Month: April 2015

NYC Midnight SS Challenge 2015: Round 3

This time we had 24 hours to write 1500 words about a dying wish and a janitor.

He Listened Too Well

A headmaster’s dying wish is fulfilled by his most dutiful employee, a janitor with a penchant for eavesdropping.



Of course Edgar found the body. Gruesome, it was. The headmaster slipped on the very steps Edgar had swabbed not minutes before, and the old man tumbled two stories, ending in a heap of cockeyed limbs and smashed skull bits.

Unfortunate, really. The headmaster was revered, both for his kindness and his skill. But at the end, even his legendary magic couldn’t save him.

Two somber days later, Edgar’s eldest son Tom went missing. If only Edgar had the talent to use his broom as a human divining rod. But his veins pulsed only with sweat and hard work, not the magic so deftly taught at the Academy.

Now five days past the horrific death, and after three days spent searching the city for Tom, Edgar wondered about the force that compelled him to return to work. The two people he loved most in this world were gone, yet somehow, this made his duties seem more imperative than ever.

Edgar finished sweeping the upper halls and headed downstairs. As he neared the kitchens, he heard voices.

“You have to put some muscle into it, Sarah,” a lady said. “No, don’t use the knife. Just pop the joints.”

Sarah. The headmaster’s daughter, perhaps? And his lady wife, Jacinda?

“I can’t get a proper grip,” Sarah said. “The skin is slippery.”

“Then I’ll do the skinning, and you break down the parts. No! No knife. Every bit of flesh and bone must go into the soup.”

“Isn’t there a spell for this? And why isn’t Edgar here?”

“That would be too easy. Bone soup takes care of the entire family line. And Edgar has a job to do and would be missed. There may be a spell for everything, but sometimes we must hold to tradition. This soup has always been made by hand. To toil over it gives it power.”

Sarah sighed. “Then I will toil. I cannot bear the thought that Father’s shade hasn’t found peace.”

Jacinda nodded. “We fulfill the dying wish his shade expressed to us last eve, and he will be at peace. Making bone soup is work, yes, but with a worthy purpose.”

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said. “I didn’t mean to complain. Everything seems daunting without Father.”

Edgar listened as Sarah burst into tears, and as Jacinda crooned empty words of comfort, he decided to go home. He believed grief was one of the few emotions not meant for an audience.


Jacinda smoothed a hand over Sarah’s hair and brushed a tear from her cheek. “The priestess is preparing the body, and the burial’s in two days. We can cry our misery to the skies then. Today we must appease Father’s shade and finish the soup.”

They worked in silence, Jacinda skinning, Sarah breaking down the carcass, until the blood-soaked table was piled high with meat-chunked bones.

Steam swirled in the kitchen air, coughed up by the simmering cauldron in the fireplace. Sarah wiped the sweat from her brow.

“Quarter the onions and put them into the pot,” Jacinda instructed. “I’ll slice the carrots.”

They finished the vegetables and moved to the bones. Sarah jostled the pile as she pulled on a thigh bone, and the pile tumbled, spilling to the floor.

“Oh, Sarah!” Jacinda scolded. “Hurry now. We don’t want the bones dirty.”

“Edgar keeps the floor spotless,” Sarah said. “I’m sure they’re fine.”

They picked up the bones one by one and carefully plopped them into the pot. Jacinda held the last bone, a fat-laced rib, over the steaming cauldron.

“Blood of his blood, feeds blood of our blood,” she chanted. “From flesh to bones to dust to mud. Curse the one who sought his death, who stopped the heart and ceased the breath. Boil the flesh of the line alive, with the death of the flesh from the murderer’s hive. Through vengeance we will soon have peace, this bone soup made from nature’s beast.”

The soup bubbled.

“Is something supposed to happen?” Sarah asked.

“It should spark and turn yellow. You cut exactly thirteen onions?”


“I cut thirteen carrots. All the bones are in there?”

Sarah squatted down and searched underneath the table.

“That’s all the bones,” she said. “Every last one.”

