Thursday, October 8, 2009

GIVEN TO AIR (published in Six Sentences)

Somewhere west of Cherry Hill, where Route 30 merged with the Turnpike, the first rays of sunlight broke through the morning in an explosion of red, yellow, and orange hues that lit up the sky. Porter steered his Harley through the toll booth, feeling the power of the engine between his legs and a comforting familiarity in the vibrations from the road. He opened up the throttle and felt the cold rush of air in his face as he accelerated into the car lanes. He knew Donna would find his note taped to the refrigerator in their Jane Street kitchen and laugh when she got to the part where he wrote that something was broke between them, but he didn’t know how else to say it – beyond the things already spoken, too much remained in silence between them. She never took his clumsy attempts at finding the right words seriously, even when it was all he had left to give. As the white lines and the miles rolled past like the years he had wasted chasing dreams that would never come true, Porter wondered if she would really miss him as much as he hoped.

Monday, September 28, 2009

GOT NO REASON (published in Unheard Magazine)

Mercy had sworn it would be the last time he touched her, no matter what kind of promises he made, and she is determined to see that through. She knows his promises aren’t much different than his threats, and the words become worthless after he finishes off a couple of six packs. He spends most nights filled with drunken bitterness; simmering in anger that rages the longer he sits on the couch, watching reruns of old cop shows and thinking about all the things that might have been. Mad that the years have rolled past so quickly and unable to appreciate anything he has. His violent explosions once the six packs are gone leave her hurt and bloodied, stuck inside the double-wide for days until the swelling goes down and the bruises fade enough that she doesn’t have to hide them.
By then he has forgotten all of his apologies. When the words don’t mean anything there is no reason to remember them.
It’s going to change, Mercy tells herself. She made a promise that she intends to keep.
No way she ever wants to smell his hot, nasty breath on her face, or feel those rough calloused fingers scratching her skin again. There’s no excuse for the things he does to her, no matter what kind of explanations he gives. The little tenderness he offers through the sobs and tears never go far enough to erase her pain or make it disappear completely. Never quite makes up for what’s been lost.
He just doesn’t understand any of that.
Mercy waits until she hears the familiar pop of a beer can opening in the kitchen, then the refrigerator door slamming shut, bottles and cans rattling on the shelves as he stumbles back through the living room. Knows it won’t be long before he pushes his way into the bedroom with bad intentions written all over his expression. Mercy had found that old thirty-eight on the top shelf in the closet, loading the bullets that had been rolling around the nightstand drawer, and sits on the bed now with the gun in her lap.
In the darkness of her room, she waits.
Mercy knows she’s done pretending to be just like other girls, and wonders if her Daddy is going to feel the same kind of pain she’s felt for years when she pulls the trigger.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Way It Crumbles (published in Darkest Before The Dawn)

“Got your Nine?” Cheese asked.
Twist nodded.
“Keep it tucked inside your pocket,” Cheese said between sips of Pepsi. “Make it easy to pull when the time comes to use it.”
Twist didn’t say anything – his eyes never left the front of the discount liquor store on Raymond Boulevard. He sat quietly behind the wheel of the Sentra, his head resting against the seat, taking in everything up and down the street. Nothing escaped his stare. It was a hot Tuesday afternoon - the store’s neon sign blinked off and on in the sunlight, like a beacon pointing the way towards hope, refuge, and salvation. They had been watching the store for at least an hour but in that time saw only a handful of customers, and Twist wondered about the size of this score. No way it would get them more than a couple of bucks, he worried. It didn’t seem worth the effort.
“Ain’t important what they got in the registers,” Cheese told him.
Twist shot him a look. “It’s a waste of time if all we gonna get is a couple of twenties and some cold six packs.”
“Gonna be a decent score. More to it than just the money in the till.”
“How you know that?”
Cheese smiled. “Guy who manages the place don’t go to the bank more than once a day,” he said. “That means he still got last night’s cash sitting in a bag underneath the counter, just ready to be taken.”
“And how you so sure about that?”
“I know how things work,” Cheese said with certainty as he eyed the street. “Know all about this store.”
He was all cockiness and street – short, compact body like a point guard, hair cropped short, and a thin trim line of stubble stretching beneath his chin. Attitude, style, and a cocky smile.
Twist leaned back and waited. His expression was hard, tired, and weary, and his eyes heavy and drawn. His hair was cut high on top and shaved close on the sides, and a deep scar cut across his ebony skin from his right eye to the corner of his mouth. Barely eighteen, he carried weariness and anger that came from needing things he couldn’t have while everyone else got what they wanted......


