Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Dark and Stormy Night

Happy Flash Fiction Friday!!!

I’ve been dropping hints about bloggy changes, and the time has come to tell you that I need a break from weekly writing deadlines. There’s a time and a place for those kinds of things, and I know some folks thrive under pressure, but it’s not a healthy environment for my muse. She’s in a union, ya know. The Muse’s Union. She says weekly deadlines have created a toxic work environment for her and she needs me to clap my hands three times and holler, “I do believe in ferries”. Well, it’s true, I really, really believe in the Alaska Marine Highway System. No, I’m confused. What she needs me to do is quit trying to write a brand new piece of flash fiction each and every week. Sooooooo, I’m turning this blog into a photo blog only. For Ferries.

Yes, I’m pulling your leg. Does it feel any longer? Happy April Fool’s Day!

Okay, so I do need a break from weekly deadlines (I have a novel to write) but I want to keep sharing flash fiction with you every week. What do I need? More writers! Yes, I’ll be sharing flash fiction by other authors as often as I can, with a few of my own stories thrown in whenever that silly muse of mine cooperates. If you, or someone you know would like to have me publish your flash fiction, please read THIS.

Meanwhile, let me introduce you to Thomas. 

Thomas Hallsten Paine is a native of Everett, Washington with a penchant for dark chocolate and darker fiction.  He writes short stories and flash fiction that both range from the somewhat distressful to the downright sinister. (His friends say it has to do with his mood disorder.)
After graduating from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science in Organic Chemistry (Magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa), he operated a high-end custom-design jewelry and rare gemstone business for twenty years while spending his evenings playing trumpet in various bands.  After retirement, he and his wife moved to the eastern side of the state where, besides his literary misadventures, he spends his time on hikes in the mountains, the search for placer gold, wildlife photography, and, when at home, the composition of songs.  He is a vocalist with over thirty tracks distributed to retail outlets worldwide as well as several published books of music for the trumpet.  It is also rumored that he sometimes writes poetry when no one is looking.
You can learn more about Thomas and his writing on Twitter, Facebook, or his flash fiction blog

A Dark and Stormy Night

It was a dark and stormy night when I heard someone pound on the front door.  I put down my book and went to answer it.

It was my friend Ethan and he was a sodden mess.

"What the hell happened to you?"

Ethan tottered through the doorway like a ninety-year-old man with terminal arthritis, although he was only seventeen.

"I was on my way home from late basketball practice and as I walked by the Old North Cemetery this truck came out of nowhere with its headlights right in my eyes and I thought it was going to hit me so I jumped for the ditch and somehow got away.  Whew!  May I sit down?"

Just then I felt someone shake my shoulder and heard my mom's voice.

“Tom, Tom.  Wake up!  Terrible news.  Your friend Ethan was hit and killed by a truck last night during the storm...”

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hard Work

Today’s story is a continuation of last week’s flash fiction, and if you haven’t already read about how Chris got a job with FGM, Sparkle, Inc., you'll want to read Help Wanted now!

