Category: Fiction (Page 1 of 2)

Aphrodite Hair Salon

Mount Olympus, 1953


What is going on with you, lately? You spend all your time with Dionysus, you haven’t set foot in the forge for two hundred years…


In case you haven’t noticed, Dittie, there hasn’t been much of a market for hand-forged goods for the past few centuries. I’m wasting away. I’m tired of living off of government income. I’m not that Greek. I’m just trying to broaden my horizons a little. New ideas and new places, you know? I was just talking about this with Dionysus last night.


I don’t want to hear another story about your drinking buddy!


Be fair. He’s everyone’s drinking buddy.


Don’t I know it!


Listen, you’re always telling me how awful the mortals are, but Dionysus is doing okay down there. Better than okay, really. He’s having fun.


Oh, I just bet he is.


Listen, you’re always telling me how awful the mortals are, but Dionysus is doing okay down there. Better than okay, really. He’s having fun.


I know what kind of fun he’s having. Is that what you want? Just move the anvil out to the garage and start seducing mortals? Aren’t I enough for you? Because I can promise you one thing, you’re never going to find a mortal woman like me.


There was that one.


Yes, and you know how that turned out.


All I’m saying is, maybe it’s time for a new philosophy.


Oh no, don’t tell me you’ve been talking about philosophy with Dionysus.


He’s making sense, though! The monogamy thing is played out. It’s time for new ideas about sex and such.


And such? There’s no and such. He’s all about sex.


And freedom. And happiness. The old honor codes aren’t working anymore. No one follows them anyway. Certainly not anyone in this neighborhood.


You’re a god, Hephaestus. If you want to play around, just turn yourself into a bull and find some mortal and have some fun if you want. Just don’t tell me about it afterwards.


That’s just the point, Dittie. Why should I have to pretend to be a bull? Why can’t we just be mature and open about sex? Dionysus has it all worked out. We’re going to do something good for the mortals. We’re going to introduce his philosophy.


Oh, I can’t wait to hear this plan.


Right, well, he can’t lead this effort. He’s already got a reputation and all. He wants me to be the face of it.


A lame god is going to introduce the mortals to free love, eh? Great plan.


No, no. No one would buy that. I’m going to take human form. He’s got it all worked out. He’s even got a nickname I can use.


Uh huh. And that is?




Okay, Hef. And while you’re out there teaching the world about your great new philosophy, what am I supposed to do?



Genre: satire
Random Nouns: government, income

This is the sixth story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

Headless Statue

Jane Ellen Macdonald was a Methodist. A Free Methodist, in fact. She believed in the Holy Trinity, the authority of Scripture, and the debt paid by Christ, once and for all. She did not believe in magic. She was not permitted to believe in magic, as far as she knew. But she was 9, and she knew that they hadn’t taught her everything yet. Maybe she would learn about magic later. Or maybe magic was something even Pastor Jim and Miss Pamela, her beautiful red-haired Sunday School teacher, didn’t know about.

The First Wheatfield Free Methodist Church seemed so far away, now. And it was. Hundreds of miles, she guessed. Maybe thousands. Everything seemed different here in Florida. She tried to imagine what Miss Pamela would say if she was here with her, but she couldn’t. This bothered Jane Ellen because usually her imagination was powerful. It had never, as far as she could remember, ever failed before. But here she stood, staring up at the weird, headless statue in Marineland, unable to imagine Miss Pamela standing next to her. The image just wouldn’t appear. It reminded her of the time she tried to play her VHS of The Little Mermaid but it wouldn’t play, no matter how many times she pressed the triangle button.

She pretended her imagination was like a VCR and then she imagined pressing the triangle button to play the image she wanted, but she just got a field of white, jumpy specks like on the TV that day. It scared her for some reason that she didn’t understand and she knew she ought to feel silly about it. But she didn’t. Knowing she should feel silly but not feeling silly made her even more scared somehow.


