Why I’m Angry At Robin Williams


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“I’m a knight on a special quest.” – Robin Williams as Parry in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten angry about a suicide before. As a psychologist, and as someone who’s dealt with depression off and on for most of my life, I’ve been only too aware that the pain of depression – not just the psychic pain, but the physical pain – can be every bit as strong as the pain that goes along with any other terminal illness someone might want to name. And when that pain is at its peak, the desperate need to find some way – ANY way – to make it stop can sometimes make the most desperate measures seem attractive beyond all reason and belief.

I’m fortunate; although I’ve thought about it at times (every seriously depressed person does, no matter what they may say), I’ve never truly come close to any of the things I look for in judging a client’s safety – forming an intent, gathering the means, making a plan. In my darkest moments, my own therapist is very fond of pointing out just how strong my desire, my will, to live really is. But because of my own struggle, I’ve always responded to other deaths with sympathy and empathy, feeling mostly how terrible and sad it was that the person ever had to feel so much pain that suicide seemed the only way out.

I’ve always loved Robin Williams’ work, from the sublime silliness of Mork & Mindy to the equally sublime pain and fear and sadness and human triumph of What Dreams May Come and The Fisher King. Even if his struggles with depression and addiction had been a secret, it would have been clear that there was more to him – much more – than just an incredibly talented clown. I feel terribly sad that such a brilliant, funny man had to walk through so much darkness.  But I’m angry, too.

For better or for worse, a lot of people in this world pay attention to celebrities in ways that have nothing to do with the reason for their celebrity, thinking them somehow heightened or enlightened, someone to look up to, someone above the fray. Because of that, I’m sure that right now, there’s someone out there reading or talking about Robin Williams and thinking, “oh, man; if someone like him, with all his talent and all his accomplishments – someone with his kind of life – can get to the point in his depression where suicide is the only way out, what chance do I have?”

I can’t say that Robin Williams didn’t have the right to take his own life; since I believe that our lives are our own and no one else’s, it follows that ultimately, we all do. And I do feel deeply moved and deeply sad for what he must have gone through. But what he did not have was the right to become a role model for death.

I’ve seen the wreckage, the chaos, the despair that suicide leaves behind, and I believe that anyone who contemplates suicide has one last responsibility: to consider the effect the act will have on those around him. Yes, our lives are our own, but unless you’re a hermit with no human contact, we don’t live them in isolation. When you’re someone who’s sought and achieved visibility on a grand scale, that responsibility is magnified. If you’ve worked that hard to become someone who’s in the public’s eye, then I’m sorry, you owe the public something, and part of what you owe them is gritting your teeth, putting up with the pain, finding any way you possibly can to keep on living, and helping others to believe – even at the times when you don’t believe it yourself – that tomorrow will be better, that every cheesy line ever written about new days bringing new hope is really true, that life still has a fighting chance.

Because, god damn it – as long as you’re alive, there is ALWAYS a fighting chance.

Nanoo nanoo, Mork. Have a safe journey home.


Flash Fiction Challenge: Red Prison


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Chuck WendigAs someone who’s just returning to the field of writing after a long hiatus, I struggle with many things – with finding ideas, with building self-confidence, with learning each day a little more about what it is I want to write, and why.

I like fantasy. I like humor. I like light. They make me smile. That’s not to say I can’t write from the dark side; yin and yang, light and shadow, can’t have one without the other, blah blah blah. But knowing that they both exist – that they both have to exist – is not the same as saying any one writer always has the obligation to show both sides. Every word anyone writes is a choice.

Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week was to choose a title at random and make up a tale to fit that title. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes – well. Sometimes, what happens is a little more unexpected…

Red Prison

Kim looked over Suzanne’s shoulder, trying to read the blog post along with her. The blog’s well-known author had made up two columns, twenty words in each. The challenge was to use twenty-sided dice or a random number generator to draw a word from each column for a title, then write a thousand-word piece of flash fiction to fit.

“This could be fun,” Suzanne said. “Just look at the possible combinations – ‘Cerulean Palace.’ ‘Flight of the God.’ ‘The Snowbound Murders.’”

