Day 5 of Thrilling Fiction: Of Dystopian Futures and Missing Pieces

Greetings, fellow Fridaylings! On my part, another week survived (I think), although I did have a fascinating chat-visit from a couple ladies with the Jehovah’s Witnesses this week. They were polite, but I didn’t realize that “the kingdom” was that nigh. Yeesh; I better start writing that book as I’ll be getting burned off the face of the Earth here shortly.

Anyway, to get on task, these five days have been like clearing a 50-inch hurdle for a 65-inch woman with the raw vertical jumping ability of, say, a Spanish slug. I am in utter awe and stupefaction how some bloggers are so prolific. For instance, poet Bob Okaji, with his 30/30 Project (from August) to benefit poetry publisher Tupelo Press (here). Then again, I follow several of you big-time bloggers who could nearly put Scheherazade to shame with your dedication.

In any case, back at the Frightful Fiction Ranch, today’s sacrificial offering: it’s a bit longish (sorry, I did, er, chop it down some, but it could use more now that I re-re-re-read it). Comments, critiques, patronage, Indulgences, loving hates, helloes, hems, haws, hollers, and haw-haws always taken into consideration. 🙂

Disarmed and Dangerously Perturbed

GENRE(S): Futuristic science fiction/dystopian, cli-fi

What can I say in my defense? I’m wired for sloppy, stupid humor. In fact, my therapist and I can’t help but giggle about my propensity toward the scatological—as in, “I should do this” and “I never should have done that.” Pretty soon, and I’m shoulding all over the place.

Anyway, there was this one extraordinary day at work. It started off a good day. I am a worker drone at . . . well, let’s just say an extraordinarily wealthy global prosthetics factory on the coast of Atlanta. We’ve been in the Fortune 50,000 ten months’ running. We’d just received a rush order from Guinea-Bissau for 22,500 specialized hybrid noses to assist with breathing in a drastically changed climate.

Prosthetic foot, circa 2015

Even here in the ‘dark ages’ of 2015, prosthetics are ultra-realistic and, to be serious, they provide a good service to human beings who need them. Wow, the detail by this company!

Now, before you picture lathes and fine-grit sandpaper and rabbets’ edges humping one another on work benches, I should explain. For the most part it was take your one productivity tablet in the morning, set the program running, and call me in the mid-afternoon. Sometimes I could even sneak off to the break room with the VR glove if I thought the bot was patrolling a different section of the building. Her routines were semi-predictable that way. You only had to have hands and arms—fingers especially if you boiled it right down to it—and a little training—to sustain in this line of work.

So, there I was. I swirled my index finger in the correct ZX pattern to unlock the tablet. The proprietary software, Hands-On, which I (and probably others) nicknamed Hans, kicked in, greeting me with an affected accent of some kind, “Hell-o, Mai-ster Bhandgaresheek,” bonking only on the Mister part. It didn’t give two damns whether I identified as a male or not. That is to say, its workforce diversity protocols were dusty. At best.

I began my day running a program to assist in nose-making. For all the silliness you could make of my profession, it was secure: there was no shortage of work, especially for countries affected by what the old-timers had called climate change or those afflicted with the persistent twin gonorrheas of war and hatred.

Mijj was looking over my shoulder a lot, which was to be expected. I was teaching her how to use the software so she could become a limb designer sometime in the next decade or two. Then I could retire at 92 like everybody else in the global economy. Yet I’d put enough away . . . hell, maybe even at 84 or so I could tell this place to sod off.

Continue reading

“Clamp his two hands in strong chains” (speculative flash fiction)

I took this photo from Andree at Scribe's Cave, for a prompt she had in early March (that I missed). Apparently, it is the first photo-documented use of ether, circa 1855-1860. I was so disturbed by the photo, which I felt nefarious (especially in the "surgeon's" smug smirk), that I was compelled to write about it.

I used this photo from Andreé at Scribe’s Cave, who used it for a prompt she had in early March (that I initially missed). More info at end of story.

They caught me unawares, the young one and the two old enough to have hairy faces.

My body, their pelt, their possession. They sneered. I supposed they’d never heard tell of the Tamboti tree.

