Don’t Snoop

The following is a memory that was triggered when I made a sandwich to take to work with me. 


“Don’t snoop,” Grandmomma always said when I was being nosey or poking around in places I had no business poking around in. “Don’t snoop.”

My grandparents lived in an old two-story house in what some call the mill hill and others call the mill village. I called it home. I spent a large chunk of my childhood there, running the streets with my brother, for the most part. Occasionally, other kids would show up, them, like us, visiting their grandparents for the weekend or the summer or Christmas or Easter break or whenever Mom and Dad needed a break. There were only a handful. Tony. Wayne. David. Bryce. David B. Bryce was the only mainstay for a while, his family living in the corner house of the same street my grandparents lived on. He moved away when I was nine or ten. I can’t remember. David B. was the next to leave, though not by his own will. Getting hit by a car and dragged a short distance before getting untangled beneath it isn’t exactly your own will. Wayne and David—it seemed I knew three sets of brothers with that combo of names—showed up the least of the bunch. Then their grandparents moved away and so did they. Leaving Tony, myself and my brother … and the Barnett brothers, but we steered clear of them and when we saw them coming, we all ran the other way. 

I spent a lot of time with my granddad, playing marbles, watching the Braves on television, walking down to the McDonald’s from time to time for an egg mcmuffin, or heading to Brown’s Grocery for whatever he needed and the occasional bag of candy and coke in a small glass bottle. Those same bottles we collected and took back to Brown’s for money. I cut the grass and cleaned the yard from time to time, all things outside. 

When it came to the inside, that was all Grandmomma, and even trying to help clean from time to time was considered snooping. 

Still, we snooped when we could. I don’t know why, but I think it is something all children do, and many adults as well. We’re curious, people are. We go to a house we’ve never been to and suddenly have to use the bathroom, which may be true. A lot of people peek into the medicine cabinet just to see what’s there. It’s a medicine cabinet, what do we think we will find besides, I don’t know, medicine?

Grandmomma’s house was laid out fairly simple. A living room when you walked in the front door, a bedroom directly off to the left, the door always closed. There wasn’t really a hallway, but small area directly beyond the living room that opened into what could be considered a large dining room. To the right of the dining room was a walk-in closet or a pantry. To the left was a small kitchen with a stove and sink to the right, a table and chairs to the left, and like every other kitchen in America, cabinets for plates, bowls, glasses, canned goods, perishables and whatever else went in kitchens. A small black and white television sat on the counter. Off the dining room was another door. When you opened it, the door to the left was the bathroom. Stairs led up to the second floor where two large bedrooms sat, separated by a small walkthrough closet. There were lots of places to snoop. There was also the back porch with Granddaddy’s various tools and what nots and the metal shed that I thought had been built rusty but somehow remained upright. 

Snooping at Grandmomma’s house wasn’t easy. You had to be almost ninja-like. Well, not really, but we were kids and kids aren’t exactly known for their stealth. Grandmomma had to either be outside, in the bathroom or asleep for us to snoop successfully. Even then we had to be quick. 

There was a piece of furniture in the living room that had a drawer in it and two doors at the bottom. I only ever opened those doors once—there were only boring things like books and papers down there. The drawer was wide and long but not very deep. Still, it held things like jewelry and coins and other trinkets little boys wouldn’t be interested in. The only time I ever stole money from my grandparents came from that drawer. Two case quarters, as Granddaddy would put it. They never said they knew I stole the quarters, but I think they did. I mean, I explained it away when I came back from Brown’s with a little more than what a quarter would buy back then by saying I returned a couple of bottles. Still, I think they knew otherwise. I never looked in that drawer again while they were both alive. It was only after they had passed, when we were cleaning out their house, that I looked in the drawer and recalled stealing two case quarters. 

The bedroom off the living room was rarely a good idea. Though there was a bed and dresser and two small end tables in the very small room, it was mostly used for storage. Getting in and out of there quietly and quickly was next to impossible. Snooping in the pantry was easy. That was the one place Grandmomma or Granddaddy would send us to get some canned or boxed good. The only thing remotely tempting was the rack of clothes to the right of the door when you walked in. There were always boxes hidden by the clothes. Still, if they didn’t send us in there, we had best not be in there. And they always knew we had snooped. I didn’t understand how they knew, but over time it dawned on me. There was a pull string for the light. We would pull it when we entered the pantry, but not always when we left. If that light was on, we gave ourselves away. 

The bathroom was a bathroom, and yes, the medicine cabinet contained various medicines, none of which interested me, though I can’t say the same about my uncle, but that’s a different story. 

The upstairs was tricky. Several things had to happen for us to snoop up there. First, my uncle had to be away. That was his domain and if he caught us up there, he was a bear—a mean one. Second, both grandparents had to be outside. Then we had to pretend we were going to the bathroom, quickly bound up the steps (which made so much noise it made bulls in China closets look quiet). I always preferred the room on the right—my uncle didn’t sleep in that one. There always seemed to be something neat in there, from his guitars to his girly magazines. He also hid his drugs in various places in both rooms and the small walkthrough closet that never seemed to have a light that worked. I didn’t like the walkthrough closet and I spent as little time in the upstairs as possible, always afraid our uncle would come home and be a mean bear. Whenever we got caught up there by Grandmomma we told her we were just going up the steps so we could slide down on our bottoms. It was a good lie. It really was. Not that it worked, but it was the one we used the most.

