My Birthday, Your Story

It’s my 30th birthday today. I had a dream about a story, so I woke up and wrote it. Hope you enjoy:

On a low hill in a quaint hamlet in the center of a very small island, there sat a tree. It wasn’t a very remarkable tree, though it was tall (three man-heights) and broad (three man-widths) and its two branches, like arms, stretched out and away and upwards toward the sky. The wood was gnarled and grey, for it was old (though no one knew how old) and wise (for wisdom grows in the roots of the land, and this tree’s roots were very long and very deep).

Leaves would go on this tree, always green and always rich. When autumn came to the island and to the hamlet in the center of it, the leaves did not wilt, nor did their color fade into the yellows and oranges of the season’s sunsets. They stayed green, like raw emeralds, and they kept their wide, hearty shape. When winter came, they would simply disappear, a few at a time, until the coldest days arrived and frost coated the dirt roads and the fields, and those twisted arms of the tree and its long, grey neck stood bare. No leaves littered the ground; they simply ceased to be, until spring brought buds and those buds brought leaves, rich and green and full of life.

This tree did not have a name, but though other trees (smaller, with more color, whose leaves did what leaves are supposed to do throughout the year) existed down near the water and in the yards fenced off and tucked away in yards behind quaint little homes, when someone wanted to go “out by the tree”, everyone knew it was the tree on the hill.

Picnics were had underneath the tree, and first kisses, and hounds would be taken up to play (though even the hounds knew better than to spoil that majestic trunk). Weddings were officiated there, and vows exchanged, and new lives began. It was a good tree, and a reliable one, and a wise tree, down to its deep, deep roots.

And every so often, every five years or so, that tree, in the center of its trunk and in the dead of night, would let off a peculiar light-blue glow.

Because this was a deliberate action on the tree’s part, there was no pattern to the glow’s arrival save for the whim of the tree. Though it was a fierce and beautiful shining light, it would sometimes go unnoticed. Though it always happened at night, the tree cared not for where the moon sat in the inky black sky. It would be discussed and questioned, but no one approached. To the hamlet it was a mystery, and mysteries were terrifying.

Now, this is a story about the tree, but it is also a story about a boy who grew. And before he grew, many years ago, he was just a boy who was, acting as boys do: impulsively and confidently and with little fear at all, through the mornings and deep into the afternoons, all up until late one night when he saw a thing that he maybe wasn’t quite ready to see.

Oh, he had heard about the light in the tree. From his parents and their friends, in hushed tones over an evenly-cooked dinner. From the older boys who were certain of what they would do should they see the blue glow in the dark. From the wizened old men and women who spoke in short sentences as they looked upon the hill with wistful eyes.

But one night, long after his mother had tucked him in under the scratchy warmth of his woolen blanket, that boy crawled over the ledge of his window and into the rocky little roads of his hamlet. He ducked and dodged through the shadows, sure that no one was awake and outside but cautious enough not to take a chance, until he reached the edge of the homes, back near the base of the hill.

Once out there, his eyes searched for more. The edge of the island, perhaps, and the waves there that lapped against the shore. Or a stick, maybe, with which to draw symbols in the dirt to confound the others once they woke. Instead, his eyes found the tree, that wizened, winding watcher on the hill, and as he looked a light began to form, faint at first but swiftly growing into a brilliant blue.

Before that night, the boy had never considered what he might do should he be the one so lucky as to see the light in the tree. Truth be told, he did not even know then, and so it was fortunate, perhaps, that his feet acted on their own accord. Left foot in front of the right and then the other way around, over and over until he had climbed the hill and stood directly in front of the tree. That close he could see clearly where the glow was coming from: four lines that appeared to have been cut into the trunk. Four lines that formed a rectangle, twice as tall as the boy stood. The light pulsed with a life of its own, and then flickered as the boy reached out his hand.

It died completely as the tips of the boy’s fingers touched the rugged wood, and the four grooves had disappeared completely, as if they had never been there at all.

“No,” the boy whispered, and it was all he whispered, as the rest of the words had snuck out of him as easily as he had snuck from his own bed.

The boy walked back to his house, the ocean forgotten, the stick forgotten, the light in the tree the only thing in his mind. He climbed back over the ledge of his window, climbed back under his thick blanket, and though he was not tired, he quickly fell asleep.

He did not dream.

That boy grew. He grew into a young man who learned to fish and found he loved it. He fought, once, his only fight, over the a woman he did not truly love and came away with a purple eye and a split lip. He learned early that pride was not as important as knowledge, and he learned many things about himself.

He grew into a proper man who learned to repair homes. His hands grew calloused as he prepared houses for the storms that came late in the year. He managed his tempers and frustrations. During the days without work, be stared longingly at the waters, wanting one day to take his boat out beyond the horizon on a journey with no set end. During the nights, he would look up at the tree on the hill. It had refused him once, and it would not glow for him again.

One afternoon came along, and as he looked at the frothy waves and the fish that would sometimes jump from them through the air, he found himself joined by a woman with hair kissed by the sun. She was a farmer’s daughter with strong shoulders and soft hands, and she would become his wife within a summer’s time. They married beneath the tree.

Though he loved his wife, though she stole the breath from him every time she walked through a doorway to greet him, he looked often at the trunk during their ceremony. At the space where lines had once creased it, and where once blue light had lit upon his face. His distraction did not go without notice, but his wife knew his love for her and knew he would tell her his secret when he felt comfortable.

