Alien Rain

alienrainThe child, weak from fever, slipped out of bed, and suddenly dizzy stumbled to the floor. Her bedroom was for the most part dark, though a small night light shown dully from a wall socket near her bedroom door, so she knew where she was. She did not trust her legs now, and so began to crawl toward the door, to the hallway, to her parents’ bedroom. She did not cry out. She could not. She could only whisper, only wheeze.

The disease had spent her strength, even her voice.

Head down, she crawled. Only days before she’d romped and played and sang and squealed like any child. But when the illness came, it stole her energy. It seemed to her an eternity to reach the hallway, and when she finally passed through her bedroom door, she stopped a moment to rest. She raised her head then as best she could, and the end of the hall leading to the safety of her mommy and daddy’s room appeared to be a mile away.

Then she saw the rain.

It came down from the ceiling, thin intemperate shafts of golden light falling as a shower from the entire length of the hallway like a summer cloudburst. The child sat up to see more comfortably. Though the hall was dark, the alien rain lighted it in a myriad elongated, pencil-thin beams, like night rain afire. Though there were no droplets, no puddles on the floor, no stinging wetness, she felt its weight fall upon her, press her back onto the floor.

She felt no fear, no pain, only oppression, an invisible crushing heaviness. With difficulty she rolled somehow onto her back to gaze up at these glowing gilded pedicels, rays floating in slow motion down upon her and burying her there in the hallway.

Until no trace of her was left, only a sea of alien rain that in the morning looked exactly like the high-density dark flat nylon frieze carpet it had supplanted.

Steve Pulley
Note: The above piece is based in on a personal experience. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I came down with pneumonia and was confined to bed for a few days. When my fever was at its highest, I remember leaving my bed and wandering through the hallway in my house, where I hallucinated pretty much what this story describes. My alien rain was just as eerie, although I didn’t quite disappear, or you wouldn’t be reading this today, would you?
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Day Tripper

This short story is based on the following prompt suggested in my writing group: A one-day trip on a time machine: would you go back, or forward; why; who would you meet and what might you want to do different?

Ironically I was singing the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” on my way to the bus station when it happened. There I was, kind of strutting along Braxton Boulevard to the beat, minding my own business, “Day Tripper” on my Sony Walkman, going, “Got a good reason for taking the easy way out . . .”, me jiving along in sync with the music, when BAM!, it’s like “Day Tripper” goes “Life on Mars”.

No, I’m not a Manchester cop like in the TV series, and I don’t get knocked senseless by a car and find myself transported back to 1973 and wonder what the hell I’m doing wearing duds from a generation ago. But, yes, BAM!, I do get knocked senseless — though it’s by a skateboard thief trying to make his escape with the owner hot on his heels.

“Are you all right, mister?” I hear a worried feminine voice floating somewhere above me, once I’ve regained consciousness.

I open my eyes and look up. Everything is a blur, but I perceive that there are a few people standing around me voicing concern. A teenage girl is leaning over me, presumably the speaker, and as she slowly comes into focus, I see a worried expression on her face.

“Katy?” I breathe, unable to grasp what cannot be. It is my sister Kate.

Kate has been dead for thirty years.

Life on Mars.

Her eyes widen. “You know me?”

“This is a dream, right?” I ask.

“No, sir. You got run over by a guy who swiped my skateboard. Bastard got away, damn him. It was brand new, a present from my brother.”

“This has got to be a dream,” I insist.

“No, really, it’s not. You got hit pretty bad. Maybe you’ve got a concussion. Somebody called for an ambulance. Should be here soon.” She paused, frowning. “How’d you know my name?”

I start muttering to myself. “This can’t be happening. I must be in a coma or something.”

“No, really, mister. It’s here and now. You’re awake, but hurt. I’m so sorry.”

The other gawkers bob their heads in agreement.

“Can’t be,” I maintain.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you’re my sister Kate and you can’t be here.”

“Your sis…  What are you talking about? Why can’t I be here?”

“Katy, you’ve been dead for years.”

She looks stunned.

“I gave you a skateboard for your 16th birthday, Katy. I saved up for it. But somebody stole it and you chased after him, but you got hit by bus. You were killed instantly.”

“Concussion,” I hear a sidewalk traumatologist mutter. Heads bob again. My head seems to agree. It is swimming.

“Who are you?”

“Your brother . . .  Eddie.”

“Mister, how can you be Eddie? Why, you’re old enough to be my father. Eddie’s only fourteen. Why are you saying these things?”

“Because it’s true. But everything else here is crazy. Why are you here at all?” Then even a crazier notion dawns on me. “Katy! I don’t know how — and I know this must sound insane — but . . . but I think maybe I just came back from the future to save your life.”

“You what!”

“Time travel . . .,” I say, but then start to swoon again and can’t finish.

In that moment an ambulance arrives, and after a cursory assessment of my body and vital signs and weird questions about my identity by the ambulance people, which I’m now loath to reveal, given my sudden off-the-wall theory that I’m a time traveler, as well as the fact that I’m on the verge of passing out, I am lifted onto a stretcher and hustled inside the flashing vehicle. As the rear doors begin to close, I hear someone bang on them.

“Wait! Wait! I’m coming along!”

“Who’re you?”

“Uh . . . uh . . .  I-I’m his . . . his daughter!”

A paramedic looks at me. “She your daughter?”

In a blur I see Katy give me a pleading nod. “Yes. Her name’s Katy . . . Katherine Treadwater.”

Katy now gives me wide eyes of shock.

“Okay, hop in.”

And off we go. Somewhere along the line I lose consciousness again, and the next time I’m awake I’m in a hospital bed with an IV stuck in my arm and alone with my dead sister sitting in a chair next to me.

Katy sees me awake and leans over and growls, “I don’t know who you are, mister, but you’ve got some explaining to do. My brother Eddie? Time travel? Are you nuts?”

“It’s either one of those,” I whisper back, “or I’m in a coma and dreaming all this. If I have a wallet somewhere, check it out. Where are my pants?”

“I put your clothes in the closet here.” She roots around for my trousers, slides her hand into a back pocket and extracts my wallet. I watch her turn pale as she examines its contents. She slowly turns her gaze back to me.

“Y-your driver’s license . . .  It’s got Eddie’s date of birth, and it was issued on April 27th, 2012, and expires in 2017. A-and your AAA proof of insurance card says it expires on February 9th, 2016. And your five- and ten-dollar bills are weird. What’s going on?”

“I’m as lost as you are, sis.”

“Don’t call me ‘sis’. I can’t be your sister. It’s impossible.”

“Don’t I look like Eddie thirty years older?”

“You look like mugged crap, mister, is what you look like. You could be anybody. Your face is all banged up from when you got wiped out by that louse who stole my skateboard. You . . . I mean Eddie! . . . Eddie gave it to me just last week.”

“I know. For your birthday. September 12th.”

“How could you know that? Have you been stalking me?”

I shake my head. “Why would I be stalking you? You died on September 19th, 1985.”

“But that’s today!”

“But for me, that happened thirty years ago. I tell you, Katy, a second before I got run over by the thief, it was September 19th, 2015. I was walking to the bus station over on Spring Street to take a day trip to Balport to visit Cousin Sharon. Poor dear’s got cancer and is feeling pretty low just now.”

“Cousin Sharon? Who’s that? We don’t have any cousin named Sharon. I-I mean, I don’t!”

I think. “Oh, of course, that’s right. She isn’t born yet. It’s our Aunt Daisy’s daughter.”

“Aunt Daisy? Aunt Daisy’s not even married.”

“Let me see . . .  Right again. She’ll get married two years from now to a guy named Freddie Pangborne, and a year after that, Sharon will be their first-born. After that, two more kids will come: Sam and Dotty.”

Katy looks at me. “You are totally whacko,” she says.

“That would explain a lot of things. Or I could very well be imagining all this and will wake up from a nap back in 2015 on the bus to Balport. Or maybe I actually did get run over and am languishing in some hospital in a coma. Or. . . . ”

“Or what?”

“Or, in effect, I was somehow transported here to save you from being run over by a car.” I paused. “Because in my world . . . or time . . . you are long dead and I still miss you after all these years.”

She shakes her head. “I’m alive, and you are suffering from a brain concussion or . . . you’re delusional. That’s all there is to it.”

“But look again at what’s in my wallet. You’ve seen evidence there that shows I’m from another time, from the future. If my face is all banged up now, look at my driver’s license photo again. Surely you can see a resemblance of me at fourteen and now at forty-four. Oh! Oh my God! Wait! I just remembered! You probably missed it. Quick, hand me my wallet. Quick, quick.”

She raises an eyebrow, but finally shrugs and passes it to me. In one of the slots I slide out an old and slightly wrinkled photograph and extend it to her. She looks at it and gasps. She flips it over and looks at the back.

“This is impossible! It’s a photo of me and Eddie from two years ago! Where — how — did you get this? There’s only one copy in our family album. But . . . yours is all beat up.”

