The Button Collector – FREE!

For those looking for something to read, but who are on a limited budget, I am making one of my short stories, “The Button Collector,” free for all. It is one of the lead stories in my anthology, Stories In Analog, available from Amazon.


“The Button Collector” is a short story about Moshe Zacharias, an old man trying to survive in changing mid-1960s New York City. Here’s the blurb from Smashwords:

“Old man Zacharias only wanted to be left alone to collect, and perhaps even sell, his buttons in the small shop his late father left him. Life, he would find, wasn’t that simple.

In one of the lead short stories from the anthology, Stories In Analog, an old man tries to survive the cultural upheaval of his New York neighborhood as it transitions into the 1960s. The neighborhood toughs won’t leave him alone, however, and Zacharias will have some hard choices to make.”

Those interested in obtaining a pdf version of the story can download via the link below:

The Button Collector

The rest of you can find a copy on Smashwords at the following link: Download from Smashwords! The story is available in .mobi (Kindle), epub, .txt, and pdf formats. You can also read it on Smashwords’s online reader, if you’re interested (though pdf is easier).

Download a copy, and let me know what you think! Cheers.

Excerpt – WIP #7 from a Collection of Short Fiction

I am working on a short fiction collection that gives canon-level stories to accompany my (at least 10-book) future fiction collection. This is an excerpt from a novelette called The Dragons of Koet’sö. I’ve also penned a novella and one short story for the collection, so I’m making good progress. Not sure of the order I’ll try to publish these, since I’ve six completed novel manuscripts, but those details can be worked through later. Anyway, here it is.

Cheers for reading.

Nora stood up, lifting herself off the ground with all the grace of a feather wafting in the breeze. “I want to get an image of this.”

Herk watched as she trotted over to her pack and pulled out an imager. She floated back to the edge of the precipice and stood on both toes, extending herself to get the shot she liked. He gasped as the saffron and sage beauty held her pose, standing on the tiptoes of her front foot and balanced en pointe on her rear one. He heard the imager’s click and realized he hadn’t exhaled until—for that brief, breathless instant—she lifted her front foot off the ground and held it a beat while she looked over the imager at the scene below. She was ballet. She was grace and more beautiful than any sunset. An instant later, her feet found the ground and the moment was over. Nora turned to leave and Herk exhaled.

“I’m going too,” said Starr. She rolled her body backward, meeting the hard rock with her head and hands, pushed off with her palms, and then cartwheeled one leg and then the next over until she was standing erect facing away. Herk sat looking at her tail swishing away and wondering how she’d managed a 180-degree turn during a cartwheeled backflip without his seeing the move. Nora was a natural ballerina, but Starr was a gymnast. She would rise from a chair and make it seem as though she’d just dismounted the balance beam. Nora as often made Herk want to take her slim waist and send her aloft, though he suspected she never heard the music he was certain she danced to. The universe—this planet included—routinely danced with both of them even though neither seemed to notice.

How am I married to these two women? Why would they choose a lunk like me? He sucked in the emotional breath they’d torn from him, again, and turned to try to lift his lanky loins from the ground. He felt awkward, clumsy, unworthy. Standing, he trotted over to Starr, who was standing near Nora. The sky had gone purple, as though it had seen Jemini and wanted to imitate her coloring. It’s in love with her too.

Precisely then, a bolt of lightning flashed horizontally across the sky and directly overhead. Moments later, it began to snow. Bash and Vash’kir held their hands aloft, catching the flakes. Vash’kir’s eyes were whiter than ever as though it had snowed within his irises. Tris and Alsu were speaking though their voices couldn’t be heard. Alsu kept shaking her head no, as though in answer to the girl’s questions.

Starr looked nervously toward Tris but said nothing.

“Well, that’s new,” said Herk, looking up in the sky.

“Snow in the mountains of Koet’sö during the summer averages one cent every three years,” said Nora.

“Is that from your book?” he asked.

“Yes, page 115.”

“I guess Mother Nature didn’t read it, then.” He pulled his collar higher and pushed himself erect, reaching down and helping Nora up. Let’s go help set up the tents so we can warm up and get a fire started.”

“I’m starting to think this mountain doesn’t like us or something,” said Nora.

“Yeah, or something,” said Starr, still looking nervously at her stepdaughter.

Selina Makes a Donation – From “The Holy Mother of Selina Sky”

Below is an excerpt from my personal favorite story, a novelette called “The Holy Mother of Selina Sky.” It is about a little girl who may or may not be touched by the Divine. I hope you enjoy it.

