Then Tomorrow

Turning the key felt as a lock slamming in a vault. But, as Adam stared through the large window, nothing was left to steal. Beyond the for sale sign: emptiness. Something never imagined when Adam took over the store from Dad, who inherited it from Gramps. Then worried over when cavernous stores outside of downtown changed the landscape. Fewer shopping baskets plopped next to his cash register. Then the Internet, and people filled virtual shopping carts.

Adam shook his head for the millionth time and asked, “What now?”

“Dinner,” Carla said, giving him a small smile. “Then sleep. Then tomorrow.”

Waiting for Gift Man (Again)

This flash-fiction story was published last year on Christmas Eve. Since there are new followers to my blog (and thank you!!), I’m posting the short story again. I hope you enjoy…


Waiting for Gift Man
by Dave Williams

As we waited for the Gift Man to rappel down the chimney (no fire in the place, thank you very much), we regaled each other with tales of adventure.

“That time I went hang gliding down in Rio was a blast,” Mitch said. “You get a good running start and just launch yourself off the cliff, and you’re like, ‘this doesn’t feel right at all, I’m not supposed to jump off a cliff,’ but you tell yourself to shut up, that you’re strapped to this glider and it’s gonna be alright, ’cause you’ve just seen a bunch of people do it, and then you’re doing it, you realize you’re hanging there in the air, soaring. And you see the beautiful city below you and the beautiful beach and the beautiful ocean. And you’re so caught up in all of it that you’re not worried or scared, you’re just awed. Fucking beautiful, man.”

“Sounds sweet,” Zeke said. “Reminds me of the time I went skydiving. That being scared you feel when you step outside of this little prop plane and the land is way, way below you and you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this? Jumping out of a plane that’s working just fine and can take me to the ground and why the hell am I jumping out of it?’ But you keep pressing forward, sliding outside so the instructor who’s on your back can get out too, and then you let go, just let go. And then the air rushes into your face, you’re not thinking at all, just taking it all in, the air and the feeling and the rush of it. And when you finally hit the ground, your heart’s pounding from all the adrenaline. Like you said, fucking beautiful, man.”

I don’t have any hang gliding or skydiving stories, so I searched my memory for something that could stack up to them. “One time when I went hiking with some buddies, the trail on the mountain got thinner and thinner, and there was a chain you could hold on to. It was bolted to the rock every few feet or so and hanging down between the bolts so you could hold it and not fall off. ‘Cause the mountain dropped off, just dropped off on the other side of the trail from the chain, and every now and then we’d send some small rocks to drop, and they’d bounce down the mountain, and you’d imagine your body doing the same thing as those rocks and how crazy bad that would hurt. So, of course, that just made us hold on the chain harder and keep on going.”

“Cool, that sounds really cool,” Mitch said. “That reminds me …” then he launched himself into a new story.

And on the stories went, swinging on vines around the living room as we lounged on the couch and easy chairs and laughed and sipped eggnog (which partied with bourbon inside our glasses).

Until, that is, we heard footsteps above us.

“Someone’s coming!” Zeke whispered in an alarmed whisper.

But these footsteps were not on the roof. They were closer, as in from the upstairs hallway. Then closer still, on the stairway that led down to us in the living room. I will be honest with you here: we were disappointed that the footsteps did not come from the chimneyway.

Grandpa’s striped pajama bottoms appeared, and then his pajama tops, and then his head. A disapproving expression was on his head.

“What are you fellas still doing up?” he asked. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”

“We’re waiting for Gift Man,” Mitch said.

“Oh,” Grandpa said and thought for a couple of moments. “Sounds like that movie Waiting for Guffman. You know, the one directed by Christopher Guest. It came out in the late Nineties, I believe.”

We nodded our heads. Yes, it did sound like the title of that funny movie.

Grandpa scratched his beard. “Which, I’m sure you know, was a play off the play Waiting for Godot. Written by Samuel Beckett, a master of absurdism.”

We nodded our heads. Yes, on some level of knowledge, we knew that.

Grandpa continued. “What you may not know is that Beckett was possibly inspired by Balzac. You see, Balzac wrote a play many years before called Mercadet. It was also about waiting.” He paused to let that sink into our eggnog-soaked brains. “In turn, Balzac may have been inspired by a play before him. Possibly something from the Greeks, who were masters of the theater. As you well know.”

The three of us looked at each other. This was getting much deeper than our regaling of adventures. It was plainly (maybe painfully as well) obvious that we doubted our brains were ready for Grandpa’s lecture about the history of theater.

