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Thomas gave his avatar consciousness because he tired of all the decisions. As he got older, he realized that was a mistake. He missed the control. But after many, many service calls, there was no going back. So, he paid, and paid dearly, for plot points and obstacles and playing characters. And like clay he eventually shaped him back to his will.

The Armadillo Brigade

Penelope Bookers life hit peak absurdity on June 4, 2131 outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico when her automated car hit what appeared to be the last remaining nine-banded armadillo just before sunrise. The car flipped over 4 or 5 times, but landed upright, and facing Historical Marker 295. Penelope survived. The armadillo did not. The car notified the authorities, and in the time it took for them to get there, she read the words on the dusty metal plaque several times to herself. The story was familiar, but she had forgotten. This was the exact spot her great-grandfather led the Armadillo Brigade in the final battle for the Western States. She took it as a sign.

The Precipict

Teresa called it time’s gallblader. A pouch so vile they should just rip it out and be done with it. I can still see her saying that. And I share her distain for the bile and gall that collects here, unsavory time fucks, everyone single one of them. But the stream needs a place like the Precipict, and we need the stream. I can see her ghosting in the convergence, but focus, focus, focus. This cycle I will find her killer.

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One man’s trash

Everyone thought the machines would take over from some fancy tech startup or mega conglomerate.

Nope. Garbage.

Roberta McCallen’s crazy smart recycling robots solved one of humanity’s most pressing problem – our trash. She won some peace prize for it. Not that it’s good for anything now.

They were masterful. Sorting. Cleaning. Reusing. In a little corner of the world where nobody wanted to go, we left them at it.

By the time we noticed, it was too late.

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Bobby

Every Tuesday morning Bobby Moore would buy 4 Cokes, 2 Slim Jims, a day old apple bear claw – if they had them – a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and some of those little waxy chocolate donuts.

He would walk to that crappy park bench on the edge of the lake by the big oak tree, the one they used to tie yellow ribbons around – they don’t do that much anymore.

He would sit on the left of the bench – always the left – peer into the big paper bag, and meticulously open all the packages.

Then he would eat.

He started with the bear claw – if they had them. He loved the way the dry, crusty, pillowy doughnut collapsed against his palate as he would bite down. It was painful and delicious at the same time.

He quickly chased each bite with gulp of fuzzy Coke, a snip of a Slim Jim, and the largest Dorito he could find. He would squint a bit and roll his eyes.

The pigeons could tell he enjoyed it. The pigeons liked Bobby, and for the most part Bobby liked the pigeons.

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The Piano Teacher

I have these moments of clarity where I see my life is absurd. I will be driving through rows of tan houses with the red roofs, watching men in tan pants and blue shirts get into the white cars.

It’s just for a moment, and then it’s gone.

Sometimes when I’m at that very point of awaking in the morning, my mind will slip out of alignment and the truth will appear. Everything is understandable, if only for a moment.

Then the cat would lick my face and it would all be gone.

Susie liked to be called a midget. She thought “little people” was pretentious bullshit. I was fine with it, until that day she made me say it during sex.

“What am I?”
“Beautiful?” 
“No. I’m your little fucking midget.” 
“Yes, you are my beautiful little fucking midget.” 
She pushed me off. “Just midget. Can’t you get anything right.”

My shrink told me I represented the oppressor. I didn’t really need that. I left her, and the cat. It was a shame. I really did think she was beautiful. 

I settled into a small apartment near the Darrington Bridge. It was a nice neighborhood. You know the place, safe enough for hipster coffee, but scary enough to Uber anywhere after 10pm. 

I spent a lot of time at the “proudly independent” bookstore. That’s where I met Megan. We dated for a bit. She told me I reminded her of a piano teacher she had growing up. She said he was the first man she masturbated to. I’m not sure what to think about that, but I liked her. She laughed when I told her my first jerk was to Velma from Scooby Doo. 

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I still had a thing Velma. I guess it made me understand the piano teacher. 

