strangers in the night

Oil in Water

Pam Lazos

Chapter Sixteen

A full moon glowed, casting an iridescent light over the farm-cum-landfill that loomed in the far distant corner of Kori’s bedroom window. The first inkling of the sun’s rays wouldn’t be seen for more than an hour on this chilly late October morning. Gil tiptoed into the room, hovering above the bed where Kori and Jack lay sleeping. He pinched his fingers around Jack’s nose, cutting off Jack’s oxygen supply. After several moments, Jack inhaled a frantic pull of air through his mouth and his eyes flew open to see Gil looming above.

“What?” Jack hissed, shoving Gil’s fingers away to rub the appendage.

“Are you awake?” Gil asked.

“I am now you, little jerk.” Face-to-face with Gil, watching his salamander eyes hold his own, Jack smiled in spite of himself. Gil could stare, unblinking, for well over ten minutes. Jack loved Gil like a brother and even with the little cretin’s exasperating habits, Jack would do anything for him.

“What time is it?” Jack asked, discouraged by the murky darkness still clinging to the curtains.

“Five o’clock.” Gil said. “C’mon. I want to show you something.” Intuiting that there would be no more sleep for him this morning, Jack allowed Gil to pull him to his feet.

“Hhhhmmmph. Briefs. I wear briefs, too,” Gil said approvingly.

Jack scrambled into his jeans, pulled a tee shirt over his head and a sweatshirt over top. He looked over at his boots and opted for bare feet. He took one more longing look at the bed, sighed and headed toward the door.

“I gotta take a whiz,” Jack announced, stopping at the bathroom. Gil tried to follow him, but Jack barred the way. Gil leaned against the closed door, tapping his foot in exaggerated fashion for the minute it took Jack to emerge, disheveled and still half asleep.

“Let’s go.”  Gil led. A light clicked on in Robbie’s room as they walked by, but the door didn’t open. Gil put his finger to his lips and tiptoed down the stairs, Jack trailing him.

Once outside, Gil took off running across the lawn to the shed. Determined not to be outdone by a ten-ear old, Jack sprinted the hundred yards to the barn, but bare feet and the fact that Gil was more awake at this regrettable hour put him at a disadvantage, about fifty paces behind, he’d later estimate.

At the barn door, Gil found the lock laying on the ground, the door swung wide. “Huh?”  A shadowy figure rooted through the drawers, a roll of drawings under one arm.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Gil demanded.

The figure ran, knocking Gil to the ground and whacking Jack in the face with the drawings in his bolt to the woods. The impact caused stars to jump before Jack’s eyes and he staggered, holding his nose.

“Hey! Come back here,” Gil yelled, and before Jack could clear his head, Gil took off running after the intruder. Jack ran after Gil, grabbing his arm moments before he disappeared behind the copse.

“Whoa, man. That wouldn’t be a good thing,” Jack said. Gil struggled, but Jack’s grip was firm.

“Jack. Let Go! He took something — some drawings.” Gil pried Jack’s hand off his arm and yanking free of his grip, dove to the ground. Jack grabbed his collar and pulled him back, surprised to hear his own heavy breathing. After a few deep breaths, Jack knelt down beside Gil and wrapped an arm around his waist.

“We can’t go, Gil. It’s too dangerous.”

“But he’s getting away,” Gil said.

“We want him to get away. Then he won’t hurt us.” Jack squeezed Gil’s arm gently.

“This isn’t a movie, buddy. It’s real life. And somebody really wanted something bad out here. Bad enough to break in.” Jack searched Gil’s eyes for understanding.

Gil grimaced at his besmirched barn and turned to see Robbie running toward them dressed only his underwear.

“What going on?” Robbie asked.

Jack pulled himself up to his full height. Despite their differences, at this moment they behaved as if nothing had ever come between them.

Gil darted over to Robbie and jumped in his arms, sniffling. “He took some drawings.”

Robbie ran his hands up and down Gil’s body, turning him around, checking for injuries.

Jack shook his head, reviving the dull ache in his own face. He raised his hand to his eye and probed delicately.

“He wasn’t expecting us,” Jack said. He winced as he touched his nose.

Satisfied that Gil was injury free, Robbie set him down and turned to Jack. “Did he hit you?” Robbie asked.

