Still working on Smoke, Part 2. Not ready yet. So a new, short one tonight.

He woke up, on top of the covers in his bed, his chest being pounded from the inside by his heart. It took him several moments to realize that; he felt a discontinuity. On the one hand, he was obviously motionless and still, having just seconds ago been asleep. On the other hand, his back and legs ached, and his heart rate was dangerously near his aerobic maximum, his lungs burning and he, gasping for air, as if he’d just run a race. He couldn’t put the two facts together. One or the other was incorrect, a mistake. And yet there they were.

He felt the constant artificial wind from the fan, placed at just the correct angle to blow across his body but not directly in his face. His eyes took in the light, yellowed by the curtain but still nearly full daylight. He rolled over, away from the fan, and squinted at the digitally-reproduced time on the bedside table: 8:49 PM. While he watched the numbers morphed into 8:50 PM, then 8:51 PM. He was fascinated by the rate of change. It seemed tied to his heart rate and breathing somehow.

Maybe the fan tricked me into thinking I’m moving really fast, he thought. Yeah, that’s probably it. My subconscious mind, active while my conscious mind slept, took in the daylight through my eyelids, and combined with the air rushing past, decided that I was falling.

He was always doing this, rationalizing away what was normally inexplicable to him. He couldn’t help it. No one could deal with facts that completely contradict the ebb and flow of life and remain sane. Of course, making up stories about why a live salmon was flopping on a sidewalk, miles from a river, or telling oneself that a fan could produce such a huge oxygen deficit that would rival what was produced during an hour-long workout… that stretches the definition of sane, doesn’t it?

More than anything he was bored. Bored of his life, bored of the people in it, bored of the day to day grind of work and rest and eating and shitting and all of it. He welcomed fear and panic; at least that was something out of the ordinary.

Which side of the bed do I get out of? he asked himself. He always tried to enter and leave the bed by a different route every day. He had pushed his bed into the exact middle of the bedroom in order to have all four sides available for his entrance and exit. In the few moments it took him to decide, the clock cycled through another eleven minutes. He scrambled out the foot of the bed. He hadn’t gone out that way in a long time.

The blank walls of his room screamed at him. A small pile of clothing, clean, made an island in the boring brown carpet between his bed and the closet. A small pile of clothing, dirty, made a peninsula against the corner of his bed, extending out into the boring bedroom towards the door. He stepped over these, pulled a pair of shorts and a t-shirt from the top shelf of the closet and put them on.

Gordon was bored. Dangerously bored. His breathing slowly decelerated towards average, his heart beats spaced themselves out, incrementally, until he was no longer aware of them. He’d returned to balance.

He hated this feeling. He was especially annoyed this time, since he had a half-baked idea for why he woke up feeling like that, one he found difficult to swallow. He was mad at himself for letting himself down like that.

Why did I wake up? What was I doing going to sleep that early, anyway? What am I going to do now that I’m awake?

He found his phone and slipped it into his pocket. He searched the mountain of debris on the coffee table in the living room (LIVING room? Ha. He hardly lived in there at all) and mined out his key, which joined his phone in a pocket. He slipped into a pair of sandals.

Outside. Had to get outside.

In the brief time he’d been awake, the summer sun had set and darkness had oozed over the world. In spite of himself he shivered when he stumbled out into the cold night air. It felt wintry, chilly, on the exposed skin of his arms and legs, his face, after the subtle heat of his bedroom.

Smoke, Part 1 – Daily Story Project #26

This story idea started small but as I wrote it got bigger. I’ve actually been working on it all week. It will be at least two parts, maybe three. So I’m stretching it out, rather than hurrying to finish it. Gotta listen to my muse.

His voice had never sounded so cold before. That was my first clue. Not that we had a close relationship. He ordered the drinks, I served them. But he’d been coming in on a regular basis for a couple of weeks now, every couple of nights.

Alone, which wasn’t unusual for a customer in a titty bar. Particularly a male one.

“May I get a Seven and Seven?” he asked. He did not lean on the bar, his hands were at his side, and he did not lean down to look under the hanging glasses and mugs that obscured vision of me behind the bar, in spite of his height.

“Sure,” I said, and I started putting his drink together. While I poured, I nodded towards him. “Welcome back.”

“Oh. Thank you.” His hand went up abruptly, then stopped, then went towards his back pocket to pull out his wallet, which looked shiny and brand new. For that matter, he was dressed in what appeared to be a completely new outfit, head to toe: a simple gray trilby with a red silk hat band, dark colored button shirt still starched and creased from the package, a dark gray wool vest, loose fit black jeans held with an uncreased leather belt, and long-pointed toe shoes.

“You’ve made a good impression, man.” I said. With a flourish I spun a cocktail napkin onto the bar, then set the drink on top and slid it across to him. A little hippy-hippy shake is good for tips. “I’m Leo.” I held out my hand. He ignored it, dropping three twenties on the bar and sliding his drink closer.

“Some ones, please.”

“Right.” OK, then. I made change for him, accepted his tip (he gave me $1.50 on a $6.50 drink) and promptly forgot about him.

Business was steady but not spectacular, but enough to keep me moving for a while. It was still early, just around 9 PM when the dancers had a shift change; the four swing shift girls leaving as they danced their last sets, the six closing shift dancers straggling in, dragging their bags of makeup, dancing wear, shoes and who knows what else in, or having the bouncers drag them in for them, disappearing up the stairs behind the bar in street clothes, descending in lingerie or bikinis, made up to the nines.

By the time the final pair of night shift girls took their respective stages, the stream of customers to the bar, and the constant pop of waitresses trading orders for drinks, had slowed a bit, and I was able to look around the room and catch my breath. I really wanted a smoke, too. “Hey, watch the bar for a minute,” I asked Cecelia, the main stage waitress.

“Ugh,” she said, because she’s an ex-smoker, but she flipped up the gate and came back behind the bar. I grabbed a jacket, made sure my cigs were in there, and went out through the kitchen.

It was a bit chilly for early summer. I lit one up and then walked around the building to the front door. I wanted company. There was an awning that was technically 25 feet from the entrance, although the way the building was situated, with the freeway so close, smoke often got blown inside just from the traffic. It was annoying, even to me: I thought of myself as a considerate smoker. I didn’t want to make trouble for people who lacked my addiction.

Under the awning was a picnic table, and in the dim light I could see a tiny person in a long black trenchcoat sitting on top of the table, her face orange from the glow of the cherry on her cigarette. “Hey, Jamie,” I said.

She scowled but softly. “Good thing there’s no custies out here.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “I mean Hey, Saffron.”

“Sapphire,” she corrected me. She had the coat bundled around her pretty tight. She was probably wearing next to nothing under it.

“Did you change it?”

“No, it’s always been Sapphire. Because of my blue eyes.” She fluttered her lashes at me, laughing and taking a drag.

“Gotcha. So what’s happening tonight? Anything good? Too early to tell?”

“It’s dead, but I’ve only been on stage once. There’s a strange one, though. Tall thin guy, dark hair. Giving me the eye.”

“Oh, him. He’s been coming in, couple of times a week, for a couple of weeks. He’s not being too weird, is he?”

“He’s the only one tipping me, and he was tipping a couple of bucks a song. Not weird. But quiet. Respectful.” She got up, stepping down to the ground and dropping her cigarette into the gravel and crushing it with her clear plastic 9″ heels in a smooth motion. “He’s been paying me a lot of attention. Was here last time I worked, too.” She patted my cheek. “You’re cute when you get all big brother-y. He’s cute, too, but in an intense kind of way.”