On my next day off, we were back in the art district. I tried not to be obvious as to my real destination, so I took Selina through the large park in the city’s central district. I rode my bike and pulled Selina in a fancy three-wheeled bike trailer that I could still push when needed. We’d found it second hand and were able to swap her bulkier stroller as an even trade. I figured losing the memory of the device she was in when her mother abandoned her was a good idea. At the edge of the park, we encountered a small family who’d obviously been living there. The two children were neat and as clean as one might expect to be while sleeping on a park bench. The mother and father were nearby, with the father holding a sign asking for help and the mother bagging clothes she’d just washed at a nearby Laundromat. Selina asked me why they had their clothes outside, and I did my best to explain homelessness to the three-year-old. I must have done an adequate job, since she climbed out of the stroller and begged me to “Help them, Mama.”
Normally, I don’t help people in the street as you end up just subsidizing their substance abuse problems. However, you could tell these people were different. Besides, I was well aware that were it not for Terri and her husband, Bradley, that could have been Selina and me. I checked my wallet. I had exactly $10 and wouldn’t have more until I was paid the following day. Even then, it wouldn’t be exactly a windfall.

“I can’t baby. Daddy doesn’t have much money.”

She just looked at me with her chin and lower lip poked out. So. Very. Stubborn. “Honey, I want to help, but I have to buy you food for tomorrow’s breakfast.” No dice. I sighed and capitulated. “Here, baby.” I handed her my last $10. “You give it to him.” It was from her, after all.

She took the bill and to my surprise marched right past the family, still holding the money. Never even looked at them. She strode purposefully across a short patch of grass and up the sidewalk for a full city block to a window-barred convenience store that looked like it might sell nothing but cigarettes, liquor, and guns. I was chasing behind her, once I got unstuck from the muddy grass, and caught up to her at the door of the store. “Honey, I thought you wanted to help the family,” I said.

“Need more money,” she said. The resolute look had not left her face.

“I don’t have any more, sweetie.”

Instead of answering, she began tugging at the door. After a couple of seconds, I pulled it open for her and we entered. I was wrong about the store’s inventory—they didn’t sell guns. Selina strode to the counter where an enormous, surly man in a porkpie hat sold Lottery tickets. Without so much as a word, she handed him the tenner. She gave no sign of being intimidated by his size. He took the bill, pulled off a $10 ticket, and handed it to her. She turned, still silent, and marched to the door. The man looked at me, but I just shrugged. By now, I was intrigued as to where this was headed, so I followed her. Back down the sidewalk she went, across the muddy grass, and to where the father still stood. For the first time, she smiled and handed him the lottery ticket. He looked at her, then to me.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s a gift from my daughter. She must think you look lucky.”

He gave a surprisingly genuine laugh. “I could use some of that. I got laid off six months ago and haven’t found work yet.”

I told him my coffee shop was looking for custodial help, if he didn’t mind getting a little dirty.
“I live in a park,” he answered. “I can do dirty.”

I scribbled the information on the back of his sign and Selina and I headed out, now poorer than the homeless family in the park. We got no more than thirty feet before I heard a man scream. I turned, and saw the father rush over to his wife. She screamed, looking frantic, and then he turned and headed directly toward us, waving the card in the air. I found myself backing up, fearful he was angry that the ticket was worthless. Selina was watching placidly.

“Mister!” the father said, breathless. I stood, awaiting the inevitable punishment for my good deed. The father reached me, followed closely behind by his family. “Here, you gotta take this back.” He handed me the ticket.

I looked at it, then at Selina, and grinned. I handed it back. “Nope. It was a gift.”

“But … it’s too much,” his wife said.

“Like I said, my daughter thought you looked lucky.” I winked at Selina who gave me one of her best grins. We left the family there, crying and hugging in the park, holding their $50,000 winning ticket. It wasn’t enough to make them rich, but it would surely make up for whatever income they’d lost. To my unending pleasure, the father, Antonio, showed up at the coffee house the next morning, neat as a pin, looking for work. We hired him on the spot. As for me, I finally understood my role as the Holy Mother of this special little girl … this amazing, spooky, little kid. I would be poor, but we would survive. Plus, I had Selina Sky. As far as I was concerned, that made me the richest man in the city.

When Women Wore Shoes

So, I wrote another novelette. It starts like this:

Where I come from, women often wore shoes, which, to the best of my knowledge, never caused anyone dismay, in and of itself. Irina liked shoes more than most, which again, was not a problem per se. The potential for problems would have arisen only on warm days when she wore her best high-heeled, strappy sandals and nothing else. Truth be told, it wasn’t her nudity that bothered people, or should I say, more specifically, the guys, since only men ever seemed uncomfortable with her flesh (and were they being honest, I think most men would confess that they weren’t even slightly bothered by seeing her lovely skin). Rather, what troubled them was that the law protected women so fully that men weren’t allowed to accost, fondle, molest, assault, abduct, intersect, cat call, ogle, languidly peruse, or even acknowledge them or their nudity without a woman’s express, verifiable consent. It is the inability to own what they desired that troubled that small minority of men. The penalty for such behavior was typically public censure followed by having one’s genitals forcibly removed with a sharp instrument, often a set of wire cutters. The police won’t do it, and the courts certainly do not administer such punishment due to worries about the constitutionality of corporal punishment, but be assured that someone will intercede and the perpetrators will have their testicles removed. If their genitals aren’t removed, then they were likely killed straight away and you will never find the body, intact or dismembered. We’re not savages, so you won’t get de-balled for giving a pretty girl a hard look, but you will certainly be neutered if you touch her. Sometimes all the Law has to do to be effective is not to punish those who enforce it. Women were quite willing to do so, once they realized they had the power to do so.

