While I take a bit of a break from Beelzebub and Lucifer (I know how it will end and I think I have two episodes left — plan on completing the thing next week), I started a writing exercise over at Writers Supprting Writers. A seven day prompt where I post a word each day that the writer has to include in a story, in the next few hundred words of the story. Other than that, there are no rules. No genre requirement. No length requirement. Just write and incorporate those words as they come along each day.

Here’s my piece. I’m calling it Facilitation. The bolded words are the prompt words for each day.

“How was your weekend, babe?”

I took a breath. Or two. “It was okay,” I replied.

John leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Just okay? Because I wasn’t there with you?”

I pushed him away and looked out the office door. “Stop it. Somebody might see.”

“Oh, come on. Nobody is here yet. You know that. We’ve got a few minutes. It’s not 9:00 yet.”

He wasn’t wrong. One of the things that always amazed me about my job. A place where the work hours were supposed to be 8:00 to 5:00, but most of the staff didn’t show up until 9:00. All while still taking their lunch break and smoke breaks and walk breaks and coffee breaks and there ‘oh, I just need a minute’ breaks. And then having to leave early for a kid’s game or a doctor appointment or … hell, a manicure.

“Yeah, but I told you. Never here. We have to be careful.” I looked at him, a couple of feet away from me with that look in his eyes. The one that told me how eager he was for me. “My husband … I can’t. Not yet.”

John sat down in one of the chairs in front of my desk, right as Sylvia, the front desk receptionist walked by my open doorway. I motioned towards her with my hand and whispered, “See …”

“Fine. What happened this weekend, Chloe?”

“It’s nothing really. It’s just that my daughter’s team was eliminated from the tournament. She’s heartbroken, and I am for her as well.”


“No, John,” I sighed. “Not soccer. That’s my son. Clarice plays softball. If they had won, her team would have gone to the regional tournament in Reno next week.”

“She’ll get over it.”

“Well, she hasn’t yet. She’s been in tears since Saturday when they lost.”

“It’s just a game.” John shrugged. “Maybe she shouldn’t take it so seriously.”

I sat back in my chair and looked at this man who had filled a hole in me that I didn’t know existed until he came along. I’d taken a chance, dipped a toe in the deep end, and then just jumped. Here we were now, talking about one of my girls like it was nothing, and what I really wanted to do was run away from it all. My husband, who never seemed to care about where I was going or what I was feeling. My job, which sucked the soul out of me on a daily basis. And the girls. I loved them so, so much. But sometimes I wondered whether I could finish the job of raising them without irrepairably harming them.

The softball tournament and Clarice’s response was a perfect example. If I had been a better mom, would she have reacted as though it was the end of the world. No, correct that … she was still reacting that way. She had begged me to allow her to stay home from school. 

I finally relented, with an admonition, “Only today.” I leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Take a break. Relax. But tomorrow, you’re back in school. Right?”

“Yes, Mom,” she said with her traditional eye roll, which told me she just might be okay. Even as I worried about the long run. How all of this would be in the years ahead.


“John,” I leaned forward, “you don’t have kids. You can’t possibly …” He held up his hands to stop me. Something Mike did all the time. Something that drove me absolutely crazy. “Don’t you dare do that!”


“Don’t shush me. Don’t interrupt me. Don’t.”

“Chloe, what is going on with you today?”

I settled back in the chair, looked at my computer screen and saw that there was an email from Mike. I clicked on it. He wanted to know what was going to be for dinner that night. I … just … couldn’t. Not anymore.

I turned my attention back to John. “I don’t know.” I shrugged. “I’m just sad for my little girl right now. Even if she isn’t that little anymore.” He opened his mouth and this time I held up my hand to shush him. “I’m sad about a lot of things, John. A lot of things. Can I just be sad? Without having to explain myself? Please?”

John stood and looked at me. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. Just know that I love you.” He turned and walked out of my office.

I turned back to my computer screen and Mike’s email. What do you want? I typed and clicked on send. 

I went and closed my office door and sat back down at my desk, leaning back in my chair. I thought about where I was. With Mike. With John. With my kids.

But back to Mike. And John. I began to feel like the whole thing was just … well, redundant. When Mike entered my life, he lit a fire in me. Sure the embers had kind of died down as we settled into married life and kids and work and bills and days and weeks and months would go by with barely an intimate thought or touch passing between us. Then John came along and he rekindled that fire in me. But … did that make it right? Did … oh hell, I was so fucked up. I put my head on my desk and tried to resist the tears, grateful that the door was closed, the blinds were drawn and nobody would see. 

I eventually got myself together, opened the door, and went back to my desk to get some work done. Emails, phone calls, a brief meeting with the big, big boss. She wanted some answers to some questions a reporter had asked her. The comms director was there. We spent a few minutes noodling over the questions, trying to massage some answers that would appear harmless. It’s what happens when the big, big boss is accused of sexual harassment. 

Mike finally responded to my email and said he wanted tacos. Tacos. Because tacos every week for years was just one of those things we did. One of those things he always wanted. So … tacos it would be. Chicken or beef? I asked in reply. 

Before I could do anything else, he answered back, Adobada!  