“So, roll the dice, already,” Kim said, walking down the hall to get her laptop. She heard the dice, left over from an old game of Dungeons & Dragons, skitter across the table in reply.

“What did you get?” she called.

“I got a seven…” Suzanne called back. “…and a twelve. That makes mine ‘Lovestruck’…” She looked in the second column.  “…‘Encyclopedia.’ What the fuck? What am I supposed to do with that?”

“That could be cute,” Kim told her as she walked back in with her laptop under her arm. “Lonely encyclopedia in a used book store, put away on a shelf and ignored since the Internet came along, spies a sweet old cookbook in a stack of books from the library’s ‘Buck A Bag’ sale…”

“Yeah, maybe. Here, find yours.” Suzanne handed Kim the dice. She rolled an eight and a fourteen. “What is it?”

Kim looked on the chart. “‘Red Prison,’” she replied.

“Oh, you can do a lot with that,” Suzanne said. “Maybe it’s a prison on Mars. Or it’s in Victorian England and made out of brick. Or it’s a prison just for the color red.”

Kim was quiet. The moment she’d drawn the words, she knew what the red prison was. It was a place she did not want to go.


A short time later, Kim was looking over “The Red Prison,” the flash fiction piece she’d just finished writing. She’d written it in a – well, in a flash. She’d found a photo of a solar coronal ejection that would give the sense of the piece without being literal in any way, and she was proofing it before publishing it on her blog. She made sure she had all the right tags. Besides the usual – “flash fiction,” “fantasy,” “Chuck Wendig” – there were a number that she’d never used. “Abuse” was one. “Incest” was another. “Trigger alert” was a third.

Each time she got ready to click on the “Publish” button, she clicked on “Preview” instead. Finally she clicked on “Save Draft” and closed her blog.

She went back to the original blog post that had given her the title. Hesitantly, she picked up the dice and threw two more numbers, fourteen and thirteen – “Invisible Peacock.” She breathed a sigh of relief; she could work with that.

“Did I say you could cheat?”

Kim jumped out of her chair and spun around. In the corner of the room, scowling, was a stocky man with a reddish-brown beard, wearing black plastic framed glasses and a red plaid shirt. He looked like the kind of serial killer you’d run into in a gas station in Minnesota, the kind who’d slit your throat after politely pumping your gas. Kim backed up against the counter and fumbled with the knife rack, knocking the cats’ food off the counter with her elbow as she grabbed the biggest knife.

“Oh, put that down,” the man said. “If I were here to really do damage, you’d be in pieces by now.”

“Then why are you here?” Kim asked him, holding the knife out before her with both hands.

“The piece you wrote, ‘The Red Prison.’ Was it good?”


“Was it well-crafted? Did you like it? Was it any good?”

“Um – yeah. Yes. It was.”

“Then why aren’t you posting it? And put down the knife. The only person you could hurt is yourself, since I’m not really here.” He stepped forward, walking through the furniture to prove his point. Kim frowned, then put the knife back on the counter.

“The rule was, you draw two words, you write a story to match those words. You did that. You say it was good. Post it, then. Show that you can do it. Follow through.”

“It’s dark.”

“So what? Life’s dark. Boo-hoo.”

Ignoring his incorporeality, the specter sat down and leaned back in one of the kitchen chairs.

“How are you doing that?” Kim asked.

“Your kitchen, your mental projection, your rules,” the specter replied.

“Really? Okay, then,” Kim told him as she sat across from him. “In that case, let’s talk about my rules.”

The specter tilted his head. “Go on.”

“In my day job, I’m a psychologist,” Kim said. “You want dark? I live dark. Abuse. Pain. Murder. Mothers who drink, children who shoot up, fathers who kill. Adolescent girls – and boys – who sometimes find that the only way they can survive is to cut themselves until they’re almost dying, who go to sleep at night with razor blades hidden in their dresser drawers and who know what every one of their grandparents’ pain pills does. That’s where that title took me. ‘The Red Prison’? It’s blood. And sometimes – too often– I meet someone who thinks that spilling their own blood is the only thing that will tear down that prison wall.”

“So write that. There’s a story there. Write that down!”

Kim looked at the man. Now that she’d faced him across the kitchen table, he didn’t look so much like a serial killer any more.

