Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, My Friends Dream and I Just Sleep by Bill Chance

“We live as we dream–alone….”
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

The attack of the garish, gaudy Evil Dream Hippies

My Friends Dream and I Just Sleep

I dream of winning the lottery and spending the rest of my life traveling the world, going to exotic locations. I will send postcards. A reliable, discrete research company supplies me with lists of names – some random, others carefully chosen as perfectly ordinary, lonely folks from forgotten towns. I go forth each day and buy local postcards full of beautiful sunsets, mountain ranges, masterpiece-filled museums, famous tourist landmarks, castles, palaces, or a tableau of local fishermen or washerwomen toiling under the tropical sun.

Sitting in the office corner of my expensive hotel suite, or possibly a table by the pool, or even an overstuffed booth in a smoky bar I write the postcards. Something carefully simple and familiar, a message that carries an implied sequence, like a bit of daily conversation between close friends.

“Hi, we ate fish with mangoes today, the sea here is like a turquoise table.”

“The skiing is rough this year, the snow thin and icy.”

“Pierre sends his love, he has been bedridden – I believe it was some bad clams.”

Then I sign the postcards with a scribble I have carefully practiced. It is obviously a name – but one of ambiguous nature. Is it Barton?, or Charles? or is it Deborah? or Denise?

The address and the salutation (Dearest Sue… Henry, old friend) are printed very carefully, though. I don’t want the card to be misdelivered; even though its recipient is someone I don’t know.

Sometimes the messages are a little more personal, something beyond, “Wish you were here.”

“I sill think of the look in your eyes the moment we parted every day of my life.”

“No beautiful sunset will replace the ache in my heart when we are apart.”

Maybe a hint of a physical relationship; a small treat for the postal workers, delivery men, or local snoops to read as the card passes by, uncovered for public knowledge.

“As I stretch out on the sun-drenched sand I can feel the warmth of your body as if still pressed against mine.”

I imagine the postcards being delivered – puzzled looks, tossing and turning, forgotten corners of memory relit and poured over, the consulting of an Atlas. My hope is that in a certain small percentage of recipients the card will root and grow – flower into a fully imagined memory… false, yes, but strong too. After all – there is the postcard; there is the evidence.

Maybe, with time, the exotic imagination will become truth, a cherished memory, a wonderful story for the Grandkids.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, The Last Sunset by Bill Chance

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Caribbean Sunset

The Last Sunset

Oscar and Matt were neighbors and had been for five years. Their wives had made friends with each other right from the start – meeting every morninh walking their dogs while their husbands were at work – but the two men hardly knew each other.

When the news came in, both wives were out of town – they had gone to Vegas for a girl’s weekend, leaving the husbands on their own. Oscar and Matt met out in the front yard, talking calmly while the world came apart around them. They could hear gunshots all around the neighborhood, cars were screaching around the corners, and so many people were simply standing in their yards screaming obscenities or nonsense wails. Neither of the two men were prone to panic or losing their minds – so they both wandered outside and said hello to each other.

“Sara said Mary talked to you,” said Oscar.

“Yeah, I called before the cell service went down. They both want to come home, but there is no way they can make it until tonight. We said goodbye as best we could.”

“Same thing here. She was losing it when the system went down. I feel awful, but can’t think of anything I can do.”

The two men looked out over their neighborhood. Columns of smoke were rising from burning homes and the volume of gunfire and screaming was increasing.

“Well, what do we do now?”

“It looks like we’d both better get the hell out of here, I don’t want to get shot in my own yard. Why don’t we head out, up to the mountains. I know a fire road out of here that won’t have anyone one it – we head up there all the time for overnight camping trips. We can take my four by.”

“That sound good. I’ve got a casserole Mary made before she left, it’s pretty good. We can get out and have something to eat.”

“I’ve got a bag of weed and a bottle of good single malt. Take your pick.”

“Shit, both. Why not?”

“Yeah. Well, I’ll bring the truck around. What else do we need?

“Nothing, nothing. What did they say… four hours left?”

“Yeah that’s about it. Let’s get going.”

Oscar brought the truck around while Matt went in to get the casserole, plates, and forks. He climbed in as Oscar drove by and looked over the whisky and weed in the console.

“You got papers?”

“There’s a little pipe and a lighter in the glove box. Go ahead and light up if you want?”

“Is that a good idea?”

