The Box Unhinged

After giving it some thought, I think I would call the genre of this short story ‘lite horror’. Enjoy!

The shovel struck something hard and solid, the vibrations jarring my hands. Frustration boiled up in me.

“Goddamn rocks,” I said then immediately winced. “Sorry, Grandpa.”

“It’s alright, Jake,” he said, looking at me from the lawn chair, large but solid frame well past its prime making the chair sag. “The Lord can take a little blaspheming.” His blue eyes twinkled. “What he can’t take is how the Bears are playing this year.” He chuckled and took a sip of his coffee.

I grinned and returned to my work, which was not going well.

The hole for the tree was growing bigger ever so slowly. I was fighting every inch of the way against the rock-filled soil. Most of the rocks were small, some were big and required a lot of extra work and digging to shift. 

The towering ash nearby provided merciful shade from the early sun. Somewhere a cicada hummed the soundtrack of summer. The smell of the grass was clean and fresh and mingled with the darker smell of the just-turned earth. 

Visiting Grandpa as often as I could was habit now, ever since Grandma died. I was spending the weekend at his house just across town from where I lived. Sometimes, if I closed my eyes, the house still smelled like buttery french toast and frying peameal bacon, my favorites that Grandma always made for breakfast when I stayed over.

I chopped down with the shovel again. I took aim farther and farther away from what I hoped was the center of the rock.


It must have been huge, bigger than a watermelon, sitting there a foot from the surface. 

Clang, dull and metallic and hollow. Rocks aren’t metal or hollow. 

I started scraping with the shovel working around to the edges, then got down on my knees to dig with my fingers. 

Gray undulating metal peeked through the dirt. I dug faster like I was chasing sand crabs at the beach as they burrowed down, down into the wet sand. 

“Grandpa, look at this.”

Caught napping, Grandpa opened one eye. “What?”

“Come here.”

“What’s that? A piece of sheet metal?”

I shrugged.

“Well, keep going. That’s where I’m putting my maple.”

I heaved the shovel and set to work. I dug furiously as shadows grew short towards noon and the ash leaves whispered overhead. I dug at the sides and sent dirt falling back over the exposed metal, thankful that the shovel was hitting soft soil again rather than the hard metal that jarred my arms.

Curiosity replacing fatigue, I dug faster, widening the hole to three feet across and removing all the loose dirt. 

I found myself standing on a badly rusted piece of sheet metal that extended under the earth far beyond the area I had exposed.

“There’s no edge, Grandpa. I can’t pull it up.”

“Get the angle grinder,” he said without opening an eye. “Wait.” He checked his watch. “Lunch first.”

We sat there eating sandwiches and drinking cold beer in the shade of the ash tree. “Don’t tell your mother or I’ll get in trouble,” he said winking

I grinned and nodded, mouth full of sandwich. 

We both watched the hole as if waiting for something to happen. 

Sandwich eaten and the quarter of my beer left to sweat in the shade, I slapped safety glasses over my eyes and fired up the angle grinder. The hot orange sparks cascaded over my legs and feet, bouncing around the hole in a fiery display. The noise was deafening. I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t stand on that thing. It might be hollow and you’ll fall in.”

Alarmed but grateful I climbed out, laid down on my belly, head, shoulders, and arms dangling over the side and resumed cutting. 

After a foot of progress, a rich, earthy smell came wafting up, mixing with the smell of burnt metal. After cutting more than halfway around the sheet metal began to sag and as I completed the final cut it fell down into the darkness. 

We stood looking down into the hole not quite able to make out the bottom with the sunlight alone. 

“Go get a flashlight in the garage. Bring the ladder too,” he shouted as I had already started running.

I rounded the side of the house, went in the open garage and grabbed the flashlight from my grandpa’s workbench and the aluminum extension ladder from where it leaned in the corner and, making sure to keep clear of grandpa’s car, a blue Buick sedan with impeccable paint, I hurried back.

I turned the flashlight on and pointed it down the hole. 

The circle of sheet metal was lying on the ground. All around was hard, cracked earth. The walls looked like bricks or cinder blocks of some kind.

We lowered the ladder down into the hole. I grabbed the flashlight, put one hand on either side of the hole to steady myself and stepped onto the ladder. It held.

“You good?” Grandpa said.

“I think so.”

I descended the ladder carefully. As the sunlight faded, my eyes started adjusting to the darkness. The air was old, musty, thick. It tickled the end of my nose. The ground crunched underneath as I stepped off the ladder. I thought it would be soft and wet, even flooded, but it was dry. I flicked on the flashlight and sent the beam around the room.

“What do you see?” Grandpa’s voice sounded far off and echoed, even though I was only about ten feet down.

“A lot of dirt. Some old rags. Wonder how they got here. The whole thing is round, like a big cylinder. The walls look like cinder block. It’s pretty dry though. ”

“Probably an old cesspool or cistern.”

“A what?”

“A cesspool is an old kind of septic tank before there were septic tanks and a cistern was used to collect water.”

“I don’t see any pipes though.”

Grandpa grunted acknowledgement. “If there’s nothing else come on up.”


I darted the flashlight around one more time and kicked the pile of rags for good measure. My foot struck something solid and heavy. I squatted down and threw the rags aside. There in the middle of the dirt and decaying cloth was a beautifully ornate wooden box, a perfect cube with rounded edges and corners. It was covered in a twisting vine-like pattern that gleamed in the light.

“I found something. It’s a wooden box, I think.”

“Well bring it up.”

I tried to pick it up. About a foot across, high, and deep, it must have weighed fifty pounds and it resisted my efforts, seemingly stuck to the soil. I bent down, sweat dripping into my eyes, braced my back and heaved. The box groaned and broke free of the soil. I set it down at the foot of the ladder.

“I can’t carry this up the ladder.”

“I’ll get a rope.”

He disappeared. Leaning on the ladder, I stared up at the oculus sending a shaft of sunlight into the earth. Clouds drifted lazily across the opening making me feel as if I were peeking through a rift between worlds. 

Several feet of rope smacked me in the face.


“It’s okay.”

I tied the rope around the box. I lifted the box to chest height and Grandpa pulled the rope taut. Then I pushed it up above my head and, supporting it from below while Grandpa pulled up, I slowly made my way up the ladder. 

One final heave at the top and the box thudded to the ground in front of my grandpa’s feet.