He tried often, but felt foolish. He worried that she would not believe him, or that she would and think the fading of the light was an ill omen. He tried often, but said nothing of the tree. He spoke often of his love, and she was content.

He would grow into an old man with children of his own–two daughters and a son, all of whom were as impulsive and confident and with little fear as he had been. He nurtured them into adults and taught him what he knew of fishing and love and temperance. They asked him about the tree and he repeated the same stories he had heard as a child. A handful of people in the hamlet claimed to have seen it over the years, in the middle of the night. None had approached. It was a wive’s tale, and a husband’s tale, and a tale for children that few truly believed. His children had children, and he enjoyed afternoons bouncing them on his knee by the fire and carving for them small wooden toys with joints so that they moved and rocked and posed.

One winter the farmer’s daughter passed away. She was warm when she went, and sleeping, a half-finished scarf draped across her lap. Her knitting needles had fallen from her hand to the floor. One had rolled up against the side of her foot. The boy who grew found her as he prepared to bring her to bed. Though his heart fell, like the knitting needles, and though his hand shook, he simply bowed his head and ran his fingers through her hair.

The ground was difficult to shovel, but her funeral was nice. Warm in the cold winter day by the bodies of the hamlet, who had all turned out to pay their respects.

The winter was hard and dark. The children of the boy who grew checked on him but spent most of their time with their own young boys and girls. The days passed, and the weeks, and the spot in his bed that had belonged to the farmer’s wife grew no less empty.

The boy who grew would stand in his doorway in the middle of the night, skinny arms wrapped across his chest. He looked up at that gnarled tree, gray and wise on that hill, and he begged often with his eyes.

“Why?” his eyes would ask. “What did I do wrong? Why won’t you come back for me?”

And the tree was silent in its wisdom, and patient, and it waited. The days passed, and the weeks.

The boy who grew would weep sometimes at night, though he was filled with love. His children were strong. His wife was at peace. The bed was still empty and the oceans still called.

One night, when the skies were at their clearest and the stars were bright and smiling, he left his home and walked up the hill to the tree. He had had picnics there and married the love of his life. He had seen his children and his grandchildren play with the hounds. He stood before the tree and placed his palm against the rough bark of the trunk.

“I am tired,” said the boy who grew. “And I am cold. And for my mistakes–the ones I know and all those I don’t–I am sorry. But for all that, I have lived a good life to the best of my ability, and I am proud of those in it. Through it all, through every dark night and bright day and all of both that fall somewhere in the middle, you have been there. Thank you.”

And the tree was warm. And it knew it was time.

Lines began to form in the trunk: four, forming a square, with the hand of the boy who grew touching square in the center. It was not so big a square this time, as the boy had become taller and the tree had stayed the same, but the square was still large enough for him.

The light flickered to life, blue like orchids, blue like forget-me-nots. It washed over his face and his chest, warming him in the winter chill. The creases in the trunk, he realized, hand on the wood, formed a door. Should he knock? wondered the boy who grew. Or was the return of the light in the tree, now, in his twilight days, welcome enough?

He pushed and the door swung upon. The light grew brighter. As the boy who grew looked beyond, a single tear trailed down his cheek to catch on the turn of his smile.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and that’s all he whispered, for the rest of the words had walked away from him as confidently as he had walked up the hill.

He stepped inside.

The next morning, the hamlet wondered at length where the old man (once a boy, many years ago, who grew and grew and grew) had gone. When he never again turned up, they went on to grieve and to place a little marker down by where the farmer’s daughter lay. And up on the hill, that wise, gray, twisted tree sat with its roots deep down in the ground.

My Birthday Was a Thing

Anybody who knows me remotely well knows that my birthday stresses me out. A lot. As a child, I got used to my dad never showing up, and my mom occasionally showing up just to borrow birthday money I got so she could take a cab back to wherever she was staying. As I got older, it wasn’t always as simple a disappointment as having to work on that day. Instead, I’ve had to attend funerals, be stood up for dinner, have nobody show up to celebrate with me, no matter what kind of arrangements I try to make.

My birthday is lonely and reminds me of lonesome things. I’m significantly more sensitive on May 10th, and because of that, I try to keep it as quiet and low-energy as possible. If I get one day, one single day that is supposed to be mine, supposed to be my celebration of my own life, then I choose to do so by being around a very select group of people. People I care deeply about. People I feel I can trust and who won’t thrust me into something I don’t feel comfortable or compelled to be in

Yesterday, I feel I did a pretty good job.

I started the day with an influx of love and well-wishes from my friends. It always surprises me who remembers or takes the time, and it always surprises me when some people leave more heartfelt messages. It isn’t that I think I’m disliked, but rather that I seldom know how people feel about me at all.

I met a friend, her husband and mom for lunch. The friend was visiting; I had no idea she was in town, let alone for mother’s day/my birthday weekend, and she was quick to suggest we get lunch together. It was really great catching up with them, and getting an update on the cat her mom is taking care of. That cat was mine for a while, and we were best buddies. He weighed, like, 15 pounds and loved to sit on my chest with all the grace of a dumbbell. He’s a good cat, and they are good friends, and it was a good lunch.

I spent a couple hours at work after that. I didn’t do work (and knowing that I didn’t have to worry about returning to work after, say, a lunch was relaxing in and of itself), I just killed time and watched a little television. Lazy Sunday, indeed.

