⇔The Completed Stories tab is home to stories that I have finished writing and revising ⇔
In 2013 I finished writing my first novel, “The Experiment”. Here are links to sites where you can buy and/or read it:
Short Stories ~
Everything was light for Toria. Her screens, her world, hummed around her, their soothing glow comfortable and familiar. Each rectangle of pixels had its place. To her right educational games were pulsing before her wide, dark eyes— her classroom. Directly in front of her was a screen displaying her interactive family— her brother, Wiggy, and her mother, whose name it took her a second to recall. Morae. Yes.
Since they had their own VivaPods (after all, it was the twenty-third century) and the VivaPods remained separate and closed at all times to protect self-respecting people from the horror of the modern world, Toria had never seen her mother and brother in real life. Not to mention her grandparents, Million and Hurta, who were in VivaCare facilities for old folks like themselves.
Toria could in fact see what she assumed was her brother’s pod through the wire-covered enclosed surface of the clear plastic pod. Like her own pod, it looked like a see-through egg covered almost entirely in energy-filled white string. Three of these pods were sitting in her grandfather’s house, an unexplored peaceful location where Toria would spend almost all of her life if she chose to. All she knew from what she could see and what she remembered was that the house was old, empty, and made largely of brick and dark wood akin to the color of her skin, which her interactive mother (who was of course controlled by her real mother) often praised as beautiful. And it was true. Toria was aware of two facts for absolutely sure: the world was ugly, and she was beautiful.
On this particular day in the VivaPod, Toria was learning to graph, an appropriate subject for an eleven year-old. And all was well and known and safe.
Until, for the first time in Toria’s memory, the power went out.
And so it was that this girl found herself in darkness, something she had never known. Sudden, all-consuming darkness that felt to her like her veins were being sliced open and her life blood was pooling around her, soiling the perfection of her VivaPod.
Toria’s screens went black and her pod stopped glowing and her throat made a sound she had never heard herself make before. A frightened, girlish scream. This scared her further and the maladjustment of her eyes caused her to flail in confusion.
Toria felt her small, bare foot hit a button nestled in the encircling wall of her pod towards the front of the capsule. The button, now unhelpfully, read “Do not press unless for some completely inordinate reason you wish to open your VivaPod.”
Much to Toria’s further shock, her Pod hatched, splitting neatly down the middle as it was engineered to. She screamed again, because inside the VivaPod the air was room-temperature and smelled like blankets and electricity and now the air was cool and smelled like something she could not name (dust and old wood floors).
Toria was so busy trying to stand up and failing and being confused that she didn’t see a head emerge from the VivaPod beginning to open a few meters away from her. A boy whom, if she took a second to examine his face, she would recognize as her twin brother, Wiggins Emerald, Wiggy for short. The boy had thin eyebrows and a small wide nose. He was her height and had her dark skin and regular outward self-possessedness, though internally he felt quite insecure. He was slightly less prone to screaming, instead he was shaking and trying to look like he was holding it together.
It’s not like the siblings didn’t know each other. They had interacted using screens from a very young age. They had seen each other’s avatars and helped each other with VivaEdu program assignments. However, seeing another person in the flesh was something foreign— Toria and Wiggy locked eyes and took a second to take in the fact that they were seeing another thing that moved and took up space like themselves.
“What happened?” Toria asked Wiggy shakily when they finally were within a meter of each other.
“Power cut,” said Wiggy, who had been paying attention to local news. “There was a raid on the city. You’re taller than I thought you’d be.”
“You’re scrawnier than your avatar,” Toria observed, not meaning it unkindly. Wiggy shrugged this off.
“Where’s mom?” Toria mused.
“I don’t know, but we shouldn’t go looking. We should stay here,” Wiggy said. “I don’t know what we’ll find if we look around and if the power comes back on we’ll want to be here.” He was lying. Of course he wanted to look around.
