November 14, 20143 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Abandoned shoe

The police helicopter’s spotlight bounced through layers of Southern California dust on my windshield to illuminate the Chevy's dashboard. Hip-hop music nearly masked the scream of the police sirens behind me. I counted two news stations circling the orange-streaked evening sky above me. High-speed chase alerts were breaking news in this town, and mine could be spectacular, if I wasn’t careful.

You see, that night there was a full moon. With the sun dropping fast, my skin was already starting to prickle and burn. Griffith Park was the nearest wilderness LA had to offer, and I needed to get there fast, before the hairs started popping out and my transformation was underway. I punched the gas at the freeway exit and took the turn into the park on two wheels. 

A shiver pulsed through my body as my muscles expanded to split my khakis at the seams. I screeched into the deserted parking lot near the merry-go-round, five seconds ahead of three black-and-whites and a K9 unit. I kicked the door open with one foot-turning-paw, and my running shoe popped off like a billiard ball bouncing off of a pool table bumper. I heard car doors opening, and someone shouting “Stop and put your hands up!” but my wolf brain had already taken over. I threw my head back and howled at the moon before leaping into the scrubby hillside, shoes no longer needed.

November 7, 20142 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Sparrow

The portal had dissolved the hospital wall, but only Netta seemed to notice. The nurses flowed in and out of the room without so much as a glance at the garden that had materialized.

Netta tried to get the night nurse to pluck her a flower from one of wild bushes on the edge of the path. But her tongue couldn't form the right words, and her feverish pointing at the portal only convinced the nurse to bring her the bed pan.

Netta caught the faint scent of roses before the sharpness of rubbing alcohol erased it entirely. The nurse was back, and she took possession of Netta's arm and pricked its tender underbelly.

The nurse didn't notice when a sparrow flew out of the portal and sat on the bed railing. And she didn't react at all when the bird started singing. She only looked up from her vampiric task when Netta sang along with the bird.

But now it was Netta's turn not to notice. She was in the garden, silky grass under her feet. Her hand wrapped around one of the pink and white flowers bursting out of its fragile cage of thin branches and stiff leaves.

 

October 31, 20143 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Halloween Run

Kelly hopped up the curb and onto the dusty path that ringed North Hollywood Park. The loop was just under a mile, and she figured she could get two laps in before dusk dissolved to night and burn enough calories to enjoy at least some of her son's Halloween candy.

Ahead, the trail was empty. Everyone was either trick or treating or preparing for a night of revelry. But before she'd run five steps, out of the corner of her eye she sensed movement. A boy in a dirty white tshirt leaned against the scarred wood of one of eucalyptus trees lining the park, studying her with wide eyes.

Her initial smile faltered when the boy didn’t smile back. His reaction was not a reaction at all; instead he continued to watch her, eyes hooded, unblinking and malevolent. He gripped something brown and furry. She extended her legs in longer-than-usual strides, suddenly anxious to put some distance between them.

She heard a scratching sound behind her and glanced back, hoping to see a fellow jogger. Someone normal. But it was the boy running behind her, keeping pace. His sneakers made no sound on the path, nor did they kick up dust like hers did.

He quickened his pace to close the gap between them. He drew near enough that she could see the brown furry thing in his hand was a squirrel. And it was dead.

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as tall as acupuncture needles. She cut off the main path to a shortcut she knew would get her to the main street faster. She closed her eyes and ran for her car, parked under a streetlight 100 yards away.

With shaking hands she opened the car door and slid into the driver’s seat, only to see the dead squirrel laying on the passenger seat. 

She screamed. Perfectly framed within the rearview mirror was a reflection of the boy's eyes, dark and reptilian. Impossibly, supernaturally, he sat in the back seat.

The knife glinted in his hand.

October 24, 20143 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Haunted

The man in the Edgar Allen Poe tshirt wasn’t acting. He was actually bleeding to death on the grounds of Minta Deek’s Haunted Playground. But the drunken revelers ignored the moans and gurgles escaping from his slit throat. One even stepped over him and then called his performance “inauthentic.” 