I followed that with dinner with a small group of people. Chicken, twice-baked potatoes, salad, corn, so much vodka and Uno. I took a gander out at the city from the deck, enjoying the sunny day, a pleasant break from the rain and gloom.


I did not win at Uno, but I was winning pretty hard at life.

My friend picked me up and drove me out to Kincaid park. We walked down a winding trail, densely packed trees on either side and came out to some sandy hills and a waterfront. The day was winding down and the wind was picking up, so we tucked ourselves in between two mounds and sat, watching the water flow.



This was peace.

She pulled some wine from her bag and we poured it into a couple cups. We did our best to cover it but still wound up drinking more sand than is probably doctor recommended. Still, being there, a good drink in hand, sitting next to a beautiful woman, the two of us alone with the mountains beside us and the world ahead. We talked, quietly, about our families.

I missed my grandmother a lot. This girl, she’s the only other person who calls her grandmother Tutu, a fact that certainly brought us closer in the early stages of our friendship. So I sat and thought of my Tutu, a woman who chose to adopt and raise me in her sixties, and my friend sat with me. It was probably the most perfect moment I could have asked for in the last year. Just a moment away from the city, away from everyone but this woman who ignites a creative fire in me, just a moment so I could be.

And I was.


Of course I risked ruining it when she swung me by the bar to see some friends, both of us staying far later than either of us had planned, with me drinking far more than my body wanted. I turned full confessional, not for the first time, with flowery words and extravagant feelings. She sat and she smiled and she listened with far more patience than I had any right to expect, while I sat and talked and talked, too dumb to lie, too drunk to keep it all to myself, but I was drunk on her, too, and on the moment,  and if any time was the right one to get it all out, get everything off my chest, wouldn’t the right time be my birthday?

Fuck, no. Ridiculous. I should have never put her in a spot where she had to listen to someone rant about their feelings. And in an obnoxiously poetic way. Look at this:

“I could compare you to sunrises or sunsets, to the way the tide smashes against the sand in the depths of the night, I could compare you to deep breaths and the sharp tone of a piano key asked to perform after an intensive repair. But it wouldn’t be enough. You hoard my words.”

For Christ’s sake, what windbaggery.

And then, right before heading home, for some fucking reason, probably because I trust her and probably partly because I think I’m hurting somewhere deeply, always, I confessed that it’s hard for me to meet people because I’m emotionally erratic and I feel broken, and nobody wants to get too involved with a broken man. And she told me that I wasn’t broken at all. And then she gave me a hug for as long as I needed. And then she made sure I got home alright.

At the end of the day, from midnight to midnight, I received a ton of love from a ton of people. Hundreds, from all over the world. I got to see people I haven’t seen in a while, I had people checking up on me to make sure my birthday was going well. I had good food, good drinks, games. I had time to reflect, with good company.

At the end of the day, I came out and verbalized the biggest demon rattling around in my head, and a woman I respect and care for very much, one who inspires me in a way very few people do, didn’t even flinch.

I fucking needed that, so bad.

I’m very blessed to have the friends and family I do. I’m blessed to be loved by them and to be able to love them back.

Also, today I got this, which is the goddamn best:



Father of Mine

I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately. Not the one who sired me and left; the one who adopted me and left. I still call him Dad,  but since I have four figures in my life that factor into that role somehow (Father, Dad, Grandpa, Step-Dad), to avoid any confusion for anybody who casually knows me, I’ll call him Rick for the sake of this post. Because his name is Rick.

I had a customer a couple days that reminded me of Rick. He was an older gentleman, late forties or fifties, with a heavy jacket and one of those suitcases with the wheels on it. I was getting him set up with a basic phone, “just a cheap little thing so I can call up a friend when I want to”. I don’t know if he was homeless or just bouncing around. I know he expressed interest in moving down to the lower 48 (California, preferably) and was concerned about the phone working down there. He had a faint whiff of the previous night’s booze, that sort of metallic soundness I used to recognize on my dad. My customer was grateful for the help and shook my hand tightly before he left.

It reminded me of my dad back when he had his shit together, sort of, before his demons began growing up and getting together to buy a condo in his mind and running that ship into shore in increasingly disastrous ways. Then I realized Rick’s birthday had passed by a few days previously. So he’s been on my mind since.

My dad was the youngest of three kids, and the one most likely to do reckless things. He loved to play the guitar and skipped school to go skiing in dangerous places, parts of the mountains that hadn’t been cleared for trails yet. He broke a lot of bones out there and blew out both knees and ankles, which he had to get surgery on later in life.

He had a high school sweetheart, blonde hair, blue eyes, soft southern twang. Her father was the football coach. She was a beautiful woman. She was also the worst person I’ve ever met in my life. But I’ll get back to that.

They eventually broke up and my dad bounced around a bunch. California, Florida, Hawaii, back to Alaska. He’s on the front page of the newspaper somewhere for helping clean up animal corpses from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Eventually, he found himself working construction. Painting, carpentry but primarily heavy machinery. Paving roads, building runways. There are pictures of me on bulldozers as a toddler that are adorable. I was a cutie. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Somewhere along the line, he met my mother and they got married (I think? I’m 90% sure and in the dustiest corners of my childhood memory, I recall some pretty dirty divorce proceedings). Somewhere along the line, she cheated on Rick and got pregnant with me. Rick knew I wasn’t his. He put his name on my birth certificate anyway, intent on loving me and raising me as his own.