Fool O’Clock – Part 2

Part 1 is here.

When I get to the office, the Director is annoyed that I did an unauthorized handle on my own. She doesn’t care that the fool got dealt, but the clean up with the metro cops meant I was late to another sector meeting. The woman lives for deskwork and can’t for the life of her figure out why I keep getting my “hands muddy” with fieldwork. Yeah, she’s probably right, but you can only ride a desk so long before it rides you back. This glorified chief of staff shit is for the birds. I’m a cop, not a stapler. I don’t belong on a goddamned desk.

At eleven-thirty, instead of being at lunch, I’m in the Director’s office. Her name is Durante, like that comedian with the big nose. She doesn’t look anything like him, though. She’s quite a looker, with brown hair streaked with blond, a nice figure that’s gone from bowling pin to hourglass since she took up running, and a face that my grandpa would have called “handsome.” Hell, she’s kind of hot, to be honest.

“Pyle,” she says, “you got lucky.” “Turns out your little improv at Grosvenor was quite a piece of work. Seven arrests for assault, all but one on his wife, the charges dropped every time.”

“He was a piece of something. Who was the other assault?”

“His fifteen-year-old daughter. The wife convinced her to say she made it all up. Cops didn’t buy it, but they had no proof, so they dropped the charges.”

“Wasn’t the girl being banged up proof enough?” I’m starting to like my impulsiveness about now.

“The mother sent the girl to stay with relatives in West Virginia for a week. By the time they tracked her down, no evidence.” A look flashes across her face that could kill a lesser man. “When I read between the lines, I got the impression there was more than assault going on with the daughter.”

She looks hard at me, and I get exactly what she means.

“Nice,” I say. I feel like spitting. “Maybe we add the mother to the list?”

Durante shook her head. “No. For one thing, this is small-time, Pyle. We don’t have the resources to take out every single fool in the country.”

“That’s kind of our mission, chief.”

“Yeah, but it isn’t our budget.”

I had no answer for her there. I know some guys who would happily do the work pro bono, but most of them I wouldn’t trust.

“Besides,” she says, “That’s why I wanted to meet with you. I have a different assignment for you – big time, highest authority.”

“You mean your cousin,” I say. I am being a jerk, but she deserves it.

Durante sits up, making herself look as tall in her seat as she can. “My relationship to the President is professional, Jim, not personal. I resent the implication. It’s a delicate relationship, given she’s the first POTUS we briefed on our agency.”

“Dammit, Jim, I’m a Director, not a Nepotist,” I say. I’m cracking myself up by now.

“If you don’t want the field ops, I can find somebody else,” she says. She turns her chair and faces the computer. I think I hurt her feelings. Girls are tough to figure.

“Come on, boss. You know I’m just teasing.”

“You’re a real jerk, you know that?” she says. “No wonder they call you Pyle of Shit behind your back.” I get a frown.

“You’re making that up.” I know I’m frowning too, but I can’t help it.

“Maybe,” she says, with just a hint of a smile. She and I go way back – we irritate each other, but she’s the boss, and I’m a good company man. I know when the room is getting cold and it’s time to turn the charm back on.

“So, what’s this exciting new adventure that’s going to finally unglue me from my chair?”

“Highest-level-clearance mission.”

“Understood.” That’s her way of saying the joking is over.

“You’re up to speed with the conflict between the Oval Office and Congress?”

“Yeah, it’s been going on for decades, but this is worst it’s ever been. Jesus, fucking fist fights in the Capitol building.”

“Right. The President has set an all-time record for vetoes. Nothing is getting done, because Congress keeps sending over bills the President says violate the mandate the people gave her when she took office.”

“Hard to argue – she did have almost two-thirds of the popular vote.”

“Yeah, but she won as an Independent. The Left and the Right have a lot of power to lose if she’s successful.”

“Not if she’d just play ball.”

“She’s an idealist, Jim. I’ve tried talking to her. She’s determined to do what the people need, come hell or high water.”

“Or impeachment. Meanwhile, they step on her agenda, and nothing gets done. In three more years, someone else gets elected President.”

“That seems to be the plan. It may be the first time in fifty years that the two major parties ever worked together on anything. It’s the President against Congress, and the country’s at a stalemate.”

Durante sat back in her chair, folded her arms, and stared at me. It took a while to sink in, but then I got it. That was the operation. “Holy hell, Sarah, you want us to do the President?”