Everyone’s a critic, Richard thought, wiping the knife handle on his shirt then tossing it in the thorns of an ugly shrub. Though, he had to admit, he had witnessed some pretty lackluster performances from the zombie crew by the swimming pool. Minta didn’t pay enough to attract top talent. It was one of the things they fought about as early business partners, before she forced him out of the company.

Hands and arms trembling, the dying man’s eyes started to close. One last cough shook his body and then he was still. Richard faded into the background and pretended to look at his phone. He hoped that Minta herself would appear on the scene so he could watch her reaction up close. 

One of the rent-a-cops stooped over the man and shook him by the shoulder, then backed away as fast as a little girl from a snake.

“We’ve got a situation,” he said into his radio. “Someone’s been murdered.” Pause. “No, I’m not f--king kidding, Albert, you idiot. Some guy got his throat slit.”

Richard thought about the bouquet of flowers he had sent to Minta today, after signing the separation papers. “Good luck with your business,” he wrote on the card. He hoped she would get the sarcasm as he intended, once she realized that her haunted playground was a crime scene and soon would be shut down. What he really wanted to say was "good luck with your lawsuits and insurance and bad publicity" but sometimes subtlety was best.

October 17, 20142 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Spooky dooky

The power went out and with it every electrical form of entertainment that kept Anna and Jackson and their babysitter Makenna occupied.

Makenna didn’t like the way the darkness turned the potted plants into monsters or the way it amplified the old house's unfamiliar creaks. But she worked so hard to convince her parents that she was responsible enough to babysit at the ripe old age of 13, so no way was she going to let on that she was scared by a little power outage.

Rubbing the stone of courage on her charm bracelet, Makenna forced a big smile. “I've got a fun idea! Let’s play spooky dooky,” she said. “It’s like hide and seek, but in the dark with a flashlight.”

“Do we get flashlights?” Anna asked.

“Only the seeker gets the flashlight. Now you two hide while I count to ten, and I’ll come find you.”

“Will you close your eyes?” Jackson said.

“You don’t have to close your eyes in the dark!” she said, giving him a little tickle.

Something about the darkness made her hearing more acute. She could hear Anna’s heavier steps on the staircase, and Jackson’s on the wood floor of dining room. In the kitchen, the plastic flap of the dog door slapped back and forth.

"Cookie, come here." She wanted the labrador's company; the big dog made her feel safer. But she didn't hear the sound of nails on the kitchen linoleum. Just a heavy thump.

Maybe Cookie was lying down for a nap.

She started counting in a loud voice.

“10, 9, 8...” 

It was so quiet in the house, without cartoons or video games or the hum of the refrigerator or whoosh of the air conditioner. It made Makenna’s thoughts so loud. And had she always breathed so fast?

“7, 6, 5...” She paused, waiting to hear the dog’s nails on the kitchen linoleum. Instead there was a heavy thump. Maybe Cookie was laying down for a nap. 

“4, 3, 2...” 

“1,” she called out. “Here I come!” Jackson giggled. 

Makenna turned the flashlight on and walked to the kitchen, looking for Cookie. She swung the beam of light across the kitchen floor.

A pair of men’s brown boots shone in the quivering beam of the flashlight. Her breathing get heavier, like she was hyperventilating. The kitchen floor felt like it was covered in glue, holding her flip-flops in place. Goosebumps appeared on her arms despite the warmth of the night.

With shaking hand, she scanned the light beam up on dark jeans, a black zip-up sweatshirt, and a face shadowed by a hood. In his hand was an empty cloth sack. 

She lost her grip on the flashlight. Its light bounced violently around the room until it hit the floor and rolled toward him.

"I'll find the children for you," he said, picking up the flashlight.

October 10, 2014No Comments

Fiction in a minute: Method acting


“Surprised!” Grayson typed in the caption box under the selfie he just posted. It was part of his “emotional expression” series of self-portraits he was posting on his blog, a reaction to a casting director who recently said his facial expressions weren’t subtle enough for on-camera work. Jerk.

