Free Ebook: ‘The Dancing Fish’

Front cover of book: A fish dances on the surface of the ocean. It wears a top hat and carries a cane. A lighthouse flashes its beam in the background.

Do you like playful poetry and drawings? You do? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place!

Today through Wednesday, the ebook version my book, The Dancing Fish, will be …. (wait for it) … FREE!

That’s Aug. 16 through 18, 2021 if you’re seeing this post in the future. (Has Dippin’ Dots stopped using the slogan “Ice cream of the future” and is using “Ice cream of the here and now” yet?)

You can grab your free copy here on Amazon.

Not ready to take the plunge and get the book?

Here’s a little background about the book: I was inspired by Shel Silverstein’s books to write silly poems in the hopes of causing my two daughters to giggle. They’re now in their late teens, and I’ve put together a book of many of those poems, along with drawings.

And here’s a bit from the book’s blurb:

Buds on a tree grow into popcorn… a cheese danish escapes… Pomegranate Janet visits a city… a pirate captain changes his life… a ghost tries to scare Maya.

These happenings happen in this collection of poems and drawings. If you count the haiku as a group, there are 100 poems in the book. But if you count the haiku individually, there are 106 poems. Most are accompanied by a black-and-white drawing, some in lovely tones of gray.

You could say these poems are for children, but they’re also for adults with youthful sides that come out for recess.

Still not ready to take the plunge and get the book?

Not only are you a snappy dresser, you’re also a discerning shopper when it comes to free merchandise!

Check out samples of some of the poems in the book:

Free Ebook: ‘Red Tree’

Cover of The Red Tree. The background is white. An image of a leaf-less tree is in black, with red tips of the branches.

The next ebook that can be scooped up for free is much shorter than the previous novellas. The Red Tree is free today through Friday (July 23). If you’d like to scoop up the book, click here.

A description of this story…

While rain falls for weeks, the Engler family invites friends over for an evening of dealing with cabin fever together. And when the spring sun arrives, the Englers celebrate by walking in a wooded park, where they encounter a red tree away from the trail. Guesses abound as to why the tree is red when none of the other trees are.

Life returns to normal for most of the Englers. The father, Calvin, decides the red tree was a sign for him to make changes in his life and property. Changes the family and neighbors don’t quite understand. But some family members can be eccentric, and others learn to roll with it. 

A short story about family, experiencing the mysterious, and letting your imagination loose.

Even shorter than the story is its excerpt, which can be found here.

Free Ebook: ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’

Cover of Don't Lose Your Head. The background is dark gray, with black drips. In the foreground is a photo showing a business suit and tie -- but there is no head above the suit.

A ghost story is my next ebook to be free — starting today and lasting through Tuesday (July 20). This novella, Don’t Lose Your Head, can be found on Amazon.

A little more about this spooky book…

When you leave for a trip, who knows you’re gone from your house? Family and friends, sure. Neighbors, perhaps.

So does the chauffeur who drove you to the airport. Alan Burris takes advantage of working for a car service to know when clients will be away from their houses for several nights. Some houses are easier, since they don’t have a security system — and these houses are on his list for a night visit to steal valuables.

The Resnick house has been on Alan’s list for a while, and now it will be empty for a few nights, since Mr. and Mrs. Resnick are spending a long weekend in Chicago.

But is the house really empty? Alan’s about to find out what it’s like to not be alone in the house, his  car, his apartment, and his head. And with another person hanging around, to what length will Alan go to get rid of them?

You can discover how this story starts by reading an excerpt of the first chapter here.

Free Ebook: ‘Minotaur at the Door’

Cover of The Minotaur at the Door. The background is medium blue, and before it is a silhouette of the minotaur.

Next in my staggered schedule of free ebooks during July involves myth and the fantastical, since it includes a minotaur in the modern day. You can snag an ebook of The Minotaur at the Door at Amazon.

This ebook will be free through Saturday (July 17).

Okay, so the book has a minotaur — no duh, the word’s in the title — but can you tell us more?

Sure!

Is that an actual minotaur knocking at the front door, or is it somebody pranking Pablo, Miles, and Harry?

The three men renting rooms in the house have their doubts about the reality of the creature, but only Pablo seeks to learn more. He wants to meet the minotaur. And find out why he is visiting their neighborhood.

Pablo’s journey alternates chapters with the events of Daedalus and his son Icarus, centuries before Pablo. These chapters breathe life and detail into the myth of Asterion, the first minotaur, and Daedalus and Icarus’s imprisonment in the labyrinth. How father and son deal with being stuck in the maze and how they craft a plan to escape.

To dip your toes in the story with an excerpt, click here.

