Tag Archives: Short Stories

Spencer’s Story: Volume 3

“What are you doing?” Mr. Grum commanded.

Groggy, Spencer took a moment to answer, to get his bearings. “I was just resting. Just resting.”

“Well get up. Now. We have company.”

A tall man in a v-neck sweater of green stood behind his father, smiling, waiting for Spencer to react.

“Spencer, this is Mr. Blankenship. He’s with the church.”

“Nice to meet you,” Spencer said.

“Very nice to meet you, Spencer.”

Spencer smiled, looking Mr. Blankenship in the eyes. This was how it went with company. Smile politely, make eye contact, don’t step out of line. That line had been drawn in impenetrable stone for as long as Spencer could remember. As much as he tried to forget, his evolutionary mechanism aptly reminded him of its presence in times like these.

“We’re going to be using the dining room. I don’t want any interruptions. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

With the church, Spencer mused. It’s always with the church. He had wondered why the church took precedence over family. Why the way the family dressed for church worship services was important enough to scream about, fight over. Why Spencer and his brothers had to be so gosh darn quiet in their company. It was as though, as Spencer had thought before, their Christian development wasn’t matured, or brainwashed enough to fit in.

Frankly, he was sick of it. And he went to bed that evening with a sour taste in his mouth.

The next morning, Spencer woke before the sun came to visit. This was par for the course in the Grum household. Early to rise for chores of cleaning and dusting and organizing. While his brothers still had it in them to whine about it, Spencer had grown to realize that it was how it went. And it wasn’t so bad, he had thought. It usually gave him more time during the day to play outdoors: his most favorite place on the planet.

Later that day, after he had finished his chores, Spencer was given permission to invite his friend Garrett over. And that day, Spencer found adventure in a place hadn’t ever before.

*    *    *    *

Beyond the hill behind the Grum house, horses ran, unsaddled and free. Or at least that’s what Spencer liked to think. He didn’t know much about horses–other than what he gleaned from episodes of Have Gun Will Travel–but he did like to lean up against the fence and watch them as they galloped to and fro chasing jackrabbits and chomped on wild lemon grass in between yearnings to scratch their backs with the crust of the earth.

This one time, however, when he was eight, Spencer and his friend Garrett did just a bit more than simply watch the horses.

It was another one of those sunny weekend days in Southern California: perfect for romping around the neighborhood, exploring new trees to build forts upon, finding new ways to lend credence to the title of hooligan or scoundrel or whippersnapper, terms he heard regularly delivered by Mrs. Walden (for skateboarding “too fast” down the hill near their houses, or throwing water balloons at passing bicyclists).

“Let’s go watch the horses,” Garret said. Garrett lived in a stucco box of an apartment next to other stucco boxes, and didn’t often have the chance to be around animals. Small pets weren’t allowed in his apartment complex. Not even miniature horses.

Spencer wanted to get out of the house anyhow. Miah and Marcus were fighting over the integrity of one another’s building block castle: Miah’s being replete with moat, and imaginary crocodiles for the strict purpose of chomping on intruders, or Marcus’ wandering fingers; Marcus’ castle being the one with the highest towers, or the “better angle to shoot things in the face.” The parents were, as was the routine for Sundays, arguing over bills in their bedroom. They jabbed at each other in exasperated exclamations.

“Okay,” Spencer replied. “Let’s go.”

When they both reached the fence at the top of the hill, they leaned against it and looked out upon the roaming beasts.

“Who’s are they?” Garret asked.

“I don’t know. They’re just here.”

“But who owns them?”

“I don’t know. Maybe no one does. I think they’re just wild.”

A few moments pass before the two exchange grins. The grins, translated, amounted to: They’re wild. We’re wild. Let’s be wild together.

That, at the least, was their collective vision. However naive, it was still theirs. No rules. No parents. No brothers or sisters. Only them, and the wild beasts of the field beyond the Grum house.

Stepping through the barbed wire fence, Garrett looks up, noticing one of the horses trot towards them, only twenty paces off or so. “They’re not going to eat us, are they?”

“Um, no. No, they’re herbivores…I think.”

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 2

When his parents were gone on those church trips, the boys were usually left in the capable hands of any one of the four teenage girls that lived in the neighborhood. But to be capable in his parents’ eyes is to keep Spencer and his two brothers from bleeding from their eyeballs or some such injury that would land them in the hospital. To be capable in Spencer’s eyes was different, though. It was everything.

It meant he didn’t have to scrub the toilet. It meant he didn’t have to find clever ways to avoid his father. It meant he didn’t have to do as Jesus would do. Wine from stone aside, it just wasn’t that appealing.

Miah and Marcus reacted as most kids would. They went crazy. And as long as the messes were cleaned up before the parents’ arrival, and they kept it within the confines of their bedroom, they were free to do what they wanted.

But, one Saturday evening in August of ’92, things turned out differently.

“Alright kids. I need to make a phone call. Keep it down,” Tiffany, the first-year college student from three houses over, said to Spencer, Miah and Marcus shortly after the Grum parents pulled out of the driveway.

