The Circle

Another free-writing exercise, written in December 2012.

The Circle

“What are you talking about?”

“The circle.”

“The circle?” she asked. “What circle?”

“The political circle,” the man said. “Most people only talk about left and right, when really, there is an entire spectrum of political thought that makes a circle, with anarchy and totalitarianism on the far side.”

“So nobody’s on the left or the right, we’re all just riding somewhere on a circle here?”

“Of course not. Everyone is left or right, but the reason we need to look at it like a circle is to see that the further you go to one extreme or the other, the more likely you are to fall over the cliff of political insanity.”

“That’s a nice little diatribe you have going there, but I still don’t see how totalitarianism and anarchy go hand in hand.”

“You see, the further off the deep end you go, the more you want the government to help you, and the more power you give it. Any government with too much power becomes totalitarian. Then, the people rebel, and you end up with anarchy.”

“I don’t know,” she finally responded. “You’re either a genius, or some kind of raving political lunatic.”

“Well,” he said. “It’s possible I may be both.”


Another free-writing exercise from Advanced Creative Writing, written in December 2012.

He Couldn’t Read Cursive

“My family has a collection of my great-aunt’s writings,” my classmate said, as we were walking back toward class.

“What kind of writings?” I asked.

“Letters, old diaries, that kind of thing.”

“That’s cool,” I said. “You ever read through any of them? You could write a family history if it’s interesting.”

“Nah, it’s all in cursive, and I can’t read cursive.”

He couldn’t read cursive. He couldn’t read cursive?

I know that I’m a few years older than this guy, but they don’t teach you how to read and write in cursive anymore? And even if they don’t teach you how, do cursive letters really look all that different from regular words.

I know that some letters are sort of strange, like the r, the s, or the z; especially the z. But come on, how can you not know how to read cursive if you know how to read at all?

I must admit that when I first picked up a book that was printed in the style of eighteenth century type, those weird looking esses were distracting, looking more like uncrossed effs, but it didn’t take me too long to figure out what was going on.

There must have been more to the story. Maybe the aunt had really bad penmanship. Maybe, because she was trying to save the expense of buying extra paper, she wrote so small that it was nearly impossible to read.

I guess I’ll never know, because I didn’t want to put the guy on the spot and demand that he tell me how on earth he didn’t know how to read cursive.

He Played What?

Another free-writing exercise from Advanced Creative Writing, written in November 2012.

Bassoons and Beauty Prizes

“Are you sure?” I asked my dad. “Grandpa played in a band.”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“Like, a rock band?” I raised my eyebrows, still not quite believing it was true.

“No, not a rock band. It was a military band. This was back during the war.”

“Oh,” I said. Trying to sound more certain than I was. “I guess that makes sense, kind of. What did he play?”

“The bassoon.”

“The bassoon?” This still wasn’t making any sense to me. “Can you even play a bassoon in a marching band?”

“I never said it was a marching band.”

“Wait, he was in a military, non-marching band? Do they even have non-marching bands?” I thought some more. “And wasn’t Grandpa in the air corps? I thought he worked on a bomber in the Pacific. When did he have time to play the bassoon in an army air corps band?”

“After the war had ended,” he was speaking very slowly at this point. “Your grandpa still had a year and a half left on his enlistment, so when he wasn’t causing your grandma trouble back at the barracks, he was practicing the bassoon with his band-mates.”

This was still sounding pretty unlikely to me, but I didn’t really have anywhere I could check out this new information. The next day, I called my aunt to verify my dad’s story.

“Aunt Eileen, did grandpa play the bassoon in the army air corps band?”

“Well, I think it might have been the bass clarinet. But yes, it might have been the bassoon.”

“Really?” I replied. “And this was after the war was over?”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “It was about the same time your grandma won that base beauty pageant.”

“What? She won what?”

Always Late

This was a short free write for my Advanced Creative writing class, written in November of 2012.

Blowing in the Wind

I was cursed. I know I was. I’m not sure when it happened. It might have been Suzie Perkins, from the sixth grade. Everyone said her mom was a witch.

Maybe it was she who cursed me. But I don’t know. She would need a reason, right? And what did I ever do to her? True, there was that one time I made her eat dirt, but that was for my friend Paul.

He’s the one who liked her. That doesn’t make sense, I know. It must have made sense at the time, and truly, it was so long ago, I don’t even remember exactly why he wanted to do it.

But he did want to do it, and once the plan was set in motion, I absolutely had to make her eat dirt. Still, she didn’t have to curse me for it.

