Short Story Of the Day – The Death of Samuel Flood (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Italy, Texas


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#62) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.



The Death of Samuel Flood


On his last day, old Sam Flood hitched up his mule and pulled his still from its hiding place in the thick weeds beside the barn down to the open patch right next to his gate. Everyone else had their stills high up in the mountain hollows, pulling water from the clear limestone streams in dark dells where nobody was likely to go looking. Sam’s still was clean – a polished copper, curled up compact on a single pallet, with rails, which was how he was able to pull it down there, where everybody could see it, with his single mule. Nobody else gave a damn what their stills looked like, made of galvanized iron where they could, dented and dirty, utilitarian. But over the years he had spent more work getting his to look good than he did getting it to work good.

The gravel road that ran past his place was always busy, it being the straightest way from town into the most rugged parts of the hills. He had a heavy but simple welded iron gate, held with a loop of barbed wire around a wooden post worn thin and mirror smooth from the use. Under the gate was a cattle guard made from old water pipe, which was needed because of the many cows his neighbors would march past to get up into the high, sweet, meadow grass.

Sam went back up with his mule and brought back a tub of mash and a quarter cord of aged oak firewood, about three quarters hand split by Flood with an old rusty maul with the rest used barrel staves. He tipped the tub into into the pot and then build a rick in the fire box. He ran an old cracked green garden hose down from the tank in the goat pen and, sucking on the downside end, started a siphon. He used the screwdriver blade on his folding pocketknife to hook the hose to the condenser with a worm clamp. He took a new, clean bucket and put it under the end of the condenser, waiting hungrily for the first drops.

He stood back, looked at his work, and saw that it was good. He dragged his favorite rocking chair down from the front porch. He sat down next to the still, which was starting to bang and burp, and started to rock in a happy, relaxed way. There was a denim bag hanging from one arm of the rocker, and Sam pulled two thick needles, a skein of homespun, and a growing scarf. He whistled while he knit.

It wasn’t long before young Elisa Markham came strolling up the road, with her milk cow ambling behind. She wasn’t paying much attention to where she walked, instead staring intently at the small slab of a phone she carried in one hand, stabbing at it with quick, dexterous, and delicate fingers. She knew the cellular coverage was about to run out as she approached the hills and wanted to get her weekend plans nailed down.

Sure enough, the last bar faded away as she reached Sam’s place. She sighed as she switched it off to save the battery and shoved it down into the back pocket of her cutoff jeans. Only then did she look around and Sam Flood sitting there, rocking, knitting, next to the smoking still.

“Is that your still?” she asked.

“Sure is,” replied Sam, “A new batch of mash, wanted to get it ‘stilled before it went all bad.”

Elisa nodded, though she knew enough, as did everybody in that slice of country, to know that mash didn’t go bad once it had its alcohol. It would keep for years, if need be. That was the point.

“Sure sad to hear ‘bout the missus’” Elisa said. “It’s a mournful business.”

Sam nodded, “Thank ‘e.”

“I’m sure gonna miss her goat cheese. Used to buy a basket full every few weeks in season.”

“I’m sellin’ the goats,” Sam said. “Up to the Franklin’s. I don’t have the time to go milkin’ ‘em like the missus’ did. Maybe the Franklin’s will have some cheese for you.”

“Doubt it, they’re not cheese folks. Figure your goats’ll be for breedin’ and meat mostly.”

Sam nodded. Inside his head he felt a fury stirring. To keep the tempest down he concentrated on his knitting, “Knit one, purl two,” he said out loud.

“You making a scarf there?”

“Yup, nothing fancy. Just something to past the time, I guess.”

Elisa nodded. “Well, good to talk to ya. I’d better be getting on. The cow here is getting restless. That’s what’s nice about your goats, they’ll eat pretty much anything. I’ve got to get her to that sweet grass or her milk will come out sour.”

Sam set his knitting down in his lap and watched Elisa walk off, wandering back and forth across the gravel, depending on where the cow felt like going. She was sure getting to be a pretty thing. He didn’t realize she was growing up so much. Time flies.

Elisa and the cow disappeared over the next rise and Sam went back to his knitting, waiting for the morning to trail away. The still hiccuped and spit out a bit of sour cloudy first-cut condensate. Sam rose and shook this out into the weeds, then replaced the bucket to catch the good stuff which would be coming out next.