“Let the guys know if he shows any sign of trouble, Saff,” I said.

She walked away back into the club. The bouncer opened and held the door for her, introducing a blast of music that soared above the passing cars.

I finished my smoke, tossing the butt in the coffee can on the table, and spent a minute picking up other butts and trash, then walked back around the building to the kitchen door.

Like the Cake Song – Daily Story Project #25

A return to the fictional Portland that lives in my head, and is exactly like the real one I’ve lived in almost my entire life.

A taxi pulls up to a ramshackle house in southeast Portland, somewhere between SE Powell and Division, and 39th and 82nd. House, painted gray, maybe decades ago, needing more paint. Boxy shape, flat roof. Garage on the street level and in the front. Stairs leading up to the door on the second story, with a front porch formed by the roof of the garage. Garage door open, and filled with tools and left over construction supplies and sawhorses and gardening supplies and everything else but a car or two. A single light bulb in a fixture meant for two bulbs shone down on the sidewalk, but very little light came from inside the house. Late at night, after the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s mandated 2:30 AM cutoff time for selling liquor, after hours.

The taxi disgorges a slim black-clad figure and a person-sized black canvas box. The figure hands cash to the driver inside, and the taxi pulls away, taking its yellowness away from the black and gray of the neighborhood, taking the engine rumbling and soft hiss of tires against asphalt with it, too, leaving only a distant sound of the highway. And a dog, barking. There’s always a dog barking somewhere.

Jennifer trudged across the sidewalk, under the light, up the stairs, pulling a wheeled suitcase behind her. She smelled of cigarette smoke and creme rinse, just like the heroine of the CAKE song called “Jolene”, even though she didn’t smoke, herself. She wore a black hoodie over blue jeans, but in the suitcase were vinyl pants and leather boots and silken corsets and lingerie, along with hair-care products and makeup, and a textbook or two, and notepads, and CDs, and a wad of money, mostly twenties, that had mostly been given to her a dollar or two at a time and slowly exchanged for larger bills as her evening had progressed.

She was coming home from work at Miss America’s, where she danced and got naked for tips. She was tired, worn out, and pissed off at the nameless faceless men (and women) who had treated her like a prostitute. But she put up with it because she’d made over fifteen hundred dollars, which was a good take for a weeknight.

She unlocked the door (“the thick, breezeway door” she thought, singing the lyrics to the song in her head, though the real door was just a standard front door) and pulled her suitcase in to the front room. She closed the door, quietly, thinking her house mates were all asleep. She left her bag where it was and crossed to the couch. A pile of blankets and pillows obscured the seat, and she started to push it all aside so she could look for the TV remote.

Her hand met something of weight underneath the blankets. Something warm, and solid. “Hey!” shouted the something under the blankets. It rolled over, and sat up.

“Fuck!” Jennifer shouted, then she turned and hit the light switch. “What the fuck?”

The figure on the couch was a skinny brunette girl, like a small scale version of Jennifer. The smaller girl blinked in the sudden light, and held up one arm to block out the light. The arm had a tattoo of a knife down the outside of the forearm, done in blue-black with a bright drop of red blood at the tip. Fake blood, in ink, not real. Cartoonish, even.

“Sheila?” Jennifer asked the smaller girl. “What are you doing here?”

“Shit. I got thrown out.” Sheila fell sideways onto the couch. “I don’t have anywhere else to go. I’m such a fuck up.” She had on a bra and sweats, and her torso had several other tattoos – an Egyptian ankh on her right tit, an orange and red sunburst pattern around her navel, more. She still wore makeup, bright red lipstick, dark eye shadow and eye liner, all of it smeared from her sleep. She hadn’t bothered to remove it before crashing. “I’ve been here since my shift ended. I can’t go back home.”

“Who let you in?” Jennifer scowled, mostly at herself. “I don’t mean it to sound like that. I’m OK with you being here. If you really got thrown out.”

“Meghan said I could crash here. I’m so sorry. It’s been a shitty week.” She rolled over, facing into the couch, as tears started to fill her eyes.

Jennifer pulled the covers over her friend, sat down on top of them. “You need some sleep. We can talk in the morning.”

Sheila sniffled and wiped her eyes. “How are you doing? How’s school and stuff?”

Laughing, Jennifer said, “It’s all good. Professor Yun asked about you a couple of days ago. Wondered why you dropped out. I told her it was… complicated.”

“I couldn’t go back.” She laughed through her tears. “I can’t ever seem to go back anywhere. I was too embarrassed, couldn’t face her after…”

After coming to class one too many times fucked up, Jennifer thought. “She wanted you to know… your paper on reputation-based markets was amazing. She said you may have the nugget of a whole new way of thought. You just need some… discipline.”

“What the fuck ever. I can’t even keep an address for more than a month or two.”

“And I could use some help with my Econ homework, too. I’m just a simple country lawyer. Or, y’know, I will be.”

Sheila rolled over onto her back, looked up at her friend. “Thanks. I can take a look at it in the morning. I kinda enjoyed it. I wish I could stick with it. I’d be the sexiest accountant ever.” She drew the blankets up to her chin and seemed to collapse into herself. “Mostly all I want to do is sleep lately. I barely move when I’m up on the stage.”

“You’re the second person I’ve talked to lately who has no energy. I met this guy last weekend, and he’s so angry all the time… It just drains him, he says.”

“Oh? A cute boy? Does Odd know?”

“Odd knows. Odd knows everything. And this guy just wants to talk politics. I think.”

Sheila sighed, loudly. “That’s another thing I miss about going to school. I miss guys who just want to talk. Nobody seems to want to talk to me anymore.” Her eyes, already red from crying, began filling with tears again, and her lips trembled.

She knew, Jennifer thought, Sheila knew that she was the cause of her own problems.

Neither girl had the courage to say it out loud, though. It was like the elephant in the room about which no one could talk.

An elephant named heroin.

Dragon Doom – Daily Story Project #24

Another tale from my D&D campaign: a tale within a tale within the game.

In the sea-fishing village of Warjos Dos stand two walled compounds, among the huts and homes; the Western Temple of Rhoban the Brewer at one end of town, and the Fortress of Lord Warjos, champion of Rhoban, and protector of the coast, at the other end.

And on a chilly fall evening, Lord Warjos held a feast for some young heroes who had helped to repel an invasion of the town, and who had discovered the murder of Warjos’ friend and former adventuring companion, Ilbahn, and Ilbahn’s family. Willy the Brewer, a round and serious priest with a taste for beer; Maira, a part-elf woman just beginning to learn magic’s trade; Xanril, Willy’s childhood friend, a young man who had helped build Rhoban’s cathedral who was quick with a bow; and Maria’s traveling companion Matla, a giant of a man, one of the Free Folk of the north, wearing skins, uncivilized.

The beer flowed, and the fire burned warm and bright, and servants brought out course after course, and the young heroes were honored and humbled by the generosity of the town’s military leader. But they were also curious, because before Warjos had been a leader, he, too, had been an adventurer like they.

It was Willy, the young acolyte of Rhoban, a native of the town and now on a path for larger things, who, when the servants’ trips had slowed down, and the beer had mellowed everyone’s moods, was bold enough to ask,

“Lord Warjos, the stories of you and your companions most mighty deed are surely known around the world. It’s a tale about which people both low- and high-born can say they are familiar. But still, I would hear it from you directly, if you would do me and my friends the honor. Please, sir: tell us of how you fought, killed, The Dragon?”