“God no! Congress.” I stare at her, but don’t say a word. “She’s my favorite cousin, Jim. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

By now, I’m thinking she’s nuts. She is sitting at her desk, just as calm as you please, in a creased white blouse, black skirt, and one of those little woman ties no one else but her on the planet still wears. She’s talking high treason and asking what’s wrong with me.

Fool O’Clock – Part 1

“Oh shit, it’s Fool o’clock.”

“Wha’?”

The grumble next to me is the wife – likely the co-conspirator who turned the damned alarm off. It’s on her side of the bed, per her demand, after I broke my hand trying to break the last one.

“I said, ‘It’s Fool o’clock.’ I’m supposed to be in a meeting right now.”

“Stop whining, comb your air, and video conference with them, Gomer. They’ll think you’re too involved doing whatever you do for them to come in.” She turns over and jerks the covers off me like Monday morning was my idea.

For the record, my name is not Gomer. It’s Jim Pyle, but she thinks it hilarious to call me Gomer. Fortunately, she only calls me that when I’m pissing her off, or whenever we have company. She’s one lazy-ass, sarcastic woman, my wife. That’s why I love her; she’s my fucking soul mate. I’m thinking at some point I should tell her what I do for a living. Then again, why spoil a good thing? We’ve been together for six years, and in all that time, the subject of work has never come up. It’s not so much that I’m hiding things from her as it is that I don’t like to talk about work, and she doesn’t give two shits.

I work out of a federal government office in D.C. for an agency that most people would tell you don’t exist. So let’s go with that. My agency doesn’t exist. In fact, it hasn’t existed since the Nixon administration got sick of that Woodwind and Birnbaum duo who broke the Watergate story. It wasn’t the two reporters that got the Trickster all worked up; it was the stupid shits that set the whole thing up and then fumbled what should have been a simple cover up.

Want to know a secret about big government conspiracies? Most of them never happened. No, not in the way my job never happened, I mean they actually never took place. There was no second shooter on the grassy knoll; they didn’t need one, considering Oswald was a fucking trained sniper. Area 51 is just a test flight area attached to Andrews Air Force Base and the only aliens housed nearby snuck in from Mexico. Yes, there are secret messages in the dollar bill, but nobody remembers what the hell they mean. Whoever wrote the code damned sure didn’t let Barack Obama into their little club. Here’s a clue; if you can find it on the Internet, there’s no clandestine plot. Real secrets are damned hard to keep and take a lot of work. People talk too much, and there are more fuck ups in the Fed than a plenty. Not more than anywhere else mind you, it’s just that there are enough of them to go around. All you need is one bigmouth or ass-o-lantern to turn a beautiful plot into a steaming pile.

Ask Ollie North if you don’t believe me.

For the record, there is no such agency as the Bureau of Fool Abatement, we don’t call it BFA, and it definitely is not under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security. If there were such an agency, I am certain our Commander in Chief would know about it. I ain’t no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure there would be a law somewhere requiring it – especially since DHS works for the woman. Since Madam President does not know about it, we don’t exist – otherwise, the agency I don’t work at would be in defiance of the law. That’s damnright treasonal. Since I am clearly a patriot, I couldn’t be involved in such an enterprise. Ipso facto, there is no BFA.

Ain’t logic sweet?

I’m just screwing with you – of course we exist. We just keep our shit under wraps, if you get my drift. In fact, the current President is the first one to be told we even exist – unofficially, of course. We give the lovely Number 47 plausible deniability. That frees us up to do the nation’s dirty work. Plus, since our little piece of the budget is classified, we don’t have an official line item to trace. That lets us be completely invisible when we want to. Now, this being a media age, there is power in stealth, but there’s even more in making the right information available at the right time. It’s just that everything we do has to be off the record.

It’s like UFOs, for instance. Some clown in Podunk, Arkansas sees some flashing lights, right? And despite his 29 IQ and a piece-of-shit camera phone from 2014, he manages to get blurry, but plausible video. It ain’t enough to win a Pulitzer, but it is enough that our enemies wonder if Spacemen from Antares II are real, or if the good old US of A had some secret government military project brewing. The answer is, of course, hell yeah. (You didn’t hear that from me.) Meanwhile, the bad guys with money have to spend it all on military to keep up with us, and the ones who are broke know not to screw with us. Plus, the video is just crap enough that all the dickhead trolls on YouNews can claim their brother-in-law can Photoshop the same damn thing. Plausible deniability. Madame President is happy, as are her corporate sponsors.

Ain’t democracy grand? I fucking love this kind of work.

Likewise, we at BFA leak just enough chatter to keep the right people nervous. Still not sure why leaks are important? I mean, why not keep your secrets secret, right? Two reasons. First, contrary to what you see in the movies, it does nobody any good to have an operation no one knows about. If you are a group dedicated to the freedom of society, you want folks pissing in their pants at the thought of violating your mandate and having you come after them. They can only be afraid if they know you’re out there … somewhere. I call it the J. Edgar Hoover School of Management. A genius, that man.

