Good Crust

The sack landed on the counter with a thud. A dusting of white flour puffed across the cool marble counter. There are only five things no six you need for the best pie crust. All purpose flour, none of this fancy cake flour just regular flour, Mae thought as she reached for the good mixing bowl. With a deft flick, she leveled the mixing cup of flour with a butter knife. Mae delighted in the flour’s snow shower.
With the wire whisk Mae beat in the salt. Next she reached for the sugar. Some people didn’t like a sweet crust for a sweet pie. Mae thought some people were dang foolish.
Mae delighted a spoonful of sugar into the dry mix.
Mae held up the butter to gleam golden in the silvery moonlight. Butter was the fourth thing for the ideal crust. Beating two forks Mae cut in the soft butter. As the loose powder transformed into coarse crumbles, Mae leaned into the rhythm of kitchens. The marble counter worn velvet smooth from thousands of cakes, cookies, breads, and pies. Nicked and gouged, the heavy oak legs complete with long-forgotten initials swayed on the creaky floor.
Warmth from a ready caressed Mae’s back. Cinnamon, ginger, cardamon, and queen spice nutmeg, Mae’s famed spice mix perfumed the air from the bowl of mashed sweet potatoes. Mae reached for the final ingredient.
Suudenly the kitchen’s five panel door swung open and the lights came on. The kitchen was empty.
“Told you,” Neil said. “Come back to bed, baby.”
Lights snapped off. Door swung closed. A pair of footsteps soft headed up the stairs of the old house. Hushed bickering sounded overhead as the floor boards squeaked.

Mae reached for cold spring water. Not everybody knew cold water binds the pastry without melting out the butter. Mae worked her dough into the jadeite pie pan. Flour, salt, sugar, butter, cold water, and the know how is what made a crust good. Filling poured liquid sunset in the darkness. The oven grinned wide for the pie. The ancient cook dusted her hands on her apron and started on the apple cake.

Photo by Amanda Reed on

The Night Train

It was the smell that gave it away. The soft sweetness of decayed wood thicken with each step. I’ve been gaming since I was nine. I’d practically lived in VR during high school. My husband Charlie and I used to play before life got too busy. I’d heard a few of my coworkers whispering about a new underground VR Sims meets Grand Theft Auto, typical nerd boy banter. My ears sparked up.
I asked my assistant Boyd about it. Just making small talk, ever since April out of HR said I could come across as intimidating I’ve been attempting banter. He told me the graphics were cool but the storylines were paper thin. Boyd’s a good guy just a little scattered and disorganized. I know I can be a bit much at times but I really hoped this assistant would last more than six months. Boyd shared the game’s link with me.
Charlie was in Columbus at a convention and Julia was staying overnight with a friend, tonight was my night. Watching Dateline, I ate shrimp fried rice in bed. Then I remembered NIght Train. I dug the slip of paper out of my briefcase. I took the Pandorica VR googles and gloves off the top shelf in the closet. I sneezed from the dust. I popped an edible, refilled my glass of Riesling, and paired my VR set to my laptop. Snuggled into a nest of decorative pillows I dove in.
It was boring. Realistic yes, my character was following signs to get to this Night Train. The clues were pretty simple the sideways wide and tree lined. There were birds in the skies. I cheered with I descended the steps to the train platform. The steps seemed endless. I was slurping my wine when I first smelled it. First I thought it was mulch and the gardeners had done some landscaping earlier in the day. Then came the smell of old piss and industrial cleaner, the tell-tale indicator of public restrooms and poverty. I started thinking of hurrying with a suitcase through 30th Street Station. That’s when I remembered there are no aromas in virtual reality.
I touched the subway tunnel wall. My avatar was a perky redhead in striped tights and a puffy jacket. My fingers came away greasy from the clammy subway tile. My gear wasn’t this good. I ripped the googles from my face.
Nothing happened. I was still in the game, still in the underground subway. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Would I try for the surface? Then I heard it. Breathing, the noise was soft but very close. Air stirred and rushed. The train was coming. My train was coming. A horn screamed. Scarred and graffitied, my train slid into the station. I turned into something smaller and faster. I turned and ran.

