He smelled like cigarettes and cheap cologne. Whenever he came to visit I always thought the cigarette smell was better. It suited him, it was the fragrance of cancer and he was the malignant tumor. I wanted him to go away, but no matter what I did he kept growing back.

“I’m getting better, Joany,” he’d say. His face had a gristle of unshaved beard that scratched when he hugged me. “I’m getting better and one day I’ll take you home with me.”

I didn’t want to go home with him. I wanted him to let me go. I wanted him to stop coming to see me so I could find a new family, a real family with a mother whose sweet scent wasn’t just a cover for her rot.

I sat in the back of his pickup as he sped down the highway. I gripped the seat as he flicked his ashes out the window and yammered at me, his teeth born like a grinning rat.

“You’re going to love this, Joan. You ever been to a carnival?”

I shook my head, staring at the back of his seat as his eyes bored into me from the rearview.

“Well, you’ll love it. Best place for twelve year olds. I used to…”

“Thirteen,” I muttered.

“What’s that, kiddo?”

“I’m thirteen.”

The silence was instantly uncomfortable. He wove around a semi-truck and cut it off to the sound of its clarion horn. He thrust his hand out the open window and flipped the driver off.

“They’ve got this guy there from Germany – heh, geezer by now, for sure – he dipped my hands in wax and I got this casting. You’d think it’d hurt, but it doesn’t. We’ll do that, get you one of your very own. You get to pick the colors, too! Pink, right? You like pink?”

“Yeah, pink’s great.” I hated it.

“I thought so,” he said proudly. The truck lurched off the highway and down a gravel path. It rolled into the churned up, muddy parking lot with a groaning sound, and he killed the engine.

“Come on, come on!” He pulled the door open and my sneakers squelched as I followed him. There weren’t many people flooding in. It was late afternoon and most had already had their fun. The faces of the parents looked tired and the children’s were flushed. A brother and sister used sticks to try and see who could pop the other’s balloon first. He won. She cried. His drifted into the sky like a soul that wrongfully won heaven.

The entrance was hung with a frayed rope that had a golden hook at the end. The man accepting money for access was dressed up like a clown. It was muggy and he was sweating – it made the red makeup around his mouth run down like blood dribbling to his chin.

“Check it oooouuuuut, Joany.” My father pranced before me, splaying his arms to show the tents around him. “They got camels here, you ever seen a camel up close? They say they spit. That’s funny, isn’t it? You want to go see?”

“Sure, dad.”

It reeked. It was hotter inside the tent than it was outside, and even though they weren’t bothered by it they made the place smell rancid. People were climbing up to an elevated stand to get on their backs, and one of the carnival workers would lead them around the cramped ring slowly. The camels chewed cud, eyes rheumy and half-lidded, tails lifting so they could take a shit.

“Cool right?” He stood pointing at the nearest one. “Did you know they store water in their humps so they don’t die in the desert?”

“Oh, neat.” I knew they didn’t really.

I watched him from the corner of my eye. His leather jacket had holes on the ends of the sleeves, and his stomach bulged too far past his pants. There was a sign nearby; ALL RIDES ONLY $10! He glared it down angrily.

“C’mon. I don’t want to get spat on.” I turned and trudged towards the entrance.

“Heh, yeah. Good call, good.”

I heard his BIC flick on behind me. A mother gave him a dirty look, herding two toddlers away from him with shooing motions. Coming up beside me, he took a defiant drag and let it out through puckered lips.

“Old bitty should mind her own business.”


“Got all these health nuts now ready to turn their noses up.”


“All that second-hand bullshit’s for the birds anyway.”

We walked and my eyes fell over the NO SMOKING sign. I didn’t say anything, I just looked at it. He dropped the cigarette and ground it out under his heel.

“Come on. They got a carousel here. You’ll love that.”

The embers were starting to eat at the drought-browned grass, and I finished snuffing them for him. “I’m sure I will.”

There wasn’t a line. Dusk was hovering, and people were chowing down on everything deep-fried for dinner. He thought he was subtle when he asked if it cost anything to ride, but I was already walking towards it while the carny running it shook his head. The lazy spin came to a halt, and I climbed aboard.

It was old. The horses looked almost ceramic, the paint chipping off bit by bit so their eyes were white and ghostly without the pupils. I picked one with half its leg shattered off. I imagined it limping its way around tirelessly, round and round, always moving even though it knew something was missing. We had a kinship.

It started. My valiant steed moved up and down the pole, letting out a high screeching sound at points. It needed oiled.


I glanced over. My dad was sitting in a carriage nearby, fingers drumming nervously against the front, darting his eyes towards me and back ahead again.

“I’m trying real hard, Joan. You know that, right?”

“I know you are.” But if you really wanted me, you’d try harder.

“Times are tough. I can’t afford to take care of you right now, but I will. I promise. I’ll get a job and we’ll be together, big old happy family, you and me. Right?”

