Wanted: Photographers

Grammar Ghoul Challenge: In exactly 52 words, your challenge is to write a story or poem inspired by the image.

Cereal Dust Bowl by Carl Warner (and associate?)

“So, guess who that was? The ‘Play with Your Food’ people!”


“Yeah! They want us to do a shoot. Us!”

“Are they coming out with a new book?”

“Yeah, and it’s going beyond just veggies made to look like people and faces.”

“Like, what?”

“Scenes. Full-on, total scenes. Landscapes and shit.”

Posted in Daily Prompt, Misc | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Super Bowled Over

TBP Prompt: Use at least five (or more) of the following 62 words found in TBP followers’ Blog titles, profile names, and/or Gravatar IDs, to create a 100-200 word story (I broke my own rules here).

rubiconsMarie opened her eyes, sat up and reached for her phone. Her husband, Grant, rolled over into the warm spot she vacated. 5:47AM. She flung back the covers and darted into the bathroom.

“Hey!” Grant mumbled as he pulled the covers back over him. “It’s a little early to be such a maniac.”

She turned on the water for the shower.

Jesus, Marie!” Grant called out. “It’s not even six! On a Sunday!”

Marie ignored him. While Grant continued to feign sleep, she showered and hurriedly dressed. Grant can grouse all he wants. Football was her passion, and she’d waited what seemed like her whole life for this day. She didn’t want to miss a minute of it, because, from total obscurity, her beloved Rubicons managed to make it all the way to the big championship game. Nothing and no one could keep her from the excitement of the day.

She rushed into the kitchen to get to work. There was a lot to do that had yet to be done, and it all had to be perfect.

Marie and Grant invited all their friends and family over to watch the big game, and Marie spent the past two weeks planning the perfect tailgate-at-home blowout. They rented a large screen and projector, which they set up in front of the living room fireplace. Grant spent all of the night before plugging in cables and cords, disconnecting them, and plugging them in again, trying to get everything to work. After several hours blurting every foul word in the dictionary, he finally got a picture and sound.

While Grant wrestled with the electronics, Marie decorated the house. Everything had to be red and white; Rubicon team colors. No exception. If she could reupholster all the furniture and paint the walls in red and white, she would have done so in a heartbeat. Streamers and balloons would have to do the trick, but just about everything else was draped in red and white table cloths. A gigantic team flag waved proudly from their front porch. Even the typically neglected basement rec room, where the kids would end up hanging out playing video games all day, was festooned in red and white.

The food, of course, also had to be red and white. Not just accents, but all of it: White popcorn, cornbread made with Masa to go with the tomato-based soup with chicken and hominy. White corn chips and red salsa for dipping. Radishes, cauliflower and red bell peppers, with ranch dressing dip rounded out the veggie tray.  This morning she had to also make her mother’s red beans and rice casserole, and her grandmother’s angel food cake with cherry frosting (with extra red food coloring) decorated with sliced strawberries.

By noon she had everything cooked, baked, and the whole place set up, laid out, and ready to go. Grant surprised her by wearing an old-fashioned pair of red sans-a-belt coach’s pants he found in a second-hand shop, and a pair of 70s-era white patent leather loafers.

“Hey, I wouldn’t spoil my girl’s biggest day, would I?” he said when she asked him how he even thought to come up with such a crazy outfit. “I have to dress for the occasion, right?”

Their friends and family also decked out in red and white. Several folks wore red Halloween wigs, her best friend wore a ruby-and-diamond encrusted tiara, and their neighbors from across the street wore red, from head to toe, except for white socks. Her cousin said she “spent hours and hours” picking out only the red Skittles, though Marie noticed she surreptitiously tucked the rest of the candy on a table behind a vase where people could still help themselves, but where it would be out of sight.

All and all, the day was simply magical. The game turned out to be a real thriller, regardless her beloved Rubicons lost. Everyone had a great time. Even her typically anti-social cartographer brother was the life of the party with his goofy spoofs of all the commercials. After the game Grant’s buddies broke out their guitars and played a music jam, which took the party well into the night.

