Friday, December 30, 2011


Our good friend Nikki Kallio shares two stories this week created from a Three Word Wednesday writing prompt   ( If you like them, please let us know by leaving a comment, or by visting her blog. (

The words are advance, pander, shuffle.

Mornings came earlier and night came sooner and people seemed more tired, hungry. Truckers wedged themselves into vinyl seats and made her feel important. She was the go-between, the pander for their addiction to coffee and stale danishes. Old men with crossword puzzles, young men with want ads. The old men wanted to chat, the young men didn’t. Times were tough but people still ate out. They saved money by not tipping. She saved money by not paying her bills. If her phone got turned off, so what? She only heard from creditors and her ex. They sounded the same. She’d pin the phone between her ear and her shoulder and say, yes, I know, and shuffle through her deck of dollar bills – once fifty-two of them, exactly – and think about how quickly they’d be dealt. Hospital, credit card, electric. Babysitter, phone, gas. Rent, groceries. Every month was a test: All of the above, none of the above, or choose A and B? Maybe she’d “borrow” another bag of bread, another giant can of vegetables from the diner. If Emil noticed he never said. Maybe he knew that the deck was stacked against her. Once he advanced her a check when her car wouldn’t start – something with the transmission, the mechanics told her, and then handed her an estimate for seven hundred and some. No car, can’t get to work. No work, no rent money. Pay for the car, rent goes unpaid anyway. Sleep in the car, lose the child. She smiled through it, smiled at work, because if you didn’t smile and pretend then you made even less money. She was an actress paid to perform. A tight-wire act. 

Charlene and the Chocolate Factory

The words are pulse, shard and weary.

Another time or place she would’ve made other choices but she found herself chasing one weary day with another, stacking time and building hours while other people lived better lives.
The shakers continuously pulsed, ridding the chocolate pieces of excess covering. Perfect pieces for perfect people in perfect houses. Sweetness all around her but all for someone else.
She turned and felt her elbow bump something that shouldn’t have been there. The bottle hit the cement, broke into a couple of large pieces and a few chips, some of them sharp.
The chocolate skittered by on the shaker. Pieces of glass on the floor, dangerous.
She bent, touched the imperfect pieces.
One sliver, tiny but strong. A little pressure would break skin.
Just one shard, pressed hidden in a perfect piece. It traveled down the line on its way to a pretty box, to
a lovely store, to some perfect someone.
Licked her fingers. Hummed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Pastor

by Colleen Sutherland 

(Note: "The Pastor" is the last of the depressing Christmas stories this season, to the relief of many of our readers.  It will also be the final story in the collection I hope to publish next summer.  It pulls all the other stories together.  Refer back to "The Rapture," "A Candle in the Window", "Shades of Green," and "The Cat".)

Reverend Peets hid, rubbing his aching knees. Through a crack in the curtains that covered the glass windows in the secretary's office, he peered out at the congregants assembling in the narthex for Christmas morning services, shaking hands and wishing each other a not so enthusiastic “Merry Christmas.” They were tired and so was he.

A Sunday morning Christmas was the worst thing that God could inflict on a Methodist pastor. When Christmas fell on a weekday, all he had to worry about was Christmas Eve, mostly music and very little sermon. No one listened anyhow, so absorbed in their holiday. It was all lights, carols, schmaltzy tradition and no theology on this pagan holiday dreamed up by the Romans and carried on by the barbarians. There wasn't much for him to do. The choir director, Sunday school and the organist took care of the inspiration. On a Sunday Christmas Day, however, he was in charge of his flock, mostly the old faithful who would show up no matter what the occasion, from baptisms to funerals. Yes, they were all out there, leaning on canes and walkers as they took off their cloth coats. Mostly women, their white hair gleamed under the fluorescent lights at the entrance. They seemed to be missing one or two of their chirpy group. But there were also a few others. Family members from faraway places had been dragged in, hungover and grumpy, there only to make sure they were still included in the will.