“What the hell? You think anyone gives a shit?”

“Nah. Don’t know what I was thinking.”

They smoked in silence as Oscar drove through the neighborhood and then turned onto a gravel fire road that Matt had never noticed in all the years he had driven past that part of town. The road rapidly began to gain altitude, winding past the creek that tumbles down from the high country above. After only two hours of driving they turned again and powered through a mountain meadow and a rocky clearing that opened up with a view of the city below framed with the tall forest trees.

“Jesus, what a beautiful spot,” said Matt. “I never knew this was up here.”

“Nobody does,” replied Oscar. “Sara and I stumbled on this spot a few years ago, my company surveyed the new fire road and I came out and explored it. We kept it as secret as we can. It’s been a great getaway for us. Only two hours of driving and you might as well be on the moon.”

“Well, I sure as hell am glad we’re not down there any more.” Matt gestured out at the city. The sun was getting close to the horizon but the fading light illuminated huge clouds of smoke rising from the city.”

“The whole thing is burning down. Shame,” said Oscar.

“Doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“Nope. Unless they are wrong.”

“Could they be wrong?”

“Well, I guess anything is possible. But I don’t think so.”

“Now how are they sure? The radiation beam? They call it a gamma ray burst.”

“The tacheons. I read all about it online before the ‘net went down. Those are tiny particles, very hard to detect, they go through everything like nothing was there. But there are huge detectors, some down in mines, one under the ice in Antarctica, under the ice. This morning they detected this huge, mammoth tacheon pulse. Every detector, everywhere. The only explanation was an oncoming gamma-ray burst from a nearby star. A burst powerful enough to end all life on earth.”

“But how to the… tacheons? Get here before the gamma rays? Don’t those move at the speed of light?”

“Yeah, but the tacheons go out first. When the star supernovas they send out the tacheons right before, like 12 hours ahead of the gammas. That gives us… maybe and hour left.”

“Shit, how are they so sure? They could be wrong?”

“They don’t seem to be. At any rate we’ll know in an hour or so. Hey, lets break out that bottle.”

“Ok. Shit, I forgot to grab glasses.”

“No matter, we can drink out of the bottle.”

Matt picked the bottle up, spun off the cap, and threw it off into the woods.

“Well, I lost the cap, now we’ll have to drink the whole thing.”

The two men sat there watching the last sunset, passing the whisky bottle back and forth. As the sky went from orange to dark purple, a single star began to glow, brighter and brighter, until it was light again, as light as a gray day. The atmosphere far above them began to ionize, spreading waves of color, all colors of the rainbow, including some that the two men had never seen.

“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” said one of the men.

“Yeah,” said the other. “And the last.”

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Upward by Bill Chance

“The daily hummingbird assaults existence with improbability.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters

Nambe Lake, New Mexico


The smell of a mountain stream, pines, water gurgling over rocks – his feet are wet and cold. The sun is already hot – peeking around thousands of feet of granite. Overhead strips of snow – that’s where all this water is coming from. There is a humming in the air – swarms of tiny hummingbirds flying in what seem to be patterned waves. Coming and going. It’s almost like something unseen in controlling them – something sent them. He begins to walk upstream and the tiny birds follow – he wonders if he is controlling them, if he called the swarm.

Hours of walking, ever upward and the stream has narrowed and deepened. He can’t walk in it anymore. It now tumbles steeply in a series of waterfalls. The trees are now gone – replaced by scrubby low shrubs – looking ahead, far above, he sees bare rock.

The hummingbirds disappeared with the trees – now there are rodents and farther off large mammals – bears and deer – walking along. Sometimes visible, usually not – they are watching him. He is breathing hard, the air is thin. He should be tired but he is driven upward and the pain in his legs feels like it is happening to someone else, someone far away.

The scrub drops away and he is left on bare rock, scrambling higher and higher. All the animals have given up except for a small herd of mountain goats moving ahead – lightly jumping up the rocks and then waiting for him to catch up. His progress is slow, the rocks are loose and slide down and away – sometimes rolling, tumbling, booming, down into the green valley far below. The headwaters of the stream are all around – tiny rivulets of water tumbling over sharp-edged rocks. He looks up and sees the blinding white snowfield where the water is coming from.

For hours he struggles up and across the field of stones – loose rock tilted at that horribly steep angle. But he keeps moving with excruciating slowness – still putting one foot in front of the other – the scree so steep now that he has to put one hand in front on the ground, crawling, to climb up at that angle.