That brings me to the kitchen drawer—yes a specific one. It was to the left when you walked into the kitchen and the last one along that counter. In it were various things a little boy could find interesting. Red and green rubber bands that kept the newspapers rolled up when the paper man came by and tossed them out his window and into the yard; many colorful twist ties that held bread wrappers shut. Yellow and green seemed to be the color that was most popular, with an occasional red, white, or black thrown in there. Bobby pins that were used to hold Grandmomma’s hair back. They were also useful for putting on the front part of a paper airplane to give it weight and steady the plane so it would fly longer and farther. There were measuring cups I never saw Grandmomma use. There were pennies and bottle caps and glasses so old the lenses were tinted brown. Sewing thread, needles I poked myself with more than a handful of times, and wooden pencils sharpened with a knife, not a wall or electric sharpener. Grease pencils with a piece of thread near the tip you pulled so the paper would peel, and the tip of the pencil would get bigger. I loved those grease pencils. 

The drawer was a wonderland of junk that always fascinated me. It’s also the drawer that was never off limits. It wasn’t snooping if I went in that drawer to get a rubber band or a bobby pin for an airplane. It was a safe drawer. And it was the one I loved the most. 

Like everything in life, good and bad things alike, everything comes to an end.

After both my grandparents passed away, I went “home” for the last time and helped clean some of the house out. I went back to that drawer and opened it with the reverent awe of a six-year-old. As I looked in the drawer, tears filled my eyes. It had already been emptied. I looked at the bare drawer and recalled the rubber bands and twist ties and bobby pins and thread and needles … and grease pencils. My heart cried. I did, too.

I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes, and composed myself. My brother and I made our way up the stairs for the last time. He pointed out and even showed my mom where her brother—our uncle—hid his drugs in places in the wall, by the heater, in the crawl space in the ceiling of the walkthrough closet. At the top of the steps, I sat down. I thought bout sliding down those steps on my bottom. I didn’t. 

The other day I was making a sandwich to take to work with me. I pulled the yellow twist tie from the almost empty package of bread and set it on the table. I always give the dogs the last three pieces of bread, the two end pieces and one other piece (three dogs, three pieces of bread). We call it bread butt day for the dogs. They love bread butt day. 

I tossed the empty package in the trash and picked up the twist tie. It was mangled, as twist ties tend to become once they are used. I looked at it and thought about the drawer in my grandparents’ kitchen for the first time since the last time I saw it empty. I walked over to the drawer next to the sink, opened it and dropped the twist tie in there. I smiled, heard my grandmomma whisper, “Don’t snoop,” in my mind’s ear and closed the drawer.



14 of 52

Shelter From the Rain

Let me preface this story. I wrote the original version of this story in 1995. It was one of the first pieces I wrote—not the first, but one of them. In 2021, I reread this story and thought it could use a massive facelift, something that could make the story have a more satisfying feel to it. It only took me a couple of hours to rewrite it and I’m happy with the way it turned out. 

The original title was also called Shelter in the Rain, but really Shelter From the Rain makes more sense.

I hope you enjoy.



Rain falls hard on the world. Lightning streaks across the sky. Thunder rumbles, loud and angry. Wind whips through trees, snapping branches, pulling leaves free. The moon hides behind storm clouds, content to sleep the night away. Trees line both sides of the road and sway side to side 

She walks slowly, her head down, her hands shoved deep into the pockets of a coat pulled tight around her. Her umbrella is somewhere behind her, torn from her hands by a strong gust of wind. Her pants cling to her legs. Her shoes squish and squeak with each step she takes. At first she tried to avoid the puddles along the side of the road, but now … now it doesn’t matter and she no longer cares about getting wet; she’s drenched from head to toe.

Damn car, she thinks. Good time to let me down.

She tried her cell phone, but out here, in the middle of Heaven knows where, but she doesn’t, there is no cell reception. She doesn’t think the overhead clouds and nasty weather help matters. 

It doesn’t matter, she thinks. It’s not like I have anyone to call. 

Tears tug at the corners of her eyes. No one to call became a thing earlier that night when she and her longtime boyfriend parted ways, not because she wanted to but because a man with a mistress is not something she wants to be a part of. Especially when she found out she was the mistress. 

How did I not know? It’s a question she has asked herself over and over since leaving him just hours earlier. She pulls her arms in closer to her body, shivers from the chill of the cold rain and walks on.


He sits. 


Perched on a tall oak’s highest limb, he follows her. Eyes like small green peas against a backdrop of darkness. He takes in her every move, from the time she pulled onto the shoulder of the two-lane road a mile or so back to her kicking a tire out of frustration, to her walking, first with an umbrella, then with her head down, hands in her coat pockets. 

Misery loves company.

He steps off the branch, unfolds his arms and swoops down toward the ground. Then he rises toward the sky. Leathery wings carry him through the night air, rain and northern winds. He flies ahead of her, searching, searching … until …


Off to the side of the road stands an old wooden shack, desolate and empty. Its windows are missing, its door lays on the warped flooring of what used to be its front porch. One of the wooden planks that make up the five steps to the porch is missing. A tin roof covers it and there is a steady chorus of pings as thousands, if not millions, of raindrops strike it.

He smiles. It’s what she needs, what she is looking for. A shelter from the rain.

It will do.


She almost misses it. Her head is still down and her jaw trembles as goosebumps swim across her skin. She stops. 

What was that? her mind asks.

Just the wind, she responds.

But is it? 

Of course, it is.

It sounded like …

Just your mind playing tricks on you.


She doesn’t go far before she stops again. A break in the trees to her right reveals a dilapidated house, its windows missing, the door laying on the porch. A steady drumroll of raindrops beats down on the roof. The darkness oozing from it doesn’t feel inviting. She shivers, maybe from being cold, but more likely from the oppressive presence coming from the house. 