“I’ll let someone else write that one,” Kim said. “What I write – it’s my story. My words. My rules.” She looked at the new title she’d drawn. “‘The Invisible Peacock.’ This one’s pretty. I think I’ll give it a try.”

The specter smiled, inscrutable as the Cheshire cat. As he stood up, he began to vanish. His red shirt was the last part of him to go, and as it disappeared, Kim heard a low, rumbling sound, like prison walls were falling down.

Image of Chuck Wendig scowling from terribleminds.com

Peter Capaldi scowl

The Doctor’s scowling right back atcha’, Chuck.

The Tango Dancer, or, ¡Que Noche! (What a Night!)


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nevada en buenos aires - 22-06-1918

(¡Que Noche! is the title of a tango written by Augustín Bardi in 1918 as he was watching it snow in Buenos Aires, where it never snows…)

She picks up the accordion
as another woman might
pick up a knife.

Awkwardly, cautiously,
she turns it in her hands
until she feels the current rise
within its reeds,
the electricity of pain,
the fury of lost hope,
the cacophony of fear.

She lets her fingers dance across the keys,
imagining the song she’d play
if only he were there to hear.

Her fingers settle in.
She opens up her arms
as if welcoming a child home.
The bellows swell
and one high, perfect note bleeds into the air.

She is leaning forward
as if waiting for her chest to find another’s,
her lover’s arms embracing her
in close position,
her lover’s hot breath on her skin.

The studio is empty but for her.

She begins to play.
No mournful cancion
or lonely vals,
but instead a rude milonga
that sings of passion once ignited,
fueled by enigmatic longing,
ablaze with love and rage encompassed
in a turn, a glance, a footstep,
and a sigh.

A memory glides past her.

Her fingers pause;
the notes begin to falter, then to fade.
She lays down the instrument of her destruction,
packs it away with all that it remembers
of another time.

She takes her coat,
shuts off the light, locks the door,
and steps out into the night,
the tango dancer
whose partner’s ghost steps lightly across the floor.

Like snow in Buenos Aires,
love is this rare occasion,
glimpsed in wonder,
gone with daylight,
leaving memories and ice behind.



The Corner (Flash Fiction Challenge, Week Five)


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hissing cat

Here’s a tale about what your cat’s really freaking out about when it stares at the corner and yowls.

This is the fifth and final week of Chuck Wendig’s latest Flash Fiction Challenge – one person writes the first 200 words of a story, another person writes the next 200, and so on, until a collaboratively-written (and hopefully coherent!) 1,000 word story shows up at the end.

Part 1 of The Corner was written by Heather Milne Johnson, part 2 by Susan Penland, part 3 by Murgatroid_98, and part 4 by Shane Vaughan, each part separated by ***.  My part closes it out.

The Corner

The cat stared at the corner of the bedroom. Her eyes were black disks with only a rim of yellow showing. She was stock still and it was creeping me out.

“Hey, Shadow!”

She didn’t respond, not even an ear flicker. As I watched her, goosebumps popping up on my arms, she moved. Rather, her fur moved. Her tail puffed out like a bottle brush and a ridge of fur rose up along her back, unfurling like a hoisted sail.

A low keening noise made my heart jump. A sound of fear, pain, and sadness, it was coming from Shadow. I’d never heard the cat make a noise other than a chirpy sort of meow or a raucous purr.

The keening continued, rising and lowering in pitch in an awful melody. I got out of bed, walked over to Shadow and knelt down. She ignored me, still staring into the corner. The keening got louder and her body vibrated with the effort of producing that ghastly noise. I lowered my head until it was on a level with hers, forcing myself to turn my head and look at the spot hypnotizing the cat.

And I saw what she saw.

The light from the street lamp across the way lit the corner with a bluish tint, highlighting the object of Shadow’s attention in the corner.

At first I thought it was a doll. It was propped up, stiffly leaning to one side.

I assumed it was a girl doll. Its hair was standing out in all directions under an acorn cap worn low over her eyes. She wore a dress with a tight bodice and a flared skirt like a tutu. Looking closer I saw the skirt was made from the leaves of an oak tree. Her arms were bare as were her feet. She stood with a knitting needle in her hand the pointed end to the sky and the end braced against her foot. Her face was dirty and like all doll eyes hers stared into nothing over my shoulder.

As I looked Shadow continued her keening

“Shadow. It’s just a doll. Look.” I said reaching out to pick the doll up.

The cat suddenly hissed and spit and backed up, while what I had thought was a doll lunged, knitting needle braced under her arm, shrieking in a high-pitched tone. Her mouth opened displaying a set of serrated teeth.

I fell onto my butt, crab-walking backward. It jabbed at me with the knitting needle and gnashed its teeth. Glaring at me and shrieking, it backed toward the open door of the bathroom. It turned and ran into the space between the toilet and vanity. I scrambled onto the bed, screaming. The doll thing shrieked from her hiding place while Shadow yowled from behind the laundry hamper.

I stopped screaming after a minute, gasping for breath, and examined myself for wounds, but there were none that I could see. Either I dodged fast enough or the little creature was as frightened of me as I was of her. She had stopped shrieking, but I heard little growls coming from behind the toilet. I hopped off the bed and yanked the bathroom door closed.

Shadow crept close to me, never taking her eyes off the door. I ruffled her fur with a trembling hand. “You’re all brave aren’t you, now that the danger is over?” The cat arched her back and continued to growl at the door. “Now, all we need to know is what that is and how we get rid of it.”

“That,” said a deep voice behind me, “is a forest pixie.”

“It is?”

“It is.”

“And what are you?”

“I am its brother.”


“Oh, indeed.”

“I’m… sorry?” I said as Shadow prowled over my hands.

“You should be. You frightened her. Do you know how long it takes to calm her down?”

“A… long time?”

“A VERY LONG TIME!” The voice in the corner boomed and from the shadows a small, stocky creature appeared. He was holding a rusty fork with a small crown of tinsel on his head. “Do you have any marshmallow?”

“Excuse me?”

“Marshmallow. Are all humans deaf or something? Marsh. Mallow. It’s… mallowy.”

“Yes, hang on, I might.” I pushed shadow off my hands and reached under the bed to my one weakness: snacks. I took out a shoebox and pulled off the lid. Inside was a half-eaten bag of crisps, an unopened packet of chocolate digestives, two bars of smooth white chocolate and a packet of unpopped kernels.

“Does she like chocolate?”

“Dark or white?”



“I’ve got digestives, too.”

“It’ll have to do.” He stormed up to me, grabbed the packet and marched to the linen closet.

He laid a large towel in front of the bathroom door, then nudged it open. The growling inside got louder. Shadow watched from behind my leg.

“Starthimble,” the man called, “it’s all right. Come out, now.” He waved a biscuit. “Look – chocolate!”

He threw the biscuit on top of the towel and jumped back as the girl pixie practically flew out of the bathroom, landing on the biscuit and shoving it in her scary little mouth. Just as fast, the male pixie wrapped her up in the towel, tying the ends together around her. The girl pixie started shrieking again, and Shadow took off.

“That will hold her for now,” the man said, slinging the trashing, shrieking bundle over his shoulder. He climbed onto the ledge of my open bedroom window. “From now on,” he said, “keep your window closed at night.”

“I can’t do that,” I protested. “It’s the middle of summer. It was ninety degrees last night!”

“Do you want her back?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he jumped off the ledge and was gone.

I told all this to the sales person at Walmart, but she still made me pay full price for a fan.




Hissing cat by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, distributed under a CC-BY-2.0 license

Zombie Collaborative Flash Fiction Marches On


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Photos of Zombie Bar, Mugla

Last week, I posted parts 1-3 of a Chuck Wendig’s collaborative flash fiction zombie piece called “A Real Live Corpse.” Ken Crump had written part 1, Mandy Webster had written part 2, and I added part 3. Kirsten Bruce took up the challenge with part 4 and posted it to her tumblr. This is a re-blog of her post with all 4 parts so far – one more part to go. Can’t wait to see where it ends up!

Kirsten’s post:

I am continuing “A Real Live Corpse” started by Ken Crump with additions by Mandy Webster and Joanna Horrocks. The 200 piece parts are separated by ***

A Real Live Corpse

Karen had never seen a corpse before. Not a real live corpse. The thought made her giggle nervously.

