Miscellaneous Writings and Musings


A genie and her rock band

(Novel and Short Stories)

Steal Tomorrow

Steal Tomorrow
Murder, Mystery, First Love, and the End of the World

(Novel and Short Stories)

My Books and Stories

My Books and Stories
Where to Buy, Read, Download

55 - Safety First

He peeked inside the cabin and was daunted at what he saw. Nothing had prepared him for this adventure. The responsibility was enormous, but in spite of the ripped vinyl, rusted valves and antiquated displays, he felt up to the challenge. Gingerly, he took his seat.

Only he would be responsible for what happened next.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Flash Fiction

New story about Vince and the gang: New Year's Resolution

55 - Destiny

“Yard Sale of Destiny,” the sign said. In need of ideas, she gave it a shot. At the stated address she found cardboard boxes of old sheets, VHS tapes, costume jewelry and paperback novels. Was this shabby detritus her destiny? Disturbed by the implications, she signed up for a yoga class on the way home.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Jazz Gang Fiction - Christmas Edition

The Jazz Gang is working hard to entertain you with some cheerful Christmas tunes: Jingle All the Way

New Jazz Gang Fiction

I've posted a new Jazz Gang story: In Sickness and in Health.

55 - Shipwreck

She was sent to sea with such high hopes, only to be tossed one stormy night onto the rocky beach of a small island. Now her rusted hull offers opportunity of a different sort. Captured in artists’ oils and watercolors, her image pixelated in the photos of tourists, the little ship will live on forever.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

55 - Refuge

Summer drought had turned the yard to brown grass and dust. The garden went unplanted and trees subsisted on their city-ordained weekly water ration. Where in this hot dry world was a guy to take refuge? Hooray for the mechanical genius of humans! Thanks to the condenser of their air conditioner, one wet haven remained.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

Sunday 160: Room 102

Who are you, alone in room102? You don't belong. Has some great tragedy befallen you? Are you hiding from a jealous lover? Who are you, alone over there in 102?

Monkey Man hosts the Sunday 160. Write something in 160 characters!

Sunday 160: Liquorz-n-Artz

Her art wasn't selling too well, so she expanded and added new merchandise. The beer goggles worked like a charm, making hers the most popular art in the state.

Monkey Man hosts the Sunday 160. Write something in 160 characters!

55 - San Marcial

It's not there any more. I don't know why they bother with a sign. For almost a hundred years the town has been gone, buried under silt without so much as a wall or fence post to mark the spot. There is just this sign. Don't bother looking for a town. It died years ago.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Steal Tomorrow Flash

I've posted a new Steal Tomorrow Flash for this Sunday's Magpie Tales: Impure.

New Vince Fiction: Thieves and Politicians

I have a new Vince story posted at Sunday Scribblings: Thieves and Politicians

Sunday 160: Room with a View

After a terrifying nighttime drive through storms and a fitful sleep in a new room, she found an urban paradise outside her hotel window. She was glad she came.

Monkey Man hosts the Sunday 160. Write something in 160 characters!

55 - The Quarry

First there were rocks and grasses, insects and small woodland creatures. Trees stretched toward the heavens, providing safe haven for passing birds. Then men came with machines and iron, ripping nature asunder for profit and glory. Soon business fancies changed, opportunities moved farther afield, and the men went away. Grass and trees came once again.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Jazz Gang Fiction for Magpie Tales

This one is for Magpie Tales and features the new Jazz Gang: Someone To Watch Over Me.

New Jazz Gang Post

I hope Steal Tomorrow fans are enjoying the new Jazz Gang stories. I have a new one today for Sunday Scribblings: Jazz Gang: Going Pro

Sunday 160: The Memo

The memo arrived in the afternoon. I reviewed it carefully. It didn't fit my budget, but the offer was too tempting to pass up. So I made an executive decision.

Monkey Man hosts the Sunday 160. Write something in 160 characters!

55 - Cat Show

The indignity was almost too much for a feline to bear: feathers waved in her face and voices urging her to perform ridiculous stunts while strangers stood on the sidelines watching and laughing. All of this must be endured for what? Just a bit of dried kibble, salmon-flavored. Muffin was having no part of it.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Jazz Gang Post

I hope Steal Tomorrow fans are enjoying the new Jazz Gang stories. Today's post for Three Word Wednesday is what will most likely be the chronological first story in the series: Survivor's Song. I've got several other Jazz Gang stories blocked out, so look for more to come!

New Flash Fiction for Magpie Tales

This one is for Magpie Tales and also features the new Jazz Gang: Graveside Groove.

New Steal Tomorrow (Jazz Gang)

For Steal Tomorrow fans, I have what I hope will be a treat: a new story series set in the same world but with all different characters. Please check out the first of my Jazz Gang stories, and look for more to come! Jazz Gang: Good Omens

Sunday 160: No Man Is an Island

"No man is an island," she said.

He acknowledged it was true and took her hand. Facing one's troubles alone was a fool's game. Better a peninsula than an island.

Monkey Man hosts the Sunday 160. Write something in 160 characters!

55 - Departure

She gazed out the window at the tarmac. Was this really necessary, and did it have to be today? Was it too late to go back, admit her guilt and start afresh?

As if reading her mind, the old man next to her said, "You don't have to do it, Miss."

"Oh yes I do."

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Steal Tomorrow Flash

Okay, so Halloween is over. Big deal. That doesn't mean I can't still write dark stuff, so here's a new Steal Tomorrow story: Broken Promises

New Will and Diana Flash for Sunday Scribblings

In a final act of weekend insanity, I've written a flash for Sunday Scribblings. This is a Will and Diana story and is from around the time they first started with Unitas, when they were in their early teens: Limited Operations

New Flash at Magpie Tales

Trying something different here...I posted a Steal Tomorrow flash at Magpie Tales. This story has new characters and hints at developments in the partly-written sequel. Words on Paper

Sunday 160 - Abandoned

The ghosts of those who left this place linger on. They are here in the shadows, lurking in the whisper of weeds and in the play of sunlight on a broken swing.

Monkey Man hosts the Sunday 160. Write something in 160 characters!

55 - Hallow's Eve

The veil between the worlds slips and restless souls stalk the earth. A few among the living, more daring than the rest, honor the shades of spirits past with gifts of food and flowers, small tokens of better times. Reassured they haven't been forgotten, the dead are coaxed back to their sleep. Until next year.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Halloween Flash Fiction

I'm posting a new Vince Mott story today, in honor of Halloween: Trick or Treat

New Flash Fiction: The Last Barbecue

I've written a new Steal Tomorrow flash fiction for Sunday Scribblings: The Last Barbecue.

