Randon Flash Fiction

No back story, just something I was thinking about.

The evening is sultry, making most movements painfully slow. Thunderheads gather in the distance, and it’s a sign, a promise to break in the heat, but the rising clouds carry the potential for destruction.
Families spill out onto porches in hopes to catch something of a breeze. They drink lemonade and iced tea in sweaty glasses and call out casually to neighbors.
Dogs pant in the grass.
Dusk creeps across the town and with some effort, I take a clean glass jar – its tin lid punctured with a screwdriver - and begin to chase fireflies.
Most children are content to stay within view of porches and parents; I venture deep into the recesses of our lot, where darkness has already arrived. The brush here is deep and somewhat cool, and it takes my eyes moments to adjust after each firefly bursts its beacon of attraction and lust.
The night deepens its reach as I hear the first calls from parents trying to round up their rogue children. Lightning and thunder rumble in the distance.
I make my way through the backyard by memory, dodging the low fence around mother’s iris, and generally avoid the detritus of my four siblings.
The back porch is dark and empty, and I set my jar of fireflies on the railing. With a penlight, I flash my herd.
They begin to flash back.
Soon enough, they’re lighting up in symphony. Each burst is a cascade of light that repels the blackness.
I smile, pull out a worn paperback of “Tom Sawyer,” and with my fingers, find the latest dog-eared stopping point.
And await the next burst to continue our adventures.

Fiction in 58

Time for a Fiction in 58. That’s 58 words, no more, no less.

The flat is filled with scents: burnt toast, coffee, candles, a faint whiff of her favorite cologne.
He approaches the bedroom and detects trails of lotion, musk – sex. His heartbeat rises. His heart sinks.
He bursts in; she’s not there.
The passion. The argument. The storming off.
A new scent fills him with fear.
An iron smell.

OneWord, Beach

Sixty seconds and one word. That word? Beach

Every couple of steps, she drags her toes across the hard-pack sand, on the outer edge from where the waves could erase everything in one foamy lick. She walks toe-heel, toe-heel, so the tracks look more animal than human. The long pauses from the drag marks adds mystery, she thinks. She turns, looks at her progress. There’s gaps in her path, breaks where water has returned the sand to an open canvas.
“This is my life,” she says, swinging her arms above her head as she twirls in place, creating a post-modern abstract on the beach.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three word Wednesday are feign, imply and virtue.

She walks by like she always does, feigning interest as I cut the grass in a pair of shorts and a grungy pair of high-top sneakers.
The sun has baked my skin kinda coppery, much better than the fish-belly-white of the long winter that’s just passed. An exercise regimen, tons of sit-ups and pushups, has melted not only winter's fat, but the last of the baby flab I’ve carried since my youth.
And yet she walks by with disinterest, casually leaving her house and letting her hands play in the billows of the simple sun dresses she fancies.
Funny though, her path always seems to take her past my place.
Each time my shirt is off.
I wave, like I always do, over the buzzing whirl of the mower blade and she turns her head toward the street. Usually, my face grows hot, the skin of my cheeks go red and I race the mower toward the backyard to hide. And pout.
Not today.
I release the handle and the mower dies.
She stops, placing her right foot next to her left and flexes her petite hands into fists, which implies the anger that blossoms in the pink flushness of her neck, as tendons snap to attention as she clenches her jaw tight.
Slowly, she turns to face me.
“Excuse me?”
My tail, which looks exactly like an old man’s crooked pinky finger, twitches expectantly, like it’s itching for a fight.
The protrusion, physicians have told me, is likely the result of over-active bone development in the womb, which simply settled in my coccyx. They call it a bony exostosis, a benign “tumor.”
My hippie parents, who watched over my birth in a half-filled hot tub with a midwife and a medicine man (who, I’m told, shook his dick at me when I let go my first screams of life), declined to have it removed, along with my foreskin.
Mother calls it quaint.
Dad says it’s bitchin’.
I’ve had a pair of boning sheers to it several times, after scrapes on the soccer field, or in the prison-like communal showers of the boys’ locker room. I, however, lack the balls to excise it, so much as it is.
“It’s the tail, isn’t it? Too freakish for a stuck-up bitch like you.”
Her hardened eyes soften, the creases in her brow fade. Slowly, methodically, she gathers the fabric of her dress into her fingers and raises her arms, and thus reveals the soft curve of her hips, the swell of her breasts.
All four of them - two perfectly round sets, each nipple and areola the color of bubble gum.
“It’s not so much the tail,” she says through the gauzy fabric of her dress. “It’s a question of my virtue. Boys of your age are so ungodly hormonal.”

Saturday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are erase, meadow and trace. Yeah, I'm a little late.