Rick and my mom split up before I turned two. My mom had primary custody of me for a while, but due to reasons I’ve detailed in other posts, eventually I found myself back with Rick. Sort of. Rick was sleeping on his parent’s couch while he worked long days at the construction yard. He’d come home late, pull from the large stock of cheap beers in the fridge and turn on some late night television. He smelled like Budweiser and sweat. It wasn’t pleasant, but that was DAD smell. It was comforting.

You know, there was the time he passed out drunk in my best friend’s front lawn in the middle of the day and told me, his eight year old son, “don’t fucking touch me” when I worriedly tried to check on him, sending me crying home as the ambulance loaded him into the back.

Or the time he and his psycho wife dipped out of Alaska for two years to try and avoid the anger management classes they had to take for domestically abusing each other, with nary a phone call to show for it. Or Frank Zappa when I showed him this fancy program on my computer where I could allegedly illegally download any song you could think of.

Or the time he took me on a shopping spree to Toys R Us. $100 could buy a ton of shit in the early 90s.

Or the time he introduced me to David Lee Roth via a vinyl playing of Just a Gigolo. Or the Eagles via cassette tape in his beat up brown Ford truck.

Or the time I came downstairs in the middle of the night to see him sitting in the recliner with blood all over the front of him because his wife broke his nose with a lamp while he was sleeping, or the time he picked up some young, hitchhiking Kiwi girl who kept telling me how cute I was and I was too young to know what love is, but I was old enough to know her dialect was my new favorite thing in life.

I knew all of my dad’s friends, too. Kirk, who died of diabetes and whose gold chain my dad never removed from his neck after that. Marty, who used to be called the Bonecrusher, but who I recall drunkenly and nakedly slithering out of his hot tub to collapse on his back deck while his friends and my dad laughed and laughed. Danny, who was an amazing guy, whose Rottweilers were the most loving dogs ever, who failed to maintain his brakes and accidentally killed a man and his son when his vehicle failed to stop. Vince, my godfather, who was killed when a drunk driver ran into him, whose son was my first experience with suicide. Mark, who owned a funeral home that I used to have sleepovers in.

I learned a lot from my dad. I’ve got a lot of good stories with and about my dad. He taught me how to smile and say sweetly “Esadah” to someone who had wronged me, because it meant, of course, “Eat shit and die, asshole.”

But, I dunno. I just remember him showing up less and less. When he rediscovered and married his high school sweetheart, they just sucked the life out of each other. It was a slow build, but it happened and all I could see was this man who always had a bit of trouble with drinking, but had a lot of life in him. He had a lot of love for me, and I remember being a kid and listening to my mom and him talking on the phone and I could hear that they still loved each other but I couldn’t understand what they did: that they would never work together.

So when my dad finds his high school love again, it seems like it’s picture perfect. And it turned fucking awful. His drinking increased. Hers did, too, and underneath her beautiful Southern charm lay a petty, selfish, vengeful, violent animal. They were in and out of jails in Alaska, Nevada, Florida, Arizona, half the time because she lied to put my dad in just to admit to lying later and serve time herself. My grandmother, God bless her soul, tried to help them out with money and they slowly bled her. My stepmother would call up and demand more money and when my grandmother refused her, she would cuss and swear at her, at the sweetest and most generous woman I’ve ever known.

It culminated in a prison stint for a couple years in Arizona. Domestic violence. Did my stepmother lie about this one? I honestly don’t know. This woman tried to gouge his eye out with a key once. She tried to run him over with a truck once. She’s beaten him, cut him, broken his bones. Did he finally snap and hit her? Maybe. Probably. Don’t know. I know that while he was in there, she got together with another man and used my Rick’s social security number to commit fraud.

Somehow she’s not in jail. Somehow she managed to reconcile with my dad and they’re back together again. And I feel for my dad because there’s not much left of him there anymore. He can’t walk well because a broken back he suffered on a construction job years ago has come back to haunt him. She’s got her talons in everything he does. He’s a wreck. And I feel for him for that.

But here’s the thing.

My grandparents were getting old and getting closer to passing away. They made it clear to my uncle, my aunt and my dad that their life insurance and possessions were to be split three ways between my uncle, my aunt, and me. They had given my dad money for years to get by, despite his time in jail and prison and despite how much of a blood-sucking harpy his wife was. I, on the other hand, had made it by on my own. Moved to Los Angeles, moved to Seattle, paid my own rent, bought my own food, and I never got so much as a speeding ticket. Ever. In my life. Completely clean record. So I was entitled to a third of their worldly belongings.

This was not an arrangement I was aware of until after they both passed. My uncle came to me to let me know, and though I was riddled with the worst grief I’ve ever known, it was a small silver lining. It was enough money to get me out of debt, out of the state, with a fresh start to my life and even a little spare time to focus on my writing. Their final gift to me was to help me get a leg up on things.

One catch: they hadn’t had a chance to change it in their will before they died. It was still set to be split between my uncle, my aunt and Rick. So my uncle went to my dad again. I thought to myself at that point, well, he’ll probably want to split it, then, and that’s fair.

What I wasn’t expecting was for him to give fully half to his wife and blow the other half without a cent -or even a word- my way.

I like to think I’m not particularly materialistic. I’ve been living out of two suitcases for five years. I sleep on an air mattress when I’m settled down and couches, futons and floors when I’m not, and I’m content with that. I know there isn’t a way to write this without sounding petty or greedy, but I felt wronged and hurt and I saw my hopes for a breath of fresh air slip away. So there it is.

