Through the glass I watch his hands on your body, molding to those curves that I once knew so well. Towards the end of things those luscious curves were stone to the touch, and I was slowly coming to see just how much they matched what was inside.

That poor, blind, besotted fool. I don’t envy him the slightest bit.


box prize

I remember the cereal my brother and I ate growing up. The name on the box was Teeny Wheeties, or something that rhymed the same way, bubbly letters splashed across a sea of green and gold. Mom didn’t like buying it. She was a generic-brand, wholesale-gallon shopper, and Teeny Wheeties came in boxes that only ever lasted from one Sunday cartoons session to the next. In the end, though, she capitulated more often than not, and on the ride home we would fish the box out of paper bags soggy with frozen-vegetable condensation and rip it open, then and there, scattering crumbs all over the seats.

The reason we loved Teeny Wheeties wasn’t the taste–it had the texture and consistency of stale cardboard–but the box prizes. Teeny Wheeties always had the best box prizes. Over the years our collection grew with additions of decoder rings, neon flashing necklaces, and promotional action figures whose paint wore off the molded white plastic after weeks of constant handling. We made ridiculous promises to each other in exchange for the prestige of being the one to rip open the plastic packaging and hold our newest treasure, triumphant, up to the open air. For this we would have gladly eaten any amount of cardboard.

I found the toys again when I was cleaning out my brother’s room. I had lost interest in children’s toys before him, so he’d ended up claiming them all. They were in a shoe box in the back of his closet, beneath a pile of T-shirts from every summer tennis camp he’d ever gone to.

I opened the box sitting cross-legged on his bed. It released the smell of Teeny Wheeties into the air. The prizes were shabbier than I remembered; none of the batteries worked anymore. All they looked like to me were trash. Yes, they were trash. But my brother must have seen something of value in them still, to have kept them all these years.

I considered taking them downstairs to show mom. We could reminisce. More likely though, she would only cry. And she had cried enough already.

In the end the box prizes came with me, stashed in the bottom of a cooler of casseroles that neither of us wanted, but we didn’t like to waste food. When I got home I put the box on the top shelf in the closet, just one more shoe box among the dozens my wife owned. Every now and then I take it down and look at the toys that we at one time wanted more than anything else in the world, and I remember.

high stakes

“Bet high,” his Avatar of Dice whispered.

Jace folded his hands casually on top of his flush. Across the table, his opponent mirrored the action, though hers was obscured by the bastion of chip towers arrayed around her. Her Avatar swung from one ear, a heart-shaped diamond stud. It flashed with computations.

Sweat dripped down Jace’s nose. “How high?”

“Depends on how you time it. Fifteen seconds from now.”

Right on cue, a fireball hurled up from the surrounding moat, lighting the game table up with lurid red. Unwillingly, Jace’s eyes strayed to the empty seats at the table. Even the chairs had been obliterated, along with the losing players. Scorch marks streaked the green felt. The sight of them filled Jace with fear, but beyond fear, something more hypnotic as well.


Jace stared straight into his opponent’s eyes and shoved his meager pile of chips forward. All in. She copied him at once, with no hesitation. Cocky bastard.

He traded in two cards, to no improvement. She did the same, her expression never changing.

The moment of truth. A smile cracked her face as she showed her hand.

Royal flush.

Jace shot out of his chair and hurled towards the exit as a fireball erupted from the moat and streaked towards him. Ten seconds to make it. Behind him, his opponent howled with giddy laughter. Jace was laughing as well, flush with the thrill of it all, as his Avatar whirred with frantic recalculations of odds rapidly approaching zero.

He was at the door now. He flung himself out and wrenched it shut with less than a second to spare. The force of the fireball’s impact shook his arms. Flames licked around the edges of the door.

“Now that,” Jace panted, “is my kind of woman.”

His Avatar flashed. “The odds of her drawing that hand were practically zero.”

“She knew she was going to win. You could see it in her eyes. Hell of gambler,” Jace said in awe. He wiped the sweat from his face and straightened up. “So, what should we play next?”

“There’s blackjack, baccarat, Texas Hold ‘Em, and craps.”

“What are the stakes at baccarat?”

“An ice floor that cracks on losses. And piranhas.”

“And the win rate?”

“Single digits.”

Jace grinned. “My kind of game.” He set off towards the baccarat room, trailing smoke and soot, while his Avatar of Dice recalculated the odds of his survival on his left shoulder.

an old song

The years warped and weathered them in tandem, pianist and piano alike. Decades exchanged acuity for cataracts, deftness for cold-aching joints. The keys, pressed, are mute. But though the hammers fall soundless still he hears the music in his bones, even if no one else hears a sound.


The topic for January’s 50-word fiction competition by the Scottish Book Trust: Write a story that features an old piano.


if the shoe fits

You fell in love with the glossy red shade of her lips. The champagne bubble of her words, the way she trapped her laughter in her throat and released it in small, smoke-ring bursts. She’s a conglomeration of tics that taken all together is called glamour. You’ve never met anyone so fragile before, her whole being as delicate and ringing as salt crystals. You can see her from across the room, see yourself reflected in the heat haze of her curves.

You dance and chatter. The only one in the room is her. Then the clock strikes twelve and all those delicate crystalline edges grow slippery, so that despite all your best efforts you can’t keep hold: she wriggles free and is gone. Running, fleeing ahead of the cracking toll of bells.

You chase after her. Surprise, though, who’d have thought someone made of glass and wind chimes could be so fast? She’s gone before you can really get up to speed, vanished to dust. But at the bottom of the stairs she left a glittering fragment, broken off and abandoned in her haste, and you think at first it’s her foot, shorn off at the ankle, but no, it’s only a shoe.

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.