Second, no matter how hard you try, classified material gets out there. Some broke son of a bitch sells something to a news agency, some James Bond wannabe gets his hands on good paper, or some dumbass takes something home she shouldn’t have and leaves it on the bus. However it happens, it happens. In those instances, it’s a good idea to leak a bit of information – on purpose – so that you can taint it and convince the media that such info is worthless. Then, when someone gets hold of real data, no one pays any attention.

Truth is, we don’t have the problem with leaks that other agencies have. You get on our list; you disappear. We are neat, professional, and courteous. We’ll also kill a motherfucker quick – faster than muthafucken snakes on a muthafucken plane. It keeps things simple. I have an old photo of Samuel L. Jackson on my desk just as a reminder.

The BFA started out small – just a few jobs here and there. In fact, most of our stuff was done overseas, and we let the CIA take the hits. But now we are a full-time operation, with about 1,500 agents worldwide. I’m the Assistant Deputy Director of the Mid-Atlantic sector, which means I have been riding a desk for about five years. So that’s my story – career bureaucrat, dedicated to the belief that there are really good people who are responsible for holding together the Union: the ordinary, hard-working Americans who keep our great nation heading in the right direction.

Then, of course, there are the fools. My job is to find them and … fix them.

Did I mention that I love my fucking job?

Anyway, it’s Monday and by ten thirty, my telecon is over, and I’m at the Grosvenor Metro Station in Bethesda, Maryland, waiting for the train into town. The wife was hard at work already – someplace, doing stuff. Like I said, we don’t talk about work. Mostly, we talk about TV, where to eat, stuff like that … and sex. We have a great relationship.

The metro should have thinned out by now, but there was a problem on the track – probably a leaf derailed a train car or something. As a result, the trains are delayed. I’m standing on a crowded platform, itching to get my day started. There are wall-to-wall people, but this one guy is pacing back and forth. I try to catch his eye and glare him into stopping, but he just frowns and turns away. The guy was your normal chubby suburbanite, wearing a cheap gray suit with a silver tie that makes his hair look grayer than it is. He’s actually pushing his way through the crowd, yelling into a cell phone. I look around, and by my count, he’s pissed off around twenty people in the span of about two minutes. I catch the Metro cop’s eye, give him the high sign, and he makes like a tree.

Looks like I have to go to work early. I really hate suburban work.

By now, the subject has pushed his way to the northbound side of the platform. He’s screaming. “So, I have to come all the fuck way back home and give you a ride, because you missed your fucking bus?” He listens and yells some more. “How is that my damned problem? I didn’t ask your car to break down. I swear to God, I’m going to smack the shit out of you when I get there.” He started walking again, this time pushing his way through the murmuring crowd, headed toward nowhere I can discern.

I walk over and cut him off. “Excuse me sir,” I say, “you want to stop pushing people around like that?” Like I said, we’re polite. You always give a fool a chance to redeem himself. That’s Rule One.

He looks up at me, glares, and puts his hand over the phone. “Do you mind? I’m talking to my wife.”

Check One.

Behind him, the red lights at the edge of the platform flash, and the northbound train heads into the station. I look around, see that everyone is watching the train or looking in the other direction. The fool on the phone begins shoving his way toward the train. Maybe ninety percent are waiting for the southbound. Most folks have their back to him once he reaches the platform’s edge … so, I give him a shove of my own. He goes barreling over the side of the platform, smack into the oncoming train. I see the driver jerk back as the train creams him and then thumps the hell over his body, probably crushing it into mush. Snakes on a plane. Poof.

Meanwhile, he flung his cellphone up in the air as he went over the side; I managed to catch it. I held it to my ear, and there’s this sweet woman’s voice on the other end. She’s crying and saying, “Hello? Are you there? You don’t have to come – really. I – I can get a ride with the neighbors.” The woman is so scared she doesn’t even notice her wife-beating-son-of-a-bitch fool of a husband just got handled. Just then, the southbound squeals to a stop.

It’s right on time: Fool o’clock.

Read Part 2 here: https://thisblogblank.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/fool-oclock-part-2/

* Story originally published in The Juice and Other Stories, available from Amazon.com and other book retailers.

Beyonder, An Excerpt

So, I’m back to selling books. Long story short, I pulled all of my books from sale a few years back because although they were well-received with good reviews, 1) I didn’t have any time to market them, and sales had dwindled to nothing and 2) My writing style and focus changed. Fast-forward to early 2017, and I’ve written three new books, around 400 pages of short fiction, and re-written and tightened all of my previously published work.

Plus, I retired from my day job, so now I’m full-time me.

That said, under the auspices of Panthera Press, I’ve begun publishing my fiction once again. I’m starting slowly and feeling my way around. To that end, Panthera’s first release of my titles is a novelette entitled Beyonder currently available on Amazon. Like all Kindle books, it can be read on any PC, Mac or phone simply by downloading Amazon’s free Kindle reader software.