Thursday, June 4, 2009

FALLING DOWN (published in A Twist Of Noir)

My short FALLING DOWN which was originally published in Powder Burn Flash is up at A Twist Of Noir:

As writers I know we are not supposed to become enamored of the charcters or stories we write, but this one flowed so easily and was a real pleasure to put down on paper. I'm glad to see it getting some more exposure.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Shimmer (published in Tuesday Shorts)

Somewhere south of Bordentown she stopped talking, leaving only the songs on the radio to fill the silence. While Springsteen sang about hurt and lost love I wondered when it was that everything between us had changed; what we once shared had slowly faded over time until there was nothing left. Now there was fear in her eyes, subtle cracks in that stoic expression I’d known since childhood. Pain that doctors couldn’t ease any more. I searched for words to bridge the distance but they stuck in my throat, and we drove home in a quiet so heavy it hurt.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bailey (published in 6S Vol 2)

On a sidewalk near Vesey Street, Bailey shook his cup and smiled at each person as he asked them for spare change. Dreadlocked and dirty, the sores on his arms covered by long sleeves, he tried hiding the shame in his eyes while ignoring the occasional taunts of “get a job you fucking bum.” Even though he was used to it the words always hurt, almost as much as the sneers businessmen gave him and the way women stuffed coins back in their purses, turning cold shoulders to him as if he were invisible. Inside Starbucks the Assistant Manager started towards the door again to chase him away for the third time that morning; Bailey was hurrying to put his belongings back in his cart when the first plane slammed in the Tower. Within hours the neighborhood that he knew had drastically changed – those same men and women now looked just like him with dazed expressions and blank stares, afraid and fearful of all they had lost. And in the horror of that day, when it all fell apart for so many, Bailey smiled as he realized that for once he wasn’t alone with his fears any more.

Deals, Concessions, and Bargaining Power


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Story Teller (published in 6S Vol. 2)

I would read her stories on quiet summer days as we sat along the river, just the two of us stretched out in the tall grass, hidden in the shade of the pine trees lining the banks of the Mullica while a gentle breeze cooled our skin. She liked the way I read to her and said it wasn’t just the stories but the sound of my voice – how I would give some words little twists of emotion, along with the emphasis I put on certain sentences to make them stand out, and I loved the way Katie would giggle when I mispronounced the vocabulary words we had learned in Miss Rittenberg’s English class only weeks earlier. Her body would sway slowly from side to side before she dropped her head in my lap, closing her eyes to listen as I read; the hours and days that passed never mattered back then, neither one of us ever imagining we could run out of time or that it would pass so quickly. Some days we dreamed about a world beyond the Mullica and our little New Jersey town - as the years went by we talked about a life together and a world waiting to be explored; Katie would take my hand in hers as I told another story about the places we could go and smile at the depth of my ambition and the strength of our growing love. Now, I am left to fill our days with stories about the places we have visited while wishing that for a little while we can return, if only in our dreams - some times for just a few moments my words unlock a memory long since buried and her eyes light up with a recognition that is both rare and fleeting. All I can do is hope that the next time I read to her I will again see that glow in her eyes and the spark that lights up her expression when she briefly remembers the life and the love we have shared.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hard Streak (published in Powder Burn Flash)