So, exactly how do I know that I’m cursed? I am late for absolutely everything. I know what people will say. They’ll say that’s not a curse. That I just don’t plan well. That I should leave sooner. But it has to be a curse.

I used to joke that I would be late for own wedding, if I could ever find a girl who would wait for me. Now I know it’s true, except that she didn’t wait. There I was walking into the chapel three minutes late.

Three minutes! I’ve never been so close to on time for anything in my life. Well, not since the sixth grade anyway. But still she left me standing at the alter.

All that I could see was her long white train blowing in the wind as she drove away in my tin-can decorated Chrysler convertible.

The Invasion

This is another story from the Short Fiction class that I took in the spring of 2012. It was a very short, short story assignment.

The Voyage

Corporal Jack Scott had been on the ship for nearly three days. Journeying across the North Pacific by sea wasn’t something he had ever expected to be doing. Just the thought of a listing sea ship made him wish he hadn’t taken last night’s supper. It’s one reason that he hadn’t joined the Navy. He wouldn’t have joined anything had he known about the war. It wasn’t the war that he had been sent to fight, but the one that came upon him–upon everyone–that left him so far from home.

Before the invasion, it took roughly twelve hours to travel from the Middle East to North America. After the invaders halted all air-travel, it seemed like no amount of time would ever bring him back home.

Communication had also broken down. While many local telephone systems still worked. All satellite communication had ceased and it seemed nearly impossible to get a message across the ocean.

Scott stayed with his unit for the first year. It still seemed possible that the government might come to some kind of accord with the enemy, but the enemy never even spoke to them. The humans were largely ignored by the invaders, when they weren’t being hunted and killed for getting in the way.

It was only when home seemed farther away than wherever these invaders came from that he had decided to leave. He spoke to his commander about making his way home and they decided to call it a communications mission. He convinced two of his army comrades to come with him and they started driving east. It took him nearly a year to reach Hong Kong and both of his friends were dead. He traded the vehicle that they had commandeered–his last item of any real value–for passage on this ship.

In just over two weeks, Scott would be back on United States soil, in San Francisco. There were rumors that the United States wasn’t as united as it once was, with at least seven independent nations replacing what was once the world’s only super-power. It might take him another year to get back home to Oklahoma, but he would get there. Whether or not there would be anything left of home once he arrived, thoughts of that would have to wait.

Harris Burdick

This comes from a Children’s Literature class. The assignment was to write a piece inspired by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.

From The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

“Archie Smith, Boy Wonder”

Archie had spent all afternoon playing baseball with his friends. He arrived home just minutes before his mother.

“Did you have a good day at school?” his mother asked.

“It was okay,” said Archie. “Mom, can I go play baseball tonight.”

“Do you have any homework? Your teacher said you’re starting to fall behind.”

“It’s okay, I did it this afternoon.” replied Archie. “Please mom, everyone’ll be there.”

After supper, Archie’s sister cornered him in the garage while he was getting his bicycle.

“You little liar,” she said. “I heard you tell mom you did your homework this afternoon. She’s going to pitch a fit when she finds out you’re failing.”

“I’m not failing,” said Archie. “And I’ll have my homework done. Just mind your own business. And you better not tell, or I’ll tell mom about the smokes you keep in your bottom drawer.”

“I’m not going to tell,” said his sister. “I don’t need to. Everyone knows that fairies come and kidnap little boys who lie to their mom.”

“No they don’t. That’s stupid.”

“Ask Mom or Dad if you don’t believe me.” His sister had him there, he knew he couldn’t ask his parents about lying or they’d know he’d been lying.

“Just leave me alone,” said Archie. “I’ll do my homework.” And with that, Archie hopped on his bicycle and rode off to the corner baseball field.

That night, Archie lay sleeping in bed. A group of small lights gathered outside his window. Then two of them floated in.

A tiny voice asked, “Is he the one?”

“That’s him,” a second voice replied. “Archie Smith, Boy Wonder. That’s what they call him. He hits that baseball like no one else. It’s a shame, really, that we get to take him.”

“What’s he done?” the first voice asked.

“Lying to his mother and not doing his homework. Multiple offenses.”

Suddenly an alarm went off. Archie flew out of bed, and the lights sped out the window.

“What’s he doing?” It was the first tiny voice.

“It looks like he’s doing his homework. Sneaky little kid went to bed to fool his mother. Then set the alarm so he could get up and do his homework.”