Exhausted, Marie finally fell into bed around midnight. She pulled her favorite Rubicon fleece throw blanket up over her head and drifted off to sleep with dreams of next season.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Bad Fish

Grammar Ghouls challenge: In exactly 39 words, write a story or poem inspired by the following image.


“Ink Sea” by ahermin

Oh, yes, my little misbehavin’ Siamese Fighting Fish boy, it is a totally spectacular view, but…do not mistake this as a simple “time out” for eating all my goldfish. See, the tide is gonna come in, inch by inch…



(with apologies to fellow blogger, Bad Fish)



Posted in Daily Prompt, Misc | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Never more

xmas is overHe knew people were watching. Whatever. Some of them were probably thinking he was doing it for the right reason; their right reason, burning it instead of throwing it in the trash, where it would just end up in some landfill.

If he could only burn it all away. Haul all of it all down here to burn, burn, burn.

People kept coming around, altering their path so they could casually walk by to see what he was doing. The needles cracked and curled, and the trunk disintegrated into charcoal and ash.

He was fascinated because he actually felt the release he sought. And all these looky-loos were witness to it.

This Christmas would be the last.

In response to The Blog Propellant Picture Prompt #46


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I haven’t got a clue

“I say it’s the ghost, in the library, with the taco.”

“There’s no taco or ghost in Clue! How’s a taco a weapon, anyway?”

“Acid reflux?”

[In response to Grammar Ghoul Press prompt]

Posted in Daily Prompt, Humor | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Two left feet

HokeyPokey2.jpgOk, you ready?

As I’ll ever be!

Good. OK, here we go. Let’s loosen up a bit. Just jog in place…little jogging…nothing big…that’s it! Now, move your arms around a bit, like this…that’s it! OK, now…stop. Good! OK, now come over here…just over here…right, and stand just here.


Yes, right here. OK. Now. Take your right foot…

My right one?

Yes, take your right foot, like this, and put it in, like this.


Yes, sort of. Let’s try again. Like this


Y-yes. Better. Like this.

I can’t quite…

No worries. We’ll work on it. Let’s get through the whole thing first.


OK, so, you put your right foot in, like this, and then…Oh, well, just place it… just put your foot down for the moment…OK, you put your right foot in, down, on the floor, toes touching the floor…thaaaat’s it, good! And then, like this, you put your right foot…out…like this!

Could you do that again?

Sure. Your foot’s in like this, right? And, then you put your right foot out, like this! Now you try it.

I…uh, I…you mean, like this?

Yes! Good! Very good. Now, here’s the next part. You put your right foot back in…like this!

Back in?

Yes, got it?

Like before?


Did I do it right?

Sure, that’s fine. Like I said, we’ll work on it. Moving on. Now comes the fun part. You ready?

Sure, I guess.

Raise your foot, just a bit, and…can you balance on your other leg?

Oh, well, I don’t…a little…I guess…

We’ll work on balance, no worries, you’re doing fine. So, raise your foot…here, hold my arm…there, good! Now, raise your right foot…and, good, and…shake it all about! Like this!

Umm…up and down, or side to side?

Well, a little of each. Just loose, and, ya know, shake-shake-shake, like this!

I, uh…

No worries.We’ll get it. We’ve got plenty of time to work on it. Moving on, because we have come to the best part! You do the Hokey Pokey!

The what?

The Hokey Pokey! And then you turn yourself around! Like this! And then clap your knees, and your hands and put them up in the air

But, you didn’t do anything.

What you mean I didn’t do anything? I did the Hokey Pokey!

I didn’t see you do anything. After shaking your foot you put it down and then said you did the Hokey Pokey. I didn’t see what you did.

Well, don’t worry. We’ll practice and practice, and by the end of the day you’ll see what it’s all about.

(sigh) Alright.

Shall we begin again?

Sure. Whatever.

OK, but this time you put your left foot in

OH? Really?! Good! ‘Cause I got two left feet!

Response to Training Day on The Blog Propellant


Posted in Humor, Misc, The Blog Propellant | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring

inside car rain outsideJack and Ally sat in Jack’s car while Ed went into the Midnite Mart for smokes, beer and something else. He wasn’t too clear on that part. Whatever it was, it was taking a long time. Jack played a game on his phone while they waited. Ally stared out the window at the rain.

