I’ve taken a break from comics for a number of reasons, the biggest one being time. But I have been writing short stories for the last couple of years, and some of them have even been published. Below are links to stories that are available online, and PDFs of stories that are not. Hope you like them.
September 10, 18—
480 Baulding Street
My Dearest Charity:
I have safely arrived in Rock Falls in the Montana Territory. The town is quite small and rough around the edges, but I have taken a room at the Winslow Hotel, which the porter on the train assured me is one of the town’s respectable establishments.
By chance, I have encountered another man who will be joining our hunting party at Ft. Jackson. He has been at the hotel for several days now, waiting for the wagons that will take us out. The gentleman’s name is Jordan Billingsley, and he is a peculiar sort. He looked something of a dude in striped trousers, high-heeled boots, an embroidered waistcoat, and a very colorful cravat. He claims that he was with one of the Ohio regiments but was very vague about his rank, and in any case, he does not comport himself in the manner one would expect from a man with military experience. We chatted over whisky in the hotel dining room. After two glasses, I retired to my room and left Billingsley at the bar. We had a slight disagreement about the date of our departure for the fort. I believe the wagons will leave tomorrow, but Billingsley is certain that we have a wait of three days before we are off. I do not know with whom I can verify this.
Visitors to my home often comment on a large brass statuette that stands on a cylindrical pedestal near the fireplace in the living room. About two and a half feet in height, it is in the form of a young woman, tall and slender, blindfolded, treading on the heads of four men that lay on the ground beneath her feet (the heads lay on the ground that is, they have no bodies.). In the crook of her left arm she holds a cornucopia filled with large coins; in her right hand, she holds several of these same coins in a position that suggest she is about to fling them away. I often tell people that it was created by the obscure American artist, Jacob Giraud, and was bought from his studio years ago by my uncle, Philip. The truth is, I got it at a junk shop and know nothing about its provenance.
Read the whole story at The Writing Disorder.
Kyle found the business card in the men’s room of the Road Dawg, a restaurant attached to an old motel on the outskirts of Beloit, Wisconsin, wedged exactly at eye level between the urinal flange and the smooth ecru ceramic tile wall. Intrigued, he plucked it from its place and put it in his wallet, and when he got back to Chicago, knowing my predilection for obscure and outsider art, he passed it onto me. The card was from a shop called McKean’s Curios in Coyle City, a town I’d never heard of; on the front was a watercolor painting of a square-faced shot tower, and on the back was a digitally faded photograph of a limestone storefront with a recessed door and art deco windows, a list of merchandise in bold blue Bookman typeface superimposed on it: Antiques, Furniture, Local Art, Curios, Used Books, Vintage Clothing.
This is a novella length story, unpublished, about a collector's dreamlike trip to a crumbling city in search of a miniature by an obscure artist. Read the PDF here.
Victoria Zielinski, a fifty-three-year-old woman who worked as a paralegal, while walking home one day, saw a man who wasn’t there. He appeared in her field of vision suddenly as if he’d teleported from somewhere else and stood looking directly at her. He was handsome, some years younger than Victoria, wearing a pleasantly welcoming expression though the left side of his face was a bit fuzzy, as if he were a painting that was not quite finished. (Victoria thought at first that this was a simple trick of the light.) He was well dressed in a two piece, dark, pinstripe suit, a colorful tie, and a camel overcoat, but he seemed somehow out of place. When he appeared, he was about ten yards from her. He stood still as she approached him, looking at her until she got close, then he turned his head and looked down the street. Victoria tried saying hello, but he ignored her. Victoria, who at this point didn’t realize that he wasn’t really there, walked around him. When she turned around to look behind her, he was gone.
This story was published in Rosebud number 69, spring of 2022. Read the PDF here.
