One Hell Of An Offer

Modestine was aware of the gap in her memory, the section of consciousness that had been removed, and two separate events seamlessly spliced together in a non-jarring, dream jump-cut fashion.

The first partial memory was of Modestine stepping out of the shower. Her petite foot missed the rubberized shower mat by inches and instead slid along the wet tiled floor. Her vision shifted up toward the ceiling and her eyes locked on the one hundred watt energy-saving fluorescent light bulb. The next instant, at the point of the splice, she found herself standing inside a pair of pearlescent gates, waiting as patient as the lamb she was in life.

She was dead, of this there was no doubt. There was also no cause for alarm. She had no memory of either fear, pain, or the precise moment of her death. That was the portion that had been mercifully removed from her awareness, no doubt to aid in her acceptance of events.

Modestine watched the hubbub of nervous yet joyous chatter and a flurry of feathers as angels tested their wings in the air above her. They flew from structure to structure—she hesitated thinking of the impossibly tall spires as buildings because their various shapes defied her limited perceptions of architecture—getting the lay of the land. Though no one told her, she somehow knew this commotion was normal for the first day of new arrivals in Heaven.

While she waited, Modestine’s eyes drifted over to an ornate pulpit offset to the right of the gates. This, she assumed, was where the welcoming saint was supposed to have been stationed, but Peter was nowhere in sight. She noticed a few pages had fallen from the ledger on the pulpit, so she spent a little time laying the leafs out, deciding the order they should go in, and locating the exact spots in the book they had fallen from.

Finally, an angel arrived. He was tall and thin, wearing black horn-rimmed eyeglasses he obviously no longer needed. It was a remnant of his physical life that he clung to, a misconception that it was a permanent part of his appearance. A trapping that would fade in time. This was yet another thing Modestine had known without being told.

The glasses made the angel look bookwormish and out of place in their surroundings. Then she felt guilty for judging his appearance. Who was she to do this? She, who had always been short and mousy in the physical world, what her mother affectionately called the unsundertall and unassuming. She wondered what she looked like to him and if the same rules of beauty still applied here.

“Hi, I’m Modestine,” she offered a hand and a smile simultaneously.

Bookworm eyed her head to toe and back to head again, before taking her hand for two firm pumps. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched screeching noise, intense enough to rock her celestial molars.

Modestine, who graduated magna cum laude in never let ’em see you sweat university, replied, “Pleased to meet you,” and she tried her best to match the noise he made…but came up a little short. A lot short, actually.

Bookworm let out a burst of short laughs like a semi-automatic weapon. “Just messing with you. My name’s Phil. Welcome to Heaven!”

Modestine didn’t really get the joke but smiled anyway. “Are you here to give me the guided tour?”

“Heavens no, that’ll come later, once all this dies down. Saint Peter sends his apologies, by the way…”

“Oh, that’s no problem at all.”

“I’m here to take you to class,” Phil said and with a single flap of his wings, shot into the sky.

“Oh, okay.” Modestine imitated Phil’s action and was understandably a little unsteady on her wings, but through sheer determination managed to keep up.

Phil led her past fields of flora and fauna, the likes of which she could never have dreamed existed and finally into a structure that housed a vast amphitheater that was unmistakably set up like a classroom. Packed to capacity, its seats were filled with the most grotesque and vile creatures imaginable.

“Here you are,” Phil gestured in the direction of the amphitheater and was about to fly off.

“Wait! Wait!” Modestine caught his forearm and pulled him down to eye level. “Where do I sit?”

“At the podium, where else?” Even in Heaven, the duh-look carried a sting.

“What? Why?”

“Don’t tell me no one let you know?” Phil looked at the class with his best can you believe some people look. “You’re a teacher, right? Or were, before, you know…”

Modestine nodded, “Underprivileged kids. Twelve years.”

“Well…” Phil swept his arm in the direction of the class as if to answer.

“Oh, no…no way. I’m not qualified for this. I barely know what I’m doing here.”

“The information will present itself as you need it. Heaven’s cool that way.”

“But, this class…” Modestine whispered. “Not to be rude but what are they?”

“Our version of underprivileged students. They’re bussed in every day.”

“From Hell?”

“We tend not to use that term in front of the students. We call it The Basement.” Phil checked the invisible watch on his bare wrist. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta run. Too many new recruits and not enough ushers. You’ll be great. I’ve got a feeling about you.” he smiled and shot into the sky, leaving Modestine’s jaw swinging on its hinges.

The once and now future teacher straightened out her ethereal robe, cleared her throat, turned, and faced the class. “Pleased to meet you, class. My name is Modestine. Welcome to Introduction to Heaven.” The name she took off the lesson booklet on the podium. The completely blank lesson booklet. Beside it was the roster. “Hopefully you’re all in your assigned seats because it’s the only way I’m going to learn your names with a class this size.”

Modestine went through the attendance sheet and called her students one by one, each responding with a grunt or bodily noise that she assumed translated as “Present!” When she completed her check, surprisingly every student sat quietly or whispered inaudibly to their neighbor.

“Well, class, as some of you might have figured out, I’m new here, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions. My goal is to teach you everything about heaven, which means I’ll be learning it as you do, and if I don’t know an answer to your question, I’ll do my best to find out as quickly as possible. Today, though, I’m going to outline my expectations of you, and how you’ll be graded.”

The time passed swifter than Modestine had anticipated. Quite frankly she was surprised to be aware of the passing of time at all. For the most part, her students were orderly. A few class clowns, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She’d straighten them out before the course was over.

The entire class watched her closely, she never felt so scrutinized before, and a good deal of the period was spent answering questions about Earth. It wasn’t long before she realized these students were born in Hell, and Earth was like some mythical place to them. When the earth questions began dying down, she introduced several ice-breaking games before the class broke for recess.

As the class filed out of the amphitheater, some by flight, a few in a puff of eye-watering brimstone, and the rest on cloven feet, one student hung back.

“Miss Modestine,” the young demon said when all the others had left.

“Just Modestine, and yes?” she searched the attendance sheet for the section he came from, hoping one of the names would jog her memory.

The demon shook his head. “You won’t find me on your list. I’m not one of your students.”

“You’re not? Then who…?”