A real “live” corpse? She snickered.

At first she didn’t know it was a corpse. She saw a man slumped against the wall by the door to the bar when she stepped out for a smoke. She glanced disgustedly at him and sat in the Throne to light up. Nathan had put an old spindle chair by the door so the staff could sit to enjoy a smoke. He’d sprayed it gold and proclaimed it a Throne, because smoking in public had become such a royal pain in the ass.

After a few minutes, she threw a pebble at the man slumped by the door. “Hey! You can’t sleep there, asshole,” she shouted. But no response. So Karen flicked her half-finished cigarette into the street and stormed over to stand in front of him.

“This ain’t no outdoor drunk tank,” she snarled. “Get off your ass and get on the road!”

Then she kicked him hard. And that’s when she thought he might be a corpse. She’d kicked more than a few drunks in her time, and none of them felt like this guy.

“Shit,” she said. Her foot registered the man’s condition seconds before her brain did. She jumped back, falling over the Throne and tumbling onto her ass. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Karen’s hands shook. She fumbled for her smokes in her vest pocket and pulled one out. She could hardly get the cigarette to her mouth. So much for sneaking out early, dammit. She struggled with her lighter, but finally the end of the cigarette flared. She inhaled, then blew out. She clutched the lit cigarette between her lips and pulled herself up on the Throne.

Maybe the man wasn’t really dead, just out cold. Karen inched toward him and touched the toe of her boot to his side again. He fell sideways, slipping down the wall at an awkward angle. His body was otherwise stiff and unmoving. How long had he been out here?

Karen considered her options. There was no helping this guy now. If she called for help, she’d be here all night talking to the cops. Then she’d never make it on time. Dane would be pissed. When he told her to be somewhere, she’d better be there when he said. He didn’t much care for her excuses, dead man or no…

“Jeez, don’t smoke. Doncha know those things’ll kill ya deader than a crack on the head with a baseball bat?”

Until that moment, Karen hadn’t known how high she could jump. She also hadn’t known it was possible for a real live corpse to be…well, you know. Alive.

She fell back on her ass again and scuttled backwards like a crab, trying to get as far away as she could from the corpse – yep, that’s what it was, all right, the whole back of its head bashed in like a boiled egg – as it righted itself and leaned back against the wall at a jaunty angle, kind of the way Dane did when he was smoking a joint.

The dead man reached around to the back of his head, wincing as he felt the jagged edges of his broken head. He dipped his finger into the cavity and came up with a finger full of grey goo. He looked at it, then held it out menacingly toward Karen, who was watching from across the alley, frozen in fear.


The dead man laughed, then held his finger up to his mouth, stuck out his tongue, and took a quick taste. He spit it out again.

“Gaah. That’s awful.”

The real live corpse looked at Karen with its real dead eyes.

“Got a beer?”

Karen was coming unglued. Her old man, Dane, was expecting her within the hour. She still needed to close up the bar and now she’d just kicked a surly dead guy that had chastised her for smoking, ate a finger full of his own gray matter and then casually asked her for a beer. Was this what they referred to as a flashback? she thought. She had only done LSD once in her 20’s but she could not come up with any other explanation for what was happening.

“A beer?” Karen asked the undead guy.

“Yeah, you’re the bar keep, right?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Then yes, a beer. A beer would be swell.”

“You got a name, brain eater?” Karen asked the guy.

“I did, it was Dennis. Shit’s changed now, sugar. Still waiting on that beer.”

“Ok, zombie formerly known as Dennis, wait here…” Karen felt stupid for the request but he was talking to her and she could not chance him actually coming in after her…

As she re-entered the bar, Karen was ambushed by a group of patrons yelling “Surprise!” and throwing confetti at her. As she cleared the confetti and paper streamers from her hair and face, she realized that the celebrating crowd all had mortal wounds, just like her new pal Not-Dennis. The next thing she remembered was hitting the floor.