“But we still get to take him, right?”

“I’m afraid not, he’s doing his homework now, and sneakiness isn’t against the rules.”

“That’s too bad, we’ll probably have to come back tomorrow to get him anyway.”

“Maybe, but it’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Right now let’s get going. The girl down the hall has been lying to her mother and smoking. Multiple offenses.”

Fairy Tale Retold

Written in December of 2012. The assignment was to write a 500 word story inspired by a fairy tale.

Not Always a Happy Ending

Once upon a time I was on a bus from San Antonio, Texas to Key West, Florida. I had just been discharged from the Army after serving a year overseas in Afghanistan. I tried to tell them I grew up in Key West, and that they should buy me a plane ticket home for my discharge. Tough luck, they said. You signed up in San Antonio; that’s where we’re leaving you.

Sitting next to me on the bus was a tired looking old woman. We talked a bit while we were riding. When we got to Key West, I offered to carry her bags the three blocks to her home.

“Take these,” she said, and handed me a box of matches.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Those are my lucky matches,” the old woman replied. “They’ve always brought me fortune.”

I took my leave of the aged woman, and headed to the tiny house that my father had left. The power was turned off, so I fumbled around in the dark until I found an old candle. Those matches might just be lucky after all, I thought to myself as I opened up the box and fished one out. I struck the match on the side of the box and lit the candle.

That’s when I heard movement from across the room. I looked up and saw a dog standing there. It stared at me with its huge eyes; eyes the size of teacups.

“What is your wish, master?” the dog asked. What the hell? A talking dog? When did I start dreaming?

I really didn’t know what to do, but seeing as I was a little hungry, I said, “How about a sandwich?” The dog ran out of the room and returned carrying a bag with a sandwich inside. I couldn’t believe it; I had my own wish-granting dog. But as soon as the dog had dropped the bag, it turned around and left. I looked back down into the box and counted the rest of the matches. Three. Only three left.

I lit another match, and asked the dog for money; a million dollars. That should keep me going for a while. I lit another match, and asked the dog to bring me my high-school sweetheart. She had dumped me after I graduated for some guy who went to the University of Miami. A moment later, she was being dragged in, screaming and bloody from the dog’s teeth. I didn’t anticipate that the dog would bite her. She ran from the house and before I knew it, the police were busting down the door and accusing me of kidnapping.

While I was talking with the police, I asked if I could smoke. I struck the last match on the side of the box and the dog returned.

“What is your wish, master?” the dog asked once more.

“I wish I’d never met that old lady.”

Then I was standing in the dark, once again. Tired, hungry, and without even a match to light a candle.

The Coyote

This is another exercise from Writers as Readers, written in November 2012.

Canis Latrans

Danny had been wandering the woods for days. Tired and starving, he had almost given up hope. Then he saw it. A chicken coop. There must be a farmhouse around here somewhere, but Danny couldn’t see it. Surely the farmer wouldn’t begrudge him a few eggs to stave off his hunger. Danny was starving after all. He approached the small rectangular building and reached inside. Just as he was about to check for eggs, he heard a voice off in the distance.

“Hey you, get out of there,” the voice said. Danny jumped around to see a man off in the distance.

“Please Mister, I haven’t eaten in days.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” the man said. “Get out of here now.” That was when Danny noticed the gun. The old farmer had a rifle trained on him. As hungry as Danny was, he wasn’t ready to be shot over a couple of eggs, so he slowly retreated into the woods.

He walked as far away as he could while still being able to see the chicken coop, and watched the old man collect the eggs. He wanted to spend the night there, wait for the chickens to lay more eggs, and collect them before the farmer showed up the next morning. There were two problems with that plan; first, he’d have to sit here for a whole day thinking about eating hard cooked eggs; second, it was obvious the farmer wasn’t willing to give him the eggs, and Danny wasn’t sure he was ready to steal them.

Then, the impossible happened. No sooner than the farmer had walked out of sight, a wolf started to approach the chicken coop. No, Danny thought, not a wolf, it must be a coyote. The coyote crawled into the coop and the chickens started squawking up a storm. He was sure the farmer would be back to shoot the wild dog, but he was nowhere to be seen. A moment later, the coyote darted out of the small structure and started running straight toward Danny.

He froze; he didn’t know what to do. There was a coyote running straight for him with a chicken in his mouth. Coyote, Danny thought, canis latrans, carrying a chicken, gallus domesticus. Why, he wondered, was he thinking in Latin? The whole situation seemed absurd. The coyote approached and Danny let out a yell. The coyote looked up at Danny, dropped the chicken and ran back in the other direction.