“What on God’s green earth…”

“I don’t know.”

“Get the hose. We’ll wash it off.”

“It’s clean.”


“Look at it. It’s clean.”

“Well give it a wash anyways. Who knows what’s been down there.”

The box gleamed faintly in the afternoon light. I ran my fingers over the carved surface feeling where each face of the cube ran into a perfectly rounded edge and cascaded over onto another side.

We dried the box and Grandpa carried it into the house, showing no sign of struggling with the weight. 

The round mahogany kitchen table creaked as we set it down in the middle. Grandpa flicked on the light.

The cube was made of wood, darker than the table, without the reddish mahogany color. Perhaps black walnut. It was covered on every side with the same intricate, wandering carving that twisted and spiraled in a totally irregular pattern, reminiscent of ivy or vines, each side blending into the next over each corner and edge. 

Grandpa got his reading glasses from the counter, pulled a beer from the fridge, and sat down at the table. I sat down next to him. Glasses perched on the tip of his stubby nose he peered at the box, then scratched his head and attempted to smooth the short white hairs that crowned his bald head.

“What the hell did we find, Jake?”

“I don’t know.” I rotated the cube. It made a dull thud as it flipped onto another side. “It looks like each side is the same, and not. It’s the same carving but each side isn’t quite the same. How old do you think this is?”

“No idea. I’d like to know what it is. Does it open?”

“I can’t see a hinge or a key hole or anything. It looks like it’s made of wood though.”

“What kind of wood? It’s damn heavy, too heavy to just be wood.” Grandpa leaned back in the chair. “It got knocked around coming out of that hole but it doesn’t have a mark on it. It should be chipped and scratched. And it’s been in the ground out back for how long? It should be rotting. That’s not wood.”

“Could it be petrified? You know, hardened?”

Grandpa shrugged.

“I guess it could be stone, but it’s got grain, just like wood.”

“I’ll call Harold over at the historical society in the morning. Maybe he’ll know something.”

We were silent for a moment.

“Grandpa, what was here before your house?”

“Nothing. Well, farmland. Developer subdivided the parcel into lots and Rose and I built in ‘57. Your dad wasn’t even born yet.”

“Was the farmer’s house nearby?

He thought for a moment. “No, I think it was right up on Springfield. Makes sense to be right on the road.”

“Then why have a cesspool all the way out here?”

“I don’t know. Might have just been a cistern to water the crops or animals. After the historical society we can stop by the county clerk’s office and see what records we can find about buildings on the property.”

We ate dinner in silence, the box looming over us until Grandpa got to his feet, hoisted the thing through the air, and slung it into a corner. 

“That’s better. I don’t like the look of that thing. Don’t know why.”

I pushed back my plate. A faint whispering sound drifted through the air. I looked around. 

“Grandpa, did you leave the TV on?”

“No. I never do that,” he said smiling.

I went to the living room and checked. It was off.

“Is there a window open somewhere?”

“Not in this heat. I’m not sending the AC out the window.”

“Then what am I hearing?”

He paused to listen. “I don’t hear anything. Come on. It’s almost bedtime. You can get ready and then read in bed or something.”
“Okay,” I said, eyeing the box suspiciously.

I was lying in bed reading one of my grandpa’s old books, The Adventures of Buster Riggs, adventurer, archaeologist, ladies man. Through the wall came the gentle drone of Grandpa’s radio. He didn’t sleep most nights and liked to listen to the news or talk radio. 

I woke with a start when my book, propped precariously in my hands above my head, fell and hit me square in the face. The radio was off. The clock showed it was nearly two in the morning. 

A voice, gentle, whispering but insistent, called from downstairs.


I closed my eyes.


That sounded like Grandma. But she was very much dead. Dead and cremated and packed in an urn on the mantelpiece that Grandpa couldn’t yet bring himself to bury. And there it was, the rich butter and cinnamon smell of french toast and hot peameal bacon, crispy around the edges, the yellow meal breading giving way to a thin bit of soft fat and finally the salty pork loin in the middle. My mouth watered.

I got out of bed, not quite believing but totally entranced. Despite the darkness, I knew my way and walked as quick as I dared, heart thumping, to the top of the stairs.

“Jacob, breakfast.”

“Coming,” I said, not believing that I had spoken. Who was I talking to? Grandma was dead. And yet. 

I took each stair slowly, too slowly.

Hurry up or she’ll be gone. This is your one chance to see her again.

I came to the bottom of the stairs and rounded the corner.

The kitchen was dark. There was no french toast or peameal bacon on the table. No Grandma standing at the stove. I turned on the light.


I jumped. My stomach jumped, that kind of jump when you’re expecting something to happen but you’re not sure when and you aren’t sure you want it to.

The voice came from the dark corner where the box still sat. 

“Jacob, come here. Isn’t it wonderful we can see each other again?”


“Of course, silly. Come here and let me out.”

“I don’t think I should, Grandma. I don’t think that’s you in there.”

There was a whining note to her voice. “Don’t be silly. We go to different places when we die. I woke up here and I don’t want to stay in here anymore. Let me out and I can make you something to eat. Think of how happy Grandpa will be to see me again.”

“There’s no way to open it. I tried.”

“Don’t worry,” she said cheerfully, “I’ll show you how. It’s quite simple.”

I moved one leaden foot at a time over to the corner. The box felt remarkably light in my arms, though I distinctly remembered struggling to get it out of the hole. I placed it on the table. 

The twisting carvings on the box seemed to dance and swirl, moving from one side over the edge to the other side, constantly changing direction. 

I felt a wave of relief. It was so easy and it would be so nice to see her again. “Okay. How do I open it?”

“I’ll show you. Go get a knife.”

“Jake, what the hell are you doing?”

That voice clawed at my consciousness, buried deep beneath the fog in my brain. Who was that? There’s the box, there’s the knife in my hand. Is that my hand? Yes, that’s mine. Now, what was I supposed to do with it? And who’s shouting my name?

Grandpa was standing in the doorway.

“Grandpa,” I said, smiling, “we’re going to see Grandma again. She’s going to make us breakfast.”

“Jake, what are you talking about?”

“George,” came the voice from the box.

