Very Short Story (VSS) Roundup 4/5/21-4/11/21

Here’s a collection of very short stories (tweet-length) I did based on prompts from vss365today.com over this past week. I’ve found these prompts are a fun way to keep the creative juices flowing and also are seeds for potential future stories. The prompt is the word next to each date. I hope you enjoy!

4/5/21 egg
The last egg stares at me from the plate. Maybe I shouldn’t have used the ones the kids hadn’t found, but we were out and grandma demands them.

Ugh. I don’t feel so well. Is that a tail? And horns? Shoot! I hope I’m hallucinating. I’m afraid, though, the eggs deviled me.

4/6/21 basket
“They’re monsters!”

“I’ve heard rumors. First, they take your ears, then your nose.”

“Charlie survived, but he was never the same.”

“Monsters!”

I leaned back, eyes closed, listening to their fears. It didn’t matter. Nothing stops a chocolate bunny’s time in the basket.

4/7/21 Whose
“Four, three, two, one.”

The portal opened, we expected the team back at any moment. When no one emerged, Shauna and I glanced at each other.

“Suit up.”

Ready, I stepped into the swirling lights. Once I could see, I cursed. A bloody hand lay on the ground. But whose?

4/8/21 Birds
There was no warning when the spaceships arrived, not even a radar blip. We weren’t prepared. They crippled our defenses and destroyed our cities before we launched a single missile.

I lived in the rubble. My world had gone silent. I missed the songs of birds most.

4/9/21 Picture
Sharon bought the strange-looking camera from a stranger-looking man in an alley. He promised she wouldn’t find a better one for the price.

When she snapped a picture of Earl, it emitted a beam of light. Her husband vanished, but it was the best photo she ever took.

4/10/21 Hippopotamus
The spaceship hovered over the zoo. A crowd gathered. Even scientists were slack-jawed.

First contact. A day so many look forward to.

The door opened. A creature emerged, strolled by the humans, and toward a hippopotamus, the most intelligent species on the planet.

4/11/21 Exile
Deborah set her gaze on the planet as the ship carried her away. She placed her hand on the window and whispered, “I’ll miss you, my love.”

It was the first day of exile.

Her heart ached for her husband, but leaving him stranded was the only way to keep the crew safe.

Paper Castles, a brief review

Paper Castles by B. Fox is a hopeful tragedy.

On the one hand, it offers a bleak realism of people who long for more and dream bigger dreams, but find themselves failing under the weight of unforgiving societal ills and the expectations of others.

On the other hand, it doesn’t leave the reader in despair. Glimmers of light shine in the darkness, even if they’re not always easy to see. There is tragedy and there is hope.

The book is hard to put down. The two main characters are relatable and sympathetic. You can’t help but root for them even when the world seems against them.

4.5/5 stars, an example of indie publishing at its best.

amazon.com/dp/B08VJKQLLD/

The Devil Went Back Down to Georgia (Writing Prompt Wednesday)

Today’s prompt is courtesy of: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/
comments/mfmn0j/wp_the_devil_did_
go_down_to_georgia_and_there_he/

Here’s my story, enjoy!

Somewhere in Floyd County, Georgia

I watched from the bar as the short, slender man strolled through the door. He had yellow eyes, an oddity for sure, that gazed toward the stage. Thursday nights were Billy’s nights, and the young man, not even old enough to drink, stood and sawed away at his fiddle. Truth is, I never should have let Johnny in the door, and there sure shouldn’t be a cigarette hanging from his lips. My sister would kill me if she knew, but my nephew was just too darn good.

Billy’s playing was why half the men were buying whiskeys or placing more beers on their tab. The greasy blond-haired boy was good for business.

I’d never seen anyone’s fingers move so fast. Sweat flew in every direction, and Billy grinned as the crowd clapped and hollered. Then, without warning, he struck his final note and stomped the stage.

“Woo!”

My patrons erupted, except for the yellow-eyed man.

Billy wiped his brow, took a bow, and dropped the cigarette into the ashtray. “Takin’ a little intermission. Y’all sit tight.” My nephew smiled and carried his fiddle to the bar. He never let the instrument out of sight.

“Coke?” I asked as he eased onto a stool.

“Y’ain’t gonna let me have something stronger?” Billy asked with a grin. He knew the answer. “Just a water.”