Hard Work
Fairy godmothering is a lot harder than it looks. Sure, you get a sparkly tiara, which gives you a magical case review before you meet with your client, provides near instantaneous transportation, and enhances your natural gifts for creative thinking, intuition, and good judgment. Yep, you also get a sparkly magic wand, which allows you to grant wishes, transmute matter, and trick even the most fractious client into good behavior, but sparkle, magic, and trickery can only take you so far when you’re trying to genuinely transform someone’s life. The job really comes down to teaching clients about making choices and facing consequences. Every wave of the wand comes with a life lesson, and every bibbity, bobbity incantation is uttered with the knowledge that Cinderella will stay at the ball too late, that Pinochio will lie, and that Sleeping Beauty will prick her finger and fall into an enchanted slumber.
Fairy godmothering is a lot harder than it looks, and that’s why three months after my job interview with FGM Sparkle, Inc. I’d only just finished their extensive training and shadowing program, and finally been released to work in the field without a chaperone. By Wednesday of my second week as a full-fledged fairy godmother, I’d already met with sixteen clients. After the weeks of role playing, rehearsal, and carefully supervised interventions, I was giddy to be on my own.
“Have you had your first adult client yet?” Glenda asked me when we ran into each other in the break room.
“No, just kids so far. We’re all just overgrown kids though, right?”
 Glenda laughed and a small fleet of butterflies rose from her golden ringlets. “Oh, Chris, you’re such a neophyte.” She brushed a kiss across my cheek and swept out of the break room with a rustle of satin skirts, calling back, “It’s the grown-up clients who separate the real fairy godmothers from the light weights.”
“What was that all about?” I asked Viridian, who didn’t look old enough to drive a car, but had been a fairy godmother for over two decades.
“I’ve been telling her for years that she needs to stop that nonsense.” Viridian half-filled her mug with coffee, then dumped half a dozen sugar cubes into the tarry depths, gave the mixture a quick stir, and downed it all in one swift gulp. “Ahhh,” she said, then belched. “One of these days, someone’s going to file sexual harassment charges against Glenda, and then where will she be?”
“But what did she mean about adult clients? The trainers never said anything about there being a difference.” I surreptitiously wiped my cheek with the back of my hand. Glenda reminded me of my great aunt. They were both wet kissers.
“Phhht,” Viridian said, curling her lip. “Don’t pay Glenda any mind. She’s just trying to get under your skin. You’ll do fine with adults.”
I wasn’t some fresh faced kid right out of grad school, and I knew enough about human nature (and by extension fairy godmother nature) to know that Glenda was, indeed, trying to get under my skin. I also knew that Viridian’s casual dismissal of Glenda’s taunt was just a touch too casual. Something was up, but I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what it was. Over the next few weeks, I tried broaching the subject with several other experienced fairy godmothers, and each time, the topic was adeptly avoided with a kind of conversational jujitsu that I admired but couldn’t outmaneuver. That, of course, lent credence to Glenda’s words and I spent more than a few nights tossing and turning while I worried about whether I’d measure up when I had my first adult client.
When the time finally arrived, it was four-thirty on a Friday afternoon. These sorts of things always arrive at the end of a Friday shift, it’s a law of nature. I’d been clock-watching for the last hour, yawning, and working on my paperwork when my tiara vibrated, giving me the usual two minute warning that I was about to be transported to a client meeting. The case details flashed into my mind and I grabbed the terry cloth towel I kept in my top desk drawer. The information download was still giving me sweats and I’d begun to suspect that the gals in IT weren’t really trying to fix the problem. Every time I complained, they fussed and puttered over my tiara for a few hours, all the while telling me horror stories about their own night sweats, hot flashes, cold flashes, insomnia, and mood swings. All three of the ladies in that department were in their fifties, and I was half convinced that they’d deliberately engineered my uncomfortable “information sweats”.
I reached under my shirt and wiped the sudden streams of sweat off my torso, then took off my glasses and mopped my face with the mostly dry corner of the towel. My next client, Andrew was in the midst of a tantrum. After a complicated pregnancy, his wife had just given birth to twins. One of the twins had a heart defect and was rushed into surgery immediately after she was delivered via C-section. The surgery had gone well but Andrew’s wife and daughters were scheduled to remain in the hospital for the next week, and a week alone in an empty house can be tough on a new dad. A dripping kitchen sink, two leaky bathroom sinks, and a toilet that kept backing up into the bathtub weren’t making matters any better.
At the moment that I was transported into Andrew’s life, he was under the bathroom sink cussing a blue streak about his “worthless piece of crap historic house”.