“Rosie?” Surprise, consternation, grief, then anger. Ripping out his hearing aids he flung them to the floor. He came at me, moving fast for his age, twisted my wrist and made the knife drop. He forced me into a chair, put the knife away, hefted the box under one arm and stormed out.

“Jacob,” the box said, pleading. “Jacob, help me.”

The door slammed. The engine roared, tires squealed, then nothing.

I was left alone in the kitchen, now so quiet the ticking of the wall clock was deafening.

I was still sitting there when a few hours later the car purred into the garage, then the door closed softly, and Grandpa was there again in the doorway.

He looked tired, grim, older. He bent down to find his hearing aids, placed them back in his ears, and straightened up looking at me as if to try to reassure me. I ran over and hugged him.

“It’s all over now, Jake.”

“She’s gone?”

“The box is gone, yes. That wasn’t your grandma.”

“I wanted it to be.”

“I know. But that’s not how it works.”

“What was that?”

“I don’t know. Something very old and dangerous. But it’s gone now.” He paused. “You know what this means, Jake?”


“We’re going to have to put that tree someplace else.”

I laughed through my tears and held on tight.

An Unexpected Guest

I’ve written a short story called “An Unexpected Guest” that’s been published over on the Substack of the Soaring Twenties Social Club. You can read it here: I think it’s funny and I hope you do too!

Do also check out the main page of the Soaring Twenties Substack ( which has lots of great essays, short stories, and poems by other members as well as The Commonplace ( by Thomas J. Bevan the founder of the STSC.

Some Kind of Luck

Felix relied upon his luck
Not smarts or grit, resolve or pluck.
He’d catch the city bus on time
And find ten dollars, five in dimes.
He’d dodge the landlord for the rent,
Outrun the shark he owed a cent.
His chosen horse would always win
And let him down his fill of gin.
He’d get a belly full of fries,
And day-old donuts and a pie. 
But if he tried to get a job
His luck would every time then fob,
For when he went to earn his riches
He always would forget his britches.

fob: (archaic) to cheat, deceive

form: none
meter: iambic tetrameter
rhyme: couplets


A murmur far above, the sky-
Enveloping black starlings high,
There turn and dance and flow so fleet,
A thousand thousand wings there beat
A tune just like the sea does pound
Upon the shore, a steady sound,
One wave upon one wave does blend.
Each starling follows faithful friend,
One part of the black formless form
Form changing, ever one black swarm,
But one by one they all disperse
Upon the air in ways diverse,
And by their nature they do swear
To meet again upon the air.

form: none
meter: iambic tetrameter
rhyme: couplets

Growing and Dying

This is my submission for the next Symposium at the Soaring Twenties Social Club. The topic for May is death. You can check out the STSC here:

Scott pulled onto the two-lane road his daughter Charlotte safely buckled in the back seat. A two lane road was all that was needed for a rural highway in the farmland on the edge of town. Corn fields stretched for miles, broken up by copses and thickets. Everyone drove fast on those roads, not because they were in a hurry, but because there was a lot of ground to cover. 

There’s a difference between driving fast and being in a hurry while driving fast. Being in a hurry is frantic, an anxious thing, the knowledge you probably won’t get there on time. Driving fast is zen. The gas pedal is down and that’s it. No cares or worries.

Driving is one of those activities where people feel safe, encased in armor, a mass of metal shielding them from the outside world. There’s very little that can hurt you in a car except perhaps another car, and even then it’s rarely serious. But maybe such armor cannot protect you from all injuries, especially the least expected. 

With Charlotte in the car, Scott was always just a little bit tense. She unknowingly, unintentionally created that little bit of worry, the seed of anxiety, the potential for loss.

He checked on Charlotte in the rear-view mirror. She had grown quite a lot, the blonde hair of her infancy turning to brown, though highlights would still emerge every year in the summer sun. It was hard to remember those early years even though she was only six and they were really such a short time ago. Children have a way of growing so quickly that they are hard to pin down in your memory. Each iteration only exists here and now and in a short while they will be a different person, ten instead of six, appearance changed, spending more time out of the house with friends. Scott struggled to remember what Charlotte had looked like as an infant in the same back seat of the same car. 

Approaching the edge of town the road expanded into four lanes in front of them and dipped down into a little dale before rising up to meet the sprawling suburban city. Mysterious glacial forces had carved gentle rolling valleys out of the landscape leaving nothing uniformly flat. 

Heading down into the dale, there was sudden movement on the right. Scott hit the brakes, his vision narrowed, a side effect of adrenaline and surprise. 

Two deer, brownish gray coats blending into the scrub, their presence given away only by their movement, darted into the road. One turned back, the other kept going amid honking from the oncoming traffic. The cars slowed. The lead deer scrambled across, the straggler waited. It seemed to disappear from view to his right. 

“What is it, dad?”

“Deer crossing the road.”

Scott whipped his head back and forth trying to see if it was all clear, vision still narrowed, adrenaline coursing as it has a way of doing in unusual situations. Anything unusual can be a threat to your child. 

He pressed the gas cautiously just in time for the second deer, unable to be separated from its mate, to dart out in front of their car. 

Scott hit the brakes again. He was going slow enough that there was no danger of hitting it. 

The deer, gray coat, high head, panicked gait, ran across just in time to be caught full in the chest by the SUV coming up behind Scott and Charlotte in the left lane.

The squeal of brakes. The soft, dull, fleshy thud. The broken body flailing. 

The deer rocked back and crumpled, limbs thrashing and kicking as it lay on its side. It stared straight at Scott and Charlotte, stretching its neck unnaturally, eyes bulging, mouth open, pleading, seemingly like it was trying to speak but had no air left in its body. 


“I know, I know.” Scott wanted to reach out, to comfort the innocent life leaving its body. The eyes stared, uncomprehending, blind with terror and shock. He inched the car forward and around the deer, still convulsing in the road.

“Dad!” Charlotte was crying now.

“We can’t just sit here,” he said, his voice sounding harsh and feeling harsh in his throat.

The SUV that had hit the deer pulled ahead and onto the right shoulder. Scott followed but didn’t stop.

“Dad, we have to go back.” Charlotte’s voice was choked, tears streaming down her face.

“Go back for what? It’s dead. There’s nothing we can do.”

“We have to help her. She’s just lying there in the road. Someone’s going to hit her.”

“Someone already did. It’s dead, Char. I’m sorry.”

“Dad!” She was pleading now, like the deer had been pleading.

