Welcome to my online portfolio!

I'm a writer living in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was raised in rural Maryland, a stone's throw from Baltimore City.

Here you'll find short stories, sample articles, and publication links.

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Monday, May 30, 2022

New Nonfiction

Below is a story I've been trying to capture for years. It's not much, but it's almost my like my very own A&P. Some names have been changed. Others have not.



Not So Starry-Eyed Anymore

           

            Maybe, there’s a time outside of time, a way to bond by leaving our starry-eyed souls adrift on a raft floating on the universe’s tide, connected to life sideways, and sewn to one another with gossamer threads, like helium.

            It was at least 8 o’clock. I was freshly showered and my work clothes were jammed into a laundry bag. I was a cotton dress and flip flops, a headband, and adorned with maybe one trinket around my neck.

            I grabbed my Manchester United backpack and the handle of Sailor Jerry, because there’s no reason to live unless you go hard, right? I locked up, walked down the stairs, and met a man outside.

            He sat there, plastic cup, empty.

            “Hey,” I said and smiled.

            “Hey girl, hey,” he answered.

            “Noticed you’re empty. Tonight, I’ll be your booze fairy.”

            “Thank you, thank you, thanks.”

            Without removing the bottle from my bag, I unscrewed the cap, pried off the short plastic nozzle with my nails, and refilled him up. It was one of those good spirit moments, and after I left, he yelled something after me, compliments I couldn’t hear over the traffic, on my way to the marina.

            Bopping, I passed gas stations and pawn shops. The night air was cool and wet. Blackness swallowed the sky and the four railway buildings, fancy manila towers, stoic guards of the street looked down upon us tiny peasants.

The small bridge, known to eat cars when the roads flooded was dry and empty. I looked down over the edge into the dark water, seeing my own reflection and the bright orbs of street lamps. The sounds of people laughing and cars swooshing by followed me like music on the seaside wind.

            A car honked, either carrying a friend, or someone I’d know from the future. I reached the light that separated Lincolnville from West King, with only the tiniest shred of memory from when I lived over that way, even though it was only two years before this.

            I went left, passing another pawnshop and the liquor store. I reached the Welcome to Our City sign and started down a path that led to the inlet. I kept one eye on the mangroves, as more than once a ghost crab sashayed out in front of my stride, presented his little claws in fierce sign language, and asked for a dance.

            Flouncing like a cheap napkin, I trotted into the tiny marina, listening to the mumbles of the gathering, already in swing.

            The night felt humble, and it was at least ten hours of freedom until the work day ahead.

            I greeted the group, unzipping my bag, and presented the bottle. While half holding my crap to the side, Peter clasped my elbow, we locked forearms, and he pulled me up onto the deck. I gave him The Sailor, closed my bag, and stashed it in the cockpit.  

            Edmond was the first to grab the bottle. He and Jeff were in some discussion about Spoon or the Decemberists; I couldn’t tell who, to be honest. I knew he played them for me, for everyone, all the time, but I hadn’t bothered to find out which was which.

            Mid-sentence, he tipped the bottle back and took a big glug and passed it to Jeff, who didn’t drink just yet, but instead took it and handed it to Peter, who smiled and took a large swig as well. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and then walked the heavy, glass bottle back to me, held it out, and winked.

I said, “Eh, later,” as I really hadn’t had time that day to think. The intoxication of the night air was humming louder than the conversations around me, and I wanted just a few minutes to feel something other than drunk or high.

I saw Benjamin’s ears perk up at my refusal and he gave me a half-glance from over his shoulder, as he lounged within one of the twin nets on the bow.

Liquidized amber colored fire was a better description for the liquor, but we just called her The Sailor. She loved to tease. Drink her once, and the shot will burn you, but all you feel is a tiny buzz. It’s like nothingness zipping through you, as a quick, fleeting haze. Drink her again, and she goes down a little easier, but it’s just more of the first. Drink her a third time, and the first shot finally starts to hit you, followed in rapid succession of numbers two and three.

