Me and the Running Man

runningman (1)
No, not that one!


First he was smiling. Then falling.

If his pelvis had been a shovel, the heave of dirt would have landed on me. I had just pressed the rectangle of the angry red “stop” button with my knuckle. My water bottle, mobile phone, and balled-up borrowed towel waited in the recesses of the treadmill to the left and right of the console.

His cell phone started it all. He stepped on the adjacent machine. From the peripheral view, he looked like Alex, a guy I knew in high school who later went in the Army and lost lots of weight. He was a sandy blond with close-cropped hair. About 6 foot tall and barrel-chested.

He started his workout routine, then within about 15 seconds, the phone dropped like a lead zeppelin (mind you, he wasn’t on the stair-stepper to heaven) and flew off the back of the treadmill, looking like a small, sailing gray claymore mine before the steel balls explode out of it.

Thunk, whirr.

I turned at the sound, and our eyes collided. His were an electrocuted blue. Still, he smiled.

Perhaps that was his biggest mistake.

He hit hard on his left hip, which I guess was better than hitting face-first or knee-first, the latter of which I’ve done on a home treadmill (or dreadmill, as I often call it).

In short, his manparts were probably saved, but I doubt his pride was. He bounced off the back of the treadmill and out into the aisle as I winced inwardly.

Of course, he didn’t need help. He was a dude, and, as such, refused my knobby little proffered hand. Two other people, both women, rushed over to his aid. Perhaps it was his lucky day, or his unlucky one, depending on how he narrated the situation to himself.

Either way, I second-guessed. Should I have called out I’ll get it, then hopped down and scooped the phone off the sparkly blue carpeting? Should I have looked at him? Did I breach gymnasium etiquette by not ignoring the phone-drop? Could I have done anything to prevent his fall? Should I have grabbed at him as he fell? (Yeah, as if I could have stopped him.) Do I dare to eat a peach? (Never mind those singing mermaids.)

I apologized to him and asked him if he was okay. At least twice.

I was sorry I’d seemed to distract him, I said. Or perhaps that’s wishful thinking, in addition to being at least a little self-centered.

In any case, now perhaps I should go polish my best Blanche DuBois accent. With fading youth as my focus.

Clearing throat and rolling out the drawl (yes, I’ve still got it way down in the bag of tricks):

“I don’t want realism, I want magic! . . . Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it!” (from “A Streetcar Named Desire,” by Tennessee Williams)




Friday Fictioneers: Arthropods’ Last Stand

One morning, when Samantha Gregson woke from what she could only hope were mangled dreams, she remembered it.

It was a whatchamacalit. She followed the ant trail of taffy-like memories. It was at my bedroom window, backlighted, silhouetted by the street lamps. In profile, it looked like all pincers. Snapping at what?

Copyright Janet Webb
Copyright Janet Webb

She shook off a shudder as she rose from the bed to begin the day, pausing only to mute a stridulating alarm clock.

A heated bath to steam up the room will make my sinuses chirp hallelujah!

As her gaze flitted around appraising the newly remodeled bathroom, a quick shimmer near the window drew her eye.

The thick window sections resembled segments of a skeleton. A living insect exoskeleton. And it seemed to be steadily extracting itself from the lacy cocoon of wall, curtain, and window casing.

By the time of the first citizen sightings of window-sized lobsters and transparent bugs as large as compact cars, a towel was all that remained of Samantha in the flooded bathroom.


Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 86: “Decapoda” by Ernst Haeckel. Decapods are an order of crustacean, and Crustacea is a subphylum of Arthropoda. Via Wikimedia Commons.

A speculative flash fiction piece that’s a little bit long, at 170ish words, for the latest Friday Fictioneers. Stop by and read the stories, show some appreciation to Janet Webb for contributing her photo (and story), or create your own.


Six-Word Stories: On School

School Start
“How small a part of time they share/That are so wondrous sweet and fair!” from “Go, Lovely Rose,” Edmund Waller. (1606–1687)


For me, school is indeed out forever. But philosophically speaking, not so much, because  the world is a schoolroom if I let it be.

Nonetheless, teacher strikes and other issues notwithstanding, here in the States most children are back in school. So I’ve been ruminating on and writing about school days: mine and those of the kidlets.

I also noticed that the good people of SMITH magazine and Six Words are tripping down the halls of recollection. Through Friday, 12 September, they are harvesting your memories of academic successes and failures in their back-to-school Six Contest.

