15 Minute Fiction: Acoustic Starscape

Rita’s first ship was called the Blackbird. It was a simple name with little pomp or circumstance, and it fit the freighter for what it was: modest on the outside but smooth and perfect as it cut its way through space.

What she never talked about was that the name didn’t come from the Earth animal, but a song that her father sang when she was younger. “Blackbird fly. Into the light of the dark, black night.” He played it on an ancient instrument made from wood and string, his weathered hands somehow turning the box into something magical and mysterious, that emitted a melody that trailed into her dreams each night.

When her father died, Rita took the instrument on board her ship. Several times, custodian bots would try to take it out with the craft’s garbage. “Don’t touch that!” she screamed, and they would turn their round servos at her, curious as toddlers. “Not that,” she said, quieter, shameful. “Everything else can go.” Nothing else mattered.

She tried to play it on more than one occasion, pushing her fingers into the metal bits in the wood, running the back of her nails down the strings. They let out a dull intonation at that, as if in affront to her blasphemy. When she accidentally broke one of the lines, she stopped picking it up except to let it sit in her lap.

“Hey, is that a guitar?” When she was at a drop, Rita turned to find an older woman pointing at her father’s whimsical box. Her face was long, old, as worn as the canyons on a desert planet. “May I?” she asked, reaching out her hands as if asking to hold a newborn.

Rita wasn’t sure why she didn’t deny the woman her request. But she wanted to see what she would do with it. Would she actually know how to handle it? Would she pretend it was something other than what it was? It didn’t matter. She picked it up – the priceless gift that the woman called ‘guitar’ – and placed it in her bony hands.

The old woman pulled the string back into its spot – “Just slipped out. Ain’t broken yet. You’ll want to be careful,” she said – and then she strummed, three times, in three notes. And then, her fingers moved like they were dancing across the thing, plucking and pressing and creating a song, a song for joy, a song for glee.

“Teach me,” Rita whispered, the tears spilling down her cheeks.

And she did. She showed her until Rita’s fingers tingled painfully, until the three suns had aligned and dropped to the horizon.

“Come with me.”

“No,” the woman said.

“I still don’t know how to use it. Not like you.”

“You know enough,” the woman said, as she collected her box from the cargo bay of the Blackbird. “No one can teach you all the songs that have passed through the universe. Write some of your own.”

Fifteen Minute Fiction: Regaining Control

More from our vampire-y character. And another new character. Are you guys enjoying these? Or should I let this character go to bed for a while? Thoughts.

Prompt: Losing control.

When she came out of the blind rage and back into slow, uneasy awareness, she was in the middle of a field. Her clothes were torn, and her hands felt dry but dirty. Like something had gotten on them and dried into a layer of nastiness.

She puffed out a breath of air that steamed in the cold, wanting to touch her face to get off some of the awful nasty there as well. Finally, she rubbed under her eye with the side of her arm. It didn’t help.

Running a tongue over her teeth, she realized that her fangs had shrunk back into plain canines. That empty, cavernous pit that had opened up in her body had been filled up by something.

She pressed her lips. They were still wet, cold now, but…

Forcing herself to look around, the field opened wide and far. In the distance was a town, but that was a good five or six miles. No houses around. A shell of a barn, but that was it.

So…what did she eat?

I waited too long, she thought. And that happened. I need to not do that again. I cannot wait and wait and wait. I have to find something or I’ll…

Somebody groaned.

She leaped back, eyes wide. It came from a few feet ahead of her, a spot that she had thought was…something else. Even now, as her eyes adjusted in the night of cold stars and only a sliver of moon, it seemed big, bulky, furry. A bear, she thought. A big dog, maybe.

But that sound it made, that was human.

She called out, “Hello?”

The thing – which she realized had been shifting – stopped moving. “You have got to be fucking kidding me.”


The mound turned to her. It was a bear after all — brown, bleeding, huge, with inky black eyes and a snarling muzzle. “After all that shit. ‘Hello.’ How do you fucking do, psycho bitch from hell…”

The bear was talking.

The bear was talking to her.

“I am…so sorry,” she blurted. “Oh my God, you’re a talking bear and I…I don’t even know what happened. You have got to believe me.”

The bear shivered and the grass around it seemed to take a breath. And after a second, it was gone, and there was a man standing there. Tall, black, with scars that looked pink against his chest. He pointed a finger at her. “You. Need to get your shit together.”