“Okay, okay.”

Scott took a quick right, wheeled around, waited for traffic to clear, then made a left back the way they had come.

The SUV was still pulled off on the shoulder. The deer was where they had left it. It was lying completely still now and was blocking the right lane. Cars and semis swerved into the left lane to avoid the body. 

Scott turned left at the nearby intersection then pulled over and parked.

“Come on, Char. Let’s get it out of traffic at least.”

Charlotte unhooked her buckle and took off from the car, hair streaming, little legs spinning in that not yet fully coordinated running style of kids her age.

“Charlotte, wait,” Scott said, panicked as all parents are when their children are around fast moving two-ton objects.

They stood together on the side of the road looking back and forth, up and down the road, waiting for a gap in the traffic. Scott had no desire to recreate the deer’s death with his own or, God forbid, his daughter’s.

Between the roaring of engines they could hear the little stream that ran from the field behind them, under the road, and out the other side. The stream was shaded by a wild, scraggly wood watered by the runoff that gathered in the stream.

“Stay here,” said Scott as the traffic cleared for a quarter mile in either direction.

He darted out into the road. Grabbing the deer’s hind legs by the ankles with one hand and the forelegs with the other he pulled it backwards off of the road. 

He felt a hand on his.

“Charlotte,” he growled. “We gotta hurry up.”

The middle of the road is an unnatural place for a person to be and the surety of that feeling gnawed the length of his spine. 

He checked the traffic again. They were okay. Only a few more feet. He resisted the urge to leave the deer, pick up his daughter, and set her back down safely off of the road.

The deer stopped a few yards from the road. It had been surprisingly light, probably no more than a hundred pounds.

They stood there looking at it. Its eyes were wide and staring, completely unseeing now. Its mouth was almost closed, the tongue just visible. There was a bald patch on its left side, the side visible, right where the car had hit it. 

“Oh, dad.” Charlotte knelt down and stroked the deer’s neck. Scott joined her. He put one hand on Charlotte’s shoulder and the other joined Charlotte’s on the deer.

Though each hair of its brownish gray fur was coarse its coat was surprisingly fluffy and soft. 

“She looks fine, like she did before. But she’s gone now,” said Charlotte. 

“Yeah, she’s gone.”

Cars sped past us at sixty miles an hour. Cars, not people. They’re just cars at a distance. What might they think when they saw a man and a girl kneeling next to the body of a deer on the side of the road. They didn’t see what happened, didn’t experience the suddenness, the violence. 

Roadkill is just roadkill. There’s the dead animal on the side of the road. Here you are in your car. Complete separation. Never the twain shall meet. You say, “It got hit,” and you go on with your day.

But seeing it, experiencing it, being close enough to touch its death changes things. 

“Why did she have to die?”

Scott sighed. “These things just happen. There are a lot of deer around. Cars drive fast. The deer cross the road. It’s bound to happen. It’s not the first dead deer I’ve seen on this road.”

“Did you see her? She really hurt.”

“I know. But it was quick.”

“What are we going to do, dad?”

“I don’t know.”

The thought of fresh venison crossed Scott’s mind, a way to honor the animal. Practical considerations sprang to mind: where would he hang it? There would be a lot of blood. What would Charlotte think?

Then revulsion crept into his belly. He’d never butchered anything before and the thought of doing that to an animal so violently killed, an animal he’d seen die, that looked at him as it died, turned his stomach. The contradiction was immediately apparent to him. He ate meat all the time but somehow he rationalized the difference. This deer’s death was not only violent (as with all deaths of animals destined to be eaten), it was accidental, unintended, wrong.

“Why do people drive cars? It’s stupid.”

“I know.”

“We should take her home and bury her.”

“She’s already gone, Charlotte. Bringing her with us will not make her live, it won’t keep her with us. You have to let her go.”

Charlotte was crying again. “But she’ll be there. She’ll be at home with us.”

“She’ll always be here,” Scott said, putting a finger to Charlotte’s chest.

Charlotte was almost screaming now. “It’s not fair.”

“I know it’s not. But she’s gone and there’s nothing bringing her back. Holding onto her body and holding on to the memory of her are two different things. You can remember her without bringing her home and burying her.”

“I don’t want to remember!” Charlotte threw herself into her dad’s arms and wept.

Scott too felt tears pooling in the corners of his eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut but that just pushed them out and down his cheeks. He kissed the top of Charlotte’s head. 

“It’ll be okay, Char. It’ll be okay.”

They stayed there for a while.

“Come on, Charlotte. It’s time.”

He made a vain attempt to close the deer’s eyes. Was that for her or for myself? Scott wondered.

He put a hand on the deer’s shoulder. Charlotte joined him.

“Bye,” she said and collapsed into him crying.

The left her there in the grass on the side of the road, still and quiet next to the little stream and the trees and the screaming cars.

Scott carried his daughter to the car. Back in her car seat, tears still leaked from her eyes and she hiccuped on occasion, but she didn’t weep anymore.

Scott pulled the car back onto the road and left the deer in the rear-view mirror. He tried not to look back.

“What’ll happen to her?”

Scott almost lied. “Someone from the city might take her away or coyotes or other scavengers might eat her just like if she died out in the woods.”

“Then what happens?”

“I suppose what’s left will decompose. Break down.”

“She won’t look like that anymore?”

“No.” Scott didn’t like this line of questioning. No parent does.

Charlotte was silent for a few moments.

“Will I die?”

Scott sighed. “Yes, Charlotte.”


“Hopefully not for a very long time.”

“Will you die?”



“Hopefully not for a very long time. Hopefully before you.”

“I’ll bury you, dad.”

Scott couldn’t help but laugh. In the rear-view mirror, Charlotte’s face was dead serious, the way kids can look serious without looking mean.

“Thanks. I know you will, baby. How do you feel about that?”

She thought for a moment then shrugged. “I don’t know. I think I’ll be sad.”

“That’s okay. It’s okay to be sad.”

“Dad, why do we die?”

“Most animals, and we are animals, just fancy monkeys in a way—” Charlotte laughed, “—animals just can’t live forever. Our bodies get old and give out. Or something happens, like that deer.”

“I wouldn’t want to be hit by a car.”

“No, me neither. No, we all have to go sometime. We don’t know when. We just have to make the most of the time we have.”

With the deer out of sight it was fading from Charlotte’s mind already. Scott hoped it would fade quicker. Not to shun the realities of life, but hoping that a six-year-old wouldn’t need to grapple with them so young. But maybe she was resilient enough, and maybe talking was what she needed. Maybe talking was what he needed.

“Charlotte, you want to go get some ice cream?”


“Okay. Let’s go.”

The Doe

The doe approached the deadly road
And followed her beloved mate,
And when deceitful clearing showed
They hapless went to meet their fate.

The buck ran on across the gap
Amid confusion loud and great
And reached the far side of the trap
Upon the grass to watch and wait.

The doe apart could not abide
And tried to cross the deadly strait.
She took her steps with graceful stride
But panicked danger changed her gait.

The mass of metal caught her neck
And struck her with its massive weight,
The road with guiltless blood to fleck,
So little then her life did rate.

But rated all by mate bereaved
Who helpless stood, all aid too late,
Lamented life now lost and grieved
And cried for his beloved mate.

form: five quatrains
meter: iambic tetrameter

Life is Short

Life is short, which makes some say:
‘Do all you can every day,
Fill it hour by hour with more,
Time is but the mortal’s whore.’
Utter nonsense from a fool
Thinking time is just a tool.
I don’t deny life is short,
Why not spend it at some sport?
Leisure, love, and food are fine
And a glass that’s full of wine.
Why the haste? Why the hustle?
We must dance ere our muscle
Is but dust for wind to spread
Out upon the frozen bled.
It is sooner than you think.
I’ll read a book, take a drink,
On the mantle prop my feet
Basking in the rising heat.
There, Death, find me at the end
And sit beside me as a friend.

form: anacreontic; seven syllables
meter: roughly trochaic (stressed, unstressed)
rhyme: couplets

Good News

I’ve written a short story called “Good News” that’s been published over on the Substack of the Soaring Twenties Social Club, the cult, I mean club, that I belong to. You can read it here:

Do also check out the main page of the Soaring Twenties Substack ( which has lots of great essays, short stories, and poems by other members. Thomas J. Bevan, our dear leader, takes submissions from other club members and posts a few each week. I especially enjoyed “Crossed Wires” by Terry Freedman (

Good News
Jack was bored.

The year was 2135 and a few years of rapid innovation and diplomacy had solved every major problem of the 21st century. 

Climate change had been stopped in its tracks and reversed thanks to a simple carbon-capture device that could be attached to any air conditioner or air filtration system. The sea levels had continued to rise but rich nations built their own sea walls. Elsewhere people had moved inland and where it wasn’t possible to move the richer nations of the world had contributed to build barrier walls or accept refugees where barrier walls were insufficient, as in the South Pacific. Due to building delays caused by failed contract negotiations between the builders, shippers, and labor unions the sea wall for Lower and Midtown Manhattan was not built in time and the southern half of the island, including the financial district, Soho, and Times Square, was inundated and became uninhabitable but everyone agreed this was for the best and was no great loss. 

The nuclear powers (United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea) and every other country with or without nuclear ambitions all agreed that nukes had been a bad idea and voluntarily agreed to disarm and dismantle every last nuclear weapon. The United States government apologized to the residents of New Mexico and Nevada for the nuclear tests that had been conducted in those states in the 20th century. They also apologized to the Japanese for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki stating, “We’re sorry but you guys were asking for it.”

The former nuclear powers then coordinated on multiple nuclear fusion power plant projects which succeeded in providing free, unlimited power to the entire world, even to the former residents of Lower and Midtown Manhattan who were forced to slum it with the rest of humanity, a burden which the rest of humanity resented.

In a surprise turn of events every nation in the world disarmed its military, police force, and citizenry confiscating and disabling or destroying handguns, rifles, armored vehicles, tanks, helicopters, fighter jets, bombers, destroyers, submarines, and aircraft carriers. Russia officially retired its force of attack dolphins, a relic of the Cold War, and the United States finally dismantled the last pigeon-guided missiles. The pigeons were released and, having been trained to attack targets in Russia, migrated to St. Petersburg and displaced the local pigeon population in the Great Pigeon War of ‘64. No one but a few ornithologists cared about the Great Pigeon War of ‘64.

As a result, national militaries looked more akin to their 14th century ancestors than the walking guns of the early 21st century, armed as they were with swords, pikes, spears, bows, and crossbows according to the terms of the 2087 Burgundy Accords where the delegates all got drunk on wine and decided late-Medieval warfare, that is warfare before gunpowder, was “bitchin” and should be the limit for any future wars.

Of course, the next year the Universal Non-Aggression Treaty was signed by every nation on Earth and their respective militaries became entirely ceremonial. 

In an even greater surprise, Israel and Palestine patched things up and formed a united country, Israelestine, after deciding that Jerusalem “was just a boring old city that wasn’t really a big deal” and that Jews and Muslims weren’t so different after all. They agreed that their real enemy was anyone that didn’t like humus and that such people should be shunned by the community, but in a nice way.

Innovations in agriculture and the impact of cultural change over time meant more people flocked from the cities back to the fields to enjoy simple lives on farms producing their own food for themselves as well as massive surpluses with the result that world hunger was eliminated. 

Everyone was pretty happy. 

Everyone except for Jack.

Jack Stern was a news executive at the somewhat neutered Globe Media, formed by the merger of Viacom and News Corp in 2058. The Big Six media companies, Viacom, AT&T, CBS, Comcast, Disney, and News Corp had once had a combined net worth of $430 billion in the 2020s, wealth and power which had increased for a time before everyone starting ditching television and other mass media in favor of books, local sports, community functions, and subsistence agriculture, and social drinking. They had to pivot to stay alive by covering all the positive news, which was plentiful and boring, and also sports, although the occasional natural disaster provided blood with which to spatter the headlines. Soccer, or football as the rest of the world called it, had become the new world religion which provided a lot of ad revenue but still, not all of the media companies made it.

And so Jack was bored. 

He was bored with the cheery news cycle of this 22nd-century utopia. Bored with the lack of real news like they had back when things actually happened. Bored with the lack of conflict. Bored with the comfortable lethargy of humanity.