He closes his eyes and listens.
The rush of a summer’s breeze blows through field grass, tall and lush and green, and makes a sizzling noise, which is soothing.
He’s climbed a hill that overlooks a meadow.
He’s dug three graves.
His hands are tacky with dirt and the fluid from blisters that have torn and oozed while he's worked to open up the prairie. He squints at his damaged palms, smiles at the pain. Doing a good job should be tiring, maybe a little painful, he thinks. His muscles ache and the last of the sweat is drying salt rings in his shirt.
The mounds are laid out in order, 3 feet apart, perfectly symmetrical, perfectly dug. He’s used a square-head shovel to slice layers of thick sod, which he's carefully peeled back and saves.
He’s excavated down 4 feet, thinking a shallow grave just wouldn’t do. Best to bury things deep and be safe.
Grime coats his forearms and his smell has gone to musk. His hair sticks to his forehead.
His trousers will have to be tossed, as well as his polo shirt, which has developed a tear at the shoulder. He teases the white flesh exposed there with a grime-loaded fingernail.
And turns his attention back to the mounds.
He’s refilled the holes with dark, rich earth, tamped things down with the heels of his shoes. He’s repositioned the sod exactly as it was.
The graves are unmarked. There’s no need for remembrance.
No bone, no sinew have been deposited here to decay.
Just memories. Things he’d like erased.
Time and the elements will wipe away any trace that he’s stood here on this sunny afternoon, working feverishly until dusk approaches, creating these three holes, then un-creating them.
He’s hoping time does the same for him.
He secretly prays these graves bring solace.

My Dog, Scully

She was born on the streets of Addison, Texas, or maybe was dumped there. I met her at the Dallas, SPCA, where I was a volunteer.
I never could understand why nobody wanted her. Yes, she was shy. But I'd let her out of her cage and she'd tunnel under the small of my back and happily pant.
I volunteered at the shelter so that I didn't need a dog. I had hundreds of them. I steered people to pets that fit them and their family.
She was nearly up for termination. Indeed, that's why the shelter in Addison had shipped her to the SPCA. This was too cool a dog to euthanize.
Scully Honey Gabrukiewicz stumbled into my life in February of of 1997. She was all of four months old. A friend's 5-year-old daughter wanted me to name her Honey; Peg was fast enough to suggest it as a middle name.
Scully died Friday of kidney failure. She was 14 years old - ancient, considering that she had parvo when they brought her in and the vet warned me that she might live eight to 10 years.
I watched her pass away with my hands full of her rust-colored fur. As she passed, I felt her heart beat down to nothingness.
I buried her on a friend's acreage on a small hill, overlooking a pond. I think she'll like that.

So many memories.
Scully, Trinity (my 12-year-old border collie cross) and I wrote a book together about hiking with dogs in Northern California. Scully went fishing with me, and actually let me fish. We took epic backpacking trips. We ran into bears together. I once rescued her from the Sacramento River, which led to her eventual retirement from the big adventures.

Here's a few columns I've written about her along the way:

A Pack of Three

Since I have oodles of free time and, quite frankly, was getting way too much sleep, I decided to adopt a new puppy from Haven Humane Society recently.
Trinity, my new border collie cross, came home March 14 1998 with kennel cough, worms, some sort of parasite -- and a healthy appetite for digging holes and chewing on everything she could get her mouth around.
It was everything a very organized, very clean individual, needs in his life. 
I'm disheveled and cranky, the house is a wreck, my shoes have departed to the spare bedroom, the cats have moved to a life 5 feet off the floor and my 3-year-old Aussie cross, Scully, looks at me with pleading eyes -- little puppy jaws clamped firmly on her ear -- that scream why, why?

Why? All Trinity has to do is one cute thing and all is forgiven. In the first week, she learned to sit and lay down on command. We're still having some problems with piddling on the floors, but at least she's trainable.
And Scully has learned to inflict enough pressure to let Trinity know her place.
We've evolved into a pack.
A pack of three.
Running buddies to the end.
Puppies are a lot of work, and not a decision to make lightly. For the past six months, I've thought about adding another dog to the clan. Nothing really caught my fancy until I went to Haven Humane on my lunch hour. 

There she was, an almost pure white puppy with one blue eye and one brown eye. I spent the entire lunch hour playing with her.
Then I left. I had to think some more. 
Was I ready? Did I have enough time? Enough money?
I decided that if she was still there the next day, I'd take the plunge. She was and it's been a great, if not expensive, addition.
But there's memories to be made and I'm ready.
Befriending Scully taught me that.