“It gets dark fast here,” Ally observed.

“Hmm?” Jack replied without looking at her.

“I mean, like, it’s only 5:30 and it’s dark already.”

Jack continued playing his game on his phone.

“Do you call this a shower, or what?” Ally asked.


“I mean, is this ‘a shower’ or, like, rain?”

“I dunno.”

“ ‘Cause the weather lady said there’d be showers tonight, but, like, seriously? This looks like rain to me.”


“So, what the fuck’s the difference?”

“I dunno.”

“I mean, where I come from, it’s raining or it’s not. Like, this is rain.”

“When it rains, like,” Ally continued, “what do you say it’s doing? Do you say it’s raining, or do you say it’s ‘showering?’ ”

“Uh, I dunno.” Jack looked up from his phone and out the windshield of his car. “I say it’s raining,” and then went back to his game.

“That’s what I’m sayin’! So, like, what do you say when it’s, like, pouring, like, hard, or something?”

Jack sighed and said, “I dunno,  I say ‘it’s really raining hard, man,’ I guess.”

Ally looked at Jack. “I thought you guys had special words for rain, like, the Eskimos for ‘snow.’”

“What?” Jack put his game on pause and looked back at Ally. “What the fuck you talkin’ about?”

“Don’t you guys have special names for rain?”

“Like, what?”

“Like, I dunno, like… down pour, or waterfall, or sprinkle, or mist, or…”

“What the fuck! Rain. Alright? We call it rain!”

“Do you ever say, like, instead of ‘it’s raining,’ do you say, ‘it’s sprinkling?’ ”

“I dunno! Maybe?” Jack thought a second. “OK, like, OK…I say, ‘it’s only sort of raining,’ or ‘its not raining, it’s kinda wet, or ‘it’s not raining.”

“Even when, like, there’s rain, only it’s just sprinkling, you say it’s not raining?”



“I dunno! ‘Cause, it’s not raining!”

Ed jumped into the back seat. “OK, I’m good.”

Ally turned to Ed, “Ed, is it raining, or is it showering?”

Ed looked at Ally, “What? Oh, I guess,” he looked out his window, “It’s sort of raining. Kind of. Whatever.”

Posted in Short Story Tableaus | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Beach House

seaside escape Tucked just behind the giant sand dunes at the very end of the road, the beach house had all the perfection a get-away place should have: No neighbors and right on the shore without being exposed to the frequent storms, or looky-loo weekenders. The sliver of a view of the ocean, just past the point where the dunes gently rolled into the beach and the tall grasses abruptly stopped, still stretched out uninterrupted for what seemed like miles. Eric was relieved to see the unbuildable marshy grass area around his family’s property remained the stalwart guard against ever-encroaching new development.

It had been such a long time since Eric had been to the old family place. He was surprised nothing much had changed, but also relieved. His parents spent a lot of time and money on the place over the years, but they kept things looking pretty much the same. Familiarity, and the comfort of home; of childhood’s home, was what he needed. Eric was glad he’d made the trip.

He put the few groceries he brought with him away, grabbed a beer and got situated in his favorite spot on the deck. He settled back in the weather-worn adirondack he remembered helping his dad build when he was about 12 or 13 years old. For the first time in weeks, he felt himself relax.

Looking out at the sunset sky, memories of long summers ran through his mind’s eye. He and his siblings played for hours in the surf and  marshes, building forts, and race tracks for toy trucks, and pretending to be the first people who lived in this area who had to survive outside in the wild. He grew up hating the month of September, because it meant time to leave the beach house for another year.

Crazy bender weekends spent here  during college brought a smirk to Eric’s face as he recounted the rowdy antics he and his buddies got up to. With no neighbors nearby, letting loose and getting loud was no big deal. No stuck-up daddy’s girls living in the house next door to call the cops and complain. They spent a lot of weekends at the beach house.