I poured the glass and eyed the short man as he approached, carrying a case in his left hand. He sat beside Billy.

“What’s your poison?” I asked.

“Fireball,” the man replied. “Leave the bottle.”

Billy giggled. “A little on the nose, don’t ya’think?”

“Come now?” the man asked.

“With eyes like that, you obviously gotta be a demon or something.”

“William,” I said, as stern as I ever spoke to the boy.

“Oh, I’m not offended,” the man said. “But I’m no demon. The name’s Lucifer. I’m their prince.”

I set the shot on the bar and rolled my eyes. What a crazy thing to say, I thought, until he opened his case.

Billy’s eyes grew big. “Is that a golden fiddle?” Light shimmered off the instrument in all directions.

“The finest fiddle there is,” Lucifer said as he pulled it from the case and ran spindly fingers along its neck and strings. “Do you want to hold it?”

“Billy, don’t,” I said.

That boy never listens. He took the fiddle from who I now assumed was actually Satan.

“Whoa.”

“You’ll never find another like it. I’ll make you a deal…”

“Like in that song?”

The devil wryly smiled. “We don’t talk about that song.”

“How’d you get it back?”

“Johnny was… Just… Never mind. Do you want the opportunity for a golden fiddle or not? Try it.”

Billy plucked a few chords. I had never heard an instrument as well-tuned.

“You’re good,” Lucifer said. “But are you as good as me?”

“Lemme guess. We duel, and if I win, I get to keep your fiddle, and if you win, you get my soul.”

“Precisely.”

“Just like the song.” Billy grinned.

The devil furrowed his brow. “Just like the song,” he said through gritted teeth.

“You’re on.” Billy handed back the violin. “Hit the stage, let’s see whatcha got.” Before I could stop him, my nephew grabbed the shot of whiskey and tossed it against the back of his throat. “Woo!” He slammed the glass on the counter as his cheeks burned. “Pour the devil another!”

Lucifer grinned and sauntered to the stage.

I leaned toward my nephew. “This is not a good idea.”

“Trust me, Uncle James, I got this.”

“Pride goes before a fall.”

“Yeah, yeah. Mama tells me that all the time.”

I sighed. I wasn’t much of the praying sort, but I made an appeal to the Good Lord for Billy’s eternal soul. I stared at the stage with my arms folded across my chest. Billy drummed the bar with his fingers as he wore a big, goofy grin.

Lucifer plucked a few strings, smiled, and set his bow. His hands flew into a frenzy, faster than Billy’s ever had. My jaw dropped at the sound.

It wasn’t what I expected.

Billy clenched his jaw and scrunched his brow. I bit my lip and shook my head. This was bad. The men and women spread throughout the tables covered their ears.

“You suck!” someone shouted. Others booed.

The screeching ruckus threatened to drive away my patrons.

“This is awful,” Billy shouted at me over the racket.

I watched as those closest to the door stood.

“Hey!” I yelled as I jumped over the bar. The devil kept playing. “Hey!” I ran onto the stage and grabbed Lucifer’s hand.

His shoulders slumped with a sigh. “I might be a little out of practice.”

“Why don’t you come to the bar,” I whispered as the boos died down. “I’ll pour you another shot, on the house. Just stop playing, please.” I was an optimist at heart. I hated to see anyone dejected, even the dark lord of hell.

Lucifer again took a seat beside my nephew.

“That was awful,” Billy said.

“I know,” Lucifer replied. “I just need a little more practice to get back in the habit. Then I’ll take you on, Billy Hogan.”

My nephew smirked. “Oh, no, no. A deal’s a deal.”

The devil rolled his eyes and handed the fiddle to Billy. As the boy ran to the stage, Lucifer sipped his shot and shook his head. “I hate humans. You’re foul, vile creatures, especially your young ones.”

Billy jumped onto the stage and grabbed the mic. “This one’s for ol’ Lucy over there.” With a toothy grin, Billy set his bow to the strings and started in on The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

The devil growled and then yelled, “I hate this song!”

Image cred: unsplash.com/@mralireza06

Meet Declan, Robert, and Tanner (a character sketch – Until Summer)

Declan is Meredith’s teenage son–dyed green hair, a bit messy, freckles, and a smile that has a way of getting him out of trouble. Robert is her foster son, a year older–tall, well-kept, and the starting QB of the football team, though insecurities lurk under his facade. They didn’t have an easy start a year ago. One fight landed them both in the ER. Now, they’re like brothers. Meredith loves her life and her boys. All is well. Until the caseworker calls.