Jack lounged in his comfortable Manhattan office smoking a Cohiba. The office was an anachronism. Dark wood paneling, mid-20th century furniture, a large desk in which Jack liked to keep his only friend, a bottle of Old Forester, and on which he did all his important work: signing papers, making phone calls, playing Solitaire, and banging secretaries. 

Despite his comfortable surroundings and lifestyle Jack was long and lean with the face of a jackal, a wolf’s smile, the long-fingered hands of a man with hands with long fingers, and the toes of a tree frog. People didn’t often see his toes.

Jack lounged and tried to enjoy the cigar but there was an itch at the back of his mind. A bored itch. He tried to ignore it but it burned and festered. He sat up, smashed the cigar into the ashtray, and thumbed the intercom.


Veronica was Jack’s newest secretary, a pretty brunette with curves in all the right places that he kept around for one reason and one reason only: she was an extremely efficient secretary. 

The office door opened and Veronica entered.

“Yes, Mr. Stern?”

“Veronica, I’m unnerved. I’m suffering from some kind of ague. It’s burning at me.”

“But, sir, you didn’t have the Wagyu last night. I remember clearly, I had the Wagyu and you had the lobster tail. Maybe it was the lobster?”

“Ague, ague, you twit. Not Wagyu.”

“No need to get snippy.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just this feeling.” Jack sank back into his chair. “I’m so damn bored. There’s nothing going on anywhere.”

“What about soccer?”

“I hate soccer.” Jack sighed and let out a frustrated growl. “No action. No real news. Nothing I can sink my teeth into.”

“You can sink your teeth into me,” said Veronica with a suggestive look.

Jack smiled halfheartedly. “I may take you up on that sometime but right now, I’m just completely out of sorts. There’s not even a natural disaster to spice things up. Just peace and prosperity and goodwill towards men. How the hell am I supposed to sell ads or influence what people think if there’s nothing happening and no one watches TV or reads the paper anyways?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“That was a rhetorical question.”

“You’re right, it is a historical question. What with all the progress over the last hundred years—”

“No, rhetorical, rhetorical. Nevermind.” Jack sat up. “You know what’s needed? Action. If the news won’t come to me, I’m going to go make it,” said Jack.

“Like old school investigative journalism?”

“Something like that. What time is it?”


“Perfect. I’m out of here. Rain check on the sex?”

“Sure thing.”


After Jack left, Veronica went over to the sidebar, poured a slug of whisky and knocked back half of it. She stood there sipping the rest looking out the 35th floor window at Central Park spread out beneath her like a big green carpet or a big green park. What a whiny misanthrope, she thought, but he’s got good taste in Scotch.


Jack hailed a cab and directed the driver. The cab’s electric engine was silent. The traffic in New Lower Manhattan, a blur of color and sound that Jack did his best to ignore, was not. The southern half of Manhattan had moved to the northern half of the island and took over, a development which had driven many residents of the world to pray for another great flood to wipe out the rest of the city, but their prayers went unanswered. 

Jack dialed the phone. “Travis?”

“Hey, Jack. It’s been a while,” came the voice on the other end.


“Yeah, the usual?”

“Yep. See you at ten.”


The Manhattan traffic passed noiselessly by outside, cut off by the massive floor-to-ceiling windows. Quiet music trickled in from hidden speakers. The air smelled like money and the clientele and sharply dressed staff screamed that the place existed for spending it.

Travis McDonaugh was a creature of habit. He insisted on eating his meal in peace before talking business. He pushed back the plate, drained his drink, then looked at Jack. “So, what’s up?”

“Why does something have to be up?” Jack eyed Travis’s broad, honest face atop a dockworker’s heavy body, one that was developing a paunch, his appearance belying what he did for a living.

“You’ve got that look. And you asked me to lunch. It’s been, what, three months?”

“I’ve been busy.”

Travis snorted. “You? Busy? I’d like to see that.”

Jack laughed. “Just like you’re busy at the embassy, I’ve been busy being bored and trying to find material to fill the air.”

“The age of the 24-hour cycle is over. Why don’t you guys just run less programming?”

Jack looked at Travis as if he had asked him why he didn’t just eat live pigeons for breakfast. “Not possible. There are twenty-four hours in a day and I’m going to fill them.”

“And if people don’t watch?”

“I’ll give them something to watch. That’s why I wanted to talk.”

Travis shifted. “What do you want?”

“How does one get invited to those embassy dinners you hear so much about?”

“You want to go to an embassy dinner? Nothing happens and they’re all diplomats, the most boring people on the planet. You really want to go to an embassy dinner?” said Travis incredulously. 

“Yes. Is that a problem?”

It was Travis’s turn to laugh. “No one wants to go to those. Yeah, sure you can go.”

Jack tilted his head. “That was easier than I expected.”

Travis leaned across the table. “Why do you want to go to an embassy dinner?”

“I just want to talk to them.”

“Diplomats? Again, why?”

Jack gave a wolfish grin. “To stir the pot a bit. Maybe start an argument or two.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Travis, everything is so boring and predictable.”

“People like boring and predictable.”

Jack sat up, suddenly intense. “No they don’t.” He prodded the table with a long finger for emphasis. “They don’t know what they want. People want excitement and conflict and stories with good guys and bad guys. They want to get off their cozy farms and see something and do something. And I’m going to deliver it to them on a TV screen and they’ll lap it up like they used to. Haven’t you ever read a history book? Things were great a hundred, two hundred years ago. War, famine, global pandemics, people at each other’s throats all the time. What a time to be a newsman, to craft stories, to feed the people’s hatred back to them magnified a thousand times.”

“That’s sick, even for you. I don’t think you should come.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed. “You owe me.” He spoke in a low growl.

Travis stiffened, but not like that. “You’re still going to hold that over my head? Dammit. Fine, but you better not cause a scene.”

Jack brightened. “Of course not. I’m not a savage. What’s the dress code?”

Travis glowered. “Formal.” 


The embassy ballroom glittered, informal and expensive. Chandeliers covered the ceiling, the walls were a pale gold, the floor, a deep blue carpet, was largely obscured by round tables with expensive-looking place settings and centerpieces. Glitz and glamor for the most useless group of people on Earth. Or the most useful. Time would tell.

Jack surveyed the room sipping a whisky sour. Black suits and glittery dresses mingled in groups. Conversation was polite, hushed. The alcohol had yet to kick in. He wondered if these things ever got a little raucous. Probably. These people had to be bored to tears.