Fish in the Microwave

“Goddamn, who cooked fish in the microwave?” Det. C.J. Hamilton shouted as he walked into the station’s break room.
Looking over the crossword page of her newspaper, his partner Ramona Shay shot a glance to the fridge. Desk Sergeant Beck was bent over looking for something in the back of the freezer. Beck turned to face Hamilton’s glare. Beck was holding a plastic plate of reheated river trout, couscous, and spinach in one hand and a frozen Snickers in the other.
“What you don’t want me to be heart healthy?” Beck said. “Well screw you.”
“You selfish son of—“
“Ladies, please show some decorum my baby ears are delicate,” senior Det. Antonia Curry said from the doorway. She tossed her yogurt container in the trash and began to wash out her water bottle.
Hamilton sat down at the table and opened his brown paper bag. He grimaced and pushed it away.
“Now Ceej you’re pissed about those muggings over on the west side. I get it, we all get it. This sicko is targeting seniors. Nobody wants this case to go cold but biting everyone’s head off solves nothing. And Sarge only a troglodyte cooks fish in a shared microwave,” Antonia said.
Beck looked offended but offered Hamilton his frozen candy bar before sliding his bulky frame into a chair.
Chuckling, Det. Shay returned to her crossword. “Now does anyone know a six letter word for ‘friend of Huck Finn’?”
“Sawyer,” Antonia said from the sink,
“Good, good then this has to be Sullivan. How about Emerald blank blank blank borer?” Shay chewed on her pen.
“Why do you bother with those crappy puzzles. My weirdo neighbor creates those and he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed,” Hamilton said.
“Ash!” Beck shouted.
“Who you calling an ass,” Shay snapped.
“No no Ramona. Ash like the tree.”
Drying her hands, the senior detective snorted.
“Okay, that means 11 down has to be Maverick. You’re right Ceej these crosswords are terrible but I feel like there is more below the surface. Something niggling in the back of my head. Wait Maverick, Ash, Sullivan, and Sawyer weren’t they the streets the muggings took place?” Shay froze with her pen in her mouth.
Hamilton inhaled his chocolate bar. “Nah but we never released the location of the Maverick Road mugging to the press. Poor Mrs. Chlebak was too afraid to press charges if her street name was made public. That bastard broke her arm. And—“
Exchanging looks, the three detectives rushed from the break room.
Sniffing at the air and shaking his head, Beck ate his lunch in peace.

There Goes the Neighborhood Chap. 2 A Wolf in Tweed Clothing

A white-colored house in a white-flowered garden perched at the top of a hill. With its grecian columns and reserved mullioned windows, the palatial estate was much more of a fortress than it ever was a home. In the white-colored house behind one of its mullioned windows overlooking the long steep driveway, a woman stood. Elegant in equestrian tweeds, Tilda Grimwolff Shaw watched as the police car pulled up. Sherriff Tank Adolphus was clever but easily handled. As a fellow wolf shifter he subconsciously followed the sway of her alpha dominance. The Federal Bureau of Supernatural Investigation agent was a wildcard. Sheriff Adolphus opened the car door for the young woman. The young agent was clad in a plain black pant suit, gray Oxford button up, and dark sunglasses. Tilda visibly relaxed at first sniff. The agent smelled stupid. Tilda’s canines flashed as she smiled. She would give the pair the typical lady of the manor act and send them on their way.

“Letty, our guests have arrived. Prepare coffee and refreshments,” Tilda barked. From the formal parlor the submissive servant yelped and hurried to the door.

Clad in oxblood velvet wallpaper, antique hunting gear, and heavy drapery, this parlor was designed for hostility more than hospitality. Sheriff Adolphus introduced Agent Tess Morganna. He glanced at the hearth painting of hounds disembowelling a fox while red coated men lounged in the background and looked away. A series of poisoned pen letters had been plaguing their fair town of Zeus. Over several months a flurry of vitriolic typed letters had blanketed the town.

Secrets were revealed, accusations hurled, followed closely by physical altercations and random vandalism. Tilda had been the first person to receive a letter, a nasty missive accusing her of misappropriation of the Ladies’ Flower Fair funds. Tilda scented the air. Sheriff Adolphus was growing steadily uncomfortable and agent was muted somehow. Clattering the bone china, Letty bought in a coffee set and a tray of almond cookies. Tilda growled and her housekeeper scurried to the kitchen.

