3WW No. 471: Darkness

Here's a little something I penned this morning for Three Word Wednesday:


With a furrowed brow, he clamped his hand across his eyes, tight. He waited to the count of 100, uncovered his gaze - and had changed daylight into night.

Not that the entire world noticed. No, those who were thrust into darkness were those who most closely orbited him.

Fear gripped them, initially. Then worry. Then a mild disgust, bordering on indignant.

There were protests. OK, some mild bitching amongst themselves. Vacant threats to appeal to he who had taken away the light. Thoughts of appeasements. Much judgment.

As the gloom continued, those who suffered ultimately did so in reserved silence. A brooding melancholy, forged in his suffering.

She awoke from a dream, fresh and new and silky, only to find herself in the dimness. She reached tentative fingers into the shadows, looking for him. He rustled, slide away from her touch.

Her reaction was abrupt, tactful in its mission. She tossed a leg around his, clamped down hard. She moved as he moved, matching his speed and determination.

When her hand found his chest, warm and soft, she pushed gently, just about his heart. And with this, his fidgeting stopped.

“Breathe,” she said. “Forgive.”

A tremendous gust was exhaled. And with that, a most brilliant sunrise followed.

New Flash Fiction - It's Good To Be Back

So, yeah, this is like the first new flash fiction in months. I hope you like it. 

Making Ends Meet

She lives in the space between the here and there.

She floats along, grasps at false hopes and tempered dreams; she places small bets on the purchase of Glocks vs. the instincts of simple prayer. And in this space, there’s sometimes desolation and despair. The chafing between the haves and the have-nots.

Border town.

She sucks electricity illegally from the utility pole that’s next to an Airbnb Airstream, where faint whispers of conscience of what she’s doing to make ends meet are muddled with the windmill-attacking dedication to the truly downtrodden. She feeds her neighbor’s dog, which is chained to a nearly dead mesquite tree, illegally over the fence. The guy she shares the fence with is probation officer; he’s already called the sheriff on her three times. Yet she documents the animal’s cruelty on her cell phone.

The borrowed bold cutters and calls to a no-kill shelter the next county over means she’ll be moving soon. Again.

She makes $11.50 an hour waiting tables at a fancy stop on the foodie trail – a place where her own creeping morality could never afford. A novice in the ranks of the true guerrilla extremists in the food service industry, she mainly picks her nose and touches the pan-seared duck breast with fresh blueberry compote, or the date pudding with the caramelized rum sauce. She smiles as she does this, and again when she goes to ask how everything is tasting and the foodies oooohhhh and aaaaahhh and Instagram the event like it’s a baptism. Blissful ignorance, yes, but it’s the least she can do to help stick it to The Man – or at the very least, try and make some sense of the absurdities of life today.

It’s a living. She has a calling. Misdirected as it is some days. It is an ethos.

And that’s good enough for her. For the right now.

In the here and there.

3WW: Sins of the Father

My Three Word Wednesday contribution (and my first flash in months). Your opinions matter.

Sins of the Father

The waitress is especially chatty and you lie of course and say you’re on holiday because that’s what people who come here, come here to do. They arrive for the fresh mountain air and the trout fishing and hiking. Or they come in hunter orange over cammo in the fall to chase big game, like elk and moose and antelope.

You’re certainly here during our down time, the waitress says. There’s not much to do right now on account of the unpredictable weather. She smiles and does a mock shiver, which sloshes dark coffee around the round glass carafe in her hand.

The quiet suits me, you say, remembering that you need to be respectful, just not memorable.

That’s why your clothing is from thrift stores, and the smell of other lives hangs on you like fried meat. Because you don’t want to stick out. You need to blend in. Be downright ordinary.

You finish your coffee and the tip isn’t extravagant, standard 20 percent on a tab of $11.67 for the bison burger and coffee. You pay with cash, and you leave a $10 and four singles under your half-empty coffee mug that you discreetly wiped off your lip marks and fingerprints with your napkin.

You look both ways as you cross the street, then walk all the way around the nondescript rental car, a late-model domestic so as not to attract undue attention, making sure that there’s nothing out of the ordinary that would alert the cops to a traffic stop. You start the engine, turn on the lights and make a sweep around the car again.

Just in case. Just to be safe.

There’s a sharp thump from the trunk. And another. You grind your teeth across your chapped lower lip, taste the faint flavor of blood and let a slight smile loose, until you regain complete composure and check your mirrors, turn on your turn signal and ease into traffic.

The hole was dug the night before. With the help from your college roommate who lives in this part of the state. A guy with a backhoe and a side business of installing septic systems for people who buy land and build cabins next to U.S. Forest Service boundaries. A guy with three daughters of his very own.

There’s a duffle bag in the backseat, one of those sports models, blue canvas with white handles. Inside there’s a change of clothing (again, thrift store finds, gently used) and a wooden baseball bat. A Louisville Slugger 180 model, 32 inches long, made of ash, retailing for $24.99 plus tax (and which you paid cash, naturally).