Free Ebook: ‘Other Lives of the Boothbys’

Cover of Other Lives of the Boothbys. The background is light blue. The title is embedded in other lines of text that are softened by being gray, while the title is in black

Another of my ebooks is available for free: Other Lives of the Boothbys. The promotion starts today and will last through Wednesday (July 14). Download the ebook from here on Amazon.

What is this book about?

Bradley Boothby has no idea why he feels déjà vu when walking by the office building for Rayburn-Turley Publishing. 

Is he included in one of the publishing company’s books? If so, why? Did an author spy on Bradley to steal his life story, which isn’t all that dramatic? The thoughts are far-fetched, so he dismisses them.

But the strange sensation persists, and Bradley finally acts, needing to find if the déjà vu has a foundation. His search touches off consequences for an editor and writer, as they have an impact on each other’s lives. 

Still undecided whether to get a free ebook? Read an excerpt here.

Free Ebook: ‘Jumble’

Front cover of Jumble book. The background is orange, and little drawings are in the JUMBLE title. Drawings such as an elephant, pipe, sock, and bagpipes

Starting today and lasting through Sunday (July 11), you can get the ebook version FREE of Jumble: Stories and Drawings! If you’re interested, head over to Amazon to pick it up.

More of my ebooks will be given away during July, on a staggered schedule.

I hope to get more readers checking out my stories. And if you’d like to add to your summer reading, here’s a way to do it without spending a dime. (Of course, you can also borrow books from the library, but these books are indie grown.) So keep watching this space for upcoming posts of more ebooks enjoying free days.

What is Jumble about?

In this quirky collection, you’ll find 18 short stories and 68 drawings, which are independent of the stories, although a few drawings echo something in the stories, a fine example being an elephant.

Examples of the stories include a man finding joy in a pancake house, a girl interrogated because she picked up the king’s rolling crown, elderly Claude Monet visiting his long-time friend Renoir, a science fiction writer donning a cap of electrodes hooked up to a computer so his dreams could be transcribed, and a group of private detectives hired to research the possibility of reincarnation.

The drawings lean toward the cartoonish and simply illustrated, which could be criticized if you’re of the mindset that drawings need to be highly detailed for them to even begin to be considered of decent quality. Actually, one “drawing” is a kind of flowchart and another is a kind of list, so their categorization as drawings is debatable. Yet the nonexistent marketing team for this book argued that saying it contains 66 drawings, 1 flowchart, and 1 list is too clunky to include in the book’s description.

Want a sample before you make the leap to grab the book? An excerpt from the story “Pancake House” is here.

The 18 short stories are:

  • Pancake House
  • Elephant Curve Road
  • Sock and Glove
  • Bagpipes on the Wind
  • Claude
  • Hidden Spaceship
  • What Dreams May Be Written
  • Uneasy Lies the Head
  • Arrivals, Departures
  • You to the Nth Power
  • Up and Down Stairs
  • Away from the Orchard
  • Auto-reply
  • Farthingstone Manor
  • Streets of the New City
  • That Time You Were a Princess
  • Time Stood Still
  • The Loving Type

Books On Kindle Unlimited

My books are now available on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. I thought doing this might give readers the chance to try an author who is unknown to them, without having to purchase an ebook or print book. So if you subscribe to KU, please check out my stories.

There are 3 novellas, 1 novelette, and a collection of short stories and drawings.

The novellas:

The Minotaur at the Door

Minotaur at the Door coverIs that an actual minotaur knocking at the front door, or is it somebody pranking Pablo, Miles, and Harry? The three men renting rooms in the house have their doubts about the reality of the creature, but only Pablo seeks to learn more. He wants to meet the minotaur. And find out why he is visiting their neighborhood. Pablo’s journey alternates chapters with the events of Daedalus and his son Icarus, centuries before Pablo. These chapters breathe life and detail into the myth of Asterion, the first minotaur, and Daedalus and Icarus’s imprisonment in the labyrinth. How father and son deal with being stuck in the maze and how they craft a plan to escape.

*****

Other Lives of the Boothbys

Other Lives of the Boothbys coverBradley Boothby has no idea why he feels déjà vu when walking by the office building for Rayburn-Turley Publishing. Is he included in one of the publishing company’s books? If so, why? Did an author spy on Bradley to steal his life story, which isn’t all that dramatic? The thoughts are far-fetched, so he dismisses them. But the strange sensation persists, and Bradley finally acts, needing to find if the déjà vu has a foundation. His search touches off consequences for an editor and writer, as they have an impact on each other’s lives.