Warjos took a deep draught from his mug, and set it down. He stared into the fire pit for a moment. And then, with his rough but commanding voice, he spoke.

“First we had to get a scale and a claw and a tooth of the dragon from her lair. Many lizard folk and kobolds guarded the caverns in which she slept, and a band of cultists dogged our trail, harassing us and seeking to delay us, for what reason we knew not.

“But eventually we made it past the early defenses (a pit of oil that the slightest spark or flame would set off into a raging conflagration) and obtained one each of scale, claw and tooth.

“Then we had to bargain with the elves to help them enchant a weapon to slay it. We had to do several small deeds to win the favor of the elves and their queen, since none of us were of elfin blood. But eventually we began the process of enchanting the weapon.

“The final stages had to be done on the grounds of the old elven fortress, south along the coast. We explored the ruins and found that there was, at one time, underground passages, but they had all been collapsed and impassable. When Anansegr the Elven wizardess began the final ritual, an army of undead skeletons and zombies appeared and attacked her; we fought them long enough to complete the ritual.

“We ended up with a single arrow of power, so potent in magic and attuned to the beast that we were told a single true shot would be enough to kill her in an instant. We protected it from the kobolds and lizard folk in the dragon’s thrall and carried it past the dragons defenses once again

“We ventured back into the mountains, ran afoul of the dwarves there, escaped, and crossed into the dragons domain. We were attacked again by the cultists, and captured one of their number, a woman. Ilbhaan questioned her, trying to find out what the cultists were up to. She struck me as insane, babbling on about how magic was going to doom us all, and how much better off we would be without it. Her words struck deep into Ilbhaan. He spent much time in conversation with her. Eventually, he convinced her to help us slay the dragon. She was eager for its demise, but wary of Ilbhaan’s magic.

“Once again past the dragon’s defenses, deeper, until we found the sleeping chamber of Tountomos.

“She was waiting for us. Somehow, she knew that we had her doom with them.

“She whipped up sorcerous winds to deflect any arrow; we began a holding action to wait out the spell. We took blows that would slay a normal man dead, and kept fighting. Chaisa held strong in her faith and helped the group maintain, but it was taking too long. Finally, Diggy managed to steal a gem from her horde and began climbing out of the cavern, which was enough to enrage her and cause her to chase after him. In the tight tunnel, the winds were no longer a factor, and Warjos was able to take aim and fire.

“I aimed true. The arrow struck.

“Tountomos was dying.

“But before the Wyrm died, she called out Ilbhaan’s name, and called him close. Wary of a trick, he protected himself with what few spells he had left, and walked over. She spoke to him in a corrupted dialect of Draconian and Old Imperial, whispered to him a prophecy, and foretold his doom. Then, only then, did life leave her body, an ancient and powerful force of nature gone from our world, forever.

“My friend was ashen-faced and not from the exhaustion of battle. He was silent on the journey back, not even speaking to Mlanda, the cultist. As he used up his spells, he did not replenish them, until they were all gone.”

Warjos stood, and in a swift movement he raised his mug in a cheer. “To Ilbahn, and to Tountomos. Today, they both reside in the after world. But we… we live on, in a world that much poorer, that much less magic, for their passing.”

Then Lord Warjos simply bid them goodnight and left the Great Hall, leaving the young heroes to their thoughts.

A Beggar’s Tale, Part 1 – Daily Story Project #23

Another story set in my D&D campaign setting, specifically in the central city, known as Kopno’domas, and involving a character who has tangled with my players on occasion. This tale is also incomplete but it’s all I was able to write tonight. More at some later date.

“If it’s alms you need then tell me a tale.”

Palloi sat, eyes forward, and looked. He saw fine leather boots, rising to the knee, above which were green silk breeches. Hanging beside the leg a slender well-smithed short sword, both decorative and functional – and worth dozens of golden coins. The boots, dark almost black, stood in a muddy street. Whatever was above the pants he could not see beyond the edge of his hood. The street was in the slums south of the walled city, and the mud was a result of the showers of rain that were a familiar sight in this, the latter part of the year. Beyond the legs were more legs, tall and short, some not human, all on their way to or from some other place probably as muggy and miserable as this one.

Palloi raised his hand to the hood that shaded his face and pushed back. His dark eyes searched upward; black and yellow fine wool tunic, black leather vest decorated with gold buttons… and a dark, leathery face under a tight green turban with a hawk’s sharp nose.

“What kind of story do you wish to hear, sir?” Palloi stage-whispered at his interrogator. “Happy, sad, adventurous or tragic?”

“All stories are tragic when taken to their final conclusion, boy,” the standing man said. His voice was deep and resonant. “What I want to hear is your story. How came you to this low status? I look at you and see a thin boy covered in dirt and rags, kneeling on a muddy street in a decaying and fallen city long after the splendor of Empire has passed.” He paused and chuckled quietly. “Though that may be going farther back than you’re willing to tell.”

Palloi smiled. “Or farther than I remember, sir. I am just trying to get to the end of the day, same as any gentle creature. I need a few coins to purchase some bread and a bit of wine and to keep the night chill away for another sunrise.” Palloi scanned again his well-dressed audience. Maybe I need more information…?

“What’s your name, good and kind sir? By your dress you are not a native of Kopno’domas, if such a thing exists. You are dressed for warmer, dryer weather – and more civilized folk, if that silver frogsticker is all you need to defend yourself.”

The man nodded to himself. “Very well, you may call me Thyme. Like the spice.” Thyme started to kneel, thought better of it, looked back and forth along the street. “I will buy you a drink and a meal in exchange for an hour of your time.” Palloi smirked and started to decline, but Thyme interrupted him. “I’ve no interest in you in that manner, boy. Truly, simply all I wish is a tale from you.”

Palloi stood and gathered the small bag stuffed with his meagre possessions. “There’s a tavern just a street over. Megasia’s place, wonderful cider or stout ale. Do you know of it?”

Thyme waved Palloi ahead. The boy led his new employer across the street, past a gate into a small alley, where they emerged on a smaller street with only a few ragged folk in sight. Turning left past a long-dry fountain they came to a wide spot where several other streets and alleys converged. Palloi entered a door under a tiled sign showing a woman’s graceful form and a fat stout bird – The Dancer and Grouse.

The common room was large and wide. A fire pit in the middle was putting out heat and flames, even on this warm muggy day, but the cross breezes from the unshuttered windows along the walls made it comfortable, rather than oppressive. In the fire pit there were sausages being cooked, and a whole goat, and two large kettles of stew, along with some late summer corn on the cob. A dozen tables were on the floor on all sides of the pit, and along the left-hand (or north) wall was a long oak bar – the only nice piece of furniture in the room, the rest being simple unremarkable wooden chairs and tables.

Palloi led Thyme to a table along the wall, near a window but not in direct line of sight of it, and sat facing the rest of the room. “Oh, forgive me,” he said, “I should have waited for you!” Despite his apologetic tone, he did not get up or move at all.

Thyme pulled out a chair and sat. His eyes narrowed and he scanned left and right, and shifted nervously, but did not object.

The boy caught the eye of the woman behind the bar and called her over. The two men looked at each other, silent, the younger man smiling, the older one scowling.

“Magasia, my lady, some corn, some sausage, and two mulled ciders, please.” The lady, a round red-faced woman of past child-bearing age, dressed in a purple velvet robe, waited patiently while Thyme counted out some coins and laid them in her palm, then went back to collect their order.

“No bread? You mentioned bread,” Thyme said pleasantly if impatiently.

“Bread actually upsets my guts,” Palloi said. “But feel free to try it! I’m sure Maga could use the money.”

Silence again fell while the woman set down two plates and two copper mugs full of spiced warm drink, along with a fork and a small bowl of melted butter. “Anything else you need, ask,” she grunted and walked back to her perch behind the bar.

As soon as the food was in front of him, Palloi began picking at it and stuffing morsels in his mouth. The corn, still on the cob, was warm and sweet and yellow; the sausage was black on the outside and grey on the inside, and greasy even in the wan light from the nearby window. Palloi ate steadily, but quietly and with little drama. His elbows were tucked in, his head down, and he wasted no food by spilling or dropping it.

Thyme picked at his sausage but ate little. He watched the boy for a moment, then cleared his throat. The boy’s dark brown eyes flicked up, he stopped in mid-bite.

“Yes, sir?”

Thyme’s eyes smoldered.

“Aha. Yes. A story.” Palloi wiped his chin with his arm, took a quick swig of his spiced cider, and then leaned back in his chair. Where to begin?

“This sausage is mostly goat,” he started. “Grown on a farm between the Mage’s hilltop castle and the flowing great river. I’ve been there. The farmer is the younger sister of Maga, and is lovely to look at in spite of being in such a low profession. Maybe it’s all the hard work of raising goats and growing corn and keeping all the farm hands in line that keeps her in such fine shape,” and here Palloi used his hands to outline the shape he spoke of,”and many of her neighbors take time from their busy farming schedules to go chat with her and, discreetly, take in the view of the farmer. Her name is Chalakosi, or Chala, and she is fair and young despite her years.

And she grows the tenderest goats in the entire Vale, and the sweetest corn, and the tartest – most tart? – apples. As you can plainly attest to, good sir. And the best of the best get brought here, to the Dancer and Grouse. The rest, and there’s not much, get sold to the highest bidder, and that, generally, is Lord Captain Grenjolm. Or should I say, was sold to Lord Captain Grenjolm, because that man has been missing for nearly a year.


I hope I’m not jumping ahead in my story, or revealing something out of turn [Palloi continued] but I’m reasonably sure that Grenjolm is my father, and I’d like to think that Chala is my mother, although she denies it if I’m so gauche as to ask her directly. “A boy as sweet and as quiet as you are surely sprang straight out of a corn field, fathered by the Fay and placed there by the Eld” she’d say. But I don’t have pointed ears and my shadow doesn’t move of its own volition, and my blood spills red and I have no mind for magic, so I’m pretty sure I’m human. But who knows?

Be that as it may, I don’t have much of a connection to them as parents. I was raised at a temple in the Djurwalk neighborhood, sweeping the floors and polishing the statues and avoiding the holy men and women. I had a warm bed and a roof over my head and not a moment of freedom at all in which to enjoy myself. And when Uraga Bo, the highest priest of all, decided one day to castrate me to see if I’d sing pretty, I ran away and found a nice warm pile of hay in the alley behind this tavern because the food smelled familiar. It smelled familiar, I found out later, because Chala and Grenjolm were penitents at that temple; they’d stop there every few weeks, fresh from the farm, each of them separately and never together, and they were always kind to me. Sometimes as much as a few silver coins kind, sometimes only a taste of sausage or a handful of corn or a fresh sweet slice of apple kind.

It seems obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?

Well, ol’ Maga tried to scare me off the morning she found me sleeping under her window. But her heart wasn’t in it, and I talked her into letting me stay and clean dishes and reset the tables after a rowdy evening’s crowd. That was nearly three years ago. This is as close to home as I’ve ever felt. I’ve visited Chala’s farm, and even though it can smell delicious, it’s not home. I prefer the alleys and streets. And that’s how I came to be here.


Thyme shifted in his seat. “That’s almost too pat,” he said. “You’re clearly improvising. I wager there’s no Chala and no Grenjolm and no temple of diddling priests and priestesses. But it’s mildly entertaining and it killed the time, so you’re welcome to your sausage and corn and cider.” Thyme pushed his plate across the wooden table. “And you’re welcome to mine, as well.” He stood up and turned.

Then turned back, a golden coin with an ornate eye embossed on it, unlike the locally-made golden dragons and suns. “Will you take me up on the wager?”

Palloi paused, mid-bite. He had returned his attention to the food (he was very hungry after all) when it looked like his companion was going to leave, but this surprised him. He was cynical enough not to take any offense at being called a liar, but cautious enough not to leap at the small fortune being dangled in front of him now. “Wager? About… Grenjolm and Chala?”

“Aye. You said Grenjolm disappeared. Is this Chala still around? Could you introduce me? Or at least prove she exists outside of your fevered imaginings?” The coin slipped between the older man’s fingers, flashing in the pale light. “This and, say, 9 more like it are yours if you do.”

Warden – Daily Story Project #22

Don’t hate me if this seems incomplete. Road trips often do. Man, I am jonesing for a road trip these days. Who’s with me?

Gerald felt the pressures of life lift from him as soon as he climbed in behind the wheel. Perhaps he was running away, but really, what in his life was there to run away from? His last date had been nearly two years ago, and he had made a clean break with his job. Gerald had few close attachments in his life; he had never bought a house, despite having made good money right out of college. He’d never seemed to stay with a girlfriend for more than a couple of months; after a while, they just drifted apart. Even in his hobbies, Gerald was a dilettante, moving from interest to interest. Jack of all trades, master of none… that was the motto of Gerald’s life.

He had decided to get out and see America while he was still young and nieve enough to enjoy it. He had felt stifled in his job, and one night while browsing Powell’s Books for something interesting to read, he’d noticed all the interesting travel literature that had been written. Kerouac’s “On The Road”, Persig’s “Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley”, Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways”. All those titles had jumped out at him, a uniquely American literary genre. Road Books. He’d bought them all, but had returned them the next day: why read about it, when he could do it?

Gerald had given his two week’s notice at work, given a month’s notice to his landlord, and put all his money into a decent car, and a lottery ticket. It had taken him about two weeks to find the perfect car: a 1967 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Black, with a white interior, completely restored. A Classic American Automobile.

The closer he had gotten to fulfilling his dream, the happier and more animated he had become. The boy who grew up in Portland, Oregon, would finally see the world.

And so he had done it.


The stars flickered brightly over the moving passenger train, and Warden Kelly caught it all, lying on the grassy hill a few yards from the tracks. Behind him ran the highway, US 101, the Pacific Coast Highway. Warden waited, and watched. In the morning, he knew, the car would come, and Warden Kelly would deliver his message.

With a patience almost superhuman in capacity, Warden waited for morning.


Gerald had secretly hoped that the lottery ticket would have won. But it didn’t (as most lottery tickets don’t) and so he had had to follow through without the comfort of having a million dollars in the bank. He’d blown his savings on the car (classic automobiles don’t run cheap), and now had exactly $358.92 in his checking account. He was going to see America.