She takes her admirers from sitting… to tiptoes and screaming!

I wasn’t ready for any of that, so I decided, the nets.

            I slipped off my flops, took cold footsteps on the ridged plastic, toes touching puddles and slid into one on the other side of Ben, facing the opposite direction, with the party before me, and him to my right.

            “Benjamin! What’s up?”

            He filled me in on his musings, life as a first mate, and Peter’s boat things. They were pulling up anchor soon, and heading out to more open waters.

            Peter, as if on cue, brought the bottle over and held it out to Ben, who shook his head also.

            This caused my eyebrows skip upwards, and I leaned over the tiny point between us, and said, “Not drinking? You… okay?”

He nodded.

The conversation behind him grew livelier, sucking the captain back in, who continued with his boisterous stories and pirate tales.

Benjamin turned his head around and made sure Peter and the others were more occupied, and then looked back at me with excitement in his eyes.

            “I have a new game,” he said, with intensity uncharacteristic of his relaxed fa├žade.

“Oh?” I answered, with deep interest.

“I sit around and watch everyone getting drunker and drunker. You should try it. It’ll open your eyes,” he nearly whispered.

I didn’t answer, just considered the notion. Nothing seemed abnormal. The guys were just talking, like they always did. Hannah emerged from the back of the boat with Roy, loudly laughing and joining in.

Ben leaned in and said, “It will get funnier, just watch.”

He smiled like a devil and I knew I was in. This would be the night I just watched. Jeff took his first swig and Hannah soon followed.

            Each net was like a hammock, and although they seemed small compared to the size of the deck, I had enough room to stretch out and have some left over. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Baby Bro and William showed up with some other girls, that Bro-Bro climbed right in.

            “I love my big sis!” he said and gave me a squeeze, before l could wiggle free. We leaned back, on elbows, with my toes and his sneakers against the nylon ropes. His words tumbled out, about his first week on the job, his discoveries, friends, and enemies. He was proud and wanted me to be too. In the six months I knew him, he went from crybaby to young gentleman, imminent scholar.

            He went to finish rounds and also headed towards the bottle.

            Peter came over again, to both Ben and I, looking frowny.

            “Drink, drink!” he said, “It’s a party, time to have fun.”

            I said, “I already had some.”

            But Ben was brave, and just shook his head.

            Peter frowned again, pointed at him, and muttered, but I didn’t catch it.

            I repositioned, turning around so as to let the party rumble behind me also, space out, and half sleep, while gazing across the small waves.  

            Things got louder.

            Edmond and William strutted over towards the ladder.

“We’ll be back!” Edmond shouted, and waved, with a drunken sarcasm.

“Where are they going?” someone asked.

            “To get pizza,” someone else responded.

            Things frayed and became looser, so much so that I turned to face Ben, who had also turned his body to be diagonal to the sea.  We didn’t speak, and as I was about to, he held his first finger up to his lips, to tell me not to. It was as if to say, if didn’t do anything, we could be invisible for the entire night, and that was somehow valuable.

            I gave in and remained mute, only speaking with silence.

            Jeff got wild, his jokes were like cocaine, but had no punchline. He posed like a statue, leapt up and shadow boxed, kicked, spun, and almost went off the side.

Ben was right, things got interesting. Although, Benjamin seemed to tune in and out of the chaos, like he was in a boring lecture, I’m not sure my face looked as detached.

My body got sore. Ungraceful as a fish, I climbed my way back up to the sturdier part of the boat, into the hubbub and unfinished sentences.

            I sat by Hannah. She went on and on about I’m not sure. I joined in some of the conversation, but kept my eyes out, watching the shape of the spectacle; it moved like some erratic, deep sea octopus. Every so often, I thought I caught a whiff of Ben thinking, but he always returned his face to ease and detachment.