Every year on the summer solstice, my hometown holds a festival called Make Music Madison. Throughout the city, musicians play in outdoor venues big and small, in parks, up and down State Street, outside restaurants and coffee shops, and in yards and garages. All of the performances are free, and anyone is welcome to host, attend, and perform. It's a beautiful, DIY, inclusive endeavor. And while it's been years since I've been involved in anything remotely related to the music scene here, on each solstice, I make a point to clear the day and visit as many venues as I can. This year, though, an old friend of mine, Rick Weingarten, was bringing in some acts to play at his house, and he wanted my help for set up, crowd control, and stage management. According to Rick, I was a last resort; none of the other people he had asked to help were available. I was a bit hesitant, mainly because over the years our musical tastes have diverged, I wasn't sure I'd like the acts he'd bring in, and spending the afternoon there would limit the time I would have to wander the rest of the festival. But in the end I agreed to help, because I think Make Music Madison is a tradition worth supporting, and unlike me, Rick still has a presence in the local music scene. Though he doesn't play anymore, at least in public, he has a show on WORT, the community radio station, where he hosts local musicians for interviews and live performances. He is, in fact, a bit of a local celebrity, and I had no doubt his back yard concert would draw a crowd.
This story was published in Sangam, in a slightly different form. Read the PDF here.
A tire's pneumatic failure, normally a trivial event, even far from home as we were that day, was this time the prelude to an extended sequence of troubles. We were on a serpentine county highway that skirted a large lake, the name of which I do not know, and Katrina was driving. There was no sound to indicate the puncture, only the car lurching unexpectedly. Katrina swore quietly as she pulled to the side of the road. To our left was a small forest of denuded trees, having shuffled off their leaves for the season, and to our right was a fallow field bearing a barn with ragged holes in its roof and walls. Katrina leaned against the car and crossed her arms as I went to the trunk to retrieve the spare from its well. I pulled it out. It too was flat. I set it on the ground, walked over to Katrina, who was frowning and peering down the deserted highway, brows drawn down with a deep furrow between. We hadn't seen another car since turning off the interstate an hour before, the farm next to us had no house, only the aforementioned barn, and the nearest town was ten miles away. Katrina produced her phone, at first I assumed to search for a tow, but after some moments of thumbing words, she turned towards the lake, squinted, then turned back to me.
This was my first published story after taking a break from comics. It was published by Eclectica magazine. I was pretty excited because I thought it was too long and too weird to interest anyone. Read the whole thing at Eclectica's web site.
I heard this story from Jean Goff during an informal gathering at a mutual friend's apartment. We were sitting around eating appetizers and drinking wine, and in the background, CNN was broadcasting a story about Ben Ali of Tunisia, who had just been convicted in absentia of killing protestors during the Arab Spring. There were the usual joint rumblings of disapproval, then one of the people there wondered jokingly whether he was allowed to take his harem with him, since he'd been exiled to Saudi Arabia.
Read the whole story at Another Chicago Magazine (And check out the GREAT cartoon, not mine, picked by the editor).
The year the plague resurged, it moved slowly from the port city to the surrounding towns, but Lord Breval acted early. He gathered the members of his household, essentials and entertainments, and left the city of Pellerowe to wait it out deep in the country.
After the plague had reached towns fifty miles to the east and forty miles to the west of Pellerowe, Breval ordered his library moved. The library was private but open to the higher born members of the public, and with special permission to others, and was run by seven women who lived on the premises, Artemisia, Jacobina, Evanne, Isabel, Mazarine, Orinda, and Philippa. Breval had spent many years developing his library, and he was afraid that when people fled the city, the lawless who remained would use his books to start fires to burn the dead. The library was to be moved to a small estate in a remote, hilly location, with land good for little but growing mediocre grapes. In recent years, Breval had let the vineyards had go fallow, and the estate had only one groundskeeper who lived there with his young son and who supported himself by farming a patch of land in the valley under the hill. Through proxy, Lord Breval hired a cook, four guardsmen, and six wagons with two horses each. The librarians loaded the wagons with as many books as they would hold then left the town on foot. More than half of the library was left behind, but the journey’s expense and the approaching plague meant that only one trip could be made.
Yep. This is a Covid metaphor, but I think it's also a good story. Read the whole thing at Caveat Lector. Note: Caveat Lector also published some of my drawings, including a black and white version of this page's banner.