“After Mom and Dad died, I pretty much inherited everything of theirs . . . and the family album. I made a copy of this one to keep in my wallet. It’s been there quite a long time.”

She looks dumbly up from the photo. “Mom and Dad died?”

I nod, regretting I’d said anything. “Yeah; ‘fraid so.”


I think, then shake my head. “Maybe better I don’t say. We don’t need to know those kinds of things before they happen. But they go without suffering, I’ll say that much.”

She stares at me a very long moment. “You really are Eddie, aren’t you?”

I nod. She looks a little dizzy, then nods back. “Okay, then. A-a-ach! I must be a loony to believe it, but I guess I do now. A-and thank you for saving my life.”

“I can’t take any credit, I’m afraid. It just freakishly happened that I landed here in the precise instant to collide with the thief and stop you from running across the street. I’m so glad I did.”

“What do you think happens now?”

“Now? Beats me. This is my very first day trip time travel, after all. I have no idea if I’ll be stuck here, or I get shot back to my time, or maybe some completely different time. But if I somehow return to 2015, I wonder if you’ll be there, forty-six years old, waiting for me and remembering all this.”

Katy shakes her head slowly, then let’s out a soft ‘whew’.



“If . . . if you don’t go back, and if I take you home with me, whatta you think’s going to happen when you meet yourself?”

Steve Pulley

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Hail Fellow Not-So-Well Met

hailfellownotsowellmetThe following is based on an experience I had back in 1969 while living in Bolivia. The title is a tongue-in-cheek variation on the expression “hail fellow well met”, a somewhat archaic English idiom used when referring to a person whose behavior is hearty, friendly, and congenial. In this anecdote, lend special attention to the word “hail”.

Tempt me no more; for I have known the lightning’s hour.” (Cecil Day-Lewis)

I’ve braved many a foul weather in my day. Monsoons, storms at sea, deluges, snowy whiteouts . . .  A little rough and tumble from Mother Nature now and then to brace up a chap, right?

Umm . . . not so much my trip to Janina. Braved, that is. Janina (pronounced ha-NEE-nah) was not exactly my finest hour in the braving department. To its credit, though, it did resurrect in me a profound respect for what travel can potentially be all about: terror, agony, life-threatening peril at every turn, impending doom, doom itself, imbroglio along with a little mistaken name-calling, and that nagging, never-to-be satisfied question: why me, God!

Ostensibly, this was to be a fairly easygoing trip, at least easygoing for those intrepid souls who normally travel the precarious, too often deadly precipice-infested, dusty inter-provincial roads of Bolivia atop cargo trucks. For I was to ride in the relative comfort of a jeep, accompanying an old friend and a veteran driver. I say relative comfort, because jeeps in general are more comfortable and safer than trucks on rural roads of the Bolivian Andes. Although not always. While once riding in a rural bus to the city of Sucre, we very nearly knocked an oncoming jeep over a cliff. Its occupants were so relieved they were yet even alive to catch their breath, and not a mangled mess at the bottom of the precipice, that they altogether overlooked a perfectly justified opportunity to raise hell with our bus driver for recklessness. I also call to mind yet another trip, this one while traveling to La Paz in a jeep with three or four companions, when we suffered a near head-on collision with a huge semi flying along the highway in the opposite direction. When I say near head-on, I mean to say that the truck came so close that it tore off our side-view mirror on its way by, and just kept on going.

To digress just a bit more, but still to impress upon you the potential risks of rural road travel in Bolivia in the 1960s (and which still exist in many places to this day), six months after I arrived in the country I was invited to visit a German-Dutch couple, Gisela and Arnold and their young son, who had settled in the primitive, tropical province of Chapare (cha-PAH-ray), over 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) away. Gisela’s mother, Ursula, who lived in the same city where I had established myself, was planning to visit her jungle family and carry supplies to them that were otherwise unavailable where they lived, and asked if I would like to accompany her. I readily accepted and agreed to her request to purchase tickets at the bus station while she completed other tasks prior to the trip.

As Ursula handed me money for the passage, she cautioned me, “Now, Stephen, when you go to the bus company, make absolutely certain that don Mario Saavedra will be our driver on the day of our journey.”

I arched an eyebrow of incomprehension. “Don Mario Saavedra. Okay. But why him?”

“Because he is the company’s oldest driver.”

I arched the other eyebrow. “The oldest driver? Why would we want the oldest driver and not a younger one?”

Ursula gave me a measured smile. “Because he’s still alive.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Stephen, these mountain roads are very dangerous. Every year there are many accidents and consequently many people killed. You look for the older drivers because you know that they are more likely to be careful drivers since they have survived this long. You do not have the same assurance with young, less-experienced drivers.”

I gulped.

As it turned out, the road then to Chapare, which dropped from its highest altitude in the Andes of 14,000 feet above sea level down to 1,000 feet in the jungle over a distance of 85 miles, was in places so narrow and so perilous that only one-way traffic was permitted. So, one day vehicles could only travel into Chapare, and the next day only allowed to travel out of Chapare. But even with this safety precaution, the roadside along the way was dotted with crosses and stone memorials marking accidents where vehicles carried their occupants over the edge of sheer cliffs, many of which dropped a thousand feet.

I could go on with additional examples, but suffice to say that the proverbial brush with death is ever in one’s mind on roadtrips in the high Andes.

Dr. Ouladi — my aforementioned old friend — was an old hand on Bolivian roads and had even survived a number of accidents of his own, one of which had flipped the jeep over several times. This was the first time I’d ever accompanied him on a trip, and I found him a delight to travel with. He was a fine conversationalist, had a playful sense of humor, and was even entertaining. On this occasion he thought it a novelty to regale us with song, both for my benefit and to keep Domingo — our intrepid driver — from falling asleep at the wheel. One of his all-time favorites, it turned out, was “Yo soy minero / yo tengo dinero. No soy minero / no tengo dinero” (“I’m a miner / I’ve got money. I’m not a miner / I’ve got no money”). A simple song, not ostentatious in any way, mind you, but catchy and easy to remember. Domingo commented that it never failed to amuse miners who heard it, since the lyrics meant not a blessed thing to them. Dr. Ouladi, an Iranian physician and a Baha’i, had come to Bolivia in 1967, a year prior to my own arrival. Although his work in the capital city of La Paz tied him down considerably, in his spare time he loved to escape La Paz and be off somewhere sharing the message of the Baha’i Faith to those who were intrigued and wanted to know more.

The purpose of this particular trip, however, was to visit several rural communities, inviting the Baha’is residing there to a special conference in La Paz, as well as to locate a certain person who had been elected delegate to the Baha’i National Convention later in the year. It was February, the rainy season in Bolivia, and nearly every other day there would be a brief but heavy storm. We were now headed for the Janina area, high in the Andes mountains in the northern Potosi region of Bolivia, in search of a remote locality called Corral Mayu. When we arrived at last in the vicinity, Dr. Ouladi and I had to abandon the jeep and walk the remaining couple of miles or so to reach Corral Mayu. Since we were unfamiliar with the area, we knew not the exact spot where our Baha’i friends might be living, and so we separated at a fork, I taking the high road and he the low road. As I trudged along, naturally I felt compelled to hum a few modified bars of “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”.* At the same time, I noticed with some concern that dark clouds were amassing, and I knew that we would have to hurry if we didn’t want to get drenched.

*The chorus of which begins: “O ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road . . .”

I hadn’t gone far, however, when the clouds began to blow blackly our way, and suddenly without warning a violent gust of wind nearly lifted me off the ground. I began to gaze upward for possible signs of Dorothy and Toto on their funnel-clouded way to Oz. Though tornadoes do not exist in Bolivia, on the altiplano (high plain, some 13,000 ft. above sea level) there are plentiful and strong dust devils, which certainly do seem often on the verge of something cyclonic. Far worse, however, are the electrical storms. Many people are killed each year by these frightening occurrences, and those who do survive are considered by many to possess special powers afterward.

If I may be allowed another short digression, I once met one of these, a gnarled and thoroughly unattractive woman by the name of Clementina who — speaking of “The Wizard of Oz” — bore a remarkable resemblance to Margaret Hamilton in her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West. Even more amazing, Clementina engendered the fear, the jealousy and enmity of several married women in the area, convinced that she had seduced their respective husbands through her “electrical” charms. “Esa doña Clementina es una bruja sin duda alguna” (i.e., “That doña Clementina is without doubt a witch”), they assured me.