Then, without realizing it, he is on the snowfield. It is easier climbing that across the rocks even though every few steps he breaks through the crust and sinks up to his waist in the soft, rotten, wet ice beneath.

The slope was less and he realizes he was nearing the summit. By now, all the animals had given up following him and his only companions were two huge buzzards slowing circling high overhead. He wonders at how that much bulk could be supported by this thin air and look so free and graceful.

The world opens up around him as he reaches the apex – hundreds of miles of snow-capped peaks arranged in rough rows above hidden valleys stretching to the impossibly distant horizon.

Beyond the mountains, towering high over them were the mushroom clouds. Some were still rising, their orange hearts still glowing. Others were now gray and drifting in the high altitude jet stream – ragged – dissipating.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Walking the Dogs by Bill Chance

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas Cathey MIller, Cathedonia (click to enlarge)

Walking the Dogs

Craig was out for his daily constitutional, walking a figure-eight through the park a few blocks from his apartment. As he came across the little bridge he saw a woman walking two pit bulls on the path before him.

Because of recency bias he couldn’t admit to himself that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but he was sure he had never a woman more beautiful. It was a hot day and she was wearing shorts and an old-fashioned halter top – Craig didn’t think he had seen one of those in a decade. She wore it well.

Her dogs were friendly and as he bent of to pet them he decided to say something.

“What are your dog’s names?”

“Neetzy and Young,” she said.

“Do you mean Nietzsche and Jung?”

“Yeah, that’s sounds right. My ex-boyfriend named them.”

“Are they his dogs?”

“They were ours. Now their mine.”

“So the two of you picked out two dogs?”

“Yeah, he had a cat when we met.”

“A male cat?”


“Let me guess, it was named Murr. Tomcat Murr.”

“How did you know? That’s what he called it too, Tomcat Mur. What a weird-shit name.”

“A lucky guess. I was going to say Shrodinger for a second.”

“Shrow-dinger… he would talk about a cat named that. But I never saw it.”

“Did he have a box?”

“Yeah, he said Shrow-dinger was in the box but he was afraid to look in it.”

“He didn’t know if it was alive or dead?”

“That’s right, how did you know?”

“Technically, it was both alive or dead, at the same time, until you open the box.”

“You are as crazy as he was… as he is…. I don’t think there was a cat in there at all. I threw the box out, but I never looked inside. It felt light.”

“You said ex-boyfriend. What happened?” The woman was so beautiful… but he found himself wishing he could meet her ex-boyfriend.

“Oh, I said he was crazy. And it wasn’t just the cat thing. They took him away. He’s in this big hospital… out in the country.”

“Is it on the top of a mountain?”

“Yeah… have you been there?”

“No, never heard of it until now.”

“Well, you sound a lot like him. The doctors told me he would probably never come home from there. You remind me of him a lot.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, The Wind In Your Face by Bill Chance

The older you get the stronger the wind gets – and it’s always in your face.

—-Jack Nicklaus

Dallas City Hall Plaza (click to enlarge)

The Wind In Your Face

Craig took a break from work and, hungry, decided to go to a local run-down crummy counter service seafood emporium.

While he was waiting on his order an old man sidled up to him and asked a question.

….. “Any sugar for this here tea?”
“Umm, that thing there, it’s already sweetened .”
“Where’s the ice, I think I need some ice”
“There on the coke machine”

The old man, very thin, shaking, held his flimsy yellow paper cup, now half-full of the bitter old tea that they serve from big sweating metal cylinders with black plastic taps on the bottom, looked at the coke machine, levers lined up, the little grated tray held a few old ice cubes spilled by the last customer (Craig). The old man poked at these tentatively, like someone who grew up in an age when restaurants had waitresses in aprons and carried notepads, waitresses that actually brought your iced tea to the table.

“They don’t give you any scoop.”
“Umm, see that thing right there in the middle?” Craig pointed.
“Hold your cup under it, press this lever, and the ice’ll come out.”

Craig had been standing next to the array of drink machines and collection of condiments, pumping catsup out of a recessed bulk container and mixing it with Tabasco in little white paper cups. The supplied cups were tiny so he had to prepare a handful of them. As Craig stood back with his red plastic tray he watched the old man as the ice came out in an unexpected tumble, that startling fast-food ice bin rumble, Clankity-Clank. The old man jerked, collapsing his drink cup, ice and tea squirting out. With a heavy sigh, the girl came out from behind the counter with her dirty looking towel and helped him get things straightened out.

