Moira twirled in front of the bathroom mirror. Her bohemian paisley dress hung loosely on her elvish frame. She shut out her tongue and then raced to her bedroom closet. From the other side of the Jack and Jill bathroom Kat watched her sister while pretending to play with her phone. Moira returned to the bathroom with a red sweater and an orange argyle cardigan.

“What do you think?”

“Oh are we speaking to each other now?”

“What do you want me to say. I said I was sorry if you’re not going to believe me I don’t know what you want me to do. I had just found out I was elected class president and a lot of people wanted to congratulate me and—“

“And I was one of those people, your sister, and you pretended you didn’t even know me, your own sister, to walk with the “cool” kids. You know what, whatever. I don’t care. It’s not even that deep.” Mumbling angrily Kat pulled her black hoodie over her head and rolled over on her bed. Moira stared at her little sister’s back furious she was making her feel bad. People called Kat and Moira Irish twins; they were eleven months and a million miles apart.

“Just because you’re happy being a loser nerd weirdo, doesn’t mean I want to spend the next four years of high school being boring. My bad I want to have fun,” Moira mumbled. Moira held the sweater up to neck then the cardigan then the sweater. Tomorrow she had to give her acceptance speech during assembly and bring the cupcakes. Moira pictured herself in front of all those people, the words dried in her mouth, her knees swayed. Suddenly Kat was behind her.

Her little sister was a head taller than Moira, thick, dark skin, beautiful without even trying. Her little sister was super smart and really fast. Kat could have been a track star or captain of girls’ basketball. Kat could have ruled the school as a freshman but no she liked to wear black, draw comics, and hang with her nobody best friend all day. Moira had to work hard for everything she got. She had to fight to be seen. No one understood how hard it all was. Kat’s hands braced her sister’s arms holding her up.

Moira opened her eyes and she and Kat looked into one another. Kat shook her sister playfully.

“First this isn’t working. I’ll pick out something that doesn’t make you look like a busted Strawberry Shortcake,” Kat said. “Next let me hear that speech.”

The Choice

 My name’s Ardent Pureheart; I have nine brothers and sisters. We live in two bedrooms in one of the FaithHostels. I tend the heifers with my brothers and many cousins. We pray, work, eat, raise children, bury our dead together. The Shepherds told me it’s time to marry, to increase.

In modest garb, the Chosen live for community, God, Heaven. Father talks of service, Elder talks obedience, Mum’s grown silent. While minding the herd I steal away in my mind. Tonight they chose my bride; I must chose as well. I’m Ardent and I will have ten children one day.


“Well, um, hello,” Ramon stammered.

“Well, hello yourself. Aren’t you the handsomest thing?” Evie said. “And you’re blushing? Priceless.”

“I’m not used to compliments. I- I-“ Ramon coughed to hide his stutter.

“I don’t believe that. A big strong man like you, you must beat the girls away with a stick. When Amelia told me you work out I had no idea. These muscles are golden.”

Ramon chuckles nervously and curled his biceps to be squeezed.

“Well, um, you are handsome too—I mean beautiful. You have a beautiful everything. I mean face you have a beautiful face.” Ramon closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

Evie flipped her jet black hair over her silky shoulder, laid a skillful hand over Ramon’s arm, leaned closer, and purred, “A smooth talker and a hot body, I’ve hit the lottery. Tell me a story.”

“I was the fat kid, teased a lot. Some stuff happened in my life and well I just had to get strong. I started as a personal trainer right after high school. The flexible schedule allowed me to go to community college and take care of my grandma. She’s my heart. When she took in my sister and me that saved us. Her sugar diabetes got bad and—“

“I’ll have a Ketel One dirty martini with extra olives,” Evie shouted to the waitress taking orders at a neighboring table. “This is why I never tip. No one wants to work hard, am I right. Now what were you saying about training.”