“…have to be a professional plumber to make this place…” Andrew mumbled, and the rest of his words faded into a low grumble followed by more swearing as he snaked his arm out from under the sink and reached blindly for his tool belt, which I helpfully nudged closer with the toe of my boot until his hand fell on his pipe wrench. The arm and pipe wrench disappeared under the sink and more grumbling followed, then I heard a loud clang accompanied by a yowl and a string of the most creative expletives I’d heard since my ex-wife’s father died. When Andrew ran out of breath, I decided it was time to move things along.
“Looks like you could use a hand with tha—”
Andrew shot out from under the sink like I’d goosed him, bumping his head on the way, and jarring free another string of obscenities.
“What the…” I exclaimed and took a step back. None of my training had prepared me for this. Nobody had told me that I might show up to be someone’s fairy godmother and find that I knew them! This wasn’t some anonymous Andrew I’d never met before, this was Andy, my ex-kid-brother-in-law!
“Chris? What are you doing here? How’d you get in my house?” Andy gave me a once over, then added, “What’s up with the princess get-up?”
“Long story,” I managed to get out before the backs of my knees hit the edge of the raised claw bathtub and I tumbled into it, taking out the shower curtain as I went.
Twenty minutes later, I sat at Andy’s kitchen table holding an ice pack against the back of my head and sipping a cup of coffee. Andy had already offered, three times, to call someone to come pick me up, but he also kept asking questions about the tiara and wand. I could tell he was wondering if I’d finally lost my marbles.
“You need to talk to her, Andy. You guys are a team.” I tried, again, to steer the conversation towards a solution for Andy, so I could wind up this appointment. He was understandably upset about medical bills, and also worried that his wife would take their babies and go stay with her mom if she knew that the toilet had been backing up into the tub.
“So, what happens if you take the tiara off?” Andy asked. He’d always been hard to talk sense to, but it seemed impolite for him to be asking so many avid questions about something he clearly didn’t believe in.
“Forget about the tiara, Andy. Look, man, you have to tell your wife about the plumbing. You can’t just keep it a secret and try to fix everything while she’s in the hospital. She needs you there at the hospital right now, you know?”
“You haven’t met her, Chris. Her family’s got money. She’s like a princess. There’s no way she’ll come back to this place if she knows.”
“I think you should give her a chance. Besides, if her family has that much money, maybe they can help you rustle up the cash to get a plumber in here.”
Andy shook his head and reached across the table to touch my magic wand. I pulled the wand back out of his reach and sighed. It was time to wrap this visit up.
“Watch this.” I set down the ice pack and turned sideways in my chair so I could face the dripping kitchen sink. I glanced at Andy to make sure I had his attention, then began to wave my wand.
“Bibbity, bobbity, boo!” My wand shot bright glitter like a sparkler and the kitchen faucet stopped dripping.
Andy was momentarily speechless, which was a nice change and I grinned as he jumped up to go turn the faucet on and off. Satisfied that I’d actually fixed the drip he turned back to me, face eager.
“Can you fix the rest of it? Please, Chris?”
I gave Andy a stern look and lowered my voice to lend gravity to my words. “I can’t fix any of it permanently, but I can patch it up and make it last for a month.” Andy pumped his fist in victorious joy, but I held up a hand to stop him.
“There are conditions, Chris. You have to talk to your wife instead of trying to solve all these problems alone.” I watched a shadow fall across Andy’s face. “I’m serious. You have to tell her today. Go to the hospital, spend time with her there every day, and work together to make a plan to get a plumber in here. Will you do that?”
It’s not nice to see a grown man pout, but Andy tried it for about five seconds. I stared him down, keeping my expression as stern as I could manage. “Yeah, fine. Whatever,” Andy acquiesced.
I nodded, stood up, and twirled my wand in a wide circle raising a wind that swirled through the house. “BIBBITY. BOBBITY. BOO!” I roared, and there was a sound like a clap of thunder. A moment later, the wind died down and I sank into my chair while Andy ran through the house checking all the leaks and drips. When he returned, he wore an expression of awe.
“I can’t believe it, Chris. I mean, I do believe it, obviously, but I’m just amazed! I never knew that magic really existed! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome. I’m happy to help. But remember, you need to tell your wife everything. If she comes home and you haven’t  been straight with her, my magic won’t hold. Things will start to drip and leak again. The longer you wait, the more my patches will fail, and before you know it, that toilet is going to be backing up in the tub again. You don’t want that, do you?”
Andy had already thrown his coat on and was on his way out the door. “Will do, Chris, will do,” he called back to me.
I shook my head and let my tiara take me back to the office. Glenda was right. Adult clients were a lot tougher than the kids.
That weekend I changed my phone number. There was no sense waiting around for Andy to get my number from my ex-wife so he could call and complain when his toilet backed up into his bathtub again.