Jacinda closed her eyes. “I’m too tired to puzzle it out now. It’s late. We’ll fix it in the morning.”

Sarah moved to her mother and took her hand. “Can it be fixed?”

“With vengeance in mind and justice in our hearts, it shall be fixed.”


“Edgar, we have to let you go,” the headmaster said. “That’s the sixth complaint I’ve had of you eavesdropping. I can no longer ignore the situation. The study of magic is strictly limited to those who have earned entry here…but you are aware of that. I could go to the authorities, but you’ve given many years of dedicated service to the Academy, and I like you, Edgar. I wish you the very best.”

Edgar couldn’t breathe past the sharp pain in his chest.

“Headmaster, if I may…would you allow me to finish my duties today?”

“Regrettably, I cannot give you a second chance.”

“I understand. I’m not asking for a second chance, I just…I haven’t finished for the day. The floors still need cleaning. It shouldn’t take more than a few hours. Please. Let me finish what I’ve begun.”

The Headmaster smiled sympathetically. “And this is why I hate to lose you. Your sense of duty is unmatched. By all means, finish up.”

That simpering smile, it was like a knife to Edgar’s gut. To take away his life’s purpose, and then to smile…how could anyone be so callous?

That smile had haunted Edgar’s dreams for the last five nights. The Headmaster’s grin taunted him now as he lay restless abed, guilt oozing from his pores and soaking the linens, his nightshirt, his very soul.

Why did the headmaster have to smile? Perhaps if he’d been stern, none of this would have happened.


Edgar donned his trousers, lit an oil lamp, and stole into the night. He couldn’t sleep knowing the kitchens hadn’t been cleaned. What would the staff think if they came to work tomorrow and saw a dusty floor?

No one had said a word about his dismissal. He was certain the headmaster hadn’t told anyone. Edgar breathed deep, steadying himself. He still had a job. His place in the world remained. Everything would be fine as soon as Tom returned.

Edgar fumbled for the key in his pocket and quietly turned the lock on the service door. Holding the lamp aloft, he slipped inside and grabbed a broom from the closet.

Something smelled delicious. Edgar’s stomach rumbled. He’d hardly eaten in five days, and suddenly his mouth watered.

At the kitchen doorway, he paused. The soup Jacinda had made gurgled as the flames below snapped, licking the cauldron. He noticed the mess on the table. Thank the gods he’d returned. This mess might have ended his career.

He found an empty basket and placed the skins inside it. His wife would appreciate cracklings with breakfast.

What to do about the table? Blood had soaked through the rough-hewn planks, and gory splotches of red dotted the floor beneath. He’d have to use the mop. He didn’t really want to touch the thing—a wicked reminder, it was—but the job required it.

Edgar took a bucket out to the well and filled it. He dumped the water over the table. Three times he did this, until the water dripping from the wood ran clear.

He took a deep breath and gripped the mop.

“Duty, duty, duty,” he murmured, slopping up the pink-tinged water.

As he edged the cupboards beside the table, the mop caught on something. He bent down and picked up the offending bit— a morsel of meat and bone.

He remembered Jacinda’s admonition to Sarah: “Every bit of flesh and bone must go into the soup.”

Perhaps Edgar did have a bit of magic. It was too perfect. The headmaster’s dying wish was to have bone soup for his entire line at the burial, and now Edgar could make that wish come true. He’d never felt such relief in all his life.

He bent over the cauldron. He breathed deep the meaty aroma. Then he dropped the bone into the pot.

Sparks spit into the air, spraying Edgar’s cheek. He leapt back as his skin sizzled. The soup thickened before his eyes, the liquid turning a sickly yellow.

The headmaster’s dying wish was fulfilled.

Edgar’s cheek burned. He put his hand there to brush away any smoldering ashes still clinging, but then his hand stung. He looked at it. The skin bubbled, angry blisters forming and bursting while he watched in horror.

The bone soup churned as Edgar burned alive, until he was no more than a dirty pile of ash beside the cauldron.

