Excerpt for Tell Me A Story: 104 Short Stories in 52 Weeks by
& , available in its entirety at Smashwords

TELL ME A STORY

104 Short Stories In 52 Weeks





Gillian and Kevin Rhodes

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Gillian and Kevin Rhodes



Smashwords Edition, License Notes



Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the authors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes.
If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

ALSO BY GILLIAN AND KEVIN RHODES

For more information about the authors and their other ebooks, click here



Gillian and Kevin Rhodes

Not This Day! Special Features



Gillian and Hilary Rhodes

The Book of Noah



Kevin Rhodes

Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania

Running For My Life: When Impossible is the Only Option

Apocalypse: Life on the Other Side of Over

Ethos

Law, Enlightenment, and Other States of Mind

The Legal Times They Are A-Changin’

CONTENTS

Gillian’s Preface

Kevin’s Preface

Week 1: A story entitled “A New Beginning”

Week 2: A story about rising to a challenge

Week 3: A retelling of a fairytale

Week 4: A story about three siblings

Week 5: A story set in London

Week 6: : A story about finding something that has been lost

Week 7: A story about a journey

Week 8: : A story set during a war

Week 9: A creepy story

Week 10: A story featuring a countdown

Week 11: A story set at a full moon

Week 12: A story about a competition

Week 13: A story that take place entirely inside a vehicle

Week 14: A story from a villain’s perspective

Week 15: A story set at a concert or festival

Week 16: A story that begins with a gunshot

Week 17: A story set in a country you’ve never been to

Week 18: A story about a historical figure

Week 19: A story set in a theatre

Week 20: A story written in 2nd person narrative

Week 21: A story set on another planet

Week 22: A story written from the perspective of someone dead/undead

Week 23: A story about a birthday

Week 24: A story that ends on a cliffhanger

Week 25: A Story set during the summer solstice

Week 26: A story about nostalgia

Week 27: A story featuring a song or poem

Week 28: A story that ends at sunrise

Week 29: A story that opens with the words “F*** you!”

Week 30: A story about a magical object

Week 31: A story set at sea

Week 32: A story about a curse

Week 33: A story set 100 years in the future

Week 34: A story about loneliness

Week 35: A story featuring a real recent newspaper article

Week 36: A story written from an animal’s perspective

Week 37: A story about a scientific discovery

Week 38: A story set on another planet

Week 39: A story with only one character

Week 40: A story about a secret

Week 41: A romance that ends in tragedy

Week 42: A tragedy that ends in romance

Week 43: A retelling of a recent Hollywood movie

Week 44: A story that takes place the year you were born

Week 45: A story about a near-death experience

Week 46: A story about anger

Week 47: A story about a magic spell

Week 48: A story about a strange small town

Week 49: A story about justice being done

Week 50: A creation myth

Week 51: A story set at Christmas

Week 52: A story entitled “The End”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Gillian’s Preface

This project began very simply. I was browsing the social media site Tumblr, and happened upon a post on a writing help blog (“Our Writing Therapy”). It was fifty-two writing prompts, one for each week of the year. I glanced through it, a usual practice for dash scrolling, but something about the prompts captured my imagination. I decided to give it a go – it was only halfway through the first week of January at that point.

I can’t remember now why I shared it with Dad; perhaps I just thought he, as a writer, might be interested, or perhaps I was looking for a partner to hold me accountable. But for whatever reason I did it, Dad was all in, and we started right away.

It started as just a fun little thing we sent each other every week, but quickly we both found that we were surprised and delighted by the stories that came up. Dad had decided to limit himself to 100 words exactly for each story. I didn’t regulate my word count, but I did decide to not use my first idea for the prompt. Instead, I tried to see it from another angle, or question the meaning of the words – something to approach it from a different angle.

Perhaps for that reason, I found somewhat to my surprise that many of my stories tended towards the science fiction, the futuristic, the post-apocalyptic, the dystopian. In week 30, for example, we were prompted to write about a magical object – so I wrote about a radio, but set in a time in which electronics had gone extinct. A radio would seem magical, in that world!

As the weeks kept ticking and we faithfully wrote our stories, I started looking for ways to share them. Eventually I decided on the online writing platform Medium, and created a publication entitled “52 Stories in 52 weeks.” That sowed the seeds of the idea for publishing this book.

Over the course of the year, Dad and I did not miss a single story. A few weeks we forgot and sent it late, but those were few and far between. It began part of my Monday routine to write the story, and when the year ended, I missed it.

I found, in the end, the project an excellent creative experiment, completed by doing it in tandem with one of my favorite partners in crime.

I’m delighted to present all our stories side by side in this collection. As I read it, I’m struck by how different our interpretations of the same prompts are – but that is half the fun! I hope that you will enjoy these stories as much as we enjoyed writing them!


Gillian Rhodes

Kevin’s Preface

In a moment of weakness, I actually applied for a job. Well, sort of--it was a setup, a lure I couldn’t resist. I took the bait, got hooked, reeled in, and netted before I knew what hit.

It started with one of those email popups that makes you wonder how it got through and figure you need to change your settings. It announced a new article on LinkedIn Pulse: “The Most Unconventional Job Posting Ever.” “Job” wasn’t on my radar, but I’m a sucker for “unconventional.” I started reading faster than I could hit delete.

The article delivered on “unconventional” alright. You couldn’t tell what it was. But then it told you, at the end: “The article... it wasn't really an article... or a job post. It was a story about me."

A story.

About me.

About me, finding my way as a writer.