Danny looked at the chicken, and pictured it sitting on a spit over a fire. It was probably worse to steal a whole chicken than it would have been to steal a few eggs. But he wasn’t actually stealing from the farmer. The chicken, he thought, most recently belonged to the coyote. Danny picked up the bird by its feet, and then continued his retreat from the lonely chicken coop.


This was an exercise in dialogue for a class called Writers as Readers, from September 2012.

The Unpaid Bill

“Hello, Jane,” the man said.

It always unnerved her when a stranger called her by name. A side effect of wearing a nametag. She thought that she would get used to it eventually, but she never did.

“What’ll it be?” she asked.

“What do you have?” the man replied.

“There’s a full menu, and even if you can’t find something there, Charlie in the back can fix you almost anything.”

“Oh, no need to bother Charlie.” The man looked around briefly. “I’ll take a slice of that pie there, and a cup of coffee.”

“Here you go,” the waitress said, as she filled a cup of coffee for the man.

“Thank you kindly, ma’am.”

“You know, I thought I was down on my luck,” the waitress said. “But you look like you just escaped from prison. Shirt one size too big, and those pants make you look ready for the oncoming flood.”

“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” the man said. “I did just escape from prison. What do you think about that?”

“You’re pullin’ my leg,” the waitress said. “There’s only one prison within fifty miles of here, and that’s the federal lock-up. No one escapes from there.” the waitress said confidently.

“Well, there’s a first time for everything,” the man replied. “And I’ve already gotten a change of clothes. Maybe I’ve been traveling for days.”

“So I should do my civic duty and call the police on you right now,” she said, mostly in jest. “Or are you plannin’ on keepin’ me quiet somehow?”

The waitress suddenly didn’t like the way this conversation was going.

“Nah, I ain’t gonna do nothin’ to keep you quiet,” the man replied. “I’m sure Charlie in the back wouldn’t let anything happen to you anyway. Not that I’m that kind of a convict. But I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to pay you for the pie. Here’s two dollars that I found in the jeans. All I have at the moment. Have to catch you later for the rest.”

The man got up from the table and walked toward the door.

“Wait!” the waitress said. “You can’t just leave without paying.”

The man opened the door. The waitress heard sirens growing louder in the distance.

“Looks like I’ve got to be going,” the man said, as he walked toward a beat up Chevrolet.

“Okay,” the waitress said.

She looked in awe as the man crossed the parking lot.

“I guess you’ll catch me later.”

The Wilderness Family

I have sometimes called this my boring wilderness family story, but others have said it is not so boring. I wrote it for a Short Fiction class that I took in the spring of 2012.

The Hike

I’d been in the wilderness going on three days when I first met them. They were a family of four coming down the trail looking bedraggled as could be.

“We saw your fire,” the man said. “You don’t happen to have a phone we could use? One of our canoes tipped earlier, and we lost most of our gear.”

“Afraid not,” I replied. “I feel like it’s a distraction, and besides, the reception is spotty at best.”

“But you must know which way we need to go to get out of here.” he stated more than asked.

“Well, there’s a major campground a good day’s hike that way,” I said as I pointed. “You’ll be able to find help there. Lost your GPS too?” I asked.

“Damn thing’s probably at the bottom of the lake.”

I looked again at his family. Wife, two kids under ten, one boy and one girl. They looked like a model American family.

“We went camping to get away from it all,” the man said. “Then we end up lost, tired and hungry.”

“It’s a bit late to start hiking now,” I said. “Why don’t you camp here tonight? I’ve got a little food, and I’ll walk you out in the morning.”

“I guess that’ll have to do,” he said. “We managed to save the tents from the lake. I’ll get them out and see how bad the damage is.”

“Thank you so much for your help,” the woman said. Up until now she had been patiently waiting while her husband and I spoke.

As we examined the tents, the man told me that his name was Roger, his wife was Amy, and the kids were Nathan and Mabel.

“Mabel must be a family name,” I said.

“Yeah, Amy had an aunt named Mabel.”

“Me too,” I said, “Except that it was my great-aunt.”

“You don’t think you two are related somehow?” He asked.

“Nah,” I replied. “I’m sure there are enough old Mabels to go around.” We looked over at his wife as she tried to keep the kids under control and laughed.