His last thought was one of regret.

The kitchen was still a mess.

And no one was there to sweep him up.


Just found out I placed SECOND out of 30 entrants in my heat for the Short Story Challenge! Yeah! Moving on to Round 2 this Thursday, where I have to write a 2000-word story in three days.

For Round 1, I got:
Genre: Romantic Comedy (yes, I got lucky there)
Subject: Sleepwalking
Character: Figure Skater

Here’s the story:

The Stalker, the Snooper, and the Sleepwalker

SYNOPSIS: A nice guy-turned-stalker/snooper/sleepwalker decides he has to be a jerk to win the woman he loves.

Stalking implies ill intent, or unwanted attentions.

I wasn’t stalking.

I certainly had no ill intentions toward Jen, at least none from my perspective, and though my attention wasn’t wanted in the literal sense, it wasn’t unwanted, either. Jen didn’t even know I attended her skating practices with the fervor of a religious fanatic. I mean, you can’t want, or not want, something you don’t even know you’re getting, right?

So I wasn’t stalking. I was scoping out, getting a feel for things, waiting for my moment, building my courage one painstaking practice at a time.

“Dude, you’re stalking,” Andy said to me earlier today at lunch as I gulped down my California roll, keen on getting to Jen’s practice in time to see her do that twirly thing where she lifts one leg straight above her head and spins in dizzying circles. Didn’t want to miss that.

“She’s an entertainer,” I said, still chewing. “She puts on a show. What’s an entertainer without an audience?”

Andy sighed. “She’s my sister. I know her better than you do, and she’s not an entertainer. She’s an athlete.”

“Po-tay-to, po-tah-to,” I said.

“Just ask her out all ready,” he said, throwing his napkin on the table. “We’re lawyers now, for chrissake, not junior high school dicks. You’ve had a crush on her for what? Six years?”

More like sixteen, but who’s counting?

When we were ten years old, Andy’s mom dragged us to Jen’s figure skating class. We each got hot chocolate and $2 in quarters to play video games while we waited. Fifteen sweaty minutes later, Dance Dance Revolution had eaten all my money, so I wandered out to the rink.

We lived in Southern California, and I’d only been on the ice twice, so I knew how hard it was to keep your ankles from falling in. I figured book-in-her-nose Jen, who couldn’t even throw a baseball properly, was probably giving her butt some serious ice time. I leaned on the railing and searched the groups of skaters for Jen’s ratty braids, preparing to make faces at her behind her teacher’s back.

But a girl at the far end of the rink caught my attention.

She was gliding backwards, arms outstretched, a smile wide on her lips. I did a double take. The girl was Jen, her disheveled braids hidden under a rainbow beanie.

Jen suddenly turned forward, picking up the pace, and as she rounded the curve, she jumped in the air and spun. The landing was a bit wobbly, but she stayed on her feet, and her class cheered.

I cheered. I couldn’t help myself.

Even when Andy began tugging on my shirt and punching me in the arm to come watch him play air hockey, I stayed glued to that railing.

I’m still glued to that fucking railing, metaphorically speaking.

My usual spot is an out-of-the-way bench where only my eyes and the top of my head can be seen over said railing. Stalkers, no, audiences, prefer to remain anonymous.


I turn at the sound of my name, and I must look like a dog that just got caught peeing on the rug, because Jen frowns at me.

“I thought that was you,” she says, slugging back half her water bottle. “What are you doing here?”

“Me?” I say, popping to my feet and running a hand through my hair. “What are you doing here?”

Jen laughs. “Good one. Seriously, what’s up? Did you come here for me?”

I try hard not to stare at her breasts. They’re molded in blue Lycra, and man, you can tell how cold it is in here.

“No, but yeah, maybe.”

“So Andy told you,” she says, and I lift my eyes to find hers darting nervously over the crowd behind us.

“No, I mean, Andy wouldn’t. He doesn’t. I mean, we don’t talk about you—”

“Don’t bother,” she says, plopping down on the bench. “It’s okay. You’ve always been like a second brother to me, so it’s okay that you know.”