I adopted her a month before I moved to Redding and Scully has probably been to more rugged places in the state than some two-legged residents.
She's been on snowshoe excursions on the flanks of Mt. Shasta and the ridges of the Latour State Forest; she has scaled the Castle Dome Trail in the Castle Crags Wilderness; chased snakes through the Caribou Wilderness and climbed downed logs (some 20 feet in the air) at Carson-Iceberg Wilderness; she has swam in the pools of Brandy Creek and paddled with me on Whiskeytown Lake; and she's watched from shore as I've chased trout across the north state.
I'll expose Trinity to the same adventures. The first steps begin in late May, when I'll take the dogs up the coast for a week of hiking.
That should be a riot. 
But we're a pack of three.
And the adventures stretch before us like the north state vistas.

The Trouble With Bears

TRINITY DIVIDE -- I have had my share of scrapes in the wilderness, from hypothermic hiking partners and mild heat exhaustion, to self-inflicted dental floss stitches and a dislocated shoulder.
People I love tell me that a little monkey wrench in the machinery is good for me. Sure, I'm obsessive-compulsive (and many would say a bit regimented).
Scrapes are just a way to keep me grounded -- knowing I can't control everything is a good thing, they agree -- and a way to build character.
Recently, I set off from the Gumboot Trailhead 18 miles west of Mount Shasta to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to the Seven Lakes Basin with Scully, my 7-year-old Australian shepherd cross, and Trinity, my 4-year-old border collie cross.
I also planned to come out early, hike Castle Lake up to Heart Lake and Bradley Ridge, then take a leisurely stroll along the Squaw Valley Creek Trail near McCloud.
Granted, that's something like 28 miles of trail time, but I had a schedule, a fool-proof plan, to squeeze the maximum of outdoor goodness from 48 hours off to work on the book I'm researching.
What I got was another lesson in humility.
The PCT winds its way up a ridgeline above the Seven Lakes Basin, which includes Upper Seven, Lower Seven, Helen and Echo lakes. Turn 360 degrees and you'll get stunning views of Mt. Shasta, Castle Crags, Grey Rocks, Thompson Peak and the Sawtooth Ridge in the Trinity Alps and Mt. Eddy.
From the PCT, the trail into the basin follows an old jeep road -- where things began to unravel.
Off-roaders have discovered that they can drive into the basin from a logging road. The resulting traffic has turned the trail into a jagged talus field. Both dogs cut their pads and Scully cracked a nail.
There was no way she was going to walk out on her own.
The only way to get her back to the truck was to put her, piggy-back-style, on the top of my pack, with me holding onto her paws.
Three miles out, up a loose pile of sharp rocks -- but, thankfully, I'd link up to the wide and inviting PCT that mercifully would be all downhill to the truck.
With a 25-pound pack and a 40-pound dog on my back, all I could see were the tops of boots.
That's how I missed the one switchback that would deliver me to the PCT. I topped out on a ridgeline just above Helen Lake. I should have been much higher, and more north. 
I put Scully down, got out the map and noticed that Trin was looking at the lake with her head cocked in doggie bewilderment.
Moseying up the path was a 200-pound, sub-adult male black bear. About 50 feet away. Making very good time. In a beeline to our position.
Now, black bears are the Mr. Magoo of the forest, relying on a heightened sense of smell to get by. We're up-wind and this bear can't smell us. And he's getting larger with each step.
I picked up a rock, raised up on tip-toes and started screaming at the top of my lungs.
The bear sat on its hindquarters and began to sniff the air.
I launched the rock, which finally got the bruin's full attention. He took off, up the very ridge that we're supposed to be on.
Rather than traverse the talus field again, then up to the PCT where I know there's a now-startled bear, I decided to take the logging road out to U.S. Forest Service Road 26 and the trailhead. It added about four miles to the trek, but the path was mostly downhill and there was water available.
When she wants to be, Scully is as intractable as a pouty 2-year-old. She waded into a catch basin, laid down and wouldn’t come out of the water. I called. I cajoled. She looked away as if she didn't see me.
I walked the shoreline one way, and she'd paddle to the other. Ten minutes this went on. Now completely miffed, I caught up with her latest dog-paddle escape route when the water reached my hips.
Now I'm hiking with soaked socks and boots -- and a wet canine on the top of my pack, rivulets of dog-scented water cascading down my back. With 2 miles left to go.
Long story short, we made it to the truck -- we were on the go for four-and-one-half hours -- and spent a good part of the afternoon cooling off in the North Fork of the Sacramento River.
We're all recovering nicely, thank you. The girls have found the coolness of the kitchen linoleum just about the greatest place on Earth.
And after six days, I've finally relocated my sense of humor.