Being known is a powerful sensation; it happens so rarely that you remember when it does. Who was this guy writing this article, who knew what it was like to be me, in love with writing since I was a kid? I tracked the article to a real job posting from a startup with a mission to help employees “adopt behaviors and mindsets that improve individual and team performance.” They were looking for a writer.

Ah, so that’s it.

Mindsets and behaviors interest me. Teamwork, not so much. I work alone; most writers do. I almost quit there, but then something else snagged me: they wanted to know if you could tell a story in 100 words.

Seriously? I had no idea. I needed to find out. Besides, a steady income wouldn’t hurt….

I applied for the job. It was fun for awhile, then I dropped out for reasons unimportant now, leaving the question unanswered.

About then, Gillian proposed the 52 Stories in 52 Weeks challenge. This was my chance: my stories would be 100 words. Exactly. I would sit down the same time every week, read the prompt, write the first thing that popped into my head no questions asked, and finish the story in exactly 100 words. Exactly. All in one sitting.

Gillian and I got started, and right away I envied her. She could read the prompts ahead of time, think about her response, then use as many words as she wanted. Her reactions to my compact entries gave me quick feedback on how well I was doing. If she struggled to find the story, I missed it. If she got it right away, it worked.

So it went, for a whole year, and now I have an answer. Can I tell a story in 100 words? No, not really. But you and I can tell a story together if we both doing our part. My weekly 100 words set up the possibility of a story. Then it’s your turn--you, the reader, the imaginative one, the one who can’t resist the allure of a story, the one who must track it to its source, like I did with the mystery job posting. When you read my 100 words, something happens like when you get a joke or get to the end of a haiku: there’s that burst of surprise when you get it, and then--bango!-- your imagination floods the spare outline with all the details you need to create the meaning. It happens just like that, just that fast.

That’s the plan: for you and I to create these stories together.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that of you. I think stories always work that way. We start to read, and a deep creative magic goes to work on us. We like to experience that magic, and so we read--not so much for what the writer gives us, but for what the writing says to us about ourselves and our own lives. We welcome the story, invest ourselves in it, make it matter. We create meaning for ourselves, make the story come true for us.

We do this whenever we read. That’s why you and I can read the same thing but it becomes something different in you than in me. We fill in the details differently, see and hear and feel what’s written in a way that matches the sense of self each of us brings to it. We shape its meaning to fit ourselves, make it something we can take into our own selves and use in our own lives.

I didn’t know all of that before I started, but I know it now, thanks to Gillian’s storytelling challenge and her responses to my entries over the year. Over time, I felt I sort of got the hang of it --like when you do crosswords or Sudoku or play Jeopardy or charades or solve riddles or do something else like that a lot: you get into the swing of it, learn the codes and secrets and shortcuts, get quicker on the uptake. I suspect that will happen for you, too--that the stories will come quicker, and that you will find yourself telling your own stories more easily.

They are about you, after all.

I believe that, but we’ll see if it plays out that way for you.

And then I’ll really have my answer.

Thanks for giving it a try.


Kevin Rhodes

Week 1: A story entitled “A New Beginning”

Gillian 1: A New Beginning

On the day after the world ended, the sun rose in the east. Birds trilled in the trees and the line for the coffee shop was long. The morning rush hour traffic was jammed, and cell phone coverage was spotty exactly when the cars’ occupants tried to call in late.

In short, nothing at all had changed. But nevertheless, the world had ended. There was only one person who knew it: five-year-old Mary Beth Guarderson.

She told her father. “Daddy, what happened to the world?”

Her father tried to remember yesterday’s news. “What world, honey?”

Mary Beth frowned. “All of them,” she responded.

“Uh...nothing happened, sweetie,” he said.

She told her mother. “Mommy, what happened to the world?”

Her mother worried she’d been watching too much television. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“It’s gone,” Mary Beth replied.

Her mother wondered if this was normal for five-year-olds. She decided to play along. “Is it? What are we living in now then?”

What a silly question, Mary Beth thought. It was obvious. “A new one,” she said.

“And what’s this new world like?” her mother asked.

Mary Beth considered. She looked around her. It sure looked the same, but it wasn’t, she knew that very well. The newness was rubbing at everything, the shine of the sun on the windows, the dust in the air. Blank slates of being. Maybe it wasn’t the same at all, but it didn’t know what else to be, so it made itself like it was before.

“New,” she said finally. “It looks like the old one, but it’s not.”

Her mother patted her on the head. “Okay,” she said.

The sun doesn’t reflect a circle, Mary Beth thought, staring at the neighbor’s window. It reflects a star. A star, like the ones Daddy showed me in the planetarium.

Across the way, the reflection became a star, and Mary Beth smiled. That’s what I thought, she thought happily.

And so, little Mary Beth Guarderson, the only one to know that the world had ended, began to reform it. 

Kevin 1: A New Beginning

The balloon blew into the mower’s path. Jason snatched it.

The rain started as he stepped inside.

“Beat it,” he said.

Ginny cocked an eyebrow at the balloon.

He held out it out in front of himself. “Congratulations!” it said.

“For us,” he said. “You okay?”

“Sort of,” she said. “You need a shower.”

“Seriously,” he said. “I mean the message.” He sniffed an armpit. “The shower, too. You think maybe?”

“Maybe,” she said.

“I always wonder how high they go. Don’t you?”

“No,” she said.

“Saw the stork maybe.”

She fixed him a look.

“You’ll make a great dad.”

Week 2: A story about rising to a challenge

Gillian 2: The Door Guard

It happened on a Tuesday. A lady, head to toe in fringes and hoops, passed through the door he held open as per his (albeit very simple) job description.  

“Helloo!” she said.