I could tell the wide blue-eyed one was scared, but he readied the trembling handkerchief anyway. Coerced, no doubt.

“We’ll make a lesson of yew, boy,” was the last sentence my ordinary limited senses lapped.

They were lucky the straps and the medication rivoted me temporarily in place as the haughty side man prepared the bone-saw and hot iron cross for my leg.

Photograph of the leopard from the African Wildlife Foundation. Please consider supporting their conservation efforts, if you can.

Photograph of a leopard, from the African Wildlife Foundation. Please consider supporting their conservation efforts.

The man under a dark drape held the box aloft, and I saw it flash through my eyelids even as I was transforming, screen of skin sliding in on itself.

I felt the color rising as my hide erupted in a riot of bristly hairs.

Soon my only instinct would be shunted toward a decision: do I play with these muslin bags of flesh before I shred them asunder?

First, more on the original photograph. Apparently, it is the first photo-documented use of ether, circa 1855-1860. I was so disturbed by the depiction, which I felt nefarious, that I felt compelled to write (or right, as the case may be) about it. After looking at the man on the table, my indignation sprang from what I interpreted as the “surgeon’s” smug look; admittedly, it’s difficult to see for certain, and I don’t have the “patient’s” backstory, although I seriously doubt informed consent was something practiced in those days, plus given the horrors of slavery, I’m doubtful the black man was either asked or told what they thought might happen during the operation. All that said, I could be incorrect, so please feel free to give me the backstory if you can provide data sources.

Now, as far as the discussion of the writing proper . . .

Please do check out One Starving Activist, where Andreé Robinson-Neal hosts Scribe’s Cave, especially if you’re a fan of speculative fiction (i.e., sci-fi, fantasy, or horror).

If you’re curious as to the partial inspiration/origin of this shape-shifter fantasy story, other than the awful legacy of slavery, particularly in American history, you have to look back to Greco-Roman myth and the character of Proteus.

“Aristaeus [the demi-god who invented beekeeping] wept, when he saw all his bees killed and honeycombs abandoned incomplete. His sea-blue mother [the Naiad Kyrene (Cyrene)] could scarcely console his pain, and attached these final words to her speech: ‘Stop your tears, my boy. Proteus will lighten your loss, and tell you how to regain what is gone. But so he does not baffle you by altering appearance, clamp his two hands in strong chains.’
The youth approaches the seer and binds the limp arms of the sleeping old man of the ocean. Proteus uses his art to shift and feign his looks, but soon resumes shape, mastered by chains.” — from Ovid, Fasti I, translated by Boyle (Fasti is the “Book of Days,” or, specifically, a partial poem in six books that detail the first six months of the Roman calendar)

In a different translation of Ovid from Latin (by James G. Frazer), Proteus is likened to a wizard rather than a seer.

Undelivered Valentines, Part 4-B

We’re almost there, folks, with this tangled love story across time. This portion contains one of the most challenging and humbling themes (i.e., racism) for me to deal with as a writer and as a human being. But, without further ado, the next-to-last part of the serial story slash novella is below. I will post Section C later today, after you’ve had time to digest and critique or enjoy or abhor (or ab-joy?) this part.

*By the way, the book titles here, as are all the characters and town, are fictitious.*


Undelivered Valentines, PART 4, Section B

by Leigh Ward-Smith

“Good morning! How are you? Let’s have a great day!” Jamie sang as she pinned back the black curtains.

Now who’s got a saccharine habit, Emily thought. She groaned. Rusty moved excitedly from Emily’s bed to Jamie and from Jamie back to the bed, his nose aimed half-skyward part of the time, jousting one in the thigh and the other in the side.

The real-world canine inspiration for Rusty in this story.

The real-world canine inspiration for Rusty in this story.

“You’re getting the covers wet, Rustbucket,” Emily called to the dog. He sat, and the floor became a bass drum with a canine beater-tail providing the attack.

“It’s 9 already, so we’d better get our day started. D’ja need to shower?” Jamie prodded.

“Mom, it’s soooo early.” She sat up and threw the explanation in her mother’s direction. “I didn’t want to mention it, but I had a kinda rough night.” She rubbed at her eyes with the bottom of her palm.

