PB&J&J for Our Heroine

Henry parked the truck in a cloud of dust right in front of the house. “Come on,” he beckoned with a jerk of his head toward the bed of the truck and handed Frannie a single bag containing a loaf of Wonder Bread.He gathered up the rest of the bags in his own arms and headed for the porch.

He dropped his load of groceries on the porch swing in order to struggle with the front door. “I don’t hardly bother locking it up anymore, what with as bad as it sticks nowadays.” He turned his head to tell Frannie.

She nodded solemnly, and her stomach rumbled again, more insistently this time. Henry laughed and finally got the door open.

“Got to get the plane out and fix this, but then I wonder why bother. I only go to town a couple times a week, and my little girl doesn’t visit near often enough.” He expertly threaded his arm through the mishmash of bags on the swing and carried them inside, leading Frannie to the right, through the dining room and into the kitchen. “Here’s good, girl.”

She reached up nearly as far as she could to put her lone bag on the counter and looked up at Henry. He told her to go have a seat at the table, so she did.

“Milk or juice? I got orange,” he offered.

“Orange juice is my favorite!” Frannie had already brightened up immensely.

Henry grinned as he opened the fridge and pulled the jug out. “Now, all I got’s real glass, are you up for the challenge?”

Frannie put her hands on her hips in mock indignation. “I’ll have you know, sir, that I can drink out of a real glass just as good as any grownup I’ve ever met, thank-you-very-much.” She reached out for the glass that he handed her and greedily gulped down three-quarters of the juice in one slug.

Henry had brought the juice into the dining room, so he topped off her cup. “Go a little slower on this one, or you won’t have room for a pb&j.”

Frannie nodded. “Yes, sir.” She sipped more politely.

Henry laughed and returned to the kitchen to put the groceries away. “Grape or strawberry jam?” He asked her, raising his eyebrows. “Or I can do both. Don’t tell anybody, but that’s how I like ’em.”

“My last mother only ever bought grape jelly, so I don’t even know if I like strawberry. Why not both?” Frannie remained as blunt as ever.

Her words were like a funny bone strike to Henry’s heart, and he shook his head as he turned to make two sandwiches. “I got to figure out how I can do right by this girl,” he muttered to himself. He cut each sandwich into four triangles, and brought the plates to the table. “Dig in!” he said, with a much brighter tone than he felt.


Read more of Frannie’s Misadventures here and find out how on earth she got where she is today.


Another Stray 

Walking in Circles

I knew something was wrong when I stepped out of the lab and Gerald wasn’t there to greet me. Gerald never took a sick day. Not that I can remember, and I’ve been here with him for sixteen years. That should have been my first clue, and the only one I needed.

The green exit sign flickered at me, beckoning, but I just stood there, confused. You know how sometimes you have to stop and think a minute as soon as you close your front door behind you? Did I leave the stove on, did I pick up my keys before I locked the door? That’s how I felt without Gerald there wishing me a good night. Lost.

The company hadn’t even posted a replacement guard at the door, which was even stranger. You have to pass some pretty serious security checks to mop the floors in this building, let alone wander around the biology lab unsupervised.

I shook off an odd chill and dropped my lab coat in the bin outside the locker room. No one else came in while I showered and dressed, even though I took my sweet time. Also strange. Nobody worked an officially regular schedule, sure, but we tended to cluster our comings and goings around the same hour or so. Except Larry, but Larry has that circadian rhythm disorder.

The echo of the padlock closing seemed louder than I’d ever heard it before. I turned around and noticed that the towel shelves were nearly empty. Laundry wasn’t the best department, but they were usually on top of their game enough that the towels deadened the sound a bit in this metal box of a room. I slipped my keys from my pocket and held them in my hand for the trip to my car.

Accepting that something was wrong would be the logical next step, but logic had left the building. I was freaking out, no beating around the bush. I’m just glad I wore tennis shoes to work; the tapping of my hard soled dress shoes in this empty shell of a building would probably have been too much for my lizard brain to take. The random squeaks were bad enough as it was.

Hang on. I should have been at the doors by now. But I’m not. Like I said, I’ve walked these halls for sixteen years. I’m not going to dissolve into a puddle of nonsensical lunacy now. I’ll just see whose office this is. 106. That’s Dr. Matthews. Two rights and a left and I’ll be at security, ready to wave goodnight to whomever’s manning the desk at this hour.

Hang on. I should have been at the doors by now. But I’m not. Like I said, I’ve walked these halls for sixteen years. I’m not going to dissolve into a puddle of nonsensical lunacy now. I’ll just see whose office this is. 106. That’s Dr. Matthews. Two rights and a left and I’ll be at security, ready to wave goodnight to whomever’s manning the desk at this hour.

Hang on. I should have been at the doors by now. But I’m not.

Hang on.

Hang on.

I wonder where Gerald’s run off to.


Lost on a Wild Goose Chase

Stefan plodded on, his pack weighing heavy on his back. The mornings on the trail were the worst for him; the longer he walked, the better he felt, other than sore feet. By the end of the day, he was joyful as he set up his tent and cooked his final meal of the day. 