We never got too serious, which was fine with me. I was working out a ton of shit. We would go to art flicks, and discuss obscure French novels like we knew what we were talking about. She would close her eyes when I touched her. I could tell she was thinking about piano lessons. 

My deja vu was really bad then. I would be struck by particular events where I had dreamed of this very moment, this conversation, this car, this person. It had all happened before, somewhere. 

My boss called me “indecisively brilliant.” He got away with it because it sounded like a compliment. It wasn’t. I mean I would quit, but they paid me well, and it was close to my apartment. And the truth is I’m pretty lazy. Finding another job sounds like a lot of work. I liked the “Free Food Fridays” and the refrigerator full of Diet Coke. 

AnI also liked watching the marketing girls jog in the gym. I would listen to the Smiths, walk on the treadmill and watch them bounce in their expensive workout clothes. I wonder what it must feel like to be that perfectly desirable. And then, I would imagine who their piano teacher was. It was not me.

My best friend was Jack. He was an art school dropout who paid for his hipster life by writing code for a ‘boring-as-shit’ medical payment app. He liked single-gear bicycles, colorful wool hats and whiskey.

He said we got along because we had different taste in women. He liked them older and skinny, I didn’t. But really, I think we got along because we could talk. Jack and I could talk about anything. Not many men can do that. It also helped that we were both sarcastic, underachieving and lazy. 

I saw Susie the other day. She averted her eyes and scampered quickly past. It is really amazing how a partnership either brings the best or worst out each other. If you have enough time to bond like that. Susie and I didn’t.  

Meagan made dinner. It was some bean and tofu thing she found on a website. I nodded when she asked if I liked it. We watched a movie and drank a bottle of cheap wine. The credits rolled and we sauntered off to bed. We cuddled for the appropriate amount of time and I drifted off. 

I left my body that night. Hovered over us. It took everything to slide up though the ceiling. The fuzzy yellow glow of street lights led the way. I floated over my high school football stadium.

I thought about Julie. She had deep brown hair and cute dimples. We used to goto every Friday night game. She was my first. Well, I didn’t even get inside her the first time before I blew. I was a boy pretending I knew what I was doing. We cleaned it up and sat on her father’s couch reading his scientific radio magazines. We laughed at it later, well, I pretended to laugh.

I floated there and thought about her. The her then, not now. Now, she was a teacher with a husband and three kids. Or so Facebook told me.

Julie drove an old blue Mustang back then. It was her father’s midlife crisis project he didn’t finish. And when he didn’t have enough money to buy a car for her, he just gave it to her. I think it was the only way he could make sure it stuck around. I bet he still has that car in a garage somewhere.

I can still see her trying to eat a floppy piece of pizza, singing some INXS song while driving us to the game. She loved life like that.

She had this weird habit of turning the car off at stop lights. She said it just made sense. Everyone teased her about it, but she just kept doing it. I bet she still does it in that mini van full of soccer kids.

I liked Julie. She was nice. She helped me see what a woman could be. And when the other girls wore red and black, she wore blue. I wish I hadn’t looked her up on Facebook. She was like so many of my high school friends. Their art died. The got a wife and a mortgage and a couple kids. They went to Olive Garden and played video games in the basement to avoid the reality they created. I bet Julie doesn’t wear blue any more. It’s okay. She wasn’t my piano teacher.

I floated for a bit longer. Then I was ripped from space back into my body. I awoke to Megan’s dog licking the night time toothpaste from the corner of my mouth. He curled up under my arm and we both went to sleep.

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The Way to the End

The way to the end is the beginning.

Cal used to say it all the time. It was a tic he had. I never really understood what it meant, and to be honest he never explained it. He was just awkward like that. Like how he would carry a toothbrush behind his ear.

“Just in case,” he would say. People would stare. He never cared. After awhile, neither did I.

I guess that’s the best place to start this story, about Cal and me, and Mary.