Every drunk had a story, Hurley thought; he didn’t need this guy going on about his poor luck. It didn’t matter to him. There was nothing different about what he had to say and it was nothing he hadn’t heard before.
He was somebody from the neighborhood named Danny Ryan; middle-aged with faded blue tattoos etched in his arms and a face that looked years older than it really was. A guy who worked day jobs unloading cargo at Port Elizabeth, then spent what he made on beer and cigarettes once he cashed the pay check.
Ryan leaned forward, his elbows digging into the bar, talking to an audience limited to the evening bartender wiping glasses with a soapy rag, some kid in the corner who hadn’t spoken in an hour, and Hurley on the stool next to him. Hurley took a sip of his Bud and pretended to listen without really paying much attention. The thing with most drunks was that they could carry a conversation entirely on their own as long as you let them go on and didn’t disagree too vehemently with anything they said.
A drunk unchallenged, fed a steady stream of beer and whiskey, could go on for hours.
“Haven’t had much luck in a long time,” Ryan said. He took a hard swallow of whiskey, grimacing as the liquor burned his throat. “Things been a little tight.”
There was always something with guys like him – poor luck, a bad day at the track, numbers that didn’t hit. Life was a lottery ticket they could never cash. Hurley had learned through the years that you had to work for everything; if you wanted it bad enough you had to take it, although he was a little down on his own luck if you believed in things like that. He had spread out his debt among three different loan sharks, just so he wasn’t in too deep to any one guy on the street, but he couldn’t cover the vig on what he owed without something changing soon.
“Welcome to my world,” he muttered.
The guy let out a small laugh.
Hurley didn’t see anything funny about that. He wasn’t desperate but he could feel the pressure mounting - there was nothing as worrisome as the fear that crept into your thoughts when you had no money. He had a twenty-two tucked inside the waist of his jeans, pressed hard against the small of his back; most times he felt the cold steel against his bare skin and got a sense of comfort and reassurance, but that was missing now. If something didn’t change soon he would be forced to take on the kind of high risk, low yield jobs like liquor store and gas station hold-ups he had done as a teenager. A handful of twenties was still better than nothing, he thought.
Ryan shook his head at the misfortune written in Hurley’s expression.
“Things are tough, huh?”
Hurley returned his own hard stare. “So how is it that you got all this shit going bad around you and you’re sitting here laughing?” he asked. “Parked on your ass all night, buying shots of whiskey if you got no money?”
Ryan smiled and patted his shirt pocket. Hurley watched the smile widen as Ryan reached into the pocket and pulled out a thick roll of bills.
Hurley let out a low whistle.
“Got almost three grand here,” Ryan said. “I’ve been playing the ponies all my life but never got a taste of anything meaningful at the track. Never had a winner that paid big money. Never had enough cash to put down on a sure thing I knew was going to come in. I never won.”
“Then last night I dropped a hundred on a thirty to one long shot at Monmouth Park. Never thought the horse would win,” he said. “Or I could get that lucky.”
Hurley stared at the wad of fifties and hundred in Ryan’s hand.
“Hell of a story.”
“Been going through some bad luck the last couple of months,” Ryan said, “but this will make things right.”
Hurley shook his head. “Let me buy you another drink,” he offered. “That kind of good luck deserves another round.”
Ryan shook his head.
“Ain’t like me to turn down a free drink,” he said, “but I got to get home before the old lady starts giving me shit.”
“The last thing I want to do is give her cause to be going through my pockets while I’m passed out on the couch in front of the TV,” he said. “That happens - I won’t ever see a dime of this money again.”
Ryan peeled off a twenty and dropped it on the bar, waving at the bartender as he slipped the remaining bills back in his pocket. “Keep the change, Eddie,” he called.
Hurley tossed a five on the bar.
“Wait up,” he said. “I’ll walk with you.”
A biting March wind tore into them, two solitary figures walking alone on the dark street, and Hurley turned up his collar against the cold. He wrapped a hand on Ryan’s shoulder as they turned a corner, slowly easing the twenty-two out of his pants with the other. “Three thousand’s a lot of money.”
“Maybe some of my good luck will rub off on you,” Ryan said with a laugh. “That’d be some story, huh?”
“Too bad your luck’s run out,” Hurley said.
He pressed the gun barrel into the flesh peeking out between the drunk’s wool coat and ski cap and quickly squeezed the trigger. Ryan’s throat exploded in a spray of blood and tissue; he clutched at the widening hole under his chin before staggering forward then crumpling dead to the concrete. Hurley took the bills from Ryan’s pocket then eased the twenty-two back inside his coat as he hurried down the street.
A score’s a score, he figured.
That was the only kind of story that mattered to him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

THINGS WE LOST ON TUESDAY (published in Six Sentences)

- Revelations
- Chains That Bind
- Fly Away
- 10-60
- No Quarter
- In Darkness of Dawn

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

BETWEEN THE LINES (from Powder Burn Flash)