At night, they stayed up drinking, laughing, playing video games, and burning their pathetic attempts at cooking dinner, always setting off the smoke alarm. If the moon was full and bright, they’d run outside to toss a football around on the beach. Of course, daytime was for sleeping, and they’d stay in bed well past noon. Eventually they’d drag their hungover selves into Ocean Crest City for more beer and something to eat, sometimes stopping at the go-cart track for a couple of spins before heading back to the beach house to start in on another night of partying.

Occasionally one of the guys would bring a girl he’d been seeing, and she’d usually bring a friend along for company. Every so often, one of them ended up with the friend, at least for the weekend. But mostly the girls did their own thing. Or, they played video games with the guys. Everyone always drank too much, and teenage hormones ricocheted off the walls, as well as each other, but it casual. Nothing too crazy. Until the time Nate’s roommate brought a bunch of girls he picked up somewhere.

No one ever learned where the girls were from, or where Nate’s roommate met them. Eric’s best friend at the time, Zach, was sure they were hookers who worked the truck stop just off the interstate; the big one at the turn-off to Ocean Crest City. Eric wasn’t so sure. That these chicks were skanks was no doubt. But he didn’t think they were actually hookers. Anyway, everything got out of hand and out of control that weekend. And the girls kept egging them on, like none of it was a big deal. Eric understood why Zach thought they were pros.

The problem was the girls brought some serious dope with them, and lots of coke. Eric and his friends smoked a bit, snorted sometimes, that is, if one of them had the balls to buy a little bit of the stuff. And, sure, you bet they made big, sloppy plays for cute girls at parties, or when they were out for beers, always with the hopes of getting laid that night (and sometimes one of them actually would). But, basically, they were a bunch of dilettantes. Partying with chicks like these girls was not their m.o.

Eric never brought anyone back to the place after that unhinged weekend. He skipped school so he could thoroughly clean up and fix the damage they caused. It took him the better part of two days. Zach offered to help, but Eric wanted to be alone.

Back at school, Eric worried he might have missed something, and that his mom or dad would discover what he missed. But as time went by and nothing was said, he knew he dodged a bullet. That weekend left a bad taste in his mouth, and he resented his favorite place was tainted by it. Eric buckled down at school, and visits of any kind to the beach house, including invites from his parents and siblings, abruptly stopped.

Eric graduated college with high marks and jumped head-long into his career. He and Angie had been dating only a few weeks at that time, but he insisted on getting married when she tearfully apologized for getting pregnant. He took the big career-move job in Ontario shortly after their eldest was born, and they made a life there.

Eric’s parents routinely suggested they gather at the old beach house whenever he and his family planned a visit, but the distance for Eric, both physically and emotionally, was too far to have to travel back. He always declined.

Sitting on the deck, Eric realized what he missed most about the beach house is how he felt when he was here. As a child, and as a young man, he’d sit in the same spot he sat in now, staring at the same view of the ocean, wondering what was out there; what was next; what was going to happen. Anything seemed possible then, and everything seemed exciting. He needed to feel that way again.

Thoughts of Angie flooded his mind. “Angie, my darling girl,” Eric said aloud, “you made me promise ‘no regrets,’ but, ” Eric paused as deep emotion took a sudden choke-hold, “…I …regret… never bringing you here, to this wonderful, this most beautiful, this incredibly perfect place. God, how much I’m going to miss you.”

Eric stood and raised his beer. Angie would have loved it here.

Posted in Short Story Tableaus | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Victor & Hugo, Part V

I’m inspired by a story started by tnkerr-Writing Prompts & Practices. Below is the fifth part of Victor & Hugo (to start from the beginning, Click Here: 

Rocksberg, Idaho Territory, September 1878

The boy was thin and bony as a starved horse. His skin was as pale as death and his eyes were sunken pools of an unmistakable blackness. The only recognizable features on him Apple Alice could make out was his jet-black hair and Victor’s height.

“We’re sorry, Mizz Garrett, we cain’t take care of your boy no more,” Mr. Anderson flatly stated.  “I appreciate you have ‘im whens we thought we ain’t  gonna have no kids ‘our own, but we gots a passel of ‘em now and I cain’t feeds ‘em all. ‘Sides,” Mr. Anderson continued, “boy’s old enough to start making his own way. Me and the missus reckoned he be a help to you here, now he’s grown.”