Jane Ellen Macdonald jumped. She wasn’t thinking about the white, jumpy specks or Miss Pamela anymore. She was now wondering if she had heard someone say something and she was sure that she had, but who could it be? Her daddy was twenty feet away talking to the lady who sold tickets to the Undersea Wacky Golf stand. No, no, she reminded herself–it was her “dad,” not her “daddy.” Little kids say “daddy” and I’m big enough now to say “dad.”

But if it wasn’t her dad and there was no one else around, who had said it?

She thought someone had said “treasure” but maybe no one had said anything. Maybe she had imagined it. Maybe this feeling she called “magic” that came upon her when she saw the headless statue of the diving man was just her imagination, too. Imagination can be dangerous her daddy– her dad–had told her a few times. Pastor Jim had said the same thing to her once.


She definitely heard it that time. Someone had said “treasure” and she was sure it wasn’t her imagination. She walked behind the statue, but there was no one there. She looked up into the helmet, but she didn’t see a speaker up there. It was hollow.

She wanted to stand there under the statue, to hear it again. And she wanted to run away. She made a deal with herself. She would wait another minute and then she would go.

She waited. Nothing.

She walked away. She walked fast, but wouldn’t let herself run. That would be silly.

Her dad had gotten tickets for Wacky Undersea Golf and she was happy to play. On the third hole, which had an octopus wearing mittens, she asked her dad to tell her a story about her mother. Her mother had never been “mommy” or “mom.” She had died when Mary Ellen was a baby, so she had never been anything but “mother” and really just stories about “mother.” Still, she loved the stories and her dad never got tired of telling them.

Her dad had met her mom when they were both in college, he said. Her dad was getting something called an MBA and her mom was in “graduate school.” She had never understood this, because she was always told that a “graduate” was someone who was done with school. Her mother was studying marine archaeology, her dad said, but she dropped out after she had Mary Ellen.

When they got to the fifth hole, a pirate ship with three cannons, she asked if her mother wanted to go back to school. Her dad stopped and looked down at his shoes, which Mary Ellen knew was something he did when he felt sad but didn’t want to cry in front of her.

He said, “No, sweetie. She said she didn’t need to go back. She said, she had found what she was looking for.”

Mary Ellen asked, “What did she say she was she looking for, Dad?”

She had never heard this story before, but somehow she already knew what her dad would say next.

Genre: fantasy
Random Nouns: debt, field

This is the fifth story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

Delta Queen

I started working at the Delta Queen with the idea of one day buying it from Mr. Oates. I thought I could make some kind of life out of that. Not exactly a dream come true, but not exactly bad for an ex-con, either. And then she came along and made me feel like my dreams were very, very small.

Charlene was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was also one of the richest girls in Campbell, CA. The beautiful part I could tell at first sight, but I didn’t find out about the rich part until a few weeks later. Her parents wanted her to try out some “real work,” I guess, in the summer between high school and college.

I didn’t speak a word to her for the first week, so she had to take the lead.

“Hey, Gil! You like to swim?”

After I got over the shock of being addressed by a genuine angel, I responded that I liked swimming okay. She threw a bucket of soapy water right in my face.

“Swim in this!”

If she had been a man, I would have punched her square in the jaw. But the sudsy t-shirt clinging to her made it very obvious that she was no man. Instead, I just stood there like a man in a trance. That was Charlene all over. Mischievous and going right over the line. No one dared call her on it because of who she was–or who her parents were, rather. A few minutes later I asked her to go aloft and find the turn signal fluid. By the time she figured out she was on a snipe hunt, she was in love with me.

Her folks may have wanted her to spend some time doing “real work,” but they weren’t too keen on their little girl slumming it up with an ex-con who worked at a carwash. They probably expected her to grow out of it when she went to college. Maybe she tried. I’m sure she dated a few boys at school, but I made damn sure she found a man when she came home for breaks. I also made sure I was more successful each time she saw me.

Mr. Oates sold me the Delta Queen, and I opened another location within a year. By the time Charlene graduated, I owned five carwashes outright and was working with her father’s lawyer to franchise the whole concept up-and-down the West Coast.

She said she was happy for me, but I could tell something was wrong. There was some part of her she was holding back. Going into business with her old man changed me forever in her eyes. I wasn’t the man she thought I was. I guess she was right. She kept finding reasons to get out of town, until one day, she slipped away for good.

I keep busy these days. Busy is good. Keeps me from thinking too much. I keep feeling like she’s going to sneak up behind me one of these days with a bucket of suds.

But that’s never going to happen. She’s up San Francisco these days, still looking for the turn signal fluid.

Genre: romance
Random Nouns: failure, swim

This is the fourth story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

Life Guard Station

In her two and a half years at Florida State, she had changed majors five times and boyfriends six times. Then she dropped out, just as her mother predicted on the day she got her acceptance letter. She was young enough and beautiful enough that her flakiness still charmed most people, but she had too many female professors for that to work long-term.

When she moved back home to Ft. Lauderdale, her mother insisted she find work. “If you’re going to live in my hive, you’re going out to gather nectar.”

She put in two weeks cleaning offices. Another week and some change as a babysitter. An ex-boyfriend from high school talked her into trying to sell cars with him at Fletcher Ford, but she quit on her first day after Mr. Fletcher pawed her in the salesman’s lounge.

And now, here she was. Back on the beach. Back under the red umbrella. She had always been a strong swimmer, despite dropping out of swim team after a few months. Being a lifeguard suited her just fine. Better than fine, really. She had no trouble watching the ocean. She loved the ocean. It was always moving, always changing.

She and the ocean had an understanding. It knew how to keep secrets. It didn’t judge. Yes, this would be just fine for now.

Genre: literary fiction
Random Nouns: hive, umbrella

This is the third story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

Trout Haven

You a fisherman? Thought so. Got that look about ya.

There’s a crick near here I wanna tell ya ’bout. Look on the map and it’ll say Big Pine Creek, but the locals call it Trout Haven. Trout Haven is a better name ’cause no one ever caught a pine in that crick, but, boy oh boy, have they caught trout! They’re so thick in there you could scoop ’em out with a spoon! Good eatin’ ones, too.

Don’t sound like much of a challenge, does it? Well, it ain’t for the most part. It’s like going to the fish market. Just drop a line and make your selection.

But there is one bugger in there that’ll test ya. Some call ‘im Iron Jack. Others call him Two Ton Tommy. Ain’t no one ever called him dinner, though. Not yet.

I ain’t braggin’, but I had ‘im on the line once myself. The first thing I know, I feel this tug–felt like ten lumberjacks pullin’ on the other end of the line. Now most fishermen lose their head and let go of the rod. I held on, though, and Tommy pulled my arm right out of the socket. Oh, don’t worry, it popped back in after a few days. Right down to this day, though, I can feel rain comin’ in that arm. I can feel the Jehovah’s Witnesses comin’ to my door, too.

I switched the pole over to my lef’ arm right away and ol’ Tommy pulled even harder. I held on, but he pulled me right off the bank into the crick. For about two mile, Tommy pulled me so hard I skidded right across the top of the water like I was on waterskis.

At some point, I hit my head on branch that was hangin’ over the water and got knocked clean out. I still held onto that pole, though. When I woke up, I looked around and realized I was in some kind of lodge with spiky walls. Tommy had built himself a little hut, right there in the water, made up entirely of fishing poles he’d yanked out of fishermens’ hands.

Well, I swam outta there as fast as I could and never went back to Trout Haven.

Good luck to you, though, sir. If you catch Tommy, let me know. I got three cord a’ firewood at my place and we could build us a bonfire and grill ‘im up nice.