Craig sat down at a booth. It was late, almost three, the day at work had been awful, full of disasters; he hadn’t been able to sneak out for lunch until the middle of the afternoon. Desperate for a few quiet moments he had gone for fast food fish, hoping the place would be mostly empty this late. As he started to eat, the old man shuffled over and settled in slowly in the next booth. He sat down on the other side, facing straight at Craig.

“McDonalds has fish sandwiches now.” he advised.
“Mebee I shoulda gone over there, fish sandwiches, ninety nine cents.”

Craig remembered noticing a big sign in the entrance to this joint that promised a hefty senior citizen discount. It made an impression on him ’cause he noticed it would be only thirteen years before he would be eligible.

It was obvious that the old man wasn’t there so much to eat some fried fish as to talk to somebody. Craig knew that in small towns even today, most restaurants have long counters where you can go get coffee, maybe a cinnamon roll, sit and the major activity is to for everyone to simply talk to each other. The old man looked like he belonged in a very small town.

“I can’t eat this hard crust on this fish.”
“I went down to the VA hospital to get some new glasses and some teeth. They bought me some glasses but I can’t see with ’em, I can see better with these.”
Craig took a good look – he was wearing an enormous pair of those cheap plastic reading glasses they sell at dollar stores.
“But they won’t give me no teeth. I’ve gone down to there over and over, the doctor said I was too thin, filled out this form….. they still won’t give me no teeth.”
“The VA sent me these papers, hundred pages long, my sister…. but still they won’t give me no teeth and that’s what it said, right there.”
“You know, I really like tomatoes. Sliced tomatoes.”
“I really like eaten’ me up a big plate o’ sliced tomatoes ‘n scrambled eggs.”
“That’s what I had this morning, tomatoes ‘n scrambled eggs.”
“It they’d serve that here, it’d be…..”

As he talked he became more and more garrulous. Also, more and more incoherent. He would be jumping around in time, his stories would go on for awhile, then lose themselves in a long pause, only to start up somewhere else, sometime other… related, but different. It was apparent that Craig didn’t actually have to speak to keep this conversation going, only look up from his food every few minutes and nod a little.

“Did you get bread? They don’t give you no bread here. I like some bread with my meal. I really like bread.”
“I went and got coffee… Eight-five cents!”

Craig wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be low… or high.

“At the Waffle House they’ll let you sit there and get coffee and some eggs.”
“Then they’ll keep comin’ over and warmin’ it up and let you sit there all day.”
“….. and they would wash that cup, that spoon, a couple of plates, wash them, pick them up, only charge five cents.”
“I was there in Houston this morning.”

Craig was sure the old man walked up to the restaurant. Although he said “this morning” he had the feeling the old man hadn’t been in Houston for decades.

Craig finished with his food and had to get back to work. Actually, he would liked to have talked to the old man, get his story, but he was too far gone to be able to have a real conversation. By now he was simply complaining about random things that are too expensive. Also, it would be uncomfortable to talk with a stranger like that, Craig had the uneasy sensation of looking into his own future. The day had been too stressful already to have to deal with that.

He mumbled something incoherent and dumped the remnants of the meal; plastic plate, paper cups, bits of fried something, through the swinging door on the trash bin. He didn’t make eye contact with the old man as he walked past and went out to his van.

On the drive back to work Craig decided to set his alarm for a little earlier the next day. That way he could get up and make some scrambled eggs and tomatoes for breakfast.

Sunday Snippet, Poem?, Modern Poetry by Bill Chance

Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement . . . says heaven and earth in one word . . . speaks of himself and his predicament as though for the first time. It has the virtue of being able to say twice as much as prose in half the time, and the drawback, if you do not give it your full attention, of seeming to say half as much in twice the time.

—-Christopher Fry

Woman listening to a poetry reading by Mad Swirl – at The Independent Bar and Kitchen, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Modern Poetry

There is a poetry to daily
so empty of everything else.
The staccato rhythm of the
traffic reports
off on the shoulder
one lane only
Or the shouts of the Barista
as he calls out the orders
(actually, I think
he’s making most of that stuff up).