Sunday 160: Cave-Dwellers

They built their homes in high caves, safe from all imagined danger, never thinking drought, disease and diaspora would turn paradise into a tourist attraction.

Monkey Man hosts the Sunday 160. Write something in 160 characters or less!

55 - Sorry, We're Closed

Sorry, we're closed today. You came here looking for quaint country charm; oddments to show off to your friends back home. "Just look at these bottles and crockery shards. Poor rustics had no idea what they were worth. I bought them for a song."

Well, your money counts for nothing here today. Sorry, we're closed.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words or less. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Flash Fiction

I've posted a new Flash Fiction for Three Word Wednesday. Vince fans will enjoy this one: All In a Night's Work

New Flash Fiction:

I've written a new flash fiction for Sunday Scribblings. This one is based on Tin Soldier: Making the Most of Things

Sunday 160: The Hermit

He says he's praying for universal love and happiness; the salvation of the world. He spends his days in contemplation of peace. Why, then, is he such a grouch?

This was inspired by Days 44-45 of my fiction blog, Diana's Diary.

Monkey Man hosts the Sunday 160. Write something in 160 characters or less!

55 - Golden Age

He paused while putting her suitcase in the car. “We still have a little gasoline and there’s plenty to eat. To future generations, we’re rich.”

She glanced around the weed-choked parking lot. That this shabby existence might be a Golden Age was too much to bear. “Let’s go. We need to make Albuquerque by noon.”

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words or less. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!


I've been posting on Alice Audrey's Serialists blog lately. I've mostly been posting older flash fiction but today's post is an excerpt from Diana's Diary: Vince and the Riots.

I also posted an excerpt from Tin Soldier to the October 1 Sunday Scribblings a couple weeks ago. This one was modified for brevity and clarity, but still gives an idea of the work as a whole: Illusions.

55 - Weeds and Roses

Season after season, my flowers bloomed. Then one spring, they didn't. I started watering the weeds instead. They were a sure thing. A few of my roses bloomed in spite of my neglect, so I thought all was well. But it wasn't. I was watering my weeds while wishing for my rose garden to prosper.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words or less. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

Flash Fiction: One Saturday Night

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here's a piece for this week's Three Word Wednesday. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday for more fun.

It had been intended as harmless banter - the sort of meaningless flirtation one carries on in a club where everyone is dancing and having a good time. Jen hadn't intended him to take it seriously, but now here they were sitting awkwardly on a park bench while her friend, who was genuinely interested in the guy she had met, snuggled with her new beau on a bench nearby.

Todd draped an arm across the back of the bench and Jen stood up. "Let's go for a walk."

With a good-natured grin he offered her his arm, which she took reluctantly. "This is a nice place," he said as they walked the decorative paths. "I didn't even know it was here."

"I found it a few years ago. This whole area is great - very quiet and pretty."

"Come here often, then?"

"I live just a few blocks away."


She ignored the hopeful tone in his voice. "It's safe and I like it here."

At the edge of the park, they turned into the neighborhood, at Todd's insistence. Jen was skeptical at his claim that he liked old houses but relaxed when she found he could talk about architecture with moderate skill. For half an hour they discussed houses, travel, books and music as they wandered the neighborhood, enjoying the cool night breeze.

Then he stopped and asked if they were near her place.

"I'd just like a glass of water."

Jen was skeptical but oddly reluctant to tell him no. She took him to her little apartment, where he obediently drank a few sips of the offered water, then kissed her. The kisses led to fumbling on the sofa, with Jen still unsure if this was what she wanted. Todd was acceptable company, but she felt no particular attraction to him, only a benign indifference.

Suddenly Todd pulled away and stood up. "I'm sorry."

For a moment, Jen thought he had picked up on her lack of enthusiasm, but then he reached in his pocket and pulled out a ring.

"I don't know why I took it off." He slipped it onto the finger of his left hand.

Liar, Jen thought. "Where's your wife?"

"China. She's spending a semester there. It's part of her Master's program."

"You got lonely." She said it without judgment.

He nodded and refused to meet her eyes. "Do you think maybe you and I...just this once?"

In spite of all the ways Jen knew it was wrong, she sensed the moment had passed for moral outrage. She didn't dislike him, and she was a little lonely, herself. One night, and forget about it. "We'll be more comfortable in the bedroom."


In the pale light of early morning, they left in her car. He kept his eyes closed as she wound through the tree-lined streets, emerging into the strange quiet of a major thoroughfare on a Sunday dawn.

Todd named a grocery store a few blocks away. "You can drop me off there."

Jen smiled. "I can take you home. I'm not going to stalk you."

"It's right by my house and I don't have anything in my fridge for breakfast."

It was all the same to Jen, who pulled into the parking lot and ignored his look of alarm when she cut the engine and got out. "I don't have anything to eat at home, either."

They split up in the store but found themselves together again at the lone checker on duty. By unspoken agreement, they ignored each other as they made their purchases, then Todd left without a backward glance as Jen waited impatiently for her change. She dumped the coins in her purse and hurried out the door, but Todd was already a distant figure heading toward a nearby warren of apartments.

She watched him until he was out of sight, wondering what the rest of his life would be like. She would never know. She hadn't even thought to ask his last name. With a small sigh, she went to her car and headed home.

New Steal Tomorrow Flash Fiction

Another Julilla story, this one a Steal Tomorrow prequel, written for Three Word Wednesday: Blessed Mother


Sometimes it's not such a bad thing to have no internet access. My connection was down this afternoon when I went home for lunch, so I started looking through the folders on my computer for something to read. I came across a novel I wrote about ten years ago and I think I'm going to see if I can clean it up and do something with it. It's deeply flawed, but I love the premise. There's some pretty decent writing in it, too. Maybe I'll post a few excerpts here as I start to work my way through it.

Fourth of July Parties

I went to two very different Fourth of July parties this weekend.

At the first one, the house was immaculate and decorated for the holiday, with little copies of the Declaration of Independence available. All the guests except the hostess's recently divorced sister came as couples. Some brought children. The men stood around the grill and the women hung out in the kitchen and talked. The food was ready promptly. The women ended up in the dining room while the men ate together in the breakfast nook. We had pie for dessert. Afterward, the hostess took us girls to see her tidy and well-organized closet, then showed off some of her sewing projects. It was all so retro that it would've been comical, if not for the hilarity of the girl talk and the fact that all of them were packing and showed off their guns to each other. (Note: I do not own a gun, but I take no issue with people who do, as long as they're responsible individuals.)