Grandpa looked at the fireless fireplace (which may simply be called “place”). I don’t know about the other guys, but I fervently hoped Gift Man would appear and bring a big, bold dash of color and excitement. If this was a TV show or movie, that would’ve certainly happened right then.

Then Grandpa added, “Actually, the same thing may be said about Santa Claus. You could hop, skip, and jump through history and folk tales to see the many figures who came before the man we think of now.”

“Germany, wasn’t it?” Zeke asked.

“Among others, yes,” Grandpa answered and gazed over at the beautifully lit and decorated Christmas tree. “Many countries were involved in that progression.” He sighed, and you could read a bone-tiredness in that sigh. “I’m sure we could have a long conversation about this. But, as for me, that’ll have to wait for another day. I need my sleep. Goodnight, fellas. You should turn in soon. Tomorrow is a big day.”

We said we would and bade him goodnight, and then we listened to his footsteps ascend the stairs, proceed down the hall, and enter his bedroom.

“Absurdism,” Mitch said. Just offered the word out there, like a sugar cookie on a tray. “What the hell isn’t absurd?”

Zeke and I pondered that word on the invisible tray, and I beat out Zeke in my reply: “Nothing. Not a damn thing.”

“Here, here,” said Zeke and raised his glass.

We all raised our glasses of nog and took a drink.


copyright © 2020 Dave Williams

Listening to the Lotus

Photo of an opened lotus flower. Pink petals and the seed pod in the center is yellow.

The lotus bud of closed petals, like a cat sleeping in a rolled ball, is silent as it inhales air and sunlight, listens and learns words from other plants. When the petals begin to lower, opening, the lotus’s voice is small and unsure. Such as it is with young flowers and insects and birds and most animals. Not like young humans, who wail to be heard. When fully open the lotus’s pink petals sing, adding a delicate voice to the music around them. The lotus’s song and luminous petals invite people to gaze into it, mandala-like, and see other worlds: pink skies, cities among trees, people who can breathe underwater, tall ships sailing in the sky. Each person sees a world of their liking. The lotus embraces the hope that when each person looks away, they will see the wonder of the real world around them. The grip of the petals fades as the flower ages. The petals fall one by one. Sad for the falling. Thankful for their chance under the sun. Curious about the ground and what happens next. Above the fallen petals, the seed pod is like a small speaker. Singing a different song now. A song about new generations of musicians, about possibilities. 

Photo of a lotus seed pod. No petals are attached to it. The pod is no longer yellow and has turned to green.

Photos were taken at Grounds for Sculpture (Hamilton, New Jersey) in July 2021.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Grandparents’ House

I’m in my grandparents’ house, but I’m not a kid — I’m the middle-aged adult I am now. Friends are with me, and I’m showing them around the house. The kitchen with lots of cabinets, the jutting-out peninsula of a dining room with windows on three sides, the two-story living room with fireplace. Tourists are lounging about the yard. Why? It’s a lovely house, but it’s not as if celebrities lived here. Graceland Mansion, it’s definitely not. Yet tourists open the door, and a group of them streams inside, gazing around and clicking photos with their phones. Baffled, I tell them to leave, tell them that this is a private house. Their stares at me seem confused, and the man in front holds up a piece of paper, and he waves it as he says, “But we already bought tickets.”

A Sad Ending

Beaming down at the superhero chained to a column, the villain said, “By destroying your pub, I have disbarred you. By throwing away all your weapons, I have disarmed you. I didn’t chop off your arms because I’m not that evil. By burning your precious costume, I have disrobed you. I have disrespected you in every way I can think possible.”

“No!” the hero yelled, tilting his chin upward. “I still have my respect. You haven’t destroyed that!”

The villain cackled. “Oh, really? Because I should’ve mentioned the beat-down I gave you outside the bank I robbed. All those people with their phones taking videos of you getting beat. Social media’s gonna love that.”

“I got in some good punches!”

“A couple, I’ll grant you that,” the villain said. “But my potion to enhance my strength worked even better than I hoped. What a shock that must’ve been for you.”

“Let me loose! I’ll beat you in a new round!”

The villain cackled louder. “Never! I’ll never let you loose! And there’s no partner or sidekick who’s gonna come to your rescue. No automatic supercar’s gonna burst through the wall to save you. You’re not that super. Your protection of the city ends here!”

Again the hero flexed his mighty muscles, trying to break the chains. But his effort made no difference. For all he’d given the city, here was the end for him, in this abandoned warehouse full of junk. The location felt as an added insult to his defeat.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Got a Light?

“Here comes a group,” Bob whispered. “Summer’s almost as good as Halloween. Warm nights, no school.”

Todd nodded. “Love it. They’ve brought a goat, too. Some sort of sacrifice, I suppose.”