And though my lawn has gone to weeds
there is still a bird
that kawarbles at me
as I put the key
in my car
to drive to work.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Bad Poetry Tonight by Bill Chance

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that it is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know it is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?

—-Emily Dickinson

Woman listening to a poetry reading by Mad Swirl – at The Independent Bar and Kitchen, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Bad Poetry Tonight

Craig arrived early and promptly fell asleep in one of the old overstuffed chairs in the reading area. He woke up drooling on himself when the reading began.

This month’s reader, Harriet Von Snapple, was introduced as not only a poet but an amateur hard rock singer and harpist that had recently come out with a solo CD, Smeebage and Mung, after a stint with bands Creamy Blue Cheese Undressing and Schlitz the Prophet. She was different than the usual poets in that she was attractive and confident.

Her poetry was awful, but Craig liked what she said before she read her first work, “I work long hours for this awful man and I look busy and stressed but I live with it because I’m really sitting there writing bad poetry all day.”

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Warm Weather Icebergs by Bill Chance

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

—-Robert Frost

It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice – there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.

—-Frank Zappa

(click to enlarge) “The Icebergs” by Fredrick Church, Dallas Museum of Art

Warm Weather Icebergs

There was a big ice storm last week which brought the city to a halt. But this is the South and it immediately turned hot. Once the temperature rose above freezing and the sun poked its way out, the ice melted with incredible rapidity. In a couple of days it was warm and dry.

Today, though, Craig was driving down Town East Boulevard wearing shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt and noticed as he went by a big parking lot near the mall that boasted giant still unmelted mounds of ice, pushed into the corners by plows after the ice storm. No streets and few parking lots had been graded (the roads all have these reflective bumps that snowplows will shear off) but this lot contained a big commercial hardware-lumberyard thing, and maybe they intended to be sure and sell a lot of sand and materials to repair the many carports that tumbled under the weight of the ice.

It was odd on a warm, sunny, Texas day to see the huge, angular, filthy icebergs moored along the periphery of the tarmac. They were melting fast – a torrent of water coursed across the lot. Like a glacier leaving a terminal moraine as it retreats, clumps of flotsam and jetsam remained after the ice melted – gravel and trash embedded in the deep layers of sleet and scooped up from the lot.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Terror From the Sky by Bill Chance

“Certainly in the topsy turvy world of rock and roll, having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is quite often useful.”

― Ian Faith, Spinal Tap

Toad Corners, Dallas Arboretum

Terror From the Sky

Without any warning the night sky opens up. A huge black rectangle, taking up fully a third of the heavens, swings upwards. The world shivers in terror. Quickly a giant human hand and arm plunges down out of the black sky. You and your friends scatter.

The hand gropes with hideous speed. No hiding place is free from its flashing, powerful probes. First one of your compatriots is grabbed from behind a rock and lifted into the air. Then your other friend is caught behind a tree and he too disappears skyward. You crouch shivering in the pond but the giant hand returns and inexorably traps you in a corner. You try to leap to safety but are trapped against the cold, smooth walls. The hand closes in on one ankle and you are pulled into space through the hole in the sky itself, jiggling, dangling, upside down, held by one thin leg with irresistible force.

What has caused this horror? Where are you going? What awful fate lies beyond the top of the very world. You seem to remember it happening before, but everything is so hazy now.

This morning Craig was rushing around the house looking for his keys and he noticed that the water in the toad’s terrarium was almost dried up. There was only a thin damp layer left in the little double blue plastic dish that they kept for them to swim in. He should have at least stopped to pour a little distilled into their pond, but he was late for work… as always.

“Sorry, guys, I’ve got to run. Get through the day and I’ll take care of you when I get home.”

All day Craig felt guilty for not giving up the few seconds it would have taken to give them some water. He knew there was enough dampness left for them to survive, but still, they depended on him taking care of them. So he resolved to clean out their world when he came home from work. They were always happy with a clean cage.

So that evening, Craig went through the drill. The hardest part was catching the three toads and putting them in the portable cage so he could wash the aquarium. They didn’t like getting caught so he had to chase them around and grab them, they were pretty fast, they could jump, and once he had them, they were very squirmy and hard to hold.

Eventually (well, actually pretty quickly, Craig was getting better at catching them faster than they were getting better at getting away) K’nex, Mortimer (pronounced More-Timer), and Runaway had been grabbed and hauled over to the little portable cage with the white gravel and the lid firmly locked down.