Zombie Bar, Mugla, Turkey, courtesy of TripAdvisor

At The Dinosaur Ranch


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Stalenhag dino


From time to time, Lauren Davis at io9.com provides writing prompts in the form of concept art.  Yesterday she offered Simon Stålenhag’s sweet blue dinosaur in front of a rustic shack, with the request to “Share your tale of a place where dinosaurs spend their days behind fences and their nights sleeping in barns.”  Here’s mine.


“I know she may not look like much,” the old man said, between drags on his cigarette, “but she’s fast.”

He must have thought I looked skeptical, because he turned away from me, stepped through the gap in the fence, and approached the raptor, electric dino prod in one hand and bridle in the other. The raptor tilted its head to look at me.

“Her name’s Juno’s Pride. Almost won the Preakness in ’35,” he called back. “Did win three times at Saratoga and once at Belmont, before they changed the class rules. Once they did that, she woulda had to carry so much handicap weight, it woulda broken her. She’s a thoroughbred, built for sprinting, and her bones – well, they’ll support her, and you, you’re little enough, but she’s not some goddamned T-Rex.”

He clicked his tongue twice, getting the dino’s attention.

“Come on, you. That’s right, be nice. Got a pretty little lady rider for ya.”

The raptor shied away from him, but he moved to cut it off. I stood by the fence as he bridled the dinosaur, which jerked its head when the rancher pulled the bit too hard, cutting into the hinge of its mouth. The rancher kicked the animal in the shin and it reared, but the rancher juiced it with the prod, then yanked on the reins and drew it back down, holding its head low. The dino tried to pull away, but the bit was barbed, and after throwing its head around in protest, the animal settled down.

Despite what the rancher had said earlier, she was magnificent – mostly gray, but with an iridescent blue blaze and comb and a row of brilliant orange markings down its neck, and those teeth and talons that could still shred someone if they weren’t careful and if the dino wasn’t so beaten down. And there was plenty of power in those legs. If I could take those reins, she’d take me like the wind.

“How long have you had her?” I asked. “Did you raise her yourself?”

“Nah. I’ve had her about three years. I bought her from a breeder out in New Kansas when she was a yearling. She was bridle-broken, but whoever did it was too easy on her. I had to show her how to really pay attention, if you know what I mean.”

I knew what he meant. I could see it in the dino’s eyes

“Whadda ya want –”

The rancher coughed, and not just to get my attention. He hacked up a glob of something dark green and spit it on the ground by his feet. He dry-coughed a few more times and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He ground out the cigarette he’d lost and lit another one.

“Damn things’ll kill me, I know. So what? We all gotta die sometime. Goddamn it –” The dino had backed away from him again, and he grabbed the reins with both hands and pulled, dropping the raptor to its ankles. I winced. Raptors don’t show pain, but that had to hurt.

“So whadda ya want her for? Can’t race her in the Continental League anymore. You and your girlfriends got some little lady league I haven’t heard about?”

“Yeah, something like that,” I said. “Okay if I try her on for size?”

He shrugged, so I took the reins. The raptor watched me closely as I walked gently to her side and softly stroked her muzzle. The coarse pinfeathers scratched the palm of my hand. The dino chuffed under her breath and her eyes half-closed with pleasure.

“That’s right, girl,” I whispered. “Yes. Real easy, okay?” She opened her eyes fully and looked straight at me, and she made a sound almost like a purr. I bounced on one foot and threw the other leg over her back. She stood up and held her head high. With a light hand, I drew her left, then right, then round in a tight circle. I backed her up, then leaned forward and whispered to her some more. This time, when I just flicked the reins, she hopped.

“What, the –” The rancher stood back. I clucked in the dino’s ear. She craned her neck to look at me. It’s hard to tell when a raptor’s smiling, but I’d swear she was. I gave the slightest touch on the reins, and together we turned to face the rancher.

“Her name’s Amaryllis,” I said. “She was stolen from my parents’ ranch three years ago. And even then, she was fast.”

I smiled, although I’m not sure the rancher would have called it that. 

“Now run.”

Flash Fiction Challenge Week Four


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This is Week Four of Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge. It began with an assignment to write a 200-word opening to a story. The next week, another writer took over for the next 200 words; the next week, a third writer; and now we’re on the next-to-last week. It’s been a lot of fun, choosing a story in progress and working to follow what’s been laid down by the previous writers while still keeping my own voice.