He called me on my birthday this year from a number I didn’t recognize. I was working, so I missed the call, but checked my voicemail later and got the birthday wishes. I considered giving him a call back after work, but then the rest of my life happened.

That’s literally where I’m at in my life with him. I was raised by Rock’s parents from the age of 5. He missed my high school years, my adult years. He didn’t know I almost died in the hospital last year. He took what was left to me and in turn will leave nothing for me, either. There’s a sense of freedom, I guess, in that inasmuch as it means that going forward I know everything I’ve earned, I’ve earned through hard work and dedication. But it leaves me ambivalent to his presence or lack thereof in my life.

Part of me hurts intensely for him, for the dreams he had of a good life, an ideal life with his high school sweetheart and a son that turned into…this mess. His nightmare and the shame I know he feels. Part of me just wants to put all that behind me and just focus on my life and myself and my future instead of getting bogged down with the black sheep of and regrets inherent in my family. I miss my grandparents every day and I sometimes wish I had a close relationship with family members the way most of my friends do. Then again, I’ve relied on myself and felt so alone for so long, I don’t think anything else would feel natural.

I love my dad, but he’s a ghost to me anymore. I haven’t called him to wish him a happy birthday and, though it’s been a year or two since we’ve actually spoken, I don’t know that I’m going to.

The Wrong Kind of Flop

Ohhh, man. When I was 11-16 or so, I partook in a series of text based fantasy chat rooms where we roleplayed characters set in the Dragonlance world. There was a room set in a tavern, the gardens, the caverns, the arena, a tower of sorcery,  and a thieve’s guild. At its height, there were maybe even hundreds of characters played by dozens of people and each had their own backstories and lives that unfolded over countless years. I made some of my earliest and best friends there, stretched my creative muscles and had some of the best storytelling adventures of my life.

Before I ever played Dungeons and Dragons or Mutants and Masterminds, I had Tyro Vultheim in the Kender Chats and I miss it so much and I wish I had the time to do it again.

In any case, some of the characters from my experiences there have persisted through my life. Some of the adventures have inspired stories. In fact, I plan on writing a six novel series set in an original fantasy world with some of the characters from those chats, with permission from their incredible creators.

Tyro Vultheim will be one of the main protagonists. The other will be the subject of today’s birthday note. Played by my friend Leonard, Drake originally had a different last name, one no longer useable due to the sudden extreme popularity of a fantasy series. But we compromise.

In the chats, Drake and Tyro had an incredible relationship. They were rivals. They were friends. Their romantic interests would occasionally intertwine until they both settled into routine and then their significant others, friends and allies would develop levels of importance,  affection and irritation with each other as well. They would fight, they would fistfight and afterwords crack open a bottle of wine and sit next to each other, lips still bleeding and eyes swelling, and they would put it behind them.

Drake and Tyro are brothers. But they weren’t always thus, and they didn’t always know each other. For Len’s birthday, I wrote this:


Drake Lethos looked over several stacks of cobalt coins with a grin in his eyes. Several coins more were scattered about in the center of the table, bets from the four men seated there. Only Drake and the gap-toothed gentleman who scowled across at him still had cards in their hand.

“What are you holding?” the man asked. He hadn’t been happy when Drake had joined their game, unwilling to trust some stranger blowing through town.

“If I told you, it would defeat completely the purpose of the game.”

“You look nervous. You nervous?”

Drake glanced down at his winnings. “I suspect I’ll be alright either way.”

“Why do you even keep going?” one of the other men asked. “You ain’t won enough?”

“Why does anyone do anything, friend? Are we compelled by the gods? Some think so. Or they think it’s fate. Perchance the subsconscious urge to act in the echoes of a past life.” Drake flashed a mouthful of pearly white teeth. “But frankly, I think I’ve a bit of a gambling problem.”

“You going to keep raising until I can’t bet?” the man across from him asked. “Because if that’s the game you’re trying to pull, we’re done now.”

“Did you want to raise?”

“I’ll check.”

“Then I’ll check, too. Many things can be said about me, but the first to call me a poor sport would out himself as a liar.”

The man scowled and laid his hand down on the table. Three Countesses with a Dragon for a wheel. It was a strong hand and Drake saw his opponent wrestling to keep a smile from his face. He wanted to see what Drake had.

The cards settled on the tabletop, face-up, with nary a sound. Three Dragons and a Jester. The air was sucked from the room.

“Well, hell,” Drake said. “What are the odds of that? One in sixty thousand? Seventy thousand?” He reached out with both hands and began pulling the coins towards his stacks. “And as it will get no better than that, gentlemen, I think I’ll call it a night.”

Now, there was something that should be known about Drake Lethos: he was a man who loved a life of luxury. That meant expensive clothes, with silver buttons and ridiculous frills at the ends of his sleeves. Fine cuisine for all three meals and beds that could fit several people, made up with satin sheets. It meant sly winks at strange women towards the other end of a crowded area and that alone being three steps in the direction of the ballroom or the bedroom or both.

There was another side to him, though. One that involved panicked runs down back alleys, hasty escapes from scummy bars, and an expansive vocabulary that constructed a treasure trove of excuses to pull out when everything went wrong.