Jamie frowned with her whole face. “You did? What happened?”

“Nothing but your typical, everyday haunting,” came the reply.


She knew her mom’s skepticism, sometimes decaying into a modern version of cynicism, guided her. Diogenes and his lamp, she’d always reminded the girl as she grew up. She had no idea of the symbolism then, wondering whether that guy’s tendency for dodging knees had anything to do with the lamp.

“Well, regardless of what happened, we really should get moving. We can talk about it over breakfast, which I already have going downstairs. Waffles, eggs, and fruit sound good to you?”

“Only if I can have coffee,” the teen rejoindered.

“Okay, but it’s decaf for you today.”

Emily groaned.


Sadie greeted Jamie at the door. “Gram’s still napping upstairs. Sometimes we’re able to get her to rest, other times, no such luck. She gets up at a god-awful time, pre-dawn nowadays most of the time. Says her dreams are gone but that she’s still ready for sleep. I don’t get it, honestly.” She shook her head vigorously sideways.

The women moved to sit in the living room Wilma had kept up so diligently but that was beginning to surrender some tatters. The giant floor rug under the navy-blue Phyfe-style Federalist sofa bulged near two of its floral corners, fraying along the edges of the same. Jamie wondered how long ago Wilma’s house had been built, if they’d lived there for 70 years already.

Jamie began an apology. “I’m sorry my daughter Emily, uh, couldn’t make it today. She was still getting ready when—”

A hesitant knock came at the door, and Sadie walked over to open it. Orangey weaved in through a teenager’s legs and made a beeline to the kitchen.

“Hello. I’m Emily; my mom was supposed to come over here . . .”

After a split-second hug that left Emily looking at her mom uncertainly as she stood on the doorstep, Sadie beckoned her in with a “please come right on in.”

“C’mon, Em. We were just getting started. Glad you were able to make it. Did you deal with the Rusty issue?” Jamie asked.

“Yeah, Mom. He’s resting in his kennel. I think he’s calm now.” She stood at the side of the couch and wrung her hands nervously, thinking how fancy it was and wondering if she should sit.

To Sadie, Jamie turned and said: “Our dog was unexpectedly sick this morning. He’s a nervous dog sometimes, so we were both a little delayed.”

“Oh, it’s no problem.” Sadie patted Jamie’s hand.

She turned to the girl and extended her hand for a formal greeting, drooped somewhat elegantly at the wrist. “Emily, please call me Sadie. I’m sort of new in town here, too.”

Sadie must have noticed the teen’s gaze already becoming glued to her own shoes, a ragged pair of Asics gels that looked like they’d been through a wood chipper and mud puddle all at once, because she thought to add “I have some cinnamon rolls and juice in the kitchen, just out of the oven. I mean the rolls, obviously,” Sadie giggled.

“Care to have some, Emily, Jamie?” Sadie’s blue-eyed gaze leapt from the standing girl to the seated woman.

“Yes, um, Sadie. I didn’t eat much breakfast before coming, so I’d love some rolls.”

“Brilliant move, Sadie,” Jamie whispered aside to Sadie as she got up. “We all know the fastest way to a teen’s chameleon heart is through sugar and fats.” Another giggle bubbled up, then was quickly deflated.

Jamie could hear Emily’s eye-roll rather than see it, for she knew the girl had heard her. But something different occurred to her in that millisecond. Am I being too dismissive of Emily? I don’t mean to be harsh, just funny. To lighten the mood and puff away the clouds, as it were.

“Yeah,” Sadie began, “Gram told me some more about your dilemma, Jamie.” Jamie quirked an eyebrow. “What I meant is, I heard you’ve found a letter of some kind and need some help finding out who it belonged to or was meant for. She said a Gladys was mentioned. Any leads so far?”

“Here,” let’s go sit on the couch now that we’re replenished with goodies,” Sadie motioned for them to follow out of the kitchen.

The young woman whom Jamie guessed to be about 24 years old was nothing if not inquisitive. And sunnily persistent with her opinions.

The comfortable couch sank down only a little as they all sat on it, with only the slightest eeek. “Well, Em and I are still putting the blocks together. It’s a tricky thing, when you don’t know many people in town and have to approach this situation blind. I’m afraid our realtor was no huge help.”

