Bad Taste

BadTaste3 copy

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Taste trumps love, souring Ross’ relationship with Stephanie. This story about a synesthete appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Winter 2016. Photo by Steve Finegan.

“You bastard! You’re breaking up with me, aren’t you?” shouted Stephanie, turning heads. Ross ignored the gawking couple next table over. “Look, it’s not you, it’s me. This… this thing…” “You mean your messed up brain?” “My synesthesia. I can’t help it. Frankly, your name just tastes, well, awful.” Stephanie carefully folded her napkin, air-dropped it on her plate, said acidly, “At least you’re original.” “Seriously, I tried saying it sweetly. When that failed, it was Altoids and Double Mint gum, but it still tastes like…” “Like what?” Ross paused. “I’ve really tried.” “Like what?” He sighed. “Like bile.”

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Road Apple Zen

RoadApples 2

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A spiritual seeker learns something about the way of Zen from an old hand. Inspired by the writings of Alan Watts. Photo by Jeanne Finegan.

My Zen teacher was Japanese, but he insisted his students call him Bob. Bob owned retired quarter horses. My first day with his group, he led us around to the barn, handed out pitchforks, sent us off to muck stalls. Backbreaking work done ankle-deep in squishy cedar chips, nostrils tingling from the ammonia tang of shit and piss. Bob sat nearby in the sun, back straight, glittering eyes half-closed. On my fifth wheelbarrow load, I paused beside him, shook off sweat, said, “I came here to learn Zen.” Without opening his eyes Bob said, “Then why you stop.”

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Strong Enough

Homeless

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

An aging vet’s past brushes with death endow him with a hard-won inner strength. Photo of portrait by Vicki Brocksen De Ville. 

Many times the darkness swallowed him up, but always the light returned, blurred by tears. There was the time his boat sank just inside the bar and he clung to that bloated sturgeon till the cold took him. Woke to find Chris hadn’t made it. Then there was Nam. Khe Sanh. ’68. Round glanced off a rib, came out his hip. Adams ate a bullet dragging him out, went home in a bag. After that came rotgut and mainlining and prison and knives in the dark. They say if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. He’s strong enough.

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Joy

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

The timeless joy inspired by a boy’s random encounter with a gnarly old tree eludes a mother and father. Photo by Steve Finegan.

“I worry about Jimmy,” said Molly. “He doesn’t walk in a straight line; he wanders.” Jack refilled her glass. “All kids wander, Moll, it’s what they do.” Molly sipped her wine. “He’s got to learn to get from point A to point B. He’s got to learn to focus.” Jack sat beside her. “Oh, he’s focused. Remember that picnic? We had to search, found him playing king of the castle in that gnarly tree. He’d been there hours! Time? Right out the window. That’s focus.” “On what?” scoffed Molly. “On joy, hon. It’s just we’ve forgotten how.” “Oh,” said Molly.

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Cave of the Prodigal

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A cave painting bears the essence of a human life across thirty millennia. Public domain photo from Pech Merle cave in France suggested by Dean R. Snow, via Wikimedia.

Their shadows danced and darted across cold undulating stone in the advancing halogen glow. Remi fell behind the others. Colleagues speculating while she trembled in secret. Those cave-painted hands, outstretched like Dante’s damned, were anything but groping blindly. Her eyes searched, found the print that mattered. Her hand fit still. Unchanged by eons. Deep memories welled: Sputtering light. Biting smoke. Reek of clanship. And men, their deep-throated chants and hunter hearts throbbing as one. Of them all, the cave had taken to itself her soul’s marrow, kept it safe. It did still. She’d quit asking why long ago.

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The Old One

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

An ancient bristlecone pine under a starry sky awakens a dying man’s longing for immortality. Photo by Gregg Boydston, via U.S. Forest Service.

Dusk on the mountain. Frightened and dying, Schulman sat hunched beside the gnarled tree, gazing out. Las Vegas shimmered in the distance. He wished the bristlecone pine could speak. He’d ask what it was like to be immortal… Chest pain, sudden, stabbing. Slowly easing. Heart, lungs starved on this diet of cold, thin air. Uncaring, Vegas twinkled with merry mayfly intensity. Vanity! Surely the old one would lament its longevity, the endless procession of barren seasons; even stars must lose their luster after five millennia. Schulman’s harsh laugh caught midway. Another wave of pain. He desperately clutched the indifferent trunk.

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The Peddler

Mt Sabinyo by floschen2

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A cloud-capped peak in East Africa seems a likely retreat for a reclusive soul. Photo by flöschen, via flickr.

My house clung precariously to the mountainside, surrounded by cedar-scented clouds. One day a stranger appeared, humping a swollen peddler’s sack up the narrow path leading to my door. I greeted the sinewy old man with a bow. “What brings you to my mountain?” “The finest raiment,” he said, standing like a heron. “Guaranteed to last a lifetime.” “I didn’t order new raiment.” “Yet I braved tooth and thorn.” I sighed. His eyes flashed. “Who are you to refuse the Weaver?” “Why?” I asked. He shrugged. “It is His way.” … I was born beside the road somewhere in Macedonia.

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Four in the Morning

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A “likely” story, conjured out of my imagination by the 1942 painting “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, via Wikimedia Commons. Also, check out The Museum of Four in the Morning.

At 3:42 a.m. on a sleepless night, listening for a message in the static hiss of my Philco, I recalled Vivian once saying, “Darling, you can call me at four in the morning; I’ll always be there for you.” A goddamn sucker punch to the guts, that memory. I just knew if I didn’t pick up the phone right then and there, she’d be out of my life. So I did. “Viv, it’s me. I wake you?” “Your timing’s off, I’m going out.” “Where to?” … “Penn Station.” “Don’t go.” “Why?” “Meet me at Phillies. Fifteen minutes. … Viv? Hello?” … “Okay.”

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Into the Unknown

Here Be Dragons

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Inspired by this image of a sea serpent attacking a ship on Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina of 1539 via Live Science.   

Into the unknown I plunge. From my study, late at night, trance-migrated. Night after night, for years now. Familiar maps of the human psyche, my early guides on these visionary wanderings, do little good in regions of the imagination where is written “Here there be dragons.” I am called Carl Gustav Jung. Opener of the way. Cartographer of the soul. But what am I? Madman? Mystic? Explorer, I deem, of heaven and hell. On a voyage of discovery to the far side of the world, where the gods and devils I have met along the way are all me.

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