It was because of this latter half of life that he registered the ale mug shrieking towards his face, propelled by the angry hand of a sore loser. With his second of preparation, he flung his left arm up from the pile of coins that rightfully belonged to him and deflected the projectile. Deflected it at the wrong angle, but deflected it all the same. As it struck the mechanism attached to his forearm – three inches up from the wrist – and caused it to go haywire, spewing a handful of select cards from his expertly turned cuff, Drake thought to himself that maybe, just once, he should have pushed his instincts down into his gut and allowed himself to be hit in the face.

Slowly, the other three men turned to look at him. Their expressions varied, but only along the narrow margin between disgust and murderous intent. A low growl curled up behind him. Drake turned and saw the half-orc bouncer walking towards him, massive biceps putting his shirt through exercises it wasn’t meant to endure.

“Ain’t no cheaters to be in here.”

Drake’s mind, spinning through his options for a line that could save his ass, blanked at that.

“That’s the best Trader you can manage? This tavern needs to invest in some kind of language course for its employees.”


Drake Lethos leaned against the outer wall of a tanner’s shop. His face felt like a thousand puzzle pieces that jammed together in the wrong positions. He considered the fact the mud and blood would probably never be removed completely from his clothes and lamented that he didn’t even have the money to buy a replacement set.

Then again, there were motherly women in the world who would take pity on a helpless, battered man. After that, there was always another town. In towns, there was always another game.

Drake Lethos spit a mouthful of crimson into the road and smiled his perfect smile.

Go Out And Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note

Through high school, there were teachers I hated, teachers I respected, teachers I had crushes on and teachers who left absolutely no lasting impression on me whatsoever. There are very few, though, that I genuinely consider friends.

I was a teacher’s aid for Chad Sant’s more traditional academic course (History, I believe, though I was more concerned with grading papers and giving girls back massages), but the class I was an actual student in was his acting class.

I had never really done acting before that class. I took it because I needed electives, it seemed easy, and a couple girls I had crushes on were in it. Participation was mandatory. There were a lot of improv games: park bench, questions, sausage…that last one isn’t what you might think. We also had to memorize monologues and perform them for the class.

I liked being a smart-ass. I liked pushing the limits and being a class clown. All the same, I had yet to acquire my comfort for the spotlight. I was nervous being in front of so many people and reciting something or becoming somebody I wasn’t or reading something I had written. So it was with complete skepticism that I met Chad’s suggestion I should audition for the school play.

Now, this was senior year. I had never acted on stage before where others had been doing it for 6 years or more. I had quit band after 8th grade because I was afraid of anything that might get me picked on. But Chad insisted, my friends encouraged me and I went in and did a cold read that I thought went fucking terribly. I tossed the script in the trash on my way out, headed to the mall and – I don’t recall exactly – probably got drunk that weekend. I was an angry, lonely seventeen year old. I had a routine.

Cut to a week later when I happened by Chad’s classroom and found the cast list posted on his door. To my surprise, I had been cast as Dallas Winston in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I hemmed and hawed over it for almost a week before grudgingly accepting. I had never read the book. I didn’t even finish the script. Chad brought the movie in for us to watch and that was the first time I discovered that I died in the end and fuck yes, this was actually going to be awesome.

Spoiler alert, but that book has been out almost 50 years and the film for over 30. Matt Dillon played my character. Tom Cruise still had a fucked up nose and crooked teeth. It was truly a different time.

Anyway, the show did not go off without its hitches. In the premiere show for the school, in front of the artsy kids, the special needs kids, several teachers and the principal of the school, the gun I was supposed to pull on the policeman got caught in the pocket of my leather jacket. I let out a frustrated, “FUCK”, at which point I was gunned down, the lights dimmed and I could hear one of the girls backstage say, “Whaaat did he just say?”

I didn’t get in trouble. It still makes me laugh, because it really did warrant at least a detention. At least one. But Chad told the principal to chalk it up to nerves and when I apologized, he turned to me and said, “Huh? Oh. Yeah. Don’t….do that again.”

There are plenty of other stories from that show and the two others (Grease, Pirates of Penzance) I performed in under his direction. But this isn’t about me, as much as I like to talk about myself.

I bring up my experiences in theater because it opened up a lot for me. It opened up a love for the craft I never could have imagined. I’ve only done six shows, some high school drama competitions, a couple Renaissance Faires and a couple short indy films, but holy shit has it influenced my life.

I began writing more – short fictions, poems with plot, starts of novels, screenplays – because I fell in love with the art of storytelling. I owe being an author, screenwriter and poet in part to that.

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 21 because of a want to be an actor/writer. I failed so fucking hard. But that dream led me to one of the loves of my life and some of the best friends I’ve ever known. I felt more at home there than anywhere and I want to move back. The dream of acting led me there.

My theater experience in school led me to a few shows with city theater groups. I met another love of my life through that, in a passionate, ill-advised tryst. Through her, I was introduced to the karaoke bar I fell in love with until it closed. Through experience in musical theater, I was given the opportunity to judge karaoke contests and everything that entailed.

Chad Sant set me on this path as an artist. He took me aside and told me he believed in me. More than that, that he needed me to help complete his casts and bring everything together. Now, that’s bullshit. I was absolutely replaceable. Almost all of us were. But he made me feel like I wasn’t. He drove me to and from rehearsals. He talked to me about life between classes. He treated me like an adult and didn’t hold back when discussing and debating mature topics. He didn’t treat me like I was stupid.

Chad has purchased each book I’ve put out so far. He has brought them into his classrooms and told his students about me. He’s made an effort to keep in touch since I’ve graduated and put in a good word.

And you know what?  I’m not the only one he does this for. He’s gone to Jessica Singleton’s comedy shows. He regularly goes out for dinner with several of his more prestigious former students. He keeps us all apprised on each other and instills in us a sense of accomplishment not just in ourselves but with these former colleagues we suffered through high school with. He helps us maintain a sense of camaraderie through years without communication.

He’s a good man. A kind man. An inspiring man. He’s funny and smart and he sees potential in people. I wrote before that testing doesn’t equal teaching, and Chad is a perfect example of the educator who goes above and beyond to make sure his students are invested in learning, in being something more than themselves. When he sees the capabilities a person possesses, he pushes them to accept that role and pursue that path.

He convinced me to pursue that path and gave me the confidence and encouragement to keep the journey going. Those dreams and experiences have taken me to some of the best, most adventurous, most instructive, most fun, most challenging moments of my life.

Anyway, it was his birthday yesterday. It isn’t much, Mr. Sant, but here you go:


The toll of the bell indicated the day was over. Christian watched his students push themselves out of folding seats and pull their backpacks up from the aisles before filing out of the theater. A few kids raised their hands to high five and fist bump him as they passed. He did so pleasantly, a smile on his face, and wished them an awesome weekend.

After the last of his pupils passed through into the lobby, he pulled the faded red doors shut and locked them tight. He turned and strode down the stairs, carpet torn from decades of trampling feet and inattention. At the front of the theater, he lifted one leg and hoisted himself up on the stage. It had been spraypainted the kind of shiny silver-black obsidian was, but each year more and more slivers broke free, revealing the dark brown wood beneath.

Christian didn’t care. This was his dominion. The stage. In front of the crowd and under the spotlight. He glanced out at the seats, empty now by sight but always occupied by the spectres of captive audiences past.

He turned his back to the audience. It was a faux pas during performance, but he stayed behind for himself tonight, unconcerned with the judgement of memories. Instead, he faced the set piece his students had spent the past few weeks diligently constructing and painting. The prized portion was the massive forefront of a castle, twisted through by artificial trees on either side.

The show wasn’t due to start for another month during which he hoped the rehearsals would smooth themselves out a bit more. They often did due to the power of repetition and the growing confidence of his actors in their own abilities. Unimpressed by the standard recycled fare of shows most schools used, he had penned his own fantasy epic with a compelling romantic subplot. His colleague described it as The Princess Bride meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream and implored him to submit it for more professional venues. Christian resisted, insisting he had written it for his students. He wanted to give the kids an opportunity to be a part of something that had never been done before. Something that would be wholly theirs.

Well, mostly theirs.

While Christian had indeed written it himself, he had yet to reveal where the inspiration for the tale had sprung from. Indeed, he didn’t plan on ever confessing. There was too much risk to his reputation, his life, and those who trusted in him.

He lifted his hands and held them before him, palms pressed together and fingertips pointed towards the set piece. He closed his eyes and slowly pulled his hands away from each other. Almost immediately, he felt the fabric separating. A warm gust of air hit him full in the face, fresh with the scent of berries that carried no name. He could hear the gentle songs of four-winged birds as they zipped on by. The fertile soil of a well-worn path stretched out until it replaced the worn wooden floor beneath his feet. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know the passage to the other realm had opened smoothly.

“Mr. Sant?” a voice asked meekly.

The teacher whirled to his right, eyes wide in surprise. He saw Billy Tamlin standing there, a sheaf of papers barely held in his shaking hand. He was a quiet boy that kept to himself unless he was on stage. On stage, he broke out of his shell into a truly wonderful talent.

“I forgot my script…”

Christian swore to himself. He must have forgotten to lock the back door, the one leading out into the side hall, utilized for quick changes and getting any actors who escaped through the crowd back into the theater unseen.

Well. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone where his inspiration had truly come from, but there was an expression about best laid plans.

Birthday Notes IV

This is actually a double feature. Just a couple little very short flash fictions I whipped up as a little personalized gift for friends so that I didn’t just wish them a “Happy birthday”.
The sun was a pale yellow on the horizon. The sickly kind, the kind skin takes when the liver has started to fail. Long stretches of field lay out underneath it, the grass long dried brown and turned brittle. There had been cattle here once, before the world turned to shit. Before monsters stalked from the shadows and men turned into animals willing to do anything to survive.

Robert rested against a worn down fence post and sighed. His feet were sore, his legs tired, and his only company presently were two empty bottles of beer someone had set up for target practice some forgotten day in the past. His rifle leaned against his left leg, loaded with far too few precious rounds. His revolver sat on his right hip in a similar predicament.

Thirty miles of dead farmland existed between the next town and him. A whole lot of blood and ghosts between the last one and here. He hoped the bullets he had left would be enough. Failing that, his wits.

It was a hard world now, but he was a hard man. Hard to read. Hard to break. Harder still to kill.


Suzy wasn’t a fan of hospitals. At least, not when they were open. Sterility had a kind of scent to it, one that climbed unbidden into the nose and sat, kicking its legs down into the back of the throat. The doctors were flighty and the nurses curt, working in such a methodical, clerical manner that the building felt more like a machine, churning defective humans out into the world with patched up parts or into the trash bin if they were beyond repair.

Condemned hospitals – and other buildings,  for that matter – were a different story. There were no empty-eyed workers, no failing people. It lost the sterility but the clouds of sickness disppeared as well. Instead, there was only abandoned equipment and grime from years of misuse, broken doors and shattered windows. There was history in the corridors, of patients past and the squalor of the present.

Evidence of squatters was scattered here and there. Ratty sleeping bags, half-eaten cans of pork and beans. She even found a doll with a shattered eye socket and a brown dress that appeared to have once been a whimsical pink. When she picked it up to examine it, a cockroach skittered out from the hole in its face and across her hand. She flung both away.

Everything about the hospital seemed so much bigger without anyone in it. The operating areas could make good rec rooms. The hallways stretched out and begged to have wheelchairs raced down them. Suzy walked around peeling countertops and overturned chairs, eyes wide and a smile fixed, drinking in all the miracles and tragedies the building had once experienced.

As she came to the nurse’s station in the burn ward, though, an odd shape on the countertop seemed out of place. Curious, she neared it. Her foot caught the edge of an empty, half-crumpled soda can and sent it spiraling into the wall. The sharp metallic bite as it connected broke a silence she had become accustomed to over the course of two hours and she started, placing her hand over her mouth.

She let out an embarrassed chuckle almost immediately after and shook her head. This wasn’t a haunted house, she reminded herself. It was just a broken down old building.

Away from the wall and back towards the counter she went. What was it that had caught her eye? A paperweight that someone had left behind? Could it be that she had found a souvenir worth taking away? Maybe it-

A hand. It was a human hand. She noticed the nails first, how polished and deeply green they looked. It was impossibly perfect, the paint job, in an environment such as this. Her eyes moved against her will, pulling her attention kicking and screaming back along the fingers, along the soft mocha skin, to the wrist. The flesh their was ragged, torn. The hand had been removed violently, and the white of bone stood out in horrifying contrast. A ruby path trailed out from behind the hand and trickled over the edge of the counter.

Down the hall, a metallic sound clinked, not unlike the can banging against the wall. Suzy froze. Seconds later, it clinked again. She took one step back, another, another after that until she found her back pressed against the door of what had once been a patient’s room.

The sound rang out a third time. This time, the echo didn’t fade to nothing. This time, it led into a scraping noise. Whatever was being pressed into the wall sounded sharp. It sounded ugly.

And it was getting closer.

Beer Run

This is technically a Birthday Note, as I wrote it for my best dude friend’s birthday, but I’m planning on doing more with it, so I’ve categorized it as its own thing. It’s not a finished work but the first part in a story. Hope you enjoy:


The second hand dragged itself around the clock. It was methodical. Unwavering. Still entirely too slow.

Brandyn stared at it from his stool, perched impatiently behind the register, surrounded by unopened bottles of liquor and beer. He had two hours to go before the store closed and he could go home. Two hours before he could kiss his beautiful wife and son and kick back on the couch for a red-eye movie.

The evening had been slow. A handful of regulars. A couple drunks he had refused service to, despite their compelling arguments that just because their license was expired didn’t mean they were. One kid looked like he was shoplifting but upon closer review,  he was just really fucking weird.

The bell above the front door jingled and Brandyn let out a long breath. He stood and greeted the customer, a middle-aged man with a red baseball cap seated on the back half of his head.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Eh, could be better. Wife’s on a fucking tirade so I thought I might step out for a bit. You got any Durelli’s Orchard Ale?”

“Uh, yeah. I should. I’ll walk you over there.”

Brandyn hopped down from behind the counter and led the other man towards the back of the store. He stepped lightly over a warm 30-pack of “light” beer. He maneuvered between the tall racks of wine. Together, they stopped in front of the freezer doors near the back; the frosted glass provided the only barrier between dozens of exlcusive brewed beers and them.

Two bottles of Durelli’s Orchard Ale were sitting on the top row. Brandyn pointed them out and then pulled the door open to grab one. He paused for a minute, leaned forward slightly and then slowly shut the door again.

“What?” the customer asked.


“What is it? Why didn’t you grab one?”


He stepped to the side and pulled the door open again. He looked through the glass from the outside and could see the store as clear as day. He moved back around so that he was facing the interior of the freezer and stiffened.

“Whaaat the hell…”

“Come on, man. Quit dicking around.”

The customer moved around Brandyn to grab the bottle himself and stopped dead. Instead of racks full of beers, there was nothing. The floor turned into a white marble staircase that weaved back and forth. There were no railings and the space around and below the stairs was a black so deep that it was impossible to make out any details. The staircase descended what seemed to be an impossible distance and ended in a a rectangle of orange light far below.

“What is this?” the customer asked.

“I have no idea. This wasn’t here yesterday. How far down do you think that goes?”

“Pretty fucking far, it looks like.”

Brandyn looked at the other man. “What’s your name?”


“How pissed at you is your wife?”

“Pretty pissed. Why?”

Brandyn turned back to the staircase. “I’m thinking about checking that out, but I don’t want to go by myself.”

Clarence let out a low breath in a hiss and chewed at his lip. He took his hat off with one hand and brushed the other through thinning hair.

“You gotta lock up or something?”

“Yeah, I’d better.”

“Hell with it. Last crazy thing I did was get married.”

Brandyn grinned and shut the freezer door. He practically ran for his keys.


There will be more parts to this, but like the trilogy of short fictions I wrote before, there isn’t a set schedule. So hopefully this will pique your interest for now and carry you through to the next one.