best intentions

Day 1
Moved to a new neighborhood in the middle of winter. It’s old, with lots of trees. I can see birds clinging to the branches. Poor little things, they get so hungry when it’s cold.

I scattered some seeds on the back porch for them. I wonder if any will come eat.

Day 2
Success! One little sparrow. I’m off to a good start!

Day 3
Another one! Two little sparrows.

Day 4
Five little sparrows. A whole flock!

Day 5
No little sparrows. Fun fact, did you know the neighbors have cats?


*DISCLAIMER: No birds were harmed in the making of this flash fiction.


the brighter they burn

Winter chills the blood and bone. Halfway across the world, my sister Instagrams her holiday cheer. Christmas lights wreath her paper-cutout smile. White, red, and green flares with caustic brightness, her face a contrast, livid with shadows. Or what I hope is only shadows.

The topic for December’s 50-word fiction competition by the Scottish Book Trust: Write a story inspired by winter lights.

experimental theology

“They never do what I want them to.”

“Poke them?”

Under the glare of sunlamps, the vivarium wallowed in desert. Sheila had long since removed the shading trees and cliff crags, leaving nothing but bare sand. It had to be blistering in there. A thermometer clipped to the glass rated it over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

Sarah picked up the pointer from where it lay next to the tank and prodded the little figures within, trying to nudge them towards the flap in the tank that would lead them to another, larger vivarium, one that had actual flora and a water source and wasn’t broiling them to death. Instead of taking the hint, the little figures squeaked and huddled together even closer in the middle of the sand.

A lone figure detached from the rest. It ran at the pointer and latched on, kicking and punching furiously. Stubborn, Sarah thought with equal parts exasperation and admiration. She shook it off and withdrew the pointer. “See what I mean?”

Naomi thought for a moment. “Try misting them.”

“It’s not going to work.” But Sheila picked up the spray bottle anyways.

At the first touch of moisture, a keening noise went up from the figures in the vivarium. The group broke apart, spreading out to explore the perimeters of the damp ground. Sheila continued to spritz, gradually moving towards the flap. To her amazement the figures trailed after her, cheeping happily. When they reached the flap, one by one they trotted through without hesitation.

Sarah closed the flap, severing the connection between the two vivariums. She looked at Naomi. “I can’t believe that worked.”

Naomi grinned. “I wasn’t sure,” she admitted, “but I heard Jacob talking about a new feature they built in the other day. He called it imagination.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with making things up that aren’t real.”

Sarah stared. “Surely not like–not like us.”

“Oh, no. Nothing like us. It’s only in their heads. But it’s good for suggesting. If I were to guess, I’d say they probably thought some divine being from on high had taken pity on their sufferings and created a rainstorm that would lead them to fertile lands. Religion has to have a carrot as well as a stick.” This with a jesting flick at the pointer.

“Well, whatever, as long as it works. At least I’ve finally got this batch into the third stage.” She wiped her hands off on her lab coat. “It’ll be a couple more hours for them to acclimate to their new biome. Want some coffee? My treat.”

“I won’t say no to that.” Sarah checked the new vivarium to make sure the lid was firmly in place–it was a nightmare if they ever got out–and led the way out of the room.

a la carte

For nine years the food cart has stood on the corner of the seaside market. People bring her their troubles; she takes them all. She takes them, and transforms them.

Unrequited love folds into pastries, baked to perfection and studded with raisins. Sorrow gets thrown in the deep fryer and comes out crispy and sizzling. Unhappiness transforms into sugary sweetness, pain into pleasure.

Standing on the sidewalk, they hungrily devour what she made of what they gave her. Their faces gleam with contentment. And when they go away, they do it with stomachs that are heavy but hearts that are lighter than they have been in years.