Can’t forget Mary. She was my friend first. It took a bit for her to get comfortable with Cal, but she eventually did. She was good for him, in a way. She challenged him.

And she was relentless from what I remember. He told me once that it was her way of showing she cared. When she stopped, he said, that’s when he would know she didn’t care.

School was finished for the summer. All the pent-up days were behind us. We were flush with freedom. We walked around like kings and queens on holiday.

I was tall for my age, taller than Cal. Mary was still a tomboy, I guess. I mean, I never once thought of her in the way a boy my age would be thinking about her. I’m sure at this point she was developing into a woman, but neither one of us noticed. Or if he did, Cal never said anything.

“I’m craving KFC,” said Cal.

“Traditional or Extra Crispy?” Mary said.

“Does it matter?” Cal replied

“It matters,” Mary said. “There are two kinds of people in the world and you have to be one.”

“I’m not picking,” Cal said, “I like them both.”

We ordered a bucket and sat on the bench outside. Cal fiddled and played with his Zippo. He didn’t smoke, he just liked having it. He would nervously flick it open and light it. The habit had worn the shine off the edges, and bugged the shit out of us. He called it, Gygax. Mostly because that’s what was engraved on the side. It was a gift from a friend, he would tell us.

I remember the sky was dark that night. I don’t think it rained. It was just one of those weird summer evenings. I remember we had our jackets, so maybe it did?

Our chicken came out and we declared who we were. I was traditional, Mary was crispy, and true to his word, Cal ate a piece of both. I’m not sure if we had finished or not, when he showed up. I’m mean, it’s not really important to the story.

He was tall, thin and wearing an old time cream-colored suit. The collars were worn, like you would find at a thrift store. I remember the red socks. Black shoes, red socks, and a hat, a white hat with a black band.

“Do you have the time,” he said.

He startled us, but not in a creepy way. It’s just that he was odd. And that’s saying something as we both hung out with Cal.

“7:35,” he replied. Cal was the only one of us who had a watch.

“That’s a wonderful toothbrush you have. Crest or Colgate?” the man said.

Cal tensed up. “Crest is an abomination. I only use Colgate.”

“I agree,” said the man. “Listen, could you all tell me where I could find a fly-fishing store?”

We all glanced at each other. We knew every inch of that small Texas town, but that was not a question we heard very often.

“I don’t think we have one,” said Mary.

“Think or know,” said the man.

“We don’t even have a fishing store,” said Cal.

“There’s no lakes or streams close by,” I said.

“Quite the team, the three of you” he said. “How about baseball cards?”

“New or used?” said Cal.

“Vintage. Older the better,” the man said.

“Across the way, then turn left. But, I don’t think they are open,” Mary said.

The man pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, pushed up his glasses and put it to his face.

“That’s fine.” he said. “There’s time.”

And off he went.

And that was the first time we met Marson. The beginning to the end.

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The Elves of Kendashar

The elves of Kendashar have perfect grey skin. There are no blemishes, no spots, no marks, ever. This defined them from the other races. They are perfect in the eyes of the maker, or so they believed.

This is why Samartha’s parents did their best to hide the small, black oddly-shaped birthmark on her back just between her shoulder blades. They did a good job, but secretly were repulsed by their only child. Everyday Samartha felt their disdain.

Despite this, she grew up strong and beautiful and normal. She was a member of the Councils Retreat, and even caught the eye of Forest Guard.

But the mark was still there, hidden behind her cloak, underneath her fine elven silk. Her everyday was stained with a dark secret that she couldn’t even see without a mirror.

The suitors started calling soon after she had passed her Tanshars and came of age. She married a man she loved. A man she hoped would overlook her mark. But when he discovered it on their union night he was angry and appalled. He said he would kill her.

She slipped out in the night, into the forest, out toward the common lands. There she found comfort in arms of the imperfect. To them, she was perfection. Her long dark hair, her slim elven frame, her magical grey skin, her quiet smile. Her beauty blinded them. No one cared about the small dark spot on her back.