“Well, um you know I’m an accountant right. I still train as a side hustle and I am preparing for a weight lifting competition in the spring, but mostly I—“

“I knew you and I were the same. We are willing to hustle, make that money, be winners. We don’t sit on our fat asses waiting for opportunities. Winners make opportunities,” Evie said as her fingers slithered down Ramon’s forearm and rested on his knee. “Wouldn’t you like to be your own boss? Have a network of friends and family working under you while you make money without lifting a finger. You could use your before and after photos, show off some bodybuilder poses and my company’s supplements and weight loss shakes will sell themselves.”

“I don’t-don’t—“ With each syllable his body melted towards Evie.

“Shhh, don’t think,” Evie said her right inching up Ramon’s thigh and her left index finger to his lips. “Everyone is afraid. Everyone hates something about themselves. Everyone wants to change and they are willing to pay all they have and more for a magic elixir to make their problems disappear. There just happens to be a meeting tonight. No pressure just informational. Then back to my place to talk—“

“Dirty,”the waitress broke in, with an acid smile. She placed the martini in front of Evie. “So nice to see you again. What is it the third time this week? Business must be booming. And aren’t you Coach Osborn? I’m Kiki my little nephew Malcom is on your team. He talks about you nonstop. I got you a bowl of pretzels and another Evian for you, Coach Osborn.” The waitress set down the basket, the water, a stack of napkins in front of Ramon. The top napkin read: RUN. Evie drained her martini. Ramon stared at the message, shook his head as if to clear it, look at Evie, and slipped the napkin in his pocket.

“This is the end of my shift but I will send your waitress Melody over to take real good care of you.”

“Thank you Kiki I mean good night, I mean say hi to Malcolm for me.”

Kiki and Ramon gave each other lingering smiles as Evie slurped olives off her cocktail toothpick.

“Take care, Coach. I know what you mean.”

Everything Smells Delicious

The kitchen is quiet. The sun hasn’t yet risen. I hoisted the 18 pound turkey off the fridge’s bottom shelf. This bird is much too big for us. I should have gotten a turkey breast or even a duck but then  that wouldn’t be a real holiday. I peeled off the plastic covering. The raw turkey smelt of death and ice. I plunged into the neck opening, I plunged into the body for heart, liver, and neck for homemade gravy. I remembered my first turkey in my little cold water flat. I remembered a crowd of people coming over and finding my turkey still frozen solid. I had called my mom panicking but she was on the road to my grandma’s house. I had called my dad and he told me to get a time machine so back three days and defrost my turkey. Laughing to myself, I rubbed the cold flesh with seasoned butter. The piney and licorice smells of rosemary and sage greeted me.

I listened to my husband moving around upstairs as I spoon cornbread stuffing into the big bird. The cold bones of our house is fragrant now with celery, onions, Granny Smith apples, and chunks of cornbread. I remembered the years when I roasted the turkey in brown paper and cooking bags. I can see my youngest asking when dinner would ready every 15 minutes. I remembered teaching my oldest boy the wonders of parchment paper. I loaded the turkey into the hot oven.

Fresh cranberries popped with  ginger and orange making the air sweet. The sky has turned bright with pink fingers. Amongst memories of last minute pilgrim costumes, handprint turkeys, and a cornucopia decimated by cats, we would get calls or hastily written texts from the boys wishing us Happy Thanksgiving.

I dried my hands and took off my apron. Washed and sliced, the Brussels sprouts await the cast iron frying pan. Sweet potatoes leaked their dark juices under a generous shower of nutmeg and cinnamon. I looked around and buried the turkey’s neck, giblets, and heart deep in the garbage.

I walked in the living room and collapsed on the sofa.

“Everything smells delicious.”

The Wheels of the Bus Go

Day 7

I hummed mindlessly. A nursery rhyme looped in my brain as I turned out of my complex’s parking lot. I was running late for work. Hopefully the blue route would be reasonable traffic this morning and I would only be my usual late. Hopefully. I drummed my fingers on my steering wheel. When was my kids’ pediatrician appointment again? Crap, did I email David about those payment requests? Did I feed the cat? I drummed and hummed louder turning back the pages of my mind organizing my day, trying to calm myself. Tasteful, expensive homes adorned in massive trees and manicured lawns sped past my windows as I bisected the Main Line.