At the party we went to the next night, our host had done no cleaning that I could see, and no decorating. My husband and I were the only couple in attendance, and there were no children. Two dogs were allowed to wander around at will. Our host had trouble with the grill, sending clouds of smoke everywhere, and once the grill was ready he took his time about actually cooking anything. Dinner was very late. There was no dessert. There was no gender segregation or showing off of handguns, but a lot of talk about history and music. Everything felt very relaxed and informal, like we were kids on a campout.

I had a good time at both parties. The food was great and the conversations were fun. In both cases, our hosts were generous and gregarious. I find it interesting, though, that my husband and I have friends who are so different and who have such different ideas about entertaining.

It's nice to have a wide circle of friends. Does this have anything to do with writing? Not much, other than that a diversity of social circles gives me plenty of ideas to draw on. Characters and experiences never translate directly into a story, but each new thing inspires ideas that lead to new story lines.

New Flash Fiction


Okay, I'm lying. I didn't really get inspired in Colorado. Not to write, at any rate. Too bad. But I did get inspired to make another attempt to get my hip injury addressed so I can run more, ride my bike more, and go on a lot more mountain hikes. This will be the third physical therapist I've seen about it, and I'm not even sure he'll take my insurance, but at this point I don't care. Anyone who can fix what's wrong with me is someone I'm happy to pay.

55 - Expectations

It was unfair to have expectations. He could've been anyone. She had gone there with a single-minded purpose that made the events of that night inevitable.

Now, not so much as an email. Neutral words would've sufficed. Had the years changed her so much, or had she misremembered her youthful bravado? His silence bedeviled her.

About Friday Flash 55: The challenge is to write a complete story in fifty-five words or less. If you've written a 55-flash, go let The G-Man know!

New Flash Fiction

New Flash Fiction

This one's a postscript to Tin Soldier and hopefully won't be too much of a tease: Grave Mistake

Teaser from Tin Soldier: Sports!

This one is for Alice Audrey, who seemed disconcerted that the old basketball court in Bella Diana is no longer in use. Diana is about nine in this scene, and Melinda is her mother.

Donovan, disconcerted by the fuss he had started, changed his mind about walking and tried to catch up with Amalia, but he had strapped his leg into the brace that morning and it slowed him down. He found himself struggling beside Diana's cart.

"Want a ride?" She tugged on the reins with one hand and pulled the brake to a full stop. "Get in. It don't make no difference to the team on the downhill, as long as I don't get careless with the brake."

Donovan scrambled onto the seat beside her. The girl released the brake ever so slightly and they started down again. "Where are we going once we're in town? I understand there's a market."

"A big one, with long benches that go up on each side."

"Benches that go up? You mean a stadium?"

"It's a market. I don't know if there's a fancy Guard word for it."

"Stadium isn't a fancy Guard word. It just means a place where they used to play sports, kick balls around and things like that."

Diana furrowed her brow. "Why would they need such a big place for something like that? Me and some of the valley kids play ball games when we get together for parties, but we don't need a special place for it."

"I've been told they used to have big groups of people who practiced their games until they were good enough that other people would come and spend all afternoon watching them. That's what the benches are for. Sometimes the players were so good people would pay them."

"Pay them money? Just to kick a ball around?"

"That's what I've been told."

Diana giggled. "You're making that up."

"No, I'm not."

"Well, someone must've told you a story because no way would anyone pay kids money just to kick a ball."

"They paid grownups to do it, not kids. And they gave them special clothes, too, so they would all look the same."

"What?" Diana fell over her reins screeching with laughter. Her donkeys flattened their ears in annoyance and Melinda maneuvered her horse down the path, curious to know what the fuss was about.

"What's so funny up there?"

"Donovan says--" Diana gasped for breath. "He says the market at Macrina— that men used to—"

"I told her it sounded like an old sports stadium," Donovan cut in. "She thought the idea was funny."

Melinda pursed her lips. "It used to be the high school football field, but I've never known them to use it for that. The school didn't have enough students for a team when I was a kid and there wasn't enough fuel to bus anyone over for a game, anyway. I only know about it from my father."

Diana swiveled around on her seat, leaving the donkeys to find their own way. "So it's true? They used to pay men to play ball games at our market?"

"Watch your team, Diana," Melinda cautioned. "No, the Macrina high school had a student team. They were teenage boys and they weren't paid anything. But there were big national teams and if you were a good student player, you could maybe get paid to play on one of the big teams when you grew up. Your grandfather says those men made a lot of money."

"Just to play a game? They didn't actually grow or raise anything?"

"No, they just played their game and people paid money to watch them."

"But that's crazy."

"We would be crazy if we did it," Donovan said. "But people were rich then."

"Well, we're going to sell all our stuff at market. Then we'll be rich, too."

"Are you going to buy a ball team with your money?" Donovan teased.

Diana tossed her head. "That would be stupid." The wagon lurched over a rock and she clucked at the donkeys. "When I get some money, I’m going to buy a mule."

Teaser from Tin Soldier

In this teaser, we learn a little about how the United States fell apart and why some areas are now in chaos.

The snow had stopped but the steps to Alvi's caravan were still coated with a sheen of ice when Donovan knocked on his door. Alvi answered, no longer wearing his colorful gypsy attire, but dressed in soft gray pants and a sweater. With his tousled hair sticking up in all directions, he looked like a boy playing campout.

The wagon was more spacious than it appeared from the outside. Shelves full of goods lined the walls, and a board on a hinge could be swung down to serve as desk or workbench. Sturdy wicker chests ran along the perimeter, and colorful cloth, trinkets, shoes and specialty foods were set out like jewels on display. Light came from wall sconces that Donovan supposed were wired to the solar panel he had seen on the roof. The wagon was heated by a brazier that Alvi had filled from the kitchen stove after dinner.

"Nice place you have."

"It's home." Alvi gestured around the tiny room. "Please take your time. I don't sleep well, so I'm always up late."

As Donovan examined some of the cans and jars, he noticed the man had dropped his exuberant air and salesman's patter. "I think I just want some of the beef jerky. I don't even know what some of these other things are."

Alvi had started to sit down, but now came closer. "Those are olives," he said, pointing. "Sort of like pickles, but with the texture of a mushroom." He grinned when Donovan made a face. "They're an acquired taste, but very good."

"I'll take your word for it."

He pointed to a tin with a scene of horses and snow. "Maple syrup, all the way from Maine."

"Didn't Maine secede?"

