“Police! Arrest this man!” Harold ran along the sidewalk careening back and forth as though the city were twisting beneath him.

The police officer at the corner looked up from his hot dog unsure of what to make of Harold. Fifty feet behind him a younger man, probably in his late forties, was also running toward the corner. The younger man was running in a straight line, but, nevertheless, Harold arrived first.

“He talks in maths,” Harold exclaimed. “He…he buzzes like a fridge! He’s like a detuned radio!”

The officer stared at Harold dumb-founded, his hot dog hanging in front of his mouth. “What’s this about?” he asked.

“Karma!” Harold exclaimed. “I’ve given all I can.”

The younger man joined Harold and the police officer on the corner. The cop was eying Harold suspiciously.

“I’m sorry,” the younger man said. “He’s my father. He’s not well. Alzheimer’s.” The younger man was panting. On his face was the unmistakable mark of worry mixed with fear.

Beside him Harold was muttering, “It’s not enough. I’ve given all I can, but we’re still on the payroll…”

The cop huffed and tossed what was left of his hot dog into a nearby garbage can. “I’m going to need to see some ID,” he said to the younger man.

The younger man fished his wallet out and handed over a driver’s license which the officer took to his cruiser, parked nearby at the curb. There he swiped the license and waited with the patience of a monk.

Three minutes later the cop rejoined Harold and the younger man on the sideway. “Jacob Anderson?”

The younger man nodded.

“There are no warrants for your arrest,” he said matter-of-factly, “but I’m going to have to insist that you escort your father home immediately. I don’t believe it’s wise to let him explore the city like this on his own.”

Jacob nodded.

“Her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill,” Harold said under his breath.

“We—my mother and I—we don’t let him out of the house on his own, but she was taken to the hospital today. We were at the veteran’s parade. Dad was in it. She started feeling chest pains and I had to call an ambulance. I was supposed to meet dad at the end of the parade route, but I was late.”

“I see,” said the cop. He looked toward the trash can that had recently been fed what was left of his lunch.

Harold looked to Jacob and said solemnly, “For a minute there, I lost myself.” Jacob put a hand on his father’s shoulder and squeezed.

“Well, Mr. Anderson,” the cop said, “see to it that you don’t…misplace him again.”

Jacob clenched his jaw and, taking his father by the arm, said, “Thank you. I won’t.”

The cop nodded and turned away from them.

“This is what you get,” Harold said, “when you mess with us.”

Jacob gave his father a tired smile. “Let’s get you home, dad.”

The two of them turned and walked west, toward the hospital district.

*Written for the 500 Club and based quite loosely on “Karma Police” by Radiohead.

When no one was looking, I casually set the chicken on fire.

Wait. That’s a horrible way to start. Let me back up a bit.

Lindsey Gordon is, perhaps, the most appealing girl in all of Wichita Falls. Granted, that’s not saying much, but you’ll have to take my word for it. She’s quite remarkable.

I’ve known her for a couple of years, trading pseudo-wit at the metaphorical water cooler and stupidly thinking that this would somehow set me apart from every other male no doubt chomping at the bit to garner her attention. We work in a small office, Wichita Falls being a fairly small town, and I knew she had a limited number of options. However, pithy commentary about last night’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance didn’t seem to be winning her heart.

“You’re a moron,” my friend Morgan informed me. “If you want a date with her stop beating around the bush and ask her out. Seriously. I don’t want to hear another fucking word about her otherwise.”

Morgan doesn’t mince words.

So I asked Lindsey out. It was a cardiac arrest inducing event for me. I could literally feel my heart straining while I stood there at her desk trying to find the words and wondering what in God’s name to do with my hands. I pulled them out of my pockets, balled them into fists and blurted out, “Wanna go to dinner?”

I think the force of my words startled her.

But she’s an angel, that Lindsey, and she said yes. I suggested Saturday night, but she was planning to attend a family cookout that night. Thoughtful girl that she is, she suggested we have dinner with her family and then go to a movie.