I wonder if someone’s home.

She shakes her head at the thought. No one is home. No one has probably lived there for many years. 

She looks at the sky. Rain pelts her face. The sound, she hears it again. 

Wings, she thinks.

Your imagination, her mind counters.

Her chest tightens. The night couldn’t get much worse. Breaking up with her boyfriend was bad, the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere in a storm was bad. Hating herself for not realizing her relationship had been built on lies was far worse than her walking in a downpour. But maybe being afraid of noises is not such a bad thing. Maybe it’s a better feeling than the one she has been dealing with. 

She looks back at the house. 

At least you could get some shelter from the rain, she thinks.


He watches her from the depths of darkness inside the house. He doesn’t have to play this game, but there is something about willing victims he prefers over those who are not so willing. He licks his lips and steps into the doorway, giving her a glimpse at nothing more than a shadow—one that shouldn’t be there given the circumstances.

When she sees him, he whispers. Come to me. 


She sees the shadow appear in the door. A frown forms on her lips and in her eyes. The grip on her chest increases and her breath catches for a moment before releasing.

Come to me.

She cocks her head slightly to the side. Her eyes narrow. The shadow in the doorway motions to her, a simple come here gesture. She shakes her head.

No, she thinks.

The voice comes again. Come to me.

She takes a step back. The rain and the wind are nonexistent, the water sloshing over her shoes seems to disappear. 

It’s all in your head, she thinks. 

Come to me.

There’s nothing there.

Then why am I so scared?

Because you’re alone. Out here. In a storm.

As if on cue, lightning flashes across the sky. The loudest thunder she’s ever heard follows, shaking the ground. The rain becomes heavier, not quite obscuring the house and the figure in the doorway but making it difficult to see much else. Her wet hair whips around her face. The wind pushes her sideways a few steps. 

Come to me.


He’s not going to lose her. He knows this. He also knows she might not come willingly. 

Come to me.


Come to me.

She backs away. 

No, he thinks. You’re not getting away that easily.

He turns his eyes to the sky. Lightning streaks from black clouds. Thunderclaps, shake the world with its rumble. The rain picks up, as does the wind.

She staggers sideways.

Come to me.


Her first steps are tentative, like an unsure baby. The wind and rain batter her, knocking her off balance. She catches herself before she can fall and slowly trudges toward the house.

Let me be your shelter from the rain.

Shelter? she thinks. That’s really all she wants right now. A place out of the wind and rain that can protect her until the storm breaks and daylight comes. 

When she reaches the steps to the house, she looks up. There is no shadow in the doorway, no voice beckoning her to him.

Just your imagination, her brain reminds her.

I guess so.

She doesn’t realize she is going up the spongy steps or walking across the porch. She eases around the fallen door and stands in the entrance. 

And he is there, his eyes like bright green lights, his lips inviting, the rest of him … nonexistent. 

He extends a hand that wasn’t there seconds before. Come, let me be your shelter.

She takes the hand, willingly. It is cold. The fingers are long and thin. He pulls her to him and embraces her in a hug like none she has ever felt. It’s comforting. She melts into him. For the first time since early that evening, she doesn’t feel alone or scared and nothing else matters except for that embrace. 


She is warm. He feels her heat radiating off her as he holds her close to him. He turns his head, lowers it to her neck and kisses gently. He breathes in the sweetness of the blood pumping just below the skin. His mouth opens and the tips of his fangs brush against her neck. He bites. 

A rush of blood fills his mouth.


She feels his lips on her skin but doesn’t pull away. She knows something is wrong—has to be—but she also knows she is not scared and there is comfort in that moment. There is a prick of pain in her neck, then it is gone, much like her loneliness and fear. She becomes lightheaded and tired. She wants to stay there in his arms and rest, maybe even sleep against his chest. Is that too much to ask after the day she had?

She sighs, a sound of complete contentment, then closes her eyes. Her world fades and she feels like she could sleep forever. He pulls her closer to him and her legs weaken. Her arms slide from around him, going limp as all of her energy drains from her. 


He drinks of her blood, of her very life until her body sags in his arms. Then he drinks a little more. He wants to take the essence of her, take all of her, but stops before he can. Instead, he lowers her to the dusty floor, among the broken glass of the windows and leaves that blew in over time. He doesn’t look back as he steps through the door and into the dying storm. 

Goodbye, he whispers and disappears into the night on leathery wings.


And she lays there, her heart barely beating, her breaths shallow and too far apart. As the storm ebbs outside, so too, does her life. Then, there is nothing.

A Stitch of Madness

In May of 2016, my short collection, A Stitch of Madness, was released by Stitched Smile Publications (such an appropriately named press for the collection, I add). It was based around the three definitions of madness:

Madness: extremely foolish behavior.

Imprisoned for the murder of his best friend, Johnny Cleary sets out to tell what happened on the day Bobby “Buster” Lennon died, but are the words he writes true or does the deception run deeper.

Madness: the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.

There is something wrong with Irene. Momma’s dead and a ragdoll speaks to her in a voice that is hauntingly familiar. And what about the stitches, the very things that just might hold Irene together?

Madness: a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.

After an odd stranger pays Robert Wallenger a visit, his world begins to unravel and the past comes rushing back, along with a sickly sweet scent.

There is madness in everyone. For most, the madness never surfaces. For others, all it takes is one thing, big or small, for them to spiral out of control.