The guy just didn’t shut up.
One of the first lessons you learn is to keep quiet, especially when you don’t know any other cons, but apparently no one had taught him that.
Stark discovered that the first time he got sent up - he had been a tough kid who didn’t back down, no matter who got in his face and he wasn’t afraid to show it. One of the older inmates he once rode with pulled him aside a week into his stretch and said, “Just do your time and don’t say nothing to no one.”
“Don’t matter how long they give you or what kind of friends you got outside,” he added. “Ain’t nobody in here you can trust.”
Stark remembered what that old con had told him as he leaned into the table and poked at the food on the tray, his appetite gone while this guy named Randy went on and on. Monmouth Detention Center was a county lock-up, a sixty-eight man tank filled with dopers, petty criminals, low-life thieves, and DUI’s. Randy was like most of them – a hard luck story, attitude, and cockiness that hadn’t yet been hardened by experience. At least he hadn’t tried convincing anyone he was innocent, Stark thought.
Stark was four months into his year sentence for assaulting a drunk outside an Asbury Park bar. It had been his bad luck to wind up in a jail where he didn’t know anyone, so he did his time quietly. Sometimes he got into a little pushing and shoving with one of the short stint speed freaks or exchanged words with some of the older cons looking to flex, but mostly he kept to himself. He didn’t trust anyone in the cellblock and he found out quickly that it was better that way. The last thing you ever wanted to do was call attention to yourself.
Probably a lesson to remember for outside the jail too, Stark thought, although he wasn’t sure it made the same kind of difference.
Randy was a greasy, long-haired punk who looked like he had never done more than a week of lock-up. If he had, Stark thought, Randy would have known better than to run his mouth in front of strangers. He was just a cherry trying to make up for his inexperience with tough cool and bullshit.
“Used to put on a uniform and go through apartment complexes dressed like somebody from the cable company, carrying a clipboard and a tool box,” Randy bragged, barely able to swallow an ear to ear grin. “Go knocking on doors at lunch time. When a chick answered I’d tell her there were problems and I needed to look at her converter box to make sure everything was okay.”
“If she said no, I’d say ‘You want to miss your shows, it don’t matter to me. But I ain’t coming back for another two weeks, so the choice is yours’.”
“Be surprised how many let me in once you told them they wouldn’t get to see Dancing With The Stars,” Randy said with a laugh. “Hit ‘em a couple of times once they open the door and most times they just let you do what you want.”
“You so smart, how is it you got caught?” Stark asked from across the table.
“Somebody rat?” another guy asked.
“Nah, nothing like that,” Randy said with a laugh. “Got into this place up in Union and the chick’s biker boyfriend shows up in the middle of the afternoon. He was this crazy psycho and I had to jump half-naked out a second floor window to get away. Landed wrong and got the wind knocked out of me.”
“She didn’t press charges but the cops got me for breaking and entering.”
Stark stared a hole into his coffee cup.
“Something funny about getting sent up on a breaking and entering?” Stark asked.
“Nah, it ain’t that,” Randy said. “Heard he didn’t believe his old lady and busted her up pretty badly, and she didn’t do nothing except let me in.”
Stark shook his head and forced a smile along with everyone else, amazed that this guy was so matter-of-fact about it. Like the story was worth a laugh, and that sharing it with everyone got him accepted.
That night Stark stood outside the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist and waited. Showers were the best place to take someone out – blood washed off easily, clothes didn’t get stained, and it was impossible to see through the thick, opaque shower curtains. Stark dropped two bars of Ivory soap in a sock, knotted the end, and held it coiled close to his body.
When Randy stepped into the shower Stark moved in quickly behind him. He smashed the sock against the back of his head, dropping him to his knees with one blow. Before Randy could turn around Blunt cracked it across the side of his head, crushing his skull and shattering the bones in his face. Randy slid face down on the tiles, blood streaming from his ear and nose; instinctively curling into a fetal position as Stark pummeled him relentlessly with the sock. He beat him unconscious, stomped a foot into his gut for good measure, then furiously lathered his hands with the bars of soap before dropping them into the hot water puddling at the drain.
No one saw anything, no one knew anything, and the subsequent investigation didn’t last long – within a few days Randy was old news.
That Saturday Stark got his ten minute phone call, waiting on line for two hours at the pay phone so he could talk to his brother.
“Remember that guy you told me about,” he said. “You know, the one you caught jumping out your old lady’s window?”
There was a moment of silence before his brother grunted a hesitant yes.
“Got a funny thing to tell you about that,” Stark said.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