Beyonder is a sweet tale about a little girl who is befriended by an elephant–who may or may not be able to talk–and the adventures they have together. It should take around 60 to 90 minutes to read and costs only $0.99 for most people. It is, of course, free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

As incentive to purchase the story, I’ve included a brief excerpt below, which is also included should you clink the Amazon Link to the story.

Without further ado, here’s the opening to Beyonder.

Praful’s friendship with Yanai began on her second birthday when, upon their meeting, the young elephant, Praful, decided not to kill the girl, Yanai. It was a grand concession considering the toddler had escaped her nanny’s watch and encroached on the young giant’s favorite watering hole. Yanai trumpeted his displeasure, but being a reasonable creature, stopped short of trampling her into dust. Praful returned the favor with her most precious of offerings—a toothy smile that some would later claim had accompanied a pledge of lifelong adoration and fealty. In truth, Praful just thought Yanai was silly. Their meeting came on a dry June, the fourth consecutive year that the month had returned without bringing its promised rain. There was hardly enough moisture to dampen the dust that Yanai used to shield his delicate skin from the harsh sun. Like Praful, he had also wandered from his family, hoping to cool himself in the last, dewy drops of the mud-caked water hole. It was not to be, however. Instead of cool relief, he stumbled across a hairless jabber cat dancing and splashing the precious water from its gasping bed and into the thirsty soil that grasped at its banks. Trumpeting his indignation, Yanai raised his trunk, blinked a blurry eye in the jabber cat’s direction, and charged the little beast.

It giggled at him.

Yanai stopped, wondering at the sound, which to his elephantine ears sounded like the song of thunder from over the mountains that loomed in the distance. Surely a beast that laughs the promise of rain cannot be a demon. He paused, trunk still raised, and stared, blinking the bright sun from his weak eyes. The odd beast stood facing him. She was as naked as the sun was strong and bounced up and down while attempting to reach the tip of his long proboscis. The elephant realized the small creature was not a cat at all, but some sort of mud-tinged monkey that exuded the perfume of flowers and ripening fruit. Yanai took three careful steps backward, though the strange, babbling monkey’s smell made him hungry. He so yearned for the rains and greenery that had eluded him since the year of his birth. Now, ordinarily, a brave and strong beast such as Yanai would have taken the small child’s aggression as an affront and dealt with it swiftly. However, Yanai’s mother was nowhere around, and Praful’s full height was enough to intimidate the young elephant (though he would never have admitted it). Besides, the more she babbled, the more soothing her sounds proved to be.

He decided to let her live.

Instead of charging, he gave a few careful sniffs with his trunk and snorted an exhalation that blew the girl’s hair in a puff around her head. She laughed even louder, finally scaring young Yanai into scampering back toward the safety of his browning forest. He soothed himself with thoughts that he could have killed her had he wished. Monkeys are hardly worth the effort, he decided.

From behind, he heard a plaintive, “Bye, bye,” followed by a shrieking that he thought could only have been a real jabber cat taking the poor, naked monkey for a meal. In truth, the shrieking had come from Praful’s panicked nanny, who’d tracked the girl to the watering hole and was at that very moment admonishing her—not for being alone among wild beasts—but for running naked where “someone might see” her. God forbid their neighbors would discover Praful was a girl rather than the son her father claimed her to be.

A Girl Named Serenity Sea

Here’s an excerpt from the story, “A Girl Named Serenity Sea,” part of my upcoming short fiction collection entitled Beyonder and Other Tales, to be published by Panthera Press  in early 2018.

Serenity Sea was born in a parking lot near Lagoon Creek Picnic Ground in Klamath, California, in the back of a poorly restored 1963 Volkswagen Bus. Had its former owner chosen a new clutch over sparkly blue paint, perhaps Serenity’s mother would have made it to a hospital, and maybe things would have turned out differently. However, what we think is the great, gulping randomness of the divine is actually the pattern of a complex flower we are too small to discern. This particular flower was determined that Serenity be born free from the encumbrances of normal society, and so she was. Just as her grandmother veered off Highway 101 in search of a restroom, the old VW’s clutch cable snapped, ending its life with the bus stuck in second gear not far from the Pacific Ocean that would give Serenity her name. Fortunately, the VW was a camper, its owner herself a barely renovated hippy, and Camp Claymore RV Park and Campground was practically within bus-pushing distance. Serenity, her soon-to-be wayward mother, Stormy Sea, and her grandmother, Cerulean Sea (née Jessica Mildred Andersen) spent the night of the girl’s birth camped out and listening to live music blared through staticky speakers care of Dusty Miller and the Loners who happened to be finishing up a two-day stand at the park for two hundred dollars and a free RV slot. They were overpaid, judging by their music.