Craig’s son helped clean the thing out. While Craig scrubbed the water dish, the three rocks, the flowerpot, and the two plastic plants, his son filled the aquarium with water from the hose. He skimmed a couple of live crickets off the water and put them in the little cage so the three toads could have a quick snack while they waited. Then Craig poured the water out and rinsed the gravel to get rid of all the toad shit and cricket carcasses.

Out went the chlorinated hose-water; in went the little bowl with distilled water along with the furniture (rocks, flowerpot, etc.). Craig made completely sure the lid was locked down tight (it has suction cups) before he put the three guys back in (Craig never could figure out how that one got out that one time, let alone how he survived unseen in the kitchen for a week).

And now the three toads were happy as larks. They hopped around, looking for crickets, or floated lazily in their little dish-pond as relaxed as can be.

It all worked out in the end. The terror is over.

Until next week.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Solid Piece of Wood by Bill Chance

“Certainly in the topsy turvy world of rock and roll, having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is quite often useful.”

― Ian Faith, Spinal Tap

Wood grown into the fence.

Solid Piece of Wood

“This plan of yours, Shelly, is getting too damn complicated,” Mabel said as she gazed with her two friends at the maze of scribbled papers now almost covering the kitchen table.

“Uh, Shel, not only that, but where did you get this Cab? It’s delicious,” said Alice as she sipped her third glass, stared at the liquid, then took a full gulp.

“Alice, you won’t believe it, but it’s from Aldi. It’s dirt cheap but mostly drinkable. And Mabel, I know it’s complicated, but that bastard Craig is not going to get away with this and it will take a careful plan to pull it off.”

“We won’t be able to do this ourselves,” Mabel said.

“We have to keep it secret,” said Shelly. “We will put the plan in motion and people will help us without even knowing they are.”

“Hey, pour me another glass,” said Alice.”I can’t believe this is from Aldi.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” said Mabel.

“It’ll work. That rat bastard Craig is into so much stuff, stealing money, dealing drugs, lying, cheating and everything else. We know that better than anyone because he did all that and more to all three of us.”

“Hey, the bottle’s empty,” was Alice’s only answer. “How late is Aldi open?”

The rack held nine Cricket bats at one time, all held vertically. Craig had one, so there were eight left. He could feel the blood running down his leg as he stared into the dim glow from the store’s emergency lighting system. Water dripped from the suspended ceiling in a dozen spots and something electrical was buzzing. The wet floor must be shorting out some sort of extension cords because Craig felt an occasional shock from his one bare foot soaking in the damp. He tried to stand on the foot that still had an insulating shoe, but that was the leg he was cut on and he’d wince at the pain from the extra weight.

Craig had no idea who had jumped him after luring him down to this third rate sporting goods store. He ran his list of enemies through his head – drug deals gone bad, real estate scams left in tatters, plenty of women left with broken hearts and negative bank accounts – and realized it was too long to recall. He had borrowed the money to buy the failing shop, specializing in European sports equipment (no wonder it was going broke), spent a quarter of the loan, then declared bankruptcy and was ready to turn the now-worthless real estate back to the bank – pocketing the balance. Someone had called him down to the store, and he would never have come, but she sounded sexy and desperate – and Craig had always been able to deal sexy and desperate to his advantage. Instead, this.

There was a crash from the darkness off to his right and Craig held the solid chunk of British wood as firmly as he could. He couldn’t imagine what kind of game was played with this damn thing, but it was all he had. Whimpering in pain and fear, he limped off in the quietest direction he could find.

Paul walked down the sidewalk on his way home from working a double shift when he came across the shattered windows of the sporting goods store. The glass across the sidewalk looked fresh and smashed out from the inside. He knew he should have kept going, gone home to get a good night’s sleep, but he had always been curious so he stepped through the broken threshold. He immediately stumbled into the rack of Cricket bats, knocked over. Looking down, he saw there were five in a jumble on the floor. He picked one up, feeling its firm strength. He swung it a bit and liked it’s balance and heft.

He had played baseball for decades and still had the shoulder muscles and fast-twitch nerves to move a heavy piece of wood through the air at high speed and pin-point accuracy. The feeling made him smile. Paul heard a noise off to his left and, swinging the Cricket bat back and forth with both hands, strode off to find out what it was.