The following is the opening to the first story, Catherine’s Well:

There are things in life you wish to forget, or at the very least, push to the back of your mind so the memories only surface every once in a while.  Everyone has those moments.  Everyone.  You know them the minute they happen.  Getting caught cheating by your wife with the mistress; that car accident you were in because you were paying more attention to your cell phone, make up, radio or whatever; that night you got drunk and woke up naked on your pastor’s front lawn.  Yeah, we all have those moments.  Most of them we deal with and move on.  It’s only when someone says, ‘hey, you’re that guy they caught doing that thing in the theater,’ are you forced to relive things. 

It is what it is.

There are those things we can’t forget, no matter how bad we want to.  You know those things, too.  September 11 comes to mind.  A lot of people died.  It’s hard to forget something like that.  Seeing someone you know and love die right in front of you.  Yeah, that’s not something you want to remember.  Most folks would rather forget that person existed than to remember how they died.  It’s true.  Deep in the recesses of every human heart and mind is the fact that seeing someone die is what you remember the most about that person and that’s not something most want to recall.

You never want to see a best friend die. 


And you never want to be accused of murdering that best friend.


It’s been nearly seven years since A Stitch of Madness was released. If you enjoy what you read here on Type AJ Negative and have never purchased a book from me, will you consider doing so? ? You can start with A Stitch of Madness, if you like. If you want a digital copy, then you can follow the link below. However, if you would like a print copy, send me a message in the comments or send me an email at I would truly appreciate it.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.


Here’s the Amazon link:

13 of 52

Daddy Cursed the Wind

Caitlyn was seven the first time she heard her dad swear for what seemed like no reason. He had been digging a hole in the backyard—that’s something she didn’t get right then either. Gray clouds hung low. A storm was coming, but he was out there in his work pants and a tank top with spaghetti sauce spilled on the front. Wind had begun to pick up earlier and was starting to gust when he went out, shovel in hand.

He sank the spade into the ground near the back fence. It went in easy enough. For several minutes, he scooped dirt from an ever-expanding hole. Then a strong gust struck him, knocking him off balance and sending dirt swirling in the air around him. 

“Damn the wind,” he yelled. He got back to his feet, picked the shovel up and continued to dig.

By the time he finished, it was almost dark. The clouds gave way to black ones and lightning streaked the air. Her dad went into his tool shed and came back out with something long wrapped in a gray tarp slung over his shoulder. He reached the hole, then tossed the tarp and whatever was inside in it. He took a few deep breaths, his chest heaving with each one. He wiped hair from his eyes, then buried filled in the hole, even as the wind whipped around him and the rain began, slow at first, then becoming a downpour.

Caitlyn watched all of this from the screened in back porch. It’s not that she was fascinated with what her dad was doing. She was just happy his focus was on something besides his anger with his mother and her. As he tamped down the mound that was no longer a hole with the spade end of the shovel, Caitlyn went inside. 

“Where have you been?” her mother asked. She chopped carrots at the counter for the night’s stew.

“Watching Daddy dig holes.”

Her mother looked up.

“Daddy cursed the wind,” Caitlyn said, matter-of-factly.

“Did your daddy put something in the hole?” 


Her mother nodded. “Probably just your uncle Fred. He had it coming.”

Caitlyn didn’t know what this meant and didn’t ask. Uncle Fred had come by that morning, but Daddy and him left a short while later. She never saw her uncle Fred again, so there was that. 

This happened twice more over the next three years, each time with Daddy cursing something. If not the wind, then the roots of a nearby tree. If not that, then Caitlyn’s mother for making him do it, damn it.

Caitlyn was thirteen when her dad dug another hole—the final one. By then, she had a feeling where her mother had run off to and that she would not have approved of the woman Daddy brought home not long after he dug the previous hole. If she remembered correctly, Mommy and Daddy argued the night she last saw her mother. The next day, he dug a hole and Mommy … 

Like then, Daddy’s newish woman had argued with him that night. Then there was silence.

And Daddy was digging again. This time, he cursed the cold and how it made the ground hard. 

She didn’t wait for him to finish digging to find out what she thought to be true. She made her way to the toolshed, eased through the door and stared at the blue tarp on the floor. She peeled back part of it, to see the top of the woman’s head. There was blood in her hair. Though Caitlyn didn’t care about her, she knew what had happened and she was now convinced her mother was in one of the three spots he dug at before. 

She ducked out of the toolshed and hid. She waited for Daddy to go get the woman she never liked. When he did, she ran and grabbed the shovel, then hid in the bushes not too far away. 

He left the toolshed with the body slung over his shoulder. He carried it to what Caitlyn now knew was a grave, then dumped her in like she was trash being tossed away. Anger—raw and pure—swept over her as she thought of him dumping her mother in a similar hole in the same manner. 

There was no scream of rage as she left the bushes, the shovel lifted above her head. Daddy searched the ground for the shovel, cursing the dark as he did so. She brought it down as hard as her arms allowed her to. The clang of steel on the back of his head sent slivers of pain into her palms and elbows. Daddy pitched forward and tumbled into the hole, his head split open. He landed on his side with his eyes open wide. His body shook violently, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Foam spilled from his mouth. Then he stilled. 

Caitlyn cursed her father as she filled the hole in.


Back in 2010, Paramore released a song titled, The Only Exception. The second lyric is “And curse at the wind.” Though I’ve only recently heard of the song (within the last two years), that lyric stood out. The image of a man digging a hole in the dark while a little girl looked on came to mind. Later that day, I wrote the very short piece you just read.


12 of 52


Bill pulled up to the bus depot in his beat-up white van. It was early, the sun still not quite up, but enough so that the world was gray instead of dark. He sat for a moment, the headlights cutting a swath in the dying darkness. The station had seen better days. Those days were also some of the worst ones in Bill’s life. 