I wished I had coffee, a pumpkin spice coffee and a bacon egg and cheese bagel. I stopped humming and drumming and dreamt of Wawa. The school bus in front of my car caught my eye. The bus was slowing. The tiny STOP sign swung out. The bus stopped. Craptastic.


 I knew never to look at a school bus. For the every one time you get a friendly wave there are nine times an angelic cherub shoots you the finger. The wheels on the bus… Humming, I wondered if I would be extra late or embarrassedly late. The bus’s doors slowly unfolded. Leisurely a group of children clamored aboard. It wasn’t the bus that caught my eye it was a little girl in the back window, her large brown eyes tired, her forehead resting on the cold hard glass, her hands clenched in fists by her face. I knew that face. I saw that face in the mirror when I took the time to look. That face is desperation.


The bus moved. Suddenly I was on that bus going to school to learn history and how to make others more comfortable. I wanted to tell her I knew how hard it was, some days, most days. The little girl and I locked eyes. Hang on it gets better.  Did she smile or was that the shifting light through the leaves?

 The school bus turned onto school grounds. The chain between us stretched and snapped. I drove out of the school zone and across the commuter lines towards the pike. It doesn’t really get better but you get stronger. Craning my neck past the red orange foliage to check for traffic, I edge my car forward. Go round and round, round and round.

Spring Heeled Jack

With one eye on the ribbon of highway and one eye on her phone, Quinn looked if her favorite true crime podcast had dropped its latest episode. Score! She thought and hit the accelerator as the spooky theme song filled her speakers.


“Hey cats and kittens this is your prince of primal fear, Spring Heeled Jack, here to get to the roots of what scares us all. In this week’s Serial Chiller I’m exploring four urban legends involving cars so let’s pop the trunk, kick back, and get started after this message from my wonderful sponsor Home Safe. Shouldn’t your home be HomeSafe safe…”


Quinn stretched in the driver’s seat. The idea of driving cross country was more fun than actually driving cross country. It was supposed to be an adventure, Girls’ Night/Road Trip, Quinn and Jen’s Excellent Adventure. Then Jenna got cold feet. At least the traffic had thinned out, Quinn thought humming the HomeSafe jingle.


“The Killer in the Back Seat was first published as a legend in 1965 but the tale is much older, a cautionary tale for women driving alone. This boogie man first appeared with the arrival of …”


Chugging a large iced coffee, Quinn pumped her gas. The station was nearly empty except for a creepy white van with a flat tire and a nondescript SUV.  The gas station attendant was ogling her through the convenience store window. She had taken the smaller highways and backroads in hopes there would be cool neon signs, kitschy diners with sassy waitresses, giant balls of string, anything exciting. Quinn looked up and the attendant was flicking his tongue at her. Her face flushed and she slammed the nozzle back on the pump.


“This old chestnut is a favorite around campfires in some telling it an escaped prisoner bent on murder in other versions it is a deranged runaway mental patient but what about that hook…”


Slowing her car a little, Quinn checked her phone for the thirtieth time. The SUV behind her slowed too. No text from Jen, no missed calls either, she threw her phone and it slid into the stupid space between the console and passenger seat. She turned to the backseat to reach for it swerving into the opposite lane. The scream of a truck horn shook her heart and she swerved out off oncoming traffic. A row of angry drivers in the other lane honked and shouted. Mashing down the gas, Quinn screamed and honked back.


“…I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the boyfriend never got out of the car. I’m not victim bashing but as the Morbid chicks always say fresh air is for dead people.”