The mailman came by in his little three-wheeled vehicle and stuck some junk into Sam’s box. He had white headphone wires running into his ears from the front pocket on his crisp uniform. He was a city man and nobody even knew his name. He never glanced at the still, even though it was sitting right there. Sam doubted the mailman would know a still if it bit him on the ass. The rumor up in the hills was that the mailman had fooled around with the daughter of a boss of some kind and had been demoted, sent out to the backwoods as punishment. Sam didn’t know if it was true, but it was believable enough and a good story to boot.

Sam walked over to the box and pulled his mail out. There wasn’t much. He didn’t even look at it, just walked over and added the paper to the burning rick of oak. Then he sat down, started the rocker and went back to his knitting.


Somebody during the day sent an email to the Sheriff, complaining that Sam Flood was running his still right out in the open, in front of God and everything. It might have been a neighbor with an axe to grind, or maybe that mailman knew more about what was what than he let on.

At any rate, the Sheriff decided what to do about it.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said to his eager deputy.

“But, he can’t just sit there, it’s not right.”

“Now, let’s not get so riled up about it. After that business with Mabel, I think we can cut him a little room. If he wants to run that still for a day or so, we’ll just look the other way for a bit. If he turns it into a regular business, then we’ll take some action, but I’m in no hurry right now.”

The deputy was disappointed but still impressed with the Sheriff’s wisdom and cool judgment. For not the first time, the deputy made a note to himself to be more like that.


They found Sam Flood dead in his rocker the next morning. He had been shot once, right in the center of his chest. The bullet had gone in but not out, and it wasn’t until the autopsy that they realized it was a round lead muzzle load shot. It was hand-cast, not one of the commercial balls that the turkey hunters used.

His scarf was at his feet, finished before he was shot. The women at the ladies auxiliary didn’t know what to do with the scarf. Even though it was a bilious color and the knitting uneven and full of mistakes, it was the last thing that Sam ever did, except for the still, and they didn’t want to throw it away, but nobody wanted it. It had too much death associated with it. They took it to the city and put it in a donation box – hoping some poor inner city kid could get some warmth out of it.

Nobody was ever arrested for the murder. There was no evidence. Since he had been killed with that muzzle loader everybody knew it was an old argument an ancient unpaid debt. Sam Flood must have known it was coming… that was why he set up his still like that and sat there knitting, out in the open. With Mabel gone, he knew someone was coming for him and decided to make it as easy as he could.

At the funeral, there was a lot of staring back and forth over the coffin. The guilty party was almost certainly there, looking as solemn and quiet as the rest.

Franklin came and got the goats, claiming he had already paid for them. First,though, he took the still away in the bed of his pickup truck, before the city lawmen came to investigate the shooting. It ended up at the end of Slaughter Hollow and is still working away, though Franklin doesn’t keep it clean and never shines it. It wouldn’t ever gleam in that thick shade anyway.

When they found him shot, the still was cold but the bucket was full of shine. The folks around there weren’t big on wasting anything so they jugged it up and drank it at the wake. Most figured that Sam Flood had done that batch so they would have something to drink in his honor. They said they thought it was the best Sam Flood had ever made.

Short Story Of the Day, Devil’s Claws by Bill Chance

“ They came across a place where a lamb had died over the winter. Every year a few would not make it through the snowstorms, maybe trapped out in the field by quick forming drifts… and freeze to death. There were some leg bones, some ribs scattered around, and the tiny skull was already half-covered with red dirt. They kicked at the bones a bit.”

—-Bill Chance, Devil’s Claws

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#14). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.



Devil’s Claws


In the city, Sam Monaghan had been an elite baseball player – the offensive star of a select team, The Bombers. Not too bad of a pitcher either. He had to give up the sport in Coldgrove. That left a frustrating gap in his life, like a missing tooth in his jaw. The attackers had used his Bombers’ bat on his mother and he could not bear to hold one in his hands again.

They had lived in a brownstone in the old meatpacking district – they felt like urban pioneers. Until the one afternoon when Sam’s mother, Paula, came home from work to find the two tweakers that Sam’s father had hired to paint his little sister Brenda’s nursery waiting. After the attack on his wife that left her in a wheelchair, Sam’s father had moved the family out to the tiny rural hamlet of Coldgrove.

“Sam, I wish you would make some friends in the school here,” his mother said to him as he pushed her chair out onto the porch so she could watch the sun set.