She couldn’t be talking to him. He was invisible. Even with the shiny brass buttons on his uniform that he loved so much. It was part of his job description.

By the time he realized she was looking at him and waiting, it was too late.

“Don’t bother,” the valet said. “Poor dumb bastard.”

She did it again when she returned. “Helloo!”

He didn’t move. It was in his job description to not move.

“Don’t bother,” the concierge said. “Mute bastard.”

He practiced all night, shining the brass buttons of his jacket, ironing the crisp trousers, polishing the black boots. It was hard. It wasn’t in his job description.

The next day the lady was wearing more fringes.  

“Helloo!” she said.

He was too slow, and she had gone.

“Don’t waste your time,” the valet said. “Dumb bastard.”

He had to practice again that night.

The third day he was ready.

“Helloo!” she said.

He opened his mouth, working his tongue around the two, sweet syllables.

“Hel-lo,” he said.

The lady smiled.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said the valet.



Kevin 2: The Art Lesson

Mrs. Hanson made the project because of the horses in his notebooks. He met it by raging while the others drew stick horses.

Later, he laid out his treasures on his bed. Fierce wild horses, thundering, manes to the wind.

Later, Mrs. Hanson read Equus:

“Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.”

“He'll be delivered from madness. What then?”

“The Normal is the good smile in a child's eyes. It is also the dead stare in a million adults.”

Her challenge wasn’t to make him draw horses. It was to leave him his worship.

Week 3: A retelling of a fairytale

Gillian 3: Cinderella’s Farce

It was a setup. The whole damn thing.

She didn’t think I knew. She didn’t think anyone knew. Even after all this, even after the blinding, I kept her secrets.

Why?

She was my sister. I wasn’t kind to her – my mother was more important than her. She didn’t forgive me. But who cares? Our stories are over now, one of which ended in Happily Ever After, and that’s enough.

They’d met weeks before. He dragged up at the house with a bleeding leg from a hunt gone wrong, and she patched him up in the kitchen. She used my handkerchief to do it, that’s how I figured it out.

He kept sneaking back to the kitchen. We never saw him, because we never went to the kitchen. I heard their voices filtering from the laundry chute. They talked. They planned. I heard only snips of it. Enough to know.

I could have done something. Why bother? It was her destiny. Anyone could have seen it.

They planned it. She said the packages were food when I asked, but I knew better. Finery. Dresses, jewels. The glass slippers were last, wrapped in tablecloths.

She knew we’d stop her, and leave her alone at the house. I ripped her dress for her. She pretended to care.

I guess he sent a coach after he saw us arrive, to be sure we wouldn’t pass on the street. She left early and left the shoe, as they’d planned, and he set off on the farce of the shoe. He had three sizes hidden in his shirt, and used whichever one he knew wouldn’t fit the person in front of him. Only when he got to our house did he use the real one. I don’t know how anyone believed their “surprise.”

Either way, he took her off to the castle and I heard started a royal – if you’ll pardon the pun – fight about her origins. They must have won, because I didn’t hear any more of it.

The way they tell it now, there’s a fairy involved, magic and chance and the coup de foudre. But there was no magic. It was a farce. A genius, impossible, bold setup.

And me? I sat back and watched the show, and paid for it with my eyes. Happily ever after, and then some.

Kevin 3: The Board Meeting

He scrolled again through the PowerPoint, noticed his fingers trembling.

The usual list: capital, suppliers, shipping, design; more this, more that; we’ll pivot, manage the burn rate.

They always bought it. Their Golden Boy. Can do no wrong. Done this before, will do it again.

The door clicked. “The Board is ready for you.”

She knew, he’d bet. She’d watched all these liars telling each other lies, crying wolf and ignoring the warnings. But this time there really was a wolf. He’d put a name to it: his own. Save the sheep? Fire the shepherd.

That wasn’t in the PowerPoint.

Week 4 : A story about three siblings

Gillian 4: The Mountain

Everything changed when we left the mountain.

They said it was time, because the world was moving on ahead and we were getting left behind. We had to go to school, learn real things, grow up, leave behind all “those wrong stories ol’ Hefter told you.” No more place in the world for us anymore, and mom and dad had been wrong to hang on.

Taren and Jed believed them. They were older and so they knew better, they said.

It was only me that held on. I knew better than to say so, watching my brothers disappear into this modern, uncivilized world. I kept my mouth shut, went to school, did the learning I was told to. I learned the way they say the world works, how it began, where we came from. I even work it in now, studying the how the universe grows and moves.

I have not been back to the mountain. But these days when my students ask me how the world was made, I tell them the truth, and I remember.

In the beginning, I say, there was nothing, and in nothing, there came one.

The oldest was Soul, and Soul was born by fire, and bathed in sea. But Soul was lost in that great sea, and so there came a second.

The second was Being. Being began in stone, and stretched all the way to sky. But Soul and Being were cold and afraid in the darkness, and so there came a third.

The third, and the youngest, was Time. Time began as the first dark night gave way to dawn.

After I tell the story, there is always one student who raises their hand.

“It’s a metaphor, right?” they ask.

And I smile.



Kevin 4: Jerry

Dad was staunch Irish Democrat, so they named us John, Edward, and Robert.

People called us Jerry -- you know, JER. So we were Jerry1, Jerry2, and Jerry3. You got blamed for stuff you didn’t do. Jerry1 did it, but somebody slips and says Jerry3 and he gets it instead.

Now, we’re Edward, Bobby, and I kept Jerry -- just kind of liked it. So if we’re all around and somebody says Jerry, Edward and Bobby still look up, just like old times.

And we still take the blame for each other -- got to be a habit, I guess.