“Insufferable creature. Now Tank I’ve heard about this business down at the band stand. I’m so glad you’ve brought in the experts. No offense of course Sheriff a burning effigy is a little more serious than old Mrs. Calico stuck up a tree,” Tilda said. She gave a ghastly smile masquerading for a friendly one.

Greatly offended, the policeman said, “None taken. Bitzy is in a coma from falling from that tree after receiving those vicious etters. I am taking this investigation very seriously. Tess and I have been reviewing all of the poison pen letters. We are also working with the Fed’s CSI Supernatural techs and we are making progress.”

With a distracted expression, Agent Morganna was examining her half drunk coffee cup.

“I love your garden so many plants and stuff,” Agent Morganna said.

The agent offered the perturbed police a cookie and a cup of coffee. Tilda could smell the faint clementine of the little witch’s magic.

How cute she’s soothing the big bad wolf. This is like on of those dreadful romances Letty reads in the pantry, Tilda thought. The citrus smell intensified and the agent’s looks went from dim to brilliant. Tess Morganna examined Tilda.

“Actually Ms. Grimwolff Shaw the progress we are making says there are two sets of letter. The second set of letters are a treasure trove of evidence. Many authors many motives. But the first set that went to you, Mrs. Calico, Mayor Kodiak, and the Robinsons are free of fingerprints, trace DNA, and psychic signatures. These are the work of one person with one purpose hidden in the middle of red herrrings. Even the smell of the anonymous letter paper was masked by being stored in coffee beans. Fine coffee I should say by the aroma. The second set were passionate and haphazard. The first set of poison pen letters are precise from someone with a deep knowledge of preternatural investigation. Someone with a lot to protect such as money or position. Someone creative, cruel, and, disciplined say someone who designed an award-winning Sissington white garden,” Agent Morganna said.

The sheriff choked on his coffee.

“Surely you’re joking. Why would I write silly letters?” said Tilda.

“Maybe because

you and Bitzy Calico both came from Marlowe. Maybe that story I heard about your husband disappearing with his secretary and half your money are the part truths and Bitzy knows something you can’t afford to let get out,” Sheriff Adolphus said. “Maybe we should finish this conversation back at the station.”

Tilda could sense the agent’s power. The woman had masked her brains and give the policeman confidence to piece things together. If only Bitzy had kept her end of the bargain.

“You know Mrs. Calico used to be a secretary back in Marlowe. We’ve looked at her as a victim but what if she had once be an accomplish,” said Tess.

Tilda snarled, “Witch!”

Tilda’s hands shifted to wolf claws and she leapt over the coffee table. Instantly the sheriff flashed wolf and slammed the older shifter across the room into the pianoforte.

Tess twitched her nose. Before she could jump up, Tilda was hogtied in a neon rope of energy. While Tank called for a reinforced wagon, Tess ate the rest of the cookies. When the wagon rolled away, Tank turned.

“So this is over,” Tank said.

“No, dog, this is only the first round.”

Well There Goes the Neighborhood

“We’re a nice town, the type of place where everyone knows everyone,” said Sheriff Tank Adolphus. “Nothing ever happened here. Nothing until the outsiders came.”

Agent Tess Morganna turned from the view outside the passenger window and gave the policeman serious side eye.

“Don’t give me that look. You think I’m being racist. I’m not being racist. I’m okay with all people even humans. I’m simply stating a fact. Things were better before the Robinsons—ow!”

Tank yelped as a neon spark sizzled from her finger, struck his thigh, and then ricocheted into the police car’s dashboard. Tank’s eyes flashed from dark chocolate to wolf.

“Canine the next time you tell me what I think I’ll grill you like cheese sandwich” said Tess.

With a low growl, Tank turned to the gray ribbon of Route 32 leading from the airport to Zeus, PA. The federal agent, in her trim black pants, thin chain, and sensible kitten heels, returned to her view of the speeding scenery. She hadn’t been back in Pennsylvania since she was a child. Tess and her family had lived nearby in Upper Gwynedd before Zeus was founded. Until they were outed as witches. They had escaped with nothing, leaving too much behind. Tess remembered that Lycanthropes can smell strong emotions. She felt Tank’s eyes creeping up her nape.