“Many names have I, from those who live and those who die, but for you, I wish to be known as Mister Thatch.”

Modestine frowned, looking down at this creature who straighten itself in an odd regality. “All right, Mr. Thatch, what is it you want?”

Thatch pulled a file folder from seemingly nowhere and opened it. “Interesting session today. I’m assuming you taught the class off the cuff, as I am unable to identify any of what was discussed in the pre-approved syllabus, correct?”

“As I stated at the beginning of class, this assignment was thrust upon me at the last moment, so if you have any objections…”

“No, please, you mistake my meaning. I’m not here to condemn you, I was simply assessing your performance. It’s what I was hired to do.”

“By whom?”

“Your superiors would call them Basement Management.”

“And do my superiors know you’re here?”

“They should. It would make for a shoddy operation if they didn’t. Now, as to my assessment,” he pulled a document from his folder, stapled in the top left-hand corner. “Here is an offer from my employers for you to teach your course to a larger audience of underprivileged students. Please study it carefully and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Please be aware that agreement to the terms as stipulated in the contract will require you to abandon your post here. Out of curiosity, are you willing to relocate?”

Modestine stared dumbstruck at the professionally worded document in her hands. An immediate and instant “No” rested on the tip of her tongue but never quite made it past her lips, because, in her quick scan, she found a list of perks that tickled each and every one of her many interests, as any temptation worth its salt should have done.

“I’ll need to read this more closely, Mr. Thatch, before I can respond, of course.”

“Of course. I think you’ll find the compensation quite reasonable. If you have questions, you may summon me at any time. We have high expectations and we’re positive you can fulfill them, Miss Modestine.”

“Just Modestine, and why me?”

“You’re new and, as yet, unjaded by the caste system. We look forward to working with you,” Thatch held out a hand, which Modestine took. It was remarkably soft, despite its texture. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Modestine watched as the demon simply evaporated from the room. She looked at the contract. Am I willing to relocate? she asked herself as she walked over to her desk, sat, and read the agreement more thoroughly.

Again, she found it difficult to verbalize the word No. Chiefly because she loved working with underprivileged students and they didn’t come more disadvantaged than the denizens of The Basement. The second reason was she’d always preferred warmer climates and there was an odd constant chill to the air in Heaven.

Wanna Succeed as a Writer? Buddy Up to Failure, it’s the Best Friendship You’ll Ever Make


Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. — Theodore Roosevelt

The act of screwing it up, getting it all wrong and falling flat on your literary face is the worst, most evil thing that can be thrust upon the fragile ego of a creative person. No writer ever wants to be standing hip-deep in a congealing bucket of epically proportioned failure. Not only does it cling to you, branding you with the scarlet letter of incompetence, but the fumes from it seep into your pores and attack your confidence, enthusiasm, and self-esteem.

And even worse than failing? Atychiphobia:

From the Greek phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear” and atyches meaning “unfortunate” atychiphobia is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure, often leading to a constricted lifestyle, and is particularly devastating for its effects on a person’s willingness to attempt certain activities.

But “fear of” is getting kicked to the curb in this post because—if you haven’t guessed from the title—I’m actually advocating for failure, which in my insolent opinion, gets a bad rap.

When you first begin to write for an audience, or writing in a genre that’s new to you, or in a different format, etc., your first attempts will most likely not be optimal. No two ways about it, no getting around it. Why? Because your life isn’t a movie, wunderkind wasn’t conveniently inserted into your backstory, and greatness isn’t DNA-encodable at this point in time, it still has to be strived for.

You. Will. Fail.

Fail to connect with your audience. Fail to notice logic issues in your plot easily spotted by a reader. Fail to end a story properly (if you even complete it at all). Fail in your use of words to convey the intended images. Fail to make a sale. Fail to impress your literary heroes. Fail to please everyone (always), the majority (on occasion), and anyone (trust me, it happens).

The only surefire way to avoid writing failure is to either never commit your ideas to paper—let them swirl around in the magical kingdom of your imagination, living their Peter Pan existence, as you vegetate in front of the TV—or never put your writing out into the world. If either of these sounds like a viable solution, good on you, and go for it. I’m not here to judge.

If, however, you’re not satisfied with letting ideas fester in your gray matter as you wait for the opportunity to unleash your genius in that perfect moment that never ever seems to swing around your way, you’ll need to look disappointment square in the eye and accept the fact that the outcome of your writing endeavors will not always line up with your expectations.

And though I’m not here to judge, should you actually consider never committing your ideas to paper, one possible adverse effect is that idea can metamorphosize into a bloated squatter that takes up an unnecessary amount of mind space, thereby blocking the arrival of new ideas. If it were me, I’d serve it an eviction notice and make way for a new tenant. But that’s just me. Still no judgments.

Once you’ve wrapped your noggin around the simple truth that you will fail and have given up feeling hopeless, weak, and belittling both yourself and your talents, you’re finally ready to accept the fact that failure plays a very important, incredibly positive role in your writing life. In fact, it offers you a chance to grow and learn.

The first step in learning how failure breeds success is to let yourself fail a few times. Experience it in it’s totality. When you discover that it does not, in fact, destroy you, feel free to brush yourself off and climb back on the horse. All successful writers have experienced failure (and a great deal of the time the success/fail ratio favors the negative) but what made them successful is they weren’t afraid to fail and if they did, they just learned from their mistakes and moved on.  They didn’t allow themselves to be defeated by rejection, hurt, or disappointment.

There will be those of you who poo-poo (yeah, I said poo-poo, deal with it) the notion of getting accustomed to failure because you personally know someone whose first-ever novel made the bestsellers list, whose first draft screenplay became a Hollywood blockbuster, whose tweets became a TV series, blah-blah-blech. There’s a professional name for that phenomenon. It’s called a miracle. Right place, right time, all the planets fall into alignment. This is great when/if it happens, but you shouldn’t factor it into your overall game plan. It’s akin to being dirt poor and signing the deed on a mansion just because you’re sure you’re gonna win the lottery.

Well, writing calls, so I must be off—I’m sure I’ll speak more on this topic in the future—but before I go, let me leave you with a list to help you on your way to palling up with failure:

  1. Read.
  2. Write.
  3. Fail.
  4. Learn.
  5. Repeat.

It’s as simple, and as difficult, as that.