"Yes," Alvi said. "That actually makes their syrup easier to get. The feds won't let them go because they want the timber, so there's a war up there. The soldiers send maple syrup home and the army makes sure it doesn't get stolen on the way. They don't want men to defect because their families aren't being taken care of, you know. Turncoats are always a danger in a civil war."

"Is there a true civil war going on?" Donovan asked. "I mean, across the nation? Or is it just a few local rebellions?"

The peddler pulled a couple of folding stools from pegs on the wall and took a bottle of whiskey out of one of the wicker chests. "Have a seat," he said, grabbing glasses from one of the display shelves. "I didn't want the ladies to hear it because I know how hard it is for them to keep their spirits up, but there's no reason you shouldn't know what's going on."

Donovan pulled up a stool and accepted a glass of whiskey. “This is good. Where do you get it?"

"Don't make me reveal my secrets. My sources are how I make my living."

"So what kind of news have you been hearing?"

"They say someone detonated a nuke in Washington," Alvi said. "I've heard a lot of different stories on who did it, but it really doesn't matter. The dead were mostly civilians, not government people. Everyone important is hiding now and no one's really sure if they're still alive, dead, or sick from radiation poisoning."

"So who's running things?"

"We think the elected officials are, from a bunker somewhere, but there's no way to be sure." Alvi shrugged. "Some people say the feds set off the nuke themselves so they could go into hiding and not have to answer to the people. Regardless of which story is right, it's likely we're living under a dictatorship."

"How has this impacted the wars?"

"Not much. The wars pretty much run themselves any more."

"Even the civil war? What about Texas?"

Alvi scowled. "I don't know why the feds are bothering with Texas. Three years of drought across the South have damaged their crops, the aquifers are running dry, they still haven't recovered from the hurricane that damaged their only remaining deep-water port, and the ordinary civilians are too busy squaring off by race and religion for them to do much in the way of nation-building. I say let them go. They'll be back in a few years when they realize can't make it alone. But some people say that's why they did it— seceded, you know. There's a philosophy these days that secession will end the race riots by forcing people to work together to fight the common federal enemy."

"It's a bad way to make people get along. Wars kill people and damage the land."

Alvi reached for the whiskey bottle and topped off their glasses. "Well, they went and did it, regardless of what we think about it." He capped the bottle and sat back. "I'm telling everyone not to be surprised if they send some units through the countryside looking for recruits to fight in Texas."

"You mean to kidnap and draft people." Donovan pondered this information. "That's going to be tough on me."

"Yes, you're a deserter, aren't you?"

"Is there nothing the girls don't tell you?"

"I doubt it," Alvi said, taking the question more seriously than it was intended. "I was naive when I got into this business. I knew nothing except that there was an old man who did well in this region and had died. Carina, Amalia and their parents treated me kindly. In fact, my first summer as a peddler was spent on this farm while my burro healed from an injury. They treated me like family and I will always be in their debt." He fixed Donovan with a steady eye. "There is nothing I wouldn't do for them, you understand?"

"They saved my life. I understand perfectly."

Alvi took another sip of whiskey. "Then you know why they sometimes tell me a little more than they should. Their secrets, and yours too, are completely safe with me."
Want more? Go to Tin Soldier and read all about it!

Messenger: An Excerpt from Bella Diana

This is an excerpt from my blog fiction, Bella Diana. It's also linked at Sunday Scribblings which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.


"There's nothing to see."

"Better go guide her in anyway. She's tired."

Galileo looked again. "I'm telling you, there's no one there."

Coyote sighed in exasperation. "Give me the horse, and I'll go."

"Get your own horse. You know where it is."

"By the time I do that, she'll be here."

Will asked to borrow the binoculars. He couldn't see anyone either, but said, "Why don't you at least check?"

Galileo took the binoculars and hung them around his neck. "Fine. I'll ride as far as the arroyo.” He looked Will in the eye. "But if anything happens to this track before I return, I'm holding you responsible."

"Why him?" Coyote asked. "I'm the one that's crazy."

"That's exactly why." He turned his horse and urged her into a trot.

Once he was out of earshot, Will asked, "Is she really coming? Is she okay?"

"She can't be too bad off if she rode all that way in just over two hours."

Will scanned the horizon but still saw nothing. Far down the line, Galileo raised his binoculars, then kicked his horse into a canter.

Coyote nodded in satisfaction. "That'll teach him not to believe me." He called to Tiffany and Ikea, who were stringing the last of the fuse lines. "We can finish that later!"

The girls came running and Will was grateful for their presence, since their excitement kept him from acting out the state of his own nerves.

Coyote stood on his toes, straining to see what was happening up the line and grumbling about how he should've made Galileo leave them the binoculars. Finally the speck of Galileo's horse stopped getting smaller and began growing larger again. Soon it was clear there were two horses.

"Are you sure it's Diana?" Ikea asked.

"If it is, she's not on one of our horses," Tiffany said.

"She'll explain everything," Coyote assured them.

Will couldn't wait. As soon as they were close enough that he could see it really was Diana, he took off at a run.

"That won't do any good," Coyote muttered, but chased after him anyway.

Galileo pulled both horses up short, the unknown stallion lathered and breathing hard. Will pulled Diana off the horse and she sagged into his arms.

For a moment, Will didn't know what to say, but Ikea and Tiffany had no such difficulty.

"What happened?"

"Are you okay?"

"Where are the others?"

"Where'd you get the horse?"

Coyote added his voice to theirs. "Are we supposed to blow up the train?"

Diana pulled away from Will, struggling to find her legs after so long in the saddle. "Destroy the rails. The train too, if we can get it."

Coyote was jubilant. "We've been getting ready since this morning."

Diana frowned in confusion. "There'll probably be weapons on it, and maybe soldiers. Mercenaries from Mexico." She looked around. "Can I have some water?"

Will started. He had been so overwhelmed to have Diana safe that he had forgotten she would be in need of food, water and rest. He put an arm around her and led her to where Ikea and Tiffany had stored a jug of water and some snacks in the tall gramma grass. She sat down and he gave her cup after cup of water while she watched the renewed work on the track. "Coyote knew, didn't he?"

Will nodded and pressed a piece of tortilla into her hand.

"I guess I hurried for nothing."

"We weren't going to finish the job until we knew for sure." He wet a rag and tried to wipe the dust off her face. "I'm glad you're safe."

"I'm glad to be alive." She started to lift the tortilla to her mouth, but then threw it away.

"What's the matter?"

She held out her hands, but Will couldn't see what the problem was. They had eaten with dirty hands before.

"It's blood."

Will poured water over her hands and scrubbed them with the rag. "Are you hurt?" He examined her hands but saw no evidence of injury. "What happened back there?"

"Too many things."