Magically, Tess thumbed through case report on her lap. Her supervisor a sweet Walter Brimley type cougar shifter with a heart of stone had hand chosen Tess for this assignment. The Federal Bureau of Supernatural was less than a decade old. All eyes were on them to oversee their preternatural municipalities since the Unveiling. Their communities had to be peaceful. Zeus the oldest supernatural town had been flipping Mayberry. Until the first poison pen letter arrived. Now there was graffiti and vandalism and fist fights. And when lions and tigers and bear shifters fought things really escalated. The local resources of a sleepy hamlet couldn’t handle anonymous threats and a crime wave. The FBS had to fix this fast.

Ignoring Tank’s furtive glances, Tess got lost in the rolling hills and strip malls as she reviewed the photos of the letters in her mind. Violent, perverted, and weirdly personal, these letters were the key.

“Welcome to my hometown,” said Tank.

Graceful ash trees sheltered picturesque streets. Zeus, formerly Brownsville, was postcard pretty. Tess smiled. A sprinkle of grape hyacinths sprouted on a vintage-style lamp post. The police car pulled in front of the town square. There should have been a brass band or an ice cream social. Instead the agent and peacekeeper were facing the burnt remains of an upside-down scarecrow hanging from the turn of the century bandstand. Officers Kodiak and Thunderbird greeted Tank.

“We secured the scene and waited for you and the FBS agent to come from the airport. This happened overnight, ma’am. There’s nothing on any of the traffic cams or local business surveillance cameras,” said Officer Kodiak.

Officer Thunderbird watched Tess cautiously. Glowing dark blue, the cop shimmered in and out for a second.

“Chief there is something you should both see,” Officer Thunderbird said.

He held up an evidence bag.
“We found it pinned to the scarecrow,” Kodiak said. She was giddy with excitement.
Tank and Tess leaned closer to the out-stretched bag. Inside there was a tarot card, the hanged man. Mirroring the burnt scarecrow the card had a man hanging upside down one leg crossed at the knee with an insipid look on its face. The card had a message. Written in a Spensorian hand it read: Welcome Home, Tess

Photo by Lucas Pezeta on


Enthusiastic applause erupted. Dr. Penelope Wolf smiled, pushing down the ripple of anxiety. Her eyes darted from the bookshop’s front door to the rear exit. Jessie patted Penelope’s knee and leaned in close.
“Remember, breathe.”
Jessie’s motherly voice smothered her forest fire of nerves. Penelope released a trapped sigh. Despite the lavender bubble bath, the honey ginger tea, and the Zoloft, Penelope was still not ready for the question and answer portion of her book tour. She was fine with reading aloud from her book. When she read, Penelope could picture herself in her favorite sweats in her favorite chair editing with Alabama Shakes blasting in the background and Belvedere snoring on her slippers. But people, yuck. People asking questions, midnight in nightmare alley. The bookstore blurred.
“Thank you so much for your insightful questions. Excellent audience! Dr. Wolf could answer your questions all night. We’re going to take a little break while the Books By The Cover staff sets up the book signing table. There will be cheese, wine, and of course plenty of opportunities to buy New York Times bestseller, Glitch, the Mandela Effect and the Psychology of Collective False Memories,” Jessie said.
Penelope gasped as she realized what her publicist was saying.
Not again, Penelope thought, not now.
Chuckles and snatches of conversation whirled around her. People were stirring. People were gathering their bags and coats, lured by free chardonnay and waxy cheese cubes. Everything in Penelope’s field of vision was accelerating. Closing her eyes, Penelope threw out a grappling hook to stop the freefall. She cracked open one eyelid. She was in a rental town car with Jessie speeding back to the hotel. Shutting her eyes, Penelope bungeed back in time. Shifting back and forth, Penelope slipped into the correct groove in time. Sweat droplets broke out on her forehead.
You got this Lope a voice, familiar yet unknown, whispered in her head.