Perhaps you’ll consider taking part over there.

Here are some of mine. (And here are some not school-related sixers from Dr. Joe in Dublin. A tip of my writerly cap to this scientist writer!)

Six-word stories on back-to-school (and all things school, really):

Nimbus of curls hovers, then evaporates.

Son rising: Doe-eyed daredevil outclimbs himself.

Trust me, I’m no good at math.

Shyness 101: Feigned illness, skipped graduation.

Kindling at home, school; youth combusts.

Hot teacher motivated my good grades.

Sprinting from self, running on teams.

Abandon hope: Moving during high school.

The words shall set you free.

And now for what some would consider very dark humour (this is the ‘cleaner’ of the two memorable “Rowan Atkinson Live” sketches, usually called “Fatal Beatings”)! Hope you enjoy . . .








September’s Guest Storyteller, Leigh Ward-Smith

Leigh W. Smith:

Speculative fiction maven and haikuist Sarah Potter has graciously featured me as her September guest storyteller. Pop in for a read of my short fiction story about two among a special pack of enhanced beings and the researcher who chronicles their struggle for dominance. Then sit and visit a good while with Sarah’s imaginative prose, poetry, and photography.

Originally posted on sarahpotterwrites:

Leigh Ward-Smith

Leigh Ward-Smith has a journalism and editing background, but fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction occupy most of her current brainspace. She blogs at Leigh’s Wordsmithery  but also tweets, tweaks her wordcraftery, and sometimes opines on Twitter @1WomanWordsmith or on Facebook.

[quote] “I credit Serendipity with helping me discover Sarah’s blog, for which I’m very grateful, and I thank you all for taking the time to read my work”.

Out of a group of genetically enhanced humans with canid capabilities, a female and male study subject battle for dominance with increasing aggression. One researcher monitors them from a distance, mindful that the study could spiral out of control but determined to see who will emerge as Alpha.

The Enhanced: Prologue

“Observation is the most pervasive and fundamental practice of all the modern sciences, both natural and human.” — Histories of Scientific Observation, edited by Daston and Lunbeck

Brandon tore a…

View original 715 more words

When We Are Our Works: Flash Fiction

An arborist works his magic at the Missouri Botanical Garden, summer 2014. Photo by Leigh Ward-Smith.
An arborist works his magic at the Missouri Botanical Garden, summer 2014. Photo by Leigh Ward-Smith.

In honor of Labor Day, and all the hard-working people out there, worldwide, I am taking the day off, with an “oldie” but, I hope you’ll agree, an existential goodie (of flash fiction) that I wrote a year or two ago.

Speaking of which (and to be very serious for a moment), I offer big props to one such dad-blogger, Andy Chih, whose blog is, sadly, on hiatus. But understandably so. He is taking a break so he can support his daughter by working hellacious hours at two jobs. My kudos to you, Andy.


When We Are Our Works

Copyright Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

Almost nothing was under my control. That knowledge began to leach into me one day when I got back to my soda can–forted workspace.

Hunched over a crumby communal keyboard at the Weekly News, referred to by our sports editor/graphic designer/advertising supervisor as “Weakly, News,” I was jolted to learn that my neighbor, Candy Mangold-MacGuffin, had plummeted to a pancake death (Dale’s term) about an hour prior in the elevator shaft. It was exceedingly strange, made more so by the fact that there was no elevator in our building.

The pizza grease–laden telephone handle almost slipped out of my hand.

My roommate, photographer Marcy Heart, said she’d gotten a few decent shots of the scene. But it had defaulted to me to do the story. Everyone in this Everglades sinkhole of a newsroom had naturally assumed I’d give my eye teeth to write it. Although I was as curious as the next person—I mean, what horrible luck for Candy: recently finding love or something approximating it after 46 years of widowhood, with playboy and visiting artist Maximilian Capricorn—murders weren’t my beat. Really, they weren’t anybody’s beat around here. Those sticks had been dropped long ago, if they ever existed. In short, this place was too boring to have anything other than garden-variety deaths. More likely: deaths in gardens. Lots of old people equal lots of gardens, I learned here, if nothing else.

When I got to the scene I saw only a seeming rivulet of red hair hanging from the metal gate drawn across the shaft, now bereft of elevator. Five floors below lay a human jumble in a scarlet dress. From here, she looked sickeningly akin to a swastika with a couple little red and apricot Pollock splats next to it. That would be her poodle, Pepé, and what apparently was her auburn wig.