Nope. Not gonna happen. Unless you do it. That takes hours to marinade. I don’t get home in time. He knew that, too. 

Fine. Beef then.

I let out a big sigh as I walked out of my office and headed towards the kitchen. I needed some coffee, preferably an infusion straight into my veins. Since that wasn’t possible, I poured myself a cup and went back to my desk. My phone, which I had left behind for the meeting with the big, big boss, was vibrating there.

A text from Clarice. Mommy can you come home?

I sat down and looked at the words. She was fourteen. I couldn’t remember the last time she had called me Mommy. I sent a text back. What’s wrong? Can it wait until I get home?

My phone was silent for a moment. I took a sip of coffee. Looked at my computer. There was an email from John. I could see a few words in the window that showed the beginning of the email. It wasn’t work-related. I wished for not the first time that he would stop emailing and before I knew what I was doing, I picked up my phone and texted to my sad daughter what I meant to email to John. Stop it!

Seconds later. What!! She even added a crying emoji.

Shit. I looked at the text string, saw what I had done. That wasn’t meant for you, honey. 

What did Dad do now? Came her rapid response. 

Damn, it was amazing how perceptive she was sometimes. I shouldn’t have been shocked, even if the text wasn’t meant for her father. Clarice had started asking questions that hinted at a bit of knowledge about the state of her parents’ marriage.  But I couldn’t tell her who the text was really meant for. I ignored her question. Tell you what. I’ll come home in a little bit. What do you want for lunch?

I got a happy face emoji and a taco emoji. Tacos for dinner tonight. Come up with something else.

Meanwhile, I emailed Mike and told him I was headed home because our daughter wasn’t doing good and I’d get the adobada started. I got another happy face emoji and wanted to scream. But I didn’t. I held it in, like I’d been doing for years.

On my way out the door, I stopped by John’s office. I didn’t go further than the doorway. “Hey. Just letting you know I’m headed home.” He stood up and took a step towards me. “No. Clarice needs me. But … we need to talk. Lunch tomorrow.” I turned and fled before he could say anything. I wasn’t interested in another emoji, or John’s in-person version of same. I just needed to get home.

Driving home, I started to think things through. By the time I hit the driveway, I knew it was time to facilitate a few things. I took Clarice the meatball sandwich she had requested when tacos were a no. “How you doing, honey?” I asked when I went into her room.

She sniffled and took the sandwich. “I’m okay.”


“I guess so. I mean … it’s just a game, right?”

“Yes, it is.” I sat down on her bed next to her and brushed her hair from her face. “It’s just a game and you’ll have a lot more games to play … and win … in the years ahead.”

“I really wanted to win on Saturday, though.”

“I know, and that’s okay, too. Just realize you won’t win every game.” She took a bite of her sandwich and smiled up at me. “You’ll go back to school tomorrow, right?”

Clarice sighed dramatically. “If I must.”

“You must.”

I rose and went into the kitchen and unpacked the groceries I had purchased to make the adobada tacos. I got everything together, marinated the pork and then went looking for Mike. He was able to work from home, but he took it seriously. He wouldn’t have taken a break to get the adobada going. No, he stayed in his basement office all day long no matter what. Doing who knows what. I knew my husband was a consultant. I knew it had something to do with emergency preparedness and business continuity, but beyond that, what exactly he did all day was beyond me.

John was looking at his computer when I walked in. There was a spreadsheet on the screen and he was squinting at the numbers. I sat in the recliner he kept down there for his afternoon siesta — the only break he allowed himself during the work day. The squish of the leather alerted him to my presence and he turned his chair to face me.

“Hey. What’s going on?” he asked.

“Nothing. I brought lunch for Clarice. Have you talked to her?”

“No. I’ve been …”

“Of course. You’ve been working. You couldn’t bother to notice that your daughter is heartbroken, could you?” I stood up and leaned against his desk. “What is it you actually do down here all day, any way?” I had asked the question before and never really got a satisfactory answer.

“Work. You know that.” 

“Sure, but what exactly? I want to know what keeps you so focused down here you don’t even notice what’s going on in your family. With your … our … daughter.” I started re-arranging the papers on his desk, shuffling them here and there, generally just making a mess of them.

“Stop that,” he grunted, moving to protect his desktop from my interfering hands.

“Do you even realize what’s going on with me? With us?”

“What are you talking about?” Mike got all his papers away from me and was starting to leaf through them, re-organizing them, not looking at me. 

“You must know by now.” I sat back down in the recliner, moved the foot rest out and kicked back. I rested my hands on my stomach and looked at my husband. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” 

“Mike! We need to talk.”

“I have to work.” He turned back to his computer screen. “Can this wait until tonight?”

“Fine.” I slammed the foot rest closed and stormed up the stairs.

That night, after a dinner of tacos that Mike asked for and I made, I went to talk to him after cleaning up, but he was back in his basement again. 

So much for facilitating a conversation that might change the dynamic of our marriage. I gave up.

I texted John and suggested we take a long lunch the next day. Maybe at his place. In response, I got another smiley face emoji. 