Quinn’s stomach rumbled. She fished in her Hot Cheetos bag for crumbs. A battered road sign proclaimed Dr. Hooker’s All-Nite Gator Farm & Waffle House exit 13. Quinn laughed to herself and headed for adventure. Dr. Hooker was closed, more than closed it looked as if the restaurant had been set on fire, bulldozed, and then set on fire again. It was dark. Her map app had been recalculating for fifteen minutes. And Quinn had to pee. Badly. She maneuvered a quick K turn and hurried out of the empty parking lot. Quinn remembered passing a rest stop. In a switchback, a SUV waited patiently. Quinn sped past the switchback focused on her destination. The piercing glow of high beams filled her rear view mirror.


“In cars, in trains, in horse drawn carriages the disappearing passenger is a frequent yet elusive recurring character. I guess there is just something about traveling long distances that make people afraid of disapppearing . Good night murderinos. This is Spring Heeled Jack and I will catch you next week if you don’t catch me first.”

Slip Out Of the Night

Rafe gave the newcomer a friendly smile that didn’t reach his eyes and then returned to swabbing the bar top. Wrapped in a trench coat with a fedora pulled down over one eye, the slight woman came in out of the night.

“What can I get you, sweet—“

Rafe met the woman’s eyes and his words died on his lips. The bartender backed up, grabbed his phone and keys from under the bar top and hurried out of the front door. The woman pulled her coat’s collar tighter around her face.

“What is this a morgue of something? Rafe! Where’s that good looking hunk of eye candy I pay to wear tight jeans and pour weak drinks?” Kasper cackled and her trio of bodyguards joined in.

They settled into the corner banquette. The newspapers called Kasper, The Godmother of Green Street and the Unfriendly Ghost. Her lackeys called her Jabba the Gut but only behind her back. The stranger called Kasper a spider. Kasper had her tendrils in every shady operation on the East Side and in every local dirty politician’s back pocket.

“Hey Rafe you back there?” Kasper called again.

Kasper caught sight of the stranger alone at the bar. Slowly the stranger stood and turned to face her. Kasper hissed.

“Tru, I thought you were dead.”

“I don’t die easy. And I had a debt to pay.”

Tru took off her fedora revealing a fresh angry scar running down her forehead. One of Kasper’s thug began to stand but Kasper squashed his motion with an inpatient wave.

“Listen money doesn’t have to be a problem. Loosey was a nobody. Lubvitz was an idiot. Killing them was like smashing a roach under my red bottoms. You’re smart and an organization like mine always needs smart people. Identity theft, money laundering, oxys you name it and I can cut you in for a piece of the pie.”

“Louis, only his friends called him Loosey.”

Kasper stilled. Blood drained from her face.

“He knew he was going to die. He died to protect me. It’s Loosey I’m repaying.” Tru raised her arms slowly as police officers poured into the bar guns raised. Kasper the godmother, the deal maker, the queen pin, spluttered in rage as she was handcuffed.

Tru replaced her hat and headed for the back door. She headed for the police surveillance van that had been recording Kaspar’s confession. She headed into a long night of questioning and official statements. Tru pulled her hat low over one eye and headed into a new day.

One Night Only: Maximum Overdrive

On the edge of a mining town Jackson and Josh’s mom’s SUV squealed to a sudden stop as a lizard of some sort raced across the road. Caleb crashed from the backseat onto the floor.

“What the hell, man!” Caleb shouted. His almond-shaped eyes grew wide as he took in the scenery. An ocean of desert, a lonesome cactus, and a sun-beaten metal sign: Deadhorse, Ariz. Population 338.

“Look I told you to buckle up. If you got Mountain Dew all over the carpeting—“

“Dude, where are we?” Caleb said, “What the—“

Josh raised his hands in a soothing gesture.“Calm down, everybody chill.” Josh retrieved a package of baby wipes from the glove compartment and tossed it in to the backseat. Jackson pressed the gas.

“I’m fine by the way. Thanks for asking. Who cares if the drummer has a broken arm? Population 338. There were more people in my robotics club. 338. I should have taken that teaching job. I knew this trip was sus from the get go.” Caleb continued muttering from the backseat as he used his own shirt to suck up the sloshed soda.