Week 5: A story set in London

Gillian 5: The Lost City

I had heard the name whispered every now and then. It was lore among the archeologists, what Atlantis had been before ocean mapping had left the drowned city naked and bare before the world.

It was the holy grail, the last so-called secret place in a world where nothing was secret anymore, where history’s secrets had been sprawled across a million screens and humanity had gotten bored, turning their faces to the sky instead.

Except me, and Professor Tarring. He was the only one I ever heard who had spoken the name aloud, who dared to suggest that it had existed, still existed, hadn’t been crushed like everything else.

We were laughed off. Professor Tarring taught Atlantis and saved the money for our expeditions.

We knew it had to be in the area, but there were still too many square kilometers to just dig anyway and hope we stumbled on something. We went down, as far as we could, donning gas masks and struggling through centuries of trash to try and get close to the earth’s surface, where it would have to be.

I’m not sure why it called to me so much. It was part of the lost world, the world Before, the one before the great Crush and the mapping. I needed to know it existed, in some unreasonable, irrational, desperate way.

And then we found the map. Matching the new coordinates to the old world maps was a long, painstaking process, but when the computers finally dinged and the Professor and I looked at it, I felt like my heart had stopped a beat or two.

“My god,” the Professor whispered.

I stared at the map, trying to make sense of what it was telling us. The blue lines of the inner section of our city against the red lines of where the lost city would have been. Matching perfectly.

I savored the words, loving each one, dreaming of the possibilities.

“We live in London,” I said, and began to laugh.



Kevin 5: The Hyde Park Soapbox

“You could go say something,” Rich said. “You could preach.” He pointed at a guy shouting, bending pedestrians in an arc around himself.

I stared blankly.

“The Hyde Park Soapbox,” he said. “Derek Prince used to preach there. Want to?”

His eyes burned with challenge. Derek Prince was our Bible hero. I thought Rich would do it, go over and fulfill the Great Commission.

I stood there dumb, trying to shrink. We came to see the Palace. He saw through me, I know he did.

“Let’s go,” he finally said.

I followed, ashamed. It was always that way with Rich.

Week 6: : A story about finding something that has been lost

Gillian 6: The Walker

The desert is unforgiving.

The nights are not cold, they are ice. The days are not hot, they blister. The dunes look like the clouds of heaven, but punish like the depths of hell.

That’s what the Walker said, each endless cycle of crushing cold and wavering heat. He had walked for so long he’d forgotten why, footprints that no longer made any mark in the sand behind him. It was merely what he would do, what he had done. He walked, unseen by anyone but those already halfway into their own reckoning with the scales of eternity. He was a reminder of the dangers, the truth of that whispered promise.

Until they came. He was drawn to the camp by the fading spirit, as he always was. He didn’t smell the honey or the herbs as his shadowed form broke into the dancing, distorted firelight, didn’t leave a trace as he came to stand in their midst, restlessly, endlessly walking, pacing through the camp.

“He’s here,” someone whispered.

“Bind him,” whispered another.

For the first time in centuries, the Walker’s feet drew to a shuddering, staggering halt, and his head threw into the air and saw –

Stars.

The stars. So thick they were like a blanket, an alien landscape where the sky was a floor of glitter and the earth was the inky black heavens.

He had forgotten.

The Walker turned and left the light behind him, walking lightly over the shadowed sky, eyes turned to the heavens. He remembered now.

When he reached the horizon, the world would flip, and he would reach the world where the only pathway was splattered across the dunes in stars.

Purposefully, the Walker set off, with great strides, the dunes softening into no more than waves, cresting into the sky.

Kevin 6: Mushrooms

A recipe for magic mushrooms, on an Eiffel Tower postcard. Another one for banana peels, on the Statue of Liberty. A baggie with a few shreds of grass. Some red, white, and blue papers. A water pipe. A Jimi Hendrix “Are You Experienced?” poster. Abby Hoffman’s Steal This Book. Love beads, a floppy hat, some decrepit bell bottoms, a tie-dye…

Icons of the 60’s. His life in the 60’s. The one he hid from the folks - they would have freaked out.

All here, in a box neatly tied with string, in Mom’s cedar chest. Today. The day she died.

Week 7: A story about a journey

Gillian 7: Summit

“Is that it?”

If it was, Alice thought, it wasn’t a very impressive summit for the extravagant promises of this trip.

The guide, white-haired and dark-eyed, glanced up and surveyed the high point across the shallow saddle. “Hmm,” she said thoughtfully. “Not yet, I think.”

She was right. No sooner had they reached the top point, another high point appeared, a pile of rocks poking from the trees. “Is that it?” Alice wanted to know.

The guide glanced only briefly. “Not yet,” she said.

Of course, it wasn’t impressive enough yet, Alice thought. The travel agency had said that it was an indescribable journey. They had gushing testimonies of people to prove it. Despite the fact that many other agencies offered a much cheaper guide for this hike, Alice had been intrigued. She needed something life-changing anyway, and her previous forays had yielded nothing but disappointment.

The next summit was only a few hundred feet beyond the second, but the guide didn’t even look up this time to verify.

“Not yet,” she said.

Neither was the next, or the next after that, the path winding up and down. Every time Alice asked, she got the same response. Hot and tired, she started thinking she’d fallen for false promises yet again.

The next time, she didn’t ask. She just put her head down and walked, one step after another.

Sometime after, as they climbed above treeline, her previously silent guide began to speak, sweeping her hand across the land, describing how it had been formed, where the lay of the land looked like a woman sleeping, how if you looked closely enough, the wind moving through the trees below looked like giants walking.

This high, the wind sang across the rocks. Alice watched for the giants. No, she thought, it looks more like waves.