Sally forth and be failingly writeful, you intrepid writer, you.

Dreams of Gingerbread Part 3: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Dream-reality confusion. That was my entire life right now.

It’s a borderline personality disorder in which a person has difficulty determining whether events were occurring during the waking state or as part of a dream. I learned about it from my psych professor, or a Ted Talk, or maybe even a YouTuber. Who the hell could even tell at this point?

They say it’s a thin line between sanity and insanity but you never know how infinitesimal that line is until you’re precariously balanced on it. The scary bit? Whenever Shelly, whom I trusted most in the world, tried to contradict the reality I knew was absolutely stark raving looney tunes, my natural instinct kicked in to defend it tooth and nail.

“It was a Ted Talk,” Shelly said. She was currently combing through the bookcase behind the plush reading chair in my living room.


“Dream-reality confusion, it was a Ted Talk. We watched it together.”

I whipped my head around and caught her eye. “Y-you can hear my thoughts?”

“Sweetie, you’re standing in the middle of the room narrating to yourself like a detective out of a pulp novel. You’ve been doing it the entire time.”

“Oh my God, Shell, how embarrassing! Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

Shelly shrugged. “You’re going through a lot right now and I figured that addressing an invisible audience was just you coming to grips with everything. Besides, you talking to yourself is by far the least crazy thing I’ve experienced today.”

“Okay, I’ll try to be more mindful about my narration,” I said, trying to play it off as a joke and hide how freaked out I really was. Then I wondered if I just said that aloud as well?

“You did.”

“Damn. Let’s change the subject. What the hell are you looking for?”

“It has to be in here somewhere,” Shelly said.

“What has?”

“No offense but your creepy-ass Barbie Dreamhouse is set up like one of the model houses on the Nevada nuclear test site, filled with everything to replicate a real home…”

“This is a real home,” my natural instinct said. “My home.”

“So, where are the photo albums? They’re not on any of the shelves…wait a minute, I’m thinking about this all wrong. Pristine house…protecting your special memories while maximizing shelf space…” Shelly’s face lit up like a 150-watt lightbulb and she snapped her fingers.

Moving over to the ottoman, she flipped up the cushion to reveal the storage space inside…chock-a-block with photo albums.

“Ta-da!” she said. “Check out the big brain on this chick!”

“You missed your calling, you should have been a detective.”

“Still could be. I’m not the one who went and got herself knocked up and hitched overnight,” Shelly said and before I could process the comment, instant regret hit her expression like a thunderbolt. “I…am…so…sorry, Ginge. I don’t know where that came from, honest. Brain concentrating on unraveling this mystery, tongue on automatic…I-I can’t apologize enough.”

“Forget it, I’m not bothered,” I said, which we both knew was a big fat lie. “So, why are the photo albums important?”

Shelly scooped up the albums and made her way over to the sofa. “Pull up the coffee table. I want to test a theory.”

Spreading the books along the length of the tabletop, Shelly flipped through and gave each one a cursory glance.

“All the albums look like they’re yours,” she said. “I can’t spot your mysterious husband or baby in any of them.”

“Well, the baby’s a newborn, so maybe there wasn’t time to fill an album just yet?”

“Point taken,” Shelly nodded. “But that still doesn’t explain photo absentee hubby.”

She picked up the oldest looking album and we went through it carefully this time, page by page. It was filled with photos of the two of us, Shelly and me as kids in happier times.

“Do these photos look odd to you?” she asked.

“No, I remember all these moments vividly,” I smiled.

“That’s what I’m getting at, Ginge. Who took these pictures? I don’t remember our friends or either of our parents around with a camera during most of these events.”

She was right, we were by ourselves most of the time, off getting into trouble, trespassing in places we shouldn’t have been, doing things that would have gotten us both sent to juvie, or worse, tongue lashings, belt whippings, and eternal punishments.

And it wasn’t just that one album. Going through the rest of them, the pictures focused on the two of us and our relationship during the various stages of our childhood and teen years. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that we were close, but these photos, some of the them Polaroids, let me see that our relationship was closer than I realized. Shelly was as much a part of my life as my own family. Hell, she was my family.

“Call me crazy, but I don’t think these are photos, sweetie,” Shelly said.


“I think someone or something has filled these books with snapshots of your memories.”

I wasn’t prepared to deal with the concept of something, so I asked, “But why?”

“To, I don’t know, lull you into a false sense of security, maybe?”

There was only one set of photos left to be explored, the wedding album. Shelly saved the best for last.

The instant she opened the book, I stabbed at a photo with my finger. “You were there!” And she was, looking absolutely miserable in a shiny and puffy aquamarine bridesmaid dress.

“I have absolutely no memory of this,” she said. “And you should thank your lucky stars because putting me in that dress deserves an ass-beating.”

“You look fine, stop it. Is it weird that I’m happy you were at my wedding that neither of us can remember?”

“Well, in order to keep the illusion going I guess it would make sense for your best friend to be there,” Shelly paused and cut me a look. “I am still your best friend, aren’t I?”

“Shut up! You are so annoying!”

“Just had to check that you didn’t whip up a more perfecter friend, which, let’s face it would be impossible.”

“Can we just get back to my wedding, please? I want to see who all was there.”

In going through the pages, carefully inspecting each picture, Shelly brought up an interesting fact, yet another thing that escaped my notice: “Who didn’t you invite to your wedding?”

It seemed like everybody I had ever known was in attendance, grade school teachers, childhood friends, some weirdly still the same age as when I last saw them, everyone except my husband.

“Who paid for all this and all these people? It must have cost an arm and a leg,” I wondered.

“Money’s no object in a fantasy,” Shelly said and I had to bite back a potential argument.

And then we came across the photo that set matters straight, at least for me. Just like the other albums, the wedding pictures featured myself and Shelly prominently but in the background of one of the photos was Eric Petty standing next to what could only have been described as an anime cartoon representation of a woman.

“That creepy bastard brought his waifu?” Shelly said, picking up her jaw off the floor. “Okay, can we officially call this mess off the rails at this point?”

“Maybe it’s a hologram?”