The 50-word flash fiction theme this month is street food. So, yeah, there are going to be a lot more of these stories popping out until I can finagle my way into the word count.

a touch of heat

The sizzle of meat on a hot griddle stops me dead halfway through the snow of Eighth Avenue. Beneath a rainbow halo of streetlight, a street vendor sends wreaths of steam into the cold. I can’t remember if they were there before.

A chance wind gusts smoke in my direction, onions and gamy meat. Kebabs. My mouth waters.

The vendor behind the griddle is swathed so thickly in coats and shawls and scarves that I can’t make out whether they’re man or woman. I trudge up to the counter and order two skewers, teeth chattering. “That’ll be five dollars.” Even their voice is androgynous, scoured of all identifiers. It’s got cracks in it that could be from age, or cold, or a throat tickle. Otherwise it could be the voice of anyone.

I fumble the money from my pocket with stiff fingers. They accept it and turn to slap more meat on the heat.

“Cold night,” they say conversationally.


They nod at the shovel on my shoulder. “Working?”

“Someone has to take care of the snow,” is my reply. “What about you? What are you doing out on a night like this?”

Their eyes smile through a slit in the fabric. “Someone has to take care of the snow shovelers.”

They hand the skewers to me, one at a time, waiting for me to wolf down the first before taking the second off the fire. The meat is fiery with spices. Heat slides down my throat and blossoms to the tips of my fingers. By the time I finish the second, I’ve stopped shivering. I am warm, from head to toe.

I trudge back out into the snow, no longer cold, and get back to work.

carving season (part 2)

On an island in a lake in a forest outside of town, there stands a stone that speaks only the truth. It won’t come right out and admit so, of course; you must coax it into doing so. For that, you’ll need cigarettes.

Put the cigarettes in your pocket and set out. Leave town, fighting your way through thickets to the lake. The lake is calm, clear as ice, every pebble rendered perfectly even through the shift in refracting mediums. The water chills, but not unpleasantly. You will get wet to the knees before you reach the island.

The island: not an island so much as a flattened tooth of dirt really, barren but for the stone. In the center of the stone is a hole. Here you feed in the cigarettes, pushing them in with your fingertips one by one until they vanish, swallowed up. They must be Marlboros, those cigarettes. Not Camels, not Lucky Strike. The bare dirt is littered with empty cartons of those who came before. Feed the entire carton, and then, at last, the stone will speak.

What do you want to hear? it asks.

Whatever you want to tell me, you reply.

So it tells you how your best friend slept with your wife, how your boss passed you over for a raise you should have earned. It speaks of smeared acts of pettiness and spiteful betrayals. It speaks in the enduring voice of all stones, and the words avalanche into your soul. And the worst truth of all, it says, you know everything I’m telling you. You knew it all before you set foot on this island, before you crossed the forest, before you went to drugstore and bought that packet, which thank you for very much, they are delicious. But really (and you know this), you didn’t need to buy them at all in the first place.

When at last the stone falls silent, give your thanks. It’s only polite. It won’t respond–it’s already said everything it needs to, and besides, those cigarettes will only get you so much.

Now it’s time to leave this place. Cross the lake. Exit the forest. Go back into town, and home. Do it all dry-eyed, and with a face and heart as hard as–well, you already know.

carving season (part 1)

I saw a hollow woman the other day. Her insides had been scooped out, clean as a pumpkin, leaving behind a rind plastered with preservative serums and haunted by the prescience of wrinkles. With the sun behind her she transluced in a mottled patchwork that touched hands, arms, legs, but left face and neck unaffected.

Standing inert in the midst of a swirling crowd of tourists, she struck a pose and declaimed. “Halfway between the sun and the moon is the meeting spot for armistice deals. Mochas taste better with a touch of sea salt to make the contrast sweeter. Pennies are worthless, but the dollar can still buy you a good cheeseburger. The heat death of the universe emanates from televangelists.”

Her lips, her lips were the reddest lips I had ever seen, bright raw tuna sliced thick and full by a generous knife. Her smile jumped and wriggled, the fish still swimming in a pond.