It was sometime later when they took a break on a pile of rocks. They had been sitting for a few minutes when the guide glanced over.

“We are here,” she said.

It was only then that Alice realized there were no more high points around. She was surprised by it, but didn’t think any more of it as they descended, wondering why this hike had been so talked up.

It took her thirty years to understand that the journey the agency talked about had nothing to do with climbing a mountain.

Kevin 7: Across The Room

Across the room. That’s it. That’s all.

That’s the whole world.

Someone thinking, and the need to get through a viscous blur of half-air, half-water, through the thickness, the weight, back to the crisp edges of reality.

And to get across the room. Something over there. Something he needed to do once he got there.

Heaviness. Leaden muscles melted over the floor. And deep sleep.

Another awakening. A ringing, and a distant observer. A piercing beam of light.

Something he needed to do. Somewhere to go.

Rest. To lie here forever.

To be light. To float free.

Across the room.

Week 8: : A story set during a war

Gillian 8: The Word

“What’s this word mean, Pa?”

Pa looked, his brow furrowing like it did when I asked about a hard word. This one didn’t have a lot of letters but I’d learned that sometimes the hardest words were the shortest ones.

“Ah...well let’s see. I’m not sure myself,” Pa said. “It means...well, you know the night hammers?”

I knew them. The ones that came from the sky and gut the world into patterns.

“Well, I think this word means...they wouldn’t exist.”

I didn’t understand. “It means no night hammers? But what would we listen to at night then?”

“And I think it means we could live in the same house and not move all the time,” Pa continued, as though I hadn’t said anything.

“But that would be boring!” I protested. The night hammers and the teethmen were always chewing up the land, and so we always got to find new houses to explore.

“And the teethmen wouldn’t exist.”

“But –“ I struggled to imagine such a thing. “But where would they go?”

“I just mean they wouldn’t be here.”

“And that’s what it means? No night hammers and no teethmen?”

“I think so. Next time we visit the cave, we can ask your grandmother. I think she might know. It hasn’t happened since...well, maybe even before she lived.”

Grandmother lived in a cave, the only one the teethmen hadn’t found yet, with the other old people and some young people like me. We couldn’t visit a lot, because the teethmen would see us go there and because we were always trying to guess the night hammers next pattern.

The next time we went, I showed her the book and the word.

I don’t know why, but she just laughed. She put her head back and laughed and laughed and laughed.

She never answered the question, either.

Kevin 8: The Photograph

A G.I., cigarette in hand, crouching by a balustrade, high up on a cathedral, Paris spreading out below.

The G.I. is my dad.

He was afraid of heights.

Another photo: him x-raying a guy’s arm. So that’s what he did: took pictures of the broken bones of war. Do that every day, maybe you lose your fear of other things. Like heights. At least while you’re on leave in Paris.

They didn’t talk about it. Did what was necessary over there, came home, went to work, kept it to themselves.

But inside there was this fear of things.

Like heights.

Week 9: A creepy story

Gillian 9: The Stairs

It wasn’t so much that the stairs were creaking. The stairs creaked all the time. It was an old house, that’s one of the things she loved so much about it. Old Victorian, bought it at a dirt cheap price when she and Rich first got married and patched it up with love and care.

No, the creaking stairs weren’t really the problem. She loved them, really. It was a way of telling each other they were home, the long work day was over, kind of their secret signal that the bed wouldn’t be cold for much longer.

The problem was that the stairs shouldn’t be creaking, because Rich wasn’t home. She knew he wasn’t because he wasn’t supposed to be and he always called when he left work early, and because the front door didn’t close properly unless you slammed it, and she hadn’t heard it slam.

It wasn’t the house settling, the house settling didn’t sound like that. She knew what that sounded like. This was like Rich had come home early and hadn’t slammed the door, but she knew that wasn’t right.

“Rich?” she called hesitantly.

The stairs only kept creaking.

Kevin 9: Martin

Something is knocking. Or hissing. Hissing and knocking together. I don’t like it.

The light is green. Light shouldn’t be green. It should be… something else. There was a puddle under the car -- that color. The air shouldn’t be that.

They put something up my back. I got goosebumps. Some people say gooseflesh. People shouldn’t say that. Gooseflesh is cold and bumpy where the feathers were. They never felt gooseflesh, otherwise they wouldn’t say it.

The antifreeze puddle had a snake in it. A dead snake. The snake was cold. When I drank it, it made the air green.

Week 10: A story featuring a countdown

Gillian 10: The Clock in the Square

There was a clock in the square that was always counting down. Dalia didn’t think anyone else had noticed it, because she was always the only one watching it. It was under the big flashing advertisements, white digital numbers like any normal clock.

But it wasn’t a normal clock, because it didn’t show the time. It just counted down. Sometimes it would be from large number and take several days, or sometimes a small number and take a few hours. Sometimes it counted slowly, sometimes fast. It never reached zero; after one, the next number would appear and it would start counting again.

For as long as she could remember, Dalia watched the numbers ticking away and wondered what they meant.

Some days it was the seconds left in someone’s life in the city. Or perhaps it was the time left in a relationship. When that seemed too sad, she thought it might be time before a new relationship began, or someone was born.

But those things seemed too simple. A countdown was a beginning or an end, but was not the world beginning and ending every day? Maybe it was the time before a flower bloomed, or before a leaf fell, the number of people who believed in magic, the seconds before the next child stopped believing in Santa Claus.

Some days, when she was tired and stressed and thought she should be more of an adult about the world, she thought it was nothing more than a programming error, or the time before the advertisement changed. Something normal, explainable, and unworthy of notice.