“We’ll only be out here once for who knows how long. Don’t you want to know what the house is like so you never get curious again?” Toria said, also lying. She wanted nothing more than to curl up in her fractured VivaPod and go to sleep. But she wanted to make up for her earlier cowardice and she knew that she wouldn’t get the chance to wander around Million’s mansion again, at least not until she became an adult and she could make her own decisions about how she wanted to live. Toria’s mother, like most mothers, chose to raise her and Wiggy in VivaPods, and Toria respected that. Toria was also aware that her mother would disapprove of her and Wiggy even stepping out of their pods. Seeing as Toria’s mother, Morae, was the only female role model whom Toria could prove existed, Toria valued her mother’s opinion very much.
“A little looking around won’t hurt I guess,” Wiggy said, trying not to betray how eager he was to have a peek at the upstairs portion of the house. Wiggy was already practicing taking in every single detail of the dusty darkness he was seeing so he could relive it mentally when he returned to his pod once the power came back on.
“Come on,” said Toria, grabbing Wiggy’s small, soft hands. How she knew to grab another human being’s hands of all things when leading them somewhere she did not know but suspected she had picked it up from her learning games or television shows.
The twins quickly realized they were standing in a broad hallway which was formed by a wall on one side and a large, long staircase on the other. Toria started to move towards a partially open door on the right but Wiggy pulled on her hands and pointed to the staircase.
“Don’t you wanna go as far as we can first and then work backwards?” Wiggy suggested. Toria hesitated. She could sense the excitement in Wiggy’s voice that he was trying so hard to hide. She had wanted to keep their expedition small. Oh well, she thought, turning to follow him, if we get killed by Open-runners at least this wasn’t my idea. Despite never having interacted with a living human being, Toria knew she hated being wrong and if she died she would rather do so having had the right idea.
Toria and Wiggy ascended the stairs and gravitated towards a room directly in front of them on the broad landing. There was white light hitting the wood of the landing floor— it hailed from small high windows to either side of them. It was said that Million liked his dark very dark and his light very bright. Moving forward, they opened the two heavy wooden doors to the room one at a time, both pulling on each. There before them was a vast space with a completely empty floor (useful furniture had probably been stolen by Open-runner vandals) and walls made of the most unfamiliar material and interspersed with wooden panels. The siblings both audibly gasped and Wiggy’s small eyes grew large at this unfamiliar sight while a thin layer of dust blew up from the floor. Toria moved around to see the wall to her right head-on and touched it. There were rectangular blocks of leather and cloth and fiber making up the walls, with gold and silver and black writing on their sides. Tori had not encountered such things before. Great Expectations read one of the many small parts of the wall. Another smaller fiber block said Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Toria touched a piece labeled Pride and Prejudice and was astonished when she dislodged it. She thought she might have broken the room itself until she realized the object was clearly meant to be split in two, to be opened. The leather was filled with pieces of what felt like dry, thin wood to Toria. These leafs, filled with words piled on each other in huge blocks, felt immeasurably good between Toria’s fingers.
Wiggy and Toria agreed in an unspoken manner to pull the most beautiful word boxes out from the walls and sit in the middle of the room and touch and see them together. Toria was filled with awe. What useless and wonderful things were these? What useless and wonderful beasts had been here before her?
The Flower Man
The lipstick was too red. Or it wasn’t red enough. No, definitely too red. The lipstick had been a risk. Oh well, Richard wouldn’t mind. He always put up with her flights of fancy, as he called them. Margaret flipped down the top of the compact mirror and put it back in the navy purse hanging limply on her gently sloping shoulders. She had always prided herself on her shoulders. She smoothed down her coat, readjusted the purse strap, tipped her hat forward, and took an unnecessary amount of time to look over the train timetable. Richard’s train was due at five o’clock and she had shown up fifteen minutes early out of anxiousness and excitement. She knew that she should really stop fidgeting but who could blame her? This was a potential husband she was waiting on.