"Okay. You don't have to tell me now."

She lay down and rested her head in his lap. Will caressed her tangled hair and ran a hand across her shoulder for the sheer pleasure of being able to touch her again. Then he drew back his hand in alarm. There was a gash in her blouse, and beneath it, an ugly cut, deep and oozing, its edges bruised purple. Frowning, he inspected as much of her shirt as he could from this angle, finding two more slashes, crusted with dried blood, and a hole that could have only come from a bullet. "Why didn't you tell me you were injured?"

Diana sat up. "I am?"

"You didn't know?" Will jumped to his feet. "We're going to camp. Can you walk? I can get a horse for you."

"I'm okay." Diana waited, swaying slightly, while Will spoke to Coyote. And then he was back, his arm around her waist, guiding her up the path. She stumbled on the rocky incline while Will assured her it was "Just a little farther, right up ahead," until finally the ground leveled and he picked her up and carried her the rest of the way.

He laid her on his bedroll inside the empty foundation that he and Coyote were using as barracks.

"Stay here. I'm going to get some water and a few other things."

Diana mumbled something incoherent and lapsed into a state of semi-consciousness populated by disturbing images. After what seemed a long time, she became aware of Will's calming presence. She felt him cut away her shirt, but didn't open her eyes. In her confused state, it seemed she could communicate without the need of speech, so while he bathed her wounds, she silently speculated about each one's origins. She was almost convinced Will could hear her thoughts as he cleaned the cuts and painted them with ointment, so she was confused when he told her to sit up so he could bandage her, and asked, "What happened?

“Everything happened.”

Will tied the ends of the bandage and sat back to examine his work. "It's not too tight, is it?"

Diana moved a little, but didn't have the energy to check the full range of motion. "It'll be all right."

"Don't lie down yet." Will reached behind him and produced a bowl and spoon. "Eat this. You didn’t lose much blood. I think you're mostly just hungry. Did you have breakfast today?"

Diana looked inside the bowl. It contained a mixture of torn tortillas, dried fruit, piñones and honey. She scooped some of the sticky mass onto the spoon and brought it to her lips, but was surprised to find her hands were shaking. "I had breakfast, but I threw it up on the road."

Will took the bowl and fed her as if she were a child. "What else did you do today besides ride?"

"Stood guard."

"Doesn't sound strenuous. You must've done something besides ride two hours to get yourself in this state."

Diana stopped chewing and let him hand her a cup of water. She held it in both hands to keep it steady as she drank. "We were betrayed." The words tumbled out— the bullets, the bomb, the fire, the crush and the killing at the exit, and finally the riders who had chased after her, shooting.

When she fell silent, Will asked the question she had been dreading. "Is Mother okay?"

"I don't know." She bowed her head in shame. "I tried to go to her, but one of Patton's lieutenants stopped me. She said I had to get out and come here right away."

Will’s voice was grim. "Militarily, it was the right thing to do."

"Then why does it feel like the biggest mistake of my life?" She buried her face in her hands and was startled to realize her face was wet. When had she begun crying?

Will eased her onto the pallet and lay down beside her. "Rest. When you wake up, you'll know what you did was right and you'll feel better." He kissed her bruised shoulder. "Promise me you'll always look out for yourself. I couldn’t stand to lose you."

Want more? The entire novel is free and available at Bella Diana

New Flash Fiction

New Steal Tomorrow flash fiction: Double Agent.

Flash Fiction: Future Perfect

This is a prequel to Tin Soldier, my free online novel about a post-petroleum dystopia. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.


Carina walked the paddock fence, deep in thought. She had visited her parents' high desert rancho for years, but now she was here for good, or at least until her husband came back from the war.

One of the donkeys trotted to the fence and Carina rubbed her velvety nose. "There will be no getting out of your checkups now, silly girl. Soon you'll be wishing I'd go back to the city and take care of dogs and cats."

The city. Carina sighed and leaned against the fence, a gentle breeze blowing her hair and tickling her cheek. In spite of the privations of the Resource Wars, she had enjoyed city life - not just the stores and entertainments, but the little niceties that made life easier. What wouldn't she give to be able to light a room at night with the flick of a wall switch? Would she ever again enjoy a hot shower without having to hurry so as not to empty the rooftop tank and deprive the next person?

She patted the donkey's nose again and continued her rounds. When her husband came home, it would be different. He was a doctor and between his medical skills and her veterinary prowess, they would do well in this valley. When the wars ended, no one would have to hide their solar panels in the basement and ration their batteries behind blackout curtains. The anti-hoarding laws would be lifted and she would be free to prosper.

In the meantime...she looked around the dusty property with its ribbon of a creek meandering through, coaxing green living things out of desert dust. She was the only qualified veterinarian in this valley, and word was that the veterinarian on the nearby reservation was old. Carina would make out okay here and lay the groundwork for her husband's return.

The sun was low in the sky now, starting to dip below the mesas. In a mellow frame of mind, Carina started toward the house, but stopped at the edge of an alfalfa field where her older sister stood brooding over the freshly-irrigated crop. "It would make a nice painting, don't you think? All that green surrounded by desert."

Amalia looked at her through narrowed eyes, then turned away. "I'll be a regular Georgia O'Keefe," she scoffed.

Carina suppressed a sigh. Although Amalia was in many ways the more practical sister, her interests had always gravitated toward literature and the arts. Farm life was going to be hard for her. At least Carina had a skill her neighbors needed. "People have always made art in the desert, even when it was just native people painting pots. We'll find things to do here. Maybe we can even make it fun."

"You'll find things to do. I'll just cope."

"It's better than the city, with the riots and rationing."

"Perhaps." Amalia jerked her head. "Dinner was almost ready when I came out here. Let's go before Mom and Dad worry."

"What's to worry about?" Carina tipped her head and looked at the deepening blue of the sky, where a few faint early stars twinkled. "They've lived out here too long to still have city fears."

Amalia worked a shrug into her movements as they walked the path toward the low adobe house. "It doesn't matter why they think what they do. We may be married women, but living under their roof we might as well be kids again."

"It was best to come out here. Everyone said so."

"Of course."

She said it reluctantly, but Carina decided not to belabor the topic. They were nearly at the house, and she had to admit that the glow of candles and kerosene lanterns in the windows gave it a certain charm. She would find a way to make this work.

"What are you smiling about? I saw what Mom was cooking and it wasn't much."

Carina didn't care if dinner was a bowl of beans or an epicurean feast. "This place is our future," she said with conviction. "We're going to make the most of it."


Want to read the whole thing? Go here: Tin Soldier.