Jack shook his head. “Only by accident. The drawings caught me in the face when he was making his getaway. You know when people say they see stars, you always think like, ‘yeah, right.’ Well….” Jack rubbed his nose again, then his eyes. “Little brother here’s lucky he stepped aside. I think that guy was taking no prisoners.”

“Did he have a gun?”

“I don’t know. It’s so dark out here. It’s the middle of the night, for Chrissakes.”

“Yeah, so what are you doing out here?” Robbie asked.

Jack smiled and tilted his head in Gil’s direction. “The salamander woke me up.”

Gil toed the dirt in response. Jack scanned the treeline, but the light was still too dim to see anything clearly. In the opposite direction, the sun’s first rays whooped and hollered, mad streaks of reds and oranges overtaking the horizon like a five-star general.

“He’s long gone by now,” Jack said. Robbie nodded in agreement, folded his hands across his chest and rubbed his arms.

“Let’s go inside. It’s freakin’ cold out here,” Robbie said. Jack nodded and they hoofed it back to the house, pausing once to glance back over their collective shoulders.

The light clicked on as they entered the kitchen. Kori stood in the doorway wearing a revealing nightgown and suppressing a yawn. Jack shot her an approving glance which dissolved the camaraderie of the last few minutes when Robbie intercepted it.

“What are you doing? Don’t tell me you’re hunting? Why do you have Gil with you if you’re hunting,” she said to the room at large. “And why are you in your underwear?” she said to Robbie in particular.

“I heard a noise.” Robbie brushed past her on his way to the stairs.

“Where are you going?” Kori called after him.

“To put some clothes on, Kori,” he replied. “ I suggest you do the same.” Kori and Jack exchanged glances. Jack tightened his mouth so as not to smile in front of Gil and nodded in the direction of the stairs. Kori spun on her heel, leaving Jack and Gil alone.

“How about some breakfast, Salamander?” Jack asked, grabbing the coffee pot and filling it with water. “Sleuthing always makes me hungry.”

Gil said nothing, but walked out of the kitchen and to the hallway closet. He climbed way in the back in between bulky winter jackets, past umbrellas and over hiking boots. Jack heard an occasional grunt followed by several more minutes of rooting around and Gil emerged victorious, the precious bundle in hand.

He returned to the kitchen, the bundle of drawings hooked under his arm, and took a seat at the table waiting for Jack to serve him. Although already ten, up until now he had led the life of the pampered: there was very little Gilliam William Tirabi did for himself. Jack poured a bowl full of cereal, added some milk and set it before Gil.

“So they didn’t get what they were looking for?” Jack said.

Gil shook his head, set the drawings on the table and scooped up a heaping spoonful of Cheerios. His cheeks bulged and his words were drowning in milk and wheat. “After breakfast will you and Robbie help me find someplace safe to hide them?” Gil asked.

Jack nodded. “Sure.”

He pushed Gil’s hair back and sat down next to him to wait for his coffee. “Better eat up. My guess is the Spanish Inquisition’s comin’ down the stairs any minute now.”

copyright 2012

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, click here. . .

brothers in arms

Oil In Water

Pam Lazos

Chapter Fifteen

Robbie backed out of the driveway and cranked up the volume on the radio to override the noise of the engine. Ten minutes later, he pulled into a strip mall and parked in front of the Army Recruiting Center. Sweat formed on his upper lip and his knuckles bulged white from his vice-grip on the steering wheel. He realized he was holding his breath and let it out. After a single, agonizing minute, Robbie grabbed the keys and his backpack and strode inside.

A young, pimply-faced young man, no more than twenty-two with a well-pressed uniform and excellent posture sat behind the reception desk. He stood when Robbie walked through the door.

“Can I help you?”

“Captain Russell, please.”

“Your name?”

“Robert Tirabi.”

The young man disappeared and after several moments returned. His stone face beckoned Robbie to enter.

“The Captain will see you now.” The boy stood aside allowing room for Robbie to pass, and closed the door behind them.


Captain Russell occupied a spacious office that overlooked the shopping center’s parking lot. He knew better men who’d risen to lesser ranks and, although the Army didn’t pay well, he’d enjoyed a modicum of success first in Grenada and then in Desert Storm. More importantly, his men respected him. But his last combat mission was fifteen years ago and he’d be the first to admit his reflexes had slowed since then. Now he was killing time until retirement.