And over time she met more and more like her, Grey-skinned elves living their lives in the city, away from their kind. They had blemishes, some you could see, others you could not. They were tall and fat, some had funny shaped heads. But they were happy. Samartha was happy. She married a kind man. They had beautiful children she loved.

She didn’t miss perfection, as it didn’t miss her.

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The chaotic thinker and other flashes

I’m sad that I haven’t posted here an a while. I’m working on expanding a short story into a novel. While I am enjoying that, I hate not having short creative spurts to share. Here are some things I did while drinking a beer this weekend. 

The chaotic thinker dribbled his thoughts down the sidewalk past the brick church and over by the steel playground. The wind chilled his ambition, but teased his soul. He stopped by the old oak tree at the park. Bravado brought him down waist deep in soggy sensibility. He sank into the wild currents of his mind. Even she couldn’t comfort his jittery song.


Perspiration. Sweat. Drops of water clinging to the inside of those cotton pants I found at the second hand store on Rosemont. I’m nervous. I’m anxious. I’m not of this situation. I’m not of this scene. Are you? Are you real, or just a figment of this beer induced dream.


I’ll call you Chardonnay. We will delight in the drink of the afternoon. I will hold you tight like a glass of time slipping into a horribly scented candle. You will cringe at my attempts at casual infatuation. And I will think of sweet potatoes; warm, salted, fried. My dress will be clean and stained and mine.

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Leaving the Rock

Leaving in a hurry sucks. You can’t plan for these kinds of things. You go where you go, and trust that the higher-ups know what they are doing. We’d been there for a good six months, so we’d dug in a fair bit. But, when they yell EVAC, it’s grab and go time. Sure there’s a protocol. But really? No protocol survives an EVAC. 

The seasons are short and harsh on Ginstron. The rain and snow pushed the dirt, rocks and debris until they almost completely covered the rusted power unit. The morning sun shimmered in the drops of dew that formed on the remaining exposed panel. Chirping could be heard in the distance. The unit hummed as it had for the last 50 years or so.

We bugged out of Ginstron for a reason; We couldn’t go back for it. And besides, we were hundreds of thousands of miles away before anyone even noticed the unit was gone. I blame that new captain. He’s a sweaty, nervous guy. That dude is fresh out of the academy and he just doesn’t have it yet. I mean, it took him 4 days to order a inventory. 4 DAYS! There was no way we were going back after 4 days. 

The weight of the mud and rock cracked the containment shield. It started small. Tiny drops of green sludge dripped from the corner. The dry red soil soaked up each drop. It had been unusually dry this year, but the rainy season would start soon enough.

Everyone knows this shit. The D240 power generator is the standard power unit for planetary expeditions. It’s a couple meters in size, but light weight, and durable. At its heart is a small reactor that can sustain a mission for a year or two. We come and go pretty fast these days, so nobody really uses them for that long. I just love how easy they are to fix. We were on Jackson345 and Mel fixed one with a tweezer and some tape from the medical kit. 

Large tree-like plants surrounded the ravine where the unit sat. The canopy of bushy yellow leaves shaded the red ground below. Small purple weeds swayed in the slow breeze. The rains had begun in mountains and a river could be heard rushing in the distance.

We aren’t supposed to leave those units behind? You think I don’t know that? I know that. Everyone knows that. But, you know what, SHIT happens. We put that unit on the edge of the encampment because Sutter needed it there for one of those silly experiments she was always running. That is NOT normal procedure, but hell, the captain signed off on the exception notice. They knew it was out there. 

It rained and rained that day. The river finally burst its banks late in the afternoon. The water rushed into the ravine and took everything with it, including the power unit. Every rock and twig bobbed up and down as the water screamed down the hill toward the valley below. The unit smashed into a tree and was trapped under a large log. The box split open and the remaining green sludge spilled into the water.