But today felt different. 

A strange sound woke him early, a strange sound that had yet to repeat itself. In that place between wakefulness and sleep, Stefan was unable to identify the sound, and it gnawed at the back of his mind. 

He came upon a footprint on the trail: a bare human footprint, pointing sideways, as though the owner of the foot had raced across the trail, rather than along it. Stefan stopped, and squatted to study the print. 

Fresh, because the dry dust hadn’t crumbled in on itself, or been blown away. Light, because it was quite shallow in the fine dirt. And odd–were those claw marks at the tips of the toes?

Stefan stood up and tried to peer into the woods where whoever had gone. He stared, and just as he was about to give up, a sudden movement. 

“Hello?” he called. 

No answer. 

He took that fateful step off the trail. Stefan knew better, truly he did, but he told himself that he wouldn’t go far, that he wouldn’t lose sight of the trail. 

In less than a minute, he broke that promise. 

Something metallic glinted in a stray shaft of sunlight, and Stefan bent to investigate. It was a key, a shiny gold skeleton key. He picked it up, as unable to resist its brightness as a crow. The key was smooth and warm, almost feeling liquid in his hand. 

He looked up and realized he had no idea where he was in relation to the trail, but the wonder of the golden key helped the briefest twinge of worry fade away into nothing. 

He began walking in the direction he was facing, neither knowing nor caring if it was toward the trail. 

Far behind him, and off to his left, his cell phone vibrated in the dirt of the trail, erasing the footprint as it danced along the ground. 

Lost in the Woods

They reached for each other’s hands at the same time. Touching blindly, they clasped firmly. As the sun set, the darkness blanketed them in its soft sadness. 

“Do you think we should have made it back to camp yet?” she asked, managing to sound mostly unconcerned. 

He continued to lead them forward for a few more moments before answering, “yes.” But with a slight squeeze of her hand, he held the rest of his answer inside, fearing that if he said it aloud it would become a lie. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. She didn’t need him to feed her fear. 

They trudged in silence again until she could take it no longer. 

“Honey,” she began. 

“Not sure where we are,” he admitted, interrupting her. 

She stopped suddenly, releasing his hand as he continued on. 


“Is that a light up ahead?” He saw nothing, but there was too much hope in her voice for him to deny her this. 

“Let’s go find out.” He reached back for her hand and picked up their pace. 

After only a few dozen steps, the ground smoothed beneath their feet, and he was the first to notice that they were now walking on concrete instead of the forest floor of leaves and dirt. 

“I see it now,” he whispered, forgetting that he hadn’t told her that he didn’t see it before, but she’d already forgotten as well. 

She stopped again, pulling on his hand to keep him back with her, urgently squeezing his fingers. 

“I-I can’t,” she said. 

He furrowed his brow in confusion. 

“Come on,  we’re almost there. This is where the pavement ends.” He tried to tug her forward, but her feet were solidly planted. 

“Come on,” he repeated, and gently pulled once more.

She shook her head, slowly at first,then faster and faster, whipping her hair into a tangle around her face. He dropped her hand and took a step back. She was mumbling something, but he couldn’t quite make it out. He inched back a bit more, then stumbled, falling off the pavement, and he finally understood what she was so upset about. 

The gates of hell.  

 TBP Online Writer’s Guild #2

22 minutes by hand; 8 minutes transcribing and editing. 

Little Lost Lambs

Today I saw two lost children, an unusually high number. It doubles my total. 

The first was a girl, about ten. She slowly exited the shoe store behind me, alone. She looked left and right, back and forth. No sense of urgency quickened her movements. 

She chose to begin her search to the right. A few minutes later she passed back by, hand in hand with a security guard, still nonchalant. 

They stopped at Best Buy and talked to an employee for a moment. It wasn’t long before a woman I assumed to be her mother arrived, walking purposefully and talking on her cellphone. She was noticeably irritated, but showed restraint until the security guard gave the girl a quick hug and went about her business elsewhere in the mall. 

Once the uniformed authority figure was out of sight, however, the mother began to loudly berate her daughter, phone still at her face, clutching her child’s arm with fingers curved into painful claws, dragging the girl along behind her. 

I saw no fear in the girl’s eyes, only resignation. 

I recognized myself in those eyes. 

The second was a boy, about seven years old. I saw him walking slowly by himself, and I hadn’t seen anyone with
whom he should have been in the last few clumps of consumers. As he neared, I watched his eyes widen and his panic rise.

When he was close enough, I asked him kindly if he was lost, already knowing the answer. He flinched and darted away like a feral cat. I let him go. 

I looked around for his parents or security, but saw neither. I fixed his description in my mind for security or police, whoever I saw first, but his mother beat them both.

She clutched her blouse tightly over her breastbone, her eyes brimming with tears, and she moved as quickly as possible without breaking into a run. 

I caught her and asked if she was looking for a boy in a yellow striped shirt. Her shaking voice said the words along with me, so I pointed her in the right direction and saw them embrace fifty feet from me. 

I witnessed no screaming, only mutual joy at their reunion. 

And I recognized my siblings.