“Hologram? Come on, Ginge, this is Eric we’re talking about, here. His broke ass couldn’t even afford a telegram. But we’ll circle back to him in a moment…because I just noticed something else. Who haven’t we seen yet?”

“I’m done with the guessing games. Why don’t you just tell me.”

“Your roommates, Mina, Paul, Nancy, and chipmunk-face.”

“Chip! His name is Chip!”

“Such an on-the-nose name, I don’t know why it doesn’t stick.”

“But, you’re right, they’re not in any of the photos.”

“Why wouldn’t you invite them? You invited everybody else, even Tommy Preston. Look, there he is in the background hands still protecting his groin.”

“It was a knee-jerk reaction.”

“Yeah, your knee jerked into his balls.”

“He tried to kiss me after I told him I wasn’t interested in him like that.”

“I’m not saying he didn’t get what he deserved—”

The sound of keys in the front door cut Shelly’s sentence short.

“Honey, we’re home! Are you in?” asked an oddly familiar voice.

“We’re in the living room,” I answered.

Shelly collected all the albums and scurried to put them back into the ottoman storage area.

My husband stepped into the room and cradled in his arms was our little bundle of joy. His expression slightly surprised and amused, he said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you had company. Hi, Shelly.”

Shelly took one look at him, her mouth opened slowly and she unleashed a high-pitched scream utterly shot through with terror and hysteria and pure madness. Her legs buckled and she collapsed to the floor, scrambling backward on her hands and feet to the far side of the room, only stopping when she hit the wall.

And the room turned to chaos. Her screams woke the baby who was now also screaming—a horrible, wet cry—which prompted my husband to shout at Shelly to shut up…and my head started pounding so hard it felt like my brain was about to burst, so I rushed over and knelt beside Shelly and now I was shaking her violently by the shoulders begging her to tell me what was wrong. And then…

The screaming stopped just as quickly as it began, from my best friend, my child, and my husband.

Shelly stared at me, wide eyes filled with terror, her normally beautiful face contorted into a hideously grotesque mask, and said, “Can’t you see it? Please God tell me you can see it! Look at his face, Ginge! Look at his goddamned face!”

Sometimes there are things in your life, glaringly obvious things, that you cannot for the life of you see until someone points it out to you. This was more than that. Someone or something was messing with my perception, because when I turned and looked at my husband, I mean really looked, I saw the reason why his face always appeared blurry or smudged in photographs.

His features were in a constant state of flux, but not smooth like the morphing techniques seen in movies. His physiognomy was continuously being torn apart and absorbed back into the skin in order to make way for the next face to emerge and the cycle repeated on an endless skin-rending loop. Eyes, nose and mouth ever-shifting between the distinct likenesses of Mina, Paul, Nancy, and yes, even Chip.

At least one mystery, that of my missing roommates, had been solved today.

Now it was my turn to scream as the reality of the situation dug its way into my mind and peeled back my sanity layer by layer until my equilibrium abandoned me and I descended into unconsciousness.

Not The End.

A Message to My Younger Self: Try Harder


In an earlier post, I made mention of my Story Box Full of Regret that contained all the stories that had never been completed. My goal is to finish them all before I shuffle off this mortal coil, so every now and then I dip into the box and reread some of my earlier works. Most times I cringe at the contents, but on the rare occasion, I marvel at the workings of my younger mind. I only mention this because I came across a story written—judging by the handwriting and the browning pages of the composition notebook—in my late teen years. It was an H.G. Welles The Time Machine rip-off (*ahem* I mean homage) about a brilliant young man who somehow managed to make a jacket out of time, hence the story’s title, The Very Fabric of Time Itself.

Sometimes I record myself reading these stories and listen to them during my routine morning strolls and one passage stuck with me:

I have no doubt that my story will end in very much the same manner as it began, with a secret. And as I stand at the crossroads, caught at the precise moment where a lifetime of secrets left untold should either be revealed or die forever, I stare at the younger man, eyes full of dreams that have not yet been crushed ‘neath the heel of reality, and find it difficult to believe that I was once him.

As I let the weight of this passage settle in, I began wondering about sending a message to my younger self and how difficult a process it would be to write. The younger me, we’ll call him Li’l Madd for the sake of this post, was a card-carrying member of The Bronx Chapter of the International Skeptics Society who wouldn’t have believed:

  1. The letter came from the future, and more importantly,
  2. That his future self had written it.

Also, I’m sure if I flat out told him of the obstacles he would face, that information would be redacted by some faceless wage slave at the Temporal Post Office, so the message would have to be as succinct as possible. I’d have to offer Li’l Madd one simple, yet key, piece of advice.

The next problem was offering the exact piece of advice Li’l Madd would listen to. That’s a toughie, that one. Yup. Yessiree, Bob. Sigh. I guess it would all have to fall under the category of Try Harder, as in:

Love fiercely and try harder not to break hearts. Befriend the friendless and try harder not to burn bridges. Laugh more and try harder not to take life too seriously. Follow your bliss and try harder to stave off the darkness. Turn off the TV and try harder to think deeply. Take your time but try harder to avoid procrastination. Dream bigger and try harder to stop worrying about dreams not coming true. And stay away from Jane Hester. Sure, she’s pretty to look at but she’s nothing but trouble and It. Will. Not. End. Well.

I’m sure that last bit will get redacted, but here’s hoping!

Author’s Note: While Jane Hester most certainly exists, Jane Hester’s name is not Jane Hester. I wouldn’t out anyone like that, not even Jane Hester. But if you ran into Jane Hester in the real world, you’d know exactly who she was, without even checking her scalp for the Mark of the Beast.

Love’s Love Lost – A Valentine’s Day Tale (sort of)

Once upon a time, in New York’s gloomy and perpetually rainy Alphabet City, there was born a girl who was said to be the living embodiment of love.

From the doctor’s first slap, the girl giggled instead of crying and flushed the neighborhood of all its gray. Her smile was a bottomless thing, its roots branching up from her soul, and it beamed so brightly as to cause blindness if it caught you unawares. Her large jade eyes radiated an innocence so pure it momentarily took your breath away. Given her birthright, she was destined to have but one mate throughout her lifetime, and that person would live a charmed life ever after.