A picture was taped to the dash, one of two white kids before life took a bad turn. A dark-haired boy had his arm around a smaller boy, one with a cow lick that jutted from the side of his head. Bill touched the right side of his skull. Though at least fifty years had passed since that picture was taken, the eternal cowlick remained. A smudge of dirt was on the older boy’s face. They both wore mischievous smiles. Bill touched the image and took a deep breath. He killed the headlights, shut off the van and got out. His legs ached and his back hurt. The arthritis in his hands would flare up before he made it back home that afternoon but that didn’t matter. The people here, those in need, they are what mattered to Bill. 

He went to the back door, pulled the handle up and opened the right side. Though he could smell the food while in the cab, it always had a richer aroma from the side or the back. He pressed a latch on the left door, releasing it. He pulled a folding table from the left side, set it on the ground before unfolding its legs and setting it upright. 

By then, the chatter had started, voices in the darkness. Among those were whispers of “He’s here.”

He pulled the table further from the back of the van and closed the double doors. The side door came next. He pulled tin trays of eggs and bacon, toast and grits, nothing special, but something to the homeless who used the bus depot and the outlying areas as places to rest their heads or hunker down against the rain. Some of those people were full families of three or four or five. Orange juice and water and sweet tea went on the tables, along with paper plates and cups and plastic utensil packs. 

Lastly, he closed the van’s side door and walked to the table where he opened the first package of plates. When he looked up, a man around who could have been a couple years older than him—late sixties, maybe very early seventies—stood at the table. He barely looked at Bill, averting his eyes, possibly from shame and embarrassment. 

“Good morning,” Bill said.

“Morning, sir,” the other man replied, keeping his eyes diverted.

“Bill. Just Bill.” He smiled, trying to show warmth. “Would you like some breakfast?”

“Yes, si … yes, Bill.”

He made the man a plate, handed it over and told him to get something to drink and a pack of utensils, then he added, “Have a good day.”

“Thank you, Bill,” the man said and walked off, his head down, plate in both hands. Bill watched him go with a touch of sadness pulling at his heart. 

“You’re welcome.”

For the next two hours, Bill did the same thing for every person who came to the table. As each person walked off, he repeated the same thing he said to the first man. “Have a good day.”

After the last of the homeless came through, he packed up. The rest of the food would go to a local shelter. By then, the sun was out and traffic along the lower part of downtown had picked up considerably. Most of the homeless people had moved on to other spots. With everything back in the van, he closed the back door and started for the driver’s door.

“Excuse me, Sir.”

He turned. An older black lady with a slight hunch in her back stood at the entrance to the bus depot. Her hair was short, almost nonexistent. Grooves cut into her face from a long life or maybe a hard one. She stepped outside and let the door close behind her. She approached with an easy stride that didn’t match her appearance. 

“Can I help you, Ma’am?”

“No, sir, but I would like to help you.”

“Help me?”

She nodded and held out an envelope. “I see you out here three times a week all by yourself. You bring food to the homeless. You are one of those people who are good for the world. I just want to help pay for some of the food you give.”

Bill smiled and put his hand up. He shook his head. “That’s not necessary.”

“Maybe not, but I’d like to help.”

“If you want to help, give that money to one of the local shelters. They’re in need of a lot more than food. As for me …” Bill looked around as memories traced his way across his mind. “My parents died before I turned twelve. My brother and I had no family, no place to stay and no food to eat. I spent many nights here with my brother on one of the benches or around back where the terminals are. I always said if I was able to make something of myself, I would come back and feed the people and give back to the community. This … this … I enjoy doing this. I enjoy helping people. So, thank you, but give that money to any of the local shelters. I’m sure they would appreciate it.”

The woman nodded. “You’re an angel, Mister.”

Bill almost laughed at this. “I’m no angel but thank you.”

Bill got into the van. Before he left, he looked at the picture of the two white boys. He touched the image of his brother, Robert. Though he left Bill’s life when he was nineteen, Bill missed him more and more each day. He backed out of the spot he had occupied for nearly three hours and turned the van toward the parking lot’s exit. A glance in the rearview mirror showed him the backdoor windows. The first person he had fed that day stood leaning against the window jam, his arms crossed over his chest. 

The man waved. Bill’s eyes widened. 


11 of 52

A Time To Remember

We sat on the ground near the Thomas family grave site. The grass was still short for that time of year when winter was waving goodbye and spring was taking her own sweet time arriving. It was mid-afternoon. The sun had begun its slow decent and would be gone in a couple of hours. A soft breeze blew through the cemetery, ruffling my hair and sending a chill into my arms. I pulled my legs close to my chest and hugged them tight. My head hurt. It always hurts.

Jerry sat to my left. His appearance was a complete contrast to mine. I wore jeans and sneakers and a light coat with plastic sunglasses sitting on the bridge of my nose. He wore a black suit with a white button-down shirt beneath the blazer. His black shoes were as shiny as the day they came off the shelf at the Pic and Pay in the next town over. My hair was a tangled mess, and I hadn’t washed it in a few days. His was neatly combed with a part on the right side. I always wanted a part, but my hair didn’t seem to think it was a good idea. 

“The sun’s going down,” he said in his always soft voice.  

“It is,” was all I could think to say. We both knew what it meant, but I wasn’t ready to do anything more than acknowledge it.

“Remember when we were little, your dad used to take us fishing?”

“Yes,” I said. “How could I forget?” 

Truthfully, I had forgotten. But I remembered Dad, his Popeye arms, dark hair, and stubbled face always in need of a shave. Even after Mom barked at him once and said he had more whiskers than a dog, he still only shaved occasionally. 