Richard had been stationed with the Navy at an outpost in Paris for two years and now that the war was over he was coming home. He had promised that the two of them would be engaged upon his return and Margaret wondered if he had her ring in his pocket that very minute as his train made its way towards Grand Central Station. In her mind’s eye the ring was shiny and golden, with a sapphire stone nestled in the center. Sapphire. How very exotic. Knowing Richard, though, it was bound to be more traditional.
Margaret toyed with her purse strap again and turned to the golden clock ticking away on top of the bustling information booth that occupied the center of the station. It informed her that the time was ten minutes to five. She really needed something to occupy her. That’s when she spotted the flower stand. Aren’t flowers nice? Fantastic. She could pick out some flowers for Richard and take her mind off his arrival. His letters had been coming fewer and farther between lately, but the Navy office in Paris had informed her that they would be sending him home on train, boat, train, and into Grand Central at five. She had, of course, heard this a month ago but she couldn’t imagine anything had changed.
Margaret found herself at the flower stand, a large wooden booth with pockets of a sort in it for bouquets and mountains of silver buckets filled with fresh flowers to either side of it. The stand possessed a green and white awning so small that the only purpose it served was to give a meagre dose of shade to the man underneath—as though he needed the shade inside a train station. The flower man was rearranging the roses to his right. She considered the roses. They were too red. Or not red enough. No, definitely too red.
“Hello,” said the flower man unassumingly, interrupting Margaret’s particularly trivial train of thought.
“Oh, hello,” Margaret said, startled and still in the process of lifting her gaze from the too-red roses.
“Looking for anything in particular?” he inquired. The young man had a thoughtful brown face and an accent that gave away his neighborhood— Brooklyn. Margaret, a native of the city and the daughter of a Manhattan stockbroker, could recognize it with little trouble.
“A welcome home bouquet,” she answered with a smile, the impatience for Richard’s arrival evident in her voice.
The flower vendor poked around to the left of the booth. “Something yellow, maybe? Who’s being welcomed home?”
“Ah, my soon-to-be fiancé. He’s been writing me from Paris.”
“Oh, he with the Navy?”
“I have seen a lot of uniforms here in Grand Central. I almost feel like I know ‘em a little. I watched them go off in ’39 and come back again.”
“We can only pray for the ones that don’t come back,” Margaret added with a sigh. She knew she was lucky — some of her friends would never see their beaus again.
“And I tell ya, I seen too many ladies like yourself wait here for men that live through it all but never show. Not to put a curse on your happiness, m’am, but Navy men ‘specially. Something about those men of the sea and Parisian women,” the man remarked, handing her a good-sized bouquet of black eyed Susans.
Margaret took the flowers and leaned lightly against the front of the stand as the man behind the booth pulled up a stool on the other side of the pane-less window out of which he worked. His dark pooling eyes seemed to absorb everything they saw as he concentratedly snipped stems off of bundles of carnations before enveloping them tightly in brown paper for whichever waiting people would request them.
“Oh, well you haven’t met Richard,” Margaret insisted, “he’s just wild about me. I get his letters every… well they’ve been coming about once or twice a month now… but anyway, he tells me about his adventures with the Navy.” Margaret suddenly remembered that she had to pay the man and fished some coins out of her purse. She handed the pieces of silver and bronze to him, her cream-colored fingers meeting his rough pink palm.
“What’s he gettin’ up to over there?” the man asked since Margaret didn’t seem to have any intention of leaving the booth.
“Well, he’s been working, seeing the city with his landlady— she’s been showing him the sights. She’s just an absolute dear from what I’ve heard.”
The man smiled knowingly for a second and his dark eyebrows crinkled slightly on his dark face.
“What time did you say his train is supposed to get in, m’am?”
“Oh, I didn’t say, but five o’clock.”
It was nearing a quarter after five. She had not noticed a five o’clock train and suggested that it might be late.
“I mighta seen one come and leave a bit ago,” the man behind the booth remarked.