LAST WALTZ (posted in

I leaned into the Cuban’s chest, grabbed his shoulders, and tried pulling him into a tight embrace before he could dance away. He was tall, hard, and lean - the sweat on his body glistened under the overhead lights. I wrapped my arms around him, but he needed space and distance - room to move without me hanging all over him. The Cuban banged a right into my ribs that backed me up a step and then he shoved me away.
Two more minutes.
Two minutes didn’t mean that much, I thought. Be lucky to last that long.
Especially with the Cuban banging that fucking right into my ribs all night.
The night had started with promise and hope, but it was gone now.
Everything hurt. I could taste blood in my mouth – thick and acrid. It’s a taste you never forget; the bitterness hangs in your throat like stale coffee then hits your stomach with a nasty kick. More blood streamed down my face, mixing with sweat that stung my eyes. I couldn’t blink away the pain burning one eye and it was impossible to see out of the other eye. The skin on my face felt tender and raw, throbbing no matter how often my corner had pressed the cold steel bar against it between rounds to control the swelling. But worse, something inside was definitely broken - when I sucked in a deep breath the pain squeezed the air from my lungs like a vice. The noise from the crowd engulfed us but all I could hear was my own labored breathing as I rasped for air and moved around the ring, trying to find safety in the distance.
I shook the sweat from my eyes and sprayed the Cuban with blood. Popped two jabs towards him to create room between us, hoping to stay out of reach and fool the crowd into thinking I was still in this fight. The Cuban easily blocked my jabs and circled, cutting off the ring. He was fast - nine rounds into the fight and he hadn’t slowed down or lost a step, and I couldn’t keep up with him.
We danced around each other; cautious and careful yet opportunistic for any kind of opening. Nothing about his movements betrayed his intentions. His eyes were focused and determined. Not a hint of fear or doubt in his expression. There was a look in his eyes that I recognized as something that had once belonged to me when I was younger; before time had worn away everything I owned. Now I wondered what the Cuban saw when he looked into my eyes – was it something soft and weak, or even less than that? I offered a left-right combination but he slipped the punches and worked his way closer with sharp left hooks. He found that same soft spot in my ribs and dug each punch into my body so hard that at first there was nothing, then all air rushed from my lungs as my insides imploded. All I could do was hold on to his arms to keep from dropping to one knee.
Ninety seconds.
Ninety seconds could feel like an eternity. Especially when my legs were gone and I had nothing left. There were no lucky punches and no miracles waiting to happen – just ninety painful seconds taking forever to fall way from the clock.
He was relentless in his assault and all I had were instincts and memories, and neither offered much help. I waved a jab and moved away, then tried hiding behind my gloves as the Cuban backed me towards the ropes.
It was that right hand that was killing me. I couldn’t do anything to stop it from crashing into my body over and over again.
Whatever will I had left to fight disappeared, and in each shot I felt every punch I had ever taken. There was no place to run, nowhere to hide, and nothing else I could do. In that instant I saw myself for what I was – a tired, beaten fighter suddenly too many bouts past his prime. Holding on to a dream, and holding on to something from the past, that was no longer mine to own. All that potential of youth was gone - if it had ever really been there the way I had fooled myself into believing it was. I should have realized the truth before I ever got into the ring - I was just a stepping stone on somebody else’s path.
Two quick jabs came at me then a right over the top. The Cuban whacked my arms and brought an uppercut underneath that slammed into my chin. By then I had lost the ability to connect thoughts with actions, and in a dozen different ways I felt helpless against each punch he threw.
I remember thinking that I didn’t want to look foolish. There were too many people watching – too much shame and indignity to go out that way. I had known for a long time that I would never get that title shot, no matter how many hours spent sweating in the gym, pushing my body past limits I never knew existed, and struggling through meaningless fights under the harsh stares of apathetic crowds. I would never go out on top as champion. But I didn’t want to be one of those guys you would see grabbing for the ropes in desperation, legs splayed in different directions, trying to find something solid underfoot to remain upright no matter what it took. Lurching and staggering from side to side, arms flailing like windmills. Eyes glazed and watery. Sad, beaten, and pathetic.
I didn’t want to be exposed like that.
Sixty seconds left in the round.
I just wanted to hang on that long.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Cheerleader (published in Six Sentences)

He sat behind her in Honors English, each day studying everything about her – how she casually flipped the hair from her face with a dip and shake of a shoulder and the way she brushed her fingers gently across her neck before raising a tentative hand with the answer to the teacher’s question. The Boy lived for those moments when she would turn around and talk with him before the bell rang, quietly laughing together while he hung on her smile and the things she said; alone at night he imagined walking home with her, sliding his hand inside hers while sharing something more meaningful, aching to matter to her. He noticed how she changed when school resumed after Thanksgiving; the words between them remained the same but her eyes told a different story – one of betrayal and hurt caused by someone she might have once trusted. Though the marks on her skin faded and the waves of time washed away what had been there, her pain never lightened. The Boy longed to find a quiet moment so he could tell her to be strong – not to waste her life trying to get back what had been taken away, but he could not work up his courage. He never found the words; before The Boy could say he was sorry for what she must have lost, she left school and took the fragments of her innocence somewhere new to start again.