Happy flash fiction Friday and thank you for reading! I’m working on some blog related changes (fun things, I promise) and won’t be publishing flash fiction next week (March 25, 2016). I’ll be back again on April 1st, however, and will update you then about the changes I have in mind. Meanwhile, have a marvelous Spring Equinox and Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Help Wanted

Help Wanted
FGM Sparkle, Inc. is seeking a Life Coach to provide on-site support to our diverse customers.
The ideal candidate will:
~Have at least 10yrs coaching, social work, or similar education/experience
~Have strong crisis management, conflict resolution, and de-escalation skills
~Be able to think on their feet & implement creative solutions in the field
FGM Sparkle, Inc. provides OTJ training & certification
We offer a competitive salary, international travel opportunities, and superb medical/dental/retirement benefits.
FGM Sparkle, Inc. is an equal opportunity employer
Please submit resume and letter of interest to 

My jobbed sucked. I’d been promoted right out of what I loved most working in community mental health, and into a miserable bureaucratic position as the Quality Assurance Officer. Management said it was a perfect fit because I always turned in the best documentation, but what I loved about my job was the people, not the paperwork.  For five years, I’d been the bad guy sending progress notes back to be re-written, and building tickler systems in an effort to get everybody to turn in their blasted assessments and treatment plans on time. I was a glorified proofreader, official nag, and memorizer of Medicaid regulations, and I was dying a slow, agonizing death by boredom.
An hour of internet research yielded very little information about FGM Sparkle, Inc. beyond the confirmation that they were, indeed, a life coaching business and that they were known for offering the best benefits package in the state. I couldn’t find any details about how long they’d been in business, who their executive officers were, how much they paid employees, or even what FGM stood for. Nonetheless, I submitted my resume and letter of interest. I was willing, and even eager, to travel, and I was most assuredly ready to quit being a QA officer! Almost anything would be a better gig for me than that.
Ms. Delicia Poppins, conducted my initial interview by phone. Aside from her request to “Oh, please call me Delicia, we’re an informal kind of company,” it was exactly what you would expect from such an interview. It was superficial, well-rehearsed, and ordinary. I demonstrated my ability to give a good interview. I answered Delicia’s questions with clever stories about past employment challenges and successes, and I turned every question about my personal weaknesses into an opportunity to explain how every weakness is really an asset. What I didn’t do, was say what I was thinking. I didn’t say that Delicia’s parents must’ve been real crackpots to give her a handle like that. No, I kept those thoughts to myself, and at the end of our forty minute conversation, Delicia invited me to meet with her and “a small hiring committee” at the FGM Sparkle, Inc. offices the following Tuesday. I grinned in triumph but kept my voice level as I accepted.