“Perhaps he missed his train and is coming in on the next one,” Margaret laughed briefly, “I’m not giving up on him just yet.” Richard was a rarity and she had worked hard to keep him. Margaret’s family members often poked fun at her lack of suitors and her mother had cautioned her that she should not let slip from her grasp anyone who was willing to spend time with the frighteningly independent and sharp woman Margaret had turned out to be. Naturally it was also a disappointment that she hadn’t married earlier. Practically an old maid at twenty-six, Margaret also knew the stock market inside and out, which was not a suitable skill for a wife to possess.
The man with the flowers and the woman with the too-red lipstick saw many people over the next two hours— some coming off trains, some boarding, some waiting, quite a few buying flowers, but Margaret’s soon-to-be-fiancé was not among them. The man began to put away his wares at quarter ‘till seven. The woman, now sitting at a small table across from the flower stand sipping a cup of tea, had experienced six different facial expressions in the time that had elapsed. At that moment, she looked defeated.
“Richard’s not coming, is he?” she queried aloud.
“I wouldn’t count on it,” remarked the man as he boxed up some petunias.
The woman looked up from her tea and let out a small disgusted sigh directed at the train tracks and the five o’clock train that did not deliver her Richard, who was doubtless galavanting across Paris with his landlady. Margaret felt empty— both because of her growing hunger, as it was now seven, and and the long-time-coming cold shoulder she had been given. What a stupid idea to tie herself to a man who would spend years of his youth across the world under a promise to come back and put a ring on her finger. What could she say? She was a sucker for a man in uniform.
“I’m ravenous,” she noted when the big hand on the station clock hit seven and the small hand tapped twelve. The man was setting the day’s inventory— taken down on a memo pad— in a locked box in a drawer towards the bottom of the flower stand.
“There’s a sandwich shop right outside the station. Simple place but the owner is friendly toward me and I made a little more than usual today. I’ll buy you dinner,” the man declared, tipping his checkered newsboy cap. “If you’d like that,” he added.
A smile emerged from the unwanted woman’s tired face.
“I’m Margaret, by the way,” she told him as they walked toward the door of Grand Central Station through a dusting of people waiting for themselves or someone else.
“John,” he said.
The yellow flowers were left forgotten on a table top.
The Oriole’s Gift
“Just tell me what my present is, already!” shouted Carlos with a chuckle as Tom led a blindfolded Carlos into his garage. “Tom!” exclaimed Carlos as he stumbled along. He felt fingers fumbling around the knot in the cloth covering his eyes. Finally the red bandana came off. On a table in front of him Carlos saw a small vile in front of him filled with a clear liquid in it. Carlos’ countenance became puzzled.
“What is that?” he asked nervously.
“It’s your birthday present, of course!” Tom said with a grin.
Although Carlos was confused at first, Tom quickly explained what the vile was about. Because Carlos loved birds so much, Tom had used his incredible talents in chemistry to concoct a formula that would transform Carlos into a bird!
“You’ll have feathers and everything! Happy 14th birthday!” Tom proclaimed.
“This is amazing!” Carlos blurted out,”but what will my parents think?”
“I told them that you would be coming over for a few hours,” Tom explained,” you might as well use it now.”
With shaking hands, Carlos lifted the vile to his lips and downed the formula. He felt sick for a moment and then started to shrink as feathers started appearing. He was a Baltimore Oriole!
“The recipe isn’t advanced enough to transform your brain into a bird’s, but you can fly,” said Tom.
Carlos tweeted happily as he examined his talons and wings. After a second of vigorous flapping, Carlos was up in the air. From up in the sky, Carlos could see a small Tom waving from the driveway. This is so cool! Carlos thought as he saw his house and his neighbor’s houses from the air.
As he flew, he saw the Aralene’s house. Mr. and Mrs. Aralene were a nice, middle aged couple with no children. He remembered that earlier today he had passed their house and they had wished him a happy birthday and waved at him. Now, as he passed over their house, he saw something odd. There was yelling coming from one of the windows. He soared down to investigate. Carlos landed on their fence and looked in the window. Mr. Aralene and Mrs. Aralene were arguing. Mr. Aralene was standing and shouting at his wife.With a dramatic gesture, Mrs. Aralene stood up and yelled back at her husband. Uh oh! Carlos thought as he listened up.