Flashes of lightning in the distance now announced the imminence of the storm. I began walking more briskly, but the cold, dry wind picked up steadily and it was all I could do to remain standing. The sinister, metallic gray-black clouds boiled overhead now, and there was a peculiar tingly feeling in the air I had never experienced before, except maybe from a penny arcade’s shock machine. Then a sudden, blinding burst of light and a horrible crackling explosion knocked me into a ditch face down. I lay there a second, gasping. I had never before been so close to being fulminated by a thunderbolt. Even with the promise of doña Clementina’s special powers afterward had we connected, there was no question about it: I’d had quite enough. But then came another blinding flash, and another, and yet another. And it became abundantly clear to me that the theory that lightning never strikes in the same place twice was pure hokum. Zeus Thunderer apparently had it in for me. I hadn’t hugged ground so closely since my days in Vietnam during mortar attacks, not too many years before. It was perhaps one of the most terrifying things I have ever experienced. I’m sure it was then that I rendered as fervent a prayer as I had never before supplicated to God for protection.

Then the sky opened up with another onslaught: pea-sized stones of hail. Oh, boy, I thought. Then the peas grew to grapes. And when the grapes began to look like golf balls, I decided I’d had enough. Lightning or no lightning, I wasn’t going to stay in that ditch to be hailed to death. I leaped up, covering the top of my head with my arms, took a quick look around to reconnoiter, and perhaps fifty yards ahead I saw as in a mist an adobe hut. It was a close race, but nip-and-tucked it just before the entire load of hail stones dumped.

The hut, it turned out, served merely as a cover for a mud oven, but it was dry and seemingly hailproof, and therefore a godsend. Lightning crashed all about, and huge gusts of wind shook my shelter, while hailstones smashed down by the bucket-load. The ground, which had been black before, was in seconds turning into small, snow white craters. I wondered what had become of Dr. Ouladi, and hoped that he was safe from this awful tempest.

The hail storm began to diminish and drops of rain bit by bit interceded, falling in fat, slushy, stinging blobs. I watched from my haven, terrified by as well as fascinated at the fury of the elements such as I had never before experienced. Then from the corner of my eye I captured a most magnificent sight. So mesmerizing it was that it seemed to be happening in slow motion. Down the hill, out of the clouds, pranced gallantly a large group of Quechuans, carrying black flags, banging on drums and blowing horns. It seemed some eerie procession from another time, another world. But then, abruptly, deafeningly, from their midst emanated dreadful explosions, and for a second I thought that thunderbolts had caught them. But then I saw a hand upraised, and a dark red stick in it, and a sparkling string sticking out one end. And the stick was flung up and away, and it cartwheeled through the air, arching up in a slow, determined end-over-end parabola, and finally fell back towards the earth, suddenly lighting up and then erupting with an awful blast. And I realized then that they were throwing dynamite! Later it was explained to me that this was their belief, their way of warding off the hail which was at that very instant destroying their precious crops. I thought of the song “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, and they seemed just like that: ghost marchers from the sky. They descended the hill with magical grace, and in a brief moment they were gone, and the hail was gone, and the lightning was gone, and the rain then came down in torrents so thick I could no longer see before me. And then it, too, was gone, and the air was clear and cold and the sun broke through the clouds and calm returned to the earth.

It took the breath away.

I stepped at last outside the hut. It seemed a dream, as though it hadn’t really happened, that I hadn’t been nearly frizzled by lightning or perhaps pulverized by what I now suspected could also have been dynamite charges thrown toward my ditch. What a day! Could anything possibly be as electrifying?

Actually, it could.

As I circled round the hut in search of other buildings, I nearly ran headlong into an Indian woman who was striding down the hill, perhaps in pursuit of the others. She took one look at me, eyes popping, and let out a blood-curdling whoop that nearly scared me to death and all but sent me sprawling yet again, and she began screeching.

Supay! Supay!” (SOO-pie! SOO-pie!)

I’d grasped just enough Quechua by then to know that she was yelling “Satan! Satan!”. She spun around and began to rush back up the hill, shrieking repeatedly, “Supay!” at the top of her lungs and crying out for help.

Mana! Mana!” (“No! No!” in Quechua), I cried back. “Ama supaychu!” (“Not the devil!”)

Supay! SUPAY!” returned the woman, totally unconvinced.

A man suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, bristling and surely ready to do battle with the Forces of Evil. I was pretty certain by then that the entire hamlet would soon follow and I would be stoned to death before I could justify my bright-red checkered Pendleton wool jacket, my horn-rimmed glasses, my disheveled, rain-soaked blond hair streaking out on all sides from beneath a black, faux Russian ushanka cap, my deathly pale face, my large, flaming red ears, and my strained idiot grin. Then he saw me, stared with mouth half open, did a double-take, looked at the woman, looked back at me . . . and then burst out laughing . . . and laughing . . . and laughing. Nearly strangling, he sputtered something to the woman, and after gaping at me for a long moment with wild, suspicious eyes, she finally calmed down, collected her breath, smiled sheepishly, then grinned, and began to giggle.

“You scared my wife half to death,” the man explained in broken Spanish. “She’s never seen a gringo before. She thought you were Satan in the flesh.”

I tittered nervously at first, but finally joined in the hilarity. After the man recovered from what he obviously regarded as the most comical thing he’d witnessed all year long, he asked me what I was doing there. I explained. He nodded with friendly enthusiasm and pointed out that I should have taken the low road, where Dr. Ouladi had headed. As I departed, I could hear him teasing his wife with “supay! supay!” and chortling merrily while she proceeded to chew him out in Quechua, I assumed for being callus and insensitive to her frightening encounter.

I made my way back eventually to the jeep, humbled by the overpowering forces of nature, chagrined by my own fright, but enormously relieved to still be alive. Domingo, our driver, awaited, an amused smile on his face. He had successfully preserved himself from the fury of the elements, sitting cozily inside the jeep out of harm’s way. He did complain about a buzz in his ears, however, the result of the vehicle being lambasted by the hail. A half hour or so later Dr. Ouladi appeared, safe and sound, together with the person we had been looking for, who graciously came all the way from his home to greet me.

The rest of our journey mercifully proved by and large uneventful . . . except perhaps that very night and then again four days later when we and our jeep were well-nigh washed away by flash floods.

Steve Pulley
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Girls Night Out

girlsnightoutI should probably have my head examined confessing this, considering the topic I’m about to disclose, and its aftermath, but this is simply too juicy not to share. My name is Rebecca Braxton (yeah, right), and my girlfriends and I just had the most freaky “girls night out” since the dawn of time.

Now, I must begin by saying that this is the only occasion in my entire life that I’ve ever really let my hair down, and when I say ‘really let my hair down’, I mean really, really, really let my hair down. I don’t expect that a remotely similar experience will ever arise again, namely because I don’t expect I’d survive another. I’ve been so much a goody-two-shoes all my life that such let-my-hair-downs would and should probably kill me outright.

One more thing: Until last night, I’d never been on a girls night out. Truth be known, I wasn’t even certain what a girls night out meant until it was suggested to me by my pal Maisie McMasters a few days before. She said, “Becca, let’s you, me, and the girls have a girls night out this coming Friday. Whatta you say?” To hide my total ignorance, I said, “Sure, let’s do it,” and afterwards looked it up on the Internet’s Urban Dictionary. I didn’t initially look it up on Urban Dictionary, mind you. Not by intent, that is. I merely googled “girls night out definition”, and first in a long line of entries was Urban Dictionary’s. “Must be a reliable authority,” I figured, since it was at the top of the heap.

Long story short, I was aghast at some of the definitions. I’ll just quote the one that received the most number of thumbs up. The six entries that followed got progressively raunchier (albeit a few funnier) and do not seem to contribute all that much more to my narrative:

A planned event, usually held at a cheesy Irish pub or dance club, where groups of females dress provocatively, flirt insessantly (sic), dance badly, and accept free drinks from desparate (sic) single men. The event usually ends when one female passes out in her own vomit or when one of their boyfriends shows up.

I thought this a bit excessive and in all likelihood exaggerated, not to mention the fact that there are no Irish pubs that I know of in all of Los Angeles County. But just to make sure, I looked for the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary’s version. It more staidly listed it as ‘Ladies Night’. To wit:

   1 A time at a bar or nightclub when women are charged less or admitted free.
1.1 A function at a men’s institution or club to which women are invited.

This sounded like the very antithesis of Urban Dictionary’s offerings and unquestionably no fun at all any way you looked at it. So much so that being buried up to the neck in a nest of enraged fire ants seemed somehow preferable. Are the English really that stuffy? Depressing, to say the least. So I tried again, this time at Yahoo Answers:

A Girls Night Out is when the girls get to go out with there (sic) friends and do fun things like movies, clubbing /dancing, dinner, bowling, going to the bar, having a sleep over (sic). Things like that. Its (sic) harmless. Its (sic) a time were the girls have gone too long with out (sic) seeing each other and its (sic) time to catch up and have a great night with out (sic) drama from the boys.

Aside from the deplorable grammar and punctuation, this sounded far more benign than the Urban Dictionary take on it, and certainly more compelling than what the Oxford Dictionary had to offer, and so I naturally presumed that this was what Maisie McMasters had in mind.