That’s right I got this, Penelope thought.
Holding her breath, Penelope opened her eyes. Her vision was swimming, but Penelope was back in the book store after her book reading but before the Q&A. Quietly she blessed the voices in her head.
“Remember, breathe,” Jessie said.
Jessie watched the younger woman face, clenched in concentration. Jessie added, “Penelope, love, have we lost you?”
“No, I’m back. I mean I’m here. I mean I was just remembering when it was enough for writers to write the book instead of writing, marketing, wining and dining. Slight headache, but I know I am going to ace this night,” Penelope said.
“That’s my ballsy broad. You’re an old soul, love. I will cancel our dinner reservations and reschedule that podcast interview to tomorrow afternoon. You need a room service hamburger and a good night sleep ASAP,” Jessie said in her motherly voice and patted her author’s knee.
Penelope faced her fans.

Running Without Looking

Streamlined skull idling in the reed grass
Among the jumped fleet footed bones poise
white ribcage releasing the coattails of winter
heart pounding, feet pounding

eating up earth and asphalt
nothing can hold me down
no one can catch me again
gulping mouthfuls of warm moist air

Calm wicks off my skin
Chunks of me careen away as I pick up
Speed trickles down my spine and pools
on my sun picked bones still running

Running without looking
back is sanctuary
Streaks of flesh race off trim hooves
Tufts of hair run free

Forty Elephants

I wanted to drop the baby weight. I sipped my darjeeling and passed the small pound cakes to Mags. She reached out a delicate porcelain hand.

“Pass it around you skinny bitch,” I said.

Mags suck out her tongue. “It’s not my fault you’re a breeder.” Cramming a whole cake in her mouth, Mags batted one of the balloons leftover from Abigail’s birthday party.

“Mags how’s your brother doing? I saw him over at Tiffany’s in Chestnut Hill,” Wren said. She passed the cakes to her left. “Has he been working out or something?”

Wren twirled her curly blonde hair absently. I noticed her throat was flushed pink.

“He’s going Paleo to get field ready for his next half inch,” Mags said around another madeleine.

“You’ve been birddogging that cat since we were all boosting bubblegum the corner stores. Quit it already,” her twin sister Robin said with a snort. The sisters play-slapped at each other nearly upsetting the china teapot.

Trudy the strong silent type rolled her eyes in disgust. She bit into a madeleine and gave a small moan of ecstasy. We all chuckled.

“I love love. Think how cute your babies would be,” Lill said clapping in excitement. “Adorable little safecrackers.”

Sparks beamed at her wife and patted Lill’s freckled knee. I stretched in the sunshine of my backyard. Bert had taken the baby to the park and the afternoon luxuriate before me. Casting my eye around my table of good friends, trusted associates, I was proud of what Mags and I had put together. The Forty Elephants had matured from a handful of pickpockets fleecing tourists in Times Square into a well oiled thieving syndicate. We rotated crews of shoplifters and cat burglars up and down the Northeast. Yes, I was proud of what we had built and I was willing to do what it took to protect what’s ours.

“Status of little Moscow crew,” I said to Sparks.

Her lovely plump cheeked face grew stormy. “Not good Diamond. Reports that their crews are encroaching into Paramus and Princeton.”

The table went still. Mags and I talked with a glance. Next I looked at Trudy and tossed her a blood red handkerchief. With a curt nod, Trudy retrieved the fabric and tossed Mags the last petite pound cake. Lightning fast, I snatched it out the air. Mags pouted. Smiling I took a greedy bite.