“Your mother needs to be in an Assisted Living Facility, and you need to understand that!” Bellowed Mrs. Aralene.
Mr. Aralene barged in, “She’s fine! She’s only 75!”
Mrs. Aralene’s eyes watered. “James, she’s not okay, she forgot my name the other day. She needs help!”
Carlos was shocked. It hadn’t appeared that anything was wrong earlier. Oh well, Carlos thought, it’s none of my business. So, Carlos the bird took off again and landed on a street sign. As he was resting, Carlos saw his neighbor, Jessica, walking home from school with her best friend Amy. However, Jess was not in her usual cheerful mood, and neither was Amy.
“I was just joking”, whined Amy to Jessica.
“That doesn’t make it right!” mumbled Jess.
“C’mon, Jess, everybody has to have a little fun with the new girl. I just gave her the wrong map, no harm done.”
“I saw her crying on the way to math!” Jessica said, obviously irritated.
“Diane will get over it! Let it go!” insisted Amy, although she sounded more like she was trying to assure herself of this rather than Jess.
It was then that Carlos realized what they were talking about. Diane was a new student at Oakbrook Middle School, and Amy had purposefully given her the map of Redrun High School, and cut out the name of the school, so that Diane was thoroughly confused and showed up at all the wrong classes. He wished he could help Amy realize that what she did was wrong, but he was just a bird. He would think of something. As he took off again, he spotted the mailman walking down the street and Mr. Douglass watering his azaleas. Then he saw something out of the ordinary.
Carlos landed on the top of a berry bush and then turned around to see what had intrigued him. Carrie Anderson was sitting on her porch, sobbing. Her boyfriend, Tony, had a solemn look on his face and was putting his arm around her.
“But we may never see each other again! You’re moving to Illinois!” Carrie gurgled between tears.
“Of course we will!” said Tony comfortingly. “I’ll be back to visit for Christmas.”
So Tony is moving, Carlos thought, I feel bad for them. In fact, I feel bad for Mr. and Mrs. Aralene, and Jessica, too! But I can’t just swoop down and talk to them! I’m a bird! This question burned inside of him, he thought hard. Tom never told him how long the concoction lasted! He had to fix their dilemmas before it was too late!
That’s when he had an idea.
First, Carlos flew back to the Aralene’s house. He looked in the living room window. Mr. Aralene was in a foul mood, hiding behind his newspaper, and Mrs. Aralene was in the kitchen cooking soup, her eyes bloodshot. Carlos zipped into action. He flew over town, to Mr. Aralene’s mother’s house. She was a rather careless, forgetful woman and she had left the bedroom window open. Carlos zipped in and found what he was looking for on her dresser, a summary of her latest doctor’s appointment. If Mr. Aralene saw how unstable his mother was, he would see that an Assisted Living Facility was for the best.
Carlos flew back to the Aralene’s living room window and dropped the paper in. It landed at Mr. Aralene’s feet. To get his attention, Carlos whistled. Mr. Aralene looked down and saw the paper. After reading it, he looked grim but his face became softer.
“Sandra”, he called, “I’m sorry.” He paused, “I guess I didn’t want to see how fast her mind was going”.
“I know”, she said, and put an arm around him. Carlos felt good inside. They understood each other!
Next, Carlos flew into Amy’s house through the chimney and found her phone on her bed. He opened up the Notes page and typed TELL DIANE YOU’RE SORRY. YOU KNOW THAT WHAT YOU DID WASN’T RIGHT. That should do it. As he was flying out, Amy spotted him.
“What the heck…” she began to say, but trailed off.
Yikes, Carlos thought.
Then, Carlos flew to Carrie’s backyard. He plucked berries off the bush he had landed on earlier and spelled out, “If you love something, let it go” on her lawn. A hard day’s work had been accomplished, and each person was left with an oriole’s gift.