“You agreed to dinner with her family?” Morgan asked. “You are an idiot, Kyle. An idiot.”

Initially I thought Morgan was being harsh, but then the reality of meeting her mother and father set in and I saw the hopeless stupidity of my ways.

I fumbled her mother’s name when we met, calling her “Titty” instead of “Kitty”. I pretended to be a Cowboys fan when her dad mentioned sports, and then he asked me about some player I’d never heard of and he knew I was bluffing. I spilled iced tea all over her little sister.

And when her father went back into the house to grab a beer, I decided to be helpful and light the charcoal. I suppose I could have been more careful with the lighter fluid. Some of it splashed on the chicken sitting to the side of the grill. Two matches and a strong breeze later and the chicken was flambe.

Not my best moment.

Mr. Gordon asked me to go inside. Mrs. Gordon, Kitty, clicked her tongue at me and suggested we just go pick up Chinese. Lindsey’s sister declared that she was no longer hungry and that she would just go over to a friend’s house.

But Lindsey volunteered us to go pick up the Chinese.

“That was pretty funny,” she said in the car. “Mi pollo esta en fuego.

“What?”

“It’s Spanish. It means, ‘My chicken is on fire.'”

“You speak Spanish?” I asked.

She laughed and set her hand on mine on the console.

“No, just that one sentence,” she said. “Thank God you gave me a reason to use it.”

I could hear Morgan in the back of my mind. “Don’t fuck things up with this girl, Kyle. Seriously.”

And, you know what? At the end of it all, the Chinese food wasn’t bad. By Wichita Falls standards.

*Written for the 500 Club.

Eh, what can I say? I thought things were going to calm down and they haven’t. But I don’t intend to stay silent for too much longer, especially with fresh writing prompts from the 500 Club sitting there just waiting for me to attack them. I’ll be back soon…

I tapped my pack of Lucky Strikes against the corner of the desk. I needed a drink, a stiff drink, but Frankie was still making like he had gone clean for good and the stash I normally kept in my desk was gone. The smokes would have to be enough.

I dug my lighter out of my coat pocket and flicked it with my left hand while sliding a cigarette out of the pack with my right. Flame to paper, and then relax.

That’s when there was a knock at the door.

I yelled, “We’re closed!” but the knock came again. It was soft but persistent, so I asked, “What the hell do you want at this hour?”

The door opened and she floated in.

This broad was trouble the moment I saw her. Headlights to bumber, she was a classic beauty. The kind you take notice of. The kind you don’t forget. Her hair was red and she glided into my office like she owned the joint.

That would have been enough to make her memorable, but there was more. The wings, for one. Fluttering just over her shoulders were two wings, semi-clear like a bug’s. She was flying–that was weird-ass fact number two. Three was even more bizarre: she couldn’t have been more than 8 inches tall.

“You the dick?” she asked.

I coughed like a kid trying to take his first drag. In my line of work I’ve seen a lot of strange shit, but I’ve learned not to let it affect me too much. Most people, seeing a small insect woman flying into a place of business, might get upset. I took another drag and then said very slowly, “Yeah, doll. I’m a PI. What is it you need?”

“I’m needin’ ya to be helping me. Ta find someone.”

I hadn’t heard the accent the first time she spoke but I caught it that time. Sounded Scottish.

“That’s what I do, honey. I find people. Your name?”

She fluttered to the edge of my desk and landed there, hands on her hips. She was small but shapely. It was the first time in my life that I wished I was smaller.

“I’m Sharon MacAlister. I need ta find the troll witch. And I’m needin’ some whisky, too, if ya can spare a thimble.”

I raised an eyebrow and smiled. I liked her spunk. “Sorry. Fresh out of booze. Occupation?”

“What d’ya mean?” she asked.

“What do you do, Ms MacAlister?” I asked.