The young sales clerk in the green shirt at the big-box retailer (in an adjacent state, of course) kept trying to steer you to the aluminum models, the kind that start at $200, saying that you’re son would be better off learning to hit with power early. You don’t disagree, but you’re softly adamant that you’re son will learn the joys of wood, the satisfying “crack” when ash makes contact with cowhide. He laughs and says he understands the desire, the need to stick with the classics.

(And besides, you can’t quite imagine what the hollow ding of an aluminum bat making contact will do to your resolve.)

You make a slow, 360-degree turn before putting the key into the trunk and pop it open. His eyes try to focus, adjust to the falling dusk. Fresh bruises have sprouted around his eye sockets. You don’t quite remember inflicting those. You shrug. He wilts back into the depths of the trunk before violently bobbing back up again, face flush red.

He pleads around cotton gauze and black duct tape, eyes wide, nostrils flaring. You neither care, nor respond. You don’t really even notice as you heft his body out of the trunk and onto the hardscrabble backcountry road.

Even in latex gloves, there’s no sweat our your palms. There’s a breeze, and considering the month it’s bracing, but you’re not at all chilled. And the baseball bat feels good in your hands. Solid and comforting as it rests on your right shoulder.

You take a couple of practice swings to limber up and the swish as the bat cuts through the air reminds you of a time long ago, of fall and Legion baseball. And despite your better judgment, you’re going to enjoy what happens next.

You’re going to beat this guy to death with that bat.

For turning your little girl into a victim.

A ghost.

A recluse.

3WW, "It's Just My Hue"

For Three Word Wednesday:

It’s Just My Hue
So people ask me, they say, “Andy, what did you do it? What’s the point?”
I mean, I wish I could tell you I did it for some worthy cause. Maybe pancreatic cancer awareness, or to protest the kidnap and rape of little girls in Nigeria.
I didn’t.
Truth is, I chose to go Black-and-White for strictly selfish reasons: I no longer have to match my socks to my shoes, or my ties with my dress shirts.
Think about it – no more worry, no more fuss. You just get up, pull together and outfit and everything – I mean everything – matches.
My boyfriend is still pretty miffed about it. I mean, he does fashion merchandising for a reputable mid-town department store, but he’s just going to have to get over it. And I keep telling him, I keep saying, “Nic, this is your big chance. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has merchandised to the Black-and-White before. It’s all new territory, babe.”

* * * 
OK, technically I’m not Black-and-White. If you must know, I went Monochrome. I am, to quote the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “a painting, drawing, or photograph in a single hue.”
Except that, yeah, I’m a human being. In shades of gray.

 * * *
People also ask me, they say, “Andy, what do you do about the stares you get on the subway? What about work?”
Good questions, really. At first, it didn’t bother me at all. The finger-pointing, the looks, the whispers. I took it all in stride. But yeah, it got to be like, whatever, people. I just popped in my ear buds and turned up the music. Slid on my shades.
Work, well, same thing, really. A slow burn I guess you’d call it.
I mean, technically there’s a no-discrimination policy at the firm, but the partners did their best to pressure me back into Colorization. I stood firm. I did. Told them I appreciated their concern when they brought up that a client might not want to be seen by a Monochrome, but I was quick to point out that it was a personal choice (albeit for my own personal vanity) and it was my choice. Please respect my wishes.

 * * *
The day I got my paycheck and it was light – and I mean light by a few hundred bucks – was the day I knew my choice to be Monochrome meant more than not having to match my socks to my shoes. That it was so much more than that.
I went to payroll and asked what the heck was wrong and they said that there had been so much uproar with the clients for my being Monochrome that it was decided to dock my pay by using some sort of bullshit moral turpitude clause in the employee handbook. OK, I said, no worries, I get it. I get that fact that a Monochromatic man can’t make the same as Coloreds.

 * * *

So, yeah, with the help of Derrek in legal, we’re going to test the firm’s new-found bullshit policy on the Monochromatic.
So much for my narcissism, bitches.  

Taking the Bait

A story I wrote back in 1998 about a bear study we were lucky enough to go out on:


Redding Record Searchlight (CA) - Tuesday, July 14, 1998
Author: Thom Gabrukiewicz, Record Searchlight
DFG traps, tracks 'eating machines'

The study seeks information on how successful north state female black bears are in raising healthy cubs to join the adult population.

McCLOUD - American black bears are smart enough to tell an ice chest from a duffel bag in a locked car. They will extract the goods with lead-pipe cruelty and a mercenary sensibility.

But put a glob of strawberry jam on a rank, decomposed salmon head, wire it to the trigger of a culvert trap and the beasts can't resist getting caught. Over and over again.

''They're such eating machines that it just overpowers them,'' said Fred Schmalenberger, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist. ''Anything real stinky or real sweet works real well.''

Given time, bears will smell a trap.

''It's always a game of one-upmanship of catching these things,'' said Don Koch, a senior wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game in Redding. ''These things are smart. They will figure out how to throw the trap and get the bait. That's why we have to move them.''

