Short short story: Dirty Knife

Inspired by a Neko Case song of the same title. 

All summer long, the heat and the sun had begun trapping him inside. It started in June when the sun rose at midday to just the right angle and he could feel himself drawing power on it, becoming incandescent with the heat and light, becoming more powerful. He thought the end of days might be coming, that he might actually ignite it accidentally, so he laid in supplies, closed the doors and blinds, and waited out each day in suffocating stillness.

He read, mostly; searching the Bible. When that didn’t turn up the answers he was looking for, he went back to Darwin trying to trace this thing back. His only regular company was the cats, but as the summer wore on, they began associating with a feral colony out in the woods and started keeping company with their own kind, bringing them back to the porch in the long evenings to be fed in the dying light.

His family finally noticed his absence in September from the annual Labor Day picnic. He had never particularly liked being with people, but they noticed the empty seat on the edge of where the elders now sat and they missed his rude interjections, always interrupting the others’ stories to correct some fact.

The family sent his nephew, you know the one, he recently passed his exam and had started work at the nursing home. He stopped by on his way to his shift and after wading across the meadow that used to be the lawn, found his uncle on the back porch surrounded by cats. His uncle explained what had happened, that the sun was now drawing energy from him, but he was winning by staying inside. He explained the genetic mutation he thought he had, told his nephew how glad he was to never have married, to have not passed it down to his generation. The nephew left reluctantly – he was going to be late – thinking he would call old Doc Herman in the morning to see if he could get him out here in the morning. He was relieved to have peace and quiet back as the sound and smell of his nephew’s car faded and the dust settle back on the dirt road.

The next day his nephew was back, this time with old Doc Herman. It didn’t go well at all; they listened to him but didn’t hear him, didn’t believe him. They wanted him to go into town and worse – go to the hospital. He’d finally had to go get the shotgun he kept by his bed, chasing them off. He’d be damned if he’d have liars and unbelievers on his property, “Live Free or Die” was the state motto and he took it to heart. They might be back, but he’d be ready for them next time and made sure they understood with a warning shot.

It was getting late in the season and here he was, with no wood to get through the winter. It’d become too dangerous for him to go out even at night as his skin tingled in the open air; he had begun drawing on moonlight as well. And he couldn’t ask the family for help, they all thought he was crazy and were ready to put him in a home with old Doc Herman’s help.

No matter, though, the house had plenty of rooms he no longer used, all filled with furniture from his childhood, several generations of childhoods, in fact, since he had lived on in the house as the elders had died, the rest of the family left it all to him to manage.

He began breaking down night tables and beds, leaving mattresses and bedclothes in the rooms and stacking the furniture wood next to the stove first, then in the wood shed. It was hard work, but not as hard as splitting wood outside. He figured he could probably make it through winter and keep the pipes from freezing if he only lit the fire when the mercury dropped below freezing. He had plenty of winter coats and his blood would keep him warm, even as the equinox passed he could feel the sun drawing on him.

They found him in December during a cold snap when daytime highs were only getting into the single digits. The enormous steady stream of smoke coming from where his house was alerted the neighbor, who called the fire department. Could be a chimney fire, the neighbor thought, but it wasn’t – he had managed to set the whole house on fire. They followed his frantic foot prints and occasional blood droplets through the snow, through the underbrush, where they found him in three winter coats holding a dirty knife, stab wounds in his lower back.

They never did figure out how he did it exactly, but they got him fixed up physically, at least, and into the state hospital. He spends his days sitting well away from the sunlight streaming through the windows.

The Cloud Factory 2

What the heck is this? It’s for week 2 of a writing challenge, 200 words each day about dreams.

The Cloud Factory 1

Jenny had insomnia. It was infuriating – she was so tired she couldn’t keep her eyes open, but as soon as her head hit the pillow, her thoughts kicked into overdrive and she was wide awake. She tried everything to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, instead of uncomfortably and hour or two before her alarm was set to go off. She tried good screen hygiene, not watching TV or using her phone or her iPad for hours before her bedtime. It didn’t help. She tried yoga, herbal teas, light evening meals instead of heavy dinners. She tried cutting caffeine out of her life entirely, with disastrous results; she fell asleep at her desk, which is not a great way to keep a job. She tried cutting sugar out of her diet, and while it did help her loose some of the jiggle in her middle, it didn’t help her sleep. She tried hypnotism with a somewhat shady therapist on Fifth Avenue for a while, too, and it did help for a little while, but gradually the time she was awake when she should have been sleeping started increasing again.