Did we leave it on? I don’t know. I suspect we did. Why would we turn it off? I understand why they need to ask the questions, but are they seriously stupid. I mean, you don’t usually turn these things on and off. Sutter probably set up that experiment and left it running the entire time we were there. I suspect that’s why we forgot about it. If we had to trek out there every day and turn if off, I imagine one of us would have mentioned that we had a D240 out in the field.  

Rows and rows of thin leafy stalks shot upward from the valley floor. A human-like figure stood knee deep in the recent floods. Grasping a stalk with all four hands, it yanked a large round black root from the ground. It wiped the curious green watery sludge off the root, trimmed the stalk, and placed in a woven basket slung over its back. Others could be seen in the distance doing the same thing.

Those units make some nasty waste. We collect them, clean them out and store that sludge until we safely get rid of it. I can’t imagine how much shit is in that unit if its been running this whole time. I can’t even imagine. 

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Is this Casserole Still Good?

I drew you with crayons and put you on the refrigerator with those snarky magnets you bought from that drug store in Mobile, Alabama. I put you up next to a doctors note from ’92 and a faded yellow Post It. Did I mow the lawn? I can’t remember if I mowed the lawn.

I put you up here with a receipt from a store for a thing we’re never taking back. There you are between that magnet poem I wrote when I was drunk and a magnet poem you wrote when you were mad.

But, we don’t put things here to remember, we put them here to forget, like day old spagetti and sour milk. We were healthy intentions, that ended up soggy like these months old cucumbers. Moldy like a new recipe neither of us liked.

We are a ripe cacophony of rotten things. A forgotten filter that never got replaced.

I will leave you here until the paper curls and the color fades. I will look at you every day, but never really see how beautiful you are.

And one day, in a purge, I will wad you up and throw you in the stinky, overfilled recycle bin.

Then I will draw you again, to fill the empty space right there next to the landscapers card we never called.

And tomorrow, I won’t notice you as I open the door, pausing for a bit to wonder where all the smudges on the stainless steel come from.

Is this casserole still good?

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Blue Bird Bay

A bird bounced in between the wooden bars of Bay’s cage. He lazily lifted his hand to shoo it away. Damn seagulls after his dinner again. But he stopped. This bird was blue.

We must be close to land he thought. How else would a bird like this be here?

Hoping he could entice it to stay, he pinched a small bit of his fish dinner and tossed it out on the edge of the table.

The bird cautiously hopped closer and ate the fish. Bay marveled at the brilliant blue feathers and jet black eyes. He had never seen a bird like it. But, that’s not surprising, Bay hadn’t seen much in his short life. The Portus captured him at 7, and he had been the Windbearer of the Sentinel Mark ever since.

“Who’s a pretty bird? Where’d you come from? What’s your name?” he said.

Sailors strolled by large wood cage, but mostly ignored him. The Windbearer may sit on the deck, but they are not part of the crew. They are a device, a tool. Truth be told, the sailors only really cared if he was still alive. No one wants to be caught on the sea without a bearer.

Bay didn’t care. He had long gotten over the misery of his situation. He found peace in the little things. The songs of the sailors, the whales, the birds, well except seagulls.

Bit by bit, as the night wore on, Bay fed the bird the rest of his dinner. Luckily for the bird, a well fed Windbearer is the key to success at sea.

Bay pushed away from the table. The bird hopped onto his plate and picked at the remaining crumbs. It finished and glanced back at Bay as if it was looking for more.

Bay twirled his finger and swirled up some dust from the floor of his cage. He made it dance in shapes on the table. It was a simple trick, but he hoped it would keep the bird from flying off. At first it was startled, but soon it was bouncing along with the little shapes Bay made.

Bay entertained the bird for hours. He told stories with the swirling dust. Stories of his family and of his voyages on the sea. The bird watched. Bay wasn’t sure if he understood, but he seemed to be riveted by the motion. Bay tried to stay awake. He knew if he fell asleep, the bird would leave, and he didn’t want it to go. Eventually he lost the battle, his head drooped, and the dust dropped to the ground.

To be continued…

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