Koch, Schmalenberger and three other researchers are in the sixth year of a 10-year DFG study to see how successful female black bears are in introducing yearlings into the adult population. Each year for about three months, bears are trapped, weighed, measured and tagged for study between Happy Camp and Somes Bar in western Siskiyou County and in the McCloud Flats on the Shasta-Siskiyou county line.

Females are fitted with a radio collar and the biologists will track the sows to winter dens. Biologists trek to the dens using cross-country skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles and snowcats to listen. Sounds will determine if the sow has given birth. Sounds will also be used to detect how many cubs are in the litter. Sows are capable of having one to four cubs, usually every other year. Cubs will stay with the sow for about a year.

This trapping season has been good. Twenty-two bears were trapped in 12 nights, with five recaptures. Trapping will continue through July.

Since 1992, Schmalenberger has helped capture 200 bears and fitted 71 with radio collars. The DFG has located collared bears by aircraft 1,050 times and has visited 93 dens. The study costs about $26,000 a year. Each radio collar costs $400.

There are an estimated 18,000 to 25,000 black bears in California. They range in color from blond to brown and from cinnamon to black .

Last week, DFG officials allowed the Record Searchlight to follow along for a morning check of the traps on private timber land near McCloud. The traps are set and checked twice a day.

Three culvert traps - basically giant tubes with a heavy grate on one end and a steel door on the other - yield three adult males. The first is a recapture of a 285-pound male tagged a few days before. In a fury of power, it is released. It takes seconds for the bear to disappear into the forest.

About 20 minutes down a dusty logging road, another trap is full.

''Ugh, another big male,'' says Stuart Itoga, a Forest Service wildlife biologist, as he illuminates the bear with a flashlight.

''This is work,'' Schmalenberger says. ''Females are a bit easier to handle.''

The bear is clearly agitated. It groans like a reveler recovering from a wicked hangover. It pops its jaw in a defensive posture. Once eye contact is made, the bear charges the grate and leaves the viewer stumbling backward, even though the tightly-woven grate wire is at least a quarter-inch thick.

''You never get used to it,'' Koch says. ''They don't enjoy eye contact.''

Littered around the trap are bits of rotting, spawned salmon parts from DFG hatcheries, ripped up tins of mackerel and cat food, and banana peels.

Schmalenberger gathers a pack and tackle box from the back of a pickup while Itoga readies a vial of Telazol, a veterinary anesthetic, to subdue the bear for about an hour.

The drug is delivered with a quick jab of a syringe fitted onto a flexible shaft.

''It takes about seven to 11 minutes for the bear to go down,'' Schmalenberger says. In 20 minutes, the bear gets another dose of the drug. Ten minutes later, there's a thump.

Itoga and Schmalenberger strain to drag the bear from the trap. It's covered with urine and feces. Itoga wears latex gloves, Schmalenberger does not. Flies, mosquitoes and meat bees drown out the rest of the forest sounds.

Information is recorded on a form that has 58 individual spaces for data.

Metal tags are attached to each ear. Itoga uses a leather punch to make the holes. Tissue samples from the punch are collected and put into a test tube for study .

The bear 's head is laid on a tarp and Schmalenberger extracts a premolar from behind the bear 's two-inch-long canine tooth. It's the only way to tell the exact age of the animal. Each year, another ring is added to the tooth. The premolar is sent to a lab to be sliced almost transparent. The rings are counted - just like the rings of a tree - giving an exact age.

The bear will not miss the tooth. Evolution has rendered it useless.

''Bears have an immune system that's just unbelievable,'' Schmalenberger says. ''If we catch this bear again in a week, the hole would be gone, healed.''

Itoga takes two blood samples for various tests. It's temperature is taken and is 100 degrees, perfect for a bear . The paws are measured, as is the bear 's girth, head width and length, and overall length. The men struggle to weigh the bear with a pulley scale. It weighs in at 306 pounds. Then the scale breaks.

''Boy, they are just in the greatest shape, the best I've seen in seven years,'' Schmalenberger says. ''This should be the worst time of year for them, just coming out of hibernation.''

Come fall, the bear could swell to 600 pounds. It depends on the food supply.

''They are very opportunistic feeders,'' Koch says.

The black bear , ursus americanus, is the lone species of bear in California. It's a shy creature that will retreat to the brush if spotted by man. But presented with easy food, Koch said, it will crash picnics, peel back car windows and pull down backpacker's food bags from trees.

Normally, bears feed on insects, pine cones, berries, acorns and the occasional fish.

But biologists in this study have learned that bears will eat other bears. They do it frequently. The radio collars emit two signals, once of which is a death beep.

Once, Koch said, biologists discovered a large adult male sleeping atop of a radio collar. A few remains were scattered about from a yearling that was wearing the collar. Cubs weigh about 30 pounds; yearlings weigh about 60 pounds.

Bears trapped and tranquilized in the study get a biologist babysitter until the Telazol wears off.

''They'll eat anything and just as soon walk by these guys and start feeding,'' Schmalenberger said.

''This is what it's like in a bear 's world,'' Koch said.