Sadie just nodded as if she knew the story already, pausing to sip a hot beverage from a mug with the “#1 Grandma” emblazoned in red on its side.

Jamie began. “You said something last time about strange experiences at the house or it being a pesthouse in the past . . .?”

Suddenly there came a tapping, as of a small hand tentatively rapping.

“Who could that be?” Sadie moved to the door just as the doorbell rang twice hesitantly.

A small shadow moved, as if bouncing from foot to foot, behind the door, which Jamie could see out the delicately curtained window on the door. It then merged with another.

“Who’s that at the door on a Sunday?” Wilma called from up above as she ambled slowly downstairs. Jamie noticed for the first time that a motorized chair to carry sitting people, presumably Wilma, up the stairs had recently been installed. In fact, it looked unused, the way its metal parts still gleamed and a yellow bow hung from the armrest.

“Hello. We’re selling cookies, candy, and other stuff for our school, Washington Elementary. As you know, funding has been cut . . . ” A girl and a boy, about 11 and 7 or so, respectively, stood on the doorstep. The boy looked down at his high-top shoes. One untied lace protruded tongue-like.

“Well, how nice and mature you both are,” Sadie enthused. “Can you come in and let me have a look at what you’ve got there?”

“N’ma’am,” the boy stepped forward and spoke. “Our mom and teacher said we shouldn’t go into strangers’ houses.”

“You know what,” Sadie said as she bent to get equal to his eye level, “your momma and teacher are right.”

By then, Wilma had shuffled down the foyer and toward the opened front door that faced away from her view. At first, Jamie thought nothing of Sadie tossing a nervous glance backward, then subtly attempting to move the conversation outside to the porch.

What happened, happened in an instant, as Jamie and Emily waited for Sadie’s helpful, or at least interesting, information about their home.

“Who’s there, Sadie? You out there?” Wilma moved toward the closing door and reached for it. Sadie had no choice but to let her open it, as she didn’t want to get in a door tug-of-war with a 90-plus year-old woman she loved.

Wilma looked out and saw the children on her doorstep, then squinted over their heads to the driveway. A car sat outside at the curb waiting, presumably for the children. Jamie and Emily couldn’t see Wilma’s expression, her nose sliding derisively into the center of her face in a vortex that called to mind quicksand.

“We don’t want any,” Wilma attested, doing a literal brush-off with her right hand as she audibly huffed. She then summarily turned and walked away, her back to the children and her own great-granddaughter, who had begun to blush at the ears and cheeks, her mouth partly agape.

Emily also couldn’t help but hear the old woman, whom she’d not yet met. Wilma mumbled, “what do those people mean, coming here on the Lord’s Day tryin’ to sell me something? This ain’t no robber’s den.”

Jamie had overheard, too, because she softly gasped. She moved back in her seat, as if the comment had arrowed her in the chest or she wanted to get away. Emily’s eyes turned to plead with her mother. What do we say? they questioned, with raised brows.

“Uh, well,” Jamie began as she sprang up from the sofa, now flooded with decisiveness. “I guess we should get going now. We have lots to do. C’mon, Emily.” She pulled the girl’s hand.

Wilma looked mortified. “Where are you going, dears? You just got here, and I was so looking forward to chatting with you today about cold-frame gardening and various and sundry other things.” She called to Jamie’s back.

Jamie only half-way turned and shook her head. “No, we’re going to have to pass. We, uh, we . . . for now, we have some things we need to do.”

The elderly woman was crestfallen, but almost oblivious. “Oh, you mean what I said about those little burrheads bothers you? Aww,” she almost growled, “like it or not, they’re used to that. Besides, this is my house and I say what I damn well want.”

Who knew the formerly sweet old lady could be polite-as–peach cobbler, then turn arctic.

Jamie didn’t have to continue dragging Emily by her hand to the door and past Sadie, who was now rooted in place looking at the shrinking backs of the kids walking down the driveway as they hung their heads.

Had those kids heard her slurs and savagery, too? Jamie wondered.