Flash Fiction: Destroyer

New flash fiction featuring Coyote from my blog fiction, Bella Diana. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.


Coyote fidgeted in the saddle. The sun had set, but a faint glow remained, just enough to see the twin rails stretching into the distance. He sighed with impatience.

On time.

"Don't lie," Coyote said. It was bad enough that he heard disembodied voices, but the deceptions and half-truths were enough to drive anyone mad.

He turned his attention from the horizon to the valley floor. From his vantage point halfway up the mesa, he would be able to see everything unfold if it were daylight. Unfortunately, this was an operation that had to be carried out by night. A part of him wondered if he should be doing it at all.

Trains kill.

Coyote had an affinity for all things mechanical, but trains were special. As a child, he slipped away from his mother at every opportunity and went to the depot, where he became such a fixture that he would sometimes be allowed to hand tools to the maintenance workers. The best days were when the engineers would let him climb into the idling engines where he gazed in rapturous delight at the switches and controls. What wasn't there to love about trains?


"Shut up." Coyote hated it when they taunted him. He picked up his binoculars and squinted at the horizon again. Was it his wishful thinking, or did he see a pinprick of light?

Always right, always right, always right...

"Except when you tell me too late, you fucking bastards."

Coyote looked again at the steadily growing light of the approaching train and his mind flashed on memories of gears and pistons, and the perfect way they moved. He would've loved to have been a train mechanic. It seemed more appropriate to build such beautiful things than--

Trains are death. Your parents...

"You always mention them, as if it was anything other than an accident. Maybe I don't want to do this. Someone else's parents might be on this train, you know. Parents like mine."

Now he could hear the chugging of engines, the hum of wheels and the faint rattle of swaying cars. In his mind, Coyote saw it as if it were daylight - the dusty engines hooked front to back, the spinning wheels, the flat cars and box cars trailing behind, rocking to the rhythm of their own song.

A shrill metal-on-metal squeal of brakes. The engine's headlamp had illuminated Coyote's blockade, but it was too late. The sound of the crash ricocheted down the line as cars crashed into each other, sparks flashed, and cars toppled off the tracks. Even in the dark it was breathtaking, and Coyote sat transfixed.

A few small fires caught in the dry desert grass, and in their glow, Coyote saw cars scattered about like great dying beasts, and felt an unexpected surge of pride.

You are powerful now.

"It's only just one train."

There will be others.

Coyote opened his mouth to argue, but thought better of it. Yes, there would be others, now that he knew how easy it was. He loved trains, but a train had taken the lives of his parents, and that couldn't be forgiven. His mother and father hadn't believed in the voices he heard, but that was the only failing Coyote could think of. They had been otherwise perfect and deserved to be avenged. "Which one should I try next?"

The voices didn't answer. They were like that sometimes.

With a sigh, Coyote turned his horse and started up the switchbacks.


If you want more, Bella Diana is free and online.

Flash Fiction/Excerpt: Book Burning

This is an exceprt from Tin Soldier, my free online novel about a post-petroleum dystopia. It's also linked at Sunday Scribblings which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.


The storm overtook them as they reached the valley floor, rolling in with cold gusting winds that rocked the wagon as the rain burst upon them in a deluge. Visibility dropped and the gray, wet world closed in. The downpour plastered their clothes to their bodies and turned the path to mud. Wheels stuck in ruts and Donovan had to get out and push. Goneril and Regan balked. There was no place to find shelter except in deserted Catalunia. Carina climbed down from the wagon, grabbed hold of a bridle and, laboring in the squelching muck, tried to lead the jennets to shelter by example.

House after house was unsuitable. They were caved in, crumbled, or so unsteady in appearance that taking their chances with the storm seemed more reasonable. Finally, in the thick of downtown Catalunia, where the few remaining signs swung crazily in the wind and gusts howled through the alleyways between vacant stores, Carina spotted something promising. "Over there." She pointed to a small stone library.

Donovan pulled a wheel out of a patch of sucking mud, and hurried ahead to try the door. The double doors opened readily and they led the jennies into the shelter of the building.

In the silence of the dusty foyer, Donovan and Carina stood dripping while the bedraggled animals hung their heads in the traces, as cold and dejected as their humans. Outside, the rain continued falling in sheets, but here in the library, the storm was reduced to a patter against the roof and windowpanes. After struggling so long in the downpour, it felt like utter insanity that they should find themselves in a quiet, sheltered place.

"I don't see us going any farther today," Carina said needlessly. "Let's light the lanterns. We need to get the animals settled in."

Luckily the tarps had kept most of their goods dry. The lanterns lit without a problem and Donovan went searching for a place to bed down the animals while Carina unhitched them, rubbing their ears, patting their necks and speaking to them with the first real affection she had shown in weeks.

"I found something," Donovan said, emerging out of the gloom. He took hold of Regan's bridle and led the way.

"A reading room?" Carina said, upon leading Goneril into the place Donovan had found. "Well, it doesn't seem to be leaking. I guess that's the most important thing."

They got the animals clean and gave them some hay from the wagon. "We should build a fire," Donovan said, noticing that Carina was shivering.

"I suppose the ceilings are high enough, and there's enough broken windows we won’t suffocate ourselves," she said. "But where?"

"The only thing I saw that didn't look flammable was the entryway. If we moved the wagon, we'd have enough room." Donovan took her hand and led her back the way they had come, and this time Carina assessed the foyer with an eye toward what might burn. The floor was marble, the ceiling was high, and there was nothing nearby that could catch sparks. Far above their heads was an absurd folly of a cupola where colored glass lit up in the occasional flashes of lightning. "If we moved the wagon into that room over there," Donovan pointed, "We could build the fire here in the middle of the floor."

"What will we burn? Books?"

"Why not? You don’t think anyone’s going to read them, do you?"

"Not likely."

They pushed the wagon into a small room and shut the door, then gathered a stack of reference books which Donovan lit with crumpled newspapers and magazines. The Catalunia phone directory caught first, then a thesaurus and encyclopedia. Then they were all ablaze, and Carina held her hands out toward the warmth. But books burned quickly, and it took a lot of them to keep the fire fed. After a few minutes, Donovan went to the wagon, retrieved a small hand saw and disappeared into the stacks. By the time he returned, Carina had traded her wet clothes for dry. She stood as close to the flames as she dared, looking in her black cloak like a priestess of some strange book-burning cult. When Donovan brought over an armful of sawed-off wooden chair legs, she let the cloak drop to the floor so it would be safe from sparks and helped him make a teepee of them. Then she stood back, picked up her cloak and put it back on. "I'll get some more books," she said, picking up a lantern. "Just to keep this thing going until the wood catches."