“Thank you so much for coming in.” Delicia Poppins beamed as she pumped my hand.
“These are my colleagues, Elizabella McCaffrey and Seamus Sparkle, great grandson of FGM Sparkle, Inc. founders Ezekial and Celeste Sparkle.”
Great grandparents? I made a mental note to look up how long life coaching had been around.
“Pleased to meet you,” I said, and shook hands all around.
“Have a seat, won’t you?” Seamus Sparkle rumbled, and waved towards the conference table. The fact that Seamus, a tall, muscular, bald man was wearing a silver tutu (and yes it was sparkly) over his business suit took me aback, but I didn’t bat an eye. Whether it was a personal oddity, company culture, or a test for potential hires, I was determined not to let a little thing like a tutu stand between me, and my potential dream job.
I slid into my chair and took a grateful sip from the glass of water Delicia had suddenly produced, though there was no water source in sight.
Elizabella, a broad-shouldered woman in her middle years, with piercing brown eyes, a prominent nose and cheekbones, and spiky turquoise hair sat down across from me and absently fingered the fringe of her southwestern print shawl. My first impression of Elizabella McCaffrey was of a no-nonsense woman. With her moccasins, faded denim jeans, shawl, and bright hair, she also impressed me as being someone at home in her own skin.
“I’ve heard back from all of your references,” Delicia said, as she smoothed an invisible wrinkle from the right knee of her tailored navy blue pantsuit. “They each spoke glowingly of you.” Delicia aimed her toothy, gleaming white grin my way again, and I tried to put my finger on who it was she reminded me of. There was something fresh-faced and outdoorsy about her, in spite of her understated corporate look and severe silver bun. Perhaps it was her rosy cheeks that lent her such a youthful air.
“And I’ve completed your background check,” Seamus said.
“You have? You haven’t taken my fingerprints yet,” I said with a scowl. Running a background check before even offering me a job seemed more than a little presumptuous.
“We don’t use fingerprints here. In fact, our staff has developed cutting edge software that we find works far better than the federal data base, and nobody walks away with ink-stained fingers.” Seamus wiggled his fingers at me, as if to prove his point. “The thing is, Chris, we don’t operate like anyone else in the business. Our clients are often minors, our techniques are unconventional, and the rest of what sets us apart is really something you have to see in action to understand.”  Seamus pulled a pen from his breast pocket and tapped the end of it on the pile of paperwork stacked in front of him. “That’s why, at this point in our recruitment process, we ask applicants to sign a confidentiality waiver and a few other documents before doing a little job shadowing.”
It certainly was an unorthodox approach, but now my curiosity was well and fully piqued, so I initialed and signed each page that Seamus passed my way. He and Delicia alternated explaining each document while Elizabella remained quiet and calm across the table from me. Every time I glanced at her, she offered me a tiny quirk of her lips that would’ve made the Mona Lisa proud. I couldn’t help but smile back.
Just as I finished signing the last of the paperwork, I heard a peculiar tinkling sound, like crystal chimes. Seamus looked a question at Elizabella. “It’s time,” she said and gave me a single nod. “You’ll be shadowing me while I meet with Janet. She’s nine years old and has been in and out of foster care since she was three. She’s spent the last eighteen months back with her biological mom, but has never met her dad. Unfortunately, Mom’s had a relapse, violated her conditions of parole, and is back in prison. Janet’s been placed with a new foster family, the Leventhal’s, and things are off to a rocky start.”
Elizabella opened her purse and pulled out two sparkly tiaras fit for a kid’s birthday party. She set one on her own head, then handed me the other. “Put this on and don’t take it off.” It wasn’t my first choice in head gear but I wasn’t about to argue.
Elizabella reached back into her purse and pulled out a beribboned wand that looked twice as long as the purse it came out of. It sparkled. Of course. Then, she pulled out another wand and handed it to me. Life coaching for a nine year old, I decided, must involve a lot of dress-up.
“Now Chris, this part is very important. You’re going to be surprised and there’s no way to prevent that, but I’ll need you to keep your mouth shut. Under no circumstances are you to question what’s going on until after we leave our meeting with Janet. Is that understood?”
I like a woman who speaks her mind and doesn’t mince words. Whatever was about to go down, I felt like I could trust Elizabella, so I just nodded and grinned. Yeah, I was grinning. I’ve always liked surprises.
Elizabella came around the table and I turned, expecting to follow her out the door of the conference room, but she crooked her finger and beckoned me back.
“Do I have your word Chris, that you’ll keep your head and hold your tongue?”
“Absolutely. Of course.” I nodded emphatically; surprised that she needed this additional reassurance.