“C’mon in, son. Sit down.” He pointed to a chair. “I understand you’re having second thoughts.”

Robbie nodded and shifted uneasily in his chair.

“Well, how bad do you want to get out?” asked the Captain.

“Pretty bad. I told you over the phone what happened to my parents…”

“It’s a damn shame, that.” Captain Russell sighed. “Unfortunately, I can’t help you. The army’s desperate for bodies. You signed. I’ve got you scheduled for a six-week basic training starting end of the month. Think of it as a sixteen-week crash course. We’ll teach you how to shoot. How to survive with just a pocket knife and an aspirin. That kind of stuff.”

Robbie stared, wide-eyed, managing little more than, “But, I…”

“Look, I’m real sorry about your folks.  You can appeal. Might be out by Christmas next. But unless you know somebody.”  Captain Russell leaned forward, folded his hands. “You know anybody?”

Robbie shook his head, a helpless look overtaking those few facial muscles that hadn’t gone numb.

The Captain smiled. “Hey, those siblings of yours can use the money. You do get paid, you know.”

Robbie nodded

“You’re a car guy, right? Stuff’s always breaking down there in the desert. Something about the sand causes everything to go to crap ten minutes after you get there. You’ll be in demand. Probably pull the beauty duties because of it.” He laughed, an infectious, light-hearted laugh. Robbie smiled in response.

Captain Russell paused, stood up, and looked out the window across the parking lot like a man surveying all he owns.

“It’ll be over before you know it. I promise.” Captain Russell handed Robbie his business card. “Call me if you have any other questions.”


Gil sat on Robbie’s bed asking a million questions as Robbie packed his life’s essentials into two large duffle bags. After throwing in several pairs of jeans and a bunch of underwear and socks he routed through the closet, talking to himself. “How many shirts….”

“But why do you have to go?” Gil asked. While Robbie’s back was turned, Gil pulled out the seven pairs of socks Robbie had just stuffed in the duffle bag and hid them under the bed.

“Because I’m doing my duty for my country,” Robbie replied. “And besides. I can’t get out of it. I tried.”

“What’s duty, anyway?  Duty to who?” Gil removed Robbie’s underwear and placed it underneath his pillow.

“I have a duty to my country just like you had to feed ZiZi every day.  We all have obligations.”

“But why do you have to go so far away? Don’t they have people who live there to do their own duty?” Gil removed several pairs of jeans from the duffle bag and shoved them under the night stand. Robbie turned and tossed his shirts onto a pile on the bed. Gil leaned back nonchalantly, distancing himself from the duffle bags. Robbie began taking his shirts off their hangers and folding them neatly.

“Yeah, but sometimes people need more help.”

“But we need more help. Especially because of Mom and Dad.” Robbie stopped folding shirts and knelt down next to Gil.

“Hey. C’mon.” He held his arms out and Gil jumped into them. He cradled Gil as best as you can a 5’2″ baby.

“I’ll be back before you know it. You’ll see.” Gil crinkled his nose and buried his face in Robbie’s shoulder.

“Are these people more important than we are?”

“Nothing’s more important than you are.” Robbie rubbed Gil’s back. “It’s just that some people don’t have the same freedoms we have and so that’s why I have to go. It’s about democracy.” Robbie shifted Gil back to his spot on the floor.

“Isn’t democracy when you get to choose for yourself?” Gil asked.  Robbie nodded.

“Then maybe they’ve already chosen.”

“Well said, little brother.”  Kori tossed several books on the bed and flopped down after them.  “Some of my favorites. For the plane ride and apres.” She smiled at Robbie. “Sorry. I was eavesdropping.”

“Since when did you become a philosopher?” Robbie asked.

The lock sprung open in Gil’s hand and his smile spread-eagled across his face. He closed it and tried again. It pinged open and he began anew.

“Since my brother became a right-wing bonehead. What’s next? White cloaks? Skinheads? Listening to Rush Limbaugh?” Kori laid down on the bed next to the books.

“Kori, weren’t you an apolitical arteest like two minutes ago?” He pronounced the word with a mock French affectation. “What the hell happened?”

“Mom died. And someone had to take over for her. Besides, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Mom and Dad died for oil the same way you will if you go.”  She bit the nubby nail of her right index finger.

“Yeah, well, Mom knew what she was talking about. You haven’t got a clue.”  Robbie walked to the hall closet, pulled his shoe shine kit out and tossed it onto the bed.

The roar of a motorcycle could be heard coming down the street. The driver stopped in the Tirabi driveway and cut the engine.

“Jack!” Gil jumped off the bed and ran downstairs.

“Great,” Robbie said. “Who invited him?” Robbie glared at Kori and strode to the window. “If that mother is riding without a helmet, I’ll kill him myself. Then he won’t have to worry about wrecking.” Robbie peered down to confirm that Jack was not wearing a helmet. He watched as Gil ran out the door and jumped into Jack’s arms. “Stupid Jackass! He turned to Kori grimacing. “And I mean that in the nicest way.”

“Why are you getting so bent out of shape? They passed the no-helmet law, ya’ know.”

“Yeah, but if anyone truly thinks it’s safe to be riding anywhere without a helmet, they don’t have two brain cells to rub together. You know why they did it, don’t you? Because you’re more likely to die in an accident if you’re not wearing a helmet. The other way, you just run up exorbitant medical costs.”

“You’re so critical.”

“Did you ever see a guy driving down the highway at sixty miles an hour with no helmet? His skin’s plastered to his face, rippling in the wind. Even with glasses, your eyes are squinting and tearing from the pressure. Let that guy get hit with a bug, like a bee or a cicada or something, and at that speed, I’ll bet you he gets a welt the size of a half dollar. And that’s if he doesn’t wreck first.”

“Enough. I’m going out.” She tossed the book she was fingering back onto the bed.

“Will you watch Gil, please?” Robbie nodded and turned back to the closet.

“Take the helmets off my bike,” Robbie warned.

Kori slammed the bedroom door in reply.

“Like talking to a wall,” Robbie muttered. He peeked out the window, careful not to let Jack see him. Once Robbie’s best friend, the partnership had waned when Jack started courting Robbie’s sister in earnest. It was just too tough for Robbie to be best friends with the guy who was sleeping with his sister.

Kori walked over to Jack and handed him a helmet. He shook her off, but she cocked her head, a coquette, and he obliged. He looked up to Robbie’s window and saluted. Robbie flashed him the finger and resumed packing. The roar of the motorcycle filled the room then faded into the distance.

copyright 2012

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, click here. . .

We love this so much we wanted to share. Please read and comment. Do you agree or disagree? Love it or hate it? We honestly want to know what you have to say. Sincerely yours, PSS

Reading. Writing. Spying.

“A recent study has shown many people benefit from rereading familiar stories as the encounter “reignites” their emotions and increases their knowledge.

In broad terms the research found that people were generally keen to return to a well-thumbed book or to listen again to a favourite piece of music so they could gain a “richer and deeper insight” of the experience and increase their understanding.

The study concluded: “Consumers gain richer and deeper insights into the reconsumption object itself but also an enhanced awareness of their own growth in understanding and appreciation through the lens of the reconsumption object. 

“Given the immense benefits for growth and self-reflexivity, re-consuming actually appears to offer many mental health benefits.” 

“Vladimir Nabokov maintained that you couldn’t say you had really read a novel till you have re-read it. On the first reading you may be gripped by the story, and so you read fast…

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winning the word lotto

Journal THAT

A Guide to Writing

cynthia gregory

I started playing golf a couple of years ago, and found that I loved it. I love getting all Zen with the process, holding my stance, addressing the ball, letting everything else in the world fall away except my focus on that girlie pink golf ball at the end of my six iron. There is a simplicity to the sport, an elegance. Never mind it was invented by the same people who invented the caber toss, or that it was first created as a diversion during the great plague, hitting balls from one great mound of dead people to another. Seriously? Yes. But there you are: those Scots are a resourceful bunch, and I mean that in the most respectful way . Golf: walk in a park, strike a ball, walk some more. Golf has to be one of the more refined sports in the world. Unless you count water ballet.

Whether you’re talking about water ballet, golf, or writing; sport or art, there is one consistent truth: practice. Terra ballet or aqua ballet requires a laser focus on practicing the fundamentals so that in performance, the movements flow. I went to the golf course the other day for the first time in about two years (short romance; long story) and decided to hit some balls at the driving range. When I learned to golf, I got over the stand-in-one-place-and-hit-the-balls quickly. I wanted to play. But after a hiatus, it seemed wise to hit a bucket of balls, get used to the weight of the club, the swing of the hips, the tock of the ball when you hit it just right. Or contrarily, the wild flailing that occurs when you fail to focus, jerk your head up in time with your spastic swing, and miss the ball entirely (hoping no one else has noticed the putz with the bad swing trying to look like she meant to miss the ball). Practice, baby!

I mentioned the Bear Street Writers group and part of our weekly ritual before, but would like to delve into it with more detail now. What made our practice effective was that we adopted certain rules, and fooled them to the letter. We wrote each week at the same bat time, same bat channel. We never deviated from the prime directive: write, read, NO COMMENT. The no comment part was essential, I think, to helping build trust among us, that no matter how weak our similes, how badly mangled our metaphors, how hackneyed our prose, no one was allowed to comment. Though really, we were more likely to burst into spontaneous applause at some incredibly clever turn of phrase than one or more of us had plucked from the air like filaments of spider web, than to boo and hiss.

The process is ridiculously simple. Here it is in six easy steps:

  1. Assemble your group of writers in a place where you will not be disturbed during the writing or the reading process. Have extra supplies handy: pens, pencils, plenty of paper so you won’t be forced to beg off your compatriots. If you are meeting in a café, do the polite thing and buy a tea or coffee or pastry and support your local business owner.
  2. Once gathered, have everyone write a word or phrase on a slip of paper. Fold the paper into a tidy package and drop it into a hat or cup or ashtray or whatever.
  3. Over the agreed period, select one slip of paper from the stash, and write for a subscribed amount of time. For instance, begin with fine minutes. On the next round write for ten minutes. Hitting the zenith, write for fifteen minutes, and then begin the countdown. The next drill is ten minutes, and at last, wrap your session with a five minute free-write.
  4. You can use a stop watch or egg time, or alternate watcher of the watch. But you must keep time. You can’t know how important it is to have one person keeping track of time – so everyone else is free to write.
  5. After each round, read your work aloud. Do not use funny voices, do not use accents, to not alternate volume and tempo for emphasis. The writing, the words, grammar, syntax, sentence structure must stand (or fall) on their own.
  6. Under no circumstances under the moon and stars are you permitted to a) apologize or warn about your writing, or b) comment on someone else’s work. If you feel badly enough about your writing, skip your turn to read but understand that if you do this too often, you will be dis-invited from the group because it is a shared responsibility to stand nakedly before your community and read what you’ve created. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel worthy or good enough or saturated with talent, you signed up for this shindig, and now must exercise the real courage it takes to write and be public. Everyone else is shedding pretense and defense and about a million insecurities to participate in this process, so just screw up your best brave face and read. It won’t be nearly as bad as you think it will be. No giant, gaping maw will open and swallow you into the catacombs. No comets will burn out of the sky and drop on your head. All you do is write. And read. And you survive.

But you didn’t “just write.” You wrote. In a public place. With other sentient beings and then demonstrated the audacity to read those thoughts aloud, risking judgment, ridicule, persecution, love. And you were loved. How cool is that? The scary part is never what you think it is. And after you get this process down, you will know what it feels like to win the word lotto. The words will just come gushing out of you like the mother of all literary rivers. And you will know what it means to have written.

boys don’t cry

copyright 2011


a novel by


Chapter Fourteen

Kori pulled salad fixings out of the refrigerator. She piled the lettuce and veggies in the crook of her arm and squinted out the window. A shadowy figure, illuminated by the barn light, moved inside.

“That’s it,” she said.

“What’s it?” Avery walked in as Kori slammed the refrigerator door.

“I’m going to get him. He’s been out there for three days with no food and probably no sleep.”  Clutching the vegetables to her chest, she peered into the darkness.

“You know what he’s doing,” Avery said.

“Actually, I don’t.” Kori whirled around to face him and the carrots flew from her arm. Avery grabbed the bag before it hit the floor.

“He’s making something for ZiZi. Or himself. Probably not you.” Avery blushed. “I’m sorry. It’s just, well, he’s processing it. That’s how he does it. And you need to let him.”

Kori dumped the her armload on the kitchen counter.  “Doctor Freud, I presume?”

“Hey, I’m not the one that made them go outside.”

Kori snorted and turned her back on her brother.  “It wasn’t my fault,” she murmered, but her words carried no conviction. “The point is, it’s three days and you’re not even a little concerned.”

“Oh, geez, Kori.  Mom and Dad.  Zizi. I’m having a hard time dealing with it all and Gil’s only ten.”  Avery sat down.  “He’s doing what he always does.  He’ll be in when he’s done.”

Avery poured a glass of milk.  As if on cue, the door flew open and Gil sauntered in, handing Avery the contraption in his hand in exchange for the glass of milk.  Gil sat down, placed ZiZi’s urn on the kitchen table, and drained the glass.

Kori snapped at Avery.  “You planned that!”

“Yeah, right,” Avery laughed.

Gil looked at each of them in turn and held up his empty glass.  “More milk, please.”  Avery refilled his glass.

“You must be starving,” Kori said.

“Just thirsty,” Gil replied, downing the second glass. “Avery brought me breakfast, lunch and dinner. Except, it’s not dinner yet, so I didn’t have that today. It’s just – well you forgot the milk at lunch.” Gil leveled an accusatory look at his brother.

“Life was getting a little too cushy out there, Gilliam. I thought if I put the pressure on, you’d snap to it.” Avery handed a half glass of milk to Gil who drained it and pushed it forward for Avery to fill again.

“That was only half,” Gil said.

“A half too much,” Kori said, grabbing the glass. “We’re going to eat dinner in an hour.” Gil shrugged, grabbed the urn and retired to the living room.  Kori torpedoed an agitated glance in Avery’s direction, but humor danced on the edge of her eyes.

“Sorry,” Avery said. “I couldn’t help egging you on. You’re so…maternal these days. It doesn’t suit you.”

“I should make you do dinner for that.”

“No way, Jose. I did dinner the last three nights.” He raised two fingers in an imaginary salute, grabbed Gil’s invention and joined his brother in the living room.


Gil took Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome , out of the DVD player and replaced it with The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers . He didn’t know if he could ever watch Mad Max again. Bummer, because it was one of his favorites. He sat, cross-legged on the floor, ZiZi’s urn wedged between his legs.

“It’s funny,” Gil said to Avery as he walked in.


“I was in this exact same place three days ago, but I was rubbing ZiZi’s ears instead of holding a can of them.” He tapped the urn and looked at his brother matter-of-factly. Avery grimaced and sat down. “You slept outside the barn the last two nights,” Gil said, a statement not a question. “Thanks.”

Avery wrapped a protective arm around his brother’s shoulder and squeezed. “Do you want us to get you another dog?”

“There is no other dog.” Gil said. “And no other Mom and Dad.”

Gil hadn’t cried when his parents died. Nor had he processed their deaths by locking himself in the barn and building something to fix it. What he had done, after the ashes were scattered, was hang a “do not disturb” sign on his bedroom door and retreat. For a few days he surfed the web, researching the topic of drunkenness, hoping to find a cure.

“It’ll be something you can take and in fifteen minutes you’ll be okay to drive again,” was all Gil would say about his proposed brain child.  He made a pill, a spray, and a lotion, all of which he tested on Robbie one night, but whether it was due to being out of his normal environment or just out of ideas, or maybe because his heart was too broken for his head to focus, Gil gave up and resorted to sleeping, watching T.V., and playing computer games.  Tray upon tray of his favorite foods, placed at the bedroom door by his concerned siblings, he left on the floor, untouched.  He drank only water, milk and juice.

For the first couple days the rest of the Tirabis allowed his withdrawal, but by the third day Robbie began pacing the floor and threatening to break the door down.  Avery alone knew that this was what Gil needed and pleaded Gil’s case for him.  It was through Avery’s intercession that Gil was allowed to continue his self-imposed isolation.  At the end, he cried.  On the morning of the seventh day, the door swung wide and a gaunt and starving Gil emerged, catharsis completed, despite his failure to cure drunkenness.

Avery squeezed Gil’s shoulder again before removing his arm.

“Awww, this is a good part!” Gil said. “He’s gonna toss the dwarf.” Avery fingered the collar-like contraption Gil had given him.

“Hey, Gil? What’s this?”

“A dog collar,” he responded without taking his eyes off the T.V.

“But we don’t have a dog anymore and you just said…” Avery turned it over and over in his hand, trying to figure out the mechanics.

“It’s not for us. It’s for the people who have dogs. Now their dogs won’t ever get hit by a car again.” He looked up and sighed, taking the collar back from Avery.

“It’s looks like an ordinary dog collar, just with a battery pack on it. What’s it do? Some kind of electric charge?

“A zap?” Gil asked, poking Avery. “Would you like to be zapped?”

“No. And I don’t suppose that dogs do either. Pardon my insensitivity.”

“That’s okay.” Gil reached in his pocket and pulled out a bracelet identical to the collar. “Here. Put this on your wrist.”

Avery obliged. Gil adjusted the volume and held it up to Avery’s ear.

“Ready?” Gil asked.

Avery nodded as strains of Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head  poured out.  “It’s different, I’ll give you that. But how do you expect a dog to keep this thing on its wrist?”

Gil’s tongue probed the interior surface of his bottom lip, a wacky smile on his lips.

“Hey, cut it out. I’m not condemning your project. I just want to know how it works.”

Gil grabbed the bracelet, his exuberance apparent, and wrapped the collar around Avery’s neck.

“It’s a training device. There’s fifteen different songs so you can train them to do whatever you want. Here.” Gil put the earphones in his own ears and pressed the remote, his head bobbing in time to music Avery couldn’t hear, but could feel.  His hands flew to his neck, probing the device.

“What is this?” Avery demanded.

“The music’s in the collar,” Gil responded. “The dogs can feel it. Every song has a different vibration.”

Avery furrowed his eyebrows.

“You train them to do different things to different songs,” Gil said. “You want them to come to dinner? You play, Everybody Eats at My House . You want them to go outside and run around? You play, Who Let the Dogs Out. You want them to do tricks? You play, Jump . You want them to come right away when you call them and turn around and not run out into the street and get hit by a car, you play, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.  Gil’s throat felt thick and it was hard to swallow and since his brain was screaming something about boys don’t cry, he squeezed his eyes shut and forced back the mighty tears trying to storm the gate of his pre-adolescent dignity.  He stopped talking and slumped over the urn.

“Why, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head? ”

“Cause that was Dad’s favorite song, Avery.”

Gil opened his eyes and looked to his brother, but Avery avoided his gaze. They sat in stoned silence, each wrestling with their internal demons, until Avery’s cowed in submission and he gave Gil’s arm a light punch.

“I think it’s an awesome idea, Gil. I’ll take it over to Roley’s Hardware in the morning and see if I can talk them into buying a few.”

Gil nodded, pushed his bangs to the side and swiped at the three or four tears, running full-out down his cheeks like escaped convicts.

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, click here. . .

going, going, gone

copyright 2011


a novel by


Chapter Thirteen

Several weeks later after all porch repairs had been completed, Gil sat in a darkened room, ZiZi at his feet, watching Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome. He held a fistful of popcorn halfway to his mouth, eyes wide with fear and excitement. The music swelled as the crowds called for the great showdown. Kori came up from the basement wearing a pair of overalls doused in paint, several brushes sticking out the top front pocket, the paint still on them.

Gil was so engrossed in the movie he didn’t hear her enter. She surveyed the scene, strolled casually to the coffee table, picked up the remote and pressed the off button. The T.V. went blank and Gil went ballistic.  With a grunt he threw a handful of popcorn at her face with more emotion than force.

“Turn it back ON!” he shouted, reaching for the remote. Taller by a head, Kori was able to withstand this onslaught with little effort. Gil clutched and yanked and tried to knock it from her hands. “KOREEEE. TURN IT ON!”

“No.” She pulled away and walked to the window, throwing back the curtains. Sunlight blasted in, temporarily blinding him. He blinked in reptilian fashion until his eyes adjusted to the glare. Kori pulled back the rest of the curtains, flooding the room with light, and pointed to the door. On her signal, Gil’s accomplice moved to the front door where he stood, head erect, tail wagging, more than ready to take the punishment with his master.

“It’s 11 o’clock. In the morning! It’s Saturday. Go outside.”

Gil took a deep breath and blew it out in a huff before turning toward the door.

“C’mon, Zi.” He grabbed a baseball cap off the coat rack, carefully pushed his bangs to the side, and held the door open for Zizi who barked once and bounded out into the brilliant sunlight. Gil stuck his tongue out at Kori and was gone. Kori watched from the window as they played fetch the stick. She smiled, and headed back to the basement.

She was halfway down the stairs when she heard Gil’s high-pitched wail.

“Zi, Zi, no! Come, Zi! Now!

She took the stairs two at a time and threw open the front door. Gil sat in the middle of the street, ZiZi’s head on his lap. He rubbed her ears and spoke softly to the inert figure. A boy of about eighteen hovered in the background, his car door still open, radio blaring, looking on helplessly. Kori sprinted across the wide front yard to the road and dropped to her knees.

Gil was rubbing one hand softly over ZiZi’s body while the other hand scratched instinctively at her favorite spot behind her ear. There was very little blood, but one look at her and it was clear the internal injuries were tremendous. She was panting, each attempt at breath wracking her body. Kori placed her hand on ZiZi’s ribs and the dog whimpered before paroxysms of coughing began.

“Take your hands off of her,” Gil said, throwing Kori’s hand back at her as if it were diseased. “This is your fault.”

Kori opened her mouth to protest; her voice caught in her throat.

“Broken,” Gil said.  ZiZi’s body looked to be shrinking. She shivered and Gil covered her with his arms. Kori touched ZiZi’s nose; it was warm.

“She’s broken and she can’t be fixed,” Gil said, rocking, his eyes locked on the dog.

Kori touched Gil’s arm. It was cold, like ZiZi’s body, and his face had turned a preternatural white. He scratched ZiZi’s ears and murmured, soft clucking noises meant to soothe. ZiZi took a deep breath and shuddered again.

“Do you have a cell phone?” Kori asked the young kid pacing behind them. The boy nodded. He looked too young to have a license. “Can you call a vet? Tell them it’s an emergency.” He nodded and ran to his car.

Gil continued his quiet incantations, alternating between stroking ZiZi’s head and scratching her ears. They were like two lovers who know the end was imminent, but continued making plans for the future.

“And after lunch, we’ll go down to the creek and look for baby minnows,” he whispered, his voice straining with the effort. “And maybe we’ll take a nap under the Willow tree.” ZiZi thumped her tail once and whimpered. She raised her face to Gil with considerable effort and licked his nose. Gil stroked her head and rubbed his face in her fur.

“What do you want for lunch, girl?” Gil asked. “How about a melted ham and cheese sandwich?” ZiZi wagged her tail twice, winced and stopped. Gil rubbed her tail. “Maybe a few chips, too, huh?” Gil rubbed his nose in the nape of her neck and she moved her head to nuzzle him.

“The vet’s tech is on his way.” The young driver was back, pleased with himself that he was able to make the arrangements, but his face fell after seeing ZiZi’s condition.

Her breath came in short bursts and recognition lit in Gil’s eyes. He’d seen this before in movies and shuddered at the thought of what was coming next. Gil had watched them all. The hurt, the hunted, the hapless, their last breaths coming in fits of fury or lackluster sighs. Gil had watched people die so often that he thought he’d become immune to it. When his Mom and Dad died, he reacted in stalwart fashion, just like the heroes on T.V., dry-eyed and tight-lipped. Now he clenched his teeth, but it couldn’t stop the tears which were pouring out of the corners of his eyes like molten lava.

“Please don’t go, Zi,” he murmured. He rested his head on ZiZi’s and she raised her nose an inch to meet him then dropped to the ground, her last breath escaping in one small sigh. Gil tightened his grip, trying to hold on even as he felt her spirit go. Gil began to cry, a low, crazy moan that sounded like death itself.

“I’m so sorry,” the young driver said. “She ran right out in the road. I didn’t see her until she was right in front of my car.” Kori nodded, but Gil had no room to hear him above the sound of everything ZiZi’d ever told him.

to be continued. . .

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