“Who are you calling?” Marcus asked.

“Yah, who ya call…”

“Guys, stop it,” Spencer interrupted. “Lets go to the bedroom.”

“But I want to know who she’s calling.” Miah responded.

“It’s none of your business. Let’s go. Who wants to play Monopoly?” Spencer said.

“I do!” Miah exclaimed.

“I get to be the boot!” Marcus replied.

“I’m the race car!” Miah said.

“I’ll be the thimble, okay? Let’s go.”

Monopoly always seemed to work. It was the one board game they owned that still had enough pieces to make it playable. They had a checkers set that was once used as ammunition for the boys’ grossly inaccurate, and mildly racist reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The checker pieces that found their way up to the roof never were retrieved.

For the next two hours, the Grum boys sat cross-legged on the floor in their bedroom and played Monopoly. The structure of which typically went something like this:

  1. Game opens with delight, fervor
  2. 30 minutes pass without much change
  3. Miah expresses desire to make his one procured property a “super duper,” that has the power to burn its unwanted occupants with molten lava
  4. Marcus and Spencer roll their eyes and deny the request
  5. Another 30 minutes pass by with a handful of houses purchased, mostly by Marcus and Spencer
  6. Marcus is distracted by Miah’s constant fidgeting and promptly–and throughout the remainder of game–complains
  7. Miah expresses delight at having once again annoyed his older brother. He does so by making “neener neener” faces
  8. Spencer waits patiently
  9. Spencer places mansion on Boardwalk
  10. Miah and Marcus charge Spencer with cheating
  11. Spencer laughs at his brothers’ inability to handle time consumption
  12. Miah calls Marcus and Spencer a “poop eater” and quits
  13. 10 minutes later, Marcus quits for lack of money
  14. Spencer puts the game back in its box, happy to have distracted his brothers for the two hours

For Spencer, the time spent post-Monopoly matches was undoubtedly the best. His brothers, annoyed and pouting, kept mostly to themselves. The babysitter found solace in her phone calls. And he was met with a calming respite from the pressure.

Mostly, he didn’t have to keep up appearances. He wasn’t his father’s little soldier.

He was himself. His own self.

His own self.

His own self.

These are the words that played again and again as he fell to sleep on the floor in the dining room that evening in August of ’92.

When he woke hours later, with a hand around his ankle, the words seemed so far away, so distant and foreign and never to be reached again.

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 1

Spencer slammed the door shut, knowing that he’d hear about it later, but not caring, for in that moment, he was alone, himself.

With each step up the hill behind his house, Spencer could feel the anxiety lessen, allowing for the calming breath of his mind to dissipate the stabbing in his chest.

He climbed.

The long grass under his feet held dew that made his socks all wet, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care that this would be a point of contention later; that the socks, wet and soggy, would somehow find their way into the “reasons why boys need structure” handbook his father so dutifully abused.

At the top of the hill, Spencer looked down into the valley. Horses fed on alfalfa in one-acre lots. Kids ran up and down the street looking for something to prod, someone to play with, some activity to occupy their time. His two younger brothers, Jeremiah (or “Miah” as everyone seemed to call him) and Marcus, played in the oblong patch of grass in the front yard of their home. Spencer, sometimes, was jealous of their innocence. He wondered how they could not know. They lived in the same house.  Slept in the same room. Pooped in the same toilet. Showered in the same linoleum box.

But perhaps they did know, and their alternate universe wasn’t the opposite. Just different. Possibly better.

At least that’s what Spencer wished for.

Something better.

Better like the time he spent the weekend at his friend Micah’s house, when his parents had to make a last-minute trip with the church. Micah’s house, with all of the tasty white bread and sour licorice whips and soda pop, was something better.

Less stabby chest, more sore smiling cheeks.

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Giraffe – 1, Apocalypse – 0

On my way to work this morning I encountered a giraffe. The giraffe was running up the 405 freeway and keeping pace with the traffic. For 10 minutes, the giraffe trotted (is it a trot?) alongside the car. So I thought I’d introduce myself. It’s not often one finds the opportunity, you know.

I said, “Where are you heading?”

“To work.” And the giraffe looks over at me, its eyes a milky black. “Aren’t we all?”

“Maybe. What’s your name?”

“Mags, you?”

“Non. Like Kay En Oh Dub uh U En. Mags short for something?”

“No, just Mags.”

“I wasn’t going to say it, but I’m finding it difficult to hold back….”

“Just say it.”

“…you’re on the freeway. Shouldn’t you be at the zoo or something?”

“I was. But a few years ago I left. I wasn’t cut out for display purposes.”

“What do you do now?”


“You sell insurance?”

“A charmed life.”

“What type of insurance?”



“I sell apocalypse insurance.”

“To insure against fire and brimstone?”

“And zombies and angels and demons.”

“But isn’t that the end anyhow? What’s insurance going to do?”

“It’s peace of mind.”

“Do you also give out AK47s?”

“Just the insurance.”

“Zombies aren’t afraid of paper cuts.”

“Perhaps. But our vision of the apocalypse is the one in books and movies.”


“So it may be wrong. Instead of one Mad Max, we may have thousands. Or millions.”

“And if it doesn’t happen at all.”

“That’s the nature of insurance now isn’t it?”

“I guess so.”

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The Pharmacist and His Gun

I am a pharmacist. My pharmacy sits in a precarious spot, far from the casual meander’s eye. As such, I don’t get much business. I thought about moving, but my wife says she could care less about the money it makes, just as long as I can support her codeine addiction.  So it stays in the precarious spot down the alleyway, behind the suspect Arby’s, where they make those agitated roast beef sandwiches.

Often, my pharmacy gets robbed. 37 times, to be precise. Most of the time the purloining fuckheads want drugs. In fact, 99.9 percent want drugs. Oxycontin, methamphetamine, adderall, anabolic steroids, barbiturates. The other .1 percent, believe it or not, find solace in the cool comfort of maxi-pads pressed to their faces. Like dandelions. The next morning they are usually too delirious to make much sense, the chlorine having messed up their brains.

I’ve never been a gun guy before, but I was sick of these pinheads and their pointy handguns. So I went out and bought a 357 Magnum. My brother, the sheriff of Concord, told me it was a good one, and I trust my brother. The night of the 38th break-in started out the same as the others. But as the pencil dick pointed his gun, I responded with my own.

I’ll never forget that feeling. Watching the robber freeze up, caught off guard, turn heel and run out. I chased him, you know. And then I shot at him. But I missed, as pharmacists tend to do with guns. They miss. And the fuckers get away. But I think just maybe he’ll tell his friends that the old man at the pharmacy down the road has had enough. That he can’t shoot for shit, but he’ll sure as hell try.

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In the Stillness, the Noise Stirs

In the early hours of the morning, while the cats slept, and his wife dreamed of sailboats and the big, shining sea; as the dew on the grass rested without stirring, as the sun beyond the hills wiped the crust, the dulling filmy sleep from its eyes; as the silence of the stillness, of the unmoved and bountiful, makes the noise in Hank’s head that much more pronounced.

And amidst all of this silence, all of the beauty of the composed stillness, Hank decides that he will shoot himself in the head before the beauty of the morning breaks into day.

Before his wife stirs, before she slaps the alarm clock into intermittent silences; before the cats wake and stretch their legs beside the windowsill; before the busyness and congestion takes hold in the streets, as the commuters embark upon another droll drive; before the time ticks its slow, persistent, reverberating beat, Hank will take his life.

But the noise persists in the morning calm, and before Hank takes the cold, heavy pistol in his hands, he curses the god of his youth, and the god his wife held onto so dearly. He asks himself, softly, why it had to be so.

And with a breath, he puts the gun to his head.

And pulls the trigger.

Stirrings Before the Dawn

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Favorite Short Story Collections

Again, here’s a list, in no particular order, of my favorite Short Story Collections:

  • The Roald Dahl Omnibus by Roald Dahl. If you like his children’s stories, you will like this. It has the same inane sort of humor with just the right amount of darkness. This version is out of print. But I suggest looking at Amazon, Powell’s or Abe Books.
  • Blood by Janice Galloway. Ms. Galloway implements the same eerie, dark and mesmerizing tone in this collection of short stories. Certainly worth a read. If you like it, I’d also suggest The Trick is To Keep Breathing and Clara.
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Yes, technically this is a novella and a collection of short stories. But I had to include it. If you watched that mediocre transfer to the big screen with kick-ass action star Will Smith, just put that experience away for the time being. Matheson’s I Am Legend is cerebral and dark, and definitely deserves your attention. (Why is it that the only version of it in print is the one with aforementioned action star hunk on the cover?)
  • A Model World and Other Stories by Michael Chabon. Chabon captures what it’s like to be  an adolescent, a man, an individual in America. He does this so eloquently and with such ease, it seems- better than anyone over the past 10 years. I also recommend Werewolves in Their Youth: Stories.
  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway. I remember reading the title short story during my freshman year in college. Shortly thereafter, I pined for a journey to Africa and a long trek up Kilimanjaro. Someday, I tell myself. Someday.
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Nobody intertwines the  fallible, emotional and psychological attributes of human life and the fantastical, ethereal and fleeting attributes of science fiction better than Mr. Bradbury.
  • A Modest Proposal and Other Satirical Works by Jonathan Swift. Such wit! Such hilarity! Such political intrigue! Mr. Swift is certainly one of my favorite satirists.
  • Hawthorne’s Short Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Two short stories that come to mind are The Celestial Railroad and Rappaccini’s Daughter. The former is a spiritual allegory and the latter is a bizarre tale of good versus evil.
  • Dubliners by James Joyce. The only Joyce I’ve ever read. This saddens me. Dubliners is brilliant.
  • Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe. Creepy and evocative. Mr. Poe was certainly versatile. And he proves this over and over again in this collection of macabre tales and poems.

What are your favorite short story collections? Or, if you don’t have a collection in mind, name a few of your favorite short stories. I’d like to hear from you.

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