Another boy? His name is Tanner and he’s the same age as Declan. That would be three high schoolers crammed into a a single room. And what about the promise she made to her son? No should be the answer and it would be the answer if it was any child but Tanner. When Meredith hears his father’s name, everything changes.

She and Daniel were in love once, though that seemed a long time ago, another life even.

But the shy, red-head boy brings them back together.

Until Summer is a story of love and hope against the darkness of trauma and addiction. You can find it on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited and in paperback. Check out the free 3-chapter preview.

Photo by: unsplash.com/@vbchr

Meet Will Hillis (a character sketch – Until Summer)

He wants to be kind and not feel anger all the time, but the scars run too deep.

As her older brother, Will sees himself as Meredith’s protector. He does all he can to fill the gap created by a missing father and to keep her and their little brothers safe from men who seek to harm them. So many things happen, though, that are out of his control. Still, when she gets hurt, he blames himself. It’s a burden no boy should have to carry. He loves her and she loves him, but will that stop the lies that echo in his head?

Until Summer is a story of love and hope against the darkness of trauma and addiction. You can find it on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited and in paperback. Check out the free 3-chapter preview.

Photo by: unsplash.com/@ryantauss

The Smuggler – a short story (writing prompt Wednesday)

image cred: unsplash.com/@juanrojas

Here is this week’s story for Writing Prompt Wednesday (prompt at the bottom)

“Stop looking over your shoulder,” I whispered through gritted teeth.

Jon glanced forward again and down. “We’re being watched,” he replied. “Two officers, seven o’clock.”

I didn’t bother to turn. I knew better. “Gee. Wonder why?”

Jon was next in line. A Customs agent peeked up from his post and motioned him through the turnstile.

“Stay calm,” I said as Jon started toward the counter with his bag. I hated taking new recruits, especially when there was a good chance of a situation going south like it had. I couldn’t blame Jon too much. He was doing well until the blast. Now, we were only a few feet from freedom and the best payday I ever had, if only he could play it chill.

The agent was about to stamp Jon’s passport when one of the officers approached. Great. I felt a towering presence. Behind me stood another officer, at least a foot taller than me.

“Pardon me, sir, but I need you to come with me.”

I smirked.

A few minutes later, we sat in a cold room at a metal table that held our bags. The officers hadn’t handcuffed us, but the tall one stood at the door with his arms crossed. His body language made it clear that we would not be leaving soon. I glanced at the clock above the door. It took eight minutes until another man stepped into the room, wearing a white button-down shirt and black tie. A badge rested on one hip and a gun on the other.

He tossed my passport onto the table. “Mr. Benjamin Anderson.”

“That’s me.”

He did the same with Jon’s. “Mr. Jonathon Warhol.”

Jon gulped and nodded.

“Why you nervous, kid?”

“I… Because… I…”

“He suffers from chronic anxiety,” I said.

“I didn’t ask you, Mr. Anderson.” The man didn’t press Jon further, though. Instead, he turned toward me. “Brazil is a restricted country.”

“Restricted,” I replied, “but not illegal.”

“You travel there often.”

“I love the culture.”

“Mmm. And the purpose of your trip?”

“I’m part of an organization that works with an orphanage in Guarulhos. I have paperwork to…”

“I’ve seen your paperwork.”

“Then, might I ask, why are we being detained?”

The man, who had yet to share his name, narrowed his eyes. “You and Mr. Warhol checked out of a hotel in Guarulhos shortly after an explosion nearby.”

I nodded. “It was very chaotic. We were fortunate to make it to the airport in time. I haven’t seen much news. Were many people hurt?”

“Yes. Five were killed.”

“That’s tragic.”

The man grunted. “We’re going to search your bags.”

I shrugged. “Go ahead. We didn’t have an opportunity to wash our clothes, so you might want to be careful.”

Jon fidgeted, but I leaned back and folded my arms as the tall officer approached and opened our luggage. He removed our clothing, felt around the inside of the case, and called for another agent with a dog. The dog ignored our suitcases but whined and scratched at Jon’s clothing. The officers then unfolded every item and searched through the pockets, but all they found was a pack of chewing gum. It was a waste of our time and theirs.