*****

Don’t Lose Your Head

Don't Lose Your Head coverWhen you leave for a trip, who knows you’re gone from your house? Family and friends, sure. Neighbors, perhaps.

So does the chauffeur who drove you to the airport. Alan Burris takes advantage of working for a car service to know when clients will be away from their houses for several nights. Some houses are easier, since they don’t have a security system — and these houses are on his list for a night visit to steal valuables.

The Resnick house has been on Alan’s list for a while, and now it will be empty for a few nights, since Mr. and Mrs. Resnick are spending a long weekend in Chicago.

But is the house really empty? Alan’s about to find out what it’s like to not be alone in the house, his car, his apartment, and his head. And with another person hanging around, to what length will Alan go to get rid of them?

*****

The collection of short stories and drawings:

Jumble

cover of Jumble bookIn this quirky collection, you’ll find 18 short stories and 68 drawings, which are independent of the stories, although a few drawings echo something in the stories, a fine example being an elephant.

Examples of the stories include a man finding joy in a pancake house, a girl interrogated because she picked up the king’s rolling crown, elderly Claude Monet visiting his long-time friend Renoir, a science fiction writer donning a cap of electrodes hooked up to a computer so his dreams could be transcribed, and a group of private detectives hired to research the possibility of reincarnation.

The drawings lean toward the cartoonish and simply illustrated, which could be criticized if you’re of the mindset that drawings need to be highly detailed for them to even begin to be considered of decent quality. Actually, one “drawing” is a kind of flowchart and another is a kind of list, so their categorization as drawings is debatable. Yet the nonexistent marketing team for this book argued that saying it contains 66 drawings, 1 flowchart, and 1 list is too clunky to include in the book’s description.

*****

The novellette:

The Red Tree

Red Tree coverWhile rain falls for weeks, the Engler family invites friends over for an evening of dealing with cabin fever together. And when the spring sun arrives, the Englers celebrate by walking in a wooded park, where they encounter a red tree away from the trail. Guesses abound as to why the tree is red when none of the other trees are.

Life returns to normal for most of the Englers. The father, Calvin, decides the red tree was a sign for him to make changes in his life and property. Changes the family and neighbors don’t quite understand. But some family members can be eccentric, and others learn to roll with it.

A story about family, experiencing the mysterious, and letting your imagination loose.

Minotaur at the Door

Minotaur at the Door cover

Today’s excerpt comes from The Minotaur at the Door, a novella about what could be a minotaur knocking on the door of the house where Pablo, Miles, and Harry are renting.

Pablo’s journey alternates chapters with the events of Daedalus and his son Icarus, centuries before Pablo. These chapters breathe life and detail into the myth of Asterion, the first minotaur, and Daedalus and Icarus’s imprisonment in the labyrinth. How father and son deal with being stuck in the maze and how they craft a plan to escape.

So here’s part of the first chapter. The book is available at Amazon as an ebook and paperback.

*****

The house’s three occupants were busy watching television shows in separate bedrooms, and none of the men was excited to answer the knocking at the front door.

Harry pressed the pause button on the remote control, since his show was in the slow scene of a tea ceremony. Sometimes the friends of one occupant came over to hang out, but Harry wasn’t expecting anyone tonight. He opened his bedroom door, called out down the hallway, “You guys expecting friends?”

“No,” Miles said from behind his closed door, amid the dramatic music from his TV.

“No,” Pablo said from behind his closed door, amid the sounds of dialogue from his TV. “Can you see who it is?”

“Fine,” Harry groaned. “But it’s someone else’s turn next time.”

Going downstairs, Harry thought about how the yakuza thumped on the doors of people who owed them money or favors. Harry was quite taken with the action-packed television show, now in its third season. Most of the people visited by the yakuza paid the owed money, or they stutteringly promised to return a favor required by the Japanese crime syndicate guys.

When a debtor tried to escape, the plan didn’t end well for them. A chase ensued through night-time Tokyo (it was always night-time in the chase scenes), then the yakuza used harsh methods to persuade the debtors to pay up. Only one character had been able to elude the yakuza: Kaito Takagi, who could disappear, ghost-like, into the crowded city. Harry would’ve liked to have that ability.

Perhaps because of the show’s suspense, Harry peeped through the peephole instead of opening the door. What he saw standing on the front step shocked him and made him glad for checking. The thing standing on the front step couldn’t be there. A second look into the peephole confirmed the truth.

Harry bounded back up the stairs and shouted, “There’s a minotaur at the door!”

Dramatic music and dialogue stopped as pause buttons were pushed. Two bedroom doors swung open, and the roommates stepped into the hall that lacked decoration on the walls—merely a corridor to more important places.

“Is this some kind of joke?” Pablo said.

“If it’s a joke, it’s a weird one,” Miles said.

“It’s not a joke. It’s serious.” Harry’s eyes and voice communicated sincerity.

“But the minotaur wasn’t real,” Pablo said. “It’s just a myth.”

“Myth or not, there’s a minotaur out there,” Harry said.

As a fresh round of knocking came from the front door, the three men remained in the hallway.

“Is it Halloween?” Miles asked.

“That’s not till next month,” Pablo said.

“Oh, right,” Miles said. “The days tend to run together for me. Maybe this is somebody’s idea of a prank. I need to see for myself.”

He led the trio down the steps, to the foyer, and he leaned forward to peer through the peephole. The other two stood a few steps to the side, in the living room, and watched.

Astonishment was on Miles’s face as he went to join his comrades. “Holy crap, you weren’t kidding about that thing!”

“But is it really real?” Pablo said. “Or is it just a costume, and you were right about somebody pranking us?”

“Looked kinda real to me,” Miles replied.

“I’ll see about this.”

Pablo became the third to check through the door’s tiny, circular window—and he was the third to be baffled by the sight. Even while the creature wore a hoodie, it had a bull’s face. The image defied the reality of this suburb of Columbus. A creature couldn’t have the head of a bull and the body of a person. Pablo retreated to the group.

“What’re we gonna do?” asked Harry.

“How should I know?” Miles asked back. “I’ve never met a minotaur before.”

“Let’s pretend we’re not here,” said Harry. “It’ll think nobody’s home and it’ll go away.”

“But the lights are on.” Pablo pointed to the lamp next to the couch.

“And the TVs are on.” Miles looked at the ceiling, as if his eyes had X-ray power to see into the bedrooms and the television sets, each with a stilled image. He said, “The beast could’ve seen the flickering lights of our TVs through the upstairs windows when it was walking toward our house.”

“Yeah, it could’ve,” Harry said. “You guys think it can hear us talking?” He didn’t bother to lower his voice.

Presumably in answer, a grunt came from the other side of the door. Followed by louder, insistent knocking. The house seemed to shake, although that might’ve been in the three occupants’ imagination. They gaped at each other, a triangle of worry.

“Let’s go to the kitchen!” Miles stage-whispered.

Their rushed voices turned into rushed legs; they skittered through the living room and dining room, into the kitchen. It was the farthest the occupants could’ve stood from the front door without opening the back door and transforming into non-occupants.

“What if the beast is hungry?” Harry said. “What if it’s banging on our door because its belly is rumbling, and once we open the door—if we open the door, that is—it will eat us up? That’ll be all she wrote. No more us. Gone in a frantic crunch of flesh and bone, because we won’t be able to get away.”

Pablo had listened thoughtfully to his roommate and tried to keep as level a head as possible. “I don’t know what minotaurs eat. It would be easier if a centaur was outside. That way, there’d be a man on the top half, so it’d be obvious what they eat. They like to eat what all other men eat.”

“But don’t you think centaurs might have horse-eating tendencies?” Miles asked. “At least some of the time?”

Lifting an instructive forefinger, Pablo said, “Maybe for Sunday brunch, they add a bit of hay.”

“Brunch is such a great idea,” Miles said. “Wonderful how it combines breakfast and lunch. And you could be right about centaurs. Maybe they have some hay, and an apple for dessert.”

Pablo’s finger remained raised. “Or a tasty carrot.”

“Would you two stop?” Harry demanded. “That kind of talk isn’t helping our predicament. Not one bit! A centaur isn’t out there. What do we know about minotaurs?”

“I only know they live in Spain,” Pablo said.

“Those are regular bulls,” Miles said. “In Spain, they fight bulls, and they do that running-with-the-bulls thing. Which is pretty nutty, if you ask me.”

None of the men had a desire to run with the bulls in Pamplona, although the subject had come up when, at various times, they had discussed life bucket lists with other friends, and a handful of those other friends had expressed interest in bull running. Seeing the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China were on the three men’s lists, which had a much lower risk of horns piercing their back sides.

“Isn’t the minotaur the god of war?” Harry asked.

“That’s Mars,” Miles said.

“That’s a planet,” Pablo said. “The red, angry one.”

“It was named after the Greek god of war,” Miles said.

“Mars is the Roman equivalent,” Pablo said. “Ares is the Greek god of war. They’re different, but somehow they’re the same.”

Harry threw up his hands. “It’s all so confusing!”

Nothing was confusing about the new bout of hammering on the door. The glasses in the cupboard jittered and clinked together. The occupants also jittered as they gazed, wide-eyed, toward the front of the house.

“We have to learn more about this creature,” Miles said. “Do we appeal to his bullish side or his mannish side? Quick! Get Bulfinch’s Mythology from the bookshelf!”

“What?” Pablo snapped. “You don’t know the Roman god of war, but you remember that Bulfinch wrote a book about myths?”

“If you think about it, it makes sense,” Miles said. “Gray had anatomy, Jane had fighting ships and assorted weaponry, and Bulfinch had mythology.”

“Keenly said,” replied Harry. “Was Bulfinch a minotaur?”

“Of course not,” snorted Miles. “Bulfinch is spelled with only one ‘l.’”

Harry looked a little wounded and sounded a little defensive. “It sounds like an odd combination of a bull and bird. Specifically, a finch. They’re yellow, right?”

“I think they can be,” Miles said. “But I don’t think all finches are yellow. It’s not a prerequisite.”

“That’s got nothing to do with our situation,” said Pablo. “I agree that we need to learn more about the creature. Go get the book, since you know so much about it.”

Miles scratched his stubbled chin. “I only know it’s under ‘b’ on the shelf. Since fiction and non-fiction are mixed together, and they’re alphabetical by title.”

“But if the categories were separated, the book would be in the fiction section,” Harry said. “Myths are just made-up stories.”

“That beast isn’t a made-up story!” Miles exclaimed.

Pablo groaned in exasperation. “Are we sure it’s a minotaur? It’s awfully dark out there.” True, it was night-time. He turned to Harry and said, “Maybe it’s your Uncle Frank, thinking it’s Thanksgiving. Frank’s a big guy.”

Harry frowned at his roommate. “We already proved that it’s not Halloween, so it can’t be Thanksgiving. Even if it was, our family always goes to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. Uncle Frank knows that fully well.”

“But he makes mistakes,” Miles said.

“Everyone does,” Harry said.

“We’re getting nowhere!” Pablo cried. “I’ll get the book.”

As he hurried back to the living room, more house-trembling knocks came, like from the epicenter of an earthquake. The two occupants in the kitchen were silent until their friend returned with Bulfinch’s Mythology.

Pablo searched the book’s index, thumbed through the pages until finding the appropriate page. He said, “Says here the minotaur was in a maze in Crete. Everybody knows that. But here’s something I forgot. And it’s bad news. Very bad news. He ate people. Seven men and seven women were sacrificed to him every nine years.”

The other two men made grossed-out faces.

Miles said, “So he has a taste for human flesh. Great, just fucking great.”

“But there’s also good news,” Pablo said. “Theseus killed the minotaur.”

“Did he write the thesaurus?” Harry asked.

This time, Pablo snorted. “Who cares? He killed the monster!”

“But the monster on our front step is very much alive!” Miles said.

“Maybe he’s a relative of the one in the maze,” Harry said. “Like Uncle Frank is my relative.”

Pablo thumped the book shut, like jaws clamping down, but the book’s jaws snatched only air. “Enough with this bullshit. I’m going to see what he wants.”

“Don’t you dare open the door,” Miles said. “It’s our only protection against the beast!”

“I’ll talk to him through the door,” Pablo said. “And don’t forget, the walls are also protection.”

“Thank goodness we have brick walls,” Miles said. “They’re not made of straw, like in the story about the big, bad wolf.”

Pablo hefted a sigh and looked tired from the weight. “But it’s not a wolf, so you don’t have to worry about it blowing the house down.”

Harry perked up, excited to make an insightful remark. “If a centaur was out there, maybe it would eat our house. If our house was made of straw.”

Pablo stomped off, followed on his heels by his two roommates, and Pablo stopped just behind the front door. The stranger’s loud huffing could be heard, reminiscent of a wolf.

###

The Red Tree

Red Tree cover

A new excerpt! This time, it’s from “The Red Tree,” which is a short story, but one on the longish side. It clocks in at just over 10,000 words. While rain falls for weeks, the Engler family invites friends over for an evening of dealing with cabin fever together. And when the spring sun arrives, the Englers celebrate by walking in a wooded park, where they encounter a red tree away from the trail. Guesses abound as to why the tree is red when none of the other trees are.

Life returns to normal for most of the Englers. The father, Calvin, decides the red tree was a sign for him to make changes in his life and property. Changes the family and neighbors don’t quite understand. But some family members can be eccentric, and others learn to roll with it.

Below is a portion of the first chapter. If you like it, the ebook is available at Amazon.

*****

They feared the spring rain would never end. The gray cloud-ceiling kept releasing raindrops, like a tight formation of planes carpet-bombing Calvin Engler’s house and all the other houses in his neighborhood and the roads on which he commuted and the office building in which he worked as a manager for a business consulting company. The cloud-bombers seemed intent on turning the buildings to rubble. Occasionally, thunder rumbled, lightning seared the earth.

Dana Engler didn’t have to tell her husband the family was getting cabin fever, especially their two sons. Playgrounds could’ve been visited, but playing there would’ve resulted in very muddy clothes. Dana said, “Could you imagine them going down the slide and landing in a puddle that’s grown bigger every day?”

“The boys would probably like that,” Calvin said, picturing Zach and Ryan, one at a time, sliding down with slickened speed and landing with great explosions of arching water. Like when they cannonballed into a pool, except with darker water.

“I wouldn’t like doing the extra laundry,” Dana said. “We’ve got plenty of dirty clothes as it is.”

“You have to admit, their clothes have been cleaner since the rain. Indoor play isn’t as dirty.”

“But they’re getting sick of pillow forts,” she said.

“Me, too,” Calvin said. “They were fun in the beginning, but every time it’s the same thing. The boys get a kick out of building the fort and crawling in it for a little while. Then it gets old, so they get their soldiers and knights and attack the fort. I always have to defend it.”

“It’s more fun to attack than defend,” Dana laughed.

“Yep, and I like attacking the attackers. But they’re not into that. They get mad at me for flipping things.”

Dana and Calvin invited two families over for a Friday evening to liven up the house. The families had met through their kids in elementary school, and they met now and then for playdates and pot-luck dinners. An idea to deal with the ever-present rain was to rotate the host family for gatherings.

Calvin prepared his famous lasagna, and Dana baked several frozen bags worth of tater tots. The Clemenceaus brought Spanish chicken and rice. Neither of the adult Alversons were fond of cooking, so they brought a large salad, along with brownies made from a boxed mix, and nobody complained the brownies weren’t from scratch.

Each of the Clemenceau and Alverson families was balanced with a boy and a girl. The boys were in the same grade level as Zachary Engler. The Clemenceau and Alverson girls were older than all the boys, and often called them immature and suggested they grow up already. To which the boys replied with well-practiced farting noises made with their tongues.

The four boys chowed down dinner and returned to playing in Zach’s room, creating structures with LEGOs and racing cars on the floor and zooming robots in the air, then the cars suddenly achieved the power to also fly. The two girls, under instructions of their parents, had joined the boys before dinner, but after dinner, they retired to the living room, playing Connect Four on the coffee table.

The grown-ups took their time eating dinner and drinking wine and beer. Glad the kids were occupied and enjoying themselves. Sometimes a loud remark came from Zach’s room (“I told you this robot’s a good guy!”), but as long as an intense argument didn’t develop, the parents were fine to let the kids work it out for themselves.

“With all this rain, feels like I should build an ark,” Calvin Engler said.

“Seriously, right?” Lisa Clemenceau said.

“It’d be a neat family project,” her husband, Jeremy, said. “Plenty for everyone to pitch in.”

“Too late for that, though,” Dwight Alverson said. “It’s too soggy out there. If you wanted to build an ark, you should’ve started before the rain started falling.”

“And I don’t think our back yard is big enough,” Dana Engler said.

“It doesn’t have to carry two of every animal,” Calvin said. “Just our family.”

“So it’s not really an ark, but a boat to save us,” Dana said.

“Hey, we have to look out for number one,” Calvin said.

“You’re not gonna invite us on the boat?” Jeremy Clemenceau asked.

“Sure we will,” said Calvin, not wanting to look selfish.

“What about us?” Paula Alverson asked.

“Of course you can join us,” Dana said. “We’d be delighted to have you guys along. The company would be great, and we’d need help to sail the thing.”

“We’d need help before that,” Calvin said. “We’d need help building the thing.”

Calvin said plans for a big ship would have to be drawn up and good-quality lumber must be procured, not the cheap junk usually on sale but planks with no knots in them. Because this beauty had to be ship-shape, no leaks on this vessel. Also, they’d have to watch online videos for tips on building a water craft, tips that newbies wouldn’t know, tips passed down by professionals wanting to share their passion.

Jeremy Clemenceau added that they would need to get books on how to cut the jib and tack into the wind and tie an assortment of knots and become familiar with the delicacies of the astrolabe. The geographic-positioning apps on their phones would not work so well with much of civilization underwater, except maybe for the tops of skyscrapers and transmission towers. And a book should be purchased on the language of maritime signal flags to communicate with the ships of other survivors.

Assuming there would be other survivors, which everyone around the table hoped there would be. A lonely scenario to be the last three families on earth. Similar to the Twilight Zone episode in which a nuclear war destroys the world, and a survivor finally gets the peace to read all the books he desires, but accidentally steps on his eyeglasses and breaks them.

“I haven’t seen that episode,” Lisa Clemenceau said.

“Total spoiler alert,” Paula Alverson said. “Now you don’t have to watch it. You know what happens.”

###

 

Other Lives of the Boothbys

Other Lives of the Boothbys cover

Time for another excerpt from one of my books — this time my novella, Other Lives of the Boothbys. In this story, Bradley Boothby feels déjà vu when walking by the office building for Rayburn-Turley Publishing, that he is somehow connected to one of the publishing company’s books.

Following is the first chapter. If you like it, please consider buying the book to find out what happens next. Available on Amazon as ebook and paperback.

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At first, Bradley Boothby dismissed the odd sensation when he passed the Randolph-Turley building on his commutes to and from work. The feeling was nonsensical and didn’t deserve deeper attention than tossing it off the curb, where it would roll into a storm drain then eventually make its way to the Hudson.

Bradley had other things to consider, including his research on the spending habits of twenty-somethings versus middle-aged people. It was more important to focus on doing a good job at his job.

Yet the odd sensation persisted in visiting Bradley during his commutes. As if the idea had survived the journey through underground pipes, swam to the surface of the river, and flew to Randolph-Turley’s roof. Perching there until Bradley arrived on the sidewalk, when it dive-bombed onto his head. Into his head.

The idea was akin to those mythological creatures that combined different animals. A griffin or centaur or mermaid or some such. Bradley asked himself, Was there a mythical creature capable of swimming and flying? Well, flying fish already existed. And some birds could swim.

Bradley didn’t harbor dreams of being included in a book—or in a movie or TV series. No delusions of grandeur of becoming a celebrity recognized (even admired) by crowds of strangers. He was fine with his low level of fame only among his friends.

On one of Bradley’s journeys home during March, he remembered a movie he and Danielle had seen several years ago: Stranger Than Fiction. The movie had provided pleasant entertainment for the evening. Did the movie’s memory cause the odd sensation? Did part of Bradley’s subconscious want to create a diversion from his regular schedule, entertainment for his commute?

But significant differences divided him and the movie’s main character (Bradley forgot the guy’s name). Bradley’s life wasn’t as finely regimented as the character’s. Bradley was married. Bradley didn’t hear a female, English-accented voice narrating his every move. The only voice in his head was his own—and the assorted memories of what people had said to him in various conversations, along with snippets he had overheard in the subway and other public places.

Thankfully, no narrator lived in his brain. Getting through the day would’ve been very challenging with a narrator’s voice accompanying his thoughts. And an English accent might’ve sounded authoritative and pompous. More comfortable would’ve been a narrator with a New Yawker tongue: “So Bradley goes to the office kitchen for another cup of cawffee and mutters to himself, ‘How many years till retirement?’”

Whatever the origin of the strangeness in passing the Randolph-Turley building, the feeling kept arriving with regularity. Bradley had to tell someone about it. His wife would’ve been more understanding than his friends and close co-workers, who would’ve likely teased Bradley about going nutty and in need of a vacation.

Besides, Danielle had frequently asked him during the past couple weeks if something was wrong. Bradley had answered it was nothing major. Just stuff at work. He couldn’t cover up his agitation with a straight face (why he never played poker). Danielle could see right through him, a skill improved in their five years of marriage.

In their Brooklyn apartment one evening, Bradley tried paying attention to Danielle relay the latest complaint of an irritating woman—Tanya—in her office. Something about offensively amateurish graffiti in subway stations. It wasn’t clear which bothered the office woman more: the offensive language or amateurish style.

Which inspired the tangential wondering that if graffitied curse words were done artistically, would they be less offensive? Fuck Off could be prettied up by writing it with curlicues and flourishes, but the message remained the same.

Bradley wasn’t offended by curse words on walls. Clever sayings in graffiti could amuse him for days. The dark humor of Just Say No To Cannibalism on a wall had tickled his funny bone on an evening when he had been in the mood to enjoy it. As had pennies from heaven don’t help me afford really good drugs.

Bradley supposed, if he was a father, he might’ve wanted to shield his children’s eyes from foul language. Except the kids would’ve learned curse words some day. If not from graffiti, then hearing them yelled in school or snarled in a movie or grumbled by an intoxicated uncle at a holiday gathering.

Danielle sighed. “You must be tired of hearing about this. I get annoyed by Tanya then I annoy you by talking about her so much. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t keep the cycle going.”

“It doesn’t annoy me.” Bradley placed a bowl of leftover turkey chili into the microwave and tapped the time buttons. “Go ahead and vent. I know it makes you feel better.”

“So does this.” Danielle sipped from a glass of red wine. “I’m done venting. How about you? You’ve got that look again. Is work still stressing you out?”

“That’s not really what’s been going on,” he said. “The other day, something happened when I saw the sign for Randolph-Turley on their building. I’ve seen that sign thousands of times, but something clicked that day.”

Since Bradley paused, his wife prodded him: “What clicked?”

“The feeling that I’m connected with the place,” he replied. “As if I’m a character in a book.”

A speechless moment in which Danielle’s frown spoke volumes.

Bradley said, “It sounds weird, I get that. But I can’t shake the thought that somebody in the publishing company has written about me. I don’t know why. It’s not like my life is interesting enough to be in a book.”

The microwave beeped, startling them. Bradley removed the heated bowl, gave it to Danielle, and he slid the second bowl of chili into the microwave. She put her bowl on the kitchen counter, uninterested in food because of the conversation.

“Yeah, that’s weird,” she said. “Have you ever read a book from that company?”

“I have no idea,” Bradley said. “Who pays attention to the publisher when they read a book?”

“Okay, silly question. I’m just trying to get a handle on what you’re telling me.”

As the microwave beeped again, Bradley retrieved the second bowl. He didn’t like the look on Danielle’s face—it made him feel batshit crazy for opening up about his fixation.

He said, “I know we’re not characters in a novel. I know we’re real people. As real as this.” Bradley knocked on the kitchen counter, as if announcing his presence to a tiny family living in the cabinets, whom he wanted to visit.

“At least you know that.”

“Then why can’t I shake the idea that somebody wrote about me?” he asked.

“Maybe the same way a song gets stuck in your head,” Danielle said. “Even when you hate the song, it can loop and loop in your head all day.”

“Could be it.”

“What about seeing someone about it? Talking to someone other than me?”

“You mean a shrink?”

“Therapist,” she said. “Cindy goes to one and she says it helps her. The therapist is a good listener and he asks questions about things that Cindy hasn’t thought about. Patterns that Cindy didn’t realize.”

Cindy was Danielle’s best friend. Bradley wasn’t surprised to hear that Cindy went to a therapist. Cindy had been divorced twice and was one of those people with a tendency to act impulsively. She kidded Danielle by calling her tame. But Cindy also valued Danielle’s quieter demeanor and patient ear as a wine-drinking, restaurant-going companion. Friendship therapy.

“I’m not gonna see a therapist,” Bradley said, deciding not to add his opinion that therapists were for other people, not him.

One side of Danielle’s mouth tugged back in a disproving expression. “It could help you.”

“Doubt it,” he said. “A therapist won’t give me any real answers. Probably would just ask about my childhood and tell me I’ve got unresolved issues.”

“You definitely have unresolved issues. You can’t remember your turn to scrub the bathroom. I’m sure that started in childhood.”
With a groan, Bradley said, “A therapist can’t fix that.”

“Would be nice if they could,” Danielle said. “What about looking up your name on Google? See if it’s a character?”

“Already did that.” He was embarrassed for the admission, as it rang to him as narcissistic. Searching for yourself on the Internet to find out your popularity—or just your name’s popularity. He said, “Nothing came up.”

“What about talking to someone at the company?” she asked. “They could tell you if you’re in one of their books.”

His face twisted. “I can’t do that. They’d think I’m crazy and throw me out. I debated whether to tell you. Figuring you’d think I’m dumb. But they’d be much less forgiving.”

“Or they might humor you and tell you one way or the other,” Danielle said. “If you’re in a book or not. They might’ve gotten stranger requests.”

“I don’t see what could be stranger than this,” he said. “I’ll save myself the embarrassment and skip going there. Maybe this talk has solved it. Maybe the feeling will stop bugging me.”

“I hope so. Want to talk about it some more?”

“Nah, I’m done. Let’s eat.”

The couple ate dinner while watching a television show about two families in 1880s Chicago. The first season had included the great drama of the 1871 fire and rebuilding was in full swing by the second season, of which the Boothbys were in the midst.

Before Bradley gave his attention over to the show, he took in the familiar surroundings. The couch where he ate many meals with Danielle and lounged with a book or newspaper, his feet propped on the coffee table. Much of the furnishings had been bought at a street market, pushed into a taxi or a ride service’s SUV, and driven here. This was home. He was glad for Danielle sitting next to him. She didn’t have to calm him down often, but she was effective when the need arose: his worries about the health of his grandparents and an often-stressful marketing job. Compared to those, tonight’s frustration felt trivial.

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