Or so the story went.

While an urban legend to most, Cadogan believed the girl existed and based on the age of the story’s telling, surely had to be an adult now. He also was convinced it was his mission to locate the girl and put an end to love, once and for all.

Cadogan worked fingers to the bone for years and all the wealth he amassed selling off his various successful startup companies was spent on all the matchmakers who claimed to have an in with the living embodiment of love. Most were scammers, of course, the rest were simply delusional and bestowed the honor upon the wrong women. Only one woman was genuine. She knew the embodiment’s true identity and so deep was her jealousy that she gladly agreed to arrange a match if it meant obliterating the anomaly from the face of the planet.

When Cadogan met the matchmaker in a single occupancy room off Delancey Street, he thought of all the people he had ever encountered, this woman was the flipside of the living embodiment of love’s coin. Emaciated with a rat’s nest for hair, her features were packed together tightly as if God had pinched her face when she was born and left it to set that way.

“Your fee’s been paid in full, so why haven’t you set up the introduction?” Cadogan asked.

“You’re not ready.” the matchmaker spat the words like a cawing crow. “As long as you wear your true intentions like armor, she’ll dismiss you outright.”

“If I pretend, she’ll spot the ruse instantly. I’m sure she’s developed the ability to detect friendly facades. I’ll approach her as a man scorned, which is the truth, and win her over from there.”

“Interesting. And how do you mean to kill her?”

“Those were not my words. I mean to put an end to love.”

“The difference being?”

“I intend to woo her, make her love me, and when she’s at her happiest moment, I’ll argue with her, break her heart with harsh words and hurtful actions. And I will not let her leave, and I will not stop, not until the shine dulls in her eyes and the smile becomes a rootless tree, and even then I will continue until she withdraws, from our relationship, from her happiness, from the world.”

“That will take years if it ever happens at all.”

“It will. I’m a patient and persistent man,” Cadogan said.

“But I doubt you’re strong enough.”

“Then refund my money and I’ll find her on my own.”

The matchmaker leaned in closer and eyed Cadogan head to toe. His nose was full of her scent, decaying food left to stew in its own rancid juices.

“A deal is a deal,” she said. “So we’re clear, when I make the introduction, my part will be done. Should you fail in your attempts, the fee won’t be returned, understood?”

Cadogan nodded and she led the way out of the Delancey room. Under the cloak of night, they dipped down into a subway station marked, Closed For Restoration. Past the turnstile and empty platform onto the train tracks. Cadogan masked his apprehension as he gave the third rail a wide berth and occasionally peered over his shoulder at the sound of distant train rumblings.

Between stations, they encountered a society of people, homeless and long abandoned by the surface society, who barred their path. Cadogan thought he would have to fight his way through, but the matchmaker had things well in hand. She mumbled something to the leader, a password perhaps, and pulled a tin of potted meat from her handbag and placed it in the man’s bony hand. When he stepped aside, the pair carefully waded through a field of displaced people’s bedding and cooking stations until they finally reached the service passageway that led to a room not much larger than the one the matchmaker used as an office.

In the room were two chairs that faced each other. The matchmaker sat in one and gestured for Cadogan to sit opposite her.

“If this is some sort of trick…”

The matchmaker waived off the comment before it could become a threat. “She will be here, I promise.”

“Why here?” Cadogan asked.

“There’s an interesting story behind that,” the matchmaker said, clearing her throat as she spat a gob of phlegm to the side. “It seems the gift of unconditional love that Everleigh was born withthat’s the name of the woman you seek, Everleigh—the gift that flowed freely from her, the gift that touched everyone within her sphere of influence and filled them with ecstasy, proved too much for most people to bear.”

“Are you telling me people fell too much in love?” Cadogan asked.

“To the point of delirium. It drove them mad. Imagine the feeling when you have loved someone or something in your life, more than anything else in the world, loved it so much that it hurt. Now multiply that by ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, even. Never any hatred, or indifference, only a love for everything that increases exponentially the longer you remain in Everleigh’s presence.”

“I never considered that.”

“Most people don’t.”

“So what happened?” Cadogan leaned forward in his seat.

“Nothing like a good story, eh?” The corners of the matchmaker’s mouth curled slightly. “Everleigh’s parents, immune to her gift, fearing for their daughter’s safety as well as their own, moved in the small of the night to parts unknown, somewhere far removed from society at large, and remained in seclusion.”

The matchmaker stopped talking. Cadogan waited, thinking she paused for dramatic effect, but after nearly ten minutes of silence, asked, “Is that it?”

“All the true bits. The rest is apocrypha. I figured that wouldn’t interest you.”

Cadogan shrugged, his disinterest unconvincing, “Since we’re here…”

“Well, the way I heard it, the family managed to get along fine. True, they were isolated but they were also together and safe and Everleigh’s constant state of happiness helped the situation be less stressful. Their lives remained uneventful…until the day their daughter reached puberty.

“On the fourteenth day of the second month of her eleventh year, Everleigh began growing distant, her once innocent eyes darkened and the luster faded from her smile. The gift once thought to be good was slowly transforming from its former sham and ruse into the corrupt curse it truly was.”

Cadogan’s brow knotted. “So she’s not actually a child of love?”

“Why would you think that? Everleigh is the physical embodiment of love. At birth, she was the love that was new and innocent and when she entered womanhood, she became the other side of love, the dark side none of us admit to feeling or acting upon.”

“Well, whichever side she represents, when I make her mine, I will cause it to wilt away to nothingness.”

“Do you have an alternate plan?”

“A what?”

“Should she find out what you are attempting, is there a fallback?”

“The only way she would find out is if you tell her…”

“Oh, I won’t have to tell her anything…you already have.”

It took Cadogan a few moments to piece together her meaning. “You’re…?”

The matchmaker spread her arms wide. “The genuine article.”

“But you’re…”

“A hag? Not at all what you expected? It’s the only bit the urban legend got wrong. I was born an ugly child, but people viewed me through the eyes of unconditional love, so my looks didn’t matter.”

“You tricked me!”

“How? Hello, Cadogan, I am Everleigh, pleased to meet you. Consider yourself introduced. Now, live up to your word,” Everleigh said as she moved from her chair and sat on Cadogan’s lap. “Woo me and put an end to love. I dare you.”