“I’m a thistle fairy,” she said. “A thistle fairy who lost the damn MacBain ring ta the troll witch. I’m needin’ ya ta find her so I can get it back. The clan is gonna kill me if I don’t get it back!”

I nodded.

“I can pay ya,” she said. “Clan whisky if ya like, since you’re out. Or gold.”

“I’ll take the gold,” I said chuckling. “Hell, at this point I might even help you for free. You’re my first fairy.”

Sharon MacAlister looked up at me and huffed. “Don’t be gettin’ any ideas, longshanks. Just help me get the MacBain ring from that damn troll before the clan finds out.”

“Yeah sure, doll. I’ll help.”

Only 9:30 and it was already looking like an interesting night. A very interesting night.

*Written for the 500 Club in a respectful (though admittedly playfully) mashup of styles of Dashiell Hammett and Martin Millar.

Do you remember how the trees used to whisper to us? In the summer time, free from school and homework and responsibilities, we used to run outside, to the park or to a neighbor’s house or to our own backyards, and the trees used to rustle in the wind, chanting soft invitations to us. “Climb us,” they said. And we did.

Do you remember that? I do.

Do you remember how magical the world felt then? We read books about talking lions or about dragons and we believed, really believed, that there was such a thing. That somewhere in the world there might really be short people called hobbits, or that once upon a time there were princesses and castles and monsters to be slain. That magicians could cast spells and that out there in the greater world there was both mystery and danger, but we didn’t feel afraid. We felt alive.

In those days, you would look out your front door and you didn’t just see a sidewalk, a street, your mom’s car or the mailbox your dad installed with a distinct lean to the left. You saw the sky. You saw the grass with its infinite shades of green, vibrant colors bursting across the lawn. You saw a pulsing energy spread across your entire field of vision, like the universe was breathing right there in front of you. You saw raw possibility and you saw life.

These days it’s all about responsibility. The have-to’s and should-not’s. Where did the wonder go? Don’t you ever ask yourself that? The magic—did it just dissipate?

And it’s not that the dog or the kids or the job, the car, the leaky radiator, the project for your boss, the promise you made to lose ten pounds—it’s not that these things don’t matter. They do. But somewhere in the mess of what you have come to call the “real world” you forgot all about the things you used to believe in.

We called it “make believe”, and isn’t that ironic? No one made you believe, but you did believe. You believed Santa Claus was real, even that one Christmas after your older cousin tried to spoil your fun by telling you “the truth”. You believed in the tooth fairy, even when your dad woke you in mid-switch-a-roo, tooth in one hand and dollar bill in the other. You believed in Neverland, even though Peter Pan was just a movie. You believed in magic, even as your mind began to grow up and the so-called rational part of your brain began to dismiss this particular belief as childish.

Even now, you want to believe again. You can admit it to me. We both know it’s true. You want to believe.

Don’t you remember?

I’m sure you do. You probably even remember me, the magical voice inside you. The kid within the kid. The part of you that still believes in old world mysteries and secrets that unlock the magic in your everyday world.

Come on, now. You remember me, don’t you?

*Written for the 500 Club.

I sat in the waiting room with Darren, my legs crossed and tucked underneath me. I think it’s some sort of defense mechanism—reverting to a more child-like posture because I felt vulnerable, that kind of shit. In better days, Darren would have been quick to point it out and advise me as to the psychological significance of it. I couldn’t wait for him to be done with Intro to Psych.

He was there because I was there and I was there because of my mom.

He saw this as a two-fer: a fascinating opportunity to be close to a real-life case-study and the chance to woo me by playing the part of the supportive male friend, all at the same time. I was just too exhausted to tell him to fuck off, so he came.

He sat down next to me and flipped the end of my ponytail, a particularly annoying habit of his. I scowled. He smiled sheepishly.

“She’s going to be fine,” he said.