Genre: tall tale
Random Nouns: selection, spoon

This is the second story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

The Barrel


The problem with The Barrel was, the menu was too damn complex. Burgers and fries and ice cream, just like you’d expect, right? But also pizza, fried chicken, and six kinds of popcorn! The greasy kids working there could barely operate the cash register, so you could just about bet that your order was getting screwed up. I went there one night and ordered a slice of pepperoni and a Coke. What I got was a half-cooked corndog and a soggy hamburger bun. They might have just been messing with me because I was drunk at the time. They probably were, too.


Nick Overton owned the place, but he didn’t like to show up unless it was absolutely necessary. He’d stop by now and then to make sure the place wasn’t on fire, but that’s about it. The upright citizens of the community were upset about the lack of supervision, but they still let their kids work there every summer. They shouldn’t have.


The customers were mostly locals, but every so often a passer-through would grab some food for the road. The Slow Man was a passer-through.


I call him the Slow Man because that’s what the kids called him afterwards. They said he talked like a record on the wrong speed. Slow and deep and distorted. He tried to order something, but they couldn’t make out what he was saying. They started laughing at him. They shouldn’t have.


They said he went back to his car and came back with something that looked like a skeleton’s hand holding a candle. As soon as they saw it, they fell asleep, right on the spot. When they woke up, they noticed that Bill McAllister was missing. Whoosh. Gone.


They looked all over for him. No luck. They went outside and looked around. Still nothing. Then Jenny Wyler noticed that something was coming out of the downspout, which was all wrong because there was a drought. She got closer and saw that it was red.


Joey Smith boosted Deputy Mark Green up to the roof of the place and when he saw Bill up there, gutted like a deer, his blood draining into the gutters, he threw up all over himself, which is saying something considering how many car wrecks that guy has seen.


No one ever found the Slow Man. I don’t know who he is, but I know what he’s got in that car. And if I ever run into him, I intend to take it for myself.

Genre: horror
Random Nouns: community, complex

This is the first story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

The Silvermoon Drive-In, Part 2

The Silvermoon Drive-In: An Oral History

An email from William (“Bill”) Barry, friend of Robert (“Bobby”) Nowicki, co-owner of the Silvermoon Drive-In from 1993 until it’s closure in 2006.


Your mom tells me you’re working on some kind of history report on the Silvermoon for a class you’re taking at PSU. [Material removed]. You want to know what I remember Bobby saying about the drive-in, right? I don’t remember much, but okay.

Bobby had some kind of unusual financial arrangement with Dan Novak, that much I do remember. I think Dan saw the writing on the wall and was happy to unload the place. Anyway, Bobby was still teaching when he first took over operations.

Interviewer’s Note: Bobby Novak worked at Amhurst Junior High School as a social studies teacher for 23 years. He served as general manager of the Silvermoon for two summers as a part-owner during his last two years of employment as a teacher before taking full ownership of the theater.

He took an early retirement from the school as soon as they put one on the table. He used the lump sum he got to finish paying off Dan. Doreen didn’t like that, but she went along. That drive-in was Bobby’s dream and he was happy for a few years. They made some improvements to the place. It did okay for what it was, but nobody was getting rich off a drive-in theater by then, if they ever did.

You asked about Connie, too, and I have even less to say about him. He was a weird old guy and he never fit in and he never tried. Something about him bothered me from the get-go, but he always did right by Bobby and Doreen, as far as I know.


The Silvermoon Drive-In, Part 1

The Silvermoon Drive-In: An Oral History

Partial transcript of an interview with Doreen Nowicki, co-owner of the Silvermoon Drive-In from 1993 until it’s closure in 2006.

So, let me see here. What can I say about Con?

Other than the black suit?


Yeah, yeah, the suit. [Pause]. It was blue, actually. Not that it matters at all. But everyone thought it was black because they only saw it at night. But it was a real dark blue.

And I remember because he wore it when he come in for the interview. And I remember thinking, that’s a little, uh, overdone for an interview for a projectionist, you know.