And, naturally, I informed my plans to my husband Rick, the love of my life.

“Darling,” I said, “I’m going over to Maisie’s for a bit.”

Rick arched an eyebrow over the top of his newspaper. “Maisie?”


“Isn’t she that ding-bat who got you fired from your job last year?”

“No, sweetheart, that was that Daisy Doolittle ding-bat. I’m talking about Maisie McMasters.”

“Do I know her?”

I tried not to roll my eyes, I really did, but it was no use. “Yes, of course you do, dear. She’s only been my best friend since kindergarten. You used to date her before you met me. We talk on the phone at least twice a week, and she’s been over here countless times. She was my maid of honor at our wedding, and she’s the godmother of our three children, remember?”

Rick lowered the newspaper so I could see him frown in concentration. He’s such a dear. “Oh . . . yeah, kinda. Isn’t she the blond ditz who’s been married about five times?”

“Only three times, Ricky. The first two were a disappointment, it’s true, but number three seems to be working out okay. And she’s not a ditz. Just a little scatterbrained is all.”

Rick snorted and lifted his paper above eye level again. “Right. Well, have fun.” He lowered it again suddenly. “Hey, wait a minute! We have three children?”

This is Rick’s favorite joke. He’s such a card.

I smiled grimly. “Bye, hon. I may be in a little late. You know how we chatter on and lose track of time. That okay?”

“Not a prob, babe,” he replied. Or at least I think that’s what he said, since I was already half way to our bedroom to change.

Fortunately, Rick, dear man, didn’t see that I was dressed to the partygirl nines when I skittered out the front door a half hour later. And just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I wasn’t dolled up to flirt with anybody, but to have a pleasant evening with my girlfriends.

Okay, those are the preliminaries. Now we cut to the chase.

There were seven of us. To protect both the guilty and the innocent — not that there were any of the latter when you come right down to it — I’ve given them all pseudonyms here: Rebecca Braxton (you didn’t really think I was going to use my actual name, did you?); Maisie McMasters; Vonna Whitcomb; Peggy Adams; Leila Chang; Connie Sanchez; and Sally Dalton. There were another five, but at the last minute they turned tail. Which the rest of us, I might add in retrospect, should have followed suit had we’d any sense at all. We were all under 40 . . . approaching the wrong side of 40, if you follow my drift. To be out of the house for a few hours would be a lark.

Maisie, who was our organizer — or agent provocateur, if you view things from another perspective — had recommended a nightspot in West Los Angeles known as Le Club Syndens Näste. We learned too late it was French for The Den of Iniquity. Maisie afterwards swore she thought Syndens Näste was the name of the proprietor, kind of like Moe’s Tavern in ‘The Simpsons’. Yeah, right. Maisie, I should add, unanimously lost her BFF status among us until further notice.

You know the saying “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? Well, at Le Club Syndens Näste, what happens there will only stay there for a price. We were blackmailed by three in-house paparazzi who, for an unconscionable price, released to us what I can only delicately label as ‘compromising’ images they shot of our stay. It’s only fair to acknowledge, though, that to the nightclub’s credit our visit did fulfill to the hilt all of the Yahoo Answers definition of “girls night out” . . . plus much, much more — to include carousing in a most unladylike manner, karaoke of the most vulgar caliber to a live but totally inebriated audience, stand-up impromptu comedy sketches that defy description or decorum, abduction by aliens masqueraded as humans, black eyes in a drunken brawl for two of us and three for the ETs, possibly a trip to the planet Pangbornea located somewhere in the Arm of Orion, I think they said — unless of course this was all only the effect of the drinks we were served — but for sure a night in the slammer afterwards back here on Earth, and impending divorce for five of us — maybe six.

Not me, however. As it turned out, Rick didn’t wake up until about ten the next morning. Didn’t even hear me crawl into bed at 5:30 a.m. After I’d been released from jail, I rode home in a taxi, showered, slept for a couple of hours, awakened with a hangover to feed the kids, put a load of my tell-tale clothes in the washer, read the morning paper, and watched about a half hour of college football on television.

“Hey, babe,” he said when he finally dragged himself into the kitchen for breakfast, “why didn’t you wake me up? I think I missed the first quarter of the football game.”

“Hi, sweetie,” I said, planting him a big sloppy, and setting a bowl of cereal in front of him. “You didn’t miss a blessed thing. It’s still a scoreless game and boring as hell. Trust me, I did you a favor to let you catch a few extra z’s.”

“Yeah? Right on! Thanks, babe.”

He never asked me about my “visit” to Maisie’s.

Speaking of which, later that day Maisie had the unmitigated cheek to phone me! Can you imagine? Such a wicked woman. No sense of shame or remorse at all.

But before I could rebuke her as she so richly deserved, she said, “So, Becca . . . .”

“What?” I barked.

“Whatta you say about next Friday night?”

I gaped at my phone for about two heart beats.

“What time?”

Steve Pulley

Posted in Stories | 6 Comments

An Unorthodox Proposal

“What’s the latest on your romance with the milkman?”

Marvela Shreaper sighed. “Can’t you stop calling him the milkman? He does have a name, for cryin’ out loud.”

Marvela’s older sister Jodie grinned. It was an old, old joke. “Okay, Marve, so how’s it going between you and Orson? Any progress, or have you stopped being his unrelenting designated stalker?”

“Still working on it, sis,” she said with a tired pout. “That guy has a high resistance tolerance, I’ll say that for him. But I think he may be weakening. Harder now, though, seeing as how I’m on the outs at Pembroke High.”

Days ago Marvela had been suspended from high school in the eleventh grade — yet again for fighting — and the so-called “milkman” in question was one of the students there. Her sister Jodie had given the boy that nickname years before, a play on the “milquetoast” sobriquet with which he’d been circumstantially and unfairly dubbed back in elementary school: Orson “Milquetoast” Henley.

She’d had her heart set on marrying Orson Henley ever since the fourth grade. For her there was a degree of inevitability that this would someday happen. He clicked with her at first sight . . . at the age of nine. It seemed, however, an unlikely goal in life at the time, considering the fact that their first meeting had ended in a one-sided punching match in which Orson, the hands-down underdog, laid flat on his back with a bloody lip, a black eye, and a bump on the back of his head when he’d hit the ground. For her part, the only wounds Marvela sustained were minor scratches on two knuckles of her left hand when connecting with Orson’s front teeth.

To describe Marvela Shreaper physically at nine years old would be to describe a pint-sized version of a female kick-boxer, built for pain and endurance — compact, lithe, rough-and-tumble. There was a kind of fierceness in her demeanor, like one of those action heroines in the movies, yet at the same time still very much a girl.  As for Orson Henley, he looked the part of the geeky-but-nice kid on the block. It was obvious that he was no match for Marvela in a knock-down drag-out, or at least as first impressions seemed to indicate.

The two sweaty, now dirt-laden children were summarily marched off the playground to the school principal’s office by a horrified yard teacher to render accounts of the altercation. Principal Transome would see them shortly; in the meanwhile they were left sitting side-by-side on a bench in the hallway. Marvela eyed the beaten Orson with puzzled eyes for a moment, then finally leaned over to him.

“Why didn’t you fight back?” she demanded in a hoarse whisper.

He looked up. “Didn’t want to fight.”

“You let me beat the crap out of you,” she insisted.

He shrugged. “Maybe I had it comin’.”

“Are you crazy? I started it.”

“Uh-uh. I did.”

“What? You hardly laid a finger on me.”

“Maybe, but you wouldn’t of licked me if I hadn’t of said no, would you?”

Marvela knew he was right, but she wasn’t yet able to articulate her feelings civilly. All she knew was that there were strange stirrings inside her for the battered boy that she could not understand, and though he had done nothing but say no, he was still at fault.

She had confronted him at recess.

“What’s your name?” she’d asked without preamble.

The boy looked at her with curiosity. “Orson Henley,” he said.

“Well, Orson Henley, I’m Marvela Shreaper, and just so you know, I’m going to marry you one day.”

Orson blinked at her. “What?”

“I said I’m going to marry you. Whatta you say?”

“No,” was his reply.


“That’s right. No.”

“Yeah, you are,” she said, and hit him.

Such was their first encounter.

And when Miss Transome, the school principal, received the two in her office and demanded an explanation, both children confessed to be the perpetrator, but neither would say why, and neither blamed the other. At a loss, she finally dispatched Orson to see the school nurse for a patch-up and Marvela first to the lavatory to wash up and then back to her classroom, with dire warnings for the both that she’d better never see them in her office again.

Later at the next recess, and back in the playground, Marvela located Orson sitting on a bench, several boys razzing him. He, for his part, merely observed them with quiet reserve, seemingly not in the least ruffled by their taunts.

“Let a girl lick you!” “Beat up by Shreaper!” “Geez, Orson, what a milquetoast!” “Is Shreaper your Grim Reaper, Orsie?” “Ha-ha! Grim Reaper Shreaper!” “Orsie Milquetoast!” They howled with laughter.

Marvela approached the group.

“O-oh! Look out! It’s the Grim Reaper!” the boys hooted. “Run, Orsie! Run!”

Marvela stopped in front of the bullies and stared them down until her menacing scowl cowed them. “You brats want to feel my knuckles, too?” she said with the kind of quiet, ominous voice that inspires chills and dread. Silence. “Then scram.”

They regarded her furrowed brow. They ascertained her clenched fists. They glanced at Orson, appreciating now on a more personal level his swollen lip and half-closed left eye. They peeked at one another and nodded. After a few words of empty bluster, they scrammed. Marvela turned back to Orson.

“You all right?”

He stood up. “Depends. You gonna beat up on me again?” There was the slightest twitch of a grin.

Marvela twitched back. “Nah. Sorry I clobbered you.”

“Forget it. But why did you?”

She shrugged and looked down. “Dunno.”


“Said so, didn’t I? Dunno!”

She gave him a shove, feeling frustrated and confused, and started to stomp away. In mid stride, though, she slowed, then stopped, and turned around. He was still seated on the bench, staring at her. Marvela stared back. She saw him swallow, then stand up, his eyes still on her. They both held their distance for a moment, like two gunslingers in a western sizing one another up before whipping out their weapons and blazing away at one another. Marvela cocked her head to one side, then to the other, watching him for a sign. Would he stand his ground, or cut and run? She felt her heart thumping. She’d hit him because she had sudden, instant feelings for him. It had frightened her and she’d lashed out. Dare she say the truth? Would he laugh at her? Well, if he did, they’d both be back at the principal’s office, he worst for wear. She strode back to him and gave him a glare.

“You really want to know why?”

He looked surprised, but, licking his lower lip and still tasting blood, said, “I do.”


“Yeah. After all, you said you were going to marry me, didn’t you? Or were you joking?”

She swallowed, took a deep breath, then thrust out her jaw. “I wasn’t joking. Don’t know why, but when I saw you, I knew . . . I knew I . . . I loved you.” She whispered the last.


Her face blazed. “I love you! Okay? A-an’ it scared me. That’s why!”

“You love me?”

“‘Course! Why would I say I was going to marry you? So . . . so what of it?” She clenched her fists again.

Orson recoiled a step. His eyes — his right eye — grew wide with confusion. He gingerly touched his cut lip then and winced. “Uh, n-nothing, I guess. Just a freaky way to show me. How can you love me? We don’t even know each other. You gotta be teasing me.”

Marvela’s own disarray was enormous. Why had she blurted that out? Stupid, stupid, stupid! The recess bell to go back to classes providentially sounded in that instant and probably saved her from smacking the thunderstruck kid again.

“We gotta go back to class,” she cried out, and dashed away, mortified by her own bravado. Orson, watching her retreat, thought she might have a screw loose. He shook his head in bafflement and finally shuffled off to his own classroom. Loose screw or not, even for a nine-year-old she was one of a kind.

Seven years later, Marvela was still fighting, though not with Orson. Between fourth grade and eleventh grade, she’d battled her way in and out of school and back with students, teachers, coaches, and administrators. It wasn’t that she was a bully. She didn’t look for trouble. In fact, she would have been perfectly content to lead a life of complete peace and tranquility, but somehow she had the uncanny magnetic ability to attract trouble, or what she perceived as trouble, and once it was there she could not stand walking away from it or backing down until it was resolved, either verbally or physically . . . too often the latter.

With Orson Henley, however, Marvela Shreaper was not yet finished. The two had never spoken again of the fourth-grade incident, and she had never imposed her feelings on him again quite so aggressively. Not that she’d given up on him. On the contrary, she still pursued him, but more subtly — though to some it might have seemed stalking. She knew that some day he would come around. She did not know what was going on in the boy’s head about her, but at least they had become friends. Her interpretation of “friends” might have differed somewhat from his own in this case, however.

Now that she was persona non grata at Pembroke High for two weeks and had been ordered into an anger management program for “troubled” teenagers, Marvela was now also under close watch by her parents. Which meant that it wasn’t likely she’d see for a time the unrequited love of her life, Orson Henley. Instead, she had her sister Jodie for companionship, decidedly a second-best compensation.

At the moment, the two girls lolled together on a sofa in a converted den at their home serving as their study, taking a break from their respective school work. Marvela was expected to keep up with her homework during her suspension, while her older sister, a sophomore in community college, followed suit with her own school projects. The two girls physically could have been born of different parents. Though both were attractive, each in her own way, Jodie was blond, blue-eyed, lanky, and delicate in appearance, while Marvela embodied a shorter, more robust stature, was dark-haired, brown-eyed, and mutably buoyant or stern of expression depending on her mood.

“Seriously, Marve, you gotta forget that dude and hook up with somebody more your style.”

“Sis, I don’t need anybody with more my style. I’m already dangerous enough as it is. Why compound it? I need someone like Orsie to rein me in when I’m off my leash. No, not someone *like* Orsie; I mean Orsie himself.”

Jodie shrugged. “Well, like Daddy always says, one man’s foo is another man’s goo.”

Marvela grinned. “Well, Orsie is my goo. That’s all there is to it.”

“‘You really think he’s ever going to cave? In all these years you two have never once dated that I’m aware of. Do you have any idea how he feels about you?”

“He’s nuts about me, sis; haven’t you noticed?”

Both girls looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“I admit,” continued Marvela, once she’d composed herself, “that the guy hasn’t exactly thrown himself at me — except for that one time in fourth grade, after I threw the first punch and he grabbed me around the arms to ward off the second one. But, you know? Lately I’ve been getting vibes that make me think he’s beginning to come around.”

Jodie rolled her eyes. “Oh, really? How so?”

“Well, he doesn’t run and hide now when he sees me,” Marvela replied drolly.

Jodie sputtered a chortle. “Dammit, be serious!”

“Okay, okay. We share a couple of classes this year, and we get along okay. Sometimes we even eat lunch together at the school cafeteria.”

“Really? Wait. Wasn’t it there where you got busted?”

“Yeah, kinda. I didn’t start it, but there was a food fight, see, which considering the quality of the food that day, was probably the best use for it. I got basted with a hunk of limp pizza from that jerk Jeremy Scranton. The kind with pineapple topping? And you know how I hate pineapple toppings on pizza. There’s absolutely no justification for that kind of behavior. So things escalated. One thing led to another, I lost it, and pretty soon I’d decked Jeremy. And the rest is history. But can you imagine that they called in the law for that? He had it coming, big time!”

“Was Orson there?”

Marvela grinned and sighed. “Yeah! Poor guy was in the thick of it. He really got creamed bad. Another reason why I decked Jerk Jeremy. Sis, would you believe that Orsie actually tried to protect me?”

“Get out!”

“No, really. Not that I needed it, mind you. Still, he stood up right in front of me to take several of those awful enchiladas in the face they serve on Wednesdays, at least three greasy sandwiches, and a plateful of spaghetti all aimed at me before he went down. And afterwards, he told the cop that Jeremy had accosted me first with the pizza and I’d merely defended myself.”

“Orsie did that?”

“Yeah! But you know him. He’s such a gentleman. ‘Course that cut no ice with the cop. Still . . . My hero! If that isn’t enough to prove his feelings for me are pure and chaste, I don’t know what is.”

“Marve, you’re delusional. I think you’ve been reading too much Jane Austen.”

“Jane Austen? Are you kidding?”

Jodie gave her sister a brief stare. “Yeah, I guess I am. In any case, you’ve managed to impress the heck out of me about Orsie. Sounded pretty cool, actually.”

The door bell rang then, and Jodie got up and headed for the living room. “I got it.”

“I’m tellin’ you, sis, if there really is such a thing as a soul mate, he’s the guy.”

“Does he know that?” Jodie called over her shoulder as she left the room.

“I’m workin’ on it. He’ll come around, I’m sure of it.”

Jodie shook her head and sighed. “Marve, I love you no matter what, but you’re one crazy sister, and this obsession of yours is nothing but a pipe dream.”

Marvela grinned. “Whatever that means. But you mark my words, sis. That guy will be your brother-in-law one day.”

“Hah!” was her sister’s response, and she disappeared into the front of their house.

Marvela’s eyes returned to the pending homework still awaiting her on her desk. She heaved a sigh and got back to the task.

“Marve!” It was Jodie, shouting from the living room.


“It’s for you! One of your classmates! More homework!”

Marvela groaned. More? Always more? She thought she had to slave more with school work at home than she ever did in the classroom. Her girlfriend Gloria Stillhelm usually toted it over after school each day. “Okay, send her on in!”

“Hey, how’s the urban hell-raiser?”

Marvela jerked her head around, shouting, “Who’s calling me an urban hell-raiser!”, then blinked. Then gasped. “Orsie?”

