The idea for Dahlia, the title story of this collection, appeared to me fully formed and ready to be put to paper. I love it when that happens, and in the early days, it happened often. But these days…well they don’t come that way as often. Nearly every story I write starts with the thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “I wonder what would happen if…”. An old writing instructor once told me, “Good fiction should raise as many questions as it answers…more even.” The stories within Dahlia do not follow a singular path. Much as in life, where one road can lead to a bright and cheery Nirvana, another road just across the street might lead to a dark and gray neighborhood which might be just a little bit dangerous. As you follow the path I have laid out for you, remember what we were taught in Kindergarten. Never cross the street alone, and before you cross, look both ways and hold hands. Below you will find the opening lines to each of the stories. Some of them will beckon you forward gently while some will reach out and snatch you away into the dark. Available for purchase here!
Her parents named her Dahlia, a poor attempt at humor from two of the most unfunny people she’d ever known.
“Dr. Kelly.” The intercom on the corner of the desk squawked. “Your ten o’clock is here.”
Robert Kelly closed the photo album and laid a hand softly on its closed cover. It contained proof of a happy family. A happy life. A happy man who no longer existed. Stephen Carter’s life was contained within those pages, but his was a past life, a used-to-be.
The world had moved on. Darkness and decay became the norm, where once there was hope.
At the beginning only small towns fell, and then cities and states, and eventually, as the darkness grew to unimaginable power, entire countries succumbed until the world finally became united. World wars no longer mattered when every day was a war of survival for those who remained. Of course, his father had seen it coming. He’d called it. Long before the rest of them recognized the apocalypse for what it was, his dad had pronounced the end times’ arrival and he’d been silenced for it.
Jake had always been a nervous sort, prone to sudden glances over his shoulder, jumping at loud noises and a constant need to keep moving. To watch him, one would believe he’d been born in a state of paranoia. To watch him was enough to rattle even the calmest of people. It was because of this, Jake had trouble making friends–or keeping them.
Cherry Bomb Slushee
Jeremy Fletcher was thinking about murder when he saw her coming toward him. He was sucking down a cherry bomb slushee, courting a very serious brain freeze and concocting gruesome ways to kill his boss when the most beautiful woman in the world crossed beneath a street lamp at the bus stop half a block away. Though the sodium vapor lamp shone brightly, the shadows moved with her, hiding her features as she weaved, unsteady along the sidewalk. Only her hair shimmered, so black it glowed blue under the light, and when she looked up, strands of pure white framed her dark face and pooled at her shoulders.
MAN OR MOUSE
He rinsed his face in the bathroom sink and then straightened to stare at his reflection in the mirror. He was tired and he looked it. Last night’s fight had been the worst one yet. “Are you a man or a mouse?” She’d asked in her most sarcastic voice and then she’d giggled. That damn tittering, high-pitched giggle.
FEEL THE BURN
Jacob Bodeen tossed off the sheets and sat up in bed. This was the third night this week that he couldn’t sleep. The heat was part of it. His broken air conditioner wheezed and shook and tried to cool the place, but all it really succeeded in doing was pushing the hot air around the room like a soft breeze from hell.
Sleeping with the window open barely helped, but the bright lights of the billboard directly across the street lit up his room, painting the walls in their bright red neon. The advertisement was for some new brand of lipstick and both the lips and the stick glowed with the promise of electric sex.
I AM NOT GOD
The streets seemed darker than usual and Scott pulled his coat tighter around him. Threadbare and tattered, the jacket did little to keep out the cold, but he supposed it was better than nothing at all. Keeping his head down, he stared at the sidewalk before him. The shadows teemed with phantoms, lost people whose grip on reality had slipped, and eye contact could sometimes turn deadly. What would have been a safe ten minute drive home was now a dangerous forty minute walk thanks to a bad transmission.
When it came to fairytale kisses, Snow had them all beat. She had been in a coma until her prince leaned in for a closer look and accidentally brushed his lips against hers. That was the truth of it, no matter what they storybooks say. It had been an accident. But it is true that kiss woke her from eternal slumber and became THE KISS, the one smooch by which all others were judged.
When it came to swords, there was the mighty Excalibur. Hair was Rapunzel’s thing and you couldn’t think of a little prick without thinking of Sleeping Beauty. But when it came to shoes, there was where the waters grew murky, the ocean, by the way, belonged to Ariel.
“It’s just a penny on the ground until you pick it up.”
Bobby’s hand froze an inch above the penny. The copper glinted in a shaft of sunlight for an instant before a large pair of shiny black shoes came into view beside it. Bobby looked up.
A tall man in a flat, wide-brimmed hat towered over him, blocking out the sun. The oversized shoes supported long, spindly legs clothed in narrow black trousers, which disappeared into a black frock coat. Like an undertaker’s coat, Bobby thought.
She was in the 7-11 when she saw the calendar. Three years, she thought, today was her third anniversary. She’d only come in here to browse, a respite from the burning sun of early August as it radiated from the pavement, but now she supposed a treat was in order.
Looking around briefly, her eyes stopped on the clerk. He was glaring at her as he had many times before. A glare that said get out of my store, or, paying customers only. But that’s what I am today, she wanted to yell at him, a paying customer! She wanted to scream it at the top of her lung capacity, Today I make the change! Today I am somebody again! But she didn’t. Instead she let her eyes move beyond the man at the register to the calendar again. Three years.
STAMMER OF THE GODS
Krohn scowled menacingly out to sea. It was not intentional, but as a Viking it was one of only three or four expressions in his personal arsenal. The sun was bright and sent daggers of light off the wave tips to assault his eye as the horizon line bobbed in the distance, while the strong north wind tangled his stringy hair into knots with his craggy beard. In the near distance, Isla de Muerte loomed, rising up from the sea like a great beast. The Island of Death.
WHEN MAGIC DIES
As soon as he saw the toy chest, Peter Paul knew he had to have it. Every day after school, he pressed his face against the cool glass of the store window and studied the intricately carved wood of the case. Half moons and multi-pointed stars danced and mingled amidst the rays of at least a dozen suns. Peter studied every inch of every line until he saw them even after he closed his eyes. Twice, the shop’s owner had shooed him from fogging up the windows.
Both times, Pete had tried to explain how the box spoke to him; how it called to him in his sleep and invaded his thoughts during every waking moment. But each time, the old man only smirked, turned his back, and disappeared inside his store.