She missed dreams the most. One day, she told the shady therapist this, so when he put her under, he would ask her to imagine having the dreams she was missing. She was surprised to listen to herself talk about those old dreams, most of them flying dreams. On the bus home to Squirrel Hill, she passed the Cloud Factory and imagined what it would be like to glide into Skunk Hollow and through the factory’s clouds, what it would be like to be free and happy, heart and body soaring.

The Cloud Factory

What the heck is this? It’s for week 2 of a writing challenge, 200 words each day about dreams.

The Cloud Factory sits in Panther Hollow on the edge of Oakland. It’s looks like a factory, of course; it’s gray and has silos and towers and one giant brick chimney that the clouds come floating up out of into the sky above. In the winter when the warmth and moisture from the cloud works inside the factory hits the frigid dry air, you can see the clouds dispersing quickly, shrinking, but still managing to puff upwards to join their sisters and brothers traversing the land. In the summer, the clouds seem to grow as they emerge from that big chimney. Watching thunderheads form above the factory in a sunset is awe inspiring.

What most people don’t know is that the Cloud Factory also makes dreams. As air and moisture are pumped through the machinery of the cloud works, they are infused with dream seeds at different intervals. The dream seeds can and do grow into any kind of dream, of course, it all depends on the dreamer. The seeds are planted as clouds disperse in the wind or are evaporated by the sun or when it rains or snows or sleets. They are so small, dreamers don’t notice them coming into their hearts and minds to be watered with emotion and reaction to bloom in the night during sleep.

Writing Challenge Week 2: Dreams

This week’s writing challenge theme is dreams; not necessarily dreams you have while sleeping, but that’s what I wrote about today. I hate reading about other people’s dreams, so if you do too, I understand; carry on with your day. I will say though, that for about a year now I’ve been having very vivid dreams thanks to going back on Cymbalta. They run the gamut from nightmares to good dreams I don’t want to wake up from. Some of them have great narrative structures that I don’t want to wake up from because I want to find out how they end. This one from last night falls into that last category.


I work in one of the top floors of the US Steel building in Pittsburgh. It’s lunch time, so two of my workmates and I take a series of elevators to the basement, where there is a restaurant. One of the workmates, Debb, wants to look at an art exhibition that’s displayed on the right hand side of the grand stair case that leads from the bank of elevators to the cafeteria, it’s by an artist she knows and she’s used some of the art in one of her work projects.

We go closer for a look and while Debb and the other workmate are crowing over the details in the piece, I get bored. I discover that the mitts I’m wearing, which have an inflexible board on the palm side, will actually help me float up in the air if I pump my wrists the right way and hard enough. I go higher and higher. I glide. No one thinks anything of this, which I also don’t find unusual. While I’m occupied with flying and my workmates are occupied with art, a small group of terrorists come out of the elevator bank and down the stairs toward us. We notice them threatening us and quickly go through a door at the bottom right of the staircase.

The room on the other side is a mirror of the room we have just left; kind of a grand foyer, but instead of a staircase, there is a series of desks arranged on platforms, like NASA control centers in the movies, except that this is the control center of a government intelligence agency. The people in this room know that we have just narrowly escaped terrorists and do their best to hold them off, but in the end, they break open a window at the foot of the desks and my workmates and I are thrown down onto an air conditioning block overlooking the street. We carefully jump down – I glide down with my mitts that let me fly – and go into the street, where lunchtime traffic is snarled and people are starting to gather to look at the spectacle unfolding from the building we just came out of, which is now swarming with soldiers in army green, some of whom have belayed down on climbing ropes from higher up in the building.

Debb and I cross the street to a large bronze memorial fountain. There are kids playing but also kids and parents starting to panic at what’s going on in the building we came from. I decide to glide down into the fountain and skim the water so the bronze design of the fountain/statue is between me and the building. Debb follows me somehow, and then I am helping her fly and glide. We fly further away and go higher, avoiding electrical lines coming off of huge transmission towers. Some movement of the terrorists down below make it essential for me to go from downtown to my ex-boyfriend’s in Oakland, where he is living in a house after moving out of ours and has recently broken up with a girlfriend. I fly over The Hill district and skirt the edge of a ravine, making my way into Oakland. I pass the Tower of Learning – almost at the ex boyfriend’s house – and then I wake up.


Note that I actually did work in the downtown Pittsburgh in the US Steel Building and the ex-boyfriend in the dream (the one that got away) still works in Oakland for our alma mater, Carnegie Mellon. He also owns a house, though it’s not in Oakland. I played roller derby with Debb, though she’s a co-worker in the dream, and she is very interested in art.