And with that Mr. Anderson bid Alice a good day, and walked out of the saloon. The boy did not acknowledge Mr. Anderson, nor seem to realize the man who he’d called father was leaving him with a woman he did not know.

Alice and Finnian Garrett stared at each other for a long time before Alice finally broke their silence.

“So, you found out the Anderson’s weren’t your Ma and Pa.”

“Yeah. They says you’re my Ma and that my last name’s Garrett now, not Anderson.”

“I like your first name. They give you that?”

“ ‘Spose so.”


“I goes by ‘Fin’.”

“Well, Fin, I never thought in a million years I’d see your like again, but here you are. Follow me. I’ll take you upstairs and, well, I guess, get you settled in.”

V&H-vSawtooth region, Idaho, July 25 1996

Larry left the office and headed home as soon as he picked up his cousin’s message. He wanted to return his call in privacy.

“Jesus Mike, you guys really think it’s old Vic?” Larry asked Deputy Garrett.

Deputy Garrett laughed, “Wouldn’t it be a helluva thing if it was? Shit.” He continued, “Of course we won’t know for sure until forensics does the voodoo they do so well, but damn. Ya know?”

First cousins through their mothers, Larry and Mike were as close as two people could be. They were born ten days apart and grew up just a couple of blocks of each other. People always said they were more like twin brothers than cousins. It was clear their bond was a river that ran very deep.

Larry was the “pip-squeak,” as he was sometimes called as a kid, routinely bullied by the boys at school. Mike was the athlete and hung with the popular kids, but he would never let anybody get away with harming a hair on Larry’s head.

Mike stayed put, leaving for Boise only for the the time required to get his law enforcement training, while Larry went to college in Pullman, and then graduate school at University of Washington, before returning to the Sawtooth. When Larry came home with his wife and new baby, and this crazy idea to start an environmental preservation nonprofit, Mike was the first of both their families to contribute money and help organize fundraisers. Larry’s nonprofit grew and did well, but his marriage did not. Mike was the only one who came around to bolster him up when his wife won full custody of their children and moved to Seattle. Larry returned the support in-kind when Mike’s middle child was hospitalized with a mysterious malady and it looked like the little guy wouldn’t pull through. Larry stayed by his cousin’s side through the whole ordeal, helping to wrangle doctors, nurses, untangle the tangled web of HMO policies, and the hospital’s  administration. There was nothing these two men faced in their lives that the other was not there to help see through. In between, they shared a lot of laughs and tons of time fishing, as well as some hunting.

“How do they check DNA on a century-old skeleton?” Larry asked Mike.

“Oh, well,” Mike sighed, “all they need is DNA samples from living relatives. Then they check against any DNA they can scrape from the bones, and bingo! It matches, or it don’t.”

“From 100-plus year-old bones.”


“Jesus Mike,” Larry repeated, “what kind of shit storm will that turn out to be?”

“You’re tellin’ me. Well, at least you and yours will get what you went lookin’ to find.”

“Yeah. I suppose. I don’t know. ”

The last thing Larry wanted was his organization, for which he’d sacrificed everything he ever had to keep afloat, including the his wife and kids, to get embroiled in a legal fight over the oldest and most contentious conflict his hometown Old Rocksberg had ever known. In the 125 years since Catherine Samuels told the first man from the Territory Council he could go straight to hell, the battle for Victor Samuels land had never once let up. The argument over the ownership of the land defined Larry’s family, Mike’s family, Mike’s wife’s family and all the Samuels, Davenports and Barretts for two hundred miles around. The fabled Hatfields and McCoys had nothing on them.

Larry was afraid getting his organization anywhere near the long contentious issue would compromise its hard-won position as a region-wide leader in environmental advocacy for the inland Northwest. He had tons of eager and hardworking volunteers, college interns, as well as the support of most local politicians, conservative and liberal alike. But, with only Charlene and Hugo on staff to supervise and direct things, there’d be no way he could juggle the old family fight, and keep fighting the ever-present champions of commercial land development.