Sometime between the end of the last set and 5:00 o’clock the following morning, Stormy disappeared, deciding she was more equipped for being a roadie-slash-girlfriend to the band than she was a mother. Serenity had no opinion regarding the matter, other than objecting to the sudden lack of milk, as she’d not known the woman long enough to gauge whether she’d made the correct choice. Had Cerulean—or Gamma Blue as she’d come to be called—been consulted, she would have been decidedly in the pro-roadie camp, as she’d known Stormy practically since birth (she had slept through her own daughter’s delivery under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms and cheap Kentucky Bourbon, choices she would later blame for Stormy’s Earth-quaking rages and inconceivable inconsistency) and was even more certain than her daughter that the baby would be better off under Gamma’s sole care.

Serenity, in contrast to her mother’s natal red-face ire, was born under the calm Pacific sunset—or what could be seen of it from the back of the camper—and never once cried. Upon emerging from the womb with a great, gooey gush of gratitude, Serenity blinked twice, looked at her mother diffidently, and then at her grandmother, to whom she gave her first smile. Gamma Blue lifted the swaddled newborn to the western sky. The sun bowed behind a small cloud as a gesture of respect.

“Serenity,” she suggested, still facing the ocean.

“I need a smoke,” was Stormy’s offering. She’d been placed on a tobacco, alcohol, and meat restriction by her mom for the duration of the pregnancy and was itching to get her life back on track.

“You can smoke later. Right now, you have a daughter to care for.”

Stormy sighed, pouted, and paced, but finally gave in and fed her newborn. She was tender, as much as she was capable of being, whispering as the baby suckled, “That noise you’re listening to is music … what we call Rock and Roll. Next to sex or maybe having tits that give whisky, I imagine it’s about the the best thing in the world.”

Gamma Blue could only pretend she didn’t hear.

Once silence had claimed the park and Serenity had been cleaned, fed, and put to bed, Stormy asked, “Can I go take a walk and a smoke now?”

“You just had a baby, honey. You really need to take it easy. Those stitches I gave you are fresh.”

“Oh please. You had me in the middle of a hippy commune and then went right back to planting pot or whatever it is you people did. I’ll be fine, and so will you and little Simba there.”

“Her name is Serenity.”

“Whatever, Rafiki.”

“Just go, and don’t come back in here reeking of tobacco.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t.” Stormy grabbed her satchel and headed out.

“I know you won’t,” Gamma Blue said to the empty space she left behind.

To her credit, Stormy kept her promise for nearly the entirety of Serenity’s life, the only one her mother had ever known her to keep.

Ajay Rogers and the Vampire Bunnies, Part 2

Experimentation Log – 26 October – Rabbit Study, Ajay Rogers, Just a Kid

First of all, it’s not my fault. I was just trying to make the rabbits tamer. It’s not my fault I can understand what they’re thinking. So, when Charlie first started catching the rabbits, I thought if I mixed them with normal old earth white rabbits, it would make them nicer. It did. That part of the experiment was a success. How was I supposed to know it would make them like being around people? And then imitate them. I even had to google César Chávez.

Note: Make sure the TV remote is nowhere near where Kayotae can reach it. That little bunny’s got issues. Whoever heard of bunny’s rights? What the heck is she talking about?

Double Note: Look up Che Guevara. On second thought: don’t. I liked them better when they were just sneaking out and hunting dogs. I feel bad about Aunt Charlotte’s little Chihuahua.

 

***

 

Experimentation Log – 28 October – Rabbit Study, Ajay Rogers, Screwed

I’ve been staring at this stupid computer screen for fifteen minutes. I don’t know how to write this so it doesn’t sound like I’m making it up. The rabbits seem to be planning some kind of revolt. A Coo-Day-Ta (sp?).

I had the bunnies in the backyard playing, and this little brown bunny comes hopping up like he lives here. So Rocky walks over, and the bunny bows to him. It. Flipping. Bowed! To. Him.

What the Heck? Over.

Then they get all whispery, and they’re looking back at me every so often. So I get suspicious and I walk closer to them. Suddenly Kayotae hops over to me, and starts acting friendly. And, get this … she looks up at me and says, “You love me.” I like to died laughing. I told her to go away, ‘cause I’m not Charlie, and that stuff won’t work on me. She got really mad, and started chasing me all over the yard. The little monster bit through my sneaks and made me drop my hat! Then she took the hat over to Buzz. Buzz ate my hat! My grandpa gave me that hat.

So anyway, I still could overhear the rabbits a little. The little brown one was asking, “Bunny swarm now?” He doesn’t talk so good.

Rocky told him no, then looked at me and said, “Need more bunnies.”

I think I might be in big trouble.

Oh yeah, and the stupid dragons’ laughing keeps me up half the night. I don’t know what is so danged funny about hunting raccoons. Stupid dragons.

Note: Give things another couple of weeks, then maybe tell Robin. She’ll keep Auntie Charlotte from killing me.

I’m so dead.