I burned every letter except for one, the one not written to me. That one I rescued from the trash in sixty-four separate pieces that took me an entire afternoon to reassemble. Each was unique, written precisely with a chiseled nib that produced variations in the weights of the strokes, and each was decorated with drawings drawn with a fine tipped pen, a Hunts 104, the same nib Edward Gorey used to draw his cartoons. I began by burning them one by one. There were twenty three in all. But after the first few I thought I was perhaps bestowing too much importance on each, so I threw the rest into the fire all at once. The fire flared, and a few minutes later, they were ash.
Read the whole story at The Ravens Perch
I moved to the city after the Great Fire and left before the Great Flood. Between these two cataclysms, as the fire had consumed our cinemas and prison, life was fairly dull. I was a member of the leisure class, having married into wealth, but I was stricken with widowhood before having children, and as a result, had to bear the burden of spending my time caring only for myself. Most of the city's citizens were occupied with rebuilding, so we of the leisure class were left to entertain ourselves with private concerts and theatrical performances in our homes, and with killing waterfowl in the city park that runs along the Ooblong River.
Published in The Rockford Review, Winter-Spring 2021. Read the PDF here.
East of Highway 51, where the Bois Breval River runs into the Half Moon Flowage lie the remnants of Split Rock, abandoned for nearly twenty years. Only scattered fragments remain. The old police station, a one story brick building built in the late 1950s stands, but most of its interior walls are gone. A stately brick Victorian with a round turret is intact, though the roof bears more holes than tiles and has started to peel away from the house. Grass has grown over the pavement of most of the streets, and only a slight difference in elevation separates them from lawns and fields. Three walls of a self storage building stand, but the rest of the building, roof, interior walls, garage doors, are gone. Here and there are fragments of other buildings, a wall, a cement brick foundation, a chimney. The facade of the Lutheran church lies on its side. There are a few cars, rusting, tires flat or gone, windshields smashed. The remains of the town are on a county road a few miles from the main highway, and few people visit them, or even know they are there. The Bois Breval runs past them, bucolic, serene. Near the town, the river is wide and marshy as it enters the flowage, supporting painted turtles, red-winged blackbirds, cattails, and milkweed. In spring and summer it is quiet and picturesque. But this is where the trouble started.
Published in Floyd County Moonshine, Winter 2020. Read the PDF here.
Perhaps I will be gone, and they’ll unhinge
The doors, dismantle all the locks and turn
The man keys into monkeys, then perhaps
I’ll still be here, and they’ll come in with their
Weapons drawn and find me at the typewriter
Weapons drawn and find me at the keyboard (do I mean typewriter or piano?)
It’s no use. Iambic pentameter just won’t do for such an unheroic end. If it is the end-- perhaps it’s only an unheroic middle, if you can have a heroic middle, where traditionally the complications arise. By middle, I don’t mean torso. Of course you can have a heroic torso. I don’t intend to pun. My mind lacks discipline.
I wrote this story before I started making comics, and it was published way back in 2004 in a journal named Pangolin Papers (which unfortunately has since gone under). I had written a lot of prose fiction before this story, but this was the first one that felt like a success. The PDF is here.
On a Saturday morning, gloomy with fog, Seth Frell climbed out of bed and having nothing better to do decided he would eat an egg for breakfast. His small house, cold and damp though it was, still gave him a sense of comfort. This was due primarily to the interior walls which were painted pumpkin orange, and this gave the illusion of warmth even when there was none. The result of this security was that Seth Frell almost always awoke feeling hungry. During the week, he was usually too busy to make his own breakfast and had to content himself with an orange and a cup of yogurt purchased at his office's cafeteria. Indeed, he often considered painting over the walls with a lighter, neutral non-color, but when he thought of facing the damp and cold unmasked, without even the illusory armor the orange walls provided, he always changed his mind and resolved to put up with the inconvenience of weekday morning hunger.
This was my first published story, way back in 2001. It appeared in the fall issue of that year in Fugue. (I wrote it after The Monkey's Ribbon, but it was published first.) I wrote it mainly on a lark and was surprised when Fugue accepted it. It's a lampoon of the post-modern reference game. The idea was to write a very simple story then inflate it's significance through a plethora of annotation. The PDF is here.
That's it for now. I have two or three more stories coming out soon, so check back here for more literary smorgasbording.