My knuckles went white around the pole. I stared at the fake golden painting, flaking off and fluttering down. I wanted to scream at him, call him a deadbeat, tell him I hated him for not being able to take care of me. I wanted to tell him that I knew full well I’d just keep on living at that foster home, watching others come and go while I stood there like some aging statue forgotten in a swamp.

I wanted to tell him I wish he’d never had me.

“Sure John. Sure dad. I know.”

We sat there quietly as we rode forward to nowhere.

Written March 2015.


World Ends

My grandmother thought it was the second coming of Christ. We were star gazing, she and I. We had one of those old ratty blankets with holes in it that ‘the chiggers could take if they wanted to.’ She kept pointing out the constellations and I tried to follow her finger as it shook with the onset of Parkinson’s.

“That one’s Orion. You see his belt right there?” Point. Shake. “There’s a bull he’s fighting, you can see off to the side…”

Her red-shellacked nail gave birth to the meteor. It seemed to sprout right out of her wrinkles and surge towards the moon. It was beautiful. I wished for the usual things a kid wishes for; new dolls, new dresses, hell, I was cliché enough to want a pony.

I was just deciding it would be a palomino when it tore into the moon. My happy shooting star turned into an asteroid before my eyes. I was so fascinated I didn’t hear my grandmother screaming beside me at first. I watched as that moon spat out glimmering shards, and somewhere in my head my third grade teacher’s voice reminded me that the light came from the sun reflecting off its surface.

“Sweet Jesus take me!” She shrieked, running down the hill, her sun dress fluttering. “Sweet Jesus sweet Jesus take me home!”

I watched after her and started giggling. When she fell over and her legs started twitching I laughed harder. My mother stepped out onto the porch and started screaming as well, first at the sky, then at grandma, tripping over herself to get to her.

She’d had a heart attack. She died three days later. I guess Jesus said yes.

I remember a lot of news reports after that. Neither of my parents really gave a damn about the news before, but now they were addicted. Men in white coats would look out soberly from the screen, dark bags under their eyes, making predictions like soothsayers trying to read the palm of fate.

“The moon has lost approximately half its mass and its orbit has been drastically altered.”

Collective gasps from mother and father. I continued playing with a box of Legos I’d taken from my brother’s room. I asked him if he minded and he said no, but I could tell by the way his nose wrinkled he was lying. I took them anyway.

“Those closest to the coast should begin evacuations immediately. Massive flooding is predicted, but you still have time. Please follow the instructions of the National Guard. It is imperative panic be avoided…”

The white-coated man was replaced by a news reporter standing in the street. People were running around behind him frantically. They reminded me of what the ants did when I sprayed water down their hole with the hose. They tripped over one another, they trampled each other. I saw one man grab an older woman and slam her head down into the fender of a car.

“Riots have broken out in New York. Businesses are being broken into in broad daylight. Crime is rising unchecked, and it’s not safe to be-”

A gunshot. The video cut out and the audio relayed the sound of gurgling. The scene shifted again and a pale-faced fat man in a suit started babbling about politics.

My mother started to cry. I dropped the Lego-sphere I’d been building and whispered “boom.”

We were in the Midwest. We made our home on the bible-belt, Oklahoma. My father was a Preacher. After the moon was hit, the pews got much fuller. He would raise his hands up towards the stained glass and everyone would start chanting after him.

“Lord, protect our brothers and sisters from the floods!”

“Protect them, protect them father!”

“Lord, may your great hand deliver them from harm!”

“Deliver them, Lord, deliver them!”

They wept. They bowed down. They poured their money into the offering plate and sent it to New Jersey.

One hundred million people died. I guess God said no.

Before everyone was mad about the immigrants coming in from Mexico. My grandfather used to rant about it, talk about how they were stealing jobs nobody else wanted. He had a shotgun he called Bessy sitting right by the door, and he was ready to ‘shoot them illegals if they ever came through his property.’

They didn’t like the immigrants from the east and west either. At first we welcomed them, but then the food started running short. There wasn’t enough to go around, and the weather was changing fast enough that things stopped growing. My father started handing out gift baskets instead of letting folks inside. Most took them gratefully because it was more than others offered. Then one night a big guy with three kids tried to break into our house. He gave my mom a black eye, and my dad chased him out with a shovel.

After that, we didn’t open the door when someone knocked. Dad dusted Bessy off and kept the bullets next to the cross on the mantle.

He didn’t preach anymore.

It got really cold. People stopped flooding in and out of our town. Instead it was just us, and whatever neighbors decided to stick around. Rumors started flying about bunkers the government was building. They sounded to me like the promise of Oz being just over the rainbow, like any second the Tin Man would come traipsing over the hill asking for oil for his creaking joints. Mom hung on every word. She stopped eating and started giving me and my brother her portions. Her eyes would get that gleaming faraway look, and she would ask people to tell her more about these magical places where she would be safe.