As she rubbed her eyes in disbelief, Orson Henley joggled his eyebrows and grinned. “How’s it going, Marve? Sorry to barge in.”

“Orsie! What are you doing here?”

“Gloria couldn’t make it, so she asked me to bring you your homework assignments. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Are you kidding? Come on in!”

“You’re sure I’m not bothering?”

“You really must be joking. Of course not. Take a load off. I’ll get you something to drink.”

“No, no, I’m good,” he said and sat down on the sofa next to Marvela, resting a small stack of papers in his lap. He looked around the room. “Nice place.”

“I cannot believe you are actually here.”

“In the flesh. Oh, here’s your homework, by the way.”

Marvela accepted the stack and dumped it on her desk. She suddenly felt her throat dry and her heart racing. She joked instead, “I gotta say, this is the very first time I don’t mind getting homework.”

“Well, we’ll see after you’ve had a look at it.”

“How’re things at school?”

“Same old, same old. All the kids miss you.”


“Well, maybe not Jeremy Scranton. He’s still sore that you cold-cocked him. That’s quite a shiner you polished him off with.”

Marvela chuckled, then sobered. “Listen, Orsie, I didn’t get a chance before, but I want to thank you for standing up for me then. That was awesome.”

Orson blushed and waved it off. “I still got wiped out for all my efforts.”

“Yeah, you did, but you took a few food bullets for me, and that’s what counts. But more than that, you defended me to that cop.”

Orson hung his head. “But, Marve, I failed you there, too.”

“No you didn’t! You spoke on my behalf — eloquently, too! — and if he’d really been listening to you, he would have had to agree with your arguments. You were superb!”

Jodie peeked inside the doorway, saw her sister looking dreamy-eyed and Orson looking hangdog. She pursed her lips and nodded to herself. “Marve, I’ve got an errand to take care of. Be back in a few minutes.”

She winked at her sister and disappeared.

“First time I’ve met your sister,” said Orson, eyeing the door.

“First time you’ve ever stepped foot in our house.”

“Yeah, well. . . .” He stood up.

“What? Don’t tell me you’re leaving already! You just got here.”

“Well, your sister gone and all. . .  People might get the wrong idea. . . .”

“People? What people? Sit down. I’m not going to dishonor you.”

Orson gaped at her, then burst out laughing. “Dishonor? You said dishonor?”

Marvela grinned back. “You prefer debauch?”

“Who uses words like that in high school?”

“I get this stuff from my English class homework, naturally. I’ve been studying hard during my incarceration.”

“That’s great. I read recently that inmates at Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Napanoch, New York, beat out the champion Harvard undergraduate debate team in a match. So maybe with your prison experience here at home you’ll be doing the same at our high school.”

“Ya think?”

“Hands down.”

There was a lull then in their conversation, the two regarding one another thoughtfully.

“Marve, I do need to go,” said Orson and made a move to leave.

“Oh, Orsie . . .”

Orson paused and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Marve, I forgot to tell you: I’m coming back to visit you every day instead of Gloria. I’m now your designated homework delivery boy until your suspension is lifted.”

Marvela’s eyes nearly popped. “Really? I mean, really, really, really?”

“Really, really, really. Speaking of which, I really, really, really need to get going now.”

“Yes, yes! Okay. Tomorrow then. Oh, my God, I can’t believe this!”

Marvela walked him to the front door. As she opened it, Orson paused, then turned toward her. “But before I go, Marve, I want to say something else that I’ve neglected too long.”

“What’s that?”

He gazed at her a moment, a light smile curving his mouth. “I accept,” he said.

Marvela returned a quizzical frown. “What do you mean? What do you accept?”

He said, “I accept your most unorthodox fourth-grade marriage proposal,” and pecked her softly on the cheek.

Marvela stood dumbfounded as Orson Henley stepped through the doorway, across the front porch, down the steps, and skipped away. When he was a half block down the street, he finally heard a piercing squeal behind him, and he grinned.

Steve Pulley

Posted in Stories | 4 Comments

It’s All In the Way You Look at It

I never believed in ghosts . . . not until one adopted me.

Her name is Trixie, by the way . . . Beatrix Von Mauser to be more precise, but everybody calls her Trixie, so she claims. Or Trixie the Mouse. Or at least they did while she was alive. She’s explained to me that her name means voyager through life. Which she says now seems ironic, since lately she’s been a voyager through death.

Until Trixie, I had always regarded ghost stories as myths, superstition, hallucinations, delusions, hypnotic suggestion, yarns, or downright prevarication. Whether fun, fretful, or frightening, still utter folderol. And it did of course occur to me that I might very well be suffering hallucinations or delusions myself. Trixie, however, assures me that it’s all on the up-and-up — she’s a bone fide revenant — and she’s pretty well convinced me by now.

“Freddie,” she explained shortly after her arrival — Freddie being me — “it’s all in the way you look at it.”

“All in the way I look at it? What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, you can believe it or not, however you like. I can’t oblige you one way or the other. If you think I’m the real deal, wonderful. I’m guessing that the two of us could be pretty compatible, if we work on it together. You look like a decent enough chap. In fact, I think we’ll both get along just swell and become good friends. There are oodles of potential pluses being sidekick to a ghost, if you allow it. If, on the other hand, you think you’re flipping out, then you can go find yourself an expensive shrink and probably end up having to work a second job to help send his or her child to college. Either way, here I am. And trust me, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon — at least not that I know of — whether you carry on normally with your life here on the outside, or on an analyst’s couch, or inside a padded cell, if it should come to that. You’ve got me for the duration . . .  Me? In your place, I would keep mum, embrace the whole shebang with radiant acquiescence, and not let my tongue wag too much around other people — especially those I think I’d trust to be understanding — unless of course maybe I’d like to wind up wearing a straitjacket instead. That’s what I meant by it’s all in the way you look at it.”

I mulled it over a bit, then shot back, “How is it I’m your sidekick and not the other way round?”

She smirked. “Bad choice of expression. Actually, you’re now my apprenticed live guy.”


“It makes perfect sense if you think about it. After all, contrary to popular belief, there’s precious little a ghost can effectively do in the material world other than make periodic ghostly appearances or create chain-rattling sounds and other assorted noises. Let’s face it, Freddie dear, I am a spirit without a body. You are a spirit with a body. Ergo, I am the brains and you are the brawn. Master and apprentice. Expert and novice. Professional and rookie . . .  Ah, but I see you are not happy with this arrangement. Alright, how about this: would you be interested instead being my adopted son?”

“Adopted son? But we look about the same age!”

“Trust me, although in earthly terms we do appear to be brother and sister more than mother and son, I’ve been around longer than you . . . a lot longer.”

“But this is ridiculous!”

“Freddie, as I’ve stated before, it’s all in the way you look at it. Let me explain. . . . ”

She did. For days on end, it seemed. She was relentless, while I was obviously operating at a disadvantage. When you think you’re probably losing your mind because you’re arguing with an illusion, believe me, you’re operating at a disadvantage. In the end, I threw in the towel and accepted to be her “apprenticed live guy.”

Trixie gave me a brief autobiography while among the living, leaving what I took to be several shady holes in portions of her story which she chose not to elaborate on. However, in a nutshell, she was born in the early 1920s in Germany, a descendant of the Mauser brothers, inventors of the Mauser rifle and pistol. As a child she, her parents and three siblings migrated to New York, only to fall victims shortly afterwards to the Great Depression. Years of penury took their toll. Her father committed suicide (ironically or not, by a Mauser pistol bequeathed to him as a youngster by none other than his great uncle Paul von Mauser), her mother succumbed to tuberculosis, and her two older brothers set off in different directions to find work and never returned. Trixie and her older sister Annaliese remained. Annaliese, evidently a more enterprising young woman by then than the others of her family, found herself a husband of means and married comfortably. Trixie, by then in her mid-teens, became her sister’s charge and lived with her and her new husband and, eventually, with their burgeoning family, until she reached the age of eighteen, when she decided it was high time for her to find a life of her own. She felt her future was in the entertainment industry and determined to become a movie actress, whether by hook or by crook. She packed her belongings and caught a train to Los Angeles. With money given to her by her sister and brother-in-law, she was able to rent a modest but comfortable room in a boarding house on a street off Santa Monica Boulevard in what is known today as West Hollywood. As with many other wannabe actors, she found work as a waitress in a local restaurant. It was there that she became known as Trixie the Mouse. Eventually, she did find minor roles in films as an extra, then as a character actress. Later I looked her up on IMDb, and sure enough, she was listed. I checked out her bio there, which was short, though it did mention where she was from, the work she performed as an actress, and her death in Las Vegas in 1951. So she was older than me after all, and by a long shot.

Trixie, in a diaphanous way, was actually a rather attractive-looking ghost. Not that I knew any other ghosts by which to compare her, mind you. But after the initial shock and awe (and let’s face it, horror) of her unanticipated arrival and the gradual dissipation of my overwrought fears that I’d gone bananas, I realized that she wasn’t at all as spine-chilling as I’d been led to believe. At least she never behaved like TV or movie ghosts that continually contort their faces and figures into grotesque shapes to scare the bejeebies out of your, nor did she get all cutesy and try to look like a cartoon Casper. I asked her about it.

“This is just how I looked when I was alive — with a little more body then than now, of course. And it’s easier on your eyes that way, isn’t it? But my spirit is light. Currently chained light, I should clarify. But it won’t be forever.”

“Why me?” I eventually got around to asking her.

“Don’t take this wrong, but if it weren’t for you, I suppose I would have ended up assigned to haunting someone else. Well, not exactly ‘haunting’ in the sense that I’m trying to persecute you, please understand. Umm, more like hanging out with you for a while.”

“You were assigned to me?”


“Why? Is it for something I did?”

“Not exactly.” She stared at me uncomfortably for a moment, but finally said, “More like for something I did. I’m on atonement assignment.”

“Atonement assignment? Really? What did you do?”

“For the time being, that’s none of your business, but maybe later on I’ll tell you if the two of us click.”

“Fine,” I said, feigning an indifferent shrug, though I was dying of curiosity to know what heinous sin she might have committed that she got assigned to me to atone for. “However, it still doesn’t really answer my question. Why me? And don’t give me any of that ‘hanging out with for a while’ business.”

She sighed resignedly. “Okay, if you must know, I’m sort of like your fairy godmother.”


“Not exactly like the fairy godmother in fairy tales, since I’m a real ghost, not a made-up fairy, but I act as a spirit mentor to you . . . a supernatural patron, as it were. My job is to support you and to counsel you for a time so you don’t do something really boneheaded and end up stoking the fires in hell for the rest of eternity.”

“The fires of hell?”

“Figuratively speaking. There is no physical hell, per se, except the one too many of us have lived in or are currently living in right here on earth, if you follow my drift.”

I did, but I asked, “You mean there’s no hell when you die?”

“Listen, let’s not get all metaphysical just yet. We can go into it later. Also, I should explain that since I’ve not yet gone completely over to the Other Side myself, I’m not exactly in a position to be regarded as a Ninth Don black belt authority on heaven and hell.”

“Huh?” I had no idea what she was talking about. “When did karate come into the picture?”

“It’s just a metaphor. I simply meant I’m not an expert by any means. In any case, I’ve been assured that the next world is as different from this world as this one is from the womb world, so even if I were an authority, there would be no way for me to competently describe the spiritual world, any more than somebody trying to describe this world to a fetus. What lies behind the veil must remain a mystery for now. The world beyond is free from time and place, so how could we possibly know what it’s really like until we get there?”

I thought about that for a moment, then finally nodded with a shrug. “Yeah, okay. I guess I can buy that. Sort of. It’s kind of like not having a clue what’s around the next corner, until you round it.”

“Exactly. But in the most general of terms, I can tell you this much: hell, like heaven, is a spiritual condition, not a physical place. The purpose of our lives is to come closer to God, to align ourselves more with godly attributes, okay? Heaven is the state in which a human being has developed its perfections and is then near to God. Hell, on the other hand, is a state of not having acquired those divine potentials, thus resulting in remoteness from God. Therefore, when we ask, where is heaven, and where is hell? the answer might be, one is reunion with our Creator, while the other with our own self.”

She sounded like my old philosophy professor at PCC.

“A-h-h . . . .” I ahhed. I still didn’t get it, but kinda got it, if you know what I mean. “So in other words, you’re here to make sure I don’t do something boneheaded that would hinder me from heading in the right direction?”

“Well, yeah, in a manner of speaking. As a ghost I can only mentor you or, as the case may be, rail at you unmercifully when you’re screwing up or about to, but I can’t really oblige you.”

“Mm. Still not sure why you should bother, though.”

“Listen, buster. Count your blessings. It’s not everybody who gets assigned their very own ghost mother.”

“Ghost mother? I thought you were supposed to be my fairy godmother.”

“Sheesh! There’s no such thing as a fairy godmother! I was merely making a rough comparison, for crying out loud. It’s a simile . . . or something. Weren’t you paying attention?”

I cringed. She had a temper, that’s for sure. “It’s just that there’s a lot of new stuff going on here for me that I still have to wrap my head around.”

“You’ve got to keep alert if I’m going to be of any use to you. Otherwise for all I know I might end up being stuck with you forever.”

“Forever!?” I was aghast.

She growled. “Until you die, I meant. And that might take years — decades! — unless, of course, you walk in front of a bus sooner, or somebody offs you for being so dense.”

“Jeez, give me a break! I need time to get used to all of this.”

“Right. That you do.”

“Uh, what about guardian angel?”

“What about it?”

“Since you say that there’s no such thing as fairy godmothers, couldn’t you just be my guardian angel instead of my ghost mom?”


“Sounds classier.”

She rolled her ghostly eyes, then yelled. “You twit! I’m a ghost. A ghost! Look at me! See? All gossamer and transparent, right? No flight gear? No cherubic mug? Yes? I am what I am, and that’s all that I am. I’m a blinking ghost!”

I backed away. “All right, all right. No need to get all huffy.”

“I’m not being huffy.”

“Well, you look huffy.”

“I tell you, I’m not . . . ! Oh, why me, God? Why? I was a good girl . . . in the beginning, at any rate. I just messed up later on, but my heart was in the right place. Well, granted, maybe a little twisted, but still. . . . ”

She went on like that for a couple of minutes, then finally lapsed into embarrassed silence, head bowed low. I could have sworn there were tears drooling down her spectral cheeks.

“Okay if I call you Trixie instead of Mom?” I asked gently.

She raised her head and looked at me abjectly, then shrugged. “Yeah, I suppose, if you must.”

“I-I’m not trying to dis you or anything, mind. I just think we’ll both be more comfortable that way,”


We were both quiet for a few moments. Then I said, “If you don’t mind my asking, how’d you die?”

She gave me a look. “That’s part of the that’s-none-of-your-business. Let’s just say . . . precarious footing.”

“Precarious footing?” What on earth could that mean, I wondered.

It took me a couple of years before she finally told me, just before she announced that her atonement assignment had concluded and that she would be on her way. By then, I was deeply in love with her and told her so and didn’t want her to leave me ever.

“I won’t,” she said, smiling so sweetly that she glowed. “I’ll always be with you. Always.”

“But how?”

“It’s all in the way you look at it,” she replied, and then she was gone.

Steve Pulley
Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

Another Damn Bottled Message

anotherdamnbottledmessageMarceline Fiole had almost decided to quit going to the beach. This was not out of any concern over sun-induced skin cancer or gritty sand tucked away in those sensitive spots hidden by her bikini bottoms or even being hit upon by amorous beach bums with a fling on their testosteroned minds. It was the sealed bottles she kept finding washed ashore nearly every time she strolled along the shoreline. And not just any sealed bottles, but sealed bottles with messages inside them! How was this possible? Had it become yet another idiotic trendy thing to do? Who were all these people who wasted their time — and more important, the precious time of the finders — stuffing bottles with ridiculous communications from afar with some aberrant expectation that they would receive a reply? Marceline equated it to the very similar and yet vastly pricier foolishness of astronomers sending willynilly signals right and left across space in the hopes of aliens in far-flung worlds picking them up and saying, “Oh, wow! Here’s a cryptic message from a planet two-hundred light years away! I guess we better drop everything and answer it immediately so maybe it’ll arrive in time for Christmas in the year 2215.” It thus might be conjectured that Marceline Fiole harbored a sardonic and perhaps even a somewhat cynical bent of mind. Either way, all these bottles cast off by whom she regarded as nothing more than asinine litterbugs irritated the hell out of her and was somehow spoiling her weekend.

Some people thought it indisputably romantic about casting a missive into the sea and wondering where wind and current might convey it. Marceline, au contraire, found it inane.  Some, if not all of the bottled messages she’d uncorked were simply preposterous. Castaways, ghost messages, unfinished business, love potions, memos to mom, lifesavers, come-ons, hooks, lures, last words, contests, class projects, and on and on. The Internet was rife with examples. The few that she’d thought made any sense at all were the scientific ones with a practical purpose, like those of measuring ocean currents and whatnot, not that this method was necessary anymore what with today’s technology — though in 310 BC Greek philosopher Theophrastus found this method quite useful as part of an experiment to show that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by the inflowing Atlantic Ocean.  The ones from stranded sailors, on the other hand, were only realistic if the message was received and attended to before the crew starved to death or was devoured by sharks. Marceline hadn’t tripped across any bottles of that nature, however. In any case, mobile phones and the Internet were far more pragmatic and immediate for such rescues.