He’d spent the week selling off his worldly possessions, then moving the rest into storage (just his bed and some momentoes and odds and ends he couldn’t sell). He’d donated the bulk of that money to charity, to build up some good karma. He’d decided to first head towards the Pacific Ocean. That way he could later claim truthfully to have gone from “coast-to-coast”. He drove out of Portland on the Sunset Highway straight from his last day at work. His few close coworkers had bid him goodbye, each with a wistful look in their eye and some excuse about why they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do what he was planning on doing.

Gerald felt like the last of the pioneers, and was more than frustrated that no one seemed to feel the restlessness that he felt. It was so easy! he thought. Possessions are just… things; it was easy to give them up. The teevee and stereo, the nice apartment, what comfort could they bring. Gerald knew that he needed something more than that, some adventure to stir his spirit. And he felt sad that others either didn’t seem to need that same thing, or were so caught up in chasing material possessions that they ignored that need.

Was Gerald so different from everybody else?

The drive to the coast was peaceful. Two hours later, just as the sun was setting, he reached the ocean. He stopped in Seaside and watched the sun define the horizon in brilliant pinks, blues, and reds. Getting gasoline, the attendant remarked on Gerald’s car. Gerald made small talk with the man, an older man who seemed distant when Gerald tried to shift the conversation to other topics. Gerald’s sense of isolation deepened.

He stayed the night in a small motel, and went to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing into the beach.

In the morning he headed south, towards Lincoln City. The highway swung away from the ocean for a while, and then later that morning swung back. He hadn’t been to the coast in, what, three or four years ago? It was just as he remembered it four years ago when he was unexpectedly interrupted. Shortly before 11 am, he noticed three things in rapid succession; a train track paralleling the highway, a Southern Pacific freight train running along the tracks, and a man standing in the middle of the highway.

Gerald stomped the brakes, then pulled over to the side of the highway. The man had been waving his arms and shouting something; perhaps there was trouble. Gerald rolled down his window. There was little traffic, odd considering it was a summer weekend, but one car did go by. The man ignored it and turned towards Gerald’s car, covering the distance in an easy lope. The man was dressed in faded jeans and a blue cotton sweater; with the sun coming up, Gerald thought, the man was going to be warm.

The wind made off with the man’s words. Gerald shouted at the man to speak up. As the man got closer, Gerald could make out the man’s words.

“Red hue. One day this will make sense to you.”

Gerald was cold all of a sudden. He quickly rolled up his window, put the car back in gear and rushed back on to the highway, nearly cutting off a VW Bug in his hurry to depart. What was that all about? Gerald hadn’t counted on the inexplicable on his new adventure.


Warden Kelly smiled to himself. He was not an evil man. He had simply had a message to deliver, and he had delivered his message. He could rest for now. Until the next step was required of him.


Gerald drove straight down the coast, passing through Lincoln City, then Newport. He was spooked by the oddity of the man giving him a cryptic message. What did it mean? It was almost as if the man had been waiting there for Gerald. The words rattled around in his mind: Red hue. One day this will make sense to you. Red hue. One day….

This day, the first day of his grand tour of America, was a glorious day. The sky, rarely this blue; the sun, rarely this warm. Traffic picked up as Gerald neared other Oregon tourist spots; campers and minivans filled with families and their accouterments crowded the lanes, swerving into and out of McDonalds and motel parking lots. Gerald’s car got lots of stares and honks from passers-by, and Gerald had to admit it was a great conversation piece, for a brief moment or two of human contact. His thoughts of not being tied to any material possessions were gone for the moment, forgotten in his need for being noticed.

Gerald stopped for lunch in a little restaurant that overlooked the ocean, and had a bowl of clam chowder. He could see many boats out on the sea, fishing boats and trawlers, pleasure craft. Little boats on the sea… all having a safe harbor to sail into at the end of the day.

“Want a refill on that Coke, hon?” The waitress gave him an anticipatory look, one hand on his empty glass. She seemed frozen in mid-gesture, awaiting Gerald’s response before moving again.

“Uh, yeah, yes please. This chowder is excellent! My compliments to the chef.”

She moved again, no longer a mannequin. “Oh, yeah, he gets that all the time.” She took the glass and headed back towards the soda fountain.

Gerald looked down into his bowl, and tried to arrange the chunks of clam into a smiley face, but he’d eaten too much of it. When the waitress returned, he smiled and asked, “Is the traffic going to be this heavy further south?”

“Yeah, it’s the tourist season, all right. I hear ya.” She moved off to a nearby table; a family of four had just sat down. “Hello!” the waitress said brightly “enjoying the warm weather? I’ll be right back with menus for you!”

Gerald paid his bill, leaving exactly a 15% tip, and drove off. He was headed inland. He’d seen enough of the coast.

In Blues and Greens – Daily Story Project #21

Three weeks! 21 days in a row! I can’t believe I made it this far!

This one is from an old dream I wrote down in a journal.

I am a child… I am helping Father in the garage, and I reach for an electric saw above me on the work bench… I feel a tug at my right wrist, but no pain… the hand falls off in a short arc, tumbling to the ground…. Father does not speak, but Mother comes out and shakes her finger at me, “Terrence Othello Arthur, now look what you did!…I stood there looking down at it….

I woke with a start. The darklight that passed for day made eerie shadows amongst the trees. I reflexively reached for my right hand with my left, to reassure myself it was still there. It was numb, the circulation cut off from its position as I had slept. I sat up and twined my fingers together, then lifted both arms over my head and stretched back, shouting out a great yawn to clear my thoughts of that horrible dream. Its images remained, however.

I bind up my wrist to stop the blood flow, and I put the hand in the freezer to preserve it… I act as if I had not lost a hand at all… Mother seems amused at this; Father does not say a word to me, but when he and Mother go out of the room, I hear them arguing over it… I sit in my room, light streaming through gaps in the curtain, illuminating dust specks, and turn the cold dead hand over and over, trying to force it to stay in place against my wrist….

I shivered. This new-found power to travel between worlds by will alone still frightened me. When I had unusually vivid dreams, such as this one, I feared that I would awake to a world I had created in my sleep. It had never happened. But the power was new to me and I did not know it’s limits. Perhaps I would ask my traveling companion if it was possible. My right hand flexed and shook, working the blood back into it.

I sit to the right of Mother on the bench seat, barely able to see over the top of the dashboard… She had spoken to me in soothing tones, “Terrence, come along now, I’ve got errands to run”… I cradle my cold dead hand in my lap, longingly tracing its outlines… She had promised me a treat, later… I shout when I saw the doctor’s office, and put up a fuss; I beg and plead and demand for her not to take me to the doctor, that I am fine, that nothing has happened. I strap the hand to my arm like a bayonet on a gun, and pull my coat sleeve down over it… Tears in her eyes, she acquiesces to my ultimatum, and drives the car out of the parking lot, and back to home we go….

We had searched for the girl for hours, I and the boy. The sun had stayed in the same position high in the sky, spoiling my sense of time. We searched up and down the beach, and along the jungle’s edge. But the boy warned me not to go into the jungle. He wouldn’t explain why. All he would do is implore me to search for the girl, that we could not give up. He wouldn’t explain that, either.

Later, several of the other men and women of the group had joined us. I had us form a line, each in sight of at least two others, and we combed up and down the beach and into the jungle. I had read of searching techniques the military used, but I had no experience of it, so I blamed my failure on my lack of knowledge.

My companion played in the sea with several of the beauties of the group the entire time. When night fell, he and they retired to sleep amongst the rocks near the edge of the jungle, making beds of the large leaves from the almost-palm trees.