The doorknob on his apartment door rattled. He clutched the phone in the palm of his hand and rose from the couch. It was too early for his roommate Elijiah to be back from the movie premiere.

Metal on metal clicks, a catch and the bolt sliding out of the lock. He tried to peer through the peephole but saw nothing but the reflection of his own eye.

“Elijiah?” No answer, just the sound of his own light, quick breathing. 

The door handle turned, and Grayson put his hands out to hold it shut. But the force applied on the other side was too strong for him to counter. He watched helplessly as his feet slid back on the entryway linoleum and the door swung open.

Grayson didn’t recognize the man. Tall, shoulders as broad as Elijiah’s Prius, black hair and dark brown eyes. Good looking but too old to be Grayson’s type. One of Elijiah’s kinky daddies maybe?

Then Grayson saw the man’s fingers were curled around the handle of knife with a nasty curved tip.

Grayson was seriously under-armed and out of his weight class. He’d have to go for ingenuity. He grabbed his keys from the nearby table and rushed the man, aiming the sharp metal ends at his eyes. The man slammed his palm into Grayson’s shoulder, blasting the keys and the phone from his hands and onto the floor. Then, with a smooth, trained movement, he knocked his fist into Grayson’s jaw, caught him as he reeled back and dragged him to the couch. Grayson went limp against the cushions with fear while the man bound his hands and feet with zip ties.

Satisfied Grayson wasn’t going to move, the man picked up the phone and swiped at its screen. Knife in one hand, he held the phone up and the flash went off.

“You can call this picture ‘fear’,” the man said. “Should I post it?”

He turned the screen around to show Grayson a picture he hardly recognized of himself--eyes bulging, mouth gaping open, split lip starting to swell.

“You’re sick, ” Grayson spat. 

The man leaned in, his curly black hair tickling Grayson’s nose and filling it with the smell of herbal shampoo. Grayson pulled his knees up, hoping to find enough leverage to connect with the man’s balls. Then a sharp pain bit into the underside of his forearm and his legs went slack.

Tears sprung to Grayson’s eyes as two drops of blood slid off the knife and onto the beige carpet.

“What do you want?” 

The man held up the phone again and took another picture. “This one is called ‘pain.’” He showed Grayson the image--watery eyes, color drained from his face, lips pressed together tight. Grayson’s breathing was light and shallow, sticky blood pouring out of his arm. He struggled against the zip ties and fell onto his side.

“Now, now,” the man said, swiping at the phone. “You’ve already got five ‘likes’ from your friends for the fear photo.”

He peered at the screen closely. “In fact, Lisbeth says you are a brilliant actor.”

Grayson could see his blood streaking the sofa. He was already feeling light-headed. He squirmed and inched his way to the far side of the couch, trying to get enough distance between them to land a kick on the man’s abdomen before he could do any more harm.

So, let’s try the ‘pain’ one again. The first one wasn’t your best work.”

Grayson rolled on his spine and kicked out his feet into the man’s gut as hard as he could. The man grunted and stumbled backward against the kitchen counter. The knife went flying, hitting the flatscreen TV before falling to the carpet with a thud. Grayson fell from couch and reached for the knife, cutting the zip ties and placing the knife under the man’s chin.

“Who in the hell are you and what do you want?”

“Cool it, man. Cool it. Elijiah sent me. I’m Ryan from Actor’s School. He said you were trying to tap into your deepest feelings. He wanted me to help. He thought you might even find it a turn on.”

Grayson let the words sink in. Ryan from Actor’s School. Elijiah’s method actor friend he was always talking about. 

Ryan smiled at him. “Fear is the real deal, isn’t it? Clears the mind.”

Grayson looked at the wound on his arm. Already the blood had stopped flowing. The cut wasn’t as deep as he thought, though it still burned.