I lower myself next to her, wondering what the hell she’s referring to. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She shakes her head. “Not really. It’s just kinda scary. It’s better that you know. You can help Andy keep an eye out. It’s tough to believe I have a stalker. Feels like I’m in a movie.”

I gulp. “Andy didn’t say much. What makes you think you have a stalker? He hasn’t contacted you, has he?”

Jen shivers. “No. But my neighbors have seen this guy outside my apartment building, just sitting in his car, in a green Explorer. And when I asked the staff at the rink if they’ve noticed anyone, they said there’s a guy who always comes to my practices and wears a black knit hat.”

I think about my black knit hat, sitting on the passenger seat of my mom’s green Explorer.

“I can keep watch,” I say. “Do you want me to go home with you? In case he’s there?”

“Would you?” she says, her blue eyes round and pleading. “I feel silly asking.”

I gently pull on her arm and help her to her feet. “Grab your stuff and meet me by your car. I’ll make sure the coast is clear.”


The good news is that the coast is clear. The bad news…I’m not thinking about that right now.

I’m going home with Jen.

She opens her front door and ushers me inside. I make a big show of looking in her closets and under the bed before I declare the apartment stalker-free.

“Thank you,” she says, planting a loud smack on my cheek. “Do you have to go, or can you hang out for a bit?”

I pretend to check the time on my phone. “I have some time. I can hang for a bit.”

“Let’s see,” she says, sauntering into the kitchen. She opens the fridge. “I have water, orange juice…” and she moves to the pantry, “or tequila. And tequila. Or I have tequila.”

“Sounds like we’re having afternoon tequila,” I say, joining her.

Jen laughs. “It’s been a really rough month. First I don’t make the Olympic team, and now I’m being stalked.”

“That was completely shitty,” I say as she pours two shooters. “I watched the trials on YouTube. You were robbed.”

She licks her wrist, shakes on some salt, licks the salt, and throws back her shot. My eyes are riveted to her tongue, then her mouth, then her throat as she swallows.

“Thanks for that,” she says, handing me the salt. I take it, and our fingers brush. “It wasn’t unexpected. Moira’s only sixteen. They wanted a young team this year.”

“Still shitty,” I say, shaking and licking and swallowing. “One more.”

We each down another shot, and I feel the liquid courage course through my veins.

Jen grabs the bottle of tequila and heads to the couch. My phone beeps—a text from Andy.

Grow some balls, you pussy! And you have to tell her you’ve been hanging around her practices. She thinks some guy is stalking her for real.


“Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s rude to be on the phone when you’re with a lady?” Jen says.

I shove the phone in my pocket. “Maybe that’s why I don’t have a girlfriend.”

She pats the space beside her, and I sit.

“Do you know why I don’t have a boyfriend?” she asks.

I grab the bottle out of her lap and take a swig. “I have no fucking idea,” I say honestly.

She takes back the bottle and drinks. “Because I’m no fun. I don’t drink, this past month excepting, and I don’t stay out late, and I don’t party. I’ve got this rockin’ body and I’m reasonably intelligent and I think I’d treat a boyfriend pretty well, but all that’s going to waste because no guy my age wants to drink green smoothies and be in bed by eight.”

“I wouldn’t mind being in bed by eight every night, if you were there,” I say. “I mean, if I were your boyfriend. I mean, if, hypothetically, we were, you know…”

Jen drinks and hands me the bottle. “You’re a nice guy. A nice guy might appreciate me, except I never go for the nice guy. I’m attracted to the assholes.”

“I can be an asshole,” I say around the lip of the bottle. “A supreme asshole.”

Jen laughs. “No way. You hang Mom’s Christmas lights. You volunteer at the animal shelter.”

“I like dogs.”

“See? No way you could be an asshole.”

This is it. Do it already! I think to myself. You can be a jerk for the woman you love!