And yet, when they took down the ad screen, they left the countdown clock, and it kept counting down.

The time before a new song is written, Dalia thought that day as she went to work, and programming error or not, it still made her smile.

Kevin 10: The Countdown

It looked sure this time. The only game was how long the old bastard would stick around, just to spite them.

They had a pool going for awhile, but then he kept going so they quit. Now they had an email with a hundred ten thousand dollar bills, and every day one disappeared. Today, there were forty left.

It wasn’t about the money. He promised they’d never get a cent. Amazing he didn’t charge them rent, growing up.

He left it all to some damned nuns in Portugal. Our Lady of Fatima. Sisters is Portugal!

It was about the money.

Week 11: A story set at a full moon

Gillian 11: Moon Sickness

The moon on Dhaegar rose once every one hundred and seventy days, and every time it did, it left chaos in its wake.

The science people used words like “elliptical,” “irregular orbit,” and “large gravitational influence,” but it was a long time before I understood them, and even when I did, it didn’t make a difference, because moonrise on Dhaegar was terrifying.

We could feel it coming for days before hand, a kind of tugging in your heart, a rumbling in the earth. It would get worse and worse, pressure building in the head, the thundering of blood moving to a beat not quite yours, until the whole world would begin to shake and the great moon would labor over the horizon, so close you knew this time it would fall and destroy everything.

The world would shiver and shake and try to tear itself apart as the great ball rolled across the sky, an excruciating few hours, before it would vanish again and the pull would slowly lessen.

There was no way to fight it, no way to protect yourself. The pain in the head was enough to send most people insane, and those hours were full of wailing, shouting, destruction as people sought to distract themselves. Sometimes it took days before people were able to live normally again, picking up the pieces they had destroyed.

We left as refugees to the Marble Planet when I was still a child, and to this day, I remember how afraid I was to know that the moon rose only every twenty eight days. How could such a place be a sanctuary? I begged and begged not to go, but it wasn’t my decision.

The first full moon on the Marble Planet, we watched together. We held our breath as the tiny little silver ball pulled its way from the horizon. Our blood was tingling, but not throbbing, and suddenly we were laughing and crying in relief.

Our new neighbors never quite understood, and neither did my new family, why every full moon, I looked up at the sky and began to laugh.

Kevin 11: The Moon and the Stars

As a child he wondered, where do the stars go when the moon is full? When it is empty, their light fills the land. Then comes the slow disappearing, until the moon is all and they are naught.

He asked the adults, who explained but didn’t answer. He became one of them and stopped asking--until tonight, when he asked again, and finally knew:

They don’t go anywhere; they are still there, but have given all their light to the moon, which has none of its own.

That night he slept as a man who has done great work.

Week 12: A story about a competition

Gillian 12: The Non-Fighter

When I was a kid, my favorite time of the week was the Saturday fights. I can remember going even when I couldn’t climb the rafter steps on my own I was so small, and Dad had to hoist me up by my armpits. As a young boy, I dreamt of being one of the fighters. I used to watch them with stars in my eyes, in awe of their auras, their bodies, their sheer being. I’d go home and try to be like them, walk like them. Punch my pillow and narrate my own fights.

I might have thought about pursuing it, but as a teenager, I realized something disastrous for my fighting career – I wasn’t a fighter. I didn’t like being hit or hitting, didn’t like the aggression. When Mattie challenged me to a fight for Sophie in sophomore year, I couldn’t even face him down. I let Sophie go. She didn’t look me in the face again until senior year, and only then with pity.

I wrote it off as a boyish dream and went to college, where I was taught to think about why and how and question everything. I left questioning everything, and wandered a bit.

It was during that wandering time that I found myself wandering back to the fights. To my surprise, they still called me, still filled with the same fervor and thrill.

It took me a long time to figure out why they did that, to me, this mild, unassuming, non-fighter of a lost man.

I realized finally that it wasn’t the fighting, per se. It was the personas. It was the way the fighters came in with their hoods and entourages, like modern gods or gladiators. The aura of their energy, blasting through the arena. The way they were nowhere but there, inside the ring, all their energy and being wrapped up in that charged cube of living.

I didn’t want to fight; I wanted to be the one who walks in to thunderous roars and only flicks their head, who carries all the human energy of the spectators in their fist.

Some years down the road, I finished my PhD and started teaching. I wrote about the force of the non-fighters, and yet, every time I walked into the lecture hall, I stopped at the door and closed my eyes.

In that second, I was back at the fights. Covered in a robe, my supporters at my back, the crowds stamping their feet and shouting themselves hoarse.

It was only then that I walked through the door.

Kevin 12: Spelling Bee

This one for the win.

“Compel.”

Tracy’s heart dropped into her shoes. She thought she might go there with it. One l or two? She could never remember in practice.

Homonyms, Ms. Deetz had said. Think of homonyms.

Im-pel…pro-pel…No help. Same problem.

“30 seconds. Your word is compel.”

How about bell, well, smell…? No help there.

Caitlin Loughlin looked smug. She knew. Tracy hated her.

Sara, her bestie, leaned in, willing her to spell it.

Her mom.. more nervous than she was.

Pounding heart. Shallow breath. Dry mouth. Dizzy.

“10 seconds.”

She began, “C-o-m-p-e-l…”

She paused.

One l or two?

Week 13: A story that take place entirely inside a vehicle

Gillian 13: The Road Untraveled

“Don’t.”

Trace looked over, fingers gently tapping the steering wheel. “Don’t what?”

“Go this way.”

There was a pause. “You don’t even know which way we’re going.”

“Trace, please.”