But, Larry couldn’t help but wonder what any of the families would do with the land, now that it looked like the ownership matter was finally going to be settled. Depending who ultimately ended up with Ol’ Vic’s claim, what would happen to it could be anything between a gift from the heavens, or a complete disaster for the Sawtooth region.

If Larry’s and Mike’s wife’s family, the Samuels, ended up with the ownership, then Larry knew he’d have a hard fight in front of him to establish the place as a preserve. His family had never been all that supportive of his endeavors. They’d think of him as nothing short of a traitor for even considering turning the land into a refuge, or turning it over to the National Park program. From Catherine and her son Thomas on down to the current generation, all the Samuels ever wanted was to be able to move back onto the land and use its resources to provide the family with an income.

If the Garretts end up with it…well, that prospect had always been hard to imagine. Their claim was always a bit dicey. But, if Mike was right, and the forensic people can do this DNA test, then it could be proved once and for all whether the Garretts are related to Old Vic or not. With the exception of Mike, Larry wasn’t sure any of the Garretts ever thought much of doing anything with the land, other than to have a stake in a claim they believed to be rightfully theirs.

And then there were the Davenports. Most of them had moved out of the area long ago, but they still let their presence be known. God, Larry thought. They’ll probably want to turn the place into a goddamned Disneyland north; some sort of sprawling resort to rival Sun Valley, or some such atrocity.

But, first things first, he thought. When Charlene and Hugo get in the next morning, he’d have to let them in on his little secret; that Victor Samuels was his ancestor, and that he is among all the other Samuels in direct line to inherit the property, should it come to pass. From there on out, he’d just have to take it one step at a time.

Hugo sat in Charlene’s office, arms crossed with his chin down on his chest. Charlene was slouched in her chair, staring out the window. The pistol that was by the skeleton lay on the desk between them.

Hugo raised his head and looked at his boss. This woman, who he genuinely admired, and for whom, he had to admit, he had a bit of a crush; this wonderful woman had shocked and disappointed him.

“I’m just gonna say it,” he said. “I don’t understand what made you to take the gun.”

Charlene shrugged. “Neither do I.”

“Were you going to show Larry? I mean, why show me? What are you going to do with it? I…” Hugo paused, “Fuck. I don’t know.”

“Oh, c’mon! Don’t be angry,” Charlene pleaded. “Yes, it was stupid, but it’s not like I tampered with a murder scene, or something.”

Hugo put up a hand as he stood up, “Hey, you know, whatever. All I gotta say is, it’s a good thing Larry isn’t here.” He started to make his way to the door, but stopped.  “I just don’t…Charlene, I don’t want you to get in trouble, is all.”

“Nobody’s getting in trouble.”

“You don’t know that,” Hugo cautioned. He let out a loud sigh and started again for the door.

“Hey, now wait,” Charlene said, suddenly desperate to stop Hugo from walking out on her. Charlene considered Hugo one of the hard-to-find, good guys in the world. She hated herself for letting him down.

“OK, you’re right,” she said. “You’re absolutely right. I should go back up there and put it back.”

Hugo nodded, “Agreed.”

“OK. I’ll put it back. Of course,” she said. “But, can this stay just between us?” she hesitantly asked.

“Sure. You bet,” Hugo quickly replied. “I still don’t get why you took it in the first place, but sure. I won’t say a thing to anyone.”

“Right. OK, then. Thanks. I appreciate it. And I’ll put it back,” Charlene concluded. “I’ll take it with me tonight and on my way in tomorrow, I’ll go back up there and put it back exactly where I found it.”

Hugo smiled. “Better yet,” he said, looking at his watch, “it won’t be sunset for a couple or more hours, so if we leave now, we can make it there and back before it gets too dark. C’mon. We’ll take my truck.” Charlene agreed. She was grateful Hugo had so quickly forgiven her.

They drove for a while lost in their own thoughts before Charlene opened up. “Ya know, Hugo, I don’t think we will be able to use finding this old skeleton for our purposes.”