Cadogan wanted to push her off…but perhaps he hadn’t really wanted that at all. Up close, Everleigh wasn’t that horrible to look at. Her mottled skin was actually clear and smooth. Her nose once bent and crooked, appeared aquiline now. Her lips, full and delicious. Her build, athletic.

“Something the matter?” Everleigh asked.

Cadogan’s heart beat in his throat. “What are you doing to me?”

“Giving you a taste. I can control the power now. Love, hate, passion, jealousy…to greater and lesser degrees.”

Cadogan tried to scowl but his face wouldn’t cooperate. “What are you going to do to me?”

“Offer you the opportunity to become my mate,” said Everleigh. She climbed off his lap and drew her power back into herself, allowing Cadogan to see her in her true form again. “If legend is to be believed, a charmed life awaits you.”

“And if I decline?”

“Then you join the loveless,” Everleigh gestured toward the door.

“You mean the people we passed…?”

“Men and women, not much different than yourself, unable to deal with heartbreak or rejection. Selfish people who, being denied love, sought to prevent others from experiencing it.”

“But why do they remain here living like rats in a sewer?” Cadogan asked.

“They were unable to fulfill their supposed heart’s desire of removing my influence from the world and refused my offer of companionship. Once you turn your back on love, what else is there?” Everleigh drained the dark room entirely of love and let him ponder the notion as he sank deep into loneliness and wallowed in abandon and despair.

After an eternity of brooding silence, Cadogan spoke up, “I…accept your offer. I will become your mate.”

“And will you woo me, make me love you, and when I am at my happiest, will you break my heart and make me withdraw from the world?”

“That I will indeed, even if it takes the rest of my life.”

“Challenge accepted,” Everleigh shook the man’s hand firmly.

The contract sealed, Cadogan put his plan into effect by telling the living embodiment of love his story. Of the woman he loved, that he did nothing to deserve but was blessed with nonetheless. Of their happiness together. Of the sharp knife of cruel fate that cut their time short. Of the anguish that swallowed him whole the instant her body was committed to the ground.

And when his tale was through, Cadogan pulled her into his embrace and kissed her with every ounce of his intent, and Everleigh was forced to admit she felt a slight tingle. They battled for years in this game of hearts, each giving as good as they got, and if he actually succeeded in putting an end to her, it was with kindness. Despite the competition that continued to their dying days, the couple wound up living happily ever after.

Oh, and they had one child, who was said to be the living embodiment of peace…but that’s a story for another day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

You’re Where You Are Because of Who You Are (but that ain’t necessarily a bad thing)

Recently, a blog post caught my eye in which a writer was coming to terms with her station and progressor lack thereofin life, and not a day later two different writers contacted me (one via DM and the other email) expressing similar concerns.

It doesn’t take knowing me long to suss out that I’m not a believer in a great many things. I’m also not the most observant person when it comes to spotting signs, but Life isn’t exactly subtle when it gives you the old elbow to the ribs and suggests you write about a particular topic.

So, this post is dedicated to the older crowdage being relative, of coursewho aren’t quite sure they’re meant to be a writer, despite the deep-down sense that urges them to touch pen to page. Doubt is a bastard of a beast that silently creeps in and builds its nest in your confidence and only rears its ugly head when you look at your writing and whispers, “You aren’t where you should be for someone your age. Maybe you’re just not good at it because a great writerhell, even a competent onewould be further along by now, don’t you think?

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Writing doesn’t come with a sell-by date and it doesn’t give a damn how long in the tooth you are. Don’t believe me? Do your research. In your info gathering, you’ll no doubt discover that Laura Ingalls Wilder was 60 when she first published her “Little House” series, Raymond Chandler sold his first pulp crime short story at 45, Richard Adams was 50 when “Watership Down” went to press, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, the question I put to you is, if they can do it, why can’t you as well?

The mere fact that you’re questioning yourself and your abilities probably means you’re meant to be a writer. And who knows, maybe the words you write will help change the world in some small way or impact the lives of your audience. And even if that isn’t the case, should you feel that something is missing and recognize that the world, in spite of its diversity and splendor, simply is not enough and that your dreams are so much bigger than the reality that surrounds you…why not write about it?

If the yearning is gnawing at your sanity, the onus is on you to hang your self-doubt on the coat rack (don’t worry, you can pick it up on your way out), stuff your excuses in an old cigar box, give perfectionism the night off, mine your soul for inspiration and when you hit a gold vein, start writing. And embrace what comes out. If it’s messy, let it be messy, chaotic, or terrifying, just turn the editor off and keep moving forward. You’ll have plenty of time to edit your piece after you’ve finished writing it.

One last thing before I sign off, whenever I got myself into trouble and grounded as a kid (which happened a lot but don’t judge me…sometimes you have to do a little wrong to know what’s right), my mother used to say, “You’re where you are, because of who you are” and maybe that applies to you when it comes to writing. Perhaps you’re meant to be the age you are at this very moment, filled with your own unique life experiences, to start writing that project that’s been pestering you for so long.

So, push the ages of the recent crop of bestselling authors out of your mind and follow your calling. Comparing the fruits of their labor to your current lack of same is ridiculous (and frankly, their success is none of your goddamned business). All you can do is your best, so get to writing, will ya?

I wish you nothing but the very best of luck in completing your piece (and enjoy the process while you’re at it).

This has been a public service announcement from The Old Geezer’s Unasked For Nickel’s Worth of Free Advise Dispensing Committee.

Dreams of Gingerbread Part 2: Stand In The Place Where You Live

All I can say is God bless Shelly.

There I was standing in the middle of the street. My blouse sopping with milk, arms draped across my engorged breast and I was on the verge of tears in embarrassment. Without missing a beat, Shelly whipped off her windbreaker.

“Shell, no,” I said. “I don’t want to ruin your nice jacket.”

“Oh, hush up,” she waved me off as she slid my arms into the sleeves and zipped the jacket up. “It’s washable. Besides, what kind of person would let their best friend walk around covering their breasts like they were doing the Scarlet Letter walk of shame?”

“Um, wasn’t the Scarlet Letter about adultery?”