“Do you remember riding in his boat with those horrible orange life jackets strapped on?”

I smiled. “Yeah. Those were the worst.”

“And the bomb islands. I loved going there. Remember when we found the blown-out shell casing of one bomb? Your dad yelled at you when you picked it up. It didn’t matter that there was a hole in it you could see right through. He yelled all the same.” Jerry raised a fist in the air like an angry old man. “Adam, don’t move!”

“He was afraid I would drop it and it would go off.”

“He ran at us like his hair was on fire that day.”

I laughed. Yeah, I remembered that, but only vaguely. A surge of pain ripped through the right side of my head. I took a deep breath and let it out. I blinked several times, hoping to push the pain away with no luck.

The sun dipped lower and lower. The sky wasn’t quite bright, but more of a fading yellow and orange color, as if someone took a paintbrush and ran it along the skyline. 

“Dad never took us back there,” I said.

“I haven’t been back since,” Jerry said, as if I hadn’t spoken at all.

I looked at him. He wasn’t facing me. His hands were behind him in the grass, his legs stretched out in front of him. His eyes faced the sun and there was so much sadness in them. 

Neither of us spoke for a while after that. We stared at the dying sun. The sky was less purple and orange and more gray. On the horizon where Earth met the sky was a sliver of intense orange that should have hurt my eyes but didn’t. Still, the pain in my head increased. It felt like my skull was splitting into two.

Jerry licked his lips. “Your dad …” He shook his head. “Man, he liked to drink.”

“Yeah, he did. All the time.”

Jerry let out a deep breath. “I wish he hadn’t been drinking that day.”

I nodded. “I wish he never drank at all.”

“If he hadn’t been drinking …” he shrugged. “Maybe things would be different.”


“It started raining on the way back. Do you remember that, Adam?”

“I do,” I said, and that was the truth. I did remember. A storm came out of nowhere. The sky had darkened with black clouds that blocked out the sun. Lightning streaked across the sky and brought loud booms of thunder with it. And we were on the water in a metal johnboat.  The wind had picked up and the waves had become choppy. The boat skipped along the water like a flat rock tossed from a little kid’s hand. I remembered that well.

“He was going too fast as he rounded Charlie’s Cove. Way too fast.”

The pain in my head made things fuzzy, but I could recall the fear I felt as I sat in the bottom of the boat with my hands clutched to its sides. 

“He hit that wave … he hit that wave and we went sideways.”

I remembered. He didn’t need to say anymore. The last thing I recalled while being alive was being flung from the boat and landing, headfirst in the water. Then I ended up here.

I looked at Jerry. He looked older than I remembered. We had barely reached our teens when the accident happened. I looked back at me, at the old jeans I wore, the coat and sneakers. The sunglasses on my head had been there when I died. He was a young man, still grieving a friend who had died years prior. I was the friend.

The sun had finally set. In a little while the moon would come up with its calming white, glowing face. Maybe it would bring some stars with it. Maybe …

Jerry stood and wiped his bottom with his hands. He took a deep breath, then a few steps. He stopped at a headstone that was new compared to so many others in the cemetery. He patted the stone. “I miss you, Adam.”

He wiped at his eyes, shoved his hands into his pockets and walked off, his head down. All I could do was watch him go. Eventually, I stood and went to the headstone. I read my name, my age, the Gone Too Soon, inscription. And my headache was gone.

10 of 52

This Place

Chet sat alone in a blue chair that might have been meant for a beach, but instead was around a metal firepit with chairs of the same type. A slight breeze blew through his hair. A car went by, a song he didn’t know blaring from it until it was off in the distance. There were too many people, mostly younger than him.

He didn’t know this place, had never been there until that day, but he knew he didn’t like it. It was too busy, with its crowded streets, loud music and people, and stores, stores, stores. Everything about that place screamed commercialism. He wanted to be home, away from the noise and the people, where trees dominated the landscape instead of concrete buildings, where animals roamed the countryside instead of cars zooming by on roads, where the sounds you heard were leaves rustling in the same breeze he felt right then, birds chirping and bees buzzing from flower to flower.

Instead, he sat, uncomfortably, as a group of young men set up instruments on a stage at the end of the building. There was a cover over the stage meant to protect anyone playing from the elements of weather; the sun, rain, the cold—the last of those he had his doubts about. Based on the long sleeves the five men wore, they had theirs, too.

After several quiet minutes to himself, his wife, Allie, came to her seat next to him. She had a beer in one hand—bottled not draft. He smiled at this. She wasn’t a country girl by any stretch of the imagination, but with her hair pulled into a ponytail and a bottled beer in hand, he thought she pulled off the look quite well. 

“When are they going on?” she asked and sat down.

Chet looked at his watch—not a digital deal, and not a phone, but an honest to goodness analogue watch with ticking hands and lines for minutes. “In about ten minutes, I reckon.”

“Are you excited to see them play?”

He shrugged. “I’ve seen ‘em play plenty of times.”

“Watching your brothers play at home or church is one thing, but they’re getting paid to play here.”

“They’ve been paid before …” he said and looked around. “… just not in a place like this.”

“You mean not in the city?”

He nodded. “Yup.”

“You don’t like it here, do you?”

“Not particularly.”


“It’s too …” He shook his head, looking for the words.

“Busy?” Allie interjected.

“Nope. That’s not the word I’m looking for. It’s too fast. People hurrying by like there’s no tomorrow, like, I don’t know, they don’t have the time to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, the exhaust fumes.”

Allie laughed at this, took a drink of her beer. “I guess this means you don’t want to move to the city?”