Hugo was confused with the sudden switch. “Why not?”

“Well, I don’t think it’s smart to get the organization all wrapped up in some long, drawn out legal whateverness. I know Larry’d agree with me.”

“But, isn’t that the point? I mean, if they prove the skeleton is that man who had the title way back when, and they go to court, and it’s this long legal battle like the Sheriff said, doesn’t that keep Hixon from going ahead with their plans for the mine?”

“Yes, but, it’s not the ideal way to go for us. It’d be better if we came up with something lasting, that can’t be contested, like we originally planned. We really ought to keep with the endangered or threatened species angle.”

“OK, I mean, it’s yours and Larry’s call, but it seems like time’s running out.”

“Well, then we better hope that skeleton turns out to be Ol’ Vic Samuels, ‘cause that’ll buy us some time.”

Hugo shook his head. “I don’t know. If that is Ol’ Vic, and if they all end up in court duking it out, you can bet none of them are going to allow folks like us, or anyone else for that matter, up there pokin’ around.” Hugo paused. “We’d just be going up against the owners instead of Hixon, is all.”

Hug0 turned to look at Charlene, who was gazing at him with a big smile. He blushed a bit and quickly returned his attention to the road to hide his own smile.

“So,” Charlene said, “let’s not waste any time! Let’s get back to the original plan, take advantage while we can of this limbo over who owns the land, and hope we find something we can use before anything else happens.”

Hugo nodded. Then he said, “What are you going to tell Larry?”

“Nothing. We agreed this was just between us,” Charlene cautioned.

“Not about that. No, I mean about what you said about the skeleton not being the thing that’ll work for us.”

Charlene thought a moment. “Well, he was pretty skeptical to begin with. Anyway, there’s nothing really to tell him, except that we’re moving ahead as originally planned. Let the old families worry about the skeleton and we’ll just do our own thing.”

Hugo drove farther up the old logging road than he had the day before, and past where Deputy Garrett had parked that morning, figuring they could shave some time off their hike if he parked his truck as close as possible to the little pile of rocks he made to mark where to head up the foothill. When he and Charlene agreed to drive out here before sundown, it seemed like a good idea. But since then, Hugo felt anxious about their decision.  Hikers and climbers with far more experience than they had gotten themselves lost in these woods before, and neither he nor Charlene could be considered anything more than a couple of outdoor enthusiasts. Furthermore, neither of them was wearing warm clothes, or was equipped with anything other than a couple of standard-issue flashlights. So, the quicker they completed their mission, the better. If they kept up a good pace on the way there and back, and kept their focus on task at hand and didn’t dink-around, they’d have just enough sunlight to make it back to the truck before it turned to dusk.

As they hiked up the foothill, Charlene became increasingly aware of the weight of the gun in her backpack. Had she not gone and done this stupid thing in the first place, they’d not be in this situation, working against waning sunlight, trying to put things right with the hopes no one would ever know what she had done. More importantly, she would not have damaged Hugo’s good opinion of her. She liked him, perhaps more than a boss should an employee. He’d been quick to forgive her, but she hoped her poor judgement had not ultimately changed the dynamic between them. Regardless, she was glad she was doing the right thing by putting the pistol back, and getting them back on track of their original plan to find a rare species of flora or fauna, and especially glad she was close to putting this whole day behind her.

As they came to the final crest that looked out over the clearing where Hugo found the skeleton resting against the tree, they abruptly stopped, just as they had that morning with the Sheriff and the Deputy.  Only, this time it was because they didn’t see the skeleton, nor the rifle or the whiskey bottle. None of it was there.

They flew into a panic. “Check your coordinates,” Charlene snapped, “are you sure we’re in the right spot?!”

“Yes, yes! Totally sure! I know this is the place. Has to be!” Hugo looked around. “I mean, it’s gotta be! Look,” he said pointing over to their left, “there’s that old mother log,” and, pointing a little to their right, “there’s that boulder.” Hugo walked over to the boulder to peer around it. “Exactly! There’s a little drop-off right on the other side.”

He walked back to Charlene, who stood dumbfounded, wildly casting her eyes all over the clearing.