            Hours passed, like I was inside some strange TV show. I was there, but I wasn’t; not drunkenly fighting for attention, not screaming or singing, or putting my arms around anyone’s shoulders or pushing away someone’s hands or lips. It was like being invisible, but not.

            The comedy flipped, as Baby Bro reappeared, looking angry, and pushed past me on the bench, I said, “Hey!” as he brushed against my arm and tried to collect him. He escaped my hands, and I let him go.

            William and Edmond entered the stage, looking red faced and wrong. William was silent as a stone, and Edmond sputtered like a muddy engine. He paced, shook his hands out at his sides, and ran pale, thin fingers, through thick black hair.

            The two girls, totally wasted by then, went up to him and one asked, “What’s wrong?”

            “My car got hit by a train!” he yelled, probably too loud.

            The one girl looked at the other and started laughing, “No…” she said, still laughing, “No…”

            “It got hit by a train! It’s gone! It’s broken! Ka-blam!” he said, tossing his hands up.

            From behind, Peter put a heavy hand on his shoulder, and brought him in. He said softly, “calm down. It’s a party. Relax.” Edmond ripped way from him, but did quiet. With shaking hands, he removed his glasses and wiped tears from his eyes.

            He raised The Sailor to his lips and took a long pull. Then, he took the box of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, and lit one up.

            He had a few more swigs, and sat, saying nothing. William and Baby Bro had disappeared to the stern, and the girls they brought were in their own world. Jeff returned to his silliness and Ben remained in the net.

            When he was half finished with his smoke, I stood, and went over to him. Hannah followed.

            “Wait, what happened?” I asked, holding his open hand and looking into his face.

            He took back his hand, and faced the empty cockpit. Without returning his gaze, he said, “We ran out of gas, right on the tracks. The train was coming. William and I got out. There was only time to start running.”

            I gasped, “Wow, really?”

            “All my CDs were in there, all my stuff, we didn’t have time to grab anything.”

            “How far did you run?”

            “I don’t know. It was so loud. I’m probably going to jail.”

            He cried again, so I hugged him. Peter and Hannah found their arms around him also. In the embrace, his breath returned.

            We let him go and he almost smiled.

            We didn’t try to come up with a plan. We didn’t do anything. Everyone knew that Edmon drove his Honda on E with the gas light on for days at a time, and more than once seemed to enjoy being stuck on the side of the road.

            It terrified me, but exhilarated him. That or it was just another way he could prove to everyone that he was unworthy and an outcast.

We got on well, because we understood one another. We both believed we were less than trash, and in this we reveled. A few months later, we’d take my car from Florida to Maine to visit our favorite lobby girl.

As I sat next to him, Hannah speaking, me listening, Peter whistling, I felt the call of The Sailor. I’d hate to lose the game on the first try, so instead I just looked at the packaging.

            Although the boat was full, we felt the missing. I’m sure Edmond’s thoughts were of Devon, back in ‘Bama, wondering why he left and if he’d call.

My thoughts were with Jude, Amadeus, and Bradley. One was back home in Panama City, another was with a pretty lady with glitter in her hair, and the last was either on a train or in Ocala.

The calm in our quiet moment didn’t last. Baby Bro and William made their exit. Wine coolers and beers appeared, along with new faces, and others I barely knew cycled in and out, creating a second, glorious uproar. Eventually, even Jeff turned quiet, as he curled up on his side, precariously close to the edge. Benjamin got out of the net then, only to make sure his friend didn’t roll off.

The chatter died down, and guests thinned, but every time anyone looked over at him, Edmond had his lips on The Sailor. He drank harder and harder, until Peter grabbed it from him, and took what remained somewhere below.

 

I woke up to seagulls and the rising sun. Air flowed beneath me, and through the open windows of the ropes. Morning light glimmered into my eyelashes.

Before I fully opened my eyes, I had no identity, no cares, and no feeling except the embrace of the net, a waking dream that lent myself to feeling more relaxed than I had ever felt.

If things were different, I never would have moved.