If it weren't for the money Christmas services brought in, he would have had a theological discussion with the church council, suggesting cutting back to bare bones services. But there were those out-of-towners, big city people who liked to flash bills as they threw them into the collection plate.Christmas was a budget balancer.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Skinny Ray

Skinny Ray always said that between the suicides and fires, he'd just as soon skip December all together. After reading Ray's obituary, Mike felt a quiet anger growing in his stomach. From the way the obituary was worded, highlighting the fire fighter's distinguished service awards and all the lives he saved, but tiptoeing around the actual cause of death, Mike knew Ray had killed himself. The bastard had finally found a way to skip December, and no one had bothered to let Mike know.

In fact, Mike had missed the funeral altogether. He had only found out about it all by clicking the wrong link on the computer, getting the obituaries instead of the hockey scores. Now Ray's body was on the way to some cemetery in Kansas of all places, and it would be a bugger to find out where the place was. Not that knowing the exact location would help him now, Mike thought, it would probably be a few more days before they put Ray in the ground, so there wasn't anything for him to go visit, now was there?

“Hell with it,” Mike said to a shaggy brown dog resting in the corner, “We're going Christmas shopping.”

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Cat

by Colleen Sutherland 

     The cat crouched under the Victorian settee. His eyes gleamed golden in the darkness of a late night in December. The white tip of his otherwise black tail flashed back and forth, back and forth in the only light in the room, the television playing yet another version of A Christmas Carol. He was half beginning to understand the words. He stared at the human on the floor, contemplating his next move.

     The old woman was flat on the floor. The stroke had thrown her backwards, almost in a perfect line, the rolls of fat sinking into the floor. She was alive, barely. Her eyes moved from side to side, but the rest of her was frozen. Even if she had one of those emergency button devices to push it would be useless. Her hands were dead. All she had left was her brain and her senses. And that damned cat. She could hear him moving around the house.
     This was not the way her life was supposed to end.
     Elinor never wanted a cat or any other pet. Cats were sneaky. Dogs required too much upkeep. Birds scattered seed all over the floor. She remembered all that from her childhood. Her brothers and sisters always had pets and that had meant messes that she, the oldest girl, had to clean up. Her parents brought the babies into the world. Elinor had to raise them. It was one diaper after another in that Catholic family. A pet was just     another chore, nothing but that. The children were enough trouble.
     “Preparation for the nunnery,” her father joked once to his friends. “She's the plainest of the lot and none of them are lookers. When she's old enough, we'll ship her to a convent. No expensive wedding there. She'd be good taking care of brats in an orphanage.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Upstanding Citizen

“Left, please.” Flash.

“Front please.” Flash.

“So tell me, Benny,” said Mel, blinking away the purple blobs floating in his vision,“how is it that you picked me up in two hours, but there's nothing you can tell me about the guys I called you about two weeks ago?”

Benny shrugged and motioned him over to a table with an ink pad and a sheet of paper already filled out with Mel's personal information.

Benny said, “Maybe if you hadn't driven directly home from the scene on fresh snow, it would have taken us a bit longer.”

“Too bad there wasn't any snow when my place was hit, huh?” Mel said.

“I guess it's just one of those things,” Benny said. “ Now just let your hands go limp. It'll work better if I roll them for you.”

The ink pad reminded Mel of creosote. As his fingers were rolled one by one across the paper, he couldn't help but think about the ashen fingerprints and smudges left on the walls where the jerk offs had dumped out the ash bucket by the fireplace.

“Hey,” he said, “why didn't you take fingerprints at my house? They left them all over.”

Benny shrugged. “They wore gloves, Mel. Nothing turned up that we could use.”

Mel let out a bitter laugh. “So all us taxpayers will show up right away on fingerprint searches, but the real criminals on the street just get to keep on laughing.”

“It's an imperfect world.” Benny said.