I reach out slowly and cup a hand around Jen’s breast. She gasps. I think about squeezing tight, but there are limits to my assholiness.

“An asshole doesn’t ask for permission,” I say, leaning in. “Are you okay with this?”

“You just said an asshole doesn’t ask for permission,” she says, her breath speeding up.

“Jen,” I say, struggling to keep the plea out of my voice, but I can’t just take. I have to know she’s with me.

“Kiss me,” she says on a sigh, and we meet in the middle, our lips colliding and molding as if they were meant to touch.

Her hands are everywhere as we stumble to the bedroom. Jen giggles as I struggle to get her skin-tight leggings stripped down her legs.

“Shoes first,” she says, and I laugh.

“Right.” I pull off her Nikes and throw them over my shoulder.

Jen bends down to pull her leggings off, and I gently spin her around so she’s facing away from me. My God, I’ve never seen such a tight, muscular ass in the flesh before.

My newly grown balls tighten, and I unsnap my jeans and kick them off.

She pulls her t-shirt over her head and throws it at me. I tackle her, and we fall to the bed laughing.

I lick my way down her throat and to her breasts. I can’t believe this is happening. Now if I can just get her to lift her leg over her head–

As I lick my way between her thighs, Jen groans. And not one of those “Oh, baby,” groans.

I lift my head. “You okay?”

She pushes my head out of the way and sits up. “I’m gonna be sick.”


I hold her hair while she pukes, and I rub her back while she brushes her teeth, and we both fall asleep snoring five minutes later.


I do not stalk, and I’ve never snooped in my life, but when the girl you’ve been in love with for sixteen years gets up, butt naked, in the middle of the night to make a phone call during your first intimate sleeping, though sadly not post-coital, experience, you want to hear the conversation, right?

I silently pad to the doorway, listening hard.

“So Eric is my stalker?…Not creepy? How can you say that? He…He what? Six years? Why didn’t he say something?…You know I’ve always had a thing for him…No, we didn’t, we drank too much, and I got sick, and…”

She has a thing for me?

I take a step back to return to bed, and the floor creaks. Jen whips her head in my direction.


I don’t respond. I don’t breathe.

“I’ll call you back.” She clicks off her phone and throws it on the couch. “Were you listening to my conversation?”

My mind races. I should just say that I was worried when I woke up and found her gone. That I’m in love with her and want to hold her ‘til the end of time. That I’m sorry for stalking her…but maybe I can pull this off.


“We’re out of milk,” I blurt out. “And detergent.” I walk like a robot to the front door. “Do you need anything?”

Jen approaches me slowly. “Eric?”

“The meeting’s at eleven. Opposing council will be here. I filed the motion.”

“Honey?” Jen holds out a hand and gently lays it on my arm.

“Jen?” I say, shaking my head as though to clear the fog. “Jen, is that you?”

“I think you were dreaming,” she says, guiding me back to the bedroom.

“Sleepwalking,” I say. “It happens sometimes. I didn’t scare you, did I?”

“You sleepwalk?” she says. “I’ve never met anybody who did that. I thought it was a myth.” She leans on the doorjamb while I stand awkwardly next to the bed.

I take a deep breath. “I’m an asshole, Jen.”

She nods. “You are.”

“But that’s not really who I am,” I say, fumbling. “I’ve been in love with you since we were kids. I’m in awe of you. The way you skate, the way you go after what you want, the way you snore…I’m sorry. I just wanted to be close to you. I’m sorry.”

“You’re a stalker. And a snooper. And a sleepwalker, or was that bullshit? All you’ve done is lie to me.”

“I love you,” I say. “And that’s the truth.”

“Get out.”


I sleepwalk through my days, just trying to get by. Oh, the bitter irony.

A month later, I get a call as I’m leaving the office.

“Eric! Oh, God, Eric! Help!”

“Jen? What is it? Where are you?”

“My place. Eric, he’s here! He’s right outside the door! Oh, God, hurry!”

“I’m coming!” I say, running to my car. “Call the police!”