“Dude where in the hell are you taking us? You said this gig was near Phoenix,” Josh asked. He rubbed his temples. Josh knew Jackson. He knew Jackson lied reflexively, never took responsibility for his bad decisions, and he could spin every disaster into an adventure.  Josh knew his brother like the back of his hand.

“No I said outside of Phoenix and we are outside of Phoenix. Maybe the venue is a little bit more off the beaten track, a little rough around the edges, but think what a terrific origin story this will make when we make it. Maximum Overdrive from Deadhorse to Top of the Charts.”

Josh pressed his forehead against the glass of the passenger side window. He could see another string of empty seats and cheap beer, counting change to buy a burger, coasting back home on fumes, and explaining to Darcy why he would be late with the rent. Again.

Josh checked the backseat. Caleb aka Chaos had fallen back asleep his long black hair smushed to one side, his yellow stained band tee stuck to his skin. The nickname was Jackson’s idea to create mystic and social media buzz. In public Caleb was Chaos, Jackson had to be called Ajax and Josh was Jinx or Jet or something else he always forgot. Mostly he was Just Josh who played bass and maxed out his credit cards for the band. Josh reminded himself to check Caleb/Chaos’s meds after practice.

Jackson and Josh’s mom’s SUV turns onto the Main Street of the tiny mining town, a desperate sliver of mom and pop stores and low slung houses. Josh waited for Jackson to start up his spiel again about their bright future and Jackson’s big plan.

“I can feel it this time things will be—“


The Wrong Turn

Plates clatter on the dining room table. Chairs scrape across the oak floors. Cousins laugh as they race around the sofa. Pat and Pearl drive down the highway.


Mary Grace sets down the turkey. Uncle Joey applauds and loosens the belt on his favorite stretchy pants. Little Sophie kicks Taylor under the the kids’ table. A car horn jolts Pat back into his own lane as Pearl searches for a familiar landmark.


Jerry carves the bird. Nikki and Omar roll their eyes at Uncle Joey’s jokes. As the sun sets, Mary Grace stares out at the driveway nervously. Pearl strokes Pat’s shoulder as he takes yet another exit.


Uncle Joey snores in the easy chair. Omar pretends to watch the kids as he plays with his phone. Jerry turns up the game. Over the kitchen sink, Nikki and Mary Grace argue over what to do about Mom and Dad. Pat and Pearl hold hands in the dark as they head back to the highway.


For Fluffy

“She had two legs when the ambulance took her from the house!”

“What am I supposed to do! She had one leg when they admitted her.”

Bradford turned in the direction of the raised voices. He turned to head nurse Selina. Selina didn’t look up from her report but quirked an eyebrow that meant she had dealt with the last big crazy and it was his turn. Sighing, Bradford headed towards this big crazy.

Bradford was a big man, stocky and well muscled, with a cat portrait tattoo snaking his left forearm, a trio of silver rings in his right ear, and a fuchsia streak tucked into his man bun. In his pink scrubs, Brad stalked into the Room 8 and crossed his arms. Rev. Robinson and Nurse Bree stopped shouting at each other and started shouting to be heard by Bradley. He headed for the patient, Poletti, Giuseppina. She was very old, small, and as fragile as a china doll. Poletti was in a coma, her face slack with translucent skin framed by neat snowy pin curls. She reminded Bradford of a baby bird that had fallen from a nest. He thought when she was a little girl people probably called her Gia and now her neighborhood probably called her Mrs. P. Bradford examined Mrs. P’s well worn hands with perfectly polished nails.

“Mrs. P. wouldn’t want this. Bree hurry down to the cafeteria and find the paramedics who brought her in. They are probably by the vending machines. Have them find that leg and get it up here. Rev wrangle all the family into one room and stall for a few minutes, pray, sing, whatever but keep them out of this room until I give you the word. Let’s make this right for her before her family comes to say their goodbyes. Go!” The nurse and the clergyman rush out. Petting his forearm, Brad headed over to the floor’s central supply for some tape.