Donovan used her absence to change into dry clothes and spread out their bedrolls near the fire. It wouldn't be comfortable sleeping on the marble floor, but he tried to fold as much as he could underneath for padding. Then, realizing they hadn't eaten all day, he brought out some food and a bottle of scotch to take the edge off the cold.

The flames were dying and the chair legs were starting to smoke in a desultory sort of way when Carina returned, her arms full. She set the books next to the fire, collected a few off the top and took them to the room where the wagon was stored. "For Amalia," she said when she returned. "She'd never forgive me if I spent a night in a library and didn't bring souvenirs."

Once the chair legs caught, the fire began putting out real warmth. Carina sat on a bedroll and accepted a brownie. She downed it almost at a bite, ate a second with nearly equal speed, then fell to nibbling some dried apples.

"It's nice to see you have an appetite." Donovan poured a cup of scotch for her, then one for himself.

"We've done a lot today."


Want to read the whole thing? Go here: Tin Soldier.

Flash Fiction: Unwelcome Homecoming

New flash fiction featuring a peripheral character from my recently released blog fiction, Tin Soldier. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.

She lay in the back of the cart, shivering under a blanket even though the day wasn't cold. The rag that had shielded her eyes from the sun had slipped, but Valerie was too weak to move it back into place or to call out to the driver to fix it.

What did the man say his name was? She squinted at the cloudless sky, aware that her memory shouldn't be so faulty at twenty-three. They had said this would happen if she kept buying cheap huffers, but she hadn't cared; she needed some way of coping so she could make her money and get through to the next day, only to do it all over again.

The wagon hit a rock, throwing her hard to one side. The driver stopped the donkeys and turned around in his seat. "You okay?" He set the brake, jumped down, and arranged Valerie's wasted limbs more comfortably. "You hungry? You want some water?"

Valerie started to shake her head, then realized she was as thirsty as if she had a hangover. With an effort of will, she nodded. She closed her eyes and after a few minutes, felt the man lift her shoulders and press a glass to her lips. She tried to drink, spilling much of it down the front of her dress, but the water was cool and tasted good. He tried to make her eat a little, but although the bread was soft and the berries were sweet and juicy, the act of chewing exhausted her. She accepted another sip of water, then let the man ease her back down and cover her eyes again from the sun.

As they continued up the mountain, Valerie tried to remember who this man was and why he was being kind to her. He had been a client - she was pretty sure of that, but most men were quick to leave after she gave them what they had paid for. This one had actually taken an interest in her. She had a dim memory of telling him about her family and the crazy set of circumstances that led to her being sent to town to earn money for them any way she could.

She tried to sigh but her breath came out as a wheeze. They wouldn't be happy to see her. Why had she consented to this? Not only was she tainted in her family's eyes, but she was coming home empty-handed.

It all came back to money, of course. The rag had slipped off her eyes and she gazed at the pines and aspens. She loved this place as a girl, couldn't get enough of the wind, sun, earth, and all the living things that dwelt here. The trees, deer and birds had no need of money, so why did people? Something was corrupt in this world, and in spite of her family's hostility to the manner in which she had kept them fed, she knew the corrupt thing wasn't her.

Now she just wanted rest and healing, if that was possible. Would she get it here? She had no reason to think so, but she would die for sure if she stayed in town, where only the rich were given sympathy when they were ill. It figured that those with the most would always get the most. It wasn't fair, but what was?

She felt the wagon stop. "We're at the stone bridge you told me about," the driver said.

Valerie closed her eyes. It wouldn't be much longer now.

"You sure this is what you want?"

What was she going to do, tell him to take her back after all this? Where would she stay?

"If you're not up for it, we could camp for the night and continue in the morning."

Camping? In her condition? Had she felt any better, she would've laughed.

"I want this to work out for you," he stressed. "If they're just going to send you away--

Valerie shook her head. "Keep going," she whispered.

She settled deeper into her nest of blankets in the back of the cart, no longer caring about the rocking of the wheels over ruts and stones. She was coming home and her family would just have to deal with it.


If you want more, Tin Soldier is free and online.

Flash Fiction: Holiday Plans

New flash fiction about Amalia and Carina from my recently released blog fiction, Tin Soldier. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.


"What would you like to do for Christmas?"

Carina gave her sister a blank look. "I'm not interested, and you've never liked all the fuss. Let's skip it."

Amalia understood why her sister might not embrace the holidays with her old enthusiasm this year, but it troubled her that she moped with such persistence. "It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but we need to think of the children."

"They used to be street kids. I doubt they believe in Santa Claus or have had any religious instruction. It's not a special occasion for them; it's just another day."

"Then we should teach them. Not about Santa, of course," she added at Carina's blink of surprise. "But they should know about Jesus and presents and all that. Even if they don't grow up to be Christians, it's part of their culture, and we can't let them go around ignorant."

With a sigh, Carina set her knitting aside and stood up. "Do whatever you want. You usually do, anyway."

"I could say the same of you."

For a moment their eyes met, then Carina looked away. "I would think you, of all people, would understand."

Amalia ducked her head. Of course she understood...kind of. But her husband had been killed early in the war, while she still had clear memories of him. Carina's husband had been gone for a decade, and they had only known each other a few months before he was drafted. How deeply could she grieve over a man who had hardly been part of her life at all?

She was on the point of saying something to put her frivolous sister in her place, when their eyes met again and Amalia understood. It wasn't the loss of Miles that she grieved, but the loss of a youth squandered on waiting for his return. She had put all her hope into a future in which she and her physician husband would transform this poor desert valley. Now it was all a waste.

Amalia stood and took Carina in her arms. "I'm sorry. Christmas can go to hell, for all I care."

Carina pulled away and forced a smile. "You're right, though. It's not fair to the children."

"Maybe just a nice dinner and presents? Presents for the kids, of course; not us."

"Sounds good." Carina smiled again, and this time it was genuine. "We can do presents for us, too."

"I'm sure Donovan intends to pick something up for us when he goes to market, so it would only be fair to have something for him, too."

Carina blushed and turned away. "You figure out that part, okay?"

Amalia watched her walk away and wondered, as she had so many times it made her head hurt, just what had happened between them when he took her to Jonasville to retrieve her husband's body and effects. She had her suspicions, but if she gave in to every little fear or jealousy, she'd have time for nothing else.

Amalia sat down and picked up her knitting. She had a Christmas party to plan.


If you want more, Tin Soldier is free and online.