“Do you think someone came back here and took everything already? You know, to examine it?” Charlene asked.

“I don’t know. That seems awfully fast. Sheriff didn’t say anything about who they’d call, but I don’t think there’s anyone in this county qualified to do a proper forensic investigation. They’d have to call up to Boise, or Spokane,” Hugo thought aloud. “I mean, usually, when someone is found dead, it seems like I usually read in the paper that the Sheriff’s office brings in one of the city investigation teams.”

Charlene’s eyes were wide and desperate, “But you are absolutely sure we’re in the right spot. We couldn’t have veered off one way or the other. Maybe we should go a little ways over there,” she said pointing back left, “just to make sure.”

“I’m really sure we’re in the right spot. I know I saw that log and this boulder,” Hugo stated reassuringly.
“These are the coordinates on the GPS.”

If Hugo was absolutely sure they were in the right place, then none of it made any sense. Who would take the skeleton? The Deputy said something about his wife being part of one of the families contesting the land ownership. Maybe he came back this afternoon and cleared everything out so no one could prove who the skeleton was. But, why the hell do that? Would he be so brazen as to deny it was ever here; that any of the rest of them had actually seen the skeleton?

She looked up at the sky. The sun was low, but still high enough. “Let’s take a moment to look around, just here, in the immediate area, see what we might be able to find.”

“What are we looking for?” Hugo asked.

“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “Something. Anything that indicates the skeleton was here, I guess.”

“And what do we do with the pistol?”

“I don’t know. I can’t think. Just…help me look.”

They started wandering around the site, their eyes focused on the ground and the spot against the tree where Hugo found the skeleton. The dirt, pine needles, pine cones and bits of grass looked strangely undisturbed.

Hugo looked at the section of the tree where the rifle had been propped up. Trees are curious things. If a foreign object gets in its way as it grows, like a big rock, or a knife that someone stabbed into the trunk and left there because they couldn’t get it back out, the tree will simply grow around the object, incorporate it as part of itself, as if it was slowly trying to swallow it.

For a rifle to have been leaning up against a tree for over 100 years and not fall over while the tree grew, meant there would have to be some clear evidence that some of the trunk had grown around at least part of it. Hugo looked all around the base of the tree, but the bark bore no special marks, cracks or breaks exposing the wood underneath, as it would if something had been ripped from it.

He then moved to the spot where he’d seen the whisky bottle. That bit of ground surely would have grass burn, or be free of forest floor debris. It definitely would be teaming with bugs, and the soil would be a damp from decades of trapped water under the bottle. But he found nothing. No obvious evidence that something, anything had been lying there for 100 years.

“Charlene, it’s getting too dark,” Hugo said, his voice strained with stress. “These rinky-dink flashlights I had in the truck aren’t going to do a helluva lot of good on our way back. We’ve got to go before it gets any darker.”

“Yeah, OK.” Charlene hesitated. “What the fuck do I do with the pistol?”

“Leave it. Just set it down by the tree,” Hugo urged. “Let’s wipe in down, just in case, and…”

“No! That’ll make it even more obvious, if we remove a century’s worth of dirt and whatever else would be on it!”

Hugo stepped right into Charlene’s face and took a firm grasp on her arm. “I’m just going to say this. You already saw to it when you decided to take the gun in the first place. You’ve probably shaken all that residue off already, putting it in and out of your backpack.” He kept his gaze steady on her. Charlene was too startled by Hugo’s sudden command to reply.

Sensing her anxiety, Hugo backed off a bit. “Please, Charlene, I’m feeling very, very uneasy about all of this. The fact that the skeleton is gone, that there’s absolutely no evidence it was here in the first place, that it’s already too dark to make it all the way to back to the truck with any hope there’ll still be some twilight to help us find our way….Please, wipe the damn thing off or not, whatever, but please, please, just leave it by the tree and let’s get the fuck out of here. Now. We can discuss what to do next on the drive back.”

Read the story thus far


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Winter’s Night

winter nightBleak mid-winter’s night

falls over the prospect of the new year

and warm anticipation

goes cold

feeling left out


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