This is a piece that was started by J.D. Fitch, then continued by Doreen Queen and Paul Baughman.  The different sections are marked by ^^^^^.  With luck, someone will pick this up for the final week and it will become a complete story.  Here are parts 1-4 of —

 Unpredictable Magic

God, how she hated dance music. Tony blared that crap every day at work, and after four years, she couldn’t take it anymore. Most had their I-phones or mp3’s and earbuds to stuff in their heads. The rest of them had to suffer. Her fist smashed the bread dough with a vengeance. One fist beat the soft, yeasty mass over and over.

“Screw this.” Gloria reached and ‘touched’ the electric plug that asshole’s antique radio was plugged into. Sparks crackled from the outlet, the acrid smell of burnt plastic ripped across the room.

“Judas Priest!” The shift super rushed over and yanked the cord from the wall. “Tony, this piece of crap is gone. You understand me? Three times in one week? Burn it, burn your own house down, but keep it out of my bakery.” Allen rammed the offending device into Tony’s chest before stalking off.

Gloria could not help the smile that crossed her lips. Then common sense took over. Shit. Why did magic have to be so unpredictable? Two years, and she still could not predict the outcomes, not like her teacher. Who would no doubt taste the magic in the air around her.

Life sucked chunks.


She had to be more careful or else be caught by the Authorities. They might taste the magic she leaked after tweaking the radio.

Most kids were screened by preschool to see whether they had talent – somehow Gloria had been missed.

Good thing Claudia had seen her magician’s performance at a child’s birthday party. Everything had gone wrong that day – instead of a rabbit, she pulled a python out of the hat. Of course, the party had been for boys, so that went over well. But it didn’t go over with the parents when her bra and panties had pulled out of her sleeve along with the handkerchiefs. Not sure how that happened.

Claudia had tasted the taint and offered to tutor her if she promised to stop playing magician.

Gloria needed to control herself first if she wanted to control the magic. Otherwise, some Telemage would catch a whiff and she would be slammed into a Control Chair. Then some Docmage would fry out her brain section that created magic – and they weren’t too careful about what else was around, like body functions or reasoning. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life drooling in the corner of a closed ward, finger-painting.


It hadn’t always been this way. Once magicians had been an accepted, if not welcome, part of society. The Magic War was hundreds of years in the past, but the results had echoed down the years into the present. The old saw about bad apples still applied.

Time to try out some of Claudia’s tutoring before a passing patrol sensed what she had done. Gloria let her hands continue working the bread dough on autopilot. She let her mind drift until she could sense the magic crackling in her skin, vibrating in her bones, and even curling off the end of each hair. When she had the feeling solidly nailed down, she sucked it all into her hands and grounded it to the earth.

The sense of magic vanished. It worked! She smiled happily. It was the first time she had successfully used one of Claudia’s techniques on her own. Maybe now she wouldn’t have to worry so much about getting caught.

The happy, proud feeling faded as she realized the bread dough she was working felt odd.

She opened her eyes and looked down to find her hands buried to the wrist in the finest cake she had ever seen.


Every other baker and apprentice in the shop saw it too, a multihued, multi-tiered swirl of impossibly delicate buttercream butterflies and roses. Gloria licked a finger and found the rich filling studded with blackberries and pears. She smiled in spite of herself. She knew she was screwed, but at least she was going down in style.

Gloria looked up; her coworkers were staring at her with terror in their eyes. She wondered how many seconds it would take before someone would start to scream, how many minutes after that until a patrol arrived with their magic-damping nets and their wands set to stun. She wondered whether finger-painting would turn out to be fun.

A deafening blast of dance music rent the air. Gloria grimaced along with everybody else, involuntarily shutting her eyes against the pain. When she opened them again, the cake was just an ordinary lump of bread dough again, and everyone else had gone back to work as if nothing had changed.

“Babe, that was one crazy spell you threw there,” she heard someone say. “Don’t ever do that in here again.”

She turned and found Tony standing next to her.

“And stop frying my radio, hear?”


(cake & photo by Carrie Gunther, Wooster, Ohio)