“I know mom, I’ll try. I just don’t have anything in common with these kids.”

“What about Duane, dear? He lives on the next farm over, you can walk there whenever you want. He is only a grade below you.”

“I’ll see mom. I’ll see.”

“His mom says he plays baseball.”

Sam turned away.

She was talking about Duane Clankman, who was a year older than Sam was, even though Duane was a grade below. To Sam the whole Clankman clan existed somewhere out of time, as if they had been away from civilization for ages. Coldgrove itself felt out of whack for him.

Duane’s brothers and sisters were scattered all up and down the grades and you could pick them out of a crowd easy; the same thin, limp, blondish hair, homedone haircuts, clothes handed down from one to another, the same pale watery eyes, long faces, and the same blank, lost look.

Still, his mother protested and Sam could not resist her requests. Soon he was walking across the cow pasture, along the green algae-choked slough, to the Clankman’s farmhouse. They called the noon meal dinner and it was the best fried chicken he had ever tasted. He asked Mrs. Clankman for her secret.

“Oh honey, you just dip ‘em in milk, dredge in flour, salt and pepper, and fry ‘em in the ‘lectric skillet,” she said

“Then why is your chicken so good?”

“Oh honey, ‘cause an hour before you ate it that bird was runnin’ around in the front yard, eatin’ bugs.”

Duane’s mother wrapped a few pieces up and put them in a paper bag. A bit of grease made the bag translucent in places.

“You give this chicken to your mother, now,” she said, with a sad smile and a nod.

After dinner, Sam and Duane went for a long walk in the old west pasture. Sam’s mother had asked them to look for Devil’s Claws. The dry dark gray seedpods were scattered all over the pasture, hung up in among the prickly pears and clumps of sawgrass. She wanted to take a mess of claws, spray paint them gold and silver, and glue little plastic googly eyes on… decorate them up for a craft show the women were putting on down at the new library in town.

Along with the paper bag of chicken, they carried blue plastic bags from Wal-Mart to stuff the claws in. They were hard to carry even though they weighed almost nothing; the hooks tore at the cheap thin plastic until the claws would tumble out if you did not hold the bag exactly right.

They came across a place where a lamb had died over the winter. Every year a few would not make it through the snowstorms, maybe trapped out in the field by quick forming drifts… and freeze to death. There were some leg bones, some ribs scattered around, and the tiny skull was already half-covered with red dirt. They kicked at the bones a bit.

“Look at how the meadow grows here,” Duane said.

The thin brown grass of the old spent pasture was lush and green around the bones. Nourished by death, the body of the lamb.

Sam thought about why the grass was so thick and healthy around where the lamb had died. He thought about how the lamb had eaten the grass while it lived and now that it was gone, it gave everything back to the ground and to the grass that had nourished it.

“Duane?” Sam said, “You’re on the Coldgrove school baseball team, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, though I’m not so good. Just another body.”

“Do you think I could get on the team?”

“Yup, easy. Coach is always looking for players. Sometimes we barely put together a whole team.”

“Ok, then. I’ll need a new bat though.”

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Helicopter by Nicholas L. Sweeney

Overhead, Danny heard a sound like a hundred horses galloping in unison. The craft had looked like a stray gout of orange flame rising into the sky. The white blades of its propeller carved a halo over its head. The ice cream slipped, forgotten, from Danny’s hand. The cone crunched beneath his sneaker.

—-Nicholas L. Sweeney, Helicopter

Helicopter, Downtown Dallas, Texas

I shot the helicopter reflected in a building in downtown after riding my bike to visit a new park, Pacific Plaza, in downtown. It was lifting what looked like roofing materials to the top of another skyscraper.

I looked around for a flash fiction about a helicopter, and found this one… it’s pretty good.


Read it here:

Helicopter by Nicholas L. Sweeney

from Flash Fiction Magazine


Civilization Is Collapsing Around Me

“I have the not altogether unsatisfying impression that civilization is collapsing around me.