“We’ll talk later, Sadie,” Jamie was trying to brush out the door when Sadie stopped her. She quickly retrieved a canvas bag from the adjacent closet and pressed the straps into Jamie’s hands.

“Here, this might explain a lot. I hope. I’ll get Gram settled down.”

Jamie and Emily brushed out the door with the bag and two minds brimming with conflict.

With her back jutting uncomfortably into the door, Sadie thought of the unpleasant task ahead.

I’ve just got to keep telling myself, she matured in a different era, almost a time-traveler. A stranger in land that’s very strange. To her, at least.

Continue reading

Undelivered Valentines, Part 4-A

There’s something to be said for sticktoitiveness, besides the unpleasant beating-a-dead animal simile. I’ve just about wrapped up a beast of a short story that algally bloomed into my (ahem, first) novella, aka “Undelivered Valentines.” Here’s a link to Part 3, and I’m providing a synopsis to sprint my memory and yours. I’m splitting Part 4 up because it’s hovering around 16K in sum; I will have it all posted by tomorrow (21 January), come hellish unedits or high watering-down. Thanks again for bearing with me on a gut-grinding-into-hopeful-diamonds process of creativity. Both this story and the blog.


. . . Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” —Stephen King, On Writing



It happened one summer . . . Jamie and her teen-aged daughter Emily (not to mention their mutt, Rusty) have moved into a large, old, in-need-of-TLC house in rural Indiana that was used as pest house in the past. Jamie is a widow and an academic. Emily is a somewhat shy teen, but she’s made a new friend named Jud, who works as a page at the town’s library, and he figures into the story more as time passes, although the story proper plays out in a less-than-one-week period. The girl at the center of the story feels she has made contact with a being inhabiting her new (old) home, and she proceeds to try to convince her skeptical mother that ghosts do exist. Set in approximately the early 1990s, this yarn limns elements of grief and loss, race and identity, forgiveness, life and the beyond-life, hope, and hearts hardened and whether they can be made malleable again. All this froth flows into a speculative (paranormal) historical novella that’s oddly romantic and that leads several characters toward illnesses, risks, and, ultimately, some epiphanies in the challenge to find out who wrote a mystery love letter, signed only Thomas, some 80 years ago and found by Emily.


Undelivered Valentines, Part 4, Section A

 By Leigh Ward-Smith

They shared ideas over a thick-crusted pepperoni and cheese pizza at one of the three eating establishments in town, Alighieri’s Pizzeria, which was not yet busy on a Saturday afternoon.

“So, di’ja find anything interesting, Em-an-Em?” Jamie asked as she picked off the globular meats.

Resisting the urge to flinch at her mother’s silly sometimes-nickname for her, Emily replied, “Yeah. A few things. For example, did you know that

in Japanese folklore there’s a tale about a clam that grows so giant that it rises to the sea surface and exhales a mirage made of cities or that there’s a mystical incense that can call up the spirits of the dead or—”

“That’s all very interesting, but I meant did you find something relevant to our Mr. Mysterious Letter-Writer?” Continue reading

Process is Progress . . . Right?

Three parts forward, two parts back. Ah, that’s the writing process. Believe it or not, I have been feverishly working on the fourth and final part of the “Valentines” story. It’s rather long, but I hope to have it posted in the next few days. If nothing else, it is an inward testament, showing me that if I resolve to “write long,” it (eventually) happens. And, failing that, I’ve heard from a wise bird that it can live forever as a “shitty [in this case, second or third] draft” you might have subjected yourself to.

On another note, the following flash fiction piece wrote itself after I read and was inspired by these two writer-friends’ Friday Fictioneers’ posts, each quite different. (There are others I haven’t read yet, brainburstingly great ones, to be sure, so check them out at Rochelle’s FF site.)

I thought you might also enjoy seeing the quickie editing process I applied to the typed versions (there was 1 written, with overlays, chicken scratches really, of edits). If you want to skip to the end, that’s the short version (“Mute-4”), at about 109 words. Here’s the little bit of research I did, paired with good, old (gold?) imagination. Cheers!

hollywood-crowd-photo by Rochelle Wisoff Fields

Photo copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields


Feet are a maddening mode. Some shuffle or scuff. Run, roll, gallop, or canter. Others amble. Shadows, the lot of them! Callous, stilted catches of chiaroscuro self-enchantment, blotting out all that is light.