Writing Challenge: Nature Part 2

Part 1 and an explanation are here.


Our driveway was dirt, with the attendant divots. When it rained, the divots turned into puddles and if one of the cars had gone out or come back, there would be tracks in the mud to make dams and rivers from. When the puddles froze overnight, air bubbles would get frozen into them so when I stomped on them while waiting for the bus, the iced puddle would crack and a hole would open. Sometimes, there were layers of air trapped, and so there were layers of ice to stomp through. It was more satisfying than popping bubble wrap and a great way to anticipate the frustrations of the school day.

Note: I found out after writing this, by chance and serendipity thanks to twitter, that this kind of ice is called cat-ice.


One morning I was running late. The bus had already turned the corner at the top of the hill before my house when I checked out the window, as I always did. I flew through the living room into the kitchen, grabbing my coat and my school bag, and ran out the door. I ran down the steps and the path to the driveway and realized too late that I was running on ice with a thin layer of water on it. I slipped and went down on my right side, the cold water soaking through my clothes, right in front of an entire bus full of other kids, most of them older. I did get up though, and because I didn’t want to bother my mom to drive me 20 minutes in to school, I slowly and carefully walked across the rest of the driveway, onto the road, crossed to the other side, and boarded the bus, where I curtsied and took the remaining free seat.


The year of the big ice storm, we lost one of the two maple trees in our front yard. The weight of the ice on one substantial branch brought it down, grazing the corner of our porch. It was the branch I always wanted to climb to and sit on, but was never tall enough to reach – not even my father could reach it. It was night when it happened, and there was a very loud crash. We were all in different parts of the house – my mother and brother and I all in our bedrooms, my father in the living room – and all gathered to make sure everyone was okay. We went on the porch and saw how lucky we were, the ice could have easily brought a whole maple down on the house, and also how unlucky we were, losing one of those maples. In the spring, my father cut the rest of it down and the house was never the same again.

Writing Challenge: Nature, Part 1

One of my goals for January and the new year is to write creatively more often. Nadia of Cottage Notebook is hosting a month-long writing challenge, with themes and increasing word counts through the month. I’m using it to get back into the habit of writing without having to decide on a theme or a subject. So far, I am writing creatively but only about things I’ve experienced, mainly my childhood and growing up in Vermont – the theme this week is nature, and so it’s an obvious fit for me to write about that. Anyway, here are my first four 100ish word pieces that are sort of connected.


The air has been so cold and dry the last few days, the snow squeaks underfoot. It’s a familiar sound to me – I grew up in the mountains of Vermont. My brother and I spent hour playing in the snow, building sledding tracks, sledding, and building forts in the snow banks. We went out in all kinds of weather, not like it is here in Virginia. The only thing that would keep us inside is a frostbite warning (-19 degrees and below), so there were plenty of times we went out into snow that squeaked as we walked through it.


The best snow, however, was snowman snow. It came down in big fluffy flakes and stuck together so well that we could roll the base of a snowman across the front yard. When the plow came to clear our driveway, it packed banks of dense snow for us to burrow in and make into forts. They always took shape from the random peaks and round bottoms the plow made. The best I ever made was one large enough for two people, with two entrances. I took a mug of hot chocolate and a book out and spent a quiet hour insulated from the wind reading.


In the summer, newts would gather on the damp stones that formed the steps of our walk-out root cellar. The floor of the cellar was packed dirt, the foundation – like those stairs and the walls around the well – was stone probably dug from the Vermont property the house was built on. We used to catch the newts and play with them. You could count on them being in the cool dampness of the stone walkup, even on bright sunny days at certain times of the year. It was until I was an adult that I knew the newts were juvenile salamanders, the algae colored salamanders that inhabited the pond.


One year, my brother and I were out sledding in the woods above the pond. We built a twisting sled path downhill through the trees, with a banked turn up against a big maple. We tamped down the snow as tight as we could for a smooth, fast track. When he took the first run down the path, his sled jumped the banked turn and he hit the old maple, knocking the wind out of his lungs. That was the first time I realized we’re all at nature’s mercy and how a distance can change in an instant, from being not far enough away from home for adventure to being not close enough to home for safety. After that, we made out sled tracks on the hill behind the house, where we could see my mother in the window, at her sewing machine.


Out of curiosity, do they make you want to read more? They make me want to write more, to explain more, and also embellish a little bit to smooth the rough edges over. I could combine the three winter pieces into a larger story, I suppose. Anyway, I’d love your feedback if you have any!

Edited to add the link to Part 2 for easy reading.