An older man with white hair, large ears, and a regal face punctuated by two bright, intelligent blue eyes floated up to the bar next to Jack. He stood ramrod straight and gave his order like the bartender didn’t exist. He was an anachronism. So was his order: a whisky and soda.

“What part of England are you from?” said Jack.

He sniffed. “One usually introduces oneself first to people one doesn’t know.”

“Does one? My mistake. Must be my bad American manners.” Jack smirked. “We Americans declared independence and never looked back. Jack Stern, Globe Media.” 

He held out his hand. The man didn’t take it.

“Are you trying to make me dislike you, Mr. Stern?”

“No, sir. Just a little self-deprecating humor.”

“Globe Media. What are you doing in our little corner of the world?”

“I’ve always been fascinated with diplomacy and wanted to see what it was all about. There are fewer dark, smoke-filled rooms than I imagined.”

The man took a drink. “We prefer clean air and the bright light of day in the 22nd century.”

“My mistake.”

“You seem to be mistaken a lot, Mr. Stern.”

“It would seem so, Mr…?”

“Viscount Thistledon. Twenty-Seventh Viscount Thistledon, English Ambassador.”

“A viscount? I might have known from the RP. I didn’t know there was any gentry left.”

“I am a peer, Mr. Stern, and we are alive and well. We haven’t all given up and sold our country manors to be turned into museums. And it’s not RP. I’m English. Born and bred in Gloucestershire. We must maintain standards, you know.”

“Standards like your soccer team?”

The viscount reddened and he turned to face Jack.

“I’m sorry. That was a low blow,” said Jack.

“I don’t believe the United States has ever won the World Cup.”

“No, but we aren’t expected to. You guys invented soccer—”


“—but it seems the French have perfected it. Three World Cups in a row, ‘26, ‘30, and ‘34. It’s a wonder they let England host the next World Cup given your performance last year.”

“You are entirely without tact, Mr. Stern.”

Jack shrugged. “Better than being phony. I hate phony people and I’d hate myself if I were phony.”

“I’m hardly, as you say, phony, Mr. Stern. I imagine The Catcher in the Rye is your favorite book,” the viscount said with a voice that made it clear this was an insult.

“Nope, Darkness at Noon. That Gletkin cracks me up.”

Viscount Thistledon raised an eyebrow. “I’m genuinely gobsmacked that you’ve read Darkness at Noon. But why am I not surprised that you sympathize with Gletkin?”

“He’s an up-and-comer. The vanguard of the new sweeping away the old.”

“You mean a Communist party apparatchik conducting show-trials and carrying out summary executions.”

Jack smiled. “Exactly.”

“You’re disgusting.”

Jack inclined his head. “Thank you.”

The viscount sneered at Jack. “Were you one of those moody, misanthropic children that hates the whole world and can’t wait to take revenge for the hand you were dealt?” 

Jack shrugged. “No, I don’t think I was a moody, misanthropic child. I suppose you’d have to ask my mother.”

Viscount Thistledon feigned surprise. “You had a mother? I thought people like you were spawned from the gunk that accumulates around a sink drain.”

Jack laughed. “I’m surprised you know about that stuff. I wouldn’t have thought you cleaned a sink in your life.”

“I’ve not.”

“Well there you go.”


Viscount Thistledon stormed away from the bar, his nose seemingly attempting to poke a hole in the ceiling.

The seed was planted, the football-shaped chip on the shoulder enlarged. Not enough to make something happen, but a start. 

He turned to the bartender. “Don’t mind him. He’s just cranky cause his wife’s sleeping with the head gardener.” He gave the bartender a knowing wink, finished the whisky sour in a few quick sips, savoring the whisky and lemon, and set off to prowl the room.

He knew their weak points. One was football, or soccer, which had overtaken all other forms of international competition for nearly a hundred years. Competition between nations was fierce as it was the only outlet for nationalism and aggression after the signing of the Universal Non-Aggression Treaty. Even the United States went soccer crazy since it was now the only way for Americans to throw their weight around, either through competition or by climbing the ranks of Global Regulator of All Football Teams (GRAFT), the successor to FIFA.

Another weak point, which went hand in hand with international football, was pride. Despite the human race’s progress, everyone was still very proud of who they were and where they came from. The final weak point: military disarmament. This may seem counterintuitive but they had something right with the MAD policy of the Cold War. Now warfare was so low-risk for humanity in an existential sense, that with the right levers pulled, the right buttons pushed, there would be war again. What are a few swords and arrows compared to an intercontinental ballistic missile?

He picked up snatches of conversation. A new fusion project in Morocco, wheat yields in Ukraine, the olive harvest in Italy, comments on the German car industry. There was the occasional flutter of laughter at a joke, but one at no one’s expense. It was all very neat, orderly, polite. 

Through it all the underlying thrum of football. Who beat who, who was going to beat who, what formation they were using, the condition of their striker, the goalie’s incredible save, who was captain, who was going to be captain, did who was captain matter, should diving count as a goal. And on and on.

Jack insinuated himself into conversations here and dropped hints there, much more carefully than he had done with Viscount Thistletwit. I heard the Italian ambassador saying Italy was robbed by the German referee. Yeah, I’m sure someone was bribed. You’ll never believe which country’s coach is having an affair with which football official. Oh yeah, he gets special treatment alright, on and off the field. No, it was the Spanish minister that accused the French of cheating. I believe her exact words were ‘dirty French something something’. How much money did England need to bribe GRAFT in order to host after their abysmal performance in the World Cup last year? There’s bribery all over the place at GRAFT. What about referees? It wasn’t just the German referee. How do you think Singapore beat Brazil last year? I hear refs charge by the card. In international matches, one million for a yellow, five for a red. 

Nevermind that they were all lies. The Italian ambassador never said anything of the kind, there was no affair, the Spanish minister didn’t accuse anyone of cheating, England might not have paid to host, Jack knew nothing about anyone bribing GRAFT or referees.

Some of it might have been true of someone somewhere. And that’s all that mattered. It was all just the kinds of stories that everyone was prepared to believe. They had their pride and righteous indignation and wanted to point the finger at someone when their team lost.

Conversation took on a sour note. Arguments started. There were threats to cancel deals and cut off trade. Someone mentioned the word “war.”