Is it my age, I wonder, or the age we live in? I am not sure. Civilizations do collapse, after all, but on the other hand people grow old with rather greater frequency.”
― Theodore Dalrymple

Decaying wall, Ladonia, Texas

Over the weekend we drove out to some garage sales centered around the tiny towns of Ladonia and Pecan Gap, Texas. We didn’t buy anything other than some State-Fair-Ribbon-Winning jam. It was interesting to be out in the country for a while – you don’t have to drive too many miles out of the big evil megalopolis of Dallas until you are in another world – one not altogether unfamiliar to me. Old building crumbling to brick, an old cast-iron bath tub rusting in a vacant lot, the cotton harvest. Time moves differently, like cold molasses.

Sunday Snippet – Osage Orange

  • Osage-orange
  • Hedge-apple
  • Horse-apple
  • Bois D’Arc
  • Bodark
  • Bodock
  • Bow Wood
  • Wild Orange
  • Mock Orange
  • Southern Buckhorn
  • Syringa
  • Shittim Wood

When I was riding the DART train Friday night, I saw a poem up on the wall at the Lover’s Lane train station. I couldn’t see if clearly through the windows but it was a sort of list of synonyms for Osage Orange trees (in Texas, they are usually called Bois D’ Arc). There are ubiquitous trees across the middle of the country – they were planted by the millions in hedgerows after the horror of the dustbowl in the thirties to act as a barrier to the wind.

The land used to be divided into neat square mile parcels by these rows of trees. Now, a lot of the hedges are being torn out to get the last square inch of production out of the land.

These trees are fast-growing and scraggly, but thick and strong. They have these weird inedible green fruit that is covered in brain-like convolutions. I thought about the hedges and the trees and their relationship to the land and the people that live there and came up with this little snippet – maybe a story first draft, maybe not.

Osage Orange

Sam spent a lot of time over the summer with his friend Jim. Even though Jim’s father worked at the same advertising firm as Sam’s dad – he lived out in the country in a farmhouse he was leasing. Sam figured out that Jim’s father fancied himself a man of the earth and would wear denim overalls, dirty workboots, and an old weather faded straw hat on the weekends, though he would trade that for an Italian wool suit on workdays and Sam had never seen him do any actual farmwork.

Jim had a big family, with four sisters that were always out and around riding their horses and trying to drive Jim and Sam crazy. Sam was an only child and Jim’s mother would always ask him how his parents could stand being alone. Sam replied with a shrug, but he always thought his parents seemed glad to get rid of him for a week or two out at the farm. They acted like they were about to go on vacation.

Back then, people only had one television per family. Sam’s house had a plastic black and white in the kitchen with silver squares of foil folded around the rabbit ears. At Jim’s farm, they had to put up a big antenna on a pole to get reception out there, but they had a big new color set in a glossy wooden cabinet right in the middle of the living room.

Sam loved Saturday Night at the Movies at Jim’s house. The whole brood would pack into the living room and watch the movie of the week together. Somewhere in the middle of the show a Coca-Cola commercial would come on and Jim’s mother would heave herself up from the couch and waddle into the kitchen to fetch a cold bottle from the refrigerator. She would always do this when a Coca-Cola commercial would come on and had no idea why she was suddenly thirsty.

Jim and Sam would laugh and she would give them a perplexed stare but they never told her what was so funny.

Though Jim’s father only rented the farm house and the outbuildings, the kids pretty much had the run of the farmland in that whole corner of the county. Jim’s sisters would wander with their horses while Sam and Jim would hike. Over a steep ridge to the south of the farm was a big farm tank – a pond larger than most which dotted the country. The water was an opaque green and always contaminated by the cattle that strolled over to drink, but after a short time they spent getting used to the idea, Sam and Jim would swim in the pond, especially on the hot summer afternoons when the water was a welcome respite from the sun and various biting bugs. The bottom was soft mud and would bubble and stink when they walked through it but the water was surprisingly deep and kept cool even on the hottest stretches of summer.

Exploring further they crossed another, even higher and steeper ridge and discovered a construction crew digging out a hedge row of Osage Orange trees.

“They’re going to put in a subdevelopment here. My dad told me,” Jim said.

“That’s cool.”

“No it’s not, my dad says the whole city will grow out this far and swallow up all the farms and land and we’ll have to move farther out.”

Sam thought that would take a long time, but he kept his opinions to himself.

One day, walking up on the construction, the boys found a large pile of wood from the felled threes. The work crew had cut up the hedge and arranged the wood so that it could be hauled off easily. The big trunks were piled in a giant heap next to the big balls of roots, but off to the side the large branches were separated and cut into lengths.