She leveled me a glance that wasn’t very subtle about its meaning, but since she didn’t say the words aloud, I chose to pretend I couldn’t read them in her eyes.

“It’s just a street.”

I could feel it coming, still far enough we could escape it, but not for very long.

“Trace, please.”

I knew she didn’t want it. The waves of not wanting were radiating off her, like they did every time, and every time we had this fight.

“Next time,” I told her as we sat at the red light, her fingers tap, tap, tapping on the wheel some more, not so gently now. “Next time we can go that way.”

Trace glowered. “That’s what you said last time, and every other damn time.”

“Next time,” I said again.

Trace shook her head, but as the light turned green, she swung us out of the lane and into the left turn lane, irritating and shocking the car behind us. The horn blared and Trace held up a single finger out the window.

“If he rear-ends us, you’re paying the insurance,” she said, and the acceleration yanked me back in my seat.

Kevin 13: Runnin’ Up the Mountain

“Guy went over right here. Took ‘em twenty grand t’ git ‘im out..”

He kept taking a hand off the wheel, pointing. I burrowed my eyes into the road -- “shortest the Butte to Aspen” -- willing us to stay on it.

He saw me doing it, spat out the window, took a hand off the wheel and poked toward his eyes.

“Don’t help… SHIT!”

The wall we were hugging let loose a surge of rock and gravel. He gunned it, fought the wheel, got us through.

He turned my way and grinned.

“Woulda cost you twenty grand right there.”

Week 14: A story from a villain’s perspective

Gillian 14: The Madman’s Painting

I’d do it all over again. Every single damn second of it.

There will be no record of me. There are no records anymore. There will be no trace of me. There are no traces anymore. If by some chance some alien creature peers their alien eyes upon this place they may never know how it happened.

I don’t care. I didn’t do it for the posterity. There is no posterity when you are the last. I didn’t do it to rule, or build an empire. That’s what they said, what they tried to say, what they screamed.

I burned the world to watch it burn. I burned it to watch the flames, the beauty of it, the orange mixing with the blue and all the colors like a madman’s palette, my palette. I painted it with all the colors of destruction, and it was beautiful.

No one saw the colors like me. They didn’t look. No one ever looked. No one ever turned their eyes from their own navels, sucking the colors through the straws of ignorance.

It was a masterpiece. It is a masterpiece. I have made of the Earth a piece of art, of which no one will ever know. I have left no signature. Even now the green is returning. Even now the Earth makes of itself a new beginning. By the time I too have burned, there will be no trace anymore.

There are no traces anymore.

Kevin 14: Eden

That old story -- it disgusts me, how they tell it. Paradise… man and woman running around naked… fruit and flowers… until I ruined it.

Me, the snake in the grass.

Please.

There was no apple. I didn’t steal anything, just gave them a taste of something they never knew they could have: the ability to know.

They’ve been after it ever since. They want to know so badly, they pretend they do. They keep chasing it.

That was the plan: give them a taste of what they can never have, but want anyway.

The perfect heist.

I love it.

Week 15: A story set at a concert or festival

Gillian 15: The Fire Master

Keep the rhythm. Not too many at first.

I set the fuse, counting the seconds to myself, dashing down the line. Purple here, green splashing in the middle.

Don’t watch them. Concentrate, plan the next volley.

The lessons and the sequence were burned into my head, anxiety having tattooed them as surely as ink across my eyelids. The fire festival was known as far as the horizon itself stretched, and each year they came in droves to see the magic of the Fire Master.

Only this year, there was no Fire Master. There was only me, and the years of training burned into my skin more deeply than the scars that came from not moving fast enough once the fuse was set.

Paint the sky with the colors. Let them see not fire, but the very forging of the world.

I dared not to look up across the sky, to see their faces as they watched. They did not know there was no Fire Master anymore. If they knew it was all a show by a scrawny lad not yet grown into his hands and feet, would they protest? Would they mind?

The last volley must dazzle them, must set the fabric of the sky alight, must rumble even in your bones.

I dashed from fuse to fuse, sweat in my eyes, breathless and lost in the act of it, worry sloughing off into the explosions. I stepped back as they caught, and suddenly the boxes began to beat, my heart matching their rhythm.

As the fury of that last painting settled, the silence deafened me, and I gaped into the silence. But then, suddenly, from the other side of the lake –

A shout, and then a roar, hands clapping and voices shouting. It took me a long time to understand what they were saying, but when I did, I felt a thrill creeping up my spine and exploding on my face.

Fire Master, they were saying.

Kevin 15: Roadie

“They come for the show, but what they really want is to get backstage. Or on it.”

Tim nodded at the crowd -- maybe 50,000. We were running the final sound check. He was right, it was powerful, being up here.

“Like that guy.”

He pointed downstage right . Yeah, the guy had the look. Tim radioed Security. Two of them moved over, stood between him and the stage.

Five songs into the set, Tim said, “About now.”

The song finished. Another one.

“Guess not,” I said.

That’s when the guy made his move.

Tim grinned. “Timing’s off,” he said.

Week 16: A story that begins with a gunshot

Gillian 16: The Shot

It wasn’t a bang – no, it was a crack. It was a finger of heaven ripping the air so fast sound couldn’t make itself into a proper noise. Not a rip, not a tear, just that – crack. There was something inherently wrong about the sound, like it shouldn’t exist and because it shouldn’t, it sounded like that.

And it was too, too close.

The shots always started at the same time every night, so most of the time I was ready, already home and with my fingers stuffed in my ears. Not that it mattered. I still felt the air crack. The sound echoed in my guts, not my ears.