As if it heard my plans, the sun perked up, warming me skin, as if to say, “No, you have to go back to real life.”

Groggily, with little sleep, I surrendered to the drudges.

I found my backpack and my shoes. I found missed calls and texts and the time, just past 7am. I found Peter awake and smiling, Ben asleep and drooling, and some kind of cute dog-pile on top of Jeff, with both of those girls and the cushions from the bench.

I didn’t see the bottle and I didn’t see Edmond.

Later that week, I saw him with his CD case, and not a scratch on it or him.

I played the game two or three more times, and without consulting one another, Benjamin and I both returned to the hardy party mindset, imbibing on boats, in houses, or on porches.

 

 

 




Monday, May 23, 2022

My Horror Jones

      When I don't get to be such a Sunny and a Lancaster, I'm running horror through my mind over and over, trying to figure out what makes a scary tale exceptional. When horror's done well, it's arguably the best genre. It's like magical realism on steroids, fables for grownups, and/or thrillers that aren't, well, boring. 

   When I don't write nonfiction, I write scary and turn from beautiful Sunny Lancaster into loony Lute Graves.  Below is the newest addition to this portfolio, a story I've edited heavily since posting elsewhere, and inspired by many of the fantastic creepypastas I've found on the web. I hope you enjoy the new characters and their personalities. I hope you feel thrilled and a bit spooked.

    Part two will appear in future.



The Night We Chased Wilson into the Woods

--Lute Graves

 

            “Wilson, what gives?” Brent stood and called after our friend as he sped off towards the tree line.

            I stood up.

            “Will!” I shouted after him, but he ignored me also.

            Brent looked at me and I looked back at him. Wilson had never been energetic. He wasn’t what you’d call hyper or prone to running. Before that moment, I never saw him move faster than an amble. I never saw him chase after anything or anyone. He was chill and almost shallow due to his lack of care for the fast-paced world.

            “We should go after him?” I asked.

            Brent shrugged. He put down his beer, and leaned forward in the wooden, Adirondack chair. The wood creaked. We hadn’t seen much of Wilson lately, as his wife of two years had recently left him for their chiropractor. Yes, the kid was eighteen and she was twenty-six. We heard they moved and bought a fancy house in the next city over; she completely dropped her life for a rich baby-faced boy. Wilson was wrecked for months.

This night was the first time he invited us over or even spoke to either of us since it all went down. He was fine though, we thought. He didn’t even mention her name once since we had been there. It was all about beer and pizza and good times.

            “I mean, he seems fine. Maybe he just had to take a dump or something,” Brent laughed.

            “In the woods?” I asked. I mean, his house was no castle, but it had plumbing.

            “Could be a coping strategy?” Brent added.

            “No man,” I said and chugged the second half of my beer, “Let’s go get him, this is probably everything he’s been through coming out.”

            “No way, let’s just wait for him to come back.”

            “You say that like he will come back,” I argued.

            Brent finally got on board after we gave it a good fifteen minutes and heard nothing, except forest bugs and pickup trucks in the distance.

            The woods behind Wilson’s house were pretty thin. They were only a few acres deep, before opening up to a farm on the other side. There was a deer trail we’d walked on many times back when this was his uncle’s house. When we were teenagers, these woods were the only spot we could smoke and not get caught.

            Brent pulled out his phone and turned on the flashlight. Night was looming and while evening ended, it only brought darkness. The woods grew quiet. Without a word, we started in and towards the trail.

            “Wilson!” I shout-whispered. “Are you effing with us right now?”

            Leaves crunched under our feet and trees stood like silent monoliths around us, looming down over us.

            “Yo, dude,” whispered Brent, “What if this is like, some kind of psychotic break? Maybe we should call someone?”

            “Yeah, maybe,” I said.

            He shined his light across the trees before us, creating beams like hallways through the trees. A subtle midst hug in the air. We saw many bushes and thickets, tree trunks and shadows. Nothing really felt wrong or out of place, but I had a nagging feeling, like Wilson or some monster was going to jump out in front of us at any second.  

            Brent hummed in agreement as if he felt the eeriness in the air also.

            “This is messed up,” I whispered, feeling the coldness of night ride on a breeze. The cold air gave me goosebumps and the soft night sounds of bugs, birds, bats, and the rustling of brush did nothing to ease my growing discomfort.

            We wandered forward another fifteen or so minutes.

            Brent’s hand gripped my shoulder, with a firm, but silent smack. “Look!” he whispered, with his fingers pressed into my shoulder, hard.

            At first, I saw nothing, but the brief flash of light as he dropped the phone into his pocket, turning off the light and leaving us blind. For the instant I saw his face light up as he pressed the screen, the look on his face told me he was freaking out somewhat too. His eyes looked ahead and I slowly turned my head to follow his gaze into the clearing in the farmer’s back pasture.

            Before us was a blue glow at the edge of the adjacent tree line. This field had another property’s woods on the other side, and they had the much denser, thicker trees we also explored as teens.

            We approached cautiously, our feet slowing and steps softened.

            From a good five feet in, we saw the source of the blue light. It was a large, black, rectangular box, like a shipping container, surrounded by a bright blue glow, emanating from the edges.

            Wilson stood before it. His face was devoid of emotion and his trucker hat sat back and askew on his head, like he was dazed and out of his mind. His pants looked stained and his shirt was torn, probably from the run there. One hand extended towards the black box, illuminating from the glowing edges, while his lips mumbled something we couldn’t hear.

            It was hard to tell, but it looked like his lips were moving erratically, like he was mumbling in an exaggerated fashion.

            Brent and I both were crouched down, but he lost his balance, shifted his weight, and accidentally snapped a loud, dry twig, while regaining his footing.

            At the onset of this abrupt noise, we saw Wilson’s hand drop.

            Then, his head shot around, quicker than what seemed humanly possible. It was uncanny, like he was a doll or a humanesque owl. His mouth opened, eyes widened, and he gave us an unsettling, gaping smile. He became deranged and inhuman at that point. Wilson appeared as some shadow version of himself, about to swallow us whole like a viper.

            Then, he took a step, but his body was still facing the large shipping container thing. In the next instant, his movement sped up and he launched himself at the glowing box. When his body should have hit metal or rock or whatever it was made out of, the light intensified rapidly.

            Instead of just hitting the thing, side of his head first, he instead seemed to pass through the dark void, as if it wasn’t even really there at all. In that instant, all we saw was the bottom parts of his shoes disappear before hearing a loud crack, like thunder or fireworks, erupting from the field and then the entire black void was gone. Wilson had disappeared and box was missing as well.

            It felt like the blue light touched us both, within the noise it made, with a hot and humid feeling, a wave of energy in stark contrast to the cold night around us.

            We stood there shaken for what felt like an hour, but was probably only a few minutes. Neither Brent and I were brave enough to inspect the ground that thing had been on, if the opening or whatever it was, was still somehow there and able to suck us in. We crept back to the house, confused, stumbling over rocks and stumps, in the bleak darkness, feeling hazy and waves of dread.

            When we examined our skin and clothing in the lights from our cars in the driveway, we saw holes in our sleeves and painful welts on our arms. Both of our faces looked burned, and from the visor mirror, I learned one of my eyebrows was completely singed off.

            We ended up at the emergency room, with what the nurse called chemical burns all over our bodies. We didn’t talk about what happened. While getting the most excruciating parts of our treatment, the police questioned us separately about Wilson’s whereabouts. Brent, or maybe I, slipped up and mentioned we followed our friend into the woods and he was then missing, and we came out looking like this.

            It was right for the police to be suspicious. Were we just so stupid, we disposed of Wilson’s body in sulfuric acid and this was our cover story? Neither Brent nor I mentioned the box, Wilson’s weird behavior, or the strange blue light.

            Things fell out even weirder in the aftermath. Come to find out, Wilson hadn’t been at work at all for months. Friends and family called and texted, but only received garbled replies, from different numbers, after they tried to reach Wilson. His family and boss had been to his home on several, separate occasions, but it seemed like no one was there.

            Our chemical burns raised a lot of suspicion in the small community, but with no evidence and nothing to charge us with, the police stopped their pursuit and things went back to a semi-normal state, with the exception of the events of that night still playing loudly in my head, like a bad movie on repeat.

            I got a call a week after I was out of the hospital and back to work.

            Brent and I hadn’t talked since being discharged. We had seemed to silently agreed not to tell anyone else the story of what really happened that night, and had felt the strain on our lifelong friendship from the loss of our friend, the trauma of the injuries and what we saw, if at all real, and the response from the police.

            I nearly let the call go to voice mail, but picked it up instead.

            “Hey,” I said.

            “Hey,” he answered.

            My stomach sunk. I didn’t want to talk about it. Anything but that night.

            The line was silent for a long minute. He cleared his throat and sucked in a harsh breath, before speaking.

            “Okay, so dude, you’re going to hear this really soon, but you know how my wife’s cousin, Tito, is a deputy with the sheriff’s office? Well, he just got off the phone with me and one of his cop buddies was sent out to Wilson’s place tonight, due to a complaint from one of the neighbors who said they heard screaming from inside the house.”

            “Wait, what?” I asked, and my voice cracked, something it hadn’t done since I was 13.

            He continued, “Yeah and that’s not the weirdest thing. They found the front door wide open, and the house riffled through, like maybe someone had been robbing it or something, and when they searched the basement, they found Wilson.”

             “Holy crap! They found him? Is he okay?”

            “No, not by a long shot, dude.”

            He sucked in another deep breath.

            “Yo, you’re not going to believe this, but they found his body in the back corner of the basement, like stiff and very decomposed, and according to the coroner who showed up, he’d been dead for at least a year, maybe even longer.”

            “What---the---eff…?”

            “I know. I know. Trust me, I know. Who did we eat dinner with? That couldn’t have been him. I didn’t go into the basement, why would I? I was barely even in the house. You got there before me, were you in the house?”

            “No…” I thought back, “No, he was outside when I got there and we walked around the side to the back. It was late in the afternoon; I didn’t even look around at his house. I didn’t want to seem like I was checking up on him, after everything he had just been through.”

            “I know, I know, right?” Brent said, again, his voice was rapid fire, like his mind was racing at all the different implications and panic had set in.

            He added, “At least on the bright side, it looks like we’ve been completely cleared. At least, that’s what Tito told me will be the most likely scenario, or whatever.”

            “Yeah,” I said, “Hey my girl’s going to be off of work soon, you guys want to like, come over this weekend? I feel like we should protect ourselves, our families, and like come up with a plan or something.”

            “Yeah,” he said, “We got to stick together. I don’t know what good it will do, but we might as well.”

            We hung up soon after. I checked that my doors were locked and turned on the TV. My phone buzzed and I expected it to be Sydney, letting me know she’s on her way.

            I looked down and saw a number I didn’t recognize had sent a text.

            “Hey, we should get together this weekend,” it read, followed by a garbled string of numbers and letters.

            I put the phone down and flipped channels.

            It buzzed again.

            This time, it was from another number I didn’t recognize.

            “Hey, we should come up with a plan,” it read, followed by numbers, letters, and symbols.

            I turned the phone over. After Sydney came home, I didn’t tell her about the phone call or what they found at Wilson’s house. It was a long night where I couldn’t sleep. Many sleepless nights followed, as well as many strange calls and text messages, ones that took over my phone, while leaving me hearing nothing from Brent or any of our other friends.

 

 

About Me

               My biggest inspiration for writing is David Sedaris. I listened to his 2004 essay collection: “Dress Your Family in Corduroy ...