I’ve come to hate them all. Artificial. Real. Flat and triangular. Moist, gluey, or dry. Circling. Cloven. Unshod, unshorn. Fleshly silk and scratchy felt. Mired here in this place I don’t know. Is it Southern California, Asia, or a blip on Orion’s belt? I can’t be sure from this perspective, hidden in the metal ducts smothering human smells.

A tintinnabulation of toes, steady, drives me nearly circleward with its wordless taunt. Loosely translated: I move, therefore I am human.

What approximates for ears feels them all, footpads fettered to them. Forever. With tenebrous eyelash-like appendages, I scratch walled words over and over in this sub-city hell. I, voyager, was sentenced to exile, rooted in your time and place. Hear my mute mandibles’ message . . . (159 words)



Feet are a maddening mode. Some shuffle or scuff. Run, roll, gallop, or canter. Others amble. Shadows, the lot of them! Callous, stilted catches of chiaroscuro self-enchantment.

I’ve come to hate them all. Artificial. Real. Flat and triangular. Moist, gluey, or dry. Circling. Cloven. Unshod, unshorn. Fleshly silk and scratchy felt. Mired here in this place I don’t know. I can’t be sure from this perspective, hidden in the metal ducts smothering human smells.

A tintinnabulation of toes, steady, drives me nearly circleward with its taunt. Loosely translated: I move, therefore I am human.

All as I scratch out walled words with muted mandibles: I, voyager, will be sentenced to exile, rooted in your time and place . . . (120 words)



Feet are a maddening mode. Shuffle, scuff. Run, roll, gallop, or canter. Others amble. Callous, stilted catches of chiaroscuro self-enchantment.

I’ve grown to hate them all. Artificial. Real. Flat. Triangular. Moist, gluey, or dry. Circling. Cloven. Unshod, unshorn. Fleshly silk and scratchy felt. Mired here in this place I don’t know. I can’t be sure from this perspective, hidden in the metal ducts smothering human smells.

A tintinnabulation of toes, steady, drives me nearly circleward with its taunt. Loosely translated: I move, therefore I am human.

All as I scratch out walled words with muted mandibles: I, voyager, will be sentenced to exile, rooted in your time and place . . . (112)



Feet are a maddening mode. Shuffle, scuff. Run, roll, gallop, canter. Others amble. Callous, stilted catches of chiaroscuro self-enchantment.

I’ve grown to hate them all. Artificial. Real. Flat. Triangular. Moist, gluey, dry. Circling. Cloven. Unshod, unshorn. Fleshly silk and scratchy felt. Mired here in this nowhere, no-when place. I can’t be sure from this perspective, holed in the metal ducts smothering human smells.

A syncopation of ceaseless toes drives me nearly circleward, taunting. Loosely translated: I move, therefore I am human.

All as I scratch out walled words with muted mandibles: I, voyager, will be sentenced to exile, rooted in your time and place . . . (104)

Undelivered Valentines: Part 3

Part 1 of this story is here. Part 2 is here. And without further ado, here is Part 3 . . .


Undelivered Valentines: Part III

A Serial Story

by Leigh Ward-Smith


She found Emily sitting idle on the front-porch swing reading Watchers by Dean R. Koontz. Her back was sloped Thinker-style, elbow triangulating with her knee and propping up her chin.

An untouched peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich sat on the small table with a couple cans of soda, one already empty.

Jamie pictured a Lilliputian Snoopy piloting one of the insects that buzzed in an endless elliptical pattern around the sandwich and open-mouthed can.

“Super, you found the sandwich and the sodas.”


“Good book?”


“You know, we both should cut down on our soda consumption.”


By that point, Jamie knew the teen had tuned her out, so she decided to inject some fun into the conversation.

“I was thinking of getting a Mohawk in my hair and a skull tattoo as well. Would they look good on me?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Emily nodded slowly.

“That President Bush sure is a hot guy; I think I’ll steal him from Barbara. Will you help me?”