They said it was normal, the war games. The children had to learn somehow. For the most part, no one got hurt, it was just sound and shouts. They couldn’t aim much anyway, not at first. When they started grazing each other, they were taken away. Wherever ‘away’ was, I didn’t know. I just know most of the time, they didn’t come back.

I wasn’t supposed to be out when the games began, and so I wasn’t. I hated them, hated the sound, so why should I be?

Except that I was.

I’d been out too far, played too long, left too late, and time ran too fast. And although I was close, I was not home yet, and the first crack had just exploded through me like the bullet itself.

I would have to play now – I had no choice. They were all around me. Cold, heavy metal pressed into my hand. It was unnatural, wrongly heavy.

I must have squeezed the trigger somehow – I don’t remember how. All I remember was the crack, the way the sound ripped forwards and backwards and through me and inside me, and all that was left was the ringing.

The ringing never fully went away. Not then, not since.

Kevin 16: Rite of Passage

A comic book would say “ka-pow” for the sound, but it was more like “pawk.”

Not much of a kick… a 410, just right for me: at 13 years, I didn’t have much of a kick either.

But with the pawk and the kick, something else: one of the coffee cans sailed off the sawhorse 30 yards away. Just like that: pull the trigger, can sails off.

Dad shouted. A couple months later, another shout when I hit the pheasant he missed.

Surprise, I’d say, both times. Like “Well would you look at that!”

Fall. Minnesota. Hunting. What guys did.

Week 17: A story set in a country you’ve never been to

Gillian 17: The Old World

The world began here.

It might end here, too.

The world is growling here. It is turning, rolling, shouting, tossing and turning. It is confused, lost, alone, shunned, outcast.

The world began here, so the stories say, in a garden whose fruit was so sweet it ruined us all. The sweeter the taste, the more it rots, the spoils more bitter.

If it began here, should it not end here too? One wrong choice to start the descent, one more to finish it?

The world was beautiful here.

The world is dark here. It is threatening, angry, tense like a coiled spring.

The world is forgotten here, hidden under the harsh spotlights of judging eyes and explosions, shrouded by the smoke. By name they know, as though naming is the same as knowing, knowing the same as experiencing, experiencing the same as understanding.

The world began here, and the amount of life that has been lived shakes and quakes and pushes at the boundaries of time and space, the fights for the answer to an eternal question that has never been and may never be answered.

The world began here, and maybe, it might end here too.

Kevin 17: Kandinsky

I hurried to The Hermitage -- the Russian Louvre -- to see the one thing they had of Kandinsky, no longer a Russian when he died, a Frenchman, but I guess once a Russian always a Russian, like once an anything always an anything. My goal was Composition No. 6, he painted it 1913 in Germany, then back to Russia, then the Bauhaus in Germany which the Nazis stormed and then to France and they stormed that, too, but he painted and died before it ended, until here he is today, a son of St. Petersburg, captured on a canvas.

Week 18: A story about a historical figure

Gillian 18: The Lightning Boy

Once upon a time, there was a boy who had a talent for making fire. A talent; or perhaps a penchant.

In a world where setting fires was more power than skill, the lightning boy was a curious phenomenon.

Those around him liked to joke that he had hands of fire, like the light from the sky that set the trees ablaze. Others watched him with mistrust, envy, or greed. There was much one could do with a boy who knew how to set fires, especially one with a powerful family.

Fire followed the boy where he went; where he played, where he ate, where he slept.

That was the day his brothers were in the tent with him.

One of them didn’t survive. The other emerged in flames and was plunged into the public baths. He survived, but he was never the same. He never said a word to his brother, and never left the water if he could.

There was much talk about the lightning boy’s involvement in that fire. Some said it was a tragic accident. But many more said it was more than that, it was calculated, carefully planned, for now he had no rivals, no brothers to contend with for power.

The lightning boy himself never said. He grew from a boy with a talent for making fire to a man whose hands of lightning were feared and revered. Power was a spark away, and a spark was never far away. The man the lightning boy had become used it.

People talked. Stories spread. Time passed.

The lightning boy and his sparks had long since gone out, but he had not truly gone. He was given a name for the myth he’d become. They named his brothers, built him a temple and a heaven, and handed him the keys to the world.

All for a boy with lightning in his hands.

Kevin 18: The Tomb of the Unknowns

Nobody knows his name. That way, he’s more than just one, he’s all of them we couldn’t put together enough to know who they were.

You hear him called “soldier,” but he’s actually parts of four -- two from the European Theater and two from the Pacific. I know -- I did the putting together. You can find my name on Wikipedia, which is more than I can say for him… or them, I mean.

“These honored dead” Lincoln called them at Gettysburg. Honored to die. Me, I was honored to live, knowing what I put together in that tomb.

Week 19: A story set in a theatre

Gillian 19: Ghostlight

The light comes on at night, without fail. It catches most of the shadows onstage, but it can’t touch all of them. For example, there’s a little patch in the President’s box, behind the curtain, where the shadows are deep and dark enough to keep away the light’s magic.

That’s where I spend my nights.

I’d rather face the stage, of course, but I have the day to do that, dancing through the catwalks and leaving cold shivers on the neck hairs of the technicians. They know it’s me, at least, the veterans do. The young ones are jumpy. Some of them can’t take it, and they quit. The ones who stay don’t mind.

“Leave out the wine every now and then and he won’t make trouble,” the veterans say, and they’re right.

In this line of business, there’s a lot of shady sorts that pull down lights and fray the electric cables. To be honest, I never understood that. I tried, back when I first started, but I could never get behind it. To me, intentionally destroying any part of a theater felt too much like smashing pews in a Church.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-35 show above.)