Um. So, I was surprised when he wore it to work.

And then he wore it every night?

Oh yeah, every night.

Do you know why?

Um. Well, I never asked him, but. [Pause]. He was just so serious all the time, you know? About everything.

So, he didn’t laugh or joke around?

No, no, no. I don’t mean like that. He had a good sense of humor once you got to know him . Real dry. [Pause].

But, I guess I just mean, he took what he was doing seriously. He treated it like it was real important, even if it was, like, the dumbest movie you ever saw.

Did he have a day job somewhere?

Not that I know of, nope.

Then how did he make ends meet? I mean, I assume he wasn’t making enough at the drive-in…

Nah, what we paid him couldn’ta been enough. Must’ve had some other money. He did live pretty cheap, though. Lived above the B&T the whole time I knew him.

Interviewer’s Note: The “B&T” was the Black and Tan Club, now called the Market Street Pub, located at 430 Market St., Amhurst, PA.


I’m not so nebby that I woulda asked him about that. He musta had money from somewhere. Saved up maybe, or a settlement from something. Who knows?

He’s still wearing that suit, you know.


They buried him in that suit, I mean.

Weren’t only a few of us at the funeral. Me, Robbie, some kids who were working for us then, and some guy named Howard. Don’t remember that guy’s last name, but I remember he was a Howard because who the hell is named Howard and doesn’t go by Howie or something, right?

How did Howard know Connie?

Said he used to work with Connie on some projects. Well, he called Connie “Conrad,” cause acourse a “Howard” would have to call Connie “Conrad,” right?



That’s all he said and I didn’t ask nothing else, not being a nebshit.

So you closed right after?

No, we finished the summer out. Mr. McKay of all people came in and ran the projector for those last two weekends.

Mr. McKay? The funeral director? That Mr. McKay?

Yup. Got to talkin’ to him at the viewing and turns out he worked at the Silver when he was a kid, when Novak had the place. Asked if it was the same projector, and I said I thought it was, and so he said he’d help us out and that it might be fun.

He didn’t wear no suit, though. [Laughter]. Guess he figured he had to wear a suit enough as it was.

So that was it? Did you know that was going to be the last summer?

We weren’t a hundred percent certain, but it seemed likely.

Can I ask why?

Lotsa reasons. It was hard to keep it going, moneywise. Me and Robbie was fighting a lot about money by then. Fighting about lotsa things, really, but I guess that’s not what you’re after here, with this interview. [Pause]. But that’s how it was.

We couldn’t keep ourselves together so, we sure as hell–can I swear on this thing?


So we couldn’t keep our marriage together so we sure as hell couldn’t keep the business going together. And then along comes Rite-Drug with a big fat check right after and that was that.

Interviewer’s Note: Rite-Drug bought the property of the Silvermoon Drive-in in November of 2006. The theater was torn down and a Rite-Drug retail location was built on the property. The Silvermoon’s original neon sign was bought and preserved by the Amhurst Historical Society. It can be seen at 1235, Route 56, Amhurst, PA. 

Of Course They Kept it for You All These Years

The July sun has burned away all traces of the early-morning thunderstorm. And here you are, back again, with that dreamish feeling you always get–with everything the same but different. Should you knock on the old blue door–still blue, but a different shade–or just walk in like you used to? There’s a brand new air conditioner churning away downstairs, but there’s no hiding from the summer heat in this attic. It was in a cardboard box, of course, but everything here is in a cardboard box so the hunt is afoot.

And, oh. This one looks familiar.


Say it in the Story


…all that I could say of the Story, to any purpose, I have endeavored to say in it.

-Charles Dickens, From the Preface to David Copperfield


It is hard enough to write books and stories without being asked to explain them as well. Also it deprives the explainers of work. If five or six or more good explainers can keep going why should I interfere with them? Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading…it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.

-Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review



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