Grayson felt the laughter in his belly first, shaking his core and then erupting from his swollen lips. 

October 3, 20141 Comment

Fiction in a minute: Killer app

Ashley and Calvin stood behind their orange shopping cart, arms touching but eyes fixed on their smart phones as they waited for the one Big Lots cashier to work her way through a line of 20 customers.

“That candy corn display has me thinking," Ashley said. "Let’s go to one of those haunted house thingeys. There is a zombie one at Universal Studios."

“I’m so over zombies,” he said, his eyes flicking through football scores on the tiny screen. “Anyway, tickets to that are, like fifty-five dollars. We don’t have that kind of money.”

Ashley sighed. He was right. The ramen noodles, no-name laundry detergent, and scratchy toilet paper in their cart were a testament to their lack of funds. She swiped and clicked the phone’s touchscreen, looking for budget Halloween festivities.

“Hey, here’s a free app. Spooky crime scene sites in Los Angeles. Says it guides you around haunted sites in LA.”

Calvin pulled his eyes from the sports mobile app to Ashley. “I bet I can name most of them,” he said, tapping his fingers against his crinkled forehead. “Black Dahlia murder site near USC. The Manson murder site in Benedict Canyon. Fairfax & Wilshire where Tupac was shot. Nicole Simpson's condominium in Brentwood. Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel.”

“You’re a trivia ghoul, Calvin,” she said. “Look, one of the places is right around the corner. It’s that boarded up house on Weddington.”

Calvin squinted at her screen. “A young couple was found brutally murdered in an abandoned house in North Hollywood. Suspects were never found; no motive was discovered. Does it say when that happened?”

She scanned the text and shook her head. “Nope. But let’s load the stuff in the car and walk over there. Cheap thrills.”

The house was a shell of neglect, its yard a wasteland of dried up plants and fast food wrappers. Sandwiched between two derelict warehouses, it smelled faintly of burning trash. Calvin shivered. 

“This is stupid, Ash, let’s go home,” he said, but she just smiled and scrambled through a hole in the fence to stand on the porch. “Take my picture, honey,” she said. 

The front door creaked open. Ashley screamed as a man’s dark silhouette covered her and disappeared into the house.  

Heart pounding, Calvin ducked through the cut chain-link and ran through the door. A second man stood in the shadows, light glinting off of the gun he held.

“Come on in,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

September 26, 20142 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Target practice

Safety reasons. That was what I told everyone at Gunslingers firing range that morning when they asked why I wanted to learn how to shoot a gun. It was a lie. Julianne and I were there to meet men, but saying that out loud makes you look desperate. Saying we needed protection was the perfect answer. No one was going to ask us any more questions. They were afraid we had sad stories to tell. The truly clever bit is that everyone knows guys can't resist a damsel in distress. Go read Sleeping Beauty or Twilight or see a James Bond movie and you'll see I'm right.

Last night Julianne and me did a little manhunting at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was pretty depressing. I seriously needed a beer after hearing all those sad stories. But you can't drink with those guys. They get all serious about it, like one beer is going to kill them. Guys who shoot guns have to be more fun than teetotalers, right?

Damn, though, pickings were more slim at Gunslingers than they were on that online dating site for old folks. Julianne started in with the instructor, fluttering those long eyelashes she started growing since her doctor prescribed those glaucoma eye drops. That left me with grizzled grandpa, barbed wire tattoo guy, or mystery man who didn't speak English.

I pointed at the box of guns the instructor brought in. "Is there a pink one?" I asked no one in particular. Barbed wire tattoo guy ignored me; mystery man posed for a selfie photo clutching his revolver to his chest. Grandpa smiled politely at me, so I picked up the revolver by the muzzle and looked confused.

"Do you know how to load this?"

Gramps took it out of my hands and filled it with bullets in one smooth movement.

"You're so good at that," I purred.

"Been doing it for years," he said.

"Maybe I don't need to learn how to shoot a gun. I can just take you home with me," I said. His polite smile morphed into a surprised grin.