“Good. Let’s shake on it.” Elizabella held her hand out. I grasped her warm palm and felt a wave of vertigo wash over me.
“Whoa. Must’ve stood up too…” The sense of vertigo increased and I felt my ears pop. Just for an instant, I closed my eyes as I tried not to pass out, and when I opened them, Elizabella still had a firm grip on my hand, but we were standing in the dappled shade of an oak tree.  Elizabella gave me a stern look, gave my hand a quick squeeze, then let go and turned to smile up at the girl wedged into the crook of the Oak.
I took a deep breath and glanced around, trying to get my bearings and struggling to keep from blurting out questions. Unconventional techniques, Seamus had said. You bet your sweet bippy this was unconventional! Teleportation was so unconventional, I would’ve called it fictional until a moment ago.
The little girl, Janet, seemed as trusting of Elizabella as I felt, and the two of them were already embroiled in a heated conversation about the relative merits of green peas, especially when they were served with dinner, and even more especially when the availability of dessert was predicated on the consumption of said green peas. Janet seemed convinced that eating dessert was a human right, while Elizabella was of the opinion that dessert was a privilege earned only when adequate portions of other food groups had been consumed.
It was a nice yard, with a small playhouse in one corner, a broad swath of green grass, a clump of raspberry bushes blooming along the far fence, and of course, the big oak tree.
“But she hates me,” Janet said with a sniffle.
“No, dear, she doesn’t hate you. She’s trying to take good care of you. She wants you to grow up strong and healthy.”
“Well, I don’t like peas and my mom doesn’t either! She never eats peas and she’s so strong she can give her friend Henry a piggy back ride.”
Elizabella sighed. “I’ll tell you what. What if I put a spell on your hair so your scalp doesn’t hurt when Mrs. Leventhal brushes your hair? Would you be nice to her and eat your peas if I did that?”
Janet reached up to her wild mop of dark, tangled curls and gave Elizabella a hard look. “Can you really do that, or are you trying to trick me?”
“I can really do that. Do you see this magic wand? I’ve turned pumpkins into limos with this wand. Cross my heart,” she added and drew an invisible X over her heart with her finger.
“You can make it so my hair doesn’t hurt even a little bitty bit?”
“Your scalp won’t hurt even a little bitty bit. But only if you eat all your peas and other vegetables, and only if you’re nice to Mrs. Leventhal. If you stop eating your vegetables, hit, or cuss at Mrs. Leventhal, it’ll start hurting again.” Elizabella snapped her fingers. “Just like that.”
“ I guess I can eat vegetables and be nice to Mrs. Leventhal.” Janet heaved a put-upon sigh, but nodded.
“Alright Janet. You’ll need to let me touch your head with my magic wand and then I’m going to say the magic words and disappear, okay?”
“Will you come back?”
“You might not be able to see me, but I’ll come back and check to make sure you’re holding up our end of this agreement.”
“Oh. Okay.”
“Alright then, here we go. Bibbity, bobbity, boo.” Elizabella tapped Janet’s head with her wand and I saw a bright shower of sparkles erupt like a burst of miniature fireworks before the feeling of vertigo hit me again, and I scrunched my eyes closed.
After a long moment, I opened my eyes again and found myself back in the conference room with Delicia, Seamus, and Elizabella hovering around me.
“Are you okay?”
“Do you want to sit down?”
“Here, have a drink of water.”
I waved off the glass of water Delicia offered me and made my way to a chair, then started to giggle.
The other three took their seats and watched me warily.
“That’s what you want to hire me to do? Go teleporting around waving a magic wand?” I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye and laughed harder.
“Chris, FGM stands for Fairy Godmothers,” Seamus said, and I kept laughing.
“I mean, technically, you and I are Fairy Godfathers but, you know, that tends to have mafia connotations, so around here, even the guys refer to themselves as Fairy Godmothers.”
I wiped another tear away and bit my lip to stop my laughter. No matter how hilarious all this was striking me, I was still in a job interview and I didn’t want to blow it. Another hiccup of laughter bubbled out, and then I managed to compose myself.
“We’d like to have you on our team, Chris. How about it? Would you like a job as a Fairy Godmother?”
I thought about my boring Quality Assurance job and shivered a little. “Would I have to wear a tutu, like you?” I asked Seamus.
“Oh, good grief, no!” His laugh boomed and echoed through the room. “This isn’t part of our dress code, this is the result of losing a bet with Delicia last week.”
This was definitely going to be my dream job, I decided as I glanced at Delicia just in time to see her wink at Seamus.
“Yeah, I think I would. I’d like a job as a Fairy Godmother.”

If you enjoyed this little story, come on back next week, and I’ll tell you more about Chris’ adventures at FGM Sparkle, Inc.
Happy Flash Fiction Friday and have a lovely week!