Then, as quickly as all of that had been said, he passed out. Naked and bared in the cold air.

Now what the hell was she supposed to do?

Fifteen Minute Fiction: Night Riders

You know the drill. Tonight’s prompt: Write about stealing time. And yes, it’s the character from last week. Because I can.

“What took you so long to respond?”

My fingers hover over the numbers on my cell phone. It’s awful. It’s so old that I still have to hit a number 2-3 times to get the letter I need. I have to be slow and deliberate with each sentence I write. “You know I’m not around until around six or so.” This time of year, anyway.

“Yeah, that’s right, you have that awful job, or whatever.”

I nibble on my lip a bit and look around. I know she’s in Canada but I feel like she’ll be able to tell I’m lying. That I’m always, always, always lying to her. “Haha. Yup. But it pays the bills so there’s that.”

“What are you up to for the rest of the night?”

I get comfortable in my seat on the bus. I just barely made it in time to board. I’m going to ride to the middle of nowhere, get out, find somewhere else to go and get checked in before dawn. If I have to find another ditch or, worse, dig a hole to get into, I’m going to lose my mind. “Just hanging out. Maybe watch some House re-runs.”

“I love that show. I can’t believe it ended.”

“It was about time.” Somebody boards with a dog in a little carrier. It looks at me and goes ballistic. The old woman shushes it and looks at me like I must have made it freak out, like it’s my fault. I drop my eyebrows and give her a nasty glare. It’s only when she disappears to the back that the piercing yips fade out, like the last dots of an ellipses.

“Want to watch it together?”

My throat tightens. I straighten up in my seat, feel very conscious of the fact that I was not expecting this. I try to relax. “Aw, baby. You and I don’t have the same channels. US, remember?”

“Oh yeah. I forget sometimes.”

If I had a pulse, it would be drumming. I let the brief panic pass. “I wish I was there.” It’s true. I do. But I think about what it would be like, all the explaining, all the words and restrictions. I try to imagine what I would be like, if it were the other way around. Having this strange girl who you knew once show up at your door, and she’s at once everything you knew about her and yet nothing at all.

“Me too. I wish you could come visit.”

I consider the logistics of getting a passport. Could you do that at night? Could I just do it online? I could still use my name, right? Maybe, but nothing else. I think about walking up the river from New York to Canada. Taking paths through the wilderness. But where could I bed down during the day? I don’t like the idea of ground so cold you can’t dig through it. I’m uncomfortable now. I try not to let that show. “Maybe sometime. When I have the money.”

“I could send you some.”

“Honey, I don’t want your money.”

“If it meant I could have you here with me, I would pay anything.”

I feel guilty. I feel deceitful. I feel…I feel…I feel…

I stare at the phone for too long. It buzzes again. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

What does that even mean, now?

As the bus pulls away, I’m grateful for poor reception, for shorter texts and longer waits. I hope she’ll get over me. I hope she doesn’t think about it too much, because all I have is time to think and it’s no good.

Fifteen Minute Fiction: Bright Blood

15 minutes. No editing. No fixing. Raw.

Write about something that made you cry.

I don’t cry quite as easily now. But when I do, watch out.

I’m out in the bushes, standing against dark, against dark. The light inside the house is bright, warm, a buttery yellow. I’m on the side of the house away from it, so the light spills out into the yard and not onto my pale face.

I tried to come back, once.

I knocked on the door, and my Dad answered. He didn’t say anything for a long time, but then he came out – never once inviting me in – and nearly knocked my off the stoop when he hugged me.

I was so cold that he seemed to be broiled. My first thought was, He’s sick, he has a fever, but that wasn’t it. I just wasn’t at that steady 98-point-some degrees. Not anymore. Never again.

“I can’t come in,” I said. Technically, I absolutely could. I didn’t have to be invited. But seeing the walls and the paintings and the mirrors and the bowls and the crystal-cut antiques…it would be too painful.

“No, no, I didn’t think so,” he said. “I saw. In the paper.”

I reached up then, poked a hole in the side of my head like I was fishing for a plum in a pie. “Two shots. Pow, pow, that was it.”

“When there wasn’t a body…” He started crying, his old face doubling up into folds and wrinkles, crushing itself with grief. “I knew.”

“I can go anywhere now, though,” I tried to say. I tried to will the side of my mouth up into a smile. “Texas, Utah, Nebraska. All the places I’ve never been. I have all the time in the world.” I wanted that image to comfort him, the thought of a hundred sleepless nights on the road, practically skipping through the stillness.

“There’s that,” he said, after he had rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.

There were other questions, then: could I turn into things? What did I do before dawn? How hard was it to stomach the taste of…?

“It’s not so bad,” I said. “If I close my eyes.”

“Where do you get it?”


He had a look like I was using some sort of euphemism. I quickly said, “No, like, I go out into cow pastures at night. Like tipping. Only…” I moved my jaw up and down.

“You always did like burgers.”

We laughed.

I was glad, then. As much as I had hated becoming a young woman and going through high school and even a bit of college without a mother to tell me what was normal and what wasn’t, I really liked the fact that I would only have to say goodbye once.

“Can I get you anything?” he asked. He was turning around a bit, toward the kitchen at first, then back towards the hallway that led to my room. Well, what was my room before I went off to school.

I couldn’t bear to tell him that I didn’t need anything, so I said, “In the parlor closet, I have my good winter hunting coat. Can I have that? The one with the snap hood?”

He disappeared, and I hated myself for wanting to go, then. But even with the speed and the strength, I wouldn’t have gotten far enough away not to hear his anguish when I wasn’t there anymore. So I watched an airplane move in a slow blink across the sky, and he came back out in it.

I could smell every deer I had ever carried, every pheasant, every fox. I could taste the musk coming off of them, see the fading light in their eyes, the slow pilgrim’s progress of death.

“Bye, Dad.”

He hugged me again, all bear-fisted and red-faced.

I thought I’d be gone but I’m here. Pulled to the light of the life I used to have, so full of everything I never thought I’d miss. He’s in there, still. And I’m glad. But I can’t keep from crying.

Watch out.

Fifteen Minute Fiction: Balls in the Canyon

Ugh! This is the first one of these I’ve done where I got to fifteen minutes and had to wrap it up fast. I’d love for this to become something more, but I like it how it is, too, so. Yeah. Anyway, you know the rules: prompt, fifteen minutes writing, no editing. Here it is.

The prompt was: Write about a summer night.

It was the summer of 1988 when my neighbor disappeared.

The dank, heavy heat of August sat on the town like a slab of fat. We sizzled, we stank, and no matter how many fans you thought you had, and even if you set them all up against a bucket of ice, you sweat and sweat. You slept in sweat, ate in sweat, watched the news in sweat and we were all sweating when the police came.

She was fifteen, a woman, practically. We had lived across the street from one another since her family moved there eight years before. I was four when her daddy’s truck came bouncing up the drive, kicking stones and dust into the air. The grass had died, and the small yard was a pale, stupid yellow. I had never, even that young, thought that someone could live in the house with its criss-crossy panels that were coated with the remains of mud and grit and mosquitoes. When they walked through the front door – the screen slapping shut behind the mother, the father, the four brothers and Chelsea – there was silence. It was like they had disappeared into a cave or a train car.

The brothers were Tom, Rosco, Jack and Dustin. They looked like copies of the same person but in different sizes. Like shirts or game pieces. They were all snub-nosed, square-headed, thick-armed guys who played football or kickball or baseball. If there was a ball involved, they were in on it.

I never saw Chelsea spend time with her brothers. It was either her outside or them. When they were outside, I stayed inside, too. Once, when I was six and didn’t know any better, I asked to play with them. We walked to a wall outside the playground at our school.

“We’re going to play wallball,” they said. It was never one of them, at least in my memory of it. It was like they were a hydra or some other nightmarish creature with too many heads and mouths that were always moving, sneering, leering.

“Okay,” I said. “How do you play?”

For a half hour, I stood like a doomed man in front of a firing squad. One by one, they would hurl a basketball in my direction. Sometimes they missed. Usually, they didn’t. And I would lose, because you won by staying still, and I could never, ever keep from even just slightly cringing.

It went on and on until the ball bounced into the ditch and was gone.

Chelsea told me that sometimes she would go in the ditch because she knew it was the only place her brothers wouldn’t go. “One time, one of them went down and got really bad poison oak. And my momma said that if they ever went down again, she would switch ’em. I think they just figured there were enough other places to go.”

I went down there with her, but only once.

The police came over, grim-faced, and asked if I had any idea where Chelsea might have gone.

And even though I cried, it just looked like sweat, which dripped onto my shirt when I shook my head ‘no.’