Flash Fiction: Turkey Day

New flash fiction about Donovan from my recently released blog fiction, Tin Soldier. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers, so go to it!


For days he had been trying, but it was no use. Donovan thought he was a pretty good shot, but these damn quail were so small and flew up so suddenly...he kicked a clump of withered gramma grass in frustration. What was he supposed to tell the women, after boasting that he would bring down enough quail for a Thanksgiving feast for them and their neighbors? So far he had only managed to get one scrawny bird that not even a child would consider an adequate meal.

Unbidden, his thoughts returned to a remark Amalia, the older sister, had made: the God's Candidates cultists raised turkeys, and weren't more than a day's ride away. Buying from them was impossible, though; Donovan's dark skin and obvious mixed-race heritage would get him shot on sight, but who said he had to buy? If they didn't see him....

He headed toward the arroyo, deep in thought. Practical Amalia and her younger, more sensitive sister Carina, had both forbidden him to go anywhere near the cult compound, but although he was a stranger living on their charity, they didn't own him. If he wanted to try his luck at the compound, they couldn't really stop him.

Donovan stopped walking and considered. The women couldn't keep him from going, but the lack of a horse was a serious obstacle. Maybe he could borrow one from the adjoining rancho, though. The Nuñez girl was quick and smart, always up for adventure. If she loaned him one of her family's horses, he could slip out at night and... Oh, yes, it was doable. He shouldered his shotgun and started walking again, composing in his mind how he would broach the matter to the little Nuñez girl.

A sudden stirring in the grasses by the creek stopped him in his tracks and a dark flock rose into the air on thundering wings. Too busy daydreaming, Donovan wasn't able to get off a shot in time, and with a sigh of frustration, he set down his gun and rubbed his face with his hands. Who was he kidding? He would never shoot a quail. He was going through the motions, persisting in the illusion just to put off what was, in essence, inevitable.

For a long moment he looked at the distant mesas, as if daring them to challenge his decision. When the skyline stubbornly remained as it had always been, he picked up his gun again and turned toward the house. He had plans to make.


It's time I acknowledge reality, peeps. I won't seek a publisher for Tin Soldier, the first in my Peak Oil series, which includes Bella Diana, The Will and Diana Adventures, and Diana's Diary. I'm therefore unlocking it. Here's the blurb I wrote for it:

In an America of scarce and expensive fossil fuels, unstable government, and seemingly endless resource wars, former street punk Donovan Sloan deserts his National Guard unit—an act punishable by death. He wanders onto a farm in an overlooked valley of the desert Southwest, where Amalia Channing and her sister Carina Cunningham are living a hardscrabble existence, bitter over the loss of the easy urban lifestyle they enjoyed before the collapse of the oil economy.

Against their better instincts, the women take Donovan in and he struggles to adapt to honest farm life. But his old lifestyle of drinking, gambling and petty thievery is a constant temptation. When he falls in love with the object of a federal spy's affections, the fate of his rescuers and their neighbors depends on whether he can for once in his life, put the needs of others ahead of his own.

Enjoy Tin Soldier and let me know what you think!

New Steal Tomorrow Fiction

New flash fiction about the Danny (one of the twins) from Steal Tomorrow: A Birthday Present. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.

Flash Fiction: Toastmaster

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here's a piece for this week's Three Word Wednesday. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday for more fun.

Ren moved stealthily through the shadows, his feet making no noise on the linoleum as he passed the refrigerator. He didn't pause to open the door and help himself to a snack like he would've when he was new at this. A case of food poisoning and a close call with a homeowner had taught him to stick with the business at hand. He approached the counter and gazed upon the object of his desire.

Dome-shaped and aluminum, with a few fingerprints marring the sides and a dusting of crumbs on top. Closer investigation brought a smile to Ren's face. This was no cheap knock-off or even a high-priced Farberware copy; this was an original, even to the cloth-covered cord. With the reverence due such a fine old specimen, he unplugged it and wiped it with a moist dish towel before putting it in a canvas bag. He was heading to the open window, his mission nearly accomplished, when a voice stopped him.

"Young man."

Ren yelped in surprise.

"I don't believe I gave you permission to take my toaster."

He turned around slowly, so as not to startle her, and sized the woman up. White hair, pink terry bathrobe, fuzzy slippers. She looked harmless, but one could never tell. Those bulging pockets could contain more than cough drops and wadded tissues, and she might've once been Annie Oakley for all he knew, so he made sure to speak slowly, in polite tones.

"What toaster, ma'am?"

She gave a condescending smile. The one I watched you put in your bag."

"This bag?" He made a show of opening it. "You're right. There is a toaster in here." He knew what he should do next—put it back, apologize profusely, then get the hell out in case she had already called the cops. One didn't come across beauties like this every day, though.

The woman frowned in confusion. "Of all the things you could take, why would you want an old toaster?"

Ren had no answer for that. He didn't even like toast.

"It may just be a chunk of metal to you, son, but for me, that toaster represents memories. It was a wedding gift from my best friend, gone now, bless her soul. I made toast for my children's breakfasts with that appliance. My little one, Sammy, never was quite right in the head, but hot toast and honey could always put a smile on his face. And when my husband was in his final illness, hardly able to keep a thing down, a poached egg on toast always set well."

Ren shuffled his feet. He really should put the toaster back on the counter.

"It doesn't get much use these days." The woman sighed. "Doctor says bread is bad for me, so maybe it would be best if you had it after all."

Ren had been looking at the floor, but now he snapped his head up.

"Go on, take it. You were willing to go to a lot of trouble for my little toaster, so it must be important to you. Enjoy it."

For a moment Ren wondered if she was going to let him leave through the front door, but from the way she stood, it was clear she had conceded as much as she intended. Ren slung the bag over his shoulder and scooted gracelessly out the window.

When he got to his apartment, uneasy and oddly disheartened, he took his prize into the spare bedroom where he set it on the floor amid a jumble of Sunbeams, Toastmasters, General Electrics and Black & Deckers that represented years of toaster-stealing efforts. He gazed at the new addition, waiting for the surge of pride that usually accompanied such an acquisition, but felt only a nagging regret, like he had dome something dishonorable, even though this was the only toaster he had ever had permission to take.

What kind of weirdo gets nostalgic over a toaster? What could be so special about a bunch of metal components put together by underpaid factory drones? A toaster is an object, nothing more. Crazy old lady.

He grabbed a beer from the fridge and went into the living room, mulling over what had happened and wondering if he should take up a new hobby. Perhaps toaster-stealing had run its course and now was a good time to change direction. He sat down, punched the TV remote and wondered how many people had sentimental attachments to their blenders.