“I did! They’re on their way, but he’s got a gun! Eric, he’s crazy! Ahh! He just broke a window! Eric!”

And the line goes dead.

Damn it!

I throw my briefcase in the car and pile in after it. I step on the gas and squeal out of the lot.

I pull to the curb outside Jen’s apartment with a screech, throw open my door, and sprint. I can hear her screaming, and I scream back.


Her door is locked, and she’s screaming at the top of her lungs. I pound on the door.

“Jen! Jen! Get away from her, you bastard!”

And then the door is thrown open.

There’s Jen, grinning.

“There he is, officers,” she yells. “My stalker.”

I look behind me, my fists clenched and ready to punch, but no one’s there.

I turn back around.

I get it.

“Fuck me,” I say, sagging in place.

Jen pulls me inside.

“If you insist.”


For the second round, we had three days to write 2000 words. I’m in Heat 1:
Genre: Horror
Subject: Accidental baby swap
Character: A car salesman

I had trouble with this one. I could think of a lot of different scenarios for “on purpose” baby swaps, but accidental? And horror isn’t something I do, but I was excited to try it.

Warning: Strong language and disturbing subject


SYNOPSIS: A scorned man whose wife left him with their baby struggles with his inner demons.

“Gary, that guy is back, the one who wants the turbo V8. He only wants to talk to you.”

I glance at my watch and sigh.

“No can do. It’s two minutes after six already. The fucking daycare charges me ten bucks a minute after six. Tell him to come back tomorrow.”

“He’s leaving on a business trip. He won’t be back. Get your ass down here and close the sale.”

I rub my temples. I’m gonna need that commission just to pay the late fees I’m racking up talking about it. If only that bitch Sarah hadn’t left. Now I’m stuck with a child I never wanted, and I can’t even do my job…

“I can’t. You take it. Tell him my mom died.”


“Gotta go.” I click off my phone and cock back my arm, ready to throw the piece of shit in the street. A sudden gust of wind plasters my coat to my chest and thighs, and I shiver against the bitter sting. My arm falls to my side. Better just get the kid and go home.

Flakes of snow swirl about my head as I reach the door. I open it, and Maggie is standing there, her foot tapping impatiently, Emily swaddled and bundled and burritoed in her arms.

“You’re late again,” she says, handing me the baby and our over-stuffed diaper bag.

“Yeah,” I say, struggling to juggle the bag up on my shoulder without dropping the kid. “If I don’t make a living, you don’t get paid.”

“Maybe you need a nanny,” she says. “The storm’s already coming in, and I have an hour drive home. You’re not the only one, Gary.”

I could apologize, but what’s the point? Both of us need to get on the road.

“Bill me,” I say, shoving my way out into the storm.


The gentle snowfall has turned into a blizzard by the time I pull up to the house. I don’t even bother with the diaper bag—I just pull Emily from her carrier and hustle us both inside.

Lights. Heat. By the time I’ve got them on, Em has worked herself up into a slobbering frenzy, sucking on her little fists and trying to shove them down her throat.


I lay Em down on the couch and head to the kitchen. Something reeks. Maybe it’s the week-old Chinese food growing a beard on the counter. Maybe it’s the three unwashed bottles of half-downed formula souring in the sink. Probably it’s the freshly dead mouse I spy under the cabinets.

I toe the mouse. Christ, I so don’t need this. Sarah should be doing the fucking dishes. Sarah should be buying traps. Hell, if Sarah were here all day, like she’s supposed to be, the mouse wouldn’t have been so bold as to make an appearance.

Em’s screams pierce the air. Sarah should be shoving a tit in her mouth, is what Sarah should be doing.


I find a rinsed-out one in the dishwasher. I brush a cockroach off the faucet and fill the bottle to the brim.


None in the cabinets. None on the counter. An empty (I thought) can in the garbage yields about half a scoop. I dump it in the bottle and shake.

Em is crying so loud she’s hiccoughing. Her thrashing has loosened her blankets, and her tiny little shirt has ridden up to expose her stomach. I can see her heart beating in her belly.

Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

“Stop crying!” I scream. “Stop the fucking crying. I can’t take this!”

Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

I cock back my arm. Then my phone rings.

My arm falls to my side.


“Gary? It’s Mag…I did a…thing…have the Thomps…aby…Emil…fine…”

“You’re breaking up, Maggie. What the hell do you want?”

“I gave you…baby!…have the…son’s baby! They have…mily!”

“Wait, what? Something about Emily?”

“…have the Thompson’s…aby!”

I blink. “I have the Thompson’s baby?”


I stare down at the baby wailing on my couch. “Look, I can’t hear you, and I don’t know if you can hear me, but if I have the Thompson’s baby and they have Emily, I’m gonna sue you six ways to Sunday, you incompetent bitch!” I wander over to the window and stare out at the front yard. I can barely make out the outline of my car in the driveway.

“They wan…change…tonight. They want…”

“I don’t care what they want. There’s no way anyone’s going out in this storm. Call me tomorrow and we’ll figure it out.” I click off.

I cock back my arm. And I hurl the phone against the wall. Nothing good has ever come from that fucking phone.

“I’m gone, Gary,” Sarah said two weeks ago, calling me at work like the coward I always knew she was. “And you can have Emily. I can’t raise her knowing she’s yours.”

“You fucking whore,” I spat into the phone, startling the customers nearest me. “She’s not mine and we both know it. Go on and go. We’re better off. No one needs a slut for a mother.”

Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

I stare down at the baby flailing on the couch, and my left hand is shaking the bottle for all it’s worth. I can’t seem to stop it.

“Are you Emily?”

The baby chokes on a sob and has a coughing fit. She looks familiar, like a TV show I saw as a kid. I recognize her. This is my kid, the whore spawn. What the hell was Maggie babbling about?

“You’re gonna shut up or I’m gonna make you.” I lean over her and shove the bottle in her mouth.

She spits the nipple out. She’s too worked up to know what’s good for her.

“Shut up and take it!” I scream. I hold the nipple in her mouth, and formula runs out the tip and pools on her tongue. She chokes on it, thrashing, and it dribbles over her chin and into the folds of her neck.

“God damn it!” I grab her chin and hold her mouth closed around the nipple. Her eyes widen. Her chest hitches. Her scrunched-up face starts to turn red.

I scream at her. “Drink the fucking bottle!”

Her tiny legs thrust out, stiff, and her face goes from red to purple. I scream again, rip the bottle from her mouth, and hurl it at the wall. Em chokes and coughs. I sink to the floor beside her.


“What the hell am I doing?” I say to the room. “I’m living in squalor. I haven’t gotten laid in almost a month. I missed that fucking commission tonight.” I turn to the baby whimpering beside me. “It’s all your fault.”

I climb to my knees and shove my nose in her face. “If you weren’t here, Sarah would still be around, you know that?”

I reach out a hand and rub it across the wispy hairs on Emily’s head. “Everyone tells me how cute you are, but they’ve never seen this side of you.” I pat her cheek, and she cries out, turning her head away from me. I grab her chin and force her to look at me. “Scream again, and I’ll do it. I dare you.”

The baby cries out, trying to pull her head from my grasp, but I dig my fingers into her flesh. “What’s wrong, baby girl? Did I scare you? Are you hungry? Do you need a new diaper?” I grip her neck and lift her from the couch. “You have to ask nicely.” She screams again, starting another full-on crying jag, and I shake her. “You have to ask nicely!”

I let her drop to the couch, and she lets out a high-pitched wail. An animal in pain recognizes another, and I grin. “Got your attention now, do I?”

Sarah can’t just walk away like this. She can’t just hang up on me, ME, like I’m some nobody? Oh no, it’s not ending like this. This is not the way it will end…

I find my phone underneath the end table and examine it. Looks good. Those fucking things are indestructible.

Sarah just called me, I know she’s home, I know she’s there even if she doesn’t pick up. I call back the last number that called me and wait. Come on, Sarah, I know you’re there.