I had made a decision. It involved a swan song for my marriage. I was going to put all my marbles in another basket. That night, I slept on the sofa. When John tried to talk to me in the morning, I had three words for him. Not the ones one might think in a marriage. No. I just told him, “It’s too late.” I walked out the door without looking back. I was going to have a great day, spend a little time with John, and then move on.

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Beelzebub and Lucifer, Episode 5

We’re back from our little diversion in jail and back in the apartment.

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When A Pet Dies

I’ve taken a bit of a break from Beelzebub and Lucifer, but I hope to get back to it soon. In the meantime, here’s a piece I submitted somewhere and got the accustomed rejection.

When A Pet Dies

“What should we do with the body?” 

“I don’t know. It’s too big to flush down the toilet. Remember when we flushed my goldfish when I was a kid? The mouse, too.” 

“You flushed the mouse down the toilet?” 

“Sure. It was a little guy …” 

“Do you remember what you named the fish?” 

“Yeah. Goldie?” 

“Wow, that’s some creative shit, right there. What did you name the mouse? I forgot.” 

“Little Guy.” 

“Even more creative.” Bob, my brother, shook his head. “You never were the smartest one in the bunch.” 

“So what.” I looked down at GP’s corpse. “You got the creativity. You can paint and write and have that damn voice of yours. But I got the athletic talent, the physical prowess … I mean, you couldn’t even hit one of those bowls with a ping pong ball let alone actually get the ball inside one.” 

“Woohoo. Sparky has talent because he got a goldfish at the county fair.” 

“It’s not just that, you know. You never made it out of right field when we played baseball, or got off the bench in football.” I took my eyes of the dead animal and glanced at Bob. “Besides, what’s all that creativity got for you. You work at Chili’s, for christsake.” 

“You just wait.” Bob started to wrap GP in a stained dish towel. “I’m gonna try out for American Idol next year and write a book about it. You’ll see!” 

“Sure you are.” I laughed, hoping that Bob would laugh with me. “Just like I’m going to be playing first base for the Cubbies next year. Maybe you can write a book about that.” 

He didn’t laugh. “Whatever.” GP was fully wrapped in the towel. “So what are we going to do?” 

“We can bury it.” 

“Where? There’s no backyard here. We live in a frickin’ apartment. Haven’t you noticed there’s nothing but concrete.” 

“Mom and Dad’s?” 

“No way. I’m not going over there.” Bob shook his head. “Have you forgotten what happened the last time we were there?” 

“No. I haven’t. But maybe it’s time.” 

“Nope. Not gonna happen. Dad gets drunk, he yells at me, makes me feel worthless, calls me a pansy and you and Mom just sit there. You want to go and bury your god-damn guinea pig, you go right ahead.” 

“Well, hell, if you’re not going, I’m not either.” 

We stood quietly looking at GP, yes, my guinea pig named GP. Bob wasn’t wrong about my lack of creativity. But then, you don’t need creativity to be able to hit a curve ball or to make a three-point shot. You just need to block everything out of your head and focus on a single spot. That’s what I’d been doing for years. 

“Hey, I know,” Bob said. “Don’t they consider guinea pig a delicacy in Bolivia?” 

“I think that’s Peru.” 

“Nope. It’s Bolivia. I’m sure of it.” 

“It’s Peru. Or Argentina. But it’s not Bolivia.” I thought for a second. “I remember this … uh … Bolivia … they’re all about llama jerky.” 

“Llama jerky? You mean like beef jerky, but with llama?” 

“Yep. Llamas, not guinea pigs.” 

“Huh. Llama jerky. I’ll be damned.” 

We stood quietly some more, pondering the mystery of what to do with a dead guinea pig. “What were you going to do?” I finally asked. “Send it to some poor family in Bolivia for their Sunday meal?” 

A dark look passed over Bob’s face. “Nah. What do you think I am? An idiot?” 

“Well …” 

“No. I wasn’t thinking we could send it to Bolivia.” He paused for a second, tried to smile, but failed, choosing to shrug instead. “I was thinking we could look up a recipe for guinea pig and see if it’s any good.” 

“What the hell are you talking about?” I picked up GP and took a step back. “Let me repeat myself – what the hell?!” 

“It was a joke, Sparky, just a joke.” Bob sat down at the kitchen table we had been standing around. “Relax a bit. That’s one of your problems. You’re too serious.” 

“You just suggested eating my guinea pig, and I’m the one with the problem?” 

“Fine. I’m sorry. I am really sorry that I made a tasteless joke.” He held his hands out and dipped his head to me. “Now, sit down.” 

I did. “What are we going to do?” I asked. 

“There’s the dumpster out back.” 

“True.” He had a point. The dumpster was probably the only option, but it hardly seemed dignified at all. Goldie got a burial at sea. Sort of. When our dog died, Dad in between drinking jags, dug a hole and we buried Speckles under the peach tree. We always said things when we buried our pets. “But I can’t see just throwing GP into the dumpster. We need to say something, don’t we?” 

“What, some kind of ‘dearly departed’ prayer or something?” Now he did laugh. “You’re not exactly the religious type, you know.” 