When night had fallen, it had done so by simply getting dark – or rather, darker. The light had drained from around me, and the sun above had faded to be replaced by multicolored stars gauzy strands across the sky. By that point, I had been awake for 12 hours or more. At least by my watch.

The boy found a simple meal of nuts and fruits, which I hungrily devoured. He and I ate; the rest did not. Had they eaten before? I could not recall. My mind was too dimmed by the frantic activity of the search. Later, the boy had curled up beside me and was swiftly asleep. I had yawned once, then leaned back against the warm sand, then had drifted off to sleep.

And now, as I sat awakened by my strange dream, I watched their peaceful faces as they slumbered. Gentle folk, fun-loving, living in a bizarre paradise… with a devil among them.

I brooded in the dark, remembering the warm reds and orange colors of a room with a fireplace as the only light. The area we were searching in was too dark, too large, and too strange for me to find this girl. And what did my young friend mean when he had said she had the smell of fear? As if it was fear that would kill her. He had spoken like it was a tangible thing, not a metaphor. These people did not seem the type to employ complicated metaphors, at any rate. The others did not think it odd that she had run away. Yes, they had searched for her, but they had done so because I had asked, not because they were concerned for her. All except the boy.

My companion slept also, tired out by physical activity of a more selfish nature. I glared at him; he had his head rested on the (green) belly of one girl, his hands resting on the (green) breast of another; their arms encircled him, their legs intertwined with his.

I stood. Directly overhead, there was a hole in the night sky where the sun had been during the day. It was almost as if the darkness poured from there, the way the light had come from it earlier. I could see it through a break in the jungle canopy. I began to walk down to the sea, unable to sleep. I angled towards a small rocky area, filled with tide pools and strange ocean creatures trapped there.

As I approached, I heard sobbing, and a wet flopping sound. I continued towards the sound, unafraid of anything I might find on this lonely beach. I crossed the tidal pool area and reached the far edge; there was a drop off below me of several feet. Laying in the sand was a sea-creature, the size of a medium car, its striped skin rubbery and smooth, fins sticking out and flapping against the wet sand. It had obviously beached itself. Its mouth was wide and round, and wide open. Half-emerged from its mouth was the girl. She was still, and I thought for a moment she was dead, but then she cried out and turned over onto her back, flinging her arms against the sand. Her face was contorted in fear, her eyes pouring out a high tide of tears, nearly drowning her simple beauty.

I jumped down alongside her, and brushed her hair from her face. “Quiet now… it’s all right. You’re safe. We’ve been looking for you….” She was conscious but she did not move. The creature rocked from side to side. I thought it might break her legs, still in the creatures mouth, in its movements. It looked at me, and snorted, but it was too strange for me to interpret that. Finally I grabbed ahold of her underneath each arm, and pulled her free. I blushed when my hand brushed her breast.

When she was out of the thing, I set her down. She sobbed once more and flung herself onto her stomach, covering her face with her arms. Her hair, wet and full of sand, stuck to her (green) back.

I touched her back, then stroked it. I ran the tips of my fingers softly along her neck. She felt cold. “Come on now, let’s get up… are you all right?” It seemed an odd thing to ask at the moment, and I laughed. A short bitter bark.

“Why did you save me?” She turned her head towards me. I smiled, and tried to think of a jaunty answer. She did not look at me, but stared down the beach, a million miles away. I stroked her cheek with the back of my hand. Softly, she closed her eyes and pushed up against my hand. Tears still flowed from under her closed lids.

On a sudden impulse I leaned down and kissed her. She did not move at first. I cradled her head in both hands and gently led her into a sitting position. I kissed her again. The ocean crashed on the rocks and beach.

After a moment, she kissed me back.

Sitting on the big overstuffed couch, reading the Sunday comics… I reach back and tap the cold meat of my hand (no, no longer my hand, but simply a hand, the dead hand) to remind myself it was still there… I dislodge it and it falls behind the couch, to land with a thump… I panic and pull the couch away from the wall; the hand lies palm up amongst the dust-bunnies… I pick it up and it seems flaccid and lukewarm… I wash it in the kitchen sink, but the flesh falls away, revealing the bones underneath… I cry, long and loud, and Mother comes in the room and watches me, without reaching for me, an indulgent look on her face… I cry for the loss of my hand.

When I awoke for the second time that day, her body lay beside me. But she was quite dead.

Tension – Daily Story Project #20

Another story started via a prompt from Random First Line Generator.

As soon as he walked in, he felt the tension dissipate; his shoulders slumped, his jaw unclenched, his fists for punching became hands for holding. He relaxed. Home free, Oliver thought. Home.

Despite the light outside, with the curtains down the apartment was dark. He walked down the entry hallway, pausing to put his keys in the bowl on the table by the door, and to hang up his coat on the wooden rack mounted on the wall. Simple actions he had been unable to do for months now.

The living room, even in the dark, gave a feeling of comfort. Not spotless, but not a complete mess. A couple of scraps of paper and a pile of magazines on the coffee table – oh, and a mug containing a trace of curdled cream and coffee. A sweater tossed over the back of a chair. Some crumpled receipts in the corner of the couch. A lived-in look.

As he walked through the familiar room, his shoe crunched on something as he felt a breeze from the window: a glint of glass shards on the carpet, the sound of sudden traffic outside penetrating the quiet.

The window had been broken in his absence. His tension returned.

“Welcome home, Ollie,” she said from the hallway.


“Why are you wandering around in the dark?”

Burst of light. He threw his hands up to his eyes, turned sideways to present a smaller profile, crouched.

“So dramatic. I take it you weren’t expecting company?” Klara hadn’t moved, her hand still on the wall switch.

“What do you want?”

“Just a friendly visit.”

He waved at the window. “Then why break in?”

She jangled a little keychain of tools. “I didn’t break the window. Believe it or not.”

Oliver sighed, straightened up, sat down on the couch. “No. I know you too well, I guess.”

“Good.” She stepped up and sat, in front of him, on the coffee table. “You’ve been gone too long. We’ve lost track of you. But we knew you’d come back here eventually.” She looked around. “Too many memories can be a weakness.”

He glanced at a side table, a picture in a frame: him and another man, younger than him, laughing, in dark tailored suits. On the wall behind Klara, another framed picture: he and Klara and the younger man, in a booth, drinks in front of them, the other man’s eyes red from the camera’s flash, probably.

“If you say so,” he said. “Is this where you try to convince me to come back?”

“No.” To his reaction, she continued. “Again, believe it or not.” She reached into a pocket and pulled out a simple white envelope. Printed in neat elegant handwriting, the words

Please, Ollie

Oliver’s forehead beaded with sudden sweat. He did not move.

“He wanted you to have this.” Pause. “Aren’t you going to take it?”

“Do I have to?” But he reached for it.

She said, softly. “I’m so sorry. He was my friend, too.” She stood. “Do you want to be alone?”

“Always. Seems I can’t, though.” Oliver held the envelope in both hands, laid across his lap, the words facing him. He turned it over; a seal of melted wax, an archaic symbol pressed into it. The paper felt heavy, the color a soft cream. He looked up at Klara, who now stood on the far side of the room at the entry hallway. She was still but she was facing him, arms clasped in front of her.

“We all have these. I gave mine to him. I’ve always wondered who had yours? Tell me. Please? I get the feeling this is the last time I’ll ever see you, especially after I open this.”