“Let’s wait a little. Remember, it’s my turn to ask.”

Bob and Todd stayed hidden behind gravestones. The four teenagers set up a circle of candles nearby, the goat watching curiously.

Bob gave a thumbs up, and the two of them stood.

“Hey,” Bob called out. “You got a light?” Two of his bony fingers touched his teeth as if he held a cigarette.

The teenagers stared wide-eyed at the skeletons, then ran off screaming as the skeletons watched them and laughed. The goat bleated curiously.

When You Live Inside a Pumpkin

When you live inside a pumpkin, the sudden arrival of a knife’s point comes as a complete shock–which quickly turns into fear as the point and blade come at you in a stabbing assault, so you huddle as close as possible to the interior wall until the knife goes away, the lid’s removed, and the sudden arrival of sunlight blinds my large eyes, penetrating my thin eyelids. Then the spoon plummets into the cavity, scoops out the pumpkin’s guts and seeds, only to be replaced by the knife continuing its attack, from the side this time, creating windows that allow more light to rush in and expose me even more–but thankfully not enough for the owner of the hand that’s bringing shock and awe down upon my formerly dark home to notice me. Once the knife leaves and does not come back for quite a while, my heart finally calms, and I get to see the world outside: the sky and trees and cars and people walking dogs. Then, in the evening, there’s even candlelight I can read by. It’s been stressful, but all in all a nice change.

Pool Story

Photo of water ripples in a pool. The text on top of the water is also rippled, and the text is Pool Story by Dave Williams

One saying is “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s kind of the gist of how this story and video were created.

My mom and I were on a trip when my minivan broke down on the highway. We were towed to a mechanic’s garage in a nearby town. We spent the night in a hotel and waited the next day for the minivan to be fixed. It was an opportunity to spend more time with my mom and chat about the old days, and I enjoyed listening to stories of when she was growing up.

During our wait, I filmed a four minute video of the hotel’s pool. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the video, just that I thought the water’s ripples made for interesting visuals.

Later, I had the idea to write a story. Not about hotel guests splashing about the pool, but of the water in the pool, about what could be going on with it.

So I narrated the story and paired that with the video of the water, and here it is. If you’d rather watch the video on YouTube, click here.

Send in the Piano Clown

“I don’t know if I should laugh or cry into my beer,” Leon said.

“Do both at the same time,” Samantha said.

“Feels like we’re stuck in limbo in this bar,” Leon said. “Like we need to do something to get to heaven.”

“That’s easy,” Sam replied. “Just walk out of here.”

Leon said, “But I’m riveted to this guy’s spoken-word poetry about his doomed relationship with Carol while he plays piano and sings ‘Send in the Clowns ‘and ‘Piano Man’ and tosses back cocktails.”

“It’s a weird mix, that’s for sure,” Samantha said. “Is this what people mean by ‘avant-garde’?”

Leon shrugged. “I think it means whatever you want it to mean.”

“That’s not helpful. Why is he dressed as a clown? Is it some kind of symbol for how he feels inside?”

“Maybe,” Leon said. “Or what if it’s a social commentary on being a performer? You know, like a trained monkey?”

Sam shook her head. “We’ll never know. Look at that. He passed out.”

“Poor bastard.”

“Him?” Sam said with a laugh. “We’re the poor bastards who had to listen to him. C’mon, let’s go. We’ve been granted freedom.”

As the couple walked toward the bar’s exit, they saw the other patrons were still watching the clown draped over the piano. Perhaps they wondered if the clown would sputter back to consciousness and continue to entertain them with his act. Or perhaps, after a rest, the clown would start the second act of his performance that was different than the first. Samantha and Leon would never know, as they left the bar and walked towards another bar across the street, their feet moving with the hope of a more “normal” situation in the other bar.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

This Story

Photograph of an octopus swimming just above the ocean floor.
by Pia/Pexels

This story walks a delicate line. Perhaps we will find an easier approach of starting with what the story does not want.

It does not want to be seen as pretentious. This story would never go to a chic restaurant and, upon hearing the sommelier say the restaurant has no more bottles of 1984 Fancypants Chablis, throw a fit and storm out of the restaurant. This is not one of those kinds of stories. Also, when wearing a polo shirt, this story does not “pop the collar.”

It desires to be seen as a “story among the people.” On weekends, after mowing the lawn, it sits on a patio chair and sips a common brand of beer — not a “this dude only drinks microbrews nobody’s heard of and listens to bands nobody’s heard of” type of beer.