“Gimme a break here, you know what I meant. This is a lot to process at one time and my brain’s running on automatic.”

“Imagine how I feel.”

“And stop looking so embarrassed, will you? This is totally natural for the mother of a newborn. Your baby is a newborn, isn’t it?”

I hesitated before answering, “I think so,” because I honestly had no idea.

“All right, we’ll save all the hard questions for later. The first order of business is to get you home so you can change,” Shelly said as she whipped out her phone and ordered a Lyft. “And you can show me this nameless baby of yours while we’re there.”

“My baby has a name,” I said defensively. “I just can’t remember it at the moment.”

“That was crappy of me. I’m sorry, Gingerbread.”

The car ride home was mercifully quick. Shelly was going on about something that I really wasn’t paying attention to because my breasts wouldn’t stop leaking and they hurt so much and the tacky feel of my blouse matted to my skin made me incredibly uncomfortable.

When we arrived at my address, Shelly stepped out of the car and stopped dead in her tracks.

“What’s the matter, Shell?”

“What the hell is this?” she said, staring past me, shell-shocked.

“Um, where I live?”

“No, it isn’t.”

“1561 Warburton Drive? Pretty sure I live here.”

“I don’t have a problem with the address, my problem is that it’s a brownstone.”

“You hate brownstones all of a sudden?”

“Yeah, especially when it’s supposed to be an apartment building.”

“A what?”

“Sweetie, you can’t afford to live in a brownstone, hell, you couldn’t afford it when it was an apartment complex. Do you not remember the argument we had when you first told me you were moving out of your parent’s house? I wanted you to share a place with me, 1) because how awesome would that be living with your bestie, and 2) it’s walking distance from college. But you wanted to live here in the hub of this faux bohemian artsy-fartsy mecca, with its posh bistros and designer boutiques…”

“Look, can we not do this right now? My breasts are killing me…”

“Ginge, you don’t live here! You share an overpriced converted one-bedroom flat with the weirdest group of people put on God’s green earth, Mina, Paul, Nancy, and the one who looks like a chipmunk, what’s his name…?”


“Chip, of course, how could I forget that? So, what I don’t understand is how can you remember not having an insta-family before this morning but not recall living with the Fratastic Four?”

“Of course, I remember them, but that was at the other place, before I moved here.”

“What other place? It was this place, only not in that building.”

“Shell, I really need to get inside. If I don’t nurse or pump I’m literally going to burst!”

“Yeah, okay, you know what, open that door. It’s your house, so you should have keys for it, right?”

I fished the keys out of my handbag and dangled them in her face. “Right here.”

“Great. Prove me wrong.” Shelly said, gesturing at the front door.

The key slotted in roughly and offered resistance when I attempted to turn it in the lock. Although Shelly said nothing, I felt her smugness pressing down on me. I gave the key a jiggle but it wouldn’t move. I jiggled harder and harder to the point of becoming frantic and just as I was about to admit defeat…the key turned and I felt the lock tumble. The house alarm system began beeping when I opened the door and without thinking about it, I stepped to the alarm panel and punched in a four-digit code to disable the house alarm. Four numbers that had no significance to me. My husband must have set the code.

I wanted to turn to Shelly and gloat but instead raced upstairs to the nursery. It was empty. I should have checked the rest of the house but instead, I went to the bathroom, ripping off the soiled windbreaker, soaked blouse, and saturated bra, and milked myself over the sink.

Eventually, Shelly entered the bathroom. I wasn’t embarrassed being topless in front of her, she had seen me naked before, we used to change in front of each other all the time, but even if she hadn’t, at the moment, I couldn’t have cared less. The entirety of my focus was on the relief from the pressure I was feeling.

“I had a little rummage around, I hope you don’t mind,” she said, showing off the fresh bra and blouse, as well as a brand new and unopened breast pump box and bra pads in her arms. “You’re going to have to get used to carrying these around with you as well as a spare t-shirt, just in case.”

Shelly helped me assemble the pump and read the instructions out loud.

“Shell, this might be a weird question but should I be concerned that my milk is thick and yellowish?” I asked as I took a seat on the toilet lid, positioned the breast shield over my right nipple, and started pumping at a slow speed.

Shelly was on her phone with a quickness, scouring the internet. “Is this the first time your breasts have leaked?”

“I think so.” I hated not having solid answers to the most basic of questions.

“Then it’s most likely colostrum, a sort of practice milk for newborns. Supposedly it’s more salty than sweet, but full of antibodies and protein to coat the baby’s stomach and intestines with antibodies. Your milk will eventually turn white, sweet, and sloshy after a couple of days when sugar enters it and pulls water into it.”

“I—I can’t thank you enough.”

“Stop it, it’s what we do for each other, right?” Shelly smiled for an instant before turning serious. “Since you seem more relaxed now, mind if I ask you a few questions? I just need to wrap my head around a few things.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Who do you live here with?”

“My husband and baby, of course.”

“And where are they right now? Because the house is empty.”

“He must have taken the baby out for a stroll.”

“And you still can’t remember your husband’s name?”

“I—it’s right there on the tip of my tongue.”

“That’s a no, then. What about your baby’s name?”

“I know it, I mean of course I know it, but I just can’t recall it at the moment.”

“Okay, is it a boy or a girl?”

“It’s a…” I paused. “I don’t know.”

“But you’re sure it’s yours?”


 “Let’s move away from your family for a second. Can you tell me what happened to your roommates?”

“I don’t know, maybe they’re still living together at the old place?”

“There is no old—” Shelly caught herself, regrouped, and continued. “Okay, how long ago did you live with them?”

“It’s been a while.”

“A while as in days? Weeks? Months? Years?”

“I don’t know, Shell! Who keeps track of stuff like that? Why are you so concerned about them?”

“Because I was in your apartment last week at this very same address when you still lived with them. Now, there’s an entire apartment building that’s completely vanished and so are all the people who lived it in. How do you expect me not to be concerned about them?”

“I’m sure they’re fine wherever they are.”

“I sure hope you’re right,” Shelly said, more to herself. “This next question might seem a little bizarre, but all things considered…”

“Just ask it.”

“Did you cornfield them?”

“Did I what?”

“Did you send them to the cornfield with some sort of latent wacky mental power that turns apartment buildings into brownstones and creates husbands and babies out of thin air? You know, like in that Twilight Zone episode with the Lost in Space kid.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this but I haven’t cornfielded anybody because it’s impossible but even if I could I wouldn’t do it because that would be cruel. When have you ever known me to hurt anyone in my life?”

“Tommy Preston, tenth grade.”

“I didn’t hurt him, he hurt himself by not taking no for an answer. How long have you kept his name locked and loaded for a moment like this?”

“I don’t know. He just popped into my head for some reason. But forget him, are you done pumping? If so, get dressed. I want to show you something.”

After giving myself a birdbath and putting on dry clothes, I followed Shelly from room to room, from the master bedroom to the nursery to the downstairs kitchen and living room, opening every closet, drawer, and cupboard. It felt slightly bizarre, her giving me a tour of my own house.

“I had a quick look around before I found you in the bathroom,” Shelly said. “Do you notice anything unusual?”

We were standing in the living room. I took a look around and answered, “No, not at all.”

“Really? Because it hit me almost instantly.”

“Can you just get to your point? It’s been a trying day and it’s not even half over yet.”

“Your house is pristine, Gingerbread. Nobody’s house is this perfect. A fully stocked home with a place for everything and everything in its place. Each room looks like a photograph copied and pasted from the Better Homes website. What it doesn’t look like is a house that’s lived in.”

I felt my defenses erecting again. “So, suddenly it’s a crime to keep a tidy house?”

“A tidy house is one thing, but this place makes Felix Unger’s spotless apartment look like Oscar Madison was the housecleaner.”

“How old are you? Do you have any references from this decade?”

“Shut up and stop acting like we don’t watch the same shows on Hulu,” Shelly said, walking over to the mantel above the bricked-in fireplace and plucking a framed photo from it. “How about this? Notice anything odd?”

Shelly placed the frame in my hands. It contained a photograph of me holding my newborn baby in a hospital bed with my husband standing beside me. An ordinary enough picture, except that the faces of my baby and husband were blurred out.

“The nurse took a bad photo, so what?” I said.

“Did that same nurse take all these as well?” Shelly gestured at all the frames on the mantel. In each one, while I appeared sharp and in focus, my husband’s face was either blurred or smudged or obscured by a thumb. “I only have one last question for you, Ginge.”

“What is it?”

“Who the hell are you married to?”

Not The End.

I Put This Moment Here


“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

I have a memory like a sieve.  My recollections of the past come to me in flashes and snippets and I have to be mindful not to fall into one of the many great blank holes when traipsing around in half-forgotten yesterdays. Part of it is the result of a built-in self-defense mechanism, tamping down the harmful events that one never quite survives intact. The rest? Just plain negligence. I am a poor caretaker of retrospection.

And for a while, I wasn’t bothered by it. Then I reached a point in life when memories—of love and pain and the whole damned thing—became important because I found myself wanting to catalog my journey before I reached the end of the race (it’s always closer than you expect and they say you never see the finish line with your name on it).

But now, when I recount the tales of the various and sundry someones who impacted my life before blowing away like a leaf in the wind, someones whose names I used to be able to recite by rote, those names have now taken up permanent residence on the tip of my tongue but never so close as to venture past my lips.

I find that in order to remember a past event, I have to place it in a location that’s visible so that I don’t misplace it along with my keys and smartphone. I have chosen this place as the soil in which to plant my evaporating memories before they’re gone forever.

I put this moment here:

Of the girl that I fancied in the first grade whose name might have been Cheryl or Shirley but for some reason, I remember it as “Squirrel,” whom I wrote about when the teacher asked the class to write about something we loved. And that selfsame teacher thinking it was so adorable that she took me to Squirrel’s class and made me read it aloud to her. You’re never too young to discover embarrassment.

I put this moment here:

Of the German woman who made me my first brown bag lunch for school that consisted of a healthy liverwurst sandwich which I enjoyed the taste of but stopped eating altogether after being teased at school by the other kids for eating dog food. It hurt her feelings and I wish I had a stronger conviction to continue eating the lunches she prepared with love.

I put this moment here:

Of the asexual woman I worked with at a car rental agency who looked like a young Peggy Lipton (an American actress most famous for the 60s tv series, “The Mod Squad” and her marriage to music producer Quincy Jones) and lived in New Jersey.

We went on our own personal pub crawl, saw a local band perform live at an indie bar (who turned out to be the Spin Doctors long before signing with a label) and wound up back at her apartment. Her place was small, spartan and very, very tidy. A place for everything and everything in its place. Except for a television or radio. She had neither. She was an avid reader and nearly every wall contained bookshelves. Nothing wrong with that…except that every book dealt with serial killers, cults, true crime unsolved murder mysteries. Again, her library, her business.

But her furniture was all covered in plastic, the floors were single sheet vinyl and the tables and countertops were resin…and my mind did the connect-the-dots-thing, teamed with my overactive writer’s imagination and I realized that no one knew I was there. We arrived at her place around 3am and her neighborhood was a ghost town, no one saw me enter her apartment, and blood could be wiped from all these surfaces easily with a little bleach and elbow grease. And given all those books, she probably knew how to make an enzyme solvent to get rid of any nasty little DNA traces of me.

Everything turned out fine, naturally, she was just a fellow insomniac looking for some company and we had an interesting conversation and broke dawn, but I did follow her into the kitchen whenever she offered to get me a drink. Just to be on the safe side.

I put this moment here:

Of the woman I worked with at a banking institution who I wound up spending a bizarre New Year’s Eve with as we searched Manhattan for the perfect place to ring in the new year and wound up buying tabs of acid off some guy on the street and tripping balls as we lay in the grass of Central Park, making insane resolutions and wishing on shooting stars (real or hallucinated) for a better year to come.

Sometimes when my mind is idle, I struggle to recall the names of people and events trapped within synaptic pathways that withered from non-use, names and events I feel I should remember because of the emotions that linger despite the fact the memories have faded and recognition has faltered.

I lament the loss of these remembrances because they’re all a part of me and I’m afraid to learn the answer to what of myself will remain when all the memories have faded away.

Gather ye memories while ye may. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.