I hadn’t even noticed it was the 13th, and a Friday, until I glanced at my watch. I’m not sure why I did that just now, because I normally am content to let the time sift by. Maybe it was the building excitement of a new kind of story. In any case, the damn Timex was so tight on my wrist that you’d think someone else had put it on me.

The reporting flew by that afternoon, and soon I was back at my desk, typo’ing away.

I almost began to marvel at the taut phrases that muscled their way onto the screen, and the sound of the keys clacking made me feel I was conjuring Joplin at the ivories. The ghosts of Chandler, Carver, and Christie (Agatha, not Chris) thundered in my ears, cinching the writer’s garrot, from forearm to heart to head, tighter.

When I woke up at my desk, I was surprised to find a Denou Mint dangling from a cleft of curls. More startling still, the iron-y taste of epiphany:

Holyshit! I, Paige Turner, am inside an actual book! Does that mean instead of blood I have words—of course! it all makes sense now—coursing my veins, adjectives sardined into my arteries, hyperboles latched onto teats of hemoglobin like similes on this hack’s half-blank page? Was I the only character outside Faulkner or Joyce to escape the prison of the page, to become self-aware? I mean, the story here, it’s basically what happened to me. 

And now that I’ve spilled my Vonneguts to you, dear reader, maybe you can enlighten me on the sense of existence. Help me transcend this setting, assist me in copyediting the meaning, or the lessness, of my life. By relinquishing control to you, maybe I might yet win some of it back.

Unless . . .

Are you written, too?


Summer Peels off its Mask: Story and Gallery

The yellow leaves twisted, icarean, as they helicoptered down from the trees. A soft breeze teased the grass, except where I’d tonsured a path to, from, and around the pool, raised bed gardens and duck yard, shed, and flattened miniature Stonehenge where the kids like to swing on the forgiving branches of the maple tree. A plastic orange horse with unruly blue mane lies sideways on one fallen pillar, and various play paraphernalia punctuate the circle of leviathan stones: an insect-patterned soccer ball stares you down, a blue-green geodesic dome ball peeks from behind blades, a baseball mitt is upended on another flat rock. Other spheres are caught in the trough of the stones’ belly, but a pair of girl’s well-worn tennis shoes, size 10, still tied in double bows but unfooted, wait outside the sacred almost-ouroboros. Their occupant has tromped away on purple-flowered roller skates, lifting her legs as if hoisted by cranes at the knees.

“Look, Mom, I walk like C-3PO in these.”

These scatterings seem to me a forlorn solar system, guideposts gone, lessons unlearned.

Farther back, fresh human dreck of a tricolor beach ball and a spent pool filter litter the ground, half-mown, where the orange snake threads a path among the stones, and meets its dark counterpart in a charged union of opposites.

Mating and molting, and switching one mask for the other, are already underway. The sun metes out its blight to all within blindness’ field-sight, the sky’s flash bulb freezing a moment in the white-heat of infinity.

And the dog days of August lope off in search of dead smells and living motions, that they may loll in the bed of September’s early, protean decay.

Cicada Shadow
Cicada and molted cuticula. By Leigh Ward-Smith

The Power to Shut Heaven: A 100-Word Story

The tattered body resembled a rag-and-bone heap of red gingham.

Stax had caught a bum pouring something flammable on it.

“I doan know nuthin’,” the man snarled, then genuflected. Dingy yellow strips of sleeves fluttered like a 20-foot air-Gumby announcing a Wacky waving inflatable arm flaling tube man 017used-car lot.

“Unh-hunh.” Stax mumbled and shuffled off.

While sweeping the area, he caught a glint and bent to bring the bracelet in range.

“Sentinel, don’t be a hero.” The raggedy man glowered as the identifier’s alert clanged: “This child is wanted for questioning, under suspicion of pestilence warfare.”

Damn, Stax thought, that’s the third mangled kid this week.

This flash fiction story was submitted a few years back to an agent’s blog contest (it didn’t win, place, or show, possibly mostly attributable to the “cliffhanger” nature of the ending). I was re-inspired to dig up this microflash, strategically edit it, and dump it out here on the blog to see what you all think as well. Of course, that I am walking the WordPress realms with 300-word maestro Dieter Rogiers is a thrill and a challenge. Do sink your teeth into a helping of his stories if you haven’t yet, either on his blog or in his new book, You’re Getting Sleepy, the Hypnotist’s Apprentice Yawned: Flash Fiction in 300 Words (or Less).