This story wishes to entertain, in the hope that people will have a good time while experiencing it. Of course, “good time” is subjective to every reader. Some readers prefer action:

Viv dispatches the four members of Baron Lybo’s assault squad with throwing knives as she creeps around her house that they’ve entered in the night. Viv acts as a ninja using the familiar territory to her advantage. The last two assaulters fire their AK-47s before Viv’s knives plunge into their necks. The shots will cause neighbors to call the cops. Viv slings the four AKs on her shoulder and marches outside to her muscle car. Plenty of ammo is in the guns for her to attack one of Baron Lybo’s drug warehouses. But how did the baron discover Viv’s safe house? Is one of Viv’s few friends a snitch? Does her car have a tracking device?

Other readers prefer romantic comedy:

In the office’s break room, Jacqueline stands at the counter and has no way of knowing that Antonio is walking behind her when she turns around. Jacqueline bumps into Antonio. She was heading to the microwave to heat her leftover chicken curry. Both people watch in surprise as the green curry sloshes, then dollops of curry sauce leap from the container and land on Antonio’s shirt. He recovers from the surprise and says, “I better soak it before the stain becomes permanent.” As Antonio unbuttons his shirt and holds it under the sink’s faucet, Jacqueline is hit by lust/love’s gentle cheek slaps: Delicious six-pack of abs! Knowledge of good laundry practice! He chose to solve the problem instead of lashing out in anger!

But this story doesn’t want to be only entertaining. Going for thrills and laughs is a fine goal. Reaching beyond that, into the realm of admirable

(in the story’s estimation),

is to also aim for resonance. To weave a story with such emotional depth, readers will remember the story as more than “five or ten minutes I spent while avoiding my work at the office, or while I waited for the bus.” To resonate with readers, the story could show a character with weaknesses:

Parcy slumps on a kitchen chair as the dishwasher starts. Another difficult day of work. Tempting is the thought of pouring wine into one of the tall, retro-swirly decorated glasses (thrift store finds; to hell with “proper” wine glasses) and binging on a TV show. Yet, Parcy doesn’t want that tonight. There’s an urge for a meditative time. Parcy taps her phone’s screen to find the Quiet Nights album by Miles Davis. Interesting how the jazz mixes with the sound of water spraying inside the dishwasher. Parcy wonders when she’ll feel consistently confident at work. To get past the thoughts of being behind. Doubt weighs heavily. She closes her eyes and focuses on the trumpet’s music. She wishes she could ride the music, let it carry her around the apartment while rain falls outside the windows.

The story’s aim is for this kind of character, contrasted with a character representing a societal ideal that’s impossible to achieve. Such a character would breeze through life, everything coming easily to her/him/them.

This story would rather include a character facing struggles, while developing strength and lessons from struggles and failures:

The octopus swims away from the crowded sea floor, into a maze of rocks, gliding over and under, around them. Until the octopus finds the cave and enters its darkness. The sun’s rays diving into the water do not reach inside the cave. That’s preferable to the octopus. She needs a break from her parents nagging her to find a mate (“Please! We’d like grandchildren before we get too old and slow to play with them.”) and her friends, whose kidding around can sometimes get on her nerves. In the cave, the octopus dances. Her tentacles swirl and ripple in complicated patterns. Nobody can see her. She dances simply, for the joy of movement. A good way to let off steam and help ease her mind. However, she is wrong about nobody seeing her. Today, a lanternfish happens upon the cave. Seeing the octopus, the lanternfish turns off her green glow. The octopus is so involved in her dance that she doesn’t realize the presence of another creature. Until the octopus spins toward the cave’s opening. Immediately, she stops dancing. She says, “Why are you spying on me?” The lanternfish says, “I couldn’t help it. I came in here and saw you and I didn’t want to stop you. Please keep dancing.” The octopus says, “No. You’ll judge me.” The lanternfish says, “Too late. I already judged you. Your dancing is wonderful.” The octopus says, “You really mean that?” The lanternfish nods and says, “I’d like to see more.” The octopus says, “Promise you won’t make fun of me?” After the lanternfish promises that, the octopus says, “Will you tell the others?” The lanternfish says, “I won’t. Your secret is safe with me.” The octopus hesitates, weighs her options, then begins to dance again. The lanternfish turns on her green light, brightening the cave. The lanternfish joins in the dance, swimming over and under, around the swirling tentacles.

Hopefully, the reader would connect on some level with the character, to feel less alone in the world.

Which springs a kind of magic. The little drawings that we’ve come to the collective understanding that they represent letters. When grouped together, they form words. Strings of these words can inspire pictures in readers’ minds and inspire emotions in their hearts.

Such is the wish of this story. With every reader who happens upon it, the story knows it walks the delicate line between failure and success.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams