Tuesday's NaiSaiKu Challenge

If it’s Tuesday, it must be time for the NaiSaiKu Challenge.
Andy says:
“First of all I must stress that NaiSaiKu is a just for fun form of poetry. It’s not meant to be taken seriously by real poets or by academics.”

Inspired by old homestead farms on the prairie.

webs of spiders hang,
standing proud, despite neglect,
twisted wood, silence,
twisted wood, silence,
standing proud, despite neglect,
webs of spiders hang

Fiction in 58, a story in small packaging

Hell Hath No Fury
Deception hung on his breath like garlic.
He whispered not an explanation into the nape of her neck, but platitudes to confuse, redirect.
His proximity, the heat of his breath drew a shudder; she ran her tongue across earlobe, bit down.
Blood, salty, filled her mouth; screams punctured the room.
She smiled, his flesh dangling in her teeth.

Sunday Scribblings, "Toys"

The prompt over at Sunday Scrbblings is “toys.” With me, it could have gone to the darkside. I chose to relive some childhood nostalgia. This is a reprint from the archives:

Side Affects May Include, But Not Limited To…
I blast out the front door, the screen slams (even though I’ve been warned about that a bazillion times) and skid to a stop.
My dad is sprawled in mother’s swath of wax begonias; her victories, the pizzazz series, the ambassadors, even the challengers. He’s got a tall glass of iced tea balanced precariously on his chest; sweat droplets collect on his bare skin, cling to his going-gray hair.
His feet are muddy; creamy dirt has squished through his toes and the air is heavy with the smell of soil, water, broken petals. He’s wearing a pair of tortoiseshell Wayfarers and that dreamy smile he sometimes gets when the bottle of special tequila is allowed out of the freezer.
His tan chinos are rolled to the knees; muddy handprints dot the thighs, bizarre camouflage amidst the broke and bending begonias. Bits of decorative bark cling to what’s left of the clippered hair above his ears.
“Dude, what the hell,” I say, more a question than a statement. “Mom is seriously going to pitch a fit.”
He bends his head forward and tries to take a long pull of the iced tea; ice and tea make twin streams around his chin and pool in the hollow of his Adam’s apple. He snorts, laughs and wipes a hand across his face that leaves a smear, like sludge lipstick.
The Wayfarers are cocked awkwardly on his face; he sticks his tongue out at me. He smiles, yawns dreamy.
“Hey, oh, I’ve got something for you,” he says and waves a drunken hand from a drunken wrist.
He shakes a bit and the small, waxed canister falls from his front pocket.
A token of youth.
A can of red-capped Play-Doh.
“Take a whiff,” he says. “You will seriously not be disappointed.”

We're mighty proud of this

I've said it before, but Q and I met online, kindred souls tied by writing. She's the one that first write together, building one sentence on top of another - we're alternate - for a Six Sentences, which Rob published last year.
She asked me about it recently, so she can put it up on her blog, and I thought, "Hey, it's never been published on The Tension."
I'm not going to tell you who started, or finished. We each wrote three sentences. Hope you like it:

Internal Combustion

by Thom Gabrukiewicz and Quin Browne

I do not sleep; there is no shut-eye, no tuck-you-in, sweet dreams, don't let the bedbugs bite – because this is the brand of insomnia that can't be touched with valerian root, melatonin, Lunesta, Xanax, Vicodin, Valium (I know, since I've tried every alternative, in every combination).
Nighttime is killing me, so, I counterattack by killing time — driving endlessly with no radio, only the noise of the wind slipping through the cracked window, the hiss of the tires on the macadam road's frosting of rain and oil and my suddenly hypersensitive hearing that is causing the sound of my heart and the blinking of my grit-filled eyelids to join the Chevy's orchestra in a perfect rhythmic counter-point in my head.
It's this hippy-hop thump-thump, blink-blink that catches in my throat, catches up; the tears start as wells in my eyes and turn into a cascading fury that makes oncoming headlights stretch light like florescent taffy.
There should be a space, a place... a time for all of this to have rhyme and reason in my world, yet, that space, that place, that... time, are as lost to me as my sense of reality is right now.
The two-lane blacktop is dark and desolate; I flick the lights off and join the darkness – and with seething, teeth-clenched rage, stand on the brake pedal with both feet and squeal to a lurching stop.
I imagined it was just like this for Paul, that night, the decision to drive for miles, speed increasing, turning the lights off as he hit the curve - and putting my head on the steering wheel, I finally gave myself over to the rage of my grief.