Chet frowned at this. He knew by being here that question would come up. “If you want to move back—and I know you do—I’ll do it. If that’s what’ll make you happy, then I’ll do what I need to.”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming?”

He took a deep breath. “But this place … this isn’t for a country boy like me. I feel about as out of place as vegetarian at an all meat buffet.”

For half a minute they sat in silence. Then Chet spoke the most honest words he could think to say. “I know you want to move back home. I also know you won’t ask me to do that. Just know if you want to come home … to this place …” He waved one hand in the air, motioning their surroundings. “… then I’ll move the earth and moon to make it happen. As long as we’re together …”

Allie didn’t respond, but he saw the smile on her face. She reached for his hand as The Bluegrass Brothers began their first song. At the end of the song, she released his hand. 

“It’s just a place,” she said. 

He nodded. “Yup.”


9 of 52

I Love You, Dog

The boy was born on a Wednesday, the same day his father picked up a puppy from the shelter. Though the world was a scary place at first and thoughts were only emotions and feelings, the boy sensed the puppy. The puppy sensed the boy, as well.

It wasn’t long before the puppy was sleeping on the floor in the baby room. Not long after that, the puppy and the boy connected in thought if not in words. 

“Hi, I’m Boy.”

“Hi, I’m Dog.”

And so the bond was made. 

What the parents would hear is a baby’s coo or gibberish, and what they would see is the puppy’s floppy ears perk up and its tail wag from side to side. What really happened were exchanges of joy.

“I love you, Dog.”

“I love you, Boy.”

As they grew, the puppy stayed with the boy and the boy played with the puppy. Bits of food was shared from the plate to the bowl. They ran and played, jumped in leaves, slept at the same times. When the boy went off to school, the puppy—now a full grown dog—waited by the door or on his blanket in the boy’s room. 

“I missed you, Boy,” he would say with a wag of its tail, a bark and several kisses to the face. 

“I missed you, Dog,” the boy would respond with a hug, rub of the ears and a kiss on the snout. 

“I love you, Boy.”

“I love you, Dog.”

And they grew together, the boy always spending time with the dog, the dog always happy to see the boy. They were the best of friends. The dog would sit and watch his games, happy to be on a leash at the foot of one of the parents so he could be near the boy. And the boy would always look for the dog, happy he was able to be there.

And so it went, a bond stronger than anything grew tighter each day.

“I love you, Dog.”

“I love you, Boy.”

The boy was sixteen when he knew sadness—true sadness—for the first time in his life. He had noticed the dog struggling to walk, struggling to eat. His tail always wagged, but he was rarely able to play. 

He sat on his floor, scooted onto the dog’s blanket, and lifted him into his arms. They sat, quietly, the boy holding the dog on his lap, listening to the slowing breaths. 

“I love you, Dog.”

“I love you, Boy.”

The dog breathed his last. The boy cried.

For the first time in his life, the boy was alone. No Dog to talk to, to bring him joy, to pet and feed pieces of his meal to. He picked a spot in the yard, one in the sun where the dog liked to lay. He didn’t take the help of his father and dug the hole himself. Wrapped in his blanket, the boy laid the dog gently in his final bed, then covered him as tears flowed down his cheeks. He made a small cross out of scrap wood and carved the word DOG in it. He placed it at the head of the grave, sat and stared quietly. 

The boy took a deep breath, let it out and whispered, “I love you, Dog.”

As if the dog was still there, the boy felt his nose nuzzle his arm. “I love you, Boy.”


If you cried at the end of this story, please know you are not the only one. I wrote this one day on my lunch break at work back in November of 2022. I had to wipe tears from my eyes and compose myself before getting back to work. 

Part of the beauty of the relationship of a child and a dog is how pure it tends to be, especially when they are introduced to each other early on. That type of love is something completely unbound by fear of each other. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

8 of 52

Passing Clouds

He sat in the hospital room alone. It was the first time since his heart attack that someone wasn’t in there. Even at night when he was asleep—or trying to sleep if the nurses would just stay out of there—someone had been sleeping on the couch. The first two nights it was Evelyn. Last night his son, John, stayed over. He was as restless as Norvell was, but probably because he was too tall for the loveseat the hospital called a couch. It didn’t look all that comfortable.

But right then, no one was there. Evelyn was at the house. John stepped out to make a phone call and the nurse—Cruella, he thought of her as with that white streak in her otherwise black hair and the stern tone to her voice—had done her morning rounds. He thought he might have ten or fifteen minutes of peace. 

The clock on the wall to the right of his bed was nothing more than a cheap dollar store battery operated thing. The second hand tick ticked away. It read seventeen minutes after three in the afternoon. Norvell stared out the window. Gray clouds rolled by. Earlier John said a storm was on the way. With the way the clouds moved, Norvell thought it might be a doozy. Black clouds began taking the place of the gray ones as he watched. He thought they moved a little faster than they should. He frowned. Yup, a doozy indeed.

“I see a face,” he said. His voice cracked and sounded tired, almost breathless. He shook his head slowly. He raised his hands.. They were thin and wrinkly and there were several liver spots on them. HIs wrists looked too thin for his liking.  “When did I get so old?”

The face in the clouds rushed by, replaced by gray and black and the occasional puff of white that looked like the only clean spot on an otherwise dirty sky. As the clouds moved along, a swirl of white clung to the underside of a dark one.

“That looks like a cinnamon roll.”

Norvell smiled at this. 

A laugh came from his right. When he looked, a kid stood there in brown pants, a tan button-down shirt and brown suspenders. His feet were bare and his face was smudged with dirt. 

“Hey, Ed,” he said. The kid smiled, showing he was missing two teeth.