Where before she had been smooth and serene, now the facade cracked slightly. She shifted on her feet. Her hands became fists. Her shoulders tightened and rose just slightly. “It.” she began. A pause. “It would do you no good to know that. These aren’t meant to be discussed. They don’t want us to.”

“Their wishes didn’t always bind us, though.” He pried a finger under the envelopes’ flap, and began tearing. “I don’t give a fuck if you stay or not. He’s gone. I’m still here. You’re still here. It means nothing, because the world is still here, too.”

Klara slipped onto the couch, on the far end from Oliver, one leg folded underneath her, in one smooth motion. Her eyes focused directly on the envelope now in his hands. The light in the living room that had seemed punishing, now seemed to surround them with a warmth. In a sudden motion he ripped through the top of the envelope and pulled out the sheets within.

Unfolded, the page showed, in the same handwriting as on the envelope, the simple words:

I am still alive. PLAN EPSILON

Oliver coolly glanced up over the top of the page and looked directly at her. He allowed a tiny glint of a tear drop to fill his eye and then spill out and down his cheek. He said, “He always loved you. If I’d been there, I know his last thoughts would have been of you.”

“They were.”

The shot was deafening in the small apartment but even at such close range it missed him. Klara rolled to her right, over the coffee table, and sprang for the bedroom hallway. Oliver had rolled that way, too, however, and then with a leap, he managed to grab her leg and pull her down. They wrestled violently, punching and kicking, until finally she had the upper hand, pinning him easily.

“If you go for the gun again, I’m going to get free,” he said. “It’s a standoff.”

She smirked. “That bastard. How did he know?”

“You mean you didn’t read the letter beforehand?” Oliver showed genuine surprise.

“No. Of course not. They don’t want us to.” Cocked her head. “Wait. What did it say?”

From the bedroom came Chad’s voice. “I’ll never tell.” He stepped out into the room, limping, battered but still standing.

She laughed. “Fuck me for following orders. God dammit. Fine. You two win.” She stood up.

Facing each other, no obvious weapons in sight, but clearly on alert, they stood.

“What happens now?” Chad said.

They all laughed. The tension once again faded from the room.

A Year Ago Today – Daily Story Project #19

Tonight’s story is brought to you by the Random First Line Generator.

There was nothing left of the money, except for a hundred dollars in twenties, tens and ones, in the wallet in Alesia’s purse. It had been a great run. A year of living like the 0.01%; no worries, being able to travel anywhere, do anything, buy (or rent) anything or anyone.

Unburdened by the cares of those who have to earn their money as they need it, she had found it easy to connect to others, and just as easy to disconnect. Across the globe, the people she’d befriended, seduced, been seduced by. A tryst with the concierge in a posh New York hotel on her first night as an elite, ending when she flew away from him to Bermuda on a whim. A fling in Morroco with two students in a hostel. A long two week chaste romance in Sydney with a thin girl, only to break her heart when the girl had wanted her to meet her parents. Being swept off her feet during a parade in Oslo by a bearded bear of a man older than her father, who accused her of many hurtful things and drove her away after only a few days.

There were more, but, strangely, Alesia couldn’t remember their names. They were cities and emotions to her, fleeting memories of the year past. Like the cars she had driven, or the private planes she had flown in from… somewhere, to somewhere else. She had really lived it, every moment, but now she had nothing but memories, and barely enough money to pay for another couple of nights in this cheap motel.

She was in Las Vegas, where it had all began, but not in nearly the same circumstances. She looked around at the tiny room, that smelled of cigarette smoke despite being a non-smoking room, and heard the roar of jet airliners from McCarran International Airport even over the rattling air conditioner unit. She sat on the bed above the covers, and wondered what seedy things had been done in this room.

She tried to remember how she had gotten the card, the shiny ebony card with no markings that nonetheless had been her all access pass to the entire world. Did someone give it to her, a year ago, when she had been staying in a nicer (but not elite) room at the black pyramid on the Strip? Had she woken up with it that morning? Did someone leave it on a table when she wandered down to the buffet, hungover and happy, for her to find? Did she win it in some game of chance or bar bet?

Why couldn’t she remember?

It’s good that she had known enough to get some cash as the year wound to a close, but what was she going to do now? She’d left behind her life in an instant. The friend of a friend who had been getting married, 12 months ago, is probably living his life; her friends back home had probably given up looking for her, must think she’s dead. What little family she had barely cared she existed before. Alesia had had so few strings already, it had been easy to run away from it all.

And so, so worth it. Every moment had been supercharged, excited to a higher state of being.

She got up, put on her shoes, made sure she had her passport and purse. The ridiculously expensive gold iPhone appeared to be dead; it didn’t hold a charge as of midnight last night, wouldn’t power on. It felt inert in her hands. She tossed it on the bed. Maybe it would be of use to someone.

Her luggage, all bespoke and handcrafted by artisans, had been gone when she’d woken up today. All she had left was the passport, and the clothes she was wearing, the purse, and a small stack of money tucked into the purse.

Outside, the desert air blasted her even in the middle of the night. Looking over the wrought iron railing she could see, of course, of course, that the Mercedes SUV she had driven for the last several days was not in the spot she’d left it. Gone. All gone.

Alesia walked across the parking lot, and into the night. She would have to find a way to call someone, anyone, reconnect. What would she tell them, though?

Eight hours later, Victoria pushed her cart up to the door Alesia had abandoned. Not seeing a “Do Not Disturb” sign, she knocked, loudly.


A pause. Another knock. Another shout.

She entered the room and began her cleaning in the bathroom, moving efficiently towards the front of the room, as she had done dozens of times before.

When she stripped the covers off the bed, something small and lightweight, and a deep ebony, flew off, bounced off the mirror, and landed on the small desk, startling her. Victoria walked over to it. It looked like a credit card, but had some weight to it, and had no markings at all.

She poked at it, and when she touched it, she knew. She knew things could be different, starting right now.

Impound – Daily Story Project #18

The taxi dropped him off but didn’t stick around.

After Blaine provided his bona fides to the man in the booth, he had to fill out the paperwork, balancing the clipboard on his knee as he sat in a folding chair under gray skies, on a dreary Tuesday evening. Once he had that filled out, he signed a release form, and the man got out of his booth, putting up a “BE BACK IN 10 MINUTES” sign, and led Blaine across the gravel to the chain-link fenced area full of cars of all types. The man swiped a white plastic card on a battered black box; a red light turned green and a sharp click indicated the fence was unlocked.

“Thanks, man. This must be a boring job, huh?” Blaine tried some small talk. He felt overdressed in his navy suit and tie. His dress shoes crunched especially loud on the gravel.

“You might not know this,” the man said, “but I’m an officer of the law.” The man was wearing a polo shirt, jeans, and running shoes, but when he lifted the hem of his untucked shirt, he showed a badge hanging from his belt.

“Oh. Oh, I didn’t. I mean, I know this is a police impound lot, but.” Blaine stammered.

“Technically you should be calling me Officer.” The man stepped through the gate. Not looking back, he said, “I had to go to Police Academy, too. Had to pass DPSST Certfication and everything.”

“Geeze, I’m sorry, man, I mean, Officer. It’s been a long day, long week, even. Had my car stolen, had to take the bus for, like, three days… I don’t know what DPTS or whatever is. I didn’t mean any disrespect. I mean, ha, ha, you’re not carrying a gun or anything…”

The man stopped and turned around. “They took my gun away when I killed that kid.”