Bulls-eye.

 

 

September 19, 20141 Comment

Fiction in a minute: North Hollywood Park

Urban Camping

Urban camping along Tujunga Blvd.

The normals abandoned the park to the squirrels and the homeless that white hot afternoon. They retreated to air-conditioned hinterlands with their fancy red headphones and silly dogs and trilling smart phones and neon sneakers, and left in their wake an easy and welcome camaraderie among the urban campers who called this patch of city land home.

Squinting in the sun on the doorstep of his shabby RV, James was relieved to be free of the ever-present normals. Their sidelong glances barely masked their quick judgments about people who lived in vehicles parked along Tujunga Boulevard. And their whispers were so easy to overhear. I can’t imagine living like that, can you? Where do you think they shower?

James wanted to tell them he’s between jobs. That this was better than sleeping on concrete or in a shelter. But he doubted they would listen.

They would not want to hear that he’s just like them. Nor would they believe it.

Shaded by the weeping branches of a eucalyptus tree, James smoked marijuana and drank warm beers with his neighbors. They swapped made-up stories about where they came from and let the sun and the drugs and the laughter convince them they'd get back there someday.

September 12, 20141 Comment

Fiction in a minute: Gardner’s chill pills

Gardner's Chill Pill Cure Ad

Doc Wimple loved to diagnose the curious fair goers who came to his traveling medicine show, and this show in Jamestown was no different, despite the heat and threat of rain. After quickly sizing up a teenage girl with eczema and a baby with colic, he focused on the tiny, wasp-waisted lady who with a swish of skirts and a snap of her fan pushed her way to the front. Her dark eyes bored through him like thread through the eye of a needle.

Woman's troubles were the obvious choice for a high strung filly like her, Doc thought, but that was too simple. He ruled out headache or back pain, because she didn't seem to be suffering acutely in the sun. Nervous disease maybe?

She solved the mystery for him. "Do these pills help a person sleep?" she asked. Her lips pressed together in a thin line like she'd already decided he was a liar.

Doc Wimple nodded. Some fellows got insulted when a woman presented such attitude, but he didn't mind. He liked her confidence and he liked questions from the crowd. Years of experience taught him that disbelievers like her actually wound up convincing others to buy more of his product.

"Yes, without question, Gardner's Chill Pills will help you sleep. These pills are prompt to act and sure to cure. And just 50 cents for this full bottle."

"I sleep fine," she said. "It's my husband who has trouble sleeping most nights with stomach pains. Do your pills help with stomach ailments?"

"Gardner's Chill Pills can cure all diseases of the stomach, liver and kidneys. It is also proven to remove pimples, shrink boils, cure headaches and purify your blood," Doc said. "You, sir, there in the overalls. You got back pain? Headaches? Because this pill here can stop those - and also your toothaches, earaches, neuralgia, stiff joints."

The man in overalls nodded and opened his mouth to answer, but the lady in the green dress cut him off. "What about gout?" she said. A teenage girl with a face full of freckles looked at her wristwatch; two young men exchanged glances and drifted away.

He'd misdiagnosed the woman in the green dress. Her confidence, he thought, wasn't confidence at all. It was a deep neediness to be heard.

"Gout, consumption, croup, melancholy, dropsy, pain in the back -- Gardner's Chill Pills help with all of that. Heads of state, Arabian princes, movie stars and even the Governor of North Carolina can attest to their effectiveness."

"Does it make your stomach burn? I took Brown's Bitters and..."

Her words trailed off as a tall man with a scruffy grey beard and wire rim glasses framing flint grey eyes appeared on the edge of the crowd, taking the place of a young couple who had wandered off hand-in-hand.

Doc Wimple watched as the woman physically transformed, her body deflating like a pin-pricked balloon. Her lowered eyes darted between him and the grey man.

She pressed her lips even tighter and bowed her head. She walked to the man and silently followed him through the crowd and home without buying the pills. They wouldn't have helped her problem anyway, Doc Wimple thought.