OneWord - Event

OneWord is a great prompt to spur the creativity is tiny chunks. You get 60 seconds and one word. Go write. The word? Event.

Save the date. There will be cake. We'll dance by the moonlight and drink champagne from women's slippers. It'll be grand.
Nothing will be shocking, all will be silver and gold.
Please RSVP by midnight.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are fickle, sparkle and wrinkle. Diabolical those words.

Donut Friday

I’m curious to the point of being nauseous.
It’s way too early for Ramirez to be at work, but there he is, standing outside of the break room with a shit-eating grin and drinking coffee from the mug that still has H.R.’s panties firmly bunched – there’s a drawing of a rooster on one side, with block, uppercase letters spelling out “COCK” underneath and a drawing of a German shepherd on the other, the same block lettering spelling out “BITCH” – and he's starting. Intently, like a kid at a parade, waiting for the floats that toss candy to come rumbling by.
Or how people stare at car wrecks.
“Yo, Hombre, slumming it?”
“Mitchell, you bastard,” he says. “Don’t you know not to sneak up on somebody like that?
He winks.
My stomach lurches.
“Dare I ask?”
“I brought donuts,” he says, visibly hurt. “Put a little wrinkle on the most important meal of the day. Made ‘em magically delicious.”
I go to the window for a look. There’s two large pink paper boxes partially filled with donuts, glazed and coated with sparkled sugar sprinkles.
Mia from accounting is at a back table, staring at the overhead fluorescents. Her legs are akimbo, her skirt has ridden up to show off the tops of the sheer thigh-highs we all knew she wore. The tiniest tip of her tongue, pink and perfect, protrudes from between her lips as she bores laser beams into the lights.
“Acid,” he whispers. “I put acid in the sprinkles.”
“Jesus, Rami, you’re going to kill someone.”
“Not all the sprinkles, jackass,” he says. “I’m not a Sadist. One sprinkle per donut, one hit per person. Four dozen total. Gonna be an interesting day, doncha think?”
Before I can answer, Davidson, my weasel of a supervisor, rounds the corner and stumbles forward, loopy strands of spit hanging from his lips. He’s got his Oxford unbuttoned and he’s pinching his nipples between his thumb and forefingers.
I nod as he passes; his face is a mask of pleasure, ignorance, bliss.
“That fickle little bastard is going to have the greatest day of his miserable fucking life,” Ramirez says. “Be a good day to ask for a raise, brother.”
I clamp a clammy palm over my mouth. I plead with my eyes, but Rami just smiles.
“Look, I’d love to stand around and shoot the shit and all, but I’ve got a consult with creative services in 15,” he says, tapping the chunky Tag Heuer watch on his wrist. “And today, that meeting should be a fucking goldmine.”

Tuesday's NaiSaiKu Challenge

If it’s Tuesday, it must be time for the NaiSaiKu Challenge.
Andy says:
“First of all I must stress that NaiSaiKu is a just for fun form of poetry. It’s not meant to be taken seriously by real poets or by academics.”

regret flows freely,
memory, an open wound,
time can’t heal the pain,
time can’t heal the pain,
memory, an open wound
regret flows freely

Monday fiction, in 58 words

The night unfolds humorless.
He watches the dusk descend from the porch of his youth, fireflies flit from dewy grass, but there’s no child wonderment left.
Adults can’t afford such fleeting turns, jelly jars and capturing enough bugs to read by.
Adulthood inched up, took hold.
But a sticky breeze kicks up scents, cut grass, barbecue.
He breathes.

Sunday Scribblings, "Vision"

If memory serves, vision was the Sunday Scribblings prompt about a year ago.
With eyes open wide, sometimes you get clarity. Vision quest.

Simple Lucidity
“Hold out your hand.”
“Close my eyes?”
“Only if you want to.”
And she drops a marble into his palm.
“It’s a clarity marble.”
The marble is clear glass and it is scarred from the abuse inflicted on it being carried in purses and in the bottom of pockets. Its once smooth surface is pitted, rough.
He looks through it and the light takes on a greenish glow, like the flesh of a honeydew melon. It is a tiny crystal ball, and he gazes through it between his thumb and forefinger.
“It’s always helped me.”
And he begins to carry it in the coin pocket of his jeans. During those moments of stress, he takes it out and looks through it.
It does not speak to him. He doesn’t tell her that he cannot hear its wisdom.
A sweltering night and not even a cool shower and fans bring comfort. He’s up when most everyone is not, his mind heavy. He clutches the clarity marble in his fist.
The marble is as warm as her skin. He rolls the glass around in his fingers. He squeezes, tight. And wills its secrets. He prays for clarity.
He rolls the marble across his forehead, feels the warmth. Her warmth, his. He closes his eyes and thinks of her.
And in that comfort, he finds clarity.

OneWord - Rest

Hanging at the homestead, the place of my birth, checking up on pops (he's been better, but is holding his own).
Decided it was probably a good day for a OneWord exercise. That's a writing prompt where you get one word, and 60 seconds to write something with it. Whoosh, I know.

His skin was pebbled from the last big blast, but when he got that itch, the scrabbled flesh oozed and quivered with memories of past indiscretions.
There was no rest for the wicked.
The bags under his eyes darkened as he packed the last of the plastic explosive into the plush dolls, the bunnies, teddy bears, the Raggety Anns.

OneWord - Suffocate

OneWord is a writing prompt that gives you 60 seconds to come up with something, based on one word given. The word was "suffocate:"

She couldn't breathe. He didn't let her.
She came from a large family, which he cut her from like cattle.
He did the same with her friends.
He wanted her for himself.
But she suffocated at the sight of him.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are arresting, rhythmic and wicked.

Suburban Noire
I wake in a nondescript room and by the looks through the gloom, I've come to in a cheap motel near the airport.
My hand is on fire.
The pinkie finger on my right hand is missing at the second knuckle; the stump has been cauterized by something hot, metallic.
The steel bracelet of a handcuff circles my left wrist, the other bracelet dangles open like a fishhook.
Spread across the other double bed is a arresting brunette, her hair swept over her face, her feet dangle off the bed. Crimson lipstick is smudged like a bruise across one cheek.
I put two fingers to her neck, breath a sigh of relief when I find the rhythmic thump of a pulse.
Slumped in the shoddy motel chair is a body of a man. He’s dressed in a cheap, shiny suit, a wicked, ragged hole open at the temple. Dried blood makes a Rorschach pattern across the drapes, and all I can see in it is trouble.
There’s no need to check for a pulse, this guy’s 86’ed.
The babe on the bed stirs, arches her back, rakes slim fingers through the tangle of hair.
“Sergei,” she purrs. “Baby, come back to bed.”
My name is not Sergei.
I wake with a nudge, in bed with a paperback novel spread across my chest.
“Baby,” my wife says, “you were snoring again.”

Tuesday's NaiSaiKu Challenge

If it’s Tuesday, it’s time for the NaiSaiKu Challenge. It’s poetry, man.

cool, calculating,
watching as the world passes,
all that pretty prey,
all that pretty prey,
watching as the world passes,
cool, calculating

Monday's Fiction in 58

Fiction in 58, a little exercise in brevity.

Lost & Found

It started with a little trust.
She had been hurt - former boyfriends treated her like a tambourine - and the scar tissue was knuckled and gnarled.
He was different, tender. He listened. She felt all her defenses dissolve in his arms.
The blackness of her heart rejuvenated, for the first time in her adult life, she had…something.
Faith, maybe.

Sunday Scribblings, "Absurd"

The prompt over at Sunday Scribblings is absurd. That pretty much describes a lot of my short fiction efforts.


I go downstairs and discover a rather huge and grotesque parasite has attached itself to the base of my father’s skull.
It squirms in some unholy cadence, its blue-black body wriggles on my father’s skin like a nightcrawler marooned on hot pavement.
It’s left my father glassy-eyed, hinky in his movements.
I reach for the handset of the telephone, determined to call the authorities.
“Hold on there, Tiger,” mother says from her sunny seat in the breakfast nook. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Before her is the most amazing display of baked-good decadence.
“Don’t you think we ought to call 911, the Centers for Disease Control?” I ask, holding the handset to my chest, and waving a frantic palm across my father’s line of vision.
He doesn’t respond. He just continues to whisk something in a large bowl, mother’s prized first edition of Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” open across a package of celery root, which acts as an easel.
“We’ve got to do something,” I say, panicked.
“Let’s not be in such a rush,” mother says. “At least not until we sample the cassoulet he’s preparing for dinner. I mean, look at this lovely pear tart he’s paired to go with it.”

Writing prompt: OneWord

OneWord is a writer's prompt site my friend, Quin, has been playing with in some frequency.

“simple. you'll see one word at the top of the following page.
you have sixty seconds to write about it. as soon as you click 'go' the page will load with the cursor in place.
“don't think. just write.”

Dang, one minute goes by quick (and for got to mention the dorm situation that this takes place in):

Jackie never meant for it to happen. She rounded the corner, naked but for a towel wrapped around her head. She bumped into Heath, for whom she had a crush.
He blinked, then went about his way.
She was surprised by the reaction, the utter defeat.

Postcard from the prairie

The Midwest keeps playing with my head, my heart.
Out on the road this week, traversing the SoDak back roads and there’s a feeling of being renewed, reenergized to make the most of prairie life. The people across this state are most warm and friendly and a joy to cover.
But there’s still this unnerving aspect of being the outsider.
I was born and bred in the Midwest, grew up in a small community in Nebraska. But you can’t always shake the feeling on not belonging.
I’m a member of the club, but it’s not the full-on membership with exclusive access.
Since I have to remain neutral for my career.
And that tends to muddle everything.
You hang around on the road with the same cyclists every night and at the end of the day when the notebook is in the back pocket and you’re drinking a beer, there still comes the question, “You’re not taking notes now, are you?”
An insider on the outside.
It’s a tough way to live.
But I’m sitting at a scenic overlook across the expanse of the Missouri River as I write this – and I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be at this moment. Life is good on the road.
I just hope it will evolve back home.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The word prompts over at Three Word Wednesday are dangerous, keepsake and restless.


Tabor came back from the can, doing that thing with his lips when he gets nervous, pinching the ends between thumbs and index fingers and pulling.
He downs the Scotch and soda on the bar and jabs his index finger into my sternum.
“You’ve gotta go talk Deveroux off the ledge,” Tabor says. “Twitchy fucker is dangerous, man.”
I am not Deveroux’s keeper.
“What’s he done now,” I say.
“He’s got a pistol tucked into the waistband of his pants,” Tabor says. “In the john, he keeps pulling it out and pointing it at himself the mirror.”
“He say anything?”
“Just winked and said he needed the quick-draw practice. The fucker winked at me.”
I am Deveroux’s enabler.
“I’ll go have a chat with the man.”
He’s at the end of the bar, at the entrance to the dance floor and he’s swaying to the beat of long, unbroken techno thump. Gray flannel suit that lies across his shoulder with the unmistakable touch of tailoring, white Oxford shirt, blood-red silk tie, black leather suspenders. Dark hair, it’s coiffure precise. Long, tan fingers ending with manicured and buffed nails.
Deveroux is everything I want to be, but can’t.
Deveroux’s drinking bourbon straight and I know he’s ingested a few pharmaceuticals, but he has not – and never has – broken into a liquor or drug sweat.
Deveroux’s the man.
“Tabor said you’re a bit restless tonight, homeboy,” I yell into his ear. “You’re making him nervous.”
“Tabor can go fuck himself,” he says, flashing those perfect porcelain veneers. “And you can tell him so for me.”
“Says you’re being a bad boy, seems like you couldn’t keep your toys at home.”
“Just a .38, nothing to worry about.”
“You know it’s way too soon.”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” he says. “You gotta keep them guessing.”
He draws to full height, begins to move with the beat – and starts backing onto the dance floor. His hands are formed into pistols and he’s firing in my direction.
“Besides,” he says into the club din, “how often is it that we get a chance for a couple of keepsakes this tasty?”
I scan the floor and lock onto the twins, and am immediately mesmerized by their blond hair, rich pale skin, the jut of their hips as they dance.
I am Deveroux’s salivating accomplice.

Tuesday's NaiSaiKu Challenge

If it’s Tuesday, it must be time for the NaiSaiKu Challenge. A poetry prompt with a bit of whimsy.

fractured thoughts, frantic,
the wishes of young echo,
there’s nothing to fear,
there’s nothing to fear,
the wishes of young echo
fractured thoughts, frantic

Monday. Fiction. 58.

Monday’s pursuit of a story, in 58 words. It’s Fiction in 58.

Mail Call

The older he grew, the more dour he became. A darkening forest, like the tufts of bristled hair in his ears and the ever brushier eyebrows.
As if life heaped sand on his heart, which once beat precariously jubilant. Before the beat-downs, bad breaks, worse decisions.
“Chance,” he whispered, just before dropping the letter into the box.

Sunday Scribblings, "Soul mate"

The prompt over at Sunday Scribblings is “soul mate.”

Made for Each Other

He meandered through life as a shadow, a wispy on at that. To pass him by wouldn’t even raise the specter of a chill upon your flesh, or cause a single memory to be formed.
If vanilla is as plain as you can go in the realm of ice cream tastes, she was store-brand. Not even as interesting as French or churn-style or even vanilla bean. Plain. In a cup.
He liked to think he worked in finance, but a cubicle with a dried up plant and a motivational poster – “Hang in there Kitty, Friday’s Coming!!” - in a call center answering questions about car warranties wasn’t Wall Street. It wasn’t any street that didn’t end in a yellow dead end sign.
She liked to imagine her work skills as necessary to the fabric of society itself; in reality, she was a barista (and not a very good one at that) at a strip-mall-centered, corporately-owned coffee shop.
He breezed in to get a small coffee, black.
She was working the counter for once, this being a slack time for the more adventurous customers.
Coffee ordered, he handed her a $5 and she handed back his change. As she did so, the handful of silver fell and skittered across the marble counter. They both bent to retrieve it.
Their skulls collided. The sound was that of hollow coconuts, or a thumped melon.
Their heads snapped back, and they looked at each other with hands on foreheads and through a sting of tears.
The skin of their cheeks went rosy, simultaneously.
“You know, why don’t you toss a shot of vanilla into that order,” he said.
She shivered, gooseflesh raised on her arms, and smiled.

Programming notes, etc.

First, a few Tension housekeeping notes:

I'll be on assignment all week, covering the Tour de Kota bike ride across SoDak. Daily musings here might not be possible across the entire wind-swept prairie. I will, however, update Three Word Wednesday and will try and contribute to the writer's prompt. I might not comment, however, on people's contributions until I'm back in SooFoo.
I am on Twitter. It was bound to happen. You can follow me at @tgabrukiewicz. But as one friend (and follow) said, "Not that anything meaningful can come in 140 characters." We'll see.

And while this blog has transmorgified into more of a literary bent, on occasion need to release from my chest thoughts and feelings (that need was the beginnings of The Tension in 2005).
I've grown into a glass half-empty kinda guy across 46 years. Say it ain't so, but all the good things on my horizon come with a tangle of weeds. And all I can see are the weeds. Life, career, finances, writing - all show signs of significant growth and happiness.
If I can get my mind out of it and just trust.
Anyway, I've got a decision to make - soon - about where to live. There's a building downtown that's been renovated into lofts. I took a tour - the place is a skeleton of framing - but saw what could become my very own top-floor, one-bedroom loft overlooking downtown.
It's the Maxwell Building. See the top five right-hand windows? The set of three would be my living room; the set of two is the bedroom. The place comes with all appliances and fits (barely) into my budget. Five blocks from work, two from Falls Park and three from the river.
Oh, and they're dog-friendly.
So what's my problem, right?
That whole glass thing. Being somewhat restless. Nagging questions over my chosen profession's future. Family ties.
But, free my mind and my ass will follow, right?

Say hello to my litle friends

The canoe ride was part of a larger look at water issues in the state. The sustained 30 mph winds made the going tough, but not unbearable (this is, after all, South Dakota). On the opposite shore, we beached and got ready to hike the ridgeline.
“You know what poison ivy looks like,” the guide said. “Because this is all poison ivy.”
We're ass-deep in the stuff all the way up a 60-foot ridge.
But topping out, the view…
The wind blew the prairie grass like waves on an ocean; I thought about the settlers to this place, how they fell in love with the wide open grasslands, and how tough it was on them.
A few hours later, we’re sitting in a cabin that’s worth an ungodly sum. The place was built in 1948, out of glaciated stone from the fields surrounding the lake. That original cabin is now the “den.” It’s a resort house (and was featured in this month’s Cabin Life magazine).
We’re in the great room, a wall of windows opened to a lake view.
I’m sitting in a wingback chair (I wanted the folding chair, thinking of the oils from the poison oak, but the host insisted) when I felt it.
A pinch on my beltline.
A wood tick.
“Excuse me, I have a tick,” I said, putting down toe notebook and pulling it off.
“Go ahead and just drop it outside,” the host said.
We settle into the conversation when a tick crawls out of my shirt and across my left hand.
Another crosses my right thumb.
“You want a cup or something?” the host asked.
Two more ticks crawl from my shirt, across my neck.
I’m creeping these old people out.
“That doesn’t bother you?” one said.
“Goes with the territory,” I said.
"Well, it would bother me."
I excuse myself, went to the porch and tried – in a professional manner – to shake anything else loose from my two shirts. Then go back in to continue the interview.
The host, a woman in her 70s, laughs and grabs my arm.
“If you want, I can give you a strip-search, just to be sure,” she said, winking.
I, of course, passed on the opportunity.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are folly, hostile and ordinary. Slappin’ you upside the head with a little flash fiction:

The sun’s barely up, but there’s commotion in the kitchen, so I drag myself out of bed and stumble toward the hubbub.
In the breakfast nook, dad has a ginormous black jackboot up on a chair; he speaks in platitudes while rubbing what looks like textured snot into buttery leather gloves – oven mitts, really – decorated with strands of leather tassel.
Mother nods in quiet agreement as she furiously polishes an ornate sword with Brasso and Tarn-X.
Overnight, my father has sprouted a head full of bouncy blond curls, as well as a brushy handlebar mustache and a pointy, flaxen-hued Vandyke beard.
“What’s that?”
He turns, grins, and like a preacher, stretches his arms wide to greet me.
“Ordinary bear grease lad,” he says, scooping up the goop in two fingers, which he shovels into his mouth with a audible smack. “To make supple the leather, make it waterproof - it feeds the soul and fight off the consumption. Puts hair on your chest.”
I take a box of Coco Puffs from the cupboard instead, pile it into a bowl, pour in some milk.
Mother puts a worried hand to her pearls, makes pleading eyes for me to humor him.
“OK, I’ll bite. What’s the haps?”
“Today, I ride to meet the Hostiles,” he says. “My purpose is to make my narrative as truthful as possible.”
He picks up a Winchester Model 1873 rifle from the table, tosses it at me, winks.
I cock the handle, make sure there’s not a.44-caliber round in the chamber. Satisfied, I lean the thing against the stove.
“I’m going to go ahead and sit this one out, thanks.”
“I appeal to you as a soldier to spare me the humiliation of seeing my regiment march to meet the enemy and I not share its dangers.”
I plunge the spoon into the Coco Puffs, ladle up a heap past my lips, masticate.
“And you shall avenge me.”
My shoulders slump as I put the bowl in the sink.
“Your folly,” I say, dragging the back of my hand across my lips to pick up dots of milk, “will never become my Little Bighorn.”

Tuesday's NaiSaiKu Challenge

Written for the NaiSaiKu Challenge. A fun way to stretch your poetry legs, there.

quiet permeates,
solitude, a cold comfort,
life’s little blunders,
life’s little blunders,
solitude, a cold comfort,
silence saturates

Monday's Fiction in 58

Fiction in 58. A creation of my own mind to practice the art of brevity. One story, 58 words. Poof.

This is what happens, he thinks, just before four demons on horseback show up.
He’s sequestered in a luxury sedan, violently rubbing a gold coin. He’s nearly rubbed it smooth. His angst a bile, rising like a sickness.
They’re out to get me, he thinks.
They’re all conspirators.
He checks the locks, pockets the coin, guns the engine.