I struggled with how much food I should prepare for my guests. I finally decided that I would heat everything except for the granola bars, and those would be saved for the next day.

“So, what do you do?” Amy asked over our meager supper. “When you’re not helping beleaguered campers, that is.”

“I work in a grocery store,” I said. “Stocking shelves, helping beleaguered customers. That kind of thing.”

“Was that your dream when you were a kid?” asked Roger. “Working in a grocery store?”

“I don’t think anyone dreams of working in a grocery store.” I said to them. “Honestly, I never had many dreams. For a while, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. That was before I found out that I’d have to go to school for eight years to become one. What about you guys? What do you do?”

“I work in finance,” said Roger.

“I stay at home with the kids, now,” said Amy. “Before that, I was an administrative assistant.”

“You two didn’t work together, did you?” I asked.

“Yeah, yeah we did,” Roger said with a sigh, like he knew exactly what was coming next.

“So, you married your secretary?”

“Well, there were only two secretaries for the entire department,” he said. “But yeah, I married the secretary.”

I couldn’t help myself and started to laugh, and before long, we were all laughing together. The kids were running around and playing in the darkness, seemingly unfazed by their harrowing day or our conversation, but it wasn’t long before we all turned in for the night.


I woke with a start, alone in the woods. At least I thought I was alone. No, I wasn’t alone, and not in the woods. I was in a park. In fact, it was a park I had spent some time in during my childhood. There was a bridge across the river there.

As I approached the bridge, I saw Nathan walking alongside the edge. This wasn’t right, they had put up fences so that you couldn’t walk that close to the edge, and where were his parents? I decided I better round him up before his mother saw him out there.

“Nathan,” I called out to him. He turned around, smiled and waved, but kept going across the bridge. He wasn’t far ahead, so I picked up my pace and quickly caught up to him.

“Your mother would probably have a heart-attack if she saw you out here like this,” I said as I walked alongside him.

“Where is she?” Nathan asked.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. Then I looked back to the park. Where was the rest of his family? “Maybe they…” I started to say, but then realized Nathan was no longer there. There was nowhere to go, and he hadn’t fallen over the edge. He couldn’t have fallen over the edge. I looked down, only to see the water raging far below in the depths of the river gorge. I suddenly felt weak, dizzy, disoriented.

I woke again, this time back in my tent. It was still dark. I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep.


The next morning we started out early. I knew the way back to civilization fairly well and my charges trusted in my ability, so we walked and walked. It was about midday that I heard a noise behind me.

“Ah,” a voice cried out. I looked back to see Mabel on the ground, holding her ankle. Instantly, her father was at her side. How did he move that fast?

“Let’s see if she can put weight on it.” I suggested.

“Roger, I told you that we’re pushing these kids too hard,” Amy said to her husband.

This was really starting to annoy me. I was going out of my way to help these people, and all they could do was complain. Amy had been going on about our fast pace all morning. She said that the children weren’t used to such exertion, but I didn’t see that we had a choice. It would be even more difficult to make the hike after another night, especially with no more food. Still, Mabel’s ankle was twisted. After that, Roger and I took turns carrying the girl. What had been a relatively leisurely day of hiking with this family had suddenly turned into quite a chore.


Several hours later, after all the food was gone and we were nearing our destination, Roger returned to our conversation from the previous night. “So, you thought about becoming a doctor, but you didn’t want to go to school. Did you attend college at all?”

“I tried for little while,” I said.

Why was this guy so interested in my education? And why was I letting it get to me?

“I was going to work and going to school,” I continued. “But it seemed like I never had any time or money for what I wanted, so I stopped going to school.”

“I suppose I can understand that,” replied Roger. “Do you ever think about going back?”

“Sometimes,” I said, reluctantly admitting this to myself as well.

“Well then,” replied Roger. “Maybe it’s time to do more than think.”

That’s—when I hit him. I don’t know what I was thinking. He was still carrying his daughter on his back, but something just snapped. I balled up my fist and pounded it into his jaw. Surprisingly, nothing happened. He didn’t lose his balance. There were no cries of outrage. The whole family just stared at me calmly.

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“Why be sorry now?” replied Roger. “You’ve been fighting with yourself all week, even before we met you.”

“Fighting with myself?” I asked. “Is that supposed to sound esoteric? Look, I know it’s been a long day, but we’re almost there. In fact, we should be able to see the campgrounds from the top of this hill.”

I looked ahead, toward the horizon and said, “See? There it is.”

But when I looked back, they had gone. Where could they have gone?