 ***

Experimentation Log – 18 November – Rabbit Study, Ajay Rogers, Rabbit Herder

Well, some bunnies staged some kind of rescue at the Bunny World Rabbit Sanctuary in Suffolk. At first, I didn’t pay it any attention. But then Robin read how over a hundred rabbits were stolen, even though the place was still locked. All they found was a hole in the wire fence near the ground, and rabbit tracks. The police think someone who used to work there stole some keys, and let the rabbits out by cutting the hole in the fence.

That’s what we thought too.

But Kayotae let it slip that she was in love with the bunny who lead the “rescue mission.” That rabbit cannot keep a secret. Anyway, so we grilled Kayotae until she talked. I found an old high chair in the attic and we strapped Kayotae in it and shone a light on her. She’s a tough little bunny. It took almost an hour to get her to talk. (Well, an hour and a piece of carrot cake.)

Apparently, Rocky had been working with other small rabbit groups in the area. They managed to sneak five or six bunnies on a UPS truck that took them to Suffolk. Those crazy bunnies even left a box for UPS to take to the bunny sanctuary. UPS picked it up, and all they had to do is follow the box. You’d think the UPS people would have noticed half a dozen brown rabbits hopping around.

Anyway, they got to Suffolk, found the rabbits, and set them free.

Kay said they were all chanting “Amandla Awethu.” We have google that later. I don’t know if I spelled that right – rabbits spell funny.

So now, Robin said, “Miss Kayotae and Mr. Rocky are on double restriction.” No more outdoor trips for those guys.

We’ve found out there are hundreds of these little bunny groups all over Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. Rocky and Kay won’t talk, but we have cake, and we have Buzz. I think we’ll have a nice little map laid out by morning. Buzz told us they were trying to start a bunny group in Washington, DC, but the rats kept killing them.

Robin said, “Sheesh, who’re you supposed to root for in this war?”

I don’t know what she means by that. I like rats much better than rabbits.

Anyhow, now we have to figure out how to tell Aunt Charlotte. Robin says I have to do it. Man, I hate rabbits.

Ajay Rogers and the Vampire Bunnies

Ajay solo

Experimentation Log – 6 October – Rabbit Study, Ajay Rogers, Chief Scientist

These stupid vampire bunnies are freaking me out a little. So, like, Rocky has always been kind of weird. Robin says he acts more like a coyote than a rabbit. I think he’s more like a little grizzly bear. He’s not afraid of anything. Last week, he escaped from the basement den. (Okay, I may have left a door open, but that’s not the point.) Anyway, when I found him (before Mrs. Patterson came home – thank God) he was chasing a Pitt Bull down the street. Just little Rocky, hopping like crazy. The stupid dog almost knocked me down. He had a bite mark on the side of his neck, and his stupid dog eyes were about to pop out of his stupid dog head. If I hadn’t shown up when I did, that dog would have been bunny kibble.

I’m getting tired of cleaning up their messes. I’m just a nine-year-old kid. I shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff. Kayotae is teaching herself to read. How is a baby rabbit that escaped from one of my nightmares learning to read??? Aunt Charlotte is gonna kill me. Then, she’ll bring me back to life, like Frankenstein. Then, she’ll probably kill me again.

Oh, and Buzz ate Charlie’s left sneaker.

 ***

 Experimentation Log – 21 October – Rabbit Study, Ajay Rogers, Head of Genetic Research

Yikes! Please, please, please don’t let Auntie Charlotte find out!!! God, you’re reading this, right? Holy crap!

Sorry God. I meant Holy … something else.

 ***

 Experimentation Log – 23 October – Rabbit Study, Ajay Rogers, Head of Genetic Research

I think I may be okay. (Thanks, God.) A truck ran over the last of the squirrel-rabbits. They are fast like squirrels, but the vampire bunny part makes them too stubborn to move out of the way of cars. The one that got into the attic got chased away by Kayotae. Boy, she can be scary when she wants to. I sure hope for Charlie’s sake that Robin isn’t spooky like Kayotae, or he’s gonna be one unhappy guy.

The rabbits act like the people they spend the most time with. I’ve figured out that’s how they are learning to talk so well. At first, it was me, right? But I stopped when I saw Kayotae reading that old Hop on Pop book by Dr. Seuss. She thought it was the funniest thing ever. I guess if you’re a rabbit, hopping on folks is a hoot. She’s always with Robin, and that girl always has her face stuck in a book.

I KNEW books were a bad idea!!

Anyway, I stopped teaching them stuff, but they learn anyway. Turns out all the baby talk was just because they were babies. Not anymore.

Rocky acts just like Charlie. He hops back and forth when he’s mad, and scrunches his face up a lot. We think it’s hilarious, but nobody will tell Charlie. Kayotae is a furry little Robin, always cheerful and bouncy. But she’s the smartest one too, just like Robin.

Charlie thinks I have a crush on Robin, but I don’t. She’s 17 and I’m only 10. So, that’s stupid. I just think she’s smart and pretty.

(To be continued)