“Hey, Norvell, Ed said, then added, “That does look like a cinnamon roll. Remember Grams’ cinnamon rolls?”

Norvell nodded. Grams was his grandmother and she baked the best cinnamon rolls. She put them in the open window of her kitchen to cool before scooping them out of the pan.  “They were the best.”

“Yeah, they were.”

They sat in silence for a minute, then Ed pointed with one long finger at the clouds. “Is that a cat?”

Norvell shook his head. “No. That’s a lion.”

“I guess so. Remember how we used to lay in the field out behind the house when were kids?”

“I do,”

“We watched the clouds go by with our hands behind our heads.”

“And we chased the rainbows after storms.”

Ed nodded. “Those were good times.”

“The best times.”

Another minute passed. Norvell didn’t look back at his older brother who died when he was only thirteen thanks to a clumsy fall off a wall and a busted skull. “It’s time, isn’t it?” he asked.

“We can watch the clouds a little longer,” Ed said. “Whenever you’re ready, just close your eyes and the clouds will stop moving.”

Norvell nodded. He thought of Evelyn, of how hard his health issues have been for her. He thought of John, of the many times he took off from work or left his own family to take him to the doctor or the hospital and the many nights he slept on too short and uncomfortable  couches like the one in the room he was in. 

He looked at the clock on the wall again. The hands had stopped moving and it read nineteen minutes after three. Norvell’s lips turned up slightly, then he looked back out the window. 

“What do those look like?” Ed asked and pointed to the window where white clouds tried to overtake the gray and black ones. A flash of lightning was followed by a rumble of thunder. 

“Angels,” he whispered as the clouds continued to move along briskly. “I’m ready.” Norvell closed his eyes … 

7 of 52

She was a pretty woman. At least, Arlo thought she was. In truth, he had never seen her from the front, just from the back and only when passing the display window of the department store on Main Street, U.S.A. She set up the displays and almost always had her back to the people passing by. 

She was short with long dark hair and always wore jeans and a nice top, usually of the tee variety. He thought she wore sneakers but wasn’t too certain. It would be a lie to say he never checked her figure out, but after the first two or three times, he didn’t notice her body so much as he noticed her lack of concern for anyone walking by. Or maybe it was confidence in herself that made her appealing. Or maybe it was how gracefully she moved. 

He wondered what her voice sounded like, what she thought when she looked at an empty display. Did she have an idea of what she would create? Did she view it as a blank canvas for her to create art on, or as just a job she was paid to do? He didn’t know any of these things. He had never spoken to her. Never actually seen her face (which, in his opinion, if her backside looked nice, then her front surely did). He never even waved at her. 

He almost waved once—it was the lone time he thought she was about to turn around. He walked by the window and looked. She was there, her hands on her hips. He noticed no ring on the left hand. She took a step forward, then started to turn. Arlo stopped. His hand came out of his pocket, got halfway up, then dropped to his side. She didn’t turn to look out the glass. She walked around the display she had been working on and disappeared in an opening off to the left.

Arlo’s shoulders sagged that day. 

Just go in and talk to her, he told himself.

That would be awfully bold, he argued.

At least you would get to meet her.

What if she doesn’t like me?

You’ll never know if—

I know. I know. I’ll never know if I don’t try.

He didn’t try. Not that day and not any day since. 

Maybe today, he thought as he approached the department store. It was on his right as he headed to the parking garage nearly two blocks from where he worked. At the end of the block, he would make a right, step into a doorway, get on an elevator and go up to the sixth floor where his car was parked, like most days.

She’s not going to be there.

Resigned to the thought, he tucked his hands into his pockets. He crossed the street when the little white walking man appeared. A robotic voice proclaimed, “Walk sign is on. Walk sign is on.” Before he could get across the street that same voice began to count down from ten. He reached the other side of the road by seven. On the sidewalk, he lowered his head, intent on not looking at the window. If he didn’t see her, he wouldn’t feel shame for not …

But she was there in light blue jeans and a white top that was tucked in neatly. A black belt held her pants up and yes, she was wearing sneakers. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she was standing, not with her back to the window, but to the side. 

Arlo stopped. His mouth dropped open slightly. His heart sped up. She wore no makeup. Arlo didn’t think she needed any. Her face was round, cheeks a natural pink, lips thin, eyes like almonds, in shape and color. 

His hand went up slowly. He couldn’t stop it if he wanted to. He gave a slight wave that caught her attention. She looked at him, smiled and lifted her hand in response.  

Heat filled Arlo’s face and neck and his stomach soured. His world spun for a second. Then his feet pulled him away and he hurried off, trying to reach the corner where he would run to the garage and up the steps—forget the elevator—and too his car. His heart would probably explode before getting there, but he didn’t care. The woman in the window was more than pretty, she was gorgeous, and she had smiled and waved at him. 

Before he reached the corner, he heard a female voice behind him. “Hey. Don’t run away.”

Arlo stopped. He looked back. The woman was no longer in the display window but walking toward him. She stopped about ten feet in front of him, the smile on her face warm and welcoming.

“I was wondering how long it would take you to make a move.”

“Make a move?” Arlo asked.

“You pass by here every day. I’ve seen you looking at me.”

Heat rose in his cheeks. Sweat beaded on his forehead. “I’m sorry. I … just … you’re …”

She laughed. “It’s okay. I’m not creeped out by you. I’ve never had someone admire me from afar like that.”

“I … umm …” No words came. He thought he would pass out. 

Then she stuck out her hand. “I’m Carolyn. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

He took her hand. It was warm and soft. “My name is Arlo.”