“So …” 

“Hold on a sec,” Bob said, interrupting me. “It’s a god-damn guinea pig, Sparky. A … guinea … pig. Come on, just find a shoe box, tape it shut, and let’s go throw it in the dumpster.” 

He had a point. Maybe I was just tired. “Okay. Let’s do it,” I said as tears started to well up. I sniffed. 

“You’re not crying, are you?” 

“Just a bit.” 

“My God, crying over …” 

“Stop it, would you. Can you just let me this one time feel what I’m feeling and not knock me for it? Just this once? Can you do that?” 

“Fine.” Bob remained quiet while I wiped my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. “You ready?” 

“I guess.” 

Bob went into his bedroom and came back with the required shoe box. Nike, of course. I gently placed GP into the box and put the lid on. Bob wrapped tape around it a few times to make sure it stayed closed and off we went. 

It was when we turned the corner of our apartment building and I saw the dumpster when I realized I couldn’t do it. “Bob?” I stopped walking. He took a couple more steps before turning back to me. 

“What now?” 

“I can’t … I can’t throw him into a dumpster.” I pointed at the rusting piece of metal with piles of garbage spilling out. “I mean … look at it. I’m not going to just toss GP in there and walk away.” I turned around and started walking back to our apartment. “No, I’m not.” 

“Sparky. Come on.” Bob got ahead of me and turned around, holding his hands out to stop my forward movement. “It’s just a guinea pig.” 

“To you.” I brushed past him and kept going. 

“What are you going to do then?” 

“Mom and Dad’s.” 

“Aah, man.” 

“You don’t need to come with me.” I looked back at Bob as I started to climb the stairs to our apartment. “Dad might call you a pansy again.” 

“I’m going.” 

“Whatever. Do what you want.” 

In the apartment, I grabbed my car keys. Bob joined me as I walked to my car. Once inside, I handed him the shoe box. We sat quietly on the drive to our parents’ home. The place we grew up. Where things happened. Where sometimes the sun shone and other times it was a dark, dark place. We could only wonder what we would find when we got there. 

When I pulled up in front of their house, Bob broke the silence. “How long has it been?” 

I thought about it. I remembered being there for Mom’s 60th birthday. It was a hot June day. But I couldn’t think of any time since then that we had seen our parents. “I don’t know. A couple of years maybe?” 

“Yeah. I think you’re right.” We sat in the car for a moment. “You ever call them? Either one?” 

“I talk to Mom every now and then. You?” 


Bob heaved a sigh and opened his door. “Let’s go. Let’s get this done. Bury your damn guinea pig and get a beer.” 

“You buying?” 

“Sure. If that’s what it takes to get this over with.” 

We walked to their front door. Bob knocked. Mom opened the door. Her eyes lit up. “Boys!!” 

“Hey Mom,” we said simultaneously. 

“Come in, come in.”  

It was hard not to feel the infectious quality of our mother’s happiness that we were there. Maybe this was going to be okay. “Dad around?” I asked as we entered our childhood home. 

“Oh. I’m sure he’s around somewhere. Don’t know where.” She giggled quietly, averted her eyes from us, and ushered us into the family room. “It’s been so long. I’m so happy to see both of you. My boys.” 

Inside, nothing had changed. Mom had the family room furniture in the summer layout, with nothing blocking the sliding glass door to the backyard. The kitchen was spotless. There was a puzzle at one end of the dining room table.  

“What’s in the box?” Mom asked. 



“His guinea pig, Mom,” Bob said. “It’s dead. We came here to bury it.” 

“Oh my.” Mom put her hand to her mouth. “Are you okay?” 

Before I could reply, Bob did. “Of course he is. It’s a damn guinea pig.” 

“Shut up,” I said through gritted teeth. “Just shut up.” 

Bob sighed. “Whatever,” he mumbled before starting to walk towards the sliding glass door. “We thought he could bury it in the back where Speckles is.” 

“Well, sure.” Mom started walking towards the door to the garage. “I’ll get you boys a shovel.” She stopped and turned back to us. “Will you stay for dinner?” 

“Of course,” I replied, looking at Bob who had turned to me, quietly shaking his head back and forth. “Right, Bob?” He shook his head one last time and resumed his walk towards the backyard and the shady corner under the tree where our childhood dog was resting in peace. 

I followed behind Bob, with the box held in front of me. When Bob opened the sliding glass door and walked through, I heard him grunt, saw him slow to a stop. “Hey, Pops,” he said through what sounded to me like a clenched jaw. 

“Bob? Charlie?”  

“Hey, Dad,” I said. 

“Well, isn’t this a nice surprise?” Dad got up from his lounger, stumbled for a moment before righting himself. Behind him, I could see the small accumulation of beer cans on the table he kept next to the chair, along with a cheap paperback and a pack of cigarettes. Before he continued, he belched for good measure. “To what do I owe this pleasure? My boys paying a visit after, what, how long has it been?” He yawned, scratched his growing belly, and picked up a beer. “Cheers,” he said as he brought it to his mouth and guzzled from it. 

He was like a pig at a trough. Slurping and burping, and generally not caring about anything other than what was in his trough. Beer. Glorious, wonderful beer. It was pretty much how he’d gone through his entire life, or at least the part I was aware of. His wife was his slop-tender, pushed out of the way as soon as food was on his plate, or beer was put in front of him. From what I heard, it was the same way where he worked. Just a ravenous glutton unaware of others. 

“Cheers,” I said. “Ummm … my guinea pig died. We were going to bury him back in the corner. Under the tree.” 

“Well, isn’t that just too damn cute?” He turned to Bob then, looked him up and down. “And you, you’re along for the ride on this one? Of course, you are. You’re still soft, aintcha.” 

“I knew we shouldn’t have come here,” Bob said. 

“Dad, knock it off,” I said to him. “Bob didn’t want to do this. It was my idea. I couldn’t throw GP into the dumpster. You wanna call somebody soft, talk to me. I’m the soft one.” 

He looked back and forth between us, took another gulp out of his beer. “Hell, what did I ever do to deserve two weak-ass sons? You played sports. I took you to games. I taught you how to be men. And look at you now. Burying your stupid little guinea pig and your big brother is here, too. What are you, Bob, his support system? Hell.” 

Bob started walking towards our father. The look on his face told me that he intended on showing our dear old dad. I stepped between the two of them, placing the box that held GP on the table we used to eat at for summer barbecues. “Stop.” I placed my hands on Bob’s chest and gently pushed him. “Stop,” I repeated. 

He didn’t. He pushed into me. His eyes unfocused. His mouth clenched. 

“Stop,” I said again. Louder. And I pushed him back harder. “Bob. Go inside with Mom.” I realized then that Mom had never come out with the shovel. I had a feeling I knew why. She knew that nothing good would come of this and decided to hide herself away. If she didn’t see it. If she didn’t hear it. Maybe it never happened. 

“Screw it,” Bob spat at me. “I’m gone. This was a stupid idea. We should have never come here.” 

Bob walked back through the sliding glass door with me in close pursuit. “Bob, come on. Let’s just get this done. Ignore him. Can’t you do that?” 

“Nope. Not gonna happen. I’m outta here.” 

What could I do? He was my ride home. I followed him out to the car. It was only when we were out of the neighborhood and halfway to our apartment that I realized something. “Dammit. I left GP there.” 

“Too bad. So Sad.” 

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Beelzebub and Lucifer, Episode 4

Listen to the most recent episode of my podcast: Beelzebub and Lucifer, Episode 4 https://anchor.fm/mark-paxson/episodes/Beelzebub-and-Lucifer–Episode-4-e16sgs8

I wanted to do an episode that I didn’t write ahead of time. Just do something off the top of my head. Here it is.

And the link for Spotify, if the link above doesn’t work.

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Beelzebub and Lucifer … taking a hiatus

When I started this, it was going to be a one-off experiment. I posted that experiment three days ago and Berthold encouraged me to write more because he wanted to see what happened next. So, two days ago, I wrote and recorded episode 2 and yesterday I wrote and recorded episode 3.

Each episode is only about 4 or 4 1/2 minutes long and about 700 words of text. A bit of a lark is how I viewed it, and an opportunity to test out the Anchor app and my podcast skills.

And there’s where I’m now having problems. When I posted yesterday’s episode, I simply could not get it to include the link to the third episode. Nothing would show up and, somehow, the episode I posted the day before would shift to episode 3 instead of staying as episode 2.

Once I went on to an episode 2 and episode 3, I thought it would be fun to do an episode every day until the story is done. A concept I have no idea about because I’m not sure what this story is and how it will end. But the technological difficulties are slowing me down. I don’t want to keep recording episodes without being able to post them here. Until I figure that out, this story may be on hiatus.

Plus, life has intruded today and will tomorrow, and then I leave town for a few days. I may write some episodes over the next few days — I want to keep this going on a daily basis as much as I can — but the recordings won’t be posted here until I figure out what Anchor is doing to me.

In the meantime, the name of the Podcast is Slice of Life Stories. I discovered that somebody on ITunes has a podcast that has the same name. So, I may be changing the name. But until then, according to the app, my podcast is available on Spotify, RadioPublic, Breaker, and Google Podcasts.

If you’re on Spotify, here’s the link that will take you to the first three episodes. Let me know what you think and what you think should happen next. Maybe we can crowdsource the movement of this story.

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Beelzebub and Lucifer, Episode Two

Berthold wanted to know what happened next. What Berthold wants, Berthold gets.

I managed to start this episode with sniffling!!

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Beelzebub and Lucifer

A bit of an experiment. I wrote a piece of flash fiction and decided to deliver it in a different format. Assuming this works, let me know what you think.

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The Dime

What started as a short, short story, that morphed into a novella, that morphed into a 80,000 word novel, and could be more, is now live on Amazon. The Dime is what I like to describe as This Is Us meets young adults. Lily and Sophie were orphaned at a young age. Peter has an abusive father and neglectful mother. They come together in the town of Northville in a found family, reconnecting with joy and love, while continuing to deal with more trauma and drama.

Here’s what Kirkus Reviews has to say about the book. Shorter Kirkus:

Paxson’s slice-of-life novel presents an unusual kind of found family in a story that’s character-driven and compelling.

— Kirkus Reviews

Click on this image to go to Amazon and buy yourself a copy. And don’t be shy, post a review on Amazon and Goodreads and on your blog. Tell your friends.

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Since retiring, and my boys leaving home, I’ve started to take over one of their rooms. I have some of my paintings and photographs on one of the walls. I sit at the desk and occasionally write. Now that I’m working a real job again, I spend more time in this room. The window looks out over our street, the corner our house is located on. What I see out that window is a hell of a lot of delivery trucks. Endless streams of Amazon and UPS and USPS trucks delivering packages. Yesterday, all of those trucks reminded me of this story.

I wrote it in response to a first line from The First Line. Unlike Sunbaked Sand and The Smoker’s Club, they didn’t publish Tentacles. When I published a couple of short story collections, this story made its appearance in Shady Acres and Other Stories. If you like what you read below, give the collection a try. There are far more worlds to visit.

In Pigwell, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past my house.  It’s been that way for years, ever since I moved in on a cold blustery day in April.  I learned of its unofficial name, Pigwell, when I was ushered past the door and into my room. 

“Welcome to Pigwell,” the woman lying on the upper bunk said.  She didn’t move and didn’t bother to look at me.  She just stared up at the ceiling, her left hand picking at the peeling white paint on the wall above the bunk.


“You’ll figure it out,” she mumbled, turning her back to me and focusing her efforts on the paint.  I put my things on the floor and sat down on the lower bunk, hearing and feeling the bed springs creak under my weight.  In the corner was a toilet and sink.  Along the opposite wall was a small table with one chair and on the wall above the table was a shelf.  A handful of books were scattered haphazardly on the shelf and two pictures were taped to the wall below the shelf.  One appeared to be a standard school picture of a blond girl, probably about six or seven.  The girl was trying not to smile too widely, probably to keep from opening her mouth and revealing the gap caused by missing teeth.

Looking at that picture, I thought of Jane, my own little blond girl.  There was a school picture of her somewhere, too.  Taken five or six years before I entered the confines of Pigwell, she had been the same age, trying to hide the same gap.  Only in her case, the missing teeth were caused by her father’s fist, not by the normal progress of childhood.

The other picture was of the same girl, a year or two older, standing next to a woman sitting in a chair.  Although I had only briefly seen the woman on the bunk above me, I could tell they were one and the same, and that it had been a long time since the picture had been taken.  The black and white of the picture had begun to fade and the edges were tattered by years of handling.

Alone in the room but for the stranger a couple of feet above me, who had fallen asleep, my reality sank in and I began to quietly cry.  The wall I had built around me, hiding the physical and emotional pain I had endured for years,  for the first time in a long time began to crumble.  I lay down on the bed and curled up into a ball, the tears silently streaming down my face and dampening the thin pillow.  I cried myself to sleep, waking up an hour later to the sound of the door to the room opening.  Before I could get up, two feet, followed by legs and a body appeared from above me, as my roommate slid off the bunk and ambled towards the door.  Quickly, I got up and followed her, knowing that, although she had said barely a word, this stranger was a lifeline I might need.

* * *

My house?  I live in Carrollton, North Carolina, a small town tucked away in an out-of-the-way corner on the western edge of the state.  During much of the early part of the century, from 1908 to 1942, the town was run by Charles Sidwell, the local sheriff.  In 1942, Sheriff Sidwell, good ol’ boy that he was, got himself killed at the hands of his enraged mistress after he slapped her around a bit.  Up until that point, nothing happened during his reign without his stamp of approval and when he died, the respected citizens of the town thought it would be a good idea to name everything they could after him.  In the tradition of the South, they managed to ignore the circumstances of his death. 

There was Sidwell Park, Charles Sidwell Elementary School, and, after obtaining state approval, the Sidwell Women’s Correctional Institution.  I still wonder how they managed to keep from renaming the town, too.  In an effort to establish just the right environment of gentility and class–Sidwell was built in the 1940’s when people still cared about such things–each building was named after a famous woman writer.  Hence, my home, my house.  The Dickinson House at the Sidwell Women’s Correctional Institution.

A couple of months after arriving, I found out why the residents called it Pigwell.  Once the warmth and the humidity of summer arrived, the aroma from the area’s pig farms, one of which was nestled comfortably in the countryside directly across from Sidwell, permeated the facility.  Windows closed, doors closed, it didn’t matter.  Pigs may, in fact, be one of the cleanest animals, but what thousands leave behind on a daily basis sure the hell doesn’t smell clean particularly in the humidity of a sweltering North Carolina summer.

It’s been so long since I stopped counting days and started counting eighteen wheelers I truthfully don’t know how long it’s been since I arrived.  I know that I arrived sometime in April of 1978, but I have no idea of the year or month now.  Days and weeks and months and years don’t mean anything.  All that matters is that twenty-three trucks move past my window and I can close my eyes and begin counting again when I open them the following morning.

My room, on the northwest corner of the third floor, allows me to look out on Sidwell Street, a two lane road that leads to the interstate.  The first morning of my stay at Pigwell, I woke before dawn and, after tossing and turning for what seemed hours, couldn’t get back to sleep.  I rose and walked to the window.  The sun was just beginning to make its approach over the horizon, creating the first glow of the early morning. 

To the south, I saw the headlights of a vehicle coming down Sidwell Street.  I followed the lights as they approached and then passed by my window.  It was an eighteen-wheeler, the first of my Pigwell life.  There were no markings on it.  Just a cab pulling two white trailers behind.  I thought nothing of it and five minutes later another went by.  Five minutes later, another.  And so on.  An hour later, twelve trucks had passed by my window, heading north towards the interstate.  I looked and waited, but no more came.

“That window is hell, aint it?” the woman on the upper bunk said, interrupting my new-found obsession with eighteen-wheel trucks.


“It lets you see the real world.  A world you aint gonna ever touch again.”

Her words stung because they were the truth of a harsh reality.  The rest of my life would most likely be spent in that room, or somewhere else behind the fences, locked doors, and barred windows of the Sidwell Woman’s Correctional Institution.  But, somehow that first day I thought the window wasn’t so bad.  Having a view of the world would allow me an escape from the confines of Pigwell. 

“My name is Betty,” she said. 

“Ellen,” I responded.

“Whatcha in for?” she asked.

Mustering the strength to say the word, I whispered, “Murder.”

“Yeah?  Me, too.”

Instantly, I was scared.  I was sharing a cell with a murderer.  Somehow, I didn’t equate what I had done with being a murderer.  I had killed because I had to.  It wasn’t my fault that the jury hadn’t seen things my way.  “Who’d ya kill?” Betty asked.

“Phillip,” I sighed.  By this point, I had turned from the window and was sitting in the room’s lone chair.  I was facing the bunks and Betty was still lying in her bed, but with her head perched on her hands as she looked down at me. 

“Phillip?” she asked with a quizzical look on her face. 

“My husband.”

“Oh.  Me, too.”


“Killed my husband.”  Some small amount of relief spread through me.  Maybe she wasn’t the horrible monster I thought she might be when she first said she was in for murder.  “Stabbed the bastard.  Twelve times.  He got what he deserved.”  We were two of a kind.

“I shot Phillip,” I said.  My voice had returned to a whisper.  I had never spoken those words, not even to my attorney or at trial.  I didn’t get to testify.  Back in those days, people didn’t yet care about battered women.  Particularly, in the old South, and my attorney thought it best that I not say my piece.  Good ol’ John Ralston, he of the soiled shirt collar and liquid lunch, also thought it best that he not know what really happened. 

“I shot Phillip,” I repeated, warming to the words.

And, suddenly, the wall came tumbling down and words came out in a torrent, “In the head.  I’d had it.  The years of hitting me, kicking me, calling me a bitch, locking me in our room for days, raping me, and thinking that buying me flowers and saying he was sorry were enough to make up for it.”  I stopped and took a breath.

“He had a shot gun in the garage, fully loaded.  ‘Just in case,’ he would tell me with that damn twinkle in his eye.  Sometimes, he would remind me about the gun after beating me.  I don’t even remember anymore why he would beat me.  It got to the point where he just did it because he could.  One time, he kicked me and hit me and then dragged me out back.  He went back inside and came out with a watermelon under one arm and the shotgun in the other.  He put the watermelon against the fence and stalked back towards me.  He said, ‘Look at this,’ and then turned and shot the watermelon, obliterating it.  Turning back to me, he said, ‘Just in case.’ 

“My only regret at that moment wasn’t that he beat me black and blue, again, but that little Jimmy saw the whole thing.  His high chair was in the kitchen and he was eating Cheerios as fast as he could shovel them in his mouth while Phillip threw me around the kitchen and family room.  After Phillip destroyed the watermelon and stomped back into the house, I looked up and saw Jimmy, still in his high chair, looking out the kitchen window.  Watching it all.

“Well, ‘just in case,’ finally came.  Only it didn’t come the way he thought it might.  I got the shot gun and crept into our room where he was asleep in his crappy Fruit of the Looms that were more yellow and brown than white. No amount of bleach could save those things.  His gut sticking up in the air, quivering while he snored that way that he did.  Hell, that snore could have woke the dead three counties over.  Just didn’t wake him. 

“I didn’t give myself time to think about what I was doing.  I’d done enough thinking about it over the years.  I jammed the shot gun up under his chin.  Hard.  His eyes shot open and he looked at me.  I waited long enough for him to realize what I held in my hands.  I wanted to see terror in his eyes.  I did, so I pulled the trigger.  He ended up looking a lot like the watermelon did.”

That was all I could tell her.  I was arrested a couple of days later when Phillip didn’t show up at work and his boss called the police.  His body was still in our bed.  I was arrested and convicted of murder.  Sent away for life.

“Good for you,” Betty said quietly.

We spent the rest of the day in uncomfortable silence, both knowing too much and not enough about each other.  The only other exchange we had that day was when I mustered up the nerve to ask her how long she’d been there.  “Twenty-three years, seven months, and sixteen days,” came the answer

That evening, after dinner, I stood at the window again, looking out as the day turned to dusk and the sun went down behind Pigwell.  The lights of a vehicle approached from the north.  A cab pulling two white trailers approached and blew past.  Every five minutes, another followed, until eleven had made the journey past my window.

The next morning I woke before dawn again.  I got up and looked out the window.  As the sun rose, twelve eighteen-wheelers began to make their way to the interstate.  I counted again.  And, after dinner, as the sun went down and the lights of Pigwell were slowly extinguished, I stood before the window and counted eleven coming back from the interstate.  The headlights announcing their approach, the roar of their engines announcing their arrival, and the gush of air stirring the trees and grass on the roadside signaling their departure from my world.

The window became my escape.  The trucks, my puzzle.  I have spent the days ever since wondering about them.  What’s at the end of the road?  Where do they come from?  What are they delivering?   Where do they go?  And, most importantly, what happens to that twelfth truck?  How is it that every day, twelve leave in the morning and only eleven return in the evening?  How is it that over all these years, there’s never been any change to the schedule?  Progress apparently never made it to whatever is connected with those trucks.

I probably could have asked somebody at Pigwell about the trucks.  I could have got answers to the questions, but pondering the answers gave me something to occupy my mind.  Every twenty-three trucks was a cycle of my life, to be repeated again the following morning. 

* * *

The days and weeks and months rolled by.  I lost track of those.  I was never been able to count the days the way Betty did.  The number is too big.  Too much to handle. 

Somewhere along the way I learned that Jimmy, at the ripe age of fourteen, was sent to an institution for juvenile delinquents.  While playing one day, in a fit of anger, he managed to fire a gun and kill a friend.  “Just in case,” came way too early for Jimmy.   He probably wouldn’t have got in too much trouble if he had owned up to the shooting and claimed it was an accident.  But, instead of seeking help, he dragged the boy’s body into some bushes and then went about his business, ignoring the search that went on around him and initially denying any knowledge about how his friend’s body ended up where it did. 

And Jane, whose front teeth were knocked out by her father in a fit of rage over a glass of spilt milk or something of equal insignificance?  As she entered adulthood, she wrote me letters that described her life.  A succession of battering, abusive men of her own.  The letters were filled with tears and anguish over the pain of her life and her inability to escape the violence that had begun when she was so young.  Although I want only to throw out her letters when they arrive, I force myself to read them.  It is part of my penance.  I allowed a man into my life who was brutal and abusive. 

The tentacles of that abuse have spread out and affected others.  Too many others, including the family of an innocent boy gunned down by my son.  And, most likely, the children Jane brings into this world as she bounces from abusive boyfriend to battering husband.  I am powerless to stop it.

I still count the trucks that go by.  Twenty-three.  Twelve, one way.  Eleven, the other.  As those stupid trucks go by, I have needed them more and more.  The mysteries they offer me have provided me with a haven from the disaster of my life.    

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Can We Care Again?

It was a grisly crime. The kind that required the television reporters to warn viewers that the “footage may be disturbing.” The kind that had all sorts of things blurred in the videos that showed up on the respectable websites. 

The fear in the eyes of the two victims. The tears coursing down their cheeks as they pleaded to their captors. The pain. So much of it. And then the blood and the dying. All recorded by the perpetrators and broadcast on-line. Not just broadcast, but live-streamed. 

In the initial moments of the live-stream, there were only a few eyeballs on the thing, but as such things are, soon there were thousands watching. Tweets were sent, Facebook posts made. Eventually millions saw it. All of it. The thing went viral, a pandemic of violence that spread around the world, infecting those millions with the anguish of the thing. Regardless of the admonitions and blurred portions on television and in other locales. 

Dogged detectives began to investigate, narrowing the location of the crime down to Portland, Oregon. But they couldn’t get any further than that. Tips sent them scrambling from empty warehouses to vacant buildings to dusty, dank basements. They found nothing anywhere. The tracks and trails left behind by the internet dried up, led them nowhere.

The public began to scream for action. There were murderers on the loose. And then there was a coded letter delivered to a Portland newspaper. Well, not really a letter. More like a short note. A very short note. Experts cracked the code quickly. The very short note read, “We will do this again.”

The screams grew louder. Crowds gathered downtown and circled police stations. Mothers showed up at City Council meetings and demanded action. Fathers showed up at the State Legislature and threatened. 

Another note was delivered to a local news station. A very short note. It read, “Seriously. We will do it again.”

The din was tremendous. Marchers marched through the streets. White ribbons showed up on trees throughout Portland, and on the lapels and blouses of the city’s residents. Out of the noise grew a sense of purpose. A unity. The city would get through this. The murderers would be found. The crime solved. And Portlanders would care about each other again.

After several more weeks, a video showed up on the internet. It showed a young couple frolicking on a beach in Australia. It was the couple in the video. The ones with the tears, the ones who screamed for mercy. The ones who died. Only they hadn’t.

It was all a joke. A sad, sick, twisted joke.

Unfortunately, not all horrors are jokes. Sometimes, they are all too real. I think you know what I’m talking about. The question is … can we care about each other again?

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