“Hey, Sam, look at this!” Jim said, excited, “We can haul these back to the pond and built a raft.”

“Isn’t that stealing?”

“Nope, they’re going to have to haul this off or burn it anyway, we can take what we want.”

The boys ran back to the farm and returned with rope, their hatchets, and a bow saw. They made rope harnesses and dragged the wood over the ridge and down to their pond. They picked straight pieces but took some big ones. The wood was very heavy, orange in color, and tough. These were the hottest days of summer, the sun beating down. The boys worked together to move their burden, roped in tandem to the logs. Shirtless, they sweated until the salt burned their eyes and with each load completed they would dive into the pond to rinse and cool off.

All day Saturday and Sunday they hauled wood. They wanted this done before the work crew came back on Monday. Jim didn’t think they were stealing anything, but he didn’t want to have to answer any questions.

The rest of the week they worked cutting the logs. The logs they hauled were at least twice as long as they needed so every one had to be cut in half. The Osage Orange hedgeapple wood was strong as steel and hard as fint. Their little Boy Scout Hatchets would skip off the wood and only flake off little splinters with each blow – no matter how sharp they honed the edges. Their bow saw worked a little better and the boys took turn sawing until their hands were covered in blisters.

“This is too much work,” Sam said. “We need a different kind of wood.”

“No, this stuff is like iron, think of how strong the raft will be. It will last forever.”

Sam thought then of the two of them poling back and forth across the pond in their raft, and the image made him smile and gave him the motivation to ignore the pain in his palm and go back to sawing with his blister-covered hands.

After three days of sawing they began lashing the logs together, using the ropes left over from the harnesses they had fashioned the week before. In the movies it had always looked easy to lash together a raft, but they struggled with it. They had to revise their design several times, until they realized the importance of diagonal bracing in keeping their raft from collapsing sideways.

Finally, on Saturday, a full week after they had started, they finished their raft. It wasn’t as beautiful as the one they had filled their minds with, but they were very proud of the amount of work they had put into their creation. The sun was already touching the horizon when they decided to launch the raft.

“Well get it into the water tonight, then come out tomorrow and sail it around,” Jim said.

The two of them took up their places on either side of the raft. They had saved two of the smallest and straightest logs to use as a skid to slide the raft down into the water. Still, it was amazingly heavey and hard to move. The boys reached down deep and summoned up their last drops of adrenaline, closed their eyes, and shoved as hard as they could, working together.

Finally, somehow, the raft slid, gaining speed as it moved down into the green mucky water. With a healthy splash it freed itself from the skid and launched out over the pond. In his young mind, Sam saw a mighty ship leaving the quays and floating out onto the sea. With their feet sinking into the mud in the shallow water at the shore the boys gave a last loud spontaneous simultaneous shout and pushed the raft out towards the center of the pond, already thinking of swimming out there and climbing aboard and enjoying their work as the sun set orange in the west.

The raft moved out and sank like a rock.

“Of course it did,” Jim’s father told the two dejected boys after they had trudged home, “Osage Orange is the hardest, heaviest wood there is, that’s why they use those trees for hedgerows. Especially when it’s fresh and wet, it’s heavier than water.”

He let out a grownup laugh, but the boys didn’t think it was very funny.

Sam was going to go home in two days. He had thought of calling his parents and asking to stay another week. He had wanted to spend it floating around the pond on the raft. Now, though he didn’t want to stay. The boys didn’t hike to the pond the next day like they always did. They even let Jim’s sisters ride them around on the back of their horses, which seemed to make them happy, though Sam had trouble concealing the fact that he was actually scared of the horses.

The next summer, Sam came out to the farm for a few days. Sitting in the back seat while his parents drove him out there, he saw the yellow pine two by fours they were using to build the new homes where the hedgerow used to be. They were in perfect rows and squares, all exactly the same. Jim and Sam talked about walking out there to explore the half built houses, they knew they would have to go by the pond on the way and they couldn’t do that.

Sam kept thinking about the raft slowly rotting into that foul mud at the bottom of the pond and called his parents to come get him two days early. Jim understood this was for the best, and his mother assumed wrongly that Sam for some reason finally missed his own family.

Old Barn (again)

Old Barn (click to enlarge)

Another picture of another old barn. This one is from pretty much the same spot as the one  I posted the other day, taken only a few seconds later in another direction. It was processed with the same software, but going for a different effect.