In the Pleasant Summer morning

Warmed by the early sun yet still damp from the dew, the earth sigher with every step the boy took. Muncie had been walking for hours and he knew the scouts would be looking for him soon. The woods were new to him but he walked with ease. Arm stretch outwards phone in hand Muncie swiveled left and right hoping for a signal. No bars, no WiFi, all his phone gave him was the spinning pinwheel of death.
Muncie had studied the sun-faded regional map at Camp Obiwaja. He knew the camp’s road met the highway. H e remembered a bus top and a tiny gas station. Camping had been Mom’s idea. She had cajoled him and promised he would make friends. Muncie refused. She had argued and insisted he try new things. Muncie turned silent. Finally Mom had gotten teary and said “Billy, please” in that voice and Muncie got on the green school bus with bright blue lettering.
The drive to the church parking lot felt like forever. A balloon had swelled in his chest. Driving away with the busload of boys the balloon had grown and grown. Halfway to Camp Obiwaja, the balloon popped and his morning’s brown sugar maple oatmeal spewed over the bus’s backseat. The camp counselors quelled the teasing but Muncie knew that night when lights were out the boys would show the wolves behind their smiling faces. And they did.
At eleven years old, Muncie had skipped a few grades and missed learning how to fit in. No biggie, he accepted it. What he couldn’t accept was camp sing songs hellfire. Muncie couldn’t take endless stories around the fire. He couldn’t take the forced marches called hikes. And he couldn’t take team building exercises with mini marshmallows and dried spaghetti. A half-finished dreamcatcher of shame was stuffed into his backpack. Muncie picked up speed. The ocean sound of the highway greeted him.
The spinning pinwheel stopped and his phone sprang to life. First he sent his location to his mom with a carefully considered text designed to get her racing to pick him up. Sweat dripped off his forehead and smarted his eyes. That is when Muncie saw it. Two feet tall, covered in silky greenish tan hair, a doggish snout and large protruding ears, it blinked out at Muncie from beneath a feathery bush. That balloon rose in his chest. Muncie swallowed it down. The air was sweet and reminded him of rain.
Muncie lived by research. He had studied the terrain, survival skills, escape plans, and local legends. This was a pukwudja, a North American troll thing, dangerous and tricky. He knew where there was one there were more. His brain ramped up as his steps grew deliberate. His mom was blowing up his phone with texts. Muncie Googled and scrolled.
“By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning”
Tilting its head in time to Longfellow’s verse, the creature seemed lulled. With the weight of a dozen hidden eyes on him, Muncie walked out of the woods towards home.

Everybody Said So

Carla combed her hair. Thick, warm blonde, and naturally wavy, it was her best feature. Everybody said so. Carla liked the feel of of the wide paddle brush raking through her hair. The stiff boar bristles scratched her scalp. Smooth, the bristles slide down until her ends. Then the brush would always tug. Carla would give the slightest pull as her hair swished around her fingers.

Sandy always loved Carla’s hair. One of Carla’s favorite photos was Sandy and her, Carla was holding up a young bobcat and Sandy was wearing Carla’s long hair as a hat. They loved animals. Growing up in the pine barrens, Carla always had cats, dogs, and tanks of critters. She still had her blue 4-H ribbon for her Flemish Giant bunny, Twinkie. Forgetting Carla reached for it and knocked over something.

“You okay, darling,” her mom said.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, everything is fine.” Carla answered. Hating the tinge of panic in her mom’s voice, Carla made her voice bright and cheerful. She returned to brushing, petting herself like a cat. She used to love animals, the warmth of soft fur. A shiver ran through her and the brush slipped and fell. There was a loud clatter as the wooden brush hit the dresser and bounced to the oak floor.

“Carla, honey.”

“Mom, I’m fine. Isaid I’m fine.”

Carla leaned over patting the floor. Her bedroom door opened. Carla turned away. Carla and Sandy had been inseparable working at the ASPCA. After Sandy’s parents passed they turned her folks’ old farm into a makeshift animal refuge taking in the exotics the shelters couldn’t handle. They worked night and day but it never felt like work. They had staff and volunteers and they had the animals. Big cats, pygmy pigs, sugar gliders, and all kinds of reptiles, the animals kept coming and they were stretched thin.

“Baby let me help you honey. Are you brushing your pretty hair? Let me.” Her mother’s voice was effervescent.

Carla swallowed her resentment. Carla could tell she trying not to cry, she could tell her mom was being brave and supportive and she hated it. One moment changed everything. Carla was cleaning one of the primate’s cages. Mistake No 1 she was working alone. Mistake No 2 she turned her back on a wild animal. Born in a circus, TeeTee had seen more like a big baby than a wild chimp. In an instant TeeTee was on Carla’s head biting and ripping. Bile rose in her throat even two years later. She was afraid of animals now and Sandy blamed herself and disappeared. Her mother began brushing her beautiful hair but Carla couldn’t lose herself in the strokes. Carla knew her face, her real face, was gone leaving behind smooth eyeless scars. Carla’s mom cried soundlessly. She was told the eye prosthetics were lovely. The face transplant had been a success. Hours of surgery and scores of medical technicians had created a miracle. With her new sightless face Carla smiled for her mother. She was a miracle. Everybody said so.