I glared at him. I was in no mood for anyone to be blowing sunshine up my ass. He didn’t seem to get the hint though and playfully nudged me while leaning in conspiratorially and whispering, “I mean it, Kourtney. She’s going to be just fine. You’ll see. I have a—”

“A what, Darren? A sixth sense? Jesus.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. He rose from his seat, looked back at me with a pathetic, please-ask-me-not-to-go look on his face and then shuffled off toward the vending area. I should have told him to let me come alone. He would have put up a fight and I would have had to endure the agonizing wait for information by myself, but there are worse things.

I don’t know why I let her talk me into living with her. One semester, she said. Just one. I’m a junior now. She’s no more mature, no more grown-up than she was when she left me with my grandmother on my fifth birthday so she could try her hand at cocktail waitressing in Reno. The biggest difference is that she’s graduated from the small time to bigger, badder, meaner, messer, harder things.

These days it’s snow.

Call it whatever you want. Blow, coke, c, nose candy. It all means the same thing. Cocaine.

I got home from study group to find her strung out, laying in a puddle of her own vomit in the middle of the goddam living room floor. There was a dimebag on the coffee table next to what had recently been 4 or 5 lines of coke. She’d been smoking and sniffing. She barely had a pulse.

Snow. It sounds so pure, so natural, so wonderful. Children play in it. It feeds rivers. It is a beautiful thing.

But that’s what she does, my mother. She perverts the beautiful, profanes the sacred. It’s what she’s best at. My curse is that I cannot bring myself to just let her die alone.

I knew Darren was right, knew she would pull through. And she did. This was just the first of many storms. And it would be a long, brutal winter.

*Written for the 500 Club.

My mind is reeling. That sickly dizzying feeling crashes over me again and I wretch, heaving. But my feet don’t stop.

It hardly makes any sense to me. I don’t know what’s going on, don’t know why it’s happening. He was so insistent, though. He told me to run. “Run away with ya’self,” he said. “Run into them woods and keep on ‘a runnin’ until one of us gits ya or ya git away.”

I had met these bizarre instructions with a blank stare.

“Time’s a tickin’,” he said through a toothy grin and then he laughed, a hacking guffaw, his big belly rolling under his too-tight shirt and his whole frame rocking back and forth until tears formed at the corners of his eyes. He patted his gun absently and that’s when I decided to run.

That was some time ago. At least I think it was. It feels like it was hours ago, though it couldn’t have been. The sun is still high in the sky.

My back is soaked, my shirt clinging to me. My temples ache with lack of water. My feet have blisters, I can feel them. With each step I imagine them expanding until they grow so large and tender, so full that they will pop right there in my shoes, the juice inside them absorbing into my socks.

To my right and some distance back I hear the laugh. It’s hearty. Happy. It chills me to my bones.

I was just asking for directions, for crying out loud. Just stopping to ask where I was. I was lost. I didn’t see the gun until he had me cornered with it. I didn’t understand when he shoved me into his truck. I still don’t know when or why he called the others, but I can hear them, their dogs barking, their footfalls in the brush. They are coming.

And I run.

Up ahead there is a small creek bed. It is nearly dry, only a sliver of a stream weaving its way along the broken path that once ran much deeper. I imagine water, hoping that in seeing it, in wanting it, it might somehow appear.

I make it to the edge of the creek when I hear a sound, a twig breaking, a stone crunching, some other such woodsy indicator, and it is alarmingly close. I turn to my left abruptly and there he is. The bastard with his gun. He has it leveled on me.

“Knew you’d come to the creek,” he says. He was smiling but there was no joy in the smile.

I raised my hands. “Please,” I say. “I don’t know what this is about, but please. There is no reason to be rash.” My breath is winded. I struggle to speak in smooth sentences.

“Rash?” he says. “I ain’t bein’ rash. I been plannin’ this for a while, mister. Just ease on down to the ground.”

I kneel. He flips the safety. Oh God, I think.

Run.

*Written for the 500 Club.