Then one day Dorothy turned into Judy Garland. Mother downed a bottle of pills with a glass of straight whiskey. Dad said it was an accident and we buried her in the garden where the tulips used to bloom.

I’m sixteen now. We’re leaving. My brother’s face looks grim and tired, and I’d almost think he was older than me if I didn’t know any better. We’re packing the canned goods we have left and the smoked deer jerky my dad brought in with Bessy. It’s still pretty fresh. There’s a bloody stain on the cement in the garage where he peeled off its skin.

“You think it’ll really be better in the South, Jason?” I ask, stuffing my backpack. “You think we’ll make it down there?”

He’s looking out the window. Across the street, our neighbor trudges through the snow towards the mailbox. He puts the flag up as he opens it to stick in his letter and removes the one he put in yesterday. His eyes light up, like they do every day, and he tears it open, weeping at the sight of his own handwriting and at the signature he forged at the bottom. His son’s.

“Yeah, Amy. We’ll make it.”

His nose wrinkles a little. I can tell he’s lying.

Written March 2015.

Ready. Set. Go.

And you came out shrieking. The womb opened up and set you free, slick and hideous. Your face was scrunched. Your head was a malformed cone from being pushed through your mother’s chute. The doctor slapped you on the ass or stuck a tube up your nose for suction. You sputtered, snorted, and began to bawl. You wailed red-faced and beat your fists at the air.

Round one. Begin.

You learn to crawl. Learn to walk. Learn to defecate in the toilet instead of in your pants. Your bones ache down to the marrow with growing pains. Time shoves you on the rack and starts cranking the chains to make your limbs longer. You’re a gangly thing. Together with others like you, you find people who are less or more gangly and laugh at them. Camaraderie.

Round two. Get in the ring boy, you ain’t done.

Say goodbye to the nest. It falls out from under you and you don’t have wings. Walk along the ground pecking at the breadcrumbs tumbling from higher perches. Get shit on by the birds sitting on those higher perches. Wait until the fat cat comes along and eats one of them. Watch the feathers float down. Hop out of the way of the blood spatter. Climb up and take their place. Corporate ladder.

Round three. Broken? Boy, please. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Find the love of your live. Give her your love without reserve. Reach your fingers into your chest and rip your heart out. Fall to your knees before her and hold it up still beating. Keep smiling as she plunges her acrylic nails into the ventricles with quiet pops. Keep moving until you find someone with packing tape and a defibrillator. Settle down, but mostly settle.

Round four. Tired already? Oh, there’s no throwing in the towel now.

Hate your job. Work it anyway. Enter the data you don’t care about to get a result that is meaningless to you. Turn in that project. Start another one that looks exactly the same. Give yourself ulcers with coffee to keep yourself awake. Pay a doctor to remove the ulcers. Pay a therapist to tell you why you still never wake up. The alarm is shrieking. It’s Monday again.

Round five. Relax. Put some ice on it and the swelling will go down.

Retirement has come. You’re back in diapers and have a rash. Turn on the TV and watch wheel of fortune. Notice your wife is knitting and wonder when she learned to knit. Look in the mirror and think about offering to play the crypt keeper if they ever do a remake. It’s half past five. Swallow your pills dry.

Round six. Push it to the end, baby.

Look around you. You’re in a hospital bed. People are smiling. There’s the kid you shoved a bully off of. There’s the guy you gave a job. There’s your kids who were never wanting. There’s your loyal wife.

Ding ding. That’s a match.

Written in May of 2015.

Original Fiction

(My fiction will follow the same rules as my book reviews. If my work includes use or mention of gerfunkle, I will let you know.)

A lot of this stuff is old.

Not super old. More like five years old or so, and I’m at that age where five years is a flash in the bucket instead of a minor eternity. What you’ll see here will cover a lot of different topics, things that have interested me for a moment and then fallen away. Short stories. Starts that never got stops. I think part of being a writer is exploring what you’re interested in. I’ve found my niche now, but it took a while to get there, and I like to think there are still fruits of everything I’ve toyed with left in my pecan pie.

One day, I’m going to advertise a full length book here. One day I’m going to shoot off some of my babies to magazines, hoping they’re good enough for a nibble. I’m thinking it will be one day soon – I am, after all, creating this site. Letting people see what I’ve been sticking in hard drives for however long. You’re only getting the best of the best here, the things that I can re-read and not hate. I hope you like them. If you do, let me know. If you don’t, let me know that too. It’s all part of the journey.

Ultimately, though, my thought is that to really invest in a whole book, I want to know if I like the author’s style. If I like their themes. Do I enjoy the kinds of characters that they do? The topics that they’re interested in writing? If not, then there’s really no point in digging deeper. We all like to read a few pages before we take it over to the register, no?

I hope you pull up a seat and stay a while. If my words can do that much, I’m happy with that.