The man in the tie didn’t look happy. “You may go. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

I grinned as I repacked my case. “Always a pleasure.”

As we headed for the airport’s exit, I texted an unspecified number in my phone that we were ready for our ride. A red minivan met us on the loop outside the terminal. Jon didn’t say much, but I chatted with the driver. Her name was Samantha. Of everyone I knew, she was the fastest through the busy streets of Chicago.

Our destination was an office building three blocks south of Willis Tower. Samantha dropped us off outside, and a man named Bryan greeted us and escorted us to the fourth floor. We sat in another room with our bags on the table, but this room was well-lit and cozy. I prided myself on having nice furniture at home, but these chairs put mine to shame.

We didn’t have to wait long before Robert Reynolds, a chunky man who I was sure slept in a three-piece suit, entered with a big grin. “Another successful run?” he asked as he keyed a special code on the locks of our luggage.

“We had a few problems.”

“I heard.”

“Our contact was compromised.”

“But you took care of her?”

“Of course. There was unfortunate collateral, but we weren’t seen.”

“Good. We’ll have to find a new location, though. Guarulhos isn’t safe for us anymore.”

I nodded but sighed. “Understandable. I’ll miss it. I love the nightlife there.”

“How were these new cases?”

“The dogs didn’t even find anything.”

“Good. Good.” He popped open the case, but instead of clothes, there were rows of tiny brown bags. Robert’s smile grew even larger. “Beautiful.” He tossed me a bag. “Here’s your cut.” He then glanced at Jon. “How’d my nephew do?”

“He’s not going to work out.”

“What?” Jon whipped his head toward me.

“Sorry, kid,” I said. “You’re the reason we were stopped by Customs.”

“That’s too bad.” Robert snapped his fingers.

“But…”

A large man grabbed the front of Jon’s shirt and lifted him from the chair. Jon protested and begged as tears filled his eyes. The large man was undeterred in dragging him from the room. I knew better than to ask what would become of Jon.

Robert tossed me another bag. “You get his as well.” He then motioned for a woman who held a smaller case. She set it on the table and opened the lid. Leaning forward with a grin, I thumbed through stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills. “Go buy you and the Missus a nice steak.”

“The nicest,” I replied.

It was after dark when I made it home to Bourbonnais. The lights were off. It didn’t surprise me that Jacquie and Matthew were in bed. My wife worked early, and Matthew had preschool. I set one of the bags Robert gave me on the kitchen table along with the case of money. I took the other bag to the counter, ripped it open, and inhaled the aroma. Measuring two tablespoons, I hit the button to start the machine.

Soft footsteps crossed the wood floor behind me.

“Hey, babe,” I said and turned. My toothy smile faded as I saw Jacquie with a gun pointed at my chest. Tears flooded her cheeks. “What are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, Bennie. I already called the police.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

Her hands trembled. With her finger on the trigger, that worried me more than Jon’s anxiety.

“I saw on the news,” she said as she sniffed. “The explosion… I can’t…” She bit her lip. “I can’t do this anymore. That’s blood on my hands if I do nothing.”

I heard sirens and sighed. Then, I chuckled. “You remember our first date? We went to that little café in Evanston. I introduced you to blonde roast. You said it was the best coffee you ever drank. It was a year later when President O’Brien issued that executive order making coffee illegal. He never should have done that, but look around, babe. That decision drove up the prices, and my work is why we can afford this house and Matthew’s private school and that favorite necklace of yours.”

The sirens cut off, but red and blue lights flashed through our windows. Jacquie lowered the gun, took a seat, and sobbed as fists pounded on our front door.

“ATCF, open up!”

The door flew open, and agents rushed in. I held up my hands and lowered myself to my knees.

“I love you, Jacquie. I always will. Tell Matthew that daddy loves him. Take care of our boy.”

The coffeemaker dinged.

The government would cut me a deal. If I named names and agreed to testify, I’d only serve twenty-five years.

But as officers handcuffed me on my kitchen floor, I knew what my arrest meant. I inhaled the deepest breath I could. I loved the fragrance of coffee. Sadly, though, I had drunk my last cup.

Today’s prompt is from: https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/500-writing-prompts-to-help-beat-writers-doubt/#5

Coffee is illegal and you have to single handedly smuggle it into the country.