Blaine’s mouth moved but no sound came out.

“Sorry. Little joke.” The officer turned around, began walking again. “This is probably the most boring police job in the city. Here’s your car.”

The silver Chevrolet parked there was in bad shape. Covered in dirt and mud, with a crack in the windshield, and scratches and dents in the hood. One hubcap was missing that Blaine could see, and the driver’s side window was shattered entirely. He walked around, and found that the trunk had been forcibly opened and then tied shut with several white plastic zip ties.

“Oh, my… This is how they found it?” Blaine saw that the seats were filthy and he hoped it was just mud. There were fast food wrappers on nearly every surface inside, including in the driver’s seat, where they had been apparently compacted into a mosaic of waxed and foil-lined paper of various shades of red, white, and gold.

“Yup.” The man walked away.

“Wait, wait, this is it? I just get in and drive away? What about my car?”

“We’re done. That’s your car. Your insurance will probably cover everything. You’ve got insurance, right?”

“Of course I do, but. OK. Right. It’s… it’s safe to drive now, right?”

“As far as I know. I’ll hold the gate for you.”

Blaine opened the driver’s door, which creaked alarmingly, and caused little bits of safety glass to tumble out. He grabbed handfuls of the trash on the seat and pulled it out, ready to drop it to the ground, made eye contact with the man, whose name he still did not know, and then tossed the trash into the backseat. There was a sweet but musty odor in the car; he dutifully ignored it. The engine started, but he immediately noticed it was nearly out of gas.

“Of course,” he said. On his way out, he asked the man for the nearest gas station, the man just shrugged.

“We got gas here but I can’t let you use it. It belongs to the department.” The man waved Blaine on.

The gas station attendant gave Blaine some serious side-eye, prompting Blaine to stammer out “It was stolen. They gave it back to me like this. Can you imagine?” which softened the gas station attendant’s skepticism.

“That’s some shitty good luck,” she said, as Blaine handed her his debit card.


With the window broken and the windshield cracked, he didn’t want to risk running it through a car wash, so he drove it straight home, parking in the driveway. Changing into shorts and a t-shirt, with the October light fading to nighttime but the temperature still in the 70s, he brought some garbage bags out to collect all the trash.

In the passenger footwell he found some used needles.

The only gloves he could find were his wife’s gardening gloves, which barely fit, so he found some zipper lock plastic bags to handle the needles with. He drained a bottle of beer, after scrubbing his hands until they were red under hot soapy water, and put the baggie of needles in the bottle, and then tossed the bottle into the trash bag.

He was taping a plastic bag over the driver’s side window when his wife walked up, having taken the bus to work herself.

“Looks good. I’m so glad we got it in the two tone: brown and silver,” she said.

“Jesus, would you look at it? And the cops think this is OK? I’d almost rather not have gotten it back at all! You wouldn’t believe what I found in there! When they stole it they must have had some kind of party. It’s tainted, Yvonne. This car will never be the same.”

“You’re stressed out. It’s been a tough week. Have you called our insurance guy yet?”

“No. I have not called the insurance guy yet. I’m still adjusting to this.” He sighed. “It’s late. I’ll call them in the morning.”

“What the Hell did they do to the trunk?”

“It’s zip tied shut, apparently. They drilled holes in it.” Blaine opened the garage door and when he emerged he had a pair of diagonal cutters. Snip, snip, snip.

“Are you sure you should do that? How are you going to keep it closed?” Yvonne asked.

The trunk lid popped open. More trash filled the trunk, almost overflowing.

“It’s almost like they were hiding something,” Blaine said. He began stuffing the trash into his garbage bag. Suddenly he stopped.


“There’s something in here. Something solid.” He frantically scooped the remaining trash out onto the driveway, and uncovered a soft, plastic wrapped yellowish brick about the size of a milk crate.

“That’s heroin. It’s got to be. What the Hell is a giant brick of heroin doing in the trunk? Didn’t you get it back from the police?”

Minutes later, with the car safely in the garage, Blaine sat on a stool in his kitchen, on the phone to the police non-emergency line.

“Hi. So, my car was stolen, and it was recovered, and I picked it up, but, well, the thieves have left some things in the car. Yes. Well, funny thing. Mostly trash, and some bio hazard needles and things, and… I don’t really know how to say this, because it kinda feels incriminating, but… Yes. I’ll hold.”

Yvonne handed him a beer and she drank from one herself. “This is insane. Maybe you should call a lawyer first? Do we have a lawyer?”

“We have a lawyer. Wait. I have a lawyer. From my first marriage. But that’s a different special – Yes, I’m still here. I’m trying to report that there’s something in my car. My stolen car. No, no, no, I’ve got it back. Yes, the police, your department. Listen, this is super complicated but it doesn’t really have to be. I just have a question. What should I do with something that the thieves who stole my car left in – Yes. I’ll hold.”

Yvonne leaned against the center island. “Blaine. Are you on hold?”

“Yes, goddammit, I’m on hold. What?”

She smiled, her brown eyes lighting up under her brunette curls. “What do you think that brick is worth?”

“Jesus, Yvonne!” Blaine whispered to her, covering his entire phone with both hands. “I’m on the phone to the police right now!”

“I’m just saying. It’s got to be worth a lot. It’s, what, 10 pounds. 20 pounds?”

He waved his finger at her and listened to the phone again, turning away from her, hunching over. “Yes, I’m here. Look, this is simple. This may be a crime but I’m not confessing. Whoever stole my car left a substantial amount of drugs in the car. I don’t want it. Can I return it to the police department? Is there some kind of, of, drug impound, like there was a car impound? Surely this happens from time to – Yes. I’ll hold.” Blaine was softly but firmly pounding his fist on the counter, expressing his frustration, but his voice was affectless and calm.

Meanwhile, Yvonne had been typing things on her own phone. She looked up. “There’s a lot of variation in the results, and the latest information I can get is from 6 years ago, but heroin is, was at that time, I mean, at least $80-100 a gram. How many grams in a pound, Blaine? A lot, right?” She was whispering, too, but she was talking quickly, while still typing out searches on her phone with her thumbs.

“I’m here, officer, I’m here – Oh, sorry, ma’am, I just assumed. I met the guy at the impound lot and he was kinda pissy about it. I mean, I’m sorry, I’m proud of our police and all they do, but can I just find out where I can take this package I found in my trunk? Uh huh. Yes. OK. Really? Really? I… I guess. OK, then. Thank you. You, too.” He tapped Disconnect.

“If that’s 20 pounds, then we could be looking at almost a million dollars of heroin, Blaine. And it just fell in our lap.” She walked around the island, took his chin in her hand, and looked him dead in the eye. “And you just told the police that we have it. Why the fuck did you do that, Blaine?”

Blaine’s face was pale, but his voice was soft. “It doesn’t matter. They don’t want it. She said it was too big of a hassle. They don’t want it, Yvonne. I think I was just talking to some receptionist or something, because she, she brushed me off. That was a brush off. She didn’t want to bother a superior, and she never got my name or anything, and she told me to just destroy it myself.

“They don’t want it. It’s ours. Our problem, as she said.” Blaine sighed. “Can… can we just dump it somewhere? Would that be illegal?”

They sat and looked at each other for a long moment.

“Well,” Blaine said, “we are going to need some money to get the car fixed up…”