Jack didn’t want to push the Globe Media machine too hard too fast. He let news travel back from the embassy dinner on its own then ramped things up slowly. People were watching the news again and reading newspapers. There were rumors of broken trade deals and increased arms manufacturing. Military exercises were carried out near borders throughout the world. 

Then the clouds burst.

The French crossed the Rhine and in a new tradition kicked a soccer ball onto German soil in a declaration of war. At the same time, Spain invaded France, which now had to deal with a two-front war. England took advantage and also invaded France. The Irish took advantage and invaded England. France somehow beat the Germans, Spanish, and English but, after walking over Poland, made a fatal error and invaded Russia in winter and had a long retreat back to Paris. They manage to raise another army to kick out the English who then kicked the Irish army back to Ireland.

Brazil and Argentina squabbled over dividing up South America. China grabbed Taiwan and the Philippines. Italy lost the plot and invaded Ethiopia again.

Mexico invaded Texas in an attempt to reclaim their territory but soon discovered that the Texans, instead of giving them up had secretly hidden their guns. The war was short. Texas then seceded from the United States.

Canada sent the RCMP, now mounted on horses again, to invade Vermont and burned their stores of maple syrup to help the Canadian maple syrup market. The Canadian army then captured all of New England as far south as Connecticut. The United States agreed to a truce and gave up New England in exchange for access to Canadian maple syrup, which everyone agreed was a good deal.


Staring out of the office window in New Lower Manhattan at the evening shadows grasping at Central Park, Jack could almost feel the warm glow of the fires he had started around the world. 

Finally, some good news, he thought.

The door opened behind him.

“Congratulations, Mr. Stern,” said Veronica. “The Pope has just declared a crusade.”

“Oh, against who?”

“England. There were rumors the English wanted to change the rules of football. Nations loyal to the original rules are to assemble in France and take back the site of the first meeting of the Football Association on October 26th, 1863 in London where they established the rules of modern football.”


She ignored him. “It used to be the Freemasons’ Tavern but it was partially demolished in the 20th century and rebuilt as a hotel.”

“More good news. Looks like the French will finally get to invade England. Serves that old bastard right.”


“The Twenty-Seventh Viscount Thistledon.”

“Who’s that?”

“Nevermind. Thank you, Veronica.”

“Also, I quit.”

Jack turned to face her. “Was it something I said? Was the sex not good enough?”

“No, the sex was great,” said Veronica flatly. “If you really have to ask then you’re beyond help.”

“What, all that?” Jack gestured out the window, as if the various wars around the world were happening right out there in Central Park.

“Yes, all that, you twit. You blew up the world.”

Jack shook his head. “Hardly. I gave people what they wanted: excitement, passion, an outlet for aggression and national pride. And most importantly, an end to soccer.”

“An end? It’s the world religion, one so accurately recreating the past that there’s now a crusade.”

“Yes, and like all religions it will burn itself out in petty doctrinal squabbles and infighting.”

“So you got exactly what you wanted.”

“Of course.”

She sighed. “Goodbye, Jack.”

“There are a thousand more secretaries like you.”

Veronica paused, hand on the door.“No. Not like me,” she said quietly and walked out.

He turned back to the window and the fleeting sunset on Central Park, ablaze with the light of a new world.

Jack was happy.

The Ride of the Rohirrim

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Lord of the Rings lately and wrote this after listening to Tolkien read the Ride of the Rohirrim passage from The Return of the King. I only listened once and didn’t otherwise read the passage or watch the scene from the movie in the hopes that I wouldn’t rip off too much from them. Some details made their way in nonetheless. You can hear Tolkien read the passage here: It’s worth the listen.

I wrote the poem in anapestic tetrameter, that is, four feet per line, most feet are anapests (unstressed-unstressed-stressed) to give the impression of horses galloping. The first foot of the third and fourth line of each quatrain (group of four lines) starts with an iamb (unstressed-stressed) for variation and to give weight to the final two lines of each quatrain. The last line of the last quatrain ends with an iamb, anapest, tribrach (three unstressed), and a molossus (three stressed).

The Ride of the Rohirrim
On the mountains so high the bright fires were lit
A clear signal to Rohan that Gondor’s besieged.
Then Theoden king who now chose to attend
Declared that their call for swift aid had been heard.

Men were summoned to arms that were sharp and so bright
And their banners did hang in the sun all unfurled.
They marched in procession together to trot
Along the clear path into battle and death.

On that day with the dawn at their backs they arrive
There ten thousand fair riders arrayed for the fight.
The horses now toss their maned heads and then stamp,
Men stir with impatience, now ready to charge.

There upon the green field stand the enemy foul
Now assailing the city with fire and stone,
They turn their black ranks to face the new threat
Assured of their vict’ry though still ere the fray.

And then Theoden king does emerge from his doubt,
At the fore now his horse he does spur and his horn
He blows, a great blast that does split the clear air
And calls to his men so that all may him hear:

“Ride with me, Eorlingas, for Gondor, now ride
One last time for our hearth and our home and our lives.
And if it is truly our last, let us ride,
Ride on to the halls of our fathers renowned.”

Then he springs away first and calls “Forward. Ride, ride!”
And his banner does stream a green field and white horse
A copy so pale of the king and his steed,
And ev’ry brave rider soon follows the king.

All point spears that do blaze in the morning sun’s light
And their bright burnished helms stream behind in the wind
And horses swift galloping heels in the dust
Do blur as they carry their riders to war.

Now ten thousand brave riders do thunder on toward
The foul foes as a vast rolling storm soon to sweep
Away the invaders like so many leaves,
So great the Rohirrim and their last brave ride.

meter: anapestic tetrameter
form: none; nine quatrains
rhyme: none

The Bow Resounds

The bow resounds and hums, hairs strain but hold,
Lets fly the arrow of its song, a hymn
To days gone by, when we were not so old
And so afraid, when all was at a whim
And still before us, nothing yet behind.
The fingers aged but firm the rhythm dance
On strings the bow then whirls grasping to find
The melody of years long past in mindful trance.
There is no solace where all’s done and gone.
Let fly the arrow from the heart of wood
And soar upon the swirling winds of song.
The wood never forgets where once it stood
Upon sunlight dappled hills, split by the maul
Now groans, the bow now snaps, the fingers fall.

meter: iambic pentameter
form: Shakespearean sonnet