During this particular morning’s stroll along the beach, which took Marceline beneath a pier that jutted a hundred yards into the ocean, she was no longer surprised to eye yet another bottle floating aimlessly back and forth in shallow water. She thought at first to ignore it and move past, but then paused, suspecting that the bottle, through the ebb and flow of the waves, might eventually smash against one of the piles supporting the pier and create a potential hazard for other walkers. It also occurred to her that the bottle itself might be of some worth. And so she sloshed into the water and retrieved the sealed glass container, which she vaguely recognized from recent googling into bottle types as perhaps a rare, olive green New England chestnut bottle. And for the first time she found herself mildly excited by the find. As she recalled, this type of bottle had been around since ancient times. It was not round but more flask-shaped, and about eight inches in height. Once out from beneath the pier, she held it up to the sunlight, but it was oddly semi-opaque and all she could detect was an amorphous shadow inside. She decided that she would take it home with her and check it out on the Internet to be more sure. If it was old enough, it might even be valuable—unlike the others she’d come across, read their idiotic contents, and then tossed into the dumpster near where she was staying. And if it wasn’t, she thought she might still keep it, for it was a lovely piece of glass-work and would look very nice on a shelf she had in her den back home. That was her only consolation. She also hoped to God that there was no message inside.

With bottle tucked under arm, Marceline turned to continue her stroll when she peripherally noticed a man wearing a swimming suit and a T-shirt waving aloft one free hand while clutching a pair of binoculars in the other, trotting in her direction from atop a nearby sand hill to her right. He seemed to be calling out to her. She slowed her pace and inclined her head toward him, feeling a slight tug of uncertainty. Did she know him? She frowned. There was in all probability no reason that she should.

She watched him carefully as he approached, wondering if it might not be prudent for her to start running in the opposite direction. He didn’t look dangerous, however, despite a scruffy beard. More like . . . what? Agitated? Distraught? Why would he be distraught? She looked around to see if there were other beach people nearby. No. At least not close-by. It was still early.

As he drew near, he slowed down to a quick walk. Then slowed further, and finally stopped a few feet from her. He seemed out of breath. He dropped his binoculars on the sand and leaned over, hands on knees, gasping for air. After a few seconds, he raised one hand, forefinger extended in the air.

“Gimme . . . gimme a second,” he wheezed. “No . . . better make it . . . make it a-a minute . . . .”

Marceline’s initial uncertainty ebbed, replaced by amusement. She decided to wait him out, curiosity overcoming any prior urge that might have occurred to her to simply walk away.

“Whew!” he exclaimed finally, still panting. He stood up. His face was pale. “Sorry. I am really out of shape. Desk job. Hope I didn’t alarm you.”

“Are you alright?” she asked, now somewhat concerned. Was he about to have a heart attack? He seemed about forty years old or so, a risky age for cardiacs.

“Just a bit winded is all. Don’t get enough exercise.”

She regarded him for a moment, suppressing a smile. “Umm. Well, if running downhill did this, then I don’t expect you do.”

He arched his eyebrows in mild surprise, blinked, then chuckled, shrugging ruefully.

Marceline grinned back, then remembered an unanswered issue. “So, what was it you wanted to see me about? You were calling me, weren’t you?”

He nodded, then pointed at what she held under one arm. “The bottle.”

“The bottle?” Marceline looked down, then back up. “You mean this one?”

“Exactly . . . It’s mine.” His face reddened slightly.


“Yes . . . Ahem, you see . . . well, this may sound a little odd to you, but I threw it into the water several minutes ago. But . . . uh . . . it . . . well, it floated back.”

“And it wasn’t supposed to.”

“Precisely. At least not yet. Not here.”

Marceline closed her eyes. Oh, God, he’s one of those loony message-in-a-bottle tossers! Isn’t it enough to find their stupid bottles washing ashore all over the place, and now I also have to actually see one in the flesh! This is definitely not my day. She opened her eyes again.

“Let me guess. You stuck a message in this bottle, didn’t you?”

He saw her face tighten slightly, and he gulped. “Well, uh, yes, as a matter of fact . . . .”

“And you expected it to float away and end up somewhere else far away for somebody to find, right?”

“A-as an experiment, you might say, yes.”

“Excuse me, but this weekend I have managed to find this particular stretch of shoreline littered with nothing but beached bottles, each and every one carrying a message inside.”

“You have?” He seemed surprised and chagrined at the same time.

“In effect.” Marceline paused a beat, regarding this idle rascal with disapproval. “Would I be wrong to surmise that some or all those bottles prior to their corresponding launch point belonged to you?”

He blinked several times, his blush deepening. “Oh, well . . . I-I suppose that . . . that as far-fetched as it may seem, it, uh, might be . . . conceivable that some did.”

“I see.”

“Wait . . . D-do you mean you have in your possession all those bottles that I may or may not have, uh, as the case may be, conceivably launched over the past few days?”

She stared at him for a moment, lips pursed, then shook her head. “Only fourteen of them. The others I recycled.”

“You recycled the others?” He looked as appalled as he sounded.

“The ones not worth keeping, yes.”

“Not worth keeping?”

Marceline nodded. “Umm. They were of little if no collectible value at all, nor even particularly nice-looking. The others, though, are very definitely keepers.”

He blinked. “They are? How so?”

“Let me ask you a question first. How is it that you ‘conceivably’ had these bottles in the first place?”

“Ahem . . . Well, you see, I was cleaning out my late uncle’s garage and there are shelves of them.”

“Indeed? So you just decided to use them for bearing your messages across the seven seas.”

“Uh, yes, I guess you could say that. Although it’s now apparent that they didn’t get very far.”

“No, fortunately they did not.”

The man frowned. “Why do you say fortunately?”

“Because the fourteen bottles I kept happen to be collectors’ items. Now fifteen with this one, I’m suspecting.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that each one of them is worth a lot of money.”


“I admit I’m no expert in bottles, but the obvious age of these naturally piqued my interest. And so I’ve been doing a little Internet exploration.”

“You have? A-and?”

Marceline cleared her throat. “And, if I am not terribly mistaken—and not counting the present bottle, mind you—you’ve shipped me what I believe to be roughly ten thousand dollars worth of rare, antique bottles . . . give or take a thousand.”

“What!” His face paled.

“Oh, they’d have to be properly appraised for a more exact figure, of course, but that seems to be the general neighborhood of their value according to my research. So I want to thank you very much.”

The man stiffened. “But-but they were not intended for you!”

Marceline wagged an index finger at him. “Oh, but they were. If they were yours in fact, you were definitely sending them to me. Otherwise, why would I have all of them in my possession now?”

“But, no! That’s not . . . that’s not how it works, not what I proposed!”

Marceline cocked her head to one side. “Oh? Then what did you propose?”

“Th-that ocean currents would carry them across the sea to other lands.”

“Well, sir, ocean currents can do that, of course. But there’s certainly no guarantee of that. Ocean currents can be quite frivolous, you know, dithery, free-floating, most particularly close to shore. Undertows, riptides, crosscurrents, countercurrents, and so on. Some things get carried out to sea; others return to the same shore. Your alleged bottles came back. To me, in fact. Ergo, I, it turns out, am the intended recipient. And I can’t tell you how delighted and grateful I am.”

“But this isn’t right! They are valuable bottles. You must return them to me.”

“Why is that? Had they reached other shores, do you think the recipient or recipients there would turn them around and send them back? And who’s to say that they would ever reach other hands at all?”

“But that’s not the case here. You have them. I am the sender. They are valuable. They should still be mine.”

Marceline eyed the man and sighed. “Excuse me, what did you say your name was?”

“Me? Why . . . Bradley. Bradley Bifford.”

“Okay, Bradley Bifford, let me explain it to you this way. You’re no doubt familiar of the adage that possession is 9/10ths of the law?”


“No? Well, perhaps I should mention that I happen to be an attorney. Sorry, but I am, so I know a thing or two about the legality of such cases. The law states, and I quote, ‘that in a property dispute, in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary, the person in actual possession of the property is presumed to be the rightful owner.’ So, for example, the shirt, trunks and flip-flops you are currently wearing are presumed to be yours, unless someone can prove that they are not.”

“But . . . .”

“I have recovered several bottles that were deliberately thrown into the sea, presumably by you, according to your claim, that is, for the express purpose of them falling into the hands of another or others, and therefore you can no longer claim them as your own. Ergo, the fact that they are in my possession makes them presumably mine now.”

With a dulcet smile Marceline Fiole nodded, bade a sputtering Bradley Bifford a pleasant good morning, and continued her stroll up the beach. She was, of course, not a lawyer, nor were any of the bottles she had collected and subsequently tossed in the trash bin worth more than a few dollars at most. Her smile persisted the rest of the way back home. Hoodwinking the bottle-tosser had wondrously transformed an otherwise nettlesome morning into quite a lovely day.

Steve Pulley
Note: The name of the protagonist, Marceline Fiole, is a bit tongue-in-cheek. It means “ocean bottle”.
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