The clicking of nails on a wooden floor skittered to a stop just inside the front door entryway of the house. But only a trebled yelping jangled their attention, just as a dog-blur slapped the screen door open a moment later and bolted out. Continue reading

Undelivered Valentines: Part 2

A thrilling Thursday eventide to you! Here’s the second part of “Undelivered Valentines.” Part I can be reviewed, reread, rehashed, reanimated, or revived here. I had hoped this part would be a tad shorter, but it says what it needed to, I think. Conclusion will be posted, fingers crossed to ward off evil, tomorrow. Hope you enjoy this unfolding.


One in series of Lewis Hine's photographs of mill workers, mostly child laborers, in the 1900s-1910s.

One in series of Lewis Hine’s photographs of mill workers, mostly child laborers, in the 1900s-1910s. Here, a young woman like Gladys is at the spinning machine, circa 1908.

Undelivered Valentines: Part II

A Serial Story

by Leigh Ward-Smith


Sandy, our realtor, couldn’t provide any concrete information, but she pointed me to Mrs. Cole, who lived two streets over, “near where the Dawg’s Leg Tavern used to be,” she said, as if that would be helpful to a transplant like me.

I didn’t know how to begin, so I just took a gulp of air and knocked on the door. A fat red tabby one-eyed me from the sturdy rocker on the front porch but didn’t bolt as I creaked up the stairs.

I’d prepared my speech.

Hi, I’m Jamie Meadows, from two streets over. My daughter and I just moved earlier this summer and our realtor suggested we see you. We found an old—no, no, drop that word; it sounds negative and judgmental—letter in our house and wondered if you might help us find the rightful owner. It seems to be an undelivered Valentine or something like that.

I only hoped Em and I would be successful later today, when we tromped over to the town library and history museum.

The door opened and an elderly woman in a white and flower-patterned blouse and black pants stood before me, squinting. I wasn’t sure whether she got many visitors, but as I wondered, she began to smile.

“Hello, Miss. Can I help you?”

I folded my hands calmly in front of me and began my spiel.

“Oh, yes, I’d heard someone moved into the old Lincoln place. No relation to the former president, that I know of. Please do come in, hon. Sit a spell, and we can talk it over. I just made a peach cobbler that you’re welcome to share.” Continue reading

Undelivered Valentines: A Serial Story

As Halloween 2014 drags its bloated, or soon-to-be-bloated, body nearer, of course I thought it appropriate for a love story of a different kind. I’m splitting the skull of this story into three pieces, for your (I hope) ease of reading and enjoyment. Comments and referrals are always appreciated. 🙂


_Ghost_ photo

Image from Ghost Study.

Undelivered Valentines: Part I

by Leigh Ward-Smith

An icepick of a shriek rocked me free from my tendrily bedsheets. As I bolted out, almost tripping on their thin cotton arms, I was just able to clap eyes on the garish red numbers: 2:59.

“Em, what’s wrong?” floated out of me before I even felt my toes scuff the frayed, but dense, carpet in the hallway outside her room. It was an inky Indiana night, sticky as a state fair cotton-candy funnel cake.

The hallway light I’d brushed on my way past threw an elongated white triangle onto the dark floor that slunk up the side of the bed.

“Th-th-there,” she pointed toward the closet, her arm board-stiff.

Continue reading

The Bermuda Banishment


Friday Fictioneers photograph courtesy of Marie Gail Stratford. Be sure to check out her fiction and other works, too.

Flash Fiction by Leigh Ward-Smith

Genre: Modern Fantasy

For Friday Fictioneers, 26 Sept. 2014


A swell of laughter pushed through fleshy lips the color of the Calypso Deep.

“The Egyptians got it wrong with all that Isis prattle.” He traced the rough underside of an amber bottle with his thumb.

“Me, I relished washing impertinent man ashore.”

He marveled at his collection, which now filled thirty-three warehouses and the bar in Bermuda.

“Even Zeus’ conquests cannot rival mine. From every ellipse of the Earth and practically every nationality and language!”

His hubris drifted to rage about the banishment. At least I have these glass reminders of measly man, he gestured.

“In the end, I judge all humans’ hearts are the same.”

He picked a bottle at random and hurled it to the stone floor.



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.