Those Golden Years
She still may yearn to swim in the big waters, but she is too old now to do so.
Like many dog owners in the north state, the cool waters of the Sacramento River beckon, when ribbons of heat shimmer off asphalt and no amount of panting will cool beasts with fur as thick as theirs.
No, all north state residents suffer in silence -- while beads of sweat flourish on lips and foreheads. Pink tongues wag. Man and beast wait to venture out of doors. And only when the heat of the sun's rays are finally diffused through the cottonwood, oak, alder and willow that line the banks of the Sacramento.
We are haunted by water.
Well, I certainly am -- now (and serious apologies to Norman Maclean for the previous).
You'd think a simple plan, an outing so mundane as to take the dogs for a walk and have them sploosh around in the Sacramento River, would be easy. Walk three blocks to Cascade Community Park, amble down a dirt path cut through the blackberry brambles to what I call the channels -- ribbons of cool water that flow around six islands off the main stem of the Sac.
But then you don't know the girls, Scully and Trinity. Or our collective providence to get in waaaaay over our heads. 
And it was up to Scully -- she's the Australian shepherd/chow cross that will turn 11 in November -- to turn this outing into mishap.
Just a simple dip into the Sac, when the flows were at 14,750 cubic feet per second (high, but not raging), the air temperature more than 100 degrees and the water temperature a bone-chilling 51 degrees. That old swimming hole beckoned.
Trin, being Trin, slipped into the river like an otter and motored through the eddy. Scully, being older, wiser, likes to ease in. But with the higher flows, bottom was about three feet, straight down. She went under -- then began to paddle into the current.
"Hey, Scully, over here," I said.
She turned to face me, made a few feeble dog paddles, and was caught in the current where it slipped passed a choke of willow that marked the end of our eddy. Her eyes said, "Oh, shit."
And she was gone.
I ran through the grass to the next opening in the riparian forest, and watched as Scully did her best impersonation of a red, fuzzy bobber -- with a monster rainbow trout on the line. She kept going under, only to pop back up and attempt a few paddles.
Three steps into the rushing water and my sandal was sucked off in the mud; another step and I went under, no longer able to touch, much less breathe, as the cold water acted like a vise on my chest. The leashes were clutched in my right hand, my sandal in the left (which, as you might imagine, is just poor swim stroke mechanics).
And Trin, being Trin, decided that we were out to have fun -- and charged into the current to catch up with Scully.
"Trin, over there," I screamed and pointed to the bank. "Now!"
Scully was about 30 feet in front of me, just floating now, waiting for me to catch up.
I skipped the sandal to the bank and managed to hook the leashes on a logjam -- and made like Mark Spitz. I caught Scully by the collar and swung toward shore.
Then I noticed Trinity was caught in a bunch of submerged willow branches -- and kept disappearing under the surface. 
Trin has this amazing, upswept tail that has been the destruction of many a wine glass on low tables. It also is the secret to her efficient water propulsion. That tail was caught in a blackberry bramble, which rendered it useless. Every time she came to the surface, she looked sincerely puzzled.
I threw Scully near shore into a clump of brambles -- where she could touch -- and swam against the current about 20 feet to free Trinity. We swam back, Trin hopped up on shore and I got Scully unstuck and on shore, too.
"Stay right there," I yelled and swam the 20 yards against the current to get the leashes, while snagging my sandal as it conveniently floated by.
Surprisingly, both dogs did as they were told. Wet, muddy and startled, they sat as I picked my way through five feet of cobwebs, dead bugs and sticker-encrusted brambles to shore.
Cobwebs hung off my hat, my shirt. Bits of blackberry brambles were stuck to my arms, my thigh, my shorts. Mud clung to my forearms, my feet. My shins were a quilt of cuts and scrapes.
It was time to go home, go lick our wounds. Scully roamed five yards behind, slow, shaking.
It was a slow, deliberate walk home, wet and dejected. To the comfort of a Adirondack chair for me, and a lawn still warmed by the sun for them.
A few days later, as I sat in my chair to watch the neighborhood go by, Scully came up and put her head in my lap. I scratched it and she started her happy pant, then raised her head to look into my eyes.
"I'm OK with this retirement thing," is what they said.

Maintain Radio Contact

The Factor says that to me, every time we don't speak for a time.
Maintain Radio Contact.
Starting Sunday, I'll be on the road, covering the Tour de Kota bike ride in SoDak. The days will be long and the Interweb connections will be sketchy.
So, I will Maintain Radio Contact.
Things are liable to be a little quiet at The Tension.
Hopefully, I can get a 3WW done.
See you on the flip-side.

NaiSaiKu Challenge

A poem for the NaiSaiKu Challenge:

beached, a sea of rustling grass,
sun’s rays warm freckle-kissed skin,
young lovers stretch cat-like, lazy,
young lovers stretch cat-like, lazy,
sun’s rays warm freckle-kissed skin,
beached, a sea of rustling grass