“I’m not doing this, I am not fucking doing this, Sarah. You have to come back. You have to take her. Emily won’t stop crying and I know it’s ‘cuz she needs you. She needs her mother. I need her mother.”

“Gary? What’s…oing on?”

I fling myself on the couch. “I can’t live without you. I can’t take it. I’ll do whatever it takes, Sarah, whatever. I just need you back. Please. Em is crying and I can’t stop her. I need you.”

“Gar…I’m not…arah. This is…aggie. Gary…alm down.”

“I can’t hear you, Sarah. I guess it’s the storm, or maybe it’s the baby crying, or…wait. She’s stopped. I think you did it. She’s stopped crying. Look, I’ll call you tomorrow. I know you can’t go out in the storm anyway. Just…if the storm clears, come see us. Please. We’ll be right here waiting.


“Okay, Sarah. Of course. I’ll be here, and I’ll make it right. You’ll see. We’ll make it right.”

I hang up the phone and sigh. I hear nothing but the tick of a clock and the wind beating the branches of the maple tree against the house. No more screams. Emily finally fell asleep.

I close my eyes. Sarah will be here soon.


I wake in the dark to insistent knocks on the door. Who’s crazy enough to go out on a night like tonight?


I bound up and open the door. Strangers stare at me.

“Are you Gary Elms?” the man says. “I’m Tad Thompson, from the daycare? Somehow there was a mix-up with our children.”

“I’ve got Emily all safe and sound for you,” the woman says, holding out a bundle of blankets. “How’s Kate doing?”

I glare at them and ignore the bundle. “There must be some mistake. I’ve got Emily right here. You must have gotten your kid mixed up with someone else.”

They exchange a perplexed glance. “I’ve volunteered at the daycare before, and I know all the children…Gary, this is Emily. This baby, right here, is Emily. Where’s Kate?”

“Emily, not Kate, is sleeping, and it took a damn long time to make that happen, so I’d appreciate you keeping your voice down.”

“Stay here,” the guy says under his breath, and he takes a step toward me. “Mr. Elms, I don’t know what you’re playing at, but you have our child in your home, and I intend to get her. We can do this peacefully, or we can call the police. Your choice.”

“You’re not taking my daughter,” I say.

“No, we’re taking our daughter. Now. Choose.”

“Let me see your baby,” I say.

The woman opens the blankets around the baby’s head, and I lean forward to get a good luck. Huh. Her eyes…I know those eyes.

“Sarah,” I whisper.

“Who’s Sarah?”

I grab the baby from her. “Sarah, you said you’d come! You promised me you’d come! How could you leave? How?”

I cock back my arm. I hurl the lying, traitorous bitch into the street.

A woman screams.

A man runs past me into the house. I follow him in.

“Where is she?” he says.

“On the couch.”

“I don’t see her. Where? Oh my God…” He pulls the limp baby from between the cushions, cradling her to his chest. “Oh my God, what did you do?”

I wander out to the yard. A woman is sobbing in the street, but I don’t know her.

I sit in the snow and wait for Sarah.

I Finally Learn How to Build a Website

Okay, so I’m still learning. But I finally took the plunge, bought big-girl web hosting, and installed a WordPress site. I built it, too, all by myself!

Well, not entirely by myself. I went to YouTube to view a tutorial, and I found Tyler Moore ( His two-hour beginner tutorial set me on the right path. I still have loads of tweaking to do and lots of content to add, but the basics are up.

Now, would I recommend doing this yourself?

On one hand, yes. It’s empowering, and if I want to add content or change the look of my site, I can do it. That’s handy, and it saves me money.

On the other, it has been a major time suck. I’ve spent about four hours a night for a week working on it, and I still have a long way to go. If it had been in my budget, it would have been better for me to pay someone to build the thing, and then I could have learned how to add to it over time without it impacting my writing schedule.

But here we are, and I’m happy with the results. I now have a REAL website!